"Not this again," Clint sighed, as Phil reached for the radio.
They were in the ass-end of nowhere in the middle of the desert, on a long, mostly boring drive through harsh scrublands and sand wastes. Clint was told that some people thought it was entrancing, beautiful, but it just made him want moisturizer. Everybody he'd met who actually liked the desert was kind of strange; Phil was a prime and present example.
"Cecil's on," Phil said calmly.
"At some point, you're going to get tired of this joke," Clint said, as Phil turned the dial, once again putting it on a channel that sounded like nothing but dead air to Clint. He did this every night, whenever it was possible, had a radio in his office and at home just for that purpose. He'd sit there next to a radio playing nothing but light static and swear he was listening to someone named Cecil.
Phil had long since stopped trying to convince him that Cecil was real. "Driver picks the music," Phil said instead. Whatever. If Phil wanted to play the Cecil game, he could do it to his heart's content. Clint wouldn't rise to it.
Clint stared out the window as Phil listened intently to the silence. The sun was only just starting to think about setting, the sky coloring ever so slightly. At least the desert had nice, pretty sunsets.
"-just in-" a voice said from the radio, patchy through the static. "-new lights-" More static. "-mayor announced-" The voice grew stronger, cutting in and out until it finally came all the way through. "-to sports news, training has begun for Night Vale High School's Scorpions, led once again by quarterback Michael Sandero."
"What the hell did you just do?" Clint asked, looking at the radio in disbelief.
"Hmm?" Phil said, sounding unconcerned.
"Disagreements in play style between Michael's two heads have caused some problems in practice, but hopefully Michael's older, less attractive head will see reason and allow his younger, more intelligent head to take the lead on the field."
"How are you making it do that?" Clint asked again.
"I'm trying to listen to my show," Phil said disapprovingly. "You could at least let me hear it."
"But I can hear it," Clint said.
Phil frowned. "What mile marker are we-"
Before he could finish his sentence, the car suddenly started shuddering, pulling back and forth wildly before Phil forced it to the shoulder, slamming on the brakes. The engine made a huge, clanking noise and promptly died.
"We're around 237," Clint answered.
"Get out of the car," Phil said, unbuckling his seatbelt. "Get the emergency water. Now."
Clint did as he said, pulling out his gear as well. Phil was already standing well away from the slightly smoking vehicle, carrying another water tank and his bag. "Cell phones don't work here," Phil told him.
"You have a sat phone in your pocket," Clint said. "There's nowhere it doesn't work." He considered this statement. "Except sometimes parking garages."
"You heard what I said," Phil said. "I hope you enjoy long walks in the desert."
"My very favorite," Clint said. "Do you know where we are?"
"If you're right, then the road to Desert Bluffs is about a mile and a half that way," he said, pointing, "and Route 800 is about six miles that way."
"So we'll just walk towards Desert Bluffs, then," Clint said.
If it was really possible for Phil's face to become more serious, it did. "We're not going to Desert Bluffs."
"You'd rather walk six miles than one?" Clint said, incredulous. "What's so bad about Desert Bluffs?"
"Desert Bluffs is awful," he said, turning and starting to walk away. "There's a gas station at the Route 800 junction. We can get a ride into town from there."
"Wait, wait, into town?" Clint said, following him. "I thought we were just going to call for a tow truck."
"Don't expect to see the car again," Phil said, and Clint thought he sounded strangely amused.
"Why?" Clint asked.
"Welcome to Night Vale."
It wasn't hard at all to hitch a ride into the little town of Night Vale. Clint only knew of the place by reputation, but boy, did he know it. It seemed more than a little coincidental that they'd broken down just outside Phil's hometown, a place he'd heard more ridiculous stories about over the years than he thought there were to tell. Some of them were the standard desert fare- weird lights in the sky, noisy sunsets- but some of them were a completely new brand of lunacy. A town run by hooded figures and some strange government of screaming elders- Clint had assumed the stories were all a bunch of bullshit, an outcropping of Phil's off-beat sense of humor. Clint wasn't convinced that all this- the breakdown, all of it- wasn't some well-orchestrated prank that Phil was pulling.
