Life without the Promare is different. Life after being Burnish is different.
Lio’s still adjusting.
He rolls out of the bottom bunk and isn’t surprised to see the bed above is already vacant— Galo has a habit of working out early and returning home to the firehouse to shower just as Lio is stretching, yawning, and wriggling out from under the covers. After brushing his teeth in the cramped bathroom and slipping into a fresh uniform, Lio leaves the small bedroom he shares with Galo and trots downstairs.
It’s his and Galo’s first day off-duty since Promepolis and the rest of the earth were nearly destroyed. The firehouse sits empty and quiet for once, the rest of the team out clearing more rubble while the two of them take a well-earned (and mandatory, by Ignis’ order) break. After peeking into the fridge in the communal kitchen, Lio cracks a couple of eggs into a pan and then presses his palm to the heavy iron bottom, waiting.
He blinks, reminded anew that he can no longer summon flame at a thought. He can bleed now. He can burn.
Lio starts fiddling with the unfamiliar nobs above the stove until one of the coils along its top finally glows red. The eggs go opaque and crisp around the edges in under a minute, their undersides scorched while the yolk and its surrounding white remain gooey. Before Lio can scrape them off and onto a nearby saucer, a set of hands covers his eyes and masks his vision in darkness.
A month ago, his first instinct would’ve been to respond with an explosive burst of flame. Even last week, he might’ve reflexively driven an elbow backward and spun on his heel, ready to fight.
But Galo’s presence has grown on him like char. There’s a familiarity to the quiet breaths at his back, the barely restrained excitement, the smell of firehouse engine and soap and fresh sweat.
“Galo. You’re making me burn the eggs.”
“Those? They’re already burned, Lio,” Galo says, chest brushing Lio as he leans over to look in the pan. “And I have a surprise for you that’s way better than breakfast.”
Lio’s stomach gives a faint grumble of disapproval as he sighs, sets the pan on the stove, and allows Galo to blindly steer him out of the kitchen and down the hall. With anyone else, he’d be annoyed. Mistrustful, even. But Galo fought for him, saved him, put a roof over Lio’s head while Lio focused on finding shelter for the rest of the former Burnish— the least he can do is delay breakfast to indulge him.
“It better not be that pigeon that reminds you of Remi again,” Lio says as he’s guided outside, the air warmer and heavy with the scent of city life. “It wasn’t that impressive the first time around.”
“No, no, no, this is totally different,” Galo rushes to say. He hums, the note drawn and dithering. “You can’t deny the resemblance was uncanny, though. Remi even bobs his head the same way when he’s angry.”
Lio grunts, agreeing on that much. He keeps his arms crossed, tucked tight against his chest, and lets his eyes slip shut behind the cover of Galo’s hands. They’re warm. Broad. Always itching to settle on Lio’s shoulder or clap him on the back, as tactile with his one-time enemy as he is with the rest of his team.
Lio likes it. Wants for it, even, and that’s new, too.
“Ta-da!” Galo exclaims as he slows Lio to a stop and throws his hands aside. “I saw this and thought of you.”
Lio blinks, first from the brightness of the risen sun and then from sheer surprise. It’s a motorcycle. A big one. “Me?”
Lio goes mute while he studies its swooping curves and stark lines, all chrome and polished black. It’s no Detroit, but nothing else ever will be. This bike sits low on a stretched out frame, not quite as long or intimidating as the one he had once made for himself from brilliant dual-toned fire conjured by his own hands, but…
But it’s still beautiful, even if it’s clearly seen some use, and it calls out to Lio like a little piece of him that’s been missing. The motorcycle’s lean silhouette and reassuring, intimidating size remind Lio of encasing himself in ten foot tall armor and racing for miles through barren, blistering desert, he and his flames both running wild.
“What do you think, Lio? Do you like it?” Galo asks, hovering close as Lio runs a hand over the worn seat padding and along the fender. Impatient. Antsy for feedback or praise. “The owner recognized me and gave me a hero’s discount,” he preens, running a hand back through his brightly blue hair.
“You bought it?” Lio questions, obvious as it seems in hindsight. For me? is what he really means, but that seems too assumptive to even ask. Even if they’re friends. Even if Galo brought him back to life with a—
“Of course I bought it,” he snorts back, loud enough that a passerby across the street turns to look. “It’s a gift. For you. To replace…” Galo waves a hand and glances aside, animated as ever. “Y’know, your wheels. Not that I mind giving you rides over to Meis and Gueira’s place or anything. I just figured you’d like having the freedom to get around on your own.”
