Of course the Champion of Kirkwall had to be a damn mage.
Everything would just be much simpler, Keith thinks, if Takashi Shirogane had made himself easier to hate. It would also probably be much simpler if he wasn’t so bloody handsome. And kind. And clever. And funny. And talented. And…large.
It’s this last thing that Keith finds hardest to ignore, and it’s starting to become a problem.
It was the first thing he noticed about the Champion of Kirkwall, shortly after Keith ripped out the Tevinter slavers’ hearts and found himself with unexpected but suspiciously helpful company. As first impressions go, helping him destroy the slavers hot on his trail and then agreeing without a single question when asked to confront and kill his former master, Sendak, is a pretty damn solid one.
As second impressions go, the Champion’s frankly obscene biceps are...convincing.
Keith tells himself he will not be swayed by thick biceps, bulging thighs, a broad chest, a height and overall proportions so inhumanly impressive that Keith is convinced he’s part Qunari, and an unfairly charming smile. Keith did not escape bloody Tevinter within an inch of his life and wade through the blood of a thousand slave hunters just to fall prey to one stupidly dashing mage.
But oh, Maker, even if Keith could overlook those biceps, that voice is impossible to ignore, as are the things that voice says. He’s kind, with a dry wit that often matches Keith’s own, and is weirdly humble in a terribly disarming way. The first time Keith calls him the Champion, he laughs, rubbing his head with obvious embarrassment, and tells Keith to please just call him Shiro, because all of his friends call him that.
“I’m not your friend,” Keith says.
Shiro tilts his head like a lost puppy. A roughly seven foot tall lost puppy. “Oh,” he says, “well, maybe not, but – you’re part of the team, aren’t you?”
“The team?” Keith repeats. “No. I don’t think so.”
The team in question consists of Shiro, Champion of Kirkwall and irritatingly talented storm and force mage; Hunk, Captain of the Kirkwall City Guard and brave warrior with a big shield; Lance, pirate rogue and alleged trashy romance writer whom Keith swears is in love with his crossbow; Pidge, tinkering dwarf and terrifying master of traps and sabotage; and Allura, a Dalish healer who is a little too interested in spirit magic and the Fade for Keith’s liking. Also, she’s a mage, which makes her automatically untrustworthy – as far as Keith is concerned, all mages practice blood magic behind closed doors until proven innocent, and even then it’s a bit of a coin toss.
He’s seen shit in Tevinter, okay. Nobody should have that kind of power. Keith doesn’t even think he should have the power he does, but in his defense, he didn’t exactly get a say in any of that. So he’s gonna use the greatsword and lyrium tattoos that were forced upon him to destroy anyone and everyone who had a hand in his enslavement, and then some, and maybe once every slaver is dead, then he can lay down his sword. Maybe.
Anyway, as soon as Allura found out that Keith’s lyrium tattoos allowed him to phase through objects (including, for example, slavers’ hearts), she became fascinated to an uncomfortable degree with how exactly they worked. She’s another elf, she’s not Tevene, and she’s not one of the magisters who hurt him; objectively Keith knows this. But when she started talking about experiments and rituals, Keith almost drew his sword on her. Shiro stopped him then, and stopped Allura too, and Keith resolutely cannot think about how he did not shy away when the mage covered his hand on the hilt of his sword, stilling it before any damage could be done.
Keith doesn’t like to be touched, and he was wearing his usual gauntlets, but he hadn’t flinched away. Instead, he had savored the warmth, and once he realized what he was doing, swore under his breath and snatched his hand away, muttering an apology and stalking off.
So, no, Keith isn’t part of the team. But he also can’t seem to bloody leave it.
Shiro wilts visibly. “You don’t want to be part of the team?”
Shit. “I’m not one of you,” Keith says uncertainly. “I’m just – waiting here, until Sendak shows up, so we can kill him as you promised.”
Shiro did promise he would help Keith kill his former master when he returned to Kirkwall, but Keith isn’t a fool. He doesn’t trust it for a second. Yet, infuriatingly, he knows he can’t take on Sendak and his mages on his own. He can’t risk being caught again.
But he also can’t be sure that Shiro won’t just hand him over once Sendak gives him enough gold.
In the meantime, Keith exists in an awful limbo, in which he is stuck with this band of misfits and the damn Champion. There are far worse places to be stuck, but Keith still isn’t enjoying it. He can’t enjoy it. He can’t let his guard down, not even for a second.
Not even when Shiro looks like that, and stares at Keith with those stupid hurt puppydog eyes –
“You can still be part of the team,” Shiro says uncertainly, but so earnestly Keith is almost embarrassed for him. Almost. “I mean, you already go with us on missions and to The Hanged Man for drinks. But…” He gives Keith a rueful smile, leaning against the alley wall.
(They’re waiting for their targets to leave the nearby brewery – Pidge and Hunk are in the alley opposite, watching the door. Keith isn’t even sure what this job is for, but it puts food on the table, so he doesn’t ask too many questions. Also, if Shiro okayed it, then it’s probably not too horrible.
Kaffas. Since when has Shiro become his moral compass?)
“But?” Keith echoes.
“But I understand if you don’t want to be part of the team,” Shiro says. “I guess this life isn’t for everyone. You don’t have to come with us on these jobs if you don’t want to – we’d still come and help you with Sendak, when the time comes. You don’t owe us for that.” He eyes Keith. “I’d miss you, though.”
Keith frowns deeply at the mage. “You’d miss my sword, you mean.”
Shiro just smiles. “No,” he says. “You.” And he gives Keith a friendly pat, his big stupid magic right hand covering Keith’s entire fucking shoulder, before stepping nimbly out of the alley and summoning a maelstrom which promptly shatters the armor of the five unfortunate men leaving the brewery.
So clearly, Keith has a problem.
Shiro is nice, and likes having him around, and Keith doesn’t trust it. He knows that the Champion’s friends don’t particularly trust him, either, and that’s fine, yet Shiro always seems to take Keith at his word, more or less. It’s baffling. Keith knows people, and people don’t do kind things without expecting something in return, nor do they blindly trust if they want to stay alive very long. That’s just how the world works.
Yet, Takashi Shirogane has survived a Blight, several murder attempts, a dragon, and the city of Kirkwall, so clearly he’s doing something right.
Maybe it really is possible for people to be genuinely kind and only a little selfish. Keith isn’t one of those people. He’s not really sure he knows how to be kind — but loyalty, he can do that.
His loyalty to Sendak was the conditioned kind, forged of pain and threats and chains. But as the weeks turn to months, and still Keith finds himself in Kirkwall with the Champion and his friends, a new kind of loyalty emerges. One he chooses. One he can fight for, willingly and wholeheartedly.
And he doesn’t...hate it.
They’re in a bad spot. The fight went south; there were more smugglers than their contact had promised, and although Keith simply refuses to die in the Kirkwall sewers, the rest of the team isn’t saved by the pure spite to survive that keeps Keith on his feet.
Pidge falls first, blown backwards by one of her own traps when two smugglers charge her as she’s setting it. She hits the brick wall and doesn’t get up. Allura runs to her, shielding her with a wall of spirit magic.
Lance is surrounded near the middle of the tunnel, crossbow abandoned in favor of his daggers, and Hunk goes to his aid, but they’re both quickly put on the defensive. One of the smugglers has a club and knows how to use it, and he’s already put several impressive dents in Hunk’s shield. But Hunk and Lance are near enough to Allura and Pidge that Keith isn’t too worried — strategically speaking, of course.
Shiro, however, is cut off at the opposite end of the tunnel, and it’s easy to see that he’s overwhelmed with no way out. There must be ten of them at least, though there are ten more laying around too hurt to fight, or dead. The Champion has his moniker for a reason: he’s a force to be reckoned with, deadly at a distance with his lightning and telekinetic blasts, and brutal in melee with his (impressive, for a mage) skill as a swordsman and his right arm made of woven Fade energy that can go from serene silver to violent white-hot plasma in seconds.
But even the Champion’s stamina runs out eventually, and Keith can see the sweat dripping down his brow as his fists tremble with exertion, his chest heaving and jaw clenched, teeth gritted. With a vicious swing of his greatsword Keith fells the last enemy on himself and turns, heart in his throat, just in time to see two of the smugglers charge Shiro. Shiro braces himself, but he’s not expecting it, and as soon as Keith sees him stagger he knows Shiro is going to fall.
One of the smugglers’ swords comes slashing down and Keith doesn’t make a sound, doesn’t cry out or curse or howl with the indescribable rage and sudden fear he feels in that instant. He just phases across the tunnel in the short, sharp bursts of his phantom form and cuts through bodies until he reaches Shiro.
It all must happen in a matter of moments. Keith doesn’t know how fast he moves, exactly, but he does know that when he reaches Shiro, he’s covered in blood and the tunnel is silent. Shiro is kneeling, clutching at his side, and Keith sees where the smuggler’s blade caught him, slicing through a damaged section of his armor. Shiro is panting, body trembling with the effort of not collapsing, and when he looks up and meets Keith’s eyes, his own eyes widen.
“...Keith?” Shiro mumbles as Keith kneels beside him, carefully lifting the mage’s shaking hand to examine the wound. “What…”
“It’s deep,” Keith tells him, “and you need a healer. Come on. Can you stand?”
Shiro attempts to and bites back a cry of pain; Keith recognizes his grimace. It’s an expression he’s worn in his own life all too often, an expression of thinly-veiled agony, and his gut twists at seeing Shiro hurt like that. “Fuck,” Shiro wheezes, slumping back down. If Shiro is saying fuck, then you know it’s bad. “Guess you’re — just gonna have to leave me here, huh?”
“No,” Keith snaps, and Shiro blinks at him in dazed surprise before sucking in a startled breath as Keith wraps a gentle but firm arm around his waist and slowly, painstakingly hauls him upright. Shiro is huge against him, leaning into his side and making Keith’s core ache at the weight, but he can handle it. After all, his own sword looks like it’s meant for a man twice his size. “I’ve got you, Shirogane,” Keith says, and it’s only later than he realizes that’s the first time he’s ever called Shiro something other than the Champion.
“Yeah,” Shiro whispers, ashen and awed as he peers down at Keith through his filthy white forelock, “you really do, huh?”
Then he promptly passes out. Keith dutifully drags him over to the others, carries him back to the clinic with Hunk, and refuses to leave his side once there. He eyes all of the healers, a paranoid and very loud part of him certain that they’ll just injure Shiro further; they’re mages, they’re certainly capable of doing so.
But Shiro is also a mage.
So why doesn’t Keith want to leave his side?
He realizes, when they’ve gotten Shiro out of the clinic and safely home, that it’s because he feels some claim to Shiro. The thought makes him flush with shame, and no small degree of anger. Shiro is not his; Shiro has certainly never agreed to such a pact. Yet Keith looks at him and thinks, helplessly, mine.