Despite passing a city hall with a stone monolith and what looked like a pair of frozen Boy Scouts outside, Clint was having a hard time being creeped out. He wanted a shower and a glass of cold water- not the lukewarm, plasticky stuff he and Phil had forced themselves to drink on the walk- more than anything else he'd ever wanted in his life. Besides, Clint could do weird. Clint had spent his formative years working in the circus, for god's sake. He shared a trailer with a tightrope walker who could speak to the dead, the by that point not particularly extraordinary tattooed lady, a snake charmer named Frank, and of course Frank's snake, who Clint swore sometimes tried to speak to him. He had creepy down pat.
As Clint ate his slightly limp gas station sandwich, the truck took them into a housing development that had the rather ominous name of Crow Hill. The houses looked perfectly nice, despite the number with strange stone hearths in front of them. Clint didn't think being dropped off on Dead Coyote Lane was particularly promising, but hopefully Phil knew what the hell he was doing.
The door opened before Phil and Clint reached it, and a small, cheerful woman came out, opening her arms. "Phil, sweetheart," she said, wrapping Phil up in a big hug.
"Mom," he said, holding her tight for a moment before letting her go. "This is-" Clint waited for it, that awkward moment where Phil tried to decide how to qualify their relationship- "my partner, Clint," he finished, which was honestly a lot more upfront than Clint thought he'd be with his mother. He was expecting 'roommate' at best.
"Clint," she said, stepping forward and hugging him too; apparently Phil's hands-off reservation came from his father's side. "Old Woman Josie called to say that you were coming in. Said the angels told her. I'm still not convinced they exist, but either way, I made coffee. I imagine you'll want it on ice after all that."
"Sounds great," Clint said, thinking about how delicious any cold liquid would be right now.
"Come on in," she said, beckoning. The air in the house was moist, that particular feeling caused by a swamp cooler, but it was cool and soothing on Clint's overheated skin. From what Clint could see, the house was large, the rooms surrounding a central patio, a ring of stones in the center. Clint set his pack and the water tank down next to the couch, sitting down next to Phil.
Mrs. Coulson walked into the kitchen, coming back with two glasses of cold coffee, setting them down in front of each of them on the coasters Phil had helpfully put out. She sat down across from them. "How did you get here?" she asked. "We didn't expect you. It's been so long since-" She shrugged. "Well, you know."
"Our car broke down out on the highway," Phil said.
"How awful," Mrs. Coulson said. "I hope you didn't have to walk far."
"Wasn't bad," Phil said, and Clint refrained from giving him a 'Come the fuck on' look. Walking any amount of time in the desert definitely qualified as 'bad'. "We caught a ride at Route 800 with John Peters. You know, the farmer."
"Did he say how his crop was coming along?" she asked.
"Supposed to be a good one," he responded.
"Maybe you can go out and see it," his mother said. "I remember how proud you were when you earned your Invisibility badge."
"Invisibility?" Clint said skeptically.
"John Peters grows imaginary corn," Mrs. Coulson explained, which Clint really would have liked to have known when Phil and Peters were talking about it in the truck.
"I see," Clint said, but neither of them seemed to get the joke.
"I've been listening to Cecil's program," Phil said.
"I'm glad you're able hear it all the way out where you are," Mrs. Coulson said.
"It's easy, as long as you know what you're listening for," Phil told her. "Nobody else seems to be able to, but that doesn't surprise me much."
"You know what they say," she said. "You have to know Night Vale to know Night Vale." She knit her hands together in front of her, leaning forward. "You're going to have to ask eventually."
"I thought I might," Phil said gently.
"Your aunt is fine, but your father joined the Whispering Forest," she said. "It's what he really wanted."
Phil swallowed. "It's good to know he'll be okay," he said, nodding.
"It could be so much worse," she agreed. "I go out and visit him sometimes. I don't go into the forest, you understand, but it's nice to stand back and look at it, as long as you wear earplugs."
A silence settled, and Clint had no idea what to say to break it. He had no idea what the fuck any of that meant, whether he was supposed to congratulate them or tell them he was sorry for their loss, if it even was a loss. He wasn't even sure if the Whispering Forest was supposed to be a place or a group or if this was all a big hoax. He still had money on the latter, though his grip on that idea was slipping.
"Why don't I show you the house?" Mrs. Coulson said finally, standing up. "I imagine you boys will stay the night."
"Of course we will," Phil said, standing.
"We'd love to," Clint added, even though what he really wanted was to get back to the car.
"Follow me," she said, leading them down the hallway. "I turned Phil's room into a sewing room when we knew he wasn't coming back," she said, opening the nearest door. "We waited a while, but they never come back from the job fair."
