Keith would have been lying if he’d said he wasn’t terrified of meeting his soulmate.
He’d sit for hours staring down at the timer on his wrist, watching it silently tick down the minutes until he met the person he’d been destined to be with. There was just one issue with that. One huge, blaring issue.
Keith didn’t want to meet them.
Despite knowing the world at large around him revolved on the idea of romance and soulmates, Keith just didn’t feel that way about people. So while his classmates chattered excitedly about how much time was left on their timers, Keith glared at his and wished what it was promising just wouldn’t come to pass.
He’d spent a lot of his life feeling broken. Every time he tried to open up about not wanting to meet his soulmate, he was given looks that made him feel wrong and strange, like he didn’t belong. Maybe they were right. Maybe there was something wrong with him.
So instead, Keith internalized all of that, staring down at the clock on his wrist and watching as it counted the minutes down.
One day, five hours, and forty-three minutes.
Keith sighed, letting his head rest back against the wall behind his bed.
There was a gentle knock on his door. Keith craned his neck to look at it as it opened and Shiro popped his head in through the crack. Keith could barely make out Adam behind him, heading to the kitchen with an empty mug in hand.
“Hey, bud,” Shiro gave him a smile. “Can I come in?”
“Um...sure,” Keith said, picking at a loose thread on one of his blankets. Awkwardly, Shiro stepped into the room, leaving the door open behind him should Adam choose to join. With slow, careful movements, Shiro sank down on the corner of Keith’s bed and watched him silently for a moment. He seemed fixated on the inside of Keith’s right wrist - where his timer was still ticking away soundlessly.
“You excited?” Shiro asked finally. Keith shifted, awkwardly covering his timer with his free hand.
“I guess,” he muttered.
Shiro’s eyebrows furrowed. “Don’t worry. Once you meet them, everything will just... click.”
Keith didn’t have a response for that. He’d heard something similar with everyone who’d ever met their soulmates. His dad, a teacher who shared way too much personal information, and now Shiro and Adam. Things would feel right. You’d have a special connection from the moment you met and the rest would be history.
Except Keith just kept feeling wrong.
He wet his lips carefully before speaking. “I--It’s not that I’m scared o-or anything I just…” he pulled both his knees up to his chin and squeezed his eyes shut. “I just...don’t want to meet them,” he finished, feeling hot and ashamed at his own words.
Across from him, Shiro’s forehead creased with confusion. “What do you mean?”
Keith curled tighter into himself. “I-I don’t know, I just don’t want to meet them. I d-don’t--I just…” he shut his eyes, “I don’t feel that way about people.” He let all of his breath escape him in quick exhale. He didn’t want to look at Shiro, afraid to see his reaction. Then, in an embarrassing moment of weakness, Keith opened his mouth again. “Am I broken?”
“What?” Shiro gaped at him. “What, no, Keith, you’re not broken at all!”
“Then why do I feel like this?” Keith couldn’t seem to stop himself. “Am I broken for not feeling the same way as everyone else? Am I unlovable?”
“Keith, no, no,” Shiro put his hand gently on the back of Keith’s neck and pulled him into his chest. “You’re not broken. And there are... so many different kinds of love and it’s okay if you don’t want the kind everyone else does. Your soulmate will understand that.”
“What if they don’t?”
Shiro’s words were probably meant to be reassuring, but they just made the pit in Keith’s stomach even deeper.
That was all that was left on Keith’s timer. He stared at it during class, watching as it ticked down. Scenarios whirled around in his head. Maybe they were going to get a random seat rearrangement in the middle of his astrophysics class. Maybe someone was going to burst in through the door looking specifically for him because they already knew and they’d always known and-
Keith’s head shot up. He could tell by the snickers of his classmates that his teacher had been calling his name for quite a long time. He flushed and turned his wrist over to hide the timer from his curious tablemate.
“Yes, sir?” He asked weakly.
“Since you seem to be paying so much attention,” his teacher said dryly, waving a thick manilla folder. “Can you run these up to Mr. Iverson for me?”
Keith nodded, planting both palms on the table and heading over to grab the folder being brandished at him. He tugged his sleeve down on his wrist so his more eagle-eyed classmates couldn’t see how little time was left on his timer.
He took the folder with a murmured apology and headed out into the hallway. With an anxious glance down at his timer, he realized the time had continued to tick down. Bringing him ever closer to the moment where he’d meet his soulmate.
He watched as he traced the familiar hallways of the Garrison, hardly having to look where he was going to know where Iverson’s office was. His mind continued to churn out scenario after scenario until the clock ticked down, the last 50 seconds dwindling into nothing and then-
In retrospect, it was the most cliche way Keith could ever had encountered his soulmate. Literally running into them and knocking them both over, sending papers from the folder flying in every direction. He handed hard, yelping and rubbing his bruised tailbone.
