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Of Black Boxes and Metal Bracelets

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As a kid, Cyrus had always been worried about the black rectangle on his left wrist.

Cyrus attributed that worry to the day his mom came home without hers. Her wrist wasn't covered with the black box it had before, and it was reduced down to the words 'Nice to meet you, Leslie. Call me Todd.’

When Cyrus pointed it out to his parents, that had started the long road of divorce.

During the long sessions of therapy he'd undergone through that time, the soulmate concept was explained to Cyrus very thoroughly. Perks of having four shrink parents, you could say.

When your soulmate spoke your words, the box on your left wrist would dissolve into a simple sentence. The trick is, they could say it to you at anytime. It could be the first or last words they say to you, or anything in between.

The words only came at a turning point in you and your soulmate's relationship, so time wasn’t a very important factor. In fact, you could know someone for years and not know they were your soulmate. You could also be married to someone for years and not know that they weren't your soulmate.

(That second part was something Cyrus was extremely familiar with.)

Cyrus had never hated the black box on his arm, but he had definitely worried about it. He'd worried that he'd never see his soulmate's words come to fruition, and worried he'd waste his life because he didn't know who his soulmate was.

But as it turns out, Cyrus' stress was all for nothing. In fact, every worry Cyrus had ever had over his potential soulmate was pretty pointless.

Because Cyrus had never anticipated this. 

He had feared never knowing his soulmate, and he feared living a life without them. But he'd never thought to fear both knowing his soulmate and living without them. 

Millions of thoughts were running through Cyrus’ head on costume day, but there was one that stood most important in his mind.

"Buffy, I… I can't go home tonight." Cyrus had said.

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

Cyrus had trembled when he lifted up the sleeve on his white 'S' shirt.

Sorry, last minute decision. It said in a bold black font. Buffy looked confused for a moment, until the realization hit her. 

"Is that-" she stopped at the trembling of Cyrus' lip.

Buffy shut her mouth, before slowly opening it again. "You should stay at my house tonight." she said carefully.

 

---

 

Cyrus was terrified of going back home. He couldn't go back to a group of psychiatrists with his emotions ready to burst at the seams.

Buffy had understood that. She always did. She was the only one who could help him like this, rubbing his back in soft circles as he washed his face over the sink.

“If you feel up to talking about it, what exactly… happened?” Buffy asked quietly. Cyrus held the edges of the counter with a death grip, and tried to calm himself down with deep breaths.

“The words formed when TJ told me he bailed to do a costume with Kira .” Cyrus spat. 

“What? I’ll kill him!” she yelled, letting go of the circling motions to form a fist. Cyrus huffed a mix of a laugh and a sob.

“No, no, don’t do that. I really don’t think he wanted to hurt me."

“Cyrus, just because he’s your soulmate doesn’t mean you can excuse every action he takes! Even if you love him, you can’t let him walk all over you like that!” Buffy shouted. Cyrus jumped at the word ‘love’.

“Buffy, I don't- I don’t love him!”

“Of course you do. He’s your soulmate!” she said exasperatedly. Cyrus wouldn’t admit that she was probably right, because… 

“What if he isn’t?” Cyrus said, in a harsher way than he thought himself capable of. Buffy softened immediately. Cyrus sighed, and moved to sit down on the tile floor. Buffy stayed standing, looking down at him with a sympathetic look in her eyes.

“Cyrus, denial isn’t going to help your situation. You were there when the words formed and everything-”

“No! No, what if I’m not his soulmate?” Cyrus choked. "What if the words on his arm aren't mine?"

Buffy scoffed. “An unrequited soulmate? Cyrus, be reasonable! It’s so rare-”

“That one in 20 people have one. It’s not that ridiculous Buffy. In fact, the evidence all points to it.” 

Buffy frowned. “What do you mean, evidence?” she sat down on the toilet, narrowing her eyes down at him.

“For one, he’s been wearing a soulmate band for days.” he shook his head. “Days, Buffy!”

Soulmate bands were sleeves or bracelets that fit around your wrist, for the purpose of hiding your soulmate's words.They were often hidden to keep the words special and intimate. So that it could be something you share with your family, and something you smile at with your partner. Cyrus had to repeatedly stop himself from imagining those moments with TJ, since it was likely he was already sharing knowing smiles with… someone else.

“Well… he just got through a rough patch with Jonah, didn’t he? Maybe he didn’t want to talk about it since he wasn’t on good terms with all your friends?” she said with a small shrug.

“Nah, he started wearing it after that whole misunderstanding. No one would be against him, so that doesn’t make sense.”

“That probably just means that he was too scared to tell you about it. Soulmates are a huge deal, obviously.” Buffy said, brushing it off.

“Buffy, you aren’t getting it. I’m not his soulmate, because…”

“Cyrus-” Buffy reached out to lay a hand on his arm.

“Because Kira has to be.”

Buffy’s hand stopped midway, stunned.

