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Spilled Ink

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‘Hello,’ Shiro writes, black ink on tan skin, ‘are you there?’

He doesn’t really expect an answer, but writing to his soulmate has become a habit since he started when he was thirteen. In a world where whatever your soulmate writes on his or her skin appears on yours, eighteen-year-old Takashi Shirogane has accepted that he might—might—not have a soulmate. But he writes anyway, because he’s seen the facts. The connection between soulmates doesn’t settle until puberty, with a few cases happening in their late teens or childhood, and even fewer cases happening in adulthood. (If a person’s soulmate bond still hasn’t settled after they hit thirty, the chances of them having a soulmate is close to nil, and—god, Shiro hopes that isn’t him because he’s seen what his parents have and he wants that.)

There’s no answer today either.

Chapter Text

Katie doesn’t know if she believes in soulmates. Oh, she’s seen her parents, grown up around them and heard their stories, but the soulmate phenomenon just doesn’t make much sense! What makes two people soulmates? How are they chosen? How does the connection work?

Still, her father makes her promise to give her ‘soulmate’ a chance, so she does. She scribbles ‘Hi’s and ‘Good morning’s onto her arm, and doodles tiny robots when she’s bored. She draws stickmen comics and memes with bright colored pens, and makes corny science jokes she knows are lame. Rarely does a day go by without her arms being marked in some manner. So one day, when a response appears (‘Hello’) in black, angular calligraphy, her first thought is ‘Oh, there’s writing on my arm,’ then ‘Quiznacks, they have beautiful handwriting”. There’s a beat of silence as realization sinks in and, ‘OhquiznackssomeonejustrepliedwhatdoIdohowdidthishappenIhaven’tevenstartedpubertyyetwhatdoIsay???’.

She’s running to her father’s study when she notices another sentence appears on the underside of her left forearm. ‘Are you my soulmate?’ it says, and it makes her pause long enough to snap out of the panic clouding her mind. She hesitates, but grabs a pen from her brother’s room and replies.

‘I think so,’ she writes, her bright green chicken-scrawl staining the underside of her wrist. ‘Are you mine?’

She holds her breath.

A beat.

Then, slowly, careful strokes mark her skin—

 ‘I hope so.’

Something warm wells in her chest and the beginnings of a smile tug at her lips. ‘You know what?’ She thinks, surprised by herself, as she writes down her own reply. ‘Me too.’

Chapter Text

Six months after his soul connection settles, Shiro still can’t help the thrilled grin that grows on his face every time he sees the bright ink and messy handwriting of his soulmate. Most of his nights now are spent conversing with Pidge (‘Call me Pidge. Stupid soul connection doesn’t transmit our real names. WHY?’). His limbs become murals of black and multi-colored scribblings about anything and everything under the sun (‘Okay. Serious question: Star Trek or Star Wars?’). In the day, the state of his skin is almost the same—Shiro doesn’t get to answer much, but Pidge seems content to paint his skin with random thoughts and doodles, and calculations for whatever project his soulmate is working on most of the time. Shiro grins to himself during class as another of his soulmate’s ramblings inks itself onto his skin. Life at the Garrison has never been brighter.

That night, Shiro comes across the Garrison Commander in a corridor on his way back to his room. “Sir!” He greets, saluting, and the commander zeroes in on his wrist.

“SHIROGANE!” Commander Iverson bellows.

Shiro follows the commander’s gaze and winces but straightens up even more. His shirt sleeve had ridden up in his salute, exposing Pidge’s latest creations. “Sir!” He says.

“What did I say about professionalism being a key quality of a good soldier?” The commander barks. “This is the third time, Cadet. One more, and I’m kicking you out of the Garrison!” The vein on Commander Iverson’s temple is pulsing, which is mildly worrying, and the commander lets that warning ring in the silence. Then his hard stare uncharacteristically softens.

Shiro looks at him warily. “Sir?”

“At ease, Cadet,” the commander sighs.

Shiro drops his salute.

“Look, Shirogane,” Iverson says, leaning forward—and Shiro is suddenly glad that the particular corridor they are in is deserted at this hour—“I don’t want to expel you. You’re the best pilot in your class. You have potential, and I don’t want to see that wasted.” Then Iverson’s voice hardens, and the familiar countenance of the strict Garrison Commander returns, “which is what will happen if you keep disobeying orders to be professional and to keep your arms clear when you’re on-duty.

“The Garrison has no use for disobedient soldiers. Remember that, Cadet.”

Shiro resists the urge to grimace. “Yes, sir,” he says.

Iverson gives him a sharp nod. “Good,” he says. “Now as you were.”

“Sir!” Shiro says and salutes him off.

“Cadet,” the commander says, dipping his head once and walking away.

As the commander turns the corner, Shiro flops bonelessly against a wall and groans. He doesn’t want to ask Pidge, his soulmate, to stop writing to him, even if it’s only during the day, but he doesn’t want to be kicked out of the Garrison either. Exploring space is his dream, and he doesn’t want to jeopardize that. However, seeing that converting to regular long sleeves didn’t work out after last time…

Shiro runs a hand through his hair and pushes himself up. His shirt sleeve catches his eye, and as he makes his way towards his room, Shiro stares thoughtfully at the bright pink scrawl marking his wrist. He hums. ‘Maybe I should invest in some skintight clothing?’

Chapter Text

In the beginning, Katie isn’t actually sure what she was supposed to do with a soulmate. Should she stop doodling on her arms or using her skin as scratch paper? Should she stick to words only? Should she just wait for her soulmate to write to her before answering? Her indecision lasts a day before her father pulls her aside and asks her why her arms were blank.

“I don’t know, dad,” she says, rubbing her arms. “What am I supposed to do? Say? What if they’re busy? What if I bother them and they hate me—which should be fine because I really don’t need them and soulmates are completely unscientific so I shouldn’t bother and—”

“Stop right there, Katie,” her father says, laying a hand on her head. “If you care that much about soulmate bonds being scientific, I’ll give you some journals regarding the phenomenon.”

