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"You can stay at my place."

Galo had suggested it so easily. It left Lio startled, but appreciative. When he hesitated to respond, Galo's expression had started to change, a little more bashful. Before he could say anything else, Lio offered a smile and shook his head. "Unless there's space for all of the Burnish, I have to decline. For now, anyway."

That's right. Even without the Promare, he was a leader. Whether he could still burn or not, he knew that so many of the Burnish would look to him for support - which, in a way, was ridiculous, but he'd live up to it. These people had supported him, too.

But it was just for now, because he couldn't deny a temptation to immediately collapse onto a couch or whatever other soft surface he would be offered in Galo's home. Hell, Galo could offer himself as a mattress and Lio would dive right in. Though it would be a little too foolish to expect something like that right away, no matter how impulsive Galo could be.

If Galo was disappointed with his answer, he didn't show it, instead nodding, looking more impressed or proud than anything else. "Well, offer's open if you change your mind."

It was getting so late. A massive amount of volunteers had come out to help free victims trapped in the Parnassus, and Lio had noticed, of course, that the average person helping out would only join him in freeing the Burnish from their pods after the trapped non-Burnish citizens were safe. He knew that would be the case, it was obvious that they wouldn't be forgiven just because they weren't actual Burnish any longer. He'd noticed some people making lists of names as the Burnish were released. He knew that those lists would haunt them. If he could still burn, he would've taken care of that so simply.

Several of those pods released bursts of ash that stung his eyes and made him cough, rather than anything remotely human. It was probably best not to dwell on that. Stay motivated for the survivors until there weren't any left to find. Gather remains later.

There weren't many shelter options for so many tired, injured people. So many of them would need prosthetics. So many of them would probably be dead within hours if they didn't get medical attention, and there was a severe limit to how much could be done to help them. Without the Promare, Lio couldn't do anything to help restore them. Galo, on the other hand, had been amazing. Emergency medical training was amazing. It was the first thing on a long list that Lio planned to tackle as soon as he could.

The Parnassus was tilted, so any space inside of it was mostly useless as shelter even with all of the room. Lio would have to come up with something else. Tiredly, he grinned at Galo again, and thanked him for all of his help as they worked on pods that were side-by-side, and they spoke briefly about options for where all of the victims could go and recover - Lio's interests solely focused on the Burnish survivors, of course.

"There's a community center that's still standing, that should cover about half of the displaced Burnish, I think," Aina interrupted them on emergency radio. Impeccable timing. Galo kindly handed the radio to Lio.

"That will cover the uninjured, then. Is there a hospital with enough space available?"

"There's some room in the hospital. There's also a retirement center with a ton of space and enough medical equipment to suffice for non-emergencies, would that work?"

"Sounds perfect. Thank you, Aina. Can you tell me where they are so I can start moving everyone?"

She detailed quick instructions, cutting herself off a couple times with oh, but that was destroyed, so it might not make a great landmark and things along those lines. Lio had a good enough memory to follow along, and he was decently familiar with the city from his activities with the Mad Burnish. He'd get along fine.

He thanked her again, and handed Galo his radio. His priority was the injured, and he'd have Meis and Gueira help direct the ones well enough to walk on their own. He started to walk away, and Galo grabbed his shoulder to stop him.

His brows were furrowed, like he was figuring out what words to use. "You do know that you have help here, right? Emergency services aren't going to ignore former Burnish."

"You're asking all of us to get over our trust issues in a few hours?" Lio shook his head. "I know you're helping. I know I can trust you. They don't know they can trust anyone."

Galo accepted it, but clearly wasn't too thrilled with it - though there was a slight movement at the corner of his mouth when Lio confessed his trust in him. "Alright, well. Time to get back to work, then!"

Lio's limbs were sore, and as Galo marched ahead of him, presumably to continue helping the Burnish, Lio could only wonder where the hell he got all of his energy. Neither of them slept at Galo's place that night, because there wasn't any time to go home. Lio eventually fell asleep sometime around mid-day, curled up on the floor of the hospital in the room of one of the patients that was worst off, because he didn't want to leave them alone when they passed. A Burning Rescue jacket was covering his shoulders when he woke up.





The first few days without the Promare, things were okay. Quiet, a little cold, but mostly okay. It was sort of like being sick, something changed and it was miserable, but it felt temporary. There'd be an adjustment, but the former Burnish would be fine eventually, right?

Once it started to really sink in, some of the people who had been considered powerful among the Burnish began to really struggle. Suddenly being without the Promare changed too much at once. Lio had noticed this quickly (as it obviously affected him badly), and began setting up support groups. It was important that the Burnish not feel alone, even if keeping a leadership role made him feel more alone than ever.

Galo never left him alone. He was grateful for that.

Almost nightly, Lio would get an invitation to go out somewhere, or watch a movie, or do anything that Galo insisted would help him unwind. Sometimes, Lio would even accept. He got to know the members of Burning Rescue a lot better, and eventually they even swore that they'd support him if anyone tried to take legal action against the Mad Burnish. No, they wouldn't just let things go entirely, but they would argue on his behalf, maybe try to lighten whatever sentence he was handed. He'd been half of the duo that had saved the world, after all, so protecting him was almost as important as proper procedure (Galo, though, kept pushing the idea that Lio's name should be completely clear after that. It was so innocent and sweet that Lio kind of enjoyed that insistence. Cute, maybe).

One night, he accepted an invitation to Galo's apartment to watch a movie. He didn't care about the movie in the slightest, though; he had his own ideas for how to unwind, and he was sure he'd gotten enough hints that Galo would be receptive to those ideas.

The movie was some classic from overseas, and Lio sat next to him on the couch quietly for the first half, while Galo enthusiastically talked over the movie to explain the history and cultural differences that made the movie so interesting to him. Lio was more interested in the fact that Galo was so well-informed about these things. He wasn't completely stupid (more impulsive and loud than genuinely stupid. There's a difference), so maybe it wasn't a surprise, but it was certainly very interesting.

Galo was wearing a shirt that night. Once he finally settled down and stopped talking long enough to actually watch the movie, Lio reached for his collar and tugged him closer, giving him just enough of a pause to make sure Galo knew what he was aiming for. At the very least, Lio had owed him a kiss for a while now. Ever since Galo saved him, he'd wanted to return that favor properly. By now he owed him quite a bit in interest, too.

The enthusiastic idiot firefighter was stunned, but didn't reject him. Good enough. Lio moved his hand to Galo's jaw, encouraging him closer and carefully licking his lips to get him to open his mouth. Which he did, with a startled sound.

It took all of about ten seconds before Galo responded appropriately, leaning forward and wrapping one arm around Lio's waist, the other planted on the couch for balance (between Lio's legs, though Lio couldn't figure out how to interpret that. It was probably incidental).

Perfect. Lio tugged Galo's body over him, arranging himself on the couch comfortably underneath him. Perhaps he was being a bit too forward, but he wasn't getting any indication that Galo minded at all. A subtle shift of his hips and Galo made a muffled noise against Lio's mouth, then broke apart, stuttering through the words, "Wait, I, um. I don't have any--" 

He made a gesture, which Lio took to mean condoms. He tried not to laugh too much. "That's okay. I'm clean, if you're worried about that." He hadn't been active since losing his flames, and the Promare protected the Burnish from disease. Though if he was honest, he was barely active even before then. No time for seeking out things like that, though he wouldn't always turn away admirers that threw themselves at him.

He tugged Galo down to kiss him again, and Galo made a noise of protest and tried again, "I don't even have lube!" The volume he used was unnecessary, but Lio tried not to show that it bothered him at all. He propped himself up, leaning close to Galo's ear, speaking at a much more acceptable whisper.

"That's okay," he said. Softer tones fit this situation better. The close proximity helped. He made Galo shiver. "I want it to hurt."

That… was the wrong thing to say to Galo Thymos, the man who wanted to protect everyone in the world, wouldn't harm a fly that didn't explicitly deserve it. He could feel him deflate, a frown spreading across his face. "I'm not okay with that," Galo admitted, lowering his voice. "Maybe someday we could try, I mean, but…"

Someday. What an odd word to find startling. Lio hadn't been thinking of Someday, he'd been thinking about Now, surviving the rest of the week with a bit less stress on his shoulders. He must have reacted somehow, because Galo's expression changed too, confused.

Did he want a "Someday" with Galo? Maybe. He enjoyed time with him, he was quite obviously attracted to him. Someday would be worth exploring, but with everything else going on, there wasn't time or energy to spare ironing out what that meant, not yet.

Galo hadn't been what he was hoping for that night. Lio offered him a weak smile and patted his shoulder to indicate that he ought to get up now. If there was going to be a future, doing anything now would be a mistake. Galo would end up being the one hurt. If Galo was confused by the sudden change of heart that Lio didn't speak of, he was doing a great job of not showing it.

The word Someday rattled in his mind as they quietly returned to the movie; without the Promare, his head echoed his own thoughts endlessly, and it was both lonely and stifling. Too bad that Galo wouldn't be able to help him with that.

 




Lucia had outfitted gear especially for Lio. His assistance to Burning Rescue in the past month had been invaluable, even if his motivation was primarily helping the former Burnish. The sooner the rubble was cleared and housing was built, the sooner the Burnish would be able to claim a piece of the city for themselves. They could live safely, without fear of persecution, and that thought alone filled him with optimism enough to keep him distracted from all the jars of ash he'd had to bury in the ground the days after the Parnassus Incident.

He didn't trust Aina's sister - he knew her name was Heris, but he avoided speaking with her out of respect for Aina (he had nothing kind to say, after all), so he never had to use it. She could have sabotaged Kray far sooner than she had. She could have done it without causing unnecessary suffering to all of the Burnish trapped in that engine. Overloading it probably killed a number of them. Even if that was the case, she was making herself useful by drawing up blueprints and ideas for improving relief efforts. So his wariness of her had to be set aside for the time being. Aina would keep her in line, he could trust that much.

After cutting down the entire Parnassus into sheet metal, housing could be built in the space surrounding the wide crater it left behind. It wasn't ideal space for it, but beggars couldn't be choosers, and half the city was displaced, not just the Burnish.

Lucia and Heris had worked on a way to give Lio's gear some serious firepower. He could melt metal down and shape it himself, which he honestly found a great deal of pleasure in. They'd also written a very detailed manual, and though Lio read through all of it, he knew fire well enough that everything seemed rather obvious to him.

Controlling fire with more than just his willpower was a change, but it was a manageable one. The gear felt amazing. He wouldn't be deployed much, obviously, he wasn't actually a part of Burning Rescue. Galo just kept dragging him along whenever possible.

After he hopped out of it from his first test run, that empty feeling came rushing back, and his chest felt tight. He knew it wasn't just fire he missed; he missed feeling powerful, he missed those voices, the infernal urges to burn everything in sight. He knew it would sound crazy. He knew he couldn't tell a soul.

So he accepted another invitation from Galo. This time, he noted a receipt on the counter beside a paper bag with some curious items listed, but he didn't bring that up. Galo seemed nervous, but Lio knew better than to take advantage of him now.

"Galo," Lio started at some point, after barely touching the food that had been made for him (it was good, the flavor was rich and he liked it even if he had no idea what it was. His mind was elsewhere).

"Yeah?"

"...Have you ever… No, who am I kidding, of course you haven't." He sighed.

"Try me! I've been through a lot, you know!"

Lio cracked a tiny smile. "Have you ever felt that it's impossible to save everyone? That you've hit your limit and people will die because of it?"

Galo stilled.

"...You're a genuine hero, Galo Thymos. I somehow doubt you could relate."

"No, I can," Galo insisted, looking uncharacteristically contemplative. "When I was younger, especially. Everyone gets where they are through some trial and error, right?"

Lio rested his elbows on the table, chin in his hand, and smiled faintly. It was oddly reassuring to hear something like that, in the moment.

"I work hard because I don't want to feel like that again." After another short pause, he added in a quieter voice that gave Lio chills for whatever reason, "You… really freaked me out that day, when you almost died. That's the closest to hopeless I've felt in ages."

"And you succeeded, regardless," Lio tilted his head thoughtfully. "A hero."

Galo turned a bit pink, which Lio thought was weird; was he still awkward about that kiss, after Lio had tried to seduce him? That seemed a little silly, but in an endearing way.

"Have you been feeling that way?"

"A lot of Burnish lives were lost," Lio answered simply. "I was the one they looked to for saving, and I couldn't do it."

There were a lot of responses Lio expected to that. Responses he'd heard already dozens of times. It wasn't his fault, he'd done all he could, et cetera. Galo didn't go with any of those, instead saying, "We're a team now, Lio. If you feel like you failed, it means we both have to do better next time."

Lio took a deep breath to ground himself again. Someday. Someday maybe the world would look to them for saving again? Unlikely. Lio wasn't exactly viewed as heroic by the general populace, especially with his reputation as a former arson-terrorist. It was oddly touching that Galo thought that way, though.

"Is someone feeding you lines?" Lio drops the topic, eyeing Galo with feigned suspicion. "Or were you replaced with some sort of smarter body-double?"

Dinner was slightly easier to eat after that. Galo took well to teasing, and the good-natured banter was much easier on his hollowed-out mind that ached for fire.






The first time Lio had to strike a match in his life, he was so startled by the sudden flame he hadn't mentally conjured that he dropped it, and Galo stomped it out quickly. When he was told to be careful, he felt defensive, but he couldn't deny that he'd made a mistake. It just felt as though that mistake wasn't worth getting worked up over. It's not like Lio would've burned the firehouse down, he could have stomped the tiny flame out just as easily as Galo did.

But he didn't argue that point. He huffed and tried again, lighting the pilot light on the oven quickly and exiting the building as fast as he could without a word. It probably looked bad. Like he was throwing a tantrum or something. Maybe he sort-of was.

Tight in his fist, he kept what remained of the pack of matches as he walked down the street. Fresh air, that's what he needed.

It was embarrassing to be so awkward around fire now. He used to surround himself with it, breathe it, live it, and yet he just flinched over a match. Was it shameful? Probably not; it was Burning Rescue, it was filled with people who had unusual reactions to fire in general. Plus, his life had been flipped upside down suddenly so he was bound to have some unpredictable stressors. Still, it was fire. Lio Fotia, former leader of the Mad Burnish, was never going to fear fire.

Once he was a comfortable distance from the firehouse, in an evacuated section of the city (none of the structures were stable enough for use quite yet), Lio found a place to sit on a large slab of concrete, facing a colorful sunset over the ruins in the distance. The new world they were meant to be building was taking shape, but very slowly. It tested the patience of everyone. Former Burnish were coming to him all the time, for answers he couldn't give and for help he was reluctant to admit that he also needed.

He looked down at the pack of matches in his hand and paused. Curiously, he struck one and watched it burn down nearly to his fingertips. The colors weren't the same, but there was light and warmth. There weren't any voices asking him for anything. It wasn't similar enough. It did nothing for him.

He blew it out, then struck another, watching it until he smelled it burning his fingernail, then repeating with yet another. Whether it was similar enough, it held his attention, regardless. Something about this tiny match being enough to start the kind of destruction that had temporarily satisfied the Promare captivated him.

The whole box was gone before he could stop himself. His fingers had blistered; the pain wasn't the same, since he used to feel burning sensations almost constantly, but never wore that pain outwardly. He healed too quickly before, but this would stay with him for a while, shaming him until it faded.

Lio had felt pride in being a Burnish. He'd inspired that pride in others as well, because he had enough of a moral compass that his people treated him as a proper leader without question, would look to him to figure out what was right. He was above killing, above petty emotions that would rip weaker Burnish apart quickly. He had moments of weakness as well, though.

There was no pride in literally playing with fire. An odd reaction to fire was one thing, but he'd gone through an entire box of matches and it just wasn't enough for him. He wanted to see a blaze erupt from his hands that could rival the sun. He'd tasted that before, and found it to be delicious.

It was admitting defeat to say that he wanted to burn more. He tried to quiet that feeling, gathering the charred matches and stuffing them in his pocket to dispose of properly later. He needed something else to fill this gap in his existence, anything that would feel a little less pitiful.

The next day, he built a combustion engine with help from Lucia, and made some inventive modifications that only he could manage, as someone so intimately familiar with fire. Eventually he'd build a bike around it (he missed his conjured bike a little more every day he had to walk anywhere). It had proven to be a good way to take a break, the perfect distraction for a full day, and perhaps it could be a proper hobby. If anyone noticed the blisters on his fingers, no one said a word.






The weather grew colder, and Lio couldn't fight off the freezing temperatures with just layers of clothing. He was lucky that Galo allowed him to be so touchy-feely without demanding anything more. Oh, he would still offer at eventually, but not until he knew it would be okay. Not until he was sure he couldn't hurt Galo by being too callous. He wasn't willing to be in some kind of relationship yet, but things around them had to calm down enough that he felt like a normal life was possible for every ex-Burnish. Someday.

A warm drink in his hands to keep his fingers from being frostbitten, Lio walked into the firehouse just like he'd done way too often; they'd given him a lot, from the desk and filing cabinet just out-of-the-way enough to keep him from getting too distracted by outside noises, to the tablet that had been invaluable to him. Too many of his goals required too much paperwork and research. He didn't think he was cut out for it, truthfully. He'd rather be helping out in that gear Lucia made for him (which was still crazy fun to help her test), but Ignis wouldn't allow it, and since he was Lucia's boss, he got to call the shots on her creations.

