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It's true that Carlos listens to the evening news every night, but it isn't entirely true that he listens-listens. He likes the daily reminder at six o'clock to begin putting his lab back in order, because in his old life (he's pretty sure – it gets so hard to remember the details of his old life sometimes) he could lose track of everything and stay buried in research for days, and that's not what life balance is all about.

Time is strange in Night Vale, but people are strange, too. Carlos became a scientist to understand the world, but if he's being very honest with himself, he can admit that he also did it because it's a good way to hide from the fact that he doesn't understand himself very well, and isn't always sure he wants to. You're allowed to say I don't know, but I'd like to find out about the origin and nature of practically everything in the universe except why you keep sabotaging the relationships you think might really make you happy – that's strange, isn't it? That's real-world strange.

Night-Vale strange is more terrifying, but less....sad?

In Night Vale, Carlos is happy, and that's so strange .

So when the news comes on, Carlos makes healthy choices in favor of life balance. He takes some final measurements and notes, he feeds the exo-mice, and he starts to clean and sterilize his beakers while he listens to – well, not listen -listens, but while he lets the sound of the warmest, most expressive voice in the world skitter up his backbone like mouse toes and drip back down his neck like a neurotoxin.

Sometimes Cecil says his name on the air. Usually it happens at the perfect synchronistic moment when Carlos is remembering to wonder once again if he's losing his mind, and it reminds him – not to do that.

He doesn't know if he's crazy, choosing to make a life here, but he wouldn't at all like to find out.

He's so happy.

Usually by the end of the news, Carlos has the lab squared away, and roughly thirty minutes left to shower and start boiling some water or pre-heating the oven before Cecil gets home. The timing works out perfectly. Everything fits – work and happiness, time and love and – whatever else goes into a life, if anything, because maybe the universe is made up of nothing but time and love, in various configurations? Maybe that's all there is, and Night Vale clocks are extremely generous with their output of time and Night Vale men are....

Well. Night Vale men are just – all kinds of generous. It's nice. It's a nice place.

(It's not a nice place. But it's a good place. How could it be so good for him if it weren't?)

Usually it happens like that. But some nights, like tonight, there's a bit of – commotion at the studio. It's all right – it always turns out all right – but while it's happening, it's very stressful. The downside to Cecil's very expressive voice is that when Cecil is afraid he can't hide it, and now and then there's a night when Carlos finds himself with his back pressed to the wall of his lab, clutching soap-slippery beakers to his chest, his breath hitching and nausea pitching back and forth in his stomach, helpless to do anything but pray to gods he's never believed in.

The universe is mostly void, but for a while there were stars in it, and Carlos doesn't know what he'll do if he has to go back to the time before stars.

He can't deal with that much sanity. Not again. He needs Night Vale. He needs to stay in the place where time does whatever time wants and nothing devours love.

This time it's bat-winged entities with six tongues , and a lot of words like swarm and highly aggressive and mesmerizing and seventh tongue , and it gets bad enough that Carlos drops a beaker on the concrete floor and maybe he cries a little, because he doesn't want to lose his boyfriend to entities of any description, but mostly because if this damned town ever does destroy Cecil, Carlos will probably end up having to listen to Cecil narrate the experience of his own destruction, and then his world will be full of old recordings of the voice that made him fall in love, but it'll be ruined forever for him.

(This is not a nice place. He knows that.)

But the bat-winged entities pass on, and it's just – over. Carlos wipes his face on the lapel of his lab coat and reminds himself not to be ridiculous: Night Vale won't destroy Cecil; Night Vale loves Cecil. It's Carlos that the town barely tolerates, and then only for Cecil's sake, but that's fine with Carlos. The feeling is mutual.

“--if Intern Danielle would be so kind as to give me a ride home,” Cecil says, his voice thin and shaken, but so obviously summoning all his professional skills to sound brave. “My headache has mostly receded, but the third eye is having a very strange effect on my depth perception. I'm sure I'll adjust to it in time. Corrective lenses are always an option, and I have always thought a tortoiseshell pattern would really complement my freckles.”

Carlos wonders briefly if third eye is a metaphor for something, but that's just because Carlos is stupid sometimes.

He finds his phone and texts with fingers that still shake a little, relying heavily on autocomplete, Do you need me to pick you up from work?

Cecil texts back quickly: No, but you're so kind.

Carlos doesn't think that's something that he's always been, if he even is now. He gets lost in his thoughts a lot. He has trouble remembering that other people are people that exist, let alone remembering to be kind to them. He did well in academia partially because other academics seemed predisposed to believe that proved his intelligence – a kind of mutually assured destruction of nobody being allowed to call anyone else a real self-involved jerk.

