Actions

Work Header

Thursday in the Danger Room

Work Text:

“Carlos!”

Carlos froze in the doorway and turned back to peer into the sterile, quietly beeping darkness of the laboratory. Once, he knew, there was a time that he didn't think of darkness as needing qualifiers such as sterile, or quietly beeping, but that was before Night Vale. Before he knew how many varieties of darkness there could be, of what kind of attributes could be applied to them. Before darkness could be wet or lingering or humming. He peered into this darkness, this familiar darkness, with its beeping and its sterility, comforted by knowing why it was sterile, and what in its contents was beeping.

Carlos froze, and peered, and appeared thoughtful. Had he left the radio on again? His ears strained for a follow-up to the singular exclamation of his name, in the singular voice that had pronounced it.

“Carlos the Scientist!” Cecil said, again and expanded. Expounded upon. Said with its usual fervency, a deep chord of what could either be attraction or idolization strumming like a bass line between the consonants. Said with an unusual hint of despairing relief.

And with startling, high-def quality. Maybe the electronics were finally beginning their uprising, quietly upgrading themselves in the absence of observers. Enough things that Carlos had once fondly thought of as inanimate were strangely… animate, here. Sentient, even, though in the case of the toaster and the third loose, creaking step on the way up to his apartment, that might be stretching it. Things were aware at the least; they possessed awareness, of themselves, of possibly others.

These were the kind of thoughts that at one time, would have been discouraged. Carlos could have recognized the manic edge of sleep-deprivation rattling around in their hypotheses, in their very problem statements.

But that was before Night Vale.

He was about to investigate further when a hand landed on his shoulder and he traded scientific rigor for panicked flinching, flattening his back against the still open door so that whatever it was that had found him wouldn’t have the opportunity to flank him.

“Sound strategy! And nothing less than what I would expect from Night Vale’s most beloved and accomplished scientific mind,” Cecil gushed.

Heart pounding, Carlos’ first dissociated thought was how did Cecil know what I was doing? And his second was something like oh god, he really is omniscient, how do I get a research grant for this?

And his third was the gentle realization that Cecil was standing in front of him, hand frozen in the air where he must have tapped his shoulder just seconds ago, smiling at him.

“C-Cecil!” Carlos said. He tried not to be distracted by the way Cecil swayed slightly forward at the sound of his name. How the lines and shadows of Cecil’s throat distorted when he swallowed. How Carlos wished he had a better command of the English language, or of any language, so that he could compare the flutter of Cecil’s eyelashes to something more romantic than the lurid undulation of tracheal cilia. “Uh, hi.’

“Hello, Carlos,” Cecil said. He settled back onto his heels, grounded again. The smile returned, wider this time. Sharper. The tips of his cheeks looked flushed.

“I-” -have no idea what to say- “-shouldn’t you be on the radio?”

“Oh dear, should I?” Apparently, Cecil’s schedule was as disjointed and unclear to him as it was to Carlos. Carlos watched as Cecil’s admittedly creepy smile faded, his brows pleating delicately with what could only be described as polite concern. “Well, it will have to wait; I’m afraid I have something of a situation on my hands at the moment.”

“Oh?”

“Oh,” Cecil agreed. He tipped his weight from foot to foot as an awkward moment passed by.

“A situation?” Carlos prompted, and Cecil seemed to snap to attention, a sleepwalker prodded awake upon a precipice.

“Yes! A situation!” Cecil cleared his throat before stepping to the side, angling himself in a uniquely Night Vale way so as not to box Carlos in. People here knew the value of a clear line of extraction; something Carlos hadn’t known he appreciated until now. This maneuvering also, uncoincidentally, cleared Carlos’ line of sight, revealing the six balaclava clad officers that had been idling behind him.

“A situation,” Carlos repeated, deadpan. Clearing out inflection was the only way to mask the sharply rising terror the Sheriff’s Secret Police still managed to instill by their very presence alone. The confirmation that they were on duty, on retribution duty, didn't help things. Neither did the multitude of shiny, sharp-looking objects in the officers’ hands. Although, the fact that one of them was clearly holding a water pick did help to allay some of his deeper misgivings.

