The day Lio told Galo the truth about the Foresight Foundation, Galo had almost instantly believed him. It wasn't that he was that gullible, and it wasn't like him to be suspicious of people he'd spent his whole life trusting. It was just a feeling; Lio hadn't looked at him with eyes that said he was being deceptive, he'd looked at him with the eyes of an angry victim, surrounded by women, children and elderly wrapped in bandages and wearing rags for clothing. It would have taken too much effort to fake it. He knew Lio wasn't trying to trick him.
He hadn't wanted to believe Kray could be doing something so heinous, so he'd confronted him about it. He gave him another chance to smooth things over with lies again, and he grew to regret giving him that chance. Still, no changing the past. Charge forth into a new future, et cetera. Galo didn't like dwelling on things like that.
He wasn't a naturally suspicious person, and Lio wasn't naturally suspect (at least, not now that Galo understood him better).
That said, Lio's behavior had been a little… hard to get used to. Not suspicious. The first day after they'd freed the burnish victims from the Parnassus engine, Lio rejected the very idea of resting, instead moving right on to helping the non-burnish trapped in the rubble. He went two days without sleep, until even Galo couldn't even keep pace with him and had to bodily remove him from the rescue site and drag him home, kicking and complaining the whole way about how much more needed to be done. He was stronger than he looked; his wiry frame was surprisingly taut muscle and his soul burned just as bright as Galo's, if not brighter. He was just kind of on the compact side, so Galo didn't have much trouble lugging him around.
With help, he managed to trap Lio indoors for a full nine hours to let him sleep and eat a decent meal (Aina had lodged something heavy in front of the door from the outside so it couldn't be opened from indoors. She also did something to the windows, but Galo wasn't on the first floor, so he didn't know why that was necessary).
And then it was right back into the fray. Lio was a natural at helping people. It made Galo's heart feel warm, knowing he'd met someone like that.
He thought maybe he'd broach the topic soon. Hey Lio, you should be a firefighter, you'd be a great addition to Burning Rescue! Also, are you maybe into guys because gosh your pants look tight do you need help getting out of th --
Galo had a bit of a problem. Maybe.
But the situation began to change, less of an emergency, and Lio got kind of cagey about certain things. He was never an open book or anything like that, but he'd be fine discussing the situation as it stood. He sometimes disappeared for hours during rescue efforts, but since he came back looking worse for wear and usually with an injured survivor or two, nobody questioned him.
In those little disappearances, he'd ignore the radio they'd given him unless it was absolutely vital that he show up. He was a pretty independent guy, so at first Galo hadn't wanted to bug him too much about it. It added up, though, and after a week and a half, Galo decided to ask him about it.
"You seem to have a sixth sense for finding people off the beaten path, huh?" He'd ordered pizza and had it delivered, because he'd convinced Lio to keep living with him and they were both too tired to cook. Well, that, and he'd seen precious little evidence that Lio could even boil water without his flames. He watched the stove with a fascinated look more than once while Galo used it.
"What do you mean?"
"Like today, you found that old lady and the kitten--" Lio-holding-a-kitten was immediately filed away in Galo's permanent memories as the cutest fucking thing on the planet, by the way "--after you wandered off. I have no idea where you went."
"...Luck, maybe. I thought I heard something." He began picking at a pizza topping with disinterest instead of actually eating it.
Galo wasn't a human lie detector, and Lio wasn't much of a liar, but something still bothered him. "Well, you've been getting really lucky with it!"
"What are you getting at." Lio asked so sharply that it wasn't a question anymore. Then he looked away, because obviously he didn't intend to sound that way.
"...Nothing. Sorry, I didn't mean--"
"You aren't wrong," Lio conceded. "I am hiding something. And I'll tell you. Just… Not yet."
Galo waited to see if he'd add anything else, then finished off the slice on his plate decisively. "Well. As long as you're not putting yourself in danger, I can accept that."
"You don't have a choice but to accept it, because I don't intend to tell you yet anyway." He was stern, but Galo had started recognizing a certain fondness in the way Lio spoke to people he liked, even when he was being pushy.
"Do Meis and Gueira know?" He decided to ask, "If it's something you can't tell me, could you tell them?"
Lio looked surprised by that. "I… I could tell them, yes."
Galo frowned, "I'm not gonna bug you to tell me, if you're worried about that. But if it is dangerous, I do want you to talk to someone. Doesn't have to be me."
"That's not what I expected from you, is all. You're gentle. Not as balls-to-the-wall as I was led to believe."
Slapping the table, Galo declared loudly, "I'll have you know that rescue operations require a gentle touch! I'm a master at it! The best in the city!"
Lio almost snorted. So close. Damn. That would be so cute. Galo's new life dream would be to see Lio snorting with laughter. While holding a kitten.
Hiding a grin behind his hand, Lio looked significantly calmed down. No rough edges or firm barriers, he was just going to trust Galo to trust him, and that gave Galo another soft, warm feeling in his chest. Someday it would surely burst.
Lio hadn't intended to stay with Galo, it just sort of happened that way. He'd been so tired that the instant he was put onto a soft, fluffy mattress, all protests died in his throat and he accepted his fate, and then heading back to Galo's apartment after a long day became routine. It wasn't bad. Galo was kind and kept offering up his bed again (and once Lio offered "to share?" and Galo got embarrassed and insisted that no he would take the couch thank-you-very-much, so never mind that), but Lio remained on the couch quite comfortably. Better than sleeping on rocky ground, which he'd done plenty of while on the run. He slept soundly every night.
Galo was oddly unaware of himself, too; at first Lio was convinced that he had to know, because he must have put at least a decade of work into that body to get it looking like… like that. But no, he was dumb enough to be oblivious to the fact that he was eye candy. The sweetest eye candy - candy that liked to make him dinner on calm days and kept him company when he was having trouble relaxing. Candy that was concerned for his well-being.
People didn't outwardly show care for Lio the way Galo did; the burnish regarded him as a leader, the strongest among them, someone who couldn't show weakness and so they didn't give him that opening, out of respect. Other people feared him, even now that they believed all the burnish had lost their abilities. Galo? Galo offered hugs and smothered him with attention if he even seemed slightly down.
Which was a problem, because he wanted to be alone sometimes. He needed to be.
Or… Not completely alone.
In his hand, he held what looked like an oddly-shaped lump of black stone, or metal. Something shiny and solid. He knew what it was, he'd made the stuff, so of course he knew. He wondered if he might be the only one who knew, and how he could keep it that way.
On the roof of Galo's building at sunset, the city looked lovely, and Lio was mesmerized by its reflection on the black. He was lying back on the concrete barrier at the very edge of the building, his legs hanging off either side, and he wasn't even thinking about how dangerous that might have looked, too drawn into the material he was holding up to the light.
"You can come with me, you know," He said, barely whispering to it. "I know what you are, now. I'd like to help you."
The material flickered with colors and life. Lio smiled at it.
"I don't know how to help you get home, now that the rift is closed."
The colors changed, cooling. Disappointed.
"But I know what you want," he said, unwavering. "And I can satisfy you."
The material burst into a small flame as it accepted him, and Lio knew to press it to his lips, sucking it in gently. The smallest traces that the promare left behind would always draw him closer, they had been every day. He could already use their flames after taking those fragments into his body. He was a burnish again, probably the only one, and he didn't know what to do with that secret. It was a foolish thing to hide. Galo and the others would find a way to help. Meis and Gueira would want to join him, but he couldn't allow for that. They'd earned their normal lives, and they were almost there.
It wasn't that he needed the power, or anything like that; the first time he'd found one it called to him and he answered only because he felt lonely without the promare, those constant voices, not because he'd craved the flames themselves. Getting used to a new world was hard. Maybe it was a weakness, but he also knew that it was better to inflict it on himself than any of the others who'd adapted to the promare before. He'd had the deepest connection, they wanted him. And they would put a weaker person into danger.
He could use their flames, but he knew to only use them in secret, and with good intentions. For helping people. If the promare needed to violently burst once in a while, well, he'd take that well outside of civilization before it reached that point, because he knew the signs that others wouldn't recognize.
He was a willing sacrifice. Sacrifice was the wrong word. He wanted it. His connection to the promare was sentimental, too. He'd considered them a part of who he was for so long. Even so, he would willingly say goodbye to them again someday, if he figured out how to return them to their dimension.
"Lio?" Galo's voice came, unsteady. "Who are you talking to-- and what are you doing on the ledge? That's dangerous!"
"No need to worry, Galo. I have excellent balance," that wasn't really the point, since he could definitely fall and survive now. He could probably fly again. He wanted to test that.
Galo was looking around almost wildly. Ah, right, the who-was-he-talking-to part. "Your phone is downstairs. Were you talking to yourself?"
It took him a moment to realize that what he'd said - I know what you want, and I can satisfy you - probably sounded really bad without context. His face warmed. "Yes. To myself."
Galo's cheeks were a bit red too. And his expression looked forced when he grinned, "Oh~? Working up the nerve for something?"
"...Sure. That." He wasn't sure if he would have rather been caught with the promare or to stick with this ruse. He thought Galo could tell he was lying. But it wasn't like there were a whole lot of options, unless he'd been hitting on the sky, or the sunset or something equally dumb. So maybe Galo believed it.
"Who's the lucky--- uh, person?"
Galo dodged the pronoun. Playing it safe? That was fine. Lio's sexuality wasn't really a topic he'd entirely sorted out for himself yet, so he wasn't going to clear that up anytime soon. He still couldn't exactly define how deeply his attraction to Galo ran. "I'll let you know if it becomes your business," He answered haughtily, throwing his leg back over the rail to plant it on solid ground as he straightened up.
...A part of him hoped that Galo had been fishing for his own sake, there. Like he'd either expected a miracle or a rejection right there on that rooftop. But Lio wasn't sure, because from what he knew of Galo, he probably wasn't any good at that sort of thing, and that was an endearing trait, honestly.
"...Eh, the invisible stranger on the roof probably isn't good enough for you, anyway," Galo decided, making Lio laugh at him.
"If you say so. Let's head back in. Long day ahead, right?"
Galo didn't betray any uneasiness after that, and agreed. "I cooked dinner tonight. You'll love it!"
"I'm sure I will."
Inside of his chest and his throat, he felt a burn.
I'll keep you safe, he assured it inwardly. If I find a way to send you home, I will. And until then, you're safe with me.
The effort to rebuild the city was going so well. The foundations of most buildings survived the blaze, thanks to Galo's influence, so clearing the rubble and fixing up what was broken took probably a tenth of the time it could have taken, if Lio had been alone in that pod - or at least, Lio told him that, with a warm smile on his face that set Galo's soul on fire.
They were a great team. They should stay together forever. Now Galo just had to figure out how to convince Lio of that.
So far, his best plan had been to crowd him and make him feel welcome. Part of the team. According to Aina, he was 'overly familiar' with Lio. According to Lucia he was 'getting frisky'. He thought he preferred Aina's perspective, but someday maybe Lucia would be right! It could happen!
"Are you just into guys in leadership roles?" Lucia teased him. "Oh, did you have a thing for Ignis too? Gosh."
" No!" Galo insisted, too loudly. Lucia motioned for him to quiet down by pressing a finger to her lips (which were still curved into a devilish smile). "No, I didn't. I had a thing for one other guy in charge and that was a mistake. Lio's definitely not a mistake, so help me figure this out."
"Where is he today? Aren't you two joined at the hip?" Aina was thumbing through a catalogue while she spoke, but Galo got the impression that she was actually way more invested than she was letting on.
"He's with Meis and Gueira. Secret meeting."
"Hey, for all you know, they're having the same discussion as we are!" Lucia cackled. "' Boss, maybe you have a thing for morons ', right?"
Galo pulled a face.
