Keith stared into his closet's blackened innards and sorted through the multiple connotations of the word 'closet.'
There were the standard definitions, which were 'clothing hovel' or 'an expensive coping mechanism bent on bankruptcy.' Keith and Shiro's credit cards knew the latter well, but then there were closets for linens, cleaning supplies and outdated Christmas decorations. There were pantries, too, and lockers and cells and graffiti painted bathroom stalls where Keith once battered his knees for quick cash. Physical ideas of closets came in many shapes and sizes, and silently, Keith thumbed through his mental catalog. He eventually landed on the final page, but Keith tossed it toward the back of his mind, dissatisfied.
What else was there about closets?
There was being in the closet, but that felt too predictable. Keith did his best not to ascribe too closely to the obvious, but in the moment, his closet was making him feel obvious.
Black on black on black; a series of leathers, denim, and boots followed by sportswear to match also black running shoes costing as much as his vintage Louboutin.
He checked the time on his phone. The blue light was jarring in the dim bedroom, but it reminded him to turn on the light. Keith hadn't moved from the bed except to piss and make a protein shake, but Shiro was coming home soon. He wanted to grab dinner somewhere that wasn't a cafeteria before entering his post-shift sleep.
That meant Keith had to dress his meat sack. He had to look like someone for the first time in days. Admittedly, this was a good thing. Keith had a nagging feeling he was playing chicken with vitamin D deficiency.
It was dark out. So much for that.
Keith belatedly recalled leaving the bedroom for another reason. It had lined up with a pissing excursion, so maybe it was still a pissing excursion but an eventful one.
Nevertheless, that morning, Keith had cried.
He'd cried until he vomited bile. At some point, Keith decided he was sick because his body had cracked beneath weight. The weight of what? Keith knew. It was the weight of what it means to be happy and in love.
It didn't take a tremendous amount of brainpower to determine happiness isn't driving the porcelain bus, but Keith wasn't there for logic.
I'M IN LOVE
But why was it devastating? Keith tried to purge the answer, fingers slipping beneath the toilet seat with no thought for hygiene. Keith was smart, wasn't he? Shiro often reminded him he was smart. Smart in the startling way that stopped the doctor mid-bite.
"It's not rocket science, Shiro. Don't look at me like I walked the moon. Is the spinach dip good? I read this place has good spinach dip, but no one around here has standards. You never know."
"You referenced rocket science and now want to talk about spinach dip? Keith, baby, humor me here."
"On a scale of one to Ina Garten, this is a solid Giada De Laurentiis."
"Don't murder the spinach dip like that. What did she ever do to you?"
"It's going to murder my asshole in an hour. When you hear the Kill Bill sirens coming from the bathroom tonight, know it was the spinach dip."
"As much as I can't wait for my revenge arc, that was advanced science. Say it again."
"My ego is big enough. Don't inflate it. Talk to me about spinach dip."
Keith had known he was smart long before Shiro, though. He had even found solace in his capacity to build a flawless grade point average with minor studying only to turn his back on academia.
"Since when did you get so boring?" Keith asked the closet. He stuffed both fists into the sardined fabrics and used real strength to part their dead sea.
Ultimately, Keith loved suspension. He loved understanding the worth of everything and bending its will like scorched metal. In many ways, existing in his own emotional antigravity had constructed his person.
"You're so fucking boring."
Love was grounding, though. It was a foundation that could anchor a whole house.
He had once been certain about himself and what he stood for, but the ongoing relationship with Takashi Shirogane forced Keith to press his palms to the floorboards. No longer could he float through life.
Keith's phone buzzed in hand. Lance was in Cuba, so unless Keith's mother wanted something, then it was Shiro calling to let him know he was in the parking garage. Keith didn't bother looking at the screen. He answered with a distant 'hey, baby,' and Keith plucked black jeans off a velvet hanger. A Ralph Lauren turtleneck he had desecrated into a crop top screamed his name, but he put on the gag order and grabbed a simple sweatshirt instead.
"Almost ran over a homeless guy, so I gave him a hundred bucks and called a local shelter. Now that I'm full of shame and hyperaware of my tax bracket, I could really go for Italian."
"Please tell me I'm imagining the smile in your voice." Keith stripped his baggy sweatpants. Technically, they were Shiro's sweatpants. "Was he actually in the way or are you that sleep deprived?"
"Isn't that a million-dollar question."
"You know I could have picked you up. Homicide is a bad look."
"Wouldn't call it career-friendly," Shiro agreed.
"I'm glad the homeless guy is okay, but I'm driving. Give me five minutes to finish dressing. I'll be right down. Be in the passenger seat when those elevator doors open."
"Does this mean we're listening to your music, too?"
If Shiro wasn't smiling before, he was then.
"You're going to watch me sing along to every word and like it."
Keith hung up on Shiro's laughter, but he smiled at his phone before pocketing it. Keith finished dressing and took one last look at the forest of black clothes. He rolled the pocket door shut and turned off the closet light.
He swiped his leather wallet off the bedside table and turned off the television. Keith picked up his blender bottle, intending to drop it off in the sink to hide the evidence. Shiro didn't need to know he'd been comatose.
Was there anything else about closets he was forgetting?
Friends, for Keith, tended to be nebulous. There were people who shadowed his life, and he welcomed them while also not seeking them. It wasn't that he didn't care. In fact, Keith cared immensely. Once elbow deep in a high stakes lifestyle, Keith was the first to notice when someone hadn't made an appearance at his favorite watering holes, the first to offer to drive someone to and from the clinic, and the first to call the police.
He liked being there when it mattered the most.
Keith had even taken a self-defense class, and soon after, signed up his friends. By the end of the eight weeks, Keith and his circle knew had to disarm, sucker punch, evade, and gouge eyes. Many who had enrolled moved onto the instructor's kickboxing classes and Keith couldn't help but find pride in the strength he'd helped cultivate.
Contribution with no thought for return was how he liked to be a friend. He was necessarily there, and that was good enough for him.
Because of this, it wasn't often Keith consciously needed a friend. Only when he realized he was counting down the days to Lance's return did he figure he was overdue. Life had dramatically changed during Lance's family visit.
To return to 'nebulous relationships,' Lance was king in that department. His artwork had gained momentum, and between galleries and designing a skatewear line, he was busier than ever. In many ways, Lance knew himself better than ever, but his love life was in peril. The details were hazy at best, but Keith decided that made sense.
Hunk was there, but he wasn't. Half the time, Keith couldn't tell if it was more Lance wallowing in remorse than Hunk himself. Lance had what Shiro once called a 'baby heart.'
"It's why you two get along so well. You both have baby hearts. The difference is the expression of them. Yours is always silenced by a pacifier and left in the nursery, and Lance's is the baby crying during the action movie. We're not mad at your hearts. We're mad the parents or in this case how life thought it was okay to put you two there in the first place."
Anyway, Keith missed Lance.
The day Lance returned, Keith had to gird himself and patiently wait for his friend to settle. After the appropriate twenty-four hour waiting period, Keith called him and asked to hang out. He didn't have plans, but Lance and Keith were past that point. They entertained one another solely by existing together.
In dreary autumn weather, Keith picked Lance up outside his new apartment building. Keith and Shiro had moved into a vaguely bigger loft the same time Lance had left his roach hotel. For some reason, Lance had spent an excessive amount of money buying his old place's bathtub. It'd had no elevator. Now, whenever Keith saw his building, he had flashbacks to the week of boxes and carting things up and down endless stairs.
Lance spotted Keith's car and jogged through the cold rain toward the passenger side. He yanked open the door, leaned in but stopped short when he saw Keith's face.
"You look like you forgot your night cream," Lance said, dropping himself into the seat. He brushed back his hood and swiped raindrops off his Salty Crew sweater.
"We need to get coffee right now."
The off-color urgency made Lance shift away. He assessed his friend, suspicious, and tried to laugh it off. "You okay, man? You look wired."
Keith shifted his gaze onto Lance but darted it away. He grabbed his water bottle and uncapped it, pausing before his sip. "I didn't sleep a lot last night. Bad week."
"It finally happened, didn't it? You caught herpes. Keith, I told you –"
Keith coughed up his sip. He sputtered and the mouthful sprayed onto his lap. Roughly wiping his lips with his sleeve, he glared at Lance. "Shiro doesn't have herpes. Shut up."
"It sits dormant, friend-o. I didn't say Shiro had it."
"I've been tested a hundred times."
Disbelieving for the sake of riling Keith, Lance cautiously re-centered himself in his seat. "Cool. No herpes, but you are radiating anxious energy."
Keith turned over the ignition and grabbed the gear shift. His wet palm slid along the grip, but he determinedly caught it. He sucked in a meditative breath. "Something happened, but I really need coffee before I get into it."
"More like a Xanax and shot of Patrón."
The Starbucks's drive-thru line could have wrapped around Earth twice, but Lance and Keith decided they didn't have anything better to do. Lance connected his phone to the car's Bluetooth, and to lighten the mood, played Bonfire. Keith didn't react to Childish Gambino, and Lance stared at him, horrified.
Keith was hinged on his train of thought. He couldn't take his eyes off the car in front of them. The red brake lights were blurring, and his skull front was fogging over and full of hot steam.
Lance turned up the song. "You're driving me nuts. This is the perfect spot to have a poignant discussion. Divulge now or I'm gonna tuck and roll into the bushes."
"What are you talking about?" He registered the song and groaned. "Give me a minute. I said coffee first. Respect my human limitations."
"If a skinny caramel macchiato with no whip makes that much of a difference in your life, then you might want to examine your dependency problem."
Lance's condescending comment aside, it did make a difference.
It made such a difference that—after Keith finished half his iced drink and blurted out the news—Lance and Keith fell silent. Keith had seen less severe responses to death.
The Lexus's windshield was fogged, striped by streaming droplets. Keith sat rigid in his seat with his face forward, eyes burning through fogged glass. Beside him, Lance mirrored his body's funereal language. Keith supposed he could have found a gentler way to come clean. He had dropped a Molotov cocktail of information. Dropped and not tossed because the news had unintentionally tumbled out of his mouth: no run, no sling, no chuck. It had happened under the same weight that had made him puke days before.
Always with the weight.
Keith had to be fair to himself, though. He had spent weeks being nonchalant, pretending a landslide wasn't seated on his chest.
Lance broke the silence. As a friend, he was morally obligated to. "So you're really doing it then?"
"Yeah." Keith opened his mouth but paused. "I am."
The surprise, the crescendo in Keith's pitch if you will, let Lance know the affirmation even surprised him.
"When did you decide?"
"I thought I had the second it happened, but I think I just did."
"Telling someone always makes it real, but maybe don't tell Shiro that." Keith acridly laughed. Lance cleared his throat and whistled. "Time for details, Keithy. Tell me how it went down. Shiro would propose during skydiving. That's what you're marrying. Did you two skydive into love? No. Even better. He'd organize one of those flash mobs that make me clench so hard I need a colonoscopy bag afterward. Shiro would sing Elton John to you."
"He spat the ring into my mouth like a baby bird."
Lance wrinkled his nose. "You guys take the daddy relationship way too far."
"I'm kidding." Keith scratched his cheek, closing his eyes with a smile. "He mailed a letter to our apartment. It was really romantic. He addressed it to me and the letter was made out of magazine cutouts like how serial killers make ransom notes. There was also a coupon for a tanning salon in the envelope. He's thoughtful that way."
ke I th , WILL you M a RRY Me ? XO x O Sh I Ro
Lance stared. "You're mocking my suspension of disbelief here. I could imagine you putting the ring inside your asshole and asking him to play ring toss. All is possible."
Keith slowly arched an eyebrow, feigning intrigue.
"Make that face when I'm out of the car. Are you going to tell me?"
He dropped the expression and shrugged. Keith tilted back his head, and gripping the steering wheel, sighed at the ceiling. "It wasn't a big deal. I saw it coming. We're engaged."
"Did he put it in food or something? Like, a bowl of chili? A protein shake? God, how isn't it all over his social media? Shiro is so proud of you it makes everyone uncomfortable. It's like the PTA Dad at the National BETA Convention who does that little league dad scream while his son sings Dancing Queen. It's like he's in the middle of cutting open a child, thinks about you, and as soon as he gets out of surgery, has to post a life-affirming status about his relationship on Facebook. Others might not see it, but I know what that is. That's big sexy anxiety."
Keith wished Lance was exaggerating.
"He likes me," Keith softly said.
"That's all it takes to get married? Call Hunk for me."
Keith deflected. "How's that going?"
"I've signed an NDA on that relationship."
"I don't have to tell you anything if you don't tell me anything."
"An engagement is ten times bigger than whatever is going on with Hunk and me."
Keith stared at Lance, waiting for an explanation and lifting his eyebrows higher and higher as the rain became a downpour. Lance loved to talk, but he had quit talking about Hunk months ago. What made this weird wasn't the possibility they had broken off their friendship for good. It was that Keith knew they hadn't and were spending time together. A lot of time together, even. Hunk's Instagram was as bad as Shiro's Facebook statuses.
Their relationship went deeper than interpersonal issues, too.
When Lance announced he had stumbled across funding for his clothing line, Shiro pointed out Hunk had to be the primary backer. His reasoning was that 'it just made sense,' and Keith couldn't tell him he was wrong. It fit into Hunk's familial brand and legacy. Whether or not they were dating, it was a logical move considering Lance's talent.
Keith figured Lance might have been burned enough to know not to count his chickens before they hatched, but that wasn't enough to make Lance zip his lips. He even recalled the last time he tried to ask Lance about Hunk.
"You were on Hunk's Instagram again. I didn't know you two were in Melbourne last week. Isn't that flight hell?"
"It's somewhere I've always wanted to go, so I decided to go with someone who knew the place."
"Nice attempt to guard yourself. Are you two back at it again or not?"
"You're going to have to specify to get answers out of me at this point. 'At it' could be anything. We were back at that dive we love last night, and we were at Zuma Beach not too long ago."
"He's still here?"
"He left this morning. We were going to ask you and Shiro to hang out, but then we sat on the couch for a week and binged CKY and Jackass."
"You're fucking then."
"I mean, what even is fucking, Keith?"
Keith exhaled, exasperated. "Whatever, man."
If Lance didn't want to tell him, then fine, but the last thing he wanted was for Lance to sink inside his own head again.
Keith leaned over the steering wheel and pressed his cheek to the leather. Closing his eyes, he imagined Shiro's hands gripping the same curved bar, and as he pictured Shiro's smile, his eyes fluttered open.
He sighed. Lance mockingly sighed back.
"I, for one, am partial to the bowl of chili idea if you ever propose to me. Just FYI."
Keith grinned. "I'll remember that."
They sat in more silence. Keith imagined the gears in their heads spinning. Ticking and turning.
"I've never had a friend get married before," Lance said.
"Neither have I."
Lance reached for the windshield and ran a finger alongside a racing droplet.
"Isn't rain and weddings a bad omen?"
"Only on the actual wedding day."
"You know what it looks like outside because of the green in that 7/11 sign? It looks like the T. rex chase scene from Jurassic Park. Man, I think about Jeff Goldblum's chest a lot. Can you imagine Spielberg directing that scene with him on the table? He shouts for more baby oil, but then everyone's like, but Steven, we've used so many bottles already. Jeff is drowning. We're drowning. Someone from craft services is dead."
Keith's mouth quirked into a small smile. "I wish I always knew what to say like you, Lance."
"And I wish I knew how to effortlessly hold a beer like you, Keith."
The beer dig dated back to the early summer. Keith had opened his apartment door in an Adidas muscle tee and black snapback. Lance had taken one look at Keith's black cut off shorts and crouched down to inspect the factory fray encircling his knees. He had tugged a strand like a lamp switch and grinned.
"Did you buy the craft beer?"
Keith had laughed and tugged him up by the bicep. Shiro, fiddling with charcoal on the balcony, had waved at Lance before shooting a stream of lighter fluid onto newspaper.
"Is he okay out there?"
"We're going to let him think he is."
"Instead of sending out save the date invitations, you should start sending RSVPs for save the steak because most of the evening's entertainment is watching you and Hunk anxiously prod meat slabs behind his back."
Keith and Shiro hadn't alluded to marriage at that point, but Lance had always been prophetic.
"Where's Hunk, anyway?"
Lance later said something to the effect of 'from Anastasia Beverly Hills to Adidas,' but as Keith often did, he had tuned out the joke. Not because he was offended, but because if anyone understood Keith's stylistic vacillation, then it was Lance. Before moving in with Shiro, Keith's life had been performative. He'd enjoyed his work's lifestyle, but it wasn't sustainable. It hadn't been a reflection of who he believed he was. When Keith wasn't smearing an ex-wife's red lipstick along his client's gooch, then he was on his couch, watching junk food television in nothing but sweats, Lance's Thrasher hoodies and socks ironically patterned with marijuana leaves.
With no more clients, Keith had reoriented himself with – well, himself.
Keith believed that's what had happened, anyway.
He looked good in black, and so did Shiro. When they existed side-by-side, Keith knew they embodied sophistication and maturity that reflected Shiro's career.
Sometimes, though, Keith missed red's thrill.
"I saw this coming a mile away," Lance announced. It wasn't a self-gratifying statement. He'd said it with a thoughtful smile, leaning back his seat with a grunt. "Hunk and I talk about how you two are like a goal."
"You and Hunk talk about us," Keith said. He found it funny, but he didn't ask Lance to elaborate.
Lance tugged down his beanie. "More about Shiro. It's the way he keeps it together, and I've seen how he helps you keep it together. You do things for him too, but it's way less obvious."
"He's less scared," Keith said. He liked to tell Lance things, but delving into emotional intimacy made him uncomfortable. His words were tar on tongue. "He's not as afraid of our relationship, I mean."
"Wrong," Lance countered. "Remember what I said about Shiro's sexy anxiety? Shiro is terrified of what you two are. He compensates by telling the world he loves you."
Keith shot him a sideways glance. "Ever consider psychology?"
"It's not that deep, Keith. You two are only children, and everyone knows only children turn out stunted and weird. You didn't get the social trial run us siblings got, but that's okay. You're figuring it out together. You're growing."
Keith hummed, smiling. "Asshole."
Lance grinned, pleased with himself. "Takes one to know one, but hey, man. Congratulations on the engagement. Next time we drink, I'll figure out how it happened."
Growth through others.
It was a newfound theme. A prevailing thread in Keith's life, but at what cost?
Keith stood at the end of his and Shiro's bed in a nurse's outfit, but it wasn't the fun kind. There was no white plasticized skirt hugging his hairy thighs, nor was there a rude red cross slapped across his panties' latex crotch. Keith was missing the syringe belt, a boat-shaped cap, and knee-high white boots that gleamed like Caribbean water. Nurse play wasn't his preference, but Keith didn't mind. He liked the latex stockings.
In terms of clients, whether or not the fetish of the hour made his dick hard didn't matter. What mattered was whether or not what he was doing was interesting. He had to occupy his mind while he took it or did it.
Its definition being tentative.
"Do I want to know where you got these?" Keith asked.
"Scrubs are easy to find," Shiro hastily promised.
He was defensive, and defensiveness turned Keith's engine.
Shiro stood too tall. His arms were folded across his naked chest, and while confident in stance, he couldn't look Keith in the eye. He kept his stare down. Suddenly, the hardwood's grain held the universe's secrets.
Keith squinted at the ruddiness on Shiro's scarred bridge.
That was always cute.
Keith pinched the front of his powder blue shirt and sharply tugged it forward. "Just making sure you didn't highjack this from a coworker. Unless you're into that, which we can discuss later –"
Shiro scraped his nails along his throat. "Don't talk to me like one of your clients, babe."
"Honey," Keith began. His tone dripped like lazy molasses. With four steps he closed the gap between them, and Keith reached. He pressed his open palms to Shiro's chest. "If you were one of those, then I wouldn't have asked the second question. My petulance is how I show affection."
Shiro swayed to the side, flashing teeth. "Was I ever your client then?"
Keith emptily laughed. "We're not touching that."
He pressed against Keith's hands. "It's a Trojan Horse.."
"You managed to use Trojan for something other than a condom. Incredible."
Shiro lifted his shoulders and let them drop like bricks in burlap. "The Iliad can be romantic. Achilles and Patroclus are historical queer icons."
"They died, Shiro. They died horribly."
"Good to know media's been consistent then. Bury your queers had to start somewhere."
Keith grasped onto Shiro's shoulders and tugged him closer. When Shiro's lips opened, Keith cut him off with a tonal shift. His next words were hushed and clinical. "Alright, Dr. Shirogane. Stop talking in circles because you're shy. Nurse Keith has to give you your yearly physical, and there's nothing we can do about it. With the latex gloves, you'll barely know it's a person touching that big cock."
Stunned, Shiro assessed Keith's unmoved expression. "Keith -"
Keith arched an eyebrow. "Have you practiced your cough, Doctor?"
Maintaining character, Potential-Oscar-Nominee Keith guided Shiro to the vanity bench. He pushed on Shiro's shoulders, and after guiding him down, slid onto the man's broad lap. Caught in the whirlwind, Shiro grasped onto Keith's hips and held him in place. Pleased by Shiro's submission, Keith predatorily flicked his eyes along the man's features. That cut jaw and plump lips had wrung Keith out from the moment they met.
Keith tried not to ruin the mood with love and leaned back. He thoughtfully tapped his mouth with an index finger, assessing his patient.
"Let's check your pulse, Doctor," Keith offered.
Shiro lifted his hand, but Keith ignored it. He shifted forward and closed the gap between them instead. Keith licked up Shiro's throat, leaving behind a wet trail that stopped at his pulse, and Shiro sucked back air. He relaxed beneath Keith's weight and shifted his fingers into Keith's hair, nails digging into his scalp.
"It's easier to use a wrist," Shiro whispered.
Keith nipped his shoulder in warning. "Don't overthink."
Shiro tilted his head to the side and gave Keith better access to his neck. Keith flicked his gaze up. Shiro's eyes glazed, and he stroked his index finger down Shiro's throat, brushing upward with his knuckles. He cradled one of Shiro's cheekbones and appreciated the gruff sigh that followed. Deciding he had assessed enough, Keith pressed his lips to Shiro's carotid artery. He parted his mouth and sucked beneath it, rolling his teeth along wet skin. His free hand drifted downward and landed on Shiro's thigh, and Keith squeezed it to mock a bounding pulse.
"That's your heart," Keith murmured in between kisses. Each one popped, wet and breathless. "It's getting faster too. Are you excited, Doctor?"
His hands crept beneath Shiro's shirt and shoved. Keith guided the fabric above Shiro's pectorals and revealed warm, sun-kissed skin and dark nipples. Keith brushed his thumb over a brown oval, urging it to harden as Shiro stared past Keith's face, fighting himself. When the nipple perked beneath his thumb, Keith took it into his mouth, sucking back with an unabashed noise. Shiro's breathing spiked. He muttered a weak, pitiful 'fuck,' and Keith switched to the other one, soothingly running his fingers over Shiro's happy trail.
Once Shiro's nipples were hard, Keith admired his work and kissed Shiro's chin. "Those are working fine."
Shiro's cock was already stiff.
Keith pressed his palm against the erection behind grey sweats, and he rubbed his palm, savoring the defined shape. Shiro cut his breathing in two and turned his head for a kiss, but Keith shifted out of reach. Shiro's romantic bone was Keith's favorite to break. He was soft and gentle but loved when Keith punished him for being obvious.
"That's unprofessional," Keith said.
Shiro cleared his throat. Keith knew the look on his face. He'd seen it in dangerous men before, and if Shiro hadn't loved him so fully up to that point, then the internal rage would have made him nervous.
Shiro wanted to tear things apart. Keith could read the fundamental masculinity issues that curated monsters in every man's heart. His own weren't excluded, but he hated seeing himself in others.
He wanted to make Shiro cry.
Keith forgot his role and kissed Shiro, mouth hungry and searching. Shiro snatched a side of Keith's head and leaned forward, tilting his fiancé back until suspended. The kiss progressed, deepening with Keith's fingernails pressing deep into Shiro's shoulders. Keith's nose wrinkled as if he were angry but he moaned, grinding down.
Shiro rose to his feet, easily lifting Keith, but Keith didn't protest.
The doctor strode to the mattress and plopped down. Upon landing, Keith tore their mouths apart.
Panting, Keith wrenched himself off Shiro's thighs and stood, then tugging his shirt overhead. Shiro wolf whistled and assessed his fiancé from head to toe, noting every muscle he'd helped define at the gym. Noticing Shiro's ogling, Keith threw the fabric at his face. Shiro caught the shirt and leaned over his knees with rolling shoulders, expectant, but Keith gave him two middle fingers. Shiro loud laughed, and Keith dropped the fingers to shuck off blue pants. Struggling in the process, he belatedly laughed, too.
"Boxers," Shiro impishly observed and leaned back on his palms.
Keith kicked the pants free from his ankle and planted both hands on his jutting hips. "I'm off the clock."
"Love has a time card?"
Keith darted out a hand and grabbed Shiro's bangs. Eyes closed, Shiro hissed through tight teeth, and Keith pushed him over. "Bend over, princess. It's time for your prostate exam."
"Fuck," Shiro muttered.
It never took much to convince Shiro an ass fucking was good for his health. Though he had a difficult time setting aside his dignity and putting it in layman language, Shiro loved to be finger fucked. Thankfully, Keith approached such needs and wants with bright enthusiasm, finding perverse enjoyment in undoing his fiancé's guard.
Nurse Keith being quite the example.
"You're such a good man," Keith taunted, plunging his fingers deeper into Shiro's squeezing hole. He reached for Shiro's forelock again and wrenched back his head. Shiro grinned, licking front teeth. "I'm going to prove how good you are too."
Shiro slipped farther down onto his forearms and spread his thighs. Every one of Keith's thrusts was punctuated by a hard exhale. "What do you mean?"
Keith shoved Shiro's face into the mattress. "I'm going back to school, Shiro."
Shiro's legs tensed and his back subtly arched down. He spoke, muffled. "You're what?"
"I turned my paperwork in last week, and I was able to petition my old scholarships."
"I'm not – I'm not sure if this is the time," Shiro mumbled. He moaned, and Keith could see his balls growing taut. The heat in Keith's belly slithered lower and lower, and he wanted it to wrap around Shiro's spine and break him.
Keith curled his fingers with a lethal thrust, and Shiro chewed through an undignified yelp. Sweat collected along his lower back, and Keith swept his tongue along the glimmering beads. Shiro's nose burned.
"Mn – I mean, but that's…" His words tapered as Keith tongued halfway up his spine. When he dragged it downward, Shiro fisted the bed sheets. " – that's great, honey. That's so great."
"Ever notice how when someone fucks you your nose turns pink?" Keith whispered. He leaned over Shiro's frame and swept his tongue along the shell of his ear. "Just this soft baby pink. It's precious how it gets darker and darker with every thrust."
Shiro's lips opened into a silent ring. When he spoke, the air returned to the room. "Keith, that doesn't have anything to do with school. School. You're going back to school and –"
Keith shifted back and lowered his head to watch his fingers work. "– and changing my major. Not that it matters much. I had mostly upper levels to finish."
He extracted his fingers and admired his handiwork.
The man's hole was appropriately stretched, and Keith venerated the blush swelling he wanted to batter purple with a vibrator. He swept his fingers over the inviting opening and spread Shiro open, leaning in with a wet tongue. Keith flicked the trained muscle over Shiro's lubed hole, and he shamelessly pressed two fingers back inside. Airily moaning, Keith messily licked around the digits. Shiro's chest shook, his breathing tattered and strained.
"What – Keith, Keith, what are you changing your major to?"
Keith spat on his hole. It created a stream that ran down Shiro's taint, and Keith licked it up, loving the texture of his wiry hair. Shiro's husky panting dissolved and became embarrassed whimpering.
"My advisor said biology majors don't have much of an upper-hand on the MCAT, so I decided to finish out with a chemistry major for kicks."
Shiro stopped trembling. His thick breathing became streamline. "MCAT."
Keith added a third finger and hooked. Shiro cried out and attempted to reach for his own cock. Keith swatted away his hand. "I want to be a surgeon, Shiro."
