Waking up naked and pressed between two warm bodies in an unfamiliar room was not something that happened to Kyle, ever. He was only seventeen, had nothing resembling a sex life and no memories of how he came to be in this position, and the fact that his best friend was one of the naked people who was clutching at him under the blankets was a very small comfort, because the other one appeared to be Craig Tucker.


"Stan!" Kyle said, shooting up in bed between them, his naked shoulders met with frigid cold. Stan and Craig both awoke as if to gunfire, springing into action. Stan threw his arm across Kyle's chest and scanned the room. Craig jumped up like a cat evading bathwater, his flaccid prick nearly slapping Kyle in the face.

"What is it?" Stan asked, still looking around the room frantically as he leaned over to dig something out from between the mattress and the bed frame: a gun. He pointed it at the four corners of the room like he expected to find someone worth shooting.

"What the fuck?" Kyle said, shouting now. Stan turned to frown at him.

"The way you said my name," Stan said. He was breathing hard, the gun still raised. "I thought—"

"Did you have a bad dream?" Craig asked sweetly, crouching down to hug Kyle's shoulders.

"Get off of me!" Kyle said, and he lurched onto Stan, crawling over him. The room was filthy, littered with trash and crumpled clothing that Kyle tripped over as he made his way toward the door, searching for something that looked like whatever he'd been wearing before he got into that bed. There was nothing, so he covered his privates with his hands when he turned back to the bed, where Stan and Craig sat staring at him as if they were only mildly perplexed by the situation they'd woken up to.

"What the fuck is going on?" Kyle asked. "Why are we — where — is this my room?" It was only vaguely recognizable as such, olive green paint peeling off the walls and the carpet completely covered up by piles of clothes and trash. It was also freezing, cold enough to make Kyle's cock shrivel up against his palm. He could see his panted breath in the air.

"What the fuck did you do?" Stan asked Craig, grabbing him by the throat.

"Nothing!" Craig said, choking. He made no attempt to pull Stan's hand off or fight back, just dropped his shoulders back and peered up at Stan with wide, terrified eyes.

"Bullshit! You drugged him or something."

"I didn't!"

"Then why is he freaking out?" Stan pointed the gun at Craig, who whimpered and shook his head, struggling for breath.

"Stop!" Kyle screamed, and Stan let go of Craig. "What the hell are you doing?" Kyle asked, his voice shaking from the temperature of the room and his resultant shivering, which was amplified by his fear and confusion, making his shoulders convulse.

"Get back in bed, honey," Stan said. "You'll freeze your ass off."

Kyle shouted in wordless exasperation. Cartman had to be behind this somehow, but Stan would never go along with some joke that fat ass tried to pull on him.

"You'd better be fucking sure about not knowing why he's acting like this," Stan said to Craig, turning the gun on him again.

"Stan, I swear!" Craig said, starting to weep. "I'd never hurt you guys!"

"Oh, bullshit. You'd do anything those assholes ask you to, and everyone here knows it."

"But they didn't ask me to, I promise! They know they'd be fucking dead if they tried to hurt Kyle! He's just sleepwalking or something!"

"Who trashed my room?" Kyle asked, shaking so hard now that he could barely speak. Stan groaned and got out of bed, pulling one of the blankets with him. There was a massive collection of them on the bed, and they all looked ragged and unwashed.

"Baby," Stan said softly when he came to Kyle, and Kyle stood in shock, letting Stan wrap him into a blanket and rub his shoulders. "Are you awake now?"

"Stan!" Kyle's voice cracked pitifully, and he choked out a sob. "What's happening? Why is Craig here? Why are you — why were we—"

"Jesus, he's really freaking out!" Craig said, still blubbering a little. Stan gave him a hateful look.

"Shut up," he said. "Put your clothes on and go downstairs. He's just fucked up from that stuff Larry gave him last night. You're okay," he said, turning back to Kyle and stroking his face with gentle fingers. "You're just high."

Kyle sobbed again, and let Stan hug him against his chest while Craig hurried to dress. The room smelled terrible, like rotten food and sweat, and something else that made Kyle think of the smell under his bedsheets after a wet dream.

"I hope you feel better, buddy," Craig said as he passed them on the way to the door, touching Kyle's back. Stan slapped Craig's hand away. Craig cowered. He was wearing a ridiculously tight sweater, tight pants that showed the bulge of his dick, and a floor-length fur coat that was draped over his shoulders like a cloak. There was something incredibly pathetic about the way he slumped out of the room while Stan stared him down.