Aina held back a laugh and dipped her face lower behind the catalogue to hide it from view.
"Okay, but-- even if he has a thing for idiots and that idiot happens to be me, what do I do to convince him to. Y'know. Go for it?"
Aina perked up, "Romantic gesture," she answered, resting the catalogue in her lap and holding her place with a finger. "Do something that'll make you seem more valuable to him. Like… Get him his own actual bed so he won't move out? Someone who was on the run for so long would really appreciate that."
"It's not a bad idea, but I'd rather convince him to share mine, if he's into it," Galo folded his arms across his chest, looking thoughtful. "Wrong message to send."
"...Aina, I think he's actually really serious," Lucia added, with wonder in her tone. "He's putting thought into it."
"Of course I am! I'm always serious!"
They both shushed him.
"Well. He doesn't have a lot of stuff, so maybe make sure he'll have space to settle in, when he's ready? A shelf in the fridge, a drawer in the dresser, his own set of towels. That kind of thing." Aina tilted her head as she spoke, considering the situation carefully. "Just don't go too far and scare him off."
"Aina, have you met me?"
"Right. You're gonna freak him out real bad." Lucia agreed, "but, on the other hand, he and his burnish buddies have almost no boundaries. It'll be fine."
"What do you mean?" Aina looked at her with her brows furrowed.
"What? Y'don't think they had to do things like share warmth out in the desert at night? It gets mighty cold, you just know they had to huddle together…"
"Lucia!" Aina protested, "It's-- It's so inappropriate to say things like that! The burnish deserve their dignity back after all these years!"
"Doesn't make it untrue," Lucia looked like she was melting over the back of her chair, sneaky smile on her face.
"Wait-- He asked me if I wanted to share once-- Do you think--" Galo was about to panic.
"I absolutely think."
"Galo, no. You'll freak him out."
"Too late! I'm gonna buy a double bed!"
Lucia cheered, and Aina kicked her rolling chair about twelve feet away, very nearly down a flight of stairs.
"Why do you encourage this! Ugh! Galo, you're still on-duty, you can't just waltz out of here to the mattress store!"
"Order online and have it delivered!" Lucia called out, righting the position of her chair.
He hadn't actually thought about rushing out right away, but he didn't really get the chance to dwell on it much. Ignis put a stop to their discussion firmly, rallying them for drills and for rescue operations. Things were different without burnish activity, but there were other fires to put out, and other people to rescue.
Galo, after the initial shock of learning that ordering furniture could be just as easy as ordering pizza, did indeed have a bed delivered, that same day, from the only mattress retailer left in the city, who'd certainly jacked up their prices due to the lack of competition and the high demand. And he regretted nothing, setting it up right away. He didn't question why Lio wasn't home yet, just got right to work.
Lio finally called around seven, asking him if he'd eaten yet and offering to pick something up on the way home. There were leftovers from last time, so Galo declined, too eager to have Lio back to present him with this awesome new idea that would get him off the couch. Sure, they could have shared that smaller bed, but this would be better. Build up slowly, inching closer over time (...not that he had any idea how to slow down).
He'd been giving Lio's weird words on the roof a lot of thought. I can satisfy you. The first time he heard it, it gave him chills, but it didn't sound like Lio was saying it suggestively, which made him even more confused by it. Lio probably didn't know that practicing in mirrors was better than talking to a rooftop view.
Galo was always overconfident, sure, but he did think he had a chance. He thought he'd picked up on some signals, like Lio staring at him and zoning out all the time, so if Lio liked guys, Galo felt that his confidence would be justified. That, and he'd probably just die if Lio turned him down. On the spot. He was not being at all overdramatic (he was).
Rejection wasn't ever supposed to be easy, but ever since learning how Kray had really felt about him, for all those years… It felt like his insides were wrapped in rusty barbed wire, all gnarled up around his organs. Immensely painful, something nobody ever deserved to feel, and something Galo felt he was more guarded against now. Lio wouldn't do that to him, of course, but even thinking he might have been wrong again would open wounds that were still scarring over.
"What is this?" Lio asked, appearing in the bedroom doorway with toast in his hand - so the offer to buy dinner was probably for him as well, oops, shouldn't have turned it down. "If you say something stupid I'm staying with Meis and Gueira in their new place."
"If you don't like it, the other bed's still here," Galo reassured him, trying to remember that he'd been warned not to scare Lio off. Lio didn't scare easily though. "Still, I like being close to you, so I thought you wouldn't mind if I offered!"
"...So you got this for my sake?" Lio was a little quieter.
"Well, yeah. I cleared out half the dresser for you, too. You live here now, so might as well settle in."
Lio came and sat beside him, on the floor beside the newly-constructed bed. He had a look on his face that Galo didn't recognize, and it made the knots in his stomach tighten painfully, just with a look.
"Galo, I'm leaving."
"Did I freak you out that bad?" Galo said with an anxious laugh.
"No, I mean... That was my plan from the start. I'm grateful to you, we're friends, we saved the world together, and I'm sure I'll visit often, but… After the city is in better condition and the burnish find homes, I'm planning to leave." Concern, sympathy, and pity. That was the expression. He had seen it before in a vastly different context, when Lio was trying to help rally the spirits of that dying girl in the cave.
But Galo wasn't one to be pitied, and he wasn't one to dwell on the negatives. "Well, Lio. You'll always have a home here when you visit, then. Got it?" He smiled warmly at Lio, and it worked, he relaxed and smiled back.
"I'll visit as often as I can stand to," Lio promised, a huff of laughter in his voice.
"And until you leave, you'll share the bed with me?" Galo gave him a sly grin, earning another laugh.
Still, Lio paused before answering, glancing from Galo to the bed. "...If you kick in your sleep, I will wake you up in the least pleasant way imaginable. Same for sleep-hugging."
"Deal. If that's the case, I'll never bring it up again."
"Yes, you will," Lio pointed out, in good humor.
"Yeah, I probably will."
"Did you even remember to buy sheets for this mattress size?"
If nothing else, Lio learned an important lesson from that exchange. Galo was every bit the man Lio hoped he was. Sure, he was an airhead, but he was kind and supportive and generous to a fault. He didn't pry, he didn't sit there trying to change Lio's mind like Meis and Gueira had done (not that he blamed them, really). He was perfect in every way that really mattered.
A part of him wanted to stay, after all. He wanted to fill that dresser space Galo had made for him, he wanted to fall asleep next to him every night and wake up awkwardly in the morning because Galo was definitely a sleep-hugger, but it turned out Lio was too. That part of him, maybe it would settle down eventually here with Galo, but he couldn't yet. Keeping the fires suppressed was no easy task, so he knew he had to leave. He'd promised the fire that it could burn, and he intended to keep that promise.
The fragmented promare remains were scattered everywhere in the world, not just Promepolis. He needed to tell Galo about them - and Burning Rescue, they deserved to know. Meis and Gueira knew now, but didn't fight over his decision to gather them. They gave him an ultimatum, though.
Promepolis was going to be his 'home base', of sorts, as they demanded. And when it was possible, those two would come with him. He could go off on his own if he wanted, but he never had to go it alone. He wondered if Galo would have the same demands. Was it too selfish to wish that he would?
He had to work up the nerve to tell Galo about the promare first, though. To tell him that it wasn't over, that there were people in need of rescue from being unlucky enough to stumble upon the remains. That the promare itself, it needed to be rescued. Would Galo care about rescuing some extradimensional lifeform made of fire? Probably. That was part of what made Galo so amazing.
The morning they first woke up together, they'd laughed about it for a moment, and then Lio punched Galo in the stomach (playfully, he doubted it actually hurt him), making good on that unpleasant wake-up promise. Next time he'd go right for his nip-- No, he wouldn't, because that would officially be Too Much for Lio to handle. Maybe if he was allowed to touch in another context first.
Later that day, Galo brought an envelope to him at the crash site, where he'd been directing teams of volunteers digging through rubble. "Open it, open it!" He'd demanded, acting way too excited.
Inside was a paycheck.
"What's this about?"
"While you're here, you can be paid for assisting with rescue operations. That way you'll have some savings when you hit the road." Galo was grinning widely.
"Did you negotiate for this on my behalf?" Lio looked at him, impressed and surprised by how grateful he was over the way it had been presented to him. Not a here, you have to stay, you have a job now, but here, this will make things easier when you go. Still no demands for answers, no begging for him to change his mind.
"Nah, Captain Ignis did. But he let me tell you about it, so I probably could've taken all the credit," Galo answered. Excitement was making him babble. Lio could almost kiss him. Almost.
"Thank you, Galo. I'll give you all the credit."
"Awesome! Probably rude to the Captain, though." He leaned over the barriers keeping bystanders out, just to peek at the progress being made at the crash site. "Okay, how can I help out?"
"One of the volunteers pulled something in their lower back, so you can replace them, if you want. Just-- wear a vest and hard hat, at least."
"Roger that," Galo affirmed, vaulting over the barrier and grabbing one of the spare vests.
"...Never mind. It can wait. Hat, Galo. You can't afford to lose more brain cells." Galo's response was to stick his tongue out at him, but at least he listened and put on a hard hat.
Lio knew his stature made it difficult for him to be useful in that sort of effort, so he was often the one holding up blueprints and telling people where they were needed, and what they ought to do there. He didn't love it, would rather be getting his hands dirty with everyone else. He was happier when it felt like he was actually accomplishing something. It was a trait he and Galo had in common.
Maybe because of that, it was a little hard to accept pay. If he didn't feel like he was doing enough, how could he feel like he'd earned it? He knew he had to take it, though. He highly doubted they'd be willing to finance his plans, going forward, if they knew all of what he was up to. Even though he knew he was doing the right thing by hunting down those pieces.
There was one he could sense, like a voice in the distance, that was calling to him directly. The first few shards, he'd only heard them when he was close enough, and it was hard to sense them from a distance. Either he was getting stronger or that was a particularly strong remnant. He tried to ignore it for a few hours, then followed it once they'd closed off the site for the day.
He followed it until he was sure his feet were bleeding (which he didn't have to worry about, as a burnish, though he still felt the aching as it happened, even if it faded fast), and once he was far enough away from the city and witnesses, he allowed fire to erupt underneath him and in his hands, launching him into the air.
Ah, this. This, he missed. He realized that there was almost no possibility of him taking it as far as he used to, soaring through thinning air at higher altitudes, but he still had the strength to get airborne and stay there long enough to find his target. It looked familiar. Prometh's lab?
The fire cradled his weight as he dropped to look for the source of the voice, gently letting him down to his feet again. It wasn't the same as before, when he felt such a tight control over his flames - now he knew there was more to it, that the fire was more than a part of him, that if he communicated with it he could just allow the fire to burn without much worry. Set guidelines in place, give it rules to follow, but allow it as much freedom as he could while it was possible.
Out there, in all that empty space, he allowed it to burn. Not to burn the trees, or melt the lake, but the freedom to burst and dance around the air like tiny fireworks, or even fireflies. They chattered happily and he watched them with a heat spreading through his chest. They liked it better this way - being their own, separate beings, even though they had to share his body. They were never really a part of him.
The voice called him from over the ice. He was surprised to find the lake had frozen over again; it would have been fair to assume that Prometh's lab was the cause of the freezing, making a barrier for protection, but if the ice was back that meant some parts of that lab must have survived under there. It was too weird to be natural. Even as a burnish, he could step out onto this ice without falling through it, though the surface melted into thin puddles with every step he took. Ice and the burnish were never a good mix, but at least normal water melted easier than the ice used in anti-burnish weapons.
The voice grew louder until he stepped right on the spot he thought he and Galo had fallen through, where Aina had dropped them and told them to cool off. For a moment he worried he'd have to tunnel through the ice for it, but no, there it was. A tiny piece, no bigger than the tip of his smallest finger.
