Series: Welcome to Night Vale
Pairing: Cecil x Carlos
Summary: At first, he thinks it is a mole.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Author's Note: New fic for a new fandom. Ooo, the nervous butterflies…!
Warnings: Random, mildly-confusing headcanons, I guess? Wibbly-wobbly timey wimey. Cecil x Carlos. Subtle-ish (and not so subtle-ish) religious allusions. Prose that isn't nearly as sinfully sweet or gut-wrenchingly disturbing as that which other authors in this fandom have offered, but I tried. Fail editing, too, probably.
I. At first, he thinks it is a mole.
Well, concludes, really. His true first thought had been that it was a blot of ink—some previously unnoticed smudge that stained the ball of his hand where it met the joint of his wrist. Like he'd missed when capping his (highly illicit) pen, and hadn't noticed accidentally stabbing his own flesh. Or, maybe, had forgotten accidentally stabbing his own flesh. It'd been known to happen, time to time.
But that had been earlier, hours earlier, and no amount of scrubbing has removed the blemish. In actual fact, he comes to realize, the discoloration is some new, marginally-alien part of himself. Some small, seemingly-insignificant speck of excessive melanin that—as of this moment—does not blister, or itch, or mutate into a 15 inch spiraled horn, and so he assumes it is at least (temporarily) benign. Or as benign as any discovery can be, when made in Night Vale.
And so, for the time being, he puts the darkened blotch's appearance on the metaphorical backburner, choosing instead to focus on his lab's literal backburner, which had recently taken to spewing a neon array of smoke rings that smelt of burning ozone and candied yams. It's probably nothing, anyway, he tries to reassure himself—still obstinately clinging to the foolish, outsider notion that, every so often, paranoia is uncalled for. (A truly stupid notion, to be blunt.) Regardless, he quickly forgets as easily as if it actually were nothing… Distracted, perhaps, by the ethereal rings banding together to form a miniature, multicolored wind funnel that leaves a trail of mayonnaise in its wake.
(And in the hazy recesses of his deepest mind-pockets, there is a ghost of a thought, of a memory, of a crystalline shadow that undulates like the midday mirages of the sand wastes, of a time when maybe he would have felt so much more for a ghastly flaw upon his beautiful, perfect, immaculate skin.)
II. Sometimes, he is convinced that Night Vale doesn't exist.
He admits as much to Cecil, his voice catching on beneath-the-breath murmurs, his throat tingling with the sandpaper hoarseness of one who has been yowling hysterically for a lifetime. In a way, he feels like he has. A physical way: lungs raw and heavy, flinching diaphragm sore, tongue swollen enough to choke on as he roughly swallows the last of his French fries. For all intense and purposes, he may as well have been shrieking like a banshee all week. But in truth, he hasn't been screaming much, these days. Not like he used to. Sans, of course, those mandated bouts every other Saturday.
But that had been last weekend. This weekend is Cecil, and fast food, and poorly phrased admissions. (He is not the orator in this relationship, after all.)
"It's… I— how...? That is… Night Vale just… There's nowhere else on Earth like it. You know?"
(But no, no, how could he know, when Cecil has never left the city boarders? Except for that alleged trip to Europe, but as he'd been quick to point out, the places that Cecil had named were little more than scrambled vowels and consonants and air. They were not a part of any Europe, any planet, that he had studied in school. And yet, when asked for a list of "proper" countries, he found himself unable to scrounge up a single name.)
Despite its incoherency, Cecil still smiles at his lover's confession. A smile is often Cecil's response to things. When he is shown the science—the math that doesn't add up, the stars that shouldn't be, the physics that the city itself has either forgotten or chosen to ignore—that smile just widen-widen-widens all the further. And he watches, scientifically fascinated, as those sensuously smooth lips slit rune-scarred cheeks just a little higher, just a touch farther, than he's sure they had stretched the day before.
The void of his mouth is a microcosm of the one held on strings high above: velvet and cold and black and humbling.
"I agree completely," the radio personality sweetly coos, warm eyes crinkling behind the thick, unidentifiable-plastics of his spectacles. Beneath the hovering lights that do not belong to the Arby's, Cecil's pale hair and pale skin and pale, pale teeth nearly seem bioluminescent. Violet. Bright. "Though I confess, that might just be my own hometown bias talking."
(He doesn't remember his hometown, anymore—its name, its location, its people. He wishes he did, at times; it would make comparative research much easier. But for the most part, he tries not to think too hard about this information gap festering in his brain, tries not to let the realization dawn on him consciously, lest it invoke an epiphany that he is not prepared to have. Instead, he reminds himself of his old, dusty desire for More. More. That much he still knows, still feels keenly, in the same, claw-in-the-gut way that a person can still feel fast food hours after forcing its gore and garbage into their system. He'd wanted More, so much More, than what a backwoods suburbia and its community college could offer… And there are some days, even now, when he has to remind himself that— for all of its flaws—, Night Vale is, at least, not There.)
