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The Kids From Yesterday

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Do you know how a song can sometimes just encompass an experience? Anytime you ever hear it again, no matter where you are or who you're with… it always reminds you of that same certain experience? Yeah? Well… this is one of those songs, one of those experiences…

 

"Bye, Mom!" Kyle Broflovski called out as he held the front door of his house in one hand, waiting for the predictable reply.

"Have a good day at school, Bubula," she called back from the kitchen as Kyle mouthed the words perfectly in rhythm, despite the music blaring over his headphones. "Study hard and don't get into any trouble!"

"'K!" Kyle pulled the door shut and skipped down his front steps, heading towards the bus stop, where he could already see two of his friends waiting.

o/~ Cause you only live forever in the lights you make
When we were young we used to say
That you only hear the music when your heart begins to break
We are the kids from yesterday ~/o

"Hey, dude," Stan Marsh greeted his Super Best Friend, looking up momentarily from his Nintendo DS screen to smile. It was one second too long, though, and he groaned as his eyes returned to the game, smacking one hand to his forehead.

Next to him, Kenny McCormick snickered and raised one fist triumphantly in a mimic of his champion's victory pose.

"Guys, I have excellent news!" Kyle settled his headphones around his neck and bounced lightly from one foot to the other, hardly able to contain himself.

"Spill!"

"Yeah, spill!"

"Well, you know last night was the last night of Channukah, so my parents had my final present waiting for me after dinner, and at first, I was kind of disappointed, because it was only an envelope and I'd been hoping for Rock Band 3…"

"Dude, get to the point," Stan waved one hand at him, used to Kyle's tendency to ramble when excited.

"How do you guys feel about a road trip?" Without waiting for a response, Kyle barreled ahead in his explanation. "One of the guys at my dad's office, he's got this condo, but his family's not using it this year, so he asked if my dad wanted to borrow it! And since I already know I'm getting straight A's again this semester, my parents thought they would…" And here Kyle raised his hands to give quotations marks as he mimicked his mother's voice. "Reward my sense of ethics and responsibility…' and they're letting us go skiing! Alone, just us!"

"Dude, seriously?" Stan's eyes widened, trying to imagine his own parents trusting him that much.Not a chance in hell.His mother was always snooping around his room looking for evidence that he'd gone to the Dark Side – as if he'd keep anything important where she could find it – and his father was just… irrational and unreliable. Well, that was really a generalization…One day yes, one day no, one day my "buddy", the next, my executioner…Stan never knew what reaction he'd get from his father on any given topic on any given day – or whether Randy would even remember to give the same response both times if asked twice. On the other hand, Kyle's parents were usually more overprotective than anyone else in the entire town. "They're actually letting us go unchaperoned? Where is this place, the next town over?"

"No, Wyoming!" Kyle exclaimed proudly, lifting his chin a little as if daring his friends to mock the offering. Getting out of town, especially getting out of town with parental consent, was worth a lot these days and Kyle had his own reasons for wanting to escape for awhile. He was actually just a little surprised at his parent's offer, but he'd be an idiot to look a gift horse in the mouth.No school, no parents, no excuses…"The condo's in Jackson Hole, at the base of the Teton mountains…"

"Native Americans named the Tetons after titties," Kenny offered, then added. "Sounds cool." Of course, any chance to hang with his friends was fine by Kenny, and getting out of town (likely all expenses paid knowing the Broflovkis) sounded like an awesome Christmas present.

"…and I am somehow not surprised that you already know that," Kyle grinned with a slow shake of his head, then crossed his arms over his chest and addressed them more seriously. "Over the break, New Year's," he continued in explanation. "There's only one problem…"

A loud rumble sounded from down the street and Stan glanced towards it as he finished Kyle's sentence. "None of us has a car."

As if on cue, a bright yellow Hummer sped towards them, squealing to a stop with the passenger window already rolled down. "Morning, peons," Eric Cartman called out over the thumping bass of the music coming from his car.

Stan took one step closer to Kyle until they were shoulder to shoulder and then muttered, just loud enough for only the redhead to hear. "You gonna ask him?"

"Got a better idea?" Kyle muttered back, shifting the shoulder strap of his book bag restlessly.

"Anyone wanna beg for a ride to school?" Cartman sneered, revving the engine a little. "Or are the babies going to ride the wittle ole school bus wiff Butters?"

An outsider might think this scene was a first, Kyle thought, but in fact, Cartman had pulled up to the bus stop every day since he'd gotten the yellow monstrosity for his 16th birthday with the same line. No matter who answered what, they all invariably ended up riding together every day anyway. Cartman just enjoys lording it over us as often as possible.
Kenny leaned in the open window to be certain the other two wouldn't hear him. "We still on for tonight? I know tomorrow's Christmas Eve, but it's Wednesday-"

"Duh," Cartman cut him off gruffly, then added loudly. "What's that, Keh-neh~" he sang. "I didn't quite hear that please."

"Fuck you," Kenny responded loudly, opening the passenger door and sliding in, knowing the other boy wouldn't stop him. "Shotgun." He sounded pissed off, but behind his favorite orange parka, he was smirking.

Stan yanked open the door to the back seat and climbed in, reaching back to offer Kyle a hand up into the vehicle as Cartman abruptly switched songs on his iPod, inspired by Kenny, and turned up the music. Cee-lo was playing and he began to parody the words as they took off towards the High School on the other side of town.

"Yeah I'm drivin' 'round town with Stan & Kyle, and I'm a-like FUCK Yooouuuu~~~ Kenny stole the change from my pocket but it wasn't enough and I'm a-like FUCK Yoooouuuu~~~"

Kyle rolled his eyes, tapping Kenny's shoulder and making a motion to turn down the stereo. "Hey… Eric…" Kyle started carefully, unsurprised when Cartman tilted the review mirror to glare at the suspicious use of his first name. "Are you going out of town for the holidays?"

"What's it to you, Jew?" Cartman snapped back, screeching the car to a halt again and taking a side street as he glanced at the clock. Perfect Timing, as always, Eric. Hitting the button to roll down his window, he leaned out and cackled loudly, reaching with his other hand to crank the music up again. "I pity the foooooo~ooool who's gotta ride the bus~ he's a huge turd, yeah, just thoughtcha should know it~~"

Kenny reached to turn the music down again, but looked away from Cartman and intended victim Butters, pretending to fidget with the other myriad buttons on the dashboard.
Kyle watched the sun roof open and close, open and close, then eyed the clock. I really don't want to be late to Physics again. "Knock it off," he smacked Cartman in the shoulder, then waved out the window at Butters. "Good morning!"

"Oh, umm… good morning, Kyle… " Butters fidgeted awkwardly, but Cartman didn't give him time to say anything else. The window snapped back into place, Cartman swung the car though a u-turn that almost set them on two wheels, and the ride to school resumed.

"You were saying?"

Kyle frowned, but decided now was not the time to resume the war over Cartman's treatment of their friend. "We're planning a trip over New Year's to go skiing-"

"Snowboarding," Stan and Kenny interrupted simultaneously, reaching to slap each other an exploding fist bump.

"Whatever," Kyle continued, "Point is, we're getting out of town and want to know if you want to come with us. One of my dad's coworkers lent him a timeshare."

"Parentals?"

"None."

"Seriouslaay?" Cartman swung the car into the school parking lot, making sure to park just over the line so that no one would park next to him.

"Seriously."

There was silence in the car for a long moment and Kyle and Stan met eyes, mutually shrugging without word or gesture.

"I'm in – on one condition!"

Kyle forced himself to hide his inward cringe with a small frown. "Condition? What the fuck? I'm inviting you on a free vacation, you asshole!"

"Right," Cartman snorted. "Because I'm the only one who can get us there! Say it, Kaahl!" Cartman turned to look over his shoulder, lowering his aviator sunglasses to sit on the end of his nose. "Say that I am the only one who can get us there. Tell me you need me, Kaahhhhl~! PrincessLeia style, Kaahhhl~!"

"Dude," Stan tried to interrupt, but Kyle reached out to touch his knee as he sighed dramatically, repeating in a monotone. "Help me, Eric Cartman Kenobi, you're my only hope… come on, seriously, dude, we need you to drive and you know it, so save the speeches for after school – I really can't be late to Physics again!" He flung the door open, slid out and was gone with Cartman's whiny reply calling out behind him.

"Fiiine, I'm in!"

"Jesus Christ," Stan muttered under his breath. He flung the back door open and slid out of the car, chasing after Kyle, who was already halfway up the stairs, and Kenny caught them just as they all hit the main doors.

"He agreed to that way too easily," the blond warned them, but neither of his friends looked concerned.

"Nah," Kyle shrugged as he stopped at his locker to deposit his lunch and his afternoon books. "You really think he'd let us go on an awesome trip and leave him behind? Argue with me too long and I'd find another way to get there and he knows it."

"If you say so," Kenny shrugged, then waved as he disappeared around the corner to his morning Study Hall – aka, cafeteria back door morning joint… excellent.

"You don't even have a school bag today?" Kyle observed as he shut his locker and started to walk towards his Physics class.

"Why bother? It's the last day before break," Stan shrugged and grinned, pausing when they reached the door to Kyle's classroom and leaning casually against the door frame. "Meet you in the usual spot and I'll-"

"We'll check the mail together," Kyle finished with a grin.

Chapter Text

o/~ Well now this could be last of all the rides we take
So hold on tight and don't look back
We don't care about the message or the rules they make
I'll find you when the sun goes black ~/o

"Are you sure you have everything?"

Kyle rolled his eyes, his back to his mother so that she couldn't see as he climbed up into the back of the yellow Hummer to sit beside Stan – Kenny had called Shotgun again, of course – and pulled the door shut behind him before leaning out the window. "I've got the cell so you can nag me, the homing device for the mountains and both my home and travel insulin kits. Seriously, Mom, after all the messes we've gotten into, you shouldn't be worried about a little ski trip!"

Under his breath so that the sound wouldn't carry out the window, Cartman started to hum the tune to "Kyle's Mom is a Bitch" and Kyle shot him a swift glare.

Sheila frowned and huffed a huge sigh. "When it's you four… well, have fun and be careful, sweetie!"

Kyle was the last to be picked up, so a few minutes later they were on the way to Jackson Hole, heading first east to Denver, then north through Cheyenne. It was a good eleven hour drive, but they'd gotten a decently early start, which meant that five minutes into the trip, Stan was slumped against the window snoring, Cartman was bitching about the old lady in the station wagon doing thirty in front of them, Kenny was messing with the stereo's settings and Kyle was taking pictures of all of them on his iPhone.

A sense of relief washed over Kyle as they cleared Denver and headed north. Other than Kenny's occasional music shuffling, the ride had been quiet so far and Kyle's thoughts drifted out and away as he watched the changing scenery speeding by. It was probably his mother's fault that he tended to be a worrier by nature, but somehow, despite all of the craziness they'd endured over the years, Kyle always felt safer when with his friends. He'd stopped worrying about why it made sense a few years ago and had mostly learned to enjoy it, no matter what the situation. A history of "greatest hits" played in his mind as he wondered what this trip had in store for them and it wasn't long before he'd dozed off as well.

o/~ It felt so wrong, it felt so right, don't mean I'm in love tonight… I kissed a girl and I liked it… ~/o

"Oh God, Kenny, are you playing Katy Perry?" Kyle mumbled with a yawn as a particularly jarring pothole roused him. "Why that song?"

"Have you seen her? She's fucking hot!"

The sun was low in the sky and the boys were passing a box of cheesy poofs around in a circle. Kyle stole the box and grabbed a handful as Stan passed it back to Kenny, catching his friend's eyes and smiling. "She has better songs," he protested, leading Kenny to loudly defend his choice of girl-kissing and then offer his commentary on her general wardrobe. "Firework's lyrics have a great message-"

"This song does too!"

As if Stan was reading Kyle's mind, he used the argument as a distraction to grab his backpack, rifling through the contents until he came up with his prize, which Kyle rewarded with a low and quick exploding fist bump.

"Dude, the video with the candy wonderland is fucking sweet!" Cartman was now arguing with Kenny as the playlist moved on to Lady Gaga – also hot . Cartman had to admit to himself that he enjoyed Kenny's taste in music, even if there was a distinct trend towards hot half-naked girls. Besides, who can deny the Gaga? Heh heh.

"Hey, Kenny," Stan interrupted before his friends could get going on another "pop stars they'd like to…" rant. "Dude, we have a belated Christmas present for you!"

"Yeah!" Kyle chimed in as Kenny turned in his seat, his entire face lighting up momentarily, then falling immediately.

"Dude, I thought we said no presents!"

Kyle held up one hand to stop the fight before it could even get started as Stan pushed the gift into his hand. "Kenny, your gift to us is playing it – because it's just more fun with more friends to trade with."

"Holy shit!" Kenny exclaimed as he ripped the wrapping paper and squashed bow off of the box, already having pieced the verbal clues into the answer. "AHAHA! You guys ROCK!"

"Aww, come on," Kyle protested, though it was with a shit-eating grin plastered across his face. After all, he was the one who had convinced his father to give permission to use the credit card to order the games from the Japanese import website. "We've played every single Pokemon together since the very first one!"

"Dude, is this in Japanese?" Kenny had turned back around and slid way down in his seat, tucking his knees up to his chin and holding the box up in front of him for a moment in glee before abruptly diving for his backpack to search for his game system. On the way to finding it, his hand brushed by something else and he realized he did have a present in return.

"Yeah!" Stan answered as Kyle started to slowly read the katakana on the front and translate it for them. "It won't be out in America until March, but we decided that we just couldn't wait. Dude, you can totally play it without reading a fucking word, I swear."

Kenny's dealer lived in Denver.

"Pokemon is lame, you guys! LAME! L A M to the E!"

Well, he had once lived in South Park, the older brother of one of his older brother's friends, but then he'd met this waitress working at Raisins and they'd moved to Denver to do this artsy community living thing. Maybe they're polygamists?

"I heard you tell Butters that you named your Hummer Pikachu!"

""He's jeaaaaalous!"

"Nuh-uh! No way! I don't need some lame-o Pokey-man present from you guys!"

They actually lived on a compound on a couple acres of farmland a little outside the city – not a convenient location to get to if you were a sixteen year old boy from a small mountain town – but a truly excellent location for a hidden greenhouse. And in the druggie world of a friend of a friend is a friend, Kenny was still chill with this dude and his stuff was fucking fresh, sticky and delicious…

"Oh, then I guess I can just throw this Christmas present with a giant shiny label saying 'Eric' on it out the window?" Kyle jammed the button in the door to open the window, but Cartman reached to smash the locking controls, the car swerving slightly. The window stopped before it was open far enough to do anything but whip a viciously cold wind through the car, pushing Kenny's hood away from his face and ruffling his messy hair.

It was sometime last summer that Cartman had happened to ask Kenny to take a ride down to Denver with him to visit the Golden Corral, one of his favorite buffet restaurants. "Driving company in exchange for free food" being the unspoken agreement. It hadn't taken much for Kenny to convince his friend to take a slight detour, and one quick call to Elias had left him an eighth richer.

"What? Present? For Meee~?"

"I thought you said it was LAME!"

"Yeah, you did!"

They'd pulled off on a dirt road in the middle of farm wasteland and Cartman, though he shrugged off actually smoking, had let Kenny hotbox his Hummer for an hour while they sat and listened to music and laughed about shit. Afterwards, with the best-worst case of the munchies ever, they'd gone and eaten so much fried chicken and mashed potatoes that Kenny had gone vegetarian for three days afterwards.

"No. No! I said… I said it was LAME that you didn't get me a present! But you did, so we're cool!"

"I don't think I believe you! Stan, what do you think?"

"I dunno, Ky… his argument is pretty weak."

They didn't really talk about anything, and they didn't talk about it afterwards either, but then, a few weeks later, Cartman had asked Kenny to go down to the Golden Corral again. Over the course of September and October, it had become a weekly thing… which Kenny had conveniently timed with Kyle's Wednesday evening violin lessons.

Kyle smirked ultra-triumphantly as he waved Cartman's Christmas present back and forth, knowing he couldn't make too much of a grab for it while driving. "By the way, Fat Ass, Stan and I have taken the liberty of catching and breeding some excellent starting Pokemon for all of us through painful resets in a brand new world where you cannot trade in old friends from previous generations!"

"God, Kyle, why do you have to make it sound so goddamn gay?"

Every Wednesday after school, Kenny and Cartman drove down to Denver to buy an eighth, hotbox the car, get sick on Golden Corral and, sometimes, talk about random shit. They never mentioned it at school, and so Kenny never felt the need to tell Cartman that Stan would meet him later that night and they'd walk to the park to pass a joint back and forth and talk shit about girls, videogames and whatever else was the current talk of the town that week. But it was time that his friends knew of each other, so they could all partake of the rare gem that was Sour Diesel.

Kyle resumed trying to wedge the gift out the crack in the window and the car swerved again, more sharply this time, as Cartman turned to look in horror, reaching out one hand towards his smushed present. Stan was curled up in his corner of the car, howling with laughter and encouraging Kyle. Turning around until he was up on his knees, Kenny reached over the back of his seat, plucking the game out of Kyle's hand and dumped it on the floor in front of his seat. "Dude, Stan, I picked up the sweetest bud in Denver last night!"

Stan's face colored sharply and he coughed into his fist once, averting his eyes from Kyle's surprised expression. "Sweet, dude."

"Stan!"

"Staaa-aan~!" Cartman mimicked Kyle, but he kept his eyes on the road this time.

"Are you talking about marijuana?" Kyle frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. "You know that stuff's bad for you. What about your asthma?"

"It's not like cigarettes!"

"Don't be a dipshit, Kahl~!" Cartman whined, then switched into pirate-speak. Ahoy, I call for a vote – aye… or nay?"

It was the system they'd agreed upon back in third grade, and they always abided by it. Kyle was often outvoted, but then again, they all were – that was why they kept the system in place.

"Aye!"

"Aye!"

"Aye!"

"Nay! Very nay!"

Of course, Cartman sides against me no matter what. Kyle sighed and rolled his eyes at his friends as Stan shrugged and reached to dig in his bag again. "I stole the one-hitter off my Dad last week, Kenny," he grinned, pulling it out. "If you wanna right now."

It wasn't as if Kyle hadn't known for a year that Stan and Kenny sometimes smoked together, but… that nagging conscience voice that sounded a lot like his mother protested almost automatically anytime it was brought up. Which, duh, Kyle, is probably why they mostly hide it from you… It hurt a little bit that Stan would want to hide anything from him. We usually tell each other everything. "Drugs are an addictive solution to a greater problem causing disease of both body and mind with consequences far out-weighing their supposed benefits! And before you ask, yes, I do know what that means!"

By this point, Stan had passed the cigarette-ish looking thing to Kenny. The blond lit it as he sucked in, grinning at his friends for a moment before exhaling. "So, first of all, smoking's bad, …you shouldn't smoke and uh, …alcohol is bad, you shouldn't drink alcohol…"

Stan cracked up again as the voice of their elementary school guidance counselor echoed from Kenny's mouth. Cartman snickered, as this wasn't the first time he'd heard this impression, and even Kyle couldn't help but bite his lips against a smile he didn't want to let escape.

Kyle and Stan, as predictable as always. Cartman wasn't surprised that Stan had also become Kenny's smoking friend, but it bugged him just a little. He always turned Kenny down when he asked because he didn't really know what he was doing and didn't want to look dumb… which he supposed was also dumb, but that sort of negated itself into cool since he got high when they hotboxed the car anyway… which they were going to do again right now. Sweet.

"And uh, as for drugs," Kenny continued with the perfect stutter, reaching up to flick the ashes out the cracked window above Kyle's head, winking at him when they briefly met eyes. "Drugs are bad, you shouldn't do drugs, mm kay?" He re-packed the one-hitter and handed it to Stan, giving him a moment to light it before continuing, in hopes of keeping his friend from laughing and choking. "Now let's focus our discussion first on mari-ju-wanna…mari-ju-wanna's bad and it also has a very distinct smell!"

That it does… Kyle was laughing too hard to protest anymore, as Kenny's impersonations moved on from Mr. Mackey through various other teachers, parents and friends they had. Everything seemed funnier than usual as the two boys continued to pass the one-hitter back and forth and after awhile, Kyle realized abruptly that the sun had set. "Wow, guys, the stars…" he interrupted a little dreamily, tipping his head to look out the window and up. He supposed rather airily that he was probably getting high second-hand, but since there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it, he'd just decided to roll with it. Adaptability is a necessary survival tactic in the wild. "Wait, did I say that out loud?"

Stan reached over to poke Kyle in the ribs as Kenny laughed again. "Dude, I think Maryjane should be your friend, Kyle."

"Shut up, Stan," Kyle responded automatically, brushing the other boys hand away. This quickly spiraled into a poking-slapping-tickling war until Cartman brought the car to a sudden halt and finally loudly announced:

"Gentlemen, we have arrivethed!"

"Wait, we drove through the town?" Maybe Kyle was more far gone than he'd thought.

The timeshare was actually a small mountain house, nestled in the hills at the base of the ski resort. The snow was piled even higher here than at home, if that was at all possible, Stan noted. He was glad they were still a little buzzed dragging all the bags and equipment inside because it was pretty damn cold.

Inside, the house began with one small room with stone floors, benches and hooks, where they stacked all of the equipment and discarded their wet boots, jackets, gloves and hats… except for Kyle, who rarely took his hat off, and Kenny, perpetually cold without his usual orange parka. The single staircase led up into one great room with wooden floors and heavy rust-red and gold rugs. There was a flat screen TV against the opposite wall, a fireplace at the other end of the room and tons of plush couches and chairs scattered haphazardly in between.

Unsurprisingly, both Cartman and Kenny drifted past the fireplace and through the doorway into the kitchen after dumping all of their bags in the center of the room. Kyle tsked at them once, then dropped his own bags for a moment to carry one larger, longer bag over to the TV.

"Dude, you were supposed to leave all the skis downstairs."

"It's not skis," Kyle snickered a little, dropping the bag underneath the TV and returning to pick up the rest of the bags where he'd left them sitting at Stan's feet. "I brought some gaming stuff with me in case we got bored at night… Cartman said he'd bring his copy of Rock Band 3 if I lugged all the equipment and the system here myself."

"Asshole."

"Nah, I think it was… kind of nice, for Cartman," Kyle grinned and reached out to tug Stan's arm. "Come on, let's go scope out the upstairs before they realize there isn't actually any food in the kitchen."

Stan followed Kyle up the stairs to the third floor, grinning a little to himself now that no one could see him. He was actually pretty damn excited for this trip, for the chance to get away from the fucking idiots in South Park… not that there aren't idiots here too, but at least they're different idiots who aren't our parents… and to spend some time alone with Kyle. Of course, the four of them still hung out after school as often as they could, but Kyle, ever the over-involved brainiac, always seemed to have more meetings and clubs and homework for all of those advanced placement classes than any of the rest of them. Stan was lucky he was passing most of his classes. Well, everything except Latin, but who the fuck needs Latin? He never should have listened to Wendy… he was totally transferring to Japanese next semester… and it wasn't even entirely so that he and Kyle would have more classes together than Gym, Lunch, Music and Art. Not entirely, just mostly.

"Stan? Hello? Earth to Stan?" Kyle waved his hand back and forth in front of his Super Best Friend's face, but it was a moment before clarity returned to the dark blue eyes and Stan smiled sheepishly.

"Uh, sorry, spaced out."

"Obviously…" Kyle sounded more concerned than annoyed, and he touched Stan's shoulder, studying his face carefully. Under the scrutiny, Stan quickly felt cornered and brushed Kyle off, pushing past him into the bedroom, so Kyle launched back into his usual safety net for feeling awkward - constant information. He hated the awkward that seemed to crop up between him and Stan lately, but he didn't quite know what to do about it. He knew Stan Marsh very well after all these years, well enough to know that if something was on his mind and he wanted to talk about, he would. No amount of pressuring or cajoling or guilting him would result in useful information, but… a lot of times he could tell there was something brewing under the surface and it made him kinda crazy when Stan wouldn't share it. Maybe it was a little OCD to want to know everything about your best friend, but Kyle supposed it was just part of his personality, like his habit of organizing his entire wardrobe in color wheel order. He liked when things made sense. "There's only bathroom, one bedroom, two queen beds," he started as Stan poked around the room. "So we'll have to share-"

Stan pushed back past Kyle to call over the railing to his other friends, who had returned to the Great Room looking even pissier than earlier. "Yo, there's two beds. Me and Kyle are sharing!"

"WHAT?" Cartman squawked indignantly, pointing an accusatory finger at Kenny. "I don't want to share a bed with him! Everyone knows that poor can be contagious!"

"Shut up, you fucking Fat Ass!" Kenny elbowed Cartman sharply, and even though he was by far the smaller of the two, he had long since known how to use the other boy's weaknesses to his advantage. Sure enough, Cartman yelped and tried to smack Kenny's hand, but Mysterion had always been too fast for The Coon. Cartman began chasing Kenny around various pieces of furniture yelling increasingly vulgar obscenities, while Kenny laughed hysterically and avoided him every time, leaping over and climbing under everything in the room as if it were his own personally designed obstacle course.

Rolling his eyes, Stan returned to the bedroom, pushing the door shut behind him. Kyle was already putting things away into the dresser, but Stan didn't bother, kicking his bag into a corner and flopping down on the surprisingly comfortable bed.

"Hey!" Kyle protested, turning around with a pile of neatly folded shirts in his hand. "I'm sleeping on that side – I already put my pillow there!"

Stan flopped over onto his back, somewhat diagonally across the bed, folding his arms under his head. It was so easy to bait Kyle that he couldn't even help himself. "But what if I want to sleep on this side?"

Kyle usually didn't mind giving Stan whatever he wanted, but… he was particular in his own way and he suspected his Super Best Friend was only fucking with him. "I just… I always sleep on that side of the bed, at home, on vacation, when I sleep over your house…"

"Right, you make me asleep against the wall in my own bed so that I have to climb over you in the middle of the night every time I need to pee or need a tissue or a drink or…" Stan complained, closing his eyes but taking a peek to make sure he still had Kyle's undivided attention. There was a touch of pink to the other boy's cheeks and his green eyes were narrowed, the quirked lips giving away his annoyance.

"What, you want me to sleep on the floor next time we accidentally decide to have a marathon session of Mario Kart and I don't have my sleeping bag?" Kyle had deposited his shirts in a drawer and nudged it closed, stalking across the room to stare at Stan's relaxed pose with his arms crossed over his chest. "Is it such a big deal that I have a particular side of the bed I like to sleep on? I don't want to confuse myself in the middle of the night in a strange bed in a strange place and end up… end up rolling the wrong way and falling off!"

Stan burst into laughter as he sat up, but taking in Kyle's annoyed and yet wounded expression, he quickly changed tactics. Grabbing the redhead by the wrist, he tugged hard, pulling Kyle down on top of him in an awkward heap and poking him in the ribs, a notoriously weak spot. "Hahaha… Ky, you know I don't give a flying fuck about what side of the bed I sleep on… I just think it's hilarious that you do!"

Kyle huffed, trying to disentangle himself from Stan's limbs, but he only got as far as nearly straddling his best friend, and Stan still had both of his wrists caught in one hand. He leaned as far to the side as he could trying to free himself, digging one elbow into Stan's gut hard. "Fuck off, jackass!"

"It wouldn't be so easy to tease you," Stan omphed with the elbow and rolled until he and Kyle were both laying on their sides, nose to nose and knee to knee. Kyle didn't actually look mad anymore, but Stan still held his wrists, knowing retaliation was always only one mistake away. "But you react every time. Every time!"

Stan's easy grin disarmed Kyle's temper as usual and the redhead sighed dramatically, leaning in to knock his forehead against Stan's. There was silence for a moment as they both stared at each other, close enough that Kyle could feel Stan's breath against his lips and finally, he mumbled. "I'm still sleeping on this side of the bed."

"Hey you guys…?"

At the sound of Kenny's voice, Stan abruptly let go of Kyle's hands, sitting up and sliding to the edge of the bed. "Yo, Kenny, what's up?"

Kenny pushed the door open, noting Kyle's flushed face and Stan's awkward hand-to-back-of-head scratch with interest. "Cartman ordered pizza… well, four pizzas. They should be here in a few minutes and I don't promise to save any for you if you're not there when it arrives!"

The next hour was spent eating pizza and other assortments of junk food they'd brought along while mocking Late Night TV. Kyle pretended not to notice when Kenny and Stan used clean-up time as an excuse to go smoke a fast one on the balcony outside the glass doors in the kitchen, but he couldn't help wondering if maybe his best friend was confiding his troubles in his smoking buddy now that they spent so much time together. He gave Cartman a half-hearted wave as he climbed the stairs to go and get ready for bed.

Kyle always had trouble falling asleep at night and it was worse in a strange place. Even if he was physically tired, even mentally tired… sometimes he just couldn't seem to relax. He wished he could enter "Command: SHUT UP" to his brain sometimes.

Stan was the next one into the room, but when he realized that Kyle was already in the bed, in the dark, with eyes closed, he held up a finger to Kenny and shushed loudly. Stripping down to just his boxers and a t-shirt, he climbed into bed beside Kyle as Kenny climbed into the other bed still fully clothed.

It was a little bit weird, Kenny thought, sleeping in such a fluffy bed, and he bounced a little, snickering softly – which of course, made Stan snicker a little too.

"Shh! I don't wanna wake Ky!" Stan whispered, sliding down under the blankets, already grateful for the cocoon of warmth he found. Like hell I would ever let Kyle sleep on the floor…

Kenny snickered once in response, then shivered a little. Neither of his friends said anything more, and enjoying his buzz too much to actually sleep, he laid awake in the bed and counted several times just how many slices of pizza he'd eaten – 9 and an extra crust. The stomach full of food was made one notch better when Cartman finally climbed into bed a half hour later. Kenny wouldn't say it out loud, but he didn't mind sharing sleeping space with a friend… for within ten minutes, Cartman had heated the bed to a perfect temperature. Kenny finally unzipped his orange parka and shoved it off, rolling around a little to dislodge it and drop it onto the floor. The fat ass was already snoring loudly, so Kenny wiggled a little closer to his heat source and happily dozed off.

Stan waited until he heard Kenny's breathing even out, whispery in between Cartman's snores and then he rolled onto his side, looping an arm around his Super Best Friend. It was warmer in the middle of the bed and besides, he was used to sharing his little twin with Kyle. The queen bed felt enormous and unnecessary.

Kyle, of course, the lightest sleeper, had been awake the entire time his friends were entering the room, and his heart lightened a little when Stan reached to pull him in closer. Despite the earlier teasing, the truth was that they'd gotten over sharing a bed sometime in the 6th grade, though they used to sleep head to feet. A couple of marathon gaming sessions had changed that in middle school, when Kyle frequently woke up at sunrise to find the game still running, controllers still in their hands and Stan's head pillowed on his shoulder, sound asleep.

That was how it had happened, back in October, the weekend of Stan's 16th birthday. They'd stayed up all night playing Wii, watching old sitcoms on Netflix and eating cookie dings… it had been… just like any of their usual sleepovers… mostly…

But if that were really true, Kyle thought to himself, then he wouldn't still be playing that morning over and over in his head like a skipping record. Light sleeper as he was, he'd woken to the feeling of Stan Marsh's lips pressed softly against his own. It had happened so fast that sometimes, Kyle thought he had dreamed it up. After all, Stan had backed off the instant Kyle's eyes fluttered open, hadn't mentioned it at all, not then and not later – and Kyle hadn't had the guts to call him on it. What if I did dream it? What if I asked and Stan thinks it was weird or gross or wrong? What if it did happen and he regrets it? What if it meant the end to their sleepovers, their adventures, their closeness… their very super-best-friendship?

That was far more than Kyle was willing to risk over what might be just… a figment of his imagination, so he simply pushed it out of his mind and curled into Stan's warmth, suddenly feeling sleepy now that he wasn't alone in the bed.

Chapter Text

Kyle hadn't bothered to set an alarm, as he was used to getting up early for school most days. Just as he'd planned, his internal alarm woke him when the first rays of sun crept into their room, far earlier than needed to get everyone on the slopes by the time they opened. He blinked his eyes against the light and found himself nose to nose with Stan, who was still passed out with one arm hooked possessively across Kyle's hips. For a long moment, Kyle just watched his Super Best Friend sleep, and for a second, he even thought about kissing him… and then, just as quick, he was sliding carefully out of bed with a racing heart, trying not to disturb him. Oy Vey, Kyle, get a grip! Cartman and Kenny are still passed out in the other bed just feet away, for starters!

Reluctantly, Kyle made his way downstairs to eat some breakfast, confused by the churning feelings in his gut. He'd always been closer to Stan than anyone else in his life, but it wasn't until the "birthday incident", as he'd come to label it, that Kyle had started to really think about the other boy in a different way… and it was slowly driving him crazy. But how do you ask your best friend of 16 years if he likes you, I mean… really likes you… without sounding like an idiot? Vaguely frustrated, Kyle ignored all the "sensible options" his mother had packed in his backpack and mini-cooler and instead raided Stan's stash of junk for the weekend for what he knew had to be in there.

A few minutes later, Stan appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, stretching and rubbing at one eye. "Morning…" he yawned, coming to sit across from Kyle at the table and then raising his eyebrow sharply. "You're eating my Lucky Charms?" he grinned as Kyle flushed lightly at the accusation. "I mean, I know they're our favorite, but…"

"I would have asked first, but I didn't want to wake-"

"Your mother would shit a brick if she knew you were eating marshmallows for breakfast!"

"Sometimes I need to buck the system, Stan," Kyle's expression softened into a small smile as soon as he realized Stan didn't actually care if Kyle stole his food.

"Sugary breakfast cereal… what a rebel," Stan teased, getting up to retrieve a bowl and a spoon before helping himself to one of Kyle's mini-jugs of milk his mother had carefully packed for him. "Kenny's up already and is slowly stealing the blankets and pillows off the bed in an attempt to rouse the lazy monster."

Kyle had the map of the Jackson Hole ski resort laid out on the table and the two boys studied it and planned the day as they ate their cereal, oats first until there was nothing but rainbow marshmallows in the bowl. Kenny came downstairs to join them just as they were finishing, but he ignored the cereal in favor of cold leftover pizza.

It took them another half hour to drag Cartman out of bed and they would have left him behind, but it was a long hike from their mountain house condo over to the base lodge where the lifts were. It was much nicer to load the gear into the car and drive over.

Though he'd been the first one up, Kyle ended up being the last one to be ready, on account of all of his safety gear. Stan and Kenny were waiting in the foyer, both not looking far off from their usual attire – Stan had swapped his brown jacket for a more waterproof blue shell and they'd both switched to their snowboarding gloves – so they gaped a little when Kyle came clomping down the stairs.

"Dude."

"Dude."

In addition to his bulky ski boots, Kyle had added kneepads, elbow pads, wrist guards, high-tech goggles and a helmet. In fact, about the only recognizable piece of Kyle was the green of his jacket, and even that was mostly hidden by an enormous vest that looked like it was made out of the same material as bicycle reflectors.

"What?" Kyle protested as his friends continued to gape at him.

"Dude," Kenny repeated, followed by a snicker into his glove… then a giggle… and then Stan was shoving him out the door hard as he nearly collapsed in hysterical laughter.

"Kyle…" Stan started, debating at which angle to approach. "I know this is your mother's doing and… well… I know you're trying to be safe…"

Kyle turned to look into the mirror hanging on the wall beside the row of metal jacket hooks and sighed, rolling his eyes to the heavens. "I look ridiculous."

"You haven't seen Cartman's outfit," Stan promised with a shake of his head. "But maybe… lose the reflectors? It's sunny and … and…" Stan was standing just behind Kyle in the reflection and he reached to place one hand on Kyle's shoulder, his expression dramatic and solemn. "You seriously might blind somebody."

Kyle bit his lip, but he couldn't hold the laughter in and neither could Stan. With an overly resigned sigh of acceptance, he lifted his arms and let Stan pull the vest over his head. Picking up their gear, they shut the door behind them and climbed into Pikachu to head for the lifts.

Out of the group of four, it would be a tough call as to whether Stan or Kenny was the better snowboarder – Stan tended to have overall better control and speed, especially out on the mountain, but Kenny was wicked in the halfpipe. He'd crashed out more times than his friends ever remembered, of course – but it was an advantage to have little fear of snapping one's own neck.

On the other hand, it was no contest between Kyle and Cartman as to who was the better skier.

"WEAK! This is weak!" Cartman huffed and puffed as he practically dragged his skis towards the lift while all of his friends were already strapped in and mobile. "Why do people think this is fun anyway? It's WORK."

"It's exercise," Stan muttered under his breath and his friends snickered.

"I HEARD THAT YOU GODDAMN ASS LICKER! I'll FUCKING KEEEL YOU!"

Cartman's face was almost as red as his full-body fire engine colored jumpsuit. His skis were flashy and obviously brand new, also red on the bottom with a vibrant set of warm colors swirled across the tops. Against his bright yellow boots and a bright yellow hat with several dangling neon orange pompoms, Kenny couldn't decide if he looked more like an overly ripe tomato or… "Hurry up, Ronald McDonald, or we'll leave you behind!"

"C'mon, it's flatter here," Kyle attempted to help, offering his friend an arm for balance as he clumsily tried to put his skis on while yelling further obscenities at Kenny. Other skiers were leaving a wide circle of space around them and Kyle did not blame them in the slightest.

"You guuuyysss are gonna leeeaaave meee!" Cartman wailed, leaning heavily on Kyle as he finally clicked the last boot in place with a grunt of exertion. "You promised to help meee~!" The last word went a little shrill and the other three simultaneously winced.

"Well, we do want to go to the top of the mountain!" Kyle told him as they all shuffled towards the beginner's Teewinot Quad chair. "This run is just a warm-up!"

The four boys managed to keep Cartman upright, literally dragging him into place for the lift to pick them up. "Snowboarders on the outside," Stan directed, knowing it'd be easier for him and Kenny to detach one foot and safer to have Cartman between them. He was also lucky to have Kyle between him and Cartman

As the lift scooped them off the ground and into the air, Kyle's heart jumped and a grin blossomed across his face. The morning was cold and crisp, but even though the sun was shining down from the clear blue sky, the highest peaks of the mountains were still shrouded in foggy snow-mist. It was… majestic. "Teton Village, at the base of the lifts, is 6,311 feet in elevation," Kyle said, pointing behind to where they'd just left, and then he moved his arm to the west. "But that, the very highest peak, Rendezvous Mountain, is at 10,450 feet. Massive. I vow to capture the view from it on my iPhone and tweet it to my Facebook – I promised Ike."

"Guh…" Stan shivered at the mention of the detested internet black hole. "Just the scenery, right? Not us?"

Kyle snickered a little, pulling out his iPhone to snap a few pictures of the mountains and one of Kenny making an obscene gesture. "Yes – but you know I set it so that only the four of us and Ike can see it anyways."

"Doesn't mean I will ever trust it," Stan retorted with a sharp shake of his head. Stan's account, while he couldn't seem to delete it, had remained at zero friends. Even after all these years, he would not be convinced even to add his closest friends and his profile image was a Guitar Hero controller. He liked it that way.

"Wow, look at all the little people," Cartman pointed to the skiers below them loudly, trying to ignore Kyle. He had finally cheered up a little bit now that they were sitting on the lift. "Think I could time my spit to hit one in the head? Hey, Kennyyy… I'll give you ten dollars if you help me try to spit on that Hippie up ahead – yeah, see 'em? The one who with the ugly woven hat that kinda looks like that asshole Craig's? Yeeaaaaaah! That one!"

Kyle aimed the camera down at the ground, hoping to capture the moment on video, and sure enough, he got the entire thing.

"YOU FUCKING SHITHEADS! WHAT THE FUCK!"

"GODDAMN HIPPIE! GET THE HELL OFF THE MOUNTAIN!"

"I'M GONNA REPORT YOU LITTLE BASTARDS!"

All four boys laughed loudly as the guy threw one of his poles at them, but it didn't come close to reaching them. Unfortunately, they were so caught up in their prank that they didn't realize the ride was almost over. "Feet off," Kyle ordered as his eyes caught the sign. Stan tossed the bar up and they all re-adjusted, ready to stand up and depart…

"AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!" Cartman shrieked, elbowing Kenny so hard that he was dumped right off the side of the lift, tumbling down the dismount hill and off to the side before they'd reached the platform.

"Cartman, what the hell!" Kyle said, turning back frantically to see if Kenny was okay.

"IT'S OUT TO GET ME! A FUCKING GINGER! STOP THE LIFT! NO, DON'T STOP DON'T STOP DON'T STOP!"

Ginger? What is he on about? Kyle looked around wildly, then spotted what had set Cartman off – there was a boy in a black jacket working the booth at the top of the lift, an unmistakable fluff of red hair on his head visible despite his ski hat.

"Kyle, come on," Stan urged the other boy as Cartman continued to flail wildly. He grabbed his Super Best Friend hard by the arm, dragging him out of the chair and sliding down the dismount. Off balance, Kyle's poles tangled with Stan's snowboard and they also went down hard in a jumble of skis, poles & limbs.

Ever the acrobat, Kenny had managed to turn his fall into a tumble and a spin and he sat on his ass with his arms braced behind him, looking up to watch as the chair they'd been riding turned around the end of the lift and began to return down the hill with Cartman still aboard. "KENNYYY HELP MEEEE!"

Kenny couldn't help but laugh at his friend's misfortune and he flicked Cartman off as he stood up and began to slowly climb his way up to where his other friends were trying to disentangle themselves. The lift jerked to an abrupt halt as Kenny offered a hand to help Kyle up, lending him balance as he hopped on one ski and tried to straighten the other one out. "Dude, it's going to take awhile to get him down from there," Kenny said as he noticed the redhead's pissed off expression.

"Kenny, are you okay?" Kyle demanded, checking his friend over as he reached to push the orange hood back a little. "You didn't hit your head?" he insisted, studying Kenny's clear light blue eyes carefully to make sure he was really okay.

"Totally fine," Kenny smiled, brushing Kyle off lightly, though it actually felt nice to have someone give a damn about what happened to him. "Look, it's obvious that Fat Ass isn't going to make it to the top of the mountain today, so why don't you and Stan go ahead? We can all meet up later this afternoon."

"Really?" Kyle said in surprise as he watched Stan talk to the lift operator, then turn to head back towards them. "You… don't mind?"

In Kenny's opinion, it was the least he could do after Kyle had invited him along on this trip and they had plenty of days to get to the top. He knew that Cartman tended to set Kyle off when he went on one of his crazy tantrums and really, he'd been wanting to get the other boy alone ever since he'd been blown off last night. Previous to their obstacle course fight, Kenny had tried to talk to Cartman about something, but he hadn't gotten very far at all. This scenario, where Cartman would have no way to escape for awhile, was perfect. "I don't mind – go have fun and maybe I can teach Cartman to get on and off the lift properly by the time you get back."

"How does he manage to always be so completely idiotic?" Stan groaned as he rejoined them. "Right now the lift operator is arguing with him about whether he wants to get off here or ride back down to the bottom and try again."

"Come on, Stan," Kyle gestured towards the peak. "Kenny's gonna babysit the moron for a little while so we can go get my picture."

A few minutes later, the two Super Best Friends had ridden off and Kenny had convinced Cartman to ride down to the bottom with the promise to meet him there and try again. Oddly enough, the ginger lift operator that had set the fat boy off seemed to have vanished, replaced by a cute girl with a swirly brown ponytail. Kenny waited long enough for her to communicate the situation to the other end, enjoying the bounce of her perky boobs as she paced back and forth, and then he boarded down the beginner's hill to wait for Cartman's return.

Cartman was still huffing and puffing indignantly by the time the lift came around and scooped Kenny up, beginning the trip up the mountain for a second time. Kenny didn't wait long to begin his interrogation though, using the extra space in their 4-man lift to turn and address the other boy sharply. "You blew me off last night," Kenny started, narrowing his eyes a little. Cartman ignored him, continuing to mutter under his breath.

"Sucks. Blows. Goddamn skiing, goddamn hippie, goddamn lift, fucking goddamn ginger!"

"I swear that you're up to something."

As much as Cartman usually enjoyed having Kenny's attention, now was not the time, place or way he wanted it. "Kennyyy~! I'm having a rough morning and now you're accusing me of stuff when I'm feeling… delicate?"

Kenny sighed, turning to face forward again, not wanting to repeat last round's blunder. "You don't even really like to ski," he started again, completely immune to the blustering. "So I can't figure out why you agreed to come on this trip without serious blackmail involved."

Cartman sniffed indignantly, crossing his arms over his chest and almost losing his poles in the process. "You think so little of me."

"Sometimes," Kenny shrugged, unwilling to lie.

"Asshole."

"Ball sucker."

"Fucker!"

"Piece of shit!"

"DIRTY SMELLY POOR LOSER."

"IGNORANT FAT TUB OF LARD!"

"FUCKING CULT-CURSED SLUT!"

The last insult made Kenny stop and blink, as it was not the usual zinger in the other boy's arsenal of expletives. In fact, it was downright bizarre. Was Cartman actually referencing that which they generally didn't bring up? And sure, Kenny was constantly flirting with… well, anyone I think is cute… but that didn't mean… "… what did you say?" he finally snapped back after a totally awkward heartbeat of delay.

"…nothin'," Cartman muttered, turning away and refusing to say anything else.

Kenny had absolutely no idea what to make of the insult or where it had even come from, but Cartman was already in a poor mood so he decided not to press the issue and incur further wrath. Some new rumor going around that I don't know about? They were silent until they reached the top and then, just to make sure they didn't repeat the previous mistake, Kenny looped his arm around Cartman's and pulled him up off the chair, making sure they made it off the lift together. No matter what verbal insults the other boy threw, Kenny wasn't about to leave him behind.

Cartman looked after Kenny in surprise as the other boy let him go and slid away, but the orange parka had its back to him and couldn't see his expression. He hadn't really meant to say what he'd said, and Kenny's loyalty despite it made him feel… "Hey, Kenny?"

Kenny stopped with a sharp little turn, looking back at the other boy impatiently. "What?"

"I didn't mean to knock you off the lift."

It wasn't an apology, exactly, for that or the other comment, but… it was something. Cartman watched as Kenny nodded, cracking a smile that couldn't actually be seen – but by the lift of round cheeks and the glint in the smaller boy's eyes, Cartman still knew it was there. He'd learned to recognize Kenny's smile years ago, just as he'd learned to understand the muffled speech perfectly.

"Look, I can't really give you ski lessons since boarding is totally different, but I'll stay with you in case you crash."

"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence."

"Anytime… fat ass!" Kenny cackled as he sped away, but he kept his promise, circling around Cartman to keep an eye out for him as they chased each other down the hill, wondering just what the fuck was going on between them lately.

Chapter Text

"It's not much of a view when you can't see shit for the clouds…" Stan peered into the hazy white with a note of doubt in his voice. Only one way to go – down.

Kyle sighed and frowned, then shrugged and stuck his iPhone back in his pocket. They'd just gotten off the tram at the very highest peak, but it was so shrouded in fog that they could hardly see the sign marking the trail. "We'll just have to wait until we get down a little ways. It won't be the tippity-top, but I bet it'll still be a good picture."

"Well, lead the way," Stan grinned, leaning closer to rest his chin on Kyle's shoulder so they could study the map together.

"We'll go down the bowl, then head across some of those traverse paths…," Kyle traced the path on the map with one finger. "I want to kinda arc back towards the base lodge…"

"What, you worried Cartman and Kenny might kill each other before we get back?" Stan hated boarding traverse unless it was done wickedly fast, but he knew that Kyle could keep up with him. "This is going to be a blur at the top, but I'll stop as soon as it's clear enough to see, ok?"

Kyle folded up the map, then reached out to touch the end of Stan's nose with one gloved finger as he smiled. "I'll lend you a pole if the traverse is too flat near the end."

Stan's heart did a little flip at Kyle's gesture - the way he seemed to be inside Stan's head for a moment - but Kyle had already turned, heading down the mountain on his new bright green skis. Stan shifted his board and followed him, but quickly whizzed out in front, leading their way down Kyle's suggested path until they finally emerged into the sunshine.

Outside the haze of white, the sun sparkled on the freshly fallen snow, glittering like a field of dazzling diamonds. That wasn't the only sight drawing Kyle's eyes towards it though. He enjoyed when Stan took point, for it was an easy excuse to watch him too, without having to be held accountable for it. By nature, Stan could be decidedly awkward at times and thanks to his lunatic family, more than a little paranoid. I can certainly relate. But out here away from it all, doing something they loved… well, it seemed as if the grin on Stan's face was a permanent fixture for the day. He was totally relaxed and absorbed in the ride, catching air in little places and whooping loudly when he did, waving back at Kyle when they finally found a decent stopping point for a photo op.

"Feels like standing on the top of the world," Kyle murmured as he turned from side to side, snapping shots of the scenery at different angles.

"Come on, Kyle, mountains are mountains," Stan poked at him purposefully. "We live in some back home, though maybe this one particular mountain is a little bigger."

Kyle continued to fiddle with the phone, a touch sentimental and trying hard to hide it. He was so used to his friends ragging on him for being sentimental and liking things like… like Disney movies.

Stan knew his Super Best Friend pretty damn well, though… and in a sudden bout of charm, he snatched the phone from Kyle's hands and turned it around, holding it out in front of them.

"Stan, be careful!" Kyle swiped for the phone, but couldn't reach it without losing the leverage on his skis that were keeping him precariously in place on the side of the mountain.

"Come on, I know you," Stan wrapped an arm around Kyle's shoulders and mugged for the iPhone's camera. "If you swear on our Super Best Friendship that you will not post this to Facebook or any other one of those horrible internet-"

Kyle's breath caught in his throat as Stan squeezed him a little closer and he smiled sheepishly for the camera, his other hand giving a very Japanese sideways peace sign. "I swear I won't."

Click.

Stan made sure he'd taken a couple of photos before handing the iPhone back to Kyle, who fumbled it for a moment before placing it back into his pocket. They stood there together for a moment, looking out at the view, but there was nothing awkward about the silence. For once, Kyle felt like everything was right in his universe – like no matter how he felt, how Stan felt… We'll figure it out together, just like we always do.

"It's fucking freezing."

Kyle laughed and nodded in agreement. "Let's get moving."


"Gentlemen, line up for inspection!"

Kenny rolled his eyes, but dutifully took his place beside Stan and Kyle in front of the fireplace, allowing Cartman to pace back and forth before the three of them, scratching at an imaginary beard with thumb and forefinger.

Kyle had refused to remove his - stupid, ugly Jew-fro - hat, but he was wearing a dark green v-neck sweater and a pair of very slim cut dark blue jeans. "Hmph," Cartman sniffed as he looked him up and down. "As passable as you'll ever be, Jew… but I still think you should lose the hat."

"Leave Kyle alone," Stan automatically defended the other boy, crossing his arms over his chest in annoyance. Sometimes he didn't know why they all put up with Cartman's antics. His own jeans were black, as were his t-shirt, belt and leather wristband, but he'd left his bright blue jacket on as well and added a thick wallet chain.

"Meh," Cartman moved on to inspect Stan. "Without your hat, you look like a goddamn emo goth in all black, Stan. You better leave that jacket on. And cooomb the hair, puh-lease~!"

"I am emo, Cartman," Stan replied in a complete deadpan that set Kenny off snickering and Kyle biting his lip to keep from smiling. "And I can't help it if I have messy hair…"

"Kenny, you look the most passable, seeing as I bought you some clothes that didn't come from the Goodwill," Cartman interrupted Stan, opening his wallet to remove the set of fake IDs.

Kenny looked down at his outfit and shrugged before flicking Cartman off. He secretly liked the bright purple color of his shirt, which Cartman had insisted he leave partially unbuttoned at the top. He was wearing a snug little black satiny vest over it, but his pants were thankfully just jeans just like the rest of the boys. He had to admit that he felt a little bit… naked… without his favorite orange parka, but… Cartman did have a point.

"We need to look the part – as in, men, not boys! Adults, not… Cheeeldrin~!" Cartman addressed them sternly, a steely glint in his brown eyes. "A Fucking Asshole named Craig got these made for me on Fucking Fear of dismemberment of his boyfriend should they not work and-"

"Wait, Craig has a boyfriend?"

"Ex-cuuuse, me, Stanley," Cartman snapped his fingers sharply right underneath Stan's nose and only Kyle's swift and restraining hand on his arm kept Stan from decking the other boy. "I. was. Speaking."

"Oh, get on with it already, Fat Ass!" Kyle snapped, reaching to snatch one of the IDs out of his chubby hands. It happened to be his own and as he quickly scanned the info, he blanched. "22? You think people are going to believe that I, voice barely dropped, am a college-aged-"

Cartman's other hand shot out to cover Kyle's mouth. "Nooo, Kahl~! You must walk out that door believing the ID! Belieeeve in the ID, Kaaaahl~!"

"This is ridiculous," Kyle slapped Cartman's hand away and shook his head as Stan and Kenny both reached to grab their IDs out of the brunette's now outstretched hand. "Why couldn't we just bring a damn bottle of vodka up here with us to the house if you all wanted to drink so much? I mean, I'm actually standing here telling you that I don't give a rat's ass about us having a depraved drunken fiesta here, even though my mother would kill me, but you all want to go out to the most upscale bar in this entire town with fake IDs you got from Craig instead? Am I seriously hearing all of this right?"

Kenny moved to stand beside Cartman with a shrug. "Dude, cute girls… cute probably rich girls. And alcohol."

"I have my mother's AmEX, Kahl~! In mah name, Kahl~!" Cartman trilled, trying to appeal in a different way. "Come on, you goddamn money-grubbing Jew fag – you don't have to drop a dime! Your mumzie will never even know!"

"Aww, come on, Kyle," Stan finally wheedled, grabbing his best friend's wrist and turning him, trying to catch his eyes.

Goddamnit. I know better. I seriously know better, and yet… what's the worst that could happen? It seemed wrong to compare the morality and ethics of this little decision to the kinds of previous experiences they all had, but what other foundation could he go off of? "Fucking fine," he finally snapped, stalking towards the door. "But if it doesn't work the very first time, we're done, out and back here, no complaints or detours!"

"Fine!" Cartman agreed, following Kyle out to the car. He stopped for a moment to check the mirror on the way out the door. He was also wearing jeans, his hair combed and styled, along with a red cashmere sweater and a rather expensive watch. After all, he wanted it to look like he used that AmEx on a regular basis.

