Cecil wakes first the next morning when his cell phone rings. He answers sleepily, but in less than a minute he's cursing and racing to get dressed.
"Cecil?" Unlike nearly every other time Carlos has been startled from sleep, he sounds muzzy and unfocused. "What's wrong?"
"The sales meeting got moved ahead of the production meeting, and I have to be there." The Shawns are exacting their revenge for his getting past them and opening the bunker, and right now, Cecil hates them. Hates them with the fierce bloodlust of teeth and knives, because Carlos has sleep-tousled hair and is watching him with sleepy eyes through just-fumbled-on glasses, and Cecil just wants to sob at the unfairness of his life.
"Can I help?" Carlos asks.
"No, I just need to get there as fast as I —" Then Cecil curses again and calls back to beg the intern to give him a ride, because his car is still at the radio station. Carlos rapidly scrubs a hand through his hair a few times to chase his sleepiness away and heads out of the bedroom, giving Cecil a quick kiss on his way past. By the time Cecil finishes that call, the blender is making unnerving noises from the kitchen.
The sounds, happily, have stopped by the time he's found his socks, which are all hiding behind the headboard. Carlos is pouring something from the blender's pitcher into a travel mug when Cecil reaches the kitchen and notices the dinner-encrusted dishes.
"Don't worry about the dishes," Carlos says, seeing his look. "I'll take care of them." He says it with none of his usual attitude towards dishes, which is that since he practically grew up in a restaurant kitchen he's already washed far too many in his life and he's more than happy to do more cooking in exchange for less dishwashing.
Cecil doesn't really like washing dishes either, but it is only fair. But he really does have to go.
Carlos hands him the travel mug. "Sorry, I would have made you a breakfast burrito or something, but there aren't any tortillas. Or vegetables. Or eggs. That's kind of a cereal smoothie so you don't have to deal with dishes in the car, and also because there really wasn't enough orange milk, so I filled it out with frozen yogurt. I know it's not a great breakfast —"
Cecil kisses him. "You are fantastic."
The concern in Carlos's expression softens to pleasure. He gives Cecil a kiss in return, but just briefly, just a promise. "You have to go. Have a good day at work, cariño."
Cecil silently vows bloody revenge on the Shauns as he unsilently whimpers, gives Carlos one more quick kiss, and then runs out the door.
The sales meeting is brutal, though sadly only in the professional sense. The production meeting isn't much better, and then Cecil has to place several calls to get quotes for a developing story about the ketchup strike.
He's marking up the copy for an ad to record later when someone knocks on his open office door. "Cecil?"
Cecil glances up, his mind still half distracted with the question of whether to use a rising or falling pitch for the final growls, and is dazzled. Carlos is wearing the entire science uniform, from glasses and gleaming lab coat to khakis to an unbuttoned button-down over a t-shirt with an incomprehensible science pun. There's a — Cecil swallows — a pocket protector with a couple of permanent markers, a telescoping magnet wand, a pocket slide rule, and a few sticks of chalk and crayon. And his hair —
Carlos's hair is the iconic ideal of perfection, so matchless it stands in refutation of frivolous speculations that perfection can exist only on some higher plane.
Then Carlos gives him a little wave, and the sensation of having his heart nearly seize and cease in adoration jolts Cecil out of staring. "Carlos! Here! You're. Why, what — I mean, always welcome, of course — you're doing … here?" Cecil feels himself starting to flush. He hasn't been this incoherent since those first flustered, flailing months after they met. Possibly not even then.
He wants to bury his face in his hands, but that would block the view.
And that fond, amused little smile is going to kill him dead. "Breathe," Carlos says, so Cecil does. It helps. Not enough. "Sorry if I'm interrupting. Am I? I can go —"
Cecil shakes his head frantically.
"Okay. I really don't want to distract you from your work. It's just that I tried to go to the labs, because I was supposed to check in, but Dr. Renegade wouldn't let me inside. She said I can't be cleared until I can recite either the full equation for the force-field around the labs or the entire post-incident protocol, including subclauses. Since I couldn't this time, I have to wait another twenty-four hours before I try again. She had Dr. Reliant get me home. But …"
He shuffles a bit, embarrassed.
"It's boring there right now, without you, so I thought, maybe I could just hang out here with you before your show? If I just stay out of the way and read this book Dr. Renegade told me to memorize?"
If Cecil hadn't been so rushed this morning, he might have realized Carlos was unlikely to remain at home without at least a discussion about it. "Of course you can stay, darling Carlos!" Not that there's really any such thing as "out of the way"; Cecil's office is little more than a desk and chair, an umbrella/weapon stand, a couple of shelves, and a few extra square feet allowing access to those items. "Just stay there and I will be right back."
He steals a chair from the break room and manages to wedge it into the corner. "Is that all right?"