"Okay," Stan said when he was gone. "Come on, over here. Get under the blankets with me—"

"No!" Kyle said, resisting Stan's attempt to pull him there. "Tell me what the fuck is going on!" Kyle shouted. "Why are you acting so calm about this?"

"About what?" Stan asked. He picked up a dirty pair of jeans from a pile of clothing and shook them out. "Are these mine or yours?" he asked.

"I don't know!" Kyle said. "What — what — where are my parents?" he asked, lowering his voice. His mother would murder him for the room alone, forget about the fact that Craig was ambling downstairs in a mink coat and Stan was still naked.

Stan studied Kyle for a while, frowning and holding the pair of jeans.

"Parents?" he said. "What the fuck are you talking about? The birth givers?"

"The buh — Stan, is this some kind of fucking game to you? What are you trying to do to me? Birth givers? This isn't fucking Smileytown, okay?"

"Not Smileytown?" Stan said, his frown deepening.

"That game we played as kids — look, just tell me one thing. Did we — ah, Jesus." Kyle pulled the blanket around himself more tightly, still shaking hard. "Did we have sex last night?" he whispered, his face going red as he asked. Stan scoffed.

"Wow, you really were wasted," he said. "Yeah, Kyle. We had a fuckload of sex last night."

"With Craig?"

"Yeah, dude, you nailed him like three times. Shit, what time is it? We need to take him back over to the Mansion before we violate some fucking treaty. Go get in bed, I'll bring you some Kool Aid."

"Kool Aid?"

"Kyle, you're starting to freak me out," Stan said. He started stepping into the jeans and cursed, pulling them back off. "These are yours."

"I'm freaking you out?" Kyle was hyperventilating, so lost that he barely had the wherewithal to ogle Stan's dick, which looked very different than it had last time Kyle had caught sight of it. It was big and heavy-looking, despite the cold air.

"Well, at least you're staring at my cock," Stan said. "That's a good sign."

Kyle looked up at him, mortified, but Stan was grinning. He had stubble on his cheeks and chin, and his hair was longer than it had been yesterday, hanging in his eyes.

"I don't understand," Kyle said. "How did all of this begin?" Kyle had done plenty of thinking about it over the years, but he'd never come close to making a move on Stan, let alone Craig Tucker.

"Baby, you're really starting to worry me," Stan said.

"Why do you keep calling me that?" Kyle asked, though it was the only thing about whatever was happening that was more confusing than disturbing.

"'Cause it's what I always call you." Stan reached for Kyle and he flinched, remembering the way Stan had suddenly manhandled Craig. Stan's hands froze in mid-reach, and he leaned in closer. "Fuck," he said. "You're not. It's not you."

"What are you talking about?" Kyle asked. He touched his face, afraid to find something else out of place, but everything seemed to be in order.

"Your scar," Stan said, his fingers brushing Kyle's cheek. Kyle didn't flinch this time, just stood there trembling inside the blanket. "Where's your scar?" Stan asked.

"What scar?"

"Oh, fuck." Stan stepped back, his eyes widening. "Fuck me. You're that other Kyle."


"From - from when we were kids. From the portal." He hurried back to Kyle, grabbing him by the shoulders. "Where is he?" he asked. "Where's my Kyle?"

"What are you talking about?" Kyle asked, crying. Stan quickly softened, his grip on Kyle's shoulders slackening, though he didn't release him.

"Did you come through the portal?" Stan asked.

"What portal?" Kyle asked. He sniffled and wiped his face dry with the blanket.

"We've met before," Stan said. "Don't you remember? When our Cartman ended up in your world."

"Nice Cartman?" Kyle said. "Oh. I thought. I guess I thought that was all just some game we played as kids." He was able to live with a lot of his memories of childhood this way, but he could never escape the nagging feeling that most of that stuff had actually happened.

"I can send you back," Stan said. "But it won't be easy, and I'm not doing anything until I figure out where my Kyle is."

"I don't understand," Kyle said. "How did I get here? I just went to bed last night, there was that storm-"

"You had a storm in your world, too?" Stan released him and went to the bed, where he dug a pair of boxer shorts out from under the blankets, giving Kyle a distressingly candid but not unwelcome view of his ass in the process.

"Yeah." Kyle made himself look away while Stan put on his underwear. "It was a bad storm, lots of lightning." Every time the thunder woke him, Kyle had wished Stan was with him. He was no longer afraid of thunderstorms, but he still preferred not to be alone when they rattled the house.

"This is so fucked up," Stan said. "Take off your hat, let me see something."

