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The Stone That Burns

Chapter Text

The war with Desert Bluffs ended as abruptly as it began.

As it turned out, the average mercenary did not take kindly to hordes of scaly, tentacled Librarians barrelling through their midst. They were even less pleased by the Hooded Figures that followed in the Librarians’ wake.

But what officially ended it all was a single horse, running wild, a broken-necked prince and two satchels of ash strapped to its saddle.

Earl thought it a bit melodramatic, but Carlos and Cecil agreed: it certainly made an impression.

As did the parcel Carlos brought to the throne room a few days later.

“I thought you should see this,” he said. “A courier delivered it to the lab this morning. My team’s already tested it: none of it’s poisoned or cursed.”

Earl plucked a banana out of the basket and quirked an eyebrow. “Are your fruit baskets usually poisoned?”

“Less often since I arrived here,” Carlos said. “But it’s always better to check. Especially since it came with a note.” This he handed to Cecil. The stationery was finely wrought and dyed a soft gold; the broken seal bore the triangular insignia of the Family Strex, pressed into dark orange wax. “It’s from my mother.”

Darling Carlos,

I’m so pleased the latest attempt at your life has been thwarted, and I wish you the best of luck with the local king. Try to make a good impression-- Desert Bluffs will be withdrawing our influences from Night Vale until the political atmosphere has a chance to recover from last week’s awkward affair.

“Is that what they’re calling it these days?” Earl asked dryly. “And here I thought we’d gone to war.”

On that note-- the recent incident lost our family a lot of money, and we are tremendously grateful for you for disciplining the ones responsible in such a timely manner. The initiative you’ve shown is a mark of true leadership--

Cecil lowered the note. “Wait. Does she mean your brothers? Your dead brothers?”

“That’s Strex for you,” Carlos said dryly. “Fratricide gets you a fruit basket. I left for a reason.”

“Clearly.”

Cecil continued skimming over the note while Earl read over his shoulder. Carlos had read over it already: the long and short of it being that the Family Strex would be keeping its distance from Night Vale for a long time. There were a few less-than-subtle hints enclosed that Carlos should try wooing Cecil again.

And honestly, he felt less apprehensive about that idea than he otherwise might have. What was his family going to do-- kill him again?

Besides, there was no need to rush into anything.

Cecil looked good. There was a color in his once-ashen face, and a light in his eyes that Carlos couldn’t remember ever being there before. He looked strangely happy, even though his brows were drawn and his lips were tucked into a thin line as he looked through the letter.

Earl leaned against him to read, his body arranged perfectly to be close but not touching. The only point of physical contact was a hand on Cecil’s shoulder-- a reminder that he was physically here.

It had only been a few days, but Carlos hadn’t ever seen them together when they hadn’t been touching in some small way.

And that was good. Cecil needed that, and Carlos was glad he had it.

He just needed to figure out how he fit into all of this. However that turned out to be, he would deal with it, and he would stay here.

He was done with running.