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to the last, you and i

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Just because as millennia passed Shiro used his arrows less often didn’t mean that the feeling of the presence of his bow slung across his back ever lessened or went away. He’s definitely lost track since the last time he even stepped foot back into the astral plane with the other gods as well. There was a time when he was a young god, born fresh from the universe to represent and watch over passion and desire, where he delighted in shooting his arrows into the fray of humanity and watch who it struck, and he found even more amusement in seeing where the person’s eyes fell immediately after they were hit and a new love formed. Entertaining as it was, Shiro did have eternity ahead of him still and the game began to feel, well, stale, so he became more sparing with his role as a god of love.

These days Shiro felt perfectly content passing his time with humans on Earth and going about life as one of them, except he really would never fully be one of them. They didn’t know that, though. They couldn’t see the bow and arrows eternally hanging from his back, at the ready for him to make the motions to grab and materialize into his metal hand for use.

Shiro feels the sensation that he’s used to of the quiver hanging across his back as he pulls on a black pea coat and fixes the collar. He looks in the mirror to appraise his appearance, nodding to himself in satisfaction at the way his silver hair is freshly cut and the styled bangs fall just so onto his face. Maybe he rejects the whole god of passionate love thing these days, but he still can’t shake the need to look desirable. After wrapping a cashmere scarf around his neck and pulling a beanie onto his head, Shiro pats the pocket of his coat to make sure the small notebook and pen are with him before leaving. He waves at his doorman in the building’s lobby on his way out and decides the first business of the day definitely needs to be coffee when he steps outside and realizes it’s not only one of those cold days in the city but one of those cold days where the sun is shining brighter than it has any right to be.

In the early days of his existence, Shiro always felt more compelled to stay on the astral plane with the other gods and choosing to venture to the surface world when completely necessary to dabble in some guidance of love with his bow and arrow. But as he spent more and more time in the mortal world, watching humans live and go about their lives, he found himself staying with them for longer periods of time.

Kuron, Shiro’s brother and god of mutual love, had been quick to pick up on Shiro’s growing affection for humans and to poke at him for this newfound weakness. Shiro tried to play off the accusation and was honestly annoyed that Kuron didn’t feel the same softness towards the mortals as he was technically the embodiment of the softer side of love. He doesn’t try to dwell on it often, but Shiro doesn’t regret choosing to leave the astral plane behind for the most part, catching up with the gods he’s still on good terms with occasionally on Earth. And by occasionally, it tends to be around every 50-100 years.

No, instead, he sampled living all across Earth before settling on the one place that felt like it brought everywhere he’d been together in one, New York City. Being a god definitely helped the financial decision to settle here—he wouldn’t have his nice Riverside Drive apartment in the Upper West Side without it—but his chosen career in the human world also helped make his living situation believable.

Shiro had picked up a variety of skills over his long and immortal life, but he decided that there was one way to best capitalize on his experience. He submitted a book of short stories to a few publishers based off some of his early forays in the mortal world with his arrows, and he forced himself to not use any of his powers to interfere with the process. He wanted to earn this one thing only if he was worthy of it. After months going by with no response, Shiro started to weigh the options of giving up or pushing some people in the right direction with his literal powers of persuasion when he finally got a call from a company. A few months later he had a check with a substantial advance deposited in his bank account and a contract signed committing himself to write more books.

Now when people ask what he does for a living that explains his fourth-floor apartment with a view of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Riverside Park, he can say he’s an author with a decent amount of success. Whether he specifies that he’s a bestselling erotica writer, well, that’s up to him.

Settling on grabbing his coffee and a pastry from the Le Pain Quotidien a few blocks over on Broadway, Shiro finds a seat and takes a sip of his sugar and cream monstrosity while peering over the paper cup at the people seated around him. It’s a sea of MacBooks in the midafternoon. He’s distant yet close enough that some of the cafe population are students from Columbia, but then this is also the Upper West Side, so a decent portion of the faces behind screens are undoubtedly trying to hammer out novels and screenplays. Shiro sympathizes with them. No matter how clear the vision of the story—and for Shiro occasionally, how clear the memory—sometimes getting everything down on that bright screen feels like the slowest of torture over the stretching racks.

Shiro extracts the pen and notebook from his jacket pocket and flips it to the next blank page. He’s in between books right now, and he’s been mulling over if he should craft something about that time back in the 17th century when he found himself among scholars arguing over principles of the universe that were long observed by academics to East already. At first, Shiro found some entertainment value in watching the quarreling, but he eventually grew tired and put his bow and arrow to use, watching as the arrow perfectly hit one of the scholars in the middle of giving a rebuttal. The evening quickly turned into that academic trying to pursue the one he had been yelling at the most. Shiro was pretty pleased when he saw them slink off together into the night. His job was done.

As much as Shiro wanted to write a couple hundred pages of scientific scholars falling in love in the 1600s, he was also itching a bit for something new. He’d published a couple of modern stories that were the result of his more recent uses of the bow and arrow, but it also felt too soon for Shiro to be using his tools again. By the time Shiro finished off his coffee and subpar chocolate croissant, all he had on the paper in front of him was the start of a pros and cons list for which idea to focus on. He had nothing written down in either column, just a crude drawing of a stick figure giving him the finger.

Sighing, Shiro leans forward onto the table in front of him, resting his elbows as he runs his hands up and down his face before gripping his hair.

“Having a difficult time?”

Shiro jerks his head up quickly at the familiar voice and sees bright eyes and a brighter orange mustache looking back at him.

“Coran,” Shiro groans, “why are you here?”

Of course, the god of time would choose today to come down and bother Shiro on Earth. Coran already existed on the astral plane when Shiro came into being, so he’s been dealing with the other god for...a very long time. Every so often, Coran would float his way down to wherever Shiro happened to be living in the mortal world and pester him about returning to the rest of the gods. Every time Shiro would just shrug and say he’d return whenever he felt accomplished on Earth. It was a back and forth that had spanned for at least a thousand years now, and Coran would always start it off asking the same fucking question.

“Is your time here done, Shiro?” Coran twirls one end of his mustache thoughtfully. He’s wearing a purple three-piece suit with a dark plum overcoat, the chain of his ever-present pocket watch hanging out of his waistcoat pocket. Shiro is certain there’s a monocle in this outfit just waiting to make an appearance as well. Shiro and Coran both like to look good when in the mortal world, but Coran has always had a very different idea of what that means from Shiro’s point of view. Shiro appreciates a good three-piece suit, just not when it’s vibrantly purple.

“No, Coran,” Shiro simply replies as usual.

“Are you sure?” and now there’s also a cup of tea steaming in front of Coran that was most definitely not there a few seconds ago. It’s not even in one of the cups from the cafe, and Shiro takes a moment to look around to make sure no one notices the errant brand of teacup and saucer. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen you,” Coran presses on and takes a drink.

“I’m quite sure,” Shiro rolls his eyes. “I’ve visited.”

“Yes, you’ve visited the others on Earth,” Coran says, “but you haven’t returned.”

“I will,” Shiro crosses his arms, fully aware how childish he must be appearing.

Coran sighs. “Well, then, how’s the writing going, my lad?” Shiro knows Coran means well and is trying to be encouraging, he always is, but the exasperation never leaves his voice. This is the longest any of the gods have not been permanently on the astral plane and it makes Coran uncomfortable as the unofficial-but-maybe-official guardian of them all. There was never a formal election or decision, it just so happened he was there before the rest of them.

“It’s fine, I’m working on something new,” Shiro tries to seem enthusiastic in his reply, but his own doubt in choosing a new project definitely bleeds into the reply. He cringes to himself at how pathetic he feels giving himself away like this.

“Old work with your bow and arrow not cutting it?” Coran looks at Shiro thoughtfully. “You need to exercise your wings, boy. Let them and the arrows fly!”

“Be quiet!” Shiro whispers aggressively. Coran’s voice has the unique property to get louder the more he says, and the talk about wings and arrows made a few heads in the place turn towards them. “I have plenty of old material. I don’t need anything new to write about.”

“Alas, Shiro, you know you can’t rely on that. You’re the god of love, the god of desire, and if you’re going to keep this charade up of being a romance author, you might as well take full advantage of your powers!” Coran continues to do a mediocre job of keeping his voice down, so Shiro taps two of his metal fingers on the table causing a matching set of spiral bound stacks of paper to appear in front of them, both opened to similar looking pages. Shiro hopes that if Coran is going to keep at this, he can at least play this off like they’re reading a script together. That’s at least believable instead of a casual conversation about gods of love and arrows.

“I see you use your powers selectively, still,” Coran comments, examining the fake script. Shiro knows that it just repeats the phrase Go away, Coran over and over. Infuriatingly, the god of time seems amused.

“Only to make life easier here, like when someone doesn’t know how to be quiet,” Shiro responds.

Coran takes a moment to once again appraise Shiro across him, and Shiro stares right back. Coran’s powers as the god of time don’t work on him, of course, but there’s still something unsettling about looking at the other god straight on for an extended period that makes Shiro break their held gazes.

“You’re looking for something here,” Coran says it as a fact, not a question.

“I’m not,” Shiro defends himself because surely there’s nothing he needs from the mortal world, no. He enjoys it here. There’s a vibrancy to Earth that he doesn’t get while on the astral plane. He loves the astral plane, too, yes, because he loves the stars and universe as far as his gaze can see and the fact that he can travel all of it, but something about Earth feels, well, more grounding. He just likes it here and that’s it, no other motive to stay.

A knowing look remains on Coran’s face, and Shiro once again wonders if maybe there are things that Coran refuses to tell the rest of the gods. Maybe he does know more than all of them, fine, but it’s no cause for being so higher and mightier.

“If you say so,” Coran pulls out the watch from his pocket and opens it. Shiro has never seen what’s inside that watch, but he feels fairly positive it’s not an actual watch face with numbers and hands. “Well, I must be off,” and then he disappears with the sound of the watch clicking closed, taking his tea and the fake script with him.

The entire encounter leaves Shiro feeling uncomfortably on edge, and he’s less than surprised by the other god’s sudden exit. He shouldn’t feel so thrown by a visit from Coran, who is a dear friend, but there’s something uneasy about this attempt from him to get Shiro back to the astral plane. He didn’t even try to mention Kuron for once.

With a huff, Shiro grabs his notebook and pen and leaves the cafe, determined to not waste this day away on anything else. He needs to get some ideas collected together by the end of the week, that’s been his goal, and he’s almost wasted half of that time.

Shiro decides a change of scenery is in order to shake himself of Coran’s words and get his creative process going. After taking a 1 train downtown to the West Village, he just walks. He sees where his legs take him today through the city and lets himself get lost in his thoughts as he crosses blocks and cuts through Washington Square Park, making a quick diversion up to Bagel Bob’s because he deserves it and NYU students are still out for break making the area just a little bit less overrun.

He’s still fairly new to living in the city, only entering his fifth year since settling here, but Shiro still feels fairly confident in his knowledge of the areas he frequents, and this is one of those places. After getting his bagel, he keeps going on his eastward walk and swings down to St. Marks. He’s walked up and down this street more times than he can count at all hours of the day, so he’s seen which storefronts and restaurants have come and gone. Except for today something is different.

There’s a set of stairs down to a door he’s seen a hundred times with no sign of any business, so he almost walks past it completely as usual, but today there’s a small sign on the door that says BOOKS and the window on the door has another sign turned around that reads open. He doesn’t think twice before turning to go down the stairs and into the store.

A bell jingles as Shiro pushes the door and lets it close behind him. The space is a decent size filled with bookshelves along the walls and in rows offering one-person’s-body width of space in between. A voice carries from somewhere beyond an open door behind the front desk saying “Welcome, be there in a sec!”

“Thank you!” Shiro replies as he starts to gingerly walk through the store, wary of his surroundings so he doesn’t accidentally knock anything over. Some of the shelves look like one breeze through the front door could send them tumbling to the ground in a nightmare domino effect scenario.

Maybe it’s fate, but he finds himself in front of the section with a handwritten label stating erotica, and Shiro’s eyes quickly drift along the spines of used books before he finds a few copies of his works. He can’t help but pull one of them out and leaf through.

“Bold to look at erotica at a used bookstore,” the voice from earlier says, and it’s very closeby. “You never know where they’ve been.”

Shiro lets out a chuckle before closing the book and turning in the direction of the voice’s owner. It’s a good voice, and then Shiro is struck by how good the person behind it looks as well. There’s a man with his arms crossed looking at Shiro with a smirk, the low lighting of the store manages to catch the deep eyes behind black-rimmed glasses, adding to the mildly teasing look on his face. A scar runs along one cheek, and Shiro has the urge to trace it gently with his fingers. His dark hair is in a braid thrown across one shoulder, and it sits against his chest, under one of the crossed arms. He’s beautiful, and as a god of love, Shiro knows very much what he’s about by being immediately taken by him.

“Well,” Shiro finally manages to find his voice after being drawn into the other man. “I would also say that a used bookstore is bold to sell erotica books in the first place as well. You don’t know where they’ve been either.”

“Actually,” attractive braid man starts, “I do know exactly where that book in your hands has been.”

“Really?” Shiro looks back down at the cover of the book in his hands with his own name written across the bottom.

“It’s my own copy,” he replies with a smile that’s becoming more mischievous as he speaks.

“Is it?” Shiro doesn’t let the admission take him by surprise and keeps his expression as neutral as possible. “So what’s your name so I can have some information on the previous owner of the book?”

“Keith,” the other man answers.

“Well, Keith, is this your store?” Shiro asks.

“It is.”

“Is this just where you resell your own personal library?”

Keith laughs. “No, just a few things from my own shelves are on the store’s floor.”