"I wish it was different, but the recruitment process is very specific," Phil said, and his mother didn't answer.
It was, indeed, a sewing room, not that Clint had much expertise with sewing rooms. The walls clearly hadn't been redecorated, though. A big Captain America poster hung beside the outside window, partially obscured now by the dressmaker's dummy. There were photos on the wall, and Phil's mother stepped over, beckoning Clint over and pointing to them.
"This is Phil when he first started Boy Scouts," she said, pointing to a picture of a serious-looking young boy who couldn't be anybody else. "Here's Phil and his junior prom date- shame about the dance, but they were good enough to take back his tux even with the scorch marks. Here he is with his cousin Emily- oh, and this one is from when Phil was in the Boys Brigade of the Sheriff's Secret Police," Mrs. Coulson said, brimming with pride. "Doesn't he look so precious in his little cape and his balaclava?"
"Mom," Phil muttered, embarrassed.
It was at that very moment that Clint realized that none of this was a joke. This was not Phil's tour de force performance; this was not the best-executed prank in the history of all time. This was simply where Phil came from, and it was terrifying.
"Phil, can I talk to you for a minute?" Clint said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Outside?"
Phil and Mrs. Coulson gave him very similar quizzical looks. "Sure," Phil said, leading Clint out to the patio. Clint waited for Phil to slide the door shut, walking away so that he was hopefully out of earshot. Phil grabbed him by the arm suddenly, and Clint realized he'd almost tripped into the ring of stones in the center of the patio. "Careful. You don't want to fall into the bloodstone circle."
Clint backed away from it, turning to look at Phil. It was dark now, and he had to step close to make out Phil's face in the light from the door. "This is really what you grew up with?"
Phil gave him a confused look. "I know I lie as a profession, but I try to avoid lying to you."
"How did you even- Phil, this place is-" Clint shook his head. "Invisible crops? Stone circles? Secret police? How did you live like this and come out anywhere close to normal?"
"We did know there was a world outside Night Vale," Phil said, sounding amused and annoyed at the same time. "We had a bookstore. When the trucks weren't swallowed by the void on Route 461, we got comic books and newspapers from the city. And when the wind was right, we could sometimes pick up TV on the antenna." He gave Clint a disapproving look. "Are you trying to say that people from Night Vale aren't normal?"
"Yes," Clint blurted.
"They wake up and drink their coffee," Phil said. "They send their children to school. They work their jobs. They listen to the radio. They have an intense hatred for their football rival. They go to bed and pretend to sleep. So what if they have a five-headed dragon who wants to be mayor? So what if the hooded figures sometimes snatch their children? You stared down a Norse god holding a bow and arrow. What's that make you?"
"Something is very, very wrong with you," Clint said. "Something is very wrong with this."
"Big talk from someone who grew up in the circus," Phil said. "Not quite like real life, is it?"
"That's a low fucking blow, Coulson," Clint snapped.
Phil had the particular set in his shoulders that meant he knew he couldn't back down now. "This was my life, birth to age twenty-three. If you can't respect my home, then I don't really want you here."
Clint shut his eyes, taking a deep breath and willing himself to calm down. Somebody had to defuse this situation, and he couldn't always count on Phil for that. "Can we not fight? Either way, we're here. We're going to be here until you can get us an extraction. You can enjoy-" he made a hand motion- "whatever this is. I'll try to shut up about it. Now can we please go back inside? It is hot as balls out here."
"It's barely ninety," Phil said.
"My point exactly," Clint said, opening the door.
They rejoined Mrs. Coulson, who was waiting patiently and gracefully pretending not to have listened. "Let me show you the guest bedroom," she said, showing them into a smaller room with a full bed. She opened the door to the ensuite bathroom. "I'm sure you want a shower."
"I think we could both use a nice long one," Phil said.
"You'd better let our guest have the first shower, Phil," his mother said disapprovingly.
Phil sighed. "Yes, ma'am," he said, and Clint couldn't help but grin a little.
"Use the cold water for hot and the hot water for lukewarm," she explained to Clint. "The water's hot when it comes from the ground," she said, at Clint's frown. "We turn off the water heater and use it as a cooling tank. It only works so well."
"Desert thing," Phil said to Clint. "Not a Night Vale thing."
"Would anybody be surprised?" Mrs. Coulson said. "There are towels under the sink, and feel free to use whatever soap and things you need."