He lifted it into his hand and it flared to life, consuming him past his wrist in fire. An entire spectrum of colors. Beautiful.
"Small, but powerful, huh?" He tilted his head with a thoughtful grin. "You and I will get along fine."
Galo realized that maybe the girls weren't the best for advice, but his alternatives were possibly worse. Remi's girlfriend… well, she ruined his credibility as a reference, honestly. And he'd never seen Varys date anyone. And there was no way he could ask the Captain. Aina was basically the most normal, and Lucia was… the most supportive? Something like that.
"How can I tell if I'm coming on too strong?" He asked them.
"If you feel the need to ask that question, you're coming on too strong," Lucia answered without looking up from her tablet screen.
They were all done for the day, just hanging around before going home. He was pretty sure Lio wouldn't be there, so he wasn't in any rush to get there yet. He'd seen him wander off when the sun started setting and the crash site was closed down, and he'd started recognizing that Lio would go wherever the hell he wanted and come back whenever the hell he felt like it. Having Lio live with him was almost like keeping an outdoor cat. Following him would make him run away.
"He agreed to share the bed though," Galo argued, sitting improperly on the back of the couch with his feet on the cushions. He was getting fidgety.
That caught Aina's attention. "Really? Huh. Go, Lio."
"You mean: go, Galo."
"I said what I meant," She propped her feet on the coffee table and read messages on her phone. "So why do you think you're coming on too strong?"
"He said he's leaving."
They both glanced up at him, then each other.
"He scared him off."
"Of freaking course he did."
"No! He said that was already his plan!" He continued to explain the situation, and they just barely showed more interest than they'd been showing while staring at screens.
"...So, the problem is… what, exactly?" Lucia crossed her legs in her chair, which she was not dressed appropriately for, but in her current company she apparently felt fine with that.
"Do you want to make him stay?" Aina's eyebrows drew together and she looked at Galo like he was a particularly depressing puzzle piece.
"No, I don't want to make him do anything."
"Ugh! I don't know!" He started grinding his teeth and ruffling his hair in frustration.
"Go cool your head, Galo. It sounds like your crush will stick around a while, so you have time to figure things out," Aina shrugged at him, and checked her phone again. "Oh, Heris texted me back. Lucia, she wanted to trade design plans with you for… I can't read a word of this, c'mere."
And they cut him out of the conversation. That was fine. Go cool your head was a fine piece of advice, honestly. He hadn't been out there for awhile.
He bid them goodbye and they waved him off, still completely absorbed in their own stuff (which, y'know, it's fine, they can have their own stuff, but Galo was feeling needy so to him, it seemed rude). He hopped on his bike and drove through the streets, a longer path than usual because the streets he used to take were blocked off for repairs.
It wasn't that he was angry, but there was a certain level of frustration in not knowing what on earth he even wanted. Yeah, in a perfect world, Lio would stay, but only because that was what he wanted and it would make him happy. The world wasn't perfect though, that's why it was being rebuilt. That's why everything was changing so fast.
He hadn't been putting out a lot of fires lately; the role of the first responders was already done. Rescues were made, and there wasn't another living soul trapped under rubble. He was mostly there for volunteer work and assisting medical professionals on-site. There had been two gas leaks that hadn't been caught in time, but even then, the fires were small, and… not alive. It wasn't the fire he'd been raised knowing. Still dangerous, of course.
He'd started to see what Lio meant, about the burnish allowing escape routes. Real fires didn't do that. Real fires would go wherever they could spread. It was a different beast altogether. Promepolis had installed so many extinguishers while the burnish existed that firefighters were never called for real fires, just the out-of-control burnish ones. Real fires went down easy. Fighting them wasn't actually much of a fight at all.
The buildings thinned out and the trees grew dense, and he turned off the road at a familiar landmark, an old road sign about deer crossing that had bent over backwards, and then he left his bike to hike the rest of the way out. It helped to breathe fresh air that wasn't full of dust from collapsed buildings. He wasn't any closer to really clearing - or cooling - his head, but it was nice.
He saw lights through the trees and quickened his pace. No, it wouldn't be great if anyone else showed up at his go-cool-your-head spot, but he was curious; it could have been from the lab, or maybe someone in trouble. Or it could be…
Yeah. Okay. It could be Lio.
The colorful blaze wrapped around his slender form, took him off-balance, and he laughed, reaching out to touch it and spinning on his heel while it supported him and kept him on his feet, as if they were dancing together. Colored lights twirled about, highlighting his features in various shades, and he was so happy with them. It wasn't the first time Lio had stolen his breath away, and probably wouldn't be the last.
These fires weren't the fires he'd grown up fearing, resenting. These were Lio's, sweetly-colored, powerful but controlled.
Still, he couldn't ignore that burnish flares were curling around Lio's body like an affectionate cat. He had to say something.
And Lio gasped, but the flames stayed. They stilled, but he didn't disperse them like he would have done if he was really trying to hide it. They were small, like colored candle flames, now that they weren't playing along with him and dancing around him. It was still very, very pretty.
"Uh. You might wanna say something, before I jump to a very wrong conclusion," Galo pointed out, scratching the back of his head.
Lio stepped closer, the flames flickering, dimming, and following after him like they couldn't stand to be too far away from him. He looked at Galo with determination and nerves displayed clearly on his face. "I should. I will. Can we sit down? It might take a while."
Galo plopped down without another word.
Lio took his place beside him and the fires gathered on his palm into one, hand-sized flare. "Did you come after me?"
"Nope. Complete coincidence. Ask Aina, I used to come out here all the time."
"Okay," Lio said, watching the fire with a relieved smile. It probably seemed too convenient for a coincidence, so Lio trusting him at his word was actually really touching. "So. This is what I've been hiding from you. From everyone." He went on and told the whole story. Carefully detailing the fact that not every trace of the promare had left the world, that he was finding pieces and gathering them in hopes that he could prevent anything bad from happening - the way he worded it sounded like survivor's guilt, to Galo, but what he was trying to do made some level of sense. Prevent any more people from finding them, getting themselves hurt or into trouble. Sending the promare home, if he could find a way to do so.
And, he admitted quietly that he wasn't even sure how to live without the flames, that he was probably just making excuses in order to keep them again. Galo didn't buy that, though. Lio was tough. Still, he was allowed to have moments of weakness just like everyone else. That was why Galo had the frozen lake.
He threw an arm around Lio's shoulders and squeezed him. "I can't tell you if what you're doing is right. But it sounds to me like your heart is in the right place. Why hide it?"
"Because I'm not sure it is in the right place, I suppose," Lio answered, leaning close and closing his hand over the fire, extinguishing it. It was suddenly quite dark. "But this is why I can't stay."
"Scared of being caught?" Galo frowned.
"Nothing to do with fear," he felt more than saw Lio shake his head. "They need to burn, and not near people. Plus, there's more than just Promepolis, you know. It's bound to be everywhere."
"Yeah. Oh." Galo didn't have the brain power for this. "Can we talk to the squad about this? I'm not gonna stop you from leaving, I promise, but there's gotta be a way to… I dunno. Do something about it. To help you out, I guess."
"Okay," Lio agreed, voice tinged with nerves. "I had planned to tell you and them all at once, eventually. Right before I left. I wasn't sure how they would take it."
"I don't know, either." Galo's brain was starting to actually hurt. "So, if you're a burnish again, does this mean the world might still explode?"
"...I'm no scientist, but the rift was originally in the earth's core, and that was the problem, right? So, I think it should be… fine?" It sounded like Lio hadn't even considered it yet.
"Sounds to me like we need a scientist."
Heris Ardebit was, to put it mildly, not Lio's favorite person. He didn't want to meet with her, but Galo had insisted on her being there. He wouldn't look her in the eye, or address her personally, because what she'd done was so unforgivable, and just thinking about it, being in her presence, it was enough to make his blood boil.
Unfortunately, since he was a burnish again, he wore that boiling-blood look on the outside as well. The entire Burning Rescue squad was there, staring at him as the flames licked his skin in little bursts. Heris wore a blank expression, sitting beside her sister.
Galo was standing beside him, hand on his shoulder, anchoring him and keeping him from losing it. He wasn't going to fly into another city-destroying rage, but he still had some anger issues, and Heris was a hair trigger for it.
He'd had all night to calmly prepare for it, but that didn't mean he liked it.
"Can… can anyone pick up these things?" Aina asked, awkwardly trying to ignore that he was fuming.
"I doubt it," Lio answered curtly. "Meis and Gueira can hear them faintly, up close. To me, it's loud. When it wants to be. So it's just those of us who synced with the promare in the first place."
"It could also be those with an aptitude for it who didn't yet sync with the promare," Heris spoke, finally, and the flames around Lio swept over his skin again unintentionally at the sound of her voice. "It's better to handle them with caution."
Ignis had been quietly considering everything, and crossed his arms over his chest. "So this is what you've been doing." He sounded almost disappointed, but not entirely surprised. Lio wasn't sure how to react to him; he had respect for these Burning Rescue members who had advocated for him so strongly. He didn't want to lose their respect, if he'd ever really earned it. He didn't want to disappoint them.
"I don't think you're wrong," Heris spoke up again. "You are possibly the best equipped to handle the promare. So if they need to be gathered, it should be you." It was a statement of fact, not a compliment.
"That said, acting alone was reckless," Ignis added. "You're going to have to start talking to people, Fotia."
He felt Galo's hand tighten on his shoulder for just a moment.
"If… If I could, I would like to study a sample before you use it, next time. I won't harm it." Heris requested meekly. She was well aware of Lio's contempt for her, and it showed.
Before Lio could argue or lash out, or however he might have reacted (he truly didn't know), Aina spoke over him, "I'll keep an eye on her! I know you don't trust her, but I know she won't do anything bad if I'm there judging her for it." Heris flinched, and Lio gleaned just enough satisfaction from seeing it that he managed to nod. It was clear to him that the sisters had some differences of opinions lately, and Heris was the one suffering for it.
"I'll assist, too. I'm not getting left out of this crazy ride," Lucia noted aloud, spinning a mechanical pencil in her fingers.
"Fotia, what exactly do these promare-things look like? In case we find them." Remi asked, leaning forward attentively, elbows on the table.
Lio pulled his earring off and tossed it in his direction. "Like that. Same material."
When Remi caught it, the rest of the team leaned over to get a closer look, too. "Doesn't look like much, does it?" Remi asked no-one in particular.
"...When the promare is hiding inside of it, it reflects more color."
"So, it's the same fire-armor you used to make when playing terrorist, then?" Lucia mused, not an ounce of malice in her tone in spite of her word choice. "It's like the promare made their own little fire-armor. That's kinda cute."
Lio ignored the terrorist comment. Galo didn't, and Lio felt it in his grip. But he couldn't argue the fact that he'd definitely 'played terrorist' in order to break down some of the Foresight Foundation's systems. He rested his hand over Galo's to reassure him that defending him was pointless. Everyone in the room knew what he was doing, in hindsight.
"Can you tell if any are left in the city?" Ignis decided to ask.
"Yes, a few. Maybe more. I'm sure the number here must be concentrated, since Galo and I started the blaze here."
"So!" Lucia grinned, "What I'm hearing is, we need a shiny new piece of equipment. Like a metal detector, but for fire aliens."
"Good luck getting funding for that." Remi shrugged.
"Actually…" Heris decided to speak again. "The Foresight Foundation's chain of command has fallen apart, with all of the higher-ups in prison. I'm sure the funds are accessible to me by now."
"If we're wasting his money, I'm all for it." Lucia gave a thumbs-up.
"Why aren't you in prison, too?" Lio asked Heris, rolling his eyes. It soured the mood of the room, just a touch. She'd defended herself before, claiming she was protecting her sister, and just following orders. Which might have smoothed things over a little bit, but that last act in the engine room, overloading the engine, disqualified her from any sympathy. Burnish died for that choice of hers.
