It looks like a crime scene. There's red streaked over the three small tables, the side of his own desk, the supply cabinets. He thinks the smeared red hand prints that slide down one side of his white board are a nice touch.
Keith vows to never let the kids near red paint again.
His plan this week had been to focus on nature paintings, let the kids paint a snow scene based on either what they could see outside the classroom window, or get inspiration from some of the snow scenes he would rotate across the white board.
White paint wouldn't have backfired like this.
It was Principal Smythe who'd suggested he squeeze some holiday art into his curriculum. Something about how it would be a nice gesture for the kids to bring home something cute for their parents, which would earn parental approval for the school overall. Keith wasn't interested in earning parental approval, but this was a prestigious school, and he was interested in keeping this job. He'd set about researching different holidays to cover the diversity in the school, and then readied the paint, some cotton balls, and even some sticks and pinecones he'd personally collected.
At the beginning of each class, Keith reviewed what the options were, and even spent some time demonstrating how to get the effect of fire with paint for anyone who wanted to include candles. The first two classes of the day had enthusiastically and cheerfully worked on their projects.
Then Mr. Holt's second grade class had arrived…
The sound of footsteps in the hallway interrupted his thoughts, and Keith turned towards the sound just as a man rounded the corner of the doorway and swung himself into Keith's classroom. The man stopped short just inside, though, and Keith watched as blue eyes widened as they scanned over the crime scene-like pattern of red paint.
"Ay por dios," the man exhaled in horror.
Keith nodded and stood up from where he'd been crouched, doing his best to scrub red paint from one of the stools that circled the small tables.
"Mr. McClain?" Keith asked.
The man's mouth dropped open and closed a few times as he continued to gape at the disaster that had struck the art classroom.
"You are Mr. McClain, right?" Keith prodded, hoping that this was a student's parent and not some rando who managed to get into the school. It was after hours now, which meant there was just a limited staff at the front desk to allow people entry.
Finally the man spun around to face Keith and began to nod furiously. "Yes, yes. Sorry, I'm just" — he threw a hand out towards the red mess — "a little shocked. I mean, she said there was a paint incident, but she didn't say…" His hand waved towards the general vicinity of the room again. "This looks like a crime scene."
Keith held back a laugh, as it was likely unprofessional, even if the description had matched his own exactly.
"Well, this was a paint incident, so she was correct."
"Oh my god," Mr. McClain rush over to the white board. "Oh god, this looks expensive. Do you think the paint will come off? If not, I'll pay to replace it." He rubbed his own fingertips furiously over the paint and his shoulder sagged in relief when some of the red transferred to his hand. "Here, I'll help you clean." He rushed to the sink and grabbed one of the sponges and began to run it under the water.
Half of Keith's mouth pulled up in a smirk, something about this frazzled, frantic father was actually calming his own frustrations over the day. He fought the half smile down as Mr. McClain turned back from the sink and seemed to eye the overwhelming amount of red again, as if trying to decide where to even begin.
"You really don't have to help clean," Keith offered. "The custodial staff is coming —"
"Oh my god, this is extra work on top of their regular work." Wide eyes seemed to once again scan the room, as if for the first time. "I bet I can get most of this up before they're even here. I grew up in a big family. I've dealt with huge messes before."
"No — wait — Mr. McClain, I'm not the one who called you," Keith said haltingly. "You really don't have to help clean."
"It's Lance." Bright blue eyes met Keith's now as he spoke. "And I know. I already spoke to the principal. He's the one who suggested I come down here to 'experience the incident fully'".
Thursday night found Keith in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, doing his best to decide if he should be responsible and buy the cheerios or give in and buy the holiday themed cinnamon vanilla Lucky Charms with what appeared to be snowflake marshmallows.
He glanced up after tossing the Lucky Charms into his cart and immediately noticed the pair at the end of the aisle. The little girl was tugging at her father's hand, trying desperately to move him away from the cereal aisle, but the father wouldn't budge. His feet remained planted while his eyes remained locked on Keith.
