“So what’s the deal with you and Galo?” Gueira can’t possibly the only one to have noticed the boss’s connection to their number one fire-fighting idiot, but he is the first one to bring it up out loud in the months since they’d first met. He’s trying to seem casual but curious so that the boss doesn’t outright leave the room or completely deny anything. Lio doesn’t even look up from the paperwork he’s reading through with a critical eye.
“What do you mean?” Ugh, this is almost worse. Acting like Gueira’s just asked him about the weather and not about the nature of his ambiguous but tangible thing with Galo. Before Gueira can pout about his uphill battle for clarity, Meis pipes up from above him.
“He wants to know if you guys are dating yet.” With his head on his lap like this, Gueira can feel the rumble of his words through his belly and his shirt, which his ear is currently pressed against. Neither of them likes to beat around the bush, but it’s still a new thing to address their boss so bluntly now that they’re on more even footing. He brings a hand up to pat Meis’s thigh in thanks for backing him up. “Or if there’s any other label for it…”
“We’re friends.” He says curtly. He dog-ears the page he’s holding as if it has annoyed him. “That’s the label.”
“What?” Gueira adjust himself so he can better see Lio without jostling Meis’s hand from his hair. “But you guys live together!”
“Add roommates as a secondary label, then.” He tucks a lock of hair behind his ear and huffs when it just falls back in front of his eyes. He hasn’t really cut it since the world was almost destroyed and now it goes past his shoulders. Meis uses his free hand to fish a spare headband out of his pocket and tosses it to Lio. Lio catches it and nods to him. “Thanks.”
“Sharing an apartment doesn’t mean we’re actually together, you know.” Lio tells them while he pulls his hair back.
“Sure,” Gueira stretches until his feet touch the armrest of the couch, “but regular roommates don’t usually seem like couples who’ve been married for years.”
“What about anything we do makes us seem married?” Lio asks like it’s the most ridiculous thing he’s heard today. Gueira knows that’s not possible because Lio does in fact live with Galo.
“You guys do everything together. You get groceries and hike and pick each other up from work.” Meis shrugs. “Domestic stuff.”
“We live together and we work together.” Lio lifts an eyebrow at them. “I fail to see what that says about us.”
“Okay.” Gueira has been expecting denial, and now that they don’t have to worry about mincing words with Lio, he’s prepared for it. “What about the way you look at him when he’s distracted and he can’t see that love-sick face you make?” Lio’s eye twitches.
“My face has never been “love sick”.” He answers after a moment.
“What about him?” Meis scratches his fingernails against Gueira’s scalp and Gueira has to resist melting into the couch cushions because they’re supposed to be holding up a united front and he can’t do that if he starts to doze off. “He’s always talking about how cool and strong and impressive and “super-smart” you are. Even to your face.” In response, Lio sighs and presses his thumb and forefinger against his eyelids.
“Especially to your face.” Gueira murmurs. “There’s not a subtle bone in his body, that’s how anyone who talks to him for a few minutes knows that he thinks you’re the greatest person in the world.”
“Guys, honestly,” exhaustion has slipped through the cracks in his typically unaffected tone. “We’re just good friends.” Resignation bleeds out of his words and Gueira and Meis glance at each other to check if they’d both noticed it.
“And you’re fine with that?” Meis doesn’t back down when Lio looks up at him from an angle that would’ve intimidated anyone who hadn’t spent so much time fighting alongside him. He finally drops the packet and any pretenses that he was still paying attention to what he was reading.
“I’m… lucky to know him.” He taps the heel of his shoe on the ground as he gathers his thoughts. “There are so many people in this world who are deceitful; poison to others around them who get away with anything and everything because they have status or perceived intelligence and superiority on their side. I thought that besides the Burnish, the only people on Earth were the ones who carried out atrocities against us and the ones who sat back and let it happen.” His hand falls from his face and he crosses them over his chest while he leans back into his seat with a distant smile. “And then I found out that there’re also selfless idiots who come crashing into danger for no other reason than to save as many people as they can. Galo shouldn’t even be possible in a world like this.” By the time he’s done, his voice carries wonder and amusement that makes both of them glad that their boss has something like this that brings him down from the anger and misery he’d carried when they were on the run. Except…
“You care a lot about him.” Gueira observes.
“He’s good.” Those two words carry so much simple admiration in them and it only raises more questions.
“So why exactly are you two not doing anything about that?” Meis frowns when the reminder of their relationship, or apparent lack thereof, pulls the smile off of Lio’s face.
“It’s stupid.” He grumbles.
“You can tell us boss.”
“No, it’s genuinely stupid. And infuriating.”
“What is?” They both ask. Lio sighs again, longer and more frustrated than before.
“Turns out I’m not his type.” They both gape at him and Gueira actually sits up from Meis’s lap.
“What?!” He feels betrayed on Lio’s behalf.
“Bullshit.” Meis says in disbelief and Gueira nods vigorously in matching confusion.
“It’s true.” Lio rests his head in his left hand. He says it like it’s a simple fact of life that he’s accepted, but they can both see his right hand forming a tight claw on his chair’s armrest. “We get along great, we like each other well enough, but a relationship isn’t worth pursuing if we’re not physically compatible.”