He's kind to Cecil, if kind is what you call the care you take of someone you can't live without. He's kind to Cecil the way he's kind to the exo-mice, who also need Carlos very much, and also would be nearly impossible for Carlos to replace.

Carlos wonders why it is that Cecil, who is so consistently motivated purely by his heart, falls so easily for the not-all-that-nice towns and men. People are strange.

He takes a longer shower than usual, not on purpose, but just because it feels like such an effort to move around. The time between Carlos-home-alone and Carlos-and-Cecil seems to be constricting and dilating simultaneously. He feels like he'll stand under the showerhead forever, and he feels like he's on the brink of a deadline, like he's due to make a presentation he hasn't prepared for.

He doesn't know what he's supposed to say when things like this happen. Cecil tries to hard to be so relentlessly positive that Carlos never knows if he's – allowed to extend sympathy, to break the spell by admitting that these things that keep happening in Night Vale are bad things, frightening things, regrettable things. Maybe Cecil doesn't want to hear that? Maybe it's – kinder to agree with him? Carlos doesn't know. He's never been good at relationships.

When Cecil lets himself in, he's wearing a borrowed gray hoodie which was probably too small to start with, and is now rucked awkwardly up so the hood can come further down his face than it's meant to. He's hiding his face, and it makes Carlos angry – not angry at Cecil, but it probably sounds that way when he snaps, “Take that off.”

“I had planned on it,” Cecil says, “but there is, ah – something I thought we should discuss first.”

“I'm not going to discuss anything with you skulking around like the Phantom of the Opera,” Carlos says.

“No, you're right,” Cecil says. “It's been a very long day, and the last thing I have the energy for is opera.”

He unzips the hoodie and leaves it on the back of the couch. He comes to sit next to Carlos, his hazel eyes cast down self-consciously while his blue eye darts back and forth, taking the measure of the living room. It's a little squinty, with a crust of sleep in the corner. Carlos licks his thumb and tries to clean it up a little, and Cecil's other eyes look up, blinking in surprise. “Does it hurt?” Carlos asks gently.

“It did as it emerged,” Cecil says. “And it's still a bit sensitive to light. I hope it'll adjust.”

“I'm sure it will,” Carlos says. “It's – pretty.”

“It doesn't match the others,” Cecil grumbles.

That makes Carlos smile. He doesn't even have to wonder if smiling is the right thing to do or not, it just happens. “It matches your boots,” he points out.

Cecil looks down at his sharp-toed boots, bright turquoise vinyl over his paisley tights. “Do you think? It looked a bit more lapis in the car mirror.”

“Well, I'm sure the lighting wasn't good in Danielle's car. It's definitely turquoise. Can I try something?” Cecil nods, granting him permission without questions or qualifications. Granting trust. Carlos uses a pen to guide Cecil's attention back and forth, up and down, trying to get a sense of how the eyes cooperate. They don't, really; his original eyes continue to work as a team, devoted to their traditional job, but the new addition is only occasionally lured away from Carlos. It watches him squintily, a little suspiciously. Carlos makes eye contact with it, hoping to communicate nonthreatening honesty. Its lids look red and slightly swollen; he thinks the process of sprouting eyelashes has irritated the tender skin slightly, and it makes him feel – protective.

Finally he sets the pen down and leans in to kiss Cecil's temple. Cecil's hand comes up to nestle in Carlos's hair, and Cecil takes in a slow breath and lets it out. “I worried,” he rumbles softly. “What you'd think....”

“I think it's beautiful,” Carlos promises. “I think you're beautiful. Should we put some Visine in it? Maybe it would adjust better to light if we keep it hydrated.” Cecil grants him more permission with a simple nod, but instead of getting up off the couch, Carlos can't help leaning forward and dragging his boyfriend into a hug. “You sounded afraid on the air,” he says against Cecil's neck, trying not to choke on the words. “I was afraid for you.”

Cecil puts his arms around Carlos and says nothing. It isn't in Cecil's nature to say stupid things like don't be afraid or I'll always be all right . Cecil is kind, but he is as much the void as he is the stars; he is as much Night Vale as he is Cecil.

“I love you,” Carlos says. “That's what I think. That's what I'll always think.”

“Carlos,” Cecil says. It's as much of an endearment as Cecil ever allows; Carlos sprinkles their private conversations with honey and sweetheart and papi like it's nothing, because it is nothing to him, it's just the normal behavior of normal couples as far as he's been able to observe, but Cecil doesn't follow his lead. It's Carlos ; it's always Carlos , on the radio or with his friends and family or casually checking in or in their most intimate moments – only Carlos , every time, but god the ways he can spin those two syllables with his voice and make them dance, the volumes of meaning he can make them carry. It's like Cecil speaks his own language composed of only the word Carlos , and Carlos is only an intermediate speaker himself, only able to catch the gist of Cecil's poetry.

