They're curled up on the couch watching a new nature documentary when Cecil says it.
"Do you know what I miss?"
Carlos glances at him, wondering if this is going to be important enough to pause the show for. Not that he would mind - this particular documentary was Cecil's choice, and they've had the "I am a scientist not a zoologist" conversation enough times that he decided to just go with it. A scientist has to pursue other branches of knowledge than his own. But still.
"What do you miss?" he asks, compromising by turning the volume down.
Cecil gives a little sad sigh. "I don't want to say it."
"The city council won't like it..." Cecil glances around like the City Council is hiding underneath the side table they bought last month. Considering that this is Night Vale, Carlos wouldn't honestly be surprised if they were. Or if they had morphed into the side table for the distinct purpose of spying on them. Anything's possible. The last time Carlos checked, though, the poorly hidden camera from a vague yet menacing government agency was in the microwave. So they should be safe here.
"What are you talking about?"
Cecil props his chin on Carlos' collarbone, looks up at him. "It may be illegal."
He hits pause. "You want to do something illegal?"
"I..." Cecil winces in shame and whispers with that voice of his, "I miss bread."
Carlos blinks. "Bread?"
Cecil nods. "Breaad. And pastries, those too. But not the kind that have imaginary spiders on them for decoration. The real kind. The... flaky, kind."
"Huh." Carlos runs his fingers through Cecil's hair. "You know, we have bread in the kitchen. Or I can drive out and get you pastries if you want." He doesn't mention that he's been driving around all day doing science. The house that doesn't exist, even though it seems like it exists, like it's just right there when you look at it, and it's between two other identical houses, so it would make more sense for it to be there than not, but it does not exist, is not going to investigate itself. He also doesn't mention that Cecil wrapped up his broadcast at six and then hung around writing fanfiction until Carlos came back, and so is obviously in much better shape for late-night pastry runs.
"No, no, I don't want you to go out this late," says Cecil with his voice like melting chocolate. "But that's not what I mean. Because the bread we have... well, it is gluten free. And all of the pastries in Night Vale are gluten free. And everywhere that we go to eat and every grocery store that exists, and even the grocery stores that don't exist, the ones you forget as soon as you leave them with your hands full of shopping bags? All of them are gluten free. I..." Cecil whispers so none of the hidden cameras in the doorknobs will hear him. "I miss wheat and wheat by-products, okay Carlos?"
Carlos stares. Then he laughs. Cecil pulls away with his face still in his hands.
"It's not funny! I am a terrible Night Vale citizen, Carlos, terrible. And if the City Council hears me say this I will disappear and never be heard from again, and then who's going to take care of Khoshekh? And -"
"Cecil," says Carlos through laughter. "Cecil. Stop, okay?" He forces himself to stop laughing and continues, "Cecil, it's okay. I kind of miss wheat too. I mean, everyone probably does." He considers. "I could do a study on that."
"But that doesn't help," says Cecil. "I've still thought it, and I am still deeply ashamed, and yet I still want wheat and wheat by-products. I am a terrible person."
"No you're not."
"Yes I am."
This man will be the death of me. "No, you're not." Carlos pulls Cecil's hands away from his face and holds them, running his thumbs over the snaking purple tattoos. "It is very difficult to always obey a City Council and a secret police and a vague yet menacing government agency. It is especially difficult when the council and the police and the agency are putting in laws that make everyone change their lifestyle. People have habits and they're bad at breaking them. It was scientifically proven."
"All that said, now I want to eat wheat bread and it's your fault for bringing it up."
"It is not."
"I mean it kind of is."
Cecil shakes his head and curls up against Carlos again. "Well, there's no wheat bread around here anyway, sooo."
Carlos thinks, resuming the documentary but not watching it, because now he is thinking. Love, he has learned, is like science. A problem arises and sometimes there are several ways you can go about trying to solve it. But in the end you pick a way and you consider solutions. In science, you do it to make a discovery that will hopefully benefit the world and bring about knowledge and all that. In love, you do it so you can bring a smile back to the other person's face. So Carlos considers for a moment, then pauses the documentary again.
“Since we can't eat wheat or wheat by-products in Night Vale, what if we... left Night Vale for a little while?”
Cecil sits up again. “What?”
“Think about it,” Carlos presses. “We know there's something outside this desert right? It is where I came from. Beyond the seeming vastness of the incomprehensibly paranormal place we call home, there is the rest of America, and there people can legally eat wheat and wheat by-products. So if we left this one place, this one tiny square of reality that we exist in in the midst of the larger fabric of the universe, we can break this place's law. We can do that because, scientifically speaking, we're no longer in this place. Right?”
“But Carlos, we are still Night Vale citizens – or at least I am,” says Cecil quickly. “I guess technically you aren't yet. Can we do that in good conscience? I mean, what if the secret police found out?”
Carlos smiles. In all the days before coming to this strange city in the middle of the desert, he had never imagined a future for himself like this. He imagined conducting scientific explorations and discoveries and maybe doing that in a place full of mysteries. But he hadn't quite imagined that place of mysteries being a place where everyone was legally required to go gluten free, and where he had to scratch out data tables with an ink-dipped toothpick due to a ban on pens.