"It's perfect," Carlos says. "Thank you." He settles in with his book, which doesn't seem to have any dangerous teeth or claws and looks like it could be one of the texts for his current online course. Cecil isn't sure whether that means Dr. Renegade is cruelly denying Carlos a full break from working or kindly trying to ensure he doesn't fall behind and have too much to make up later.
She is very efficient, so it could easily be both.
Having Carlos there with him is just as nice as Cecil could have hoped. He's no distraction at all — except when he steals a sip of Cecil's coffee and then pretends, insincerely, that he didn't — but they can share quick touches and glances when Cecil is between tasks or on the phone.
Carlos's cell phone seems to have gotten stuck asking who are you? who, who, who, who? as an email notification for some reason, even though he normally has that notification turned off entirely. Carlos gets a lot of email, and he keeps giving Cecil little worried glances at each new occurrence until Cecil assures him it's fine. It's not that different from the occasional racket made by the nosy owls in his studio.
They spend something like an hour that way before Carlos speaks. "Cecil? Sorry, but … I think I should go back home." He's pale and rubbing his head.
Then he flinches, wincing fiercely, though Cecil doesn't notice anything particular in his hasty threat assessment. No one and nothing has entered, the light levels are about the same, the conversations of interns down the hall and the grumblings of station management are no louder than usual, there are no suspicious creaks or shuffles of someone lying in wait, the current scent profile is stale coffee and lightly singed imaginary popcorn — situation normal.
Station management rumbles again, at a typical enough level. Cecil only even notices at first because he's trying to listen for anything out of the ordinary and they're a distraction from that, but Carlos looks like he's being stabbed in the head with a blunt and rusted knife that vibrates in sympathy with their emanations. His nose is starting to bleed.
Then Cecil remembers Shakeena's warning. Carlos is especially vulnerable to injury from strong psychic influences. Such as, for one wild example, station management. There is an impending possibility of Carlos's brain liquefying.
Carlos starts to take his glasses off. Cecil yelps and leaps over to prevent him. "No, Carlos, you can't!"
His rushed aim is a little off, and while he manages to push the glasses back in place, he jostles Carlos a bit in the process. Carlos rubs his previously uninjured cheek reproachfully, but he leaves the glasses alone. "Why not?"
"I'll explain later, I promise, but we have to go. Just keep your glasses on until we get home." He tugs Carlos up and out into the hall.
By the time they're halfway out of the building, Carlos is having to keep one hand on the wall to manage a straight line, even with Cecil's increasingly frantic guidance. By the time they reach the doors, Cecil is starting to think he may have to carry Carlos the rest of the way to the car.
Once he's gotten them both past the security measures and through the doorway, he's ready to do just that, but fortunately, getting out of the building seems to have helped. Carlos straightens and breathes a little easier, and after just a few steps he's able to walk steadily.
But then station management growls just as Cecil is digging for his car keys. Carlos stumbles and falls. In a flash — literally — Carlos is sprawled in a shallow hole, coughing.
"Carlos!" Cecil rushes to him. "Are you all right?"
Carlos nods, still coughing, and shakes streams of a powdery dust from the sleeves of his lab coat as Cecil helps him stand. "I tripped," he says around a last few coughs, cradling his ribs with one arm and his head with the other hand for a few seconds. Once his breathing steadies, he continues, "And … landed in this convenient falling-down hole. Huh. That's a really thoughtful feature for the station to install."
Cecil has never seen the hole before, and he thinks he would have noticed parking next to such a thing. And something about this is familiar somehow — Carlos in danger, falling, a brief greenish light, a hole that might not have been there before, an impossibly fine dust cushioning the landing ….
He shakes his head. He can wonder later, but he has to get Carlos home now. He makes sure Carlos is safely buckled in and drives away from the radio station as fast as he can. He doesn't technically have stop sign immunity, but officers often get too distracted to bother with enforcement if they happen to notice Carlos in the car.
Carlos falls again — though this time it's onto the couch — when Cecil closes their door. "It's okay," he says faintly, before Cecil can even ask. "It's just — that's so much better."
He really seems to mean it, so Cecil goes to get a damp washcloth. Once he gets Carlos mostly upright, he starts by easing the glasses off, folding them, and carefully placing them out of the way on the coffee table. He starts wiping the blood and dust from Carlos's face, making sure to be gentle along both magnificent cheekbones. "Did I hurt you?"
"No, just a bump," Carlos mumbles, closing his eyes. "I was just surprised. Why couldn't I take them off before?"
He looks much worse than he did this morning, but better than he did at the radio station, at least, and the nosebleed has definitely stopped. Cecil doesn't want to hurt him again with the truth, but Carlos really does need to know so this doesn't happen again.