“And why is this one for sale?” Shiro asks, extremely interested in knowing the answer. “Not a fan?”

“Actually, pretty much the opposite,” Keith says, and Shiro can’t stop one of his eyebrows raising in question. “I actually really like that author, and I just ended up with an extra copy of that book. Figured I could sell the spare.”

“Interesting, I also have a couple copies of this one at home,” Shiro wants to feel proud of himself at how much he’s keeping it together right now.

“You’re a fan as well?” Keith asks.

“You could say that.”

“And what did you say your name was?” Keith follows up, a look of worry quickly passes through his face before returning to the light smile he’s been wearing during their conversation.

“I didn’t actually say my name,” Shiro says, “but the book cover does.” He holds up the book to face Keith and lets himself indulge in a deep impish smile.

Keith’s mouth makes a silent oh as his eyes move back and forth between Shiro’s face and the book. Shiro takes pity on the fact he toyed with Keith like this and puts his hand out to shake. “But please call me Shiro.”

He warily takes Shiro’s hand. “I thought you looked familiar, but…” Keith pauses, their hands are still clasped together, neither man letting go quite yet. “Do you look for your books in all stores across the city?”

“Only if the store looks interesting…” Shiro trails off in his response, and he knows there’s a matching smile on his face to the one that Keith is wearing. He gives Keith’s slim hand a squeeze before taking his back. “And I think I might go ahead and buy this one.”

“Why?” confusion crosses Keith’s face.

“Just feels like a nice addition to the collection.”

The book is still in Shiro’s hand, and Keith moves quickly to snatch it out of Shiro’s hold. He thinks the store owner is taking the book back in annoyance. Keith walks through the shelves to the small front desk and looks at the cost of the book written on the pricing sticker before Shiro even has the opportunity to react and follow him.

“Change your mind?” Keith asks, looking over the tops of his glasses as Shiro makes his way up to the desk.

“Definitely not,” Shiro replies, pulling out the exact change to buy the book and placing it on the counter.

“Would you like the book in a bag or wrapped?”

“I’ll take it just like this,” Shiro smiles. The copy is a small trade paperback, so he’s able to slide it in the inside pocket of his jacket.

“Thanks for your business, Shiro,” Keith says, leaning forward on the desk, resting his weight on his elbows.

“My pleasure,” he gives a small nod. “I’ll be back.”

“I hope so,” comes Keith’s gentle reply, barely audible over the sound of the creaking door and its bell when Shiro pushes it open. He throws a quick glance over his shoulder to look at Keith one more time, and the man is staring back.

---

Shiro really did fully intend on returning to the store the following day, but when he got home from his encounter with one very beautiful bookstore owner, there was a feeling crackling through his skin. He needed to get it out, so Shiro took a seat at his desk and managed to bash out several thousand words starting his next book. Shiro also really, truly, intended for the story between the two characters to be a semi-slow build leading to something smoldering, but the energy that was burning through him also released itself in changing the story to start off with the main characters going at it right away. Who was he to deprive his characters of fucking? The drive to write that was probably (definitely) a result of Keith kept Shiro at home the following day, writing as much as he could on this wave.

Every so often, Shiro would take a break to lean back in his desk chair, eyes closed, and replay the entire encounter with Keith. Why was he so drawn to this human? This had never happened before with him, and all the spare moments in his thoughts were infiltrated with black Warby Parker frames and a long braid. Maybe it was because the man admitted to being a fan of his writing? Shiro had met other fans of his books before, of course, because he’d been subjected to the occasional publisher required signing event, but none of those humans had ever made Shiro want to pull them across the desk separating them and putting Shiro’s centuries of experience overwatching love to use.

Now two days have passed since Shiro stepped foot into the tiny bookstore and set eyes on Keith, and the heat in Shiro transformed into a hammering need to see that man. Shiro spent all morning trying to get his appearance into line, even though he didn’t need to do much, he took as long as possible in order to just waste time until it felt appropriate to head downtown.

It’s a little past noon when Shiro gets to Astor Place, and even though he doesn’t want to go in, he bargains with himself that getting a coffee at the Starbucks for himself and one for Keith will be worth it. And if Shiro takes a brief dip into his godly powers just to find out how Keith takes his coffee, well, it’s harmless.

Two cups in hand, Shiro walks as quickly as possible, weaving between people when the sidewalks turn narrow after crossing Third Avenue. He wants to play it cool, but a smile plasters itself on his face as he jumps down the stairs and uses his shoulder to push the store’s door open.

This time he doesn’t have to wait for Keith to appear as the man is sitting behind the front desk. His mouth opens to offer a standard greeting, but then upon seeing who it was that just walked in, he bites his bottom lip and lets out a small laugh. It’s the best thing Shiro has ever seen and the best thing he’s ever heard.

Shiro does a quick look around the store and this time there are a few other customers looking through the packed shelves. At first, Shiro wants to be annoyed that they aren’t alone in the store, but his desire for Keith’s business to flourish is stronger. Shiro does really like this tiny store.

“For you,” Shiro announces and places the coffee in his left hand down. He lifts the cup in his right hand to his lips and takes a sip while watching Keith.

Keith keeps biting his lip with a smile as he gently pops the top off the cup to look inside. “What is this?” he asks.

“A soy vanilla latte,” Shiro replies taking another drink from his cup as nonchalantly as possible.

Keith’s eyes narrow. “That’s my usual, how did you know?”

“A lucky guess,” Shiro shrugs and then leans onto the desk, getting himself into Keith’s space. He expects the man to move back or flinch, but he just hums in thought as Shiro nears.

“Sure,” Keith sound skeptical and closes the cup. “If I die, tell the police author Takashi Shirogane poisoned me!” Keith leans around Shiro and yells this at the customers in his store. Their heads turn to look at Shiro and Keith briefly before they go back to their own business.

“Wow, you really trust me,” Shiro deadpans while Keith takes a small sip.

“Well, I just met you two days ago, and you somehow guessed my exact coffee order,” Keith shifts to rest his head on his propped up arm and meets Shiro’s eyes. It makes Shiro feel warm. “But you are also a fairly well-known author in your genre, so that makes me a little less, hmm, concerned.”

“You keep up with who’s popular in erotica?” Shiro asks, smile wide.

“I keep up with all the genres I can, it’s part of my job,” Keith sets his coffee down and gestures at the store. “I know your last book is still on the New York Times bestseller list. I know Dr. Slav’s book on parallel universes is the top book in the sciences right now. Senator Zarkon’s book that came out last month has been number one in non-fiction and overall since its release.”

“You know your books,” Shiro admits, impressed.

“Like I said,” Keith says, “It’s part of my job.” He resumes drinking the coffee, much to Shiro’s pleasure.

“And what brought you to this job?” Shiro lazily waves a hand around to gesture at the store behind him.

Keith places his cup on the desk again, looking down at it while running a finger around the edge of the lid. “Living out a dream,” he eventually says.

“Always dreamt of being bookstore owner?” Shiro thinks it’s cute.

“No,” Keith says the word like a snap, making Shiro tense. Keith stills his finger’s movement but maintains his gaze on the cup. “My dad’s. He couldn’t be around to see to it, so my mom and I did.”

“Oh,” Shiro lets out quietly. “Well, it looks like you did a good job.”

“Thanks, I hope so,” Keith replies with the same volume Shiro had just used. Keith shifts slightly in the chair he’s seated on behind the desk, and when he looks back up at Shiro, his face has the expression from their first encounter. He’s slipped himself out of the heavy direction of the conversation, and Shiro understands that. “So, are you just hanging around bookstores these days or what?” he asks with playful mocking.

“Only the Union Square Barnes and Noble when I have to do a signing,” Shiro grins. “And the stores where I like the owner.”

Keith laughs, and while Shiro is pleased by the sound, he relishes the sight of a blush coming to Keith’s cheeks. “Well, I still don’t want to be the reason your publisher and agent get mad you for missing deadlines.”

“Is it that or do you just want the next book,” Shiro narrows his eyes at Keith, pointing his finger accusingly.

“You’ve found me out,” Keith adds with a soft laugh. “I mean, of course, I want to read your next round of creative fucking.”

“There are other ways to find out,” Shiro’s voice dips darker.

“Yeah?”

“Excuse me?” Shiro and Keith are broken out of the bubble they’d pulled themselves inside by a customer holding a small stack of books in their hands.

“I’m so sorry, are you ready to check out?” Keith asks, and he pushes Shiro away from the desk. Through the layers of coat and shirts, Shiro can feel the touch down to his skin and into his body. He can’t decide if it’s because he just really likes Keith or there’s something bigger and more cosmic at play, but he takes a deep breath as if it can somehow draw more of the feeling into himself.

Shiro moves back and lets Keith work. “I’ll see you later,” salutes at Keith with a look on intent on his face. Keith looks confused for a moment but then offers a wave back before noting the price of the first book in the customer’s stack.

He wants Keith, Shiro knows this for sure. It’s a new feeling. It’s what is fueling all his writing these days. Every dirty thing he wrote over the last day might have been with his characters, but in his head, he could only see Keith in all those ways as well.

---

Every fiber of Shiro’s human body wants to just ask Keith out, but the foreignness of actually wanting someone keeps him back. Instead, he goes to the bookstore almost every day and talks to Keith. Their conversations go between critiques of restaurants on St. Marks to Keith picking Shiro’s brain about writing. Delving too deep into personal information happens occasionally, and Shiro is fine with that. He has a backstory for himself, it’s a short and simple one albeit a little sad, but it’s not really easy finding a way to explain you were born of the universe and have no true parents. At least when he says he has a brother who doesn’t live in the area he’s kind of telling the truth. He does have a brother, and that brother definitely lives far, far from New York City, let alone the tristate area.

Shiro always leaves the store with a new book or two in hand, and when he gets home he adds them to his pile of I Really Will Read Them One Day But I’m Immortal So Like It’s Fine I Have Time books. Freshly charged from an hour or so spent with Keith, Shiro sits down with his laptop and works on his next project. Things are going so much faster now that he apparently has found a muse of sorts in Keith, and with this, Shiro realizes the tone of his writing has taken a softer turn. For a brief moment, he wonders if this will piss off his agent and publisher to proceed down a different path compared to his previous books, but he can’t really be bothered to care. Shiro feels content with what he’s writing; he feels happy.

The fact Keith hasn’t jumped the line either to ask Shiro out surprises him, but maybe he doesn’t really get to feel any way about that since he can’t even bring himself to ask the question. It’s been a couple weeks now since the first time Shiro and Keith entered each others’ lives, and Shiro walks into the store wondering if today will be any different.

“Welcome, be there in a sec!” Keith yells from the back much like the first time Shiro stepped foot into the store.

“Just me!” Shiro yells back.

“I’ll take my time then!” Keith responds, and Shiro swears he can hear the smile in the man’s voice.

Shiro grins to himself and uses the time to explore some more of the store. It may not be a large space, but Keith seems to be getting steady business and turns around contents on the shelves fairly often. Shiro keeps finding new books. Walking slowly to both avoid knocking into anything and to read the spines, Shiro gets lost in his head a bit. He stops in front of a shelf with history books and starts pulling off random ones to find inspiration for another of his books down the line. Head bent reading a page about the Cuban Missile Crisis, Shiro has almost no time to react when he hears Keith yell followed by a crash. In that split second, Shiro manages to throw himself into action enough to reach behind for his bow. An arrow materializes into his hand, but before the bow can join, something heavy hits Shiro’s back and knocks him to the ground. Throwing his arms out in an attempt to catch himself, the arrow falls out of his hand, and Shiro feels himself fall on it, the edges pushing through his shirt and poking into his chest lightly.

Fuck.

“Kosmo, no!” he hears Keith’s voice and then the weight on top of him is gone. Shiro touches the bow again to make it disappear, but he keeps his eyes shut tightly. He’s never been hit with his own arrows, but he knows that they are powerful enough to even affect gods. The question is if he was struck by the arrow enough for it to truly take effect. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” Keith’s hands are on Shiro then, trying to turn him over.

Shiro throws an arm over his face and goes where Keith moves him, lying on his back. Breathing hard from a result of the sudden action and slight nerves as to what will happen when he opens his eyes, Shiro remains on the floor. “It’s fine,” he manages to gasp out.

“Oh, no, you’re bleeding,” Keith groans with guilt, and then a hand his pressing down on Shiro’s chest. He gasps, but not from pain, but that same warm feeling he got the previous time when Keith touched him. “I’m sorry!” Keith cries and Shiro can tell from the movement that he’s recoiled back. “I’m so sorry, my dog, he got excited. I didn’t know he would—”

“Keith,” Shiro tries to cut off Keith’s frantic talking.

“I’m sorry,” one more sad apology comes out of Keith’s mouth.

“I’ll be fine, just, do what you need, I’ll be up in a second,” Shiro hopes it will spur Keith to move away.

“You’re not fine if you can’t even get up right now!” Keith cries, “I can clean up the knocked down shelves later.”

Shiro closes his eyes tight one more time and sighs. “I’m fine, see.” And then Shiro moves his arm from his face and pushes his hands on the floor to lift himself up. He keeps his eyes narrowly open and on the floor, trying to seem like he’s watching his footing.

“Are you sure?” Keith grabs Shiro’s wrist and bicep in an attempt to steady him, and the shock of the touch causes Shiro to look at Keith.

The result is devastating.

Each point of contact of Keith’s hands on Shiro feels like the most welcome warmth of a fire on a cold day, but when Shiro’s eyes settle on Keith’s face, he’s gone. Every emotion he had in regards to Keith slams to the front of his mind and amplifies itself to a scream in Shiro’s head. He’s beautiful. He’s smart. He’s determined. I want to be under him. I want him to be under me. I want him. It’s so much that Shiro feels like if he tries to talk right now, he’s just going to choke on this sensation of, oh fuck, love.