Kyle made no move to do so, because his ushanka was his only armor in this evil place, but he didn't stop Stan from taking the hat off. Stan shook his head and ran his fingers through Kyle's curls.

"Motherfucker," Stan said. "Your hair."

"What about it?"

"It's long. My Kyle buzzes his hair short." Stan moved closer, stroking Kyle's hair more slowly. "I wish he wouldn't. I love this fucking hair."

"Well, I'm sure we can get this sorted out," Kyle said, stepping away from him. He was still Stan, but he just wasn't quite Kyle's Stan, and it seemed obvious now. "Let's just go to this portal of yours and head over to my world so we can find your Kyle-"

"You're so sure he's there?" Stan said. "What if he's not? What if something happened to him, oh, God-"

"He fell asleep with you and Craig last night, didn't he?" Kyle said. "Right here, in the bizarro version of my bed. So it stands to reason that we just swapped places somehow."

"Fine, but going to the portal isn't that easy," Stan said. "We don't get access to the portal unless we agree to align with Butters."

"Butters?" Kyle laughed hoarsely, trying to imagine Butters in this backward place. "Why should he tell us if we can use the portal or not?"

"Because he and his men guard it with their lives," Stan said. "It's their only source of power. Their bargaining chip, like our guns."

"Our guns?" Kyle said. He moaned and went over to the bed to sit down, his knees beginning to tremble too violently to support his weight. Stan pulled a blanket around his shoulders and sat beside him.

"These guns are the only reason we're not Butters' slaves," Stan said, picking up the one he'd pointed at Craig and tucking it back under the mattress. "Though I guess we might have also gotten scooped up by Clyde and Tweek."

"Clyde and Tweek?" Kyle pulled the blanket around himself more tightly, beginning to shiver. "Why is it so fucking cold in here? Don't you have power?"

"Nope," Stan said. He rubbed Kyle's back, trying to warm him. "They cut that shit off when we got rid of the birth givers."

"Got rid of them?" Kyle said. "Do I want to know how?"

"We used their own laws against them," Stan said.

"I think we did something similar," Kyle said, remembering Smileytown and Treasure Cove. "But we - yours never came back?"

"No," Stan said.

"Don't you miss them?"

"All they did was use us for free labor," Stan said. "They gave themselves the authority to do it, and we took it away. Look." He stood, visibly flustered and avoiding Kyle's stare. "We'd better make an appearance downstairs quick. We can't have Craig going back to those goons and telling them that you've gotten weak in the head."

"Why can't we?" Kyle asked. "And where did we get all these guns, anyway?"

"From my uncle Jimbo's arsenal," Stan said. "The whole basement's full of firearms. Some crossbows, too, and a grenade launcher that we don't really know how to use. Butters and those guys don't know that, of course. Get up, c'mon," he said, pulling on Kyle's arm. "At least you can get dressed while I explain things to you. You're shaking like a leaf. Poor baby," he said, but he looked away sadly, as if he was thinking of the other Kyle.

"So you and your Kyle, uh," Kyle said, casting about for a place that looked like it might house clean underwear: no place did. "You're. Together?"

"Of course we're together," Stan said. "We're soul mates. And he's my master."

"Your master?" Kyle was feeling queasy, still unable to locate underwear. There were a couple of crusty-looking, frigidly cold pairs laying on his dresser, which was covered with food wrappers and drinking glasses that were growing mold, but he was not going to wear these underwear, because they were dirty, small, and there were floss-like thongs where the ass part should be.

"Yeah, Kyle is master of this house," Stan said. "He tells us all what to do, and he's responsible for negotiating with the warring factions. You're going to have to pretend to be him, you know, until I can get him back. It would mess everything up if they knew you were the soft Kyle from the soft universe."

"Don't call me soft," Kyle said, glowering at him. "Aren't there any clean goddamn underwear in this place?"

"Shelly's doing the laundry today," Stan said. "Here, these look clean enough." He plucked a bright blue thong from the dresser.

"I'm not wearing that," Kyle said, beginning to fear what the rest of his wardrobe would look like.

"Fine, go without," Stan said. "Here's your pants." He tossed Kyle the jeans he'd tried to put on earlier. "Aren't you the master of your Stan?" he asked, and the question was so stupid that Kyle laughed.

"No," he said. He pulled the jeans up and buttoned them over his bare cock, which was an odd and uncomfortable sensation.

"Oh, I see," Stan said. "Everything's reversed in your world. He must be your master."

"No!" Kyle said.

"Is your Stan dead or something?"

"Of course he's not dead! In our universe don't go waving guns around at people before we're even properly awake."

