“He’s been retrofit with...this model is the latest...fine in our hands.”
“If you’re sure...bring him home?”
“In a few days...he’ll need physical...the therapist...tomorrow.”
The pull of voices brought Shiro into consciousness. He tried to blink away the fog in front of his eyes as he took in his surroundings. But it was too bright and he desperately tried to remember what had happened. The voices in the background stopped as he groaned, trying to sit up.
“Shiro, don’t get up!” A familiar voice tried to cajole him. There were warm hands gently pushing back his shoulder, forcing him to lay back down. Shiro looked over at the boy who spoke, all dark hair and concerned gray eyes.
“...Keith?” His throat burned as he whispered his brother's name.
“It’s ok Shiro, it’s going to be ok, I’m here.” Keith’s voice was comforting to hear but he was exhausted and he hurt all over. He could feel the pull of sleep tugging at him but he needed to know what was going on.
“What...happened..?” His eyes were fluttering, Keith’s face was swimming in and out of focus. He was vaguely aware that he was probably in a hospital. The too bright lights and scratchy blanket pulling at the mental images he had of ER’s and doctor visits.
“You were in an accident, but everything’s going to be alright.”
An accident? Is that what happened? All he could remember was headlights blinding as they headed in the wrong direction towards him, the loud deafening sound of metal scraping against metal, crunching as if being squished, and a searing pain in his right arm.
Shiro was pulled from his memories by Keith’s reluctant shouting, a few overly patient voices telling him he needed to leave so the doctor could examine their patient.
“No, I’m not leaving him!” He heard Keith call as Shiro fell unconscious again.
Shiro sat in his apartment, at the table overlooking the window. He had a perfect view of the city below him, all hustle and bustle but his attention wasn’t on the citizens below him. It was on his arm.
Months after his accident and he was still getting used to his prosthetic. His right arm had been torn away when a drunk driver slammed into his car. The doctors said he was lucky to walk away with his life. As he sat absently rubbing his fingers along the cool metal of his new arm, he couldn’t help but feel resentful of it.
On a person’s 26th birthday, they receive a mark on their right arm. And it’s this mark that turns the tide of many lives. A name will appear, black like a tattoo. It’s something everyone looks forward to because this name, this soulmark , is their connection to their soulmate.
The excitement of learning what your soulmates name is begins a sort of coming of age. Lots of people turn to social media and friends and family to try and find that one name; that one person that completes you. Shiro had looked forward to meeting his soulmate since he was old enough to understand what a soulmate was. He remembered being a young boy, practically counting down the days until his own mark would appear.
Shiro had stayed late after work because his coworkers had thrown him an early birthday party when in reality, his birthday was the day after the accident.
He knew he was lucky and he was grateful that he was alive. But Shiro had kept himself out of relationships, had kept himself pure so that when he could finally read the name on his arm, he would be able to give them everything he had to offer. He had sacrificed forming bonds with other people his entire life for just that one moment.
And now the only thing that he saw was a blank space where his arm should have been.
Shiro had been fitted with the latest prosthetic money could buy. The tech was like no other. It had neurotransmitters directly to his nervous system. He could move his arm as if it were flesh and bone. There was even a recent breakthrough in sense reality, and Shiro could feel touch almost as well as his flesh arm.
The trust fund his parents had left him was enough to pay for the latest tech. But not only did that mean his dreams of finishing his aviation training were shot because he was disabled, he would never see the name of his soulmate appear; the one thing he had waited twenty-six years for.
There was a knock at his door and for a fleeting moment he wanted to ignore it but when the muffled voice of his brother called out to him, he put on his best smile and faked that everything was ok.
“Keith, what are you doing here?” He asked as Keith waltzed in, a handful of bags with him.
“I was just checking in on you.” Keith said with a backward glance at Shiro as he headed for the kitchen.
“You mean checking up.” It wasn’t a question. They both knew Keith was overprotective of him and since the accident, it had almost become unbearing.
Keith ignored him as he started to put away groceries. Shiro watched in indignation, a frown on his face. “I can do my own grocery shopping, you know.”
“Shiro..” Keith sighed in exasperation, “You’re still in recovery. No heavy lifting.” He finished as his attention went back to his task. Shiro wasn’t really sure a handful of vegetables and some bread counted as heavy lifting but he was a newly amputee, what did he know.
“Have you at least been going to your PT?”
“Of course I have. What do you take me for?” Shiro crossed his arms. He tried hard not to get upset with Keith. He knew he was just trying to help and as his only living relative, he couldn’t blame him. But he was a grown man and he didn’t need his little brother coddling him.
“I know...I’m sorry. I—,” Keith looked down at the tomato he was holding, “I just want to make sure you’re ok.”
Keith turned to look at him, their eyes meeting. That’s when the guilt started to fester in Shiro’s gut.
“No, I’m sorry. I’ve been…,” Shiro let out a breath and ran his hand through his graying hair, “It’s been tough.” He admitted as he absently started to rub the place where his soulmates name would have appeared. The motion didn’t go unnoticed by Keith, his eyes flicking to the movement.
“Don’t worry Shiro, I’m sure we can still find them.”
Shiro appreciated Keith's optimism, even if he didn’t share it.
Shiro held his hand up, blocking the bright rays of the sun from causing any permanent damage to his retina. He regrets leaving his sunglasses at home but this...this will be good for him.
Keith was adamant about taking a vacation. He needed a break from his job at the coffee house and he insisted Shiro needed to get out of his apartment...and his own head. With a few of Keith’s friends from college, he had dragged Shiro down to the beach for some, and he quotes, “serious relaxation.”
He adjusted the surfboard under his arm as Keith walked up next to him, looking out at the blue ocean. The waves large and waiting to be rode. This was their favorite spot to go surfing. Keith offered Shiro a relaxed smile and a pat on the shoulder before he made his way to their group of friends already relaxing on the sand.
Pidge, the resident techy of the group, lounged lazily under an umbrella. A big brimmed hat and even bigger sunglasses reflecting the tablet screen before her. Shiro had no idea what she was doing on there, some sort of code maybe, but Keith had said it was a job well done just getting her outside...even if she brought her tech with her.
