Cushioned on the kitchen floor by their comforter, Carlos nuzzled into Cecil’s chest, content to just drift for the moment. He felt boneless and suddenly lethargic, and though he knew he had plans for the day, it was so hard to even contemplate mustering the energy to get up and do anything. Though he had the feeling he had forgotten something fairly important, he couldn’t think of it - especially not now, as Cecil’s nimble fingers tugged the elastic holding back his thick hair. He let out a little sigh as his hair bounced, free of its tie, and his boyfriend’s fingers threaded through it, smoothing out the tangles and curls he hadn’t tamed yet this morning. He could stay here all morning, his quaking body slowly drifting back to its normal state; he felt a yawn trying to escape, but he didn’t even want to move to let it out.
Still, there definitely was something, and a sharp, acrid smell was starting to tease his nose, unpleasant and (in the most primitive recesses of his mind) dangerous. He was just about to make the effort to wrench his eyes open and try to figure it out when a sudden shriek from somewhere above sent him startling upwards. He narrowly missed cracking the top of his head on Cecil’s jaw, and in the process was able to determine absolutely that Cecil had not started screaming while they were cuddling.
”Fire! Fire! You’re on fire, and we’re all going to die!”
“What in the-” Carlos started, but Cecil’s hands were on his shoulders, a calming weight even as a deep laugh rumbled in his chest.
“It’s okay,” he said soothingly, “it’s just the smoke alarm.”
Nerves jangling, Carlos repositioned himself as Cecil stood and reached up towards the smoke alarm over the stove.
”Everything is ablaze, and your world is turning to ash while you do nothing!” it howled.
Cecil grunted, bracing one arm on the counter and stretching up on his toes, but he couldn’t quite reach.
“Here, Ceec,” Carlos said, hauling himself up off the ground - and immediately stumbling over his boxers, still tangled around his ankles. “Mother of-” He caught himself on the counter next to his boyfriend and shook the offending fabric off of one foot. Though sometimes he was slightly taller than Cecil, he couldn’t reach the alarm, either. It was giving off an oscillating wail, pitching alternately high and low, like an emergency vehicle. ”Help is on the way, but it’s probably too late! Cower beneath the absolute finality and insignificance of your horrible and ultimately avoidable fate!”
“Whose idea was this thing?” Carlos asked, hitching his knee up on the counter in order to climb up onto it. Part of him wanted to take it apart just to figure out what was inside. Before coming to Night Vale, before studying its timepieces in his early days here, he wouldn’t have thought twice about its innards: Obviously a battery, a circuit, the smoke detector itself… But here, it could be a little gray blob with bits of hair and teeth, or something even more bizarre and fascinating.
The other part of him just wanted to make it stop screeching.
“What do you mean, whose idea? They just grow that way,” Cecil said, pausing in his efforts to give Carlos the look that meant he had, once again, inadvertently revealed his ignorance of some oddity that was ‘normal’ for Night Vale. It wasn’t a mean look; it was adoring, affectionate, and usually followed by something like, ‘Sweet, sweet Carlos,’ but he had been seeing it less and less of late. He opened his mouth to say something, maybe to protest that of course smoke detectors don’t grow, they are made in factories, but suddenly, the front door burst open with a sharp crack! and startled him so badly he nearly fell off the counter, and would have, too, had Cecil’s hands not been hovering near his hips to offer support.
Sharp morning sunlight poured through their front door, then flickered as a figure stepped inside. Cecil let out a little squeak and dug his fingers hard into the flesh of Carlos’s hips. Carlos, for his part, realized his lab coat was hanging open, and there was nothing underneath. “Oh - hydronium ions!” he snapped, clutching the lapels of the coat shut. “Who are you?” he shouted to the stranger over the smoke alarm, which was now screeching a keening rendition of ‘O Danny Boy.’
“NVFD,” Cecil whispered, tugging Carlos down so his breath was hot in his ear. “Be very, very still.”
His knees were already aching from kneeling on the counter, but he did as he was told, all the while taking detailed mental notes in case there was something in this new figure to investigate later. He had never heard of Night Vale having a fire department, which just now seemed like something he ought to have noticed before. He watched, one hand clutching tight to Cecil’s shoulder, his boyfriend still holding on to his hips for dear life, as the figure surveyed the room. It was little more than a silhouette, even though it was well beyond the glare of the sun in the doorway. Pancake smoke continued to pour, the smoke alarm continued to sing, and yet none of them moved.
Another figure darted in through the door behind the silhouette, though this one was easily recognizable: a member of the Sheriff’s Secret Police, their short cape flapping in their wake. They spared barely a glance towards the kitchen and sped off down the hall, towards the bedroom.
“There is no fire,” intoned the silhouette in an eerie voice, like digital ghosts; then, without acknowledging either the residents of the house nor the fact that it had broken down their door, it turned sharply and left. Or - it had seemed to simply dissolve into the haze of smoke that was rapidly thickening, and though part of Carlos’s brain still gibbered that something like that was Scientifically Improbable, the larger part of him let out a breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding and relaxed his grip on Cecil’s shoulder. It would have been silent had it not been for the smoke alarm, now doing a passable imitation of bagpipes.
The Secret Police Officer bustled back into the kitchen and, with no explanation, thrust out two stacks of papers, one to each of them. Wordlessly, both Cecil and Carlos reached out and took them - and in the process, Carlos’s lab coat flapped open once more. Blushing furiously, crushing the papers a little, he clutched it tight to his chest once more.
“Ohhhhh dear,” said Cecil as he looked down at the papers. The Officer looked hard at Carlos - or seemed to, who could tell with those hoods anyway? - and, after a moment, handed him another slip of paper, seemingly from nowhere. Then, in a startlingly fluid movement, they pulled out their blowgun, shot a dart at the fire alarm, and dashed back through the front door, though they did considerately wedge the door back into its frame. The smoke alarm shut up, leaving a ringing silence in place of its screaming.
Carlos was reeling. He glanced down at the papers in his hand, the top one of which read, “Possession of Wheat (or its By-Products) in quantities indicating intent to distribute.” The one under that read, “Attempted preparation of Wheat (or its By-Products) with intent to consume.” There were several in the bundle, the final one being the last he had been given. It read, “Indecent exposure to an Officer without proper paperwork filed.”
He couldn’t help it: he started to laugh, sitting back on his heels and covering his face with his hands.
“Carlos, this is hardly funny!” Cecil said, shuffling his own citations, one of which, Carlos saw over his shoulder, read, “Destruction of Wheat (or its By-Products) in preparation with intent to consume.” The next one said, “Summoning of Night Vale Fire Department Entity without proper paperwork filed.” “Let me see,” Cecil continued as he finally shut off the burner and moved the smoking skillet away, “carry the two, multiply by seven, add in a new skillet and smoke detector - I think we’re only on indefinite notice, which means the next citation is Fire Safety Re-Education. Still,” he added, brightening, “the old abandoned mine shaft does have HBO now! And WiFi!”
“Cecil, honey, come here.” Carlos shifted so his feet were dangling off the counter, pulling his boyfriend in to stand between his thighs. He didn’t worry about his lab coat anymore, now it was just the two of them, and he purred as Cecil’s warm hands skated over the tops of his thighs. Cecil leaned in; their lips met, much more chastely than before. “I’ve had a weird morning,” he breathed against Cecil’s lips. “Let’s… just go back to bed, just for a bit, hmm?”
“Dear Carlos,” said Cecil in the voice that sent hot shivers down his spine, “you read my mind.”