“Yes,” Cecil said again sullenly. The man seemed to have wilted slightly when Carlos wasn’t looking, curling in on himself at the edges. Cecil appeared reluctant to meet his gaze. “I may have, you know, broken a law or two.”

Carlos’ stomach took this moment to transmogrify itself into lead and plummet towards his feet. The world swam mildly in his vision, pulse ratcheting itself up and dragging his blood pressure along with it. Which Byzantine law had Cecil - probably flagrantly - bulldozed over? There were enough of them in Night Vale, Carlos’ least favorite in order being: the writing utensil ban, the paperwork violation clause, the speculation and thought crime stipulation, and (though he had seen first hand the useful of this one, he was still uncharitably irate about) the wheat and wheat-by-products ban.

Aside from the general chafing feeling that living in such a totalitarian police state produced, there was also the more directed, isolated terror prompted by the punishment these crimes tended to entail. To be even more specific, the horror show that was known as Re-Education had itself a special little pedestal in the hall of Carlos’ deepest worries, concerns, and not-quite-but-actually-yes-totally fears. To put a finer point on it than Carlos was totally comfortable with, Cecil's Re-Education had its own little nook in there. A dark, cobwebbed corner wherein resided all the times Carlos had heard Cecil’s chipper voice announcing his own impending punitive torture. All the times dead air sizzled across the radio, or they played the same pre-recorded message over and over again. All the times Carlos had seen Cecil stumbling around town, eyes glassy and vacuous; the only times Carlos could cross the radio host’s path and not be noticed.

“Cecil…” It felt like he had to pry his tongue free from the roof of his mouth just to manage that; that one name, double syllable sigh. Again, language and his uneasy relationship with it failed him. Cecil sighed as well, hunching forward.

“I knooow,” the radio host moaned. “I know, I know better. I mean, who would know better? I’m the one tasked - though, it is hardly a task at all, more like a privilege - I am the one privileged to share with our dear townsfolk and interlopers and malingering, vengeful spirits the daily tweaks and upgrades our City Council makes to our laws. For the safety and overall betterment of us all, of course! Why, what other city in the world can say that their societal codes of conduct are reviewed and updated as frequently as ours? It’s the mark of a Council that truly cares, I say.”

All of this came out, as far as Carlos could tell, with complete guileless sincerity. Cecil was civic-minded, that much was true, but Carlos could feel the dull ache of cognitive dissonance knocking at his temples.

“I… see,” Carlos said, lying. Cecil nodded. Another awkward silence crept in the space between the two of them. “So…”

“So I completely and totally understand that what I did was wrong, and as such, I see the need for my immediate reprimandation.”

Cecil was looking at him finally, which was nice even considering the circumstances. It felt like he was trying to convey some sort of meaning. Carlos strived to find this meaning.

…An awkward moment.

Cecil continued to stare at him, hopeful, hands clasped and then wringing and then clasped again. Carlos swallowed, felt heat suffuse his face when he caught Cecil’s gaze darting down to his throat.

“Are you going to be Re-Educated?” he asked softly. Cecil frowned, those little furrows reappearing between his brows, cocking his head to one side. A few snickers came from the officers which helped diffuse some of the tension, while also making Carlos feel distinctly like a jackass.

“Nooo?”

“That’s not necessary,” one of the officers said. He was the one holding a water pick. “It’s just a little physical admonishment; you know the drill.”

One of the other officers was holding a drill; this officer pressed the power button, punctuating his fellow’s announcement with a mechanical whirring noise. Carlos would have found it amusing if it weren’t, you know, horrific. If they weren’t threatening to use power tools on the man standing in front of him.

The officer who spoke, who was carrying the water pick, pressed his power button as well. Carlos watched, dispassionately, as a weak stream of barely-pressurized water arced through the air and dribbled onto the ground.

“I, uh, forgot to charge mine last night,” the officer explained. His tongue flicked in and out of his mask, nervous.