Katie gasps, and glares at her father. “You knew,” she says.

Her father chuckles. “Well, I was going to wait a little longer,” he teases her and ruffles her hair. “You were just so cute going around trying to discover a scientific explanation for soulmates. I was looking forward to seeing your next experiment. The last one with the pigeons was—”

“Nope!” Katie exclaims, covering her father’s mouth. She’s tomato red. “Nope! Nopenopenopenope! That did not happen. We are not talking about that. Ever.”

Her father laughs, and pulls her hands away from his face. Then his face sobers and he crouches down to look her in the eyes. “Katie,” he says, “I know you’re nervous. I know that talking to your soulmate those first few weeks after your soulmate bond settles is daunting and scary. You don’t know what to do or say or when to write to them without bothering them.” Her father quirks a smile, and his gaze turns fondly nostalgic. “There are so many unknown variables in the problem that it becomes really hard for you to—to compute. To solve.”

There’s a beat of silence as Katie’s father visibly shakes himself from his thoughts. He looks at her again.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is,” he says, standing up, “just be yourself. Your soulmate is the person who could be the perfect match for you. The other half of your soul. But that’ll never happen if you don’t try.”

“But what do I do?” Katie protests.

Her father laughs and pulls her into a hug. “Just keep doing what you were doing before the soulmate bond settled. Talk to him, Katie.”

“You sure?” Katie asks, burying herself in his hug.

“Definitely sure,” her father says. “You know I love you, right?”

Katie nods into the hug. “Yeah.”

“And that you’ll always be my baby girl?”

Katie’s head jerks back. Her face is burning. “Dad!” She whines. “I’m ten years old! I’m not a baby anymore!”

“You sure?” Her father grins teasingly. “You seem pretty small to me.”

“Daaaad!”

Months after the fact, Katie still has some mixed feelings about the subject of soulmates, but with every passing day, White (‘Most people call me -----’ ‘What? Call you what?’ ‘-----. It means white.’ Sorry, your name didn’t appear. Can I call you White instead?’) is changing that. It certainly helps that her father gave her scientific journals about the soulmate phenomenon, but who cares about that, right? Right? Right. (She’s still sulking that he kept them secret from her in the first place.)

Chapter Text

Two years after Shiro’s soulmate bond settles, Shiro and his soulmate have settled into a comfortable routine of checking up on each other during the day and having long conversations into the night. They’re chatting about possible additions to new Garrison tech when Shiro’s mother video calls him in the middle of the night.

“Takashi,” she says while Shiro is scrambling to put a shirt on, “you’re getting a brother.”

Then she hangs up.

Shiro is caught in the middle of pulling a black tank top over his head when the screen turns black. He blinks once. Twice. ‘What?’

He glances down at his leg where another sentence appears in bright orange.

‘What’s up? You stopped answering.’

Shiro puts down the shirt he's holding and uncaps the pen he lay down two minutes ago.

‘My mother called,’ he replies.

An arrow appears and Shiro shifts on his bed to see the next sentence being written on the other side of his leg. He’s half-dressed in his usual sleeping clothes—a pair of boxers and the tank top discarded somewhere behind him.

‘Am I interrupting? We can stop for tonight if you want.’

‘No, it’s fine,’ he writes back. ‘She hung up.’

‘What did she want?’

Seeing no more space left to write in, Shiro grasps around for an ink removing wipe before answering.

‘Another son, apparently.’

‘What’

Yeah. ‘I have no idea.’

There’s a short pause before Shiro steers the conversation to where they left off before his mother called. As they return to talking about the design of one of the Garrison’s newest spaceships, Shiro idly wonders what his new brother would be like. And how exactly he’ll be getting a brother when his mother became infertile years ago.

He gets his answer the next morning when his father calls to explain the situation.

“Chichiue,” Shiro greets. Father.

“Musuko,” his father greets back, inclining his head. Son. “It’s been a while.” The corner of his father’s lip quirks up in a fond half-smile.

“It has,” Shiro agrees, smiling. “How is everything back home? Hahaue called last night saying something about a brother.”

His father’s stoic face brightens as it usually does whenever the topic of Shiro’s mother comes up. “Your okaa-san is as fierce as ever,” he says fondly. “Ayame has her heart set on adopting our new neighbor.”

Well. ‘Fierce’ is one way to describe Shiro’s mother. Ayame Shirogane, neé Nishikawa, had been a passionate, fiery woman, even before she bumped into Yuuma Shirogane in a train station in Fukushima and found out they were soulmates. Theirs had been a whirlwind romance characterized by Ayame dragging Yuuma into many silly (and not so silly) adventures during their years in college. As a child, Shiro had loved listening to his parents tell tales of how his mother once saved a litter of kittens in the rain and proceeded to dump them in his father’s apartment because she was allergic, and she couldn’t just leave them there, Yuuma! Or how his mother convinced his father to learn how to ballroom dance with her but ended up getting them kicked out of the class when she kept taking the lead role and dipping Yuuma everywhere. As Shiro grew older though…

Ayame Shirogane may have calmed down since her college days, but she has never stopped being the fiery, adventurous soul she is. Since Yuuma is normally content to let her be, fondly watching (and even helping) her do her thing, there usually isn’t anyone to save Shiro from his mother’s shenanigans. Shiro learned to just roll with things.

“The new neighbor?” Shiro asks, eyebrows rising. As far as he knows, their new neighbors are an actual family already. As in, parent-and-child family. “Are we talking about the kid who moved in with his foster father?”

“Yes,” his father said, pursing his lips. “The… household he is currently staying in is not—ideal.”

Shiro grimaces. That was a pretty strong statement, coming from his father.

“What’s his name?” He asks.

“Keith.”

Chapter Text

‘How’s your brother?’ Katie writes on the back of her left forearm. She’s belly down on her bed and kicking her feet up rhythmically behind her

‘Still sulking,’ her soulmate replies. ‘I don’t suppose you have any more advice to give me, oh-great-and-wise-sibling-guru?’ White asks, and Katie can hear the half-hearted, teasing tone of the question in her mind. A part of her is amused, but mostly she feels guilty.

