Something was wrong with the sky. No one could say what it was. No one could think what it was. But something was wrong with the sky.
Carlos had spent most of his day looking up at the sky, thinking about it. Thinking, something is wrong with this, over and over. They had brought the tallest ladder out of the lab to see if they could reach it, but it hadn’t worked. There was no way for them to get up there to attach any sensors to it, to see if an objective scientific machine could give them the data their minds could not grasp.
But all they knew was what Cecil had reported, what they could all see, anyway. The sky had something wrong with it.
There were other things wrong. Carlos was waiting on news about a grant he had applied for, to get the lab some new Erlenmeyer flasks with matching cozies. There was some minor drama at the lab; Stan had cooked one of Luisa’s potatoes, and Carlos had to play mediator, but he was not a mediator, he was a scientist. Also, he had dropped the toothpaste cap into the drain that morning, which just meant that they would need to get new toothpaste. It was a scientific fact that the toothpaste would soon become unmanageably gunky, a waste of an almost new tube.
Carlos wasn’t thinking about any of these things. Carlos was spending his evening still thinking about the sky, which had started out as an intriguing distraction, and become a literally inescapable source of frustration. It was just up there. It was always up there, and he couldn’t do anything about it. It was like he could feel it against his skin, cold and wet and denying him safe levels of oxygen.
Of course, he knew it wasn’t really the sky. He knew exactly what it was, and he wrote out half-strings of numbers, or three-fourths. He got through it once, but just. Just, he needed to figure this out.
Something was wrong with the sky, but what? And what did this mean for those underneath it, for all of Night Vale, who had no place to live but beneath the sky? Cecil had been so calm about it, earlier, but even over the course of the weather, Carlos had not found the problem, much less its source or solution. They could have been in terrible danger. They were in terrible danger. He knew the world was dangerous. He was a scientist. But maybe now that danger was from a specific source that he could not identify.
Carlos did not hear the office door open.
“Hi, hunbun!” Cecil dropped a plastic bag onto the desk. He hadn’t stopped to put it down before coming to find Carlos in his office.
Carlos nudged the bag aside, and did not say anything. He was happy that Cecil was there, but this happiness did not exist on its own, and each thing he felt tried to push its way through his throat at once - there was so much he wanted to say that none of it had the space to get out. And then, he was happy Cecil was there, but less happy about the thing in his workspace suddenly, which Cecil had put there and so he was also a tiny bit annoyed with Cecil now.
Working this out did not make him feel better. He should have been more grateful for the - he glanced down at the bag. Blocky, red packaging was outlined through the thin plastic. He should have been grateful for the toothpaste.
Cecil rested a hand on Carlos’ head. Carlos experienced touch; for a moment, just touch, divorced from context, and he flinched and ducked away. Then context caught up with him, and he remembered who had touched him, and he mumbled, “Sorry,” into his thumb, with his hand wrapped over his chin.
“It’s okay. Well,” Cecil took the bag off the desk, and hung it around his wrist. “Is it okay?”
Carlos did not need a reason to not want to be touched. He had figured this out on his own, contrary to what most people had told him. Cecil was one of the few people who independently supported that conclusion. Carlos could be okay, and also not want to be touched. Cecil knew that, and so Carlos could be honest with his boyfriend.
“So, that’s a ‘no.’ Got it.”
“Do you need me to get you something to eat?”
“Want to go lie down?”
Carlos looked down at his desk, and the rest of his notes. The word 'atmosphere’ with a heart around it. And then, just 'atmosphere?’ Detailed sketches of cirrostratus, nimbostratus, and altostratus that he had drawn under his own hunched form and scribbled over so none of the cameras would see. He hadn’t quite been able to leave his work at the lab today. He flipped the notebook shut, and nodded.
Cecil dropped the toothpaste off in the bathroom. Carlos had stretched out in an almost platonic ideal of lying down, on his back with his fingers threaded over his chest and his hair waving over the pillow. Cecil sat down on the edge of his side, twisting to face Carlos, but with his hand plucking at the covers.
