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The Recuperation of a Few Dorks

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  recuperation 

Cecil remembered the day well; Carlos, perfect, beautiful, handsome Carlos stepping out of the desert, lab coat flapping dramatically in the non-existent breeze as he stood before the setting sun, rugged and dust covered, but perfect regardless. Cecil remembered running to him to throw his arms around him, only to find a limp body in his arms. He remembers going still and quiet, and the look Carlos gives him, sad, and serious.

Carlos remembered the day as well, though with far less theatrics. He remembered finding the door, staring in awe at the town before him . Finally, he was going home. He remembered scooping up the body of a stranger who looked so familiar, holding him to his chest as he said goodbye to the masked army and stepped through the door. And then Cecil. Kind, amazing, frazzled Cecil, with tears in his eyes as he ran towards Carlos. Carlos remembered how much sweat and sand he was covered in, as well as blood and mud and other unpleasant things, how he decided he didn't care as all he wanted to do was take Cecil in his arms.

But Carlos then remembered remembering the body in his arms, the gasp that Cecil let out as he saw the solemn look Carlos gave the body. Cecil's body. Cecil's body, but not Cecil's body.
Kevin does not remember that day. Kevin has a hard time remembering much at all, these days.

-

A prone body lying on the spare bed in the guest bedroom, connected up to complicated machines and drips that Cecil didn't understand, but was assured that they are very scientific, and he trusts Carlos enough not to question them. The body he does not trust. Or, more so, the person inhabiting the body. Bodies should not be seen as part of their person. They're separate in existence and effect in the universe. The man in the body is not the body. He is a man. Or, probably, not.

He has Cecil's face; his nose, eyes, cheekbones are all Cecil's in comparison. His eyes are closed, and his clothes are dirty and worn. His skin darker, hair just a tint off. But he is, in a sense, Cecil. Cecil, but different. Flawed.

The radio host not lying on the bed is sitting in a chair next to it, listening to the machine's beeping sounds he doesn't understand as he reads a magazine, thumbing through the pages with a rather bored expression on his face. Waiting.

Carlos is at work. They've been staying with the man in shifts, afraid that if they leave him alone, he could get hurt. Or be totally fine. Both were quite dangerous options, as far as they knew. Cecil did not like his shifts. Sometimes he wrote out things for his show, other times he painted his nails, or stared into the void. Yet, most of the time, he read the same magazine continuously. He can quote the column on the importance of shoes verbatim, and had counted all of the e's on page 12 (which added up 325, if you're wondering). And he missed Carlos.

His boyfriend had been gone for more than a half a year, lost in some strange Desert otherworld, only to return tired, and in charge of a possibly dying man. And now he sat watching this person who has his image, but is not him, go through convulsions and fits, seizures and nightmares. Cecil felt concern, but not enough. He couldn't help but blame this man for the majority of the turmoil in his life, for the past events that had taken place.

Carlos was a bit more forgiving. I guess carrying a limp body through the endless sand wastes will do that to a person. You have to care a lot to keep going.

The radio host in the chair was almost asleep when he felt arms encircle his chest, and a soft kiss pressed to his hair. He giggles, looking up to see his Carlos smiling down at him. "How is he?" He asks. Cecil hides his frown.

"He hasn't had any fits since you left. I think he woke up at some point, but it wasn't long enough to matter." They both stare at the man on the bed. Cecil sighs. "Carlos, when is he going to get better?"

Carlos shakes his head, placing a hand on Cecil's head and running it through his hair softly. "We may never know, Cecil. He might be better physically soon, but...I don't know of he'll ever recover completely. I mean, the things they must have done to him."
Cecil leans back into Carlos' touch, looking up at him somberly. "How did you find him?"

"I didn't."

They stare at each other, locking eyes for what seems like minutes. "You should go rest, Cecil. I'll watch him for awhile." Carlos finally says.

"I'll make some food. We need to talk later." Cecil almost deadpans, standing from is chair and walking out. Carlos frowns, wanting to stop him, but he's learned that sometimes Cecil needs to be alone. Sometimes he doesn't like to be around people while he thinks. So Carlos takes Cecil's previous seat, staring at the man on the bed.

Kevin is still. His body doesn't move, doesn't even really seem to be breathing. Carlos thinks he looks...Peaceful. Almost.

And so Carlos watches, slumping in his chair from exhaustion, having worked long and late, body slowly falling forwards. And then soon his head is on the mattress, arms as a pillow as he breaths slowly. This is why he doesn't see Kevin sit up. It's why he doesn't hear the man get out of the bed, knocking out the equipment attached to him. Carlos is asleep, so that's why it is Cecil who sees Kevin walking through the house, staggering towards the door. It is Cecil who watches him trip and fall on his face on the lawn, who rushes after him only to fine his breathing even, his eyes closed.

"Kevin? Kevin are you okay? Kevin!" He shouts, but the man is unconscious, forehead bleeding from where he hit the ground. Cecil leaves to find Carlos, and after Kevin is back on the guest room bed, it is Carlos who ties bells to the man's ankles so they know when he starts sleep walking.

-

It takes three weeks before Kevin starts to stabilize physically. His fits rarely happen, and when they do happen there are days between them. His sleep walking starts increasing, which Carlos says is probably a good thing, as it means his body feels well enough to try and leave. They often have to stop him from going out on the lawn, the farthest he's gotten being the sidewalk. Things start looking up.

And then the day comes where Kevin wakes up.

-

Kevin remembers opening his eyes and seeing pitch black, and feeling a deep panic in his chest, like it's being squeezed tight. His lungs stop working, or so he remembers, the world spinning and hissing. And then there was a face in the darkness, his face. No, not his face. His face, but not his. And there's concern and suddenly there is light in his eyes, flashing his pupils and it's like he can breath again. The instant gratification to his lungs feels stupendous, and he gasps and gasps like he can't stop sucking in the light and the air. There's a voice, smooth and gentle, speaking to him softly and arms encircling his chest. And then there's silence and an even movement of the world. He stops moving as the world comes into focus. And then it goes black.

When Kevin opens his eyes again, he sees a white ceiling. He turns with a groan, for everything hurt, and he sees grey walls and dark floors and covered windows. But the light is on, and two people sit at the side of his bed, himself, and a man who is not remotely himself. He knows the first, his double. Cecil. Yes, he remembers the name. And the other man...Something painful twinges against his heart when he sees the man, but something is off. He looks...Concerned. He's not supposed to look concerned. Kevin's brow furrows, and he stares and stares at the men. Then the man he does not know speaks.

"Kevin, do you know who you are?" A gentle voice, slow and careful.

Kevin thinks. "Who...I...Am?" He flinches at his voice. It sounds to raw and raspy, and feels like glass is lodged in his throat. He almost doesn't know what to do when Cecil holds out a cup of water for him, and his hands shake as he tries to take it, water almost spilling out of the cup. The man he does not know takes the cup for him, seeing his struggle, and lifts it to his lips, helping him drink till the water is gone. And then they try again.

"Do you know who you are?"

"I'm...My name is Kevin. I am...A radio host? Am? Was? I live in a town...A nice town...Desert...Bluffs. Desert Bluffs! And we have a company who helps us, Str-" He flinches, clutching at his head as all of a sudden fire blooms behind his eyes. It hurts, it hurts so much. The thought of...Of...Of whatever that was!

"It's okay, Kevin. Slow down. We don't have to talk all at once." The man says patiently.

"Who are you?" Kevin whispers.

"My name is Carlos. I'm a scientist."

Kevin stares.

"This isn't Desert Bluffs...?"

Cecil shakes his head. "There is no-" Carlos cuts him off.

"You're at our home, in Night Vale."

"Night Vale?" Carlos nods. "But I was...I was somewhere..."

"You're here now." Cecil's voice sounds so monotone, so emotionless, like he doesn't even care. And Kevin looks at him and flinches at the stare he is given. Carlos looks at Cecil and makes him have a silent conversation with him. Cecil sighs. "I'll go make some food." He stands and leaves, not even giving Carlos a glance.

"Did I do something wrong?" Kevin asks guiltily, shrinking away from Carlos.

"No. No, Kevin, Cecil's just...He's tired." The scientist sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose where his glasses normally sit.

"I'm sorry." Kevin whispers.

Carlos shakes his head. "Don't apologise...Say, how about we table this talk for now and get you into some clean clothes."

Kevin stares. These clothes were all he had of...Of what he can't remember.

"You've been wearing those for more than a month, Kevin." Carlos explains. "We can give you a bath and some clean clothes. You'll be much more comfortable."

"..." The former radio host shrinks back, looking away from Carlos. "...Do you have bubble bath soap?"

Carlos smiles. "Of course."

-

The bath lacks the common intimateness that typically comes with two people being undressed in a bathroom. Granted, Carlos is only missing a shirt, but the statement still stands. Kevin was bone-thin, with hair so greasy and bedraggled Carlos had to go through half a bottle of shampoo just to get it clean. He sat behind the man and washed him carefully, combed his hair and scrubbed his skin. Kevin was weak. Carlos had to lift him out of the tub at the end of the bath, dry him off and redress the wounds he had that had still not healed. Then he looked at the man who, though now much cleaner, still looked frail and scared.

"What do you want to wear?" He asks gently.

"Yellow." Kevin answers without thinking, quickly stuttering out afterwards, "B-but only if you have yellow...or orange would do...I just...I like bright colours..."

"I'll see what I can find. Do you wanna stay here?"

Kevin shakes his head. Despite not knowing this man, he knew he didn't want to be alone. Not right now. Not while a darkness was creeping behind is eyes and static filled his thoughts.

"Okay." Carlos picks up Kevin again and carries him to Cecil and his bedroom, setting him down on the bed as he looks through clothes. Unfortunately, neither him nor Cecil preferred either colours Kevin had requested, but Carlos did have an old t-shirt two sizes too big he had been given at a symposium, and Cecil possesses bright, neon orange boxers, so he offered these to Kevin, who used his little strength to put them on.

The shirt was huge on Carlos, so imagine how it looks on the bone thin man before him. It went far past the boxers and hung on his frame like a tent, making it look like he was wearing nothing else. Carlos gave him a pair of fluffy white socks and helped him put the, on before supporting him as he lead him out of the room.

"We'll see what Cecil made to eat, alright?"

Kevin gives Carlos a small nod. They walk in silence till they are in the kitchen, where Cecil is standing over the counter, chopping up vegetables. He doesn't even look at Carlos as the man walks up next to him, placing his chin on his boyfriend's shoulder as he looks down at the counter.

"What are you making, cariño?" He asks in a soft voice. Cecil doesn't answer. "Cecil, honey, what's up?" No answer. Carlos sighs. "Alright. I'm going to go take care of the equipment in the guest room. Can you watch him for me?" For a moment, silence, then a small nod. "Thank you, amor. Te amo." He kisses him on the cheek and leaves the room.

Kevin sits at the table, knees pulled up to his chest as he stares carefully at Cecil. Cecil can feel the eyes on his back as he works, following his every move, piercing and wide. He feels violated, attacked. This...This creature who has come into his town and taken everything away from him is sitting in his kitchen staring at him. Staring! Like he's some sort of animal. He snarls and almost doesn't hear the man behind him gasp.

When he turns, Kevin has pressed himself against the chair, hands covering his face as he cowers. Cecil huffs. This man is mocking him. How dare he! After all he did, after all Cecil and Carlos had done for him, he mocks Cecil. How dare this creature!
With a hiss, Cecil turns back to his cooking, furiously chopping up vegetables with loud whacks of his knife, hissing and muttering under his breath.

When Carlos returns, Cecil can hear the disappointment in his steps, and then in his voice when he speaks. "Cecil...Why is Kevin under the table?"

Cecil leaves for work early, glancing back only for a moment to see Carlos standing outside their home, watching him leave. He feels guilty till he remembers how long he'd been without his boyfriend, the look on Kevin's when he thought Strex Corp had won...And then the look on his face when he realised what Steve Carlsberg was about to do. He stomps into the station, and his broadcast that night is full of anger and vehemence.

-

"He doesn't like me, does he?" Kevin whispers when Carlos returns to kneel in front of him under the table.

Carlos frowns. "Nonono Kevin, Cecil just...Cecil has been through a lot in the past few months. He's hurt and confused, and is projecting that onto you. It's not your fault." Kevin doesn't look convinced.

Carlos sighs. "Let's get you something to eat."

Cecil had made a rather messy salad. Kevin drinks more water than he actually eats, not seeming to want the food. Carlos tucks him into bed soon afterwards, telling him he'll be just down the hall.

When Carlos and Cecil wake up the next morning, Kevin is curled up at the foot of their bed, shivering and clutching a pillow under him. Carlos carries him back to the guest room and when he wakes up, Cecil is there, knitting in the chair next to his bed. Despite his angry look, he holds Kevin when he starts shaking and crying, turning on the lights when asked, handing him a flashlight. Over the next few days, many lamps find there way into the Palmer-Scientist household. It's probably for the best.

-

Kevin becomes determined to become friends with Cecil. As his body slowly gets better, he starts to help around the house. Granted, he is not very good at it, but it seems like he's really trying. Often Kevin would make quiet, unnerving comments about how dry this house was, how much they don't decorate. He never notices Cecil flinch or shiver when he says that, though he does see the glares Cecil sends him when he stands next to Carlos, or when the scientist fixes Kevin's bandages.

He wants them to be friends, though. He doesn't like people being mad at him, especially when he doesn't know what he did wrong. So he works hard to fix it.

At first, it seems like it's working. Cecil's glares soften, he tries to teach Kevin how to properly load the dishwasher, he humors Kevin small smiles when he's shown the pictures Kevin draws for him of cats and flowers and butterflies. And Carlos smiles every time he notices how close the two are getting. Cecil had been being so cold to Kevin and, well, this was much better. The nicer he was to Kevin, the more warm their household got.

Sometimes good things don't last.

When it was Cecil's turn to watch Kevin, he'd often complain about how the man would simply follow him around the house. There were many things he often complained about when it came to Kevin. His smile, his voice, the way he walked, the noises he makes, all complaints that Cecil often voiced. But the thing they most argued about was Kevin's clothes.

Since Carlos gave him the shirt and boxers, Kevin had not washed or changed them at all. He hardly took them off, hardly showered or bathed. And Cecil thought this was horrible. Like, ew, how could someone not bathe like that? Carlos was bothered by it too, but he had never said anything about it. He didn't want to bother Kevin, not yet.

Kevin was sitting on the floor with his back resting against the couch. He was staring off into space, again, knees drawn close to his chest, chin on his knees.

Cecil was actually sitting on the couch, curled up with his knitting and playing an old western on the television.

Apparently Kevin does not watch many movies. Cecil scoffed at the few he could name, which all sounded like old black and white noir films, and not particularly interesting. He finds it quite charming, though, when he learns Kevin didn't even know movies came in colour until Cecil had shown him. It's amazing how much Kevin doesn't know.

Cecil occasionally glances at the man below him, staring at his greasy, unkempt hair with annoyance. Finally, he huffs, putting down his knitting and glaring at Kevin in a parental way. "Kevin, you need to shower! And wear some new clothes!" Kevin flinches, shrinking away from Cecil even as he turns to look at him with wide, black eyes.

"B-but I...I-I..I..." Kevin can't seem to get any words out, backing away from Cecil. "I just...I..."

Cecil stares back, eyes narrowed. "Kevin, your hair looks like a nest and you smell like death. and you've been wearing those clothes for weeks! Please, can you shower?"

Kevin flinches again, shaking his head rapidly and backing away more. Cecil glares, keeping his eyes locked on Kevin as the man tries to scramble away. "I-I'm sorry..." Kevin stutters out. And Cecil stares. And then his eyes drop as he runs his fingers through his own hair, turning away from Kevin with exasperation.

"C-Cecil? Cecil I'm sorry!" Kevin pleads, climbing onto the sofa next to the man, whose eyes are now close tightly as he rubs his temples. "Cecil...Please...?"

It all happens so fast. In a moment there are two hands wrapped around Cecil's throat and a wide, gaping smile, horrible and bloody, staring down at him. Thumbs press against his neck as he gasps and grabs at Kevin's hand, grappling to hold onto him and push him away. he soon finds that breathing is not working, at that the world is full of pain and spinning.

And the man smiles. The man is smiling so horribly, impossibly wide, impossibly sharp.

In the next moment, the pressure is gone and a loud thump is heard, that akin to a body hitting the floor. There are arms around Cecil, holding him close to a warm chest and he turns to sob against Carlos, who pets his hair and hushes him softly, caring and gentle.

They turn to look when a high pitched whine is heard. And there's Kevin, standing stock still, head bleeding from where he hit the floor on the way down. He looks so horrified, scared...Ashamed? His eyes tear up at he stares at the two, then his gaze slowly lowers to his own hands. He let's out another whine and is suddenly running of, hands over his ears as he gasps and sobs.

Carlos holds Cecil till the crying has ended, sending worried glances around the house and then at Cecil. He worried about his boyfriend, and about Kevin. But he couldn't do two things at once. He keeps trying to tell himself that recuperation takes time, but he can't help but think that he was right when he said that maybe Kevin will never get better. Maybe he was a lost cause. Maybe it was better that he ran off.

Chapter Text

Kevin finds himself on the roof. He doesn't know how he got there, doesn't know what's going on. All he knows is that he feels like crying and tearing things up. Everything is all muddled in his mind, the feeling of Cecil's neck under his hands still fresh on his mind, making his palms burn with guilt. He whimpers, drawing his knees to his chest. He couldn't do anything right, could he?

The sun is still high in the sky, though Kevin knows it will set soon. He stares at the glowing orb in the sky, feeling its warm rays on his skin and almost purring in delight at the feeling. Something is just so nice about the light. His mind buzzes and whispers to him; warmth, hot, red warmth on his arms, his legs, splattering his face and staining his clothing. A smiling face. Who...Who is it? Gosh, he can't remember!

The former radio host clutches at his head as his thoughts start to turn to static. His feet start telling him to walk, to walk out of the town to where he belongs. They tell him to tear and scream and smile. Smile all the time. Always. But why should he smile when he feels so terrible? Why does he deserve to smile? He doesn't. Kevin does not deserve to smile, he tells himself over and over. His hands twitch as he feels something under his nails that feel so wrong, and yet so familiar. When he looks at his hands, there is blood coating them, and he likes it.

Kevin doesn't feel the pain of his skin tearing as he starts scratching and clawing at his own arms, only the wet, thick feeling of his own blood flowing out of his body, of the sun on his skin. It feels so perfect, the sun and the blood. It feels right...And wrong. How can things be right and wrong? No no no! It's not correct! It's not...It's not productive...

