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Informed Consent

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Dating Cecil is weird.

Carlos is not stupid enough to think it could possibly be normal.

It's weird in a lot of ways that have to do with Night Vale. They have to call in reports about dates and ignore caped figures peering at them through windows. The way Carlos knows that they're officially A Thing is not because Cecil says, but because he stops wearing furry pants on their dates. The whole town knows every detail of their relationship, yet they all seem to think it's perfectly normal that Cecil would announce these things; the Night Vale relationship to privacy, Carlos has learned, is a tricky one indeed.

The deeper they get into it, though, the more weird it gets in ways that have to do with Cecil. He does little things for Carlos- he gets doors, he pulls out chairs, he makes Carlos's coffee. It's just kind of strange the way Cecil does it; when they first got together, he was forever asking for permission, as if there was some strange weight to two sugars and a splash of cream. Carlos didn't tell him no, of course, because it was nice to have someone do things for him. But the longer it's gone on, the more he's realized that Cecil does it like he almost doesn't do these things to be nice. It's more like he thinks it's just his responsibility, never Carlos's.

"Oh, no, Carlos," Cecil says, when Carlos goes to pay for dinner one evening. "You don't pay. Besides, you had the salad."

"You don't have to do that for yourself," Cecil says, as Carlos pushes a cart of equipment across the lab. "I mean, I don't know what it is you're doing, but you shouldn't have to."

"I'll come get that for you," Cecil tells him, when Carlos tries to open his own car door. Cecil is only a little unamused when, as has become habit, Carlos steals a distracting kiss and lets himself out.

Carlos is very much interested in being self-reliant, but there's just something about the way Cecil does it. Carlos doesn't feel like he's being condescended to or mothered; he feels something completely different, and he isn't sure what. The weirdest thing is that he catches himself liking it. When he thinks about it too hard it makes him tense, but sometimes it's so easy to let Cecil spoil him. Cecil pets his hair and calls him darling and it's nothing like Carlos has ever been through, but he likes it, sometimes what feels like too much.

So there's that.

Complicating- or complementary to, Carlos isn't sure- the issue is that Cecil fucks him like he's never been fucked before, like this is a whole world of fucking that Carlos wasn't aware existed. It is fucking, plain and simple, not making love, not even having sex. Sometimes Cecil fucks him hard and fast, sometimes Cecil fucks him slow and sweet, but Cecil just has him, like Carlos's contribution to the event doesn't matter much.

This is not, in any way, to suggest that Carlos feels uncomfortable or forced or afraid of him. This is to suggest that Cecil gives him what he had absolutely no idea he wanted. He thought he knew what good sex was like, and maybe he had some idea, but it doesn't hold a candle to Cecil holding him down and fucking him until he screams.

Carlos doesn't put all of this together for a long time, the coddling and the fucking and everything else about his relationship with Cecil, because it doesn't happen all of a sudden- and honestly, who knew that car doors and rough sex meant anything in tandem? Cecil doesn't walk up to him one day and ask, doesn't present him with the opportunity to make a measured, comprehensive decision. Carlos doesn't know exactly what a conversation like that would have been like, but there certainly wasn't one.

Instead it comes in little bits. Carlos knows what the first obvious one was, even though he had no idea at the time it had anything to do with anything.

"You're so gorgeous," Cecil said, as he pumped slowly in and out of Carlos's ass, which was fairly standard as Cecil's dirty talk went. He ran his hand through Carlos's thick hair, ruffling it pleasantly. "Your beautiful hair," he said, curling a lock of it around his finger. "Can I pull it, precious Carlos?"

"I suppose," Carlos said, slightly confused.

He didn't know quite what he expected, but Cecil grabbed a big handful of the hair on the back of his head. He tugged on it firmly, still moving in Carlos as he did it.

"Oh," Carlos said.

"Do you want me to stop?" Cecil asked, letting go and petting his hair down.

"Do it harder," Carlos said impulsively.

