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an answer (though you didn't hear the question)

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Out of all things, it starts with a wedding invitation.

After a fairly peaceful day of work, as members of Burning Rescue are getting ready to leave, Varys gets everybody’s attention as he calls, “Wait, I have something for you guys.”

He’s holding a small pile of mint envelopes. Galo sees Aina’s eyes go wide.

“Are these the invitations?” she asks, already making grabby motions with her hands. Varys grins.

“Yeah. Finally, we were starting to wonder if they will get done before the ceremony,” he half-complains, half-jokes. “Here’s one for you and your husband, Captain,” he starts, handing the envelope to Ignis, who nods. “Aina, Lucia, Remi.” Each of them gets theirs and then he hands the last one to Galo. “That’s for you and Lio.”

Galo thanks him with a grin of his own. He’s met Varys’ fiancée, Elaide, a landscaper and a former Burnish working in Promepolis’ department of parks and recreation, just a couple of times, mostly back when they were working on rebuilding the city’s green, but she seemed like a dedicated, uplifting person. She and Varys certainly made each other happy and the wedding was to take place in three months, a late spring.

Angling her chair to face Varys, Lucia says with a pout, “You didn’t have one for Vinny.”

Remi snorts from his place on the couch. “Take him as your plus one.”

Lucia whirls and spins around and she’s suddenly by the table, kicking her feet up on the tabletop and nearly knocking Remi’s coffee over in the process. “I would, but I will go with Heris,” she says, Remi’s reprimands flying over her head. “You could, though.”

“Unless, of course,” Aina chimes in, raising an eyebrow, “you’re going to bring a real person you’d actually introduce to us.” It’s a jab, if a friendly one, meant to poke at how tight-lipped Remi still is with anything regarding his personal life.

However, it gives Galo, who was thinking about how he’s going to put the pretty invitation up on the fridge, a pause. Seeing as she’s standing the closest to him, he peers over Aina’s shoulder to look at her invitation, the elegant, stylish letters spelling Aina Ardebit and guest. Then he looks back to his own, glancing at Galo Thymos and Lio Fotia as if he’s seeing it for the first time.

“Why did Lio and I get just one?” he asks, with a little furrow between his brows.

The others turn to stare at him in unison.

“Is that a question?” Lucia asks in lieu of answering, tilting her head at him.

“I mean, we’re named together?” He gestures with the card at them. “Aina’s and yours say to bring whoever.”

“The Captain’s doesn’t,” Remi notices, kind of pointedly, which has Ignis muttering something that sounds a lot like, Don’t drag me into this, under his breath. Varys seems very confused and a little worried.

“Did you and Lio… have a fight?” he ventures carefully. Galo blinks at him.

“Oh, this morning, about Lio using up all hot water in the shower.” He doesn’t think that’s what Varys really meant, though. “But that’s a standard one?”

Remi opens his mouth, then closes it, shaking his head vehemently. Finally, Aina pats Galo’s shoulder.

“Well,” she says at length, with a smile, “the invitation is not really an issue, is it? You’d bring Lio either way, and vice-versa.”

“Yeah,” Galo says because it’s true, and they all leave it at that.

It doesn’t leave the back of Galo’s mind, though.

When he comes home, Lio is already there, reading something, perched up in the kitchen chair in a way that should not be humanly possible; more than that, he looks comfortable, wearing a grey sweatshirt that was, once upon a time, Galo’s. He seems preoccupied, giving only noncommittal hums as Galo talks about his day. Eventually, he grows annoyed, and all but dangles the invitation into Lio’s face.

“Idiot, what are you —” Lio starts, dropping the tablet to push at Galo’s head. They struggle like that for a moment and then Galo realizes the omelette he’s been making is starting to burn, so he curses and retreats to salvage it. Lio huffs, sounding amused rather than irritated now.

“What’s so funny, firebug? It’s your dinner, too,” Galo reminds him, giving the omelette a critical once-over. He scrapes away some of the most burned parts, but otherwise deems it edible.

