There’s a box resting on their coffee table, bound by a yellow ribbon tied neatly in a bow.
It looks a whole lot like the pastry boxes from that bakery in West Promepolis that Galo loves, but it wasn’t here this morning, and the whole crew has been out doing cleanup until now.
“Oi, Galo,” Varys calls over to the locker room, “Did you buy dessert on the way back?” He reaches out and picks up the box carefully but doesn’t undo the ribbon yet. Normally, anything left in the common area is fair game, but the box is still untouched, and Varys wonders if perhaps someone left it behind by accident. Aina rode off to visit her sister, and Remi went to make a phone call or something, so it’s conceivable one of them forgot to take it with them.
“Nope,” Galo says as he appears in the doorway and walks over to inspect Varys’ prize with him. They share a look and nod in unison, an alliance forming. Taking a peek isn’t illegal, right?
Varys tugs the ribbon free of its bow and lifts the lid to find an assortment of cookies nestled in wax paper. Dove shaped butter cookies, delicate gingersnaps, rounded jam-filled hearts, matcha shortbread. They’re as pretty and fragrant as expected and his iron resolve begins to shake.
“There’s no name anywhere,” he says very reasonably.
“And there’s a whole dozen cookies in there,” Galo says, which is quite astute of him.
“So it’s fine if we have some.”
“We can actually have two, if we really want.”
“That’s just math,” Varys agrees.
They splay out on the couch and watch the news as they snack. The polls for the upcoming gubernatorial election are on, and it looks like a former Burnish city councilwoman is catching up to the incumbent candidate who filled the vacuum left behind by disgraced ex-Governor Foresight. Varys thinks it’s unlikely that she can win — relations are still strained between former Burnish and non-Burnish — but the city’s come a lot farther in a year than he expected, and it helps that the two poster boys for saving the world have a healthy friendship for people to turn to as an example.
The channel goes to commercial and Galo takes the chance to snag another cookie out of the box. Varys should probably stop him, but the Captain isn’t big on sweets anyway, so it’s fine if Galo has a few extra. Especially if these cookies come from where Varys suspects.
“Hey, weren’t you talking about these the other day?” He gestures at the green checkered shortbread in Galo’s hand. “With the reconstruction crew.”
Burning Rescue still fights fires, of course, but those are vastly less prevalent now. These days the crew spends a good portion of their free time working with the reconstruction group led by young Lio Fotia as part of his community service duties. Last week they teamed up to clear out the rubble from a collapsed elementary school so that it could be rebuilt. Galo was extremely pleased to see his friend again, and Varys can remember him rambling on at length about his favorite parts of the neighborhood to a dryly attentive Lio. To be fair, Galo gets excited about anything that sparks even the slightest bit of joy in his firebrand soul, but something about that kid lights their rookie up like nothing else.
Galo swipes a crumb from the corner of his mouth and glances at the cookie, before he brightens exactly the way Varys expected. Shinier than a freshly polished truck, Lucia joked once. Varys wouldn’t disagree, but times like these Galo reminds him more of flashlight flickering on in the dark, illuminating the hidden reaches that had gone unnoticed for too long.
“Right! I was telling Lio about this place just last week! I wonder if he’s had a chance to go yet. I should bring him something next time.”
“You can, but he’s probably already stopped by,” Varys says with a grin, shaking his head when Galo shoots him an inquisitive look. He isn’t one to meddle. Galo will figure it out at his own pace.
Aina sighs and reaches over to fix the undone button on Galo’s jacket before the fool freezes himself to death. Just because they’re used to working with ice tech all day doesn’t mean he can’t get hypothermia.
“Don’t worry, Aina! I almost never get sick. I used to take naps out by the frozen lake all the time and never got anything worse than numb toes.” He gives her a thumbs up as snow drifts into his hair. It looks like a conifer in a painting of the woods in winter. She snickers and reaches up to flick a clump of flakes from his cowlick.
“Right, because idiots can’t catch colds.”
“That might really be it, actually.”
“Regardless,” she says, as they walk back to the station. “Just looking at you makes me feel chilly. I guess I should just be glad you’re not walking around shirtless in the snow.”
He bursts out laughing at that and points at her own overcoat. “This is the only coat you have that actually covers your navel. You’re just as bad as I am! I’m shocked you even own something like this.”
