NOTE: This is Mama McClain's Misadventures with Teenagers, but in Keith's POV! So a LOT of this will be verbatim from that story, and it'll pretty much be following the chapters from that story. So chapters will come out much more quickly, but might be sporadic because of work.
Laura said he had been missing for a year, out in that godforsaken desert.
Had it only been a year? It felt much longer than that.
The doctors said he was dehydrated, malnourished, suffering from a bad attitude. They tried to get him to talk about why he was out there, claiming his previous foster parents—Jim and Clara? John and Susan? He couldn't remember—had been worried sick, claimed he had run away.
Keith kept his mouth shut and turned away. They weren't going to listen to him, anyway.
He was in the hospital for over a week before the doctors deemed him fit enough to be tossed away to a new foster home. Laura seemed happy about the McClains.
"They're wonderful people," Laura said, shuffling papers on her desk nervously as they waited for the McClains to pick him up. She had explained that she was his new caseworker. His previous one had quit not too long after he had disappeared. James? Jack? Something like that. Keith didn't care. "Usually they take our emergency fosters—the ones when we're trying to find other relatives to take them in, you know? They've had five kids and the youngest, Lance, still lives in the house. He's about your age, actually. So they're well equipped to take care of you and we're hoping this will be a more permanent solution."
She'd obviously seen that he had been through fourteen foster homes in eight—nine—whatever years. His file was thick, too, thicker than some of the other ones on her desk.
Keith clutched his backpack closer. It held everything he owned—a few t-shirts, an extra few pairs of underwear, his mother's knife hidden at the bottom, a picture of him and his dad. Nothing else, though. He didn't need anything else. He had been fine out in the desert by himself. Sure, he had only been sixteen—wow, he was seventeen now, apparently they had found him on his birthday, what a joke—but he had made it work. Too bad the inspectors had come to look at the shack he had found.
He didn't speak.
Laura sighed. "Well, she should be here any minute. Are you sure you don't want something to drink?"
He clutched the bag closer and shook his head. His throat hurt too much to speak.
He figured that's probably the least of what he deserved.
A knock interrupted them. A Hispanic—probably, maybe—woman stood in the doorway. She had a small, tentative smile and kind eyes.
His last foster mother had had the same smile when he was dropped at her door.
Keith nodded his greeting, carefully, keeping his eyes from meeting hers. She had looked hesitant when greeting him. She probably had read his file.
She would probably believe he was a bad kid, just like the rest of them.
Soon enough, they were ushering him out the door. He followed Rosalina to her car and she started babbling about pizza. He let her; he didn't have the energy to talk back. His bones felt so, so heavy, and he just wanted to go to sleep.
And then she started rambling about her family. Keith kept the bag close to his chest, even if Rosalina had offered that he could put it in the back seat. It made him feel... safe, having it as a barrier in front of him. It had been a long year, out in the desert by himself. He hadn't really talked to anyone, except the coyote that hung around and liked head pats sometimes. He was certainly out of practice with communicating with humans.
"Lance is fairly high energy, just to warn you," she said as she turned out of the parking lot. Pepperoni and meat lover's and grease filled the car. It made his stomach roll.
He looked at her from the corner of his eye. He should... probably reply to that, right? "Okay," he said, trying not to cringe at the croak.
Rosalina pulled into the garage. Keith kept his gaze out the front windshield as she turned off the car and shut the garage door. Her keys jangled in her hand. He couldn't help squeezing the bag closer, wishing, desperately, that he was back out in the desert.
"There's no need to be nervous," Rosalina said out of the blue.
"I'm not nervous," Keith grumbled. The nerve.
"Lance is kind of like an overeager puppy whose limbs grew too quickly and the rest of him is waiting to grow into them."
Keith felt his eyebrows and lips twitch without his permission, but he didn't comment otherwise.
