Cecil was many things, but a morning person wasn't one of them. Carlos learned this soon after they started sleeping together (just sleeping, for the most part, since neither of them had interest in other activities in bed, besides cuddling, and reading, and breakfast if Carlos got up early enough to make it.)
Carlos also learned that, as difficult a task as it might be, it was in his best interest to wake up Cecil before he left for the lab himself. This was especially important if they spent the night at Carlos's place. If he left Cecil's apartment with Cecil still asleep, the worst that would happen was Carlos getting a flood of text messages apologizing for missing their good morning kiss, with enough teary emoticons to make his phone damp.
The one time Carlos left Cecil asleep in his own bed, after conscientiously resetting his alarm clock, Cecil not only pulverized said clock in his sleep, but the secret police broke down Carlos's front door, and three of his science team were brought in for interrogation. Apparently Night Vale's generally careless chronology was less flexible about the start-time of its community radio program.
After that, Carlos made sure Cecil was awake and mostly upright before leaving himself. If he had time, the most effective method was to lure Cecil out of bed with a plate of bacon or a glass of his favorite aphid juice (whether it was made from or by aphids, Carlos had yet to ask. It was on his list of culinary questions but there were at least fifty before it). But this morning Carlos had an experiment to get to at the lab, so he just poked Cecil in the side as he got dressed. "Cecil? Time to get up."
"MmphmorningdarlingCarlosleeplittlonger," Cecil said into his pillow.
"I'm afraid not," Carlos said. "Come on," and he poked Cecil again. Cecil squirmed away, trying to wrap the blankets in a protective cocoon around himself, but Carlos mercilessly tore them off to gain unimpeded access. Cecil was inconsistently ticklish but this morning was Carlos's lucky day, because when he ran his fingers over Cecil's ribs under his t-shirt, Cecil squeaked, a pitch his baritone shouldn't even be able to manage. He wiggled and flailed blindly, but Carlos, grinning the grin of the awake and coordinated, caught one of Cecil's wrists in his left hand, pinned the other with his knee, and began tickling in earnest—
Or had started to, when what looked like a thick, fleshy, violet rope coiled around his wrist.
Night Vale had honed his defensive instincts. Carlos made a sound even higher than Cecil's protest and jumped backwards, falling off the bed with a thump.
"Carlos?" Cecil asked, sounding suddenly fully awake and extremely nervous.
Carlos picked himself up off the floor, rubbing his tailbone as he took in Cecil, sitting up in bed, with his arms at his sides and his t-shirt rucked up and something definitely moving under it.
Carlos blinked at this movement. One bad habit Night Vale hadn't yet trained him out of was saying the first thing that popped into his head in moments of stress or uncertainty. Which in this case was, "Is that a tentacle in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"
"No, ah...I mean, I'm always happy to see you, but. It's a tentacle," Cecil confessed. He was huddling down into the bed as if mentally pleading for it to open up and devour him. As Carlos's mattress was an expensive orthopedic affair special-ordered from out of town, it failed to oblige.
"You have a tentacle?" Carlos asked, thinking that this did explain Cecil's reluctance to sleep without a t-shirt, even when the air conditioning was broken.
"Several," Cecil awkwardly confirmed.
"Can I see?"
By the desperate look in Cecil's eyes, he wanted to say no; but denying Carlos wasn't something he had a lot of practice at. Reluctantly he hiked up his shirt, to reveal what at first glance appeared to be no more than some flabby love-handles.
At second glance, the flab moved quite independently, separating from his abdomen in segments—six tentacles in total, attached in pairs along his lower spine. Each shifted in color to a deep purple as they uncoiled from around his torso, then returned to matching Cecil's skin-tone as they wrapped back in place.
"Oh my," Carlos said. "Have you always had those?"
"Pretty much." Cecil swallowed, crossing his arms over his stomach as if to hide his newly revealed appendages. "I, um, maybe should've mentioned them sooner?"
"Yes, definitely," Carlos said, fascinated. He reached out his hand, tentatively only because Cecil looked so nervous. "May I...?—For science," he added, since that was the most expedient way to talk Cecil into anything.