“I- well, that’s because Heris would flip if I got pneumonia or something!” Aina sputters at him.
“You’ve been sistered so much that you’re starting to sister me too.”
“Ugh, whatever, I’m not making you soup if you get infected. Anyway, don’t think I can’t see your neck turning red from here. You should wear that new scarf of yours.”
“I don’t have a scarf,” Galo says, looking at her like she’s made a joke he doesn’t quite understand.
“The one in your locker?”
“The what in my where?”
“Look, it’s- I’ll show you.” They’re steps away from the station, so Aina charges on ahead to the locker room, with Galo perplexed but following behind. He obediently opens up his locker for her, and there it is, just like she remembered. Midnight blue with a bit of fringe at the ends.
“Oh, that’s not my scarf!” Galo takes it off the hook and folds it into a blobby square. “I took it from Lio by accident when we went shopping for the charity drive. I’ll return it at the party.”
Aina remembers the scene now: Galo and Lio arguing about how best to wrap presents as they stomped into the station overladen with bags and bundled in matching scarves. Lio was wearing about three times as many clothes as Aina was used to seeing him in, and was still shivering kind of irritably. Galo said something that made him cough out a laugh, the sharp angles of his form softening for a moment. From wildfire to firefly, just like that. In return, Galo seemed for a moment to shimmer even brighter inside than usual, as if he were a glass jar full of falling stars.
“Who’s going to want a scarf you’ve been wearing?” Aina asks flatly. She pokes the bundle of cloth in his hands. “Better for you to just keep it and buy a make-up gift for the event.”
“But this is Lio’s,” Galo responds. “I can’t just keep something that belongs to someone else. How dishonest do you think I am?”
“Zero percent dishonest. But Lio literally owns the exact same scarf, besides the fifty others that he bought for the gift drive. What does he need yours for? He’s like a millionaire. Besides, he probably gave it to you on purpose. Just consider it a gift, you meathead.”
Galo looks like this thought has never occurred to him, and after a moment he unfolds the scarf with uncharacteristic gentleness and loops it around his neck unfashionably. Aina tugs at the ends so that it covers more of his neck and smiles when he reaches up to rub the soft fabric of the scarf between his fingers.
“A gift,” he says with a level of consideration in his voice that Aina rarely hears.
“Yep. It almost looks good on you. Lio’s sense of style hasn’t failed you yet.”
That familiar starlight settles in his ocean blue eyes, and Aina sighs again, this time with fondness.
“Then it’s only fair if I buy him a gift in return. Go shopping with me this weekend, Aina. You have to get something for Lucia for the Secret Snowflake anyway.”
She startles, and then squints at him in suspicion. “How did you know- never mind. Yeah, I’ll come along. Someone needs to make sure you don’t get tricked into buying a marble bust again.”
He laughs as she collects the rest of her things from her locker. “Would you believe it if I told you Lio has worse impulse control than I do?”
She thinks about the way they tried to beat the shit out of each other in the back of her transporter, and snorts. “Actually, I would. Please don’t tell me you brought him to the pet store.”
“He almost left with four snakes and a parakeet, but yours truly stopped him!”
“Galo Thymos, the voice of reason. When did this happen?” she teases, elbowing him gently as they head toward their bikes.
“I’m exactly the same as always,” he claims. “Maybe it’s everything else that’s changed.”
Aina looks up to study his face, and finds it as comfortingly confident as always, even as she senses that something about him has changed. Like a key has turned in its lock, or the curtains of a window have finally been drawn. She thinks she initially noticed it on the first night of the rest of their lives, as if something in Galo also shifted when he and Lio realigned the path of their universe. But perhaps it’s not for her to know. For her, Galo is as he ever was.
“Maybe it is.”
If it weren’t for Varys, Lucia wouldn’t have figured it out for another week. She doesn’t have enough time to spend it on things besides her job and Vinny. So the collection of paper figurines gathering on the windowsill between the common room and the kitchen doesn’t catch her attention until Varys looks up one day as they’re coming back from lunch and says, “Oh, there’s another one.”
“Another what,” Lucia takes the lollipop from her mouth to ask absently, not looking up from her phone as she jots down a few notes about what she needs to fix for the Captain before tomorrow.
“You know, one of Galo’s paper people.”