The boys rode Pikachu across Teton Village and turned into the entrance of the Four Seasons resort, eyes wide at the ornate arches and trees lit with thousands of tiny blue lights. "Everyone, chillax," was the last thing Cartman murmured as they pulled up to the valet. He tipped the man generously and then led the casual walk through the main lobby to a place full of tables, sofas and a bar half the length of the room.

The décor was very similar to the house they were staying in, Kyle noted, with polished hardwood floors and the same red and golden plush and woven rugs. The furniture was all obviously hand-carved wood, some of it even covered with real animal skins. The large ceiling lamps shed a golden glow across the room like liquid butterscotch and the buzz of voices created a low hum that vibrated as they walked. He wished he could stop and take pictures, but he knew that would draw too much attention and he didn't want to hear Cartman's bitching.

For such a fancy resort, the atmosphere was casual. Many groups gathered at tables were still dressed in après-ski gear, though others had switched to jeans or even, as Kenny noted when a group of girls walked by, cute little colorful cocktail dresses. He elbowed his way up to stand beside Cartman at the bar, nonchalantly offering his ID as he continued to check out the girls in the room. "A shot of whiskey."

"I'd like to start a tab," Cartman said evenly, withdrawing his credit card and his ID between two fingers and handing them over to the bartender. "A Long Island Iced Tea, easy on the tea." The bartender scanned the IDs quickly, then glanced at Stan's when he shoved it down beside his friend's.

"I'll have a sour apple martini," Stan said, adding the slight lazy drawl of his drunken father's lilt to his usual speech pattern.

It wasn't until the bartender's gaze moved on to Kyle, who was studying one of the wildlife paintings on the wall beside them with an inquisitive expression, that the boys were worried their cover would be blown.

"And for you, sir?"

Stan stepped hard on Kyle's toes and the redhead turned around abruptly, handing over the ID but having no idea what to answer. "Oh…uh…um… a beer?"

Kenny dug his fingernails into his palm to keep from laughing out loud and Cartman's eyebrow twitched once. "Don't be so boring," Cartman elbowed Kyle and then turned to the bartender. "How about something fruity for the fruit?"

Kyle elbowed Cartman back, but thankfully, Kenny stepped between them to save the moment just before it got ugly and gave them away. "Give him a Fuzzy Navel."

"A Fuzzy Navel?" Kyle hissed at Kenny after the bartender had walked away to get the correct bottles. "What the fuck is that?"

"Jesus, Kyle," Kenny laughed, punching him lightly in the arm. "I could drink all of you under the table with the use of one kidney – have a little faith."

"I only have one kidney!" Kyle hissed back indignantly.

The drinks arrived a moment later and the boys picked them up, weaving their way through the crowd to find an empty table and a large sofa to crash on.

"Gentlemen, I must use the facilities," Cartman said before he'd even sat down. "I trust you'll occupy yourselves until my return." Drink in hand, he turned and weaved his way back into the crowd without waiting for a response.

"A martini, eh?" Kenny teased Stan after he'd downed his first shot and signaled the nearest waitress to keep them coming. "I would've expected you to be manly and order a beer or a tequila or something."

"Ugh, are you kidding?" Stan's face turned a slightly unpleasant shade of green for a moment. "I've had enough of my dad's cheap beer to last me a lifetime. I don't care what anyone thinks, I'd rather drink something that tastes good – and besides, it's totally the color of ectoplasm!"

"Who ya gonna call…" Kenny echoed back and then they met in another exploding fist bump. "Ghostbusters! But seriously, dude, they shoulda called that thing the State Puff Cartmarshmallowman!"

Stan cracked up laughing, tossing back the first sip of his drink as he and Kenny continued to string together a lengthy set of movie-based insults about their missing friend.

Kyle sat on the other side of Stan, stirring his orangey-yellow drink round and round with the tiny plastic straw, feeling decidedly out of place. It wasn't that he and his friends had never gotten drunk together before, but… that was alone, in the safety of someone's living room while their parents were out of town… Not in the middle of frou-frou land, under-aged and overdressed. Not to mention Cartman's comment about being a "fruit" at the bar had left him feeling a little more unsettled than the usual "Jew" and "fag" insults. Was he just feeling sensitive because of everything else that had been going on?

"You gonna stir that all night, Kyle?" Kenny finally asked him after the 42nd swirl. His friend seemed terribly preoccupied and Kenny didn't think the bad juju was going to attract them any cute girls. "Don't be a fucking pussy."

"I'm not!" Kyle snapped, then picked up the drink and took a big sip. To his utter bewilderment, it actually tasted not like the bitter burning of alcohol, but… "Holy shit, Kenny! This is like… liquid candy!"

Kenny sat back with a grin, tossing back his third shot. "Toldja." Sometimes Kenny wished that Kyle would lighten up, Cartman would lay off and Stan would wise up… but his friends were who they were, and Kenny would continue to put up with them even when they were their own worst enemies. He supposed he probably had his own vices, and certainly his own problems, even if no one ever remembered long enough for it to count. Stan and Kyle were still the two best, most loyal friends he'd ever had and Cartman… well, he had started letting Kenny steal French fries off his lunch tray in 5th grade, so… that had to be something.

"So, we just… hang out…" Stan said slowly as he looked around the room, already more than halfway through his martini.

"Where the hell is Cartman?" Kyle finally asked, pulling out his iPhone to check the time. He'd zoned out while Stan and Kenny were talking and they'd already been hanging around on the sofas for more than twenty minutes.

"Dude, if he went to the bathroom, I don't wanna know!" Stan shook his head as Kenny signaled the waitress to bring more drinks for him and Stan.

Kyle sighed and rolled his eyes. "I don't trust him not to get us fucking caught by the hotel staff – I'm gonna go look for him."

"Aww, Kyle, come on…" Stan started, but Kyle was fucking stubborn when he wanted to be and Stan did not want to go search bathrooms for Cartman.

"No, look, just stay here," Kyle said, setting his drink down on the table and getting to his feet. "I'll just go make a sweep, check the restrooms… either way, I'll be back in a few minutes."

Stan let his head loll onto the back of the sofa in exasperation as Kyle blended into the crowd and Kenny chuckled a little. "I gotta be honest, Kenny… I'd rather be having a smoke out on the back deck right now."

Even though Kenny really did like to drink, this place wasn't exactly his scene either. "Dude, me too."

"Why the hell do we let Cartman talk us into these things?"

"…Boredom," Kenny finally decided upon after a moment of silence.

"Dude, Kyle will find him, we'll outvote his ass, and then we can go home and light up."

All of the sudden, a cute round face framed by loose red ringlets swung into Stan's view, upside down, and he jumped a little. "You didn't mean a cigarette, did you?"

Even Kenny was taken slightly by surprise as a second girl leaned over the back of the couch from the opposite side – there were two, back to back – and winked at him. "I don't think that's what they meant, did you?"

Stan and Kenny met eyes for a moment and Stan sat up, turning away and shrugging as he slipped into automatic "Kenny's Wingman" mode. He was happy and relaxed, a little tipsy, thrilled to be out with his friends and far away from his parents, school work and his annoying ex-girlfriend.

"I can neither confirm or deny," Kenny said with a playful wink at the brunette and Stan grinned, turning to the side so that he could look at the faces of their interlopers. "But I'll buy all of you a round of drinks if you care to pry the truth out of me."

Stan died with laughter a little on the inside, but he'd had too much practice in this role to let it show on his face. Where the hell does Kenny always get these lines from? Well, it wasn't as if they didn't know that Cartman had left his card at the bar for the tab already… "Where are you ladies from?"

Kenny was thrilled when the brunette came around the couches, and hopeless flirt that he was, Kenny couldn't help but pat his knee and wink at her. She introduced herself as Megan, and her three friends, Lindsay (long black hair still sitting on the couch behind them), Courtney (redhead who'd just perched herself on the armrest of the couch next to Stan), and Luann (busty blond now moving to sit between him and Stan).

"Oh, actually we're locals," Courtney smiled at Stan, leaning closer to show him her High School ring. "We're all home for the college winter break visiting family and getting in some boarding… I go to school in Texas."

"Are all of you boarders?" Stan asked as he glanced from girl to girl, smiling at each one in turn as he reached for Courtney's hand, turning it from side to side to look at her ring. He was actually glad they weren't any older than that, for it made it easier to treat it like any other college party Kenny had dragged him along to in the last year. "We're from Colorado, not too far from Denver."

"Lindsay's not a boarder," Luann answered, giving the other two girls a chance to order drinks. "But she's still… part of our club."

"Your club?" Kenny asked in genuine interest. All four of the girls giggled and Kenny grinned, reaching to play with the end of a lock of Megan's wavy chestnut hair. Sitting in his lap, her boobs were exactly the height of his nose and even though he really wanted a 6th shot of whiskey, he didn't want to move from this spot and risk dislodging the fabulous gift the universe had given him tonight.

"See, being locals…" Luann grinned at Kenny and touched his knee with one hand. "We know some things about this place that most tourists don't…"

"That normally we don't give out," Lindsay finally spoke up from the other couch a little nervously, looking from girl to girl.

"But you're cute," Megan grinned, ruffling Kenny's hair.

"And you look pretty bored," Courtney added to Stan, crossing one leg over the other so that her foot was resting lightly against Stan's knee.

"We're going to assume you meant what you meant earlier," Megan continued. "And ask if you've heard about the smoking shacks?"


This was not Kyle's scene in any way, shape or form. After searching three different restrooms and making a sweep of all of the main lobbies, bars and restaurants, he still hadn't found Cartman. Kenny's words from two weeks ago - he agreed to it too easily… - floated back to him as he marched back across the hotel, double-checking the restrooms one more time. The answer to "Is Cartman up to something?" was never no, but whether what he was up to was embarrassing, damaging, going to get them grounded, kicked out or killed… or all of the above… was a virtual unknown.

I don't know why I don't listen to Kenny more often. Kyle and Kenny had been each other's confidants since way back to the superhero era of their lives, but on an infrequent and as-needed basis… one which usually pertained to the twisted machinations or romantic delusions of their two best friends. They were always honest with each other, but Kyle sometimes felt like he couldn't remember what he had and hadn't told Kenny. It was a weird feeling, and because of it, he found that he sometimes accidentally disregarded his friend's advice and found it coming back to haunt him later.

If he couldn't find Cartman, there wasn't much to be done about it presently, so he finally headed back to where he'd left his two friends, determined to convince them to go home and play Rock Band 3 without Cartman. Ha, it'll serve him right, fucking sneaky fat ass.

As Kyle cleared the crowd near the bar, he spotted his two friends and realized instantly that they weren't alone. Kenny and Stan had been joined by four girls, and the group of six was bent over the trail map, pointing, whispering and laughing. Kenny had one girl on his lap and another against his side, but that didn't surprise Kyle. What did… was Stan – Stan who currently had his hand pressed against the lower back of a girl sitting on the armrest beside him, one of her legs tucked between his. Her curls – red curls – were fucking bouncing against the side of his face as she reached to point at something on the map.

The air left Kyle's lungs in a rush and time seemed to slow down, the crowd's buzz dulling enough that he could make out Gaga leading his advance charge. A distant and vaguely hysterical part of his mind laughed at how cliché the choice was.

o/~ Rah ah, ah-ah-ah, mah-mah, mah-mah-mah, gah-gah, oo-la-la, want your bad romance ~/o

The color rising in his cheeks, Kyle stormed across the remainder of the room until he was standing in front of the group, staring Stan down with a murderous glare in his vivid green eyes. "What the fuck? I leave you guys alone for five minutes and-and… you're…"

Stan was decidedly tipsy, but he grinned as he saw Kyle was returning… until the words started tumbling out of his mouth. "Having a good time?" he answered in complete and utter confusion.

"Look, Kyle," Kenny started, but didn't get very far.

"NO!" Kyle hissed, turning his glare on Kenny for just a split second as if he really could shoot lasers out of his eyes.

Kenny had taken one look at Kyle's face and groaned inwardly, but once the Jew had gone on a rant, there was no interrupting or stopping him without possibility of being decked. Kenny felt mildly bad for the cute girls who'd just marked all of the hidden weed-smoking shacks on his map, but worse about the scene he'd accidentally instigated.

"Goddamnit, you are such a goddamn fucking ignorant jackass!" Kyle stomped one foot. After our day on the mountain today, after the "birthday incident"… hell, every time we're alone… Was Kyle just imagining it all, twisting it into his warped version of the universe the way Cartman always loved to do? He knew that his own words were giving away everything he'd been trying to hide, but he was so mad, so so mad, that he couldn't stop himself. "After all this shit, lately, all this twisted-up fucking bullshit…I thought, I thought maybe, just maybe..."

Kyle wasn't making much sense, and Stan couldn't tell if it was only because he was a little bit drunk, but he never liked to see his Super Best Friend this upset. "Kyle. Kyle! Kyle, stop!" Stan tried, looking back and forth between his friend, Kenny and the girls, also knowing that Kyle was drawing a lot of attention to them right now.

"Don't tell me to stop!" Kyle continued to rage, his hands curling and uncurling. "Don't tell me to be quiet! Don't tell me what to do at all – I don't tell you what to do even when I hate what you're doing, who you're doing! My fucking God, it's always just going to be Wendy, over and over and over again, no matter what I do or say, isn't it?" I'm always going to be playing second-fiddle to some girl, whatever girl, if it's not her, it'll soon be another… I'm never going to be good enough.

At the mention of his ex, Stan twitched a little, his own voice rising in volume. He wasn't even sure what had set Kyle off, what the fuck was going on, but having that dragged up again? "Don't fucking bring Wendy into… into whatever this is! What the fuck, Kyle!"

But Stan didn't get any further argument in, because Kyle had picked up his nearly untouched drink from the table and dumped it over his Super Best Friend's head. Oh My God, I've gone bad-CW teen drama… Knowing he was making an ass of himself in public and giving away half of his best-kept secrets all at once, he raged out only one more line. "No, fuck you, Stanley Marsh! FUCK. YOU."

o/~ I don't wanna be friends… I don't wanna be friends… ~/o

Kyle turned and stormed away, breaking into a run as soon as he was clear of the crowd, straight out the elegant glass doors, down the curved entranceway and into the dark mess of ice, mud and cars in the parking lot. At that moment, he hated all of his so-called friends. Some vacation… He ran and ran until his tears had choked him up, his chest was burning from running and his hands and fingers had gone numb from the cold. He was somewhere on the curving road through the condominiums, but it was still a long way back to the house.

I shouldn't have said anything. I should have said… Everything. Even now, his heart broken and smashed at his feet, Kyle was at war with himself. He had Stan, but he didn't have Stan. Stan was on the football team, Stan was smoking with Kenny, Stan had broken up with Wendy at the end of 8th grade, but he was always surrounded by girls… But even with all these changes, they always circled back to each other. They spent more time together than either of them did with anyone else. Kyle didn't want anything to change that, change their friendship… but somehow, it wasn't enough. Ever since that early morning that Stan had kissed him – and yes, Kyle was fucking certain that Stan had and he was tired of lying to himself about it – ever since then, Kyle had thought that maybe…

Kyle still couldn't bring himself to finish the thought, scared of all the implications it would bring.

Stan was definitely the most important thing in his life, the one person he knew he couldn't live without. They did everything together, told each other everything… If not Stan, then who would beg him to do his math homework at lunch? (And he always gave in…) If not Stan, who would he secretly play Sims 3 with all night, laughing when Butters and Cartman fell hopelessly in love and had four ginger kids? Stan was his Guitar Hero duet partner, his escape from his parents, his… Super Best Friend. If he didn't have Stan to laugh with, plot with, adventure with, obsess with, even cry over Indiana Jones with… then Kyle felt like he had nothing. He felt like there was no value to life at all.

Slowing his pace to a vague walk, he rubbed at his eyes before shoving his hands into his pants pockets, trying to warm them. What does that mean? Kyle had always loved his friends, hell – they'd all said those words to each other on more than one occasion. But this feeling? This horrible knot in his gut that was wound so tight that he could barely breathe?

Do I… love Stan?

"Kyle! Hey, Kyle, is that you?"

Kyle froze at the sound of his name being called, but realized upon the second yell that it was Kenny and relaxed just a little. "Kenny?" he called out tentatively, stopping in a patch of moonlight on the path through the thick trees.

"Jesus Fucking Christ, dude," Kenny panted, shaking his head. "I really didn't think you had it in you to run that fast!"

"I… uh… sorry?" Kyle tried as Kenny reached his side, feeling horribly awkward after the scene at the bar. "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be… hooking up with some hot chick."

Kenny frowned, completely aware that the rasp in Kyle's voice meant he'd probably been crying, even if he wasn't at that moment. "Look, Kyle, that was totally my fault back there! I bought a round of drinks for the girls! They were showing me smoking shacks… but nevermind, the why isn't important, just the who. It was me, not Stan!"

Kyle was quiet for a moment as he listened to the explanation, and then he turned and started back up the path to the house, Kenny right on his heels. Kyle knew that Kenny wasn't stupid, especially about other people. He hid himself from them under that orange parka, but he was an observer, just like Kyle. "Why are you defending him?" Kyle finally decided on, not ready to give away his feelings if Kenny wasn't calling him on his behavior.

A thousand angry fights echoed through Kenny's mind, hours of sleep and sanity lost to his parents' crazy bickering. Even now, it made him feel instantly queasy and closed off. He shook the feeling away before answering. "You think I ever want to see two of my best friends fight, especially when we're all supposed to be having fun? Dude, it seriously sucks." Kenny was more than willing to take the blame for the girl party, but he A) knew that Kyle ought to know that already and B) didn't think it was going to make a damn bit of a difference.

"But… I'm not mad at you, Kenny," Kyle shook his head slowly, stopped to check the street name, and then turned, grateful that they were almost there. "It's not a big secret that you like boobs."

Kenny tried to chuckle at Kyle's lame attempt at a joke, but the air between them was still too tense. "Then… why are you mad at Stan?" Kenny knew very well why Kyle was mad at Stan, he'd figured it out sooo long ago, but unless he could get the other boy to admit it, they were never going to get anywhere. Stan was even denser than Kyle about this sort of shit. Impulsively, Kenny reached to take Kyle's hand, squeezing it once and then hanging onto it.

Kyle tripped over his feet for a moment, turning to look at Kenny as they neared the spotlight over the front door of the house. "I…" he started, at a complete loss for words. How could he explain why he'd blown up at Stan without outright telling Kenny that…

"You like Stan, don't you?" Kenny's hand around Kyle's kept the other boy from bolting immediately and the gentle smile on his face showed no trace of sarcasm, disgust, anger or anything at all except his usual compassion.

"Of… of course I like Stan, he's my best friend!" Kyle started vehemently, with every intention of denying what Kenny was really trying to ask.

"Stop being a fucking pansy-ass liar," Kenny said evenly with a shake of his head. "Come on Kyle, we've known each other since fucking pre-school or some shit. You've always stood up for me and I've never once judged you, not like that… you can tell me the truth. I won't think any different of you. Besides, you two are so fucking obvious that some days I feel like smacking your foreheads together and saying GET A GODDAMN ROOM!"

Kenny had finally let go of Kyle's hand at the end of his speech, but only so that he could wave both hands in Kyle's face for emphasis, finally grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him slightly. He was going to fucking drag this out of him no matter what it took.

Kyle was silent during Kenny's rant, but by the end, he'd cracked a small smile. "Is it… are we…. Really that bad?"

"Jesus Christ, YES!" Kenny exclaimed, slapping one hand to his forehead.

"We have been really close lately, close… not just mentally, but physically…" Kyle admitted softly. "There's been some times that I thought maybe…" He trailed off and licked his lips nervously. "So then you think that Stan… but all of those girls…"

Kyle hadn't come out and actually said it, but he was acknowledging Kenny's line of questioning finally, so he took that as a start. "Look dude, I can't tell you that I've actually heard that from him or talked to him about it… I mean, he does talk about you constantly, but he always has and you spend so much goddamn time together… I can't say for sure about anything… I can only tell you what I think."

"And what do you think," Kyle said softly, feeling weird and yet relieved to be talking to someone about this.

"I think… I think you should tell Stan how you feel," Kenny said gently, but firmly.

"What? No!"

"Kyle!" Kenny interrupted the redhead before he could get started. "What are you so afraid of? You know Stan hasn't really dated anyone seriously since he and Wendy split. I'm telling you it's my fault all of the girls were there. Maybe… maybe he's waiting for you to make the first move?" Kenny was speculating on that last point, but he didn't think he was wrong

"Me… make the first move?" Kyle shook his head incredulously. "No fucking way! Even if… even if I believed that Stan wasn't straight, even if I thought he wouldn't totally freak out at me… I don't know what to say, don't know what to do."

Suddenly, it clicked a little more in Kenny's mind. "Kyle, have you ever kissed anyone before?"

Kyle's entire face flushed red almost immediately, and he reached for the doorknob, trying desperately to escape his embarrassment. He'd seen Stan kiss Wendy numerous times, he knew Kenny had kissed girls… and some boys, if rumors were to be believed. Hell, even Cartman had dated a girl a year or two younger than them for a couple of weeks in 9th grade, though he'd sworn it was only because he'd lost a bet. "I… I've kissed Bebe and… and Rachel…"

"Dude, that was elementary school," Kenny said slowly. "It's… it's different now, isn't it?" Kyle didn't answer, his eyes fixed furiously on the ground, his face nearly the same shade as the single curl of hair that had escaped his hat in the wind. "Look, maybe instead of trying to talk to Stan, if you don't know what to say… maybe next time you're close, you can just…" Kenny was demonstrating, and he reached out one hand to tilt Kyle's face up until they met eyes.

"Just… what…" Kyle wasn't used to anyone being this far into his personal space besides Stan and Kenny's blue eyes were intense under the spotlight, bright where so often they were hidden in shadow. Is this really happening?

"It's super easy," Kenny promised as he leaned in with a soft smile. "You just, wait until you're close, and then…"

Kyle froze as Kenny's lips pressed softly against his, just once, and then he backed off. "K-Kenny…" Kyle stammered awkwardly and Kenny laughed.

"Come on, Kyle… maybe if you practice with me, it won't seem so scary," he said with a smile. "Maybe if you feel knowledgeable on the subject…"

"I, umm…" Kyle started, actually finally laughing softly. Talking to Kenny about this…. it felt weird, but…safe. "Thanks, really…" The rest of it felt like a crazy idea, but to his analytical brain, it also made a twisted sort of sense. If he didn't feel so clueless, would he have tried to kiss Stan on the mountain today? He'd let a million opportunities slip away, all because he was… scared. And Kenny wasn't. "Kenny, are you gay?" he suddenly asked, as if the thought had just occurred to him – because it had.

Kenny laughed loudly, then hugged Kyle tightly. "Kyle, I'm not anything… people are people, girl, boy, rich, poor, black, white… People can suck and People can be awesome… I mean, it's true, I like boobs a hell of a lot, but…"

"Did you really date Butters last year?" Kyle blurted out, then covered his mouth with both hands apologetically.

"Oh, oh no, no fucking way, Broflovski," Kenny said with a sharp shake of his head. "No fucking way am I telling you that without some sort of compensation. Tell me that you're fucking in love with fucking Stan Marsh and then I'll tell you the truth about me and Butters."

"What? That's entirely unfair!" Kyle protested, swatting playfully at his friend. "Your truth might just be that nothing happened!"

"It could be, but I know you, nosy Jew… you've wanted to know for months and Butters won't confirm or deny anything to anyone, will he?"

Kyle sighed, crossing and uncrossing his arms over his chest. "Fine! I… I'm in… I…"

"Come on, you can do this~"

"Shut up!"

"Come on, pansy~"

"I'm in love with Stan!" The words echoed once into the wilderness, soaked up into the thick snow-laden pine branches, and then Kyle's shoulders sagged with relief.

"I bet you feel better now," Kenny said with a smile, then shrugged. "Butters and I did date last spring… but only for a couple of weeks. It… sort of spawned out of the old superhero jokes one afternoon while we were stuck in detention – Cartman framed him, of course – but anyways." Kenny shrugged again, suddenly awkward… the whole thing kind of stung, even a year later.

"Did you…" Kyle tried to ask, blatant curiosity evident in his face.

"Kiss, yeah," Kenny smiled wanly. "But it… just didn't work out."

"Why?"

Kenny shrugged again. "Maybe you can blackmail me some other time to get more details, but I'm done for now. But we're chill, so, if you could…"

"You know I won't say anything…" Kyle felt oddly close to Kenny after their mutual sharing session and he suddenly hugged his friend fiercely. "Kenny, I… thanks, for coming after me, for listening, for getting me to admit it, for offering to…. you know… all of it." As if to test his newfound spark of confidence, he leaned forward and pecked Kenny on the lips. I could do that to Stan sometime, couldn't I?

"Oh, Kyle, you've got a lot to learn," Kenny laughed, hugging him back. "But if you're trying to ask me… well, the truth is, I am determined to help you two work this out, because I just can't stand the goddamn mooning anymore. So…"

Kenny suddenly kissed Kyle again, tickling him sharply in the ribs to get him to loosen up. Kyle gasped in surprise and then laughed, which was all the opening Kenny needed to slip in a little tongue. Suddenly, it wasn't quite as silly and Kyle's stomach flip-flopped before he pulled away, touching one finger to his lips in surprise. "Uh, wow…" he murmured, suddenly a little confused. "A lot different… than playing… ookie-mouth, heh…"

"Better, I hope – but don't freak on me, Kyle," Kenny said with a laugh, finally reaching to push open the front door. "Or rather, do freak on me, so that you don't freak on Stan when he does that to you – because I am convinced that day is not far off, especially if you grow a pair and start it yourself."

"Kenny!" Kyle yelped, punching the other boy, hard this time, in the shoulder.

"You could hold it above his head forever that you grew a pair before he did…"

"…you're going to torment me with this now constantly, aren't you?"

"You better fucking believe it."

The door slammed and Eric Cartman frowned from where he sat at the end of the driveway behind the wheel of Pikachu. He'd seen his two friends as he'd pulled up and turned the headlights off, wondering if they were talking about his disappearance. All of his friends had been gone from their table by the time he'd gone looking for them, so he already knew there was damage control to run.

Cartman hadn't expected to find Kyle and Kenny locked into an apparently serious conversation on the front porch. At this distance, he hadn't been able to hear anything either one of them was saying, though, so his jaw had literally dropped when he'd seen the two kiss – and it was far more than a friendly kiss, even if they seemed to be laughing a lot. He didn't know where the fuck Stan was either.

Giving them time to get inside before he pulled the car into the driveway, Cartman sat for a long time and stewed. It pissed him off, seeing the Pauper kissing the Jew. It bothered him – it wasn't what he'd expected, wasn't in his plans or thoughts – it didn't make any goddamn sense! He punched the dashboard hard and cursed a string that led off into something unintelligible, unable to figure out why he felt so very enraged. The image played in his head over and over again, the way Kenny had pulled Kyle in close, the way that stupid Jew had kissed him back.

"GODDAMN SHIT COCK CUNT MOTHERFUCKER!"

Even cursing didn't make him feel better. Cartman turned on the stereo, flipped through his playlist and growled. This trip was not going according to his plans and it was beginning to really piss him off.

o/~ I see you drivin' round town with the boy I like, and I'm a-like, fuck you, and fuck him too… ~/o


Stan waved back weakly at the truck full of girls before they sped off, leaving him at the foot of the driveway. He felt drained in every sense – mentally from the stress of the night, emotionally from the angry words thrown between him and Kyle, and physically for the hour he'd spent heaving into a very fancy toilet in a very fancy bathroom in a very fancy hotel, alone.

Some fucking friends I have…

There were no lights on in the house when he got inside, and since his head was spinning, he was grateful. He really hadn't wanted to come home to another blow-out fight – he just didn't have it in him.

Cartman was passed out in a recliner chair, the TV tuned to Comedy Central's late night, but on so low Stan could barely hear it. Even if they were pissed at each other, Stan couldn't rest until he knew Kyle was okay, so he trudged upstairs and slowly pushed open the door to the bedroom.

Kyle and Kenny were both there, each asleep in their own bed. Stan's heart ached painfully as his eyes slid over Kyle's soft expression, closed eyes and messy red curls, but he couldn't take even a step closer.

As angry as he was with Kyle for jumping to conclusions and bringing up Wendy again, he knew that he was as much to blame for what had happened tonight. There was no way he could just go climb into that bed beside Kyle and act like nothing had happened. It was harder and harder to keep pretending like nothing had changed between them, and Stan really had no idea how to even start their next conversation.

Closing the door softly behind him, he crept back downstairs to crash on one of the couches. Curling up into himself, he wondered why all he ever seemed to do was fuck things up.

Chapter Text

Stan woke the next morning with a start as the first rays of light crept into the living room. He rolled off the couch with a groan to discover he had the worst case of cottonmouth ever. Cartman was still snoring in the recliner like a jack hammer and Stan staggered by him into the kitchen. Flipping the sink on, he ducked his head underneath the icy cold stream and drank until his brain stopped feeling like scrambled eggs.

He poured himself a bowl of Lucky Charms out of habit and then sat there staring at it dully before picking up one marshmallow and popping it into his mouth to suck on it. Stan hadn't been drunk enough to end up with much of a hangover, but he almost wished he had been – then he would have remembered less of the angry exchange from last night.

"Yo, dude," Kenny said as he strolled into the kitchen, surprised but relieved to find Stan sitting at the table. "Glad you made it home okay."

"No thanks to any of you," Stan muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger.

"Don't be an ass," Kenny said very matter-of-factly, smacking Stan on the back before moving to pour himself a bowl of cereal. "You know where I went last night and you know why."

Stan frowned, reaching to take another marshmallow out of the bowl. He didn't eat this one though, only rolled it back and forth between two fingers for a long moment before asking quietly. "Is Kyle okay?"

Kyle froze just outside the door to the kitchen as he heard Stan say his name, not wanting to walk in immediately and make it seem like he was eavesdropping…. Which meant he was now eavesdropping to make it seem like he wasn't eavesdropping. Awesome. He couldn't quite hear Kenny's muffled reply, and then Stan spoke again.

"Thanks, Kenny…"

"No problem, dude…" Kenny trailed off, knowing Kyle hadn't been far behind him getting out of bed upstairs. Best to change topic. "Despite the debacle, I was hoping you might still want to help me search for one of those smoking shacks today. It would be an excellently cool bragging right if we found one."

Kyle rolled his eyes at Kenny's change of topic, but it made it safe for him to enter the kitchen. Kenny was leaning against the counter, rambling about the smoking shack locations as he munched spoonfuls of his cereal. Stan's head was leaning tiredly against one hand, but he perked up a little as Kyle entered the room. Their eyes met for a tense and awkward moment before Stan looked away and Kyle reached for the box of Lucky Charms. "Good morning, Stan," he said tentatively.

Stan was a little bit surprised that Kyle was actually speaking to him, and even though he'd been mad last night… he'd expected Kyle to still be more furious with him this morning than he was in return. He was glad that wasn't the case, and yet… he didn't want to pretend like last night hadn't happened either. "Morning, Kyle…" he answered back, but his eyes stayed fixed on his bowl of cereal, his queasy stomach turning over several times.

"So, seriously, guys, whether or not you want to come," Kenny was still talking about the smoking shacks as he watched the tense exchange between his best friends. "I want to go looking for them. And I got stuck babysitting yesterday, so… I don't care which of you does it today, but it's not gonna be me." Kenny turned to give Kyle a very pointed look and after a moment, the Jew sighed loudly in exasperation.

"Fine, fine, I get it," Kyle groaned, sitting down across from Stan and beginning to eat just the oats from his cereal. "I'm the other skier here, I should try and see if I can teach him something. It'll be more fun if we can all go out together sometime on something more difficult than the bunny hill."

"He already knows how to get on and off the lift," Kenny added hopefully, raising his spoon as a miniature sword in triumph. "But turning is so different between boards and skis that I didn't have much success there."

"He can't ski in wedge forever!" Kyle rolled his eyes, the banter with Kenny loosening him up a little bit. He was still mad at Stan, but he was also mad at himself, mad he had let this situation go on for so long. But how to have the conversation he so desperately wanted when they couldn't even look each other in the eye? He knew his own behavior had been pretty damn telling last night, but did he really have anything to go off of besides Kenny's thoughts to prove that Stan felt the same way in return?

Stan had remained silent, his cereal still untouched, and he only looked up when Kenny kicked his chair hard. "You also promised me half pipe before we left South Park, asshole."

"I don't know if I wanna…" Stan stalled, glancing from Kenny to Kyle. He couldn't figure out if he wanted to try and approach the redhead to talk or… just escape for awhile and try to clear his own head. If Kyle was pretending like last night hadn't happened, then why should Stan even bother dealing with it? Wasn't this the easy way out?

"You should go," Kyle encouraged him, reaching over to touch his Super Best Friend's shoulder in a familiar and comfortable gesture. "I can't half pipe, so it's a good time…" Kyle's words trailed off as Stan flinched away from his touch and he withdrew his hand quickly, hurt etched sharply into his features.

Stan groaned inwardly, wishing he could smack himself upside the head. The only thing worse than angry Kyle was wounded Kyle, in Stan's opinion, and he knew that Kyle was taking his response the wrong way, but he didn't know how to explain that, especially with Kenny standing right there. He'd hardly ever been so frustrated with his lack of verbal finesse. "I, uh… yeah, fine, whatever. We'll go half-piping…" he said to Kenny and then turned back to Kyle, trying really hard to offer what he hoped was a sincere smile. "But we'll all definitely do dinner out somewhere down in town, and maybe we can play some Rock Band or… or Guitar Hero later."

"That would be cool…" Kyle smiled too, then went back to eating his cereal while Kenny and Stan started to discuss their plans for the day. Despite knowing he was stuck with Cartman for the day, Kyle thought that maybe having the chance to think about everything that had happened last night would be good. Besides, then he'd also have the perfect chance to try and figure out where the hell Cartman had gone last night and what the fuck he was up to this time.


Stan was mostly quiet on the long walk from the condo to the main lodge, responding to Kenny's banter only with occasional hmms or yeahs. Mentally, he compared Kyle's behavior this morning with what he could remember of last night and it simply didn't make sense. How could he freak out one moment and then act like nothing was wrong in the next?

After his success with Kyle last night, Kenny hadn't quite been prepared for how closed off and oblivious his other best friend was being about the entire situation. Of course, he wasn't unaffected… in fact, Kenny hadn't seen Stan look so morose and defeated since the incredible loss of the pee-wee hockey team he'd coached. If anything, his behavior only confirmed all of Kenny's suspicions – because if Stan had felt more angry than guilty over the whole thing, he wouldn't be moping out the window of the gondola on their way to the summit.

They cruised down the Casper Traverse to head towards one of the snowboard parks without stopping and Kenny decided he would have to break out the big guns to get his friend talking. At the bottom of Easy Does It, they caught the next lift – Casper's slow triple. Kenny lagged until they had a bunch of kids in line behind them, and then, as he and Stan slid towards their lift, Kenny made sure to accidentally trip one little skier behind them. It had just the effect he wanted, he thought with a grin as he turned to look back – the kids had missed the next lift trying to unscramble themselves, in the end leaving two empty lifts behind them. Fucking perfect.

"Yo, Stan," Kenny nudged his friend, yanking off one glove and reaching into the inside pocket of his orange parka. "Wanna smoke?"

"Yeah, definitely," Stan's words tumbled out before he'd even had time to think about them, as if he were subconsciously grateful for the outlet.

Kenny nodded and slipped Randy's one hitter out of a tiny airtight plastic bag, packing the end of it with some sticky green. He took the first hit, only to make sure it was still clean enough for air to pass through, and then he reloaded it for Stan.

"Thanks, dude," Stan actually smiled a little as he accepted, lighting the end of it and sucking in deeply. He held the hit until his eyes watered, letting it slowly out of his nose as he handed the one-hitter back to Kenny to reload. "Aaaahhh… Jesus fuckin' Christ," Stan rolled his shoulders, but said nothing else until he'd had a second hit, at which point, all it took was one statement from Kenny to get him going.

"So, last night…"

"What the fuck dude!" Stan exploded. "I have every right to be pissed off! My three best friends left me alone with four tipsy touchy-feely girls while I was drunk after being bitched out by my Super Best Friend! I spent an hour throwing up in the bathroom alone – not one of you came back to make sure I was even still alive! I'm kinda fucking offended!"

"Dude, suck it up!" Kenny winced a little at Stan's rant – despite the fact that it was really his own fault Kyle had blown up at him, he also knew it must have sucked to be ditched. "I guess I sorta thought Cartman might come back and find you…"

"Lame excuse, seriously weak!" Kenny held out the one hitter and Stan took it mid-rant, pausing to inhale again and seethe it out through his nose. "And then this morning, Kyle's all "good morning, Stan~" like nothing even fucking happened! How do you go from "fuck you" to "good morning", huh?"

Kenny knew exactly how that had happened, as he'd been the one to talk Kyle down, but somehow he didn't think this was the right moment to mention it. "Dude, I can't sit here and just tell you shit Kyle said to me in confidence, but… I think you really hurt him last night."

"I hurt him?" Stan spat, then went into an even faster ramble, mostly muttered under his breath. "God. Shit. Damn. All I've been looking for is… is… a sign, any sign and I mean, why does he think so little of me? We spend nearly every waking second together that we don't have to be somewhere else, but lately things have just… gotten weird. I didn't even do anything last night, Kenny! I was just there backing you up…"

"I know…" Kenny said, but his patience was being tried at the sheer level of Stan's dumb when it came to Kyle, which seemed so completely ridiculous given how well the two knew each other – better than he knew either of them.

"And… and the next thing I know, I've got a raging Jew screaming fuck you and dumping drinks over my head! What the fuck! Why is he acting that way, all out of the blue?"

Kenny blinked, tucking the one-hitter back into his pocket as they neared the top of the hill. "Are you seriously asking me that? You're asking me why? After Kyle's rant last night? Are you really genuinely, no sarcasm at all intended, that goddamn oblivious?"

Stan was so worked up that he barely processed Kenny's questions as they exited the lift. "Yes, seriously, yes!" he insisted with a helpless flail of both hands.

Stan Marsh, you are so fucking gay it pains the very depths of my cursed soul. That was what Kenny wanted to tell his friend as he stood there wringing his hands pathetically and looking like the world was ending. "Fuck. FUCK! I just can't stand it anymore! I've had to listen to this for the last half a year! The bitching, whining, moaning, obsessing… Stanley Marsh, you need to fucking grow a pair and admit that you are fucking dying to fuck your Super Best Friend into the floor before the unrequited sexual tension makes my brain IMPLODE and I miss the whole motherfucking rest of this free vacation!" Fed up to the max, Kenny shoved the other boy backwards challengingly.

The tension in Stan's body was coiled like a spring and he roughly shoved his friend back, his eyes narrowed angrily. "It's on, dude! I choose you!"

Kenny glared back at Stan, pulling his glove back on and pointing down. "Right here, right now, in the pipe!"

Stan bit his lip, nodding furiously, and then they descended into the pipe, whizzing back and forth as they continued to trade insults. "What the fuck do you know! You don't know anything!"

Shaking his head and smiling to himself, Kenny waited until after he'd caught some seriously showy air before responding to Stan. "I've known you both practically since we were born! You're possessive of each other, jealous about each other, linked at the hip!"

"So what!" Stan knew his argument was weak, but giving in, admitting defeat? Telling Kenny the truth? That meant it was real, that meant everything would change, that meant that Stan wasn't who he'd always thought he was – right? "Kyle has always been my best friend!" As if to emphasize the point, Stan took some air of his own, even if it wasn't quite as high as Kenny. "But that doesn't mean…"

Kenny pushed back his hood so that Stan could see his grin and hear every word perfectly clearly as they crossed each other's paths again. "And you're going to swear to me on your honor as a Royal Chinpokomon Master that you have never once in your entire goddamn life wanted to cross that line and make it something more?"

The words shot through Stan's heart like a perfectly aimed arrow – he missed the last jump and crashed out, rolling, spinning and skidding to a stop just outside the end of the half pipe. The dark-haired boy in the red poof ball hat sat there and watched as Kenny took one final ridiculously high jump, the sexy lady on the underside of his board seeming to wink, then turned to come down, skidding to a glorious finish right at Stan's feet. Stan looked up at Kenny, his heart hammering in his chest. "I kissed Kyle."

Now, despite everything Kyle had said last night, this was still news to Kenny. It almost didn't make sense, unless… "I won't refrain from saying I WIN, but… well, when - how did that happen?" He held out a hand to pull Stan to his feet, helping his friend brush the excess snow off.

"I… I don't even know…" Stan shook his head slowly, stretching in several different directions to make sure he hadn't injured anything in his crash. "We… we always share my bed, fall asleep watching TV and playing games…" Stan's cheeks flushed slightly and he turned away from Kenny's probing gaze, bending down to fiddle with one of his boots. "And the weekend of my birthday is when…"

"Pulling teeth, Stan, spit it out."

"I just woke up early and Kyle was right there, right in front of my face, inches from me, and I just… I just leaned in and kissed him! I didn't even think about it, I just… did it! I don't even think he was awake, even though I think I did wake him up, but I didn't know what to say and he didn't say anything, so I didn't know what to think!"

"So you never talked about it at all?" Kenny sighed, suddenly understanding Kyle's confusion a little bit better. "You never asked him-"

"If he was awake? If it was okay? If it weirded him out? Dude, how could I ask him that? I didn't even know how I felt about it! It wasn't like I planned it, Kenny, it just happened."

"OK, whoa," Kenny said, placing one hand on each of Stan's shoulders. "Calm down, take a deep breath, because I do not know how to help you if you give yourself an asthma attack."

Stan laughed at that, a little too hard, a little too choked up. "Fuck."

"Do you know how you feel about it now?" Kenny tried to be serious and understanding, as he didn't want Stan to backpedal on any of the progress they'd made.

"I… I don't know…" Stan sighed and shrugged. "I've kinda been ignoring it for a couple weeks, honestly. Kyle never said anything to me, and I don't wanna fuck up our friendship."

"You need to talk to him."

"I know…I know I do, I want to… we usually talk about everything… but I… I suck at talking about stuff like this! Everything always makes so much sense in my head, but when I open my mouth and try to get it out, it all just ends up jumbled and fucked up and not at all what I really wanted to say."

Kenny pondered that for a moment. "You could just try kissing him again," he started, adding in a lecherous grin to let Stan know not to take him too seriously. You could write it down, you know he loves words… you could even sing it to him."

"That's gay," Stan mumbled, though his mind started shifting through Rock Band songs to see if anything fit. He turned his board to head down the hill, thoroughly drained from Kenny dragging the truth out of him kicking and screaming. But I know he's right… Kyle and I need to talk… no matter the outcome.

"So are you," the reply came with a snicker as Kenny kicked off beside him.

"Fucking shut up, asshole."


Katy Perry, yes! Yeeesss… oh, let me eat your cupcake breastsesesss~ mmm cupcakes~

"Wake up, Fat Ass!"

Cartman's glorious dream of a sweets wonderland evaporated as Kyle's voice pierced through his alternate reality. He cracked open one eye and was momentarily confused by his surroundings. "Is it… morning?" he asked in a super sweet and syrupy voice.

Kyle rolled his eyes and kicked the handle of the recliner, slamming the other boy back into a sitting position. "It's halfway to lunch and I'm tired of waiting for you to wake up! I don't wanna miss a whole day on the mountain, so get your fat ass out of the chair and get ready to go!"

"But Kahl…" he whined, then yawned, as last night finally came rushing back to him. Where's poor boy and hippie asshole?

"No buts!" Kyle whirled back around to wave one finger at Cartman menacingly, an obvious stick up his ass. "We're leaving in fifteen minutes!"

No matter the reason, it was obvious that the other two boys had taken off already, which Cartman found even stranger after the scene he'd witnessed last night. Where was the damn hippie last night… I know he has a serious boner for the Jew, so what the hell happened? Even thinking about the event caused the images burned into his retina to torment him again, but he didn't have time to dwell on it if he wanted to avoid further Jew-wrath.

Cartman grumbled the entire way to the hill, even though they had Pikachu to drive in as opposed to having to make the walk. "I suck at this and I don't wanna do it!" he whined as he struggled to carry his gear towards the Teewinot lift.

"You just need to have more confidence," Kyle suggested as they stood in line for the lift. "Or maybe more coordination."

"Hey!" Cartman yelled, trying to hit Kyle with his ski pole. "Ya Goddamn Jew!" Kyle used his own pole to deflect it, once, twice, three times, and then it was their turn to get on the lift.

The moment they were up in the air, Kyle turned to Cartman and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Where did you go last night?"

"What the hell, Kahl~" Cartman pouted indignantly. Straight to the point as always, so goddamn predictable, Kyle. "You drag me out here and wait til I'm stuck on this lift to ambush me?"

"You're damn right, I did," Kyle said with a fierce shake of his head. "And if you don't spill, I'm not going to help you with anything today. And tomorrow we'll all go off together and leave you here all alone." Kyle knew very well that Cartman hated to feel left out of anything, but he didn't know if that was enough to get him to fess up.

"Yeah, well, I should be askin' where the hell all of you went! I met a girl! A really smokin' hot girl, and then I brought her back to introduce her and you guys were all gone! What the hell!"

Kyle studied Cartman's expression, which revealed nothing, but he knew better… oh, he knew so much better. "I don't believe you."

"Yeah, well, who's fucking problem is that?" he simpered, crossing his arms over his chest, which was hard to do in his cumbersome red ski suit. For a moment, he contemplated asking Kyle what he'd been up to last night, but he didn't really want to reveal that he'd been a witness. He also seriously needed a way to throw Kyle off the trail and he was fucking annoyed. He was supposed to have been totally distracted this trip by STAN…. What the fuck is going on?

Kyle had no idea how to argue back to that statement and he didn't exactly have any hard evidence to back up his claims either… just a feeling. But he didn't really want to think about feelings at all right now, lest he accidentally let something slip in front of his arch-nemesis. They didn't speak again until they got to the top of the lift and Kyle was grateful that Cartman made it off without any trouble, though he skied in an extreme wedge. Ouch, no wonder he's so damn miserable... "OK, Cartman, look, you can't keep skiing like that… you're putting a lot of extra stress on your muscles by keeping your legs in such an extreme position."

Cartman let Kyle tow him carefully away from the lift until they reached a nice, mostly open spot with a gentle slope. "If I don't keep the wedge, then it's too fast!" he complained, enjoying Kyle towing him as opposed to having to actually ski.

"You have to learn how to turn properly… look, you want to keep your skis parallel as much as you can to get an even speed…" Kyle demonstrated a nice, even turn on the slope, ending up a few yards further down the hill.

Cartman attempted to imitate, keeping his skis parallel until he started to turn down the mountain, but he couldn't shift his weight properly or fast enough. The downward momentum snatched him quickly and only another frantic wedge pulled him out of the botched turn, landing him twice as far down the hill as Kyle.

Kyle sighed, skiing down to where he was again, far from giving up. "OK, that was… not quite it," he tried, a little more gently as he watched Cartman stab the snow with his ski pole violently, leaving a dozen tiny holes all around him.

"God. Damn. SKIING!" He turned his glare on Kyle as if daring the redhead to comment, but Kyle's expression remained calm as he waited for Cartman's mini tantrum to end. Once Cartman realized he wasn't going to get any reaction, he settled down again.

"When you head down the mountain, you're going to gain momentum, but instead of wedging, kinda shift your weight…" Kyle demonstrated again, skiing another turn around Cartman, closer than before. This really was a good distraction from everything that had been plaguing Kyle, and he surrendered himself to focusing on the moment. Stan and Kenny would be pissed if he didn't figure out a way to help their friend. "Lean heavier on one side than the other, so you can kinda… pull that other ski with you…"

With a grumble under his breath, Cartman tried again, but this time, when he shifted his weight and tried to move the other ski, he lifted his leg and threw himself off balance. Off-balance seemed to be the theme of this day, this trip, and he didn't like it one bit.

Kyle smacked a hand to his forehead as he watched Cartman take off down the hill with the tips of his skiis crossed – he wasn't going too fast, but he was completely unstable and toppled over a moment later.

Cartman nearly had a freak out when he found himself face first in the snow again and he flailed angrily as Kyle skied to a stop beside him.

"Hey, are you okay?" Kyle popped one of Cartman's skis off and braced himself, offering an arm to help pull the other boy up, despite his smaller stature. "You were really close that time!"

"You're just sayin' that…"

"What, to make you feel better?" Kyle grinned and shook his head. It was a little bit funny to see Cartman humbled by something, but at the same time, he was a patient teacher and didn't want to discourage him. "Like I have any reason to do that – nope, I'm just telling you the truth, same as ever."

It always made Cartman feel awkward when Kyle was nice to him, which was probably why he provoked the other boy as much as possible. No one else ever tried so consistently to prove him wrong, and yet at the same time, never quite gave up trying to get him to be a better human being too. "Meh… fine… you demonstrate and I'll try again."

This went on for several more rounds until Cartman finally managed to shakily complete a turn. "Alright, awesome!" Kyle was relieved by the progress and he skied over to his friend, offering one fist the way he often did with Stan and Kenny, his eyes bright and excited.

Cartman hesitated for a moment, surprised by the gesture, and then reached out to bump, rolling his eyes before ending it by spreading his hand for the explosion that sparkled away. "Ya know, that's pretty fucking gay."

For a moment, Kyle was going to retort angrily, but as he met Cartman's gaze, he suddenly saw the humor in his eyes and relented with a tease in return. "Yeah, well, you did it, didn't you? And you liked it!"

"Did not! Shut the hell up!" Cartman tried to hit Kyle with his ski pole again, but the smaller boy had already slid out of reach, playfully taunting him.

"Come on, see if you can ski more than one turn in a row!" He skied further than he had on any try previous, waving both of his poles over his head. "I beliiieeeve in you!"

Kyle can be pretty fucking adorable when he's all smiley. GAH! No, no he's not, what the fuck brain SHUT THE FUCK UP! Cartman stabbed himself in the leg with his ski pole several times, feigning death as Kyle continued to yell and wave at him. He was trying to rationalize the horror, the abomination that he'd witnessed last night! He lived to torture Kyle – to make him doubt his own faith, weep like a girl and cease having a reason to live! He'd done all of those already! Okay, okay…

The last time around, he'd found a rhythm with this, and he sought it again as he finally moved into the first turn, accelerating a little. So… so. So, maybe now and then, Cartman had had an impure thought about Kyle… but he'd had impure thoughts about a lot of his friends, most of them taking place is his twisted nighttime dreamscape. Or Imagination land, he thought, cackling as he re-imagined Kyle sucking his balls. And maybe once upon a time back in like, 6th grade, he'd even wacked off after a particularly brutal fight they'd had… but he got off on fighting figuratively, so why not literally?

Cartman moved into a second turn, a little faster than before, almost finding the "tuck" that Kyle had been trying to demonstrate with his cute little round Jew-ass.

No, no, it sure as fuck didn't mean a goddamn thing that witnessing last night's scene had given him an intense boner and it definitely wasn't why he was so pissed off right now. Hell, he couldn't even picture Kyle without picturing the goddamn hippie latched onto his side, they were so obviously Twoo Wuv. He really wished they would just fuck and get it over with… And he sure as hell didn't want to be as fucking lame and gay as them either. Why wasn't Kyle making out with Stan on the front porch? It was just because he didn't know what was going on that he was so pissed, right! He should have known if his Kenny had the hots for fucking Ginger Jersey Jew Kyle!

Kyle watched as Cartman made it through a third, and a fourth turn, gaining speed each time, but improving in form. It was in the fifth turn, more than halfway, that something went wrong – Cartman took the turn too aggressively, his skiis crossing again, but this time sending him into a spin due to the momentum. Kyle could only look on in horror as he tumbled down the mountain, gravity launching him too quickly for the redhead to have a chance to move. They collided hard, skidding and rolling in the snow, skiis popping off left and right.

"Shit, you ok, Kyle?" Cartman said gruffly, wiggling his toes to see if anything was broken.

Kyle was surprised to find his face pressed into Cartman's chest – as they'd collided, the bigger boy had actually wrapped his arms around Kyle, trying to take the brunt of their fall on himself. He looked up at the other boy, a little bit dazed from the impact, but couldn't think to yell at him. "Heh, I hope so… and…" He cracked a small smile. Maybe he does have a kindness bone, just buried deep. "Despite the ending, it was really a hell of a lot better that time!"

Cartman had totally expected Kyle to ream his ass for sucking at this, for taking them both down and the Jew was… complimenting him. Does. Not. Compute. Actually, Kyle was still talking about ski form or something, all of their limbs tangled together as he tried to gesture, and Cartman interrupted him mid-sentence, pressing his lips hard against Kyle's.

Kyle hardly had time to process what the hell had happened when he found himself dumped into the snow as Cartman slid away from him, babbling quickly. "Dude, look at our skis and poles, they're everywhere! Weeeeaaaak! We're gonna have to hike halfway back up the goddamn mountain!"

Holy shit. Cartman just kissed me. Kyle was sincerely freaked the fuck out and he sat in the snow for a moment, a blank look on his face as he watched Cartman start to climb the hill, kicking their poles down to where they'd crashed.

Cartman glanced over his shoulder as he reached the last ski, sitting next to Kyle's mini backpack, knocked off of him in the initial impact. The Jew looked completely confused, short-circuited, sufficiently bamboozled, and well, honestly, that had been his initial goal today, hadn't it? Kyle had forgotten all about Cartman's disappearance last night. Success! But somehow, that thought didn't make him feel much better at all. His mind still kept replaying him the intimacy of the moment he'd accidentally spied on last night, like it was on a goddamn loop, and he only felt worse than before.

"W-what the hell?" Kyle finally mumbled when Cartman returned to hand him his backpack.

Oh hell, no. There was no way that Kyle was going to get Cartman to talk about fucking feelings or shit like that. "In the moment, Kahl," he said, clicking one boot back into a ski. "Don't fucking over think it, you fucking fag. It never fucking happened. I don't know what you're talking about and what's in the fucking faggy pack?"

