Perhaps there was some sort of concrete meaning behind the seemingly-senseless concept of a person-that-is-a-place (or a place-that-is-a-person). As much as Carlos had expected things to change when they began dating, Cecil slipped into his life without making a sound, much the same way that many of Night Vale's peculiarities had become almost normal. Considering that his new boyfriend and his new address were one and the same, as much as that still made his head spin, there was an odd sort of logic to it. And, like how the lights on the distant horizon still sometimes caught him unaware, there were signs of Cecil's new presence in his life that occasionally surprised him. Things like finding shirts he didn't own in his laundry or coming home to Cecil lounging across his couch (while Cecil had an open invitation, Carlos hadn't fully expected him to use it; he also hadn't considered that locks weren't an issue for someone whose body included both sides of the locked door).
"Hello," he said, trying not to sound surprised. Carlos dropped his duffel bag on his desk chair, then hung the lab coat that draped over his arm over the chair's back. The night outside was warm, and though he was cooler inside than he'd been, Carlos was still uncomfortable. His heart beat a little faster as he reached up and pulled off his green sweater, all but able to feel Cecil's eyes (and eyes and eyes) on his body.
"Is this a bad time?" Cecil asked, sitting, then standing, up. He approached Carlos, hands fluttering nervously over his own chest. That day, he'd dressed more casually, wearing a loose cardigan over something that showed a few more eyes than usual: three, each a different size, on his neck as well as a pair just along his collarbone. His sleeves were pushed up around his elbows, revealing an assortment of mismatched eyes on his forearms. Feeling a little self-conscious, he rolled down the sleeves so only the eyes on the backs of his hands were showing. "Should I— should I leave?"
They were both learning how to be a little more comfortable in each other's presence.
"It's fine," Carlos reassured him, "I just wasn't expecting you." Poets talked about eyes that were like oceans, but never about oceans of eyes. In the dim light of his little flat, every one of them glowed, creating a sort of halo over Cecil's exposed skin. The luminescence only cast the hazy details of his face into further shadow.
"I missed you." Even though Carlos cannot see Cecil's cheeks, he can see a luminescent lilac blush, which is somewhat disorienting. "I missed your eyes," he added; Carlos was momentarily stunned that his two eyes, which were fairly normal, even by Night Vale standards, even registered with Cecil. "You're the first person in a very long time to actually look at me." His shoulders were a little high, a little curved inwards, and he was twisting his fingers like he was almost embarrassed to say it.
Affection stirred within Carlos, and a litany of romantic cliches washed through his brain. "You're the first place I've ever known," he settled on, albeit a little lead-tongued. The eyes on Cecil's face sparkled, and Carlos wondered how anyone could not look at him.
Cecil's blush—or his impression of a blush—intensified and he shuffled a centimetre closer to Carlos. A humming buzz always radiated from his skin, the textural equivalent of white noise. Carlos always expected it to be stronger upon touch, but there was something grounding about Cecil's skin. While there was something immaterial about Cecil's presence, he was always solid beneath Carlos' hand. He remained solid as Carlos directed him to the couch and pulled him down to sit. Maybe it was something Cecil was doing on purpose, but Carlos could swear that their bodies fit against each other like puzzle pieces. "And that's okay, right? That I'm not— you're— that we aren't the same?"
Carlos looked at the miniature desert sitting beside him. Inside, it was harder to tell that Cecil wasn't there because he was there. His hair didn't blend into the shafts of moonlight, his eyes were no longer galaxies in the night sky, and there was no dusty horizon against which his edges would fade. The only thing he ever wondered was how something— someone— somewhere like Cecil would ever be interested in him. Carlos said none of this, and only partially because he was afraid of the answer. "I don't mind," he ended up saying. He reached up to run his hand along the side of a jaw he couldn't see. Cecil tilted his head against Carlos' hand, eyes (all of them) closing.
"Thank you," he whispered, turning his face to press a gentle kiss to Carlos' palm. Feeling a little daring, Carlos leaned in and captured Cecil's lips with his own, in their first kiss since the night in the wilderness beyond, but inexorably a part of, the town. Cecil sank back, accepting Carlos' weight. Carlos was almost surprised to feel something like a heart beating in Cecil's chest. Then again, the world contained wonders he'd never expected; it was why he was a scientist, after all.
Neither of them said anything for a long time.
The radio on the coffee table came to life with a soft crackle. Carlos startled, but then one of Cecil's hands was in his hair, drawing him back down. The sound of crickets and a nearby stream filtered through the air. A car drove over unpaved desert, its rumble-crunch just louder than the water. When it passed, Carlos caught the rhythm between the crickets' song and the stream's water, both in perfect harmony with Cecil's pulse beneath him.
As though from a distant record player, music began to drift through the air. It started off faint, but all of a sudden it was all Carlos could hear.
Stars shining bright above you, said the radio. Night breezes seem to whisper I love you.
While Carlos was fairly certain that, among his multitudes, Cecil did not have a single sycamore tree, the fact that there was even a possibility made Carlos' heart swell.
Mama Cass Elliot continued to sing long after Cecil had left, going on in increasingly strange verses that filled the emptiness around Carlos. Sweet dreams til sunbeams find you, he hummed along, wishing he didn't have to work the next day, wishing he was brave enough to request that Cecil stay the night—
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you, and Mama Cass' voice was suddenly gone, replaced with one Carlos had never heard singing before. But in your dreams, whatever they be, Cecil sang, dream a little dream of me...
"You two are absolutely sickening," said Deva, one of Carlos' volunteer assistants. She was one of the longest-lasting volunteers, as well. "I turn on the radio and all I hear is him talking about you. I show up to work and all I hear is you talking about him."
