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Uneven Threads

Chapter Text

They sat in a booth at the Moonlite All-Nite Diner, the one farthest from the window. The camera staring down at them from the corner damaged the illusion of privacy less than the bustling presence of the town outside would have. They felt as alone as they could in a public space.

They leaned over the table to be closer, unconsciously seeking a connection that they had very consciously missed for the past year. More deliberately, when Cecil rested his hand on the table, Carlos took the invitation without further prompting, and their fingers folded up and hooked together at the second knuckle. Carlos pulled slightly back toward himself, just enough to feel Cecil’s grip on him. Just enough to know, there was no letting go yet.

The radio host drummed the fingertips of his free hand on the menu. He didn’t need to open it; he practically knew the contents by heart, although he waited patiently while Carlos examined his.

“What looks good today, dear?” Cecil asked, after a few minutes of... Well, not silence, but only background noise. There was clatter coming from the kitchen and the buzz of other diners - a large party of bees swarming in suits had just entered and pushed some tables together, so it was a very loud buzz.

Carlos rubbed his thumb absently over the heel of Cecil’s palm, and hummed to himself. “Oh, probably just a burger. But we should have some invisible pie for dessert. Scientifically speaking, it’s fun to celebrate.”

“Really? I didn’t think you liked that much,” Cecil said. He leaned back to where he could examine his boyfriend, still keeping their hands wrapped together tightly. Carlos’ hair spilled over his eyes as he gave the menu a final once-over, and the radio host resisted an urge to kiss the space where his forehead met the rest of his head, just because that was the easiest place to reach. At least, just long enough to add, “You said it wasn’t really your thing. You tried it, and that’s enough.”

Then he did lean forward and kiss the scientist, because he could, because the man was there with his beautiful flesh wrapped over his beautiful blood as it flowed around his beautiful muscles, which clung to his beautiful bones. Gosh. Cecil closed his eyes and counted to three. When he opened them again, Carlos was sitting straight and smiling at him.

“Well, I know. But it’s very…” Carlos pushed the menu closed and waved his free hand as he sought the most accurate words. “Very special. That’s the best scientific term. And you said you wanted to celebrate, and I want that, too. I’m really happy to be home, so I want to celebrate with something that you don’t find outside.”

“It’s true. Invisible pie is a local specialty,” Cecil agreed, with an unmistakable note of pride. “Well, alright. If that’s what you’d like, we can do that.” He stuck out a hand, and caught an apple that fell from the waitress as she passed. He offered it to Carlos. “This should tide you over until we can order. With the swarm over there, it’s probably going to take a while.” He rolled his eyes and draped himself back against the booth dramatically. “We’ll just have to try not to starve.”

Carlos laughed. “Scientifically speaking, we’d have to be here for a really long time for that to happen, Ceec. But you know, I wouldn’t mind too much… They’ve gone without me for this long at the lab, they can wait a little longer.”

“We’ll take our time, then. That sounds… perfect.” Cecil squeezed his boyfriend’s hand, and beamed.

“You know, I was thinking about that!” Carlos exclaimed. “As far as how much time we can take, given the irregularities of time in Night Vale, it might be possible to squeeze a few more minutes out where you need them, if you can just…”

Cecil leaned forward again, happy to do the listening as Carlos went on. In truth, it wasn’t all that different from how they’d spoken on the phone just a few nights ago. It was a difference of night and day - two states of time, and two states of being, with the same contents in similar physical space. Carlos occupied the same place in his heart as always, and he knew - in the way he knew that time would pass, however strangely - that Carlos felt the same. It had been a long year, and yet somehow, Cecil couldn’t bring himself to regret it.

Chapter Text

Cecil did not, in fact, know much about science. He was into it, as he repeatedly assured Carlos, but they were both aware that interest did not equate to knowledge. It just wasn’t scientifically sound.

The first time he visited Carlos’ lab, he felt this absence of knowledge acutely, as if it were a railroad spike in his skull, as opposed to a void. Carlos had been to the radio station often enough - well, frequently, nowhere near often enough in Cecil’s opinion - but Cecil had just never made it down to the lab. Not even to attempt an interview.

There was something sacred about it. Like, you didn’t just step inside of a bloodstone circle; to do that would be to provoke the ire of the same being you wished to placate with offerings of flesh.

So, if he just barged into the lab, unscientifically minded, then surely, surely there would be consequences. Maybe he’d be struck down by the electricity from some humming piece of equipment, for daring to trespass into glorious Carlos’ domain. He didn’t know anything about science, and Carlos would know he didn’t know anything, and it’d be over as soon as it began.

But they had a lunch date. The terms of which involved Cecil picking Carlos up. And they weren’t just going to Big Rico’s; Carlos ate there all the time. Since Cecil had already filed this information with the city council, there was no turning back. Not that he wanted to, but it was always nice to have options, especially when his heart was doing the whole hard-crushing-schoolboy thing as he neared the door, and gods, he was going to make just the worst impression on Carlos’ friends, and -

“Hi, Cecil!”

Going on autopilot, he had opened the door before he realized what he was doing. The professional communicator gasped, “Oh! Hi! Hello, good afternoon!”

“Hi,” Carlos repeated, through soft laughter. It was not malicious, but wondering, and more than anything, the most beautiful thing Cecil had ever heard. Not even the scientific wonders of the laboratory could distract Cecil from Carlos’ face. That face. That jawline.

Carlos really needed to check on the air conditioning in his lab. Because it was just so hot in the desert; that was why Cecil was so hot all of a sudden, and this just wasn’t safe. The problem was definitely the air conditioning.

Carlos stood there with a beaker still in one hand, and his labcoat open to reveal a plaid shirt and khakis, instead of his usual jeans. Was he dressing up? He hadn’t needed to dress up, but the possibility that he had was already making Cecil feel woefully underdressed.