“What? No-”

“He bailed on me for Kira, Buffy. I didn’t even think he knew Kira! They must’ve gotten close when they showed each other their words.”

Buffy, over the initial shock, placed an arm on his shoulder. “Cyrus, you’re over thinking it.”

Cyrus held his hands over his knees, curling into a ball. “If he knew that I was his soulmate, he wouldn’t abandon me like that.”

“Cyrus-”

“I don’t want to think that he’s my soulmate, Buffy. Because if he is, that means that he doesn’t want to be my soulmate. That he hates the idea so much that he’d rather hang out with a girl he doesn’t know than me.” Cyrus let out a shaky breath, “And I think that’s worse than having an unrequited soulmate, Buffy.”

At that, Buffy moved onto the ground next to him, and she wrapped him in a hug. No more words were spared, just his tears into her sweatshirt.

Kira and TJ, it made sense. They were both athletic and popular, they had a shared love for basketball, so on and so forth. Cyrus couldn't blame TJ for going with Kira, since it was far easier to blame himself for thinking he had a chance with him in the first place.

He fell asleep empty and drained in Buffy's arms, these thoughts running through his head.

---

 

The entirety of the next week, Cyrus spent his lunches in the library, his classes with his head down, and stopped going by his locker altogether. Avoiding TJ and Kira was slowly becoming his highest priority.

Wherever Cyrus went, they always seemed to be around. Kira laughing with a smugness Cyrus couldn't stand, and TJ walking along beside her. Cyrus couldn't bear to see it, fleeing whenever he caught a glimpse of them in the halls.

Cyrus couldn't help but think back to the gun incident, where he had Buffy and Andi pulling him away from TJ, and urging him to block all his texts and calls. Cyrus wished he had that now, because avoiding TJ was proving to be very difficult. But Andi was too caught up in the Jandi drama of the week, and Buffy was too weary about pushing him around over such a sensitive issue.

Cyrus wasn’t that good at being his own bodyguard, but he held through. Because even though he saw the longing looks TJ gave him, every sad face he pulled at him were only pushing Cyrus further away.

Cyrus knew if they talked it out, he'd eventually cave into TJ. He'd accept whatever excuse TJ had, and follow behind him helplessly as he and Kira fell in love. And however selfish it was, Cyrus would rather not have TJ in his life at all than have him just out of his reach.

--- 

"Cyrus, please."

Cyrus squeezed his eyes shut, he didn't want to see him. Not now, not ever.

"Cyrus!" TJ begged.

Cyrus gripped tighter onto the chains of the swing. His feet dug into the ground. Of course TJ was at the swings, as if he was waiting for Cyrus to appear.

"I'm not talking to you." Cyrus said, eyes still refusing to open.

"I know Andi and Buffy are probably telling you to stay away, but-"

"It's not them this time." Cyrus interjected, eyes opening to find a hurt looking TJ right in front of him. "I'm the one telling me to stay away."

"Cyrus…" for the first time in ages, Cyrus was finally seeing TJ face to face. TJ looked exhausted.

Cyrus stood up, walking briskly past TJ.

"No, wait! Please-"

"Bye, TJ."

"Stop avoiding this and just let me talk!" TJ grabbed Cyrus' arm and Cyrus whipped around, only to find TJ looking quietly down at the new bracelet covering Cyrus’ wrist.

"TJ, please don't try anything, I don't want to talk through any of this. I’m done."

But TJ's focus was concentrated solely on the soul band Cyrus had taken to wearing. "Congratulations." TJ said emptily. He watched as TJ’s thumb rubbed over the metal on his wrist.

"They're very lucky to have you." TJ whispered. Cyrus trembled at his words, feeling furious and miserable at the same time.

"But they’d be luckier if they had Kira, right?" Cyrus bit out quietly, turning away from TJ's gaze.

TJ was looking more and more desperate. "Please, Cyrus. I promise- I promise I didn't want to do the costume with Kira, she just made me think-" he was cut off by a shake of Cyrus' head.

He let his body go limp. "It's okay, Teej. I shouldn't be this mad anyway."

Cyrus knew he was being irrational, TJ didn't know he was Cyrus' soulmate. The costume probably didn't mean much to TJ, and he probably thought that Cyrus would've felt the same. Cyrus had had a backup costume with Andi anyway, so it wasn't even that embarrassing for him in the end. He let out a sigh. TJ deserved the best. He deserved to have a loving soulmate, even if it was Kira of all people.

Cyrus looked at him sullenly. "You should be allowed to do a costume with whoever you want. You should be allowed to be... happy." TJ gripped his wrist even tighter.

"I shouldn't be allowed anything, Cyrus!" TJ choked. "I wanted to do a costume with you! You're the one that makes me hap-"

Cyrus tensed. "No, I get it. You don't have to explain." Kira was TJ's soulmate, there's no way he'd have chosen Cyrus over her. "I just- You at least deserve to know why we can't hang out anymore."

Cyrus' trembling hand removed the band from his wrist.