And it’s not that Keith wants to control him, nor to own him, it’s not...like that. This is something else, something hot and prickling and new and frightening, and it’s this something which keeps him posted at Shiro’s bedside for hours, and it’s also this something which makes him snarl a protest when Lance suspiciously asks if he isn’t just waiting for a chance to strike the Champion down. Keith recoils at the very thought.
“Andraste’s tits, calm down!” Lance exclaims when Keith’s hand flies to the pommel of his sword. “It was a joke! I think! Note to self, don’t joke about Keith hurting Shiro if you want to keep your head…”
Keith glowers at him, but lets his hand fall away from his sword, and settles back in the chair at Shiro’s bedside. Allura sits on the other side of the bed, glancing at him with a small frown from time to time as she works more healing magic on Shiro’s injury. The clinic did what they could, but they’re a busy place with many patients, and both Keith and Allura suspected the work was half-assed. He respects her help, even though that hot and prickling feeling in him bristles at the sight of her hands on Shiro’s skin, gentle though they are.
It’s then that he realizes, and thinks, Shit.
Keith doesn’t have time or patience for Fond Feelings. He doesn’t even have time or patience for lust, or attraction or – or whatever this is. Maybe...maybe it will be alright if he keeps these feelings firmly in the realm of simple magnetic animal attraction. That’s easier to ignore, and easier to break off, when he inevitably must do so.
But the thought of ever leaving Shiro makes his heart ache in a terrible way, and Keith refuses to think any more of it.
When Shiro wakes up, it’s morning, and Allura’s gone downstairs – Keith’s ears twitch. He can hear someone making breakfast in the kitchen, the sharp sizzle of meat and eggs in a pan.
From the bed, Shiro’s dry chuckle startles him; Keith’s ears prick as he turns back to him at once. Shiro is smiling, his expression tired but amused as he gazes up at Keith. “I never realized elf ears could move so much,” he mumbles. “Allura’s don’t, really. I guess you’re just expressive.”
Said ears flick back in embarrassment and surprise, and Keith clears his throat, face hot. “I – I guess.” He clears his throat again and coughs uselessly. “Um. How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine,” Shiro sighs, gaze sliding back up to the bed’s red canopy. His broad chest is bare and half-exposed by the loosely draped blankets; his pectoral muscles rise and fall steadily. Keith has to tear his gaze away from the faint golden shine of sweat in the soft-looking curls of dark hair lightly carpeting his chest, and leading down, down, down. “You saved me, Keith. I didn’t stand a chance, back there.”
Keith swallows thickly. “It’s nothing,” he says. “Just – don’t get surrounded, next time.”
Shiro makes a small hum of acknowledgment. “I’ll feel better, next time, knowing you’re watching my back. You’re really something, you know? I’ve never seen anyone fight the way you do.”
Keith stiffens. “You mean...by cutting through my enemies and ripping out their hearts?”
Shiro snorts. “Sounds pretty brutal, when you put it like that.”
“It is,” Keith mutters. “It is brutal.”
Shiro blinks up at him. “You’re not,” he says. “Brutal, I mean.”
Keith stares. He wants to object, wants to demand how Shiro can say that when he’s seen Keith fight, when he knows how Keith is even out of battle: abrasive, short-tempered, taciturn, and altogether unpleasant to be around. But instead all he finds he can say is, “...No?”
Shiro’s smile widens. It’s gentle and warm. Keith wants to remember Shiro looking at him like that for the rest of his days, and then some. “No,” Shiro agrees, softly. “Maybe you were made to be brutal, but that’s not how you are, Keith.”
Breathless, Keith whispers, “Then how am I?”
Shiro closes his eyes with a little sigh. “Good,” he says, and that’s all, but it’s enough to make Keith shiver, his face red against the silver lines of lyrium.
A few weeks after Shiro receives a clean bill of health, they find Sendak in The Hanged Man tavern, or rather he finds them.
He set a trap, because of course he did. The man is a coward; Keith would expect nothing less. He lures them there with Acxa. She was in Tevinter with Keith, and Keith lost his memories from before the agonizing ritual that left him with lyrium-engraved flesh, so he doesn’t remember if he ever had a family, but she’s the closest thing he’s ever had to a sister.
She betrays him, of course. A part of him suspects she will from the moment she contacts him. He tells Shiro this, and Shiro looks sad in a way Keith doesn’t understand, but he and the others come with Keith as promised, armed and ready.
So it is that he stands before Sendak and Acxa, with Shiro beside him. Keith waits for the dreaded moment to come when Sendak promises Shiro riches beyond compare if he hands Keith over and returns his ‘rightful’ property, but instead Sendak says something even worse.
“This is your new master, then? The Champion of Kirkwall? Impressive.”
Shiro is silent, and Keith’s blood runs cold.
In that moment, Keith thinks in a moment of paranoid terror that maybe he was wrong about Shiro. Maybe, as soon as Shiro realized that Keith’s tattoos are lyrium, making him a living repository of mana, an endless mage battery, he decided he would keep him around for his own personal use. Maybe, all this time, Shiro’s been in Sendak’s pocket, and all of this has just been an elaborate trap laid for Keith to lure him into a false sense of security and deliver him right back into the magister’s hands.
Keith doesn’t know what he’ll do if that’s the case – if he has to fight Shiro. He doesn’t think he can do that, even if it means getting sent back to Tevinter in chains – the thought makes him want to weep, but Keith doesn’t weep. Yet there’s a lump in his throat as the silence drags on and Keith forces himself to lift his head, bowed out of awful habit, and turn to look at Shiro.
It only takes a single look for Keith to know that Shiro isn’t going to betray him, because his silence is not one of hesitation, but one of cold fury. When Shiro finally speaks, his normally calm and friendly voice trembles with anger. “Keith doesn’t belong to anyone,” he grits out.
Sendak just smiles, cold and sharp. “Jealous? I’m not surprised. The lad’s skilled, isn’t he?”
Shiro’s eyes widen in greater horror than before, and Keith recovers from his shock, hands balling into fists. “Shut your mouth, Sendak,” Keith snarls, and it’s a relief to say it, and equally gratifying to see Sendak purple in rage.
“How dare you –” Sendak starts.
“He gave you an order,” Shiro says, cool and flat and absolutely lethal. “I suggest you follow it.”
Sendak’s eyes flick from Keith to Shiro and back again, and his lip curls. “It won’t go well for you, protecting him,” he warns. “I can give you wealth; I could even make you a magister. What can he give you? He’s practically a wild animal, Champion. Surely you know this. He has a pretty face, but there’s nothing in that little head but violence – let me take him off your hands.”
Shiro doesn’t say anything. He strikes Sendak with a lightning bolt where he stands.
The battle erupts around them. Keith falls into his fighting stance, hefts his greatsword high and phases into a silver phantom, whirling across the tavern towards the first wave of defense that Sendak raises. His soldiers are supported by summoned shades, the Fade demons reaching for Keith and his companions with their gnarled hands and toothy mouths.
He fights, but he does so as if in a dream. It can’t be real, he thinks, but he knows in his pounding heart that it is, and when Shiro moves to his side, electricity crackling at his fingertips, he feels the heat of the Champion and catches his eye. Shiro nods, just once, and Keith knows he isn’t going to leave Kirkwall so long as Takashi Shirogane is here. He doesn’t know how to be part of a team, but he wants to be – and want is an emotion Keith that is learning, fast.
The battle drags on, but Keith doesn’t tire, and neither does Shiro. Lance and Hunk are unstoppable across the tavern, and Pidge and Allura destroy wave after wave of summoned demons in their traps and barriers and bursts of magic. Shiro and Keith cut through the Tevene slavers like the meat they are; they’re both covered in blood and viscera, and Keith thinks he’s laughing like the mad, wild thing Sendak claims he is – and in that moment, he doesn’t care what Sendak thinks, because maybe Keith doesn’t know exactly what he is, but he knows that he’s alive, he’s free, and that Shiro thinks he’s worth fighting for.
So they fight in a blur, together, always together, and when at last they fell the last of the slavers and demons and Keith’s greatsword shatters Sendak’s barrier, bringing him to his knees, Keith is alight with adrenaline and vengeance and the taste of victory so close – or maybe that’s just the blood on his bitten tongue.
Sendak is panting and shocked when Keith reaches him. Shiro stands back as Keith grabs Sendak’s throat with a gauntleted hand and squeezes. Sendak isn’t light, but Keith lifts him off the ground nonetheless, his lyrium burning with power as his muscles strain and the magister’s feet dangle. Choking and struggling, Sendak stares down at him with hate, but also with fear, and it’s the fear that Keith will remember.
“I never belonged to you,” Keith tells him, and Sendak starts to open his mouth, to get one last word in, but Keith’s not going to let him. His gauntlet tightens, then phases straight through Sendak’s throat, solidifying halfway in. The magister chokes to death on his own blood, head half-removed when his body falls to the floor. Keith steps back, gaze lingering only for a moment.
He’s suddenly very tired. Later, they’ll find out Acxa fled in the aftermath, but right now, he doesn’t care. Keith staggers, and Shiro is at his side. With slow confusion, Keith realizes he’s been wounded. Badly. Whether by a shade’s claw or a slaver’s sword, he doesn’t know, but something stabbed him in the back, and as the high of battle fades he feels it throb and bleed, soaking his armor through.
Shiro catches him when he staggers, and Keith lets him, lets his head droop against Shiro’s collarbones, the mage’s bloodied armor smearing across his equally messy cheek. “Hush,” Shiro whispers, sounding somewhere far above him, his arms closing around Keith’s body. His grip is unbreakable, and Keith thinks, distantly, that Shiro could crush him like this, and that Keith might let him do that, too. He makes a small sound, one that does indeed sound like a wounded animal, and Shiro holds him tighter. “I’ve got you, Keith,” he promises, and somehow, Keith believes him.
He wakes up in Takashi Shirogane’s bed, with Shiro sitting in the very chair where Keith once sat, watching over him. That made sense. This – this doesn’t. Keith is also lying on his belly, and panics at the vulnerable position, trying to push himself upright on his elbows, only to groan in pain as his muscles and the torn flesh at his back protests. He sinks back down in defeat. His mouth tastes acrid with pain and fear and uncertainty.
At his bedside, Shiro moves. The room is illuminated by a single candle on the bedside table, casting a long, faded pool of gold across the bed, leaving the corners dark with dancing shadows. “Keith,” he says, low and secretive. Keith’s heart beats faster at the sound. “Don’t move, too much. You were hurt, badly. You’ve been out for...a while.”