"Unfortunately," Ignis said, breaking a tense pause. "She's more helpful out here. But the same can be said of you."
Lio locked eyes with him for a few seconds, then huffed and wrenched his shoulder away from Galo's grasp, and spun to leave. He didn't really consider their crimes comparable. He didn't experiment on people, he didn't kill.
Galo followed him. "That could've gone better."
"It was better than I expected." He could tell that none of them really knew what to think, and that they would continue the discussion without him there. They were going to talk about things he shouldn't hear until a conclusion was reached. "I'm going back to the crash site. If we need data from the core, Kray's stupid on-board labs should be helpful."
"Are you going to be okay?" Galo asked, grabbing for Lio's hand.
"Yeah," Lio allowed it, squeezing just enough to be reassuring. "I just need to keep busy for a while."
"Want me to come with?"
"If that's what you want to do."
"Then you can drive us there."
"Yeah, I guess your bike would kinda freak people out, huh?" Galo was grinning at him.
He bit back a laugh. "True. Flaming motorcycles are hardly appropriate, with the current state of things."
"You can make one again, right?"
"Why? Want a ride?"
"...Can we be serious now? Because hell yeah, I do." Galo walked in step with Lio, and it wasn't clear whether Lio's strides were longer than his height would imply, or if Galo was just taking smaller steps (which would kind of piss Lio off). It was likely the former. Lio had developed many of his habits based around keeping up with people much taller than him.
"Well," Lio pondered, "Maybe if we leave the city sometime. I'm not setting fires here anymore, with the actual problem out of the way."
Galo paused, and Lio stopped after a couple more steps.
"Yeah. Yeah, I am. It just hit me that you really did only ever attack buildings associated with the Foresight Foundation."
" Just hit you?" Lio gave him a sour look.
"Hey, you know I don't think that deeply about this sorta thing," Galo complained. He scratched his head and continued, "It's just- There were burnish fires you had nothing to do with, and they all got lumped in with your attacks… But I guess the only time I saw you go after anything else was when you were like, exploding with rage." He made some gestures to go with his statements, and Lio ignored them.
"...That wasn't rage. I mean, I was angry, but… If I'd been lost to rage, my flames would have been white."
"But you turned black."
"That was closer to despair," Lio said, dropping eye contact. "Kray's flames were white and furious. I hated him and still never drowned out the color of my fires."
"I don't think it's really in you to hurt people," Galo said simply, with a frown. "Hating someone and hurting them… Two different things."
How he came to that conclusion, Lio would never know. He suspected Galo gave absolutely no thought to that response, it just came out of his mouth on its own. But to be that sensitive on an instinctual level, that was a trait in Galo's favor. It was where he was smarter than most around him. Too bad he was sorely lacking in so many other areas.
Well, Lio liked him anyway. He smiled up at him, "I dunno. I'd still love to punch him in the face at least once."
"Don't worry, I already took care of that for you. Your fire was with me, too, so it's like you helped."
"Wow, you punched Kray in the face, and then you kissed me, huh?" Lio couldn't even pretend he wasn't amused. "That's the sweetest thing anyone's ever done for me."
Galo laughed along, then realized what Lio said as he was starting to walk toward the parking area. He gave chase. "W-wait, which one?! Lio!!"
Lio didn't answer. More fun that way.
When all of this started, he'd acknowledged an attraction to Galo rather easily; good body, bright eyes and smile. There was something very attractive about that burning firefighter's soul, too.
In the past, firefighters were called for way more than fire. They used to rescue cats from trees. Not every job was glamorous, but they were important, in their own right.
Galo was starting to hate being on-duty.
No, hate was too strong a word. He was bored. He wanted to get back to the crash site and help out more, he wanted to assist with construction. Basically anything but waiting for some natural or accidental fire. It wasn't that they had so many more calls when the burnish were still around, but at least those calls had more excitement.
He was honestly thrilled the day Ignis came in and told them to get their asses in gear and help with the construction instead, but after seeing how the others reacted, he started to worry.
"We're probably going to be laid off soon," Varys told him. "Or reassigned. Something's gonna happen."
Galo hadn't even considered that, but it started to make sense. The city needed rebuilding. More construction workers were probably necessary, and there were plenty of other Burning Rescue teams, so some of them would be better utilized elsewhere.
The really weird part of it? Galo didn't mind the idea, so long as they could stick together. He'd spent his whole life building up to the moment that he made his first fire rescue, he always dreamed of fighting fires, and yet he didn't mind letting it go. The fires that he'd wanted to fight growing up, those were the fires that killed his parents, that he thought attacked the city out of pure malice. And they weren't around anymore.
Also, they were misunderstood alien-things, but that was neither here nor there.
He had complete faith in Lio's ability to contain all of the promare remnants, so he didn't believe for a second that he'd have to think about wild burnish fires again. The way that the Burning Rescue units had trained, they put out normal fires like blowing out birthday candles. It was nothing. Absolutely nothing. Unsatisfying.
He was sure he'd get used to it, though. It was a good thing. Nobody was experimenting on people and nobody was retaliating with terrorism, it was a bright new world, and that was something to be proud of.
Lucia had outfitted their gears with features better suited for construction, and nobody complained at all. It seemed that they'd need to stop calling themselves Burning Rescue, but they still intended to fight any fires that came up, so no one was in much of a hurry to change anything.
After another long day, he always looked forward to heading home and sort-of-flirting with Lio. He was pretty sure that's what they were doing, but it was directionless and usually tired; they both kept long hours on the rebuild, there was never enough energy left to actually address the obvious heat between them. He stopped by Lucia's lab first, on that particular day, and Lio was actually there too, flames tickling the back of his neck in irritation (Galo had noticed that Lio was only letting the flames out around people who already knew about them, and hiding it from the general population. Smart move. Lio was pretty smart).
"Hey," Lio said, barely turning but still acknowledging that Galo had come in. He looked so angry-- oh, Heris was there. Right.
"What're you guys up to?" Galo asked.
"Lio recovered some stuff from the crash site for us," Lucia answered, leaning back in her chair, "Heris and I are just making sure everything's hunky-dory in the center of the planet."
Lio, arms folded and tense, was watching the screens, but Galo was at least 80% sure he had no idea what was going on with them. Galo piloted Lucia's gear pretty often, and even he didn't get half the stuff she had onscreen.
"How's it look, then?"
"Good so far," Heris spoke evenly, not wanting to incite a reaction from Lio. She had no idea how safe he actually was to be around, and that was a little sad, but also kind of fair. "I'm not picking up anything abnormal. I suppose that's both good and bad, if you intend to send them back through the rift. Since it's not there."
"And I made you something cool, Galo," Lucia said with a wide smile. "Go check the Matoi tech, I left it there for you."
"Awesome, I'll go look now!" He grabbed Lio's arm and Lio almost yelped, but all the tension in him ebbed away as Galo dragged him along.
"What the hell, Galo?"
"Staring at her isn't going to help her work faster. She's just going to make mistakes that way, don'tcha think?"
Lio scowled. "...I hate it when you're being sensible. Cut it out." Galo just smiled at him, and kept tugging him along.
Lucia had left something matoi-themed, decorative streamers and all, because she's just awesome like that and totally gets him, and also a manual which he ignored because she actually doesn't get him that well.
Lio thought to pick it up and read the hand-written notebook cover. "Matoi Tech: Promare Detector."
"Whoa! She got it done that fast?"
"What did you expect from her?" Lio shrugged, turning the pages. "She wants you to test it out. I guess I should help you with that, right?"
Galo switched it on, just to see. It didn't seem to do anything.
"Cut it off, idiot!" He wasn't sure why, but Lio was raising his voice.
He switched it back off and looked from the device over to Lio, who was holding his forehead like he'd hit it on something. "Uh."
"...Obviously, we can't test it like this," Lio groaned. "If it hurts me, it's probably hurting the promare just as much. We shouldn't cause them too much distress."
"What did it do?" Galo asked. It hadn't been detectable to him, at least.
"It… I can't explain it," Lio shook his head, then winced. "I need to lie down." He tried to walk and wobbled, so Galo set the new gadget down and moved to hold him steady, but lifted him instead without much forethought. Well, that was easier anyway. Lio was very light.
"Here, I'll help," He expected Lio to wriggle out of his grasp like an angry cat, because on a normal day that was exactly what he'd do, but instead he was completely limp, and trembling. No fight in him. It was somewhere between heartwarming and terrifying, depending on the reason for it.
He carried him into the lounge area and gingerly placed him on the couch. Aina came out to join them, and thoughtfully grabbed a blanket as soon as she saw Lio being carried.
"What just happened, exactly?" She asked.
"Lucia developed a torture device that works exclusively on Lio," Galo answered. He was obviously not being serious, but he was rewarded with an annoyed look from Lio. Good, he was still responsive! Success.
"...Mad scientists are bizarre." Aina folded her arms. "I guess the detection doesn't work the way she intended, huh?"
"Obviously," Lio grumbled, rubbing his head.
"Well, she'll fix it up."
"Need water or anything?" Aina leaned on the armrest and adjusted the blanket for him. There was something cute about watching a dear friend take care of a guy he had a life-altering crush on.
"I don't think so," Lio frowned, his eyes narrowed like the light hurt them.
"Like a hangover without any of the fun before it, huh?" Now she was petting his hair, which was still cute but also made Galo a little jealous. He couldn't pet him now without overcrowding him, and that seemed like a cruel way to annoy him at the moment.
"Burnish don't get hangovers. Or drunk," Lio batted her hand away, which was probably the reaction that was most expected of him. "It's going away now. I'll be fine."
"Right, the promare restore your body!" Galo remembered aloud. He wasn't sure Aina knew that, so it was mostly for her that he'd said it. He didn't realize that applied to things like drunkenness or hangovers, but it made some sense. "Do they need anything to do that? Like, uh. Calories?"
That earned him a half-laugh. "Doesn't quite work like that. But thanks." He covered his eyes with his wrist. "That said, if it's them being hurt, I'm not sure what happens to me. I should sleep this off."
"Want me to take you home?"
"No," Lio tried to shake his head and flinched, but Galo couldn't figure out what made him do that. "Ten minutes. Can you turn off the lights in here?"
Galo wanted to stay and keep watching him. Lio didn't show a vulnerable side often, so that's probably why he and Aina were being shooed away. Which was fair. Lio deserved privacy. "Alright. I'm gonna let you sleep more than that if you can, though."
"Not if I'll be in anyone's way."
"It's the break room. We can live without it for a few hours," Aina frowned and walked over to the light switch. "Let us know how you're feeling when you get up."
"And I'll let Lucia know to try something else with that device."
As soon as the door was shut behind them, Aina looked at Galo slyly. "You really are smitten, huh?"
"...Have I been telling you otherwise?" Seriously, he'd only been asking her for advice on how to win the guy over as long as he'd known him. He was probably smitten from the moment he first saw Lio's face. Or, half of it, behind that mask. To be fair, it was a very attractive face, and it was attached to someone putting up a pretty awesome fight, so Galo was doomed from the start.
"I just thought you wanted to get into his pants."
"I can want two things!"
Aina laughed at him, way harder than the situation warranted, and then started walking toward the garage.
They didn't get any emergency calls that day. It was a good thing in a way, because without the sirens Lio managed to get three hours of sleep, but it also hinted at something else. Galo wasn't sure what was going to happen to Burning Rescue, but he didn't want to see it go.
He didn't want anything to go.
Gueira was holding up a tacky-looking red sleeping bag with an expression of pure distaste. "Uh. Your guy got this for you? He knows you have a sense of style, right?"
