The book was contacted in plastic—its spine creased, sharp to the touch; when you flicked up the corner of a deteriorating caramel page, it chirred. You blinked blankly at the black letters on the page, not seeing a thing.
It was supposed to be a last-ditch effort to memorise quotes, but who were you kidding—if you didn’t know them by now, you never would. Around you voices droned and paper fluttered; bags zipped, seats clunked. You felt like your brain was in overload, and at this stage, you just wanted to get the essay over and done with if only to regurgitate all the analyses you’d memorised.
You leant over the side of your desk and dumped the novel on the binder you’d chucked there, trading it in for your skinny, cornflower blue pencil case—the one with blooms of black ink stains along the seams from uncapped pens you’d left in there over the years. You retrieved a pen and dropped the case back onto the floor where it rolled lazily near Duke’s sneakers.
On your other side, Harper drummed her fingers against the elephant grey plastic table. Duke made an inhuman noise and her swing beat came to a holt mid-bar.
“Hold up,” he said, a gradual alarum creeping over his face. “Hold up, were we supposed to have two related texts for this one? I only memorised quotes from one.”
Okay… so you’d be doing better than Duke on this one, at least.
“Mr. Todd said you could use a film as a second related text,” you said. “Pull a Star Wars quote out of your ass.”
Duke visibly relaxed. “Oh, thank God.”
There was a beat.
“Wait, how am I going to relate sci-fi to Heart of Darkness?”
“Dude…” you said, right as Harper said, “It’s Wuthering Heights.”
Duke put his hands to his temple and stared down at the desk. “Oh my God.”
Harper and you squinted at him, but then Duke’s shoulders tremored, and his mouth split into a grin.
Harper leaned around you and thwacked his shoulder.
“Asshole,” she said.
Duke rubbed his shoulder. “But I was serious about the related text.”
You rolled your eyes.
Around you, you heard similar chatter, and after deciding that Duke’s stint had helped you keep your mind off of nerves, you tuned into the buzz around you.
Bart Allen was wrestling with a sliding window—somehow unable to open functionally the easiest type of window on the market—and Kristen Field was tying her thick brown hair back into a ponytail while she chatted with her soulmate, Lucy Enne. They were one of about six other soulmate pairs in your year to have found their matches already.
Bart whacked at the window, and Charlie, one of the guys on the football team, stood up, dwarfing him. The player made a grumbling noise and lifted his arm in something that could be interpreted as getting into pre-strike formation. Bart backed away from the window, and Charlie yanked it open for him.
“There you go,” he said.
A smile tugged at your face.
If there was one thing you liked about senior year, it was that it was generally the year everyone gave up trying to fit into the high school clichés. How many times in movies or novels had you seen high school depicted as a petty hierarchy, ranking from prom queens to overachievers, outcasts and stoners? It just so happened that by the time you got here as a cohort, most of the students who didn’t want to be there had already dropped out, and you were left with a generally likeable—or at least, tolerable—group of people you’d known for four years. The Prom Queen to be was an easy-going chick called Natalia who, coincidentally, was the person to see if you needed help on an Ancient History essay, and being a ‘geek’ meant that you had conversation staters with half the year because everyone was watching comic book movies. So against all perceptual odds that the media had been cramming down your throat since birth, your year group generally got along.
“Alright, quit yammering, you gremlins,” Mr. Todd commanded from the front of the room.
He was muscular, and tall, with dark, cropped hair. He stood with his hands in his trouser pockets, sleeves rolled two cuff-lengths up his forearms.
Senior year was generally the year teachers gave you more leeway too—or more accurately, they realised that your being older gave them more leeway, which was how you got Mr. Harper’s thirty minute expletive-filled rant about the ending of Game of Thrones that time he filled in for Mr. Todd.
Mr. Todd was a little different though.
He was all sharp edges and a bit of a bastard in one of those charming ways, which didn’t extend too well into the friendliness aspect. That being said, you couldn’t entirely fault him for it. He was young—you’d guess mid-twenties, maybe twenty-four or twenty-five—and the kind of handsome that made you wonder how he ended up working as an English teacher and not doing leads in action movies.
What it also meant was that the guy got harassed by students trying to not-so-subtly soulmate check him all the time. You involuntarily wrinkled your nose at the memory of Jaina Hudson brushing up against him during your first week this year. About four different people saw, and he definitely knew what she was playing at. It was embarrassing. You’d actually seen it happen at least two times to him since then over the course of this semester, and every single time, he levelled the individual in question with a withering look that may or may not have caused cloud cover. You could concede that the guy was good-looking, but personally, finding out that he was your soulmate wasn’t worth the risk of getting that look.