She finally looks in the direction he’s pointing and sees a small group of origami people clustered in front of the windowpane. They’re simple, but look surprisingly well-made. “He didn’t make those, did he? There’s no way he has the fine motor skills.”
Varys chuckles as he goes to hang up his jacket. “I’m pretty sure they’re presents.”
“Who’s giving Galo presents besides me?” Lucia squints up at one little paper guy who looks like he’s wearing a samurai hat.
Another laugh, until Varys realizes she isn’t joking. His face falls. “C’mon, Lucia, his new man. That Burnish kid.” He makes a motion that looks like he’s imitating the bounce of fluffy hair. “He’s been courting Galo for like the last six months. Buys him stuff all the time; I think he’s from a rich family or something. I’m a little surprised you hadn’t noticed.”
If it’s really been going on for half a year, then Lucia’s also surprised she hasn’t noticed. It’s not like she didn’t know they’d become friendly almost immediately after trying to knock each other unconscious, but the collision course of closeness came on so quickly that it hadn’t occurred to her that it was something other than friendship. Sure, it didn’t look quite like any of Galo’s other friendships, but Galo is weird and Lio Fotia is even weirder. Who is she to judge their bond?
She waves her green lollipop in a circle before pointing it at Varys and asking the only important question: “Did Galo notice?”
“Aina says he’s connecting the dots without seeing the picture.”
“That sounds like our Galo.” Lucia grins, sharp and sudden, thinking about the trials the others must have been going through the whole time. They all love their rookie, they really do, but sometimes it’s hard to keep up with him when he’s always moving straight ahead at the speed of sound. “How annoyed is Aina? Does she want to smack their faces together yet?”
“She was grinding her teeth last week when Galo dragged Lio to lunch with us and didn’t realize how it looked when he kept offering Lio bites of food.”
Lucia almost drops her lollipop. “But he’s terrible at sharing meals.”
“Huh.” They look at each other for a second before Varys gestures at the little paper figurines again and she finally finishes parsing what this all means. “Okay. Got it.”
Shaking herself out of her semi-haze, she flings herself into her chair to get to work. She’ll follow up with Galo about this later.
She finally asks one day when they’re on standby in the truck as Remi and Varys finish up on scene. Neither she nor Galo were really needed here, but at least she got the opportunity to see Remi’s new upgrades in action. They’re waiting for the Captain to finish checking in with the building owner, so Lucia takes the chance to confront Galo while there’s no one else around.
Clearing her throat, she hops out of her chair to stand before him. Drawing herself to her full height still leaves her heads shorter than Galo, but Lucia has more than enough presence to intimidate regardless.
“That new hose is definitely an improvement on the old one,” he says with a smile, blissfully unaware of the aura she’s trying to project. “Do you need someone to test the other upgrades? Because I’m always-”
Lucia clicks her tongue at him and he brings his boisterous offer to a stop.
“Galo, Galo, Galo. Did I hear this right? Someone — who isn’t me — has been making you things?”
Confusion always lands on Galo’s face as if it doesn’t belong there, and this time is no different. “I don’t know who you heard that from, but it’s not true. You know I only use your tech, Lucia, I swear. It’s-”
“I didn’t say it was tech, did I? Those little paper people taking over the windowsill-”
His puzzled expression gives way to a relieved kind of understanding. “Oh, those. That’s just Lio’s new hobby.”
She twists her mouth up in disbelief. “I find it hard to believe that Lio Fotia has time for such a quaint hobby.”
“He picked it up recently! He’s been spending a lot of time at the new community center by Plainridge- I think one of the kids taught him. He says it’s calming, y’know? I think maybe he just likes being able to create something with his own hands again.”
This bit of insight is a surprisingly gentle look into the inner workings of someone Lucia had thought too exhausted with greater purpose for other pursuits. But it’s now, in the green and the growth, that people like Lio finally have the time to mend. She wonders how much influence Galo has had on the process, and how much Lio has changed him in return.
“I guess if it’s a gift from Lio, I can accept it,” she says decisively. “As long as you’re not going to anyone else for your gear.”
“I would never,” he declares. “Anyway, Lio just gives those to me because there’s no room left at his place. They’re pretty cool, though! I don’t know how he has the patience to make them.”
