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Loud and Clear

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When Lance was born, he was probably the happiest child in the world. He’d laugh and smile at everyone, he loved being held and was hardly fussy. Anyone who saw him would smile, his eyes – an ocean like blue – had the power to light up a room just by his parents bringing him into it. When he was six months old he had his first seizure. He was rushed to the hospital with a 102-degree fever, parents and his many older siblings all worried about the child, as they’d never seen something like this before.

His second seizure happened three months later, symptoms much like the last one. The doctors told them that the child may have these seizures all his life. He was prone to sickness, and if his temperature were to get to high, they could trigger a seizure easily. Lance’s family was devastated. They had the hospital on speed dial, ready to arrange a room for his son any time that they needed to. He had to wear a helmet when he got sick, in case he had a seizure when nobody was looking at him, not that his parents ever took their eyes off the frail boy.

He had five more seizures before he turned two.

When he was two and a half, he had his worst episode yet. His fever was at 105, and he’d had multiple seizures in the span of one day. When he finally recovered, his parents could see that something was different. He no longer babbled in the way he used to, and he didn’t look towards his parents when they called his name. At first the doctors thought he was just in shock, not responding cause he wasn’t fully aware of what had happened yet, though as more timed passed, they realized that there was something much worse at hand.

Lance had gone deaf. His most recent fever – due to meningitis the doctors quickly realized – had damaged his inner ear, making the child go completely deaf.

His family’s life was a little bit more difficult from then on out. His parents and all of Lance’s siblings started learning sign language so they could better communicate with him, and the child himself was put into a deaf school when he was 3, starting off with baby signing and eventually moving up to the real thing. He spent his whole life surrounded by deaf children, people like him, and yet, he wasn’t really all that happy with it. On the morning of his seventh birthday, he approached his parents, who seemed eager to give him the gifts they’d gotten him.

He waved them down to get their attention, signing once they both looked at him. “I want to go to a public school,” He signed, hands moving like lightning. “I want to learn with people that aren’t deaf, with normal kids.” His parents looked at each other, not really sure what to say. They turned their backs, talking for a moment before turning around once more.

“Lance,” His mother used his name sign – two ‘L’ handshapes, tapping one pointer finger to the other thumb like the sign for run – “I just don’t know if you’re ready to go to a hearing school. Things will be much harder there for you. They won’t help you catch up, and we’d have to hire an interpreter, or you’d have to learn to read lips.” Lance visibly sighed, seeming dejected.

“I’ll learn to read lips then, it won’t take too long, I just need you to talk to me more often instead of signing. And I’ll learn to speak too. My teacher told me there are a lot of deaf people that learn to speak, so I can do that, and then I’ll be able to go to a real school.” Lance was excited, he knew that if this worked, his parents would agree to sign him up for a hearing school and he’d get to hang out with the normal kids in his neighborhood. The two turned their back again, having another talk.

“If you can learn to read lips,” His father started this time, “Then we’ll sign you up for a public school next year for your birthday.” Lance smiled wide, running forwards and flinging his arms around their legs and squeezing them tight.

And he worked hard. He’d go online and watch videos on how to read lips, studying their mouths closely so he could get the hang of it. He spent all of his free time having his siblings and parents talk to him so he could practice reading lips until they got tired of him. When nobody would practice with him, and he’d used up all of his allotted time on the computer, he’d stand in front of the bathroom mirror, doing his best to mimic the mouth shapes they made, which quickly followed by trying to recreate the sounds. Unfortunately, he couldn’t hear his own voice, so he didn’t know if anything he was saying was correct.

Ten months later and the boy could read lips almost as well as any hearing person could make the words out themselves. He went to his parents once more, asking the same question that he’d asked only a year ago. “Can you sign me up for public school?” He signed, much more simply than before, wanting to cut to the point.

His parents agreed reluctantly, worried that sending him to a public school could be overwhelming, as he’d only ever been around other deaf children, with the exception of his own siblings. They were also worried that he’d have a seizure while he was there – he’d had a few since he’d gone deaf – and that people wouldn’t know how to deal with it if it happened.

Come September, Lance had never been more excited for anything. He was practically bouncing off the walls with joy and his leg was bouncing excitedly throughout the entire car ride. His mother held his hand on the way inside, Lance’s eyes scanning every inch of the school, taking in its size in comparison to his previous one. He was tugged gently along, his mother urging him to hurry up so that he wouldn’t be late on his very first day.

She took Lance to the front office, to which he was promptly asked to sit down in a chair while the adults talked. Being the quirky boy that he was, decided that sitting in the chair wasn’t what he wanted, as he couldn’t see the lady behind the counter, and thus couldn’t read her lips. He felt completely out of the loop. Before either of the knew what was happening, Lance had hoisted himself up onto the counter, locking his elbows so he dangled precariously on the edge. He looked directly at the woman’s face, hoping that she’d think nothing of it and continue speaking. She shot him a quick glare, though forced it into a smile to keep his mother from getting angry.

“Can you go sit back ---- so I can talk ---- your mother?” She asked, Lance doing his best to catch as many of the words she said. He hopped off the counter and tugged on her mom’s jeans, getting her to look down at him.

“When I’m sitting down I can’t read her lips.” He signed, not yet good enough at speaking to risk using his voice. “I wanna know what you’re talking about.” Lance’s mother sighed, explaining the situation kindly to the woman, hoping she’d allow him to stand by her side so he could see. She agreed, though didn’t seem very happy about doing it. The two continued to talk for a few more minutes, mostly clarifying who his teacher would be and all of the medical needs that Lance needed to have cleared with the school nurse.

“I can arrange a guide, someone in his class,” the woman started, “To just show him around and spend the day with him until he gets the ropes.” His mother nodded, thinking that would be an excellent idea, and possibly a way for the boy to make friends. “He’ll be introduced to his guide during his class, which should be starting in a few minutes. Feel free to walk him there now if you’d like, I’ll go ahead and call the teacher.” Lance took his mother’s hand once more, pulling her towards the door, overly excited and anxious to get to his classroom.

His mother gave him a warm kiss on the cheek as they parted ways, signing a quick I love you and turning to leave, Lance staying at the door to the classroom. He reached up, turning the handle lightly and giving the door a tug so it would open. He stepped inside to find that nobody else was there, quickly thinking that he’d gone to the wrong room. He did a quick double take – as he’d been known to miss things after only looking one time – noticing a kind looking gentleman standing in corner, looking towards a white board and writing something down on it.

Lance walked over to him, tapping on the side, causing the man to jump, looking over with a smile on his face.

“And well who might you be?” He inquired, “I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.” It took everything Lance had not to burst out laughing. The man had a large orange mustache right above his lip, and the way he stood reminded him of a cartoon. “What’s your name son?” Lance instinctively started fingerspelling his name, only realizing that this man didn’t know sign language, causing a blush to form on his face. He gestured to the board, and the man nodded, indicating that he could write on it.

“Ah yes!” The man said with a chuckle, “Lance Mcclain,” He put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, “You’re deaf, correct?” Lance paused, taking a minute to decipher what he said and nodding his head. “Well welcome to the school my boy!” He gave Lance a pat on the back. “The other kids wait outside until the morning bell rings, if you’d like to join them now you can, though the bell should ring any minute now.” Lance shook his head, deciding to stay inside for the time being. Coran showed him around the room, showing him the desk that had his name printed nicely on a name tag at the top of it.

The bell rang soon after, a wave of students all flowing into the room after having lined up in a semi-neat line outside the door. They put their backpacks on the hooks in the back of the room, taking a seat in their desks, and looking up at the teacher, who’s name – Lance just now noticed – was written in large letters in the corner of the board, ‘Mr. Smithe.’ A young boy sat down next to Lance, flashing him a friendly smile and setting a pack of crayons down on his desk. He stuck out a hand, reaching towards Lance and beginning to ramble.

“My name is Hunk,” He started, already talking a little too fast for Lance to keep up with. “It’s your first day right? That’s cool, I’m really happy that you’re sitting next to me, it was a little lonely sitting all alone for the first couple of days of school. Why did you come to school late anyways, it started like a week ago?” Lance’s eyes widened and he waved his arms in front of him to signal that he didn’t understand what was happening. He looked around frantically for something to write with, his eyes landing on the crayons that Hunk had set down just a moment ago. He reached for it, pulling out the first crayon his hand touched and flipping over a coloring page that was set on their desks to be colored in at the beginning of the day.

He wrote as quickly as he could, Hunk cocking his head to the side in confusion and picking up one of the crayons that had spilled out of the box when Lance grabbed at them. When he finally presented the paper, it had – in almost illegible handwriting – ‘Could you please talk a little bit slower, I can’t understand what you’re saying,’ written on it. He slid the paper awkwardly over to Hunk, scratching the back of his neck while he read. When Hunk looked back up, Lance tapped his ear lightly, hoping he would understand that meant he was deaf. Hunk’s eyes went wide.

“I’m so sorry!” He said, slower this time, “I had no idea that you couldn’t hear me, and I was talking so fast that you probably had no idea what I was saying!” Lance laughed quietly, gesturing that it was okay with his hands. Hunk smiled, starting to talk again, only to be interrupted by a sharp clap coming from the teacher in the front of the room. Hunk tapped Lance on the shoulder, gesturing to the front with a smile.

“Good morning everyone!” He clapped his hands again, “I’m happy to announce that we have a new student in the class today! Lance if you could stand for me.” Lance squinted, recognizing his name and the word ‘stand’ and shooting up out of his chair. “Thank you! Now Lance is deaf everyone, and if you don’t know what that means, it means he can’t hear. So when you talk to him, you have to make sure that he’s looking at you, because he reads lips in order to understand people.” Lance blushed, sitting back down quickly and smiling at the people who looked over.

The teacher let the kids color for a while, Hunk sharing his crayons with Lance as the boy didn’t know that he’d be coloring every day, and left his own at home. Today the picture was of a lion, and although Hunk tried to keep it more traditional – coloring in yellows and browns – Lance decided that his lion would look much better in a million shades of blue. Once the children had gotten bored of coloring, Mr. Smithe clapped once more, getting everyone’s attention. Lance continued to color until Hunk tapped him on the shoulder, snapping the boy’s attention to the front of the room.

“Alright, we’re going to get started on partner reading time, so if everyone could pair up please and thank you!” He bounced happily around the front, gesturing for people to get up and find a friend. Hunk looked excitedly at Lance.

“Lance do you wanna be my partner, usually I have to read with Mr. Smithe, or by myself because everyone else already has partners, but I don’t have one! But since you’re here now I have a partner and I can finally read with someone!” He put an excited hand on Lance’s shoulder shaking him lightly. Lance agreed to be his partner, but when the two sat down in some of the bean bag chairs in the corner to read, he was suddenly nervous. He hadn’t realized that Hunk would start reading out loud and that he would stop after a paragraph and look at Lance expectantly. Lance scrambled back to his desk, grabbing another crayon and his paper and writing frantically on the back of it.

“I can’t talk out loud,” the paper said in Lance’s iconic, yet horrid handwriting. Hunk read the paper over and smiled.

“Well it doesn’t hurt to try does it?” He asked encouragingly, “You can read, right?” Lance shrugged his shoulder lightly, writing on the paper once more.

“Kind of, but I don’t know how to pronounce things very well.” Hunk laughed, patting Lance’s knee and standing.

“I’ll be right back, okay?” He walked to a row of buckets that sat on the top of a tan shelf. He stood on his toes, thumbing through the books, all of which were very thin. He pulled one out titled I Can Read! Pete the Cat and headed back over to Lance, sitting down next to him once more and presenting the book. “This is the one I used when I was learning to read, so I thought it might help you. If you have trouble, I can try and teach you if you want.” Lance’s eyes lit up and he nodded, grabbing the book and opening it to the first page. He could understand the words, but he didn’t have any idea how to even begin pronouncing them.

“Can you say the word first?” Lance wrote on the paper, looking at Hunk nervously. He nodded, reading the first word of the book a few times and asking Lance to repeat it after him. Lance studied the boy’s mouth closely, trying to copy the movements he made, hoping that it would make the same sound, but ultimately, it turned out as a very loud and overly incomprehensible. Hunk smiled softly.

“Not quite, try that one again,” Hunk tried to stay calm, despite being slightly embarrassed from disrupting the class. Lance tried again, making a slightly different – but not any closer to the word that was written – sound, this time a bit louder than the last. A couple of the kids snickered to themselves, turning away and going back to what they were doing. When Lance tried for a third time to speak, on of the kids stood up looking over at him.

“Hunk tell him to shut up! He sounds stupid and I can’t read when he makes all of those gross sounds!” He yelled with a huff. Lance had turned to see what Hunk was looking at, catching the back end of what he was saying and looking down dejectedly. Hunk placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, getting the boy, who was now teary-eyed, to look up at him.

“Lance, don’t listen to them okay?” He said happily, keeping Lance’s attention on him, instead of on Mr. Smithe, who had gone to scold the child that teased Lance. “You just started learning to speak, so it’s okay that you’re not perfect at it!” Lance offered a sad smile, feeling slightly better after talking to Hunk.

The class eventually moved on, spending a while learning about multiplication and division, both of which Lance struggled with. Hunk did his best to help Lance out, explaining everything for him again when he didn’t catch it the first time Mr. Smithe said it. Eventually the children had all grown antsy for first recess to begin and the teacher had to take a short break from the lesson, letting the children talk amongst themselves until the recess bell rang. When the melodic tune signaling the start of recess came over the intercom, all of the kids jumped to their feet, rushing for the door.

“I usually stay inside for recess,” Hunk said, smiling, “There are lots of things to do outside too though if you want to go out there.” Lance scribbled something down on a paper, passing it to Hunk happily.

“We can do whatever you want to do,” was written on it, causing a huge smile to appear on Hunk’s face.

“If you want we could work on reading some more!” He said moving over to where the books are, “I can try and help you learn to talk!” Lance hesitated slightly, not sure if he wanted to try again after what the other kids said to him. Hunk noticed the look on his face and put a hand on his shoulder, “There’s nobody else in here, so we don’t have to worry about it!” Lance eventually agreed, going back over to where they were sitting before and pulling out another book, only to have Hunk set it down. “How about we start with your name instead of reading out of a book?”

Hunk said his name out loud three times, having Lance look at his mouth while he did it. Of course, when Lance tried to make the same sound, it came out gargled and sloppy. Hunk tried the same thing again, however after getting similar results each time, he decided to move on to a different method. He tried making each sound one at a time, starting with the letter L. He showed Lance the way your mouth was supposed to look and had him copy it. By the end of recess, he had Lance making an ‘L’ sound with almost no issue.

“So, Lance?” Hunk asked as they headed back to their seats, “Is it hard to talk to people because you have to write everything down? Like is it hard to talk to your parents?” Lance shakes his head, starting to respond on paper.

“I don’t write when I talk to my parents, I use sign language.” He passed it over to Hunk, looking at his face as he read.
“Sign Language? What’s that?”

“It’s like talking,” Lance started writing again, “But it’s with your hands.” He explained that it was used by people that couldn’t hear and those that wanted to communicate with them mostly. He told him that his parents and siblings all learned it when he went deaf so they could talk to him without him having to read lips or write things down.

“Whoa! That’s really cool!” Hunk exclaimed, looking up with curious eyes. “It’s like you can talk all the time but nobody will get mad at you for talking too much because you won’t actually be talking!” Lance grinned, grabbing his paper to write on it once more.

