"You want to do what?" Carlos says, sounding rather sick.
Cecil remembers just a little too late that Carlos, tragically, was born with pain receptors. "Oh, no," he says, putting on his reassuring smile. The one with teeth. "It won't hurt at all, don't worry about that." And when Carlos doesn't seem convinced, he adds, "I do it every year."
Carlos blinks, swallows, and sits down, hard, on the sofa. Their sofa.
"And why do you do this every year?" Carlos asks faintly.
"It's a medical board recommendation," Cecil says. "Remove and consume for necessary nutrition. Don't tell me you haven't noticed the posters."
Carlos shakes his head, but he's looking less shaken now, almost...curious.
So Cecil lets himself blurt out, "I just wanted to do it with...you. This time." And he knows this time his smile's asymmetrical and oddly soft around the edges, but that doesn't matter when Carlos looks up at him and reaches out to take Cecil's hand.
Carlos says, low and rough, "Okay."
Carlos, apparently, takes heart-removal much more seriously than Cecil does.
"We're getting a bone saw," he says when Cecil pulls out his old electric saw from the storage closet.
"There's nothing wrong with my saw," Cecil tells him. "And I sterilize it every year with the official, council-endorsed alcohol-substitute."
"I have a Ph.D.," Carlos says, somewhat snappishly. "If we're doing this at all, we're going to use the proper equipment, and supplies, and...god, I should probably research cardiac surgery."
"Stop, Carlos, it's okay," Cecil says, wrestling Carlos's hands away from his hair before he can tear any of it out. "It's only a heart."
"It's not only—" Carlos starts indignantly. Then stops, puts his hands on Cecil's chest, and says, more quietly, "It's your heart."
"Oh, Carlos," Cecil says, with all of the fondness overflowing in his chest, and leans in to kiss him, until Carlos lets out a quiet huff of a laugh and curls his fingers into Cecil's shirt to pull him closer.
In the end, they still get the bone saw. Carlos leaves half-assembled model hearts everywhere and insists on running all sorts of blood tests before the removal itself. It's not necessary, of course, but Carlos has a way of earnestly biting his lip while bending his head over Cecil's arm, his hands warm against Cecil's skin and steady on the syringe – so Cecil doesn't mind, at all.
Carlos spreads several large, fluffy towels on the bed and makes Cecil lie down.
"I usually did it sitting up," Cecil offers. "With a mirror propped on my knee."
"Lie down," Carlos says, waving a scalpel.
Cecil lies down and decides not to mention his special blood-colored sheets.
"Right," Carlos mutters. He takes a deep breath, then another, looking down at his gloved hands. "Are you sure we don't have to worry about infection?"
"Yes," Cecil says. "Should I take my shirt off?"
Carlos blinks at him. "Your shirt—yes, of course," he nods.
"Okay," Cecil says when he's done. He drops his shirt on the bedroom floor and lies back. "Are you sure you can do this? I can-"
"No," Carlos says quickly. "I do—I want to do this for you."
Cecil stares at him, charmed; he doesn't blink, keeps his eyes open as wide as possible, while Carlos comes closer and puts a cool hand on Cecil's chest. He swallows, and Cecil admires the line of his throat for a moment before Carlos makes the straight incision over the sternum.
There's a flicker of red before Carlos dabs the blood away. "Huh." Carlos stares down, mouth round and open, "that's a lot less blood than I'd thought."
"I told you," Cecil says, pleasantly relaxed. "Don't stop now."
Carlos doesn't. There's the bone saw, sending light tingles through Cecil's chest, and then Carlos pulls the cracked sternum open, snips through the pericardium—
"Oh my god," Carlos says, a lovely quaver in his voice.
"Let me see," Cecil says, suddenly desperate. "Please." He struggles to sit up; Carlos makes a protesting noise, propping a pillow behind his back and retrieving a hand mirror. Together, they stare into Cecil's chest cavity, where his heart, smooth and pink, is thumping wildly.
"Go on," Cecil says, his words coming out high-pitched and breathless. "Take it out."
Carlos reaches for it, his fingers curling loosely around it. He pauses, then, looking down at the still-beating heart.
"Carlos?" Cecil says softly.
Carlos lifts his head up, and his eyes are dark and wet. "Cecil," he says, his voice breaking, "I'm holding your heart in my hand."
Cecil just nods. His heart gives a peculiar leap in Carlos's grasp. His eyes are trying to flutter closed but he needs to see everything, see Carlos. When Carlos cuts out the heart and gently lifts it out, Cecil can't help the gasp that forces itself out of his throat.
Carlos settles onto the bed, blinking hard and whispering something over and over again. It takes Cecil a moment to realize it's his name – just his name.
Cecil reaches down, pressing layers of bone and skin back together until they start to knit together; then he sits up and wraps his hand around Carlos's own. "It's okay," he murmurs. "You did it. Thank you."
Then Carlos does something that Cecil would like to re-live for several lifetimes: he lifts up their joined hands and then, gazing steadily into Cecil's eyes, leans in and carefully bites into the heart.
"Oh," Cecil breathes, "you beautiful, wonderful, amazing—" and he's babbling, but Carlos is looking at him and his lips are very red, so Cecil sinks his own teeth into the heart and they share it between them like that, until it's gone and their mouths meet in-between tasting of blood.
"I think I love you," Carlos says, like a confession.
"That's...well, good," Cecil says, "me too! I mean, not that I love me, although I do, but I also love you more than—"
Then he stops, because Carlos is smiling at him, a warm, perfect smile, and Cecil has to smile back. (The asymmetrical, too-soft one.)