Keith swallows, legs curling under the blankets, defensive. He looks up at Shiro, his chest tight and wound aching. “How...how long?”
“A week, I think,” Shiro says. He shakes his head and looks down. “I’ll admit I haven’t been paying much attention to time. For a while there, we didn’t know if you would…” He stops himself. “Well. You’re here, now. Allura had barely any mana left after the battle, and I – I’ve never been good at healing magic. I did what I could, but it almost wasn’t enough. If nothing else, it taught me I need to learn some damn healing spells, in case...this ever happens again.” He smiles, but it’s humorless.
Keith stares at him. Shiro is learning healing magic for him? That doesn’t... what?
“Why are you protecting me?” Keith whispers, barely audible.
“Because that’s what a team does,” Shiro whispers back. He hesitates. “And because...I care about you, Keith.”
Keith is quiet. He can’t meet Shiro’s gaze, and he hunches his shoulders, ignoring the twinge of pain that comes with the movement. He stares blankly at the pillows, and so he isn’t expecting it when Shiro reaches out and touches his shoulder.
Keith flinches, hard, and Shiro starts apologizing, because of course he does, but Keith snaps, “It’s fine,” and Shiro falters, confused, hand hovering an inch from Keith’s skin. His bare skin. He’s shirtless. Not just shirtless, down to his smallclothes. In front of Shiro. In fact, Shiro’s probably the one who undressed him – fasta fucking vass, Keith is going to die.
“I’m sorry,” Shiro says again, sincerely, so damn sincerely. “I shouldn’t have –”
“I’m not made of bloody glass,” Keith hisses, and immediately regrets it. He doesn’t want to snap at Shiro. He knows Shiro doesn’t mean it, he just…
“I know,” Shiro says, quietly. “I just. Uh.”
“If there’s something you want to say, then say it.” Keith says it not with anger, but with exhaustion.
Shiro looks away. “It’s none of my business, but. Sendak – it was something he said, or the way he said it. That you were... skilled. And I don’t know much about Tevinter, but I know that sometimes, slaves who are...bodyguards, like you were...sometimes they’re made to do, ah, other things.”
Keith blinks at him. “What?”
Shiro’s flushed, looking equal parts embarrassed and upset. “Did he make you go to his bed?”
He says it in a rush, and Keith blinks, then says, “Oh,” and clears his throat. “No. He – uh.” Keith snorts a little, even though it’s not funny, it’s very serious, but maybe Keith is tired of life being so damn serious all the time. “He probably thought I’d bite his dick off if he tried.” Keith pauses. “And I probably would have.”
Shiro stares at him, like he’s not sure if Keith is joking or not, but slowly his shoulders relax. “Ah,” he says, slightly choked. “That’s – I’m glad he. Didn’t.”
Keith makes a quiet sound. “Nobody did, as far as I remember, which isn’t...very far.” He curls back up again. “Did I ever tell you that? I don’t remember anything, before the ritual. My memories begin with searing pain. So I guess Sendak was right about one thing. Not much room for anything more than violence in me.”
“Sendak was wrong,” Shiro says, so fiercely that Keith’s gaze darts up again, wondering. “He didn’t know anything about you.”
“I was his weapon,” Keith whispers. “Aren’t I that to you, too?”
Shiro’s expression cracks, crumples. “Is that what you think you are, to me?”
“I don’t know,” Keith says. He wets his lips. “No, that’s not true. I just – I’m afraid.”
“Afraid of what?” Shiro’s voice is so gentle, always so gentle for him.
“Afraid that I don’t know how to be more than that,” he admits, the words hanging between them like they have shadows of their own.
“Oh, Keith,” Shiro whispers, and this time when he reaches out and takes Keith’s hand, Keith doesn’t pull away, but stares at where Shiro’s massive palm cradles his own calloused, tattooed hand, somehow managing to make something capable of causing so much death look delicate. “You’re already more than that,” Shiro tells him. “You always have been. Yeah?”
Keith’s fingers curl against his palm. Shiro is so big he eclipses the candle, casting Keith in a dark blanket of hulking shadow. “Yeah,” Keith manages, and his lyrium flickers with a faint flare of nervous, anticipatory energy, and if Shiro notices, he doesn’t say anything about it.
Keith is stuck in bed for a week more. It makes him antsy, but it makes him even more antsy to leave the bed, because always it’s with Shiro supporting him, letting Keith lean into the bulk of him as they go up and down the stairs together. Keith hates feeling like a useless invalid, but he can’t say he doesn’t appreciate the chance to cling openly to Shiro’s arm and feel the ripple of those frankly obscene biceps for himself. They’re everything he dreamed of and more.
If Shiro notices Keith’s sneaky fondling, he doesn’t say anything. He does, however, definitely notice when Keith stumbles on a step and Shiro catches him before he can fall, which results in Keith cradled in Shiro’s stupid tree trunk arms, one of which is magic and makes his lyrium sing to life with the proximity, resulting in a wide-eyed mage and a glowing elf.
“Oh!” Shiro exclaims, flustered as he rights Keith and pulls away a little, peering at the lyrium tattoos uncertainly as they stubbornly continue to glow. “I didn’t – did I do that?”
“It’s complicated,” Keith grumbles, hugging one traitorous glowing arm close to his body. “Not your fault. It just – triggers, sometimes, with ambient magic, or when I’m surprised, or…” He trails off. “It just happens.”
Shiro is still peering at him. “Does it hurt, when it...glows, like that?”
Keith shakes his head mutely. He chews his lip. “Sometimes it’s sensitive, but it doesn’t hurt unless it’s, um, harvested.”
“Harvested,” Shiro repeats. He sucks in a breath. “Maker, if I could kill Sendak all over again, I would.”
Keith’s lyrium brightens even further. Fenhedis, and now he’s aroused by Shiro promising to enact vengeful murder, apparently. With effort, he clears his throat. “Yes, well. What’s done is done.”
Shiro is still frowning. “How does someone use a person like that?” he mutters.
“Step one,” Keith says, “just don’t see them as a person. Problem solved.”
Shiro snorts, then looks mortified, but Keith is chuckling. “See, you do have a sense of humor,” Shiro muses.
Keith ducks his head. “Just a little. I don’t think anyone thinks I’m funny.”
“I think you’re funny,” Shiro says. “You made that joke a few weeks back when we were drinking wine at Allura’s place about ‘bottling up’ your feelings and I almost fell off my chair laughing.”
“That was a very stupid joke,” Keith mumbles, and ducks his head. “But...thanks.”
“Maybe I like stupid jokes,” Shiro counters. His eyes gleam. Keith has to look away. They continue downstairs, and Shiro serves him breakfast and tea, and Keith awkwardly reclines on the sofa and wonders how this is his life now: lounging around and being waited on by the Champion of Kirkwall.
“I can go back to my own place, you know,” Keith says when the teapot is half empty. “I don’t want to impose.”
“You’re not,” Shiro says easily, setting down his mug of tea. “I brought you here; you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.” He eyes Keith. “I’m surprised you’re eager to go back to that spooky mansion of yours. Are all the demon corpses still laying around?”
“...Yes.” Keith claimed Sendak’s old mansion in Kirkwall, which he abandoned when he fled the city as soon as he heard Keith was looking for him months ago. Keith still hasn’t done anything about all of the corpses. Keith thought they added a certain foreboding ambiance, one that he thought might scare Sendak off if he came to find Keith there. But now Sendak is dead...so he has some skeletons to sweep up. “I like that spooky mansion. It’s mine. It’s good to have something of my own, like that.”
“Better to have something of your own with less corpses, probably,” Shiro points out.
“Probably,” Keith agrees. “Are you offering to help me with corpse removal?”
“Of course. Just as soon as we’re sure you’re not in danger of being a corpse, yourself.”
Keith huffs. “I’m fine. Really.”
“You need your bandages changed,” Shiro retorts, “and probably a bath, too.”
Keith blinks at him owlishly, ears flicking back. “...A bath.”
“Yes,” Shiro chuckles, “you know, with soap and water and maybe a sponge, if you’re feeling adventurous.”
“Do not mock me,” Keith exclaims, “I have bathed!”
Shiro holds up his hands in surrender. “No mocking. But, seriously, and I mean this with the utmost kindness of a friend speaking the truth for your own sake...you do kind of smell, Keith.”
Keith wilts. Smelly isn’t a particularly attractive trait. Except on Shiro. Keith’s smelled Shiro soaked in sweat and guts after a fight and he’s still horrendously attractive.
“First I take your bed, now your bath?” Keith says. “Shiro, that’s too much, I –”
With a start, he realizes it’s the first time he’s called the Champion that – not Champion, not Shirogane, but the name Shiro’s been trying to get him to use from the start, the one that felt like Too Much. It feels right to do so now, though this new familiarity between them is...frightening.
Shiro’s eyes crinkle up at the corners. “Something tells me your mansion isn’t equipped with appropriate bathing facilities, Keith, and if the alternative is the Kirkwall canal, then yes, you are using my bath. We’re trying to clean the wound, not make it go septic. Alright?”
Keith gulps. Bathing. In Shiro’s bath. In Shiro’s house. With Shiro present, possibly, as he’s still not regained full range of motion. “Alright,” he relents. “But – I owe you, for this, Shiro.”
To his disbelief, Shiro shakes his head. “You owe me nothing, Keith. It’s what teams do, remember? I’ll start drawing up the bath. Yell if you need anything. What’s your favorite scent of soap?”
“Um,” Keith says, baffled, “...soap...scented?”
“Right,” Shiro chuckles, and goes upstairs to start the bath like this is just something they do, now.
Keith can’t finish his tea. He’s too busy agonizing over the impending reality of Shiro, seeing him naked, assuming he hasn’t already – Keith takes a deep breath. He will not make a fool of himself. He will be cool and composed and act just as one ought to when being bathed by one of their friends.
Keith has no idea how one is supposed to act in this situation, as it turns out.
Shiro has to help him undress, and somehow this was an obstacle he was not expecting, and Keith only barely doesn’t swear when he feels Shiro’s careful touch on his back, lifting his loose tunic up and off for him before tending to the bandages. The wound is awfully low on Keith’s back, and Shiro’s palm is warm. It must be the magic one, because Keith’s lyrium begins to glow again, harsh silver against the late afternoon sunshine streaming in from the high windows.
“Sorry,” Shiro murmurs, though he has nothing to apologize for. Keith is the one who should be apologizing here.
He wonders what Shiro sees when he looks at him – an experiment gone wrong? A Fade ghost in the flesh? Or maybe it’s the simplest possibility: Keith is just unpleasant to look at. The tattoos unsettle people, and they’re more extensive than most know. They curl all down his spine, raised lines of scar tissue outlining them, and surround the wound – thankfully the wound hasn’t broken through any of them.
