December in New England was pretty. The aesthetic of actual snowflakes dancing on the breeze, everything adorned with frosted silver and white hues, was to a person who had grown up in a hot climate, like a special kind of magic.
Lance, a boy from Cuba, who had attended college on the West Coast of California, would never in all his 23 years have imagined himself on the upper East Coast in the most suburban of settings that seemed straight out of a Hallmark movie.
He definitely stood out from his neighbourhood, but thankfully everyone had been super welcoming and friendly if in a little overbearingly Martha Stewart, white picket fence Suburbia kinda way.
He had to admit it had been overwhelming at first, graduating from a teaching degree almost nobody had thought he would do so well as he had in. Everyone had expected him to pick something easier that he could relax and not stress himself over. Maybe the arts? But Lance had been adamant. He wanted to make a mark on the world and the future of the minds that would shape it.
And he had worked himself to the bone to achieve it. Including holding down two very draining jobs to cover his student debts so he didn't have to cost his parents too much. His Mama had stood at his graduation crying tears of pride, at the son that had proven to everyone he was not a joke to be taken lightly.
And now he was here, 1,359 miles from his home on the sunny beaches of Varadero, in the crisp flawless winters of a little town called Blue Star Falls, tucked close to Pennsylvania. It looked exactly like something you'd find on the front of a Christmas card and although it had been a challenge adjusting to the temperature drop and the culture shock of how different the people were, he could honestly say he truly loved it here.
He'd taken a job at the local school, his natural sociability and drive to help others making him an ideal candidate to connect with the young minds that needed shelter from the harshness of the world, and gentle encouragement to better themselves. He had after all been there himself struggling to find his own learning style that fit with his neurodivergent traits.
Honestly he loved his kids so much, there were a few characters in the bunch that needed a quick wit to match their attitudes and learn when they were acting out because they had a genuine need or not. But the majority were great and someone like Lance who had a big family back in Cuba and was a very loving uncle to his niece and nephew (now in school themselves back in Cuba) it felt a whole lot like just being in another big family of young charges who needed him to help them. It made him feel important and respected more than any adult's opinion.
At this time of year the focus aside from learning was on the annual Christmas Pantomime that all the teachers and students held together, bringing in Blue Star Falls community to enjoy a relaxing break between all the stresses of work, studying and preparations for the perfect family Christmas.
This year was Lance's first time volunteering to take part and he was SUPER NERVOUS about it. Especially because the other volunteer helping with the set up was none other than the VERY attractive Gym Teacher Keith Kogane, who Lance had had his eye on since his arrival.
In spite of the Korean-American's long hair that was bordering on a mullet, he was definitely easy on the eye, and Lance normally talkative, smooth, charming, and quick to make friends had been fumbling for a way to communicate ever since he'd first lain eyes on him.
It didn't help that he was STACKED in terms of muscles, he was sure those arms that were always folded across his brawny chest were probably capable of cracking bones if he so chose to do so. Lance was torn between being terrified and horny whenever he let his gaze fall upon the athletic specimen.
As if that wasn't enough, he was intimidatingly good-looking too. Lance prided himself on his great skincare routine and having grown into his body with svelte but well toned muscles of his own and a thick thatch of wavy brown hair, but Keith's intense almost inhuman violet eyes framed by thick dark intense brows and the ebony hair just pierced him like some predatory animal and he had no choice but to go limp and play dead to survive.
Approaching the gym now to check on the set up and other details for the performance which would take place on the stage at the far end of the room (the gym had a dual purpose and was used for oratory announcements also) he wondered how he was going to get through the next few minutes of having to actually TALK to the member of faculty in person.
Perhaps focus down on his clip-board and take a completely professional approach? Yeah. Yeah that was it. Keep the eye-contact to a minimum and just focus on the job. He could do this. He pushed through the gym doors, plastering a professional but friendly smile on his face and... paused.... the greeting dying on his lips in confusion.
Keith was standing on the stage wearing an eye patch and holding a toy sword, making ridiculous jabbing motions with the sword, and speaking in the most lacklustre way possible "Uhh... Avast ye... um.... scurvy dog?"