Furthermore, after the month and a half you’d spent in this class, you decided that the superficial thing was overrated. You knew you respected him as a person when some jerk—who’d since dropped the class—said no women had made important contributions to literature, and he began writing on the board under a list titled “Women who absolutely did redefine literature”: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein–invented sci-fi, Emma Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel–popularised heroes with secret identities (comic books say thank you), The Brontë Sisters (he underlined sisters several times), and the list went on until he’d filled up the whiteboard. When he’d finished, he turned around and said, “Why is no one writing this down? You,” he pointed at the boy, “write it down twice.”
The room was toning down, and you skimmed a hand over the paper booklet in front of you. You could feel the tiny edge of the slip with the essay question on it slotted inside.
“You have 50 minutes,” he said, “keep working through the double period bell—I don’t want to see any half-assing. Mr. Harper took this class last year, so what’s our motto when it comes to him?”
There was a collective grumble. “Show up Mr. Harper.”
“Exactly,” he said, wryly smirking. You clicked your pen.
“You may open your booklets,” he said. You flipped over the page.
In the end, the question was a little unexpected, but you were able to mould your prepared points around it easily enough; and then it was all muscle memory. Your pen skated across the page, leaving wet, glistening blue ink behind. The muscles in your forearm cramped and burned, but the nexus was there in your words, and you knew you’d brought it all together.
Mr. Todd was saying “Pens down” just as you finished scrawling your conclusion.
You threw your pen down and shook out your wrist, rubbing the aching muscle.
Beside you, Duke capped his ballpoint, and exhaled. He leant back in his chair and put his hands behind his head.
“I think,” he said, and turned to Harper and you, “that may have been the best bullshitting I’ve done in my life. I’m talking my magnum opus. They’re going to send that essay in for publication.”
“Shut up, Thomas,” Harper said. “At least own failure like the rest of us.”
“What about you?” Harper said to you.
“Uh, stole Duke’s publication spot, clearly.”
“Fuck OFF, I already told my mom.”
The three of you slipped into another round of familiar banter, but a voice inside you twinged—because you did want it to be good, really.
You had vivid memories of red, velvet curtains, and cinema seats with dust in them; of your mom shutting herself away in her office and putting you in front of animated movies and heroic journeys in rust-coloured sand, or by white-capped mountains. You saw pretty images, creative things, and you went on adventures every time you saw a film; it was why, when you graduated, you had a pipe dream about being involved in making them yourself one day.
High school here didn’t offer anything related to film studies, and you’d never owned a camera until a year ago. You knew the odds were already stacked against you—you were behind everyone else who’d grown up with parents who knew about movies, or who’d had cameras since they were children—and to top it all off, it was harder to break into filmmaking as a girl. But at some stage, you’d set your heart on doing it, and maybe it was idiotic, but doing well in this class was the closest thing you had metering your chances to being a good storyteller—even if it was with words instead of film. You had to do well in this class.
“L/N,” Mr. Todd said, “if you would collect everyone’s papers.”
You looked over at him. He was doing the same thing he’d done the whole fifty minutes: lounging back in his chair reading a dense looking thing. You hated that you had that personality type which instinctively itched to know whatever it was that someone else was reading, but you couldn’t help it. It was too far away though, and all you saw was the vague white blob of a blurb.
You stood up, avoiding Harper’s foot as she playfully tried to trip you, and in retaliation you ruffled her short, cerulean hair. People tossed their essays your way.
“I’ll give you three bucks if you accidentally lose mine.”
“Like you have three bucks, Bart.”
And after you’d collected a hefty stack, you turned to head to his desk.
Harper stuck out her foot again, and you dodged it, not seeing the bag in your path. Your foot tangled in a stray bag strap and you tripped.
The paper stack slid delightfully like a splayed deck of cards along the floor, but you were much less graceful.
“Damn, sorry, girl,” Harper said, and Duke, the bastard, chuckled. You fired an ‘I’ll fight you later’ look and went about collecting the slidden essays.
Mr. Todd rose to help you, but by then you were already righting yourself. Your elbow was unharmed but red from grazing the acrylic carpet.
“Are you alright?” Mr. Todd said, and you looked up at him, a little dazed at being put on the spot.
His eyes were glacial blue.
You flushed, but mostly because you were embarrassed that you apparently fell under the pathetic subcategory of ‘people who got flustered around a teacher’.
“Yeah, it was nothing,” you said.
You shoved the stack towards him, and when he reached out, your hands bumped.
How to describe it?
An electric shock.
And then, a cacophony of sensations.
