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When You're Strange

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Carlos liked Cecil. He really did. At first, he was more...confused than anything, because Night Vale itself was nothing if not confusing. And intriguing, and perplexing, and all manner of other synonyms that Carlos repeated ad nauseam in his reports. That first day at the radio station, Carlos’ first impulse upon seeing Cecil--standing there in his oversized headphones, eyes wide and guileless--was to take hold of his wrist and physically lead him from the building, so certain was Carlos that the whole thing was about two minutes away from coming down around their ears.

“I’m afraid for you,” he’d said. Cecil blinked.

“Um, all of you,” Carlos clarified, though he couldn’t have said why he felt the need.

At any rate, the building remained standing, and Cecil and the rest of its motley denizens lived to broadcast another day. And Carlos, God help him, had continued to listen.

So, yes. Carlos liked Cecil. He was even beginning to like Night Vale in ways transcending mere scientific curiosity, though he was of course maintaining an appropriate degree of distance so as to avoid researcher bias. One night in particular, as Carlos sat across from Cecil in a burnt-orange booth at Arby’s, slurping idly on the remnants of his mocha shake, he realized he felt at home. It was a little disturbing, but then Cecil smiled at him pointily and Carlos felt warmth unfurl in his chest. It was a sensation for which he could offer no scientific explanation, and in that moment, Carlos was okay with it.

Outside in the parking lot, Cecil leaned in to tuck a lock of hair behind Carlos’ ear. His hair was getting long again, but Carlos hadn’t seen Telly around since...well, since his last haircut, if he thought about it. And according to Cecil, he was pretty much the only game in town when it came to cutting hair, so Carlos supposed his hair would just have to grow out for now. Cecil seemed to like it, anyway. The stray hair in place, Cecil hesitated for a moment before pressing a hesitant kiss to the corner of Carlos’ mouth.
When they parted, Carlos felt breathless. He sucked in a gulp of air and sighed it out.

“Do you want to come back to my place?” he asked.

Cecil swallowed. “Are you sure you don’t have any science experiments that need monitoring? Back at the lab, I mean?”

“The lab” was an abandoned garage on the edge of the Sand Wastes, furnished with equipment from Discount Science Supply Co., but Cecil seemed to think it a high-tech cabinet of wonders, and Carlos found himself strangely reluctant to disabuse him of that notion.

“Um, no,” Carlos said. “All locked up for the night.”

“Oh,” Cecil said, seemingly taken aback. And it was true, Carlos thought. He had historically been a little cagey about the end of their dates. It was just...look, he liked Cecil. He did. But Cecil just had this...way of looking at Carlos. His eyes went all dark, boundless and black as the Void itself. It had a way of making Carlos’ stomach churn, though not unpleasantly. And so his stomach churned and his brain stopped working and he froze and it was all he could do most nights to mutter something about the lab and lurch off into the darkness in the direction of home.

But not tonight. Tonight, Carlos had just decided, was going to be different. Even if that thought was somehow equal parts exciting and abjectly terrifying.

“Oh!” Cecil said, clapping his hands together. “Lead on, then, dear Carlos! Take me back to your place.” He said these last words in the tone Carlos had come to think of as his “radio voice”, and the shiver it sent down Carlos’ spine nearly cost him his nerve. But then Cecil slipped a hand into his, and Carlos, sufficiently buoyed, could not suppress a smile.

He wasn’t sure exactly what made him offer up his apartment for--for whatever was going to happen. Maybe he felt an illogical attachment to the concept of home field advantage. Cecil’s place was just so...Cecil, with the pentagrams on the floor, and that door off the living room that was boarded shut, and the signed first edition of the Necronomicon, and that hum. That godforsaken hum that got under Carlos’s skin and made him feel all warm and sleepy...

Instead, they went to Carlos’ apartment, which was small and kind of dingy but which smelled and sounded mostly normal. It was also conveniently located just down the street from Arby’s, so that Cecil’s mouth still tasted of mocha when they stepped into Carlos’ darkened living room and Carlos swallowed his nerves and leaned in to kiss him. Cecil hummed, nipping at Carlos’ lower lip in that way he seemed to sense made Carlos weak in the knees. Cecil’s glasses collided softly with the bridge of Carlos’ nose, and Cecil reached up to remove them. He cupped Carlos’ cheek with his other hand, running a thumb over his cheekbone, pulling him in closer.