“Bullshit.” Gueira echoes. “There’s no way that guy isn’t into you like that.”
“I know he wouldn’t be.” Lio shakes his head. “It’s fine.” He says lowly.
“Maybe you’re spending too much time around him. Being with Galo so much has got you thinking stupid thoughts, too.” Meis suggests.
“Oh, that’s gotta be it.” Gueira slumps against Meis’s side and is brought closer to him by and arm wrapping around his shoulder.
“I’d say it’s more disgustingly unfair than stupid.” Lio flinches when his nails catch on the fabric of his chair and he releases his grip on it.
“So you’re not okay with it, after all!” Gueira cries.
“What I want and what’s possible don’t match up. Oh well.” He shrugs stiffly. “It wouldn’t be the first time. I’ll live.”
“Boss, come on,” Meis urges, “has he ever outright told you to your face, “Lio, I don’t think you’re the hottest person I know” or are you just worried?”
“Did he say, “you get my firefighter’s soul going but not my dick” at any point?” Gueira endures Meis yanking a lock of his hair because maybe this isn’t something to joke about yet.
“He didn’t have to.” Lio rolls his eyes. “Some actions speak louder than words.” His gaze becomes darker. To an outsider, this may seem like a couple of persistent fools poking a sleeping lion. While the Promare mostly left after the planet had almost been destroyed, the Burnish still had a remnant of their flames, Lio more so than the average Burnish. So there is the added risk of being scorched for too much prodding. But neither Gueira nor Meis can sit by idly while their boss, savior of the world and former leader of Mad Burnish, convinces himself he has no chance with the firefighting idiot who’s crazy about him.
“What did he do?” Gueira asks, already getting ready to debunk whatever evidence Lio gives.
“He didn’t actively do anything, he just--I’m sure he wasn’t even thinking specifically about me, when…” He squints and tries to form a coherent explanation. “Because it was probably already like that before I got there. I didn’t notice because things were so hectic those first few months.”
“What do you mean? Was he already into someone else?” Gueira strongly doubts it because Galo would’ve mentioned something like that by now.
“No, not that I know of.” Lio says. “But…”
“So why are you sure he’s not into you?” Meis asks. Lio purses his lips and sets his hands flat on his lap.
“You know what, why don’t I show you?” His voice is eerily calm. They watch as he takes out his phone and calls someone. Less than two full rings later, they pick up. “Hey, when are you free this week? I want to bring Gueira and Meis over… no, I have a hearing on Friday. Would Saturday night work…? Okay… that sounds good. Can you be ready by seven…? Alright… I know. Get home safe.” He hangs up and ignores the looks of curious amusement his friends give him. “So, Saturday at seven. I’ll text you guys directions to our place.”
“I guess you’ll just keep us in suspense ‘til then.” Meis pats Gueira’s head to free his side so he can stand up. With no Meis to lean on, Gueira flops onto the rest of the couch that’s available.
“Of course Galo gets a say and we don’t. Why didn’t you ask us if we were free on Saturday, huh, boss?” Gueira grins.
“Well, you’re not anymore.” He stands and pulls on Galo’s over-sized burning rescue uniform coat that he keeps leaving at the station. “You’ll be having dinner at our apartment.”
“Wait.” Gueira tugs at the collar of his jacket on the elevator up to Lio and Galo’s apartment. “Should we have dressed nicer for this?”
“Maybe if it was a double-date.” Meis reaches out and smoothes the fabric for him to his satisfaction. He takes his hand and pulls him out to the second floor hallway when the doors ding open. “I have no idea how exactly boss’s gonna prove to us that Galo’s not into him, but besides that, this is probably just a regular hang out.”
“You’re right.” Gueira pushes the buzzer next to their front door when he reaches the welcome mat. “They probably just ordered pizza and set up a movie.”
He’s barely moved his hand away from the buzzer when they hear footsteps thumping towards the entrance, a slide, something hitting the ground, what sounds like Galo saying, “Ow.”, a scuffle, and multiple metal clicks on the other side of the door.
“Hey guys!” Galo opens the door and they both nearly take a step back at his volume and sunny grin. “Come on in! You’re just in time.” Galo pulls them in under each of his arms and zips them past the living room straight into the kitchen. “The garlic bread should be done any minute now, and it’s the best when it’s piping hot!”
They’ve gotten more used to Galo’s boundless energy, but it still takes them a second to get their bearings once they find themselves standing in a cozy kitchen with a table in the corner for a dining area.
The first thing that hits them is the warm, wonderful smell of garlic, cheese, butter, tomato, and parsley that covers the room like a blanket. They take a look around once Galo releases them to return to the stove. He opens a few drawers in search of something when Lio comes in holding a white apron in one hand with the other at his hip.
“Is this what you tripped on when you ran to the door like I told you not to?” He’s wearing a loose off-the-shoulder white top tucked into black pants with the straps of a tank top showing. Galo doesn’t read his chiding and only takes the apron gratefully.