Cecil laughed, a low, rich sound that Carlos has never been able to get enough of. He took Carlos by the hair again, pulling hard, hard enough that Carlos's back bowed. Carlos wasn't aware that something like that could feel so good; there had to be some scientific explanation for it, something about nerve endings and the sensitive skin of his scalp, something that Carlos, at the time, had no brainpower to explore. It just felt too outstanding, Cecil fucking him hard while he pulled and pulled at Carlos's hair. Carlos came harder than he had in a very long time, and it didn't take many nights before Carlos asked for it again.

After that, there's this steady escalation, one that's so natural at the time and so bizarre when Carlos actually thinks about it. Getting on his knees to suck cock, perfectly normal behavior, and if Cecil is a few feet away, why should Carlos get up just to kneel again two seconds later? It's not weird for Cecil to smack him on the ass while they're having sex, especially not with how much Carlos likes the sting of it, so it's not that strange that it still feels good when Cecil's not fucking him. But then it suddenly occurs to Carlos that he's crawling around on the floor and getting spankings, and something seems wrong with this picture.

They're in bed, Cecil above him, and he's got his hands on Carlos's shoulders, pressing him hard into the mattress. And suddenly it's all just on Carlos, the weight of it, the weight of everything they've done and how far it's gotten, all wrapped up in the weight of Cecil's body holding him down, and he has to get out.

"Stop," Carlos says quickly. "Stop, Cecil."

Cecil lets him up instantly. "What's wrong?" he says.

"I don't know," Carlos says. "I just- I felt a little trapped for a second."

"Why don't you get on top?" Cecil says, mercifully not questioning it. He lies down, and Carlos lets himself be guided, Cecil's hands on his hips. Carlos drops down on Cecil's cock, taking it in easily. He settles into a steady rhythm, moving quickly up and down, Cecil's hands on him to guide him.

It takes him about five frustrating minutes to realize that this isn't going to get anybody anywhere. There's something missing and Carlos doesn't know what it is, only that he really wants to get it back. He slows to a stop. "I think I liked it better the other way," he says apologetically, though he's not even sure about that.

"Anything you want, Carlos," Cecil says, stroking his thigh. "Here." He rearranges them, getting out from under Carlos and putting him on his knees. "Hold on to the headboard."

Cecil pushes into him again, and Carlos's hands tighten on the headboard in anticipation. He really wants this to work, he wants it to be okay, he wants Cecil to fix it- though he's not even sure why that's Cecil's job.

Cecil pulls back from him slowly, halfway out, and Carlos wants to scream, in a bad way, because that's not what he needs. This, thankfully, lasts about thirty seconds, because then Cecil shoves into him hard, hard enough that Carlos has to brace himself at the last minute so he won't run into the headboard. Cecil doesn't stop; he wraps his hands around Carlos's hips and holds him still so that he can pound into him. This is what Carlos wanted, without even knowing it. He wanted- needed- Cecil to take control, take care of him. There's other stuff that comes with it, but that's what Carlos is really there for, Cecil's care.

It's so good, and Carlos is so ready; he reaches down to grab his own cock, wanting it badly, needing to push himself further.

"No," Cecil says, grabbing Carlos's hand and putting it back on the headboard, holding it there. "You're going to come from just this. Just me."

"I can't," Carlos says, shaking his head. "Please-"

Cecil bites down on his neck, and Carlos bucks back against him. "You can," Cecil says.

"Oh god," Carlos says, hanging his head, his eyes shut tight because he can't take anything else, can't stand to look down and see the two of them when he's so close to sensory overload from everything else. "Oh god, Cecil, I can't, please let me."

"You will," Cecil says, in that voice that sends a shiver up Carlos's spine. "You'll come for me, beautiful Carlos." He fucks Carlos harder, faster, deeper, and Carlos feels it build up, his whole body tensing. "My Carlos," Cecil says into his ear, and Carlos sucks in a breath and comes, making loud, embarrassing noises that he can't find it in himself to be embarrassed of.

They're lying side by side afterwards, and Cecil is curled up next to him, a hand on Carlos's stomach. Carlos just really wants to ask what the fuck, but Cecil is looking at him with such naked adoration in his eyes. He kisses Cecil instead, and somehow he never does ask.

What comes next makes him wish that he had.

Cecil, because he's Cecil, does make something of a habit of raptly watching Carlos eat breakfast, but his focus is unusually unwavering today, enough so that Carlos puts down his spoon. "What is it?" he asks.