"It's more about utility," Lio said. "And no, I picked it myself."
"... Oh, I see, because it reminds you of him. Real cute, Boss."
Lio shot him a look. It was annoying, being called 'Boss' in the same breath used to call him cute in such a demeaning way. Gueira wasn't best known for his tact.
He was right, though. It did look like it belonged in Burning Rescue storage. But it also had useful pockets and a built-in pillow, and it packed up really small. He was excited to have it; before, traveling with the burnish, he never had such… luxuries. He knew it was dumb to call a sleeping bag a luxury, but it really was.
"You got a tent, too, right?" Meis asked, taking the sleeping bag back to roll it up again.
"Please tell me that isn't firetruck red, Boss."
"Shockingly, Gueira, they don't make tents out of black leather with a bunch of excess buckles and zippers. I know, it's a travesty." Lio's sarcasm earned him a chuckle from Meis. He folded his arms. "It's navy blue. Couldn't find any in black."
"Well, it's good that you're stocking up on gear," Meis said, attempting to re-stuff everything back into the small bag Lio was storing it in before Gueira pulled it apart. "But you aren't leaving yet, are you?"
"Rebuilding is going well," Lio thought aloud, "so ideally, soon."
"And you're here for moral support because…?" Gueira was having a field day, messing with him. Did he forget who the boss was, here?
Again, though. He was right. "I don't want to leave."
"So don't," Meis answered. "You do realize that you're not under any obligation to hunt the promare down, right? You can live normally if you want."
"That's… Not exactly what I want, either," Lio admitted. "I want to follow through and find them, send them home if I can. I've just developed a bizarre attachment to this city."
"A bizarre attachment to this city's first responders, you mean."
Still not wrong. Lio glared at him anyway. "You do recall that I have my fire back, right?"
"Boss, you could've kicked my ass without it, too." Gueira was grinning widely. "I'm not judging, just teasing."
Lio huffed and looked at the window. They had the blinds drawn closed, but they were bent in a few places, allowing more light in. This place they'd found, it was clearly run-down, but it was still a lot better than anything they'd had while on the run. The carpet smelled, and the walls were a light yellowish-gray color. It wasn't bad for a first place, in Lio's opinion, but it was bad in general. He'd have loved to give the landlord a piece of his mind about the way the paint was peeling on the ceiling, or the long, vertical crack in the front door that was probably just big enough to let ants in, and conditioned air out.
"I'm going to stay a little longer," Lio said, not turning back to them. "I want to find out what the Burning Rescue squad intends to do."
"What if those plans don't mesh well with yours?" Meis had a point.
"I don't think it's something I'll have to worry about," Lio told him. "If they come up with a better idea for helping the promare, and protecting people from them, I'll be all for it."
The problem with the promare remnants left on earth was that they'd already been a part of that last blaze. Even if Lio spent everything they had at once, there was nowhere for them to go anymore. They'd be quiet for a while, then come bursting back to life, ready to burn more. Lio couldn't save them the same way he had before.
"And if they decide 'to hell with the promare'? Not everyone will be willing to help them."
"Then they will have decided 'to hell with me and the burnish'." He stated it plainly, but they didn't look like they got it. "The promare were a part of us, for a long time. Even if we didn't know. That's why I want to help."
"They probably think you just wanted to have your firepower back," Gueira put his feet up on the coffee table and it rocked on uneven legs.
Lio nodded. He was sure that was true; they were kind to him, but they must have had their doubts. Even he doubted himself at times. But there was one person who'd stay in his corner, and that was enough.
"I'll deal with that if the time comes," Lio said thoughtfully. "For now, let me leave my supplies here. I don't want him thinking I'm leaving sooner than I plan to."
Galo kept avoiding the topic, after all. Lio couldn't figure out if it was because he hated change or because he thought Lio would be stressed out if he kept talking about it - maybe both. He couldn't blame Galo for it, of course. He didn't want to bring it up, either. If he could just have another month or so, getting to know Galo and his friends, comfortably curled up in a soft bed at night, being fed delicious meals regularly…
Life there was dangerous. He could get used to it.
"I'm surprised he hasn't offered to tag along with you," Meis said, taking the bag and putting it on a shelf in the closet. "He's attached to you, too, isn't he? Like a lost puppy."
Lio shook his head. "I don't think it's like that. Because it seems like the thought hasn't even occurred to him."
"That's dumb. That's literally the first thing we thought of, right Meis?"
"It's not a contest," Lio very nearly scolded him, shifting his weight and putting his hands on his hips. "You two were on the road with me before, so of course you'd think of it. He's always lived here."
"If you want him to go, invite him."
Lio was ready to argue, but snapped his mouth shut, feeling like he'd just swallowed something especially bitter. Galo had offered him so much already. Lio couldn't keep taking advantage of that, he couldn't just ask Galo to uproot his entire life, his dream of fighting fires, just to go on some fool's errand across the country with him.
"That would be going too far. He has a life here. I don't."
"Firefighters aren't exactly in high demand anymore. Are you sure he still has one?"
A small noise caught in Lio's throat at the realization. Supply and demand meant fewer fires would need fewer firefighters. (Technically Lio was the perfect person to fix that. He wouldn't.) "He's… Such a popular figure though. I doubt they'd lay off their hero."
"They might take him off the front lines! He'd be miserable in a PR job, don't you think, Boss?"
"Well then," Lio started, clearing his throat and steadying his voice. "If he's miserable, I'll invite him. Otherwise, I'm leaving him be."
"Are you sure you want to go on your own this first time?" Meis asked him, finally taking a seat again beside Gueira. "I really wouldn't mind taking the time off--"
"Don't. You two just started jobs, it'd be idiotic to take months off to follow me now." He paused, and held his palms out, flames bursting in each. "And you have your own stuff to work out. Now that it's finally calm for us, you should do it."
Then he flicked the flames at each of them, fires dissipating into small, black rings as they were caught.
"There. You have my blessing, if you want it." He'd intended to leave right after that, because he didn't like to crowd them, and he didn't like playing third wheel, but they both dashed across the room to tackle him. Gueira broke the coffee table. Lio lost his balance with a yelp and they all fell into a heap on the floor, all three laughing like idiots.
They were great friends to him, and they were his family. But his trip was not going to become their honeymoon. That would be far too awkward.
As of late, Galo has had an interest in travel brochures. He'd started a collection. Some of them were woefully out of date, a few even over thirty years old, treated as collector's items - but that was okay. He wasn't going anywhere, he was just interested in seeing where Lio would be going.
Promepolis had its own travel brochures, actually. They'd need to be changed; it mostly read as Kray Foresight idol worship, now that Galo could consider them with less of a Foresight-idol-worshipping bias. It wasn't wrong about the best pizza in the world though! Probably. He'd never tried pizza outside of the city. Maybe Lio could compare it for him.
That morning, Lio hadn't done anything rude to wake him up - not that the rudeness was so bad. He kept grabbing him in his sleep, he sort of deserved the rude wake-up. Usually it was just little things like pinching his nose, or threatening to dump water on him. Honestly, Galo thought it was sort of cute. But that morning, Lio was nestled up close to his chest, breathing lightly, and so defenseless that Galo was scared to move. Lio was a light sleeper (apparently all the burnish were), but his trust in Galo had come so far. So, so very far.
The act of Lio letting his guard down was heartwarming. And apparently a turn-on, but Galo wasn't going to entertain that thought. Still, he couldn't get it out of his head, and sometimes it stung when he remembered that he couldn't keep him there, every morning for the rest of their lives.
Maybe Lio would be willing to retire in Promepolis. They could be little old men together. Waiting that long would be pretty horrible, but Lio had promised to visit, so it could've been worse.
For a few, blissful minutes that morning, Galo got to do a bunch of things that qualified as 'creepy'. Lio's hair was very soft, and he got to run fingers through it. He smelled pretty. He made a cute noise when Galo accidentally woke him up by brushing his hand along his jaw. Soft skin, too. Needless to say, Galo felt like a huge creep after that and couldn't look him in the eye for the next few hours. He needed to work on his impulse control (but he wouldn't).
But of course, the day was downhill from there. Short hours on-duty without any calls. He found himself buried in the travel brochures, laying back on the couch upside-down (he fidgeted with his whole body when he was bored, couldn't help it).
"You do know that making the blood rush to your head won't make you any smarter, right?"
"I don't know anything," Galo answered, on reflex. "Hey, Remi."
"Planning to go somewhere?" Remi sat beside him, a mug in his hands that was half-full.
"...So, are you going to explain these?"
It was a fair question. Half the table in the break room was covered with brochures. "I'm just getting curious. Lio's leaving sometime," He said, finally flipping his body around to sit properly. The room was a little spinny for a few seconds. "Have you ever left this area?"
"Sure, my parents liked to travel sometimes when I was a kid. But it wasn't considered safe with all the burnish hiding outside of cities, so most methods of travel closed down, and people stopped doing it after a while."
"Propaganda. Yes, Galo, I know that. But it catches on like wildfire." His glasses fogged up a little from the drink as he took a sip. Cheap glasses. Must be his replacement pair. He had a lot of replacement pairs, because his line of work meant he broke his glasses pretty often.
Galo looked back at the old brochure, for some apparently amazing landmark mall up north. He didn't think it still existed, but if it did, he kind of wanted to go. It had a theme park inside.
"Galo, you're admittedly not the best judge of character," Remi started, "Or, rather. You might be good at it, but you were completely blindsided by Governor Foresight, so it's not unreasonable to assume that you turn a blind eye to red flags when you're attached to someone."
"O...Kay?" Galo frowned. "Low blow, but okay. What about it?"
"Take a step back, and objectively describe Lio Fotia to me."
Galo frowned harder. "You don't trust him?"
"I don't know him," Remi corrected quickly. "I do know that he caused a lot of problems before his capture. He's gotten on our good side, but only you seem to know him all that well."
Objectively describing someone he was completely head-over-heels for was a tall order, but he knew a lot of Lio's good points, and he was willing to talk him up for a bit. He knew some less good points, too. He'd get to those, for the sake of being objective. "He's fiercely loyal, for one. He'll take whatever anyone throws at him and brush it off, but insulting a former burnish might get him mad enough to sock someone in the jaw."
"...Do you think that's a good trait?"
"He's gotten better about it! He's really stressed out a lot, so I can't say I blame him for having a short fuse."
Remi nodded, "I can understand that, to a degree."
"He works too hard. Way too hard."
"Right, that second day on the rescue site you had to drag him off. Stubborn little guy."
"Oh! Surprisingly, he's not all that insecure about his height. I would be if I was that short."
Remi looked amused by that.
"He takes a long time to warm up to people, but it's really worth it once he trusts you."
"That's not objective, is it?"
"Also he's really cute--"
"That's the opposite of objective."
Galo beamed at Remi. "But it's true. Anyone who disagrees is a liar." Remi rolled his eyes at him, and he continued. "I think he's got PTSD, but I haven't tried talking him into seeing a professional about it yet. I don't think he's ready."
Remi nodded thoughtfully. "And about him being the only burnish alive. Do you think it's safe?"
"He'd never hurt anyone," Galo answered quickly. "Why, do you think it's dangerous?"
"Yes. But whether or not he is dangerous is what I'm trying to figure out." He set his mug down on top of one of the brochures for Promepolis, right on Kray's face. Weird choice for a coaster, but Galo wouldn't point that out. "For what it's worth, he won't be safe if he can't keep a lid on it. I don't like the idea of sending him around the country unsupervised if he has such a 'short fuse', as you say."
He could maybe see where Remi was coming from, but he wanted to trust Lio. He was usually so controlled in everything he did, it was hard to imagine him slipping up badly like that. Maybe if Kray escaped prison.
