Carlos is in big trouble. Huge trouble. There are no human words that can adequately describe the amount of trouble that Carlos is in. That's not even referring to the fact that he's currently laying in a heap at the bottom of some hidden chasm in the sand wastes, with his leg almost definitely broken and his phone laying in shattered pieces all around him. Those are really minor troubles in comparison.
Today is his one month anniversary.
The celebratory dinner for which was supposed to start almost an hour ago. Forty - seven minutes precisely, according to the watch that wasn't even supposed to be his anymore.
Carlos sighed and surveyed his surroundings for the twelfth time in the twenty-three minutes since he had regained consciousness. There was still nothing at all useful in his immediate area and the rock walls enclosing his new prison were still steep and treacherous, ensuring that he would not have been able to get himself out even with the use of all of his limbs. I'm a scientist, not a rock climber. So, he went back to his new favorite pastime of watching the seconds tick by on what should be Cecil's watch and wondering whether he would need to flee Night Vale of his own free will to avoid seeing the man whose heart he had broken, or if he will be chased out by an angry mob created by the same man. Neither scenario was particularly appealing, but both were better than picturing Cecil alone in his apartment, waiting for Carlos. He wonders how long it will be before Cecil gives up on him all together. It was that comforting thought that accompanied him back into unconsciousness.
It was hot. Unbearably hot.
Carlos came to groggily and spewed what little lunch he'd had onto the rock beside him. His skin was tight and covered in sweat and sand. The nausea was the last symptom he'd needed to diagnose himself with a concussion when added to the blurry vision, drifting awareness, and bloody stains splotching the lab coat he'd balled up under his head. One hour and thirty-two minutes this time. The sun was still high in the sky, despite it being nearly eight thirty, because apparently it had not only decided to not set at the proper time but also to remain permanently fixed directly above the hole he was trapped in until he was well and truly scorched.
Dinner was definitely ruined, whatever it was. Cecil had been deliberately vague about that in the dozens of enthusiastic texts he had sent Carlos throughout the day. He had missed most of Cecil's show, but he was sure that at least half of it had been dedicated to gushing about their plans for the night. His heart clenches tightly when he thinks of how disappointed Cecil probably is right now. He's most likely sulking in front of the tv while a cold dinner and discarded candles ( Oh god, there were probably candles.) lay on his dining room table. Probably clutching his phone waiting from yet another apology text from his unreliable boyfriend (?). Or maybe he's already texted Carlos to break things off. Panicked tears fill his eyes.
He doesn't want to lose Cecil. He doesn't want to go back to how things were before when he didn't have anyone to worry when he never left the lab, or care when he died in a hole in the ground. He doesn't want to die in this hole in the ground without ever showing Cecil how he really felt. And he doesn't want all of his emotional epiphanies to come with near-death experiences.
He's sobbing now sucking in too many breaths of too little air for his already light head.
His mouth was dry and almost refused to open. Two hours and nine minutes, according to Cecil's watch, which makes it five hours and twenty-four minutes since he had arrived in the sand wastes, and four hours and twenty-eight minutes since his anniversary dinner was supposed to start.
Cecil will look for him right? He's been late for dates before, but he's never completely missed one. That has to be cause for some concern right? His team won't be expecting him back at the lab for the rest of the weekend. There's no one else to even notice that he's missing. Will Cecil worry that something happened to him? Or will he assume that Carlos had forgotten? Has he been a terrible enough boyfriend to warrant that assumption? Probably. That was the problem in every other relationship he'd ever been stupid enough to try. He'd never cared so much before. He'd never loved anyone enough to worry about losing them before he'd met Cecil. There's no way Cecil would be mad enough to write Carlos off without even trying to contact him right? Even if he thinks that Carlos is putting science first after they've talked about that and he was doing so much better...right?
It wasn't even about science this time.