Hunk, on the other hand, was a big teddy bear with an even bigger heart. If Shiro has to pick just one person in Keith’s tight-knit group of friends in a trust fall, he’d pick Hunk—after Keith, of course. Hunk sat chatting amiably with Lance as he unloaded a cooler packed with homemade snacks and drinks.
“I’m just sayin’ man, you have to try these masi popos.” He said as he handed out squared cookies to Lance, ignoring the snicker coming from the other boy.
“Masi popos? Who the hell calls cookies that?” Lance laughed as he sniffed the cookie before taking a hesitant bite.
“Hundreds of my Samoan ancestors.” Hunk deadpanned. Pidge silently held her hand out for a cookie without taking her eyes off the screen. Hunk sighed as he placed the coconut confection in her hand,
“You people have no appreciation for tradition.”
“Hey, I appreciate! My family celebrates all sorts of Cuban traditions!” Lance counted on his fingers all the traditions his family honors and Shiro turned his head just in time to find Keith smiling fondly at the sassy Latino.
Shiro knew Lance was a thorn in Keith’s side, ever present since grade school. Keith would come home from school bothered that Lance was always trying to outdo him or that he was picking on him. Back when they were children, it was harmless teasing. Shiro couldn’t help but wonder what changed from then to now because they had a solid friendship. After seeing Keith’s smile, Shiro wondered if it was something more.
“Hey Lance, not everything’s about you.” Keith instigated next to him, a hint of a challenge in his eye. Of course, Lance rose to the bait.
“What did you say, Mullethead?”
Shiro watched as Lance braced himself to tackle Keith, but Keith is quick and agile and moved out of the way at the last second. Lance face planted into the sand and sputtered. Pidge lifted her head just enough to watch the action with an unamused expression while Hunk rolled his eyes in exasperation.
Shiro snickered under his breath.
Keith laughed loudly as Lance tried to spit sand out of his mouth but realized his mistake quickly as Lance glared daggers in his direction. Keith didn’t hesitate and ran off in the other direction towards the water.
“You better run, pendejo!” Lance yelled as he chased after him. Shiro, Pidge, and Hunk watched as Lance tackled Keith from behind, both of them falling into the water in a tangle of gangly limbs. Shiro just let out a sigh.
“I would pay a million dollars for Keith’s name to appear on Lance’s arm.” Pidge said as she adjusted the strap of her one piece.
“Pidge, why would you wish a curse upon us?” Hunk asked dryly.
Shiro just chuckled and turned back to the water. Lance and Keith were laughing merrily and for a moment Shiro was jealous. They were still too young for their marks to appear but even if their names didn’t mark each, Shiro knew they could be happy together if they wanted to be.
Maybe he should just listen to himself and find someone he could be with, soulmark or not.
But deep down, Shiro still hoped there was a chance he’d miraculously find his soulmate. His mother used to tell him hope was all you needed but she never said it was lousy companionship.
His mind was blank. Shiro let all thoughts flee from his mind and when he stood on his board, his only worry was balance. When he was on the water, he could forget. Missing arms and soulmarks didn’t matter so much when you were focused on not crashing into the ocean.
It never failed to put Shiro in awe as the rush of the wave rose over his head until he was engulfed in a cerulean saltwater room. The water cresting rushed his ears as the spray fell on his damp skin.
His fingertips skimmed the water's edge, it’s surface sharp as he moved his arm for balance. His mind zoned in on feeling the movement of the water under his board, adjusting his footwork to compensate. He closed his eyes as everything stilled around him.
He was free.
Shiro’s freedom lasted but moments as the wave around him started to come crashing down and the force of the lip hit Shiro’s board hard, tossing him into the water. The calmness of his mind quickly erupted into a burst of thoughts; the irony of feeling like he’d been hit by a truck, the safety lessons he learned in surf class and trying not to panic.
He tried to angle his body so that his hips and arms were out to help brace his fall. He felt the leash of his board pull wildly at his ankle as it was tossed about in the water. The current pushed him every which way and he willed himself to stay calm. It takes about ten seconds for the wave to pass--he knew from class-- not long enough to drown but the burning in his lungs was causing his heart to beat rapidly.
He tried to wait for his board to pull ahead of him, letting him know it was safe to swim up but the force of his board surging ahead hit him hard in his prosthetic arm. His body turned in the water and he was pushed by the next wave. Instead of trying to fight through the water, he let himself be carried gently to shore by the current, slightly disoriented and his pride hurt worse of all.
Shiro coughed and sputtered, his throat burning from the salt water. He tried to push himself up but Keith was on him in a second, pulling him up and checking over him with concern.
“I’m fine Keith, it was just a wipeout.” He bit out harshly and Keith drew back as if slapped, letting his arms fall to his side. Pidge, Hunk, and Lance stood uncomfortably a few yards away, clearly concerned but unsure what to do at the tense situation. Shiro didn’t care. It was one thing for Keith to baby him in private, but it was downright embarrassing to do it in public.
Shiro growled under his breath, pushing thoughts of the others away, as he struggled to unwrap the Velcro attachment to his surfboard from his ankle. It wasn’t until his prosthetic sputtered that he realized how damaged it was. His pinky and ring finger wouldn’t bend properly and there was a large dent in the wrist, not to mention a few other scratches and blemishes. There was a grinding noise when he tried to flex his fingers before the violet lights started to flicker out.
Great now he’d have to have his arm repaired and he wasn’t sure his bank account could afford that.
With his board no longer attached to his limb, he stood up and tried to wipe some of the sand stuck to his body. Keith bit his lip behind him, clearing wanting to do something but unsure of what to do next. Shiro felt a little bad for snapping at him but Keith needed to learn that Shiro wasn’t a child. He’d apologize later.
“I’m...I’m going to go home.” He said to no one and everyone at the same time. He bent over to pick his surfboard up with his good hand and turned to leave.
Shiro slammed the door shut behind him, the picture frames on the wall shaking slightly. This was not how he expected his day to go. His skin felt dry and scratchy from the sand so as soon as he’s inside his apartment, he takes a deep breath, removes and throws his arm haphazardly on the bed, and goes into his bathroom. Once he’s under the warm spray, he rests his forehead on the cool tile as the water eases away some of the tension his body is holding.