Shiro's groan was undignified. It clawed its way up his throat, but he stubbornly fought with controlled panting. As he unfurled beneath the finger fucking, a raspy keening lunged from the back of his mouth. Keith flashed an unseen grin when Shiro cried out again, and he luxuriated in the moment when Shiro beat his fist against the bed. Undone, Shiro pressed his forehead into the mattress and pleaded for Keith again and again.
Keith smirked, the sound both condescending and self-satisfied. "Relax, Doctor. It'll be over in a second. You're being such a good boy."
The last line broke Shiro.
He opened his mouth in a silent scream, and Keith quickly reached beneath Shiro with his other hand. He wrapped his fingers around the base of Shiro's cock and pumped, pointedly rubbing his thumb along Shiro's frenulum. Even with his fingers inside the man's hole, there was something pleasantly clinical about the experience. He was milking Shiro for a sample. Everything that poured out of him was void of sexual exploit. When Keith caught himself thinking this, he was oddly satisfied, even surprised. He couldn't remember the last time he'd fallen for a scene.
Shiro came, hard. One minute he was pleading for Keith, Keith, Keith, and the next his cock was shooting briny ribbons onto the bed. Keith stroked him until he was empty and overstimulated, and Shiro lazily fucked back on Keith's fingers until he was spent. Keith felt the discomfort run through Shiro's body, and he slowly removed his fingers with a wet suck.
Shiro pressed his cheek against the pillow and attempted to fall onto his side. Keith freed his softened cock, but he playfully whacked his ass.
"Proud of you," Shiro said, disoriented.
He rolled onto his back, and Keith was momentarily mesmerized by Shiro's whole person. His expression was hazy, clearly that of someone who had been fucked out, but it was genuine and warm. "Really proud of you."
Keith's heart couldn't take the praise.
"It's whatever," he murmured. Shiro rolled his eyes but smiled. Keith matched it. "Know what's not whatever, though?"
Shiro sank into the pillow pile, absentmindedly running his fingers along the slight cum dollops that'd shot onto his abdominals. He licked one of the soiled fingers, but the motion was thoughtless, subconsciously perverse.
"What's that?" Shiro asked, eyes sweeping over every bit of Keith they could consume.
"How good you look right now."
Hard and aching, Keith ignored his needs and crawled toward Shiro, eventually sitting on his thighs. Shiro lazily grabbed Keith's wrists and guided him close by both lowering and balancing the other man with his iron hold. Softly laughing, Keith eagerly kissed him, but Shiro stopped Keith from deepening it to the point of no return. When Keith's tongue threatened to slip between Shiro's teeth, Shiro chuckled and used his strength to lightly push Keith out of range, levitating his upper-half. Keith wrinkled his nose and questioningly watched Shiro's face.
"Let me kiss you," he muttered, needy and blithe.
"Sit on my chest," Shiro ordered. "Once you start kissing your head dips out, and I'm the only one who gets off."
Keith shifted his gaze away. His heart quickened and he felt his palms grow clammy. "I'm working on that."
Shiro smiled. It was closed lip. "I didn't say it was a problem, Keith. You don't have to tell me."
"I don't want it to happen," Keith tried again.
"Consider this working on it."
Unable to argue, Keith did as told. Shiro helped him straddle his chest, but as soon as he was settled, Shiro wrapped an arm around his waist and smoothed his palm up and down Keith's navel. With every downward brush, his hand drew closer to Keith's cock, and Keith swallowed, pretending it didn't twitch in front of Shiro's face. They were supposed to be in some kind of scene, but Shiro sucked at escapism.
"I wish I had a sucker to give you," Keith joked, trying to maintain composure.
"I like this better," Shiro whispered and wrapped his lips around Keith's cockhead. He shamelessly slurped around the corona, tonguing Keith's slit until Keith gritted his teeth and his hips jolted forward. Shiro pulled off, panting. His hands caught Keith's ass and indulgently squeezed. "Make me feel better, Keith. Fuck my throat."
Lance should have known his poles had shifted when he caught himself singing Shot Down.
He muffled the soulful belting with a protective facemask and his spray paint's hiss, but it still resonated. Dangling in a swing that suspended him in front of his newest mural and above a lethal drop to a parking lot, Lance tilted back his head and slammed his can against his heart with the sardonic beat. He nodded along, processed the melding colors in front of him, and slammed down his index finger to paint another pink line.
Lance swayed back and forth, following the song's lazy tempo. His phone chimed, but he didn't stop singing as he fished it from his jacket pocket.
Keith: sent the wedding planner 5 pictures of gucci cutting his cake with a sword. she hasn't stopped calling. haven't answered yet.
Lance: she's gonna call shiro tho he's gonna think you're for real
Keith: how's the mural
Lance: i'm not dead yet
Keith: so it's not art yet
Lance laughed and left him on read.
Behind him, a car blared its horn. The owner kept his palm down, blasting until Lance grew annoyed enough to tear off his headphones and look over his shoulder. He sought a car crash, but spotted Hunk's waiting rental.
Lance blew him a dramatic kiss, nearly toppling backward. Hunk gripped his steering wheel and leaned back, closing his eyes and mouthing something.
"Stop praying!" Lance shouted.
He wasn't sure if Hunk heard him and turned back to assess his work-in-progress. He'd done enough damage for the day. Electric pink swamp monster was still missing his left eye, though.
Lance capped his can and shoved it into a dangling bag. He yanked down his mask and lowered the swing at light speed, the fall perilous at a glance. He caught himself before he collided with the asphalt and shucked the restraints off his thighs. Once his materials were collected and inelegantly stuffed into an even bigger bag, Lance jogged toward the car. He skidded to a halt outside Hunk's window and drummed his fingers on the glass. Confused, Hunk stared at him, but Lance tapped his wrist. Hunk rolled down the window with a 'what.'
Weighed down when he could have tossed his equipment into the trunk first, Lance leaned through the window and pressed his mouth to Hunk's, still tasting the lyrics from his song.
Hunk grabbed both sides of Lance's head. He held him in place, intentionally overextending the kiss's breadth until Lance laughed against his mouth.
Hunk retracted and swept his gaze over the other. "It looks incredible."
Lance beamed and gestured at the mural, crouching down and out of sight but unwilling to give up the drama. "It's pretty cool. I'm not gonna tell you I'm not happy with it."
"I meant you, but the mural is great, too."
Lance shot up like a rocket and leaned through the window again. He reached down and pressed his finger into the window's button, attempting to close it on his neck.
Hunk swatted aside his hand. "You're the reason child safety locks were invented."
"I don't even know what a children is."
Lance winked at Hunk and pushed away from the car. He careened around the back and smacked the trunk until Hunk popped it. He deposited the excess inside and slammed the trunk shut. After giving the rearview mirror finger guns, Lance strode for the passenger seat and tugged his phone free, looking for music.
If someone asked Lance how he regained his footing with Hunk, then it was on Hunk's mercy and the principle that humans are subject to change.
"Look for the sun when the waves are pushing you down," Hunk once said, waist high in salt water and speaking to his niece.
The comment wasn't philosophical. Hunk had been teaching, but the notion stuck to Lance's bones. From then on, he looked to the light and forsake groveling for being genuine and liking himself.
It did wonders, but as good things tend to, the wonders didn't happen all at once. They were peppered throughout plane rides, sucking smoke from borrowed bongs and waiting for waves to crest.
There were conversations that fluttered as transparently as a butterfly's frayed wings, and then there were hard-hitting moments that didn't scrape the surface. They rooted their talons in the skin and tore.
"You're my best friend," Lance said with the ocean teasing his toes. The words emptied after an evening with Hunk's family where everyone knew Hunk loved Lance and Lance loved Hunk but things weren't meant to be for reasons Hunk didn't divulge. There was also his dad, but more than once, Hunk had referred to it as a lesser issue. "I don't need your dick to know I want you with me for the rest of my life."
Hunk sighed behind him, but Lance heard the smile.
"I'm not going anywhere, man. You're sweating something I haven't thought about in a long time."
"You still had to think about it, and that sucks. It sucks a lot."
Two heavy hands landed on Lance's shoulders and tugged backward. Lance's back melded to Hunk's chest, and Hunk knocked his nose against Lance's temple.
"How is it easier for me to let this go than for you to?" Lance shrugged, but Hunk pushed his shoulders down and shook them. Lance's spine whacked against him over and over. "Looking ahead means looking at the unknown, but I'm okay with having no idea what I'll come across. Better it be a shared experience. What sucks is being lonely and letting yourself be lonely because you think it's a good punishment."
"Wise words," Lance murmured. He loosely crossed his arms along his navel. "But you let me off the hook. It totally wasn't enough. You haven't handled it enough."
"Fuck, Lance," he said, frustrated but managing to laugh despite the tone. "So sue me. I never punished you because I don't punish people. It's not my style, and it's never going to be. I gave myself room to breathe, and that was good enough for me when it was all said and done. It still is, you know? You sought me out, and you knew why shit happened. We both did. It's been acknowledged."
"I was mad for a while, but I'm not mad now. See how simple?"
The notion fell flat for Lance. Flat or not, he did feel better pretending he understood Hunk's angle and going with the motions.
Seated in Hunk's rental car, Lance knew he still flogged himself on occasion, but he decided the ignorant happiness outweighed the self-righteousness he thought he needed in order to be worthy of Hunk's kindness.
Lance picked a song. "Not to drop the bomb, but Shiro and Keith are getting married."
Hunk pursed his lips, but it became a slight smile. "You could've told me the sky was blue and I would've been more surprised."
"It was only a matter of time, but Keith was sweaty."
"Marriage is a sweaty business. He'll be okay. Whenever Shiro announces it online, I'll have to tell them congratulations. That wedding is going to be ridiculous, though. Firebreather level. How did Shiro propose?"
"Keith wouldn't say. Something tells me it was a lot, though. Dude went red."
Hunk thoughtfully grabbed his chin. "Shiro would so ask during a flash mob."
"I said that, but you know Keith would've hung himself."
He tried not to, but Hunk laughed, coughing in an attempt to swallow the morbid response.
Lance couldn't prevent his next question. He tried. He even bit his tongue. "Would you want a wedding?"
Hunk didn't hide his sly smile, but he did pause. "I'm more of an elope kind of guy."
Nervously, Lance cleared his throat and sank deeper into his seat. He scratched the side of his head, scraping beneath his mustard beanie. "Me too. Weddings are expensive. Kind of performative."
"But fun to go to."
Hunk drove them to Lance's apartment through grey-washed streets consumed by autumn. Hunk was enduring the northeastern cold because the county had paid Lance to work on the mural before the first snow. Considering the climate, that meant his deadline was brutal but worth the money. Spontaneous trips were nowhere to be found until mid-winter, and Hunk couldn't tolerate a month without Lance's company.
Lance tried to pretend their routine didn't bring him clarity, but he failed every single time. He missed Hunk with every fiber that threaded together his person. He'd once told Keith he didn't know what it was like to miss someone until Hunk boarded a plane and his throat filled with cement. It was terrifying to over think, which meant Lance often refrained, but Hunk was an effortlessness that offered him peace of mind.
"You're the sous chef tonight," Hunk announced, striding into Lance's apartment and unwrapping his scarf.
"Weird way to introduce knife play," Lance said, tossing his jacket onto the countertop. He yanked open the fridge door, stopped short at the new groceries, and grabbed two bottles. He opened them both and handed Hunk his before hopping onto the kitchen island. "What're you cookin,' good lookin'?"
Hunk grinned at the callback. He didn't answer and set aside his bottle, making his way toward Lance who arched an eyebrow, questioning what he already knew.
"You," Hunk answered.
As soon as he was in reach, Hunk swept Lance up in a hug and buried his face into Lance's neck. He burrowed his face, shaking his head and creating a violent nuzzle. Accustomed to the explosive affection, Lance wrapped himself around Hunk like a koala and rubbed his face back.
Lance would never understand how something so immaterial like an emotion could be the only thing he wanted to sink his fingers into.
If only he didn't feel like talking about it with others would shatter the illusion.
Too good, Lance long ago decided. Hunk was too good to be any kind of longstanding real.
"We need a wedding planner," Shiro said more to his frying banana pancake than Keith. It was a contemplative sentence marked by the Nespresso machine's scream.
Keith, gracing the morning both shirtless and in Shiro's gym shorts, pointedly cranked the Vitamix's knob and let his finger hover over the on switch like a threat. He expectantly stared at Shiro who shifted his gaze onto his fiancé.
Shiro appreciatively smiled. He flipped the runny pancake without looking. "That's a cantankerous face if I've ever seen one. Are you trying to tell me you don't want to make life easier?"
"The only reason people need wedding planners is if they're having a big wedding. Since when are we having a big wedding?"
"It's not even that it's going to be that big, babe. You're going to be in school and working, and I'm going to be working. We literally aren't going to have time to plan a wedding without help. Half the time, we forget to grab our carryout orders on our way home from shopping. We're not going to remember when to decide on center pieces."
Keith sniffed back the insult. He had time, and they both knew he had time to plan a wedding. Camming and posting nude photos that hid his face on a high traffic blog wasn't exactly what he'd call a full-time job.
"It seems like a waste of money," Keith attempted. Attempted what was the real question. Shiro had the money, and he and his closet knew it.
"If it makes you feel better, then we're going to use my college friend."
Keith reached for the Bone Broth Protein tub and spun it open. He scooped a generous emerald spoonful into the blender and grabbed the dangling bananas from the plastic 'tree.' Shiro, letting his pancakes bubble, retrieved the almond milk and mangoes from the fridge for Keith. It wasn't until Keith had finished cramming the Vitamix with as much kale and hemp seeds as he could did he decide he was ready to address Shiro's last statement.
"How about I ask the real question. Did you already make an appointment with this friend?"
Shiro, too charming for his own health, sheepishly smiled. "I might have made one for today at –"
Keith flipped the switch before Shiro could finish and watched the fauna's demolition. Even through the blender's explosive churning, Keith still heard Shiro's exasperated sigh.
"Don't be mad!" Shiro yelled over the roar. He yanked his pan off the flame and stepped behind Keith. His nose disappeared into Keith's bedhead, and he swayed the man to the side, unbalancing them both.
"Why would you think I'm mad?" Keith yelled back. "Should I be mad you went behind my back and made an appointment with a wedding planner?"
Shiro chuckled, and Keith turned the blender up another notch.
"I'm sorry!" Shiro tried.
Keith looked over his shoulder and stole a kiss. "Don't lie to me."
The wedding planner's name was Allura.
"She's a kickboxing trainer on the side," Shiro explained while driving them to the meeting. They were stalling in traffic, and NPR was crooning. Both men were drinking their midday coffee. "We met during a nutrition course I took as an elective my sophomore year. She wanted to specialize in sports medicine, but somehow, event planning got under her skin. She's planned some flashier events in the city. You know that annual gala on the Altea strip? That's all her. She's the best in the state."
The Audi had long since been replaced by a Lexus. Keith, leaned back in the leather passenger seat, had one hand on Shiro's thigh and the other anxiously fiddling with his jacket sleeve.
"Are we going to have a theme?" Keith asked. "I'm feeling a Jimmy Buffett Cheeseburger In Paradise theme. Everyone's uncle gets to show up in their favorite shirt."
Shiro rolled his lips together. "That's a better idea than the Midsummer Night's Dream one I went to last year."
"How about Noah's ark, but instead of a flower girl, we have a petting zoo train?"
It never took much to encourage Shiro to play along with Keith's subversive humor. "Clue, the board game, but a wedding."
"When the guests come in, I'm dead in front of the altar. I don't move until everyone works together to figure out who killed me and with what. It turns out it's you. I didn't want to sign the prenuptial agreement so you clubbed me to death with a glass dildo."
As if considering it, Shiro nodded. "Or just – Catholic. Catholic the theme."
"Implied missionary sex before 9 PM?" Keith scoffed, scandalized. "Too far. What would your mother say?"
Allura's office was located on the rim of the financial district. Keith, having grown to know the place like the back of his hand, scooted down in his seat as they drove toward the parking garage. Most of his current life was spent prowling Shiro's neighborhood and avoiding any district that could increase the probability of him running into an ex-client. Lance had told him he couldn't pretend every corner of the city he'd been fucked in had the plague, but Keith wasn't a quitter. He was determined to die before a client acknowledged him in public.
They parked, and Shiro undid his seatbelt. "Keith, are you sweating?"
"No," Keith lied. He checked the time on his phone. It was noon. That meant it was the lunch rush, which also meant one too many businessmen who liked buying men's assholes by the hour were floating outside.
"Planning a wedding is a lot," Shiro said in a misguided attempt to comfort.
He grabbed Keith's chin and guided him into a chaste kiss. Keith wished Shiro would stick his tongue down his throat to distract him, but they were running late.
"I think you'll like her. You and Allura kind of remind me of one another."
The office sat on the outskirts of a modest high-rise display. It was a squatty silver cube with windows for doors and silver handles that started at the top and seemed to disappear into the sidewalk. Hanging over the double doors in the white neon tubing was the word 'Affair.' As he reached to open the door, Keith didn't bother hiding his smile.
"What kind of establishment is this, Shiro? I didn't know you wanted this kind of sendoff."
"I called it," Shiro muttered before Keith could dig his joke another inch deeper. "I was waiting for that."
Keith sauntered inside. "You know me well, Daddy."
Shiro halted at the 'Daddy.' He hadn't heard that in a while. Inspired, he whacked Keith's ass who promptly hissed and laughed.
The first thing Keith noticed was that the building's tile was so white it grabbed light by the throat and demanded its wallet. In the center of the room sat three zigzagging wooden tables and cold silver chairs that hurt Keith's ass to look at. There was no secretarial desk or dividers to greet them. Instead there were two white armless couches framing the front doors and an elaborate coffee station. Keith figured the couches were sewn together with vegan leather. He wasn't sure why. It just seemed like a place that would endorse ethical materials and Buddha bowls. Aside from the four iMacs scattered across the imposing tables, the office aspect was impressively barren.
Seated at one of the computers was a man with a twitchy orange mustache. His bulky headphones and spaced out nodding had blocked their arrival, but he was impossible to miss in his mint green button up and mustard jeans.
"Takashi Shirogane!" a feminine voice shot across the room. Keith's eyes slid across the white backdrop in an attempt to find its source. "Have you been bulking since I last saw you? You're massive!"
She was taller than Keith by a head and gave Naomi Campbell a run for her money both in the legs and beauty department. Silver hair tied into a sleek and high ponytail, the woman's eerily clear eyes created burns along Keith's face before snapping back to Shiro's chiseled mug. Her white suit was perfectly cut, accentuating her tiny waist and exposing naked collarbones Keith pictured himself eating Cheerios out of. Keith found Allura simultaneously inviting and regal, but mostly, intimidating.
"I try to responsibly prioritize what little time I have," Shiro said with a hint of cockiness. It gave Keith the right kind of thrill. "You look good yourself."
Keith barely followed their conversation about biceps and pounds. He was too busy digesting the fact he was about to sit down with a real wedding planner. This shouldn't have come as a surprise. In fact, the ring on Shiro's finger implied he should have girded his loins weeks before, but the motions were still a little Salvador Dali.
"This is the Keith, then? I'll admit he's handsome, but did we expect any less from you, Shiro?"
"Who's we?" Keith asked, the corner of his mouth lifting. He arched an eyebrow in Shiro's direction.
Shiro raised his palms as if uncertain. Keith offered Allura his hand who firmly wrapped her fingers around it. Pleasantries were exchanged, but Allura swiftly re-engaged with his previous question.
"The universe. That's the we."
"Tough crowd," Keith joked.
Allura's eyes appreciatively twinkled.
She gestured toward the table where a tea set and confectionaries waited. The pen and notebook lying beside the offerings were the only office supplies Keith had seen since entering. "Alright then. Let's get going."
Shiro firmly grabbed Keith's shoulders and walked him toward the table. Had he predicted hesitation? Keith wanted to assume Shiro had imagined it. He wasn't that high strung.
Keith discovered the chairs were as firm as he'd imagined. He pictured himself grinding against Stonehenge in assless chaps and felt relief.
Once tea was poured, Allura folded her hands on the table.
"Before we get technical, I always love to ask my clients about the big picture. When they close their eyes and imagine the perfect wedding, what is the first image that comes to mind?"
"Like a theme?" Keith asked.
Shiro tensed. Allura nodded and leaned forward.
"Shiro and I agreed we wanted to go with Cats. Like, the musical. We're already looking at theatrical contacts and coordinating bodysuits. We were hoping you could reach out and find us a makeup artist. I don't trust us to stucco cat hair onto our faces in time to meet the photographers. I'd like to sleep before my wedding."
Allura slowly lowered her teacup. She flashed Shiro a wry smile. "Someone is a smartass."
"I'm serious," Keith flatly said. "We are paying you."
Shiro nudged him.
Keith nudged back and leaned forward. "It's either that or a Fear Factor wedding. Pick your poison, Allura. Are we eating ox testicles or is Shiro gonna be Skimbleshanks?"
"I'm marrying you and didn't know you spoke Cats. Anyway," Shiro said, ushering the topic forward. "We haven't really talked about the wedding, but from what I'm gathering, we aren't keen on themes."
"I thought the Jimmy Buffett idea was pretty good," Keith muttered.
"That's fine," Allura assured and flipped to a clean page in her Kate Spade notebook. She slammed her thumb into the butt of her pen and scribbled down a note. Keith disregarded his flashbacks to high school therapy. "Let's talk about you two as a unit. That's what this is about, isn't it? We're celebrating your everlasting love and tax break."
"The real reason we're here. That surgeon's health insurance," Keith said. Shiro leaned over and kissed his temple. Shiro briefly laughed. Keith took the gingersnap from his plate with a pleased smile.
"Cute," Allura observed. She narrowed her eyes. "How did you two meet?"
Keith shot Shiro a brisk look and averted his eyes to his own teacup. Suddenly, Teavana's Golden Monkey black tea had never seemed more profound. He tapped the rim with his manicured index finger and shrugged.
"A dating app," Keith and Shiro said, synchronized.
It wasn't the first time they'd been asked, and they knew it wouldn't be the last. When Shiro's mother dug into them for romantic details, all Keith could think about was sucking off Shiro's raw cock in the Audi.
Shiro finished the thought. "It was hard to meet people with my schedule. It's easier to answer messages in between surgeries than make time for coffee dates."
Messages, Keith fondly thought, reminiscing. More like pictures of me sitting on a tacky red dildo the size of his closed fist, but that works, too.
Allura sympathetically nodded. "Don't think twice about it. It's a new age. Everyone is meeting online now, but going on. What connected you two? What thing made you realize you could love one another?"
"Space," Shiro said before Keith could make another internal sex joke.
Keith dropped his smug smile for surprise. He looked at his fiancé. "Space, Shiro?"
"Space," Keith said and brought his cheek into his raised palm, eyes dragging over Shiro who was still having a difficult time looking him in the eye. "I would've picked space."
"You seem like a space person, to be honest."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Keith asked. He chewed his smile and swallowed it.
Shiro paused, arched an eyebrow and managed to finally reply without laughing. "I'm not even sure. You're just space. Maybe from space."
"Maybe from space. Are you saying I seem weird?"
Ultimately, Keith had proven to be weird. The tucked away memory assaulted his heart, and he leaned back in his seat. Keith inspected Shiro with an affectionate stare.
"That early on?"
Embarrassed, Shiro shrugged. He dragged his prosthetic fingers down his exposed chest, and Keith thumbed through the book of things he could do later to reward Shiro for being perfect.
"The stars were out when we got engaged, too," Shiro defensively added. "It's been a theme."
"I thought we didn't like themes?" But Keith didn't push the agenda. He was too charmed.
Allura shrewdly inspected them. "There are ways to make space classy. It would give you room to play with silvers and golds and interesting lighting. A lot of dark blues and purple. Maybe a few orchids here and there depending on how much you're looking to spend. It'd be easy to keep masculine."
"That'd be preferable," Keith answered.
He didn't miss Allura's relieved sigh. Finally, Keith was playing along.
Shiro slipped his fingers into the hair on the back of Keith's head and scratched. "Are you okay with space?"
"It's either that or Noah's ark."
"But the petting zoo train," Shiro mournfully said.
"We have the date then?" she continued, keeping them on track. "Ten months seems like a good chunk of time to figure things out, but it's not the biggest. We'll need to look at venue options, invitations, dress code and then there are tastings and menus to figure out, but we can only do that after we know how many guests you're inviting. I'm going to give you both physical copies in a binder and email you PDFs of lists. Which one of you should be my primary contact?"
Shiro and Keith swapped looks. Shiro cleared his throat, and Keith knew that guilty look.
"I don't have the time to answer phone calls when I'm pulling back to back surgeries. We're in the middle of clinical trials, too. We will be for weeks."
Keith's blood chilled. "You want me to be the wedding superintendent?"
Allura dotted an i. She coughed. "Wrong. That would be me. You're just the main muse while big man over there is busy playing Zeus."
Unlike Keith, Lance was thrilled Keith's wedding required a planner. Wedding planners implied. Secondhand embarrassment odds went down by forty-two percent, and there would almost certainly be an open bar.
In Keith's dream world, Shiro and he would elope off the mainland and come back for a quiet reception with Shiro's family and Keith's found family. He wouldn't have to buy a boring black suit, and he could hand Shiro's mom pictures and be done. Shiro's mom had recently linked Shiro to a white girl's engagement photos found in the Pinterest backwoods. The anonymous girl and her bearded husband-to-be were perched in front of a vintage Chevy wearing cowboy boots and matching flannel. Keith had threatened to induce a mass embolism if Shiro thought for a second he would do anything remotely like that, but Shiro was already kneeled, in tears from laughing.
"Please tell me you're going to have a bachelor party with a dick cake, too. I can see it now. Keith eats dick that isn't Shiro's one last time. The masses mourn. The drag queens build his funeral pyre."
"Lance," Keith warned. When he recognized Shiro in his inflection, he cleared his throat. "Kings don't rule forever."
Pidge scoffed at 'kings.'
Lance dreamily spoke between sloppy chow mein bites. "It needs to be a big dick cake, too. Like, make it bigger than your actual wedding cake. I want to see it from space. Get it? Like your space theme."
Pidge didn't look up from her laptop. She muttered under her breath. "Bonus points if it's red velvet with a vanilla pudding center."
Keith was lying on his back, cherry Dum Dum rolling back and forth along his tongue. He was in too short track shorts he'd found on clearance and that Ralph Lauren crop top he refused to trash.
"Shiro isn't having a stag party," Keith said, sounding tired. It was the food weighing on his stomach. The Chinese delivery in front of them could have been the whole buffet.
Lance pointed his chopsticks at Keith. He swirled them and stabbed forward. "This might be hard to believe, but you're not Shiro. You are Keith. You're a legacy."
"I want to get Shiro drunk," Keith said, biting the sucker's tip. "He never gets drunk the way we do."
"Because he's old," Pidge said, matter-of-fact.
"True," Keith agreed but stopped short. He pulled the sucker out of his mouth with an explicit pop. Pidge cringed. "He's not old, Pidge. He's the youngest surgeon in his department. He's a genius."
"God, suck his dick some more," Lance muttered and stole Keith's fortune cookie.
"I'm gonna suck it for a lifetime."
"This is why I don't hang out with you two," Pidge said. "You can't go five minutes without a dick reference."
"I'll have a party," Keith conceded, and his brain swung a plot. He dropped his socked foot onto Lance's crotch, and Lance wheezed. "If you invite Hunk."
Lance personified an ass clench. "I can't believe Keith isn't going to have a sendoff to holy matrimony."
"Hunk knows you and us," Keith tried. "Hunk would have fun. He's already on the invite list."
"That's the wedding, though. He wouldn't fly to the mainland for a –"
Pidge raised her chopsticks and interrupted. "For you, Hunk would do that in a heartbeat. For you, Hunk would take a giant squid by its beak and teach it Plato's Allegory of the Cave. You are his Lancey Lance."
"Lancey Lance," Keith echoed, sounding dead inside.
Lance sucked air through his teeth. He glanced between his friends. They weren't wrong, and he couldn't convincingly pretend they were. "Hunk comes, but only if I plan the party."
"That's not dangerous or anything," Pidge whispered.
"Thank God I live dangerously," Keith said and popped the candy back into his mouth. He offered Lance his hand. Lance glared at it as if it were diseased. He grumbled, reluctant. "Shake on it, Lance. You're not getting out of this."
