It was raining when he arrived in Night Vale.
It soaked Carlos' clothes in seconds and he shivered at the sudden change in temperature. Behind him, the door swung closed and flickered away with nary a whisper, taking with it its desert heat and searing brightness. He almost wished for it to come back, the town in front of him looked cold, and almost unfamiliar in the very rare occurrence of rain. But the buildings he recognized, and something about them gripped his heart in a clench. Home. But not quite. Not yet.
He needed-he needed to see him. He needed to tell him, to wrap him in his arms and whisper to him assurances and soft words. He needed to tell him, exactly, what Night Vale meant to him. What he meant to him.
He needed to apologize.
He started walking.
The blinking light of the radio tower served as his guide, mirroring its blinking counterpart in the other world. He wasn't sure where Cecil was at this time, he was too preoccupied with trying to stop the army of masked giants from running off to war with their injuries, and later writing the goodbye letter for Kevin, that he was unable to catch where Cecil would be today. He thought that he may be in the Opera House. This was the opening day, right?
(How much time did he spend walking, desperately searching, until he woke up surrounded by the tall dark walls of the Dog Park, an old oak door in front of him? It felt like days. At the same time, it felt like no time at all.
... What made Night Vale accept him in again?)
But he wasn't sure where the Opera House was, he wasn't here in its construction.
The rain left the buildings looking clean, as the water took with it an indeterminable amount of time's worth of dirt. Night Vale looked fresh and renewed, as if ready to begin again once the previous years, trapped as memories in the dust, had been swept away.
The rained washed away the dirt on him, too.
Puddles splashing under his shoes, Carlos had estimated his distance to be halfway there, when a limo pulled up in the street next to him. He stopped, wondering whether it was agents from the vague yet menacing government agency (his heart twinged at the phrase Cecil said so much when referring to them). But they tend to ride on black sedans, not black limos, and when the door opened he was greeted by warm light and familiar faces.
"Get in," Trish Hidge grunted, "We're picking up your boyfriend."
Carlos went inside, slightly afraid, slightly filled with dread, and definitely filled with resignation, fully expecting to be greeted with sharp words and yelling. People had the tendency to yell at Carlos, most specially when he was younger. And as a child, he would be confused and distressed because he was unable understand why adults would shout for seemingly no reason. But now, now he knew why the people in the vehicle would yell, would get angry-no, they are angry, and he knew that he deserved it.
He deserved it for the pain he had inflicted on their beloved Voice as each day passed in his absence. Carlos had tried to cheer Cecil up with science, since previous data concluded that he liked listening to Carlos talk about science, but like many times before... Carlos had to learn the hard way that not all facts would always be true. That there are variables, variables in social interaction, that would change what is acceptable and what is not in a given situation.
He messed up. He always messed up when it comes to people.
At some point, Carlos had started to have some idea that he was doing something wrong, but it was too late, and he was too shamed and nervous to actually say sorry directly. Instead, he apologized through some stupid "scientifically accurate joke" that had flopped and he was left hitting his head and hoping that Cecil understood the apology.
He tried, yes, but that doesn't matter. What mattered was the cracks in Cecil's voice through the phone, the desolate tone mixed with desperate and fragile hopes that Carlos obliviously stomped over and over again with each call.
Carlos was unable to meet any of their eyes, a habit that he thought he had trained himself out of. His gaze quickly flit over their faces, not looking long enough to pick up any details, before dropping to the carpet covered floor of the vehicle. A gnarled hand –not a monstrous gnarled hand like those of a librarian, but that of a normal old woman's– landed on his shoulder and he flinched. Soft and warm but with a core of strength in its fragile appearance, the hand of Old Woman Josie guided him to a chair next to her. On her other side was Erika, and the seat next to that was Erika, followed by a woman he didn't recognize. On his other side was Erika.
Carlos tentatively raised his eyes to a calm gaze looking at him. Through him.
"Welcome back," Josie said simply.
This broke the silence in the car, and signaled for the rest to do the same.
"-oh my god you-" "-took you long enough-" "-be so happy-" "-sheesh, you really-"
Chatter filled the air as people talked to him and to each other. Grins and smiles and rolled eyes bombarded him, and he didn't know how to react. What-why-?
"Uncle Carlos!" A childish cry rang out in delight.