"Well," Remi said, cleaning off his glasses and slipping them back on his face, "If Aina's gossip is accurate, you might want to check this one, if you want to elope with him." With a wry smile, he picked out one of the brochures, a city pictured on the cover that was lit up at night, and handed it to Galo. "Anyway. Lucia said she finished the adjustments, so you might want to try out that new tech of hers again soon."
He walked out of the breakroom before Galo could come up with a response. He felt his face burning.
Once he'd calmed down, he left the breakroom to find the adjusted new toy. Hopefully it was less of a Lio-torture device now, but it wasn't possible to know that without actually testing it on Lio, which… he was reluctant to do. He'd take it out for a spin on his own, first.
Several sections of the city were cordoned off to keep the general public safe, and Galo figured that would be the best place to try it out. He parked his bike and hopped over the protective barriers, bringing the device with him and switching it on after he felt he was a safe distance out.
At first, it still felt like nothing. He rotated it with his body and eventually felt something like a snag; it was weak, like cheap fishing line that snapped if he moved in a different direction, but he kept the device facing it and hit the second switch, and that invisible line nearly caught fire. It was like the burnish flares, colorful and bright, and it urged him closer. He followed and saw the source, a burning chunk of that same material Lio had shown them, trapped in a narrow crack under a fallen concrete wall. It looked like a jagged-cut piece of obsidian.
Success! He switched the device off and the fire died away, but he didn't think anything of it. Instead, he gingerly pried the little stone out of the crevice, flipping it in his hand once it was free.
He suddenly put together that this is what Lio was talking to on the roof that day. Huh. "You gonna be okay in my pocket until I get you to Lio?" Galo asked it. He didn't hear a response, and felt stupid for asking.
He'd take it and his shiny new toy home. Lio had to approve of it before he could continue testing it - not that he was any more eager to test it on Lio now that he knew it worked, but he knew it would be important to him to know what it did to the promare it detected, so he had to do it.
Remembering what it did to him before worried Galo a lot; Lio would never show weakness willingly, he would always fight it down and keep going as best he could. It must have hurt like hell.
And then, Galo got to thinking - which was dangerous on its own - that Lio would someday turn to ash, if he kept getting hurt. Maybe age would do it, but with the danger Lio tended to put himself in, it would happen sooner rather than later.
Galo rubbed his eyes and pushed it down. That barbed-wire-around-the-organs feeling Kray had left in him tightened and ached, and once he was home he'd mentally exhausted himself. He'd just have to cheer up and make something amazing for dinner. Lio had a really cute way of eating when he really liked a meal. That'd lift his spirits.
It was nights like that night; those made it hard to imagine leaving. Lio could walk inside and there would be a divine scent wafting on the air, and he'd be so tempted to announce ' honey, I'm home ', but that would take their little teasing domesticity game way too far. He was sure it would either upset Galo or make his brain melt out of his ears.
Galo had made a beautiful spread of food, and Lio only knew how to identify one thing on the table that looked like some kind of casserole. Considering the meditative state cooking put him in, he must have had a lot on his mind.
"Work was quiet today?" He guessed.
"Yep. How did construction go?"
"Really well. Most of the sections of the Parnassus have been reconstructed on level ground now, and are ready to be converted into housing." Lio hoped the news would cheer him up, and he did smile, but maybe he was just too tired. Being bored was mentally taxing for Galo. It was one of the oddest things Lio found kind of cute about him. "Oh, and Heris and Lucia have begun reverse-engineering the core of the Deus Ex Machina--"
"The what?" Galo asked exaggeratedly.
Lio rolled his eyes, "The Lio de Galon. They're reverse-engineering it so I can use the promare to power other devices. So if I'm outside of cities for weeks, I'll still have access to things like a phone."
"That's amazing," Galo agreed, but with less enthusiasm. Lio had hoped he'd like that news more, too.
He looked aside for a moment, then dropped into his seat at the table. "Sometime, I'll have to cook for you."
"Do you know how?"
Lio pointed one finger upwards, and let it catch fire. "With this, I'm great at it," he offered a cocky smile with the words. "Admittedly, I haven't been able to read a whole lot of actual recipes, but I know a thing or two."
Galo sat down across from him after placing two glasses of water on the table. "So, on the run, you ate a lot of unseasoned food, I take it?"
"We got creative," Lio answered. "It was cooked perfectly though."
"I believe you!" Galo's spirits were rising. Good. "Okay, dig in! I tried a few different things, so let's see how you like it!"
"You didn't have to go to so much trouble," Lio said, rudely stabbing a fork into the serving dish and tasting it directly from there. Table manners weren't exactly a priority for burnish. They didn't even have tables most of the time. That said, he did know better, and he only did it because it seemed to amuse Galo when he showed that kind of enthusiasm for food.
"Guess I did get carried away. But! All of this will be fine as leftovers, so whatever we don't eat will keep."
"That's something I missed on the road. Refrigerators are so useful," Lio said after swallowing whatever that was. Some kind of chewy dumpling? Delicious. "Well, when you're not locked in one."
Galo shivered. Yeah, that probably wouldn't sound too appealing to someone allergic to shirts.
"Lucia gave me the upgraded promare detector thingy." Galo told him.
"Thingy," Lio repeated, because it sounded absurd. Galo's statement would have been fine without that, but it probably would have sounded less like Galo.
"Yeah. And I tested it out. I think I found one," He fished something out of his pockets and held it out across the table. "This is it, right?"
Lio held out his hand and the piece slipped into it. It was body-heat warm, not fire-warm, but it did show colors and life. He heard it, faintly, the moment it had touched his skin. "Yeah. Yeah, this is one of them. Great job."
Galo was watching him, expectantly. He apparently wanted to see what came next. It was personal to Lio, but Galo was allowed to see it, if no one else. His face warmed, but it was okay.
"It didn't hurt, did it?" He asked the promare, watching the colors shining over its surface carefully. Pleasant hues, calm. "Would you like to join me? I'll help you, if I can."
He felt the flames inside of him commune with the stone in his hand, and his skin tingled as the flare burst out of the shard.
"Thank you, for trusting me," He murmured, holding it close to his lips and breathing it in. Fire coursed through him, blazing a hot trail down his throat, and it felt wonderful. Like being revived all over again.
The shard had vanished. Galo looked enchanted.
"What if it had said no?"
"Then I'd keep the piece safe. Maybe in a lockbox?" Lio shrugged. "They haven't turned me down yet, so I haven't thought about it."
Lio knew he was blushing, even though the fire settling in him made it hard to feel warmth in his cheeks underneath the burning sensations. He couldn't say what had embarrassed him. That was just… such a broad compliment. It was weird. And Galo's smile was sweet and his eyes were sparkling. "Shut up. Food's going to get cold."
"You can just re-heat it, right?"
Instead of answering, Lio shoved another dumpling in his mouth.
Even if there was way too much food, they finished more than half of it, and washed dishes together after dinner. Little domestic things like that made Lio feel like less of a freeloader; Galo had said that this was his home, and Lio was starting to believe it. But that was dangerous.
Galo agreed to let him test out Lucia's device, and though he'd braced himself for the worst, it certainly didn't hurt like before. It wasn't unpleasant, but he didn't like it either. The promare within him carried no opinion, which meant that it worked for the purpose it served. Galo sent Lucia a text letting her know.
So as soon as Lio was ready to leave, he could be sure that any of the promare left in Promepolis would be found, even if he'd missed them. It was a huge weight off his shoulders; he'd been tormenting himself with the idea that he'd have to do a lot of backtracking in order to find everything. Maybe he could have something similar to that device to take on the road with him, so he wouldn't miss any pieces that didn't call out to him.
As the epicenter of the Second World Blaze, Promepolis was likely where most of the promare were concentrated. If Galo and his team had a tool like that, he felt it would be in good hands; his original plan was to have Meis and Gueira on it, but this was better.
After changing for bed, Lio sat beside Galo and watched him for a moment. "Are you okay?"
"So I was imagining things, earlier?" Lio tilted his head and examined Galo closely. He wasn't great with social cues, but he thought he'd seen redness around his eyes before. That distant way he'd been acting, that lack of energy. He wanted to think he knew Galo well enough that he could pick up on it when something was bothering him.
But he hadn't noticed when an ally turned traitor, and he hadn't noticed when the Freeze Force had his plans all figured out. He wasn't that great with reading people.
"Nah. But it's not bothering me anymore. Stuff never stays in my head too long." Galo reassured him, and they exchanged smiles.
"Well, if anything is rattling around in there, you can tell me about it. I'd like to see the proof that your brain still works."
"Hey!" Galo grabbed him into a headlock and ruffled his hair, which for some reason made Lio laugh. But it was an odd position and once Galo let him go, he'd slipped just enough that his head landed on Galo's thigh. Not a bad place to be, for sure. A little embarrassing, but he didn't move away just yet. Galo looked just as shy about it, cheeks red.
He took Galo's hand and squeezed it. "Did it have something to do with me?"
"Yeah," Galo answered, thumbing over Lio's knuckles absently. "It was quiet as hell at the station today, so my mind wandered back to you. First about where you're going, then about you going there alone, and then about-- you eventually turning to ash."
"Ah." Lio frowned. It was something he feared before, too. It was inevitable in his mind, but he didn't think it haunted him then the way it started to after the Parnassus. "You saved me, Galo. You don't have to worry about that anymore. It will still happen someday, if I can't find a way to send them home, but I'm not letting it happen anytime soon."
"I've seen your body fall apart, Lio. 'Fraid that's stuck with me."
"I've felt my body falling apart, it's stuck with me, too." They'd never shared openly about that moment before. Maybe they should have. He sat upright and locked eyes with Galo. "But after that, I felt you put me back together."
The air between them felt tense and giddy, and full of sparks. It would've been a great moment to say something. But neither of them did. It would have been a great moment to act - to kiss him - but he took too long and Galo turned red as a firetruck and took his hand back in a bashful panic. Frustrating, but endearing. Lio couldn't even be upset about it.
"Well! Great talk! Goodnight!"
Galo dove under the covers.
"I never thanked you properly for it," Lio said, leaning over and switching off the lights before joining him. "Nor have I taken responsibility for your first fire, as you told me to."
For all the times they woke up tangled together, they'd never fallen asleep that way before. That night would be different. Galo gathered Lio into his arms and mumbled something Lio wasn't sure he understood, muffled against the back of his neck. He shivered, but he allowed it to happen. It was where he wanted to be, after all.
It sounded kind of like Galo had said "Stay with me."
"There's another option, you dumbass," Lio breathed. But he wasn't sure Galo heard him, either.
Another month passed, and Lio set a date for his departure. It was circled in red on the calendar at the station, and with a raincloud-shaped doodle on the one in Galo's apartment.
Just a little longer, and he'd have to let go.
Ignis had given strict instructions to bring Lio into HQ the next day, which Galo had followed. Lio had been a little hesitant; he'd never been called by Ignis before, which to be fair, was absolutely terrifying to anyone the first few times it happened, before they realized it wasn't such a big deal since Ignis was a tough-but-generous guy.
The conference room was what made Galo nervous. He was pretty sure it had to be full of cobwebs or something, they almost never used it unless someone important was going to be there lecturing them.
At the head of the table were three seats, and Ignis, Remi and Heris were in them. All members of Burning Rescue were in attendance. Lio looked nervous, but after they were all seated, Galo took his hand under the table for a few seconds. He didn't know if it would help, but it was something.
"As you all have guessed, Burning Rescue as a whole is being shut down. The tools used to fight fires created by burnish aren't that useful against natural fires."
There were some somber faces around the room, but Ignis wasn't anywhere near done.
"As you also know, we also have sensitive information regarding the promare, and Lio Fotia. Needless to say, we cannot let anything out to the public at this time."
"Yeah, hiding information about the burnish worked out great the first time around," Lio grumbled.