Kyle rolled his eyes, unzipping his backpack to check the contents, seeing the words for the bluff they were. Of course he's going to fucking refuse to acknowledge it. Sure, it hadn't been at all the kind of kiss he'd shared with Kenny last night, and it hadn't been all soft, like when Stan had tried either... It felt almost like… a test. "Fuck off, Fat Ass, it's just my travel insulin kit and some safety stuff, matches, a GPS device…"

"You've got a fucking homing device?" Cartman jumped on the topic change eagerly as Kyle clicked back into his skiis and re-adjusted his backpack. "Mommy's idea?"

"Actually, it was Ike's…" Kyle sighed. Cartman was back into his usual asshole mode, all traces of the earlier vulnerability wiped away. He wanted to be angry, but really, he was just… fucking confused. "Look, why don't we get some lunch and then try another run or two before dusk? Maybe by tomorrow you'll be able to ski somewhere other than the bunny hill."

"Sure, fine, whatever."

Chapter Text

It was a welcome surprise for Kyle to see Stan and Kenny hanging out on the front hood of Pikachu when he and Cartman made their way to the car a few hours later. The rest of their afternoon had been tense, as Cartman had remained in his ultra-sarcastic insult-everything-around-me mode until it had given Kyle a headache trying to repress his urge to beat the fat boy with one of his purple ski poles.

Despite the awkward blow-out between him and Stan the other night, after having been kissed by his other two best friends in equally strange displays in the last day, Kyle found that he couldn't wait to be back by his Super Best Friend's side. Truthfully, no matter what he and Stan ever fought about, they still preferred each other's company over anyone else's and Kyle was tired of not being able to really be himself with the one person he'd always been himself with...

Wow, Kyle… not even 24 hours and all you want is to make up. Well, really, he was now pretty damn sure he wanted more than that, and for the first time, he let himself openly take in the other boy from head to toe as they approached the car. Lounging on the hood of the yellow car in his red & blue hat & coat, Stan was a bright spot in the brown and white landscape. Stan also looked more relaxed than he had at breakfast as he greeted them with a wave.

"Hey dudes," Kyle called out, a tired smile on his face.

"How'd it go today?" Stan asked as he slid off the hood of the car and reached to catch one of Cartman's ski poles just as he dropped it.

"Some progress was made," Kyle nodded towards Cartman as he unlocked the car so that they could all put their gear inside. "I taught him the basics of turning, but steeper slopes are still tough."

"Skiing is now over!" Cartman declared, climbing into the driver's seat and turning the car on. "I demand dinner!"

Kenny slid into the front seat, not even bothering to call shotgun, and waited until Stan and Kyle had climbed into the back before addressing his friends. "Stan and I met some cool dudes on one of the lifts today who told us that there's a karaoke night in town at the Virginian."

"Eh?" Cartman said with interest, and they all knew it was over. As much as he loved Rock Band, Cartman also loved plain old karaoke, especially in front of a good crowd of appreciative drunks. "Sweet."

"Yeah, but it doesn't start until 9," Stan added, then turned to look at Kyle as Cartman headed out of the parking lot and towards the main road that would lead them from Teton Village to the actual town of Jackson. "But we talked about getting dinner in town tonight and I know Kyle wanted to get some pictures of the town square for Ike…"

Stan's earlier conversation with Kenny was still weighing on his mind, but he was tired of being mad. He really hated fighting with any of his friends, but fighting with Kyle was always the worst, like missing half of his brain. He really just wanted this night to go better than the last and over the course of the day, he'd convinced himself that he would try and talk to Kyle as soon as he found a good time.

"There's a burger joint near the town square," Kenny suggested, relieved that his friends were all being agreeable tonight.

The plan turned out to be a good one, Stan decided several hours later as they were headed toward karaoke. They'd walked around the town square and Kyle had forced them all to pose for dorky pictures underneath the arch made of elk antlers. Afterwards, they'd gone into a store across the street called the Mangled Moose, where they'd bought all sorts of ridiculous gag gifts to bring home, including a "get loose at the moose" shirt for Clyde and a genuine authentic moose "poop-on-a-stick" for Butters. Cartman and Kenny had then gotten into a burger eating contest at Billy's Burgers that was so epic, Kyle had accidentally snorted diet soda up his nose while laughing too hard.

By the time they were driving to the Virginian, all four of them were in a decidedly silly mood. Cartman knew his friends' habits so well at this point the he automatically sought out the darkest, most out of the way parking spot when they arrived. "We've got a half hour."

"Perfect," Kenny grinned, turning sideways in his seat as he pulled the one-hitter out of his orange parka.

Kyle watched as Kenny took a hit and then passed the one-hitter to Stan, but unlike last time, he didn't say anything. Maybe the events of the last 24 hours had finally made him lose his mind, but he found he just… didn't feel quite the same way about it as he had the last time he'd been sitting in this spot. After all, he'd gotten high second-hand and it hadn't been that big of a deal – certainly not the mindfuck that tripping acid was at eight years old! Certainly not the mindfuck of being kissed by two of your supposedly straight best friends was! It also wasn't peer pressure, his friends weren't goading him or mocking him or even asking him to do it. Kyle really didn't just want to be a parrot for his parent's views on everything and… he didn't want to see something so trivial come between him and his friends… him and Stan. It was a long list of pretty damn practical reasons…

Or… maybe he just wanted to do it … fucking because. For no other reason than… because. Because he could. And he was really tired of feeling like he had no control over anything. Get control by losing control?

Stan jumped when Kyle's hand suddenly shot out and closed around his wrist as he went to hand the one-hitter back to Kenny. "Whoa, dude," he smiled as he caught sight of the determined glint in his Super Best Friend's eyes. It was always so fucking cute when Kyle got defiant. Sweet, is he finally going to cave? "You wanna try?"

Cartman watched the Jew in his rear view mirror, one point impressed by his ballsiness, and one point betrayed by being left as the last holdout. "Meh, you guys are always stinkin' up my car…" he complained half-heartedly.

"Shut up, Fat Ass! You like it." Kenny was busy doing a victory dance in the front seat, thrilled that another of his friends might cross over to the Dark Side. If Kyle really joined them, he was going to have to figure out a way to deal with Cartman. "Dooo iiiit, Kyle!"

Kyle let go of Stan's wrist so that he could re-pack the end of the one-hitter and then watched as he demonstrated. "You just kinda hold it like a cigarette," he said, holding it up to his lips between two fingers. "Light the end, breathe in-"

"Not too gentle or it won't light enough, not too hard or you'll wanna die," Kenny added.

"Right," Stan confirmed, his fingers brushing against Kyle's as he passed the small metal piece to him. "Actually, let me light it for you the first time so you have less to focus on."

Kyle held the one-hitter up to his lips and Stan leaned in close, flicking the lighter against the end. The flame lit up his face in the darkness, just inches from Kyle's own, and the excitement in Stan's blue eyes sent a jolt straight down Kyle's center. He breathed in sharply, then, as Kenny had predicted, choked and gagged.

"Fuck yeah, he blew the whole thing out! Kylee B!"

Choking too hard to actually speak, Kyle gave Kenny the finger and then started to laugh through his wheeze. Ah, so what if it felt like his lungs were on fire and his eyes were watering? He'd done stupider things to impress his friends – tried to bomb Pearl Harbor, dressed like a metrosexual, faked getting a period…They were always doing the stupidest shit together, but would he really have it any other way? Everything suddenly seemed really fucking funny and Kyle's coughing eventually became a fit of nearly hysterical giggles.

"Baptism by fire," Kenny crowed, reaching to take the one-hitter back to reload it, marveling at how hazy the air inside Pikachu was. "Welcome to the stoner subculture, Kyle."

"God Damn, you guys," Cartman turned to look over his shoulder at Kyle, who was still in hysterics, babbling non-sensically about… the rainforest. Fuckin' rainforest. "You gone done and broke that Jew."

"Drink some water," Stan said, forcing a bottle into Kyle's hands, trying to act concerned even though he was laughing almost as hard. He needed to snap Kyle out of it, though, or they were never going to be able to take him inside.

"Come on, you guys," Cartman finally whined. "It's almost 9 PM – we gotta be there to hand our picks in immediately or we'll be waiting for hours through drunken college girl renditions of Barbie Girl before we ever get a turn to sing!"

Quite suddenly, Stan started rapping along with the current song playing on their giant Ipod shuffle, complete with seat dancing moves. "Yo it's all about the evolution of the Pokemon - the training attaining N' bein' part of the phenomenon!"Kenny started laughing all over again – he hadn't heard this song in ages - but it seemed to do the trick for Kyle – he snapped out of his giggle fit, following Stan, and soon they were both rapping together to 2BA Master from the original Pokemon soundtrack of their youth.

"B a Poke master icon...Ha! Team Rocket will B long gone!"

They all knew the entire CD by heart – they'd listened to it for hours at a time the first summer it'd come out, during that one phase where they'd played Monopoly for 9 hours a day with all invented rules. Kenny started rapping with his friends, which meant of course, that Cartman couldn't resist. Slipping back into their old boy band personas, they rapped the rest of their favorite verse in unison.

"But first U gotta know about the different types - Grass, Fire, Ground, Flame, Electric,
Water, Rock… Flying, Ice, Normal, Bug, Ghost, Fighting & Dragon... Don't forget about the Psychic! 2BA Master, Pokemon master!"

It was a rare and completely unhinged moment, and when the track finally ended and moved on to something else, they were all quiet for a moment, looking around at each other with equally silly grins until Cartman finally said gruffly. "It's 9:03."

Stan threw open his car door and jumped down to the ground, reaching the other side of the car before Kyle was even out. "I totally know what we should sing first!"

"Then I get to choose our duet," Kyle bargained, linking his arm through Stan's as they ran across the icy parking lot, slipping, sliding, laughing and almost taking each other down in the process.

Kenny watched his friends with a smile, but kept pace with Cartman, tucking his hands into his pockets and grinning up at him as he deadpanned. "You better not fucking disappear again. You better not fuck this night up, or you will answer to me, Fat Ass."

Cartman stopped cold for a moment as Kenny's voice descended into the gravel of Mysterion. He hadn't heard that voice in a long, long time… and he was shocked to realize that it made his pulse race a little. "Shut up, Kehneh," he finally trilled awkwardly, trailing after the other boy as they entered the restaurant. "I'm not scared of you!"

Quick as a flash, Kenny had turned, chopping one hand towards his friend's face, not at all surprised when Cartman jumped back a mile. "That's what I thought." He pushed open the door to the bar, showed the attendant his ID, and went to look for Stan and Kyle.

The Super Best Friends were already up at the DJ's booth, their heads tucked together as they poured over a giant binder of selections. "Dude, we're gonna be up next for a group song," Stan said as Kenny and Cartman joined them. Kyle's picking us a duet, but you guys should put some stuff in too!"

Kenny leaned over to ask the DJ a question before tossing his own paper in the stack and Cartman gave in several choices, labeled in order of priority. In a moment, the current song was ending and the four boys found themselves alone on the small dance floor in front of the DJ's booth on the north wall. The bar ran the length of the east wall, and the rest of the room was filled with tables and chairs. It was early, though, and barely half full, with a lot of patrons playing pool and darts in the adjacent room in the back, near where they'd come in.

None of the boys had any idea what Stan had chosen for them, but as soon as the intro came on, they all grinned and passed fist bumps around in a circle. The song definitely fit the mood of the night, of the trip, and well, their life in general.

o/~ I don't wanna wake up today
Cause every day's the same
And I've been waiting so long
For things to change
I'm sick of this town
Sick of my job
Sick of my friends 'cause everyone's jaded
Sick of this place, I wanna break free
I'm so frustrated, I just wanna

Jump! (Jump!)
Don't wanna think about tomorrow (Jump!)
I just don't care tonight
I just wanna jump (Jump!)
Don't wanna think about my sorrow
Let's go
Forget your problems
I just wanna jump ~/o

They'd written and sang so many songs, played so many different kinds of music games, that it was only natural that Kyle and Kenny took all the higher harmonies. Stoned off their fucking asses, they bounced and collided all over the dance floor while still managing to present a decent version of the song. Despite the half-house, they still got a round of applause when they were finished and then they went to grab a few stools at the bar.

"A round of screwdrivers for all four of us," Kenny cut in before any of his friends could order. They all looked at each other and shrugged, and a moment later, the bartender had served them all small glasses filled with a yellow not far off from Kyle's drink the previous evening.

There was already a game of dice going at the bar with a few players, so they joined in and frivolously spent more money – trading free drinks on the AmEx to other players for chips with which to play. Each round, players had several chances to roll five dice, counting how many matches of the highest number they could get.

Kyle actually thought the game was kind of silly, seeing as it was all really a matter of luck – which meant that everyone's probability close to evened out at the end. The only intelligence in it was when to give up or keep trying… On the other hand, he and Stan were sitting side by side, laughing and yelling and making friends with a bunch of dudes originally from Jersey and DC who were into extreme sports. He could play a stupid dice game for awhile.

Wait, are we on our second or third round of drinks? Kyle turned to try and ask Kenny, but never got that far, as the blond had just managed to lose the end of his chips to a lucky last-minute roll by a Taylor Lautner-wannabe, as Kyle couldn't remember any of the other player's names.

Stan had lost the last of his chips in that round as well, and with a quick nod to Kenny, the two boys left a tipsy Jew happily winning everyone's cash to slip out the back door beside the end of the bar. They walked along the edge of the building until they found a secluded spot beside a dumpster to smoke. "It's so hilarious that Kyle's winning everyone's money," Stan said with a happy grin as he waited for Kenny to take a hit and pass him the one-hitter.

Even Kenny, usually the one with the highest alcohol tolerance, was feeling more than a little tipsy, but that was okay - he was going to have to be seriously wasted to find the right frame of mind to be brave enough to sing his selection tonight. "Yeah, we shouldn't leave him or Cartman alone for long, though…"

"But for totally different reasons," Stan snickered with a shake of his head.

"I'd worry he's gonna disappear again, but he's too addicted to drawing attention to himself. He won't risk missing his chance to sing." As if the universe was on cue, they heard the song change and Lady Gaga came up. Mum mum mum mah"Ah, shit, gotta hurry…"

They passed the one-hitter back and forth again before Kenny packed it up and hurried back towards the open doorway.

o/~ I wanna hold em' like they do in Texas please
Fold em' let em' hit me raise it baby stay with me (I love it)
Luck and intuition play the cards with Spades to start
And after he's been hooked I'll play the one that's on his heart ~/o

Stan went back to sit beside Kyle at the bar, who immediately gave the other boy half of his chips so he could re-join the game. Kenny stood in the open doorway, watching Cartman as he pranced back and forth on the small dance floor, delivering a pitch-perfect rendition of one of his favorite songs.

o/~ Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohhhh, oh-oh-e-oh-oh-oh
I'll get him hot, show him what I've got
Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohhhh, oh-oh-e-oh-oh-oh,
I'll get him hot, show him what I've got ~/o

It had always amused Kenny that Cartman, self professed "I'm not fucking gay, dude" would be so comfortable singing a song about "I'll get him hot…" Then again, when is Fat Ass ever telling the truth?

o/~ Can't read my,
Can't read my
No he can't read my poker face
(she's got to love nobody)
Can't read my
Can't read my
No he can't read my poker face
(she's got to love nobody) ~/o

Or maybe that was the point? Those words, that charade, was his own Poker Face? Whoa, I must be really high. Kenny started to laugh, pushing back his hood and unzipping his parka as he sauntered away from the door and towards the dance floor.

Maybe I should call his bluff.

At this point in the song, Cartman had moved on to teasing his friends, pointing to Stan when he butchered one of the lines as a tribute to when they'd all first been obsessed with the song. He didn't even notice as Kenny went behind him, sliding up to the DJ's booth to ask for a favor.

o/~ I wanna roll with him a hard pair we will be
I don't give a crap 'bout whales so go and hug a tree (I love it)
Russian Roulette is not the same without a gun
And baby when it's love if its not rough it isn't fun, fun
Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohhhh, oh-oh-e-oh-oh-oh
I'll get him hot, show him what I've got
Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohhhh, oh-oh-e-oh-oh-oh,
I'll get him hot, show him what I've got 

P-p-p-poker face, p-p-poker face
(Mum mum mum mah)
P-p-p-poker face, p-p-poker face
(Mum mum mum mah) o/~

As Cartman sang the last bit before the bridge, he fanned himself a little, grinning and blowing a fake kiss at Stan and Kyle, both of whom were having too good of a time watching his antics to be bothered by the innuendo. He didn't realize that Kenny was right behind him until it was far too late.

Kenny didn't just karaoke the next set of lines, either… he danced his way into Cartman's personal space, moving with an innate sensuality that Gaga would have been proud of as he sang up into the bigger boy's stunned expression.

o/~ I won't tell you that I love you
Kiss or hug you
Cause I'm bluffin' with my muffin
I'm not lying I'm just stunnin' with my love-glue-gunning
Just like a chick in the casino
Take your bank before I pay you out
I promise this, promise this
Check this hand cause I'm marvelous ~/o

Kenny flipped one hand at the audience on the word marvelous, bowing as he sang the last line. Cartman literally stammered through the next part of the song, but when it seemed like he might not make it to the end, Kenny started to sing again and they finished it together.

"Haha, very funny," Cartman murmured as he passed Kenny to hangd his microphone back to the DJ, but his cheeks were pink and he immediately went to the bar to ask for a glass of water, ignoring all of his friends.

As Kenny's luck would have it, he was up for his own solo song next. He ran to drop his orange parka on the back of Stan's chair, leaving himself in a plain white t-shirt that was a little too short after his last growth spurt. He elbowed Stan, pointing to his purple t-shirt with a grin before running back to the dance floor to start the song.

o/~ Yo check it out I've got a plan
Here's my intention HAHA!
The frat boys in the club are lame
Let's start an altercation ~/o

"What was that all about?" Kyle asked, bowing out of the next round of dice so that they could watch Kenny perform.

Stan looked down at his shirt just as he realized that Kenny was not singing the lyrics to "I Kissed A Girl", even though it was definitely Katy Perry that was playing. "Cobra Starship?" Stan read the name of one of his favorite bands off his own t-shirt and then realized that Kenny was indeed singing the words to the band's cover.

o/~ It's just what I'm used to
Just want to fuck shit up
I've got my whole damn crew
Come on what you gonna do? ~/o

Kyle gaped as Stan leaned over to whisper the explanation in his ear, looking around the bar as people took notice of the different version of the song. "No way… is he really gonna…"

"…sing that in a redneck bar in Wyoming?" Stan finished the thought for Kyle, even though they both already knew what the answer was going to be.

o/~ I kissed a boy and they liked it
Got all the honeys in the club excited
I kissed a boy just to start shit
That homeboy was not about it o/~

Kenny flirted with a table full of girls as he started to make his way through the room, not needing the karaoke screen at all. A few people looked confused, but most of the drunk patrons were laughing and egging him on. As he sang the next part, he stopped in front of his three friends sitting at the bar, making Kyle blush sharply with his implications.

o/~ I know it's wrong, but I don't mind
I'm gonna start shit tonight
I kissed a boy just to start shit
Bitches loved it o/~

Cartman watched as Kenny continued to flirt with every good-looking person in the room, winning the whole crowd over by the time he reached the final chorus. He was jealous – he knew the burning, churning feeling of it – but he'd gotten just as much love from the drunks when he'd been singing. And he loved watching Kenny perform too, he was the most natural of the four of them when it came to singing, thanks to his Romanian training. And yet, every time he watched the blond touch someone's hair or sit on someone's lap, he felt himself get a little more pissed off. Finally, he couldn't stand it, and just before Kenny finished, he leaned over to Kyle and muttered. "Goin' to take a piss."

"Eww, TMI," Kyle wrinkled his nose, then turned around to search for his drink.

"Didn't want you to think I was disappearing."

"Yeah, well, you disappeared last time you went to the bathroom and honestly, Cartman…" And here, Kyle paused just to grin at him. "I don't really give a flying fuck what you're doing."

Cartman twitched a little, but the song was over and he wanted out of this room right now. "Fuckin' Ginger Jew," he muttered sharply, stalking away.

The dice game had died down, but the circle of players was still talking, now about extreme sports videogames, the one common ground they had found topic-wise.

"That was, uh… great, Kenny!" Kyle offered as their friend approached, but Stan couldn't even bring himself to say anything, he was laughing so hard.

I've been so jammed up… Stan thought about how he'd wound himself up for the past few months, made himself crazy, really, all because of that accidental kiss… all because he was afraid of what being himself meant. What the hell had Wendy told him when they'd mutually agreed that going to 8th grade prom together was a bad idea?

Stan, honey… you've got to get in touch with yourself and open your eyes to all the possibilities…

Wow, was Stan so dumb that everyone in his life had been trying to lead him the right way and he'd still managed to gaff it up and get lost? He turned to look at his Super Best Friend, still sitting loyally and hopefully by his side despite what an ass he'd been… and he'd feel guiltier, but he really hadn't known. He hadn't understood how he really felt, even if everyone around him had figured it out… but thanks to his friends, that was no longer the case.

"Kyle, I…" Stan started, reaching out to touch the redhead's arm lightly to get his attention. Kenny had been swept up and taken away by numerous girls who'd come over to compliment his singing, leaving them relatively alone in the middle of the drunken chaos. Now or never…

"What is it, Stan?" Kyle turned to face him, smiling and reaching out to touch Stan's knee in return.

"Kyle, do you think maybe we could…"

"Stan & Kyle are up next!"

GODDAMNIT! Stan cursed inwardly, but grinned as he grabbed Kyle's hand, tugging him to the dance floor so they could grab their microphones. As he sang the first line, he felt the lyrics hit him as hard as he had the first time he'd ever heard it.

o/~ Do you have the time
To listen to me whine
About nothing and everything
All at once
I am one of those
Melodramatic fools
Neurotic to the bone
No doubt about it o/~

Kyle came in to sing the higher harmony as the two of them leaned against each other, back to back, rolling eyes at the ceiling and thinking of how many times they'd played this song alone in one of their two rooms, jamming out. It was still their favorite Green Day song.

o/~ Sometimes I give myself the creeps
Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me
It all keeps adding up
I think I'm cracking up
Am I just paranoid?
Am I just stoned? o/~

The lyrics were automatic because they'd been singing the song for practically forever, but as Kyle started the second verse alone, he realized what he was really singing. Suddenly feeling a little bold and cheeky, he turned to face Stan, singing it at his Super Best Friend as if he really meant every word of it. In a way, he kinda did…

o/~ I went to a shrink
To analyze my dreams
She says it's lack of sex
That's bringing me down
I went to a whore
He said my life's a bore
So quit my whining cause
It's bringing her down ~/o

Stan was not sorry at all that Kyle was finally openly flirting with him, and he flirted right back as they sang the chorus again, looping an arm around the other boy's shoulders and bumping their hips together.

o/~ Sometimes I give myself the creeps
Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me
It all keeps adding up
I think I'm cracking up
Am I just paranoid?
Uh, yuh, yuh, ya ~/o

They began to circle each other as they sang, building into the final chorus, and at the bar, Kenny whistled loudly, hoping that there was finally a light at the end of this stalemate. The intensity between the two boys as they sang was evident to everyone in the room and there were other catcalls from the ever-more drunk room of people.

o/~ Grasping to control
So I better hold on
Sometimes I give myself the creeps
Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me
It all keeps adding up
I think I'm cracking up
Am I just paranoid?
Am I just stoned? ~/o

After the song was over, Stan and Kyle made their way back to the bar, where Kenny was waiting with another round of drinks for everyone. "That was sweet, you guys," Kenny grinned, his orange parka back in place, but the hood still down. "Hate to be a downer, but do you know where Cartman went?"

"He said he was going to the bathroom," Kyle answered, taking a seat on his stool again, but not picking up the drink. He didn't want to get too carried away, after all – it just wasn't safe. His heart was still racing from the song and he found himself wondering what Stan had been about to ask him before they sang. He was only half-hearted when he offered to Kenny, "You want me to go look for him?"

Considering what had happened the last time Kyle had offered that, Kenny immediately shook his head. "I'll go and see what's up…" Goddamnit, I told him not to disappear!

Stan had gotten dragged into another game of dice with the boys from Jersey-DC, but Kyle was called up to sing after the next song had finished, so he was only half paying attention to the conversation. Aww, sweet…is he going to sing MCR?

Kyle was a little bit nervous as he took the microphone and softly sang his way through the intro. Stan's eyes were on him, but it was too late to bail out, even if he thought that singing this was going to give away everything he'd been hiding for ages.

o/~ Remember me
Remember me
Remember me
Remember me ~/o

"Zat yer boyfriend?" Taylor-from-Jersey lisped as he leaned towards Stan, elbowing him to get his attention.

"Er, uh, umm…" Stan stammered in surprise, edging his stool away from the other boy. "N-no, he's not… but he's…"

"He's got a cute ass."

Stan turned to glare at the other boy menacingly, annoyed that he was distracting him from watching Kyle. "Dude, hands off."

o/~ Where, where will you stand
When all the lights go out
Across these city streets?
Where were you when
All of the embers fell?
I still remember them
Covered in ash
Covered in glass
Covered in all my friends
I still think of the bombs they built ~/o

Kyle was having trouble focusing on singing the song when he couldn't figure out what was going on with Stan. At first, it had looked like Taylor-from-Jersey was hitting on Stan, which made Kyle's blood boil with jealousy. He'd been used to Wendy, or even the girls like last night… but to see another boy that close to his Super Best Friend? It made the gene he tried his best to hide rumble low in his gut.

The flirtatious nature of the encounter seemed to turn angry in only a moment, as Stan edged his bar stool away again and said something quite heatedly to the other boy, holding up one hand in the universal gesture for "I'm not listening."

o/~ If there's a place that I could be
Then I'd be another memory
Can I be the only hope for you?
Because you're the only hope for me ~/o

Stan tried to focus on the words Kyle was singing, thanking his OCD that he already knew every word to the entire new album. He hadn't even told Kyle that this was his favorite song off it and he bit his lip sharply. He was going to do it tonight… talk to Kyle, maybe even…

"OK, so if he's not yer boyfriend, do you care if I have a go at burying myself in that sweet little ass?"

And Stan snapped.

o/~ And if we can't find where we belong
We'll have to make it on our own
Face all the pain and take it on
Because the only hope for me is you alone ~/o

Kyle's vocal trailed off as he watched his Super Best Friend rise from his seat, bodily shoving Taylor-from-Jersey as he yelled at him angrily. Unfortunately for Stan, the other boy was just as wolf-like as the real thing, and he shoved back, tossing Stan into several of the barstools they'd been sitting on. The rumble in Kyle's gut burst as he saw someone laying a hand on Stan and suddenly, his body was not his own anymore.

There were stars at the edges of Stan's vision as he picked himself up from the bar stools, but he didn't even had the chance to think about retaliation. A flaming ball of red and green came barreling into the center of the growing scene with a roar and a stream of cuss words.

"What the fuck, dude? What. The. Fuck!"

Kenny had re-entered the room when the sound of the commotion reached him in the hallway, Cartman (who really had just been in the bathroom) in tow. He pushed through the crowd just in time to watch Kyle draw back and sucker-punch one of the annoying asshats they'd been playing dice with earlier. There was a sickening crunch in the dude's jaw and he went flying into one of the tables.

The shit has officially hit the fan.

"Fuck," Kenny muttered, then shoved Cartman. "We need to get the fuck out of here now! Go get the car, I'll meet you out front, we'll pull around. Go, Fat Ass!"

Stan knew he had only seconds before the stunned crowd would awaken and make it impossible to escape. He grabbed a dazed Kyle by the arm, slipping behind the table closest to them as he heard Kenny calling out to them. "DUMPSTER!"Right! The back door!

Taylor hadn't gotten back to his feet and several bystanders to the rude conversation that had prompted the fight seemed to move on cue to give Stan the exit route he needed, straight to the door he and Kenny had wandered out of earlier.

Kyle didn't come back to himself until the blast of cold winter air hit his face, and then he realized that he and Stan were running along the length of the building in the darkness, the music still echoing behind them with no vocalist.

o/~ Face all the pain and take it on
Because the only hope for me is you alone ~/o

"Holy shit, dude," Stan was saying to him as the words snapped back into focus. "I can't believe how hard you hit that guy!" Not that Stan couldn't have looked after himself, but he was kinda touched that Kyle had defended him so quickly, so strongly. They passed the dumpster he and Kenny had stood by earlier and reached the corner of the building where the parking lot exited back onto the main drag. "Let me see your hand…"

Kyle's heart was racing as Stan took his hand and lifted it up, trying to inspect it in the dim light from the lone streetlight on the opposite side of the road. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I… I wasn't even thinking…" Kyle babbled a little with a shake of his head. "I just saw that boy on you like that and I…"

"Shit, this is probably going to bruise," Stan murmured, and without even thinking himself, he brought Kyle's reddened knuckles to his lips and kissed them softly. It was only when he looked up and met Kyle's eyes that he realized that somewhere along the way, the redhead had lost his beloved hat. His emerald eyes were burning with the intensity of whatever feeling had prompted that punch, his messy red curls everywhere in the wind. He was so fucking beautiful that Stan could hardly take it. "Ky…"

"I don't care, Stan…" Kyle said fiercely, placing his free hand against Stan's chest and backing him into the wall of the building. "I… don't care anymore… I just want…" Kyle tilted his face up to the slightly taller boy and then crashed his mouth against Stan's, his hand curling into the other boy's shirt possessively.

It was all the invitation, all the confirmation that Stan had ever needed and there was no hesitation at all as he returned the kiss. When Kyle drew back after one kiss, though, they met eyes for only a moment before Stan wrapped one arm around Kyle's back and tugged him in close to kiss him again. He let go of Kyle's injured hand so he could curl his own around the back of Kyle's neck to turn the other boy's face against his, running his tongue along Kyle's bottom lip in a question.

Kyle hadn't ever tried to kiss anyone like this, but he trusted Stan completely and was also a quick study. He remembered what Kenny had done to him yesterday and realized what Stan was asking, and after that, all rational thought departed from Kyle's mind. All he could think of was Stan – Stan's hands on his back and in his hair as they kissed feverishly, their tongues exploring and their hips grinding together to let the other know just how turned on they were.

BEEP-BEEP! BEEP-BEEP!

"Shit."

"Fuck."

Stan and Kyle split apart immediately, Kyle looking back to see if they'd been followed, Stan leaning around the side of the building to make certain it was Cartman and Kenny. When he saw the yellow of Pikachu, he grabbed Kyle's uninjured hand and ran for the car as fast as he could.

Kenny had already thrown open the passenger door, climbing into the front seat as Stan hurtled into the car, pulling Kyle in behind him. They raced out of the parking lot with the door still hanging open just as the front door of the bar crashed open, but Cartman's driving skills were far too l33t. "See ya, suckers!" he bellowed, gravel skidding out behind them as they made their getaway.

Stan wrapped his arms around Kyle's waist as the other boy leaned out to pull the door closed before falling backwards into his Super Best Friend's arms breathlessly.

"Yo, Kylee-B," Kenny finally said as the laughter and hysteria in the car died down. "You almost left this behind."

Kyle didn't give Kenny the finger this time for the nickname, though, as his favorite green hat came flying at his face in the darkness. Instead, he jammed the hat back on his head, reached up to drag Kenny halfway back into the backseat with him and Stan, hugging him fiercely as he reached out to hit Cartman's shoulder with his other hand.

"I fuckin' love you guys."

o/~ The only hope for me is you
The only hope for me is you ~/o

Chapter Text

The entire ride home had been spent re-enacting the sequence of events for Cartman, who'd missed it while he was in the bathroom. Of course, when Stan got to the part where he and Kyle had raced along the building to escape, he'd made sure to leave out all the details, just as he hadn't mentioned exactly what the guy at the bar had said to piss him off so badly. Mostly, they just focused on how awesome Kyle's left hook was and made bets about whether the asshole's jaw was broken, much to the Jew's chagrin. Even in the darkness of the car, Stan could tell how pink Kyle's cheeks were, though, and he reached out silently to squeeze Kyle's hand as the car came to a stop. "We should build a fire tonight," Stan said as they climbed out of the car and headed towards the front door.

"Ha, I'll stay far away from the open flames, thanks," Kenny joked out of habit, glancing at his friends in the rearview mirror just before he reached to open his door. He didn't really want to die tonight… and was it his imagination, or had Stan and Kyle been holding hands just before they both slid out of the car on opposite sides? "But it'd be cool if someone would roast some marshmallows for me."

"I'll eat half the ones I roast for you," Cartman answered cheekily, pleased when Kenny grinned and smacked his arm in response.

Kyle could hardly keep a straight face, his mind re-playing his scene with Stan over and over on a loop, and he paused behind the car for a moment to take a deep breath, trying to calm himself down a little. It didn't work very well. "H-hey… he started, following his friends inside, trying his best to sound normal and not… squeaky. "We should also play Rock Band tonight!"

"Well, why don't you set it up while I try and get the fire started?" Stan suggested as they all discarded their jackets and boots in the foyer before going upstairs. Kenny disappeared into the kitchen and Cartman went upstairs to get his binder of games from his luggage.

Stan was glad to be alone in the living room with Kyle, but also glad for a little space to process what had just happened. He snuck glances at his Super Best Friend as he set the first logs in the grate of the fireplace, but Kyle seemed to be absorbed in climbing behind the TV to hook up the wires for the PS3, his lips pressed together into the thin line he only got when he was thinking very deeply about something. Stan had just kissed those lips not even an hour ago, and he found that he couldn't wait for the opportunity to do it again.

Maybe it was the fact that Stan noticed little things like that about Kyle that should have clued him in a lot sooner to what he was really feeling. He knew more about Kyle than he knew about himself some days, but even now, looking back, he didn't know if he could pinpoint any specific day in their history where things had changed from friends to something else. It was so totally natural to have his best friend by his side no matter what they were doing that even this transition… didn't feel as strange as he'd been terrified that it would since, oh, sometime last summer.

OK, maybe the longer Stan traced his own thoughts backwards, the further back in time he realized he'd been subconsciously thinking about and wanting this to happen. Well, not "this" specifically, but… it had gotten to the point where his day didn't feel right without enough Kyle in it. When they had stopped being in every class together, they'd only begun spending more time outside of class together. Hell, most of the time he only got through class awake because he was texting Kyle. They called each other every night before going to bed, unless they were already together. When was the last time he'd gone to sleep without Kyle's voice being the last thing he heard?

Stan would be lying if he tried to pretend his whole life wasn't wound around Kyle's pretty damn inseparably… and even though he was happy, really really stupidly happy over their kiss earlier that night, it still scared the shit out of him to even begin to consider what it meant. Had things finally crossed the lines of Super Best Friendship? Was he really okay with that?

"How's the fire coming?" Kyle asked, interrupting Stan's thoughts at the colorful point that he'd started to daydream himself literally wrapped around Kyle instead, his hands shaking as they clasped the fire poker tightly.

Unfortunately, both Kenny, with a couple of sodas, and Cartman, with his binder of games and a huge bag of cheesy poofs, had already returned to the room, so there was no chance to really share his thoughts with his Super Best Friend, even if he'd been able to find the words. "I just finished building my little teepee of tinder," Stan said, pointing to the fireplace and avoiding Kyle's gaze, lest he blush, or worse, get queasy out of his own nerves. "I'm about to light it, but I'm gonna have to build it for awhile longer to really get it going."

"Okay, cool," Kyle responded, wishing he could say something else. He had a million questions floating in his mind, and he didn't know if he'd ever wanted to be alone with Stan so badly in their entire lives. He reached out to touch his Super Best Friend's shoulder, squeezing it lightly, comforted when Stan finally looked up and met his eyes, smiling.

Across the room, Cartman was trilling in the microphone as Kenny tested out the drum set, making sure all of the pieces were secure before he started wailing on it. There was a different tension in the air, the brunette had noted, and he was pretty damn sure it had something to do with Stan and Kyle. They had always acted pretty damn gay, but tonight, it seemed like their touchy-feely had been turned up to an extra-nauseating level and it was quickly making Cartman decidedly more irritable in response.

"Ey! Jew! Get your goddamn ginger fro over here and on the fuckin' guitar!"

"Shut up, Fat Ass," Kyle snapped back, but the sentiment was more automatic than anything else. He let his hand slide slowly off Stan's shoulder before he turned and started back across the room.

Kenny observed all of his friends as he usually did, scrolling through the music list and deciding that he could have first pick tonight just for putting up with all of their bullshit. Ah, this looked like an excellent choice – it was always funny to make Cartman sing about smoking weed. Maybe one of these days, he'd take the hint too.

"Goddamnit it, Kenny!" Cartman yelled as the intro started and Kyle hurried to pick up his guitar. "I said I was picking first!"

Kenny started humming along even while he while he was drumming, just to drown out Cartman's bitching, but the Fat Ass was too vain to give up hope of a perfect score, and so he came in on cue.

o/~ It ain't no joke I'd like to buy the world a toke
And teach the world to sing in perfect harmony
And teach the world to snuff the fires and the liars
Hey I know it's just a song but it's spice for the recipe ~/o

Cartman sang every word to Kenny's choice perfectly, but he didn't actually seem mad about it – in fact, he started to get into it, making up weird little dance moves during the instrumental breaks. On the other hand, Kyle was totally distracted, botching one of the guitar solos badly enough that Cartman changed a line of the lyrics into a violent threat to hit him with the microphone if he didn't fucking pay better attention.

Kyle knew he wasn't exactly on, but being badgered by Cartman wasn't helping him either. He made sure to nail the entire end of the song to make a point, but it wasn't enough to escape the fat ass's wrath.

"What the hell was with that garbage playing, Kahl~! That seriously weak! What. The. Hell!"

"It was the first song! Gimme some time to warm-up!"

"WEAK!" Cartman shouted back, now trying to get under the Jew's skin on purpose. The dopey grin he'd been wearing for most of the song pissed Cartman off. He preferred seeing the ginger riled up and pissy… it was a reminder to him all the time that he would never like the Jew and that most things were his fault. "Do I need to have Stan come over here and show you how to do it?" He knew that was a low blow due to their past with music games, but to his surprise, Kyle didn't take the bait.

Instead, he rolled his eyes, pulling the guitar over his head and setting it down on the couch. Turning to Stan, he smiled. "Stan knows I can give him a run for his money, any day, any time, right?"

Stan didn't know if Kyle had meant the words to be as suggestive as they came across, but he stammered the most awkward reply possible. "S-sure, Ky… anytime you ask."

Cartman made loud, fake vomiting sounds, but Kyle ignored him, heading to the kitchen and tapping Kenny on the shoulder. "Hey, Kenny, come help me get the rest of the stuff for s'mores and cocoa."

"First marshmallow's up, though," Stan interrupted, finding his brain again. "Fire's almost hot enough, but I know you don't like them burnt." He held out the end of the stick he was using to Kyle, who did as he would have done even if the previous hour hadn't happened – he leaned in close and opened his mouth.

Kyle is trying to fucking kill me… Stan thought, his cheeks flaming red as he quickly pulled the oozing blob of white goo off the stick and crammed it into his Super Best Friend's mouth.

With a slightly devious twinkle to his eyes that said he knew exactly what he was doing, Kyle turned and left for the kitchen, Kenny right behind him. Completely oblivious to the fact that Cartman was glaring daggers at him, Stan went back to adding another log to the fire with an equally goofy grin as Kyle's earlier plastered across his face.

Cartman was stewing at this point, the cogs in his mind turning and squealing sharply as the TV continued to blare the same snippet of music over and over again. For the first time, he acknowledged that he had, in fact, kissed Kyle earlier that afternoon, however awkwardly. Why had he done it? Had it really been just an effort to distract Kyle from his plans? But then… he'd been so damn distracted himself tonight, he hadn't even carried through the next piece on his list. Also, it seemed like Distraction Stan was finally taking effect, for whatever reason, so… why did he feel so unsatisfied? Why did he feel so annoyed? Was it possible that… he wanted Kyle for himself?

But… no… this didn't feel like… want. It didn't feel like that time he had been soul-rendingly enamored with Wendy Testaburger. Was it lust? It certainly didn't feel like any of the times he'd jacked off to a pair of hot titties in a magazine stolen from Kenny's house… or… any other time he'd whacked off… but that was different, anyway. No, nothing in the world compared to how he felt right now… antsy, twisted up, torn apart, horny, pissy, guilty, jealous… the combination of feelings really didn't make any sense to him at all. It wasn't even all about Kyle… he knew that some of his feelings were directed at his other two friends, but it was so jumbled and mostly, he didn't even want to bother thinking about it - he was mad that it was taking his mind away from more important pursuits.

As Cartman drifted and stewed through these thoughts, he'd started clicking through the music, debating about what to sing next, but in the end, he settled on nothing and drained the rest of his soda instead, crunching the can in his fist and dropping it on the floor when he was finished. Rising from the recliner, he shot another glare at the back of Stan's dark head before shuffling off to the kitchen.

The other boys had left the door hanging open and Cartman, nosy as ever, couldn't help but try to eavesdrop as he approached.

"Dude, sweet! I'm so proud of you!"

That was Kenny's voice in exclamation, but Kyle shushed him and their voices dropped to a level that didn't carry far enough to be heard. Cartman peered around the edge of the doorway to see the blond and the redhead bent over a plate, their heads so close they were almost touching. Kenny was breaking graham crackers as Kyle broke up the chocolate into squares, both of them whispering back and forth – he could see their lips moving. Kyle snickered a little in response to something Kenny said, reaching to pop a piece of chocolate in his friend's mouth before eating the last square himself.

"The cocoa's in the closet," Kyle pointed, his voice rising as he moved to the refrigerator to get out the milk.

Cartman's hands were shaking as he stood in the hallway, riled up all over again and even more confused than before. He absolutely fucking HATED seeing Kyle and Kenny acting like that together! Sure, Stan and Kyle made him want to barf all over their Cute, but this…. This just made him want to put a fist through the nearest object, preferably Kyle's fucking face.

Jew. Poor Boy. Hippie. Ginger. Twerp. Douche. Nerd. Flirt. Jock. Stupid. Fuckers. The words and thoughts swirled and rattled into white noise and before he knew what he was really doing or why he was doing it, Cartman found himself sitting down on the edge of the couch next to the fireplace, commenting lightly to Stan.

"You're not worried, leaving Kyle alone with Mr. Flirty in the kitchen for soooo long, Stanley, my dear friend?"

"Uh… what?" Stan had just finally gotten the fire to a steady level and he brushed his hands off on his jeans before looking up at Cartman. There was a look on his face, a very familiar, very disturbing look that Stan recognized instantly, and it sent a horrible feeling of dread rushing through his entire body. This was the look that Cartman usually had right before he crushed someone's entire world… and the fact that it was currently being directed at him was a bad, bad thing.

Cartman smiled, thrilled that he had unspoken permission to elaborate. "Kyle. Kenny. Alone together in the kitchen…"

Stan pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers and sighed in exasperation. "I really don't want to play your stupid games, Cartman, so if you have something to say to me, would you just fucking say it already?" He didn't need to be led around by the nose.

Instead of actually answering, Cartman just began to make loud kissing noises while fanning himself elaborately.

Stan's eyes narrowed at the same time that his breath caught in his throat. His first thought at that sound was what he'd shared with Kyle earlier that evening, but then his brain caught up and reminded him that Cartman had been referencing their friends, not Stan himself. Does he mean that Kyle and Kenny were… "What are you saying, that's ridiculous, " Stan finally snapped back, his blue eyes flickering to the doorway that led towards the kitchen. "Kyle wouldn't…"

"I saw them myself, Stanley," Cartman said sweetly, enjoying every bit of the anguish that rose quickly in the other boy's expression. "Last night, in front of the house."

The timeline was possible, Stan's thoughts raced as he rose to his feet, hesitating, his eyes fixed on the doorway. But then why would Kyle… tonight… "You're just fucking with me."

"There was tongue."

"You're lying."

"Then why don't you go ask Kahl yourself, Stanley?"

"Maybe I will!"

"Kenny's trying to steal the Jew right out from under you."

"Bullshit!" Stan whirled back to glare menacingly at Cartman, his mind replaying any gesture he'd seen between his two friends lately, unable to believe it was possible. His feet were propelling him towards the kitchen before he even had time to think about what he was going to say or the fact that he was doing exactly what Cartman wanted him to do.


"OK, I'm not blind, deaf or dumb," Kenny grinned once he and Kyle were alone in the kitchen. "What happened?"

The Jew played coy for a moment, circling the kitchen to retrieve the graham crackers and chocolate from one of the garbage bags of stuff they'd brought with them. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Despite the measured words, Kenny could see the hint of the smile playing at his friend's lips and so he teased him a little more, slinging an arm around his shoulders when he returned to the counter. "Oh, bullfuckinshit, Kyle," he bumped hips with the other boy. "I saw that smoldering exchange of marshmallow. And you fucked up the guitar part so badly because you were staring at Stan's ass as he was-"

"Enough, enough!" Kyle laughed, ducking away from Kenny's entrapment and opening the cabinet to grab a plate. It still felt really weird to have Kenny tease him about Stan, despite the conversation they'd shared the other night. He'd spent so many years carefully avoiding the topic. "I can tell you're not gonna leave me alone…"

"Nope," Kenny said, shaking his head as he picked up the box of graham crackers and popped open the top. "So you might as well fess up."

Is it wrong to share that special moment with Kenny? I… want to keep it for myself, just in case there's not another…but… "I… I kissed Stan, right before we got in the car earlier." Kyle whispered the words, as if saying them out loud might negate what had happened or prevent it from ever happening again.

"Dude, sweet! I'm so proud of you!" Kenny grinned, a rush of relief lifting his heart. He'd called this outcome years ago, but it still felt good to know he'd helped his two best friends find their way to each other. He was sure that eventually he'd be so sick of hearing their sweet talk that he'd be begging to go back to the days of pining and whining, but for now, it was a nice change of pace.

"SSHH!" Kyle bit his lip hard, shushing Kenny as he ducked his head a little and started quickly breaking the chocolate bars into squares. "Shut up! Now you really are embarrassing me," he muttered.

"Please tell me it was amazing after all those years of pent-up sexual tension."

Kyle snickered a little in response, his easy blush rising in his cheeks. "God, Kenny, you are such a fucking perv," he leaned in until their heads bumped, hissing at his friend. "I'm not giving you intimate details of…of…" Kyle reached to shove a piece of chocolate in Kenny's mouth before he could make the next lewd comment that was so obviously on the tip of his tongue, then ate the last square himself. "The cocoa's in the closet," he said, a little louder as he went to get the milk out of the refrigerator.

"Sugar-free?" Kenny retrieved the box and shook it in Kyle's direction, still tempted to tease him some more. It was funny to see him lose his usual rational-geeky-cool-thing.

"Yeah, but if you make it with milk…" Kyle started as he turned the burner on, placed a pot on the stove and poured in the milk. "You can't even tell. Get some mugs?"

Kenny came to stand beside Kyle after retrieving the mugs, watching as the redhead took a wooden spoon and began to stir the milk. There was a thoughtful expression on his face, and after a few minutes of silence, Kenny gently asked. "Did you two actually talk about anything?"

Kyle sighed, shaking his head slowly. "There wasn't time…" Shrugging, he reached for a pot holder and turned the burner off. "I want to and… I can tell that Stan wants to, and we will… we just… haven't had the chance yet."

"Well, if you need me to be a distraction…" Kenny offered lightly, reaching out to hold each cup steady as Kyle poured the milk in. "You know… so you two can be alone."

Setting the pot back down on the stove, Kyle touched Kenny's arm and smiled warmly. "Thanks, Kenny, I really-"

"Is it true?"

Kyle looked up from the cocoa project, turning to see his Super Best Friend standing in the doorway of the kitchen, a stricken expression on his face and a smiling Cartman right behind him. His hand dropped away from Kenny's arm as he turned to fully face the other two who had now entered the kitchen, standing on the opposite side of the island counter in the middle. Seeing that tortured look on Stan's face was like a knife to the gut and Kyle struggled to understand what had put it there, and so suddenly. "Huh? Is what true?" he finally asked, confusion evident in his eyes.

Stan had seen the way his two friends had been standing before they'd realized he was there, the way Kyle had been smiling at Kenny. It felt as if the floor was dropping out from under him, sending him tumbling end over end even as he found the strength to ask. "Cartman told me… that you kissed Kenny last night. I told him there was no way it was possible. It's not possible, is it… Kyle?" Stan watched as a jumble of emotions flitted over his Super Best friend's face, his mouth opening and closing several times as he attempted to respond and failed. "Oh God," Stan muttered, his eyes widening a little. "It's true?"

"Stan, you don't understand!" Kyle started, knowing the other boy's tendency to jump to conclusions. This can't be happening! Not now, not after…

"Just tell me if it's true!"

Kyle and Stan had always had an honesty policy between them, and the truth was written across Kyle's face anyway as they stared each other down. "It's… true…" Kyle finally stuttered, taking a step towards Stan and shaking his head so fiercely it dislodged his hat a little. "But it's not how you think!"

Kenny had no idea whether or to interrupt this one or not, but his gaze immediately shifted to Cartman, pinning the other boy with the deadliest glare he could manage. Did he really see us last night? Why, oh why, had he picked tonight of all nights to stick his nose in this? Kenny seriously contemplated strangling him.

Stan seemed to shut down at the confirmation, taking a step back for every one Kyle took towards him, his hands out in front of him defensively. "How… how could you…" Stan stumbled over his words, his mind re-playing him the passionate embrace they'd shared not long ago. Did it not mean to Kyle what it meant to me? He felt sick to his stomach, confused, and angry that this was happening in front of their friends. He couldn't talk to them the way he could talk to Kyle when they were alone, but right now, he felt that trust was betrayed anyway, so it didn't matter. "You didn't even… try to tell me…"

"When? How?" Kyle tried to touch Stan's shoulder, his words more panicked now as he sensed the other boy pulling away as figuratively as he was literally, but Stan bodily threw the other boy's hand off, hard enough to send Kyle stumbling back several steps.

"I'm not your pity party," Stan muttered, turning his glare on Kenny darkly. "And you're a fucking hypocrite, dude. Did you guys just want to make an ass out of me? After all that shit in the halfpipe - What the fuck!"

Tears were collecting in the corners of Kyle's eyes now and he blinked them away as he gaped at his friends in horror, no idea how to fix the mess. "Stan, just listen to me for a minute!" he choked out, but the other boy had already turned and stomped out of the kitchen.

Kenny stopped Kyle as the other boy moved to follow, feeling awful about the scene he'd just witnessed. "Let me go talk to him, Kyle. He's totally taking this the wrong way, I swear I'll fix it…" He jogged around the counter, stopping for a moment in front of Cartman, who'd been standing, leaning against the refrigerator with his arms crossed over his chest as he enjoyed the entertainment. "I can't believe you could be so goddamn malicious and heartless to the only people in your pitiful life who actually give a damn about you! You are a sad, sorry sack of shit."

Not bothering to give the other boy a chance to respond, Kenny raced out of the kitchen and down the stairs to the foyer, hearing the door slam just as he reached his boots. He smashed his feet into them, yanking open the door and chasing after the figure retreating down the darkened road. "STAN!"

Stan hadn't gotten much farther than the end of the car, but he stopped when he heard Kenny's voice. "I wanna fucking punch you right now, dude."

Kenny stopped within said punching distance, waiting until Stan turned to face him before continuing. "Go ahead, if it'll make you feel better – but at least fucking hear me out first."

His fist curling and uncurling several times as he tried to reign in his temper, Stan finally nodded sharply. "Fine."

"Dude, Cartman's blowing this up!" Kenny said in exasperation. "Kyle didn't kiss me – I kissed Kyle. I know that probably doesn't make you less mad – maybe more mad at me, but dude, I did it for you!"

"Yeah-fucking-right," Stan scoffed, even though it did make him feel a little better to hear Kenny's explanation. If Kyle didn't start it, then maybe…

"Kyle kissed you tonight, didn't he?" As Stan's expression darkened again, Kenny wondered if maybe it had been a mistake to let that slip, but what was done was done. The important thing was that he got Stan to understand. "OK, look, I know he did – and he did it because I helped him find the courage to do it! You should be fucking thanking me, dude!"

Kenny reached to punch Stan's shoulder lightly, letting him process for a moment, and Stan's twisted gut slowly unwound. "Do you… like Kyle?" He could barely get the words out, and only because he was pretty sure he knew what Kenny's answer would be.

"Dude, I love both of you," Kenny said, quite seriously. "You're my two fucking best friends and I've – I'd fucking die for either one of you." If you only knew how true that statement is.

"Whoa, dude," Stan said in surprise at the vehemence of Kenny's words, a small flicker of a smile on his lips.

"But I've known for a long time that what's between you two is… well, let's just say, I'd never try and tread on that, ever."

"You really mean it?"

"I really do."

There was a long moment of silence where they both glared each other down and then Stan relented, his posture relaxing. He held out a hand to Kenny, who accepted it immediately and squeezed it hard. "I'm not going to apologize for being pissed at you."

"I'm not going to apologize for kissing some sense into your boyfriend, since you didn't have the balls to do it yourself!" Kenny ducked as Stan tried to playfully slug him, dancing back up the driveway towards the house.

"He's not my boyfriend…" Stan started, looking up to where the lighted kitchen window was. "…yet…" he mumbled the last word under his breath. He felt a little better and a little worse, knowing he'd left his Super Best Friend in tears for the second night in a row.

"We'll just call it even and move on," Kenny said, gesturing to the door. "Come on, go back and fucking talk to Kyle."


Cartman stood frozen for a moment after Kenny swooshed out of the room, the words cutting him a little harder than he wanted to admit. Several steps away, Kyle stood staring blankly at the four mugs of steaming cocoa, tears now running silently down his cheeks. He wanted to gloat, wanted to enjoy those tears, that sheer misery… but it was as if Kenny's words had taken all of the wind out of his sails. "Hey, Kahl…" he started softly, taking a step towards the other boy, always fearing the wrath of the Jew's temper.

It wasn't Cartman's fault that Kyle had kissed Kenny, even if he had been assholish enough to spill the details to Stan. Kyle was angry at Cartman for blabbing, but also mad at Stan for not listening to him and at Kenny for getting in the middle and himself for being a fucking chickenshit. If he'd just tried to talk to Stan two months ago, even… "What did you even see? What did you even hear?" Kyle sniffed out, rubbing at his eyes with one sleeve of his sweater. "Why couldn't you leave it alone?"

the only people in your pitiful life who actually give a damn about you…

Cartman sincerely didn't have the answer to that question, but he took another step closer to Kyle anyway. "…I don't know."

