Color is a hard thing to describe to a child. Absence is always hard to explain. It’s known to take a couple of years before a child can even identify their soul color.
Still, Lance’s parents really should have been tipped off when he kept crawling about to steal his ma’s lipstick.
Keith’s cradle is under a skylight. From day one, he wakes up to the blue of his soul color. Keith spends hours just watching the endless expanse of baby blue. Maybe that's why he grows to love the sky.
Lance is three when he finally understands. The world comes in three shades: black like an unlit room, white like a lazy cloud, and red.
Red like pairs of cherries and ripe apples and his ma’s fancy dress.
“Red is the color of love,” his pa whispers to Lance as he settles him down for a nap. “You must have a soulmate full of love.”
A person’s soul color, the only color they see besides black and white, is more than just their soulmates favorite color. It’s a little bit of their soulmate’s essence too, captured in that stark hue.
Lance hopes his soulmate really is made of love. He hopes his soulmates loves him back.
“Look, Lance! Do you see the rainbow?” Pa points out the car window. A five-year old Lance peeks out from the back seat but he can’t make out any distinctions between the white and gray of the sky.
“Oh, it’s a double rainbow!” his ma exclaims. “It’s very faint. Do you see it over there?”
“I can’t see anything,” Lance pouts.
“Don’t worry, Lance. One day you’ll meet your soulmate,” his ma takes his pa’s hand. “I remember when I met your pa’s eyes for the first time. It was indescribable. Some many colors I didn’t know existed. So many things I had missed.”
Lance wiggles in his car seat to lean closer. “Like double rainbows?” he asks.
“Yes, like rainbows, but other things too.” His ma reaches back to boop his nose and Lance squeals. “Did you know your eyes are the most beautiful shade of blue?”
Lance glances up at his reflection in the rearview mirror. They don’t look very beautiful, not like his ma’s ruby earrings. Still, as he watches, his cheeks start to tinge with color. His parents laugh at his abashed face, which only makes him blush harder.
When Keith is five, he’s finally beginning to understand soul colors. It’s later than most children but his dad had never explained it to him, explained that his world of black and white and blue was not everyone’s world.
“What’s your soul color, dad?” Keith asks as the two of them are packing up boxes. They’ve always moved around a lot. This time, the arid Arizona desert will be their home.
His dad grunts as he lifts a box. “I don’t have a soul color, son.”
“Why not?” Keith pads behind him as he moves towards their truck.
“Some people don’t have soulmates in the traditional sense. I don’t really know for sure and I doubt I ever will.” His dad shrugs. “It’s just the way it is.”
“But what about mom?”
His dad gives a sad smile and leans down to hoist Keith into the bed of the truck. He sits Keith on the edge so their eyes meet. “I loved your mom, Keith. Whether she was my soulmate or not, I loved her. I miss her every day. If she could have stayed, she would have. Yes, a soulmate is a wonderful thing to have but don’t let it stop you from loving someone. You know yourself better than the universe.” Keith nods and his dad helps him back to the ground.
His dad asserts, “I think that’s enough packing for today. Let’s go get some dessert.”
Keith follows his dad as they start to walk into town but he can’t help asking, “So do you only see black and white?”
His dad shakes his head. “That’s the weird thing. I’ve always seen the world in full color.”
When Lance is seven, he decides his favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day. It’s the most colorful day of the year. Everything is painted in shades of pink and cherry and scarlet. It’s a day made for soulmates and Lance can’t help but feel that it means something that red is his soul color, that red is the color of his soulmate, that red is the color of the day of love. Maybe it means him and his soulmate will be something special.
Keith’s seventh birthday present is a trip to the beach. They drive all the way to sunny California, where the sand is hotter than the pavement and the air tastes like salt. The sparkling ocean comes in the most captivating shades of blue: navy where it meets the horizon, sapphire where boats speed over its surface, cerulean where it meets the coast.
He watches another family of tourists run into the waves, screaming with glee. There’s a boy who looks about Keith’s age that’s learning to surf. Keith laughs the second time he falls off the board and the boy turns at the sound. Keith whips around and yells at his dad that he’s going to buy some ice cream.
When he comes back with the ice pops, the boy and his family are gone.
Keith and his dad stay until they’re kicked off the beach. It’s the best birthday of Keith’s life.
It’s also the last one he spends with his dad.
Keith’s dad dies when he’s eight. The fire that kills him is a freak accident and for some reason, that’s what sticks with Keith. No one even knows what started the fire or why the fire trucks took so long to come or how it spread so fast. It’s just an accident. An accident that killed his father.