That day, he noticed an addition to his corner. A space heater. It had a post-it note on the top reminding him that he needed to be careful with it, because it can cause fires, making it abundantly clear to him who'd placed it there. The little heart at the bottom was stupidly obvious, too.

After peeling off the note since that was also a fire hazard (he tucked it away in a desk drawer), he switched it on and sat down, oddly giddy. Galo was out somewhere, or he would've heard a greeting already, but that was fine, they weren't joined at the hip. Lio still hadn't accepted that more-tempting-by-the-minute offer for a place to stay, but Galo had reminded him of it a few times already. Perhaps Galo could sense that the answer was going to change soon, since he didn't just let it go.

Rather than working right away, he checked with Meis and Gueira through the tablet, getting their report that things were mostly going well - there was a problem, but they insisted it wasn't serious enough to distract Lio over. The injured that hadn't died were getting praiseworthy medical attention now, and since the former Burnish didn't often display any sort of differences outwardly from the never-Burnish, they were rarely facing any real problems by discrimination. The people with prosthetics were having some difficulty, but none of them were displeased with their current situation, considering what their lives were like before.

They promised to come visit him later in the day, since they were concerned he wasn't eating or sleeping well, and he told them not to, he was fine. He still often slept on the floor of the community center with all of the others who hadn't been able to piece their lives together yet, most nights, or with someone who wasn't doing so well at the hospital (Like last night). It was better than sleeping outside on rocky ground, so Lio thought he was doing okay. Occasionally he'd doze off at the Burning Rescue HQ and wake up on a couch with a blanket over him in the morning.

The list of former Burnish had come in handy for him; filing paperwork to get each and every one of them renewed identifications went much faster when they had given all the necessary details so willingly. There was still plenty of time for it to haunt them, though.

As it turned out, he didn't have to wait long for that.

A man in a suit, kind of wrinkled and dusty (good luck finding any better in the current condition of the city), stepped in the front door carrying a packet of papers, thick and heavy, glanced around the room before locking eyes with Lio and walking closer. He wore no expression beyond exhaustion. That was a normal sight, so it didn't raise any alarm bells.

"Here you are," He said simply, handing the papers to Lio directly. "You won't be arrested unless you fail to show up for the court date."

Lio looked incredulously at the uninvited guest, his mouth opening for a moment, but he didn't know how to respond.

"You were the leader of a group of terrorists, so you have to be charged accordingly. Out of respect for your actions alongside Galo Thymos, and your actions following that event, we're going to trust you to follow procedure."

"...What outcome are you hoping for, here?"

The man stared blankly, and shrugged. Just the messenger.

Lio had never killed anyone, so he couldn't be handed a death sentence, probably. As the man walked away, Lio opened the papers and read them, scrutinizing every line, knowing he would have to research every charge against him to build a defense himself. No one with a brain would defend him, it was a doomed case from the start. He'd seen this coming. He thought maybe everyone had. He didn't know why he felt surprised it was finally happening.

Out of several hundred pages, a large number of them were filled with names of perfectly innocent former Burnish, and bullshit charges against them - there was a fine-print note at the end vaguely saying that all of these people could have their crimes wiped clean, provided Lio didn't run. The implications, and the horribly unclear language sickened him, not to mention the truth that almost all of these people were completely innocent aside from the crime of existing as a Burnish. He wouldn't run if it would put them in danger, but he had to admit his knee-jerk reaction was thinking about leaving, either abandoning all the Burnish and taking the trouble far from them, which wouldn't work, or escaping with them and protecting them, which he'd already failed at. Even if either option were viable, he'd be leaving Galo, a thought that upset him more than he was willing to dwell on.

Gueira and Meis would likely be in some sort of trouble as well. If he could, he'd like to protect them. Remain on good behavior and paint them in the best light possible for whenever they'd have to answer for their own actions, before he'd pushed them in a different direction.

There were rumors, silly as they seemed, that he'd been in charge of the Mad Burnish for far longer than was even possible. He could take advantage of that, place everything squarely on his own shoulders and deal with the consequences of every Mad Burnish fire himself.

He sighed and planted his face in his hands, just for a moment. He couldn't allow himself to show weakness now, but he was alone, and he didn't feel particularly strong, just tired and empty.

The first action he ought to take was making copies of this and passing them to Gueira and Meis, so they could be prepared as well. So he did, struggling for just a few minutes with the copier (he still had some trouble with machines he'd never needed to use as a Burnish constantly on the run, but most things were pretty easy to figure out after one or two tries). After some deliberation, he left the original copy on his desk; he wasn't sure how the members of Burning Rescue would take it, but he figured they ought to know about it, as well. Galo, though, would be extremely predictable, and hopefully if he found out before Lio returned, Lio wouldn't have to deal with the inevitable outburst from him.

Not that it wasn't sweet. Lio just couldn't handle it, not yet.

A walk to the new "Burnish Camp" would do him some good, though. It wasn't the prettiest sight, a bunch of people who couldn't explain their condition to nurses and officials charged with their care, couldn't get showers as often as they ought to, couldn't sleep well. He was doing what he could to improve things, but only a few of the former Burnish had qualified for the newly-built housing so far; he'd demanded that the system be made around a lottery, so that former Burnish couldn't be discriminated against in the selection. With a few new friends backing him up, it worked better than he thought it would, but he couldn't make the rebuilding go much faster than it already was.

It ought to be inspiring that so many people were working toward something new, but with the papers under his arm, it all felt hollow, instead.

As he walked up to the community center, he saw an elderly man seated by a small fire contained in an old metal pot (dangerous, but Lio was tempted to stare at it regardless, because fire was enchanting) in an alley between the center and the half-built building beside it. He knew who it was, but not why he was there, so on the chance he wanted to be left alone, he passed him by.

Meis and Gueira greeted him enthusiastically, and some of the children followed suit, surrounding him with questions about where he'd been all night, what he was doing today, where he'd be staying. These people wanted him around badly, but they only thought of him as some Burnish leader. None of them were Burnish anymore, but he didn't have the heart to point that out yet. They could rely on him a little longer.

The children ran off to play when he told them to, with some reluctance. Only after there was enough privacy around them did he hand off the papers.

"...Are you kidding me?"

"This is…"

"It will be fine," Lio insisted. "If I'm going to take the fall for everything, it's better than letting it fall on you and the others. I can take it."

"No way, Boss!" Gueira's face burned like he'd forgotten the Promare was gone, "After all you've done for everyone, there's no way we'd let anything happen to you!"

"But you will, because I'm asking you to."

They both regarded him quietly, and lowered their gazes to the floor.

"I want you to keep the others safe. I don't want to be a martyr for any greater cause, I want this to be over so everyone can live safely."

"There's no guarantee that it'll turn out the way you're hoping," Meis pointed out, still avoiding eye contact.

"I know," Lio agreed. "...If the worst happens, Galo will help you. He promised me the support, and knowing him, that will extend to you."

"Boss…"

"Just prepare, in case you need to defend yourselves, as well." Lio wanted to consider that the end of the discussion until he had a plan of attack, and they picked up on that, not pushing any further. Maybe they would also come up with ideas. Hopefully nothing they thought of would be too violent. "What was the trouble you didn't want to tell me about earlier?"

They exchanged glances that seemed suspicious, but they were always going to be honest with him, so he simply waited.

"Did you see him outside? When you came in?" Meis started. "He's being treated real harshly by all the others."

"We haven't done anything about it yet, since, well. He sorta had it coming." Gueira seemed to know that Lio wouldn't like hearing about that. His expression looked guilty, but not especially so. Guilt mixed with defensive anger. "It was his fault your plans fell apart, Boss! He put everyone in danger!"

"Even so, I'm not thrilled to hear the Burnish are bullying their own, now," Lio crossed his arms. "See if you can't get everyone else to just ignore him if they don't like him. This is only temporary, after all. I'll talk to him."

They seemed ready to protest this plan, but Lio turned his back to them and walked out before they could. Their reluctance to protect that man was understandable; yes, he'd put all of the Burnish in danger, gotten them captured. Made them suffer. Lio had a long time struggling with that absolute zero bullet to think on it though. His anger wasn't directed toward the old man, in the end, it had been aimed correctly.

Stopping right in front of the man, he stood over him quietly until he was noticed. The man flinched, and began trembling the moment he realized Lio was there. Not an unreasonable response, if he thought even Lio was mad at him. He likely thought especially Lio was mad at him.

"You should be inside. It's cold out."

The man said nothing. He'd been so chatty before, too. Lio frowned, then sat down on the ground in front of him.

"You were scared. You did something wrong, but you can be forgiven for it." Still no response, just shivering. Lio waited a few minutes, wondering if he'd stop shaking and say something. When it became clear that he wouldn't, Lio sighed and stood again, resigned. "You deserve to feel safe. All of us do. We have a chance now, so don't waste it."

A small voice apologized to him as he began walking away. He glanced back with a warm expression, but he wouldn't crowd him anymore. The man was too upset to handle it, clearly.

Gueira met him outside again before he could leave, handing him a lighter. "Here, Boss. Matches would probably upset your boyfriend, so try this instead."

Lio's face warmed - whether that was due to being caught with matches or due to someone saying Galo was his boyfriend, he wasn't sure.

"Uh, or not-boyfriend? I thought you were sweet on him." Gueira looked embarrassed too, "Well, you could do worse, either way."

"Why do you have this?" He asked, trying to quickly divert the topic.

"A bunch of us picked up some nasty habits," Gueira confessed, glancing aside. "The stronger the Burnish, the harder we've had it."

"Smoking?" Lio asked, not disapproving, just neutral. When Gueira nodded, he continued, "...Let me try it later. I've got to go back and finish my work for today." He couldn't judge unless he'd tried it, and even then he couldn't tell others that there was a correct way to cope.

"I promise you that your maybe-boyfriend won't like that, Boss." Even though he said that, he gave Lio a grin. "If it helps you out, I'll back you up."

After giving him an unimpressed look to the latest boyfriend comment, Lio bid him goodbye and left.

It wasn't an option anymore. Someday doesn't work if your life isn't yours anymore, and Lio had to be prepared to hand his life over to a world that wanted him gone. Maybe Galo would visit him in prison, maybe not. He ignored the heartache that came alongside that thought.

With the Parnassus torn apart, there was a gaping hole in the city that he theorized would become a body of water. For now it was just a deep hole that people were salvaging resources from, but the bottom was already muddy. He saw the Burning Rescue truck driving away from it and figured their shift must be over; it was too late to flag them down and hitch a ride, but he'd rather meet them later anyway. He needed to plan out just how to talk to the others. He needed to treat these new friendships delicately, as if the connections were too fragile to test. He liked them enough, he just didn't trust people who hadn't shared any experiences with the Burnish.

Except Galo. Somehow, ever since piloting together, he'd become convinced that no matter what, they could depend on each other. Galo would try to understand him no matter how he messed up. The reverse was also true.

Galo would defend him wholeheartedly against these charges, but Lio didn't want to involve him. It was just asking for more trouble. He wanted to protect Galo just as much.

He tried to ignore the looks he received just walking down the street. He knew he was public enemy number one, according to Kray Foresight's propaganda, and he could deal with that when he could fight back. Kray was in prison already though. He skipped his own trial, knowing that his public image was irreparably damaged, and that way he avoided having all of his crimes put into the spotlight. So he would fade from public memory too quickly, and meanwhile, every second Lio was free to walk the streets, he would get attention he never asked for, and no one would forget his role as a terrorist. He had no one to fight anymore, with Kray put away. He didn't blame the average person for their ignorance.

Ignorance could be fixed. He was falling in love with the perfect example of that.

Time to start walking through alleyways, away from curious eyes. Anything to avoid showing weakness. It took him just a little longer to get back to the firehouse, but the minute he arrived, Galo swept him into his arms and was terribly excited over something.

"Lio, oh my god, you must have been really freaked out!" Galo exclaimed, setting him down and gripping his shoulders. Such an earnest expression. "You forgot to turn off the heater! I know you wouldn't have done that if you weren't under so much stress!"

"Galo, let him go, he probably needed some space," Aina scolded him. "Captain Ignis is on the phone with a lawyer that helps with Burning Rescue cases. After all your help around here, she'll be obligated to help you, so don't worry too much, okay?"

"I didn't ask for that," Lio said, perhaps a bit too sharply. She frowned, but didn't react strongly otherwise. "...Sorry. Thank you for the consideration. I'm sure I can manage. And, sorry for leaving the heater on."

"Nothing burned down, so you're fine. It's an easy mistake," Remi pointed out, seated on Lio's desk and reading through the papers, Varys reading them over his shoulder. He had predicted this, so he knew better than to expect privacy.

Were they looking at him with pity? Hopefully not.

"These charges are ridiculous," Lucia was seated in his chair. It seemed that she was finished reading through everything she needed to form an opinion. "The Mad Burnish have been around for awhile, definitely, but you said you joined within the last year of their activity. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't lie about that, so none of the stuff on pages four through seventeen have anything to do with you."

Galo, who hadn't actually let go of him when Aina told him to, hugged around Lio's shoulders. "I bet any of them would back you up on that."

Yeah, they probably would.

"Well, it won't hurt to have some witnesses on your side willing to testify," Aina agreed.

"No," Lio sounded too sharp again. "I don't want to put any of them through that."

Everyone looked at him oddly. He looked away, stubbornly.

"You do realize what you're going through is the real issue here, right?" Remi pointed out, looking back at the pages.

"Lio, you should let them help you if they want to. You protect them all the time, they'll definitely want to return the favor." Galo wouldn't really understand the fear the former Burnish felt, so Lio didn't scold him for how ignorant that sounded.

"If it's alright with you," Lio said, peeling Galo's arms off of him, "I'd like to think about this on my own for now."

Galo almost looked lost. Was he really going to be so hurt that his offer to help was rejected, even as lightly as that? Lio had made a point to say 'for now', like his decision could change later and Galo would be welcome to help as much as he wanted. Heroes, apparently, were bizarre sometimes. He gave Galo a small-but-sincere smile, playfully punching his arm to make him perk up.

"You all came back because your shift ended, right?"

"We're providing emergency services until two in the morning, so we're going to be hanging around for a while," Galo explained, "I'm sure we can stay out of your hair if you want to be left alone."

"No, it's not like that. I welcome the distraction," Lio almost laughed, because Galo was trying to be considerate but it really seemed that he didn't want to. "But I have a mountain of paperwork to climb today, as well. And I can't stay quite so late."

That worked. Galo brightened, and almost immediately ordered food delivery (Lio could never say it out loud, but he was getting a little sick of pizza. It was good, but he had a feeling that Galo would literally eat it for every meal if he could afford to). Nobody questioned anything, just kept at what they were doing; Lucia cleared out of his space and let him know she'd put together some diagrams he should see in his spare time, bike-related, and while Remi and Varys were still reading right in front of him, they made a point not to disturb him much, aside from the occasional request for clarification about his supposed crimes.

Aina leaned against the wall behind him, watching Galo walk off to wait for the delivery. "He sure is impatient," She said, as though it was a new observation.

"That he is," Lio agreed, pulling forms out of the filing cabinet and clicking his pen a few times while he found his place.

"Except when it comes to you."

"Pardon?"

"Oh, nothing. It's nice to see him show some restraint now and then."

Lucia was snickering from just far enough away that he might not have heard it, were his ears any weaker.

"Out with it," He demanded, "I'll never get through this-" he gestured at the paperwork, "-if you're going to act cryptic about it."

"We've been wondering, out loud and in front of him, if you'll ever accept his offer and move in. A few times daily. We have a betting pool," Remi spoiled the surprise, dryly. Aina huffed at him.

"That's cruel." Lio sank, but not enough to let anyone see it.

"Only if you won't," he countered with a wry grin. "But we're all pretty sure you will. Just divided on the timing of it."

Lio tapped his pen on the desk a few times, and sighed, very audibly. "If I'm not in prison. Sure, I'll move in. We'll be all sappy and domestic and you'll get sick of us. But we all know how unlikely it is that I'll walk free."

It was probably the rudest way to end that conversation, but it successfully ended it, silencing them until Galo returned with two stacks of pizza boxes in the double-digits (there was no point in counting, two were empty before anyone could bother). Galo brightened up every room he walked into, and Lio's heart felt just slightly mended.




 

Cigarettes had a rather nasty flavor to them. Another one of the Burnish who'd resorted to smoking to cope gave him a clove cigarette to try and it honestly made miles of difference.

It was warm in his chest, the smoky feeling so familiar. He might never have touched them if not for learning that other former Burnish had a fondness for the way they felt, but he could understand it now, and carried a pack he was given in his jacket pocket. He knew there were health risks, someone had warned him, so he convinced himself that this was only temporary. He'd get over this hollowed-out feeling eventually, because it was getting better every day, in spite of the concerned looks others gave him.

Against his better judgment, he met with the lawyer Ignis had called in for him. This whole trial is a farce, she'd said, angry on his behalf. It doesn't look good for you, but you're only being made a scapegoat since Kray managed to avoid all the public backlash for his actions.

It could be an entire lifetime later, and Kray would still be raising hell for Lio.