“Okay, so. What’s up?”
Cecil laughed, bemused, but Carlos shook his head.
“No, it wasn’t a scientifically accurate joke. That’s what’s bothering me.”
“Oh. Oh! Sorry.” Cecil laughed again, nervously, wincing as he did. “So… what about the sky?”
“I don’t know! I couldn’t figure it out today. It doesn’t make any kind of scientific sense.”
“Ah. Hm.” Cecil examined the ceiling as a substitute. “Does the sky ever make sense?”
Carlos bit his lip. “Sometimes, it does. And, it’s true, other times it does not. That is science. But usually, it is also science to be able to explain why it doesn’t make sense. That’s what science is about - explaining things. So I should at least be able to say, oh, right, it doesn’t make sense today because it is a clear, plain expanse of blue when the shades of the sky report said it would be goldenrod.”
“But today, it looks right, except…” Cecil lowered his voice. “We all know it isn’t.”
Cecil spoke with finality, and although Carlos could not see the sky, he felt it above them. “It doesn’t make sense, Cecil! It does not, and I tried all day to make sense from it, but… but I just… I don’t know. I can’t explain it, and explaining things is what a scientist does. I’m supposed to be able to explain it, and I can’t. And I hate that - feeling unable. I hate feeling unable. I hate it. No one likes it, so maybe harping about it is selfish. I’m sorry if it’s selfish. But.”
Cecil waited for Carlos to go on, and when he didn’t, said, “Hey. It’s okay.”
“No! No, it’s not! There is no scientific way for this to be okay! It isn’t- I mean, it just doesn’t-”
“I know,” Cecil said softly. “You explained the science behind it very well, so… even a layperson like me can understand. But I was thinking. Wondering. Maybe there can be other ways?”
“Personal ways? Like… we don’t have to look at the sky right now. Or think about it. I won’t bring it up again, and we can keep the curtains closed for tonight.”
“It isn’t going to stop… being there.”
“No, but neither are we going to stop being here. We can stay here. Wait it out.”
“Mmm. I guess. I guess there isn’t much else we can do.”
“I guess not.” Cecil swung his legs onto the bed. “Hey, you. C'mere?”
Carlos rolled over onto his side. Cecil did not try to hold him, only took his hand and twined their fingers together. Carlos squeezed back.
“I don’t know what the science of it would be, or if there’s science to it at all. I don’t know what will happen, what will come next. But I know this now. I know you, and I love you. I love you even when you are unable. You’re right, everyone feels that way sometimes, so of course, of course you aren’t selfish to be upset by that. And I love you even when you are upset. There is not one thing I would change about you, Carlos, and that is what makes you perfect to me. And… no, I mean. I’m not an expert, but I don’t think that’s very scientific. But it’s true, anyway. You know that, right?”
“Yeah. I know.”
“So… maybe there are other things that are true in different ways? Like: it’s okay. Right now, it’s okay.”
Carlos reclaimed his hand, but it was so he could roll over and line his back up against Cecil’s chest. Now, Cecil put an arm around him, and then took Carlos’ hand again palm-to-knuckles.
“Keep talking. Please. Keep talking.”
Cecil spoke quietly, abstractly, words about but not quite forming images. Hypothetical patterns that wove into a story, and in that story everyone was safe and everything was calm. It was beautiful and impossible and Carlos knew that, knew that it was just a story. But when Cecil told it, Carlos felt it in his chest, unfolding from the spot just under his ribs where their joined hands rested. Safety like blood in his veins and calm like air in his lungs.
Cecil’s words went straight from mind to body. It was - not something Carlos had been missing his whole life, not really; it was something he could have lived without. But he didn’t have to. Maybe not everything could be scientifically explained, and maybe they could not be safe. But Carlos had this, these words and the love in them, and the love he felt for this mindful speaker.
So, maybe Cecil was right. It was okay.