“Shiro?” Keith says his name questioningly with worry on the end.

“Go out with me?” Shiro stumbles out, and the words leave his mouth before he can even fully grasp them.

“What?” Keith looks even more confused.

“Please? Tonight. After you close, let me take you out,” Shiro doesn’t know where this is coming from. Sure, he knew this would possibly be something he’d ask Keith at some point. Their interactions seemed to be going in that direction. But this was not what he had in mind.

“I feel like I should be asking you that,” Keith says, face softening slightly.

“Why?”

“Because my dog just plowed you down in the middle of my store,” Keith relaxes another fraction with a laugh.

“But I asked you first,” Shiro replies, pouting.

“I would never say no to you,” Keith laughs, squeezing Shiro’s arm. Shiro had forgotten all about Keith’s touch when he became overwhelmed with his sight, but now the sensation of Keith flows through Shiro, molten hot. It makes Shiro stumble in place where he’s standing, which causes Keith to hold on to him tighter.

Shiro bites his lip, barely containing a groan of desire sitting on the edge of his throat. “You wouldn’t?”

“No,” Keith shakes his head. “I mean, other than liking your writing...there’s something about you, Shiro.” He lets out another laugh. Did Keith’s laugh always sound like soft chiming bells and a songbird? He liked Keith’s laugh before this, but now he loved it. Shiro realizes what he’s thinking and tries to close his eyes to clear his head.

“Keith, I need to, it’s not your fault, I just...have to take care of something. But I’ll be back tonight, I promise. I’m taking you out,” Shiro hopes the promise in his voice is apparent.

“Are you hurt? Do you need something checked?” Keith’s voice is so full of worry it makes Shiro swell with thankfulness that someone like this is in his life, but Shiro keeps trying to kick himself to remember that what he’s feeling comes at least in part from the arrow.

Still, he opens his eyes to look at Keith. “I promise, I’m fine, really. Just some things I need to do.” He hesitates before taking a step forward and lifting his hand to just barely glide across Keith’s cheek scar with his thumb, letting heat lick his hand at the touch.

Keith blinks slowly, and Shiro watches the other man’s throat work as he swallows. A new set of images flash through Shiro’s mind, and he drops his hand. “Okay,” he says with a light shake to his voice.

“I’ll see you tonight,” Shiro then has to force himself to turn away and leave Keith. He feels terrible for running away, not even being able to stay long enough to help with the store cleanup, but he needs to get away.

Once the door closes behind him, Shiro bends over with his hands on his knees trying to steady himself. Yes, he should just try and get home as calmly as possible right now, but Shiro doesn’t think he’s capable of thinking rationally. All he wants to do is turn around, go back into the store, take Keith into his arms and declare his undying love. Maybe whisk him away to the astral plane for eternity.

“Oh, what the fuck, Shirogane,” he whispers to himself when his thoughts process on a delay. Taking a look around, it’s in Shiro’s favor that he’s below the main sidewalk level and no one will notice if one moment there is a tall man with silver hair looking like he’s about to pass out and the next moment he’s gone. So, Shiro closes his eyes, and when he opens them, he’s in the living room of his apartment.

Immediately going towards his couch, Shiro collapses into it, face first but still conscientious enough to have his legs dangle off the arm and not let his shoes make contact with the furniture.

Sighing, he really doesn’t want to do this, but, alas. “Kuron, I hate this, but I could use your help,” it comes out muffled as he speaks into the pillow that caught his face’s fall. Seconds tick by, and if he’s not there already, Shiro assumes his brother won’t make an appearance.

“How did you fuck up?” the voice comes from Shiro’s right where a there’s winged armchair in his living room, and Shiro groans knowing that it now has his brother seated upon it. “Why are you groaning, you asked me here,” and now Kuron sounds annoyed.

“I’m sorry, thank you for coming,” Shiro says this into the pillow but then turns his head to look at the other god. “Good to see you, brother.”

“It’s only been, what, a few hundred years? I believe this land was still not even invaded back then,” Kuron points out the window overlooking Riverside Park.

Shiro and Kuron were born of the universe at the same time and represent the two sides of love. While Shiro is desire and his arrow’s mark falls in love, Kuron is mutual love and his arrows only work to complement Shiro’s. They both resented that with time. Shiro still used his now and then, but Kuron had no use for his arrows. Kuron chose to focus his powers on unrequited love and meddled with spurned lovers. Neither of them had particularly shining moral powers, honestly, even though they represented something that was supposed to be pure and good, but they tried to be better than their younger selves in recent centuries.

It also was fitting that their appearances were similar. For the most part, they looked the exact same in face and build. Their eyes were steel grey, a scar across both of their noses from a fight when they were new gods, and their right arms were both made of shining metal. Coran long ago explained to them that the arms were for the easy creation of their arrows, but Shiro honestly never paid attention to the whole lecture as the god of time droned on. It wasn’t his fault that Coran chose to lay all this information on them during the first mere hours of their existence, so the brothers just shrugged and moved on with eternal life.

But instead of silver hair styled into an undercut like Shiro, Kuron’s hair was long and black with a streak of silver, and it was pulled back into a loose bun. He was wearing a slightly oversized black coat, tight jeans, and Doc Martens.

“You should have told me you live in Williamsburg these days,” Shiro comments looking Kuron up and down.

Shiro.”

“The L shutdown is really going to fuck you over soon. Regret living off the Bedford stop?” Shiro keeps joking, he can’t help it, and at least part of it is from rising nerves at seeing his brother after so long.

“I don’t live in Williamsburg, you asshole,” Kuron rolls his eyes. “I’m back on the astral plane these days. You wouldn’t know. So, do you need me here or not? Or are you just going to move on to asking which themed bar I like best.”

Shiro gasps. “Let’s go to Full Circle and play skee ball!”

“What is wrong with you?” Kuron rolls his eyes again and crosses his arms in the chair.

“It’s stupid.”

“Nice, you sound like your 100-year-old self again.”

“I’ve possibly done something stupid, and I need your help…” Shiro reluctantly admits.

“Can you at least sit up while you talk to me? It’s been 400 years after all,” Kuron asks, and Shiro supposes that’s fair.

After pulling himself up to sit on the couch properly, it somehow feels worse to look at his brother at this angle. The level of desperation that Shiro is in suddenly comes crashing down on him.

“I’m in love,” Shiro states simply. “I think.”

“I know.”

“What?” Shiro frowns.

“Brother, please,” Kuron leans back in the chair, resting his head on the back and turning his gaze to the ceiling. “I’m mutual love. I know these things.”

“Whatever,” Shiro mutters. “Wait, how though?”

“Because it’s mutual,” Kuron responds. “Well, not quite yet. I can tell it’s currently stronger on your side, but the capacity is there for it to be shared by the other. A Keith, is it? Honestly, I want to be surprised you’ve fallen this hard for a human, but you’ve softened so much over the centuries. Except for this.” A copy of Shiro’s last book appears in the hand that Kuron holds up.

There is far too much that Shiro wants to address in what Kuron just said, but he remembers to focus in on the Keith part of this and not his brother’s thoughts on Shiro’s published erotica. “How do you know about Keith? And it...can be requited?”

“Shiro, do you, like, retain anything? Other than fucking?” Kuron waves the book around. “God of mutual love? I just know.”

“Except you don’t know all of it,” Shiro sighs.

“What don’t I know?” Kuron frowns.

“I got struck by one of my arrows,” Shiro mumbles it just a little bit out of shame.

“You did what,” Kuron’s eyebrows shoot up. “Your own arrows?” His voice is barely containing a laugh.

“But, I liked Keith before this happened. I was already interested,” Shiro tries to explain.

“And so, what, you thought shooting yourself with an arrow would help?” this time Kuron doesn’t stop his laughter.

“It was an accident!” Shiro cries. “Can you help me out, please? I know it’s been a while, but, Kuron. I like him.”

His brother’s face softens. Gods have fallen in love with mortals before. One of the last times Shiro went to the astral plane was when all the gods were convened for Allura, the god of light, when she was making a statement to allow the man she’d fallen in love with on Earth to become immortal with her. Lance had seemed like a good man, a soldier in one of the many wars going on at the time. Shiro and Kuron were the ultimate judges in the decision and both agreed that the relationship was true and good, and Lance was given the drink of quintessence to make him immortal. He hoped the couple was doing well.

“I guess the fact you already liked him works in your favor, but all those feelings are probably just being amplified,” Kuron muses while tugging at a loose strand of hair. “Do you want me to use one of my arrows to help speed up the process?”

“No!” Shiro shakes his head furiously. “I just want to not have the effects of the arrow anymore.”

“So, how have you gotten rid of them in others before?”

“I haven’t.”

“Huh,” Kuron’s initial amusement simmers down. “You need to stay away from him for a few days while we figure this out.”

“I can’t,” Shiro put his head in his hands. “I’m supposed to take him on a date tonight.”

“You need to postpone,” Kuron frowns.

“I can’t...I’m going to the store he owns when he closes. I don’t have his number…” Shiro realizes how dumb that is as he tells his brother.

“Shiro,” Kuron starts, and Shiro prepares himself for a berating. “It is the 21st century out there, and you somehow managed to ask a man out before even getting his phone number.”

“I mean I could get it now and text him,” Shiro offers weakly.

“Yeah, sure, good, use your powers to get his number and call him but then explain how you found it,” Kuron scoffs.

“Wait!” Shiro has a sudden realization and pulls out his phone. “I can call the store!”

“Finally, you’re thinking again,” Kuron sighs.

Except when Shiro opens the internet browser, he just stares at the screen. “I can’t do this.”

“What?”

“Kuron, he looked so upset when I ran away, and I promised I’d be back tonight. I can’t hurt him like this,” Shiro feels like he could cry just thinking about upsetting Keith and doing anything to make it worse. Part of this reaction is definitely his own, but that arrow makes Shiro want to melt into a puddle of sadness at the prospect of Keith being distraught.

“Shiro—” Kuron tries to start talking him out of this spiral, but Shiro refuses.

“No, I have to go on this date. I’m going. It’s happening,” he declares and pushes himself up from the couch.

“Gods,” Kuron mutters as Shiro walks determinedly to the bathroom, flinging off clothes because he needs to take a shower now to start getting ready. “When’s the date?” Kuron asks, trailing along.

“He closes the shop at 8.”

“It’s only noon right now.”

“Yeah,” Shiro turns on the water in the shower and reaches a hand under to quickly test the temperature. “So?”

Kuron’s eyes go wide for a moment before he sighs at Shiro. “I’m going to go talk to the others.”

“Why?” Shiro feels skeptical that any of the other gods will be helpful right now. He just needs to get his emotions in line, he’s only overreacting from the arrow a little bit. He’s about to throw the last of his clothes off to get into the shower when what he’s doing hits him. “I’m getting ready for a date that’s in 8 hours.”

“Yes, you are,” Kuron’s earlier amusement has returned.

Shiro shuts off the shower and puts his head in hands. “Just, go talk to the others.”

---

Frankly, Shiro is extremely proud of himself for getting through the day when all he wanted to do was either jump up and run to Keith’s store or to start preparing for the date extremely early. Writing had managed to become enough a distraction to get through the hours of waiting until it was a reasonable time to finally take that shower Shiro tried to jump into when Kuron was still there.

Shiro turned everything he was feeling about Keith into words, and if they weren’t the best words, he was just trying to get them down as he could. Being around Keith had been helping so much that Shiro managed to finish the next book he owed to his publisher, and now he was deep into writing the following one. His agent, Iverson, would collapse from shock once he finally called him and revealed how much work he’d gotten done. Shiro can already hear the probable conversation.

“I finished the book and started on the next one.”

“Are you on drugs?”

“Is love a drug?”

“How did you get cocaine?”

Shiro laughs to himself at the imagined exchange while setting the knot on his tie. Once satisfied with his hair carefully styled and an outfit of a black sweater over a dark grey shirt and white tie, Shiro throws on his coat and leaves the apartment with a slight skip in his step. Yes, he’s worried that he’s still yet to hear back from Kuron, but he’s got a date to distract him from the fact he’s waiting on his brother to tell to him how to fix that he’s kind of impossibly in love with the person he’s going on said date with. It’s fine, Shiro tells himself for the hundredth time.

He’s on his usual path to see Keith walking through Washington Square Park when a voice he hasn’t heard in a while pops up at his side.

“So, you found love?” Shiro flinches and looks to his right where the god of the forests, Pidge, has started to casually walk alongside him as if she most definitely did not just appear out of nowhere.

“You talked to Kuron, I guess,” Shiro tries to remain casual about the whole situation.

“I think it’s more surprising that you spoke with him, honestly,” Pidge then places a punch to Shiro’s left arm. She’s always been punchy. “Come by once and awhile, Shirogane!” She’s short, her head has only ever come up to just barely above his elbow, and her hair has always been a short and wild brown, with sharp eyes. She didn’t have the round glasses the last time Shiro saw her, and he makes a note to ask her about them one day. But he does notice that she’s taken to the fashion of this time period fairly well with a bright green shirt under a dark brown leather bomber jacket, her jeans artfully ripped in the right spots.

“It’s so weird when you call me that,” Shiro frowns.

Pidge lets out a laugh, and it’s one of those sounds you swear you can sense flowers and branches of trees turning towards. Shiro feels the rustle of the roots in the earth from plants in the park moving in the direction of the god that watches over them. A few humans turn their heads to look at plants with confusion and then second guess themselves on what they think just happened. Undisturbed, Pidge grabs Shiro’s arm and drags him over to one of the benches on the outer path of the park. It’s dark out but there’s still commotion going on around them. The sound of performers over by the fountain can be heard where they’re sitting, and it looks like another set of performers is setting up by the arch.