She asked a few questions, smiled at him, and told him that she wanted to put together a legal team including one of the former Burnish. She'd done her homework. Lio had gotten through paperwork on behalf of a few people who had been in specialized professions before awakening with the Promare, hoping they could get their jobs back, and one of them had been an attorney. If nothing else, that one comment alone had won her his trust on the matter. He still tried to insist that he didn't want to drag the Burnish into his problems, but she shut him down. You got him his job back, let him do it.

He didn't know what he'd done to deserve this kindness, but somehow, he found it stifling.

After taking out some stress working on his future bike (that he may never be able to finish, or be able to ride, if he was thrown in prison), he found himself too emotionally exhausted to continue, and bundled up in both a jacket and a coat, leaving for the roof. The scenery was interesting up there, but not pretty yet. Too much rubble.

Maybe it was in poor taste to have a cigarette on top of a firehouse. It was hard to care.

He needed more clothing. Sure, he'd gotten more after the Parnassus incident, but they hardly felt like his own. Simple shirts, jeans that weren't well-fitted. He washed and wore his own pants as often as possible because the leather kept him warmer, but his original shirt and jacket were gone after… everything.

Since everything he did was technically volunteer work, he didn't earn a paycheck that could afford him anything new, and looking for a job seemed pointless; even if someone was willing to accept the stigma attached to hiring the former leader of a terrorist group, it wasn't as though he'd be able to keep a job. For the time being, he just relied on the sense of community the former Burnish retained. They all shared belongings with each other. He was more than likely going to be dragged over hot coals for this trial, and then sent away for life, so he couldn't look forward to improving his situation.

Even if everyone tried to convince him that it was possible to get out of this, without the Promare, Lio had apparently turned into an extreme pessimist. It was pathetic.

A few minutes staring at the horizon and he put out his cigarette on the concrete barrier on the roof. Again, in poor taste, but he still didn't care. There was so much more going on to worry about.

When Galo joined him, he wasn't surprised someone had come looking for him. It was getting darker, and he'd left another stack of forms to fill out on his desk, and there were probably dozens of missed messages from Meis and Gueira, but he'd really needed some alone time. It was okay if Galo wanted to interrupt it.

Wordlessly (though they both knew that wouldn't last long), Galo put arms around Lio's shoulders, a gentle form of intimacy that Lio had to admit he enjoyed, especially while it was cold out. He leaned back into Galo's grip calmly. "Everything okay?"

"I came here to ask you that!" Galo corrected him.

"Mmn. Everything is the same." Hard to breathe. Galo made it easier. What a stupid way of thinking.

"Well, there's good news that might cheer you up," He started, lowering his face so that his nose was buried in Lio's hair. "There's a new housing complex available for lottery. Enough for a hundred, easy!"

"That is good news," Lio agreed, "If we're lucky, all of the healthy former Burnish will have a place to stay in a month or two."

"Thought you'd like it," Galo said in an awkward mumble. Something was on his mind. Lio waited for him to say it instead of speaking again. "Have you been smoking?"

Lio hummed an affirmative and felt Galo's arms tighten around him, nervously.

"That's seriously bad for you--" He'd raised his head and his volume, moving to turn Lio around so he could look him in the eyes, to prove how serious he was. "And they've caused a ton of fires, so they're dangerous in a bunch of ways."

He met Galo's eyes gravely, "You wouldn't understand this. After having the Promare, everything is different. Someone who's never felt it won't understand."

Galo's hands were tight on his shoulders, and he was frowning. He looked so unsure of himself.

"...I know I haven't been myself lately. We haven't even known each other that long, and you can tell. You're something else, Galo." He leaned closer, hugging around Galo's waist and hiding his face against his chest. "I'll stop. Not yet, but I will."

He felt Galo relax, taking a deep breath and hugging him back. "You're right. I have no idea what it was like, so I don't know what it's like to move past it. But you know you can lean on me, yeah?"

"Yeah. I know."

It meant so much that Galo had such faith in him. He was sure that anyone that wasn't Burnish would have given up on him by now, if they knew the extent of it, but Galo was special.

Galo had no clue how to help him, and he knew that was probably wearing him down in some ways, but he was helping.

 




Thanks to some convincing by the legal team, the trial would be closed-doors, no jury, the only people allowed in were directly involved or invited to be there. There was a list of questions they'd compiled for him that they would be asking him, as if they wanted him to put together some kind of lie. Just tell the truth, as much as you can remember, he'd been told, but it seemed like if they wanted him to go free he'd be better off coming up with some cover story making him look innocent.

He'd never had to deal with this sort of thing before. He didn't understand it, and when he said as much, Galo invited him to watch some examples, and even though he accepted, he suspected it would either be unrealistic courtroom dramas, or Galo would be asleep in seconds.

It was the latter. Well, that was fine; Lio let him snooze lightly and leaned against him, listening to his breathing and his heartbeat and switching captions on so he wouldn't wake him. It was kind of Galo to think of something to help him, but watching those trials and imagining that the defendant was innocent, or even justified in their actions, it backfired horribly. It looked hopeless, for sure. That sweet heartbeat turned into a ticking clock. A timer, counting down the hours he had left to be in this position.

After the recordings ended, Lio leaned up to kiss him. Over the course of a few hours, Galo had started to lean on him a little too, arms lazily draped around him and making it impossible to move without disturbing him, so he figured that would be the kindest method for waking him. Arms tightened around his waist and he grinned up at Galo when he pulled away. "I should go. Thank you for tonight."

"You're leaving? What time is it?"

"A little after ten," Lio answered, squirming free of Galo's sleepy grasp and standing. "Go sleep in your bed."

"I can walk you back!" Galo announced getting to stand up until Lio pressed his hand to his face and pushed him back down.

"I'll be fine. I'm going to the hospital tonight. An ex-Burnish has been really scared about her condition, so I'm not leaving her alone yet."

Galo regarded him quietly for nearly half a second before beaming. "You're a hero, Lio."

"Where's this coming from, exactly?" He gave Galo a very unimpressed look.

"You called me one!" He said it as though it explained his thought process perfectly. When Lio's expression went from 'unimpressed' to 'annoyed', he added, "You're doing so much for everyone no matter what you're going through. You're a really amazing guy."

After a second or two, Lio decided that qualified as embarrassing and his cheeks burned red. "Galo?"

"Yeah?" Galo was still beaming up at him from the couch.

"Shut up."

Lio threw on his coat and left, relieved knowing Galo wouldn't actually take that to heart.

 




"Burnish don't kill, those were your words, correct?"

"Yes, but Kray Foresight proved me wrong quite handily," Lio quipped, earning him a disapproving look from the prosecutor asking him questions. "I did my best to uphold that and encourage it in everyone around me. The truth of it is, we were all just regular people. All capable of making bad decisions or mistakes."

"With fire."

"Yes, with fire." Lio crossed his arms, leaning back in the chair.

"Four members of the Freeze Force perished in your escape from the holding facility," The prosecutor pushed forward, "Care to explain?"

"Well, if they were dumb enough to drive their vehicles through the hallways they didn't fit in, I'd hazard a guess that they did that to themselves."

The judge, getting tired of him, sighed, "Please check your attitude, just answer the questions."

"According to the report of the guards stationed there, you broke out of your shackles and attacked them unprovoked." This lawyer was really pissing him off, so checking his attitude was going to be very, very difficult.

"Excuse me, did you say unprovoked?" Lio asked, very dryly, as he leaned closer to the small microphone in front of him. After confirming that was exactly what he heard, he felt like he was fuming. "We were innocent captives. Children, elderly. Several died to torture. Do you think any of that doesn't count as provocation?"

"Were you tortured?"

Lio paused, glancing aside quietly, and leaning back. It wasn't something he'd wanted to discuss - he wasn't ashamed, it wasn't like he'd done anything wrong, but it still hurt to speak of. "Yes. All of us experienced it, to a degree."

There was a hush in the room he hadn't predicted. Even Galo and the rest of the Burning Rescue who'd insisted on being there to support him when they had time off, they were silent. Meis and Gueira already knew, so their silence was expected. They'd been right there with him. "There's no record of anything happening to you."

Lio shrugged. "Why would they make a record? From the moment they had us locked up, it was a torrent of abuse. Until they were bored of it."

"You didn't present any injuri--"

"Objection." The man on his defense, the former Burnish, spoke, "As we've established, Burnish don't suffer injuries the same way as non-Burnish. Broken bones would only take an hour or so to heal, depending on severity."

"I recall reading that. Sustained. Please go on, Lio Fotia. If you feel up to it, it's important to get on record exactly what they'd done to you all for when their trial begins, as well."

Lio clenched his jaw. He hadn't known the Freeze Force was getting a trial. Thanks to Kray's manipulations, they were viewed as heroic. Such bullshit. "Depends on who you ask," Lio admitted, "I can't speak for everyone, and I'm hesitant to speak of my own experiences."

"Is there a reason for that?" The judge seemed too invested. Lio looked away. "...I see. It must have been quite an ordeal. Court is in recess for ten minutes. Fotia, I suggest you take some time to unwind."

He lowered his gaze, but stood to leave. He could calm down, have a cigarette, come back and continue being rude to the prosecution. No problem.

Galo stopped him by grabbing his arm, his mouth open like he wanted to ask something, but Aina kicked him. She hissed an argument Lio pretended not to hear, and Galo, too loud, tried to respond but gathered his common sense after saying 'but' and letting out a frustrated noise. Lio wrenched free and continued walking. He wouldn't stop Galo from following him, but it didn't look like he was going to, continuing his loud whisper-conversation with Aina, who was adamant about protecting Lio's feelings from Galo's concern.

Maybe he should have seen it coming, but Galo seemed to be blaming himself since he was the one who captured Lio and had to hand him over to the Freeze Force. Luckily, he overheard Aina not being an idiot and informing him that Lio was caught on purpose, and calling Galo a moron for not figuring that out, so Lio didn't need to stand around and convince him that it wasn't his fault.

"Mr. Fotia," The lead of his legal counsel took long strides to catch up to him, "May I have a word?"

His eyes narrowed, but he nodded once. There was nothing about this he was going to be okay with. "Outside, though."

She followed him in silence until he picked a spot in a courtyard and lit a cigarette. She looked at him oddly, but he brushed it off.

"I'll ask the judge not to allow any questions about what happened to you while you were captive." She probably had some sort of idea about the kinds of things the Burnish were subjected to. Maybe she'd asked around, or maybe she just understood it because of her own life experience, but Lio knew better than to ask. "But, I hope you'll consider submitting what you remember in writing, if you have time to do that. It will help put those guards away, as they deserve."

Deep breath, long drag on the cigarette, heavy sigh. "As long as the information doesn't become available to just anyone, I'll consider it." He remembered everything; he had a great memory for names and faces. And whatever else they decided to show him. He shuddered and she looked at him sympathetically.

"It's pretty cold out. Don't stay out here too long." He was getting a little sick of the kindness and sympathy he kept receiving. Meis and Gueira joined him after the lawyer left. Gueira lit a cigarette of his own and heaved a loud sigh.

"Need anything, Boss?" Meis asked.

Lio shook his head. The same thing was weighing down all of them, so he chose to address it. "I know I was asking too much of you, then. Putting up with everything they did."

"We're tough, Boss, we can take it!" Gueira insisted, and Meis nodded. Obviously, without the regenerative abilities of the Promare, they couldn't take it anymore, but none of them were bringing that up. Over and over again, they were treated as subhuman, broken repeatedly; Lio could remember the taste of blood in his mouth, the broken bones, well-hidden puncture wounds so that nothing got on his clothes. Creative, sadistic things the guards wanted to try simply to see what would happen. Because they had the leader of the Mad Burnish under their feet, they wanted to grind him into dust beneath their heels.

"It's over now, anyway," Lio pointed out, pushing the memory down. "Thank you for standing by me."

They saluted playfully, and he breathed out a hushed laugh. "We wanted to save everyone, too. I don't regret it."

"I don't either, but it doesn't make it easy to talk about," Lio put out his half-finished cigarette and jammed it back into the pack. He may have been frustrated that he'd been forced to think about it, more than the memories themselves got to him. "I'm heading back in."

"I'll keep your maybe-boyfriend off your back about this, Boss," Gueira said, trying to bring back some levity to the air between them. Meis looked at him funny, like he knew nothing of the joke, and somehow that actually got Lio to laugh.

 




As Lio understood it, the trial would last as long as it needed to. To cover everything they were trying to pin on him, it would be months. Reporters waited outside daily to hear about it after court was adjourned, and the legal counsel fielded the questions so that Lio could get away through a side door, completely unnoticed because he was flanked by people much bigger than him. Sometimes, he went right to the Burnish camp/Community center, and other times he went back to work more at Burning Rescue. Either continuing on his bike to relax, or paperwork to feel any sense of accomplishment. It seemed unlikely that he could continue this work from prison, but maybe they'd allow it. So much still needed to be done for the former Burnish, and not many of them could do it for themselves (holding a pen wasn't easy when your hands became disfigured. Weaker connections with the Promare made them more likely to lose limbs when used in that engine, starting from the tips of their fingers and toes. In most it wasn't noticeable at first glance).

His bike was mostly done and rideable, just needed some aesthetic touches, and Lio was eager to take it places. As much as it annoyed him to be reminded by three people that he had to be back in time for court the next day, he had to admit that the freedom to go wherever he wanted made ditching all the more tempting.

"Have you ever ridden a real motorcycle before?" Galo was watching him as he kick-started the engine. The Promare-made ride was different, smooth, but this felt great in a different way, far less controlled. This had a deep, rumbling purr that he loved.

"It's been a while, but yes," Lio grinned. "Want to join me?"

"Hell yeah!" Galo excitedly grabbed two helmets (one of which he pushed onto Lio's head for him. That was fair. Lio used to make his helmets out of fire. He would've forgotten) and climbed on behind him - the invitation wasn't exactly for that, he thought they'd each ride their own, but he wasn't kicking Galo off either. It was nicer than he thought it would be. Galo was practically cuddled up against his back, arms around his waist, and they fit together comfortably. He had to admit, he liked how eager Galo was to show affection.

Before starting, he placed a hand over Galo's arms around him, wanting to convey that he enjoyed this without having to say so. But since he couldn't drive one-handed, he kept it there only a moment. There was plenty of open space for them to explore until they got bored of it, and he was dying to get started.

"Let's go," Lio said, grinning ahead. Galo squeezed him a little too tight and they were off.

It was easily the best mood Lio had been in for weeks. While only a temporary fix, the cold wind whipping through layers of his clothes put a smile on his face. He was going way too fast, and if Galo was trying to tell him something about that, his voice was quite effectively muffled. Galo didn't really seem like the type to mind speed limits, though. Too impatient.

He had one stop to make before he actually took advantage of his temporary freedom, and that was the lawyer's office. For whatever reason, there'd been no session that day (some sort of holiday that nobody could explain, but it still showed up on calendars), but he'd done as she asked when it kept him up at night, writing a chronological list of unpleasant things done by unpleasant people, sealing it in an envelope, and after he handed it off to her, he hoped the weight of it would leave him. It didn't, but he held out hope that weightlessness would come.

Someday.

Galo asked exactly four questions about the stop before he figured out Lio was going to be cagey for a reason, not just to provoke him, and he quieted down, waiting as patiently as he could by the motorbike. When his patience ran out (didn't take long), he started inspecting the workings of it, and calling out to Lio loudly that he needed to have an emergency kit, which Lio heard through a window, and rolled his eyes while his lawyer and her receptionist giggled. Well, that was done, so he returned to his loud, idiotic maybe-boyfriend and got back on the bike again without a word. Once again, he forgot the helmet and Galo helped. It was rude, but sort of cute.

Maybe Someday would be like this, riding off into the sunset and enjoying this freedom every day - no, he knew better. He had a limited future, and was permanently marked as a criminal. At least Galo could still feel this way. No time to dwell on it; he continued on, off-road, reminding himself frequently that this wasn't a Promare-made bike and couldn't handle terrain that got too rough on it. They hit a nice smooth area after about twenty minutes outside of the city; it was the ruins of roads, barely covered by sands and weeds, and it was somewhat shaded by young trees without any leaves on them.

He stopped, pulling off the helmet and hanging it off a handlebar, intending to ask Galo if they ought to follow along the old roads to see where they would lead - more ruins meant more resources to someone who'd lived the life Lio had, so of course that's what he thought about. Instead of asking though, he froze.

Oh. Nice.

"Enjoying this a bit too much, aren't we?"

Galo's arms flew off of Lio's waist and he raised them defensively. "Sorry!" He practically yelped, "It's just-- You're so warm and hot and I like--"

"Don't be," Lio interrupted him, very intentionally leaning in just the right way to press against him, teasing him. Galo whined, almost pitifully, while pulling off his own helmet.

Galo's expression was a blend of roughly ten different emotions and it was stupidly charming. The one that stood out most to Lio was desperation, which made sense. The low vibrations of a motorbike while pressed up against a guy he was attracted to had affected Lio too, for sure, but he'd gotten almost numb to it after a while. Galo held out for over twenty minutes, which he considered very, very promising.

The shape through Galo's pants made Lio shudder. "Shit…" He whispered, reaching a hand behind him to confirm it. He wasn't mistaken - he'd suspected Galo would be on the big side, but he'd still underestimated him. He turned his body around with some difficulty, placing his knees at Galo's hips and keeping close, leaning back against the handlebars. For a moment he wondered if the kickstand could handle them getting up to anything right as they were. He'd made it, so he hoped so.