“It’s understandable,” Cecil said in an altogether too sympathetic voice. “These things happen.”

“Uh…” Carlos eloquently interrupted.

“Oh!” Cecil snapped his attention back to the scientist. The bulk of it slamming into him was a heady rush. “You’re probably wondering why I’ve gone and dragged you into all this mess, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, kinda.” Carlos was still recovering from the spot-light-glare of Cecil’s admiration beaming straight into his eyes.

“Of course you are,” Cecil said, nodding. “Weeeeeell...”

“The law states that this admonishment can come from one of two places,” the officer with the drill stated. “First and foremost, the rightful embodiment of the law; in this case, us.”

Water splattered to the ground again.

“And the other place?” Carlos asked.

“A private citizen can… supplement the necessary punitive actions,” Cecil said. He was back to staring at a fixed point somewhere down and to the left of Carlos’ gaze. It took a few seconds of concentrated blinking for his words to arrange themselves into some kind of meaningful message.

“Cecil… I-I want to help you, of course I do,” Carlos began, gritting his teeth when Cecil’s eyes shot up to meet his own, so relieved, so hopeful. “But I can’t… I can’t beat you, Cecil, I can’t-”

“Oh, no!” Cecil stepped forward, forgetting the wide, respectful berth he always granted Carlos. Stepping into his boundaries rather than flitting around on their cusp, and his fingers alighted just gently on his left clavicle, fluttering over his spasmodic heart. “No, Carlos, of course, I would never ask that of you.”

Carlos breathed a sigh of relief. Without thinking, he laid his hand overtop of Cecil’s, rubbing his thumb across the fine, slender bones.

“No, Mr. Scientist,” an officer said, “only a moderate amount of pain infliction is required.”

“It’s the infraction,” another added, disappointment souring his words.

“What?” Panic soured his own, his fingers tightening around Cecil’s. Cecil seemed dissociated from the current events, if the dreamy smile quirked across his lips meant anything.

“Should we get the chart?”

Yeah, it wasn’t surprising that Night Vale’s pain chart was from the perspective of the ones dolling out the pain rather than the ones experiencing it.

“Uh…”

“Something like a spanking or light flogging would do,” said a helpful officer. Cecil gave an aborted jerk, his cheeks glowing red.

“Or a quick scalding!” supplied another, to a chorus of agreement from the crowd. Carlos heard scolding at first; a naïve mistake that was immediately rectified. “You scientist-types have lots of boiling liquids, right?’

A million thoughts raced through his head like a foreign language. They were there, they were happening, but they didn’t mean anything. They didn’t sink in through the numb shock as Carlos struggled to figure out what the hell he was supposed to do. What the hell Cecil wanted him to do. Cecil, flushed all the way up to his ears, jaw clenched tight and eyes glued anywhere that wasn’t Carlos.

And, unhelpfully, an echo. A spanking or light flogging - words that caused a twitching all on their own, that Carlos was used to hearing in specific, and generally more consensual, settings.

Carlos looked at Cecil, studying the taut lines of his face, of his body. Glanced back over a shivering shoulder to the array of politely loitering officers, with their polite array of power tools and surgical instruments and, in one case, a dental hygiene utensil. Obviously, if it were a choice….

But that was the thing. This wasn’t a choice. This was, at best, coercion, and at worst-

At worst. His stomach roiled.

“Cecil,” he said. He gave a quick squeeze to the hand still captured by his own. Cecil’s pale gaze flickered up to meet his own before skittering away. “Cecil, what do you want?”

“I-” Cecil started and stopped abruptly, sucking in a laborious breath. “I know it’s a lot to ask of you – to ask of anyone! – but especially of you, Carlos. I would never want to make you uncomfortable-”

“Cecil,” Carlos interrupted, and Cecil snapped his jaw shut at the first hiss of a syllable out of his mouth. “I want to help you.”

“Oh.” Cecil stared at him. Took in another ragged breath. “Oh.