“Do you want to...” Carlos swallowed, jerking his head in the direction of the bedroom.

Cecil smiled, his teeth gleaming strangely in the low light. “Of course,” he said. “Let me go check first,” he said mysteriously, squeezing Carlos’ hand reassuringly before disappearing into the bedroom.

“All clear,” he said a moment later. “But you should really let me chalk a pentagram or three under the bed,” he said.

“Why?” Carlos asked as he joined Cecil in the bedroom, looking around nervously for a hint of whatever Cecil had been checking for. But aside from a few unfortunate items of clothing balled on the floor and corners in dire need of vacuuming, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

“Humor me,” Cecil said, and kissed him again, reaching up to fiddle with the top button of Carlos’s shirt, sliding a finger under the collar into the hollow of his throat.

Carlos could take a hint. He unbuttoned his shirt, discarded it, and stepped backward until the backs of his knees met the mattress and box spring. He let himself fall, thinking for a split second as he dropped through space that here in Night Vale it might not be entirely unprecedented for the bed to decide to swallow him up, devour him without a trace. But Carlos just hit the mattress with a little bounce instead, and by the looks of things Cecil was going to be the one doing the devouring. He knelt on the edge of the bed. His eyes were black again, the pupils indiscernible from the irises, and Carlos was put in mind of some kind of predatory reptile. But then Cecil blinked, and warmth seemed to bloom in his face again, and his eyes were just their customary brown.

“You too,” Carlos said, a little shyly, gesturing at Cecil’s shirt. Cecil shrugged out of it, Carlos watching the long pale planes of his chest and stomach as he did so.His chest hair triangulated into a thin line, running from his navel to a point of disappearance beneath the waistband of his trousers. Carlos followed that line with his eyes and Cecil caught him looking. He grinned again, dangerously, and Carlos felt himself blush and was grateful for the dark.

“Ah,” said Cecil, like he was reading Carlos’s thoughts. He leaned over to the nightstand and flicked on the lamp, sending spiky black shadows into relief halfway up the walls. Cecil murmured something under his breath and as Carlos watched, the shadows seemed to soften and retreat. “There we go,” said Cecil. “Mood lighting.” He settled on the bed, stretching out next to Carlos like a cat. He was wearing his glasses again.

“Carlos,” he said.


Cecil shook his head. “I just like saying your name,” he said in the radio voice. Carlos swallowed. “A gulp!” said Cecil excitedly, reaching out to drag his fingers over the stubble at Carlos’ adams-apple. “Truly one of the most majestic bodily movements,” he said. “Though I can think of a few rivals, if you know what I mean.”

“I...I think so,” said Carlos.

“I also wouldn’t be averse to demonstrating, if you know--”

“I know what you mean,” said Carlos, a little sharper than he meant to. The not-unpleasant churning sensation started up again in the vicinity of his stomach. “Um, I mean, that sounds...nice.”

Cecil smiled. “It does, doesn’t it?”

Carlos swallowed again, scooting closer to Cecil so that he could bury his face at the juncture of Cecil’s neck and shoulder, kiss his clavicle. He wondered which rivals in particular Cecil was thinking of, and the churning in his stomach seemed to travel through his whole body.

“Carlos,” Cecil said, voice slow with what sounded like wonder. “You’re shaking.”

“Sorry,” Carlos said.

Cecil placed a tentative hand on Carlos’s shoulder. He ran it softly down his arm, trailing fingers down Carlos’ chest, his stomach. Carlos gasped as Cecil reached the waistband of his jeans, deft fingers hesitating. Carlos was suddenly very, very aware of the rasp of denim against his skin, the rough pads of Cecil’s fingers. He sucked in a breath.

“Turn over,” Cecil said.

Carlos rolled over onto his back, glancing down at himself as he did so. And yeah, there was definitely no hiding what was going on down there. His face felt hot. He tried to focus on the appreciative noises Cecil made, the look on his face as his eyes traveled the length of Carlos’ body. They seemed to leave twin trails of heat behind on his skin, like some kind of warm,, which the ever present scientist part of Carlos’ brain catalogued with great interest.