Lance wrinkled his nose and spat on his palm. Keith tugged the candy out of his mouth again and followed Lance's example. They clapped their saliva globules together and smiled.
"Proud to be your Man of Honor."
"Wouldn't have it any other way, Best Man."
Pidge quirked her mouth and took another bite. She chewed and talked through oily noodles. "Someone isn't reading the fine print in this contract, and someone's gonna regret it."
With fondness, Keith believed they were both going to regret it.
Like love, weddings are work, and again, like love, they seep into everything that makes you a person. Time, energy and stalling thoughts; once papers were signed, Keith couldn't escape the wedding.
By the end of the first month, it was apparent he was at the mercy of Allura's phone calls.
Initially, Keith had no problem chatting on the phone with her about numbers and bookings. He had Shiro's weekly work schedule on hand, which was forever tentative but still a guideline he could adhere to, and Keith was a freelance worker who could often fit Allura into his day on a moment's notice. Most of the time, Allura handled their budget restraints, but Keith didn't mind navigating executive decisions the same way he didn't mind jotting down formulas for fun. Once while drunk, he had done the basic math to determine the kind of engine he would need to launch Lance to Mars.
Whenever Shiro walked in from a shift, Keith habitually briefed him on what was happening, and it was fine. It was fine. Keith didn't mind and it was fine, fine, fine. He wanted to marry Shiro, and he had to do this.
"The things I wax and bleach my asshole for."
Until it wasn't fine anymore.
Kneeled on the guest room's queen bed, Keith slid onto his stomach toward his open computer. He checked the time in the screen's upper-right corner and flicked his gaze toward the Pal-and-Din browser. The website had expanded its reach. While a 'dating' app above all else, it had opened a long distance option where knights could camera with the 'date' of their choice for a lofty price. From one on ones to group 'hangouts,' there were plenty of options depending on preference. Keith preferred 'hangouts' because 'hangouts' made more money and involved less intimate conversation. There were too many people to keep up with for him to be accused of being uninterested.
This had started when Shiro admitted he had no tolerance for one on one interactions, and Keith respected that. The respect had only grown when Shiro joined him for one of the 'hangouts' and quadrupled his clientele.
Keith fondly recalled that ass pounding.
It'd been hot.
People still asked for him, but Shiro was rarely in the mood. There was the risk that someone from his job would recognize him, and between his hair and prosthetic arm, it was an effort to disguise him.
Keith didn't have time to mourn, though.
At exactly three o'clock, he intended to hit the launch button.
He licked his upper lip and mussed his hair, eyes flicking toward the supplies beside him. The wipes were off camera with gym clothes he planned to slip into once finished. He didn't mind smelling like lube on a treadmill, but his favorite post-work routine was when his cam shows lined up with Shiro's days off.
Shiro knew exactly when Keith worked. Nothing was better than having that sexual frustration fucked out of him by someone who genuinely made him hard. It was cleansing.
His brain lingered on the thought, and Keith ground against the comforter. Shiro's surgery schedules were too erratic for him to find immediate gratification in sending a nude, but the impulse was there. He hummed in aggravation at his sudden mood, but Keith figured it would be good for the show.
God, he missed Shiro. If only he had time to watch their sex tape.
Keith's phone rang and the jarring ring snapped his thought's neck.
He scowled and pressed his forehead against the mattress. Keith snatched the phone from behind the computer and checked the caller ID. Had he been lucky, then it would have been Lance pestering him for something to do, but Keith's luck had been used up when he landed Shiro. Of all people, it was Allura. He couldn't ignore her.
Keith swiped his thumb and pressed the phone to his ear. "Hey, Allura."
Allura didn't believe in 'hello.'
"The caterer you chose went bankrupt and is closing down. It's such a scandal, but it means we need an immediate replacement. Before you ask, you will be refunded. No one's running away with anyone's money."
Keith's eyes crawled toward the 3:00 on his computer. He distractedly managed an elongated 'uh.'
"We could do a last minute tasting today. I have other caterers who agreed to replicate your original menu, but I can't risk one of you not being here to approve its quality."
That brought Keith back to Earth. "Today? As in, this day here? This today?"
"It's last minute, and it sounds impossible, but I have connections. I have magic."
After seeing Allura snag their dream venue for half the price, Keith was inclined to believe her. He cleared his throat and anxiously stared down the 3:01.
He had work. Keith wanted to work.
Shiro's salary and desperation to provide meant Keith didn't need a supplementary income, but he wanted one on principle. Being a kept man was the last thing he had ever imagined for himself.
"What time were you looking at?"
"Preferably in an hour. If that's impossible, then I can cancel. It won't hurt my feelings."
Keith sucked in a meditative breath. He had witnessed Shiro do the same thing multiple times, and he was always annoyed when it worked. His head cleared, and he centered his whole person.
"I can make it."
"Wonderful! See you soon then."
Allura hung up. She also wasn't one for 'goodbye.'
Silence blanketed the bedroom, and Keith's forehead creased when the nothingness rang inside his ears. He closed his eyes, and one of his eyebrows twitched. Keith yanked the computer close to his chest and typed a quick 'apology' into the chat. He didn't bother reading the entitled responses and slammed the computer shut.
Shiro tossed his keys onto Keith's lap.
"Cake appointment in an hour. We have to pick flavors."
"Today?" Keith asked. He checked the date on his phone.
Keith liked routines. He was particular about everything down to the way he opened his cigarette packs, folded bathroom towels and kissed Shiro goodnight. In some capacity, Keith was superstitious, but the wedding – a ceremony built on spiritual union – presented itself as a moot point.
He considered the possibility he was a bitter person.
He also considered how he didn't do well with that genre of self-reflection.
Buried in a fleece blanket and hooded sweatshirt that said 'SHIT FUCK' on the front and 'FUCK SHIT' on the back, Keith flipped through his Netflix queue.
"There's chocolate and vanilla. Why are you making life harder, Takashi?"
Shiro leaned over the couch's back and blocked Keith's view, bangs hanging like a curtain. "You're not getting away with me picking this out, too. First the wedding's colors –"
"– I told you I like silver and gold. Don't go there –"
"– and now the cake flavors. You have to eat it, too. You have to remember that taste for the rest of your life. What if I picked out something like fruitcake?"
Keith tried to look past him. "Then everyone would know it was inspired by me."
Shiro groaned. He pressed his forehead to Keith's. "Pretend you're excited. For me, babe. Pretend you're excited that we're paying several thousand for this wedding."
He nearly crossed his eyes to make eye contact. "I'm excited!"
Shiro arched an eyebrow.
"I am!" Keith snapped, appearing angrier than he was. He lifted both hands and gestured wide. "I'm excited we're getting married. It's an open bar and our honeymoon is going to be a fuck-a-thon. I cannot wait to beat your hole as your husband."
Shiro stared at him with pursed lips and waited. He realized Keith wasn't going to speak again until he did, so he cut the cord and righted his back. "We leave in an hour."
"You fell for it." Keith retrieved the Roku remote. "I've escaped. Call me when we're doing the wedding registry, my love. I'll have input then. I fucking love silverware."
"Keith," Shiro grumbled. Keith heard real irritation that time.
He dropped his defiant act and looked over a shoulder. Shiro stood behind him, peeved and lips open with a charcoal eyebrow hitting a hard angle. His arms rested firm against his chest, and Keith realized Shiro wasn't only peeved. He was pissed. The rare anger caught Keith off guard, and his heart surged.
"I'm kidding, Shiro," Keith apologetically said. "We're picking a cake. I'm glad, but don't get mad at me when you realize I have bad taste. I grew up going to Great Value bakery."
"Bad taste is your antonym."
That was a backhanded compliment if Keith had ever heard one.
Shiro turned for the back hall, and Keith rotated toward the television.
He started another episode of Friends, but listlessly stared at the center of the screen. Shiro slammed the bathroom door, and the laugh track spread across the living room like a condescending plague.
I love Shiro. I want to marry Shiro.
Those two sentences spun through his head from the moment Shiro slammed the bathroom door to the moment Shiro yanked open the bakery's black one. Keith, no longer wearing the condemning hoodie but a black V-neck and Burberry trench, watched Shiro's back as he walked ahead. He was still tense. It wasn't a good mood for wedding planning, and Keith closed his eyes. Rightfully, he was mad at himself. Shiro wasn't asking a lot from him.
Not only physically either. Emotionally be there, too.
Shiro wanted Keith to be there, even if he was pretending.
That wasn't fair to Shiro.
You need an attitude adjustment before he realizes you're not good enough for him. Stop lashing out. Stop pretending you're above this. You wanted this. You did this.
"Christ almighty," said a voice from behind the countertop. A man with slicked back black hair and faded tattoo sleeves leaned over the countertop. "You're my next couple, right? God, I hope."
"Unfortunately for you," Keith said, sliding a hand up Shiro's rigid back.
The cake designer was chatty from the get go and a far cry from shy.
He was determined to let them know they were the most attractive couple he'd seen. Keith would have regarded his enthusiasm as performative tolerance if he wasn't gay himself. Not only that, but Keith knew people looked at Shiro and him and couldn't decide if they wanted to fuck them individually or were jealous they got to fuck each other. Keith and Shiro were the couple whose house got robbed, not for their possessions but the potential sex tape.
Fortunately, Keith kept those under lock and key.
They were guided to a red satin loveseat and placed side-by-side. Keith pressed his thigh to Shiro's, but his guts twisted. Between Shiro's frustration and Keith's lack of an apology, the idea of placing food on his tongue made Keith's throat shut tight.
"Tell me about your theme. Once we get that out of the way, we can get to the fun part. Eating."
Keith opened his mouth before Shiro could try. He repeated everything Allura, Shiro and he had agreed on weeks before, and to emphasize, Keith pulled out his phone and opened the wedding album. Keith pointed out inspiration and emailed the references to the designer, but when he finished, he felt like he had finished the SATs. The entire time he talked, Shiro had musingly watched him and assessed Keith's intent.
The man left with his notes to grab their sample cakes, and Keith sighed. He wiped his sweaty palms on his knees and stripped his jacket.
"Shiro, I'm paying attention," Keith said.
Shiro cleared his throat. "There's a difference between paying attention and caring. I paid attention in calculus. I don't care about calculus."
"I don't know how you want me to act," Keith said. He wrinkled his nose and fought acrid anger. "I don't know what to do. I can't act like your excited housewife. If that's what you need, then this is out of my league."
Shiro shifted back. He looked at Keith, meaningfully searching his face. "I'm not asking you to. You're overthinking this."
Keith dropped his hands, and the limbs hung between his knees. He pointedly looked at Shiro. "Am I?"
"Keith, is this why you've been so –"
The conversation wasn't given a chance. The designer returned with a plate lined with sample cakes individually decorated with fondant, floral cutouts and hand-piping. The platter smacked the table, but Keith and Shiro didn't break their shared gaze. Both men internally asked each other a hundred questions at once.
Keith wondered if he was the right person for Shiro.
As if his heart had been street racing since their engagement started, Keith approached a hard turn and hit the brakes too late. The collision and roll rang through him. He blacked out the moment his neck snapped.
What if Shiro only loved who he was 'on the clock?'
That was panic speaking. Keith understood he was self-defeating and thinking the worst of someone who had done nothing but love him as he was, but knowing didn't calm his brain.
Knowing didn't turn the car upright and un-shatter the windshield either. He was going to need to get an estimate.
"I love you," Shiro firmly said.
"I never said you didn't," Keith murmured and smiled for the designer's sake. "I love you too."
The designer patiently waited for the couple to pay attention to his cake.
Both were accomplished at keeping up appearances. They forgot their emotions and dug comically tiny forks into confectionaries. Keith thought taking bites of apricot compote and lavender sponge would make him feel worse, but he had underestimated the soothing effects of sugar and butter.
"It's like Xanax," Keith murmured beneath his breath. Shiro snorted and nudged him, chewing.
Shiro liked the strawberry rhubarb filling, and Keith committed to the ginger cream and orange cake. Shiro noticed Keith wasn't trying the others and fed him a bite of his.
"No chocolate," Keith said between mouthfuls. "I hate chocolate."
"An opinion," Shiro said, relieved.
Keith leaned over and stole another bite off Shiro's fork. He chewed and feigned indifference. "I like this one. This is the Earl Grey one, right?"
Shiro brushed crumbs off Keith's mouth and nodded. "We can have more than one flavor."
"The top tier matters the most," Keith explained. He took a bite of blueberry cheesecake filling and thoughtfully chewed. Keith grimaced and shook his head in disapproval. "It's the one we have to freeze and eat a year later."
"Guess we'll have to fight to the death. Winner decides."
Keith nodded in agreement. "Necromancy themed wedding. Better call Allura."
Shiro dug his fork into Keith's preference. "Dead flowers are cheaper than orchids."
"But does the flower cost outweigh the cost of the necromancers we'd have to hire?"
"Surely Pinterest has DIY necromancy. I'll ask my mother."
He laughed and Shiro kept a straight face.
The designer disappeared to put on coffee. Keith had forgotten they weren't alone, and a warm sensation spread throughout his sternum. He watched Shiro who nudged the blueberry cheesecake away with his fork. Apparently, he wasn't a fan either.
His stress evaporated, and Keith slid a palm along the back of his neck to rub. He stared at their half-eaten mini cakes, eyes following the swirly piping they had cleaved, revealing moist cake and colorful cream centers.
Keith spoke before he could stop his brain from bleeding out of his mouth.
"People are going to eat this cake, which is symbolic of our love. People are going to consume that with us."
Shiro stopped at Keith's cosmic epiphany mid-bite. He retracted the fork from his teeth and let the bite stand suspended. Shiro scrutinized his fiancé to make sure he was being serious and cleared the laughter from his throat.
"You're not wrong," Shiro said. He rubbed his mouth to hide a smile. It wasn't often Keith was endearing. "Sounds a bit like a cannibalistic ritual if you ask me. Kind of Catholic."
"I'll be right back," Keith said and stood.
Keith rose to his feet so fast Shiro had to mask his startled jump.
Shiro set down his unfinished bite. "Are you okay?"
"Bathroom," Keith dismissively explained. "Nothing incredible."
"Keith?" he pressed, unconvinced.
Keith waved him off and walked toward the restroom sign.
The bathroom was behind a miniature black cathedral door, and like the rest of the bakery was its own performative piece. Its toilet and urinal were black and its tiles gleamed like cherry quartz. Keith adjusted to its gaudiness and grabbed the trench sink's rim. His knuckles whitened, and he fought heart palpitations with steady breaths.
When he collected himself, Keith looked up and consumed his reflection. He tried his best to decipher the foreign literature Shiro read on his face, but the words meant nothing to him.
He saw a boy with knives for cheekbones, angry eyes and a bad shaggy haircut. Keith knew he'd never fully understand the person beneath the sex work façade, but he was sinking. There had to be some recognizable pieces of the ship's wreckage that would tell him where to begin again.
Sex work had saved him in many ways. He had found himself threaded through woodwork only he and a select few truly understood, but now that he lived in natural light, Keith couldn't see. He couldn't see, and if he couldn't see, then how could he believe in anything Shiro claimed to see in him?
"Identity crisis," Keith said to the room, and he laughed beneath his breath. He exhausted himself. "You're having a belated quarter-life crisis."
Keith was going back to school and he was rooted in love, but in the back of his head, he felt like he was betraying himself. He wanted those things, and he wanted Shiro to love him forever, but at what cost?
Life had been fun. This was fun. He couldn't understand his preference.
A sharp knock on the door ripped him from his head.
Shiro's muffled voice bled through the oak. "Keith, are you okay?"
Keith hesitated but shoved himself away from the sink. He yanked open the door and found himself face to face with Shiro and Shiro's crossed arms. Keith instinctively went to mirror his pose but stopped himself. Rather than add another brick to their wall with bad body language, he reached for Shiro's biceps and pulled him through the door.
"Tell me what's going on," Shiro said, but it was too gentle to be a demand.
"I love you," Keith confessed for the ten thousandth time.
Shiro dropped his arms. He caught both sides of Keith's face and swept his thumbs along Keith's temples. He massaged them in slow circles and Keith moaned. "You're stressed out by that. You're about to hyperventilate."
"Observant," Keith murmured and closed his eyes. His features slackened, and Shiro pressed his mouth to Keith's crown.
His breath rustled Keith's hair, and the contact made Keith feel warm and comfortable. Shiro whispered the next words, but Keith's heart dropped at their dejectedness.
"You've been screaming it for a while."
Keith looped his arms around Shiro's neck and pressed his nose to his throat. He breathed in the familiar cologne, the woodsy smell he associated with home and peace of mind. Shiro exhaled and gripped Keith's boxy waist, squeezing tight. His hands slid up but unexpectedly let go, and while Keith wanted to protest, he thought better. When Shiro's absence settled cold on Keith's clothes, Shiro engulfed Keith in a hug so tight and present it overwhelmed Keith's senses and created a bone-deep ache.
He wanted more of whatever that ache was. Keith could only compare it to being edged to tears, and he subconsciously nuzzled into Shiro's shoulder. Shiro noticed. He always noticed what Keith didn't.
"You need to talk to me about what's bothering you," Shiro said, serious.
"It's pre-wedding nerves," Keith murmured, defensive. He flicked his eyes past Shiro's neck toward the urinal. The intrusive memory of letting a client piss on him made his brain refocus.
"You can't deepen this discussion even after what you said out there?"
Keith continued to rub his face into Shiro. "This isn't a good time or place."
Shiro let Keith continue cuddling. "You're acting touch starved."
"It's like I can't get enough," Keith admitted. "Sometimes I hug you and it's frustrating because you can't touch someone else's soul. It's never enough."
Chest-to-chest with his fiancé, Shiro's hands swept down Keith's back and rushed beneath his shirt. Cool metal and warm skin collided with Keith's nerves, and he leaned back to face Shiro. Keith slotted their mouths together, and on impact, the lip lock was open and breathless, yearning. Shiro groaned in approval, and Keith scraped his nails up the back of his neck and into his fade. He stopped at the white undercut and gripped, but Shiro boldly shoved Keith against the bathroom wall, breathing thick.
"Let me make you feel good," Shiro offered, words dark like mahogany.
Keith dragged his mouth to Shiro's chin. "We could make each other feel good."
This piqued Shiro's interest, and he thoughtfully steered his gaze to the side. Keith waggled his eyebrows and reached for Shiro's belt, but Shiro disarmed him.
He grabbed Keith's wrist, and as if arresting him, spun him and pressed his chest to the blinding red wall. Keith reached back and tried to playfully shove Shiro off, but Shiro caught that arm too. He pinned it with its mate.
Shiro lowered his mouth to Keith's ear. "I said you."
It was hidden from Shiro, but Keith grinned. He spotted his teeth in the wall's reflection and half-heartedly wrenched against Shiro's grip.
"Do we really have the time to play like this?" Keith challenged. He wanted to appear annoyed, but he was already hard.
"Don't insult me, baby. You'll be quick."
Keith pushed down his black pants, shifting his hips so they'd reach mid-thigh, and Shiro reached around with his bionic hand. The coolness startled Keith, but the fact he'd been startled helped encourage his cock. Keith jutted his ass backward in an attempt to encourage Shiro to fuck his thighs, but Shiro remained steadfast. His hand languidly stroked Keith's cock from base to tip, thumb occasionally petting the slit. Keith trained himself on being quiet.
His thighs shook, breathing fanning against the wall and creating fog. Keith's panting tapered into a feathery moan, and Shiro quickened his fist's pace. He feverishly licked a stripe up Keith's neck but stopped beneath his earlobe and sucked. Keith swore, but the hushed 'fuck' was buried beneath brief laughter. Shiro chuckled and playfully growled against his throat. He rubbed his face into Keith's neck, making Keith incapable of picking between another laugh or groan. Kissing again, Shiro slid a hand beneath Keith's shirt front and helped him decide.
His thumb brushed over one of Keith's nipples, and Keith pressed his forehead to the wall even harder. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. He attempted to fuck Shiro's fist instead, hips bucking.
"I'm taking you home and fucking you after this," Shiro cooed. "Someone needs my load."
"Do it now," Keith urged, looking anal fissuring in the eye the same way Jesus stared down the devil.
Shiro kissed Keith's temple and a small laugh rumbled from his chest. "We're not ripping you open in a bakery bathroom."
Keith turned his head and blindly sought a kiss. "Don't be weak. Split it open, Shiro."
Shiro removed his hand from Keith's perked nipple, and giving Keith determining eye contact, slid his fingers over the man's mouth as an adoring 'shut up.' Shiro couldn't see Keith's smile, but he saw the twinkle in his eye. Keith laughed again, muffled this time, and his humid breath blew against Shiro's palm.
"Everything's a challenge with you," Shiro whispered in mock disdain. He aggressively peppered Keith's cheek with kisses, and to make a point, squeezed Keith's cock and pumped him faster.
Keith laughed harder, but after a moment's friction, the laughter dissolved into a satisfied sigh. The sigh became Shiro's name, a tremble in his thighs and replanting feet to brace himself. Keith grappled for the hand on his mouth, but he didn't tug it down. He dug his nails into its skin instead and imagined Shiro fucking him stupid.
With Shiro capturing his whimpers in his hand, Keith came against the wall.
"That's impressive," Shiro said after freeing Keith.
Keith expertly tucked himself into his black pants and turned to focus on the mirror. He swept his hair off his face and grabbed a paper towel. He wet it with ice cold water and set it against his flushed face. The color in his cheeks quickly dissipated. He glanced at Shiro in the mirror who had knelt down for inexplicable reasons.
"Did you seriously praise yourself?" Keith asked.
"Look at this and tell me I shouldn't."
Keith turned over his shoulder and approached his crouched down boyfriend. He stopped short when he realized what Shiro was fascinated by. "If only your coworkers knew how gross you are."
"We're surgeons. We're all gross. Anyway, this is considered art somewhere."
The art was actually the load Keith had blown against the tile. Keith's eyes narrowed in on the milky rivers that had wept down the wall. He decided it was a fair amount, but they didn't have time to chisel it out of the wall and mount it in their apartment. The baker was probably waiting.
Keith dropped the wet towel onto Shiro's thigh. "Put this cold rag on your dick. I'll do something about that."
They returned to their cake where two steaming mugs and a concerned designer waited for them. Before the man turned to greet their footsteps, Keith and Shiro were energetically spouting apologies about their shared lie.
"There you are! I saw you left your gloves and keys, so I figured you hadn't strayed too far."
Shiro had driving gloves.
"It was the wedding planner," Keith said, exhaling and lifting a hand as if surrendering to the gods of matrimony. "Some scheduling overlap happened with the venue, so she went into a panic, but we fixed it."
"Weddings," he said sympathetically. "Not one is simple."
Keith flicked his eyes onto Shiro who shrugged and took his seat with a content exhale. Keith sat beside him and ran his hand up Shiro's spine, thumb dragging over the vertebrae.
"Did we make a decision then?"
"Ginger orange and the strawberry," Keith said, smiling much bigger than he was earlier. "That's what we decided."
Allura had already budgeted the wedding cake, and Shiro ran the 'wedding' charge card for the cake deposit. He pocketed the receipt and reached for Keith's hand. They walked back to the car, and Keith considered what the designer had said.
Not one is simple.
Keith wanted a velvet suit.
Not any velvet suit either, but a merlot interpretation of the custom Roberto Cavalli worn by Kanye West at the 2015 Met Gala.
This wouldn't have been an issue had Shiro and he not already confirmed the wedding colors, which were silver and gold. Keith wasn't sure why they picked those colors. He supposed red and black put them at risk of looking like the same color theory middle school goths applied to their eyes, but Keith never claimed to be above tacky.
It didn't help he knew exactly where to get the suit.
"Caroline is coming with me to look at suits," Keith announced to the room.
Shiro spat his coffee back into his mug. He hadn't combed down his hair and was still buzzing from that morning's mutual masturbation. Keith had a feeling he'd ruined the post-coital lull. "You're shopping with your mother."
The statement was flat and for punctuation's sake. Shiro knew Keith wouldn't lie about his mother.
Keith explained albeit dryly. "It's because I'm her only child, and somewhere in Hammurabi's Code, it says weddings are actually for mothers of the to-be-wedded children and not those making the commitment."
"She hasn't offered until now," Shiro pointed out. "What inspired that change of heart?"
"She didn't know until she got the invitation, which was yesterday, I guess."
Shiro slowly lowered his mug. It was black, rimmed with gold and said 'a big cup of ambition.' His fingers made it look like it simply said 'a big.' "You mean you never told her? Keith, we've had dinner with her. I've had involved conversations with the woman. I don't hate her. She's never been aggressive about us."
Or so Shiro thought.
"She was barely around when we lived together, and then when I moved out, she never picked up the phone. At least Dad called, okay? I don't know why she thinks she gets to be involved."
"You told me she worked. She took care of you."
Keith walked toward the coffee pot. Shiro said his name and Keith tilted back his head. He yelled at the ceiling and wished he was a turkey in the rain. He could look up, open his beak and drown in wonder.
Though internal, Keith didn't stop yelling the remainder of the morning. He yelled while he ate his toast, checked the weather, went for a run with Shiro, showered and dressed at a slug's speed. He yelled as he grabbed his keys, kissed Shiro goodbye and drove across town with Sum 41 blasting because he was a teenager again and had to deal with Mother.
Caroline or as his dad had always said – 'Sweet Caroline'
Caroline wasn't her real name, but 'it was easier to say' and had become a persona before becoming its own person. Keith had a feeling his mother wasn't a person, though. She was a concept. A regular Duchamp.
Her high school glamor shots featured her with a teased perm, posing in pearls and holding a plastic lobster.
Keith loathed her and yet often wished he could be her.
In black spandex pants that would have made Sandra Dee nervous, Caroline waited in front of the shop with a slim cigarette dangling from her fingers. Her red off-the-shoulder sweater was tighter than Keith's virgin asshole, and she was chomping gum while brightly chatting on the phone. She was forty-four, but with her straight across bangs and Ariana Grande ponytail, Caroline didn't look a day above thirty.
From across the street, Keith heard her sputter involved legal jargon interwoven with offenses like 'fucking prick' and 'dickweed.' She was a paralegal assistant and had been since Keith's early twenties.
Keith accepted his fate and stepped onto the crosswalk. He wondered if he could bum a smoke before they started shopping. During his drive, his nerves had attempted the gymnastics bar and broke their necks instead.
Caroline saw him and flipped up her sunglasses. "I have to go. My kid's here, and I have to make sure he doesn't look like a couch cushion on his wedding day."
"Couch cushion," Keith repeated.
She dropped her phone into her purse and stomped her cigarette. She didn't greet him with a hug or hello. Caroline flexed instead. "You are huge."
It took Keith a minute to understand what she meant. When he did, he halfheartedly flexed back. "I live with a health nut who has no free time. Kind of hard not to bulk up if I want to spend a minute with him."
"How's Doc doing?" She captured both sides of Keith's face and pulled him down into a forehead kiss. Keith grumbled about kiss marks. "Don't worry. The lipstick is matte."
"As good as ever. He doesn't have work today, so I let him off the hook. He might show up for lunch but no promises."
She patted a side of his face. "He's a nice guy. I like how he talks like I don't make him uncomfortable."
"You don't make him uncomfortable."
"No man from Dartmouth is going to feel comfortable sitting with the mother of the man he bought sex from. It's okay. He tries and that's what I'm here for."
Keith couldn't argue. What he could argue was whether or not she liked Shiro. This debate was the reason he'd removed Caroline from his priority list months ago. Before the question was popped, Keith gave her the rare phone call in search of maternal support. The engagement was on the horizon. It ached inside his bones like a weather change, but before he could allude to the energy, Caroline reminded him Shiro was an ex-client. Their love was built on idealism and fantasy, and a man would manipulate a diamond's density to keep a firm ass on his thighs.
She didn't believe Shiro loved Keith as Keith.
The worst part was Keith couldn't fight her with a romantic 'but Daddy, I love him.' Caroline had been a sex worker before Keith was born on until she blackmailed her current employer. Now she answered phone calls and knew how to type with acrylic nails sharp enough to gouge out eyes, but she still had life experience that made her a sage.
"You ready to look classy?" she asked and reached for the front door's gold handle.