“Hi,” Cecil answered. “Um, so...  How’s it going?“

“Well, I’m almost ready. I’m sorry, I tried to time it right, but you know how things are; I just need to finish up the last section of this experiment to reach a good stopping point...” Carlos tipped the beaker back and forth carefully. “Then I can hand it off to Nils… Oh!” The scientist paused, and his eyes lit up. “You’ve never really be introduced to the team, have you? Well, most of them are out on fieldwork right now, but this is Nilanjana and that's Rachelle.”

He gestured to each woman as he spoke. They were scribbling on clipboards. They both wore labcoats. They glanced up at Cecil, one and then the other, but they did not stop scribbling. Their hands moved so fast that the radio host marveled that they produced anything coherent. Not like he could understand it, anyway. He winced at the flash of jealousy, as much because it was as inevitable as because the feeling itself stung.

“Nice to meet you,” said Cecil, and then found his next question all-too-naturally. “What kind of experiment is it? It looks… busy.”

Why couldn’t he be tongue-tied more often? It might have bought him time to cover up his ignorance with a cleverly constructed opinion that he’d just started believing in. But no, instead he had to ask the tough questions.

“Well - oh, wait, wait, hold on…” Carlos stopped as the liquid in the beaker turned neon green, and poured it into a waiting tube of something orange. The liquids fizzed together, and then swirls of inky purple slowly came to dominate the tube. “Yes! Just what we predicted… okay…” He gave Cecil a thumbs up. “We’re just testing the properties of these liquids, to see if they’d react the way they expect with each other. Sometimes, they do, like right now. But other times, they don’t, and that’s when it gets really interesting and scientific, because we try to figure out why.”

“Oh. That’s neat,” Cecil said. In truth, he didn’t understand much more than that.

Carlos beamed. “I know, right? It’s very important, scientifically. We’ve got to take very precise measurements and pay attention to the chemical makeup of the materials… Chemistry is such an inexact science, sometimes I hardly think it qualifies-” He shot Cecil a conspiratorial glance. “But don’t tell anyone I said that. Some people might find it upsetting.”

“Oh, oh, alright, I will definitely not tell anyone! Anyway, you’re the scientist, I’m sure you probably know better than anyone else would. It’s really… fascinating, how much you understand about the world.”

The scientist laughed again, and this time, Cecil’s heart just plain liquefied. He wondered if Carlos could explain that chemical reaction as neatly. Still, Carlos went on before he could ask. “Actually, I think it’s more interesting how much I don’t understand. That’s why I do science; there’s so much we still don’t know that we need to learn. And the rate of questions grows exponentially compared to how many answers we find, so… I’ve got great job security. It’s just a perk of being a scientist.”

“Uh-huh,” Cecil replied, somewhere between starry-eyed and mystified. “You’re great.”

“Huh. Uh-huh,” Carlos echoed, more slowly, and with a thoughtful, new quirk to his smile. “Thank you. Um. I guess we should get going.”

Cecil spun around. “Right, right… I wouldn’t want to keep you away from science for too long.”

“I appreciate it. It’s nice to meet someone who’s so interested in science, even if you’re not a scientist.”

The clearly labeled not-scientist stopped with his hand on the door. “Really? Are you… sure about that?”

“Um… yes? Normally, it’s like, another scientist who is so wrapped up in their projects that there’s no time to share, or just… people act like it’s boring, or fake, just because I suggested that mountains might be a thing.”

“Okay, well, I really think you need to do some more research on that particular subject,” Cecil cut in.

“Sure, sure. But you… are neither. Even with the mountain thing,” said the scientist, and his smile took on an apologetic note. “Hey, if you want, I’ll give you a full tour of the lab when we get back.”

“Oh, gosh, I’d love that!” That, and he’d love the excuse to spend a little extra time together. He pulled the door open for the scientist, who nodded at Cecil as he stepped through. “Hey… Carlos?”

“Yes, Cecil?”

“Thanks for coming with me today. I know it isn’t easy for you to leave your work… I know how much you love it.”

“Well, the same goes for you, doesn’t it?” Carlos mused, crossing his arms. “You could be, I don’t know, working on your script or something. I don’t know much about radio.”

“Well, oh, hmm. That is true.” Cecil remarked cautiously.

Carlos went on, “You would know how you feel better than me. Scientifically speaking, it’s impossible for me to know for certain what you don’t express. But that’s what I’ve observed. You keep telling me, for the most part, how into science you are.”

“Well, I am!”

“Good. Me, too. I love science a lot.” Carlos laughed again. “Anyway, all I ever have to do with radios is flipping a switch, and since I’ve come here, that, well, it hasn’t really been a need. And that doesn’t mean I can’t be… into it, you know?”

“Oh? Are you into radio?” Cecil asked, in light, friendly voice that made the scientist raise his eyebrows.

“Yes. I mean… It’s fairly recent. Really recent, in fact. I’ve discovered you can get a lot of valuable scientific information from the radio. Sometimes, life-or-death stuff, you know?”

“Oh. I see. I know.” Cecil smiled. He knew just about better than anyone, as the distributor of that information. “Community radio is essentially the glue that holds that community together, after all.”

“I’d say that’s scientifically accurate,” Carlos agreed.

“So, follow-up question: does that make science the glue that holds the world together?”

“Yes,” Carlos said, and then paused. “But it’s sometimes a little gritty. It’s got mountains in it.”

Cecil rolled his eyes. “Uh-huh. Well, you’re the expert.”

“Yes. Yes, I am. On that, anyway. If you want to tell me more about what else you're into over lunch... I'd like that.” Carlos beamed. “So, should we get going? Like, for real. You said you’d already filed the paperwork, so I guess you know where we’re headed?”

