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Fire in the Desert

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Cecil worries about Khoshekh. What has become of his cat? Are any of the neighbors feeding him, or has he resorted to trying to catch mice?

He misses Carlos. Intertwined with that feeling is a hot bright tendril of panic which he does his best to stamp out every time it flares to life: what if StrexCorp has Carlos, too? What if they've sequestered him in another cell somewhere, what if they're hurting him, what if Cecil never sees him again?

But he cuts off that train of thought as quickly as he can. He won't let himself think that way. Because that way lies madness. The only way he's going to get out of this is if he makes himself trust that he's going to get out of this. He has to tell himself, as firmly as he can, that Carlos is okay and that he will see him again.

So that's what he does. He repeats it in his head, his neverending mantra. Carlos is okay. We're going to be okay.

After a while -- hours, probably, though it feels like days -- he varies the mantra to Carlos is okay. I fucking hate StrexCorp. We're going to be okay. I'm going to burn them to the ground.

Some distant part of his brain knows that this is not particularly likely, perhaps especially now that the revolution has died in its crib. Now that he's locked in a small cell with one window which never shows anything but sky overhead. But he lets himself plan anyway, because it keeps him angry, and that's better than being afraid.


For two days he stays in his cell. Meals come and go with regularity, brought to his door by hooded figures who never speak. The worst part is having nothing to read, no one to talk to. At first he wishes they'd given him a radio to listen to. Then he realizes that someone else has surely taken over his show -- is surely spouting corporate propaganda with a sickening smile -- and he's glad he doesn't have to hear it.

He wakes in the middle of the night to the sound of metal scraping against metal. Adrenaline floods his limbs. Is this it? Have they come to take him to some dread interrogation?

There's a muted creak as his cell door swings open. The one dim incandescent bulb flickering in the hall shows a hooded figure holding a heavy copper keyring.

And then he notices that the hand holding the keys is young and brown-skinned, and his lungs fill with hope.

"Come on," Tamika says quietly, gesturing with her hooded head toward the hallway. "We don't have a lot of time."

Cecil follows her down the hall into what looks like a breakroom: a scuffed formica table, a mini-fridge and coffee pot, corkboard festooned with gaily-printed StrexCorp posters and announcements. Just seeing the corporate logo makes his teeth clench in bitter fury. There are lockers along one wall, and she opens the padlock on the leftmost one, tossing him a hooded robe very like her own.

The robe smells faintly of pipe tobacco. He fumbles with its hidden fastenings for a moment, but manages to get it arranged correctly. At least he hopes it's correctly.

"This way," Tamika murmurs, and with his heart pounding in his chest he follows her back around a corner, down a different hall, and into a foyer.

There's a bored-looking guard watching Netflix on an ipad at his desk next to the metal detector and the X-ray machine. He pauses his movie long enough to nod at Tamika and Cecil. He doesn't seem surprised to see them. Maybe hooded figures coming and going in the middle of the night isn't anything out of the ordinary.

Tamika walks briskly through the metal detector doorway. When the guard waves his hand, Cecil does, too. He's terrified that it will beep, that it will somehow reveal that his presence is illicit, but nothing goes wrong.

"Night," the guard calls, and turns back to his screen.

And then Cecil is following Tamika out the door of the facility, taking great gulps of desert nighttime air. He follows her across the asphalt parking lot to a nondescript taupe sedan with New Mexico plates, and then they are driving away.


"I know you have a lot of questions," Tamika says as they accelerate onto the highway, "but I think it's better if I don't answer them."

Cecil understands that. The less he knows, the less he can give away if he gets caught and questioned again.

He can't help pushing a little bit, though. He's a journalist; asking questions is what he does. "How did you get away?"

Tamika doesn't turn to face him -- she's watching the highway and keeping a careful eye on the rearview mirror, looking (he presumes) to make sure they aren't being tailed -- but her brief grin is fierce. "Let's just say I had someone on the inside."

Okay then. He will be content with that for now.

But -- he has to ask, he can't keep not-knowing, there's only one thing he absolutely has to find out -- "And Carlos?"

His voice cracks embarrassingly, but Tamika acts as though she hasn't noticed.

"He's safe," she assures him, and Cecil slumps against the doorframe of the car, boneless with relief.

And then she says something even more amazing: "I'm taking you to him now."


Cecil's heart is in his throat all the way up the three flights of rickety wooden stairs. He doesn't know where they are; he fell asleep in the car, and when the car stopped and he woke up, nothing around him was familiar. He's pretty sure he's not in Night Vale. Is this some strange corner of Desert Bluffs? It doesn't matter: Tamika wouldn't have brought him here if it weren't safe, and Carlos is supposed to be inside.