Kevin hisses and growls, smacking at his own head, clawing at his legs and arms, screaming and snarling. What was that word? Why did it feel so right to think of that word? And the static fills the air, buzzing around in his mind and making his thoughts all fuzzy. Stupid Kevin. Stupidstupidstupidstupi-

-

Cecil stays curled up close to Carlos, practically in his lap as he clutches to his boyfriend. His drying eyes are hidden in Carlos' neck as he listens to him hum, his fingers running through Cecil's hair.

Eventually Carlos says he needs to get ice for Cecil's neck and Cecil allows him to get up only because he can feel the bruise forming on his throat. When a cold pack of vegetables is up against his throat, he once again clutches himself to Carlos. they sit in relative silence, Carlos taking up his job of comforting again as Cecil sits and dozes and thinks.

Surprisingly, it is Cecil who speaks first.

"...We can't keep him here." He says, voice dull and blunt as he raises his head to look at Carlos.

Carlos' concerned look falters. He sighs. "Cec-"

"He just choked me, Carlos. Choked. Me."

Carlos sighs again. "I know."

"He's dangerous. We can't keep that...That...That creature in our home!"

"Cecil." Carlos scolds, staring back at his boyfriend seriously. "Scientifically speaking, that man is a human being. He is just as flawed as you and me...Probably more. But..." He sighs for a third time. "I don't think we're the ones that can help him. Not anymore."

"He's going to hurt someone."

"Hopefully not." Carlos goes back to holding Cecil close, and the silence soon returns, both men quiet and pensive.

The silence is broken by the screeching, hissing noise of the doorbell. "I'll get it." Carlos presses a kiss to Cecil's hair before leaving him to go to the door. Cecil falls sideways to lay down on the couch, crling up a bit. He is weary and tired, not in the physical sense, but more in the sense that he is tired mentally, the strain all this was putting on him starting to become unbearable.

When seconds past and Cecil can here nothing of Carlos, not even his voice, the radio host slowly sits up, worried. More seconds slip by and he opens his lips to call to his scientist before said scientist cuts him off.

"Cecil. I found Kevin."

-

A prone body lies on the lawn of the Palmer-Scientist residence, wearing nothing but a yellow shirt with bright red sleeves. No...No those weren't sleeves. Further examination showed they were paper towels tied onto his arms and legs with string, dyed red by the blood of the body.

Cecil stares as Carlos steps forward, a small choked sound leaping from his throat when his boyfriend lifts the man into his arms and he can very see that it's Kevin, hands thickly covered with blood and skin, a purple piece of paper on his chest. Cecil snatches the paper up, holding it to his chest as he follows after Carlos, watching him bring the man to the bathroom.

Soon, Kevin is lying in the tub and Carlos is quickly untying the paper towels, administering first aid the best he can. So Cecil reads aloud, sitting on the toilet as he nervously glance at the man in the tub

"Fifteen dollar fine...Misdemeanor: Being on a residential roof-top after five...Fine: 20 dollars..." Cecil licks at his lips, his mouth suddenly feeling increasingly dry. Maybe it's because he may have stopped breathing, maybe his saliva glands are just as scared as him. Hard to tell.

"What was he doing on the roof?" Carlos asked softly, mind mostly focused on the bleeding man.

"I...I don't know..." Cecil says weakly. There was a note following the fine, written in sloppy, childish handwriting.

Dear Palmer-The Scientist Residence,

Can you, like, submit your war captive applications and contracts to the city hall. We didn't even know this guy was here, and that's rude. I mean, come on dudes, don't keep us out of the loop. Just put in those forms.

Oh, if you don't do it by Friday you get a 50 dollar fine and lose sock privileges for the next three months of January.

Signed,

Your friendly neighbourhood Secret Police

There was a rainbow drawn below the signature.

At the corner of the paper was a small, crayon-drawn arrow. Cecil flipped the paper over and blushed as he read a second note written in a different script, loopy and neat.

We noticed you haven't submitted any sexual activities forms since the scientist returns. We at the police station worry about your relationship, and remind you that relationship counseling admission forms can be found at the city hall in case you may need them. We also remind you that any change in relationship status must be followed by a break up form, so...Don't forget that. Good luck!

"What's the rest say?" Carlosasks, noticing Cecil's silence.

"We have some forms we forgot..." The man murmurs, setting the fine aside. "Um...How does it look?"

"He did this to himself." Carlos says solemnly. Cecil's brow knits as he moves off of the toilet to kneel next to Carlos. Kevin's body looks so pale right now, with most of his blood not inside his body. Cecil worries enough to place a hand on the man's chest, feeling his weak heart beat and the slow rise and fall of his lungs.  "There's blood under his fingernails and...I think he was scratching at his skin."

"Oh..." Cecil stares.

"Cecil we-"

"Carlos I-"

They both start at the same time, blushing then going silent.

"You first." Carlos offers quietly, working on stitching up some fo the worst of the cuts.

"I...Um...I think he should stay with us longer..." Cecil almost whispers, shrinking away from Carlos a bit. He watches a soft smile flutter across Carlos' face of concentration. "If we put him somewhere else he might..." he trails off.

Carlos glances at Cecil, smiling softly. "I understand, mi amor." He murmurs.  

Cecil stares back, silent.

They keep the gaze till Carlos's eyes go wide and he checks his watch. Oh right, he doesn't have one...He fumbles at his mistake and grabs Cecil's wrist to check his actual watch. "Cecil, you're late for work."

Cecil's eyes go wide. "Oh, right." He pulls himself up to his feet. "Will you be alright here yourself?" his eyes dart to the bleeding body.

"I...Yes, I think so. Scientifically speaking, I am trained enough to science and medicine to do this."

"Alright..." Cecil quickly leans down to press a kiss to Carlos' cheek before giving a glance to Kevin, face twitching a bit as he darts out of the room.

Carlos carefully stitches and bandages up Kevin, happy he's unconscious as he doesn't have to feel the sting of the disinfectant in all his cuts. Once he's alright medically, Carlos strips Kevin of his shirt and boxers and sets them aside before moving carefully giving the man a sponge bath, being careful not to get any water on his bandages. Afterwards, he slowly washes Kevin's hair, rubbing soap and conditioner in it as he carefully finger combs his way through the tangle.

Something about taking care of Kevin left a warm feeling in Carlos' chest. Carefully drying off the man's hair and gently carrying him to bed, making sure he's tucked in and his arms in a comfortable position, pressing a soft kiss to his forehead; it just felt so right to Carlos, to treat someone this way. He looks back on the times he had taken care of Cecil like this, all the times he had gotten sick or hurt and Carlos was there to help him. The warm feeling grows.

He only leaves Kevin for a minute to throw his clothes in the wash before returning to his side, watching him to make sure he's not feeling a lot of pain.

When Cecil comes home, they go to bed together, Carlos holding Cecil close as they both sleep shallowly. Carlos thinks he hears the sound of bells in the night, but it disappears quickly. When they wake up in the morning, Kevin is curled up in the corner of the room, a dozen candles around him, some dripping wax onto the carpet, others already burnt out.

Cecil goes out and buys several fire extinguishers. Carlos hides the matches and replaces them with lighters.

-

It has become routine for Carlos or Cecil or both of them together to find Kevin in their room in the morning; curled up in the corner, at the foot of the bed, on the floor next to Cecil or Carlos, his head against the side of the bed, Kevin would be asleep, holding himself close.

Cecil didn't seem to mind. He would often cast worried glances at Kevin, or flinch when he talked, but the vehemence from earlier was slowly dissipating. Carlos took care of them both, careful to make sure neither harmed the other.

They don't bring up the previous incident. Sometimes they think Kevin doesn't even know he did it, but then they see the cuts on his arms and think otherwise.

They think about asking him, discuss it in hushed tones, but Kevin beats them to it.

One night, Cecil and Carlos are curled up on the couch, spending a few minutes together before Cecil would have to leave for work. Kevin was sitting on the floor, dozing and staring at the television blankly. Then he spoke.

"I'm sorry I hugged you Cecil." His voice is a soft murmur, sad and guilty.

Carlos and Cecil stare. "H-Hug?" Cecil stutters, either angry or scared or confused, but it's hard to tell. "Hug?! You choked me!"

Kevin flinches, ducking his head. "It...I was hugging you..."

"Kevin...That's not a hug." Carlos says carefully.

Kevin shrinks away from the two, trying not to look at them. "I-it was a hug..." He whispers.

"No, Kevin, it wasn't. It was a choke." Cecil all but hisses, annoyance etching itself onto his features.

Kevin looks like he's about to cry. "I'm sorry..." He whispers, voice high as he tries to back away from Cecil. Carlos is quick to stop him as he almost hits his ea don the coffee table.

"Kevin, no, please just listen." Carlos helps him up, placing a hand on his back. "Come here." He guides him to sit between him and Cecil, Cecil backing away a bit and Kevin trying to make himself as small as possible. "Kevin, what does a hug look like to you?" Carlos asks carefully.

Kevin hesitantly holds out his hands, fingers shaking as he makes a grasping motion, clenching as he pantomimes choking someone's throat. When Cecil makes a noise of annoyance, he flinches and drops his hands.

"Cecil, can you show Kevin what a hug looks like to you?" Carlos' voice is smooth and simple, sounding very analytical as Cecil realises his scientist is testing on them, in a way. Yes, he was doing the science.

Hesitantly, Cecil wraps his arms around Kevin, a slow, unattached embrace. A soft gasp filters form Kevin's mouth, followed by a sound akin to a mewl and he slowly relaxes in Cecil's arms, resting his head on the man's shoulder and closing his eyes. Cecil's arms tighten, holding him closer as the hug lasts longer and longer. He tries not to think about how nice this feels, to hug the man in front of him, but Cecil can't push back the truth this time.

He stops when Kevin pulls away, staring at Cecil carefully.

"That's not what...Oh, I'm so sorry!" He apologises, eyes glistening as he backs away from Cecil. "That was so different...I didn't mean to..." He tenses, expecting Cecil to yell at him. Carlos watches carefully, as if looking for test results.

Cecil stares blankly. then he stands, hands tensing as he turns towards the door. "I have work." He says quietly, and then he's gone.

Kevin shakes as he tries to scramble off the couch, but Carlos stops him. "Kevin, please, can you give me a hug?" He asks.

Kevin stares at him with wide eyes. He shakes and flinches as he slowly nods, carefully wrapping his arms around Carlos in imitation of what Cecil did. He feels his body relax as he is hugged back, Carlos holding him close and protectively.

It feels very...Right.

-

Normally it takes Carlos awhile to get Kevin to eat even a little. His stomach has been rejecting a lot of things Carlos feeds him, and he has to keep portions small and simple. But this night Kevin doesn't need coaxing or extra sugar to be convinced to eat. Granted, he still does not eat a lot, but he does eat.

Carlos feels like they've made progress.

-

Cecil returned late that, night, collapsing onto the bed facedown next to Carlos, who had propped himself up to read. "Cecil?" He looks down at the radio host, who mumbles something into the mattress. Carlos sighs, putting his book away and settling down next to his boyfriend, pulling him close. "Cariño, what happened?"

Cecil buries his face in Carlos' chest, mumbling again. "Cecil." This time, the scientist sounds more like a scolding parent as he looks at Cecil judgmentally. "You're mumbling."

"Tired..." Cecil finally mutters, lifting his head enough to glance at Carlos.

"That's not all, is it?"

The radio host sighs. "No. I lost three interns today. Three! In one day! I didn't even know I could have three interns!" He flops his head back down onto Carlos' chest, groaning loudly.

Carlos sighs, holding Cecil close and reaching a hand up to pet his hair. "Let's go to sleep, Cecil. Things can get better in the morning."

"But what about-"

"He'll be fine. I just checked on him before you got home. He ate and everything." Carlos answers the unfinished question before kissing Cecil's forehead softly. "Please? I...I've missed sleeping next to you..."

Cecil smiles softly. Sometimes he forgets Carlos was away from him too. "Of course, Carlos. I've missed you too." He kisses his boyfriend, sweet and soft, holding himself close. "Let's sleep." And so they turn the lights off and close their eyes, and sleep comes soon in the embrace of one another.

It's well past midnight when the door to their bedroom opens, light filtering in from the hallway. A figure stands in the doorway, clutching something close to their chest, eyes glinting softly. There's the soft sound of bells as the figure shifts. Carlos, ever the light sleeper, found himself sitting up, rubbing at tired eyes. "Who's there?" He asks sleepily.

The figure steps into the room. "Oh, Kevin...Why aren't you asleep?" The man smiles guiltily, clutching tighter to what Carlos now realises in a pillow, up close to his chest, a barrier.

"I...I couldn't...Um...I...Can...Er...Can I...?" He stumbles on his words, voice soft and whispery, like he's hardly been using it, meek and scared. Carlos finishes for him.

"You can sleep here for tonight, Kevin."

The smile he receives is blazing. For once, Kevin wouldn't be waking up on the floor and for some reason that felt so comforting to Carlos. Kevin leaves the light on in the hall and the door open as he tiptoes over to the bed, where Carlos slides to the side and pulls back the sheets. As the man climbs into bed, he sets himself on the edge, away from Cecil and Carlos, almost like he's afraid that if he touches them he'll be in trouble. Carlos sighs when he sees the pitiful face on the man, "Come here." He holds out an arm, and Kevin happily accepts once he's been given permission, shyly shifting to Carlos's side, snuggling up against him as an arm is wrapped around his shoulders.

"Thank you." The former radio host whispers apologetically.

"You're welcome, Kevin. Now please go to sleep." Carlos yawns, settling down and closing his eyes as if to set an example.

"Okay. Good sleep Carlos."

"Goodnight Kevin."

Kevin watches Carlos fall back to sleep, moving closer to rest his head on his chest. He can hear a deep drumming from inside the scientist's chest. It sounds so nice, makes him feel all warm and safe. He falls asleep to that sound, the deep, loud drumming, steady and stable.

When the morning sun filters through the windows, Carlos has already left for work, leaving behind a sticky note on the bedside lamp for the two he left to sleep in.

He found it adorable how different the two slept. While Kevin curled up close to Carlos, making himself as small as possible as he used the scientist as a pillow, Cecil always slept sprawled out like a cat, often waking up far from where he falls asleep, though still managing to be tangled around Carlos, close and yet far. When Carlos had left the bed, he watched in amusement and fondness as the two gravitated towards each other, Cecil curling around Kevin protectively, Kevin wrapping his arms around Cecil and settling his head against his chest.

Cecil, being a natural night owl with a job that made him work late, often sleeps in. Kevin tends to rise with the sun, liking to watch its light rise out of the dark. But Kevin had not slept much during the night, not until he had come to sleep with his gracious hosts, and his body refused to let him wake. It is close to noon when Cecil opens his eyes with a soft yawn, feeling the warm body against him. He furrows his brow, wondering just how early he must have woken for Carlos to still be in bed with him, but then he remembers through his sleep addled mind that he has eyes which he can use to see things.

His body jolts when he realises it is not his Carlos snuggled up close to him, but in fact Kevin. Kevin, in rumpled clothes he hasn't washed for days, hair greasy and messy, mussed due to him constantly running his fingers through it. All the cuts on his face and arms stand out, the ones from the desert, the ones from before, the ones from now. In his sleep, he's smiling peacefully, but Cecil had gotten an eyeful of him screaming at the top of his lungs, face in a horrified expression. The small smile looks much better on him, nicer than the ones he had given Cecil before, the wide, ripping smiles, false and terrifying. No, this was sweet and innocent.

Cecil doesn't even notice as his body relaxes, his hand settling in Kevin's hair and unconsciously smoothing it down. He doesn't remember his past fear when the man nuzzles his chest, making a sound akin to that of cat. He doesn't scream when the mans pitch black eyes open slowly, looking up at Cecil with a widening smile.

Yet, he doesn't pick up on the sudden fear in the man's eyes as all too soon he's pulling away from Cecil, screaming and scrambling to the other side of the bed where he falters, falling to the floor in a tangle of sheets in pillows, breath quick and heart racing. Cecil doesn't understand why the man is huddling in the corner, holding himself close and shutting his eyes. It doesn't even makes sense when the man swiftly apologises, over and over. "I'msorryI'msorryI'msorry..."

Chapter Text

Cecil rushes towards Kevin, brow knit with worry as he tries to calm down the shaking man. "Kevin, Kevin what's wrong?"

"I'msorryI'msorryI'msorry..." Is all Kevin says, clutching at his face. Cecil watches as his nails start to dig into his skin and something inside of him seizes, his own hands wrenching Kevin's away from his skin before he even knows what he's doing, stopping him from marring himself. He can't see that again. No...No he doesn't think he can stand it.

"Kevin, you need to talk to me, please." Cecil pleads, holding Kevin's wrists in his hands so he can't claw at himself.

"I didn't mean to sleep in bed with you, I'm sorry! Please don't hit me! Pleasepleasepleaseplease..." He tries to cover his face again and almost accomplishes it as Cecil's grip on him goes slack, staring at Kevin with deep concern.

He catches him just as his nails touch his skin, grabbing his wrists again. "Kevin..." Cecil murmurs. Kevin sniffs, trying to pull away from Cecil as his eyes water and his body quakes. "Kevin, I'm not angry." Kevin doesn't seem to be listening, shaking his head and muttering apologies under his breath. "Kevin, look at me." He doesn't. Cecil makes an annoyed sound and drops one of Kevin's wrists to cup his jaw, forcing him to look Cecil in the eye. "Kevin I'm not mad at you. Why would I be mad at you?"

Kevin sniffs, teeth chattering as he stares at Cecil. "Y-you don' like me and I did something bad and you're gonna yell at me again and hurt me and I didn't mean it, I promise!" He rambles. "I'm trying to be good, I promise!"

Cecil feels a lump in his throat, a pain in his chest. "Nonono, Kevin, I'm not mad at you." He says softly. Without thinking, he pulls Kevin into a hug, wrapping his arms around him and pulling him close. He let's out a soft breath of relief as Kevin relaxes in his arms, burying his face in his chest along with his tears. Cecil hushes him softly, keeping his hold on Kevin close and warm. "You can sleep in our room whenever you need to, Kevin. I could never be angry at you for that." He murmurs. Kevin sniffs, burrowing his face closer to Cecil.

They sit there in silence for the longest time, Kevin clutching tight to Cecil as his double softly pets his hair and rubs his back. When Kevin's cries have subdued to soft sniffs every once and awhile, and when Cecil finds himself fed up with Kevin's greasy hair, he pulls away, keeping his hands on Kevin's shoulder as he stares into the man's horrifying eyes, now tear stained and pouting.

"How about you go have a bath, Kevin? Please? It'll make you feel better." He says in a low voice he hopes sounds comforting. Noticing Kevin's apprehension, he sighs. "I'll help you. We can even...Put bubble soap in?" he tries bribery, which apparently works as Kevin offers him a childish smile.

