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Bergamot Waters and Sequin Roses

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It is Lio Fotia's first day promoted to manager at Bath and Body Works. Considering he's only been working here for about nine months, he's pleasantly surprised that he got the promotion so fast. Or, maybe not, because there hadn't been many other options and the old manager just suddenly quit last week.

Lio is not ashamed to admit when he needs help. He barely knows what he's doing. The rest of the week has been fine, if not a little stressful, but it's Wednesday now. And Wednesday is when they receive new shipments. Lio's here early in the morning, before both the sun has risen and the store has opened, and he's already unloaded the truck and signed off on everything.

It takes him until everything is already put away in their storage to realize that something is wrong. Lio opens the first box and stares for what feels like a long, long time.

"Well," he says at last, "that's definitely not soap."

It's several bags of stuffing. Just… so much fucking stuffing. Lio furrows his brow in confusion, pulling back to examine the shipping label on the box more closely. And, yeah, he very quickly realizes what the problem is. The box is addressed to Build-A-Bear Workshop. Lio rolls his eyes. Right. The truck driver must have just seen BABW on the side of the box and decided that Bath and Body Works was close enough.

Which means that his products are on the other side of the store. Perfect. Absolutely wonderful. What a good way to spend the hour he has before opening, going back and forth to get all of these boxes where they need to be and then dragging his back.

Lio muffles a scream of frustration with his hand, then pushes his hair back and collects himself. It's not a big deal. Next time, he'll check before the boxes are fully off-loaded and then politely ask the driver to correct the error if it happens again.

For now, his only real option is to stack as many boxes as he can fit onto his hand truck and start walking. This early in the morning, most of the lights in the mall are still off and stores are still locked up tight. He sees a few employees, but they don't acknowledge Lio and he doesn't acknowledge them, either. It's the sort of lonely atmosphere that would be peaceful, if Lio wasn't so pissed.

At least Build-A-Bear isn't on the second floor. It's practically on the other side of the building, but Lio doesn't have to haul everything into the elevator so he'll take what he can get. The entrance still has a cage pulled down over the front, but the lights in the back are on, so Lio grabs hold of the cage and gives a shake. "Hey," he calls, craning his neck to try and see inside. "Is someone in there? Are you the manager?"

It takes a few seconds for him to get an answer, but then there's a muffled shout of confirmation and a worker comes bounding out from the back of the store to greet Lio. Definitely the manager, if his name tag is to be believed. It says, simply, "GALO."

"Hey, yeah, sorry. I'm the manager." Galo goes to the side to unlock the cage and pushes it out of the way, folding it back up to fit into the storage compartment. His gaze flicks to the boxes that Lio brought with him. "Another mix-up, huh? Are you the new manager over there? Usually Julia's the one who hauls these down and bitches me out for it."

"Julia quit." Lio hands over the paperwork for the shipment that Galo's going to need and leaves his hand outstretched for a handshake. "I'm Lio Fotia, I'm taking over for her. I don't know why she would blame your store for this, frankly." Although, bitching out the truck driver sounds really nice right about now…

"I know, right? It makes no sense." Shaking his head, Galo tucks the paperwork under one arm (a very muscular arm, Lio notes, wrapped in a compression sleeve) and then accepts Lio's shake with his free hand. His hand shake is enthusiastic and his smile is dazzling. "I don't see how it could be our fault when it's obviously yours," he says with complete seriousness, and the moment is shattered.

The grip that Lio has on his hand turns bruising. His smile widens to a painful extent that only people who have worked retail or customer service can relate to. "My fault?" He repeats, his tone dangerous. If there's one thing that Lio isn't in the mood for today, it's being prodded by a pretty idiot with stupid hair.

Galo winces, his smile turning strained, and shrugs his hand out of Lio's grip. "That came out wrong. I didn't mean you, specifically. I meant, like, your whole franchise," he elaborates. That is not any better, contrary to what Galo seems to think.

"Explain," Lio demands. He really shouldn't give a shit, but dammit, there's an unwitting sense of pride that comes with being promoted to manager. Lio works his ass off and his store is great, and fuck anyone who disagrees with him.

"Well, we had the abbreviation first," Galo says haughtily. "You guys should just change yours, then this mix-up wouldn't keep happening."

"What?" The brain dead statement takes Lio by surprise and he bristles. "That's ridiculous! You can't just tell a multi-million dollar, international company to change its name!"

"So you're saying that we should change our name?" Galo scoffs and crosses his arms. "I don't see how that's fair."

That is actually not at all what Lio was saying. He decides very quickly that he doesn't care. Lio lets out a noise of frustration, then grabs the hand truck and tilts it hard to the side. All the boxes come tumbling off — one splits open, and bags of cheap, multi-colored bows go skidding across the tile floor.

"I don't have time for this!" He snaps as Galo, aghast, hurries to collect his fallen goods. "My store opens in forty minutes! You have the paperwork, all of your shit is in the back of my store. I'm guessing that all of mine is back there?" Lio is dragging his hand truck toward the back before Galo can answer.

"Yes, but— Hey, only employees can go back there!" Galo calls after him. "You could at least pretend to show a little respect!"

The very idea of getting a lecture on "respect" from this man has Lio rolling his eyes so hard that he's surprised they don't tumble right out of the sockets. "Spare me," he mutters, tearing open the first box that he sets his hands on.

Lio relaxes marginally to see that it's the packages of hand soap that he put in the order for last week. He stacks boxes on the hand truck and pulls it behind him as he backs out of the storage door.

"Thanks for your help," Lio says sarcastically when he passes Galo, who's managed to stack six boxes in his arms. They're not very heavy, but the act of balance itself is impressive; as is the way that Galo's arms are stretched around them. Lio doesn't let his stare linger. "I'll be back for the rest of my boxes. Get your own hand truck and come get your shit, I'm not carting it all back here to you."

Galo huffs. "Brat," he says, just loud enough for Lio to hear.

"Jackass," Lio hisses, entirely to himself. His eye twitches with irritation all the way back to his store.

That night, when Lio gets home, he looks it up. Build-A-Bear was, in fact, founded seven years after Bath and Body Works.

Lio has never hated anyone more.

For some reason, Lio holds out hope that next Wednesday will be different. It's not, and he curses himself for daring to be optimistic.

"Can't you just take the boxes to the otherside of the building?" Lio asks irritably, facing off with the truck driver. "You keep bringing it to the wrong place. These need to be accepted from the North side of the building."

The driver rubs the bridge of his nose, like he's heard this a dozen times already, and he probably has. It doesn't make Lio any less furious, though. He wonders if this was one of the reasons why Julia quit — Galo Thymos is stupid enough to drive anyone insane, and absolutely everything insists on going wrong.

"Look," the driver says with a very thin veil of patience, "to go around the building, I'd have to get back up on the freeway and loop around. I have a bunch of other deliveries to make today, you know. You aren't the only one overworked. This is the most convenient stop to make sure that the rest of my route goes smoothly. As long as this shit gets where it needs to be, what do I care?"

"You're getting paid to deliver it to the correct place!" Lio shouts.

It doesn't matter. Ten minutes of arguing later, and the driver threatens to drive off with it all if Lio doesn't get on with unloading everything. Swallowing his frustration, Lio obliges. And once again, he's stuck with Build-A-Bear Workshop's stupid stuffing and felt hearts and tacky skirts and ugly bows.

Which means that, once again, Lio's stuck paying a visit to Galo Thymos. Great.

He decides to be nice and fills his hand truck with Galo's shit before dragging it across the store to Build-A-Bear Workshop. This time, the cage in front of the entrance has been unlocked and left open for him. Lio sets his hand truck down at the front and decides to wait there. "Galo?" He calls into the store, already rubbing his temple. "I'm here for my shipment."

Like the first time, Galo emerges from the back in good time. This time, though, he's sporting an infuriatingly attractive smirk. "Hey, Lio," he greets, waving as if they're friends. "I don't mean to burst your bubble, but yeah, this is basically going to be every week."

One or two mix-ups, Lio can handle, but every week? He's starting to see why Julia left. "Seriously?" Lio groans, unable to help slumping. "Can't you call the shipping company and complain about the mix-up? Surely they can give us drivers that do their jobs correctly if we're paying for this."

Galo shrugs, every bit as easy going as Lio figured he would be. "I mean, I guess I could file a complaint with the mall manager, but Ignis is a busy guy. And anyway, it's not a huge deal. It's like, what, an extra twenty minutes, maybe? I don't mind going a little out of my way if it's easier for those guys," Galo says with a genuinely frustrating amount of honesty.

Lio wants to grab him by the shoulders and shake him until the few brain cells that Galo has manage to bump together and spark some form of coherent thought. "That's so fucking stupid," he says through clenched teeth. "Why would you be alright with them doing a substandard job? They get paid to do it. This just saddles us with twenty extra minutes of physical labor." He doesn't mind unloading the truck or organizing their supply room — really, he doesn't. But Lio does mind unnecessarily dragging boxes from one end of the store to the other just because someone else couldn't be fucked to do their own job.

Infuriatingly, his comment has no effect whatsoever on Galo. His smirk only widens. "You know, if you want, I'll come get my boxes and deliver yours for you," he offers with false innocence.

"That's awfully charitable of you." Lio eyes Galo's biceps and isn't sure if he's jealous or horny. It must be easy to drag boxes around with arms as thick as his neck. "What's the catch?" Lio asks, because horny or not, he's not stupid.

And, of course, Galo's smile slips. He draws himself up higher, trying to look more serious. "Let me take you on a date this weekend," he says, being completely genuine.

There's a beat of silence, then Lio bursts out laughing. He laughs so long and hard that his stomach aches and he has to bend over and clutch at his sides to try and catch his breath. The laughter, however, abruptly cuts off when Lio realizes that Galo isn't laughing with him.

"Wait, hold on." Lio scrubs the laughter-induced tears out of his eyes and straightens up, speaking as seriously as he can manage through the giggles he's still trying to subdue. "You're being serious?"

Galo bites his lip, looking insecure and maybe a little bit hurt. Lio has two thoughts simultaneously: "I should apologize," and, "I want to do disgusting things to this man."

Then the insecurity is gone with a hapless shrug. Galo's next words erase any of Lio's lingering sympathy. "If you're not into commitment, I'd settle for a kiss."

He's definitely joking now, but Lio doesn't appreciate the insinuation that he's a whore or the part of his monkey brain that wants to take Galo up on that offer.

"Thanks for the chivalry," Lio snaps, losing his good mood, "but I'll pass. I can handle my own workload so long as you handle yours."

His attitude doesn't go unnoticed. Galo looks confused for a moment, then upset, then his brows draw into a scowl that does something unfairly sexy to his eyes. "Fine," he agrees loftily. "You keep to yourself and I'll keep to myself. Sound like a good deal?"

"Yes, obviously. That's why I said it." With a roll of his eyes, Lio turns away. "Anyway, you can take your boxes and I'll go load up again. If you want to make this faster for each other, we can start packing the boxes out front of our stores."

Galo gives him a mock salute. "Yes, sir," he drawls sarcastically. Neither of them says a word to each other the rest of the morning.

And that should be the end of the story — a perfectly ordinary "just barely tolerating each other" symbiotic relationship that most coworkers have.

Except, maybe Lio is feeling a little petty. Maybe he glares at the piles of Build-A-Bear boxes waiting in the back of his store and feels vindictive. Annoyed. Frustrated. Embarrassed. And maybe Lio punches some holes in the tape along the bottom of several boxes.

But so what? What's the worst that could happen?

One box, Galo can ignore. The tape on these boxes has always been cheap and shitty — sometimes it splits. Two boxes, sure, he can shrug off. But sixteen boxes splitting on him and dumping their contents all over the floor is one suspicious pattern.

Galo crams a bunch of vacuum-sealed packages containing unstuffed bears back into their fixed box; glares at the rest of the mess in the storeroom that he still has to clean up.

This has Lio "Pretentious Motherfucker" Fotia written all over it.

His pulse leaps with excitement at the excuse to talk to Lio some more, but is promptly ignored. This isn't about how pretty Lio is — this is about revenge.

"Fine," Galo says to no one. "Game on, bitch."

It starts when Lio's hauling a shipment from Build-A-Bear to Bath and Body Works — it should be routine by now, since he orders the same things every time. But this time is different. Every box feels like it weighs ten times as much as usual.

Lio strains to get them onto the hand truck, then he's so slow getting back to his store with them that the trip takes him twice as long as usual. Galo's done and setting up for opening while Lio still has half of his boxes. He ignores the burning in his arms, forces himself not to punch that smirk off of Galo's face, and pushes hard enough to get everything back five minutes before his first employee is supposed to come in.

There's still so much restocking to do, too. Lio cuts open one box, squinting in confusion. Is the tape double-layered? Red in the face and sweating, Lio opens the first box and just about shoves the box cutter into his neck.

Rocks. The box is full of rocks, huge ones on top and the cracks between merchandise filled with hundreds of pebbles. The packaging for his products is immaculate and untouched, but every last box has been fit to bursting with rocks and repackaged.

In that moment, Lio suddenly understands murderers. He sympathizes.

With a growl of frustration, he jams the box cutter into the side of the box. Fine. If Galo wants a battle, then Lio's going to give him a fucking war.

After his gag with the rocks, Galo is feeling pretty confident when next Wednesday rolls around. He's hoping that Lio learned his lesson and won't mess with Galo's shipments anymore.

That hope is shot as soon as Galo sees what's waiting for him in front of Bath and Body Works. He parks his hand truck with a loud clatter, frustrated, and marches over to Lio, who's just leaving his store now. "Lio," he snaps, "what's this shit?"