There’s an audible dissonance between the pitch of Lio’s voice and his words as he says, “It’s just, for a firefighter, you sure almost start fires just as often as any Burnish would have had.” However, he does clear the space on the table, so Galo gives him a pass, saying it’s all about his burning soul, you know, as he puts their plates down.

Lio digs into his food, but not before he taps his index finger over the envelope, saying, “I’m glad they got the permission to have the reception at the park Elaide helped to restructure.”

“Yeah!” Galo grins because it proves that Lio both read the invitation and has been listening to him. He recalls his confusion back at the station, mulls over it for another second, and confesses, “I’ve never been to a wedding, actually. Well, one time there was a fire at the venue and we were called in, but I don’t think it counts.”

“Probably not,” Lio agrees dryly. He takes a sip of his tea, looking pensive, and adds, “I haven’t been to any, either.” Then, almost as an afterthought, he adds, “But I officiated two or three.”

“What?!” Galo exclaims, almost choking on the mouthful, momentarily taken aback. This isn’t what he expected.

Lio snorts into his cup, apparently finding his reaction funny. “Well, kind of. Some of the Burnish asked me to, back in time. I don’t have any qualifications, of course, but it’s not like they could have went to the register office and asked to be wed.” The line of his mouth goes a little hard and tight at that, but then Galo bumps his knee against Lio’s under the table, only a little accidentally, and deliberately lets it rest there. Lio’s face relaxes somewhat and he continues, matter-of-factly, “Well, since now all and any of them can finally make it official, I expect there will be more invitations in the future.”

“We will take them all up on those when they come!” Galo announces, already fired up at the prospect.

Lio raises an eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure this isn’t a competition nor a fight,” he comments, but doesn’t protest, and the corners of his mouth tug up, so Galo considers it a win.

He pins the invitation to the fridge door with his favorite fire hydrant magnet.

...

A couple of weeks later, Aina comes over and the three of them go shopping for the presents.

“This is terrible,” Galo says after approximately three minutes of hunting through the store, dejectedly leaning his head (and, by extent, most of his weight) on the top of Lio’s. “There’s so much stuff! I don’t know what to get them.”

Lio stands his ground, apparently not perturbed by the additional weight. He seems to be critically eyeing two sets of embellished picture frames before he eventually sighs and puts them down. “They look identical,” he complains and just then jabs a finger into Galo’s ribs without turning around. Galo yelps and straightens up. “You’re not helping.”

“But I just told you I can’t choose anything,” he whines. Then, an idea strikes him. “Wait, would it be okay to get a new uniform for Varys? He’s due to a fresh set.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Lio mumbles at the same time as Aina voice’s carries down the aisle, “Besides the fact it’s not socially acceptable, that’s the city’s job. All of us should be getting new ones next month.”

“Ah, right.” Galo turns to look at Aina approaching them and notices a package in her hands. “Wait, you already bought your gift?!”

“A part of it,” Aina says and protectively hugs the package to her chest as he and Lio lean in, trying to figure out what is it. “Nooo, you guys aren’t buying the same thing as I did.” She gives them a hard look and sighs, their cluelessness apparently palpable. “You’re hopeless. Let’s go to a different store.”

And that’s how they spend the next hour, walking from one shop to another, with Aina mercilessly criticizing their taste and offering them insight into wedding gift etiquette.

“But essentially, they will be happy with whatever you get them,” she says at last, stopping in her tracks. “So! Go your separate ways and come with something to the fruit section in half an hour at worst.”

Being a man on a mission who received proper training, Galo comes back fairly quickly with a set of high thread-count blankets. It gets Aina’s stamp of approval.

“So, you haven’t mentioned it yet,” Galo probes as they wait, leaning on the handles of the cart. “Who are you going with?”

Surprisingly, Aina gives him a cheeky grin. “Wouldn’t you like to know, loverboy,” she just says, tapping her nose.

