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Whispers we share (through the steam)

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Lio hates losing his mind.

As a leader, it’s important to keep his head clear so he won’t make any rash decisions. He has an image to maintain, too. Ever since the Second World Blaze he’s become a known, public figure. The world’s eyes are watching his every movement for a weakness to exploit, and his people depend on him to show strength and perseverance.

It’s almost easy at times, given how he’s spent almost two decades of his life on the run as a Burnish, learning to channel his frustrations into his fire, into building something useful.

But, with or without alien fire, he’s still only human. Perfection isn’t more reachable to him than it is for anyone else, and at times, he will break.

(Briefly, he remembers flashes of Promepolis, burning from the ground up. He hears his cries echoed by the mighty roar of a powerful dragon.

He remembers the endless pain and the fear. The rage.

The grief.)

Grief.

That’s a strong emotion if Lio’s ever felt one.

And he thinks he’s on the verge of breaking right about now.

Because Galo has, again, thrown himself in the line of the fire. Quite literally.

Lio hates to admit it’s thanks to him that their last call was 100% successful. 

Galo Thymos. Impulsive, unreasonably selfless, and always ready to jump right back into danger for someone, even against Ignis’ orders — the few times Galo will disobey to be fair. He’s a quick thinker with a lot of creative solutions and if he sees an opportunity, he’ll never leave anyone behind.

Lio admires that in him. That burning passion to help others is part of what has compelled him so strongly to keep Galo close. Among other things.

(It’s Galo. How can anyone in the world not feel drawn to someone as honest and compassionate as Galo?)

But, admirable or not, it never fails to give Lio a test run for an inevitable heart attack.

Not that Lio doesn’t know the danger he’s signed up for. Because he knows.

The entire team knew exactly what they were getting themselves into the moment they applied for this job. It’s not for the faint of heart, the tension and the worry that looms over their heads in every emergency. They move in and out of burning, unstable buildings, working together as a unity to make sure other people will come out safe. Lio’s come to admire them, too.

But then comes Galo — the rest of the team may also be guilty of pulling similar stunts every once in a while, but usually it’s Galo. And without thinking, because thinking will take too much of their precious time, he acts and jumps in and pools everyone’s stomachs heavy with dread.

Galo is important to them. As selfless as their job makes them seem, the truth is that it will always be more dreadful, to them, to lose one of their own. And then this time, this time— 

He wouldn’t come out.

In the back of his mind, Lio only vaguely remembers the sound of Lucia running a dozen scans, and Aina’s and Ignis’ voices growing more desperate for him to respond. Remi’s joined in, too.

But it was the roar of the fire that haunted his ears.

Lio was just about to move inside himself when Galo finally made it out, nearly entirely covered in ashes. His mech was singed almost everywhere from the waist down, and there were a couple of bodies thrown over its shoulders.

And he was alive.

Lio still painfully remembers the immense wave of relief he felt then, before the steady, comforting feeling slowly giving place to something more somber when the rush of adrenaline died down. Now, he aches.

Lio knows Galo’s okay. He’s alive. His eyes shine so bright, nobody would ever guess he’s just had his ears chewed off by Ignis if they didn’t hear it themselves. He’s smiling at some dumb joke Varys has told him on their way toward the shower room at the FDPP, his entire face covered in ashes.

He’s alive, but Lio’s entire body is screaming at him to reach out, right now. Because his stupid, traitorous mind is breaking down, now of all times, under the stubborn mental image of Galo buried under charred debris, unconscious and unable to return back to the safety of the team. To him.

The image’s so cemented in his mind, it roots itself around his heart in a grip so deadly that he can barely breathe.

He watches from afar as Galo enters a shower stall by himself. Varys makes his way into another. Lio’s the only one left.

He shouldn’t do it.

He really shouldn’t do it.

He reaches towards Galo’s stall. Quietly, he slides open the curtains, just wide enough to make his way inside. As scrambled as his head feels, Lio knows it won't do any good to get caught.

He nearly fails to account for Galo's loud mouth, of course — which in itself is a statement to his current lack of sanity. He looks startled, understandably, but before he can yell to the entire fire department that his privacy is being invaded, Lio covers his mouth.

With one hand blocking Galo's voice, Lio reaches up with the other, index finger pressing tightly against his own lips.

Galo’s brows slowly furrow to express concern, but the tension in his muscles seem to subside. Lio lets go to make sure the curtain is fully closed behind him.

“The fuck are you doing here?” Lio has to hold back the urge to sigh. He should know better than to expect Galo Thymos to stay quiet.

“Giving a self-sacrificing idiot a piece of my mind,” he replies flatly. Which… Isn’t really true but isn’t exactly a lie, because if Lio were to be honest, he has actually no idea what he is hoping to accomplish here.

But he needs something. And he won't be able to relax until he has it.

He needs, he needs—

Hell, whatever it may be could probably have waited until after they’re dry, comfortable, and dressed in the rec room. Who the fuck invites themselves to a joint shower in the middle of a mental breakdown?

Almost as if reading his mind, Galo sputters, flabbergasted. His cheeks turn a shade redder. “Couldn’t that have waited until later??” he hisses.

… So maybe Lio’s also an idiot.

But he’s not about to just admit that out loud, even more so to Galo, even if his own cheeks have started to burn the more he thinks over his own decisions.

He is already here anyway.

“Shut up.”

Lio takes a step forward before he can second guess himself and spontaneously combust on the spot — which would have been a terrible irony — to wrap his arms around Galo’s middle.

“Uh… Lio?”

Lio doesn't look at him. Refuses to do so, even, instead choosing to take advantage of their height to rest against Galo's broad chest. The effect is almost immediate, like a weight suddenly evaporates off Lio's shoulders as soon as the sweet sound of Galo’s constant heartbeat invades his ear.

That's exactly what he needed, he realizes with a shaky breath. The clouds that were clogging his mind suddenly disappeared.

It doesn’t take long to feel Galo sigh against him, likely from resignation. Following suit, a strong pair of arms surround Lio’s body in a wonderfully tight embrace. Along with the warmth provided by the water and the steam shielding them from the outer cold, Lio has never felt safer.

A peaceful silence falls over them for a while, safe for the sound of water repeatedly falling on their skin.

“... I scared you guys pretty bad today, didn’t I?” Galo finally says. Even though they have been whispering all along, he somehow manages to sound impossibly softer.

Lio tightens his hold further.

It takes a moment longer for Galo to let go. Lio’s follows his lead, his arms loosening their grip. He supposes he feels a little more ready to face the world now — he's taken enough of Galo's time as it is and should leave him to take a proper shower in peace — until he feels a gentle hand on the top of his head.

“What are you doing?” Lio asks, even though he already has a pretty good guess with the way Galo’s fingers repeatedly move against his scalp.

Lio finally looks up, only to find a bright smile directed at him. It makes his heart flutter, a feeling that has become increasingly familiar ever since they’ve saved the world together, months ago.

“Your hair’s so full of ash! Just thought I could help you so you can relax a little longer,” he speaks a little louder than is considered appropriate for a whisper, and Lio briefly tenses before he realizes there is no sound other than their own showerhead in the room. Sometime between entering Galo’s stall and now, everyone else finished their own business and left.

On one hand, it's a relief; it means they are alone. On the other, now it's only a matter of time until somebody notices that Galo’s taking too long and that Lio is nowhere else to be found.

“Close your eyes,” warns Galo. Lio complies just in time for the water to hit his scalp.

“I should probably go before anyone finds me here,” he says, ignoring the part of him that would love to stay and return the favor. If Lio’s hair was dirty before, then Galo’s is filthy.

(And, of course, he would have an excuse to run his fingers through Galo's blue mess of a hair without raising questions. Sounds like a win-win.

And yet.)

“Wait. Just one sec, almost done…” Galo gently turns Lio’s head this way and that to make sure he’s properly rinsed every spot. He hums with satisfaction. “There."

