Keith was so busy moving into his dorm that he completely forgot that he was supposed to meet his soulmate that day.
When he was very young, Keith had asked about the large metal bracelet that encased his arm. His father had sat him down on the couch and explained about soulmates, how humans always met their soulmates, how the clock was a countdown for that purpose, how there were different types of soulmates. At the time, Keith had been fascinated and, in the way of little kids, he’d asked a lot of questions. Without any hesitation, his father had answered them all.
It took Keith a year or so to realise that his father didn’t have soulmate watch, though the two of them lived alone. Keith asked about him and, again, his father sat him on the couch and, smiling sadly, he told Keith about his mother. How they’d met at a bad time in both of their lives, how they’d fallen instantly, how she had had to leave to return to her life’s work and that his father trusted her to come back to them when she was ready. Despite how sweetly his father talked about her, Keith had been irritated. She had just left them without explanation, something that Keith wasn’t ready to forgive her for.
His anger grew when he noticed how upset his father got, the nights of drinking, the tears he spilled. Whatever his mother was up to, she had left his father behind, not caring how he would hurt without her. These facts had him briefly obsessed with the bad stories of soulmates: the love turned to hatred and divorce after a quick wedding; those that hated the very thought of interacting with the other; people who felt they were entitled to their soulmate as if they were a possession.
One day, Keith looked down at the clock on his arm and hated it. He didn’t want to ever see his soulmate, and he didn’t want to know when it would happen. So, a couple of months after his father’s untimely death, when the stress got to be too much, Keith found a knife in his foster home and tried to remove the watch himself. It had not gone well - soulmate clocks could only be removed when the soulmates met. Instead, it earned him a trip to the hospital, being booted back to the orphanage and the added knowledge that the numbers had jumped down - he had actually sped up his meeting because of his actions.
After that, Keith took to covering up his clock as much as possible. Long sleeves and fingerless gloves were enough to keep anyone from glimpsing it. Whenever he took a shower or had a bath, he would resist looking at it, his bathing times lessening in an attempt to cover up as soon as possible. Every so often, he would check it, just to make sure that it was still far in the future. Sometimes, he was relieved by the sight of the numbers; other glances made his heart pound as he realised that either he or his soulmate had done something to speed up their meeting.
The last time that he had checked, Keith had noticed that he was going to meet his soulmate during the time he was starting at college. Due to a variety of circumstances (including money), Keith had taken a gap year before he started at his college of choice. So, a year older than most freshman, he had opted for being in the dorms since his last apartment’s rent had gone up. He dreaded being stuck with someone younger than him as a roommate, but he’d had no choice. Unfortunately, to add to the stress of packing and moving and the new classes, Keith’s soulmate was supposed to pop up almost as soon as Keith arrived there. He had had some issues and his moving in date had been pushed back by a few days. As such, he hadn’t checked his clock and thought he had enough time to plan how to be cooped up in his room, hidden from everyone when his clock would run out.
So, without a thought towards meeting his new roommate, Keith settled into his room. Since he was attending the prestigious Altea Academy on their fencing scholarship, the room was more like a tiny apartment. The front door opened into the living room and kitchenette area (with a larger cooking facility at the bottom of the building) where Keith had discovered an old, lumpy couch. In the cupboards had been a few chipped mugs and a bag of instant coffee. Another door led off to the left and took him into a narrow hallway.
There were three other doors. The one opposite the living area was the tiny bathroom. Keith grimaced at the the small space, noting that he barely had room to turn without banging his elbows off the toilet, sink and shower door. He had a feeling that it was going to be a nuisance.
At the back were two bedrooms that were a fair bit bigger than the other rooms. Keith figured it was so that he and his roommate had space to themselves. He chose the one on his right, putting his few boxes of stuff inside. Then he made the bed, unpacked a little, and went to meet Shiro so he could mooch food off of Adam.
He had completely forgotten that his roommate was also arriving that day and that he would be returning to unknown company. When he noticed the TV and games system that had been set up in the living room, he was abruptly reminded of that fact. Grimacing, he let the front door swing shut, the thud loud enough to attract attention from further inside the dorm.
“Oh, hey!” came a voice from the hallway, the door having been left ajar by the mystery college student. His voice was a little higher in tone than Keith’s and was rather pleasant on the ears. Keith wondered briefly if the guy was talkative and if he’d be able to listen to him.