"Thank you," Clint said.
"Don't use up all the cool water," Phil told him, leaving him alone in the bedroom.
Despite the fact that he barely got the shower below scalding, it was still heavenly to wash off the grime and sweat that he'd politely been ignoring as they talked to Phil's mother. He didn't have much in his pack, so he just slipped into a pair of clean boxers and hoped Phil's mom didn't want to see him again tonight.
He went on and got under the ever-so-slightly-damp sheets, exhausted and not particularly wanting to face Phil. He apparently drifted off quickly, because the next thing he knew, the bed was moving as Phil- hopefully Phil, who knew, Clint didn't really want to see it if it wasn't Phil- got in next to him.
Clint shut his eyes again, keeping his back to probably-Phil. There was silence for a long moment, no movement, but then Phil rolled over, slipping his arms around Clint's waist and kissing the back of his neck. Clint knew it for the apology it was, probably the best one he was going to get out of someone like Phil.
"This is a very sweet gesture, and I appreciate it," Clint said, lifting Phil's hand to his mouth and kissing it. "But get the fuck off me, it's a billion fucking degrees and I'm sticky."
Phil snorted in amusement, letting Clint go and rolling onto his back. "Love you, too."
Mrs. Coulson had breakfast prepared for them when Clint woke up, eggs and bacon and toast. Clint forced himself not to eat everything but the table, but it was a near thing.
"If you're not leaving immediately, I thought you might like to take Clint downtown and show him around," Mrs. Coulson said. "Jerry's Tacos disappeared again, but Big Rico's should be open."
"Do you want to come with us?" Phil asked, which Clint knew was really just a formality.
"No, I've had my weekly slice," she said. "You two have fun."
Thank god Mrs. Coulson let them borrow the car; Clint didn't know how far downtown was, but he didn't want to walk any real distance again today.
"Do you want to visit the Whispering Forest?" Clint asked gently, as they drove out of Crow Hill. "You know I can't hear for shit."
"No," Phil said quickly. "No, I didn't bring any earplugs."
"Okay," Clint said, not pushing it. "Where to then, boss?"
Phil drove them down into what apparently passed for downtown, parking the car in a little lot that was mostly empty. Still, the streets weren't nearly as desolate as Clint expected; it looked like a town that people actually lived in, not the ghost town that Clint had always pictured.
"Why does the dog park have a big sign that says 'No Dogs'?" Clint asked, peering at it; he thought he could see signs of movement inside.
Phil stopped, grabbing Clint by the chin and pulling Clint towards him. "Do not look at the dog park," Phil hissed. "Do not think about the dog park. It is forbidden."
"What dog park?" Clint said, and Phil let him go, looking relieved.
"Let's walk through Grove Park," Phil said. "There's a shortcut." Grove Park wasn't much of a park, mostly a scraggly meadow. "It has flowers in the springtime," Phil explained. "Right now, not so much."
"What's that weird shape over there?" Clint said, peering through the trees. "It looks like it's moving."
"Oh, that," Phil said, and Clint waited for an explanation.
"Do you have an end to that statement?" he asked, after a moment.
"Nope," Phil answered, continuing to walk. Soon they were through the park, stepping out onto a street with a few shops- a bakery advertising corn muffins and invisible pie, a restaurant, and a barbershop with a big banner that read UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT. Phil guided him towards the restaurant, the sign and the stereotypical Italian caricature indicating that it was, in fact, Big Rico's Pizza.
"I didn't expect this many people," Clint said, as they picked their way through the patrons, finding an empty table.
"There are only a few restaurants," Phil told him. "And it's mandatory to eat here once a week." Clint didn't bother to ask if he was kidding. He knew somehow that he wasn't.
Phil went to the counter and ordered them both the special, which, thank god, turned out to be lemonade and two slices of relatively normal-looking supreme pizza, not eye-of-something stew. It was good, as small-town pizza went, which meant that it had sauce and cheese, was warm, and tasted like it might have been in the vicinity of oregano at some point in its life. Clint was hungry and it stopped him from being hungry anymore. That was a win when it came to small-town pizza.
They were just about finished when Phil suddenly turned, listening to something; two men were walking past the table, talking about something that Clint hadn't been paying attention to. "Excuse me," Phil said, interrupting the conversation, and the man turned. "Cecil? It's Phil Coulson."
