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The Marks We Make

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“Remind me again why we thought a nine am class was a good idea?” Lance asks. Despite being awake for nearly two hours by this point, his voice is still rough with sleep and his words sound sluggish.

“Because it was the only time they were offering this class, and we both needed a sociology class for gen ed.” Pidge sounds a lot better than Lance does, but their voice is still heavy and disgruntled. They look about as bad as Lance feels: shoulders hunched, heavy bags under their eyes, brows furrowed, and lips forming a permanent scowl.

“Wasn’t it offered at another time, too?” Lance lifts a hand, with some extreme amount of effort, and scratches his head. Even though he knows his hair isn’t greasy, he still feels gross. He didn’t have time to take a shower this morning after sleeping through the first three of his alarms: the ‘full routine’ alarm, the ‘only shower but no proper skin care routine’ alarm, and the ‘no shower but face care routine’ alarm. It was his fourth and final ‘you have no time to do anything but put clothes on’ alarm that finally woke him.

Pidge yawns, wide and long, covering their face with a hand. Their eyes shut, and their foot hits a groove in the sidewalk, causing them to stumble a few steps. Lance manages to grab hold of their arm to keep them standing. Pidge grunts out a thanks, and Lance grunts a wordless sound in response. “They offered later ones, but the seniors all got there before we did.”

Lance’s shoulders hunch as he slouches, grumbling under his breath, “Stupid seniors.”

“It was either nine o’clock or eight. And I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I don’t exist before eight o’clock, so I was not about to wake up around seven.”

“Yeah, I’m with you on that one.” Lance mumbles, running a hand over his face, dragging his cheeks down. “I don’t know how Hunk does it.”

“He’s a morning person.”

“Seven am isn’t morning. It’s still in that weird limbo time between night and morning, where only old people, babies, all nighters, and ghosts exist.”

Pidge grunts an affirmative, and lifts both hands to rub their eyes, pushing their glasses to the top of their head. They groan. “My eyes burn.” Their fingers dig into their skin, pulling down the bottom of their eyelids as they spread their fingers, gazing straight ahead. Lance yawns, lifting a hand to stifle it. Pidge glares up at him through their fingers. “Stop that.” They say flatly.

“You started it.” He says through his yawn, shoving his hands back into the pockets of his jeans as he smacks his lips. “I’m pretty sure I’m sleep walking.”

“I’m pretty sure I never woke up.” Pidge adjusts their glasses back on their nose and moves to rest their hands on the straps of their backpack, hopping a little to hike it up further on their back. They hunch over heavily and fix a steady glare ahead of them.

“This is a shitty dream then.”

“Tell me about it. You’re here.”

Lance tilts his head to the side, not even bothering to look down at his friend. “You know what? I’m too tired to be offended. I’ll leave you with a simple ‘rude’.”

Pidge snorts, but says nothing. They continue in silence. He’s not entirely sure he can feel his legs, but they keep moving anyway, despite how much he’s dragging his feet. They both yawn at nearly the same time, and glare at each other for a moment before both making wordless grunts. Campus is busy at this time. They had just gotten out of their nine o’clock class, and it’s still during the ten minutes where people are swarming the sidewalks in an attempt to get to ten am classes. They occasionally swerve to avoid people, Lance at some point just falling into place behind Pidge to avoid foot traffic coming the other way.

Despite their short stature, people seem to peel away from Pidge, clearing the way for them both. Lance has a feeling it has a lot to do with the look on their face. He, for one, wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that look. A tired Pidge is a scary Pidge. Almost as scary as a mischievous Pidge, but not quite as scary as a hungry Pidge.

Lance doesn’t think the look on his face is nearly as scary. He does, however, think it probably makes him look as dead as he feels. In fact, his face feels kind of numb, like he’s not able to express anything. He’s barely able to keep his eyes open as it is.

The traffic fades out as they leave the main streets of campus, and Lance is able to walk alongside Pidge again. From there, it’s only a ten minute walk to Local Lion. Normally, if walking as his usually long strides and natural gait, he could make it there in five minutes. But both him and Pidge are struggling this morning and hurrying is out of the question.

Hunk is waiting for them in the parking lot when they get there, leaning back against the decorative metal railing that frames the outdoor patio. He’s got one arm crossed over his chest and the other is holding his phone. He’s dressed simply, in a t-shirt and shorts with a yellow and black hoodie on, sleeves pushed up to his elbows, and a familiar headband across his forehead that’s been part of his aesthetic for years.

He looks up when they both approach, eyebrows rocketing upward. They both stop in front of him, and he slowly lowers his phone. “Uh, rough morning?” He asks, eyes darting between the two of them.

They both grunt in response, staring blankly at Hunk while he quietly takes in both of their appearances. As Lance watches, Hunk’s eyes roam from his neck, over his shoulder, and down his arm to where his hand is shoved in his pocket. Then he switches to Pidge, gaze traveling over both of their arms, where their long sleeved shirt is rolled up to their elbows.

His eyebrows are still raised high, but his look turns amused, a smirk spreading his lips. “Up all night with the soulmates again?”

Pidge shrugs, shifting as they straighten to adjust the weight of their backpack and half stretch as their back arches with another yawn. “They needed help with some schematics they’re working on.” They say, settling back down into a slump with shoulders hunched and a bored look on their face. They hold out an arm, displaying the sketches and calculations and words and small diagrams scratched out in faded black on their arm. Pidge’s marks are easy to spot: they look like pen, while their soulmate’s look more deeply ingrained into their pale skin.

It looks like… a lot of math, and angles, and stuff that Lance would expect to see on someone’s physics or calculus homework. Pidge holds both arms out, turning them slightly while Hunk takes a step forward, leaning over to examine them with a look of genuine curiosity on his face. “Fascinating. What’re they building?”

A small smirk tugs at the corner of Pidge’s lips, and a touch of pride enters their voice. It’s the only crack to their otherwise tired existence that Lance has seen all morning. “They’re working on a hover engine prototype.”

“Whoa! Neat!” Hunk gapes, looking a little closer at the markings as Pidge lifts their sleeves a little higher.

They shrug, but the smug look stays. “They’re still in the theoretical stage, but we made some real headway last night… this morning? I’m not even sure anymore.”

Lance looks politely at his friend’s markings, but they honestly just don’t make any sense to him. They look a lot like all of the other markings he’s seen Pidge get from their soulmate. It’s always math and long discussions and diagrams with them, written out in tiny black chicken scratch to be able to use up as much space as possible. Pidge usually ends up walking around looking like a text book half of the time.

One time they walked around with binary code covering every inch of their skin. Just zeros and ones. Wouldn’t tell anyone what it meant. Hunk wouldn’t tell him either.

“Okay, okay, but enough about all that nerd stuff.” Lance ways waving a hand at Pidge and Hunk. They both look up at him, eyebrows raised. They both look amused. Even Pidge, but it’s buried under the persistent layers of utter exhaustion. They were used to not getting a lot of sleep, so their soulmate must have kept them up a lot later than usual. “Check out what my soulmate did last night.”

He turns to put his left side to them, holding out his arm straight and rotating it back and forth so they can see the full effect of it.

Unlike Pidge’s nerd soulmate, Lance’s is an artist. It’s mostly with paints, Lance thinks, though he’s not entirely sure without actually watching them do it. All he gets to see is the brilliant colors and patterns appear on his skin like magic, bursting to life stroke by stroke and line by line. It’s never in the same place, and it’s never the same pattern. He’s gotten them all over his body throughout the years, and each one has been so unique. The one thing they’ve all had in common is the fact that they’ve all been beautiful.

The colors on his arm are yellows and oranges and reds, swirling together like fire and flames, licking up his arm from the knuckles and rising all the way to the junction of his shoulder, sending spits of yellow flames up the side of his neck. Nearly his entire arm is covered, each color swirling and blending in such a way that they looked cohesive together but still stood out individually. He could see the twists and turns of the flames, coiling and curling as they lit up his arm.

As usual whenever he gets a new temporary tattoo from his soulmate, Lance is wearing an outfit to show it off: simple tight tank top with thin straps. It puts his entire arm on display and doesn’t take away from the brilliant colors that, honestly, look amazing with his skin tone. He’s lucky it’s still the tail end of summer before fall really kicks in, and it’s warm enough for him to get away with it.

He might get a little cold in the buildings that are still running ac, but it’s nothing he can’t handle.

