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one final act

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The hallway leading to the theater room is dark and cold, dimly lit only by boxes of caged moonlight pouring in through the windows. Pictures of generations of thespians before him are hung on the walls, captured moments of youth and creativity immortalized to spark inspiration and admiration in the hearts of the young.  Tomorrow, after the ceremony, his face will be on this wall of glory, one final imprint to leave in the university he has come to love as a second home.

In the silence, his rhythmic footsteps are louder than the distant bouts of drunken laughter and colorful stories exchanged in the room two floors above his head, his heels clicking on the polished wood a song attuned to his heartbeat. He had thought that this moment would make him nervous, nauseated, even, but where there had been a storm in the pit of his stomach and a raging squall within his mind, there is only a quiet serenity, a sense of contentment and acceptance only isolation can provide.

This is how he believes he wants it to be – no drama, no sentiment, no hassles, and especially no goodbyes – he can forgive himself later for leaving right after his last performance as a college senior. He only hopes that the others can find a way to forgive him for wordlessly leaving the day before graduation.

It was a big choice, one that had weighed on his mind for the last couple of months, and yet in the end, he knew he was going. New York is teeming with endless possibilities, where opportunities abound and creativity flourishes, where new memories are waiting to be experienced, where people fall in love like in the movies.

Maybe in New York, he can forget. Maybe he can begin to heal.

Maybe unlike in here, he can find a reason to stay.

The double oak doors of the theater room creak open at the soft push of his palms. Moonlight gushes into the dark hall like a silent tidal wave over the descending rows of cushioned seats, sweeps over the lush carpet like a mother’s whisper. Shiro takes a moment to stand there in the entrance, lets his eyes scope the entirety of the room. The background they had all painted together as a club remains on the stage while props and discarded confetti decorate the floorboards. They’re supposed to dismantle the backdrops together for one final semi-ceremonial gathering and farewell, and he almost regrets leaving early.

Shiro walks down the carpeted aisle, his long shadow becoming shorter with each step closer to the stage. He tries not to be too sentimental. He fails, yet he goes on, walks over to the tiny room backstage.

Moonlight filters inside the cramped space filled with stage props and costumes hung on a couple of metal racks. He thinks that’s the one constant thing wherever he goes; he can see the same moon from anywhere, the one loyal companion in all his travels. He’s okay with that.

He’s okay with that, except it also reminds him of a lot of nights spent dreaming aloud about reaching the sky and navigating through balls of light, of stargazing and trying to communicate with the people of the moon, of fabricated conversations with extraterrestrial beings he had shared with no one but Keith.

Keith.

Everything goes back to Keith.

Memories of the orphanage, of unexpected yet happy reunions, of secretly whispered words of encouragement and a hand on his shoulder, of the reason he has to leave – it all circles back to Keith.

Shiro swallows hard, swallows the lump forming in his throat like the myriad of thoughts and feelings he’s been wanting to express but couldn’t, forces them back deep inside himself and hopes they don’t resurface any time soon. His sigh comes out heavy and audible, the only sound he’s allowed himself to make since leaving the party, as he bends down to pull a big duffel bag and backpack hidden under the pile of discarded props on the floor. Gotta act fast, gotta act now before regret steps in. No drama, no sentiment, no hassles, no goodbyes –

“Shiro?”

He freezes. He didn’t even hear anyone following to sneak up on him.

“What are you doing here?” Keith asks, his voice quiet and his eyes on the bag.

Shiro sighs yet again, this time slowly, much less audibly. Of course – since their days in the orphanage, Keith has learned to move around silently for the evenings they sneaked out after curfew to view the distant lights up on the roof.

“You’re supposed to be upstairs enjoying the party,” Shiro finally says as he slings the backpack over one shoulder, a smile plastered on his face. Now, he is an actor; now he sells deceit.

“I saw you sneak out, thought you’d be climbing up to the roof,” Keith says, shuffling on his feet.

Why are you always the first one to notice? Why are your eyes so quick to follow me? Shiro wants to wonder aloud. After all, that was how they had begun their secret after-curfew escapades. Instead, he bottles those words up and throws them away in a dark place inside him, like the thousand unsent letters and notes he has written to Keith every night for the past ten years. He’s too hopeless, too powerless, too big of a coward to stop acting.

“I’m not. You should go back up now,” Shiro says, his words short and his voice low as he tries not to sound like anything he truly feels. Go back up and have fun. Go back up to your boyfriend.

Keith silently regards him in the pale moonlight, his eyebrows furrowed in apparent confusion. His eyes are studying the bulky duffel bag like an offending article of sorts, reminding Shiro of the time the Sister had told Keith he was going to be adopted, and the expression he’d made when he realized adoption meant separation for them both. Now he’s standing by the door to the theater hall with the exact same eyes, standing between Shiro and his quiet speedy exit.