“So, are you here to tell me what the gods concluded?” Shiro asks.

Pidge shakes her head. “No, we’ve all been trying to decide what to do since Kuron told us earlier.”

“Shouldn’t you still be there, then?”

“Nah,” Pidge smiles. “I wanted to come bother you a bit first.”

Shiro can’t help but soften at that. He cares for the other god deeply, and he’d spent quite a bit of time with her both on the astral plane and during explorations on Earth long ago.

“Well, you have me for exactly ten minutes,” Shiro leans back into the bench.

“I can’t believe you went and hit yourself with one of your own arrows, Shiro,” Pidge pulls her legs up and leans against the metal arm separating the next section of the bench.

“It was an accident, I already had to explain myself to Kuron,” Shiro deflates at having to go through this again, less than 24 hours since the incident.

“But you were already interested in this human?”

“Yes.”

Pidge remains silent for a moment, eyes leveled on Shiro. Behind the glasses, her brown eyes match the earthen tones she represents and presides over. “Then are you sure the arrow worked on you?”

WHAT?” Shiro yells, which he really did not mean to, but it happens and causes a few heads to turn.

“If you already liked the human, how do you know the arrow is working for sure and it’s not just how you feel?”

Shiro shakes his head hard. “No way. One moment I was interested in him, wanted to take my time with him. I wanted to get to know him and then ask him out.”

“And now?”

“Well,” Shiro lowers his voice and pretends to pick at something on his jacket. “Well, now when I look at him I want to both drag him back to my bed and also the astral plane to ask him to spend eternity with me.”

“The astral plane? Yeah, it’s the arrow,” Pidge finally agrees, throwing her head back to look up at the sky. “I guess Allura and Kuron will think of something.”

“What are they working on for this?”

“Something,” Pidge replies thoughtfully but won’t look back over at Shiro. “You’ll see.”

“Can you please not be cryptic with me, Pidge?” Shiro pleads. He needs to know there’s something that can undo his accident.

“Just go enjoy your date, loverboy, and then we’ll deal with it,” Pidge turns her head back down to Shiro with a smile.

“You’re much more mellow about this than I would have thought,” Shiro admits.

“Shiro, you are the god of love and in the millenia of your existence, you’ve never once taken anyone as a true lover of any form. All you do is write about it these days,” Pidge’s face is somewhere between fond and amused saying this. “It’s actually embarrassing that the god of desire has taken fewer companions than the god of mutual love, the supposed softer and kinder half.”

“Okay, but Kuron also helps out with spurned lovers,” Shiro tries to defend himself by pointing out that Kuron’s not that great either.

“It doesn’t matter,” Pidge waves him off. “I’m just saying it’s nice to see that you’re interested in someone.” When Shiro doesn’t react, she starts to stretch out and stand up from the bench.

“I don’t want to fuck this up with him,” Shiro makes the admission quietly while looking down at his hands.

“You won’t,” Pidge pats his head, and he half-heartedly tries to tell her off for messing up his hair, causing them both to laugh. “Now, go on this date and keep it together.”

Shiro smiles at her right before a strong gust of wind shakes the empty tree branches, and then she’s gone.

With his steps feeling lighter, Shiro gets to the bookstore right when Keith is walking up to the door to turn the open sign to the closed side.

“You came,” Keith sounds surprised when he pulls the door open for Shiro.

“I promised,” Shiro smiles. He can’t help it and puts an arm around Keith’s waist, pulling him close and spinning them around together. It makes a shocked laugh spill from Keith’s mouth, and he places one of his hands on Shiro’s chest.

“What’s gotten into you?” Keith asks, moving his head back to look up at Shiro so their eyes meet. “You were always so...not this?”

“I was what?”

“Cool.”

“Are you saying I’m not cool now?” Shiro gasps with fake offense. It makes Keith let out another one of his small laughs.

“I’m on the fence now,” Keith says thoughtfully, which earns him what can only be described as a playful boop to his nose from Shiro. “I’ve decided now, you’re not cool,” Keith laughs in response.

Shiro rolls his eyes and tries to change the subject. “So, where do you want to go tonight?”

“Are you telling me Mr. Erotica Author doesn’t even have a plan for a date?” Keith teases.

“I’ve been...preoccupied,” Shiro tries to explain.

“With what?”

Shiro spends maybe a second weighing the options before leaning his head forward so he speaks into Keith’s ear. “There’s so much I want to do to you,” he lets out a deep breath and lets the hand on Keith’s hip move lower. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it all, so I wrote it.” He pulls back and Keith’s eyes are wide and dark.

“You wrote it?”

Shiro hums. “Let’s just say you’re inspiring some things for my next book, baby.” Shiro feels the shiver that goes through Keith’s body. Good. But then the pull of the arrow’s influence washes over Shiro causing images he tried to push out of his mind swim into the forefront—images of Keith he’d had to turn into his characters on pages. It makes Shiro’s grip on Keith become tighter where his hand is covering part of Keith’s ass. He wants so much, and it looks like Keith does as well, especially when the man’s hands come up to grip the lapels of Shiro’s peacoat.

They sway for a moment, staring, and it would be so, so easy to just...but he can’t. He wants, but the arrow is wreaking havoc with his emotions. Shiro takes a breath and moves his hands away from Keith suddenly, and before the look of disappointment can stick on Keith’s face, Shiro rushes to explain. “I want to take you out first.”

“First, yeah,” Keith still looks a bit on the dazed side and nods. “But second?”

“You’ll have to wait and see what’s second,” Shiro smiles. “So, what sounds good for first?”

“Want to line up for cronuts crazy early?” Keith doesn’t skip a beat before answering.

Shiro’s laugh is a harsh bark that forces itself out of him by sheer surprise at the suggestion. “Are they still that popular?”

“Actually, I think people moved on to rainbow bagels and cookie dough,” Keith tilts his head in thought. It makes his braid slip from where it rests on his shoulder, and Shiro can’t stop himself from gently taking a hold of it and slipping it back into place. Keith’s face softens at the move. “What do you want to do?” he asks.

“I don’t know…” Shiro trails off. “ Sex and the City walking tour?”

Now it’s Keith’s turn to laugh, and the sound is rough and surprised. “Seriously?”

“You’re right,” Shiro’s metal hand moves up to quickly swipe his thumb across Keith’s bottom lip, and he can feel Keith’s face twitch under his touch. “Want to get dinner?”

Keith chuckles. “Yeah, that’s a good start.”

With all the food options in front of them in the city, Shiro makes an executive decision as he watches Keith lock up the store. Keith asks where they’re going, but Shiro stays silent with a smirk and holds his hand as they walk a few blocks up. When Shiro pulls the door open for his chosen location, Keith gives a look of really but happily enters the restaurant.

And that’s how they end up sitting close together at the small area of stool seating in the corner of The Nugget Spot, splitting a small mountain of chicken nuggets and Shiro feeding a giggling Keith a forkful of mac and cheese. Shiro vaguely wonders how he ever thought he would never have such a perfect moment like this and that it was only reserved for the characters in his books and the humans his arrows hit.

It’s a weeknight and the restaurant is surprisingly not busy, just Shiro and Keith sitting in their corner and a guy with his Bose headphones bobbing his head to music at a table by the door.

“What do you think he’s listening to?” Keith asks nodding at the man, spearing into a chicken nugget with his plastic fork. It’s a little violent, but Shiro watches the action fondly.

“Beethoven’s Symphony Number 6,” Shiro shrugs with a fast glance over at the guy. “Or maybe Number 9.”

“You’re so weird,” Keith laughs.

“First you say I’m not cool, now you’re saying I’m weird,” Shiro pouts again. “I’m starting to think you don’t like me at all, Keith.”

“I do like you,” Keith looks Shiro straight in the eyes. “I like you very much. You’re just...surprising. Not what I expected?”

“What did you expect?”

“I don’t know,” Keith admits.

“You thought an erotica author has to be, like, wild or something? Mysterious? My AmEx black card doesn’t have any secret access to fetish clubs, if that’s what you were dreaming of,” Shiro raises his eyebrows.

Keith scowls as he finishes chewing. “That’s not what I was dreaming of at all, and I still can’t believe you paid for chicken nuggets with your black card.”

“Aww, baby, you were dreaming of me? And how else was I going to pay?” Shiro tries to make his tilted head seem innocent and curious. “Now eat up,” and he puts another forkful of mac and cheese up to Keith’s mouth.

“What were you like as a kid?” Keith asks.

Shiro takes a moment to contemplate his answer. He has a lot of prepared backstory for himself, but he’s rarely asked about what he was like as a child. In interviews they want to know about the accident story he’s fed the world about his arm, they ask about past relationships that might influence his writing; they ask what his family thinks about his flourishing career in writing porn. He always says the same things. The accident was a growing experience, a tragedy he has only learned to love himself better from over years and years. He cheekily smiles and says he’s not one to kiss and tell, so he wouldn’t ever write any of his own exploits into books. Are they fantasies, then he gets asks. Sometimes, he’ll answer, and Shiro can hear the online comments explode. He’ll feel deep guilt saying he lost his parents in that very accident since it’s the easy way to explain away that line of inquiry, but then he talks about how his twin brother is proud of Shiro for doing something that makes him happy.

But this, this is somehow new.

“I was…” Shiro tries to figure out how to transform being a young god to being a kid, and after a second, he realizes maybe it’s easier than he thought. “I was just wild. I was difficult to contain. I left people exasperated more than once, and don’t even get started on my brother and I together...we were just so carefree and happy to be alive. We were young and didn’t think about the consequences.”

“That sounds deep for kids,” Keith watches Shiro carefully.

“I guess so,” Shiro shrugs. “What about you?”

It’s Keith’s turn to get a slightly devious look on his face. “I was a terror,” he laughs. “We lived in Arizona, my parents and I, and then mom got a job up here, so we moved. Dad had to close up the small bookstore he ran out there. It was rough for him, but he loved and supported Mom so endlessly, he would follow her across the universe, I’m sure.” Keith’s smile becomes thoughtful. “He wanted to open one in New York eventually, too, but until then he joined the fire department since he had been a firefighter in Arizona before he met my mom…”

Shiro moves a hand to cover Keith’s that has clenched into a fist on the table. The touch makes Keith loosen.

“So you opened the store,” Shiro offers quietly.

“Yeah, so I opened the store,” Keith looks towards Shiro with a half-smile, eyes behind his glasses bright. It feels natural at this point to take a hold of Keith’s chin between his thumb and forefinger to pull their faces close and brush a kiss across the corner of Keith’s mouth. The faint taste of cheese and chili sauce lingers there, but it’s still warm and pleasant somehow. It makes Shiro laugh.

“Wanna leave?” he asks Keith.

“Yeah.”

They hold each others’ hand tightly as they walk through the few blocks of the city back to Keith’s store. They both live a train ride away, and at this moment, the proximity of the bookstore feels much, much better.

Shiro catches Keith’s hand as it goes to the light switch next to the door once they enter. The door closes leaving a small square of light from the window on it and filtered light from the closed blinds on the shop window shines in. Shiro mirrors his earlier move when he came to the store before the date by pulling Keith close to him with one arm. Their breathing is quiet, and Shiro feels a shiver go through Keith’s body. That slight tremble breaks everything Shiro has been trying to keep back, it cuts through the carefully separated emotions of the arrow and reality, and Shiro finally kisses Keith. If the soft touches he’d been stealing from Keith for the past weeks had been licking fire across his skin, this was falling into pure lava. Shiro feels like he is burning in the best way. His breath hitches and Keith’s hands come up to grip Shiro’s coat lapels.

“There’s the backroom,” Keith murmurs, breaking away momentarily. Shiro nods and follows Keith as he walks them back and around the front desk to the doorway behind it. Shiro runs his tongue across the top of Keith’s mouth, and the sound it causes in the man completely does away with what little restraint still lived within Shiro. They don’t make it to that backroom. Shiro pushes Keith towards the desk and lifts him onto it, Keith taking his cue and using one of his arms to help push himself up as well. His legs are quick to wrap around Shiro’s waist.

Shiro keeps running his hands up and down Keith’s sides as they kiss, eventually pulling off their coats and tossing them to the side. Keith’s sweater goes next allowing Shiro to move his mouth down Keith’s jaw and neck while Keith grips Shiro’s hair in his hands. Every small sound that comes out of Keith’s mouth is a victory for Shiro.

When Shiro goes to remove his shirt after Keith throws his own in the direction of the cookbook shelves, Keith covers Shiro’s hands with his own, shaking his head while biting his lip. Raising his eyebrows, Shiro watches as Keith pulls Shiro’s shirt out from where it is tucked into his pants and slowly starts undoing buttons starting from the bottom. When he reaches the top button, he loosens Shiro’s tie, not removing it, and then uses it to pull Shiro down back to his lips.

Smiling into the kiss, Shiro asks, “May I?” with a brush of his hand over Keith’s pants where he can feel the man growing hard.

“Only if I can too,” Keith responds, his hands also going to the button of Shiro’s pants.

Once Keith is naked and Shiro only has his tie left on—Keith finally decided to toss the shirt as well—Shiro puts his flesh hand on the small of Keith’s back, pushing him forward closer to the edge of the desk and where Shiro stands in between his legs. Keith keeps one hand holding Shiro’s tie and the other gripping the back of Shiro’s hair. The move allows them to rub against each other, Keith thrusting lightly against Shiro.

Shiro pulls back from their kiss with a wet pop that rings through the silent and dark store. Keith’s eyes are wide behind his glasses, shining with want and need.