His hands fall from Lio’s hair to his shoulders, prompting him to turn around and leave with a gentle push.

“Now go. I’ll see you when I’m done.”

Lio smiles at Galo from over his shoulder.

“Thanks.”

“Hey, no problem! You know I’d never turn down a hug, man.”

Right.

Lio has never been more grateful for Galo’s ability to just run with the weirdest shit that’s thrown his way, so long as it doesn’t defy the empathy within his burning soul.

With a fond shake of his head, Lio reaches out for the curtain once more and, after making sure there are no witnesses around, he leaves.

 

=X=X=X=

 

Lio hasn’t thought much about that incident since it happened.

Galo hasn’t mentioned it once, so he hasn’t either. It was definitely a one-time thing, all but a spur of the moment when Lio allowed his fears to get the best of him and that Galo — the fucking saint that he is — went along for his sake. It wasn’t special, or important, or ever happening again.

Lio doesn’t expect it to happen again.

“Hey, Lio! I think I’m gonna take a shower, you want in?”

Until that bomb drops.

Lio almost gives himself whiplash when he turns to Galo standing next to the bathroom door. The movie he's been watching is completely forgotten.

“What?”

“Yeah! I mean, I really gotta wash my hair, and you mentioned you had to wash yours too, so I thought, you could let me do it! It saves water and stuff.”

It’s the way Galo shrugs, genuinely nonchalant and unbothered that makes Lio realize that he is, in fact, in trouble.

Firstly, Lio doesn't even remember saying anything about his hair today to begin with, so that must have been more of an absentminded comment than anything — though now that it's been mentioned, it does strike a chord, very vaguely, in the back of his mind. The fact that Galo remembers at all, which is apparently such a mundane thing for him to do, does things to Lio’s poor little heart. 

But also, and most important of all, what kind of logic is that?

How the fuck does one even respond to that? Galo apparently thinks this is now a thing , which — it isn’t. It absolutely, one hundred percent, is not . Lio can’t just say “yes”, or else that would solidify the idea in Galo’s head, and Lio would rather die than get in a shower with Galo Thymos again, or else he might just—

… Well.

But, on the other hand, it turns out he can’t quite say “no”, either. Because…

… It’s Galo Thymos.

And from the moment he stepped inside a giant robot to serve as the engine to Galo’s pilot, Lio could never quite say no to him.

(Lio can only hope Galo never realizes the power he holds, because if he were ever to consciously use those big puppy eyes on him, Lio would change the entire world’s axis for him in a heartbeat.)

He’s pathetically gone for this man.

“That’s… a little sudden, isn’t it?” The excuse feels weak even to his own ears. Galo moves his entire body in a gesture that can only be described as incredulous.

“And last time wasn’t??”

Lio would like to get off of the Earth, please.

Not only is Galo right, but he is also having the decency to take the time and ask.

Unlike other parties involved.

Lio taps his fingers on the couch. His brows furrow with concentration as he wills his blood not to rush up to his cheeks. He briefly glances at the scene playing on the screen before him. In a cruel irony only the Universe could provide, it showcases the protagonists kissing in the rain.

Silence.

“You know, you can just say n—”

“Alright.”

“What?”

“I said alright.”

“Oh.” Galo blinds him with his thousand kilowatt smiles. “Alright, then! It’s shower time!”

He turns around, his shirt already halfway off — which, for Galo, is not something unusual to see —, and Lio’s already regretting every decision that's taken him here.

Nevertheless, he turns off the TV and walks into the bathroom.

As he steps in, Galo’s already down only to his underwear, upper body half inside the shower while he tweaks with the temperature. Lio takes the chance to start stripping as well, back halfway turned to Galo in a bleak attempt of modesty.

“I’m gonna take a guess and say you like the water super scalding,” Galo calls from where his face is hidden behind the curtain. The playfulness in his voice helps Lio forget his current problems — briefly.

“Oh, and what gave that away?” He looks at Galo from the corner of his eyes, smirking. “Was it the fact that I used to commune with living fire?”

“More like the sauna you leave behind every time you come out of the shower,” the man shoots back.

“And you don’t?”

“I leave steam, Lio. Ya know, a bit of a foggy mirror, that’s normal. I feel I've entered a whole onsen here after you leave.” He laughs when Lio huffs. Not that he really knows what an "onsen" means, but he supposes he gets the idea. “I’m telling ya, we could open a whole SPA in our bathroom! We’d be rich!”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

Galo stops turning the knob. After a moment of consideration, he hums in satisfaction to himself. “Alright, I think this is good enough!”

Without hesitation, he reaches down to take off his underwear and Lio immediately whips his head around, eyes focused to an invisible point on the wall. The casualty is gone again in the blink of an eye, and he almost believes the Promare has come back with how much his face burns.

It is stupid because privacy has never quite been in their vocabulary ever since Galo first dragged him home, post-Second World Blaze. Even at work he can’t keep a shirt on to save his own life, for one, and at home Lio has lost count of how many times he has seen his homemate stumble into the kitchen at 6am wearing nothing but boxer briefs, or changing with his door open. Given that lack of discretion, Lio decided long ago not to care much for it, either.

But, then again, seeing someone change and getting in a shower with them are two very different levels of intimacy.

Lio can’t help but question how exactly he did this once before without panicking his brains out. Because, right now, he has no idea how he’ll be able to get in that shower and ever look Galo in the eye again.

He thanks his years of carefully crafted composure when he manages to do so without combusting.

“Lio, c’mon!” Galo steps out of the water almost as soon as Lio closes the shower curtains, and motions for him to take his place.

Lio makes a point to keep his eyes anywhere above Galo’s chest the entire four steps that he takes.

He tries distracting himself with his own hair, fingers separating the strands to help the water flow through easier, only to internally curse Galo's flawless muscles when his arm moves to grab the bottle of shampoo. The movement attracts Lio's gaze immediately.

Beautiful. Enticing. Strong.

Lio wants to be held by them again.

(And that's just how far he'll allow his thoughts to go when he's fully naked and bare for Galo to see — dangerous. Now more than any other time in his life, his brain could be dangerous.)

Right. Distractions. He needs them.

Galo thankfully provides one.

"Are you ready?" he asks, swinging the bottle between his fingers absentmindedly. Lio's eyes trail from the movement up to Galo's face, and he is not surprised to find a hint of excitement in it, accompanied with a little bit of hope.

How curious.

"You seem very eager about this," Lio points out.

"Yeah!"

"Why?" He steps out of the water. Galo takes his place.

"I dunno. I guess it’s just calming." He pours a handful of shampoo on Lio's hair and immediately gets to work. He offers no other explanation, like that alone should clear everything.

Lio blinks.

"Calming?" Galo nods. "How so?"

"Okay, so, remember when you came and hugged me last time?" he asks, as if Lio could ever forget to begin with. "I was still kinda adrenaline-fueled from the call. Or maybe a lot. And like, I think the whole thing got a bit more of a toll on me than I realized?"

Galo quiets for a moment, brows furrowing as he thinks to himself, like he’s grasping on how to put his emotions into words properly. It makes sense; he's a lot more intuitive than he is an analyzer. He wants to remember the feeling more properly.

"Whatever the case, I decided to wash your hair, cause it looked like you could use some comfort, and an excuse to stay a bit longer." Unexpectedly observant, as always. "But then after you left, I realized I was calmer. I remember thinking 'Man, that was so nice! We should do that again sometime.'"

That is not exactly the answer Lio thought he would get — though, then again, he doesn't quite know what he expected toget.

Needless to say, it is quite the Galo Thymos kind of reasoning, and that alone is enough to bring a smile to Lio's lips.

"Glad I could help you too."

"Of course! We always help each other, right?? It's what partners are for!" Galo beams down at him, and the only reason Lio doesn't take that to a whole different context is because he's grown accustomed to Galo's loud declarations of their supposed partnership.