Keith stared at the store's running hardwood floors through the door's glass. They were the color of dried oranges and matched the store's shelves, but made Keith think about scotch and trust funds. It was the rustic coziness you either spent twenty years honing on a ranch or bought and shoved into a Victorian mansion.
"Implying I don't always look classy," he said.
The mother and son duo stepped inside the shop, and Keith filled the silence by discussing the theme. Caroline was supportive of the outdoor location, and she prattled about how she believed more people should do night weddings. Keith barely heard himself speak, though. Sieving suits was as surreal as it made the wedding realer.
He blew a raspberry. The black bored him.
For the sake of looking and only looking, Keith drifted toward the colored suits. He edged toward the reds and his mother sidled up to him. He spotted velvet but refused to touch. As much as he wanted to, Keith convinced himself he'd turn into a pillar of salt. He pretended he liked the salmon in front of him, but he was sweating like a junkie craving smack. Digging out his own wisdom tooth would have felt better than avoiding that dreamy extension of high fashion. To think, he once believed Chuck Taylor was style's apex. O' how the seasons do change.
Caroline snatched the forbidden artifact. She lifted it in front of his face. "This is cool. The sash is even cool."
Keith closed his eyes and his shoulders sagged. Behind his lids, he saw red. "It's cool, but the color doesn't work with what Shiro and I planned."
She scoffed. "No one's white wedding dress matched their theme. The suits are all you, baby, and this is all you. Look at that neckline. It plunges. Did you lift weights for nothing?"
He tilted his head and longingly stared at the garment.
"Come on," Caroline urged, shaking it like bait. "You love it. I know that face."
Keith rolled his eyes, and acting like his mother forced his hand, swiped it from her grip. "I'll try it on. That's it."
He stuffed himself into the suit but refused to check the price tag. It was a classic mistake, but did it matter if he didn't intend to buy it? Set on his genius logic, Keith swept back his hair and barely glanced at the dressing room mirror. He needed the 360 one to know what fate had in store.
Would his heart break?
"You have to buy it," Caroline said a split-second after seeing him.
Keith stood examining himself in the gratuitous mirrors and lighting, and he hated how she was right. If not for the wedding, then he needed it for something. Keith grabbed the Not Lapels and tugged them forward.
"Shit," he whispered mournfully. "I look good."
"Uh-huh, honey. I knew you would." She checked the price tag and whistled.
"Don't tell me."
Since when did he care about price tags?
Caroline primped and preened her son, cold shouldering the watching tailor. She cleared her throat. "So what about after the wedding, huh? Not the honeymoon, but you know, the next stage."
Keith played dumb. "There's a next stage after marriage? Did someone forget to tell me about the post-marital human sacrifice? I'll have to remember to sharpen the kitchen knives."
"One way of putting it," she murmured. "I mean kids."
This was a topic even Lance hadn't breached, not even in jest. As they entered their late twenties and stared down thirty, Keith found it difficult to skim the idea, but he had to. He didn't have the luxury of an unspoken agreement to start trying or find himself centered in a happy accident. Adoption and surrogacy took years and were expensive.
"We've mentioned it."
'Mentioned it' being an attempt to downplay the conversation to his mother.
"Good fathers have their shit together, Shiro. If we had a kid? There would be one good father and then the dad who knows how to make a killer margarita out of Capri Sun, limes and a food processor."
"Tell me you don't actually know how to do that, and cut yourself some slack. You'd be a better dad than me. At least you know how to make time for people. It's masochistic to want kids and be a surgeon. You're never there."
"Your pancakes and inability to yell would make you forever forgivable. You'd be the Good Cop."
"All I want to know is if you'd even slightly humor the idea. I'm not asking for us to get hitched and adopt the first thing we find on Craigslist tomorrow. Your opinion matters. Consider this a minor relationship check in."
"Kids are nice."
"Don't use the tone you use when you don't like what I'm wearing but don't want to hurt my feelings."
"I have no problem hurting your feelings if it's the difference between you looking good and breathtaking. I mean it, Shiro. I think they're nice. They're cool."
"Word that in the way I need you to right now."
"I want kids, Shiro."
Keith hated the idea of having a dormant parent complex. In many circles, he was considered the poster child what with his everlasting daddy kink and affluence through older men. Honestly, Keith sang an indifferent tune to both his mom and dad. Since leaving his teens, he'd acknowledged the humanity in both and accepted their intentions versus their executions. He'd distanced himself from them through the natural order of making his life, and his rooted tribulations with Caroline were an extension of his independent existence, not her formative mothering.
Maybe this was why having children didn't scare him. He was so far removed from hating his mother for leaving him every night, none of it mattered anymore.
He was too aware that everyone's story is different. He would never be like his mother or father, and he would never replicate Shiro's eventual parenting methods. Keith could only compliment them and be okay with that.
This made him return to the last conversation Keith had with his mother. The one where she challenged Shiro's sincerity in their relationship. The one where she planted the seed that he couldn't be loved as is.
"Dad loved you," Keith said.
Caroline momentarily stopped brushing lint off Keith's sleeve, but she returned to the task. "Your old man loved a lot of women in his day, Keith. It was a part of his career."
"He told me he loved you the most."
Caroline didn't play along. "Before or after the girl in Salt Lake City?"
She dropped her hands and lifted them in surrender. "Old news. I know, but come on, kiddo. Whose side are you on anyway? I fed you. I clothed you. I filled out that goddamn FASFA. I loved you, and I never asked for anything in return. Where was your dad when he wasn't letting you get shit housed and God only knows what else over the summer? I knew. You think I didn't, but your dad called me and told me about what you did with his drummer –"
"Mom." He'd never thought she didn't love him. "I'm not picking sides. You made it sound like people like us can't be - you know, loved. You can't think that way. You can't tell your kid that."
She arched a thin black eyebrow and yielded.
"Fine, so say your dad loved me. Say he did." She looked Keith in the eye via their reflections. Keith was startled by how alike they looked. He didn't see his dad in him anymore. "Love isn't enough when you have a baby. Love isn't enough for marriage. You're cherry picking that conversation we had last winter, but I work with lawyers and I've loved some manipulative men. I connect dots. You can't talk around me, Keith, so listen well, baby."
He regretted picking the scab.
"Shiro can love your ass and your laugh and your wit, but does he love you when you're an asshole? Does he love you when you haven't showered in five days because your friend bit the dust? Will he love you if you lose your cool with a baby and need to scream in the other room? Will he forgive you when I wear cheetah print to the wedding?"
Keith couldn't help his smile. "Not sure about the last one."
Caroline scrutinized him but redirected it to the suit. She spoke from the corner of her mouth. "When are you gonna tell me how that engagement went down anyway? I'm sure Shiro asked with the same emotional gusto he uses on Facebook. Have you read that thing lately? I know more about you from that than from you yourself."
This question was somehow worse than being asked about kids. Keith darted his stare toward the door, but he was immobilized by a suit that cost thousands and a mom with knives for nails.
His hands turned into mollusks. He was becoming mucus.
Good, Keith thought, I can find a drain or maybe a urinal and escape.
"You're stalling. It must have been corny."
"I asked Shiro to marry me."
Caroline stood stunned. Her stare dissected Keith's passive gaze, but when he swallowed the lump in his throat, she patted between his shoulder blades.
"The red suit looks great."
That's where I learned my coping mechanisms.
"Shiro wouldn't like it. The colors..."
She furrowed her brow and ruffled his hair. "You're terrified of impressing him, but it sounds like you could wear a mustard poncho to the wedding and he'd still love you. What's your deal?"
Keith swept his hands down his face. He grabbed the suit's tag, and with one glance, broke the illusion.
"It wasn't always this bad. Kind of a new thing, actually."
Before the fall, there were signs.
Mostly, it was Keith's anoesis. His brain played like an unending loop. Something inside him couldn't resist flipping his internal cassette over and over, replaying the same self-defeating songs.
It wasn't often Shiro had multiple days off in a row, but when he did, Keith and he savored their time together. Be it having dinner in a restaurant overlooking foamy water or lying around on their California king long into the afternoon, they made a point to enjoy one another as much as possible. For some reason, there never felt like enough time. While Keith was ready to plunge his hand into the food processor to grab more hours with him, sometimes he couldn't stand Shiro.
A man so wonderful Keith resisted the urge to seize both sides of his head and scream in his face. How could someone be so genuine and kind? How, how, how? By inexplicable design, Keith took every good thing in his life and tore it to shreds simply because he could. He could and no one could tell him what to do with his person.
But Shiro. Shiro –
"Keith, I need to say something."
Keith saw Shiro and his love like dry branches forgotten in a forest. He visualized himself forcing them into circular shapes, but whenever their ends almost met, they snapped. They became kindling, but how fitting.
Being in love with Shiro hurt, but Keith didn't know why it had to hurt. He couldn't understand how Shiro could break every bone in his body with something as unpretentious as true affection.
"Before you, I never imagined being this happy," Shiro murmured, mouth pressed to Keith's forehead. "This content."
Shiro smiled as he spoke. Keith loved that smile and how he made it happen. Be it sex that felt that good or chasing one another around the apartment like flirtatious birds, Keith reveled in his ability to make Shiro happy.
I'm so happy, and I hate it.
"I'm happy too," Keith mumbled, sleepy and spellbound by the moment. "You'll never know. There's no way to know how happy you make me. It's not real. I could buy our story for 99 cents at Goodwill."
Both men were on their sides, facing each other and naked. Shiro playfully draped his heavy leg over Keith's waist, and Keith laughed, eyes closed as he relished the closeness. The setting sun's tendrils leaked through the window, stretching across the mattress like bars, and the orange cast softened the blue in Keith's heart.
Shiro's nails swept down Keith's spine and he squeezed his hip.
"We should buy a house after the lease is up," Shiro suggested. "Start looking post-wedding."
Keith slid his arms around Shiro's neck and woozily rolled him onto his back. "Don't you want to pay off the wedding first?"
"I make half a million a year," Shiro reminded him, poking fun at himself. "The wedding is paid off."
"Talk to me about house preferences," Keith encouraged though muffled by Shiro's chest pressed to his mouth. He tried not to drool. "I've watched enough HGTV to know I like craftsman."
"Those and French provincials."
Keith abruptly shout laughed at 'French provincial.'
"Get me a white picket fence and a cherry clafouti, Daddy."
Keith tried to imagine someone loving him enough to love him for a lifetime. There were intrusive thoughts about developing a terminal illness and forcing Shiro to watch him rot on a bed of piss, forcing him to test the boundaries of their commitment. There were thoughts about Shiro realizing he was truly as nebulous, as disembodied and untouchable, as Keith knew himself to be. With such high-risk threats looming above them like a baldachin, Keith didn't understand why some people could spend their entire lives striving for love's throne.
"Don't do what I think you're going to do," he whispered to himself in the twilight's dimness. Shiro was asleep beneath him, and all Keith could do to keep himself anchored was count the seconds between his breaths.
But he did.
Not then, but after an incident that reminded Keith he was broken.
"Stop! Just stop!"
"We don't have to. Keith, I asked if it was okay and you –"
"It's not your fault. Let me finish you."
"It's hard for me to get off knowing you're stressed out."
"But I love you. Let me show you that I –"
"Keith, baby, no."
"This is what I'm good at, Shiro!"
Keith yearned, but he didn't know what for. There was the thought he yearned to know himself, but that was pedestrian at best. He considered asking Shiro if he knew anything about yearning for nothing, but thought twice and decided he wasn't ready to have that conversation. Shiro, who had known himself since he was a child, couldn't possibly understand what it was like to want the world and still want absolutely nothing.
"Don't forget your scarf," Keith said, somehow present while wholly distracted.
His hand smeared a freshly scrubbed window, and Keith watched the city from their bedroom. It was an overcast morning, and the rising mist and fog made it look like the buildings were burning.
"Winter could do us a favor and end," Shiro murmured, tugging down his sweater. He grabbed his silver watch off the dresser and checked the time. He groaned and muttered something about being willfully late.
Keith sipped his coffee and turned to watch Shiro finish dressing. He planted himself on the center of the mattress and traced the mug's rim with his thumb. He was in Shiro's beaten alum sweater and not much else.
"I wish you didn't have to go to work," he mildly said.
Unbeknownst to Shiro, the wishful thinking was loaded.
I wish you'd stay so I wouldn't leave.
"Once the clinical trials end I'll be around significantly more," Shiro promised. He inspected himself in the mirror, but stopped when he spotted Keith's gloomy demeanor in the background. Shiro turned and walked toward the bed, kneeling on it so he could kiss Keith. "School and the wedding, babe. Is that not keeping you busy?"
Keith ran his finger down the list of people who had to be kept busy while their husbands made money. For some reason, he found one word trailing the page over and over again.
Housewife, housewife, motherfucking housewife.
In an attempt to be rational, he considered the possibility that he needed a hobby. The blog and cam show weren't doing it for him anymore. Friends, too. He needed to go see his friends, but Keith had been living inside his head for so long he couldn't imagine what calling them would look like.
I got bored spending my fiancé's money, so I can make time for you now.
Keith kissed Shiro, but it was hollow. He set down the mug and tried to kiss Shiro again, wanting to fill the void with the feelings Shiro usually provided, but he couldn't make it grow fast enough. Anger nailed Keith's guts, and he bit Shiro's bottom lip, making his fiancé moan and encircle his waist. Shiro tugged Keith beneath him, and Keith wrapped his legs around Shiro's waist, hands reaching for the hem of his sweater.
"Quickie before work," Keith begged, already pushing Shiro's shirt.
He didn't want to take the bag he'd packed and go. Keith didn't want to leave Shiro, but his emotional purgatory wasn't right. He wasn't right for Shiro, and he had to fix that. Keith had to fix himself.
Shiro kissed Keith's throat, and Keith extended his neck along the mattress. He was half-hard, toes curling into the sheets due to Shiro's heavy weight hovering him. Shiro captured the skin beneath Keith's ear with his teeth and bit, sucking back and creating a brutal bruise that would stain his throat like wine spilled across sandy carpet.
"I have to go," Shiro gruffly said, licking the spot and shifting onto his feet.
Keith's nose twitched, and he fought the urge to scream. He couldn't figure out what was wrong with him when Shiro did nothing wrong. He expected so little, but Keith insisted Shiro wanted to gut him like a fish.
Feel more, Keith begged himself. Don't leave him.
Shiro chastely kissed him goodbye, asked Keith to make reservations for dinner and tossed his keys and caught them. He shouted 'I love you' and let the loft's front door swing shut behind him.
Without fanfare, without a note, Keith dressed and grabbed the hidden bag from the guest room. He swung it over his shoulder and turned off the coffee pot. Keith told himself he would only disappear for a few hours, but in the grand scheme of time and existing, a few hours could be decades.
Keith couldn't do it alone, though.
Cellphone raised and waiting, Keith rapidly knocked on Lance's door, expression flat and concealing the urgency driving his actions. Several seconds passed before the deadbolt turned.
Lance appeared with the blueish backdrop of an unlit apartment. He rubbed his tired eyes, disbelieving at first, and then registered Keith as real. Rather than ask what was going on, he picked crust from his lashes and took Keith's phone to read the screen. He mouthed 'what,' connected the dots and slowly handed the phone back to Keith.
"Are we running away?"
Keith rapidly bobbed his head.
Lance ran his hands through his sleep-styled hair. "You look scared shitless. Did something happen?"
"I'm about to marry a man who has known what he wants out of life since he was a child, and most days, I can't make peace with the fact my mom named me Keith."
Lance stepped back and swung the door open for Keith. Once Keith was inside, flipped on a light. He strode into his bedroom.
"I saw this coming a mile away. You wouldn't check the invitations to see if they spelled your name right. The bus leaves at nine. Do you want to grab breakfast first? I'm feeling the White Feather Special with a side of bacon."
Keith heard half of that.
"He's going to think I'm leaving him for good."
"Did you leave a note?"
Keith paused a second too long. Lance ran a sleeve-hidden hand down his face. "I'll text him."
"Don't tell him I have cold feet."
Lance jerked a pre-packed overnight bag out from beneath his bed and sat on the creaky mattress. "Isn't that what this is? Dishonesty is a shitty way to lay the foundation for marriage."
"I want to marry him," Keith promised himself, not Lance. "Look, Lance. I haven't had time to think about the wedding outside of making everyone else happy. Ever since the proposal, it's been planning. Every second we have alone we plan, plan, plan because his schedule is too tight not to. It's been eat, fuck, shit, sleep and wedding. We used to take these long drives to sort shit out, and we don't even do that anymore."
"At least you're still getting fucked."
Keith ignored that.
"Did you know forever is a long time, Lance? Forever is forever. Forever means I'll never sleep with another man again. He isn't into that, so don't ask. Humans can't conceptualize forever, right? We're not meant to understand it, so how can we promise that to one another? Until death, man. I don't even think about death."
Lance heaved himself to his feet. "Some people have a bachelor party. You have an existential meltdown."
"Are you going to be my friend or are you going to mock me?"
"Since when did you get soft? You've been around Shiro too long."
Keith shot a look to the grainy hardwood and clenched the strap on his overnight bag.
"Pretend I didn't say that. You're great. I like this Keith. Wait here, buddy."
Lance brushed his teeth, dressed similarly to Keith's athletic wear, and carting his luggage, followed Keith out the front door. The way Lance calmly handled the situation told Keith he really had seen the meltdown coming. This took Keith's sense of self and raked it over the coals. Before then, he would have bet his life he was internalizing the way God intended. Keith had been compartmentalizing the way all adults do before they bleed out in either therapy or catharsis involving leather or well-staged torture porn.
At the diner, Lance did his best to encourage Keith to eat his French toast.
"I will feed that to you like a baby. I will shove an industrial sized funnel into your mouth, and after putting your food through a sausage grinder, pour it down your throat."
Dainty white mug in hand, Keith poked at the spongy breakfast food. "Do you think there are some people who aren't meant to be married?"
Lance rested his elbows on the table and pointed at Keith. He dropped his head and asked the table, "What exactly is eating you here?"
The last thing Keith wanted to divulge was his self-loathing.
"I don't know how to be in a relationship beyond this point."
"No one is supposed to be versed in marriage, dude. You only do it once and you figure it out along the way like everyone else is supposed to. Divorce rates and the fact marriage is a social travesty aside; you're supposed to do it once. One time, man. You're going to fuck up no matter how much you don't want to. You are human, remember?"
Keith didn't bite the bait. He finished his coffee and checked the time. No matter how hard he tried, breakfast wouldn't slide down his throat, so he watched the rain instead.
They boarded the bus and sat upstairs in the very back. They rudely monopolized all five seats by planting oversized backpacks in vacant spaces. Other passengers got the message, and Keith kicked up two armrests. He curled up on his side and stared down the aisle. He ran a hand over his face.
"Of all the places to get tickets to, why the mountains? We could've flown to Vegas."
"I like them. They're quiet."
Lance affectionately pushed his hand over Keith's temple. "You're telling me being alone in your apartment all day isn't quiet?"
"That place was never quiet."
Keith recalled evenings alone, stuck with his thoughts.
They were the kind that slammed themselves against walls, creating disruptive pounding he recognized as panic's pulse. Keith could sit at the ill-lighted breakfast bar deep into one of Shiro's twenty-six hour shifts and not move the whole night, trying to understand how he could love someone but feel his heart being eaten like worms to an apple.
"Fine," Lance relented, "but why the bus? We drive. We can afford gas now."
Keith had an answer for that too. "Tickets make me feel accountable. I can't turn around."
The reserved cabin was four hours south and towered a mile above a sprawling tourist town. It was built on the backs of a nondescript southern aesthetic and green hipster imaginings that vindicated vegan barbecue. No one really wanted to go there, making the bus ride quiet and contemplative, filled with data gobbling phone usage.
Their bus stop was an icy five-minute walk from the rental facility's office. Keith and Lance trekked, uncomplaining until Lance's nose drained over his lips, causing him to accidentally lick his own snot.
"Better hope delivery reaches out here because I'm not carrying groceries back in this witch tiddy weather."
Keith retrieved the key, grabbed takeout menus and ignored the clerk's glance toward their discrete condom selection after spotting Lance. Keith scowled but let himself laugh when he relayed the woman's sentiment.
"I have to clarify to Shiro I'm not fucking you," Lance said, the dawning threat turning him frantic.
"Shiro knows better," Keith promised.
Lance pursed his lips and squinted. "There's an insult there."
"Let's go," Keith said and situated his bag. "She said it's not that bad of a walk."
Whoever she was lied.
Breathless ten minutes in, the duo climbed the mountain's compromising terrain, shouting the lyrics to Rocket Man. At first, Lance had ventured into the song solo, but Keith knew every word and joined to distract himself.
"After climbing this mountain, I'm gonna come back to Shiro and he'll think this was a ruse so I could surprise him with ass implants."
"Look at it this way," Lance said, panting but determined to keep up with Keith's strong stride. "That can be the get-out-of-jail-free card."
The elderly cabin stood on thick stilts, confidently balanced on what appeared to be a ninety-degree angle. It overlooked white-capped mountains that created a gradient with blue-gray pines, and the midday sky was a clear robin's egg entirely unembellished by clouds. Keith let them inside the one-bedroom cabin but didn't pause to admire its dated kitchen or green plaid couch nestled in front of a dark fireplace. He made a beeline for the sprawling deck instead, stopping only to drop his bag beside the bedroom door and adjust his beanie.
Lance, being the rare pragmatic one, sprinted for the thermostat.
The screen door banged shut behind Keith, and his boots crunched rotted pine cones as he strode for the deck's edge. Keith didn't check the sturdiness, blindly leaning over its railing to gaze into the perilous drop's crisscrossing branches. He pulled as much unpolluted air through his nose as he could and held it only to exhale through his mouth and sag over the railing. His eyes fell onto a distant lake and stared, unfocused. It glittered like emeralds, and Keith's brain decided to mimic its nature, suddenly still and only moving enough to catch the fragmented light.
"What do you plan to do out here?"
"Think," Keith murmured, closing his eyes.
"Know what rhymes with think?"
He could have napped standing. "What?"
Against Lance's plea to give his fiancé space, Shiro texted Keith once.
Takashi: All I want to know is if you're going to be okay.
Tell me what I'm up against. Please, Keith.
"He's freaking out," Lance warned, drink in one hand and Shiro's texts in the other. "No matter what I tell him, Keith, even with my brutal honesty, your man is losing his mind over this. Reply to him."
They were seated by the lit fireplace eating vegan barbecue and swallowing bourbon by the mouthfuls. Keith had let Lance turn on music but neither man spoke much up until that point. Keith needed to exist in a haze, but he also needed the leash that was someone else making him act sane.
Keith: it's fine. we're fine.
Takashi: Not me. You.
"Have you considered therapy?" Lance finally asked.
Keith tensed and bit into a potato wedge. "Not the time, Lance."
"More like, you brought me with you to make you consider the option. Shiro's already asked me about it, and that's not my place to touch, but buddy, I gotta say –"
"I don't want therapy."
Lance withheld exasperation. "Can I at least ask why?"
"It proves everyone right."
Keith: yeah. don't worry.
"Right," Lance uncertainly said, thinking before cautiously pressing forward. "Go on."
Keith averted his eyes, still chewing. "I don't want to be one of those people who ends up in therapy because they do sex work. That's not what happened here, but everyone's going to think that's what happened."
"Dude," he started and summoned every ounce of wisdom Hunk taught him, "no one has to know why you went to therapy except you, and uh – if spending six years as a sex worker is giving you some issues, then that's okay, too. Like, you are human. Sex work really paints people in a weird way, and sex, in general, involves your body, which is everything. Your body includes your brain, so maybe some crossfire happened there. Intimacy issues could happen if you weren't counterbalancing it with personal relationships on the side. Kind of like – you know – when people work themselves to death but forget how to socialize? Maybe not exactly, but work hazards are everywhere."
"I sometimes get soft if he kisses me too much during sex," Keith admitted, groaning at himself and then miserably laughing. "I love the guy. He's so hot sometimes I sit and think about it, but I get soft when he loves me."
Keith dropped his phone and sank his face into his hands. "That's one thing, though. I don't know how to dress or act around him or his friends now that I know them. I don't want to be his girlfriend, but his friends have girlfriends, so you can tell they don't know what to do with me. Shiro is the one person I know who follows the token gay friend trope. Not being seen as his boyfriend pisses me off, so I try to out masculine him and his friends. I like my new clothes, but I ended up donating my vintage Dior, and I want to kill myself when I think about it too long."
The humiliation that came with being vulnerable with Lance was like taking a scalpel to the belly. It was the millionth time he'd slipped up and shown his best friend his organs. He wished he could get used to it.
"That was a sad day," Lance quietly agreed, meaning the Dior. He cleared his throat and mopped up the information Keith had spilled. He fell onto his back on the couch and set down his phone. "Can I be real here?"
Keith sighed and gestured his way. "Go for it."
"This is you."
"Shut up," Lance murmured, suddenly serious. "I mean; this is so on you I don't think you realize how on you it is. You've gotta talk to Shiro about this, man. What did you tell me after I fucked up with Hunk? Shiro is the good things, right? He's made you a better person, and he never judged you. He helped you. Your brain is doing that thing people do after they've been stressed out and finally relax. You're self-sabotaging. You're doing what I did."
Keith's brain fought Lance's logic.
"You don't know what to do with an easy and happy life. You're trying to make shit hard when you could work through this with Shiro no problem."
"Jesus, you butcher," Keith muttered.
"Someone has to say it. God knows you said it to me."
Takashi: I love you.
Keith: i love you too.
In the morning, before Lance woke up, Keith went hiking.
Hungover but unstoppable as ever, he pushed through the trail and tried to sort out what stomping through the trees was supposed to do for him.
Maybe, against all odds, Lance was right. He needed therapy, which was a given, but what he meant was Lance's decision to put it all on him. Shiro expected so little. Shiro expected Keith, but who the fuck was Keith?
Other than a terrible name, he didn't know!
Could he figure it out alone? Could he find the answer in trees? The answer wasn't going to be written behind bark, but man, wouldn't that be nice?
"What are you!" Keith shouted, not even sure if he was alone.
It shouldn't be this hard to know who I am.
"Do you know who you are?" Keith determinedly asked Lance over a waffle. They had found a restaurant that served all-day breakfast a five-minute walk past the office building.
Lance laughed in Keith's face and shook his head, biting into his omelet. "No fucking way, man."
"Does Hunk?" Keith pressed.
"Absolutely not," Lance reassured him and shrugged. "The only reason it might seem like he does is because he made peace with having no clue what's going on years ago. He's totally fine with it."
"But Shiro knows himself," Keith insisted.
"Doubt it," Lance said, the idea distasteful to him. "I bet you know better than that, too."
Keith considered Lance's challenging statement and leaned back in his booth.
Did Shiro know himself?
There were nights when Shiro kept Keith awake, prattling about his youngest patients and questioning whether or not human beings should be allowed to be doctors for life. He feared being desensitized to dead children and hated the fear that someday he might see an injured child in agony and feel nothing at all.
"Every senior surgeon I've met has no empathy left, and I don't know how to avoid becoming that. No one does. Will I even care by the time I realize it's happened?"
"Shiro, you know you're incapable of caring that little. It's what makes you such a good doctor."
"I don't know, though. That's what I'm saying, Keith. I don't know how people become that. Most of us go into this because we care. It happens. I can't make it not happen."
"I'm an idiot," Keith said, gravely aware of how true that sentence might really be.
"You're not even barking up a tree, man," Lance said and poured Keith's syrup onto his eggs. "You're barking at a stump."
"I'll never figure out what I did to win you over. Everything about you is my ideal. I couldn't ask for more from someone, Keith."
"Listen to yourself talk and look in the mirror. There's your answer."
"You give me way too much credit."
"Ever wonder if you don't give yourself enough?"
"Once again, pot calling the kettle black."
Keith tried to hike through his problems, but even with Lance advising him, nothing was sticking to his bones. Even onto the next day, with not another word from Shiro since ensuring their mutual love, Keith couldn't think.
Keith: do you know yourself?
Takashi: God, babe. Does anyone?
He stared at his phone in the dark.
Lance and Keith had flipped a coin to see who would sleep on the couch, but when Lance lost, he decided they were both too comfortable with their sexualities to not share a bed. For Keith, it had been about space. More than once he'd slept beside Lance in various stages of undress, but he let it go. Anyway, sleeping alone was foreign.