Keith blinked for a moment before he registered that the little girl, still yanking on her dad's hand and doing her best to hid her face, was Amelia McClain, and the tall blue-eyed man staring at Keith was the nice guy who had helped him clean his art classroom top to bottom three days ago.
Keith offered a small wave before he pushed his cart towards the pair, reassured by the way Mellie's father's grin grew wider as he got closer. It was pretty common to run into his students in the grocery store. Most were happy to see him, and as much as he enjoyed his privacy outside of the school building, he wasn't sure what to think about Mellie's clear wish to avoid him entirely.
"Hi Mr. McClain, Mellie."
"Lance," Lance directed back at him before pulling on Mellie's hand to get her attention. "One, say hi back."
"Hi Mr. Kogane," Mellie replied dutifully as her father's tug forced her to stop pulling on him and just stand still beside him and their cart.
"Two," Lance continued, "trying so actively to keep me away from him makes you look crazy guilty, so tell me what you did this time to this nice teacher's classroom."
Keith snorted (he wasn't being paid to be a teacher right now, he didn't have to keep up with all his best manners).
Mellie's eyes grew wide with surprise at her father's words. And guilt.
"Tell me before he tells me," Lance demanded.
Mellie grabbed hold of the ends of both her braids, hair the same pretty brown as her father's, and tugged on them. Large blue eyes were downcast and her voice was small (much quieter than the one she used in his classroom) as she muttered, "I didn't know the lid wasn't on the can of glitter."
There was an audible gasp from Lance and maybe Lance looked even cuter gaping at his kid on Keith's behalf, but Keith still bit back a smile (because glitter. All over his desk. From now until forever).
"Mel! I literally just cleaned up your last mess, how could you dump glitter everywhere? Did you learn nothing from Tia Rachel's glitterpalooza this summer?"
Keith mouthed the word glitterpallooza with a considering frown before he tried to bail the little girl out. "Lance, its fine. That sort of thing happens in the art room."
"Oh my god you still have glitter on your shirt," Lance said as if Keith hadn't spoken.
And then Lance's hands were on his chest, a thin layer of dress shirt separating the two of them as Lance did his best to brush away the stubborn glitter.
"Um, its — " Keith caught one of Lance's hands, "I tried that technique earlier."
He watched Lance's eyes dart from the hand that Keith was holding, to the hand he had since flattened to Keith's chest, before meeting Keith's eyes again. Keith swallowed as he watched the blue of Lance's eyes darken.
Lance sucked in a breath before nodding quickly and gently pulling his hands back and taking a step away from Keith. "Yeah, um. Of course you did."
Lance glanced down at Mellie (who Keith noticed was side-eyeing the two of them the way she always side-eyed Luke Anderson before stealing all of his working markers) and offered his daughter a not-at-all-guilty smile.
"Well, we're going to leave you alone now," Lance declared, hands back on his own cart which he began to push behind him even though he still faced Keith. "Let me know if you need to dry clean that shirt to get the glitter out and I'll totally pay you back."
"Lance —" Keith raised a hand to point but not before Lance had unseeingly pushed his cart into the display of pop-tarts near the aisle end cap.
Lance groaned as a stack of boxes hit the ground.
"Mel, you're already on thin ice, please just help me clean them up."
"I can help," Keith offered.
"No! No, you can go back to your grocery shopping. Hey, cinnamon vanilla Lucky Charms, those are my favorite. Nice choice. You can just go to another aisle now and make more excellent grocery buying choices. Away from here."
"You won't buy that cereal for me."
"Please pick up the pop-tarts, kid."
Keith did let himself smile now, this mundane grocery store chore much more entertaining than normal.
"Okay then, if you're sure." He turned his cart to exit at the other end of the aisle, just to avoid the scattered boxes.
Keith turned back towards Lance at that, catching him trying to balance the boxes back onto the display.
"Tape," Lance said. "Try tape on your shirt. Should de-glitter."
"Yeah, thanks." Keith smiled again.
And would swear that Lance blushed immediately after.
And that Mellie was side-eyeing them again.