"We saved the world together! I just know we'll always have each other's back not matter what, Lio" is what Galo had told him when questioned about it, back at the very first time it had been brought up.

Lio had no reason to argue with it.

Galo seems happy to leave their current conversation at that. He's surely taking his sweet time with his task, fingers continuously rubbing Lio's scalp when he should probably be rinsing by now already — but hey, if it will apparently help him to take a while longer, who's Lio to complain?

Following that train of thought quickly brings out one more question.

"What made you wanna wash my hair today?"

Galo's ministrations stop for a moment, and when Lio opens his eyes — when did he close them? —, the smile he'd last seen there is gone, as is the light in his eyes.

It is… jarring to see so suddenly.

"You don't have to tell me," Lio amends quickly. But Galo shakes his head, brows furrowing in reluctant determination. His fingers start moving again.

He takes a deep breath.

"Tomorrow’s the anniversary of my parents' death."

Ah.

Fuck.

"Galo…"

"Hey, no, it's okay," Galo reassures him, which only leaves a sour taste on Lio's mouth. Why is he reassuring Lio about this? "I just don't like thinking about it often. And— And I may, like, just need some time for myself tomorrow, I guess.

"But I visit them every year, you know? And it’s been a long time! I was, what, seven? It's gonna be fine, nothing I haven't done before, I'll just bounce back the day after tomorrow and it will be alright—"

"Galo."

He stops.

Lio reaches up and takes Galo's face in his hands, pointedly making him look down until their eyes meet.

"Stop dismissing the issue right this instant," Lio practically orders. His voice sounds reminiscent of the one he used when he lead the Mad Burnish, not too long ago.

Galo gulps. Lio narrows his eyes.

"Why are you doing that?"

"I don't— Lio, this isn't your problem to shoulder, okay? I don't want you to think you gotta. And you just have way too much on your plate right now, anyway! I know you've been wearing yourself thin with your Burnish reintegration work, don't think I haven't seen it!"

Lio bristles. "Yes, and I've taken the day off for a reason."

"And you should keep your day off to relax! I've dealt with this on my own for years and I can take it once more!"

Lio sighs.

"You're an idiot."

"Yes, I am!"

"I thought we were partners?"

That seems to get a reaction. Galo seems eager to argue with that thought, but by the way his mouth opens and closes again without a sound, Lio knows that he can't.

"We always have each other's backs, you said it yourself. I'm here to shoulder your problems just as much as you always have mine. What part of that could possibly not apply here, Galo Thymos?"

It takes another moment, but eventually Galo finally deflates, defeated. He averts his eyes and pouts, and Lio has the sudden urge to kiss his troubles away.

Instead he steps forward, arms sliding down from Galo's face to wrap under and around his arms, hands resting on his shoulders. Just like last time, Lio feels Galo sigh before returning the favor.

There’s a comforting weight on his head when Galo's chin rests atop of it, and the touch of his fingers return to Lio's hair. Only, this time, the gentle massaging feels a lot more like petting, a caress, and Galo doesn’t seem keen to stop for however long they stay like that.

"Can I come with you?"

"Hm?"

"To visit your parents tomorrow."

"OH!" Like a switch has just been flipped, Galo's demeanor is suddenly back to normal. Like just the thought of having some company solved all of his problems. "Are you sure?"

"Wouldn't be asking if I wasn't."

"Sure! I bet they'd love to meet the guy I saved the world with!" Galo pulls back just so he can grin down at Lio, and just like that, everything seems alright in the world again.

Lio knows it isn't, not yet, but he'll take small victories.

And then Galo's smile softens, and Lio suddenly remembers exactly why he was reluctant to join him in the first place.

"Thank you, Lio."

He's weak.

He's led an arsonist rebellion, saved (then lost) multiple lives from the claws of Foresight Foundation. He has nearly burned a whole city to the ground in pure grief, has then burned the entire Solar System to save the world, and is still perceived as the biggest Burnish figure in Promepolis (and outside of it) by both his people and non-Burnish alike.

And yet, under Galo's fond gaze and sweet tone of voice, Lio is weak and putty in his hands.

He wants to kiss Galo. And hold him, and tell him that tomorrow — and every day after that — is gonna be okay because Lio will be there with him every step of the way.

He's weaker still for hesitating, but his life has never allowed him the chance to pursue a serious relationship before. He's still not sure how much he is actually reading between the lines and how much of it is Galo just being… Galo.

Lio buries his face back against his chest. It's easier to hold himself back if he's not looking. It's easier to deal, even if he can feel the entirety of Galo's bare body pressed against his own — which is both a blessing and a torturous curse at this very moment.

This is definitely dangerous. And worse even, because now it's a Thing. And not one Lio's willing to give up on, because he admittedly enjoys it just as much as Galo seems to.

He refuses to do anything about his feelings just yet.

But if they keep the habit of cuddling, naked, in the warmth of a shower, it might happen sooner rather than later.

 

=X=X=X=

 

Turns out, it isn’t as soon as Lio thinks. But, then again, he has so little faith in his own resolve when it comes to Galo and their… situation, that he’s been certain it would happen the very next time. He would take one look at Galo and be unable to resist his beautiful face, or muscles, or ass, and stop holding back.

In fact, he’s not sure how he has managed so far. If he really must find an answer, he might reason that the moments themselves haven't allowed him much space to act to begin with.

His head had been much too scrambled the first time for him to care about any implications of what a joint shower might entail. Even thinking back now, he can remember the idea being present, but only as a very quiet whisper amidst the cacophony in his mind.

The second time was just too heavy. Lio was more aware, yes, but you don’t just kiss the person you like while they’re grieving for their parents, not unless you’re certain that it’s okay to do so. It would be inappropriate no matter how you look at it.

And, turns out, this time is just as inappropriate. Because you should also not kiss the person you like if they are not in the proper state of mind to consent to begin with. That would be taking advantage of them, and Lio can think of few crimes that could be considered worse.

And, right now, Galo Thymos is very, very drunk.

Definitely not a good state of mind in Lio’s opinion.

It’s almost ironic that a lack of consent is not much of a problem when he leads Galo into the bathroom. This time, out of necessity.

(He briefly wonders if there will ever be a romantic reasoning behind their joint showers somewhere amidst, well— all the other things.)

“Can you change on your own?” Lio asks as soon as they’re inside. Because, drunk or not, Galo’s still a sight to behold and Lio has his limits — although he’s willing to cross them if it comes down to it.

He’s not worried much about Galo having a problem with it; if their history so far is anything to go by, Galo is likely not going to mind Lio undressing him at a time like this. He’ll be understanding, at the very least — he really needs a shower.

They both do, in fact; Lio has been dragging Galo around since they’ve left the bar, and Galo reeks of alcohol. His clothes have been drenched in it thanks to a few— competitive incidents while they were drinking.

(Lio is gonna murder both Gueira and Varys the next time he sees either of them.)

Nevertheless, Lio’s not gonna let either of them go to bed in the state they’re in.

“Course I can! Who do you think I am, Lio??” Galo responds, even louder than usual. It doesn’t compensate for how slurred his words have become.

It's a testament to just how drunk he is when he reaches down to pull off his own shirt, and actually fails.

The irony is not lost on either of them. It doesn't even matter how annoyed Lio could possibly be with Galo's less than stellar choices earlier at the bar; right now he can't stop the amused — fond — curving of his lips at the sight of Galo's struggles. He's even pouting.

Adorable.

"And here I thought you could rip off your shirt in your sleep by now," Lio teases. He takes a step forward when he realises Galo's not gonna manage on his own. "Lemme help."

Galo grumbles, his already flushed face turning a shade darker. But he doesn't stop Lio from reaching out to pull off his shirt.

"How did you ever survive without me?" Lio teases further. He may be enjoying Galo's embarrassment a little too much.

"Usually I'd be asleep by now!" Galo explains petulantly.

