A few months passed before that rainy day came around. Cecil had bonded to Carlos even more in that time, and the psychiatrist began to feel that the doctor/patient relationship was becoming more of a… friendship. Or something. Each time he caught himself thinking of the patient as a friend, he was conflicted. Because, if he allowed the lines to blur between a professional relationship and a friendship, he feared he might begin to blur the lines between that and… something more.
When he made a surprising discovery about Cecil's past, he, as a friend, wanted to tell him. But, as the man's psychiatrist, he deemed it a bad idea.
Cecil, of course, knowing Carlos well enough to sense when he's hiding something from him, pressed the issue.
"C'mon, Carlos," the patient whined, sitting across from Carlos at the psychiatrist's desk and throwing his head back dramatically. "I know you're not telling me something."
With a sigh, Carlos shook his head and frowned down at his paperwork. "No, Cecil. It wouldn't do you any good."
Cecil sat up straight and reached across the table. "Please?" he begged, taking the other man's hand. "I'll leave you alone to do your paperwork as soon as you tell me, I promise."
"You know," Carlos said, pulling his hand away from the patient, "I could always make you leave, anyway. You aren't really supposed to be here outside of your scheduled time."
Rolling his eyes, Cecil grinned. "That is definitely a rule you follow closely. You're so right."
Carlos bit back the small smile that began to pull at the corner of his mouth and tried to focus on the files in front of him. "Shut up," he laughed under his breath. Looking up at the patient, Carlos gave Cecil a sympathetic smile. "I don't want to see you hurt, alright? You've already lost your mother…"
"Just tell me," the other man groaned. "I can handle it."
"You're sure?" Carlos asked, raising a skeptical brow.
Cecil's expression faded from annoyed to serious as he nodded. "If there's something I don't know about… about my life, or… or my mom's…," he sighed. "It's my right to know about it."
"You…," Carlos took a deep breath, closing his eyes and shaking his head slightly as he collected himself. "You had a brother."
Blinking, Cecil straightened up in his seat. "What?"
"Your mother gave birth to her second son, barely two years after you were born," Carlos explained. "She couldn't… There was just no way for her to be able to provide for the both of you, with her income, so… she gave him up for adoption."
Cecil was silent for a few moments, looking down and nodding to himself before he glanced back up at the concerned psychiatrist. "Is… Can I meet him?"
Carlos grimaced and looked away. "It was a closed adoption," he said. "When I found the files about your mother and discovered that you weren't an only child, I…," he sighed, "believe me, Cecil, I tried. But there's just no way-"
"It's alright," Cecil said, eyes distant and beginning to water. Carlos thought the sight alone was breaking his heart, but it was nothing compared to what the patient said next. "It's my fault."
"What?" Carlos frowned, searching Cecil's face as though he could discern where that train of thought had come from.
"If she hadn't… If I wasn't born, I mean… She could hardly afford to take care of herself, when I was around. Maybe that's why she died. She got sick, or so they told me…," Cecil's cheeks were wet, and Carlos could tell he was barely restraining himself from sobbing. The patient looked up and whispered, "She had to take me here because she couldn't take care of the both of us." His expression darkened for a moment as he pounded his fist on the desk, startling Carlos. "And she died anyway. She visited me twice, Carlos," Cecil snapped. "It's not…," he began to sniffle as Carlos stood from his chair and moved to the other side of the desk, putting an arm around him. "It's not fair."
"I know," Carlos comforted, pulling the patient, his friend, into a hug. "It wasn't your fault, Cecil," he said. "None of it was."
Cecil clung to the psychiatrist for a minute before letting out a bitter chuckle and shaking his head. "Well, I was wrong," he said as he pulled away and looked up at Carlos, his eyes red and puffy. "I guess I can't handle it."
Thinning his lips, Carlos narrowed his eyes and nodded quickly before leaving Cecil's side and walking to the door. "I'll be right back, Cecil," he said, before the patient could ask where he was going. "Hold on."