The point being, Lance was in bed beside him, making Keith self-conscious about emoting. Keith wrinkled his nose at himself, too aware he was being ridiculous. Lance was asleep. It wasn't like he could sense Keith's feelings.
Keith: used to think some people did.
Takashi: People are good at pretending.
Keith: you're never going to feel secure with me again.
Takashi: That's not true and you won't know unless you come back.
Keith: i don't know how i feel about anything still
Takashi: We'll figure it out together. We have before.
Running away rarely helps things. It makes it worse.
Keith cleared the lump in his throat and rolled over onto his side, clenching his phone and staring into the room's darkness with his bottom lip rolling between his teeth. He missed Shiro more than he ever had, and while he knew it was situational, he couldn't believe a few days away felt like centuries apart.
"I remember being afraid of the undertow," Lance groggily murmured, tearing apart the silence. He rolled onto his back so that he could be heard.
"What do you mean?"
"When the world swells in front of us, it's big and scary. We think we'll slip before we even get the chance to ride it, but you know what, Keith?"
He also rolled onto his back and turned his head toward Lance, scrutinizing. "What?"
"We're going to ride these waves, and we're not going to drown. Happiness is a lot of luck, but also, I think it's easier to walk back to the land and avoid the salt in your eyes than respect when the ocean wants to give you something."
Keith opened his mouth, but he decided not to speak until Lance's words sank in. He closed his mouth and listened to the central heat click on.
"I wish Hunk could have heard that."
"Why's that?" Lance asked. Keith knew he didn't mishear that softness.
"Because my wedding wouldn't be the only one we'd be planning."
Lance chortled and dragged his hands down his face, shaking his head. "Oh, fuck."
No matter how often Keith reminded himself fairy tales weren't what he was meant to look to in order to solve his problems, he couldn't escape the wishful undercurrent. He wanted Lance to give away his location. He wanted to wake up to Shiro's hand pushing the hair off his face while he muttered understanding reassurances.
He'd done this to himself, but he didn't want to dig himself out of it.
Keith's phone buzzed once more.
Takashi: Come home, Keith.
"You have to be okay with being fucked up, man," Lance said as if closing a book. "I don't think any of us are ever going to be normal. If I hadn't decided that was okay, then Hunk would have never met my parents."
Keith: i'll be home tomorrow night. it's the earliest bus.
"Your parents…" Keith questioned, trailing off so Lance could finish the thought.
He cleared his throat. "Hey. This isn't about me. This is about getting you to the altar!"
"How long have you and Hunk been official again?"
Lance violently shook his head, twisting himself up in their shared blanket.
Keith punched his bicep with a straight face. "That long? Seriously?"
"Ow – dude, I didn't say anything! You're assuming, and what have we learned about assumptions this week!"
Keith sat up and grabbed his pillow. He tossed it high into the air and caught the cushion with a quick fluffing smack. Sighing as if irritated at the weather, Keith rolled over and planted the pillow on his face, suffocating Lance.
"Answer me," Keith demanded, much too composed. Lance flailed beneath him. "How long?"
"Six months!" he screamed from through the cotton.
Keith raised the pillow and whacked Lance as hard as he could. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because you've been in peril!"
Unwilling to shoulder the blame, Keith dropped the pillow onto Lance's head again and pressed.
Keith couldn't fathom life without Takashi Shirogane, but he supposed that was why he wanted to marry him in the first place. That said, while Keith didn't love himself well, Keith did have pride. His pride was enough to fill the gaps his nonexistent self-love yearned to close. If Shiro couldn't see the man he'd been from the start, then Keith would do them both the favor of taking the high road. After everything, Keith wasn't afraid to remake himself. In fact, until Shiro, Keith couldn't recall the last time he had been quite as fearful.
It was late when Keith pushed his key into the loft's handle, but he could see the light leaking from beneath the door. As he'd expected, Shiro was awake, waiting up for him after what surely was another long work day.
Shiro deserved better, Keith thought, but he reminded himself to throttle his self-defeat. Even if it was only long enough to clear the air.
The door hadn't finished swinging open when he spotted his fiancé at the breakfast bar. Undoubtedly aware Keith had entered the loft, Shiro kept his eyes on the stove and didn't glance his way. He was freshly showered with slicked back wet hair and shirtless. Beside his bionic hand was his phone, and in his flesh hand was a stiff drink.
"Hey," Keith said, his early determination to be heard was no longer a roar.
Shiro shut his eyes and tilted his head. He scratched his five o'clock shadow. "How was the ride?"
Keith held tight to his bag's strap and entered the kitchen. Aside from its orangey bulbs, there were no other lights on in the apartment. Shiro had come home, showered and sat down to wait.
"It was a bus," Keith said, assuming that was self-explanatory.
"Do you want to sit down?"
Keith lowered his eyes to the stool in front of him, but they returned to Shiro's face. Exhausted, he was exhausted, and Keith saw the rare age clinging to his features. That and the redness rimming his eyes.
"No one told me being happily in love hurt this much."
Keith blurted out the words, letting them drop like pins. They clattered in the silence, tinkling like rain on a tin room.
Shiro shook the ice in his glass. He knocked back the amber dregs and returned it to its wet ring with a thoughtful look.
"Pain sensation is a part of wound healing. When we experience pain, it triggers opioid receptors to block out pain, but the same receptors can trigger cellular response that provokes faster healing. I don't think the heart is all that different. If it's hurting the way you're hurting, then maybe you're healing. Maybe you're just starting to."
Perfect answer. Always with the perfect fucking answers.
"Don't say that drunk. Don't be easy drunk."
"I'm not easy!" Shiro snapped. He wrinkled his nose but didn't add more.
Keith casually grabbed the nearby bottle's neck and poured himself a drink. He calmly gulped it, emptied his lungs in a single whoosh and dropped his luggage. Shiro watched him with his bloodshot eyes.
"Are you staying?" Shiro asked, unreadable outside of miserable.
"I never left," Keith impatiently answered.
He finally took the seat across from Shiro, and the two men quietly inspected one another. The clock condescendingly ticked in the background, an hourglass between them.
"Tell me what happens after we settle," Keith began, effectively cleaving the silence. "We're together not to make one another smaller, but to expand, so will I keep expanding with you or do we expand individually? Will I wake up one morning twenty years from now and see this massive distance between us?"
"You're scared of what I'm making you."
"I'm scared of what you want from me."
Exasperated, Shiro ran his fingers through his hair. Keith could see the desperate scream creeping behind his teeth. "I want you."
"I don't know if you do. How can you know you want me when I don't even –" Keith's voice tore, and the vocal break made Shiro look up. "It was a job, Shiro. It was a job. I was a job."
"What are you talking about?" he asked, pleading.
"It was a job," Keith repeated and he reached for his glass, but he didn't have the energy to pour another drink. "You're no longer my client, so I want you to look at me as your equal. I've always worked hard and done things for myself. If you marry me, then you marry me as a man marrying a man and not some false ideation of what two men together should be. I know your parents raised you to herald the submissive wife, but I will never be your wife, Shiro."
Shiro stared at Keith as if witnessing a pile up. He shoved aside his glass and splayed his palms in front of himself. All reservations were dying a slow death, bleeding out between them on the side of a wet highway.
Confused, Shiro exhaled and frantically pulled thoughts off the shelf.
"I've never asked anything from you except to stop sleeping with other men, and you said that was fine. What you're accusing me of are internal expectations you've been dealing with since we started dating. You're throwing them on me so you don't have to ask yourself why it's still a problem, Keith. That's unfair."
Keith heaved through his emotions. He dropped his elbows onto the table and let his face weigh heavy in his hands. A gnawing parasitic thought insisted he find a way to make Shiro the problem.
"Being with you forces me to break myself down and I can't. Doing that makes me mad at the idea of us. Not actually us because I wouldn't trade you for the world."
Keith pretended that made sense.
Fortunately, Shiro was a smart man and a hell of a fighter.
"There is no idea of us. Our relationship has always been flexible. I've never given you the restrictions to compartmentalize our relationship, Keith."
Keith flinched at this fact and set his hands on the counter.
"We've always met in the middle." Shiro reached for Keith's hands, and Keith flipped them up so Shiro could run his fingers across his palms. "There are ideations for our future, but it's healthy and normal for couples to hope and dream. Ultimately, though, we've always been two very real people interacting individually. I don't adhere to ideas be they gender, sexuality or relationship standards, and you never wanted to either. Why do you think I said yes, Keith? Why else would I say yes to you?"
"Let me talk," Shiro gently insisted, so Keith let Shiro talk. "We need to communicate through issues. We're grounded together, and even if you don't feel like it, we've been taking our time. You've changed so much since I met you, Keith. You're kinder, you relax in places you used to be afraid of, and babe, you will continue to change, and so will I. There is no definite you, and there is no definite me, and there's no definite us. What we are is our undeterminable choices and how we love each other through them."
Keith laced their fingers, needing an anchor as he bitterly fought the urge to cry.
"I just want you to know that I've seen who you are and that is why I love you. Remember what I said forever ago? That night on the bluff? You've been enough from the start."
"I don't know myself outside of what I've done or how I've made money. Imagine being someone who exists as himself and that's it. Wouldn't that be something?"
"You'll figure it out. If you don't, then that's okay, too. Having all the answers sounds boring anyway."
"I want to be easy for you."
"I want you to be whatever you think is best for you."
"I'm only good at being what someone wants."
"Keith is enough for me. It has been from the start."
"I miss my clothes," Keith mournfully said, blindsiding Shiro once again. He wiped a red eye before tears could spill, and he sucked back snot. "I miss my fur jacket and shoes, but I don't want to give up my Adidas, Shiro."
Shiro did his best not to laugh during a moment he knew had been the make it or break it for their marriage, but he still cracked a small smile. "We can get you new fur jackets."
Keith choked. "They were vintage."
"We can find more vintage clothes," Shiro assured and squeezed Keith's hand.
Tears hurtled down Keith's face, and he sputtered on the runoff that soaked his lips. He coughed on a repressed sob and shook his head. "I love you. I'm going to love you forever. I meant it when I proposed. I promise I'll get therapy or whatever. I'll deal with this, okay?"
That was Shiro's cue to close the gap between them.
He abandoned the stool, stepping around the island and reaching for Keith who couldn't stop his angry crying. Shiro turned Keith toward him and wiped the tears slipping down his face. He dried his hands on his sweats, and fighting his own emotions, kissed Keith from his hairline to his chin and back to his forehead.
"We'll handle this," Shiro soothingly corrected. "This isn't a problem I'm going to let you kick under the rug."
"What did I do to deserve you?" Keith mumbled, afraid if he talked too loud his voice would break.
"I ask myself the same thing about you every day."
This is my favorite fucking chapter.
Red like the heart's primal force and the leather in his therapist's office.
"Keith – why don't you tell me about yourself? Who is Keith?"
Keith tugged red latex boy shorts over his plump ass. His fingers pulled free from the waist with a snap heard around the world, and he turned his back toward the bedroom mirror. With both hands on his boxed hips, he looked over a raised shoulder and inspected the goods. Keith was unable to find a flaw, which didn't surprise him. He passively winked at himself and checked the clock for the hundredth time.
He was going to be late.
"I – uhm – don't know. Kind of here to figure that out, actually."
"That's perfectly fine. Let's start with the basics then."
One velvet crop top later, Keith adjusted his black thigh high boots and snatched a jacket off the bed. He draped the leather over his shoulder, and with a private laugh, strode through the loft's front door.
Lance had kept the bachelor party a secret. The slightest details hadn't been revealed to Shiro or Keith until the week before, and those were the venue, a vague aesthetic ("Think neon, red and Ghost Town DJs."), and time.
The venue was the same club where Shiro and Keith snorted cocaine two years before.
In a past life, Knifed was the strip club Keith's mom worked at. Once bought out, the new owners never removed the poles or stages, and rather than trade in the neon for modern lighting, used it to their advantage. The club was coated in a red cast, and they ensured the red's immortality by hanging a red neon sign over the front door. Art in its own right, the sign was a heart stabbed through by a dagger. Neon droplets blinked beneath the wounded organ's gash, and in curly script, the word 'Knifed' arched over the gaudy symbol.
Keith stepped out of his cab and exhaled a vapory breath. If he hadn't been taped down, then his balls would have leapt for No-Man's Land, but he ignored the sensation and assessed the club's line. It wrapped around the building's corner, which Keith didn't have time for. He spotted a familiar bouncer, Rolo, and was consumed by a flashback. Before he had started using Pal-and-Din, Rolo had been a regular customer.
Titillating stuff. A lot of hair pulling, amateur moves and Wu-Tang Clan.
Everyone starts somewhere.
Keith dissolved the memory and strode to the front of the line. He steeled his expression and planted a hand on his hip, wishing he could smoke. Shiro hated the taste, though. Keith didn't consider the health risks.
Rolo finished checking two driver's licenses and ushered the drag queens forward. He gated off the line with a red rope and only then noticed Keith's expectant form. He rapidly blinked but muted his surprise and laughed. It was a smoky laugh with a condescending undertone that heightened Keith's budding irritation.
"Here I thought you were dead," Rolo said. He leaned his shoulder against the club's white brick. Between his black beanie and the Knifed V-neck, it was hard to tell he was pushing his mid-30s. "It's been a little boring since you skipped town. A little less bitchy too. You know, you've been missed, but you're a bit of a myth now."
Keith gauged him and maintained his boredom. "People move on. People move."
"Moved on. Interesting. Then what brings you back to our little Sodom, kiddo?"
"I'm twenty-seven, from here, engaged, finishing a degree I stopped a few years back. Probably going to apply to med school, but I don't know. I used to do sex work. No – I kind of still do. Pictures, cam shows."
Keith's frown somehow managed to drop another centimeter. He was going to need Botox if Rolo didn't let him inside soon. "I'm twenty-seven."
He winked. "Aging like fine wine."
"Let me in. It's my bachelor party."
Rolo flashed his teeth. They were straight and clean but cigarette stained. "So that's where you went. Someone got a boyfriend and tied a dick down. It makes sense why Lance wasn't telling us who the party was for upstairs. The neighborhood is going to love this. Please tell me it was a John. I love it when that happens."
Keith rolled his eyes and licked a canine to hide his smile. "It might have been."
"I gotta know what he does," Rolo said. Every word threatened to become a chuckle. "Humor me one last time."
"It's not your business."
"Divulge and I'll let you in."
Rolo shrugged. He'd been called worse.
Keith had forgotten his neighborhood's bluntness. Life was entirely different on Shiro's end of the city. The precautions and manners were worlds apart.
He crossed his arms and tapped his foot. Keith considered calling Lance to pester Rolo, but he decided against it. Anyway, his ass was getting cold. "He's a pediatric surgeon. The youngest in the hospital, too."
Rolo whistled, and honoring his end of the deal, unclipped the rope. "He's good with kids, young and rich. Congratulations, peaches. You made it. Before you go in, I've got a little piece of advice for you."
Keith briskly strode toward the door, but he stalled at Rolo's last sentence, reluctant.
"Don't sign that prenuptial agreement."
Keith couldn't break his laughter. He continued walking but spun on his heel and flicked Rolo off with both fingers, bent forward. He had to shout over the incoming music. "He never asked me to sign one!"
"It's real love!" Rolo shouted after him.
"It's real love!"
Life had changed in its entirety, but as Keith strode down the club's dark entry hall, passing wigs of every color and fingernails stuffed with cocaine, he decided he hadn't changed at his core.
"When I was a teenager I slept with my dad's bandmate. He got pissed like any dad would, and it sort of ruined his career. He died a little while after that. It was forever ago. My mom – she didn't like him much, but in the way that I think she still wished she loved him. Anyway, we didn't talk about it a lot after it happened."
"Do you wish she talked about it more?"
"I don't think there was a lot to say. You can always tell when someone's trying too hard to communicate feelings, and at seventeen, I would have hated her for it."
"Did you like your dad?"
"I did. I liked him a lot. He was an okay guy."
"You're smiling. Why?"
"I'm waiting for you to tell me about my daddy issues."
"Do you think it would be fair to sum it up as that?"
Synthetic bass and red lights bled over Keith as he entered the club's nucleus. He walked forward and passively ran his fingers through his dark hair, making sure the ends weren't tucked inside his leather jacket. He avoided eye contact at all costs and crossed the dance floor without interruption. He needed to climb the glowing white steps on the other side, and Keith didn't acknowledge another human being until he was standing in front of them.
He checked his buzzing phone.
Lance was berating him for being late.
"Damn, honey. That's an ass."
Keith raised a swift victory sign in reply to the anonymous voice. He pocketed his phone and jogged up the short flight. At the top, he was greeted by two massive heart-shaped doors padded and upholstered with red velvet. A tall man with a list stood waiting, and Keith rolled his eyes at Lance's grandiosity. He started to dig out his ID, but the bouncer stopped him. He looked Keith over twice and wrenched open the door.
CeCe Peniston's Finally greeted Keith with wind tunnel pressure. It thrummed through the private sound system, but Keith's attention was drawn foremost to the room's gaudy decorations.
Before then, Keith had never seen half as many heart-shaped balloons in one place. Clustered in various places with the occasional stragglers crawling across the ceiling, they were red and black and stuffed with white lights. Beneath them was a circular bar lit crimson and a massive banner that said 'same dick forever' hung across the front. In the corners, stripper stages had been repurposed as tables and were loaded with complimentary hangover kits, water and a food spread that was either phallic or ass-shaped. He'd already spotted a dick straw.
Keith supposed he should have expected the inherent tackiness.
Most importantly, though, he recognized almost everyone. Those he didn't know were Shiro's friends, which caught Keith off guard. Shiro's friends were the Frat Boy Contingent.
The next song that played was Paula Abdul's Ho-Down.
Keith didn't finish processing the elaborateness before he was swarmed by shouting and people he'd invited to the wedding but hadn't seen in over a year. A strong drink was pressed into his palm and kiss after kiss nailed his cheeks. Not drunk enough for the amount of people congesting the room, he played it off but looked for a familiar anchor. Shiro would be there soon, so he only had Lance or Pidge to grapple onto.
Lance spotted him first and yanked an unsuspecting Keith away with a loud 'Sorry, babes!' Keith didn't stop to greet his friend. Penis straw in mouth, he raised a finger to tell Lance to wait and sucked back the entire glass. When he finished his first drink, he admired his friend's blue metallic leggings and cropped baggy white tee. On his head was a pair of dated oval-shaped sunglasses, and Keith noticed his new abs.
He shoved Lance's shoulder. "You went all out. You didn't have to Lance."
Lance patted Keith's back and pushed his head forward. "It's been a weird year. Call this the wedding present."
"Yeah – well, thanks, man," Keith said. His eyes scanned the dancing crowd. "Nineties club should've been the wedding theme."
"Where's Shiro?" Lance suddenly yelled over the music. "I have gifts, but I can't give them to you two until you're both trashed."
Keith checked his phone. "He said he would be here soon. Does he know you invited his friends?"
"Of course not. You're not the only one I had to humiliate."
As if they'd summoned the angel himself, the heart doors parted and unveiled the other man of the hour. The shock on his face was shoved to the side by his name being shouted, and Shiro was soon swarmed by full-grown men who looked like they dabbled in Tuesday night fantasy football, missionary sex and leg day.
"Do you think they knew he was gay before tonight?" Lance dryly asked. "God, look at them. It's like buffalo at the watering hole. They're so big."
Keith nudged him with an elbow, and Lance coughed.
"You know I've met his friends."
"Did you win their respect by beating them at Madden?"
Not bothering to warn Lance, Keith swung his arm around his friend's neck and bent him over, digging his knuckles into his crown. The aggression spilled Lance's drink, but Keith leaned over and sucked back the rest through the red dick straw. It wasn't until it he finished the Diet Coke and whiskey did he free his friend.
"Could've just not done that!" Lance yelled.
Keith fixed his jacket and Shiro watched him from afar, grinning at Keith's violence. Keith noticed, and matching Shiro's flashy smile, winked. He dragged his eyes down Shiro's whole body; tight black pants and a white V-neck tee exposing cleavage defined in a weight room. Keith decided he was going to fuck him. Somehow, he was going to make that happen sooner than later. That night, even.
Shiro noticed his appraising look and answered with one of his own. He dragged his stare down Keith once, and when he walked forward, Keith forgot about Lance.
Rather than greet with a warm kiss or touch, Keith and Shiro circled each other like dogs. They inspected with arched eyebrows and evaluating boredom, but Shiro stopped. He mouthed 'I love you,' and Keith mouthed it back with a creeping smile.
Shiro reached for Keith, and Keith flung an arm around Shiro's neck. He was tightly gathered in the Shiro's arms, and two large hands went straight for his latex covered ass. 'Covered' being a generous word.
"Hi," Keith said, mouth a centimeter from Shiro's lips.
"Have I ever told you how good you look in red?"
Before Keith could answer, Shiro kissed his smile and leaned him back. Keith's feet didn't need the ground, and for a split-second, he felt suspended.
Shiro set him down to properly thank Lance for the party. He attempted to discuss the cost, but Lance refused to give him numbers and promised he hadn't fronted it alone. Keith's eyes yearningly wandered onto the bar, but the doors behind Lance opened, catching Keith's peripheral vision.
Keith watched the newest guest step inside. His head inched back, and he laughed. "I can't believe you upheld the bargain."
Lance widened his eyes and whipped around.
Hunk, imposing as ever in a bomber jacket and yellow backwards trucker hat, drank in the surroundings. He bobbed his head in approval, but he spotted Lance and the rhythmic nod stopped. Hunk opened his arms and turned up his palms. He ruefully smiled, and Keith watched Lance's clenched fists relax. His knuckles regained color, but the redness vined along Lance's throat and toward his ears. He sighed and sagged.
"Flight delay!" Hunk explained. "You have to forgive me!"
"I wasn't mad!" Lance lied. Not even the distorting music could salvage his bullshit. "It's whatever, dude! Flights happen!"
"Then like, are you going to come here and show me we're cool?"
Lance dropped his glass onto a nearby table. Shiro and Keith entered his hindbrain, but more than once Shiro and Keith had discussed wishing they could observe Lance and Hunk in their natural environment. This was close enough, and the two men trained themselves onto the pair. Neither one blinked.
Lance sprinted toward Hunk.
There wasn't a tenuous jog that acted as a crescendo. He sprinted, and that was that.
Hunk stood unconcerned and stepped back to brace himself. It wasn't his first rodeo, and he proved it by reaching out and grabbing Lance's waist when he was within reach. Hunk lifted the lanky man like a paper sheet, and Lance clasped his shoulders. His legs flung out straight, and Hunk fluidly tilted him backward into a hard kiss that made Keith's teeth hurt. Their movements would have made a lyrical dancer envious.
Lance broke their kiss and let Hunk go. He used his legs to cling to his waist and threw out his arms. "It's good, right?"
"Did you know you can make a dick out of bananas and strawberries? We have this fruit dip that looks like thick splooge."
Hunk loud laughed. "Uh – that kind of gives me mutilation vibes. My balls are hiding."
"The bachelorette search on Pinterest is inherently cannibalistic."
Shiro cleared his throat and draped an arm around Keith's shoulders. "They're doing well."
"I had no idea," Keith confessed.
Hunk righted Lance and himself and dropped his boyfriend onto his feet. He suddenly pointed at Shiro and Keith with both index fingers, and Keith and Shiro pointed back.
"It's the tall glass of water and cherry tart!"
Mariah Carey's Fantasy rained from the heavens, and Keith had enough. He needed more alcohol, but that was the general consensus. Hunk explained his current situation as they approached the bar.
"A lot of judging, you know? Promotional work and being a slave to the capitalist grind. As we all are, I know. Recently went back home to negotiate some personal business with my old man, but I'll be on the mainland for a month. Long enough to recover from your wedding."
Shiro ordered their drinks, and Keith opened his mouth to ask Hunk if he had seen Lance's recent gallery exhibition, but he stopped mid-syllable. From the corner of his eye, he spotted something low to the ground lumbering toward their circle. He turned his head and realized it was Pidge. She was crouch-walking toward them with a cranberry vodka in each hand. Pidge stopped at their feet and sucked through both straws.
She raised her glasses to the four men. "Hey."
"Pidge you look great," Keith said. He smacked the bar. "We need to get on that level."
And Keith said, "Let there be liquor," and there was liquor.
The last time Keith took shots and mixed alcohol he was in Cancun with Shiro. Three rounds and a handful of champagne-soaked gummi bears later, he dragged Shiro into the dancing crowd and turned himself around. He ground down against his soon-to-be-husband, and Shiro's hands clasped onto Keith's naked waist to close any potential gaps. It was a bachelor party, and Keith intended to exploit the final freedom the way he wanted to, which meant Shiro wasn't going to be the only person he danced or swapped spit with.
One by one, Keith singled out Shiro's friends and their wives.
Women loved him and straight men pretended not to, but Keith knew better. He pressed himself against someone within the Chad genus and savored the moment he felt him hard against his shiny latex. With each new partner, Keith left someone hard and hiding from his wife. There was something satisfying about turning down men who thumbed his nude ribcage and stroked his body with touches intimate enough to be suspect. Even at a best friend's bachelor party, men craved to be loved above all else and sway those who challenged.
He finished with the men and circled back around to the women.
Latex and velvet or not, Keith was tall enough with abs and a boyish face older women revered. He knew how to touch, and he knew how to talk even if his words were sparse. Keith utilized the vodka catalyst, but he always let women kiss him first.
They were soft and yearning.
Keith liked both of those things.
He left his victims for another shot, and Shiro joined him. Lance appeared beside Keith and discretely slipped a plastic baggie into his hand. Keith spotted the white powder and expertly slid it into his boy short's waistline. Shiro pretended not to notice, but his eyebrow lifted. He took another shot and kissed Keith's temple.
"Lit," Lance operatically sang.
In the club's private bathroom, Keith snorted a line off the metal toilet paper dispenser with Shiro patiently waiting his turn. Keith swiped up the excess with his middle finger and rubbed it along his gums. He loudly sucked his teeth and hummed. Keith's heartbeat spiked and his fingertips warmed. Suddenly, sex sounded too good.
"Too old for this," Shiro said.
"Stop being a doctor and take your turn."
Keith abandoned the workstation and took a seat on a round bench. He watched Shiro snort and Keith fondly smiled to himself. He settled his head against the subway tiled wall and plucked at the fabric beneath him. They could have sex there, but the drugs and alcohol might make it hard (see: not hard).
"Good boys like you doing drugs is the biggest turn on."
Shiro leaned back with an exhale, eyes half-lidded as the drug's effects rushed him. "I wasn't always a good boy."
"College," Keith knowingly said. "You've mentioned it before. The gay frat boy sounds like cheap porn."
"Funny you should mention that. I thought about dabbling in it to pay for med school."
Keith chuckled, and when Shiro finished wiping his nose, tugged him back to the party. The neon landed on them and time manifested like a light show, a spinning kaleidoscope that pulled Keith's brain forward.
Keith's friends surrounded Shiro solely to compliment his chin and cheekbones, and Keith took the opportunity to grab food and soak up the gallon of liquor sloshing inside his stomach. He sat down at the party's edge and tenderly watched the debauchery thrive.
In the middle of eating a cookie shaped like his ass, Keith choked and slammed his fist against his chest. Men raucously shouted Shiro's name from the dance floor's corners, and Keith looked up. He wondered what the shouting was about, but he didn't have to wonder long.
Disembodied hands pushed Shiro from the crowd and into Keith's sight path. He stumbled, balanced himself and shook his head. Yells shot forward from behind the doctor. Keith bit into a white chocolate strawberry and quirked an eyebrow. He waited for enlightenment as he chewed.
"I used to dance to this at parties!" Shiro sheepishly explained over the music. He dragged his nails along his gleaming chest and shook his head. "I did it once and it became a thing!"
Keith dropped the treat and shoved his plate onto a nearby table. He leaned forward in his seat and clasped his hands together between his knees. Keith innocently smiled and waited.
"I'm not doing it!" Shiro said, but his challenging look promised otherwise.
Keith smacked his thigh and leaned back. "Come on! Impress me!"
Shiro stalled, but he didn't have room to for long. The music cut and those who hadn't noticed groaned, but when Pony restarted, Keith spread his legs even more and folded his arms behind his head.
