Carlos doesn’t realize his phone is ringing until it stops. He tends to miss quite a bit when he’s working in the lab - including four calls from Cecil so far today. He quickly presses redial before he can get distracted again.
“Sorry I missed your call, I sometimes get really distracted by science and completely forget about you,” Carlos sputters immediately. He doesn’t understand quite where the words came from or why he couldn’t stop the bluntly honest explanation before it left his lips. Cecil is silent for a moment, save a little choking sound like he’s gagging on something.
“It’s alright,” he finally manages. “Listen, I wanted to make sure you’re still up for our date tonight. I wasn’t even thinking of the community calendar when I asked you because I’m quite forgetful quite a lot. See, today is Honesty Day, and since you’re an outsider and I don't know if you listen to my show, I’m not sure if you..” he chokes again and leaves the rest of the sentence unspoken.
"Honesty Day?” Carlos asks simply.
“It’s an annual event. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, will feel the compulsion to tell the full truth. It’s bad enough as it is, everyone going around saying things they don’t mean to actually say. Not good for dates, especially fifth dates, especially when you’re just so shy, Carlos, and you never say what you -” he cuts himself off again with a little cough. “Anyway, we can reschedule if you like?”
“No,” Carlos blurts. “No, I still want to see you tonight.” Now he’s the one choking back words because at their last date Cecil pushed him up against the semi-solid wall in Big Rico’s bathroom and kissed him with unusual passion, and he’s been quite excited at the possibility of what could happen tonight. But he doesn’t say any of that, and the effort it requires almost makes him sick to his stomach.
It makes for an uncomfortable ice cream date. Every other sentence ends abruptly with a little choke, and there’s an innumerable collection of awkward pauses, but they manage to make it out with a minimum of unintentional offense. To his surprise, Carlos’ worst was pointing out that 'I think there’s more crumbled cheesecake topping than frozen yogurt in that dish, Cecil.' Cecil on the other hand had accidentally let it slip that Carlos is very short, which earned him a playful amount of raspberry sorbet smudged onto the tip of his nose.
He’s still dabbing at the smudge and licking frozen fuchsia from his fingers as they walk through Night Vale’s dark streets.
“Thanks for coming out with me tonight,” he says finally. “Not a lot of people like to spend time together under these circumstances. Even long-married couples avoid each other, but I think we’ve done fairly well. The key is you have to be with someone you trust because sometimes people take advantage and ask you questions you’re not ready to tell them the answers to and it can get complicated. But you’re always so sweet, so very sweet, and so polite - really you’re almost like those stereotypical good guys in old musicals.”
Carlos is about to inform Cecil that he talks an awful lot, but he realizes that he likes it. And from the shade of red coloring the tips of Cecil’s ears it’s evident that he likes ‘stereotypical good guys’ just as much.
“So this is me,” Cecil says needlessly, nodding towards a curious building that leans in too many directions at once to be architecturally possible.
“How does it even stay upright?” Carlos asks without thinking. “So much of this town makes no sense.”
“Want to come up and take a look for yourself?” Cecil’s taken two steps closer while Carlos was distracted by the house, and the playful question is whispered seductively and accompanied by a little kiss just beneath his ear.
“Yes,” Carlos says automatically, then, “no.” He feels sick to his stomach with either answer. “Yes, I want to know how your apartment complex manages to not collapse at that angle.” Cecil’s face falls slightly. “Yes, I want to come up to your place with you.” He ends the sentence there, because Cecil looks a little hopeful again.
“Then why don’t you?”
“Because I don’t know if we’re there yet. Or we are, but I’m just afraid it might go badly. I’m nervous and you’re gorgeous and I-I’m sorry.”
Cecil shakes his head apologetically. “Questions aren’t fair, I’m sorry I put you on the spot.” He leans down and kisses Carlos more appropriately on the cheek. “I really did have a lovely evening. I’ll call you in the morning,” he promises as he slips up the crooked little path to the twisted steps of the building.