"Then why aren't you bonded?" Stan asked.

"Bonded?" Kyle grimaced at the term. "Well, we are, but we're just friends. My Stan is straight. And as far as he knows, I am, too."

"What do you mean 'straight'?"

"Seriously, dude? He likes girls!"

"Gross," Stan said, making a face.

"Uh, yeah. My thoughts exactly, but his not so much. Anyway, fuck, can I get a shirt or something?" Kyle had his arms crossed over his chest, trying to hide his nipples, which he was self-conscious about. They were roughly the color of his hair and kind of on the big side, he'd always thought, for a boy's.

"Here you go," Stan said, picking up a burgundy turtleneck and a leather vest that almost looked like a corset. "These are my Kyle's favorites. He would have worn them today, since we're going out."

"Going out?" Kyle took the turtleneck and vest, holding them miserably at arm's length. "Where are we going? And why's it so important for me to pretend to be your usual Kyle?"

"We're in a very delicate political situation right now," Stan said. He sighed and found a shirt for himself. It was a white and green checked flannel that looked like something Kyle's Stan would wear, and it made him horribly homesick as he put on the turtleneck, which was, of course, tight as all fuck. "There are two camps who've styled themselves as competitors for town leadership," Stan said. "Kyle has been playing them against each other for years, because they both want our weapons. We're going to end up ruling this town ourselves if it all works out, but in order for it to work out, I need the real Kyle back. He's the mastermind. He doesn't tell me everything, you know. In case I'm tortured."

"Tortured?" Kyle's stomach flipped over, and he paused in the midst of sliding on the vest, which was ridiculously femme, the kind of thing that called to mind those hateful metrosexual days. "What the hell kind of place is this?"

"It's Smileytown," Stan said, gravely. "We merged with Treasure Cove back during the dark season. That's when the treaty was established, but it won't last forever. Butters is itching to take over, and Clyde and Tweek think they've got enough resources to compete. There's going to be a war, man, and I want you out of here before it starts."

"Jesus Christ," Kyle said. "Believe me, I want that, too." He looked down at the vest and groaned, trying to figure out how to do it up.

"Here," Stan said, taking the laces from his hands. "Let me do it."

"So how should I act?" Kyle asked. "If I'm supposed to pretend everything's normal? God, it's impossible. Nothing here is fucking normal!"

"It's normal for us," Stan said. "Just act like you're really hungover and grumpy. You can be silent if you want - it's your prerogative. Maybe not too silent, 'cause I really don't want Craig gossiping about this to them. Fuck, but of course he will. Last night, Larry gave you some homemade liquor to drink, and you could blame how you acted this morning on that. I drank some, too, but, well. My Kyle is a lightweight."

"You'd better tell me whatever else happened last night, too," Kyle said, blushing as Stan cinched the vest tightly. It at least provided enough armor to hide his stiff nipples. Stan smirked at him.

"Curious about that, are you?" he said.

"Well, Craig will expect me to remember some of it, won't he?" Kyle said, frowning. "Unless I was totally wasted the whole time."

"No, you didn't seem wasted," Stan said. "Well, let's see. Where to start. Craig was on loan to us for the night. He's a gift from Clyde and Tweek to try to sway us in their favor. They sort of co-own him."

"Oh, God," Kyle said. "This is some fucked up shit right here." He wanted Stan with him, the real Stan, to get indignant and come up with a better plan than the only one that Kyle had so far, which was to go along with whatever these crazy fuckers proposed.

"So, Token dropped Craig off last night," Stan said. He was finished with Kyle's vest, tying the laces into a bow over his breastbone. "And he joined us for dinner, which was potato pancakes and deer jerky, like always. Larry busted out this special moonshine for the occasion, and me and Kyle — me and you, I guess — we drank some, and Larry did, too. He was talking about giving some to Ike, but you wouldn't let him."

"Ike?" Kyle said, heartened by the thought of his little brother. "What's he like here?"

"Uh," Stan said. "You'll see in a minute. Anyway, you got tipsy and took me and Craig upstairs. We spit-roasted him first, naturally-"

"What does that mean?" Kyle asked, so hot across his cheeks that the chill of the room receded somewhat. Stan frowned.

"I thought you said you were into guys?"

"I am!" Kyle said. It was the first time he'd ever told anyone so. He suffered sleepless nights about how he would come out at home, but here it seemed almost irrelevant. "But I don't know all the fucking terminology, okay? I'm, you know. A virgin."