Maybe his silence is telling, because Shiro’s hand pauses on the bandages. “What’s wrong?” His breath feathers across Keith’s ear, and Keith shudders, ear flicking away as warmth curls in his gut.
“Nothing,” Keith grunts, staring determinedly at the water. “How’s the wound?”
Shiro pauses, gives up, sighs, and says, “It’s healing, slowly. That weapon must have been poisoned, enchanted, something – it left more damage than it should have. But I think you’ll be okay. Just have to make sure you don’t reopen it, and it’ll probably leave a nasty scar.”
“That’s fine,” Keith says quietly. At least one of his scars will be a normal one.
“You’ve been very casual about this ‘almost dying’ business,” Shiro remarks as he unwinds the old bandages and sets them aside.
Keith considers this. “Yes,” he admits. “If I had died, I would have died killing Sendak, and that would be a good death. I thought about dying a great deal, over the years, and that was always at the top of the list. Maybe that’s morbid.”
“Maybe,” Shiro says, and falls quiet. He steps away so Keith can slip out of his leggings and nearly throw himself into the bath in his haste to cover himself. “Do you want me to leave?” he asks. When Keith glances over his shoulder, the mage is actually looking at the wall, which is both very thoughtful and very cute.
Keith thinks about wanting things, and he thinks about what he wants. He heaps the soap bubbles around himself and says, with as much nonchalance as he can manage, “You can stay. I don’t mind. And I can’t reach my back.”
Shiro turns with surprise. “Are you asking me to wash your back?”
Keith shrugs, wincing at the movement. “If you are offering.”
“I am...if you’re sure,” Shiro says after an unsure pause. He approaches, and Keith sinks further into the bath, ears flicking nervously when the mage kneels down next to the tub. He makes a strange noise when Keith leans forward, folding his arms on the edge of the tub and baring his back to Shiro, spine arching when Shiro touches the washcloth to his skin.
Keith is hyper-aware of his closeness, and when Shiro’s hands are on him, it’s almost too much, feeling the way Shiro slowly drags the cloth over Keith’s shoulders and down his back, water dripping down the curve of his spine and Shiro’s hand so big on his waist that Keith bets he could hold Keith’s hips and have his thumbs meet in the middle.
As Shiro touches him, something curious happens. The moment his right hand makes contact with the thickest vein of lyrium down Keith’s spine, all of the markings flare to life and Keith makes a sound, a soft, helpless gasp, trembling at the unexpected tingling sensation that washes over him.
When he first felt it, he tensed, expecting pain, or at least discomfort, for that was the only sensation he had ever associated with the tattoos. But this...this isn’t that. It’s warm, like the bathwater, with a hazy edge of blissfulness that is as baffling as it is addicting.
Shiro yanks his hand away, breathing hard. “Keith – I – it was different that time, did I...do something?”
“Something,” Keith croaks, hiding his red face in his forearms, shoulders shivering. “That – has never happened, before.”
“Did I hurt you –”
“No,” Keith pants, lifting his head and meeting Shiro’s eye through his damp, hanging hair. “You didn’t. Hurt me.”
“Should I...just use my other hand?” Shiro ventures, looking as bewildered as Keith feels. Kaffas, that sensation still lingers, so pleasant and sudden it scares him.
“Yes, I think that would be wise,” Keith manages, tucking his face back against his forearms as Shiro resumes, more carefully this time, right hand out of reach. “What – what is your right hand made of, exactly?”
“Uh,” Shiro says, “actually – now that you ask – funny story, that.”
Somehow, Keith doubts it’s a very funny story. Immediately suspicious, he lifts his head enough to eye Shiro warily. “Shiro,” he says, slowly, “what is it.”
Shiro winces. “Just,” he starts, “don’t get upset.”
Keith narrows his eyes. “I can hardly promise not to get upset if I do not even know what it is I would be not getting upset about, Shirogane –”
“Fair, fair!” Shiro stops washing Keith’s back to raise both hands in surrender. He rubs his shoulder uncomfortably, and sighs. He looks anxious, and apologetic, though he hasn’t even said anything yet, and Keith’s wariness grows. “It’s...complicated, but. Well. My arm is made using blood magic, Keith.”
Keith stares at him, stomach dropping, the bathwater suddenly icy around him, the lingering warm haze falling away in an instant. “You’re a blood mage – a maleficar – you?”
Shiro shakes his head. His expression is tired. “You’ve seen me do magic, Keith. It’s not blood magic. This…” He eyes his arm, its silvery sheen bright as iron. “It’s Fade energy, raw Fade energy, but there was no way to harness it that wouldn’t require a near-constant supply of lyrium. No way except for using my own blood.” He gives Keith a rueful smile. “I had an actual prosthetic, before, but it just kept getting destroyed. Maybe if I were someone with a normal job, and less near-death experiences, I wouldn’t have to have it. But...Allura’s Keeper, the head of her clan, helped me create it. No one was harmed, Keith.”
“No one except you,” Keith whispers, curling his knees up to his chest as he turns to face Shiro, furrowing his brow at the mage. “That arm...sustains itself with your blood?”
Shiro shrugs. “So does my other arm.” He wiggles the fingers of his left hand.
“But – how has it not drained you? Won’t you need to start using the blood of others, someday?”
“If that day comes, I’ll find a way to sever the connection, and make do,” Shiro sighs. “I still use lyrium, it’s just...not enough. My blood amplifies the magic, makes the connection to the Fade stronger, so I have more control over the arm and can use it as a weapon.”
Keith wets his lips. “Who knows of this?” he whispers.
“Besides you?” Shiro hesitates. “Allura, of course. Her clan Keeper.” He swallows. “Yeah, that’s it.”
“Blood magic is illegal,” Keith says.
“Yes, and you hate blood mages more than anyone else, I’m well aware,” Shiro sighs. “Probably with good reason, too. I hear blood magic is a popular pastime in Tevinter.”
Keith swallows. It is. It’s used to make mages more powerful, yes, but also to control others. To take their minds, their bodies, their very souls, under a mage’s command, turning them into mere puppets. Keith remembers its pull, its cold and sickening touch on him. But Shiro’s doesn’t feel like that. Why doesn’t Shiro’s feel like that?
Shiro eyes him, uncertain now. “Are you going to turn me in?”
What a question.
Keith’s hands ball into fists under the water. He should. He’s seen what happens to blood mages who go too far. But he’s also seen what happens to blood mages who are turned in to the Templars. Executed, or worse, turned Tranquil – branded with lyrium, reduced to former shells of themselves with no connection to the Fade, no magic, no self. He imagines Shiro like that, empty-eyed with the lyrium sunburst brand red and angry on his forehead, and trembles. “No,” he breathes. “But – if you begin to hurt others – innocents – Shiro, I…”
“Trust me,” Shiro says quietly. “If I start doing that, then I expect you to stop me with your sword before I get any further, Keith.”
“You would ask that of me,” Keith whispers.
“It is not an easy thing to ask, I know,” Shiro says, “but I need you to know that I don’t want to become...that. I need you to know that if I could, I would destroy all those who harmed you with magic in Tevinter, Keith. I need you to know I would never harm you like that. Never.”
“I know,” Keith says, staring up at him, fists uncurling in the water. “But – I don’t want magic to harm you, either, Shiro.”
Shiro eyes him. “I never told you how I lost my arm, did I?” Keith shakes his head. “Hm. Well, I’ve never been to Tevinter, but I know enough about cults and sacrifice...and blood magic. It’s ironic, really – I lost the arm to blood magic, and grew a new one with it.”
Keith sits up straight, ignoring the pain in his back. “Who,” he demands, barely a word, gritted out fiercely between his teeth. “Who did that to you, Shiro?”
Shiro waves his silver hand. “I didn’t exactly stay around to ask questions. It was a few years before the Blight, before we...before I fled to Kirkwall.” His jaw works. Keith looks at him, stricken. He knows, vaguely, that Shiro lost his family to the Blight before reaching Kirkwall. He doesn’t talk about it, and Keith doesn’t ask. Some things are better left in silence. “They needed a mage to help cleanse a poisoned well – that was the cover story. I thought I would play the hero, so I went to help. Woke up short an arm, surrounded by cultists in a cave.” Shiro grimaces. “They summoned a Pride demon, but someone skipped summoning circle lessons, and it got out. Killed them all. Lucky for me.”
Keith sucks in a breath. “How did you escape?” He’s leaning forward, no longer mindful of the soap covering his body. Shiro is resolutely looking at a point just over his shoulder. “Did the demon...make some deal with you?”
“Oh, it tried, promised me a new arm, vengeance, all for the small price of possession,” Shiro replies, waving a hand. “But I wasn’t really in the mood. I guess that was technically the first time I used blood magic – no lyrium lying around, but plenty of blood, so I made do. I don’t think it was expecting me to slam it against the other side of the cave with a telekinetic force wave, so I managed to get away. I like to think that guy is still out there, wandering the hills of Ferelden, asking everyone he finds if they’ve seen a one-armed force mage with a funny white spot in his hair.”
Keith gawks at him. “You’re telling me a Pride demon tried to possess you and you...hit it with a force wave using blood magic and escaped from it, right after getting your arm amputated by blood mages.”
“Yes,” Shiro says, “yes, that’s the story.”
Keith says, choked, “How are you real, Takashi Shirogane?”
Shiro chuckles, a little sheepish. “I could say the same of you, Keith. You escaped far more demons than I.”
“Not demons,” Keith says, relaxing despite himself, the warm steam and the close proximity strangely calming. “Just mages.” Shiro hums in agreement, and Keith doesn’t stop peering at him, remembering the feeling of his touch. “So...your hand, when you touched me. It felt like that because it was...hungry?”
Shiro pauses, expression sliding back into guilt. “I...suppose so, yes. I use the blood magic to amplify the magic and harness it better, but maybe in the presence of your lyrium it just wants...more.” He frowns. “Not that I would ever take it –”
Keith tilts his head. “What if you needed it?” he murmurs, searching Shiro’s gaze. “What if there was no other choice?”
Shiro falters, and shakes his head. “Keith...I wouldn’t ever use you like that. Especially not when it causes you pain. Okay? I promise. I swear on, uh…”
“You don’t need to swear an oath to me,” Keith murmurs. “I believe you.”
In the secrecy of his own head, he thinks, But what if I let you? and the thought makes him shiver all over again.
“I swear on my left arm!” Shiro declares, and gives him one of his rare, wonky grins, dimples and all. Keith is helpless in the face of it; he smiles back, a shy sliver of moonlight compared to Shiro’s brilliant sunshine. “But I’m glad you believe me,” Shiro adds, and shifts a little closer to the tub.