“I have an idea! Maybe you can teach me to talk, and I can teach you some sign language!” Hunk nodded his head, grabbing both of Lance’s hands excitedly.

“Yeah!” He shouted, “You can start teaching me tomorrow, and you can start by teaching me my name, like I’m teaching you your-” The bell rang with the same melodic tone as before, cutting Hunk off and signaling the end of recess. Kids filed back in, taking their seats once more and preparing to learn all about whatever the teacher had planned for the rest of the day.

Lance waited for him mom to pick him up right outside at the end of the day. He stood patiently, bouncing gently in his spot and scanning the cars as they drove up, and then watching them with soft eyes as they drove away with their own kids babbling in the back seats. When his mom finally did arrive, Lance shot forward, practically leaping into his chair, excited to get home and tell his parents about all of them fun things he did with Hunk that day. He wanted to talk on the ride home, but his mom couldn’t drive and focus on what he was signing at the same time.

“Mom I made a new friend today!” He signed, tugging on his mom’s pants so she’d look down at him to see what he was saying.

“That’s great baby,” She replied, unlocking the door and gesturing for Lance to walk through it, “What’s the name?” Lance smiled, spelling out ‘Hunk’ and setting his bag down next to the couch.

“He wants to learn sign language and I told him I’d start teaching him tomorrow!” The boy ran into the kitchen, looking around for a snack he wanted, pulling string cheese out of the fridge and opening it, peeling off a strand and dangling it over his mouth, lowering it slowly. “I’m gonna start by teaching him his name, and he said he’s gonna help me learn to talk!” His mom looked at him hesitantly.

“Honey I don’t want you to get your hopes up with learning to speak,” She muttered seriously, “Peaking isn’t easy when you’re deaf, and there’s a chance that you won’t be able to do it all, so even if this boy says that he’ll try and teach you, you have to make sure that you’ll be okay if you can’t do it.” Lance nodded.

“I know Mommy,” He signed excitedly, “But how will I ever be able to know if I can do it if I never even try?” His mom offered up a soft smile, agreeing with her son calmly.

“You have always been a dreamer buddy,” she reached down, ruffling his soft hair, “If there’s anyone that can do it, it’s you.” Lance wrapped his arms around his mother’s waist, burying his head in her side with a smile.

The next morning, Lance couldn’t have been more excited to go to school. He rushed to get ready, throwing on a t-shirt with a shark on it, some basketball shorts and a green jacket. He grabbed his bag and bounced next to the door, waiting for his mom to finish her cup of coffee so the two could get going. Lance tugged on her hand, barely giving her time to drop the mug in the sink and grab her keys before they were out the door and booking it for the car.

“I’m gonna teach Hunk today mom!” The boy signed, barely holding on to the backpack that was falling off one of his shoulders. “I even wrote a list of all of the things I’m gonna show him and it’s gonna be so much fun.” His signs flew by quickly, his mom’s smile growing as the boy rambled excitedly.

“Alright, alright,” she sighed, opening his door for him, “We’ll never get there if you spend so much time talking about it instead of doing it.” Lance nodded his head, clambering clumsily into his seat and buckling the belt, swinging his legs furiously until his mom climbed in after him and started the car. When she finally pulled the car into a parking spot, Lance couldn’t scramble fast enough to get out of there. “Do you need me to go with you?” She asked him, turning so he could see her from inside the car. Lance shook his head, eliciting a kind, but somewhat sad smile from his mom.

“Love you mom!” He signed cheerfully, “I’ll see you after school,” His mom nodded, signing ‘I love you’ right back to him and waving as he turned to leave. Lance sprinted off, running through the foyer and straight to the playground in the back of the school. He didn’t stop until he had Hunk in his sights, who was waiting patiently in front of the door to the classroom.

“Lance, hi!” he waved with a jovial smile. “You’re gonna teach me sign language, today right?” Lance thought for a minute, trying to make sure he understood what Hunk said before nodding quickly. “Awesome! I’m so excited!” Hunk clapped his hands quickly. “When can we start? Cause if you want to wait until first recess we can do that, or we can start at second recess if you really don’t want to do it during first,” Lance lost track of what the boy was saying, tilting his head to the side and waiting for him to finish speaking and die down.

Lance shrugged, indicating that he’d be willing to start whenever. Hunk – though not entirely sure – assumed that meant it would be okay to start that exact moment.

They knocked quietly on the door together, hoping to get let in a little bit early so they could focus on learning without the distraction of other children. Mr. Smithe opened the door just a crack, twirling his mustache jokingly.

“What are you doing here?” his voice boomed in mock anger, “This is my territory.” Lance laughed, Hunk following suit soon after, though a little more nervously. “But I suppose you can come in if you’d like to.” He changed his mood quickly, swinging the door open and smiling wide. The two raced inside, moving to sit at their desks immediately.

“Where do we start?” Hunk asked eagerly, getting out a pencil and a piece of paper so Lance could write things down. He took the items graciously and began writing down a few things.

“We start with your name,” Hunk read over Lance’s shoulder as he wrote. He reached into his own bag, pulling out the list of signs he’d come up with to teach his newfound friend. He pointed to two words, written in all caps on the sheet. ‘MY NAME’

Lance gestured for Hunk to look at him. He tapped the word ‘MY’ and then showing him what the sign looked like, gently patting his open hand on his chest. He then tapped the second word, ‘NAME’ showing Hunk how to make that sign by putting your index and middle fingers together on both hands and tapping the sides together.

Hunk repeated it, slightly sloppier, but ultimately correct. Lance did it one more time, having Hunk repeat once more, smiling wide and clapping when he got it correct. Lance then moved on to showing Hunk how to spell his name, demonstrating each letter slowly so he’d be able to keep up. Hunk caught on quickly, and by the time recess was over for the two of them, Hunk had already completely learned how to introduce himself.

The following recess was the exact opposite of the first one. This time the two sat together in the reading corner, Hunk doing his best to teach him the ‘A’ in his name that followed after the ‘L’ that he’d managed yesterday. Though it’s clear that Lance’s speaking won’t advance as quickly as Hunk would in sign language, he’d been making progress, and that’s all that mattered.

The end of his first week rolled around, and during their last recess together until the weekend, Lance had finally managed to say his entire name. It came out slightly gargled, and his deaf accent was clear, but you could understand that it was his name he was trying to say.

“Oh my gosh Lance you did it!” Hunk said, enthusiastically throwing his arms around the other with a wide smile. “That was perfect!” Lance smiled wide, flashing his teeth – the two front ones missing – and squeezing Hunk back. Pulling out a nearby piece of paper, he began frantically scribbling.

“Did I actually do it?” He showed the paper to Hunk excitedly. The boy nodded, grabbing Lance’s shoulders and shaking back and forth, laughing.

“Say it again!” He urged, letting the boy go and stepping back so he could watch.

“Lance,” he said hesitantly, not sure if he was doing it right. When he saw Hunk’s joyous reaction once more, he said the work again, this time more confidently. Lance turned to his teacher, running over to him, Hunk following in tow.

“Did you hear him Mr. Smithe?” Hunk questioned, watching the man twirl his mustache.

“I did,” he smiled kindly, “I’m sure you’ll be saying full sentences in no time my boy.” The man ruffled Lance’s soft hair, causing the boy to smile once more. Mr. Smithe glanced over at Hunk, locking eyes with him. “And you Hunk,” He started, “You have been an excellent teacher. He couldn’t have done it without you.” Hunk rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, flashing an embarrassed smile.

“I don’t know, I think he could have done it on his own,” He began, voice shaky and unsure, “I think Lance is smart enough that he could learn to talk without my help, cause I didn’t even really do anything I just kind of –“ Mr. Smithe cut him off.

“Hunk, you need to give yourself more credit than that,” He looked over at Lance, “I’m sure Lance would agree that you were an important part in him learning how to say his name.” Lance nodded, picking up a marker and gesturing to the board, asking if he could write on it to which the teacher nodded.

“I couldn’t have done it without you.” Lance wrote, glancing over his shoulder with another toothy grin. He capped the marker, turning around and hugging his friend once more. Tears fills Hunk’s eyes, though he managed to wipe them away with a chuckle. Lance turned to the board again, “I’m happy we’re best friends.”

“We’re best friends?” Hunk asked, looking at Lance innocently, “Really? That’s amazing!” Lance nodded his head, confirming Hunk’s question and earning an almost loving look from the boy. “I’ve never had a best friend before, I’m excited!”

The two spent the rest of the day together, talking during the lesson – which they were promptly scolded for – and just generally being some of the happiest people in the room for the time being.

Lance had never been more excited to see his mother after school. He’d wanted to tell her all about what he did today, not only the things he learned with Mr. Smithe, but also that he was finally able to say his first name. He paced back and forth in front of the bus loop, scanning every passing car for his mom’s car. When thirty minutes had passed and his mom still wasn’t there, he began to get worried. He’d now taken a seat on the floor, looking down at the ground and fiddling with his hands mindlessly.

Just when tears had begun to fill his guiltless eyes, and he’d started to think that his mother may never come get him, her car pulled slowly into the parking lot. Lance stood up hastily, wiping the tears away and slinging his backpack onto his shoulder. He practically ran to the car, climbing into the backseat and looking at his mom’s face in the rear-view mirror.

“Mom, you’ll never believe what I did today!” His hands moved frantically, happy to finally get to tell him mom about his amazing day. She held up her hand so he could see it, causing the boy to pause mid-sentence.

“Not now Lance, please,” She said, making sure Lance saw her mouth in the mirror. “I’m sorry I was late to pick you up, but I’ve had a long day so please just, not now.” Lance sighed dejectedly, leaning forward and putting his forehead on the back of the driver’s seat. His mother pulled slowly into the driveway, Lance hopping out and going to his room without another word. He started on his homework, which was just some simple math, and then spent the rest of his free time practicing saying his name.

He never did get the chance to say his name to his mother that day, and by the time his dad returned from work, he’d lost all motivation to even think of showing him instead. To think, he’d worked so hard to learn to speak, and he wouldn’t even have the chance to show someone else that he could do it. That of course, would be a crucial moment in Lance’s development, because at this point, he would have to decide if learning to speak was really worth it if his family was going to show no interest in what he was doing.

Lance, however, was a determined little boy, and he wasn’t going to let the lack of enthusiasm on his parent’s side stop his from accomplishing what many deemed totally impossible.

Chapter Text

Come sixth grade, Lance and Hunk were an inseparable pair. The two would visit each other’s house frequently, spending all of their time at school – and after the fact – with one another. Lance had gotten significantly better at speaking, though the run in with his mother all those years ago had damaged his confidence, so he still hasn’t told his parents that he’d been improving. He could now form full sentences of basic words. He wasn’t anywhere near to fluent, but he could do his best to hold a conversation.

On Hunk’s end of the spectrum, he was practically a master of sign language! He’d done a lot of learning on his own, aside from what Lance had been teaching him at recess, and at this point, he and Lance could talk in sign language with almost no issues. Sure, he’d need a refresher on a few things, and there are still some signs he doesn’t know, but that wasn’t an issue, since Lance gladly showed him anything that he had trouble with.

The pair had started going outside during recess around fourth grade, but that was really only because their teacher had demanded they play outside, as opposed to indoors so he could have time alone in his classroom. To do what, the boys were never quite sure. Nowadays, Hunk would pack books in his backpack, and the two would sit outside, either signing to each other about all of the things they’d been doing, or simply sit next to each other quietly and read.

Today, however, the two had decided to wander, glancing at the children as they pass, all playing their own games while Hunk hummed quietly.

“Is there anything you want to do?” Hunk asked in sign, looking over at Lance to see his response.

“I don’t know,” he started, “I guess we could go to the sand field and walk around if you wanted.” Hunk nodded in agreement, the two changing their path quickly. Lance, who had glanced over at Hunk to see if he was saying anything, didn’t see the boy that had come sprinting towards him. The two collided, sending Lance sprawling to the ground with an unexpected cry. The other visibly groaned, glaring down at Lance.

“I knew you were deaf, but I didn’t think you’d be blind too,” He spat irritably, “You’re like Helen Keller, next time watch where you’re going, idiot!” He stormed off and Hunk quickly pulled Lance to his feet with a sigh.

“I’m sorry about him,” Hunk muttered kindly, “I should’ve said something, and I didn’t.” Lance shook his head, forcing a smile on his face.

“It’s fine,” He replied in sign, “He wasn’t even original with his insults, he could’ve at least tried a little.” He signed with a laugh. Hunk smiled back, feeling better about his supposed failure. Unfortunately for Lance, word spreads quickly on the playground, and before long, every sixth grader in the school knew what had happened between the boy he'd collided with and himself. Soon enough, he'd earned the grade-wide nickname, Helen.

Lance would never admit it, but he hated that nickname more than anything else in the world. When he was around others, he'd act as if it had no effect on him. He'd smile and laugh it off, retorting by telling them they weren't smart enough to come up with their own nicknames, so they had to steal somebody else's name, which was a new low for all of them. Granted, when he was around Hunk, their insults didn't really get to him, but there were more times than he'd like that he'd gone to the bathroom, and someone would follow him in, making fun of him the whole way. He'd end up hiding in a stall until they left, though there were a few occasions where they would stand outside the stall, banging on the door until he came out, at which point they'd pick up where they left off.

It had gotten to the point where sometimes Lance wouldn't want to go to school. He'd lay in his bed in the morning with his mom flashing the lights on and off, trying to get him to get up and come downstairs. Of course, he never actually tried to skip or faked being sick in order to stay home, but he thought about more than he probably should have.

A few weeks into the teasing and Lance almost couldn't take it anymore. It wasn't even the insults that bothered him anymore, it was just that he never got any time alone, there was always someone there to call him names.

He could tell that Hunk was doing his best to stand up for Lance, calling people out when they were being particularly cruel, and assuring Lance that none of them knew what they were talking about, but even Lance knew that he had his limits. He could only handle so much confrontation before he'd start getting nervous, at which point Lance would calmly lead the two of them away from the crowd. On one particularly bad day, Lance was just itching to say something back or to throw a punch or anything, but before he'd even gotten the chance to do it, a new person, someone Lance, and Hunk had never seen before, stepped in.

"Hey!" A kind of high pitched voice, one that reminded Hunk of one of Lance's sisters began, "Why don't you just admit that you're all selfish, immature jerks that only bully him because you want to feel better about yourselves?" Many of the accused turned around, looking at the person that had called them out, a girl, much to their surprise. "Just because you feel bad about yourselves, doesn't mean you should make other people feel bad too." Lance looked at her, admiration clearly visible on his face. She'd not only just made all of the people bullying him look like fools, but she also used words that most of them probably couldn't even fully comprehend. The girl marched over pridefully after making sure everyone had gone back to their regular recess activities.

"That was amazing!" Hunk said, earning a nod of agreement from Lance. "You totally showed all of them! What's your name?" The girl laughed.

"I'm Katie," She stated confidently, sticking out her hand for the two boys to shake.

What’s her name? ” Lance signed to Hunk, a quizzical look on his face. Names were one thing Lance always had trouble lip reading, since they weren’t necessarily ‘real’ words, so he couldn’t always form the syllables in his head. Luckily, Hunk was ready, quickly fingerspelling her name and double checking that Lance understood. Lance held out a ‘Y’ hand shape, pulsing it back and forth, a sign that meant something along the lines of ‘OH-I-SEE,’ indicating that he’d understood.

