Panting, sweating, wheezing, knelt over like he was going through some radical satanic transformation—well, you had no reason to stop for Matthew Holt. Hell, you should’ve steered clear—you would’ve saved yourself a lot of pain if you had just passed by him and moved on. But, unfortunately for you, you weren’t the type to ignore somebody who looked like they needed help. Unless there was somebody in worse shape than this skinny white boy about to pass out face-first in dandelion fluff, you had no excuse to avoid him.
“Hey… are you okay?”
He groaned in response, rolling onto his back to face upwards. His glasses had fogged up with sweat, and his face was streaked with red. His eyes had fallen shut. You jumped at the sound of a sharp whistle, looking up to see other men and women jog past. You realized that he must’ve been one of the runners doing the suicide drills, and glanced back down to him.
“Water…?” you mumbled thoughtfully, remembering that you should probably take action before the guy died in your lap. You rummaged through your backpack, uncapping your water bottle before gently coaxing it to his lips. Each droplet seemed to bring him closer back to life before he suddenly sat up, drinking voraciously, grabbing your water bottle from you and dumping it over the top of his head. You watched wryly as he shook himself off.
“Looks like you’re okay now,” you pointed out. He noticed you for the first time, quickly snapping his glasses off of his face. He squinted before wiping them on his shirt, hastily shoving them back onto his nose.
“O-oh. Thanks. Sorry, I just—”
“That’s fine,” you interjected, waving him off before he could try to give you back your empty water bottle sheepishly. “You keep it. I think you need it more than I do. Maybe try having some potassium before the 5k?”
“Wait,” he called as you were getting up, slinging your bag back onto your shoulder. He struggled to his feet, groaning as he bent over to prop himself up on his knees. His head craned up to look at you. His glasses were askew, and his hair was flat with sweaty lukewarm tap water, but suddenly, you’d never seen anybody more attractive in your whole life. You swallowed the guilty thought even as your heart leapt into your throat. He took a minute to catch his breath, abruptly straightening and extending a hand.
“Matthew Holt. You?”
You’d never thought the answer would end up to be your future fiancée.
So in that moment you merely smiled wryly, taking his hand, answering, “somebody you owe a drink to.”
A flash of surprise came across his face and he smiled, crookedly, looking down bashfully.
You about screamed, so concentrated on your pipetting that your external surroundings had gone null. Matthew Holt raised both hands defensively as you exhaled sharply, closing your eyes with relief that it wasn’t a serial killer creeping up on your shoulder.
“I should be asking you the same thing,” you scowled, but smiled, unable to be angry as you met his gaze. “Are you TA-ing with Professor Morante too?”
“Yeah. It’s funny; I didn’t think you were a student when we met. I’m fourth year.”
“Me too,” you replied eagerly, easily losing interest in the tedious process of pipetting. Teasingly, you smirked. “So? How’d the rest of your run go?”
His pale face flushed with colour. “Fine, thank you very much!”
The both of you laughed. Somehow, Matthew had an air around him that made it feel like you’d known him for ages, and the uncomfortable stages of trying to meld yourself to new people felt entirely skipped. Matthew pointed over your shoulder to the biuret’s retort stand.
“What’re you doing?”
“Preparing 35 standard solutions for the asteroid experiments,” you sighed. You waved your pipette at him. “The Professor doesn’t want me to use the machines, so I’ve got to do them all by hand. I’ve gotten 9 done so far. Want to help me with the rest?”
“What if I say no?” he asked cheekily, resting on the counter. With his glasses behind his goggles and his fluffed up hair, he looked like the biggest damn geek you’d ever had to look at with your own two eyes. And yet, he had that grin again, a grin that made your heart race and fingers tremble.
“I’d spurt you with acid,” you threatened, doing the very healthy thing of stifling your emotions. He pretended to look scared and took the glass pipe from you, hands grazing the back of yours.
“Well, that wouldn’t be very fun.”
“Aw. You know what would be? Doing the 26 other solutions for me.”
He turned and made a face, but he was still smiling that same smile. His eyes gleamed. “Only if you’re here to do ‘em with me.”