Carlos drives around for a bit instead of going straight home. The streets of Night Vale are empty save the occasional swoop of Secret Police capes around the corner. Carlos thinks far too much, and he knows it; he thinks about every little thing once, twice, too many times. Right now he can’t stop thinking about Cecil, and consequently finds himself back outside the unnervingly twisted little apartment building. He checks his watch, the only timepiece in Night Vale that he can prove still works. 11:09. Honesty can be brutal, but right now he can feel it bolstering his resolve with an extra dose of courage.
A window on the third story flickers to life when Carlos presses dial. He doesn’t even finish his sentence before Cecil’s already buzzing the door for him. Cecil’s bedecked in flamboyantly orange flannel pants and a prodigiously oversized sweatshirt that hangs off one shoulder when he opens the door.
“If I had expected you’d call, I wouldn’t have been so quick to change. I do normally wear sweatpants around, I mean, who wouldn’t when they’re so comfy and my favorite color is orange anyway, so-” he coughs and starts playing with his long, dark hair when his attempts to tug his sweatshirt back up on his shoulder fail. Carlos can taste the confession that Cecil’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen on his tongue, but he swallows it back. Something about it feels too soon. If he’s being honest, which it's impossible not to be at the moment, he thinks this all might be a little too soon. But Cecil takes his hand and pulls him into the cramped little nest of an apartment and closes the door behind them. Now that he’s here and Cecil’s hand is intertwined warmly between his own clammy fingers, Carlos wishes he had only come to investigate the impossible architecture. He attempts to focus on the walls, which admittedly do seem to slant both inwards and outwards simultaneously, but Cecil’s brushing his thumb across the palm of the scientist’s hand; a simple motion, but somehow it causes him to shudder slightly.
Cecil tilts his head to one side and watches him for a moment. “You need a drink?”
“Desperately,” Carlos exhales. “Is this safe?” he asks when Cecil returns with two tumblers of something pale blue and slightly luminescent. Cecil just bites his lower lip in a teasing grin and downs his drink in one shot. Carlos does the same without asking any further, despite his curiosity's prodding. All he cares is that the drink works to calm his nerves a bit, and somehow the two end up in a tangle on the overstuffed couch. The faded magenta corduroy is scratchy on the scientist’s back, but Cecil is warm and soft against him. They separate after a few minutes with a laugh as Cecil untangles his hair from between them. From under his sleeve he removes an elastic to pull it back, but Carlos stops him.
“I like your hair down,” he whispers, brushing his fingers gently through the ebony waves.
“Why, Carlos,” Cecil hums, leaning back down and pressing his lips tauntingly to a spot just beneath the scientist’s chin. “Do you have a thing for hair?”
“I think I’m starting to,” Carlos confesses unintentionally. His cheeks flush slightly, but Cecil just grins and kisses him again.
“I do too,” he admits in a murmur, nibbling on Carlos' earlobe as he twists his fingers through the scientist’s mussed curls, pulling the silvery bits just behind his ear taut. Carlos has spent too long forcing down truths to bother keeping the elicited groan behind his lips. Cecil laughs softly, lower than his normal airy little chuckle, before slinking off the couch and tugging at their joined hands.
Carlos is thinking again after he and Cecil have managed to get the remainder of their clothing off. Cecil’s already on the bed, dark skin contrasted against the overly-bright bedding, even in the dim moonlight. The unsteady passion that’s fueled the scientist’s unusually bold advances has come to a complete standstill. It’s nerves - he knows it because his mind wants him to be there, but his body feels on edge and ready to run at the slightest provocation.
“Do you want to do this?” Cecil asks, breaking the stillness of the moment. He looks somehow vulnerable and small amidst the mess of puffy pillows and patterned blankets. Carlos forces himself the few steps to the bed and sits down next to him.