“Keith,” he breathes out and then places a kiss on Keith’s temple. “Fuck.”

“Yeah,” it’s all Keith manages to say, sliding the hand clutching Shiro’s tie down his chest and abs before taking a hold of Shiro, who gasps and pulls back to look at Keith’s face again.

Shiro watches mesmerized as Keith’s deft hands move on him, stopping to squeeze and run fingertips along the bottom to draw out any sounds from Shiro. Keith’s hand is soft with a few rough spots from healing box opening and paper cut incidents. He feels perfect.

“Keith, yeah,” Shiro groans are he feels himself getting close to tipping over, trying to keep his thrusts into Keith’s hand light. He’s right there when Keith stops and grips Shiro’s base with a squeeze, making Shiro give a choked off yell and dropping his head into the space between Keith’s neck and shoulder. “Fuck, why?”

Keith laughs lowly. “Not yet.”

The sudden shock in his body leaves as something primal takes over, and Shiro actually growls and grips Keith’s hips tight, pulling him almost off the edge of the desk.

Keith says his name with reverence, one hand going back to gripping the tie and getting it wrapped around his fist. They’re so close like this, pressed together with eyes staring into each other. Their mouths hover open and share the same air. Shiro feels the universe narrow to just them in his tiny bookstore.

When Shiro starts to slowly grind into Keith’s hip, Keith latches onto a spot of his neck, nipping and sucking a mark that leaves Shiro gasping. Shiro gets his metal hand in Keith’s hair at the base of the braid and pulls, making Keith arch backward, but he doesn’t relinquish his hold on Shiro’s tie, tipping Shiro forward as well.

They’re both playing dirty, between the way they’re moving against each other, teasing, and the slide of tongues when they kiss. Shiro feels like he’s boiling, scorched at every point where Keith touches him, and the only respite from the suffocation will be when they both clutch each other, sated.

They’re not there yet.

Shiro removes the hand in Keith’s hair, slides it down his side and hip until it’s gripping Keith’s thigh so he can wrap it around his hip. He plants his other hand flat on the desk behind Keith so they both fall a little further.

“Keith, baby,” Shiro says quietly, he leaves a fast kiss on Keith’s lips. “Come on.”

Keith bores into Shiro’s gaze and takes both of them into his hand that doesn’t have a death grip on Shiro’s tie. All of Keith’s weight is held up by his leg wrapped around Shiro and the anchor of his tie with the desk only partially playing a role. This means that the tie tightens a little, pressing against Shiro’s throat. It leaves him breathing hard and haggard as Keith’s hand starts moving.

“You like this?” Keith whispers an inch from Shiro’s mouth. Shiro feels himself twitch in Keith’s hand and spill a little, helping the glide of his hand. Keith chuckles. “This is what it takes to get you off?”

Shiro just smiles and says, “sometimes.” He gives a thrust into Keith’s hand, the added friction making them both cry out. They seek out each other’s lips, licking and biting, until Shiro pulls Keith back up so he doesn’t need to keep one hand balanced on the desk and can join Keith working over both of them.

They finally come, Keith followed shortly by Shiro, with half-formed cries of their names. Once they catch their breaths and kiss for another good few minutes, Shiro wraps Keith in his arms and carries him to the sofa in the back room. There Shiro kneels between Keith’s legs and worships in the only way he knows as a god of love, which is a whine around Keith hitting the back of his throat.

Later they clean up but still can’t be convinced to break apart, so they lie together on the sofa, trading odd stories and facts, laughing and stealing kisses until their energy threatens to make them fall asleep in the store.

When they reach the point at which they’ll part ways at Union Square, Shiro doesn’t have it in him to feel guilty at how hungrily he keeps kissing Keith and only allows it to devolve into small quick pecks before Keith absolutely has to detangle himself and go down the stairs to the subway station.

---

The next day leaves Shiro feeling an aching need to see Keith at all moments, which he knows is the combination of the arrow and everything that happened between them last night. As much as he wants to say fuck it and run downtown as fast as possible and spend the day in Keith’s presence, Shiro knows he needs to get some distance in between in order to keep the arrow’s influence at bay.

That doesn’t mean that Shiro can’t spend the day texting Keith instead. He gets pleasure out of the fact that Keith sends his share of messages saying he wants Shiro to just come down to the store and be with him; it means Keith wants Shiro oh so much as well. But Shiro has to play it off as needing to spend the day working and going to meetings. At least there is truth to the writing aspect of the day.

I want to do so much to you, Keith.

What do you want to do?

I could write novels about everything I want to do to you.
I am writing a novel about all the things I want to do to you.

Just come here and do it.

I can’t. I have to work, baby.

Then show me.

Shiro sends Keith screenshots of his writing, and for a while, it feels like enough. It feels like he can compartmentalize his feelings into sections and share the desire with Keith while locking the deeper emotions away. The passionate words about love and eternity that he wants to fall at Keith’s feet and say.

“Shiro,” the voice is cool and pleasant, but it still makes Shiro jump and drops his phone in a surprised fumble. He’d been leaning against the island in his kitchen texting Keith about the ideas he had for what the couple in his book would do next (aka the things he will do to Keith the next time he can push him against a hard surface), so he was fully engrossed in his small screen while waiting, neglecting the cup of coffee he just brewed. He was especially unlikely to notice one god of light appearing in his apartment.

“Allura,” Shiro’s voice is tight and a little on the higher octave side.

“Don’t sound so scared to see me,” she laughs, and it’s a different musical quality from Pidge’s, but it’s the same soothing wavelength. Allura’s laugh feels like all shining light emanates from it. The light from stars and the light from neon signs all flash and glow and stick to your bones from her laugh.

“I’m just surprised,” Shiro tries to defend himself.

“You shouldn’t be that surprised,” she never stops smiling brightly at him. Allura eyes the untouched coffee mug and takes it in her hands before turning to walk to Shiro’s living room. He sends a quick text to Keith about being in a meeting and follows the other god. She’s wearing high silver heels that click across his wood floors. Her flowy white pants and also brilliantly white oversized sweater contribute to the feeling of calm her presence always emits. She sits down on the chair Kuron occupied when he was there.

“You need to come back to the astral plane,” Allura states once Shiro sits down across her on the couch.

“No,” Shiro doesn’t even hesitate to turn down what she says.

Allura takes a drink from the mug in her hands, she’s cradling it so carefully, and Shiro can tell she heated it back to an acceptable drinking temperature at the wisps of steam coming from it. “We need you to come back until we can figure out fully how to tackle this arrow problem.”

“Why?” Shiro admits he sounds like a whining child with that one word. “Why can’t you just figure it out and then come back down and tell me? You’ve all been doing a fine job just appearing in my life the past few weeks.”

“Coran came down first because he cares and worries for you, we all do,” Allura says.

“I’m not going back unless I have to.”

“You need to, Shiro. Kuron and I are working on a way to get the arrow taken care of.”

“But you haven’t found it yet?” Shiro asks. “Right?” he presses at her silence.

“Not as of yet, no, but we are on the way while conferencing with the others,” Allura continues.

“Well, then, I’ll go back when you do know,” Shiro states forcefully.

“Shiro,” she says his name sternly, and it makes him sit up straighter. “You know, I have some experience in this whole falling in love with humans thing. You remember Lance? I know you only spent a short time with him, but you were significant to the process of allowing him to join us on the astral plane.” She pauses to watch Shiro, and he nods. “You must know that I similarly have your best interests in consideration for your situation with Keith.”

Shiro feels red guilt over how he’s acting especially since he knows Allura truly would only look after Shiro as he did her all those centuries ago.

“Allura…” he has to open and close his mouth a few times before getting the words together. “I’m so far removed from life on the astral plane at this point. Going back scares the shit out of me for whatever reason now, and things with Keith scare me about the same if not more. I don’t want to fuck all this up. I cannot. Please, don’t make me go back now.”

With pleading eyes, Shiro looks to Allura and hopes she can feel at least a portion of what is toiling inside of him these days. She lets out a sigh.

“Okay, when we have something, though—” she starts but Shiro cuts her off.

“I’ll come to the astral plane right away, I really will,” Shiro promises. “Please. Thank you.” His voice turns gentle, the tone he feels Allura deserves to be spoken with.

“It was good to see you, Shiro,” Allura smiles at him, and she does a good job hiding the slight sadness but not enough to keep it from the edges of her eyes. “And thank you for the coffee.”

Shiro laughs. “Always. Of course.”

“I do hope writing is going well,” she adds.

“It is.”

Allura holds a hand up and in her perfect fingers, there’s a copy of a book he wrote last year. “Can I borrow this?” she asks.

Shiro laughs again. “Yeah, I didn’t know you were interested.”

“I appreciate good literature,” the smirk on her face holds a sly turn on the ends of her lips.

“I’ll get it back from you when I come to visit,” Shiro says.

“That sounds wonderful,” and Allura’s smile is vibrant before she’s also gone in an instant.

---

He’s playing a precarious game, Shiro knows this full well, but as much as he fights the influence of the arrow, it fights back on him, too. As every day goes by, he hopes it’ll be the day one of the gods appears in front of him with the finally discovered way to free him from his own powers’ effects, but the day doesn’t come.

A week passes, and Shiro only sees Keith twice over this time. One time they repeat their first date with dinner and a round at Keith’s store. This time they actually made it to the back room first where Keith climbed on Shiro’s lap and rode him on the subpar sofa. Shiro delicately removed the glasses from Keith’s eyes so he could stare into them while running hands up and down Keith’s sides, watching hair fall out of Keith’s braid and eventually grasping his metal hand in the base of the braid to tug Keith’s head down into a messy kiss. The next time they even managed to make it to the bed at Keith’s apartment after seeing the new exhibit at the Morgan. Shiro wrapped his arms around a pillow, laying on his stomach as Keith pushed inside him, rolling thrusts causing Shiro to close his eyes and see the nebulas of the astral plane. The feeling of Keith inside him and the idea of eternity mixed to leave Shiro’s mouth open in a silent cry, and Keith moaned praise into his ear.

“You’re so good, Shiro.”

All the days in between Shiro had to keep Keith at a distance even though it burned him in the opposite way Keith’s touch did. Realizing that it would probably take longer than expected for the gods to get something together for Shiro and the looming need to return to the astral plane made Shiro feel like he needed to limit time with the man as long as the arrow clouded his thoughts.

“I really want to see you,” Keith’s voice over the phone as they speak at night cuts through Shiro. He yearns to just tell Keith to hold on and appear outside his apartment building, but Shiro cannot. He closes his eyes and takes a breath.

“I want to see you, too,” Shiro coos back. “I’m sorry work is getting in the way.”

“But after you’re done with the book?” Keith sounds hopeful, and it shakes Shiro to know this is how the man genuinely feels about Shiro. He wants him so much that in the dark night as they both lay on their beds in different parts of the city, he opens up fully, spilling every ounce of feeling he can manage to push through the phone to Shiro.

“Yeah, when I finish all the revisions, we’ll have time until promo,” Shiro smiles into his pillow.

“So what are we going to do, Shiro?” Keith’s voice has that touch of playfulness that Shiro has become weak for.

“Well, we can finally go on that Sex and the City walking tour.”

“There’s a Ken Burns walking tour for the Brooklyn Bridge, too, on an app for free.”

“We’ll go on all the walking tours of the city,” Shiro laughs. “We can go to Central Park Zoo when the weather is nice.”

“Bronx Zoo,” Keith adds. “It’s bigger.”

“We’ll go to all the zoos, okay,” Shiro’s voice dips warm. “And I’ll take you shopping.”

“For what?”

“Hmm, who knows. I just want to treat you to something good.”

“There’s other things you can treat me to.”

“Yeah, baby?”

“Yeah, dinner with my mom and me.”

Shiro groans. “That was a terrible transition.”

Keith’s laugh is sharp. “I told her about you. She wants to meet you whenever we feel comfortable.”

“She already wants that?” Shiro is taken aback. Meeting Keith’s mom feels...so much more significant than anything else. More than the fact that Keith is the first serious lover he’s had in centuries. More than how Keith is the first person he has ever felt such strong feelings for, arrow’s influence or not. More than the fact that Shiro does genuinely believe Keith is someone he can be with for eternity, and Shiro feels like that is not just the arrow talking.

“She does,” Keith replies.

“I’d like that,” Shiro says gently.

“But what else, Shiro?”

“What else, Keith?”

“You’re spending so much time writing and revising…” Keith stops for a moment. “Any of that you want to do with me?”

“Write and revise?”

“No, you asshole,” Shiro can hear the eye-roll in his voice.

“Baby, tell me? Please?” Shiro tries to edge Keith to start.

“I just wanna feel you.”

“Feel me how?”

“Now that I’ve been under you, it’s all I can think about…” Keith trails off at the end.

“Me, too,” Shiro breathes into the phone, his flesh hand drifting down his body. “I wanna undo that braid of yours and push you back into the sheets, have your hair fan out around your face. You’d look so pretty.”

Keith whines Shiro’s name, and the sound makes Shiro push his hand beneath the waistband of his sweatpants, taking a hold of himself as he grows hard. “What would you do next?” Keith asks.

“I thought you were telling me how you wanna feel me?” Shiro says lowly.

“I changed my mind,” there’s a hitch in Keith’s voice as he says it.

“I’d touch you how you are yourself right now,” Keith moans quietly when Shiro talks. “Except I couldn’t wait, Keith, you’re probably going so gently, teasing, right now on yourself. But if I was there I wouldn’t be able to care about making you last, I just wanna see you come.”

“Fuck, please,” Keith whines, and Shiro pushes his sweats and briefs down, taking a hold of himself and working faster. His hips thrust up into his hand when another moan from Keith cracks through the phone. “Shiro, come on.”