He grins, feeling his face brighten for the first time this morning as he watches Hunk and Pidge look over his arm. He’s proud of it, and he’s proud of his soulmate. He loves showing off their work, and he’s got the pictures decorating his wall to prove it. Not to mention the scrapbooks under his bed filled with pictures of all the drawings his soulmate has done throughout the years.

Pidge looks away first. They’ve had all morning to see Lance’s arm. They stifle a yawn before pushing up their glasses, and it causes Lance to yawn.

“Stop that, Pidge.” He tries to snap, but the words are muffled by his yawn. Hunk grabs hold of his wrist, lifting his arm this way and that to fully examine and appreciate his new sleeve.

“This is awesome…” He mutters, and Lance grins.

“I know.” He’s unable to keep the smugness out of his voice as he stands a little straighter.

“I don’t see why you’re so tired. You don’t even actually communicate with your soulmate.” Pidge says, adjusting their backpack again. They look like they might fall over at any moment now that they’re no longer moving. Lance feels himself bristle at Pidge’s words, but the edge is taken off when they lean against him, resting their head against his upper arm. “You could just sleep and see the finished product in the morning.”

Lance sniffs indignantly, lifting his chin as he looks away. “You know I like to watch them work.” He says, and he tries to sound offended, but even he can hear the fondness creeping into his tone.

It’s true he doesn’t really talk to his soulmate much. Not like Pidge and Hunk and Allura do. Even Coran talks to his soulmate more than Lance does, and they don’t even speak the same native language! And… he’s a little jealous of that. A lot jealous, truth be told.

As a kid, he always imagined having long, wonderful conversations with his soulmate in the years before he met them. And when the marks finally started appearing on his skin in his teenage years, he had tried to do just that. To his frustration, talking to them was like pulling teeth. Half the time he went ignored, and when they did reply, it was with short words. It didn’t take long for his soulmate to make it clear that they weren’t interested in conversation or getting to know each other.

He was, quite honestly and understandably, bummed about this. And he still felt a little pang of jealousy when he saw how the others had actual communication with their soulmates, even when they had never met.

But what his soulmate didn’t give him with words, they gave to him with art. They gave him beautiful markings that decorated his skin like a canvas. And while he never really got any words or explanations, Lance got to feel the emotions that came with those brush strokes.

So yeah, he could have slept through the whole thing and been bright eyed and bushy tailed for his morning class. But he didn’t. He liked staying up with his soulmate. He liked sitting on his bed, arm lit by only his phone screen so he didn’t wake up Hunk as the colors came to life on his skin. He liked feeling what his soulmate was feeling, good and bad. He liked to lay there, a silent audience as his soulmate worked through their emotions while painting their own skin, which, in turn, tattooed Lance’s.

lance feels what keith feels

It’s in those moments where Lance feels truly connected. He may not know all the details of his soulmate’s life, but he supposes he will eventually. For now, he’s perfectly content to simply watch them work, ride out their emotions with them, display their art proudly, and bathe in the calm serenity that comes with feeling the bond between soulmates.

He may not know his soulmates name or their favorite color or where they live. But he feels like he’s really gotten to know them over the years. He knows them deeply and intimately, and that’s a connection he wouldn’t give up for the world.

“Do you think they were excited last night?” Hunk asks, dropping Lance’s arm and taking a step back. “You know, all fired up and all that?” Hunk has always been genuinely interested in Lance’s soulmate’s art, and he’s always been down for talking through what they might mean. Lance isn’t sure if it’s just to humor him, or if he’s actually curious, but Lance appreciates it either way.

Pidge snorts, but Lance shakes his head, lifting his arm to gaze at the colors thoughtfully. “I think they were… anxious. Nervous, kind of. Like when you can’t sleep cause you’re all amped up on anticipation. But like… with more of a worried edge, you know?” And he knows he’s right.

He had felt that fluttering nervousness as he watched the flames swirl and coil, feeling the anxiety do the same in his heart. But beneath that anxiety was a sense of excitement. Nervousness, yes, but also… anticipation. With all that churning in his gut, foreign emotions that weren’t his but still familiar, he’s not sure he could have slept even if he had wanted to.

“Anxious about what?” Hunk asks, but Lance shrugs. He’s known Lance long enough to know that his soulmate never actually explains anything. “Well it is the start of the semester. Maybe they were anxious about classes starting.”

Lance lets his arm drop, brow furrowing slightly. “Maybe… but they’ve never been nervous like this around the start of the semester before.”

Pidge shrugs, pushing off of him and wobbling on their feet for a moment. “Maybe something big has happened.”

“Maybe…”

“Anyway, enough about soulmates.” Pidge says, already walking toward the doors to the coffeeshop. “I’m dying over here and I need some caffeine in my veins stat. So can we relocate inside and get some coffee before I pass out or murder someone?”

With the show and tell over, Lance feels his smug pride fade away, only to be quickly replaced by a bone deep weariness. “Yes, please.

They push through the doors, and the familiar bells rattled against the glass as they’re surrounded by the smell of coffee and baked goods. Coran looks up, straightening from where he had been bent over, putting fresh donuts in the display case. He stands up so fast that Lance is certain he saw his ginger mustache bounce. “Greetings!” He sings cheerfully, grinning as the three of them shuffled over to the counter. His smile doesn’t fade as he looked them over. “Sleep well?”

Lance and Pidge groan together, and Hunk chuckles. “Well, I did.” He says, crossing his arms over his chest. “How’re you doing, Coran?”

“Just dandy, Hunk! Thanks for asking.” He tilts his chin, a mischievous glint entering his eyes as he leans to the side, pointing the metal tongs in his hands at Hunk. “I’ve got some new recipes I want to try later today.”

“Oh geez, here we go.” Hunk laughs, deep and hearty, and Lance loves him, he really does, but he can’t for the life of him figure out how Hunk can be so cheerful when he woke up at seven this morning. “I’ll take a look at them when I come in for my shift.”

Coran straightens, sniffing indignantly and lifting his chin as he turns his head away. “Well, if you insist, but I think I’ve really hit the nail on the head with these ones!”

“We’ll see about that.” Hunk says with a soft chuckle.

Pidge walks forward until their toes are pressed up against the bottom of the counter and lean their whole body against the display case. It rises just a little above their head, rounding over the top. Pidge leans forward until their forehead and nose are pressed to the glass. “Please tell me you have maple donuts?”

Coran nods, one hand on his hip as he clanked the tongs in his other hand together a few times. “There’s some on the cooling rack in the back right now. They’ll be ready in just a tick!”

“Coran, you’re my hero.” Pidge mumbles without lifting their head.

Lance stops when he reaches the front counter, and bends in half, laying his entire torso across the countertop next to the register. With great effort, he lifts one arm and flops it down next to him. His hand lands on the bell, sending an annoying ring throughout the cafe. “Alluraaaaaaaa!” He whines loudly. “Alluraaaaaa! I’m dying over here! S-O-S. Call life alert. I’m too young and too beautiful to die.” As he whines, his hand lifts and falls on the ringer, over and over again.

“Lance, if you don’t cut that out, I’m going to make you spend the next week cleaning this place from top to bottom with a toothbrush.” Comes the sharp and annoyed reply. He likes to think there’s a fondness buried in there. Somewhere.

He tilts his head back far enough to see her come out of the backroom, tying an apron around her waist as she steps up to the register. She’s beautiful, as always. Tall, thick dyed white hair that’s a perfect contrast to her dark skin, amazingly sharp features and a no nonsense attitude existing alongside a generous compassion. What he wouldn’t give to have her be his soulmate. Sadly, they’re both destined for someone else.

Still, a little playful flirting between friends never hurt. Well… except for times that she actually hits him. But that’s beside the point.

“I must have already died and gone to heaven, because you’ve got the voice of an angel.”

He can practically hear her rolling her eyes, but it’s Pidge who groans loudly. “Lance, it’s too damn early to hear your gross attempts at flirting.”

Lance snorts. “It’s never too early to compliment a beautiful woman. Right, Allura?”

She crosses her arms over her chest and shakes her head. “No, I’m afraid I agree with Pidge. Not to mention I’m pretty sure you’ve given me that line at least a dozen times. Your attempts this morning are bordering on pitiful.”

“Ouch. Savage.” Lance mumbles, rolling his head so his face is pressed into the counter. “My poor heart can’t handle this kind of treatment. I think I’m dying.”