“Only if you’re sure.” This wasn’t fair. Cecil wasn’t choosing, Cecil couldn’t be sure - logically, Carlos knew he was only assuaging his own guilt, making himself feel better, but he couldn’t help it. He had to hear it, had to have some kind of confirmation.

“I’m sure,” Cecil said quickly. “I- I trust you, Carlos.”

His heart clenched arrhythmically, stomach and esophagus twining. He didn’t know Cecil; Cecil didn’t know him, not really. But Cecil would trust him with this, would lay his physical wellbeing in his hands.

“Right,” Carlos said, feeling the inadequacy of his words yet again, and especially in the wake of the tremulous, fragile thing Cecil had laid at his feet. “Right, then, that’s that. I’ll take care of this if-”

“We need to be there,” said one of the officers as she sheathed her Merovingian battle axe. “To supervise, you know.”

“Of course,” Carlos ground out. His awareness began to expand out of their little bubble of human interaction. They’d just been having this conversation in broad daylight, Carlos half in and half out of the lab, people shuffling quickly past while averting their gaze. Steve Carlsburg had stopped on the other side of the street, and seemed to be live-blogging the events; it was a miracle Cecil hadn’t noticed him yet. Carlos felt the unsettling, yet not unfamiliar, urge to hide Cecil away from all this. To sweep him up and take him away from this walking fever-dream of a town, or to at least grant him a few minute’s respite from what seemed to be an unending onslaught of paranoia and dread.

Cecil was uncharacteristically quiet.

“Can we at least take this- take this inside? For privacy?” Carlos gestured with his free hand in general. Then gestured more pointedly towards Steve, who fumbled his phone in his haste to make it look like he was Snapchatting his hotdog.

“Sure,” battle axe officer said.

“I’ve always wanted to go in there,” said another, less noteworthy officer.

“Just… please don’t touch anything.” Carlos, cradling Cecil’s hand still in his own, led them inside.

The fluorescent lights flicked on in their consistently inconsistent and unsettling manner, one here and one there until they were all humming and vibrant, casting sharp shadows and sucking the warmth and softness from the room. The sterile darkness fled, replaced with severe, unwavering light. Things continued to beep, quietly.

Cecil gazed around with a rapture that Carlos would more readily associate with religious epiphanies. It made a part of him preen, in all honesty. Some part of him shown, to think that Cecil was so obviously in awe of science, even if he thought of it as Science, with the capital and all. It made him feel a little less alone, a little more normal, because Carlos was just as enthralled with his work as Cecil. To be honest, he wouldn’t really mind giving Cecil a tour of their cramped facility, such as it was. As long as he could be assured that Cecil wouldn’t go touching things or prodding things, or saying things to make Carlos get all flustered in the middle of his work.

Which all seemed pretty unlikely.

Well, if he was planning at looking at any bright sides in the upcoming hours, at least Cecil wasn’t immediately scampering into his laboratory, interviewing the slime molds and sentient Gatorade bottles. Probably from the stress – and here, Carlos’s stomach knotted into itself again – Cecil seemed able to contain himself. In fact, he seemed to be staring in one general direction, and Carlos smiled, following his gaze, wanting to know what Cecil was so interested in-

Followed it to a row of bubbling Erlenmeyer flasks, ruddy orange flames of Bunsen burners flickering beneath the swell of their bases.

You scientist-types have lots of boiling liquids, right?

“Cecil,” Carlos said. Cecil didn’t seem to hear him, seeming unable to look away. Carlos cupped his hands around his cheeks, feeling the full body flinch beneath his palms, his fingertips, his thumbs. “Cecil, no. I’m not-”

Cecil looked relieved. Oh, god, Cecil looked like, like he’d actually thought-

Carlos swallowed, feeling his meagre Big Rico’s lunch trying to crawl up his throat. No one does a slice like Big Rico.

“We’re going back here, okay? We’re not- not doing anything out here,” Carlos said, sweeping his thumbs in what he hoped were reassuring circles. The corners of Cecil’s mouth twitched like he was trying to smile.