“Yeah, thanks!” He ties it on quickly and goes to the pots and pans on the stove to stir here, season that, and taste something. The apron says “Boss of the Sauce” on the chest and underneath it he’s wearing a well-fitting black Henley shirt that shows off his forearms and a dark pair of jeans. When a timer goes off, he puts on oven mitts that look like chickens to pull a tray out of the oven and set it on a cooling rack.
“Oh, man.” Gueira’s mouth waters at the sight of golden-brown bread. “It’s a dinner party.”
“We should’ve dressed nicer for this.” Meis is eyeing the pasta that Galo starts to drain in the sink.
“You’re fine.” Lio reassures them as if he himself doesn’t look impeccable as always. “He just got excited when I told him you were coming for dinner.”
“Hell yeah, I love having people over!” Galo takes chicken breasts off of a cast iron skillet and sets them onto a cutting board to slice them into thin strips. “I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while, but the whole team’s been so busy. Not that I’m complaining, I know we’re doing good work. I just haven’t had a lot of chances to make a full meal in a long time.”
“So,” Meis leans down closer to Lio and says under his breath, “what does this have to do with Galo not being attracted to you?”
“Yeah, what gives?” Gueira whispers harshly. “I’ve never cooked like this for Meis and he’s my entire boyfriend.”
“See?” Meis crosses his arms. “It doesn’t add up.” Lio looks between the two of them and then to Galo, arranging their food like a man possessed.
“He brought you to the kitchen too quickly for you guys to see the living room, didn’t he?” They both nod, still confused. He hums. “That’d do it. Maybe you’ll get where I’m coming from after we eat.”
“Ready to go!” Galo claps his hands together once. “Can you set the table while I get started on dishes?”
“Sure.” Lio goes to the cabinets and gets out plates and cutlery. “But sit down. Let me at least handle dishes after you did everything.”
“I didn’t do everything!” He insists but sits at the table anyway. “You helped.”
“All I did was cut some vegetables.”
“And you cut them really well! They’re so even!”
“Dude.” Gueira mouths to Meis. “What the hell.”
“Let’s just enjoy the food, right now.” And, oh, they do. Galo really went all-out for their little party. He’s made them pasta with chicken, bell peppers, spicy sausage, and what Galo proudly tells them is pink sauce. The garlic bread serves as an excellent side and vehicle for the pasta and they eat with gusto. They might feel bad for how they’re wolfing their food down if not for the fact that Lio is the only one exhibiting proper manners by taking careful bites and pouring their wine for them out of courtesy.
They’ve never been picky eaters and couldn’t afford to be for so long, so between mouthfuls of food they let Galo know just how much they love his cooking. When he’s not eating, he preens at their compliments. The conversation shifts from light ribbing to discussion of politics and frustrations with the roadblocks they still encounter in their effort to integrate the Burnish back into society and rebuild.
Gueira and Meis can hardly move after they’ve had seconds. Galo picks up their plates and Lio’s, despite the latter’s protests. When he dumps them into the sink, water and sauce come splashing up and covers his front.
“Shit.” He wrinkles his nose at the stain. “This is why I should leave my apron on even after I finish cooking.”
“You’ll keep tripping if you do that.” Lio puts a hand at the small of his back and pushes him out of the kitchen. “Just change.”
“I prefer falling over ruining my clothes.” Galo mumbles as he walks to the hall.
“Boss, please invite us over more often after he marries you.” Gueira requests with his cheek resting against the table.
“Shut up.” He rolls his eyes at them and refills his wine glass. “Follow me.” They stand with groans and walk after Lio to the direction of the living room.
“Seriously, how have you not gained weight since you started living here?” Meis asks.
“He usually makes pretty balanced meals. He just likes to eat heavy when he’s in a group.” He explains and stops in the middle of the room to sit on the couch. “Take a look around.” He kicks his feet up onto the coffee table and takes a sip of his wine.
Gueira looks around. The first thing he notices is a row of small figurines balanced on the T.V. set that look like variations of Galo’s matoi gear, which are all striking various poses that Galo’s probably tried out while firefighting. He goes over to inspect them when he feels Meis tug on his sleeve. Meis’s eyes are wide and his brows are furrowed as he stares at a point on the wall.
“What?” He asks. Then he follows Meis’s line of vision. He sees it immediately and almost loses his balance. “Oh.”
The most garish, eye-catching thing on the wall, hanging proudly above a lamp and a succulent, is a wide orange banner sporting the Hooter’s logo, owl and all staring back at them.
“Um.” They both say. Alright, it’s a little out of left field. Galo doesn’t really seem like the dudebro type to have something like that at all, much less in a place where every guest can see it. When they take their eyes away from the banner, they get hit from multiple angles. That orange and black logo suddenly pops out to them from every wall of the room in… decorations big and small.