“We’re never that lucky.” Pidge grumbles.

“Rude.”

“Lance, please don’t drool on the counter.” Allura sighs, poking his head with two fingers.

“I don’t drool!”

“You do, Lance. I’ve shared a room with you for two years. You drool all over your pillow at night.”

“Hunk!”

“Come on, buddy.” Hunk says, stepping up beside him and rubbing a comforting hand on his back. If he keeps that up, Lance might actually fall asleep on the counter. But he won’t drool, because he doesn’t do that. “Don’t you want to order coffee?”

Lance groans, flipping his arm over so his wrist is facing upward. “I don’t think I have the strength to drink it. Just inject it straight into my veins.”

“I don’t think that’s safe, dude.”

“You’re not my doctor.”

“Lance, if we don’t order coffee in the next thirty seconds, you’re going up to number one on my hit list.” Pidge says, but the affect is lessened by the fact that they still haven’t moved.

“Oooo, is this a new painting from the infamous soulmate?” Coran asks, cooing with genuine interest as he leans over Allura to get a better look at Lance’s arm.

Pidge groans loudly. “Why did you have to bring that up?” They mumble.

At the mention of his markings, Lance perks right the fuck up. He shoots up straight, regretting the decision instantly as his vision blurs and everything spins. He leans forward again, putting his hands on the counter to steady himself. Hunk’s hand is on his shoulder, offering him support. He closes his eyes for a moment, but when everything stops spinning he lifts his head, grinning at Coran and Allura.

“Yup! Look at this one of a kind masterpiece.” He says, thrusting his arm out and twisting it as he shows them.

Coran leans forward, scratching his chin as his eyes roam the markings. “What an impeccable use of technique…”

Allura still has her arms crossed over her chest, but her eyebrows are raised as she looks his arm over. “It’s quiet beautiful.”

Lance’s grin widens. “It always is.”

“Is this why you’re so tired?”

Lance pulls his arm back, running his fingers over the color swirls and eyes tracing the patterns as he says sheepishly, “Maybe…”

“Hunk, you’re supposed to make sure he doesn’t exhaust himself like this.” Allura says. “He’s going to be useless on his shift tonight.”

Hunk throws up his arms, shaking his head. “Oh, no, no no, don’t put his on me. You know I can’t control him if his soulmate is drawing. Dude will stay up until he legitimately passes out if his SM is drawing. I’ve had to feed him before because he forgets to eat.”

“For the record, he tried.” Lance adds.

Hunk nods quickly, pointing to lance with both pointer fingers, hands still up in the air. “It’s true. I tried. He started right as I was going to bed, and I said ‘Lance, you know you have an early class tomorrow,’ right, Lance? I said that. I warned you that you’d be tired.”

Lance shrugs. “No regrets.”

“I regret your existence.” Pidge mumbles, voice muffled by the glass.

“Oh yeah? Well, I regret your— your face!”

“Lance, that doesn’t even make sense.”

“Neither does your mom.”

Pidge groans, but Hunk snorts a short laugh. “Good one, Lance.”

Lance holds up a fist, and Hunk taps it with the back of his. “What can I say? I’m on…” He pauses dramatically, crossing his right arm over his chest, he lifts his left to his face, cradling his chin in his forefinger and thumb. The position puts his left arm on display. He tilts his chin down and lifts his eyes, smirking at them all.

“Lance, don’t.” Pidge whines, but he doesn’t listen.

Fire

His smirk widens as everyone groans. Everyone except for Coran, who laughs heartily, throwing his head back.

“I hate you.”

“Oooo, gonna need some ice for that—“ He steps closer to them, grabbing their shoulders with both hands and pulling them off the display case. They flop backward, rolling back on their heels as Lance pulls them against his chest. Then he leans forward and waves his left arm in front of their face. “—Burn?

They groan, rolling their head to look at Allura, who’s smiling and shaking her head. “Can’t you threaten to fire him?” They plead.

Allura tilts her head to the side, several curls falling loose from her ponytail to frame her face. She gave Pidge and sympathetic smile. “I would, but then I’m afraid he would just—“

Lance snorts loudly. “Pfff, fired, nice one, Pidge.” He turns to grin at Hunk, who’s returning his smile, even thought he can see he’s conflicted about it. “You can’t fire me, I’m too hot!” He turns his head to grin at Hunk, waggling his eyebrows. He sighs but smiles good naturally as he responds.

“Hot damn.”

“—Do that.” Allura finishes, waving a hand at Lance.

“Call the police and the fireman!”

Pidge sighs loudly. “Why am I friends with you?”

“Because I’m irresistibly charming and handsome?”

They snort. “Sure.”

“Did you guys want to order?” Allura asks, hand hovering over the register.

“Yes, please,” Pidge pushes away from Lance to stand in front of the counter. “Hit me up with a large dark roast with two shots of espresso.”

Both of her eyebrows go up. “Isn’t that a little… much?”

Pidge gives her a flat stare that could peel paint. “I have two more classes after this. Allura, if you don’t give me that coffee, I can’t be held responsible for my actions. I will probably kill Lance, and then you’ll be down an employee.”

“What? Why me?”

“I already told you I put you at the top of my hit list.”

“Hunk will protect me!”

“Sorry, buddy, but I’m not getting in the middle of that.”

“Will that be all, Pidge?” Allura asks, cutting them all off.

“And two of Coran’s maple donuts.” They say, pulling their wallet out of their pocket.

“Coming right up!” Coran says, disappearing into the back room.

Allura swipes Pidge’s card, hands it back, and fixes their coffee quickly before taking the rest of their orders. Lance doesn’t complain too much. He would, too, if he were in her position. Pidge looks like they’re about to keel over at any moment.

Pidge takes the drink, cradling it in both hands as they mutter thanks and shuffle away to take a seat. They watch them go before Allura turns to the two of them. “And the usuals?”

Hunk nods. “Yeah, thanks, Allura.”

“An extra shot of espresso in mine.” Lance adds.

She raises an eyebrow, but nods. “You look like you could use it.”

Lance crosses his arms over his chest and leans a hip on the display case. “Hey! I take offense to that.”

Allura just rolls her eyes, taking payment from both of them, fingers flying expertly across the register. “I just meant you look tired.”

“She’s got a point, dude. You have bags under your eyes.” Hunk says.

Lance gasps, both hands flying to his face, fingers probing the skin under his eyes. “I do not!”

Allura nods and hands back his card. “You do.”

Lance’s hands drop, and he scowls down at his arm. “This is all your fault.” He grumbles.

Hunk snorts, putting his wallet back in his pocket. “Like you’d ever really be mad at your SM.”

He feels a soft smile tugging at his lips, melting his scowl. “Yeah, you right.”

Allura hands them their drinks and their donut bags, and they go to join Pidge at their usual spot in the corner. The corner has a couch that is flanked by two armchairs with a coffee table between the three of them. Pidge is curled up in one of the chairs, knees pulled up, sitting sideways, coffee cradled in their hands, and head leaning back against the cushion. Lance drops their donut bag down on the table, causing them to lift their head, sharp brown eyes immediately focusing on it.

“Oh, hell yes.” They mutter, sitting up to dig into the bag.

Lance and Hunk sit on the couch, digging out their own donuts. Lance had gotten his favorite: the chocolate espresso donut. It’s Hunk’s creation and an absolute blessing. He closed his eyes as he bites into it, letting out loud noises as he chews.

“Dude, do you have to do that?” Hunk asks.

Lance leans back, letting himself get absorbed into the cushions and resting one ankle on his knee. “It’s a compliment, man.” He says, taking another bite with significantly less sound effects.

They’re quite for several moments as they all sip their coffee and eat their donuts. Local Lion has the best donuts in town, in Lance’s opinion. They’re all homemade daily, sometimes by Coran and sometimes by Hunk, and sometimes by some of the other employees. The coffee is great, too, and the atmosphere of the place is even better. It’s decorated with a modern but earthy style, with plenty of indoor plants, art on the brick walls, and large windows for natural lighting. It’s located off campus, so there aren’t usually too many people flooding in, and overall it’s very cozy. At the moment there are only a few other customers scattered around the tables, and overhead Allura’s radio station plays softly.

“Club expo is in two days.” Hunk says, sipping his green tea latte.

“Ugh, don’t remind me.” Pidge says, curling deeper into the chair. One donut was down and they were on their second one. “I don’t have anything ready yet.”