"Let's go eat and then see what we can do for that tangle you call hair." Rosalina shoved open her door, waiting for Keith to get out the passenger side before she closed her door. "Lance!" Rosalina called as they stepped through the door. "Come here, please!"
Keith stood next to her, hand gripping tight to the strap of his backpack he had slung over his shoulder. He shuffled behind her, letting the door swing shut with a soft sound. From somewhere deep in the house, a boy emerged with much more sound than Keith thought could be humanly possible, stomping and clamoring down the hallway.
"Oh, hi!" The boy grinned obnoxiously. That had to hurt. This kid couldn't possibly be human. "You must be Keith!"
Keith didn't know how to respond. He looked to Rosalina, hoping she could give him some hint, or something, but he saw the quirk of her lips. She was amused. "Yeah," he finally answered. His voice still croaked.
"I'm Lance!" Lance thrusted his hand in Keith's space.
"Careful, Lance," Rosalina said as she walked away. "He bites."
Okay, that was only, like, once! Maybe twice.
"Pfft. So did Leo." Keith growled. If this family wanted to think he was dangerous, he would show them dangerous. "Did you just growl at me?"
And this kid would not. Stop. Talking. Keith grunted his answers, hoping the boy would just leave him alone. But it just seemed to encourage him. So did silence. Keith just couldn't win with this kid. Finally, though, Rosalina showed him to his new room. It was plain—nothing lined the walls or sat on the desk or dresser. It was all neutral greys and blues and browns, obviously for older fosters. Or like a guestroom.
It reminded him that he probably wouldn't be staying there long. His backpack fell from his shoulder and landed with a thump on the carpet.
"Are you hungry, Keith?" she asked.
Not really, no. He drew in a breath and tilted his head back up. "Yeah, I guess."
They didn't wait for her husband—Marcus—to get home. Keith was still nibbling on his first slice as the big man walked in. He had large arms and a thick chest. Keith tried not to wince, instead trying to keep his gaze on them but with his head down. The two kissed before he went to wash his hands.
"Keith, right?" He wiped his hands on the towel and hung it back over the oven handle with a smirk to Rosalina. What was that about? Were they just... waiting for a good time to pull a 'joke'? Tell him he could only have the one slice? That he would be locked in his room? That Marcus was going to beat him for some... infraction? "Nice to meet ya."
"Likewise, Mr. McClain." Keep calm. Be polite. Even if his heart was thudding in his chest.
"Nonsense," he said. He kissed his wife again as he sat down and pulled some pizza onto his plate. He took a large bite and grinned at Keith. With a full mouth, still chewing, he said, "Call me Marcus."
"No wonder our children are animals," she huffed behind a slice of pizza.
But Keith's attention was pulled towards Lance. Lance was trying to prove to him that he could stick an entire slice of pepperoni into his mouth, trying to goad a Keith into doing the same.
What a weird kid.
Rosalina sent him to take a shower after dinner, claiming it would make him feel better, more relaxed. That he needed to wash his hair so she could try to tame it.
"You don't have to try to comb it, but do try to use conditioner."
He scowled at that, but stalked off to his room to grab his bag. He brought the whole thing into the bathroom with him, not trusting them enough to not go through it when he couldn't keep track of them. Nothing in it was really clean, but it was the only thing he had. No one had bothered to buy him more clothes or anything. Typical, really, but whatever. He'd make it work.
Keith wondered which bottles he was allowed to use. There were a few kids shampoos and some baby soap and then probably hundreds of other bottles that took up every available shelf. Who—who needed this much product?! There was no way it was only for one person.
He used what looked like the cheapest and put on a new shirt. That should do.
Rosalina ambushed him after he brought his bag back to his room. He didn't like that he couldn't see if someone snuck into the room to go through it, but he supposed he would just have to make sure the knife and picture were there when he got back. He sat in the chair without fuss, though frowned at the setup. The room was still rather warm. Maybe Marcus had taken his own shower.