Katie, who was thoroughly confused at this point jutted out her hip, a sassy, and quite frankly kind of intimidating pose, “So are you gonna tell me your name? Or are you just gonna stand there and act like I stopped existing as soon as you started signing to him?” Lance raised his eyebrows at her, signing ‘understand?’ in hopes that she may know at least a little bit of sign language. “Yeah I know a little bit,” she said, “My older brother took the class in high school, and he’s taking it in college now, he taught me some. I would have no idea what you said to me if you signed something random, but I know the basics.”

“Hey, maybe Lance can teach you!” Hunk says excitedly, slapping Lance on his lower back light enough that he didn’t get hurt. “He’s been teaching me for a long time, he’s a great teacher! I’m Hunk by the way,” Lance, confused a bit by what he said, asked Hunk to sign it, to which he did. Lance, just a little irritated, started signing quickly to Hunk, hoping he could keep up.

You can’t just tell people I’ll teach them, I mean, I will if she wants to, but don’t just offer me as a teacher .” He rubbed his hand on the back of his head when he was done, letting out an awkward sigh before apologizing, knowing that it would probably make Hunk upset. “But it’s okay, don’t worry about it.” He turned to face Katie, taking a deep breath so he could introduce himself to her. He tapped his index finger on his chest, and in a very slurred accent, he muttered out the simple words, “I’m Lance.” Now, Lance had never introduced himself to anyone verbally before, he usually just had Hunk do it for him, since the two were attached at the hip at this point, so this huge breakthrough made a wide smile spread across Hunk’s face.

“Lance! That was amazing!” He quickly pulled the boy into a hug, squeezing him tight, a surprised noise coming out of Lance’s mouth. Hunk looked quickly to Katie, “He’s never introduced himself like that before, do you realize how crazy this is?”

“Wait, he can talk?” Katie said with a confused raise of her eyebrows. “You can talk?” She pointed at him, shifting her weight onto one foot and jutting out her hip. Lance held out his hand, shaking it back and forth to indicate that he could ‘kind of’ talk, followed promptly by the sign for learn, which Hunk kindly translated for him. “Hey that’s pretty cool, I didn’t even know deaf people could talk.” Lance laughed, signing back to her in response, Hunk translating just like usual.

Yeah I didn’t know either, at least not until Hunk started teaching me.” He smiled, reaching over and patting Hunk on the back, “ He really is a good teacher.”  Unfortunately, the two of them - Hunk and Lance - didn’t get much more time to talk with Katie, being quickly whisked back to their classroom at the sound of the recess teacher blowing the whistle.

It wasn’t until after school that the two of them saw Katie once more. Lance made it his mission to greet her before she noticed him, sneaking up behind her and tapping her on the shoulder, a wide smile on his face. She jumped, whipping her head around with a glare, her look softening when she saw who was standing behind her.

“You scared me!” She said, lightly shoving Lance’s shoulder, causing him to chuckle and run his hand through his hair. He quickly signed ‘sorry,’ a sign that Katie knew, a smile crossing over her face because she could understand him. “My brother’s picking me up soon,” she gestured to the pick-up/drop-off loop in front of the school, “You should meet him, he knows sign language.”

“Yeah, you were telling us about him teaching you some things earlier,” Hunk butted in, a sheepish smile on his face. “I think it’s cool that people who aren’t deaf want to learn sign.” He finished, hands moving at the same time as his mouth so Lance could understand without having to read his lips.

What, like you? ” Lance signed, a joking look on his face, “ You think you’re cool just cause you learned sign? ” Hunk instinctively reiterated the words, his face dropping when it registered to him what he’d said. Lance followed up by smiling wide, knowing that Hunk took him a little too seriously, “ Because you are,” He pat his friend on the arm, laughing quietly before voicing, “The coolest.”

Hunk beamed, pulling Lance in for a quick hug, before looking at him in mock anger, “I really thought you were being mean to me,” he said with a small frown, “That’s not funny.” He tried his best to be stern, but realized there was no point when he saw Katie laughing to herself.

“Actually, it was a little funny.” She said with a smile, only to jump when a car horn that she knew all too well beeped from the pick-up loop. “That’s my brother, c’mon you gotta meet him.” She grabbed Lance by the sleeve, tugging on him and urging Hunk to follow. “Matt!” She shouted, motioning for her to roll down the window, “Matt, you have to meet my friends!” Seemingly reluctant, Katie’s brother, supposedly called Matt, rolled down the window, offering her a smile.

“What’s up Pidge?” He crossed one leg over the other, despite how oddly idiotic it made him look, “Who are they?” Katie groaned, throwing her head back.

“I told you not to call me that,” She muttered, her attention focused now on the nickname rather than her friends, who were standing awkwardly behind her. “But who cares about that,” she ushered her two friends forward. “This is Hunk, and this is Lance.” They both waved when Katie gestured to them.

“What’s up you guys, I’m Matt, what crazy thing did my sister do to catch your attention?”

“Matt!” She reached in, shoving him lightly. “I didn’t even do anything, and you’re being rude, Lance is deaf and you’re just talking like it’s no big deal!” She told him, a smile on her face. Matt perked up, looking from Pidge’s face to Lance, grinning wide. He quickly started signing towards Lance.

Do you know sign?” He asked quickly, hands moving like lighting.

Yeah! Katie was telling me all about how you’re taking that class right now,” He smiled, fingerspelling Katie’s name, since he hadn’t gotten to know her well enough to give her a name sign. The two of them had a short conversation, Lance more than happy just to have someone new to talk to. Not that he didn’t like talking to Hunk, he just always thought it was nice to have a fresh pair of hands to converse with. Soon enough, Katie broke the two apart, complaining that she had to get get home and work on the homework that she didn’t actually have.

She climbed into the car, sitting in the front seat, something that Matt let her do as long as her parents didn’t find out about it, since she technically wasn’t quite old enough to be sitting in the front. She leaned over, whispering something in his ear before demanding that Hunk and Lance close their eyes so they couldn’t see what she was doing.

“Can you show me how to sign ‘see you tomorrow’?” She asked Matt, an eager look in her eyes, “I wanna say it to Hunk and Lance.” Matt chuckled, reaching over and messing up her hair with a smile.

“Course I can show you, Pidge,” he quickly demonstrated the signs in Pidgin Signing*, not wanting to confuse her with all of the grammar that went into ASL just yet. He had her copy him a few times, double and triple checking that he was doing everything right before giving her the a-okay to show her new friends.

“Hunk!” She shouted through the open window, “Get Lance to open his eyes!” Hunk jumped, not expecting the shout, but complying with a smile, tapping Lance on the shoulder and gesturing to Katie, who was smiling wide in the car. “Watch this,” she glanced over at Matt, who gave her a nod of encouragement. Katie took a quick breath, repeating the signs for ‘ see you tomorrow’ clumsily, and a bit slowly, but Lance and Hunk both perfectly understood, and the smile that spread over Lance’s face was confirmation enough that Katie had done the signs close enough to what they were meant to be for him to understand.

Nice job!” Lance signed back, Hunk interpreting for him like usual, “ Let’s hang out at recess tomorrow!” Katie nodded, giving the two of them one final wave before her brother pulled away, hitting her lightly on the shoulder.

Lance and Hunk hung around after school for a little while longer, until Hunk’s mom pulled up in the pick-up loop around twenty minutes later, offering to drive the both of them home so Lance didn’t have to wait an additional hour for his mom to get off work and come get him. The car ride, though it was quiet, it wasn’t at all calm. Both Hunk and Lance had hands flying like crazy, neither of them could stop talking about Katie, and how excited they were to talk to Katie tomorrow as well.

“She was so cool!” Hunk exclaimed enthusiastically, “She totally stood up for you on all her own and she’s a fifth grader!” Lance groaned, one thing that seemed to be universal to all kids his age, hearing or not.

“You don’t have to rub it in,” He signed dejectedly, “I can stand up for myself… I don’t need a fifth grader to do it for me.” A small frown crossed over Hunk’s face as he let out a gentle sigh.

“Does that mean you don’t like her?” Hunk seemed sad to say the least. He’d really taken a liking to Katie, and if Lance didn’t like her, chances are he wasn’t going to want to spend time with her. As much as Hunk hated to admit it, Lance was his only friend, and aside from Lance’s brothers and sisters, Hunk was his only friend too, so they had to stick together, even if it meant that he had to give up other people along the way. They had each other’s back, that’s how it works.

“What?” Lance signed, confused, “What? No I like her a lot!” He laughed, smiling as Hunk’s face seemed to change from one of disappointment to one of joy, “She’s really cool, I just think that I need to stand up for myself. I can’t let other people stand up for me.” He did his best to explain it without sounding like he disliked Katie in any way. “And her brother, Matt? I think that was his name, is really cool too! And he knows sign, so that automatically makes him so much cooler.” Lance smiled wide, watching as Hunk’s mom pulled up to his house.

Hunk laughed, saying goodbye to his friend and watching as he climbed out of the car, heading towards his front door. Hunk’s mother waited outside his house until she saw Lance go inside, something she’d done for as long as she could remember, not wanting Lance to get locked out of his house with nowhere to go until his mother got home. Once Lance got the door open, he turned back, waving one final time and jogging into his house. He closed the door behind him, turning around and jumping at the sight of his older brother standing right behind him, breaking down in laughter at Lance’s reaction.

“You’re so mean!” Lance said, chuckling nonetheless. He stepped forward, shoving his brother - Miguel - lightly. “Why do you always have to sneak up on me like that?” Miguel smiled, signing back to his little brother with ease.

“You’re just so easy to sneak up on. No offense” Lance sighed, even though he knew it was true. “How about this, to make up for it, I’ll make you a snack, anything you want.” Miguel insisted, not wanting his little brother to get mad at him, though he was pretty sure he wouldn’t. Lance however, took this as the perfect opportunity to get him to make some sweets, so he put on his best puppy dog face, looking up at Miguel innocently.

“Even cookies?” He bounced up and down on his toes, hoping that his brother would agree to his request. Miguel ran a hand through his hair, letting out a sigh. He always had trouble saying no to Lance when he put on the puppy dog eyes, he was just so damn cute, who wouldn’t say yes to that face.

“Oh okay fine,” He said, running a hand through his hair, “I’ll make you cookies, but you have to help me.” His signs were stern, so Lance knew Miguel was serious. If he wanted cookies, he was going to have to help make them. Lance of course, had always liked baking, even if he wasn’t that great on it. He and Hunk would make all kinds of things when they spent time together, though it was mostly just Hunk making things and Lance making a mess by spilling the flour everywhere.

“Of course I’ll help,” He smiled wide, carefully rehearsing what he was going to say in his head before opening his mouth. “Let’s do this!” Now, Lance had kept his secret about being able to speak hidden quite well. Nobody in his family had ever heard him say a single word, so the shocked look on Miguel’s face didn’t really come as a surprise to the little boy, everyone seemed to make the same face when he spoke to them anyway.

“Holy shit…” Miguel muttered quietly, eyes wide and jaw hanging open. “Lance that was amazing!” He ran at his brother, grabbing him from underneath his armpits and lifting him into the air. He spun his little brother around a few times, before dropping him back onto the floor. He kneeled down so their faces were at the same level, a wide smile unlike Lance had ever seen crossing over his face. “When did you learn to talk?” He put his hands firmly on Lance’s shoulders, shaking him back and forth lightly, “Why didn’t you tell anyone?” He barely gave Lance any time to breathe, firing question after question, his smile never faltering, not even for a second.

“Hunk taught me,” Lance still had trouble with some sounds, ‘H’ being one of them, so that phrase came out particularly slurred, though it was clear that Miguel understood exactly what he was trying to say. He pulled Lance in for a tight hug, patting his hand lovingly on Lance’s back, pushing him away with a laugh.

“That’s incredible, he taught you all on his own?” Miguel was in so much shock that he’d completely forgotten that Lance much preferred speaking in sign. Lance paused for a moment, translating the movements of Miguel’s mouth into words and nodding with a smile.

“He’s a great teacher!” Lance signed, his cheeks flushed red from all the praise. “And I taught him to sign too, so now he’s really good at signing!” Miguel reached down, ruffling his hair with a gentle laugh.

“I bet you’re a great teacher too buddy,” He grabbed onto Lance’s hand, pulling him into the kitchen so they could get to work on their cookies. “I mean, you said he’s really good now, so obviously you’re amazing.” Lance laughed as Miguel started pulling ingredients down from the many cupboards and cabinets, setting them all on the counter to be used later. “Grab the mixing bowl from the dishwasher,” he instructed, holding the eggs in one hand and the milk in the other, balancing them skillfully as not to make a mess before they’d even gotten started. Lance did as ordered, standing on his toes to make sure the bowl landed safely on the counter, he’d dropped things before, and the repercussions - his parents yelling at him and grounding him for a week - had been enough to keep him from making the same mistake again.  

The baking had been going relatively smoothly, Miguel doing most of the measuring as too keep the mess to a minimum, but Lance, who had been eagerly bouncing on his feet the entire time, insisted that he was old enough to pour the flour into the mixing bowl without making a mess, once again pulling the puppy dog eyes. And once again, just like last time, Miguel caved, finally agreeing to let him pour some of the flour into the bowl. Granted, Lance had grown up since the last time they’d tried to bake together, so Miguel thought that maybe he’d have a more steady hand, or at least a better judgement.

And just like last time, he thought completely wrong.

Before Miguel even knew what was happening, the mixer had been turned onto its highest speed and flour was blown across the kitchen, hitting the ceiling, the walls, and every inch of Lance’s face. Lance started laughing almost immediately, finding the whole situation to be hilarious, but his laughter came to a hard stop when he saw the frown on Miguel’s face, his hair dusted white. His older brother took a deep breath, closing his eyes to gather his thoughts.

“Lance.” He said sternly, the fact that he wasn’t signing to him reason enough for Lance to believe he was angry. “You told me you could do it right this time, you said you weren’t going to make a mess.” He brushed off the front of Lance’s shirt, sighing. “I don’t know about you, but this looks like a mess to me.” Lance glanced towards the floor, a small frown falling onto his innocent face.

“I’m sorry,” he began, “I promise I didn’t mean to make a mess, I’ll clean it up, just please don’t get mad at me, or ground me.” He was practically begging at this point, tears pricking his vision and threatening to spill over onto his face. Miguel, seeing his brother’s obvious distress, softened his expression, a calm smile crossing over his face.

“I’m not mad buddy,” He’d switched back to sign, he wasn’t angry anymore. “Now, how about you go upstairs and tell Anton to come down and help. Then hop in the shower and get yourself cleaned up.” Anton was a little bit younger than Miguel, a little bit over a year, set to graduate high school that year in fact, more than ready to head off to college. He wasn’t necessarily the nicest of Lance’s siblings, but he was always willing to help Miguel when he needed it.

“Anton?” Lance started by getting his attention, knocking on his wall until he looked up, then proceeding to use his name sign, which mimicked the placement and movement of the sign for ‘SMART,’ only with an ‘A’ handshape. Lance had picked this name sign not only because his brother was quite smart, but it could also appear to look like the sign for ‘DUMB,’ which Lance quite liked the irony of. “Miguel needs your help downstairs. We made a mess and he wants you to help clean up so I can shower.” He used Miguel’s name sign when referring to his other brother, which was similar to the sign for ‘KINDNESS,’ only using the ‘M’ handshape to represent his name. Anton stood up, a slightly irritated look on his face, trudging downstairs without saying a word, careful not to touch Lance as not to get any flour on his own clothes.