Lucia is fairly certain that no matter how small Lio’s apartment is, there’s no way he’s churning out origami at such a rate that the spillover has to be kept at the station, but she decides to keep her mouth shut on that front. “Well, he’s a focused guy. Maybe you should ask him to teach you. It would do wonders for your concentration,” she says, poking him in the arm.
Captain is calling for them over the comms, so Galo turns to pop the door open, but she can see the thoughtful look on his face before they exit. It’s becoming more and more familiar to her these days. Maybe he has more to think about than he used to, or perhaps he’s just become more comfortable with letting it show on his face even when he’s not alone.
“That’s not a bad idea. I mean, if Lio can do it, I can too, right?” She’s pretty sure at least 35% of the boast is a coverup for something deeper, but she decides to just pat him on the arm instead of prying.
The following week, Lucia notices that the little origami person in the samurai hat now has a slightly crinkly friend holding a sword. She smiles and climbs onto the file cabinet to tape her own creation to Mr. Samurai: a tiny paper matoi with tassels that flutter softly in the air.
The door is slightly ajar when Remi gets to Galo’s place, but he knocks regardless. The last time he made the mistake of walking straight into Galo’s open door he caught a glimpse of pineapple patterned boxers that he doesn’t really need to see again.
“Come in- why the hell would you put an item there?”
Remi feels his brows raising of their own accord. Galo doesn’t sound particularly sick. He pushes the door open to find his rookie and his rookie’s reformed frenemy playing a video game together. How surreal.
“I brought soup. Ah, Lio, you came to visit as well?” he asks from the doorway. Lio, red-faced and wrapped in a mound of blankets, looks like he’s about four seconds from throwing his controller at the television and Galo, who is infuriatingly spirited for someone who allegedly has a fever, can’t decide if he’s sitting on the couch or launching himself at the ceiling.
“Hello, it’s good to- why! Is! It! Back?!”
Remi watches as Lio’s little bunny rabbit gets squashed by an enemy and bounces backwards, blinking red with harm. Lio also seems to be emanating some red now.
“Lio came to check up on me yesterday, but wound up getting sick himself!” Galo shouts by way of greeting as he and Lio charge forward together again. They’re playing some kind of old-school platformer with cute mascot-like characters, and having a lot of difficulty advancing. Galo almost immediately gets attacked, and when Lio runs back to help him, he falls in a hole and dies. “Ah, no!”
“This pit again?” Lio hisses, his eyes narrowed dangerously thin. Remi recognizes a glimpse of the undying flame that used to sear past him amidst crumbling buildings, and finds it oddly reassuring. Perhaps because he remembers how it felt as it danced up and down his skin, shielding him from harm at the end of the world.
Galo’s adorable yellow kitten manages to fend off the spiky thing trying to attack him and skips along to the next platform as Lio respawns beside him. They make a bit of progress as Remi lets himself into the apartment to put the soup away. By the time he exits the kitchen, the dynamic duo appear to be at war with a big centipede. Their little jumping attacks and small bops don’t look particularly effective, but Remi only plays rhythm games and those arcade zombie shooters, so what does he know.
“There’s an item,” Remi says helpfully when a sparkling strawberry drops onto the other side of the screen.
“Thanks. Go grab it, Galo. I’ll hold off the bug.”
“Alright!” With Lio acting as the distraction, Galo successfully grabs his berry and returns to help Lio fight. It’s a close battle, but with perseverance and a great deal of swearing at the screen and a little bit at each other, they successfully defeat the boss.
“Congratulations,” Remi says as the victory music plays.
“Remi, join us!” Galo yells exuberantly as he and Lio finally manage to make it to the next stage. He sneezes a second later.
“No, I think I’m good. Watch out for the- whoops.”
“Galo!” Lio roars, so much fire in his eyes that for a second Remi almost feels like he should suit up. On screen, Galo’s character sinks into a monster’s maw. A sad little ditty plays. “What are you doing?!”
“It was a mistake! Sorry!”
“We don’t have room for mistakes! We each have one life left!”
“It’s okay, it saved when we got to the new level! Stop straining your throat by shouting!” Galo shouts, straining his throat.
“Oh.” Lio deflates a bit, sinking into his blanket pile and looking mollified. “That’s good.”
They continue on their way, and as expected, die soon afterwards. But a burning soul is never extinguished, so they restart the level and carry on, just as poorly as before. It’s tedious. Remi is unbelievably invested in the outcome.