Carlos hurried straight to his boss's office, opening the door with a firm hand and stating, "I am taking Cecil Palmer out today."
Mr. Harlan spun around in his chair to face his employee, raising a brow. "Oh?"
"Yes," Carlos said through gritted teeth. "It's a hell of a rainy day. It's pouring."
"Actually, the weather's quite nice," the older man said, leaning back in his chair and glancing out the window pointedly. "And if you'd like to take Cecil on a day trip, I suggest you put in a request at least one week prior to-"
"No, I'm not asking," Carlos said, surprising both himself and his boss. He shook his head and sighed. "Look, I'm his psychiatrist, am I not? I'm here to help him. And I'm… I'm prescribing him a day out. I'll be with him the entire time."
Mr. Harlan heaved a deep sigh and glanced down at his hands in his lap, then nodded and waved Carlos to the door in a shooing motion. "Fine," he said, watching as the psychiatrist turned to leave. "And, Carlos?"
"Don't talk to me that way again, understand?"
With a shy nod, Carlos mumbled, "Yes, sir." As soon as he left the room, a wide grin spread across his face. That was exhilarating, he thought of his aggressive behavior, and marched back into his own office.
Cecil had pretty much recovered from his previous weeping, and frowned up at Carlos upon his return before smiling along with the man. "What?" he asked, lifting a brow.
"Grab your coat, Cecil, we're going out."
"You don't mean…"
"I do mean," Carlos beamed, grabbing his keys from his desk and shoving them into his coat and taking Cecil's hand to help him to his feet. "What do you want for lunch?"
"Oh my God," Cecil practically squealed into Carlos' ear as he pulled him into a hug. "Really? Seriously?"
"Seriously," Carlos smiled, trying desperately to ignore the way his heart pounded in his chest.
Cecil grinned even as he left Carlos' embrace, but a look of uncertainty crossed his face and the psychiatrist caught it before he tried to hide it.
Holding his hands sheepishly behind his back, Cecil glanced down at his apparel. "It'll look weird, going out looking like-"
"Hey," Carlos interrupted, taking his coat off and walking behind Cecil to drape it over his shoulders. "It's okay. It's fine."
Cecil's cheeks flushed as he slipped his arms into the coat and he put on a goofy smile as Carlos led him out to the back exit.
"Oh," Carlos said, turning to the patient, "I need my keys."
Cecil shoved his hands in the pockets and pulled the keys out of the right one, placing them in Carlos' hand and taking a deep, shaky breath when the psychiatrist opened the door.
It wasn't as though he hadn't seen the sun in years; there was an outdoor area in the hospital. But it was closed off, and he couldn't even see the bakery he knew existed across the street. For the past 15 years or so, all he'd had to go on about the outside world were the sounds and smells that drifted over the walls.
Carlos turned and smiled at the wide-eyed man and led him to his car, opening the passenger side door for him.
"So," the psychiatrist said upon getting in the car and putting on his seatbelt, "any idea where you want to go?"
"There's a… a bakery, I think," Cecil said, putting on his own seatbelt and looking up at the other man. "Um, right across from the front of the hospital."
Carlos raised his eyebrows and smiled at Cecil as he started the car. "There is," he confirmed. "How'd you know?"
Cecil tapped his nose with a purposely dorky expression and said, "I could smell it."
Chuckling, Carlos backed out of the parking space and made the quick drive to the bakery. "I've actually never been here," he said after he opened the car door for Cecil, which, the more he thought about it, was probably an unnecessary and more-than-friendly gesture.
"Neither have I," Cecil joked, smiling when Carlos shut the door and began walking to the entrance. The patient paused just before they reached the door, and Carlos stopped to turn to him with an inquisitive stare. "I just… I haven't been out since I was-"
"It's okay, Cecil," Carlos assured him, walking back to his side and gently taking his hand. "We're just going to walk in, sit down, and eat. You don't even have to say anything at the register, just tell me what you want and I'll get it."
Cecil blinked quickly and looked away from the psychiatrist. "Oh, I hadn't even thought of that."