"Unforgivable." Lio shakes his head as he now works on unbuttoning Galo's jeans — and he's so very thankful for their current conversation. It's a wonderful distraction. "Such savagery, Galo. I would never have expected. What would Aina even say?"

"She’d be so drunk she’d join me!"

"Good point," Lio concedes. She did loosen up to the point where she might have become as careless as Galo. He doesn’t doubt she’s already passed out somewhere in her place.

“I know.” Galo's grin is unbearably smug for being right — and maybe Lio is also a little drunker than he'd like when, instead of rolling his eyes, he only smiles brighter.

He doesn't remember the last time he smiled this much — and he's been smiling a lot more in the past few months than he's had in over a decade of his life, so that's really saying something.

Galo always gives him reasons to smile. Sometimes unintentionally, if only because being around him just makes things better so effortlessly.

Lio couldn't be more grateful.

"Get your ass in the shower, Thymos."

He watches Galo go with only a complaint when he stumbles his way over the tub — and even as he takes off his own clothes, Lio watches. Because Galo's drunken lack of balance and the slippery porcelain sounded just about a recipe for disaster, and Lio's nothing if not protective of the people he loves.

(And to think that, once upon a time, Lio would never have considered Galo worthy of that title.

Lio's grown to love him as much as he does the Burnish — so much, so fiercely, so similar and yet different at the same time.)

As he joins Galo in the tub, Lio takes one glance up at the showerhead, Galo, then at the cold porcelain under his feet.

"... Maybe we should take a bath instead."

The way Galo's eyes immediately light up is enough for Lio to realize what he has done. He wouldn't be able to convince Galo otherwise again even if he tried.

"Can we?!" Galo asks, loud. Louder than he usually is at this time of the night, at home, with no one to listen but Lio.

"Sit down," Lio tells him, because by this point it would be too much of a bother to get out and back in again just for the sake of filling the tub.

Galo sits down cross-legged and looks up at Lio with wide, expecting eyes.

Cute. Unbearably cute.

Fuck, if Galo was just a little sober, he—

"Don't boil us alive."

Lio snickers, kneeling down to turn the faucet.

"Do you really think I would?"

“Naah, not really! I mean, doesn't hurt to remind you, but I know you'd never hurt anyone!” Galo grins with no small amount of certainty. The alcohol in his system seems to have turned his honesty up a notch, too.

Lio smiles. “Of course. Burnish don’t kill.”

“Yes! And least of all me!” His voice turns up a notch again, and Lio worries just how louder he can get before they receive some complaints. Galo’s too busy being smug to notice. “I’m special.” He drags out the last word, like it is a secret so well-kept it deserves a touch of mystery.

Lio wants to burn.

“Hm… I suppose you are,” he teases, because he can’t even deny it. “Against my better judgement.”

That doesn’t seem to deter Galo, who’s now practically beaming.

“I know!”

Lio huffs out a laugh, fond, and even as he turns to watch the water fill the now half empty tub, he can feel Galo’s eyes constantly on his back. Not for the first time, he wonders if the way Galo’s gaze burns Lio’s skin has anything to do with his acclaimed firefighter’s burning soul.

Whatever the case, it’s a clear indication of Galo’s impatience. And, case in point, he reaches out as soon as the tub’s filled.

“C’meeeeere, Lio! I can’t reach out that far to wash your hair!”

“You’re not touching my hair tonight,” says Lio, though he does move closer. It’s amusing, the way Galo becomes so flabbergasted.

BUT—

Lio presses his finger to Galo’s lips and shushes before he can get any louder. “I’ll be the one washing youralcohol-filthy hair.”

Galo’s entire face lights up brighter than Promepolis does at night. He could put even Paris to shame. 

REALLY??

And there goes Lio’s attempt to quiet him down.

“Yes. So sit back and relax, will you?”

Galo tries to do just that, though he’s still too wide-eyed and enthusiastic to do it properly. Lio internally sighs, sounding even fonder in his own head than he would have liked, and reaches out to grab his friend’s shampoo.

He pours some on Galo’s hair, puts the bottle away, brushes his fingers against Galo’s scalpand—

Lately, Lio’s taken to reading in his free time, alone. He’s always enjoyed it before, but it’s only now that he isn’t running for his life that he has unlimited access to as many books as he would like. He’s been experimenting with genres to find those he favours the most.

He remembers that some romances he’s gotten his hands on tend to describe someone, usually one half to a couple, blissfully “melting” under the touch of their lover.

Lio’s never quite understood the concept — and honestly thought it was a little odd — until the moment he scratches at Galo’s scalp. Lio is perplexed to watch him let out one deep full-body sigh that leaves him completely, almost one hundred percent limp.

If anyone was ever to figuratively melt, then the way Galo’s bones appear to have completely turned to mush inside him must be the perfect representation of it.

Lio halts for a moment, if only because he has no idea what to do with this. Galo looks as vulnerable as one could get; Lio, of course, has always known Galo trusts him a lot, but it’s never hit him just how much until that very instant.

Lio could literally backstab him right now and Galo would never know what got him. He’s drunk, naked, all guards off and he’s not one bit worried because he trusts Lio immensely.

Galo trusts him, and he has never been more enamored with anyone in his goddamn life.

… Lio feels like he might cry.

He shakes his head and resumes the movement of his fingers — he prays that Galo won’t open his eyes, won't notice the way Lio’s eyes are a little wetter than usual.

Does he always lean into Galo’s touch like this, too? If so, Lio thinks he's started to get what’s so appealing to him about this.

By the time they’re rinsing, Galo’s limpness turns up a notch. He rests against Lio’s chest, arms lazily finding their way around his hips. It’s troubling, though not for the reasons Lio’s come to expect the last couple of times.

“Galo,” he calls, voice soft. “Don’t fall asleep on me, I can’t carry you to bed like this.”

“I won’t,” Galo promises, though it sounds like he’s already halfway there. “... Just five minutes.”

Lio tries to argue, but ultimately sighs and hugs him back.

“If you fall asleep, I’m emptying the tub and leaving you here.”

Galo just hums. Lio takes it as to mean “fair enough”.

But he can’t quite help himself, not with the turmoil of emotions that’s in his mind — or maybe even in spite of it — how being like this with Galo still helps him feel in immense peace.

So Lio indulges, and holds him for as long as it’s possible before sleep can claim them both.

Eventually they manage to wrap things up. It takes some time, but he finally helps Galo stumble into his room. Lio doesn’t bother telling him to get dressed as Galo passes out almost as soon as he hits the mattress, only giving himself time to take cover in a blanket cocoon.

Lio watches him, barely awake himself, the way the vague form of his back rises and falls underneath the covers.

It beckons him.

Lio’s so, so close to climbing into Galo’s bed, joining him under those soft blankets.

Galo’s warm, he knows that for a fact now, and he craves it, like the Promare once craved to burn inside him.

But he stops himself in time.

Instead, because he wants to indulge himself one last time tonight, and because he’s a little drunk — or so he tells himself, and pretends that it isn’t an excuse —, he leans down and presses his lips against Galo’s temple.

He lingers, until bending down gets uncomfortable, and the thought of his own warm bed compels him.

Lio glances one last time at Galo’s sleeping form, smiles, and leaves.

He knows Galo’s not gonna remember this.

 

=X=X=X=

 

It's been a very difficult week.

Kray Foresight has finally been given his life sentence. And, by all means, it's all Lio has ever wanted to hear. The Burnish won't need to fear their biggest figure of oppression roaming the streets ever again, won't need to lie awake at night thinking when he'll take his next step; or if they will ever have the sweet normalcy life has finally gifted them with taken away again, in the blink of an eye.

At least, not by his hands, they won't ever have to worry about that again.

But it doesn't come without its setbacks.