And of course he hadn't imagined Cecil. Cecil is something beyond the limits of even his seemingly limitless mind.
“I do not know. But I do know that the secret police never leave Night Vale, so them finding out is not very likely.” Carlos leans his face against the top of Cecil's head. “But if you would rather stay here and finish this documentary over the weekend, we can do that too. I actually don't hate it as much as I thought I would.”
“Hmm.” Cecil snatches the remote and turns the documentary back on. They sit in silence for a while as Carlos goes back to playing with his boyfriend's hair. On screen, the majestic crested penguin group (or whatever species it is – Carlos thinks it's a majestic crested) dives one by one into the ocean at a remarkable proximity to the underwater camera. The narrator seems to be having trouble pronouncing the word “penguin”. Carlos can hear Cecil breathing and there's something very calming about that basic testimony to his existence. His heart stutters a little as Cecil glances up at him with a smile, as if trying to remind him, yes, he loves you too, and yes, he is actually yours.
“FINE!” says Cecil loudly and so unexpectedly that Carlos falls off the couch. “Oh my. Carlos, are you okay?”
“What was that for!?” Carlos asks as he gets up.
“What do you mean? I was saying fine to your idea!”
“But you said it so loudly.”
“I was expressing my excitement. A weekend away from our jobs and our hometown and the constrictions of bans on wheat and wheat by-products sounds absolutely lovely. So I was letting you know that by the excitement in my tone.”
Carlos shakes his head as he gets settled on the couch again. “You're too much.”
“So how far away is the nearest town where we can eat wheat and wheat by-products without fear of being recognized by one of the helicopters of the sheriff's secret police?”
In the end they decide not to look for a destination. They'll take the road east and drive until they're past the city limits and the laws and everyone who knows them.
“I don't think I've left Night Vale since I went to Europe,” says Cecil, dropping a green and gold spotted duffel bag into the trunk.
“And when was that?”
Cecil stops and looks up at the sky, as if thinking. There is a very long pause. Finally he says, “So anyway, do you want to drive or should I?”
“I can. Who's covering your show while we're gone?”
“Actually it's a funny story,” says Cecil, sliding in on the passenger seat. “I had to request time off first from Station Management, so I wrote a twenty-five hundred word essay, as is standard practice. Then a note came out from under the door telling me that if I missed a day of work they would terminate my show - and maybe, my life, depending on how long I was gone.”
“Oh. So are you not supposed to be -”
“Well luckily, I explained that I was taking time off so I could go on a trip with my boyfriend – obviously, I didn't mention that we were going on a trip to engage in illegal activities - and then they gave me another note saying in that case it was okay, if I grovelled outside their door for two hours.” Cecil smiles. “I was so happy. I asked Intern Dina to cover the show while I was gone, but she said she was too busy. So I called Tamika Flynn and asked her if she'd like to give the town some book summaries while I was away for the weekend – since everyone except her and her militia is too afraid to actually read.”
Carlos glances doubtfully as he flicks the key. “You left your show to a thirteen year old?”
“A college-reading level thirteen year old,” Cecil corrects. “Which is quite different. Is your team going to need you for the house that doesn't exist research?”
“No, they told me to go ahead.”
“How long did you have to grovel?”
Carlos grins as they head down the road. The thought crosses his mind that a few months ago, he might not have known if Cecil was joking or not. Now he can tell that he is one hundred percent serious, and just being able to recognize that says, to his mind at least, a lot about their relationship.
It occurs to him that in this town full of scientific mysteries and conspiracies and hooded figures, Cecil has become the only constant in his life, and that is comforting. Citizens may drop down dead for unknown reasons and buildings might turn up in different locations than the day before, but they'll always have each other and that's what really matters.
“Not as long as you did,” he says, smiling over at Cecil, who instantly blushes.
“Stop being so perfect!”
Carlos just laughs.
Tamika Flynn: ...so that's why “The Last Samurai” declined in popularity. And now, the news.
Cecil asked me to remind all of you that elections for the next town sheriff are only ten months away. He also asked me to remind you that our current sheriff, who is still head of the Sheriff's secret police, is running again. Remember to vote correctly. If you don't, you'll be dragged away to the abandoned mine shaft outside of town where people who vote incorrectly are taken to disappear. Cecil didn't ask me to say this, but I need to remind all of you that the only channel that these facilities have is HBO. This means you'll be watching a lot of Game of Thrones, and people, you do not want to do that. I have read George R.R. Martin's “A Song of Ice and Fire”cover to cover twelve times. I have read the rest of the series ten times. The show is good, but the book is so much better, even if there are some plot holes and even if it is a little bit ripped off from J.R.R. Tolkien's “The Lord of the Rings”. Here is a word of advice: the book is always better than the show. So if you want the Game of Thrones experience, you read the books. Actually, I think I'll give you a summary of the books right now. All of them. Vote the right way if you don't want to see what I'm about to tell you played out live on the horror that is consumerism TV.