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It’s before his physics test that it first happens. It spreads slowly, thin lines forming on the back of his hand.

It’s a formula, written in extremely neat, loopy script. Keith spends so much time looking at it in shock, he doesn’t notice when the teacher is right in front of his desk, test in hand.

And staring right at the writing.

“Keith Kogane,” She says, “the principal’s office. Now.”

He gets chewed out, suspended for three weeks due to “attempted cheating,” and sent home.

He doesn’t even attempt to explain or tell anyone the truth until he gets home, when he sees the disappointment on Shiro’s face.

“It wasn’t me, I swear!” He says, scrubbing away the ink in their kitchen sink, “I knew the stuff on the test.”

Shiro goes quiet.

“I’m telling you, I think I can remember basic physics-”

“Keith.”

“What?”

“Did you ever think, maybe, it’s a soulbond? Did you even try writing back?”

“I don’t want to write back to someone who just got me suspended! Again!”

“Hey.” Shiro rests his hand on Keith’s shoulder, but doesn’t say anything else.

“Fine. I’ll write back. Later.”

It’s not until the next day, when Shiro leaves for work and Keith is left home alone, barred from school and useless, that he knows what to write.

After all, if he writes “ASSHOLE” on his forehead, it’s not like there’s anyone to see it.

It’s not until lunch he gets a reply, scribbles all over his arms varying from crudely drawn dicks to insults that are practically literary masterpieces. He’d forgotten the garrison uniforms have long sleeves.

Shiro doesn’t ask when Keith wears a turtleneck and bandana during dinner.

This goes on for two weeks.

Keith stops writing on his face, and in exchange he stops getting dicks on his arms. They end up compromising with rude jabs written on stomachs and the inside of their arms. Sure, their conversations are limited to insults and teasing, but it’s more in fun than anything else.

It’s like this that Shiro often finds him, on the couch with a pen in hand. On his arm is the same loopy handwriting.

dumbass

least i dont cheat to pass physics

u seen mrs. mccarthy? shes so beautiful i cant focus

gross screw u

“Well?” Shiro says, leaning over Keith’s shoulder, “Why don’t you two meet up?”

“Meet up?”

“Yeah, like a date. You know, the thing you go on when-”

“No, no, I’m not going to go get coffee or something with him. What? Walk in the park with the same guy who calls me a jerk every day?”

“Well, you did call him an asshole first.”

“He is one! That’s just the truth!” Keith caps his pen and heads to the sink to wipe off the ink.

He looks at the words, mean and yet so pretty.

He’ll let them stay, just for the night.

It’s a week later he’s finally allowed to go back to the garrison, skin mark-free for once.

He sits through his classes, takes notes, and not a single mark appears anywhere.

He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t lonely.

A few days after that though, he gets a question frantically written on his wrist.

derivative of tan PLZ HELP!!!!!

Keith barely hesitates.

secant squared

thank u. ur a lifesaver

An hour later, there are hearts all over his arms and a poorly drawn kiss mark on his cheek.

He doesn’t wash it off.

After that, the messages get a lot nicer. They play tic tac toe in class, ask about each other’s days. Never for names, but by now Keith just affectionately refers to him as dumbass.

One night, at 3am, he gets a message across his thigh.

im sorry

for what?

getting u suspended. i never apologized

u know abt that?

guy at the top of class gets suspended? everyone knows

so u know who i am

yeah. sorry

Keith doesn’t reply.

The next day, he’s in a sour mood. He glares when a girl bumps into him. Violates dress code with his red jacket. Talks back to a teacher. Office. Lecture. Class. Lunch. Class.

So really, it’s understandable when the guy in front of him asks for a pen, he snaps.

“I don’t have any. Bring your own.” He cringes at how harsh he sounds. The guy in front of his is gorgeous, dark skin and bright eyes and wow, Keith really just said that.

The guy narrows his eyes.

“You’re holding one.”

Keith stares at him in shock.

“Yeah, sorry, using this one.”

“I just need it for a second.”

“Keith, Lance, anything you’d like to share with the class?” The teacher says, glaring daggers.

“No ma’am!” The boy, Lance, says, “Keith here isn’t very good at sharing.”

Keith hisses. Lance winks. If he didn’t hate him, it would almost be cute.

Keith goes home and passes out, but not before checking himself for writing. He’d been thinking about that asshole- Lance- so much, he’d forgotten to write anything in class.

There’s nothing, which is unusual, but maybe Dumbass is busy. Or sick. He should probably check on him later.

The next day, however, just as Keith is about to write out a very heartfelt and concerned “u ok?” on his arm, Lance turns around again.

“Hey man. Make up for yesterday and lend me a pen.”

Keith is instantly fuming.

“I don’t owe you a pen, asshole!” he shout-whispers, but Lance just smiles.

And snatches his pen.

Before Keith can grab it back, Lance is writing, a furious scribble that somehow still manages to be elegant on his arm.

Keith is in shock from the utter rudeness and disrespect, but then he sees writing appear on his arm.

ur just as much as a jerk irl huh!!!!

He blanches. Reaches into his bag. Pulls out a pen.

wtf

Lance writes on his arm again.

lol

Keith stares at the writing, doesn’t move.

u had an extra pen all along. ass

Keith looks up at Lance, who is barely containing his laughter. Lance hands back his pen, and gives him another wink.

“So, like, lunch?”