Lio does miss it. For all the trials that had come with being Burnish, he’d been made fiercely independent by his fiery nature. Much of what he has now is borrowed or shared: the roof over his head and the bunk he sleeps in; Aina’s old uniform clothes; Lucia’s boots; Remi’s spare mess kit; one of Varys’ tiny potted plants to brighten the windowsill by the bed. But Galo means to give him something of his own. Just his. Just because.
And Lio still doesn’t know what to say. Most of his life has been spent making do for himself or providing for others. Gifts, like so much else he’s now surrounded with, are new to him.
Especially one this over-the-top. But that’s Galo, he supposes, a faint smile curving along his lips. And it’s not like Lio’s tastes are any less extravagant.
“I… it’s perfect, Galo,” he says, filled to the brim with an emotion that forces him to blink away tears before they can be shed. “Thank you.”
Well-assured that Lio appreciates the gift, Galo is all smiles and boisterous, puppy-like energy. He bounds over and pats the seat expectantly, flashing Lio a thumbs up. “Then let’s go for a spin! I wanna find some empty pavement and see you do donuts again. Minus the fire this time, obviously.”
Flattered and flustered by Galo’s excitement, Lio clambers up onto the bike. He has to stretch his legs just to keep his tiptoes on the asphalt, awkward as he straddles the seat. But a more pressing concern settles in as Lio wraps his slim hands around the grips and gets his bearings, staring down at a number of switches and levers and buttons that Detroit never had.
“This is… different,” he mumbles, blush deepening as Galo swings a leg over and settles behind him, big hands already fitted securely around Lio's narrow waist.
It turns out his innate Burnish control of a massive motorcycle built of solidified flame doesn’t much translate into steering half a ton of static steel and rubber. The bike doesn’t respond to him the way the Promare did, Detroit more or less an extension of himself and his powers, its revving and purring engine more for show than anything else. Instead, it sits heavy and dormant under him, waiting for an ignition that Lio isn’t sure how to create.
“It’s old school,” Galo helpfully chimes in over his shoulder. “Crank key instead of push-to-start. Just flip the ignition switch on first. No, not that. No, there. The ignition switch, Lio. Lio. Lio. Lio.” There’s a drawn beat of silence in which Galo watches Lio’s dainty fingers continue to hover over the controls, uncertain. And then realization slowly dawns, Galo drawing in a deep breath as it finally clicks. “Oh. Oh! You’ve never had to do this before!”
“No,” Lio sighs, slumping down in the seat— and into Galo, as it happens, his back meeting soft fabric and the firm muscle that the firefighter wears so well. He draws up a leg and plants the sole of his boot on the fuel tank, stretching out a lean arm to rest on his bent knee. “Apparently I don’t know the first thing about driving an actual bike.”
There’s just enough of a height difference between them that when Galo tips his head down, his chin doesn’t quite brush Lio’s hair. It’s a slight disappointment.
“That’s easy enough to fix,” he says, giving Lio’s hip a reassuring pat. His smile turns boastful as he adds, “You’re looking at the best the FDPP has to offer when it comes to motorcycles, Lio. I can teach you everything you need to know.”
“No, let me! I can do it,” Galo insists, already in motion. “Here, I’ll find us a good place to practice. Swap places with me.”
Lio slides back and lets him sit in front, peeking around to watch as Galo smoothly flips a switch, cranks a key, kicks up the stand, and effortlessly starts to roll the big motorcycle forward. He pauses before slipping into the thin stream of traffic, instructing Lio to hold on tight.
Lio lifts his hands and lays them on Galo’s shoulders, gripping against softspun cotton and the strong, muscled slopes that rise toward a blue-dusted nape.
They cut clear across sunny Promepolis, weaving through ruined streets and around rubble not yet cleared. Lio gives the tensed muscle under his hands a squeeze while they stop and wait for a few kids to cross the street, smiling to himself as Galo groans, rolls his neck, and murmurs something about still being sore from yesterday’s clean-up.