He had even shut down the lab early today, leaving himself plenty of time to get ready. In fact, he was so far ahead of schedule that Cecil's show was just starting when he was finished getting dressed. So, when the first story was about some rare Night Valeian flower that blooms in the sand wastes every few years, Carlos had decided that he'd have just enough time to go check it out. Because it probably had some sort of scientific significance right? And, well... Cecil had sounded so excited about it on air, and maybe it was pretty, and maybe he could pick some and bring them to dinner and Cecil would give him that look he gives when Carlos surprises him. When he surprises him in a good way anyway, not the look he gives when Carlos surprises him by showing up nearly thirty minutes late to their third date covered in a weird fluorescent goo. That is an entirely different look. The point is he's trying. Not hard enough though. This disappointment will surely be the thing that finally makes Cecil see the real him. He's fallen right off the pedestal and into the grave.
His first thought upon starting to sink into the seemingly normal sand dune had been, Quicksand?!
His second thought had been, GRAVITY?!?
The cuts and bruises Carlos had sustained on the way down ached with every breath, and his leg and head throbbed in sync with each other. His fingers and toes were beginning to go numb, and the rest of his body was chilled with what he recognized was most likely shock. Or... Whatever. I'm a scientist, not a doctor.
This whole fading in and out thing was beginning to get irritating. And he's blind now. Or its dark. The sun seemed to have finally set. Four hours seventeen minutes. Which makes it....something. Ugh. Math.
His whole body is trembling, jarring his injuries painfully. Which is good right? Shivering and pain are good. That means you're not fully into shock. Or is that hyperthermia? Something. Shivering is good for something. Makes heat. Homeostasis. Science.
He's thirsty. How long can the human body go without water? Three days? Not factoring in heat and sand and sun exposure, plus the loss of fluids through vomiting and weeping. Is he really going to die here? Will Cecil find his body at the bottom of this hole covered in sand and vomit and blood and glass and flowers? Will he know that they're for him? ***
There's a terrible noise. Beating. Flapping. Helicopter.
Carlos' eyes fly open. He still can't see anything, but he can hear the distinctive sound of helicopter blades. He forces his stiff muscles into motion and sits up dizzily. He hits the button for the back light on Cecil's watch. Twenty-one minutes. He held his arms straight up in the air, trying to remember the Morse code for S.O.S. He could feel the air whip through the shaft as the helicopter grew closer and finally landed.
God, I hope it's blue.
Tenses are weird, right? This is the first thing I've written in while and I will most likely get the second chapter up literally a year from now because I am the worst.
Carlos gets rescued, receives sketchy medical care, and attempts a great escape.
Sorry for the wait! This has been a real shitty year and I've had multiple jobs for most of it, but I'm out of work now and waiting on surgery so I have writing time.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Consciousness did not come easily for Carlos. His leg felt stiff and heavy and someone was running a damp cloth over his face.
The mumbled name was mostly lost in the cloth as he leaned as far as he could into the touch, struggling to open his eyes. When he finally managed to squint wide enough to see, he realized that the figure over him, although blurry, was definitely not his boyfriend. He let out a sigh of disappointment, of course it wasn't his boyfriend, because he no longer had a boyfriend because he was an idiot.
"Sorry Mr. Scientist, but we have not yet reached Mr. Palmer's residence. Please remain still as you have a rather serious head injury and your cast has not yet fully hardened."
Carlos, of course, immediately broke the doctor's orders by lifting his head up to get a good look at his leg, which was now swathed in a bulky red cast. His head did not agree with the new position and a wave of dizziness made him flop back down, which was another mistake. Just one more in a long list of them. He reached up to where the pain was the sharpest, only for the doctor to catch his hand and firmly lower it.
"We've just got it to stop bleeding. The cut was pretty shallow, even if it bled a lot. Thankfully, it didn't need stitches, just a bit of glue."
She was sounding very unsure of herself and even with his fuzzy vision he could see that she was wringing her hands together nervously. Carlos was beginning to think that the wound did need stitches but she was too afraid of Cecil's wrath to risk shaving the area. He wonders if he should let her know that the only angry mob Cecil will be inciting on Carlos' behalf will be the one that chases him out of town. His stomach drops as he remembers that just because he isn't going to die in a hole in the desert doesn't mean that his life isn't over.
Thinking of Cecil and his righteous fury allowed Carlos' sluggish mind to decipher the first thing she'd said to him.
"WE'RE GOING TO CECIL'S?!?"
His surprised shout startled the doctor and made his head swim but he had no concern left for either of those things.
"We can't, just take me to my lab, I cannot go to Cecil's right now. Please, he doesn't want me there."