Those who still oppose the Burnish call it an injustice and the people who still believe in Kray Foresight block the streets in protest more than ever. There is rage, and prejudice that Lio knows can't be broken easily, not in the way they're still transitioning from a system founded in oppression and persecution.

Transition that has been slowed down further due to said protests. The requests that he has been so sure would finally, finally be attended to further help his people have suddenly been set back to "appease the masses".

"Not yet," he's been told, because the council is concerned it will anger the mob even further. That it will escalate things to even greater proportions.

Lio could explode.

He wants to burn, burn, burn and tell all those stuck-up, rich politicians where they can stick their concerns for other stuck-up biggots when they have never once shown his people an ounce of sympathy in thirty years. Where was their "concern" when the Mad Burnish protested for better conditions, when burning down buildings was all they could do to fight, to survive? To protect the people who had trouble protecting themselves?

He can almost feel Gueira and Meis burning beside him, too, seething so strongly that Lio almost believes the Promare has returned for good, ready to engulf the entire building in flames.

It's been hard. Draining.

But if for him, Kray Foresight's conviction is a small relief in the sea of terrors…

Lio can't even begin to comprehend how Galo must feel.

And he knows. He knows Galo has it even worse this time around. He knows the protests drain him, as does his concern for Lio and his people, and for his friends, because science itself could never explain how such an enormous heart could fit such a small body in comparison. Lio knows he aches.

And he knows that Galo's last testimonies were draining, and that no matter how much of a monster Foresight has turned out to be, there is always gonna be a part of the man Lio loves who will feel for him. And it may be small, nostalgic, and naive, but it will be there, present in Galo, ripping apart what he once thought were beautiful memories with the one he called his hero and eating him inside out.

Lio knows.

It's not a surprise when he arrives at home much past his usual time to find Galo sitting on the couch, eyes uncharacteristically distant and empty. The TV is the only source of light in the room.

It's the first time they have been home together the whole week, Lio realizes, not counting their rushed breakfasts and the occasional, very tired "good mornings" and "good nights".

Lio almost feels guilty to have been so distant. But it is not his fault, and Galo knows it, too. Life sometimes strikes hard and nobody can have much of a say about it. He's just glad they both have a full day off tomorrow.

Lio frowns at the TV. The news are doing nothing to help either of their mental health, and he doesn't think twice before turning it off.

It doesn't faze Galo in the slightest, even as the room plunges into sudden darkness.

Only when Lio touches his shoulder he seems to be brought back into the present, his eyes more aware of his surroundings when they meet Lio's.

"Lio…" His voice is quiet and heavy and so broken, that Lio once again holds down the urge to burn. He wouldn't hesitate to break into prison if Galo asked, to look Foresight in the eye and make him regret every choice he's ever made in his pathetic life.

(But Galo is a greater man than either Lio or Kray will ever be. That would never be option in his mind.)

Their therapist will certainly be getting a whole earful in a couple of days. But until then, there is not much they can do but help each other ease the pain.

And if he can bring even the slightest hint of Galo's smiles back, Lio will not ever think twice about it.

When Galo's arms pull him in, and hold him tight in a desperate embrace, Lio holds him back in kind.

When Galo's silence takes over their space, somehow louder to their ears than any of his boastering laughs, Lio breaks it with soft reassurances whispered into his blue hair.

And when Galo loosens his grip, tilting his head up to look at Lio, and asks hoarsely, "Can I wash your hair tonight?"

Lio says,

"Yes."

(Much later that night, they fall asleep holding each other on the couch.)

 

=X=X=X=

 

It’s a pleasant surprise when Lio’s day turns out to be not so bad for once. Even more so after he woke up expecting another morning of endlessly chewing off on rich politicians until they cave to his demands.

It wouldn't be unusual to leave another meeting with the council feeling enraged enough to consider, not for the first time, turning back to his fire-starting roots.

But today was— surprisingly not like that.

Lio has no idea what sweet love bug has bitten the council, but they barely put up a fight. Contracts were signed, deals were made, and it feels like they’ve made more progress in one day than they’ve managed in months. When Lio, Gueira, and Meis leave the building one hour earlier than anticipated, it actually feels like they have more energy than when they came in.

It calls for a small celebration.

They have time to spare, they have money — a luxury they would never dream to possess, a year ago —, and they have freedom.

Since it’s way too early to drink, they decide on the next best option: deliciously unhealthy food.

Lio eats more fries than he could possibly stomach ever since he awakened, and completes his meal with what has to be the best slice of chocolate cake in the entire universe — which could also be just his good mood talking, but hell if he doesn't enjoy that, too.

Meis and Gueira manage to eat just as much, and somehow top it off with a cup of milkshake almost as big as their faces, which they share with a pair of straws.

(Gueira turns it into a competition; Meis is more than happy to oblige, because together they are a magnet of bad decisions. Lio doesn’t have the heart to tell them that they can’t really determine who’s gonna finish first when they’re both drinking from the same cup.)

It’s invigorating, even if his stomach feels like it’s about to explode.

He’s never before believed a day like this would be possible. Back when they were hiding in the desert, they had nothing but stolen canned food and an ongrowing vegetable garden at the settlement. Even the peace they acquired then only lasted for a about a week before Freeze Force came crashing down on them, quite literally.

To have his friends alive and with no worries (mostly), a place to call home, and people they can trust… It may not have been what they planned once upon a time, and it may still be a work in progress, but Lio would like to think it’s turning out better than any settlement they could ever have built.

Today more than ever — while he watches Gueira suffer with a brain freeze and Meis laugh his ass off as if he, as well, wasn’t just about to inflict himself the same fate —, Lio’s grateful.

Fuck all the stupid rich people and their broken system. Fuck the biggots, the endless difficulties. Lio can take them on any day, however many times as he needs, if they can keep having moments like this.

He hopes the rest of their people has been able to find joy in life like this, as well.

The future looks bright.

He should have known the Universe has given him enough for one day the moment Meis’ phone goes off.

Blissfully unaware, Lio watches his friend fish it out of his pocket. Gueira peeks from over his shoulder, a hand pressing against his temple to ease the pain. Two pairs of eyebrows shoot up.

“It’s Aina.”

“Aina?” Lio’s brows furrow in contrast.

Not that that’s anything unusual. Lio’s been working with Burning Rescue for months. His former generals haven't joined officially, but they join by doing volunteer work often enough — they did become a buy one, get two free package deal. And Galo is also good friends with most of his coworkers. It was kind of inevitable that they’d all become friends by association.

No. What strikes Lio as odd is that nobody at the FDPP would call them during working hours. Least of all when the trio were, supposedly, at an important meeting of their own.

Meis answers the call. His face goes from confusion to worry really quickly. “Yeah, of course Boss is here with us. Why?”

Lio immediately scrambles for his own phone.

Has she been trying to reach him? For how long?

What is important enough that she had to call someone else to make sure she reached him?

Then the thought comes by fast, and Lio can barely grasp it amidst the many others racing in his head, but it’s still loud enough to leave a heavy feeling in his chest: if they were trying so hard to reach him, why wasn’t Galo the first one to do so?

Turning the screen on, the first thing Lio realizes is that he's forgotten to turn his notifications back on as soon as they left the council. That in itself is a statement to how carefree he's been up until now.

No more than a second later, his eyes fall on the ongrowing pile of messages he’s received in the past fifteen minutes or so. He’s sure they’d reach up to a hundred in total, and that's if he doesn’t count the missed calls.

The words “Galo" and the name of a particular hospital jump out to him as he skims through the BR group chat. By the time that Meis is hearing the news from Aina, Lio’s already on his feet and scrambling out of the diner like Death itself is upon his door.

Time after that becomes a blur. He only vaguely remembers the constant vibration of the motorcycle beneath his legs, and the loud noise of its engine that followed in his trail through the entire ride. By the time his brain finally catches up with his body again, he's rushing further into the hospital, to a room he somehow knows the directions to.