Cecil hooked his the tips of his index fingers under Carlos’ waistband again, raising a questioning eyebrow. Carlos nodded, reaching down to brush his fingers against Cecil’s as he undid the button, lifted his hips to shimmy out of his jeans and kick them off of the bed altogether. He looked up at Cecil, who licked his lips, for the love of God, and took off his boxers, too. And then Carlos’ entire world, the entire crazy tilting universe, was centered at his half-hard cock. Or at least, that was what it felt like, given the look on Cecil’s face. He looked at Carlos again, straight in the eye now, and that soft warm brown was gone again. In its wake, Cecil’s eyes were glassy and starless, and for the first time in a long time with Cecil, Carlos felt the cold spike of fear worm its way into his guts.

“Beautiful, perfect Carlos,” said Cecil reverently, the warmth in his voice combating Carlos’ unease.

And then several things happened all at once.

Cecil leaned over Carlos as if to settle on top of him, which Carlos had begun to be very much okay with. As he did so, his whole body jerked. His mouth formed a little O of surprise, and a massive black pair of wings sprang from his shoulders and out to either side, where one shattered the bedroom window and the other knocked over the lamp.

Carlos thought he might have blacked out for a second. At the very least, he had dissociated or entered some sort of fugue state, because when he came back to himself he was curled at the head of the bed, a yelp and a cry of “Jesus!” dying on the air. Cecil, for his part, had retreated to the foot of the bed, where he was staring at Carlos in horror with both hands clapped over his mouth. The wings, membranous and batlike, loomed over them both. When Cecil noticed Carlos gaping at them, he quickly furled them, folding them neatly against his back. It didn’t do much for the visual effect, though, or the staring. Carlos couldn’t really help it.

“Oh my God,” Carlos said. He gestured inchoately at Cecil. “”

“I am so sorry,” Cecil said. “And so embarrassed.” He was bright red, the flush creeping down his chest in patches.

Carlos tried to make something approaching an intelligible comment, but all that came out was a strangled, “Gah!”

“They don’t usually just...manifest like that,” Cecil said. “But I guess I was distracted.” He waved a hand at Carlos, who had unwound from his protective crouch to sit cross-legged, though still rather far from Cecil and with his hands obscuring his now long-lost erection.

“M--manifest?” Carlos was still trying to wrap his brain around the fact that Cecil apparently had not only sex-laser eyes but sex wings, too.

“Not just...not just for that,” Cecil said. “Oh,” he said at Carlos’ expression. “Yeah, that’s a thing, too.” He tapped at his temple with two fingers. Carlos buried his face in his hands.

“When were you going to tell me you could read my mind?” he muttered into his fingers.

“I don’t know!” Cecil sounded distraught. “It’s kind of...spotty, like bad radio reception,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if it would even work with you, so I figured I’d just...hold off.”

“Hold off,” Carlos repeated, shaking his head.

Cecil sighed. The sound made something tug at Carlos’ heart. He looked up. Cecil had his hands over his own face, like a kid watching a horror movie. One black eye watched Carlos from between two spidery fingers. It was a little creepy, but also sort of endearing. They stared at each other for a long moment.

“Come here,” Carlos said finally, reaching a hand out.

Cecil looked at him skeptically for a second, then scooted across the bed. He folded his legs beneath him. Their knees touched, just barely. “Hey,” said Carlos.

“Hello,” said Cecil.

“Can we maybe...start over?”

Cecil bit his lip. Maybe it was some kind of nervous tic. “I’d like that,” he said.

Carlos smiled. He held out his hand again. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Carlos. I’m a visiting scientist.”

Cecil grinned back. His teeth were very sharp indeed. “I’m Cecil,” he said. “I’m a journalist and local radio personality.” He considered. “Also, I have wings. And an as-yet-unmeasured degree of psychic ability.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Carlos, and kissed him.

It was different this time, thought Carlos. It was as if the Wing Incident (as he would probably come to think of it, hopefully affectionately) had bled off most of the tension between them. And so they began again as they had left off, Carlos supine on the bed, Cecil crouching over him.