"It's nothing," Cecil says dismissively.

"It's not nothing," Carlos says, because it's also typical Cecil to squirm out of things. "What's on your mind?"

Cecil pulls his chair a little closer to Carlos's, looking at him straight-on. "I thought- I wondered- I wanted to know if you wanted to make things more formal between us," Cecil says, and Carlos panics, because it sounds an awful lot like the beginning of a marriage proposal, and he hadn't exactly considered that possibility. Cecil takes Carlos's hand. "I want to be your dominant," he says instead.

Carlos drops Cecil's hand. "That sounds." He looks for the right word. "Kinky."

"Carlos," Cecil says, looking at him like he's a bit stupid, "we're already kinky."

"What?" Carlos says, startled.

"I thought you knew," Cecil says, with a frown. "I mean, I suppose it's been an organic process rather than an outright negotiation, but I thought it was fairly obvious."

"But I'm not kinky," Carlos protests. "I wouldn't even know where to start." Cecil looks slightly frustrated, the way he does when he thinks Carlos is making things more complicated than they should be. Carlos doesn't know what to do, only that he wants to make him stop looking at him like that. "I don't know what you want from me," he says.

"I want you to be my Carlos," Cecil says. "My perfect Carlos. That's all you have to do."

"I'm not perfect," Carlos insists; he's getting a little tired of hearing that. He's not even particularly handsome, not as far as he can tell. He's too short, he's a little overweight, he does have good hair but it's going prematurely gray. Even Cecil thinks he chews too loud, and it's only rarely that he remembers to pick up his clothing from the floor. More than once he's missed a date because he got too caught up doing science; he even forgot their thirteen-month anniversary, even though he knew it was Night-Vale-important. "I don't know how to be."

"Things become perfect when you learn to accept them for what they are," Cecil tells him. "So you, darling Carlos, will always be perfect to me, whether you like it or not."

"I don't know if that was really insulting or the sweetest thing anyone's ever said to me," Carlos says.

"I meant it to be sweet," Cecil says, frowning.

"Then thank you, I think," Carlos says. He shakes his head. "I need to think about this."

"Of course," Cecil says, though Carlos can tell he's disappointed. "Take all the time that you need."

What Carlos needs isn't time; what Carlos needs is science.

Carlos takes the biggest knife he has and goes to the library. The Night Vale Public Library is not exactly where you go to get these kinds of books, Carlos already knows, and if he can find something that's not about Helen Hunt he'll call it a win. He just can't see connecting to the VPN and looking it up on ProQuest, even though what he really wants is a level-headed, non-biased opinion.

Luck is with him, for certain values of the word luck. The books he finds are old, old enough that he wouldn't cite them in a paper, but they're good, appropriately medical things from people he recognizes from his flirtation with psychology in college. They'll do for now, provide a solid basis that he can fill in with new material and eventually rip up entirely. Also he doesn't meet any librarians, so that's a win too.

He readies himself to read, setting out his notebook and pen. He takes a deep breath; he has no idea what he's going to find in these books, whether they'll tell him how to be kinky or just tell him what kinky means, because he has a sort of vague dictionary definition and no more.

He opens the first book, pen in hand.

Half an hour later he's read more than he wanted to, but he hasn't gotten down any words. All he's gotten is a sick feeling in his stomach. This morning it seemed disorienting but essentially harmless, the idea of him and Cecil and all of this, but in thirty minutes the whole thing has come crashing down around him. All these books seem to have to say is things about abnormality and pathological behavior, stuff that doesn't track at all with what he's been through with Cecil.

Carlos opens the second book, hoping for a reprieve.

Carlos knows plenty about abnormal and how meaningless that word can be- for fuck's sake he works in Night Vale, where you can't even trust time- but at his very core Carlos is a scientist. Carlos believes in science. Carlos believes in his fellow scientists. When his fellow scientists- especially ones working in fields Carlos is not trained in and does not have a frame of reference for- say something, Carlos is left with the responsibility to at least consider the weight of their arguments.