Lance blinked and dropped his clipboard with a clatter. Keith startled at the noise and almost fell off the stage in surprise his normally composed handsome face flushing red surprisingly quickly with embarrassment
"What are you..." Lance found his voice blinking wondering what exactly he'd interrupted. Keith averted his gaze downwards, remembering after a second he was still wearing the silly eye patch and pulling it off, looking entirely like an oversized kid that has been caught in the act of something, Lance's brain supplied a mental comment that it was almost endearing, which he rapidly shut down.
Keith scratched the back of his neck awkwardly "Uhm, hey... they asked me to take a role in this panto thing, I tried to tell them I wasn't good at acting but Romelle was adamant on the matter..." he trailed off cheeks still blazing red
"Oh.... Oh I guess that makes sense..." Lance exhaled glad he'd not walked in on some weird private fetish or something. "Let me think... the pantomime this year was Peter Pan, right?"
Keith nodded "Yeah I uh... I got Hook" he remarked looking away from Lance almost like he couldn't make eye contact with him. Lance frowned wondering why. Like he was hardly intimidating like Keith, so why would he want to avoid looking at him. Unless he hated him and found him annoying?
He wrinkled his nose hoping that wasn't the case. As someone with ADHD he had always struggled with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria and presuming people hated him when they actually didn't.
Pushing those negative thoughts away at least until there was some more concrete proof to affirm such assumptions, he remarked slightly judging "THAT was a Hook performance?"
Keith bristled defensively "I said I don't act alright? I've no idea what I'm doing here, so if you're here to pick at me you can just get right out of my gym" he snapped, getting in Lance's face almost before he'd realised what he was doing.
Whoa. Quick temper. Lance mentally filed that away and sighed, his hand reaching out to lightly push at the solid wall of muscle that was the other faculty member's chest "Alright calm down, Muscles McMullet. I'm just saying this performance is a BIG thing for the kids and the community. And Hook's a really big role in Peter Pan. One of the biggest after the title character. You're gonna need to do a lot better than that if you're going to make this show the spectacle it deserves to me"
He set his clipboard down on a chair and approached the other teacher again "I did a little performing arts myself back in the day, I think perhaps I can help you. Do you want my help?" he tilted his head blue eyes finding the other man's questioning.
Keith stared at him for some minutes trying to decide if he was still mad or not, then deflated with a sigh "Alright fine... but only because I've got no other way out of doing this, and I'm not keen on humiliating myself in front of a crowd"
Lance smiled "Alright then lets get to rehearsing we've only got a couple of weeks before the performance and we need to get you 'shipshape' if you'll pardon the pun, before then!" he winked a little, finding confidence in Keith's insecurity for some reason.
Every week they met up after that, and would go over Keith's lines. Lance was definitely a stern and dedicated tutor, Keith had to admit. He would stay through his lunch breaks and even for hours after school trying to get Keith's passion in the role to come alive.
The trouble was just that Keith had no faith in himself as a performer, he'd come a long way from the first terrible performance that Lance had witnessed, he stood up straighter, thrust his sword with more energy. But he just lacked that Hook swagger.
Lance got bolder the more time he spent with Keith too, their after school sessions in the privacy of the gym heated up and got way more hands on. When Keith's stance wasn't right, Lance leapt up onto the stage slipping his hands around the hips of the other man and pulling him into a more appropriate pose "Cmon Keith!" he complained dropping the formalities of 'Professor Kogane', waving his hands animatedly as he paced the stage
"You're a fearsome captain of the seven seas, you want to kidnap the children, you have to be terrifying. You're not terrifying me!" he told him, blue eyes glittering
Keith sighed "Why don't you show me again, what you envision Hook to be like?" smirking a little knowing he would enjoy the performance that followed. Lance hadn't been kidding about being a past actor, he was a natural on the stage, he literally ate up the spotlight. His motions fluid and almost erotic in a different context.
Lance formed his fingers into a shape like a hook, scraping it against the painted backdrop that had arrived on the stage the week before, careful not to damage it but still with enough force to immediately make Keith snap to focus. He approached him with a stride, that had Keith backing up a little in spite of the obvious difference in build and height, Lance's eyes seemed to gleam like the waves of the sea itself, completely changed from the soft gentle gaze he'd overlooked watching over his children in class.