"We just want to make sure nobody else gets the idea to hunt these things down like you are," Ignis shot back. "We won't stop you, either. We're recruiting you."
"How? You're being shut down."
Lio's eyes narrowed, and Galo's neck was going to hurt from following their swift back-and-forth at each end of the table. Or he'd get whiplash.
"We'll keep our jobs here, and we'll still work as first responders. We're even keeping the name. But we'll have the additional goal of tracking these things down and containing them, and in the event something goes wrong with them, we'll act on it."
"I'm not staying here," Lio argued.
"Of course you aren't. You're being deployed, and we're giving you gear and funding for it."
Lio looked so confused. "Why?"
"Because trying to stop you, even arresting you, wouldn't work. Didn't work before, won't work now."
"So you did learn something," he added dryly.
"Oh, enough of your sass! Don't you get that this is really good for you? People want to help you pull this crazy stunt?" Aina lost her temper, and even Galo flinched. "My sister and Lucia have been working their butts off, and Ignis has been pulling every string possible just so that you don't end up locked in another freezer!"
Lio looked down at the table for a few seconds, drummed his fingers on it and sighed. "You're right. I'm being too defensive. I apologize."
"Huh. Hell froze over." Remi rested his elbows on the table, looking tired. "Well, that aside, you'll be required to check in daily if you want our continued support. We'll keep a schedule to map out your progress, and we'll expect written reports when you visit headquarters."
"...That's reasonable," Lio shifted uncomfortably, like he expected more of his freedoms to disappear as the conversation went on.
This was exactly the type of discussion Galo was worst at, and he had trouble following the minutia in the fine print. Lio latched on, so Galo watched him instead. His frustration and relief, knowing he had backup. There were contracts, there were non-disclosure agreements, there was a heap of paperwork and they all had to agree on all of it. Galo signed off without much thought, because when he thought about it, he just felt disappointed.
After the meeting, Ignis pulled him aside. "You know, I could transfer you if you'd rather."
"Another fire station - most Burning Rescue teams are working on switching back to more traditional firefighting and some are going to be law enforcement. Your goal was firefighter, right? If you want--"
"Oh! Uh. I'll think about it?"
It was weird, hearing those words coming out of him. A year ago he might've accepted, but he was pretty attached to the team, and his dream of fighting fires was… different than imagined.
Ignis's mustache twitched. "Well, we'll still be getting occasional calls for the time being. We just aren't the first choice unless a burnish flame happens to crop up."
Galo nodded, and went about a good chunk of the day in a weird daze, hearing out new instructions regarding the use of their gears, learning and discussing new guidelines. Eventually, he saw Aina sitting on the steps in the garage, and he decided to join her.
"We got into this job to help people," She said, tickling Vinny's tummy. "It's weird, but I don't think I mind this change much."
"I get to work with my sister," She said it so proudly, and Galo noticed she'd started referring to her as her sister again. There was a period of time when she wouldn't. They must have made up. "I'll get to see what she's really all about. She's working really hard to redeem herself, you know."
Galo grinned at her. "I think she cares more about your opinion of her than redeeming herself."
"Shush, you. She's had time for personal growth, and I'm proud of her." Aina elbowed him, but not very hard. "I'm glad that we'll still be able to help the community, even if it's different now. How about you?"
"Hmm." Galo didn't know. "After setting the world on fire, doesn't everything seem kind of… wrong?"
" You did that, not me."
He ran a hand through his hair and scratched the back of his head. He couldn't explain it. He drew out another hum. "Okay! I didn't get to be the greatest firefighting idiot on the planet by sitting around thinking about things. I'm going to work my ass off until my brain shuts down for the day. Wanna join?"
"In the construction site?" She looked at him oddly. "Well, if it'll help you, sure, I can come."
Vinny scurried off as she stood, and they walked together talking about various things for a while. Somewhere along the way, the topic meandered back to Lio. It was probably Galo's fault.
"You should tell him you'll miss him," Aina told him, walking backwards a few steps ahead.
"I don't want to make him feel weird about it. I'm pretty sure he already knows." Galo paused to warn her, "watch your step."
She glanced behind her and adjusted where she placed her feet so she wouldn't trip, but kept walking backwards. "He won't know if you don't tell him! He's at least half as dense as you are."
"If I get started on something like that, I'll say something extra stupid. Like, beg him to stay."
"Would that really be so bad?"
And then she tripped. Galo lunged forward and caught her and she squeaked in surprise, her weight cradled so easily in his arms. Her face was flushed and he waited for her to get back up from where he supported her, but she didn't yet.
She stared up at him for a moment, and then shook her head wildly, jumping back to her feet. "Galo!! This is the kind of thing you should be doing with Lio, not me!"
"...I think Lio has better balance than you, I don't need to catch him."
She almost growled, "Galo Thymos, you are the most frustrating and airheaded man alive."
"What did I do?" Galo's eyes widened and he stood up properly.
"You always do things like that. Prolonged eye contact, leaning too close! It does things to a girl's heart, you know!" She scolded him. "I used to think you actually liked me!"
He felt even more baffled. Of course he liked her. She was part of the team and a great friend.
"I don't even know if I liked you back or if I was just always getting swept up in the moment. Geez. It made so much sense when I realized you actually have the hots for guys." She was grumbling dramatically, but Galo finally pieced together what she was talking about.
She kicked his shin. It didn't really hurt but he yelped anyway.
"There. I feel better. Let's keep going." She then changed the topic to something neutral so he couldn't dwell on it beyond that.
The rest of the day was… Fine. It was fine. Aina was a big help.
He didn't tell Lio he'd miss him. Lio had to know already.
Two days to go.
Lio was given a new phone with all sorts of bells and whistles, courtesy of Lucia. She also installed a detection device in it. It wouldn't pinpoint as accurately as the Matoi one would, but he could do that fine on his own; the one she gave him just put him in the right direction.
It would charge with the promare's fire. That, in his opinion, was the most amazing part. Lucia and Heris had really done it, after all.
They tried to talk him into using a motorcycle with a prometech engine as well, but he just said he'd rather travel with his flare. They needed to burn off more than that between cities, powering a bike wasn't enough. Building one out of fire was, though. He'd walk once he was within a reasonable distance so nobody would catch sight of it.
Talking about the fine details made it all the more real. He never doubted he'd leave, but he didn't realize how much his feelings about it would change.
At night, he stayed awake and inched closer to Galo, waiting for his arms to find their way around Lio's waist. He took a few extra moments to listen to his heartbeat and relax, and felt guilty for it. He had no right to indulge in this if he couldn't even tell Galo anything.
Galo, meanwhile, let all sorts of things slip. He'd said "This place is gonna feel so empty" and it hurt.
That's how they ended up at an animal rescue.
"I had you figured for a dog person," Lio watched him with amusement.
"Dogs are great, too! But I like cats. It means more when they come up to you for attention."
"Really. I prefer an animal that comes when you call for it. Something obedient."
Galo was kneeling next to a row of cages, in front of one that had three kittens in it and a little note that said 'DO NOT SEPARATE' in the top corner. "That's 'cause you're Boss," he said, poking a finger into the cage and grinning as one of the kittens, gray with stripes, attacked it and rolled onto its back.
"And you like being walked all over?" Lio knelt beside him, watching the other two kittens behind the playful one. One was chewing on the other's tail while it tried to sleep.
"Sure, if they're doing it 'cause they like you, it's fine."
Lio was silent for a minute, just watching Galo amuse himself by poking the kitten on the nose to get it to play more. It was adorable, even if Lio preferred dogs. Big dogs that were maybe a bit dumb. With wide eyes that looked at you with admiration and trust. It was even cute when they drooled.
He could practically see Galo with a wagging tail.
Lio stood and got permission to open the cage so Galo could play with the kittens properly, because it was fine to indulge a bit. "Adopting three at once might be a bit much," Lio warned him, but opened the cage anyway.
In Galo's hands, the kitten looked so tiny. He brought it close to his face and brightened. "It's purring!"
"...Yes, that is a thing cats do," Lio reached up and patted it. Very soft. It looked like it was calming down, its eyes narrowing.
"Lio, listen!" Galo insisted, holding the kitten right next to Lio's face.
He really didn't like having things shoved in his face, but after flinching back, he relented and leaned close to hear. A cute, soft rumbling, crackling sound. Kind of soothing, in a way. Galo urged him to take the cat and he did on reflex, but didn't mind it. A small, happy, defenseless creature. He could understand the appeal of that easily enough.
He looked up and down the rows carefully to see if anyone was there, then conjured up harmless sparks of fire to play with it. The little thing swatted at them with its paw and nearly fell from his hands.
"See, cats are great!" Galo said, watching with a fond look on his face.
"No one in their right mind dislikes kittens, Galo," Lio teased, making the little flames spin around and the kitten wobbled to follow them. "I prefer dogs, but there's nothing wrong with cats." The kitten tumbled over backwards and Lio adjusted his hold so it wouldn't fall, laughing at it kind of hard. He was in too good of a mood. "Silly thing. Don't hurt yourself."
Galo was silent, staring at him with a shocked look.
Lio looked back at him, his eyebrows furrowed curiously. "What? Did I do something?"
"Yes," Galo answered. He then fumbled through his belongings to find his phone. "Hold still. I need a picture of you holding a kitten for your caller ID photo."
Lio wanted to ask what he'd done, but there was a camera aimed at him too quickly.
"C'mon, smile! The kitten is smiling!" Galo insisted.
Lio scoffed, and smiled almost involuntarily. Galo got his picture and messed with his phone while Lio put the kitten away again, where it hobbled over to its siblings and plopped down for a nap. "Alright, well," Lio looked around again, and tugged Galo over to the dog section. "I have a new phone, and I'd like to use a picture of you holding a dog, then."
"Fair's fair," Lio said, pulling his phone out. "And I want it to be that white one." He gestured toward a big puffy samoyed with a goofy-looking dog-smile on its face. Very cute.
Of course, it was quite large, but it was very friendly and didn't mind being picked up. It kept licking Galo's face and ruining the pictures. Lio didn't delete any of them.
An attendant asked them to please stop messing around, and they sheepishly returned to the cats, where Galo looked over the cages with a weird expression.
"You don't have to pick something right away, Galo," Lio reminded him. "But it might help your apartment feel less empty."
"It's more like… I don't want to replace you. And you're still here right now, and for the next two days you'll be getting ready to leave and I'd be helping a cat acclimate. Bad timing."
"I see," Lio studied Galo's expression carefully. He'd really thought it through carefully, which maybe wasn't as big of a surprise as it might have been early on, when he only knew Galo as an impulsive idiot. Galo was careful about certain things. He could be thoughtful, considerate of how things would affect others.
"I'm really gonna miss you, Lio."
Lio flinched, but didn't respond right away.
"No, I'll miss you too. But I'm coming back, remember?"
"Yeah. I'll be looking forward to it," Galo agreed with a smile, not as vibrant as usual. "I've just gotten used to having you around, I guess!"
"I'll admit, I've grown used to living with you, as well. It's been… interesting."
"It's been fun, and you know it!" Galo nudged him with his elbow.
"That too," Lio agreed. The dogs on the other side of the kennel were getting louder. "I guess we should leave these poor, homeless animals alone and stop giving them false hope, then..."
Galo reacted with his whole body, "Ugh, don't make me feel bad! I can still come back and get one in a few days!"
"I'll look forward to meeting it when I get back." Lio folded his arms as they walked outside. The day was still young. They could get a lot more done together, if they wanted. Or, the more appealing thing, they could stay home, watch shitty movies and enjoy each other's company without worrying about who would or wouldn't be there in a few days.
They could inch closer on the couch until Lio's legs were draped across Galo's lap and Galo's hand rested on Lio's thighs, completely innocently.