He doesn't remember talking to anyone, but if he made it this far, he must have been allowed inside at some point.

He hopes he wasn't too harsh on whichever receptionist had the misfortune of meeting him like this.

(He also hopes nobody finds out the mental state he's been in not even two minutes ago. He'll never hear the end of it if his friends find he somehow rodeall the way over by himself practically blind with worry.)

He practically bursts the door open, making all three occupants of the room jump.

And what a sight he must be, scowling, and panting hard with adrenaline. Even his hair is a mess from the ride over (did he remember to put on his helmet?), which does nothing to diminish his manic-like appearance.

He feels like he's about to explode, and he certainly looks the part.

"What did you do this time, Thymos?"

Galo — which, his brain quickly supplies, is alive, and awake, and definitely nowhere near as bad as Lio thought, thank God — flinches.

"Why do you just immediately assume it was my fault?" Galo whines and makes a show of deflating his shoulders. His dramatics fall short when he quickly straightens back with a pained hiss and that— that is what gets Lio to soften.

The nurse, who up until that moment looked in shock, seems to remember they still have work to do and turns their attention back to Galo. Lio sees a brief glimpse of a needle and thread in their hands. He tries not to shudder.

Aina is the third and last party in the room, standing by the medical table where Galo sits. Her arms are crossed over her chest and her brows slightly furrowed. She seems worried, as expected.

(Although, the more Lio assesses the situation, the more he realizes this might just be a lot more mild than what his mind conjured up before. He’d probably not be allowed in this room if it were any more serious to begin with.)

"Man, you got here fast,” she says. “Weren’t you guys at the council?”

“We were off an hour early today, thankfully.”

“Which can only mean it was either a great meeting or a very bad one,” Galo supplies while offering a smile that does little to hide the pained strain of his muscles. Even from the door, Lio can see his knuckles turning white where they grip on the edge of his seat.

“I leave you at work for one day and you manage to hurt yourself before noon.” Though Lio tries to sound even the slightest bit reprimanding, he can’t anymore, not really. He’s never been able to stay mad at people in pain, and Galo in particular is a weakness of his. His voice comes out almost caring instead.

He finally walks inside and stops right before Galo. Carefully, Lio touches one of his bent knees and, when he doesn’t get a reaction, fully sets it there in a comforting gesture.

“What happened?”

There’s a moment of silence when Galo’s eyes search his. By the look in his face, it’s clear that he wants to dissuade Lio’s worries first and foremost, because that’s the kind of guy that he is, and because Lio sometimes loses himself in worrying for those he cares for — as he just did again, minutes ago.

In the end, Galo just sighs.

“There was a kid stuck in there, in the fire. I didn't want to get out till I had him with me.”

“In his defense, this time it was our fault too,” Aina speaks up. “Galo was supposed to be safe in there. The fire was mostly contained, and the structure was fragile but we thought he would have enough time to go in and out just fine. But then everything started caving in, and turns out we really miscalculated.”

She looks down, fidgeting with her own fingers. It doesn't take much to assume how guilty she must be feeling for what happened. Lio has no doubts that the rest of the team must be in a similar mindset.

Granted ,” Aina speaks again, and her reprimanding tone is back, “ Galo refused to leave even when we realized he was in danger!”

“Hey, I was almost there! I wasn’t just gonna leave the kid alone when I was, like, one meter away from him!”

“No, no, of course you wouldn’t.” She sighs again and this time Lio follows, sharing the sentiment. It goes without saying that both of them would have done the same in Galo's place.

“So you got caved in?”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t even on fire anymore!” Galo points out as if that, apparently, is supposed to be reassuring.

It visibly takes all of Aina’s strength not to inflict him some more unnecessary pain.

“What about the Matoi Tech? It should have protected you.”

And then Galo has the audacity to look sheepish, and Lio can already feel his blood boiling before he’s even said anything.

“So, you see —” he starts, and it’s obvious he wants to gesture the way he always does when he’s trying to explain himself out of a situation, but he can’t because there’s a nurse stitching up his back. Aina sighs a third time. “There wasn't enough space to get inside with the mech without, ya know, bursting open the doorway and possibly doing more harm than good? Cause it was already fragile and all—”

“Get to the point.”

“—I got out of the mech and went inside on my own.”

“You what?! Galo!

“What?? They said I had time, I couldn’t have known—”

“The firefighting uniform exists for a reason—”

“Don’t tell me how to wear my uniform, mr. Leather Pants! They're not fail-proof! And— And you would have done the same thing!”

Lio doesn’t quite get enough time to answer because that’s when the door bursts open for a second time. This time, followed by twin cries of “BOSS!”

And… right.

There were his very exasperated best friends who he just left behind without thinking twice to race across the city. Who he's somehow forgotten.

He owes them one hell of an apology.

The room is nearly silent again, save for the two Burnish heavily panting by the door. 

Aina speaks first. “I thought you guys were waiting outside?”

“Oh, no. No, no, no. No." Pant. "We were just, you know, paying for the bill our beloved Boss left us with because his brain went into Galo Is In Danger overrun. And then we had to chase after him and hope he didn't die on the way over!” Gueira wheezes out. Lio winces.

“Sorry.”

"You're good, you're good." Meis waves his hand dismissively in a way that Lio just knows is not dismissive at all.

They'll drill him about it sometime later. And, honestly, he doesn't blame them.

For now, though, the duo just seems glad to see Galo doing well.

"Hey, Big G!" Gueira straightens up, breath mostly back to normal. He has a stupid, boyish smile on his face, hand raised up as if he was trying to grab the attention of a friend he saw on the other side of the room in a party.

Galo would be doing the same, if he could. But what he can't do with his arm, he matches with his voice.

"G! Dude, I haven't seen you in a while!"

"We were over for dinner three days ago," Meis points out. He follows his husband inside, stopping right beside Lio.

"A while!" Gueira agrees, propping himself up next to Galo on the medical table completely uninvited. Aina watches them with undisguised amusement. The nurse looks beyond exasperated.

Introducing them was a mistake.

(But at least Lucia isn't around too, or the hospital might as well be the team's next emergency call.)

"Man, I'm just glad you're okay!" Gueira continues, dutifully ignoring the stinky eyes the nurse keeps sending his way. "When Aina said you were in the hospital, for a second we thought you were, like, in a coma or something. Having surgery at least!"

"It'll take more than a ceiling to take me down!"

"Hell yeah! These look nasty, though." Gueira leans back to access the damage. "Oof… do you think they're gonna scar?"

He looks at Galo for an answer, who responds with a noise typical of a shrug.

Gueira turns to look at the wounds again, apparently finding that to be acceptable enough.

"I think Boss likes scars."

"He does?" Galo's eyes widen and—

"No, I do not." Lio can hear the way Galo's voice has slightly perked up and he's not here for it. Absolutely not. "Gueira, can you please not encourage him to go running for danger any more than he already does?"

"What? But I wasn't—"

"Oi, how dumb do you think I am?!"

"No! I don't wanna hear it." Lio crosses his arms. Aina's snickering over to the side, and Meis is trying to be quiet but is obviously not doing much better, either. "Galo Thymos, if I so much as see you enter a burning building without Ignis' permission again, so help me—"

"He sent me inside this time!"

"It's happened before!"

"But—"

"Okay, ENOUGH!"

There's a loud clank of metal that makes everyone jump. All eyes turn to the nurse, who's standing up straight and fuming. Their medical supplies are in disarray on the tray laying next to Galo.

"I've about had it here! All men but the patient, out!I can't work with all this noise! If you wanna wait, you can do so outside!" 

For a moment Lio wants to argue, but quickly changes his mind. He can recognize when he's in the wrong.

"My apologies." He bows his head politely. The nurse huffs. They grab another piece of thread in one hand, dismissing them with the other. But, at the very least, they don't seem about to rip their heads off anymore. "C'mon, guys."