There’s a Hooters visor hanging off of a candle holder, a row of toy cars with the Hooters logo sitting on the T.V. stand to the right of the T.V. itself, a Hooters “open” sign like they’d have at a real restaurant. Close to Lio’s feet on the coffee table is a Hooters coaster. Finally, they notice three different photos on the wall behind the couch. These ones are printed and laminated, unlike the framed photos of Galo in his uniform and cap and gown or the dramatic matoi painting. These photos are each a year apart, and depict what looks like a dozen or more Hooters girls in fun poses standing at the entrance of the restaurant with the years labeled at the bottom.
Of course it isn’t the most prominent theme in the room. That would be the matoi and firefighting references. But all that they could’ve expected, and all of those are displayed in a way that’s somewhat tasteful while still conveying high energy and enthusiasm. None of that stuff has a shade of orange and implications that drill holes through their brains like Swiss cheese. Part of them wants to laugh because they can’t think of any other way to respond for the moment.
“And that thing over there.” Lio points to a spot behind a DVD case. Gueira and Meis walk over to where he points and stop short of it. Lying on its side is a little stuffed owl wearing a Hooters t-shirt. “It’s usually sitting right here on the couch between the pillows and I always knock it to the ground when I see it. And it always ends up back on the couch.” He glares at it like he wants to watch it smolder on the tile. Gueira kneels in front of it and picks the toy up, waiting for Galo or Lio or Meis or the entire Burning Rescue team to jump out and yell “gotcha!” as the cap off to a very intricate prank. But when he looks back to the two of them, Lio is sipping on his wine with a hard grip on the glass and Meis looks so lost that there’s no way he’s in on it, if there’s anything to be in on.
Of course Galo chooses right then to slam his bedroom door open and nearly make the two of them jump out of their skin. They run to the couch and dive for a seat on either side of Lio like a couple of very competitive musical chairs players.
“Sorry I took so long!” He calls out from the room. His voice sounds like it’s being muffled by fabric. He walks into the room with a fresh t-shirt half-on while he struggles to get it past his head and shoulders. “I couldn’t find any clean shirts that fit me well because somebody keeps stealing them.”
“You hardly use them.” Lio smacks his lips after he empties his glass. “I needed pajamas, didn’t I?” He sets the glass onto the coffee table and nudges his friends. They scramble to fix themselves into “casual” seating positions while Galo can’t see whatever their body language might betray. Meis ends up leaning in an over-relaxed pose with his arm behind the couch at an angle that’ll strain his shoulder if he holds it too long. Gueira sits with his legs crossed, moves his hands behind his head, realizes he’s still holding the owl, panics, and chucks it to his right. It thumps against the wall and falls to the ground.
“What was that?” Galo asks once the shirt is properly on him. Gueira and Meis don’t have to try not to laugh, because they’re still surrounded by bizarre décor that has them reeling. If not for that, they might be nudging and snickering at Lio because the shirt is snug and the panda face logo on the front is stretched out across Galo’s chest in such a way that the bear looks anguished.
“Probably the neighbors.” Lio picks up the remote and flicks the T.V. on. “Did you guys want to watch anything in particular?” He’s asking the room at large, but Gueira and Meis have no interest in movies at the moment.
“Oh! There’s that period drama I told you about, the one with the imposter emperor and his brother? It’s awesome, you guys are gonna love it.” Galo goes on and on about filming locations and nominations before the movie starts. It’s a great movie, probably. It has the appearance and dialogue and action scenes of one, anyway. Neither of them can fully tune into it with the questions and theories running through their minds plus the weight of the gazes from the Hooters girls in the pictures just behind them.
It’s pretty late by the time the movie ends and Galo had started to nod off while refusing to go to bed. Lio hauls him off the bean bag and pushes him in the direction of his room. “You’ll get a sore neck if you fall asleep out here again.”
“But I still gotta cleaaan.” Galo whines around a yawn.
“I’ll take care of it. Go to bed.” He waits until Galo gives up and goes to the bathroom. The spray of water from the shower can be heard and he turns around to his friends. “Let me walk you guys out.” They get up quietly and their eyes dart around the living room one last time. As soon as they’re outside, they burst.
“Okay, I had plenty of time to think it over.” Meis starts.
“Me, too!” Gueira says.
“So have I.” Lio sighs. “Do you get it, now?”
“Let me just say that Galo’s a great guy, fantastic cook, right? We agree on this?” Meis asks and they both nod. “The sheer quantity of Hooters stuff felt a little skeevy. I’m sure he’s still great, but.”
“Yeah.” Lio sighs. “Back when we had no free time to speak of, we’d always get home really late and half-asleep. It took a while for me to actually stop and see what the apartment looked like. When I did, I had to walk a few times around the building.”
“Listen, listen, listen, listen!” Gueira waves his hands in front of them to make sure their attention is on him. “Hear me out: what if it’s not what we think it is?”
“Oh?” Lio crosses his arms. “So the merchandise hanging all over my apartment that promotes a breastaurant has nothing to do with Galo’s appreciation for their main attraction?”
“Okay, fair, he does have… some collection.” Meis chimes in. “So he’s into hot women! Lots of people are!”
“That doesn’t mean he’s exclusively straight.” Meis points and Gueira nods along.
“He could be into dudes, too! Maybe he’s only that open about the type of women he’s into.”