Lio feigns innocence. The spark of mischief in his eyes shouldn't be as alluring as it is. "Oh, good morning, Galo. I was wondering why the birds had suddenly stopped singing," he says, batting his eyelashes and cocking his head in a way that has Galo feeling like he's on a rollercoaster.

"Cut the shit," he grounds out. "What—" Galo gestures at the "boxes" waiting for him, "—is this?"

Where there ought to be boxes lined up for Galo to take, per their agreement, there's just bundles of duct tape. Bundle after bundle after bundle of duct tape, layered what must be several inches thick.

"You meant that?" Lio twirls a strand of hair around his finger, looking everywhere except at Galo. The faint light coming from the skylights catches on his lavender-and-gold eyes in a way that's so pretty it's actually unfair. "Well, the packages that I got from you last time had been tampered with. I was worried that something had happened to yours, so I thought I'd ensure the quality of the product by making sure they were impossible to get into."

Galo's face pales. His shitty little box opener isn't going to be strong enough for a task like that. "How much tape?" He asks lowly.

Lio shrugs. "Guess you'll find out, huh? I'd hurry if I were you — we open in less than an hour." He pushes his hand truck forward and, completely on purpose, manages to run over Galo's foot in the process.

It hurts like a motherfucker, too, but the way that Lio turns his head to hide a tiny smile, his eyes crinkled in the corners, distracts Galo for long enough that he forgets to be angry.

He certainly remembers to be angry, however, hours later when he's sweeping up scraps of duct tape and has to throw away two pairs of scissors that are so coated in sticky residue that they're all but unusable. And Galo thinks, furiously, "That bastard," while Lio's sunshine smile lingers at the back of his mind.

Their ridiculous jabs could have stayed in the storeroom, and that would have been fine. Lio is already planning what he'll do to get back at Galo if he tries to escalate again.

The problems arise when Galo attacks him during lunch. And fucking with a retail employee's lunch break is unforgivable.

See, every day, Lio eats a bagged meal for lunch that he prepared for himself the night before. And every day, he picks the same table in the food court — secluded and near a window, but right next to a trash can, so it's almost always empty except close to Christmas when the mall is at its busiest.

Like he has every day since he started working at Promepolis City Center Mall, Lio takes his seat. He freezes as something cold and wet seeps through his pants. Looking down, Lio's face goes red when he notices that there is enough water on the seat to make it look like he's pissed himself. He abruptly removes his jacket, using it to tie around his waist, and storms off to the bathrooms to dry himself with as much dignity as he can muster.

On its own, it's an isolated incident that's a mild annoyance, at best. But then it happens the next day. And the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that. Lio's table has two seats and, every single day, they are both soaked right before his lunch break.

Lio is fuming.

He's entirely sure that he knows who's doing this but, as a precautionary measure, he decides to get insider knowledge to confirm it.

"Gueira." Lio doesn't bother checking his table today. He slides right up to the McDonald's counter in the food court, where there isn't a paying customer to be seen. He's not sure how the McDonald's stays in business when he's never seen anyone eating there. "I need to ask you something. It's important," says Lio.

Since he's not even pretending to be doing actual work, Gueria is quick to join him, leaning over the counter conspiratorially. "What can I help you out with, Boss?" He asks, snickering at his own joke.

Lio rolls his eyes but, at this point, he's given up on getting Gueira to call him by his name again. Despite being friends since high school, all it takes is one promotion to manager and Gueira can't seem to remember how to call him anything else. "You know my table?" He points at the spot where he sits, in full view of Gueira's counter. "Have you noticed anyone hanging around there before my lunch break? And I mean, someone who's been doing it regularly."

There's no hesitation — Gueira nods. "Oh, yeah. You mean Galo, right? He comes here, gets his usual, then pours water on your chair and goes off somewhere else to eat." He snickers. "I was wondering how long it'd take you to snap."

Snap, huh? Gueira's neck is looking pretty tempting for snapping purposes. Lio takes a deep breath to calm himself. "And you saw fit not to tell me this because…?" He questions, voice low and dangerous.

Gueira shrugs, apparently possessing no sense of self-preservation. "Galo gave me five dollars not to. And I thought it was pretty funny."

Lio thinks about the consequences for murdering someone (jail time, court costs, being hated by his friends and family) and manages to talk himself out of it. Instead, he calmly opens his wallet and pulls out a five dollar bill and a one dollar bill. He slides the six dollars across the counter to Gueira and says, "You mentioned that Galo is a regular? In that case, I need you to do something for me."

Galo knows that something is up. Gueira isn't an idiot, and he knows how to do his job. Every day, Galo orders a Double Quarter Pounder® with Cheese and no pickles. And every day, Gueira makes it correctly.

Except recently. Now, he's leaving the pickles on, or adding mayo, or forgetting the cheese entirely. Sometimes the sandwich is fine, but then the fries are so over salted that they could dry up a pond. It comes to a head when Galo grabs his drink and the top is off just slightly enough that the pressure of his hand makes the lid pop off and, in his haste to catch it, Galo manages to drop the entire drink as well as the rest of his meal.

He stares at the soggy mess at his feet for what feels like a long time, his shirt dripping with Coca-Cola that's soon going to dry and get sticky.

Behind him, Gueira clears his throat. "You, uh, want me to get you a mop, dude?" He asks without a single shred of sympathy.

Galo doesn't answer. He lets out a shout of frustration and storms off, ignoring Gueira's shouts for him to come back. The food court is on the second floor, so he's taking the escalator in leaps, sprinting onto the first floor and around confused shoppers to burst into Bath and Body Works.

"Lio Fotia!" He shouts at the manager behind the cash register.

Unlike everyone else in the store, who looks at Galo with shock, Lio is unphased. He looks away from the woman attempting to check out and regards Galo calmly. The edges of his mouth are threatening to split into a grin and Galo isn't sure if he wants to punch Lio or kiss him. "Galo Thymos," he greets with a two-fingered wave. "You have ketchup on your shoes."

Of course he'd say that, instead of pointing out the massive stain on Galo's shirt. He marches up to the counter, ignoring the customer Lio's busy with and shoving her purchases to the side to slam his hands onto the desk. "You don't fuck with a man's lunch, Fotia," he growls, leaning over to close the distance between them. "You'll pay for this."

Lio shrugs. "You order from McDonald's. If you want me to pay for it, I don't think it'll take much. Now, if you don't mind…" He tries to gesture for Galo to move, but Galo grabs his wrist instead.

Their faces are so close together, fuck. Lio's eyes are even prettier when he's angry and glaring. "This isn't over," Galo promises.

Unimpressed, Lio yanks his hand free. "If you're done putting water on my seat, then Gueira's done fucking with your orders. I think that's agreeable, don't you?"

Galo says nothing. He holds Lio's glare for several seconds more, imagines doing something stupid like kissing him in the rain, and then turns on his heel and marches right back out.

The next time that Galo gets his lunch from McDonald's, it's prepared perfectly. Victory has never tasted so hollow.

Unfortunately, that's not where it ends. If there's one thing that Lio has learned about Galo Thymos, it's that he doesn't know when to quit.

The next time that Lio gets his boxes, they've all been rearranged to have all the weight on one side. Seriously — he opens them and finds pieces of styrofoam that Galo used to take up space while staying light-weight, forcing the rest of the box's contents to the side.

As far as things have gone so far, it's a mild way to get back at Lio. But it results in a whole stack of them getting knocked over, and Lio drops more than one on his foot. He swears, clutching his bruised big toe, and promises to make Galo regret that they ever met.

Galo pushes open the door to the storeroom and holds his t-shirt over his nose and mouth, coughing as his eyes begin to water. He finds the source of the problem laying on the ground toward the back, spraying out its last fumes.

With his eyes tearing up to the point that he can barely see, Galo scoops up the three Febreze cans and sprints for the exit. Outside of his shop, he's sucking in deep lungfuls of air.

The offenders are three cans of Febreze: Island Fresh, with zip-ties tightened over the trigger to keep them constantly spraying. Galo dumps them into the nearest trash can and goes back to enjoying clean air. Well, as clean as the air inside of a mall can be. Which isn't very.

Even from outside, he can tell that the whole store reeks now. He scowls, straightening up and scrubbing away the tears beneath his red and irritated eyes.

If Lio wasn't so fucking pretty, he'd be a deadman for this.

It's a stupid way to get payback, sure, but Lio admires the effort.

"Damn," Meis remarks at his side, sipping uncaringly from a smoothie that he'd bought before they left. "That's impressive."

Lio nods his agreement. It really is.

At some point between Lio showing up to pick Meis up from work, going inside and coming back out, Galo had covered Lio's car in sticky notes. Granted, they spent about twenty minutes harassing Gueira at his work, but still. There are all sorts of colors and shapes and sizes. The most popular seems to be heart shapes, and Lio isn't sure if he should be flattered or even more pissed off.

Meis walks over to his car and bends over to check underneath it, letting out a low whistle. "Damn, Boss, he even got the bottom. You've got to admire his determination. I'd even call it a work of art."

"I wouldn't go that far," Lio says with a sigh as he pulls his keys out of his pocket. "Come on. If they don't all come off when I start driving, we'll stop by a car wash."

Galo's not sure how Lio manages it, but the boxes are rigged. Not with real bombs, no. Unfortunately, a real bomb might put Galo out of his misery.

They're confetti bombs. For days, Galo opens every box from that Wednesday's shipment with a weary, resigned sigh. Sometimes they spray out confetti, sometimes they don't. When they do, they make a huge fucking mess.

It's supposed to be confetti, but strangely enough, Galo never feels like celebrating.

After his shit show with the confetti bombs, Lio really should have expected something equally as horrendous to clean in retaliation.

But he didn't expect it to be on his birthday. He knows that Gueira's the one who let it slip and told Galo when it was, and Lio makes a mental note to kick his ass for it later.

At the moment, though, Lio is staring at the storeroom that's been just about filled to the brim with "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" balloons. A tiny part of Lio is impressed. All of the time that Galo must have put into blowing these up… If it wasn't so annoying, he'd almost be flattered.

As it is, Lio grabs a pen and gets to work popping each and every last one of them. He resigns to spending the next hour sweeping up their popped remains and swears through clenched teeth to get Galo back for this.

As soon as his shift ends, not even bothering to change, Lio's practically sprinting to Lush. He bursts through the doors and spots who he's looking for by the shower jellies. Thankfully, she's not talking to anyone.

"Thyma!" Lio rushes over and barely manages to resist the urge to grab her by the shoulders and shake her. "I need your help finding something. It's important!"

She's surprised to see him, or maybe just surprised to see him looking like he's on the verge of a mental breakdown. Either way, Thyma recovers quickly. "I'm assuming you mean something in the store?" She gestures around them. "You know, we have signs."

"I need something that stains," Lio says, ignoring her goading. He's not really in a rush, but he's so pissed about everything Galo's been doing that he can't rest until his next victory is secured. "It's for my next retaliation against Galo," he elaborates when Thyma gives him a weird look.

"Oh." Thyma blinks, then gestures for Lio to follow her a little ways. "In that case, I think this bath bomb is just what you need." She hands him a bath bomb that's pink and lavender, with little rose petals folded up in the middle.

Lio opens his mouth to thank her, then he looks at the sign. "Thyma." He has to consciously keep himself from crushing it in his hands. "This is an aphrodisiac."

The sign isn't subtle at all, declaring this particular bath bomb to be "Sex Bomb" in all caps. Hard to miss.

Thyma gives him a wink. "You said it was for Galo. No need to be ashamed, Boss." It seems that she's picked up on Gueira's nickname, too. Great.

He sets the sex bomb back and grabs another bath bomb at random. "Something that stains," he repeats. "This is about getting back at Galo, not getting into his pants." Not that it's not an excellent idea. Like hell will Lio admit that, though.

"You're no fun." Thyma sighs and rolls her eyes. She plucks the bath bomb from Lio's hand and passes him a fizzer called "Deep Sleep." It's dark in color and wrapped in muslin. "This is dark purple once you let it soak," she explains. "Leave it for a few hours and whatever water you get won't be coming out of clothes no matter how much bleach you use. I'd be careful how you use that sort of power. And," she adds, "it smells like lavender."

"It's perfect." Lio feels like he could kiss her. Or Galo. He doesn't even mind the nine dollar price tag.

Lio does not use his power wisely. He fills a bucket with hot water, drops the pouch in, and leaves it above the door leading to Build-A-Bear Workshop's storeroom as a surprise for when Galo has to unload the truck in the morning.

By the time it gets dumped on Galo, the water's cold and the pigment is so bad that it's definitely not coming out of the tile floors, let alone Galo's clothes. He goes home to get a change of clothes, which leaves Lio to handle taking the boxes back and forth on his own.

Despite the way his arms ache when he's done, Lio thinks it was worth it to see Galo dripping wet and glaring with enough intensity to fan the embers in his eyes into an inferno.

He makes a mental note that lavender smells really good mixed with Galo's cologne.

When Galo walks into MAC Cosmetics, it's empty. Which is great news for him, and the reason that he's here on a Monday morning even though he doesn't have a shift today. He comes up to the front and rings the little bell on the counter.

"Hey, you in here, Aina?" Galo calls into the back. He's pretty sure that she has the opening shift, but he doesn't want to deal with her manager if he's wrong.

Luckily, it is, in fact, Aina who comes out of the back to greet Galo with a smile on her face. "Hey! Been a while since you've been here. Decided to reconsider my offer and let me pick out a palette for you?" She asks.

