(Cecil is already out of town. Carlos actually searched for a Night-Vale-to-otherworld travel route when he said he would, found one early on, was upfront about wanting to do research there. He and Cecil made regular weekend visits over the year, he didn't try to prevent Cecil from talking to Kevin or investigating Kevin's radio station...long story short, Cecil was invited to move several months earlier than in canon, and felt good about it, and said yes. He offers some pointers for Janice's Fashion Week outfit over Skype, to make sure that she's as safe as he is.)
(Cecil is still in town, but Carlos came over to help him pack for the move. When Cecil has a hard time mustering the energy to pick out an outfit that will keep him from being killed, Carlos does that for him, too. Bonus: Dana told Cecil as soon as she came up with the "handcuff you to something, so you can never be Lot-37-controlled into running off and joining a fight" idea, so he's been doing that for months. Carlos does various things to prove he can be trusted with the key.)
(Cecil is in town, Carlos isn't, most of the episode happens as in canon. Until Carlos phones/astral-projects in during the Weather, and provides, you know, any kind of comfort and support for his boyfriend's suicidal depression.)
(Still not over it.)
The drive to the clinic is quiet. Eerily normal in every other respect, but much too quiet.
Abby puts on the radio, some schmoopy forecast from the '50s; it doesn't drown out the pounding in her chest.
She is a competent, well-adjusted adult (she reminds herself). A capable mother, with, when she needs it, the support of a loving and dedicated husband. Her life is not going to fall apart if Cecil does; she is no longer that scared fourth-grader whose own mother had just disappeared and who desperately needed her big brother to hold it together.
At least Cecil isn't so catatonic that he has to be carried. He follows her into the lobby, subdued and obedient. To a casual observer, he would look like a model citizen.
One of the attendants, reassuringly professional in a bird mask and fireproof gloves, takes their thumbprints to sign them in. Another asks to examine the duffel bag over Abby's shoulder. "I packed it myself," she says. "Nothing sharp, nothing knottable, nothing cursed."
"Nevertheless," says the attendant, polite but firm. "If there's anything we have to remove, you can take it with you when you go."
Cecil's intake interview is full of shrugs and mumbles and noncommittal answers. How is he feeling? Fine, whatever. Has he been unhappy a lot recently? Sure. Does he want to be an inpatient? Eh. Has he been directed here by a government-authorized agent of force? No, just his sister.
"I called this morning and asked what he was going to wear today," says Abby, when the clinician asks. Deep breaths. She is an adult. She can handle this. "He said he was just going to work in the clothes he slept in. I — I thought it was a joke, at first, but he hasn't joked like that in months — and then I thought he was going for some kind of varsity-level hipster strategy, proving himself so far ahead of the fashion curve that he could afford to completely disregard it — except Cecil doesn't do that. Even when he's not being judged by a murderous Sphere, he likes...." No, that's not right. Deep breaths. "He liked putting together a nice outfit. Liked to look good."
The interviewer nods a lot, then turns to Cecil. "Are these the same clothes you're wearing now?"
"Because this ensemble looks very stylish. I like the tassels."
Cecil shrugs. "Abby put it together."
The interviewer takes this in with big dewey eyes. "Can you tell me why she did that?"
After a long pause, Cecil says, expressionless, "Because she doesn't want me to die."
They're teetering on the brink of the question that scares Abby the most, the one she doesn't want to ask. She presses her eyelids shut and tries to remember how to be strong as the words drop into the room, soft and gentle and with the force of a bomb: "Do you want to die, Mr. Palmer?"
"I don't...." begins Cecil, but it's not a denial, it's the opening of some other thought that fades away mid-word. "It doesn't matter. What I want. If I die, I die. If I don't, I don't. Whatever happens to me is going to happen, no matter what I want. So why bother?"