“Hey,” Keith replied, making his way to the door.
“Sorry, I’m still in the middle of unpacking,” said the person. There was movement on the other side of the door and Keith paused, stepping back so the guy could enter the room. “It’s been kinda crazy today…”
The door opened wider and the boy stepped into the room. He was dark-skinned, chocolatey smooth. His brown hair perfectly fell around the shape of his head, curling at the ends, shining with lustre. Bright blue eyes shone from his face, glittering with cheer as he grinned at Keith. He was wearing a long-sleeved, blue top that he’d rolled the sleeves up; somehow that made Keith’s heart skip a beat, only to pound heavily as it started up again. The faded jeans he wore hung low on his hips and, since his shirt had ridden up on one side, Keith could see a sliver of exposed skin. A pair of socks decorated with fish adorned his wiggling toes as he came to a stop in front of Keith.
“Um,” Keith whispered, struck dumb by how attractive his roommate was.
“Hiya!” the guy said. “Name’s Lance.”
As soon as they’d introduced themselves, there was a familiar, horrible beeping sound, loud and piercing. It came from both Keith and Lance and was quickly followed by two clicks. Then a weight lifted from Keith’s arm. He glanced down, just in time to see that infuriating metal band slip from his arm, the clock flashing zeros as it fell to the ground. Looking up, he saw that Lance was also looking down at his arm in shock, his own clock rolling across the floor. Silence fell, broken only by distant voices that filtered in through the walls.
Eventually, Lance broke it, his face lighting up in a way that made him look beautiful. “Oh, my God! You- You’re my soulmate!”
“I…” was all Keith could manage.
“I was so focussed on unpacking that I lost track of time!” Lance continued. “I was planning on going out with my friend tonight. Which… I should probably let him know that I’m not gonna make it - he’s probably already messaged me.”
“You can still go out,” Keith found himself saying.
Lance blinked at him in confusion. “Why would I? I’ve been waiting for this day all my life, so I totally wanna get to know you and stuff. We can-”
“I-I can’t. Forgot… Uh, I’ve forgotten… stuff. That I need now.”
Keith backed away, aiming for the front door. “I need to go buy that stuff that I needed. And there’s… other things I need to do before I go to bed. So I’ll see you… later.” With that, Keith turned and rushed out of the door. He didn’t stop until he was outside of the building, his breathing heavy, heart rabbiting away in his chest in a panic.
How could this have happened? He was supposed to have avoided the meeting in any way possible and, instead, he walked right into it. Tears pricked at his eyes. Starting college was stressful enough - having to room with his soulmate was going to be worse. Maybe Lance was attractive and maybe he hadn’t jumped straight into declaring his love like most people did, but Keith had never wanted to meet him.
Maybe he could move dorms, but, right now, he was heading back to Shiro’s so he could get his breath back.
As it turned out, ‘my roommate is my soulmate and I don’t want to be around him’ or even just ‘I don’t like the guy I just met’ wasn’t a good enough reason for Keith to change dorms. There was nothing for him to do but grit his teeth and bear it - and to avoid Lance as much as possible.
After the night that Keith had run out on him, Lance had been trying to catch him to talk. At first, it was all friendly; a bright grin, a cheerful greeting, a ‘let’s chat’. But it quickly became snappy; angry glowers, short words, Keith’s name said in that tone that meant disappointment and anger. Every time that Keith entered the flat or left it, Lance was in the living area, trying to catch him. Keith was always quick to rush out of their dorm and to class or the library, or to dart into his room and the silence there.
Eventually, Lance’s enthusiasm and anger seemed to peter out. After two weeks of Keith avoiding him, Lance’s greetings began to be slow to come. He sounded so dejected that it tugged at Keith’s heartstrings, though he valiantly fought against it. Lance would be able to get over him , after all. They barely knew each other so he was sure that Lance would bounce back later in the year. Next semester, he would request a room without Lance, and everything would work themselves out.
That night, though, Keith came home to find Lance on the couch, slumped over one arm and watching some sort of reality TV show. He glanced up at Keith and quickly looked away. His mouth opened for just an instant before he let it fall shut without a sound. It unnerved Keith, and he shifted where he stood. Then he heard the word ‘soulmate’ on the TV and rushed through to his room like he normally did.