"Oh," Stan said, and he actually blushed a little, which made Kyle rear back in surprise. "Um, well. Spit roasting is when there's one guy in the middle -"

"Of course," Kyle said, feeling stupid. He shrugged angrily. "I have seen porn."

"Yeah," Stan said. "Well, good. Anyway, after that, you tied Craig up, made him beg you to let him come, you know, that kind of stuff."

"Oh, God!" Kyle covered his eyes with his hands to fight off this mental image, though it was making his cock a little stiff. Craig was good looking in both universes. "I can't do this."

"Yes, you can!" Stan took Kyle's wrists and pulled his hands away. "And this isn't even the hard part. Look, whatever, we fucked Craig twelve ways to Sunday. He's not going to grill you about the details. Craig isn't going to grill anyone about anything - he's the lowest sub in established society, except maybe Cartman."

"Oh, Christ, please tell me I've never done anything with Cartman!"

"No," Stan said, making a face. "You can't stand that sap."

"Thank God for universal truths."

"We'd better go down," Stan said. "Just follow my lead. Nobody here is going to give you a hard time. It's the drop off at Clyde and Tweek's later that we have to worry about. And - God - let's just hope Butters doesn't want an audience with us until you've gotten a little more accustomed to the way things work here."

"I don't think I could ever get accustomed to this," Kyle said, scowling at a pair of dirty socks when Stan offered them. "Please tell me my shoes aren't all fruity, too."

"Fruity?" Stan said. "Hell no." He went over to the door, where a pair of calf-high black boots had been wildly strewn, as if the person taking them off had something against them. They were workmanlike and splattered with mud in places, but there was something gay about their butchness. Since his sexuality was still his dearest secret at home, Kyle went out of his way to never dress in anything conspicuous; even ironed pants on special occasions made him feel exposed. He sat down among the clutter of trash on the floor and started lacing up one boot while Stan worked on the other.

"Will I have to cut my hair?" Kyle asked. "Since your Kyle wears his short?"

"Nah," Stan said. "Nobody ever sees you without the hat." He looked up and grinned in a way that cut a trail through Kyle's nervousness. "Except me."

"My Stan shaves every day," Kyle said, not sure why he felt he needed to mention this. "And his hair is shorter."

"That guy's a prick," Stan said. "I've met him."

"You - he's not a prick! You must have thought I was one, too."

"Well, you wanted to steal our Cartman."

"I thought we hated him! I mean, that you two did - do-"

"Of course, but we missed ragging on him," Stan said. "That was a long time ago, though. Things have changed. Well, Cartman still sucks, but we don't just pick on each other anymore."

"You mentioned the 'dark season,'" Kyle said, and Stan looked up at him, his eyes shadowed by his bangs, which were so long that they were starting to curl a little.

"That was when the older kids tried to take over," Stan said.

"Older kids? What happened."

"Nothing," Stan said tightly. "We took care of it. They're gone now. C'mon." He stood and offered Kyle his hand. Kyle allowed himself to be pulled up, and he dropped the subject of the dark season. He didn't need to know what these twisted people had done to each other. He just needed to get out of here as soon as possible. He allowed Stan to help him into a slim, military-style jacket that was surprisingly warm. Kyle was glad to cover up the vest.

When Stan had located marginally acceptable socks, he put on his own boots, which were shorter and brown. Kyle knelt down to help him lace them, and Stan laughed.

"What?" Kyle said.

"Nothing, just. It's funny. My Kyle would never do this."

"Would never do what? Help you tie your shoes? Well, you just did it for me. Would you not have done that for him?"

"I would have done both his boots, dude," Stan said, still smiling like this was some joke that Kyle was failing to understand.

"Oh, I get it," Kyle said, though he didn't really. "This is some kind of sex slave role play thing. Yuck."

"It's not role play," Stan said, the smile draining from his face. "This is our life."


"Well, congratulations." Kyle stood, letting Stan do the rest of his left boot up himself. "Let's just get this over with."

They walked downstairs, where the house was slightly warmer but just as filthy. It made Kyle's heart ache to see the living room where he had lit Menorah candles with his parents and read storybooks to Ike in such a state. The couch cushions were split open in places, stuffing spilling out, and the TV had been pushed off the cabinet where it used to sit, both now being used as countertops where dripping animal skins were drying. The house smelled like blood and mold, and the kitchen was only slightly better, reeking of some cleaning material that Stan's sister was using at the sink. She wasn't scrubbing dishes; she was rubbing a shirt across a washboard, a collection of already cleaned laundry drying on wire hangers that were perched precariously along the top of the pantry door and on the backs of chairs.