“Baby,” Shiro coos. “I’d work my fingers in you slowly at first, get you used to one, but I know that soon you’d be crying for more.” Shiro can hear Keith panting heavily. “Are you opening yourself up for me right now?” Shiro’s voice goes dark.

“Yeah, but it’s not you,” Keith sounds breathless.

“I wish I was there, I wish it was me,” Shiro says. He’s stopped stroking himself and is just holding on, thumb gliding along the tip. “I’d know when you’re ready, begging, kiss the corners of your eyes because you’d have closed them so tight with how much you’re feeling. Then I’d roll you over, get you on your stomach, and push into you. I’d want to go slow, but, baby, you’d be so impatient you’d move back and get the rest of me inside.”

“Yeah, Shiro, fuck me,” Keith cries out, and heat flares through Shiro’s veins, spurring him on to resume gliding his hand on himself quickly.

“My entire body would cover yours, I’d be draped across your back. You’d feel all of me around you, inside you. I’d search out to find your hands and get both of them in mine, press them into the bed as I fuck you,” Shiro’s hand is moving fast along his hardness, and he feels close, so close. He can tell Keith is as well by the quick gasps that keep coming out.

“Shiro, I’m going to—“

“Do it, please, it’s all I want. I want to hear you feel so good.”

After a few more of those sharp gasps, Keith lets out a long moan if Shiro’s name. Shiro keeps murmuring praise into the phone about how good Keith is, and he can just make out Keith’s whines at Shiro’s words before Shiro arches up and comes into his hand, Keith’s name also on his lips, repeated over and over with his voice cracking on a whine.

Shiro blames that phone conversation for two days later when he takes Keith to a movie on 84th Street. He feels proud, honestly, that the two manage to keep to themselves through its duration with just holding hands and the occasional stray touch to a thigh.

That doesn’t last the second they step back out onto the street and Shiro takes Keith’s hand with the intent of going to his apartment.

This is the first time that Shiro has had anyone other than his literary agent—and recently visiting gods, he supposes—in his apartment in ages. It wasn’t even on today’s agenda, but it turned out that the most convenient showing for the movie they wanted to go see was at the theater closest to where Shiro lives.

Their hands and mouths don’t leave each other in the small elevator as it rises to Shiro’s floor, and they barely separate enough for Shiro to get his key into door. Shiro and Keith are barrelling towards their shared goal of bed, now when Shiro reluctantly pulls away for a moment, much to Keith’s dismay as the whine he lets out indicates.

“Just make yourself comfortable,” Shiro murmurs into Keith’s hair, ducking down to give him one more kiss for good measure before detangling himself. He needs a moment to compose himself, sort out his own emotions with those caused by the arrows. Keith looks at Shiro with a frown. “None of that,” Shiro laughs and gives Keith’s braid a small, joking yank, which only puts a deeper scowl across Keith’s face, cheeks a beautiful shade of embarrassed and aroused pink.

“Do whatever,” Keith lays an equally playful smack on Shiro’s chest, but there’s a tinge of a smile creeping into one of the corners of his mouth.

Shiro swells with how much he adores this man, how much love he feels, and that surge of emotion knocks Shiro back into remembering what he needs to do right now. He walks into the bathroom, closes the door, and leans against the counter, taking a deep breath with closed eyes. After several deep breaths, Shiro opens his eyes and looks up into the mirror. Shiro takes in his reflection, silver hair slightly mussed from Keith’s hands more than the wind outside, the slightest pink on his cheeks, and a soft redness on his lips from kissing Keith. But, mocking him, are Shiro’s bow and quiver armed with arrows slung across his back. There they rest and will rest for all his eternal life.

Whatever Kuron and Allura are thinking up on the astral plane better come together soon because Shiro can feel himself warring with the influence of the arrow constantly. He knows what he feels for Keith is true and real; he felt it before the arrow struck him and they were just exchanging banter across the front desk at Keith’s store. But the additional problem for Shiro is he’s never felt this in all years millennia of life. Lust? Yes, he knew that from his younger escapades. True passion for someone else though? A burning need to care and be cared for? Desire to be with someone for eternity? Shiro never imagined he would experience the feelings his arrows caused and that he wrote about in his books.

Honestly, Shiro feels robbed just a touch. He was on his way to having a completely genuine romance. Maybe someone to even make the case to allow onto the astral plane. But then he managed to fuck it all up by falling on his own arrow in a moment of panic. He knows it’s not his fault, he reacted as expected to what sounded like an attack, but, still, Shiro can’t help but beat himself up a little bit.

But fuck it, this is something he deserves. He wants so badly to feel, and he has someone who lets him, who feels the same. Shiro closes his eyes and takes a few more deep breaths, bringing himself back to the present and the fact that even though he’s abandoned the astral plane for so long, his brother and Allura are trying to find a way to help him. He also reminds himself that Keith is in the next room, waiting for him, so they can resume their evening. Keith, with his specific knowledge of the New York Times Bestseller list, eyes that frighteningly make him think of the astral plane, and a penchant for drowning food in hot sauce, his Keith who wants to have Shiro over for dinner to meet his mother, he’s standing out there waiting for him.

“Alright, Shirogane,” Shiro tells himself and exits the bathroom.

“Keith, baby—” Shiro starts but then the rest of whatever he was about to say falls away, and a coldness sweeps through his body.

Because Shiro didn’t expect anyone to come over, he hadn’t taken the time or care to put away and clean his apartment, which meant he didn’t think to store away his photo album. It was a sentimental thing, photos spanning the decades of his life where photography existed. The photos start sparingly in the late 1880s but then as the medium became more popular and available, he knows there are more and more images that show evidence of the fact Shiro has been alive for a long time and has looked the exact same through each era. And in each period as technology changed, a different form of his right arm.

“Is this, like, a photo editing project?” Keith asks, back to Shiro and voice void of any emotion.

“N-no, it’s not,” Shiro stutters out, mind trying to think of what to say, what to do, but unable to think of anything other than the truth. “Keith—”

“What the fuck, who are you?” Keith turns around quickly to face Shiro, and it’s only the smallest amount of comfort that fear isn’t on Keith’s face, rather disappointment and betrayal. It hurts nonetheless. Shiro would rather be stabbed through the heart with his own arrow.

“Keith—” it’s a broken sound from Shiro’s mouth.

“I gotta go,” Keith rushes and moves fast, circling to avoid Shiro. “I just—I need to go.”

“Keith, please,” Shiro tries to plead. “Let me explain.” But he doesn’t go after Keith, just feels his own heart break apart as the man doesn’t look back when he goes through the front door.

And then Shiro is alone in an empty and silent apartment.

“FUCK,” he screams, and he squeezes his eyes shut.

He curls and uncurls his right hand a few times, feels the crackling of the power within the metal of the astral plane. Shiro puts out his left hand and his bow materializes, and he moves his right hand back and feels an arrow slide into his grip. After he places the arrow on the bow, he shoots it with no real target in mind other than the wall in front of him. It flies through the air the short distance before lodging into the wall and then disappearing in a soft glimmer of red. He does it again. Reaches back, nocks the arrow, and lets it go. Over and over, Shiro keeps going, firing arrows into his wall and watching them disintegrate. Shiro loses track of how long he just keeps shooting until he collapses onto his knees, exhaustion and heartache plaguing him.

“Why don’t you fucking run out,” Shiro cries at the bow in his hand, and he slams it onto the ground. It disappears, but Shiro knows all he needs to do is extend his arm and it would be right back in his hand ready to use.

Falling further to the ground, Shiro allows himself to lie on the floor curled in on himself, and also, for the first time possibly ever as a god, he feels grief.

---

And then, Shiro allows himself to mourn. This is a new feeling as well. He’d never gotten so attached to a mortal before.

But this is the arrow’s fault. He was trying to take things slow, he wanted to keep things easy between him and Keith, and then the arrow went and threw all his hopes to shit. If he hadn’t been clouded by the arrow’s influence, he would have been more careful, he would have thought before just leaving Keith in his apartment as he went to clear his head from how much he was feeling.

Shiro also battles with himself at what point he should have told Keith the truth anyway. It’s not really an easy subject to drop when you’re in the fresh stages of a relationship.

Hey, by the way, Keith, I’m actually a god. There’s a few of us and we were born of the universe and live in the astral plane typically, and I’m the god of love, well, one of two gods of love, my twin brother Kuron is mutual love and I’m desire and passionate love. I have arrows that make people fall in love. Also, if you’re cool with it, I can make a plea to the gods to let you drink quintessence and become immortal with me. Anyway, a new Thai restaurant opened up on 12th and 1st Ave, or do you just want to go to Mimi Cheng’s instead for dinner?

Yeah, none of that was just easy to slip in. He would have wanted to tell Keith before meeting his mother. Let Keith gently know everything and let him absorb it somehow, have his time with it...not, this. Keith had trusted Shiro, and now Shiro knew he had ruined that.

So, Shiro sat in his desk chair and stared at his laptop screen for three days, not typing one word, occasionally giving his phone a glance. But he received no calls, no messages. His fingers itch with the desire to grab the phone, just so easily hit the buttons that allow Shiro to call Keith and even if he doesn’t pick up, Shiro can leave a message about how sorry he is, how much he loves Keith, please take me back, Keith. But Shiro knows that is the arrow talking over him.

No other gods had even dropped in, and somewhere around day two, he was ready to just fight with Kuron whenever his brother decided to show up. Helping Shiro? Seems like he abandoned him.

But it’s late on day three, soon the night will bleed into day four, and Shiro is still sitting in his chair staring at the screen with a blinking cursor and white page that’s only half-full. It’s half-full of words that spilled out of him from having Keith in his life, but now it seems with no more Keith, Shiro’s writing ability had been ripped away as well.

Shiro closes his eyes and leans back in his chair, turning his face towards the ceiling and taking a slow breath out. When he opens his eyes, he’s standing and staring up at a swirling purple and red nebula, millions of stars blinking in the distance. There’s a large star burning closeby when Shiro looks to the right. Every direction that he looks is what appears like the neverending universe, but that’s not quite where he is anymore. Shiro finally returned to the astral plane, and it’s exactly as he remembered. He doesn’t know why he thought anything would change.

It’s an expansive space made up of celestial bodies and clarity, On the astral plane, Shiro doesn’t need to bother with sleep and food or drink, only if he wants to. His time can be spent doing whatever he wants, he can materialize whatever he needs. Yes, he has most of these powers on Earth as well, but on the astral plane, he is oh, so much more powerful.

“I knew it,” a comforting voice says to his left.

On the astral plane, Shiro is with the other gods.

“Hey, Hunk,” Shiro looks at the god of land with warmth. He hasn’t crossed paths with the god since the day Shiro left the astral plane for Earth. Hunk tended to spend time in areas flush with flora when he was in the mortal world, which left little overlap with Shiro’s preference for busy cities. The other god moves forward and engulfs Shiro in a tight, crushing hug. When they part from the embrace, Hunk keeps his hands on Shiro’s shoulders and pushes him the arm’s length away like he’s examining the god of love. “You look good.”

Shiro laughs, “How else would I look?”

Hunk frowns in thought for a moment, “True,” he concludes. “I felt something on the plane and knew it was you. What brought you back?”

“Come on, Hunk,” now it’s Shiro’s turn to frown at Hunk. “You know what happened.”

Hunk’s hands drop from his shoulders and he raises one hand to nervously run through his hair and tug at the band tied around his head. “Yeah, I’m sorry,” he says sheepishly.

“It’s okay,” Shiro sighs. “I’m going to go talk to Allura and Kuron finally.”

“Good choice, buddy,” Hunk says putting his hands on Shiro’s shoulders again. “See you in the council chamber soon, then”

“Yeah, you will,” Shiro pats Hunk’s shoulder with a smile.

“Alright, well, good luck, man,” Hunk swoops in quickly to give Shiro another hug. “We need to catch up sometime, yeah?”

“For sure,” Shiro feels Hunk squeeze tightly one more time before letting go.

“Good,” and then Hunk disappears.

Shiro sighs. There’s no reason to delay any of this now, he thinks, and then he’s standing in front of a large white building. Its design is a mix of modern lines and ancient architecture with walls that look white but upon further examination glow and glimmer like diamonds. It’s the main place where the gods convene when they meet or just generally want to see each other. Millenia have made them close, and it’s not odd for them to want a human movie night on occasion. The last time he was here was for Lance’s drinking of quintessence. Long ago they had dubbed it the Defenders of the Universe Hall.

As Shiro walks up the steps, his footsteps glow a dark purple-red on the white steps, the colors that are associated with his powers as a god. The large doors open automatically when he reaches the top step. Shiro spares a glance at the large pool in the center of the atrium that looks down on Earth and walks up the steps towards the council chamber. Pausing before the door to the room he takes a breath, but when he goes to push it open, he feels a presence behind him.

“Kuron,” Shiro lowers his head, not turning around and keeping his hand on the door.

“I’m glad you came, Shiro,” his voice is soft. Kuron walks forward and puts an arm around Shiro’s shoulders. “Come on, brother.” He puts his hand next to Shiro’s on the door, and they push it open together.

Shiro knows that all the gods would have realized he was on the astral plane in a short time and would assemble, but now being in front of all of them again felt overwhelming. The council chamber was a round room with a large crystal at the opposite end from the door. It sat on a raised dais and the gods leading the meeting would stand next to it. From the dais, a circle of shining silver ran around the room with smaller circle intersecting it with different colors, each designating the space where the gods stood during their meetings. Lines in the colors from the gods’ places then converged in the center of the room where it looked like a rainbow nebula was swirling on the floor. If the gods were meeting generally, no one stood there, but today, because it was Shiro who needed the council, he walked towards the middle circle. Kuron walked past him to the dais where Allura was already standing.