“Whatever you think is best, Carlos.” His features finally resolved themselves into a weak, unconvincing facsimile of his usual expression. “You’re the expert.”

“Yeah,” Carlos sighed. He felt extremely out of his depths, like he’d been plopped in to take the final evaluation of a class he’d skipped through an entire semester of. “It’s just- this way.”

This way referred to a maze of right-angles through awkwardly arranged tables and experiments, walking by the clusters of lab seats that gathered like scatterplot points, accumulating among the most promising and interesting avenues of inquiry and leaving long stretches of microscopes and blinking monitors blank and empty. Carlos tried not to notice how much of their home made and customized equipment featured silvery duct tape that seemed to glint in accusatory menace as they passed by.

This way ended in an on-call room that was stocked with one solitary cot. Its mattress was thin and its sheets and comforter had seen better days, speckled with holes where corrosive liquids had chewed their way through its skin and stained with, hopefully, coffee spills. There was a small desk again one wall and a wooden chair with uneven legs that someone’s relative had made them once upon a time. The light came from a small lamp on the desk, and cast a softer, yellowed light over the room.

It felt intimate, but not uncomfortable, as Cecil followed him inside, and Carlos felt some muscles along his spine and neck unwind. He shared a brief smile with Cecil, who was able to return it for the scant second they could pretend they were alone. Then the troops came marching in, bunching up near the end of the bed by the desk. Carlos cleared his throat, and turned his back to the door, fluffing up a pillow.

They all shared a moment, feet shuffling against the smooth tile. Carlos fixedly staring at the creases on the duvet, running his hand over them over and over as if this action alone could iron out the wrinkles a month and a half at least of disuse had left behind. An officer cleared their throat.

“Well? Can we get started?”

Carlos snapped upright. He turned awkwardly to face Cecil again. The radio host was fiddling with the hem of his tunic, but he nodded, brave enough to at least look at Carlos through the fringed border of his lashes. Carlos nodded, and sat on the edge of bed.

“Uh,” he began. “I’m going to- you know. Cecil. If it’s alright with you?”

Cecil jerked his head up and down.

“Yes. Yes! Of course,” he agreed. They all lingered. “So, should I…?”

“Whenever you’re ready,” Carlos said. Then, feeling like a dick, he patted his lap. With both hands, one on each thigh. Like some kind of creep. Inside, he was screaming at himself. Why. Why would he do that. Who even does that.

Somehow, however, it seemed to bolster Cecil’s resolve. The radio host moved to splay across his lap, and Carlos, god help him, felt his pulse leap in anticipation.

“Wait, Mr. Palmer,” said an officer, and Cecil froze from where he was halfway to crawling onto Carlos’ lap. “Your clothing.”

“Uh, yes? They’re where they’ve always been.” Something stricken passed across his face. “I am wearing them, aren’t I? This isn’t another genie’s curse?”

“No, Mr. Palmer, you’re fully clothed,” the officer said. Cecil breathed a sigh of relief. Carlos felt a pang of longing for lost opportunities. “Which is the problem.”

“Oh dear.”

“We believe the clothing will inhibit the full extent of Mr. Scientist’s punitive intentions,” another officer spoke up. Cecil nodded sagely.

“And will make it much more difficult for us to judge the adequacy of your admonishments,” added another, the one with the water pick. Currently, he was trying to use the low pressure to clean a piece of jerky from between his teeth. It wasn’t effective.

“Of course,” Cecil said. He said it like it actually made sense, and began pulling off his tunic. Carlos sat in blank shock upon the bed, watching at first the material bunching up around the man’s shoulders. Then admiring the adorable ruckus Cecil had made of his own hair.

Then, obviously, exorbitantly, Carlos found his gaze drawn to the smooth expanse of his chest, of his body made of absences rather than presence. Like dark was the absence of light, like void was the absence of existence. It made sense that Cecil could only be described in terms of what he was not, of how his skin was not dark and was not light, how he was not thin and not fat. How where his skin was smooth and even, it was simply unscarred, and where it was broken and puckered, silky sheen from burns or from skinning, it was the opposite of unmarred.