Kyle looked up in surprise at the honest answer, free of boasting, bragging or mockery. There was a rawness to Cartman's expression as he took the last step to stand next to Kyle, looking genuinely discomforted, and some of the anger drained out of Kyle in empathy before he asked quietly. "Are you… that repulsed by the idea of me and Stan together that you tried to sabotage it?"

the only people in your pitiful life who actually give a damn about you…

There was hesitation in Cartman's reply as he fished in his pocket for a rumpled tissue, which he passed to Kyle awkwardly. What's wrong with me? Kyle's tears should be like nectar! Sweet, sweet nectar! But instead, Cartman felt like he had a really bad case of indigestion – rivaling the KFC incident, for sure. "You and Kenny…" he started, then shook his head sharply as if saying anything more was impossible.

the only people in your pitiful life who actually give a damn about you…

"Me and Kenny?" Kyle started, choking up another sob as he shook his head, his torrent of rage at the whole situation just barely contained. "What about you? I'm not an idiot – you kissed me out on that mountain today! Why? What was that for? You rat out Kenny, but not yourself? You don't make any sense! ARGH!"

Cartman hated the Jew, hated the stupid fucking Ginger Jew from Jersey, fucking up his plans, pissing him off, trying to get inside his head. Kyle was now beating his fists against Cartman's chest and the bigger boy caught them in his hands, forcing Kyle to stop and look him in the eye. "I fuckin' hate you!"

the only people in your pitiful life who actually give a damn about you…

"I fucking hate you too! You're only happy if everyone's as miserable as you are! You couldn't stand to see me and Stan happy! No matter how many times we all begrudgingly admit to being your friend, include you when you don't deserve it… no matter how many times I sense that glimmer of a bigger heart, a better person, you have to go and shit all over it again and again!"

Despite the fact that Cartman had Kyle's wrists securely in his bigger hands, Kyle was still yelling at the top of his lungs, like a volcano that couldn't quite contain its fury, and Cartman simply stood there and took all of it.

"You and your bigoted commentary, and then you and your "Make It Right" crap! You act like you don't give a shit, like you're so much better than everyone else! But I know better, Eric! You do care what people think, what we think! You're just as fucking scared and messed up as any one of us! We all know better after all these years, so why do you have to still keep being a fucking asshole to your friends! The people you drag into your plans, the people who put up with you when you suck the most…" Kyle stopped for a moment, laughing a little crazily through his tears. "Ahaha, even now, when things have never been shitter, I…I… I still know that somehow it'll be okay, because the four of us have been stuck together for fucking ever… for fucking ever… Are you worried something's going to change that? Stan and me, is it threatening? I just can't see anything changing that-"

Cartman remained silent through Kyle's entire tirade, unable to find a single word in his own defense or even in denial. Here he'd been, as Kenny put it, malicious and heartless, and why? It wasn't about "Stan and Kyle", and he knew it, Kyle knew it. It was about so much more than that, so much he blatantly tried to ignore every day of his life. He spent all his time with his friends; he'd even told them jokingly that he loved them on more than one occasion. He didn't want to lose his friends either, and the longer he let the Jew rant, the worse Cartman felt, because he knew there was truth in it and he hated it, hated Kyle being right. Goddman Kenny's words kept echoing in his head.

the only people in your pitiful life who actually give a damn about you…

Kyle was literally mid-word when Cartman interrupted him, and this time, it wasn't the hasty press of lips it had been on the mountain. His arch-nemesis suddenly let go of his wrists, instead taking Kyle's face between his two larger hands. Drawing him in and up, he swept his hot tongue through the other boy's mouth demandingly. Kyle quite literally flailed in surprise and Cartman took a step, backing him hard into the edge of the counter and continuing to kiss him with something bordering on desperation.

It was only when Kyle attempted to knee him in the balls that Cartman let go, shaking his head sharply, looking disoriented and muttering to himself as if Kyle wasn't even there. "No, if it's not you, after this, then no, oh, no, I can't-"

"WHAT THE MOTHERFUCK!"

Kyle was still nursing a bruised kidney when Stan came sailing over the island counter in a rage, lunging for Cartman, and then everything was happening too fast.

"Fuck off, Stan!"

"It was you I should have been watching out for!"

"It's not my fault you have no balls, ya goddamn hippie!"

"You manipulative fucking asshole!" Stan was chasing Cartman around the island counter now, still furiously swinging. Kenny tried to get in between them to break up the fight, only to be elbowed roughly into a wall by Stan, right before he finally decked Cartman hard enough to send him reeling into the counters. The fours mugs of cocoa were knocked aside, the ceramic smashing as it hit the floor with a resounding crash.

Kenny picked himself up off the floor and tried to get to Stan again, half-tempted to punch him instead of restraining him, but Kyle got there first, bodily putting himself between the heaving dark-haired boy and his whimpering arch-nemesis. "What the hell, Stan! You didn't have to do that!"

"Are you defending him?" Stan bellowed, pointing to the quivering mess that had slunk to the floor, cocoa dripping off of his matted brown hair and one hand held to his face to protect it. "Are you telling me you wanted him to fucking mouth rape you?" How in the hell had his entire life gotten so fucked up in the space of one night? One night that had almost seemed perfect two hours ago. Stan felt quite ill and was far beyond reason after witnessing that last display.

"Guys, calm down!" Kenny tried, but he was swiftly silenced by a mutual shout.

"SHUT UP!"

"This is your fault too!"

"My fault?" Kenny yelled back, looking back and forth between his three friends in disgust. "You have got to be fucking kidding me!"

"Why are you acting like you own me?" Kyle yelled back at Stan, just a little horrified at how this evening had unraveled. He didn't want to be fighting with Stan, but he wasn't anyone's property either and he didn't want anyone punching anyone else, especially not over him… even if Cartman kind of fucking deserved it "I'm not a fucking damsel-in-distress!"

"How can you say that after you punched someone out at the bar tonight for almost the same reason!"

"Are you calling me a hypocrite?"

"What? No! That's not…" Stan rubbed at his eyes, but it was far too late. The image of Eric Cartman kissing Kyle, his Kyle, was burned into his brain like a white hot scalding iron. Both of his friends had kissed Kyle and he wasn't supposed to care? He wasn't supposed to feel hurt or betrayed? Seriously? Suddenly, what he and Kyle had done tonight outside the bar felt diminished. "I can't… I just can't… right now – any of you-" He doubled over for a moment like he might throw up, and then he turned and ran from the room, the front door slamming two heartbeats later.

With one gut-wrenching sob of his own, Kyle ran out of the kitchen a moment later, upstairs to the bedroom, slamming and locking the door behind him. He collapsed crookedly onto the bed, pulling a pillow towards himself and burying his face in it. His mouth still tasted like Cartman - instead of Stan - and it sent a fresh wave of tears coursing into the soft fabric.

What in the fucking hell did I do to deserve this mess? He'd finally gotten up the nerve to express himself to Stan and it had exploded in his face because of his friends. What if Stan never forgave him, any of them? Kenny had gotten in the middle, Cartman had gotten in the middle, Stan wouldn't even listen to him… he was so fucking mad at all of them for being stupid that he cried and beat his fists into the pillow until his broken heart had exhausted itself into an uncomfortable numb.

About a half hour into Kyle's private pity party, his phone in his pocket buzzed. Hoping somewhat deliriously that it might be Stan, he pulled it out of his pocket to see that it was actually his little brother.

IKEQ: You never checked in, Mom's worried.

Kyle sighed and rolled onto his back, typing back quickly to save Ike from being badgered further by their mother.

KITE: Everything's fine… Sorry I forgot to call.

Closing his eyes, Kyle dropped the phone on his chest and sighed, jumping when it buzzed again a moment later. This time it wasn't a message, but a phone call – still from his little brother.

"What's wrong?"

Kyle sighed yet again, but he was used to his brother's matter-of-fact manner by now. "How do you get that something's wrong from a text message saying everything's fine?"

The sound of computer keys clicking could be heard in the background, then the swivel of Ike's desk chair as he gave his complete attention to Kyle. "Ellipses. You only use them when you're feeling particularly avoidant or wounded. Did you have a fight with Stan?"

"Supernosygenius," Kyle muttered under his breath, but loud enough to make certain Ike could hear it. "What makes you think that?" It wasn't the first time that Ike had grilled him about the changing friendship between him and Stan, but he usually blew it off and refused to confirm or deny anything.

"If you were upset about anything besides Stan, then you would have already expressed it to me. Your avoidant sarcasm only confirms my suspicions."

"I hate you."

There was a moment of silence where Kyle knew Ike was smiling, but he was immediately serious again, his voice a little softer. "Do you… need to talk?" Ike was always better with thoughts than with feelings, but he could hear the sad edge to his brother's voice without much effort and he really hated when Kyle was sad.

"I… think I really fucked things up tonight, Ike," Kyle finally admitted, his voice cracking on his brother's name. "Granted, it wasn't all my fault, but…" He'd never really told his brother the truth before and he didn't know how to start. He'd never even let himself think about the truth very much until a few days ago. "I'm worried that things are never going to be the same."

Even without knowing exactly what had gone wrong, Ike's uncanny perceptiveness gave him more than enough to go on. He knew how truly inseparable his brother and Stan were… anytime they'd ever fought, the light had just seemed to go out of Kyle. It had become obvious to Ike over the years how close they were, even if he couldn't get Kyle to admit it. "Nii-san," Ike used the cute Japanese nickname he knew would make Kyle smile. "Everything's always changing, nothing is really static… the universe is constantly expanding, everything is always in motion…"

Yeah, yeah, yeah," Kyle snorted a little, interrupting Ike before he went off on a tangent. "Your point?"

"H-2-O."

"Huh?"

"Attraction…" Ike scratched his head and felt the urge to shake his phone. "Look, you and Stan are drawn to each other, your molecules are… more stable combined than apart. Even if you change in shape or form, do you really think you'll ever stop being part of each other's orbits?"

"Too many metaphors!" But Kyle was laughing, the empty hole in his gut closing up just a little. Ike was always good at making him get his head out of his ass. Even if he was mad at all of his friends, he'd been mad at them before… it didn't mean the world was ending. "Thanks, Ike…"

"No problem," Ike replied, glad to hear some happiness back in Kyle's voice. "Should I let you go?"

"Actually… yeah… I think I'm just gonna sleep on it," Kyle said softly. "It's probably better to give everyone the night to blow off some steam."

"You'll call tomorrow?"

"Yeah – text me if I forget."

"Good night, Kyle. I hope you can work things out tomorrow. You can text me too, if you want to."

"G'night Ike… love you. Tell Mom and Dad too." Maybe his family was overprotective and kind of annoying, but at the moment, Kyle was grateful for his little brother.

"I will… and you too."


Kenny McCormick's heart sank like a lead weight as he watched his two best friends flee the room in opposite directions. All of his hard work was down the drain and it was all thanks to one Fat Ass.

Why had Kyle felt the need to defend Cartman, when from all appearances, that kiss hadn't really been reciprocated? In fact, it had been so unexpected that Kenny had thought he might accidentally die from shock this time around when they'd walked in on it. A tangled ball of disbelief and anger and betrayal had surged through him and if Stan hadn't punched Cartman, Kenny might have done it himself for this one.

If Kyle had only sided with Stan, the whole scenario might have turned out a little bit better. Was it possible that there was something between the Fat Ass and the Jew? And yet, as soon as Kenny thought about Kyle's tears and the broken expression on Stan's face, he knew it wasn't possible. So then what had possessed Cartman to force himself into the middle of it – what could he possibly hope to get out of it? It had to be more than just pissing off Stan and Kyle, didn't it? And why did the whole mess leave Kenny feeling so empty?

Fuck! Why is everything always so fucked up? Kenny's hands twitched – he was agitated and worked up and he desperately wanted a smoke.

Cartman had finally managed to climb back to his feet, grabbing a wad of paper towel to soak some of the cocoa out of his hair. Kenny stood silently on the other side of the room, his eyes gazing unseeingly into the distance as he toyed with the strings of his parka, an old nervous habit, and Cartman took a step towards him, trying to brush things off as he usually did – with a joke.

"Hey… Kenny… betcha $20 they make up and screw before the night is through."

Kenny flinched as Cartman's words echoed in the silent room and then he turned with a slow and deliberate shake of his blond head. "No… I just… no, Eric…" There was a deep pain etched in Kenny's expression that startled Cartman and he found that he had no idea what to say. Kenny held up one hand, swallowing hard as he turned to walk out of the kitchen. "I… can't even look at you right now."

Outside the front door, Kenny leaned his back against it and took a deep and shaky breath. There were a lot of footprints leading away from the door, which meant tracking Stan visually was going to be next to impossible, especially in the dark. Instead, too many nights out "fighting crime" under his belt, Kenny simply closed his eyes and listened until he heard a distinct wheezing that definitely wasn't the pine trees.

Following the sound, he climbed over snow piles and around the deck that hugged the house. There was only one set of footprints in this direction that eventually led to another large snowpile that sloped up towards the lowest part of the roof. Easily hoisting himself up, he continued to climb up the slope until he spotted his friend, sitting with his back against the chimney, in the middle of an asthma attack.

Stan was fumbling his inhaler in his hands, wheezing so hard that he didn't even hear Kenny's approach. He finally managed to get the thing in the right direction, shaking it vigorously before taking a puff. Tears leaking slowly out of the corners of his eyes, he leaned his head back against the brick and closed his eyes.

Kenny didn't say anything when he reached the spot Stan had selected, just sat down beside him and unzipped his parka to pull out his baggie and a pack of tissues.

Accepting a tissue from Kenny without saying anything either, Stan swiped it across his eyes roughly as he let the puff out, shaking the inhaler for a second round. If it was crying and not climbing that had led to his asthma attack, Kenny wasn't going to ask… and if Kenny sat a little closer than usual, shoulder to shoulder, it wasn't because he was trying to be comforting – it was just fucking cold up on the roof.

"Smoke?" Stan rasped out, his head still tipped back, looking up at the sky. Clouds had rolled in since the afternoon and there were no stars or moon visible, leaving only an inky darkness where the lights from the house faded away.

"In your condition?" Kenny asked skeptically as he packed the one hitter.

"Don't care," Stan muttered, pocketing his inhaler and coughing once.

Kenny frowned, but he also knew that a smoke would probably help calm Stan down. "OK, but you're getting it second-hand." Flicking the lighter, he took an expert drag before turning to Stan.

Stan was a little bit surprised when Kenny reached to grip his chin between two fingers, closing his mouth over Stan's, but he realized immediately why and relaxed. Honestly, after the insane events of the day, it didn't even feel as strange as it might have 24 hours ago. "Thanks," he muttered after exhaling, reaching to pull his hat down a little bit further as he scrunched his jacket up, trying to get the wind off his neck.

"Yeah…" Kenny muttered softly, tapping out the ashes and packing it again. "You still mad at me?"

"…only a little."

"At Kyle?"

"…Yeah."

"And Cartman."

"Fuckin' douchebag," Stan spit heatedly, but immediately went silent again. He was trying to get the awful image out of his mind.

"Yeah…" Kenny nodded again, not really sure what to say when he was still upset himself. He hadn't even figured out why he felt so awful himself and not just for his friends. "If you don't wanna talk…"

"Not really…"

Kenny took another drag from the one-hitter, but this time Stan leaned towards him without prompting, accepting the pass and even leaving the lightest of kisses behind on his lips. Kenny returned the gesture, but raised an eyebrow in surprise. "What was that for?"

"Now we're even."

"Even?"

"For… you and Kyle."

Chuckling a little, Kenny elbowed Stan, who elbowed him back – hard – but he knew it was his friend's weird way of making peace between them. "You have a strange sense of logic, Marsh, but if it makes you feel better, then what the hell. And I hope you're not too cold yet… I've got a lot of weed I want to smoke."

"Sounds good to me."


the only people in your pitiful life who actually give a damn about you…

Kenny's words echoed in his head as he shuffled slowly through the house and sat down on the couch in front of the fireplace, feeling unnaturally chilled. If he didn't know better, he'd think that the ghetto boy's soul was still stuck inside his body, with the way his words were on a loop.

It wasn't Kyle at all, Cartman thought as he ripped open the bag of marshmallows and they tumbled into his lap. Picking up the stick, he jammed four of them on it and held it over the fire, watching it catch fire and burn brightly for a moment before blowing it out.

No, he'd kissed Kyle with everything he had earlier tonight, just to fucking know for certain… and it hadn't done anything for him. No butterflies, no heartstrings singing, not even more than a twitch from his cock in response to the fact that he was engaged in intimate acts with his eternal rival.

Shoving the burnt pile of goo into his mouth, he winced when it burned his tongue and one fat tear slid down his cheek. He wasn't sad, goddamnit, only burnt!

And if it wasn't Kyle, if that's not what this jumbled mess of feelings was really about… then it was worse, far worse. He didn't even want to admit the possibility of the connection he'd spent years denying, but every time he closed his eyes, all he saw was the devastated look on Kenny's face just before he'd turned and walked out the door.

I have seriouslah fucked up.

o/~ Cause you only live forever in the lights you make
When we were young we used to say
That you only hear the music when your heart begins to break ~/o

Chapter Text

Two months ago…

 


"Happy Birthday, Stan!"

"Happy Birthday, Stan!"

Stan finished entering the combination for his locker and pulled down, opening it as he turned to wave at his friends. "Thanks Wendy, Bebe…"

"Dude, sixteen is the big one – car," Token added as he and Clyde stopped beside the girls to high five their friend.

"Haha, I wish," Stan said with a shrug, turning back to his locker to switch out his books for the weekend. Ugh, I just wanna go home and veg… He didn't really want anyone to make a big deal out of his birthday, as it wasn't like he was going to get anything he really wanted. "But thanks anyway."

"At least we've got the day off from practice, since there's no game this weekend," Clyde added with a shrug.

"Yeah…" Stan's brain zoned out as he made small talk with the guys about the game that would be next week, against North Park, and he retreated into himself to mope for a moment. It doesn't matter that I have the day off because I can't spend it with the person worth having it off for…

It was sort of weird, how things had changed over the summer. At the end of tenth grade, it had still stung a little to see Wendy on Token's arm at the last day of school barbeque, but now, he barely blinked an eye when they strolled up. A whole summer of adventures with his friends had filled him up so much that when school had started this year, he'd felt like a new and improved Stan Marsh. The only downside was that the classes this year had divided, separating his friends – well, separating Advanced Placement Kyle from the other three – a lot of the time.

At first, it had been kind of annoying… then after a few weeks, stressful, not having his lifelong study-buddy to help him get through the classes he hated… now, two months in, Stan felt… well… a little bit emo having gone from days and nights constantly hanging with his favorite person to barely a few hours a day, when they weren't too busy with so many other things. His birthday had no significance if he couldn't spend it with his friends, and Kyle was going to be gone all weekend.

At the other end of the hallway, the aforementioned Jew paused just outside the doorway to his classroom to watch his Super Best Friend, though he couldn't actually hear the conversation over the general din of the students packing up and filing out for the day. Kyle knew Stan really well, and so he could see his mood in the slouch of his shoulders and the way his dark blue eyes averted whenever he wasn't directly answering someone.

It bothered him, not being with Stan all day long, not always knowing what was going on or what was affecting him. They still talked every morning, every lunch, every night, but… ever since they'd come back to school, it had felt to Kyle like Stan wasn't quite himself. It was like… something, some part of him, had closed off.

We were so close this summer… Though they'd spent most of it in South Park, hanging with Cartman and Kenny, at the end of the summer, Kyle's family had taken a trip back to the East Coast to visit some family. Kyle had gotten a 4.0 for his sophomore year, and as a reward, he'd been able to invite Stan to go with him. It was the best summer ever… the fucking best…which was exactly why Kyle couldn't figure out why Stan seemed so edgy lately. He missed being with Stan all the time, but that didn't mean that they should waste what time they did have… or that he couldn't make a little more time when it was really super important.

As their other friends began to walk off, Kyle tugged on his hat and started down the hallway with determination, watching as Stan pulled on his jacket and hat, looking a little forlorn. He was going to find out what was bugging Stan and cheer him up – it was his duty as a Super Best Friend, and that was more important to him than anything else. Coming up behind his unsuspecting friend, he wrapped his arms around him and stood on tiptoe, resting his chin on the other boy's shoulder.

"Surprise – and Happy Birthday!"

Stan's heart fucking stopped as he felt Kyle's arms wind around him, his voice right in Stan's ear, and he tossed the other boy off with an embarrassed chuckle even as his face lit up with a smile. "That's the third time you've told me today!" When he caught the flash of hurt in Kyle's eyes, he amended quickly. "Sorry, you startled me…"

It's only half-a-lie… Stan's heart was beating a little too fast at the unexpected contact and he tried to shake it off, annoyed with his own reaction. It wasn't as if Kyle hadn't always been a little touchy-feely… okay, it wasn't as if they hadn't always both been a little touchy-feely… especially over the summer and when they weren't at school… But lately, it had started to feel… weird. Maybe they were getting too old for that shit and he should say something, but… he didn't actually want it to stop. It wasn't that he didn't like it… it just… felt weird.

"Well, I sorta meant to…" Kyle smiled, aware of the other boy's awkward, but he tried not to let it make him awkward in return. He wanted Stan to be able to talk to him about anything, even if they weren't together all of the time. "Thus, surprise!"

"Yeah, I got that part," Stan smirked as Kyle made a grand gesture for emphasis. "But what are you doing here? I thought the debate team left for the meet an hour ago."

Kyle waited until Stan had finished sorting his books and closed his locker, leaning against the one beside it and milking his moment of suspense for all it was worth. "Gee, what am I doing here? Isn't today your very most important 16th birthday, Stanley, my Super Best Friend?"

It was amazing how quickly Stan's spirits rose in Kyle's presence and he turned to lean against the locker beside him, playing along with the game. "Apparently so… but it was going to be pretty damn depressing without my Super Best Friend…"

Dropping his head onto Stan's shoulder, Kyle grinned and held up a piece of paper in front of them for Stan to read. "Which is why I went an hour ago to turn in my excused absence for the semester."

"Dude, really?" Stan lifted off the locker, bumping Kyle's head off of his shoulder, and then he flailed for a moment before grasping Kyle's arms and shaking him once. "Seriously? For me?"

"Duh, for you," Kyle laughed, thrilled to see the excitement on Stan's face, a glimmer of how happy they'd been all summer. If only he could keep that look on Stan's face all the time. "I didn't even tell them why! I just walked in, said I was using my one excused absence, and that they would have to do without me this weekend. Come on, I know you said you didn't want to make a big deal out of your birthday, but…"

"I wanted to spend it with you," Stan said, then bit his lip awkwardly as he dropped his hands, reaching to pick up his backpack as he added softly. "Thanks, Ky…"

"As if I was really going to miss your birthday…"

"You could have told me a little sooner."

"And missed your spaz-out dance?" Kyle rudely imitated his best friend's flail, receiving a light punch to the shoulder for his efforts that knocked him into the locker.

"Asshole," Stan muttered, but he was grinning, which made Kyle grin in return.

Kyle shifted the shoulder strap of his own bag and fell into step beside Stan as they headed towards the exit. "What do you say we ditch our bags at my house and head to the arcade for awhile? We haven't been since school started, and maybe we can pick up a pizza later or something?"

"Sweet," Stan agreed as they pushed open the doors to the surprisingly mild October afternoon. The gold had gone out of the aspens almost two weeks ago, but it wasn't quite cold enough to be called true winter just yet. What had seemed like a disappointing day had just been totally turned around.


"Dude, can we pull off behind the old baseball fields before we head to your place?"

"You know the Jew fag will have a motherfucking bitch fit if we're late."

Kenny rolled his eyes and chuckled. "Nah…" He knew how little time his friends had gotten together since school had started and he doubted that Stan had any idea what they really had planned. "'Sides, we're not gonna be late – pull off."

Cartman grunted a curse in response, but did as Kenny asked, pulling Pikachu up behind the broken metal fencing.

Actually, Kenny doubted whether Cartman had any idea how many people were going to be coming to their shindig, despite the fact that they were holding it at his house. "So we've got a few hours, what's left to do anyways?" He reached into the inside pocket of his orange parka for his favorite glass pipe – a swirl of red and turquoise – and the baggie they'd picked up in Denver two nights ago.

"Just gotta clear out the breakables, Craig's bringing the keg over..." Cartman shrugged as he watched Kenny's smoke begin to curl up towards the ceiling. "I'm only having this party because the goddamn hippie doesn't want one."

Kenny smiled a little, knowing it wasn't entirely true, but that Cartman would never admit to doing anything nice for his friends "just because." "OK, I'm good."

"Fucking finally," he said, but there was no bite to the words. Kenny's smoke had mellowed him out as well and he actually found himself looking forward to the evening. His classmates were always at their most hilariously inept when inebriated. As he drove across the couple of blocks to his house, he hummed along with the radio until the driveway came into sight. "Aww, fuck…" he muttered.

Mrs. Cartman's car was… mostly in the driveway, but slightly diagonal, with one wheel planted solidly in the brown grass. Cartman braked with a sharp jerk, parking his car out in front of the house. For a moment, he stared unseeingly out the front windshield as Kenny watched him from behind his hood, and then he threw the door open and marched up the driveway. Kenny said nothing, only hopped out and followed, two steps behind him until they reached the front door.

"Fuck fuck fuck…" Cartman muttered as he unlocked the door, not exactly certain what he'd find. If it had been any other day or any other person with him, he might have just driven off for a few hours and come back home later rather than dealing with it at all… but he had at least a dozen people due here by 8 PM and he trusted Kenny after the shit they'd witnessed over the summer.

"Thought you said she was gonna be gone tonight?"

"She was supposed to be…" Cartman muttered, then turned to his friend. "You can just go wait in the car, Kenny."

Kenny shrugged as if it didn't matter to him one way or the other, but he pushed his way past Cartman into the house anyway. "I'm already here."

Cartman ignored him and strode down the hallway, calling out. "Maaaaaahm~! Are you home?" He checked the kitchen first, where he found a pair of red pleather stilettos and an enormous mess of chips, dip, cottage cheese and cookie dings spread across the counter and half-eaten…. then he checked the living room, where the TV was blaring some obnoxious VH1 crap. No mother.

Kenny continued to follow him silently around the house and up the stairs, sensing the deep agitation in his friend. He didn't even need to ask, though… After all, he knew what it was like to have parents like theirs.

They finally found Leanne passed out face-down on the floor of the bathroom, still in a slinky little black dress, her tights torn and her lipstick smeared. Cartman bent over her, automatically checking for a pulse, and then he sighed. "Don't know why she's home so soon… goddamnit… why she'd have to pull this shit tonight of all nights?"

Cartman easily lifted his mother with his football player stature, carrying her out of the bathroom and over to her bed with a few more muttered curses, and Kenny walked into the bathroom to take care of the rest. After all, this wasn't the first time and it probably wouldn't be the last… things had gotten particularly bad over the summer. He swept all of the white powder into the baggie and tucked it back into the little black clutch purse, carrying that back into the bedroom as well. "Do you wanna move the party? I'll call Token."

"No!" Cartman snapped angrily, staring down at his mess of a mother. He really wished she wouldn't do this shit anymore. They had plenty of money left in his trust fund from the fucking AIDS settlement of years back… she didn't need to do this shit anymore! It was his goddamn mother - he really didn't care if she spent all of his money, as long as it wasn't on fucking drugs.

"Dude-"

"No!" Cartman snapped again, turning his glare on Kenny. "If she crashed after a fucking bender, then she won't be up for hours or days anyway. We'll just fucking lock her in and block the door with a chair or something!"

Kenny remained unaffected by Cartman's anger, knowing it was just misdirected, and he shrugged yet again. He wanted to ask if Cartman was okay, but he knew what the answer would be – the same as his own whenever his father picked drunken fights with his mother and punched holes in walls.

o/~ I'm not okay
I'm not okay
Well, I'm not okay!
I'm not o-fucking-kay! ~/o

Cartman glared Kenny down, but when it got no reaction, he eventually cooled off, finally looking away with a sad sigh. "We're not moving the party."

Kenny nodded. "I'll go clean up the kitchen – just come get me when you wanna move the furniture and stuff." He reached out to touch Cartman's arm in an unusual display of empathy, surprised when the other boy reached to cover that hand with one of his own, just for a moment.

"Thanks, Kenny…"

"But we better fucking hurry, or we won't have time for Operation Pumpkins."

Cartman cracked the hint of a smile. "Fuck yeah."


"God, I thought your mother would never let us get out of there!" Stan rolled his eyes and shoved his hands into his pockets as he and Kyle walked the couple of blocks to the arcade, a half hour later than they'd actually intended.

Rubbing his temples with two fingers on each side, Kyle sighed and tried to apologize again. "Ike's at Fillmore's this weekend and since they thought I'd be at the meet, they already made plans to go on some gay winery tour…"

"And fifteen isn't old enough to be left home alone for the weekend?" Stan snickered a little, even though he knew very well how protective Kyle's parents were.

"Yeah, yeah," Kyle didn't mind Stan teasing him – at least it meant he was still in a good mood. He'd been progressively more worried about Stan in the last few weeks, so much that he knew it was distracting him from his schoolwork. Not that he was getting anything besides A's – but it was taking him too long to focus on getting shit done because he was too busy over-analyzing his best friend. Not that I would ever admit that to him because then he'd just feel guilty on top of… whatever it is that's bothering him. "It was more the fact that I didn't inform them of my change in plans."

It still surprised Stan a little that Kyle had gone behind his parents' backs and not told them about bailing on the meet. He couldn't deny that it made him feel good that Kyle had put him first and he was excited to have the whole night ahead of them to hang out. "Well, if a half hour lecture is all I had to endure to get you totally to myself for the weekend, then it was worth it – so what do you think? Guitar Hero? Original TMNT? Skeeball? Para? DDR? Old-school Pac-Man?"

Stan kept listing off his favorites as Kyle followed him into the arcade, but the redhead was only half-listening. It was the second time Stan had expressed how much it meant to him that Kyle had bailed on the meet, and it made him hope for the first time that Stan might not find his actual birthday present too sentimental, a worry that had been plaguing him for weeks. "Umm… the last one?" He finally answered as he realized that Stan was staring at him, waiting for a response.

"Ha! I knew you weren't listening!" Stan laughed gleefully, then punched Kyle in the arm and ran off across the arcade, calling after him. "Once you tuned out, I started listing all the things I'm best at – Air Hockey it is!"

"Oh God, No!" Kyle groaned, slapping one hand to his forehead as he chased after Stan, trying not to knock into other people. "I always end up bashing my own fingers into something!"

The protest was half-hearted, though – it was Stan's birthday and Kyle would do whatever his best friend wanted. A half hour of vicious Air Hockey battles ended predictably in bruised knuckles for Kyle. It was followed by several rounds of Guitar Hero and DDR until Kyle finally insisted they break for drinks at the snack bar. Leaving Stan in line for sodas and nachos, he made the excuse of needing to tend to his bashed hand to check in with his friends.

KITE: ETA?

COON: fuckoffJewbitch

Kyle rolled his eyes and typed furiously back, glancing around the corner of the arcade machine he was hiding behind to check Stan's progress in line.

KITE: seriously!

COON:  busy

KITE: with what?

MYST: need an hour

KITE: what aren't you telling me?

MYST: can't you keep him… busy? *lessthanthree*

COON: Fags.

KITE: *facefault*

Argh! Kyle frowned and shoved his phone back in his pocket, hurrying back to where Stan was picking up their tray. It wasn't that he couldn't stall for a little bit longer, but he'd promised Stan pizza and… well, he couldn't help but be suspicious of the delay when it was his friends he was talking about. Trouble seemed to follow both Cartman and Kenny, for different but equal reasons, everywhere they went and Kyle really wanted Stan's birthday to be awesome.

Stan could sense the tension in Kyle's shoulders as the other boy returned, but it wasn't until he caught Kyle checking his phone while they were playing SkeeBall that he began to get suspicious. "Who keeps texting?"

"Oh, uh, just my mother again," Kyle lied, picking up a ball and rolling it crookedly up the ramp, effectively losing the round he'd just been winning. "Ah, shit." He knew Stan wasn't buying his excuse, but thankfully, that last message had been the 5-minute ETA. "You wanna go get pizza now? Head back to my place?"

"Yeah, sure…" Stan wasn't entirely reassured by that response and he wondered why Kyle was trying to hide anything from him, even if it was just more of his mother's bitching. When Cartman and Kenny pulled up in front of the arcade in Pikachu the moment they stepped out the door, Stan feared even more that he'd been set up.

"Hope you don't mind," Kyle leaned over to whisper to him as Kenny rolled the window down and beckoned them over. "When they found out I bailed on the meet, they asked-"

"It's cool," Stan said with a smile to reassure his friend. He didn't really want to share his time with Kyle with anyone else, but it was just Cartman and Kenny. I should be glad to spend the night with all of my friends, right?

"We've got the pizza already," Kenny gestured to the backseat, stacked high with a dozen boxes. "Though I apologize that I couldn't keep the Fat Ass from helping himself to the first box."

"EY!" Cartman protested, barely waiting until Stan had pulled the back door closed before he pulled away from the arcade and headed across the small town and towards their neighborhood. "I was fuckin' hungry! You think this is a free fuckin' taxi service?"

"Where are we going?" Stan asked in confusion as Kenny lowered the music and Cartman suddenly switched the headlights off. They'd already passed all of their houses and were approaching… their old elementary school?

Even Kyle didn't know what they had planned, but it was obviously something pre-arranged by his two demented friends. "What's going on?" he demanded.

"Halloween's less than two weeks away – it's pranking season," Kenny giggled, the crazy guitar solo in the song he was currently playing making him sound a little more lunatic than usual. It was an old Guitar Hero track by Freezepop at a tempo that made everyone's pulse speed up a little.

Kyle's hands went cold and started to sweat, which was never, ever, ever a good sign.

o/~ Hey, pretty boy, find something to wear
There's a party up and down the block
Hey, pretty boy, put some gel in your hair
It's time to leave, it's time to get ready to rock ~/o

"Here rests Mr. Garrison's 4th grade class' fundraising pumpkin patch – they go on sale tomorrow~" Cartman nearly sang the last two words of his narration and Stan started to snicker, as he had already guessed where this was going. "I'm driver, so it's up to you three gaywads to get out, snitch some beauties, and get back in so we can get the fuck out of here."

"What? No!" Kyle hissed, even though he'd begun to giggle himself. This type of stunt was really an old hobby of theirs, as much as he pretended to protest.

"Don't be a pansy ass ya goddamn JEW," Cartman hissed. "Kenny's goin' for TWO!"

"Operation Pumpkins begins in 5…4…3…" Kenny sang softly, turning to place his hand on the door as Cartman let the car roll slowly and quietly into the parking lot.

"Goddamnit," Kyle muttered as Stan turned to mimic Kenny's position. Not willing to be left out, he readied himself too.

"2…1…GO!" Kenny hissed, throwing open the door and jumping out.

It was fucking pitch black on the pumpkin patch, with only the faint glow of the single streetlamp at the entrance to the parking lot to light their misdeed. The first thing Kyle did was trip over a root, but in doing so, he landed face-first next to a fat and glorious pumpkin. "Sweet!"

"Kyle!" Stan hissed from the other side of the car as he heard the crash.

"I'm fine!" Kyle hissed back, scrambling to his feet with the pumpkin cradled awkwardly in his arms.

"HEY! WHO THE HELL'S OUT THERE! I KNEW YOU GODDAMN COCKSUCKERS WOULD BE BACK THIS YEAR!"

"FUCK!" Cartman yelped from the car as a small ping rang out. "Garrison's got a gun! Get back in the car! Kenny get back in the car!"

Stan had been searching for the best pumpkins, but as shots began to echo across the school yard, all of his friends started back towards the car at a run. "Fucking wait!" he bellowed as Cartman started to pull out of the parking lot, gravel crunching under the squeal of his tires.

"Stan!" Kyle was hanging out the back door, holding out a hand, and Stan ran over the bumpy ground as fast as he could, a pumpkin tucked into his arms, feeling the dirt exploding under his feet from the gunshots.

"Catch!" Stan yelled as he ran, tossing the pumpkin underhand like a softball at his Super Best Friend. Kyle caught it, though the weight of it sent him tumbling backwards, cracking his head against the window on the opposite side of the car. Stan literally dove for the opening and Cartman peeled out of the parking lot with Stan's legs still dangling out the back door of the car.

Kenny had cranked the music up with no need to conceal themselves anymore and he proudly brandished the wooden sign that was hand-painted with the purple words "Mr. Garrison's class." "FUCK YEAH DUDES!"

o/~ I try to wait and I try to be good,
I try to be patient, I know I should
I can't be held back when the streets call my name
I'm all dressed in black and I'm feeling no shame
It's time for me to rock ~/o

"Please tell me that no one got shot!" Kyle begged, one hand rubbing the back of his head, suddenly grateful for the thickness of both his hat and his curls.

"BAH HA HA! I bet Garrison knew it was us!" Cartman's laughter nearly shook the car as Stan finally pulled his legs in and yanked the door shut.

"Kyle, the pumpkin your head," Stan gasped, out of breath from running and laughing and fear and adrenaline. My friends are the best.

"All body parts intact!" Kenny reported, and then added proudly. "My haul is THREE pumpkins, bitches!"

By this time, Cartman had pulled the car up to his house, parking it in the driveway and Stan realized there were a dozen cars on their block.

"Aww, damnit, you guys," he whined as his friends all got out of the car. "I thought I said no party!"

"Shut up ya whiny emo goth pussy," Cartman yelled at him, heading towards the front door of his house, which was already echoing with music.

"Happy fuckin' Birthday, Stan," Kenny clapped him on the shoulder as he hoisted the wooden sign over his own shoulder. "Let's go party!"

"So how much of what you told me this afternoon was a lie?" Stan turned to Kyle with a raised eyebrow and a small pout.

Kyle smiled sheepishly and then shrugged. "My parents really didn't know I was ditching, but Cartman and Kenny did," he answered promptly and truthfully. "I really did want to take you to the arcade and the offer to hang at my place later is still valid, but Stan… your friends wanted to celebrate with you too. Admittedly, there are more people here than I okayed inviting, but does that really surprise you?"

Stan turned to pull the pumpkins out of the backseat, handing one to Kyle just as Clyde and Token came out the front door to collect the pizzas, yelling tipsy birthday greetings. "Not really."

The party was already in full swing, Stan noted as they passed through the entranceway and tried to squeeze through the living room. Kenny had jammed the wooden sign into the back of the couch so that it stuck up high above everyone's heads, and true to what was written on it, most of Mr. Garrison's original 4th grade class was in attendance… as well as half the rest of the High School, it felt like.

An epic tournament of Smash Brothers was going on the TV, but the music was turned up so loud that the sound from it was inaudible. Red plastic cups littered every surface and sometimes the floor, with a line in the corner for the keg. The dining room had been cleared of furniture and was crammed with bodies dancing. Stan idly wondered, as he followed Kyle who was following Kenny who was following Cartman, if most of these people even know who the party was for, but was surprised again when all through the room he heard shouts of his name attached to various wishes, curses and/or catcalls.

"Umm, thanks, dudes!" he yelled at the room before ducking behind his friends into the kitchen.

"H-h-happy Birthday, Stan!" Butters greeted him immediately as everyone filed in and around the table. "Gee, I hope I did a good job p-protectin' your cake from the p-party!"

"It's not eaten - congratulations at not failing," Cartman elbowed the other boy, but there was a pleased grin on his face. "Kenny, light the candles, Kyle, hit the lights!"

The overhead lights in the kitchen winked out as Kenny pulled his lighter out of his pocket. There was one large "16" shaped candle in the top of the cake, and he lit it quickly, stepping back and shoving Stan forward at the same time.

Stan stared at the candle as his four friends began to sing to him, knowing he was supposed to be thinking of his wish. His gaze skipped around at his friends as they sang – Cartman was sticking one finger in his ear trying to drown out Butters' voice, Kenny was secretly trying to steal one of the rosettes off the side of the cake while Cartman wasn't looking and Kyle… Stan froze as his eyes met Kyle's, for Kyle was gazing directly at him with the most satisfied smile, the flickering light of the candle making his eyes seem to twinkle as he wrapped one arm around Stan's shoulders and nodded towards the candle.

"Make a wish, Stan!"

It didn't matter that there was a raging kegger going on outside the door – right here and right now, Stan's friends had made him feel… special. As he closed his eyes to blow out the candle, the wish he made was a tapestry of images and feelings in his mind, not simple enough that he could really put it into words. I wish for… more of this.

Kyle watched as his Super Best Friend leaned to blow the candle out, a warm feeling tingling in his fingers and toes, and then he pulled Stan into a fierce hug, whispering in his ear. "I have a real present for you later."

Stan automatically hugged Kyle back just as hard, a little less awkward about it around only their three closest friends, but Kyle's words made him blush immediately and he suddenly let go, stepping back as Butters clicked the lights back on. A real present later? Stan's thoughts ran away from him quickly, wondering if he was reading too much into Kyle's ambiguous statement. "Oh, umm…"

Kyle gave Stan a slightly confused look at his abruptness, mouthing "Are you okay?" as Cartman began to cut the cake into generous slices, dumping it on paper plates and chucking them at Butters to distribute. He was beginning to feel frustrated about Stan's hot and cold moments, but he had no way to really ask him about it until they were alone. All he really wanted to do was reach out and touch Stan again, to reassure both of them that everything was fine, but he couldn't – not after that awkward reception. Maybe I shouldn't give him the present… maybe it's too much.

God, I'm an ass. I can tell that I hurt Kyle's feelings again! None of the rest of Stan's friends were even paying any attention to them as Stan nodded and smiled, then reached to hand Kyle a piece of cake. "Cake?"

"No, that's okay," Kyle said with a shake of his head, knowing he'd never make it through the whole piece. He reached to take the fork and dug a bite out of his best friend's piece instead. "I'll just steal some of yours, Stan."

"Cake, oh cake, sweet delicious cake~" Butters was trilling, holding open the door to the living room. Kenny had disappeared right after the candle was blown out to find a couple of the plastic cups, but instead of filling them with keg beer, he waited until the door was closed again and pulled a bottle out of the interior of his parka.

It was made of a smooth pink glass and Butters oohed over it as Kenny poured some in each of the cups.

"What the fuck is this?" Cartman demanded, pointing at the pink bottle as it ended up in Butters' hands.

The blond lifted it up to eye level and very carefully read the label. "Al-ee-zay Rose! A-a subtle blend of…of F-French vodka, strawberry, lick-chee-"

"Lychee?" Kyle interrupted to guess.

"Umm, I think so… lychee fruit and-and… rose petals," Butters finished in wonder, giving the bottle a little hug. "Neat-o, Kenny! Where'dja get this?"

"Fucking gay fucking rose petals in a fucking faggy gay pink bottle," Cartman chortled, downing his glass in one large swig. "Guess we know what Kenny really thinks of you, Stanny!"

"Dude, it just happened to be what I was standing next to when the guy running the store looked away!"

Stan gave Cartman the finger and downed his own cup, his nose wrinkling at the fruity taste. "It's always better to be tipsy before you hit the keg," he muttered. "Then you've already forgotten that it tastes like piss n' shit."

"Ugh," Kyle said, his cup still in his hand as he followed his friends out of the kitchen and back into the living room. "Thanks for that mental imagery, Stan." He sipped at the Alizay carefully, in no hurry to end up as drunk as the group of kids starting a game of "I Never" in the corner.

"Anytime," Stan grinned and shrugged, cutting the line at the keg to re-fill both his cup and Kyle's as the redhead finally finished his first drink.

"Betcha $20 I can get more people to drink than you, Kenny," Cartman was saying, plopping himself down on one of the folding chairs near the main entrance, mostly to start turning away any late uninvited arrivers before they ended up getting the cops, and thus, the parents, called on them.

Kenny lowered the music a little bit as he sat down on one side of his friend, Kyle and Stan on the other. Butters sat down on Kenny's other side, still clutching the pink bottle, but Kenny ignored him as he answered Cartman. "You're on, Fat Ass!"

A bunch of Mr. Garrison's class had wandered over to join them once Stan had reappeared, and it was actually Wendy who started the round, with a smirk directed towards Cartman and a high five to Bebe. "I've never been to a kegger at Cartman's house and lied about it to my parents!"

"Circumstantial!" Cartman called out as almost everyone laughed and took a sip of their drinks. "I've… never called Mr. Garrison a fucking FAG!"

"Oooo…." Several of their classmates groaned, but most of them took another drink.

"I… I've never smoked a-a cigarette!" Butters chimed in, surprised when everyone groaned again, taking a drink. He'd set the bottle on the floor between his feet and now rubbed his knuckles together self-consciously. "Why…why… am I the only one who hasn't?"

"I've never…" Kenny started, pondering thoughtfully for a moment. "…thought that all the adults in this town were batshit fucking crazy." With an affirmative murmur, nearly everyone sitting or standing around took a drink, even Stan and Kyle. Hell, the four of them probably knew that fact better than anyone else in this messed up town.

"Too easy," Craig snarked from the couch, where he'd been trapped ever since Tweak had finally passed out on him from the combination of too much coffee and too much alcohol at the same time. He was now drooling a little onto Craig's pants leg. "I've never kissed someone of the same gender – even just as an experiment."

There were a lot of whispers and glances around the room at this one, and Kenny couldn't help but tally a list as he took a drink of his own, wondering if everyone there was telling the truth. He didn't care if people knew he was gender-unbiased. Craig, myself, Butters… His eyebrows raised a little bit when Wendy and Bebe were the next ones to take a sip – followed by Clyde, Token, Cartman and some more of the girls from Mr. Garrison's class. Well, holy shit… maybe he really did fuck all of us up.

"One kiss doesn't mean jack shit," Cartman snapped as he took a sip, not sure whether it was better to be left out or included this time around.

Kyle fairly gaped as it went around the circle, only able to shrug in embarrassment when it got to him, his cheeks as red as his infamous hair.

Stan looked just as mortified, and as everyone in the room turned to stare at him, he lifted the cup hesitantly halfway up, as if he couldn't make up his mind whether or not to drink.

A wave of panic flooded Kyle as he watched his best friend's moment of indecisiveness. Has Stan… really kissed another boy? It wasn't just the shock of the actual statement that left Kyle unsettled, though he immediately wondered if this was what Stan had been keeping from him, what had been bothering him. No, it was more the idea that… if it was true, it would turn everything in Kyle's life on its head. All of the things he'd ignored and brushed off, re-categorized and pretended didn't exist… because he hadn't thought there was a chance in the world that his Super Best friend might be gay… or bi… or even curious at all. All of the things he'd locked away over the summer hit him like a tidal wave of possibilities as he watched Stan waver with the cup halfway to his lips.

It was at that fine and awkward moment that Leanne Cartman decided to make an appearance. "Where's my snookie-wookums?"

Cartman's face went sheet white as his mother descended the last two stairs and came to stand in the doorway of the living room, having gone unnoticed until then due to the intensity of the game. "M-Mahm," he stuttered. Though the music was still playing and people were still drinking, talking and dancing, it suddenly felt to Cartman as if the room had gone silent and all eyes were fixed on his mother. Barefoot and still in her slinky little black dress, lipstick smeared on her cheek, she reached to ruffle Clyde's hair as she cooed again in a baby voice.

"Eric, honey, you didn't tell me that all your little friends would be here tonight! Teehee, well, they're not so little anymore! And a party! How lovely!"

Clyde, unluckily sitting closest to the stairs, was frozen in his spot, his mouth an "o" of surprise that only widened when the hand in his hair traced down his neck and squeezed his shoulder.

Kenny could tell from the distant look in Leanne's eyes that she was out of her mind on something, and while everyone else in the circle seemed unsure about how to respond, he felt compelled to rescue his friend from the situation. "That's right, it's… it's Stan's birthday!" he jumped out of his chair and reached to take Mrs. Cartman's hand off of Clyde's shoulder.

When Kenny turned and pointed at him, Stan waved weakly. "Ah, yeah… sorry… if the noise woke you up."

"Well, Happy Birthday, dear!"

"We've still got some cake in the kitchen," Kenny added, giving Leanne his arm as a gentleman would a lady. "If you'll follow me?" He was totally unperturbed when she latched onto his arm, squeezing his bicep once in an overly flirtatious manner, but he also didn't miss the relief in Cartman's expression for the masterful save.

Cartman jumped up as Kenny led his mother towards the kitchen, and they both disappeared into the other room, leaving the rest of the circle gazing around at each other awkwardly.

Stan sensed an escape route and jumped up as well, offering a vague apology to the group before he followed his friends, with Kyle right on his heels. By the time they'd reached the kitchen, though, Cartman had already disappeared with his mother through the dining room, leaving Kenny standing alone at the table, picking at the end of the cake.

"Everything okay?" Kyle asked worriedly. "Should we-"

"Don't worry about it," Kenny said with a sharp shake of his head. "It'll only bug him more if you let it ruin the party."

"We can end the party early," Stan started, glancing at Kyle, who seemed to be avoiding eye contact all of the sudden.

Kenny's mind replayed him the last five minutes, specifically, the tiny but grateful smile Cartman had given him before telling him: "Don't let this jack my party – I'm countin' on you, Kehneh, you poor piece o' crap." Terms of endearment. Kenny didn't expect the other two to understand, but that was why things were the way they were. "Nah… come on, Fat Ass said he'd be back in five. Do you really think he wants everyone in that room looking at him like he's… he's…" Some kind of freak.

"He's not, it's not," Kyle said immediately, defending Cartman in a way he would never in his actual presence, despite the fact that he knew just as well what it was like to be the odd-kid-out.

"So we save the party," Stan nodded in agreement. There was always solidarity between them when threatened with outside forces. "How?"

Kenny heard the music in the next room change and he stood abruptly, grabbing each of his friends by the hand. Nearly dragging them back through the doorway into the living room, he ignored some of the people who'd begun to gather their coats. He reached for the volume dial and spun it, the thumping beat suddenly filling the room and vibrating the floor.

o/~ Right right, turn off the lights
We gonna lose our minds tonight
What's the deal yo? ~/o

Ignoring everyone else around him, Kenny started to dance and sing along with the radio as he made his way to the keg to refill his cup. He was used to people staring at him for one reason or another – his alcoholic dad, his ratty clothes, his potty mouth, his sexual innuendo – but this time, he used it to his advantage.

o/~ I love when it's all too much
5 AM turn the radio up
Where's the rock and roll? ~/o

"Come on, birthday boy!" Kenny yelled over the music, inventing a sequence of dance moves that went something like hip, hip, turn around, take a drink and jump-jump!

Stan grinned and tried to imitate the steps, which wasn't hard, seeing as he actually had a good sense of rhythm (after that time his dad had forced him to learn country line dancing…). He gestured for Kyle to join them, but the redhead shook his head sharply, a nervous expression on his face.

The combined charisma of Kenny and Stan quickly hypnotized the half-drunk crowd, and Kyle watched in amazement as more and more kids started following the dance, spinning it off into other creations or just simply jumping up and down to the beat. Across the room, he caught Cartman's gaze as the other boy descended the stairs, thankfully sans his mother, and beckoned to him with one hand.

Cartman paused on the stairs to watch his friends, pleased but not entirely surprised to have returned to see the entire room jumping up and down as if the party had never been interrupted at all. At the center of it, Stan was now dancing in a circle around a flustered Jew and Kenny was singing along loudly enough that he could actually be heard over the music. Krazy Kenny… Everyone was drunk and happy and the nervous weight in Cartman's chest dissipated.

o/~ Party crasher, panty snatcha'
Call me up if you are gangsta'
Don't be fancy
Just get dancey
Why so serious? ~/o

"Come on, Kyle, dance with us!" Stan grabbed his best friend's hand, swinging his arm back and forth in an attempt to get him to move with the crowd that was now vibrating around them. Now that Stan was a little drunk, he'd relaxed, falling back into his natural pattern of being most comfortable among his lifelong friends. It was only his 16th fucking birthday, after all – he ought to fucking enjoy it.

"N-no way!" Kyle protested weakly. "Jews have no rhythm!" On top of that, Stan's proximity in conjunction with his own tipsiness was affecting him more than he wanted anyone to know.

"Fuck that," Stan argued, as Cartman's arrival shifted them until they were face to face and nearly chest to chest as well. "Dance with – for - your friends-"

"No!"

"Kyyy-eeeellll!" Stan whined a little, pouting and leaning in close. "Please? It's my birthday!"

Goddamnit if Stan doesn't always know how to get his way… Kyle tentatively started to jump up and down, raising his red cup along with everyone else as the whole room sang along with the music.

o/~ So raise your glass if you are wrong
In all the right ways
All my underdogs, we will never be, never be
Anything but loud
And nitty gritty dirty little freaks ~/o

Kenny was thrilled to see a smile on Cartman's face when he finally re-joined them, and he didn't even complain when the other boy stole his cup, draining half of it immediately. He wrapped one arm around Kenny's skinny shoulders and they jumped together in rhythm, laughing as the floor of the house creaked underneath everyone. It doesn't matter… no one cares… Everyone in this goddamn town IS a fucking freak anyway.

o/~ Won't you come on, and come on, and
Raise your glass
Just come on and come and
Raise Your Glass! ~/o

The music felt like a heartbeat to Kyle, reverberating through his entire body as they all danced together, and he let Stan turn them, one arm around Kyle's waist to steer them, until they were facing their friends. Everyone was singing so loudly he couldn't hear properly, it was so hot he could barely breathe… and he was having the time of his fucking life.

"Happy fuckin' birthday, Stan!" Kenny yelled, and they both toasted the remains of their red cups, tossing them into the air when they were done. A moment later, a shower of red cups flew through the air, raining down on everyone's heads in a sticky, colorful mess.

o/~ Slam slam oh hot damn
What part of party don't you understand?
Wish you'd just freak out (freak out already)
Can't stop coming in hot
I should be locked up right on the spot
It's so on right now (so fuckin' on right now) ~/o

When the song ended and melted right into one of the big dance hits from last summer, Kyle fanned his hand in front of his face to Stan in explanation before squeezing his way through the crowd and back to the kitchen. Opening the cabinet, he pulled out a plastic cup and filled it with water from the tap as Stan appeared behind him.