"It's protocol," She sniffed, completely unsympathetic to his panic. "You filed paperwork with City Hall naming Cecil Palmer as your significant other, doing so also put him down as your emergency contact, which makes him responsible for you in case of illness or injury."
Carlos had known that not reading that contract would come back to bite him someday. At the time he would have signed his soul away (and he may have) to keep Cecil smiling like that. Now, Carlos can feel the heat of tears in his eyes. He's not ready for this confrontation. He wanted to cling to the little hope he had for as long as possible. If they took him to the lab he could at least have one more good night's sleep before everything fell apart. If he didn't give Cecil the opportunity to dump him, then they were still dating. It was Schrödinger's break-up. His vision had somehow gotten even more blurry. His breaths were coming in short bursts that made his head ache. Panic attack, his mind supplied, but Carlos wasn't listening because he was picturing Cecil's face when he was dropped off on his doorstep.
He was full on sobbing now, trying to curl in on himself despite his injuries screaming at him to be still. The doctor was trying to calm him down but Carlos couldn't make out a single word. He finally felt a prick in his neck and time slipped again.
Carlos wasn't sure how many times he had woken up in the last twenty-four hours but it was not a healthy amount. They sedated him. With a concussion . He made a mental note to never need medical care in Night Vale again, and then erased it when he remembered that this was likely his last day living here anyway. He felt his chest constrict but refused to give into the panic again. He was here now, Carlos had recognized Cecil's bedroom immediately, and panicking here would just make things harder for Cecil. There was ample opportunity to break down later.
Cecil's room was just like he remembered, maybe a little bit cleaner. Probably in preparation of their anniversary night, he cringed. The SSP had left Carlos' personal effects next to him on the bed and he groped around until he felt his glasses. One of the lenses was cracked but it was better than nothing. Also on the bed was Carlos's bloodied lab coat, the watch that might never be Cecil's, and three beautiful, yet slightly smashed, purple flowers. Carlos remembers clinging desperately to them as he was airlifted out of the hole.
Carlos debated whether or not to put on his ruined lab coat and decided that it would make him feel more comfortable. There was a large bloodstain on his breast pocket, but at least it was dry now. He gathered up the flowers and laid them gently on the nightstand. He stared at the (Cecil's?) watch for a full two minutes before dropping it into his coat pocket.
Carlos braced himself with one hand on the headboard before pushing himself up onto his good leg. It hadn't escaped his notice that the house was quiet. Cecil was not home, which meant he still had the chance to put this off. The SSP didn't seem to have left him crutches, but all he had to do was hoble on one leg out of Cecil's house, over three blocks to his lab, and then up one flight of stairs to his apartment. Easy. Well. Not really easy, but Carlos would rather drag himself through Night Vale on his stomach than wait for Cecil to come home and find him in his bed.
Standing brought the dizziness back and just the small amount of weight he had to put on his bad leg was agonizing, but even that was not enough to stop his escape. Carlos had crossed the room, leaning against the wall the whole way, and was making his way down the hallway slowly and painfully. He had been making good progress so far, but when he entered the main house Carlos stopped so suddenly that he nearly fell over. There it was. Cecil's dining room table was laid out with what obviously was once a delicious meal, lovingly cooked and meticulously arranged for the occasion. The food had not been touched, the candles (because of course there were candles) had burned down to nubs, and even though each plate had a wine glass next to it, the empty wine bottle was now laying on its side next to the couch.
Carlos was crying again. The dizziness combined with the huge sobs shaking through him proved too much for his one footed balance and he toppled to the floor. His casted leg twisted painfully and Carlos knew that he wasn't getting back up on his own. Which was fine, because nothing other than Cecil's imminent and well deserved rejection could get him to leave this house.
This is obviously not the end and I swear I will not take a year to end it.
Chapter Three: The thirdening
Carlos and Cecil finally speak!