Lance returned from his shower a bit later, hair dripping wet and in a fresh pair of clothes, a smile ingrained on his face. The kitchen was sparkling when he reached it, not a trace of the mess anywhere, and a batch of cookies in the oven, already baking. He witnessed the final efforts of their labor, Miguel pulling Anton in for quick hug before watching him head back to his room. Miguel’s eyes landed on Lance, freshly clean, and he quickly beckoned him over.

“You’re looking much better now,” He signed, wiping a bead of sweat off his forehead.

“What do you mean?” Lance said, smiling, “I always look this good.” Miguel rolled his eyes, shoving his shoulder gently with a chuckle, walking out of the kitchen and motioning for Lance to follow him. “Where are we going? I literally just walked into the kitchen.” Miguel didn’t say anything, forcing Lance to follow if he wanted to find out what it was he was talking about.

“Sit down for a sec,” He told Lance, motioning to the couch in their living room. Lance obeyed, jumping onto the couch and crossing his legs while Miguel walked over to the closet, pulling a plastic bag on a hanger out and bringing it over. “You know I’m leaving for college soon, right?” He asked, taking a seat next to Lance on the couch. Lance nodded, tilting his head to the side in confusion.

“You told me last month, why?” Lance could remember the Miguel said he was leaving like it was yesterday. He’d wanted nothing more than to stay with Miguel for his entire life, so hearing that he would be leaving broke his heart. He cried for hours that day, begging his brother not to leave, the only way he was able to accept it being that Miguel agreed to come visit as often as he could, which would turn out to be almost every weekend, since his campus wasn’t all that far from the house.

“So when I was around your age, dad gave me this jacket, he said that it was a gift from his father as a kid.” He reached into the bag, pulling out a jacked in a greenish/brown color, a thick yellow stripe circling each sleeve. “I figured, since it doesn’t fit me anymore, I’d give it to you.” Miguel had started working out recently, losing the lanky frame that all McClain boys tended to have, it being replaced with a surprising amount of muscle, meaning the jacket didn’t quite sit right on his body, squeezing too tight in all the wrong places. “It’ll be too big for now, but you’ll probably grow into it by middle or high school.”

Lance was more than ecstatic, leaping from his seat and tackling Miguel into a hug, thanking him many times over with both his hands and his voice, pressing a kiss to Miguel’s cheek.

“You’re the best big brother ever!” Lance shouted, pulling away from Miguel and taking the jacket in his arms, swinging it onto his arms and laughing and how the material went down to his knees, still much too long for the twelve-year-old.

“Thanks, buddy,” he ran a hand through his hair, tucking the fluffy strands behind his ears. “You’re pretty fantastic yourself.”

Lance had gone to bed that night with an unbelievable smile on his face, falling asleep in the jacket, despite how uncomfortable it was, the material not being one suited for sleeping, but Lance couldn’t care less. That jacket held an incredible amount of love in a simple piece of fabric. And Lance would be crazy if he ever let that go.

Chapter Text

The summer was coming quickly to a close, the hot, beating sun of August slowly but surely turning into the just as hot, but somehow more depressing sun of September, and Lance was not ready to go to Middle School. He’d heard rumors from the rest of the sixth grade class that all of the eighth graders were particularly mean to any of the younger kids that stood out even a little bit. Lance could say with certainty that he was notably different than the rest of the kids at his school. The thought of kids making fun of him even more than they had in elementary school just made him want to switch back to his old school, where everyone was deaf, or hard of hearing, so nobody could make fun of you for it. But if there’s one thing Lance wasn’t, it was a cop out, so he was going to go to middle school, and he was going to make it the best time of his life.

However, he still had one day left of summer, one day left of freedom, and one day left to spend with Katie, who - being a year younger than him - didn’t start middle school until the following year. And they’d planned on making that day the best ones they’d had.

But they were all bored out of their minds.

They’d spent the entire day together, but they’d accomplished nothing. Katie had been working on building her own computer, a passion that she’d discovered when Matt’s computer broke, and she just happened to be able to fix it. How, she still didn’t know, but the only thing that mattered to her, was that she’d done something incredible, something many adults couldn’t do while she was still on the cusp of sixth grade. Hunk wasn’t doing hardly anything, sitting on the edge of Katie’s bed and bouncing his leg up and down - one of his many nervous habits - earning him a lax glare from Lance for shaking the entire bed, which he was trying to lay on, hoping to get in a nap before he had to start waking up at 7am every morning in order to get to school on time.

But it’s not like either of his friends cared about him getting the extra hour and a half of sleep that he felt he deserved, because as soon as he’d actually started to fall asleep, eyes ever so slightly beginning to shut, Katie had taken it upon herself to stop all tech work that she was doing, and flop onto her bed, head landing on Lance’s stomach, causing him to let out a surprised yelp, followed by a low groan. Lance shoved her off, hitting her on the arm and aggressively signing ‘rude,’ followed by fingerspelling it, since Katie was still working on catching up to Hunk and Lance in their signing abilities.

“This is so boring,” Lance signed, Hunk, once again translating, even though Katie picked up on the sign for ‘boring’ thanks to Matt spending all of his spare time teaching her.

“You’ve said that five times, Lance,” Katie said, making sure that he could see her mouth, “If it’s so boring, why don’t we actually go do something, instead of just laying on my bed like a bunch of dead fish.”

“Well duh,” Lance flashed the sign for ‘stupid’ to indicate that Katie was an idiot for even thinking about that, “Don’t you think I would have said something if I’d thought of any ideas,”  He laughed to himself, but only a moment later, a crazy thought popped into his head. “I know what I can do,” He leaned over, forcing Katie to sit up and for Hunk to face him. “I’m gonna give you guys name signs.” He smiled wide, “You’d think since I’ve been friends with Hunk so long that I would’ve already given him one, but I guess I never got around to it.” He shrugged, “So I guess we’ll start with you.” He looked at Hunk, offering a small shrug, not really all that sure where to start. Usually name signs came to him at the most random moments. He’d get these sudden bursts of inspiration and he would come up with the best signs he’s ever come up with, and as much as he’d like to wait until a moment of inspiration came for Hunk’s name, he’d been putting it off for too long.

“I guess we could just… start with what kind of things he likes, and see if there’s anything we can come up with from there.” Katie said, tapping her finger on her chin as if racking her brain for some ideas. “He likes… food, and baking, and being a nice person…” She seemed stuck, until Lance reached over, hitting her on the shoulder with an excited look.

“I got it!” He shouted, something that was becoming a habit. Whenever he was excited, he’d shout things out, which he quickly learned was disruptive in class, but teachers tended to cut him some slack, since he’d always claim he didn’t know how loud he was, and it’s not like they could tell him to watch his volume without being offensive in some way. “I have the perfect idea! So you know how Hunk is always smiling?” He started, a wide smile on his face, “Well this,” He held out his index finger, dragging it up from the corner of his mouth to about halfway up is cheek, “Is the sign for ‘smile’, so I was thinking we could do something like that, but with an ‘H’ handshape, because ‘H’ stands for Hunk.” He glanced between his two friends, as if looking for approval, when Hunk pulled him in for a sudden and tight hug, a high pitched yelp of surprise coming from Lance’s mouth.

“Lance I love it,” He signed, speaking along with it, just so Katie could keep up, “It makes me really happy that when you think of me, you think of my smile.” He demonstrated that very smile, wide and ever prevalent on his face.

“I’m glad you like it,” Lance replied, running a hand through his hair to put it back into place, after it had been messed up from their hug just moments ago.

“Okay, okay, enough of the sappy stuff,” Katie said, acting annoyed, trying to hide the smile that was slowly creeping onto her face. “It’s my turn, Lance, hit me with whatever you’ve got.” She rubbed her hands together, a giddy and excited look on her face. She’d wanted to get a name sign for a while now, but she never wanted to ask him, just in case he didn’t think she needed one just yet.

“Yeah, yeah I’m working on it,” He said with a chuckle, teasing her so she had to wait just a little bit longer. He closed his eyes, tilting his head back, contemplating what kind of things Katie liked. Science, school in general seemed to be pretty up her alley, computers… Computers! Lance’s eyes shot back open, both of his friends looking at him quizzically. “We just take the sign for ‘computer,’” Lance quickly showed the both of them, Katie so she could learn it, and Hunk in case he needed a refresher, “And do it with a ‘K’ handshape, since your name is Katie.” Katie looked away at the mention of her name, eyes casting to the floor. Hunk immediately noticed her discomfort, moving to sit closer to her,

“Hey, what’s going on?” He asked, raising an eyebrow and putting a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“There’s actually something I’ve been meaning to tell you about my name.” Katie said, moving to sit on the floor, legs out in front of her and eyes locked on her socks, a simple white pair with green toes and heels. Lance, who couldn’t see her mouth, kindly asked Hunk to interpret, picking up on the fact that this was a serious situation, and that he needed not to joke.

“What is it?” Hunk - who seemed all the more concerned by Katie’s strange behaviour - asked, tilting his head to the side in slight confusion.

“Well um…” Katie took a deep breath, “I’ve been thinking about it, and I talked to Matt, and my mom, and I really don’t feel like a girl.” She ran a hand through her hair, pulling a small bit of it out of her face and tying it back with a hair tie she had around her wrist.

“Does that mean you feel more like a boy?” Hunk asked, trying to clarify the whole situation, which was confusing him more than he’d like to admit.

“No…” Katie countered, biting down on her lip, trying to figure out a way to explain it. “I guess I feel more like, neither? Matt said that when people feel like that, they ask people to say they and them instead of she or he.”

“Is that what you want us to do?” Lance asked, finally contributing to the conversation, now that he actually understood what was going on. Katie nodded, smiling in hopes that Lance and Hunk would be kind about it. “Well that’s not too hard, right Hunk?” Lance looked over at him with a chuckle.

“Yeah, yeah it’s totally fine, I’m happy you decided to tell us now, instead of waiting until later.” He held a thumbs up, the universal sign for ‘no biggie,’ one that you didn’t have to know sign language to understand.

“That’s not really all there is to it.” Katie interjected again, “Matt also told me that sometimes, people like me use a different name than the one they were given when they were born. I was thinking that… instead of calling me Katie, you guys could call me Pidge instead.” It took Lance a moment to figure out what the name that Katie had suggested was, since Hunk had stopped interpreting for the moment, which was understandable, since he seemed to be even more confused than Lance. Suddenly, it dawned on him what name Katie must have been saying.

“Pidge?” Lance spelled out, looking at Katie to see if he had it correct, to which he received a nod. “I thought you didn’t like it when people called you that.” He wasn’t at all opposed to using a different name, or different pronouns, he was simple wondering why that name is the one they ended up selecting.

“Yeah it used to bother me a lot, but I think it’s grown on me.”

“Alright!” Lance signed, a new look of determination in his eyes, “Pidge it is!” He decided to try and speak the words, though ‘Pidge’ came out a bit muddled, since it was a word he’d never said before, so it would take him a couple of tries to get all of the sounds exactly correct.

“Wait, you two are actually okay with calling me a different name and stuff?” Pidge seemed surprised, almost overwhelmed at the positive response they’d gotten from their friends.

“Yeah of course we will,” Hunk told them, smiling wide as ever, “The only thing is, Lance just gave you a name sign with a ‘K,’ isn’t that the opposite of what you want?”

“Hunk you idiot,” Lance said aloud, a phrase that he tended to use a lot, making it one of the things he was better at saying, “You can just change the ‘K’ to a ‘P,’ they’re super similar anyway.” He showed the two of them what the new sign would look like, simply turning his hand to face downwards, and using the motion for computer. A bright blush spread over Hunk’s face. The boy hadn’t taken into account the fact that the handshapes were so similar that almost nothing had to be changed.

A banging on Pidge’s door caused all of them to jump, Hunk and Pidge from the sound of course, and Lance from the unexpected vibrations in the room.

“Hey, Pidge,” the voice was Matt’s.

“What do you want, loser?” Pidge replied through the door, causing a confused look to cross onto Lance’s face, since he couldn’t see who stood on the other side of the door.

“Who’s Pidge talking to?” Lance asked Hunk, eyebrows raised.

“Matt, I think,” Hunk replied, turning his attention back to their conversation so he could sign to Lance.

“Dad says your friends have to leave soon,” Pidge let out a groan before he’d even finished, “School starts tomorrow, and you have to go to sleep on time instead of staying up all night working on your computer.” He opened the door, peering in with a laugh. “I can give them a ride if they need it.” He looked to the two of them as if asking for confirmation, noticing that Lance hadn’t been paying attention, forcing Matt to repeat the entire sentence in sign, not that signing to Lance bothered him at all.

“You wouldn’t mind?” Lance asked, not wanting to trouble Matt too much if he didn’t need to. “My mom is at work until late, and my dad is away on business, so I’d have to call one of my older siblings to come get me, but I don’t really want to do that.” He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, an awkward, but hopeful smile on his face.