‘You’ve tried everything I could think of,’ she says. ‘Sorry.’

It’s been almost a year and a half since White had written to her practically panicking about not knowing how to be an elder sibling or how to help his new brother feel at ease. It was a little refreshing to see him so discomposed for once, but it had cost her several detentions during history class when an already irate teacher saw the marks appearing during a test (Katie hadn’t minded, of course, because it was White actually needing her for the first time ever). She remembers telling White she wasn’t sure she could help because she didn’t have any experience as an elder sibling, but she would try.

‘That’s fine,’ her soulmate writes. His sloppy handwriting is a testament to his worry.

‘Sorry,’ Katie repeats. And she is. Sorry, she means. Despite all her research—sneaking into her parents’ library for parenting books, ‘borrowing’ Matt’s own stash of the same (that he thinks she doesn’t know about), and reading articles on how to deal with former abuse or neglect victims—Katie doesn’t feel like she’s much help. With how socially awkward and introverted she can get, dealing with people just isn’t her strength; it’s a wonder White follows her advice at all. ‘Any news at all on why he’s sulking?’

There’s a short pause and a scribbled ‘leg’ cramped between the words on her arm. Katie rolls over to sit up against the headboard of her bed. Another question appears on her leg in answer. ‘Remember how his soulmate bond settled last week?’

‘Yeah, why?’ Katie asks, brows furrowing and head slowly tilting right. How does—

‘His soulmate thinks he’s a girl. Father and I were able to get it out of him this afternoon.’

Oh, Katie thinks. Oh. ‘His soulmate’s straight?’

‘Well, maybe. They could be bi or pan too. Or lesbian.’ White replies. ‘We don’t know.’

‘Have you tried telling your brother that?’ She asks.

‘I have, but after all the things his last caretaker put in his mind…’

Katie purses her lip, understanding. White’s brother’s previous foster father was a bigot and homophobe who should never have been allowed to take care of children. Or teens. Thank god her soulmate’s mother stepped in when she did. Things could have been worse.

‘Pidge?’ White writes, and the flash of ink on her other leg shakes her out of her thoughts.

‘Sorry, just thinking,’ she replies. She hesitates, hugging her left leg while poised to write on the right. ‘I’m sorry I’m not much help.’

‘Don’t be,’ White says. ‘You’ve helped me so much already.’

Katie covers her face with her arms and collapses on her side with a groan. But I haven’t! She wants to protest. I’m not helping at all! She takes a peak at her leg, and squashes down the rambling thoughts growing in her head (‘What if White actually hates me and they’re just saying that? What if they stop writing to me? What if they realized—’). There's another sentence waiting for her.

' But since we’re on the subject of brothers already, how’s yours?’

Katie flops onto her back, strangely boneless, and laughs incredulously at the sudden and obvious topic change.

When she’s done laughing (for no reason at all, and it's so weird but it's White), she sits back up, grabbing an ink removing wipe from her bedside table.‘I know what you’re trying to do,’ she writes after erasing the ink on her arm. There's a small grin on her face. ‘It’s working.’

‘Of course it is. So?’

Katie huffs, still smiling (and she thought she was the cheeky one between them—she must be rubbing off on him). Honestly, White can be too considerate sometimes. Here she is trying to help them, and White is the one who cheers her up instead. ‘He’s decided to start studying in the Galaxy Garrison in the fall and follow dad’s footsteps,’ she replies, fondly thinking of Matt’s announcement during dinner a few hours earlier.

‘That’s great!’ White says. ‘Maybe I’ll get to meet him before I graduate.’

‘Maybe,’ Katie allows, sidestepping the unwritten and maybe we’ll meet too. Her soulmate doesn’t push. She’s grateful, really, because she isn’t ready. Not yet (stillthirteennotreadytooyoungwhatwilltheythinkhavetowaitwaitwait).

‘What’s he taking?’ White asks instead, and the conversation turns to her brother's plans and then their dreams for the future. It distracts her from her own inadequacy. She smiles faintly.

White really is way too considerate.

Chapter Text

Shiro is almost twenty-two when he graduates from the Garrison. It’s a joyful affair, with Shiro accepting his first assignment with all the dignity and solemnity he can muster in the face of the bubbling happiness in his chest. His family sits in the audience, bright-eyed and proud. Underneath his new uniform is a scrawled “CONGRATULATIONS!!!” from Pidge, surrounded by a veritable letter of encouragement and praise. Just a little more, he thinks. Just a little more. There’s a whole universe out there waiting for him to explore.

The ceremony ends with a speech from Commander Iverson. It’s short and to the point, gruff but obviously fond. Many eyes are moist when the commander finishes, and more than one person are blinking back tears. The commander shifts awkwardly in the silence after his speech, clearing his throat and waking the graduates from their stupor. Then Shiro claps, slowly at first, but as his classmates join him, the applause crescendos into a deafening roar. As the commander walks off the stage, Shiro’s friends gather around Shiro; they’re all crying, hugging, and patting each other on the back.

As the applause dies down, someone shouts and they all start counting down.

Three—

Two—

One—

Shiro grins, meeting the eyes of his friends and classmates around him, and throws the hat of his new uniform into the air. He follows its arc with his eyes as it joins the crowd of others above him, and—oh. As the sea of hats fall back to the ground, Shiro thinks they look a little like small meteors against the bright blue expanse of space—beautiful in an odd, sentimental sort of way.

As the excitement dies down, Commander Iverson finds Shiro among the stragglers on the outskirts of the main crowd as Shiro looks for his family. “At ease,” the commander says before Shiro can snap out a greeting or a salute. “Congratulations,” the commander continues, extending a hand.

“Thank you, sir,” Shiro says, grasping the commander’s hand in a firm shake.

As their hands fall back down to their sides, Iverson turns an unexpectedly mild look on Shiro. “Don’t think I didn’t know what you were doing when your clothing choices started changing all those years ago,” he says idly, “or that I didn’t see the marks on your arm during the ceremony earlier.”