"Wait, why does Aina get to stay?" Gueira whines, even as he slides down his seat to follow Meis and Lio out.

"Because she's the only one who hasn't given me a headache since she arrived," the nurse replies, already back to their work.

Aina sends Gueira a smug smile, her chest puffed out with pride. He flips her off, then proceeds to pout the rest of the way out.

Thankfully, it doesn't take too long for Galo to be released. His upper-body movements looks a little pained, but he's walking just fine, and he's still smiling like he's just leaving a grocery store instead of a hospital. He has bandages over most of his torso, and a few on his upper arms, but overall he's fine.

Lio's chest lightens with relief.

"Alright, now it's back home with you for a week," Aina says when they're all outside. She guides him with a hand on his back out of habit, a little lower than usual so as to not disturb his wounds. "Don't even think of showing your face before that or Captain will be the least of your worries."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," he all but whines. He quickly finds Lio's bike and makes his way over, but Aina falls behind.

She catches Lio's attention with a hand on his shoulder. He is quick to match her pace until they come to a stop.

"For real, though. We're counting on you to keep him inside. Cap was so worried today, I think he might have an aneurysm if Galo even breathes wrong."

Lio quietly chuckles. "I figured. Shouldn't he stay home for longer?"

"About ten to fifteen days. But everyone knows Galo's gonna explode if he stays away for that long. We might as well keep him around and make sure he's taking it easy."

"Makes sense."

"Hey!" Meis' deep voice gets their attention. They turn to see him standing next to the parked bikes with Galo and Gueira, all three pairs of eyes trained on them. "Do you guys need help on the way home?"

Lio thinks for a brief moment, but it's not like Galo is high on medication or anything. "We'll be fine!"

"Then we're off!" Meis faces Galo, probably for a last goodbye, while Gueira waves at the two of them.

Lio returns the gesture.

"We should go too." He says to Aina. "I gotta find a way to not make him antsy at home for a week."

She nods, a humorous smile on her face. Then, before Lio can walk away, her expression becomes a tad serious, and he hesitates. She looks him right in the eyes.

"Take good care of him, yeah?"

He knows that face. Has seen it many times on Aina ever since the end of the world.

It's the same expression she wore the first she not-so-subtly hinted that she could see his feelings for Galo. That she also knew Lio could see her feelings, too, as loud and clear as his own. Her gaze carried understanding and determination then, and it carries understanding now; like a fellowship only the two of them will ever comprehend. She never treated him like an enemy for what he felt, and for that he is grateful.

Although, lately, Lio's seen less of her determination and more of what he has come to learn as resignation. A part of him always saddens at the sight of it.

The other side feels emboldened.

He nods, smiling at Aina in their silent, mutual understanding. It makes her smile, too.

"Will do."

 

When they make it home, Lio's very first decision is to guide Galo into the bathroom.

There isn't much of a question as to why at this point. Now that Galo is at home and any leftover adrenaline is undoubtedly gone from his system, he looks physically and mentally exhausted. Lio's sure he doesn't look much better, either.

That and, aside from the parts of his body that have been patched up, Galo's still covered in ashes.

They undress silently, Lio helping Galo at any sight of discomfort. The bandages are discarded in the trash can.

He lets Galo in first, allows him to set the temperature of the water to his tastes. It still ends up a little hotter than Lio expected.

He climbs in last and takes his time closing the shower curtains, as if one mere centimeter to the side would somehow change anything.

He's trying not to look, afraid of how he may react at the sight of Galo's sutured back. As mild as it is compared to what it could have been— Lio would rather he didn't get caved in at all.

But Galo has yet to turn his back from Lio, and he might as well get this over with. He doesn't doubt that some of these will scar, and then they'll be a part of Galo for the rest of his life. He can't run from this reminder forever, no matter how much he'd like to.

Lio steels himself and walks towards Galo.

There are stitches everywhere, probably a direct result of the sharp debris. About four or so major cuts are strewn about in different directions, surrounded by a few smaller cuts and many scratches that barely made through the surface. His right arm has two smaller cuts. The left has a longer one that will surely add to its collection of scars.

There are minor burns everywhere, too; there was nothing on fire anymore, but the structure was likely still hot to some extent. Thankfully not enough to do too much damage, and Lio's never been more grateful for the fast-cooling ice from Burning Rescue's tech.

He's also never been more grateful for Galo's ridiculous dumb luck.

He reaches up, unable to stop his fingers from tracing the less dangerous scratches closer to the edge of Galo's back.

(Though his touch is feather-light, Lio still expects to see a flinch that never comes. Galo's been waiting for this, it seems.)

"... You're really too dumb to die, aren't you?" Lio tries joking to alleviate the heavy silence. It earns him a small laugh, and that alone is enough to lift a small weight of his shoulders.

"That's the world's number 1 firefighting idiot for you, baby," Galo jokes right back, glancing at him from over his shoulder. "... Are you okay?"

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?"

"Hey, I'll be fine! I'm not dying now, am I? No broken bones or anything. These will heal soon."

Lio hums, eyes trailing back down to the wounds on his back.

"I suppose you're right…"

Lio sighs. His arms snake around Galo's waist, his touch just as light as it was before as he rests his forehead closer to his left arm, where the damage looks milder. He feels Galo relax.

"You're gonna be the death of me one day and I mean that in the worst way possible."

"Hey, it's not like I'm trying to actively kill you! I'd rather keep you very much alive here with me, thank you very much."

"Somehow I find that hard to believe." Lio's thumb caresses the skin of Galo's belly. It's official in his head that he won't be able to leave this shower without doing something about his feelings again.

He's briefly reminded of the very first time this arrangement of theirs ever happened. How he desperately needed to keep Galo close, hold him even closer, like he would disappear otherwise.

Lio desperately needs to keep this man in his life for all eternity. Somehow.

Still feeling somewhat emboldened, he turns his head, just enough to press his lips to the edge of a wound.

Galo's breath hitches.

"And how was the kid?" Lio asks, as if he didn't do anything he's never done before. Because, as much grief as the situation's given him, he cares as much as Galo does. It's one of the things that will always connect them.

"Just fine," Galo says, his voice lower than Lio expects. It lacks its usual bravado, but not the pride. He realizes then how softly they've been speaking since they've got inside. "Barely even had a scratch."

"You shielded him."

"Of course I did." And how could Lio ever expect differently.

"That's my hero."

"Lio…"

Galo moves, and Lio gives him just enough space to do so, until they're facing each other.

Their eyes meet for a moment before Lio's lowering his eyes again, now comfortably resting his forehead against Galo's collarbone instead. That gaze was just too intense to hold, and Lio's still unsure how to deal.

He feels more than he hears Galo chuckle.

"You're gonna be the death of me and I mean that in the best of ways," Galo says fondly, and Lio can't help the laughter that escapes him, or the way his cheeks become warmer. His heart flutters.

"Now wouldn't that be unfortunate."

"Very. You should let me wash your hair again while I still have the chance."

"By all means, go ahead."

Though that's almost routine in their showers now, Lio has yet to feel the mood that's settled around them dissipate.

It's in the way Galo talks about his morning before the call, his voice a little louder but still too soft to be his own, like he's afraid the noise would burst the bubble they find themselves in.

It's in the way he quickly presses his lips to Lio's forehead right before rinsing, the way it makes Lio smile in surprise and Galo's own smile grows in response.

It's there when Galo hands Lio the shampoo and asks about his day, visibly interested in every word he has to say.

Lio wants to kiss him.

"Whoa, so they said yes? Just like that? 'We want housing', 'Have all our money.'"

"Right? They accepted another three requests we made previously too, on a whim." Lio tilts Galo's head down a bit further to massage the back of his head. "And to think just last week we nearly had a shouting match because one Burnish stole a loaf of bread."

"They must be in a very good mood then." 

"Mhm. I'm almost too afraid to find out when the other shoe will drop."