He touched Galo's throat, feeling movement as he gulped hard.

"Galo, will I be your first?" He asked, somewhere between amazement and confidence; he figured he was, given how innocently Galo acted. Even if they hadn't really talked it out, he was pretty sure the doofus was waiting on him now. The sweet, sweet doofus. Probably a romantic type, but maybe he'd deny that.

Galo sputtered several sounds that were almost full words before answering "Yes." Lio beamed up at him.

"So we probably shouldn't do anything out here, I guess," He must have sounded disappointed (he wasn't) because suddenly, very suddenly, Galo had grabbed his hand tightly in both of his, wearing a determined expression. He dropped his helmet but neither of them paid it any mind.

"We can! We absolutely can! No time like the present!"

Lio ducked his head in an attempt to hide a smile. "I don't suppose you brought anything for that, did you?"

"No… That would be another great use for an emergency kit, though," he mused, making Lio bite back another laugh. "What?! This definitely qualifies as an emergency!"

"We'll make do," he promised him, free hand tugging at the front of Galo's pants just enough to undo fastenings. "Kiss me, Thymos."

There was a nervous trembling in Galo's limbs, and in his breathing, soft against Lio's face as their lips met. It was so gentle. While Lio couldn't remember much about being revived in the Parnassus, this felt so familiar. Galo was treating him like he was ash, about to crumble away to nothing. Hopefully that wouldn't always be the case; it wasn't that Lio liked being treated roughly, at least not all the time, but this gentleness wouldn't get them anywhere. Hands reached for his hip and the back of his neck, and he made an approving sound against Galo's mouth.

They had a time limit for this. Even so, Lio knew better than to rush.

He peeled off his gloves and laid them down on his thigh for now, sliding his hands under Galo's clothing and freeing his erection. It made Galo's voice get kind of squeaky when he exclaimed, "Geez, your hands are cold!"

Lio pressed closer and grinned, completely unrepentant. What did Galo expect, doing this outside in cold months? "I'm warming them, don't worry." Galo's face reddened, and looked like he was about to ask something, but Lio interrupted him, "You don't need to do anything."

"I want to," Galo corrected.

It drew an odd fluttering from his stomach through his chest to hear that, which was… Nice. Like the way it felt when the Promare were satisfied, their voices quieted down to a whisper. He thumbed over the tip of Galo's cock, gripping as much of it as he could in his hand and watching for a reaction (which was a cute flinch. Perhaps his hands were indeed a bit too cold). "You can touch me, then," he murmured, leaning up and kissing Galo's throat. Would it be cruel to leave marks? He wanted to leave them somewhere obvious, so Galo couldn't hide them even when he did remember to wear a shirt.

He felt Galo fumbling with the front of his pants and did nothing to help, focusing his attention on leaving open-mouthed kisses along the side of his neck and then biting, gentle only at the start to warn him and give him time to reject it, before clamping down and sucking on his skin. His hand worked rather lazily, in hopes that it would drive Galo up a wall.

"Lio-- I want--"

"Tsk, fine," He relented, his free hand swiftly opening his pants, so quickly Galo actually seemed impressed. What a doofus. Then he slid closer, which almost felt impossible, holding himself in place by bracing his legs at Galo's sides. "Together?" He wondered if Galo was even smart enough to figure out what he was asking, but was pleasantly surprised as Galo shifted just a bit, grasping them both in one hand.

Every part of Galo was huge. Hands, dick, heart, whatever, Lio wanted all of it. "Whether you want to hurt me or not," he started in a voice that was shamefully unsteady as Galo was jerking them off, "This thing would wreck me."

While that embarrassed Galo somehow, he hid it well by pulling Lio into another kiss, their bodies so close together that his hand between them might've had trouble moving. Lio removed his own hands from the equation by wrapping his arms around Galo's neck. He definitely was colder, and Galo was doing great on his own. For a fleeting moment, he wondered if he'd practiced while thinking about him.

He could tell Galo was close, so he intended to catch up with him, moving his hips as best as he could to create a little more friction for himself, and Galo caught on and brought his free hand to Lio's rear, supporting his movements.

Kindly, he thought to bring a hand between them to catch whatever mess they might've otherwise made on their clothes. Galo was already going back with a rather intense hickey, he didn't need to make it any worse on them.

As he drew close to climax, he wondered if he ought to say something. Something along the lines of, maybe, how he felt for Galo, or anything like that. Instead he broke their kiss with a gasp for air and hugged tight against him, remaining silent, his legs feeling weak and every part of him tightly trembling. Galo followed right after him, the pitch in his voice completely different from normal as he tensed up.

In spite of Galo making him feel small, his hand did manage to block most of the mess, but he didn't really have anything to wipe it off on. He glanced around for something, but Galo grabbed his wrist and wiped it all away on a tissue that he just happened to have for whatever reason. Lio must've shown his confusion clearly, so Galo got defensive and said his nose would run when it got cold out sometimes.

If he wasn't catching his breath, he might've laughed. "Satisfied?"

Galo's wide grin was charming, "yeah," he answered, pushing Lio into another kiss, then another. "You're awesome."

"Okay, okay," Lio gave him a halfhearted shove, intent on dressing himself properly and giving Galo the space to do the same. Once he was seated on the bike properly again, he leaned back and felt arms around him, more secure than before. "Enough for today?"

"Never."

"Well, we're heading back anyway," Lio warned him, though not without a lazy smile on his face. "Just need a minute."

Galo sort-of respected that, but was being affectionate in soft ways; burying his nose in Lio's hair and hugging around him while he still felt limp. "If I'd hurt you… Shouldn't we do it the other way?" he said, and it took Lio a few seconds to figure out what he was referring to.

"Oh? I hadn't figured you for the type," he admitted. Galo's heart was thudding hard and he could feel it against his back. "I can go either way, so we can do as you like."

"I don't know what I like if I haven't done it." As if that was the obvious answer. Plenty of people experimented on their own, but maybe Galo hadn't. That was fine.

"Neither of us would back down from a challenge," Lio pointed out, still way too relaxed as he started the bike up. "We can try both. Another time."

Galo reached down for his helmet and this time, Lio remembered his own so it wouldn't get shoved onto his head again.

Rather than going to explore the end of the old roads like he'd wanted to earlier, he turned around, because he remembered that running out of gas was a possibility for him now, and he'd have to make adjustments for that. He liked having a real bike, but it was inconvenient compared to what he was used to. He didn't allow his mind to wander far past thoughts like those.

Back at the Burning Rescue building, there was a box on Lio's desk with clothing in it.

"Oh, you're back!" Aina noticed them and approached by hopping over a railing. "You made Galo late for work. It's a first." Even though she said it, she didn't actually seem bothered. Galo became somewhat frantic, of course, since he hadn't even noticed, and he was scampering around grabbing gear and then checking to see where he was assigned.

"Ah, I hadn't realized he was on for today. Sorry." It wasn't the most sincere of apologies, but it counted. They both knew Galo was never late on a normal day, so he'd probably get a look from Ignis about it, but that's it. "Where did this come from?" He gestured toward the box.

"Captain wanted you to dress nicely in court. I have no idea where he found these, or if he even knows your size, but I'd be more than happy to help you alter them if you need?"

"You can do that?"

"Sure, the basic stuff," she shrugged, "None of us lose clothing as often as Galo, but all of us know how to repair clothes when they're salvageable." Lio had thought the weird alterations to Aina's clothes were a fashion choice - not that they still couldn't be - but that made sense.

Lio held up a fancy-looking blouse from the box, and it looked similar enough to the shirt he'd ruined that he might've believed this was custom-made for him. It was different in enough ways that he knew better, though. Beneath that, there was a dress jacket that was decidedly not leather enough for him, but he'd wear it if he had to. He didn't have high hopes for the trial, but…

"Gotta run!" Galo dashed up to him, grabbed him and kissed him suddenly, feeling warmer than usual, then bounded out the door just as quickly, leaving Aina and Lio both staring after him with surprise. "See ya!"

Someday was an appealing thought. No matter how small his chances, if there was a chance, a tiny flickering match in a wind tunnel, he would do what he could to shield it, and nurture it into a proper flame.

 




Word traveled fast. Not that Lio was trying to be subtle, leaving a bright, obvious mark on Galo's neck specifically intending for them to be found out (part of him thought it would be amusing, that Galo would be embarrassed, but no, the man was actually shameless about it). Galo was the opposite of subtle on his own, hickey or not. He'd gotten a talk about PDAs in the workplace within two hours of getting back and annoying Ignis and grossing out everyone else in the building.

Lio had done his best to just ignore him. When it was time to leave, he finally gave in, wishing him a good night and saying he'd see him tomorrow. And… He didn't like it, but he had to stand on his toes to kiss him, and he did. Galo looked stunned, but Lio had no clue why and went back to ignoring him.

At court the next day, he leaned back in his seat at the defense table, close enough to talk to people in the front seats in hushed tones, and Varys, of all people, explained that Galo had been expecting Lio to come home with him the night before. Lucia made it clear that she'd be teasing both him and Galo relentlessly for it. He was pretty sure laughing in court was considered a bad idea, so he covered his mouth with a hand to make sure no one in front of him saw him smile.

It was a wonder that he was even needed there that day; his lawyers were doing all the talking, hammering out timelines and why this or that accusation was irrelevant, and while Lio followed along, he was getting bored enough to start fidgeting.

Plus, a lot of it was starting to sound really bad. He'd gone over everything before with legal counsel, but hearing it in a court setting was troubling him. He knew he wasn't innocent of everything, he'd definitely started fires, he'd attacked the city in a rage. Whether his actions protected innocent people didn't matter. To the prosecution, the letter of the law mattered, numbers mattered, and his actions were seen as inexcusable. Hearing the property damage totals from Mad Burnish activity put everything in a different light, whether anyone was hurt or not.

By the time he left that day, he was exhausted mentally. Galo once again invited him to stay at his place, and Lio turned him down with a sympathetic smile. Just a few more Burnish needed to have their conditions improved before he could accept it for himself. Galo said he understood, and held out his fist for Lio to bump it, which he did, but with a lack of enthusiasm that Galo noticed.

He'd gotten so much started for all the Burnish, and now they were mostly fine on their own, backing off from depending on Lio at all anymore. Some of them had quite intentionally stolen away his paperwork to help, but they were all doing just as well if not better than he was, so he tried not to let it bother him.

Without that leadership role he'd carried, he'd started feeling lost. Late at night, he wandered the city and saw the changes around him, wondering where he actually fit into the world they were meant to be building. There were plenty of people that thought he didn't fit at all.

He wasn't even Burnish anymore. He didn't have the power to lead anyone, and the people who followed him before were starting to realize it. Meis and Gueira were still as loyal as ever, still called him boss, but treated him less like a boss and more like a brother now - which, to be sure, he didn't mind at all. He was lucky to have them as brothers. They were constantly looking out for him, but he wanted to be able to look out for them, too.

Galo had called him a hero, once. It was high praise, if a bit dumb.

It was late. He ought to go back, but instead, he went for his bike, stealing away quietly and driving out of the city. He planned to return, of course, he wouldn't abandon anyone whether or not they needed him (and that threat of charges against the other former Burnish, he couldn't run from the problem and let it fall on their heads). Just getting away from the city for a while ought to help.

There was an emergency kit attached behind the seat, now. It hadn't been his doing, but he noticed.

He drove until Promepolis was barely in view. A light on the horizon. There were remnants of houses, abandoned probably thirty years ago. It wasn't charred, but evacuations were necessary in some areas whether they burned or not. The first Burnish had almost no control over their flames, so any homes built from material that was deemed 'too flammable' were left to rot.

An old porch with a broken swing stood before a house that was completely caved in. He sat on the steps, looked at the sky and lit a cigarette.

He was back in the city by three in the morning. Just enough time to sleep and show up in court and listen to everything he'd done wrong, according to the laws of people who couldn't understand why the Burnish lived the way they did.

 




"I don't understand how someone his size can actually lose weight."

Lio overheard someone talking. A few Burning Rescue members, and Gueira and Meis, talking about him without realizing he'd arrived already. He hadn't known he was being too quiet. The courthouse hallways had acoustics that made sound travel far when it wasn't full of people, but it was tricky. Maybe that's why he could hear them so clearly and yet they hadn't heard him.

"He always looks tired, and I haven't seen him eating ever since the last time you dragged him out with us, Galo."

"He's been sticking to the same rations the rest of us get." Gueira's voice spoke up, and then Meis added, "The difference is, he'll skip it if someone else gets hungry. And a lot of us are getting paid now, so rations aren't really our only source of food."

"Lio's having a hard time," Galo was defending him. "He's doing so much for everyone to have a normal life, I think he forgot he deserves one, too."

"So he's an idiot, just like our Galo." Lucia.

"Watch it." Meis and Gueira, at different volumes.

"Well, make him stop being an idiot, then. He listens to you three, right?"

"Telling the boss what to do just doesn't feel right," Meis said, "I know he can pull through on his own eventually, he's tough as nails, but it's not great to see him this way."

"How about you? You were upgraded from 'maybe', weren't you? What're you doing to help?" When Galo made a shocked noise, he wondered if Gueira had kicked him too hard while trying to get his attention.

"I-- I dunno," Galo spoke in a way that almost sounded as lost as Lio felt. "He's right that I don't understand all that he's been through. Sometimes things are going great, and other times it's like he's been snuffed out. I don't want to screw it up by pushing him. He's important."

"Ugh, at least if you screw it up, he'll be angry at you and that's easier to figure out."

Lio heard enough, pushing the door he was standing in front of with his foot and pulling it shut harder than before, making sure the sound echoed. They all looked his way and greeted him. None of them noticed he'd been there at all, so he played along, trying to figure out how he normally walked into the courtroom. It was all wrong. Somehow, he could tell that they knew something was wrong.

They all knew he was on-edge, the room almost spinning from weariness and stress. As icing on the cake, as soon as the court was in session, the prosecutor stood. "We'd like to call on Kray Foresight to testify."

Lio slammed his hands on the table, standing and glancing around. Concerned faces. Smug faces. Whispers all around the room. And if he saw that bastard walk in, while he was like this-- He was absolutely lost, it was true, and the last time he'd managed to look Kray in the eyes from the high ground. He doubted he'd be able to now. There were pictures of that man incarcerated, looking as prim and proper as he was when he was a leader.

On the other hand, Lio was a wreck. Doing all sorts of things he wasn't proud of simply to cope with the emptiness of life without the Promare. No matter what he tried to fill it with, he couldn't make it work. Apparently his appearance was a mess, too, so it was plain as day that he was in no shape for this.

He had half a mind to storm out, and spun as though he was going to, but saw Galo jump over the rail dividing the seats and rush up to him, pulling him close.

His fists and jaw were both clenched so tightly.

"Galo," he murmured, in the smallest voice he could manage, "I might do something really stupid."

"Same here," Galo answered him. Not the response he was expecting, and the mild surprise almost cleared his mind of all the anxious clutter. "Cut the crap!" Galo was pointing at the prosecutor accusingly, and now embarrassment was a much bigger worry. "You're only doing this to throw Lio off, and you know it!"

"We need to inquire about the workings of the Promare and his engine," they said without missing a beat. It sounded true, but...

"There's dozens of other people better for answering that!"

The judge had been trying to get Galo to sit back down since the moment he stood, and finally managed to get a word in, "If there's someone else, then who would know more about it?"

"My sister!" Aina stood too, either swept up in the moment or just as passionate about protecting Lio's feelings. "Heris Ardebit! She was his lead scientist, so she's the best one to ask…" And then she remembered she had shame and her face reddened.

The judge eyed the prosecutor, "It won't sit well with me if there are outbursts like this in my courtroom. Kray Foresight is an open wound on this city and if I can avoid bringing him here, I will. Would she be sufficient for the information you need?"

After a lot more arguing, the prosecution agreed, and Galo was removed from the courtroom with a warning that if he did anything like that again, he wouldn't be able to return the next day, which was a shockingly light punishment. Heris was called in and gave a terrifying, somehow almost robotic testimony that sent chills through the entire room. Just facts, that's all she was listing, not lives that were placed in her hands to test on.

While everyone in the courtroom acted around him, Lio sat back down, put his head in his hands, and waited. Screw not showing weakness. Everyone could see it, clear as day.

 




Galo had been waiting outside of the courtroom for him; somehow he'd been quiet and patient for hours. Something that Lio would have rewarded any other day, but he wanted to be alone just a while longer. Once he was back on his bike, he said so and left. 

But first, Galo had given him his Burning Rescue jacket, letting him know he wasn't dressed warm enough. And kissed him, and said, "Come back when you feel better, I'll order pizza."

Stupid, sweet idiot.

Even in Lio's vaguest childhood memories, he didn't like being taken care of so much. He became a Burnish too young for many innocent memories like those, but he remembered some. The look of horror on his mother's face when he first set a fire, the way she ripped the curtains from the windows and stomped them out, hiding them under the wardrobe and gathering him up in blankets, running away with him, promising she'd keep him safe… But she didn't, not directly. She wasn't a Burnish, so when she finally tracked down a small Burnish camp and begged them to let her stay, they refused, but accepted Lio from her. How much of that he'd imagined, he wasn't sure. Nobody ever really spoke of his mother after he was left with them. The group that raised him had no idea what to do with a kid, either, and just taught him how to survive and hoped for the best.