"You… having to buy me things, since I have nothing. I… I'm sorry."
Carlos smiled warmly and tugged lightly at Cecil's hand. "It's alright. I want to do this for you. Come on."
With a deep breath, Cecil nodded with a shy smile and followed Carlos into the bakery. He breathed in the scent and sighed. "This is amazing!"
Carlos let out a light chuckle as they walked to the register and gestured at the breads and pastries behind the glass. "See anything you want?"
Licking his lips, Cecil peered down at the food. "Wheat and wheat by-products are…" he began, trailing off as an annoyed look formed on his face.
"Um, what was that about wheat?" Carlos asked.
"Sorry, it's a… I guess it's a Night Vale thing," Cecil mumbled. "I got confused."
"That's alright, Cecil." The psychiatrist was suddenly reminded that he was just that, a psychiatrist, and Cecil was his patient. He sighed and let go of the other man's hand upon realizing he had still been holding it. "Wheat is perfectly fine," he said. He quickly added, "Unless you're allergic. But, you have no known allergies."
Cecil laughed a little louder than Carlos deemed necessary and looked back down, pointing at a pastry that appeared to have some sort of berry filling. "I'll have that, then."
Carlos nodded, glancing around for a cashier. "Um…"
"Excuse me?" Cecil called, standing on his tippy-toes and peering over the counter. He smiled when a young man emerged from the kitchen. "Hello, we'd like to purchase, or," Cecil turned to Carlos, "he'd like to purchase, since I'm kind of permanently broke, that pastry right there and…"
"Uh, I'll have that sesame seed bagel," Carlos spoke up. He was pretty sure he saw Cecil roll his eyes at his plain choices, and smiled to himself when Cecil nodded and led him to the register.
"That'll be nine ninety-eight," the cashier said, his voice dull as he looked up and gave Cecil a forced smile. He took Carlos' money and dropped his phony expression. "Have a nice day," he mumbled.
"Rude," Cecil said under his breath as he took the bag from the boy and walked away from the register, turning to Carlos. "Where are we eating this?"
"We can eat here, if you want, or…"
"Or?" Cecil said, raising a brow as the corner of his mouth twitched.
"Or there's a park nearby, we could walk around there, if you want-"
"I want," Cecil sang, grabbing Carlos' hand and practically running out the door. "Are we going to walk or drive there?"
Carlos smiled softly at Cecil's eagerness and nodded to the corner of the street. "It's just a few blocks in that direction," he said. "We can eat while we walk, and then get a drink at the coffee shop once we get there."
"Alright," Cecil said, pulling Carlos' bagel out of the bag and handing it to him, a skip in his step as they made their way down the street.
After a few minutes, when Carlos could no longer handle the endearing glances Cecil kept shooting at him, the psychiatrist said, "I'm somewhat surprised that you ordered for us like that. You seemed so nervous just moments before."
Cecil shrugged with a smile as he bit into his pastry. "I like people," he said, covering his mouth and giggling at his impaired speech. "Sorry," he said once he swallowed. "I like people," he repeated, "but I've been with the same ones for nearly half my life. So, I guess I was suddenly excited to talk to someone new."
Carlos nodded, chewing slowly on his food as he looked at the ground.
"That guy was a jerk, though," Cecil said, shaking his head and smiling when Carlos couldn't help but chuckle. "But I'm sure he was just having a bad day. Poor guy's stuck in that bakery all the time. I know how that feels."
"You never let it affect your attitude, though," Carlos said pointedly.
"That's true, most of the time." Cecil smiled. "Just because you're stuck in an unpleasant situation doesn't give you the right to whine about it." He widened his eyes at Carlos, which made the psychiatrist smile, as he added quickly, "My situation isn't all that unpleasant, though."
"No?" Carlos asked, mentally preparing himself for another moment in which Cecil gushes about how much he likes him. He did it quite often, and, while it'd made him somewhat uncomfortable at first, it was starting to grow on him. Cecil, himself, had grown on him. But that was exactly the kind of circumstance he was trying to avoid.