The next time Lance McClain skid into his art room, looking frantic and worried, he found Keith drawing a robot on the corner of his main white board.
Lance didn't say anything as he approached, just got in close to the board (and super close to Keith) as he crouched near the corner and stared hard to see through Keith's artwork to what was written beneath.
"Shut your pie hole, Luke," Lance finally read with a groan.
He fell into a squat then beside Keith's chair (still sort of putting him at eye-level with Keith, Keith noted, thanks to those long legs) before he dropped his face into his hands with an aggravated huff.
"Hey, this sort of thing happens in all the classrooms," Keith attempted.
"She's done this in other classes?!" Lance's head popped up, eyes full of alarm.
"No," Keith said with a small laugh. "I just mean, the kids are always drawing inappropriate things on the white boards."
"With permanent marker?"
"Maybe," Keith shrugged. "The difference is that I can also use permanent markers to draw something really cool over it and when I'm finished no one will ever know what's under there."
"Still, I'm really sorry." Lance stood to his full height before taking a few steps back to sit himself on the corner of Keith's desk. "I'd offer to help but I can't draw at all."
"Art teacher," Keith said with another shrug as he turned back to his project. "I like this sort of thing."
"Sure, but its Friday night, surely you want to get out of here. You have plans tonight?"
"Meeting up with some friends, but not till later. Pretty sure it's set-up night, though."
Lance grinned. "What do you mean?"
Keith shook his head but kept his eyes on his work. "At least once a month my brother has a random new friend he wants me to meet."
"Ahhhh, yeah, the 'let me introduce you to this great friend I just met two seconds ago' kind of set-up."
"Yeah, he thinks since I have the steady job its time to nail down the husband and mortgage part of life. I take it that happens to you as well?"
Lance pressed a hand to his chest. "Single dad. Huge extended family with family dinner several times a week? I've been introduced to more people than should be numerically possible considering the size of this town."
Keith chuckled and swapped the red marker out for black before leaning in to add a few finishing touches. "I think that's it," Keith said, trying to hide his disappointment since he was sure Lance was leave now that the problem had been resolved.
He groaned a bit as he stood and stretched his back. Lance cleared his throat as he hopped off the desk and came over to take a closer look.
"Oh! Hey, cool robot. From that old robot lions in space show, right? My siblings and I loved that one growing up."
Keith let himself smile at Lance, pleasantly surprised to find someone who recognized what the artwork represented, since he was sure his students would have no idea.
Keith nodded. "It was one of the first things my brother and I bonded over. We'll still watch reruns sometimes."
He watched as Lance stuffed his hands in his pockets and smiled back. Keith knew it was considerate of Lance to come all the way to the school to visibly see his kid's vandalism, as well as offer an apology — it was way more than any other parent had ever done.
"Well! I should go. Let you get on with your night out."
And maybe it had been a while for Keith, but he was pretty sure that up to that point, Lance had been lingering.
Not that he minded.
Lance spun on his heel and marched quickly to the door. He was pulling the door open when Keith called out to him.
Lance turned back to him, ready smile on his face.
"You, uh, you sat in the glitter on my desk."
The smile may have fallen from Lance's face as he began to brush his hands over his ass, but Keith could only laugh.
Lance had begun to cringe every time he saw Amelia's school on his phone's caller ID. Sure, the art teacher was hot and funny and talented and so far didn't seem terribly upset about Mel's antics in his class. But that good nature couldn't last forever, right? At some point, the dude was going to get fed up.
He hoped today wasn't that day.
He rounded the doorway of the art room, arm raised with his prize in his hand, ready to reassure, but quickly snapped his mouth shut as he found the hot and funny and talented art teacher on his knees, pretty hair pulled back into a messy bun, eyebrows furrowed as he attempted to pick the lock of his supply closet with a very pointy knife.
Lance knew he shouldn't have found that hot. In this place where children learn. Teacher on his knees because Lance's own child had stolen the supply closet key and Lance had had to pull out his biggest Santa threats to get her to hand it over at home that afternoon.
He shouldn't but he sure as hell did.