Cecil squinted, and waved his hand vaguely. “Actually, that was section was optional. I thought we should decide on a place together. Did you have any ideas?”

“Sure! Well, several.” Carlos pulled a clipboard out of his bag, and examined the paper on it. “I tried to consider all the variables, but between Jerry’s Tacos and White Sand Ice Cream, there are a lot of factors…”

They eventually settled on the Moonlite All-Night Diner, agreeing easily that it was hard to go wrong with a burger, even if it was served as a cheap steak with a salad on top.

Chapter Text

Carlos scrolled up and down his Facebook feed idly. He flipped past an article on science that Nilanjana had linked him, another one provided so thoughtfully by his boyfriend, and a third one that Stan had sent him. Except that last one was about botany, so he didn’t really understand why he’d received it. He’d read them all a few times, anyway, arming himself with knowledge about improved Erlenmeyer flask design and parasitic trees in equal measure.

He didn’t click on any of them again now. Instead, he flicked back up the screen, with his attention mostly focused on the clock in the corner. It told him, through implication and context and cultivated knowledge combined into a personal cypher, that Cecil would be home soon.

He’d listened to his boyfriend’s show, as always. He loved to hear Cecil having a good time on the radio. But, there was just one thing, one little detail, that he did find somewhat concerning.

He should have known better by now. Well, as much as one should be able to do anything. Scientifically speaking, that meant both to have the capacity for something and to be expected to perform the task. The expectation arose from various factors like societal demands or personal beliefs.

Sometimes, those factors meant very little compared to chemicals in the brain. Carlos was worried, even though he knew he didn’t need to be.

He locked his phone and slipped it into his lab coat pocket. No, that wasn’t doing him any good. He stood up, stretched. He heard the door open down the hall. He kept breathing, but faster than he’d been doing it before, and he smiled without thinking about it. This smile was as natural a response as the breathing; it was just as important a part of being alive.

“Hi, honey!” Carlos called. He waited at the end of the hallway while Cecil took off his galoshes and tucked them neatly in the closet. They closed the distance together, until they were holding each other, and kissed briefly.

“You’re not going to ask me how my day was?” Cecil teased.

“Well, I might have some idea,” Carlos said. “Of course, you know, I do love hearing it from you personally…”

That was all Cecil needed. He began, “It was amazing, honey! I just… Ooh, I can’t begin to describe it!”

“I’m sure you can! You just did,” Carlos pointed out. He stepped away, but maintained a point of contact, sliding his hand down from Cecil’s shoulder and along his arm to take his hand.

“I wish you’d been there! Or… were you? It was kind of hard to tell people apart, with the whole ‘hair sunken into our scalps and eyes reduced to vestigial lumps’ thing,” Cecil said, waving his free hand in an arc and wiggling his fingers to match his words.

A few years ago, Carlos might have thought to himself: would he have cared about me without my hair? One year ago, he would have just asked the question, because he trusted Cecil enough to be direct. Now, he didn’t say anything on that subject, because he knew well enough that Cecil cared just as much about what was under his hair, and more.

Instead, Carlos said, “No… No, I sat this one out. I, um, I think I slept through the important parts, actually. I mean, earlier…”

He offered up an apologetic smile, but Cecil just shook his head. “That’s fine! One day, though, I’d just love it if you could join me. You don’t know how fun a cult can be until you’ve joined one and experienced extensive physical changes against your will!”

“And I’d love to join you. Really. I’d love to be there with you. But,” Carlos sighed; here was the hard part, “but I was just wondering if you would mind if I took a look at something, first. Then you can tell me all about it.”

“Sure! What do you want to see?”

“Tip your head back for me?”

“Okay?” Cecil lifted his eyebrows, but complied, exposing his throat.

Carlos lifted a hand under Cecil’s chin and angled his face to the side with a light touch. “I just want to make sure… I’m a scientist, not a doctor, but it never hurts to check, right…?”

Just that one little thing, during the broadcast, that the scientist couldn’t let go of. He’d winced, when Cecil proudly exclaimed: “...someone drew blood from my neck, and everyone cheered…ah!"

The physical changes had reversed themselves, but an injury was something else. The scientist ran his fingertips just over his boyfriend’s neck, and stopped when he encountered a raised line.

Cecil had stopped breathing just from the soft contact, but he exhaled abruptly, and Carlos felt the muscle tensing under his hand. Cecil’s eyes were out of sight now, but Carlos saw the twinge of his lower jaw.

“You know, I didn’t even think about that… I think it’s fine now, honestly,” the radio host murmured.

“I had a feeling. I mean… I don’t think it’s anything that bad, either, but it looks like it stings.” Carlos bit his lip, then asked, “Want me to patch you up?”

“That’d be… nice, yes,” Cecil agreed, lifting Carlos’ hand away to thread their fingers together and squeeze.

They walked to the bathroom. Cecil leaned against the counter, just out of the way of the medicine cabinet. Carlos opened it, guiding it the whole way with his hand, instead of letting it swing freely. As the scientist withdrew a package of "jumbo" bandages and some antibacterial cream, Cecil asked, “Are you upset?”

“No.” Carlos washed his hands thoroughly, and shook the water off before he went on, “People who like hiking sometimes fall and break something. People who skydive might experience a parachute malfunction. Scientifically speaking, every hobby carries some risk. This is the risk associated with unwillingly joining the cult of a forgotten god, I guess.”

“That’s fair.” Cecil tipped his head back to allow Carlos to apply the cream. The scientist's hands were steady and warm. The radio host held his breath again and listened while his boyfriend worked.

“Just, you know… Be careful? Dodge if you see them coming, maybe?” Carlos paused, squinting. His tongue poked slightly out of one corner of his mouth as he sealed the bandage over Cecil’s cut. He finished and, having had some time consider the subject, added, “I’m mostly concerned that you jumped right back into kick-steps. You could’ve sprained an ankle! Anyway, how’s that?”