"No, because I get to see you pretty much every day."
Cecil was beaming when Carlos looked up at him, and the psychiatrist couldn't help but blush. "Ah," he said dumbly, falling silent until they reached the corner of the park.
"We're here!" Cecil cheered.
"Yes, we are," Carlos said, taking the bag from the patient and dropping it into a nearby trash can. He pointed up at the coffee shop across the street. "Want something to drink?"
Cecil nodded eagerly. "I haven't had coffee in years."
"Well, we're sticking to caffeine-free, just in case, alright?" Carlos threw an arm out in front of Cecil to keep him from crossing the street. "Light's red."
"My protector," Cecil said, bringing the back of his hand to his forehead in a feigned fainting motion.
Carlos elected to ignore that, only removing his arm when the walk signal flashed across the street.
Cecil ordered a blended berry drink, and Carlos asked him if he had a thing for berries. The patient shrugged. "My mom used to make me berry smoothies, or get berries to go on ice cream," he explained. "Y'know, when we had money…"
Carlos' heart sank and he quickly changed the subject as they walked outside, spotting a small theater at the corner of the block. "Would you like to see a movie?" he asked, immediately regretting it. Date, he thought, that is going to sound like a date to him. Even to me, it sounds like a date. He winced.
"Are you kidding me?" Cecil asked, eyes wide and hopeful when he followed Carlos' gaze to the theater. "Of course!" He sipped loudly on his drink and took the psychiatrist's hand, taking off toward their destination.
Carlos cursed himself all the way there.
"Ooh, how about that one?" Cecil asked, pointing to a movie poster for some romantic comedy he'd never heard of.
Carlos cursed himself even more as he sighed and nodded. He frowned at Cecil when the man snuck their drinks into the theater under his coat. Cecil had held a finger up to his lips and giggled.
"Wow, there's hardly anyone here," Cecil said, peering over the seats in the darkened theater before turning to Carlos with a smile. "Where should we sit? Ooh!" The patient once again grabbed Carlos' hand, which didn't even shock him anymore, and led him down to a row just a few above the middle one. "These are always the best seats," he said, "I remember."
Carlos smiled softly and sat beside the man and took his drink from him. "Thanks," he whispered. "I actually haven't been to a theater in a few years."
"I think I beat you by about a decade, though," Cecil teased quietly, and Carlos snapped his jaw shut. "Oh, relax, Carlos, don't feel bad about it."
Luckily, the previews started at that moment, preventing Carlos from having to respond as he leaned back in his seat and sucked in a deep breath. Movies weren't particularly his thing. He'd always found books to be more interesting. The subject matter of the film didn't help his nerves, either, and, about halfway through it, Cecil put his arm around the psychiatrist. He didn't stop him, didn't shrug away, didn't tell him to move. He just tensed in his seat and counted the minutes to the end of the movie.
"That was such a cute movie," Cecil beamed as they exited the theater. "Wasn't it?"
"Hm?" Carlos looked up from the ground and smiled. "Oh, yeah." He glanced down at his watch and frowned, tapping the glass with his finger. "Huh. My watch seems to have stopped working."
Cecil nudged the psychiatrist playfully in the arm. "So, you're saying time stops when I'm with you?" he chuckled.
Carlos laughed despite himself, nodding. "Sure," he said, pulling his phone out of his back pocket and checking the time. It was nearly four. Carlos suggested walking back to the park and sitting there for a while, and then grabbing an early dinner before returning to the hospital. Cecil, of course, eagerly agreed.
They talked mostly about Carlos, since Cecil wasn't exactly feeling up to talking about his childhood and the brother he never knew existed. Carlos answered most of Cecil's questions without hesitation, telling him about his family, ranting about his disapproving father for a few minutes before he remembered to be professional. When five o'clock came around, Carlos stood from the park bench they'd been seated on and gestured down the street. "We should really be getting back to the car."
"Assuming it didn't get towed, of course," Cecil said.
Carlos blinked. "I didn't even think of that."