“It’s cool, little dude, I already said I’d drive you.” He smiled, motioning for him to follow him out to his car, “You too Hunk! I can drop you both of at the same time.” Hunk nodded, following after him, pulling his coat on as he left. The two of them said their goodbyes to Pidge, both of them wishing them luck on their first day of sixth grade. Pidge did the same, telling them not to die just because she wasn’t there to save them.

~~~

Lance woke up slowly the next morning, the flashing lights pulling him from a dreamless sleep. One of the things his mother had gotten him for his birthday that year was an alarm clock that they’d wired to his lights, so they’d flash on and off without his mom having to come in every morning to get him out of bed. In addition to that, it also vibrated, which, though it wasn’t the easiest way to wake Lance up, was still pretty effective.

He lay in bed for a short period of time, opening and closing his mouth in an attempt to get rid of an unpleasant taste which he assumed to just be a side effect of waking up. With a loud groan, he forced himself into a sitting position, running a hand through his hair and rubbing his eyes with closed fists.

It’s not uncommon that Lance had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. As someone who advocates for warmth at all times, Lance would rather die than emerge from the warm confines of his blankets into the frigid air of his bedroom, which he refused to do anything about, since it was the “shock that kept him going in the morning” as he would claim. Today was no different of course. He dreaded the idea of middle school with every fiber of his being, so there wasn’t much that anyone could say to change his mind about the whole idea. Unbeknownst to him, his mind had drifted off, void of all thought, his eyes trained on the seemingly eternal white of his wall. It wasn’t until his mother burst into his room, eyes just slightly angry, did Lance snap himself out of the daze he was in.

He shot out of the enveloping blankets, a gasp leaving his lips from the sudden change in temperature. One thing Lance hated was seeing his mom angry with him. Sure, he couldn’t hear her yell, but just watching her face twist with anger was enough to keep Lance on his near-best behavior. He got dressed quickly, throwing on a grey t-shirt and a pair of blue basketball shorts, pairing them with his favorite pair of shoes, blue high tops that he’d gotten a few years ago, yet somehow still managed to squeeze his feet into. His eyes landed on the jacket Miguel had given him, contemplating if he should wear it to school that day. Looking from his closet to the sky outside, he ended up deciding against it, thinking the sun was hot enough already, and he didn’t need the added heat of a coat over top of that.

By the time he’d gotten downstairs, all of his other siblings had finished breakfast, getting ready to whisk themselves off to school. Lance was the youngest, so most of his older brothers and sisters were in high school, and those that weren’t in high school were either in college, or heading to college soon enough, leaving Lance as the only one going to middle school in his family. Which also meant that he was going in alone. Hunk was the only person he was going to have on his side.

“Alright, honey, finish up eating and make sure you’re ready to go at 8:00, that’s when your bus gets here, and I don’t want you to miss it,” His mother quickly started dumping rules on him, preparing to head off to work, despite wanting to be able to stay home and see her youngest son off to middle school. She planted a kiss on Lance’s forehead, which his cringed away from, even if he secretly found the small gestures his mother did to be endearing.

“Yeah, I know mom, you already told me three times,” He signed, face portraying both sarcasm and annoyance. “The bus comes at 8:00, I’m not gonna miss it, and before you ask, I asked Anton to pack me a lunch, and he told me it’s in the fridge, so I’ll have food to eat.” He sat down at the table, taking a quick bite out of the eggs that were on the plate in front of him and holding out the sign for ‘I love you’ to his mother, smiling to himself when she signed it back.

Before long, Lance was the only one in his house, sitting on his couch, backpack by his side and leg bouncing nervously as the time to leave fast approached. He couldn’t help but glance at his watch every few seconds, wanting to head outside five minutes early, despite the fact that the bus picked up right outside his house. So far, things seemed to going smoothly, that is until Lance went to check his watch again, only to have his arm spasm out and away from his body.

“What the heck?” Lance muttered, another speaking habit he was beginning to pick up. Something like that had never happened before, so Lance brushed it off as nothing, shaking his arm off and looking down at his watch again. It was 7:55, close enough to the time the bus was set to arrive that Lance wouldn’t feel like he was getting outside too early or too late, but rather, just at the right time that, though he may have to wait, it wouldn’t be for very long.

And he turned out to be correct, the bus arrived a few minutes after he left and locked his house, storing the spare key under one of the potted plants on his porch. Upon climbing on the bus, his eyes quickly started searching the rows of seats, landing on Hunk, who was sitting around the middle, waving his arm in the air to get Lance’s attention. Lance smiled, sliding skillfully into the seat, swinging his bag onto his lap and giving Hunk a small wave.

“You ready?” Lance asked, taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm his own nerves as well as Hunk’s, which were inevitably through the roof.

“I think so, obviously I’m still pretty nervous thought. Do you have your schedule?” Hunk replied, hands moving fluid as a river. Lance nodded, confirming that he’d taken his schedule with him that morning, pulling it out of his pocket as a sort of proof.

“Do you want to compare?” Lance asked, unfolding the paper and looking over at Hunk, “Just to see if we have any classes together?”

“Yeah, of course we can compare.” Hunk started, pulling his much more neat looking paper from the front pocket of his backpack. He leaned over Lance’s shoulder, looking back and forth between his friend’s schedule and his own, eventually letting out a disappointing sigh. “We only have two classes together.”

“Wait, what?” Lance exclaimed, a panicked look falling onto his face, “We can’t only have to classes together, you’re literally my only friend at this school, and nobody’s going to be able to interpret for me, and I’m going to fail all of my classes.” It was clear that Lance was not feeling good about the upcoming day, and just to make matters worse, his leg spasmed in his seat, knee hitting the metal portion of the seat in front of him.

Hunk stepped in quickly, placing a hand on Lance’s shoulder so he would look over, and taking slow, deep, breaths, motioning for Lance to follow suit and do the same. Before long, he’d regained his composure, a nervous smile on his face that he’d put on to convince Hunk he was feeling a bit better.

“It’s gonna be okay Lance,” Hunk reassured, taking his hand off his friend’s shoulder and setting it back in his lap. “If you want, I can go to the main office and see about getting some of my classes changed so we can have more together.” He suggested, but Lance quickly brushed him off.

“No, not it’s fine.” Lance insisted, sighing quietly. “I have to learn to handle myself at some point, I guess. Might as well start now.” Once again, his arm shot out, spasming and hitting the seat in front of him. “What the hell!” Lance shouted, quickly slapping a hand over his mouth, only just then realizing that he’d sworn, which he’d tried to keep himself from doing up until that point.

“Lance, are you okay?” Hunk asked, looking rather worried for his friend.

“Yeah, I think so…” Lance trailed off, eyes locking onto the window, watching as the trees whizzed by. “It’s happened a couple of times today, I don’t really know what’s going on.” Hunk reached up, pressing the back of his hand to Lance’s forehead, as a sort of precautionary measure.

“You feel a little warm, are you sure you’re okay?” Hunk persisted, not wanting his friend to go to school feeling sick. Lance brushed Hunk’s hand away, sighing and nodding.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Plus, it’s the first day of school, I can’t go home already. That’d be worse than going to school sick.” He joked, adjusting his hair as the bus came to a stop in front of their middle school, everyone piling out of the bus at the same time. It wasn’t hard to tell who was new to the school, and which kids were returning eighth graders.

Lance had managed to get to his first class without much issue. Hunk had shown him the way, figuring out the layout of the school with no trouble at all. He sat in the front row, needing to be able to see the teacher’s lips the entire time he was talking. Lance just hoped his teacher wouldn’t be facing the board at all when he spoke, because he had no way to combat that. The bell rang, all the students tracking their eyes to the loudspeaker, where they began to broadcast what Lance assumed to be the announcements, though he wasn’t sure. When the announcements finished, the teacher introduced himself as Mr. Harris, picking up a piece of paper and starting role call. This was one thing Lance didn’t have very much trouble with. He knew what his name looked like on someone’s lips, so it wasn’t difficult to know when to raise his hand as the teacher was taking roll.

However, this time around, he found himself getting distracted. That taste in his mouth from that morning had returned. He couldn’t describe it other than a sort of metallically, bile type taste, and this time around, he didn’t think it had to do with waking up, which honestly concerned him. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to ignore it, looking up at the teacher’s lips and catching the tail end of a name that looked like his, a surprised noise leaving his mouth and his hand shooting up in the air. He didn’t have to be hearing to know that he sounded like an idiot. Day one and he was already giving off the impression that he lived up to the ‘deaf and dumb’ stereotype that everyone seemed to shove onto him.

A blush covered his face, and all through the period, while the teacher was talking about himself and his life, Lance didn’t have it in him to say a single word. Soon enough, Lance saw all the students stand up, slinging bags onto their shoulders and heading out of the room in a rush. Lance had fallen behind, but managed to get all of his things together and make it out the door with the rest of the crowd, so he didn’t look too out of place. But of course, he couldn’t just have a normal school schedule with classes like all of the other kids. Lance’s parents had thought it would be a good idea to place him in ELL, English Language Learning, thinking that it was high time that he mastered the English language, at least in his head. He’d never told him that Hunk was teaching him to speak, so his parents didn’t know that he already had a decent grasp on reading, writing and speaking in English. He just didn’t have the guts to tell them the truth.

So he’d decided to put up with it, instead of making a fuss about how much he didn’t need to be there. He sat quietly with the other students, most of them seeming to be from different countries, who were there to improve their skills, not really paying attention to what the teacher, who spoke so slow that it was impossible to understand anyway was saying. Soon enough, his head was lolling to the side, mind of the verge of pulling him into a deep sleep, but before his eyes could slip shut, a hand came down hard on the table in front of, the vibrations snapping him awake.

“Pay attention, Lance!” The teacher demanded, her eyes as irritated as ever. Lance signed, rolling his eyes and raising his eyebrows, urging her, daring her almost, to keep talking. “Don’t roll your eyes at me,” she said, her facial expression turning into one of slight anger. “It’s the first day of school and you’re already being rude to me. I suggest you correct your behavior now, so we don’t have any more issues throughout the rest of the year.” Now Lance was furious, before he’d been a bit angry, but she had the audacity to say he was being rude? After everything she said to him? Lance had had it, the only way he could think to get her to stop talking, would be to prove that he didn’t need to be there in the first place, but right when he went to open his mouth, to show her that he didn’t need any help from her, the bell rang. The other kids that were sat at the round table with him stood up, all seeming to be a bit confused at the encounter that had just taken place. Lance groaned for a final time, slinging his backpack onto his back once more, pulling his schedule out of his pocket so he could check where his next class was.

Luckily, it was gym, one of the two classes that he shared with Hunk, meaning that he’d finally be able to talk to someone, and have them talk back in a way that was easy to understand. He’d finally locked eyes with him on the way to gym, practically sprinting over to him, hands already moving at the speed of light. He explained in excruciating detail every single thing he hated about his first to classes, from embarrassing himself in front of everyone during the first one, to getting an overwhelming urge to smack his second period teacher across the face. When he was done, he watched calmly while Hunk talked about his classes, and how so far, his first two were great. His history teacher was hilarious, and his math teacher, though boring, promised that they wouldn’t get assigned too much homework each night, since she didn’t want them to spend all of their time on school. Hunk thought that was interesting. It’s not every day you meet a teacher that knows students have a life outside of their academics.

Though Lance would never say it to his face, he was jealous that Hunk’s teachers were all so nice. So far, he’d struck out pretty bad.

At least they were going to gym though, and gym was something Lance had been consistently decent at for his entire life. You didn’t need to hear in order to run, yeah there were whistles and things to tell you when to come back, but Lance had always just waited until everyone else started running back inside to go with them, and so far it had worked out just fine. They were all ushered into the gym, told to sit on the bleachers and face forward so they could get started as quickly as possible. However, Hunk and Lance bent the rules a little bit, Hunk facing the teacher and Lance sitting on the row in front of him, back facing out so he could watch Hunk interpret what he was saying. All of Lance’s teachers had been told that he was deaf, and yet, the gym teacher still yelled at him to face forward within the first two minutes of the class.

“Um, I’m sorry sir,” Hunk butted in, wanting to be able to defend his friend as best as he could, “This is my friend Lance, he’s deaf. He’s only sitting like that so he can watch me interpret what you’re saying, that way he understands what’s going on.” The smile that spread across Lance’s face while Hunk was talking was wide enough to light up the whole room. Lance knew very well that Hunk got nervous confronting people like that, so the fact that he was willing to speak out like that meant the world to him. And for the first time that day, things seemed to be going right. The gym teacher accepted the situation, allowing Lance to stay facing backwards so long as he saw Hunk signing the whole time he was talking.

“Alright,” the gym teacher started, “I know that it’s the first day of school, and most of you probably didn’t bring gym clothes with you, so we’re only gonna a tiny bit of running,” a groan from the crowd interrupted. “Don’t worry, just five laps around the gym and you’re done, then come back here and feel free to socialize for the rest of the period.” Reluctantly, they all got up from their seats, lining up at the spot on the gym floor where they were told to start, some taking up a running stance, the rest standing rather lazily, faces that screamed ‘Let’s just get this over with.’

Lance had joined them, of course, but something just wasn’t right. His knees felt weak, and he still tasted whatever that weird taste from earlier was. His whole mind was a little bit hazy, like he was watching the whole situation from a set of eyes that weren’t really his. As soon as the whistle blew, and Hunk tapped him on the shoulder, indicating that he should start running, his legs buckled underneath him, causing him to collapse to the ground. He was a bit dazed, but overall he was alright, grabbing onto Hunk’s extended hand, who had noticed the fall and stopped to help him up.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” He asked, just like he had that morning, “You’re really not acting like yourself.” Once again, Lance waved him off, passing it off as a lack of sleep from the night before and motioning for the two of them to start running again, since there were some people who were already almost done with all five of the laps they were assigned. He did well for a while, managing to run four of the five laps with ease, but just like the last time, his entire weight collapsed underneath him as he turning into the fifth lap, sending him sprawling to the ground once more. Only this time, the aftermath was much worse.

The moment he hit the ground, his neck craned awkwardly to the side, at a painful angle that didn’t even seem to be physically possible. His arms were out at his sides, wrists and hands contorted and eyes shut tight. He could think, he couldn’t breathe, and no matter what he did, none of his limbs would move the way he wanted them to.

Nobody really knew what was going on until he started shaking. Vicious and aggressive spasms of every part of his body a clear indication of what was happening.

“I think he’s having a seizure!” One of the students exclaimed, running over to him, “We’re supposed to hold him down so he doesn’t shake, right?” A pained squeal came from Lance’s slightly parted lips.

Hunk was in shock. He’d heard that Lance had seizures when he was younger, but it had been so long since it happened, he didn’t think it was something he had to worry about, he was stunned into silence. But when he heard someone suggest holding him down, he forced himself to take control of the situation.

“No, don’t hold him down,” he said, pointing an authoritative finger at the boy who’d suggested it, “That’s the last thing you want to do, it’ll only make him hurt himself. He’s having a tonic-clonic seizure, they usually don’t last for too long, but they can be bad...” Hunk had taken it upon himself to learn about seizures from the moment Lance told him they used to happen all the time. He could now identify the type of seizure by symptoms, and he knew many of the important things that needed to be done in order to keep his friend safe.

“I should at least call 9-1-1 though, right?” The same student suggested, pulling out his cellphone, which he wasn’t even supposed to have on his person in the first place.

“Don’t do that either!” Hunk exclaimed, “Lance told me once, that if he ever had a seizure again, to call his parents, ask them what to do.” Hunk looked to the gym teacher, quickly reciting the phone number - which Hunk knew by heart, just because he and Lance were that close of friends - and telling him to call and ask what steps to take. “Everyone needs to back away from him, we don’t want anything around that he could hurt himself on.” Hunk walked around Lance once, tears in his eyes at the sight of his best friend undergoing something so horrible. “C’mon Hunk, stay strong, you got this,” he did his best to reassure himself, taking slow, deep breaths in order to keep his composure.

“His mother’s on the way, he said to stay with him for now, and don’t call the ambulance unless it lasts for longer than five minutes.” Luckily, it never got to that point, the shaking coming to a close shortly after the gym teacher hung up the phone, Hunk quickly moving to his side and brushing Lance’s sweat-drenched hair out of his face. He was conscious, but it was was clear that he was out of it, he didn’t seem to be looking at anything in particular, eyes trained on the lights on the ceiling.

“You’re okay, Lance,” Hunk, signed to him, putting a smile on his face so he didn’t freak his friend out by letting him know how worried he was, “Your parents are gonna be here soon. Good news is, you get to go home early I guess.” He added in some humor, Lance letting out a small chuckle, which was coupled with a raspy laugh.

“You’re gonna be okay.”

Chapter Text

Lance’s parents had taken him to the Urgent Care clinic, just to make sure that he wasn’t in any serious danger, and though it took the entire night in the waiting room, they found out that he’d only had a cold, so there wasn’t really anything to worry about. His fever got a little high, which triggered a seizure, just like it used to when he was a child, meaning that, he was still in just as bad of condition as he was when he was a baby. He’d just never gotten sick enough to know it.

In the end, the doctors put him on bed rest for a week, wanting to make sure he was fully better before sending him back into an environment as ‘germy’ as a middle school.

Lance hated every minute of it.

Well, not necessarily every single minute. He liked having Miguel back from college to take care of him - he’d offered to watch over him while his mom was at work - and he liked getting to watch TV all day, but he wasn’t a fan of how strict Miguel was with the whole ‘bed rest’ thing. No matter how many times he asked, Lance was only allowed to leave his bed when he had to use the bathroom, otherwise, Miguel did everything for him. Bringing him food, changing the movie that was playing on the TV he’d dragged into Lance’s room, getting him another blanket, or taking one of his off, Miguel did it all, balancing the classes he was missing in college at the same time. When he wasn’t helping Lance, he was sitting on a chair in Lance’s room, frantically typing on a laptop, supposedly working on writing an essay for his english class. Lance reached over from his bed, tapping his brother on the shoulder to get his attention.

“What do you do at college anyway?” He asked, sitting up in his bed with a little bit of trouble and earning himself a concerned look from his brother.

“Well I’m majoring in linguistics,” He fingerspelled the word, not really sure if there was a sign for that specifically, but simplified it to “language” when his brother raised an eyebrow.

“But what do you do?” He clarified his question, reaching over and taking a sip out of the water that had been set on his nightstand.

“I stay in a dorm, for starters,” He explained to Lance that he lived with a roommate, a man his age named Shiro, who has a scar across the bridge of his nose that he never got around to explaining, and a patch in the front of his hair that he’d dyed white. “Shiro told me that he has a little brother around your age that his family adopted when he was younger.” He readjusted the way he was sitting so he could see Lance more clearly, and so Lance could see him all the same. “And I think he actually knows Matt, your friend Katie’s brother.”

“Not Katie,” Lance quickly corrected, remember what Pidge had said to he and Hunk, “It’s Pidge now.” He smiled, happy that he was able to live up to what Pidge asked of them.

“She goes by a different name now?” Miguel asked, only to be corrected once more.

“Not she,” He added, rolling his eyes slightly. “It’s THEY.”

“Oh okay,” Miguel finally understood what Lance was talking about. Being away at college he hadn’t been there for the whole pronoun changing thing. “You should’ve said that from the start.” He reached over, giving Lance a slight, playful shove. Lance put a hand over his heart, feigning injury, taking deep, quick breaths, as if he’d suddenly lost the ability to breathe.

Miguel shot up immediately, “Shit, are you okay?” In the heat of the moment, he hadn’t bother to sign, just worrying that his brother was actually alright. He placed a hand on Lance’s shoulder, glancing around to see if there were any visible issues. That’s when Lance let out a laugh.

“I got you!” He shouted, a wide smile spreading across his face, only to fall when he noticed the firm look in Miguel’s eyes.

“That’s not funny, Lance.” Even when he was using only his hands, he somehow gave off a stern tone. “Pretending to be hurt like that can get you in some serious trouble. What would have happened if I’d called 9-1-1, and they showed up, only to find out that you were faking everything that whole time?” Now, Miguel never lectured Lance. Sure, Anita - Lance’s oldest sister, and the second oldest in the family - did all the time, and even Anton would tell him off every once in a while. But Miguel… Miguel never lectured him.

“I’m sorry…” Lance glanced away, not having the heart to look his brother in the eyes. He really did feel bad for what he did, he hated making his brother mad, and even more than that, he hated disappointing his brother. It was the worst feeling in the world, like he had a heavy weight on his chest that he couldn’t lift until he made up for what he did. “I didn’t want to scare you, I was just trying to be funny.”

Running a hand through his hair, Miguel stood up, walking out of the room. He didn’t often get fed up with Lance, in fact he wasn’t even fed up with him now, he just needed to take a break. Just walk from one end of the house to the other, maybe even get a glass of water, just to clear his mind.

As soon as Miguel left, Lance knew something wasn’t right. He got a weird feeling that something was wrong again, but just like earlier, he couldn’t really place it. He ran a hand through his hair to try and soothe the aching feeling in his chest, but before he could contain his composure, his brain was already gone, his eyes locked on a spot at the wall even though he wasn’t actually looking.

Miguel returned to the room, and at first he really didn’t notice anything wrong. At least not until he noticed the far off look in his brother’s eyes, a clear indication that something was up, since Lance wasn’t one to just zone out like that.

“Lance?” He asked, more to himself, letting out a shaky breath, “Dude what did I say about messing with me?” He whispered, signing as he talked, only to realize that Lance wasn’t looking at him like he’d expected. “Lance this isn’t funny.” He marched over to his brother, putting a hand on his shoulder and expecting him to respond, tell him that he was just joking once more. But there was nothing. Lance just… stared. Miguel ran a hand through his hair, grabbing a fistful of his locks and giving a light tug, taking a deep breath to try and calm his nerves. “Okay, it’s fine Miguel,” he reassured himself, taking a seat next to Lance on the bed. “Mom told you about this, she said… God what did she say?” He mumbled, trying his best to recall the information his mother had given him before heading off to work that day. Like a light bulb turning on in his head, he suddenly remembered what he had to do. He ran out of the room, not wanting to waste time and come back to find out his brother had gotten worse. He sprinted to the bathroom, soaking a washcloth in cold water and running it back to the room. His mom told him that there wasn’t really anything he could do while the seizure was going on, so he’d have to just wait it out. She also told him that Lance used to come out of his seizures drenched in sweat, so it was good to have a cool cloth to cool him down in case he was overheating at all.

If Miguel was being honest, he was probably more worried about Lance than the boy was himself. His little brother always seemed to have this sense of bravery that the others in the family didn’t, like he wasn’t really afraid of anything, or he was just really good at hiding his fears. Miguel on the other hand, was terrified, he was terrified that something would happen to Lance and there would be nothing he could do about it, that Lance would seize and there wouldn’t be anyone there to help, or they wouldn’t know what it do. He just wanted him to be okay.

Soon enough, Lance’s attention went from the spot on the wall to Miguel, a smile on his face.

“Oh, you came back!” He seemed happy to see that his brother returned from the break he went to take, “It’s kinda hot in here, don’t you think?” He grabbed the hem of his shirt, tugging it away from his body quickly to try and cool himself down. Miguel didn’t say anything, deciding to instead just reach up and place the cloth against Lance’s forehead. At first, the younger boy flinched away from it, not expecting the sudden change in temperature, but soon enough he let out a sigh of content, pressing his forehead against Miguel’s hand to cool himself down as quickly as possible.

“Lance…” Miguel made Lance hold up the cloth with his own hand, taking a deep breath and letting out a loud sigh. “I’m so proud of you buddy,” He gently ruffled his little brother’s hair, a gentle smile falling onto his face. “You’re probably the strongest person in the whole world, you know that?” Lance gave Miguel a quizzical look, not registering why his brother had decided to take the time to compliment him like that, though he decided that playing along was his best course of action at that time. He rolled his sleeve up to his elbow and flashed a toothy smile, his ever so crooked teeth beaming in his brother’s face.

“Well, duh,” He said sarcastically, flexing his arm muscle and laughing, eliciting a laugh from Miguel too. “It’s hard to get muscles like these, they don’t just grow on trees ya’ know!” Miguel had finally calmed down, allowing himself to joke around more with his brother until Lance decided he was too tired to continue joking, laying his head back onto his freshly fluffed pillow and letting out a deep sigh, doing his best to drift back into sleep.