He is jarred from ouroboros thoughts by a kiss, soft as the paw of a levitating cat. Cecil tastes of roast beef and mint. And when he pulls away, it is with the same playfulness he'd had upon leaning in: like someone had reversed a film strip and looped it around. Beneath the street and sky lights, the younger man's grin is bashful, his shoulders hunched and feet pigeon-toed where they rest against the car's bumper. Despite 35.2 years of life and a row of slightly serrated teeth, the creature beside him shines with the innocence of a love-drunk child. It is a perfect moment…
Or would have been, had he not forgotten himself and blinked. A sad accident; some undeterminable amount of broken, warped, or potentially-nonexistent time passes in a flash. Gone. When his eyes finally refocus, it is to find himself at home, in bed, with the radio on. Low, because it's pledge drive season, and everybody knows that volume and the donation amount forcibly retrieved from your bank account are directly correlated. The weather is playing, something melodic and haunting. It makes the air taste like processed sugar.
He stares at the ceiling, now inviting time to pass. Waiting for their next dinner date.
Soon, there is static.
And sometimes, after midnight descends and the French fries digest, he finds himself craving a meat that he can't quite think of the name of. Something familiar, something so familiar, just on the tip of his tongue. He struggles to label it, but no. Nothing. Perhaps it was from Europe.
(If there ever was a Europe.)
III. There is always science to do, and thus, often bodies around. Granted, those bodies don't tend to be alive, and so they don't require much attention from their host. (Emphasis, unfortunately, on "much.")
But every once in a while—more now than before— he will entertain company with a pulse. A racing one, at that. And while he'd never be mistaken for a social butterfly, he is well-versed enough in manners to know that it'd be rude to ignore a guest. Even more so when said guest is his boyfriend. So on occasion, despite tectonic shifts that need to be recorded, or a pulsating rift in the fabric of space-time, or the fact that he seems to be perpetually out of canned peaches, he will pause, and breathe, and lie with Cecil upon his futon, pushed into the corner with the fewest beakers and vials.
(Beakers and vials everywhere, splintering and broken, their sharp shards glittering like ice. Make-shift daggers stained in blood as the dark of night becomes the orange of sunrise—but it isn't sunrise—and the sun isn't so much rising as it is expanding, exploding, enveloping the ground and the walls and those melting bits of glass and if only he hadn't—)
He is half-atop of and half-asleep on his new lover, his eyes idly following the thick, ebony swirls and abyss-like otherness of Cecil's tattoos. Ancient, woven patterns in long-dead languages and subconsciously understood pictograms, terrible and titillating. Each line—as if a sort of gas, or plasma, or living entity—undulates lazily beneath the fragile film of the other's flesh, their appearance shifting subtlety. Quavering softly. Swelling slowly. With a shimmer like contaminated mercury, slick and silver beneath a coat of tar.
He is sure there is less milk-white skin beneath his cheek now than there was yesterday.
(He had looked for a tattoo parlor, once. When he had first arrived, had first noticed the ancient markings that every citizen had, to some degree, had carved into their bodies. But for all of his scouring of the grotesque, yet quaint little town—like something out of a bizarre, 1950s nightmare—he had found nothing.)
His arm is draped across Cecil's chest. Palm-up. Wrist exposed.
The not-mole is now more of an oval than a circle.
IV. ("How long have you lived here?" he asks, partly in the name of science, but also partly for personal reasons. Cecil—mauve tie loose around his collar, pale hair still mussed from wearing headphones— cocks his head in a mulling sort of way, his glasses slipping a bit down his nose. As they stroll past, the holy radiance from Old Woman Josie's house catches on those thick lenses, glinting in mini bursts of cross-shaped light.
He is smiling again. Of course he's smiling. And that smile is every bit as lovely as a sun-bleached corpse's as he finally replies, "Why, for as long as I can remember.")
"You misunderstood me entirely," Cecil protests, sounding just a trifle miffed as he rustles through what appears to be a ream of blank paper. In truth, it is the Night Vale Daily Journal, which Cecil reads from cover to cover every day. Because as a journalist, he says, it's important that he remain up to date on all current issues. "Goodness. I do worry that you don't listen, sometimes."