Later, once he’d gone through his stash of drinks and snacks in lieu of emerging from his room for proper food and an interrogation, Keith had to go to the bathroom. Grimacing, he made his way to his door and gritted his teeth, hoping that Lance wouldn’t notice him emerging. Slowly, carefully, he opened the door and peered down the hallway. There was no movement and no sound, save for the beating of his heart, far too loud for Keith’s liking. Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door open the rest of the way and stepped into the hall. When there was still no sign of Lance, he darted down to the bathroom and slipped inside, breathing a sigh of relief when the lock was in place, his protection from his own soulmate. He bit his lip and shook his head; his own thoughts rebelled against his avoidance of Lance.
Once he’d finished, he opened the door with the belief that Lance wouldn’t notice him if he hadn’t already. He made his way more leisurely along the hall, his heart rate at a normal level. There was a heavy silence over the whole apartment, only muffled voices from outside filtering in, though they got quieter as he moved further to the back of the dorm. All he could hear was the quiet sobbing coming from Lance’s room.
Keith froze. Lance was… crying? Why was he crying? What was he upset about? Was it Keith’s fault?
Feeling sick, Keith stood between the two doors, wondering what he should do. Should he ignore it and return to his room? What if it was because of Keith avoiding him? Keith had heard plenty of stories of rejected and abandoned soulmates dying because of it, whether by their own hands or from being struck by a terminal illness. Was Keith killing Lance?
Uncomfortable with that notion, Keith crept to Lance’s door and paused, listening intently. All he could hear were trembling breaths, sniffles, and broken sobs that broke his heart. He clutched at his own chest, wondering why he cared so much. Of course, he wasn’t that heartless, but he’d never hesitated like this with others he had seen crying. Usually he took out the person causing them grief, but Keith had a feeling that that would be a little harder to do this time.
Taking a deep breath, Keith cautiously opened the door. Inside, he found that Lance had made full use of his room, compared to his bare one. Clothes were draped over his desk chair and flopped over his books there. A towel had been dropped in a corner of the room, presumably after his usual shower. The walls and wardrobe were covered in posters and fan art. They were mostly of bands and that TV show about the alien lions, but one or two were about his apparent passions: marine animals and astronomy and planes. A vanity had been squeezed into the limited space provided and it was littered with bottles and tubs and hairbrushes. The bedding was a dark blue, so dark it was nearly black. When Keith took a moment to squint at it, he realised that there were little dots and lines on it, too dull to see them clearly. It took him a moment to realise that they formed constellations and that it was probably glow-in-the-dark.
Cute, Keith thought before another sob wrenched him from that train of thought.
Leaving the door ajar, Keith approached the curled up form of his roommate. He was clinging to a pillow, his face buried in it. His shoulders trembled, the red shirt he’d been wearing now crumpled. The black leggings had ridden up his legs, showing off his shin and ankles above his fuzzy, blue socks. Carefully, Keith laid a hand on Lance’s thigh to get his attention.
With a choked gasp, Lance jolted upright, staring at Keith with wide, wet eyes. Tears trailed down his cheeks, taking a different path now; there were tracks leading to the left of his face and into his hair. His shirt had wet spots on it, as if he had started crying while he was upright. Lance was a mess: Keith still thought he looked as beautiful as the day they’d met.
“What-? Keith? What-What’re you doing in here?” Lance asked, his hands flapping around as he tried to decide what to do. When he finally reached up to wipe away his tears, Keith grabbed hold of his wrist, ignoring the way his heart picked up speed in his own panic.
“Why are you crying?” Keith didn’t want to be presumptuous, after all. What if this wasn’t to do with him and he blundered in to upset Lance all the more?
Unfortunately, it seemed it was to do with him. “You… You’re really asking me that?!” Lance demanded, his voice rising in volume. He yanked his arm from Keith’s grip. Even as his lips trembled with grief, Lance snapped, “Why the heck do you think I’m crying?!”
“I… I didn’t…” Keith paused and grimaced, knowing that what he said next was going to make everything worse. “I didn’t think you were that upset about it.”
“‘Didn’t think’-?!” Lance pulled himself up so that he could glare at Keith. “And why wouldn’t I be upset that my soulmate rejected me?!”