Lance scoffs, resting his elbow on the arm of the couch and waving his hand in the air. “Pfff, what do you even need to get ready? We just gotta use the same posters as last year, wear our shirts, and then you just gotta answer questions when I reel ‘em in with the classic Lance McClain charm.” He sends Pidge a smoldering look with a confident smirk, but they just snort and roll their eyes.

“Do you have to come?”

“Of course! You need me!”

“No, we don’t.”

“Pidge, you know we need him. He’s the loudest person at the expo. He always draws in more people than we ever could on our own.”

“And then we end up with a lot of book nerds who don’t make it past the first practice.”

“Uh, Pidge,” Hunk says, raising a finger. “We are book nerds.”

Pidge rolls their eyes and waves their half eaten donut around in the air. “That’s beside the point!” They take a sip of their coffee and immediately make a face, lips curling and nose scrunching up.

“Pidge, how can you even drink that?” Lance asks, making a similar face as he eyes their cup.

“It’s better than the hot sugar water with syrup that you drink.”

Excuse,” He huffs, cradling his drink to his chest with both hands. “It’s not my fault you killed your tastebuds.”

“So anyway,” Hunk says, pulling his laptop out of his backpack and putting it on his lap. He sets his drink on the coffee table so he can open his computer. “I was thinking we could use the same flier design that we did last year, but maybe with a few adjustments? If we figure this thing out today, I can go get them printed at the library tomorrow and Lance can help me cut them down to size.”

“Goodie.” Lance says dryly, hunching his shoulders and sinking further into the couch.

“What’d you have in mind?” Pidge asks, and Hunk pulls up the flier design, turning his computer to show her.

Lance tunes them out a little bit. It’s not that he doesn’t care about his team, he just really doesn’t care about these kind of housekeeping details. He’ll let Pidge and Hunk deal with those. They are the club presidents after all. He’s just one of the star players. So instead he sips his coffee and holds up his left arm, letting his eyes roam the patterns and swirls that he already knows so well.

His soulmate worked hard on it, so the least he can do is fully appreciate their work. And he does. He always does. He thinks back to the feelings that had come across when the marks were appearing on his skin. The anxiousness, the nervous energy, the almost nauseating excitement that clenched hard in his gut. He doesn’t know what it was about, but he hopes his soulmate has a good day, and that whatever had them feeling so anxious turns out alright. He’s willing to bet it goes fine. It didn’t feel like bad nerves. More like… something was going to happen and they couldn’t sleep because of it. Like trying to sleep on Christmas eve, or the night before a road trip, or in his case, the night before the first day of classes.

After the painting had finished, the connection between them had faded quickly. Lance had waited, hoping for more, but by then it had been three in the morning, and the color took up his whole arm, and he had known his soulmate was done. He couldn’t sleep for another hour. He never could after feeling his soulmate. He was too amped up, to hung up on thoughts of ‘what if’, still feeling the echoes of emotions that weren’t his but which touched his heart all the same.

Someone out there, someone destined for him, had left their mark on him, had shared a piece of themselves with him.

Speaking of his soulmate, it occurs to him that he has yet to do his daily soulmate exchange.

“Hey, Hunk.” He says, looking up suddenly. His friend turns from where he’s been gesturing at his computer to look at him with a raised brow. “Got a pen?”

“Yeah,” He says, already digging in his book bag. He pulls one out and hands it over.

Lance brightens, sitting up and leaning forward to set his coffee cup on the table. “Thanks, man!” He bites the cap of the pen, pulling it out and keeping the cap in his mouth as he positions the pen over his left hand. Then he stops, pulls back, and taps his chin with the back of the pen. What should he say today? Definitely something fire related. That much is obvious.

“Oh god, are you going to do the thing again?” Pidge asks, sounding pained.

Lance shoots them a smirk and winks. “Of course,” He says, words warped by the cap between his teeth. “Everyday, Pidge. Every. Day.”

“Why are you like this?” Pidge groans, rubbing their eyes and shaking their head.

“I think it’s sweet.” Hunk says, turning his computer back around to type something.

Lance gestures to Hunk. “See? Hunk thinks it’s sweet! And he should know. Him and his soulmate are like, cavity inducing.”

Hunk snorts, but doesn’t look up.

“It’s not sweet. It’s gross and embarrassing.”

“Says you. But my soulmate loves it.”

“Have they ever said so?”

“Well, no… but they’ve never told me to stop, and it’s obvious they love it. They’re my soulmate, Pidge.”

They roll their eyes, taking another sip from their cup and wincing. “I feel bad for your soulmate.”

“Hey! You just don’t know the first thing about romance.” Lance grumbles, leaning back against the couch to hide his palm from both of them. They pick up their conversation again as Lance idly taps his nose with the pen, brows scrunched up in thought. He turns his hand over, waggling his fingers as he admires the way the yellow tips of the flames lick up the digits.

Then a slow grin spreads his lips. He’s got it! Yes. Perfect. His soulmate is going to love this.

He sets the pen to his palm and scribbles out the words, grinning wildly.

 


 


Keith is in class when he feels the tingling sensation dancing across his palm.

He knows exactly what it is. It happens every morning. Rarely at the same time but always before noon. He’s sitting back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest and legs stretched out beneath the table in front of him. He wants to ignore it. He really does. But no matter how much he tries, he never can. There’s just an irresistible pull, a pleading for attention, whenever his soulmate writes. It’s a wordless whisper in the back of his mind, a tug at his heart, and he feels himself on a deep level reaching out for it, even while he tells himself not to.

The loss of control is… uncomfortable.

He’s worked very hard to get his life under control, to be able to control himself. And the fact that there’s still this… this strange anomaly attached to him, something that he’s drawn toward inexplicably, a faceless person attached to him, with control over him, is a little terrifying.

Still… when the feels the tingling on his palm, like the pressure of a phantom pen gliding across his skin, he knows it’s better to just let the experience wash over him rather than fight it. He’s found this is the best way. Just accept it, let the strange foreign feelings fade, and let it go.

So he closes his eyes, breathing deep as emotions that aren’t his start to drift through his mind, filling his chest. They’re a little all over the place, and he passes the time by trying to identify them.

What sticks out the most is pride, though Keith gets the feeling that it’s more of a self directed pride than anything. Almost like a cockiness. He gets that feeling most mornings when his soulmate writes on his hand. But there’s also that familiar fondness that makes his heart clench and warmth bubble inside him, just as it also makes his gut clench and his stomach roll.

There’s also a softer pride, one that’s directed more outward. More towards him.

It’s the same feeling he received when the words, “Absolutely amazing, good luck tomorrow!” appeared on his wrist in a familiar messy handwriting last night when he had gotten in the shower to wash the paint off his arm.

Or maybe he should say this morning.

He hadn’t been able to sleep. It was the night before the first day of classes, and he was feeling… anxious. He had given up sleeping around midnight and instead had sat in the middle of the floor of his studio apartment and started painting. He hadn’t finished until nearly three in the morning. He hadn’t expected his soulmate to still be up, but…. he was. He always managed to be awake whenever Keith wanted to paint. No matter what the time. And every time, when Keith was done, he’d get some short message scribbled across his hand or wrist.

They were always compliments, and sometimes, if Keith had something heavier on his mind, there were also words of encouragement.

Like this morning.

His wrist itched just thinking about the words. He finds them oddly comforting, but also unnerving. He isn’t sure if it was a lucky guess, random words of encouragement, or if his soulmate had managed to read between the lines of the chaotic emotions that tended to shine through their connection.

He hates to admit it, but his soulmate has gotten fairly good at reading him throughout the years. In a way, it’s nice to have someone who knows him so well. But at the same time…

He huffs out an exhale, feeling the hair on his forehead shift, and pushes those thoughts aside. He lets himself bask for a moment in a trickling of emotions that aren’t his. They’re a subtle jumble, flitting around and gone before he can firmly grasp anything other than the more predominate emotions.

He’s not sure how his soulmate manages to read him so well. Everything except for the smug pride and overlaying affection slips through his fingers like sand.

And then the tingling stops and the foreign emotions slip away like they were never there. And if there weren’t marks on his skin to prove their passing, he could swear the moment never happened at all.

He opens his eyes, attention fixing once again on his professor. Like most first classes, she’s just going over the syllabus and what to expect from the class. To be honest, he stopped listening a while ago.