You knew, right then, how it felt to be bare-skinned and in warm, firm arms—they were wrapping around you in your sleep, they were throwing you over his shoulder as you shrieked and beat your fists against his back. You heard the vibrating timbre of his voice against your ear, felt the taste of his lips crushing into yours and leaving soft, sweet nothings down your shoulder blades, to the base of your spine. You felt the ghost of him cupping your cheek, gripping your hips as you arched above his body.
He felt the same thing, you could tell, because he was staring at you like you were from Mars.
Those arctic eyes held yours. You didn’t say anything—just stared.
Distantly, you noted the papers spouting to the floor; your fingers were still touching.
“Holy shit,” Bart said. You heard other whispers—you guessed you’d been looking at each other for quite a while, but it didn’t matter.
He was your soulmate.
Your pulse pounded.
He was your soulmate.
“Ms. L/N,” he said, voice a croak, and you suddenly felt hyperaware that you were in a room full of seniors gawking at you. “Principal’s office. Now.”
You stood and fled the room.
Jason counted to five, took one look at the parliament of owls gaping at him, then burst out the door after you. On second thought. He pivoted, flung the door back open to his audience and barked, “Keep your traps shut. And stay here.”
There was no trace of you in the hallway, to his relief. He walked several paces down the hallway and leant against the white, painted wall, feeling the cool press of it through his shirt, against his burning skin.
He took a deep breath. He could hear the swarming chatter of the fuckers defying him anyway. God, he hated teenagers.
His soulmate could have been any of the last couple of women he’d been with—Isabel Ardila, Artemis for Christ’s sake, Rose—but no, the universe had stuck him with a seventeen-year-old.
Worse, he thought, a student.
His skin crawled at the thought of what people would say, though, he reasoned, he wasn’t really that much older than you. Seven, eight years was nothing that would make a difference in a few years’ time. Still, it was a big deal at your age.
He almost wished he had never taken the class, never come in to work today, but immediately, he regretted it.
Soft skin, and strands of hair through his fingers. The way you shivered as he skimmed his hands against your hips, down your thigh. The feeling of you laying together, and your palms pressed against his chest and you writhed above him, panting, rocking.
They were all phantom sensations, invading him. The things you saw in a bondtouch weren’t necessarily going to happen—it wasn’t like looking into the future, none of that. They were more like potential indicators for what you could have together—what it could be like, and deep down, he knew he wanted them.
He had a couple of fuzzy memories of you from class—nothing that stood out too well—to be honest, he’d never thought about you aside from marking the roll or work you’d turned in. He’d never thought about any student, ever, in that way. It was hard to equate the vague image he had of you to the moments from the touch—likely, because you weren’t that person in the touch yet.
He pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes, then stared at the chipped white-painted wall opposite him. It gave him no answers.
He pushed off the wall and walked down the corridor to Roy’s room. He banged once on the door.
He heard the scuffle of Roy moseying to the door, and he loosened his choking tie. Was the hallway getting warmer?
“What- Oh, Jaybird,” Roy leant cockily through the doorway, “You look like shit. You finally realise your band of insolents weren’t going to outdo my average?”
“Cool your fucking jets, Harper,” he said, clearing his throat. “I need you to watch my class for a second.”
Roy arched an eyebrow.
“I’ll explain later,” Jason said, “just—watch them.”
The office wasn’t somewhere you frequented—at least, not for anything like this. You didn’t even think Mr. Pierno was in today, and when you’d told the receptionist on duty that you’d been sent here because you’d matched, all she’d said was to sit on the chairs in the hall and to wait.
Were you in trouble?
You thought it over.
Nah, he probably just wanted to get you out of the room. The room full of your friends and his students who’d all figured out by now what had happened. You’d left your phone in your locker, but you’d wager it was blowing up right about now.
Your knee bounced, and you could feel the receptionist sneaking glances at you questioningly. She had pretty hair—coloured yellow, pinned smartly, and it was a shade that complimented her matte red lipstick. You ran a hand through your own and struggled to recall if you’d put on makeup this morning. You hoped you looked alright, then immediately killed the thought. The guy may be your soulmate, but you were still underage and a student, so it didn’t matter.
Great, you thought, of course I find my soulmate and it’s someone off-limits.
Technically, the legal age of consent was eighteen, but soulmates were a grey area. Once you found your soulmate, it was pretty much a given than you’d get together with them, except perhaps in instances of large age gaps, which didn’t happen very often. You could tell he wasn’t that much older than you but given your… situation, who knew. It was weird.
Still, had he ever even noticed you in his class before this moment? You weren’t super loud—not in this class, at least. It was an advanced class, so you preferred to just absorb the information being given out rather than risking it to mess around with Harper and Duke. That was what Civics was for.