"Wanna go outside? It's really hot in here." Kyle didn't wait for a response, but pushed open the sliding glass doors that led to the patio out back. Pulling his hat off with his free hand, he let the cool air rush over him with a grateful sigh.

Stan followed Kyle out the kitchen door as he yanked off his own hat, and together they walked around the side of the house and up the driveway until they were standing by the mailbox. "If we've already escaped outside," Stan offered, cramming his hat back on his head as the wind started to blow. "Can we just go? Everyone's already kinda drunk, heh, myself included."

Kyle chuckled softly, opening the mailbox and sticking the now empty cup inside of it for safe-keeping. "Sure." He shoved his own hat back on his head, turning to head towards his house, and Stan fell into step beside him.

"Wicked party…"

"Mmm…" Kyle answered, his gaze tipped up towards the sky. "You know, you can kinda see the Milky Way…" he pointed, closing one eye and tracing a line in the sky.

Stan squinted, then shrugged, his answer cheeky. "Or maybe the blur is because you're a little drunk too."

"Am not."

Are too."

"Not."

"Too."

Their arms bumped, the backs of their hands brushing, and then Stan intertwined their fingers, swinging their arms together as they walked, continuing to argue pointlessly.

"Not dumbass."

"Too jerkface."

"I'm hungry," Stan finally interrupted the war as they approached Kyle's house. "I never did get any of that pizza."

"Aha! Damn! Goddamnit!" Kyle stopped, pointing at Stan with his free hand and stomping one foot. "That's why we're so…so… inebriated!"

Stan laughed so loudly it echoed in the quiet night as Kyle fished in his pocket for the key, dropping it once he had it and cursing. "Only you… could actually say that word… while drunk… instead of drunk. Fuck, this was a pretty good birthday after all."

Kyle had let go of Stan's hand to search the ground for the dropped key, but as he rose to his feet again, he smiled gently. It wasn't his usual sort of know-it-all satisfied smile either, but a more vulnerable expression, a side of himself he didn't usually show to people. He reached out to tap the end of Stan's nose with the house key. "Good. I'm glad. Really glad… I wanted it to be great."

A bit of nausea rose in Stan as Kyle turned to unlock the door and he bit his lip with a groan. He wanted to blame the drinking, but that wasn't all of it. It was that look… Stan felt pained whenever Kyle gave him that look, that look he couldn't define in words, the one he didn't know what to do about, the one he always wanted to see more of, the one that made him just… want to…

"Oh God, Stan," Kyle moaned, kicking the front door open as his best friend turned to retch into the bushes. "I'm gonna go get you some water… and…"

"Cookie Dings!" Stan managed to gasp out the name of the only food he could tolerate when his stomach really went to hell.

Kyle reached out to rub his hand around in a comforting circle on Stan's back, then darted off into the darkened house in search of his dad's hidden stash of junk food.

Stan's stomach calmed quickly once Kyle was gone, which scared the dark-haired boy a little more. He went inside the house, closing and locking the door behind him, waiting at the foot of the stairs until Kyle returned a moment later. "Thanks," he accepted the glass of water and drained half of it as Kyle popped open the box of cookie dings, ripping open the bag.

"You gonna be okay?"

"Yeah, totally fine," Stan assured him. "Nowhere near as bad as the Wildwood incident."

Kyle actually giggled a little at the memory, happy to hear Stan bring up their trip together last summer. "You wanna go upstairs, go to sleep, play a game, watch TV?"

"Dawson's Creek," Stan said suddenly, reaching into the bag of cookie dings and then cramming a handful into his mouth.

"What, seriously? Ahahaha!" This time, Kyle laughed so hard he doubled over, but now that Stan had suggested it, there was no way he could refuse. He turned and ran up the stairs, Stan thundering up them right behind him, never so glad for his parents' gay wine tours.

Kyle already had Netflix pulled up on the PS3 by the time Stan reached his room and he flopped down on the bed, warbling along with Kyle in falsetto to the opening song.

o/~ I don't want to wait
For our lives to be over
I want to know right know
What will it be
I don't want to wait
For our lives to be over
Will it be yes or will it be
Sorry ~/o

They dragged out the "sorry" a little longer than they needed to, but didn't really pay attention once the opening credits had finished. Instead, they started a competition to see who could toss the most cookie dings into each other's mouths. This somehow inexplicably led to a 3-hour marathon of the original Bubble Bobble for NES, downloaded on the Wii, which they played until they'd beaten the entire game and spelled out EXTEND twice.

The sky outside the window was just starting to lighten when they finally crawled underneath the blanket on Kyle's bed, facing each other and snickering over stupid bullshit they would never remember in the morning.

It's perfect… he's perfect… Kyle blinked sleepily, watching his Super Best Friend's face as they drifted off to sleep. Stan's eyes were closed and his expression was relaxed, all of the earlier tension of the day long gone. Kyle let his gaze trace over individual eyelashes, the tip of Stan's nose, the curve of his lips, in a way he never could when they were awake.

Ever since the awkward moment at the party, he'd been unable to fully stomp down all the things he was feeling. He… wanted to kiss Stan, he knew he did… he could feel it buzzing through him like there was some kind of invisible electric current between them. He wanted to do it, but… without asking, without knowing how Stan really felt… he just couldn't. But maybe there was a chance now… After tonight, maybe there was actually a chance, a chance that maybe someday, he would. Stan…

Stan waited until Kyle's breathing had evened out into the familiar rhythm he knew far too well, and then he opened his eyes, gazing at his Super Best Friend in a way he'd never allowed himself to, not really. Kyle had made sure his birthday was awesome. Kyle was always the one person in his life who understood him, who made him feel important, who he could trust, who would… never let him down.

There were no words in Stan's mind at all, only a feeling that suddenly rose up hard in his gut, and before he really knew what he was doing, he closed the minute distance between them and brushed his lips feather-light over the other boy's. Kyle…

Kyle was only the smallest part awake and his eyes fluttered a little as he murmured. "Stan?" the faintest hint of question in the single word.

Stan's heart was racing with the knowledge of what he'd just done, and unable to face the consequences, he stuttered out. "Ssh… g'sleep…"

"Mmm…" Kyle's hand sought Stan's under the blanket, closing over it gently, but he didn't stir again.

Shifting his hips away from his best friend's, Stan forced his eyes closed and matched his breathing to Kyle's, counting cookie dings in his head until he finally passed out.


Cartman surveyed the damage to his house with a frown as he ushered the last kids out the door at close to dawn. The sky was just turning pink at the edges and he groaned, thinking of the clean-up detail that was still ahead of him. Still, at least it was a damn fine party. Coulda been a lot fuckin' worse.

"Come on, come on, move along," Kenny ushered a couple of 9th graders out the door, pointing them in the direction he knew they lived. He followed them as far as the end of the driveway and then waved, watching as they all stumbled off together.

Taking his one-hitter out of his pocket, he leaned against a nearby tree and packed it, taking a long drag and exhaling it slowly through his nose. He knew that Cartman was watching him from the doorway, but he also knew that if he stood there long enough, the other boy would slowly gravitate towards him. It was sorta how they always were… they just kinda drifted towards each other because they didn't have any other place they belonged. It didn't really bother Kenny, though, because that was how it had always been – Stan & Kyle, and so, him & Cartman.

"Ey, Kenny…" Cartman said as he stopped to stand beside him, watching the smoke curl in a thin line up into the sky. He wasn't very good with… this sort of thing.

"You're welcome," Kenny let him off easily, a cheeky grin appearing on his face. He always enjoyed it when Cartman felt even the tiniest bit indebted to him, as it was generally usually the other way around.

"Cocky sonovabitch," Cartman snapped back, but there wasn't much bite to it. He really was grateful for Kenny's help, not so much with the party, but with keeping his mother from completely embarrassing him in front of pretty much everyone they knew. He was glad that Kenny didn't feel the need to make him actually say it. "You… wanna stay over?"

Kenny laughed softly, pushing off the tree and pocketing his one-hitter. "You just want help cleaning up this fucking mess."

Lie, blackmail, or… "Yeah, pretty much," Cartman shrugged, choosing honesty. It was more likely to get him what he wanted, and besides, he knew very well that Kenny didn't really want to go home. He might have to do clean-up detail here, but at least it would be followed by a fat breakfast, a bed to sleep in, and no one to wake him up with a screaming drunken fight. "Maybe tomorrow we can go see a movie… or somethin'…"

"Sweet," Kenny agreed, taking a step backwards and reaching up and back over his head to stretch. "Long as we catch a couple hours of sleep first. And you feed me."

"Goddamnit, you fuckin' beggar," Cartman pretended to complain, turning away from Kenny's bare midriff awkwardly. "Think just because you helped me out tonight that I should feed your poor ass?"

"You're so lucky I saved your ass tonight," Kenny teased a little, hardly able to believe that Cartman was actually acknowledging their odd little loyalty for once. It wasn't that big a deal, what he'd done. No different than all the times he'd stayed over to escape his family, or bummed a few extra French Fries at lunch. It was… what friends did for each other. "You know, Eric – sometimes I actually think that maybe you and me-"

Kenny's sentence cut off abruptly with a squeal of tires and Cartman whirled back around just in time to watch the front end of a car squash his best friend's body against the tree he'd been leaning against a few minutes earlier. No matter how many times it happened, it still felt like a knife to the gut. What was he gonna say? Chances were, when Kenny reappeared in a day or week, he'd claim to not remember. "Goddamnit, Craig, you fucking bastard! You killed Kenny!"

Craig threw his ugly olive green car into reverse, gave Cartman the finger, and then drove away, taking out the mailbox as well. A plastic cup rolled across the street as Kenny's lifeless body detached from the tree with a sickeningschwick and then slumped to the ground with a thud.

"MotherFucker," Cartman hissed loudly, and then he gave the sky the finger. "Fuck you, Universe! FUCK! YOU!"

Chapter Text

o/~ And all I really want is some patience
A way to calm the angry voice
And all I really want is deliverance…
Do I wear you out?
You must wonder why I'm so relentless and all strung out
I'm consumed by the chill of solitary ~/o

Though still in the genre of hot chicks, Kenny's music had gone a little more oldschool than usual as he sat alone in the kitchen picking at a bowl of Lucky Charms. He had only one purple earbud in, the other dangling down his jaw as he kept his other ear open for the sounds of his friends. He'd barely slept a wink the previous night, far more wound up by the events than he even wanted to admit. I'm listening to Alanis for fuck's sake!

It was one thing for all of them to be pissy at Cartman about something – that was normal - but when Stan and Kyle fought, it was as if the core of their group bottomed out, leaving Kenny feeling more isolated than ever. Worse still, he felt guilty about his role in the entire thing, and confused about the heavy feeling in his chest. Stan and Kyle were so important to him that the idea of being a wedge between them made him feel like that time he'd been accidentally shot by Mr. Garrison (who was really aiming for Kathie Lee) and then impaled on a flagpole. A fuckin' flagpole. Suffice to say, it hurt like a motherfucking bitch. Kenny wanted nothing more than to fix it, but this time, he wondered if maybe staying out of it was the best solution.

Of course, staying out of it never seemed to be an option when he had three emotional fucking blockheads for best friends, as evidenced by the fact that he was the only one of them who currently didn't have his goddamn head stuck up his goddamn ass!

His lovely train of thought was interrupted by Stan clomping his way into the kitchen, already in his boots, jacket and hat, and he avoided meeting Kenny's eyes as he grabbed a glass from the cabinet and filled it with water.

"Going somewhere?" Kenny asked casually, dropping a handful of cereal into his mouth and crunching it lazily.

Stan shrugged, turning to lean against the counter as he gulped down several mouthfuls of water. "Boarding… maybe gonna find one of those shacks."

"Sweet, I'm in," Kenny responded sharply, his implication clear. No way in hell are you going out alone.

"No, dude," Stan protested, dropping his empty glass in the sink to deal with later. I need time to think… "I… I really wanna be alone."

"Don't be a fucking pussy."

"Fuck you."

There was no actual venom in Stan's response and Kenny desperately wanted to roll his eyes at the other boy, but he somehow managed to resist the urge. It wouldn't help matters if he alienated Stan further, and the other boy was obviously still in a piss-poor mood. "Then take Kyle with you."

"Take Kyle where?" Unlike Stan, the redhead had appeared in the kitchen clad only in pajama pants and an old Terrence & Phillip t-shirt, his unruly hair sticking up in every direction as he rubbed at his eyes. The clattering and raised voices had woken him abruptly and he'd come downstairs immediately to find out what was going on.

Stan's heart thudded painfully as he glanced at Kyle's disheveled red curls and thought of the previous evening, but he quickly averted his eyes and made to leave the room, surprised and vaguely annoyed when Kenny grabbed the back of his jacket and tugged it hard.

"Stanley thinks he's going out alone today." Kenny's eyes wandered between his two friends, saddened by how much worse for the wear they looked after even one night, dark circles under both pairs of eyes. Make up, goddamnit!But he knew it wasn't that easy and running away from it was definitely not the answer.

Kyle stared at the bright blue of his best friend's jacket, barely awake enough to be having this conversation. Any plan he might have tried to develop to fix last night's mess had already evaporated. He wanted so badly just to reach out and touch Stan – to just fucking pull the other boy backwards into his arms and… "What? No! Stan, even if we're…" Kyle trailed off, biting his lip. Fighting? Is this fighting? It feels worse than any of our fights ever have before…"It's dangerous to go out on the mountain alone."

"Don't care," Stan muttered darkly, even though he made no move to leave the room, shoving his hands into his coat pockets and staring fixedly at the floor. He knew that if he even looked at Kyle, all of these feelings would just flood him all over again. I barely slept last night, and when I did, all I dreamt about was kissing Kyle. Stan absolutely hated feeling vulnerable, but without hearing anything straight from Kyle, he couldn't help but still feel a little betrayed. A tiny little voice that sounded kinda like Kenny whispered to him that he hadn't given Kyle much of a chance to explain, but… he didn't want to listen to that voice.

This time, Kenny did roll his eyes at the War of Stubborn between his two best blockheads. They were so fucking alike sometimes that he just wanted to bang his head into a wall or bang both of their heads into a wall or maybe just bang their heads together. They were so attuned to, so protective of, so obsessed with each other, and had been since… as long as he could remember, literally! Why can't they make this jump?

"Dude, I am not letting you go alone!" Kyle's voice raised another notch, but there was an odd note of unusual panic to it. Stan was supposed to be his ally, the one person that always had his back, and vice-versa, and he ached with the thought that he was being pushed away. It was too much like the Raven-thing and Kyle hated it when Stan shut him out like this. Part of him simply wanted to pour his heart out right here in the kitchen if it meant Stan wouldn't give off that horrible aura of desolation, if it meant he would smile again.

"You can't stop me."

"Watch me try!"

Kyle's voice cracked on the last word and with it, Stan seemed to finally relent a little, shrugging again. He could hear the hurt in Kyle's voice, and it didn't make him feel better at all. It actually made him feel worse. "Fine, whatever… if you wanna come with me, you've got ten minutes to be at the car and if the Fat Ass isn't there, I'm driving it over to the main lodge myself. I board faster than any of you and will leave you in the dust if you piss me off."

This time he did leave the kitchen, clattering down the stairs and picking up his gear to lug it to the car. Kenny was right behind him, as if to make sure Stan wasn't really going to ditch all of them. Kyle appeared about 8 minutes later, his jacket unzipped, none of his protective gear with him, looking generally rushed and disheveled. The last one out the door, just as Stan was about to jump into the driver's seat, was Cartman – but that didn't surprise any of them. If there was one predictable thing about their friend, it was that he loathed to be left behind or not included. And though not a single one of the three wanted him around, they were as helpless to uninvite him now as they'd been for years and years previous.

Not that Stan didn't try.

"You're not invited."

"Like hell, hippie, it's mah cah!" The two boys glared at each other menacingly, though the true fight had little to do with who was driving or who was invited.

"Everyone is invited!" Kyle snapped, sharper than he meant to – Stan flinched and climbed into the backseat, gesturing for Kenny to join him – and Kyle sighed, climbing into the front with Cartman. Being rushed made him feel edgy and the constant bickering between everyone was not their usual banter.

"Whatever, dude," Stan finally muttered under his breath.

After five minutes of riding in an uncomfortable and unusual silence, Kyle finally gave in to the urge to try and start a dialogue. If he couldn't talk to Stan alone, then at least he'd try and get everyone to make peace, truce. "So, you guys… where exactly are we going?" He was riding shotgun, and in the backseat, Kenny quickly pulled out the map the girls had marked for him to consult with Stan, as if glad he'd finally been given something to do.

"The girls told me that the easiest one to find is in Moran Woods…" Kenny pointed, catching Kyle's eyes for a moment in the rearview mirror as he watched them. He had no idea what the redhead was thinking, but he hoped things were still cool between them. "But the best way to get there is via Casper…"

"No way Fat Ass can ski Casper Traverse," Stan said with a sharp shake of his head.

"EY!" Cartman protested, but that was all he said. It was the first thing he'd said to any of them so far besides his initial retort.

Stan pointed at the map, tracing a path with one gloved finger. "The next best way is just to get to the base of Casper lift, so we take Nez Perce Traverse to Sundance to South Pass Traverse…"

Kyle tuned out their discussion of the trails and turned his gaze out the window with a frown. It was snowing lightly – not enough to be a big deal in a mountain town like Jackson Hole, but enough to add another layer of worry across his shoulders. He'd managed to remember to grab his phone, but hadn't even had time to eat breakfast and he hoped he was dressed warmly enough…

"Kyle!"

"Er, what?"

"We're here, you spaced, dude," Stan was saying to him, shaking his shoulder before turning to climb out of the backseat.

"We're getting on that thing?" Cartman squawked upon realizing that Stan was marching them towards the gondola, and then his voice turned into a pure whine. "But-but-but… how high does it go? You guys~!"

"You've ridden on the back of Cthulhu and you're scared to go up the mountain?" Kenny needled him with a snicker, somewhat comforted by his friends falling back into their usual patterns of behavior. Even if it was mostly a cover for a lot of unresolved shit, the fact that they were all still sorta-mostly speaking to each other meant there was some hope.

"It's, uh… more the going down the mountain part," Cartman muttered as he followed his friends. "Without us, you know, killin' ourselves…" He added a little "heh" after it that caused Kenny to look back over his shoulder at him curiously.

Is he making a joke about…? Nah… Still, it seemed that the blossoming black eye the bigger boy was sporting was a sign of something more wounded than just pride. That expression on Cartman's face… well, it was rare, and Kenny found that it always bothered him. "We'll get you there in one piece," Kenny reassured him evenly, choosing for once, to acknowledge...something. "Your probability of dying is probably lower the closer I am." He grinned sharply, and then took off to catch up with Stan, attempting to delay him long enough to miss the incoming gondola.

Cartman blinked after Kenny stupidly until Kyle whacked him hard in the leg with a ski pole. "Give me your poles, carry your skis, come on or we'll get left behind!"

He'd thought that Kenny was truly and irrevocably angry with him after last night, but perhaps he'd been wrong. Maybe a little humility was worth something in the eyes of his friend? "Yeah, yeah, Jew," Cartman huffed, dragging his skis as he followed along behind his friends.

Stan let Kenny stall him long enough for the other two to reach them, but the moment he saw Kyle carrying Cartman's poles, he felt irked all over again. Deep down he knew that Kyle was only being Kyle – helping whoever needed it, doing the right thing – but right now, he just couldn't help but read into everything. Climbing into their gondola, he slid across the seats and ignored his friends as they climbed in beside him.

It was an off-peak time, Kyle noted as the gondola began to ascend, and he pulled out his phone to check the time and the weather report, surprised when he realized it was already past noon. He knew how long it had taken him to fall asleep last night, but he didn't realize how far off his internal clock really was as a result. "The weather outlook isn't pretty, dudes…" he mumbled, holding the satellite screen out to show them. No one looked or answered him and Kyle sighed, jamming the phone back in his pocket and staring moodily out at the gray haze. This is going to be a long fucking day…

o/~ Why are you so petrified of silence
Here can you handle this? ~/o

There was no visibility at all by the time they reached the peak, and Cartman looked at the whirling, swirling blur of snow in abject horror. "Seriouslay?" he finally asked after they'd all stood there gaping for a few minutes.

"It was like this the other day, sorta," Kyle started optimistically, glancing at Stan to back him up. "It got a little better as we descended…"

"You can all ride the gondola back down now," Stan offered, the first smile of the day creeping slowly onto his face. "But once we leave this safety…" It was a challenge and a dare all at the same time, and the odd look that passed between him and Cartman for a moment was reminiscent of one fine day of motor boating out by the town of Beaverton.

"As if." Cartman finally sniffed as he snapped his boots into his skis, tightened his scarf and clacked his poles together twice. "Hippie."

"Fat Ass." Stan's lips quirked and he turned to point dramatically into the gray abyss. It wasn't as if they hadn't been on far more absurd adventures than this, right? "We go in search of… the shack."

"The shack," Kenny murmured in agreement, never the one to back down.

Kyle was checking the compass on his iPhone and he wordlessly reached out with one hand to adjust the direction that Stan was pointing. Their eyes met for a moment and then they both smiled before looking away sheepishly as Kenny snickered.

They descended from the peak in a very slow zigzag, with Kyle bellowing their old ski teacher's mantra of "PIZZA! FRENCH FRIES!" every couple of yards just to keep Cartman moving. It was brutally cold in the wind, and unable to see much of anything, time seemed to not exist either.

By the time they made it to the Casper Lift, Kyle was sorely tempted to suggest they head for the base lodge and try to find the shack tomorrow instead. He was also hungry and a little dizzy, having technically skipped both breakfast and lunch… but Kyle didn't want to risk damaging the fragile mood between them, and so he let it go, figuring they'd be up and down Casper multiple times trying to find this place. Besides, Stan and Kenny, at least, seem happy with our progress. I'll ask them to stop for lunch or something next time and maybe, for now, I can find a chance to talk to Stan alone. Kyle tried to approach him again as they waited in the short liftline.

"Hey… Stan…" Kyle reached out to grab his sleeve as Kenny led the way into the line. "Do you think… maybe we could ride alone? I… really wanna talk to you."

"Aww, shit," Stan muttered, actually looking like he felt a little guilty. "I just asked Kenny if we could…" he leaned in and held up two fingers in the universal sign for smoke. "I mean, you could ride with us too, but it's a triple and…" Stan and Kyle both turned to look back at Cartman as he fought to untangle one of his poles form the ropes dividing the lift line.

"No, it's okay…" Kyle said with a light shrug, though really, he wasn't okay. He was fucking frustrated as hell. In fact, he was starting to wonder if Stan just wanted to act like nothing had happened at all. Would I be okay with that? Just staying Super Best Friends? Could I forget all of it?

They stared at each other awkwardly for a moment, and then Stan turned to slide up beside Kenny, and the lift whisked them away a moment later. Kyle was a little bit sad, but not entirely disappointed – he needed to have words with Cartman too, alone.

Eric Cartman had known Kyle Broflovski for too many years to expect anything less than another full interrogation, but he steeled his will as the lift came to scoop them up. To his surprise, it took until they were a third of way up the mountain before Kyle finally found the nerve to begin.

"Eric…" Kyle started carefully, turning as much as he could to try and catch the other boy's eyes. "Can I ask you a question?"

Cartman huffed loudly and shrugged, trying to tune the sound of Kyle's voice out of his universe. No such success... "Doesn't matter if I say yes or no, you're gonna ask anyway."

"True."

Goddamn Jew. Another huff. "Well, what is it?"

"Why did you kiss me?"

Silence.

"What did you mean when you said 'it's not you'?"

Silence.

"Do you actually… have feelings for me?"

"ARGH GODDAMN YOU NO!" Cartman finally snapped, scrunching his entire face up in frustration. "Feelings are for fucking FAGS like you and Stan! I'm not an idiot! You and Stan are so obviously GAY for each other, as you reminded me last night!" Although it was a little bit entertaining to see how very very pissed off Stan was, kissing Kyle certainly wasn't worth a black eye, Kyle's badgering and… and the look on Kenny's face last night. But he'd needed to test something, and Kyle had been there, so convenient in the moment… Now I want to go back in time and kick myself in the goddamn nuts! "Don't you think the whole world knows it, you dumb fucking Jew?"

"Maybe, maybe not…" Kyle chuckled softly and shrugged, less afraid of the statements than he had been a few days ago. People had been calling him gay for his entire life for being emotional, empathic, a writer, a listener… he was so used to the word that it didn't mean anything to him. All that matters is who I care about and who cares about me. Kyle was still working out his truth, and so he also felt oddly comforted by Cartman's insults, as if something was clicked back into place in his universe. "I figured you weren't that oblivious… I know how you study people, Eric. But… I've been mulling it over, and last night just doesn't add up. Hell, even if you only kissed me to try and figure out if you're gay or not-"

"None of your beeswax, Jew!"

"Your actions, your words… they really don't make sense. They don't make sense unless…" Kyle wished there was a way to reconcile the 'vulnerable friend' side he'd seen last night with the irritating nemesis Cartman could make himself out to be, but he simply didn't know how. God, I know I can be dense, but sometimes I think Cartman is missing a self-awareness chip.

"Shut. Up. Kyle."

A smile spread across Kyle's face and he drummed his fingertips on the metal safety bar in amusement and relief. He'd begun to develop a theory of his own about what had happened, but after all the interference he'd put up with in his own relationship, he wasn't ready to get involved in someone else's mess. But I can… poke the sleeping dragon just a little. "You couldn't possibly be that concerned over Stan's feelings getting hurt, though… you know we're going to end up together - which makes me wonder why you felt the need to rat out me… and Kenny. Why did that matter so much to you? Why doesn't any of this add up?"

Cartman flinched as Kyle brought their other friend into the discussion, hitting way too close to a battleship that had long been hiding in the depths of his heart. Too many near misses, and this one was worse, because it wasn't just him and Kenny dancing around their own odd friendship. "SHUT UP, KAHL!"

Kyle knew he was winning, and he was just pissed enough about the previous night to needle the other boy one last time. And even if he was being a little bit of a jerk, there was a layer of sincerity in his words. Maybe if I just disguise in some Cartman-flavored sarcasm… "Well, if you ever decide you want to actually talk to someone about your feelings…"

"SHUT THE HELL UP YOU GODDAMN GINGER JEW! I FUCKIN' HATE YOU!"

The loud exclamation carried to the lift ahead of them where Stan and Kenny were passing the one-hitter back and forth and they both spluttered with laughter.

"You can't tell me that you were ever seriously worried," Kenny muttered as they leaned close together, trying to block the wind with their bodies enough to get the flame to catch the end before blowing out. "I can feel the psychic death waves emanating even from this far away."

Stan smiled a little as he exhaled another hit, then shivered as a particularly cold wind blasted them, actually swaying the chair. On this lift alone with a silent Kenny, smoking, he'd finally had a chance to unravel his heart a little and he knew that not working this out with Kyle… it just wasn't an option. Life simply sucked without his best friend – he knew that with painful previous experience - and that just… made everything else gravy. No matter how mad or hurt they might be at each other, Kyle was still and would always be his favorite person in the whole universe. We'll work it out, we work everything out with enough time… "No, not once I finally calmed down enough to think about it…"

"Then will you please put us all out of our misery, for fuck's sake?" Kenny punched his friend hard in the shoulder.

"I will, I just…" Stan turned to glance back at the other lift, but his friends were merely a blur of color in the swirl of snow. Need to find the right moment…

Kyle could hear the laughter echoing back at them, but it only made him feel twitchier. It was supposed to be him and Stan laughing like that together, and even though it had only been hours since the big fight, it felt like an eternity to Kyle. He had to fix things with Stan now before he drove himself crazy. There was one tiny part of him that had wondered if Cartman was telling the truth about his actions, but he supposed that it didn't really matter. Kyle knew he loved Stan, Kenny knew he loved Stan, and even Cartman probably knew that he loved Stan. It suddenly seemed so very idiotic that he couldn't talk to Stan about Stan, that Stan wasn't the only one who didn't know Kyle loved him.

As the lift reached the top of the hill, he glanced at Cartman beside him, who had been dutifully and purposefully ignoring him since his final outburst. Kyle was not going to feel the slightest bit guilty about this one. Waiting until just the exact moment, all it took was one pole angled the wrong way and Cartman went tumbling down the dismount, popping both skies off and send them skidding in opposite directions. Perfect.

Kenny watched this entire exchange in amusement and immediately slid back over to the lift, fist-bumping Kyle, who skied by him with a devilish smirk on his face.

"Stan!"

"Kyle?" Stan raised an eyebrow as his best friend came to a stop in front of him, reaching out quite suddenly to grab his hand. There was such intensity in his expression that it felt like he'd grabbed something else.

"I'm tired of waiting for later," he said, pushing his scarf out of the way to make sure Stan could hear him clearly. "I'm tired of trying to find the right moment because every one is just as right or wrong as the next."

"Look, about last night…" Stan started, squeezing Kyle's hand tightly, feeling like he had his own apologies to make.

"No," Kyle cut him off, fishing nervously in his pocket with his free hand and finally pulling out his wallet, searching frantically for something. "No-no-no, please, let me finish – I…" He laughed a little, his heart pounding, because he knew he probably sounded crazy, trying to have this conversation in the middle of a blizzard on top of a mountain. "I've been trying to find a way to tell you, for a long time now…"

"T-tell me what?" Stan stammered, his heartbeat picking up a little bit at the words.

"A-about how I feel," Kyle stuttered back, equally awkwardly, not looking up until he'd found what he was searching for and replaced his wallet. Tell him, Kyle! "A-about how… important you are to me. The most important."

"You're important to me too, Ky-"

"No-no-no," Kyle cut him off again, his teeth chattering as he reached to rip one of his gloves off and tuck it under his arm. He pulled Stan's hand closer, pushing the blue of his jacket away from the red of his gloves. "I… I never even gave you your birthday present that night… I had it all planned and everything, but… goddamnit, I was too chicken-shit…" And he was still being a chicken-shit now, unable to bring himself to just say the words in his heart, to say it, seal it, make it final. It was… fucking terrifying.

Stan had no idea what to say and he could hardly tell what Kyle was doing as the wind picked up again, nearly blinding them both with a gust of ice. "Birthday present?" Stan was yelling now to be heard over the wind, and over Kyle's shoulder he could see Kenny slowly towing Cartman towards them. "Kyle, what are you talking about?"

"Just… just think about it for awhile, okay?" Kyle dropped Stan's hand and looked away sheepishly, swaying a little in the wind. "A-about how it could be… with us. And I swear, Stan, no matter what you decide, I will always, alwaysbe your Super Best Friend. Okay?"

Stan wished that Kyle was looking at him right now and could just read his eyes or his mind. He wished he had more of a way with words or knew what the fuck Kyle was getting at, but the truth was, he didn't. He had no idea what to say, but Kenny had almost reached them, and this moment was passing just like all the others he'd wasted. "Me too," he finally blurted out. "Super Best Friends." Ouch, lame, Marsh, really lame.

Kyle looked back at him and smiled brightly anyway, but whatever he was about to say was drowned out by a loud rumble of thunder.

"Whoa, fuck!" Kenny yelled at them. "Thunder snow!"

"Whoa fuck thunder-snow" summed up the next part of their journey quite well. The visibility was so poor that it was hard to keep track of each other and exhausting to be shouting back and forth constantly to be certain no one got left behind. Adding to this, the excruciatingly slow pace was wearing them all down and by the time they reached the tiny, iced-over trail marker for Moran Woods, none of the four boys was very happy. In fact, they were downright bitchy.

"It's an X on a piece of paper!" Kyle argued in frustration. He could no longer feel his fingers or his toes and the whole world seemed to swim whenever the wind blew too hard. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so cold and felt so awful. "We can't even see ten feet in front of us!"

"We have to get down the mountain some way," Kenny argued back with a shrug. "When we find the place, maybe we can even ride out the worst of this."

"If! If we find it!"

"I'm cooooold!" Cartman whined to interrupt the both of them.

"It's the direction we're already going!" Stan added, his own teeth chattering now too. He was sincerely starting to get worried about how long they'd all been out in this weather. They had a lot of cold tolerance between them, but this was beyond bad and they all knew it. "Whether we find it or we don't, it's better if we keep moving!"

The terrain was rougher than anything they'd been on yet that day, uneven and filled with trees and snow drifts, and Kyle couldn't be certain if the sun was starting to set or the storm was simply that thick. His hands felt frozen into the shape of his ski poles and he nearly collided into Stan and Kenny when they both stopped along a ledge, peering into the distance.

"Dude! Dude, do you see, between those three trees?" Stan pointed down the mountain, squinting into the deepening shadows. Pleasepleaseplease…

"Fuck, Stan!" Kenny swore, tightening the strings of his orange hood so that only his eyes peeped through. "I think I see it too! But how to get from here to there…"

"What?" Kyle asked shakily, leaning into Stan and trying to see where they were pointing as Cartman shuffled the last few paces to catch up to them. The snow was getting deeper every minute and it was harder and harder to keep moving, especially for the larger boy. "Did you really find it?"

Kenny crouched down for a moment, waiting until the wind dyed down and he could make out the terrain a little more clearly. "This is quite a ledge and I don't know how far horizontally it goes - I say we jump down."

"What?" Cartman bellowed, not even sure he believed that they'd found it. He'd begun to think that this day was some sort of karmic punishment. Please, God, I can't feel my nuts anymore. This is worse than kicking them! "I'm not jumping anywhere! You guys are fuckin' batshit crazy!"

"I'm worried that if we go anything besides directly towards it, we'll lose it in this storm!" Stan yelled back at him fiercely, despite how horribly hoarse his voice had gone over the course of the afternoon.

"Ahoy, I call for a vote – on the subject of jump - aye… or nay?" Kyle yelled, knowing the quickest way to end the argument.

"Aye!"

"Aye!"

"Sorry, Cartman – aye!"

"Nay you motherfuckers! GODDAMN MOTHERFUCKING NAY!"

"Outvoted!" Kenny yelled, offering his two fists to Stan and Kyle for an explosion.

"Kenny, no!" Cartman tried to make a grab for his friend's arm but the other boy was, as usual, too fast. "You're gonna end up wrapped around a goddamn tree! KIIIINNNEEEEHHHH!"

Kenny tucked his board up under him as he cut sharply across the ledge and then jumped the second half of it into the largest clearing he could find.

Cartman watched him hang in mid-air for a moment and swore that his heart stopped, but then the moment passed and Kenny was below them, waving wildly. "You guys can totally do this!"

"I'll go next," Stan leaned in close to speak into Kyle's ear. "I'll be waiting to catch you."

Kyle's heart somersaulted as he watched Stan follow Kenny's exact path over the ledge, landing beside him a heartbeat later, safe and sound. "We're not on snowboards!" Kyle yelled down, puzzling out what to do.

"Doesn't matter!" Kenny yelled back. "Just tuck! Come on, Kyle! It's easy!"

Down below and looking back up at their friends, Stan watched Kyle waver and called out to him. "Come on, Kyle! I believe in you! We've gotta stick together!" He crossed his fingers and waited with bated breath as the redhead took the jump.

It was not the most graceful maneuver ever, but it suited the purpose well enough. Kyle slid in beside Stan with a whoop, but before he could say anything else, he suddenly wavered again, dropping one pole.

"Kyle? Are you okay?" Stan reached out one hand to touch Kyle's shoulder as the other boy attempted to straighten up from his tuck, but then he sagged against Stan, dropping his other pole as well. "Kyle? Kyle!"

"S-sorry…" Kyle stammered, blinking rapidly and leaning heavily on Stan as the world spun around him. Fuck! Worst timing ever! "Just d-dizzy…"

Stan kept one arm firmly under Kyle's shoulders and looked around, pointing with his free hand. "It's not far at all! Hang in there! Kenny!"

Kenny glanced back at his two friends worriedly when he heard the note of panic in Stan's voice, then up above to where Cartman still stood, alone and terrified. He hadn't said as much, but Kenny could see it written all over the other boy's round face. "Dude, forget the poles, I'll grab them. Get Kyle to the shack now, I'll get Fat Ass down!"

"You don't need to tell me twice!" Stan said as he shook Kyle a little, trying to get him to move towards the little wooden building they could now see clearly between some trees, wedged up against the side of the same ledge they'd just jumped down. "You've gotta get him to make that jump!"

"I've got this!" Kenny gave Stan the thumbs up and then yelled up to Cartman hopefully. "Jump!"

"No fuckin' way!" Cartman bellowed back, punctuated with one giant hiccup of a sob. There was no way in hell that he could make that jump - he was too fat, too inept. It was too high, too steep, too scary… He was cold and tired and pissed off and his friends were, as he'd expected, going to leave him behind. Not like I don't fuckin' deserve it. He sniffled, a wave of pent-up everything overwhelming him all at once.

"JUMP, ERIC!"

"NOOOO!"

"I AM NOT LEAVING YOU BEHIND!"

"I CAN'T DO IT!"

Kenny growled loudly in frustration, knowing that the other boy was long past hysterical by now. It's reached critical meltdown point. This situation just kept getting worse and worse and somehow, he was sure it was all his own fault.

"FUCKING JUMP!"

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

"ERIC THEODORE CARTMAN! GET YOUR FUCKING ASS DOWN HERE RIGHT FUCKING NOW! I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU BEHIND!"

Mysterion's words ripped through the howl of noise that was Cartman's wailing and he heaved in a huge breath, finally looking down at Kenny… and then he jumped.

The jump was decidedly spectacular in its awful, and really was half a tumble down the side of the slope, but at the end of it, Kenny was hauling him to his feet and dragging him towards the shack. "You did good," he said gruffly, stopping to scoop Kyle's poles up with one arm. "Really, really good." Cartman said nothing, but he kept a tight hold of Kenny's hand, sniffling once more as they shuffled towards the shack.

"Fuck, you guys!" Stan yelled as he saw them coming through the haze of white. "Help me!" He'd managed to pop both of Kyle's skis off, but he was still attached to his board and couldn't reach the door.

Kenny squeezed Cartman's hand once tightly before drooping it, unhooking himself from his board and stepping over his two friends. Leaning to the side, he gave the door one swift kick and it shot inwards.

Kyle was still conscious and he pushed himself upright against the wall once Stan had them through the door, just trying to stay out of the way as his friends got themselves and all of their equipment out of the storm. It was dark inside the shack and he fumbled in his pocket for his phone, managing to shakily flip through it looking for the flashlight function.

Stan turned back to Kyle as Cartman and Kenny worked on wedging the door closed against the power of the wind, Cartman finally holding it in place while Kenny slid the heavy wooden bolt across it. Stan was glad they were finally out of the storm, but worried about the condition of his Super Best Friend. He pulled off his gloves, dropping them beside his board. "Kyle?"

The light of the phone clicked on just in time to illuminate Kyle's pale face - and his green eyes rolling backwards into his head.

"FUCK!" Stan dove to catch Kyle as he collapsed and Kenny dove to save the phone falling from his hand, the light bouncing around the room. Stan sank to the wooden floor of the shack with Kyle cradled in his arms, shaking his friend lightly, his voice laced with panic. "KYLE! KYLE!"

The edges of Kyle's vision darkened as his three friends hovered over him and the little blue beads in the woven bracelet around Stan's wrist caught sharply in the glow from the iPhone just before he blacked out.

o/~ Here we are and we won't stop breathing
Yell it out 'til your heart stops beating ~/o

Chapter Text

KYLE! KYLE!


Six months ago…


Kyle slowly drifted towards wakefulness, the warm midday sun through the window casting a long shaft of light across the unfamiliar room. As he blinked his eyes at the wooden frame above his head, Kyle slowly became aware of the fact that he was not alone in the bed and that Stan had one knee angled across his hips, trapping him in place.

It was the third morning in a row that they'd shared the bottom bunk in his cousin Kyle's mustard-colored room (which was even worse than the pea green of his old room in Connecticut), with Ike and Fillmore above them, and Other-Kyle himself sleeping on an air mattress. Said air mattress had already been deflated for the day, and there was no sound of breathing above him, which meant that he and Stan were alone for the moment.

Kyle felt a little bit guilty that there were crammed into this tiny bed together at his annoying cousin's house for this annoying family reunion-new house welcoming party thing. When his parents had told him and Ike they could bring friends on their summer vacation trip as a reward for scholastic achievement, Kyle had thought it would be awesome. And well, it was awesome having his Super Best Friend along to gripe with, play videogames with, mock his family with, torment his little brother with… but it also meant forcing Stan to put up with his entire very embarrassing very Jewish very Jersey family in close quarters… and so far they hadn't done anything besides eat weird kosher food and look at too many old black and white photo albums. It was… kinda torturous…

Turning his head slowly until their noses were almost touching, Kyle let his eyes wander over the familiar dark hair and peaceful expression with a sense of gratitude. Only a truly loyal friend would suffer his best friend's family reunion just to keep him from going crazy. Even if we're bored, at least we're bored together…

Just as Kyle's thoughts drifted into the sentimental, Stan shifted in his own nearing-wakefulness, and the exhale of breath against Kyle's cheek made the redhead shiver. A ripple of sensation surged through Kyle's body as Stan's knee dug in a little harder, and he flushed as he felt the first tingling of arousal stirring in his groin. Fuck, why now…?

Kyle tried to shift away from Stan without waking him up, eventually sliding off the bed and reaching for his glasses on the table beside the bed. Cramming them onto his face, he looked down at his best friend with a small sigh of amusement, for in his absence, Stan's arms had wound around Kyle's pillow, hugging it close with a sleepy mumble.

Alone in the bathroom a few minutes later, Kyle leaned heavily against the counter, stared into the mirror and breathed slowly. A little cold water to wake himself up - calm myself down… He popped in his contacts, then pretended to try and tame his hair a little, but it was rather hopeless in the horrible Jersey humidity. His usual curls were nothing but a ball of frizz, and it was too fucking hot to wear his ushanka. With a muttered curse, he crammed an awful, floppy green bucket hat on his head that he'd borrowed from Other-Kyle and then went downstairs to see what was going on.

Back in Other-Kyle's room, Stan had begun to stir once he was left alone in the bed. He was in no hurry to chase after Kyle though, and instead wanted to relish getting to sleep in without his mother nagging him to do chores or his father bitching at him to clean out the garage. Sure, Kyle's family might be vaguely annoying at times, but… they all reminded him of Kyle in different, odd little ways that he couldn't help but find kind of… endearing - and sometimes revealing too. And maybe they weren't doing anything besides hanging around the house playing videogames, but… it was better than being stuck back in South Park, alone, without Kyle.

"God, you have got to be fucking kidding me…" Kyle was muttering to himself as he slipped back into his cousin's bedroom ten minutes later to find Stan up, dressed and fiddling with his phone.

"What's up, Ky?" Stan asked, raising an eyebrow and patting the empty space on the bed beside him.

Kyle tossed himself onto the bunk and buried his face in his pillow, his words muffled. "Mshrry…"

Reaching over to poke him in the ribs, Stan snickered. "What was that?"

Kyle twitched under the touch and rolled onto his side, the stupid bucket hat falling off behind him. "My mother and all the biddies went to Atlantic City to gamble… well, all the adults went, but I blame my mother!" He held up a piece of fancy stationary, and Stan leaned in to read it.

Kyle,

We've gone down to Atlantic City and won't be home until very late. There's money for take-out and something fun. Maybe you can take Ike & Fillmore to see that new action picture – you should be nicer to your little brother!

Don't get into any trouble and be nice to your cousins too!

XOXO,

Mom

Stan couldn't help the snicker that escaped his lips when he got to the end of the letter, for which Kyle punched him hard in the arm. "Don't even start!"

"I didn't!" Stan protested, rubbing his arm. "Sheesh…" He rolled over until he was on his side, facing Kyle and then shrugged. "We don't have to do what she said, Kyle."

"I'm sorry this vacation is so lame…" Kyle sighed, sounding already defeated. "But there's nothing to do around here besides go swimming in the pool or play videogames or go see a movie…"

"Then let's go somewhere else!" Stan suggested as if it was the easiest thing in the world. He slid off the bed and held out his hand to Kyle, smoothly pulling the other boy up off the bed once he'd grasped it. "We could go to Atlantic City too!"

"Wh-wh-wh-what?" Kyle said with a fierce shake of his curly head, sounding far too much like his mother. Okay, maybe I have spent too many hours with my extended family. "If they caught us – and how would we get there – no way!"

Stan cringed a little and grasped his best friend by the shoulders, turning him to look at their reflections in the mirror. He had just finally begun to edge Kyle out in height this past year, no more than an inch, but that wasn't what he was goading him about this time. "Kyle. Kyle, do you hear yourself? We have to get out of here. Think outside the box, my Jew, outside the box."

Kyle first tensed, then relaxed under Stan's hands on his shoulders, his mind racing. Why am I feeling this way? "Well, Atlantic City blows, dude…" His memories flashed to his childhood as he searched for an idea. "Wildwood is much, much cooler – three piers of rides, arcades, frozen custard, curly fries, batting cages, mini golf, the beach, of course…"

"Curly fries…" Stan's mouth watered at the thought. "You had me at Curly fries, dude."

"Like you've never tasted before," Kyle swore solemnly to their reflections with just a hint of longing in his eyes. "The crunch…"

"Mmm…." Stan turned Kyle back to face him, a very determined and potentially dangerous look on his face. "We should go. We can go. Let's go! Kyle, come on, just for the day! We can totally be there and back before your parents come home."

"By brunch, usually…" Kyle muttered with an eye roll. "Drunk, in a limo…" He sighed as he pictured the heart attack his mother would have if she knew what he was contemplating. But it would be SO awesome.

"The friiiies, Kyyyyyyy…." Stan whined, shaking him a little harder. "Think of the fries!"

Kyle laughed and then shrugged Stan off. "Look, it's like two hours from here. There's no good public transit and neither of us has a license or a car."

Stan didn't really give a shit about the license part – he'd been driving to pick his drunk dad up at the bar since he was fourteen. "But Kyle has a car."

"True, but he'd never… Stan! Stan, no! What are you doing?" Kyle chased his best friend out of the room and down the hallway, out of the 'kid's wing', down the stairs, through the kitchen and into the study that served as his cousin's office. After all, it was largely due to his cousin's successful accounting business that the Schwartz family had moved back to Jersey and upgraded their house last year. "Dude!" Kyle hissed, outwardly panicked but inwardly thrilled at the scene unfolding.

"Dude, Kyle, can we borrow your car for the day?"

Kyle Schwartz swiveled in his chair until he was facing his cousin and Stan, and sniffed in confused surprise, pushing his enormous glasses up a little higher on his nose. "My car? You want to borrow my car?" The 2010 BMW Series 3 convertible the color of the Caribbean sea was Kyle's pride and joy and everyone knew it.

"I'll give you twenty bucks," Stan bargained with a straight face and his Kyle bit his lip to keep from laughing.

"Well, that's an awful lowball there, Stan," Other-Kyle said with a shrug. "It's actually kind of, well, erm, insulting when I don't really need your money anyway.

Kyle blinked, completely surprised that his cousin was even willing to negotiate. Before Stan could fire off any kind of retort, he grabbed his best friend by the wrist, pulling him back into the kitchen. "Dude – dude, my mom left us $200. Maybe if we-"

"Half of which rightfully belongs to us," another voice cut in, and there Ike stood in the middle of the kitchen, his arms crossed over his chest and a surprisingly defiant look on his nine-year old face – surprising to anyone that didn't know him as well as Kyle, Stan and Filmore did.

"Dude, forget the money," Filmore added with a mischievous smirk on his face as he stood just a step behind Ike. "There's no way you're leaving us behind."

"5th graders are still evil, even when they're younger than you," Stan muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose in annoyance.

"But not too old for 'kick the baby'," Kyle warned his little brother, though the fighting was mostly playful. There was a long beat of silence before Ike spoke up again.

"Cousin Kyle likes me better than both of you," Ike added, a slow smile spreading across his face.

Stan and Kyle looked at each other, communicating in their usual language of minute shrugs and facial expressions. "It's worth a shot," Kyle finally agreed.

And that was how, an hour later, the four boys found themselves whizzing down the Garden State Parkway in a convertible, headed to the beach, all for the price of $200, a promise of a box of salt water taffy… and a signed and notarized document:

...and the above-stated agree to equally divide the cost of any and all damage to said vehicle.

In addition, at no time am I to be held accountable for "covering" for their misdeeds or providing anything but the truth to parental units if safety should become an issue. If there is no safety issue in concern, this contract shall remain private.

Signed:

Ike Broflovski

Kyle Broflovski

Stanley Marsh

Fillmore Anderson

"Why do I get the feeling we might have just signed our souls away?" Kyle asked, the wind whipping through his hair and the photocopy of the document crunched tightly in his hands to keep it from blowing away.

The sun was hot on Stan's dark head as he laughed and reached to turn the radio up. "You worry too much! Besides, I thought you wanted to do something fun!"

"I'm checking in with mom every hour with fake stories about our movie night!" Ike added, holding up his iPhone as proof. "She'll never know!"

Kyle sighed, folding the paper up and cramming it into the glove box. What was the use in worrying anyway? Glancing over at Stan, he smiled to see how carefree the other boy looked, his fingers tapping against the steering wheel in time with the music. He was on a forbidden adventure with his Super Best Friend (and his little brother, but that was mostly-ignorable) … without the people that usually landed them in hot water. "I wonder what Eric and Kenny are doing…"


"Shut the fuck up, ya goddamn drunk!"

"What did you say, ya fuckin' bitch!"

Kenny McCormick ducked as a dish went flying over his head, smashing against the wall of the kitchen and crumbling into pieces across the stove. His parents were too wasted, and pissed at each other, to even notice that he was creeping slowly towards the back door, which was just as well. He was sorry he'd even come home last night – he should have just slept in the park, knowing that Karen was safe at a friend's house for the weekend.

A moment later and the screen door was rattling loudly behind him as he made his way down the driveway, across the street and towards town. He didn't really know what he was doing or where he was going, but he couldn't be at home today. Not after the fight he'd gotten into with his father the night before…

You're a useless shit faggot! Never gonna amount to anything!

"Fuck him," Kenny muttered, kicking a rock with the toe of his overly worn black converse sneaker.

Summer fucking blew.

Even though Kenny was not a huge fan of studying and homework, school was at least an escape from his house, his parents. It was a reliable way to hang with his friends, flirt with girls and get free weed by selling to the underclassmen for seniors with cars and outstanding records they didn't want to tarnish.

No money, no weed, Stan & Kyle out of town, and a fucking heat wave to top it off.

Kenny contemplated his options – abuse the AC at the grocery store again? "Or maybe I should just kill-"

BEEP-BEEP!

"Dude, Kenny, you poor piece o' shit! I've been drivin' all over town lookin' for you!"

Despite the greeting, Kenny's spirits lifted as the nearly-new yellow Hummer squealed to a stop beside him with the passenger window rolled down. "What do you want?" he mumbled, still in a piss poor mood.

"Goin' down to Denver to get some Golden Corral – you in?"

"You up for a side venture?" Kenny asked as he reached to open the door and climb in beside his friend. Actually, I didn't eat yesterday, did I…?

Cartman shrugged and glanced at the other boy from behind his shiny Aviators. "Jesus, aren't you hot in that parka? And where the fuck have you been for the last couple days?"

Kenny had slipped on a broken beer bottle a few days ago and accidentally sliced an artery open. Bleeding out was not the worst way to go, though… somewhat painful, kinda woozy… Not as far down on the scale as drowning. "Nothin' much," he finally settled on. "Avoiding my house."

Well, stop avoiding ME! Cartman stuffed down what he really wanted to say in favor of misdirection. "Fuckin' Jew keeps textin' me askin'…" and here, his voice switched to a high-pitched whiny imitation of Kyle. "What are you guys doing? Have you heard from Kenny? Will you check on Kenny? What's Kenny up to?"

Kenny had reached to pull his iPod out of the pocket of his orange parka, drawn up just as tight as ever despite the July heat, and connected it to Cartman's stereo. He shuffled through his playlists, not giving any verbal response.

o/~ Pound my knuckles hard against the floor
My head against the wall
But I did this to myself
Assume it's just not worth getting back up,
so I'll blame it on bad luck
And I'll shake responsibility, yeah ~/o

"And I texted him back and said: You fucking Ginger Jersey Jew, do I look like Kenny's goddamn answering machine? And do you know what he said? Kinneh? Kinneh, are you listenin' to me, you asshole?"

The surge of sound from the speakers drowned Cartman's rant out and Kenny turned to look out the window at the winding mountain scenery.

o/~ Do you ever wake up to realize
that your life is meaningless?
Does it give you strength or lead you to
your grave at a young age? ~/o

"Kinneh! Kinneh, I'm tryin' to talk to you!" Cartman fumed as he drove, frustrated. He never knew quite what to do when Kenny was in one of these moods. His best friend was usually pretty cheerful, so when he went all doom and gloom, it just… threw off the balance.

o/~ And now I think it's time that I realize
self pity's meaningless
Though I'm 10 feet deep,
I'll claw my way back out from in my grave ~/o

Cartman quieted when he got no response, listening to the lyrics as they drove, and then he eventually reached to turn the music down to a reasonable volume before muttering. "There's a bag on the floor, a box in it – would you pick it up?"

o/~ Now I realize, I'd give anything I have
to walk a day in my old shoes
Wondering what my first smoke would be like,
my first fuck, my next fuck up ~/o

Finding no reason to deny him and not actually wanting to pick a fight after having to listen to fighting all last night, Kenny reached down and tugged on the bag. Turning it upside down, he dumped the box into his lap and his entire face lit up in complete surprise. An iPhone? "Really?"

"Like I said, not your fuckin' answering machine."

Kenny knew Cartman way better than that, knew that it was more than just what he was complaining about… but he wouldn't embarrass either of them by calling him out on it. He wasn't an idiot, after all – he knew that Cartman cared and had his own odd ways of showing it. At the same time, Kenny couldn't hold back all of his excitement. "Thanks, dude! You really didn't have to…"

Cartman shrugged, then gestured with one hand. "It didn't cost much to add you to my plan and if it shuts the goddamn Jew up… I programmed it a little - text him already so he can stop getting his panties in a twist."

Scrolling through the programmed numbers – Coon, Hippie, Jew – Kenny grinned and reached over to touch Cartman's arm, squeezing it sharply. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure, goddamnit!" Cartman snapped back at him, but there was a smile on his face. He couldn't quite hide that making Kenny happy also made himself happy, but he wasn't going to say that.