Cecil slipped his strangely fleshy pants from his hips, writhing in place to convince them to loosen their hold, and Carlos ran through the long list of why this was all not okay to keep his own reaction in check. It was helped by the squelching sound Cecil’s pants made as they peeled away from his legs, until he was standing bared before him, his clothing a small, intrusive pile on the floor.

The blood infusing his cheeks ran down his neck, in pretty splotches along the top of his chest that followed the bowing of his clavicles. Cecil fidgeted in place, eyes downcast, and Carlos wasn’t prepared for the shock to his solar plexus that came when Cecil looked upwards again. His eyes shrouded, darkened, and Cecil’s lips parted a fraction of an inch. Carlos imagined the wet breath gusting between them, the fog it would cast upon his own skin if Cecil were closer, just closer.

Unbidden, uncaring of their circumstances, unthinking of the consequences, Carlos crooked his fingers and Cecil followed. The man slid into his lap like water into, well, any container at all, flowing around his dimension, fitting into his spaces precisely. The sight took his breath away, the smooth dipping and curving of Cecil’s spine, the muss of his hair, the generous swell of his buttocks practically begging for a handprint or three or more. He even had those twin dimples right at the base of his spine, tiny indents to fill with sweat, or with-

Carlos stopped himself. One of his hands was running across the curve of Cecil’s ass, and he watched gooseflesh prickle itself across Cecil’s skin before he could stop himself.

“Whenever you’re ready.” The curt voice of one of the officer’s cut into the haze, jolting Carlos back into reality. He cupped one of Cecil’s cheeks in his broad hand, squeezing the firm muscle and soft, yielding flesh.

“Cecil,” he said, one last time, in spite of all futility. “Are you sure?”

Cecil, god, Cecil wriggled his hips across his lap.

“I’m sure,” he answered, quiet, almost breathless. Carlos watched his hands clench in the sheets. “Carlos, I want this- I-” Cecil dragged an inhalation through his nose. “Please?”

For his part, Carlos had always been a sucker for a boy who asks so politely. He reared his hand back and smacked it down on Cecil’s cheek, admiring the jerk of Cecil’s body across his thighs, the warmth that immediately began to blossom beneath his palm.

He started off slowly, gently. Even slaps to Cecil’s skin, swapping between one side and the other. A regular pace so Cecil could anticipate each blow, could take a moment a steel himself between one strike and the next. Just hard enough to make a satisfying clapping sound ring out on every impact. Just hard enough to make his skin blossom and puff, bright pink and hot to the touch, the outline of Carlos’ fingers standing out starkly against his unblemished skin.

Cecil took it so well, quiet, almost silent, his hitching breath the only indication that he’d registered any at all. The cording of his muscles before each strike, and the release of tension after. It became a soothing pattern, separate from the ticking clock rhythm of Carlos’ blows. Smack, fleshy and sharp, and a sudden inhalation, Cecil melting against him as his skin grew hotter and hotter, the inflammatory process at work in his interstitial spaces. The shuddery exhale as Cecil came back to himself, the slow winding of his muscles, a cord cranked tighter, his flesh pinching into goosebumps and his muscles twitching as he waited, as Carlos massaged his hand across sore skin, dug his fingers into abused tissue and drew back before-

Smack, fleshy and sharp, and a sudden inhalation. Cecil melting against him.

Carlos lost count, or forgot to keep count at all. Gave himself over to the rhythm, to the ebb and flow of Cecil beneath him, as the man fidgeted more and more between strikes. As his breath came faster and faster, and Carlos could feel something hard pressing into the side of his thigh, and Carlos ground himself upwards into the smooth planes of Cecil’s stomach, feeling the radiant heat of his body even through the layer separating them and-

Smack, fleshy and sharp, and a sudden inhalation, and a shuddery, broken moan. Cecil melting against him.

“Harder,” a voice broke into their scene. A scene, Carlos remembered with unfortunate clarity, that didn’t really exist. Cecil was shivering on his lap, and it all seemed wrong. “And faster.”