“Agh, you’re being weird again,” he complains, hanging his head.

Aina hums and decides to sit down, pressing her back against the wall. After a moment, she nudges Galo with her foot. “So, have you figured out why you and Lio were named together for your invitation yet?”

Galo doesn’t answer, suddenly very interested in staring at the fresh melons.

“Your silence is deafening.”

“I just don’t get why Varys — all of you would assume that Lio and I are —” he struggles, feels himself going red as if he’s guilty of something graver than not knowing wedding etiquette and apparently thin yet firmly set lines that separate different kinds of relationships.

“Galo.” Aina’s tone now is a fleeting reminder of the voice she used to take with him at the very beginning of their acquaintance, when she thought he was acting particularly foolishly. “We’ve known each other for a while now, haven’t we? So trust me, I know how thick your skull can be at times. I don’t know, I guess I just hoped — that Lio isn’t just as dense, or that your emotional intelligence,” my emotional what, Galo mouths silently, “applies to yourself, too.”

He looks down at her. “You lost me,” he admits.

Aina gives a dry chuckle. “So I figured.” She taps her foot on the floor a couple of times and starts out of the blue, “Hey, remember when you were about to fight an acting governor right in the courtroom when you thought he’s going to send Lio to prison?”

He throws his hands up. “I didn’t know they reached an agreement in private beforehand!”

As the rebuilding of the city was progressing and Kray’s process came to an end, some people started asking questions, rather loudly, whether the ex-governor and his associates were the only ones that should be trailed. Public opinion on now former Burnish, Mad Burnish in particular, was still a brittle matter, easily manipulated with misinformation and fueled by years of distrust and hurt. The new governor was trekking an uneasy path, having to find a solution that would appease everybody — or, at least, leave them similarly dissatisfied with the reached consensus, to avoid riots or worse. Lio’s trail was a public, tense thing, but in the end the court settled simply settled on having him help with rebuilding for at least a year, alongside and under the supervision of an appointed public service unit.

Of course, rebuilding was something Lio wanted to help with anyway, as he mentioned numerous times during the process, and it seemed fitting he’d be doing it with Burning Rescue, right? (Thankfully, that was after the existence of their force didn’t hang by a thread any longer — most of initiatives started or directly supervised by Kray and his foundation were dismantled or thoroughly restructured; they avoided to this fate mainly thanks to highly favorable opinion of public.) Considering everything, it took Galo a hot second to cool his head and realize that this is the best outcome they could have hoped for and was basically guaranteed from the start.

(“Politics aren’t my thing,” he complained after the process, when Lio told him it was all a pre-emptive deal of sorts.)

“Alright,” Aina relents here, “but earlier this year, when he officially went to work for the Department of Former Burnish, you had been moping for ages even though he still drops by the station at least once a week —"

"It's not the same," he argues, though here, he at least recognizes his full hypocrisy; every idiot with a burning soul can be a firefighter, but Lio could do so much more now that he worked with and within the law.

The look Aina gives him is unimpressed, to put it mildly. "You say that, but need I remind you that you're living together, have been living together basically since you met. People will assume things.”

"I didn't —" Galo starts, but finds himself at loss for words.

Aina is not wrong. Lio staying with him was meant to be only a temporary thing, first until the immediate cleanup and most pressing matters were done with, then until the city would be brought back from its knees. Lio said he didn’t have time to worry about his circumstances when his people needed help, but Galo argued that help wouldn’t be effective if he couldn’t give it his all, and so that’s how he ended up moving in. It was Lio himself who insisted on putting a timer on it — Galo said his offer didn’t have an expiration date — until eventually, he stopped.

More than two years later, the world is still here, Promepolis is becoming something more and better every day, and Lio hasn’t gone anywhere.

“Listen, Galo — sometimes, one thing doesn’t exclude the other, you know?” Aina tells him. He nods; that much makes sense. “You and Lio can have exactly what you have now, and then something — not necessarily more, but something else. You just need to ask yourself what is that what you want, and would Lio want that, too.” She gets up, brushes some dust off her clothes. “Okay, and what did you bring?” she calls out and Galo realizes a rather abrupt end of the conversation was brought by Lio approaching them with his cart.