MYST: Yo! Coon hooked me up. You rang?

KITE: Kenny?

MYST: the one & only

KITE: What are you guys doing?

MYST: Fatass wants buffet – you?

KITE: Still in NJ, but Under the Boardwalk - long story in progress (ask me later). Oh, and Stan says hey.

MYST: Tell Stan to buy me a piece.

KITE: A piece of what?

MYST: Just tell him what I said.

KITE: Is this some sort of game? Oh… wait, nevermind. Stan says cool. Uh, so, I guess, cool.

Kenny snickered and rolled his eyes, wondering how Kyle could still manage to sound like Kyle, even via text message. "Sounds like they're off getting into trouble," he relayed to Cartman as he started to mess with the rest of the phone's programming. His mood was already much improved and he kicked himself mentally for avoiding his friends when they were the only thing that kept him going most days. "Speaking of which, about this detour…"


The sun was high in the sky when the four miscreants arrived in Wildwood, New Jersey in their borrowed convertible. Kyle insisted they skip meters and find a lot to park it in that had decent security, with each of them chipping in $5 to have it babysat. Feeling confident about their choice, he led the march towards the boardwalk, the top of the Ferris Wheel visible above the colorful wooden buildings.

Neither pair of boys really wanted to hang out with the other, so with a promise from Ike to text his brother at least as often as he was texting their mother to check in, they agreed to part ways for the afternoon and meet up at the arcade next to the stairs they'd climbed leading up to the boardwalk at closing time.

"Are you sure we shouldn't just let them tag along?" Kyle asked Stan worriedly, glancing back over his shoulder as Ike and Filmore disappeared into the arcade.

"They're smart kids," Stan defended, even though the truth was that he wanted Kyle to himself. Being around his family 24/7 seemed to really wind Kyle up and Stan really very much wanted to unwind him. "At least as smart as we were at that age… how much trouble can they really get into?"

"A lot! But… they'll be okay… I guess…" Kyle didn't really want his brother tagging along either, but it didn't stop him from checking his phone every thirty seconds as they started to walk down the boardwalk. "So… what do you wanna do?"

Stan reached to snatch the phone out of Kyle's hands, holding it above his head and grinning as Kyle grabbed his arm, pulling and spinning to try and get it back. "Anything that will get you off of this! And you promised me Curly Fries!"

"You mean Curley's Fries," Kyle pointed out the famous landmark as they reached it, the smell overwhelming and a line of half a dozen people at every register. "And give me back my phone!"

Kyle had the good grace to put the phone away in his pocket once Stan handed it back, their fingers brushing. He felt himself blush and was glad he could blame it on too much sun if anyone asked… but as he looked around at the colorful crowd of strangers, he realized that no one was going to.

It was crowded and busy on the boardwalk, with yellow trams buzzing by to sounds of "W-wa-watch the t-tramcar, p-please!" in an attempt to get people to move out of the way. Between the ocean breeze, the fries, the ice cream and cotton candy, the air had a salty-sweet scent to it that could not be further from the piney mountains of Colorado.

Grabbing Kyle by the arm as he realized his best friend was spacing again, Stan hauled him over to the line as they discussed their plans for the day. With three piers of rides and games, two waterparks, the beach, shops and food galore, there was way too much to do in one afternoon. They finally settled on getting bracelets that would allow them to wander between any of the rides, skip the waterparks (Kyle hated to admit it, but he still wasn't entirely over the "pee" incident and didn't know if he ever would be) and maybe go for a swim.

Stan munched his fries as they waited in a second line to get bracelets for rides, but by the time they'd finished eating, he'd realized it was sweltering, the air heavy with humidity… and the distant strip of blue in the backdrop began to look more and more inviting.

"One ride?" Kyle asked as they headed to the end of the pier to find an exit down to the ocean, looking around at all the whirling and spinning contraptions. "I know it's hot, but the lines are just gonna be longer later when it gets dark..."

"I suppose we should digest a little before swimming…"

And before Stan could really think twice about the decision, Kyle was dragging him onto an old carnival classic, the Tilt-a-Whirl. All should have been well – despite Stan's notoriously weak stomach, it was usually from nerves and not spinning that he barfed…

Unfortunately, there was no one else on the ride except for a trio of rather young kids, and the ride attendant was only half paying attention to them as he punched the start button with a bored expression on his face. The ride rocked gently back and forth for the first minute or two and Stan and Kyle whooped and hollered every time they hit a hard spin.

Then, after those two minutes, with the ride still running at full speed, Stan's whooping died down and he began to look a little green.

"Stan?" Kyle yelled as they came out of a particular hard spin that had given them six whirls in a row. "Stan, are you okay?"

"Ugh…" was the only response Stan gave, and he tried to close his eyes, but the darkness only made it worse. "Kyle, I'm…"

"HEY!" Kyle yelled as their car spun past the ride attendant, but the teenager was now too busy talking to some girls that had just gotten in line. "HEY! Stop the ride!"

"Kyyyyy…." Stan moaned, one hand over his mouth. Why did I think this was a good idea? "Friiiies…"

"HEY!" Kyle tried again as they came back around, beginning to feel a little sick himself. "HEY! STOP THE GODDAMN RIDE, YOU IDIOT!"

But it was too late. Stan's stomach had caught up with him, and as they spun in one last vicious whirl, he hurled all of his Curley Fries, splattering it across both himself and his Super Best Friend.

"SICK, DUDE!" Kyle wailed as the ride finally rolled to a stop. He threw the metal bar open and jumped off the ride, clattering down the steps and straight for the nearest rest room.

Stan stumbled his way off of the ride, a little depressed at the loss of his fries, and then stopped short as he watched Kyle yank his t-shirt off and toss it straight into the garbage can. "I'm sorry, Kyle!"

Kyle's hands were now under the water fountain and he was silent for a moment, wanting to be mad at Stan… but he never could, especially not for this. They tended to accept, though occasionally torment, each other for their various ineptitudes in life. I should have known better anyway… He ought to be disgusted by the events, and he was, but… it was still Stan and Kyle always seemed to forgive him no matter what stupidity he committed.

"Kyle!" Stan said again, feeling worse the longer the other boy tortured him with silence. "Don't be so dramatic! I didn't do it on purpose! You know I-" His whine of protest was interrupted when Kyle whirled around, tossing a handful of water straight into his face.

"Take that shirt off and ditch it!" he commanded, laughing as Stan spluttered through the face full of water. "We'll go down to the ocean to wash off and then go buy some new ones."

Stan realized immediately that Kyle wasn't really mad and obeyed, peeling off his own shirt and cramming it in the garbage can. "I really am sorry…"

Kyle's eyes slid from Stan's dark hair and apologetic grin to his bare chest and tight abs, suddenly feeling very awkward as his heart began to beat a little faster. "I know…" Turning sharply away, he set off towards the end of the pier at almost at a jog, chastising himself mentally. What is going on with me lately? He and Stan had seen each other buck naked more than once over their many years of friendship and never before had it inspired such… weird…feelings... And if he wanted to be honest with himself, though they were weird feelings, they were also… good weird feelings.

Following the redhead down some steps at the edge of the nearby water park, Stan grinned as he heard his best friend singing along with the music blaring over the loudspeaker. "If we're going in the water, don't we need a locker or something?" Stan asked as they reached the hot sand, now only another fifty or so feet from the water's edge.

o/~ (Under the boardwalk) out of the sun
(Under the boardwalk) we'll be havin' some fun
(Under the boardwalk) people walking above
(Under the boardwalk) we'll be falling in love
Under the board-walk (board-walk!) ~/o

"Nah," Kyle shook his head, then gestured for Stan to continue following him. When he was sure no one way paying attention, he slipped underneath the actual boardwalk to where the sand was dark, cool and mostly untouched. "We bury it."

"Bury it?" Stan asked softly, feeling like he ought to be whispering in this dark place.

Kyle used the heel of his sneaker to dig a sizable hole in the sand and then kicked his shoes off, gesturing for Stan to do the same. Peeling off his socks, he took his wallet and his phone and wrapped them, tucking them inside his sneakers. He waited for the other boy to do the same and then covered it all with sand, smoothing it over with one hand until it looked no different than anything else around them.

"And you'll be able to find this again?" Stan asked skeptically.

"Tried and true method," Kyle assured him as he led the way back out into the sun and towards the water. He couldn't bring himself to turn around and look at his shirtless friend right now, and tried to convince himself it was because of the Tilt-a-Whirl and not because they were, well, shirtless. "Don't you trust me?"

Stan smiled as he watched Kyle walk off towards the water without even waiting for a response. "Of course I do!" he called after him, jogging slowly across the uneven sand to catch up.

"It's really sweet getting to show you this place," Kyle said as they waded into the cold water, pushing through the curlers to get beyond where the waves were breaking. The last thing he wanted was for Stan to regret coming along on this trip, but now that they'd broken out and come here for the day, he was less afraid of that happening. It's always so much easier to be myself when it's just me and Stan… "You know, we've spent all of our lives together, but this was always someplace I came in the summers as a kid…"

"I remember sometimes you sent postcards…" Stan said, pausing to dip his head under water and wash the earlier accident away. He rubbed the water out of his eyes, watching as Kyle echoed him, disappearing underneath the gray-teal surface. Stan couldn't help but grin when the curls suddenly vanished, melted into straightness by the weight of the water.

"Yeah, I guess I've always thought about you a lot when I was here, since it's rare to be out of South Park…" Rare to be separated… Kyle kept the last piece of his thoughts to himself, already feeling strangely vulnerable as he realized that Stan was studying him as they floated over the tops of the waves together. His dark hair was slicked back from the water and he had a serene expression on his face as he listened to Kyle talk. As Kyle trailed off and Stan realized he was caught, he looked away and Kyle added softly. "I hope you're not sorry you came."

"I hope you're not mad I barfed on you," Stan countered back after a beat of silence, before diving under the water and grabbing for one of Kyle's ankles to pull him under.

They splashed and thrashed in the water for awhile trying to see who could drown the other first, and eventually they stumbled, water-logged and exhausted, back up the beach towards their secret treasure burial site.

Kyle was true to his word, finding and unburying their stash without hesitation, and he flipped open his phone to check the messages as Stan sat and put his socks and shoes back on. "Ike checked in, Mom's still oblivious and…" He raised an eyebrow at the new number appearing in his box, but deduced the sender almost immediately.

"And what?" Stan asked, leaning into Kyle so he could read the screen. "Ahaha! Tell Kenny I said hey!"

Kyle typed back again, setting the phone down momentarily to pull on his own socks and shoes. "Kenny says he wants a piece?" he asked in confusion, holding the phone out to Stan.

"Oh…oh!" Stan grinned, then bit his lip awkwardly. Maybe not the best idea to tell Kyle Kenny wants me to buy him some glassware… "Uh, just tell him cool."

"Cool…?" Kyle questioned as he wrote back, then pocketed his phone. The sun was starting to set now, the sky going pink where it met the ocean, and as the water cooled, the wind was picking up a little. "Do I even wanna know?"

"Nope, definitely not," Stan grinned, looping his arm around Kyle's and tugging, being blatant in his effort to distract. "You're cold. I'm hungry. New shirts?"

The delicious smells from above them were enticing… and Kyle didn't like the way his heart beat faster the longer they stood so closely, alone in the growing shadows. He could hardly see Stan, but his arm was warm where they were linked and his voice echoed in the quiet. "I think new shirts, first, definitely," he agreed with a shiver, and with a note of suspicion at Stan's brush-off. "And then rides before food this time, Stan!"


KYLE! KYLE!

FuckfuckFUCK!

Bring the light over here, Kenny!

Is he still breathing?

"Under the boardwalk…"

What? What did he say?

KYLE! Kyle, wake up, please!


o/~ To lose the inhibition, follow your intuition
Free your inner soul and break away from tradition ~/o

"So I don't do anything except sit here and wait for you?" Cartman asked quietly as they drove slowly along the dirt lane through the fields, headed towards what looked like a farm with a barn and a rather large greenhouse.

"Yep," Kenny affirmed, texting quickly on his new phone as if he'd already had it for days. "Things go better when all faces are familiar…" And I'd rather not get you anymore involved than being my ride…

There was an old red pick-up truck in front, as well as a couple of disassembled bikes and weird spare parts. No one came out to greet them, but Kenny strolled slowly and easily up to the door, knocking once.

Cartman watched him enter the house from his vantage point behind the front wheel and then sighed, beginning to fidget and wondering if he was being watched. He knew how to look chill and relaxed… reaching into the glove box, he pulled out the bad habit he only resorted to when he was extremely twitchy. This day had made him twitchy and he couldn't put his finger on why.

Cracking the window, he lit the cigarette and took a puff, choking once as he rolled his gaze out and up at the sky. He wasn't actually going to smoke the damn thing – it was for effect.

It was twenty minutes and three fake cigarettes before Kenny returned, looking more relaxed than before but also in a hurry. "Drive," he commanded as he climbed into the front seat. "Just head down some other dirt roads and find a place to park where there's some cover…" He trailed off, digging in his pocket for rolling papers, and then he looked over at Cartman curiously. "Since when do you smoke cigarettes?"

"Since when do you smoke weed?"

"Hah, like you haven't known that since 7th grade," Kenny rolled his eyes, waiting until Cartman had parked their car between some trees on a deserted dirt road to roll his joint. They couldn't see anything around them besides empty landscape and one house visible at the edge of a hill probably more than a mile away. "Dude, thanks for taking the detour and lending me the money. Thanks for… you know…"

When Kenny trailed off awkwardly, Cartman smiled slightly, then shuffled the playlist on Kenny's iPod. "I know what song you need, Kenny," he sneered playfully.

o/~ Let's get retarded ha!
Let's get retarded in here! ~/o

Kenny smiled in amusement, then pushed back his hood so he wouldn't burn anything. Flicking the tiny black cigarette lighter, he lit the end of his joint and took a deep drag, his eyes drifting closed as his head lolled back.

The pounding beats of rage that had been sounding in Kenny's mind for hours started to fade and he exhaled slowly, bopping his head along to the music. He and Eric had always been able to have a comfortable silence between them. Sometimes what they had most in common was not wanting to talk about anything, but… not wanting to be alone either.

Cartman watched the sun disappear behind the mountains through the thickening haze of smoke, the sky melting from rose into indigo before a few stars began to appear. The fact that he felt so mellow kept him from totally flipping out when he noticed the dark bruise across Kenny's left cheekbone as the other boy leaned forward to tap the burnt end of the joint into the ash tray.

"Your dad again?" Cartman muttered, glancing away so that Kenny didn't feel too trapped by the query.

"What else…" Kenny shrugged as he began to roll a second joint, his thin fingers working nimbly to separate the green and purple buds into shreds.

Cartman's hands flexed on the steering wheel before he asked: "Anything I can do?"

Kenny actually took the time to think about the question, lighting the end of the joint and inhaling sharply, holding it. Just the question made him feel less alone. Turning towards the other boy, he leaned in and exhaled slowly, a grin sliding onto his face. "This. Do this - this is good."

"Dude, you're so fucking high," Cartman bust out laughing, letting go of the steering wheel and turning to look at Kenny, who gave him a purposefully goofy cross-eyed look in response. It was always easier to laugh. If it's what you need…

Kenny just started to giggle too, like he hadn't since the very first time he'd ever smoked, and soon they were both hysterical, punching and slapping at each other over nothing much at all.

o/~ I know you get me
So I'll let my walls come down, down ~/o

The song had changed as their play-fight was winding down – Cartman had one of Kenny's wrists jammed against the dashboard, but Kenny had managed to curl in his seat to dig one foot into Cartman's ribs. It was comical and yet typical, except for the music, and as they slipped back into their seats properly, their gazes met, both too winded to speak.

o/~ Before you met me
I was a wreck
But things were kinda heavy
You brought me to life ~/o

"God, Kenny, turn this gay song off," Cartman interrupted the music and the moment, reaching to re-fasten his seatbelt before throwing the car into reverse. "I'm starved – it's time for the Corral."

Though he gave no verbal response, Kenny's released hand shot out to hit 'Next' on the iPod before reaching to fasten his own seatbelt. They whizzed down the highway to 'Knights of Cydonia' at full blast, still stoned out of their minds and in too good a mood to be awkward by the time they strolled into the Golden Corral an hour before it closed.

The place was nearly deserted, which pleased Cartman, as there was no line at the buffet and he was FAMISHED. Going to all-you-can-eat with Kenny was always the best, too – he was the only friend who ever really gave him a run for the money in total plates consumed.

It was during Cartman's second bathroom break that Kenny finally noticed the only other couple left in the restaurant, tucked into a booth on the opposite side of the room, behind a potted plant. He would not have even recognized them were it not for the distinct blue chullo hat. But it was very… odd… because the calm blond sitting at the table across from the chullo hat couldn't possibly be their classmate Tweek, whose hand was being held, knuckles being kissed… by a Craig Tucker… who was… smiling?

DOES. NOT. COMPUTE.

Kenny's brain short-circuited and he continued to stare until Cartman had returned to the table and followed his line of vision to do a double-take himself.

"Oh, sweet beautiful life, you provide me with such opportunities…" he rubbed his hands together, totally missing when Kenny made a grab for his sleeve.

"What the hell are you doing!" the blond hissed, nearly tumbling out of the booth in the hurry to follow Cartman across the restaurant. For once, he was too slow – or maybe he just hadn't tried hard enough to intercept – and he stood in the background as a witness only.

"FAGS!" Cartman laughed loudly as he shuffled up to their table.

"AAAHH!" Tweek yelped, yanking his hand away from Craig, who immediately turned to glare at Cartman, giving him the finger.

"Had to come all the way to Denver to enjoy your private dinner date?" He couldn't help but chuckle as Tweek's face got redder and redder.

"Fuck you, Cartman," Craig snapped angrily. "Leave us alone."

"As if I'd wanna watch – but I bet some people would!" Cartman laughed again and was about to pull out his cell phone to snap a picture when suddenly something clocked him in the back of the head. Turning around, he was surprised to find a very stony-faced Kenny holding two more dinner rolls in his hands, the first bouncing away across the floor.

"I think it's time to leave," Kenny said icily, tossing the rolls down on a table and walking out, not terribly surprised when Cartman was only a few steps behind him. Don't be an idiot, McCormick… you know this is just how he is… As soon as you think he actually has a heart, he just turns out to be an asshole again. Stop getting your hopes up.


Kyle reviewed their most excellent day in his head as the rollercoaster clicked slowly upwards, his feet dangling and the ocean breeze stinging his face. It was half to distract himself from the nervous anticipation of the very first drop viewed from the very first car and half to puzzle out the inflating balloon in his chest.

After their swim, they'd gone to buy new t-shirts – absolutely terrible things in bright blue and green plastered with colorful Wildwood decals, since Kyle hadn't wanted to waste money on it – and then started in on the rides.

The boardwalk looked very different at night with all of the multi-colored lights and flashing signs, and the view from the very top of the rollercoaster was spectacular, with the dark tumbling ocean on one side and the entire island spread out in a light display on the other.

Other than the Tilt-a-Whirl incident, it's been a truly awesome day… one I'll never forget… one totally worth defying my mother for…

"Ready, Ky?" Stan yelled from beside him, just as they reached the top of the first drop.

"Can't look down, can't turn back!" Kyle yelled in response, and then they were falling, twisting, turning... Kyle screwed his eyes shut and screamed for all he was worth, hearing Stan's voice going hoarse as he did the same. He could not remember the last time he'd felt so relaxed, so…so stupidly shit-eating-grin happy.

As the ride came to a stop, their car hung suspended over the boardwalk, people walking by underneath it. They would not move into the station to unload until the car currently in the station had departed.

Kyle's toes felt numb, his world felt completely spun, and he laughed loudly, trying to turn and look at Stan as they hung suspended in mid-air. "That was wild!"

"I'm glad I convinced you to go!" Their hands stretched out, just barely brushing fingertips, and Kyle could only see one dark blue eye between the bars of the ride… but in that moment, his heart seemed to drop out from under him the way it had during the first drop of the coaster.

o/~ My heart stops
When you look at me
Just one touch
Now baby I believe
This is real
So take a chance
And don't ever look back
Don't ever look back ~/o

The music blasting over the loudspeakers seemed to put words to the things that Kyle had felt himself awakening to over the course of this summer. I don't know what to call this feeling… how could it be possible…? Kyle's heart was hammering so loudly he was afraid Stan could hear it as they exited the rollercoaster, and his distracted mood made it easy for the other boy to drag him into some kitschy tourist trap, looking for 'souvenirs'.

Kyle allowed the mindless browsing of junk to calm his mind – hats, t-shirts, shot glasses – even while he watched Stan up at the front counter, conversing with the shop owner as he ran a hand over a rack of bracelets, making the beads in them twinkle as they waved back and forth. It was the same Stan that Kyle had been friends with for as long as he could remember and he shouldn't feel any differently about him… and then Stan turned to catch Kyle's eyes, smiling briefly before turning back to his conversation. Despite the fact that it was the middle of summer, Kyle's hands suddenly felt clammy and cold.

For a moment, Stan tried to make it seem like he was interested in some of the jewelry on the counter, but as he saw Kyle approaching, he decided it wasn't worth the effort. ""Let me see the little purple one, yeah that one, the one with the orange swirls."

"What are you doing?" Kyle asked, coming to stand beside his best friend, though his eyes were glued to the trays of gaudy jewelry and small glass pipes inside the display case.

"Getting what Kenny asked for," Stan shrugged and smiled, inspecting the pipe once before nodding his approval to the shop owner. "Yeah, this is cool, thanks."

Kyle wasn't even really listening to what Stan was saying, instead rifling through the display of bracelets that Stan had been playing with before… they were wish bracelets. Each one was strung with a different color and symbolized a wish for something – green for wealth, red for love, yellow for happiness, white for peace…

"Kyle?"

Stan's hand on Kyle's arm made him jump a lot harder than he should have and he winced as he smacked one knee into the display case. "Ouch!"

"Dude," Stan laughed with a shake of his head, giving him a "what the fuck is wrong with you" expression. "What time is it? My phone's dead."

"It's…" Kyle pulled his phone out of his pocket as he followed Stan out of the store, surprised to realize that it was already past eleven. "Time to go meet my brother… who hasn't checked in for almost an hour." Suddenly, Kyle's focus was far away from his feelings and razor-focused on his little brother.

"They're probably having too much fun," Stan brushed it off as Kyle typed furiously into the phone. He reached to grab the redhead by the elbow to keep him from running into a yellow tram car.

They had been slowly heading back in the direction they'd started out from earlier today, so they weren't very far from the meeting point. Kyle couldn't keep himself from jogging through the crowd, dodging tourists left and right until he finally reached the neon sign where Ike was supposed to be waiting. "They're not here!" Kyle yelled at Stan as he caught up, worry already edging into his voice.

"Did they ever say they left the arcade?" Stan tried to reason, used to Kyle's tendency to blow things out of proportion. "They're probably still inside."

Kyle didn't even wait for Stan to finish as he charged into the arcade, scrolling through Ike's messages. "They were playing ticket games, they had one they really liked…" His heart was hammering in his chest now, but it wasn't at all for the same reason as earlier. Sure, he and Ike fought all of the time about stupid shit, but… he'd always been protective of his little brother. Now, not only was Ike gone on his watch, but he was gone in a place their parents didn't even know they were at… Talk about seriously fucked…

The two boys combed the arcade, from the Skeeball to the shooters, back and forth through all of the ticket games twice and even into the adults-only slot machine room, but there was no sign of Ike or Filmore. It was at that point that Kyle began to truly panic and his eyes welled up with tears of frustration as they met back in the center of the ticket games again. "They could be anywhere, Stan! This is all my fault! I never should have-"

"Kyle," Stan took his best friend by the shoulders until he was forced to meet eyes. "Calm down. Going into a tizzy isn't going to help us find them. Check the messages again, see if there's anything we missed."

Kyle took a shaky breath and nodded, Stan's words and presence calming him down before he could truly lose it. "Ike… Ike never said much besides… " He pulled the phone out again, turning into Stan's arm, which remained comfortingly across his shoulders, to show him the screen. "Just… just about how much they were winning. Something about… probability studies?"

"Dude," Stan said, grinning as an idea occurred to him. "Dude, that's exactly it! Your brother is some sort of supergenius! I bet they won so many tickets that they attracted the attention of… of somebody. Management?"

"I'd say what are the chances…" Kyle started as they turned to head back into the arcade again, this time looking for staff members. "But this is my brother we're talking about…"

The manager's office was exactly where they found Ike and Filmore, arguing about their enormous pile of tickets. Thousands of tickets.

"Kyle!" Ike yelled, running into his brother's arms, completely relieved they'd been found. "It's not my fault we weren't there to meet you! Tell them we're not scammers!"

And "tell them" Kyle did, as they would later relive several times while driving home. He laid into the manager with the spitting and fire-breathing, furious and superior combination of lawyer-father and over-bearing Jewish mother, and by the time the group was escorted to the front of the arcade, a brand new PS3 ensconced in Filmore's arms, it was just about closing time.

"And how are you going to explain that to mom?" Kyle asked dubiously, completely worn out now that the adrenaline rush was fading.

"Filmore's gonna take it home in his suitcase," Ike retorted, as if it was the dumbest question in the world. "Do you have cousin Kyle's taffy?"

"Shit," Kyle blushed sharply at Ike having to remind him, wondering just where the hell his brain had been most of this night. "Stan, if you guys go get the car and bring it around, I'll run and get it."

The boardwalk had mostly cleared out as Kyle jogged back to the shop he'd been in with Stan earlier, knowing that taffy had been among the racks of souvenirs. He grabbed the first box he saw and brought it up to the register, his eyes catching on the rack of bracelets. They reminded him immediately of Stan, but instead of the giddy feeling post-rollercoaster, he found he actually mostly felt… grateful that his Super Best Friend had been there to prevent his freak-out and help him figure out where his brother was. Stan always knew how to calm him down, was always… the person who understood him best in even the most dire moments… And there had been a lot of dire moments in their lives thus far.

Reaching out with one hand, he fingered the red-beaded bracelet, considering the wish. Love? I mean, of course I love Stan, he's my Super Best Friend… Kyle shook himself, his fingers slipping onto the next color. Harmony… Sure, they created harmony together, but… the beads were pink… not quite the right sentiment either. He fingers slipped one more time as the clerk asked him. "Will that be all?"

Kyle wasn't usually an impulsive person, preferring to think and logic his way to a decision, and so he hesitated for a moment before grabbing two bracelets with dark blue beads woven into the light-colored hemp. Something about Stan had always been at the core of his impulsivity, after all… heart over head. "These too."


"No answer from either of them? Assholes."

"Stan's phone is off," Kenny shrugged, cramming his own back into his pocket and returning to his previous sullen stare out the window. He knew he was pissing Cartman off after all the fun they'd had tonight, but he found that he kept replaying the scene at Golden Corral in his head, and it kept pissing him off all over again. "It's probably dead, knowing him. Dunno why Kyle's not picking up."

They were back in South Park now, heading into town, close to the point where one direction was Kenny's house and the opposite was Cartman's. "You… have somewhere you wanna go?"

"You can drop me wherever," Kenny shrugged again, slouching a little further down into his seat.

Cartman huffed loudly from the driver's seat, seriously irritated that their great night had been ruined by that asshat Craig and his faggy little boytoy. "Why don't you stay over tonight," he offered to Kenny, already knowing what the answer would be when his friend was annoyed with him.

"Nah, just drop me in town."

A million questions ran through Cartman's mind – Where are you going? Where will you sleep? What will you eat? Who will you be with…? – but he didn't ask any of them. Instead, he just pulled over, keeping his hand on the door locks as he addressed his friend. "Listen, that phone… if you need…" anything "… out, anytime… you call me, okay? I don't like not knowin' where you are when the fags are out of town."

For a moment, Kenny was going to reconsider, and then the same word from earlier slipped out of Cartman's mouth, and hidden behind his hood, the blond flinched. He knew very well that they'd all used that word joking around foryears, but… it wasn't with the same venom that Cartman had used it earlier tonight. Knowing the other boy was waiting for a response, he finally just sighed and said. "Okay."

Watching the yellow hummer pull away from the curb, Kenny felt an unbearable sense of absence rattle around in his heart. Lucky for him, at precisely that moment, the telephone pole he was standing next to inexplicably split down the middle, taking down half the wires in the town square and impaling him with a rusty piece of metal that promptly conducted electricity straight into his brain.

I hope Eric has insurance on this phone.


The sky was just beginning to lighten as the thankfully unharmed convertible exited the highway and headed towards the Schwartz house. Ike and Filmore were sound asleep in the backseat and Kyle was trying his hardest to stay awake and keep Stan company as they drove the last few miles.

"So… you're not really sorry, are you?" Stan asked as they stopped at a red light two blocks from their destination. The quiet suburban streets were as deserted as South Park at this early dawn hour and Stan shifted in his seat to face Kyle, waiting for an answer.

"As long as we don't get caught, no," Kyle shifted in his seat as well, yawning and leaning his head sideways against the headrest. "And seeing as I only got their cursory 'we're getting in the limo now' text an hour ago, I think we're safe." Seeing how pleased Stan looked at that answer, he had to query back himself. "Why?"

"I just…" Stan shrugged, but his eyes never left Kyle's face. "I had a lot of fun today… I was hoping you did too."

"Of course I did!" Kyle's hand curled around the bracelets in his pocket as he leaned closer to Stan, whispering conspiratorially. "It'll be great hanging out the rest of this week knowing they don't suspect a thing," he said gleefully, surprised when Stan also leaned in close – close enough to bump noses with him. I should just give these to him, tell him how I've been feeling. Stan's my Super Best Friend. We can talk about anything. He'd never turn me away if it was something… important.

"Kyle…" Stan smiled, oblivious to the inner torment of his best friend and only pleased that he'd said he'd had fun.

"Stan…" Kyle stammered as they stared at each other, each studying the other. I want to kiss Stan. "…the light's green."

"Oh, shit," Stan muttered, shifting back into his seat properly to drive the last two blocks.

Kyle breathed a sigh that was half relief and half disgust with his own cowardice. He'd had the perfect moment, nose to nose, alone under the stars at daybreak… and he'd blown it. Epic Fail.

And even though Kyle knew he'd eventually find the right place, time, way to tell Stan how he felt… the two wish bracelets with the meaning "Soulmate' attached would burn a hole in his pocket until that day arrived.


KYLE!

Dude, his eyes – his eyes fluttered!

Shake him or… or kiss him or something!

KYLE! Kyle, you've got to wake up!

Chapter Text

"KYLE! KYLE!" Stan shouted, shaking his super best friend as he sank to the floor of the shack with the other boy's body cradled in his arms. He dragged Kyle into his lap, reaching with one hand to turn the redhead's face towards his, but he could barely see in the dim lighting of the shack. He didn't know what to do and he couldn't ask his best friend for help. This can't be happening.

"FuckfuckFUCK!" Kenny cursed, unbuckling himself from his snowboard and scrambling over their pile of equipment to get to his two friends, phone in hand.

"Bring the light over here, Kenny!" Stan yelled, his voice rising in pitch to near-hysterical. They were alone in a shack on a mountain in the middle of a blizzard, and the danger suddenly seemed more real than even the worst imaginary things he'd witnessed. What if he doesn't wake up? What if…

"Is he still breathing?" Cartman asked, but immediately shut up when Kenny shot him a death glare. Stan's shoulders were heaving as he shook Kyle again, but Cartman felt no glee at all – only dread and guilt and -

"Under… the boardwalk…"

"What? What did he say?" Kenny asked in confusion, grateful just to hear anything come out of Kyle's mouth. It meant he wasn't dead. Kenny had no idea what to do – this wasn't something he could just… jump in front of to protect his friends. Not a bullet I can just take…

"KYLE!" Stan was in tears now, alternately shaking Kyle or hugging him tightly, one arm under the other boy's shoulders. He knew he was losing it and that he needed to not lose it in order to get them out of this mess, but all he could do was think about Kyle – about the possibility of losing Kyle.

A million stupid images raced through his mind – the bus stop, the clubhouse, their bedrooms… Kyle laughing, Kyle raging, Kyle crying… Stan suddenly felt sick to his stomach - sick, sick, sick over the way they'd left things last night.

Did I really walk out on my Super Best Friend without even hearing him out?

In all the times they'd almost been separated - when Kyle's family moved to California over the hybrid issue, that crazy Blaintology cult, his own stint with the whales – and all the stupid shit they'd let come between them – like naming frozen dudes from the past or crack babies - the only time Stan ever remembered being this scared shitless was the week that Kyle had been diagnosed with diabetes and almost died…

And the only time I remember feeling this hopeless…

Stan swallowed hard and tried to pull himself together, even as memories that burned like white hot fire washed over him. No matter how pissed off he might have been about either of his friends kissing Kyle last night, it suddenly seemed completely miniscule in this moment, where suddenly it didn't matter what he and Kyle were to each other – just that he couldn't fucking imagine living without him.

I can't live without him.

Even when Stan's world had fallen apart around him six years ago, his parents had divorced, his house had been sold, his whole life shaken to the core… even when he'd disconnected from reality and all but given up on life itself, Kyle had found a way to drag his cynical ass kicking and screaming (and crying) back into the light. And if there was no longer a Kyle in the world…

I can't go back to the whole world being SHIT again.

I can't… I won't!

"Kyle, wake up, please! KYLE!"

Kenny felt completely helpless as he held the light above them, watching Stan smooth the hair back from Kyle's pale face, but he noticed the reaction it received. "Dude, his eyes – his eyes fluttered!" Sitting down on the other side of Kyle, he reached with his free hand to take Kyle's limp hand, squeezing it tightly. "He's not totally gone, Stan – talk to him, shake him or… or kiss him or something!"

"KYLE! Kyle, you've got to wake up!" Stan tried again in desperation, Kenny's encouragement giving him a moment to catch his breath and thoughts. Kyle would tell me to think positive… "Kyle, come on, don't… don't leave me here to deal with these two on my own! You're scaring the shit out of me, dude! It's not funny! It's not fair! Not when you said… you said you'd always be my Super Best Friend…" Stan leaned in closer, running his fingertips down Kyle's cheek as he watched the green eyes flutter again. Come on, Kyle…

The last thing Kyle had said to him earlier floated back into his mind and he repeated it, trying to reach him. "How can you do that if you're not here? How can I give you an answer? How will I know… 'how we could be'… how can I tell you…tell you how much I love you, if you're not even fucking listening? You've… you've got to… Wake Up!" Stan pressed his lips against Kyle's fiercely once, twice, a third time before he finally got the vaguest response. "Kyle…" he mumbled against the other boy's lips in relief when the redhead finally kissed him back. "KyleKyleKyleKyleKyle…"

Shivering violently as he struggled back to consciousness, Kyle forced his eyes opened and gazed up at his friends blearily, realizing slowly that Stan was kissing him repeatedly and swiftly and saying his name and... He couldn't help but try to kiss back, even if he wasn't sure what the fuck was going on. Stan's face was streaked with tears when he finally drew back a little, and then he buried it against Kyle's shoulder a moment later, clutching at him tightly and muttering something like fuckkyledudefuck over and over. "Stan…?"

Kenny leaned in with a smile, shining the light away at an angle to keep from blinding him. "Hey, you back with us, dude?" There was a note of worry edged into the relief in his voice and he squeezed Kyle's hand again, concerned when the squeeze he got back in response was weak.

The world was spinning oh-so-badly and Kyle swallowed hard, blinking a few times as he tried to string thoughts into words into coherency. "Blood…sugar… fuck… fuck."

Though it wasn't much, the words were enough for Stan to realize instantly what had gone wrong and he felt immediately guilty. Of course, Kyle hadn't eaten breakfast because Stan had rushed them out the door, and he hadn't eaten lunch because they'd been off on Stan's suicidal shack hunt and… I am a fucking asshat. "Kyle, where's your backpack?"

Kyle shook his head minutely, irritated at the effort it took, and then sighed heavily. "No time…to find…"

Stan frowned, mentally kicking himself in the nuts for not even thinking of his best friend's well-being. He never really thought of Kyle as being delicate, but, then… usually the other boy was so damn careful about everything. He must have been really upset to just forget… "Everyone empty your packs," he commanded sharply. "We've got to find something for Kyle to eat or he's going to pass out on us again!" When Cartman still remained frozen against the door, Stan growled at him and pointed. "Pack! NOW, Damnit!"

If ever there was a time for Cartman's unending appetite to become an advantage, this was it, and as he shook his bag upside down, spilling the contents of his rather large pack across the floor, Stan nearly sobbed in relief.

"What… the fuck… are you doing with Kyle's backpack?" Stan hollered, pointing and holding out his hand for the small black bag. "Not that I'm not... but… but… but fuck!"

"We were rushing! I'm fucking sorry!" Cartman babbled as he tripped himself, trying to hand over the bag while still attached to one ski. "We were running out the door and I was hungry and I grabbed it becausebecausebecause…" And he paused to blubber out a loud sob as he finally tossed it to Kenny instead. "Because I knew it had snaaaaaaaaaaackssss!"

"Being a fatass… actually paid off?" Kyle managed to crack a joke even in his awful condition, and soon, no one in the room was sure whether they were laughing or crying or both as they looked around at each other.Relieved hysteria? His friends' voices sounded echo-ey, like Kyle was in a deep cavern, and his mouth still felt like molasses.

Stan helped Kyle into a sitting position while Kenny ripped open the backpack, and soon their friend was slowly munching his way through some sort of energy bar. Cartman had managed to remove his other ski and climbed across the pile to sit nearer to them, though he hadn't said much of anything – not even to gloat at being an accidental hero. Occasionally, he sniffled.

"Are you gonna be okay?" Stan asked Kyle softly as Kenny stood with the iPhone, moving the light around to check out the space they were in. It wasn't terribly big, just a square wooden hut with several benches and a small fireplace - er, firepit? - set into one wall. There were several small windows, but between the storm and the late hour, the light was scarce.

Kyle leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes for a moment, willing the dizziness to stop. "Short-term, yeah… got my… insulin kit in there…" He paused to catch his breath, not minding the way Stan was running his hand soothingly up and down Kyle's arm. It's... just right, just enough to calm my nerves… "And… enough mom-approved snacks… to last the night. Long-term…" Kyle opened his eyes to meet Stan's intent gaze, but the dizziness hadn't yet passed. "Ugh… long-term, this… isn't safe for any of us…"

"Better if we got some warmth?" Stan asked, trying to read Kyle's thoughts to save his friend the energy of giving in to his habit of over-explanation. When Kyle nodded slowly again, closing his eyes with a soft sigh, Stan motioned his friends over. "Hey, Kenny, is there wood for a fire?"

"Yep, there's a pile," Kenny pointed next to the fire pit. "But, ah, me and fire…"

Stan frowned, but nodded. "Sit with Kyle for me?"

"H-hey, Stan…" Cartman spoke up as his friends traded places. "I'll… help you."

The two boys stared at each other for a moment, but the scare with Kyle just now had both softened and hardened Stan in a new way. Deciding to take the offer at face value, he nodded sharply, then held out his hand to Kenny. "Lighter."

Cartman shuffled across the small room after Stan, vaguely unnerved by the silence between them. It was too eerily like that time his friends had fooled him into thinking he'd died by giving him the silent treatment. "Heh, you know… you could at least thank me for saving your boyfriend's life."

Stan stiffened a little, hesitating as he built a pyramid of kindling in the fire pit while Cartman kept the lighter going. It cast an odd, ghoulish glow over the round face when Stan looked up to meet his gaze.

"Thank you, Cartman," he said swiftly and with no trace of sarcasm. "Believe me when I say that I'm grateful for your gluttony today."

"Hey!" Cartman huffed, but paused when Stan cracked the hint of a steely glare, his knuckles going white around a twig before it snapped sharply in his hand. It was a look he never liked seeing on his usually genial friend's face.

"But if you ever lay an unwanted hand on Kyle again, I swear to Jesus that I will break every goddamn finger you have. Then your toes, and then-"

"Dude, dude, I get the point," Cartman cut him off hurriedly, waving both hands so hard he nearly set the pompom of his ridiculous hat on fire. "Hands off the Jew. I got it."

"Cool," Stan nodded and exhaled, going back to the fire and holding his hand out for the lighter. It always made him feel better to see Cartman squirm and he wasn't leaving room for anymore miscommunications. Not after his own level of dumb, not after… Stan glanced back over his shoulder at Kyle and felt a wave of relief pass over him. He didn't look exactly well yet, but he was certain Kenny would alert him if things took a turn for the worse again.

Kenny thought he had probably been a better choice for helping Kyle with his insulin than squeamish Stan anyway, and once it was done, he turned off the phone's flashlight and handed it back to Kyle, who slipped it into his pocket. Wrapping an arm around the redhead's shoulders, Kenny urged his head onto his shoulder. "Anything else I can do?"

"Need to stay awake," Kyle said softly, even though his eyes were closed. "Talk with me."

"Heh, about what?" Kenny mused, smiling when he saw the light in the room beginning to grow thanks to the small flicker of flames illuminating his friends.

"Last night suck for you too?"

Kenny winced – leave it to Kyle to score a direct hit even when he was only half as aware as usual, and still make sure to care about someone's feelings beside his own. It made Kenny feel his own forced-hollow that much more strongly. He wanted to flat-out lie to Kyle, simply reassure him that he was fine, that everything was going to be fine, but he couldn't find it in himself to spew the empty words that usually kept everyone at arm's length. "Fuck yeah," he finally settled on, surprised when Kyle vibrated a chuckle under his arm.

"Same here… Are you… mad at me?"

The words were breathy after the chuckle and only served to make Kenny feel even worse. He wondered idly why Kyle wasn't angry at all of them, instead."What? No! Where the hell would you get an idea like that from?"

"Mad at Stan?"

Kenny thought he knew where this was leading, but couldn't give Kyle anything other than a straight answer again. Somehow they'd always been able to drag truth out of each other. "No, not really… I mean, I think you've both been acting like progressively bigger and bigger idiots lately, but…" His lips quirked in a smile and he shuffled his hand over Kyle's ushanka as if to ruffle the curls he couldn't see. "That isn't anything new."

Kyle snickered softly and pushed himself up and off of Kenny's shoulder, piercing him with those eyes, emerald even in the dim lighting. "Mad at Cartman?"

Immediately glancing away, Kenny shrugged, then rummaged through his pockets for the one-hitter. He refused to meet Kyle's steady gaze as he fiddled with the small baggie, his hands shaking. Was he mad at Cartman? Fuck, he was nearly always mad at Cartman for his stupid antics, but weren't they all? Didn't they just put up with it, most of the time? "When am I not?" he finally muttered defensively, trying to put an end to the question as their two friends approached.

"Maybe a better question is… are you hurt?"

Kenny's head whipped up in surprise, hood sliding back, but he didn't have the chance to answer.

"Feel any better yet, Ky?" Stan sat down between them as Kenny shifted over, reaching to take Kyle's hand between his own two. He smiled a little when Kyle returned his squeeze and nodded.

Cartman shoved one of the benches aside so that he could sit down opposite his three friends and lean against it, and he couldn't resist rolling his eyes at the two, now that Kyle was safely out of danger. His stomach rumbled loudly and he huffed to emphasize it.

"Hey dude, can I have the lighter back?" Kenny asked, ignoring Cartman and reaching across Kyle to hold out his hand.

"Oh, yeah," Stan flipped it back to him, but most of his attention was still on Kyle and his nerves felt a little frayed. "I'm in."

The mood between them was vaguely uncomfortable now that the immediate trauma had passed, but Kenny grinned suddenly as he held up the one-hitter, unflappable as ever. "We found the smoking shack, dudes!" Flicking the lighter, he could hardly hold back his grin as he took a deep hit.

"Heh, we did," Cartman snickered a little, trying to help break the unease. "We're awesome."

Even Stan couldn't help but feel a tiny swell of pride, but then he looked immediately guilty about it. Their adventure had almost cost him his super best friend, and he wasn't about to forget that anytime soon. Ducking his head until all that could be seen was his pompom, he mumbled softly. "I'm… really sorry, Kyle."

Kyle's cheeks flushed slightly and he shook his head, trying to ignore the sudden fake-gagging sound coming from Cartman's direction. He reached to squeeze Stan's shoulder, waiting until the other boy met his eyes. Stan looked so sad that it made Kyle's heart clench tightly in his chest. There was more than one thing he was trying to apologize for, it seemed. Kyle knew he wasn't innocent in this whole mess either, but it seemed that Stan felt the same way he did – making up was the priority. "Dude, no – I know better, it's as much my fault as anyone else's, so please don't blame yourself. I'm… really sorry too. And… well… it is pretty sweet that we managed to find this place. Celebrate."

Smiling, Stan held out his hand for the one hitter, his gaze still focused only on Kyle, who was starting to look more like usual self. Maybe things could finally get back to… well, normal didn't seem like quite the right word after the events of the last few days. But as long as me and Kyle are still super best friends… "Celebrate with me?" Kenny had graciously already re-packed it for them, and Stan lifted it to his lips as he flicked the lighter gesturing between the two of them.

Kyle knew what Stan meant immediately, and he leaned in closer as he nodded, his hand slipping down to land comfortably on Stan's knee. The awkward uncertainty that had been between them for so long seemed to finally be fading away, leaving behind their familiar and trusting super best friendship… and something else. He couldn't help but let his eyes flutter shut as Stan's mouth closed over his, all soft lips and warm breath. Stan's knuckles brushed lightly against Kyle's jaw, his thumb tilting the redhead's chin until they were at the perfect angle. It suddenly felt so easy, this closeness… like in some way it's always been there, or grew out of what we already are…

They hovered together for a moment longer than necessary, closing into a light kiss before pulling away. Kyle smiled and Stan looked away, fiddling with the one hitter, but also smiling and then, sneaking a glance back at Kyle once more.

Across from them, Cartman's gagging turned into a choke of frustration. "My eyes are bleeding!"

"Oh, shut the fuck up, Fat Ass," Kenny snapped at him as he took the one-hitter back from Stan. "Why don't you quit acting like an asshole and just have a fucking smoke with us already?"

"Meh," Cartman muttered, crossing his arms over his chest and looking away from them in over-dramatized disgust. "Fuckin' fags."

Unfortunately for Cartman, this behavior only gave Kenny's malicious side the opportunity to surface, ignited by the same old insults and everything that had happened in the last few days. As he finished taking the next hit, he dropped both items on the floor and rolled smoothly to his knees. Crossing the distance between them in two heartbeats, he grabbed Cartman's chin with one hand, the other landing hard on his shoulder. Turning his face until they were nose to nose, Kenny took the other boy's breath of surprise as an opportunity to seal their lips together and practically force the hit on him.

Cartman flailed under the unexpected onslaught, choking a little on the smoke, his hands finally settling one around Kenny's thin forearm and the other between them to push him away. "…the fuck, Kenny, what thefuck?" he spluttered. His head felt light and inflated like a balloon, but he couldn't be certain if it was the weed or the sudden extreme proximity of the other boy. "Get offa me, you goddamn fuckin' fag!"

Kenny went toppling backwards as Cartman shoved him again, but his expression was a pleased sort of malice as he leaned up on his elbows to survey him. "It was only a hit, Jesus! But you know what - you're just as much a 'fuckin' fag' as any of us, Eric, if you have to make the distinction. I think we all saw some fucking evidence of that just last night!"

"Shut the fuck up, you goddamn poor piece o' shit!"

"Kenny's right," Kyle added with a not-really-apologetic shrug. "What's the point in calling us that when the same applies to you? You can't seriously be that offended by me and Stan, or even by what Kenny just did…"

"Damn right I can be!" Cartman seethed, glaring from Kenny to Kyle and rubbing at his mouth with the back of one hand.

"What, do you think we're going to judge you?" Kyle couldn't help but rise to the occasion when it came to arguing with Cartman, even as Stan tried in vain to get him to calm down.

"Kyle, don't…"

"FUCK all of you guys!"

Stan rolled his eyes as Kyle made a noise of disgust, but Kenny… Kenny had finally fucking had it with Cartman. Rolling back onto his knees for the second time, he lunged at the other boy, grabbing him with both hands by his jacket collar and scarf and shaking him with a surprisingly vicious amount of force. "NO, FUCK YOU, ERIC!" he roared in his face, the gravel rising in his voice. "OWN UP TO YOUR SHIT FOR ONCE, YOU LITTLE FUCKING PRICK! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHAT KIND OF SICK FUCK TREATS HIS FRIENDS THIS WAY?"

It was a little too eerily like another fight they'd had, a number of years back, but Cartman didn't flinch, yelling right back as he tried to dislodge the small but furious blond. "I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT!"

"LIKE HELL YOU DON'T!" Kenny withdrew for a moment to avoid being punched, on his hands and knees between his friends, breathing hard as he glared up at Cartman. "Go on, tell us you didn't take a sip from your cup that night at Stan's party! What does it take, then, if not one kiss? Two? Ten? A blow? A FUCK?"

"Dude, you guys, stop it!" Stan yelled at them in frustration, though he didn't move from Kyle's side. "He's never going to admit to it!"

Kyle wanted to slap a hand across his forehead as he listened to the brawl between his two friends. They were both completely missing the point, but at the same time, it felt as if this fight had been brewing in the background for a long time. "It's not a big deal, you guys! Gay, straight, bi -Labels are stupid! What's important is who you care about - haven't we learned that lesson, like, way too many times? And Cartman is always going to be an asshole! It doesn't have to be a big deal!"

"Not a big deal?" Cartman huffed, punching the floor. "Only a stupid Jew like you wouldn't care about adding to the ginger population!"

"…umm, w-what?" Stan blinked several times as they all turned to stare at Cartman in confusion.

Seeing that his friends were not making the connection, Cartman began one of his typical crass and inappropriate lectures. "Ginger! I am HALF! GINGER! – or have you fucking assholes forgotten this very important fact? I may not," And he ripped off his hat, tossing it down in front of him before pointing to his hair for emphasis "…have an ugly red fro and creepy freckles myself, but that gene… that disease… it rests within my body, waiting, quietly, cackling… " and here his voice became a high-pitched feminine wail "'Eric, I am waiting for you to impregnate a female~! Then I shall produce the most hideous and soulless gingerfreak demonspawn in the history of the universe!'

"He can't be serious…" Stan leaned in close to Kyle to whisper in his ear.

"…oh, I think he is."

"And I said unto that gene: 'No fucking way, bitch! NO FUCKING WAY! I will not be responsible for adding to the ginger PROBLEM, and so shall let no woman near my sacred place!' So yes, KAHL, KINNEH, HIPPIE – I HAVE TO BE A FAGGOT! I MUST BE A FAGGOT! A GODDAMN FUCKING FAGGOT!"

There was a long moment where the only sound was the crackling of the fire and Cartman's heaving breaths… and then everything began to… rumble.

"More thunder?" Kenny asked, jumping to his feet and moving to try and peer out of one of the small windows. He had no idea what to make of Cartman's tirade, how much of it was complete fucking nonsense, a defense mechanism, how much was perhaps truth thinly veiled… What the fuck is so damn hard about saying "I'm gay." anyway? Hadn't they already seen him in drag dancing like Britney Spears? This was not exactly…news, at least, to Kenny. But then again, he had the best gaydar or bi-dar or whatever you wanted to call it, of anyone he'd ever met. So… why am I so pissed off? He was, in fact, still shaking with the rage of their confrontation and therefore grateful for the distraction.

"Earthquake?" Stan asked in surprise, turning to Kyle for his thoughts as the sound continued, and grew louder. "There's… more rumbling noise than actual shaking?"

"No, that doesn't make sense…" It sounded now as if a freight train was approaching them, and the aural comparison caused Kyle's still clouded mind to suddenly snap sharply into focus. "No…no… it's… an avalanche…"

"A what?" Stan jumped to his feet, grabbing Kyle's arm to haul him up as well, but there was no time to think, no time to react – it was already upon them.

The little wooden shack creaked and groaned as the roar of sound blotted out their voices, and for a moment, Stan thought he was back in the soundless battlefield of Imaginationland during the terrorist attack. Kyle's mouth was moving, but Stan couldn't hear anything but the roaring, and the ringing in his ears, once the sound had ended. It felt like an eternity, but it had more than likely only been a few minutes.

"So exactly how fucked are we?" Kenny finally asked sarcastically, climbing to his feet again. "Kyle's diabetic thing not withstanding, of course."

Kyle offered a grim 'heh' in response before moving to join Kenny at the window. Is this for real? "Umm, well… that depends."

"I thought we'd be able to leave in the morning," Stan said, following Kyle to the window as realization and dismay and worry set in. "Dude, no one knows we're up here! We should call someone…"

Kyle cut Stan off with a slow shake of his head. "No, there isn't any reception here...I checked earlier…" The window they were standing beside had gone completely white, and the light of the phone's flashlight confirmed their worst suspicion – nothing but a layer of ice. "Check every single window," Kyle instructed his friends, turning in a circle before he placed what direction was what based on the door's location. "Maybe down slope…"

"Hey! Hey, this one," Stan said, calling them over with a wave of his hand. "The top half is still dark!"

"We're up against a hill, right?" Kyle mused rhetorically before continuing with his explanation. "The avalanche came from above us, but we had some natural shelter… and so we made natural shelter – the snow is less deep on this side."

"So we can break the window to get out?" Cartman asked, turning to fish in the edges of the firepit for a hunk of coal.

"Yes, but – but we can't leave right now. B-but fire also eats oxygen…"

Stan turned to look at Kyle, not liking the tone his voice had taken or the bothered expression on the Jew's face. H could read that look far too well and it did not mean good things. "Kyle, what's the catch? Forget the explanation, give me the punch line, damnit!"

"I'm worried we're going to run out of air!"

With a dramatic sigh, Stan pinched the bridge of his nose and shook a fist at the fourth wall. "This isn't funny anymore!"

"I'm breaking the window," Cartman announced, lobbing the hunk of coal straight at the glass in a surprisingly accurate arc.

"NOOO!" Stan, Kyle and Kenny yelled simultaneously, each reaching helplessly toward the window as the glass shattered, then shuddered, then split a hairline crack… Snow trickled in the corner of the broken window as a sharp wind whistled in around them. The avalanche might have ended, but the snowstorm was definitely still going full force. All three of the boys rounded on Cartman with equally incredulous and outraged stares.

"…oops?"