They’re very close, Keith thinks distantly, eyes tracing the silvery fall of Shiro’s hair, and thinks, nonsensically, We match. Keith’s hair is black, or appears to be, but when his lyrium illuminates silver, so does each dark strand.
Shiro gazes back steadily, something curious in his gleaming gray eyes, something dark and unreadable. It makes Keith want to lean in closer, to see if Shiro would hold him again, surround his waist in those absurdly large hands and lift him, perhaps, out of the tub – it would be easy for Shiro to do so, and for a fleeting moment Keith imagines letting him.
He imagines letting himself go limp as a scruffed kitten in the Champion’s grasp, easy and pliant into the welcoming spread of his lap, perched on thick thighs, pressed close against his generous chest, bare and soaking Shiro’s clothes through with bathwater. He imagines being held, surrounded, safe in the hugeness of him.
“I think,” Keith says, refusing to admit he’s breathless, “you were meant to be washing my back.”
“I think your back is clean,” Shiro says without checking, in a sudden rush, climbing to his feet and scratching his head. “Sorry. I don’t want to set off your lyrium again...but I think you can manage the rest?”
“Ah,” Keith says as he edges towards the door, disappointed but understanding. Shiro doesn’t want to cause him discomfort. But, “It felt good, you know.”
He doesn’t know where the boldness comes from, and Shiro stops in his tracks, eyes going round and lips parting. It’s an interesting expression. Keith would like to see it more on him. “It, uh,” Shiro stammers, “it did?”
“Yes,” Keith says, and turns away, settling back down in the bath, enjoying the remaining steam while it lasts. “Thank you for the bath, Shiro.”
“Anytime, Keith,” Shiro wheezes, and almost slams the door on his way out. Sometimes, Keith thinks with amusement and a healthy dose of less innocent speculation, the Champion doesn’t know his own strength.
Keith is fully healed within the week – or rather, he declares he is, for both he and Shiro’s sanity. Shiro is as kind and courteous a host as ever, but he takes care not to touch Keith and leaves him to his own devices more often than not. There’s a twitchiness about him that wasn’t there before, and Keith worries he’s overstayed his welcome. Maybe Shiro’s caught on to his ogling. Maybe Keith has managed to ruin things already.
This thought puts him in a foul mood on their next job together, which makes him distracted, which makes him get hurt. Again.
Thankfully, it’s not nearly as severe as the previous injury, but it’s enough to make Keith hiss with pain throughout the entire second half of the fight, and by the time it’s over, he’s clutching his arm and growling as blood trickles out between his gauntleted fingers.
“Keith, you’re wounded,” Allura says, starting towards him, but Keith is still on-edge from the fight and the pain and turns on her with a glare, ears flicking back.
“Be careful, he bites,” Lance pants, swinging his crossbow over his shoulder and shaking his head.
But then, to everyone’s bewilderment, Shiro approaches Keith with glowing palms and Keith doesn’t curse at him or flinch away, just stares at him uncertainly as the mage steps closer. Shiro gives him an apologetic little smile. “I promise I’ve been practicing. I won’t make it worse. Probably.”
“What,” Keith says, and then when Shiro takes his hand gently, lifting it away from his injured arm to expose the ragged cut, “oh –”
“Okay?” Shiro asks, peering down at him, practically cradling Keith’s arm in the palm of his hand. Stiffly, Keith nods, feeling everyone’s eyes on them. “Okay. Let me know if this, uh, feels funny, or anything.”
It does not feel funny when Shiro lays his hand carefully over Keith’s arm and begins to heal it. In fact, all of Keith’s lyrium alights, and he swallows hard as he meets Shiro’s eyes and gives a small nod.
Shiro is using his left hand, but Keith swears he can still feel the ambient energy of the right arm, a warm and throbbing pulse through the tattoos, straining to touch them, to consume them. But Keith is not consumed. When Shiro lifts his hand away, the flesh is made whole again and the pain has faded.
Keith looks up at him with no small amount of wonder and flexes his fingers. “You really did learn healing magic for me,” he says.
Shiro turns undeniably pink. “Just a little,” he replies.
“Thank you,” Keith whispers, not looking away from him. “I appreciate it, Shiro.”
“Don’t mention it,” Shiro says, waving a hand. Keith’s eyes trace the movement, and remember that palm on his skin, covering more than half of his entire forearm.
Behind him, Lance turns to Hunk, Pidge, and Allura and mouths, The fuck was that?
But nobody has an answer for him, least of all Keith.
It’s after a much bigger and more successful job a few weeks later that Keith finds it impossible to ignore Shiro in all his bigness and kindness. They’re at Hunk’s place, a stately yet cozy townhouse in Hightown near the city guard barracks. Hightown tends to put Keith on edge, but all the edge is forgotten after a bottle or two of wine. Maker, Keith loves wine. Maybe that’s not a healthy love, but currently, he can’t find it in himself to care.
Everyone else is in varying stages of drunkenness, or at least tipsy, but Keith has a vague idea that he might be the drunkest one there. So it goes.
Have Shiro’s eyes always been so pretty?
Shiro turns to him, startled. “What? Did you say something?”
Oh, no. Did he? Keith blinks at him stupidly, then, because he can’t think of anything else to do, shrugs and folds against Shiro’s side.
Shiro makes a strangled noise. “Keith…?”
“Shhh,” Keith mumbles, burrowing closer. Shiro is so warm. Keith has never been warmer than when he’s with Shiro.
“Okay,” Shiro croaks, “I guess we’re just – doing this now?”
He and Shiro are on the sofa, with Pidge on the other end of it, and she gawks at them as the others in the room slowly notice. Allura is sitting primly on the settee beside Hunk’s massive armchair, with Lance perched on one of the chair’s arms. Of course, Lance is the first person who says something.
“Uh, Shiro?” Lance says. “I think you have an elf-shaped barnacle stuck to you.”
Keith’s ears flick back, resenting the comparison to a crustacean. Shiro forces a laugh when Keith does not detach, and instead stubbornly pushes his face further against Shiro’s shoulder. “Yeah, I think Keith might have had...a little too much to drink.”
Keith grumbles in disagreement. “Jus’ the right amount,” he says.
Allura clears her throat. “I must say, I’ve never seen you so touchy-feely, Keith.”
Keith straightens up, indignant. “Touchy-feely?” he exclaims. “I am not. I’m just –” He searches for a word. “Appreciative.”
Hunk’s eyebrows shoot up. “Uh...of what, buddy?”
“Shiro’s biceps,” Keith says matter-of-factly, patting one of them. Shiro chokes on his ale and almost sprays it everywhere. Hunk whistles quietly. Lance smacks a hand over his mouth to stop cackling. Pidge rolls her eyes and mutters something that sounds resigned and frankly, unsurprised.
“Oh,” Allura says, very high-pitched. She squints at Shiro. “So it’s like that, then?”
“Like what?” Keith mumbles, sprawling back onto the sofa and not moving his hand from Shiro’s arm.
“IT IS NOT,” Shiro says in a panicked rush, “LIKE THAT.”
Keith is alarmed by Shiro’s obvious panic. He leans closer, studying the Champion’s face. It’s a handsome face. He has a few flecks of ale on his cheek from when he choked, and Keith brushes them off gently. “Shhhhhh,” Keith says again, more firmly this time. “Calm down. Are you calm, Shiro? You need to relax more.”
“He has a point,” Lance starts, eyes still glittering with mirth.
Shiro raises a finger at Lance in a motion that might be threatening if he wasn’t as red as the nice velvet canopy over his bed. “Don’t you even start –”
“I said shush, Takashi.” Keith puts a finger over Shiro’s lips. The mage stills. At the contact of his mouth with Keith’s lyrium-lined finger, they both draw in a shallow, startled breath. Keith wonders if Shiro can feel that tingling warmth, too, or if he’s alone in this strange and unexpected feeling of pleasure where there has only ever been pain before.
The thought makes him suddenly, deeply sad. He doesn’t want to be alone. He thought he did, once – he thought that would be easier. But he knows now that warriors who go to battle by themselves rarely come back in one piece.
“Okay,” Shiro whispers, his face somehow even redder than before. “I – I’ll shush.”
“I can’t watch this,” Hunk says, pained. “Keith, how drunk are you?”
“I’m not,” Keith says, and pauses. “Maybe a little. Hm. Isn’t everyone a little drunk, sometimes?”
“What does that even mean,” Pidge croaks.
“I’m a little drunk,” Shiro says faintly, “but I feel like maybe I’m having an out of body experience.”
“Stay in your body,” Keith demands. “It’s too nice for you to leave it.”
“Did Keith just say Shiro has a nice body or am I having an out of body experience?” Hunk wonders.
“Yes,” Keith says dreamily, petting Shiro’s bicep. He’s wearing a loose tunic, and most of his left arm is exposed, and his skin is startlingly soft, and Keith doesn’t want to stop touching him. Maybe he said some of that aloud. “It’s a very big body, too. You could crush me with one hand, if you wanted.”
Hunk puts his head in his hands. Allura lets out a nervous giggle while looking at Lance in bewilderment. Pidge whispers, “Drunk Keith is so much better than I ever could’ve imagined, damn.”
“I’m not going to – crush you,” Shiro manages. He looks dazed and confused. “Why do you think I would crush you?”
“Shiro, no,” Hunk hisses.
“Because,” Keith says, and pats his hand. “Big,” he adds, eloquently.
Shiro wilts a little. “Keith...I may be, er, on the larger side, as humans go –” Pidge makes loud gagging sounds, “but you must know I would never hurt you. You don’t have to be afraid of me.”
“Er, Shiro, dear, I don’t think he’s expressing fear,” Allura starts, just as Keith exclaims, “Afraid of you? Shiro – you could crush me and I would thank you.”
Shiro’s eyes widen comically. “Oh.” He swallows, hard. “Oh.”
“Yes,” Keith says, smiles, and pillows his head on Shiro’s shoulder. His hand falls to Shiro’s thigh. High on Shiro’s thigh. Shiro swears, but it comes out as more of a whimper.
“Oh, Maker, he’s going to pass out, isn’t he,” Hunk whispers.
Lance raises an eyebrow. “Who? Keith from alcohol poisoning or Shiro from all the blood rushing from his brain to his –”
Keith passes out. On Shiro.
Keith wakes up bleary-eyed, with a bitter taste in his mouth. It might be vomit. Or regret. Hard to say. Why not both?
He also wakes up on Shiro. Shiro is awake, and drinking a glass of water that Keith immediately longs for. Then he remembers what else he was longing for last night, and jerks away as if burnt.