“I’ve been kind of...nervous,” said Carlos, because it seemed to be a time for awkward truths. “I...I’ve never...” he trailed off, and Cecil’s eyes went wide.

“Lovely Carlos,” he said, touching Carlos’ cheek. “Silly Carlos. Why didn’t you say something?”

Carlos shrugged. “I mean, I’ve done...stuff,” he said. “Just not...not with a...”

“Well,” Cecil said. “Now that we’re aware, we will make this a very memorable occasion indeed.”

Carlos declined to ask whether or not he was using “we” metaphorically.

“Lie back,” Cecil said, in a tone that brooked no argument. So Carlos didn’t argue. He just did as Cecil said, resting his head on the pillow and scrabbling at the quilt as Cecil turned his attention to resurrecting Carlos’ cock. He palmed it experimentally, closing his hand into a fist and jerking Carlos, who thrust up into Cecil’s hand involuntarily.

“Oh my God,” Carlos said.

“Dirty talk,” Cecil said. “Naughty Carlos. Now I’ll definitely have to draw those pentagrams.” Without warning, he ducked his head and swallowed Carlos down.

Carlos opened his mouth wide around a soundless scream, enveloped as he was by Cecil’s--oh God, Cecil’s throat. He had a sudden flash of Cecil speaking, Cecil on the radio. Cecil’s mouth, which was now wrapped resolutely around the base of Carlos’ cock. Cecil was evidently precisely as experienced at this as Carlos was inexperienced, and curious as he might be, Carlos was not about to ask who--or what-- had allowed Cecil to gain this level of expertise. He pulled off of Carlos with a lewd pop, leaning back down to suck at the tender head and flick his tongue just...there...

“Wait,” Carlos said.

“Mmm?” hummed Cecil, around a mouthful of Carlos. The sound vibrated straight down to Carlos’ balls, which tightened and oh God--

“Wait!” Carlos said again. “Stop.”

“Yes?” Cecil said. Carlos looked at him. Cecil’s eyes were black and unfocused, his face flushed, hair sweaty around the temples. He looked stopping was the absolute last thing in the world he wanted to do, which Carlos found both immensely gratifying and extremely hot.

“If you keep doing that,” Carlos said. “I’m going to...”

Cecil nodded slowly, as if to say, Obviously. Aren’t you a scientist?

“I don’t want to, yet,” Carlos said.

“Oh,” Cecil said absently. He leaned down to rest his forehead against Carlos’ hip. He was breathing heavily, his breath hot on Carlos’ skin. “What...what do you want?”

Carlos’ head swam. He couldn’t think straight; it was like the hum at Cecil’s apartment multiplied tenfold. “,” he sputtered. Cecil lifted his head, and the look in his eyes made Carlos bite his lip and will himself not to come then and there.

“Okay,” said Cecil. “But only if--”

“I’m sure,” said Carlos, and he was also 99.9% sure he sounded like a blushing, virginal teenager. And he’d have been embarrassed, only...only Cecil was leaning down and fumbling for something in the rumpled pile of their clothing and he was beautiful and also incredibly hard. And so Carlos resolutely did not give a shit what he sounded like.

Cecil came back up with a little square packet and a bottle, and oh God, of course, and Carlos wanted to smack himself in the forehead and the painful obviousness of it all.

“This might seem a little forward,” Cecil said, holding up his implements. “But I...might have had a feeling about tonight.”

“I thought you said you didn’t know if your thing would work on me,” Carlos said.

Cecil’s face fell, and Carlos batted at his arm. “No, no, no, I’m sorry, I’m kidding,” he said, and didn’t stop pawing at him until Cecil smiled again, albeit a little unevenly. Carlos sighed. “Come here,” he said.

Cecil laid himself down over Carlos carefully, their bodies flush. He reached up to comb his fingers through Carlos’ hair, humming happily, pulling Carlos up gently to meet him. As they kissed, he ran a hand down Carlos’ side to fist his cock again. Carlos bucked up against him and Cecil laughed into his mouth. His fingers dropped lower, back behind Carlos’ balls, and Carlos tried unsuccessfully to stifle a squirm as Cecil traced the perimeter of his hole.