His heart leapt into his throat at seeing what was unmistakably Janice, Cecil's niece, roll her wheelchair over to him. His breath stuttered, his chest ached, and some part of his brain took note of this and wondered whether he will come down with something later due to the cold. The thought was just a distraction, he knew, his brain trying to distance itself away from the overwhelming emotions birthed from a single word.
He suddenly wanted to cry, to crumple to the ground through this pain in his chest–because Janice just called him her Uncle! Even when he had been about to take away Cecil from her life.
Erika patted his head and Josie said sternly, but not unkindly, "Save it for later."
Carlos nodded shakily, blinking away tears and gathered himself before Janice can get close enough to notice. He can break down later, in the semi-privacy of their apartment and in front of the person who deserved everything and more. So much more.
"You're here! Uncle Cecil will be so happy!" She said happily, before she seemed to remember something that made her stop. She fell silent, fidgeting as she dropped her eyes for a moment, but when she raised them again she mustered up a brave smile. "You're taking Uncle Cecil to the desert otherworld with you, right? I heard it was nice there... I'm sure he'll be happy."
His heart broke all over again.
He can feel them staring, waiting, breath held, but he had already made his decision before he even stepped out the oak door. For the first time since he arrived, he spread his lips in a soft smile, quite unlike any smile that Kevin or Lauren gave.
Cecil is not going anywhere. Nor is he.
Cecil was a warm presence next to him, seeping into his skin and bones as Carlos opened their apartment's door. This simple contact was almost too much for Carlos, overwhelming after almost a year spent without physical contact, but this was Cecil. Cecil who was cold and trembling, and looked at him with such emotion that Carlos had no trouble reading the awe and love in his eyes. And the fear, bubbling underneath the surface.
As if Carlos deciding to stay was almost too good to be true, and he would fade away like a dream once reality reasserted itself.
Carlos fumbled for the light switch, trying not to think about how thin Cecil felt under the arm he wrapped around his torso, how light Cecil's own arm felt as it was draped around Carlos' shoulder.
The living room was a mess. Take out boxes -most of which was pizza from Big Rico's- were left as small towers on the center table, old clothes and pillows from the couch were scattered in random places, and empty beer bottles littered the floor, emitting the faint scent of alcohol in the air.
Carlos felt his face crumple. Drink to forget, a Night Vale tradition. And Cecil, undoubtedly, had been trying to forget how much pain Carlos had been dealing him. He'll... Carlos swallowed, he'll clean it all up later. He had Cecil to take care of first.
And his boyfriend must've been tired from the emotionally charged day, with the adrenaline from the dragon attack, the sadness at leaving town, and the relief and happiness at having him home. This left him blinking groggily and Carlos had to make sure he didn't stumble on the way up the stairs.
The bedroom was at least clean of any bottles of alcohol, and Carlos gently led Cecil to the adjacent bathroom. Carlos gave him a squeeze, before pulling away, and Cecil slowly, reluctantly, removed his arm to let him.
"S-sorry..." The radio host murmured softly, but Carlos leaned in to kiss him, a soft sweet press of lips. He didn't want to Cecil to think that his touch was bothering him. Out of all the people Carlos met in his life, aside from close family, Cecil was the only one whose touch he was most comfortable with.
Cecil... he was different. Cecil, who fell in love at first sight and created an ideal image of Perfect Carlos in his head. And upon learning otherwise, came upon to accept him for who he was–an imperfect human being that made mistakes and had to learn how to live a life with a significant other. Instead of leaving in his disillusionment, disappointed and angry, he instead gently ran his fingers through Carlos' curls and crooned in his velvety voice, "perfectly imperfect Carlos."
He was understanding of Carlos' flaws, even when Carlos didn't want to be touched at times or had to take a few minutes until his heart stopped racing and his lungs started working and his mind properly dealt and adjusted when Night Vale was being so particularly confusing and overwhelming-
So Carlos kissed him, because he didn't need to apologize.
His boyfriend sighed faintly, eyes fluttering close, and Carlos let him lean on the sink as he turned on the shower. Steam soon filled the air and fogged the glass doors of the shower, as water cascaded down the floor and through the drain. Turning, Carlos started to remove Cecil's clothes, slowly exposing more and more skin.