Keith hates that all he can see is the bright white dancing flames on the footage of the accident while his dad died watching everything around him burn yellow and orange and red. That’s when Keith starts becoming angrier.
(And as much as he pretends not to, he mourns too, a deep and bottomless blue sadness. He hopes his soulmate understands.)
Lance is nine when someone tells him that his soul color is a bad thing.
It’s not red like love. It’s fire red, blood red, an angry and ferocious red. Red like the color of war.
“Maybe your soulmate will hate you,” Michael sneers.
“Your soulmate can’t hate you. They’re your soulmate.” Lance tries to be loud, confident, but his bottom lip trembles.
Michael takes a step towards Lance. “Then maybe they’ll be really mean and they’ll hit you when they’re angry and you won’t be able to do anything about it.”
“Don’t say that!” Lance shrieks. His hands ball into fists and Michael’s gaze flickers downwards. Then he tackles Lance to the ground.
The teachers separate them in a matter of moments, one leading Michael away and the other crouching down to Lance’s level, asking if he’s okay. Lance can’t really answer. He just keeps staring at his scraped knee, oozing red red red blood.
The next year, Michael changes school districts.
Lance spends the same year wavering between loving and hating his soul color.
In the foster care system, kids get moved around a lot. Keith has moved five times in the last two years. He likes it best when he lives in the desert, with its painfully clear skies in crystal blue.
He tries not to get attached but something about this family feels… good. Something about Allura and Shiro, the couple that took him in, feels good. He won’t say it feels right yet, but maybe someday it will. Someday. It’s been a long time since Keith thought past today, since he thought about a future with a family.
He thinks about the future until he gets into a fight with a new kid at school. Then the future stops existing.
He doesn’t want to face his foster family when they come to pick him up. He would rather wait in the principal’s office with his bloody nose and bruised knuckles until the foster care agency comes to get him. They’ll be coming to get him eventually, now that he’s proved again that he’s an unruly, aggressive child.
(It’s getting harder for them to place him with families, he knows. He’s heard them talking when they thought he wasn’t listening.)
Despite his wishings, it’s the foster family that comes to pick him up. The car ride home is terribly silent. When they reach the house, Shiro and Allura sit him down on the couch.
Shiro goes to grab some wipes for the dried blood on his face while Allura perches next to him.
“Keith,” she says. “What happened?”
“The principal already told you,” Keith mutters.
“But we want to hear it from you.”
Keith scowls and looks away. No one says anything. Shiro hands Keith a wipe and Keith swipes it angrily across his face. Even though he knows it’s red, it looks like it comes away covered in charcoal.
“I got into a fight,” he finally says.
“And why did you get into a fight?” Shiro asks.
“Because…” Keith balls up the wipe. “Because… Michael said I should be happy my dad is dead! But I’m not! I’m really- I’m really s-sad,” Keith chokes out. “And he said he wishes his dad were dead. Why would he say that? Only Zach used to say that.”
“Who’s Zach?” Allura questions.
Keith rubs at his nose. His fingers are smudged with black. “This kid who I knew in the foster care system. His dad used to hit him. That’s why they took him away.” Keith sniffles and misses the look Shiro and Allura exchange. “Are you gonna give me back?” he mumbles.
“No, no!” Allura grabs his hand and Keith stares at where they’re linked. Her nails are painted baby blue. “Keith, we want you as long as you want to be here.”
Shiro puts a hand on his shoulder and says, “We’re not saying it’s okay for you to get into fights but it’s going to take more than that for us to give you up.”
A few weeks later, Michael’s parents get divorced. Michael lives with his mom now. He even apologizes to Keith.
Keith starts thinking about the future again.
The day Lance turns eleven, he’s out shopping with his ma. She keeps picking out red things for him to wear and he keeps putting them back when she’s not looking.
“What about this?” his ma asks, holding up a red leather jacket. Lance wrinkles his nose.
“No way. What even is that?”
His ma takes another look at it before shrugging and putting it back on the rack. “This one is a bit much, I suppose. That doesn’t explain why you keep taking out all the clothes I’m putting in for you. I thought you liked the red clothes.”
“I… I do.” Lance scuffs his feet.
“Then why do you keep putting them back, sweetie?” His ma leans down at bit, eyes wide and soft.
“What if my soulmate doesn’t like me?” Lance asks, not meeting her gaze.
“Of course your soulmate will like you.” She runs a hand down his cheek. “And not just because they’re your soulmate. They’ll love you because you’re a kind, beautiful, thoughtful boy.”
“But is red a bad soul color?”