“You can’t- you don’t get to decide that,” Carlos snapped. His fingers dug into the curve of Cecil’s ass and felt the answering quake of Cecil’s muscles. Then Cecil’s hand reached blindly out, settling on the forearm of his free hand.

“Carlos,” Cecil said, words blurry and gentle and Carlos wanted, wanted, wanted so much, wanted everything Cecil had to give, wanted to give everything he had to give, and had to clamp down on so much of that, on all of that. Because that wasn’t what this was. “Do it. Just… please.”

“Cecil…”

“I’m ready,” Cecil said, and he sounded like himself. A version of himself. He sounded like the Cecil Carlos heard on the radio, steeling himself to jump down a scorpion infested pit or to face down Station Management. Strong, and resolved, and Carlos loved- no, he admired that. That strength of character and dedication, the single minded focus that resided behind the gushing, stumbling façade Cecil wore at times.

And Carlos hated for it to be directed at himself. Resented being lumped in with Station Management and Glow Clouds and Clandestine Government Agencies and everything else that routinely took away Cecil’s autonomy. That stripped away his choices and his preferences and his sense of being, his sense of safety, his sense of reality.

Before he could actualize it. Before he could process it and analyze it and, ultimately, reconcile it – before he could deal with this anger, Carlos used it. Anger not at Cecil, but at the people that had forced him across his lap. Anger at the government that dripped its paws into everything it could touch, whose fetid breath curled across everything in this city and rotted it, whose tongue slithered into the insides of every agency, every person and lapped them hollow, sucked out their liquidized insides and left hollow shells that screamed into the void.

Carlos used it. He pulled his hand away and snapped it back, and this wasn’t a smack but a crack, Cecil gasping into his sheets, and before he could recover Carlos had withdrawn and struck again, and again, and again. It wasn’t anger directed at Cecil, but it was anger taken out on him, and the shiny, fleshy pink tipped quickly into hot, angry red.

Cecil jerked and gasped beneath him. His ribs convulsed on every strike, his inhalations aborted and uncoordinated. Carlos kept going, focusing on the plump flesh of his ass, loving the sighs and the choked off words he could force from Cecil’s throat. The way Cecil’s hands fisted in the sheets, the way he could see a patch of wet on the comforter growing beneath Cecil’s open mouth. Knowing, without really knowing, that it would only take a little more before-

Without warning, without breaking stride, Carlos moved his hand down, hit that delicate crease at the top of Cecil’s thigh, and Cecil’s body clenched and he wailed, curling in, struggling to get away, and Carlos struck the same spot at his other leg. Like plucking a taut string, Cecil sang, and Carlos could see the tears that had been steadily pooling in his eyes finally spill out in thin rivulets down his cheeks.

It was fine, he thought, and rained a quick series of blows down on the sobbing man. Cecil knew how to stop this if he needed a break.

Cecil seemed unable to decide how to writhe, where to turn, shying away from Carlos’ strikes at one turn and pressing back into them at the next. He buried his face in the comforter and sobbed, fingers clenching and spasming at every beat. And, god, he was so beautiful, writhing just so across Carlos’ groin, letting himself go so fully.

“Cecil,” Carlos said at a pause, as he rubbed his hand over hot and throbbing flesh, and Cecil whimpered and whined beneath him. “You’re doing so well. You can take more, can’t you?”

Fingers clenched in sheets, knuckles turning pale and white from exertion.

“Y-yes,” Cecil whispered between sniffles. Carlos gave him a light swat in reward.

“Yes, you can,” he agreed. “Now, you have to be nice and still, okay? Can you do that for me?”

Cecil nodded, and Carlos dug his fingernails into his reddened skin.

“Yes! I-I’ll be nice,” Cecil said. “I’ll be- I can do that. For you.”

“Good,” Carlos said, luxuriating in the way Cecil relaxed into him, even as he shuddered and twitched with every sweep of Carlos’ calloused fingers over his sensitized flesh. “Now, we’re going to count. Just to ten. Tell me when you’re ready.”