“I didn’t reject you,” Keith made the mistake of saying. It made Lance let out a noise similar to a growl and Keith hastily tried to correct himself. “I mean… I didn’t reject you. I just… don’t want a soulmate. They’re nothing special-” Keith stopped himself and gritted his teeth, knowing how that had sounded.
“Hah!” There was a silence as Keith averted his gaze, wondering how he could explain himself without upsetting Lance any more. “You’re probably right about that,” Lance finally said, making Keith’s head jerk up, his eyes wide at the dejected tone. Tears were rolling down Lance’s cheeks once more, though he didn’t bother to try wiping them away.
“I mean,” Lance continued, sounding equal parts distraught and livid, “who would want someone that even their soulmate doesn't want?”
That stabbed at Keith, reminding him of his father and the whole reason he didn't like the idea of soulmates. Despite his guilt, his own anger surfaced: how dare Lance just assume that Keith should just accept him. “Shut up,” he snapped. “You don't know anything about me.”
“Of course I don-” Lance cut himself off, staring at Keith. Strangely, Keith felt as if his very soul was being scrutinised by the other boy and he resisted squirming. Instead, he scowled at him until Lance's face twisted into grief. Confused, Keith's eyes widened and he opened his mouth to ask what the heck was going on. Lance beat him to it. “Oh. You... Did your parents...?”
Alarmed that Lance had managed to figure out what was bothering him just from that, Keith looked away, focussing on the Leo constellation on the bedspread. “They... were in love,” Keith muttered, aware that he didn't have much choice but to tell him. “But... My mom left us.”
There was a silence that was only broken by Lance's sniffles, though he seemed to have mostly stopped crying. “Have you seen her?” Lance finally asked. “Since then?”
“No. I'm... not even sure what she looked like. I had to leave all my photos behind when I went-” Keith stopped, hesitant.
“Where did you go, Keith?” said Lance, his voice soft and, somehow, comforting.
Keith scowled. He didn't want to talk about this, not with his 'soulmate'. Yet, when he looked up at Lance and found him watching Keith, a tear slowly rolling down his cheek, Keith felt compelled to answer. “I... My dad died so I ended up in an orphanage. If she'd been there, I wouldn't have- My dad would've still been alive.”
Lance blinked at him. “Are you talking about the whole 'soulmates die if they're abandoned' thing? Dude, that's a myth – you know that, right? There's no actual evidence of that being a thing.”
“But if she'd been there, my dad would've had someone to help when he got ill!” Keith snapped, glowering at Lance.
“Oh. I suppose that's true.” Lance paused, looking Keith over. “Is that why...?” He didn't need to finish the question.
“Yes,” Keith muttered, feeling embarrassed and annoyed and petulant. How was Lance doing this? Was it a soulmate thing? He hated that thought and he clenched his fists, pressing them into his lap.
“You do realise there's more than one kind of soulmate, right?”
Keith's head shot up, eyes wide. His heart clenched for a moment before the pain from his mother's departure seemed to ease, just a little. Sure, his father had once told him about them, but, after everything, Keith had only ever thought of soulmates as people you were forced to be romantic with. Lance’s comment surprised him and he couldn’t think of what to say. “What?” was all he managed in the end.
“Everyone has a soulmate,” Lance explained as he reached up to wipe at his tear-stained face. “But not everyone is a romantic, or someone who likes the idea of romance. Like you. Not everyone experiences their parents breaking up like that, though, but they still might not want to develop a romantic relationship with their soulmate.”
“Then... Then, what do they do?” asked Keith, feeling a little off-balance. Why had he never thought of that before? What was it that he’d forgotten through the pain of his parents leaving him? Was it possible that he and Lance weren’t going to be romantic, that he could finally come to terms with having a soulmate? And yet…
“Well, some people form sexual soulmates. It's a little more than that... Like a friends-with-benefits thing.” Lance grimaced. “Those couples face a lot of stigma, unfortunately. And then there's platonic soulmates. They're just really good friends who, like, cuddle or whatever when they need or want to.”
“That seems...” Keith frowned. Platonic soulmates sounded better than putting everything onto someone's relationship as soulmates rather than their love. But, the more he thought about being like that with Lance, something felt off, as if there should be more. However, the option made him feel a little more at ease with the fact that Lance was his soulmate.
“Better?” Lance finished for him.
“I... don't know,” Keith admitted. “I-I need to think about it.”