“Is this about what happened with Michael? Lance, no soul color is a bad one. Red is a beautiful color. It’s the color of passion. It’s the color of the heart. There will always be people who try to put you down but you have to hold out. You have be strong and courageous because your soulmate is out there and they’re waiting for you. Right?” She tweaks his nose and Lance giggles.
“Tell me again about how you and pa met?” Lance grabs her hand as she leads them towards the shirt section, adding things back into the shopping cart as they go along.
“Well, it was a dark and stormy night-”
“That’s not what you said last time! You’re changing the story!”
“Hush, you.” She ruffles his hair. “As I was saying, it was one of those really hot June days and…”
Lance’s ma is just wrapping up the story as they check out. Lance stands on his toes to grab the bagged clothes off the counter. Two lanes down, he sees someone buying the red leather jacket, a boy with mangy black hair and his dad. Lance smiles, thinking maybe it’s not such a bad look after all. He turns back to his ma as she finishes the purchase and they head back home.
For the start of sixth grade, Shiro takes Keith shopping for new clothes.
“Are you going through your emo phase?” Shiro teases, poking at the pile of jeans Keith picked out. “All of these are black. What happened to good old blue jeans?”
“Blue is distracting,” Keith snaps, then freezes. He whips around. “Don’t say anything!”
“Oh, I remember those days, when all I saw was my pink soul color. All I could think about was my soulmate and who they would be.”
“Stop,” Keith groans. “You’re so embarrassing.”
“One day, Keith, one day you’ll meet your soulmate and you’ll understand,” Shiro grins.
“Is this all because I chose a lot of black stuff? Fine, what about this?” Keith yanks a leather jacket off the rack. “This is red, right? Not even a dark color.”
Shiro looks like he’s holding in a laugh but he throws it in the cart anyway. “A great style choice. Definitely not black.”
Shiro laughs even harder, out loud this time, when Keith starts wearing the jacket all the time.
Lance is fifteen and fresh out of middle school when he attends his first high school party. The bass is deafening and there’s alcohol everywhere he looks. Every red solo cup stands out in stark relief.
He stays for a while, messing around with the soccer teammates that invited him, taking a few shots. It’s not terrible, really. He even meets some soulmate couples. He asks them what it was like to meet each other, to finally see the whole color spectrum. Most of them are too wasted to give a good explanation but hearing them try is funny enough.
Lance leaves early. (Look, he has a test tomorrow and he’s trying to make a good impression as a freshman.) By the time he leaves, there are already some kids passed out on the couch. One of them, a boy with tangled black hair and these terrible boots, has red cheeks ruddy with intoxication. Lance throws a blanket over him on his way out.
Keith doesn’t even know why he goes to parties like these. He barely knows anyone but some of his friends dragged him here. None of these people even go to his school.
Just to pass the time, he ends up playing some drinking games. By the third round, he’s already a little past tipsy and from the back he sees this boy who’s all leg with blue skinny jeans that hug every inch. The boy shakes his hips and Keith loses the game. He drinks the losers cup, chokes down the vodka that was definitely mixed in, and ends up passed out on the couch.
When his friends wake him up an hour later, he realizes someone laid a blanket on him.
When Lance is sixteen, he’s in a bad place. Everything is just… hard. No, impossible. He never wants to get out of bed. He never wants to sleep. He never wants to wake up. Ever.
He can't shake this dead feeling in his chest as his grades fall off, and he stops eating, and he stops hanging out with friends, and he stops trying to wake up.
Lance has wished his soul color wasn’t red before but it's for a different reason now. The red is too tempting.
He knicks himself with a knife while cutting vegetables and doesn't flinch. He decides to go to his parents for help after that.
After a few weeks on depression medication, the fog begins to lift. Things start to get better.
Lance finally works up the energy and courage to apply to the Garrison.
He gets in.
Keith is sixteen when he wakes up one morning and the sky isn’t blue. It’s gray. Everything is gray. His soul color is gone.
His parents come rushing into his bedroom. Keith doesn’t turn to face them. His hands are tangled in his bedsheets and he can’t stop looking out his window at the gray sky. He feels like he’s going to pass out.
“Keith,” Allura guides his face towards her. “Keith, I need you to breath.”
He’s trying. He’s trying, but then he meets her eyes and he starts hyperventilating all over again.
“Your eyes aren’t blue,” he wheezes. “Your eyes aren’t blue anymore. What’s happening to me?”
“You’re going to be okay, Keith.” Shiro’s voice is calm. Keith watches distantly as Shiro exaggerates his breathing. “Breath with me.”
It takes Keith a few terrifying tries to get his lungs to agree with him but he finally copies Shiro. He nods as he begins to settle back into his skin.
