Cecil pretends like everything is fine, and like the smile he's had plastered on his face for the past twenty-four or so hours isn't fake. He tries to be a good co-worker, a good citizen, a good boyfriend. He tries. But he can't help that he's exhausted from the pretence. He keeps letting his mind wander and his eyes shift closed until someone in station management hollers for him to go home and 'get some shut-eye.' At home, he gets dreams he's never wanted. He can see Steve's face every time he closes his eyes, and he just wants to make it stop. He wants to be able to sleep for a long time and not think about anything. I should take a shower, he thinks to no one. How long has it been since he's showered?Doesn't matter, he tells himself. Sleep first, shower later.
He's had these sleep-aids in his medicine cabinet for as long as he can remember, just in case. He's been lucky, though, because he's rarely had to take them. If anyone, Carlos has needed them more often – his experiments keep him so fascinated and wired that he often has trouble getting to and staying asleep. Because it's been so long since he's needed them, Cecil can't remember how much he's supposed to take. For some reason, he can't force himself to care. He pops the cap and pours a bunch of the little capsules into the palm of his hand. Then he downs them back, sets the bottle down, and goes to lay down and sleep.
There's a voice in his head screaming, telling him to call out for Carlos or for someone. You need help, the voice tells him, but he bats it away. What would he say, even if someone came? He's been trying to get words out for the past… how long has it been? The words have been trying to escape. He's been trying to let them. They've been trying to choke them.
But it's okay. After he sleeps, it'll all be easier.
When Cecil woke up, Carlos's arms were no longer around him. In fact, he was quite cold, but there was a delicious smell coming from the kitchen. It couldn't be too bad.
He almost tripped up Carlos, startling him as they met nearly nose-to-nose. Carlos had some sort of tray in his arms, with food on it. Cecil felt his insides churn, melting together guilt from his dream and the surge of love he always feels around Carlos. Carlos, who pecked him on the nose and demanded he get back in bed. Carlos, who was making him bed in breakfast. Cecil's never had that before. As he settled back against the headboard of their bed, he tried to figure out which Night Vale he was in.
'It's so good to have you back,' Carlos said. Cecil was surrounded by food that Carlos had made, and Carlos was slipping back into bed beside him. Carlos's entire face was red with blushing. 'I was so excited I just went a little –' they looked at each other for a moment, both aware thatcrazy was the word that usually came next. Carlos managed to save the day, as always, by supplanting 'overboard' at the last minute. It's a much more fitting word, anyway.
'It's okay,' Cecil said. 'I don't think I've ever been so hungry.' He digged into the nearest food, huevos rancheros, and eyed the rest of what Carlos had made. Cheesey scrambled eggs, waffles, pancakes, hashbrowns – 'Geeze, Carlos, you think you made enough food?'
Carlos blushed. 'I just - I wanted to make sure you were well-fed. You've gotten kinda skinny.'
Cecil rolled his eyes. 'Thanks mom,' he said, but planted a kiss on Carlos's cheek anyway. The two ate in relative silence, the loudest noise in the room coming from Carlos's mouth as he chewed on his bacon. Cecil could tell he was contemplating something, wondering how to talk to Cecil about a sensitive subject. But he knew Carlos well; he wouldn't keep Cecil waiting for long.
'I've managed to book an appointment,' he said finally. 'With that woman who was working at the hospital. She's free at noon, if you'd be okay talking to her?'
Cecil had to swallow very slowly, or he might have vomitted. He felt his head pounding wickedly, but he tried to ignore it. 'Sh - Uhm, sure. It's just - you know, the hospital -'
'No,' Carlos interrupted. 'We wouldn't be meeting her at the hospital. She does appointments at her house. And besides,' Carlos licked the grease from his fingers, still avoiding Cecil's gaze anxiously. 'The hospital's been closed down, pending an investigation.'
'What?' This time, Cecil did choke just a bit. He managed to catch little bits of food onto a napkin, but was a little too shocked for the embarrassment of this slip up to really matter.