Shiro’s gaze slides to him. He looks tired, like he hasn’t slept all night. He probably couldn’t, not with Keith draped all over him – oh, kaffas, Keith’s even left a small puddle of drool on Shiro’s tunic. Why didn’t Shiro push him away? Pity, maybe. Keith cringes, hunching his shoulders and wiping his mouth.
“You’re awake,” Shiro sighs.
“I’m sorry,” Keith blurts, staring hard at the floor. The others have gone, though he can smell Hunk’s cooking wafting through the house. Nobody else wanted to see Keith make a fool of himself, so why has Shiro stayed? He pities you, he thinks again, and swallows back bile.
Shiro’s brows draw together. “Why are you sorry, Keith? You were – I mean, do you remember –”
“Yes,” Keith snaps, putting his head in his hands so he doesn’t have to look at Shiro’s concerned face. “I was not blessed with amnesiatic drunkenness.”
Shiro makes a soft sound. “I...see.”
“Was I laying on you all night? You should have pushed me off!” Keith says without waiting for an answer.
“Should I have?” Shiro sighs. “Keith, it’s fine, really. You looked comfortable. I didn’t want to wake you.”
“My comfort is not worth your discomfort, Shiro,” Keith bemoans, rubbing his temples.
“I wasn’t,” Shiro says, and adds, hastily, “uncomfortable, I mean.”
Keith scowls into his palms, because what can Shiro possibly mean by that? “No?” he retorts. “You weren’t uncomfortable with a bony elf shoving his elbow into your side and snoring in your ear all night?”
“You’re not that bony,” Shiro says, and he sounds almost...thoughtful. “You’re very lean. And your snoring is kind of charming. You didn’t keep me awake, Keith.”
Keith peeks out through his fingers. He’s sure that Shiro is lying, but Shiro’s smile is broad and gentle, like the rest of him. “But you were awake, weren’t you?” he asks, hesitant.
Shiro shrugs. “Couldn’t sleep. Some nights it’s just like that, and ale sometimes makes it worse. It was nice to have company, actually.”
Keith is in danger. He swallows and straightens up, slowly lowering his hands from his face. “Ah. Well. Then...I am glad it was. Nice.”
Shiro is still smiling and Keith feels the danger even more acutely than before. “You’re...certain you’re not upset?” he mumbles. “I – I overstepped, I said some silly things and –”
“Keith.” Shiro stops him with a single word. “It’s okay. Really.” His already soft expression softens further. “You look a little rough – want some breakfast? Hunk is making pancakes, and I said I’d help make orange juice.”
“Sure,” Keith manages, unable to stop looking away from that soft smile, knowing he’s likely doomed. “Thanks, Shiro.”
Shiro just shakes his head and stands, offering his hand, and when Keith takes it, his smile widens, and his cheeks turn pink, and Keith thinks, fuck.
Things were good. Things were so good.
So of course, sooner or later, they all had to go bad.
Shiro and Keith went on the job alone, which was a mistake.
The job was on Sundermount, far from Kirkwall and from backup, which made them think it would be quick and quiet, which was also a mistake.
But their worst mistake was not to turn tail and run as soon as they heard the darkspawn approaching. If they had run, they might have been cowards, but they would also be alive.
They’re still alive now, but it’s a near thing. Not much longer, Keith thinks, and the very thought tears at him, with anger and frustrated desperation...but there is also a kind of peace. He will be dying free, with Sendak dead by his hand, and with Shiro beside him, and that is a much better death than what would have awaited him in Tevinter.
Still, the idea of Shiro dying is a painful one, one that he refuses to accept – not without a fight, anyway. Not without doing all he can to stop it, first.
They’re backed into a corner, a dead end – the darkspawn have cornered them in the mouth of a cave, and there’s no escape in sight. Either they stand their ground, or they’re forced further into the cave and overwhelmed. Keith’s barely able to stand – his knees tremble and his arms ache with every sword swing. As his huge blade connects with more corrupted flesh, the hurlocks stagger and fall, but Keith staggers too, and the threat of becoming corrupted by their Blight-ridden flesh and blood fills him with a dread that barely keeps him on his feet. The impact of each blow reverberates up his arm, shaking his very bones, at times with such force that he fears he will splinter apart.
Shiro, beside him, is not much better off. He’s run out of mana for spells, Keith thinks distantly, and is relying only on the power of his right arm...which relies on the power of his blood. Keith sees Shiro’s ashen face, the grim set of his mouth and brow, and realizes that at this rate, Shiro is going to kill himself, drain himself dry. Keith’s eyes dart to the rocks above them, and he fells two more hurlocks before jumping a step back.
Keith yells, “Shiro – the rocks, bring them down!” He points before another hurlock lunges for him, and Shiro looks at him in confusion but – without hesitation – does it, blasting the tumble of boulders above the cave mouth and leaping back with Keith as the first of the advancing hurlocks are buried under the stone, and the cave entrance is blocked off. It won’t hold – there are already hurlocks starting to clamber over the rocks to the gap at the top – but it will buy them enough time for Keith to give Shiro the most powerful weapon he has.
“Keith,” Shiro pants, bracing his hands on his thighs, his right hand flickering dangerously as he does so, “I...I don’t know how much longer I can hold them off. I’m sorry –”
Keith shakes his head. “Don’t be sorry,” he says, and holds out his arm. The lines of lyrium shine in the dim cave. Shiro slowly straightens up and turns to face him in disbelief. Keith’s fingers uncurl from the hilt of his sword; he drops it into the dust, and offers his open palm: a willing surrender. “Take it, Shiro. Take what you need. As much as you need.”
Shiro’s already pale face goes white with horror. “No – I can’t...Keith – Keith, won’t – won’t that hurt you?” he whispers.
“Oh, yes,” Keith says, his smile sharp. “But getting ripped apart by darkspawn will hurt a lot more. So, take it. I’m asking you to – no.” He sets his jaw. “I’m ordering you to, Shiro. Please.”
Shiro, slowly, reaches for his arm, then hesitates, his right hand only an inch from Keith’s arm. “I – I’m afraid I’ll take too much.”
The hurlocks are starting to make it over the top. They’re running out of time. Frantic, Keith steps right into his space, presses himself to Shiro’s front and hisses low and furious, “Takashi Shirogane, do not be afraid. I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid of you, and I don’t want us to bloody die, so take it. Now.”
“Keith,” Shiro whispers, an apology shaped in a name, and takes his arm.
The agony is exquisite. Keith feels the moment the mage touches the well of the lyrium’s power, thrumming through him in an endless current, and he feels his knees finally buckle, feels himself slump into Shiro and feels the mage hesitate at his sudden trembling. Keith hears himself snarl, “Don’t let go, don’t you fucking dare,” and feels blood spurt in his mouth as Shiro obediently holds on harder, and Keith bites his own tongue open from the pain.
It is different, though, he thinks blearily.
There is still the faintest hint of that warm, tingling pleasure of the right arm’s hunger, the greed of Shiro’s own blood wanting more, more. It’s just that, like this, Keith’s been dropped straight into the inferno. He feels like he’s melting, the skin sloughing from his bones and his bones crumbling to a fine powder until all that’s left is the silver strength of lyrium, a thrumming and beautiful and terrible song that curls around him and coils tight and refuses to let go. Or maybe that’s Shiro’s arm wrapped around him, holding him fast, for Keith can no longer stand, and distantly, he’s aware of someone screaming, and realizes it must be himself.
Everywhere Shiro touches him is pain and heat and wailing lyrium song, but for once, for the first time since anyone has ever taken this power from him, Keith is giving it freely, and the pain does not make him think of the cruelty and unfairness of what was done to him, but instead makes him think, I am alive, I am alive, I am alive, because dead things do not feel anything, pain or otherwise, and dead things do not feel the pound of Shiro’s heart against their own, and dead things do not scream and weep and say, Yes, take it, as much as it takes, don’t let go, don’t let go of me.
But Shiro does let go, and when he does Keith falls, falls small and crumpled and discarded on the hard earth. The sudden lack of overwhelming pain is almost worse than the pain itself, because in its wake lies a sunken numbness, a hollow feeling which spreads through him and makes him wonder if he hasn’t been Blighted, after all. But his heart still beats, and his arm is still bruised where Shiro touched him, and the fading light of the lyrium still sings, softly, and the lines of the tattoos ache.
And above him, Shiro is there, and the cave is filled with a searing violet flame as Shiro’s magic ripples through the air, storm and force and light and death, devouring the darkspawn in a torrent of burning hail, lightning cracking open their rotting bodies like ripe fruit, vicious waves of energy rending their limbs to pieces. Cheek pressed to the stone, Keith watches in silent awe. He’s never seen Shiro’s magic like this before. He doubts Shiro has, either.
When he looks to Shiro’s face, the Champion is barely recognizable, his face twisted into a helpless kind of fury, a desperation to survive that slowly tips away from desperation and into unyielding resolve. He knows he’s going to win. The violet light in his eyes says so, as does the crackling power of his arm, which burns even more brilliantly than any of his other spells, so bright it almost hurts to look at. But Keith is familiar with hurt. He doesn’t flinch in the face of it.
Magic, he thinks, is a terrible power to have. But Maker, Shiro knows how to wield it.
After a time – Keith doesn’t know how long, and doesn’t much care, doesn’t think it matters very much at all – the radiance of magic in the cave fades, too, and the sounds of the darkspawn horde are gone. Keith smells burnt flesh and tries to lift his head, afraid Shiro has gotten hurt – but even that small movement is near-impossible. He doesn’t know how much Shiro took, but it was a lot. Enough that he feels like little more than an exhausted shell of an elf, laying alone, half-expecting to be left there now that he has served his purpose, abandoned once more.
But Shiro does not abandon him. Shiro kneels down beside him with a frantic, furious little sound, and asks, “May I touch you?”
Keith tries to answer, he does, but there is no moisture left in his mouth and the effort of speaking seems impossibly exhausting. All he can do is breathe, his eyes half-open slits, eyelashes sticking together with drying tears. Finally, he manages a nod, more like a spasmodic jerk of his head, and then Shiro is gathering him up in his arms.
Keith cries out at the sudden movement and sensation, eyes flying wide and scream tangled up in his sore throat, and Shiro makes a little sound again but this time it sounds almost like a sob. “Forgive me, Keith,” he whispers, holding Keith to him and walking deeper into the cave as Keith pants and shakes with the pins and needles sensation overtaking him, overlain by quick stabs of oversensitivity.
After a while, Shiro lays him down, this time on something soft, and Keith shivers, curling in on himself. Shiro sits down beside him, head bowed in Keith’s peripherals. Keith wants to reach out to him, but exhaustion overtakes him, a rising darkness all around him, one he is helpless to resist as it pulls him under.
Keith awakes with a headache. It’s not a particularly bad headache. Not great, but manageable. His body aches, too, but he’s used to that.