Eventually, Galo comes across a mostly-empty parking lot for Lio to practice in. It boasts a pad of cracked concrete and a dumpster in the far corner, along with a few fat rats that waddle away as the motorcycle rumbles near.
“Like Vinny!” Galo says, pointing as they scurry toward the dumpster.
“Exactly like Vinny,” Lio dryly agrees as he spies one dragging away a whole slice of pizza.
Galo takes his shirt off as soon as he parks the bike, balling the dark heathered material up tight and cramming it into a small storage compartment near the fender, and Lio is long past questioning why. Underneath, Galo wears that same pale sleeve over his left arm, hiding the bands of heavy scarring that wrap the limb; it's one solitary concession to his stubborn insistence on going around shirtless.
Not that Lio is complaining. Not even a little bit. Not when he’s grown so used to the mesmerizing sight of Galo’s flexing back as he does curl-ups while hanging from the top bunk, and watching sweat roll down the curves of his chest while they work, and resting against firm, pillowy muscle when they flop down beside each other after a long day.
But Galo trading spots with him and pressing close while half-naked does make it significantly harder to concentrate on his enthusiastic teaching lesson.
“So, your right hand is for acceleration and breaking,” Galo explains from where he sits right behind Lio, biceps brushing Lio’s shoulders as he reaches past to point out each part of the bike’s controls. “You twist the grip like this, toward yourself, to apply the throttle,” he adds, giving a little demonstration.
Lio nods along, familiar with that much. His eyes linger on Galo's hand where it curls around the grip of the handlebar, sorely tempted to lay his over it.
“Two fingers for the front brakes,” Galo continues, surprisingly attentive and thorough as he walks Lio through every step, “and your right foot controls the rear brakes, which you’ll rely on more for a big bike like this. It’s important to go nice and easy with both.”
He shows Lio how to work the clutch, his breath blowing hot across the back of Lio’s neck and over the delicate shell of his ear. He teaches him about shifting gear. And then he gently takes hold of Lio by both wrists and guides his hands up to the handlebars.
“Steering is easier to do than it is to explain, honestly,” Galo tells him, his half-shrug felt where he bumps lightly into Lio’s back. “Just trust your instincts.”
“Trust my instincts,” Lio solemnly repeats, giving a decisive little nod. His hands tighten on the grips of the handlebars, eager to put all he’s learned to the test— and maybe to show off a little, if he can manage some of the stunts he used to pull with ease on Detroit.
While Galo scurries from the bike and proudly whips out his phone to start filming, Lio goes through the steps for ignition and gets the engine roaring. He’s confident as he kicks up the stand and pushes forward, easing off the clutch slow, grinning at Galo’s full-volume cheers of That’s it, Lio! and You look like a natural! and I think we should name this one Galolio! Or Liogalo? Whichever!
And then everything goes to shit.
One twist too hard and the throttle floods the engine with gas. The motorcycle revs under Lio, tires spinning on the concrete, and jolts forward so fast he nearly pops a wheelie. Steering? There is no steering. Not at this speed. Not with a bike this big and unwieldy in a beginner’s hands.
Lio hits the nearest curb and gets bucked from the seat, sent soaring in an arc that would almost appear graceful if not for the rat-filled dumpster and flailing Galo in the background. A plume of fine dust puffs up around him as he hits the ground rolling. His palms and forearms are nicked and scraped as he tumbles over gravel, but the worst thing by far is the sound of Galo’s frantic steps and worried yelling.
“Don’t worry, Galo. I’m fine,” Lio says as he pushes himself up off the ground, all too used to being tossed around. As he straightens up, though, he twists his arm and finds a smear of crimson running down from his elbow. The heels of his palms are red and raw. His knuckles, too.
“You’re bleeding!” Galo shouts as he draws close. His hands settle on Lio’s shoulders first, making certain he’s stable and steady, and then travel him down to check him over for anything more serious. “Lio, you— that wasn't— I should've— are you okay? This looks rough.”
Lio winces as Galo delicately turns his hands over, examining their scraped palms. “Galo… I think I need another lesson.”
Galo snorts out a disbelieving little laugh, still preoccupied.
“What you need is some first aid,” he corrects. His touch is soft as he feels for any broken bones or soreness; his eyes are even softer as he studies Lio for any sign of concussion. Galo’s expression turns sheepishly guilty as he adds, “I, uh… forgot to grab my kit before we left.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Lio insists, wiping his hands off on his bright uniform pants. He’s watched Galo tend his own lingering wounds from the fight with Kray, dutifully changing bandages and dabbing on ointment. He can do the same when they get back to the station.