"You remember when Shakeena worked on them?" Cecil starts warily, watching for a bad reaction. When Carlos makes a sound of agreement, he ventures further, "You remember that she's a … a magic practitioner?"
Carlos mmmms agreement again. "Mostly … wards and charms and readings, I think you said once? I don't really know much about it. I'm a scientist."
Cecil would think anyone but Carlos was mocking him at this point, but it is Carlos — Cecil is mostly sure — and he's so obviously serious.
Cecil takes a deep breath. "When you were hurt …." He has to pause for a second, and Carlos opens his eyes long enough to locate Cecil's free hand and squeeze it, which gives him the courage to continue. "It wasn't just physical. There was a lot of psychic damage, too. You're — you're very vulnerable to psychic influences right now. So she put a spell on your glasses to help shield you. They just weren't enough against station management. But I think they still must have been helping at least a little, and if you took them off while you were still there —" He shivers.
"Oh. That makes sense." He waits for Cecil to finish wiping his face off before opening his eyes again. "Why didn't you just tell me before? I would have been more careful." He says it without accusation, just puzzlement and a tiny bit of hurt.
"I'm not really sure," Cecil admits. "It was a very confusing and stressful time. And you reacted so badly when Dr. Renegade brought up wizards —"
Carlos's face immediately contorts, not with pain but with a disgust so pronounced that any visual-surveillance officer would think Cecil had mentioned the Apache Tracker instead of just wizards. "Can you blame me? Wizards are the worst. They're so awful. But magic is fine. I don't know much about it, because it's not science, but that's why you would want to go to a nice, reliable expert like your friend Shakeena. Not some flaky wizard, ugh." Then he shakes his head to dismiss the concept and smiles. "Just like I would want to go to you if I needed an expert in radio broadcasting or journalism."
Cecil is … actually starting to get a little offended at all these insults to his boyfriend's job-slash-identity. Except the person insulting his boyfriend is his boyfriend. "You — you know I love you even though — even if you just happened to be a wizard, right?" He's not happy with how he started that, because it hasn't been "even though" for years. More than one, if not yet quite two.
Carlos makes an odd face. "That's … sweet, I guess. I mean, you're always sweet! But — well, it's just a good thing I'm a scientist."
Cecil has no idea what to say to that. He wants to push, but Carlos doesn't look like he could stand up to a mild breeze right now, and he's just so determined to refuse any consideration of wizardry even in general. Further discussion of the topic seems too dangerous.
Carlos's cell phone sounds yet again, this time asking is there anybody in there? Carlos pulls it out and regards the screen in confusion. "It's been using songs for email all day," he says. "I thought songs were just supposed to be for calls. And maybe texts, I guess."
"It depends how you set it up," Cecil tells him patiently. "You just have to know the right rituals." Cell phones really aren't as hard to understand as Carlos makes them out to be, if you pay attention (and make sure to get the right accessories for the model, like compatible connection cables or a muzzle). In fairness, though, Carlos's phone is a specialized model designed by Dr. Renegade to hold up against magical influences as well as light combat, which means it's very complicated and often unpredictable.
"Maybe Dr. Renegade changed it, then," Carlos says. "She usually fixes it for me." He smiles a little. "She does like to tease me with Pink Floyd, ever since —"
He drops the phone to clutch at his head, doubling over sharply.
Cecil panics. Carlos is gasping and trying to curl into a ball, so Cecil just holds on to him with one arm and babbles nonsense that he hopes is soothing while he frantically texts Shakeena with his other hand. She doesn't respond right away, and she's probably at work so it may take hours, and she made it sound like there probably wasn't much she could do anyway, so Cecil tosses his own phone aside and just holds on to Carlos.
He tries offering the glasses, and after about a minute Carlos manages to fumble them on, but he immediately snatches them back off with a groan of ow, worse. Cecil carefully sets the glasses safely out of the way and goes back to trying to reassure him with baseless promises.
When he pauses about a minute later to see if there's any change, Carlos whimpers. "Keep talking?" he pleads in a tiny voice.
Carlos always says he likes listening to Cecil. Cecil also happens to have the power to kill Carlos with his voice, which is exactly the opposite of useful in general and especially right now … but as Carlos likes to say about his sword (and his guns, and his grenades, and his magic), the power to kill is often the power to protect as well.
Cecil thinks his voice may have helped Carlos before. He really hopes it can't hurt to try now.
So he talks. He brings his delivery down to the measured, calming pace he uses on the radio as he shares a few memorable quotes from the ketchup story and explains the difficulties of locating just the right quality of maddening hum in the sound library for a Snickers advertisement.
Carlos gradually uncurls in slow increments, until finally he's lying with his head in Cecil's lap, his hands lowered. His nose is bleeding again, though it seems to be slowing down. Cecil carefully wipes the blood away; somehow, none has gotten on his pants or, more importantly, the lab coat so far, and it would be nice to keep it that way, though that is miles away from his top priority.