You grinned back. “Hey, where else would I be?”
“I’ve got a favour to ask you.”
“It’s 2 in the morning, Matt. What couldn't frickin’ wait ‘till tomorrow?!”
You didn’t even feel guilty for snapping at him as you stood in your dorm bedroom, squinting under the harsh industrial lighting that was always on in the Garrison residencies. But he looked visibly distressed, despite your grogginess, and the uncomfortable squirm he kept doing made you think that something was actually up.
“You know my sister, Katie?”
“Katie? You’ve talked about her, but I’ve never met your family. Why, what’s wrong?” you asked, rubbing your eyes. Matt made an awkward noise between a groan and a whine, before thrusting his phone out at you. You about blinded yourself with the brightly backlit screen, but decided that because it was Matt, you’d try to pull through for him. You peered down at the phone, realizing he was showing you a text history.
Katie: mom won’t answer her phone and I don't know what to do
Katie: matt help meeeeee
You: What makes you think I know?!
Katie: ur my big brother?? I thought you were a hotshot at school but I guess ur useless >:(
You: We never covered periods in Quantum Physics!
Katie: so do I put it in or what
You: I DOFBNT DKNOW??
Katie: ME NEITHER!!!!!!
“What?” you demanded, too tired to figure out what was going on. “What do you need me for?”
“…didn’t you read the texts?” He took his phone back, peering down to make sure he’d shown you the right thing.
“Yeah,” you grumbled. “I thought you’d know. A period is defined as one complete cycle of vibration to pass a given point—” Suddenly, the words combined and clicked, and you realized why poor Matt had shamefully slunk into the women’s dormitories to seek you out. You made an ‘oh’ noise and Matt nodded vigorously.
“I didn’t know who else to entrust Katie to. Could you give her a call and help her out? Just until our mom gets back?” He clapped his hands together, even bowing to you. He held his phone out. “Please?”
“Damn, Matt,” you mumbled, grudgingly taking his phone. You tried to pry your eyelids open with one hand and press call with the other. “Thought you’d be better at telling people to stick things in their vagina.”
Exhaustion, frustration, late night organic chemistry—you only had yourself to blame for the intensely awkward silence that suddenly came across the both of you.
“You’re kind of an ass,” you commented as Matt crept out of Katie’s room, pulling the door shut with a tiny click. He jumped, seeing you hovering in the hallway like a spirit, and sighed with relief when he realized it was just you.
“Why’s that?” he asked tiredly, stepping to you and throwing his arm around you. You rolled your eyes but supported his weight anyways, walking him to his room. His parents had gone to the trouble of preparing a guest room for you, but Matt was clingy, and you wouldn’t have wanted to sleep apart from him this close to D-Day (Departure Day) anyways.
“I mean, you should’ve told Katie goodbye before she went to sleep.”
“That little pigeon’s stronger than you think. You don’t have to worry after her,” Matt replied, letting out a loud contented groan as he flopped down into his bed. You couldn’t help a small, scolding scowl come across your face.
“Nobody’s strong enough to be totally okay with their big brother blasting off into unknown territory.”
Matt raised his head, sensing your irritated tone. He dropped his glasses back onto his face to look at you more clearly and sat up slowly, patting the bed next to him. You sat stiffly, arms crossed.
“It sounds like you’re projecting,” he prodded, gently putting a hand over yours. He unwound your arms and had both your hands sitting in his, the warmth of his rough palms washing over you like a childhood memory. When you said nothing, he squeezed your hands in his. “You know you can tell me anything.”
“Yeah, I just…” You shook him off, hugging yourself. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier, Matt? You and your dad both kept it from me until a month before take off. Even Katie knew before I did.” You kept looking down at your knees, too ashamed to look him in the eye. “Am I that unimportant to you…?”
Matt remedied this by putting two fingers on your chin, lifting it up.
“Of course you’re important to me. I didn’t tell you because… I think I was scared,” he said softly, once you’d raised your head. His hands drifted back down to yours, running over the knuckles absentmindedly. “I think that if I’d told you, and you’d said ‘please don’t go’… I wouldn’t have.”