"Oh—yes, of course," Cecil said, and one tentacle slowly unwound again. It was astounding to watch how casually gracefully it moved, with no apparent effort on Cecil's part, as simple as moving an arm or leg. The bonelesss limb curled around Carlos's wrist, its purple hide as warm and smooth to the touch as the skin of the inner wrist. The suckers on its underside gently clasped his arm, tactilely anchoring.
"Wow," Carlos said, running his fingers down the tentacle's length, pressing in enough to see the deep purple pale to bluish lavender. "This is incredible—I'm not hurting you, am I?"
"Oh, no," Cecil said, smiling a little. "It feels nice. Like a back massage, or having your hair stroked."
"Huh," Carlos said. "That's not what they're like in the...umm."
"The what?" Cecil asked. Carlos's scientific curiosity seemed to have calmed his nerves, or maybe it was the tentacle-petting.
"Lashanna—my first girlfriend—liked anime," Carlos explained. "Especially erotica. Some of which involved beings which were...similarly equipped. Only in those examples, the tentacles functioned as sexual organs."
"Wouldn't that be inconvenient," Cecil remarked, "having sensitive genitalia as your limbs?"
"Maybe they weren't used except for coitus?"
Cecil frowned. "That seems even more inconvenient."
Carlos had to agree, the next time they were cooking, and Cecil instinctively whipped a tentacle around the glass bottle of olive oil that slipped from Carlos's fingers, to catch it before it could smash on the floor. Cecil initially seemed mortified, but under Carlos's interested observation began to employ his tentacles more often—as he did in private, Carlos deduced, and small wonder he had avoided cooking in front of Carlos before; it must have been irritating to limit himself to only his hands. In fact Carlos soon began to wonder how he'd himself ever managed in the kitchen without half a dozen extra pairs of limbs.
Cecil couldn't do everything at once—the appendages had the physical dexterity to, say, slice vegetables; but such a task also required eyesight and concentration to keep from accidentally chopping off a tentacle tip along with the carrots. But he could stir a pot without looking, or hold a large platter in two hands while adding spices with his tentacles. And it quickly became clear why he'd never bothered to get a dishwasher, as being able to wash, rinse, and dry simultaneously made quick work of the cleanup.
He didn't like to use his tentacles when actually sitting down to a meal, however; it apparently seemed gauche, like eating with one's feet.
"Technically, I suppose that makes them arms, or limbs, instead of tentacles," Carlos said. He'd been reading up on marine zoology. "Tentacles, by the biological definition, are appendages used for grasping food and bringing it to the mouth or other oral orifices."
Whatever they were called, Carlos was very grateful Cecil had them on their dinner date out on the closed harbor and waterfront recreation area.
Cecil had provided the picnic basket, Carlos had provided the food to put in it, and they had a wonderful time sitting on the edge of the docks, swinging their legs over dry sand and fearing the starry void, and making up stories about the hypothetical ships that might visit a desert port. Carlos was in the middle of describing the possible propeller construction of a sand submarine when Cecil cocked his head and asked, "Do you hear that?"
Carlos lowered the four forks he'd been holding as an example and listened. The sound carried clearly through the thin desert air, growing louder. "A helicopter?"
"That's what I thought!" Cecil jumped to his feet, reaching down with his hands to pull Carlos up as he grabbed the picnic basket and empty plates with his tentacles. "Can't see the color at night, but if it's blue—we're not supposed to remember the waterfront exists!" he reminded, and they sprinted for Carlos's car.
By the time they reached it, they could see the chopper's spotlight, a damning circle of light swooping over the sand and rubble. Carlos fumbled in his pockets with increasing anxiety, then peered through the car window and swore. "The keys—Cecil, I locked the keys inside!"