Why does it have to be Keith?

Finally, he speaks.

“You’re not going back up with me.”

It’s not a question, but a statement, a realization.

Hearing Keith say it makes the truth infinitely louder, stinging him like a million tiny pinpricks all over his body. The back of his eyes burn, his mouth feels dry, his heart is hammering inside his chest like a ticking time bomb ready to explode with his love for Keith, kept too long in silence that hurt more than actually leaving. He’s breaking, his every erected wall is crumbling. It’s not fair, it just isn’t, why does it have to be him, why can’t anything be easy at all why why why

“Shiro,” Keith’s voice cracks at the last syllable yet he stands firm, takes a small step forward. It’s only a name but it’s also a disguised plea, a demand for answers that ring loud in Shiro’s ears.

“Keith, you should really go back,” Shiro says, his throat failing to cooperate with him that he chokes on his words when he gets to the middle. He only notices it now, but the world has gone too quiet, cruelly intent on listening to the sound of something falling apart. “Go back.”

“I thought we were going to visit the orphanage again this summer,” Keith says as he takes another step closer. He reaches the soft pool of light and bathes in the heavenly glow, his eyes glassy with slivers of reflected moon beams dancing in them. Shiro remembers getting lost a little more than he should in those eyes, and remembers how that isn’t something he should be holding on to, not when he’s leaving those behind.

“We’ll still do that,” Shiro says. “Maybe when I get back.”

“From where? And when?” Keith’s voice is rising as he gravitates closer to Shiro, eyes wild in his demand for answers. His shoulders are trembling, his fists are shaking. Please, Shiro thinks, please don’t be like this. Not right now.

“I don’t know.” Shiro’s voice is barely above a whisper, his head hung low. It’s his most honest answer, and at the same time it betrays nothing so that Keith can run after him, if he ever does.

“You never told me anything,” Keith says, his voice cracking. “I thought we were family, Shiro. I thought we can tell each other everything.”

Not everything, Shiro thinks but doesn’t say out loud. You can go with Hunter to the orphanage. Boyfriends are family too, right?

“I don’t understand,” Keith continues when Shiro doesn’t reply. “I mean, you’re two years ahead of me and I know I can’t possibly ask you to wait until I graduate but I never thought you’d leave like this.”

Keith is a foot away now, his arms moving wildly at his sides in uncontained agitation. Shiro looks away, unable to brave looking at the bright droplets of reflected light streaming down Keith’s face. No drama, no sentiment, no hassles, no goodbyes – no facing Keith one last time.

He doesn’t want to walk away with this memory lingering at the back of his mind.

“This isn’t that kind of goodbye, Keith.” He tries because it’s the only thing he can do. He tries because he hopes it’s the easy way out of this – one last act to end it once and for all.

“Don’t lie to me, Shiro,” Keith says. “If it wasn’t, then you would have said something.”

Shiro sighs in exasperation but he doesn’t argue; Keith may be dense when it comes to Shiro’s feelings, but apart from that he can read Shiro pretty well.

“Keith—”

 “I thought you said you wanted to work somewhere near campus,” Keith says, his fists weakly finding their marks on Shiro’s broad chest. “You said maybe you would work in the Theater Department here, or maybe even fail a grade so that we can meet halfway.”

“You remember those things?” Shiro chuckles bitterly despite it all; he had mentioned those plans to Keith around a year ago. He drops the duffel bag and lets his hands find Keith’s wrists, feel his pulse. Nothing but this – he swears this is the only thing he’ll allow tonight. Nothing else to bring with him to New York, just this, to feel his whole world in his hands for one quiet moment.

“I remember a lot of things,” Keith says, sobering up, letting his fists sag into the warmth of Shiro’s chest. His eyes are cast on their melded shadows on the floor. “I think about the roof of the orphanage, about the Dark Lord Zarkon and his butter-loving minion Sendak trying to destroy us from their base in the moon. I remember the stars you named after each letter of my name, the scar you got from getting me down from that tall tree in the yard, and the day you asked me to be your best friend. I remember getting adopted, leaving and walking around not really knowing what to do, then finding you again here.”

Keith’s hands are shaking as they take fistfuls of Shiro’s shirt. Don’t hold on to me like that, Shiro wants to say, but there’s a lump in his throat and it’s interfering with his ability to speak.

“There’s a lot of you in my memories, Shiro,” Keith half-whispers, as if he’s dropping the biggest secret in his life. He looks up, catches Shiro’s gaze the way Shiro had once hoped he’ll catch his heart.

“There’s always you,” he says and it’s all unfair it’s just not fair it’s all too cruel because these are words Shiro has always wanted to hear and these are words that just tear him apart.