“Guys, he’s open about literally everything.” Lio raises his eyebrows at them. “If he leaned towards guys, I think he would’ve showed it at least a little bit through something at our house.”
“You mean like the pasta? Or how he immediately asked you to move in with him and lets you sleep in his shirts?” Gueira asks. Lio gives him an unamused eye-roll.
“That’s just the kind of person he is. Like I said, I know we get along great. I know he thinks highly of me and I think highly of him.” Lio shrugs. “But if we’re not compatible in that way, then what could I do?”
“Have you asked him about it? Like “hey Galo, just wanted to know what’s up with all Hooters swag you got all over the house”.” Lio purse his lips and leans against the wall.
“One time, out of curiosity, I asked him about that matoi painting, the big one.” His head moves to the side as he recalls the conversation. “He talked for a full hour while we cleaned the apartment about how he tracked down a traditional artist, begged him to get out of retirement, saved up for a commission, and more.”
“He can be pretty passionate.” Gueira chuckles. Lio smiles a little.
“And I like that. I liked listening to him talk about it.” His smile falls and he lets the back of his head lean against the wall. “I can’t say I’d enjoy it much to hear him go on and on about the merits of the servers at Hooters. It’ll piss me off and make me feel like shit. I don’t want him to think that it’s his fault that I’m not happy about it. It’s just an unfortunate circumstance for me.” He closes his eyes. “I don’t want to risk making him upset or worried for me when we already have a good thing going as friends.”
Silence fills the dimly-lit hall. Lio has always been determined when it comes to getting what he wants. Whether it was safety for the Burnish or revenge for them, he was hellbent. He was invincible and unstoppable. So for him to be too discouraged to pursue what he wants in earnest makes the words in his friends throats dry up. A few moths can be heard fluttering close to the lights above them.
“Maybe he just really likes their food?” Gueira tries weakly. He grimaces as soon as he says it and Meis puts a hand on his shoulder.
“He really likes pizza. That’s why he has two different pizza recipe books in the kitchen. He has something for every food he likes. There is nothing in his recipe drawer that matches the menu from Hooters.” Lio opens his eyes and gets off the wall. “I checked.”
“Boss…” Meis scuffs his shoe against the ground. “You should still ask him about it. It might not be hopeless.”
“Hm.” He’s facing the elevator a few door down. “Maybe I’ve lost some nerve since the world almost ended. For some reason, I don’t want to deal with my defeat being cemented.” Lio walks them down to the parking lot and wishes them a good night. These days, it takes both of their flames to produce one bike, which isn’t so bad. It doesn’t have the power or purr of the old ones, but it still reflects light and color across its many sleek surfaces.
They ride back to their place and when Gueira removes his arms from Meis’s waist, he takes off his helmet for him.
“So we’re getting to the bottom of this, right?” He asks through his own helmet, which Meis removes after he parks.
“That goes without saying.” He grins at him. “We just figure out how without stepping on boss’s toes.”
The first plan is to tell Galo they want to meet with him alone and tell him that it’s because they’re worried about Lio. That gets thrown out pretty quickly because Galo cannot keep a secret to save his life and all Lio would have to do is look at him to know what his friends are up to. They also can’t invite themselves over for dinner again and pretend that Lio asked them over, because Galo will ensure that Lio is available that night and Lio will keep them from helping (re: meddling).
They opt to ask Ignis for Galo’s hours that week because the chief knows everything that goes on in the station and probably most of the city. He stares them down through his sunglasses and they were wanted terrorists, so it really shouldn’t be so intimidating. But in the end he tells them that he’ll be giving Galo a mandatory day off this coming Friday so he doesn’t over-do it.
Once they’re a good distance from Ignis’s office, they high-five. Lio will be negotiating with city officials for parks to be added to the Burnish housing complexes on Friday, which will keep him away from his apartment long enough. Some fires are put out and some rubble is cleared for construction and Friday is there before they know it. After they punch out at five, they get on their bike and head to Galo’s apartment.
For all they know, Galo might not be home. Lio had told them about his tendency to go on weird hiking paths when he was alone. They just had to hope that, at this time of day, he’d be done with anything else he’d planned on his day off.
As if for good luck, or to summon him, they get two margherita pizzas on the way over. Maybe it worked, because Galo opens the door when they knock to find them each with an armful of pizza and matching grins.
“Guys!” He cheers. “Oh, this is crazy, I was literally just about to get ready to go to the pizza place!” He opens the door and lets them in, then peers into the hallway. “Lio didn’t come with you?”
“Nah, he still has his meeting.” Gueira walks into the living room. “Is it alright if we eat in here?”
“Sure, let me get some plates.” Galo goes to the kitchen and comes back with disposables and napkins. “Man, it sucks that he has to stay so late for that. I don’t see why people have to make such a big deal about a few parks, especially when he already has the funding for them.”
“At this point, they’re just going against his requests because they’re mad the former terrorist leader has gotten so much done for the Burnish so quickly.” Meis serves himself a slice and hands another one to Gueira.