They could keep glancing at each other in secret.
And they did exactly that.
The day arrived, and the few belongings Lio would take with him were bundled and stacked by the front door. One shoulder bag and some belt pouches seemed to be all of it. Galo didn't think it looked like enough, so he sneakily added some protein bars where they would fit. Nothing else. Lio would get mad if he fussed too much.
Lio had left early to discuss a few things with Meis and Gueira, who had also been recruited by Ignis. The bags by the door were there to make sure Galo knew he hadn't left without saying goodbye.
Galo couldn't just stay at home though, he was never the type. Too restless.
At the station, there was cake. It said 'Bon Voyage,' on it, and had a little lopsided motorcycle made out of icing. After the letters there was a slice missing, even though it was barely nine and way early for cake, since they hadn't even had a party. "Lio took it," Varys explained with a knowing smile, "He said it belonged to him."
So it said 'Bon Voyage, Lio'. If nothing else, that was hilariously cute. But it also told Galo that Lio might not want to stick around for a party, even if it was a going away party being thrown for him.
Varys and Remi were filling out paperwork about the reassignment, and when Galo had offered to help Remi looked at him square in the eyes with a humorless look and said "No."
"No offense," Varys added.
"Full offense," Remi corrected. "I don't want to have to re-do everything because you filled things in on the wrong line again."
"That happened once!"
"Every other time, you do something worse."
Galo left them alone, for the time being.
Lucia and Heris waved him off too, saying they were working on a 'secret surprise'. When Galo told them Lio was probably going to ditch the party, they both shrugged.
Aina was coming in later, so he couldn't go bother her yet.
Ignis was in some sort of meeting with some stuffy-looking suits.
Out of boredom, he tried texting Lio's new phone to let him know how bored he was. Lio responded with 'at a civil ceremony, can't talk'.
Whatever that meant.
Galo and boredom mixed about as well as baking soda and vinegar. After about an hour of frustration and pacing and fidgeting, he took a nap on the breakroom couch. He had intended to read some more of those brochures he'd collected, but the words all blurred together and he had to give up and close his eyes.
He woke up to a light pressure on his chest, where Lio had folded his arms and rested his chin, staring down at him.
"Good morning," By the look on his face, Galo guessed it was no longer morning. "You have an awful work ethic, it seems."
Without thinking, Galo raised his hand to the back of Lio's head, feeling his hair. "We're in a transitional period," Galo said, parroting something he'd heard Ignis say in regards to what they ought to be doing while on the clock.
Lio answered Galo's mindless affection by pinching his nose and holding it for a second. He stood afterwards, dusting himself off. "I'm leaving soon. I just want to go home and get changed first."
"You look like you got married," Galo said, mouth agape. Once he sat upright, he looked more carefully. Lio looked amazing in a suit, and the dress jacket had these neat decorative belts on the sides, really showing off how slender his waist was. Stunning. Truly stunning. Galo was definitely 100% stunned.
"I was at a wedding, at least," Lio told him, amused at the reaction. "Technically. They just needed a witness at the courthouse."
Galo took a little longer to drink in the sight, because damn, he hoped he could see Lio in a suit again sometime. Maybe at their own wedding. It could totally happen. "I'll head home with you."
"You don't have to," Lio tucked hair behind his ear, which was also a great look on him.
"I already know you're gonna skip the party. So I'll take as much time with you as I can get!"
He looked aside with a sour sort of smile. "You're much more perceptive than people give you credit for," he started. "Alright. If I spend my last few hours in town with anyone, they'll be best spent with you."
Somehow, that was the most romantic thing anyone had ever said to Galo, and he felt warmth creeping across his face. He shook it off quickly. Lio probably hadn't meant that to sound quite so sappy. "Alright, I'll drive!"
Galo probably broke a few speed limits, but nobody stopped him.
Around them, the city was in much better shape than it could have been; it looked a bit shabby after being ground zero of a major disaster, but it was growing back better than before. People were getting along better, the new governing body had work projects to make jobs everywhere, building something new in the wake of Kray Foresight's… short-sightedness.
Sometimes, solutions were a lot simpler than they were assumed to be. It just took a little out-of-the-box thinking. Like setting the planet on fire.
His building was getting a new coat of paint, and he didn't love the color but it wasn't bad either. Just not very vibrant. Still, they both waved at the painters outside while they walked in, Galo told them they were doing an awesome job and gave them a thumbs up, they waved back and Lio had to push him to keep him going (he liked these quick meet and greet situations! He couldn't help himself).
Lio didn't seem unhappy with him, though. He smiled when he said, "If you want me to spend my last few hours here with you, I expect your undivided attention, Galo Thymos."
"Oh, so you want me to watch you change?" He'd meant that as a joke. Sort of.
As Lio walked past him into the bedroom, he shot him a look. Not annoyed like Galo had expected, but...Almost coy? Well, if it was meant to be flirtatious, it had the opposite effect, freezing Galo in place for a good twenty seconds before his brain snapped back to attention. When he dashed into the room, Lio was already completely changed into his leather pants, boots and that airy type of blouse he liked to wear under leather jackets.
"How'd you do that so fast?"
"Practice," Lio grinned, and he found a hanger in the closet so he could store his suit, "You don't mind if I keep this here, do you? It's too expensive to travel with."
"'Course," Galo said, "This is your home too, as long as you want it to be."
Lio didn't look at him, carefully placing the suit in the closet. His smile was gone by the time he did turn back to face him. "It's your home," He said, sternly, "It's yours, and you're going to live here without me, adopt a cat and let it rip up all your furniture."
"I'm not going to be here, Galo. I'll be in Promepolis maybe one or two months out of the year. I'm not coming back next week." He looked angry.
"What the hell, Lio? It's not like this is doomsday! Even if it was, we've been through worse! I can handle missing you while you're away!"
"Then stop looking at me like that!" Lio's voice was raised, which was unusual.
"Like I'm betraying you by leaving!"
Any will to argue caught in Galo's throat. He… Hadn't thought he was doing that.
"Every time you talk about 'home', you look at me like that. You know I ca--"
"Stay." He hadn't meant to say that.
"It's because I want you to stay with me." He was an idiot, he should stop talking.
Lio didn't respond yet.
Out of sheer awkwardness, Galo continued. "I wish nothing had to change, but everything already has. I'm hardly even a firefighter anymore. I just want you to stay." As if that justified anything. Lio had moved in less than a year ago, even that was technically a change - he'd just found comforts he'd never had, growing up. He wanted to keep them, and knew he couldn't.
Lio finally stepped closer and took his shirt collar in his fist, tugging him lower so their foreheads touched.
"Stay with me, Galo." His voice was quiet, controlled.
This time, Galo was silent.
"If everything's changing, and you're unhappy with it, you can leave it all behind."
The look he was giving him was intense, he had a chill crawling slowly up his spine just seeing him that close. He wanted to lean closer. He wanted to grab his tiny waist and pull him in, kiss him stupid and then argue more about whatever the hell he wanted for the rest of their goddamn lives.
The thought of dropping everything, leaving the city behind and following Lio, it didn't even occur to him, and he wasn't sure why. It should have.
And yet he hesitated. He couldn't think, his mind in panic mode because he assumed that leaving wouldn't even be possible, but he couldn't piece together why he thought that. Job? Screw it. Friends? He'd still see them sometimes. As if to plead for more time, he reached a hand between them, fingers gentle under Lio's jaw.
He really, really wanted to do something stupid. Totally on-brand for him. Balls to the wall. He took a breath.
There was a tapping at the window. A painter on the scaffolding waved cheerily at them, and they both stared incredulously for a moment before Galo weakly waved back.
Lio turned to leave, and Galo didn't stop him. The bags by the door were taken, and every part of Galo's body was numb, right up to his brain.
It was too stupid, wasn't it?
He didn't break any speed limits on his way back.
"Surprise!" Lucia used a noisemaker right by Galo's head the moment he walked in. She had to stand on a crate to do so.
"Huh?" Exactly the level of eloquence they expected out of him, probably.
Ignis stood next to the table with the cake, Remi sitting beside him. Aina had been trying to tie balloons to a new motorcycle, but once the noisemaker went off, they all floated away from her and she grumbled.
"Uh," Galo looked around at everyone. He thought they would've known already. "Lio already left."
"Party's not for him," Varys said, handing him a plate of cake.
"Come here and sign these papers, Rookie. It's your new assignment." Ignis tapped the table in front of Remi.
"Since I already filled them out, you just have to sign. You won't mess that up, will you?" He wore a sly smile.
"I told you, I didn't like the idea of sending him out there unsupervised." Remi shrugged.
"And there's a release form for the new bike you're being issued. Don't crash it," Lucia dropped from the crate and stretched her arms out. "It took me two all-nighters, but it's a Lio-powered bike, just for you! Ta-da!!"
"Hurry and sign so you can go, idiot!" Aina ran around him and pushed him to the table. "Lio went east, there's a compass on the bike, you need to catch him! It's literally your job now."
"We already packed supplies for you," Varys told him.
Galo was still shell-shocked. Aina took the plate out of his hand and forced a pen into it.
"Your name, right on that line."
Something finally clicked - maybe just the pen - and Galo signed so fast he almost tore the paper and Remi scolded him.
Lio hadn't liked the idea of asking Galo to come with him from the beginning. He'd told them not to do it. And then he went and blew it anyway, because if he thought Galo was an idiot, he was right up there with him in the top ten idiots in the world rankings.
The way he saw it, there was maybe a fifty-fifty chance Galo might decide to come with him, but if he did it would likely be by the urging of the Burning Rescue crew. He didn't like that either. Galo could be happy at home, without him. Lio might've been happier having Galo along, but that didn't mean he could drag him away from his life, his friends.
It wasn't like he wouldn't have assignments in places the others would be able to tag along, anyway. He knew if he was going overseas, he'd need a translator. If he was going to Meis or Gueira's hometown, he'd probably want to take them along (...eventually). Galo hadn't even thought about coming before Lio blurted it out so stupidly, and that was more telling than anything else.
He felt a vague pull of the promare to the east; he could sense stronger ones from a distance, which was helpful if not that precise.
Once he was far enough away from the city he'd make his flaming motorcycle and get a move on. Or maybe he'd fly. Anything to hurry up and get out of there before he could let himself get his hopes up (because maybe he'd get a call, someone desperately trying to reach him, someone needing him).
There was a sound from behind him, and when he turned to look, Galo was shouting something and driving right at him. Really fast. Way too fast. Lio dodged to his left as Galo made a decent attempt at stopping, dragging the tires a few more meters than was really safe.
Galo stared right at him, intensely.
Lio stared back, quietly puzzled.
"Where to first?" Galo asked. After a pause, he added, " Boss."
Lio cracked a smile and bit back a laugh.
Galo was just grinning widely.
"You're such an idiot."
"Yeah, but you seem to like me anyway. Still want to keep me around?" He did like him, way too much. He could kiss him-- but that would have to wait for another time. He had better ideas for now, and so did Galo, judging by the way he'd approached.
"Do you really want to be here?"
Galo had a trustworthy smile, sincere eyes. He wasn't the type to lie. So when he said "Of course," Lio knew he could believe it. But he didn't just say it, he proclaimed it fiercely and held out his fist, which of course Lio bumped.
"You won't regret it? Leaving your friends behind?"
"We'll be back."
Lio's chest felt warm, fires bubbling up and swirling about at his fingertips, gathering in a single point and solidifying. His bike took form. "Then you'll have to keep up, Galo Thymos."
"You're on, Fotia!" He revved the engine and Lio reached over to touch it, fires curling around it to make sure it was fully charged up. He'd known about the project, of course, but he hadn't been sure he'd see it used.
This was probably not a test run Lucia would be happy with.
"Let's get going."