Shiro turns so bright a red he’d swear his ears glowed at being caught red-handed. “Sir,” he says, stammering out an apology. Iverson gives an amused huff as a strange sort of silence falls between them, and Shiro restrains the urge to shift awkwardly in front of him.

The commander shoots him a look. “Relax, kid, it’s your big day today. I’m not going to report you.” A moment of hesitation passes before Iverson gruffly pats Shiro on the shoulder. “…You did well.”

Shiro stills, wondering if he’s entered some alternate dimension by mistake. Maybe he’s hallucinating out of joy somehow. Then he sees the proud gleam in the commander’s eyes, and something clicks. “Thank you, sir,” he says after a beat, “and thank you for advising me while I was here.”

The commander nods, accepting the thanks with his usual gruff manner. “No problem, kid. Now, I believe you have some people waiting for you, soldier.” He grunts, suddenly back to normal.

Shiro, still a little off-kilter, automatically replies with an “Of course, sir,” and a salute before leaving Iverson to meet with his family. When he glances back just the once, he sees the commander stroking his forearm, melancholy and fondness warring in the usually stern-faced man’s expressions. It feels like an intensely private moment. Shiro looks away. Huh, he thinks, the realization hitting him suddenly like a jet plane. He must have done the same thing I did when—

Shiro stops that thought in its tracks. The commander’s soulmate had been an open secret in the Garrison—dead before either ever met each other face to face. And despite Shiro having worked closely with the commander in his two years as Iverson’s advisee, Shiro has never really asked him about what had happened between him and his soulmate. It felt and still feels too personal for him to touch. His friends had wondered, though. Loudly. Which, in hindsight, was possibly why Iverson chose him for an advisee instead of any of his friends who were just as good if not better than he was. Huh.

Still, Shiro isn’t stupid. Space is dangerous, he knows. Every moment in space is a moment cut off from immediate help, cut off from extra supplies, cut off from Earth. Even with today’s technology, a mission gone wrong out in the black usually means death for the crewmen involved. And even then, there’s nothing that says that something won’t happen to his soulmate while he’s out there either. Months in space could mean months too far away for the soulmate connection to manifest, months not knowing if Pidge was still alive and safe and happy.

And Shiro can’t—won’t think of how easily the possibility of meeting Pidge could cease to exist at all.

Instead, Shiro turns his mind to other matters. He looks around the area behind the audience seats, turning around just in time to catch his mother as she leaps toward him in a hug. “H-Hahaue—!” He splutters as his mother spins him around once, twice, three times.

“Takashi!” She cries happily, pulling him into another hug. “Oh, I’m so proud of you, Takashi!” Her words pull Shiro back into a pool of bubbling happiness, and he returns her hug with more vigor.

“Arigatou, Hahaue,” he murmurs, grin threatening to take over his face.

“Oh, none of that,” his mother replies, pulling back and swatting him softly on the arm. “How many times have I told you to call me ‘Kaa-chan’? Why you ever stopped I’ll never know.”

Shiro laughs silently, making no attempt to hide the mischievous gleam in his eyes. “Of course, Hahaue,” he replies. His mother pouts, looking for all the world like she wants to whine at his antics. “And this is the 127th time,” he adds, deliberately pausing for dramatic emphasis, “Hahaue.” Shiro hides a grin as his mother whines childishly, but there’s no mistaking the corner of her mouth quirking up playfully at his words.

“Teasing your mother again, Takashi?” Shiro hears behind him.

Shiro whips around to see his father approaching them sedately. “Chichiue!” He exclaims, grinning. His mother lights up at his exclamation.

“Yuuma!” She sing-songs, “Look! Our baby is all grown up and graduated already. Isn’t it wonderful?” Shiro’s mother practically twirls around him as she gives a strange sort of flourish and nudges him towards his father who smiles at him in greeting.

“Congratulations,” his father says as his mother watches them proudly. Shiro beams at him in thanks, but before he can thank him aloud as well, Keith appears from behind his father’s back and shoves a bouquet in his arms before retreating (and here Shiro almost laughs when the memory of Keith insisting he wasn’t running away, he was retreating strategically pops up) behind their parents while mumbling a short ‘Congrats’.

Shiro’s eyebrows rise at his brother’s retreat (and his face must look so strange right now since he still can’t seem to stop grinning because, look, he can finally go to space now!) as he thanks him. “Why so far away?” He teases, voice practically dripping with amusement, “Not even going to give me a congratulatory hug like Hahaue did?”

Keith’s cheeks turn bright red within seconds. “Idiot!” He splutters, “Why should I?” And, really, Shiro probably should try to be the mature adult he actually is, but watching Keith scramble for an excuse not to receive the physical affection the teenager obviously wants is a bit funny (if not a little sad).

Then Keith’s eyes land on their bemused father, and he straightens up triumphantly. Shiro can practically see the lightbulb switching on above his head, and he struggles to stifle the laugh that accompanies the image. Keith, blessedly ignorant of the goings-on inside Shiro’s head, continues with his rebuttal. “Besides,” he says loftily, “Mister—I mean, Otou-san hasn’t hugged you yet either.”

“Is that so?” Shiro asks, adopting Keith’s lofty tone, and turns to give his father a look.

Their father, who has somehow migrated from standing five feet away from their mother to resting his chin on top of her head and embracing her loosely from behind in the few seconds since they last looked at him, arches a dark eyebrow at Shiro. In response, Shiro tilts his head downwards a few degrees, widens his eyes, and mentally pleads his father to back him up. His mother, who had been watching the boys’ antics with sparkling eyes, bites her lip and struggles not to coo, but Shiro’s father only stares calmly back at him. Shiro’s lets his lower lip wobble. His mother starts vibrating in place before losing the struggle entirely. His father wavers for a second, but holds strong. Okay, then, Shiro thinks, time to bring out the big guns. Shiro claps his hands together in front of his face and tilts his head to the side. “Onegai,” he says in his native language, letting the word draw out for a little while, “Tou-chan?”