If he'd never been a Burnish, what would his life have been like? Maybe he would've been sheltered and cared for enough that none of this would be so out of place. He could accept care with gratitude, rather than feeling defensive, as though he had to be the one taking care of everyone else.

He wasn't Burnish anymore, but he couldn't sweep the ashes under the wardrobe and act like none of it had happened. He'd worked hard to try to help others. He'd managed to do so much and now all of those things were pointless. He had to be bundled up and left on someone else's doorstep, re-learn how to live in another world he'd barely known.

Outside of the city, he reached the same collapsed house as before, and sat on the porch again to watch the sky and think.

And he lit what was to be his last cigarette.

Between the lack of sleep, hunger, and mental fatigue, Lio managed to doze off against a wooden beam that had once supported the roof. He wasn't relaxed, so he thought he'd be able to fight it more, but by the time he woke he heard fire crackling. Nothing he counted as out of the ordinary for him, but he forced himself to wake up.

Panic set in and he took off Galo's jacket to try to smother it, but the surface area wasn't nearly enough, and the structure was weak, so it crumbled under the weight he applied and he wound up face-first in a pile of embers and ashes. Clambering from there, jacket clutched in his hand, he fell backwards from the stairs and saw the full scale of his recklessness, fires licking at the fallen structure, ready to devour it almost completely. He couldn't put this out. With the Promare he could have smothered it, but he wasn't Burnish anymore.

He ran around the old house and dragged as much debris as he could away from it, hoping that he could at least control it, confine it to the one building. It was going up so fast. He wondered - dreaded - if it was visible from the city. He paced around the house the entire time it burned, making sure he hadn't missed anything, that it wouldn't keep spreading, and when it was finally nothing but glowing embers on the ground it was after midnight, and he'd been watching a blaze for hours without any connection to it. He didn't even want to watch it burn. He was sorry that it burned because of his stupidity.

His eyes stung. It was the smoke, he was sure.

His throat hurt. Also smoke. Had to be.

Finally, he felt it was safe to drive away, back to the city. When he arrived at the Burning Rescue building, it seemed no one was on-duty, but Ignis was there.

"Welcome back."

"Really?" Lio asked. His voice sounded terrible even to him. "No questions asked?"

"You're wearing a firefighting jacket, covered in soot, and in a firehouse. You don't stand out here." Ignis answered plainly. But then he acknowledged that some questions were necessary, firing them off one by one. "Where'd it happen?"

"Outside of town."

"Anyone hurt?"

"Other than me, no. Minor." He gestured at his arm where he'd managed to burn it. It didn't feel too awful, so he was leaving it alone.

"Did you start it?"

Lio looked aside, "Not intentionally."

"Is it out?"

"...For good."

"There. All done. Get washed up." 

"Is Galo at home?" He asked, almost meekly.

"Sure hope so. You should be, too. It's late."

Lio opened his mouth to argue that he didn't really have a home, but clamped it shut quickly. Of course he had a home. Galo had welcomed him in from day one, and even if he'd never taken advantage of it, it was home, waiting for him. Galo's bed was probably soft, and Galo's arms were warm, and in his current state, he couldn't resist the appeal anymore, whether he thought he deserved it or not. "...Alright. I'll go home."

He left his bike - it had run out of gas right before he hit the city and he wound up walking it back to the building - and headed toward Galo's apartment, on foot. Every part of him ached.

The door opened before he had the chance to knock. Ignis must have called ahead.

"Lio, shit, are you okay?"

His eyes stung again, but it wasn't smoke. He shook his head and dove in, gripping Galo in a tight hug so he wouldn't be showing his face. Galo didn't say anything else for a while, closing the door behind him and hugging him back. It was gentle. Petting his hair, kissing the top of his head.

"You see a fire, and you put it out, right?" Lio murmured, still keeping his face hidden. "If someone needs rescuing, you save them, right?" Finally he lifted his head and asked, "What if I need it?"

"Then you'll get it," Galo answered, making it sound like the easiest thing in the world. He brushed a thumb across Lio's cheek and beamed at him, "Just like last time." He kissed him again, gentle but confident this time. It was chaste, went nowhere, but lasted. Galo couldn't save him with the Promare this time, but there was more to this Lio couldn't grasp.

They parted, and Galo squeezed his shoulder. "Captain told me to get a bath ready for you. Water's still hot. I'll get you a change of clothes."

He wanted to insist he could take care of himself, but he couldn't.

"The sooner you see people aren't helping you out of pity, the better." Galo paused, "...Uh, I was told to say that, though. But it's probably true. Captain Ignis is usually right."

Lio stared at him for a few more seconds, then down at the floor. "Keep me company," he demanded, though it was spoken too softly to be an actual demand. "Not like that. Just stay." He didn't want to get up to anything at the moment, didn't feel like he could. But, silly as it was to admit, he wanted Galo around.

Galo was red in the face anyway. "Um. Okay, sure! Still, I need to get you a change of clothes, so, I'll just. Do that. And you make yourself comfortable." And with that he pushed Lio toward the bathroom and walked awkwardly past him into his room. He'd probably tear the place apart looking for something of his Lio could reasonably wear.

...Well, fine. Lio entered the bathroom and the mirror was already fogged up, but when he wiped a portion off he saw how messy his face looked, finally. Ash and soot with streaks in it. He washed that off in the sink as much as he could before undressing and slipping into the water. It was still hot, which might not have been the best option considering he'd just been trying to put out a fire, but it felt good regardless and he sank in and tried to relax before Galo would come back.

When he did, Lio was inspecting the burn on his arm now that he'd rinsed off enough to see it properly. It wasn't too bad. Red and blistered, not much blood. Galo wordlessly set the clothes down by the tub and pulled a first aid kit from under his sink.

Lio held his arm out, unwilling to fight this time.

"You wanted to learn to do this sort of thing, right?" Galo asked, his cheeks and ears bright red. "I think you'd be good at it. You're really good at taking care of people. Way better than I am." Lio listened to him talking, leaning on the edge of the tub and watching him. "Hey, uh, you want bubble bath or something? I have some!"

"Are you seriously embarrassed just by knowing I'm naked? If it's that troubling for you, you can undress too." Even if it was ridiculous, he managed a tired smile. "I do want to learn. Where did you learn it?"

"I could teach you," Galo suggested, "I learned from classes that wouldn't be available right now. I don't think the building is standing. But if you wanted to join Burning Rescue, I could teach you everything you'll be tested on."

"...Join?"

"...Well, if you want to. You spend so much time with us now, and-- Y'know, you'd be good at it."

"You really want the former Mad Burnish Boss in Burning Rescue?" Lio propped his head on his wrist against the side of the tub, watching Galo clean his injury with some chemical that stung.

"No, I want you," he corrected, as if there was a difference. "Think about it. Lucia already made gear for you, you almost have an office of your own. You're one of us already. We could work together again."

Someday, Lio mused. Maybe it wasn't as distant as he thought?

"Okay, all clean. I'll wrap this when you're dry. Doesn't look like it'll scar at all!"

"Too bad we won't match." Lio pretended to be disappointed, but looked over Galo's handiwork, pleased. "...Thank you. It really doesn't look too bad, does it?"

"If you want to match, I--" Galo stuttered, "Matching rings? Earrings, I mean! That would be cool!"

Instead of answering that offer, Lio laughed at him. An earring wouldn't be a bad look for him. Bit soon for the other thing though.

Galo had fancy shampoo and conditioner on one corner of the tub, with plain stuff that seemed more like him on the other. He already knew Galo lived alone, but that did make him wonder. He thought he'd try the better one. He never had to before, the Promare kept him clean, but now he looked like a mess and wondered if it might be nice to try something better than the standard-issue soaps that the former Burnish were limited to. "Where did that come from?"

"Part of a housewarming gift everyone put together," Galo answered, putting away all of the first aid supplies but the bandages he would use to wrap Lio's wound.

"....How long has it been there?"

"Oh, no, not for me," his face reddened again, "they, uh. Gave me a bunch of stuff they thought you would appreciate, if you ended up moving in."

Lio flinched, "But thats…"

"Yeah, it was probably more to tease me. You don't have to stay here, obviously."

That wasn't what Lio was about to say at all. He was about to argue that it was impossible, because even if he stayed at Galo's place for as long as he could, that time was so limited. He wasn't going to be free for much longer. But instead of explaining that, he lowered his gaze. "No, I want to stay."

"Welcome home, then!" Galo beamed at him. How corny. "You probably shouldn't get too much soap in that-" he made a gesture toward Lio's arm "-so, do you want me to help you with your hair or anything?"

That got Lio to blush; he wanted to accept because it sounded nice, and it was generous of Galo to offer, but maybe it was also a bit too embarrassing. Galo's hair was ridiculous, was he even competent at something like that?

Galo didn't even wait for an answer, and grabbed the shower head. "C'mon, It'll be fine!"

With an unsure expression, Lio turned to allow it, facing his back toward Galo so he could start. The water was freezing at first, making him flinch, but it didn't take too long to warm up, and he found it easy to relax under Galo's hands. He was being thorough, and Lio knew that wasn't how he usually did this for himself. There was no way.

But he was leaning into the touches, smiling warmly. "Okay, you're not bad at this," he admitted.

"See? It's fine!" Way too pleased with himself. Lio would have to be more careful with compliments.

He glanced over his shoulder at Galo, amused by his expression. Concentrating, out of his depth. Cute.

"Wanna get out, or soak for a while?"

"I'll get out," Galo had just finished rinsing and gotten water in his ear, which was annoying, but bearable. "It goes without saying, but you don't need to stay and watch me dress."

"Right, makes sense! I'll take your clothes and wash them for you. I already know my stuff won't fit well," He gathered up the clothes covered in ash and left Lio alone in the bathroom.

A few minutes later, he came out with Galo's clothes hanging off of him. The lounge pants had a drawstring, so they stayed up, but barely. The shirt hung off one shoulder. He assumed that the look wouldn't bother Galo much. He wasn't wrong. The idiot was practically drooling.

When Galo walked up to him Lio flushed a little too, before he realized Galo was just going to wrap bandages around his arm, as he'd said he would. "Are you hungry?"

"Yeah, but I don't want to eat anything."

"That's no good," he said, taping down the end of the bandage. He worked fast. "Maybe something light. It's late after all, but you can't skip meals."

"Okay," Lio felt like an invalid, and it bothered him that he was just letting it happen. He didn't like this. He didn't want it.

And yet he kept allowing it. Galo took him by the hand to check the fridge, and he ended up picking a small yogurt, not sure how well he'd keep it down. Galo didn't eat anything, but sat with him, trying his best to strike up conversation, but often it just turned into Galo talking and Lio listening. Galo was passionate about certain things, and it wasn't bad to listen to him talk about topics he knew so well.

"Do you want to have the bed to yourself? I'll be fine on the couch."

"Idiot," Lio looked at him grumpily. "I don't take up that much space. We're sharing." He knew that wasn't what Galo meant, but he wasn't addressing that yet either. He'd started one fire too many that day, so it would be better off if he could just quietly spend what was left of the night with… Someone he cared for.

That fire was already burning, though. It had been since the Promare left him, and he knew Galo felt it, too. He hadn't brought it up because he hadn't felt he deserved it yet. He didn't think he deserved a future until he'd secured one for everyone else that mattered - every last one of the Burnish who'd depended on him. It couldn't be left up to just that, though. The stupid fancy bottle of shampoo made him think that Galo wanted a future, and he wasn't cruel enough to keep him waiting anymore. He'd been unfair. Even if he didn't deserve one, Galo did.

He stood, and Galo followed suit, about to say something else dumb (probably) before Lio interrupted him.

"You love me, right?" He met Galo square in the eyes, folded his arms and waited.

"U-uh…"

"Hurry up and say it. You'll be bothered if I'm the one who says it first, won't you? Or are you just holding out to see which of us cracks first? I'll do it if you want," He knew it could just be some kind of competition in Galo's head, but he wasn't sure which way it went, and it was pointless to drag it on longer.

Galo seemed distressed, but this was the one thing Lio had felt confidence and security in since losing the Promare. Galo loved him. Of course Galo loved him. With a face that was burning red, Galo shook his head as he did when ridding himself of some idiotic thought and grabbed Lio's hands, speaking at too high a volume. "I love you! I didn't want to rush you. I really love you."

"Good. Was that so hard?"

Galo's reaction was perfect. He had to know he was being teased. "...C'mon, Lio…"

"I love you too," He said, feigning a perfect calm while his heart threatened to burst from his chest. "You should have rushed me." With that, he tugged on Galo's hands and pulled him to the bedroom. The clock read three in the morning, and he'd probably need to be up early to get ready for court. It was hard to convince himself that nothing would happen that night, and yet the moment he got himself comfortable in bed, he fell asleep.

 




The Community-Center-Burnish-Camp didn't have much in the way of natural lighting, at least not in the rooms set up with cots, that was the first thing that reminded Lio that he was somewhere else. The soft mattress was a nice clue as well. He untangled from a nest of blankets and sat up, rubbing his eyes tiredly. He knew he was in Galo's room, but the night before felt less real than the average nonsensical dream.

There was a heavenly smell hanging on the air and that, more than anything else, got Lio out of bed. Noise from the kitchen drew him closer and he peered inside, wondering what Galo was doing.

"Good morning," He sort-of grumbled. He didn't mean to, but his throat was a bit sore. Smoke could do that. It was definitely smoke.

"Morning, sleepyhead," Galo greeted him cheerfully without looking at him yet. "You were sleeping so heavily I couldn't get you up. Luckily, bacon always fixes that problem!"

That sounded so dumb, and Lio hated that it was completely true.

"There's coffee on the-- ohh, oops." Galo was trying very, very hard not to laugh from the moment he turned to look Lio's way. "...I guess I should've dried your hair before letting you sleep?"

"Shut up."

"Okay, cranky."

Lio sat at the table and tasted the coffee. It was strong, but it didn't explain Galo's energy levels yet. That was still a mystery. A meal was set in front of him and that feeling of being undeserving was creeping back up on him, but he did his best to deny it. In a situation like this, he ought to be grateful. He'd probably be upset if someone rejected a meal he'd made for them because they felt like they didn't deserve it. He managed so thank Galo properly, with that in mind.

"We need to get you to court pretty soon. The clothes you wore yesterday are dry, but not in the best shape. But hey, if you want, you can keep wearing my shirts."

"Really? Could you handle seeing me dressed like this in public all day, right in front of you, while you can't do anything about it?"

"Fair point. I can't keep a cool head like you do."

"If you're comparing this to your daily shirtlessness, you're mistaken."

"Uh-huh. Don't pretend you weren't checking me out from day one."

"I don't have to pretend." He was lying. But Galo probably knew that. "Did you already eat?"

"Yeah. I'll sit with you, if you want, but I should probably get you a hairbrush first."

"You have one?"

"It's one of those things from that housewarming gift. Maybe they think you're really into hair," Galo said, raising his voice as he rounded the corner so he wouldn't fall out of earshot.

"Or maybe they're really not into yours," Lio called back, rudely. Galo let him know it was rude, explaining that his hair was an expression of his burning soul (or something, Lio started to drown him out while crunching on a piece of bacon). Then he returned with a hairbrush and a spray-in conditioner, which Lio hadn't ever heard of. It seemed to do the trick, and when Galo decided he was going to brush Lio's hair instead, he kept making these small, happy noises. Weirdo.

Lio actually never paid much mind to his hair. He had his bangs cut because they got in his eyes. The rest of it, he tied it back and chopped it off when it got long enough, but never styled it much beyond that, just kept it clean and even. If Galo liked it, maybe he ought to give it more attention.

"If you're done playing with my head, I'll get dressed now," Lio pushed his plate a few inches away to indicate he was finished.

"Nope, never." Galo reached around and tilted his chin up, stealing a kiss.

"You think you're smooth, don't you?" Lio tried to look annoyed, but he wasn't sure it was working, since he was looking at Galo upside-down.

"Sure do." He was beaming so brightly. Lio rolled his eyes and stood up, stretching out his arms over his head and turning around to face Galo.

"Where are my clothes? I'll just wear them even if they're damaged. Better than going in something falling off of me."

Galo looked like he disagreed with that statement, but they'd already had that discussion. Still, rather than wearing the jacket with a huge burn in the sleeve, he wore a sweater of Galo's over his clothes to hide the damage. Hardly proper courtroom attire, but the city was still half-ruined and he was sure no one would actually give a damn about his clothes.

 




"Nope, this way!" Galo grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him along in a different direction. "You're always sneaking in the side doors, go in through the front today."

Lio tried to protest, but Galo was unfortunately much stronger than him and insisted. "Why?"

"You'll see. Let's go."

The courthouse steps were in decent shape, though a quarter of them were taped off because of damage. That section of the city had survived well enough; it hadn't been the main courthouse building while Kray was in power, but it was standing and in one piece, which could not be said for the one that Kray's government had used. This one was old-fashioned. Stone steps, tall columns, statuaries.

