“Oooh, I know,” says Matt, as they turn down the hall towards the physics class they’re in together. “Dye your hair.”
“Dye my hair?” Shiro sputters.
He’s not sure why he’s shocked, honestly. Matt is capable of far more drastic suggestions, and Shiro should’ve thought twice before asking a question like how can I get the professors to stop pointing me out as an example to live up to in every class because it makes me want to die of embarrassment and also guarantees that you will continue to be my only friend at this school, but he didn’t. Oh well, he’s allowed occasionally momentary lapses of judgment, he tells himself, even as he regrets everything.
“Yeah,” says Matt. He plops down against the wall in the hallway across from the classroom.“Dye it—like, purple, maybe. Or a really nice neon green.”
“Matt,” Shiro groans, reluctantly settling beside him and pulling out his homework folder, just to check everything’s there. “I’m not looking to get a pile of demerits for non-regulation appearance.”
“You should already have demerits for your bangs,” Matt points out. “I get them at least once a week for letting my hair touch the collar in the back. Face it, Shiro, you’re going to have to do something a little extreme to lose the deeply-held, horribly misguided respect they’ve accorded you. And you already said no to anything that’ll impact your grades.”
“Why did I say anything in the first place,” Shiro complains.
“Because you want to make friends with the rebellious youth,” says Matt. “And I am the expert on rebellion. Listen, it wouldn’t have to be all your hair. Just bleach your bangs and dye that. It’d be cool.”
“No,” says Shiro.
“Listen,” says Matt. “Aren’t you getting an award presented at the ceremony next Monday?”
“Exemplary citizenship among first-year students,” Shiro recites, scrunching up his face. “Yep. Why?”
“Because I could totally get supplies to do it this weekend.” Matt’s voice is carefully neutral. “Iverson would flip the fuck out at the ceremony. You’d be a school hero.”
“Right,” says Shiro. “Because that’s what I need. Hero status for dyeing my hair purple.”
“I mean,” Matt says. “Technically, you could get hero status for me dyeing your hair p—”
He shuts up as Shiro gives a significant jerk of his head. The professor is coming down the hall, opening the classroom door.
“Just think about it,” Matt whispers, as they file in with the others. “Okay? Just—think about it.”
Shiro thinks about it. He thinks about having casual friends, people to high-five in the commissary and joke with between classes. He thinks about Iverson’s face and he thinks about how delighted Matt would be.
And then he thinks about his scholarship, and he thinks about the fact that he’d have to cut his bangs after, probably, because bleach is permanent, and he tells Matt no.
In the castle, the first night, he looks at himself in the mirror. Not with his shirt off; he’s not brave enough yet to face the scaring, the ugliness where his prosthetic is grafted on. Just at his face, which is so much older than he remembers it. The scar across his nose. His bangs.
He’d known they’d gone white; they were long enough to hover at the edge of his vision. And he’d had a brief glimpse of them, too, during his escape, when he’d found something sharp and the best reflective surface available so he could cut his hair. So he could resemble his old self in that way, at least. But he hadn’t thought of Matt, then. He hadn’t thought of anything, too busy trying to make himself feel like he lived in his own body.
But he thinks of Matt now, and of Iverson, and he half-wishes Iverson had been there when the Garrison crew strapped him down in the Galra pod. It was easier, sometimes, if he could make fun of it all. If he could cling to something from before.
“I’ll just put some of that goo in it,” he mutters to himself. “That’d be neon enough.”
Then he turns away from the mirror, turns out the light—but not before he pictures Matt beside him, laughing, and regrets.