"Phil!" the man said, beaming. "How nice to run into you! Your mother called to say you or your doppelganger was back in town."
"Fairly sure it's me," Phil said, apparently not insulted at all, "but that's just what a doppelganger would say. Cecil, this is Clint," he said. "Clint, this is Cecil."
"This is the Cecil that you can hear on the radio?" Clint said, still having a hard time believing that this person was actually real.
"Yep," Phil said. "I used to babysit him when he was a little kid."
"No better babysitter," Cecil said, in his smooth, soothing voice. "It was a sad day when you left Night Vale."
"It seems like nobody ever expected you to come back," Clint said.
"No one ever returns from the job fair," Cecil said. "Once a vague yet menacing government agency takes you, well." Clint supposed that was a pretty good descriptor of SHIELD; it was also starting to make sense why they never thought he'd come back. You didn't just waltz into SHIELD and expect to come back out again.
"Sometimes they're not as menacing as you think," Phil said. "Granted, only sometimes."
Cecil smiled, but then he suddenly started, like he remembered something. "How rude of me," he said, stepping back so that he was shoulder to shoulder with the man who was with him. The man was incredibly handsome, perfect hair and even more perfect teeth. He was somehow radiant, a bright thing against the slightly dingy interior of the restaurant. Clint knew somehow that he wasn't one of them, one of Night Vale's slightly blasé, apparently weirdness-immune citizens.
"This is Carlos," Cecil said, and his expression said volumes. It was the expression that said that Cecil worshiped the ground Carlos walked upon, that they'd only just started waking up together, that Cecil couldn't believe how lucky he was that it happened at all. It made Clint smile, but for all his skill at subterfuge, Clint was bad at keeping the fact that he was a big softy a secret. "Carlos is a scientist."
"I was," Carlos said, shaking his head. "Now I live in Night Vale."
"It does that to people," Phil said. "You'll adjust in time."
Carlos looked at Cecil, who smiled widely, probably just because Carlos had seen fit to look at him. "I hope so."
"Any tips for a newbie?" Clint asked, his voice pleasant despite the fact that he was giving Carlos a 'Help me, for the love of god' face.
Carlos's face grew grave. "Don't look at the clocks," he said cryptically. "Don't trust the sun."
"I'll keep that in mind," Clint said, smiling, like there was nothing totally fucking strange about that at all. Apparently this place had a habit of converting people. Clint wasn't sure he wanted to experience that process firsthand.
Clint reached for a sidearm that wasn't there when he saw black-suited agents walk through the front door of the pizza joint. He dropped his hand when he realized who was leading them; he was a rather striking man, the kind that was hard to mistake.
"I want you to clear this area," he told one of the agents, who nodded and started hustling people out the door. No one seemed particularly bothered; the patrons just picked up their plates and cups and went peacefully outside. "You," he said to another. "Get us sixteen larges- five pepperoni, five cheese, five house special, and one mushroom and onion."
"Drat, I was looking forward to pizza," Cecil said, as Clint continued to stare in shock. He really didn't think today could get weirder. He had to stop thinking that immediately.
"I'm not going to eat this other slice," Phil told him, offering his plate.
Cecil waved his hand. "I couldn't possibly-"
"Go on, take it," Phil said.
"You're far too kind," Cecil said, taking the plate. "I'll split it with you," he told Carlos, and the two of them walked off in the direction of the door.
Phil wiped his mouth on his napkin and stood up, and the man at the head of the pack of agents caught sight of him. "Coulson, Barton," Fury said, walking over and scowling. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
"What are you doing here?" Clint said, still surprised, belatedly tacking on a "Sir."
Fury raised his eyebrow. "I asked you first," he said.
"We suffered a vehicle malfunction," Phil said, putting his game face on. "Attempts to contact SHIELD for an extraction proved fruitless." Clint said nothing; he didn't actually know whether Phil was lying or not. He could have sworn Phil was on the patio that morning while Clint was still half-asleep, but it sounded more than anything like he was chanting.
"My turn," Fury said. "We've got a tiny city under a bowling alley killing civilians, and I want to know how and why." He gave Phil a hard look. "This is your turf, Coulson. I want you on this."
"Yes, sir," Phil said. "If you'll permit me, Director, I have civilian support and housing in the area."
"I want you to insure full containment," Fury told him.
Phil gave him a look as if to say Fury was being slightly stupid. "Sir," he said patiently, "this is Night Vale."