Things are resolved
So, I promised that it would not take me a year to finish this and I kept that promise because it took two. I'm so sorry.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
6pm on the dot, and no Carlos, which was fine. Totally fine. Who’s on time for things these days anyway? Not cool people, right? And Carlos is the absolute coolest. Everything is ready for the most perfect evening imaginable (and Cecil has been imagining it for a little over a year now). Dinner is laid out perfectly with his best china and newly acquired candles, the wine is resting or breathing or whatever it is wine is supposed to do after you’ve opened it, but before you drink it. The house is perfectly clean and tidy, with extra care taken in his bedroom for- hopeful reasons. Cecil himself is dressed perfectly in the outfit meticulously chosen for this occasion (blue cowboy boots with yellow spurs, pinstripe slacks, a tie-dye poncho, and a corncob pipe) and leaning against the wall cross from the front door in what he hopes is an alluring way. All that was left was for his perfect Carlos to walk through that door. Any second now.
Cecil slumped out of his (possibly) alluring lean after fifteen minutes. After twenty-two minutes he decides to settle for being seated at the table when Carlos arrived. If Carlos arrived. Carlos was going to arrive. Twenty-two minutes is nothing. Carlos is still very cool after all, and time isn’t even real anyway. So.
Somewhere around the hour mark Cecil snatches the wine off of the table and carries it with him to the couch. Carlos obviously wasn’t coming and didn’t even have the decency to have his phone turned on so Cecil can yell at him. There had better be very important, life-threatening science going on right now or, well, he really didn’t want to think about the “or” but there was one now. There had never been an “or” before when it came to his (his?) Carlos. It took him less than thirty minutes to finish off the bottle while staring morosely at his phone trying to will it to ring. Unfortunately, Cecil never got around to attending that seminar on how to influence electronic devices telepathically, and he never regretted it more than he did in this moment. Carlos would call soon. He would apologize to Cecil profusely while explaining whatever super interesting science thing that had happened to distract him and it either would be really interesting news that Cecil takes notes of to put on his show tomorrow, or it will be a totally normal part of life that Carlos has somehow never experienced (Like okay Hun, we’ve all seen the time puddle and had it show us hyper realistic visions of our past or future lives, as seen through the eyes of a hovering bird. This is schoolyard stuff.) But, either way Cecil will end up forgiving him (mostly) because this is part of Carlos and Cecil loves every part of Carlos.
Cecil was jolted awake by a loud thump. His eyes immediately focused on the door, but was disappointed to realize that it was only the sound of the empty wine bottle hitting the floor. His phone still had no new notifications. Technology is pretty unreliable right? Always forgetting to tell you when your boyfriend calls. It’s a fairly common problem, he should really do an editorial about it. When Cecil tries Carlos’s number again, he’s treated to a recording of several septuagenarians playing shuffleboard on a giant novelty floor piano, so his phone was still turned off. That’s. Odd. It’s fully dark now, and Cecil isn’t sure whether or not the sun set at the correct time today. Or what the correct time for the sun to set really even is. The sun sets when they want to no matter what one group of nosy scientist thinks. The sun is an ancient being and would really resent being told that they have a bed time. Anyway. The sun has set, obviously having concluded whatever sun business they had today, which means that it is now night time. Its night time and Carlos still hasn’t come over, or called, or even texted Cecil to apologize profusely and explain his distracting science thing!
The time for moping and waiting is over. Cecil leaves his house in a huff, half angry and half terrified, because either Carlos has completely forgotten their anniversary dinner, or something is very wrong and his Carlos is in trouble. Cecil had never in his life thought he’d hope that a significant other had forgotten their anniversary, but Spire he hopes that his scientist has just gotten caught up at the lab. The dark lab. The lab is dark. Not one single light on inside. Which is fine. Of course. Many scientific experiments need to be done in absolute darkness. Certain mosses will only grow when there’s no light, and they make the best bait for deer traps. That’s very scientific. Cecil might be hyperventilating slightly at this point. He must be very out of shape if such a short, brisk walk can make him that out of breath, or make his heart clench so tightly. The door to the lab is dark and there’s no answer no matter how hard he pounds on it. Totally normal. Science is loud sometimes. Carlos’s phone is still off. His sensible Prius is not in his parking space next to the lab. In fact, there are no cars in the lot at all. This…might not be fine. Things are not fine. This is bad.