~~~

The following Monday, his mom woke him up in time for school, asking with a raised eyebrow if he felt ready enough to go back to school, to which he replied with a long and painful sounding groan, throwing his hands over his eyes to hide the lights.

“You can’t just stay in your bed forever, Lance” She signed, somehow portraying the I’m-your-mother-and-I-know-what’s-best voice with just her two hands. Lance moved his hands off his face long enough to sign TRY before dropping back down, though his mom couldn’t decide if he’d intended to say ‘I can try’ or ‘try me’ both of which seemed like much snarkier answers than she wanted to see. She reached over him, pulling his hands away so his eyes could follow her hands. “Alright, fine, you can have one more day at home, but then you have to at least try and go back to school. Deal?” She’d thought Lance would be agreeable on the issue, but he wasn’t budging at all.

“They’re gonna make fun of me, mom.” He sat up a little in his bed so he didn’t have to look up at her with the inevitable double chin that came from laying uncomfortably on his back, “They’ll probably come up with something new to call me, like shakes or something. On the bright side they might stop calling me Helen Keller.” He’d never told his mom about the bullying before, and if it weren’t for the serious look on his face - something Lance didn’t sport very often - she would have thought he was joking.

“People have been calling you Helen Keller?” She repeated what he’d just said, partially for clarification and partially to  help her accept the fact that her son was being bullied for his disability. “How come you didn’t tell me about this before?” She moved to sit on the edge of his bed, placing a gentle hand on Lance’s shoulder, and getting nothing more than a shrug in return for her affection.

“I didn’t really think you’d care. When I was little and I tried to tell you stuff you used to brush me off all the time,” He took a deep breath, “Like when I was in Kindergarten and tried to tell you I was learning how to talk, and you told me you had better things to worry about.” He’d never actually spoken a full sentence to his mom, so he wasn’t surprised to see the shock on her face when he busted out a sentence in perfect English, despite his heavy accent. His mom ran a hand through her hair, taking slow, deep breaths to try and diffuse some of the thoughts in her head.

“How long have you been able to talk like that? In full sentences?”

“Maybe two years…” Lance seemed unsure, he couldn’t quite remember the first time he’d started talking in more than just broken English. “But I started learning in Kindergarten, Hunk was teaching me to speak and I taught him to sign.”

“God Lance,” His mother’s signs were dejected, an ashamed look crossing over her face, like she’d done the worst possible thing a mother could do, ignore her child when they needed her most. “I’m so sorry, Lance. I was so horrible to you, and you didn’t even seem to care, I should have let you talk to me that day.” Tears welled up in her eyes, and though she couldn’t find the words to really express her regret for the way she’d treated her son, it was clear that she was truly sorry for the small things she’d done to make her son feel like he couldn’t tell her things that made him happy. Those tears very well could have spilled over if it weren’t for Lance’s gentle chuckle breaking her from her trance.

“Mom,” he mumbled, though the ‘ah’ sound was slurred and rather difficult to make out. “It’s alright.” He switched to signing, since it was just a bit - if not significantly - easier. “Just because I didn’t tell you about it doesn’t mean that I hated you for not letting me talk to you all those years ago,” He finished his statement with a reassuring thumbs up and his signature smile. “But don’t tell Dad. I want to tell him on my own time, it’s gonna be a surprise.” His mom willing agrees to keep his speaking a secret until Lance decided to tell her on his own, a simple promise to make after doing wrong for so long. “But that’s not what’s important right now.” He sunk back into the covers and pulled them up to his armpits, keeping his arms out so he could still sign with his mom. “I really don’t want to go back to this school. Everyone’s gonna make fun of me and I’m not gonna fit in ever.” It’s clear he was very adamant on switching schools, no matter what it took.

“There aren’t any other middle schools near by.” She retorted matter-of-factly. “And you’d have to leave Hunk and Katie-” Lance corrected Pidge’s name, which his mother took into account, but still brushed off in order to hold on to her train of thought.  “You’d have to leave Hunk and Pidge, and either way it really is just middle school. I know how difficult it can seem right now, but in the grand scheme of things, middle school is about as important as triple knotting your shoes. It probably really feels like the end of the world, but if you can just get through these two years and we can talk about maybe putting you into a new high school, but changing schools is a long process, so you have to give this middle school your best shot first, okay?” Another loud groan slipped through his lips, but he gave a nod, claiming that he at least would get the next TWO days off, another deal his mother really didn’t have all that many oppositions for.

And not only did Lance make it through middle school, he made it through middle school with nearly straight A’s.

His first day back was probably the worst. Everywhere he went it was like he could see people just itching to make fun of him, like every time they’d turn their head and whisper something to the person standing next to them, it was him they were making fun of. If it weren’t for Hunk, who shared a few key classes with him, he never would have survived. Gym was probably the worst, since those kids were the ones who’d seen the seizure in action, they were the ones that had the least mercy. Of course, there were the ones with the sympathetic looks on their faces, who gave Lance eyes that looked like he would shatter if the wind blew on him to hard. If he was being honest, he wasn’t sure which one was worse.

Walking into gym with Hunk at his side, his expectations were already low. He’d assume the teacher would give him a free pass on doing whatever exercise they were doing that day as to avoid another seizure, as if running was the cause of it. And as much as he’d like to take advantage of the whole idea, running was one thing he actually thought himself to be decent at, because you didn’t have to be able to hear to run, and his legs usually worked if his ears didn’t. So when his teacher patted him on the shoulder, telling him it would be alright if he wanted to sit one out, Lance gave a smile, but kindly refused, dressing down into his gym clothes and lining up at the door with the rest of the students.

Luckily Lance was the leader of the pack, so he could see the people making fun of him from behind. It wasn’t until he’d pulled so far ahead that he’d almost lapped some people that he say the boys falling over on the ground and feigning convulsions as a way to mock him. He quickly averted his eyes, clapping Hunk on the back as he passed him, a chuckle passing his lips when he noticed that Hunk was in significantly worse condition than himself, though he was really just doing whatever he could to keep the boys in his class from getting to him.

Hunk, why are people so mean?” He took a sip from his water bottle, passing it off to Hunk and snickering when he took a huge drink out of it.

“Well…” Hunk paused for a moment to run a hand through his hair and take a long, deep breath, “Shoot Lance, I don’t know, because they’re dumb?” His eyes landed on the boys that had been laughing at his friend, a sour look befalling his face. If he had the courage, he’d confront them for sure, but he wasn’t quite ready for that yet.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right…” Lance hit Hunk’s shoulder lightly, pulling off his sweaty, gym shirt and replacing the one he’d been wearing earlier, a simple blue shirt with small white triangles that one could only see if they got close enough. He wasted no time putting on deodorant, wanting to stay smelling at least okay, since he liked keeping up his appearance up more than most boys his age. “You’re seriously the best, Hunk.” He leaned forward, wrapping his arms around his friend like it was the most normal thing in the world. But with Lance’s eyes close, Hunk was the only one who could hear the chorus of “gay” from the kids behind them. That would never stop him from hugging back though.

Over the course of his two years at middle school, and through all the insults and dumb comments and even through the seizures that persisted for reasons unknown, Lance found an overwhelming love for science. He wasn’t phenomenal at it, and he didn’t necessarily want to spend all of his time on the sciences, but to him, math and science were the only things in the world that remained consistent. There are a million different ways to tell someone you’re sorry, but two plus two will always equal four, it doesn’t matter how you add the numbers. So he dove himself into science, and he was rather skilled at it, skilled enough at least that when he brought up switching to a different high school, he had some real reasons to back it up that time.

“Mom, you said we could talk about me going to a different high school once I was almost done with middle school, 8th grade promotion is in 4 days. I think now’s a good a time as ever to talk about it.” Lance knew that he’d have to stay rather calm and collected if he wanted to convince his parents of what he planned on doing for the next four years of his life.

“Hold on just a minute, Honey.” His mom said, hands pulling away from the stove for just long enough to say that one thing before they went back to the stove, one holding onto the handle of the pan and the other stirring a mystery sauce that smelled divine despite it’s grey-ish brown color. She quickly stretched over the steaming pan, turning off the burner and proceeding to pour the sauce into a pot of freshly drained noodles, stirring the dish together and turning to Lance. “Go set the table, Lance, leave one plate out, Marco went to a friend’s house. We can talk about high school while we’re eating, sound good?” Lance nodded, turning around and reaching into the cupboard, pulling out a few plates and carrying them to the table three at a time until all the places but one had plates, following up by doing the same with utensils, and a cup of water.

When the whole family finally came down for dinner, Lance made his was into the kitchen, smiling at his mom and grabbing hold of the pot and carrying it to the table, earning himself a pat on the shoulder. He set the pot on the table, purposely putting it closer to himself so he would get the first serving, something that happened with any of the kids who set the table.