They move into the bedroom, Cecil sitting on the edge of the bed. The eye narrows and glares, betrayed, at Carlos after he puts the Visine in it. “Don't sulk,” Carlos says to it absently. It rolls, and Cecil places a hand to his temple and makes a soft noise of discomfort. “Are you okay?”

“Dizzy,” he says matter-of-factly, and then all three of his eyes cooperate to look up at Carlos coyly as he murmurs, “Maybe I should lie down.”

Carlos can't help but laugh. “Look at you,” he says, “fifty percent more of a flirt than you were this morning. I think I may be in trouble here.”

Cecil smiles at him, almost back to the poised serenity in the midst of chaos that Carlos initially found so intriguing about him. He spreads his thighs further apart and hooks his fingers in the waistband of Carlos's jeans, damp from the part of his lower back he didn't bother to dry carefully after his shower. “I think you stay because you don't mind trouble,” he says.

“I think I stay because I'd do anything for you,” Carlos hears himself say, too honest to be flirtatious. Cecil cocks his head and blinks curiously with two of his eyes. The third stays steady, taking this compliment as Cecil's due. It seems very...high-spirited.

It's a little bit sexy.

Carlos pushes Cecil to his back and follows along, kissing. He should know better – Cecil's wardrobe is quirkily endearing, but over the years it's proven notoriously difficult to remove in the heat of the moment – but today he doesn't care, he's too selfish to care. Cecil arches against him with a soft groan and slings his leg around Carlos's leg, the heavy heel of his turquoise boot banging against Carlos's shin. They kiss and they kiss, the only sound in the room the creak of the mattress and the faint scritch of Cecil's French-tipped nails along rough denim as his hand sneaks suggestively toward the crack of Carlos's ass. “I can take-- “ Carlos finally pants, lifting his mouth away, and he can't finish the sentence, distracted by the glint of light on the filament of saliva that stretches between their lips until it snaps. He licks his lips, tasting Cecil, and says, “Fuck me.”

“Oh, Carlos,” Cecil rumbles, conveying pleasure and gratitude and relief and maybe more, probably more. With Cecil, there's always more. All three of his eyes gaze up at Carlos, warm and welcoming. Maybe there's a glint of smugness in the blue one, but if there is, Carlos can't exactly hold it against him, can he? Cecil's earned the right to be proud.

There's nothing particularly unusual about it; they get each other off more nights than not, and while they don't put on all the bells and whistles every single time, it's still probably once a week that something just like this happens: Cecil's tongue licking him open, Cecil's weight along Carlos's back pressing him into the mattress, the sound of lube between Cecil's cock and his fist, then the feel of it between Carlos's cock and Cecil's fist while his knees push Carlos's legs apart gently but inexorably. He always kisses Carlos's back and shoulders over and over, always speaks a chapter or two of Carlos's name as he presses in. Carlos usually gets a cramp in his foot from the way his toes curl. Sometimes he cries, but it's not an emotional reaction, just a physiological response to the intensity of sensation; he knows this because other times Cecil makes him cry in an emotional way just by nuzzling the back of his neck while they're dozing off on the couch, and it feels like a totally different type of cry.

Nothing feels surprising or unusual, which is actually the opposite of a complaint: every time Cecil fucks him down into the mattress like this, it's so wholly fresh and satisfying and reassuring and right. Carlos has come to expect it by now, and he's comforted by the predictability of the cycle: arousal and reveling and release and basking. It's as much a routine as turning on the evening news and running the water and thinking about what to make for dinner while he listens to the community calendar. It means home to him just as much.

But when he moves to clean up, reaches for tissues and rolls over, he can see Cecil's face, and he is surprised. Well, he'd forgotten the third eye briefly, so that was a minor shock, but even after that, Carlos is surprised.

Mostly Cecil looks the same as ever, his curls a little wilted by sweat, his freckles dim against the flush of effort in his cheeks, his eyes dilated and unfocused, but satisfied. His – usual eyes, at least.

The blue eye looks...different. Wide with something like shock. Shining with something like Visine, or maybe not. Lashes quivering, vulnerable and uncertain. Carlos abandons the tissues on the blanket beside him and finishes turning onto his back, drawing Cecil closer with a firm, grounding arm around his waist. He uses his other hand to cup Cecil's cheek, and the tips of his fingers probe carefully at the hot, tender skin at the corner of his eye, hours old and already embellished with a hint of crow's-foot. “What do you see?” Carlos whispers.

“I don't know,” Cecil says. “Heat – color – the future. Why, what do you see?”

Carlos thinks that over for a minute. “That, I guess,” he finally says, and then he smiles up at his boyfriend with all his teeth and all his heart and both his eyes.

Cecil smiles back down at him with all of that, plus a little bit more.