When he finishes, several things happen at once. His mother gasps and starts complaining about favoritism and begging him to call her ‘kaa-chan’ too. At the same time, Keith starts flailing and protesting that hey, that was totally cheating, and you can’t use that face, it should be illegal, and also that’s not fair, how do you do that??? (At this, Shiro recalls everything he’s been through as the child of his particular brand of parents and thinks, You would have developed it too to survive the chaos this family attracts.)

Meanwhile, Shiro’s father turns steadily redder as Shiro holds his gaze. Shiro can practically hear his last few words echoing in his father’s ears before, finally, Shiro’s father gives in. He looks away, untangling himself from Shiro’s mother, and steps forward into the space in front of Shiro, opening his arms in clear invitation. Shiro perks up and happily takes the invitation, wrapping his arms around his father and sinking into the hug.

“Group hug!” His mother exclaims, pulling Keith over and delightedly joining them. When Keith hesitates and fidgets awkwardly beside them, Shiro raises an eyebrow at him.

“Well?” He says, “Aren’t you going to join in?” He grins slyly, “I’ll even count this as the celebratory hug you owe me for my graduation.”

“I didn’t even agree to give you one!” Keith protests, but it’s telling that, instead of stepping away, he shuffles close enough for Shiro and his parents to pull him into the hug. When their arms wrap around him, he tenses before melting into the contact. “Okay, fine,” he mumbles, a little belatedly.

Shiro suppresses a chuckle. What a sight they all must make, he thinks, wrapped around each other like a burrito in the middle of a field full of Garrison graduates. But he doesn’t care. This, being here, surrounded by his family, is the best feeling in the world (and probably only will be topped when Shiro meets his soulmate and introduces Pidge to his family).

Shiro looks around him, at his parents, at Keith who has changed so much from the closed off, beaten down teenager he was two years ago. He thinks about Pidge and the congratulations on his skin, how his soulmate is here, with him, in spirit if not in body.

In this moment, Shiro can believe that he can overcome anything the future throws at him.

Later, much later, when the sun begins to set and his family untangle themselves and begin their trek to their car, Shiro can’t resist needling his brother one last time. “So,” Shiro begins with a teasing grin, “does this mean you aren’t going to be strategically retreating from our hugs anymore?”

Keith groans and punches Shiro in the arm. “That was one time, I swear!”

Shiro throws his head back and laughs, basking in the warmth of his family around him.

 

 

That night, when the bubbling euphoria of the day has faded into a slow simmer beneath his skin, Shiro wipes away the writing on his arm, replaces it with a neat ‘Hey’, and waits.

The steady ticking of the clock rings in his ears as seconds, or maybe hours (but really only a minute or two) pass before Pidge answers. It’s bright and colorful and loud (well, as loud as writing could be) on his skin, filled with a completely unnecessary abundance of exclamation points and capital letters. ‘!!!!! WHITE!!! CONGRATS AGAIN!!’

He draws a smiley face on the back of his hand in thanks, and Pidge responds by adding a graduation hat on top of its head and a diploma beside it. Shiro laughs softly, fond and gratified by his soulmate’s exuberance.

‘So??’ His soulmate writes. ‘How’d it go???’

‘It went well.’ He replies.

‘Well?’ His soulmate repeats frantically, handwriting messy and almost intelligible. ‘What do you mean by well? Do you mean well-well or just okay-well or everything-went-wrong-well or—'

‘Pidge,’ Shiro writes, in the space where his soulmate would have continued. His soulmate’s writing still continues over half of it, but it does stop. ‘It went great.’

‘Oh,’ Pidge replies, ‘that’s good.’ A moment’s hesitation passes before his soulmate continues. ‘I’m so happy for you!’

Something blissfully warm and content washes over Shiro, and he smiles, letting his fingers brush over his soulmate’s response. ‘Thank you,’ he replies.

‘Have you received your first orders yet?’

‘I have.’ He answers.

‘And?’ Pidge asks when Shiro doesn’t offer an explanation. ‘What are they?’

‘I don’t know,’ Shiro admits a little sheepishly. ‘I was waiting for you.’

The words YOU SAP appear on Shiro’s leg in large block letters. ‘Well,’ his soulmate continues beneath them. ‘I’m here now. So?’

‘Give me a minute,’ Shiro replies, standing up and stepping over the mess on his floor to reach his desk. The clutter and disarray in his usually pristine room makes him cringe, but nobody ever said that packing and moving out meant keeping everything neat. He snatches the envelope containing the orders for his first mission from on top of his desk (which was, thankfully, the very first thing he cleared out to pack), and makes his way back to his bed.

He skims the first page of his mission packet and gets as far as the first two sentences of the description of his duties before rereading the entire page incredulously. Oh my god, he thinks faintly. Peripherally, he’s aware of Pidge doodling impatiently on his (well, technically it’s both of their) legs and asking about the orders, but. This. This is…

“Oh my god,” Shiro repeats out loud. ‘Pidge,’ he writes on his left calf, ‘they’re letting me pilot a ship to Moon Base, with the possibility of copiloting a ship to BIO Mars if I do well.’

‘No way,’ Pidge writes back, interspersed between several scattered variations of exclamation points.

Shiro bounces in his place on his bed. ‘Yes way,’ he writes, grinning wildly. ‘And guess who I’ll be co-pilot of?’ He asks, and they descend into their usual chatter. (And no, Shiro’s not gushing about his future captain, no, he’s not.)

‘You do realize that this will make you the youngest person to pilot a ship further than MB, right?’ Pidge asks him half an hour later.

Shiro freezes. That’s… not right, isn’t it? The mission to BIO Mars begins in October. That’s barely half a year from now. He’s pretty sure that the record was…

…Eight months after graduating from the Garrison.

‘Oh my god, White, you didn’t realize it, did you?’ Pidge writes while Shiro’s brain is rebooting. ‘You adorable idiot genius, you.’