“I thought we weren’t supposed to ask questions today,” he chokes out around the mixed answer. There’s an attempted laugh as well, but it just turns into a cough. Cecil reaches for him, tilts his face up with a single fingertip until he’s able to look into his eyes.
“I need to know that this is what you want.”
“I do,” Carlos says honestly. “I just haven’t done this in a very long time, and you’re gorgeous and I’m nervous,” he repeats because it’s the simplest way to explain the mixture of thought and emotion churning away in his stomach. Cecil smiles and traces fingertips down the scientist’s neck, across his chest, counts his ribs absently. The contact is reassuring, and Carlos can feel his pulse quicken in the silence.
“I’ve wanted this for a while,” Cecil admits quietly. “I’ve been waiting for you to walk me home and ask to stay, or take me back to your lab on a whim. But you’re such a gentleman and you never ask and you blush every time I kiss you and sometimes I wonder if you want this or want me or-” Carlos kisses him, tangles his fingers into Cecil's long hair and doesn’t let go until he manages to stop thinking.
“You talk an awful lot,” he says when they finally break apart for air.
“It’s my job,” Cecil retorts in mock offense.
“So take the night off,” Carlos murmurs into Cecil’s neck. He can feel the resulting chuckle more than he can hear it as Cecil pulls him back against obnoxiously blue sheets. They go slowly for a time, just kissing, feeling each other and letting things unfold naturally. The air is electric with an odd combination of passion and nerves until Cecil manages a little breathless plea.
Even then Carlos goes slowly, gently slipping in a finger, slowly pressing further in and listening to Cecil’s little gasps with each knuckle deeper. Once Cecil’s stretched properly, Carlos repositions himself at a better angle. He brushes through Cecil’s hair and leans down to kiss him softly, sweetly as he presses into him. Cecil’s lips part in a sharp gasp at the sensation. Carlos moves slowly further, stopping when Cecil tenses around him. He pulls out quickly, all attention back on Cecil’s blushing face.
“I haven’t had a boyfriend in a long time,” Cecil admits with a little laugh. It’s evident as the color blooms deeper across his cheeks that he regrets everything about the sentence, from bringing up the past to putting a label on whatever the two of them have right now. Carlos finds it reassuring that he isn’t the only one a little embarrassed by the sheer amount of brutal honesty tossed between them in the past few hours.
“I haven’t either,” he confides with a kiss to his forehead. “Do you want to do something else instead?” Cecil shakes his head vehemently.
“We can try again.” Carlos goes even slower this time, trails tender kisses along the soft curves of Cecil’s stomach, lips lingering at the top of a trail of pubic hair as he fingers Cecil again. “Ready?” he asks as he interlaces his fingers with Cecil’s on the turquoise sheets. Cecil nods and Carlos tries again, this time relieved to find Cecil much more relaxed. Their rhythm is cautious and a little clumsy to start. “Is this okay?” he asks as he sets a slow pace. Cecil nods, and Carlos kisses his collarbone in response. Cecil’s voice makes little catching noises with every movement, but he bites his lip whenever their volume swells past a shy whisper.
Carlos is thinking again, and he wishes he wouldn’t. But he’s thinking about Cecil’s voice and how different the little half-whispers sound from his radio voice, and how Cecil is so beautiful beneath him - dark freckles scattered across copper skin, lips warm and sweet and pliable, amber eyes so full of adoration until they flicker closed in pleasure. And Carlos is thinking about how Cecil is really here, lying in the same bed, breathing his name softly, with one hand tangled in his hair and the other twined tightly between his fingers. He’s thinking about how much he’s wanted this and how he still can’t quite believe that Cecil has wanted this just as much. And all the thoughts are all too much and far too soon Carlos comes with a single rough shudder. His arms quiver as he drops his weight to his elbows. The moment seems to drag on forever before he can work up the breath to mutter ‘shit’. Cecil laughs quietly, pulls Carlos into a kiss, and breaks away still laughing.