Soon enough everyone had taken their seats, most of them wasting no time spooning pasta onto their plates and beginning conversation almost immediately. Lance - not wanting to interrupt the chatter - usually remained quiet during meals, finishing his food as quickly as possible and heading up to his room to do homework, or do research on whatever strange topic he was invested in at the time. Today however, was different. Because his mom had promised a discussion about school, and he wanted to get it started as soon as possible, because there was no way he was going one more day without convincing his parents to let him change schools. Licking his fork clean, he gently tapped it against his glass, the attention of all his siblings and parents quickly being drawn to him. He smiled sheepishly, making a fist and circling it on chest apologetically - the sign for ‘SORRY.’

So, Mom, you said we could talk about high school tonight. We still can, right?” He had a hopeful look in his eyes, showing that he would be devastated if he was turned down.

Yes, yes of course we can,” She assured, leaning over to Lance’s dad, whispering something in his ear that Lance assumed to be a briefing on what the conversation was going to be about. “You said you wanted to go to a new high school…” She seemed unsure about the idea, not wanting to send her son - especially her disabled son - to a high school that she didn’t know anything about.

Lance wasted no time telling her everything he could about the school he’d been looking into.

It’s called the Garrison,” He began, suddenly filled with an energy that wasn’t prevalent before. “It’s an aerospace and technology high school, so everything is science and math. I mean obviously I’d have to take English classes, which kind of sucks, but still it would be mostly science related.” He’d started to ramble, and the confused look on his parents faced proved that they had just a little bit of trouble keeping up with his lightning fast hands. Taking a deep breath, he repeated himself, slowly this time, making sure his parents could actually understand what he was trying to say.

“You want to go to a science school?” His dad asks, a questioning look on his face. “But you don’t even like science.” That one phrase cut into Lance like a knife. He’d been telling his parents that he loved science for almost 5 years now, and the fact that his dad thought he didn’t even like the subject felt like betrayal.

Are you kidding?” Anton interrupted, signing as he spoke, since he wasn’t exactly fluent in ASL. “Have you had a conversation with him recently?” He raised an eyebrow at his dad, almost seeming angry that he’d failed to notice the most obvious thing about his son apart from the fact that he couldn’t hear. “He literally never shuts up about that science school, or what he’s doing in biology that day.” A smile crept slowly onto Lance’s face, happy that his brother - especially Anton, who didn’t do much in the way of talking - stood up for him without a second thought.

“Shoot, really?” His dad muttered, looking at Anton, and then nervously back at Lance. “I’m sorry Lance…” He offered an apology, “I’m always at work, so we don’t get a lot of time to talk, huh? I should’ve known that you were into science-y things,” Lance waved him off, telling him it wasn’t a big deal, and he wasn’t even mad about it or anything. He was a little bit mad, if he was being honest, but getting mad at his parents was a sure fire way to make sure that he never went to the school he wanted to.

I don’t know how I feel about sending you to a school that I don’t know anything about.” His mom said warily, unconvinced that sending him to a new school would be the right course of action. Lance threw his hands up in exasperation.

That’s why I’m telling you about it, mom!” He started, putting a hand on his forehead and laughing a little bit. “I really don’t see the issue with me going. It’s just a boarding school where we can study aerote-” He stopped halfway through his sentence when his mom let out a cry.

“A boarding school?” She placed her hands on the table taking a deep breath and looking over at her son. “Lance, you know I can’t let you do that. What if you get sick? What if you have more seizures?” At least with this issue, Lance could kind of see where his mom was coming from. He’d had seizures pretty regularly recently, once or twice a month, so sending him off somewhere was definitely something that could raise some concern among his parents. But, if seizures were something that would stop him from pursuing his dreams, what was the point of dreaming in the first place?

“Oh my god, Mom, just let him go to his nerd school,” Anton groaned, his head resting in his arms, which were now folded on the table. “Are you seriously gonna lock him up and force him to take the safe route because you think it’s better for him?” Somehow the words seemed to strike a sort of chord in his mother, and a look passed over her face that seemed to say ‘I’m the worst mother that has ever lived.’

“I don’t want to keep him locked up, I just want him to be safe from all the dangerous things in the world. Seizures aren’t a casual issue Anton,” She tried to retort, but even as she was speaking, she could tell that her plan sounded just like locking him up. “Okay, maybe I want to lock him up, but is it wrong for me to want my son to be safe?” All of Lance’s other siblings had been quiet through the entire convorsation, eating quietly, a few of them - Lana and Leo specfically - getting up and excusing themselves so they didn’t have to sit quite so awkwardly. This time however, it was Eva - the middle daughter of the family - that spoke up.

“If I wanted to go to that school - which I don’t - but if I did, would you let me?” She said, raising an eyebrow and taking a trying bite out of her pasta.

“Of course I would but-” Her mother started, only to get interuppted.

“Then why is Lance any different?” Her tone was strong, something that he usually saw in his other sisters, but never Eva. “He really wants to go to this school mom, let him go. You guys can figure it out. Find a way to make sure he’s safe while he’s there. Give him a cell phone, put him incontact with an on call doctor if you have to. Just figure it out. Because not letting him go to this school is literally the same as crushing every single dream that he has.” With that she stood up, taking her plate to the sink and rinsing it off, and walking triumphantly to her bedroom.

Lance’s mother looked at her husband, who had his head resting in the palms of his hands, a sigh the only sound audible on his lips.

Lance,” His mother said, “I think your father and I need to talk about this privatley, to have adult discussion about it.” Lance’s face fell, and anyone with eyes could see that he was just dying to get an answer.

We were supposed to be talking about it now. Just beacuse you’re too scared to let me do anything that I want to doesn’t mean that you can just pretend you didn’t promise me a conversation.” His signs were agressive and angry, like he’d been betrayed by someone that he put every ounce of his trust in. “It’s not like I’ll be there by myself or anything. Pidge is skipping a grade and applying for it over the summer, and Hunk’s applying for their mechanical engineering program, so I’ll have both of them with me. Hunk knows ASL, and he knows what to do if I have a seizure, so I really don’t see what the issue is.” He was on the verge of tears, holding his breath in an attempt to keep them from spilling over, and before his parents could say anything to comfort him, he stood up, pushing his chair in a little to forcefully and heading for the stairs. “But it’s fine. You and dad can have your ‘adult conversation’” He put heavy, exaggerated quotes around the word. “Come get me when you’re willing to talk with the person this whole conversation is about.”

~~~

It wasn’t until the next morning - a Saturday - that someone came to his door, pressing the button outside that triggered the lights to flick on and off, since clearly knocking would do him no good at all. He made a small noise, one that commonly mean ‘enter’ in his house. He’d been sitting criss-cross on his bedroom floor an encyclopedia perched in his lap as he read. The door opened with a creak, and his mother peaked his head inside the door.

Can we talk?” She asked, stepping inside the room without waiting for a response. Lance nodded, closing the book and standing up to sit on his bed, making sure there was space for his mom to sit as well. “Your father and I talked last night,” Lance closed his eyes, rolling them slightly, making sure his mom couldn’t see it. “And we decided that we’ll allow you to apply for this school.”

Lance shot forward out of his bed, wrapping his arms around his mother’s neck, a million ‘thank you’s’ spewing out of his mouth. His mother hugged him back lightly, pushing him back as to indicate that she wasn’t done talking.

But,” She added, Lance giving her a look, “There are a couple of things you need to do first.” She sat down next to Lance, turning to face him. “There’s a nurse on site at all times - your father and I looked into that - you’ll need to visit them once a day to take a report on your health that will be sent back to us, just so we know if you’ve come close to, or had any seizures.”

Really, mom?” Lance retorted, crossing his arms over his chest, uncrossing them just moments later so he could continue talking. “There are other ways to keep me seizure-safe. You know that, right?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” She said, raising an eyebrow. She thought she’d done a lot of research, but apparently Lance was a few steps ahead. Not that that surprised her in anyway.

I could get a seizure response dog,” He smiled, eyes hopeful. “There’s a center in LA that trains service dogs, and I went to their website, and they set seizure-prone people with a match all the time. The training would take a few weeks, but it’s almost summer and we don’t have anything planned anyway.”

“Lance, you can’t just keep throwing ideas at me like this. You have to give people time to consider it.” Lance nodded, telling his mother that he understood.

Applications for the Garrison close in a month. Is that enough time to say yes to a service dog?” He strategically left out the word ‘consider’ in a hope that his mom wouldn’t have much considering to do.

We’ll see.”

Chapter Text

The lights flickering on and off, Lance went to quickly cover his bare chest with a shirt, looking over to his mom, who tapped her wrist impatiently, indicating to Lance that he needed to get a move on if they had any chance of getting out of the house on time. 

“We have a long drive ahead of us, we have to leave soon if we want to make it to the training center by one.” She signed sternly, the slightest glare hidden behind her usually soft eyes.

“Yeah, yeah I got it,” Lance replied with a smile, pulling the shirt over his head and gesturing wildly for his mother to leave the room so he could finish getting ready. She obliged, shutting the door behind her with the smallest of chuckles. Glancing at the clock, Lanced jumped into action, realizing that they were in fact on a time crunch, and were going to have to leave within ten minutes so they could get all the way to LA before lunch time. He pulled his pants off, doing his best to hop into a new pair while shoving a toothbrush in his mouth at the same time. A couple of falls and one clean set of teeth later, Lance was jogging down the stairs, his shoes still untied on his feet. 

“In the car,” His mom signed, holding the door open and handing him a piece of toast with raspberry jam - his personal favorite - for him to eat on the way there. 

Lance’s leg bounced anxiously in the passenger seat, the only signs crossing his hands being HURRY, which he signed earnestly to his mother, and EXCITED, which he mostly kept to himself, the anticipation being almost too much for him to bare. Last night, he’d been told that she and his father had made an appointment with a service dog training facility, and today they were going down to meet and train with their deaf service and seizure companion dogs. 

His mom clambering into the front seat, adjusting the seat by pulling it forward so her feet could reach the petals, since her husband had been the last one in the driver’s seat, and had significantly longer legs than she, she quickly turned on the car. Without hesitating, Lance reached forward into the glove box, pulling out a box with ear plugs in it, offering two to his mom. 

“Can we listen to music?” He asked, using a ‘G’ handshape to mimic the turning of a radio dial, a hopeful look on his face. His mom seemed hesitant - Lance played the music quite loud when they were in the car - but eventually gave in, coming to the conclusion that this weekend was about him, and therefore he should be able to do things that he didn’t always get to. Taking the ear plugs, she put them quickly in her ears, signing ‘FINE’ and reaching over to turn on the radio. 

Lance hastily turned the music up, cranking until he could feel the bass line shaking under his feet. His eyes fluttered closed, and he placed his hand on the speakers at the front of the car. He let out a soft sigh, a gentle smile falling over his face. He always loved playing music, the vibrations were almost comforting to him, and he couldn’t help but relax whenever something started to play. He used to feel differently. He used to feel that he was so separated from the hearing world because of his deafness. Feeling that he wasn’t allowed to like things like music, because he couldn’t enjoy it the same way other people did. But Hunk was pretty much the reason all of that changed. Hunk explained to him that, just because music wasn’t made with deaf people in mind, didn’t mean that Lance wasn’t allowed to enjoy it. 

~~~

Do you think every piece of fruit was planted with the idea that I was going to make it into a delicious smoothie for my best friend?” He’d said to him, sliding a blackberry smoothie across the counter to Lance with a smile on his face. “If that were true, then they would make these blackberries way less sour,” Hunk added, popping a blackberry into his mouth and puckering his lips.