He allowed himself another few seconds to ogle before clearing his throat.
"I got it back." He waved the key in the air when those pretty eyes focused on him.
"Oh, thank fuck," Keith sighed, pushing himself to stand. "This isn't working and my helmet and keys are locked in here."
Lance grimaced at that, no idea that Mellie's newest stunt had literally held her teacher hostage at the school.
"I'm so sorry!" Lance exclaimed as he placed the key in the waiting palm, greedily letting his fingers drag against the skin on his hand's retreat (he didn't imagine the shiver he saw in return). "Seriously, Mr. Kogane, if you want to kick Amelia out of your class —"
"Keith," hot art teacher said with a laugh and a shake of his head. "It's fine. I would've eventually called my brother to bail me out."
"Keith," Lance repeated with a small grin, hasty earlier ramble already forgotten, distracted by a cute guy's first name.
He stood back and watched as Keith unlocked the closet and pulled out a sleek back motorcycle helmet before stuffing keys into one of his pant's pockets.
"So, are you also going to tell me this sort of thing always happens in the art room?"
"No," Keith said, tone flat and expression doing its best to appear un-amused even though Lance swore the dude was trying to fight off a smile. "But there's a first time for everything."
"Never under-estimate Amelia McClain," Lance attempted to joke. He nodded towards the door. "I'll walk you out. Make sure there aren't any more roadblocks to you getting outta here."
"Why? Did you bring Mellie with you this time? She's not out there letting the air out of my tires is she?"
Lance laughed and nudged his shoulder into Keith's as they walked.
"I'm, like, ninety-eight percent sure she doesn't know how to do that."
"That is actually not at all reassuring."
Lance grinned again, enjoying Keith's hilarious monotone as much as he enjoyed the smiles Keith let loose every once in a while. He thought back to the last time he'd seen him and couldn't help but ask as they walked.
"How'd set-up night go?"
Lance shouldn't find it adorable. And yet, here he was.
"Tom the banker. Pretty sure my brother grabbed the first guy he could find at the bar that night."
Lance laughed, desperate to cover his relief to hear that Keith was apparently still single. "What was your first clue?"
"Other than the fact that my brother introduced him as Ted? The guy's girlfriend approached us after a few awkward minutes of talking to see if he was coming back to their table."
Lance stopped in his tracks so he could bend at the waist and laugh appropriately. "That's as bad as the married moms who keep shoving their married friends at me at the PTSA meetings."
"The exact reason you'll never find me at a PTSA meeting."
Ms. Romelle in the front office is familiar enough with Lance now to let him in the locked building after hours and wish him luck with Keith.
He didn't have Keith's number, and he wasn't about to send an email through Keith's school-provided email, and he didn't know where Keith hung out (unless you counted the grocery store or whatever bar he and his friends liked).
So, it was either show up unannounced at the school (with confirmation that Keith was still there thanks to the presence of the motorcycle in the parking lot) or just wait and see what other terror Mellie inflicts on the guy in order to see him again.
While very much out of practice, Lance had thought of a few ways to go about this, including pick-up lines (that were immediately vetoed), suggesting an upcoming winter carnival he and Mellie were attending to see if Keith would also be there, orrrr just directly asking Keith out to dinner. All Lance knew for sure was that when Keith had recently mentioned a possible future that could include a husband and a mortgage, Lance had immediately wanted.
He rounded the doorway of Keith's classroom and watched as Keith's head popped up from where he sat sketching at his desk. But, instead of a happy smile, Keith's brows furrowed and he glanced warily around his classroom.
"Did she rig something?"
"What?" Lance stopped walking and also glanced warily around the room.
"I overheard her talking about ink bombs —"
"— and while there hasn't been any explosions yet, did she send you down here to keep me from touching something?"
Lance watched as Keith warily eyed the pens laid out in front of him, knowing that Keith was spooked by them because of his kid. The poor guy was paid to put up with Mellie's antics during the day, why had Lance thought Keith would ever be interested in a scenario that would force him to spend time with her outside of those work hours?