"Maybe it won't, for once." Oh, to have that optimism. "Maybe they're finally learning to respect the Burnish."

"If only. You know… If the world thought the way you do, Galo, I think it'd be a way better place to live in."

Lio has the privilege to see Galo's cheek turn a beautiful shade of pink. He's the one to avert the gaze this time, his mouth curving into a pleased yet bashful half-smile.

Lio really should kiss him.

"And— And then you guys left earlier, right? D'you guys have fun? That sounds like a good time for fun."

"We did. I ate so much I could have rivalled you."

"And I wasn't there to see that? Oh, man…"

"No, you were too busy about to give me a heart attack." Lio playfully pushes him back under the showerhead.

Galo scoffs, closing his eyes to protect them as he rinses. His tone softens again.

"Did I really worry you that much?"

"You went to the hospital, Galo."

"Yeah, but I was okay… Mostly." There's a pause. "Gueira said you ran on them before Aina could even say anything. Did I scare you?"

"You did." His hands are still on Galo's chest, right where Lio pushed him. He looks down to where they connect, and moves his right hand just enough to feel the comforting beating of Galo's heart underneath his palm. "You always scare me when you do something you might not come back from. I wish you'd stop taking your life for granted."

"Lio."

He looks up, only to find Galo's eyes intently looking for his own. 

"I'll always make sure I'll come back to you."

His naturally gravity-defying hair hangs limp beside his face, and Lio does not hold back the urge to tuck it behind his ear. His hand decides to stay and cup his cheek instead of moving back.

Galo leans into the touch.

"You shouldn't promise things you can't control."

"I'll punch Death in the face if I have to."

"Galo."

"I mean it. You give me a reason to live every day, Lio. So long as you're there with me, my soul will keep burning bright."

Lio is going to kiss him.

"You're such an idiot."

He feels Galo exhale against his cheeks, a small laugh that makes Lio's stomach twist pleasantly. Galo cradles the back of his head in one hand. Their noses brush, and that alone enough to send Lio's heartbeat into a frenzy.

The warm water above them suddenly turns gelid.

They jump away from it with a shriek, barely managing to keep each other from taking a second trip to the hospital.

"WHAT THE FUCK?!"

"WHYYYY!!!!!!"

And just like that the mood is broken.

 

=X=X=X=

 

They don't really talk about it for a while.

But something's clearly different. Something shifted.

Their casual touches keep lingering, for one. At first Lio wonders if it's by accident, or if maybe their magic moment left him reading too much into things, but there is no way it isn't deliberate.

If Galo before would ruffle his hair while walking by, now Galo ruffles his hair, stops, watches what Lio is doing, listens to what he is saying or who he might be talking to, finds an excuse to stay there for a while and lingers. His hand may not stay on Lio's hair, but it will trail down, be it to his shoulder, or his back, or loosely around his arm. It will stay there, burning Lio's skin through his clothes until Galo can't find any other excuses to stall for time and leaves.

It is not subtle, to the point where, in the brief time they’ve been back, the team keeps sending them looks, and Lio knows they're trying to understand just what exactly they've missed.

And Lio's not being very subtle either.

He leans into every touch like a lifeline, makes a point to sit down not next to Galo, but against him, their sides pressed from shoulder to knee like he's fighting for space on an empty couch. And, of course, he dutifully ignores any inquiring or teasing look he receives from anyone else, ever.

He wants to kiss Galo, so bad. Wants to turn back time and somehow prevent the stupid blackout that turned their warm heaven into freezing hell with the worst possible timing in the world. But they've had not one moment that feels so right again.

Lio's thoroughly convinced that the Universe's just enjoying fucking with him now.

He feels like he might burst, and it's only been one week.

One week.

He doesn't know how he's gonna survive even one day longer.

At least, he thinks, they're back at work. It's easier to distract himself from those thoughts when he's not cooped up alone with Galo at home, constantly trying to make sure he won't run out of the house searching for the next adventure to fuel his burning soul.

But it's not like he's fully back in action, either.

In the two days they've been back, the entire team has gathered in a collective effort to Keep Galo Thymos Safe (From Himself)™ .

In the three calls they've already attended, Galo's been kept to the sidelines. Which he accepted, for once, if very begrudgingly. He's helping access the damage and take care of the victims; which is still rescuing, but not the literal line of fire he so loves to be in.

The latest call, most of all, was particularly difficult to keep him still.

There was another child in the fire.

They really thought they had all victims covered, only to have that suddenly turned on their heads and Galo—

Galo looked so ready to jump inside, everything else and himself be damned, before he was dutifully reminded of the position he is in, currently.

While he sulked, the others were accessing the situation through the coms. Varys and Remi were both busy, and Lio has yet to receive a mech if his own, but for once—

For once, Lio ignored everything else they had to say.

He jumped into the fire.

(It was a Burnish child.

A Burnish child, who had once been one with fire itself. He remembers her well.

She's a good kid, and she did well in keeping herself from harm. Lio's met Burnish adults who have forgotten, in the heat of the moment, that they were not immune to fire anymore. He's been guilty of it himself, and he couldn't feel prouder once he took her out.

But inside, surrounded by flames, she sounded terrified. Betrayed.

How could he ever ignore her cries when she called so desperately for the Promare to help?

When she called for him?)

Dangerous as it was, that problem was quickly solved, at least.

The child is safe, Galo is safe, and though Lio got a scolding for his actions, he has zero regrets.

Currently, he's more preoccupied with finding a good temperature in those god damn showers at the FDPP than what's come to pass. And with sulking, again, about his current love life that's seemingly reached another wall after miles of progress.

Finally, he reaches a temperature that's adequate — it could be hotter, but he'll make do.

He dives under the showerhead, reaching out—

The curtains in his stall slide open so loudly that he jumps. He turns, wide-eyed, to find a pair of bright blue eyes burning holes at him.

"Galo?"

"You— " he steps inside, not showing minimal concern for whoever might see— "are a fucking hypocrite, do you know that?"

He closes the curtains just as noisily as before, and there is no way the entire team doesn't know exactly where he is right now.

Lio breathes out a surprised laugh, stepping back to give him space.

"Now you know exactly what I've been dealing with for the past few months."

"You do not get to turn this around on me, you—" Galo points accusingly, failing to find anything worthy enough to call him with.

"Me…?"

Galo gives up with a frustrated noise, hands running over and messing up even more his blue hair.

"You're infuriating!"

"Takes one to know another."

"You can't— you can't give me a whole speech about how you're scared for my life and then— do exactly that!" His hands fall from his hair to gesture at Lio, leaving something akin to a bird's nest behind. Lio bites his cheek not to laugh.

He's never seen Galo this worked up before. Maybe he should treat this more seriously, but he's burning with the knowledge that Galo worries so much.

"Galo."

"What?!"

"I'll always make sure to come back to you."

"... I see what you're doing."

"I'll fight Death for you—"

"Make your own promises, Lio!"

Lio does laugh this time.

Galo watches him, a little wary, concern visible in every inch of his face. Lio softens, smiles, and reaches up to cup his cheeks.

"Galo Thymos…" his thumbs caress the skin beneath his eyes. "There's nowhere else I'd rather be than with you. So long as you keep coming back to me, I'll always come back to you."

Galo leans down.

Ah.

Finally.

Finally, finally, their lips slide against each other, almost desperate in their wake.

Lio wraps his arms around Galo's neck to keep him there, pull him closer, so as to not lose the moment again. Galo seems to share the same sentiment, pulling Lio flush against him with his arms around his waist.

And Lio burns, bright and fierce as if he could lighten the entire building on fire with a single motion of his hands.

(And he would burn the whole world again, as many times as it takes, for the man he loves.)

"I hope you know Ignis is gonna kill us," Lio points out when they're both smiling too much to kiss properly. Not that it seems to deter Galo. "You just had to alert the entire building that you were here."

"Worth it." Galo dives in again.