Shiro groans and flops on his belly. Just to mess with Pidge, he answers his soulmate’s question with a long, drawn out, ‘UUUUUUUGGGGGH’. He almost wishes that he didn’t know Pidge well enough to practically feel their amusement at his reply.

‘You’ll be ahead of the current record by 3 months,’ Pidge says.

‘Urgh. Please, no,’ Shiro scribbles, wanting to bury his head under a pillow and erase the realization from his head.

‘And even if we’re measuring by age at the time of flight,’ Pidge barrels on mercilessly.

Nooooo…

‘—you beat the current record holder by several months, considering that—'

‘Don’t say iiiit,’ Shiro writes (whines).

‘—Sven’s birthday is a month before yours.’

‘…Merciless. You’re merciless.’ Shiro pouts. ‘Destroy my childhood, why don’t you.’

‘Aww, poor baby,’ Pidge replies unsympathetically. ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be co-piloting a ship with him in a few months. Your inner-fanboy will recover.’

‘Why are you so meaaaan?’ Shiro complains. ‘Who taught you to make sense?’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ Pidge writes. Shiro doesn’t know how writing can look so imperious. ‘I always make sense.’

‘Meanie,’ Shiro retorts.

Pidge’s only reply is an unimpressed ‘And whose fault is that?’.

Shiro thinks about it. Okay, yeah, that might, possibly, maybe be his fault. Like, only a tiny part his fault. Maybe. ‘I’m so proud,’ he writes. ‘I’m wiping away proud tears right now, just so you know.’ He pauses and quirks his head. ‘That reminds me, actually.’

‘Yeah?’ Pidge replies as Shiro takes a short break to wipe clean one of his legs for space.

‘Have you decided where you’re going yet?’

There’s a noticeable pause before Pidge’s reply. ’For college, you mean?’ Pidge retorts. ‘…Yeah. The Institute emailed me this morning saying I’m off the waitlist.’

Shiro gapes. ‘Congratulations! That’s amazing!!!’ He scrambles to write.

‘Thanks, White,’ Pidge replies. ‘You aren’t disappointed?’

Shiro hums. ‘Well, I am a bit,’ he admits, ‘but I know how much you’ve been wanting to go to that school.’

‘I haven’t exactly been shy about that these past few years, have I?’ Pidge writes. Shiro imagines that his soulmate sounds just that tiny bit rueful. ‘The Garrison is great and all, but their technology program doesn’t exactly cover a whole lot of things.’

Shiro’s eyebrows rise. Not a whole lot, huh, he thinks. Is Pidge sure they’re talking about the same program?

‘It’s just a bit too specialized for my tastes,’ his soulmate concludes. A pause. ‘Maybe if they had a course on alien tech—’

His soulmate is joking, right? Right? …Yeah, Shiro isn’t buying that either.

‘—but they don’t. So…’ Shiro imagines Pidge is shrugging right now. ‘Hahaha :P’ Pidge tacks on.

Okay, they were joking.

‘Seriously, though.’

Or not.

‘That would be awesome, wouldn’t it?’

Shiro concedes to their point. ‘It definitely would,’ he replies.

‘Ooo, hey, do you think I could build a space transceiver and talk to real life aliens?’ Pidge writes excitedly. ‘I bet they have lots of cool tech that we don’t—and the science! White, the. SCIENCE.’

Shiro laughs. Of course that’s where his soulmate goes. ‘If anyone can do it, you can.’ Aliens may sound a bit farfetched even for him, but this, at least, he is definitely sure of.

‘Really? You think so?’ His soulmate asks him.

‘Of course, Pidge,’ he answers. Can people even write warmly? He hopes so. ‘You’re amazing.’

‘Aww, thanks, White. I think you’re amazing too.’

Shiro smiles gently. ‘Thank you,’ he replies. You’re wonderful. You deserve the best. I’d go to the ends of the universe and back for you. I wish we’d meet already, but I’ll wait for you. You are precious.

 

…I love you.

Chapter Text

Katie is one year into her college career when she finds herself revisiting the idea she started working on several months ago. She chews on her left thumbnail as she considers the mass of papers in front of her. Hmm, she thinks, twirling a pen in her right hand.

The last time she had tried to build a working prototype of this particular project, it exploded in her face. Or, well, maybe not exploded, but it had definitely short-circuited. Somehow. Then after weeks of consulting her professors and stubbornly trying to make the space transceiver work, she finally decided to set aside the project for later, on account of the then current technology not yet being up to par. (She had hated doing that, though. It felt too much like giving up.)

Not so now. (She hopes.)

With all the recent discoveries and technological advances in circuitry, Katie thinks that she could probably create a prototype that actually works.

…Probably.

Honestly, she doubts the transceiver she’s building would be able to transmit messages farther than the edges of the closest system to theirs, which, really, she can’t deny fulfills the general requirements of being a space transceiver, but—aliens!

No, seriously, she doesn’t care what others say, but it’s statistically improbable for Earth to be the only planet fit for life, or that the conditions on Earth are the only conditions that can sustain some form of life. And—

Aaand, she’s going off topic. Okay, back up, self. Back up, self, Katie thinks, tearing her gaze away from where it had wandered and back to the mess of calculations and diagrams in front of her.

What had she been working on again? Right, energy distribution and efficiency. Katie erases one of the decimals in her calculations and replaces it with a lower number. She doesn’t want her next prototype to explode in her face again, thank you very much.

A weight falls on her head. “What’cha working on?” Someone says above her.

Katie yelps and jolts upwards in surprise, hitting something pointy with her head. Owowowow….

“Oh shi—” She hears as she whips around to look at the speaker. Quiznacks.

“Matt!” She exclaims, leaping over the back of her chair to tackle him in a hug. “You’re back!”

“W-woah—” Her brother starts, wobbling backward a few steps before they both crash onto the floor, chair and all. “Owww,” Matt groans, pushing himself off the floor and rubbing his chin. “And you’re as hard-headed as ever, I see.”

Katie’s eyebrow twitches, and she pinches his cheeks. “Jerk.”