(Turns out he chose pillows that will go pretty well with Galo’s blanket set. Aina just shakes her head and laughs.)

"Therefore, operation presents has ended successfully," Aina announces after they leave the store with their purchases. She fist bumps them and just then asks, "Wanna go look for outfits now?"

"Nooo," Galo protests, feeling exhausted on all levels except physical, just as Lio says, "Absolutely not."

"You're so weak," she pokes fun at them. "I hope you will last longer on the dancefloor."

"Dancefloor?" Galo repeats. It sounds kind of ominous.

"Yes. You know, during the wedding. I know me and my date are going to be a force to be reckoned with." He and Lio share a slightly wide-eyed look as they realize it's yet another thing they both lack experience in. Aina reads them like a book and rubs her hands together. "I can get you in touch with an acquaintance of mine, she runs a dance school, should have a class for weddings, too. That is," she continues, and there’s a twinkle in her eye that reminds Galo that Aina is much more mischievous than people give her credit for, "if you think you can handle it."

“We saved the world,” Lio says with all the confidence that Galo, for once, isn’t feeling. “Of course we will manage something like dancing.”

As it turns out, dancing isn’t the same thing as saving the world, and not nearly half as easy.

During the class that lasts around an hour, Galo steps on Lio’s feet so many times he stops counting, while Lio manages to elbow (or even headbutt, at one instance) him all over the torso at the worst moments. Near the end, their instructor looks close to tears, but Galo isn’t sure if it’s out of despair or having to stifle her laughter.

Lio lowkey broods the entire way home, muttering something about his hurt toes and unclear, complicated instructions. In a way, he seems embarrassed, and while Galo can relate — he’s so glad Aina didn’t go with them — he doesn’t share Lio’s dejected attitude, bouncing back quickly. They will simply have to try harder or, more likely, find something that works for them.

So a few days later, when Lio comes home from work, first thing Galo does when he enters the living room is to throw him a pair of boots with heels that shouldn’t grind a man’s bones into dust (he sure hopes so).

“Put them on,” he says. “We will give this dancing thing a spin again.”

“I’m not wearing these to the wedding,” Lio states, but does sit down on the floor.

“Yes, but you’re wearing heels, so that’s a start,” Galo notices.

Lio just hmms and then narrows his eyes when Galo hits the play button and the music starts playing. “That definitely doesn’t sound like what we danced to in that class.”

“Well, yeah, but.” Galo shrugs and moves to help Lio stand up. “I figured we should start with something different? I mean, from what I gathered, the music at the weddings varies, so let’s try taking it slow for a change.” He then moves his hands to Lio’s waist and lifts him up just enough to put him back standing on Galo’s own feet.

Lio makes a rather undignified sputtering sound. “W-we’re not going to —”

“That’s why this is a test run!” Galo exclaims. “We gotta have start somewhere. Come on, don’t make it harder than it has to be.”

Lio’s answering sigh is long-suffering, but the fingers he moves to lock at the back of Galo’s neck give it a warning squeeze. “The details of this dancing class won’t make it past this room.”

“Obviously,” Galo says and finally, they start to move. It’s pretty awkward at first, as Galo tries to balance their combined weight in a way that doesn’t make him feel and look like a bull in a china shop. He sticks to small, smooth steps and gradually, both of them relax and ease into their stances, and the pressure of Lio’s heels digging into his feet starts to feel almost comforting.

The playlist Galo chose was recommended to slow dancing and it certainly checks out. The songs are soft and melodic, some with lyrics, most of them without, and though he realizes what they’re doing is closer to swaying than real dancing, Galo thinks they’re doing quite fine. He’s actually enjoying it, too, the way Lio’s face is partially hidden, pressed into Galo’s chest and how his thumbs seem to unconsciously draw little soothing patterns behind Galo’s ears.