"Dios," Carlos whispers. "What was that?"
"I don't know," Cecil says. "A delayed reaction? We were just talking." Could something have happened to their wards? He needs some way to check. Shakeena should be able to help with that, at least. He'll text her in a minute. Maybe she can stop in on her way home.
"About … music. An old band Dr. Renegade quotes a lot for some reason." His tone would be the index sample of incurious in a sound library. "Maybe they're the most scientifically accurate progressive rock band. I wouldn't know, I'm not a musicologist. Or maybe that's meteorology."
Cecil, distracted by wondering about the wards, doesn't realize what Carlos is doing until too late, but revisiting the same conversational topic doesn't seem to be having an ill effect this time. Then again, there's a strange flatness to Carlos's speculation, and Cecil is pretty sure Carlos had been starting a very different explanation the first time.
"It's not important," he tells Carlos. He has no idea whether he's lying.
They sit quietly for a while, Cecil stroking Carlos's hair and enjoying the simple pleasure of not helplessly watching his boyfriend suffer. Then his stomach grumbles with hunger, since it's about lunchtime. His breakfast, while thoughtfully provided, was not quite as filling as he might have hoped, and the vending machine in the break room has been in a bad mood lately, so all it's been offering is three slots of mints and one of poisonberry fruit roll-ups. He apologizes even as the corners of Carlos's mouth twitch upward in amusement.
"I think," Carlos says, hesitant, "I remember feeling like this once, and you made soup?"
Carlos doesn't usually like canned soup, which is the only kind Cecil really makes. It's nice of him to ask for it now, and Cecil welcomes the prospect of a specific task that might help. "I will gladly do so again, dearest Carlos," Cecil offers. "… If we have any." He might, perhaps, have been letting the food shopping slide, because cooking for himself just makes the absence of Carlos more obvious. He's been having a lot of take-out lately.
He eases himself out from under Carlos and gets him settled more comfortably before heading to the kitchen. He's pleased to find there are a few cans of soup left. He considers making enough for both of them, but maybe he'd better save what they do have, since he doesn't know how long Carlos will be in this condition. Besides, Chicken Noodle Surprise can be difficult even in small amounts. He can always pick something up for himself later.
Once the soup is in a pan and heating up, he takes out a large pot lid and holds it as a shield, in case the surprise this time is a poor reaction to being heated. With his other hand he first texts a calmer follow-up to Shakeena and then texts Dr. Renegade. Did you change the notifications on Carlos's phone?
She answers a few minutes later, when he's putting the lid away again because the soup has settled on turning a particularly vivid shade of pink. 1 When 2 Why
Cecil considers. Sometime today, I think, and he's just confused by it, so I wanted to check if you meant anything specific.
A few seconds later she calls instead of texting back.
"I actually meant when and why would I do that, but I actually might, so it was a fair question," she says. "I haven't, but I might. Sometimes he's just begging for an earworm. The musical version, I mean. Anyway. What's it doing?"
"Oh, it's just using song clips for notifications," Cecil says. "But he didn't even know it could do that. And one of the clips was Pink Floyd, and when he started to explain why you like to tease him about them, he got much worse again. I was just wondering if it might be important."
"I doubt it. That's just an old joke for the team, from when he was trying to track down some dark magic back in our first year — wait, do you think he was starting to remember his whole secret-superhero side?"
"Maybe? But if he was starting to remember something, I'm pretty sure he doesn't now. That's … that's not good, is it? If a potential memory caused him that much pain, it's much more likely he's under some kind of mental compulsion that he's really not in any condition to handle fighting against right now."
"Wild guess, yeah, probably not good. I guess that answers the question of whether we should push him. Would that only be a compulsion, though? I had thought maybe this was just all that psychic bruising suppressing the wizard centers of his brain temporarily. Does this rule that out? Or could this even just be how a wizard goes blue-screen, like the magical version of traumatic amnesia? Maybe something happened on that mission of his and he can't deal with it."
That's a depressing thought. "I don't know what that would look like, so … it could be, I suppose."
"Or maybe — wait, what did you mean, 'got much worse again'?"
Cecil tenses. As guilty as he feels, he really doesn't need her to blame him too. "I couldn't have known he would decide to come visit me at the radio station! Or that he would react so badly to station management!"
She's quiet for several seconds, but when she blows up, it's not at him. "Tesla wept, that man is impossible. And I know better, I know he wanders off into trouble if you don't sit on him."
Cecil's defensive indignation briefly considers taking Carlos's side, but she's not wrong, so it throws up its hands and stalks off instead. "He doesn't try to get hurt," he tells her, because he does want to be fair.
"No, he's just naturally talented at it. You're not still at the radio station, are you?"