Cecil has only been on such a rollercoaster of emotions one other time in his life, and he had hoped to never repeat the experience. But, today and that other day were now tied for worst/most emotional days of his life. Honestly, the excitement of preparing for his anniversary, trepidation as it inched farther and farther passed the agreed upon time, devastation when he realized that Carlos wasn’t coming, fear once he realized that something was very wrong, terror as the Sheriff’s Secret Police search parties combed the city, elation when he received the report that Carlos had been found and was being transported back to Cecil’s house, worry when he was informed that his scientist was not uninjured, excitement again as he raced up to his front door, and finally blinding panic when he flung open his front door to find his boyfriend crumpled against the wall of his living room filthy, in a leg cast, and with a rather large bloodstain spread over his breast pocket.
“Carlos were you shot?!?” is the first thing out of Cecil’s mouth, as he crosses the room in three long strides and collapses by his boyfriend’s side, balling up his poncho to press it against the assumed wound.
Carlos grabs Cecil by the wrists and pushes his hands away but doesn’t let go.
“No, Ceec. I’m fine. Not shot. Not even bleeding anymore” Cecil’s poncho falls down to lay on his lap “The blood is from my head-but that’s fine too!” Cecil’s hands jerk toward his head, but Carlos keeps his grip and holds them still. “The Sheriff’s Secret Police treated my wounds. Sort of. They did what counts for treatment in this town anyway. You should really do a PSA on not sedating people with head trauma though, that’s extremely dangerous and they could-“ Carlos cut himself off with a shake of his head that caused his vision to swirl. “That’s not what I meant to say. I just wanted to say that I’m fine and I’m sorry and to see you one more time before I go. And-and the apartment looks really nice and you look really nice even though you’ve obviously been crying, and I’m sorry. A-and thank you Cecil, thank you for thinking that I’m someone that deserves to have someone goes through this much effort for them. For thinking that I’m worth spending your whole day cooking and cleaning and buying candles for, but I’m not, Cecil. I never will be. Even when I try I just find some way to fuck the whole thing up and I’m sorry.”
Carlos’s voice was cracking as he cried through his speech, adding to the clean tracks through the dirt on his cheeks. Cecil’s heart hurt. His wrists were still being held by trembling fingers. His own eyes were tearing up at watching his beautiful Carlos breakdown in front of him.
“Carlos?” Cecil finally spoke up, “may I have my hands back?” His voice was gentle, but Carlos dropped his wrists like they had suddenly grown poison barbs, and they hadn’t. Cecil eased carefully around his boyfriend, trying to avoid any injuries, and pulled the scientist into a sort of awkward, sideways hug. He pushed Carlos’s head down against his shoulder and held him as his sobs petered out.
“My darling Carlos, where do you think you’re going?” Cecil asked, because his mind had stuck on one last time and before I go and that was unacceptable.
“Just- just anywhere else.” Carlos croaked out, squeezing his eyes shut against the fresh tears that threatened to come. “I can’t be here if I’m not-. I-if we’re not-“ Cecil shushed him before he could work himself up again, and began running his fingers through his perfect hair, avoiding the back where he could see caked blood and what had better not be glue.
“My dear idiot Carlos. Of course we are.”
“No buts. You had your say, its my turn now.”
Carlos didn’t try to speak again and Cecil hummed in approval, placing a kiss on the top of his boyfriend’s head.
“Beautiful Carlos, who is only slightly less beautiful than usual tonight,” Carlos snorted, and Cecil grinned. “You are worthy of every bit of effort I go through for you because that is my decision, and I have made it.” Cecil spoke firmly and squeezed a little tighter for emphasis. “Did you really think that I was going to break up with you because you spent the night trapped and wounded and scared to death?”
“I missed our anniversary,” Carlos groaned out.
“Yes,” Cecil conceded. “But, I could hardly fault you for falling into a giant worm pit, that’s why they dig them after all. We’re very lucky that they found you before morning.” Cecil shuddered. “Now, I’m going to sit at my dining room table and eat ice cold dinner. I’d love it if you would join me. What do you say?”
“Um, I brought you flowers?”
I actually started this chapter the same day I posted chapter two, and then started it several more times since then. When I first started this fic I knew that the last chapter was going to be in Cecil's POV, but then when I started writing I realized that I cannot write Cecil properly. But I refused to scrap that idea so, I tried. Hard. Sorry.
Also, my surgery went great. thank you for the well-wishes!