"Can we really?" He asks, eyes wide and innocent.

"Of course."

He frowns slightly before flinching and pulling the smile back on, though his head ducks forlornly. "Do I...Do I have to change my clothes?" He clutches at his overly large t-shirt like he'll rip off his own skin before he'll let it go.

Cecil's mind has brought up a dilemma. On one hand, he really wants Kevin to put on some clean clothes, on the other hand, if he can at least get a shower out of Kevin, he gets one battle won, and the other can be tackled at a later date. He hums thoughtfully. "How about...If you take a bath and get all clean, Carlos and I will take you out and buy you some new clothes. Whatever you want. Does that sound okay?" He prays to the unknowable higher beings above, and the creatures hiding in his attic, that Kevin agrees to this, having wanted this for weeks.

Kevin stares. "I don't know..." He whispers.

Cecil frowns. "You can't wear that forever, Kevin." He murmurs, placing a hand over Kevin's covering up the one that's fiddling with the edge of the shirt. "Do you want...We can talk about it when Carlos gets home. How about that."

After a few seconds of thinking, Kevin slowly nods and is rewarded with a soft smile from Cecil. "Let's get you clean."

-

Soon after, Kevin and Cecil find themselves in the bathroom, Kevin methodically stripping out of his clothes as Cecil fills the tub, pouring in a generous amount of bubble soap, for Kevin's benefit, naturally. When he turns to look at Kevin, finds him staring at the floor shyly, holding himself with apprehension. Cecil sighs.

"Kevin, you promised."

Cecil can hear a slight whimper leak out of Kevin's mouth and once again cannot help but sigh. Before he can ever reprimand him again, Kevin softly asks, "Will you help me?" Cecil stares. "It's just...I don't want to be alone."

Cecil continues to stare. As Kevin starts to whimper, feet backing towards the door, his double lets out an exasperated sigh. "Fine. Give me a second."

Cecil turns and carefully removes his clothing, folding it and setting it aside till he's just in his underwear. He doesn't really trust Kevin not to get his nice clothes wet, and some of them were dry clean only, so...

Kevin smiles, moving to carefully get into the bath tub. This is enough for Cecil to give out a long sigh of relief, happy to have finally gotten Kevin consciously into a bath. He sits on the side on the tub, feet in the water and Kevin between his legs, and carefully takes a bottle of shampoo.

"Just try not to splash me." He murmurs before pouring shampoo into his hand. "Could you wet your hair for me?"

Kevin looks up at him, nervous for a moment, but then he sees the patient look Cecil is giving him and smiles, nodding and carefully pouring water onto his hair. Cecil risks a small smile

"Just be still while I do this." He starts working the shampoo through Kevin's hair, winding his fingers through the dry strands, working out knots, tangles, and kinks with his fingers. His hair has gotten quite long and tangled through the last few months, unable to take care of it. Even though Carlos had bathed him two or three times, that was weeks ago, and not nearly enough to fix the rat's nest that is Kevin's hair.

After awhile, Cecil starts to hear an odd humming sound come from Kevin. He glances down and sees the man laid back, eyes closed as a deep sound thrums from his throat, almost like a purr. It's actually quite...Cute. Cecil has to harshly bite back a giggle, pulling himself back into his task of fixing this man's horrible hair.

It's so foreign, unwonted for Cecil to see his body, though not his body, with such messy hair, such an odd smile. But examination is easy when they are both so undressed and Cecil finds himself noticing things about them, things that make them so similar. The freckles on his arms, so light you'd have to sit close to see them. The birthmark on his hip, an almost perfectly round circle, small and insignificant. Their skin was similiar, though different in scars and colour, and Cecil can't help but notice even the smallest of details, like the shape of Kevin's face, the curve of his ears. Hell, even the way their hair grew was the same. But Kevin was different; Cecil, but not Cecil. He finds his hands digging deeper into Kevin's hair, carefully massage at the flesh without even noticing as he counts the spots on Kevin's nose, observes the lines on his skin, the way he breaths. The unearthliness of staring at something that is essentially him, sharing qualities he had never expected to see so perfectly replicated on a another human being. Human being...Is Kevin a human being? Cecil has noticed the sharpness of his teeth, the darkness of his eyes, but does humanity a human make? Hard to say.

The purring has gotten louder and Cecil hasn't even noticed, soon busy focusing on the body of his double. But then Kevin whimpers and pulls away from Cecil and the distracted man is immediately snapped out of his thoughts.

"Owowowowow!! Ow!! Make it stop!" He's clutching at his face and Cecil stares as he tries to figure out what's wrong, mind flashing bright red lights at him, a sharp pain filling his body,a nd he doesn't know why but gosh, it hurts so much to see Kevin in pain.

"Kevin, what hurts?" Was it his cuts? They'd healed so well, and what was left was in water-proof bandages. Was it his body? Was he sick again? Was Strex doing things or-

"My eye! Cecil, make it stop!" Kevin whines and Cecil stares, watching his double clutch and his face. He almost laughs as he realises that all that happened was he got soap in Kevin's eyes, relief flooding through his body. He quickly gets into action, almost tripping in his haste. 

"Calm down Kevin, look up for me." He says, standing a bit to grab the shower head from it's perch. "You gotta do something for me, okay Kevin? You have to open your eyes."

Kevin whimpers. "But it hurts-"

"Hush, I know." Cecil murmurs, placing a comforting hand on Kevin's shoulder. "I'm gonna fix it, though. You just have to open your eyes." He uses a voice he has never used on a grown adult. It is the voice he used when Khoshekh was dying, when he hears his little cousin Janice cry, when he speaks to young spiders. He talks to Kevin like he's talking to a broken child, and for some reason doesn't feel like that's too far off from the truth.

With trust Cecil did not know Kevin had, his eyes open, revealing their void-like colour as Cecil turns on the shower water and carefully dowses Kevin's face with it, deciding that he might as well rinse out his hair too, while he's at it.

"Is that working, Kevin? Does it still hurt?" He asks carefully, pulling the shower head away once all the shampoo is gone.

Kevin slowly blinks his eyes, shaking his head in a dog like way, which consequentially sprays water all over Cecil, but seems to be alright. "You fixed it! Thank you Cecil!" He turns around, arms outstretched as if to hug Cecil, but Cecil catches his wrists in a panic.

"Nuh-uh! You're soaking wet Kevin!" He protests, but something in his heart quivers when he sees the dejected pout that forms on the childish man's face as a result. Cecil sighs. What was this creature doing to him? "Maybe after the bath is done. Now sit back down, I still need to put in conditioner."

Kevin happily complies, just glad that Cecil's not mad at him. Soon his hair is conditioned and he waits as Cecil starts to wash his back. He gets a bit...Distracted, though. There are bubbles everywhere! And they're so pretty and colourful! He cant help but take handfuls of foam, throwing them in the air and watching them fall down back into the tub, swatting at the bubbles like a cat attacking its prey, nuzzling his face into the bubbles. Unfortunately, this sort of gets in Cecil's way.

"Kevin, I'm trying to get this gunk off your back!" He scolds, scrubbing at some painfully stuck something on Kevin. Where'd he find that anyways? Had he been hiding behind the bookshelves?

Kevin squeaks, dropping the bubbles in his hands. "Sorry!" He announces, ducking his head slowly and going still. "I won't do it again..."

Ceil sighs for what must be the twentieth time that day, the sound followed by a triumphant call as he gets the rest of the gunk off. "Done with your back. Do you need me to help with the rest, or are you able to wash yourself?" He was hoping it was the latter. Honestly, taking care of Kevin was like taking care of a small child and it is exhausting.

"Uhh..." Kevin examines his own body. "I think I can do it..."

"Good." Cecil let's out a sigh of relief, making to get up. Kevin hears him move and panics, whirling around andgrabbing at Cecil's legs while he shouts. "No don't leave!"

Suddenly water splashes all over the floor as Cecil trips and tumbles into the tub with Kevin, letting out a cry of surprise, then one of pain as his legs land at an awkward angle, body now lying in the tub, tangled with Kevin's.

"Oh no!" Kevin's cries follow as he scrambles to help a glaring Cecil sit up.

"Kevin..." The now soaked man growls.

Kevin shrinks back, whimpering. "I didn't mean to Cecil I was just-"

Cecil holds up a hand. "I don't want to hear it." His voice is tight and cold as he narrows his eyes, looking severely disappointed at his double, who is obviously on the verge of tears.

He stares with barely held in tears as Cecil climbs out of the tub, pulling off his now soaked boxers and carefully walking across the drenched room. The floor was covered with an inch or so of water, Kevin's only clothes now completely soaked, though Cecil had thankfully put his on a higher stand. He leaves them, though, grabbing a towel and pulling the door open. At the sound of Kevin's whimpering, he turns quickly, growling out,

"Finish up and get changed. Grab something from my closet, I don't care! Just put on something!" His voice turns to a hiss as he turns on point and slams the door so hair it's frame quivers.

Kevin shrinks down in the bath, guilty and dejected. "Sorry..." He whispers softly, his tears finally falling down his cheeks now that he had no reason to stop them.

-

It's not soon after that Carlos comes home, whistling softly as he places a grocery bag on the table. Then his whistling slows. The house was...Silent? Had Cecil and Kevin still been sleeping? can two men sleep that much? Carlos walks briskly towards his bedroom only to see the giant puddle of water outside the bathroom and now he's very worried.

He doesn't bother knocking, just opens the door slowly, glancing inside. "Cecil, you in her- Oh..." He is gifted with the look of Kevin, curled up in a now drained tub and shivering. There's water everywhere, handfuls of foam roaming among the mess, as well as a trail of wet and ruined clothing on the floor.

"Kevin..." Carlos murmurs, grabbing a towel as he approaches the tub. The man is hugging himself close, his body and hair wet, as well as his bright red face, though Carlos suspects that's not really from the bath. He rolls p his sleeves and soon Kevin is in his arms, wrapped in a towel. "Oh Kevin..." He sighs. "What happened?" Kevin only whimpers, refusing to say anything, not when they're walking down the hallway, not when he's sitting on Carlos and Cecil's bed, a thick blanket wrapped around his shivering form, not even when Carlos pulls him in for a close hug.

It is not until Carlos starts trying to dry the poor man's hair that he dares speak, voice barely a whisper. "It was an accident..."

Carlos gives Kevin a soft look. "Kevin, what was an accident? The floor? It's okay that you got the bathroom wet."

Kevin shakes his head. "No no, it was an accident. I didn't mean to do that to Cecil. I was just...Scared..."

"Kevin what do you mean?" Carlos' hands go to Kevin's shoulders, crasping them gently but firmly. "Kevin, can you please talk to me?"

In the distance, footsteps clunk down the hallway, heavy and hard and obviously putting too much pressure in each step. Carlos stands, rushing to the door to see if Cecil is there but by the time he's looking out into the hallway, a door is slamming and Carlos can see Cecil's figure walking down the sidewalk to work. He sighs, turning back to look at the man sitting on his bed, watching him huddle up around himself. He sighs again, slowly walking back over to the bed and gently placing an arm around Kevin's shoulders, pulling him close.

Kevin let's out a gently breath as he lays his head against Carlos' shoulder, and they sit in silence for the longest time, Carlos drawing circles and swirls on Kevin's arm with his thumb, Kevin letting himself listen to the steady thrum of Carlos's heartbeat.

"I can hear you living..." He whispers. "Hear your life running through your body...It's been so long since I've touched life..." His eyes flicker to his hands, where his own blood had been dripping from only days and days before and Carlos cannot help the shiver that runs up his spine.

"Kevin." He murmurs. "Kevin, what happened with you and Cecil?"

Kevin let's out a soft noise of pain. "I didn't mean to do it...But Cecil was standin' up and I thought he was gonna leave so...So I grabbed him and then'e was in the water and everything was cold and wet and loud...Then he was gone." Kevin sniffs. He remembers the buzzing that came with Cecil's anger, the buzzing in his brain whispering to him, a blinding light behind his eyes he thinks he's seen before, but he just can't remember. And he himself shivers, almost trying to bury his face into Carlos' chest as he decides not to look at anything for a moment.

Behind his eyelids, lights dance.

"So...Were you taking a bath?" Kevin nods slowly. "And Cecil was helping you?" Another nod. "And he got up to leave and you...You grabbed him?" A slow, regretful nod. "So the water spilled on the floor and...Oh." Carlos pulls Kevin closer and the poor man seems to relish in the closeness, wrapping himself into hug around Carlos, and though this hug is so foreign, it feels so nice.

"Cecil wanted me to take'a bath...And he said we'd get clothes soon if I...and...I got scared...And then he was gonna leave , and there was yellin' and he was angry and left me there...I was scared..." He mumbles into Carlos' chest. Carlos sighs and rubs circles into Kevin's back.

"I'm so sorry Kevin. Cecil...Cecil should not have handled that situation in this manner." Carlos tries to sound analytical, but mostly he sounds tired and worn, feeling like his age is one its way to catching up with him. "We will have a talk when he gets home but...We have to wait. And your clothes are too wet to wear..."

Kevin let's out a meek sound, body tensing at the idea.

Carlos sighs. "Kevin...Please, I don't want you to get sick. When your body is cold and unclothed, it weakens your immune system, and you've been in such a bad shape recently...Please just wear some different clothes, just for tonight while I dry your old ones. Please, please, please Kevin?" Carlos feels desperate as he pleads to the man currently trying to hide into his chest, whimpering softly.

"I don' wanna make you mad..." He mumbles. "I don't!" He lifts his head to look at Carlos with pitiful, tear stained eyes, but Carlos knows he can't just let Kevin go around like this.

"I won't be angry with you if you don't put on clothes Kevin, I promise I won't. But, I will be...Disappointed. It would just make me really happy if you'd do this for me." Carlos is patient and careful, speaking softly as if to coax a wounded animal to safety.

Kevin is very much wounded, and quite a lot of an animal. He sniffs, wiping at his nose with the back of his hand as he tries to control his tears.

"You can wear anything we have. Just pick something out." And carlos smiles, and Kevin thinks that it's too small, not wide enough or happy enough. His head tells him that this is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong! Oh, how he wants to force if fingers between the scientist's soft lips, pull back at the corners an-

Kevin screeches as the buzzing returns in his head, deep searing pain. No...No, he can't hurt Carlos. Carlos is kind. Carlos...He doesn't have to smile. He should. Carlos should smile. Kevin should make Carlos happy so he will smile, wider and brighter.

Carlos looks concerned. Kevin knows he doesn't like how his eyebrows are drawn together, like by invisible thread gone through his skin all wrong. He doesn't like the downturn of the corners of Carlos' mouth. He wants to make Carlos happy.

So Kevin weakly throws out, "I'm fine!" The pain already deciding to run away and leave behind only confusion and sorrow, but not yet returning, and Kevin doesn't want it back. No, he just wants to make Carlos happy. "I...Uh...I'll try to wear clothes now...I want to make you happy!" And he smiles his practiced smile, eyes bright and lips wide.

Carlos stares, concerned by the sudden change of attitude, but decides that whatever it is, if it gets Kevin to wear clothes it just has to work for now. "Okay...Pick out whatever you want, okay?" He gestures to the entirety of his and Cecil's room, smiling carefully at Kevin.

It's such a small smile. A wrong smile...But it makes Kevin's insides flutter and all he wants to do is whatever it takes to make that smile perfect.

Perfection is the only thing anyone is worth.

-

When Kevin is finally done getting dressed, he turns to Carlos with a bright smile, which dims when Carlos let's out a hearty laugh, eyes dancing as he sees Kevin's outfit.

Kevin is wearing one of Cecil's ridiculous sweaters, a bright red one with colourful kittens sewn into it, and bells along the collar. It's slightly too big for Kevin, just like it is for Cecil, and hangs over his hips and hands, falling off his shoulder a bit. The odd man has forgone pants in exchange for a pair of Carlos' novelty science boxers, which he swears were a Christmas gift, but, let's be honest, he's probably lying. Clashing with the rest of the outfit is a pair of mismatched socks; one long, thick and fluffy white, while the other is striped red and green and goes up to his thighs.

And at that moment, Carlos starts to realise just how alike Kevin and Cecil are. It's so amusing, finding that they both have such eclectic tastes in clothes, and he can't help but stand and pull Kevin into a hug, pressing a soft kiss to his now clean and dry hair. "You look great, Kevin. Very cozy."

Carlos smiles and a bright warm feeling fills Kevin's heart. and gosh, hugs are so nice this way, aren't they? So different, yet so right and Kevin doesn't understand. But the buzzing is not back, and that makes it okay. For now.

And then Carlos is ushering Kevin out of the room and sets him up with some food, telling him to eat while he goes to clean the bathroom. Kevin doesn't like being alone, though, so he follows and sits at the end of the hallway with the food he hardly picks at, watching Carlos walk in and out of the bathroom.

The food is hardly touched when the bathroom is dry and clean, clothes in the dryer and put back into the bedroom. And once Carlos stops trying to convince Kevin to eat more, soon he's tucking Kevin in and going to go wait in bed with Cecil when he hears Kevin get up, the jingling of his ankle bell quite obvious as he stands. At first, Carlos thinks he's going to have to stop the somnambulate from trying to walk out of the house again, but instead he finds Kevin looking at him guiltily, pillow clutched to his chest.

That night, Kevin sleeps curled up next to Carlos, head on his chest, arms around him. And despite all that's happened, when Cecil comes home he climbs into bed with them and wraps his arms around Kevin.

It's the best any of them have slept in weeks.

Chapter Text

 When Cecil's eyes slide open, all he can see is a blur of red and white, all he can feel is the warmth of a body under him, beneath his arms, the weight of another's legs in his, and at first he thinks it's Carlos, but then his head lifts and catches sight with the dark eyes that are Carlos's, and they are too far away to belong to the body in his arms. In fact, he can tell the body in his arms is also in Carlos's, laying close to his chest and hugging him protectively. Carlos smiles and Cecil swears his heart melts as a hand reaches across the body between them and traces Cecil's cheek softly.

Finally, Cecil glances down at said body, seeing Kevin twined between the too, sleeping peacefully. He's clean and dressed and Cecil swears it's something he didn't think he'd see again. The man is drooling slightly against Carlos' chest, and Cecil finds it slightly charming.

"You left early yesterday..." Carlos murmurs, withdrawing his hand from Cecil's face, much to his dismay. "I didn't even get to see you." His tone is laced with disappointment, making Cecil wince as he knows what conversation is bubbling on the surface.

"I...I was needed at the station." He lies, averting his eyes from Carlos in favor of carding his fingers through Kevin's hair. It felt much nicer now that it had been washed, much more like his own, soft, and fair.