“Meanwhile, it takes their regular old city officials forever to make a decision on a new public bench.” Gueira takes a bite and hums. Not too spicy, but still wonderfully hot.
“You’re right.” Galo talks in between eating two slices of pizza. “They don’t see him for all the good he’s done and what he’s still trying to do. I don’t know how anybody who worked under Kray is still allowed to hold their title.” He grumbles. Gueira claps his hands together to dispel any bitterness. They can talk politics any other day; right now they’re on a timer to find out Galo’s deal.
“But that’s not what we’re here to talk about!” Galo blinks at him and cuts off the string of cheese stretched between his mouth and his pizza.
“You didn’t come here just to hang out?” He sounds a little disappointed, but mostly curious. They’ve gotten attached to Galo since they’ve gotten to know him, though, so they don’t want him to think that they’re only talking to him as a means to an end. Even though that is the plan for this specific talk.
“Not that we don’t like just hanging out with you or anything.” Meis says, “But we were kinda wondering about something ever since we were here last week.”
“Oh, okay.” Galo wipes his mouth on a napkin. “Shoot.”
Meis takes in a breath to start asking Galo about it in a polite way, so they don’t seem pushy or weird. Then Gueira beats him to the punch. “So we take it you went to Hooters pretty often.” Meis sighs and Galo looks confused for all of two seconds before his expression clears.
“Well, yeah, I should say so.” Galo puts his plate down and leans back on his arms. “I was there all the time as a student.”
“Not recently, then?” Meis asks.
“Nope.” Galo pops the “p”. “Not since I joined burning rescue. Man, that was only a few years ago.” His eyes trail over to the plush owl which is beside him on the couch. He picks it up and adjusts its shirt. “Firefighting has been everything for me for so long, even now that there aren’t as many fires to put out and we’re mostly rebuilding. It’s been non-stop action since then, so even with all this merch around my apartment, I haven’t really thought about Hooters in a long time.”
“Huh.” Gueira shares a look with Meis. This could be good news. Then Galo gasps and his free hand goes to the side of his face.
“Oh, my god, I haven’t even called Candy!” He lets out a guilty groan and grips his hair. “How could I have forgotten to for so long, she was the best!” Oh, no. Gueira and Meis wince. If Galo’s talking about a server he’d gotten attached to while he’d been a regular at Hooters, and reconnecting with her, this could mean Lio was right about his and Galo’s mismatching tastes.
“Candy?” Gueira asks. Galo’s hand drops to his lap.
“She was always so cool to me. And everyone there.” He sighs. “I wonder if she’ll get mad at me for going silent after I left.”
“Uh.” Meis turns on the couch to point at the laminated photos of the Hooters girls. “Which one of them is she?” He’s not sure why he asks. Maybe he’s a little curious what anyone in their right mind could possibly pick over their boss.
“Eh?” He turns around and squints at where Meis is pointing. “Oh no, she’s not there.” He laughs. “Candy wasn’t a server, she was my manager.”
“Oh, alright.” Meis blinks once. “Hm?”
“Come again?” Gueira leans forward on the couch.
“Yeah.” Galo laughs again. “Wait, did you think I went as a customer? I used to work there.” Gueira and Meis lean forward in their seats.
“Geez.” Galo tilts his head back. “I worked there the entire time I was training to be an EMT. The pay was decent and it wasn’t too far from campus. I started right when I got out of the system because I needed something to support myself and put a dent in my student fees.”
“Uh.” This was not the answer they had expected. Not necessarily a bad one, but it did throw them for a loop. “And how was that?” Gueira asks.
“I was lucky to have good coworkers and a cool manager.” Galo puts his hands behind his head. “Not every location had it like that. The food was alright and the drinks were good. Pretty decent first job—or, actually.” His face goes dark and he frowns. “There were customers that could get a little too friendly. I think the reason some of my coworkers liked me so much is because I was able to intimidate the jerks who thought they were allowed to harass the staff.” ‘Oh! So he did security there.’ They both think.
“Sucks about that.” Meis nods.
“That’s why you have all this stuff, then?” Gueira points to the plush owl. “You just really liked the vibe there?”
“Actually, I got this place right after I got my first paycheck.” He motions to the apartment around them. “I was so busy with school and work that I didn’t really have time to decorate. I mentioned it to the other manager, Maro, and he said, “Why don’t you take some of the outdated stuff from inventory?” so I did! Man, you should’ve seen his face when I showed him pictures of my apartment.” He chuckles.
“Was he surprised?” Meis asks.
“Yeah, his eyes bugged out! As if it wasn’t his--wait.” Galo squints. “I wonder if he wasn’t being serious when he said that…”
‘He was totally joking!’ They both think.
Galo shrugs. “Anyway, that’s the reason. I should probably get rid of some of it now that it’s not super relevant, though.” He sets the plush between the cushions. “This is the only thing I really want to keep around.”
“Ugh, what a relief!” Gueira says. “Lio’s been worried this whole time that you kept all this stuff here to broadcast your heterosexuality.”
“Huh?” Galo’s hand twitches on the owl.