There was a moment of quiet, as Cecil cried with shaking, heaving breaths into the comforter and Carlos dragged his fingers back and forth across his skin, working along the crease of his thigh where Cecil was most vulnerable, most sensitive. Finally, Cecil took in a deep breath.

“I’m ready,” he said, and before he had even finished, Carlos slapped his hand down with all the strength he could muster. Cecil nearly jackknifed on his lap, curling in on himself and keening.

“Shhh, shhh,” Carlos soothed. He laid his hand flat against the print he’d just laid into Cecil’s skin. “Number?”

“O-o-one,” Cecil breathed. Carlos struck again and Cecil sobbed. The muscles of his stomach were tightening and twitching in disorganized chaos, but a few deep contractions of his lungs and Cecil was able to gasp out, “Two.”

It continued in much the same manner, Cecil writhing on his lap, sobbing openly, his muscles clenching tighter and tighter, uncoordinated and sloppy. Carlos would worry about him, but, he wasn’t actually asking him to stop. They were both doing what they had to, whatever that meant. He felt like there was something bigger at play here, that had gotten swept to the side, that he had even forgotten, but that wasn’t right, was it? Carlos was responsible. Carlos would never actually hurt anyone-

“Nine,” Cecil whispered, his voice a broken whisper. The last strike landed squarely on the reddest part of his ass, and Carlos didn’t like to brag, even to himself, but he mused that it must leave a bruise in the shape of his palm and fingers across Cecil’s plush skin. Cecil seized and wailed, and choked out, “Ten! Ten! Ten, void, ten, please…”

“I think that will be sufficient.”

For what had to have been the hundredth time that day, a third person popped the strange bubble that tended to envelop Carlos and Cecil. It was like coming out of a dream, except the remnants of that dream remained sprawled across his lap, chest hitching with violent sobs while balaclava clad enforcers filed out of the room, and a hollow, black-hole kind of feeling started in the pit of Carlos’ stomach and subsumed the rest of him from the inside out.

“For what it’s worth,” said the officer with the 7th century battle axe. “I think you have real potential.” She settled a card on his desk, that even from here he could see read DON’T CALL US – WE’LL CALL YOU, and then they had all left. Left him alone with Cecil, crying and bruised and, again, without a choice, on his lap.

It took only a small amount of creative positioning to have them both sprawled along the cot. Carlos on his back, his shoulder pillowing Cecil’s head as his shirt soaked up salty tears and other, more unsavory fluids. Cecil on his stomach, one leg snaked between his own, and Carlos with both hands above his waist, stroking up and down his spine. Combing through his hair until the jerking of his chest evened out to smooth, within-defined-limits inhalations and exhalations.

It was a long time after that before either of them spoke.

The thumping of their hearts had grown rhythmic, and slow. Carlos had spent most of his time staring at the ceiling in mounting disgust, and Cecil showed no signs of relieving him. But eventually, the silence was going to be broken. Whether by them or by some horrific monstrosity, their bubble of guilt-stricken peace would end, and Carlos figured it might as well be him.

“Cecil?” he asked, and Cecil shifted.

“Hmmm?” It sounded endearingly sleepy.

“What did you do?”

“What? When did I do what?” Cecil nuzzled further into his chest.

“Today. Earlier. You know, the police…?” Carlos stroked his fingers through Cecil’s hair, which was not the best methodology to pursue if he was actually expecting an answer.

“Today,” Cecil repeated, sighing and leaning into his touch. “Earlier.”

Carlos waited a moment, unable to swallow a grin at the laxness of Cecil’s body against him. He tightened his grip in Cecil’s hair.

“Earlier today, Cecil; what law did you break?”

Cecil peeled himself away with what seemed like great effort, propping himself on an elbow.

“Oh,” he said. “That.”

Carlos raised an eyebrow.

“It was stupid, really,” Cecil insisted. “But, it's just been so long since I’ve had a good piece of toast with my coffee…”

That was the last straw; Carlos pulled Cecil back towards him, kissing him deeply.