"Haha. No." Galo is quick to shake his head. He's got nothing against makeup, or guys who wear makeup (because Lio's eyeliner is always so perfect and it makes his eyes impossible to look away from), but Galo had learned quickly that makeup just isn't his thing. He's fine with only worrying about fussing over his hair every morning. "Actually, though," he says, "I was looking to buy something. What do you have that leaves stains?"

Aina gives him a flat look. "Stains," she repeats. It's not a question. She drags her hand over her face with a sigh. "Galo, is this for your stupid prank thing with Lio?"

"Don't call it a prank!" Galo insists hastily. "That makes it sound stupid and childish."

"It is stupid and childish, Galo!" Aina smacks her palm against her forehead. "When are you going to suck it up and just ask him out?" She asks.

"Ask him out? Ha, as if! Lio'd be lucky to end up with a guy like me. He's not my type, anyway." With his arms crossed over his chest, Galo holds himself firm against that decision. For all of three seconds, then he deflates. "And he already turned me down." He doesn't mention that Lio ended up laughing at him. The memory makes shame prickle across the back of Galo's neck.

"Oh, Galo…" Aina sighs. "And you think tormenting him is going to make him like you anymore?"

"He started it!" Galo insists stubbornly.

It sounds stupid even to him, but that's not the only reason. The other reasons are just harder to put into words. Most of them have to do with the fire that Galo gets in his chest, having a challenge to measure up to. And the rest have to do with the heat in lower parts of his body when Lio's full attention is focused on him.

When Aina doesn't look convinced, Galo backtracks. "Look, are you going to help me or not? I'm a paying customer, right? Besides," he says, nose wrinkling with distaste, "a stain is the least Lio deserves after he soaked me with cold, purple water. I had to throw that outfit away. The stains just refused to come out. Think of it as justice."

That finally makes Aina cave, although she doesn't seem happy about it. "Alright, alright." She comes out from behind the counter to walk over to one of the displays. "So, I know you're not big into makeup, but this is called pressed pigment…"

In retrospect, Lio should have noticed that something was up as soon as he touched his car door handle. His hand comes away with a strange texture, but he's just glad to be done with his shift and it doesn't register as important.

It certainly becomes important when Lio settles into his car, sets his bag in the passenger seat, touches the steering wheel, and…

Realizes that his hand has left an enormous, bright pink mark. On his white upholstery.

It takes Lio longer than he wants to admit to realize what just happened. He sets his hand on the door before he realizes what he's doing, snatching it back as quickly as he can when understanding sets in. But it's too late. There's a big, hot pink smear over the door now, too.

"What the fuck?" Lio hisses. "What is this stuff?"

He scrubs at it furiously with his clean hand. His heartbeat leaps into his throat when it only makes the stain spread and, worse, get all over his other hand, too. It's a lost cause. Lio pushes over the door using his pinkies and takes several steps away from his car, stained hands held up in surrender.

...And then Lio backs into something warm and solid. He whirls around, hands still held up like he's been caught in the act, and comes face-to-face with a very smug and very punchable and very kissable Galo Thymos. Who isn't supposed to be here because Lio knows he doesn't have a shift today. And, oh shit, he looks nice in casual clothes.

Getting off track.

"You," Lio snarls with genuine loathing. He wants to leave a nice, pink mark around Galo's throat. And not in the asphyxiation fetish sort of way.

"Guilty as charged," Galo acknowledges, looking far too pleased. "You seemed pretty fond of stains, so I hit up the MAC store. Just had to pack it in under your door handle. Guess it's less fun when it doesn't smell like lavender, huh?"

Lio's so angry that he's shaking. "Do you have any idea how much that car cost?" He asks, hands curled into fists at his sides and glare sharp enough to kill a lesser man.

Unfortunately, Galo doesn't shrivel up and die where he's standing. He shrugs. "I'm pretty sure you can figure a way to get it out. Try makeup remover."

It's like Galo was a curse from God, designed specifically to test Lio's patience. He's not sure how much longer he can hold out. The only question is whether Lio's going to kill Galo or fuck him when he finally snaps.

"I hate you," Lio says lowly, "with every inch of my being."

For a second, Galo almost looks apologetic. Then it passes and he raises an eyebrow. "That's not a lot of inches."

The only reason that Lio doesn't tear him to shreds for that is because Galo is a lot faster than he looks. Lio blames his stupid long legs. But once Galo is out of sight, Lio catches his breath and goes to scrub his hands free of pink pigment.

It takes him twenty minutes and costs a layer of skin. And even then, Lio isn't sure if he actually managed to get it all off or if his skin is just too raw and irritated for him to tell anymore. Lio decides that he very much wants Galo's head on a stick — or, at the very least, between his thighs.

At first, it seems like maybe Galo's going to get off of that pigment shitshow scott free. He comes into work the next day, and nothing happens to him. He doesn't see Lio at all. Days pass, and by the time vengeance comes around, Galo's so relaxed that he doesn't understand what's happening at first.

He turns to one of his co-workers, a girl named Alice, and asks, "Can you grab one of the stuffing refills from the back?"

She nods. "Sure thing, Gay-lo," Alice says, and goes to get what he requested.

Galo's in the middle of helping a kid pick out clothing for his bear, so his mind's preoccupied and he doesn't think much about what just happened. By the time Alice comes back and restocks the stuffing, Galo decides to just shake it off, deciding that it must have been a slip or maybe him hearing things wrong.

It's not.

At lunch, Galo goes to the McDonald's in the food court for his usual. He's immediately put on edge when Gueira grins. They're not exactly friends, even though Galo thinks Gueira is cool. He reminds himself that, in this war, Gueira is Lio's ally first.

"Hey, Gay-lo," Gueira greets him, which immediately reaffirms what Galo was just thinking. "Your usual?" He's already got a hand over the computer screen to type it in.

"Why are you calling me that?" Galo demands. "You know my name, dude. It's Galo, with a short 'a' — like æ."

Gueira looks at him. "What?" He asks.

Frustrated, Galo elaborates, "You're saying my name wrong! You're using a long 'a,' like eɪ. It's Galo, not Gay-lo." At this point, Galo's appetite is shot. There's a sinking feeling in his gut.

His explanation has no effect. Gueira shrugs. "I don't know what's gotten into you, dude. I'm saying your name the same way I've always said it." He gestures at the person waiting in line behind Galo. "Are you gonna order or not?"

Galo shakes his head, leaving the line without food. He wanders aimlessly for a few minutes, thinking. Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence. But three times is…

His head snaps up and Galo tries to figure out where he is, his friends' work schedules running through his head. Who's actually here today? Who's closest?

The answer comes to him like hitting a brick wall and Galo swings around on his heel. He jogs at a reasonable pace to Schuler Books and Music, where he quickly picks out a head of teal hair and the glint of light reflecting off of glasses.

"Remi!" He whisper-hisses, trying to use his "inside voice" since he's in a book store. "Quick, Remi, what's my name?"

For a moment, Remi doesn't even look at him. Then he turns, gives Galo a flat look, and says without hesitation, "Gay-lo." There's not a trace of sympathy to be seen.

Three times is a fucking pattern.

Every other store Galo runs to is the same — Aina, Varys, Lucia… They've all turned on him. Out of desperation, Galo even tries Meis and Thyma, although they're both laughing at him before he even gets the words out so he's not sure what he was expecting.

He doesn't think about where he's going consciously, but Galo ends up outside of Bath and Body Works right as Lio is getting off of his shift. Seeing him, Galo's blood boils and he doesn't hesitate to stalk over.

"You," Galo snarls, jamming his finger into Lio's face.

Lio blinks rapidly, his eyelashes fluttering while his eyes flick between Galo's finger and his face. "Ah. I'd say this is a pleasant surprise, but I wouldn't want to lie," he says. Galo almost asks which part is the lie — the word "pleasant" or the word "surprise" — but Lio pushes his hand away before Galo can get the words out and continues, "Can I help you with something, Gay-lo?"

The reminder of why he's here almost makes Galo bust a vein. "Stop calling me that!" He shouts, gripping his hair. "You got everyone to call me that, didn't you? Everyone dear to me… How much, huh? How much did you need to offer those backstabbers until they agreed?"

The thin veil of innocence fades. Lio chuckles, giving him a smile that's almost genuine. The fact that he's only being soft because he's laughing at Galo doesn't seem very important. "Five dollars at the most." Lio shrugs one shoulder. "Most of them agreed to do it for free. Don't worry, it's only for the rest of the week."

Putting up with this for another week sounds impossible. It feels like a piece of Galo's soul just left his body. "This is a cruel and unusual punishment!" Galo insists.

Lio hums with disinterest and makes a show of examining his nails — they're painted glassy black and are filed to a blunt point that makes Galo long for the sensation of Lio running them down his bare back. "Please," Lio scoffs. "After what you did to my upholstery, you got off easy. I have every right to skin you for that."

"Okay, that's…" Galo trails off with a wince. "Fair," he acknowledges.

He hadn't expected it to be that bad, in all fairness. When he'd told Aina that he needed something that stains, he hadn't meant something that will paint. At least Lio isn't demanding that he pay compensation, right? Although, Galo would rather take that than another week of everyone he knows saying his name incorrectly.

Then something else occurs to Galo and he grins. "Have you been watching me, Lio? Seeing where I go, who I talk to… Why don't you just admit it? You're obsessed with me!" He boasts.

It's supposed to be another stupid joke, but Lio colors. It dawns on Galo that he might actually be right. Lio shakes his head. "Shut up, Gay-lo," he snaps, flustered, and turns on his heel to storm off as quick as he can in the other direction.

Galo lets him go, eyes tracking Lio's ass until he's out of sight. Huh. Maybe this one, Galo actually managed to win.

His grin widens, the sting of defeat momentarily abated. Now that he has the advantage, it's time to dig his heels in.

"Thanks," Lio says, taking the package that Lucia hands him. He doesn't ask why she's grinning like a maniac.

"No problem," Lucia replies, punching the order in to the cash register. "That'll be fifty-one thirty-eight."

Lio pays with his credit card, then he leaves. As soon as he's gone, Lucia comes to the back of the store where Galo's been hiding just out of sight and bursts out laughing.

"This is such a stupid prank," she needles him through her giggles, jabbing Galo in the stomach.

He huffs and bats her hands away, but he's grinning too. "It's not stupid, it's genius."

"I wouldn't call it a prank so much as it is psychological torture," Lucia agrees.

It's subtle, but Galo's so fucking proud of himself for this idea. Lio's a pretentious bitch, so he owns an Apple watch. And of course, he got hot pink pigment all over the nice, white band when Galo pulled that prank on his car. Which meant that he was going to have to get it replaced. And, naturally, he'd go to the closest Apple store: the one in the mall, that Galo's adopted sister just so happens to work at.

Not that Lio knows that Lucia is Galo's sister. Otherwise, he might have questioned what she found so funny.

The new band that Lio just bought is pristine, without a doubt. It's also a size too big and just slightly off-white. It's not dramatic, sure, but Galo's willing to bet that it's going to drive Lio crazy before long.

"I owe you," Galo promises, offering a fistbump.

"When don't you?" Lucia shoots back as she returns it.

The door to the roof closes with a loud thud and Lio whirls around, shushing Gueira. "Quiet!" Crouched by the edge of the roof to stay out of sight, he gestures Gueira over. Unlike Lio, who's wearing a bucket hat and a large pair of sunglasses to conceal his identity, Gueira is dressed normally for his shift that he's currently skipping and looks like he couldn't care less. "Did you bring the goods?"

That gets a grin out of Gueira, at least. "Did I ever," he goads, pulling a package of American cheese from his pocket.

Lio raises an eyebrow. "I didn't need a whole package," he says, reaching for it anyway. The more the merrier, right?

"Eh. It's cheap as shit anyway. And we get so many of those delivered every week, I figured management wouldn't miss one." Gueira shrugs as he hands the cheese over to Lio, strolling over to peer over the roof beneath them. "So that's his car, huh? He already went inside?"

He almost asks why Gueira didn't just buy the cheese himself if it's so cheap, but Lio knows that he won't get a straight answer. And besides, they came up here for business.

"Yep. Galo's shift started twenty minutes ago. He won't discover this for another six hours." Lio opens the packaging and carefully unwraps the first slice of cheese. He leans over the roof, lines it up carefully, and tosses it underhand. It lands on top of Galo's truck, directly beneath them. He chuckles and reaches for another slice. "A dollar for every piece that you can get on the windshield?" Lio suggests.

Gueira kneels next to him eagerly. "Five dollars if I can nail the side mirrors."

"Deal," Lio agrees as he tosses another. This one splatters ineffectually on the parking lot's asphalt, but that's fine. He has a whole package to go through.

He hopes that Galo enjoys spending several hours scraping hot cheese off of his car.

"Hey, Lio!"

That should have been Lio's first clue that this was something that he ought to ignore. But, despite himself, he turns around. "What?" He asks Galo irritably. It's the middle of his shift, and he really just wants to finish restocking their hand soap so that he can go on his break.

Galo's holding something behind his back. Before Lio can ask what it is, or take a step back, Galo's already holding it out. And promptly begins to dump it over Lio's head.

The complete and utter lack of subtlety or finesse throws Lio for such a loop that all he can do is stand there with big eyes and his mouth agape as something trickles through his hair and down his scalp.

Flecks land on Lio's eyelashes and in his open mouth, and that finally gets Lio to move. He lets out a strangled yell and shoves Galo away from him. By that point, though, he's too late. Most of the bottle has been upended over Lio and he's absolutely covered in sky blue, super-fine glitter.