“Yeah, that’s why he hasn’t made a move on you yet.” Meis cuffs him on the side of the head. “Ow, hey!”
“That’s not for us to tell him, asshole.”
“They were never gonna get together on their own, anyway!” He rubs his head.
“Oh my god, that’s why?!” Galo is suddenly very alert. “All this time I thought he was just being nice to me because he felt bad for me and my huge crush on him. That, and also I figured he was mad at me for kissing him without his permission.”
“Stupidity is contagious.” Meis whispers to Gueira. “Wait, you said you’ve kissed him?”
“Yeah, but that’s another story.” Galo waves it off and wipes the back of his hand across his forehead with a smile. “Damn, if I knew I would’ve thrown this stuff out before I invited him to move in with me. Thanks for the heads-up!”
“Anytime.” Meis says with a wry smile. “I’m just glad we finally have context because it was a little weird for us when we were here last week.”
“Oh, shit.” Galo says, panicked. “Did it ruin the mood for the night? God, it must’ve made me seem like a creep, since you guys didn’t know I worked there.”
“Don’t sweat it, you were a great host.” Meis reassures him.
“It was only a little weird.” More than a little, but Gueira doesn’t want to make Galo more worried about the impression he made.
“Good.” Galo sighs. “Hopefully Lio reacts well when I clear things up. You guys are sure he’s into me, right?”
“Aw, thanks.” He rubs his head, almost bashful. It’s an interesting gesture for a guy of his height and build. The mood of the room is more amused and relaxed after that.
“Hey, if these are all outdated, then were any of those girls even your coworkers?” Gueira points a thumb to the photos. Galo looks back to them.
“I recognize a few of them. I never got a physical copy of the staff photo we took when I was there, but maybe I still have it on my phone?” He pats his pockets and tsks. “I left it in my room, hold on.” He stands and goes to the hall. When he’s gone, Gueira and Meis look to each other.
“Stop.” Meis barely finishes the word before Gueira is leaning against his knees and covering his laughter behind his hands. “It’s not that funny.” But Meis is fighting off a smile, too.
“It’s a relief!” Gueira whispers. “A weird relief, but still!”
“Do you think Lio’s gonna be pissed at himself when we tell him? Or is he gonna direct some of that at us for meddling?”
“Dude, he should thank us! We solved the problem in like, less than an hour.” He wraps an arm around Meis’s waist and brings him closer with a grin. “We’re efficient like that.”
“He’s lucky to have us.” Meis ruffles his hair and pushes his head away.
“Holy shit!” Galo shouts from his room. “I can’t believe I found it!”
“Your phone?” Meis asks.
“Not that! Oh my god, I wonder if it still--” There’s a shuffling sound heard from the room and Galo laughs in disbelief. “Oh, this is crazy, I’d forgotten I still had my uniform!”
“Huh.” Gueira and Meis look to each other. They don’t really see what the big deal about the uniform is. Galo’s probably got a lot of leftover adrenalin from finding out that his feelings for Lio are mutual.
“Oh, man, the sneakers are here, too!” The “clink-thunk” of something being knocked over. “Oops. You know, these uniforms could be fun, but some of the dress code regulations were a little weird.”
“Did he say “fun”?” Gueira lifts a brow.
“Weird how?” Meis asked.
“They could be weirdly specific, I guess. I’ll probably remember the rest in a second, but off the top of my head I know there was a rule that your tip pouch wasn’t supposed to go past your shorts.” They hear the bedroom door open.
“Tip pouch?” Meis squints.
“Shorts?” Gueira’s voice briefly goes up an octave. The realization that would’ve jumped on them instead hits them like a train when Galo steps back into the living room sporting the full Hooters uniform. The one for servers, that is. His white sneakers squeak a bit when he stops at the end of the hall and it draws their eyes to the scrunched up white socks peeking out of their tops.
“You know the little black aprons they give you to keep tips and orders? They’re not that short, so you’d have to wear them high. It always seemed like kind of a dumb rule.” He looks down at his snug orange short shorts. “Like, these things barely go past my ass, so does it really matter that much if the pouch actually does?” He tugs the hem down a bit, unaware of Gueira and Meis’s gaping.
“Why didn’t you tell us you were an actual waitress there?!” Gueira coughs in his fist. “Waiter, sorry!” Galo puts a hand on his hip and bends his knee as he gives him a confused look.
“You, uh. You didn’t make that one hundred percent clear.” Meis tries to maintain regular eye-contact with Galo, who just stands there like nothing is out of place and like he’s not close to giving them heart palpitations. They are both aware of the fact that Galo is an objectively hot guy. They know this and they’ve gotten used to it. It shouldn’t be this pronounced when he’s not even showing more skin than usual, but maybe what they’ve just learned and the change in outfit have thrown them off.
“I thought I said it?” He crosses his arms under his chest and they are reminded of the panda logo on his shirt from last week. The owl on this one is nearly cross-eyed.
“I thought they didn’t hire men for that?” Gueira chokes out.