He stares at his professor. He stares at the syllabus laying open on his table, reading the same lines over and over again without absorbing them. He lets his eyes trail around the room, to his classmates, to the posters on the walls, to the cabinets of art supplies. He even tries to look at the old analogue clock on the wall, watching the second hand tick.

He lasts approximately one hundred and thirty seven seconds before he gives into curiosity.

He doesn’t know why he bothers, honestly. He may not know exactly what’s written on his palm, but he sure as hell knows the gist of it. It’s the same every day.

Still, his curiosity is a demon he has yet to tame. Sighing, he unfolds his arms and holds his left hand out in front of him. He tugs on the velcro strap of his glove and starts to slip it off his hand.

The first thing he sees is the words from this morning.

Absolutely amazing, good luck tomorrow!

The words are written in blue, imprinted into his skin. They’re already starting to fade. The words rarely last longer than a couple of days. And given the late hour, he doubted his soulmate was able to concentrate hard enough to get it to last more than twenty four hours.

He stares at the words for only a moment, feeling a familiar and irritating flutter in his chest before he shakes it off, pushing his glove further up his hand. The words start at the meat of his thumb, scribbled across the center of his palm and across diagonally. Being fresh, the black is deep and dark, a stark contrast on his pale skin.

I better get some ice, because my heart’s on fire.

Keith squeezes his eyes shut, sucking in a breath but pursing his lips tight to suppress his groan. He tugs his glove back down, covering up all the marks. He counts to five and lets his air out in a long exhale, opening his eyes.

Why does the universe think that an idiot is his perfect match?

He doesn’t respond. He never does. And yet the man never seems to give up hope. Every day, without fail, there’s a new terrible pick up line written on one of his hands.

Keith hates it, but he can’t bring himself to tell the man to fuck off. That just seems… cruel. And Keith isn’t that heartless. He doesn’t want to hurt the guy, he just… he doesn’t know what he wants, and that’s been a problem for years. A problem that he doesn’t think he’ll get a solution to anytime soon.

Better to focus on his present, and not some unknown future. Focus on what he can control. Focus on what he can do. Focus on himself.

His class ends thirty minutes early, and Keith grabs his backpack, throwing it over one shoulder as he trudges from the room. He pulls out his phone to check his schedule for the hundredth time that day. His next class is in the same building, but he still has forty minutes before it starts. Sighing, he goes to the vending machine at the end of the hall, gets a small bag of chips, and heads up the stairs to his next class. He settles down on the floor outside of his next class room, setting his bag next to him. Leaning against the wall, he pulls out his sketchbook and pulls up his knees, propping the book so no one can see as he opens it.

He puts his headphones on, starts up his music, and pulls out his colored pencils. His chips are done, and he’s idly recreating the flame pattern the had painted last night from memory when his phone vibrates.

He blinks, suddenly forced back into reality. The drawing is only halfway done, yellows, oranges, and reds swirling and crawling up the edge of the page. Propping the red pencil he’s been working with between his lips, he picks up his phone. He has several texts from Pidge and one from Shiro.

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Hey! Hope your first day of classes is going well! Dinner tonight? You can tell me all about it :)

Keith
> Shiro, are you aware that you’re twenty six years old?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> That’s what I’ve been lead to believe, yes.

Keith
> Then why the hell do you text like an old man?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> All I wanted to do was check in on my baby brother and make sure he’s having a good day, and I’m honestly feeling so attacked right now.

Keith
> Dear god please stop

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> So is that a yes for dinner?

Keith
> Will you be taking me off campus for non cafeteria food?

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Will that get you to agree to a good old fashioned brother interrogation?

Keith
> As long as you’re paying

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Deal :) I’ll pick you up at seven.

People are starting to gather in the hallway, and with a glance at the time, Keith realizes that it’s nearly time for his class. He shuffles his colored pencils back into his pencil pouch and stuffs them in his bag along with his sketch book. Pushing himself to his feet, he throws his back over his shoulder. With his music still blaring in his ears, blocking out much of the general hallway chatter, he leans a hip against the wall, checking his other messages.

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> I’m dead
> I think I can count the hours of sleep I got on one hand
> Probably more like three fingers
> Point is I’m in zombie mode right now
> Pretty sure I know why zombies do that shuffle walk thing
> It’s hard to walk when you’re dead
> Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I may be dead, but I’m still up for lunch

Keith
> We can cancel if you’d rather go sleep
> I don’t need you dying on the table
> I don’t want to explain why I’m talking to a corpse
> And I don’t want to deal with the body

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> First of all, I resent that
> Nearly thirteen years of friendship and you won’t even get rid of my dead body
> You insult me
> Second of all, I’m pretty sure my blood is 85% caffeine right now, I couldn’t sleep if I tried
> Blinking is getting hard, my hands are shaking, and I think I can see sounds
> Keith Kogane, we are going to lunch

Keith
> Sounds like I don’t have a choice

Tiny Evil Bird (Pidge)
> Damn straight you don’t
> Meet me outside the cafeteria at one

Keith
> Aye aye, captain

His next class passes just as quickly as the first. He’s honestly not even sure why he was so nervous last night. It might be his first day of classes at this university, but so far the classes followed the exact same pattern as those at his old community pattern. The first day is easy. Nothing. He’s feeling pretty good about it now that he’s got two classes out of the way. So far he hasn’t gotten lost. He hasn’t drawn attention to himself. He hasn’t forgotten anything. He can see the freshmen walking around, printed out schedules in their hands and looking like a strange mix of excited and terrified. He doesn’t think he looks like that.

So all in all, it’s not a bad day so far.

His fingers absently press against his left wrist as he makes his way out of the art building. Good luck tomorrow! His soulmate had sensed his anxiousness last night. Now he feels a little foolish for it. Now there’s someone out there, walking around with sleeve of flame tattoos that are the visual embodiment of his insecure nerves. And he’s not even nervous anymore.

He sighs, forcing himself to shove his hands in his pockets to keep from touching the words on his palm.

Oh well. It’s not like he asked to be connected to someone. It’s not like he asked for that person’s concern. He didn’t paint his arm for his soulmate, and he didn’t do it for sympathy. He had done it because it helped him clear his thoughts and calm himself. Painting on his body has always done that for him. It’s his favorite medium. He’s done it since he was a kid, and he didn’t really think about the consequences of it once he was connected to his soulmate.

He was a little nervous at first, but his soulmate has never complained about the drawings. Never complained that Keith made him walk around like a human painting several times a month. Sometimes a week. He never asked for praise or encouragement or validation for his chaotic emotions, but…

He can’t deny that they haven’t been appreciated over the years.

He was annoyed with him during their early years of being connected. He was talkative, and obnoxious, and asked way too many probing questions while offering up way too many mundane details of his life. Keith wasn’t ready to accept him. To an extent, he still isn’t. But when he was young, he really wasn’t ready for anything so serious and so committed as a soulmate is.

So he tried to brush him off. When that didn’t work, he started ignoring him. His soulmate never gave up though. He got quieter, resigning himself to the occasional message and the daily pick up line. Keith resumed his paintings, half expecting his soulmate to tell him to stop making him look like he got in a fight with a first grade arts and crafts center, but he didn’t. Always words of awe and encouragement.

As annoying and frustrating as his soulmate has been, and as terrifying as the concept of having a soulmate is, Keith can’t deny that his SM was a pivotal anchor for him after the car accident that took his parents and maimed Shiro. He was a grounding force when Keith thought he was drowning.

A grounding force that came in the form of simple encouraging words and the comforting warmth in his chest when they were being written. A grounding force that came in the form of a stupid pick up line that appeared on his palm every morning, the only thing that stayed constant and predictable when his life was changing so drastically. A grounding force that came in the form of hilariously terrible doodles of stick figure comics and tyrannic impressions of his soulmate’s teachers doodled across his arms. A grounding force that came in the form of tic-tac-toe and games of hangman placed on their legs whenever Keith was feeling particularly close to a breakdown.

All it took was a small doodle on his skin to get his mind off the deafening emotions that threatened to choke him, and his soulmate would be there. Ready to distract him.

His soulmate got him through a very tough time in his life, and he’ll forever be grateful, but… He still holds him at a distance. He just can’t bring himself to be dependent on a man he doesn’t know. Maybe one day, but for now… for now Keith will just focus on the present. He has to. The future fills him with enough anxiety to clench his heart and steal his breath, and the past hangs heavy on his shoulders, threatening to crush him.