“Alright. Also fair.” Cecil nodded, and patted the bandage into place. “And that’s better. Thank you, dear.”

“Good. And next time… Yeah, it’d be nice if I could come with you.” Carlos hooked an arm through Cecil’s and leaned against him, offering up his best doe-eyes. “You’re allowed to wake me up if something cool and-slash-or scientifically interesting happens! And I mean, cool things are almost always scientifically interesting, so… You know.”

“I do. Although, you say that as if it’s easy to wake you,” Cecil reminded him. Still, the thought of shared experiences and an evening of prayer dance with his boyfriend left him starry-eyed. He promised, “But of course, I can! I will. Next time, okay, Carlos?”

Carlos gave him a thumbs up. “That's a scientifically sound plan if I ever heard one. And I've heard and created many. Thanks, Ceec.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, Ceec? Could I get your opinion on something? It’s very important for science,” Carlos called from the bedroom.

Cecil immediately put down his newspaper, along with the ground blueberry and inkbrush he’d been using to work on the crossword. It wasn’t like he’d been making much progress, anyway; he had a really good vocabulary, which made the imagination edition’s crossword an extra challenge.

“Sure, dear,” he replied, in the half-shout one uses to communicate with loved ones who are only a comfortable distance away.

He found Carlos waiting for him in the bathroom. The scientist was wearing a dress and a labcoat, examining himself in the mirror as he slipped the coat on and off his shoulders. He hmm ed thoughtfully, and spun to face Cecil as he entered. The dress was a new one; the fabric was a batik with a complex pattern and a bright color scheme. The skirt swished around the scientist’s knees. Cecil’s eyes widened.

Carlos asked, “What do you think? I think it looks pretty good with the lab coat… But then, everything looks good with lab coats… Maybe I should let it stand on its own?”

He turned back to the mirror again, tilting his head and letting his hair spill onto his shoulder. Cecil gasped. Carlos didn’t seem to notice, as he teased the fabric of the skirt between his thumb and forefinger, drawing it back and forth.

The radio host leaned forward, and got Carlos’ attention by taking his boyfriend’s face gently in his hands. He turned the scientist toward him, although by then, Carlos had the idea, so the motion became a team effort. They stared into each other’s eyes, and Carlos asked, “Yes, Ceec?”

“Carlos. You’re beautiful. Do you understand that? I mean, really understand? I mean it in a cosmic sense. Like, you’ve got stars, which are… Okay, kind of weird, but beautiful, glittering above us… And you’ve got an ocean somewhere out there, catching the lights above it and playing them on its surface, to hide stranger colors in its depths…”

Carlos bit his lip, and lifted his hands to his face. He pressed them over Cecil’s, wrapping his fingertips just underneath his boyfriend’s to avoid actually pulling him away.

“And somehow, I’ve got you, my sweet, stunning Carlos. Why? Can you explain it scientifically?” Cecil finished his earnest monologue and waited.

“Oh, gosh, um… Well… Genetics are very scientific, and one of the greatest factors in… determining… appearance…?” Carlos trailed off as Cecil shook his head. The scientist cleared his throat. “Or… there could be an alternative?”

“This is about you,” Cecil whispered, leaning close, until their foreheads touched. Then, he raised his voice back to a chipper level. “...And the fact that you look amazing in that dress. You don’t have to have the labcoat, but it looks fine with it, so. However you like!”

“Oh. Okay, sure. Thanks, honey…” Carlos replied, his voice softened by a shortness of breath. One hand ran up and down the inner hem of his labcoat, over the buttons, as a smile grew on his face. 

“Did you make it yourself? That’s the fabric you got a while ago, isn’t it?” Cecil asked.

“Yes. That’s right. Scientifically speaking, the sequence of events involved me purchasing the fabric, me using the fabric to sew the dress, and now, me wearing it,” Carlos said. He raised his free hand and lifted an index finger to reinforce his point.

“Well. You look great,” Cecil repeated.

“I’m glad. It’s been a while since I really sewed anything, so I wasn’t sure how it’d turn out this time…” He leaned down and gave Cecil a quick kiss. “So, are we still on for bowling tonight?”

“We’re always on for bowling. Even when we have no plans or memory of how we arrived at the bowling alley, we’re on for bowling,” confirmed the radio host.

They left holding hands, but on the way out, Cecil lifted his arm and Carlos spun himself underneath. The motion concluded with another kiss, this one lingering a while longer.

Chapter Text

On the subject of quiet evenings at home, alone or otherwise, Carlos was no expert.

Then again, perhaps that was a false statement. Depending on how one defined a home, he spent most evenings there, as well as mornings, noons, and nights. His laboratory was home. If he was going to draw it out further, he was always home, because his heart was inside of him and home was where the heart was. Everyone knew that idioms had to be scientifically backed to catch on. 

So he wondered what definition he should apply now, for greatest scientific accuracy. He sat on the couch with Cecil; one ankle resting on his knee, and most of his weight on the armrest. This was comfortable, and it had the additional benefit of carrying most of Cecil’s weight, too. The other man leaned on him, but human shapes didn’t fit together as neatly as people imagined, so Cecil’s head ended up more above his armpit than on his shoulder or chest.

Carlos didn’t mind, but he couldn’t remember if he’d put deodorant on that morning or not, so… That was a little anxiety-provoking. Cecil didn’t seem to care, either, though, so it was probably best to let it go. He began, “Hey, Cecil…”

“Mmm?”

Though vague, the syllable rang with contentment. Thinking about it, while he faced the TV, Carlos couldn’t even tell if the radio host’s eyes were open. Maybe Cecil was resting, geez. Maybe he shouldn’t bug him.

“Oh, never mind.”

“No, what?”

“Just… I was wondering if you wanted anything.”