Cecil's eyes glittered weirdly in the starlight as he stared at Carlos. The spotlight was sliding closer; any minute now it would reach the car. "Cecil, hide!" Carlos said, pushing Cecil back toward the docks. "I'll tell them I was out here doing science; no reason for us both to get arrested—"
"Wait, Carlos," Cecil said, "I can—" and he brought up one of his tentacles, faintly phosphorescent in the dark, and pressed it to the car window. Carlos thought for a second Cecil was going to try to smash it, and was about to warn that it was reinforced safety glass, when the tip's glowing tendril flattened enough snake under the window and into the door. There was a squishy sound like stepping on jello, Cecil grunted, and the lock clicked open.
Cecil jumped into the car, scrambling over the hub into the passenger seat as Carlos dived in after him, snatching the keys off the dashboard and jamming them into the ignition. He remembered to turn off the headlights just in time, and pulled out seconds ahead of the spotlight.
By the time Carlos, white-knuckled, steered them off the gravel and onto the smooth pavement of Route 800, the helicopter could no longer be heard over the car's engine. Carlos pulled off on the shoulder, exhaled and looked at Cecil. "That's a handy skill, where'd you pick it up?"
"Eheh," Cecil said, with his usual precise pronunciation. "Let's just say I wasn't a perfect Weird Scout all the time, growing up." Then he winced. "Though I'm out of practice, especially with newer locks."
"Let me see," Carlos requested, holding out his hand, and Cecil placed his limb into it. Carlos switched on the interior lights and gently unrolled the tentacle between his fingers to examine it. The tip had turned a bruised olive, and a small nick was leaking green ichor. "Should it be bandaged?" Carlos asked anxiously. "Or do you need a doctor to look at it, or—"
"No, it's fine," Cecil said. "It stings a bit, but it'll heal on its own."
"Thank goodness," Carlos sighed in relief. "Sorry you got hurt." In apology he lifted the tentacle to his mouth and kissed its wound.
The tentacle quivered, then darkened to its more proper purple, as the cut sealed over and vanished.
Carlos raised an inquiring eyebrow at Cecil, who had stopped wincing but looked vaguely embarrassed about it. "...Or you could do that," he said.
"You could've just asked me to?" Carlos said.
Cecil looked away. "Not everyone's saliva is chemically compatible," he said. "And besides, it's a little...gross, isn't it. Kissing a tentacle."
"Not really?" Carlos said. "No more than kissing any other appendage, I wouldn't think."
Cecil didn't reply, but his healed tentacle looped around Carlos's wrist and squeezed gently, as if in gratitude.
As well as lock-picking, the tentacles' ability to squeeze into tight places, along with their bioluminescence, was extremely handy for finding objects fallen behind desks or rolled under refrigerators. Cecil was generous enough not just to make such retrievals at Carlos's request, but to only give him mildly disapproving looks when an inordinate number of these objects were illegal ballpoint pens.
During one of these missions Carlos learned that the tentacles had some optic capacity as well, not true eyes, but sensory spots which could distinguish light from darkness. This led to the even more fascinating discovery that the spots also were responsive to electromagnetism. Carlos resisted asking Cecil for permission to investigate this ability for a heroic twelve minutes. Cecil, eager as always to contribute to Carlos's scientific endeavors, happily matched detection with an ohmmeter, showing triple the sensitivity of the most finely-tuned instrumentation. Apparently it was a skill he'd developed fixing the unreliable switchboard at the radio station.
So when Carlos's jury-rigged giganticizing radiation cancellation emitter short-circuited, just as a temporarily house-sized roadrunner began to peck its way into Dark Owl Records, he texted his boyfriend. Cecil put on the weather early and hurried over to lay tentacles on the malfunctioning machinery. He soon tracked the problem to an overloaded capacitor; Carlos swapped in a replacement, and the cancellation beam charged up successfully, shrinking the bird back down to normal proportions.
Carlos, giddy with scientific success, grabbed Cecil by the nearest tentacles and kissed him. When they broke apart, Cecil was beaming, but then his smile faltered as he looked over Carlos's shoulder.
Carlos turned to see several of his science team, stopped in their tracks, staring at him and Cecil. The rest of the team was making a concerted effort not to stare, gazing up at the sky or down at the ground or anywhere else that had nothing in particular to focus on.