Craig was at the stove, which had been crudely hollowed out and transformed into a wood burning apparatus, accounting for the warmth in the kitchen. Ike was sitting at the kitchen table, humming to himself and playing with his napkin, folding it into abstract origami. There was a hulking blond man beside him, and he didn't look happy. Kyle recognized him as Larry Feegan, the wimpy kid who'd courted Shelly and died when they were in fourth grade. Apparently an existence without parents had been good for him, at least in the sense that he was still alive. He was cut and enormous, with a woolly blond beard and greasy hair.

"Stan," Larry said. "Where the hell is your laundry? You gonna make your sister sort through that heap of shit upstairs to find your boyfriend's butt floss?"

Kyle was sweating, not sure if he should act like some sort of domineering bastard in response to this. Shelly turned from the sink and spoke before he could decide.

"It's fine, Larry, really," she said. "I don't mind."

"Thanks, love," Stan said. Apparently he had a nickname for everyone in this universe. He walked over to the sink to kiss Shelly's cheek, and she smiled at him sweetly. Kyle could barely contain his stuttering disbelief, though he supposed he shouldn't be surprised, since everything was oppositesville here. He stared at Ike, who was watching him with big, unquestioning eyes. There was something feral about him, and Kyle got the sense that Ike could tell that he wasn't the Kyle who went upstairs to spit roast Craig last night.

"Are you feeling better?" Craig asked, turning from the stove. His fur coat was draped over one of the chairs at the table, and he'd replaced it with an apron. He seemed to be making pancakes of the potato variety.

"I'm hungover as fuck," Kyle said, trying to make his voice sound gruff, maybe overdoing it. He remembered, suddenly, that he was a terrible actor. He could feel Stan go tense beside him. "What'd you put in that stuff?" he asked Larry, narrowing his eyes at him.

"Fermented corn mash, bitch, what the hell do you think?" Larry said. "It's not my fault you're a lightweight."

"Don't fight," Shelly said, while Kyle fretted over how he should respond to that.

"Here, honey," Stan said, pulling out a chair for Kyle. All of the chairs looked fairly worn, as if they'd been gnawed by termites, but this was the nicest one. Kyle sat and put his elbows on the table, holding his head in his hands to give the appearance of a bad headache. He'd never actually been hungover; he'd had beer with Stan a few times, but hadn't managed to swallow enough of the foul tasting stuff to get drunk.

"Craig insisted on cooking," Larry said when Stan sat down, too.

"I'm an excellent cook," Craig said. "I do all the cooking for the main four back home. You know, they don't trust any of the lower people not to poison them."

"And that makes you a great cook?" Kyle said. "That you don't poison them?"

Stan smiled at him as if this was an authentic thing for his Kyle to say.

"Well," Craig said, wilting, and Kyle felt badly. The guy was a total melvin, and though Kyle hated Craig's personality back home, this one was making him depressed. "You'll see," Craig said, serving Kyle a pancake and placing a fork down beside the plate. The fork had brown rust coloration on the handle but seemed mostly clean. Stan grabbed Kyle's wrist when he reached for it.

"Shel," Stan said. "Were you watching him the whole time he cooked?"

"I was," Larry said.

"I asked my sister," Stan said. Kyle's head was spinning from Stan's lack of trust in apparently everybody, except for Shelly, who turned from the sink.

"I watched him do the batter," she said. "And I've had my eye on him. Don't worry, you can eat. And please, Stanley, you know Larry would never let you come to harm."

Stan and Larry stared at each other for a long moment, jaws locked. Kyle wanted to put his head down on the table and close his eyes tightly enough to make all of this go away, but he was also starving, so he picked up the fork and dug into the pancake.

"It's pretty good," he said, and he wondered if that was wrong, if this 'master' Kyle guy would never compliment the cooking skills of the lowly Craig Tucker. Craig stood at the stove, holding a half-melted spatula with both hands, beaming while he watched Kyle chew.

"Hurry up and serve the rest of us," Larry said, and Craig did.

Everyone else ate their potato pancakes with their hands, including Ike, who also licked the grease from his fingers when he was done. He caught Kyle staring at him and held his gaze. There was something vaguely brain damaged about his demeanor, though he seemed alert.

"Okay, Ike?" Kyle asked, not knowing where to begin with him. Stan paused in mid-chew and looked at Ike, too.

"Cookie monster," Ike said, plainly.

"Business as usual," Larry said with a grunt that was a little too much like a laugh for Kyle's liking. He gave Stan a look of desperate confusion, and Stan shook his head almost imperceptibly, warning him to shut up about it for now.