This was a mistake.
"No, no ink bombs," he finally managed to say with a wave of his hands in front of him. "And I'll make sure she, uh, doesn't actually know how to do… that."
"Oh," Keith sighed in clear relief. "Okay. You want to sit?"
Lance hesitated, suddenly not sure what his main goal was anymore. It'd be odd to turn and leave now, though, so he took the few steps required to reach Keith's desk, pulled up a tiny stool, and sat himself on the other side.
"What are you working on?" Lance asked, leaning himself across the desk.
"My friend's birthday is coming up and she's been bugging me to sketch her a picture of her cat." Keith lifted the actual photograph he'd printed to use as a reference and turned it to Lance.
"Well, yeah, look at this precious baby," Lance cooed as he took the offered picture and grinned at the fluffy himalayan. He tilted his head and glanced down at Keith's work. "She's going to love that when you're finished, dude. I love how she already looks really fluffy there."
"Thanks. I like to sketch in my free time anyway, so I thought I'd finally get around to this for her." Keith peered up at Lance through his bangs. "What do you like to do in your free time?"
"You mean other than being called into school to hear bad news about my kid or being the sad single parent dude at all my friend's parties?" Lance asked, smile wide despite the description.
Keith hummed and shook his slightly to force his bangs out of his eyes, and Lance could feel his face heat as those eyes roved over him in consideration.
"I've seen you look horrified, embarrassed, happy. But never sad."
"Nah, not sad lately." Lance let his own eyes drop away from the man who had had his mind so happily preoccupied lately. He toyed with a pen on the edge of Keith's desk.
"But you were before? Sad?"
Lance spun the pen in a circle as he considered Keith's question. Wasn't he supposed to be trying to calmly talk his way out of here? Not sharing the sort of things that he normally even hid from Hunk?
"No more than any other single parent," Lance said slowly.
"Everything falls on your shoulders," Keith supplied after a few moments of silence. "I had a single dad for a while as a kid, and then a single older brother after that."
"Yeah?" Lance lifted his attention back to Keith, immediately interested in these peeks into Keith's past. "Well, and look at you — you turned out great."
Keith huffed a laugh and Lance's eyebrow rose as Keith nervously ran his hand over the hair in his short ponytail.
"I was… maybe… a …"
"A what? You're killing me here."
Keith laughed outright then. "I was a hellion, but I promise it was just who I was and had nothing to do with having a single parent. Completely different situation than you and Mellie."
Lance pursed his lips and frowned at Keith. "I'm not sure that's as reassuring as you'd like it to sound." He tapped the end of the pen on the corner of the desk a few times and grinned, but before he could speak further, there was a popping sound from the pen.
Then Lance stared in horror at the blue ink that was now covering his hand, the corner of Keith's desk, and even one of the knees of his jeans.
"Ay por dios!" Lance jumped to his feet and stared down at the pen. "How does she even know how to do this?"
Lance spun away and began pacing in front of Keith's desk. "I am going to kill Nadia!"
"She's the one who lets Mellie google on her phone!"
"Lance." Keith was in front of him now.
Keith's hands were suddenly coming towards him and it was enough to earn Lance's full attention as Keith pulled Lance's ink-covered hand away from his face.
"Your entire forehead is blue now," Keith laughed as he shook his head.
When had Lance slapped his own forehead? Why did this sort of thing happen in front of Keith?
Keith kept Lance's wrist within his grasp as he pulled Lance over to the sink and stuck his ink-covered hand under running water.
"Keith, I'm so sorry," Lance said. He pumped some soap onto his clean hand and began to scrub, but still angled himself towards Keith. "I swear, I had no idea she —"
"Lance, its fine."
Keith swiped a paper towel under the running water and stepped in close to Lance so that he could dab at Lance's forehead, eyebrows scrunched in concentration, even as his mouth was pulled into a small smirk.
"Someone told me," Keith started, "never under-estimate Mellie Mc—"
"No one this cute is supposed to be this close to my face," Lance blurted out.