"Oh, great, genius, REALLY!" Kyle bellowed, turning on Cartman with fire in his eyes, his fists clenched at his sides. "That window could give at any second and bury us alive! Are you fucking STUPID?"

"S'better than ASPHYXIATION!"

"NOT REALLY!" Kyle huffed, then wobbled, all the fight going out of him in a dizzy wave. He didn't resist when Stan wrapped an arm around him, pulling him down to sit between his legs on the floor.

"Kyle, calm down, please!" he stressed. "I don't want you to pass out on us again! I don't want you to…"

"You're not going to die," Kenny finally snapped at all of them in irritation, already thinking he could predict how this would end. The same way it always fucking ended. "The window's probably going to hold because it's down slope, and thanks to Fat Ass, we have air. But if no one finds us by morning, I'll just kill myself and then send help, same as always!"

"Oh yeah, good one," Stan muttered darkly, fussing over Kyle again even as the redhead was trying to wave him off.

"That's not funny!" Cartman interjected suddenly, stumbling to his feet and taking the three steps towards Kenny far faster than he should have been able to. "That's not funny, Kenny! You can't do that!"

Kenny rolled his eyes, leaning against the wall of the shack as he folded his arms over his chest. "I can't die. You won't remember. It doesn't matter."

"What the hell are you talking about? This isn't the time for sick jokes!" Even Stan couldn't keep his patience with the situation anymore.

"No, Stan! I'm being serious – I really really can't die!" Kenny's eyes squeezed shut in frustration and he wondered if he shouldn't just kill himself now and avoid the continual Groundhog's Day-esque punishment. Just having this conversation again made him want to punch himself and he hadn't thought this trip could get much worse than last night's debacle. Despite how rocky things had been, Kenny had really been hoping it wouldn't end in death as usual… though it wouldn't be the first time he'd sacrificed himself for the benefit of his friends.

"W-what?"

"OH MY FUCKING GOD," Kenny turned and kicked the wall hard, chipping the wood with his snowboarding boot. "It happens all the time! All the goddamn time!"

Kyle was listening to this tirade in still brain-addled shock. Kenny can't die? It… sounded as if it ought to be one of Cartman's cracked-out ideas, it was so unbelievable and out of place… but it was Kenny who was now hunched over as if in pain, turned away from them, and Kyle didn't think he'd ever heard his usually happy-go-lucky potty-mouthed friend quite this upset. "…like… when?" he finally asked.

"Like two weeks ago! In the lunch room!" Kenny immediately recalled the most recent episode that they'd all been present for and rattled it off as quickly as possible. "Clyde spilled his lunch milk, Tweek slipped on it and knocked into Craig and I ended up with a fork impaled in my GODDAMN EYEBALL! Stan screamed OH MY GOD and you called him a BASTARD…"

Kyle shook his head, knowing how generally flawless his memory was, especially for people, events, and conversations. Is Kenny delusional or am I hallucinating or... "I… totally don't remember that, dude," he finally said, skeptical… and yet skeptical of his own skepticism at the same time. But why would Kenny lie, especially at a time like this? "And… you're still here."

"YOU ASSHOLES NEVER REMEMBER!"

"Kinneh…" Cartman said, though it came out more like a hiss of pain as he stood staring at the other boy, struggling for what to say. He knew what he should say, what he ought to do, but somehow, saying the words out loud made it real – too real. And there was a tiny little kernel of worry that if it was real, then the spell would be broken, and the next time would be for keeps – just like it had almost been for keeps once before. And Butters just wasn't Kenny, as he'd found out the hard way.

"…I think we would remember you dying, dude," Stan finally added, though his expression was now far more confused than angry. Even the hazards of their current situation seemed to fall aside in the wake of Kenny's meltdown, as the entire group had all but forgotten about the window, the storm and the avalanche.

"Well, you don't!" Kenny kicked the wall again, then a bench, then the wall, each time with a wail of frustration. "I die over and over – only to wake up in my bed like nothing happened! The next time I see you… it's like it never happened!"

"Then… maybe it didn't?" Stan offered, wincing when Kenny turned back to shoot him a look that was, instead of angry, just… desolate. It was like an arrow through the heart and for a moment, Stan found he was doubting himself instead of Kenny.

"There's never any point in telling you guys…" Kenny defended with a wave of one hand. "It's like, think of an episode of any crappy sci-fi or hell, Harry Butthole Pussy Potter – OBLIVIATE! – your mind's been erased! No matter how it happens or what I do, you. Will. NOT. REMEMBER! So it doesn't matter if I kill myself to get you out of here!" His expression softened into a grim smile. "Honestly, I'm glad for it – it's… the only thing I ever seem to do right."

"Kenny…" Kyle said gently, pushing Stan's protective arm off and climbing somewhat unsteadily to his feet. "Kenny…" he tried to find the words again, walking past Cartman's still shell-shocked expression to place a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder. What if what Kenny's saying… is really true? What if he's been holding back all these years? After all, stranger things had happened in South Park. "Alright, dude… l-let's just say you're not crazy and it's true. What's the big deal?" He squeezed Kenny's shoulder as he spoke. "I mean, I think it'd be pretty cool not to be able to die!"

"Pretty cool?" Kenny pushed himself off the wall and turned to Kyle, who backed up a step in surprise at the intensity in those blue eyes. "Do you know what it feels like to be stabbed, to be shot, decapitated, torn apart, BURNED, RUN OVER?"

"Kenny!" Stan jumped to his feet to join what was now a circle of his friends, ready to put himself between them if he needed to. "Kenny, calm down!"

"It's NOT pretty cool, Kyle!" Kenny yelled, pointing at him. "It fucking hurts!" His voice broke on that word and he collapsed back against the wall, sinking to the floor and ducking his head so that his friends could not see the two fat tears rolling down his cheeks. When he spoke again, Mysterion's gravel was gone and only Kenny's sweet voice, raspy with emotion, was left. "It… never goes away… and no one ever believes me."

"I… believe you." All three pairs of eyes turned to face Cartman, and Kyle was about to tell him off for making an insensitive joke… until he saw the very real tears running freely down the round cheeks.

"Cartman?" the redhead said softly in genuine surprise, his intuition telling him that there was more going on here than he understood. Turning, he saw the same confusion as his own plastered across Stan's face and reached out to grab his hand, squeezing to speak without words.

Cartman ignored both Kyle and Stan and knelt down at Kenny's side, reaching out one hand hesitantly before pulling it back, uncertain whether or not to even touch him. "I believe you," he said again, more firmly, just in case Kenny hadn't heard him the first time.

Kenny sighed heavily, not even lifting his head, and his words were delivered in a defeated monotone. "You can say that, and even mean it, but as soon as I die, you won't even remember that we had this conversation. Or really," he punctuated this with a sarcastic chuckle. "How many times we've had this… sort… of conversation." Admittedly, no one had ever actually even taken him seriously before now.

This was it. This was the perfect opening. Cartman squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to picture the way Kenny had looked last night as he walked out of the kitchen… …the only people in your pitiful life who actually give a damn about you… and even more so, the way he had looked that day in the hospital… He had just watched Stan meltdown over nearly losing Kyle, and he already knew firsthand what it felt like to lose your best friend. Like Shit. He also knew what it felt like to have them only half-there, or fucking better yet, as only a voice inside your head. I… don't want to lose Kenny again. If there's even a small chance… Maybe this once he could give a damn… and actually mean it. "I… do remember, Kenny."

"Bullshit."

"I do!" Cartman insisted and this time, he shoved Kenny roughly to get more of a response out of him. "I do, goddamnit!" When Kenny still continued to sit there listlessly, Cartman wrung his hands, looking as if he was about to burst. What if this makes the magic stop and he dies for good? One voice asked him, and another replied. What if it means he won't die anymore? Normally, Cartman adored having all the power in his hands – there was little he enjoyed more than lording it over the peons – but this time… he wished that someone else could tell him which way to go. "H-how…" he started, a little nervous, and then he cleared his throat before continuing. "How about… that time you got flattened by the elevator, right before the Fingerbang concert?"

"What?" Stan interrupted. "That never happened."

Cartman turned on Stan with a dark glare. "Oh yeah, Hippie? Than what did happen? How'd it end up being you, me, Jew, Testicleburger and your asshole dad on stage at the mall?"

"That part is true…" Kyle spoke up, frowning as he tried to remember. "Kenny just… went home?"

"No!" Cartman yelled, turning back to Kenny, who had finally looked up with wide-eyed shock at Cartman's revelation. "Is that not enough?" he said loudly, unable to stop himself now that he'd gotten started. "You died from syphilis! You drowned in pee! You died on my goddamn rollercoaster, you stupid piece of shit! Your parents sued me!"

Kenny's eyes had gotten wider and wider as Cartman continued to rant, but he couldn't bring himself to interrupt just yet. It was… just too damn good to be true… that for the first time ever, he might not be totally alone in this.

"You wanna know how far back I really remember, Kinneh? Huh, Kinneh?" Cartman shoved him again, angry tears still coursing down his cheeks. "You blew yourself up with a firecracker in kindergarten, you fuckin' bastard!"

As Stan and Kyle saw Kenny start to cry again in earnest, suddenly throwing himself at Cartman and hugging him hard, they found they could only watch, almost mesmerized by the scene unfolding. To Kyle, it felt like he'd… missed an episode of his own life somewhere along the way, the episode that actually made everything make sense. Because this? This really didn't make any sense, and yet, as he and Stan sat huddled on one of the benches with clasped hands and heads bent together, he couldn't help but be certain he was witnessing something quite out of the ordinary…

Cartman stopped speaking for a moment when Kenny tackled him, but slowly his arms crept around the other boy, hugging him tightly in return. Only Hippie and Jew are here to see it and I have so much dirt on them anyway. He whispered harshly into Kenny's ear, squeezing him just a little too tightly. "So, you see, Kinneh… you're not allowed to kill yourself."

Kenny's face was still buried in Cartman's shoulder as he tried to process what this revelation meant on too many levels. Why does he remember when they don't? Why has he never told me before? What does this mean? "Wait, what?" Kenny sniffed, letting go of Cartman to rub at his watery eyes, though they still sat knee to knee. "If you know that I can't die, then why the fuck do you care whether or not I kill myself?"

"Because I do!" Cartman snapped angrily, then turned to his friends. "Ahoy, I call for a vote – on the subject of Kenny's right to suicide - aye… or nay? And it better be fucking NAY, you motherfuckers!"

"What? No!" Kenny actually gasped, looking from Cartman to Kyle to Stan. Pirate voting was sacred and absolute and he couldn't believe that they would use it against him in such a way. "You can't do that! This isn't fair!"

Stan and Kyle turned to look at each other and shrugged, but the answer to this question, at least for the moment, was easy. Whether or not what Kenny was saying was true, no matter if they knew what the fuck wasactually going on, neither of them wanted to see their best friend kill himself.

"NAY!"

"NAY!"

Cartman turned to look back at Kenny with a smug and self-satisfied smirk. "NAY!" he chirped, then immediately tried to change the subject. "It's settled!" He really didn't want to get into it with Kenny right now about what he'd been holding back, not until they were really alone, and he held the other boy's gaze as he spoke, hoping he would understand. "Now God Fucking Damnit, we're either going to die here together or get out together, but either way, can we at least not fucking do it on an empty fucking stomach?"

"Don't give the Fat Ass any snacks, Kyle," Kenny sneered in response to play along, understanding why Cartman was derailing the topic – the same reason he always deflected when people asked him 'where he'd been lately'. It was so so much easier than explaining, and the fact that he didn't even have to explain that… A look passed between the two boys and Kenny smirked a little – it was like they had their own little secret.

Or more like Kenny's lifelong secret was now a secret for two… like… he had an ally.

"Screw you, skinny ass poor boy," Cartman retorted with an exaggerated eyeroll and a light punch to Kenny's stomach.

Kyle was eyeing both of his friends warily, as if they'd turned into aliens or crab people or something, but he nudged Stan, who reached for the little black bag and handed it to him. "Umm… do I actually want to know what the hell just happened?"

Cartman and Kenny turned to shoot Kyle nearly identical expressions of exasperation. Nosy Jew. "NO!"

"Let's go sit by the fire where it's warmer," Stan shrugged in response, not even wanting to bother trying to decipher them. Nothing they had just said had really made any sense to him at all. He'd so given up on understanding Cartman's mind back when they were eight, and lately, Kenny wasn't much better.

"OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS!" Kyle suddenly shouted, causing all three of his friends to jump. He'd been rifling through the bag to see what snacks were in it, now that he was more coherent than earlier, and his hand had closed around a small, round piece of plastic. It was quite an important piece of plastic, and he would have beaten himself up more for forgetting about it if he hadn't known just how out of it he'd been for the last hour or two. "The homing device!"

"Huh?"

"What?"

Kyle smacked himself in the forehead as he yanked it out of the bag, dropping the snacks at his feet, and Stan rescued them before they could be swallowed by the black hole known as Cartman. "I am such an idiot!"

"Say that again," Cartman chortled as he made a swipe at the bag that Stan was now holding just out of his reach. Behind Cartman's head, Kenny grinned and waved his hands in the air, already realizing that Kyle had probably saved their asses.

"I am such…" Kyle started, ready to indulge Cartman's taunt because he was so irritated with himself.

"An idiot who's had a rough day thanks to his equally idiotic super best friend," Stan finished the sentence for him, jumping off the bench and tossing the black bag of snacks over Cartman's head quarterback-style to Kenny. "Go long!"

Kyle looked up from where he was fiddling with the buttons and smiled. "I'll consider myself forgiven, then," he answered cheekily. Hitting one more button, he held up the now blinking device and explained while Stan and Kenny continued to play Monkey in the Middle with their only source of food. "This device is linked to a program on Ike's computer. As soon as I activate it, it'll send him a message with our GPS coordinates."

"Then he can send help?" Stan asked, a wide grin splitting his face. We're not gonna die!

"Right," Kyle affirmed with a nod, slipping the little device into his jacket pocket. "Me activating it automatically tells Ike there's an emergency… though I doubt anyone will be able to search for us until the storm has passed…" Kyle trailed off and sighed heavily as he sat down next to the fire, unwinding his scarf and unzipping his jacket. "But of course, this probably means my parents are going to freak. I wouldn't put it past them to show up here-"

"Aww, seriously?" Stan groaned as he caught the bag of snacks again, sitting down beside Kyle in a huff. "I mean, bonus, we live, but… early end of vacation-"

"Fuck!" Kenny interrupted them, slapping a hand against his forehead. "Dude, we have to smoke all of the weed before the rescue team arrives – tell them we found this place accidentally!"

Stan nodded in agreement, opening the bag of snacks and inspecting the now somewhat-smashed goods. "Yeah, this place is supposed to be a secret or something… and I don't think we really want the Broflovskis finding out."

"You sound so disappointed," Kenny snickered as he sat down opposite of Stan, making sure he was far enough away from the fire to not end up burnt. "Hey Eric," he patted the spot next to him amicably. "If you smoke with us, we'll give you snacks."

Cartman made a face as he shuffled towards them, glad the topic had shifted. He felt somewhat awkward about what he'd revealed, but Kenny… Kenny seemed cool with him. Eh, what did he have to lose? They weren't going to die, so why not eat all the food and smoke all the weed and let everyone forget about the fact that he cried like a pansy emo pussy. "Fucking fine, whatever," he muttered, flopping down next to Kenny.

"I'll even roll a big, fat blunt," Kenny promised with a grin, totally thrilled at the prospect. "Then you won't even have to bother with the lighter." There was just enough light to see by now thanks to Stan's fire as Kenny pulled out his rolling papers and the baggie, and as he carefully rolled, he continued to explain, mostly for Cartman's benefit. "It's not that much different from a cigarette – suck harder, but not too hard – just watch me and Stan first."

Stan grinned and nodded at Kenny as he licked the edge to seal it before lighting the end – the first time they'd ever smoked together, they'd rolled a fat blunt, and it had been sweet. He inclined his head towards Kyle, who smiled and nodded, much to Stan's delight.

Kyle's reasoning was only 50% towards actually smoking… the other 50% was simply the chance to get close to Stan again. He didn't try to turn the pass into a kiss this time, but he let one hand reach up to curl around the back of Stan's neck, fingers threading in the dark hair peeking out of the bottom of his hat. Memory suddenly rushed by him and he remembered how he'd awoken earlier – to Stan kissing him repeatedly. The sensation in memory made his lips buzz now where they touched Stan's and Kyle was frustrated that his usually flawless memory was garbled because it felt suddenly and sharply like he had… missed something important.

Although he had watched both Kenny and Stan smoke the blunt, Cartman still managed to burn his fingers when it was his turn, and he nearly dropped it when the smoke gave him the worst coughing spell he'd ever had in his life. Still, every time he coughed, his head seemed to feel lighter and lighter, and by the time he snatched the bag of snacks away from a distracted Stan, he was grinning like a loon. Sweet and salty and no one's pissed off anymore…

Kenny grinned as he took a long, slow drag, watching his three friends while none of them were really paying attention to him. Stan and Kyle were having some sort of immature poking war because they simply couldn't keep their hands off of each other – which was really just typical Style behavior – and Cartman was quickly devouring the snacks like he had the worst case of the munchies ever – which was really just normal Cartman behavior. Kenny had wished fervently for a moment like this for the last two years, but of course, it would take dramatic life and death circumstances for his friends to actually chill the fuck out and get along.It's like… a great cinematic moment. "The only thing missing is a starry night sky," Kenny said wistfully and suddenly, taking an extra drag before finally holding it out to Stan again.

"Yeah, dude…" Stan breathed slowly, truly considering the thought, as he took a drag and turned to Kyle expectantly.

"Maybe we can try to bump up the scenery points next time," Kyle offered with a wry grin, which everyone seemed to share. "Come on, Stan, let me try it myself this time!"

"Are you feeling well enough?" Stan protested once he'd exhaled, half sincerely and half because he wanted the excuse to sorta-kiss Kyle again.

Kyle sighed in exasperation – though it's kinda cute that Stan is so worried about me – and held out his hand for the blunt. "I'm really, truly okay now," he defended, trying to mimic the way his friends had been holding it. "Honestly, my memory is starting to be less foggy about… stuff…" He trailed off to take a hit, trying to be slow with it and not choke himself like he had in the car last time. He was still a little bit embarrassed about his friends saving his ass, but, he was going to save theirs, in the end, so fair was fair, right?

"Duuuude… not just under a starry sky, but like, out on a lake or a beach, where there's so much horizon line," Kenny continued to ramble, leaning back on his elbows to look up at the dark, wooden ceiling, not hearing one word of what the rest of his friends were talking about. "Dude, Kyle, what was that bit about Under the Boardwalk earlier? Were you dreaming?"

"Er, what?" Kyle asked in confusion, reaching across their little circle to snatch the bag of snacks out of Cartman's hands before he ate them all.

"'EY!" Cartman made a grab for the bag, but with already one snack in each hand, he wasn't successful.

"Yeah," Stan added, pausing to think back on earlier in the night, despite how much doing so still bothered him a little. It had all happened so fast, even if in the moment, it had felt like an eternity. "Yeah, I think you did mumble something about the boardwalk…"

"I did?" Kyle pursed his lips, closing his eyes and trying to replay what he could remember of waking up. He'd been… surprised that Stan was kissing him, because in the car, it hadn't happened… Kyle's eyes shot open and he blushed sharply, trying to cover his thoughts. "I… I think, maybe… I was dreaming about the boardwalk?"

Kyle wasn't even paying attention when Cartman stole the snacks back, as Stan slid to sit knee to knee with him. Kenny took the end of the blunt and backed away from his friends a little, letting the show unfold as he leaned back against the wall with a lazy grin.

"You mean, last summer?" Stan asked, amused at Kyle's strong reaction to the question. "When we went to Wildwood?"

"Hmm… yeah," Kyle said softly with a nod, closing his eyes again. That's right… I was dreaming about the day we lost Ike, the day I bought the bracelets… probably because I'd just given one to Stan. He'd been dreaming about the car ride home - that had been the last thing he remembered before coming to…

Stan wanted to reach out and touch Kyle, but he could tell that his other half was deep in pensive!Kyle mode. Fidgeting a little, he glanced down at the bracelet on his wrist, turning it around to show the blue beads as he suddenly realized where he'd seen it before – in Wildwood. Looking up again at his super best friend, Stan suddenly desperately wanted to ask about the meaning behind it – he knew damn well with Kyle that therehad to be a deeper meaning. And he was now pretty damn sure what he wanted that deeper meaning to be.

Kyle had been dreaming about the traffic light, about wanting to kiss Stan, about wanting to share his true feelings and ask the same in response… and he had woken up to Stan in tears, to Stan kissing him, to Stan yelling at him about super best friends and answers and listening and … Stan's voice played back in Kyle's mind as he relived the moment and then his heart stopped with realization. Green eyes drifted open to lock with worried blue as Kyle asked slowly, his heart pounding in his chest. "Stan… you… you said… you loved me?"

Stan had also been playing back the night in his own mind, reaching the same sentiment as if they were sharing one thought, and he smiled a little sheepishly. He hadn't meant to confess to Kyle in front of their friends, but in the moment of desperation, his true heart had poured right out of his mouth, despite his fears. "I… I guess I did."

"You mean love like…"

"…I do. Love-love." Stan took a deep breath, licked his lips, and said it again, just to make sure there could be no doubt. "I love you, Kyle."

The two super best friends stared at each other for a long moment as Kyle slowly reached over to take Stan's hand in his, twining their fingers together. This was it, the moment he'd been waiting for… It wasn't scenic or romantic or even alone, but it was… perfect, all the same. It was perfect because he was here and Stan was here, they were here together and… Stan loves me… and I… "I… I love you too, Stan. I… have for a really long time…"

Kyle choked up a little, his eyes tearing, but he didn't have the chance to finish his thought as Stan nearly climbed into his lap, grabbing the redhead's face between two hands and kissing him soundly before rasping sharply against his lips. "Me too, me too… Like this? Ky?"

Heat shot through Kyle at the forwardness and the tone the other boy's voice had taken as his hands curled around Stan's wrists, sliding down his arms to the elbow, then upwards and onto his shoulders. He'd touched his super best friend a million times, but suddenly it was all different, all new. "Staaan," he sighed in mock protest, licking his lips, flushed and unable to keep the happy grin off his face. "You're a perv."

A goofy smile split Stan's face and he leaned to pepper the side of Kyle's neck with suggestive feathery-light kisses. "You like it." He barely waited for the answering nod of confirmation before he kissed Kyle again, parting those willing lips with his tongue and exploring his super best friend's mouth with great and long overdue enthusiasm.

Kyle melted into the kiss, winding his arms around Stan's neck as the dark-haired boy took them down to the floor, neither even caring that Kenny was whistling at them now. They kissed again and again, Stan sucking on Kyle's bottom lip hard and running fingers down Kyle's side until he arched up, moaning into the other boy's mouth. "Stan…"

"Kyle…" Stan mumbled against the redhead's lips, withdrawing only long enough to look down at him with an expression bordering on adoration. Kyle had always been his very favorite person, for as long as he could remember, and suddenly he felt like everything in his whole life made a whole hell of a lot more sense.

The red and blue hat had been knocked aside and Kyle smiled warmly, threading both of his hands through Stan's dark hair to close the space between them, kissing him again. In fact, Kyle didn't even care at that moment if they were rescued at all – if he could only freeze time and stay right here, endlessly entwined his super best friend who-he-loved-and-who-loved-him-back, he would be the happiest Jew that ever lived.

Leaning over Cartman, Kenny dumped the end of the blunt into the fire to become ash, poking Cartman in the belly as he did so. He was really fucking wasted and really fucking happy, seeing his two best friends finally come together and stop being miserable about wanting to be together. Heh, they're obviously making up for some lost time now…

Cartman was pretending to be grossed out as Stan and Kyle continued to kiss and grope each other, seemingly oblivious to the presence of their friends, but in truth, he was actually a bit… relieved that things seemed to be... just the way he'd been planning on when this trip started. Mostly. He could get back on track, if they got out of here before too much longer. Cartman elbowed Kenny back, then scooted away from the fire and their friends when Kenny tried to low kick him in response.

They rolled around on the floor for awhile with their not-so-play-fighting, only coming to a stop as they realized that their friends were actually out cold. Laying on his side, Stan had Kyle pulled in against his chest, the Jew's head pillowed on his shoulder, their arms wound around each other as if they'd become one inseparable person. Kenny almost felt jealous, but he was in too good of a mood, and then Cartman was tugging him closer, whispering.

"C'mon, it's fucking cold - I know I'm warmer than your skinny ass."

Kenny let Cartman wrap an arm around him and yawned, thinking that Stan and Kyle probably had the right idea, as it was now some ungodly hour of the night. "You're kinda heavy to be a blanket," he mumbled, his eyelids drooping.

"Shut up, asshole," Cartman muttered, not sure why he was being so nice. Maybe he still felt the slightest bit bad about… stuff. Lifting one hand, he hesitantly brushed the messy blond hair out of Kenny's face. When he got no response or reaction, he leaned in closer, bumping their noses, hesitating again and swallowing hard before he pressed his lips against Kenny's softly.

"Eric…?" Kenny mumbled sleepily, but Cartman was now quickly placing little kisses in other less conspicuous places – his cheek, forehead, the tip of his nose – as if to cover what he'd really done. When he spoke again, his voice was raspy with emotion he rarely let anyone see.

"Hey, Kenny… remember when you were… in the hospital? Well…" He didn't wait for an answer as he pressed Kenny's face into his shoulder, whispering in his ear. "Well, Kenny… you're not just my best friend and I know this is gonna sound totally gay, but…"

"Yargafg…" Kenny's voice was terribly muffled, but years of listening to it made it easy for Cartman to understand. 'You are gay'.

"… you're my super best friend, Kenny." There was a long beat of silence before Cartman whispered again. "Kenny? …Kenny?" For a moment, he was worried, but then Kenny exhaled long and slow against Cartman's shoulder, sound asleep.

Not dead.

Just asleep.

Eric Cartman smiled.

Chapter Text

The insistent sound of a humming motor dragged Kyle back to consciousness and he blinked as he nudged Stan, rubbing at his eyes with the hand that wasn't trapped against the other boy's body. "Stan… you hear that?"

Stan's reply was an incomprehensible mumble, but he rubbed at his own eyes as they disentangled themselves and sat up. Their fire was nothing more than some glowing coals, but daylight through the window made it bright enough to see. Cartman and Kenny had also been awakened by the strange noise, and it was to all of their great reliefs when a voice called down through the broken window.

"Is there anyone in there? Kyle Broflovski?"

"I'm here! We're here!" All four boys clambered to their feet and rushed the window, pushing Kyle in front so that he could answer to the affirmative. "Everyone's okay!"

"Great! The snow pack is pretty stable, so we'll be pulling you out through this window," the voice called back to them. "Stand back and collect your gear while we crack it open a little further."

"I want Kyle to go first," Stan insisted once they'd passed all of the skies, poles and boards up through the broken window. Snow had drifted in to pile at their feet, but the hut itself seemed to be holding. None of the boys was inclined to argue with Stan until the ski patrol asked that they send the heaviest member first.

"It's okay, Stan," Kyle laid a hand on his best friend's shoulder before the argument could even start. "Stop worrying – we're all gonna be fine."

"Don't poke me, goddamnit!" Cartman complained as the three smaller boys tried to help hoist him up towards the waiting arms of the ski patrol.

"You could at least act gracious that we have to shove your fat ass through a tiny hole in the wall, Pooh Bear," Kyle smirked at Kenny and Stan and then purposefully poked Cartman in the ribs, hard.

"JEW!" Cartman yelled, but he was already up and through the window, leaving the other three snickering behind him.

Stan and Kenny lifted Kyle easily between them and sent him up through the window next, where the ski patrol grasped his arms and dragged him into the bright morning light.

The storm had finally passed, leaving the sky a rich and cloudless blue, the sun on the white mountain blinding after a night of near-darkness. The trees were heavy, weighed down with snow so thick it was like they'd been crystallized, surreal like… like Makalania Forest. Kyle winced against the dazzling landscape of ice as the ski patrol checked him over, then handed him a cellphone.

"Kyle? Kyle, is that you?"

"Ike?" Kyle yelled back, a grin rising on his face as he lifted his other hand to shield his eyes from the sun. "Yeah, it's me! We're all fine, thanks to you!" He pointed at the phone and mouthed the word "IKE" to Stan as he appeared from the hole in window and the other boys were also checked over by the ski patrol. "Dude, you totally saved us!"

Ike's soft chuckle echoed through the phone and then he added a little snark. "I wish I was surprised that you got lost in a storm, but I'm not."

"It's a much longer story than that," Kyle sighed in vague embarrassment, knowing he'd be nagged for details when he got home, then asked. "Why are you so soft? Reception bad?"

"No, I'm outside," Ike replied, as if it was a perfectly normal place to be at that hour in the middle of winter.

"Outside?"

"Yeah – Kyle, I didn't tell Mom and Dad."

Kyle blinked in surprise as his friends surrounded him, Stan leaning in to hear what was being said. "You… wait, what?"

"Put me on speaker phone, Kyle."

Kyle shrugged at his friends, then did as his little brother asked, holding the phone out between them so that they could all hear the youngest Broflovski's voice.

"I said – I haven't told Mom and Dad. It was more than likely that you were alive to send the signal, so I thought it best not to wake them at 3:27 AM to tell them your homing device had gone off unless I had actual confirmation that you were, well… dead."

Cartman bust out laughing somewhat inappropriately and Kenny reached to jam a hand over his mouth. "Ssshh!"

"So Mom and Dad are…"

"Asleep and oblivious."

"Dude, sweet!" Stan interrupted, fist-bumping with Kyle. "Ike, you're awesome!"

"Hold up a minute, Stan," Ike's voice turned the sugary sweet that both boys knew meant trouble. "They're currently oblivious – but if you want them to remain that way…"

Kyle groaned loudly and slapped a hand to his forehead. "You know if you tell them, they'll freak out and… and what do you want, Ike? I can tell by your voice that you've already got a list."

"Not really," the deceptively sweet voice came back. "But you know that you owe me. All four of you owe me, and I want to hear all of you say it – by the way, I'm recording this."

Kyle shrugged and nodded at his friends to get their thoughts. Stan and Kenny were quick to shrug back and roll their eyes, and then all three turned to look at Cartman.

"I don't care if the Jew gets in trouble," he sneered a little, just to annoy him. The truth was that he didn't want Kyle's parents to show up in Jackson Hole today anymore than the rest of his friends did, but trying to piss off Kyle was nearly ingrained in his personality.

"All or nothing, guys," Ike nearly sang. "All you have to do is say I Owe Ike."

"Don't make us pirate!vote your ass," Kenny snapped, elbowing Cartman. "Everyone on the count of 3! 1…2…3…"

"I OWE IKE."

Kyle turned off the speakerphone and said goodbye to Ike, handing it back to the ski patrol as they climbed onto the backs of the snowmobiles to head down the mountain. Sandwiched between Stan and the ski patrol member, Kyle was sorry he could no longer be distracted by the landscape – instead, all he could do was wonder when their promise to Ike would come back to bite them in the ass.

Because of course, there was no way that it wouldn't.


Upon returning to the condo, Stan and Kyle had promptly dumped their gear, stripped off their jackets and tumbled into bed, still exhausted from the adventure. Kenny and Cartman had decided instead to stuff their faces first, and had fallen asleep sharing the couch, eating Cheesy Poofs and mocking reruns of bad 80's sitcoms.

Although they were at opposite ends of the sofa, their legs were tangled in the middle where they shared the fuzzy blanket, and so the vibration of Cartman's cellphone somewhere near his ankle bone roused Kenny with a tickle.

"What?" Cartman's voice answered gruffly once he'd fished it out of his pocket, still half asleep, and then the language changed abruptly as he sat up and glanced at his watch. Hippie and Jew will still be out cold for hours… "…ja. Ja – haben sie…?"

Is that… German? Kenny continued to lay quietly and still, the blanket clutched alongside his cheek. He didn't know exactly what Cartman was saying, but he knew the inflections of the other boy's voice very well. The words weren't his brisk business clip or the sugary-sweet tone of wanting something from someone, but instead… the harsh gravel of "You promised me and haven't delivered."

Kenny's hazy thought process wasn't far from the truth, as Cartman had been expecting this phone call two days ago. It was poor timing that he wasn't alone right now, but at least he wasn't stranded on the side of a mountain anymore either and they were leaving tomorrow morning too. "Das macht nichts," he muttered, glancing over at the other boy, who he wasn't convinced was asleep. A lot of shit had changed a lot in the last fucking three days, but he found that he actually felt… more settled than usual, if that was really the right word for it. "Nein. Nein! …Danke."

The phone snapped shut and Cartman was still for a moment in thought, then slowly he tried to disentangle himself from Kenny and the blanket. "…Eric?" Kenny mumbled, yawning and blinking as if he'd just now woken. "…the fuck time…?"

"Like 10," Cartman muttered, running a hand through his hair before grabbing his hat off the nearby table and cramming it on his head. "I'm goin' down into town-"

"Why?" Kenny was sitting up now, one eyebrow raised.

There was a heartbeat of silence where their eyes met stubbornly and then Cartman shrugged, turning away to head for the door. "Food," he finally said, giving the obvious excuse, even if it opened him up to...

"Great, I'm coming," Kenny answered, jumping off the couch to follow him.

"What? You think I'm gonna feed your poor scrawny ass?"

Kenny edged by him to snatch the car keys off the table just inside the door, jangling them with a snarky grin. "Yes?"

Cartman waged a mental war with himself while he engaged Kenny in an equally useless wrestling match for the car keys, debating about how much trouble it would be to actually have him along. At this point, their noise was going to wake the other two, and Cartman definitely didn't want them along or aware at all. Stan and Kyle were probably in some loveydovey honeymoon phase – eww – right now, so as long as he didn't wake them… and Kenny could keep his mouth shut.

In fact, Cartman thought as he finally pinned the other boy face-first against the door, one hand in his hair and body weight shoving the blond hard against the wood, it might be better to have an ally on this mission. He plucked the keys from his hand and then gestured to the notepad on the table. "Fine – go write them something so Kyle doesn't get his fucking panties in a twist when they find us gone."

Cartman didn't wait for an answer, but headed out the door to Pikachu and climbed inside, not at all surprised when Kenny was barely a beat behind him.

OK, so it wasn't a very long note, but there was no way Kenny was missing out on whatever the fuck Cartman was up to. In fact, he couldn't help but congratulate himself a little as he plugged in his iPod to search his playlists, not certain what mood he was in just yet. He had been betting all along that Cartman was up to something – fuck, he'd even said as much to Stan and Kyle before they'd even left on the actual trip – and he'd been absolutely right!

Of course, at the same time, Kenny had also been totally blown away by last night's revelation, struck a little dumb – he'd barely had time to process what it really meant. Did Cartman still remember last night today? Part of him wanted to ask, part of him didn't, his head was still caught up on where they were going and… And it was so much fucking easier to just glide along in their bubble as if someone hadn't taken his snow globe and shaken it vigorously while laughing maniacally. "I want tacos," Kenny announced, still scrolling through music as the car pulled onto the main road and started the journey through the obnoxiously picturesque peaks that had almost been their death last night.

"Sounds good," Cartman didn't bother to argue, even though he felt twitchier the longer the Ipod clicked through menus. Was Kenny really taking this trip at face value? Would he not have to explain? This or anything else? Could he just play dumb? He snuck a glance at Kenny, whose bothered expression belied his cheerful tone. No, that'd be too fucking easy.

Truthfully, a day ago, Kenny would have been fascinated to know what Cartman's plan was, where they were going, what the big secret was… but his own secret was finally acknowledged, and that was bigger, and older, and weren't they going to fucking talk about this?

"Jesus, would you just-"

"So, seriously, are we ever going to-"

"-fucking pick something already?"

"—talk about it?"

Kenny's hand froze on the Ipod, the clicking silencing, but Cartman's gaze remained fixed on the winding road in front of them before he finally muttered. "Talk about what?"

"Talk about…" Kenny started, grinding his teeth a little. "Talk about me."

"You sound like a fucking girl," Cartman snapped, now uneasy at the tension between them. He'd been hoping Kenny might at least lay off until they were home, but no such dumb luck. "Need to talk about your feelings, Kinneh?"

"Fuck you, asshole!" Kenny snapped angrily, turning to slide down in his seat and prop his feet up on the dashboard. That's right, he'd almost forgotten! Eric Cartman is an asshole. Asshole! Asshole! Asshole! Kenny repeated it to himself over and over as he finally selected some music, but his heart couldn't help but weigh last night's tearful confession against his friend's attitude in the harsh light of day… and beg to know which was the truth.

o/~ It's hard to argue when you won't stop making sense
But my tongue still misbehaves and it keeps digging my own grave with my
Hands open, and my eyes open
I just keep hoping that your heart opens ~/o

Kenny jerked the hood of his orange parka over his head and stewed, one foot tapping the beat of the song against the dashboard. He was tired of letting himself get sucked in, only to be spat back out again. Sometimes it was even worse than playing third wheel to Style or Dark!Hero for Butters, sometimes it wasn't comforting or easy, sometimes it… it sucked. "You SUCK!" he shouted suddenly, loud enough to be heard over the music. "SOME FUCKING SUCKY FRIEND."

o/~ Why would I sabotage the best thing that I have
Well, it makes it easier to know exactly what I want with my...
Hands open and my eyes open
I just keep hoping that your heart opens ~/o

Cartman flinched a little at the outburst, the final words he'd said to Kenny as they were falling asleep last night - whether they'd been heard or not - floating back to him. Why was he being such an ass? How could he call Kenny something like… that and then piss him off this bad? Hadn't he pledged something important with those words…? Hadn't he sworn, even to himself, that was going to try and… do better by Kenny? Shouldn't that start with… honesty?

GAY. Goddamnit, why does my conscience always sound like the fucking Jew?

Kenny looked up in surprise when Cartman reached to flip the stereo off. "Forget it-"

Cartman cut him off with a wave of one hand and waited until their eyes met before he finally said, slowly and seriously. "Fine. You wanna talk – fucking. talk. Or ask me. Whatever."

Knowing he wasn't going to get a better opening, Kenny's words rushed out of him before his mind had even a second chance to consider them. "You still remember that I die?"

Cartman turned his attention back to the road, but he nodded firmly, knowing that was only going to be the tip of the iceberg.

"And you've known since…"

"As far as I can remember," Cartman answered, then shrugged, tapping his fingers against the steering wheel. "Kindergarten, pre-school?"

Kenny had shifted to sit sideways in his seat, his knees tucked up under him and his eyes a little wide. His hands fiddled with the edge of his parka. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Cartman huffed loudly, having been expecting this question for as long as he'd been debating with himself the very answer. "I don't fucking know, Kenny – is it normal to just walk up to your best friend and say 'Hey, you little fuck, didn't you get blown up by a firecracker yesterday?' I didn't ask, I didn't know how to ask anymore than you knew how to tell me – but it's over and done! Now you know I know, so do you wanna beat a dead horse or move on from this point?"

Kenny knew that Cartman had a point and could also tell when he was too pissed off to bother lying. Best friend…? Was he actually getting Eric without all the bluster for once? It's not like my situation is anything besides insane – and now, at least, someone believes me. Maybe he should try and give Eric the benefit of the doubt. "I… okay. Yeah, okay… I can do that."

"Can I ask you somethin'?" Cartman asked with a note of curiosity rising in his voice.

"Heaven is real, so is hell, they're both a little fucked up, PS Satan is gay, but I don't always end up there… or anywhere…" Kenny started, a rueful smile appearing on his face.

Cartman couldn't help but snicker a little during the explanation, but it wasn't quite what he was getting at – though they'd have to come back to it again later. "What do you remember?"

"Umm…" Kenny started, his brow furrowing. "About heaven and hell? Or… or actually dying?"

Kenny's numerous deaths echoed in a silent film reel between them in the silence as they drove straight through Jackson and headed out of town, into the mountains again. Cartman never answered his question, only waited until Kenny decided to talk.

"Well, sometimes dying hurts a fucking lot, but occasionally it's fast… sometimes I see a white light, or I'm falling, but sometimes I don't remember shit. Most times I'm back the next day, right? But sometimes I'm there for a long time, like when… when…"

"I think I know when," Cartman offered, thinking of Kenny's longest disappearance. He wondered if there was a way to prevent that from happening again. "So you wake up with all your memories and stuff?"

"Yeah, pretty much… all my Earth memories – I always remember how I died last. My memories of heaven and hell? Kinda muddy."

"So you don't know how you get back?"

"Not really, no."

"And you don't know why it keeps happening? Why no one remembers or everyone forgets?" Cartman took a breath, debating his next thought. Or why I'm the only one who does remember besides you?

"Fuck no – goddamnit, Eric!" Kenny said in exasperation, even though there was a relieved sort of smile playing at his lips. It felt so good to talk to someone about this, even if it was just to replay conversations he'd already had with himself. "I thought I was the one talking?"

Cartman chuckled and shrugged. "It's fucking weird, you asshole – of course, I'm gonna ask questions."

Kenny wished they had time for more questions, but at that moment, Cartman pulled off onto a side road that wound steeply up into the side of the mountain. The wheels of the Hummer skidded on the steep gravel as they came over a rise and Cartman pulled to a stop in front of a small log cabin.

"So… where the fuck are we?" Kenny asked, turning to give Cartman a skeptical look.

Cartman frowned as he stared at the cabin, and then rolled his bottom lip between his teeth before replying. "…my brother's place."


The late afternoon sun was slanting in through the window, arcing thinly across the bed as Kyle awoke to a growl in his stomach. Stan was laying on his back, snoring lightly, and Kyle was tucked against him, one arm draped loosely across his middle.

It was so warm and comfortable and better-than-he'd-even-dared-imagine that Kyle was loathe to drag himself out of the bed, but he was sure that skipping another meal was a stupid idea. Leaning to brush the ghost of a kiss against Stan's cheek, his slid out from under the blankets and tiptoed to the door.

The TV was still on downstairs in the main room, the sound turned down low, but there was no sign of their friends except for a short note in Kenny's handwriting by the front door:

Enjoy the alone time

Shrugging to himself, Kyle went into the kitchen and started to rummage around, fishing his iPad out of his bag and turning on a playlist. He really didn't feel like worrying about his friends' antics right now anyway. His mind wandered as he searched the mess of the kitchen for the jar of peanut butter he knew he'd seen two days ago, mostly drifting back to the events of the last few days.

The fights, the tears… the heartache he could've saved himself and his friends by coming clean sooner. At the same time, it all seemed to have turned out for the best, and in between the mess, they'd had a lot of fun. Would I really change anything if I could? He actually felt oddly closer with every member of their little circle, not that he would ever tell that to any of them.

In this moment alone, he could pretend as if he and his friends were just the same as always… but deep down, Kyle knew something really had changed. Fuck, he couldn't even keep the shit-eating grin off of his face and he was really glad that no one was around to see it.

There was no way of knowing what would happen next, but Kyle still felt incredibly… lucky… because they would figure it out together, just like they always had. And now, instead of replaying for himself all of the times he'd fucked up trying to tell Stan how he felt or wondering if he was losing his mind thinking there was something going on between them, he could instead relive the feel of Stan's mouth pressed hard against his, the way his voice had sounded when he said…

Kyle realized he was standing in the middle of the kitchen hugging the jar of peanut-butter, gazing absently at the refrigerator, and blushed. When the hell had he turned into such a moron over his best friend of forever? It was weird, but… he liked these feelings, liked the rush of emotion that came when he thought of Stan. He was happy that all of his trust had finally been restored with his most important person.

Without Kyle's warmth beside him, Stan woke quickly, his ears picking up the faint echo of music downstairs. Was that Kyle singing along? He never did that unless he thought no one was listening… so cute…

A sneaky grin creeping onto his face, Stan slipped quietly downstairs and into the doorway of the kitchen, silently watching his super best friend. Kyle stood at the counter with his back to Stan wearing the same old faded pajama pants and a green t-shirt, his cute little ass swishing back and forth in time with the music as he sang along.

o/~ And all these things mean nothing to me
When I'm with you I've got everything
I could want and I could need
Even God he would agree
You and I were meant to be
It's easy to see ~/o

"Did you know that this song is actually called 'Trucker Hat'?" Stan wrapped his arms around Kyle from behind, nuzzling his neck and startling the redhead into dropping his jelly-smeared knife on the counter. "And I thought we always made sandwiches together?"

Kyle flushed as he turned in Stan's arms until they were face to face, his hands coming to rest on Stan's shoulders as he looked up into a familiar goofy smile. "R-right," he stammered, then chuckled and relaxed a little. He knew what Stan wanted him to say, but for God's sake, they hadn't been this corny since elementary school, even if they did always make their sandwiches together. "'Cause you're the cheese to my ham…"

"And I'm the peanut-butter to your jelly."

o/~ I'll never go out of style on you
And nothing really feels the way you do
Nothing in the world could ever make me look as good
When you fit me like you do ~/o

Kyle let Stan lean in to kiss him once, but then twisted away to pick up his knife again, brandishing it playfully. "I haven't done the peanut-butter yet, for your information, and yes, of course, I know the real name of this song. But you should know I never called it that…"

Stan grinned and reached to pick up the jar of peanut-butter, as both slices of bread were already waiting on his plate. Of course, Kyle had managed to time this perfectly and he had to resist the urge to tease him about that too. Now that he was paying attention, it was easy for Stan to see all the little bits of Kyle that just made him want to…

"It's our names…" Kyle finally pointed out as he set his knife in the sink and picked up one slice of jellified bread in each hand. "Style? Stan and Kyle? It's… it's in the lyrics…"

Stan turned to face him as he listened to the chorus go by, one slice of buttered bread in each hand. "The Style Song… Oh my god, how did I never see how gay you are?"

"Shut up!" Kyle smacked one of his pieces of bread onto Stan's at the same time as Stan smacked the opposite onto his and then he slapped the finished sandwich down on the plate. "And who wanted me to say thesandwich rhyme with him a minute ago, which, I should remind you, is not even really a rhyme?

"Just swear it won't be Disney tunes next," Stan mock-pleaded as he followed Kyle to the kitchen table, sandwich-with-no-plate in one hand and one of the already-poured glasses of milk in the other. He kicked the chair out from the table and sat down in it, dropping his lunch and clasping his hands together prayer-style. "Please, Kyle, anything but that!"

"I make no promises as to the level of sap I may occasionally spill when it comes to our relationship," Kyle managed to say quite calmly, despite the fact that Stan had tried to play footsie with him the moment he'd taken a seat.

"Relationship?" Stan waggled one eyebrow at Kyle, still trying to trace a toe up one leg without being kicked. "So, are we…?"

Kyle took a bite of his sandwich in an effort to keep himself from giggling at Stan, knowing both of them were being equally anxious and corny about this. That's us, always brushing the nerves off with a joke or three.He forced Stan to wait while he chewed, swallowed and took a sip of milk. "Boyfriends, Stan? Is that what you're trying to ask me?"

Now it was Stan who used the sandwich as an excuse to buy himself a moment to think. He didn't really want to broadcast the news all over school just yet, but… he would do it if it made Kyle happy. He didn't really care if it pissed his parents off. "I… I don't care about the gay thing, Kyle. Mr. Garrison kinda forced us all to get over that when we were like, nine… with that egg project? Or how about Lemmiwinks? Besides, people have been calling us that since before I, umm… figured it out myself. And I don't give a fuck what anyone thinks anyway – do you?"

"No, not at all – dude, we're friends with Cartman. I'm kinda de-sensitized to most mud-slinging…" Kyle trailed off, eating more of his sandwich and trying to decide whether to call Stan on not answering the real question.

Stan watched Kyle's worried expression carefully over the top of his glass of milk as he finished it and set it down with a thunk. "Look, I don't care if everyone knows that you and I… that we…" He didn't want to choose his words wrong, didn't want to claim Kyle as belonging to him, but at the same time, that was how he felt, how he'd always felt about his Super Best Friend. "Boyfriends just… sounds like a dumb way to describe us when… when we've always been more than that. This is… besides that."

Kyle was usually the one among the group with the most eloquent word choice, but every now and then, he privately thought that Stan had a way of driving the arrow to the heart by the simple honesty in his. Rising from the table, he came around it and leaned down to wrap his arms around the dark-haired boy, pulling him up and out of the chair.

"Heh… what did I say?" Stan asked, hugging Kyle back with relief. At least I didn't say the wrong thing…

"I don't care what you call us either," Kyle said, his hug still fierce around the other boy as he buried his face against Stan's shoulder. "Just that you think there's an us."

"Super Best… Boyfriends?" Stan joked lightly, his hands running down Kyle's back, hesitating for only a moment until they slid to curl around his ass. "We can just keep the extra b to ourselves for now, or not… if you want… " He winced at how indecisive that sounded, but hoped that Kyle would understand him as always.

A shiver rippled over Kyle's skin, all the hair on his arms standing on end, but he didn't pull away. "So this is how it's going to be now - you touching me all the time?" He knew he was the one who'd pulled Stan up and out of the chair, knew he was equally guilty, at least in thought, but he was amused all the same.

Stan turned his head so that he could kiss Kyle's cheek, then along the line of his jaw before pausing to reply, his words soft and almost embarrassed. "…Only when you leave me all hot and bothered."

The hug loosened only for Kyle's hands to re-tighten against Stan's shoulders as his heart started to race, his dick twitching sharply at the whispered words. Fuck, if Stan doesn't already know just how to derail my train of thought… He almost couldn't believe that Stan was saying these things to him, only he knew he felt the same, knew it was the truth. It made it so easy now to tease him back, and he wanted to just give in. "Hah - When?"

"Last night."

"We weren't alone," Kyle protested, trying to turn and get Stan to look at him again. He was determined to have this conversation before things went any further… before they fucked it up by not being on the same page. "We were stranded on a mountain and then you passed out as soon as we got home!"

Stan pouted a little bit, but withdrew enough to meet Kyle's eyes again. The last thing he wanted to do was upset the redhead, even though it was truly difficult to keep his hands still, and so he teased. "But now we're alone – and you can't complain when I can tell that you like it."

Kyle bit his lip and averted his eyes for a moment, as he knew how susceptible he was to Stan's cute puppy pout. "I won't deny that, but… dude, I really wanna talk about…" One of Stan's hands had crept out to toy with the drawstring on Kyle's pajama's pants, unnervingly distracting. "About… stop that!"

Dodging to avoid being poked, Stan frowned when Kyle used the opening instead as an opportunity to leave the kitchen and head into the main room. He sat down on the couch with a sigh, trying to figure out what to say, what was holding him back.

Stan sat down beside Kyle and reached over to take his hand, squeezing it uncertainly. "Kyle…"

"I've spent a lot of time thinking about…" Kyle started, squeezing Stan's hand back.

"Do you think even in your sleep?"

Kyle rolled his eyes and used their joined hands to elbow Stan. "I know you crack jokes when you're nervous, so do me a favor and just shut up for a minute, okay?" Stan smiled sheepishly and nodded and Kyle took that as the opportunity to continue. "When you said you didn't care what anyone thought… that was… really cool. But you know it's never that easy, right? I mean, everything would change… not even because we would, but because… at best, Stan, if our parents are cool with us… at best it would be the end of our freedom, of our weekends sleeping over each other's houses, it would mean a door always open…"

Stan was quiet as he listened to Kyle talk, realizing quickly what his best friend was getting at. "It'd mean making out behind the bleachers after school like every other straight couple, and all the awesome mud-slinging to go with the gay thing on top of it?"

"Blunt, but true," Kyle gave a pained smile and squeezed his hand again, biting his lip before looking up to meet Stan's sarcastic expression with an oddly determined look. "Or we could just not tell anyone."

"Really?" Stan raised an eyebrow and turned on the couch until he was facing Kyle, who did the same. "No torturing of our parents with pride parades? No out and proud buttons?" Even as the words were coming out of his mouth, Stan was stalled by the sudden intensity in Kyle's green eyes and realized what the other boy was really trying to say.

"Isn't it best, at least for now, stuck at home… if nothing has to change?" Kyle asked softly. "Falling asleep playing games, watching the stars out at Stark's… it'd all be over, Stan. I know it maybe sounds crazy, but… why should we give it up when we've got it so good? Fuck if anyone would even be able to tell anything's changed at all if we just… stay the same!"

Stan couldn't help but laugh loudly, tackling Kyle onto the couch sideways. "Have I mentioned that I love your devious side?"

"It's not devious, it's… smart! Crafty! Sneaky, at worst!" Kyle protested as they wrestled, same as ever, and yet not. "I mean, not for nothing, but… once we get home, we're not often alone – I mean, really alone, where no one will walk in on us…"

"So we tell no one," Stan pinned Kyle's wrists on either side of his head, settling himself lightly over the other boy with one leg between the knees, one foot still on the floor for balance. "What about Kenny and Cartman?"

"You know Kenny would keep a secret if we asked-"

"Or bribed," Stan said, half-serious, leaning down to kiss the tip of Kyle's nose. "And then we pirate!vote the fatass!"

Kyle laughed, a little breathy from the wrestling, not making any real attempt to escape, more than a little turned on. "I have more than enough dirt to keep his trap shut, I promise. So… so that's that… and well, judging by Kenny's note, they won't be back for awhile anyway."

"Oh? Where'd they go?" It was just dumb small talk now, the last moment of hesitation despite the fact that they could each tell what the other wanted. They'd always been able to read each other without words. Stan let one of Kyle's hands go to run a thumb over his lips, leaning in until he could only focus on one green eye.

"Do you really care?" Kyle asked, his lips moving against Stan's thumb, his own hand rising to run fingers through dark hair. "No matter what we do when we get home, if we don't… something… now… well, then it's just going to be the constant torture of when will we, and then things might get awkward between us-"

Unable to bear Kyle's over-analyzing any longer, Stan closed the space between them and crashed their mouths together.

Stan's lips were soft against Kyle's as they kissed once, twice, thrice, again and again until Kyle couldn't keep count anymore, and then Stan was sucking on his bottom lip, running his tongue along it and Kyle's brain finally short-circuited. He wrenched his other hand free of Stan's grasp and wrapped his arms around the other boy's shoulders, pulling him down and off balance.

The kiss broke momentarily as Stan slipped and his weight landed fully against Kyle, straddling him and giving away what each had been hiding. Kyle felt Stan's heat hard against his own and a soft noise escaped his throat.