What he’s not used to is waking up to Shiro lying beside him. He thinks the mage is asleep – he certainly looks it, though his expression is not one of serene slumber. He looks tired and worn and he’s frowning slightly.
Keith sits up and glances around, and sees that Shiro has brought them deeper into the cave, to the very back of it, a kind of rounded chamber. The tell-tale glow of wards illuminates the cave’s mouth back the way they came, though Keith doubts any more darkspawn will be hanging around. Shiro took out the entire horde.
Keith turns back to Shiro. They’re both laying on Shiro’s cloak, a thick red and black swathe of fabric big enough to be a quilt. Keith leans a little closer to Shiro, mesmerized by the silver fall of hair over his brow, the soft part of his lips –
The mage’s eyes open and Keith startles back, caught.
Shiro starts, too, sitting up in a hurry and blinking at him, wide-eyed. “Keith,” he gasps, “you’re awake, you –”
Keith tilts his head. “Did you not expect me to wake up?”
Shiro draws in a sharp breath. “You...you were unconscious. I thought maybe – maybe I took too much. Maybe – you weren’t...going to…” He lowers his gaze. “I know you said it hurt you, but Keith, that –”
“Shiro.” Keith shakes his head, shifting closer, drawn to the Champion’s warmth in a bolder way than before. The survival gives him courage, he thinks. If he can survive that pain, then he can survive anything. “I asked you to do it. I – wanted you to.”
Shiro’s eyes are brimming with tears, Keith realizes. “I know,” he says, ragged and quiet. “But – seeing you like that…”
Keith cups his face. He doesn’t quite mean to, but he thinks Shiro needs calming, and it’s what comes naturally. “Shh,” Keith whispers, and Shiro looks at him, eyes wild and still tear-filled. “You didn’t do this to me, Shiro. You saved us. Yeah?”
“No, Keith,” Shiro whispers, breath warm where it ghosts across Keith’s skin, across his parted lips. “You did that. I owe you.”
“You don’t owe me anything,” Keith tells him, and Shiro looks at him for a long moment, and then Shiro leans in and kisses him.
It’s quick, light, chaste – or at least, Shiro intends it to be. Keith freezes, hand still cupping Shiro’s jaw, and then he surges forward to meet it, his other hand flying up to grab blindly at Shiro’s pauldron, yanking him closer. Their teeth click, Shiro makes a muffled yelp, and Keith is painfully reminded that he bit his tongue open earlier. As first kisses go, it’s not particularly good – but it’s the first kiss Keith’s ever had, and as he pulls away with a thin line of blood running down his chin, he’s dizzy with the newness of it.
Shiro blinks at him and at the blood. His own lips are smeared with it. Maybe that should be repulsive. It isn’t. “Sorry – did I –”
“No,” Keith breathes, and then, softer, “don’t be sorry,” and kisses him again.
Shiro clutches at him, carefully, like he’s afraid Keith might break if he holds him too hard, too close, and Keith growls when he realizes it. He meant for the kiss to be soft, but too much has passed between them for soft, right now, and Shiro’s groan echoes through him as Keith licks into his mouth, teeth grazing his lip more purposeful than clumsy, this time. It’s still messy, filthy in a way that makes Keith burn in a far different way than the lyrium. He doesn’t know what they’re doing, doesn’t know if Shiro feels that same urgency, that same shocking desire, but he does know that this is want, and that he wants Shiro very much.
He says as much when the kiss breaks and Shiro gasps around a question. The mage stares at him like Keith is a hallucination. Keith hopes it’s a good one, at least. “Ah,” Shiro manages. “So – so you aren’t mad at me.”
“Why would I be mad,” Keith says, eyes half-lidded, unable to stop looking at Shiro’s lips.
“Because I – I kissed you – and I’m a mage – mmph –!”
Keith kisses him again, this time hard enough to send Shiro tumbling back onto his cloak. Keith covers Shiro’s body with his own, all eagerness and no thought, and he’s driven even wilder by the fact that even like this, pinning the mage with his entire body, he can’t even begin to cover the entirety of Shiro’s own body. His chest is huge under Keith’s scrabbling hands, and their armor is clanking and getting caught on things, so Keith fumbles with Shiro’s breastplate and tugs the straps free and then there’s only the mage’s tunic and oh, kaffas, Keith can’t stop touching him.
“Keith, your gauntlets,” Shiro wheezes, managing to sit up, leaning back on his elbows and panting as Keith half-rips the offending gauntlets off. Keith doesn’t know what face he’s making, but he guesses it’s the same kind of hunger mirrored in Shiro’s eyes, a want for things that they never thought could be had, but now lie before both of them in the flesh, under the armor.
Damn the armor. Keith pricks his thumb on his own spiked armor as he struggles to unlace and unlatch the pauldrons, and it’s then that Shiro stills his hands and whispers, “Let me?”
Keith lets him. Just like that, he lets him, and it feels good, to let Shiro so close. He turns, head bowed and back facing the mage, breath hitching as he feels Shiro’s hands on him, drawing the armor away, letting the steel shell fall uselessly aside. Shiro has already seen him vulnerable, bare, but not like this, and when the mage slides Keith’s tunic up and over his head, his touch lingers on the scar on Keith’s lower back. Once the tunic is off, Keith shivers, jolting with a soft gasp when Shiro’s right palm sweeps down his spine.
“How does that feel?” Shiro asks.
Keith cannot possibly put it into words, but he tries. “Good,” he whispers, “like — like in the bath, good, almost too good, but this time it’s — familiar, almost. Like it knows me. Like your magic — recognizes the lyrium’s power.”
“Your power,” Shiro whispers back, a warm breath against his ear that makes Keith want to slump back into him, go pliant in his arms. “It’s yours, Keith.”
“Mine,” Keith whispers, and trembles at the word, at the weight of it, so much heavier than any sword. “Yes,” he says, but he’s not thinking of the lyrium.
“Can you lie down for me?” Shiro asks, and it’s the way he says it, the way he always poses questions that’s so — kind, somehow, with no pressure in it, no expectation, no command to fulfill. It’s a question, and it’s a choice too, and this choice is an easy one. Keith lies down, on his front, pillowing his head on his forearms and trying not to focus on the way Shiro’s cloak rubs against his bare chest and the bared lyrium tattoos.
“What are you going to — to do?” Keith asks, wetting his dry lips, nervous despite himself. He has some thoughts as to why Shiro would want him to lie down, but Keith doesn’t like surprises very much, because in his experience, the vast majority of them are very bad.
His answer is Shiro’s kiss between his shoulder blades, and that’s not bad at all. “Kiss you,” Shiro murmurs. “Can I do that?”
“Just — kiss me, like this?” Keith swallows. “I can’t kiss you back?”
Shiro hums; Keith can almost hear his smile. “Of course you can,” he replies, “later...first, I want to take care of you. Will you let me?”
“Take — take care of me — how…?” Keith’s face burns, and heat curls low in his belly at the possibilities.
None of them measure up to Shiro kissing the nape of his neck hot and wet with just the slightest sting of teeth and saying, “I want to worship you, Keith — show you exactly how you make me feel. How beautiful you are. How lucky I am to be with you, right now, like this.”
Keith whimpers. He doesn’t mean to, just like he doesn’t mean for his eyes to fill with tears. Beautiful. Shiro thinks he’s beautiful?
“Takashi,” he breathes, helpless.
Shiro doesn’t move, save for the gentle stroke of his right hand up and down Keith’s spine, a pleasure that is both familiar and dizzyingly new with each stroke. “Is that a yes?”
Keith swallows thickly, squeezing his eyes shut as he says, “Yes — worship me, Takashi Shirogane,” and he feels Shiro’s moan brush across his skin as he bows down to kiss over Keith’s scar, lips lingering. He doesn’t stop there; no, his kisses drag lower, pressed into the lyrium down his spine, tracing the lines with his lips, drawing back only to tug Keith’s leggings down with a questioning sound. “Yes,” Keith says again, shallow and more needy than he intends, but Shiro just obeys, tugging Keith’s leggings down and slowly rolling them off his trembling legs.
He’s down to his smallclothes then, and shivers hard when Shiro’s palm kneads over his ass, big enough to cup it with dizzying ease. “Look at you,” Shiro breathes, and Keith arches up into his palm, can’t help it, thighs spreading wider just from that single touch, cock all at once aching where it’s trapped between his thighs and the cloak. “Oh, Keith.”
“Take them off,” Keith whispers, glancing back at the mage, over his shoulder. Except for his cloak and breastplate, Shiro is still fully clothed. “And you, I want – to see you.”
In reply, Shiro reaches for his own tunic first, pulling it up and over his head. Keith’s mouth goes dry. Shiro’s torso ripples with muscle, yes, but there’s an overall thickness to him, too, heavy and full and perfect. Keith remembers what he looks like well enough from when Shiro was healing, but this is different. Shiro isn’t hurt; Shiro is alive and well and sitting back on his heels behind Keith as he gives Keith a crooked smile and inches down Keith’s smallclothes. Keith doesn’t look at his own exposed flesh, but stares at the obvious bulge waiting between Shiro’s broad thighs.
Shiro chuckles at him, but continues to focus on Keith. When he touches Keith’s ass again, now bare, Keith lets out a stuttered exhale, nodding furiously when Shiro asks if that’s okay. But then Shiro’s hands move back up to Keith’s shoulders, and the air warms with magic, and Keith makes a low, confused noise as the smell of lightly perfumed oil floats through the air. Shiro’s hands are no longer dry, but slick with the oil, and he’s rubbing it gently into Keith’s skin, over his aching muscles and the raw tattoos, and it’s the most divine thing Keith has ever felt in his life.
He gasps, hiding his face in his forearm, arching as Shiro works his way lower, taking his time, massaging Keith’s back like he’s done this a thousand times. He leaves kisses, too, slow and tender as his touches, and by the time he’s at the small of Keith’s back, Keith is a puddle of soothed elf, ears twitching from the sensations and lyrium flaring in bewildered reply. He barely even flinches when Shiro’s huge, oil-warmed hands smooth over his ass, shaping and squeezing it, and his head only lifts when Shiro spreads him, letting the warm, tingling oil drip down Keith’s spine and over the tight furl of his hole.
Keith draws in a breath. Shiro’s fingers trace, just out of reach. “Do you want me to?”
“Please,” Keith manages, face hot.
“You don’t have to beg,” Shiro promises, and then his lips are following his fingers, leaving a last kiss at the base of his spine that makes Keith’s toes curl.
And then he’s pressing a finger inside, this touch as warm and soothing as the others, just more strange, more new. The thickness of his fingers is evident; even this part of him is so much bigger than Keith’s own. Keith exhales, biting his lip, wondering at how even then, there is nothing invasive about it, even as Shiro presses another finger into his yielding, open body. It simply cannot be invasive, not with Shiro, because Shiro is an ally, fighting beside him, and a safe place to retreat to when the battle is over.