“What…? What makes you think I wouldn’t have told you to go?” you asked, slightly hurt that he thought you were so selfish. But his expression was wry as he flicked a piece of lint off his old bed.
“Because if you were the one in my place, I would’ve asked you to stay.”
“Oh, Matt…” your heart throbbed affectionately and all the pent-up emotion you’d hid from the Holts came sprawling up. You pulled away from him to swipe your tears away with the back of your hand, sniffling quietly. “I just… no, I want you to go. I really do. It’s just that I’m going to miss you.”
His smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. He leant over, brushing a stray tear off your chin.
“Yeah, me too.”
“You’ll come back safe, right?” you asked in a joking tone, but your eyes were very serious. He grinned, taking your head in both hands and laying a soft kiss to your forehead.
“Of course,” he agreed determinedly, nestling you to his chest where you could hear his heart beat. His voice and words echoed through you: “of course I’ll come home safe.”
If only it’d been true.
last night as i lay on my bed
Sleep had never been a part of your vocabulary. Science didn’t have a time for clocking out, so the most rest you got was in between lab shifts. Now, sleep was a mere laugh.
“You were close to Dr. Matthew Holt, yes?”
“Is that why you called me into your office… uh, sir?” you were confused as to why he’d be asking about Matt—especially since you were hardly important to the Kerberos Mission—but he merely looked more stoic.
“Yes. Answer, please.”
“I—yeah, I was close with Matt—er, Dr. Holt.” His intense glare made you nervous and you swallowed, trying to stop stuttering. “May I ask what this is pertinent to?”
“So,” he continued, ignoring your question entirely, “you are also in close relations with Dr. Holt’s family.”
“Sir, I would really like to know what’s going on.”
“You’ll be the one that Mrs. Holt will want to hear the news from, then. Not me.” He took the glasses perching on his oily, bulbous nose off and dabbed sweat off of his forehead with a neat olive handkerchief. You shifted on your feet uncomfortably, a bad feeling knotting up your insides. Your palms began to feel cold, the ring on your left hand threatening to slip off. You clutched it.
“S-sir… please elaborate.” You inhaled sharply to steel yourself. “What news?”
“The news… that Mrs. Holt has lost her son and her husband,” he replied stately, emotion drained from his face. “Please deliver the message with haste.”
He passed the handkerchief to you wordlessly as you began to cry.
i dreamt that my bonnie was dead
bring back, bring back; oh
bring back my bonnie to me
It was a sunny day for Doctor Matthew and Samuel Holt’s funerals. It was… too nice. You felt as if the day needed to be as ugly and horrible as how you felt, standing in front of the cenotaph. The white marble sparkled in the warm sun. Seeing as they’d… passed in deep outer space, there were no bodies to bury. So what were you mourning? A stupid rock? The diamond on your hand felt heavy and you reached down to touch it, breathing shakily as you looked down to hide the well of tears.
The speeches didn’t matter to you. Mrs. Holt was unable to stop crying the entire time, no matter how much you tried to comfort her. What could you say? Hey, at least you didn’t lose your other kid? You could only hold her, and she felt so weak in your arms. You wondered if you felt just as light and broken.
The ceremony ended promptly, as nobody was in the mood to mingle and socialize and talk about how great these two men were. Everybody was too upset. Besides, Takashi’s funeral was in half an hour, and the 21 gun salute needed to move a few gravestones over for that. Shiro was also a good friend, so you’d stay for his, too. It was the least you could do. You’d lost so much family—too much family. After seeing Mrs. Holt off, you wandered the yard, totally unable to think. Everything felt numb.
Katie’s soft voice was unmistakeable. You turned around, unable to even pretend to smile when you saw her. She looked so crushed. You hadn’t ever seen her this sad. Even when she’d broken her wrist, had an experiment flop, or gotten scolded, the girl had never cried. Even during the ceremonies, she hadn’t let a single tear roll down her cheek—but you could see it in her eyes. Matt’s eyes.