“Are you--”

“Oh my God, YES,” Carlos said.

“All right,” Cecil said, a little primly. “If you must know, the Sheriff’s Secret Police held a seminar last month, “Explicit Consent and You”, and I was just putting into practice--”

“Yes, yes, a thousand times yes,” Carlos said, exasperatedly. “Fuck me, Cecil Baldwin. Fuck me for science.”

“Well, if you’re going to put it that way,” said Cecil, reaching desultorily for the bottle of lube.

Carlos settled back on the pillow with a sigh, and Cecil settled between his legs. He leaned in to lick at the crease where Carlos’ thigh met his groin, and Carlos shifted closer, moaning to himself at the memory of Cecil’s mouth on him earlier.

“I wonder,” muttered Cecil against Carlos’ skin, and then Carlos stiffened, arching off the mattress. Because Cecil was lapping at him, tongue hot and wet and all over. Carlos clutched at the sheets, reaching down and clutched at Cecil’s hair, and he thought he heard...was Cecil laughing? But no, the whole room was vibrating, low and dark, and Carlos guessed it had to be one of those undetectable earthquakes again. The tremor moved like a living thing, across the floor and up through the mattress and through Carlos and into him, vibrating him open alongside Cecil’s fingers and tongue. He heard a plastic cap flick open, then an obscene squish, and there was more wetness coating the insides of his thighs. Carlos shuddered as he felt Cecil’s tongue withdraw, and he whimpered shamelessly until Cecil scooted up the bed to kiss Carlos with that same filthy mouth, and God, it was so wrong and Carlos never, ever wanted to be right again. Which kind of summed up his relationships with both Cecil and Night Vale, come to think of it.

“You’re thinking too much,” Cecil said. “You need to stop thinking.” He kissed Carlos on the forehead, and the place where his lips touched felt sensitive and cool in the night air, like it was an opening Carlos’ thoughts could pour from like water.

Cecil withdrew to the foot of the bed again. Presently, Carlos felt sure fingers tracing little patterns on his skin, tripping ever closer to their apparent goal. Cecil circled him again with his index finger, slippery with lube, and muttered something Carlos couldn’t make out before pressing inside. It felt strange at first, like too much and somehow not enough all at once, and Carlos made a dissatisfied noise and kind of shifted a little. And he didn’t mean to, but he somehow managed to shift himself down onto Cecil’s finger, and Cecil must’ve thought that meant he wanted more because there was a second finger now, working its way in beside the first, and Cecil was humming appreciatively.

Wait, Carlos thought. I can’t...

But something stopped him from speaking aloud, and if Cecil’s spotty radio thing was working he didn’t let on. And here was a third finger, and it burned already. How could Carlos take more, let alone Cecil’s...


There was...something. There was something wrapping itself around Carlos’ cock, soothing the burn of Cecil’s fingers stretching him. For a split second, Carlos registered it as Cecil’s other hand, because that was the logical option everywhere else on the planet, but then he gradually became aware that he could feel two hands on his thighs. One was...occupied, two fingers buried deep inside him, one more threatening to join them. And the other squeezed at his soft flesh as if testing its resilience for some unknown purpose. So, yes, two hands accounted for. Which left...a third appendage, soft and slick, wrapping itself around Carlos. Oh no, he thought hysterically. Scratch that. More than one mystery appendage. Because something fat and firm and slippery had wrapped itself around the base of his cock, true. But there was something else teasing at the head, pressing itself in and out of the tiny opening there. It was sticky, resinous, almost as if it was coated with suckers, like a--


Cecil didn’t answer.

“Cecil! What--what are you doing?!”

Carlos sat up, leaning back on his elbows and looking down the bed. They hadn’t bothered to replace the lamp, so the floor of the room was suffused with a warm amber glow while the bed and everything on it was mostly shrouded in shadow. So it could just have been the low light. But...Carlos could have sworn he saw or felt something--two somethings--uncoil themselves from his body and retreat into the murk at the foot of the bed, where Cecil’s pale and owlish face regarded him with the same guileless expression he’d worn the day they met.