On the third-floor landing Tamika unlocks a door with the number "47" on it. The first thing Cecil sees is his Carlos, asleep on a blue plaid couch. He can't help gasping; he is so relieved, so grateful, and nothing in the world has ever looked so beautiful to him, ever.

Maybe that's what wakes him. Maybe it's the sound of the apartment door closing behind Tamika and Cecil. Carlos startles awake, and then he sees Cecil, and his visible joy is almost too much to bear.

Looking back on it later, Cecil won't remember how he made his way across the room, which contains a coffee table and several lamps and all kinds of things he could have knocked over but didn't. All he'll remember is the feeling of Carlos's body against his, of Carlos safe in his arms, of breathing and laughing and crying all at the same time with his face hidden in Carlos's beautiful, familiar, sweet-smelling hair.

"I'll come get you guys in the morning," Tamika says, not unkindly.

They disentangle, though Cecil gropes for Carlos's hand, and they don't let go. "Thank you, Tamika," Cecil says as fervently as he knows how.

"Don't sweat it," she says, a smile quirking the corner of her mouth, and then the door closes behind her and she's gone.


Beautiful Carlos. Beautiful mouth. Beautiful neck I love to kiss. You like it too, don't you? I love the way you shiver.

Beautiful chest. I could rest my head here and listen to your heart forever.

Beautiful belly. I love to kiss you here. I love that you're ticklish. I love that I'm pretty sure I'm the first person who's ever kissed just below your belly button.

Beautiful hips. I love the way they fit my hands.

Such a beautiful cock. What, don't be embarrassed. Not with me. God, I just want to touch you. Like this.

Oh, yes, I love it when you shove up into my hand like that, that is the most beautiful thing.

My mouth is watering. Do you know that? From the minute you pushed your pants down, I've been hungry for this.

From the minute I first saw you, I've been hungry for this.

Beautiful Carlos. Will you come for me? Please. That's what I want. More than anything. To feel you. To see you. You want my mouth? Here.

Yes. Carlos.

Yes.


Cecil wakes to the feeling that someone is watching him. Wait: where is he? What's going on? This doesn't feel like the thin mattress on the metal cot of his cell.

His eyes fly open and all in a rush he remembers: he's on a foldout couch in a safehouse, and there is Carlos, propped on one elbow, gazing at him. Carlos' smile is fond and sweet. "I didn't mean to wake you," Carlos murmurs.

"I don't mind," Cecil promises. "I can't think of anything I'd rather wake up to."

"No? Because I might have some ideas." Carlos ducks his head a little bit, as though he isn't sure how his innuendo will be received. The combination of bravado and shyness makes Cecil love him even more. If that were possible.

"Theories to test," Cecil offers, stretching a little bit -- both because it feels good and because he likes the spark it brings out in Carlos' eyes.

"We might need a few mornings to work through everything on the list."

Now that is a promising notion if Cecil's ever heard one. "A good scientist does need to be thorough," Cecil agrees. He squirms over to Carlos's side of the sofabed and reclines languidly beside him. "What did you have in mind?" And then a thought occurs to him. "Hang on -- when did Tamika say she'd be back?"

"I don't think she gave us a time," Carlos admits. His voice is rueful; he's had the same realization Cecil has. "But she usually comes pretty early, so..."

Cecil sighs dramatically. Carlos looks adorably annoyed too.

"We could just forget about her," Cecil suggests. "What's the worst thing that could happen? She gets an eyefull."

Carlos is shaking his head. "I don't think I want to share."

"Fine," Cecil huffs, but he isn't really upset. He can wait. In that case, the next order of business is hot water. "Please tell me there's a shower here."

"There is," Carlos confirms. "I'll show you." He climbs out of bed and Cecil takes a moment to admire the play of morning light on his body.

"Big enough for two?" Cecil asks hopefully.

"Maybe later," Carlos allows, "but you're taking a real shower first! I don't know where they've been keeping you--"

"--but the accomodations did leave something to be desired," Cecil agrees.

The hot water feels almost as good as an orgasm would. He can feel it sluicing away the psychic residue of his imprisonment.

Imprisonment. God. How has this become his life? Fucking StrexCorp, he thinks. We're going to burn them to the ground.

It felt like an empty promise to himself when he was in his cell, but here, in this safehouse apartment with his beautiful boyfriend in Star Trek boxer briefs making coffee in the next room, the thought feels jaunty and hopeful.

They are going to burn StrexCorp to the ground. Didn't he read something once about fires in the desert? In the ashes, new seeds can germinate. He'll have to ask Carlos about that over breakfast. It's a science metaphor; Carlos will get it right away.

Besides, they have Tamika. And he has Carlos. And there's an unknown network of activists on their side.

Anything is possible. It's Night Vale.