And a stab of pain hit through Carlos' chest, staying there as more and more bruises and injuries were exposed at the absence of clothing. His eyes ran over each one, at the parallel scratches across Cecil's chest as if he barely managed to back away enough from a swipe of claws, at the half-healed bruises and smaller scratches peppering around it, on his torso, shoulders, arms, and neck. He lightly, oh so lightly, ran his fingers over a faint blue-black spot on Cecil's left shoulder, feeling his boyfriend shiver at his touch, and slowly trailed it downwards, past a gash -now clotted- on the forearm, to his hand.
As if a man holding something precious and fragile, he raised it to look at the bruised knuckles, flecks of dark red clotting visible where skin had broke. Carlos' lips pursed.
Despite their good intentions for the mayor, whoever had bought Lot 37 evidently wasn't careful in keeping Cecil's body in good condition. Most of the wounds were centered on the torso, with only a few around the arms, as if the controller didn't let Cecil defend his core parts. Those claw marks... if they had been any deeper...
Cecil had been hurt. Very badly. And not just physically, Carlos thought as he gently rubbed his thumbs along the back of Cecil's hands. People generally didn't like having their will taken from them suddenly and without their knowledge. It must've been... horrifying for Cecil.
A hand hovered near his cheek, the thumb softly brushing over it, and Carlos realized that his vision was blurry with tears. Quickly wiping them away, he smiled weakly and said, "It's nothing, sweetie. Come on, let's clean you up."
He divested them of the rest of their clothes, Cecil watching him with concern in his eyes the whole time, but Carlos didn't say anything.
What can he say? If he said what he really wanted to say, Cecil would've tried to reassure him and made him feel better. But Carlos doesn't want to be taken care of, it's Cecil who needs it more than him right now.
He's a scientist. A scientist is focused on his goals, and Carlos won't let Cecil shift the focus away from his goal right now.
Taking a hand towel, Carlos led Cecil in the shower and lathered the fabric with soap. They had intimate moments in the shower many times before, but there was nothing sexual about this moment now. It was simply warm and comfortable. There were lingering touches and soft kisses on skin as Carlos carefully patted the lathered fabric on his boyfriend's wounds and bruises, Cecil's trembling soon ceasing under the warm water, but nothing else. By the time they had washed off the shampoo from their hair, Cecil had settled into an almost doze, leaning slightly against him.
Carlos had to leave for a bit to get them clothes, but soon they were falling in bed together, limbs tangled and lips softly kissing on skin. They settled down, just holding each other, enjoying the warm contact against their bodies in the cold air. Cecil buried his face on Carlos' hair, pulling him close.
A silence settled in the room. It was comfortable, the kind that settles between people that didn't need words to understand each other. They simply basked in each other's presence and let the world descend into a silence that even Carlos, with all his social failings, is hesitant to break.
Just when Carlos thought that Cecil had fallen asleep, he felt a dampness in his hair and air almost unnoticeably rushing through them as Cecil's breath hitched. Suddenly worried, Carlos pulled away to look up at him, but there was a smile in Cecil's face.
His eyes shined with tears even as he smiled, soft and filled with love.
"You're here," He whispered reverently, hand cradling Carlos' jaw and thumb brushing across his cheek, "You're really here."
Carlos reached up to press Cecil's hand more firmly against his cheek. It felt warm. "I'm here, Ceece. I'm really here. I'm not going anywhere."
"Really?" His voice sounded small, scared and hopeful at the same time, and it broke Carlos' heart.
"Yes, yes, I'm here. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Carlos whispered, voice wobbling slightly as he brought Cecil's hand to his lips. Cecil smiled, but all of his attention are now on the fresh and ugly dark-blue bruise circling his boyfriend's wrist. The one from the handcuff attached to it when Cecil first entered the limo, the one that had a piece of charred wood attached to the other end. Carlos held the arm gently and looked up at Cecil, eyes starting to burn.
"What... what happened?" He managed to say, somehow.
"Oh, Carlos. Sweet Carlos, don't cry, shhhhh," Cecil cooed soothingly, his hand brushing through Carlos' hair.