TJ's eyes went wide. But weirdly, his mouth picked up into a smile as he read over the words.

"I’m your soulmate?” TJ grinned.

Cyrus gave a tight nod. He was ready for whatever was to come. Whatever regretful explanations or teasing or whatever TJ would throw at him, Cyrus wasn’t going to take it. 

“So my soulmate's..." TJ said, becoming oddly giddy.

"Kira, I know." Cyrus said, pushing away.

TJ’s face fell. "She's not- Cyrus, what does Kira have to do with anything?"

"Well, she probably won't want us hanging out, since it'll be weird for her boyfriend to hang out with someone who's... y'know."

"Wait, what?" TJ spluttered. "I'm not Kira's boyfriend!"

Cyrus nearly laughed. "You're kidding, right? She's why you left the costume, she's why you've had that band on your arm. She's your soulmate!"

"I'm definitely not Kira's soulmate." TJ grumbled. "I feel sorry for whoever is." Cyrus stared at him curiously.

"Then why?" Cyrus huffed. “Why did you leave for her then?”

"She…” TJ rubbed his arm over his band. “She threatened to out me if I went with you. She's been threatening to do it if I don't let her join the team too." Cyrus' jaw dropped.

"TJ, are you…?"

"Yeah underdog, I'm gay. And I’m willing to out myself if it means this can happen." TJ said, gesturing between them. 

Cyrus barely heard what he said, instead squeaking out: “You’re gay? ” 

“Utterly.” TJ said with a smile. "If anything, this should show it." he grinned, peeling off his own bracelet.

 

It is 21. It said clearly.

 

Cyrus gaped. "Your soulmate is Jonah?" he thought back to how angry Jonah had been over the shirt, and how proud he was of TJ for explaining his dyscalculia. But maybe that small bonding moment with with Jonah was something more? Did he need to read between the lines better?

Cyrus groaned and buried his face in his hands. Wow, the world really was out to get him. His crushes of both past and present were getting together! What luck!

Weirdly, TJ started laughing. "That's what I thought too! But this," he reached for Cyrus' wrist, pulling his hands down from their shielding of his face. "this makes so much more sense." Cyrus felt his heartbeat quicken as TJ’s fingers twined through his.

"What about this makes sense?" Cyrus said, his frustration bubbling as he let go of TJ’s hand. His emotions were way too confused for any of this.

"You were the one to say my words, not Jonah." TJ explained with a grin.

Cyrus paused, running through his memory. He thought about that day in Jonah's basement, when he'd pulled up the picture of their little league on the tablet, and when Jonah and TJ both insisted the jersey was theirs.

 

'It's 21!' Jonah had shouted. 

Cyrus remembered nodding over at TJ.

'It is 21.' 

 

Cyrus stood in shock. He really needed to read between the lines better.

"I thought I was gonna have to spend my life with Jonah!" TJ wheezed, sounding both relieved and psychopathic at the same time.

“Did you tell him about all this?” Cyrus asked. That would definitely have been an awkward conversation, and not the kind of conversation Cyrus imagined to be fun for the care free and commitment fearing Jonah.

“No way.” TJ’s face scrunched up. “I couldn’t really imagine a life with him, y’know? He’s a pretty face, but he’s just so bland. I didn’t think I’d be happy with him, so I just kept living on as if everything was normal. I guess… Eh, you probably wouldn’t understand.” 

Cyrus laughed. “Oh, you have no idea how much I do.”

TJ’s cheeks flushed. “I might’ve also been a bit disappointed that it wasn’t you.” He whispered. Cyrus’ heart pounded, and he pulled TJ into a hug.

"You moron, this could've all been solved if you could've just remembered more clearly." Cyrus muttered into TJ's shirt, but a grin was spreading across his face.

TJ pulled back, crossing his arms. "Hey, you thought it too! This is so not my fault."

“You had weeks to figure that out, I had seconds!” he argued halfheartedly. He was way too happy over this to be mad at anyone, especially TJ. But Buffy was definitely going to be mad at how stupid this all was. And then she was definitely going to laugh at the two of them at how stupid this was.

Cyrus looked down at his own wrist, rubbing at the aforementioned 'stupid' sentence.

"I wanted it to be you, Teej." he muttered. He said it so quietly that he was almost sure TJ hadn't heard him, until TJ’s cheeks turned a delightful shade of pink.

Cyrus continued. “Before all this, that is. I think I’ve liked you for a while.” Cyrus’ own cheeks were heating up now too.

“God Cyrus, I… I really like you too.” he whispered. Cyrus looked up, about ready to explode with happiness.

“Wow… I-” Cyrus stammered.

"Can I kiss you?" TJ blurted, and Cyrus was sure his face was as red as a tomato by now.

TJ looked at him nervously, and Cyrus nodded up at him. TJ reached for Cyrus’ left wrist, right over those black letters, and pulled them closer.

And as TJ bent down to meet his lips, Cyrus felt that he wouldn't have to worry about the words on his wrist ever again.