Shiro had never been afraid of death before his accident but being thrown about underwater had left him feeling that constricting fear that makes it hard to breathe. Now that he had time to reflect on what happened, he realized that he’s been lucky in his life more times than he can count.
When was his luck going to run out?
After watching the sand and soap bubbles swirl down the drain, he dresses in his most comfortable clothes and stares at his arm laying precariously on the bed where he left it. In the back of his mind, the ghost of his right arm moves as if it were still there, he can almost feel it. When in reality his only consolidation is laying broken atop his bedsheets. With a resigned sigh, he moves to find the packaging where he knows the manual will be.
He finds it exactly where he knew Keith would leave it, tucked away neatly on the top shelf in his closet. He couldn’t be more grateful that Keith had convinced him to keep it since he just wanted to throw it out. Why would anyone want to keep an empty box? But as he scrambled inside to find the manual, he now had a new appreciation for Keith’s obsessive organization.
He brings his arm and the manual to the table, reading over the material he probably should have looked at when his arm was fitted. He felt the therapist had done a good job explaining how his arm worked so he never bothered looking it over when he thought he knew all there was to know.
How wrong he was.
There were details on the tech inside the arm and an overview of how it all came together to work. Minute details he otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. Cleaning techniques and a function to change the LED lights. At the end of the manual there was a photograph of what appeared to be a college campus where the arm was engineered and below that a photo of the lead designer and engineer.
Shiro studied the photo of the scientist. He was all chestnut hair and bright amber eyes behind glasses that were too big for his face. Shiro didn’t want to judge but the photo made this guy look a little bit like a dork, with his far-off stare into the distance and crooked grin like it had come straight out of the 80’s.
A small biography was written under the photo. Matthew Holt was this guys name and Shiro whistled as he read over all of Mr. Ph. D’s credentials. He couldn’t help but be impressed and a little incredulous knowing where all his money had gone to. It’s too bad the photo didn’t do him any justice because Shiro would bet behind those awful glasses and awkward pose, Matthew Holt was probably clever and fairly easy on the eyes.
Oh well, it’s not like he would ever meet the guy.
Shiro followed the instructions to clean the inner workings of his arm, at the very least hoping to prevent corrosion from any sitting saltwater. It was tedious work and his arm had more panels than he realized. It wasn’t until he was cleaning the last panel that he noticed the HOLT Engineering logo. It stood out, contrasting white topography against the otherwise dark metal. He was torn between wanting to know more about the man behind his arm and an irrational sense of resentment knowing that Matthew Holt’s name rested where his soulmate’s name would have.
He pushed both thoughts down and reminded himself to be grateful there was an arm at all.
With the arm meticulously cleaned, Shiro was left with the dents and broken fingers. Biting his lip he looked over the manual again, but he wasn’t surprised to find that there was nothing on how to manually fix damaged parts, especially considering that the arm wasn’t supposed to break anyway. When he was fitted with the arm, the physician assured him that his arm was nearly indestructible, withstanding 1510 megapascals of pressure. A the time these were all just words to Shiro, his mind still in a state of blank disbelief. And while Shiro was fairly intelligent and knew his way around mechanics—airplane mechanics, specifically—, this was way out of his league.
Reattaching the arm, he surveyed just how bad the finger damage was. Cleaning seemed to have helped but it wasn’t perfect and smooth moving like it used to be. He’d have to make due, however, until he could make an appointment to have it repaired.
An Agonizing and ungodly amount of hold time later, Shiro had an appointment with a graduate student in charge of repairs for prosthetics and he thanked his lucky stars that they could fit him in tomorrow.
When Shiro arrived at the Marshall Iverson School of Robotics and Technology, he’s blown away by the sheer size of the campus. It’s more like a small town with its own transportation system and he even saw a sign for a campus bank. The landscaping was breathtaking and the number of people going from one place to the other was staggering. The photograph in the manual definitely doesn’t do the university justice.
His taxi pulled up to his destination; the engineering building that was larger than his own apartment building. The funding available to the department must be outlandish because when he walked through the motion sensor door, he was greeted by an A.I. voice, sweet and feminine, welcoming him to the Alfor Altean Engineering Building. She kindly lets him know that he could use one of the display panels if he needed information but he bypasses the panel to check the building map; a fancy purple holographic display with a flashy ‘You are here’ in bright red.
He looked over the map, a childlike desire to touch the beams of light. Reaching out with his arm, he moved his fingers through the light, the image quickly flickering to adjust the block of light source. It wasn’t until there was a distinct agitated clearing of a voice ahead of him that Shiro remembered where he was at. A quick look around and he was caught like a kid in a candy store, students, and faculty looking at him playing with the display. He was sure for a moment there had to have been others that fiddled innocently with the map and that everyone would be used to it so he wasn’t sure why he was being chided like a kid. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that he unintentionally used his metal arm to reach into the map and the light beams refracted off the metal, throwing light rays across the lobby.
He quickly pulled his arm back, casually coughing into his fist before walking away to the source of the throat clearing--a gray-haired receptionist behind a really expensive looking oval desk. Shiro ignored her nonplussed look and tried to ease her agitation with a soft smile.
“Hi, I’m Takashi Shirogane, I have an appointment…” His eyes flicked to her golden name badge, “Allura.”
Allura smacked her lips and typed into the computer next to her. While she busied herself Shiro looked around. The lobby was illuminated by natural light since the front of the lobby was made mostly of windows. The rest of the lighting came from an enormous chandelier hanging from the roof, a display underneath it stating that the light comes from 100% solar energy and the material used to build it was biodegradable. It was an impressive sight and it was high enough that Shiro could see all four floors of the building with no trouble.
There was a coffee shop to his right, the line wrapping around the cafe area, where students seemed to hang out. On the other side was a massive lounge with computers and televisions. The first floor of the building seemed to house the common area then.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have anything scheduled for you.” Allura said, her accent sharp and commanding.
“Please check again,” Shiro said, confused that his appointment wasn’t scheduled properly but agitated that this is what he would have to go through, “I made an appointment for two P.M. today to have my prosthetic fixed.” He held up his arm for proof, “It’s under Shirogane. That’s S-H-I-R-O…”
“--I’m aware how it’s spelled, Mr. Shirogane, but I’m sorry, there is nothing here. I can schedule you for another time if you wish.”