That day had been a great one, Lance remembered clearly. Nothing seemed like it could ever go wrong when Hunk was with him, as if every single thing about Hunk - his calming demeanor and kind words included - was built to be a perfect compliment to Lance. But even Lance knew that he and Hunk couldn’t be together forever, and Lance was going to have to start fending for himself. Or at least get a new helper, one of the canine species. He could only hope that his service dog would be as amazing of a companion as Hunk, though that was quite a name to live up to.

~~~

The car ride was almost painfully long, and it didn’t take very much time at all for Lance to find himself beyond bored, slumped over in his chair, too excited to get any sleep, but too tired to express that excitement. Instead he scrolled lazily through the various social media that he had on his phone, eyes hardly even focusing on what he was looking at, since none of it was all that important to him anyway.

Soon enough, Lance’s mother pulled off the freeway, the steady slowing of their pace alerting Lance that they’d finally made it to the big city, and were in fact nearing their destination. Scanning the city around him, Lance struggled to take everything in. He didn’t live in a small town in the slightest, but the streets of LA had a constant, almost rhythmic buzzing to them, which is why Lance found the city so enticing in the first place. A deep sigh escaped his lips, and he found himself in a sense of calm that he didn’t experience anywhere else. When so much is happening at once, like in LA, Lance found it rather easy to rip his attention away from the things that didn’t matter.

With his mom pulling into the parking lot, Lance felt a fresh wave of excitement bubbling in his chest. He hardly allowed her to stop before he was clambering out of the car with a beaming smile on his face, all signs of fatigue now washed away completely. He rubbed his hands together, half out of excitement, and half out of jumping nerves, a small ounce of fear creeping into his head, telling him that something would go wrong, and for whatever reason he wouldn’t be able to get a service dog today.

His mom got out of the car, taking his hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze, a gesture she’d been doing since Lance was a little boy that always seemed to ease his stress in the fastest way possible. 

Let’s go inside, Lance,” she put her hand on the small of his back, easing him forward and towards the front door. “ You’ll be fine, there’s nothing to worry about,”

Inside, they were greeted by the smiling faces of a lady wearing a management badge, who Lance thusly assumed she was the manager, and a young man standing next to her holding a ring of keys, most likely to the door labeled ‘employees only’ that was behind him.

“You’re right on time,” The lady began, her name tag indicating that her name was Stacey - a name Lance whole heartedly found to be unbelievably bland - “I assume you’re Lance,” she looked at him, smiling all the while, “And you must be his mother, Aña.”

“That’s correct,” She replied with a smile, reaching forward and shaking Stacey’s hand, subtly wiping it off on her jeans when she finished, since for some reason, Stacey’s hands had surpassed the normal amount of sweaty. 

They were ushered into a back room with a table surrounded by four chairs, where all of them sat down, supposedly to consult Lance about the kind of dog that he wanted, and the type of dog he would be allowed to have. 

“I've spoken with the school he’s going to next year,” Lance’s mom said calmly, she’d caved early, allowing him to apply for the school before getting the service dog, and feeling overjoyed when he’d gotten his acceptance letter, “And they’ve kindly agreed to let him bring a service dog of any size, so long as it doesn’t disrupt anyone’s learning.”

“Our dogs are trained to be silent on duty, so there shouldn’t be any problems with disruptions,” The man spoke up, who Lance soon discovered was named William from the name tag on his chest, “That, I can assure.”

Lance was particularly interested in these people’s personalities, since they both seemed to have quirks of their own. William’s lips were rather hard to read, since he was very stoic, and lacked most sorts of mouth movements, which was a natural killer of people trying to read lips. It’s hard to read something that you can’t see clearly, after all. The woman on the other hand, was a bit of an enigma in Lance’s eyes. She seemed happy to help him, but her happiness seemed rather fake to him, like she wanted to get paid and go home so she didn’t have to deal with him ever again. Of course, Lance would never admit to anyone that he thought she was being completely fake with the two of them, because without her, he wouldn’t have a service dog at all.

“Shall we get started?” Stacey asked, Lance blinking once while he attempted to piece together what it is she’d said. As soon as he understood, he smiled, nodding his head and casting a glance between the three adults in the room with him. “Excellent!” She exclaimed happily, clapping her hands together and pulling a clipboard of paper out of an expensive looking purse.

“So what kind of dog did you have in mind?” William asked, an eyebrow raised, taking the clipboard from Stacey’s hands and clicking a pen a few times in his hand.

“I don’t um…” Lance glanced over at his mother, not entirely sure what to say, “I don’t really know much about dogs. I’ve never had any animals before, but I want a big dog.” He kept his eyes locked on his mom the entire time, feeling a little intimidated by the sophisticated demeanor of William and Stacey. He didn’t want to give a wrong answer, even though it’s hard to give a wrong answer when being asked about your opinion.

“That’s a start, at least…” William said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. Unfortunately, one thing that’s hard about reading lips is that you have a complete inability to read someone’s tone of voice, so when William’s tone dragged on in the irritated manner that it tended to, he had no way to pick up on it. Lance took everything at face value.

“Do not speak to my son in that tone of voice.” A ñ a said with a stark, commanding tone, shooting William a sharp glare, which Lance didn’t quite understand. “We have come to you for assistance in my son’s search for a service dog, and if you plan to only speak to my son as inferior, then I can easily find another establishment.” A small ounce of fear seemed to flash through Stacey’s eyes, and she quickly attempted to ratify the situation.

“Oh, no, no,” She plastered another smile onto her face, “That won’t be necessary, I’m sure William didn’t mean any harm by it.” She pat him on the arm lightly, taking a deep breath. “Now, you said you wanted a big dog?” She made direct eye contact with Lance, and it took all of his willpower not to look away.

“Yes, ma’am,” He replied, his hands clasped firmly together under the table. “If possible, a really fluffy dog.” He’d always had a soft spot in his heart for fluffy animals, and was hoping that his life long companion from that day forward could live up to his every hopes and dreams. 

“I think that’s doable. Now,” She turned her attention away from Lance, and instead to his mother, “You said that you wanted both a seizure detecting and a seizure response dog, in addition to it being a hearing dog?” A ñ a nodded in confirmation to her statement, “That’s quite a tall order, but I think we have a few perfect canines that can meet both of your wants and needs.”

She stood up, William beside her, still quietly grumbling to himself about the situation moments before, leading them into a room where they were told to sit down on the couch and wait until she returned with the dogs. The two complied, Lance pulling one knee up to his chest, the way he sat most commonly, and Ana sitting gently next to him, patting his leg in an attempt to comfort him. 

A minute or two later, a knock sounded at the door Stacey had left through, indicating that she’d returned. Ana tapped on Lance’s shoulder, pointing towards the door and signing ‘ARRIVE’ to indicate that she was on the way back. The door swung open, and she walked back in a leash in each hand, and William behind her, holding one more leash. The two of them lined all three of the dogs up, each standing at attention with a simple movement of Stacy’s hand. Lance’s nervous face melted away, revealing a soft look that could only indicate he found all of the canines adorable.

“If the two of you will come over here?” She waved them over, A ñ a being the first to stand, and gently tugging Lance along with her. “I’d like to introduce you to our canines. They are hearing dogs, seizure detecting and seizure response dogs. Since they are all on the bigger side - as most of our dogs tend to be - they all have the ability to place themselves between a seizing owner and the ground in order to soften any falls they may take.” Lance found himself having trouble looking between Stacy’s words and the dogs, eyes always trailing back to the animals, who stood so patiently on the ground. He found it funny to think that there were dogs more well behaved than he was, not that he was complaining about it.

“They all have names, though if you wish to change them, we can do name-response training in addition to your other training sessions following your purchase.” She continued, eyes glancing down at a clipboard every few seconds to check that her speech was on the right path. “Now, I’m sure Lance has been waiting for this moment for quite some time, but might I introduce you to our animals?”

Lance nodded his head in anticipation, finding himself squatting close to the ground in order to get on eye level with all of them.

“Alright then. So this,” Stacy stood in front of what appeared to be some sort of Lab, a brown one, with a somehow gentle face and happy demeanor. “Is Bailey. She’s two years old, and is one of our most well behaved canines that we train here.” She moved on to the next dog, another lab, this one golden, a shade that reminded Lance of his friend Hunk, who was always wearing many shades of green and yellow. “This boy,” She put her hand on the dogs head, and despite what Lance expected - for him to turn his head and look at her - he remained starting straight ahead, “Is Duke.There’s not much to say about him. He’s a wonderful, and very intelligent dog.” 

Though the first two animals he’d seen were wonderful, and he would take them both home if he could, it was the third dog, a Samoyed-Golden mix, as Stacy soon told them, that really caught his eye. He was huge, bigger than the other two, pure white, and had the softest looking fur that Lance had ever seen. He didn’t even bother to read Stacy’s lips, telling him that the dog's name was Bear, mind too distracted by how much he had fallen in love already.

His mom had seen the look in his eyes, and it took no time at all for them to agree that was the dog they were going to spend the next two weeks training with before they could take him home.

“Have you thought about a name?” A ñ a asked him, glancing up from the excessive amounts of paperwork that she had to fill out. “I like the name Bear, I think it suits him rather well, but it is up to you. He’s your dog.” Lance had been thinking about it all day. In fact, he’d been texting Pidge and Hunk the entire time, trying his hardest to figure out what he should name the dog. They’d gone through many names, Pidge suggesting ‘Max’ and ‘Alaska’ as well as ‘The Ruler of All Evil: Sir Fluff’ as a joke, though that was more highly considered than their first two options. Hunk thought something simple, like ‘Leo’ or something funny like ‘Cat’ would be better suited. It wasn’t until Lance was on the verge of giving up and sticking with the name ‘Bear’ that he came to a conclusion.

“You know, who cares what my dog’s name is anyway?” He sent to his friends, “I mean, I could name it after my favorite color for all that matters. He’s still gonna be cute no matter what his name is.”

Pidge was quick to respond, “What’s your favorite color anyway? Maybe it fits him.”

Lance took a moment to think, he’d had the same favorite color for most of his life, so of course it wouldn’t have changed. “Blue.”

“If I’m being honest,” Hunk sent his text, butting into the two of them, “I think the name Blue kind of suits him. It’s ironic in a “Lance” kind of way, but it’s not too ironic that it’s stupid.”

“Blue…” Lance said the name out loud, despite the fact that he couldn’t hear it, he liked the way it felt on his tongue.

“Blue?” His mom looked up once more, an eyebrow raised, “Is that what you want to name your dog?” Lance gave a slow nod, watching a small smile appear on his mother’s face. “It’s perfect.” She flipped back to the section about naming, checking off the box indicating that they were going to give him a new name, and writing in a beautiful print, the name ‘Blue.’

And before Lance even knew it, his weeks of training were over. He was going to start high school with not only his friends, but a canine companion by his side. He could hardly wait.

 

~~~

 

On the first day of school, Lance couldn’t help but feel out of place. He kept his head aimed at the ground, glancing to Blue every once in a while and doing his best to look normal. His bag was slung over his shoulder, the duffel hitting the back of his knees with each step. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be there, but he was the only deaf person at the entire school, and even though he was rooming with Hunk, and he knew Hunk loved Blue, there was this aching feeling in his chest that something was going to go wrong and he would be forced to drop out, either by the school or his mom. Both were equally possible in his eyes.

Hunk, who had been walking by his side the entire time, tapped Lance lightly on the shoulder, signing “OK” with his eyebrows raised, asking if he was doing alright. Hunk knew that starting a new school like this would be hard for anyone, Hunk was even feeling the pressure himself, but for Lance, who had things so much harder on the daily, he couldn’t even imagine. But Lance reassured him that he was doing alright, he was just a little nervous of what people would think of him, since he was rather odd compared to all of the other students.

The good news is, he had support no matter what. He had two amazing friends, Hunk and Pidge, to help him with homework, since they were both so smart, and to help him socialize, since he was still working on that. And not to mention, he had Blue. Blue, an amazing dog, who was walking by his side at all times, in a vest - well certainly not fashionable - that was beyond functional. It was an eye catching shade of red, and had two zipper pouches on either side of it, to carry some necessities for Lance. It has “SERVICE DOG” printed in large letters on either side of it, as well as a clear slot containing his ID card, and the phrase, “Please don’t pet me, I’m working” taking up a good portion of the fabric.

The three friends had agreed to meet up at the main office. They wouldn’t all be dorming together, because they decided to put Pidge in the girl’s dorm, even though they weren’t a girl, but Lance’s mom had pulled a few strings and gotten Hunk in the same room as him, so he’d always have someone to work alongside in case things went awry. He kept a tight grip on Blue’s leash, wrapping the fabric around his hand twice for added security and glancing down at him every few seconds in order to make sure he hadn’t run away or anything, though he knew Blue would never do something like that. 

His eyes scanned the buildings around him. To his left stood the main one that he knew to be the actual school building - he’d done a bit of research before submitting his application, as a final decision making process that his mother forced him to partake in. Next to that were two, slightly smaller buildings that Lance quickly recognized as the dorms. One read “Callisto Hall,” and another “Europa Hall,” two names that Lance immediately recognized as two of the many moons of Jupiter. Clever. In the distance, behind the school building, Lance could see the outlines of what seemed to be a football field, though he’d heard that it was rarely used, since this school was almost completely for science and engineering, rather than sports or the arts. Other than that, the campus was mostly open space. He knew that, about a mile down the road to the west, they had a Garrison-run training center for up and coming astronauts, something that Lance had always wanted to pursue, though he knew they would never allow it. Sending a deaf person into space was unheard of, even if he could pass all of the physical tests with flying colors - which he probably couldn’t.

After a few more minutes of wandering, they finally located a sign pointing to the main office, and made haste in that direction. Upon arrival, they noticed that Pidge had already gotten there, and was sitting rather impatiently in a chair, bouncing their leg up and down with a bored look on their face. They turned to look at Lance and Hunk, face lighting up. Greeting Lance with a ‘WHAT’S UP’ sign, the three of them all gave short high-fives.

Jeez, it took you guys long enough,” Pidge signed, while speaking at the same time. The order of their signs was a bit off, but Lance understood it well enough, they hadn’t been learning for as long as Hunk or himself after all. “The class tour is gonna start soon. Hurry up, we’re gonna be late.” They left soon after speaking, urging Hunk and Lance to have to follow quickly behind.

Lance had been nervous for the tour for a while now. He knew that Hunk could always try and interpret for him if he couldn’t see the tour guide’s lips, but he also knew that Hunk got distracted rather easily, and it wouldn’t be long before he forgot what he was supposed to be doing because he was too engaged with something that was being said. So in order to reassure himself, he tapped Hunk lightly on the shoulder.

“You can translate, right?” He had his eyebrows raised, perhaps the most important part to asking a question that could be answered with yes or no. He watched as Hunk smiled, nodding and responding.

“Of course, Lance” Lance always felt bad for making Hunk interpret, despite the fact that he agreed to it every time. It was just that Lance’s family didn’t have enough money to send him to boarding school and buy him a one-on-one, in addition to already sending so many of his siblings to college. The only thing he didn’t want was for his disability to be used as an excuse to get anything that he doesn’t deserve, though he’d experienced that in the past. People tended to just give him things, thinking that they would improve his life in some way, though he’s learned that it’s usually just to make them look better by helping out the disabled kid.

Right off the bat, Lance had reached the conclusion that he probably wasn’t going to be top of the class in any means. He could see plenty of students who - just by looking at them - Lance was able to tell were far more advanced in the world of science. Of course, he was going to excel in his own regard, but since he’d spent so much of his childhood trying to learn English, he was lacking some of the mathematical upbringing that other students clearly brought to the table. Not that he was really concerned with the other kids at the school. He had Hunk and Pidge, and in his eyes, they were more than enough for the time being. 

A tap on the shoulder snapped him quickly out of his thoughts and back into reality. Hunk was walking backwards, which worried Lance already, while doing his best to interpret what the tour guide was saying. He introduced the students to the two dorm halls, giving the fact that they were moons of Jupiter as if it was something nobody had figured out yet, but it was easy to tell from the eye rolls of the people around him which ones already knew. Giving small glances to the other people there, only when he could safely assume the guide had stopped talking from the way Hunks hands fell back to his side, his eyes searched for anybody that stood out to him. Most of them seemed to be very similar, short haircuts (most likely done by their parents), many of them wore glasses, and he could tell who was going into the aerospace program simply by the fact that some of them were much less built than others. 

One boy stood out to him in particular, walking only a few feet to his left, only one person separating him from standing right next to Blue, was a boy that absolutely looked like he had no desire to be there. At least with the others, he could see past their bland appearance and pick up on the hint of excitement that hid behind their otherwise impassive eyes. But this kid, charcoal black hair nearly dangling over his aggressive chestnut eyes and extending past his shoulders in the back, seemed to hold nothing but remorse for the situation he was in. And yet, Lance found himself unable to draw his gaze. It wasn’t until he caught Hunk’s hand waving in front of his face, startling him and causing him to let out a yelp, which of course drew many eyes, did he refocus, taking in the rest of the information the guide had to tell them about the campus.

When the tour concluded, they were sent to their dorms, telling them that all of the bedding and decorations they’d sent to the school had already been delivered to their rooms, a reliving fact to Lance. He couldn’t really imagine trying to carry boxes and boxes full of things to his room with Blue at his side. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue he would have to worry about.

The dorms turned out to be a little bit smaller than Lance expected, only enough space for a bed, desk and wardrobe for each of them, with a little bit of floor space in the middle where they could put out a rug or something of the like. Lance and Hunk both made haste in decorating the room, eagerly hoping to get everything set up, mostly so Hunk could send a picture to his mother, who was patiently waiting to see how everything had come together. But before they got started, Hunk tapped Lance on the shoulder, a smile on his face. 

Do you mind if I play music? ” He signed, eyebrows raised. Lance couldn’t help but chuckle.

No, I absolutely will not listen to your music. I don’t want to hear it. ” He replied, smirking so Hunk could catch onto his sarcasm. “ Just make sure to turn it up, so I can at least feel it. ” With an obligatory nod, Hunk pulled a rather sizable speaker from a box, plugging it into the wall and connecting his phone to it. He turned the volume up, though Lance came over shortly after the song started to increase the volume more, with little regard to the other people living on his floor.

They unpacked quickly, spreading out their bed sheets, Lances a mix of shades of blue and grey, the comforter donning small grey stripes on a sapphire base, and sticking pictures of their friends and family to the walls, and propping them up on desks. Lance's favorite picture, on of he and Hunk playing in his backyard in elementary school, Lance spraying Hunk in the face with a hose, was hung above his desk, so he could look at it whenever he was studying. Not that he would get much of that done. Lance had requested bed risers in order to get his bed high enough off the ground so he could slide Blue’s dog bed underneath, to which he laid down in as soon as it was in place. In a small container next to the bed, he stored all of his essentials for Blue - his leash, vest, papers (just in case), doggy bags, and a few toys that he took a particular liking to. With a satisfied smile, he laid back on his bed, putting his hands behind his head and closing his eyes. He’d relaxed so much, that he hadn’t noticed Hunk leave the room, or the kid he saw during the tour enter, with an angry glare present on his face.