"Unless you know you can't!" Keith goaded.
That didn't sit well with Shiro. He licked his upper lip before turning his mouth into a line.
Much to Keith's satisfaction, he took the bait.
Shiro, too high and drunk to care about the mounting onlookers, grasped onto his shirt hem with both hands and tapped into his early-twenties. He cycled the fabric and simultaneously steered his hips into a fluid infinity sign, lifting the shirt above muscular abdominals and bringing it back down. Shiro's eye contact immolated Keith's navel wall, and Keith subtly puffed out hot air, deciding Shiro was better than a hired stripper.
As dedicated to the role as he was, Shiro broke character.
He laughed and momentarily hung his head forward, but he continued to move. Keith prodded him, yelling over the music, "Take it off, babe!"
Shiro took it off.
In the distance, wolf whistles sounded off.
Keith raised two fingers and gestured 'come hither.'
Shiro moved forward, but something caught his eye and he stalled. He spotted Hunk who was watching alongside Lance and effortlessly advanced them. Shiro stole Hunk's trucker hat and dropped it onto his head, swerving it backward. It changed something, and Shiro went from solely dancing to also serenading.
The tackiness was lost on Keith, and he pressed his mouth to propped knuckles. He bit one and dropped the hand when Shiro approached him, opening his belt. Even when Shiro was within reach, Keith trained himself off touching, but God, he wanted to. Had Shiro asked him to give him head right there, then he would have.
Pants and boots gone, Shiro found his home on Keith's lap.
Shiro didn't look a day over twenty-five, and Keith decided that was a public health risk. Hunk's hat only heightened the youthful illusion, and he exhaled to regain composure. Keith watched Shiro's hips and the way they swiveled down before transforming into rolling movements. He was familiar with the motions, and his brain drifted to two nights prior when Shiro rode him on the living room couch. They had purposefully opened the blinds. Keith could still hear their synched groaning, the shouting when Keith finished inside.
He had to touch. He had to.
"You're going to hate yourself tomorrow," Keith said. He trailed his hands up Shiro's thighs and conspicuously looked down. He smirked and slid them inward.
"Hard to hate myself for something I'm good at."
"Oh," Keith lightly said, pleased.
"Even harder to hate myself if it makes you happy."
Keith rolled his hips upward for that one.
Shiro finished his dance with rowdy applause, and Keith and he swapped spots. Rather than dance, Keith simply sat on Shiro's lap, savoring the rare moment where others could see his near-naked form. Shiro reached over for Keith's forgotten snack plate and munched as they talked and teased one another.
Keith grabbed both sides of Shiro's face and kissed him deep, not noticing when Lance took a picture with his phone. Shiro pushed his fingers into Keith's hair and held him close, brow furrowing and subsequently relaxing.
With Keith momentarily forgetting all worlds that weren't Shiro, Lance admired his photography skills. He showed the picture to Hunk who dramatically sighed.
"There goes my heart," he joked.
"For the scrapbook," Lance said more to himself.
Hunk dropped his arm onto Lance's shoulder and watched the couple. "They can't get enough."
"Only they would have a bachelor party and spend the whole time slobbering on one another."
"More and more these two become a goal. Have you told them yet?"
Lance dismissively shrugged. "Let's get them married first."
"You're a good friend. You're a good person."
"Yeah. Well –" Lance dwelled on the thought and sheepishly smiled. "It doesn't come naturally."
"Did I ever tell you about what Shiro and I decided about yours and Keith's hearts?"
Lance critically side glanced. "You two talk?"
The night ended with the promised dick cake and bottle sparklers. As Pidge suggested, it was red velvet with a cream center. Before Keith and Shiro could cut into it and make everyone in the room with a penis uncomfortable, Lance presented a box to each man. Keith opened the gift, suspiciously watching Lance as he tossed aside red wrapping paper. He finished opening the box and lowered his stare, but he swapped his scrutiny for fondness.
It was a red leather jacket. Shiro's was black.
On their backs, three words were embossed
DRUNK IN LOVE
Lance had made them in his shop. Keith knew the style from Lance's skate wear.
"I'm going to hug you," Keith said like a wicked premonition, "and you're never going to mention it again."
Both wearing their new jackets, shirtless Shiro and inebriated Keith stood with their cake slices. Keith danced along to his chewing, and Shiro fed him a bite.
He spoke as if offering Keith poetry. "Eat my dick, baby."
"If this is what you're like drunk now, then I wish I'd known you during your frat boy days."
"After treating you to a fine buffalo wing dinner, I would have rawed you on my university issued dorm bed and ignored your phone calls for a week."
"You basically do that now, but it's on our California king and you're ignoring my calls because you're saving children's lives."
"Hey – I'm young at heart."
Keith and Shiro finished their cake, but after Lance decided to make nice with a stripper pole, mutually decided it was the right time to bail.
The party was still in full throttle when they escaped, making a pit stop in the very bathroom where Keith first told Shiro about his feelings. They finished pissing, but rather than escape to Shiro's Lexus for privacy, Shiro hesitated and stared down a stall. It was the same stall he had left Keith in over two years ago. The memory stung them both.
"Do you remember life before us?" Shiro asked Keith.
Keith followed Shiro's gaze. His heart stuttered at the residual haunting.
"I'm so sorry, Shiro."
"It's not you."
He grabbed Shiro's hand, and they walked out of the bathroom together.
"I try not to."
They broke free from the steaming club air and into the chilly night. Keith offered to call a cab, but Shiro suggested sitting in the Lexus's backseat while they waited. He'd never put on his shirt.
Keith should have known better, but he blamed the cocaine and handle's worth he'd guzzled. Even without substances, Shiro was sex appeal Keith hadn't learned to resist. It was how he ended up on Shiro's lap with his cellphone forgotten on the car floor, and it was how Shiro assumed permission to shove down Keith's jacket.
"Too drunk to get hard," Keith confessed when Shiro bit his bottom lip and pulled.
Shiro arched an eyebrow. "I'm not."
Keith ran his hands down his pecs, brushing thumbs over his nipples and giving him a feather light kiss. "Then show me."
Shiro reached behind both back seats and pulled their handles to lay them flat. He shucked off his jacket and fell onto his back. Keith crawled toward the glove compartment and dug out the lube. He tossed the bottle toward Shiro who caught it, but Keith paused. He rolled his eyes and clumsily pushed down latex shorts. Impatient, he reached between his thighs and took a minute to undo his tape job, moaning once no longer painfully restricted.
Keith finished sliding off the latex and tossed the shorts onto the passenger seat and heard the distinct clink that was Shiro opening his belt. Keith shifted to kneel on the seat but paused.
"I could film this right here and make an easy million," Keith said, serious.
Shiro was propped up on an elbow, languidly stroking his rigid cock and dragging his gaze down Keith's sinewy frame. He gestured for Keith to 'come hither,' using two bionic fingers, and Keith's mouth immediately became wet. All he could think about was Shiro's slit leaking across his flattened tongue, coating his kiss-swollen lips with glossy cum that Shiro loved to taste. Hot from the memory, Keith reached for his prick, holding the base tight but resisting the urge to stroke himself with Shiro watching.
"Thought you said you couldn't get hard," Shiro taunted.
Keith scoffed but pumped himself once, fighting a groan when the sensation went straight for his guts. "We'll call you inspiring."
He crawled toward Shiro and straddled him. He glided his hand up Shiro's exposed chest, and with a hum, wrapped his fingers around his throat.
"Yeah?" Shiro asked, lifting an eyebrow.
"Yeah," he said, suddenly tightening his grip and shoving Shiro onto his back.
He choked him out, turning Shiro's face rose-tinted and digging his thumbnail into the infuriatingly tight skin beneath his chin. Keith watched, appreciating the way Shiro fought for air, sputtering while giving eye contact that glowed like a plea.
Keith pushed his hips forward, letting his cock rub against Shiro's navel and noting how his stomach dipped low before stuttering upward. Shiro sucked back a thin hissy breath, but it became an arrogant smile. Keith lowered his hand between them to wipe it clean, smacking aside Shiro's stroking hand and replacing it with his own. Shiro muttered Keith's name and impatiently bucked. He choked for air once more, but Keith lazily caressed, gliding his palm along the leaking crown and rubbing it like a gearshift.
"Jesus Christ," Shiro whispered, words tight. He tilted back his head and Keith freed his throat, stroking his middle finger down Shiro's Adam's apple. He continued to grind, eyes sharp and observant.
Shiro heaved in air and coughed, and only then did Keith consider the possibility that inebriated asphyxiation might not be safe. Shiro was rock solid though, leaking clear precum down his shaft. He left his worry at the door.
"Are you okay?" Keith neutrally asked, knowing he was.
His normal color returned and Keith felt the moment he shifted his knees up, toes curling into the seat. "I'm okay, baby. God, come here, though."
Impatient and drunk, Shiro grabbed the lube and popped it open with a loud snap. He soaked his fingers in the cold jelly and Keith dutifully bent forward, presenting his ass.
With Keith curled over his head, hair like a curtain and fingers caressing his forelock, Shiro shoved Keith's crop top toward his clavicles. Realizing what Shiro wanted, Keith eagerly lowered his chest, gasps becoming erratic when Shiro lifted his head. His hot breath taunted first, making Keith fussily squirm, but Shiro eventually dragged his tongue over Keith's nipple, promptly swirling the tip around the bud before taking it between his lips. He suckled and Keith kneaded his bangs, losing his hand job's rhythm, and hardly noticing when Shiro reached for the cleft of his ass. Shiro brushed lubed fingers over his hole, the motion feather light and cruel.
"Put them in," Keith urged, ready and willing to do anything as long as Shiro would fuck him faster.
Massaging Keith's entrance with longsuffering circles, Shiro ignored his pleas. He switched to the other nipple and Keith beat a fist by his head, gritting teeth. Shiro slipped his middle finger inside and his cock quickly twitched in Keith's hand. Once knuckle-deep, he retracted to the tip and indolently fucked Keith's hole loose, a second finger joining soon after. By the third finger, Keith's thighs ached. He knew he wouldn't survive if Shiro didn't hurry.
Keith shoved Shiro's hand away, but at the chilly vacancy, regretted his hastiness. He scooted his ass forward, rising to his knees, and with a hand balancing Shiro's cock behind him, Keith sat back.
Not a lot happened.
"Fuck," Keith whined, unintentionally shifting naked shoulders in a way one could describe as cute.
"Too eager?" Shiro teased, and Keith stuffed two fingers into his mouth. Shiro chortled, promptly gagging.
Shiro's cock head nudged him, the stretched ring defiant even after lube and scissoring fingers. Keith continued to sit back, fighting the slight burn and concentrating on Shiro's panting, how he licked and sucked his fingers to pass the time. The cocaine had made Keith impatient, eager for the euphoric moment when Shiro would slip inside and stuff him. Since he could remember, Keith loved the pain when broken in too soon. There was something darkly invasive about it, especially when given by someone he loved and trusted enough to handle his whole person.
"Shiro – I want it," Keith whispered, breathing through teeth as his ass dropped another half inch. He was being pried open, but again, Keith liked it. No. Loved it. Sought it.
He removed his fingers from Shiro's mouth, and Shiro licked his upper-lip. For someone so docile, he suddenly looked lethal.
"You've got this," Shiro crooned. He squeezed Keith's thighs and critically examined his face, wanting to see the exact moment when Keith's body opened for him.
Too seasoned to be deterred, he breathlessly answered. "I know, I know."
Keith lowered again, heart pounding. Shiro assisted with fingers, and after a pause, slipped through the stubborn ring. The intrusion was followed by a resonate sting, but Keith puffed air and didn't risk stopping. There was no way. He wanted – no, needed – to hone his body into a weapon and make Shiro beg like a bitch. Keith needed that moment when his fiancé screamed his name and splattered his raw hole with cum, leaving it oozing and battered swollen into the next afternoon. The best part was insisting Shiro lick him clean and watching him dutifully do so. One of Keith's fondest memories was the moment he realized Shiro would've been a hell of a whore.
"My name is Keith, and my boyfriend makes two of me, but likes it when I use him like a hooker."
Keith bottomed out, heaving a sigh that became an appreciative whimper. He adjusted to the biting heat, letting the dull throb become an afterthought. Settled, he gripped both sides of Shiro's ribs and swept his fingers up and down, admiring tight pastures and pressing fingers between bones. Once done admiring, Keith placed his splayed fingers on Shiro's broad chest and noted his parted lips, the way Shiro fought to maintain composure. It didn't matter, though. Shiro could expectantly arch an eyebrow to the lord, and Keith would still read his veneration.
Shiro worshipped Keith from his perpetually windswept hair to the toes he sucked, and Keith couldn't blame him. When they were together, they were borderline perfect, and Keith didn't believe in any kind of perfect.
Shiro reared his hips, knocking Keith from his thoughts and causing an involuntary moan.
He spoke with a slight strain, but overall, was stern. "Move."
An order, Keith realized. Keith didn't like orders unless they were paid for. Usually, they came with a thousand-dollar designer tip, but Keith supposed marrying Shiro was more like winning the lottery.
Logic or not, Keith cheekily flexed his thighs, making small, shallow movements that registered just enough to be pleasant. Shiro realized, and summoning patience through love drunkenness, waited for Keith to be his own undoing. He didn't have to wait long. Keith was too smashed to maintain his bratty demeanor.
At first, Keith distractedly lifted himself high and dropped hard, creating a noncommittal cadence meant to flip Shiro's skin, but Shiro took what he could get, knowing it was only a matter of time.
There it was.
Keith hadn't meant to, but he'd angled against Shiro's dragging cock and nailed his sweet spot, corrupting everything with a single strike. Its immolating effect gushed down his navel wall, and he was hooked, instantly addicted to the euphoric bite. Keith bounced faster, hastily building fervor and emitting throaty cries Shiro answered with husky moans. Keith strove to fuck them into a higher pitch. His nails carved lunar tracks into Shiro's biceps, and panting his fiancé's name with heavy lids and a wet mouth, Keith darted a hand low so he could fuck his fist.
"Don't you dare."
Not an order, but a threat.
Keith flicked his eyes down, having been focused on the wall in front of them and his splitting nerve endings. His nose defiantly wrinkled, but Shiro's authority ushered his hand aside. He continued to ache, untouched in the sweet symphony of cock being sucked by tight lubed walls and fervent breaths. All he wanted was to be ravaged, minced and left gaping wide.
Without warning, Keith gave himself over to his carnal need and careered his hips, letting sweat accumulate along his back and coaxing the windows to fog. He shouted, pleaded but never specified what he was pleading for.
"Please, Shiro. Fucking please."
That's why he was begging.
Shiro airily groaned, and Keith saw his bleached smile in the dark. "There we go. Keep fucking yourself on me, baby. Show Daddy how much you want this cock."
"Oh my God," Keith whispered and rocked forward and back. His hips flowed like water, cock bobbing against his stomach. Keith couldn't believe he was going to fuck Shiro for the rest of his life. He spoke before his brain could stuff its fist in his mouth. "Fuck me out, Daddy. Make me come."
So much for making Shiro sing.
Shiro slammed his hips upward and smacked Keith's ass with his bionic palm. Keith's mouth flew open, the violence against his prostate earning Shiro an excited cry.
"Shiro –!" Keith keened and scraped his hands down pectorals, panting like a dog. "– oh –!"
Shiro smacked again, but the hit's strength made Keith's vision whiten.
"– my God! Oh my God!"
Shiro clasped onto his hips and jackhammered, determinedly grunting. Keith grabbed a headrest and opened his mouth in a silent scream. Skin brutally slapped skin, and the sheer force behind the thrusting jogged the car.
Somehow, through what Keith supposed was witchcraft, Shiro spun them. Keith couldn't recall the last time he'd been on all fours, but he loved it. He was in love and he liked it when this massively imposing man mounted him.
"Don't touch yourself," Shiro reiterated through haggard breaths. "Not until I say."
Sweat. So much sweat.
Keith dug his fingers into the car's leather and slammed his palm against the trunk door to keep himself from head butting it.
Shiro leaned over his slick back, whispering, "I saw what you were doing with my friends. You've heard them talk about you, baby. You know all of them would fuck you before they fucked their wives if given the chance."
"Thank God," Keith murmured without realizing. His teeth swept along his bottom lip, tugging it back, and he clamped his teeth together to fight a rough scream.
Shiro registered Keith's words and grabbed a fistful of black hair. He yanked back Keith's head and pounded forward, making Keith scream his name. "In-fucking-credible. You actually are a cum sucking slut."
There was one person who could call him a slut and make him feel fresh from the ashes, and that was Takashi Shirogane.
Keith spread his thighs even more, opening himself wide as reward. He pressed his forehead to the floor and his cries crackled in his throat. Everything – he could feel everything from the way Shiro's balls smacked against the globes of his ass to the startling nothingness buzzing inside his overworked brain. The electric high filled his core with a hum that coated him like a solar flare, and that along with the punishing fullness rutting in and out of his body made the moment too good. Shiro felt too good, and Keith wanted to gnash his teeth and scrape apart his skin because he was too mortal to encapsulate how sex with Shiro made him feel.
Fracturing, unfurling, desperate to escape himself; Keith needed to come.
"Daddy, touch me. I'll be good. I promise I'll be good if you just touch –"
Shiro reached around his thin waist, still driving his tireless hips forward and back. His fingers encircled Keith's cock, and Keith shouted his name, attempting to withhold a sob that turned into a garbled whimper.
A shudder ripped through him, and he knew he was gone, so wholly fucked out Keith couldn't begin to harness the sensations pulsing through each of his limbs. There was no turning back from the toppling moment when Shiro pumped him from base to slit, and Keith spilled out, shooting onto the bare seat. Molten lava steeped his insides, and he grappled onto every thought to keep from passing out. With pornographic precision, Shiro finished directly after, swapping between 'baby' and 'Keith.' The warmth was muted, never as distinctly hot as one wished, but Keith savored the distinct feeling of being pooled into, cleansed and satiated for the time being.
Shiro pulled out, and Keith landed on his side with a thud, noting the leaking slithering down his thighs. Shiro dropped beside Keith, and he was still trying to catch his breath when Keith startled him with a laugh.
Not sure how to process Keith's reaction, Shiro smiled, flirtatiously suspicious. "What?"
"That was good."
Daddy. God help them.
"Always here to please," Shiro said, tugging a jacket over his softening junk. Once as decent as his energy levels would allow, Shiro leaned over, sealing the moment with a polite kiss.
They passed out, but frankly, neither would remember when.
Keith woke with a parched mouth and headache sent from Venus herself. He was being punished for indulging in too much love, but that didn't inspire Keith to move. Shiro's cheek was on his chest (along with his drool), and the last thing he wanted to do was disturb the overworked man's rare sleep. Keith fondly watched his face instead, tucking an arm beneath his head and dragging fingertips down his tanned shoulder blade. Shiro's brow furrowed.
There it was again.
"I love you. I love you. I love you."
The jackets were still arranged over their lower halves when Keith realized the car was peppered with what his sleepy brain processed as streamers.
He carefully reached for his phone and checked app after app, squinting at the sacrilegious light that slammed his skull like an icepick. Keith eventually noticed the missed texts from Lance and opened the chat. Smiling, he scrolled through the album's worth of pictures Lance had collected. Keith didn't recall Lance taking even one.
Keith made his wallpaper the picture of Shiro and him kissing after the lap dance.
The final image in the chat forced Keith to pause and give a long stare. He elevated his phone's brightness to better decipher what he was looking at, and all at once, he realized.
Captured through the window's un-tinted glass, Shiro and Keith were asleep inside the car. Naked legs entangled and jackets thrown over their laps, 'drunk in love' was displayed twice. Lance had captured their post-coital slumber as if it were an editorial piece, and Keith wondered if he'd edited it before sending. The lube bottle was forgotten above Keith's head, and Shiro's body was elegantly curled halfway over Keith's naked chest.
He couldn't deny they were two very beautiful hot messes.
Keith tilted back his head and sighed into a smile, but when his eyes focused on the back window, the smile morphed into an acrid laugh.
The 'streamers' were condoms.
"I would rather pop twenty balloons with my bare asshole than make another wedding favor!"
Shiro was seated on the floor in front of the couch, sipping his third drink and crunching rock candy. He was too low for Keith to see from the kitchen, but he could imagine the ruddiness on his nose.
He continued, belligerent.
"Do you know what the statistical average is for how many of these get left behind? That's money!"
Hunk choked on a laugh, and Pidge murmured something sly beneath her breath.
"We're studying in here!" Lance shouted and spun his stool. He shook his plastic margarita glass in Shiro's direction and slurred. "Stop complaining and get to work, Shirogane. When I crawl back over that couch, every single one of those stupid constellation coasters better be stuffed into their stupid star bags. Then, when we're done with those, we can start putting the stupid galaxy rock candy into their stupid moon jars."
Lance paused as if waiting for a reply. When he didn't get one, he yelled. "Shiro!"
"This is yours and Keith's fault for being tacky and getting engaged under the stars. Stop taking your anger out on me. You could've had a Fear Factor wedding, and you chose this."
Shiro popped into view like a meerkat and shot Lance a threatening glare over the couch. His nose was in fact red.
"Space is beautiful!"
"Shiro, are you crying, man?" Hunk asked and patted his bicep. "He didn't mean it. Space is beautiful. He thinks so too. Tell us why you think space is cool."
Lance turned back toward Keith who was staring down at his organic chemistry note cards, palms holding both sides of his neck. He looked up at Lance, panic-stricken. "Let me stuff coasters into bags, Lance. I'm begging you."
"No," Lance said and swayed until his chair threatened to tip. "You have to memorize this whatever-stuff for that A. After you do that, then we can go be miserable with the others. Give me your flashcards, Hooked-On-Phonics. We're going to organic the ever living shit out of this chemistry."
Keith had a wedding to plan, a man who loved him, and also, finals.
"Who set the wedding date again?" Keith murmured.
"We did it before we had your finals schedule!" Shiro answered. Keith knew this, but drunk Shiro had to make sure. "No one knew it'd be the week before the wedding. I would never do that to you."
"You're good, Keith," Hunk reassured him and pulled Shiro down. "We've got this."
Keith studied, but after spending months behind the wheel, equated his faith to closing his eyes and driving into a busy intersection. Only by the grace of God would he walk away from the wedding unscathed.
He had no choice, though. School was as important as the wedding. To Shiro, it was more important, and every time Keith left the loft for classes, Shiro reminded him he would rather have Keith fulfilled by his academic life choice than a ceremony they could repeat if they absolutely felt the need.
"Think about your schoolwork. Whatever happens at the ceremony the honeymoon will make up for," Shiro promised.
Keith made a blow job hand gesture, walking backwards out the front door and laughing at Shiro's intrigued glance.
"Good luck!" Shiro shouted after him.
Keith didn't have the heart to tell Shiro his luck had been used up on him.
Finals week was ushered through Keith's life with wedding preparation and summer's hello. Pale spring green had unfurled into an emerald pop, and the lightness the season brought with it left Keith high on optimism and new beginnings. The cold said its final goodbyes, and every icicle clinging to his ribs melted into puddles. For once, Keith didn't mind how could see himself in them even if the image warbled with the wind.
"We've avoided the dancing conversation for too long," Keith announced.
There were three days until the wedding and not once had they discussed the fact the rehearsal required dancing. It was on the itinerary. They couldn't get around it.
Shiro groaned and stabbed his fork into his homemade salad. He was using the bowl meant for their stand mixer. "You can't make me. I can't dance. It's my wedding, and I'm not dancing. I paid for it."
"You danced fine at the bachelor party, and don't act like I'm excited to do this either."
He defiantly stuffed lettuce into his mouth.
"God, I wish people knew what a toddler you can be," Keith said and dropped his phone into the iHome. He clicked play and Bound 2 poured across the room. Shiro choked on balsamic vinaigrette. "Come here."
"Let me finish my salad."
"Because I know you're loving that chlorophyll right now. Get over here."
Shiro grunted but did as Keith asked. He sucked the final bits of lettuce from his teeth, and when within reach, Keith grabbed his bicep. He pulled Shiro close and smoothly looped his arms around his neck.
"Who's leading?" Shiro asked.
"Neither one of us really knows what we're doing so uh –" Keith started to move. "You know, I've never been able to tell who leads."
"Confession," Shiro began, "I haven't either."
"Then just go with it."
"That's fine with me."
They swayed, and much to Shiro's amusement, Keith passionately mouthed along to the chorus. The men's steps were awkward, uncertain in their twists and turns, but soon developed a comfortable rhythm. Shiro pressed his forehead to Keith's, and Keith rushed his fingers into Shiro's freshly cut hair. Their mutual smiles mindlessly dissipated when Keith closed his eyes, and with consuming adoration, Shiro examined his fiancé's face.
Shiro pressed his lips to Keith's and both men sighed.
The rehearsal dinner was an afterthought paid for by Shiro's parents. Lance and Hunk took it upon themselves to delegate the event as much as Allura, and seated at one of the reception's soon-to-be decorated tables, Keith watched the two men high five each other every time they checked off a task on their lists.
Keith shook the ice free in his drained long island iced tea and sucked air through the straw. The cup gurgled a second too long, and he frowned at himself.
He'd finished finals with sweat running down his ass crack, but that was already more than he could have hoped for. Keith hadn't been sure he'd survive, but he had. Granted his survival was met by Shiro shouting congratulations and answering Allura's phone call, but Keith wasn't selfish enough to be aggravated. Shiro wasn't handed the same learning curve Keith had when entering wedding planning. Allura, already accustomed to someone who knew exactly where nuanced details linked together, pitched an avalanche at Shiro and buried him alive.
Shiro's stress was entertaining in the beginning. Keith even reveled in Shiro's stunned expression when Allura asked him to negotiate the budget last minute, but his pettiness didn't linger long.
"Your boy is a mess," Caroline said. She dropped her elbows onto the table beside Keith and leaned forward. "You might want to talk to him."
"Shiro's been upset since he had to help with the actual planning," Keith dismissed.
His eyes dragged along the half-decorated reception hall. It was attached to a woodland resort known for its skiing and wide fireplaces. Summertime events were scarce, which explained the deal on both the hall and multiple hotel rooms. Keith didn't feel like they were paying for anything but luxury, though. Directly after sunset, the wedding would take place a five-minute walk away beneath a star canopy and mountainous backdrop. Apparently, the planets had aligned for this, too. Not a cloud was in the week's forecast.
Caroline prodded again. "I don't think it's that."
"Where is he?" Keith asked and scanned the room once more. "I thought he was with his parents."
"I've been entertaining them," she said. Keith grimaced. "They're lovely people, honey. You act like I don't know how to behave. The last thing I'm going to do is ruin my kid's chance with a doctor."
"Always with the pure intentions," he said beneath his breath. Keith shoved himself away from the table and tugged down his skin tight red tank. It complimented his black riding boots. "He's probably at the ceremony spot. Shiro's the punctual one, and we're behind. If anyone asks, then I'm there with him."
Keith grabbed one more drink and ushered himself outside the hall. He walked past Hunk and Lance who were elbowing each other and making jokes about tablecloths, but they both stopped.
"Where's the gun show headed?" Lance asked. He leaned against Hunk who threw an arm around the man's shoulders.
Keith flexed with his drink and continued to walk. "The gun show is going to the nuclear arms exposition. Could you two get everyone moving this way? Coran has already been here longer than we asked him to be."
"The free drinks are keeping him company," Hunk promised. "But sure thing, buddy. We'll get this show on a roll for you."
Grasshoppers chirped in the trees as Keith ambled down the low lit path. The cement was loud beneath his boots, but the hall's bustle already sounded miles away. Keith sipped his drink. He told himself he would regret the hangover but brushed aside the warning and tromped down the wide stairs that led to the spilling ceremony space.
The space was located on perilous overhang hedged by white stones. Already, the chairs stood in endless rows and glass triangular lanterns lined the wide aisle. An overhead movement startled Keith, but when he defensively shifted back and looked up, he realized it was swaying sheer cloth. The fragile material had brushed against one of the many hanging geometric lanterns. The lazy breeze made them rustle like bats.
Keith realized he was the only one there, which meant even Shiro wasn't on time.