“This has to be some sort of mistake, I made the appointment yesterday...” Shiro ran his hand through his hair. He was only able to get this appointment because there was a cancellation. Otherwise, he would have had to wait weeks before there was another opening. He wasn’t sure he could wait that long, or that his fingers would hold up.
“Excuse me, did you say your prosthetic needed to be repaired?”
Shiro turned around to the new voice, a smooth yet slightly deep baritone with a bit of disbelief attached to their tone. Shiro was struck with a thread of familiarity at the man before him. Chestnut hair and amber eyes, he held a striking resemblance to the photo of Matthew Holt from the manual. But gone was the short hair and geeky glasses. The person standing before him had long rugged hair with a long scar across his cheek. They wore a crisp white lab coat over what Shiro was pretty sure was a faded AC/DC shirt and jeans, hipster look complete with the oversized coffee he was holding.
“Dr. Holt.” Allura said in greeting behind Shiro. His eyes widened, so this was the scientist that had engineered his arm. Shiro’s mind blanked out for a moment as he looked Matthew up and down. When his eyes met the engineer’s, Matthew flashed him a knowing smirk.
“I know I have striking good looks but I’m pretty sure you said your prosthetic needed to be repaired and that’s unlikely.” He finished and Shiro was taken back by his brash comments. He held up his arm nonchalantly nonetheless and Matthew quickly placed his coffee down on Allura’s desk--with an irritated groan from the woman--before taking Shiro’s arm in both of his hands and pulling it closer to inspect it. Shiro wasn’t sure if he imagined the heat from Matthew’s hands on his arm or not.
“Well, I’ll be..” Matthew said, letting go of Shiro’s hand, lifting his head to meet Shiro’s eyes, “You certainly seem to have done the impossible, Mr….?”
“Uhh, just Shiro is fine.” He said as Matthew turned back to Allura.
“Don’t worry about his appointment Allura, I’ll take care of the repairs myself. Also, would you mind rescheduling Mr. Zarkon’s appointment? I’m not particularly in the mood for his holier-than-thou attitude today.”
Allure nodded and immediately picked up the phone, while Matthew picked his coffee up and took a long sip. Shiro watched as his adam’s apple bobbed and quickly looked away before he could embarrass himself with blushing cheeks.
“Follow me, ‘just’ Shiro.” Matthew replied with a wink and Shiro was left with nothing to do but oblige.
They were silent as Shiro followed Matthew through a series of twisting hallways. Matthew had long since finished his coffee and threw his cup away as they passed a trash receptacle, his hands now deep in the pockets of his lab coat. Shiro walked behind Matthew and being the taller of the two, could see over his head. He tried—oh how he tried—to keep his eyes from searching out the man before him but with every other step, he was drawn back like a magnet. He wasn’t able to tell much from behind and he kept wondering how the man in the photograph and the scientist in front of him were one and the same.
“You look different from your photo in the manual.” Shiro said, filling the silence. Matt kept walking but turned his head to look back at Shiro, a wide grin meeting his eyes.
“Ah, so you’ve seen my official photo. I finally perfected the awkward 80s vibe and with the release of the Holtinator 2000 , I knew this photo had to be especially classy.” Matt laughed to himself like he was in on some inside joke.
Shiro stopped dead in his tracks.
“Wait, wait,” he said, “Are you telling me my arm is named the Holtinator 2000?” Shiro pointed to his arm in disbelief.
Matt sighed and looked towards the ceiling, “ Not officially…” he dragged the word as his arms spread out in front of him before finishing quickly, “The college wouldn’t allow it, something about it not sounding ‘professional’ enough,” he added with appropriate finger quotes, “but they can’t stop me from calling it that when I’m without adult supervision.”
Shiro blinked slowly in disbelief but eventually couldn’t help but smile at Matthew’s cheeky grin. How different was the scientist from what he had thought? He certainly didn’t expect such an audacious attitude to come from someone who had such high credentials. But maybe he should learn not to judge.
Matthew lead them down the hallway, stopping in front of a few elevators, pushing the call button. Shiro stood a respectable distance away and tried to feign interest in some posters hanging on the wall but a sudden pop! filled the waiting area and his eyes were drawn back to Matthew.
Matthew was standing facing the elevator, chewing gum—that explains the pop—and when Shiro looked over and caught Matthew’s side eye, he smirked like he knew Shiro would look over before slowly rolling his eyes back to the elevator. Shiro wasn’t sure what to make of that and he hopes his flushing wasn’t too noticeable.
Could he say he has an attraction to Matthew? He wouldn’t lie to himself and say that Matthew didn’t have attractive qualities. The scar on his cheek gives off just enough mystery to his persona, while his long hair and pale skin tells Shiro Matthew probably spends a lot of time indoors and not giving a shit about what others think of him. His amber eyes are bright and curious like despite his extensive education he is still trying to learn about everything around him.
But those were just physical qualities. Shiro was definitely impressed with his academic accomplishments and Matthew’s snarky attitude—while taking him on a loop—had kept Shiro on his toes. He isn’t sure if he’d be able to go head-to-head against someone like Matthew in a game of wits but it’d be fun to try.
Before he knows it, Matthew has lead him to a set of frosted glass double doors—he hadn’t even noticed the elevator ride—and says as he pushes the doors open, “Welcome...to the nerd lab.”
If the lobby of the engineering building was impressive, the ‘nerd lab’ was something out of a science fiction movie. There were multiple workstations, each with a handful of students working on various projects. To his right were some students using machines and computers to make a robotic bust move while there was another group flying around a drone that looks like a bird. There was even a student using a cat on a robotic RC type device.
“We’re pushing the boundaries on robotics here. Every student is working on game-changing devices that could alter life as we know it.” Matthew said coming to stand next to him, “In fact, I manufactured your arm, right here in house.”
Shiro looked down at his arm, seeing it in a different light for the first time since it was attached. He suddenly had a clear vision of Matthew sitting over a desk, agonizing over every detail of a prototype until everything was perfect.
“How long did it take...to make the arm, I mean.” He asked, looking at Matthew.