"Are you sure you weren't just trying to leave the house?" Carlos chides, his eyes staring patiently at Cecil and he can feel them on his skin, burning into him. Cecil says nothing, almost pretending he didn't hear Carlos. "Cecil..." Carlos warns in his most parental tone, a tone that brings embarrassment to Cecil's cheeks, making him blush like a scolded child.

"I just needed some time to myself..." Cecil whispers, ducking his head. He doesn't mention the fact that he'd spent the majority of his time at work curled up in the men's restroom with a bottle of wine, surrounded by Khoshekh and his many kittens. Cecil wanted to maintain some dignity, though the cat hair on his shirt and smell of alcohol on his breath did not really help.

Carlos sighs. "Cecil..." He shifts closer to his boyfriend, placing a hand over the one that is currently wrapped in Kevin's hair.

Cecil frowns. "Carlos...This isn't a conversation I need right now..." He sighs, though doesn't tug his hand away.

"Cecil, you know you can't treat Kevin likes that." Carlos says softly, ignoring Cecil's plea.

"I know..." Cecil sighs again. "He just...He's just so frustrating, Carlos. It's like dealing with a child. A stupid, innocent child who just keeps...Urgh!" He groans in frustration, pulling himself away from Carlos and rolling away from him and Kevin, arms crossed childishly. His hands clench and unclench, brows draw close together.

Carlos simply stares patiently at him. "It's okay to be frustrated, Cecil, but the way you reacted was inappropria-"

"I know, Carlos!" Cecil snaps, turning to glare at his boyfriend, only for his hard gaze to soften pitifully upon making contact with Carlos' understanding gaze.

"Can you please apologise?" Is all Carlos says, and something in his gaze begs for Cecil to mend their slowly forming, terribly broken family. Cecil cannot help but whimper softly at this look, rolling back to face Carlos.

"I never meant to- Oh void, Kevin!"

-

Kevin is dreaming. He doesn't know how he knows but he does know that he is, in fact, dreaming. He knows, though he does not understand why, that the sun only shines so bright and loud in his dreams, in these dreams. He knows that the sand beneath his feet is only existent in this desert, knows that the deep thrumming in his chest, resonating around him at steady intervals only falls from his head. He knows the figure in the distance cannot be real, should not.

The figure is getting closer.

Kevin watches, feels his body wait in terror for the figure, the sand beneath his feet shifting under him and he feels like the loose future glass between his toes is rising, dragging him deep, and he knows he could just lift his feet and let the sand fall, but he cannot.

The figure is getting larger.

Kevin's chest feels warm, almost achingly so, like heat is rising from inside him. His lungs are full of hot air and with each breath, each inhale and exhale the heat increases, drying out his tongue, making his thoughts thick and heavy. His heart is pumping fire through his being, running it through his body like the oxygen it should carry. His stomach is turning over and over, churning flame to ash, lighting Kevin's soul, if he even has one. Does he? If he does, it must be dying from all the heat curling around him, from the copper wire that replaces his muscles, running heat through every breath, every movement of his body.

The figure stands before him. It is a man. Tall and smiling. Smiling wide. Smiling achingly wide. Something in Kevin says this is the correct way to smile, how Kevin should be smiling right now. Kevin cannot smile. The man smiles, though, leans down and he is so tall, tall and thin, disproportionate to the world around him. Shining. Smiling.

This is not a man, Kevin now realises. No man can look like this. This, this is a god. A tall, shining, Smiling God.

Something in Kevin tells him he should be humbled to meet such a being. It tells him to bow down, to smile, to praise.

Something else in Kevin tells him to rip and bite, snarl, and snap at the man, no, the god.

At the figure. Tells him to tear it to pieces, rip the smile from such a horrible, nasty face.

The two somethings in Kevin are fighting, fighting over his mind through the heat and flames overwhelming his body, and he decides not to bother them. But Kevin does not to know which something to listen to, so he doesn't listen to either.

He does not fight, does not smile, does not praise or rip or bow. He stands and he stares and he waits in polite silence, warily watching the figure.

The figure offers him a hand. The hand is large, larger than Kevin, larger than his thoughts, shining and sharp.

Something inside him, something stronger than the other somethings, something big and large and kind, it whispers for him to take the offered hand. And it asked so nicely for him to listen, suggests it would be a clever idea. Kevin has always wanted to be clever.

Kevin reaches to take the hand.

-

Cecil's face slips into horror and concern as he suddenly notices Kevin's body convulsing, his skin bright red, hot and burning. He's clutching tightly to himself, nails digging into his skin. Cecil can see blood well from the pressure of the cuts, eyes catching sight of a drop of scarlet, and he cannot bear to watch.

He throws off the covers, wrenching Kevin's arms away from himself and pulling him close, effectively stopping the man from hurting himself further, pulling him away from anything he could hit as his body undergoes seizure-like symptoms.

Carlos rushes up from the bed, running to turn on all the lights, open the windows and light candles. He hears Cecil hastily hush Kevin, who has started to wail loudly. Another nightmare, they realised, had struck the man. His hands grapple for something, nails bared and Cecil sends Carlos a look of fear and anguish, and then Carlos is in front of Kevin, holding his wrists still as Cecil busies himself trying to calm down the scared man, hushing and humming to him, hands carding through his hair.

Kevin whimpers and thrashes, eyes shut tight in fear and Cecil tries his best to calm him down, trying to tear away the nightmare with soft phrases. Carlos holds Kevin's limbs still till his struggles cease, till the whimpers stop and his body stills again. When peace returns, Cecil tugs him closer and holds Kevin as his body settles back to sleep.

Carlos sits next to the two, taking Cecil's job of gently carding his fingers through Kevin's hair.

"He needs to go clothes shopping..." Cecil murmurs, not looking up from Kevin's sleeping face.

"We can leave when he wakes up." Carlos murmurs back. He leans forward to kiss Cecil softly, then to press a kiss to Kevin's hair. "I'll go make some breakfast."

-

When Kevin's eyes slide open, he is greeted not by the smiling figure, but by the warm smell of coffee and lavender and ink, enveloping him as his body is wrapped up in a close embrace. At first he thinks it's Carlos, but he knows Carlos smells like chemical spills and paper, with a slight hint of what water could be given potential and ions. No, this must be Cecil. Cecil always smells like ink.

His body tells him to burrow closer, curl into the warmth, but his mind immediately calls for his form to freeze, eyes widening in fear as it flashes a memory of Cecil, soaking wet and seething angry, shouting at Kevin and storming off, the dark, damp, coldness of the bathroom. A whimper escapes his lips and in a moment the arms tighten around him, safe, protective, and gentle, and horribly terrifying to Kevin.

"Hush, you're okay." A smooth voice pulls out from the body around him, the body that is his and not his. The body that only mere hours ago had been angry at him. Kevin hates when people are angry with him.

His body trembles, congregating towards Cecil's embrace without meaning to. He whimpers, hiding his face against Cecil's chest, feeling soft hands run through his hair.

"I'm so sorry, Kevin...I shouldn't have yelled at you." Cecil's much deeper than Kevin's voice murmurs. "It's so...Confusing? Having Carlos back and...And you here. Old habits die so hard..." Something about Cecil's words poke at something in the back of Kevin's mind, but he can't seem to find what it is. It's so difficult for him to remember everything, and the buzzing and foggy thoughts couldn't be helping. Regardless, such words were both uneasy to Kevin and comforting. Earnest apologies are always comforting to Kevin.

"I forgive you, friend." He whispers, jumping when he feels Cecil's body jolt in surprise. He lifts his head, staring at the face that is not his face, pulling the corners of his mouth back in a wide smile. "Thank you."

Cecil stares at the horrifying, pitiful man before him. The man who he knew was one of the greatest causes of his troubles the past year, the man who shared his body, but is not him, the man who is staring at him like a faithful dog. Cecil stares back at Kevin and he...He smiles. It is a small, soft smile, where no teeth are shown. In Kevin's book, it is a shoddy, sad smile, but a smile nonetheless.

So Kevin leaps forward and wraps his arms around Cecil in a hug. Not his hugs, but the ones Cecil and Carlos had shown him. He hugs Cecil, and Cecil awkwardly returns the affection. Kevin feels safe. Everything feels safe.

-

Hours later, Cecil and Carlos lead Kevin down the street, flanking him as to keep the wandering man guarded and on the sidewalk. They would be driving, but Carlos' engine turned to jelly last week and it's been taking the mechanics forever to get it out and replace the equipment, and Cecil sold his car years ago because he needed money for shoes...Not exactly his best financial idea...Besides, apparently cars make Kevin nervous since he first tried to get his license in college. Apparently killing seven people and crashing a car into a tree leaves scars that Kevin didn't even know were housed in his brain.

Kevin and Cecil walked in sync, much to Carlos' amusement, feet rising and falling at equal intervals, hands linked together to stop Kevin from trying to run out into the street chasing after butterflies or running from stray leaves. Carlos held tight to Kevin's hand, leading the two doubles down to the closest clothing store. He paid close attention to Kevin, taking note of how he hung his head, eyes darting around and body drawn tight, as if he could spring at any moment. though he held the face of the typical Desert bluffs citizen (eyes wide, lips drawn back, teeth bared), his face was false and frightened. It fooled no one, such a false smile, but Carlos could tell it made Kevin feel more comfortable.

If masks make Kevin feel comfortable, Carlos decided, he could wear them whenever he needs to.

Soon they were shopping for clothing. Kevin had a quick fondness for bright colours and sundresses, and among underwear and socks he left the store with a wide array of orange and yellow dresses and other necessities. Among these were colourful dinosaur pajamas, made more for children then the child-like man, and a pair of legwarmers, chosen by Cecil. He saw Kevin's outfit choices as...Hm...Simple. The imagination he had when dressing himself the night before diminished with choice, his imagination almost being knocked out of him when he didn't have to use it.

Sometimes Carlos fears to think of the sort of things StrexCorp did to Kevin. The look in his eyes sometimes, lost, vacant, blurred, it all seemed so frightening. Science, Carlos thinks, but without ethics, not real ethics. This must have been Kevin's bane. The scientist, the morally good scientist, by the morals of the vast majority, that is, he wanted to help Kevin. Helping felt better than hurting. Helping healed the past...At lest, that's what he kept telling himself.

Then there are the looks that he gets as he walks down the street. Carlos had never seen a single citizen of Night Vale show such horror for something other than maybe tax collection week, or the hooded figures, which they normally pretended don't exist anyways. But no, the looked at Kevin as they look upon the voice; gaping, cold fear, eyes and mouth wide open, pulling their groceries and small children (well, at least, their favourites of their small children) away from the man.

Carlos never thought Kevin or Cecil seemed that odd of appearance. Carlos swears that Cecil actually looks like the most average man in the world, Kevin only standing out by scars, smile and eyes alone. They both seemed so...Well, normal. Not in the sense that either were, by common societies standards, really the type to fit in, standing out by a mile by clothing style alone, but moreso that if you spotted either in a crowd you...Well, you wouldn't, actually. They fade into the crowd so easily, it was no wonder Carlos hadn't even noticed Cecil so long ago, when he stood to speak to the town, to tell of why he and his team had come here, how wondrous and scientific the town seemed, and had not even seen Cecil for a second, not until he had approached him. Just a face in the crowd, Carlos always thought. So what is so horrifying about Kevin?

The oddest part of it all is that Kevin didn't even seem to mind. Even in his sober mood, Carlos could tell that he caught glance of every rude look that was thrown at him, and brushed it off like it is nothing. Nothing! The scientist thinks to ask but...No, he thinks better of it. Some questions do not need immediate answers. He should know, he's a scientist! Scientists do that, right? Probably. What even is science anyways? Carlos knows. He's a scientist! He's written papers.

It is not soon after arriving that the trio walk back home, Carlos coercing Kevin into a conversation and watching him light up as he quietly starts to babble. With Cecil's encouragements, the babbling continues, and just before Kevin recedes into his shell upon returning home, Carlos and Cecil get a glimpse of what he may be, have been. It's almost there...

-

Kevin spends the rest of the day following Carlos around as Cecil darts off to work, hiding when he turns on the vacuum, trying to help with the windows only to almost break one, keeping silent company. This is a normal day. This is a good day.     

That night, Cecil pulls Kevin into the bathroom and files his nails down to the skin. Though it hurts a little, Kevin calmly obliges, letting Cecil hastily cut away his sharp talons, and kiss each finger when it's done. Kevin realises he's not the only one that is scared.

-

Kevin has made it a habit to constantly follow Carlos and Cecil around. If he can help it, he is never alone. Carlos allows Kevin into the bathroom with him, even when he is showering or urinating, letting Kevin sit on the sink counter and draw pictures on the fogged up mirror, or sit in the corner and wait patiently for the time to pass. Cecil is a bit less open to allowing Kevin to do this and often makes him sit outside the bathroom door, many a time exiting the room only to find Kevin curled up and asleep from waiting too long, knocked out in a very cat-like manner.

There was always someone home to watch the anxious man, to make sure he never left the house, to make sure his skin was always unmarred. Kevin hates being alone. The darkness always curls around him, pulls at him and the buzzing returns, combs at his brain and it hurts. But Kevin never knows what to do about the buzzing accept to stop himself. Stop. Stop whatever he is doing. Stop. When he is alone, it is oh so difficult to remedy that. It's easy to grounds yourself when you constantly need to occupy your mind with how to think and act. Kevin is consistently trying to be good and listen to Cecil and Carlos and make them happy. He wants to see them smile, to see their teeth and wide eyes.

Carlos has really pretty eyes. Kevin doesn't know why he thinks that, why he thinks they could be better. Kevin doesn't know why, as he thinks of such eyes, his own hollow void eyes start to tear up. He doesn't know why the feeling of blood on his hands is morphing, where it's coming from. He likes the feeling, though, and he doesn't know why. Cecil and Carlos' house would be so much prettier if they just added a little...Decoration.

Ah! Why does he think that!? It's like someone...Something? Is dropping words into his brain, which is fuzzy enough, but he doesn't need it. Everything feels like a blurry picture and it hurts.

Kevin wakes up alone, sitting in the corner of the guest room. His face is wet. It is dark. He hates the dark. He hates being alone.

He staggers, pulling himself up from the floor, stumbling out the door into a sunlit hallway, padding towards where he can hear the subtle sounds of beating hearts, breathing lungs, and the flutter of air being pushed around by matter. Hearts, he thinks. Cecil and Carlos. Why are they here? Why is he alone.

They're talking. The voices sound so fuzzy.

"Do you really have to go to the lab today, Carlos?" Cecil's voice floats into Kevin's head via his ears, taking up some of the fuzzy space. It feels so weird...Like his thoughts and his voice, but dark and distorted. He thinks the voice is wron- No! Something thinks the voice is wrong. Not Kevin. Kevin likes Cecil's voice. It sounds like a dripping faucet.

"Yes, I really do, Cecil. We have a very important experiment and it's timed and I don't know if I'll be able to-" Now it's Carlos' voice. Cecil has called it oaky, but Kevin thinks it's jarring and imper- Nonono! Kevin doesn't think that! Why can't he think his own thoughts?!?!

"Pleasepleaseplease Carlos, I can't take him with me-"

"Cecil, if he came to the lab with me he'd be in danger. we can't let him get hurt."

"But I need to go to the station! It's emergency broadcast season."

"Then take him with you. Maybe it will help, him being in a radio station again."

Cecil sighs, but Kevin doesn't hear it. He's clutching at his ears, knees slowly sliding to the floor as he feels his legs failing him. So much buzzing. It's dark dark dark everywhere! and the voice...

"I guess..." Cecil sighs again. "I love you."

"I love you too." Carlos and Cecil embrace, but it's cut short by the sharp noise of a bell ringing in the air. Their heads snap to see Kevin, curled up and scraping at his head with his now-dull nails, ineffectually trying to tear up his own thoughts and failing, but Cecil feels himself go cold and pale regardless.

They both rush to his side, but when Kevin looks at them his eyes are full of tears, salty secretions leaking down his face. his eyes are dark, darker than the void, and Cecil feels like something terribly wrong is going on.

Then Kevin is scrambling away, down the hallway and away away away, because the buzzing WON'T SHUT UP.

Did he just shout that out? He feels like he did, feels his throat vibrate and hurthurthurt.

He doesn't know what he's doing anymore. What he's hearing. What he's seeing.

Everything aches.

And somewhere, in the back of his horribly shaky mind, something is smiling.

Chapter Text

                                                                                                                  three dorks sit cuddled up in front of a fire

Kevin opened his eyes to blearily look at the sheets in front of him, finding himself alone in Cecil and Carlos's bed. Warm sunlight was shining down on his back, which he could feel through the nearby windows. A part of him silently thanked whoever kept the curtains open for him as he sat up, stretching in the midday light.

...

Midday?

The door opened and Kevin couldn't help but jump, even when he realised it was only Carlos peaking in. "Kevin are you...Oh, you're awake."

Kevin grins as he crawls out of bed to latch onto Carlos, nuzzling his chest affectionately. "Hi Carlos."

Carlos chuckles, patting Kevin's head like one would a friendly dog. "I was just about to watch a movie. I was thinking maybe you'd want to watch it with me?"

Kevin nods eagerly, eyes lighting up. "Yes please!" He had found coloured movies sooo interesting since they'd been introduced to him. But wow, they are sooo different from the movies he used to watch! Footloose is nothing like the Thin Man!

Soon Kevin is sitting next to Carlos on the couch, a polite foot or so away from the scientist, legs curled up close to his chest. When Carlos catches the looks of innocent desire Kevin keeps shyly throwing his way, he offers a small smile and opens his arms to the man, letting him happily crawl close and snuggle up to the scientist. 

They'd been trying so hard to teach Kevin about healthy affection, avoiding the idea of aggression being equal to love.  Sometimes they would occasionally notice him try raise a hand over Cecil's head, or dig his fingers a bit too hard into Carlos's arms, but it seemed like he was getting better. At least...They hoped he was getting better. It was hard to tell, with Kevin. Sometimes improvements looked like failures, and failures looked like bright smiles and cookies. 

The movie is a Christmas classic, something with bright colours and happy families and a conflict resolved by holiday spirit. Less than a minute in, Kevin becomes confused. 

"What's that?" The former radio host points at the screen, breaking Carlos from wayward thoughts. 

"Hm?" The scientist glances at the television, noticing a panning shot of a large Christmas tree. What? "Kevin, it's a Christmas tree." He says, eyebrow raised in confusion. 

"A what? Is that like a type of cactus? Or a cloud?" Carlos had quickly learned that Kevin's understanding of all things vaguely scientific were minuscule at best. The day before he had freaked out when he found out what a voice box was, thinking there was a cardboard box in his throat, and several times electricity had to be explained to him, if only to keep pointy things away from sockets. 