“This is not what was supposed to happen,” Carlos says half to himself, half an apology. He’s unspeakably grateful for the odd shadows the moonlight casts through the window; between the arousal and the embarrassment, he’s sure his face is at least six shades of crimson. “I wanted this to be perfect for you.”
“These things happen,” Cecil reassures him. His eyes are still so curiously fixed on Carlos as if the scientist is the strangest, most wonderful discovery in all the world. “These things happen,” he repeats before kissing Carlos again. This time he lets his hands wander down towards his waiting erection. Carlos deftly beats him to it, slipping one hand around Cecil's length and the other back to fingering him. He’s better at this, he thinks. Better at working with his hands where things are more easily calculated and results generally more stable. He manages to find Cecil’s sweet spot which evokes a desperate moan, and suddenly he isn’t thinking quite as much.
Cecil whimpers a near-constant stream of broken syllables. Some of them sound more Russian than English, some of them don’t even sound like words at all - just ragged breaths across vocal cords. Carlos knows Cecil’s close to coming when he finally goes quiet. One hand grips the sheets roughly, the other braces against the headboard as his back arches. There’s a sharp intake of breath as his lips form a silent version of the scientist’s name and he presses himself up against Carlos. He comes with a shudder, wrapping his arms around his boyfriend’s neck and breathing out gasps. Carlos slips an arm around his waist as he brings him down through the little tremors and spasms that wrack his body. In the midst of the breathy sounds, Carlos makes out three syllables whispered in his ear - more a mere brush of Cecil's lips across his skin that causes his eyes to widen - but before he can think about it Cecil leans away just far enough to press swollen lips against his own. Carlos rolls off Cecil to lie next to him, both finally spent and satisfied and sticky with sweat and cum and too tired to do much about it. Cecil's breath is warm on the scientist’s neck as he plants a lazy kiss at the base of his jaw.
“Sorry that didn’t go as planned,” Carlos offers as he reaches an arm around Cecil’s waist and pulls him close beneath the thin sheets.
“Don’t be. We’ll just have to practice a bit more.” Cecil peeks up at him from under long eyelashes, his expression all innocence. Carlos runs fingers through Cecil’s now-damp hair as they both laugh quietly. Once their breathing slows dangerously near drowsy, Cecil reaches for a box of tissues from the bedside stand. Carlos takes advantage of the moment to glance at his watch. 12:23.
Compulsive honesty had nothing to do with those words Cecil had whispered so simply.
There’s guilt in the pit of his stomach at the realization, but something else that he can’t quite place. Cecil tucks back in beneath the scientist’s chin once they’ve cleaned up, and they settle there, both content to share each other’s warmth and presence in the hazy afterglow.
After a while, Carlos can’t help thinking again. About those words and what they mean. He can’t deny that there’s something about the way Cecil looks at him from across crowded rooms, the way he gasped his name only minutes before, the way he always texts him good morning even if he swears to countless deities that time doesn’t actually exist.
Maybe Cecil really does love him after all.
He’s thinking about that feeling he can’t place in the pit of his stomach. It’s like the half-spilled secrets he’s bitten back all day, but somehow so much heavier. Cecil’s vastly different from everyone he’s ever known, let alone dated. He doesn’t care about societal norms or roles or expectations; he just lives. And he does it so beautifully. And Carlos has never been so comfortable and content to just exist with someone. He can’t recall feeling this way about anyone before, not even the people he claimed for years he was in love with. There’s nerves, but there’s always nerves; there hasn’t always been such an absence of anxiety or a lack of unrealistic expectations. And there hasn’t always been that feeling like his heart might overflow and seep out between the scarred cracks, but with Cecil it’s a constant.
Maybe there are words he should have said back.
But he’s thinking too much and the longer he thinks the less sense it makes, so he breathes in the faint scent of strawberry shampoo from Cecil’s hair, kisses his forehead softly, and loses himself in trying to match Cecil’s breathing patterns with his own. Just before he falls asleep, his mind forms one last honest confession.
He loves Cecil too.