At some point he drags a chair over to watch, running some dry commentary whenever their enthusiastic teamwork gets someone thrown off the stage. Lio rewards Remi with an occasional dry smile, while Galo just opts for flipping Remi off.
Partway through the next level, he notices a pattern. Every time they come upon an item, Lio offers it to Galo first. Remi doesn’t think it’s just due to Galo being a better player, and therefore a practical decision. It’s just a natural reaction. Remi thinks briefly about everything the team has been seeing for the last nine months and decides he’s not surprised.
“There’s an apple for you,” Lio offers, so casually that Remi doesn’t even know for sure that he realizes that it’s the fifth time he’s said something similar.
“No, you need it more!” Galo insists, and he jumps in place until Lio picks it up. They both grin at the little sound effect that happens when Lio gets a heart back, eyes only on each other even as a mouse with a pitchfork advances toward them, and Remi decides he’s seen enough for today.
He quietly returns his chair to the kitchen table. The action is enough to draw Galo’s attention, and he looks slightly disappointed.
“Leaving already? Do you wanna eat lunch with us?”
“No, you should stay in and drink soup. Both of you,” Remi adds, pointing at Lio when he sniffles. Lio gives him a weak nod in response. “Take care of yourself. And each other. I’ll see you back at work when you’re all better, Galo.”
“All better, you fool. If Aina sees you sneezing even once on the job, she’s going to pour a bag of cough drops down your throat.”
“Alright, okay,” Galo says, waving as Remi steps out the door. Remi isn’t even six steps away before he hears the faint strains of cursing again. The sweet sounds of modern romance. He shakes his head as he leaves, smiling to himself.
Ignis is used to being in the public eye, but events like these — the award ceremonies and the ribbon cuttings and the grand unveilings — were never quite in his comfort zone. Still, he isn’t Captain of the city’s best fire rescue precinct for nothing, so he nods and shakes hands and looks good for the cameras. He’s good at giving short sound bites for the news and redirecting attention toward the main event without being rude, but he’s glad when the crowd of reporters buzzes their way into position for the big moment.
The governor claps her hands together, and the curtain is drawn away to reveal the new statue now adorning the central plaza of city hall. It’s a sculpture of two people — one holding a flame, and the other, a sphere that looks like Earth — clasping hands and standing together in unity. Neither figure looks particularly like the people they’re based off of, but Ignis doesn’t think either of them minds.
After the governor’s speech about Promepolis rebuilding itself into something better than it was before, Ignis sternly mingles his way past people until he locates his team again. Copious catering staff are floating around the grounds, passing out little hors d’oeuvres, and the bottomless pit stomachs of a few of his crewmates makes it easy to find them. From afar he can already see Remi headed off somewhere, likely to say hello to someone he knows from Promepolis General. When Ignis reaches the others he sees that Aina is talking to a young man that he recognizes as a former Mad Burnish member, who now works at city hall. They’re talking animatedly about reintegration efforts, so he leaves them be in favor of standing next to Varys and Lucia to people-watch. It’s a beautiful day, and it feels like half the city has turned up for the festivities.
The crowd before Ignis thins, and several yards ahead he sees Galo looking up at the marble statue. He looks unusually pensive, and Ignis has half a mind to go talk to him before he sees Lio Fotia striding through the sea of people, walking toward Galo with singular focus. He isn’t aggressive in his motions but people fall away regardless, as if they can sense they shouldn’t stand between him and his destination. There’s something about that kid that compels the attention of others, even without the fire coursing through his veins any longer. He has presence. A kind of gravity to him that draws the world a little bit closer into his orbit. Ignis finds it almost frightening, but at the same time, perhaps he’s thankful for it. After all, it drew Galo in, and without the two of them, who knows where they’d all be now.
He’s still watching as Lio pauses a few feet shy of Galo, which is why he notices the way Lio’s expression transforms. Where Lio had been stoic he is now glowing, lit with wondrous sincerity. He stops moving, drawn to a halt by the sight of Galo staring heavily forward, and for a moment they seem to be caught in a delicate equilibrium, the moon frozen around its planet and the planet frozen around its sun.
But then Lio pushes forward off his heels and raises his hand to press a bottle against Galo’s cheek and the moment is broken like a ripple pulsing across a still pond. Galo shifts, the impossible weight of his attention moving with him, settling naturally onto Lio as if coming home.