Carlos was confused for a moment—it wasn't like his colleagues didn't know he and Cecil were going out; they listened to the radio same as everyone else. Then he remembered the tentacles, two of which he was still clasping. Their purple was turning red in his grip. He let the appendages go, and Cecil retracted them with undue haste, curling them back under his shirt, which he tucked into his trousers with jerky fastidiousness. He didn't say a word to Carlos or the other scientists, just turned on his heel and started walking back to the radio station with long fast strides.
Carlos jogged after him, stopped him at the corner. Cecil tried to duck around him. "Excuse me, dear Carlos, but I've got the show to get back to."
"The weather will last as long as it needs to, won't it?" Carlos said. "Cecil, I'm sorry, I didn't realize—I shouldn't have asked you to do that in public—"
"It's all right," Cecil said, though he wasn't smiling at Carlos, so clearly it wasn't. "It's not like most of the town hasn't seen them. In my misbegotten youth I was more...vulgar."
"Still, I didn't mean to make you, uh, expose yourself. Is it against any decency code?"
"No," Cecil sighed. "Showing extra limbs isn't licentious, just impolite. Who wants to look at a bunch of ugly slimy tentacles?—I mean, other than you," he added quickly, "and that's only out of scientific curiosity, I know."
"Slimy?" Carlos asked, intrigued. "Are they mucus-producing? I haven't observed that yet."
"Only when I have a cold," Cecil said. "But they look slimy, don't they."
"Not really?" Carlos said. "But it's commonly believed that snakes are slimy, too; maybe it's the sinuous shape, being reminiscent of worms and eels and such. Though your tentacles are much more aesthetically appealing than an ordinary earthworm, of course."
"—Of course?" Cecil repeated, in an odd tone.
"Well, I admit some of that's personal opinion," Carlos said. "I've always liked purple. But the sheen and suppleness of the skin, and the mathematic regularity with which the suckers reduce in size, is objectively quite beautiful—provided one doesn't have a cephalopod phobia, I suppose—"
"Oh, my Carlos," Cecil said, taking Carlos's face in his hands. "You have the most amazing eyes."
Carlos felt his ears heat. He doubted he would ever adapt to hearing someone as incredible as Cecil say such things about his entirely mundane self. "I'm just trained to look at the world scientifically."
"Not like other scientists, though," Cecil said, maybe a little wistfully. Under his shirt his tentacles squirmed. "They didn't see anything objectively beautiful."
"They were just surprised," Carlos defended his colleagues. "It's not every day that they see a man with tentacles. Or any day, actually, outside of Night Vale."
"Surely they must know some tentacled individuals," Cecil said, frowning. "We're not that uncommon."
"Here, you're not, perhaps," Carlos said. "But the majority of the world's population is regrettably tentacle-free. You're the first I've met, that I know of."
"Really?" Cecil said, looking pleased and chagrined at once. "I thought I was just the first you've dated."
"That, too," Carlos agreed. He leaned forward to give his boyfriend a quick relationship-affirming peck on the lips, suggested, "Meet you at Big Rico's, after your show?"
After their mandatory pizza dinner, they went back to Cecil's apartment. While Carlos usually preferred his own place, as it was quieter and the walls oozed less, tonight he thought it might be better for Cecil to be somewhere safe and familiar, for some questions Carlos needed answers to.
Once Cecil had poured them both a brandy nightcap and settled with him on the couch, Carlos asked, "Cecil, would you mind taking off your shirt?"
Cecil hesitated, finally asked, "For scientific reasons?"
"Partly," Carlos said. "Partly for relationship reasons."
Cecil fidgeted some more but at last undid the buttons on his shirt, one by one, and reluctantly removed it. Carlos carefully reached out and touched the tentacles coiled around his torso. At the brush of his fingers, they loosened, turning a deep reddish violet as they unwound to nudge against his hand like friendly cats.