Every movement knocks more and more down onto the rest of his body. Lio can't even shake it off because all he's going to do is get glitter all over the store. His face is red, but Lio can't tell if it's anger or embarrassment. Customers in the store have started staring at them and he couldn't give less of a shit about the awkward laughter and confused murmurs.

Before Lio can say anything scathing, Galo's leaning in. He comes so close that their noses brush, staring intently into Lio's eyes. Great. Now Lio is red for a whole different reason.

"I should've covered you in glitter sooner," Galo announces like he's had some incredible scientific breakthrough. "It makes your eyes look really gorgeous."

Lio's response, after several long seconds where he is absolutely not waiting for Galo to kiss him, is to take a handful of glitter from the pile on top of his head and shove it into Galo's face.

He doesn't end up killing Galo that day. Lio tries not to think too hard about why not.

It all comes to a head when Galo is restocking.

They're busy, so he grabs a box from the back with stuffing in it and carries it out into the store. He doesn't have his box cutter on him, so Galo tries to rip the tape off with his hands. He struggles to get his blunt nails under the seam of the tape, manhandling the box. The bottom pops open, the cheap tape splitting.

And normally, Galo would just clean it up and move on. He would apologize to any customer that the spilled contents might have hit and that would be that.

But, normally, there's not a veiny, dark brown, eight-inch cock-extension sleeve in a box that's supposed to be filled with Build-A-Bear Workshop approved plush stuffing.

All Galo can do is stare, mortified, as the sex toy flops onto the ground next to a six-year-old's foot. Then the kid's mother starts screaming and all Galo can do is hope and pray that the ground opens up beneath him and swallows him.

It doesn't.

When Ignis stops yelling at them to take a breath, Lio tries to get in a word of protest.

"It wasn't my intention for the box to split open in front of the customers," he explains for the tenth time since he was dragged into Ignis' office. "If I'd know, I never would have—"

"No," Ignis cuts him off, red in the face, "you never should have." It's the most emotion that Lio has ever seen from him and it's clearly taking its toll on Ignis. He looks like he's starting to work up a sweat, he's so angry with them. "You're both lucky I don't fire you on the spot. Honestly. The sort of hijinks you've been getting up to are juvenile and they stop, now. Both of you, out." He waves to the door and doesn't look at them. "You're both suspended for a week with no pay, effective immediately. The next time I get even an inkling of a prank from either of you, your employment will be terminated."

Lio swallows his protests with pursed lips. He shares a glance with Galo, who's been taking this lecture with a surprising amount of maturity. But Galo only shrugs and stands up, so Lio follows suit. They leave Ignis' office in silence and Lio shuts the door behind him.

He supposes that, since he's suspended, he ought to go home. They both should, really. But Galo doesn't make a move to leave, and neither does Lio. He feels a little guilty at the idea of just leaving after they both got chewed out for a solid half-hour.

"So, uh…" Galo clears his throat and rubs the back of his neck in an awkward, absolutely precious way. "About that cock extension…"

The soft mood is immediately ruined. Lio winces. "It's not mine," he hurries to say. "Not that I'd need it, since I'm single…" Fuck, that is literally the least important piece of information for this subject. His face is on fire. "I got it from Spencer's. Meis bought it for me."

"Employee discount?" Galo guesses and seems relieved when Lio nods. "Ha. Nice."

It's quiet again, an awkward lull. Lio sighs and tries to salvage something redeemable about this conversation. "For what it's worth, I didn't expect you'd open that particular box in the store. At most, I thought it might surprise one of your co-workers."

"It's alright." Turning to face him better, Galo gives a shrug and a hesitant smile. "I figured as much. You're a dick, but you're not an irredeemable jackoff, you know?"

The corners of Lio's mouth threaten to turn up into a smile — given the situation, that's as much as he'll allow himself. "I'm glad you think so highly of me," he says sarcastically.

But when Lio thinks about it, he really hasn't given Galo much of a reason to have a good opinion on him. When did flirting get so hard?

Then again, most people don't drive Lio as crazy as Galo does.

Before he can talk himself out of it, he offers Galo his hand. "I'm sorry for all of this," Lio says, swallowing the blow to his pride. "Truce?"

For a heart-stopping moment, Lio's worried that Galo won't accept. But then his smile turns genuine and he takes hold of Lio's hand firmly. It takes every ounce of willpower that he possesses not to thread their fingers together. "Truce," Galo agrees. "See you in a week, Lio." He turns to leave, offering a wave over his shoulder.

Lio waits for Galo to be out of sight before turning the other way and heading toward the north parking lot, where his car is. It's important that there's nothing behind him for Lio to look back at — otherwise he might be tempted to, and he's run out of excuses for the way that Galo makes his stomach flip.

The best part of the job is easily helping the kids make their stuffed animals. When he first started, Galo wasn't very good with kids, and he's still not quite sure how to deal with the bratty ones, but he's gotten better. He likes kids — maybe even wants to have a few, one day.

He thinks about whether or not Lio would want kids, then pushes the thought from his head and turns to the next customer when he hears footsteps approaching. "Hi! Welcome to Build-A…" Galo's sentence trails off. He can't help but stare. "Lio?"

Oh, good fucking God, Lio is goth when he's not at work. Out of the standard uniform, Lio's got both ears adorned with piercings and a full face of dark makeup. And there's so much leather and lace, holy shit. Galo might actually combust. He has the sudden urge to drop something and see if Lio will bend over to pick it up, in those sinfully tight leather pants, but he doesn't think he could handle it if that actually happened.

Luckily, his gay panic goes entirely unnoticed. "Hey." Lio gives Galo a casual wave and squeezes the hand of the little girl at his side. "Do you want to introduce yourself, sweetie?" She shakes her head, dark curls bouncing, and hides behind Lio's leg. It's so precious that Galo thinks he might die. Lio moves his hand to the top of her head, smoothing down the unruly curls sticking out. "She's shy," he tells Galo. "This is Simone, my niece. It's her birthday, and she was promised a Build-A-Bear, but you know how it is. Something came up, so I offered to take her since I had the day off."

Galo tries to absorb all of that — he really does. But it's hard to focus on what Lio's saying when he's still trying to process how adorable it is to see Lio's niece clinging to him. He never realized before that Lio being good with kids was something that he needed or even something that was possible. As stand-off-ish as he is, Galo hadn't pegged Lio to be the type who likes kids. The goth outfit just makes it better.

He's sexy, funny, and good with kids. If Galo had a ring, he'd be down on one fucking knee already.

"Um, well, sorry to hear that. Have you ever been through before?" Galo asks. When in doubt, default to the customer service script. Nailed it.

Lio shakes his head. "No, we're both first-timers."

"Okay. The first step is we're going to pick out what kind of animal you want to make," Galo explains, "then we're going to add a special sound effect, stuff it, hug it, dress it, name it, and then you get to take it home! Sounds good?"

Fuck, Lio's smile is so much better when he's wearing black lipstick. Galo doesn't think that he can stop staring at Lio's mouth. "I don't have any complaints. What about you, Simone?" Lio waits a moment for her to answer but, even though she's started to come out from behind his leg again, she's still not saying anything. He smiles at her anyway. "I'll take that as a yes. Alright, Galo." Lio waves his hand. "Lead the way."

It's a slow day, so there's only one other group in the store and Galo's co-worker looks to be handling them fine on her own. He takes Lio and Simone over to where their empty stuffed animals are. Lio crouches down to speak to Simone, saying something that Galo can't hear. They converse in whispers, then Simone grabs a little white lamb with some of the softest fur Galo's ever touched.

"Good choice," he commends Simone, leading them to the next station. For the sound, she picks a plastic heart that has audio of a heart beating, then it's on to stuffing.

This part, Galo likes, because all he has to do is make sure the kid keeps the stuffing from getting everywhere while they work the pedals. Simone seems pretty independent, so Galo shows her how to do it and then takes a step back.

He feels Lio come to hover at his side and tenses. It probably shouldn't be as distracting as it is, but Galo's hyper-aware that Lio looks at least twice as attractive as he usually does. He's wearing a different cologne today, too. Or maybe it's perfume, because it smells like roses and makes Galo want to bury his face in Lio's hair.

"I didn't know you liked kids," Galo says quietly, for only Lio to hear. They're both watching Simone and don't look at each other.

Lio shrugs. "She's my niece and it's her birthday. I'm not heartless," he says, but the fondness in his tone tells Galo all that he needs to know.

He hides his smile before Lio can see and goes to help Simone. "Hey, stop for a sec," he says, nudging her foot off of the pedal. The lamb is about half stuffed now, so Galo grabs one of the little felt hearts that they have and holds it up for Simone to see. "You need to give your new friend a heart. See?" He hands it to her. "This will hold your love and wishes. Give it a kiss and then we'll put it in with the stuffing."

Simone clutches the felt heart and stares at it intently for several seconds before finally pressing a kiss to it. Stepping away from the stuffing machine, she goes over to Lio and tugs on one of his many belts. "Lio. You, too," she demands, thrusting the felt heart up as high as she can reach for him to take it.

The look on Lio's face makes Galo's heart do flips, but he just about forgets how to breathe when Lio kneels down to be at her height and presses a kiss to the felt heart. "Satisfied?" He asks, ruffling her hair affectionately.

It is entirely too cute.

"Stop that!" Simone shrieks with a giggle, batting his hands away before returning to finish stuffing her lamb.

After that, she hugs the lamb to make sure that it's stuffed enough, then Galo stitches it up and they go to dress it. Simone picks out a sparkly purple dress and, when they get to the part where Galo prints out an honorary birth certificate, she decides to name the lamb Hayley.

"That's going to be forty-five sixty-one," Galo says when he's done ringing them up.

Lio sighs, looking down at how Simone has her lamb in a one-armed hug while her other hand is clutching Lio's. "At least it's not my money," he says, handing over his credit card.

"Okay, you're all set." Galo hands him the receipt and returns the card. He lets his touch linger maybe a few seconds longer than necessary, but Lio doesn't pull back, either. "See you later, Lio," he says.

Pocketing the receipt and his card, Lio bends down and bundles Simone into his arms. She laughs and wraps her arms around Lio's neck, Hayley squished between their chests. "Looking forward to it, Galo," Lio replies. He's said that before, but this is the first time that he's said it without sarcasm. His smile makes his eyes look like the sunrise and it's all for Galo.

That settles it. He must've died and gone to Heaven.

"Thank you." Simone waves at Galo as Lio carries her out of the store and Galo finds the brain function to wave back.

When they're gone, Galo lets out the breath he was holding. "Oh my God," he says under his breath. "I'm in love."

He is going to make Lio Fotia his fucking husband if it kills him.

Lio's working his first shift back when Galo enters the store, dressed casually and trying too hard to look like a normal shopper. At first, Lio eyes him distrustfully. In the past, Galo being in his store has never been a good sign. But when the minutes continue to pass and all Galo does is pretend to browse the hand soap, Lio decides to ignore him.

He has customers to be servicing, after all. And if Galo wants to spend his day off hanging around Bath and Body Works, then power to him. As long as he's not messing with anything, Lio doesn't have any reason to kick him out, anyway.

It gets to the point that Lio actually manages to forget that Galo's in the store. At least, until he finishes helping a woman check out and sees that the customer behind her is Galo. With hair like that, Lio's not sure how he missed him.

He can't think of anything to say after how things went the last time they saw each other, so Lio defaults to his memorized script. "Did you find everything okay?" He asks in his customer service voice.

Galo, at least, isn't put off by that. He sets a bottle of hand sanitizer down on the counter. Lio stares at it stupidly. Twenty minutes of hovering around the store and that's it? A bottle of hand sanitizer?

"Is that all?" Lio asks, scanning it anyway. Is there some sort of joke that he's missing?

He must not do a good job at keeping the confusion out of his voice, because Galo starts to fiddle with his jacket and his face turns pink. "It's my, uh, friend's birthday," Galo offers lamely. "She needs hand sanitizer, so…"

There's no way that Galo thinks Lio is that stupid. For a moment, he's angry. He almost snaps at Galo for wasting both of their time, for coming into the store for no good reason and hovering around Lio the whole time, and…

Hold on.

The anger's gone like blowing out a candle. Lio smirks. "If you wanted to see me, you can just say so, Galo," he teases.

"What?" Galo does a horrible job of looking confused, his mask of aloofness deteriorating rapidly. "That's not— I mean, I wouldn't— Why would I want to see you, anyway?" He asks finally. His face is red enough to rival a tomato.

"That's a good question," says Lio, feigning disinterest. He scans Galo's purchase and bags it, ringing it in with practiced ease. "I'm pretty sure that I've turned you down already. And we were practically at each other's throats just a few weeks ago. I can't think of a single good reason why you would want to see me." He can think of plenty of bad ones, though. Plenty of reasons that, if acted upon, will surely get both of them fired and fined for public indecency.

"Well, why wouldn't I want to see you?" Galo shoots back. Lio honestly can't tell if Galo's just trying to be contrary or if he's coming to Lio's defense. Or maybe all of the blushing he's been doing has fried what's left of his brain and he's no longer making decisions based on logic. "You're funny and quick-witted. You don't take shit from anyone, but you're mature enough to accept when you've actually done something wrong and take responsibility for your mistakes. And," Galo adds, "you're probably just about the prettiest person I've ever laid eyes on."

There's silence. Lio's mouth hangs open slightly and he can't seem to process what was just said to him. Galo is still staring at him, holding stubborn eye-contact even as embarrassment threatens to make him bolt for the exit any second now.

That was… sweet, maybe? Lio isn't sure how he feels about it yet.