“Ahww, mished yoh tou, shish,” he replies, struggling to get her off him and away from his cheeks. “Owowow, sto—hey—geroff!”

“Never!” Katie crows, grinning. “Not until you take that back!"

“No way!” Matt’s eyes glint, and Katie watches him warily. When his hands rise to hover at her sides, she pales and scrambles off him. Considering she hasn’t let go of his cheeks yet, that has the dual effect of pulling him along with her. Matt carefully does not squeal (he does) at the pain and attempts to glare her into submission. (He seems to think it makes him anything but totally adorable. Katie magnanimously leaves him to his delusions. Boys.)

…Yeah, she really didn’t think that through. Just as Matt starts tickling her, she twists around him, laughing and keeping one hand pinching his cheek. “Give up!” She cries triumphantly, jumping onto his back.

“Oof! You’re heavy,” he mutters. Katie rears back and gasps loudly, affecting insulted affront in an appropriately dramatic manner.

“What did you say?” Katie growls playfully as she starts shaking her brother’s shoulders.

He groans, rubbing his cheek, voice warbling with the shaking. “My cheek, thank go—

“Ha!” Katie shouts, interrupting him. “Can’t get me,” she taunts. Then Matt rolls onto his back.

Matt. Rolls. Onto. His. Back.

Matt rolls onto his back, taking Katie with him.

…What? Katie thinks, blinking as she stares at the ceiling, crushed under her brother’s back.

“Can’t get you, huh?” Her brother says, leaning back and crossing his arms as if he were just lying back on a bed. Katie’s eye twitches. She can practically feel the smugness radiating from her brother. He’s smirking, isn’t he?

Matt snickers. Her eye twitches again.

Yeah, he’s definitely smirking.

“I’ll show you—” She growls, running her fingers along his sides as she flips him over. He shrieks in laughter (Ha!) and retaliates, leaving them both laughing helplessly as they wrestle and tumble all over the floor.

Someone clears their throat loudly, interrupting the two siblings just as the lights flicker off then on. Katie and Matt freeze as they slowly crane their heads to look up at the source of the sound. Their father stares placidly back at them, the loose fist still hovering near his mouth not even attempting to hide the amused quirk of his lips. His other hand slowly drops from its place by the light switch.

“Hello, kids,” their father greets them mildly. His eyes crinkle upwards as they scramble away from each other and wilt on their seats on the floor.

“Hi, dad,” Katie and Matt squeak in chorus.

Their father smiles. “Dinner’s ready. Your mother and I have been calling you two for the last quarter hour.”

“Er, y-you have?” Matt stammers at the same time as Katie squawks, “How long have you been standing there, dad??”

Their father beams even more brightly and a shiver runs down both their spines. “Yes,” he tells Matt before addressing Katie. “I’ve been standing here trying to get your attention for nearly ten minutes.

“Now,” he says, stepping back into the corridor. “Why don’t we all head down before the food grows cold? Don’t want to miss your own graduation dinner, do you, son?” He chuckles and turns around, walking towards the stairs.

“’Course not,” Katie’s brother replies nervously before grabbing Katie’s wrist and hightailing it out of the room with her.

“Gotcha, dad!” Katie calls back, somewhat belatedly as they pass their father in the corridor. “See you downstairs!”

 

(As Katie and Matt thunder down the stairway and out of earshot, Sam Holt finally releases the laughter he had been holding in, wiping away a few tears. His children are adorable, and they make it so easy. He wonders when they’ll catch on to his teasing. Maybe in a few more years? Or never. Hopefully never. He has to find his fun somewhere.

But really, he thinks fondly, descending the stairs, he loves his kids. The house had seemed so empty these last few years, especially once Katie started university last fall. And so young, too! It worries him sometimes, as proud as he is of his daughter. She seems to be thriving and happy though, so he’s content to watch his genius daughter grow and spread her wings. Now, that most likely much older soulmate of hers on the other hand…

Well, he’s reserving judgment until after the two meet and he hears about the man’s—and he’s definitely male from what Katie has told him—reaction to having a much younger soulmate. And if the man passes that, then Sam would wait until he met the guy before deciding.

Either way, he wouldn’t be a proper father if he didn’t spend some time cautioning, er, ‘White’ against breaking his daughter’s heart, would he?)

 

Despite the initial… mishap, Matt’s graduation dinner goes extremely well. They’re chatting about their day over pasta and chicken and interrogating Matt about his plans when Katie’s mother off-handedly mentions that he (Katie’s brother) and their father are being considered for an ambitious, joint interplanetary mission between the Garrison and NASA.

“The details are still in the works,” she tells them, eyes sparkling, “but it will be the closest Pluto will be to Earth in decades. It’ll be a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and we want to take it while we still can.”

“You’re joking!” Matt exclaims, looking absolutely gobsmacked. Their father doesn’t look much different.

Katie snickers at their faces and elbows her brother in the ribs. “Careful,” she jokes, “if you’re jaw drops any lower, it’ll touch the floor.”

She understands where they’re coming from. She almost regrets choosing the Institute instead of following the rest of her family to the Garrison. Pluto! She thinks wistfully. It would be the farthest humanity has ever gotten in person, if the project succeeds.

Matt’s jaw shuts with a clack. “Hey!” He splutters, already reaching out to mess her hair.

“Kids,” their father interrupts them mildly, “your mother is still talking.”

Matt freezes, and Katie sticks her tongue out at him.

“I was talking to you too, Katie.”

Katie turns to her father innocently, looking like the picture-perfect image of an angel. “What are you talking about, Dad? I didn’t do nothing.”

“Exactly,” her father agrees, looking rather bemused. “Now, if you would let your mother speak…”

All three of them turn towards her mother, appearing all the world like the last few minutes had never happened. Their mother eyes them all slowly, lip curling with an amused sort of fond exasperation.

“Well, then,” she begins, turning towards Matt. “Like I said, dear, the project is still in the works. It might not even push through if the rest of the board decides our technology hasn’t advanced enough yet, or the investment is too big a risk.”

Eyebrows are raised all around the table.