Carlos sniffed and leaned to the touch. "Cecil, what happened before I arrived?" He asked again, voice quiet and trembling. "What had been happening while I was gone, when I wasn't here with you? For you? I... Cecil, I should've– I should've listened. I should've been here and I'm so so sorry–"
"Carlos, it's fine–"
"No, it's not fine!" Carlos burst out, suddenly angry. But not at Cecil. No, not at Cecil, who was looking at him with wide concerned eyes at Carlos–Idiotic Carlos, who took over a year to realize how important Cecil was to him. To realize that out of all the time he spent in the desert otherworld, out of all the scientific discoveries that excited and fascinated him throughout the year, it was the time spent with Cecil during his visit that Carlos had been most happy.
It took him a year to realize that the emptiness he felt, looking at the remains of his destroyed work, was nothing if it was Cecil that he lost.
And oh, how he hated himself. The realization was happy for him at first, like it was the biggest breakthrough he ever had in his life out of all the scientific breakthroughs he had–and it was–but soon, as he gazed upon the gloom of a cloudy Night Vale that was washed in rain, the memories of how he treated Cecil this past year came rushing in and he was left with self-loathing. And regret.
And now, he shouted at Cecil. He regretted that, too.
Carlos pulled away, suddenly unable to bear to have someone touching him. Or rather, he didn't deserve to have Cecil's comfort, and Cecil didn't deserve to come in contact with someone as disgusting as him. Cecil let him put distance between them, and Carlos sat against the headboard, face buried in his arms as he wrapped them around his knees. He trembled with silent tears and nails dug into skin.
"Cecil, I don't understand," He whispered brokenly into the darkness. "How can you–please. Please, tell me what you really think. Why–why are you still like this. Others–they left. They would've left by now. Tell me, I don't–I don't..." He fell silent, unable to say anymore.
Carlos felt shifting beside him as, presumably, Cecil also rose to sit against the headboard. After a few seconds, Carlos sniffed and peeked up to see that Cecil sat with his head titled slightly upwards, eyes distant, peering at some place that Carlos couldn't hope to predict with his calculations. Carlos dropped his face again, and they sat in silence.
A silence that was noticeably different from before.
Cecil's voice broke through the thickness of it permeating the room, soft and gentle like melted butter under the surface of hot metal. It was quiet, but his voice seemed to vibrate through every unseen molecule in the air.
"Do remember how we started living together? The condos?"
"...Yeah? It was–scientifically speaking, it was one of the most happiest moment in my life," Carlos said, voice becoming quieter as he continued to speak until he can be barely heard, his face heating slightly.
A chuckle, and he can hear the smile in his voice.
"It showed us the way to perfection. It showed us that it can wash away all of our flaws and we can become perfect human beings. At that point, we haven't been dating very long, and we were learning little things about each other. I learned... that you chew too loudly, that you don't call or text when we can't meet up, that you forget we even had a date, that you spend all of your attention on science and spend little of it on your new relationship. I also learned that you sometimes leave equipment on just anywhere, and sometimes you have to run off in the middle of dinner for a scientific and possibly dangerous phenomena."
With everything that Cecil listed, Carlos shrunk more and more into himself. He remembered. He remembered how sad and disappointed Cecil was at times, and how, even as Carlos tried to make up for it, he would think to himself, this is it. This is where Cecil would have enough and leave him. They always leave, why should Cecil be any different? Why am I like this?
Then Cecil continued in an even softer voice, "But Carlos, Carlos, look at me." And Carlos can feel him leaning closer. He hesitantly raised his head, but his eyes couldn't quite look at Cecil, so he stared at the shadows behind the other man.
Cecil touched his face, reminiscent of their first date, and said, "Carlos, look at me, please."
And this time Carlos did, and Cecil's gaze was full of earnestness and warmth. They trapped him under their weight, and he was left frozen and without breath.
"I said it before, and I will say it again. Perfection isn't human," He said, looking into his eyes as if willing the words to slip through his pupils, into his brain, and be embedded into his psyche, until it wrapped around his very being. "And you, my Carlos, is terribly and wonderfully human."
"Things may not have been the 'perfect relationship' that I had once imagined, but life isn't perfect. Nothing is. And yet, still we live, and we love, and we cry and then get up, and there is something beautiful about that. That we can still go on with life, through all the chaos and the void just waiting for us at the end, and along the road."