Cecil considered it for a moment, then wrapped his arm over the scientist's chest. “This. I want this.”

“Oh,” Carlos said softly, and reflected on the sentiment. “Me, too.”

He thought, then, about the chemicals that his brain produced, that his heart then pumped through him, and about the signals these sent back to his brain to be parsed into words that he could express, if only to himself. He thought, then, that he wanted to leave his heart right where it was in time and space, so that he could call this home.

He thought, after that, that it was silly to restrict yourself to one home. If he had a home at his lab, that didn't mean he couldn't have one here, with this ever-more-wonderful specimen of human being. He didn't say anything, but he chose a different external expression, securing a hand around his boyfriend's shoulder and rubbing gently up and down.

Carlos knew that Cecil understood when he leaned up and kissed the scientist on the cheek. Silence did not come easily to the radio host, but he whispered, "I love you." 

"I love you, too," Carlos replied.

They looked away from each other, but neither of them were really watching the TV. 

Chapter Text

Carlos yanked open the door to the booth, and stepped inside. Even the ongoing weather failed to drown out the terrible screams and grinding noises coming from outside of the station, but when he let the door fall shut behind him, it all faded.

It could have been peaceful, if they weren’t experiencing what could only be described in scientific terms as a catastrophe. He made a further, but equally bad observation upon entering the booth. It appeared to be empty. He spun to take in the small room as if that might reveal new information, sending his lab coat flapping.

Carlos!

The scientist felt a hand tugging on the hem of his lab coat. He pivoted again and turned his attention downward. Cecil was under the desk, waving up at him.

“Down here!” The radio host wiggled over, just enough to accommodate another person. “Oh, Carlos, get down, quick! Did you come all the way here from your lab? It’s not safe!”

Carlos brushed some of the byproduct of the current situation from his labcoat. It was, scientifically speaking, really gross gunk. Then he crouched down, and crawled in beside Cecil. The scientist replied, in a hasty whisper of his own, “I know! That’s why I’m here, honey, I found some very important scientific information and I think we might be able to use it to stop this, but we have to - Why are you looking at me like that?”

Cecil had been making doe-eyes again. “You’re just… so good at your job. Helping people with science. Saving the town. I love you so much.”

“It’s a team effort, and scientifically speaking, there is no ‘I’ in team. Now, linguistically speaking is another matter, but, anyway, I’m going to need you.”

Cecil nodded solemnly. “Okay, Carlos. Just tell me what we have to do.”

He leaned in and punctuated his statement by giving Carlos a kiss on the cheek. The scientist looked at his boyfriend carefully, and considered several factors. The seriousness of the situation, Cecil’s determination to do something about it, and how sweet his boyfriend’s voice sounded in earnest. Carlos weighed these things using highly scientific reasoning, and nodded to himself.

He stretched forward, and gave Cecil a much firmer kiss on the lips.

While Cecil was still gasping, he took his boyfriend’s hand, and moved close to the other man’s ear to whisper his plan there. With luck, science, and community radio, they could have everything wrapped up and the survivors safe by the end of the weather.

Chapter Text

They say the early bird gets the chance to drag the worm, screaming pathetically, from its hidey-hole.

It wasn’t even eight in the morning yet, but Cecil and Carlos stood next to each other in front of the bathroom sink. Cecil was brushing his teeth, humming his show’s theme under his breath to make sure he scrubbed long enough. Carlos was putting his contacts in, or trying to.

“Ouch! Oh, shoot!” He gasped, as he aimed for one eye, only to poke himself when the lens slipped from his fingertip.

Cecil immediately cleared the area, stepping back into the doorway as Carlos squinted at the bathroom floor. The radio host glanced down, and pointed at a spot in the shadow of the counter. Through a mouthful of toothpaste, he said, “Ish dere, honey.”

“Thank you,” Carlos sighed, and grabbed the lens between his thumb and fingertip. It went back into the cleaning solution, and then he dug around in the medicine cabinet. “Did the Faceless Old Woman hide my spares again? Ugh…”

“Why d’ joo-” Cecil stopped, and spat into the sink. “Ahem. Sorry. Why do you even use those? They seem like a nuisance, hardly worth all that trouble… Just let the Faceless Old Woman have them, if she wants them so much.”

Carlos stopped rummaging through the deep void that their medicine cabinet seemed to have become overnight, and turned back to his boyfriend. “Why? Well. That’s a good question. That’s always a very scientific question. Want me to show you?”

“Sure. You know I love your demonstrations.”

“Excellent. Bring me your reading glasses, please.”

“Okay? Hm, hm, hm.”

Cecil left, and came back a moment later with the item in question. Carlos held out a hand, and Cecil presented the glasses with a flourish. “Here you are, Doctor Carlos.”

“Thank you, Cecil. You’d make a very good scientist, if you wanted to do that and had the requisite knowledge. Now.” He put the glasses on, and picked up his lab goggles from around his neck, then carefully maneuvered them over the glasses. He made a few adjustments. “Alright. They're big enough to fit. So you'd think that'd be fine, right?”

Cecil gave him a thumbs-up. "I think you look really good like that. I mean, you look really good without them, too. You just look good." 

"Oh, gosh... Here, just a second!" Carlos pulled the goggles out over the glasses again, and let them drop back around his neck. “See, Ceec?”

“Yes. I saw that.” Cecil confirmed, with an air of expectation. There was more; Carlos couldn't possibly leave him with just that.

Carlos handed the glasses back, and said, “Now, watch this.”

Without the glasses, he snapped the goggles on and off much more easily. Then, he held up an index finger, to emphasize all the science that was going on.

“Simple, right? But there’s something else you didn’t see, because you’d need new reading glasses if I did.” He shook his head. “I can’t count the number of times I knocked my glasses off, and I've broken... Oh, I think it was five pairs that way. Well, it was definitely five. I counted that. Then I switched.”