And all these scientists seem to have to say is that kinky is a bad thing, that he's wrong in the head for even considering it, that Cecil has led him down some dark path where he never should have gone. But he can't blame Cecil, can he? Carlos is the one who let him do it, who said yes where he should have said no, even if he didn't know what he was saying yes to. But all he can come up with is one conclusion: you can be kinky or you can listen to science, but you can't do both.

It's just that Carlos already has all these lab coats.

He can't find a way to tell Cecil; Cecil is carefully not pushing, keeping a careful, respectful distance. Carlos almost wishes he would push, so that Carlos would be forced to make a decision, forced to admit it. Cecil knows it's gone wrong, though. Carlos just hopes desperately that this is something they can come back from.

A few days into this stalemate, Carlos comes in from a hard day's science to find the house empty. Cecil's not quite done yet, what with the broadcast occasionally taking up part of the next time slot when there are special events and time just not passing normally. Carlos walks into the office and sits down at the desk. He frowns, realizing that his books and notes have been moved around. He doesn't know quite what to make of it; it doesn't look like Cecil's been cleaning.

He tries to put it out of his mind, flicking on the radio to see if Cecil's done or not yet. They're almost there, down to some last bizarre yet somehow comforting words, something about creeping horrors that still sounds like a bedtime story.

"Night Vale," Cecil says, sounding a little more wistful than usual. "My sweet and precious Night Vale, thank you for letting me speak soothingly into your ear for so long. And for possibly the last time, because it may always be the last time: good night, Night Vale. Good night."

Carlos frowns. He has no idea what something like that is supposed to mean. Cecil's going to be in the studio tomorrow morning, bright and early, just like he always is; he wouldn't let anything get between him and the radio, no matter what.

And then Cecil doesn't come home.

Carlos waits and waits, until it's three and then four, until he falls asleep waiting. It's ten in the morning before he wakes up, feeling slightly dazed. He turns on the radio, because it's much faster than calling Cecil's cell phone if he wants a Cecil update.

And it's not Cecil's voice.

He doesn't recognize the woman who's speaking, and for a moment Carlos wonders if he's in Night Vale at all. But no, then after a station break she announces herself as filling in for Cecil, though- because not everyone in radio overshares like Cecil does- she says nothing more about it.

Carlos is worried now; he had experiments in mind for today, but they're not as important as Cecil being okay. He calls the hospital, where they sound slightly disinterested; he goes down to the spot in Mission Grove Park where Cecil sometimes goes to think and watch sunsets and whatever Cecil does there; he stops in and asks around at Big Rico's. No one has heard from Cecil at all, no sign of him, though they do remember that he exists, which is a load off Carlos's mind.

He doesn't call the Sheriff's Secret Police, though he knows he always could. It's just that they know already, and it seems like insulting their intelligence. Besides, Cecil isn't a missing person yet, just a person who's missing. There is, unfortunately, a difference.

The day drags slowly on. Carlos does everything he can, everything he can think of, until the only thing he knows to do is go home and wait. He stops by the Moonlite All-Nite on his way home for a burger and some fries that hopefully aren't very haunted, and then he settles in, in the hope that Cecil will turn up soon.

He doesn't eat the fries. They aren't particularly haunted, but they just remind him of how Cecil always steals them off Carlos's plate.

At midnight, there's a knock at the door, a weary pounding that unsettles Carlos. He opens it anyway, dreading what he's going to see. He can't decide if he likes what he sees or not: Cecil is standing there, but he's dripping blood and things that are not blood, his clothing shredded in places. He's clinging to a stack of books and papers, and he looks like he might fall out at any moment.

"Cecil," Carlos says, relief and shock mingling in him. "My god, Cecil, are you okay?"

"I got you some books," Cecil says, and Carlos has no idea what to say to that. "I looked at the things you were reading, and they seemed very biased and outdated. This one is recent," Cecil says breathlessly, holding up a blood-spattered book. "Techniques of Pleasure, which I didn't understand the review of but assume you'll find fascinating. Oh, and this one is from this month- From Drag Queens to Leathermen, it has a section on the gay leather community." He fumbles with the books, producing a stack of photocopies, stained with ichor and, due to some law set down by the scholarly gods, coffee. "And some articles- here are some about the inappropriate bias against kinky people among some mental health professionals, and this is a special issue about BDSM from the Journal of Homosexuality. I have more on order, but they're supposed to come by email-"

"Cecil," Carlos says gently. "You're bleeding."