“With you on the board?” Matt asks, disbelievingly.

“It’s practically a done deal already,” Katie agrees. “Unstoppable force meets totally movable object. I’m pretty sure you’re some sort of real-life Deus Ex Machina, mom.”

“I’m flattered you think so highly of me,” their mother starts, “but I’m not that good.”

The two siblings hum noncommittedly.

“Really,” their mother adds. At their still skeptic looks, she turns to her husband beseechingly. “Oh for—Sam!”

“What do you want me to say, honey?” Their father says, pouring himself another glass of water. “Because you know me—I refuse to believe that my honey is anything less than perfect.”

Their mother groans, burying a bright red face into her hands. “You’re ruining my competent, professional image,” she complains, voice muffled.

Their father laughs, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her closer to his side. He flashes Matt and Katie a thumbs up. “I think it’s rather too late for that already.”

“Yeah, mom,” Matt agrees, taking the time to serve himself some more spaghetti.

Katie snickers silently, taking the serving spoon from Matt to pour some spaghetti sauce onto her plate. “Don’t worry, mom,” she says. “Nothing’ll ever ruin that image of you in my mind. Even your reactions to our teasing.”

Their mother groans again, burrowing her face further into their father’s side.

Suck up, Matt mouths at her.

My. Idol. She mouths back.

Their father presses a kiss on top of their mother’s head, watching them fondly.

 

After dinner, Katie pulls Matt upstairs to show him the space transceiver she’s working on. Her desk’s a mess, but it has never not been a mess, so they clear a space on the floor and dump both the prototype and her blueprints there to work on them.

“So?” She asks him anxiously. “What do you think?”

“Well,” he answers slowly, “I can see where you’re having problems. Energy distribution, right?”

“Yeah,” she agrees. “Except no matter how I fiddle with the distribution, the thing either explodes or doesn’t have enough power to send and receive messages.”

Matt hums, tracing her calculations down the page. “And you’re not asking mom or dad instead, why?”

“Because!” Katie exclaims, throwing her hands up and leaning back to fall spread out on the floor. She rolls over and buries her face into her arms. “I don’t want to show them something that isn’t finished yet.”

“And this isn’t not finished?” Matt asks, unimpressed.

Katie looks up. “Well, it’s not!” She protests. “I want to show them something that works, not,” she sits up and waves a hand at her not working prototype, “this.”

“Katie,” Matt says, dragging a hand down his face. “Kit Kat, Pidge, dearest sister of mine…” He sighs, exasperated. “You’re an engineer. What’s the first rule of being an engineer?”

“Design is iterative.” Katie recites.

Matt looks at her flatly. “Yeah, and?”

Katie grumbles sullenly but obliges. “Perfection is a lie.”

“So?”

“So, it doesn’t have to be perfect, feedback is important, and I can ask for help when I need it,” she replies. “But Matt! It’s mom. And dad. And I am asking for help. From you.

“Just, help? Please?” She pouts, pulling the puppy dog eyes out.

“No,” Matt says flatly. “No, stop that. Kit Kat, Pidge, I said—Goddamni—I—"

“You…?” Katie asks hopefully.

Matt slumps. “Urgh,” he says. “Okay, fine. I’ll help.”

Katie cheers, pumping her fist in the air.

“Well then,” Matt says, straightening up. “Let’s take another look at this baby.”

 

(Five hours later, it’s three in the morning, and Matt stirs awake on the floor of his sister’s room. His back is aching from his position slumped against his sister’s bed, and Katie is sprawled on the floor next to him with her head on his thigh. He can already feel the telltale signs of a crick forming in his neck, and he really doesn’t want to move because he hates pins and needles, but…

Matt groans, this really isn’t the most comfortable of positions to be sleeping in. He gently pushes his sister away from him, and stands up, cringing at the prickling-painful-ticklish feeling creeping up his leg. Hopping on one foot, he cleans up at least some of the mess he and his sister made of her floor, putting the blueprints and the transceiver prototype carefully on her desk.

Then, he turns to consider his sister who has since curled up in her position on the floor.

Katie hasn’t grown much since he last saw her, really. Maybe by a few centimeters, but definitely not more than an inch and a half. He’ll tease her about it later, but for now, he’s thankful that she probably hasn’t grown too heavy for him to carry, or else he’d have to wake her up to move her to her bed.

He crouches beside her, hooking an arm under her shoulders and the other beneath her knees, and lifts her onto her bed. He’s about to cover her with her comforter when he notices a series of neat scrawls of her soulmate’s handwriting on her skin.

‘Hey, Pidge,’ it says. ‘I’m back. The mission went well.’

‘Are you still awake?’

‘…I guess not. I’ll just leave this here so you know. We can chat in the morning when you’re awake.’

Matt hesitates. Something fierce and wary and protective swells in him. His sister’s soulmate is old enough to be going on missions. His hands twitch, and he scowls, restraining the urge to grab a pen off the nearby desk and warn whoever his sister’s soulmate is away from her until she’s legal. He’s about to do just that when another line appears on her skin. Matt traces the words with his eyes, as they appear slowly, one by one.

‘I love you,’ Katie’s soulmate writes. ‘You’ll never read this because I’ll be erasing this in a bit, but I love you. I love you.’

‘I get the feeling you’re so much younger than me, and you’re absolutely brilliant, but    So   I don’t  ’

‘I’ll wait for you.’

‘Love you.’

There’s a depth of emotion in those words that Matt can’t touch, but a glimpse is enough. “What a sap,” he snorts aloud, voice ringing in the silence. He still isn’t happy, but… At least Katie’s soulmate is sensible enough to wait, he thinks. That’s a point in his or her favor.

Then, the latest few lines are wiped away leaving only the original three he noticed, and Matt grudgingly feels a seed of respect sprout for the other person.

His baby sister deserves the world. At the very least, she deserves someone who will support her and let her make her own decisions.

Keep it up, 'White', he thinks, tucking his sister under her comforter before heading to his own bedroom.

You’ve got yourself one chance, but no more.)