The soup is starting to bubble threateningly, so Cecil turns off the heat. "No, I brought him home. I think he's okay now, but he got worse again while we were here, just talking about his phone. I thought he was supposed to be safe here." He tests the soup a few times, partly to quiet his stomach's petitioning but mostly to make sure it's actually edible.
"And of course the closest thing we have to a resident expert is the one who's out of commission. You haven't even done your show yet, have you? We'll free someone up to come over and keep an eye him so you don't have to spend the whole time wondering if he's turning into a puddle of goo. I mean, it's not like we can stop it, but at least it wouldn't be a mystery."
"Thank you," Cecil says, touched.
"De nada," she says, and he manages to summon the ghost of a smile. "You said he's not in any condition to fight against whatever this is. So we're talking about two separate things — that psychic concussion plus an Obliviate spell or a neuralizer or something, right? I take it that's a bad combination."
"Yes. Well, probably. If his psyche is that badly bruised, it probably can't take the pressure of a compulsion enforcing some obscure and insidious objective."
"How long does that sort of bruising take to clear up?"
"I'm not sure — I think it depends. At least a few days. Probably not a year."
"Well, that doesn't help. So here's the thing. Shakeena is fine, but she and her circle of pals are all supposed to be pretty minor talents, and this is apparently a lot bigger than that. We need more information, and as far as I know, the only way to get that is to consult the wizards he works with."
"Didn't you just talk to his captain yesterday?"
"Yeah, and she's pretty cool, but I didn't bring this up yet because I don't trust the organization."
"Naturally. They're a shadowy, secretive cabal dedicated to mysterious and possibly nefarious goals."
"Cecil, you say that about FedEx."
"Well, you're not wrong, at least about this Council thing. Even setting aside their little Hydra problem, it sounds like some of the ones in charge are the type to decapitate first and ask questions never. And — look, you say this wasn't you, but to an outsider … it would probably look like you were at least involved. Meanwhile, Kate is working herself up wondering if she accidentally wished you guys well when they were talking about relationship stuff and it backfired — it's unlikely, because she's got a pretty good handle on this place, but it's easy to start questioning your own memory about something like that."
"Memory is an unreliable witness and a recidivist perjurer," Cecil agrees. Reassured that the soup seems to be safe, he fills a mug with most of the remainder, but he lingers in the kitchen rather than continuing the conversation where Carlos might be hurt by overhearing the wrong thing.
"The criminal justice reformers on campus agree with you there. So do we really want to bring the secret wizard lodge in on this and risk having them decide to just take out Kate, or you, or some random schmuck who made an innocent mistake in this crazycakes town, without asking enough questions? Or for all we know, this could be what makes them decide to just cut their losses and terminate all of Night Vale. And the way Carlos is now, he wouldn't even be able to try to stop them."
Cecil likes his head where it is, and he's fond of the scientists and his hometown. And as hard as he's been working to accept wizards individually (particularly one individual wizard), his original suspicions of them as a general class were not entirely unfounded.
He's not even sure Carlos actually trusts his own clandestine organization right now. Carlos tries to be careful about not breaking whatever oaths of secrecy he's made, but it's plain he suspects traitors in the ranks. Cecil can't know their purpose, but if they haven't bothered to win Carlos over to their cause, then they're clearly unsavory and unsuitable types who should not be alerted that Carlos is not at the top of his magical game.
"That would not be my first choice," Cecil admits.
"Mine either. I mean, I've got way too much research tied up in this place. So maybe we wait a few days, at least, and see if he shakes it off."
"Wait and see," Cecil confirms. "At least with the Council, but they're not our only option. There are specific wizards Carlos would probably trust. We could try them."
"Do you know how to contact any of them? And for that matter, should we trust them?" She sounds skeptical.
"One is his bisabuela. I'm sure she would act in his best interests."
"So you think she's more likely to give us all a fair hearing than someone else from the Council would be? I'm just asking because a lot of people get less rational or reasonable if they think a family member is in danger," she points out. "Remember we don't actually have a wizard already on our side right now."
That's worth considering. Cecil did come away from meeting Wizard Solares with a healthy fear of getting on her bad side, and Carlos is not just her some-degree-of-grandson but also her personal apprentice. "It's a risk," he admits, "but I can try to ask her some general questions, at least. She probably can't destroy us over the phone. And you've met his friend Harry. Harry wasn't so bad, as dangerous wizards go, and Mouse was so cute."
"… True. I'd want to take out a few more insurance policies if he's coming to town, but he'd probably work. You have a number for him?"
"He left a contact number."
"Does it actually work?"
"Hmmm. Well, if it doesn't, Shakeena might know a way to reach him. And there's always … the bus garage."
"Cool. Okay, give me about ten minutes to find someone so you can get back to work. Go pet your boy some more for now."