Finally, mercifully, Galo looks away. Lio clears his throat awkwardly, turning his head to try and hide the flush creeping its way across his cheeks. "That'll be five seventy-seven," he says weakly before Galo can do something stupid like apologize or compliment him again. He's pretty sure that leaping across the counter to shove his tongue down Galo's throat would be against store policy and also probably some form of sexual assault.

Unless Galo wants him, too. Which Lio is very much starting to think that he does.

Galo shoves six dollars into Lio's hand and doesn't wait for his change or the receipt. He snatches the bag from Lio, their fingers brushing in the process, and power walks out of the store.

Once he's gone, Lio brings his fingers to his lips. "Fuck," he mutters fondly to himself. He feels like he's been burnt where they touched.

The sexual desire is still there but, with his face red and Galo's earnesty still lingering in the back of his thoughts, Lio doesn't think that he wants to destroy Galo anymore. And that scares him, because if he doesn't want hard, rough sex, then… What exactly does he want?

"It's so frustrating! I think he likes me back, but I can't tell. And I don't want to ask, because if I'm wrong, it'll just make him laugh at me again. Not that I don't love to see Lio laughing, but it's a lot better when he's laughing with me, not at me. I keep thinking that I should just bite the bullet and ask. I mean, that at least gives me a shot, right? Because he's so pretty and amazing, I'm not sure how he doesn't have suitors lining up outside of Bath and Body Works every day. Oh, fuck, wait. What if he does have a boyfriend already? He told me that he was single, but that was two weeks ago! What if that's changed? Or what if he—" Galo grunts with effort, his rant suddenly cutting off. He straightens up from the squat that he was in and leans back, dropping the barbell off of his shoulders with a sigh of relief.

Note to self: barbell squats with more than a hundred pounds are smoother if you're not talking a mile a minute throughout.

He holds out a hand, gasping for breath, and Aina tosses him his water bottle without needing to be told. "Wow," she laments, "you've really got it bad."

Next to her, doing bicep curls, Varys hums sympathetically. "I think that's all the more reason that you should tell him how you feel. If he sees how genuine you are in your adoration, the rest will fall into place."

Galo gives Varys' starry-eyed stare a flat look. "You've been watching too many romcoms," he says once he's caught his breath.

"Much as I hate to agree with Galo, he's kinda right." Aina stands up, done with her break, and stretches her neck and shoulders before walking over to Galo. "You done with the barbell?" He steps out of the way, claiming Aina's spot on the bench. While she removes some of the weights that Galo added, she continues, "No matter how much you love someone, they're not required to love you back. I think you can win him over, Galo. You're a great guy with plenty to love. But you've got to admit, your approach thus far hasn't been the greatest."

"What? That's ridiculous!" Galo crosses his arms with a huff. "Me and Lio have been flirting since day one."

Varys huffs on a laugh. "So dumping people in glitter is flirting now?" He teases.

Thankfully, Galo's already red from exertion, so no one can tell that he's blushing. "He looked really pretty!" Galo insists. He buries his face in his hands with a groan. "Oh, fuck. What am I supposed to do?"

Aina opens her mouth to reply and gets cut off. "Worry about it later." Lucia swings around the side by the entrance to slide into the corner where the three of them are working out. She's texting so fast that her thumbs are a blur, chewing her gum and smacking her lips to be as loud as possible. "Mama S is going to kill us if we're late again and my moped isn't going to cut it. You'll have to shower when we get there, just go towel off and put on a fucking shirt so we can fire up the Galo-mobile and get going."

"Oh, shit, is it already five?" Galo cranes his neck to look for a clock. He doesn't see one, but it doesn't matter, because he's already moving. He grabs his towel and wipes off the sweat coating him as best he can. His bag is at the foot of the bench and Galo grabs his plain black shirt from inside, tugging it on over his head. Basketball shorts aren't great for a family dinner, but he'll wiggle into his pants once they get there.

"That's right. It's Tuesday, isn't it?" Aina asks.

Lucia nods, still wholly enamored with her phone. "We got dinner with our moms. It's a weekly thing, should our schedules allow it. Mama F made pot roast this time."

"Why didn't you open with that?" Galo slings his bag over his shoulder and sprints for the door. "Bye, guys! Thanks for letting me have your guest pass, Varys." He waves at them both and lets Lucia shove him out the Planet Fitness door.

"I think you should go for it, for what it's worth," Meis says, sipping from his Diet Coke with his feet propped up on the table and his arm draped over the back of his chair. "What's the worst that could happen? You get a pretty good fuck out of it? Sounds like a good deal to me."

Lio sighs. "See, that's the thing. I don't think that I want to just fuck him." He makes a face. "I want to kiss him and hold him, and… and hear about his interests. What sort of topics he's really opinionated on and even stupid shit, like what his favorite tree is. While I fuck him," Lio clarifies. "Is there a word for that?"

He gets smacked upside the head from behind as Gueira slides into the seat between them. "It's called a crush, idiot." He snorts and drops an obscenely greasy bag of food from McDonald's onto the table between them.

"What's all this?" Meis asks even as he leans forward to snag a fry.

Gueira shrugs. "Eh. Today was my last day, so I figured I'd make good use of the last of my employee discount."

A part of Lio wants to be exasperated when this is Gueira's third job in the last year, but he's too busy ruffling around for fires to care that much. "Did you get fired or did you quit?" He asks, ignoring what Gueira said about a crush. Lio knows what a crush is, obviously, but it's never felt like this before.

It's never felt this strong.

"Well, that depends on who you ask. But what my next employer doesn't know won't hurt him," Gueira says with a chuckle. "So, what are we talking about? Have you gotten laid yet, Boss?"

Lio bites his lip. He drums his fingers on the tabletop, looking between his two best friends who are staring back at him expectantly. Since he and Meis are off already and Gueira just got fired, it's not like they have anywhere that they need to be. He sighs, resigned, and abruptly stands. "Come with me. I need to show you guys something."

They don't ask questions. Lio leads the way and they follow, down the escalator to the first floor and veering off to the left, towards Planet Fitness.

Whenever Lio was trying to memorize Galo's schedule and his friends so that he could get them all to say Galo's name wrong, he'd discovered something rather unfortunate about Galo's schedule. And that is, every day either before or after his shift (depending on if he opens or not), Galo abuses Varys' black card Planet Fitness membership to workout.

But that's not the worst part.

He finds a good spot at the bench across from Planet Fitness, outside of the book store, and gestures loosely toward the big windows that dominate the front of it.

The worst part is that Galo does barbell squats without a shirt on, wearing basketball shorts. And even worse than that is that he does it with his back to the window. It's quite possibly the best view in the whole damn mall.

"Wow." Meis clearly can't think of anything else to say. Gueira might be drooling.

"I'm going to die," Lio swears, letting out a strangled groan. "Why is this allowed? It should be illegal to look that good in public."

What Lio is doing is definitely creepy, but he can't bring himself to look away. Does Galo have any idea what he looks like to others? Does he even care? Probably not, actually. Lio watches helplessly as the muscles of his back and thighs flex with every squat. It takes everything he has not to ogle Galo's ass. He has to have some standards. He'd kill himself before getting hard in a mall.

He notices Lucia walk into Planet Fitness, and she definitely notices them staring if the overdramatic way that she waves means anything. Lio has a moment to wonder what she's doing, then he notices her talking to Galo and stiffens.

"Oh, fuck, she's gonna tell him that we're here." Lio panics, grabbing Meis' arm for emotional support.

Meis, the cold-hearted bastard that he is, sighs and shrugs Lio's hand off. "Calm down, Boss. I'm sure it's nothing. They could be talking about any number of things, it doesn't have to be about the way you start salivating when you see Galo in shorts."

If Lio gets out of this without killing himself, he's going to strangle Meis.

Unfortunately, whatever they're talking about ends up meaning nothing. Galo towels off and reaches for a shirt. Lio freezes.

Seeing Galo exit Planet Fitness with Lucia in tow sends a genuine shot of fear through Lio, enough that he can at least move his body again. "Fuck, fuck, fuck," he hisses, turning his head to hide his face as he speaks to Gueira and Meis. "You two have to hide me. Distract them or something so I can get out of here.

Instead of immediately jumping to his aid, Meis looks over his shoulder at Gueira and the two exchange a silent conversation. Gueira shrugs, still shoveling fries into his mouth, then Meis sighs and sets a hand on Lio's shoulder. "Listen, Boss…" He pauses. "One day, you'll thank me for this."

Then he shoves Lio off of the bench as hard as he can.

A sharp movement attracts Galo's attention, or maybe it's the flicker of green-blond hair that he spots out of the corner of his eye. A color that Galo would recognize anywhere, drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

"Lio!" He darts over to help Lio off of the ground, even though it doesn't look like it was a serious fall. Lio's already started pushing himself up, but Galo sets hands on his shoulders to steady him because Lio is clutching his head and a head injury is no laughing matter. "Are you alright? Did you hit your head when you fell?" Galo brushes Lio's bangs out of the way, looking for any sign of bleeding. It doesn't even occur to him to ask how Lio managed to trip when there's nothing and no one else around.

Once he's on his feet, Lio regains his balance quickly. He glances around, then mutters a curse. "I swear I'm going to…" He takes a deep breath and reigns in whatever he's angry about. "I'm fine, Galo," Lio says, putting a hand on Galo's wrist. Galo still has a hand on Lio's shoulder, and the other is still hovering over Lio's face. "Thank you for coming to help me, though. I appreciate that." It would be so easy to cup his cheek, and lean forward, and…

"Hey! Make out in public on your own time!" Lucia interrupts them, jamming her bony elbow into Galo's side. "We have somewhere to be, you know! Mothers to not disappoint. Well, not disappoint any more, in my case."

Galo turns red, dropping his hands immediately. "Lucia! We weren't going to— I mean, I was just helping him up. I wasn't—"

"Exactly," Lio agrees. "That was perfectly platonic. I'd never even dream about kissing Galo."

Okay, ouch. That hurts. His ego is definitely bruised. Galo backtracks. "I, well…" He rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. "I wouldn't say never…"

Lio gives him an odd look and Galo has the sharp, acidic feeling that he's just fucked up beyond measure. "What are you talking about?" He asks, maybe a little bit hopeful or expectant. Maybe.

In his embarrassment, Galo panics. "No, no, you're right. We'd never kiss. I mean, why would I even want to kiss you, anyway?" He forces a laugh that no one else joins in on.

"Why wouldn't you?" Lio shoots back, arms crossed and his hip cocked. "Not to be shallow, but have you seen me?"

Oh, fuck, has he ever. Galo sees Lio just about every day and it's slowly killing him. Lio's angry with him now, though. He looks so good when he's angry.

"I've seen better," Galo quips before he can tell himself not to.

Anger turns Lio's face the prettiest, splochiest shade of red. He opens his mouth, but his comeback is never voiced. Without another word, probably sensing that it wouldn't do anything, Lucia grabs Galo by the arm and starts dragging him toward the exit.

"What the fuck was that about?" Lucia hisses as soon as they're out of earshot.

"I can't help it!" Galo protests, shooting a look at Lio over his shoulder. He's not looking Galo's way and he feels a hot stab of disappointment. "There's just something about Lio that makes me want to give as good as I get. He's a challenge, you know? I…" Galo bits his lip. "He's just so amazing when he's got something to be passionate about. Like a firecracker."

Lucia sighs helplessly. "Yeah, well, you're never going to get the kind of passion that you really want from him if you keep picking fights. Hate, unfortunately, is not conducive for a first date," she says, lecturing him.

Galo rolls his eyes. As if Lucia has an experience with dating… "Okay, well, what do you suggest?" He asks anyway if only to humor her. And maybe because he's genuinely at a loss.

It's quiet while she thinks about it. Then Lucia perks up. "How about a gift?"

Lio's finished up their weekly back and forth before Galo has, which is unusual but not much of a problem. It gives Lio the opportunity to stare while he's setting up the store for opening. The stacks of boxes left out front gradually begin to dwindle until, when Galo's coming back for the last one, he arrives holding his hands behind his back.

Considering the mess that happened the last time that Galo hid something from him (Lio was cleaning glitter out of his hair for weeks), he should be on edge. He's not. Lio remembers that incident faintly and doesn't feel suspicious at all. He's not sure when Galo earned his trust, but it's not an unwelcome feeling.

"What's that you've got behind your back?" Lio asks casually. He's not even looking at Galo, more caught up with arranging the display in front of him.

Out of the corner of his eye, Galo stiffens, as if he didn't expect to be caught so quickly when he's anything but subtle. He fidgets with whatever he's holding nervously. "Actually, uh… It's a gift." When Lio doesn't react, he specifies, "For you."

Well. That's new.

"A gift?" Lio turns to face him, frowning. "It's not my birthday. It's not a special occasion or a holiday, either." He's racking his brain, trying to remember if maybe he's forgotten something. It's not even the anniversary of the day they met — that's still months out.

"It's not for anything like that," Galo assures him. "I got you a gift just because I wanted to. No reason otherwise. Here." He pulls it out from behind his back and shoves it into Lio's arms.

He blinks down at it. It's a Build-A-Bear.

The stuffed tawny bunny is wearing black shoes and a black dress with sequin roses on the skirt. It's holding a fake champagne glass and a little paper bottle.

It's also legitimately adorable.

Lio softens, cradling it in the crook of his arm. "Galo, you didn't have to do that… But thank you," he says genuinely. "I love it."

Galo's face is bright red and he's not looking at Lio. "Yeah, well… You're welcome. I saw it in the store and it reminded me of you. And, you know…" He shrugs helplessly.