Shiro breaks, everything breaks, nothing is fine and it’s the most beautiful and painful thing in the world to just stand here with Keith in the moonlight.

There’s nothing he blames for it but gravity – gravity making him fall hard for Keith, gravity from the weight of Keith’s stare pulling him in closer closer and closer until there’s warmth like the sun and softness of flower petals and someone else’s hot tears melting with his own.

It’s sudden, unplanned – a mistake.

Keith’s shocked expression is the signal that should tell him it’s unwarranted, unwelcome, but he doesn’t stop – he can’t stop.

He closes his eyes, blocks out the image of Keith’s surprised expression as he steals a kiss. Just this one mistake, let him have this one last mistake of dropping his act, let him be stupid and honest and just be openly in love with someone else’s boyfriend.

Just this once.

He lets his hands fly up to cradle the curve of Keith’s jaw, kneads his fingers softly on his moist cheeks. He’ll regret this, he knows, and he most definitely deserves a punch to the gut for just wanting to taste Keith’s lips, but until Keith pushes him away, he’s going to commit this crime. After all, there will be no shameful days to avoid after he disappears.

Except Keith doesn’t push him away.

He feels Keith close his eyes, his eyelashes fluttering over Shiro’s skin like soft butterfly wings. Calloused hands find the back of Shiro’s head, slender candle-like fingers tug at the short tufts of his hair, surprising Shiro in the most pleasant way. Their lips are hungry for lost time and missed opportunities, their tongues melting into their own rhythmic dance like old lovers.

Shiro lets his hands wander and get lost in the soft richness of Keith’s hair, memorizes the silky sensation on his skin. He loves the way Keith tastes in his mouth and in his hands, loves how their bodies fit against each other like complementing jagged pieces of glass. Shiro tilts his head to deepen the kiss, catches Keith’s every gasp and moan in his hot mouth.

Without needing words, they both move in unison; Keith pulling Shiro backward, Shiro gently pushing him back against a wall where even the moon can’t angle itself right to watch them sin. Keith actively moans into his parted lips as Shiro begins to roll his hips against him in blatant urgency, filling the room with sounds of ragged breathing and unsuppressed confessions of love in the form of profusely whispering Keith’s name like a mantra –

Just how is one capable of silencing a storm that’s been unleashed?

And yet it happens – like the hand that always falls a few inches short to keep someone from turning away, like the deafening sound of an approaching train when you tell them not to leave you, like the unsynchronized timing of two people supposed to be destined for the perfect love – something always gets in the way.

Keith’s phone buzzes in his pocket, and just like that, it’s over.

They both freeze, swollen lips hovering over the other, hot rapid short breaths burning their skins like tears. Keith’s phone continues to buzz, rings louder than the pounding in Shiro’s chest and the ringing in his ears, a sound that pierces through the still night like razor sharp icicles.

They’re both silent, the weight of what they’d done finally settling over them like a cloud, the reality of their relationship both a blessing and a curse; a miracle worth nothing because Shiro is still leaving, and Keith still belongs to someone else.

It’s over.

Shiro pulls away first.

Kissing Keith felt like levitating, and pulling back feels like drowning with a ball chained to his feet –he’s always been drowning, yet the only difference is he now knows how flying feels like, and it’s painfully tantalizing knowing that and actively preventing yourself from flying.

Now they’re both scarred, and he let it happen.

Shiro takes a couple of steps back. Keith looks dazzlingly beautiful with his hair up in all directions like that, with his mouth moist and swollen from kissing, and he thinks he did all that – he’s the reason Keith is breathless, speechless.

And hurting.

Shiro swallows, it’s over it’s over it’s over.

He turns his back to Keith, walks back into the pool of light and picks up his duffel bag. For some reason, it feels a lot heavier than ten minutes ago. He hears Keith clear his throat, fish his phone out of his pocket. His voice still cracks when he speaks.

“Babe.”

Shiro should leave. Why can’t he move any faster?

“No, I’m fine I just – went to take a leak.”

Shiro wordlessly turns back towards the door. There’s nothing for him here, he reminds himself. Nothing.

“No, I think I'm done for the night,” Keith says, his eyes concealed by the fringes of his long dark hair. Shiro continues to walk, each step feeling like treading through quicksand. He’s drowning drowning drowning.

Shiro’s almost past the door when a hand grabs on to his bicep. He doesn’t turn to look, fights hard not to look.

“Okay,” Keith says, still talking on the phone. He pauses for a beat, whether it’s to listen to Hunter on the other line, or to contemplate on what to say next. His voice is much sober, much quieter when he finally speaks:

“… Thank you.”

He lets go.

It’s over.

It’s over it’s over it’s over.

Shiro tries not to listen to Keith’s muffled sobs as he walks away.