Keith unbeknownst to Lance had been watching him just as closely as he had been watched himself, working up the courage to approach him, to try and strike up a conversation, but every time he opened his mouth to do so, someone interrupted or Lance just scurried away as if trying to avoid him. He had started to give up. But now Lance's performance commanded his attention again.
"So Pan" he spat the name with distaste as if it were a revolting epithet "This is all your doing" the 'hook' came up under Keith's chin, a sinister leer twisting the young teacher's face so for a moment Keith forgot where they were, was transported back to being a child plagued by the terrors of nightmares, of monsters in the closet, and strangers lurking waiting to snatch a vulnerable child away.
He remained frozen, not giving the reply of Pan's lines (which he hadn't rehearsed). Lance continued nonetheless as if he had heard them spoken in his mind anyway
"Proud and insolent youth!" he snarled showing his teeth and backing Keith up to the edge of the stage "Prepare to DIE!"
Keith shut his eyes tight, his heart pounding in his chest expecting the pain of being skewered through with a metal hook. Nothing happened. He opened his eye to find Lance hands on his hips looking at him back in his teacher mode
"THAT is how you play Captain James Hook..." he told him with a sassy smirk. Keith remembered breathing was a thing and exhaled in a whoosh "Okay so.... YOU should clearly be playing this role not me. You.... you were just.... that was incredibly Lance. I was terrified. You were amazing!"
Keith was flushed with excitement, his eyes wide and grabbing the other man's shoulders shaking him "I'm going to text Romelle and tell her to switch the roles. You have to be Hook. I could never compare to that performance"
Lance didn't share his joy however he pulled away looking upset "But.... we trained for weeks. All the performances... you were getting better.... we were.... getting closer I thought...." he bit his lip backing away from the other teacher
Keith frowned "I thought the idea was to make the performance great for the audience though? With you it WILL be great! I don't have an acting bone in my body Lance. I'm sure Romelle only gave me the part because I'm big. That's it. You don't need my physique to dominate the stage though, you were incredible...."
His words fell on deaf ears though as the gym doors clattered announcing the other teachers prompt exit. Keith leapt down from the stage and followed "Lance wait!" he chased after the other teacher. He knew he had more stamina and could gain on the latine man, but Lance's long legs seemed built for bigger strides and he just about managed to stay ahead of him slamming out of the main school doors to the surprise of the janitor cleaning the floors and out into the snow
Keith pounded out after him, leaving the janitor shaking his head and muttering about running in the halls being dangerous and leaving dirty footprints on his clean floors.
The snow came in thick flurries and it made visibility hard, Keith plowed on through the snow, quickly shivering as he recalled he hadn't grabbed a coat and was only wearing a t-shirt and track pants
"Lance! Come back!" he called out but there was no reply. The other teacher was gone. He searched half-heartedly for another 20 minutes before finally succumbing to the cold and stomping back indoors earning him a scolding from the janitor about tracking snow in.
He was too upset to listen though. After all that work. He didn't understand. Why had Lance run away? He was trying to COMPLIMENT his acting for god's sake!
Grabbing his things he exited the gym and made his way to the parking lot, unlocking his car and slamming the door with enough force to make the majority of the snow that had been obstructing his windscreen avalanche off to the ground below. He jabbed his thumb into the wind-screen wiper button taking care of the remainder and reversed with screeching tires out of the parking lot.
Driving angry in snow was never a good idea and he didn't want to be the victim of an accident, so he forced himself to calm down and focus on the road, exhaling deeply, fingers tense on the wheel.
Why couldn't he stop thinking about the other teacher? The way he'd sounded so disappointed at the idea that they weren't going to train anymore. Hadn't he mentioned something about them 'getting closer'. Was this what this whole thing had been about? A chance for him to put the moves on Keith? He didn't even need to go to such ridiculous long lengths about this. He could have just ASKED Keith out!
He remembered how the other man avoided him up until that first meeting in the gym. About how the female faculty members were always giggling and gossiping about how handsome and charming he was. Perhaps he wasn't even really interested in Keith. Perhaps he was just the conquest of the week and running away was the signifier that Keith was no longer favourable. Perhaps knowing he was a loser who couldn't act had turned him off...