“Five years.” Matthew didn’t look at him, instead, he stared out at the students working tirelessly on their inventions, maybe remembering a time when he was in their shoes. Shiro found it an endearing thought.
“Come on, my workspace is in the back. Being the lead engineer, I get the best digs in the place.” Matthew turned to walk again and Shiro followed.
“Are you a professor here?” He asked, looking around. There were some really impressive designs in action.
“Not exactly. I’m more of an overly paid researcher.”
They reached the back of the room, where there was an enclosed workspace. Shiro could see through the windowed walls Matthew was a bit of a slob. He expected to see a mess, all smart people left disaster in their wake, but what he found were empty water bottles and snack size chip bags. There were three computer screens, two were displaying some complicated looking code while the other was the menu screen for Overwatch.
And papers. They were everywhere. Some appeared to be sketches while others were notes, blueprints, and whatever else a researcher of Matthew’s caliber would have, Shiro couldn’t really tell.
“Hehe, sorry about the mess. Sometimes I spend an ungodly amount of time here and, yeah...I don’t have a good excuse.” He explained while rubbing the back of his neck.
Matthew walked into the area, quickly grabbing the trash and tossing it. He also hastily stacked papers together and pushed them out of the way.
“You can have a seat over there if you want, I have to grab a few things from the tool closet and then we can get started on getting your arm back in tip-top shape.”
Shiro sat in the aforementioned seat while Matthew left and he took it as a good opportunity to look closer at his workspace. Hanging on the wall above his desk were his various degrees and his FE and PE examination certificates and his state license to work as an engineer. There were also framed photos on the wall; one of a much younger Matthew in his cap and gown and who Shiro assumes to be his parents. Another hung close by, Matthew with his arm around a young girl with long hair. Shiro thought she looked familiar, but he couldn’t place from where.
“That’s my sister, Katie.”
Shiro startled at Matthew’s voice. Matthew chuckled, “Sorry, you didn’t seem the type to scare easy, what with your big muscles and all.” He joked as he waved a hand in Shiro’s general direction.
“Uhhh…” Shiro looked away before Matthew noticed his blush. Shiro was in shape, in his college days he practically lived at the gym when he wasn’t in class but to be called out on it by Matthew, it was embarrassing.
“Thanks...I think?” He replied and Matthew just smiled at him. It was the kind of smile you reserve for something sweet and Shiro found himself smiling back. He lost himself in Matthew’s eyes, gentle and kind but the moment was broken too soon when Matthew’s sat down at his desk.
“Well, let's get that arm off you and fixed up so you can be on your way.”
He helped Shiro remove his arm and Shiro got lost in the smell of his cologne. It was nice, something he could definitely get used too. But then Shiro took a hard look at Matthew’s right arm and he felt a little sick. There was probably a name written there. Who was he to think about something intimate like that, especially about someone he had just met.
“So...do you mind if I ask what happened?” Matthew asked cautiously as he started to pull Shiro’s arm apart. He looked around inside for a bit before putting on magnifying goggles and grabbing a screwdriver. Shiro snorted but disguised it as a cough when he saw how silly Matthew looked with the glasses on.
“Car accident; drunk driver.” He didn’t share anymore from that life-ruining night and Matthew didn’t ask, just nodded his head that he had heard him.
With nothing left to do but watch as Matthew continued to fiddle with his arm, Shiro studied his profile. He had a good nose and thin lips that puckered in concentration while he switched out tools and wires. It was even cuter when he bit his lip.
“Did you get a chance to read your soulmates name before...you know?”
Um, no, no I didn’t.” He said and why did he have to bring up such a sensitive subject to Shiro. He wanted to be angry, at the injustice of it all, and really, who was Matthew to try and pry into his personal life, nice cologne or not, “Look, Mr. Holt—“
“Whoa, whoa, whoa...whoa, nuh uh,” Matthew interrupted before Shiro could tell him as much, “There’ll be no ‘Mr. Holt’ inside these walls coming from you sir.” He tapped his lip in thought for a moment, “I suppose we haven’t been formally introduced yet though…” Lifting his ridiculous goggles, he fixed Shiro a stare of severe intensity. Shiro would swear Matthew was looking deep into his soul, his eyes making minute movements as he kept looking at Shiro. He pulled back suddenly and held his hand out, “Hi, I’m Dr. Matthew Holt, lead engineer and mechanic for the Marshall Iverson School of Robotics and Technology but I humbly beg of you to call me Matt.”
After an introduction like that Shiro just stared blankly at Matthew’s outstretched hand. Who was this guy? He seemed to have more modes than an oscillating fan. And not for the first time today, he made Shiro feel out of his element. Shiro reached for his outstretched hand anyway.
“Um, hi, I’m Takashi Shirogane but you know, just Shiro.”
Shiro saw something like recognition flicker quickly in Matt’s eyes.
“Takashi Shiro...gane.” He repeated to no one, seemingly lost in thought for a moment before he snapped back like nothing had happened, “That’s Japanese right?”
“Yeah, my parents are native.” So much for not getting too personal.
“Ah, well, O-me ne kakarete ureshī desu. ”
Shiro was floored. Matt just keeps throwing him reasons to like him when he really shouldn’t entertain these thoughts.
“ Nihongo ga hanashimasu ka?” He replied and Matt physically blanched.
“Note to self, don’t speak broken Japanese to a Japanese speaker.” He grinned sheepishly at Shiro, before going back to his repairs, “Crash and burn, I was hoping to impress you with that,” Shiro pretended to not notice his blush, “I tried to learn the language but with all my other studies, I dropped the class two days in. l'italiano è più la mia marmellata comunque .”
“You can consider me impressed anyway.” Shiro says and Matthew bites his lip as he smiles, his eyes not looking away from Shiro’s arm. They sit in comfortable silence after that, the only sound in their little space is the sound of Matt’s tinkering. It’s enough for Shiro’s mind to wander.
Matt had said he was hoping to impress him. Did that mean he was interested in Shiro? And what of his soulmark? Matt seemed to be around Shiro’s age but maybe he didn’t have one yet. Would it be wrong of him to ask Matt out on a date? But what if he was waiting for his soulmark the way Shiro used to hope for it. The rejection he could handle, but the idea of not even having a chance scared him.