“This is pretty nice, huh?” Galo whispers — he didn’t even mean to lower his voice, but somehow, his usual boisterous tone seemed ill-suited to this moment. It feels a little suspended in time, somehow, a piece of the world just for the two of them.

Lio looks up, presumably to answer, and — his face is close, much closer than Galo is used to it being, which is saying something. Physical proximity with other people isn’t a thing that makes Galo nervous and occasionally he needs a reminder that not everybody is as comfortable with it as he is. For Lio, it has never been a problem — but for some reason, now Galo feels acutely aware of his hands resting on Lio’s waist or how Lio’s breath fans over his throat.

It’s a little bit as if Galo’s burning soul is overflowing and threatening to spill right out of him, and it doesn’t feel bad at all, not even when he glances at Lio’s parted lips and it’s kind of like back then, the way Galo is burning —

He trips over the edge of the carpet.

They both go down in an uncoordinated mess of limbs and yelps, and then Lio is tugging at his hair and telling him to, get off me, you big dumb oaf, and Galo laughs and laughs, and simply thinks, Oh, so that's it.

...

On the day of the wedding, they barely manage not to oversleep and Lio gets very bossy, which is especially funny when he tells Galo to start getting ready even as he himself is still walking around in a bathrobe, with a towel wrapped around his hair. In the end, they’re on time for the Burning Rescue crew to pick them up — captain Ignis got a permission to use one of old, decommissioned fire trucks, so that’s what waits for them outside, polished to shine and appropriately decorated.

“Get in the back with your presents,” Ignis tells them from the driver’s cabin in lieu of greeting as his husband, Strider, gives a little wave and compliments their outfits.

Galo does like his suit, but, to his little dismay, it has long sleeves — at least he managed to get out of wearing a dress shirt. Once they board the truck and the rest of their friends see him, they chuckle and shake their heads, and Lio rolls his eyes, saying, “I tried.”

(He also likes Lio’s outfit; then again, he thinks Lio could wear a sack and pull it off.)

Galo is completely taken aback as he notices a girl by Aina’s side — it takes him a second to recognize that particular pinkish red hair. “Oh!” he exclaims in surprise, grabbing his burned arm on reflex.

Thyma, as Aina introduces her, bows and starts talking a mile a minute, apologizing for what happened that time — he doesn’t let it go on, though. “It’s fine, really,” he interrupts her with a grin and gestures to Lio. “That guy would have burned me down five times over, yet I’m still here. Galo Thymos isn’t so flammable!”

That encounter almost overshadows Remi introducing them to his date, Vey, who apparently is a preschool teacher and really likes cats. (Galo knows Remi is a little allergic.) He thinks Vey is very charming and tells them that much.

They arrive at the city hall, where the ceremony takes place. There’s maybe around sixty guests in total and soon enough, Varys and Elaide are walking down the aisle. They look lovely and seem to be positively glowing as they recitate their wedding vows. Galo doesn’t tear up, but he knows his smile is huge and stupid, and he doesn’t mind at all. As he glances at Lio sitting by his side, he finds him smiling as well, not so openly, but just from the look in his eyes, Galo can tell he’s really happy for them, too.

Burning Rescue and associates sneak out just a little earlier, to prepare a small surprise. When the newlyweds come outside, Lucia is filming as Aina makes it rain with flower petals springing from her rescue pod and the Captain, Remi, Galo and Lio, in the mechs, create a corridor for the happy couple to go through. Heris is the one to catch the bouquet, to her own stunned embarrassment, her sister’s energetic cheering and Lucia’s faint amusement.

Galo barely notices the passage of time after they get to the park and the reception starts; there’s toasts, food, games and (not-so-terrible) dancing, and so many people he doesn’t know well or at all. He and Lio stay around each other for the most part and Galo thinks he hasn’t seen him have that much fun… well, maybe ever — surely not in non-life-threatening circumstances. It’s a good look on him, he decides.