Carlos pretended to brush crumbs from his robe. 'Yeah. They've, ah, released most of the patients. The people who were at too high a risk have been transfered to another hospital. I got a call this morning from state police. They went to arrest Steve Carlsberg for the kidnapping of your friend Dana, only to find that he'd set the building on fire and left with whatever money was on premesis.' Cecil blinked, not sure how to feel about what he'd just been told. 'No one was hurt,' Carlos added lamely.
'Cecil,' Cecil looked to where Carlos sat, biting his lip. 'Cecil, they need to know if you have to go back to the hospital. They can transfer you to a nice one, not too far away, if you think you need it, but they wanted me to talk to you about it first.'
Cecil licked his lips and contemplated the pattern on the wall. When the tension in the room tightened to a nearly unbearable state and Carlos was about to just say "nevermind," Cecil provided 'Let's see what the therapist thinks.'
Cecil wasn't sure what long-dead ancient gods Carlos had to pay tribute to in order to get him this appointment with his own therapist from the mental hospital, but he was beyond thankful. They were in the woman's house, in which she appeared to let out rooms to other people. Occasionally one would stop by the sitting room where Carlos and Cecil were waving and do a little small-talk before bustling off to wherever they needed to be. Carlos hadn't really meant to come in with Cecil, but the look Cecil had given him before exiting the car clearly said please don't leave me alone. Carlos was a little anxious himself, and so was willing to oblige.
The woman, whom Cecil had described as relatively faceless, came out with a tea tray and mugs for the three of them. Carlos looked up, a little surprised. 'Oh, I wasn't – I was just going to give you two time to talk alone? I thought that's how these things were done –'
'They are,' she interrupted. 'But I wanted to meet the famous Carlos the scientist first.' Carlos blushed. 'Also, if you intend to continue your long-term commitment to one another –'
'We do!' Carlos interjected, before it occurred to him that this wasn't meant as an attack on their relationship and that he hadn't even heard all that the woman had to say. 'I mean,' he mumbled, 'I do.'
'I do as well,' Cecil confirmed, placing a hand on Carlos's right knee and looking back up to his therapist.
'I think it would be beneficial to speak to you both first, as a couple, so that we can make sure you both know what you're getting into.
'Carlos,' she said, turning slightly to face him, forearms resting on her thighs as she leaned forward. 'You will need to keep in mind that Cecil won't tell you everything.' Carlos blinked in surprise. 'Not because he doesn't love or trust you, but for his own mental health. I know a lot of people, both therapists and patients, advocate for the release of repressed memories. I'm not saying that doing so is bad, but it's not always healthy. Reliving or remembering some traumatic events can do more harm than good, and so if Cecil asks you not to push the issue, don't. Do you understand?'
Carlos nodded, and though his grip on Cecil's hand had tightened, he felt more secure with some semblance of instructions to follow.
Next, she turned to Cecil. 'At the same time, Cecil, you should try to keep in mind that closing yourself off because you don't want to bother Carlos would be damaging both to you and to your relationship. He's here to support you – that's what relationships are for. He also doesn't know what it's like to be in your position – I'm assuming?' (Carlos nodded) 'And so if you don't at least try to tell him what's going on, he can't figure out what to do or how to help you, if he can.' Cecil nodded slowly, and exchanged a look of apprehension with Carlos. His stomach was tightening, the way it always did when things were starting to feel a little too real.
'I might ask to speak to you both as a couple again, assuming this isn't your final session -'
'It isn't,' Cecil blurted.
'Good,' the woman nodded. 'But I think that's all to say for now. Carlos, would you mind leaving us in private? You can go out to the garden, if you'd like.' Carlos nodded and kissed Cecil sweet and slowly on the cheek, his fingers sliding way from Cecil's. The woman waited until Carlos's footsteps had faded away to begin again.