Keith's hand froze before he slowly lowered the already blue paper towel away from where he'd been cleaning Lance's forehead. His eyebrows slowly rose in surprise.
But the smirk didn't go anywhere.
Lance turned off the sink water and shook his hands a few times even as he kept himself angled towards Keith. His eyes dropped to Keith's mouth for a moment. "Because I'm likely to kiss them."
If anything, Keith edged in a little closer. "So you kiss any cute person who gets near you?"
"No," Lance shook his head. "Just really cute art teachers my kid likes to terrorize."
Keith sighed. "That pickup line shouldn't work."
Lance felt his mouth pull wide into a smile. "But does it?"
Keith leaned up and pressed his mouth to Lance's and Lance's eyes shut in pure relief and happiness. He leaned even further towards Keith, towards the warmth. It'd been a long time since he'd kissed anyone, so the swooping sensation in his stomach caught him by surprise.
In the best way.
Lance's hands went to Keith's neck, causing him to jerk slightly and Lance belatedly remembered that his hands were still wet.
"Sorry," Lance whispered.
Keith just shook his head in response as he crowded Lance against the sink.
Lance was still grinning, even as Keith's mouth chased after his moving lips as he spoke. "Your neck is turning blue."
At that, Keith's hands moved off Lance's hips, but still boxed him in as he gripped the edge of the sink instead. His head fell forward, allowing his long bangs to hide his face, but Lance could still hear his laugh clearly.
"What?" Lance finally asked when Keith continued to laugh instead of kissing him again.
Finally, Keith lifted his head and met Lance's eyes, pressing a quick kiss to his lips before openly smiling at him.
Lance still wasn't sure what was so funny, but he did know Keith should smile more often.
"Your daughter," Keith stated as he finally began to speak, "has used her creative license to turn my art room into a crime scene, glitter bombed my desk and clothes, graffitied the white board, held me hostage at this school by locking away my keys, and we just found her ink bomb."
Lance could feel his face heat as he thought about each of those events. But then one of Keith's hands was sliding around his neck, pulling his face in close again.
"You think I'm going to be scared off by a little blue ink when her hot dad is kissing me?"
"I really hope not," Lance whispered as he slid his ink-covered hand up the side of Keith's face, giving him a cool blue streak.
Keith shook his head slightly as if irritated but then pressed his face into Lance's palm.
"Amelia can be… a lot." Lance blew out a breath. "But she's still my number one girl. Part of the package."
Keith leaned in and this time kissed the end of Lance's nose. Lance wanted to see the act as adorable and loving, but a small part of him wondered at the downgrade from mouth to nose. Before he could get too worried, Keith released another laugh.
"I'll have you know I really like your daughter. She reminds me of me at that age."
"That's not as reassuring as you think it is," Lance laughed.
Keith cut him off as he claimed Lance's mouth again for another kiss.
Lance pulled into a free spot next to Keith's motorcycle outside his apartment building and sent a quick text to let him know that he and Mellie were waiting outside. They were picking Keith up as their guest for the annual McClain family New Year's Eve party.
Mellie greeted Keith cheerfully as he climbed in the car — the two of them had apparently come to some sort of understanding recently. The phone calls from the school principal prior to winter break had all focused on her antics in other classes, instead of art.
So, bonus bright side to dating the art teacher. But not a tactic he wanted to try with any of the other teachers.
They were sitting at a red light when something colorful caught Lance's attention on a nearby building. His eyes narrowed and his lips pursed as he focused on it — a large robot made of lions that had been spray painted onto the building's bricks. The style was extremely familiar…
He side-eyed Keith and found Keith looking straight ahead, small smirk on his face.
Lance dropped his forehead to the steering wheel. "You said Mellie reminds you of you?"
"What does that mean?" Mellie asked from the backseat.
"What have I gotten myself into?" Lance muttered.
He sighed happily a moment later, though, when Keith reached over and began to massage the back of his neck. The physical touch calmed him immediately, much like Mellie's hugs might anytime he was frustrated with her.
It was safe to say they both had him wrapped around their little fingers.
He was okay with that.