"Employee discount?" Lio fills in for him.

He nods gratefully. "Yeah. I'm glad you like it." Taking a step back, Galo gestures helplessly at the boxes he still has left as an excuse. "I gotta get back to work. See you around?"

What a shame that Galo didn't use the opportunity to kiss him. Lio sighs, but returns Galo's smile. "Always," he replies, and delights in the way that it makes Galo dissolve into a stuttering mess.

Once he's finished setting up, Lio retreats into the back to put the stuffed animal with his things. Sure, it's a little bit stupid, but the sentiment is sweet and Lio thinks it's cute. He's got the perfect spot for this bunny on his nightstand, where he can see it every morning.

The meal that Galo is trying to enjoy is ruined when a shadow falls over his table. He pauses with his cheeseburger half-way to his mouth and glances up.

He sputters. "Lio!" Galo immediately sets the burger down and reaches for a napkin, scrubbing his mouth furiously to make sure there are no lingering condiments on his lips. "What, uh… What can I do for you?" He asks casually, propping his elbow up on the table and resting his chin on his fist.


Funnily enough, though, Galo isn't the only one who's embarrassed. "Oh, it's nothing important. I didn't mean to disturb your meal," Lio says apologetically, holding his hands behind his back.

"That's fine. I mean…" Galo gestures at his half-eaten food and grins. "It's McDonald's. I'm not missing out on much."

Lio gives him a pity laugh and then taps the side of his mouth. "You've, uh… Got something in your teeth."

Galo immediately zips his lips shut, his smile turning strained. Fuck. Fuck, this could not be more awkward if he tried. Why is this so hard? He's flirted with people before! Granted, none of them were as beautiful or smart or hard-working or kind or fiery as Lio, but…

There's no "but." Galo is head over heels and he can't walk straight because of it.

"Sorry. I probably should have waited for you to get done with lunch before accosting you like this, but my shift is over and I just wanted to give you something before I go," Lio explains. He's blushing faintly. Seeing Lio flustered is rare and Galo is even more interested than he was before.

"Give me what?" Galo cranes his neck as if he can somehow see around Lio at this angle. That just encourages Lio to shift his stance, keeping whatever's behind his back out of sight.

Lips pursed, Lio struggles to find the words. "It's… a gift," he says at last. And before Galo can ask another stupid question, Lio sets it on the table in front of him.

It's a candle. Galo makes sure his hands are free of grease, then picks it up to read the label. "Bergamot Waters," he reads aloud, making a face. "What the hell is bergamot?"

"I don't know," Lio confesses. "I just picked it out because the smell reminds me of you."

Oh. Galo feels the blush that's finally managed to die down return to his face with full force. His chest aches. "Thanks. You know, if this is about yesterday, you didn't have to get me anything," he says. Is this Lio's way of reciprocating, though? Is now a good time to ask him out, or is that too soon? Galo really doesn't want to get shot down again if Lio is just being friendly.

"I know." Lio rolls his eyes, but it's not mocking the way that it usually is. The upward curve of his lips says that he's joking. Galo thinks that he could spend all day trying to figure out the right words to say to get Lio to smile. "I wanted to, though. Got to use that employee discount, right?"

He laughs, but now Galo's more confused than before. Is Lio fucking with him? He doesn't think so. Lio's a bit of a prick, sure, but he's not two-faced. If he was trying to make fun of Galo, he'd be a lot more direct about it.

So… Is this flirting? Only one way to find out.

Mustering up all of his courage, Galo indicates the seat across from him and asks, "Do you want to join me?" He knows that it's not Lio's usual spot for lunch, but he hopes that's alright. He also hopes that Lio can't tell how hard his heart is beating.

Lio gives him a fond look. "I would, but your lunch break is over in three minutes." He points to the large digital clock that hangs over the food court's exit. Galo colors with embarrassment. Right. "Maybe some other time," Lio offers instead. "See you around, Galo." He turns to leave, looking at Galo over his shoulder and waving while he does.

"Bye, Lio." He offers a weak wave in return. Galo looks down at the rest of his meal and makes a face. Yeah, he's not going to be able to finish it.

He pops the lid off of the candle instead, sniffing it. It does sort of smell like his cologne. Galo's impressed (and a little flattered) that Lio pays attention to details like that. He wonders if Lio does it for everyone, or just for him.

Either way, he's never going to light this candle.

"Sorry that I was sick yesterday," Lio says to his co-worker, Carly, when he comes into work on Thursday. He's never missed a shipment day before and he'd felt bad about leaving one of his co-workers to deal with it on such short notice.

"That's not your fault, Lio," she assures him. "Besides, the manager at the other BABW was really helpful. He carted all of the boxes for me."

Lio pauses what he's doing, checking off the boxes to make sure that everything in the storeroom is where it should be, and turns to Carly with surprise. "You mean Galo?" He asks. She nods, and he continues with, "That's odd. He's never normally that helpful."

"Really?" Carly seems far too happy to hear this news. "Do you think that means I have a shot with him? You know, he's kind of cute."

The conversation doesn't continue because Lio refuses to entertain that train of thought by answering. His lips are pulled into a flat scowl. It shouldn't bother Lio so much that someone else is thinking about pursuing Galo. It's not like he's dating Galo or anything. It's not like Lio has any right to object, or feel…


He does his best to keep the incident out of his thoughts for the rest of his shift but, by the time eleven o'clock rolls around, Lio decides to take an early lunch break. Whatever is bothering him, he's sure that it's nothing that can't be cleared up by talking to Galo.

With his bagged lunch in hand, Lio makes a beeline for the table that he knows Galo sits at. Thankfully, Galo's already there, terrible McDonald's meal already in front of him and everything.

Given how awkward it was last time Lio tried this, he doesn't announce himself to Galo beforehand. Lio takes the seat across the table from Galo like he owns the damn thing, crossing his legs and setting his lunch down in front of him.

Galo freezes like a deer in the headlights, burger in his mouth where he's yet to take a bite out of it. He tries to say something around the mouthful of food and it comes out muffled.

It really shouldn't be as endearing as it is.

"You shouldn't talk with your mouth full," Lio chastises. "Why are you surprised? I told you the other day that I would try to have lunch with you some other time."

Before he speaks, Galo takes a bite, chews carefully, and swallows. "Well, yeah, but…" He sets his burger down and wipes his hands off with a napkin. "...To be fair, I thought you were joking about that."

Lio softens. "I wasn't. Is it so crazy that I might actually enjoy your company, Galo Thymos?" He reaches over and snatches one of Galo's fries, popping it into his mouth. It's just greasy enough to be enjoyable, despite the mediocrity.

"I guess not," Galo allows. He takes a couple of fries himself, apparently having decided that the burger is too messy for him to eat while in polite company. "Your coworker told me yesterday that you were sick. What's her name, Carla? You're not still feeling under the weather, are you? I would've offered to bring you homemade soup, but I don't know where you live. Or have your phone number."

There's the sudden urge to lean over the table and write his number on Galo's arm immediately. Lio doesn't do it, because he's classy, and he doesn't give out numbers unless the first date goes well. He wonders if a two-month-long prank war counts as a first date. If it does, then Lio's pretty sure that he pissed away any chance he might've had with Galo by pulling some of those stunts.

"That's fine. It was a little head cold. I don't really like soup, anyway." Lio unpacks his lunch, just to have something to do with his hands. A part of him is pleased that Galo doesn't remember Carly's name, as petty as that is. "Speaking of yesterday, she told me that you helped her with the boxes." He's very careful not to look at Galo. "That was awfully kind of you."

The only time that Galo offered to help Lio with the boxes, he'd wanted a date or a kiss as compensation. Lio's throat burns at the idea.

"You think so?" Galo gives him a dopey smile. "You weren't there so I didn't want her to have to do it all by herself and end up doing it wrong. I know you're really big on organization. I didn't want her to give you a bad report." He waggles his eyebrows jokingly.

Lio feels like a skipping record. "Wait." His expression bunches up with confusion. "But you never offer to help me with the boxes," he says, and it sounds childish even to him.

Galo gives him a funny look. "Do you… want me to do the boxes for you?" He asks.

And Lio realizes that, no, he really doesn't. He doesn't like to let people do work that he's perfectly capable of doing on his own. If Galo offered out of the blue, Lio would be more likely to take it as an insult to his capabilities than a genuine offer to help.

So Galo moving those boxes had just been him trying to be nice to someone and maybe trying to impress Lio by taking initiative. Similarly, Galo not offering to move the boxes for Lio is also his way of being nice. Different flavors for different people. It makes his chest warm to know that Galo knows him that well — to know that Lio's too stubborn, hard-working, and proud to let someone help him unless he's physically unable to stop them.

"No, nevermind. Forget it." Lio hides a fond smile with a shake of his head. "Let's just enjoy our lunch together."

He's on his phone when he walks into the MAC store, which is the only reason why Galo enters at all. If he'd known that Lio was in the shop beforehand, he would have walked right on by and circled back every five minutes until Lio left.

As it is, the sound of Lio's voice makes Galo freeze. Lio's facing away from him, talking to Aina, which is a small blessing. Galo's brain locks up and his thoughts are screaming at each other. He just came in to meet up with Aina and grab smoothies before heading home — he's not mentally prepared to talk to Lio today.

"I don't think that red goes with an all-black outfit," Lio says, exasperated.

"That's the point! Using a splash of color to undercut all of…" Aina gestures at his outfit, making a face. "...that."

"Undercutting the black by adding color completely defeats the point of being goth." It's said with the sort of thinly-veiled patience of someone who's explained this several times already.

Aina makes an unimpressed noise, then her eyes flicker away and she notices Galo standing there and staring. "Oh, hey, Galo! Right on time." She sets her hands on Lio's shoulders and turns him around. "What do you think? He totally pulls off red lipstick, right?"

Even though he's clearly annoyed and vaguely uncomfortable, Lio still manages a genuine smile when he sees Galo.

Scratch whatever Galo was just panicking about — having a normal conversation with Lio would be child's play compared to seeing him in red lipstick. Galo doesn't give his brain time to conjure up anything heinous. He just takes a deep breath, turns around, and walks right back out of the store.

He does a slow walk around the mall and, by the time he comes back, Aina is alone in the store. Walking up to her still feels like doing a walk of shame, though. She's smirking at him with every step.

"So, uh," Galo begins, trying to be subtle as he leans against the counter, "did Lio end up buying that red lipstick?"

Aina isn't fooled for a single second. "You know, I'm having trouble remembering," she says airily. "But, hey. Play your cards right and you'll find out soon enough."

The way that Lio smiled at him flashes to mind and Galo muffles a long-suffering groan. He repeats multiplication tables in his head because, for fuck's sake, Galo is not about to get hard in the middle of a store while talking to one of his longest friends.

Lio is going to be the death of him. He has never wanted to kiss anyone more.

There's a sheet of paper in front of him, blank. Lio's glaring at it as if his stare can set it on fire. He's working a pen between his teeth, fiddling with it. It's been like this for the last ten minutes. Lio's lunch sits next to him, untouched.


The thing is, Lio's trying to do something nice for Galo. It shouldn't be as difficult as it is, but it's proving to be quite the challenge. He can't buy Galo something, since he already did that. Galo's gesture when he helped move the boxes was sweet, but Lio can't think of an equivalent for him to try. Something nice… Something that he can't buy.

Well, Lio thinks, only somewhat sarcastically, he could try sucking Galo's dick while wearing that red lipstick. Aina was right after all — the results certainly speak for themselves, and Galo's reaction was more than promising. But he thinks that the general policy for dick sucking without being a whore should at least wait until the first date. That makes Lio a classy whore.

Thinking about first dates is enough to sidetrack him thoroughly. Lio wonders if he should just man up and ask Galo out. He kind of wants to drag it out and see if Galo will do it, or at least wait for a good moment to come up naturally, but he doesn't think that either of those things is going to happen any time soon.

He sighs, then lets out a surprised squeak when Galo drops down into the chair across from him. "Galo!" Lio hurries to cover his paper, even though there's nothing on it. "What are you doing here?"

Galo gives him an amused look. "I work here," he says, gesturing at the food court around them.

Ah. Right. Maybe Lio should do his internal musing at his apartment instead of when he's on his lunch break.

"Anyway," Galo continues before Lio has to muster up the will to speak, "here. This's for you." He reaches into his pocket and hands Lio a coupon for Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Lio eyes it for a moment, then gives Galo an odd look. "Why?" He asks eloquently.

"For your niece. You said last time that she's never been before, right?" Galo shrugs. "Well, maybe the next time she wants a stuffed bear, it won't hurt her parents' credit cards so much."

That's really thoughtful of him, actually. Lio wants to be upset. He wants to give the coupon back and insist that this isn't how it's supposed to work. It's like when they did their prank war, isn't it? Galo does something, then Lio retaliates, then they go back and forth like…

Oh. Wait.

Suddenly, Lio feels like an idiot. This whole time, he's been treating their flirting as if they're still competing. He's been treating it like a battle, when it's just supposed to be dating.

It's just falling in love. Why has Lio been making it so difficult on himself?

"Thanks," Lio says simply, tucking the coupon away for later. "I'll be sure to tell her."

It's hard to pinpoint what changes, but Galo notices a difference. He and Lio haven't been genuinely angry with each other since the days of their prank wars, and thinking about Lio's fury is what makes it click.

The passion is back. Lio's been nice to him the last few months, sure, but in hesitant, surface-level ways. The kind of companionship that you'd expect from a friend — nothing more.