Ignis understands something after these five seconds — something that he might have been learning gradually over the past year, and he isn’t the only one. Some yards over to the right, a young woman has witnessed the same scene, and from the quiet surprise in her eyes, she’s come to the same conclusion as Ignis. She flushes when her eyes catch on his, but he doesn’t mean to shame her. Ignis lifts a finger to his lips, nodding conspiratorially at her, as if this is a secret to be shared only between the two of them. She sucks in a breath before going still, glancing back at Lio briefly, and the way her wrist twirls makes Ignis think that the Promare used to run hot through her fingertips. The woman turns back to him and nods once, very seriously, and then disappears into the crowd.
When Ignis returns his attention to the duo, he sees that Galo has happily accepted Lio’s offering of water. They tap their bottles together in a quasi-toast before Galo wrenches the cap off his and guzzles down half the water in two gulps. Lio looks both perplexed and reluctantly impressed, and Ignis tunes back into Varys and Lucia’s conversation once he sees a water chugging contest begin in the distance.
They’re talking about the bizarre new building off Marigold Ave that looks like a deconstructed hamburger, so he chimes in to say he’s seen the blueprints and knows for a fact that it’s a day spa, which opens up a whole new can of worms. From the corner of his eye, Ignis can see Galo sling an arm around Lio’s shoulders, herding him toward a caterer. They walk in-step together at a pace that makes him slightly wary, but he figures he’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. He has plenty of reason to believe they’ll keep each other in line. That’s how good partnerships work, after all.
Lio lives on the south side of town, across from Meis and Gueira, in a cramped little apartment with a window overlooking a neighborhood park. There’s a chair by that window, and it’s Galo’s favorite place to sit when he comes to visit. Lio hadn’t been certain of the chair’s placement at first, same as with everything else in this new home that sometimes still feels like it’s teetering on a precipice above a chasm that’ll drop Lio back into reality. But Galo grew so quickly attached to looking out the window at the children, Burnish and non-Burnish alike playing house and blob tag and digging holes in the sand pit together, that Lio decided the chair had to stay.
It’s been almost two years since the Promare departed. Since Lio let the fire in his heart flare out for the final time. Since Galo came crashing headlong into his life and never left. He used to think that their collision course meeting knocked him out of alignment, pushing him into a trajectory he was never meant for.
He still feels that way, sometimes, when Galo grins at him from across a construction site, waving at him like Lio is worth the scorching fervor of his undivided attention. There’s no way they were meant to remain in one another’s proximity like this. They’re both too alike and too different. It must have been a divine mistake that fate would allow two meteors at terminal velocity to intersect like this without disintegrating into a fiery disaster.
But then he sees the smiling face of a Burnish child waiting for his school bus, or an elderly Burnish woman waiting in line at the market with her non-Burnish friend, or even Meis bursting out of his apartment at double speed to beat the morning traffic to work, and he remembers that this must be the right path. This is the future they were fighting for.
It just feels unreal that Lio could have it all.
Galo is seated in his chair today, smiling down at something outside that Lio can’t see. The mid-afternoon hour bathes him in sunbeams, and his expression is tender in a way that makes the air in Lio’s lungs grow thin. He looks like something out of a half-forgotten dream, a reminder that Lio had once wanted, had once been soft and vulnerable and incomplete, and the thought is too overwhelming for him at the moment. He needs to burst this bubble, put himself back into motion so he doesn’t slow down enough to realize that he finally has the time to worry about things like this again.
So he exits his hallway holding the new throw pillows he purchased while shopping with Guiera the other day. He doesn’t walk so much as stomp, which draws Galo’s attention from the window toward him. This is what he thought he wanted, but he miscalculated like a fool. Having Galo looking up at him, wide-eyed and sun-soaked, is much worse.
“Do you want a pillow?” Lio asks desperately. He thrusts the object away from himself, unsure as to what Galo would even do with it.
Galo comes to the same conclusion, because he takes it, laughing. “Where do I put it? It won’t fit behind my back,” he says, amused. He settles for clamping it between his thighs, which is just all-around terrible. Lio walks jerkily over to the loveseat with his other two pillows and seats himself tentatively on the edge.
