Carlos works so hard, so relentlessly. When he finds a problem or a mystery, he fixates until he reaches some kind of conclusion. Night Vale brims with both; it is a caldera of inexplicable things, of events and people and foliage that have no rational underpinnings. The town could be his life’s work.
Cecil worries that it could be Carlos’s life, period.
He’s come to visit the lab, and he’s brought tacos from Jerry’s and a fresh cup of house blend from the new Starbucks down the street (it’s a clean, well-lit place with squashy chairs and a tip jar that only accepts whispered, fearful confessions). The wide-eyed, gaping-mouthed barista had made the coffee to exact specifications: two hundred degrees, one tablespoon of half and half, and one packet of raw cane sugar; thoroughly stirred.
Carlos drinks gratefully, but the tacos wait for him still. The plastic container has a clear top, and Cecil can see the cheese melting over the beef. The pico de gallo oozes out of the hard taco shells, collecting in the corners of the tray.
“Carlos,” he murmurs. “My dear, perhaps you should take a break. Your dinner is congealing. It might soon become sentient.”
“That would be fascinating,” Carlos replies absently. He’s squinting through a microscope, examining a slice of something-or-other.
“No,” Cecil says. “Mostly it will just quiver angrily and try to escape.”
“Fascinating,” Carlos repeats. He makes a note on the stenographer’s pad beside the telescope.
Cecil drapes himself across the couch by the lab’s entrance, watching. One day this will bother him. He might become frustrated, even belligerent. He might have to reconsider.
But right now he’s charmed; enthralled. He admires Carlos’s dedication. His heart throbs with warmth, and he’s glad just to sit there, existing in a shared space.
Carlos mutters in consternation as he hits a roadblock in his analysis, and the sound is like water flowing over polished rocks, like chocolate melting out of a lava cake.
Carlos stands up abruptly, his chair scuffing the linoleum, and he’s a prince rising from a golden throne.
Cecil tries again. “Please. Would you sit down here for a minute? Two? It doesn’t have to exceed three, I promise.”
Carlos hesitates. He glances from Cecil to the telescope, then down to his notes. The paper is blue with drawings and scribbles, dense as a jungle, nigh unreadable. He blinks several times, slowly. He makes his way to the couch with unsteady steps, and Cecil clucks his tongue as Carlos collapses beside him.
“Maybe I am a little tired,” Carlos says. “I’ve been up since four this morning. I had to … “ He yawns. “I had to make a copy of a symbol that keeps appearing and disappearing on one of the trees in the park.”
“Oh?” Cecil says, touching Carlos’s shoulder. He massages the tense muscles with one thumb. “What do you think it means?”
“I’m not sure yet. I think it’s Sumerian,” Carlos says. “I was doing some research online, but my computer screen suddenly turned black and my hard drive started to make this kind of—hissing noise—”
“That happens,” Cecil says. “The Internet, you know? So unreliable.”
Carlos smiles wearily. “Right.” He leans against Cecil, his head drooping low, his jaw digging into his collarbone. “Thanks.”
Cecil presses a kiss to the back of Carlos’s head and speaks against his soft, science-scented hair. “What for?”
“A lot of things, in the long term.” Carlos took Cecil’s hand, entwining their fingers together. “In the short term, just this.”
Cecil’s heart feels dangerously full. He hopes that nothing explodes. It would make such a mess in the lab.
“Thank you, too, then,” he says. He kisses Carlos on the cheek, then the mouth. He cups Carlos’s chin, lightly, and it’s gentle and pliant and everything Cecil thinks about all the time and then Carlos just slips. He falls right out of Cecil’s grip and his head lands with a cotton-cushioned thud against Cecil’s thigh, his eyes shut, breathing even.
He’s definitely staying on the couch for more than three minutes.
Cecil runs his fingers through Carlos’s hair, stroking it back from his face. Carlos shifts in sleep, adjusting his position until he’s comfortable. He squeezes Cecil’s other hand, unconsciously.
Cecil smiles down at Carlos. He wasn’t planning to go anywhere, anyway.