"But you said you were born and raised here," he rebuttals, albeit a touch weakly, because he can never not feel guilty about upsetting Cecil, however minor his transgression. It is an unfortunate byproduct of being "perfect" in the other's eyes, he supposes: the stomach-souring recognition of his own imperfections exacerbated by the fact that he has fallen short of someone's expectations. It's very tiring, some days. "When I asked, you—"
"Everyone is born and raised in Night Vale," Cecil interrupts— not unkindly, but with a chuckle and a sort of parental exasperation as he turns another page. Whatever articles he has decided to imagine must be very short today; soon he is sighing, looking up, and carefully folding the paper into thirds. "So you've no reason to be jealous of or feel intimidated by your current status as an 'outsider.' Soon enough, you will be seen as the rest of us are. That is the magic of Night Vale. Your age or status or rank beyond the borders of this town no longer matter once you set foot here, as you are required by Council mandate to start fresh upon arriving. You're not the you that you were before you came here, are you?"
"I— W—Well, no…"
"And that new you has not remained unchanged over the course of your time in Night Vale, has he?"
"Of course not, but—"
"There you are, then."
"But that's—that's not the same as your situation at all!" he objects, voice tinged by some repressed smatterings of irritation, because what Cecil has described is not nearly the same as what he'd meant to imply. He did not go to school here, or have family here, as Cecil did; he did not have memories of childhood adventures or any nostalgic ties to places around the town. They are not the same, no matter what his lover claims. He has to make him understand that. He tries to rephrase: "Okay. Okay, okay. So. To quote, then. You said you've lived here for as long as you can remember, right? Well, that's because you were young, and human memory can only go back so far. As an adult, my memories stretch back much farther."
Cecil does little beyond arch a mildly amused eyebrow. "Then tell me, my dear. What is your earliest memory?"
He opens his mouth. Closes it. Opens it again; closes. Like a fish, wide-eyed and gasping as it's tossed onto a cutting board, suffocating beneath the guillotine of a knife. He pauses. Freezes, more like: face warping in a near-comical, cartoonish sort of scrunch.
He remembers… the car. The car ride to Night Vale. And the deep, chocolate-syrup voice that oozes from the radio, distant then but growing closer. Closer. So close, now— you are safe, you are home—and then closer, and then here, waiting and watching, with a touch of sympathy glinting in his pretty, opalescent eyes.
("What do you remember?"
Tangled in sheets, in limbs, in sinewy darkness interspersed with streaky bursts of helicopter headlights, a pale, pale Cecil pants, and gasps, and moves-and moves-and moves, clutching a hieroglyph-imbued hand around his own sweat-slickened throat.
The obsidian lines on his fingertips multiply like cancer.)
V. He never sees moving trucks.
(Did he ever move? He can't recall now. Moving houses, houses moving. Moving his own, evolutionarily ludicrous feet. Moving his mouth. He's on a street. Moving—shifting—stopping. Watching. Wishing he had that, and that, and more money for more Things, even if just in passing, even if he knows he wouldn't ever use those Things, watching boxes being loaded and unloaded and loaded and unloaded and)
He never actually sees anyone move into town, despite frequent talk of travelers and outsiders and Hondas and Civics and Accords trundling through the desert. There are never any house hunters or apartment seekers. As far as he can tell, one day new neighbors simply are, as if conjured up from nothing to replace whoever had been kidnapped by velociraptors or consumed by pestilence or swallowed up by that sinkhole that appears in the town square every ninth Tuesday of the month. For as many that mysteriously vanish, just as many mysteriously appear, and join the other, cowering masses beneath the shadow of an appropriately named government.
The shadows are especially active, today. Antsy, even. A great number have ripped themselves from the feet of their fleshy, three-dimensional counterparts and have taken to roaming the surfaces of the street at random, staining alleyways and shop walls with what appear to be pieces of sentient, independently-mobile, humanoid graffiti. Though he has no luck tagging them—seeing as they are nothing more than an absence of light, and thus have no corporeal forms to attach tags to— he nevertheless tries to track the shadows, and in doing so winds up inadvertently wandering in directions known for attracting darkness. And trouble.
He doesn't fully notice his proximity to That Which Is Forbidden until the silhouettes he'd been monitoring are all unceremoniously slurped up by the shadow of a slick, looming wall. It seems to come from nowhere; one moment, his shoes are white atop the pavement—the next, everything is a murky, half-rotten gray. Like eggs after moldering for 20 years in a leaking pickling jar, rotten and fuzzy and noxious. The sudden shift has his neck snapping, chin jolting up to reassess his surroundings…
And there, the Dog Park. There, the black helicopters. There, the hooded figures—no eyes, no bodies, nothing but obsidian, static-riddled gloom, watching, watching, wanting.
He doesn't look. He doesn't think.
(But still, he is a scientist, damned to be observant, and so despite his best efforts, he notices. Can't help but notice, really, close as they'd been— can't stop himself from realizing that the creatures' infamous hoods are not really hoods, and the robes which engulf them not really robes, and the color of those swirling, rippling, not-hoods and not-robes are so bone-chillingly, bowel-twistingly familiar… like contaminated mercury, slick and silver beneath a coat of tar.)