But the present? The present he can handle. Day by day. Patience yields focus.

He spends the next hour sitting in the grassy area between the art building and the music building, back against a tree. There are a few other students sitting around between classes, some with friends and some alone. He has his headphones on again and his sketchbook out. He finishes the drawing, trying to recreate a two demential rendition of the flame sleeve he had painted early this morning.

When he’s done, he checks the time. He still has fifteen minutes, but he has nothing else to do. He packs up his things and heads to the main cafeteria on campus. He leans a shoulder against the outside brick wall, one hand in his pocket and the other holding up his phone as he dicks around on some of his game apps.

He ignores everyone around him, the pass and press of bodies coming in and out of the cafeteria. The main thing, he finds, that’s different from his community college and this university, is that it’s so crowded. With so many people living on and around campus, the foot traffic is ridiculous, and he’s not used to it.

He’s so absorbed into his phone that he jumps when a foot is suddenly kicking his leg. He looks up to glare, only to be faced with an extremely disheveled looking Pidge.

He blinks, eyes going wide and brows shooting up. Pidge wasn’t kidding. They look like death. There’s heavy bags under their eyes, and although their eyelids are hanging half lidded, he watches with increasing discomfort as Pidge doesn’t blink. Their shoulders are slumped, hands on the straps of their bag like it’s the only thing keeping them balanced enough to stand. Their sleeves are pushed up to their elbows, and Keith can see diagrams and equations and notes scribbled across their skin, up their arms and up their neck. It’s honestly not a new look for Pidge.

“You,” Keith says, lowering his headphones to let them rest around his neck and turning his music off before shoving his phone in his pocket. He doesn’t look away from Pidge. He’s a little afraid they might keel over if he turns away for even a second. “Look like hell.”

A small smirk lifts one corner of their mouth. It’s a lazy effort, but it’s there. “Good to see you, too.” They practically fall forward, pressing their forehead to Keith’s chest in what he thinks is an attempt at a hug. The don’t move their arms though, and Keith awkwardly wraps his arms around their shoulders. “Keith, carry me to the food.”

At that, he chuckles. “Do you really want me to carry you through a cafeteria full of people?”

“Do I look like I give a fuck what these people think of me?” They mumbled into his shirt. “Come on, piggy back ride.”

“Do you even have the energy to jump onto my back?”

They’re quiet for several long seconds before they sigh. “You have a point.” They lean back, stumbling a few steps before catching themselves, one foot in the air. They lean forward, letting their momentum carry them through several quick steps. “Come on, I’m starving. I’ve only eaten two donuts today.”

Keith follows Pidge into the cafeteria. Despite being small and dead on their feet, people seem to part for them. Keith just follows in their wake. If he’s being honest, he’s feeling pretty beat, too. He didn’t exactly get a lot of sleep last night. But he thinks it’s the adrenaline of his first day at this school that’s been carrying him through. He’ll no doubt crash later.

The cafeteria lobby is a long hallway with doors at either end, and it splits to the left and to the right, with two separate areas to get food. Pidge takes a right, going up the five steps to the upper half of the cafeteria, mumbling that this side has more choices and better pizza. They grab a tray, and Keith follows suit. He’s never been to the cafeteria before, and so he half listens to Pidge’s vague explanations while his eyes roam over the different options. Pidge chooses pizza while he gets a wrap, and Pidge leads him through the line, showing him how to pay with his campus ID, using his prepaid meal plan.

They choose seats at a mostly empty table off to the side, setting their bags down on the chairs next to them.

“Soooo…” Pidge says around a mouthful of pizza. They’re hunched over the table leaning on their elbows, like it’s the only thing keeping them from falling face first into their food. “How’s your fist day of classes been?”

Keith eyes them, eyebrow raised. “Really, Pidge?”

“What?”

“Don’t go all Shiro on me.”

Pidge snorts, taking another bite. “Well excuse me for being curious over how my best friend’s day has been at his brand new school.”

Keith rolls his eyes. “It’s been fine. I’ve only had two classes and my professors have only gone over the syllabuses… syllabi?”

Pidge shrugs. “Who knows. But man only two? I’ve had three classes. I’m surprised I made it through them. In the last one, I think I nearly fell asleep at the same time I couldn’t stop twitching. Probably looked like I was having a seizure.”

Keith snorts a short laugh. “Shouldn’t have let your SM keep you up all night.”

Pidge gives him a flat look. They haven’t exactly said they were up late because of their soulmate, but Keith thinks it’s pretty obvious. And they don’t deny it. “Some of us actually like to talk to those the universe has decided to stick us with.”

Keith ignores the dig. “You can at least do it at a more reasonable hour. When did you even get to sleep this morning?”

Pidge looks a little sheepish. “Um, around three?” He raises an eyebrow, and they sigh. “Okay, so it was probably closer to four, four-thirty.”

“What was it this time?”

Pidge holds out an arm, idly admiring a few diagrams drawn on the underside of their arm. A small smile plays across their lips. “They’re theorizing a hover engine prototype.”

Keith raises both eyebrows, nodding a little while letting out a low whistle. “You’ve both come a long way since calculating the proper force and angle it would take to hit your teacher with a spitball from the back of the room.”

Pidge scowls, but there’s an amused smirk there that ruins the affect. “Keith, we were thirteen.”

He nods. “You’ve come a long way.”

They talk about other things. Pidge asks is he’s settled into his apartment, and he says he has. They had helped him and Shiro move his things. Pidge asks if he’s actually unpacked everything, and Keith carefully avoids answering. He asks Pidge about their dorm. They live in the new honors dorm hall, and even managed to get a room to themselves. It’s a small room, they say, but worth it for the extra privacy. Keith hasn’t been by to see their place yet.

“Now that you’re here, I’m going to see you more often, right?” Pidge asks as they carry their trays to the drop off area. They give Keith a stern sideways glare. “No holing up in your apartment all the time. We’re actually going to the same school for the first time in years, and you’re going to hang out with me.”

Keith snorts, setting his tray next to Pidge’s on the conveyer belt that takes them back into the kitchen. “Sounds like I don’t have a choice.”

“You don’t. I’ll introduce you to my friends. You’ll like them. Well… you’ll like Hunk. Lance is… an acquired taste.”

“Can’t wait.” Keith says dryly.

“Speaking of my friends and hanging out with me like a best friend of thirteen years should, I believe you have a promise to fulfill.” Pidge says as they weave their way through the dining hall tables to get to the exit.

Keith meets their gaze when they look over their shoulder, one eyebrow raised. “I do?” He doesn’t remember making any promises. At least none that would make Pidge start a conversation like that.

They exit the dining hall, and Pidge is smirking as they step sideways to come up alongside him. “Saturday is our first quidditch practice of the year.”

Keith groans, shoulders slumping as he tilts his head back. Oh. That promise. “Pidge, really? You’re going to make me go through with this?”

They nod, smiling and looking a hell of a lot more awake than they had earlier. He’s not sure if it’s the food or the prospect of making him suffer that has them so lively. “You bet I am. You promised, Keith. You said when you made it Altea, you would give it a try.”

He sighs, loudly, letting it trail off into a groan. “Does it have to be the first practice?”

“No better time, honestly. At least there’ll be other people who have no idea what they’re doing.”

Keith’s shoulders slump. “I guess.” He grumbles.

“When’s your next class?”

Keith checks his phone. “In an hour.”

Pidge nods, grabbing ahold of his wrist to tow him toward the student union. “Good, then you can sit with me for a bit.” They pause in the main hallway, eyeing the coffee shop.

Keith shakes his head, dragging Pidge away. “Oh no, you’ve had way too much coffee for today.”

Pidge drags their feet but follows. “You’re not my mom.”

“I’m getting mixed signals, Pidge. Do you want me to care for your wellbeing or not?”

“I never told you to care for my wellbeing. I told you to take care of my dead body. There’s a difference.”

“Matt would kill me if I let you die.”

Pidge snorts. “You can take Matt in a fight. He weighs maybe 100 pounds while wet.”

“Yeah, but if I let you die and hurt Matt, then Shiro will kill me.”

“Fair point. You can tell them that I wouldn’t listen to you. They’ll believe that. I never listen to you.” They look over their shoulder, sighing wistfully. “Come on, Keith. It smells so good.”

“If you have a heart attack, I’m not going to your first quidditch meeting.”