He rolled his eyes at the moon and walked down the aisle, dragging his fingers along chairs' boney backs. Ahead of him stood the altar, but tradition hadn't ravaged the symbolic location. Rather, the altar was comprised of waist high triangular lanterns. They were clustered together into a crescent enclosure that would soon be framed by the same silver cloth that had frightened Keith. Its unbarring height was intended to bring attention to the natural backdrop, but Keith feared the lanterns would still mute the sky. He decided it was tolerable solely because it was modern.
Keith took a seat in the spot reserved for Shiro's mom. He stared past the romantic crop circle and chewed his bottom lip.
That thankfully summed up the sentiment because two hushed voices distracted Keith from his introspective tangent. They belonged to a man and woman and stalled on the path back to the reception hall. Keith expected them to join him in the semi-darkness, but when they didn't move, he stood and cautiously approached the stairs.
Keith didn't want to admit he was eavesdropping, but he recognized the trees near the steps were dense enough to keep him hidden. The odds he'd be caught were slim.
"This isn't what I want."
Keith knew that voice the way he knew his heart.
After all, it belonged to the man he was marrying.
As if someone had grabbed the back of his neck and plunged him face first into an arctic sea, Keith's throat became a spillway for floating ice that scraped his esophagus like razors. So distracted by the immediate pain, Keith barely noticed the piercing sting beneath at the top of his nose as he breathed in salty water. He was drowning.
You knew this was going to happen the entire time, so don't try and act surprised. He was always going to leave you, and you prepared yourself for this years ago. You knew. You knew. You knew.
"It'll cost a pretty penny, but I have an idea," Caroline said.
Keith realized he couldn't drown fast enough.
He stepped away from the path and returned to his previous seat. Keith downed his drink and tried to kill the tremors in his hands, but they wouldn't stop. He couldn't cry. If Keith cried, then they'd know he snooped, and there were too many people there for Keith to fairly make a scene. He couldn't do that to friends and family who had flown in and devoted their time to making sure the wedding was an affair to remember.
Keith liked quiet.
"There you are," Shiro said from the stairs, seemingly relieved. The weightlessness in his voice terrified Keith. He had never seen Shiro as a liar, but there he was lying as if it were as easy as turning a page.
Keith waved in his direction but maintained his wide stare between his knees. He shut his eyes and forced himself to regain composure. It required tapping into a coping mechanism he hadn't used since he worked the streets.
Shiro sat beside him and picked up Keith's glass. He sniffed it and set it back down. "I'm in no position to say anything right now, but we should remember to guzzle water and take something before bed."
"Dinner will help," Keith said.
Every breath he swallowed nailed his lungs like a well-kept blade, and Keith imagined each assault. That grisly penetration, the wound's first blood flowering outward along his red shirt like an ink stain. The blood trickled over his navel, and hot but dying in its oxidization, washed over a place Keith once employed as keeper of his self-worth. With Keith gasping for a little more life, Shiro finally twisted the dagger's handle and studied Keith's astounded face. He jerked the blade upward, and transparently, intended to murder him.
Keith didn't die, though. Like Prometheus, he relived each breath.
Shiro soothingly slid his hand along Keith's lower back. "Are you okay?"
The rehearsal blurred past Keith as his relationship flashed against his heart like a projected supercut. He replayed it over and over, dreading the fact there was nothing he could do to piece it together into a continuous film.
I love you.
How couldn't that be enough? His mother had told him love was never enough, but Keith knew it had to be.
BUT I LOVE YOU
Dinner was a catered event in one of the resort's restaurants. Just as the baker had been, the staff felt entitled to praise Shiro and Keith for their handsome features and capacity to meet each other's deserved standard.
He thought about the sex tape again.
There were many, but then there was the certified Good One, which Keith once caught Shiro jerking off to in the living room. He hadn't said anything and instead played voyeur. Then picking at his sparkling gazpacho with cucumber dust, Keith had the implosive thought that he had always been better as something to consume. Though the video was created to document an intimate moment, there were still performative aspects on both ends.
He was extrapolating too soon. There was no context. Keith thrived on the idea that Shiro never wanted him to begin with, but there was a cost. Acknowledging how he couldn't take the idea of Shiro being gone forced Keith to realize losing Shiro would wreck him. Maybe he wouldn't wreck him irreparably, but in that frustrating way where one knows it will take years to rebuild their self-esteem and underpinning.
So, basically, losing Shiro would be annoying, but also, it would break his fucking heart.
Way to pour the drama.
A smarter person would just ask.
Keith was smart, too. He knew he was smart, but there's a difference between emotional and academic intelligence, and God if he couldn't even pass the 100 level on basic feelings.
While their arriving guests and wedding party drank wine and haphazardly danced to Hunk's music choice, Shiro leaned over and kissed Keith. Neither one did well with PDA when sober, but they weren't sober, and Keith was turning to ash. Keith cradled Shiro's face and fervently kissed back, opening his mouth and scraping nails along the back of his head. Shiro firmly grabbed his thigh and held tight, leaning Keith back.
"You make me happy," Shiro lied. He dropped the words directly into Keith's mouth and kissed again.
"Don't leave me," Keith said, voice so distant and unexpected he barely heard it fall.
Shiro laughed and pushed back Keith's bangs. "What?"
They held one another's gaze, and Shiro's smile plummeted.
"Get a room!" Caroline shouted from across the restaurant. "I know you have two!"
Keith glanced in the direction of his mother, still holding Shiro's face. She was standing in front of Shiro's mom, Satomi, and shielding her eyes while Shiro's dad pointedly pretended the two men weren't real. He was eyeball deep in a conversation with Coran who had charmed them to the point of being asked to stay long after dinner. Keith cleared his throat and knew his ears had gone red. He wasn't accustomed to Shiro's parents being anywhere near them, and it made him wonder how drunk Shiro had to be to let his guard down.
Shiro stroked his thumb over Keith's eyebrow. "We should sleep."
We should go upstairs and talk.
"Nope!" Lance said and manifested behind the pair. "You two aren't running off to mess around the night before the wedding. Oldest tradition in the book and the only one I think is beneficial."
Keith opened his mouth in an attempt to explain they needed time alone, but Shiro beat him to it. He was looking at a text on his phone. "Lance is right, Keith. Go on ahead. We can talk in the morning."
Shiro kissed his forehead as a chaste 'goodnight,' and Keith stared at Shiro, disbelieving. They didn't say anything to one another, and the cold disregard shot bile toward his mouth like a geyser.
"Shiro," Keith tried.
Lance heaved Keith to his feet.
Shiro's expression looked like he'd stepped into what he thought was a puddle of panic but crashed six feet under water instead. He grabbed Keith's hand and kissed from his knuckles to his forearm's middle.
"It's nerves," Shiro desperately reassured Keith. "You're dealing with nerves and that's normal."
Since when am I the one dealing with nerves?
Flabbergasted by Shiro's audacity, Keith didn't have time to compress his thoughts. Lance led him around the room so he could say his parting goodbyes to those who attended and helped, but Keith did so in a daze. It wasn't until he was striding through the restaurant's doors did he have the chance to look back at Shiro's chair.
Shiro was gone.
Hunk checked a final box off his list and followed Lance and Keith upstairs to their shared hotel room. In the elevator, Keith stood absolutely still. He could text Shiro. His phone was waiting in his back pocket, but Keith didn't know what to think. Shiro thought he was nervous, so maybe he had misheard something.
He wanted to believe that, but Shiro's conversation with his mother had been visceral. There was too much dread to be mistaken.
Keith collapsed onto his queen bed and turned his back to Lance and Hunk. The pair had fallen into banter about whether or not they liked the cucumber dust, and when Lance said he'd dust Hunk for disagreeing it tasted fine, Hunk loud laughed and fondly reminded Lance he was disgusting.
"You guys are goals," Keith said to the couple.
Both stopped and looked at him.
Hunk questioningly peered at Lance who walked forward and flopped onto the bed beside Keith. The mattress bounced and Lance playfully boxed at Keith's spine.
"You okay, buddy?"
Keith heaved himself onto his feet to change. "Totally. It's nerves."
"Marriage is a big deal," Hunk said. "But keep imagining life without him. Think about Shiro's life without you. Is that even possible? No way. You'd have to wake up alone. That'd suck."
Any other time and that would have been poignant.
"Sleeping alone once you stop sleeping alone is the worst," Lance agreed, nodding.
Keith chuckled and yanked his shirt overhead. He tossed it at his luggage. "I haven't had to yet."
There was a knock on the door, and Keith was the one to answer it. He thinly hoped it was Shiro ready to demand an explanation that would clear the air, but it was Pidge.
She took one look at his naked stomach and shoved a cold whiskey bottle against it, knocking the air from Keith's lungs. Keith coughed and grabbed the bottle, walking backward to let her in and catch his breath.
"There's a gaggle of hot toddies looking for you," Pidge said.
"I'm hiding," Keith admitted, still wheezing.
Lance confirmed. "He's hiding out with us."
Pidge pursed her lips, disgusted.
"I know," Lance sympathized. "You don't have to say it. He should be on his last hurrah."
Pidge bullied a reluctant Keith into seeing his friends ("They have graciously given their time to this ceremony." "What are you? My mom?"). As they passed Shiro's hotel room to descend into the main lounge, Keith heard his laughter spill from behind the door. The happiness was irritating in the wake of Keith's current mood. Its implied mockery rang through him, sticking a match to his long dormant dynamite.
Keith stopped short, and Lance and Hunk bumped into his back.
"You'll see him tomorrow," Hunk promised.
Lance patted him onward. "Don't make me herd you like cattle."
"All I can think about is the branding process," Hunk said, recoiling.
In a tiny hotel bar tucked in the lobby's corner, Keith and company drank beyond their means. He was given marital wisdom and envy padded by genuine congratulations. For a split-second, Keith forgot about the dread cycling through his guts. The emotional sickness had been replaced by overestimating his drinking capacity.
When he returned to the hotel room, stumbling and promising Hunk he was going to be fine, Keith violently vomited into the toilet.
Lance tried not to laugh, shedding a tear in the process. He held back Keith's hair and patted his back. "Get the water and Advil, Hunk. Make sure we have a bag in the trashcan."
Hunk carted Keith to bed and Lance helped him take off his shoes. They didn't bother undressing the groom-to-be and decided it was better to let him lie still than further spin his brain. Soon enough, the room was obscured by darkness and tired whispers entered Hunk and Lance's assumed aloneness.
Keith had to speak. He couldn't go to bed thinking about Shiro in isolation. Well, he could have, but his drunken brain was screaming for company. He needed to explain himself even if no one asked.
"I think Shiro's getting cold feet." Keith had slurred into the hotel pillow. "I heard him tell my mom he doesn't want to do this, so –prepare, you know? He's gonna go."
Utter, complete silence.
Hunk catapulted into a seated position and Lance ripped off his sleeping mask.
"Don't ask me about it," Keith pleaded, emptied out from previous cyclic thinking. "He can make himself look like an asshole in front of everyone. I don't care. I don't care!"
Lance nearly broke the bedside lamp trying to turn it on. The sudden brightness made Keith groan.
"Keith, you have to talk to him." Lance wasn't suggesting. Lance was demanding. "After everything you went through to get to this point? You can't make an assumption and hope for the best, not again."
"Lance is right," Hunk frantically seconded. He crawled toward the end of the mattress. "Shiro might still be awake. If you think you're too drunk, then we can delegate it."
"It's in my head," Keith said, deflecting even when panicking and rasping. He tugged the blankets over his head. "Turn off the fucking lights, man. I told you I'm nervous. It's nerves."
Lance cut the lights, but he threw his legs over the edge of the mattress. Shirtless, he shoved his feet into a pair of slippers and yanked open the hotel room door. It slammed shut behind him and echoed through Keith's body.
"Shit," Hunk murmured and left the bed. "Shit, shit, shit – Keith, pal, friend, listen to Lance. You've done so well up until this point."
Keith chewed his dry lips. They tasted metallic. "Should've kept my mouth shut."
"No," he reassured Keith. "It's good you didn't. Thanks for trusting us enough to tell us."
Hunk grabbed his sweatshirt off the desk chair and tugged it overhead. He snatched a keycard from his wallet and followed in Lance's footsteps, shutting the door behind him.
It was the night before his wedding, and Keith was entirely alone.
"This is what you get for pounding shots when you thought none of us were looking," Allura snapped. She shoved a coffee mug into Keith's hands and hastily sat him down. "There was one pound you should have been focused on, and that pound cake's name is Takashi Shirogane. This is absolutely incredible. Honestly, Keith, after everything –"
"So loud," Keith hoarsely whispered, squinting against the morning light. "Why are you screaming?"
"I'm not screaming. You are hungover."
The hotel room's door burst open and Keith was one more loud surprise away from turning inside out and becoming a hissing replica of John Carpenter's The Thing.
Lance stumbled to a halt and pointed at Keith. "We need to talk."
"Not right now!" Allura warned. She spackled face cream onto Keith's cheeks, and Keith burped on sickly gas. "Has anyone seen Shiro? He's still missing."
Lance looked from Allura to Keith and back to Allura. He groaned and tore from the room. "I'll find him!"
Shiro was missing.
Shiro's unknown whereabouts were innocuous at first. The resort sprawled across a mountainside, and Shiro enjoyed solitude and outdoor runs. Panic didn't unfurl until Keith realized he couldn't find his mother either, and when he texted both Shiro and her, his messages were delivered but no one bothered to respond. Shiro wasn't avoidant enough to turn off read receipts, so when Keith watched 'read' appear beneath his message, his mouth dried.
Keith called him and was pushed to his formal voicemail.
"This is Dr. Takashi Shirogane. If this is an emergency, then –"
He hung up and fought the urge to chuck his phone at the balcony window.
"He didn't answer," Allura said.
Her patient warmth had turned austere. Allura grabbed her phone and hit speed dial, adjusting her headset. When the other person answered, Keith heard Coran's chipper 'hello.'
"Coran, we have a Black Lion on our hands. Find him." She hung up without a response and tucked her phone into her stylish utility belt stuffed with a sewing kit, eye drops, a bleach pen, and breath mints. Wearing another one of her several custom white suits, she knelt down in front of Keith. "I spoke to Shiro last night, and he was absolutely fine with the marriage. There were other discretions, but we discussed those, and they were sorted."
Keith shifted back, nostrils flaring. "He talked to you, but he didn't talk to me?"
"The issues were purely technicalities. It's nothing to worry about."
"Don't lie to me, Allura," Keith warned, gripping his knees.
"I'm paid and Shiro's my friend," she curtly replied. "I have no reason to lie to you."
Allura's phone rang and she swiftly answered, then taking her leave but not before pointing at the recovery kit she had laid out upon finding Keith mowed over by his hangover.
Keith stared down the miniature bourbon bottle. He cracked open the Four Roses and suffocated his nausea, pouring the shot into his coffee. Keith chanted four words and wondered if doing so while looking in the mirror would make his hangover disappear. With his luck, he decided, it would manifest and kill him.
He ate his late brunch with Pidge who also wasn't wearing her hangover well. Keith had the sinking feeling he was too old to be drinking the way they had been, but this thought was drowned by a potent Bloody Mary.
"Lance has been trying to get a moment with you all morning," Pidge said. She sniffed her potatoes and then shoveled a forkful between her teeth. "Go find him or Hunk."
Keith picked at his food. "Have you seen Shiro?"
"He left with your mom to go do something last minute," Pidge said, evidently not processing the value in her information.
He grabbed his drink and attempted to play it cool. "Did he say what they were doing?"
"Nope but they were in a hurry."
Keith was too aware Shiro's striking homosexuality outweighed the possibility he had run off with his mother. This careened his emotional turmoil toward suspicion. His mother's flighty nature and impulsiveness made her an unpredictable force of nature.
He realized he'd described himself.
Apples rarely fell far, he supposed.
Photography was at four, and though he wasn't allowed inside the reception hall until its completion, he knew the final decorations were being desperately glued into place.
Even with a mostly suit-wearing wedding party, the dressing rooms were in chaos before the sun had considered setting. It wasn't solely Keith's friends either. Shiro's wedding faction was in suits and holding glasses clinking with ice and amber. Keith had ceased drinking after brunch for both his physical and emotional health.
Even from inside his hotel room with music playing, Keith heard Lance's shout echo down the hallway. Keith dreaded the noise complaint bill, but he forgot about it when Lance let himself inside and shut the door behind himself. He was nearly dressed, hair artfully slicked back, but without his gold tie.
"Where's the gold?" Keith asked, pointing at his suit.
Lance deliberately ignored the question. "Shiro's here."
Keith forgot about the gold. He dropped his own suit onto the bed, shirtless and in black satin lounge pants. Keith didn't hide his rage. "Where is he?"
"His room. He asked me to find you. I'm patting you down for knives, though. Kill him after the wedding. If you cover it up, then you get his assets."
Keith abandoned the room, barefoot and ignoring Lance's lamenting sigh. As he walked, he swept his hair off his face with a furious shove. Keith didn't hesitate to slam his fist against Shiro's door, and every second it took for him to answer left Keith with another layer of sweat along his love lines. The handle finally turned downward, and Keith contemplated shoving his full weight against it in a prelude to throwing Shiro onto his ass.
"Was texting me back that fucking hard?" Keith snapped before Shiro had wholly revealed himself.
Shiro didn't reflect Keith's emotional response. As always, he deflected.
"We were busy," he said, entirely unapologetic.
Keith stepped into the room uninvited, backing Shiro into the room's foyer. Shiro lifted his hands in surrender, but that didn't stop Keith's advance. When they were in the room's center, Keith dug his finger into Shiro's chest, not thinking to wonder why he was touching a bare chest even though Shiro was supposed to be dressed for pictures.
Who put a suit jacket on without their undershirt?
"Too busy to let me know we're okay on the day of our wedding?" Keith snapped. It was one level beneath an outright yell. His eyes studied Shiro's face, and Keith's Adam's apple bobbed as he reined in his hurt. "Shiro, are you –"
His next words were a rapidly falling an ax.
"– are you going to call this wedding off? Are you going to say no at the fucking altar? If you're going to do that, then do it here. Don't do it in front of everyone. I'm begging you."
Keith's voice broke on the final word. He had changed his mind. He didn't want a live audience. The last thing Keith wanted was to forever remember that inevitable gasp track.
Shiro made a noise only comparable to a strangled fish. He lunged for Keith, grabbing his shoulders and shaking his head in such an uncharacteristic way it might've been comical in another situation.
"No," Shiro said, rattled. His frantic gaze became a sinkhole, and he was all at once adamant. His nails dug into Keith's shoulders and he kissed his forehead. "God, I'd never –"
"Then what –" Keith began, grabbing Shiro's biceps with intent to squeeze until he fractured the man. He never finished the thought. Keith's palms had touched an unexpected fabric and he leaned back to take in what Shiro was wearing. "Where's your suit? And since when do you casually wear velvet? I've been trying to get you to for –"
"I don't," Shiro said, more like a promise.
Keith stepped away from Shiro to fully take in what the man was wearing, but Shiro didn't give him a chance. He turned toward the unmade bed where an unfinished breakfast tray waited along with a resting garment bag.
"Marrying you wasn't a terrible idea," Shiro explained and picked up the bag. "But this wedding might be a different story. I should have listened to you, Keith. I don't know what possessed me to think this shit show was a good idea. Everything you wanted was taken out by conventions, and I didn't realize. I didn't know because I was throwing it on you and letting myself think you would do what you wanted within reason. Your mom told me about this and how much you wanted it. You should have told me. I would've paid to change everything for it."
He unzipped the bag, but Keith didn't have to be told what was inside.
He could smell red velvet twenty miles away.
Shiro nervously laughed at Keith's gaping mouth. "I held the tailor at gunpoint."
Whether or not that was a joke would forever be left up to interpretation.
"We switched out the silver and gold ties for black so pictures will be consistent," Shiro continued. He checked the room's clock and anxiously cleared his throat. "But we don't have to change it. It's last second. I know."
Keith cautiously reached for the garment bag and grabbed it. He didn't take his eyes off the impossibly expensive suit and brought it to his chest, hugging the gift as his brain churned butter.
"Your credit cards must be on life support," Keith said through his stupor. The gesture had stomped his solar plexus. "I'm going to change now, but Shiro?"
Shiro stopped in relieved mid-whoosh. He blinked at Keith, waiting for a thorough response.
"This is the only way you could have redeemed yourself after what you pulled today."
A poorly hidden smile found Shiro's eyes, and he winked at Keith. "I know, baby."
Bad luck or not, Keith changed with Shiro watching. When Keith tugged his sleeves into their final resting places and quietly laughed in wonder, Shiro's whole person glowed. Keith noticed and looked him over, pointedly staring down his bare chest.
"You look good," Keith said, suggestive in the simple observation. "Velvet works for you."
Shiro swept aside Keith's single misplaced hair. "Right back at you, but we knew that."
The two men preened one another in the privacy of Shiro's room, and as Keith arranged the scarf along Shiro's shoulders, Shiro spilled his guts to Keith.
"Weddings are supposed to be moving, but I want this over with. I'd rather be on a cramped plane with you for seven hours than do this. My mother is playing that condescending card too. She keeps asking if it's what I want while your mom planned a suit heist in five minutes, and don't get me started on the fact everyone's giving me shit because we said we didn't want to write our own vows. There's an open bar. They have no right to bitc –"
Keith kissed him in between each vented thought, attempting to sneak tongue but was mindlessly rejected by Shiro's speedballing feelings.
"– and did you know your mom and my dad asked me if I made you sign a prenuptial agreement? What kind of fuckin –"
He kissed him again, trailing his mouth to Shiro's throat and registering Shiro's kicked breath. Keith's hand snuck into Shiro's suit, running down his muscle slated ribs.
"– but when Allura asked me what I wanted to do about the wedding last night, it took everything to keep from saying elope. We could have bought these suits and stood in a courthouse and been happier. There would have been fewer problems and false preconceptions about how we had to act planning this. I did the math to see how many vacations we could have gone on with the amount this cost us and –"
He cleared his throat when Keith's teeth bit down, and Shiro encircled an arm around Keith's waist.
Suddenly, Shiro focused. "We're late for pictures."
"We're late," Keith confirmed and retracted with an obscene saliva string momentarily connecting him to Shiro's throat.
Shiro nodded and reached for his watered down bourbon. He totaled the drink in one gulp and smacked Keith's ass as hard as he could. Keith's breathing hitched, but he dismissively rolled his eyes and smirked.
The wedding came at them like a whirlwind.
Too many people, not enough time but then too much time because everything was steeping in a standstill. Caroline shouted in approval when she saw Keith's suit, kissed Keith's face and shooed Shiro away until the wedding, but Shiro wouldn't go without a final kiss for strength. He had to face his parents' reaction to his black velvet suit.
"You're in cheetah print."
"Did you think I was kidding?" she asked and smacked the front of her thighs. Keith knew the fact it was knee length was her doing him a favor.
"No one's gonna wonder who my mom is."
"You had to learn it from someone."
Keith thought the sun would never set, and then like a dropped ball, it plummeted behind the horizon line and submerged the resort in darkness. At this point, he barely registered anything around him except the nerves and the fact his mother wouldn't stop picking at his hair like a nesting bird. Shiro's mother was no better, though. Both men were victims of maternal pride. Keith eventually escaped with Shiro to inspect the finished reception hall where Allura waited for them, hands planted on her hips with smugness seeping from her pores.
"Well, boys, what do you think?"
Keith remembered accepting the wedding would be tacky long before meeting with Allura, but in an appropriately lavish way no one would question because it was decadent. Even once the planning was underway, Keith said silver lighting and hanging lanterns interwoven with fairy lights could never be chic.
He decided he could handle being proven wrong one more time.
Shiro placed his hand on Keith's shoulder and broke the quiet. "I'm not disappointed."
Hexagonal tables heavily decorated with silver runners and glowing centerpieces that matched the outdoor geometric theme filled the hall. Emulating the stars, the overhead lanterns gave a muted golden glow that speckled the floor, carving through pewter accent lighting and drenching the room in a clean science fiction experience.
Keith wordlessly approached the cake table where a four-tier masterpiece waited. The cake was simplistic and square, but the silver and gold airbrush along its white fondant trickled into a swirling galaxy. He withheld the intrusive urge to stick his finger into the pristine top tier and smiled at Shiro when he lightly touched the cake topper. It was the first letters of their names tightly hugging a large S for Shirogane.
"We're going to start lining up soon," Allura announced. "We need to go."
I'm getting married, Keith realized.
His fingers slipped into Shiro's hand, and Keith tugged him toward the waiting ceremony, leading the way. The path was abandoned, and Keith rubbed the sweat off Shiro's palm again and again.
"You'll be okay," Keith promised.
To think, it was supposed to be the other way around.
The couple stood on the steps where Shiro had panicked with Caroline the evening before, and Keith calmly held Shiro's face. While he was entirely serene, aware of the chiming music in the backdrop, Shiro was hyperventilating.
"Say it," Keith said, trying not to smile. "Get it out."
"This wedding was a ridiculous idea. I would give my other arm to take it back and do right by you. We could have eloped and disappeared for months with this wedding's price tag. I put you through so much and now we can't do anything about it."
"How do I even begin to beg for your forgiveness, Keith?"
Keith's expression was light, unbothered. "You don't have to. I got you and my red suit. What else could I want at this point?"
After everything, it couldn't be that simple, could it?
You and the red suit.
Keith once thought he was addicted to the idea of Shiro being in love with him and not the actual love Shiro gave, and with one sentence, that rotting ceiling crashed down. It opened up the sky.
Allura stood behind the couple and their mothers, waiting for Coran to ping her and let her know it was time to go. The groomsmen were lined up, also waiting, but before Lance walked with Hunk, he sprinted to Keith and grabbed his temples, bringing his forehead to his lips with an indecent pop that embarrassed Keith. Lance laughed. He smacked Shiro's back but directed his next words to Keith, sporting finger guns and what might have been tears.
"I'm proud of you, man."
Lance returned to his spot, and when Allura gave her cue, Lance and Hunk started to walk. Lance shimmied his way down the aisle to whatever hidden beat he'd discovered in the cello's notes, but Keith didn't wonder why he wasn't surprised. He would've been disappointed had Lance done anything else or Hunk laughed any quieter.
Keith was set to walk after Shiro, and standing amongst the trees, watched the man effortlessly stride away with his mom patting his arm and murmuring beneath her breath. Keith didn't often pray. It wasn't in his nature, but in that moment he prayed to someone–anyone who could be listening–that he would never again have to see Shiro's back and wonder if he was traveling toward an eternal exit sign.
He wanted forever. If Shiro ever left, then Keith didn't want to be far behind.
"Neutral expressions and chins up," Caroline said and pinched Keith's chin. She was nervous for him. "You look good. You look great. I couldn't have asked for more for you. Right on, honey. Let's go."
As embarrassing as the concept of stepping out in front of over a hundred and fifty people was, Keith's brain floated belly up, and he could only dwell on one sentence.
I LOVE YOU.
Was there anything else? Was there anything else in that moment because Keith couldn't see the spectators, the very audience they had planned the ceremony for. He didn't register the way the night air caught the lanterns, nor did he note the way the lanterns' shadows sweetly brushed his and Shiro's untroubled faces. There was nothing but three words and an inconceivable happiness spinning behind Keith's ribcage like a flaming pinwheel.
Shiro kissed his mother's forehead and let her go, stepping toward the low altar where Coran waited, tweaking his mustache. He greeted Shiro with a friendly wink and approvingly nodded at the other groom. Keith didn't see him, though. His eyes greeted Shiro's settling gaze instead, and they smiled at one another as if sharing a private joke.
While Keith felt his mother kiss his cheek and his arm leave her hold, he still couldn't conceive his wedding as a physical reality beyond the somersaulting emotions inside his guts. He didn't take his eyes off Shiro. Perfect, perfect Shiro who had been God's apology for all of life's misgivings up until that fateful day in the coffee shop. Shiro who Keith would love forever and cling to be the weather harsh, fair or breathtaking.
Fearless and determined, Keith was ready to sail the galaxies to love the man through every lifetime. He knew he would love Shiro more than once.
Keith stepped in front of Shiro, and suddenly, he saw everything.
Keith saw Shiro. He saw the stars.
I LOVE YOU.
Shiro saw Keith. He saw the stars.
I LOVE YOU.