“Really? You will?” Lance's eyes had lit up and, as he wiped the last of his tears from his chin, he looked beautiful. Keith was shocked at the realisation, but he quickly squashed it, confused and alarmed.
“I... suppose I owe you for making you cry.”
Lance smiled at him, a bittersweet smile that made the guilt flood Keith again while he felt relieved that Lance was still capable of that. “True.”
“I'm just- I think... I just need to-” Keith waved a hand, wishing he was better with words.
“Hey,” said Lance, drawing Keith's attention back to him. “Don't beat yourself up so much. I... I get it. A little. Um. Not entirely, 'cause my family are all so in love with each other and I've never dreaded meeting you so I can't totally relate. But, uh, I get that you need... time... right?”
Keith nodded. “I still...” He trailed off, not sure he wanted to tell Lance that he wanted to hide from him, despite the strange feelings stirring within him that made him want to see Lance smile as brightly as he did on their first meeting.
“It's okay,” said Lance. “Seriously,” he added, when Keith opened his mouth to say something, maybe to apologise. “Listen, how about we do this: we get to know each other as friends and roommates, not as soulmates. You with me?”
“You... You don't want me to think of you as my soulmate?” Keith asked, perplexed. Hadn't Lance said that he'd been excited to meet him or something? Why would he say that?
“Yeah! Exactly!” Lance leaned towards Keith, letting Keith see how his lashes were still stuck together from the tears, and the redness of his eyes. “We can be friends. We don't even tell anyone.”
“How are we gonna do that?” Keith demanded. “People will notice.”
“No. No, they won't,” said Lance, scrambling from the bed. Keith shifted out of his way and watched as Lance hurried over to his vanity. He opened the drawer and pulled out a large, fluffy wristband. Keith stared at it, wondering what it was. “Look.” Lance quickly put it on his left arm, where his clock had been. With it on, no-one would be able to tell whether he still had his clock or not. “It's called a soul-band,” Lance explained. “It's for people who don't like to be asked questions about their clock or soulmate, but can't wear long sleeves to cover it up.”
“Won't people ask if you just start wearing it?”
“Actually...” Lance looked away from Keith, biting his lip. “There... There was a time when I was feeling... Well, it doesn't matter. Point is, I've had this for ages, and I have a spare one somewhere. None of my older friends will notice – hopefully, they don't remember the date I was meant to meet you – and any of my new ones...” Lance glanced at Keith from the corner of his eye. “They're used to it.”
“So, I'll be fine. And I can dig out that spare one or buy another one for you, since I know where to find them.”
“I can't let you do that,” Keith protested.
“You can pay me back later,” Lance said, waving him off with the wristband. “I mean, I expect a present at Christmas, you know. ‘Thanks for being the worst soulmate-’”
“Lance!” Keith exclaimed, aghast. “You-! I-” When Lance grinned at him, Keith ducked his head. “Thank you.”
“That’s what friends are for, Keithy boy.”
Keith grimaced. “Is this what being friends with you is like? Can I take it back?”
Laughing, Lance returned to the bed, sitting down beside Keith, still clutching the wristband. “See? We’re getting along already!”
With a small smile, Keith nodded. Then, when he realised that all he was doing was staring into those blue eyes, Keith quickly looked away. “I, uh, I’ll let you get some sleep or whatever.”
“You don’t need to go,” Lance said, smiling slightly. “We can talk if you want?”
“I… do,” Keith found himself saying. “Don’t you want to get cleaned up, though? Not-Not that you look bad!” Keith quickly added. “You look good. I mean-”
Again, Lance laughed, the sound pretty. It made Keith’s heart thump heavily and raised his spirits even more. Lance stood and said, “Yeah, actually. Thanks. I just wanted to ma- ask. Before I went, I mean.”
“I’ll wait here,” Keith told him, aware that Lance seemed to think he’d leave before he returned.
Lance’s smile grew and he nodded at Keith. “I’ll be right back.”
Once Lance had left, leaving behind the wristband, Keith stared around the room, noting all the different interests that Lance seemed to have. Keith could probably figure out everything he needed to know about Lance from them. However, Keith found himself wanting to hear Lance say it, hear him talk endlessly about everything he loved.
If things went well, maybe Keith would be one of those things one day - not because he was Lance’s soulmate, but because Keith was Keith.