“Hey, watch where you’re going!” Someone told him. Their voice was high-pitched and annoyed.
Keith’s breath hitched as soon as he looked up, with his right wrist still half-held up. The person across from them rubbed the back of their head, messy auburn hair standing in every direction and enormous, round glasses that magnified their honey brown eyes.
Keith’s timer had ticked down to nothing.
“Ow, Jesus-” his soulmate said. “All I wanted was to use the freaking bathroom-” she cut herself short after taking one look at Keith’s expression - at how pale he must have been - and then her eyes shot to the timer on her own wrist. Her next words, Keith thought, described their situation pretty accurately. “Oh fuck.”
Keith’s soulmate at least had the decency to help him gather up the fallen paper from his folder and then deliver them in all of their wrinkled glory to Iverson on the fourth floor. After that, however, she’d given him a dark look and told him to meet her in the courtyard during lunch. And with her cryptic words, she left him, practically sprinting down the hallway to head back to whatever class she had at the moment.
Keith felt like he was in a stupor the moment he came back to class. His teacher reprimanded him for taking too long but Keith didn’t do much but nod along with the scolding until he was allowed to sit back down and stare blankly at the board until the lunch bell rang.
There had been no spark. There had been no click like Shiro had said there would. It only solidified the brick that had made a home in his stomach.
When the bell rang, Keith felt like a prisoner on death row headed to his execution as he made his way to the courtyard. Surely this was it. When his own damn soulmate told him that he was broken - unlovable - just like all his foster parents had said, just like his classmates had implied, just like-
Someone was waving at him from the fountain. Keith took a moment to squint through the sun to see who it was.
It was his soulmate.
With dread sinking into his stomach, Keith offered a half-hearted wave in return and trudged to seat on the fountain’s edge with them in the shade of a well-trimmed tree. He set his bag down beside him and stares pointedly at the trunk, trying hard not to think about the stare his soulmate was burning into the side of his face.
Then, she spoke. “So, what’s your name?”
“Keith,” he answered with a sideways glance. “You?”
“Pidge,” she sighed and kicked her feet against the stone fountain. “Alright, Keith, I’m gonna be level with you. I’m not into this whole...soulmate thing.”
Keith had never been more relieved in his entire life. “You’re—You’re not?”
Pidge shook her head. “Nope. I’m asexual aromantic. It basically means I don’t see feel romantic or sexual attraction,” she added at the confused look on Keith’s face.
Keith was fairly sure Pidge had punched him. Why else would he have been feeling so winded? Or maybe it had something more to do with the fact that what Pidge had just said described him perfectly. It felt right.
Something must have shown on his face because Pidge narrowed her eyes at him. “What?”
“Nothing I just-” Keith inhaled and then choked on his relief. “I just never thought you’d...feel the same. You know?”
Pidge’s expression shifted so quickly Keith could not even hope to figure out what she was thinking. It seemed she settled on pure shock, though, from the way her mouth fell open and she stared at Keith like he’d grown a second head.
“Wait, you mean you’re not interested in people like that, either?” She asked. Keith shook his head.
“Wow,” Pidge leaned back so far Keith was afraid she’d topple into the fountain. “I was so afraid you’d be like those...asshole soulmates that forced me into being and doing stuff I didn’t want to.”
“Yeah,” Keith thought back to everything he’d been told and nodded in agreement. “Me too.”
“So instead of soulmates...what if we just stay friends?” Pidge suggested. She turned to him with a huge grin. “Or, better yet, best friends. Best friends who are soulmates but who cares about that part.”
Keith tried and failed to swallow back the laugh that bubbled up from his throat. He held his hand out for Pidge to shake. “I’d say you’d have yourself a deal.”
Pidge shook his hand and then regarded him with a closed fist. When Keith tapped his own against her’s, she made an explosion noise, wiggling her fingers dramatically. A grin stole its way across Keith’s face and he mirrored it. She turned to dig in her bag for a beat-up looking metal box with a sandwich in a baggie inside.
“Hey, Pidge?” Keith watched as she unwrapped her sandwich. “Um...one last thing.”
“Can you tell me more about asexuality and aromanticism?” Keith asked hesitantly, wondering what she’d say. He’d finally found something that felt right - that felt like him - and didn’t make him feel broken.
It seemed, from the look in Pidge’s eye, that she understood. She clapped him on the shoulder and nodded, digging into her sandwich. She grinned at him, peanut butter smeared on her nose.
“’Course, Keith,” she hummed. Keith’s shoulders slumped in relief and he reached for the sandwich of his own that Shiro had packed for him that morning.
It felt good, he realized as he bit down. To finally have a label for what he had been feeling his entire life. It felt right.
Maybe meeting his soulmate hadn’t been so bad after all.