“I was the first guy they got as a server.” Galo puffs up in pride and thumps a fist to his chest. “It wasn’t an issue for me because of how persistent I was! They had no choice but to see what a great fit I made for the team.” Judging by the way he wears the uniform, they want to guess that persistence only got him half-way there. “Also, I bulked up a bit since then, so I’m surprised my uniform still fits!” He does a turn in place and Gueira and Meis feel vaguely guilty on Galo’s behalf. Maybe they shouldn’t because he’s naturally shameless, but then there’s the fact that sometimes he just doesn’t realize when the context of the situation calls for bashfulness at all. “Everything’s here, except for the pantyhose. I threw those out as soon as I left.”
“They made you wear pantyhose?” Meis asks, wondering if he and Gueira are just having a bizarre joint dream.
“They--ok, before that: there’s a rule that servers can’t have body hair anywhere at all, and they always checked you before you clocked in to make sure you were smooth.” He tells them.
“They made you shave your legs, too?” Gueira wants to pinch himself but can’t find the will to do so. He and Meis must have crashed on the way to Galo’s apartment and ended up in a coma from the accident.
“That’s the thing!” Galo waves his hands in front of himself. “They told me when I started that they weren’t gonna enforce that on me because it was a rule written specifically for female employees. But that’s stupid!” He throws his hands up. “It’s stupid in general, but it’s more stupid that they were gonna try to single me out from it! Every girl there said that it was a hassle to keep up with and that the pantyhose were a pain. It just didn’t seem fair that they would have to deal with it if I didn’t, when we’re all doing the same job. So I started waxing and I wore the pantyhose because I stand with my team, no matter what!” The amount of fire in his speech doesn’t fit the content at all, but they can see how his line of thinking is… admirable? That’s probably the word.
“So you waxed your legs while you worked there?” Meis decides to just roll with what he’s learning today.
“I still do! Back then it was for solidarity and now I just do it because it feels cool. Here.” He lifts a leg onto the coffee table and points to it excitedly. “Feel how smooth!”
“No, I can tell.” Gueira waves his hands in front of him.
“It’s cool, right?” Galo smiles and leans forward.
“Very cool.” Meis nods with his hands under his lap. The sound of keys at the front door gets their attention. The door opens and Lio walks in with black pants and a too-big hoodie. His eyes are drooping shut and his hair is tied back in a loose ponytail.
“Thank God I got out of there early. Those bastards expect civility when they deny everything I tell them about the Burnish and interfere with my plans and gaslight me.” He walks right past them into the kitchen and they hear the fridge open. “I didn’t forget what happened to us, you shithead. Talk to me again when your people are experimented on and used for fuel.” He leans against the doorframe with a glass of cranberry juice in hand. His eyes are closed and he rubs at his temples with his free hand.
“Do you want to sit down? Gueira and Meis brought pizza, I could heat it up for you.” Galo asks with a concerned look. Lio sighs and his body sags a little in place.
“That would be nice, thank you.” His eyes blink open. “When did they-” He squints at the scene in front of him. Nobody has moved since the door opened, so he finds his friends tense and frozen on the couch with red tinting their cheeks while Galo is still posed with his bare leg on the coffee table. In his old Hooters uniform. Lio’s mouth falls open and his eyes dart to all three of them. Gueira and Meis, the cowards, keep their gazes fixed on the ceiling above them. “What is this?” Lio’s toneless question leaves no room for denial. Lucky for all of them, Galo is honest to a fault and hasn’t read the room.
“They asked me about all the Hooters stuff and it made me realize that I never told you I used to work there!” Galo chuckles and moves his leg back to the ground. “Funny, right? It just slipped my mind. I wish one of us had thought to bring it up sooner, though, because they told me it’s the main reason we haven’t actually tried being more than friends.” Lio’s gaze slides back over to Gueira and Meis, who shrink a bit in response.
“Is that right?” Thin plumes of smoke stream past his lips.
“Woah, are you okay?” Galo moves closer to him, but Lio brings a hand up to stop him.
“I’m fine.” Gueira actually starts to whistle and Meis swats at his arm. Lio slowly sets his glass down. His face is unreadable, but his still-tired eyes have a manic glint to them. “Don’t you two have somewhere to be?” Gueira and Meis look to each other and get right up off of the couch. They take the invitation for what it is.
“That’s right! Man, we better get going.”
“Don’t want to be late.”
“Hate to leave, though!”
“We should do this again sometime.” They hurry to the door and each throw a wave behind them. They’re pushing the lobby button on the elevator panel when they hear the apartment door swing open.
“Thanks for coming!” Galo calls out to them and waves. “I’ll let you know if-” and then Lio yanks him bodily back into the apartment so their neighbors don’t get an eyeful. When the elevator shuts and they’re finally in the clear, Gueira and Meis start laughing themselves silly. It’s only later that evening that they think to worry about what Lio might have to say to them about their interfering. But they rest easy when they figure that he probably won’t be that upset.
Galo shows up to the station the next day with an actual t-shirt and the rest of Burning Rescue can’t fathom why. Lio doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal, but for some reason Gueira and Meis cackle when they bring it up. Lio stares at them icily over his coffee and all the only answers they give the team are cryptic and vague.