And covering those steps, dozens of people. It was pretty early, but they were all bundled up and warm, holding warm drinks and talking. They had posterboard. Almost all of them did. While Lio had no desire to draw their attention, Galo called out to them, and Lio bristled, ready to hiss at him for it. But he didn't, because they saw him and cheered.

Those posters were all variations of the same sentiment. His cheeks burned.

"These are just the early ones. Wait until it's time to leave!" Galo told him.

"...These people…"

"They know you saved them, and they want to show support."

"I'm not an idiot, I know what this is," Lio couldn't help feeling a little prickly about it, too embarrassing. "But, they… I don't recognize most of them. They're not Burnish." A few were, but the majority were not. It would make sense if the Burnish were there (and it would also make sense that they weren't; most of them were doing their best to keep low profiles), he'd done almost everything to help them, and only them.

"Right, sorry to tell you, but you didn't only save the Burnish, Lio."

Lio shot him another look.

Galo was clearly quite pleased with himself, but Lio couldn't let go of how baffling this was. After all that time setting fires in their city, people were apparently forgiving him because of one thing he'd done. And Galo was the reason everyone made it out safe, not Lio. The crowd was moving towards him and he backed away, but Galo stepped up and blocked them, making sure he had a clear path to the doors. Better to get away from the mess. He didn't understand anything.

There was a poster that read Free Fotia, Fuck Foresight, and he kind of wanted it framed, but maybe that was petty.

 




"Please explain the nature of your activities and goals as a Burnish Terrorist."

The lawyers and the judge squabbled over whether or not 'terrorist' was fair terminology, and once that was settled, he folded his arms, which wasn't as easy as it should have been since the sleeves of the sweater were falling over his hands. "We had plenty of goals. First, we wanted to gather as many of the Burnish as we could, and protect them. Second, we wanted to build a place for ourselves, to live out our lives."

"And how did burning down cities fit into that plan?"

"I'm getting there." He shot the prosecutor an irritable look. "We were a smokescreen. The flare was hard to resist for some of us, especially the first time it awakened. When we could tell a Burnish lost control in the city, we attacked as a cover, so we would take the blame and hopefully, recruit the Burnish to join us, in safety."

"And you thought that was a noble act?"

"Anything was better than letting an innocent victim get caught by the Foresight Foundation, yes."

He knew he was admitting to breaking laws, but he'd been taking credit for the Mad Burnish activities all this time, denying it now would just be a bad strategy. After a few more questions asking things he'd basically answered day one (there was a lot of repetition in this process, because a lot of the charges were so similar in nature), the prosecutor stepped down and his attorney stood.

"Most don't know the living conditions of the Burnish once they escaped the city. Could you tell us about it and give us a clearer picture?"

He sighed, glancing toward Gueira and Meis before nodding. "We were on the move almost constantly. Personally, I would scout ahead with flames and know where I needed to go next, but it was always miles away--"

"I'm sorry, miles?" This time, the judge had interrupted him. "You could send flames that far?"

"I did set the planet on fire, didn't I?" He paused, then tucked hair behind his ear and continued, "if we were lucky, we could make contact with other Burnish hiding their identities in the cities, and they would give us supplies. Out of necessity, we grew adept at hunting and foraging for what we needed, because the Burnish that refused to escape with us would end up caught, so they couldn't help with resources too much. Oh, but some of us had non-Burnish relatives that would help if they could, as well. And no, I won't give their names."

"We won't ask for them. Assisting Burnish individuals isn't a crime anymore. Struck it from the books entirely."

"Too little, too late," he shrugged, and the judge looked at him weird. Did anyone really think saying ' oh, in hindsight, we were wrong, sorry ' was going to be good enough? Maybe they did. He wasn't thanking anyone for doing something that was common sense. "...Anyway. We would have to find water sources and make do. The best shelters were ruins, usually, but it wasn't out of the ordinary to sleep in the open, either."

"A number of you went without food or sleep for days at a time, correct? You especially?" She was directing the topic so that his response would draw pity, but he wasn't good with that.

He shrugged again. "I was the one who wanted to make it work. Building a place of our own. I felt responsible, so if I could keep others from going hungry by passing up a meal for myself, I would. As far as sleep, we sometimes had a guard rotation. It wasn't always enough, but it was normal."

It wasn't something that he'd heard anyone speak about much. He felt weird saying any of it.

"Why did the Burnish follow you?"

Lio opened his mouth as if to answer, then shut it, thinking about his answer for an extra few seconds. "I had the strongest connection with the Promare. I could protect them."

"Excuse me," The former Burnish man on his defense team spoke up, "I don't think that's why anyone followed you. If I may?" The judge nodded and the man continued, "You had goals, Lio Fotia. You wanted more for us, and had hope for the Burnish, so you became a symbol of hope for all of us."

He sat silently, and wondered if they'd scripted that out. He glanced at Meis and Gueira again, and they were looking smug and nodding. He was pretty sure they only followed him (at first) because he could kick their asses, but he did know there was a lot more to their devotion to him, their willingness to put themselves in harm's way to follow through with his plans. To save him when he needed saving.

Even though the comment definitely sounded scripted, he felt his face get a little warmer. He mumbled that it sounded corny and the people who overheard him laughed.

 




The stay-glued-to-Galo's-side strategy was working pretty well, he thought. It wasn't easy to let his mood or his thoughts slip away from him as long as he stayed put, and Galo was thrilled to have him there. He said so. A lot.

"I thought things went pretty well today!" Galo reported to the rest of the team, his mouth full of pizza. Apparently that was normal enough that no one said a word about it.

There was also a mouse on the table, fitted with a tiny hat, and no one said a word about that, either. Burning Rescue and everyone who claimed to be a part of it, they were all bizarre. Lio was learning to love them all.

"Lio, we need to take you shopping for clothes," Lucia told him.

"Right? It should be a crime for him to dress like that! He's too--"

"Galo, shut up," At least three of them said in tandem, Lio included.

He didn't know why he was there, really. He'd wanted to stick with Galo, but he sort of assumed that meant they'd go back to his place, maybe there would be some removal of clothes, not suggestions for what he ought to be wearing in court so that people wouldn't be making eyes at him. According to Galo, people would make eyes at him no matter what, and when he said as much, someone kicked him under the table so hard he howled, but nobody owned up to it.

Meis and Gueira had followed along, and kept picking weird fights with Galo over ridiculous things, but it all seemed… Playful. Happy. No one was in the sour mood that usually followed Lio back from court. Were they willfully ignoring the fact that Lio was going to be a convicted criminal? That he was likely going to prison? Or was this just an attempt to set it aside and 'live for the moment', so to speak?

He wasn't sure he wanted to live for the moment anymore. He wanted Someday to come, but he wasn't convinced he'd get what he wanted from it. Maybe he could hope for the best, but he wasn't sure what the best realistic scenario was for him.

He fed Vinny a piece of a tomato, then leaned against Galo's shoulder, wearing a small smile.

"You know what? I'd be fine with shopping for clothes," Lio said. "Let's get Galo's ear pierced while we're at it."

Lucia grinned widely behind her hands. "Deal."

Galo turned red, but didn't protest.

 




Lio's funds were obviously limited, but Lucia and Aina had decided to treat him to a few different outfits, and they kept parading him in front of Galo as if his reaction ever wouldn't be slack-jawed staring. Well, at least he could select things that were more to his taste than hand-me-downs. There weren't many stores still standing and open in Promepolis, so stock was limited, but some digging gave him decent results. Unfortunately, they didn't have any luck finding a place to pick out nice jewelry for those matching earrings Galo had mentioned the night before, so the piercing would have to wait.

A small, defiant part of him wanted that earring on Galo just to be a lasting reminder that they had each other, in the likely future that Lio would be locked away. He acted like he was teasing, but he was genuinely looking forward to it.

The clothes he'd come home with were all things he ought to keep clean for court, or even another outing, so he hung them in the closet (mysteriously empty closet, at that. Just one formal uniform) and realized he'd have to stick with Galo's clothing for sleeping in. Or nothing. He could do that.

That in mind, he removed almost everything, but kept on the oversized sweater. It was too cold to wait naked in the bedroom.

"Should I be worried?" Lio asked as Galo was getting ready for bed himself. "I saw Gueira and Meis drag you off for a 'talk' earlier."

"Nope, nothing to worry about at all!" he answered in an awkward voice that contradicted his words.

"Galo."

Galo sighed, as if with his entire body. "They really think of you like family, don't they?" he asked as he straightened back up and came to sit on the bed beside Lio. While he spoke, he rolled up Lio's sleeve to check the bandages on his arm. "They gave me one of those 'if you hurt him' talks. As if I could hurt you!"

"Please do," Lio teased, a smile on his face.

"Hey, I'm being serious!"

"Galo Thymos," he started, raising his other hand to the side of Galo's face to force him to look him in the eyes, "you could absolutely destroy me. What matters is that you wouldn't."

"Lio, I know you're like, half my size? But I'm still positive that if you took me seriously in a fight you could kick my ass."

Lio gave Galo the most annoyed look he could manage. "That is not what I meant." He pinched Galo's ear to emphasize his irritation with him. "Well, whatever. My point is, you could hurt me, but I know you won't."

"Ow ow ow-- Of course I won't!" Galo started pouting and rubbed his ear after Lio released it. "If I can help it, I wouldn't let anything else hurt you, either." He let go of Lio's bandaged arm with a sort of regretful look, as if thinking that he could have prevented that. Well, maybe.

Lio felt the same. He would follow this idiot to the ends of the earth, always protecting him, but he knew that it was foolish to think that was possible. "I'll be found guilty, you know."

They both fell silent for a few seconds, staring at each other.

"With all the charges against me, I could be locked up longer than we'll be alive."

He'd seen Galo deflate once or twice, thoughtful and disappointed, so he knew he'd rally before long. He wasn't worried. "You probably wouldn't be satisfied with daily visits, would you?"

Lio paused, and tilted his head. He'd given that thought before, but assumed that it would be Galo who'd end up dissatisfied with it. "It's not ideal, but if it's the best we can hope for, I have no complaints. Would you really come daily, though?"

"So long as there aren't any fires to put out, I wouldn't miss it."

"So--" he shifted nervously, thinking that maybe he was about to ask something stupid and selfish. "Even if I'm sent away for life, I could still have this? I could have you?" He knew it was a lot to ask - their relationship hardly qualified as a relationship, too new and unexplored, but if there was a chance, he wanted to keep it. Even if things fell apart over time, he wanted to say he and Galo had tried their best at making it work.

He thought maybe Galo would get loud and defiant, declare something stupid and sweet that would make Lio roll his eyes, but instead he leaned over him, nuzzled the side of his face with a wide grin. He was unpredictable in the best ways. "Good luck getting rid of me."

"And you'll help me sneak in contraband, right?" It seemed like the right time to lighten the atmosphere. His heart felt lighter, even.

"Don't push your luck," Galo joked right back.

"Tsk. Cheapskate."

"Hey, you've got loads of people who'll do that for you. Don't ask the public servant."

Lio laughed; it was like his chest was full of bubbles or something. Truly bizarre. Galo did weird things to him. "And if my sentence is lenient enough, will I still have a place here when I get out?"

Galo looked thoughtful for about half a second. "Nope. We'll get a new place together. One we both pick out."

"This one is good enough," Lio pointed out.

"Nah. I wasn't the one who picked it for myself, and I've been thinking about moving anyway."

He would've dropped a name if he felt he could, Lio knew that. So there was a reason he didn't say it, and Lio was clever enough to piece it together and drop the issue. "Let's defile this place while we can, then," he suggested in a low voice, with a very sneaky grin on his face.

"You got it!" Galo agreed, lifting Lio by his hips to adjust their positions on the bed, pinning him. "Honestly, I couldn't take much more talking. Naked under this, huh?"

"I'm surprised you held out as long as you did," Lio mused. Not that it was a test or anything, of course; he'd wanted to address the all-too-likely guilty verdict and what was to come after, and he needed to do it sooner rather than later. The outcome of the conversation was far more positive than he'd predicted. Galo was like that.

He started to lift the sweater off of himself, but Galo held it down. "Leave it on for now. I like you in my clothes."

Another surprise. Galo didn't seem all that fond of shirts, usually. "Alright. We're supposed to be finding out what else you like, so I'll let you decide how this goes."

"I am definitely going to suck you off, then."

Lio covered his mouth to suppress laughter. So blunt, from the guy who kept getting embarrassed over every little thing! It was a fun discovery. He slid a hand on his leg, just in the right way to ride the sweater up and reveal himself. "Go for it. How are you at multitasking? Awful?"

"Yeah, not great. If there's something you want, I'll try it." Galo had decided to start small, kissing and biting Lio's neck before moving on. There would probably be a nice mess of half-formed bite marks all over him by the time he was satisfied, and Lio was okay with that.

"Mmh, well," Lio's voice hitched as Galo bit down, "I was thinking you might want to prepare me."

"I thought I was the one deciding!"

"Or yourself. That's great too."

"I'll let you do that next," Galo settled lower and bit down right above Lio's hip, wet and firm, and that was definitely going to be a lasting, visible mark.

Lio made an approving noise and tried to get comfortable, then gasped and jerked upright because Galo tried to take him all at once (and he was nowhere near Galo's size of course, but he was at least enough that he'd get the guy gagging if he got carried away). Points for enthusiasm, he supposed. "Wow, you suck at this."

Galo tried to say something - it sounded like isn't that the point?, but it wasn't possible to be sure, he had a dick in his mouth - and Lio rolled his eyes, flopping backwards on the bed.

"Take your time with it, Galo. We have all night." That seemed to work like gentle encouragement, and Galo hummed in affirmation, slowly moving his head. "Do you need instructions?" He couldn't tell if that was a nod. Probably was. "Hold here," he propped himself back up and guided Galo's hand to the base of his erection, "firm. Don't be afraid of using your teeth."

Galo made another attempt at talking.

"And don't talk with your mouth full."

Somehow, Galo slobbering all over him wasn't all that bad. He leaned back again and murmured his approval once Galo was getting the hang of things; he didn't go overboard with compliments, but there was nothing wrong with letting a guy know he was doing things right and he ought to continue. Galo grew bolder quickly, so intent and focused on making Lio feel good that it was actually working, drawing sounds from Lio's throat and making him squirm.

"Th-this is bad etiquette, but--" he grabbed at Galo's hair, probably tighter than he should have, to hold him still "--want me to finish like this, or wait?"

Galo's answer was to grab Lio's hips and properly swallow around him, more forceful and very nearly making Lio cry out from surprise, but he bit it back. The hand stayed in Galo's hair but he didn't have the leverage to move, so he wasn't pushing it.

"You're-- You're doing great, Galo, I'm so close, just--" He came rather quietly, in a ragged gasp, his thighs pressed against Galo's ears as if to hold him still, but there wasn't any actual pressure in his trembling limbs. He wasn't rude enough to force him to take it in the mouth, or swallow, but, well, he did that anyway. Interesting. He took a few long breaths while Galo wiped his mouth on his arm.

"Not bad, huh?"

"You learn fast." Lio sat up again, getting a spot Galo missed with his thumb.

"If I pulled your hair, you'd probably murder me, right?"

With a low laugh Lio grabbed the front of Galo's pants, which were still on for whatever reason, and made him yelp. "If I have this choking hazard in my mouth, correct. Pull it as much as you want any other time."

Galo stayed painfully still until Lio let him go, and then reached for the drawer in his bedside table, pulling a little bottle out of it and forcing it into Lio's hand. "Okay. Show me how it's done."

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather do me? It's the first time you're doing this…"

"I won't dish out anything I can't take!" Galo declared, finally removing his pants. Okay, then.

Lio opened the bottle and there was a pretty floral scent in it. "Uh. Scented?"

"Flavored too!"

Lio gave him an exasperated look. "You're the worst kind of rookie, I swear."

"I get that sometimes." Galo was beaming back at him.

"I'll bet." Lio carefully poured some of the lube on his fingers. "Now relax. This is going to feel weird."

Galo obediently spread his legs and shivered. "I tried it, a little. The other day."

"Did you enjoy it?" Lio let himself glance up at Galo's face before slipping a finger inside, watching for reactions carefully.

"Kind of-- Ugh, that's cold!" His whining was cute. Lio couldn't hide a smirk on his face. "I didn't know what I was looking for, but it felt a little good sometimes."

"Oh, that I can help with," Lio slipped in finger number two in order to use a little more pressure, sliding along Galo's insides and finding his prostate easily enough. He watched Galo's face again, to see how he liked it.

He really liked it. Already rolling his hips. "Hhh, Lio, that's.."

"Interesting, isn't it?" His amusement might have been too obvious. The way Galo's body moved was downright enchanting, and Lio wanted to get him writhing. "Want me to keep going?"

"Yeah, don't stop, I like it," Galo rambled and squeezed his eyes shut, looking like he was way too tense. He didn't feel that way around Lio's fingers; he was welcoming him in so eagerly.

"Want attention here too?" Lio offered, his free hand resting on Galo's erection, such a gentle touch that Galo whined again.

"Don't wanna finish yet," Galo answered, "..But, yeah, please."

"Tell me if it's too much, then," Lio warned him before immediately moving to comply, dragging his tongue along the underside while his fingers rubbed over the glans. The sound that escaped Galo's throat was exquisite.