They walked back to the bakery's parking lot and Carlos heaved a relieved sigh when he spotted his Prius.
"Could we… could we go to Arby's?" Cecil asked once they were buckled up.
"Sure," Carlos said. "May I ask why?"
"Mom used to take me there," Cecil said plainly.
Carlos closed his eyes and cursed himself for the hundredth time that evening before pulling out of the parking lot and using his GPS to find the nearest Arby's.
His boss called just as they arrived and demanded they return as soon as possible.
"What's wrong?" Cecil asked.
"Nothing's wrong, Cecil," Carlos sighed as he elected to use the drive-thru rather than go inside. "Mr. Harlan is just being…" He bit his tongue, rolling down his window and turning to ask Cecil what he wanted before ordering.
It was quiet on the drive back to the hospital. Carlos knew it saddened Cecil to have to return, especially when he knew the psychiatrist would be turning around to go back to his apartment almost as soon as he dropped him off.
"I really enjoyed today," Cecil said as Carlos pulled into his parking space. "Well, the second half of it, anyway."
"I'm sorry," Carlos said, shutting the car off and leaning back in his seat with a sigh.
"It's alright, it's not your fault!" Cecil bit his lip, and Carlos sucked in a breath, looking away. "I'm really glad we got to spend some time together, Carlos."
When Carlos looked back up at the man, Cecil was beaming at him, his eyes shining in the dim light of the street lamps, and his heart sped up. Before he could reason with himself not to, Carlos leaned over and kissed him. It was sweet, short, and soft, but enough to take the breath away from both of them. Carlos pulled away before Cecil could deepen the kiss, and gasped. "I… I'm sorry," he panicked. "I shouldn't have… I can't-"
"It's alright, Carlos," Cecil soothed, reaching out for the other man's face.
"No! No it's not!" Carlos leaned away from the patient's touch and unbuckling his seatbelt. "I'm your psychiatrist, Cecil. This isn't… I can't… That can't happen again, and I'm sorry I did it." He took a deep breath. "I'm getting too close to you, Cecil. It's impacting my ability to remain professional and… and I think I'm going to request to be transferred to another-"
"You can't do that!" Cecil shouted, tears gathering in his eyes and Carlos had to look away to keep from tearing up along with him. "I need you. I need you here."
"I don't think I'm good for you, Cec-"
"You're the best thing that's happened to me in 15 years, Carlos! I haven't…," he sighed, his voice lowering to a broken whisper. "I haven't had an episode in months. I mean, I've hallucinated here and there, but I haven't… I've been doing okay, Carlos. Better than okay; I've been happy. Please… p-please don't take that away from me."
Carlos was on the verge of tears, his heart sinking deeper into his chest with each word that came out of Cecil's mouth. He took a few deep breaths and steadied himself before nodding. "Alright," he said. "Alright, Cecil. I'll stay. I'll stay." He didn't protest when Cecil leaned over and hugged him, pulling him close to his chest and heaving a huge sigh of relief against his shoulder. "But we need to establish boundaries, Cecil."
"Okay," Cecil muttered, nodding against Carlos' chest and sniffling. "Okay."
"For one thing," Carlos said, gently lifting Cecil's head and pushing him out of his arms, "we shouldn't be this close. Ever. Not because it's necessarily inappropriate, but because it-"
"It makes us want more." Cecil nodded, sitting up and wiping the tears from his cheeks with the sleeve of Carlos' coat. "I understand."
"I'm sorry, Cecil."
"I-it's alright," the patient mumbled. "I don't want you to get in trouble, Carlos. I don't want to lose you."
"You won't," Carlos assured him. "I promise, you won't."
AUTHOR NOTE: Well, that was considerably longer than the last chapter! I actually got pretty into it. :)
I plan on updating the 15th of each month, so... let's hope I stick to that. There'll be a time late this summer/early this fall at which I might not have access to a computer, so we'll see how that works out. I'll go to a library if I have to, I suppose. -_-
Anywho, as always, reviews are much appreciated! :)