Cecil looks down at himself. "Oh, right," he says. "If it makes you feel better, not all the blood is mine."

"Sit down," Carlos says, headed to the kitchen. "I'm getting the first aid kit."

"I'll be fine," Cecil says dismissively, though he sounds a little fuzzy. "Librarian bites aren't poisonous. That's an old wives' tale."

"You went up against the librarians?" Carlos says, shocked. He comes back in with the first aid kit and a wet rag, sitting on the floor at Cecil's feet and rolling up the tattered leg of his pants, wiping away the blood and viscous not-blood that surrounds the wound.

"I had to visit," Cecil starts. He pauses. "Interlibrary Loan."

He says it in that way that would have made Carlos laugh before he actually knew anything about Night Vale; now he knows it for what it is, a dire statement, almost a curse. Carlos doesn't exactly have the fondest of memories about ILL from his grad school years, so he can't even imagine what Cecil faced.

"You shouldn't have done that," Carlos says, looking at Cecil's leg in preference to looking at his face.

Cecil hisses as the antiseptic hits his wound. "It's perfectly alright," Cecil says, voice strained.

"I mean it," Carlos says, feeling angrier than he expected. "You could have gotten yourself killed. It's not worth it."

"If it helps you feel any better, then it was worth it," Cecil tells him. "You're a scientist, Carlos. All I could do was give you scientific evidence."

Carlos's hands still and his heart clenches. "Someone else would have bought me flowers," he says, forcing himself to pick up a bandage and apply it to the wound.

Cecil frowns. "I can get you flowers, if that's what you want."

"They make me sneeze," Carlos admits, taping the bandage to Cecil's leg, smoothing out the medical tape so that it holds fast.

"I didn't want you to say no," Cecil says, sounding tired.

"To what?" Carlos asks.

"To everything," Cecil responds. "To doing things that weren't exactly vanilla. I thought if I got you to agree, then that was everything that mattered. I didn't realize you didn't know what you were agreeing to, not until it was far too late."

"It's not like you," Carlos tells him, shaking his head.

"Being in a relationship with a beautiful scientist isn't like me either," Cecil says, smiling wryly. "I'm afraid I got too focused on keeping it that way."

"Let's get you into the shower," Carlos says, levering him carefully up, and Cecil sags in his arms, almost falling.

"Don't worry about me," Cecil says anyway.

"Too late," Carlos tells him. He half-carries Cecil to the bathroom, pulling off the remnants of his clothing and setting them aside for proper disposal. There's no way to get Cecil clean but just strip down and get into the shower with him, so Carlos does it, carefully propping Cecil up as he washes the blood and the grime and whatever else away. He makes Cecil eat and drink water and take pain medicine, and then he tucks Cecil into bed, feeling exhausted himself. He knows he's not going to be able to sleep, though.

He goes to the living room and gets the books.

He wakes up with a photocopy stuck to his face, Cecil standing over him, petting his hair. "You shouldn't be up," Carlos says hoarsely. "You need to rest."

"It's two in the afternoon," Cecil tells him. "I rested. Let's get you some food."

Carlos doesn't protest as Cecil makes sandwiches for the two of them, just sits in the kitchen and watches, feeling kind of dazed. Cecil still looks ragged; there are scratches on his arms that Carlos didn't see last night, another, shallower bite ringing his shoulder. Carlos is so caught up in his own head that he jumps when Cecil puts a sandwich and a cup of coffee down in front of him. "Eat," Cecil says gently.

"I really should be taking care of you," Carlos tells him.

Cecil puts his sandwich down on the table, sitting down. "I've just got some minor injuries," he says. "I'm more worried about you."

"You shouldn't be," Carlos says.

"I'm always worried about you," Cecil says. "It's my-" He sighs, taking a bite of his sandwich.

"Your what?" Carlos asks. "Your job?"

"I guess we should talk about that," Cecil says. "We didn't go about this the right way."