By the evening, the party is in full swing; true to Aina’s words, she and Thyma are absolutely killing it on the dancefloor, but, surprisingly so, Ignis and Strider don’t fall that far behind. Galo watches them for a moment before he decides he hasn’t seen Lio around in a longest while, so he goes to search for him. He expects to find him by the tables with food or maybe talking with a smaller number of people in some quiet corner; however, as Galo walks alongside what Elaide referred to as the “flower path”, he notices a familiar tuff of light hair and dives off the path right between the bushes. His nose catches on before his eyes; Galo recognizes the strong, almost intoxicating scent the moment it hits his nostrils, and then he sees Lio surrounded by a wide variety of roses, giving him a funny look upon this abrupt entrance.

“Nice flowers,” Galo says finally, his brain-to-mouth connection working in overdrive.

Lio chuckles. “Yes. I don’t think I realized that parks can be this nice,” he says and ah, that’s definitely his teasing voice. Galo lets it wash over him like warm rain.

“We should go visit some when we get a day off,” he thinks out loud. “And maybe a botanical garden while we’re at this — have you been to one?”

Lio just shakes his head, slightly longer hair falling into his face. Galo watches him for a second and he gets an idea, one he doesn’t even stop to question, reconsider.

He reaches down into the bush of red roses, tries to find one with little to no thorns, eventually emerging successful. “Here,” he says, tucking the rose behind Lio’s ear — hopes he isn’t breaking some park law by picking it off. “Your outfit could use a little more color.”

Galo is being pretty smooth — or, he thought so, but then Lio, who has been standing very still, suddenly springs into action and sucker punches him. And it’s not a pulled punch, so he wheezes out in surprise, balance upset, and it’s enough for Lio to send him tumbling down into the grass. Galo has three seconds when he thinks that this is it, that he’s done for, and oh god, it was better to remain oblivious, damn you Aina you’re not getting my — and then Lio is straddling him (and now he’s really done for), hands fisted into the lapels of Galo’s jacket. His eyes are wide and even in the falling dusk, his face seems flushed, and the thing is — Galo gets it.

“Hey, you’re ruining the suit you picked for me,” he says to break the silence, but there’s no real complaint in his voice. He’s grinning.

“Shut up,” Lio tells him, closes his eyes for a moment. “Must you be so — so —”

“Yes,” he says and, without missing a beat, adds, “But you love it.”

Lio’s hold on his jacket goes slack and he falls quiet. Galo props himself up on his forearms, elbows digging into the soil, and risks asking, “You okay, firebug?”

“Fine,” he replies, albeit his voice is a little strained. One of his hands, loosely turned into a fist still, strays under the jacket and places itself right over Galo's heart. “I’m just — compartmentalizing last two years.”

Galo pats him on the thigh sympathetically. “Been there,” he admits. Lets himself enjoy the scent of roses enveloping them, muted sounds of the party, distant skyline of the rebuilding city. After a moment, though, he asks, “Um, not to rush or anything, but will it take you much longer? Because this position is kind of really —”

Whatever words were at the tip of his tongue, they get stolen out of his mouth together with his breath as Lio leans in and kisses him. And Galo doesn’t think, per se, as his brain shortcuts, but — he doesn’t think about their first kiss, back then, not even about the sensation of burning, fire buzzing all over his body. He thinks about that frozen lake up in the mountains, and how sometimes you can dig for ages and not reach the point, and how sometimes, with right timing and a little help, you end up burning right through to the heart of the matter.

Dealing with absolutes isn’t anything new to Galo, really. Life or death, give or take, change or remain, all or nothing — it’s a matter of choice.

And in this case, the answer is simple and clear; it has been all this time, even when Galo didn’t know what kind of question he should have been asking, if any.

Everything, he now says without words, as his lips chase after Lio's, his brilliant smile. And when he catches up, he can taste Lio’s response right at the tip of his tongue.

I want all there is to want with you.