He opened the medicine cabinet again. The spare vial was right in front. “Oh, here we go! Gosh! Thanks, Faceless Old Woman. Sorry for snapping at you.”

“Huh. I admit, I wasn’t expecting such a scientific reason,” Cecil remarked.

“Yes, well. There’s a scientific reason for everything.” He leaned over, and gave Cecil a quick kiss on the cheek. “For example, even without any prescription lenses, I can observe how cute you are, and how much you definitely needed a kiss just then. It just isn’t reasonable to leave such a cute face un-kissed.”

Cecil's mouth dropped open, and he nodded enthusiastically. “Oh, you know, of course! In fact, I think I could use a few more…”

Chapter Text

There are all sorts of things in the back of a closet. Some of them are remembered. The old shirt worn that one time that you couldn’t possibly get rid of, the nice shoes you spent so much money on and never had the occasion to wear, the tennis racket that became useless with the snap of a single string. It’s a good metaphor for life. 

Some of them have never been seen before, and could not possibly have a place there. A locket - well, maybe it belonged to a family member, once. A fading diary, with words you just barely can’t read and tearstains on some pages. 

A box of photographs.

Carlos takes the lid off the box and gasps. “Ooh, honey, what are these?”

He begins pulling them out of the box in a sheaf. A scientist is curious. It’s the third thing a scientist is. He flips through the little stack, as Cecil shoves a torn t-shirt into a plastic bag designated as “not keeping.” The radio host turns, and joins Carlos. He kneels down next to his boyfriend.

“Aww, are these your baby pictures?” Carlos coos, smiling as he taps the face in one image. It belongs to a young boy who is also smiling, and holding a cup of bubbling red liquid.

Cecil’s mouth opens, and the blood drains from his face. Carlos turns to him, and expects to see a smile that one might just be able to trace in the photograph, but matured and filled out. When he does not see this, he frowns, too.

“Ceec? What’s wrong?”

“No. Those aren’t… Put those away, Carlos. We shouldn’t keep those.”

“Sweetie?” Carlos asks, but he has already put the pictures down and placed the lid back on the box. Cecil sits on the edge of the bed and clasps his hands in his lap. Carlos sits next to him, and Cecil automatically leans to rest his head on the scientist’s shoulder. “Do you want to talk about it, Cecil?”

For a few instants after the question, Cecil does not. He only wants to bury the box somewhere in the desert and pretend he never saw it. But Carlos is warm, and has placed his arm gently over Cecil’s shoulder. It will confirm that the him now is real, if he tells Carlos that the him in the pictures is not.

“That… boy isn’t - wasn’t - me. He never could have been. That was my mother. And I think Abby was there. But I wasn’t in even one of those pictures, Carlos. I don’t know who was.”  

“I see.” Carlos’ magnificent brow knits together, and he squeezes Cecil’s shoulder. “I can try to find out who it was, if you want.”

“No. No. Maybe. Not now, please.” Cecil nudges closer, so the top of his head brushes Carlos’ neck, and the scientist bends to kiss where he can reach. The radio host continues, “We need to finish cleaning out the closet, or we never will.”

“Oh, yeah,” Carlos agrees. “That’s true. Based on the evidence of our previous behavior… Okay.” 

He shrugs lightly, and Cecil straightens. They get back to work, breathing in dust and the shadows of separate lives, and they are glad to be leading their present lives together. That is enough.

Chapter Text

Carlos pushed away from the wall. It should have been easy, really. Gravity and momentum were the forces he had to deal with. He just had to keep his balance.

Yet if there was one thing he knew, as a scientist, it was that things were rarely as they should have been. They were often totally different, and you had to figure out why. That was why Carlos had a job. 

It was also why, when Carlos pushed away from the wall, he only skated a few feet before one foot slipped out from under him, and he flailed futilely in an attempt to recover.

“Whoa! Oh, gosh, oh, no, Ceeeec!” 

Cecil all but flew forward from where he’d been waiting to catch Carlos, anyway - braking was next on the list of lessons. He tried to grab the spinning scientist, and failed. “Oh! Oh, Carlos! Give me your hand!”

Carlos twisted, and threw his hand out to the side deliberately this time. Cecil caught it and pulled him close, a little roughly, but better to crash into your soft boyfriend than the unforgiving rink, especially with the alligators lurking around the edges. (This was why children didn’t usually get to go skating, no matter how much they begged their parents. Most parents preferred their children alive.) They both stood for a moment, pressed together and panting as Carlos arranged his feet underneath himself. 

“Thanks,” Carlos sighed, and then smiled. “That could have been both messy and unpleasant, in scientific terms.” 

“It wasn’t a little unpleasant, anyway?” Cecil asked, lifting one eyebrow quizzically. “It didn’t look especially fun, although we were able to avert disaster.”

“Well, it was messy,” Carlos said, tugging one of his hands free to raise an index finger. “But I can’t really count any experience that brings me this close to you as ‘unpleasant.’ It’s an important factor.”

“Oh. Oh, of course,” Cecil laughed, as blood heated his face. He kissed Carlos on the forehead, in part to buy himself time, but mostly because wow. “When you put it that way… a very scientific way to put it… It makes perfect sense. That’s why I’m not a scientist, I suppose.”

“Probably. But you are cute.”  

Chapter Text

Cecil Gershwin Palmer went all out, of course. He got down on one knee. He pulled out the little box, and opened it with the requisite satisfying click. He spoke loudly and clearly, as was his habit, but it wasn’t his radio professional, here is what you, dear listener, need to know voice or his okay, Secret Police, are you listening? I don’t want to repeat myself voice.

With every ounce of desire in his beating, blood-drenched heart, Cecil asked, “Carlos, will you marry me?”