Shiro sits down on the bed. “Alright, I don’t want you to panic. This could mean a few things. I know you’re thinking something happened to your soulmate. We can’t know for sure. But sometimes it’s something that’s affecting the emotional link between you two. It doesn’t have to mean the worst.”
“But how do I know?” Keith’s voice is still ragged.
Shiro takes Allura’s hand. Keith can’t see what color her nails are painted. “We just have to wait it out.”
It’s a cloudy day, not a streak of sun dappling the ground. The rain finally seems to be letting up, fading to a drizzle. Keith’s almost done walking home when he closes up his umbrella, shaking off the raindrops. He glances up at where the clouds are breaking and sees the palest hint of blue.
He runs the rest of the way home and shouts for his parents as soon as he’s in the door.
Keith is newly seventeen and slumped in the back of his math class at the Garrison. All he wants to do is get to the actual flying, racing past clouds and throwing himself into the stars’ orbits. Understanding the fundamentals of calculus isn’t helping him get there.
He watches over the shoulder of some boy in the front who’s frantically copying down examples. The boy’s got this glittery blue pen and it’s much more interesting to watch the ink slide from the tip than see what the professor is putting on the board.
That distracts Keith for about another five minutes before he grows bored again. He resists the temptation to slam his head against the desk.
As soon as class lets out, Keith leaps from his seat and races out to the flight simulator.
Lance is one semester into his first year at the Garrison and he loves it. He loves his classes, he loves the people here, he loves looking out the window and seeing rockets launch.
But love, of course, isn’t enough. Lance knew that. He was willing to work hard.
Still, it hurts when he sees his name at the very bottom of the flight test rankings. It hurts even more when he sees the name at the top. Keith Kogane, the boy renown for skipping class and sleeping through the ones he actually makes it to. His flight scores though… They’re amazing.
Lance looks back his name. It glows red with the other people who will be reassigned to cargo pilot if they stay in the bottom of the class.
He’s not going to let that happen.
“Keith! Keith!” Keith turns around just in time to see Pidge tackled by someone. It’s the boy from his math class, now wearing an obnoxious blue snapback and sunglasses. His hand is over Pidge’s mouth.
Keith raises an eyebrow as Pidge wrestles an arm free and gestures him over. He knows Pidge from the physics class they share and Pidge has been saying they wanted to introduce him to their friends. This isn’t quite how Keith imagined it going down though.
Keith starts making his way over and the boy lets go of Pidge, hissing something in their ear, before throwing a blinding smile Keith’s way.
“Keith,” Pidge pants, pushing their glasses back up the bridge of their nose. “This is my friend, Lance.”
Keith glances over at Lance. “Hey.” He means to be polite but it comes off as curt.
“So nice to meet you, Keith. Don’t worry about what you just saw, I promise I’m usually much more charming.” The sunglasses obscure Lance’s eyes. It makes it hard to tell whether he’s joking or not.
“Cool,” Keith says awkwardly.
Pidge lets the silence drag on before finally clapping their hands together. “Well, now you know each other! Great, me and Lance have some flight practice to do so we’ll catch you later, Keith.”
They rush off and by the time Keith answers, “Sure,” they’re already gone.
Lance doesn’t like Keith and everyone knows it. Well, everyone as in Hunk and Pidge. And maybe most of the class. And everyone who’s walked past him while he’s ranted. Everyone except Keith.
Here’s the thing: Keith is just so talented. And as far as Lance can tell, that’s all it is. Pure talent. No hard work. No drive. It doesn’t matter though because Keith has raw, natural skill and it frustrates Lance beyond belief.
The first time they met, Keith was so… abrupt. So clearly disinterested in Lance.
Lance hasn’t tried to approach Keith since but the crazy thing is, he kind of wants to try again and he’s 99% sure it’s because of Keith’s red jacket. It’s just the brightest thing in the room, always drawing Lance’s eye, and Lance has spent class periods staring at that jacket and letting his gaze wander up to Keith, and ripping his eyes away as soon as Keith shows any hint of noticing.
It’s impossible not to find Keith fascinating, the way he slouches in his chair all through math and his whip-fase reflexes as soon as he’s put in a flight simulator. There’s a difference in his eyes too. Normally they’re dead with boredom but Lance has seen them blaze in the past, sometimes when Keith is concentrating, other times when he yells.
Lance has very carefully avoided eye contact over the past few months, though Pidge tells him he’s obsessed. That’s why they introduced him to Keith. Lance still can’t believe that happened and that it went down so, so awkwardly. Lance is gonna kill them.