"Kyle…" Stan breathed sharply, looking down at the flushed redhead with a cheeky grin.

Looking up into his favorite blue eyes, blown almost black with lust, Kyle couldn't help but grin back. "Stan…"

It wasn't a question, but a confirmation, and this time when Stan kissed Kyle, the other boy's mouth opened to his willingly. His tongue swept across Kyle's, tasting the lingering sweetness of strawberry jelly, and he buried one hand in the curly hair, trapping him close so he could kiss Kyle deeply.

Kyle would never let his best friend win a fight easily and so he fought for dominance of their kiss, darting his tongue back into Stan's mouth teasingly, his hands dancing patterns across the broad shoulders. Stan was relentless in return, tracing the insides of Kyle's lips with his tongue where they were softest to distract him, then catching his tongue, sucking so hard that Kyle finally moaned, his hips jerking up to press his throbbing dick roughly against Stan's.

Grinding back against Kyle, Stan finally broke away again to tilt Kyle's face with one hand, dragging a line of wet and open-mouthed kisses down his neck to the collar of his t-shirt. Kyle's hands had found their way underneath the back of Stan's shirt by this point, palms flattened against the heat of his skin. Sitting up in a way that caused them to shift against each other again, Stan reached to pull his shirt over his head before cocking one finger suggestively at Kyle.

Kyle sat up on one elbow, far enough to let Stan pull his t-shirt inside-out over his head. How many times I've imagined us like this… But none of Kyle's daydreams had come close to touching the real thing and he looked up at his Super Best Friend with a sudden rush of desire, wetting his lips nervously. "Stan, I…" Kyle started hoarsely, reaching with one finger to trace along the outline of Stan's abs before his hand slid upwards, fingers brushing over the hard nub of a nipple.

"Kyle…fuck…" Stan's voice was almost a whimper as he squeezed his eyes closed, and without really thinking about what he was doing, Kyle leaned in to brush his already kiss-swollen lips over it.

As Kyle swirled his tongue and then flicked the nipple hard, Stan felt himself leak a little and groaned. He forced himself to open his eyes, gently pushing Kyle down and away from him, but only so that he could return the favor.

Kyle tried to watch as Stan kissed a slow line down his chest before sweeping the flat of his tongue over a pert nipple, but his eyes kept rolling back in his head. How was it possible that Stan could unravel him this way? Nothing else had ever made him feel so… unhinged. He could feel the liquid heat pooling in his belly and when Stan's hand dragged a slow line down his ribs, then over his hip bone, Kyle covered it with his own hand on instinct to follow.

Stan found Kyle's mouth again, kissing him slow and sloppy as he slipped his hand through the opening of Kyle's pajama pants. He thought for a moment that it ought to have felt awkward, but it didn't - not really – how could it, when it was the person he already trusted and loved the most, knew better than he knew himself? My Kyle… His fingers brushed curls he knew were as red as the hair on his best friend's head and then he wrapped his hand around the hot, hard length. Kyle's own hand stalled between them, another incomprehensible noise escaping him as Stan stroked him once.

So slowly, they'd been exploring each other, but as Stan crossed the line for both of them, that changed. Suddenly, it was passionate and frantic again, Kyle's hand searching for the opening in Stan's boxers, gripping his dick tightly and pulling it free with no hesitation. The two boys moved inelegantly against each other as they kissed, slick skin against skin, Kyle's moan swallowed up by Stan as their hands slipped, knuckles grazing as they wrapped their dicks against each other for friction.

Kyle came first, his entire body tensing as sparks exploded behind his eyes, his fist clenching around both of them as he rode out the waves of pleasure, panting strings of nonsense.

As he listened to Kyle breath his name over and over again, pulsing between them, Stan wasn't that far behind. He came with a strangled gasp of Kyle's name, pumping the both of them until the aftershocks had faded before collapsing against his lover.

His free arm coming up around Stan's shoulders loosely, Kyle listened in a moment of wonder to the pounding reverberation of their heartbeats until both had slowed, at which point, he whispered into Stan's ear, a little giddy. "I love you."

Stan had waited, waited to say anything, hoping there wouldn't be any second thoughts between them, and when those words finally came, he relaxed against Kyle, not caring one bit about the sticky mess they'd made. He turned just enough to press his lips against Kyle's pulse point and whispered back. "I love you too."


"Dude, wait – what?" Kenny gaped at Cartman in surprise, then at the cabin, then back at Cartman. "Scott T-"

"Yes," Cartman cut him off, unfastening his seatbelt and opening the door before he could have time to feel chicken, time to back down. He'd already put too much into this to let it go.

Kenny scrambled to join him, hissing softly in Mysterion's husky tone as they came around the front of the yellow Hummer. "Did you forget that he wants you dead? That he's tried to kill you more than once?"

Cartman stopped short, turning to look at Kenny seriously as he pulled his red jacket open to reveal the gun inside. "Here to return the favor, if he tries."

It wasn't normally possible to shock Kenny McCormick, but his face actually went white at the sight and he reached to grab Cartman by the wrist. Nowhere in his line of pondering what Cartman was up to had he come even close to this. "This is what you've been keeping secret?"

"It's a long story," Cartman shook his head, though he didn't try to free himself from Kenny's grasp. He wasn't sure why, but their stint of honesty in the car seemed to have gotten under his skin, and he found himself spilling even more of the truth than usual. "I'm not actually here to blow his brains out, but I do want some fuckin' answers. And yeah, that's why this whole entire trip got planned in the first place, Kinneh, so I could have an excuse to get up here with no questions asked. I know you're not dumb and you think it was too easy to get me to come along. It was. I hate skiing! But Kyle's dumb and trusting, and that's what made it so easy. One phone call to get that condo to fall into Gerald's lap, one phone call to buy out all of the Rock Band 3's in town… although the avalanche was not in my plans, I admit."

"You're…" Kenny started incredulously, not sure if he was more worried about Cartman killing Scott, or Scott killing the both of them… about having to give an alibi that was fake, or better yet, be a bullet shield for his best friend. Either way, the day didn't look to have a delightful ending in sight. And isn't this cabin too small for the ginger cult?

"What? Insane? Stupid?" Cartman muttered, finally yanking his arm back from Kenny and marching up to the front door. "I'm not afraid of him, never was, and I just want him to Fuck. Off."

Kenny was still standing two steps behind his friend trying to figure out what to think, what to do, when Cartman raised his fist to knock sharply on the door. "Open up, Asshole!"

There was a long moment where the only sound was the wind whipping through the pines, and then the bolt unlatched, the door slowly creaking open, horror-movie style. "Little brother! So not a surprise! I suppose you're going to barge right in-"

Cartman shoved the door open and stormed inside and Kenny ran the last few steps to follow him in, standing with his back against the unlocked door to protect their exit.

It was dark in the cabin, with only one light bulb dangling loosely over their heads, and Scott re-seated himself in a large, ragged arm chair beside the fireplace with the same bluster as usual. "A little slow on the uptake – I could have been gone yesterday."

Cartman growled and stood two feet from the chair, glaring at the person he hated most in the world. "Then why are you still here?"

Scott sneered right back at him. "Tired of Cat and Mouse. What the fuck do you want?"

"What the fuck do you want?" Cartman yelled back, his hand curling into a fist at his side. "I don't hear from you for years and then…what's with the creepy fucking packages? You're freaking out my mom!"

"She doesn't want mementos of her dearly departed one-night stand?"

The line was delivered so icily that Kenny felt the urge to deck the rotten little punk himself, but even as he tensed, Scott's attention suddenly swept over to him and the ginger let out a series of disturbingly delighted giggles.

"Oh, look, you even brought the little cursed kid as your backup! How schweeet~!"

Kenny blinked in surprise at the reference, but Cartman caught it just as quick and he lunged at the chair, grabbing Scott by the neck and tossing him up against the wall with frightening ease. "You little fucking weasel! Don't you talk like that about Kenny! I'll fucking rip your lungs out and make you eat them!"

Scott coughed and scrambled until Cartman let his feet touch the ground again, but never quite backed down. "I spent enough time reading South Park's archives…" hackwheeze! "…to catch the discrepancies, put it together…"

"What are you talking about?" Cartman shook his hand, knocking the ginger's head into the wall a few times. "Do I have to remind you that I could snap your neck in a second?"

"I know where the cult is - Florida!"

Cartman let go of his half-brother and took a step back, stunned by what he was talking about, but Kenny had recovered and come forward at this point, asking on his own in breathless surprise. "The people that got me cursed? The Cult of Cthulhu?"

"Walk away," Scott sneered, rubbing at his neck and taking a step away. He continued to back away from them until he was standing beside the arm chair again. "Walk away and go home, and I'll send you an email, tell you exactly where they are."

"No!" Kenny menaced, advancing, "I want to know right now!"

With his attention divided between his brother and his best friend, Cartman almost missed the quick movement that pulled the gun from under a pillow on the chair and into Scott's hand. It was all he could to shove Kenny out of the way. The two of them crashed and rolled to the floor as the explosion echoed in the tiny cabin and Scott bolted for the door.

Cartman was on his feet again quickly, his own gun pulled, and he shoved Kenny behind him with one hand. There was blood dripping from his other arm, but he didn't seem to notice. "You lay off my mom, Scott! You stop sending those packages or I swear, I really will snap your neck next time! You can sleep thinking about how I could've, today!"

But Scott had the advantage now and gave no more information. Instead, he fired with no aim once more, forcing them both to duck as he slipped out the door.

Kenny was faster to his feet this time and tried to chase him, but by the time he was out the door, Scott was already on a foul-wheeler, disappearing up over the hill and into the treeline, too fast to follow on foot and too narrow to follow by car. "Damnit!"

Cartman came up beside him, putting the safety back on his unused gun and slipping it into his jacket. "You okay?"

Still pissed beyond belief, Kenny kicked the swinging door so that it slammed hard into the wall. "Aren't you going to do anything about this?"

"Like what," Cartman snorted in irritation, stalking back towards the car. "He's long gone and probably full of shit anyway. As long as he lays off my mom…"

Kenny growled in frustration, but followed Cartman back down the hill to the car. "But didn't you hear what he said? About the cult?" Kenny realized as he said it that they hadn't even gotten a chance to talk about that part of his mess yet, but before he could start in on it, Cartman was talking again.

"Couldn't you tell? There's something wrong with him…" Cartman started, opening the driver's side door and climbing in. He winced a little as he shifted, which Kenny noticed and suddenly remembered.

"Shit, Eric, take off your jacket." Kneeling on his seat, Kenny forced the bigger boy to shrug it off his shoulders, revealing the gash in his t-shirt.

Cartman kept talking, as if trying to distract himself while Kenny examined what was thankfully just a bad scrape, a near-miss. "He was fuckin' skin and bones when I picked him up, Kenny. What the hell was doing out here all alone anyway? Where were his minions? Maybe he's sick, maybe he's dying, maybe he just wants to mess with one more time and make sure his ass goes straight to hell –OWW JESUSFUCK!"

"Stay still," Kenny muttered, turning to grab a half-finished bottle of water from off the floor. Reaching underneath his parka, he felt for the hole in the hem of his shirt that he'd fiddled with last night. There was a tearing sound and then he came up with a strip of purple fabric.

Eric whimpered a little as Kenny maneuvered it around his arm and dumped some water, going silent. He'd lied earlier, to get Kenny to back down – he'd come here on this trip with every intention of putting Scott down for good… and he hadn't. Of course, he'd heard what Scott had said to Kenny, of course, he'd already done enough of his own research to know what Kenny's parents had been involved in all those years ago, at least marginally. But… Cthulhu had been sealed by Mintberry Crunch years ago, long before he'd done such research, and there had never been any other leads. How was his brother connected to that cult?

The injury attended to as best as possible, at least so that it wouldn't bleed all over the car, Kenny sat back and looked at his friend, whose eyes were still clenched shut. The events in that cabin had happened so fast, but at least one thing couldn't be overlooked and he felt compelled to ask. "Why did you protect me back there anyway – I'm the one who can't die."

Cartman had let Scott go for only one reason – it was the first real lead he'd had on Kenny's mystery since they were nine. But if he told Kenny how he'd looked into it, then wouldn't he be even angrier about how long Cartman hadn't admitted his knowledge? "What if we've changed that now and you can die? Besides, it wasn't your fight. This was about him fucking tormenting my mom." Cartman opened his eyes and fished in his pocket for the car keys, inserting them and revving the engine before turning to look at Kenny pointedly.

Kenny caught the strange, pained expression that passed over Cartman's face, but couldn't pinpoint the cause. Not my fight? It felt decidedly weird to have the other boy try to protect him, instead of the other way around, and after what Scott had said, Kenny felt more involved than ever. Something about this whole mess just didn't sit right with him at all. Pursing his lips in dissatisfaction and reaching for the seatbelt, he sighed. "Yeah, right – I only wish it was that easy. And with my luck, we'll find out soon enough anyway. And then you might forget again, rendering this all a moot point… So don't mind me if… if I enjoy having an ally while it lasts."

Cartman watched as Kenny turned to face the window, and then he threw the car into reverse, wondering what else he could say. "I'm not gonna forget 'cause I've always known." He had no answers and empty promises were just that – empty. "And Kinneh… I've always been your ally, you poor. Dumb. FUCK."

The familiar words actually brought a smile to Kenny's face, but instead of saying anything, he just flipped the stereo back on, the last song they'd been listening to drowning out both of their frustrations with the universe and each other.

o/~ It's not as easy as willing it all to be right
Gotta be more than hoping it's right
I wanna hear you laugh like you really mean it
Collapse into me, tired with joy ~/o

Chapter Text

"Okay… can't breathe…" Kyle finally mumbled against Stan's shoulder, lifting one arm to poke his best friend lightly in the ribs. "You're heavy." It could have been the end of one of their tickling wrestling matches that usually started as an argument over a videogame… but it was most certainly not, as they were barely clothed and Kyle still felt a little like jello.

"You weren't complaining a few minutes ago!" Stan twitched a little as Kyle purposefully aimed for a ticklish spot, and then he rolled off of the other boy. His feet hit the floor with a thunk and then he rose, turning to offer the redhead a hand up, even if it was… somewhat sticky.

Kyle wrinkled his nose, but accepted it anyway, as his weren't any better, letting the other boy pull him to his feet. After all, they'd been far dirtier many times before, and for far less spectacular reasons. "No offense, dude, but… I'm gonna go take a shower."

"I'm super-thirsty," Stan replied with an unapologetic grin, turning to head for the kitchen. "But I'll be right behind you."

Kyle watched him go with an affectionate smile, calling after him. "Better be quick – Kenny and Cartman could be back at any time."

Stan turned the kitchen faucet on, leaning to drink from it, listening to the sounds of Kyle upstairs as he swallowed gulp after gulp of water. He took a moment to rinse his hands off and then wandered slowly back to the main room. Their shirts were still sitting in a heap on the floor together, green and blue, and he scooped them up, reflecting on what had just happened between them.

The giant mountain on his shoulders for the last few months had melted away. Everything was finally going to be okay, actually, everything was… really fucking awesome. It was like the time he'd thrown that touchdown against North Park to win the game in overtime plus the time they'd defeated the Wall-mart plus the time they'd score a million in Guitar Hero plus the time he'd beaten Breakdown on Expert (ok, so they'd all been drunk that night, so that might have been luck, but luck was on his side even now!) It was all of that, all wrapped up together, the best sense of I won he'd ever known… and it was all and only because of Kyle.

A grin rose on Stan's face as he took the stairs two at a time, dropping their shirts on the bedroom floor before creeping down the hallway to spy on his SuperBestboyFriend.

Kyle's awkward had melted away for a little while as he peeling off the remainder of his clothes in the bathroom, Stan's touch still lingering on his skin as his mind replayed recent events. Did that really just happen? Taking a step closer to the mirror, he leaned in for a moment to study his own face – flushed cheeks, bright eyes, frizzy hair. The only thing that was different was the enormous shit-eating grin he couldn't seem to keep off of his face. It totally did.

Alone underneath the hot water, Kyle closed his eyes with a sigh and simply owned up to how damn happy he was that it had. It just felt so good to be honest with himself about this, about something so important. love Stan. It was so rare that he let himself truly enjoy something without over-analyzing it and second-guessing it, without worrying what his parents were going to think. But Stan had always been the one constant in his life, the one thing he'd never give up, the one person he always broke the rules for, that was always more important than anything and everything else…

For once, he thought, with a great big grin, he didn't really give a fuck what his parents thought. He'd spent so much time worrying about that and not enough time trying to figure out what he himself wanted. Maybe I ought to try being honest with myself more often

"Kyle?"

"Stan?" Stan's voice at the bathroom door made Kyle jump, but his best friend didn't even give him a chance to respond properly, throwing the door open and walking inside.

"I have to pee – I'm coming in!" Kicking the door shut behind him, Stan swept the pile of clothes off the toilet to do exactly as he'd proclaimed. At this angle, he could watch the crack between the shower curtain and the wall in the mirror, but Kyle wasn't standing close enough to it to reveal anything.

"Gee, thanks for the warning," Kyle muttered back, trying to keep the squeak out of his voice. Crossing his arms over his chest, he took a step back from the curtain nervously. Sure, they'd shared the bathroom a hundred times, seen each other naked on more than one occasion… but it was different now, wasn't it? Does it need to be?

"What, did you want me to wait until I was in the shower to pee?"

"Gross, Stan! And you can't get in the shower with me!"

"Don't start with the false modesty," Stan teased, knowing his best friend's vocal inflections all too well. "You already know how cute I think your ass is."

"STAAN!" Kyle couldn't help but pretend to be mortified, but he wasn't, not really. In fact, Stan's teasing was a turn-on… it always had been. They'd always been flirty with each other, even when it was just between friends… it all made more sense now, their touchy-feely weird little childhood games.

"KY-EL~!" Stan imitated him as he picked Kyle's clothes up off the floor to set them back on the closed toilet seat, surprised when he felt something drop to hit his bare toes. Bending over, he snatched it up quickly, examining it before glancing at the bracelet on his wrist.

Before Kyle could come up with anything wittier to say, the shower curtain was unceremoniously yanked open and he dove to close it automatically. "Hey! Wait! What are you doing?"

Stan laughed at his best friend's modesty, but allowed him to pull it partially closed again in hopes of getting an answer to his question. "What's the deal with the bracelet?" he kept the question gentle, curious, watching the changing expressions on Kyle's face as he held up his wrist. The redhead's hair was slicked back, water running over his pale cheeks as he bit his lip, indecisive.

"I…umm…" Kyle started, their faces only inches from each other, the curtain clenched in one fist at hip height. "It was your birthday gift, but I bought it last summer…"

"I got that… but there's two of them?" Stan now held up the other bracelet by the end between two fingers, raising an eyebrow, forcing Kyle to fess up. He could tell that his best friend was stalling, but that was only further proof that Kyle wasn't telling him the whole story. "Come on, you can't tell me the truth, Ky? The other one's for you, isn't it?"

Kyle blushed as Stan pulled the shower curtain from his hand, grabbing his wrist to tie the other bracelet around it. When his best friend then looked up and smiled warmly at him with those too-blue eyes, Kyle found that he couldn't do anything but tell him the truth, however embarrassing it might be. He might be able to lie to his parents, but never to Stan. "It means… they mean… soulmates," he started, then immediately tried to explain, amend. "I didn't do it right, though – you're supposed to wear it and when it falls off, you find your soulmate. But since I've always known you, maybe it was just a stupid idea…"

Stan cut off Kyle's apologetic rambling by kissing him, one hand curling around his neck and into wet hair to keep him close as lips moved slowly over lips. The idea that he could now do this whenever he felt like it…

"You don't think it's stupid…" Kyle mumbled against Stan's lips in relief, one wet hand resting on his best friend's bare shoulder.

"No…" Stan replied, pulling back to study Kyle's expression with a grain of annoyance. "Not at all… but you still look upset. Kyle, seriously, is something wrong?" Was it possible that Kyle regretted what they'd just done?

"Well, I… " the redhead started, but he couldn't avoid the question, not with Stan still holding onto his hand and staring at him so intently, worry etched in his brow. Kyle sighed and shook his head apologetically. "It wasn't supposed to be like this… I was supposed to give you both of them at the same time, when we were… standing on the beach, overlooking the water! Or… or alone under the starry sky on your birthday! Or…"

"You can't just pretend you gave me both on the top of a mountain in the middle of a blizzard?" Stan asked him with an overly innocent expression that barely concealed his mirth and relief. That'what Kyle is upset about? He actually thought it was pretty adorable that Kyle wanted things between them to be… romantic. But Stan already thought what they had was beyond special, and it had never had anything to do with the scenery.

"Oh…oh, God," Kyle started in horrified realization, remembering the events of the previous day. "That is what I did, isn't it? Gave that to you, confessed, on the top of a mountain, in the middle of a blizzard!" He slapped one hand to his forehead in frustration and tried to pull away from Stan's hold. "I'm an idiot!"

"Kyle, Kyle… stop!" Stan died a little with laughter, then pulled Kyle in for a hug as he watched the offended expression appear on the familiar face. "You're so fucking funny sometimes!" Kyle had always been the fucking funniest person Stan knew, though rarely on purpose. He's so sincere, so opinionated, so particular… so Kyle in a way that just made him Stan's... favorite. "Listen, it doesn't matter where or how it happened, only that it did… s'not like I was any better, telling you when you were passed out in my arms. I'm an idiot too! Just… remember the outcome, okay? That's the only thing that matters in the end."

"And who's really the romantic here?" Kyle couldn't help but tease Stan back a little.

"Definitely you…" Stan deferred, glancing away, his cheeks coloring, but he knew it wasn't entirely true.

Kyle would always remember it just the way it had happened – that he and Stan had proclaimed their Super Bestsoulmate-boyfriendShip from the mountaintop blizzard to naked in the bathroom... that in his most vulnerable moments, whether unconscious or just unclothed, Stan had his back, felt their connection, returned his feelings. …that even if Kyle was obsessive, geeky, neurotic...that Stan wanted him just the way he was, and the same was true in reverse. They were both hopeless for each other. "I love you so much…" Kyle said, suddenly and vehemently, hugging Stan again and not caring at all for the water they were dripping everywhere or their relative state of undress.

Stan laughed, returning the hug, not knowing exactly where Kyle's train of thought had gone, but feeling the sentiment all the same. "I love you too, Ky," but before he could say anything else, they heard a door slam downstairs.

"Oh, shit," Kyle withdrew immediately, pointing. "I'm done, grab me a towel, switch places, hurry!"

Stan laughed as he grabbed the towel and threw it at his best friend before sliding his boxers off to switch places with him in a flurry of limbs. It had been years since he'd found everything to be so damn funny, and he wasn't even high or drunk! Maybe Kyle is just… my ultimate cure. "This is a futile effort, you know."

"Shut up," Kyle hissed, pulling his clothing on his still-wet body hastily and crookedly. He knew that Stan was probably right, and it wasn't as if their friends didn't already know what was going on. Still, he was red as a tomato by the time he yanked open the bathroom door to see Kenny appear at the top of the stairs.

Kenny crowed with laughter the moment his eyes caught sight of the red-faced Jew, and he bounced the last few steps towards him in glee. Kyle's guilt was written all across his face, but the sight of it only intrigued the blond. How far had things gotten between the two super best friends? No matter what, it had probably been hot. After all, it wasn't as if Kenny had never imagined his two very adorable best friends getting it on… "Enjoy that alone time, Kyle?"

Kyle marched towards the bedroom to get a pair of socks, not even dignifying the teasing with a proper answer. "You're a pervert, Kenny."

"Not a label I'm denying," Kenny leaned against the doorframe, watching as Kyle carefully pulled his socks on and just as carefully avoided Kenny's knowing gaze. He was glad to deflect attention away from the subject of where he and Cartman had been for the last few hours, though, and Kyle was making it very easy. "Fatass sent me upstairs to see if you guys were decent… and if you wanted to go tubing."

"Tubing?" Stan called, peeking his head out of the bathroom door as he rubbed at his damp hair with a towel. He grinned unabashedly at Kenny, with not the slightest bit of concern as to whether their friend was speculating about them. Let him. "I was planning to refuse any further mountain ventures after yesterday, but…"

Kenny grinned, raising one eyebrow at Stan's confident aura. If Kyle's tomato-face hadn't given it away, that cocksure grin certainly did. Something had happened while those two had been left alone, that was for certain. "Down in town, at the bottom of the kiddie hill, there's a rope tow for tubing – glorified sledding…"

"We should do something fun our last night here," Kyle agreed, having mostly recovered his composure with the rest of his clothes.

"Fatass wants pizza too," Kenny added, then elbowed Stan as he headed for the stairs. "And I dug the rest of my stash out of my bag."

"Wait, what?" Stan grinned as they followed their friend downstairs, grabbing jackets and hats as they went. "I thought we smoked it all last night?"

"Like I'd ever be stupid enough to keep it all in the same place," Kenny scoffed, stalling in the doorway to look down at the car while his friends were pulling on their boots. He could see Cartman sitting in the driver's seat, but his eyes were closed, his head tilted back. Kenny wondered for a moment if he shouldn't tell his two friends what had happened, but he wasn't sure the truth was worth risking Cartman's wrath or the relative peace of the moment. If it was over already and Scott had skipped town, then it didn't really matter, did it?

"Hurry up, I'm hungry!" Cartman bitched automatically, his head snapping up the moment Kenny yanked the car door open. He watched in the rearview as Stan helped Kyle into the backseat with an oblivious and doting grin and rolled his eyes a little. Now that the confrontation he'd been waiting on for weeks was over, he just wanted to go the fuck home, but it would be too suspicious to bail early. Keeping the attention off of himself was best anyway, unless Kenny had already told them what happened… but that didn't seem likely. He let his eyes slip over to his best friend, but the blond was busy fiddling with his iPod already, and gave no indication that anything was amiss.

Kenny hadn't said a word to them, though, and so pizza led quickly into a hot-boxing of the car as they sat parked in the lot of the tubing hill. He'd chosen a fairly mellow playlist, they'd barely argued over pizza toppings… Stan was in a stupidly almost annoyingly good mood, Cartman had only called Kyle a "money-grubbing dirty Jew" twice… It was actually… a little bit creepy, how well the four of them were getting along.

"So I just feel the need to ask," Kenny started as he re-packed the one hitter and handed it over his shoulder to Stan. "Are you going to give up the goods as soon as we return to South Park, Kyle? You really gonna leave me and Stan alone in our smoking circle?"

Kyle snickered a little, shrugging as Stan leaned in to pass him the hit, then handed him the one-hitter as well. "Two points only make a line, not a circle," he answered, before flicking the lighter to take a drag himself.

"Is that geek humor for yes?" Stan laughed, then poked Cartman in the shoulder. "Kyle's in and you're not?"

Cartman flinched as Stan's touch came too close to the bandage covering the bullet graze from earlier, but Stan was too wrapped up in Kyle to notice. "Whatever," Cartman snapped a little more sharply than he'd intended. He held out his hand for the one-hitter, but Kenny slapped it lightly.

"Gimme a fucking second to reload it," he complained, pretending to be busy about it while he watched the other boy's face with concern. Kenny knew the wound wasn't serious, but he found himself still deeply bothered by it, even hours later.

"Like I haven't spent my whole life being talked into doing things that are no good for me by all of you," Kyle added to his previous statement once he'd caught his breath, then snickered when Stan poked him in the ribs. "Okay, okay, Jesus… it's a yes, Stan."

"I'd feel guiltier if I wasn't convinced that you like when we… corrupt you," Stan's eyebrows waggled and Kyle knew immediately that he was referring to more than just the smoking.

"There are worse things. I don't just mindlessly listen to everything you say, after all."

"Maybe you'd have more fun if you did!"

"Yeah, well, if you listened to me more often, you wouldn't get stuck in horrible classes like Latin," he teased back warningly. "But I won't deny there's a grain of truth in your statement."

"Ouch, low blow," Stan winced. "You know I'm gonna transfer."

"Bickering like you're married again," Cartman sneered, then accepted the one-hitter with a half-second's dubious glance at Kenny. He didn't want to piss the other boy off, but how he could he be expected to not rip on Stan and Kyle when they were acting this fucking gay? It would be like trying to reprogram himself to not enjoy Cheesy Poofs. It just wasn't possible.

"Well, thanks to that infamous egg stunt," Kenny pointed out matter-of-factly as he handed the one-hitter to Cartman. "They could be someday. Married, that is."

This reminder sent Stan and Kyle into mutual fits of laughter, and they finally had to crack the back door open and exit the car to catch a breath of fresh air.

"Good one, dude," Stan finally managed to choke out, rapping his fist against Kenny's window before grabbing Kyle by the hand.

"I had to get an A! You don't know what I had to do to keep that egg alive," Kyle admonished both of them, but he squeezed Stan's hand, following when the dark-haired boy led him off towards the ticket booth. They leaned in close, whispering and teasing in their own SBF language as they walked, and for a moment, Kenny felt a tiny coil of jealousy surface that he usually kept very well-hidden.

"One more?" Cartman asked with a heavy sigh, rubbing lightly at his arm now that Stan and Kyle were gone.

Kenny shifted in his seat to face Cartman, holding out his hand for the one-hitter to re-pack it a last time. "Hey, not to sound patronizing, but… are you up for this?"

For a moment, Cartman wanted to respond sharply and defensively, but when he turned to meet Kenny's gaze, all he saw was the genuine sincerity in those pale eyes, as if Kenny was looking right through him. It'salways fucking creepy when he does that. "I'm… fine," he finally muttered. "I can handle some fucking gay tubing."

Kenny nodded as he flicked the lighter, taking a drag, and then, without really thinking about it, he leaned towards Cartman to pass him the hit.

Cartman froze as Kenny's lips, soft, if a little bit chapped, pressed firmly against his, but he didn't push the other boy away as he had tried the previous night. Instead, he parted his lips, letting Kenny pass him the hit easily, wanting to turn it into something else, but too terrified to make the jump. And if it seemed as though Kenny lingered for a moment too long, well, Cartman assumed that was simply his own wild imagination.

"It'll help with that, a little," Kenny gestured to the bandage hidden underneath Cartman's jacket as he withdrew and then pocketed the one-hitter. He hadn't expected it at all – the hot tug in his gut, when they'd connected just now – and it left him feeling a little more vulnerable than usual, sliding out of the car. The cold was an easy excuse to pull his hood in tight around his face to hide behind, sauntering off after their friends with Cartman a few shuffled steps behind him. I don'even know why did that.

Up ahead, Stan and Kyle had already gotten tubes and joined the short line for the rope tow. Dusk was fast approaching and most of the crowd had tapered off for the night already. The three tracks were slick and icy, just steep enough to work up a decent speed, with a curved wall at the end, like a halfpipe, where the snowplows had piled the excess of groomed snow.

Stan and Kyle turned the first run into a race, running and jumping onto their tubes face-first, with Stan winning by mere inches. Kenny didn't even bother challenging Cartman, but instead spun his tube as he jumped onto it, careening it off the sides of the track like a whirling ping-pong ball. Cartman was the only one to make it all the way to the end of the track, and though he barely even brushed the wall of ice, he gloated about it their entire way back up the rope tow.

In the second round of tubing, Stan and Kyle opted to go together, sitting with their feet in each other's laps. The ride was faster, and spinning this time, and Kenny and Cartman laughed when Kyle screamed shrilly and Stan lost one boot halfway down the hill. They were both laughing when they reached the bottom, though, and dawdled in the tubes while they watched Kenny use his next run to retrieve the boot. Cartman was the last one down again, but after seeing his friends' wild ride, promptly insisted they connect all four tubes the next round.

For the third run, they formed a circle at the top of the hill, Stan's feet in Kyle's lap, Kyle's feet in Cartman's, Cartman's in Kenny's and Kenny's in Stan's. The ride attendant gave them one sharp tug as they crested the hill, and then they were spinning, flying down the track, ice kicking up to sting their faces as all four of them hollered.

Kyle had to close his eyes to keep the ice out, and the moan he heard from Stan's direction worried him that another barfing incident might be coming, but the ride was thankfully too short. The combined weight of their chain sent them sailing down the track and over the flat, then up the wall of ice at the end until Stan's tube was nearly upside-down and it seemed for a moment as if there was no gravity. The look of surprise on his face as he looked down at his three friends was comical, and then his tube came away from the wall, and their entire structure collapsed in on itself, dumping the group of boys more literally into each other's laps.

Kenny and Kyle landed hanging halfway off of the same tube, spinning away from their friends a few feet, but Stan landed in a graceless splay across Cartman diagonally, his knee in a most unfortunate location.

"GODDAMNIT, Stanley, can't you go and be fucking GAY with your boyfriend instead?"

But nothing could take the wind out of Stan's sails today, not even Cartman. Laughing loudly, he leaned over and dropped a loud, wet smack of a kiss on the corner of Cartman's mouth before rolling off. "Oops, shit, now you're really gay too!"

"WHAT! GODDAMN HIPPIE!"

Kyle howled with laughter at Cartman's splutter of outrage and accepted Stan's hand, letting his best friend pull him to his feet. It was excellent to see him turn the tables on Cartman's behavior, and none of them were willing to take his shit anymore. Not after last night. "Come on, one more run before it closes."

"Together?" Stan squeezed Kyle's hand and grinned at him, leaning in to kiss the pink of Kyle's wind-bitten cheek.

Kyle's heart soared to see the utter happiness in Stan's eyes and he grinned, squeezing back. "Together."

Kenny's own heart was still racing from their crash, surprisingly so, and he turned down the last run after Stan and Kyle had pulled him to his feet, dumping his tube at the ticket booth and heading for the car. He wasn't surprised when Cartman followed him, but definitely at what came out of his mouth as he did. "Hey, Kinneh?"

"Yeah?" Kenny leaned against the yellow of the car, trying to look calmer than he felt. What's wrong with me? Maybe need another hit.

"Thanks for not ratting me out to them." There was something odd in Cartman's expression, but Kenny didn't try to call him on it. He had a feeling that he'd have plenty of time for that in the future, the very different future that had started last night.

"If you need me to keep you awake on the ride home…" It wasn't exactly "you're welcome", but it was an acknowledgement of sorts, and Cartman nodded in return before climbing into the car.

It took barely an hour for the four boys to re-pack the car and clean-out their temporary housing, and then they were on the road again, heading back towards South Park in the truck-free dead of night under the sliver of a crescent moon.

Kenny ran the music while his friends dozed in the back, playing everything from their new favorite MCR album to old shit from their childhood to bizarre German techno before finally setting it to shuffle a favorite list of his called "lifestory".

o/~ Here  we  are  and  we  won't  stop  breathing
Yell
 it  out  'til  your  heart  stops  beating ~/o

Kyle woke up just as the sky was beginning to lighten at the edges, barely visible between the tops of the mountains. Stan was snoring lightly, his head in Kyle's lap, and Kenny was slumped to the side in the front seat, leaning against Cartman. Running his fingers through Stan's dark hair, Kyle felt that as the sky got lighter, his heart only grew heavier and heavier. They were already more than halfway home.

I've missed this. I miss us. All of us together.

The feeling of nostalgia swept over Kyle suddenly and sharply as he gazed around the car at his friends, not wanting their trip to be coming to an end. He didn't want to go back home where school would swallow him whole, where they would all be separated far too often, where they'd all fall into their usual habits – whether it be workaholic… or slacker.

"Why is there never enough time for adventures anymore?" Kyle didn't even realize he'd spoken out loud until Stan stirred in his lap, looking up at him sleepily.

"Ky?"

"Or all-night video game marathons?"

"What the fuck are you talking about, Jew?"

Kenny was awake now too, but he chose not to comment, letting Kyle continue the beginnings of his Jew-rant as he sat up and almost automatically started to pack himself a smoke.

"This trip is the first time since Stan's birthday pumpkin thing that we've done anything remotely fun and stupid as a group! Don't you… miss it?" When not a single one of his friends could man up to admit the same, Kyle gave an exasperated noise, turning to look out the window in frustration. How could he possibly address the problem if no one would admit to it?

"I miss it," Stan finally admitted with a shrug as he sat up, rubbing the sleep from one eye before re-adjusting his red poof ball hat.

"It's too goddamn early in the morning for a Jew-rant," Cartman tried to protest again in vain, vaguely uncomfortable with the emotional charge in the conversation that had barely started.

"When did we all get so… so old?" The question came from Kenny this time, out of nowhere, muttered and muffled by his hood, but easily understood by all three of them. He flicked the lighter, but didn't offer it to anyone else just yet.

"I've been old since I was ten, Kenny," Stan made a half-hearted attempt to joke, not certain where the question had even come from, but fell silent when no one answered him. He knew what Kyle was trying to say, but the cynical side of himself didn't believe there was a way to change it. Maybe they were just getting older.

Kyle's voice rose again, but quieter this time, more contemplative. "We should make more time for it, make more time for each other… so we're not just… just talking about the shit we used to do when we were kids, only… quoting yesterdays." Drifting apart.

"Gay, Kahl," Cartman moaned in complaint. "You sound like a bad romcom!"

"I'm never happier than I am when… when it's like this," Kyle gestured around the car, undeterred. "When we can just be ourselves and shit. I know it's a lot my fault, being busy with school and stuff, but… but we used to spend all of our time together, and we haven't been this year, and well… this trip has just proved to me that we all miss that."

"Speak for yourself," Cartman muttered, but it was without venom.

"Dude," Stan snickered, reaching to throw an arm around Kyle's shoulders. "Who says I want to share you with these two?"

"You know what I mean, Stan, most of all," Kyle protested, coloring a little, but thinking of how sad his best friend had seemed over the last few months. "I just think we… we shouldn't take each other for granted. We… could have died up there on that mountain! But you know what? You know what I learned? That in that moment, I didn't even regret it… because I was with all of you. I don't want that to change! It's just made me realize things… and it's about to be a new year… so why can't we just… just…"

"Thought new years were about changes," Kenny said softly.

"Well… can't we just make a resolution to revert? Change back? If it ain't broke…"

"Don't fix it?" Stan finished Kyle's sentence and they both smiled at each other.

"Exactly…"

The song changed as Kyle was speaking, and Kenny's hands shook a little as he flicked the lighter again. "Maybe it's just not possible."

o/~ Ribbons went flying out the window.
As we drove down the interstate
Sex was something so brand new,
It was hard as hell to wait ~/o

"Dude, why would you say that?" Kyle leaned forward in confusion, then concern when Kenny refused to meet his eyes. "What's wrong? It's not like you to be so negative, Kenny…"

"Maybe it's just…too… exhausting, Kyle," Kenny mimicked the concern in his friend's voice, then immediately felt like an asshole when he heard the hurt exhalation of rebuff as Kyle sat back again.

"Dude, what the fuck gives?" Stan asked in annoyance, kicking the back of Kenny's chair hard. "You're usually the one trying to get us all to hang out!"

The words, the speech, the rant, the feelings behind it… it was like a sledgehammer to the head, and Kenny felt like his insides were buzzing. Too many fucking feelings!

Kenny didn't want this weekend to end either – this moment of having the attention of all of his friends again, of seeing Stan and Kyle finally come together, all of them bond… this space where he felt like he mattered, like his thoughts and feelings had value to someone, were remembered by someone…. Like his whole fucked-up life was really real… even if it was also still a sick joke.

He'd missed it, too, all of them together. Sure, there were Golden Corral runs with Cartman, smoking circles with Stan, study sessions or jams with Kyle… but all of them just hanging together? The most time they'd spent together since school started were the car rides to and from school – and lunch, when Kyle wasn't too busy elsewhere.

When, why… did I stop bridging the gap between all of us?

o/~ Every church just made me scared of words like
Sermon, faith and congregation.
In a world with so many answers left,
Why do I need so many explanations?
I get closer to the truth and further from the sky ~/o

Kenny knew the answer to that, but it wasn't important. Not right now. The answer wasn't the reason, anyway. The reason always boiled back to the same thing…

Kenny hated his curse.

He hated drifting through life, never truly involved, never really feeling connected to anyone or anything… observer, outsider, outcast. He didn't know when he'd stopped trying, when escape became easier, faster, than trying to figure out what he'd missed while he'd been gone, what else had been erased to preserve his awful secret. The less he was connected to anything, the less there was to fuck up, or to miss while he was dead.

There was nothing in the world that Kenny wanted more than for all of his friends to know the truth, to stop having to watch their memories and lives be altered by his mere existence… to feel like his life was worth something. To not have every important moment ripped from him and erased, again and again and again.

And now that he knew that Cartman knew the truth? It was like a broken dam, all these things he'd held back spilling forth. All of the desires he'd thought were a waste of time given his situation. He knew it was wrong, that he was being greedy – that he should be grateful simply not to be totally alone in this mess anymore. But he couldn't help but… want more.

Kenny didn't talk a lot, not really. In public, hardly ever – mostly lewd jokes. And even with his friends, fragmented. He was so very used to staying aloof and mysterious. Maybe he only started talking this time because, at the very least, Cartman knew the truth. Maybe that alone would make it all different, somehow. He wanted it to be different, wanted it so badly

"I haven't been afraid to die in years," Kenny started, finally passing the one-hitter back to Stan over his shoulder, still not giving anyone his eye contact. He then started to list his deaths, the public ones, the private ones, the suicides… not even in any particular order. Simply "I've been hit by a car 137 times" and "Shot 87 times…" and "So what do you think is worse, drowning to death, burning to death or freezing to death?" and "Then there was the time with the planetarium…"

It was the most that Stan and Kyle had ever heard Kenny say all at once in all the years they'd known him, and they couldn't interrupt, floored by the honesty as much as the tale. It was as if Kenny was narrating an alternate reality to the one that Stan and Kyle had lived, but it was so vivid, so detailed, that for it to be fiction seemed as improbable as for it to be truth.

"And tonight, when we were all spinning on those tubes – harmless, really, compared to being eaten, blowing up, being electrocuted – I was actually, for just a second, really fucking afraid. Afraid to die. It was the weirdest fucking thing."

Kenny had been talking for almost a half hour now without interruption, and the car was hazy, all of them high, Cartman's eyes fixed on the road as if he'd been mesmerized by the treeline or the curve of the highway. Or maybe he was just sick, having to hear some of the worst parts of his whole life played back at him rapid-fire. "Not weird, self-preservation, normal."

It was the first thing any of them had said to Kenny since he started, and he laughed a little at the interruption, his voice ragged and worn from all that he'd spilled. "Right. Normal. Yeah. People are afraid to die because that's it, the end – it's over. No re-do's, no take-backs, no second chances… everything to lose. But when you can't die, you can't lose, you can always try it again, you're… invincible."

"Hardly," Cartman muttered again, and it was almost as if they were having this conversation alone, because Stan and Kyle were still caught on the precipice between belief and denial.

"But this time, this day, this body… I do have something to lose. What will you forget this time around, when I die? How long do I need to try and stay alive to keep this continuity going? What piece of this precious memory will eventually be warped?"

"Kenny, this just isn't… possible!" Stan finally spoke up to interrupt, hating himself for the words even as he said them, even as he caught Kenny's hurt expression in the rearview.

"Even if you die again, I'm gonna remember, I told you that," Cartman smacked one hand against the steering wheel hard, suddenly angry that Kenny was doubting him. "You can come and talk to me and I swear I'll tell you again. I won't lie anymore!"

Kenny turned to Cartman, reaching to touch the hand on the steering wheel with one bony finger, his eyes giving a grateful smile. "Dude, I know that… but what will they forget? What adventure will I be written out of? How many times do I have to pretend I wasn't there? I can't – I can't pretend I wasn't on this trip."  I kissed Kyle.  I kissed Stan.  Eric…  kissed me. 

What  if  that  all  gets  taken  away?

"You don't have to! Not to me!"

"I DON'T WANT THEM TO FORGET I WAS A PART OF THIS!"

"Kenny…" Kyle's voice rose over the argument as he reached to touch the blond's shoulder, hardly believing what he was about to say. It was completely illogical. People couldn't die and come back again, except for, well, Jesus. But superpowers and all. Wow, maybe I'm seriously losing my mind. Maybe this is all a dream. "Kenny, I… I think I believe you. I mean, I don't remember any of it, but… when I listen to you. I… my mind, but then my heart… I want to believe you."

Kenny let his fingers drag slowly over the knuckles of Cartman's hand before turning to face Kyle, leaning in until his blue eyes could fix on Kyle's green, reading the open honesty in his expression. It was Kyle's desire for them to all be close that had boiled Kenny over in the first place, and he clapped a hand to the redhead's shoulder before speaking again. "I miss it too. Kyle. But it is exhausting… that's why I've drifted. Because every time you guys forget… I miss you all over again."

"Kenny…"

As these words escaped, Kenny suddenly knew what he was going to do next, and only one thing stood in his way. Letting go of Kyle and shifting back into his seat, Kenny glanced over at Cartman and said, even and determined. "Rescind your vote, Eric."

"What?" Cartman snapped sharply, even though he knew Kenny well enough to make a guess as to which vote.

"My right…" Kenny added, then turned, pulling his feet up onto the seat and looking back at Stan and Kyle. "Kyle, I want you to write something in your notebook."

"Umm, okay…" Kyle leaned down to his bag, pulling out a spiral notebook and a mechanical pencil as Kenny glared at Cartman again.

"Rescind your vote, Eric. Don't make me break the code."

"What do you want me to write?" Kyle asked shakily, with no idea where this was going, confused by Kenny's abrupt mood change.

"Actually, give it to Stan first," Kenny instructed, pausing only long enough for it to be handed over. "Okay, Stan, write down… 'Oh My God Kenny'."

"What?" Stan was confused and getting frustrated, deeply upset by the long discussion of horrible deaths. "Oh my God Kenny?"

"Come on, just do it," Kenny pleaded, pulling out his phone to glance at the time before tossing it onto the dashboard. It's still early enough

"Fine," Stan muttered, scribbling the words down in his boyish scrawl.

"Now, Kyle," Kenny pointed. "Write down… 'You bastard'!"

"WHAT?" Cartman suddenly roared, breaking sharply and throwing everyone forward as Kyle penciled the words in his round script, complete with an exclamation mark. "KENNY NO! If you do that now, then they're definitely gonna forget…"

Kenny leaned one elbow on the button to roll down the passenger seat window, icy cold air rushing into the car and blowing out the smoke. "I can't stand sitting around wondering when next I'll die! If I'll die! You remember – why not them?" Kenny yelled back, anger rising at the denial, the lack of support when he needed it fucking most. "Rescind your vote!"

"NO YOU GODDAMN ASSHOLE!"

"I'm gonna do it no matter what," Kenny promised harshly, reaching out to punch Cartman exactly where he was wounded. "Don't make me break the code, DAMNIT!"

"OWWWW YOU FUCKER!"

The pages in Kyle's notebook were fluttering wildly, and he'd had to drop the pencil to grab onto his hat to keep it from flying off. "Stop it, you guys!"

"Shut the window!" Stan yelled, trying to reach past Kenny to hit the button himself.

"Come on, Eric!" Kenny begged, hanging his head out the window like a dog, his hood blowing off as he squinted at the approaching headlights, faster than their dragging speed. The sky was beginning to turn pink, and the less time they had to kill, the more hope he had. "Now or never, Eric!"

There was a long moment where there was nothing but the roar of the wind over the music, and then Cartman growled, bellowing. "Fucking FINE! Ahoy! On the subject of Kenny's right to suicide, I, Eric T. Cartman, rescind my vote and cast it in the other direction. The count is therefore a TIE and the verdict goes UNDECIDED."

Kenny grinned widely, leaning in to speak directly into Cartman's ear. "You better keep driving until you get to my house. Don't stop for anything. No matter what. I'm counting on you." He kissed Cartman's cheek, then withdrew, addressing his two other stunned friends in quick succession, first Kyle "I really love you guys" and then Stan "Don't forget this time – I'm gonna make it spectacular."

And as the music swelled around them, Kenny closed his eyes, grinning and giving them an exploding fist bump sparkle as he fell backwards out the passenger window of the yellow Hummer and into the path of the approaching semi.

o/~ And the static singes the speakers like
A thousand Hymns of inspiration
And the road just winds through the canyon like
A big black snake heading for salvation

and I'm getting closer to the truth
And further from the sky ~/o

"OH MY GOD, KENNY!"

"YOU BASTARD!"

All three of the boys were riveted to the sight of Kenny's body colliding with the front of the semi, and a sickening thud vibrated their car before it rolled underneath the truck with an audible crunch. In the rearview, Cartman could see the trail of blood and innards smeared across a mile of the highway, a shred of orange fabric floating up into the wind.

Stan rolled down the window and retched, and Kyle burst into tears.

"KEEEENNYYYY!" the redhead howled, and as if in response, all of the lights in the car flickered, the music warping into a buzz of static.

How long? How long do have before they reset? Cartman was frantic as he gunned the gas, the car's speed increasing to 70, 80, 90, 100… jetting out in front of the semi and leaving it in the dust. Damnit, Kenny!What am I supposed to do?

"What the hell, man, what the hell…" Stan was muttering in a daze while Kyle continued to bawl hysterically into his hands.

"READ THE NOTEBOOK!"

"What?" Stan said in confusion, one hand still over his unsettled stomach.

"READ THE DAMN BOOK!"

Stan picked the notebook up from where Kyle had dropped it on the floor, the wind still whipping viciously through the car. Flattening the torn page with one hand, he read loudly. "Oh my God, Kenny. You Bastard!"

"That's right!" Cartman said urgently, trying to drive and think and not panic all at the same time. He'd never tried to do this before, in all the years… "Kenny knew you would say that!"

Kyle was rubbing his eyes now, his breath hitching as he asked, "Kenny what?"

"Kenny knew you'd say that, because you always say that! Every time he dies!" Cartman yelled, glaring at Kyle in the rearview mirror. "This has happened before! Come on, you goddamn ginger freak! WHAT JUST HAPPENED?"

"Don't call me a ginger, asshole!" Kyle snapped back angrily. "How can you be such an asshole when Kenny just DIED?"

"YEEEEESSSSSS!" Cartman enthused, pumping a fist as he continued to speed ridiculously through the winding canyons. "SAY IT AGAIN, KAHL!"

"W-What?" Kyle blanched, in shock, trying to process the last hour of his life.

"SAY IT AGAIN YOU GODDAMN GINGER JERSEY JEW!"

"KENNY DIED!"

"AGAIN!"

This is sick. Stan couldn't believe the exchange going on between Kyle and Cartman and he put his hands over his ears. "STOP IT! STOPIT!"

"KENNY DIED!" Kyle yelled again, then gulped a breath of cold air, turning to pry Stan's hands away from his face.

"I KNOW KENNY DIED!"

"He's gonna come back!" Cartman rasped, hoping to keep the fight, the moment, going. If he could just keep them going, keep them here, keep them remembering, then maybe…

But truthfully, they don't really know how it works. Kenny's dead, and he could be gone for – not forever, please, not forever – a day or a week. There's no way Cartman can keep this insanity up for a week!

"Are you insane?" Stan yelled, anger beginning to bloom hot on his face.

"Stan!" Kyle tried, shaking his best friend forcefully. "Just What if! What if, like in every superhero story, every fairytale – WHAT! FUCKING! IF!"

"And what if not!" Stan denied again, even as Cartman began to sing-song from the front seat to a Wizard of Oz tune.

"Ding-dong, Kenny's dead, oh so dead, ve~ry dead~!"

But Kyle wanted to believe. He wanted to believe desperately, because the other options were worse. Not believing meant Kenny was dead and gone forever, crazy bastard… or… or that they'd forget it all, and leave their friend alone again. Or…or forget everything…? Kyle wasn't certain of much, only that everything hinged on this moment. He could feel it like electricity in his veins, sparking. "Pleeease, Stan!" he begged, the lights in the car flickering oddly again. "Just say it with me!"

This was sick and wrong and weird and… and there was no way Stan could say no to Kyle, the person he trusted most in the universe. "Kenny's dead…" he muttered, feeling ill again as he said it.

"Kenny's dead," Kyle echoed, reaching to squeeze Stan's hand, placing his other on Cartman's shoulder.

"Kenny's dead," Cartman agreed, and then he gunned the gas again, a steely glint entering his eyes. Get your poor fucking stupid ass back here, Mysterion.

Kenny's dead…

Kenny's dead…

Kenny's dead…

Kenny's dead…

Kenny's dead…

Kenny's dead…

Kenny's dead…

The sun is just cresting the tops of the mountains; it's barely dawn as they fly into town, hitting the speed bumps on the main drag so hard that Cartman's head knocks the ceiling. They're exhausted, hoarse, close to passing out, and in the backseat, Stan and Kyle are pinching each other to stay awake and focused.

Pikachu clatters over the train tracks and into Kenny's neighborhood, squealing to a stop in front of the ramshackle McCormick house, broken pick-up truck and scattered beer cans in the trash-ridden front yard the same as ever.

It's like dream-walking as they tumble from the car, tripping over themselves in a rush to get to the front door, but once they are there, they all pause, hearts pounding.

What If…

It's illogical, it's improbable…

Cartman raises his fist and pounds on the front door, not giving a flying fuck that it's 7 in the goddamn morning. "KENNY!"

Behind him, Stan and Kyle are huddled together, and Kyle whispers, one more time, in a daze. "Kenny's dead…"

The front door swings open with the squeak of a rusty hinge.

"Hey, guys."

Not impossible.

Cartman's shoulders sag in relief and he steps back to let Kenny out the front door, his orange parka the same as ever, the scruffy blond hair, the crystal clear sky blue eyes… "You fucking asshole!" Cartman grabs his best friend and hugs him so tight that he squeaks. He might be crying, but no one better fucking call him on it.

"Holy shit, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…" Kyle is hyperventilating and crying again too and then he's touching Kenny, running fingers through his hair, trailing a hand down his arm to squeeze his hand, reassuring himself that this is real, that Kenny is real and he died but he's standing here now.

"Kenny…" Stan finally chokes out in wonder when he remembers to breathe, hugging Kenny from behind, then wrapping an arm around Kyle, the other around Cartman to complete the circle enclosing their friend. His eyes flicker around to each of his friends in turn until they meet Kenny's.

Kenny smiles, hardly daring to believe what he's about to hear. He's been waiting for it his whole damn life, he thinks. "Stan?"

Their world has just been rocked. "I believe you, dude."

o/~ Cause you only live forever in the lights you make
When we were young we used to say
That you only hear the music when your heart begins to break
We are the kids from yesterday ~/o