'Have you been suicidal at all over these past few days?' she asked. Cecil wasn't sure how to respond, or why tears started spilling onto his cheeks. He let his forehead fall into his hands, elbows resting on his thighs.
'Not - not exactly,' Cecil said.
'Not exactly? How do you mean?'
Cecil shook his head, and pulled it up to rest his chin in the palm of his hand. 'I... God, I still think about it, sometimes, but wouldn't that be selfish? Shouldn't I be thinking of the other people in my life?'
The therapist cocked her head, brows furrowing slightly. 'No, not necessarily.'
'But that's what they always say about people who kill themselves. That they're being selfish, that they should have thought of others.'
'And that statement is, in and of itself, quite selfish,' she stated. 'People who are severely depressed think that those they love - assuming they believe anyone does love them - would be better off without them. It's a frightening thing, to know someone you love has contemplated suicide, or has attempted it. But that statement isn't a valid argument because of its hypocrisy. The person saying it is afraid not for the person they love, but afraid of what they themselves might lose. They're afraid of being alone. It's understandable, but it's not a very effective approach. Really, all it will do is make the depressed party feel worse about themselves. I believe that's the desired outcome, don't you?'
Cecil nodded. He chewed on his lip for a moment. 'What did you mean by, "not exactly"?'
'I think about how much easier it would be, to be dead. But I want to be able to see Dana and Carlos. I want to be able to go to work and take walks in the dog park. I want to be able to travel to Europe and do all the things I've dreamed of doing before, and I can't do that if I'm dead.
'But I have... I've thought of breaking up with Carlos,' he sighed.
Cecil looked away from the woman, ashamed. 'Because I might never get better. We might never be able to have sex again. I could still wake up in the middle of the night, screaming or crying. I might forget which parts of what I see are real. I might lose myself, and I'll just hold him back. I can't do that to him.'
'It's true,' she said. 'You can't.' Cecil looked up at her, slightly struck. This wasn't the encouraging sort of talk he expected from a therapist, but she was smirking. 'You literally cannot hold him back - he can hold himself back, if he wants to. You need to focus on yourself, and let him help you. Even if you broke up with him, I doubt he would leave you. He's very committed.'
'Committed...' Cecil trailed off. 'He was going to propose to me, before - before the accident.' He shook his head. 'What kind of husband would I make?'
'The same kind of boyfriend you are, I'd wager,' she said. 'Your relationship with Carlos is the least frightening thing you have to deal with in this world.' She leaned forward again, pressing over the coffee table. 'Right now, it would be easier for you to retreat and regress, to defend yourself. But that's not really living, Cecil.' The therapist sat back up straight, smiling softly. 'I can't tell you what to do, but I can recommend a few things.
'The first, quite simply, is that you let yourself be taken care of.' Cecil opened his mouth to protest - he wasn't a child, after all. He was an adult, perfectly capable of handling his own faculties. But still, she spoke over him. 'Take the days off if the station gives them to you. Let Carlos make you breakfast in bed, let Dana cover your shifts. Enjoy the break. The second, is some medication.'
Cecil blanched. 'What, like - like anti-psychotics?'
'No,' she said. 'I could suggest that, if you'd like, but I'm not sure you need something that heavy. These would be for anxiety, and when taken with regular therapy should help you to deal with the nightmares.'
Cecil eyed her suspiciously. 'I don't want to be crazy anymore.'
'If you had diabetes, would you take insulin?'
'How is this different?' Cecil blinked, mouth slightly ajar, but he couldn't decide on an answer. Finally, he let his mouth close, nodding slightly to indicate his retreat. 'Now, is there anything else you'd like to talk about?'
Dana was finally released from the hospital about a week later, by her own insistance. Her parents threw a big barbeque, to which Cecil and Carlos were invited. Carlos wasn't so sure how good an idea it was for Cecil to attend such a big event, but they both were worried about Dana and it would be nice to get out of the house. It wasn't all fun and games, however. As per usual, the police picked the worst possible time to show up.