Lio takes his lunch breaks earlier now so that he and Galo can eat together and talk. Sometimes they share a drink. Sometimes their hands brush when Lio asks him to pass the napkins that are definitely close enough for him to get himself. The way that Lio looks at him now is different, too.

Galo knows what lust looks like. He's gotten it from strangers and friends-who-want-to-be-something-more and the few people he's fooled around with in the past. Getting that look from Lio makes his stomach do flips.

The thing is, Lio's always looked at him with lust. Galo isn't entirely stupid. He knows that he looks good, and he figures that he must at least be sort of Lio's type if he hasn't gotten killed over all the shit he's done and said by the point. But something must change because Lio's not hiding that lustful look anymore. He stares at Galo openly, dragging his gaze up and down in a way that makes Galo feel hopelessly vulnerable.

Lust isn't the only thing, though. At least, Galo hopes it's not, but he's a little nervous to ask just in case the answer turns out to be no.

As nice as it is to have Lio's interest in a positive, romantic way (finally), Galo isn't sure what to do about it. Luckily, he doesn't have to figure it out.

It's an ordinary Wednesday with an ordinary shipment, until it isn't. There's a piece of paper stuck to the last box. Galo only notices it when he's stacking everything in the storeroom. He picks it up, prepared to throw it away, then pauses when he realizes that it's the coupon sheet he gave to Lio last week, for his niece. Every single coupon has been torn out and there's a note attached.

Recognizing Lio's handwriting, Galo holds up the piece of paper to read. His face colors.

Thanks. She loved it.

P.S. Just so you don’t think I’ve gone soft: Fuck you. <3

There's no name left on the note, but Galo doesn't need a name to know who it's from.

On the back, there's a bold kiss, lipstick redder than a firetruck. But not, Galo is willing to bet, redder than he is at the moment. He wonders if Lio knows just how often Galo thinks about that particular shade of lipstick, of painted lips wrapped around his cock and Lio's eyes twinkling with mischief through a curtain of mused hair.

The way that Lio looks at him, there's no way that he doesn't know.

His embarrassment settles with determination as Galo reaches for something to write on. Fine, two can play that game.

He's got a bet going with Gueira and Meis about how long it will take Galo to reply. Meis wins: it takes Galo less than twenty-four hours.

As soon as Lio clocks in for the opening shift on Thursday, he leaves the backroom to find Galo already waiting outside of the store. When he sees Lio, he waves, an endearing mix of determined and nervous.

Swallowing a smirk, Lio takes him time to saunter over to him. "Galo," he greets, hands folded politely in front of him. "What can I do for you?"

Galo tries to answer; opens his mouth, shuts it, opens it again, and finally just shakes his head. "This is for you," he says in a rush, pushing a neatly folded sliver of paper into Lio's hands. And without another word, he turns and speed-walks back toward his own store.

There's a sort of anticipation that comes with what the paper might say. The mall opens in five minutes, so Lio prioritizes getting everything set-up, Galo's note burning a hole in his pocket the whole time. While one of his co-workers volunteers to man the cash register, Lio slinks off to the back, stealing a few precious seconds alone to enjoy the moment.

Lio opens the note and very carefully schools his expression to keep from reacting. On it is two short sentences, lacking any capitalization or punctuation and printed in Galo's barely-legible scrawl.

put your money where your mouth is

dinner tomorrow night @ 7

Somehow, Lio manages to keep himself from smiling. It's not a question but, then again, Lio doesn't really need to answer. He decides to anyway.

He grabs a pen and a scrap of paper and proceeds to write his response.

Lio doesn't make it the full day.

Since he's working a short shift today, Galo gets off when Lio's lunch break starts. He's heading to the parking lot when Lio stops him, taking hold of Galo's hand and entwining their fingers together as if they're lovers.

Galo can't help the way that his stomach swoops and his heart soars. He's tempted to push Lio up against the wall and kiss him, the shoppers milling around them be damned, but Lio doesn't give him the chance.

"Here. This is for you," Lio says, pressing a large piece of paper to Galo's chest. He squeezes Galo's hand and presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth. Galo short-circuits. "See you tomorrow." Satisfied, Lio leaves Galo with one hand gripping the paper like a lifeline and the other clenching around nothing where Lio's hand had just been.

He's so stunned that Lio is already out of sight before Galo thinks to remind him that neither of them work tomorrow.

That thought is shoved aside. Galo has far more important things to be worrying about. He smoothes out that paper that Lio gave him and holds it up to read eagerly.

The note this time is a coupon. A fucking coupon. "$10 OFF ANY PURCHASE OF $40 OR MORE*" the coupon announces in big, blocky text. "IN STORES AND ONLINE!"

For a moment, Galo feels a genuine, sharp stab of disappointment. He shouldn't have expected a response other than that, after the way they tormented each other like children for months. Then he flips the coupon over and his stomach lurches up into his throat.

Done. I’ll meet you at the restaurant across the street. Dinner’s on you, and I’ll pay for a movie after.

See you then.

There's no kiss or heart on this note, but it feels a hundred times more intimate. Galo's mouth goes dry. His mind struggles to process what this means.

He's got a date.

Oh, fuck, he has a date.

Of all the places that Lio has gone to for a first date, Olive Garden has to be the worst pick. To be fair, he'd been rather short on options, considering that he'd only had the space of that note to work with and wasn't sure what Galo liked to eat. Other than McDonald's. Olive Garden is about the same, quality-wise, so Lio hopes it's not a terrible choice.

He arrives before Galo does, getting a table for two where there are not many other people around. The restaurant's half-full — about what he'd expect for a Friday night.

Lio takes his jacket off and puts it around the back of his chair. He's dialed down all of the black tonight, just because he's not sure how much Galo likes goth fashion and Lio doesn't want to scare him off. His makeup is black, and so are his leather pants and boots, but he's wearing a white dress shirt with frills and lace. It's not exactly colorful, but the first date feels a little soon for Lio to pull out the red in his wardrobe.

While waiting, Lio continues to agonize over his every decision. Should he have picked a better restaurant? What if Galo doesn't show up? Is he overdressed? Maybe he should have brought condoms. Or would that be too bold? Is he not being bold enough? Lio is wholly unused to being insecure and he loathes every second of it.

He's ten minutes early to the restaurant. Lio's pleasantly surprised when, at seven o'clock on the dot, Galo slides into the seat across from him with a grin. He looks just as good as he always does, with a jean jacket over a white dress shirt — enough to look nice, but not too nice. Not for a first date at an Olive Garden.

"Hey," Galo says, his smile infectious. "You haven't been waiting long, have you? I tried to get here early, but the traffic was ridiculous."

"No, it's only been ten minutes," Lio assures him. "Don't worry about it. I like to be early."

Once they've flagged down a waitress, she leaves them with a basket of breadsticks and two glasses of water. Lio's tempted by the wine at the back of the menu, but he opens it to the pasta section anyway and pretends to be studying it. He's not — he's too anxious to read. When the waitress asks, he'll probably just point at something that looks good.

"You know…" Lio says with a little chuckle, "we've known each other for, what, six months now? And I still barely know anything about your personal life."

"Funny, I was just thinking the same thing about you." Resting his chin on his folded hands, Galo leans forward with a challenge in his eyes. "You up for a rapid-fire round? First one to refuse to answer has to pay for the bill."

Lio grins back playfully. "Your move, Thymos."

This game of theirs has the potential to be dangerous if Galo hits anything too personal. But since it's a challenge with stakes, Lio's determined not to lose. His competitive streak isn't about to go away overnight.

"How'd you meet Meis and Gueira?" Galo asks after a long moment of consideration.

Starting off easy, huh? "I met Meis because we took AP chemistry together in high school. We were lab partners," Lio says. "I met Gueira when he called me a faggot and I kicked his ass in the school's parking lot." Galo muffles a surprised laugh and Lio can't help a smile of his own as he continues. "We bonded in detention. Turns out he was Meis' friend already. What's your family like?"

Galo's smile flickers for a second, then he forces it back into place. "My birth parents died in a house fire when I was little, so I got fostered at a couple of different places before being adopted." He's continuing before Lio can apologize for bringing up such a sensitive subject. "My foster moms are sweet and I've got a sister now, too. You might've met Lucia," he says teasingly.

"I don't know if I should be sorry for you or punch you." Lio shakes his head, then pauses as something occurs to him. "Wait. You fucked with my Apple watch, didn't you?" He yanks up his sleeve to show the watch in question — the watch face has twisted to rest on the back of Lio's wrist instead of on the front since it's too big to stay in position now. "I knew this thing was too big! And it's not lace, either, it's alabaster!" He shouts, barely remembering to maintain an inside voice.

"Yep, that was me." Galo's shit-eating grin isn't apologetic in the slightest. "My turn for a question."

"That doesn't count!" Lio protests. He should be fuming, but it's hard to be angry when he has to put so much effort into keeping himself from smiling.

"It totally counts!" boasts Galo. "What's your least favorite pizza topping?"

Lio narrows his eyes. "Pineapple," he says without hesitation.

It gets the effect that he wants — Galo looks appalled. "You take that back."

"I'll take that to my goddamn grave," Lio swears. Back on track. "Have you ever been on a date before?"

"Yeah, but only twice." Before Lio can ask how serious those relationships were, Galo's already moved on. "Where'd you learn to make a confetti bomb, and can you teach me?"

The reminder of the pranks they pulled on each other finally makes Lio crack. He gives up on keeping a straight face and allows himself to smile. "That's two questions," he points out. Is making confetti bombs together a good second date?

Galo opens his mouth to retort, but their conversation is put on pause when their waitress stops by to get their orders. Lio points to the first lasagna dish that his eyes land on, and Galo picks out the chicken alfredo. Their menus are collected and then it's just them at the table, nothing except for a basket of breadsticks between them.

To have something to do, Lio takes a sip of his water. He looks at Galo over the top of the glass and can't help the pleased flutter in his gut when Galo flushes and looks away. He wonders if he can convince Galo to skip the movie after dinner and go straight home instead.

"For what it's worth," Galo offers, "looking back, some of those pranks you pulled on me were really impressive."

"And frustrating," Lio adds.

"Very frustrating." The good-natured smile on Galo's face drops. "I'm still annoyed about having to drive home purple and soggy," he says.

This is Lio's cue to apologize, he knows. But at the same time, he's apologized already. Outside of Ignis' office, Lio was the first one to suck it up and say "I'm sorry." Besides that, he's not entirely over it, either.

"Yeah, well, my car is still covered in pink pigment. I think we're even." The logical part of Lio's brain tells him to change the subject before this becomes an argument. But the stupid, horny part of his brain really wants this to become an argument.

Sure enough, the way that Galo chuckles is far from friendly. "I don't see how it's even when you're the one who started it and you got the last prank in before Ignis busted us, too. I think I still owe you a good one."

"What are you talking about?" Lio feels a genuine spike of annoyance. "You're the one who started it, not me."

"Uh, the fuck I was." The way that Galo narrows his eyes makes the area around them twice as hot. "I put rocks in your packages, but I only did that after you tampered with the bottom of the boxes so that they'd split open when I picked them up."

Shit. As far as Lio can tell, that really is the first prank he did. Why did he do that, again? Looking back, it's hard to remember anything except being distracted by Galo's chiseled jawline. "Yeah, well—" He fumbles for an explanation. "That's just because you're insufferable! You needed someone to humble you."

"Humble me?" Galo's on his feet now, coming around the side of the table to tower over Lio. That's unacceptable, so Lio gets to his feet, too. It doesn't have much of an effect on their height gap. "You're so fucking conceited, you know that? Since the day we met, all you do is walk around like you've got the whole world in the palm of your hand. You don't think about others at all, do you?"

Lio bristles. "Bold fuckings words from the guy who'd only help me in exchange for sexual favors," he snaps back. "Insecure, much? I bet you've never had anyone half as good-looking as me this close to your dick in your life, have you?" Their faces are so close together. He wants to kiss Galo so badly that it hurts.

This is familiar. This is so much easier than facing the other complex, vulnerable things that Galo makes him feel.

It's the first time that they've properly argued since their prank war so many months ago. Lio's missed it so much that it aches. This is the side of Galo that he can't get enough of — the one who can take it, and dish it back harder. The sort of passion that makes Lio want to take him right here and now, in the middle of an Olive Garden.

"God, it was a joke." Galo rolls his eyes. He's normally so easy going that seeing him this riled up — better, knowing that Lio was the one to rile him up — is just about the sexiest thing Lio's ever seen. "You have no sense of humor. Always so stoic, walking around with that stick up your ass. That shriveled-up heart of yours is ice-fucking-cold."

Every good comeback that Lio has goes flying out the window. He's seeing red, and it's equal bets between lust and rage at this point. "You're an idiot!" God, he can't look away from Galo's lips. He's twice as pretty when he's yelling, oh fuck.

"You're an inconsiderate prick!"

"I don't know how you managed to fit your enormous ego through the door!"

"I can't understand how you keep your friends when there's not a single redeemable trait about you!"

Finally, incensed and so sexually frustrated that he can barely stand up straight, Lio shouts, "You're probably a terrible kisser!"

Galo doesn't hesitate — he looks like he's been waiting to say this his whole life. "Why don't you find out for yourself?" He shoots back.

There's a long, horrible pause.

Lio blinks. Galo falters, opening his mouth to apologize if the look on his face means anything. The words never get voiced, unfortunately, because Lio is suddenly crushing their lips together and shoving his tongue into Galo's mouth.