Lance groans as he walks down the hallway and thinks back on the incident. He scrunches his eyes shut, trying to dispel the memory, and collides with someone.
“Oh my god.” They both stumble backwards. “I’m so sor-” Lance starts apologizing and looks up.
His world explodes.
Everything is bright and vibrant and blinding. Lance inhales sharply and the… the… colors intensify. How could he have missed this, this beauty, this effervescence? He’s seen red breathe life through everything with blood but there’s so much more brilliant life in all these colors.
So much brilliant life in Keith’s eyes, the shade of gray Lance had called purple for so long, but they look completely different now. Deeper, like the swirl of the galaxies. Luminous.
And shocked. Utterly shocked.
“We’re…” Lance takes a step forward. “You see it too, right? Everything?” His voice is tinged with amazement.
There’s a quiet before Keith finally breathes, “Everything.”
Things start out slow. It’s dinner and dessert and the movies and getting to know each other. It’s walks in the park and looking at the stars and driving in the rain just to see rainbows, to see all the colors that suddenly saturate.
Their first date is all talking.
“Soulmates. I can’t believe we’re soulmates,” Lance says over his steaming coffee mug. “I guess Pidge tried to tell me, imagine if I listened sooner.”
“Listened to what?” Keith pops a cube of raw sugar in his mouth and Lance wrinkles his nose.
“Heathen, that’s supposed to go in- You know what, never mind. But yeah, they always said that the whole rivalry thing was less a rivalry thing and more a sexual tension thing.” Lance takes a sip of his coffee. He hisses at its heat and adds more milk.
“We had a rivalry? When?”
Lance gives Keith a flat look. “Come on, you know! Oh my god, do you- Oh no, no-” Lance groans. “I know you’re the prodigy pilot of the generation but come on, man. Did you even know I existed?”
“I knew,” Keith protested. “You- You alway had the blue pens! The glittery ones.”
Lance blinks at him for a long moment. “The pens… I guess I do have those, don’t I?” He takes another gulp of coffee. “Take what I can get, I guess.”
“I can, um… I can…” Keith picks at the scone in front of him before his gaze darts back up to Lance. “I can help you out sometime in the flight simulator. If you want.”
“You’d do that for me?” Lance’s voice goes soft.
Keith’s heart goes a little mushy and he nods and smiles. Lance glows as he smiles back.
Their fourth date, they talk about soul colors.
“So why do you think my soul color was red?” Lance asks innocently, but the stare he fixes on Keith is anything but casual.
“Red?” Keith scuffs his feet. “Maybe the jacket?”
“Come on, be serious!” Lance gives a playful shove to Keith’s shoulder.
“Yeah, yeah.” Keith rubs at the back of his neck. “There was a little bit where I was a really angry kid. Dad died when I was eight. I got shuffled around foster care for a couple of years before Shiro and Allura picked me up. It just felt like life wasn’t fair to me, you know? And I always miss my dad. Being happy felt like replacing him sometimes, so I was angry instead.”
Lance takes his hand and Keith stares. “Thank you for telling me. If you ever wanna talk…”
“Thanks.” Keith shifts, grips Lance’s hand a bit tighter. “What about you? The blue?”
“I grew up in Cuba, so there’s that. Loved the ocean. Still do, obviously. It’s crazy how different it is now. Now that I’ve met you, that is. I loved to swim and surf but I didn’t even know the water was so beautiful. Never got to see it the way I do now.” There’s more that Lance isn’t saying but Keith doesn’t push. They’ll get there.
“Hey, Lance? Can I ask you something?” They’re under the stars for their tenth date. It’s peaceful. And Keith, Keith desperately wants to know.
Lance hums and so Keith continues, “A couple of years ago, my soul color disappeared. Everything was black or white. No more blue. Was… Was that you? Did something happen?”
He can feel the way Lance stiffens next to him.
“I… I don’t want to hide this from you,” Lance starts. “Just… try not to judge me?” He barrels on, not even giving Keith the chance to reassure him. “When I was sixteen, I got diagnosed with depression. Everything was dark. I didn’t see the point in anything. It took me a while to talk to people about it and get help. I’m on meds now for it. Still.”
“Oh…” Keith props himself up to look at Lance. “I didn’t know.”
Lance finally meets his eyes. “Not a lot of people do. I’m a lot better now but it’s still a part of my story, yeah? And now I know I can get help.”
“You can always come to me for help too. If you want.”
“Thanks, Keith. And thanks for listening.”
Lance leans up to kiss him and that’s how their first kiss happens, on the dusty lawn outside of the Garrison, past midnight, under flickering stars. It’s perfect. It’s the first of many more.