"Are you guys going to take the Tundra over to the Mansion?" Shelly asked. She was still at the sink, scrubbing away.

"I guess so," Stan said. "I still don't see why they can't pick him up themselves."

"They want to talk to you on their turf," Larry said.

"Well, I just hope the fucking Tundra has enough gas to get us there," Stan said. He stood and put his dirty plate on the counter, where other dirty plates were stacked. "And they'd better be willing to give us enough gas to get back."

"I'm sure they will," Craig said. "You guys have shown me such a nice time!"

"Stan choked you," Kyle said in disbelief, looking up from his plate. This made Larry laugh.

"Just what the doctor ordered, eh, Tucker?" he said, poking Craig's arm with his fork.

"Oh, that was just a misunderstanding," Craig said, muttering.

"That's right," Stan said. "And we'd appreciate your discretion about all that." He mumbled this as if he knew that asking Craig not to talk about it was pointless.

"Of course!" Craig said.

After eating, Craig did the dishes and Stan asked Kyle to come out to the garage and hold the funnel while he gassed up the Tundra, which was a snow mobile with a fully enclosed front seat that only looked big enough for two. The garage was somehow cleaner than the rest of the house, though cluttered.

"This was Jimbo's, too," Stan said, nodding to the Tundra. He got a funnel from a bench on the right wall that was covered with rusting tools. Kyle took it, wishing he had some gloves or a bigger coat. Stan had put his on before coming out, and it was a couple of sizes too big for him, ugly and brown with a giant hood.

"What the hell is wrong with my brother?" Kyle asked, whispering.

"Don't know," Stan said. "Seems like he knows what's going on, but he doesn't talk much, and when he does what he says doesn't make any sense. Shelly toilet trained him and all that, so he can take care of himself, sort of. We just let him do his own thing, make sure he eats, you know."

Stan was pouring the gas into the funnel as he said this, Kyle keeping it steady as it streamed into the Tundra's tank.

"He probably has post traumatic stress disorder," Kyle said. "From losing his parents at such a young age."

"He's better off with us," Stan said.

"Oh, really? Don't you think he'd like to have heat in his house, maybe running water, something to eat other than potatoes?"

"Man, you don't know anything," Stan said, and Kyle expected some further explanation, but he got none. Before he could ask anything else, Craig stepped out in the garage, wearing his fur coat and a pair of ridiculously large sunglasses with bright white frames.

"Brrr!" Craig said, walking over to stand close to Kyle. "Sure is cold out today."

"This is nothing," Stan said. He tapped the gas container against the funnel, getting the last drops out. "Winter's just getting started. And that's the last of the gas." He tucked the container into a trunk on the back of the Tundra. "Hope you're right about your owners' further generosity," he said to Craig.

"I'm right," Craig said. "They really like you guys. They want you in our camp!"

"Yeah, I know they do," Stan said. "But not because they like us." He looked at Kyle. "You ready?" he asked.

Kyle was definitely not ready, but Craig was watching, so he nodded. Stan opened the passenger side door and Kyle climbed in first. Craig followed, basically sitting in his lap, and Stan got behind the wheel.

"You're in for a treat, Mr. Tucker," Stan said. He fished a key that was tied to a shoelace out of his coat pocket and stuck it in the ignition. "The heater on this baby still works."

"Oh, wow!" Craig said, clapping. "The one in our car broke years ago."

Kyle was so cold that he felt like clapping, too, and he didn't lean away when Craig cuddled up against him, the collar of the fur coat tickling Kyle's jaw.

"Hold on to your butts," Stan said, and he pressed the button on a garage door opener that was clipped to the dash. The garage opened with an angry grumble, the springs squeaking so loudly that Kyle winced. Outside, the landscape was nothing but white, the driveway and the street unpaved. Kyle clutched at Stan's arm instinctively, terrified of what waited for him in such a blank-looking world. Stan smiled over at him and shifted the gear into drive.

"Still okay?" he asked Kyle, who wanted to shout that he'd never, at any point since waking up in bed with these two, been okay.

"Sure," he said, and they were off.

Kyle couldn't remember the last time he'd fallen asleep fully clothed. More distressing, Stan wasn't wrapped around him in his usual blanket-like fashion, and was nowhere to be found when Kyle's hand slid across the mattress. Kyle was hungover, his head pounding, and not in the mood for this bullshit. Craig had probably whined until Stan escorted him to the bathroom, where Craig would certainly attempt some sort of seduction, which Stan would possibly indulge. Kyle sat up and blinked at the empty room.