Pidge sighs then. “Fiiiine. But only because the team could really use you.”

They find seats in one of the lounges, far away from most of the crowd. Pidge collapses into a plush seat, letting their bag drop to the ground as they tilt their head back, closing their eyes with a content sigh.

“I don’t see why you want me there. I’m not even a big fan of the whole Harry Potter thing. I only read the books and watched the movies because you made me.”

Pidge waves a hand at him without lifting their head. “And I’m proud of that. But it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to be. You just need to be athletic, which you are.”

“I don’t even know the rules.”

“That’s why we teach you.”

“And if I don’t like it, I don’t have to come back?”

“Yeah, yeah, but you’ll like it.”

He leans back in his chair, pulling out his phone and opening one of his apps. “Oh yeah? And what makes you so sure?”

“Other than the fact that I’m there?”

Keith snorts. “Don’t get your hopes up.”

“I’m going to ignore that.” Pidge counts off on their fingers. “One, I’m there and we haven’t hung out regularly in forever. Two, it’s an interesting spot and you like new things to challenge you. Three, it’s fun. Four, it gets you out of your apartment hidey-hole and forces you to be social, which will help get Shiro off your back.”

Keith makes a face. “You… have a good point.”

Pidge rolls their head to the side then, giving him a knowing smirk. “I know I do. So can I count on seeing you Saturday?”

Keith sighs, sinking lower into his chair and stretching his legs out in front of him. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Keith Kogane, if you don’t come, I will come to your place and drag you out by the ear, you hear me?”

Keith snorts. “Now who sounds like a mom?”

They hang around on their phones, talking idly about anything and everything. It’s been a while since he’s been with Pidge like this, and he misses it. He hasn’t seen them since he moved in a week ago, and before that, he hadn’t seen them in weeks. In high school he had seen them nearly every day. When they had gone off to Altea University and Keith had to stay home to attend community college, well, it had been hard on him.

If he’s being honest, he’s not going to protest too much if Pidge forces him to hang out. He only hopes their friends are decent people. They have to be, if Pidge has tolerated them for a couple years now.

When it’s fifteen minutes till his next class, in a building that’s five minutes away, Keith lets Pidge drag him to the smoothie place in the union. Pidge gets something that has ‘energy’ in the title, but he supposes it’s better than shooting up their system with more coffee. Plus it has fruit and shit in it. That’s healthy, right?

Keith gets one that’s something along the lines of ‘berrylicious’, which supposedly consists of a shit ton of different berries. It’s good, and he’s content as he sips his straw. Pidge gives him another hug, this time actually wrapping their arms around his waist.

“Send me your schedule so I know when it’s okay to bug you.” They say, pulling away from him.

Keith snorts a short laugh, shoving one hand in his pocket. “Like you would let something as trivial as classes stop you from bugging me.”

Pidge puts their free hand to their chest, gasping dramatically. “Keith! How dare you insinuate that I would ever disrupt your education!”

Keith just sips on his smoothie, giving Pidge a humorless, flat stare. “Do I have to remind you how many times you got me detention in school?”

Pidge scoffs, waving their hand at him, already walking backwards. “You gotta stop living in the past, Keith! I’m a responsible adult now. Have a little faith.”

“I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you.”

“I’m pretty light, and you lift. You can probably throw me pretty far.”

Keith rolls his eyes and turns on his heel, lifting a hand over his shoulder. “Bye, Pidge.”

“I better see your ass on Saturday!”

Keith makes a noncommittal noise that he’s not sure Pidge hears. The walk to his next building isn’t bad. There’s a steady stream of people that tends to increase in the ten minutes before the hour when everyone is either getting out of classes or walking to them, but he’s able to take some of the back pathways that are less crowded.

His last class of the day is his public speaking class. He didn’t want to take this class, but it’s part of the gen ed that he wasn’t able to get at his community college. He ends up getting there before most of the class. The room is set up with a podium and screen at the front corner, with three long curved, half-circle desk rows with chairs, each progressively getting wider and going up a step, so everyone could look down at the front of the room. Like a mini auditorium for roughly thirty people. Keith takes a seat at the end of the second row, close to the door. Easy in, easy out.

He has enough time, so he pulled out his sketchbook and his graphite pencil set, shoving his headphones away into the depths of his backpack. He opens it to a blank page, opens the pencil case, and selects one. Taking a sip of his smoothie, he sets it on the edge of the table in front of him before setting to work.

He’s not sure what he wants to draw. It’s just to pass the time anyway. He sets the pencil to the page and starts doodling patterns. He loves patterns and colors and shading and the aesthetic of it all. He doodles something with a lot of lines, geographic shapes and angles, that fit and flow together. He thinks he’s probably inspired by Pidge’s current soulmarks, but he doesn’t think too much about it. He just draws.

The room fills up around him, and he ignores everyone who comes through the door, letting himself zone out. When the room seems pretty full, he looks up at the clock on the wall, only to find that it’s three. Time for class to start, but the teacher isn’t there yet. He shrugs to himself and looks back down to his sketchbook, losing himself in the lines.

The door opens again, and he expects it to be the teacher, but when he glances up and to the side, it’s only a student. He pauses in the doorway, looking a little frazzled and out of breath. As he looks around, Keith sees the moment he realizes the professor isn’t there yet. A wide grin spreads his lips, revealing white teeth as he laughs. “I made it!”

A female voice from across the room snorts and says, “You’re still late.”

The guy’s grin never falters. Instead he looks up at the source of the voice and winks. “Before the professor doesn’t count as late.”

Keith rolls his eyes, already looking away. He can already tell he’s going to be one of those guys. The kind who’s loud and talkative and attention seeking. The complete opposite of Keith. It’s nothing new, though. There’s always a couple of them in every class. He can easily tune them out.

There’s movement at the corner of his vision, as the guy spies an empty seat across the room and starts to make his way there. He steps between the first and second rows, passing right in front of Keith. He keeps his eyes down, firmly ignoring him as he’s done with everyone else in the room.

Then there’s the sound of a foot catching on a bag. The guy in front of him makes an alarmed sound, and suddenly he’s falling to the side. His hand shoots out, intent on catching his balance on Keith’s desk. Instead he hits his smoothie, and as he looks up, time seems to slow. The smoothie falls toward him, toward his sketchbook. The guy might have let out a curse, but Keith doesn’t hear him. The guy fumbles, leaning against the table and reaching out with his other hand to try to grab the cup as it falls. He fumbles and misses. Without thinking, Keith swipes his sketchbook to the side, and it goes skittering off the table, onto the floor just as the smoothie crashes down where it had been. The lid pops off and purplish red smoothie goes splattering across the table and all over Keith’s shirt, dripping off the table to land in his lap.

The two of them are frozen in place. The guy is standing there, both hands on the desk in his mad attempt to stop the smoothie. Keith thinks he might be staring, but he doesn’t look up. He’s sitting there, hands up in the air, staring down at the mess in front of him. He thinks his mouth is hanging open in surprise. The room is deathly quiet. So quiet that he can hear the clock ticking on the wall.

He counts four seconds before the guy’s backpack slides off his shoulder, down his arm, to crash onto the table, hitting his pencil case and scattering his pencils across the table and rolling to the floor.

That snaps him out of his stupor.

Keith pushes back his chair, letting the spilled smoothie drip onto the floor instead of his lap. “Oh my god,” He mutters, still in disbelief.

“Oh my god,” The guy in front of him echoes, in a similar state of shock. And then he seems to get kicked into overdrive. “Oh my god, oh my god, I am so sorry, holy shit. ohmygod fuck.” He scrambles backwards, letting his backpack drop to the floor and stumbling into the seat behind him. The person there grunts, and he whips around. “Sorry!” Then he seems to spy something, because he’s leaning over the front row and grabbing the roll of paper towels that’s sitting on desk with all the teacher’s supplies and computer for the projector. He whips back around, ripping off several paper towels, immediately setting them on the mess.

Keith has already stood up the now empty cup and is picking up the pencils that are still on the desk and setting them back into their case.

“Hoy shit, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to— I tripped— holy fuck.”

“Just— stop.” Keith snaps, grabbing the paper towels from his hands. “You’ve done enough, just— go away. Go sit down.”

The guy holds his hands up defensively. “Hey, man, I’m just trying to help.”

Keith glares up at him, lips pursed together as his teeth clench. “I wouldn’t need help, if you had watched where you were going.”