You’d been in this class for a month and a half already and barely interacted aside from answering the occasional question—you supposed that wasn’t enough to leave much of an impression.
You racked your brain for everything you knew about him. He was a relatively new teacher at your school—starting two years prior, you believed? You knew he had a friendly rivalry with Mr. Harper, and you thought that there was a strong possibility that they were friends. You’d seen him talking to Ms. Anders, Mr. Harper’s soulmate, on more than one occasion too. But other than that? He was just another teacher.
Well, not anymore, an unhelpful voice supplied.
The muffled sound of steps on carpet grew, and he walked past you to the yellow-haired receptionist. He leant over the desk to talk to her, voice in a register too low for you to hear. The receptionist looked at you, and you tucked your hands under your thighs to stop fidgeting, turning pointedly to the frosted glass offices opposite you.
A couple of moments later, he was back in your peripheral vision. He paused near you, and you looked up, catching each other’s eyes. With a shard of relief you realised he was probably as uncomfortable about this as you.
He held out a black, peeling pleather covered clipboard and pen for you, and you noted that he had one of his own tucked under his arm too.
“Necessary evil,” he said, and you half-smiled back, taking it from him.
He parked himself on the olive-green plastic chair beside you.
It was a pretty standard soulmate incident report form—one that you were having trouble concentrating on, what with him sitting beside you.
People did match here from time to time, though on average, people tended to be a little older when they found their soulmate. More college age and above. But on the occasions that it did happen, it was the subject of talk for weeks—and that was just for students. You thought about the people who were probably going to harass you about him when you went to your next class and you had the sudden urge to make like Bugs Bunny or the Juggernaut and leave a you-sized hole in the wall.
You filled out the section on you, detailing your name, your date of birth and the like, before pausing.
Soulmate’s name. Great. You felt your cheeks flushing.
“I, uh,” you said, and he looked up from his form, eyeing you cautiously. It was the first time you’d said anything since you’d touched. “I just realised I don’t know your first name.”
You tapped at the section on the clipboard with your pen.
He glanced at the section on the form, then breathed out a soft chuckle which barely made a noise but sent a ripple through his shoulders. He nodded his head as if to say, Yeah, probably should have figured that.
“It’s Jason,” he said, “Jason Peter Todd.”
You nodded and wrote it down. It was a nice name, your mind going to Jason and the Argonauts.
“Do uh, do you have a middle name? Or is it just F/N L/N?”
It was kind of cute watching him squirm, but you told him your full name anyway.
“Date of birth?”
Your pen hovered above the form. He gave it to you, and it seemed your earlier assessment was right. He was twenty-four.
You huffed out a laugh that rattled your shoulders.
“What?” he said.
“Nothing, it’s just,” you tried to find the right phrasing before giving up and just going for it, “My mom’s either going to kill me or kill you and I can’t decide which one it’ll be.”
Mr. Todd—Jason—groaned and ran a hand through his hair. It was the least teacher-y you’d seen him—and it was nice to see, even if it was due to your mutual suffering.
“Don’t remind me. I already have brothers who are going to find this insufferably amusing.”
You couldn’t help yourself. “How many?”
He hesitated, then said, “Technically, three. And a sister.” He reconsidered. “Though she won’t be so bad.”
You let out a sympathy whistle.
He tapped his pen on the section of his form for your date of birth, and you gave it to him. You wondered if he was thinking about the fact that you still had another five months left before you turned eighteen, but neither of you said anything.
The receptionist informed you that they’d contacted your mother, who was on her way, and you shrunk into your seat a little, the fact that this was actually happening inexorably sinking in. You supposed you should be more grateful—most people spent years worrying that they’d never meet their soulmate, and some of them never did, either. At least this wasn’t that.
There was a knock on the office wall, and you looked up to see Harper toting your bag.
“Thanks, Harps,” you said, and she dumped it into your arms, squashing the clipboard.
She grinned at you mischievously, silver lip stud and bullring glinting in the fluorescent light. You shot back a look that said, ‘Do not, do not, do not’.
“So, Y/N, Mr. Todd,” she said. “Congrats, and all that.”
“Girl,” you hissed.
“Beat it, blue,” Jason said, making a shooing motion. Harper retreated, miming a phone with her hands and whispering to you “Call me later”.
You sighed and thumped your head against the wall behind you.