There was no way he was getting the whole thing in his mouth, not without a ton of practice, so he wouldn't even try just yet. Instead he suckled on the tip and moved further down slowly, feeling Galo's pulse under his tongue. He kept working his fingers inside of him as well, glad that Galo was so relaxed with him that it wouldn't take much; he was already feeling it again. He wasn't Burnish anymore, but his recovery could be just as quick.

Galo repeated his name until he bit his tongue, and Lio pulled his head back. "You about ready?" Galo nodded furiously in response. "Alright, then. Give me a moment."

The instant he removed his fingers Galo was whining for him to hurry up.

"Listen to you. So needy. I'm glad I'm the only one who gets to see you like this," Lio spoke gently, fumbling with the bottle again, "Want me to use a condom?"

"Mm-mmm, no, hurry up," Galo tried to urge Lio on by squeezing him with his legs. Instead it just made Lio laugh at him, not cruelly.

"So impatient. So needy."

"You love it."

"I do," Lio agreed, pressing inside of him, pleased that it went so smoothly. He wanted every part of this to go smoothly for Galo. Whether he was the grin-and-bear-it type or not, there was no need to rush, no matter how much Galo whined for it. Lio liked things a little rough most of the time, but in some ways Galo was softer than he was, more fragile. "Can you sit up a bit? Lean towards me?"

Galo looked so confused and blissed at once, but he did as Lio said, propping himself up on his arms. Lio kissed him then.

"Couldn't reach," Lio said, only a little embarrassed by it. He wasn't usually troubled by his height, but with Galo spread out, his back arched like that, it would've been too difficult to reach him. "I'm going to move now. Everything feel okay?"

"Yeah, do it." Rather than laying back down, Galo curled his body even closer, sliding his hands up the oversized sweater Lio was still wearing and tucking his chin over Lio's shoulder, tugging Lio to lean over more. It hardly seemed like that could be comfortable, but Lio tried moving and Galo let out a cute little sound right near his ear. Very encouraging. 

Galo's arms were tight around the upper half of Lio's body, but they didn't restrict movement in his hips, so he pressed on, turning his head so he could nip at Galo's neck, running a hand through his hair and down his neck, every comforting gesture he could think of to keep him happy and relaxed.

Lio didn't feel very relaxed. His heart was racing, and Galo was so hot around him that he felt like he was going to melt into him. He hadn't felt like actual burning in a while, but this was somewhat close. Still, he kept his pace slow until Galo had adjusted enough.

Quiet wasn't a good word to describe Galo at all, but he was doing his best to control his volume since he was so close to Lio's ear, which was appreciated. He kept pleading and squeezing Lio's body close.

"You're doing great," Lio assured him, shifting his legs to allow himself to move with more force. It also allowed him the space to reach between their bodies and grip Galo's erection in his hand, stroking him and making him squirm more, fingers digging into Lio's back.

"Lio, I'm gonna--"

Lio kissed him silent, and moved faster, intent on catching up to him and finishing close together. Galo's limbs were trembling and tense and he moaned into Lio's mouth as he came, holding him too tightly to allow him to pull out again, though Lio did make a noteworthy effort to before he finished as well.

Galo's breathing was deep and he kept holding Lio close, pressing their foreheads together. "Love you."

"Mmn," Lio grinned, "Love you, too. Mind letting me go?"

"Right, sorry," Galo released him and flopped onto his back on the bed instantly.

"I'll get a towel."

"What for?"

"Cleaning up."

"Oh, right, I guess we should do that…"

Lio straightened out the sweater he was wearing and noted that it hadn't been spared. Oh well. He wasn't that driven to keep it on his body, if he could just stay close enough to Galo all night, both of them with bare skin. After he felt that his legs weren't tingling anymore, he walked to the bathroom and grabbed a damp wash towel.

He cleaned up first before returning to Galo, "Okay. Spread your legs again." After a short pause, he added, "You should do that for me more often, actually."

"You got it," Galo answered sleepily. He didn't move though.

"The worst kind of rookie," Lio chided him gently, climbing onto the bed, cleaning him up, undressing and pulling a heavy blanket over both of them. Even if they had a limited amount of time to take advantage of this kind of closeness, he told himself it wasn't selfish to indulge. Even if it felt like he was trapping Galo, he had to remember that he wasn't.

Galo would stay with him, willingly. Lio just wasn't sure what he could do to make it worthwhile for him if the worst was to happen.

 





The guilty verdict was announced, and Lio closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

He knew it was coming because he was, in fact, guilty of a great many things, but he didn't like hearing it in such a black and white way. The lawyers were quick, giving a long list of reasons he wasn't a flight risk, going through paperwork, and the judge brushed it all off easily, while still agreeing.

Only one person from Burning Rescue was there that day, and that was Ignis, who definitely had more tact than most of them. He kept quiet the entire time. As much as an outburst from Galo would've been welcomed at that moment, he was glad that he wasn't there. Better if he could tell him later, himself. The same was true of Meis and Gueira, who he had given tasks that he couldn't fulfill to keep them busy during the day, which maybe he should have felt bad for.

The judge informed him that he was not to go anywhere he'd be difficult to track down, and then dismissed court for the day. Ignis finally stood and spoke to him, too. "Don't look so worried. Sentencing should be easy on you."

Lio looked up at him silently.

"Here. I'm guessing Galo forgot to give you one of these." He dropped a key in Lio's hand.

"...Why do you have it?"

"Lucia's idea. She figured Galo would forget."

"She was right," Lio smiled despite everything else. He would really miss these weirdos. Either she or Ignis had added a silly keychain onto it with a spotted dog in a firefighting hat.

"Head home. I'll let the team know what to expect."

"What are you expecting?"

"Tomorrow will go fine. You'll be using that key plenty."

Ignis knew more than he did about the ins and outs of the court system, but that sounded a lot like groundless optimism. Still, he held the key tight in his hand for a moment and nodded, "Hope you're right." If he were more optimistic, he might've mentioned that he wouldn't actually use the key much at all, since Galo wanted to move somewhere else with him anyway. But he wasn't feeling optimistic. He couldn't.

"Your bike's out back. Fueled it up for you."

"...Oh. Thank you." It was a wonder that no one thought he was a flight risk when all he wanted to do was escape (even though his responsibilities wouldn't allow for it). Even so, after Ignis bid him goodbye he drove back home, used that key for the first time, and considered curling up in bed and waiting out the day. He changed first, digging through Galo's clothes for something that might, well, not fit exactly, but at least stay on his body.

He found some things that looked plain enough, a shirt with some hard to read band name on it and some shorts, threw them on, and looked through his few belongings for something to keep him busy. All the paperwork was taken out of his hands by the former Burnish. He could do research on his tablet, but he didn't have anything he particularly needed to look for (nor had he charged it). He couldn't stand to be alone with his thoughts, but thankfully that problem fixed itself when Meis and Gueira showed up.

At the door, he looked at them quizzically. "Did I tell you where this place was?"

"Sorry if we're disturbing the love nest," Meis offered, handing him a short list of things that had been accomplished that day. Lio hadn't meant it like that, but it wasn't untrue, either. For now, it was basically a love nest. Sort of. Honeymoon would be over soon enough. It still didn't answer his question, but he let it go.

"Found out about the verdict. You okay?"

"Yeah. Probably." He paused, looking up at them. He could be honest. "No. I saw it coming and it still hits like a brick to the face."

"It's not like you want to be put away." Gueira made himself comfortable on the couch without invitation.

"This is why you didn't want us around today, right?" Meis remained standing.

If they were offended, they didn't show it, so Lio didn't bother apologizing. He had enough trouble keeping level-headed in the courtroom that day, he knew those two would lose it. "Yeah. How are the housing projects coming along? It's difficult to keep up while in court."

"Community center will be emptied out in the next few days. Some families are going to be living in tight quarters for a while, but it's all temporary," Meis reported. "And just about everyone has started filing for benefits. You're in the clear, Boss."

"Not quite. Somehow, we need to petition the acting governor to actually give former Burnish benefits to make up for all the time--"

"What 'we'? Boss, relax," Gueira insisted, pulling a cigarette out of a pack in his jacket pocket. "You're off the hook. Let us take care of ourselves for once."

Lio looked at him like he was crazy, and Meis added, "Everyone respects you too much to keep unloading everything onto you. It's not that they actually depend on you any less. You know that, right?"

"...Don't smoke in a firefighter's apartment," Lio said, processing what they were saying internally. He'd felt lost not being a leader, but he apparently hadn't been looking at it the right way.

Gueira frowned and stood, looking around for a balcony to step out on, and Meis took his seat. Lio tried to relax as they told him to, carrying easy conversations for the next few hours.

Yet, he couldn't shake the thought that no one really needed him anymore. If he was sent away, he'd be missed, but not necessary. That wasn't a problem, but it was a noteworthy change that he couldn't sort out his feelings on. Maybe he wanted to be needed by the former Burnish, still. Maybe he couldn't let that go, not entirely, but there wasn't anything he could do about it from where he was standing.

Galo arrived just after they left, and he quietly pulled Lio into a tight hug. He didn't ask any questions, probably assuming (correctly) that Lio had no interest in spending more time thinking about the verdict.

"I'll be there tomorrow," He spoke solemnly with his face in Lio's hair. "Captain gave me the day off."

"You don't have to," Lio said, but knew that Galo had already made up his mind. "...Thank you."

"You weren't smoking in here, were you?"

"Huh? No, Gueira was, outside."

"Did he extinguish it properly? I don't have an ashtray--"

"Galo." Lio commanded, holding Galo's face between his hands. "This is the first home I've had in years, I'm not going to burn it down. Don't worry."

Galo's cheeks turned pink, but he looked like he loved that. "Right! No worrying at all. Either of us." He leaned down and kissed Lio before anything else could be said. Another gentle kiss that made no progress at all, but felt so sweet and uplifting all the same. A kiss of life. Very corny, he could not say that out loud.

It could have been their last night together for a long time, or ever, but neither moved to initiate anything further.

 




Mornings were nicer when he woke up in Galo's bed, tangled in blankets and limbs. It had only happened twice so far, but he wished he could always experience it. He stirred and Galo, still fast asleep, tightened his arms around him to keep him from getting up. The alarm hadn't gone off yet, but he had to squirm free and climb on top of Galo to see the clock. He had a few hours before the sentencing hearing would begin. There was no use killing time any other way. He breathed deep and rested his head on Galo's chest.

He must have moved around too much, because Galo started petting his hair. "Morning," He mumbled, refusing to move.

"Good morning, sunshine."

"Ugh, definitely hate that pet name. Don't use it." In spite of his words, Lio was grinning.

"Oh, I can use others?" Galo was excited by the possibilities, and started thinking on them out loud, with Lio shooting everything that he came up with down instantly.

Lio groaned, then propped himself up to kiss him and shut him up. It worked well. Galo started getting handsy instead, which was a different kind of problem, one Lio was glad to deal with. He almost laughed when he felt a hand on his ass. "That, you can do." He spoke softly against Galo's mouth.

"We have time?"

"We do," Lio said, sliding his thigh between Galo's legs. Such an excitable guy. "You're up for it."

"Sure am!" Hands were sneaking under the oversized shorts Lio was trying to wear, "Well you be okay doing this before court?"

"Yeah. But don't make me think about that," he requested before nipping Galo's lip and rubbing against him.

Galo was reluctant to move, taking one of his hands away so he could reach for the bedside table, where lube and condoms were no longer stored inside the drawer but right next to a table lamp. It made it easier, and hiding them was something people did when they had guests over, or shame. "Hey, Lio," Galo stopped him, and gulped. "You said you like it to hurt, but I don't really think I can do that--"

"Don't worry about it," Lio reassured him, petting the side of his face down to his neck, then resting his palm against his collar. "That doesn't mean I won't enjoy myself. It's just nice to let go a little, sometimes."

"I'll… Remember that." Galo promised and opened up the bottle. That floral scent filled the air. "I picked this one because it kinda smells like you," he thought aloud, getting some on his hand and tasting it. "...Doesn't taste like you."

"I smell like flowers to you?" Lio sat up and pulled off the shirt, which Galo didn't protest this time. "Oh, I used to use oils now and then. It felt nice on my skin when I was still a Burnish. Maybe you smelled that before."

"Not as good on your skin now?"

"I don't burn anymore," he answered, slipping the shorts down and maintaining eye contact with a very enchanted Galo. "Well. Not the same way."

"Guess I can light you up, huh?" Galo was grinning so widely that Lio had to smile back. He put one knee down between Galo's legs again and moved in for another kiss.

"Hurry up, idiot." It was the only reasonable response. There wasn't enough time to get carried away with fire puns.

"Alright. Tell me if I do something wrong, though."

He was worried, and Lio found that cute. Before he could say so, he felt Galo's wet finger push against him, with some difficulty. Galo's hands were huge too, it'd probably be difficult, but he soldiered on, pressing inside and holding still, waiting for Lio to adjust. "Go ahead," he murmured, "Don't worry about me so much."

Lio straightened up so that he was straddling Galo's hand, giving him more control over their movement. He knew Galo was scrutinizing his every reaction, so he wanted to make sure it was a good show for him. A second hand rested on his hip, as though to steady him, but he didn't need it. He reached down and gripped Galo's wrist between his legs and instructed him to take it further, thrilled when Galo listened and added another finger inside of him.

It burned; it had been a while, but that wasn't why. He was possibly rushing it too much, but he didn't mind, so he didn't need Galo to mind either. "Can you go deeper?" He requested, his voice a few pitches off. Galo complied, and Lio covered his mouth to hide a whimper. "N-need maybe one more… Then I'll be ready for you."

"I'm not going to rush you," Galo frowned, sitting up and hugging around Lio's waist.

"You should."

Galo gave him a look, and Lio answered it with a smile.

"Hurry up, Galo Thymos. We don't have all day." Not that he was going to be dwelling on that time limit. Galo did as he was told, and Lio praised him with teasing condescension, so Galo kissed him, hard, and twisted his hand around until he found a position that made Lio yank his body away and gasp.

"Oh, okay. So it's here, is it?" Galo pulled him close again and bit his collar, not quite adept enough to leave a deep mark, but enough to be noticed if Lio wore something low-cut enough. He made a mental note to do so.

"Y-yeah, it's good, I--" He struggled away and placed his hands firmly on Galo's shoulders. "Do it. I don't want to wait anymore. Get your pants off and fuck me, Thymos."

"Now who's needy?" Galo tried to tease, "Condom?"

"...Yeah, I guess we should, since we have places to be today. If there's a next time, I won't make you."

"What do you mean, if? Lio, you're stuck with me. I'll marry you to make conjugal visits all the time, if I have to." He pulled his fingers out and started to remove his pants, so he couldn't see Lio turning bright red. Marriage, that was…Something. Something he might want.

"...Someday," Lio hummed, so giddy that his heart couldn't take it as he hugged around Galo's shoulders without explaining himself. "Someday. "

" Every day," Galo corrected fiercely. He didn't get it, but Lio was charmed regardless. "Is there a way this feels best for you?"

Lio shook his head, "Let me start us off, then you can take over when I tell you. You're going to be… a challenge." He said it with a greedy smile. He assisted Galo in putting on the condom, feeling to see if it had enough lubrication on it and deciding it probably did, then positioned himself, wincing as Galo first pierced him.

Galo's hands were on his hips, and he could tell that it was taking incredible willpower not to push Lio down onto him immediately, which… Lio might have been fine with, were he still Burnish and could heal that fast. He could even be fine with it now that he wasn't, but it wasn't the day to find out.

Rolling his hips as he sank lower, he hugged around Galo's shoulders again in order to stay upright. His thighs were spasming, it was hard to support himself. But oh, it felt good, so filling, so hot, and once it was deep enough Galo couldn't avoid his prostate, every part of him was on fire. He could see how Galo was holding back and he whispered compliments and encouragement. 

He couldn't take it the whole way yet, but eased into it, lowering himself a little more each time he rose and fell until he was seated in Galo's lap, marvelling at the sense of accomplishment that filled him with. "...O-okay, you take the lead now. Just. Ease into it."

Galo was so gentle, hugging him close and cradling his body to roll him onto his back without separating them, peppering his face with kisses and telling him soft 'I love you's every few seconds. Lio kept his arms around his shoulders and his breathing grew deeper as Galo filled him again and again and it was so much, too much, and he grew louder.

Finally, or perhaps too quickly, he arched his back and stiffened, crying out against Galo's skin as he climaxed. His nails left distinct tracks along Galo's shoulders. As he calmed, he whispered "I love you too" into Galo's ear, and that seemed to finish Galo off, a few hard thrusts and he buried himself as deeply as Lio's body would allow, grunting.

They both breathed for a few extra seconds before Galo extricated himself from Lio's grasp enough to pull out and look down at him properly. "So, that's what it takes to get you hollering."

"What?"

"You were so quiet before. It was hard to tell if you were enjoying yourself."

Lio flushed, looking up at the ceiling. "Oh. I-- Nngh." He didn't have an explanation he thought he could speak of tactfully. He was always quiet before, because if he wanted to fool around, or do anything for himself, he was always with a group of Burnish and he never wanted to alert them. And they were always on alert. Things were different now. Everything had changed and he could enjoy himself as much as he wanted--

No, he couldn't. The sentencing was in two hours, and that would decide his fate.