"He is incredibly scientifically fascinating," Carlos replied. "And he's literally the subject of our investigation."
"We're not investigating the part of Night Vale that you're dating," she scoffed. "We're investigating the rest of him— it— them— ugh!" Deva crossed her arms over her chest, leaning back in her chair. She glared at Carlos, sullen. "Besides, isn't it a little unprofessional to date your subject?"
She was right, but Carlos wasn't ready to admit to it. He wanted to explain that being with Cecil was enlightening, teaching him about the way Cecil could manipulate the local radio waves almost unconsciously, how Cecil's body mirrored the often-shifting network of streams running through the desert, how Cecil could see and feel the goings-on across the town. It was all invaluable data for the eventual reports that seemed increasingly unlikely. The idea of concluding the project was distinctly unappetizing to Carlos, who was pretty certain he could stay here forever and never learn everything about Night Vale and Cecil (both as discrete entities and as the same thing).
Deva shook her head at his expression and sighed. "Can you at least ask him what's up with the volume of weirdness going on here?"
"That's simple," Cecil said. "I'm somewhere the Universe doesn't want to look at, so the kinds of things that don't want the Universe looking at them come here. All the things that slip through the cracks of reality come here because I've slipped through the cracks."
"And you let them stay?"
Cecil shrugged. "They have nowhere else to go. As long as they don't hurt too many other inhabitants, I don't mind. They figure out pretty quickly that I will not let them rampage. Either they learn to deal with that," his voice suddenly darkened, thunder rolling beneath his words, "or I deal with them." There was a flash of sharp teeth, like lightning, at the end of his statement.
Carlos wasn't sure if he should be more afraid of what some of the other entities would do without Cecil's moderation or of what it would be like to be on the wrong side of Cecil's temper. He'd seen what it could do to humans. Cecil could literally open the ground and swallow someone whole if he was so inclined. One thing that Carlos knew for certain, though, and something he had known since long before he'd ever heard of Night Vale, was that some of the most beautiful things in existence were terribly dangerous, and sometimes that beauty came from trusting them not to kill or maim you. And Carlos trusted Cecil.
"Did you slip through the cracks because of the doors thing?" he asked, looking at Cecil over his glasses.
"The doors thing?" Cecil puzzled. "Oh! That's how I explained it, wasn't it? I don't know." He half-smiled and put his hand over Carlos'. "I don't remember how I became here," he added. "Or, more precisely, I do remember, I'm just not sure which is the right memory." He drummed the fingers of his spare hand against the table. "I remember so much," he said, misty and distant. As far as Carlos could tell, they were no longer in the kitchen and Cecil's gaze was fixed toward the unknowable sky. "And I think there are many ways I've become here, and many different things I was before, and they're all in my head even if they weren't me." His moving hand fell silent. "I remember the doors, and I remember the ground taking me. I remember making contracts, and drowning in dust, and being sacrificed. Pain— and loss— and extraordinary beauty. I can remember just waking up one day, as I am. There's a family that might have been mine, but there's also the singing waves whose forms I might have echoed. There are sharp spires in another dimension that might have been my home, or maybe my home was at the heart of a long-lost star that was too afraid to die alone. But they all end the same way— I end up here." For a moment, between breaths, Carlos could almost see Cecil and all of his details with perfect clarity—but then the breath shattered, and the impression of Cecil's face faded back into shadow. He sighed, tension draining from his shoulders.
"Cecil? Are you alright?" Cautious of the many fluttering eyes, Carlos put a hand on Cecil's cheek.
Cecil wavered in and out, then slumped forward on Carlos' kitchen table, half-melting until he rested his head on his folded arms. He turned his head and looked at Carlos with his three right eyes and something that was almost a smile. "Carlos," he said with a breathy sigh. "Of all the things I might have seen— you're the most beautiful."
"What is it like, Outside?" Cecil asked.
It was late, and probably at some point during the weekend. They were, again, at Carlos' small house (Carlos wasn't even entirely sure that Cecil had a house, because it sounded pointless to have a house when everything around you was part of you). Carlos half-sat, legs stretched out across the couch, with Cecil sitting on top of him, his arms loosely around Cecil's waist. The television was on, playing white noise with the occasional colorful fluctuation, giving off the ambient psychic impression of Gone With the Wind (Cecil had—insofar as he could—wrinkled his nose at the choice and alluded to someone at the visual broadcast center having an unfortunate accident with a cactus; he'd also brightened up considerably when the Deep Ones set Tara ablaze).
"For one thing, IHOP doesn't mean 'Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes.' You're also encouraged to actually eat the pancakes," Carlos, who had earlier that week been traumatized by his first trip to Night Vale's very own IHOP, said. "And there are—" He dropped his voice to a dead whisper. "—mountains."
If someone had gone to Carlos a year to the day before that conversation and told him that he would one day be illegally insinuating the existence of mountains to a small desert town, he would have thought they were teasing him. He studied the strange, and some of the smaller-minded professors at his university enjoyed mocking him for it. Carlos would have scoffed at the idea of mountains not being a fact and told his would-be tormentor that they had no idea what they meant. He also would have imagined himself talking to the population of a small desert town rather than the actual town itself.
Cecil tilted his head back, looking up at Carlos with sparkling eyes. Carlos' heart swelled with adoration for the man— the town— the Voice— Cecil. He only remembered one story, the one that brought him there specifically, but he hoped that, like Cecil, his existence would unfold and reveal the million ways he could've ended up seeking Night Vale and, hopefully, the million ways he could've found it. Because, as Carlos realized in that exact moment, he had fallen in love with the most scientifically interesting community in all existence.