"No, Kevin, it's...It's a tree normally found in the north. Like...You know the forest on the edge of town that sometimes talks?" Carlos remembered, vaguely, radio broadcasts of Kevin and some heinous woman chattering about how they were going to tear down the Whispering Forest. He works with what he has. 

Kevin stares down at the floor, brow scrunched together as he tries to remember what that is. His mind tended to forget, to stop remembering the past, recent or long ago. This one wasn't too fuzzy, though. "Ummm...Yeah." It wasn't a complete lie...Sorta. 

"Well, it's like a small one of those, but prickly...So a cactus tree? Sort of? I'm no botanist. And people decorate them for Christmas." The scientist shrugs. 

Kevin giggles, covering his mouth as he watches Carlos' face go bright red at his amusement. "I know what a tree is silly!" He smiles, all teeth, and Carlos can almost see a vacant blankness in his eyes as he does so. A shiver runs up his spine as the man laughs again. "But what's a Christle-A chriss...Errr..."

"Christmas?"

"Yes, that one!"

Now Carlos is confused. How could he not...? "You don't know what....?"

Kevin shakes his head. "Nuh-uh!"

"Well...It's a holiday celebrating...Well, debatable things; Pagan traditions of avoiding the cold winter and forgetting woes, Christian traditions linking a date to the false birth of Christ, people of all religions searching for altruism and narcissism...It really depends on who you are, but people give out gifts and celebrate...Err...Life? I guess? It's not exactly linear or scientific, so..." Carlos is a scientist. He knows Science. Christmas is NOT science, and therefore hardly relevant to his mind.

"What's the tree for?" 

"The presents go under it."

"Why?"

"..." Carlos has no idea. "...Thief protection?"

Kevin mulls over this, his brain taking the time to start up like a Windows 95. Carlos can practically hear the jarring tune spinning out of the man's ears. When the lovely logo clears away, Kevin blurts out a response. "...Oh. That make sense."

Carlos' mind is sighing in relief. "So, you don't have Christmas in Desert Bluffs?" He asks Kevin, glancing at him curiously. Kevin shakes his head. 

"Nuh-uh! I've never heard of it." His eye twitches slightly, head bowing towards his knees the way his body instinctively moves when he has to remember the past. Carlos watches his eyes glaze over, the odd smile on his features widening like a long lost nightmare. 

Carlos tries to smile, for Kevin's sake. "So what do you have around this time of year, then?"

"Oh, well on December 23rd we have Consumerism Day, where we spend money so StrexCorp's company can grow, and give worthless gifts to our friends and family, which they then donate back to StrexCorp so they can be sold again! Then for the next Twelve days we celebrate Capitalism Fun Day! That's where we work for twelve days straight, without stopping or food or drink or rest!" He smiles, rocking back and forth in his seat, head shrinking lower into his knees. "And they put up streamers in offices and I get to read all sorts of...Of..." His voice trails off, eyes going vacant and staring at the screen, body starting to shiver rather violently. His shoulders pull inwards, hands masking his face, and Carlos watches in surprise as Kevin pulls at his mouth, attempting to rip the smile from his lips. 

The scientist rushes to scoot closer to Kevin, wrapping his arms around him and pulling him into a warm hug. "It's okay Kevin, you don't have to remember." He says softly, rubbing circles on the shaking man's back, chin resting on his head.

"I don't?" Kevin whispers, terrified and meek, the tremble of a child on his tongue.

"No, you don't." Carlos reassures him in a whisper, as if afraid to scare off a small mouse. 

Kevin's head buries itself into Carlos' chest, staying silent for a long time as he clings close, and tight. Then he whispers "Can you tell me facts about dinosaurs?" In a voice so soft, it takes Carlos a second to hear. 

He happily obliges. 

-

After long minutes of cuddling close and Carlos murmuring the scientific names of dinosaurs into a crying man's ear, they settle down to focus on the movie. 

"I know how to do that." Kevin points out, pointing to the television screen. Cecil looked up from his work curiously.

"Huh?" Kevin was pointing at a pair of hands sliding two sticks together, exchanging yarn.

"Knit?"

Kevin nods rapidly. "Uh-huh!"

"...Huh." Carlos was not expecting that. 

"Yeah! I used to make scarves and sweaters and bookshelves like that!" Kevin rambles on, happily discussing how he loves knitting together squares, and dying them, or something. Carlos didn't know, art's not his thing, and it was kind of hard to track Kevin's conversation when he was constantly hiding his face in his legs, and hands, and Carlos' chest. He pretended to be understanding regardless. Pretending you know what's going in is probably, like, the seventh thing a scientist is. Maybe. 

Regardless, it was nice to see Kevin happy about something. Carlos wasn't even sure before now that StrexCorp employees were allowed to have hobbies, but apparently they are. Though, knitting would not be Carlos' first guess for a hobby for Kevin. 

He seemed to know what he was talking about.

-

When the movie ended, Kevin was already fast asleep, tucked under Carlos' arm, the scientist's hand in his hair, carefully stroking through delicate strands. It wasn't long till Carlos too fell asleep, to the sound of jingle bells and holiday cheer playing on a rolling credit screen. 

Cecil returned home hours later hoping to start on dinner, but when he found the two cuddled up to each other, he decided food could wait. He placed himself next to Kevin and wrapped an arm around him, pulling himself close to his lovely boyfriend, and his broken...Errr...Friend?

Peace broke through the house, at least for a few hours. It was a rare gift. The SSP were very thankful

-

 

That night, hushed conversation in bed between two lovers, one snuggled up under the arm of the other, one sharing the exploits of his day, the other listening carefully, brow knit in concern. 

A decision was quickly made. Then they were asleep together, for a second time that day.

 

-

 

"How come you don' have streamers up?"

"Huh?"

"It's December. You're supposed to put up the streamers for Capitalism Day."

"Capitalism Day?" Cecil looks at Kevin skeptically. "That's not-" He cuts himself off, deciding it probably wasn't good to even think about something as terrible sounding as 'Capitalism Day'. "We...We haven't decorated the house yet for the holidays. No time, with all the work Carlos and I have been doing, you know?" The radio host lies, trying to distract Kevin by changing the channel on the television. "Hey look, blenders!"

Kevin let's out a giddy squeal, head turning to the television with an excited wave of his arms. "Can we get one!?!?!" 

Cecil let's out a sigh of relief before he begins to explain to Kevin that they already own a blender, so that'd just be redundant. Really Kevin, let's not go through this again. With an arm close around him, letting the man rest agianst his shoulder, he dodges a bullet, letting Kevin ramble on. 

Today, it doesn't seem as annoying as usual. 

 

-

 

Carlos woke up early the next morning to the sharp smell of blood. Worried, he wandered out of the bedroom to find the halls of his home strung with entrails, blood artfully spattered on the wall, and Kevin curled up and covered from head to toe in blood in the corner of the living room, the dead body of a raccoon snuggled close in his arms, eyes closed in a peaceful sleep. For a long time, all he could do was stare in horror at his carnage soaked house, watching the slow drip of blood onto his stained wood floors. 

Carlos doesn't have the heart to wake him up, but nevertheless lifts the blood soaked body into his arms and carries him to the bathroom to dispose of the blood. When Kevin wakes up, he's lying in with clean clothes on and wet hair, a stuffed raccoon toy tucked under his arm. When he wanders out of the room, the streamers he doesn't remember putting up have been replaced with paper streamers and ribbons. Kevin feels a sort of rightness in his heart, as well as an overwhelming sense of offness. But then Carlos is calling to him from the kitchen, asking if he's hungry, and he doesn't have time to think. His head feels all fuzzy, but the warm feeling in his chest clouds out the confusion. 

 

-

 "Kevin!" Cecil called as he stepped into his home, a pile of bags arranged in his arms. "Kevin, I have something for you!"

The man looks up from his place curled up on the couch where he had been watching Carlos go through stacks of notes on the floor. "Yes, Cecil?"

Cecil drops his bags onto the floor before extracting a paper one from the bottom. "Here." He strides over to the couch, holding out the bag to Kevin.

Kevin squeals cheerfully, taking the bag and holding it to his chest as he rips at it with his fingers, extracting the object inside, a sweater.

The bright red thing is knit with white cats and holly along the middle, larger than would normally fit the man. "Ooooh, it's lovely!" Kevin coos, pulling it on over his clothes. "Thank you for the gift, Cecil!" He cheers, jumping forwards to wrap his arms around his double, not seeming to notice the man tense up.

"It's not a gift! It's charity. You needed more warm clothes." He argues, prying Kevin away from him. Noticing Cecil's struggled, Kevin let go so he could skip over to Carlos and show off his new sweater.

"Look it's fluffy!"

"It's very nice, Kevin." Carlos smiles politely, glancing up from his work enough to look at Kevin. "That was very nice of you, Cecil." He turns back to look at his boyfriend, staring proudly at a now bright red, blushing face. 

"It was nothing..." He mutters, embarrassment evident on his face, and hands, and neck. Then Cecil is running off to go cook dinner or something and Kevin follows after him to watch. 

Carlos feels a warm glow in his chest as he watches the two. Even with Cecil's mask of announce, he catches the fond looks the man sends his double's way when he's not looking, the amusement with Kevin's smile and tendency to draw hearts and flowers onto everything Cecil does. 

Every time Cecil smiles, tension fades away from the walls of their home. 

-

"Kevin, don't listen to Carlos. Christmas is just an imagined fantasy by capitalistic bureaucracies. Santa Claus doesn't even exist! He's a government mind plant used to mask the populace from their bear issued winter spy missions." Cecil scoffs as he kneels next to the fireplace, carefully setting up bear traps. "Don't step in these, by the way. I don't want to ruin the carpet with your blood."

"Okay, Cecil." Kevin smiles, taking a step away from the holiday decorations. Carlos had gone out to pick up his own decorations, promising Kevin a tree and sparkly instruments when he got back. Cecil, meanwhile, was putting up his traditional Night Vale traps and protection units, so to keep his family safe on Christmas night. Kevin was a bit confused, though. "But...But Carlos said Christmas was a religious celebration of the cold?"

Cecil simply laughs. "That's just what they want you to think! The government uses yuletide capitalism to cover up its seasonal plans."

Kevin's head cocks to the side. "But isn't government interference what prevents neo-anarchist revolts and keeps order within weak societies?"

Cecil glances back at Kevin, eyebrow raised. "...No, Kevin. Large governments are what cause anarchist revolts."

"But if a society is well structured, why should there be revolts?"

"It permits loss of individualization and populi control."

"But individualization only leads to free thinking."

"That's the point."

"Free thinking only leads to revolution, which destroys society. Strong government is what keeps people in line. Revolts can't happen if no one can think to revolt." Kevin's smile stretches wide and Cecil drops his bear trap supplies in horror as his eyes start to stare blankly into the distance. "That's why we rely so heavily on large industries and organization. They provide us with valuable income, which can then be evenly distributed to the public for living necessities, negating the need for individualization as everyone can live with a direct sameness as underlings."

Cecil feels his jaw fall open, choking out his next rebuttal with a stiff jaw of disbelief. "And the poor and the sick...?" 

"Useless. Eradicated. No more poor, no more sick. Those who are not needed are no longer here."

"Kevin, that's industrial communism."

"No, that's order." Sharp void-like eyes snap to stare at Cecil, smile stretched too wide. A picture of a blood stained studio crashes into Cecil's mind as Kevin continues with his preaching. "That's why StrexCorp works so well. It keeps the...the.." His eye twitches, smile faltering with every syllable. "T-the company...It...It kept..." Cecil drew himself up from the floor so fast he almost tripped, launching towards Kevin to pull him close. "The place...the one..." 

"Shhh, Kevin, it's okay..." Cecil pulls the man closer, watching as his facial muscles freeze up. "Hush, it's okay. Don't worry Kevin, you don't need to remember." Kevin finds the voice in his ear soothing, buries himself into safe arms with a soft noise of distress. "Shhhh, everything is okay. Everything is fine, Kevin."

Carlos comes home half an hour later to find Kevin and Cecil curled up together on the couch, fast asleep, bear traps left alone on the floor, forgotten. 

-

"Cecil says we're not supposed to give presents." Kevin was confused. The conflicts between Carlos and Cecil's philosophies on Christmas were very confusing to the broken man. 

"Cecil says a lot of things. It's his job. But we decided last year that we are going to embrace both of our customs for Christmas, as a family." 

"So Christmas isn't the same for everyone?"

"Nope."

"...Huh. Well, that's cool!" Kevin beams, glad to have learned something new. 

"I guess it is. Say, do you want to learn one of my Christmas traditions?" Carlos smiles fondly.

"Oh yes, please." 

"Alright, let's go make Christmas cookies." He watches as Kevin's eyes light up, suddenly jumping forward to hug Carlos. 

"There's cookies for this holiday? Best holiday ever!" For some reason, nothing could beat that man's enthusiasm for sweets. 

It's not too soon after that Carlos has put together some ginger bread mix, putting Kevin in charge of mixing the bowl, which he is surprisingly good at. Then they are spreading out the dough on a cookie sheet and Kevin's giggling as they use hoemmade cookie cutters to cut out little people and cats and butterflies. 

While the cookies bake, Carlos cleans up the kitchen while Kevin tries to clean the kitchen, only to get distracted by watching the oven anxiously. 

"Why does it take so long for cookies to cook?" he whines, lying on the floor amid smatters of flour and sugar, head cupped in his hands as he eagerly stares at the oven. 

"Science." Probably. Cooking is science, right? Carlos is a scientist. He knows. Probably. Most likely. 

"Oh..." Kevin pouts, knowing he can't argue with science.

"How about we go decorate the tree while we wait, yes?" Carlos just wanted to keep Kevin's mind busy. The docile man seemed to often cause trouble when bored, ranging from poking poodles to slaughtering wild animals. Better safe than scrubbing blood off the tub, again

"Okay!" Kevin chirps, pulling himself off the floor with a grin. "I've never done that before!"

"Well then this will be a new experience."

-

Apparently, having Kevin decorate the tree is NOT a good idea. Within five minutes he managed to break seven ornaments and lose three. Carlos hadn't even dared to let him touch the atomic "star" he had for the top of the tree, afraid he'd break the scientist's special tree topper, or, somehow, do worse. 

A quick transition to paper ornaments was a much better choice for Kevin, leaving the breakable ones to Carlos, who whistled a cheery tune as he worked, something off-pitch that made Kevin smile and hum along, despite not knowing the song. The room was warm, not in a seething desert way, but in the subtle ways a warm bath feels like after a long day, slow and soothing. Actually, Carlos felt pretty comfortable. In that moment, he almost felt like they were two normal people, decorating a normal tree in a normal town. Of course, the bear traps and holiday blood stone altars seemed a bit out of place in this fantasy. This didn't stop Carlos from wrapping his arms around Kevin when they had finished their job, resting his chin on the man's shoulder as he stared past him to look at the tree. 

"We did a good job." He praises softly, clasping hands together across Kevin's stomach.

The soft intimacy feels nice, like a comfy weight on Kevin's chest. He feels himself leaning back against the scientist, nuzzling his head into the hair that Cecil so much loves. "It looks very pretty....Sparkly..." 

"Yes." Carlos hums, smiling with just the corners of his lips, watching the light of the trees reflect in Kevin's eyes. 

They stay in that moment for a long time, keeping the quiet calmness between themselves, a companionable silence that for some reason seems foreign, unwonted in Kevin's brain.  

Of course, silence cannot last forever, especially when one is baking. The sharp ring of the kitchen timer broke the two out of their tree watching, Kevin jumping a bit in surprise, almost tripping to the ground in not for Carlos's arms around him. 

"It's just the cookies, Kevin." Carlos smiles, watching the man's eyes light up as he scrambles away from Carlos to run to the oven, quick to check on their baked goods. 

"Carlos, they're ready!" The scientist hears chirped brightly with all the excitement of a child, following after Kevin to swiftly grab some oven mitts, removing the cookies from the oven. 

He watches Kevin's eager gaze as he turns off the oven and removes the mitts, waiting for the moment when he'll need to smack his touch away from the still burning hot treats. "They need to cool, Kevin."

The man pouts, deflating a bit with the idea of more waiting.

"Well, they need to cool so we can decorate them. If we don't, the icing will just melt right off."

"We get to draw on them?" Kevin smiles hopefully, leaning close to the scientist with fluttering eyelashes. 

"In a sense, yes."

Whining childishly, Kevin slumps his head onto the counter. "How long do we have to wait?"

"An hour or so, maybe."

Kevin groans. That's soooooo long!

Carlos chuckles. "Come on, Kevin, I've got some science work to do."

Kevin perks up a bit. "Can I draw?"

"Of course!"

-

Hours later, Kevin has draw seven pictures and told Carlos about the history of tax deductions in explicit detail. Carlos has gone through a whole file of science notes, and filled out his weekly paperwork for the SSP. Then they're back in the kitchen, Carlos showing Kevin how to use the icing tubes to decorate their gingerbread cookies. 

"See, you just squeeze it and...there! I made Albert Einstein." He holds up a cookie covered in white and grey icing, and though Kevin has no idea who it's supposed to be, it does not look very human. Carlos is a scientist. he is not an artist, and has never claimed to be. He knows science. This sin't science. you can't blame him for things that aren't sciencing!

Nevertheless, Kevin tries it out himself. Soon, there's a row of Gingerbread man, artfully decorated to look like the people Kevin knows, which is to say, Carlos, Cecil, and himself. 

"This one's Cecil! I made his face and his hair and his cat shirt, and the fluffy pants he wears on Thursdays!" Kevin smiles proudly, offering the Cecil-Cookie to Carlos. It was surprisingly accurate. "And this is you! See, there's your hair, and your labcoat, and your rainbow socks!"

"What about you?"

"Oh, this one's me." Kevin holds up a cookie covered in red icing, with a wide grin and sharp teeth. It doesn't look much like Kevin. well, not now Kevin. Maybe some time ago, this would be him, but it did not posses the innocence of the man, or the true way he smiled. 

"That's..." Carlos is a at a loss for words. "Very...Very good, Kevin." He lies, smiling falsely. If Kevin notices, he doesn't say, just decorates dinosaur shaped cookies with happy smiles and spots. 

-

Christmas eve found Carlos, Cecil, and Kevin sitting around the fire after their special holiday dinner, cups of hot chocolate in their hands as Cecil told stories of the old winter and Carlos kept the fire going, Kevin finding himself lying on Cecil's lap, a and tangled in his hair, running through softly. as the night wore on, they found themselves feeling heavy and tired, the fire blazing on them in bright lights, depicting the tales of winters past with each story, changing from yellow, to blue, to green as midnight neared. 