"Hey, let's leave early," Galo suggested, apparently noticing that Lio's mood was about to take a nosedive. "I have an idea."

"...What are you plotting?"

"You'll see! Just get dressed."

They could shower and pay attention to their appearances to look presentable in court, but that wasn't what Galo wanted, so Lio shrugged and followed along. Once they were dressed Galo dragged Lio to a ruined street that had been transformed into an outdoor market, only raising more questions that Lio was evidently not allowed to ask. The streets were lined with makeshift fabric awnings over merchandise laid out haphazardly on blankets, but nobody there seemed to be in poor spirits. They were just making ends meet through a rough time, but so was everyone else.

"Here we are," Galo announced, in front of a vendor with a bunch of jewelry laid out. They also had tools for piercings and tattoos, which was horrifyingly unsanitary, but as long as he was not getting tattooed or pierced it was not a problem for him to worry about. "I saw this the other day, and thought it would look nice on you."

"Is that what gave you the idea for matching earrings?" Lio looked at the one Galo pointed to curiously; it was a black metal loop, small, with what appeared to be cut ametrine (and he only knew what that rock was because he'd been told his eyes looked like them several times, and it was really annoying when anyone but Galo did it- not that Galo had said exactly that aloud, he just kind of figured that's what he'd meant). It looked somewhat similar to his own earring, close in size and color, but fancier, and more delicate.

"Y-yeah, but I couldn't find anything that matches yours."

"You wouldn't. I made it," Lio told him, raising a hand to tug it from his ear. "Same way I made armor and everything else. This one solidified permanently."

"Oh, whoa… I had no idea!" Galo was fascinated, picking it up and turning it over in his hand. "So, even with the Promare gone, it's like you get to keep a piece. A memento."

Lio watched him silently, thoughtfully, and turned to the vendor. "Is that thing sanitary?" he asked, gesturing at the piercing supply kit. The man at the stall grunted a 'yep' and pulled out sanitizing equipment. Good enough. "Pierce his ear with mine, and we'll get this one for me."

"What?" Galo balked, "Are you serious? Isn't this special? Shouldn't you keep it?"

"Aren't you special?" Lio responded quickly. "Am I not keeping you? I'm just storing it elsewhere, is all."

Galo broke out in a wide grin, a brave expression, "Then I accept! And I am absolutely not nervous about needles and this will be a piece of cake!"

He was not convincing. Regardless of bravery, Galo did come away from the experience with a piercing that he kept trying to mess with. His ear was red, so either he was messing with it too much or it hadn't been sanitary after all.

Either way, they were almost late for court, Gueira and Meis eyeing Galo suspiciously as they took their seats.

Lio wasn't ready to be locked away from everyone, but he found very few loose ends left. "Meis, Gueira." He said quietly, leaning back in his seat to talk to them.

"Yeah, Boss?"

"Galo said he won't help me with contraband when I'm in prison. I can count on you two, right?"

They could tell he was making light of the situation to lift their moods, it was only a joke, but they looked a little uneasy when responding. "Of course, Boss!"

"And if Kray is in my block--"

"You'll have a shiv by morning."

"Good."

He'd purposely said it loud enough for Galo to hear, and it sparked an argument among them that made Lio smile to himself. No, he had no desire to own a shiv no matter who he was imprisoned with, but he wasn't above making the comment, at least as a joke.

When the argument grew louder, the gavel cracked an echo around the room and they all jumped in their seats.

Court was in session. His lawyer stood up and gave the judge a list of potential character witnesses, including everyone in Burning Rescue but not Gueira or Meis, which he knew offended them (but it was a sound legal strategy, not including what the prosecution had called his 'terrorist buddies' at one point).

Discussions dragged on and Lio kept his focus, heart in his throat. His lawyer called for Galo to come and speak on his behalf, and even though Galo stood and walked to the stand dutifully, the judge spoke up. "You know, we don't really need to hear from any character witnesses. Especially not witnesses that are sleeping with your client," The judge commented dryly, shattering Lio's tension and making him snort behind his hands. It was inappropriate, but he was trying his best, wound so tightly he might snap at any moment, teetering between two extremes that both seemed unreal.

Plus, that was really his own fault for leaving marks. Definitely his own fault; even the one Galo had given him would have been so easy to hide if he'd cared enough to do so. He glanced back at Galo and saw he was beet red. Nice.

The judge moved on. "I've more or less made up my mind on sentencing, and I'm sure you'll find it more than fair."

"Even so--" His lawyer tried to argue.

"I've gotten letters and phone calls to my office every day. Threats, bribery, and begging. I'd say one percent of those were in favor of punishing you at all. So I've done my own research on you, Lio Fotia. And I think, given what I've learned, a fair and beneficial sentence is probation and community service. The minimum I could give you is five years each, and even that seems excessive."

Lio was staring wide-eyed. Behind him he heard people high-fiving. His lawyer looked somewhat shocked, and relieved. "I can't argue with that. It certainly is excessive, but we have rules to follow. I'd like to propose that his record be expunged after his time is served."

"That sounds doable," The judge agreed, smiling down at him from their seat. Just like that, court was adjourned and he was free.

His lawyer shook his hand. The ex-burnish on his defense team hugged and congratulated him. Galo nearly tackled him, then picked him up and spun around and Lio was so confused by what had just transpired that he was beginning to feel nauseous. He'd been expecting this to go completely differently, but apparently he was being sent back home, to keep living this dream of a life with Galo?

A slap on the wrist? That was it? All those years of running from Anti-Burnish sentiment and barely any of the brainwashing propaganda had really taken root deeply enough to land him in prison for his behavior? He just got to continue doing what he was already doing - benefiting his community by working his ass off for nothing, and being closely monitored by a public servant - and that was a punishment?

"Galo, put me down," he ordered, "Feel sick."

Instead, Galo carried him to the bathroom and sat beside him, rubbing his back until the episode passed. He was grinning the whole time, chattering delightedly while Lio was trying not to hurl.

 




An important takeaway from that day was that let's go out and celebrate meant going out for pizza, like any other night that Burning Rescue got together, for any other reason.

After Lio finally left the courthouse, he saw those dozens of people holding poster boards and cheering again, shouting things in his direction while Galo, Gueira and Meis played at being his bodyguards. Lio was silent, still putting together what everything meant. Where he'd gone wrong, and somehow misinterpreted everything.

Even the prosecutor had dropped every bit of fight they had in them, shook his hand and said they were glad the sentence wasn't harsh, and that they'd recommended a light one, too. It was their job to get him found guilty, not something they wanted personally. But those people had tried to corner him the entire time, pushed him to the very edge until he'd almost fallen to a low he wasn't sure he'd recover from. What a miserable job. He liked Galo's better; saving people every day, and then going out for pizza too often. It was hard to imagine prosecutors having any friends to do things with.

His stomach still nauseous, Lio had been given a small pizza made personally for him ("from someone who's happy for you! Don't mind it, he's just shy, but he makes great pizza!"). It had a sauce that was less acidic, and a mild flavor that he wasn't sure he liked at first; on the run, he was used to foods crammed full of preservatives, loaded with salt and awful for him.

Mild flavors weren't bad though, and it was certainly easier on the stomach than the multiple pizzas Galo had scarfed down. He ate quietly while the others celebrated around him. They must have noticed that he didn't feel much like celebrating yet.

Every time Lio thought the worst was behind him, every single time in his life, something terrible happened, and he dreaded finding out what that could be this time. Galo's arm kept traveling back around him and he kept grounding himself, remembering that he had support that he'd never had before. These people didn't need a leader, and they didn't need his protection, but they were keeping him anyway, because they wanted him there no matter what his contribution was.

There weren't any Burnish anymore, and the ones who had been, and had looked to him for guidance and support, they were turning the tables, now offering those things to him.

He cared so much about his kind, but…

"And now, a gift!" Lucia interrupted his thoughts, and Varys dropped a huge bundle on the table for her. "Every single one of those demonstration signs! I say we decorate the station with them!"

"...Did you just go around and ask for all of them after the trial?" Remi stared at the stack like it had done him a personal wrong.

"I said I wanted to give them to Lio and they were all more than happy to give them up."

"Unbelievable."

"All of them?" Lio confirmed, standing to lean over the table and start rifling through them. He was looking for, and found, a particular green poster that he pulled from the middle, holding it up to read and smiling to himself.

"Er… what are you planning to do with that?" Galo asked, scared of the answer.

"You have a bunch of cheesy far-east firefighting posters on the wall, I want something, too." 

"... Does it have to be that one?"

"Yes. And I'm having it framed." He sat back down, admiring it for a few more seconds before very carefully rolling it up.

"Lio has a surprisingly cute side, huh?" Aina said, watching him with a smile.

Meis laughed, and Gueira leaned back in his chair with a dumb smirk on his face. "Yeah, that's the Boss for you, alright."

He chose to ignore them, very pleased with his very first piece of wall art and feeling much better physically. He thought he'd hang it right in the entryway. Maybe right on the door, so he could see it every time he left the apartment. He could tell it would annoy Galo, but he could also tell Galo would give him this one. Lio had very precious few things in the world, one poster wouldn't hurt, at least until he had something else to contribute to the space.

They walked home instead of driving, and Lio had hooked his arm around Galo's while he tried to look around the city with fresh eyes. He'd seen it every day, but he spent most of that time trying to avoid being seen, because he could be recognized. He thought that the recognition was all bad; sure, there were one or two people that shied away, and someone shot him a nasty look, but four people acted really excited to see him and Galo, and that outnumbered the negativity, at least.

"It's weird," he thought aloud. "Not being hated by normal people."

"No one could hate you after getting to know you," Galo insisted, very sweetly. "Plus, sad as it is, you're normal now, too."

"True. A pity." They continued in silence, and once they were almost at the apartment door, Lio paused thoughtfully while Galo pulled out his keys. "Galo?"

"Yeah?"

"Something you said this morning," he tried, his steps lighter from a sudden shyness - no, not shyness, he wasn't shy, but he wasn't familiar with whatever it was. "Since I'm not being locked up after all, I can just pretend you never said it, but I have to ask. Is marriage something you want, in the future?"

And the keys dropped to the floor. Lio knelt to pick them up, belatedly realizing that getting down on one knee after saying something like that was a very dumb idea and straightening up with the keys gripped tight. Both of them were shades of pink. Galo still hadn't answered.

"... Someday, you know. Not now." Lio backed down only a little, trying to explain himself. "I've never planned a future for myself. I'm used to trying to plot the course for everyone, nothing so personal. I want to figure it out."

Galo made a frustrated noise, looking aside and scratching the back of his neck. "Lio, if it would make you happy, I'd marry you tonight. But I also kinda think a ceremony with planning would be better, because I'd want to invite all our friends, and wedding cakes are amazing. And I don't want to miss out on dating you first, and damn, I can't even decide whether I'd like to propose or I'd want to be proposed to, they both sound pretty great."

Flustered, Lio punched Galo's shoulder. Not hard. Just to let him know he could stop. "Then, that's part of the future I'll be looking forward to."

"You shouldn't let me decide it for you." Galo was frowning.

"You didn't," Lio corrected him. "But I want you in it, so my plans will have to mesh with yours somehow, won't they?" He walked past him with the keys and opened the door. "And now, let's go inside and pretend we never had this talk."

"I would, but now you've got me thinking about wedding cake and I'm not sure I can stop." As if he hadn't just inhaled multiple pizzas over the past couple hours. Incredible.

"Think about regular cake instead. We could just make one."

Galo took a deep breath, following Lio into the apartment. "That is… an amazing idea."

 





"So you'll be working there?" Galo, bless him, he was so confused. Lio was filling out paperwork for his new place of employment, which happened to be with that lawyer that he'd developed a lot of respect for. He'd just be assisting with research and reception, he didn't have training for anything more complex than that. "Why not here?"

"Because they assigned me a parole officer who is annoyingly inflexible with schedules, so even if I wanted to join Burning Rescue properly, I couldn't be on your shift."

"You don't have to check in every day!"

"Regardless. I could learn a lot from working for her, so I intend to." Lio folded his arms on the table and looked at Galo squarely. "It's a better paycheck, too. Don't try to say you'll support me, because I'd never accept that."

"Yeah, I know," Galo deflated. He must have had his heart set on spending all day and every day with Lio, at work and at home. Needy and cute.

"I became Burnish young, so I want to save up and continue my education where I left off," he explained, looking aside. It was one of those things he wasn't ashamed of because he had no control over it, but he still felt a little embarrassed whenever he found obvious gaps in his knowledge, so it was something he wanted to fix. "I have five years until my record is clear and I'll be free to do anything I want with that."

Galo calmed finally, looking more inquisitive. It was a rare look for him, saved for the most precious interests he had. Apparently those interests included Lio, who felt honored. "You really think things through," he said, admiringly. "What do you think you'll do after that, then?"

"I'm not entirely sure yet. I'm interested in medical care," he thought aloud. "And, as infuriating as politics are, I want to get involved. Work toward changing things."

"And that has nothing to do with pissing off Kray in prison, right?"

Lio grinned broadly. "Well, now it does. Governor Fotia has a nice ring to it, don't you think?"

Galo returned the smile, but Kray was still a sore subject, probably always would be, so it was half hearted. Lio understood. It was a touchy subject for him, as well. Talking about him like that, like a joke, was the only way he could mention Kray and not tense up like he wanted to punch the nearest wall. Lio knew he ought to tread more carefully, and quietly apologized by sliding his hand over Galo's and squeezing. "Still bummed you won't be working with us though. That awesome gear Lucia made you will go to waste..."

"Who said I wouldn't?" Lio softened, "Volunteer firefighters have more control over their schedule, you know. And it counts as community service."

 




The last time everyone in their Burning Rescue unit had the day off, they all decided to help Galo and Lio go house hunting. It was completely unasked for and honestly way too intrusive, but that was the kind of thing Lio had learned to expect in the months since the trial.

Luckily, they did find a place they both liked that day. It was in a building that they'd helped rebuild, so they were given a fantastic deal, and they moved in as soon as the next time Burning Rescue took the day off. Varys and Galo did most of the heavy lifting, while Lucia ignored instructions on any new furniture they needed to build, making it come out bizarrely off, but with way more personality and often sturdier. Aina and Lio unpacked boxes and organized everything, both well aware that the organizational system they came up with would fall apart within hours. Gueira and Meis showed up after their shifts at work with boxes of pizza and cases of beer.

And that was it. Lio had his name on a lease for the first time in his life, a bunch of belongings he could call his own, a boyfriend he'd been dating and living with for months, and one year prior he'd been locked in a refrigerated jail cell, then thrown into an active volcano in a block of ice… Life was pretty funny like that.

After the first night there, they both agreed that they didn't care whether or not their neighbors liked them much. Well, Galo cared at first, but getting Lio to scream like that was worth way more than getting along with neighbors.

"You've been on fire lately," Galo told him after he caught his breath.

Lio, on unsteady limbs, crawled close again, hiding his face under Galo's chin and snuggling against him. Not hiding, really, but it was a cozy spot and Galo would always hold him tight when he was there, so it was perfect for relaxing and preparing to sleep. "I can never tell whether or not it's a good thing when you say it, firefighter." His voice was hoarse. It really was fun to let go sometimes.

"It's a good thing." Galo reassured him, stroking his back gently.

"It's a fire you keep stoking."

"I'll keep it up, then."

Lio kissed Galo's throat, then nibbled on his skin, deciding whether or not he was entirely spent. "Keep adding wood to it, too," he said, with a low, sweet laugh.

"I just did!" Galo countered, incredulous. "Seriously. On fire."

He was sure Galo would find the energy, and he grinned at him before stealing his words away with a kiss.

Galo had changed everything. That night, when Lio showed up at his door covered in ashes and sobbing, he'd been a broken man with nothing, at the end of his rope. Galo handed him each piece once he was ready to put himself back together, one by one helping those pieces fit.

The next day would come and life would continue. Their empty walls would be filled with posters of firemen from the far east again, and Lio's newest prized possession, framed. Not the poster, that would remain stored in the closet, because he'd started to realize that invoking Kray Foresight's name had to be taboo in their new home. It caused a little crease in Galo's brow that Lio hoped to erase with time.

He'd hang it on the wall in their bedroom, a photograph of the night after the trial that he'd had enhanced, when he was still nauseous and forced to eat pizza with the team; he and Galo up front, looking snug. Galo's ear looked infected in the original, but it had been edited, thankfully. The others were crowded around them in clear celebration, enthusiastic smiles on their faces.

They would meet the neighbors and have a short, tense conversation apologizing for all the hammering - hooks on the walls, of course, for photos - and Lio would get torturously close to making Galo's brain melt out of his ears with embarrassment, which was okay, because he knew he would pay for it later, and was delighted.

Another day would come again and their break would be over, and they'd throw the alarm against the wall because Galo's alarm is a siren with spinning lights and Lio hates it (but, as Galo argues, it definitely wakes them up, so he refuses to get rid of it).

They'd drink their coffee in the morning like every other day, maybe buy some sweet pastries on the way to work, and spend another day awkwardly dancing around the topic of the ring boxes they'd both accidentally found while packing up their old place and continued to say nothing about in the world's only game of engagement chicken.

Someday would come, and it would always be followed by another.