She was hurting more than you could ever help her with.
“What’re you still doing here? Mom already went home.”
“Could ask the same to you,” you mused. “Why are you still here?”
“Because you are. I was worried about you. Duh.” She kicked at a rock and you put your arms around her shoulders, leading her back to the rows of white chairs that had been set up for the ceremonies and eulogies. Sitting down in them, you saw her picking at a simple garden daisy in her hands. The white petals had been shredded away carefully, and you couldn’t help but hear the nursery rhyme he loves me, he loves me not in your head. You saw his face and choked on your breath, clearing your throat awkwardly so that you wouldn’t burst out into tears in front of his little sister.
“You want to stay for Shiro’s or go home?” you asked. Her fingers froze on the last petal of the daisy, and she suddenly looked up at you fiercely.
“Shiro’s not dead.”
“Uh…” You didn’t know what to say to that. Katie was old enough to have object permanence, and she certainly grasped the concept of death, so you merely raised an eyebrow. “Shiro’s… gone, Katie. What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that he’s not dead. Think about it. You and Matt are the ones who told me that Shiro was the best pilot of all time!”
Her excited tone was unnerving and you saw her crush the daisy in her fist. Petals were strewn on the grass in front of her. Swallowing thickly, you tried to figure out how to lead her back onto the path of realism.
“We—er, I did say that, but… accidents happen. Deep space hasn’t ever been manned before. Kerberos is a dangerous place. I know it’s hard to believe—”
“Shiro wouldn’t crash. You told me yourself—he’s only ever crashed in simulation flights twice. That’s a world record. Shiro wouldn’t crash the ship. I know they’re still alive. I know it—!”
“Katie, please!” you shouted, not having expected to scream but finding yourself hoarse nonetheless. She looked startled as you stared down, tears falling from your eyes onto your knees. Your hands were clenched into tight fists, the engagement band he’d given you digging painfully into your skin. Her rambling went quiet as you tried to think of something to say. Anything to refute her that wasn’t the cold truth: the truth that you all now lived in a world where Matt Holt didn’t exist.
“Katie… I don’t need false hope. I just… they’re gone. There’s no way they can still be alive. I’ve thought about it… but there’s no way. The ship’s communications are all down… there’s no way. I just… I want…” you were floundering and she knew it. Despite the bulbous tears now streaming from her eyes, she took your hand, squeezing it. Her grip felt so strong that with a jolt, you almost thought it was his.
“It’s not false hope. I’m going to bring Matt and Dad back home. Then you two are going to have your stupid gross wedding, and we’ll all be a happy family again. Everything will go back to normal. Got it? It’s a promise. A p-prom… promise…”
“Aw, Pidge. Shh.”
You drew her in for a hug, her shoulder blades—so protrusive that Matt had nicknamed her Pigeon—practically cut into you. She’d always looked so awkward in skirts and dresses, and you ran a hand down her back gently, shushing her as she began to sob. You held her close to your chest, unable to look at her face for it looked too closely of Matt’s. You didn’t know how she could have so much determination. Maybe in the fretful nights after learning of your lover’s demise, you’d had a few dreams of reunion. Maybe you’d met up with him in the stars or found him on Earth after all this time. They were dreams that he was fine, and that things were totally fine.
But Matt wasn’t even just stranded somewhere on Earth, he was stranded somewhere on the outer reaches of the solar system. In your mind, you knew that there was no chance that you’d see him smile again. There’d be no chance to touch him, tell him that you loved him…
Katie cried, more than you’d ever seen her do so before, but her fists clutched your clothes with such strength that you just…
You just had to believe. You could do nothing more than believe. The ring on your finger felt warm, despite the chilly bite of autumnal air. You held little Pidge close to you to shield her from the wind, but maybe you were just holding her close to remind you of his warmth. It didn’t matter anymore. All you could do was believe in those dreams. All you could do was believe that Pidge could turn those dreams into reality.
“Bring ‘em home,” you whispered pleadingly, squeezing your eyes shut tight. His smile was so faint on the vestiges of darkness.
“Please… bring him back to me.”