Without knowing his own soulmates name Shiro was bound to dating other people whose soulmates were lost to them one way or another. Unless his own soulmate miraculously appeared with his name on their arm. But even then there was no way to prove that he’d be the one without his own mark to react to his soulmates.
If only he could get a sign.
“Well, all done. I have no idea how you managed this kind of damage but maybe not do it again, yeah?” Matt’s voice brought Shiro out of his thoughts, “Of course, if it means I’d get to see you again maybe I could forgive you.”
That was it right, the push Shiro needed? He should take this opportunity and run with it. So, with a new set of determination, he looked into Matt’s warm eyes and decided to just go for it.
“I like coffee.” What was even his life right now! “I-I mean, with you. Not ‘with you’ obviously, we just met, but I should, no, we should, um—“ Quitting while he was ahead he hoped his awkward smile could make up for his blubbering. Matt’s own smile reached his eyes and Shiro was pretty sure his heart stopped beating.
“Coffee, would be great.” Matt said.
“Right, awesome,” His cheeks hurt from smiling. Who would have thought that when he arrived this afternoon, he’d be leaving on cloud nine? “Do you want to meet this weekend?”
“I’m free Sunday.” Matt replied and Shiro tried not to bounce in his seat as they exchanged numbers.
With his arm fixed—and running smoother than before—there was no reason for Shiro to stay. Matt probably had other things to work on today and while Shiro didn’t have any other plans he needed to tell Keith the good news. They stood up together, nearly bumping into each other but with some slight shifting and awkward laugh later, they’re able to separate.
“Well, thanks for everything.” He says and yeah, he has a goofy grin on his face but Shiro doesn’t care. This is the first good thing that’s happened to him since the accident. He’s allowed to be a little giddy.
“Anytime.” Matt says as he sticks his hands back into his lab coat pocket. He’s already pushed the goggles up his forehead and they’ve pushed his hair around in every direction. Shiro’s sure he’ll remember this image of Matt for a long time.
Moving slowly, Shiro takes small steps backward, waving goodbye. He’s so enamored that he’s not paying attention to where he’s going and bumps right into the doorframe. He gestures to the entryway like it’s the doorways fault for being in his way before quickly waving again and rushing off.
Before he turns he catches a quick glimpse of Matt, raising his own hand in goodbye and his laughter echoing in his ears.
Shiro’s a mess. He’s never dated before! He has no idea what he’s gotten himself into. Standing in front of his bathroom mirror, he splashed some cold water on his face, trying to calm his nerves. He’s supposed to meet Matt in an hour for coffee but four outfits later he still isn’t ready.
“I thought the black shirt looked nice, brings out the color in your eyes.” Keith yelled from the other room. Shiro groaned before walking out.
“Keith, if you’re not going to help…” He watched as Keith chuckled from the bed, the very definition of ‘laughing at him and not with him.’
“I’m sorry, your right.” Keith said, laughter dying down, “The black one though, for sure.”
Shiro quickly went into the closet and changed shirts and fine, whatever it was just going to have to do. He was running out of time. He still had to hail a taxi and get downtown and he wanted to be there early so Matt didn’t have to wait up for him.
Walking out from the closet and facing Keith again, his nerves got the better of him. He absently rubbed the scar on his nose he got from the accident, the one he was never really subconscious about before, and looking to Keith, “Do you think Lance has any makeup—“
“—Shiro, you look fine,” His brother interrupted exasperated, “If this guy said yes to a date, I’m sure he doesn’t care about your scar. Just...get going already, you’re acting worse than Lance.”
Shiro ignored the jab but grabbed his keys and gathered his courage before he opened his front door. With a last look to Keith, who gestured a ‘go already’, he shut the door behind him.
Shiro did make it to the coffee shop early, only to find that it had been recently shut down for renovations. He groaned and leaned his head on the glass, closing his eyes and cursing his luck. His date was ruined and it hadn’t even started yet.
“That’s a shame.” A growingly familiar voice called out behind him. Shiro turned around to find Matt standing there, his arms crossed and his nose scrunched like the coffee shop had personally offended him, “Not the end of the world, there’s a froyo place across the street.”
What a Godsend Matt was turning out to be.
They stood next to each other at the crosswalk and Shiro couldn’t help but steal quick glances Matt’s way. He never caught Matt doing the same and it was making him nervous. What if Matt was waiting for a Shiro to do something? Should he reach out for Matt’s hand? Or maybe offer him his arm? Was that too much for the first date? Shiro wasn’t sure what proper date etiquette was and now he was wishing he had some done research online. Ugh, what loser has to look up how to have a date? He bet Lance didn’t have this kind of trouble, he was always flirting with anything that moved (much to Keith’s dismay).
Shiro never got the assurance he was looking for. The crosswalk signal changed and Matt nudged Shiro from his thoughts with a tap on his shoulder. They followed the crowd, making their way to the froyo shop. Shiro made sure he at least held the door open.
“And they say chivalry is dead.” Matt jested.
“It takes no effort to be a gentleman.” He replied and Matt seemed satisfied with that answer. He followed Matt to the selection bar and they shared tasting samples. Shiro couldn’t help but think of how intimate that was, almost like they were a couple, but it didn’t seem to phase Matt in any way. Maybe he was reading too much into it.
“I’m definitely getting the pineapple, strawberry, mango, with a touch of double chocolate fudge on top.” Matt said as he started to fill his cup, “What about you Shiro?”
“Hm, maybe the low-fat coconut and sugar-free chocolate.”
“You’re kidding?” Matt said, jovial.
“Look, this...doesn’t happen on its own.” Shiro replied, pointing grandly at himself. Matt’s eyes followed the movement of his finger, from his chest to his toes before moving back up again. He lingered on Shiro’s chest, then his hips. Shiro wasn’t completely prude, he knew when he was being checked out. Something about Matt doing it made his insides warm.
“No, no you’re right. It’d be a shame to let all that hard work go to waste.”
Shiro felt like he had won a small victory when Matt turned his attention back to filling his cup, cheeks bright red. He was caught off guard so many times with Matt the other day it felt nice to turn the tables and watch Matt fumble, especially if he fumbled over Shiro.