'The hell do you mean you can't find him?' Dana snapped. Liutenant Regis flinched back, slightly crumpling the hat in his hand.
'We can't cross state lines, ma'am, and it appears as though he isn't anywhere in Night Vale or the rest of the state.'
'So have the FBI go and find him!' her mother insisted. 'The man's guilty of rape and extortion and kidnapping and who knows what else!'
'Well,' the liutenant said uncomfortably, 'That's the thing. He's not actually been found guilty of anything. He hasn't been arrested, there's been no APB out for him and he's not considered dangerous. Unless some new evidence or accusation comes to light, there's nothing we can do.'
Liutenant Regis left the party with apologies on his lips and some distinctly dark colouring around his left eye. Dana and her mother both were fuming, her father trying to calm them down in a corner with some cups of lemonade. Cecil stood, cup in hand, staring at the grass. This was a test from god, surely, and Carlos didn't know if he could pass it.
'How are you feeling?' he asked. Cecil's head rose.
'Not...too bad, actually.'
'Do you need to talk to somebody?'
'I've got you.'
Carlos smiled, as Cecil cupped his hip and let his forehead fall to Carlos's shoulder. 'That's not quite what I meant.'
'I'm fine, Carlos, really. In fact, I'm kind of glad.' Carlos blinked in shock. Cecil smiled sadly. 'Not glad, mabye, but relieved. It's not that I don't want him to be punished - of course I do. I want him to be caught before he can do to anyone else what he did to me or Dana. But still... going through a court case would require so much drama. I'd have to see him again, and I don't know how good that would be for me, mentally.' He looked to Carlos, trying to read the thoughts running through his mind. 'I'm sorry.'
'Cecil, sweetheart, no,' Carlos kissed his forehead. 'If you're happy, then I'm ecstatic. If it's okay by you, it's fantastic for me.'
Cecil arched his back, panting, and pushed farther into Carlos's hand, digging his fingernails into Carlos's shoulder blades. He bit his lip to quell the whining.
Carlos kissed his cheek. 'Look at me, love. I need you to see me, to know who this is.' Cecil blinked, panting harder with the effort of staying lucid. Carlos swept his fingers through Cecil's hair, maintaining eye contact as he squeezed his hand.
Cecil gasped, his eyes squinting but not closing all the way as he came. He shivered slightly as he came down, kissing the corner of Carlos's mouth. Carlos held him close, running both hands over Cecil's smooth body. 'You okay?' he asked.
'I'm perfect,' Cecil said. It had been over two months - nearly three, in fact - since he'd said it, and meant it.
Next morning at the breakfast table, he found a glass of orange juice, a cup of coffee, and a plate empty but for a small velvet box. His insides clenched, ever so slightly.
'So I was thinking,' Carlos said, setting down the paper in his hands. 'That I'd like to marry you.'
Cecil smiled, and tried to hide it. He didn't want to get his hopes up. 'Things could go all wrong.'
'How long have we been together, Cecil? Hella long, and they haven't gone wrong yet.' Cecil raised an eyebrow. Carlos sat up straight, bended knee unfolding. 'Come here,' he said softly. Cecil walked around his chair to sit in Carlos's lap. 'I love you, Cecil. I've loved you from the moment I met you, even if I couldn't see it then. And I want nothing more than to be with you. I know what the risks are, but the risks have always been there. What's happened within this year - that doesn't change anything. It could have happened later on. It could have happened earlier on. It could still happen, again, or to me tomorrow. And I want to be there with you if it does, or when it doesn't.'
'But it's so... legal.'
'That's the point, mi amor. From where we are right now, I can't come visit you in the hospital, or sell you off into slavery, or whatever else marriage gives you the legal right to do.'
Cecil laughed, and slapped a hand over his mouth. 'Jesus, Carlos -'
Cecil licked his lips, looking into his lover's eyes and hoping to see the future. And he was so thankful, because all he could see was the present. He leaned down, lips lingering against Carlos's, and whispered, 'Yes.'