The morning would bring badly wrapped presents, kisses, hugs, and lazy breakfasts with more sugar than food. But for now, all the three had to think of was each other, of the fire in their eyes, the feeling of their favourite sleeping clothes against the worn carpet, the sound of Cecil's voice, of Kevin's noises of interest, of Carlos jostling wood around. Outside the house, growling filled the street of Night Vale, 'Santa Claus' beginning to find his way to the houses of the small desert community. Soon, the family of three would have to leave to bed, safe behind barricaded door and bear traps for the night to finish. But for now, they'd enjoy the peace. If only for one night, and nothing more, they enjoy their peace. 

Chapter Text

Cecil feels himself racing after Kevin before he even thinks about the action, vision blurring as all he could focus on was the man running away, stumbling down the hallway to void knows where. Footstep clattered behind him, but Cecil doesn't notice, too focused on the fact that Kevin is crumbling to the floor, scratching at his ears like that will somehow remove his thoughts and feelings, Cecil can practically see the pain radiating from his head, like waves of fire flashing from a twitching head.

And that twitching head was followed by a twitching body, spasming as hands went slack, falling to the floor and as Cecil finds his arms wrapped around Kevin, holding him close, Carlos is there and checking his pulse, his sight, his blood flow, trying to snap him out of whatever trance he's in with words and touches.

Kevin's eyes are inky black, blank and forever, like the void, staring off into a place that doesn't exist, at least not right now. Horror strikes into Carlos's eyes as both him and Cecil watch his convulsions fade into a slackness typically associated with sleep, unconsciousness, or...Well, death. But no, not that, his eyes were wide open, mouth curled into a wide grin, with teeth too sharp to be human teeth locking together, pressing against the skin of his lips and making him bleed, trickles of blood that make Cecil cringe.

He doesn't move.

Minutes pass, the quick rise and fall of Cecil and Carlos's chest the only movement in the room, slowly following into tandem with Kevin's, a soft beat that backgrounded the thoughts running like morbid poetry through the minds of the two holding a body so cold it could have hypothermia.

When Carlos lifts Kevin into his arms and carries him to his room, Kevin doesn't move. When Cecil sits by his head, runs his fingers through Kevin's hair with a tentativeness that fits coaxing a stray cat, brow drawn tight together. Kevin does not move when Carlos takes his seat on the other side of him, a hand reaching out to hold Cecil's, the other staying on Kevin's pulse.

Their hearts beat together in harmony. Kevin doesn't move.

-

Where he is, it is dark.

He can see no sky, no land nor ocean. He is within a blackness so thick he cannot tell if his eyes are open or closed, if he is flying or falling or simply staying afloat in a non-existent landscape where there is no ground to touch. Regardless, he stays in place, unmoving, as if his limbs were too tired to try. And the humming, buzzing voices arte there with him, in a loneliness only permeated by insanity, an endless ray of smiles running through his brain, chasing after what he was and wasn't, or at least, what he wasn't anymore.

He did not know that he could feel pain in dreams, but apparently he can. He can feel lacerations draw themselves upon his arms, the tips of knives dance around his chest, thin pricks of needles up and down his legs. The stabbing of the words is mimicked by the thorn in his side, the aching in his leg moving in tandem with the running madness in his head.

It hurt to keep his eyes open, or maybe it hurt to close them. Everything was off, it was difficult to tell, really. He felt like swirling mist in a vortex of sand, thick and immovable by forces of simplicity.

The voices grew louder with every small second, which may as well have been entirety for the poor man. A chill ran over his body, like ice in the wind biting at his skin in a way that made him want to flinch. Dark and cold; his least favourite things.

The voices kept speaking. they told him things, things he did not know, cannot control.

Kevin could not move.

-

They sat for so long with Kevin that Carlos almost forgot to go to work. Even that much later, the man had not moved, and Cecil was almost dozing, half asleep, on the bed next to him, hand still buried in Kevin's hair.

Carlos needed to leave, though. He had experiments to do, time sensitive and important, so he pressed a soft kiss to Cecil's lips, and another to Kevin's hair, an intimate act that he didn't even think twice about doing, before reminding Cecil he had to leave soon and then heading out the door.

It wasn't till an hour later that Cecil forced himself up, he had work to go to. But, there was the slight issue of the man still lying limp in bed, unconscious as hell.

Cecil made some hard decisions.

-

Kevin feels heat blaze up and down his arms, thick, hot flames grabbing onto his wrists, creating sharp manacles that tie him to the darkness, and though he feels the flames they are not there, not at all. The darkness stays, a solid constant that in no way comforts the distraught man, not when pain laces it's ay through his skin, weaves in as if it is a quilt.

Everything hurts. The voices grow louder. They are not whispers in the back of his head, but booming shouts in a crowd, pounding harsh realities into his ear drums with not a care for how Kevin feels.

Hurts. Hurts. Hurts. why is everything hurting?!? What did he do? He wants to scream, to thrash and writhe away from all the pain, all the voices and the darkness, but he can't move and that hurts more than all the fire and lacerations running up through his skin, burning away at all feelings as if they were simple documents of who and what he is.

Everything hurts. Why does he have to hurt?

-

Cecil carries Kevin to the radio station, sets his body down on a pile of pillows from the break room and leaves him in the booth to rest. He has not moved, not once, the whole trip, and that worried Cecil to no end. But Cecil is a professional. He has to move on through trying tasks such as crazy smiling men in your work place, unconscious and creepy as fuck.

You know, normal radio challenges.

So Cecil just broadcasts. He does his job, as always, as was written to be done in tablets he's not supposed to know about, doesn't know about. Nope, not aware of those ancient prophecies. What's an ancient prophecy? You're an ancient prophecy! Yeah, you! Who even are you? Get out of my house! Who let you in here?

...

Ahem. Uh. Sorry.

Yeah uh...Something about...Yeah...

Wow this is awkward umm...Let's just move on...

-

As if he's try to be polite, Kevin's body does not even try to move till the weather has started. Cecil is standing by the door, filling in Carlos on how Kevin's doing, which he defines as "okay", when suddenly said Kevin starts writhing on his impromptu pillow-bed, letting out a shriek akin to that of a dying cat.

Cecil hardly hears Carlos babble with concern into his ear at the sound as he rushes forward to kneel at Kevin's side, hands pinning his wrists to the floor almost on instinct, only to wrench them away a second later. His skin was much hotter than City Council limits allowed a healthy person's skin to be. Legit, Cecil felt like he was sticking his hands on an iron, and that was concerning.

Kevin's body twisted, contorting in inhuman ways, his skin elastic and turning redder by the second as he took to screaming at levels living beings cannot hear. Cecil feels his vocal cords moving, but cannot hear the words he is saying, doesn't register what he must be shouting to Kevin, because wow that looks bad.

Cecil doesn't know if this is what dying looks like, but it sounds like the way dying sounds in municipally approved books and when broadcasted into dreams like bad day-time television. He feels like life is being sucked out of the body below him, and even though he knows he isn't the one burning up from the inside, he hurts, shots of pain shooting up his spine and stabbing at his heart.

Kevin is not okay. This is not what okay looks like.

-

Is this fire? Fire looks like the sun, right? It is heat at a great plasmic content, in a way, but not really. That's what Kevin thinks, but he sees nothing and only feels, so maybe this isn't fire, but it surely has properties of fire, so why not? But then Kevin remembers the sun, and it's holy existence, suspended in a sky with a glow so bright it can blind those unworthy of its appearance. Kevin remembers warmth of correctly temperatured baths, and thermostats working on a dreadfully cold day, but this warmth is being gifted to his skin from a smiling being, tall and immovable by anything but itself, and smiling. Smiling. Smiling. Smiling.

And there it is, he can see it! He can see and what he can see is glorious! It is bright and shining, warm and vanquishing the cold and dark, the pain. Oh the light, how worthy he feels he does not know, but he wants the light so badly. Beautiful, he thinks it is. This is what beauty is and he knows to bow down to it. This light, in all it is, is something to pray to, to open his mouth and raise his lips to.

A wide smile stands before him, and he mimics it without thought. This is what life is! This is...Is...Is...There's a word...No, but everything feels fuzzy now. The light is there but it's...It's wrong! Horribly, horribly wrong! Kevin hates this light! He wants to scream, to attack the light, and so he does, thrashes out his arms and leaps forward, teeth bared as he snarls and snaps at what is wrong, wrong, wrong!

How dare this...This trap! Sneak itself into his life! His eyes, touched by this...By this wrongness!

And how it...It...

He falls.

Kevin feels his body falter and then he is falling, into something that is not dark, and not light.

Kevin feels anger in the back of his thoughts, but he can't remember the...The...Whatever it was. Did something happen? He doesn't remember. He doesn't know...

He falls and nothing hurts. He feels no pain. Actually, he doesn't feel anything.

Kevin falls.

Somewhere in a place Kevin is not, Cecil is not, we are not, somewhere something is angry.

-

Kevin is screaming. he is screaming and he won't stop and Cecil doesn't know it, but he's crying.

The world is a spiral of unknown sensations. It is confusing and loud, and Cecil doesn't know if he likes it. He doesn't think so.

Then, as if the world stops all at once, in a moment everything is silent. Kevin goes still, limp, quiet. Then, he blinks. Kevin blinks, eyes that had been so wide and unclosing pushing dust away from themselves with eyelashes a bit too long, but that's okay it looks nice one him.

Then his eyes close. And Kevin falls asleep.

Cecil feels his body stand, and as the weather ends he walks to his desk and finishes with the news. He feels...Hollow. He doesn't even register his words as he speaks them, but then he's speaking his last aired words for the night, and turning off the counsel. He's walking back to Kevin, and kneeling by his now still body.

He had forgotten about his Carlos, about the phone call he had been making. The phone has gone silent though, and it wouldn't have mattered if he remembered now. Carlos was on his way.  

-

The scientist took Cecil and Kevin home that night, Cecil trailing behind as Carlos carried Kevin in his arms. As soon as they were in the house, Cecil was walking to thankfully, not the liquor cabinet, but their bedroom whilst Carlos followed after him. Then he was tucking Cecil and Kevin into bed, watching his worn boyfriend wrap himself around the man in what he only could call protective.

Carlos presses a kiss to Cecil's hair, than Kevin's before going to cook dinner. As he leaves, Kevin curls into Cecil's arms, and both men let out hums of content.

Carlos smiles.

-

Kevin wakes up with no recollection of the last few hours, nor really the day at all. Cecil doesn't say, so Carlos doesn't say either.

Things go back to what normal was becoming for the three, which is in no way normal at all.

-

"Cecil, what are you thinking about?" Carlos glances at his boyfriend, the one currently using his lap as a pillow while he filled out forms on the couch, which he'd apparently stopped doing, as his hand had gone still, eyes staring at nothing in particular.

Carlos smiled as Cecil flinched a little, awkwardly smiling up at the scientist. "Oh, nothing, really..."

Carlos wasn't convinced. He ran a hand through Cecil's hair, staring down at him with a brow raised. "Are you sure?"

His boyfriend sighs. "It's just that, well, Maureen was going out to have drinks with her college friends last night and she invited me. And like, I'm her boss and that's totally not a good idea, so like, I said no, but...We haven't really socialized in awhile." Cecil was right. Carlos couldn't remember a time when they left the house for anything other than minimum shopping and work, time devoted to going through the motions and healing ever since his return from a desert otherworld they had stopped speaking about. "I just don't think it's healthy..."

Even their life together had been rather going-through-the-motions. No wonder they had gotten five more notes from the SSP worrying about their sex life, or several spiders sent by the Faceless Old Woman who secretly lived in their home asking why they hadn't gone on a date in awhile, after all she couldn't watch what she wanted on Netflix with them in the house being social recluses. So yeah, they needed to get out more.

"Well...I don't know, Cecil." Carlos glances away from his boyfriend, a pensive look crawling onto his face.

Cecil sighs and sits up, scooting across the couch to lean against Carlos, heat tilted up to stare at him. "I know everything has been really difficult recently. You know I know. But that doesn't mean we should isolate ourselves. Josie keeps calling me asking when we'll have dinner with her again and my sister has been a nightmare ever since I started cancelling dinner plans with her and Janice."

"It's just...Well, we have Kevin, and he's not exactly the best at social interactions, "a blatant lie, both of them knew, "And we can't leave him alone, not in his condition," true but solvable, "And...Cecil, I just don't know if we can do it."

"Carlos, Kevin is the most social being I have ever met. He talks to the walls Carlos. The walls." Kevin doesn't want the walls to get lonely. Or the grass, or any of the many insects hidden within the home. Kevin hates being alone, hates when other's aren't happy. Kevin...Kevin is weird. "Wouldn't it be good for him, anyways? Reintroducing Kevin into society? It's not like he's going to get better being all alone for the rest of his life."

Said Kevin was currently asleep in Cecil and Carlos's bedroom, having been too tired to wake up yet.

Carlos frowns, shaking his head. "I don't know..." Carlos wasn't telling Cecil something, he knew. He wanted to know that Carlos trusts him, wanted to know their relationship was the same as they left it...But that would be false, anyways. Carlos had never been very open with his feelings, never seemed to want to open up if he could help it. But it was just not healthy for him at all. Cecil wanted Carlos to be happy, at least most of the time. If he kept himself quiet, Cecil didn't know how to help.

"Love...What's up?" He moves even closer to Carlos, lifting a hand to wrap his fingers around his jaw and tilt his head towards Cecil, glancing into his eyes. His thumb moves softly across his scientist's cheek, rubbing small circles into his skin with a fond tenderness.

Carlos stares at Cecil for a second and a half, eyes sad and distant. "Cecil..." His brow draws together, face quivering as if poised to say something, lips drifting apart...Then he draws his head away from Cecil avoiding his gaze. "Nothing. Nothing's wrong..."

"Carlos. We both know that's bullshit." Cecil keeps his voice soft, but firm, moving his now empty hand to Carlos' shoulder.

Carlos sighs. "I...I don't know if I'm ready." He speaks with resentment, bitterness towards himself with the sort of surrender typically followed by a swift knife to the gut. Weakness had never been something Carlos was good at admitting to, Cecil knew that. He was the sort of person who never asked for help, if he could help it, stubbornly walking into a fire without a word to those he loves, as if his boldness is brave, his hidden fear a badge to wear.

Cecil hates this part of Carlos. It's unhealthy, a fault that has hurt him too many times. When he speaks to his boyfriend, his voice is unsteady, sorrowful and quiet. "Carlos..." He doesn't know what to say, cannot imagine what Carlos is trying to hide from him. But it hurts so much just to watch his beautiful scientist turn his head away, avoid his gaze in shame. Shame. As if Cecil could ever be ashamed of Carlos. "Please...Carlos, talk to me?"

"..." Carlos ducks his head, keeping his gaze on empty space. "...I've never been as social as you Cecil. People are...Difficult. Different. And it...It hurts? Sometimes I just don't understand what's going on and...No, no that's beside the point." Carlos shakes his head, voice unsteady as he tries to clear his way through cluttered thoughts. "I just...I don't need people like you do."

And Cecil had never considered it, but there it was, and now a lot of things made sense. Carlos had never really been social, and Cecil knows that, has known that since he truly started to know the man. He thinks so differently, doesn't understand social concepts. Cecil gets that. Carlos never goes out with his fellow scientists, hardly calls people to talk about anything, not even science, hardly talks when he goes with Cecil to social outings. In the desert otherworld, he had talked of the masked army, but Cecil had never considered that maybe he hadn't spent a lot of time with them, or more than a choice few.

Cecil always feels a need for contact. He's a tactile person, an extrovert. Carlos being away from him had hit him so much harder than it had hit his love. And sure, Carlos missed him, but did he truly need him in the same way? Not really. Between bouts of alcoholism and long talks on the phone, Cecil had sought out others for comfort; coworkers, friends, family, anyone to fill up the hole Carlos wasn't there to fill, spending long ours in the station bathroom with Khoshekh, unnecessary conversations with interns, anything really. Being alone for Cecil hurts.

It's not the same for Carlos. And since returning home, reintegrating himself into parts of society he didn't need to face in a desert otherworld of endless science must be difficult for him.

Oh stupid, stupid Cecil! How inconsiderate of him, not thinking about Carlos' needs! He must be a horrible boyfriend, not even thinking about this.

But then, of course, Cecil had never been the most observant outside of his profession.

"Carlos, I'm sorry, I didn't consider..." He says softly, lifting a hand to cradle his boyfriend's chin.

"It's alright, Cecil." Carlos sighs, leaning into Cecil's touch.

"No, it's really not." Cecil says, almost sternly. "It's not alright, Carlos. I love you, and would never wish for you to feel uncomfortable. There's nothing weak about being bad with people. That's normal, Carlos, and I should think about that more." He sees Carlos open his mouth to protest and cuts him off with gentle command. "Carlos, perfectly imperfect Carlos, please understand, I would do anything for you, within city council guidelines, anything at all (that wouldn't enact the hatred of vengeful gods), anything in the world (but not something I find immoral, I'm not killing cats for you honey). I love you, Carlos."

"I know." When Carlos speaks, he is quiet and solemn. "Cecil, I love you too." He trust his head to kiss Cecil's palm, pressing his own hand to Cecil's. "And I should consider your need for social contact. We both need balance. This is a relationship, and love is about equality, not sacrificing all your happiness for another."

Cecil stares at his perfectly imperfect scientist with what can only be defined as 'pure adoration', because wow that's love right there in all his eyes and skin and just wow.

"If you think we should start more social interacting for the three of us, than we can. I might be uncomfortable, but I trust you to ease us into this. I know you, Cecil, I know you would never try to hurt me."

Cecil is almost speechless. He stares at Carlos with soft eyes and a small smile. Than he's jumping forward and kissing him with enamor, holding his boyfriend close. Carlos chuckles and kisses back and it's not too long till they're back to snuggling on the couch, in a peace that is less restless than before, and much more peace than peace was.

Minutes later, Carlos breaks the companionable silence with puzzlement.

"...Didn't Maureen quit, like, months ago?"

"...No..."

"Cecil..."

-

Cecil called Earl.

Carlos hadn't met his boyfriend's childhood friend before, but apparently Cecil is quite fond of him. His days in the boy scouts were probably the only thing he remembered from his childhood, and had apparently saved his life many times.

Earl was, apparently, a big fan of tabletop gaming, and, according to Cecil, hadn't gotten to have a game night with his friend since before he was dragged off by mute children and somehow had his life horribly fixed with confusion. So, you know, a game night seemed like a good way to catch up. Also, apparently Kevin is a big fan of board games. Who would have guessed?

Earl is interesting and amiable. He talks to Cecil about years that Cecil has conveniently forgotten about, and talks to Carlos about his time in the desert, and just seems like a very nice guy. From what Carlos had heard from town rumors, he had expected some a lot different, but really, what's to expect in this town?