They finished filling their cups and chose their toppings—Shiro’s with fresh fruit and Matt’s with an absurd amount of candies—and sat together at a high top. There was joking and laughing and Shiro couldn’t remember a time he had felt so content.
They shared life stories, like how Matt had graduated high school early and followed his dad’s footsteps in engineering. His sister apparently was in school to be a software engineer too. A gene Matt says runs in the family.
Shiro’s story was a little sadder, his parents passing away, leaving him as the sole caretaker to Keith at just eighteen. At the time he was training to become a pilot but quit to raise Keith full time. Now he worked as an office manager but had taken an extended leave of absence due to his accident.
They had grown quiet after that, the atmosphere becoming somber with Shiro’s story. Shiro didn’t want any sympathy, and Matt didn’t offer any, which he appreciated. But this wasn’t the direction he wanted his first date to go, nor did he want Matt to feel sorry for him and his terrible luck. He looked around and tried to salvage the situation, Matt picking at the candies in his cup.
“I’m not sure you can taste the yogurt with all that artificial sugar.” He commented after he watched Matt take a spoonful, more chocolate candies than actual yogurt.
Matt just smugly held the spoonful out to Shiro, “Don't know it till you try it.” He dared. As much as he really didn’t care for the taste of candy, who was he to turn down a dare? Plus, he was pretty sure if he said ‘no’ to the dare on the first date, that broke some sort of first date rule he had no idea about.
But Shiro wasn’t one to suffer alone. To even the odds, he held his own spoonful out for Matt to take. Matt eyed it warily, debating on the challenge Shiro offered but accepted it when he swooped in and took the offered biteful. Shiro was momentarily stricken at the fact he had just physically, (yet unintentionally), fed Matt off his spoon, (and was a little turned on), but Matt’s reaction was worth it.
“ Pleh, I have no idea how you can actually think that tastes good.” Matt said, smacking his tongue around in his mouth and shaking his head, “It tastes...healthy.”
Shiro chuckled but quickly quieted when Matt held his own spoon closer to him. He moved to take it from his hand, but Matt pulled the spoon away with a small shake of his head. Shiro blushed, realizing Matt wanted Shiro to copy him. Fine, Shiro could play Matt’s game.
He held Matt’s eyes as he wrapped his lips around the spoon, Matt’s own eyes dilating minutely. Shiro felt the tension around them change into something heavier and while it wasn’t unwelcome, he wasn’t sure he was ready for that just yet. So to ease the atmosphere, he bit down on the spoon when Matt tried to pull away.
Matt went from distracted to droll in a moment, clearly unimpressed, “Wow, Shiro, what are you, six?” He asked with an exaggerated eye roll.
“Actually my birthday is February 29th, so…” he shrugged as he took another bite of his yogurt, trying to hide a smile.
Matt just chuckled and yeah, Shiro could get used to the sound of his laughter.
A week later, Shiro woke up feeling better than he had in months and he’s pretty sure he has Matt to thank for his improved attitude. For so long—too long—Shiro felt sorry for himself. But being with Matt had made Shiro feel again. So what if they’ve only gone on several dates, each one better than the last, did it matter when it felt right?
In fact, being around Matt made Shiro forget all about soulmates and soulmarks...almost. It was usually late into the night when he was alone in his bed and Matt had long since stopped texting him that his conscience would remind him that Matt still had a chance. In fact, Matt was already twenty-six and his mark should have already appeared on his arm. Matt never brought it up and Shiro didn’t want to know because he wanted to live in this little fantasy they created a little longer.
Heading out for a jog, he sent a quick text to Keith to let him know he’d be out since Keith usually visited unannounced anyway. Heaven forbid Keith were to come over and Shiro wasn't there, he’d have the S.W.A.T. out looking for his ‘disabled brother’ in no time.
Shiro’s muscled ached from disuse since the accident and it would take some time for him to get used to burn again. His PT was mainly focused on making sure his arm moved the right way, and he was always too busy feeling sorry for himself to actually get up and workout. Sure, he put on a front for Matt but he was a little ashamed at the little bit of weight he’s put on.
But it felt good. His legs burning, the wind cooling the sweat on his brow, his workout music steady in his ear. He forgot how much he enjoyed a good exercise.
When he got back, Keith was already there, sitting on the couch channel surfing. They said a quick hello before Shiro bypassed him for a shower. He knew his brother well enough to know he had questions but it was unnecessary to answer them gross and sweaty.
Thoroughly clean and now mentally prepared for Keith’s assault, he braved his living room, where Keith was indeed waiting with his arm crossed and his eyes downcast.
“What’s up, Keith?” Shiro asked, wanting to get the hard stuff out of the way first.
Keith looked up, a confused scrunch to his brow, “You went jogging…”
Shiro wasn’t sure if Keith meant that as a question or a statement, “Yeah, it’s a beautiful day out.”
“I’m glad you’re feeling better.” He replied, now standing with a hand on his hip, the other casually turning the TV off.
“That’s it?” He asked. He expected more from Keith, like 100 questions, drilling him about Matt and to make sure he was taking care of himself.
“Yeah, what else would there be?”
“Um, I don’t know. I just figured you had something more to say.” Shiro shrugged. Keith was acting strange and he wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or bad thing.
“It’s just good to see you acting like yourself again.” Keith said but it was what he wasn’t saying that was starting to irritate Shiro.
“Keith, if you have something to say, just say it.” He urges.
“I'm not trying to fight with you,” his brother said, “and I’m glad that you found something with Matt, but what’s going to happen when his mark appears and he decides to chase after his soulmate and he leaves you?” Keith looked him in the eye, waiting for Shiro’s answer. But Shiro didn’t want to answer because he didn’t want to face the truth.
“I don’t need you to govern my life. I’m an adult and I’m capable of making my own decisions.” He snapped back. He could deal with Keith being overprotective but now he was just crossing the line.
“Whatever Shiro, just be careful,” Keith said as he grabbed his jacket and walked towards the door, opening it and taking a step out before stopping to look over his shoulder,” I don’t want to see you broken a second time, especially over a broken heart.”
The sound of the door closing echoed through the room. Shiro tightened his fist until his nails dug into his palm. He wanted to hit something. How dare Keith try to ruin the small little bit of light he had.