"Is that supposed to mean something to me, Agent?" Fury said, cocking his head and crossing his arms in challenge.
"The radio regularly broadcasts spotting guides for government helicopters," Phil said. "All of Night Vale's children disappeared last week, and no one has questioned this development. They are merely happy that the children were returned, even though some of them are now bright green. Someone has already been killed by the people in the tiny city, and yet the town keeps running. No one outside knows. No one outside wants to know, and no one in Night Vale wants to tell them."
Fury studied him for a moment. "I defer to your expertise in this area," he said, which was less of a concession and more of a 'So help me, if you fuck this up I will hang your testicles from my rearview mirror in lieu of dice.' "Call your mother and tell her you'll be late for dinner."
They were indeed late for dinner, and breakfast, and the lunch and dinner that followed that. The breakfast and lunch after that Clint slept straight through, having been up far too long with only catnaps to sustain him. That night for dinner, once Clint finally felt like a real person again, or as real as you got in Night Vale, Phil's mother took them out to the Moonlight All-Nite Diner. It turned out to be above average for a diner in the middle of the desert, and Clint happily devoured a piece of cherry pie and half of Phil's apple one, though he wasn't brave enough to try the pie Mrs. Coulson insisted was on her plate. It made a noise as she cut into it with her fork, but there was just nothing there that Clint could see, except a scoop of ice cream that was melting slowly and flowing out around something.
"We're scheduled for extraction at 7 AM," Phil told his mother, over dessert.
She nodded. "I knew you couldn't stay long," she said. She reached over the table, taking his hand. "It was good to see you."
"I wish I could have come back sooner," Phil said.
"I'm just grateful that it happened at all," she said. The way they looked at each other made Clint felt like he was interrupting, like this was another moment that he couldn't really understand, not when family wasn't exactly his strong suit.
Then Phil's mother reached out for Clint with her other hand, and Clint didn't know what to do but let her take his. "You take good care of my baby boy," she said, squeezing his fingers. "Somebody has to."
"I'll try," Clint said, swallowing, and he felt Phil's hand on his knee, warm and reassuring.
She let them go, patting Clint's hand. "I think I want another cup of coffee," she said, and the moment slowly, peacefully dissolved.
"Why did you go to the job fair?" Clint asked through his headset, as the helicopter took them away from the sleepy little town.
"The Army doesn't often recruit in Night Vale," Phil replied, as if that was an answer.
"But you knew you were never coming back, whether they took you or not," Clint pressed.
"The first qualification," Phil said, half-smiling, "is bravery."
"What's the second qualification?" Clint asked.
"Killing another recruit with your bare hands." Clint laughed. Phil didn't. Clint stopped laughing. "If you knew you had a shot at something you thought was better, something that would get you closer to what you wanted, even if it was bizarre and frightening, would you take it?"
"I'd have to sleep on it," Clint said.
"I did," Phil told him. "I could have gone when I graduated high school. Slept on it for five years."
"So that's how you become Captain America when you grow up in Night Vale," Clint said. "Take the chance to join up with or be disappeared by a shadowy organization."
Phil shrugged; he had stopped arguing with Clint's accusations of Captain American aspirations long before. "We always suspected him of using dark magic or performance enhancing drugs," he said. "You can't tell me that SHIELD didn't have the answers."
"I feel like I understand so much more about you now," Clint said.
"Night Vale made me who I am," Phil said. "How do you think I deal with half the stuff I deal with on a weekly basis?"
"I figured you just screamed into your pillow like the rest of us," Clint said.
Phil smiled. "I stopped doing that when I was about six." There was a moment of silence. "I hope that wasn't too terrible, Barton," Phil said, and Clint knew even despite his nonchalant tone that it was a real question, a serious one, one that Clint could screw up on.
"It wasn't that bad, sir," Clint said. "It's got its own weird little charm, doesn't it?"
"The weird little charms are called talismans," Phil said, the tension lifting. "Show some sensitivity."
Clint shook his head. "I'm not letting you put a bloodstone circle on our balcony."
"Don't worry," he said. "We're not very observant. It's a Samhain and Solstice kind of a thing."
Clint laughed. "Maybe I can listen to Cecil with you now, if we can even get AM radio at the new base."
"Not a problem," Phil said. "I listened to him on the microwave once."
"Only you," Clint said.
Phil smiled. "Only Night Vale."