Ugh! Thinking about it only made him mad again. And the visibility in this snow storm only seemed to worsen by the second. He flicked his headlights on, continuing to plough through the snow for a few miles until he noticed someone stood under a bus stop on the road side.
He almost drove straight past until he noticed the familiar freckled skin, though it was almost blue right now from cold. He slammed on the brakes so hard the car screamed to a halt. The fact that Lance didn't seem to react much even to that noise that should have startled him half out of his skin, worried Keith and he was already opening the door and jumping out to approach the other man
"Lance? Lance can you hear me? Lance!" he reached for a snow-laden shoulder shaking the teacher lightly, Lance's dazed blue eyes blinked slowly turning towards Keith's face looking confused. Ugh. The idiot was in hypothermic shock of some sort. He was going to be in severe trouble if he didn't get him out of the cold right now!
Keith ran to the back of his car and pulled out the slightly dog-hair covered blanket that he left on the backseat for Kosmo his pet wolfdog and wrapped it around the other man bundling him towards the truck and into the back seat. Lance didn't fight, seemed too disorientated to know where he was or what was going on.
What was he even DOING out here in the cold like this? Didn't he own a car? He thought back but couldn't remember ever seeing the teacher in the parking lot before. Did he catch a bus to class every day? He could have asked to carpool with any of the faculty...
Sighing he stepped on the gas and drove, eyeing the rearview mirror as much as possible to keep looking back at the half-frozen man in his back-seat, hoping he managed to get him to safety before anything severe happened.
The hospital might have been the best bet for this but with this much snow on the roads his chances of getting through mid town traffic especially at this time of year were slim to none. He had no other choice then...
Reaching his house he cut the engine and leapt out of the driver's seat running to the back and pulling Lance out. He wasn't shivering anymore which wasn't a good sign. Seeing the other was unable to even stand much less walk, he lifted him in his arms and carried him indoors.
He lay the other man swaddled in a burrito of blankets on his couch and ran to fetch more warm things, quickly boiling a kettle and filling a hot water bottle. He knew he needed to get the other man's cold wet clothing off so carefully peeling back the blankets he spoke carefully to the other glad at least he was still awake
"I'm sorry I'm going to have to get your wet clothes off... forgive me..." he flushed a little awkwardly but focusing on the task rather than his own embarassment.
Stripping snow-soaked garments from the other he realised he wasn't even wearing a coat. Just the shirt and pants he'd been wearing in the gym whilst they'd been rehearsing. He guessed when Lance had cut and run like that he had left all his belongings behind at the school. He'd have to collect them tomorrow if they both made it through tonight.
When Lance was clear of his wet clothes and carefully towelled dry and put in the thickest pajamas he owned (which were kinda loose on the slightly more slender man) he rewrapped him in the blankets replacing the dog-hair covered one with a fresh clean one, and tucked the hot water bottle close to his chest, carefully towelling off his soggy brown curls
Lance was still dazed and kept trying to go to sleep so more than once Keith had to snap his attention back into focus by lightly shaking him.
Gradually he started to turn a more normal colour again, though now he looked exhausted and confused, starting to come out of his stupor and look around "K-Keith? Wh-what am I doing here? Where is here? Wh-what happened?" he asked, rubbing at one eye with a fist in a manner like a small child that makes Keith's heart clench
"Easy. It's okay. You're at my house. You got caught in a snow-storm and you got too cold... you would have gotten hurt if I hadn't found you..." Keith frowned concerned. Perhaps he ought to take Lance to the hospital after all. Didn't he remember the fight?
"Lance what's the last thing you remember?" he gently coaxed the other man trying not to encroach too much into his personal space and rush him.
Lance frowned "I was... in the gym.... we were preparing for the panto... then I was angry.... I went outside.... it was so cold.... I.... don't remember much after that..." he blinked brows furrowing
Keith sighed "Yeah we were rehearsing, I asked you to take over the Hook role from me and you got really upset and ran away... I don't suppose you'd mind explaining why?" he perched on the arm of the sofa and looked at the sad bundle of blankets with as gentle as expression as he could
Lance tensed at his explanation, a flicker of pain crossed his face then "When I said I used to do performing arts, I might have neglected to mention a few details, such as why I quit..." he bit his lip shoulders tensing. Keith tentatively reached to place a hand on his shoulder "So tell me, I want to understand. I don't want to hurt you again so I need to understand why this is a problem for you..."