But deep down, Shiro knew Keith was just trying to protect him. He wasn’t angry at Keith, he was angry that Keith was right. Shiro was fully aware that Matt might leave for his soulmate and it was his fault for ‘catching feelings’, as Lance would say.
But what was wrong with a little ignorance when it comes to happiness?
Leaving the restaurant, Shiro and Matt walked back to Matt’s car, pinkies hooked together. It was later than Shiro expected, the afternoon sun starting its descent into nightfall. The sidewalks were busy with people going to and from but Shiro didn’t notice any of that. All he knew was Matt’s finger around his and the desire he had to kiss him.
When they got to Matt’s car, Shiro didn’t want to let go. So far after their dates, they’d clumsily say their goodbyes and Matt would drive away. Shiro would catch the next train into town regretting that he hadn’t kissed Matt. But his nerves held him back.
These thoughts ran through his head as Matt opened the driver side door to get in and hearing the handle click urged Shiro on. He wasn’t sure what had really gotten into him but he wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Matt yet. He gently tugged on Matt’s arm, pulling him away from the door before he closed it shut.
Matt only had time to get out a confused ‘ Shiro’ before he had pushed Matt against the car, pressing against him in a way that had Shiro’s body screaming.
Shiro was in his space, watching Matt’s face for a reaction while they shared exhales. He took a deep breath, breathing Matt in, his fingertips grazing the soft skin of his cheek but part of him was still holding back, unsure if that is what Matt really wanted.
“Shiro...if you're wondering if I want you to,” Matt whispered between them, “I want you to.”
Shiro leaned in slowly, his eyes flicking to Matt’s lips, before closing them and finally feeling Matt’s lips against his own. They were soft and chapped but wet and perfect. The warm touch sent a buzz under his skin into his belly.
This was worth the wait.
Matt pulled away first but Shiro followed slowly, chasing Matt’s lips.
“That… was better than I imagined it would be.” Matt said low and throaty.
“You imagined kissing me?” Shiro asked breathless. He tucked a stray strand of hair behind Matt’s ear, his hair soft between his fingers.
“I mean.. have you seen you? I thought about it as soon as I saw you but then you opened your mouth and I knew you were something special.”
Matt’s words hit something in Shiro and he pulled back. Surprise and confusion passed over Matt’s features but all Shiro could think about was what Keith had said to him. Where would they be when Matt got tired of Shiro and wanted to find his soulmate? He was convinced the name on Matt’s arm wasn’t his and now he was paying for his ignorance.
“Look Matt...I'm sorry I—I think I made a mistake.” Shiro’s heart broke at the crestfallen look on Matt’s face.
“You-you can't just kiss me like that and walk away. What happened? Did I do something wrong?” His voice cracked slightly but Shiro didn’t call him out on it. He wasn’t sure his was much better.
Shiro wanted to console Matt, to tell him that no, he hadn’t done a thing wrong. That he was perfect, but Shiro did neither of those things, just looked at Matt with regret.
“Matthew, I’m never going to find my soulmate,” he said, holding his arm where his soulmark would have been, “but you still have a chance, to be happy with yours.”
Shiro watched as Matt’s face went from distress to understanding. It happened so suddenly Shiro almost wondered if he had imagined it.
“I see…,” Matt looked away for only a second, seemingly to decide something before looking Shiro square in the eyes, “I have something to show you.”
Shiro watched in confusion as Matt all but tore off his jacket. He could hear Matt mumbling curses under his breath and he tried to roll up his sleeve, the material seemingly particularly stubborn. But wait a second, that was Matt’s right arm. He was going to show Shiro his soulmark.
He felt sick for a second. Was this Matt’s way of saying it would never work out, showing him the name of his soulmate, that he was right and they should just end it now?
With his sleeve finally rolled up, Matt quickly covered the mark with his free hand and looked at the ground as he spoke.
“All my life I thought the idea of soulmates was a silly, stupid curse. Being a man of science, it never made any logical sense why we get soulmarks and it made even less sense that we, as humans, follow blindly to ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’ that the universe chooses for us.
“I decided that I wouldn’t live my life waiting for a name, for someone else, to define me. I worked hard to get where I’m at and nothing can change that. I remember being so angry the day my soul mark appeared and I decided that I wouldn’t seek out that person, I would live my life the way I wanted to, love who I wanted to...but all that changed when I met you,” Matt slowly removed his hand, revealing his mark. Shiro’s eyes widened and his chest felt tight. Sitting there, dark against Matt’s pale skin, was his name, Takashi Shirogane.
Shiro felt like the air had been stolen from his lungs.
“I knew something was different about you when you showed up at the school. I may have seen hundreds of people come into the building, all blurry faces, and play with that stupid holographic map, but you, the look on your face, the wonder in your eyes...I had never seen anything so beautiful.”
Shiro looked into Matt’s eyes and all he saw was sincerity..and something a little sad. He didn’t want to see Matt that way so he moved closer, back to where it felt right ; to be in Matt’s arms. He cupped Matt’s cheek with his flesh hand, wanting to feel his warmth. Matt closed his eyes and leaned into his palm, “I know the circumstances that brought us together were tragic, but I’m glad I met you, Takashi.”
Matt’s words would be forever ingrained into his mind; this very moment, the feel of Matt in his hand, the sound of his voice as he uttered the words he had so long desired to hear, the way his heart soared in his chest. He gently took Matt’s arm into his and looked down at his name, tracing the outline gently with a fingertip. He smiled contentedly and he wasn’t even aware he was crying until Matt wiped a tear away with his thumb.
Shiro looked up to find Matt with a gentle smile of his own, “I’m glad I met you too.”
Shiro wasn’t sure if it was the high emotion or the desire to feel closer, hell maybe it was both. Their lips met again but it wasn’t a sweet and sensual kiss like they just shared. It was all smiles and giggles and mostly rubbing their lips together with no real drive to passion. It was silly but it was just right.
“You know,” Matt started, “You don’t have to be such a Debbie Downer about your soulmark…”
Shiro raised an eyebrow and Matt started laughing at the confused look on his face. He took Shiro’s prosthetic and lifted up the main panel, the Holt Engineering logo staring back at them, “My name’s been there all along.”