Carlos patted them back soothingly, watching their hue calm to a bluer shade of purple, as Cecil's anxiously tense shoulders relaxed. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," Carlos said, looking Cecil in the eyes as he ran his hands down the warm lengths of limbs, "but has anyone ever insulted your tentacles? Or insulted or disparaged you, for having them?"
"No," Cecil said certainly—except the tentacles colored, flaring past violet into almost crimson. Several lashed tightly around Carlos's arms, winding around up to his biceps.
"Cecil," Carlos said, not pulling back his arms and continuing to caress what tentacles he could reach, "please tell me the truth?"
The tentacles uncoiled from Carlos's arms all at once, to wrap back around Cecil's torso, but they stayed upset red rather than adopting his skin color. "Not disparaging," Cecil said, low-voiced and morose. "He just told the truth, that they were disgusting, so he didn't want to touch them, or for them to touch him..."
"Who?" Carlos asked, as patiently as he could. His hands were curling into fists, which wasn't an uncommon reaction to holding his temper; but he found himself wanting to swing those fists at a person instead of a computer, which wasn't so common.
Cecil looked down at his tentacles. "Earl," he said.
"Earl Harlan, the former scoutsmaster? But wasn't he your friend?"
Cecil sighed, keeping his head down, expression hidden. But his tentacles brightened to a humiliated pumpkin orange. "He was. And he was my first boyfriend."
"But he told you—"
"He said he was sorry about it! Earl liked me...he just didn't like the tentacles."
There was a lot that Carlos wanted to say, but couldn't; his abuela would never stand for him speaking that ill of the dead. Instead he folded his fingers around Cecil's orange tentacles to delicately disentangle them from his torso. They twitched, then looped around his forearms several thicknesses deep, suckers pinching his skin as they clung, slowly changing back to red-violet.
"I like them," Carlos said. "And not just out of scientific interest. I subjectively think they're amazing."
An indigo blue flushed through Cecil's tentacles. When Carlos looked up from them to Cecil's face, he was smiling, almost shyly.
Carlos twined his hands around several tentacle tips, marveling at how deftly the undulating ends wove through his fingers. "What about Steve Carlsberg?" he asked. "How'd he feel about them, when you dated? Did he not want to touch them either?"
The tentacles darkened along with Cecil's expression. "No, Steve Carlsberg wanted me to...do things to him, with them. Because he's a jerk. And maybe a pervert. But mostly a jerk."
"Hmm," Carlos remarked. He suspected that if he had an active sex drive, he would be very curious himself what exactly Cecil's tentacles could do. It would definitely be more interesting than the repetitiveness of pedestrian pornography, at least. "Have you ever dated anyone who had tentacles themselves?"
"No," Cecil said. "Though Pam flirted with me all through college."
"—Never mind. Just a woman I know," Cecil said. "I was never interested, though."
As Cecil had never mentioned having romantic interest in any women, Carlos wasn't surprised. But for completeness's sake he asked, "So people with tentacles are attracted to other people with tentacles? Sexually attracted, I mean."
Cecil shrugged. His tentacles were back to their usual purple, their tendril tips lacing between Carlos's fingers in a biological cats' cradle. "I guess? I never have been, but...why?"
"No reason, just scientific curiosity," Carlos said. Personally speaking, it didn't matter one way or another, if Cecil was actually homo sapiens sapiens or a different subspecies or something even more intriguing, as long as it didn't matter to Cecil. "Speaking of which, I've been wondering, do you always wear a shirt to bed because you didn't want me to see or touch your tentacles by mistake? Or do they get knotted in your sleep, or squashed, if they're not restrained?"
"No," Cecil said diffidently. "When I sleep alone I usually let them loose, but with you..."
"Could you try sleeping without a shirt tonight, then?" Carlos asked. "As an experiment."
Invoking the e-word was an unfair ploy, really, even if there was a hypothesis worth testing. When they retired, Cecil dutifully stripped off his t-shirt, though he kept his tentacles wrapped close around himself.
Carlos reached out and gently unhooked one of them, let it wind around his arm and stroked his fingers down it as he drifted off to sleep.