Another twenty minutes passed before your mother showed up. It had been quiet between Jason and you, and at some stage he’d stepped out into the vestibule to make a call to someone in hushed tones. You didn’t mind though. Your mind kept wandering to the spark you’d felt when you touched, and everything you’d felt alongside it. You wrapped your arms around your shoulders, unable to forget the memory—if you could call it that—of his arms around you. Logically you knew he’d never held you like that. No one had held you like that, nor done those things to you. It was… alien, but comforting all the same. You’d never quite understood the fervour over bondtouch moments until now.
“Y/N!” your mom said, sweeping in. You stood up just as she barrelled into you, wrapping her arms around you and squealing a little. You tucked your head into her shoulder, getting a face-full of long hair and the scent of her fruity shampoo. She pulled back.
“Okay, okay, where are they? I want to know everything.”
“Uh… how much did they say over the phone?”
“Just that you’d matched. I got out of a meeting and came right over.” She scanned the office, looking over everyone; the receptionist, a sophomore boy hobbling out of sickbay with an icepack pressed to his knee, a girl with heavy eyeliner and a bored expression sitting just outside the vice principal’s office. Her eyes flittered over Jason, who was walking back in now, and then she moved onto the next person in the office, apparently ruling him out.
“Well… uh…” You looked up at Jason for help, who was putting two and two together himself.
He cleared his throat. “You must be Ms. L/N. I’m Jason. Y/N is my, uh, English student.”
Your mom shook his hand, still looking around. “Right, it happened in the English class? Did her soulmate already leave?”
She was still shaking his hand when Jason’s jaw locked up. She kept shaking his hand, but the pace slowed down as it dawned on her.
“Age?” she said, and then to you, “How did you say you touched him again?”
You blew out a breath as if to say ‘Told you so’ to Jason, who winced and withdrew his hand. It’d be funny seeing him like this in literally any other situation, you thought, but right now? You wanted to be anywhere but here.
“It was an accident,” you said, “we bumped hands when I passed him my essay.”
Your mom seemed to relax at that.
“And, he’s twenty-four,” you mumbled, which she didn’t seem impressed at, but you could practically feel the ‘At least it’s under thirty’ relief radiating from her.
She seized him up and after a good moment, she elbowed you. “He’s cute.”
Jason looked uncomfortable and he cleared his throat.
“You got a last name, ‘Jason’?”
“Yeah, Jason Todd.”
“Not… Jason Todd as in the Jason Todd, son of Bruce Wayne?”
He stiffened, and you filed that reaction away for later examination. Bruce Wayne?
“You know Bruce?” he said.
You yourself didn’t know much about Bruce Wayne, but you knew that he was rich—insanely rich—and that his company was the reason why your mom was barely ever home. To you he was more of a vague concept, or a two-dimensional face you’d seen scowling on a magazine cover, and nothing more—so hearing that he was Jason’s father was quite a shock. Though, they had different last names, so maybe Jason was his half-son, or perhaps he’d been adopted. It was weird to consider that much about his personal life—where he grew up, he was from—forty minutes ago you’d still have addressed him as ‘sir’.
“Ha, you could say. I work on Wayne Tech’s legal team,” she replied. “I’m flying out with them to Hong Kong tomorrow to finalise a deal.”
Your mom seemed to be curious about something, but whatever it was on her mind, she didn’t bring it up. You’d ask her later. After that you thought he seemed a little closed off, but you tried not to read too far into it.
“Oh,” your mother said, “You’ll have to go register as soulmates this weekend, so I’ll miss it. Bummer.”
She had this very carefree attitude to her, which half the time you admired and the other half you found eternally frustrating. Her missing the registration to be overseas with Wayne Tech could indeed, in a soft reading of the event, be described as a bummer. Not only because registering your soulmate was a big, formal deal, comparable only maybe to getting your marriage certificate (and even then, the importance of the latter compared to the former was debatable), but you had no idea what you were supposed to do there without her.
Registering as soulmates was compulsory to do as soon as you bonded, and it didn’t necessarily mean that you were with your soulmate romantically; plenty of people had platonic soulmates. But once you registered as soulmates, you had special rights, and usually became an emergency contact and go-to person in the event than anything happened to them. Given the fact that you didn’t even have your driver’s license, that was probably going to be pretty fucking useless to Jason, but still, everyone had to do it.
“I’m sure I can ask one of the neighbours to witness for you,” she said.
“Duke’s eighteen. I’ll ask him,” you said.
God, the last thing you wanted to do was have Mrs. McLachlan with her baggy floral shirts and stuffy perfume waddling through the courthouse with you.
“Perfect,” she said, changing the subject, but as she went on you thought you saw Jason watching you, as though he suspected how you felt about the subject. You looked away. Maybe it was a soulmate thing.
When she finally left to take you home, you said your goodbyes, and he offered you a nod as you left.