So tell me love isn't enough.
It cost thousands of dollars to exchange words Keith could have found via Google search, but right then, it was worth every penny. He was proud of Shiro, and he needed to profess it everyone.
When asked, Keith didn't hesitate. His hand shook sliding the silver ring onto Shiro's finger, suddenly breathless in Shiro's wake.
When asked, Shiro didn't hesitate. He easily slid the ring onto Keith's finger, and noticing his husband's trembling, lightly kissed Keith's ringed finger.
Beneath his lips, Keith licked his canines and looked away. A tear betrayed him and ran down his cheek. He tried to feign stoicism, but how could he? Shiro loved him with sincere confidence.
To be that lucky.
He was so lucky.
Satisfied, Coran pulled his lapels and clapped his hands together. Keith had already forgotten their vows, but the sentiment was branded on his heart. Support, love, patience, etc. What he wanted was permission to kiss Shiro.
"I'd say you two are married," Coran announced. He eyed Keith's anxious foot tapping and thoughtfully held his own chin, playing on Keith's impatience. "Well, someone kiss someone then. Whoever gets there first. Fight!"
Keith shot out a hand and grabbed Shiro's shoulder. He tugged Shiro forward, but Shiro arched an eyebrow and impishly paused before Keith could plant his kiss.
"I love you," Shiro whispered.
Keith grinned, flashing white teeth. "I love you."
He looped an arm around Shiro's neck and cradled the back of his head. After a meaningful look, he pulled him forward and their mouths pressed, hard. Lewd kisses weren't wedding appropriate, but Keith didn't know what a wedding was supposed to feel like anyway, so he opened his mouth and felt everything. Shiro shared the sentiment and hungrily surged forward, eyes shut and hands kneading the red velvet on Keith's back.
In a perfect world, their height difference wouldn't have interfered with Keith dipping Shiro and slipping tongue between his teeth, but Keith understood life's gives and takes. Fortunately, the height disparity didn't dither Shiro's sudden zest. He looped his arms around Keith's waist, and as Keith slid a hand up Shiro's exposed chest, Shiro effortlessly turned him and supported the moment Keith's feet relinquished body weight.
Suspended, Keith thought.
Guests clapped, the professional photographer captured their moment, and they signed the marriage license.
There was so much adrenaline Keith couldn't feel his fingers or toes. The high was making his pulse scream, his focus sway onto Shiro and nothing but Shiro.
"You're my husband," Keith said once striding to the reception hall. He laughed. He didn't know why, but he had to laugh. "Takashi Shirogane, you're my husband."
Shiro attempted to recall the last time he'd heard Keith's easy laughter. It had been much too long.
"Keith Shirogane, you're my husband too."
Bliss aside, it was still a wedding with an itinerary.
"Cocktail hour," Keith heard Allura distantly say. "Make sure those trays are filled. I will not tolerate a single empty tray on this floor. There are important people here tonight."
Allura haunted the event like a ghost hell bent on possession. Whenever Keith heard her voice, he turned his head toward it, but she was never physically there. She existed in the wedding ether.
Cryptid wedding planner aside, Keith suffered through cocktail hour. With a Milky Way inspired cocktail in one hand and a shrimp puff in the other, he attempted to become one with the wall.
"Think about the dinner," Shiro soothingly said, but Keith was the one rubbing his back.
Family Keith had intentionally forgotten and friends he wished he talked to more swarmed both him and Shiro. Pidge's older brother, Matt, who had only recently transferred to Shiro's hospital with a neurosurgery specialization shook their hands and asked Shiro if he intended to spend the evening avoiding Slav. Forgetting he'd even invited Slav, Shiro's eyes became dinner plates. Keith had to tell him he couldn't take shots at cocktail hour.
"It's my wedding," Shiro challenged.
Keith rubbed his back harder. "We still have to dance."
It wasn't until the wedding party's dinner was served did Keith's body relax. He picked at his seared duck breast with chanterelles and Swiss chard and drank down both his champagne and the bustle around him. There was an ungodly wedding gift stack looming in the corner, but Keith was concerned about the dance floor.
He thought about Shiro at the bachelor party and smiled into his glass.
"Maybe we should write Pal-and-Din a letter," Shiro mused in between bites of blackened hanger. "Send them a wedding picture and everything."
"Not the biggest fan of promoting false hope," Keith slyly answered. He stole a bite from Shiro's plate. "You're one in a million. My odds of winning Miss America were higher than settling down with you."
"It never hurts to try, and what's wrong with a little hope?"
Keith examined Shiro's face and reached for his earlobe. He tweaked it. "You're the good things, Takashi."
"Takes one to know one."
Two-thirds of the way through the meal, the reception hall was interrupted by the distinct chime of a knife handle smacking glass. Lance had stood while Keith was dreamily chatting with Shiro. He was to Keith's right, wedged between Caroline and Hunk, and appeared to be on a mission. Allura stood in a corner nearby, arms crossed and speaking into her headpiece. She had given an order, and suddenly, photographers were creeping the room.
Lance coughed into his fist and cleared his throat. When he spoke, Keith realized Allura had him hooked to a discrete microphone. "If you forgot like I did, then I'm here to remind everyone best men give speeches."
The best man's speech.
Unlike Keith, Shiro didn't have to endure one. His best man and childhood friend, Ryou, was an accomplished director who, rather than write a speech, made Shiro a movie. He played it in the background during cocktail hour, projecting it like a gallery installation. The film was a compilation of childhood home movies, embarrassing videos salvaged from college friends, and at the end, glorified shots of Keith and Shiro wandering rural Japan.
It was moving, tasteful and so 'Takashi Shirogane' Keith had muttered 'of course.'
Shiro had the emotionally wrought film with a romantic score, and Keith had Lance.
Again, of course.
Keith shot Shiro a terrified look that Shiro reciprocated with a breathy chuckle. It was low, sinister even. Keith jabbed his elbow into Shiro's arm and Shiro returned the favor until Keith and he were forced to look like adults.
Lance set down his champagne flute and cleared his throat. He reached into his pocket and extracted folded notebook sheets reminding Keith of passing notes in middle school. Lance took his time unfolding, neatly peeling back corner after corner. Keith realized what he was doing and pressed his smile to his palm. He coughed, did his best not to laugh, and coughed again.
"Keith," Shiro murmured, playing along even though he was smiling too, "remember to chew your food."
"He's such an asshole."
Lance continued to unfold the paper until a frustrated Hunk snatched it from his hands and did it for him. Shiro and Keith laughed out loud, but they were the only ones who found it that funny.
"Keith asked me to be his best man because he has no friends," Lance confessed to a room filled with Keith's friends. Keith side eyed him. Lance winked. "Being generous and good and wonderful, I said yes."
Lance gave a pregnant pause and then began refolding the paper. "That's it. That's the speech."
Caroline groaned, and Lance laughed despite her misery. He exhaled, rolling his eyes as he opened the papers for real and cleared his throat.
"Okay," Lance said. "But really. Here we go."
Keith hadn't expected much mainly because he'd forgotten best man speeches existed in the first place, but he knew if he'd thought about it, then he wouldn't have expected Lance's actual speech.
It was as moving as it was shameless, poignant and jabbing with an honest approach to the people Keith realized Lance and he no longer were. From sleeping around to eating 3 AM Chinese and sulking, Lance covered ground Shiro's parents needn't know. That didn't matter, though. Shiro and he were married. It was done.
But it was the speech's ending that would sit beneath Keith's skin forever.
"I could have saved us some time and told you this is a typical love story. That any of this could be whittled down to boy meets boy, boy falls in love with boy, and finally, boy marries boy after an overdue identity crisis, but it'd be insulting to even try. That doesn't sum them up. You know, Keith is my best friend, and like I said, I've been here from the start, so I'm pretty qualified to say what I'm about to say."
Lance stopped and cleared his throat, moved by his own thoughts.
"These two are a textbook love story where they changed each other's lives by making one another see how good, kind and inspiring we as their friends and family have always known them to be."
Keith looked at Shiro, and Shiro looked at Keith.
"And they weren't miserable people when that started. Listen, this isn't about being saved because if you're an adult, then you know that's bullshit. We're accountable for ourselves, and I know these two would have made lives without each other. The world spins like that." Lance slipped the page behind his second one and cleared his throat. "What I will say is I know they've brought out the best in each other, and well, isn't that what partnerships are about? Isn't that the difference between a good couple and a couple that lasts a lifetime? I have no doubt Shiro and Keith will last a lifetime. They'd find each other in the astral plane if they had to."
Hunk grabbed Lance's elbow and looked ahead, smiling at his own thoughts. Lance laughed beneath his breath and turned his eyes on Shiro and Keith.
"Congratulations, Keith and Shiro," Lance finished. He tucked the speech beneath his armpit and reached for his glass. He lifted it in their direction, and Keith and Shiro reached for theirs. "You did it. You got married."
Keith blinked back tears and scrunched his nose. Shiro had to thank Lance for Keith who could only raise his glass in acknowledgment and swallow.
Having Lance was better than a movie.
Dinner was cleared and the cake was cut with determined glints in both Keith and Shiro's eyes. Squares of cake in hand, they mischievously stared one another down. Keith circled Shiro the way he had at the bachelor party, and Shiro lifted a hand in surrender while onlookers laughed.
"My suit is rented," Shiro warned.
Keith waggled his eyebrows. "Then think fast, honey."
Ruthless, they smashed ginger and orange cake into each other's faces. Keith nailed Shiro's cheek with a long smear. Soon chewing on cake, he swiped the mess off his husband with fingertips, licking them clean and nodding in approval of their baker's skill. Shiro picked cake out of Keith's black hair and ate it, kissing him when he could.
Shiro stepped aside to let a waiter begin serving cake. "Did we ever decide what the top tier was? I don't remember."
Keith shrugged. He pressed his finger into untouched white fondant and felt clean. "I told the baker to flip a coin."
At that, the 'important pictures' were through. Keith tied back his mane and abandoned his suit's shawl. All that mattered from that point on was their first dance and the two open bars posted on either side of the room.
But first, the dance.
"I thought Allura was going to choke me when I told her this is what we were dancing to," Keith said, swaying with Shiro across the lit dance floor.
Bound 2 swelled around them entirely uncensored, and the only person dancing on the sidelines was Keith's mom. When the chorus hit, Lance and Hunk shouted the lyrics at each other, meaningfully gesturing and slowly breaking it down. Hunk dragged a hand along Lance's face, and at 'Jesus wept,' Lance pantomimed falling tears.
"Do you think 'I wanna fuck you hard on the sink' is too on the nose?" Shiro asked as if discussing the weather.
"If we're taking this song literally, then who's the good girl worth a thousand bitches?"
Shiro blinked, offended. "Me, obviously."
"Bad Boy Keith," he said, mocking himself. "Stealing your sons' innocence with designer crop tops and an ass that won't quit."
Their first dance was sealed into eternity, and the reception became tolerable. Keith danced with his mom, then Shiro's mom and then with Pidge because she needed to remind him to catch up on his YouTube conspiracy channels so they'd have something to talk about when he got back from the honeymoon. The last thing she wanted to hear about was the sand he had to wash out of his ass hair and how wonderful it was to sit on Shiro's lap.
"You act like I have ass hair," Keith wryly said. He spun her out, and she twirled back toward him.
"You're married now. It's all downhill from here."
Once sweating, Keith removed himself from the dancing to grab another drink. He found Lance at the bar, watching the bartender's pour like a hawk. Keith greeted the man by slinging an arm around his shoulders.
"Make it two," Lance said. He dropped a tip into the black jar and butted heads with Keith. "This turned out better than you expected. Admit it now. That wasn't a question."
He easily relented, too drunk and content to fight. "It did, but that goes for everything. You and Hunk included."
"About that," Lance started, entirely casual. He stalled the thought to take his drink and hand Keith his. The two men clinked their glasses and turned to watch the crowded dance floor, both snorting. Ignition (Remix) began, and Hunk danced with Shiro's mom. Hunk's height made her look twelve. "I didn't want to tell you because it's your big day, so don't think I'm stealing your thunder here, but I figured I should tell you in person."
Keith felt as if he already knew, but he asked anyway. "Go on."
Lance unfurled his smile. He said the next sentence without fear. "Hunk asked me to marry him."
To Lance, it was the easiest thing in the world.
"Hard won," Keith said and touched his glass to Lance's once more. "Well deserved."
"Those were my thoughts."
"I'm happy for you," Keith added and looked his friend in the eye. His next words left no room for discussion. "I'm planning the bachelor party."
Happiness, he considered after bumping fists with Lance and drifting away to find Shiro. Happiness isn't continuous, but I think it can be kind of. I'm happy I married Shiro. I'll be with him forever. I'll be happy forever.
Keith found Shiro speaking with his father, but when Shiro saw Keith, his face lit up and he excused himself. Shiro approached Keith and kissed his cheek. "Do you want to step out?"
"I thought you'd never ask."
The newlyweds abandoned the reception hall and the party continued on. They knew it would be waiting for them when they returned.
Apparently, Keith wasn't the only one thinking about happiness.
"Are you happy?" Shiro asked, smiling due to his own joy and possibly the whiskey.
Keith shifted his shoulders to the hall's distant music, but he stopped dancing to consider Shiro's question. With a graceful spin, he whirled himself in order to walk backward. Keith reached for Shiro's hand and rubbed his ring.
"I think I always have been happy. Marginally, anyway."
Shiro didn't take his eyes off Keith, bionic fingers curled around Keith's flesh ones. He patiently waited without demanding continuation, but he knew Keith had more to say.
Keith hummed and tilted his head to the side, considering. "But this is a different kind of happiness. It's an abstract happiness. Something I don't think I'll ever stop feeling, not even for a second."
"Well, it's forever, isn't it? We're married forever."
He switched out their hands so they could walk side-by-side without letting go. No destination in mind, Shiro and Keith descended the steps toward the ceremony's clearing. For Keith, it already felt far away, surreal. The lanterns were still alive and well, but the memory was dust on the wind, a feeling tiers above any imaginable memory.
Shiro and Keith wandered through a maze of empty chairs, across the aisle's gold runner and past the altar. Ahead of them was the overlook, and beyond that was the night sky they paid for.
Both stopped at the farthest edge, pressed against the protective fence.
"Are you happy?" Keith distantly asked, watching the stars. He was enchanted by their oceanic expanse, the incomprehensible twinkling that painted their vision and kept them from the absolute darkness.
"Without question," Shiro whispered. "I'm happy."
Keith smiled to himself, and when he'd seen enough, turned to his husband. Shiro's eyes were on him, and it occurred to Keith that Shiro had been watching him the whole time. He affectionately touched Shiro's chin with his thumb and forefinger, and Shiro's own fingers encircled Keith's wrist. He wasn't stopping him. Shiro was seeking warm skin on warm skin. The men leaned toward one another and tenderly kissed, meeting one another halfway.
"I'm going to love you forever," Keith promised Shiro.
His words were searing, alive with a heart's heat.
"I'm going to love you forever."
It's difficult to appreciate humanity for both its power and weakness. After all, humans are celebrated for being able to showcase their stamina and rarely their limitations.
We can go to the moon, but God forbid we cry.
Keith understood power's relevance the way he understood the minute sensitivities grid locking human bodies. From the start, life pushed beasts onto Keith's path. Keith believed in fighting, though. He believed in the fight for self.
It wasn't until Keith's city was littered with corpses did it occur to him he no longer knew what he was fighting for. He figured the bodies would decompose while he tried to remember.
Sometimes Keith needed to escape their stench, so to escape, he drove.
Beneath tangerine clouds so low Keith believed he could dip his fingers into their water, he barreled along highways. Most of Keith's drives took place inside his head. The temperature was an abstraction based on that afternoon's mood, and he rarely processed the wind's density when his arm slithered out the window and swam. These drives became another extension of his person, and Keith reveled in the solitude.
Until Shiro, of course.
The co-piloting started early on in their relationship. Keith and Shiro would climb into the car, and with Keith at the helm, talk about bodies.
"What are you going to do about it?" Shiro asked after each story.
"I'm figuring it out," Keith lied.
"Do you want my help? I'll help you."
Keith refused his help, but he continued to take Shiro on drives. The drives through the northeast's dense trees were eventually lengthened by detours Keith never thought to take. Shiro pointed out each turn, and Keith trusted he wouldn't get them lost. After Keith was comfortable with new paths, Shiro suggested they make rest stops. From parks to local tourist ventures to shorelines so dark and chilly Keith stole Shiro's jackets, they spent their harmless adventures shedding the titanium skin Keith's fights forced him to develop.
They went everywhere, but there was one place they kept returning to.
The no-name bluff was private property, but Keith and Shiro liked it because its nighttime was a flat black. On Shiro's evenings off, Keith would sometimes purchase a six-pack and take Shiro there. The couple would sit on its edge with dangling legs and their eyes on the sky. In those quiet moments, Keith acknowledged not only the bodies waiting in the city but what the monsters were and the injuries they left behind.
"Everyone thinks it hasn't done anything to me because I told them it hasn't, and maybe it didn't get me the way someone who doesn't know the business thinks it would, but –" Keith reached toward the sky with fingers shaped into an OK sign. He circled the moon. "It hasn't made this easy. That's all. I'm working on it, though."
"We're working on it," Shiro corrected.
"I don't know myself outside of what I've done or how I've made money. Imagine being someone who exists as himself and that's it. Wouldn't that be something?"
Shiro hummed and leaned forward, staring down between his feet. He peered into the darkness. "You'll figure it out. If you don't, then that's okay, too. Having all the answers sounds boring anyway."
"I want to be easy for you."
"I want you to be whatever you think is best for you."
Keith tilted his head away from Shiro and closed his eyes. "I'm only good at being what someone wants."
"Keith is enough for me. It has been from the start."
He bought the ring on what he told himself was a whim, but deep down, Keith knew that conversation was the catalyst. The band was silver; simple, to the point but more than enough. He just didn't know when or how to ask.
Keith hid it in his fur jacket's pocket.
Pinterest and mommy advice blogs told Keith to plan and plan well. Popping the question was a life change treated with the same importance as chafing tectonic plates. Friends and family were required to be there to take pictures, and five minutes after Shiro's inevitable 'yes,' the news had to flood social media. There were pre-question fundamentals, though. Keith needed to make reservations at a chic restaurant with a one-word name, and even before that, he needed to call Kenny G and summon George Michael's crooning ghost.
The atmosphere, claimed one blog, can make or break the entire moment. The statement had been followed by a link to floating lanterns and a breast pump. He had clicked the latter.
Keith didn't have Kenny G's number, so he decided he couldn't give Shiro the true engagement experience. That was fine, but he still needed to have some idea of when or how he was going to ask him.
That didn't happen either.
What did happen was another whim. Shiro asked Keith if he wanted to go on a drive, and Keith disappeared into the bedroom to grab his coat. Paused before the closet, Keith stared into its depths and thoughtlessly slipped his hand into the fur jacket's pocket. He deposited it into his coat as if his wallet and asked Shiro to grab the beer.
The drive was fine.
He didn't think about the ring. Keith hadn't decided to ask, and since it wasn't on the books, Keith didn't treat it like it was real.
Above them, the stars were a bleeding heart, and beneath the stars, Keith paced. He rolled the box around in his pocket, but he had second thoughts. He should have called Kenny G. If there had been a saxophone blaring in the woods, then at least he'd be distracted from the giant shit his heart was taking. Emotional dysentery.
"You're stressed out about something," Shiro observed.
The moment evaporated.
Keith stopped short and looked out over the bluff. He swallowed the glittery imagery that collapsed against a matte black horizon. It zigzagged with the terrain, and when Keith got dizzy, he tilted his face skyward.
He pounded the beer in hand and tossed the can toward the growing pile beside the car. Keith bound his emotions for the inevitable train wreck.
"Can we talk about forever really quick?" Keith couldn't look at Shiro. "And how people sometimes need help?"
Shiro shoved his hands into his bomber jacket's pockets and leaned back. He was too far away. He was on the opposite end of the clearing, and Keith wanted to yank him closer.
"Calling that ominous, but sure," he carefully said. Shiro was preparing himself for something awful. Keith could read every nuance in his inflection.
Everything was wrong. He should have bought lanterns. He could have at least grabbed the man a Happy Meal. They were going to remember this moment for the rest of their lives whether or not Shiro said yes. Had Keith gone the extra mile, then at least he could console himself with – 'I gave it my all.'
He was embarrassed, but Keith didn't know how to pump the brakes. He had to finish what he started.
"I don't know how I feel about forever. Humans probably aren't supposed to think about it as much as I've wanted to lately, but you happened and I haven't been able to stop." Keith grappled for his own biceps and hugged himself. "I think about you in everything I want next, and I can't stop thinking about how you've helped me carry a lot of my old weight. I've been able to bury so much since I met you. We've laid a lot to rest."
Shiro didn't interrupt, and Keith rubbed his molars together.
"There's no way I could go back to living alone, Shiro."
It was too dark for Keith to see, but Shiro's body unclenched. "Do you think I'm pushing you away?"
"No," Keith readily said, and he turned to face him. The dim moon managed to highlight the gentleness in Keith's expression. "Not at all. It's the opposite, actually."
Keith minimized the space between them. He stopped an arm's length from Shiro and cleared his throat. As much as he didn't want to acknowledge it, his hands were shaking.
"You're so good," Keith said as if that summed up his rationale. Every waking hour he spent lying on his back because he couldn't escape love's weight was condensed into one word. 'Good' became so much more than its casual definition. Keith shoved both hands into his jacket pockets. "I once told someone you were the good things, and not once have I found reason to think otherwise. Sometimes it pisses me off. How good you are, I mean. I want to know what I did to deserve you when I don't think I can count the good things I've done on one hand."
"You're so much more than you realize," Shiro countered, sharp and forever prepared to be Keith's defense.
Shiro flicked his stare upward and braced himself before he spoke. "What will it take for you to see everything I see in you? You've done more for your friends than I could ever start to do for mine, and you've done so much for me I will never be able to begin to tell you exactly how it's changed me. My life would be so different without you, Keith. I've never been freer with another person, and if you'd asked me where I imagined myself now ten years ago, then the last thing I would have let myself do is dream up someone like you, so please. What more do I have to say?
Keith smiled with the corner of his mouth and dismissively shrugged. He couldn't take his eyes off Shiro's heartbroken expression. "Say you'll marry me."
He extracted his hand from his pocket and with it came the box. His eyes fell onto the black velvet, and when he popped it open, the red satin interior seemed impossibly bright. Keith turned it toward Shiro and looked back up.
"Shiro, will you marry me?"
There would never be someone else. Keith knew.
Shiro stood stunned, lips set ever-so-slightly apart and fingers curled into two tight fists. It was an appropriate response. Keith hadn't exactly dropped hints, but it was Shiro's prolonged internal dialogue that made Keith anxious. His widened eyes shifted down to Keith's hands, and he rolled back his lips with a head tilt. Shiro inhaled hard and shakily exhaled. There was a storm wreaking havoc on his headspace, and Keith feared it.
When the silence collapsed through the roof, Keith cleared his throat. "If you're going to say no, then tell me so I can chuck this ring over the bluff and act like I never tried."
"Uh –" Shiro stared at Keith's hand where the ring waited. He looked back to Keith's pale face and evened his expression. "No don –"
Keith wrenched back his arm as if to pitch a baseball, and Shiro yelled. He tackled Keith's hand and yanked it against his chest. Shiro then lifted his bionic hand and said 'whoa' as if calming a horse. "No as in – I'm not answering fast because I'm in shock. I'm shocked. I internalize my shock, Keith. We know this."
Keith stared at his pinned hand and the box he was squeezing like a lifeline. His fingers relaxed around it.
Relieved, Shiro evened his breathing and rubbed Keith's forearm, but Keith had a feeling it was meant to be comforting more for Shiro than him. "Level with me here. I thought I was going to spend years scheming to get you to marry me, so this is speeding up the five-year plan I'd outlined by a lot. You just rocket launched it."
"Five-year plan," he echoed.
"We've moved in together and we talked about kids, so I thought we were on a path, not a beaten one. Then again, you did meet my parents, and we've had your mom over for dinner. She didn't say she hated me even if she told you she doesn't trust me, so that's something. I just never pinned you for marriage even though –"
"You had a five-year tactic to get me to marry you?"
"– even though you fart on me, and you did that thing where you rode me and sang that Rihanna song. Sex With Me, right? You did that like twice, but I did the emotional math. That's what I'm saying. I did the math. Found the algorithm for us. At the rate things were going, you wouldn't want to marry me for five more years, and I was never going to have kids, and that was fine! I made peace with so many things."
Shiro's anxiety distracted Keith from his own. He pursed his lips and cut his gaze to the left. "You didn't mean no, but this is too soon. Did I skip an engagement prerequisite?"
Keith leaned away from the yell and scrutinized Shiro.
Shiro sagged and rubbed his fingers along a clavicle. "I have to delete those notes from my phone."
It wasn't the first time Keith had seen Shiro overwhelmed, but this was a particular brand of stress. Shiro worked alongside another doctor named Slav who was a genius, but also, the single most infuriating human Shiro claimed he'd ever met. When assigned to the same OR as Slav, Shiro would come home and pace the kitchen, eyes wide and fingers scraping through his scalp because 'Slav.' Shiro's current demeanor mirrored his 'Slav Demeanor,' minus the unbridled rage and potential descent into alcoholism. Keith wondered if he had triggered a manic episode.
What he didn't know was that Shiro was annoyed with himself.
Keith scratched his cheek and pretended his nose wasn't burning hot. He centered himself, closed his eyes and dropped his hand. The box hung at his side. "Should I ask another ti –"
Shiro shook his head and captured both sides of Keith's face. He searched Keith's shocked gaze and cleared his throat. "I want to."
That wasn't good enough.
Keith leveled his stare and leaned in, pressed against his hands. "You want to what?"
The air stilled, and Keith was sure the cicadas had shushed each other to listen. Shiro's stare hadn't stopped searching, and it was several seconds before it occurred to Keith that maybe Shiro was looking for something. Whatever Shiro was hunting for, he didn't catch. When he accepted that, Shiro wholly filled his lungs.
"You asked me to marry you," he whispered. Shiro wore a tender smile concocted by relief and joy so immense he was afraid if he tried to fully express it, then his heart would burst.
Keith nodded fast.
"No one else," Keith said. He stammered over his tight jaw. "Never again. I will never love someone else this much again. It's you. It's been you since the start."
Shiro trailed his hands down Keith's warm face. They landed on his rigid shoulders but Shiro slipped his arms forward, and suddenly hugged. Shiro firmly pressed his nose against Keith's throat and sniffed back, clearing his throat over and over. After a short pause, he tightened his embrace and Keith eagerly encircled his waist.
It wasn't until Shiro wearily laughed did Keith's body slacken.
"Of course I want to marry you."
Keith's loose hug snapped into a vice grip, and Shiro mirrored his strength. Their fingers dug into each other's jackets, and while Keith was able to momentarily restrain tears, Shiro wasn't as strong.
"I said I wouldn't cry," Keith murmured. "I said I wouldn't cry, but I cry when you cry."
"Don't point out I'm crying," Shiro said, but he laughed despite himself. Something wet and hot trickled down Keith's neck, but Keith smiled anyway.
Keith turned his face into Shiro's temple and pressed his mouth to the man's fade. His brow furrowed, and Keith vigorously blinked back his tears.
"I'm going to love you forever, Shiro."
"Yes," Shiro finally said. "I'm going to love you forever."
Chapter 17: Epilogue
"My name's Keith, and I'm twenty-nine and can feel it. I'm studying Humans in Aerospace at MIT, and I have an eye twitch from being there, but it's worth it. That's my coping mechanism. I keep saying it's worth it. What else – uh – my husband and I bought a house, a sex swing and a Greyhound puppy in one week. We got the dog to put this off, but after we housebroke her, he told me he wants a baby, so now we're looking at getting a baby. I keep talking about adopting babies like buying expensive shoes. I have to figure out how to stop doing that."
"A baby. That's a big step."
"It is. But he's thirty-five and feels too old for a kid already. Figured we should bite the bullet now before he puts himself in a nursing home next year."
"And you're okay with that?"
"Why wouldn't I be? I mean, my name's Keith, and I'm happy."
"Do you think that's enough?"
"More than enough, actually."