“And now, dear listeners, the weather.”
As Cecil flipped the switch to the pre-recorded segment, his cell phone vibrated silently in his pocket (he used to have it set to “mild electrocution” but found it interfered with the radio equipment). Since he didn't have caller ID, and the City Council had passed a law last week forbidding it anyway, he answered the phone with a polite if bemused, “Hello?”
“Cecil, it's me.”
“Carlos!” Cecil brightened immediately. “To what do I owe this unexpected, but most certainly welcome pleasure?”
“Mmm, nothin'. Just wanted to talk to you.”
There was something off about the scientist's voice. It sounded wet. Slurred.
“Carlos? Have you... been drinking?”
“No.” A guilty pause, then, “Yes. A little.”
“... A lot.”
“Carlos,” Cecil sighed. Then, sternly, he said, “At least tell me you laid down the proper salt circles. You know inebriation increases your chances of being possessed by one hundred seventy-five per cent.”
“That's a very per... sper... specific percentage.”
“Yes, yes, Cecil. I'm drunk, not stupid. I put down the salt, the blood sigils, and I even remembered to fill out the form for the Sheriff's Secret Police. I'm all set.”
Despite the slurring, Carlos did sound remarkably well put-together. Cecil was impressed.
Carlos added, “I wish you were here. With me.”
Cecil's heart gave a little fluttering leap and he wet his lips. “Really?”
“I don't like... I don't want to drink alone.”
“What about the other scientists? Your assistants?”
“Gone. All gone. One by one. Like your interns.” There was a clink and a wet swallow. “But there won't be any new ones. 'm all alone now. Had your voice on the radio to keep me company, but then the weather came on, so I called. Wanted to hear you.”
“Oh, Carlos.” Cecil bit his lip and checked the time. The weather would be over in a moment, and he still had to wrap up for the night. “I'll have to let you go for now, but--”
“Please.” It was a whisper. “Cecil, please.”
“I'm coming over after the show. Can you hang on for a little longer?”
“... Yeah. Okay.”
For once, Cecil gave no mention of Carlos' phone call when he went live on the air again. He made his closing statements as swiftly as he dared, switched over to the endless loop of festive holiday wailing that was next on the docket, and nearly bowled over two of the new interns in his rush to leave the station.
He pulled up to the lab moments later, having miraculously avoided any moving violations, the consequences of which were too grim to comprehend, and knocked on the door. A crash sounded within, followed by the sound of glass crunching underfoot and muffled swearing. Carlos flung the door open and stared at Cecil like a starving man. With a startled 'Oomph,' Cecil found himself with an armful of warm, drunken scientist.
Cecil staggered into the lab and shut the door behind him with his foot, then leaned Carlos up against the wall to steady him, even as the scientist seemed to be attempting to climb him like a tree. “My perfect, beautiful Carlos,” Cecil chuckled, stroking his fingers through the silver at his temples. Carlos closed his eyes and hummed, leaning into the touch much the way Khoshek might, only with less unearthly shrieking. “What have you been drinking?”
“Old Woman Josie said the angels made it,” hiccoughed Carlos. He pointed sadly to the mess of glass and liquid on the floor. It was glowing faintly blue. “It's very potent for something distilled from imaginary corn. I had to try it.”
“Any interesting findings?”
Carlos considered this for a moment, and then his honey-brown eyes welled with tears. “I missed you.”
Alarmed, Cecil scooped Carlos up into his arms and, with some difficulty, picked his way past the broken glass to deposit the weeping scientist onto the couch. Of course, Carlos was still clinging to him, blubbering, so Cecil wound up partially on top of him, petting his hair and shushing him with soothing nonsense sounds.
“It was Leila,” Carlos said, his voice thick. “She was the last one. I told her she should leave, but she wouldn't, not unless I came with her, and I... I couldn't go. She, um. There was a light on in the closet, and when she opened it, she...” He shook his head, screwing up his face. “I can't remember her last name now. Her notes are all gone. It's like she was never here.”
Cecil felt that familiar cold spike of worry that this was it. Carlos was fed up with Night Vale and was going to leave. Leave him. It was highly unlikely that the town would let him, but he didn't like to think of what would happen to his beautiful scientist if he tried.
“Everything here is so strange,” Carlos continued. “Just when I think I've got the hang of it, some other threat looms. Science doesn't work the way it should here, no more than time does, or gravity on alternating Wednesdays. I'm only one man. I can't save everybody, especially when nobody listens.”
I listen, Cecil wanted to tell him, but he let Carlos continue.
“I wonder why I'm here sometimes.” Carlos' voice took on a distant quality, and his eyes weren't focused on Cecil despite being nose-to-nose with him. “Why Night Vale hasn't devoured me like all the others, or spat me out. I think... I think I know, now.”
It was then that he actually looked at Cecil, and Cecil caught his breath.
“It's you.” Carlos reached up and stroked along the fine, wiry hair that framed Cecil's jaw. “There's something about you, Cecil. I can't define it, or quantify it, but you... make me think that maybe it's worth it to stay here. That even if I don't understand everything about this place... that would be all right.”
“Do you want to stay?”
“Only for as long as you want me here.”
And Cecil knew that Carlos understood Night Vale well enough. He was part of it now, whatever he'd planned when he came here over a year ago, and it would never let him go. Cecil would never let him go. He smiled and said none of this.
“You are a soppy drunk,” Cecil observed instead. He kissed Carlos between the eyes and wiped away tears with his thumbs.
Carlos summoned a watery smile. “I'm also a mountain apologist.”
“Well,” Cecil said, kissing him again, this time on the mouth, “you're still perfect to me.”