He awoke some hours later, to Cecil hissing, "Carlos?" with such concern that Carlos's eyes popped open. He jerked up—or tried to, only to find he was effectively immobilized.
It wasn't quite dawn and Carlos wasn't sure if the sun was scheduled to rise today anyway; but the tentacles' bioluminescence was enough to see that he was wrapped in a tangle of writhing, softly glowing appendages. Still only six, Carlos determined, counting the waving tips; but they were significantly thicker and longer than he'd seen them stretch before, enough to coil around his body multiple times.
They weren't trying to crush or strangle, however, being as warm and soft as always; it was just the surrounding mass of them that held him still. Carlos definitely needed to research the tentacles' capacity to grow. He already suspected that they were mostly re-absorbed when retracted, but this current manifestation far outmatched any physical biomass transference, since the humanoid portion of Cecil's body still appeared to have all its blood and organs...
"Carlos," Cecil gasped, panicked, "are you all right? I'm so sorry—I'm trying to work them free, but I'm afraid if I go too quickly I'll get snarled up and hurt you and—"
"No, I'm all right, you're not hurting me," Carlos said, bringing his mind back to bear on the problem at hand. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Cecil said, belied by his wide eyes and the tentacles' redder hues. "But you're tense—you're sure I'm not—"
Rather than tell Cecil that his own alarm was the primary stressor, Carlos made himself take a deep breath, relaxing into the hold. The bands of tentacles responded, loosening over his chest and contracting against his back to cradle his spine with scrupulous care.
Carlos's exhalation caught in surprise, and Cecil twitched—he was holding himself too still to flinch, and his tentacles didn't constrict, but they flushed a troubled red-orange. "Carlos?"
"I'm fine," Carlos said, grasping the two closest tentacles to keep them from unwinding, and squeezing them reassuringly. "I'm better than fine—oh my god, Cecil, I spent half of yesterday hunched over a table assembling that emitter, but my back doesn't hurt at all!"
"That's fantastic—do you know how much I spent on a mattress that isn't a tenth this good?" Carlos leaned his shoulders back, the tentacles shifting accommodatingly against them. "No, a fiftieth. Maybe a hundredth. Wow..."
Belatedly it registered that this was a person—an inestimably important person—rather than an inanimate object providing the extraordinary lumbar support. Carlos pushed up, and the tentacles, calming into bluish purple, uncoiled enough for him to sit up and face his boyfriend. "Cecil, if you're uncomfortable, I can get out of bed—"
"You don't have to," Cecil said. His voice was evenly unreadable, but his tentacles around Carlos were brightening into an almost teal hue of satisfaction. "Not if you don't want to. Holding you like this...you're so close, and warm and cozy, and I can feel you breathing, and it's really..."
"—Neat?" Carlos teased, then grinned when Cecil flicked him in the ear with the tip of one tentacle.
"Pleasant," Cecil said, invoking his radio voice for extra dignity. But he dropped it to say with sincere concern, "But Carlos, if you don't like it—anything about it—you don't have to pretend to enjoy this for my sake, I can wear a t-shirt, it's no problem—"
"Cecil," Carlos said, striving to match that sincerity, "as long as you're truly okay with this, I will never sleep any other way ever again."
Carlos settled back into Cecil's multi-limbed clinch with a sigh of pure comfort. "Really."
He briefly reconsidered come morning, when his alarm went off and he awoke so ergonomically embraced that it took a minute of squirming to reach his phone. Cecil slept right through the sound and struggle, and didn't rouse to release him, so that Carlos had to unpeel suckers off his legs one by one.
On the other hand, Carlos's spine hadn't felt this limber since his early twenties. Also Cecil was smiling in his sleep, face mashed between a pillow and a thick blue tentacle, so completely, goofily content that Carlos was hard-pressed not to laugh out loud.
Then he pinched Cecil's nearest tentacle, saying, "Time to get up," and Cecil mumbled and his tentacles wriggled like a nest of cranky worms as he tried to pull Carlos back to bed; and if Carlos's own smile was even goofier, at least Cecil wasn't awake yet to see it.