A middle aged man sat in front of a campfire, a teenage girl sitting near. He was telling her a funny story from when he was her age, and she was laughing. "Did you really? Did you really do that? You're lying!" She said. "What reason would I have to lie?" He retorted.

A mother sat on the desert sand, her son's head on her lap. "Sleep, Benny. You need your nap time if you want to grow. If you want to be beautiful." The child's reply was unheard.


"I need more metal to create more knives," A man holding scrap metal said. He was then pointed to a part of the hull, a piece of metal clinging to the whole and half buried in sand.


"Did you see the look on their faces?!" A teenage boy laughed to another boy.

Who's faces?!

"I found a cactus right over there," An old man said.

Why did you need to point that out?

"Why did your axe last longer than mine? Yours is older!"

Answer me!

"I remember when I first looked at those little brown eyes and I decided that that's the puppy for me."

Someone, answer me...

"My aunt Holly never really liked pulpy fruit juices, I don't know why."


"He graduated with high honors, last I heard–"

Please, shut up.

"I remember when we visited relatives in Greece–"

Shut up.

"–looked across the gravestones and–"

"–car for my birthday–"

Shut up, shut up, shut up!

"–heard that Jake is really–"

"–find more food for–"

"–jigsaw puzzles–"

"Stop! Shut up! Just, shut up!" Cecil cried out loud, fists pressing against his temples as if to squeeze out the unwelcome voices out of his head, but it was to no avail. His eyes were shut tight, his body rocking lightly in an unconscious motion of back and forth from where he curled up on the kitchen floor.

He was–he was making dinner. Was he? He was. He was making dinner, doing his best to ignore the conversations filtering through his head without rest, then it just became too much. Like a merciless wave they crashed against him and buried his helpless self under its depths, finally knocking him down after weeks of struggle. It just went on and on and on and Cecil just wanted them to stop!

"I just sent the gift through the mail because of how sick I was–"

Something like a sob tore through his throat, frustrated tears welling up from his eyes. He breathed in sharply with a growl, angry at himself for the moment of weakness, but it was soon forgotten because A woman murmured and hummed half remembered lyrics to a song, and another near her tapped her fingers and hummed along, and at the other side of the steel skeletal frame a teenage boy took the hand of another and told him of a tree he found where they can rest in the shade away from their overbearing parents, while a man gave a play by play of memorable moments in football games to an interested party, and a girl laughed at someone's joke, and a woman groaned playfully in exasperation and a man sang a jaunty tune as he dug and dug and–


And just like that, silence.

Blessed, wonderful, silence.

Silence, except for one, beautiful, perfect voice from a perfect human being.

Cecil gasped in air as if surfacing from a body of water. A warm hand touched his fist, gentle and grounding, and he looked up to a pair of familiar eyes that gazed at him with worry. Happiness and relief and this warm feeling in his chest that he had long since familiarized with love crashed over him and, as Cecil slowly unfurled from the tight curl of his body, hands taking hold of his husband's which squeezed back, he thought this was a wave that he wouldn't, doesn't, will never mind drowning in.

"Carlos," He said in a small voice, but his emotions were clear in the shaky tone and in the spread of his lips in a smile. Cecil unthinkingly leaned towards the other presence in their kitchen, and Carlos obliged by moving next to him so he can wrap his arms around Cecil.

"I'm not gonna ask if you're okay," Carlos started, staring at him with a soft frown, "I found you curled up on the ground, dinner halfway prepared with the stove still on. Your baseline data tells me that you habitually make sure there aren't any immediate dangers left unattended before you hide from existential or physical dangers, and you failed to notice my approach to your person before I spoke. That means, scientifically speaking, that you're not okay."

Cecil laughed lightly, nuzzling their joined hands against his cheek. 'Baseline data,' Cecil had learned, basically meant the information of his usual mannerism, preferences, and as Carlos had once said when explaining, "What made you, you," that were gathered throughout the years.

Cecil himself had his own mental recordings of baseline data of Carlos, except his list had more flowery words, and he named it Why Carlos Is Perfect.

"No, I wasn't," Cecil admitted, voice stronger simply because his husband was here and the voices aren't. "But I am now."

And Carlos grinned, and he fell in love even more. Somehow, considering that he was already deep in love for years now. Carlos shifted from the crouch and kneel mixture he had been doing to sit next to him, squirming until they were both comfortably in each other's arms.

"I can keep talking, if that makes you continue to be okay."


And so Carlos talked about the rock they found in the sand wastes that vibrated every three hours each day except on Sundays, and emitted a low humming noise every Thursday. He talked of the multicolored cloud explosion one of his assistants accidentally caused, how beautiful it was even though it was poisonous and they had to quickly evacuate the building. He talked of listening to the radio and laughing at something that Cecil said, almost forgetting about the time sensitive experiment he was in the middle of, but not really regretting his momentary distraction. He talked with wonder and passion in his tone, and Cecil let his words settle over him like a comforting blanket.

They both knew that like puzzles kept the voices at bay for Amelia Anna Alfaro, only Carlos' voice carried that relief for Cecil Palmer. But they both knew that Cecil will never let Carlos abandon his work at the lab to be with him every hour of their waking day, no matter how agreeable Carlos was to the idea due to his worry for Cecil. So Carlos didn't try to convince him again. And if he was always a bit late in leaving in the morning, and a bit earlier than usual in coming home every evening, well, no one really felt like saying anything about it, much less Cecil.

Cecil had fears. Fears for himself, his town, his Carlos who was most around him.

But he left those fears unsaid. For now, he is sitting on the kitchen floor with his husband, listening with a small happy smile to the sole person that grounded him.

Carlos' words, the laughter in his voice, his warm presence next to and around him, his thumb that made little circles against the back of Cecil's hand as he spoke.

Here and now, that's all that matters.