"I'm pretty sure this is exactly what you're not supposed to do," Carlos agrees. He eats his sandwich, unsure what to say. Cecil is quiet, too quiet, and Carlos just wants to fill the silence, say something, but he doesn't.

"I hope this can be okay," Cecil says.

Carlos puts down his sandwich, trying to put together the words in his head, rock-tumble them until they're a smooth sentence that he can get all the way through. "I'm wary of science that only says what I want to hear," he says. "I should have been more wary of science that only says what I'm afraid of."

"I just wanted to help, Carlos," Cecil tells him, not without a note of hurt that says that he didn't hear at all what Carlos meant to say.

Carlos doesn't know what else to do, what else to say; this moment is slipping away from him, and it's far too important for him to just let it go. He gets out of his chair, walking over and dropping to his knees in front of Cecil, resting his cheek on Cecil's thigh. "Thank you," he says. "For everything." He shuts his eyes. "I want to be yours, Cecil. The sum of my research indicates that that's probably okay, even if it makes me kinky."

Cecil pulls him up, kissing him hard. "Oh, Carlos," he says, kissing him again. "My perfect Carlos, thank you." Cecil kisses him over and over again, until Carlos feels a little light-headed. "Let's go to bed."

Carlos shakes his head. "But you're injured, you shouldn't-"

"I said we're going to bed," Cecil says, in that same shiver-inducing voice- which Carlos now surmises must be a dominant one.

"Yes, Cecil," Carlos says.

Cecil stands, pulling Carlos up and taking him into the bedroom. They both strip quickly, but Carlos has barely gotten his boxers off before Cecil is pushing him down onto the bed. He moans as Cecil bites his shoulder, the kind of bite that Carlos knows will give him a mark; Carlos isn't sure why he should care, not now.

Cecil doesn't seem to give a damn about his own injuries. He puts Carlos's knees over his shoulders, holding him down and open as he fucks him, the whole weight of his body on Carlos's. Only this time, Carlos doesn't feel trapped, confused, overwhelmed. Cecil's weight feels good, grounding, reassuring; it's different now, somehow, and it feels like a change for the better.

"Carlos," Cecil is saying. "My darling Carlos, my precious Carlos, my only Carlos-"

"Yours," Carlos says, and it feels like nothing and everything to say it, such a terribly important thing rolling off his tongue like it's completely natural, like there never was a question. "All yours."

Cecil doesn't even say anything, just makes a beautiful, lost noise and thrusts into him harder. He gets his hand in between their bodies, stroking Carlos's cock quickly as he fucks him, and Carlos isn't going to last much longer, not as long as he wants. Cecil only seems to want to push him harder, give him more, and Carlos is going to take it, Carlos is going to take everything that Cecil has to give, Carlos is going to do everything that Cecil wants because he wants Cecil that much. Cecil tilts his hips and moves a little faster and Carlos comes, unable to resist, feeling Cecil follow him only moments later. It feels like a pact, a way to seal a connection that Carlos has never had with anyone before, isn't sure if he wants to have with anyone but Cecil.

Maybe it actually is a pact. The books didn't say.

A lifetime later, Cecil rolls off of him, cleaning up half-heartedly before taking Carlos into his arms. Carlos holds onto him tight, frightened suddenly that he'll disappear, that this will all have been nothing, a dream, a whole lot of effort wasted. But no, there's Cecil, warm and vital beside him, saying sweet things into his ear and stroking his hair.

"You're so perfect," Cecil says.

"I'm perfect because you love me," Carlos tells him.

"In fairness to me, that's not precisely what I said," Cecil says.

"Don't ruin the moment, Cecil," Carlos replies.

"Oh," Cecil says, blinking. "You were going for something there."

"Yep," Carlos says.

"Well, if you'd like to go on-" Cecil says.

"I'm done," Carlos tells him, shaking his head. Cecil looks worried, so Carlos kisses him, which seems to make him feel better.

"I didn't even let you finish your sandwich," Cecil says sheepishly.

"Some things are more important than sandwiches," Carlos says. "Though I am going to go eat it when we're done cuddling."

"That's a great idea," Cecil says, pulling him closer. "But it's going to be a while before I let you go."

"I have no problem with that at all," Carlos says, shutting his eyes.