Cecil can't help smiling genuinely at that as he heads back to the den with the soup to obey. Carlos is dozing but wakes readily. He sits up with assistance, but he doesn't seem comfortable until he's gotten Cecil to sit down so he can slump against him.
Cecil manages to angle his supporting arm so he can stroke a small section of Carlos's hair. Carlos closes his eyes in pleasure, although possibly also to avoid looking at the soup, and sips the soup slowly.
"Dr. Renegade says hi," Cecil says. It's not literally accurate, but it's true enough. "One of the scientists is going to come stay with you for the afternoon."
Carlos sighs. "I know you wouldn't want me to be here alone, after what just happened. And I know you can't stay. I just feel … well, silly, needing supervision. I'm sorry this is all so much trouble."
Carlos must feel awful to give in without even a token protest. Cecil gentles his tone for the words he'd already planned. "They worry about you too, you know. We all want to be sure you're okay."
"I know. I do appreciate it. I probably don't say that enough."
Cecil isn't sure what to say to that. Carlos doesn't always communicate in words particularly clearly, but he does try, and he shows he cares in a variety of ways.
Carlos finishes most of the soup, but he's getting drowsy, and he shakes his head when Cecil asks if he wants more, so Cecil moves the mug to the coffee table and then serves as a pillow until he has to get up to answer the door.
This time it's Dr. Renaissance. Carlos sits up straighter, stifling a yawn, though Dr. Renaissance is as affable as ever. Once he's greeted them both, he tells Carlos, "I'll entertain myself with paperwork while you're resting, but if there's anything you need, don't hesitate to tell me. I'm sure I would appreciate interruptions."
Carlos nods an awkward agreement but then looks back to Cecil. "I don't want to sleep. I might miss your show."
"I think you need the rest more," Cecil points out, because the yawn Carlos is fighting is clearly winning.
"If you sleep now, you'll have a better chance of staying awake for the entire show later," Dr. Renaissance points out.
"I guess," Carlos mutters, the closest he's been to sullen since he woke in the science bunker. It's not actually all that close, but Cecil is relieved to see even that much of a hint of assertiveness. Carlos looks to Cecil once more and adds, "Before you go, can I try my glasses again?"
Cecil frowns with worry. "Didn't you say they hurt?"
"Yeah, but that was right in the middle of … whatever that was, and they were helping before. And … it hurt without them when you opened the door," he admits.
"Oh, Carlos, why didn't you tell me?"
"I am telling you," Carlos points out, which is fair. "It wasn't much, and it wasn't long, and you needed to open the door. But you'll have to open it again to leave, and if my glasses can help …."
"If you're sure." Cecil hovers nervously, but Carlos is careful putting the glasses back on, and he seems just as relieved as Cecil feels once they're settled with no ill effects.
Carlos then reaches out and draws Cecil in for a quick kiss. "Have a good show, amorcito."
"And you try to get some rest," Cecil says. Carlos rolls his eyes a little but agrees. Cecil thanks Dr. Renaissance, gives Carlos one last worried look, steps through the doorway as quickly as he can manage, and heads back to work.
He tries the number Harry left a few times as he walks to his car, but even though the line seems to connect after a couple of rings and it sounds like someone is trying to answer, the calls keep dropping before whoever it is can manage to speak even a full syllable.
So that's a bust.
Cecil continues on to work, stopping at the deli to grab a sandwich on the way. He interviews the counter staff about the ketchup strike while he's there, to make it a working lunch, and they express concern that relish may be next, which is a useful update. In the end he has to cut the interview a bit short, though, when Shakeena calls.
She wants a full accounting of what happened, so once he's back inside his car — because the man sitting at the table by the window in the deli and marking down everything on his clipboard probably doesn't yet know Carlos is a wizard, and Cecil would like to keep it that way — he explains in detail.
She's surprised the glasses were effective as long as they were in close proximity to station management. "Still got it," she says. She also seems to recognize the falling-down hole when Cecil describes it. "One second you've got perfectly normal, intact ground, and the next, a hole full of nearly frictionless dust, right? I've seen him do that before. Interesting." She lapses into a thoughtful silence.
"Interesting in general, or in some specific way?" Cecil prompts finally. He's nearly to the radio station.
"Specific. That's definitely him doing magic."
"But I thought you said he couldn't do magic if he didn't believe he was a wizard."
"That's mostly true. But instinct — magic requires intent, which takes time, but most practitioners have one or two spells they turn to instinctively. Something they don't have to think about — something they learned very early or very well and can do when they don't have the time or focus for anything else. That dust spell — he's very quick with that one, especially when he's looking at a hard landing, and honestly, I hope for his sake it's instinct."
"Because it's a good sign for his magic coming back?"