But Galo certainly seems to think it matters. He lingers there in front of Lio with a faint pout and a sharp furrow in his brow, apparently thinking hard.
“Wait! I know what’ll do the trick,” Galo suddenly declares, snapping his fingers. His hand cups under one of Lio’s, callused fingers sliding featherlight over soft, bruised skin. It’s almost alarming how easily his grip swallows Lio up, warm and exceedingly gentle.
Lio’s breath stutters like the flickering flame of a candle as Galo bends at the waist and draws his hand up, the move like something out of an old-timey film with some dashing prince charming. Lips press oh-so-lightly to the backs of thin, elegant fingers, careful not to touch where the skin is bruised and scraped raw. Something like a shiver quivers through Lio’s bones, raising the fine hair up his arms and down his nape.
And then Galo stands and draws back, brow knitting with confusion when Lio’s hand doesn’t heal before his very eyes. “Hm… it worked the last time,” he very nearly whines. “Well, it was worth a try.”
The last time, when Galo had breathed the spark of the life back into him and brought him back from the brink. Back when Lio was still Burnish and the Promare were still connected to their earth and their reality. Lio doesn’t have the heart to point out that it wasn’t the sheer power of Galo’s kiss that saved him. Or that his salvation needn’t have been delivered in the form of a kiss at all, necessarily.
And surely it can’t be this easy to convince Galo to do it again.
“Maybe it has to be on the lips,” Lio offhandedly suggests, trusting that Galo will take the bait no matter how painfully obvious it is. And it is obvious, at least from where Lio is standing— something like molten magma stirs in the pit of his gut and threatens to make his whole body break into a sweat. If he were still Burnish, he’d have already combusted.
Instead, he quietly smolders and wonders if Galo— so attuned to all things fire and flame— can read the signs.
“Hey!” Galo brightens, tapping two fingers against his own temple. “Good thinking, boss,” he says with a wink. “No wonder you were the brains of the Mad Burnish operation.”
Lio can only offer him a soft, smug smile in return. He’s easily appeased by Galo’s touch, leaning into the hand that runs up his neck and cups at the base of his skull. There’s the gentlest tug as fingers weave through his hair. A thumb brushes the shell of his reddening ear. Lio’s eyes slip shut as Galo leans in close, heart beating within his chest like it means to break free of his ribcage at any moment.
Warm breath dances over his skin, followed by the soft connection of dry, chapped lips and a faint taste of some saccharinely sweet bubblegum. It lasts just long enough for Lio to feel a spark as he puckers his lips into Galo’s, answering the gentle press with a firmer, hungrier pressure.
And then it breaks.
His eyes flutter open to find Galo concernedly examining the scrapes along his hands and forearms. They’re just as raw, though the blood is a shade darker now, half-tacky as it dries down. “Hm… still nothing. Sorry, Lio. Let’s get back to the station so I can get you cleaned up.”
“Maybe it has to last longer,” Lio says with another measure of feigned innocence, edging further into Galo’s space. He fits perfectly into the loose spread of his stance, one poofy pantleg and large, heavy boot on either side of Lio's smaller frame. “When you kissed me before, how long did you hold it?”
“Uh, it felt like forever,” Galo admits, a tinge of color alight on his cheeks. His eyes go vacant as he draws a hand over his chin, a stray finger absently passing over his bottom lip. And then he snaps back to the present, mind made up. “Okay, let’s give it a shot. C’mere.”
Lio can’t fight a spreading smile as Galo slips two fingers under his chin and angles his head upward. A broad hand spreads across the middle of his back, casually spanning the breadth of Lio's ribcage as it presses him closer. Lio’s eyes close at the very last possible moment, drinking in the sight of Galo’s long lashes and suntanned skin and the faintest of scars above his brow as he dips close.
When they kiss this time, it’s a more than a spark.
Their mouths angle together for a perfect fit, a heady heat felt behind the soft, dry cushion of Galo’s lips. Lio can’t help but chase it, rising up on his tiptoes as he pushes for some kind of leverage that’ll let him open Galo up and get a satisfying mouthful of him. His scraped palms drag their way up Galo’s bare chest, fingers curling possessively into the slopes of strong shoulders, marveling at all the places where Galo is bigger— his chest and his hands and all the way up thickly muscled arms.