He looks nervous, he can just tell. But Galo had pulled him to a dead halt yesterday with the words, “Hey, I wanted to talk to you about something tomorrow. But like, nothing that serious, so get that look off your face! Alright, I gotta go, so I’ll see you later! Have a great day at work!”
And now they’re sitting here awkwardly in Lio’s living room, stiff and wooden as if they haven’t been hanging out for the last two years. At least, Lio is. Galo looks perfectly at ease with his hands folded atop his pillow.
“You don’t have to look like I’m sending you into exile or something!”
“You’re the one saying ominous shit before bounding off somewhere for the next twenty four hours!”
“I had work! So did you!”
“Yes, but- look, just come out and tell me whatever your bad news is,” Lio says irritably, waving his hand in the air. He still hasn’t let go of all the mannerisms he picked up as a Burnish; he probably never will.
Galo shakes his head, still looking too amused. “There’s no bad news, Lio. I just wanted to tell you that you don’t have to keep giving me things.”
Lio makes a face at this completely nonsensical statement. “What? What are you talking about? C’mon, get to the point already. Tell me who’s dying. It’s not you, is it? Is it me? I have been getting these weird chest pains recently-”
“I’m serious, there’s no bad news! And why would I know if you’re dying? Go see a doctor if you’re in pain!”
“It doesn’t actually hurt that much. And I don’t know, maybe Aina told you.”
“Why would Aina know- what are we even talking about?”
“I don’t know, you tell me!”
“I did tell you! You don’t have to keep giving me gifts and stuff! You don’t have to buy my friendship or whatever, because I’m with you either way! Okay?” Galo is already using his throw pillow to gesture, and it’s only a matter of time before he accidentally flings it through a window.
Lio is trying and failing to wrap his head around their current topic of conversation. No matter how he looks at it he doesn’t understand. “Buy your- what do you think I’m doing? Bribing you? Purchasing your affection?”
“I mean, it sounds bad when you put it that way. No, it’s just all your little gifts, you know? The origami, the crepes, the coffee, the helmet, that weird-ass cape thing I now have in my closet for Halloween I guess?”
Lio is about to reflexively shout something back before he stops and thinks about what Galo is saying. He hadn’t even realized he’d been doing all that. It just felt natural to give him all of those things, because Galo was always there, and Lio always seemed to have excessive amounts of stuff — too much for one single person, surely — that it only made sense for him to share them with Galo too. Besides funding Burnish community aid and setting up scholarships, what else was he supposed to do with his copious inheritance?
“It isn’t that I think you’re materialistic, Galo- I just-”
“Yeah, I know, but it sometimes it feels like I’m using you- I mean, I give you some gifts too, but it’s hard to keep up when you’re just so damn generous all the time with your snacks and scarves and- I can’t believe I own six scarves now because of you-”
“I didn’t even know I was doing it!” Lio shouts before they can talk themselves into a neverending vortex. Galo snaps his jaw closed and listens as Lio begins rambling. “It’s not like I’ve been trying to- to ply you with gifts or something. It’s just...there are things I have that you deserve, so of course I’ll share them with you. Right?” he asks, hoping for validation, because he doesn’t even know himself if this logic makes any sense.
“Uh, maybe? You can keep doing it, but if that’s the case, you have to let me give you things in return.”
“But I have things.”
“And so do I! Look, it’s not like I don’t like the gifts, but this is way too one-sided! Let me give you something! Tell me what you want!”
“I don’t want anything!”
“There’s gotta be something.”
“There isn’t! I have everything I could need, and anything else I could just buy! The only thing I want is-”
He stops short before all the painful truths can come flooding out of his mouth. This is the one thing he can’t ask for. He already has enough. What they have is enough.
All the fight in Galo rushes out of him when he sees Lio cut himself off, and he stands, asking slowly, “Lio. What do you want?”
Lio isn’t caught off guard by the question, but he pauses regardless, because he’s never come up with a satisfactory answer until now.
His life had been consumed by one thought for so long that he left almost everything else by the wayside, to be lost in the dust. As he too would someday be.
Save his people. Seize justice. Burn everything else to ash. It’s all he thought about for years. And now here he is, no fire in his lungs and no war left to fight. Just the slow climb back to recovery, the hard journey toward healing. His dream is slowly being pieced together by the city, by the community. They’re building a new world, and there’s nothing more he can do but build alongside them.
Besides that, Lio is content. He has everything he needs. Everything except...