They gather at the kitchen table with stacks of boxes of games on the floor as they decide what to play. Apparently, Monopoly in Night vale is only used to solve marital disputes and gang wars, and requires several sacrifices and chants that Cecil sees as too much of a bother. Cecil is also apparently not allowed to play Life anymore, as apparently, he 'ruined it' last time him and Earl played. Kevin hates card games because they're confusing, Carlos thinks dungeon-based games are too unrealistic (I mean horses, come on, let's at least try to make sense! Besides, there's no logical way for that much gold to be in a dungeon), Earl calls trivia games an unfair gambit, Carlos cheats at Cluedo, and Kevin doesn't like games without cool pictures.

They end up playing Settlers of Catan.

The game is really no competition. Earl knows what he's doing, and Cecil and Carlos don't stand a chance. In the end, though, oddly Kevin wins.

Look, he really thought the sheep were cute and somehow convinced everyone to give him all their sheep, and then got a ridiculous amount of settlements on sheep areas and by the end of the game he literally had all of the sheep. Somehow, in an impossible turn of events, Kevin used what he called 'sensible economics', which apparently is required for all elementary classrooms in Desert Bluffs (his eyes twitch when he mentions it, but no one says anything), and manages to win effortlessly.

He just wants the sheep, though, so he gives the win to Earl in exchange for more sheep, which no one really seems to see as fair, but no one wants to argue with Kevin, so they give him all the sheep cards.

Earl goes home, leaving Cecil much happier, and Carlos feeling like he did a fairly good job slightly socializing with Cecil's friend. He got along better with Kevin, for some reason, but apparently Kevin knows a lot about cooking, and woodland animals. Kevin's very odd...

The night ends in peace.

Now to deal with Cecil's next plan: dinner with his sister.

-

Obviously dinner with Janice, and Sister Palmer, and her husband seemed like a big issue to Carlos. After all, it had been Steve who threw Kevin into the desert, and Carlos very well understood his reasons for that. Also, Cecil had never been nice about his brother-in-law and circumstances in no way changed those feelings. Dinners with Cecil's family were always with the potential to be lethal, but Cecil was convinced that Kevin would get along well with Janice and his sister would finally stop nagging him, so this was a good idea, probably.

Carlos agrees on the grounds that Steve isn't there, which makes Cecil delighted, though this really has nothing to do with Cecil's stupid grudge. He just really didn't think Kevin meeting Steve was a good idea. Like, not at all.

Cecil calls his sister.

Chapter Text

"I like your flower." Is the first thing Janice says once Kevin has been introduced to her. Kevin beams. The daisy in his hair was a gift from Carlos, a sort of good luck charm for the night. He'd made it out of paper and tape, but Kevin still loves it all the same.

"Thank you!" Kevin leans down so he's closer to Janice's height, examining her carefully. His face gets all wrinkled up at first when he sees her wheelchair. Something in his mind screams 'wrong wrong wrong!', the same thing that screams at him everyday, sending shivers up his spine. But then there's a hand on his shoulder and Kevin knows its Cecil's because Cecil doesn't cut his nails. The feeling grounds him, lets him focus on more important things.

So he stares a bit more, trying to process all the thoughts in his head. They're very swimmy. When he finds words, they come with a brilliant smile. "I like your flames."

He points to the flames painted onto Janice's chair. The little girl absolutely beams, shooting a bright, warm feeling into Kevin. Now that's a good smile.

"Thank you! They make me go faster!" She demonstrates by shooting right down the hallway, making Kevin giggle and go after her.

"You're like a dragonfly!" He says, laughing as Janice makes whooshing sounds as she moves.

Cecil watches them with a fond smile, glad that Kevin is getting along with his niece. They seemed to have a similar mindset, Kevin's maybe even younger.

"Hey there, little brother." A warm voice says behind him.

"Sis." Cecil smiles and turns to look at his sister.

Sister Gershwin Palmer looks not very much like her brother. She has wider eyes and a longer nose, a more square face. She's taller, too, with a broader chest. Her sense of fashion is much better, her skirt matching her blouse and her shoulder armour a sensible metal, covering her upper body in a very protective way.

"Looks like they get along well." She says, looking past Cecil to watch Kevin and Janice, who are talking animatedly to each other bout something, Kevin's eyes wide and innocent and bright.

"Hmm...Yeah." Cecil smiles. His sister wraps an arm around her brother's shoulder and pulls him into a semi-hug. Then she hits him on the head without holding back. "Ow!" Cecil winces, rubbing at his now throbbing head.

"Aaaand that is what you get for ignoring me for months."

"Siiiiis!" Cecil whines.

"None of that! You are in turmoil for a year and you don't even ask me for comfort! Did you forget about me? That maybe I was worried about you?! Janice asked about you every day. she was worried, you stupid younger sibling!" Sister Gershwin Palmer hit her brother again, for good measure.

"Ow! Alright, I'm sorry. Gosh..." Cecil mutters grumpily.

His sister huffs before ruffling hi hair affectionately, though with a bit more force than necessary. "So where's that scientist of yours? You said he was coming."

"Carlos? He had some things to finish up at the lab. He'll be a bit late."

"Well then you have time to help me in the kitchen!"

-

"And this one Uncle Cecil helped me get! It's the subversive radio badge. And then there's the campfire badge and the bloodstone rituals badge, and the using bow and arrow under firearm attack badge! I got that one just last week!" Janice grins proudly. "I have the best marksmanship in my troop!"

"Ooooh~" Kevin coos, looking at all of Janice's girl scout badges as she named them one by one. A lot of them he didn't understand. For instance, what was the purpose of a subversive radio badge? And how come it sounded so familiar?

"Were you ever in the scouts, Kevin?" Janice asks, looking up at her new friend.

Kevin's face scrunches up. "I...I dunno..."He tries to think really hard, but everything just feels fuzzy and weird. "I...I don't remember a lot of stuff. Carlos says I have something called amnesia. He says it took away all my memories from before I woke up in his and Cecil's home."

"Oh..."

Quiet settles for a moment, awkward and melancholy. Kevin quickly breaks the mood.

"Anyways, golly these are really impressive! I like this one!" He points to one of the badges.

"Oh, that's my poisonous flower arrangement badge! Oh oh, when we did that one, this girl in my class got some of the flowers mixed up and ended up getting so much poison on her arm that we had to cut it off! We got our amputation badges on the same day!"

"How resourceful!" Kevin chirps. "Now how'd you get this one?"

"Oh, well..." The conversation went on like that for a long while, long enough for dinner to be done being prepared, long enough for Carlos to turn up from work. Kevin heard the door from where he was in the living room with Janice and let out a happy chirrup, running towards the door, Janice following after him.

"Carlos!" He shouts, jumping to hug the scientist. Kevin's a lot like a dog; he assumes when you leave for five minutes, you're never coming back ever. It makes every greeting a happy one, when he's in his more sane moods.

Carlos flinches, not expecting the sudden hug. "Kevin!" He exclaims in surprise, hesitantly hugging the man back.

"Uncle Cecil's Scientist!" He hears from close by, smiling and looking towards Janice.

"Hi Janice. How are you?" He says softly, awkwardly pushing his glasses up his nose like a nervous duck. Kevin clings to him, keeping himself close to Carlos while the man tries to be polite and civil and not panicky.

"Oh great! I was just showing Kevin my badges! Hey, he said you made his flower. It's really pretty, you did a good job."

"Well thank you, Janice." Carlos smile is crooked but kind, hand reaching blindly to ruffle Kevin's hair, careful not to hurt his flower.

"Carlos is that you?" Cecil calls from the kitchen, walking out a moment later with a rag in and, wiping off something soot-like from his fingers. "Oh hey there~" He smiles, pecking Carlos on the cheek. Janice giggles.

"Hey yourself. Sorry I was late."

"It's fine, you're here now."

"Cecil Cecil Cecil, Janice told me that you used to be a scout like Earl!" Kevin chirps, letting go of Carlos to latch onto Cecil.

"That is true. Are you and Janice getting along well?" Cecil asks as he subtly tries to push Kevin off of him.

Both Kevin and Janice nod at the same time.

"Kevin knows a lot about economics. He said he could help me get my blood warfare rationing badge!"

"That's great." Cecil smiles, small, but sincere. It's nice to see his niece so happy. Kevin too.

Carlos catches his eye with a grin, Cecil immediately blushing and looking away.

"Come on, sis says food's ready."

-

Dinner is set up on the patio, since Cecil's sister doesn't have a dining room. They sit all together, Sister Gershwin Palmer at the head of the table, Janice to her right, Cecil to her left, Kevin tucked between Cecil and Carlos, cramped but holding on tight to Carlos's and hand and therefore deciding not to move.

Cecil and his sister had worked together to make some sort of flesh meal with cranberries and rice on the side. It's warm and makes Kevin's tummy happy, and for once he eats.

Talk is non existent at the dinner table. While food is there, the Palmer family tends to be quiet. It's something Cecil and his sister fall into, and Carlos has gotten used to it over time, Janice doing it by proxy, Kevin just following along.

So they eat until plates are empty, and Sister Gershwin Palmer brings out a plate of cookies Janice proudly proclaims she helped make, and the smile on Kevin's face is brilliant 'cause cookies! He happily noms on dessert, conversation now shifting between Cecil and Janice and his sister, Carlos being a quiet listener.

Things are nice. It is not the chaos Carlos was afraid of. Of course it wasn't, why would it be?  His mind was playing with him like a puppet on strings, cruel, unkind and manipulative. He's fine listening to the conversations, happy to see his boyfriend and...Err...Friend smile and have a good time.

That good time was ruined by, you guessed it, Steve Carrrrlllssssberg.

He came in from the gate to the backyard, a bag in hand and a goofy smile on his face. "I'm back from the store! I had to get the car fixed fir. someone seemed to empty it of oil!"

Carlos and Cecil both send a sharp glare towards Sister Gershwin Palmer, watching her shrink under their angry stare.

"I didn't think he'd be back so soon!" She hisses before taking her stand to go and hug and greet her husband. "You're back earlier than expected."

"Oh, well I was almost even later. Apparently Ralphs doesn't sell Technicolor paint, so I had to go to the post offi- Hey is that Cecil! Hey there buddy!"

"Steeeeeveeeee..." Cecil hisses, glaring daggers at his brother in law.

"You didn't tell me Cecil and Carlos were coming over."

Janice and Kevin were both looking on with confused looks, casting similar confusion towards each other like children not getting a cruel joke.

"Oh, well you weren't exactly supp-"

"You didn't tell him?!" Now Carlos spoke up, livid beyond belief. This was going to ruin everything!

"Well, what was I supposed to tell him!" Cecil's sister said indignantly, hands on her hips.

"The truth?" Cecil offered haughtily, standing to further glare at his sister and her husband.

"What? Hey love, get out of the house for the night so my crazy brother and his scientist boyfriend can come over and introduce me to their insane war prisoner that you happened to have thrown out a door? WAS I SUPPOSED TO SAY THAT!?!" Said sister was currently pulling out her hair in frustrating, shouting at her brother because the fuck was she supposed to do? "You stop contact with us FOR MONTHS, Cecil, and now you finally call me and just happen to notify me that you're harboring a fugitive?!?! How am I supposed to process all of this? How am I supposed to do anything, Cecil, HOW?"

"He's not a war fugitive!" Carlos argues, standing to stand with Cecil, who was migrating towards the argument.

"Wait, what are we talking about?" Steve was confused. He taps into the conversation, placing a hand on his wife's shoulder as if to placate her. It works, a bit. "Hold i- WHAT IS HE DOING HERE?!" So he noticed Kevin.

Kevin doesn't remember who this man is, but he flinches from the shouting alone, pulling up his knees to his chest like he can use them to protect himself.

"Leave him alone." Cecil hisses.

"He tried to-" Steve starts, but Carlos cuts him off with a sharp shake of his head.

"No." The scientist says firmly.

"But-"

"No."

"He-"

"HE SAID NO STEVE CARLSBERG!" Cecil was getting frustrated.

"STOP SHOUTING AT HIM!" His sister, hypocritically, shouts back at her brother.

"We don't need your unnecessary lines, Steve, or your stupid conspiracy theories, or your ugly tan corolla!" Dammit Cecil.

"What is wrong with my car?!"

"EVERYTHING IS WRONG WITH YOUR CAR."

The arguments went on for a long while, Carlos trying to rationalise the situation, whilst panicking inside as he realised all the variables this was messing up and this was not supposed to be how this night went, and Cecil yelling at his sister for Steve being there, and Steve shouting confused things about Kevin being there.

It was a clusterfuck.

Meanwhile, Janice had wheeled over to where Kevin had taken to covering his ears and closing his eyes tight, tense and shaking and trying to hide from the argument in front of him. Gently, the small girl placed a hand on his shoulder, removing it as he flinched.

"Do you wanna go to my room?" She asks when he let's go of his ears a bit, because the fight between their guardians was so loud, and she didn't like the way her new friend seemed so scared.

Kevin nods quickly, following after Janice as she lead him into the house, down a long hallway to where he bedroom is. "Can you teach me about economics?"

-

The night ends with everyone realising that Janice and Kevin had disappeared and therefore everyone over reacting and assuming the worse, until Sister Gershwin Palmer just checked Janice's room, finding Janice enraptured in Kevin's impromptu lesson about fiscal budgets, Janice trying to convince him to teach a lesson for her troop.

Carlos and Cecil were then brought in, telling Kevin it was time to go home. The man smiled meekly, hugging Janice goodbye before rushing shyly out of the house, avoiding the gazes of Steve and his wife.

When they are home again, Kevin is immediately bundled into bed, a distraught Carlos wrapping himself around him as if comfort to another will give he himself the comfort he needs. Cecil joins then soon after, sticking himself between Carlos and Kevin so he can hold them both at the same time, himself livid, but not marred by the night.

"I'm sorry..." Cecil whispers, blaming himself for suggesting the dinner in the first place.

"No, I'm sorry..." Carlos murmurs, blaming himself for not making sure Cecil's sister had been more cautious.

"Sorry...It's my fault..." Kevin says so quietly, Carlos and Cecil almost can't catch it. He knows he's the root of the problem. If it wasn't for him, no one would have started yelling. If it wasn't for him, the dinner would have been fine. Safe. If it wasn't for the things he can't remember doing, the horrible things that scratch at the back of his mind, no one would have fought.

He feels as if there's something deeper, too. As if his existence had caused all of this, even Carlos being in the desert, even Cecil being so angry.

"It's not your fault." Cecil says, and he believes himself.

"No, it's not your fault, Kevin." Carlos agrees as if it is a scientific fact.

"Okay..." Kevin lies.

-

Days pass by after that in silence. There's a new feeling working over the three, outsiders now, with a new guilt on their hearts. Cecil does not want to speak to is sister, nor does he want to talk about what happened. Carlos just doesn't want to talk in general. Dinner enough had been taxing, but trying to work around all the emotions that followed was torture.

Kevin...Kevin kept silent from mimicry alone. He could tell something bad had happened after Janice had brought him to her room, something worse than he thought would. He wanted to make it better, help Cecil and Carlos but his efforts were only met with pitiful smiles and tired eyes.

They try to go one like normal. Tension stays, but dwindles.

They try.

-

Cecil finds it odd when they enter the living room that Kevin's first reflex is to sit on the floor, back against the couch and legs curled up. He does this so often, but now the act seems oddly submissive, in an almost injured way, as if Kevin is an animal not allowed to shed on the cushions. Even though Cecil knows Kevin has sat on the couch before, even slept there, something aches inside him at the thought.

He's afraid to push, but the feeling he gets watching the man curl up, stare at the television expectantly, waiting for it to turn on so they can watch their movie, it's sharp and hard, and hurts Cecil in a way that leaves barbs in his lungs.

So instead he sits, legs close to Kevin's head as he presses the button on the remote, the screen blinking to life and soon there's a movie playing, an old western, black and white, as if to feed both Kevin and Cecil's obsessions of old films. But as the movie starts, the aching feeling doesn't waver. So Cecil decides it can't hurt too much to press a little.

"Kevin?" He starts slow, authoritive but soft, to get the man's attention, but not to snap.

The timid man's head snaps up to look at his double, as if pulled out of a trance. "Yes Cecil?"

"Why do you sit on the floor?" The words are tentative, stepping into the water with fear of the temperature.

For a minute, it is icy cold, wracking shivers up Cecil's spine in silent fear as Kevin's eyes glaze over, the way they do when he falls into his past self. But when he speaks, his voice is not overly chipper and biting, but blunt and simple.

"I never owned a couch before."

It's such an odd fact that Cecil doesn't know how to respond, only blurting out a soft "Heh?"

"I never owned a couch before. I didn't need one, so I just...Sat on the floor. I'm sorry, am I not supposed to do that?" The question in his voice suggests he thinks sitting on the floor is against some sort of morbid rule, which runs ice down Cecil's spine.

"No...No, Kevin it's fine. I just..." He doesn't know what to say, how to process his words. For one, this was the oddest fact Cecil had ever heard, and the mere reasons for it were frightening. Maybe it is the possibility of admitting a weakness for this man, or the want to keep him safe without revealing the perversions of the past life Kevin can't remember, but words jumble in his throat, blocking out his breath. For a second, he forgets to breathe. Then there are words falling out like a fountain as Cecil quickly states. "You know you can sit on the couch, right? With me?"

Kevin stares as if thought hadn't occurred to him. Sure, he had done it before, but he always felt invited onto the couch, seeing some odd ritual in the seating. He doesn't know why. There was something about rules and routine that felt confusing, but right in his head, something he needed. It was hard to understand, when he tries to think about it, he always felt garbled, but he couldn't stand the possibility of breaking rules he does not know. So Kevin doesn't take chances.

"I...Yes?" It's not an answer.

"Well, you can, whenever you want. You don't have to sit on the floor." Cecil feels like the clarifications are needed, adding, "Ever. Even when you're the only one here." To the end as if Kevin wouldn't understand his meaning without being as clear as possible.

Kevin stares, gaze flickering between Cecil and the couch. Then he opens his mouth, but stops as Cecil slowly shakes his head as if to say 'you shouldn't ask for permission', and then, without realising it, Kevin is crawling onto the couch, right next to Cecil, drawing his legs to his chest and hiding his face in his knees.

For a long moment, silence rings out between the two, awkward and crass. But then Cecil wraps his arm around Kevin, drawing him close as the movie begins.

