** Some Spoilers **
A really excellent story in which Carlos arrives in Night Vale traumatized, fleeing from his violent stalker sort-of-ex, Robert. Cecil falls in love with him at first sight, but it takes Carlos a year to start to warm up to the idea, because of his past - and not just with Robert. Carlos is asexual, and it has been a source of pain and loneliness to him since teenager-hood. He has given up on any kind of romantic relationship. He does want acceptance and love and even affection, but sex is abhorrent to him and he knows (from trying many times) that he can't be true to himself and be in a relationship where there is any sexual activity.
Carlos comes to Night Vale both to escape Robert and because he has always been intrigued by it, in spite of its reputation for strangeness and its high mortality rate. He muses to himself that:
Hamlet might have preferred to bear familiar burdens rather than fly to risks he didn't understand, but Hamlet was a prince, not a scientist. His actions in the play made that very clear; he hadn't even attempted to take an ectoplasmic reading after the first appearance of his father's ghost.
The first half of the book is about Carlos learning to live in Night Vale, and getting to know Cecil and beginning to trust him. At first, Carlos feels responsible (as the town Scientist) for trying to save the town from every crisis and danger, but gradually he figures out that this is how Night Vale always is, and it isn’t his responsibility to ward off destruction. Then he is free to pursue what interests him and piques his curiosity.
There is essentially a time skip of nearly a year from shortly after Carlos arrives to the main events of the story. Those who follow Welcome to Night Vale podcasts will know what happened during that year - this story goes AU after that. I actually don't listen to WTNV much - I like my stories more linear and plot driven - but I really appreciate the world. It is surreal and strange things happen all the time, but it doesn't feel like there are no rules and anything goes. The author, branwyn, does a beautiful job evoking what is like there, both for outsiders like Carlos and natives like Cecil.
Carlos has the most trouble with the temporal fluidity of Night Vale. Time doesn't run consistently there, and it doesn't pass at the same rate as the outside world. He is also very disturbed by the Whispering Forest, which speaks to him in the voices of people he cares about and tries to convince him to become part of it. He has three lab assistants, the most important of whom is Nijeia, a mostly-invisible twelve year old (keeping in mind the temporal fluidity factor – she says she has been twelve for a long time).
At the end of the time skip, the romance begins, and it is really lovely. I don’t know a lot about asexuality, but I found Carlos’ expression of it to be entirely relatable. He has lost hope of finding someone who wants him for who and how he is, because it has caused only anger and resentment – and meanness – in the past. Cecil is a near perfect match for Carlos. He does love him exactly how he is and is able to meet his needs without asking for anything Carlos isn’t comfortable giving. Interestingly it is Carlos who is a bit mean and unfair during this period, because he is such a PTSD mess. Cecil gets him, though. At one point he says, “I can't tell you how much I regret the idea that I might, for one instant, have made you feel unsafe. Just the thought of it makes me feel like I've come down with a case of throat-spiders.”
In one lovely bit, Cecil suggests marking off areas on Carlos’s body where he doesn’t want to be touched. Carlos both likes the idea and is freaked out by it. He retreats, and Cecil says:
"What was I thinking? You only just woke up, and I ambushed you with advanced relationship negotiation tactics. Ugh, Cecil." He rolled his eyes and shook his head. "You go on. I'll make breakfast, and we'll finish later."
Just as the romance is developing nicely, the action part of the plot kicks in, and the second half of the story is nonstop action, suspense, and violence. It is just as well done as the romance, with themes coming to fruition and clues and hints paying off. The ending is satisfying and well-earned on everyone’s part.