It is definitely not a kiss that they should be having in public, but Lio couldn't care less. He cards his fingers through Galo's hair, gripping his head and the back of his neck. Galo's hands go to his hips, then both hands are on his ass, pulling Lio closer. Standing flushed against Galo, Lio has to tilt his head back to keep their kiss going, angrily standing up straighter and pushing back like a force of nature. Galo's height be damned — Lio did not wait all this time to kiss him just to bottom.

Long after they've no doubt started to make everyone in the restaurant uncomfortable, Lio pulls back. He can't get over how good Galo looks with his hair messed up and his lips kiss-swollen and red. He wants Galo undressed yesterday.

Hauling Galo closer by the lapels of his dress shirt, Lio just barely resists the urge to trace Galo's lips with his tongue and mutters, "My place or yours?"

They pay for the free breadsticks and cancel the rest of their order. Unsurprisingly, they decide to forgo the movie.

They end up at Galo's apartment. They've barely got the door shut, nevermind locked, when Lio is tearing at his clothes. Galo feels so fucking high, just from kissing him, that he doesn't imagine ever being able to pull away. He doesn't dream of asking Lio to stop, to slow down.

Their clothes come off bit by bit, in a frantic grapple with fabric that could quickly result in tears. Shoes are kicked off, jackets come undone, and Galo's pinned to the wall and sucking on Lio's neck when the grind of Lio's hips against him has him gasping out, "Bedroom."

It should be fast and rough and animalistic. It should be the culmination of all the sexual frustration, all the angry barbs, all the hateful glares they've snapped at each other over the last six months. Galo doesn't care how hard Lio wants to go, so long as they go.

It's none of that, though.

Galo's not sure what happens. He gets Lio to his bedroom, still half-hanging on to each other. A little part of him wants to be difficult, even though Lio's more than made clear by this point which one of them is the top, so he drops Lio onto his bed. Then he pauses.

It must be the way that Lio's looking at him, Galo decides. The surprise on Lio's face has temporarily knocked his mask clean off. There's no anger, no annoyance, no cool and aloof and always-in-control exterior. Flat on his back, Lio's pants are riding deliciously low on his hips, his hair spread out like a halo to catch the moonlight streaking in through the window, and his legs are spread invitingly around Galo's thighs.

It only lasts for a second, but Galo keeps thinking about it, even as Lio drags him down and wraps his legs around Galo's hips and they're rutting against each other like horny teenagers. The word comes to him when Galo shifts just right and wrings out a high, choked noise from Lio's throat.

Vulnerable. Lio looks so vulnerable and trusting and there's an affectionate look on his face that Galo can't convince himself is just lust. He can't even imagine what he must look like at the moment, so filled with want for Lio that Galo can barely remember anything else.

They end up flipped over, and Galo's got his hands on Lio's hips with a grip tight enough to bruise. He watches Lio lift himself up, slip his pants off, and takes in every inch of revealed skin like Lio's delivering a righteous sermon and Galo's his dutiful disciple. The word "worshipful" flashes into his mind, then Galo doesn't think anything at all because Lio's kissing him again and it's like nothing Galo's ever experienced before. It's hard to put into words, the emotions behind Lio's lips. But it feels like he's pushing fire into Galo's lungs, into his veins, like everywhere his lips touch is burning and Galo doesn't care if he combusts or not. He thinks, deliriously, that he'd take Lio and the whole fucking building with him, all of it to ash.

"Are you a virgin?" Lio asks, voice barely louder than a whisper. He doesn't pull away to speak, not that Galo would let him if he tried.

Shit, they probably should have talked about this sooner. Galo manages to nod. He keeps one hand on Lio's ass, the other pushing his own pants down as he tries to shimmy his way out of them without moving Lio off of his lap. "Y-Yeah. But I've… fooled around before, fuck." He spares a moment to curse, tossing his head back to give Lio better access to his neck.

He's not sure why Lio bothered asking if he was going to derail Galo's mental faculties anyway. It's so hard to focus on moving his hands and mouth at the same time, but Lio's all over him, grinding his hips and squeezing his thighs and teasing Galo's pecs and nipples before finally — mercifully — pulling off of his neck with a wet pop. The hickey that Lio left aches and Galo wants a dozen more of them.

"Lube," Lio manages. It's almost like a demand, but there's no heat behind it. At this point, Galo's not sure which one of them is farther gone. He wishes that he could take a picture of Lio's face above him and frame it on the wall, just so he can always see Lio looking at him like that.

For that, Galo has to pull away. Sort of. He sits up, but Lio just comes with him. It ends with Galo's back pressed against his headboard, digging around in his bedside drawer for lube while Lio kisses unhurriedly along his neck. Now that Galo's sitting up and can breathe again without smelling Lio's cologne, he's a little more himself. Not that he's any less horny, it's just easier to take his time.

The lube is pressed into Lio's hands and he promptly sets it aside. "I don't have any condoms," Galo says, arms wrapping around the small of Lio's back. The only clothing still between them is underwear and it feels so overdressed. "To tell you the truth, I didn't think I'd get this far. At least, not any time soon."

Lio laughs. It sounds heavenly. "Oh, really?" He hums, cupping Galo's face. And, oh, that's a nice look. Lio's looking at him like he just wants to eat Galo alive, and Galo couldn't look away if he tried. He lets out a whine of impatience and Lio's kind enough to kiss him, if only for a moment. "I'll… mm, I'll ride you this time," says Lio, and it's the way he says it more so than the idea that has Galo hard as a rock. As if he wasn't before. Lio lets out another little laugh about whatever sort of expression Galo just made. Their next kiss is much slower and softer than the previous ones have been. It makes Galo's head spin. It also ends far too soon. "Galo…" Lio murmurs against the crook of his jaw. "What are we doing?"

Unable to help it, a smile works its way onto Galo's face. "I don't know about you, but I think I'm about to make love to the jackass that laughed in my face the first time I asked him out."

He's so fucking lucky. Galo figures he's got to be just about the luckiest guy on the planet.

The shadows of the bedroom make Lio's features softer and Galo wants to tell him how beautiful he looks when he smiles, but the words get stuck in his throat. "Yeah. I guess I did do that, huh?" Lio's smile turns sad, but only for a moment. He darts his tongue over the hickey that he left earlier and Galo thinks he might die. "I never did apologize for it."

Galo grabs a handful of his ass and works their hips together, a harsh grind that makes Lio stutter and drop his head. "You could start by not being such a tease," Galo manages, every word taking an unbearable amount of effort. He's never been this aroused in his life.

"An excellent point." Lio gathers himself and leans back a little, legs spreading as he hooks a finger in the hem of his boxers. "I want you to watch me stretch myself," he says thickly, eyes half-lidded, "and you're not going to touch yourself or me until I give you permission. Understand, Galo?"

The sound of his name on Lio's lips could get Galo to agree to just about anything. He nods eagerly, gripping the blankets so tight that it turns his knuckles white and strained. "Yes, sir," Galo mutters, licking his lips.

Lio shudders and Galo thinks that he could spend the rest of his life trying to get Lio to make that face again.

It isn't until much, much later — long after they've woken up in each other's arms, after they've spent another hour just kissing, after a quick shower together and breakfast before they have to be out the door for work — that Galo remembers that Lio didn't refute him when he used the word "love."

He tells himself not to think about it too much. (He thinks about it a lot.)

After that, it's awkward. Lio knows why, too. Waking up in Galo's apartment, getting dressed for work together and eating breakfast, teasing each other and discussing music during the car ride… It was all so horribly domestic. It's like, now that they've screamed at each other and clawed at each other's clothes like animals, the lingering tension in their relationship is gone. And now they're not enemies, they're just Galo and Lio, unbound.

That's the problem. Lio's never been in a committed relationship before. He's never felt like this for anyone and he's so, so terrified that he'll fuck it up. That he'll end up breaking Galo's heart and they'll never see each other again and Galo will hate him.

They avoid each other for a week and being apart after what they shared is unbearable. Lio can tell that Galo feels it too — it's in the looks that Galo gives him when he thinks that Lio's not looking.

But that's the thing. It's the way that Galo's missing him, but he still gives Lio space. Doesn't touch him, doesn't try to bring up their relationship. He keeps things professional, letting Lio know that he's willing to wait and that he'll be there to be supportive whenever Lio reaches his decision.

It's not a hard decision at all, not really. Once Lio finally pieces together what his options are, letting Galo go is just about impossible for him to wrap his head around.

So Lio is the one to approach Galo finally, taking his hand in the back hallway after work where prying eyes can't find them. Galo, though, is the one to say, "What are we now?" He kisses the back of Lio's hand, then his knuckles, flipping Lio's hand over to mouth along his palm and wrist in a way that's both tender and filled to the brim with want. "Because I want to be exclusive. I love you, Lio Fotia."

It's just like how their first time together was. Lio's never been with anyone who held him like that, who treated him like he was something special — something to be revered. Worshipped. Treasured. Adored.

"Galo Thymos, I…" I love you. Lio's mouth moves to form the words, but they don't come out. He's never said them before and it's hard, even though it's true. He settles for tracing Galo's lips with his fingers and whispers, "I want you to be my boyfriend." I want you to be mine forever.

The smile that Galo gives him could rival the sun. "All you had to do was ask," he replies, and pulls Lio into a sweeping kiss.

"Oh, hey." Lio sits back on his knees and pulls out what he found, running his thumb over the label. "It's this thing again…"

He'd forgotten about it entirely. Lio's supposed to be looking for Galo's dress shoes but, instead, he found the candle that he gave to Galo so long ago, wrapped in tissue paper and tucked into the back of the closet.

"Lio?" Galo calls for him from the living room, footsteps padding on the carpet as he comes into the bedroom. His fingers are caught in his tie. "Can you help me with—? Oh, shit, you found that?" Thankfully, he doesn't seem upset by it. Galo comes over and crouches down to be at Lio's level.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to snoop, I just couldn't find your dress shoes, so I kept digging," Lio explains, holding the candle against his chest.

Galo looks around, then lets out a hum of surprise. He twists his torso to reach behind him, yanking his dress shoes out from underneath the bed. "My bad. I forgot where I left them." He presses a kiss to Lio's cheek and stands up, slipping them on. "You just about ready to go?"

Of course Lio's ready to go — he's been ready to go for the last fifteen minutes. Galo is the one who takes forever to assemble a suit and get his hair just right.

He straightens up too, still holding the Bergamot Waters candle. "How come you never lit it?" Lio asks, indicating the unused candle wicks. He's not sure why he cares. It's just a cheap candle that Lio grabbed on a whim from Bath and Body Works. And it was so long ago that it honestly doesn't matter.

"Huh?" Galo's confused for a moment, then he perks up. "Oh! Just because it's the first gift you ever bought me. It's special," he says. "And if I ever lit it, I'd have to throw it away eventually. I wanted to keep it for as long as I could."

Lio's expression softens. He'd call Galo a sap for that, but the tawny bunny with the sequin roses dress that Galo bought him is sitting right on their bed. Even once they moved in together, Lio didn't want to get rid of it.

"That's so sweet," he says, taking hold of Galo's hand and giving a fond squeeze. "When we get home, let's light it."

Galo sets an arm around his waist, grinning as he makes a show of looking Lio up and down. "I don't know. I think the best part of making love to you is being able to look at you without any clothes on. Turning off the lights and having just one candle to see by kind of ruins that."

He scoffs, pulling out of Galo's embrace to set the candle on the nightstand. "I didn't say "let's make love by the candlelight," I said, "let's light a candle." Those are two vastly different things, Galo."

Despite his show of being put-off, Lio doesn't protest when Galo wraps his arms around his waist from behind. "But," he says, pressing a kiss to Lio's neck, "we will be making love when we get home, right?"

"Hm." Lio pretends to think about it, then twists around in Galo's arms. Facing him, Lio makes quick work of straightening his suit jacket and tying his tie correctly. "It's our one-year anniversary," he sighs, unable to stop smiling. "What else would we do?"

They're going to be late to their dinner reservations if they keep distracting each other, but when Galo pulls him into a kiss, Lio doesn't try to pull away. He puts his arms around Galo's neck, careful not to kiss too hard and smudge his makeup or grab too much and ruin their clothes and hair.

When they pull back, Lio's still smiling. "I love you," he whispers.

"I know," Galo says. When Lio swats him on the arm, Galo laughs and nuzzles his neck. "Yeah, I love you, too. Happy now?"

"Very." And it's true. Lio doesn't think he's ever been this happy in his life. He takes Galo's hand and leads him toward the bedroom door. "Come on. The sooner we get done with dinner, the sooner we can be back in bed," he jokes.

"Or on the kitchen counter," Galo teases, referencing last week.

Lio rolls his eyes and nudges Galo out of the bedroom. "Shut up. You're driving, go get the car warmed up." He turns off the bedroom light behind them and follows Galo out to the car.

His hand is on the door handle when Galo suddenly pauses. He pats down his jacket pocket, then turns back around. "One second, babe. Forgot something. You go down to the car without me," Galo says, passing him the keys.

Lio takes what he says at face value and nods. "Alright. Hurry up, would you? I don't want to be late," he says, even though they're leaving twenty minutes before their reservation anyway. He leans up to give Galo a quick kiss and then exits the apartment.

Galo sprints back to their bedroom and flings open the bottom drawer on the nightstand. At the very back, hidden underneath scraps of paper, he pulls out a black velvet box and sighs in relief. Thank God he didn't manage to lose it.

Pulling it out, Galo checks to make sure that the ring is still there. Yep, just as perfect as it was the day he picked it up. Galo grins and kisses it, for good luck.

Tonight's going to be perfect because tonight is the night when Lio says "yes." Galo can feel it.