"Well, yeah, that too, but I was more thinking that I don't know many cases when I'd rather breathe the ground than land on it. It might save you some horrific, bone-shattering injuries, sure, but there are ways to do that without getting yourself a chest full of powderized dirt. Still, we knew his physical reflexes were still good, and now it looks like his magical ones are, too. That's not terrible."
Cecil parks and shuts off his car, but before he gets out, he explains the conversation he had with Dr. Renegade. Shakeena agrees with their conclusions about contacting the Council, having a similarly poor opinion of them in general. "We wouldn't want to stir anything up while he's in this condition anyway," she says. "He's actually been pretty good at keeping them out of our business. No point risking a change in that if we don't have to."
"I was thinking we could try his friend Harry, though," Cecil says.
"Harry — the Winter Knight?"
"He helped Carlos before," Cecil points out. "And joined Tamika's book club. And he didn't blow up our apartment even a little."
"He was useful," Shakeena admits.
"Maybe he'd be willing to come take a look, or knows someone who can help. He left a number, but I can't get through. So … do you think you could reach him through your network?"
There's an appalled silence.
"Shakeena, please?" It's a lot to ask, Cecil knows — working with outsiders always is — but this is for Carlos.
"I don't know, honey. No one in the Paranet is going to be in a rush to risk getting Winter's attention by trying to track him down. And he helped us out before, but we all breathed a lot easier when he left."
Cecil sighs. "Why do wizards have to be so complicated? I guess I'll just have to see if I can get a message to him."
"'Get a message' — I know you're not talking about making a deal with anyone at the bus company."
Cecil rolls his eyes. "The King City line returns later this afternoon. I'm sure the driver would be perfectly reasonable —"
"The ban on any bargains, transactions, or arrangements outside a standard transportation ticket is there for a good reason and you know it. You may not see the cost now, but you'll pay far more than you expect. The only thing involving any of the fae in a search for the Winter Knight would do is take a bad situation and make it a bad situation plus faeries."
Cecil growls in frustration. "Fine. I'll figure something else out. Maybe there'll be something on eBay. Can you check on our wards?"
"I'll stop by after your show," she offers. "I can at least take a quick look, see if we need to schedule any patching."
He thanks her and they end the call. Cecil grabs his sandwich and heads back into the radio station, thinking dark thoughts about stubborn wizards who don't have the courtesy to be easily reachable. Carlos might not always be immediately available every moment Cecil wants him, but at least he tries.
After his show, Cecil picks up dinner on the way home. Carlos is awake and clearly proud of that fact. Dr. Renaissance reports no problems — and no changes — but he sounds troubled. Concerned, Cecil tries to get more information as he sees Dr. Renaissance to the door while Carlos is distracted by the bags of take-out.
"He just seems … different," Dr. Renaissance says. "It's not as though he's not usually polite or respectful, but today was he was more … intense … about it. I'm not sure how to explain."
Cecil thinks he understands, despite the vagueness. He thanks Dr. Renaissance, bids him a good night, and heads back to Carlos.
Carlos is a little disappointed at not getting a chance to cook, but he admits there really isn't much of anything for him to cook in the first place. He's pleasantly surprised Cecil remembered the noodles he likes, to a degree that almost — but not quite — crosses the line from gratifying to insulting.
Cecil goes to the kitchen to get real utensils, because the glossy photographs of chopsticks in the take-out kit aren't all that practical. The dirty soup pot and mug are conspicuously not awaiting him. "I would have washed the dishes," he says when he gets back to the den.
"That's okay," Carlos says. "You cooked, so that means it was my turn to wash."
Cecil doesn't think that should apply when one of them is recovering, and he's starting to feel a little guilty about not handling what is almost always his chore. But it's not worth an argument, especially if winning means he'll have to wash more dishes, so he lets it go.
As they're sorting through the bags of food, Carlos notices his textbook under one of the bags — Cecil found it cowering under his desk when he got back to work and brought it home. Carlos is happy to have it back, but he barely glances at it before setting it aside in favor of asking Cecil about his day.
There's really not much to tell, since Carlos was with him for much of it and heard the show, but Carlos is enthusiastic for those few details anyway.
Shakeena stops by when they're about halfway done eating. She determines the wards are fine and even the glasses, despite everything, are still fine as well. She's less impressed at Carlos's psychic condition and warns him to stay away from station management; he agrees readily.
He asks a few general questions about the wards, barely more than Cecil could have answered, but he shows no interest in any degree of detail. Other than that utterly uncharacteristic lack of curiosity, he's perfectly charming and grateful to Shakeena the entire time, but that just seems to make her uneasy, and she doesn't stay long.
While Carlos did nothing to encourage her quick departure, he seems pleased to be alone with Cecil again. "Want to watch a movie?" he suggests, suggestively.
They actually get all the way to the end of Monte Walsh.