Looking around the room, Shiro sees where his place and Kuron’s next to each other are vacant and Allura’s as well. Pidge, Coran, and Hunk are also standing in their places, smiling, and then to Shiro’s surprise, Lance was at a new circle that is glowing bright blue.

“He became god of the seas a few hundred years after you left,” Allura says from the front of the room, knowing Shiro was surprised by Lance’s ascension from immortal being to a god.

“Good,” Shiro smiles and nods at Lance, and the new god returns the smile.

“Shiro,” Kuron says his name with the same gentleness he had before they entered the room. “We have an answer to your problem.”

“You do?” Shiro doesn’t mean for the hopefulness to leak into his voice.

“Yes,” Allura smiles. “Kuron and I found a solution and spoke with the other gods about it. We all believe this should work and free you from your own power’s influence.”

“What is it?” Shiro asks.

“You have three tasks to accomplish, we’ll tell you the first two now, and then after you finish those, Allura and I will come to you for the third,” Kuron explains.

Tasks. Shiro feels skeptical about it, but he trusts the other gods, his friends, who are being so kind to him after he ran away to Earth for so long.

“Do you accept?” Allura asks in return.

“Yes,” Shiro doesn’t hesitate. He misses Keith so much, and he is ready to do whatever it takes, across the whole universe, to be able to see him again.

“The first task is absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Kuron starts, “you’re familiar with the saying.” He says it as a statement, not a question, but Shiro nods nonetheless. “You’re not allowed to go see Keith when you return to Earth.”

“But—” Shirt starts to argue but Kuron raises a hand and shakes his head.

“You will not go see Keith when you return to Earth,” he repeats.

“Second is labor of love, which we believe you also know,” Allura says. “That one we’ve left a bit more open to interpretation for you to accomplish.”

Shiro frowns. “How am I supposed to know what to do there? How do I even know when I’m done with either of these?”

“You know,” Kuron says, “Deep down, you’ll know.”

Allura nods in agreement. “And Kuron and I know as well. We’ll come to you with the third then.”

Shiro wants to argue and say there are too many vague parts to the supposed tasks, but he knows that they wouldn’t set these in front of him if there wasn’t a purpose. They wouldn’t put him through this if they didn’t know for sure that it would be the way to help Shiro in the end.

“Okay,” Shiro takes a deep breath in and out. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

“Good,” Allura smiles. “We all miss you so much, Shiro, please come back to us soon. At least visit.”

“I will,” Shiro promises, and he really means it because he left for so long and they hold none of the misplaced resentment to him that he felt to this place.

In his next blink, Shiro is back in his apartment.

---

Shiro returns to his pre-Keith life. He pretends that there isn’t a number for the man saved in his phone and a text message chain left untouched for weeks. There are old voicemails that he doesn’t delete but also doesn’t go back and listen to. Shiro goes to meetings with his agent and publisher, and even though he finished the book already, he doesn’t tell them. He wants to fix it—well, not fix it, just work on it some more. There are parts he wants to flesh out and emotion to bleed in.

He takes the book that had become the holder of all the things he wanted to say to Keith, all the things he wanted to do to Keith, and he now works in all the feelings he has towards the man in between. Shiro’s characters no longer shy away from admitting their affection for one another, they don’t hold back secrets from each other. It’s not Shiro going back and trying to repair a fictional relationship in order to make himself feel better, but it’s Shiro trying to be honest with himself.

After almost a month without Keith in his life, Shiro clicks send on the email to his agent Iverson with the first draft of the now finished book. Rolling his shoulders and neck a few times, Shiro pushes his laptop shut and begins pacing the apartment. By going back and revising his book, he added almost an additional third of it’s pre-edited length, and he hopes that somehow manages to please Iverson and the publishing company. But now he also lost his main distraction since seeing Keith last, and he needs to let out the energy creeping through him. He pulls on weather appropriate workout clothes since the temperature still insists on being chill with the prospect of spring looming a few weeks ahead. Glancing at himself in the mirror, Shiro lets his eyes skim over the bow and arrows on his back. He’d always tended to avoid them when looking at his reflection, the past month had only further instilled a desire in him to erase them from his mind. He wishes he could burn them off.

Shiro heads across the street to Riverside Park. Once on the runner’s path, he puts headphones in and starts going at a decent pace. After several minutes, he runs faster, letting his feet hit the ground and propel him further and further as he goes in an out of awareness of his surroundings, the music playing in his headphones, and the dull ache of Keith in his chest.

He’s so deep within his own mind that Shiro barely notices that the couple jogging ahead of him have familiar long shining silver hair and slightly shaggy short brown hair. Sensing that Shiro has identified them, Allura turns her head back and smiles at Shiro, making him falter in his step. She and Lance stop and move to the side of the path and wait for Shiro to meet them.

“What are you doing here?” Shiro asks.

“Just a status report,” Allura smiles.

“Status?” Shiro looks at them confused.

“See how things are going with the tasks, buddy,” Lance offers Shiro a pat on the shoulder.

“I mean given I don’t know what two of them actually are,” Shiro starts to complain just a little.

“I have a feeling you’re doing the first two fairly well, actually,” Allura responds, the kindness never leaving her face.

“Really?” Shiro is not convinced.

Allura hums a sound of affirmation. “I do.”

“Well...good, then, I guess,” Shiro shrugs.

“Want to get smoothies?” Lance interjects, and Shiro has to laugh at his enthusiasm and sudden question.

Allura rolls her eyes fondly at him before looking back at Shiro. “We were hoping to spend some time with you while here as well.”

“Yeah,” Shiro nods. “I’d like that.”

So Shiro finds himself walking around the Upper West Side with Allura and Lance, Juice Generation smoothies in hand, and catching up with them on the last, oh, 400 years or so worth of life with the gods and the astral plane. Allura’s face while Lance talks about his ascension to a god is achingly soft and loving. He’s happy for them, no matter if his own pang of longing is trying to crawl out of him where he’s trying to push it down.

The trio makes their way back to Shiro’s apartment and Allura pauses in the middle of the living room and turns to Shiro.

“Oh, Shiro…” her voice is quiet.

“What?” Shiro asks, confused by the tone of pity in her voice.

“I can feel the anger you expended here.” She walks over to the wall where Shiro had fired off an endless stream of his arrows, and she trails a hand across the surface.

Shiro’s cheeks heat in shame at the memory of the moment he broke, but he keeps his head up. “I’m doing better now, I promise, Allura.”

“I don’t doubt that,” a small smile comes back to her face. “I believe it’s time for Lance and me to return to the astral plane, but I suspect we’ll see you soon.”

Shiro nods and hugs them both before they take each other's hands and disappear.

And then Shiro is alone again.

---

Doing what he does best, Shiro returns to writing his other book he put on the backburner to rework the other. Even though the plot was different and the sex he wrote in it was raunchier, he still ended up creeping some softness into the crevices of the story. Maybe that’s who he is now. Takashi Shirogane, the erotica author who makes you horny and cry at the same time. If that’s his literary legacy, he’ll take it. Also because that’s what Iverson had said when he called Shiro after he read the first draft.

“Shiro, I don’t know what happened to you, man, but this is different,” Iverson had said over the phone.

“Different bad or different good?” Shiro had been worried.

“Good, definitely, good,” Iverson replied. “The publishers are gonna love soft erotica.”

“Great,” Shiro groaned.

There’s a galley proof for the book sitting on Shiro’s desk. And one on the coffee table. And another three on his dining room table. He’s never understood why Iverson always gave Shiro so many copies of all stages of his books’ publishing. Shiro briefly looked at it, skipping over the dedication page. He spent so long working on the book and then another month and a half trying to only clinically examine it while going through the editing process, and now that it finally existed in bound format, preliminary as it was, Shiro breathed in relief knowing the book was done.

“So, who’s Keith?” Iverson had also asked during that initial conversation about the book.

“Someone I know,” Shiro tried to give his answer with as much nonchalance as he could muster.

“A friend, I’m sure,” Iverson mused. That was one thing that Shiro always appreciated about the man. He was the last person Shiro would have imagined to handle solely erotica writers as clients, but he never pried about the work. Iverson just wanted it done and done well. Frankly, Shiro tried not to think of Iverson reading over some of the things he wrote.

Standing up from his desk, Shiro stretches and cracks his back and walks from his bedroom to the kitchen to take a break from writing. On his way to the kitchen, though, he encountered an obstacle.

“How long have you been here?” Shiro asks Allura and Kuron as they casually lounge in his living room. He pauses long enough to just acknowledge them and keeps going to the kitchen. Maybe he’ll spike the coffee he was about to make.

“Not too long,” Kuron smirks.

“And why are you here?” Shiro still doesn’t look back at them.

“You tasks, Shiro,” Allura responds.

The answer makes Shiro pause. Three months. It had been three months since Shiro last saw Keith. It was there in the living room where the best thing that had happened to Shiro in his long, long life left.

“Shiro, please come here,” Kuron’s voice is gentle but not condescending. Shiro looks at his brother and feels tired, like the bones of this human body are trying to drag him to the ground.

“You’ve accomplished the first one well,” Allura starts once Shiro collapses on the couch next to Kuron. “You’ve given Keith his space, you’ve given yourself time. And how do you feel about Keith?”

“I miss him so much, and I care for him even more than that,” Shiro confesses, looking down at his hands.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Kuron says. “You’ve never wavered in how much you love him, you even grew to love him more, but you maintained respect for him and your powers.”

Shiro doesn’t say anything, just shrugs and shifts his eyes to look at Allura.

“Second, labor of love, one that was a bit more, as you say, tricky, to explain,” Allura says, head slightly tilted in thought. She holds up a hand and one of the galley copies of his book disappears from the coffee table and appears in her hand. “This is it.”

“What do you mean?” Shiro feels like he’s always confused lately when in the presence of the other gods these days.

“You had to do something for yourself because you wanted to, not because of the reward it would bring you. You could have just given the book you wrote while with Keith to the publisher and cleaned your hands of it, met your requirement, early, in fact,” Allura says, and Shiro thinks he’s vaguely starting to understand. “You needed to do this for yourself, reworking the book. You needed to do it because of your love for both writing and Keith.”

“Oh,” Shiro breathes out and blinks rapidly. “ Oh,” he repeats.

“Yeah, oh,” Kuron says lightheartedly and pats his metal hand on Shiro’s thigh. “Which brings us to your last task that we said we’d reveal once you’d done the first two.”

Shiro’s heart is beating rapidly, giving him the human experience of mounting nervousness and anticipation. “And what is it?”

“It’s a question,” Allura says.

“What’s the question?” Shiro tries to remain composed.

“Shiro,” Kuron starts and Shiro turns to look at his brother. “Are you content having known Keith and having the time with him you did, or do you wish you had never met him at all?”

Shiro doesn’t even have to take a moment to pause and think. “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Kuron and Allura laugh. “Yes, that’s it,” Allura concedes.

“Obviously I’m happy to have known him and been with him, I will always prefer that,” Shiro replies.

“Well, then, brother, I would say the arrow’s influence is gone,” Kuron says. “If it was still there, it would have made you rather never have met him and go through the pain of not having him.”

The realization sends a cold sensation down Shiro’s spine. He’s free of the arrow. All that’s left is how Shiro truly, honestly feels towards Keith.

“Mutual love,” whispers Kuron.

“Go to him,” Allura says in the same soft tone.

Shiro’s eyes dart between the two of them. “A-are you sure? Seriously? Definitely?”

“Definitely,” they say in unison.

Shiro jumps from his seat on the couch, hastily pulls a sweater and shoes on before running to the door. He doubles back quickly to get his wallet and keys, and after a thought grabbing one of the galley proofs. Allura and Kuron are chuckling watching Shiro be a bit of a disaster.

“Thank you, both,” he tells them. It’s not enough yet for all they’ve done, but the two gods nod in understanding.

As much as Shiro wants to just use his powers to appear at the bookstore, he knows he needs some time to simmer down. He hopes he doesn’t make the wrong choice by taking the train, and maybe he exercises just a little bit of his powers to make sure that nothing befalls the 1/2/3 train lines as he makes his way downtown.

His feet automatically carry him along the path from the train station, crossing the avenues and streets with the book tucked under his arm. It’s the first truly beautiful spring day of the year, and Shiro vaguely wonders if his friends have something to do about it. When he’s finally in front of the nondescript BOOKS store, Shiro lets out one long breath and pushes the door open.

“Be there in a sec!” Keith’s voice floats from the backroom at the sound of the front door bells chiming. It’s the first time he’s heard that voice in so long, and it hits Shiro square in the chest. He does a quick look around the store and selfishly is satisfied that no customers are also there. Shiro doesn’t reply to Keith’s call, just stands there with the book in his hand.

When Keith walks out from the backroom and his eyes land on Shiro, they go wide in shock. But he doesn’t bolt away. He doesn’t tell Shiro to leave. And Shiro knows, he fucking knows, that it’s mutual love between them finally and purely that’s keeping them standing there and just staring at each other, taking in each others appearance. Keith’s hair is just a bit longer but still poking out in parts of his braid. Shiro can see smudges on Keith’s glasses lenses. He’s beautiful.

“I have something for you,” Shiro breaks the silence finally, and it also snaps Keith out of his own reverie. He still doesn’t say anything to Shiro. “I figured the fan, well, muse, really, who helped write it deserves an advance copy,” Shiro says as he places the book down on the desk turned so Keith can see what it is.

“Muse?” Keith says quietly, and his hands reach out gingerly to pick it up. He flips through the first few pages, and Shiro recognizes when Keith reaches the dedication page since he stops and glides a finger across the words.