He offered up a ring that he suspected had belonged to someone in his family. He didn’t know who, exactly - maybe his mother, he rather hoped his mother - but he’d found it in a closet and had it appraised. It was the real deal, so to speak, and now, well, now he would always know who it belonged to. Now, he would never forget.

Carlos didn’t answer. His knees trembled, as the announcement hit him in his joints, and he didn’t fight it. He dropped down in front of Cecil.

The radio host reached out and grabbed his shoulder, and gasped, “Carlos? Are you-”

Carlos was a lot of things. Fine was one, as always, but it was an understatement and he had a lot of momentum going. He wrapped both arms around Cecil and pulled his - oh, gosh - fiance into a kiss. Cecil made a little sound in his deep voice, and Carlos felt the vibrations stir against his lips. The scientist lifted a hand, stroking through the other man’s hair, and hummed softly in return.

Only when they were both dizzy from the combined lack of oxygen and excess emotion did Carlos pull away. He swallowed, and Cecil laughed, “Is that-”

Carlos cut him off again, demonstrating unusual impatience as he poked Cecil gently on the nose. “Yes. Of course. There are no other interpretations that make scientific sense, are there?”

“Good. Good…” Cecil murmured. “I’m glad. I wasn’t… worried. But I’m glad to hear it.”

“Well, I’m glad to tell you. Yes, Ceec, I will marry you,” Carlos said, and kissed Cecil again.

Although it took up less oxygen than before, Cecil came away unsteady, with his heart beating twice as fast, and Carlos was perfectly content to hold him until he felt ready to move.  

Chapter Text

“Carlos,” Cecil said, through a silence that had settled comfortably over the living room. Their dog was napping on the floor, and Carlos may or may not have been napping on the couch, tucked behind Cecil.

Until a few moments ago, Cecil wasn’t exactly sure if he’d been awake or not, either. His thoughts had wandered far enough from his control to be called dreams, and he’d closed his eyes. The afternoon sun slipped past the air conditioning, and the warmth lulled him beyond consciousness.

But then, something - something sharp and sudden, something he hadn’t wanted to see and now could no longer recall - pushed him back in the other direction. Uneasy, he said again, “Carlos?”

“I’m awake,” Carlos replied. He squeezed the other man’s shoulder, and then added, “I was already awake. You didn’t wake me.”

“Good. Mm. How long was I out?”

“Just like… an hour? I didn’t want to bug you, though.”

“Oh? Did you have something to say?”

“Not really. But you looked…” Carlos pushed himself partway upright, and examined his boyfriend. One arm still dangled over the edge of the couch, and Cecil’s long hair draped in careless loops over his shoulders and neck. When Carlos brushed the nape with his fingertips, it was slightly sticky with sweat, more a product of the unplanned nap than the heat. Carlos mused, “You looked really calm. I wasn’t going to disturb that, even if I did have something to say. It could wait. I would have taken notes.”

Cecil laughed, contained to a single breath, and said, “Thank you. I, uh, I don’t know what… I just kind of drifted off?”

“As far as what I was able to observe, that’s accurate. You probably needed it. Are you feeling better?”

“Well, I was feeling alright before… It does feel like it was longer than, what, an hour? Hm.”

“Well, time-”

Cecil leaned up, kissed him, and continued, “I know, it’s not real, but-”

Carlos laughed, keeping the sound contained to a single breath, and kissed him in return. He finished, “We still perceive it as a linear experience, shaping our reality into something we can manage?”

“Exactly. I’m glad you understand.”

Chapter Text

Carlos told Cecil about time, and Cecil had gotten entirely the wrong idea.

No. Not entirely. That wasn’t fair. Carlos made himself look away from the radio. It was an awful, human impulse that got its hooks in him whenever Cecil was on, to stare at the radio like it was a manifestation of the man himself. Carlos looked down at his notebook, instead, and sketched out a quick Venn diagram.

On the left side: My Ideas.

  • More time passed in Night Vale in one week than there is time in one week. Ergo: There is a massive time shift in Night Vale.
  • This risks placing Night Vale (further?) out of sync with the rest of the world.
  • Time slowing down is potentially catastrophic!

On the right side: Cecil’s Ideas.

  • Time slowing down is neat* (*which, in other circumstances, I would agree with, were not for the above note of “potentially catastrophic”)
  • We should meet up to talk about this.
  • My voice is caramel.

Carlos bit the tip of his pen. It wasn’t that Carlos didn’t like his voice, although he was due for his surgical inoculation against throat spiders soon. It was just, did Cecil really think that about him? Had Cecil ever heard his own voice? Yes. Obviously. He had described it as “smooth” and “sonorous,” and this was perhaps the most scientifically accurate that Carlos had heard him be.

But, thinking of science, as Carlos usually was, there was this chart to finish. He was thinking about Cecil because Cecil was relevant to the science at hand. Pure logic. Facts only.

In the center: Our Ideas

  • The town needs to know about this.

And maybe that was all that mattered. Carlos had asked for Cecil’s help, and Cecil had given it to him, willingly. Gladly, even. Cecil made up for what he lacked in scientific knowledge with scientific enthusiasm, and so Carlos dared to hope that had he had an ally in Cecil. Just one ally, here among the menacing government agents and mob-ready citizens. Carlos had to trust Cecil, and trust was a verb. Carlos had to take actions which indicated that he trusted Cecil.

Or not. He did not have to do anything. Scientifically speaking, he was bound by nothing. The cells that made him up first made up organs, which could make suggestions to the broader organism that was himself, and he did not have to do anything to prolong their function. He was going to, of course. He wanted to, but it was a choice.

The function of trust was, ultimately, the same choice. Survival. He could be self-reliant, but not exist in isolation. And Cecil would be a good ally to have. People listened to Cecil. Plenty of people already trusted him. And, oh, he had that voice, that smooth and sonorous voice, Carlos wouldn’t mind hearing it - just for himself, maybe.