“Hmm?” Cecil said, as if he’d just looked up from the newspaper.

“What were those?

“What? Oh, these?” And there they were, Cecil brandishing them with an air that seemed for all the world like a nonchalant shrug: a set of thick, black tentacles, waving slowly and gleaming dully in the gloom. Carlos would’ve dropped like a rock then and there, but for the fact that one of the tentacles darted out and caught him around the shoulders, easing him back down onto the bed as gently as a feather.

“I think I need a break,” said Carlos.

Cecil sighed. “As I said before, you might be overthinking this,” he said.

“You can overthink tentacles?” Carlos said. He felt dizzy.

“Do you always need an explanation for everything you see?” Cecil asked.

“I’m a scientist,” Carlos replied lamely. “I explain things for a living.” He sat bolt upright. “And Cecil, I can’t explain this!” He gestured wildly at Cecil. “This...this isn’t normal.”

Cecil’s tentacles drooped. “Welcome to Night Vale,” he said quietly. He sounded so deflated that Carlos felt a prick of regret that he had said anything at all.

“I’m sorry,” Carlos said after awhile.

“It must be so strange, being an outsider,” Cecil said, shaking his head. “Like that time I went to Desert Bluffs.” He shuddered. “It was horrifying.”

“You’re not horrifying,” Carlos said.

Cecil looked up at him and smiled. “Thank you.”

“Look, Cecil,” Carlos said. “I like you, okay? And I’m trying to set aside work here in Night Vale when we’re together. But it’s not always easy.”

“You like me?”

“I...yes? I--oof!” Carlos hit the mattress, breath knocked out of him by the force of Cecil landing atop him and pinning him to the bed. “Um, hi,” said Carlos, suddenly nose-to-nose with Cecil.

“I like you too,” Cecil said. His glasses slid down his nose and hit Carlos in the forehead. Carlos reached up and plucked them from Cecil’s face, setting them carefully on the adjacent windowsill.

“Your eyes,” Carlos said. The churning in his stomach was back. He swallowed. “When they go all dark like that?”

Cecil nodded.

“They...they scare me, a little.” Carlos continued. Above him, Cecil tensed. He opened his mouth, but Carlos reached up and put his fingers to Cecil’s lips. “I like it,” he whispered.

Carlos leaned up and kissed him. He could feel Cecil’s hesitation, and he was suddenly determined to dispel it, to reassure him. He carded his fingers through Cecil’s hair, tugging him deeper into the kiss. Cecil moaned, grinding against him and sucking at Carlos’ lower lip until it ached.

“Carlos,” said Cecil breathlessly when they parted. “Are you--”

“Yes,” Carlos said. “For real, this time. Unless...if there’s anything--anything else, you should probably just tell me now, okay?” He glanced down Cecil’s body, though his tentacles weren’t visible from that angle.

Cecil got a faraway look in his eyes, like he was tallying something. “No,” he said, with a small smile. “I think that’s it.”

“So kiss me again,” Carlos said, and Cecil did.

All things considered, it took a surprisingly short amount of time (coupled with kissing and judiciously applied frottage) before Carlos’ brain was afloat in a pleasurable haze, all thoughts of wings and tentacles held at a comfortable distance. Cecil had returned to his ministrations, and Carlos found himself adrift, eyes closed, letting sensation wash over him in waves as Cecil worked him open slowly and tenderly. Carlos wasn’t entirely sure what that entailed, and he was making a concerted effort not to think too hard about it. There would be plenty of time for tentacle worship--or whatever Cecil was into--later, once Carlos had had a little time to get used to the state of things.

Now, two of Cecil’s fingers were inching deeper and deeper into him, and maybe Carlos was more relaxed, or just inured to the thought of anything weirder than tentacles, because the burn was mostly gone and there was just a pleasant feeling of fullness and the suggestion that more might be appreciated. Carlos moaned, reaching down to take himself in hand, but something gently shoved his hand away and Carlos let it. He scrabbled at the sheets.

“Cecil,” he said. “Cecil.”

“Mmm,” said Cecil against Carlos’ thigh. He crooked his fingers, thrusting up into Carlos maddeningly. He looked up at last, his lips glistening, eyes glazed.