...look, Lio hasn’t wanted in so long. And this particular desire is extraneous. A luxury on top of what he already has. He has no right to ask for it.
“I can’t. I already have too much.”
“That’s not like you,” Galo says fondly, walking over to sit next to Lio on the loveseat. He’s close enough to touch but Lio won’t reach out. “You used to just do whatever you pleased. What happened to that attitude of yours?”
“That was different. That was for the Burnish, for my people. This is just...selfish. It’s just for me, and I don’t-”
“Don’t say you don’t deserve it. You deserve good things too. Trust me.”
Lio does trust Galo, with his very life. “Okay. But what if- what if you can’t grant it?”
“Then we’ll figure it out together. So tell me. What do you want?”
Lio takes a measured breath as he tries to find the words that fit this wild, unyielding, overgrown yearning that’s been overflowing from him since the day they met.
“I want to ignite again.”
He means it in more way than one, he means it in every way possible, but he knows how Galo is going to interpret the statement, and true to form, Galo bites his lip and claps Lio gently on the back, trying to apologize with his touch.
“I don’t know if I can give you that,” Galo says carefully, because he doesn’t understand the hollowness in Lio’s bones now that he’s only human, but he knows that it makes Lio ache and that’s enough for him to believe in. “I’m sorry. I know I just said we’d work it out, but bringing the Promare back might be beyond even me. But I- I can try and find you something else-”
“I know the Promare aren’t coming back, Galo. I- I’ve come to terms with it. But-” and Lio stands, because if he’s going to say this he needs some distance, some breathing space.
“Lio?” Galo prompts after watching him take another three breaths. Lio, standing at the cliff’s edge, gathers all the dying embers in himself and finally says it out loud.
“You lit a fire in me once.”
He looks straight into Galo’s eyes as he speaks, and rests his hand over his chest where he first felt Galo’s flame awaken inside him. Where they connected with one another, there in the dark at the end of all things. He’d given away a part of himself to save Galo, and when Galo had given it right back, something inside Lio’s safeguarded heart clicked open again.
He doesn’t know if this is love. He can’t be certain yet. But he does know that it fills him with as much warmth as the Promare ever did.
Galo, to his credit, doesn’t avert his gaze, even as a blush overtakes his face. He takes a moment to study Lio’s face and then nods briskly, decisively.
“And I said that I would never light one again! But- uh. For you. Maybe. I could. I will.”
“Could you?” Lio asks gently, overtaken by the way Galo looks up at him with both affection and his signature determination. He reaches out slowly, and when Galo doesn’t back away, brushes his fingertips against the curve of Galo’s jaw.
“What if I wanted to consume you? To scorch you from the inside out? What happens if I ignite and burn all of you up with me?” Because Lio doesn’t kill, no, but he does destroy, and Galo must know that.
“I’ll just have to burn even brighter to keep up with you.” Galo rests his hand atop Lio’s and smiles up at him just as easily as he always does. “I told you, didn’t I? I’m with you, no matter what. Besides, I’ve felt your fire before. There’s no way you would ever burn me.”
“Nope, not listening. If this is what you really want- if I’m what you want, you can have me. I’ll give it all to you.” He squeezes Lio’s hand softly, and it feels like he’s pressing a promise into Lio’s skin.
Lio freezes beneath Galo’s touch because he never anticipated actually having this conversation. For the last two years, despite the peace and the mundanity of everyday life, he’s felt ambushed by something new and novel at every turn, but this is the greatest surprise of all. “Are you certain?”
“When am I not?”
“That’s fair, I suppose, but-”
“Hey. Lio. You’re overthinking it,” Galo says, laughing, and he tugs Lio’s hand down to intertwine with his own. “What do you want?”
He sits there, luminous and adoring, and Lio wants nothing more than to return a gift long overdue.
“I want to kiss you.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Galo’s lips meet his, slow and sweet. They separate after only a few seconds but Lio is filled with starlight nonetheless, and Galo glows as brightly as Lio feels.
“Did it work?” Galo asks. “Did you ignite?” Lio bends down to leave a soft kiss on his cheek, and revels in the way he can feel Galo’s smile. He can feel the embers in his chest flickering alive again, sparking into something radiant.
“I think we might need to try again, if that’s alright.”
“As many times as it takes,” Galo promises, pulling him close. “As many as you want.”