With careful gentleness, Cecil took his hand and pressed his lips against the knuckles in a kiss, a small point of contact and heat. "I don't need you to be perfect to love you. What mattered is that we were willing to push through, together. That you also looked past my flaws like I did yours and we worked together to be as close to perfection as we can. And we are still learning. Isn't that what a relationship basically is? Learning how to coexist together in various points in space and time, through all the difficulties we find inside and outside of us? That was why I didn't stay in the condo. I chose you. My imperfection, my perfectly, imperfect, Carlos."
"But," Carlos whispered, feeling tears burning through his eyes and down his cheeks. He was overwhelmed by the other's words, but-but Cecil should hate him. Why doesn't he hate him? So he tried, weakly, "But it's impossible to be perfect and imperfect at the same time. It's impossible–a scientific impossibility. Those two words are too different and are direct opposites of each other..."
Cecil smiled and shook his head, exasperated and fond at the same time.
"Oh, Carlos. You want to know how you can be imperfect and perfect at the same time?" He leaned closer, voice dropping into something deep and smooth that always caused Carlos' heart to skip a beat. "If you take my broadcast on your first day here, and then compare it to the way I speak now, you would hear the difference in my voice. You are imperfect, yes, but you, are perfect, for me. And I-" A kiss on a tear-stained cheek "-love-" One on the forehead "-you," He whispered as he kissed Carlos, short and sweet, on the lips.
And Carlos broke down.
And he didn't know what to say.
But he hoped that the way he fell into Cecil's arms, the way he clutched at his torso like a lifeline, and the way he sobbed unintelligible words, was enough to convey what he was unable to articulately convey.
The way that Cecil wrapped his arms around him and held him tight, said without words that yes, he understood well enough.
A beam of sunlight slowly crawled through the carpeted floor and inched its way up the bed, as the sun started to brush its rosy fingers through the sky. The warmth on his skin woke Cecil from his doze and he sleepily batted at it until it politely retreated off the bed. He didn't want it to wake up Carlos when they had barely gotten any sleep.
Said scientist murmured faintly as he dozed, something that sounded almost like "I love you," and Cecil buried his face into the soft black curls with a content smile.
They had talked all through the night. Cecil, about what he had been going through in Night Vale, and Carlos, what he had been going through in the desert otherworld. Each side was conveyed through whispered words that bled truth, revelations, and finally, understanding. At the end, it filled the air between them with hope, of that warm feeling of looking forward to a future, together. They shared visions and plans and promises, and when they finally succumbed to exhaustion, their hearts were lighter than it had been when their day had first started.
It had been a trying year, full of heartbreak and fear and longing. Words were left unsaid between the perceived insurmountable distance of separate realities, with only a phone and their voices as their method of contact, but was now freed in each other's arms, in a time and place that finally matched. In each other's wonderfully solid, physical presence.
In his sleep, Carlos held his love tighter and smiled faintly.
He, finally, felt at home.
Me, after typing the last sentence: ... Holy fuck, I finished it? Am I... am I finished?
Holy fuck I can finally post this?
(This is the longest thing I wrote since I had announced my maybe temporary maybe permanent hiatus/abandonment on my PJO stories, and just, wow, I am disbelief at finally finishing)
Cecil is so good at words. I may or may not be afraid that I didn't do him justice...
But anyways, first time I wrote something that was completely focused on a romantic relationship, because I got into Night Vale and Cecilos became my ultimate OTP and the fandom is full of wonderful Cecilos shiet that left me squealing and "awww"ing from all the fluff and adorableness.
In other words, my past self would be staring at me in disbelief and going, "da fuck, did you just write something in the romance genre?!"
Though I spent most of my time in AO3 and haven't really managed to look through here yet. Maybe later.
I just love them so much!
Ok, I'll go now.
P.S. They totally heard sniffling from the bedside table after Carlos calmed down from his sobbing. And Cecil reached over to give the Secret Police Officer some tissues, which they accepted with a quiet "Thanks," before blowing, sniffling again, and finally being quiet once more.
P.P.S. Me: (hears that they talked all night) Yeah, they have a lot to talk about.
A lot of comments on YouTube: Yes, they definitely "talked" *insert lenny face*
Me: ... Uhm. Ok? You do you, I guess? If that's how you interpret it?