-

Every night, Cecil dreams of a vast planet, void of everything but inky black darkness and dark rock, with colorless waves of a bottomless ocean, and trees that stalk wide towards a sky lit by no sun. The planet is dark, beautiful, perfection in it's simplest sense. He stands and breaths in thick, dry air, stares out at the ocean and watches as see roils off it's hidden depths, hitting onto it's surrounding beach. Figures, shrouded in cloth and lightlessness, stand in a circle, humming without tune, nor sound. It sounds beautiful.

Cecil has dreamed of his dark planet for longer than he can remember. He can never really remember much, he knows. He likes his planet. It is dark, cold, perfect.

This is not Cecil's dream.

He is on a hill in a...A field? He does not know what a field looks like, not really, but he feels like this is a field. Flowers in bright colors dot the horizon , the glow of a warm afternoon sun shining on his back, a cool breed coming from the side. The field seems to stretch on forever as Cecil starts to walk, watching as the horizon dots itself with trees, the kind that have wide leaves and go bare in the winter, Cecil thinks, nothing forever.

The field feels like an old movie background, repeating itself with little care about it's copy and paste existence. Then, it's not that. Everything becomes different.

There is a figure, something sitting in a circle of flowers, tiny somethings that aren't bats flitting around the circle. Oh, butterflies. They land on the figure, which shakes in what may be laughter, or fear, and the sky seems to brighten.

Cecil approaches the figure. And now he knows who's dream this is.

Kevin sits in the grass, surrounded by flocks of yellow flowers, his legs spread out, arms behind him as he supports himself, staring in wonder at the butterflies that flap around him, softly kissing his face with their wings.

Kevin is not wearing anything, but his body looks so pure Cecil cannot believe it. This is a Kevin he has never seen, who holds no scars, who's dark brown eyes are no void. He is giggling as butterfly lands on his nose, watching colourful wings flutter, and the freckles on his face stand out so much more now that his lips are unmarred.

This is an innocent Kevin, a Kevin untouched by the evils of Strex, by a God with a wide smile. The world to him is a wonder, Cecil can see it in his eyes.

And it hurts so much. He knows when he wakes up, this will be gone. He doesn't want to leave this moment, let this happy Kevin fade.

Cecil gets an idea.

-

The smell of fresh paint is strong and thick when Carlos returns from the lab that day. It's still too early for Cecil to have left for work yet, maybe even too early for him to be awake, so Carlos had his guess at what was going on. He was surprised, though, when he finds that Cecil is not in their bedroom, though Kevin is still there, oddly enough, covered in dozens of blankets, most likely courteously of Cecil himself.

But if Kevin was here, then...

Cecil was sitting on the floor of "Kevin's Room" (not that the man slept there much anymore), a dozen small cans of paint in front of him as he painted slow strokes onto the wall, intensely focused on his task.

Carlos leaned against the door way, smiling with amusement as he stared at Cecil, observing his task. His heart is warm and lessened of the feeling that had been filling the house ever since they had visited Cecil's sister. Cecil just looked so cute with his paint splattered clothes and the dab of yellow on his cheek, and such a look, his 'I want to look like I'm thinking but I'm really just concentrating really hard' look.

Cute!

He had painted a field of sunflowers, or at least was working on one, with butterflies and bright wildflowers along the bottom. He'd started outlining a sun higher towards the ceiling, and hills in the back. Very picturesque and... Not at all Cecil's normal art subject. Typically he liked to paint Khoshekh or dark figures on a vast planet, or cowboys. Not flowers. Flowers were not really Cecil's big thing. But they are someone elses thing...

"Are you doing that for Kevin?" Carlos asks in a soft voice, smiling in with adoration as he jumped a bit in surprise.

"Carlos, you're home!" He squeaks, whipping around so fast he almost knocks over all his paint.

"It looks nice." Approaching his boyfriend, Carlos kneels down to wrap his arms around his middle, resting his head atop Cecil's with a thoughtful hum.

"Thanks...Do you think he'll like it?" Cecil glances up at his scientist nervously, an unexpected trepidation in his eyes.

Carlos grins, pressing a soft kiss to Cecil's forehead. "He'll love it."

"Good..."

"Hmm...How long have you been working on this?"

"A couple hours. couldn't really sleep."

"Well then...Break time!" Cecil let's out a shriek of surprise as Carlos scoops him up in his arms and carries him out of the room.

"Carlos!" He laughs, trying to sound angry but failing horribly.

"Come on, you need rest!" Carlos chuckles, carrying Cecil to the living room and sitting on the couch, causing Cecil to fall into his lap with a happy giggle. He lets Carlos wrap his arms around him and pull him close, pressing soft kisses to his hair.

They curl up together and Carlos pulls up one of Cecil's favorite shows, the one where odd geometric shapes dance around on screen, telling old stories in a new universe. Sometimes there are cats. Sometimes there is nothing. They kiss and cuddle and Carlos tells tales of his day in the lab. It's fluffy and domestic and sweet, something they haven't had time to do in awhile.

Some time later, they hear a door open and the soft ringing of bells as Kevin wanders out of their bedroom.

"Hey there Kevin." Carlos smiles, turning to look at the scarred man.

"Hi Carlos. Hi Cecil." He murmurs sleepily, padding over to the couch, only staring at it briefly, eyes scrunched in deep thought, before he crawls onto the cushions, curling up close to Carlos and Cecil.

"Did you sleep well?" Carlos asks, taking a hand that wasn't holding Cecil on his lap to softly pet Kevin's hair, making the man purr in appreciation.

"Mhmm. I had a nice dream. It was really swell!"

"That's good."

They settle down together, Cecil eventually reaching out an arm to pull Kevin closer into the tangle of limbs that was he and Carlos, making a tri-knot of human beings, warm and safe.

Things were more back to normal. A little. Not quite.

-

It's simple. Something as simple as the world and space itself, as the sun in the sky, the moon around it, and the earth that spins. So it is not simple at all. Complex in its nature, something pulls three people together. It's a hand pullign on strings, and no we're not being metaphorical. Not really.

They start building a world. A family.

Then three little words bring that world crashing down.

"I love you."

Chapter Text

Carlos is lying on the couch with his lab coat off and draping over his face, shielding his eyes from the sun that's streaming through the nearby windows and effectively blocking out the rest of the world too.

He felt horrible.

His head was all fogged up with pain and mush, his airways blocked by mucus and phlegm, and his body felt heavy, making moving a dizzying, difficult experience. Ugh, he was so tired. All day he had felt like he'd been walking through a swamp, steadily sinking deeper into muddy pools of bacteria dwelling water, his balance gone with the change in density.

It was not simply a coincidence that part of his team was investigating the marshland that had replaced the Ralph's parking lot only hours before the day had begun. He probably picked up some sort of physiological connection virus, or something. Ugh, again?

He doesn't hear Kevin arrive, but his presence is easy to feel. Timid and small, a tiny glow of light beckons into a line of auras, and there he is, standing next to the couch and staring down at Carlos with concern.

"Carlos?" He almost whispers. The scientist lifts the lab coat from over his eyes to peer at Kevin. "Are you okay? You don't look very good..." His face twitches, hands holding one another to stop himself from fidgeting.

"I'm just a little," Cough, "sick." Carlos rasps.

Kevin's brow shoots up as his eyes widen, hands flying up to cover his mouth in astonishment. "I-Is it...Throat spiders?" He whispers the words in appropriate horror for somebody who used to talk for a living.

Carlos shakes his head, offering his hands to Kevin and guiding him to lie on the couch, holding him close to his chest in comfort. "Nonono, nothing like that. Just a...A cold." Carlos doesn't quite know what to call his...Affliction. He sniffs, groaning at the feeling of his nasal passages being blocked. Gross.

"Oh..." Kevin calms down, letting himself just stay with Carlos, concerned but not fearful. "Shouldn't you go the bedroom?" He asks, craning his neck to look at Carlos.

"I suppose I should..." Carlos sighs, then letting Kevin help him of the couch and hobbling sleepily into the bedroom, collapsing atop sheets and blankets, still fully clothed, shoes and all.

Kevin tiptoes over and carefully begins unlacing Carlos's boots, pulling them off one by one, placing them on the floor before pulling off his rainbow socks and placing them in the shoes. Carlos is too tired to even notice what Kevin is doing, merely complying when the man guides him through remove his shirt and pants and placing his glasses to the side.

"Where'sCecil...?" Carlos slurs as Kevin lifts up the covers and tucks the scientist in, leaning down and doing what he remembers Carlos doing when Kevin is not-happy; he presses his lips to Carlos's hair. The scientist hums in either a groggy sleepiness or a content gratitude.

"Cecil told me that he was gonna sit in his office all morning and that no one should disturb him till he leaves for work! So I sat outside the door and drew a picture of a cat and a flutterby doyouwannaseeit?" Kevin beams, staring down at the sleepy scientist with the excitement of a praise-searching child.

"Later..." Carlos replies with a murmur, eyes already sliding closed.

"Should I get Cecil?" Kevin asks, leaning closer to the sick scientist. His breath smells like fresh blood and grass.

"No he..." But then Carlos is asleep and incapable of communicating. Kevin looks curiously at him, waiting for a response until he realises what happens. With an odd hum, he climbs onto the bed next to Carlos and sits on the bed, putting his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees and watching the sick man sleep.

He tried to remember how people are supposed to be not sick. Something about rest and blood sigils and tissues and...Soup? Sure, probably.

-

When Cecil wanders in an hour later, he finds Kevin curled up next to Carlos with bloody hands and a bleeding arm. There's a strange symbol drawn onto Carlos's chest with blood and a small pile of tissues next to his head.

Cecil sighs and decides Kevin needs to be cleaned up. He drags the man off of the bed and carries him into the bathroom, taking his time to wash off the blood from his hands and bandage his arm. He must have tried to help Carlos errr....Heal? Carlos did look kind of ill...

He's cleaning the blood out from under Kevin's nails when he hears a quiet "How was your work, Cecil?" Cecil looks down at the man he is cleaning. "I didn't bother you likeyousaid..."

"...Uh...Thank you Kevin." Cecil strains a smile, ruffling the man's hair softly, receiving a soft croon in return.

"Carlos says he's gotta cold so I put'm to sleep and gave him better spells. Then I fellasleep on 'm."  Kevin murmurs, smiling up sleepily at Cecil.

"Good job." Cecil smiles, false and tight-lipped, before starting to dry Kevin off, ruffling his hair affectionately. "How sick is Carlos?"

"Says isa cold....Butter he looked sickier. Think isamindlinker virus. Gave 'im a delinkin rune..." Kevin yawns and nuzzles against Cecil's stomach. "I drew you a flutterby, didja see it?"

Cecil had most definitely seen the picture Kevin had drawn on the wall next to his office. He was too busy right how to worry, though, taking the tired man in his arms and carrying him towards the bedroom.

"Yes, it was very nice Kevin."

"...Hmmm, good...."

"Kevin..." Dilemma. Cecil needed to go to work but he couldn't leave Carlos alone, and couldn't leave Kevin with a sick caretaker. Too risky. "How would you like for Earl to come over and watch you?"

Kevin's face scrunches up in drowsy thought. He likes Earl. Earl is fun! And he lets him win at boardgames! And he tells him stories, stories about Cecil. He likes those, but...Can he trust Earl? They've only met once. What if he lets Kevin hurt Carlos? Or what if he hurts Carlos or Kevin? Kevin doesn't know what will happen...

He shivers, burying his face into Cecil's chest with a groan of pain from thinking too much. His head hurt from all these thoughts.

Cecil pets Kevin's hair, hushing him softly. "Earl wasn't involved in the war, he doesn't know all the things you did, Kevin. I'll make sure he knows how to take care of you two, alright? We can trust Earl."

Kevin whines, rubbing his face to Cecil's chest as if he could really dig into said chest, burrow into Cecil's body and stay there in the bloody warmth. They could become one, and stay that way. Keep each other safe. It's a nice thought...

"Come on, little bee, let's get you back to bed with Carlos." He bundles Kevin into his arms, carrying him back to the bedroom and placing him next to Carlos. "I'll call Earl and then stay with you till he gets here, alright?" Kevin nods lazily.

Cecil goes to leave the room, only to find something hanging on tight to his wrist. He glances down at the hand Kevin has wrapped around his arm and held onto tight. Void-less eyes stare at Cecil from beneath the sheets as the grip tightens.

"K-Kevin?" For the first time in a long time, Cecil feels afraid of the man in the bed.

Yet, the man merely pokes his head out and points at his forehead. When Cecil doesn't get it, he leans forward and kisses Carlos's forehead before pouting adorably and pointing at his own forehead again. He doesn't know what it's called, but Carlos does it to him sometimes and he wants it.

With a soft laugh of relief, Cecil relents and presses his lips softly to Kevin's brow, smiling at the happy mewl he receives from Kevin as the man burrows sleepily back into the blankets of the bed, clinging to the sick man curled up next to him.

Cecil calls Earl.

-

He stays with Kevin until he receives a text from Earl telling him he's arrived, then he leaves his two sleeping housemates to answer the door, smiling upon seeing his old friend, still dressed for chef work, on his doorstep.

"Hey there." He says softly, still in sleeping assistance mode. He hugs his best friend, that sort of hug you give someone when you don't care about looking too intimate, or too close, you just want to show your love and affection for them with no strings attached. Earl smiles in return, and the hug lasts for a long while. "Thanks for coming here at such short notice." Cecil says as they let go of each other.

"It's no problem. Ever since I suddenly found out I had a son I've realised just how hard it is to find sitters. Besides, I like Kevin. Sounds like a nice idea to spend more time with him."

"He seems to like you, too. Here," Cecil hands Earl a list. "He should be wearing his bells, so if you hear him just make sure he's awake and not trying to sleepwalk away again. Right now he's asleep with Carlos. He can take care of Carlos, but don't trust him with food, he tried to poison that once...Umm...Carlos is sick so no solid foods, Kevin likes to eat things with bright colours and lots of sugar...No sciencing for Carlos and call me if anything goes wrong."

"Alright. You go have fun at work, alright?" Earl ruffles Cecil's hair not unkindly, reading over the list.

Cecil groans, smoothing down his hair one handed whilst giving his friend a one armed hug, then darting out the door.

Alrighty, now to get to work!

An hour later Earl was cooking dinner for the two sleeping men in the nearby bedroom when he heard the sound of a door opening and closing. He pokes his head down the hallway, watching Carlos pad out of his bedroom in only his boxers and a fluffy white labcoat (robe). His hair was handsomely tossled, his eyes closed partially with sleep, though they widened in surprise when he saw Earl.

"When'd you get'ere?" He mumbles, rubbing at his eyes.

"About an hour ago. Cecil left for work, wanted me to watch you two. Is Kevin still asleep?"

"Yeah... What...?" Carlos looks down at the blood sigil in his chest in clear confusion, wiping at it and letting out a low squick at the feeling of still wet blood on his fingertips.

"Kevin was trying to help, I suppose. I made you some tea." Earl passes Carlos his favourite mug, the one with the periodic table on it, watching as the man takes a groggy sip. "You should probably lie down again."

"Hmmm..." Carlos just hums sleepily. "Kevin won't eat unless you make the food into shapes..." He murmurs, staring at the dinner Earl is preparing.

"I'll keep that in mind. Come on." Earl gently takes ahold of Carlos's shoulders and guides him to the couch, helping the man sit down and curl up with the mug of tea. He turns on the television and, per Cecil's instructions, turns on the science network with the subtitles since Carlos can't follow along with the voices too well. He leaves the man to cough gently as he stares at the screen where a man is talking about incandescent gas.  

It's only minutes later that Earl hears the soft sound of bells coming from the hall. There comes Kevin, groggy and dragging a pillow and blanket behind him. He doesn't notice Earl as he peaks his head inside the living room and wanders right in when he sees Carlos, carefully throwing the blanket over him and placing the pillow next to his side.

He does that lip pressing to the hair thing again before wandering out of the room. That's when he sees Earl, watching him from the kitchen doorway.

"Earl!" He squeaks in excitement, jumping forward only to stop himself short, remembering what Carlos told him about personal space.

"It's fine Kevin. You can hug." Earl assures him. Kevin doesn't even let the sentence finish before he launches forward again and latches onto Earl. Earl laughs and hugs Kevin back. "How are you?"

"Good! Today I sat outside the office and I counted the cracks in the wall and I drew a picture of a flutterby DOYOUWANNASEEIT?!?!"

"Sure, lead the way." The good thing about Earl is that he's honest in the most humble sense. When he asks questions, he genuinely cares about one's answer. So he really does care about Kevin's drawing and that's lovely.

Kevin screeches happily, tugging Earl down the hallway to show him his blood drawing of a butterfly and flowers on the wall next to Cecil's office. He smiles and it's all too many teeth, not enough muscle.

"Wow, this is great." Earl smiles back, much more lips and muscle. "I like what you did with the wings." He points to the delicate pattern Kevin had painted with his finger.

"Thank you!" Kevin grins.

"I'm going finish dinner now." Earl says, turning back towards the kitchen.

"Can I help?"

"I'd love for you to help me, Kevin," The man looks up at him hopefully, but Earl is firm as he continues "But, Cecil told me you are not allowed to."

Kevin pouts. You poison your own food one time and now you can't touch food till you eat it.

Earl, who has spent many years working with young boys, as well as his new experience with his own son, Roger, knew that the best way to tell Kevin no was to suggest something else instead. So he does. "How about you go watch Carlos for me? I need to focus on dinner, so can you make sure Carlos is okay for me?"

Kevin's smile returns and he nods with great enthusiasm. "Yep uh-huh I can do that!"

"Alright! Thank you, Kevin." Earl pats Kevin on the head, smiling as the man runs into the living room. The former scoutmaster, now chef, then goes back to the kitchen to finish cooking.  

-

Kevin finds Carlos slumbering on the couch and hums softly, happily, as he rearranges all the pillows and blankets in the living room around him. He decides he needs more material and wanders off to get blankets and pillows from various rooms in the house, returning to pile them around the couch. He then climbs next to Carlos, burrowing himself close in a semi-spoon position, his nose nestling near his neck.

The television is playing a documentary on tardigrades. Tiny bears. There's a picture of a guy talking and space and a dull static coming from the screen.

Kevin likes how if he leans real close to Carlos he can hear his body living. There's a sporadic breath pattern, a slightly unsteady heart beat, and if he noses right up along his neck, he can feel the blood running through Carlos's veins.

Carlos hums sleepily, rousing a bit from his sick addled slumber. "Kevin?" He tries to look at the man who is nuzzling his neck.

"You smell like diesel~" He hums in a satisfactory way.

"I don't know why..." Carlos turns over so he can face Kevin, looking at the man from under his bundles of blankets.

“I like it!” Kevin chirps. “You smell productive!”

“That’s nice, Kevin…” Carlos murmurs, letting his eyes fall closed. Kevin, too, closes his eyes and lets himself sleep.