For the first time, Keith takes a good look at him. He’s tall, but Keith doesn’t think he’s that much taller than himself. He’s tan, with short brown hair and nice angles to his face. Objectively, he’s not that bad to look at, but Keith really doesn’t want to be looking at him any longer than he has to. He’s wearing a yellow and black hoodie that looks to be about three sizes too big for him. It swallows what Keith think is a lanky frame, sleeves bunching around his fingers.

The guy’s face is currently twisting up into a frown, eyes narrowing. All traces of apology are gone. “Hey! It’s not my fault!”

Keith snorts, rolling his eyes as he tries to mop up some of the spilled drink from his shirt. “Oh yeah, it was someone else who knocked my smoothie over like an asshole.”

“I didn’t meant to! And I apologized!” He grabs for a few pencils, shoving them at the pencil case with a little more force than necessary. “Maybe you shouldn’t have put your drink so close to the edge!”

“Maybe you should watch where you’re going. Stop touching those!” Keith says, snatching some pencils out of his hand and putting them carefully in their case.

“I’m just trying to help!”

“I don’t need your help!”

“Well, too bad, you’re getting it, buddy!”

Keith grunts, rolling his eyes again as he drops to his knees, reaching out to grab for some of the pencils that had fallen. The other guy drops to his knees, too, facing him under the table. He’s reaching for some of the pencils that Keith can’t reach.

“Stop touching them! Just go sit down!” Keith snaps, glaring at him.

The guy meets his glare with one of his own. His mouth is set stubbornly. “I told you, I’m helping.”

“This wouldn’t have happened if you were just on time to class.”

“I’m not late!”

“Just because the professor isn’t here doesn’t mean you’re not late.”

“It’s not my fault! My last class was all the way across campus, and I got lost trying to find this room cause the numbers here are weird as fuck, and my beloved, caring roommate insisted on giving me his hoodie because it’s fucking frigid in this building and I’m wearing a tank top. But seriously, why is the ac cranked so high? Do they want us to get sick?”

Keith is shaking his head, picking up the last of his pencils and going up on his knees, setting them in their case. “God, you’re an idiot.” He mumbles.

The guy hears him, scowling as he goes up on his knees to glare at Keith over the table. He slams the other pencils he picked up on the table top. “Well excuuuse me, princess.”

Keith snatches the pencils and puts them away, closing his case. He raises an eyebrow as he eyes the other boy, incredulous. “The old zelda cartoon? Really?”

The guy blinks at them, then snorts a short laugh. “I’m surprised you got that reference.”

“I don’t live under a rock.”

“Coulda fooled me. I mean, seriously, the 1980’s called, they want their hairstyle back.”

Keith gives him a flat look and deadpans, “Funny.”

The guy smirks, tilting his head to the side. “Glad you’re finally seeing things my way.”

Keith sighs, shaking his head as he pushes himself to his feet. “Just go sit down before you fuck up anyone else’s day.”

The guy glares up at him, and looks like he’s about to stand, but then something else catches his eye. He turns, face going blank for a moment as he says, “You forgot something.” Keith eyes him curiously, but then the guy stands up with Keith’s sketchbook in his hands and he blanks. “What’s this? It’s yours, right?”

“Give that back!” Keith snaps loudly, lunching across the table and snatching for the black, hardcover sketchbook. The guy reacts instantly, leaning away from him and holding the book in the air, out of his reach. He stares at Keith with wide, surprised eyes. Then, seeing the look on Keith’s face, slowly smirks.

“Whoa, calm down, asshole. Touchy, are we?”

Keith puts both hands on the tabletop, leaning forward as he glares. “Give. That. Back.”

“Why? What is it?” He holds the book in front of him, turning it this way and that. “It doesn’t have a title or anything. Kinda fancy for a school notebook.”

“It’s personal.” Keith grits out, fingers curling into fists on the table. He really doesn’t like people looking at his sketchbooks. He doesn’t even let Shiro or Pidge look through them. They’re just… personal. He shows some of his art to people, but most are just for him.

Well… him and his soulmate, he guesses.

The guy’s lips curl into a devilish smirk, his eyes glinting. “Oh, ho ho ho. Personal, huh?” He holds the sketchbook in one hand, waving it in front of Keith as his other hand goes to his hip. “This is a diary, isn’t it?”

Keith doesn’t look away from his eyes, even as he sweeps the book back and forth in front of him. “What?” He deadpans.

“A diary! It’s totally your diary.”

“It is not.”

“Pfff, sure. Why else would you be so touchy about it?”

“It’s none of your business. Now give it back. It’s mine.” Keith says, trying his hardest to keep a cool head about this. He holds out a hand and waits. He’s pretty sure all of his patience stems from the fact that they’re in a classroom full of other students. If there weren’t so many eyes on him, he’s not sure he would be able to stop himself from lunging across the table and tackling the other boy to the ground.

Pidge isn’t the only reason he had detention a lot in high school.

The guy ignores him, turning to his side to lean a hip against Keith’s table. He shifts the book between both hands. “Hmmm, I wonder what’s inside. What secrets does your mullet hold?” He puts his hands on the front and back like he’s going to open it.

Don’t.” Keith lunches for it again, but the boy just pulls it out of his reach.

He turns to face Keith. “Then apologize.”

“For what?” Keith practically shouts. He’s seething. He can feel his face flushing with warmth. The hand resting against the table is curled in a fist so tight that his nails bite into the leather of his gloves.

The guy glares at him, smirk fading. He puts a hand on his hip, leaning forward slightly. His lips are pursed into a frown that Keith thinks is half a pout. “For not accepting my apology!”

“That doesn’t make any sense!”

“Your face doesn’t make any sense!”

“Oh, my god, you’re an idiot.”

The boy crosses his arms over his chest. “I did not help you just so you could insult me.”

You knocked all my shit over to begin with!”

“Well, maybe you should be more grateful I stopped to help at all! You’re being an ass about this!”

“I’d be grateful if I never have to look at you again!”

“Yeah, well same to you, buddy.”

Someone clears their throat. Loudly. And both of them jumped. Keith whipped around to see an older woman standing in the doorway, looking at them both with a raised brow. “Are you two done?” She asks dryly.

“Uh, yes!” The guy says, recovering first. He straightens and slaps Keith’s sketchbook on the table. “I was just returning this guy’s notebook! Now I’ll just, uh, go find a seat?” He’s already grabbing his backpack, voice trailing off in uncertainty as he steps a few steps back.

She looks at him. “And you are?”

“Name’s Lance.”

“Well then, please take your seat, Lance. And try not to disrupt the other students anymore.”

He laughs nervously, rubbing the back of his neck. “Yes, professor.” And then his back is to them as he scuttles along the row to the empty seat in the back, head hung low and shoulders raised.

“And your name?”

Keith turns to find her looking at him. She still looks unamused, but there seems to be a more… sympathetic softness about her when she addresses Keith.

“Keith Kogane.”

“Well, Keith, why don’t you go to the bathroom to clean up while I take role?”

He nods, looking down at himself and the wet stains across his shirt and the front of his pants. He shuffles out of the room, face on fire, and does his best to do damage control in the bathroom. It’s going to be impossible to hide the wet marks. He just hopes it doesn’t stain. He’ll have to change before going to dinner with Shiro. Sighing, he goes back to the room.

He spends the rest of the class time staring at the professor and pointedly ignoring the Lance kid. The entire time, he can practically feel a gaze boring into the back of his head, and it makes the hair on his neck stand on end. As soon as the professor dismisses them, he’s packed up and the first one out the door.

He pulls out his phone, shoving his headphones over his ears before blasting his music and heading for the parking lot where he’d parked his bike. He texts Shiro while he walks.

Keith
> This is the worst first day ever
> The worst, Shiro

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> What happened?

Keith
> Some asshole spilled my smoothie all over me in class

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Aww, I’m sure it was an accident

Keith
> He was a dick about it

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Were you rude to him first?

Keith
> Why do you automatically assume it’s my fault??

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Because I’ve known you since you were eight years old
> Were you rude to him after he tried to apologize?

Keith
> I can’t believe this

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Are you still up for dinner?

Keith
> We’re stopping for smoothies after

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Alright, but you’re telling me all about it

Keith
> Ugh

Sir Nags-A-Lot (Shiro)(ICE)
> Big bro is here for you :)

Keith
> UGH