Lance exhaled and nodded hunching a little further into the blankets "During my school years I always loved being on the stage, everyone was so sure I was going to pursue a career in the theatre. I felt like it was a way to let all my excess energy and expression out without getting into trouble for being too hyperactive and chaotic. But even there, there were perceived ways of being 'normal' and apparently getting that into a role wasn't normal. I didn't know when to detach from the character. One scene I had to fight some kid with a prop sword, but I got way too into the role and hit him way too hard. He had to go to hospital and everyone started to call me a freak. Even the teacher acted like I was something disgusting and inhuman. I dropped out of school for a while and just stayed home feeling sorry for myself, but I couldn't keep disappointing my parents, so I went back to a different school and focused instead on getting into teaching, so I could be there for students like myself who felt vulnerable and alone and needed guidance. Pretty arrogant considering I never learned to manage myself, huh?" he let out a bitter chuckle
Keith's brows furrowed and he shook his head "That's not arrogant at all Lance, wanting to prevent a child suffering is very noble. I know what bullying is like. I used to be a scrawny sack of bones and an orphan who got bullied all the time, so I got strong physically so people wouldn't beat me up anymore. But overcoming psychological bullying seems so much harder. I don't think I could have done what you did"
Lance looked up at Keith "You were bullied? Really? And here was me thinking you were a bully yourself perhaps..." he flinched realising how blunt that sounded adding a tentative "Sorry..."
Keith just laughed in response "And that's why first impressions are overrated. They never end up being accurate. People who don't take the time to look beyond the cover on a book aren't worth trying to impress. You know what I see when I look at you?" his violet eyes fixed on Lance, and the other man blushed a little (now that his blood had returned to the surface and allowed such a reaction) "No?"
"I see a man who accepted his shortcomings but didn't let them hold him back. I see a man who wanted to make his own mark on the world and drove a path through the obstacles that would stand in his way. I see a man who is not 'out of control' but making his own decisions that work best for him and the people he cares about. I see a man who loves his students and his community with all his heart. I see a man who deserves to be loved in return" Keith spoke the words earnestly and Lance felt his face get redder with each word.
"I... uh... wow... I wouldn't have thought of it that way.... I mean it's true I love my kids and my neighbourhood, and I do want to make the changes in the world that mean people don't have to feel alone or hurt like I did... but... thank you... for saying it" he reached tentatively from the blanket pile to grip Keith's forearm briefly, then tugged gently until the dark haired man was sitting beside him "C-Can I hug you?"
Keith opened his arms "I'm about as good at hugging as I am at acting but, sure, knock yourself out" he smiled genuinely. Lance almost collided with the broad chest, leaning against the collarbone of the other man, his head tucked under the chin. Keith smelled so good. Warm and slightly spicy. Very solid and safe.
Plucking up a bit of courage himself, Keith's slightly calloused fingers brushed through Lance's curls, working loose the sections that stuck together from the ice. So glad that he found the other man in time. This evening could have ended in tragedy
"If you don't want to go back on the stage, I understand. I don't want to force you if it's something traumatic for you. But I really think you should give it another try, you're so amazing. I don't think I've ever met anyone like you before Lance..." Keith spoke so gently, his eyes that Lance had thought were piercing and scary before, now seemed impossibly warm and caring
Lance couldn't help himself he moved his head to press a light kiss to the other's cheek "Sorry... I just have been wanting to do that for the longest time..."
Keith grinned, then kissed him back on his jaw "Same actually.... but I figured you were a ladies man because all the other faculty members seem to swoon when you're around"
Lance made a snort that turned into a sneeze half way "No god, they're so not my type. I tend to have a thing for broody bad boys who can't act..." he teased a little accepting a tissue from Keith and blowing his nose
Keith quirked a thick brow with an amused expression "No shit? How convenient. I have always been attracted to loud, over-dramatic guys with freckles..."
He was cut off as Lance kissed him again, this time on the lips and he kissed back, fingers embedding themselves in the thick brown curls of the other man, only breaking off when Lance had to cough into the crook of his arm "Alright. Let's get you warmed up so you don't get sick!"