VI. Despite the general aura of fear and loathing that surrounds the pastime, there remains a handful of citizens who enjoy reading (at their own risk), and are thus highly put-out when their books stop working. The third time this happens—in as many months—a number of the city's bibliophiles turn to science (and, consequently, to him) to get to the bottom of things. He doesn't mind, really, since he has a soft spot for those in need… Moreover, fixing the problem is to his benefit, as well, seeing as he has a number of textbooks he is fond of consulting, but which are currently the consistency of warm jelly. And so it is that his laboratory becomes the new home of a collection of strange tomes, including a comic that won't stop spitting water, a Harlequin print that has apparently contracted herpes, two self-help books that are bleeding full sentences from their spines, and a set of novels that have been bound in chains in a vain effort to impede them on their hunt for human livers.
There is also a Bible.
(You're filthy, disgusting.)
Knocking about in the back of his cranium, some cynical part of himself is already crafting an array of wry wisecracks. Nothing overly witty; just general sarcasm, mostly. Something wrong with the Bible? That's nothing new, he scathingly muses, but refrains from saying aloud—even in the silent solitude of his room—because he isn't particularly good with words (let alone jokes), and making such crude cracks, even internally, leaves him feeling… shifty. Uncomfortable. For reasons he cannot fully form or properly explain, despite how much something wheedles and prods at his memory cortex.
(You're no son of mine. You're a sinner, and you'll wind up with the others in the Pit.)
Apathetic and stone-faced, he watches as sheet upon sheet of rice paper leisurely curdles, flakes, and fades, smoldering into a fine ash within the cradle of his hands. For an instant, he is not sure if this reaction is merely this tome's particular illness, if they've entered into a localized vortex that has rapidly aged its pages, or if he's suddenly developed some sort of new mental power that allows him to destroy unsavory things that have been crafted from tree pulp. It's a tossup, all things considered.
(You know what? I hope I do. I hope I wind up there. Just to spite you.)
And then, from seemingly nowhere, he has a thought. Again. A repeat of the first thought he'd had his first day here, when he had first stepped out of his sandblasted car and had first felt his skin shrivel and crack beneath the sweltering heat of the sun. It'd been a glib thought, then.
It isn't now.
VII. It's inching up his arm.
Like Cecil's lips, inching up his arm. Elbow. Shoulder. Feathery pecks and fluttering lashes, a tickle like cockroach legs against his skin. It's growing. Dark and thick, like silver and tar—seeping into his veins and riding his blood cells to the throbbing chambers of his heart. His heart, which pounds and skips and soars and shudders as his lover nuzzles nearer. Black nails on black fingers attached to black hands that curl around his forearms, possessive and desperate. Like holding to a life line.
But not really. Not really.
It's too late for that, after all.
("Night Vale just… There's nowhere else on Earth like it. You know?"
"I agree completely.")
"Cecil…" he moans, and the darkness moans in kind: a writhing, roiling darkness that curls itself around his hips, grinding down with a buck and a hiss. The clinging gloom shifts in hoary folds, swirling about bird-boned limbs like a swath of ethereal fabric cut from the nebulas above. Like everything about everything, it is breathtaking, terrifying. It pricks and stings at some emotion just-behind his eyes, leaves them burning like the exposed, deteriorating muscles of a carcass cast into the scrublands.
("N- No, Cecil. No, that's not what I'm saying."
"I know." And he does know, he does. He does. We have all been scientists at one point or another in our lives.)
Longing. Loneliness. Love. Fears and memories and nightmares, and the mundaneness of a half-forgotten life that no amount of collective group-think can permanently will into (re)existence. Because there are holes, you see, and puncture wounds from jagged baby teeth against his throat and pillow and in the paper-thin surface of this final, frantic façade. This lie that they tell themselves, like so many other, familiar lies that they must have told themselves before waking up in this God-forsaken town. It doesn't matter, in the end. Reality will always, always trickle through. And the reality is…
("You know? You know what?"
"Night Vale. There's nowhere else on Earth like it.")
"Cecil," he cries again, and that's all that he can say—all that he's allowed to say, tears of sulfuric acid blurring his vision as he reaches, despairing, up-up-up towards that brilliant, blinding, blackening smile. There is no sun today. No moon. No bioluminescent blushing, or matches, or candles, or pyres, or stars. There is nothing. Nothing else. "Cecil," is all, everything, and he wants so much more, so much, so badly, please, no, don't, don't go, if you do, in every way, this place really will be—
The binding, inky bands give a final, audible pulse.
"Shhh," the shadows soothe, a hollow sound that fades to static.
And Carlos is alone.
Proverb: There's a special place in Hell. It's really hip. Very exclusive.