Keith closes his eyes and lets himself savor it, sighing, melting into the curl of Shiro’s fingers as he works Keith open, just for him. There is a possessive heat to that thought, one that makes Keith’s lyrium burn hotter and his cock throb as he squirms and softly moans, too unguarded now to be ashamed of the desperate, helpless way he ruts against Shiro’s cloak. Shiro is all his, yes, because Shiro wants to be all his, and Keith needs – needs to have him, all of him –
Shiro is covering Keith’s body more fully with his own, a sweetly crushing weight, and Keith remembers his near-plea for Shiro to do just that, crush him in the best way, and the memory has him panting as Shiro’s fingers work deeper. Abruptly, something shifts in the air between them, Shiro’s fingers crooking harder, with purpose now rather than lazy loveliness, and Keith twists, shoving himself up on his elbows and scrabbling at the cloak with his nails. “Let me,” Keith gasps, and Shiro falters, fingers stilling and withdrawing, and Keith repeats it in a way that makes sense, “let me turn over, I need to – face you – fuck –”
Keith scrambles around and up onto his hands and knees, facing the kneeling mage, and he gets one whiff of Shiro’s heady scent – sweat and musk and old leather and the metallic tang of magic like the fading blood on his tongue – before he’s reaching for Shiro’s pants, the laces straining. “Keith,” Shiro gasps, somehow startled, like he hasn’t been fingering Keith open for the last ten minutes, “you don’t have to, I –”
“Don’t have to?” Keith repeats in disbelief. “Oh, yes, because it would be such a trial for me to be fucked by your stupidly large cock, Shiro. How dare I subject myself to fulfilling the fantasy that has refused to give me peace since you first put your stupidly giant hand on my shoulder –”
Shiro’s lips part. He looks shocked, but he also looks a little delighted. “That long?”
“Don’t let it get to your head,” Keith warns, but it’s not much of a warning when he’s sticking his hands down Shiro’s pants, drawing out his cock, and realizing with a long string of swearing that it is, indeed, just as absurdly large as he had hoped.
Shiro hums, leaning back a little, his right hand curling around the back of Keith’s head, stroking at the nape of his neck. “Can I be honest?” he murmurs. Keith grunts a vague affirmative, still staring at his dick, aching, reveling. He’s having a moment. “I thought you’d be repulsed by how uh, big I am. Or intimidated. Most people are.”
“Most people,” Keith repeats, and growls at the implication that other people have not only seen this magnificent cock on this magnificent man, but have also turned it down. Cowards, all of them.
“Yes. I mean – it’s a lot. And – elves just tend to be – smaller…” Shiro’s face is pink. He’s looking down at where Keith’s hand is wrapped around his cock. Its girth is thick enough that Keith’s fingers have to strain a little to get a good grip. When Shiro sees this, his cock twitches, and Keith thinks, ...Huh.
“You think I’m small?” Keith asks dryly, not letting go of his cock, but shifting closer, until his own cock meets Shiro’s. Keith has no qualms about his own size; he knows well enough that he is in excellent physical shape and form, and is...well-built, as elves go. But there can be no denying how the slim, dripping curve of his cock makes Shiro’s look all the more enormous. Keith tries to wrap a fist around them both and finds it won’t fit, and his own cock twitches, hard.
Shiro whines at the sensation and sight, bitten-off and edging on desperate. “Not – in a bad way,” Shiro manages breathlessly, “it’s just –”
“You like it,” Keith accuses in a tone that is hardly accusatory, pressing himself closer, all along the mage’s chest, arm sliding around his waist as he works their cocks together and marvels at how Shiro’s cock fills out even more at the friction. “You like being bigger than me. Don’t you?”
Shiro sucks in a breath and nods helplessly, but Keith isn’t expecting what comes next. “Yes,” he whispers, “because – I know you could take it, take me,” and Keith’s groaning, dragging Shiro down into a kiss and crawling into his lap, the mage’s breeches rubbing against his inner thighs as he grinds his ass over Shiro’s cock and hisses then let me take you.
Shiro moans, the kiss breaking with a strand of spit between them. What Keith expects is more hesitation, more are you sure ’s and I don’t want to hurt you ’s, which, while considerate, are not what Keith wants right now. But as it turns out, what he actually gets is Shiro’s hands on his ass again, lifting him, spreading his stretched hole wide, and setting him down onto Shiro’s waiting cock.
There is a moment of hesitation then, as the blunt tip presses fat and hot against Keith and Shiro searches his expression for a single hint of fear of uncertainty. But Keith has never feared the Champion. Keith knows monsters, and Takashi Shirogane has never numbered among them, nor will he. Keith knows these things, and it’s this knowledge that he clings to as he lets Shiro sink deep, inch by burning inch, head tilting back with a shaky but satisfied gasp, because there is a hurt to it but this is a hurt he has chosen, and one that, unlike the lyrium, will be followed by pleasure.
So Keith lets himself take that pleasure, selfishly. He has not often been allowed nor allowed himself to be selfish, but he can be, with Shiro, because as he starts to move, and Shiro with him, he sees the way Shiro’s lips part and pupils dilate dark when Keith lets himself let go, lets himself fuck himself on Shiro’s cock, straddling the thighs he swears to cover in bitemarks and fingerprints someday, soon. Keith buries his face in Shiro’s throat and claws at his back when Shiro thrusts up, the angle awkward and the cave floor hard beneath the thick cloak, but it’s enough, here, now, between them.
When Shiro fucks up into him and wraps his right hand around Keith’s cock, Keith almost screams, biting into the meat of Shiro’s shoulder as Shiro’s entire hand, pulsing with Fade energy, closes over his cock. Shiro’s hand is big enough that it envelops him entirely, and with the sloppy crown smearing wetly over Shiro’s warm, tingling, oiled palm, Keith knows he’s not going to last.
He rides Shiro’s cock with as much grace as he can muster – which isn’t much; it’s been a long day and Shiro’s massage has left him already loose-limbed and hazy – but Shiro murmurs praise in his ear nonetheless and gathers him up in his lap, in his arms. Keith is surrounded by him, full of him, and almost chokes with how good it is when he comes with a soft, shocked cry, mouthing at the bruise he left on Shiro’s shoulder and spilling in Shiro’s tight fist, cock twitching in desperate pulses.
Shiro falters as he does so, his grip on Keith’s waist loosening, but Keith growls and clings to him tightly, biting back moans as Shiro keeps moving. Then, the world is tilting, and Keith is lying under him, pinned down by him, crushed in a way that feels more like an anchoring. Shiro makes him feel so small, but in the best way possible.
Keith whimpers as Shiro fucks him like that, his legs tangled and trembling around Shiro’s waist, hitched high and open, Shiro’s cock striking him raw and deep and verging on too much, the silver light of lyrium and Shiro’s arm illuminating the dark stone and rich red of the cloak. Keith holds onto him and doesn’t let go, and when Shiro’s punishing pace slows and falters over him, in him, Keith tucks his face to Shiro’s neck and just breathes, sighing when he’s filled to the brim, biting his lip when he feels the hot seep along his inner thighs, cum leaking out where there simply was no more space left to fill. Maybe it should make him feel used. It doesn’t. What he feels then is more akin to victory.
Keith mumbles in discontent when Shiro starts to pull out, and the mage chuckles, nuzzling under his jaw. “I’m not crushing you?” he asks, voice rough yet soft.
“You most definitely are,” Keith clarifies, and grins wide and dopey. “It’s wonderful.”
Shiro laughs, rumbling through them both, and when he lifts his head to peer down at Keith, Keith is seized by a fondness so complete that it almost frightens him. Almost.
“You’re wonderful,” Shiro tells him, his right hand cupping Keith’s cheek, thumb tracing the seam of his lips, resting at the upturned corner of his mouth.
For once, Keith doesn’t duck his head or scowl or mutter a rebuttal to the praise. He just looks back steadily and murmurs, “As are you.” He pauses. “For a mage.”
“Oh, of course.” Shiro snorts, rolling his eyes and off of Keith, keeping him folded close in his arms as they separate with a wince and a sigh. Keith snorts back and snuggles into him. In a little while, he will demand that they hike back to Kirkwall before night falls, because he is not keen on fighting more darkspawn while naked – but for now, he lets the sleepy peace last.
“Not to ruin the mood,” Shiro says as Keith is nearly on the cusp of napping, at which point he cracks open an eye and raises an eyebrow, “but you remember when I offered to help you with corpse removal?”
Keith raises both eyebrows. “...Yes.” He glances down at their sticky bodies. “...Why?”
Shiro clears his throat. “It’s just. Uh. I mean, the offer still stands. If you want. I would love to remove the corpses from your spooky mansion with you.”
“You mean the spooky mansion I’m squatting in,” Keith reminds him, rolling onto his back with a little huff. “I think removing all the corpses might, possibly, alert people to the possibility that the original owner has since...moved on.”
“Right,” Shiro says. “That’s the other thing…”
Keith turns his head to look at him. “What is?”
“I’ve been looking into how to make that property in your name, if you want.” Shiro gives him a small smile. “It could be yours. Legally, I mean. Officially. For what that’s worth.”
Keith’s wry humor falls away. He stares. “You’ve been looking into it,” he repeats. “Shiro – that mansion must cost – I don’t…” He trails off into befuddled silence.
Shiro just shrugs. “I’m the Champion of Kirkwall, you’re the Lyrium Ghost – I think that’s what they’re calling you these days – and the Viscount owes us...what, must be a million favors by now?” He chuckles. “We’ll figure something out. Worst case scenario, we threaten to leave and let them deal with the Qunari alone. Bet they’ll give you the mansion on a silver platter.”
“It could be mine,” Keith whispers, and swallows, like he’s afraid the words will escape – that’s how impossible they seem. “You’ve...given thought to this?”
“I’ve given thought to you,” Shiro admits, curling close again, his smile turning softer, secretive. “I want you to be happy, Keith,” he says. “Wherever you are, whoever you decide to fight beside, whether or not you decide to fight at all – I just...hope you find happiness, there.”
Keith reaches out. His palm presses to Shiro’s heart, over old scars and thick muscle, the lyrium cool and shining against warm skin. “I’m not going anywhere,” he says, and slowly, carefully curls into the curve of him, pressing his lips to where Shiro’s heart beats, between lyrium-lined fingers. “I’m exactly where I want to be.”
He kisses Shiro’s smiling mouth, and in the whisper of their shared breath, Keith hides two words, words he means with all his heart, words that mean something new, now, something good, something right, something all his own.