Lance exhaled happy but exhausted as he was lifted once more and carried to a bed, tucked in with some hot sweet tea and allowed to rest, protesting slightly "But where will you sleep?" to Keith, which was waved off with an "I'll manage", before exhaustion wiped him out.
It took another week for Lance to be well enough to return to school and he got basically mobbed by his kids, who were all excited to see him. Apparently their substitute whilst he'd been recovering had been Keith himself and the gym teacher had been remarkably gentle with all the students, indulging proudly in their art sessions and enjoying playing fun games and quizzes like Lance always loved to do.
"You trying to replace me, Kogane?" he teased the other man with a smirk, as he gently peeled off the kids and approached the man whose bulk barely fit behind his modest desk, having interrupted them in the middle of Pictionary perhaps judging by Keith's not that great doodles on the board. Okay so his new boyfriend didn't have an artistic bone in his body, he was still the best boyfriend ever.
Keith mindful of the watching children rose with a smile "As if anyone could replace you... Right class?" he turned to Lance's kids who all began shouting positive encouragement that had the teacher's freckled face flushing warm pink from embarrassment but happiness, beaming wide
"Is it true that you're going to play Captain Hook in the pantomime?" one of the girl students asked waving her hand. Lance's gaze darted to Keith wondering what he'd told them "I don't know.... do you guys want me to? You don't think I'll be too scary?" he asked feeling self conscious
"Hook's meant to be scary though!" , "Right! We want a scary Hook!" the students chorused, the same girl student from before patting the older man's hand very gently with a kind expression "Don't worry Mr McClain I'm sure you'll do just great!" she told him.
"I... I guess I can give it a go then..." Lance was choked up with how sweet and supportive his students were, knowing that Keith had specifically told them because he knew Lance couldn't say no to his kids. The dastardly fiend!
Excited chatter descended over the class with student roles being discussed and who was bringing which members of their family. Whilst the kids were distracted Lance cornered Keith by the supplies cabinet, poking a finger into his broad chest "You... are very stubborn and sneaky" he told him, mock angry.
Keith chuffed a little in amusement "Those are my good traits" he wiggled a thick eyebrow at Lance and the other growled "You just wait till I get you alone later Mister..."
Keith smirked flirting back "Ohh you think you can take me McClain... you're on..." his large arms folded over his chest smugly
When the night of the pantomime finally rolled around the two men stood backstage, holding hands nervously. Well hand and hook since Lance was now in costume, wearing an amazing Captain Hook costume that Romelle had worked through the night to put together. He could feel some of his old performers energy returning along with a dose of anxiety too
"Promise me if things go south, you'll stop me okay?" he asked the other man who was now recruited as backstage technician, helping Pidge the science teacher with all their heavy lifting and pulling of ropes and sets and stuff.
Keith gently tilted up the pirate hat on Lance's head and kissed his forehead "You're going to be amazing. You can do this. I believe in you"
Lance felt his heart flutter in his chest and looked down reprimanding it lightly "Stop that, we've got to get into scary pirate mode" he told his heart, earning a rumbling belly laugh from Keith "Alright Captain, get out there and bring down the house" he playfully slapped the Cuban's rump earning him a menacing hook shake in his direction before Lance strode out into the spotlights and played for all he was worth, the role he was born to perform.
The audience shook in terror at his scary scenes, rolled with laughter at Smee's oafish antics, cheered when a young child cast in the role of Peter Pan saved the day and gasped when Lance dramatically enacted his demise at the scaly clawed hands of the crocodile. The entire gym echoed for some time with the sheer volume of the applause when the show ended. It had been the best pantomime the town of Blue Star Falls had ever seen!
When the final bow was over and the curtain came down, Lance ran to find Keith leaping into his arms uncaring who saw their intimacy. "You were incredible Lance" Keith told him swinging him round, eyes shining with pride and love
"I couldn't have done it without you Keith, if you hadn't believed in me I would have be so scared to reach out and try again" he wrapped his arms around the other man's neck, staring into his eyes, then kissing him.
Some of the younger actors, spied them and giggled but didn't interrupt the moment, knowing they'd have plenty of opportunity to tease their teachers later.