Cecil sighs as the end credits play out. He's not uncomfortable, even though he's on the bottom of their tangle, and it's not that he thinks Carlos wasn't really into it, even if Carlos did doze off mid-nuzzle. It's just that he's used to half-listening for the playback to start distorting or running backwards or just shutting down completely, and the complete lack of electronic interference in what was otherwise a nice make-out session leaves him feeling off-balance and unsettled.
Carlos has gotten much better at controlling his effects on their electronics. Numerous experiments have convinced Cecil that the degree of electrical disruption is not strongly correlated to interest or performance.
But it bothers him now.
He untangles an arm to turn off the television with the remote and sighs again, trying to work out the best way to get Carlos to bed. He manages to ease himself out from under Carlos, getting only a mumble in reaction, so he puts away the rest of the food and washes the utensils.
While he's in the kitchen, Carlos's sister Dani calls, in response to his vague private message on Facebook. Cecil hates that he can't explain properly, but Carlos has the right to decide whether to share his condition with his sister or hide it from her, as soon as someone figures out what that condition even is. Cecil also wants to be careful how he poses the situation to Wizard Solares, which means he has to be careful how much he tells Dani first anyway. He tries to explain that he needs to speak to Wizard Solares because he has a wizard-related question he can't ask Carlos. Not that he has a good reason why he can't —
"He's under communications blackout, huh?" she asks sympathetically, to Cecil's relief. "Well, I don't give out people's phone numbers without their permission, but I can ask her to call you when she gets back, if you want."
"Back?" Cecil hadn't thought Wizard Solares would be unavailable.
"Things have been busy," Dani says, just as vague as Cecil was. "As I'm sure you know. I don't know much more than that, but it probably won't be more than a few days. So should I give her your number when I do see her?"
Sadly, this is the best lead on a wizard he's gotten all day. "Yes. Thank you. Actually, would you have a current number for Harry Dresden? Maybe I could ask him." Cecil tried the number he has again during the weather, but it still didn't work.
Unfortunately, she doesn't have a different number for Cecil to try. Once he's thanked her and said goodbye, Cecil goes back out to the den and again considers how to get Carlos to bed. Waking him up to send him to bed seems counterproductive; it might encourage him to wake up more fully. Cecil doesn't want to risk that, since rest is supposed to help Carlos recover, so he'll just have to get Carlos to bed another way.
Carlos's phone is on the coffee table. It's unlikely Carlos will need it, but Cecil doesn't want to deal with the likely annoyances if he's wrong. He slips the phone into his pocket so he can leave it on the nightstand once he gets Carlos to bed. Then he carefully scoops Carlos up and heads for the bedroom.
Carlos makes a questioning sound.
"It's okay, just sleep," Cecil says softly, tightening his hold a bit in case Carlos tries to squirm free, because he doesn't want to end up dropping him.
Instead Carlos just responds with, "'kay," and snuggles his head more comfortably against Cecil's shoulder. It's a good thing Cecil tightened his grip, because otherwise he might have dropped Carlos after all, just from surprise at the lack of complaints. Carlos isn't a fan of being carried.
Carlos doesn't wake as Cecil settles him on the bed and then awkwardly eases off the lab coat and button-down while holding him up. He even manages to remain asleep through the removal of his khakis and the shuffling required to get the covers more over than under him, though he does smile a little when Cecil brushes his hair back and kisses him gently.
He looks so peaceful that Cecil finds himself wondering if it's possible he's been overreacting. Yes, Carlos did get hurt again today, but the encounter with station management is Cecil's fault for not warning him, and Carlos's reaction to that wasn't defiance or waving off his injury but determination to be more careful.
Which is shockingly unusual, yes, but it's also a good thing.
Carlos is usually awful at taking care of himself when he's hurt, but he's actually being good this time and listening when he's told to rest. As disconcerting as his agreeable compliance may be — not just with Cecil, but with the senior scientists and even Shakeena as well — it means he's following their advice and recommendations. He's letting them help him with his recovery.
And Carlos was hurt again by a reminder of his wizardry, but Shakeena says his magic is still there, just bound up somehow. Maybe Dr. Renegade is right that his magical control is bruised. Maybe reminders hurt him simply because pressing on a bruise hurts.
Maybe Carlos really does just need time.
Cecil does still want to find someone who knows enough about mental magic to determine the full truth and scope of whatever has happened to Carlos, if such a person or being exists. That's turning out to be more complicated than he expected, but maybe … maybe that delay isn't a complete disaster.
Cecil takes Carlos's phone from his pocket and leaves it on the nightstand. The phone has been quiet all evening, and Cecil has been assuming that Dr. Renaissance did something to fix it, but just as he's setting it down, it sounds another notification, asking who is he and what is he to you?
It's not loud enough to wake Carlos on its own, so Cecil ignores it and turns off the lights.