But that was not a scientific line of inquiry, and Carlos was thinking about science.

Carlos added one more point to the center of the diagram.

  • Time slows down when we are together.

Chapter Text

Grief was not such a complicated thing, while it was fresh.

It manifested in different ways, some which were small and tearful, and unfolded into the vast, messy thing most people thought grief to be. Some which were almost grand, but hollow, gilded and silent, and which filled in over time. With grief. Or with your other feelings, which were pieces of grief’s more complicated and final shape, but no one had told you that, so you hated these pieces as wrong, as something other than what you were supposed to be feeling according to the shapes other people had drawn for you.

Some of which were screaming, plunging down at over one hundred miles per hour. Knees touching under guardrails, and hands joined over knees, hands tight together with the same feelings they screamed. Joy and sorrow and the emotion that was sheer, implacable velocity in the gut.

Down somewhere below them were thin splashes of color, the flowers that they and other mourners had left at the foot of the sculpture. Cecil had never felt lower than in that moment. Not that he could recall, which admittedly left a fair amount of his life open. But, standing there, of course. Of course he had felt low, standing before a metal tower so many times his size, before a sculpture that twisted apart the sky above him. It did not exist on a scale that he could imagine interacting with. It was so much bigger than him, such a complicated thing.

Like grief, he thought. Not incorrectly, just at the wrong time.

He was wrong about the scale of it, though. Not even half an hour later, the tall, winged attendant had helped him and Carlos into their seats. Cecil’s arm still felt detached from the rest of him, where the attendant had accidentally brushed it, leaking a little divine power onto his sleeve. It gave an extra edge to his screams as they tore down the sculpture’s final drop, not merely interacting with, but participating in it. Breathlessly, joyfully, agonizingly participating in it.

And all of these things were part of his grief, he thought, as he and Carlos staggered together back onto the platform, laughing with what little breath they had recovered. And he was right, because no one could tell him what shape his grief could take. Only he had a say in this.

Cecil pulled Carlos aside by the exit, taking him by both hands, pressing their clasped fingers together between their chests as they kissed over and over. Each lightly touching his lips to the others’, and to cheeks and foreheads. Still laughing, but now there were tears on their cheeks, now that they had the air to cry. Other riders slipped out around them, some sparing them a fond or understanding glance, but most just passing through the gate.

“Thank you, Carlos.” Cecil spoke with their faces only an inch apart, his hand on the back of Carlos’ head to hold them together. “I need to get going, but I’ll see you later tonight. I had a… a good time. I’ll see you later, okay?”

“What?” Carlos said, not really a question, not even a statement of surprise. Just a beat where anxiety knocked the silence out of him. “No. I know what.”

And then Carlos put his arms around Cecil, hugged him with his eyes squeezed shut, his hands tight together between his husband’s shoulder blades.  "I want you to know something. That thing is: your show tonight was beautiful, and I’m proud of you for it.“  

"Thank you. I should have said it before… I should have said something, but-” Cecil bit his lip. “Or no. No. There’s no point to thinking like that. Is there?”

Carlos shook his head, nuzzling into Cecil’s chest with the movement. “No. There isn’t.”

“Okay. Listen, I know you’re going to worry - I’m worried, too, about what I said, and… about… even more that I haven’t. But not about the City Council. I know how to deal with the City Council. So, try not to worry too much tonight?”

“I’ll do my best.” Carlos looked up, and said mildly, “It’s a pretty good best. Yours is, too, and I know that that is exactly what you’re doing.”

Cecil laughed, a single, humorless syllable. “Yes. And there’d be even less point, like a negative point - a hollow, or maybe a concave? - to worrying about if it will be enough…” His breath caught, and he rested his face in Carlos’ hair, taking a moment to recover in the friendly scents of lavender shampoo and bright chemicals. “But. But I am, Carlos. I’ve never… I mean, no, it’s not like I’ve never… It was so easy, earlier.”

Carlos leaned in further, at an angle that made it easier for Cecil to rest against him in turn.

“It was sweet, you know? You were so excited, and, oh, honey-voiced honey… You could really hear how much you loved her. How much you still do. So. It’s okay if it’s not easy right now. I think it will be easy sometimes, and difficult at others, maybe more difficult than in this moment, even. Which means, I am not trying to discourage you - I just don’t think it would help to - in scientific terms - sugarcoat it. Still, let me say something I mean just as much to encourage you: I’m here for you. No matter what you need to say about it, I love you.”

“That’s right. I love her, and that won’t change. And so I will do this. For her. And for Night Vale. And for…” He brought one hand up, curving his hand to fit against Carlos’ cheek.

“For me?”

Cecil sighed, and nodded. “Carlos. Dear Carlos. Beautiful and imperfectly perfect. Filling my head even now with romance and disbelief and wonder at just how much one person can matter to another. I love you.”

He kissed the top of Carlos’ head. There was a cough from past the exit, and they turned just in time to see a secret police officer ducking back behind the wall.

Cecil rolled his eyes. “Okay, I really do need to go. I’ll be home before you know it.”

Carlos considered this statement and nodded. “Statistically, that is likely. It will depend where I am in the house, and what I’m doing - if I’m in the living room, I’ll hear you, and know exactly as you come home. And I’ll come see you. But if I’m in the bedroom, or in the kitchen and doing something there that involves moving pots or utensils, which most activities in the kitchen require, I may not. So, in that instance, you would definitely be home before I knew it. Whatever this order of events - see you later, Ceec.”

Cecil stepped away to meet his escort. They came apart slowly, even so, arms stretching to their full lengths and fingers disentangling deliberately. Carlos waved as Cecil went through the gate, and Cecil blew him what would be their last kiss - at least, for the next several hours.