This, from the Cecil who committed to working a full-time job before he'd finished high school, throwing himself into both tasks with the intensity of a forest fire. From the Cecil who already had his own apartment completely baby-proofed by the time Abby was ready to take her infant and run from her first marriage. The Cecil who spent a year coordinating secret and not-so-secret messages, on behalf of anti-corporate-terrorism revolutionaries. The Cecil who threw himself into the depths of a sinister otherdimensional phenomenon in order to drag that boyfriend of his to safety.
Abby doesn't know when her brother lost all confidence in his own strength...but she is strong, and she is an adult, and she is starting to cry but she's still breathing, and she got him. That's what she has to focus on. She called this morning, she figured out that he was in trouble, and she got to him before the Sphere had a chance to.
"Abby, don't cry. It's okay," says Cecil, in a hollow parody of reassurance. It's detached — emotionless — the only meaning underneath it is it's okay because even if I got devoured, it wouldn't matter. Don't cry for me because I don't matter.
This is nothing the center hasn't seen before, the interviewer says, in a way that clearly passes right through Cecil but gives Abby the most hope she's had all morning. And his insurance will cover all of it. And (this is the point where Abby thinks Cecil should feel some relief, if he's going to at all, but if there's any change her tear-blurred vision doesn't pick it up) they have plenty of resources to keep his mysterious controller from forcing him to leave the grounds.
Cecil gets an ID bracelet, a set of clean white clothes to change into ("after the Sphere passes by here, of course"), and the bag Abby packed for him, all searched and approved. Abby gets a printout of visiting hours, a pamphlet of helpful bloodstone chants for situations like these, and a referral to a support group for patients' family, friends, symbiotes, and/or loved ones.
"Is there anything you want me to do before I visit tomorrow?" she asks, dragging out the goodbye hug as long as possible. "I'll stop your mail. And I've already let the station know. they need a substitute." She's...reluctant...to bring up Cecil's boyfriend, but she knows the effort Cecil has made to get over his own reluctance about Steve, so she swallows and adds, "Should I call Carlos?"
There's a pause while her brother ponders this. Eventually he shrugs. "You could tell him I won't be able to answer my phone for a while, so he doesn't have to call. Except that if he wants to call, he'll call, whether I'm answering or not. So don't worry about it."
A long and multi-layered reply to this forms in the back of Abby's head.
"I love you," she says, because that's the important part.
She will be strong enough for both of them, and she will care about Cecil enough for both of them, until he can do it for himself again.
"To the family and friends of Voice Cecil...."
Abby gets called into her manager's office after the Weather, just in time to hear a station intern stuttering through NVCR's standard memorial.
Funeral proceedings in Night Vale are very efficient.
She has to box up all his possessions. In spite of all his talk about moving out of town, nothing in his apartment is packed. Half of these things are probably Carlos's, but Cecil's phone got eaten too and nobody else has his phone number, so they can't call and ask him for his input.
Abby beats herself up a lot about not calling Cecil more. About knowing he was having a hard time and not checking in. Even on a dangerous morning like when the Sphere was in town.
Elsewhere, Dana has Hiram and the Faceless Old Woman arrested, and beats herself up a lot about not implementing her "tie Cecil down to something so he can't be used to save me" plan weeks ago. Or months ago. Seriously what was she waiting for?
The family is still grieving on the night of the opera premiere, but Steve coerces Abby and Janice to come with him anyway. Cecil would have wanted them to support Josie's big production, he says.
The show runs without a hitch. A tall glowing entity that is definitely not an angel reads a very touching dedication before the curtain goes up.
Afterward, Janice is smiling, almost excited, for the first time since her uncle got devoured.
Carlos shows up at the after-party.
"Tell Cecil he doesn't have to move!" he says. "I know I already said he didn't have to, when I first asked, but what I mean this time is, he won't move. I already said my goodbyes in the otherworld and everything. Because I realized he would be happier here, with all his friends and family."
A gobsmacked Abby finally asks, "If you were so worried about Cecil's happiness, why did you decide to come back tonight, and not two weeks ago?"
"I decided to come back tonight because of...very scientific circumstances which I do not have time to explain right now," says Carlos firmly. "Why? What happened two weeks ago?"