To Keith, the best part of my whole life.

“Your whole life, huh?” Keith says. “You’ve been alive a long time. What, like 100 years?”

“Millennia,” Shiro shoves his hands into his pocket and keeps watching Keith, his eyes still haven’t torn away from the dedication page.

The admission makes Keith finally look up at Shiro. Millennia?”

“Look, Keith,” Shiro takes a deep breath. “I have so, so much to explain to you that it makes my own head spin to try and parse out because I’ve never had to say it to anyone. I’ve never had anyone who I cared about that I wanted to tell, that I needed to tell.”

“And now you do?” Keith’s voice is shaky.

Shiro can’t help but let out a harsh laugh. “I love you so much, Keith, so yeah, I need to tell you everything.”

Keith takes a sharp breath at Shiro’s confession. “Oh.”

“Keith, please let me try this again,” Shiro starts. “I’m bad at this because I’ve never had to do this. Let me take you out on a date, another first date, and just try and do this...right.”

“Our first date was good,” Keith says quietly.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Shiro can’t help but smile hopelessly with adoration at the man.

“Will you go on another date with me, then?” Shiro asks nervously, his palms are just starting to sweat a little. “And let me lay out all the truth. Everything.”

“Okay,” Keith nods. He’s still holding Shiro’s book, and it’s still open to the dedication page. He glances down at it before looking back up at Shiro. “But I want to know what you are first.”

Shiro sighs. “That’s fair. I’m a god.” And when Keith’s face remains neutral and he doesn’t say anything, Shiro presses on. “Specifically, I’m the god of love, and even more specifically, I’m the god of passion and desire. My brother is the god of mutual love.”

“God...of love…” Keith says the words slowly. “Are there more of you?”

“Gods of light, earth, forests, time, sea, yeah, a few,” Shiro says.

“And you’re the god of love?” Keith’s brows furrow in thought. Shiro thinks he’s taking this much better than initially thought. “Like cupid?”

Shiro rolls his eyes. “Kind of yes, but also clearly no.”

Keith laughs. “Prove it.”

And Keith smiles at Shiro, a full blazing smile that fills in all those spaces that were left open by Keith’s loss. The man is fixing them up with a glowing and warm feeling that Shiro knows is definitely love. All Shiro can do is beam right back at him.

“Oh, I will.”

---

Just because Shiro has been alive for milenia doesn’t mean he fails to appreciate all the moments of his life. Sure, some are weighted more than others, but he’s learned that all of them have been important in some way. All of them have somehow shaped him even though he might have thought at one point that being a god would keep him on an unchanging path through the universe and time.

Shiro learned his way back to life on the astral plane, hand in hand with the love of his life.

The first time Shiro brought Keith to the astral plane, it was a month after Shiro took Keith to Big Daddy’s Diner up on 91st St and they split a black and white milkshake as Shiro explained the gods and answered all of Keith’s questions. Keith was shaken at first to learn that there was more reality to myths than he would have ever imagined, but somewhere after the shake and a few plates of cheese tots, the two managed to ease back into some semblance of their relationship. It wasn’t totally back, but with time, they both knew it would be. Shiro had held Keith’s hand and walked him to the subway station, placing a light kiss on Keith’s scarred cheek before they said their goodbyes and parted. Keith ran his thumb over Shiro’s scar across his nose.

“We match, you know,” he had said. “I never really thought about that.”

“Yeah, we do,” Shiro had to give Keith another kiss on the cheek, but Keith’s hands took a hold of Shiro’s jaw and guided their lips together for a soft press.

After more time spent together and learning more about each other, Shiro was scheduled to go on a brief book tour around the country to promote his latest work—the book dedicated to Keith. Before he left for two weeks, he wanted to take Keith to the astral plane.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“Of course,” Keith nodded, squeezing Shiro’s hand. They were standing in Shiro’s living room. The shelf that used to have Shiro’s photo album now had a framed photo of Shiro and Keith that they took together a week earlier at the Central Park Zoo in front of the sea lion pool.

In the next second they were in the astral plane. Keith stumbled, and Shiro was quick to put his arms around him to prevent him from falling. The only other human to ever come up to the astral plane as far as Shiro knew was Lance, and he knew it was an overwhelming first moment. Shiro had met with the gods earlier to see if it was okay to bring Keith up, and they’d all been more than happy, with Lance providing some advice.

“Let him know he can come to me if he needs,” Lance said pointing to himself with his thumbs. “It’s my area of expertise.”

“I thought that was the seas,” Pidge had deadpanned from her spot in the council room.

“Hey!” Lance had cried. Shiro raised his eyebrows, but everyone else’s look of amusement, especially Allura’s laughter hidden behind a hand, told Shiro this was something fairly common.

“Woah,” was the first thing Keith managed to say looking around the wide expanse. “It’s just...forever?” he said awed.

“Yeah,” Shiro breathed, pulling Keith closer to him and burying part of his face into Keith’s hair.

Shiro had already familiarized Keith with the fact that he could make almost anything materialize into being.

Anything, ” Keith had said with deep curiosity. They had been sitting on the floor of Keith’s living room, a bottle of wine and a 500 piece puzzle of ducks in flight between them.

“Anything,” Shiro waved his hand and the puzzle in front of them suddenly was complete.

“Holy shit,” Keith stared at the earth tone duck image as if it was priceless art. “All with the wave of a hand.”

“Actually, I don’t need to wave, it was just for show,” Shiro admitted, and the image on the puzzle changed to a picture of Keith that Shiro had taken with his phone earlier in the day when they woke up in Keith’s bed. Keith is lying on his side, hair loose from its braid and a pillow crease on his cheek mirroring the scar on the other one. His eyes are half-open and Shiro’s metal hand can be seen gently caressing Keith’s shoulder.

“Show-off and a sap,” Keith said with a huff and reached for the wine bottle.

On the astral plane, Shiro made a couch similar to the one in his apartment appear and pulled Keith down on it so they could sit together and have a moment to stare at the expanse. Shiro tried to look at everything in a new light of someone seeing it for the first time. It’s beautiful, yes, but Shiro doesn’t think anything will compare in his eyes now to Keith.

“This is amazing,” Keith stated with wonder.

“It is,” Shiro said with his eyes on Keith.

Later Shiro tore Keith away from that part of the plane to take him to meet the others. Lance had expectedly greeted Keith as “the first human to come to the astral plane and then be ascended to a god.”

“Cool,” had been Keith’s unimpressed reply. Lance sputtered.

“I like him,” Pidge pointed at Keith.

When Shiro returned from his book tour, he celebrated at a dinner with Keith and Keith’s mom, Krolia. The genuine warm heartedness in the hug she gave Shiro when he walked into her apartment seeped through Shiro and left him unable to speak for a moment. They took Kosmo for a walk in the park that evening, too. Shiro resented him much less for that whole jumping and causing self-inflicted arrow prick incident.

That was two years ago now, and the one thing Shiro was certain of then is the one thing he is even more certain of now: Shiro is going to spend eternity with Keith.

Shiro brings Keith to the astral plane, they’ve lost count of how many times they’ve been up to visit the other gods and how many times the others have been down to visit them. After today, Shiro and Keith will go back down to Earth, take a few weeks to themselves, and then go back to their daily lives of bookstore owners and erotica author. But a few things will be different.

“You know your hair always reflects the astral plane’s colors,” Keith comments as they walk hand-in-hand up the stairs of the Defenders of the Universe Hall, Shiro’s footprints lighting up while Keith’s don’t. That will be different with time, too.

Shiro runs a hand through his silver hair. “I didn’t, actually.”

“It’s nice,” Keith murmurs. He’s wearing a well-fitted black suit with a black tie while Shiro wears the same but with a purple tie. They’ll wear the same thing in a few days back on Earth.

When they’re in front of the doors to the council room, Shiro squeezes Keith’s hand. “Are you ready?”

“Yes,” Keith’s eyes are blazing with determination behind his black-framed glasses. Shiro feels a rush of affection and leans down to kiss him.

They pull apart and walk into the room. Everyone else is there in their places in the circle with Kuron standing at the top dais next to the crystal. Shiro walks Keith to the center of the room, brings their clasped hands up to his mouth and brushes a kiss along Keith’s knuckles, and then lets go to take his place up by Kuron.

The ceremony for a mortal to drink quintessence occurs in stages, and the first will be done by Shiro and Kuron. They all have experience from doing this before with Lance for him and Allura, so they know what to do with some changes to make it for Shiro and Keith.

I love you, Shiro mouths to Keith.

I love you, too, Keith mouths back.

Kuron sighs next to Shiro.

“Are we ready to begin?” Kuron asks and is met with murmurs of affirmation. “Then we begin.”

The first part of the process involves Shiro and Kuron binding Keith’s soul to the astral plane, with the love between Shiro and Keith serving as what links Keith to this eternity. The other gods have their hands clasped in front of them as they channel energies together, and the floor lights up with each color connecting at the center where Keith stands in the nebula. Shiro’s line of purple to Keith glows the strongest, and soon all others fade away save for his. A red light branches out from under Keith’s feet and twirls with Shiro’s signalling their binding together, and then Shiro rests a hand on the crystal of the dais. It starts to glow a mix of red and purple.

Shiro feels a surge of emotion and realizes it’s every ounce of love shared between Shiro and Keith flowing through him to the crystal, and he turns to look at Keith. To Shiro’s surprise, a tear is going down Keith’s cheek, but there’s still a smile on his face, which Shiro returns. The movement of his face makes Shiro aware of his own wetness on the cheeks. The surge of feeling releases and the line between Shiro and Keith glows bright white until it turns just red, so Shiro removes his hand from the crystal.

Now Allura and Coran make their way up to the dais as Shiro and Kuron step down. Shiro wants so badly to go to Keith but knows he can’t until this is done.

Allura places her hands on the crystal and closes her eyes until slowly a bright glow encompasses her and the red from the crystal seems to bleed into her hands. Coran opens his hands, palms facing upwards, and something that resembles a bowl appears in them. It only looks like a bowl because it is wisps of clouds and bright spots that shine like stars that create the loose image of a bowl. Anything placed inside it would be assumed to simply flow out of it.

Once Allura removes her hands from the crystal, the white glow around them has turned to a light shade of pink. She sets her hands inside the bowl and the pink glow leaves them as a shimmering red liquid into the container.

Quintessence, that’s what’s in the bowl now. After Keith drinks it, he will be immortal.

Coran remains on the dais and casts the bowl to float out towards the center of the room to Keith.

“As god of time upon conference with the gods of the universe, you, Keith, are now also bound to the astral plane and immortal life,” Coran recites in his flat ceremonial voice.

Keith does as he was told when everyone in the room last met in Shiro’s apartment around a meal of delivered Indian food to discuss the quintessence ceremony. As he raises his hands, palms offered up, the bowl settles in them. Gently moving the bowl to his mouth, Keith’s lips meet the edge of the bowl and tip it to allow the quintessence to flow into his mouth. He drinks without stopping, and a red glow surrounds his body. After finishing the contents of the bowl, it floats back automatically to Coran’s hands.

Keith’s eyes are closed, and when he opens them, they are shining in red as well.

“It is done,” Coran says after he disappears the bowl.

The glow surrounding Keith stops and the brightness of the room dims. No one moves for a moment until Keith looks like he’s swaying to the side, and Shiro rushes to catch him.

“Hey,” Keith says with a dazed look in his eyes at Shiro.

“Hey, how are you feeling?” Shiro asks.

“Good, great,” Keith smiles.

“Congratulations!” Coran cries as he jumps down from the dias, his usual personality returning now that official god business is complete.

Everyone rushes forward, and Shiro and Keith find themselves in the center of a hug from all the gods.

“Welcome to married life,” Lance throws an arm around Keith’s shoulders.

“The wedding ceremony isn’t for another two days,” Hunk says.

“Yeah, but their souls are bound together and then to the astral plane. That is marriage, I speak from experience,” Lance replies and turns to Allura to kiss her.

“We all know this is the real wedding,” Pidge punches Shiro and Keith’s arms.

“We’ll meet you out of the Hall before we all go down to Earth,” Allura puts her hands on both of their shoulders, a grin wide across her face. But before she pulls away completely, she leans into Shiro’s side and whispers into his ear, “I think we have our future god of fire.” She looks at Shiro’s stunned face and winks with a ringing laugh. Keith, thankfully, doesn’t ask anything.

“So,” Shiro says once he’s collected himself from Allura’s revelation and he’s left alone with Keith in the council room. “Married.”

“And immortal,” Keith adds with a laugh, bringing his arms to wrap around Shiro’s neck. He pulls Shiro’s head down into a kiss that starts as a slow and chaste brush of lips, but then Shiro needs so much more from Keith in that moment, letting out a small growl and pulling Keith’s body closer to his. Tongues glide and fingers grip clothes tightly before they part.

In a few days Shiro and Keith will stand in front of their friends and family for a small ceremony at the rooftop of the Wythe in Brooklyn (Kuron had been merciless laughing at Shiro for getting married in Williamsburg). All the others gods will be there as Shiro’s family, and Keith’s mom and uncles will be there as well. Manhattan will be glowing under a setting sun behind them as Coran officiates, “I do”s will be said, and rings will be exchanged. It’ll be beautiful, Shiro is sure, but right now, with his arms around Keith and the thrum in his body of their newly forged bond, he knows that this moment will be what sticks with him when he thinks of the day of their wedding.

“That sounds like a TV show, Married and Immortal,” Shiro chuckles, touching his forehead to Keith’s.

“Maybe that’ll be our project in 100 years when I close up the bookstore and you put your sex writing pen down,” Keith smirks.

“Maybe,” Shiro muses. “We’ve got eternity to find out.”