“More,” Carlos said, reaching down to close his fingers around Cecil’s wrist and pull.
“Come here,” he said.

Carlos bit his lip, tossing his head against the pillow as he felt Cecil line himself up and begin to press inside.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

Carlos nodded, eyes squeezed shut against the stretch and burn, and Cecil lowered himself down on top of Carlos and took his face in both hands.

“Oh, Carlos,” he murmured, kissing one of Carlos’ eyelids. “My Carlos.” He drew a ragged breath as their bodies shifted--imperceptible tectonic activity, Carlos’ brain supplied-- and he sank in deeper, Carlos trying and failing not to writhe beneath him.

“ can...I mean, I want you to--” sputtered Carlos.

“Yes,” Cecil said, and began to move.

It didn’t take long, after that, not after two false starts and however many weeks of building sexual tension and Cecil’s voice on the airwaves and Carlos being a nervous idiot. He could feel it building, spiraling darkly like the depths of the vortex at the vacant lot out back of the Ralph’s, the one that sent Carlos’ instruments into paroxysms of distress. He looked up at Cecil, strange in the odd light of the room, strange unto himself. And as Carlos watched, as every cant of Cecil’s hips dragged them both inexorably closer to the edge, Cecil’s face began to change. His features sharpened, and it seemed to Carlos that the flesh drew back from his cheekbones and eye sockets. Cecil’s lips parted. He smiled like a shark, and Carlos was struck by a creeping sense of certainty that only now was he truly seeing Cecil, seeing him as he really was. He reached out a careful hand, compelled by a curiosity that was perhaps more personal than strictly scientific. He slid a finger into Cecil’s mouth, running it over razor-sharp teeth. He gasped as the skin caught on a serrated edge, and Cecil’s pitch-black gaze didn’t waver as he closed his lips around Carlos’ finger and sucked.

“What are you?” Carlos whispered. His finger throbbed deliciously with the beat of his pulse.

Cecil took Carlos’ wounded hand in his, pressed it to his chest. He shrugged. “I...I don’t know,” he said. “I’m from Night Vale.”

When Carlos came, he kept his eyes open. He thought he could see the shadows on the ceiling above Cecil coalesce into something resembling a pulsing black heart, but of course it was only his imagination.

Later, Cecil curled around him, snoring lightly in Carlos’ left ear. Though he was without the aid of his scientific instruments, Carlos felt certain that tonight, a measurable change had occurred. His apartment seemed a little darker, a little danker. But somehow, it also seemed a little more like home. Even the incessant chittering of the bat colony that roosted in the wall was more soothing than usual, and as such it was the last thing Carlos heard as he drifted off to sleep.


He awoke the next morning to sunlight streaming through the windows and the air conditioner purring dauntlessly. He was alone in the apartment, but he remembered that Cecil liked to get up early and pray to his bloodstone circle before it got too hot, so Carlos settled back against the pillows and waited for him to return. He had fallen into a light doze when the door swung open and Cecil came in, bearing a pair of to go cups and a small, grease-stained white bag.

“Good, you’re up! I brought coffee,” he said. He held up the bag. “Oh, and doughnuts. I know you usually like to go to brunch in Old Town on Saturdays, but I thought maybe we could stop by the farmer’s market today instead.” He lowered his voice conspiratorially. “I heard Old Woman Josie is canning again, and her preserves are to die for. Not literally, though, that’s only the pepper jelly she makes in the fall.”

He set the coffee cups on Carlos’ kitchen table and rummaged around in a cabinet to retrieve the sugar. (“I like my coffee like I like the Void,” Cecil had told him once. “Hot, black, and sweet.”)

Carlos threw back the quilt. He stood and stretched, and then he crossed the room to Cecil, who was spooning sugar lavishly into his coffee. There were tiny crumbs clinging to the corners of his mouth; he had obviously eaten a doughnut on the walk over. Carlos observed and deduced these things, because he was a scientist. He kissed Cecil on the lips. Boston Cream, he thought.

“Just let me get my weekend lab coat out of the dryer,” he said, “and I’m there.”