Cecil has cells.
Normal cells. Human cells. He has cells, and skin, and a face and hair and eyes, a mouth and hands. Carlos has gotten well acquainted with the latter two over the past several weeks, much to their mutual (he hopes) enjoyment. Cecil has a heart, and it beats faster in Carlos’ presence; he has lungs, and his air rushes out whenever Carlos touches him. He has blood, and it’s red, and it is, Carlos thinks, beautiful in every single way.
“Look,” he says. Angles the microscope so Cecil can peer into it and see his own erythrocytes. “That’s you.”
“They look like little donuts,” Cecil says. He sound surprised. Carlos laughs.
“They really do, don’t they?” He switches out the slides, substituting Cecil’s with a smear of his own. “And this is me.”
“Oh,” Cecil breathes. He gently rests his hands on either side of the eyepiece, like he’s trying to steady himself or – far more likely – protect Carlos’ slide from harm. When he looks up, his eyes are huge and shining. “I hope you don’t think this too forward, but your blood is absolutely lovely.”
It’s more weird than forward, but Carlos doesn’t mind. He doesn’t mind a lot of things when it comes to Cecil these days. It’s weirdly flattering, in a way, that Cecil can wax rhapsodic about his very cells. Carlos can empathize: every single one of his tests has shown that Cecil is just as human as he is, and yet he’s also absolutely not. Carlos knows he’s not, with the sort of bone-deep certainty he usually reserves for universal constants. Cecil’s not human, but he is, and Carlos finds he wants to shout it from the top of the radio tower. How wonderful this makes Cecil. How beautiful. How imperfectly and uniquely perfect.
He can’t help but wonder if this is how Cecil feels all the time. It’s…a little overwhelming.
And it’s awkward, the first time he asks Cecil if he can take some samples. Run some tests. He knows he’s not exactly the most suave person in the world, but he feels like he’s crossing some invisible line by asking these things. Drawing attention to Cecil’s strangeness, to Night Vale’s. If Cecil was any other person, if they’d met anywhere else—
There’s something so vulnerable about Cecil, something he’d never noticed before but now can’t stop noticing: the way Carlos’ continued survival matters to him in a way it’s mattered to few others, the way Carlos can make him light up or deflate with the most careless of words. Cecil, normally so unflappable, has been exposing the softest parts of himself to Carlos since the very first day. There’s responsibility in that; Carlos is terrified of fucking it up, or worse, hurting him.
“It…it wouldn’t be much,” he finds himself saying. “I just want to check your blood pH, get some cells under a microscope, that kind of thing.” The look on Cecil’s face is like watching the sun rise over the Scrub Lands. Soft and open, and strangely beautiful.
“You want to do science with me,” Cecil says.
“Um. Something like that, yeah?”
The grin, building behind Cecil’s expression like a midday thundercloud, bursts forth in a deluge of giddy happiness. “Science is great!” Cecil says. Carlos doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to that, Cecil’s boundless enthusiasm, his sheer joy in everything Carlos offers. “I love science.” And then, a little more shy and far more eager: “Can I test yours too?”
And Carlos has no idea what to call it, this feeling that presses against his diaphragm and shoulders aside his lungs, the one that makes his throat tighten and his ribs splinter and his heart clench. “Of course,” he says, “of course,” and it’s hard to tell which of them is more excited when it turns out their blood pH is exactly the same, a staggeringly normal 7.4.
“Huh!” Cecil says brightly. His shadow is agitated but cheerful today, and Carlos thinks, far more quietly, Huh.
Cecil’s grin is blinding, the brightest thing in the room. His eyes are the color of the Sand Wastes at midnight and he’s human, and he’s not, and he utters a little hiccup of a sigh when Carlos cups his face between his hands and kisses him, carefully, careful like the way Cecil had touched the microscope earlier.
“I like you exactly as you are,” Carlos says softly. “You know that, right?”
“Oh,” Cecil says. “That’s also how I—I mean, I…that is to say…”
He’s crimson, clearly flustered. It’s not fair, Carlos thinks, that there’s no name for the feeling welling in his belly and chest and spilling through his every pore. English and Spanish are both inadequate, and Latin is covered in too much dust. The word he needs now is big and all-encompassing; something that allows him to quantify the particular brand of awed terror and joy he feels when he closes his eyes and feels Cecil reshaping himself beneath his hands. A word that allows him to describe how it feels to watch Cecil’s shadow twine around his arms like a happy snake while knowing the man’s DNA looks and functions exactly as his own.
“Looking at you is like staring into the heart of a nuclear explosion,” Carlos says. He has no idea where the words are coming from. “And in that moment right before I disintegrated in a roaring atomic inferno, every cell in my body would sigh your name.”
Cecil just stares at him. For a moment, Carlos feels incredibly stupid – what was he thinking, saying that? – and then his arms are suddenly full of Cecil and the kiss is wet and open-mouthed, just this side of frantic. When they finally break off for air, Cecil traces Carlos’ cheekbones with his thumbs, his breath still coming fast and hard. “That’s the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me,” he says. “Ever.”
Carlos doesn’t have a word for this, but…
He thinks that’s all right.