"I'm going to trim your hair," she explained, picking up her scissors and snapping them twice in quick succession. He tried to hide a flinch. "You can't get out of that. I'm going to guess that you haven't had a proper haircut in a very long time." Well, he supposed chopping off the ends every few months didn't count as 'proper.' He shook his head. "Alright. So I'm going to help you brush it out and trim it, unless you want something different?"
Keith hesitated, catching her eyes in the mirror. He held her gaze, firm, frowning slightly. "I... like it long," he admitted after nearly a minute of silence.
"I can do that."
She started with brushing his hair. It was still mostly tangled, and he held a grimace as she held the strands firmly in hand to keep from tugging too much on his scalp. His eyebrow rose when she pulled the kid's detangler closer and spritzed his hair liberally. Okay, then.
"We can talk about whatever," she said as she worked the brush. Keith wasn't sure what to say. When he didn't respond, she added slowly. "Or we can sit in silence."
Keith really wasn't keen on talking, so he just... didn't answer.
She wasn't even half-way done brushing his hair when he heard someone stomping towards them. Aw, shit. Had he done something to upset Marcus, somehow? There wasn't an escape—he was trapped. Keith tried to breathe as evenly as he could. Rosalina opened the door before they came bursting through.
"Mom!" Oh. So it was Lance.
Keith could only see that Rosalina crossed her arms. He wasn't sure what expression she had on her face. "I'll pay attention to you when I'm done cutting Keith's hair."
"Is it a life or death emergency?"
"You'll survive. You know the rules. Go sit with your dad."
Lance huffed, crossing his arms as well and looking away. He looked like he was about to throw a tantrum. Seriously? The kid was—what, sixteen? Seventeen? And still threw tantrums? Was he a spoiled brat, then, and try to get Keith in trouble? He'd had a few of the kids do that before, and punishment had never been pleasant.
"Go, hijo. You know the rules. Your father is out there."
Lance stomped away, throwing her bedroom door closed with a slam. Keith couldn't stop the flinch.
"He's not really mad," she said, returning to him to brush his hair. "He believes I need to pay attention to him at all times. He's the baby, you see. Quite the mama's boy."
Keith's lips quirked up at the corners. "I can tell."
"And don't be afraid to be sassy," Rosalina said offhandedly, eyeing him for his reaction. "We like to tease each other a lot. And if someone goes too far with it, let them know."
He mulled over her words, eyes lowered, fists clenched in his lap. Was this a test? Surely, it had to be, but... She was still looking at him so kindly. It had been a long, long time since he had seen a kind face. Finally, he said, "Okay," and left it at that.
When she was done, he quietly thanked her, pulled off the towel around his neck, and excused himself to bed. His knife and picture were exactly where he had left them. He fell onto the bed, so exhausted. He was still a little amazed that she had listened and had kept his hair long enough to pass his shoulders a little.
Keith bit his lip before getting up to grab his knife. He slipped it under his pillow and curled up under the blankets, facing the door, one hand clutched on the handle of the knife. These people were nice. Lots of them started out that way, though.
He missed Shiro so, so desperately. His chest ached with that missing hole. But he didn't know how to find him again, or if Shiro had even cared that he had been missing in the first place, or even if the McClains would let him try to contact Shiro.
He wanted, so hard, to believe that they would be kind to him.
Out in the desert, he had thought about killing himself so many times. Being hungry sucked. Being thirsty sucked. Being hot sucked. No one would probably be looking for him. Good riddance, they probably thought. He had been too much of a problem, too angry, too violent, too worthless, too gay. The only people who knew he was out there were those goddamn fosters. If he killed himself, he would just be a body to feed that coyote that came around.
But it was quiet. Calm. No one was screaming at him, or ordering him around. No one was there to hit him or scold him or sneer at him. He could be himself instead of trying to fit into the stupid little boxes the foster families tried to put him in.
He lived just to spite them.