Lio’s eyes open lazy and half-lidded before slowly sliding shut again, content with Galo’s lips on his.
The last time, he’d been out of it. Dead or dying, the world muted and grey all around him, even down the shocking blue of Galo’s ash-flecked hair. The first sensation he’d felt as his life flickered back was a gentle, protective touch and the tender pressure of cracked, bruised lips on his own, coaxing him back to a life vivid with color.
Now Lio gets to enjoy every lingering moment: the comforting smell of sweat and old smoke on Galo’s skin; the low, needy sounds he makes as Lio’s mouth moves insistently against his; how Galo tastes with the swipe of a tongue, how his pulse hammers under the stroke of a nimble thumb along his neck, how he holds onto Lio like he’s afraid of him vanishing into ash again.
Galo is warmth given solid form, not unlike the things Lio’d drawn out of the flames and refined into honed shape when he was still Burnish. He’s safety in a world upended all over again, the first glimmer Lio’s had of a happiness that exists beyond just surviving and keeping his people safe. Every ache and bruise from his mishap on the bike fades from mind, happily forgotten, and Lio very nearly wonders if Galo did manage to make him whole again with the power of just one kiss.
Parting for breath is a damned waste when Lio thinks he could keep at this for hours.
Galo emerges from the kiss with a slight daze, wearing an easy, crooked smile and a blush that carries all the way down his chest.
“That was… wow. But I’m starting to think it won’t work now that you’re not Burnish,” Galo wonders aloud, tone almost rueful. Like he’d genuinely hoped there might still be something semi-magical to their kisses, whenever or wherever. “Not without the Promare still—”
“Galo Thymos!” Lio says before he can finish that train of thought, drawing up to his full height of five-foot-four. He claps his bare hands on either side of Galo’s dumb, handsome face and stares him dead in the eye. “Are you going to let that stop you? Isn’t your burning firefighter’s soul enough?”
“L-Lio…” Galo’s eyes go wide, lit from within by a fire that makes Lio’s heart race and his blood simmer. “Yeah,” he says through slightly smushed cheeks, more cocksure with every passing moment. “Yeah… you’re right! What kind of man would I be if I gave up after a measly three tries?”
“That’s my Galo,” Lio says, his smile turning impish as Galo’s face warms anew under his touch, his blush fiery red. He doesn’t miss the way Galo’s gaze drifts back down to his cuts and bruises, forever eager to help, to rescue, to set the broken right.
“Let me take you home first and get you bandaged up. I don’t like seeing you all beat up,” Galo says, borderline pouting, and Lio finds he can’t find much room to protest.
He helps Galo get the bike upright, relieved that the extent of the damage appears to be some scuffing and a slight crack in the fender. Nothing unmanageable, Galo assures him as he slides into the seat and beckons for Lio to join him with a curled finger.
“Cute,” Lio mumbles, hot under his collar at Galo’s playful reminder of their first meeting.
“Yeah. I thought so, too,” Galo laughs, amusement rolling off of him. “And driving will just take a little more practice,” he adds for encouragement, patting Lio’s thigh where it comes to rest against his own. “You’ll be better than me in no time. Popping wheelies and driving up walls… real Mad Burnish stuff.”
“Sounds like you’d like that,” Lio notes as he winds his sore arms around Galo’s trim waist and spoons against him, cheek pressed to his spine.
“Hell yeah I’d like it. And you know,” Galo drawls as he looks back over his shoulder, gears clearly turning somewhere under all that wildly blue hair, “when the kiss worked that first time, your shirt was mostly gone. Just saying.”
Lio blinks with the realization that Galo is right. And perhaps a bit more sly than he’d taken him for, the firefighter’s smile deeply self-assured as he turns back to the road.
“Maybe that’s what’s missing,” Lio muses, playing along. There’s a light flutter through his chest that almost reminds him of the sing-song flicker of the Promare, airy and free and burning with anticipation. “I’m wearing too many clothes.”
“We won’t know until we try,” Galo says, all optimistic determination and brazen flirtation. “Right?”
Lio winds his arms a little tighter around Lio's middle, contentedly soaking in his warmth. “Right.”