"What the fuck?" All of his stuff was gone. The floor was clear, completely cleaned off, and the supplies he guarded most dearly were no longer stacked up in the corners of the room. Even the top of dresser had been cleaned off, only a few picture frames and a notebook sitting atop it. Kyle bolted out of bed, further alarmed by the unfamiliar clothing someone had dressed him in: flannel pants and a green t-shirt that said SOUTH PARK COWS in yellow letters. He squatted down, his breath already ragged with panic, and reached under the mattress to see if whoever had robbed him had taken his gun, too. They had.

He stayed close to the ground, not sure how long he'd been knocked out. He knew he should be grateful that he wasn't bound to the bed, knew that he should shove on the pair of boots that were waiting by the door and scurry out the window, but whoever had taken control of the house had his balls in a vice without needing to tie him up. They had Stan.

Kyle gritted his teeth and punched the mattress. He should have seen Craig as the Trojan horse that he'd obviously been. The little shit had seemed harmless, a fuck toy who could scarcely tie his shoes without the help of not just one but two Masters, and it had felt impossible that he could be anything more than a simple gift intended to curry favor. Kyle hit the bed again, growling under his breath. He'd been so sure that he had all the angles neatly worked out, that he was close to winning the trust of both camps enough to force them to pledge their loyalty to him. He'd been overconfident, and now they had Stan.

Everything was off: the house smelled wrong, even his hat smelled wrong. He still had the scent of Stan on his skin - and of Craig, too, he supposed - but his clothes had an unfamiliar, suspiciously fresh odor, like they'd just been purchased brand new from the kind of stores that didn't exist in Smileytown. He walked to the door and pressed his back to the wall beside it, listening for any hints about what might be waiting for him out there, his heartbeat slamming at the hollow of his throat as he braced himself to hear the sound of Stan screaming. Surely they had tortured him. Possibly they had disfigured him. Kyle dug his fingernails into his palms, trying to convince himself that Stan was still alive. Kyle had to assume that whoever had done this still needed him, or he'd be dead himself. Anybody in Smileytown knew that there was only one way to get to him. Kyle had been so careful with Stan; he'd kept him so close. It sickened him to think that he might have lost everything over the prospect of sharing Craig Tucker with him for one stupid, drunken night. The sex wasn't the real reason he'd accepted Tweek and Clyde's offer - it was an act of good will, a trust building exercise - but he'd enjoyed it, and so had Stan, and this was what it had cost them.

He put on the boots before opening the door, wondering whose they were and why they fit him so perfectly. He'd certainly never seen them before, and they were suspiciously clean. Tying them himself made his stomach ache, and he forced himself to contemplate the fact that the only way out of this might be the sort of murder-suicide he'd tried to discuss rationally with Stan when they'd talked about worst case scenarios. Stan had always been against it, and if Shelly was still alive he would want to save her, because that was the sort of sentimental fool he was. Kyle wondered what had become of Ike, and his stomach pinched itself into a tighter knot.

He'd never thought of himself as a coward, but he felt like one as he opened the door. Over the past eight years he'd faced every grim reality of life in this shithole with Stan at his side and the others behind them, propped up by the basement full of weapons that the household rested upon like a raft that kept them afloat. He'd never been truly alone before, and had forgotten what it had felt like to be so nakedly unarmed. He steeled himself and opened the door, prepared to be subdued by whoever was guarding it.

There was no guard, and the hallway was as freakishly clean as his room. He could hear noises from the first floor, and there was something sweet on the air that made his stomach rumble. A boy said something - Ike? - and a woman answered. An older woman.

He froze in the middle of the hallway, numb with shock. The birth givers had returned.

"Oh," he said, breathing this out almost inaudibly. This changed everything, and explained the tidiness of the house and the clean clothes that someone had taken the trouble to put on him. He wanted to drop to his knees, but he made himself stay upright. The birth givers would need no bargaining chip with him or anyone. Stan was probably dead.

He moved slowly as he made his way downstairs, seeing things as if in a dream. The living room was neat and vacuumed, and there was a picture of him and Ike as children hanging near the television. They had already restored power to the house, and he noticed the warmth of the rooms belatedly, still mostly numb to what was happening as he came to the doorway of the kitchen. There was his mother at the stove, making eggs. His father was at the table reading a newspaper, and Ike was across from him, so absorbed in his breakfast that he didn't even look up as Kyle entered. That was the only element of this macabre scene that wasn't unusual.

"There you are, bubbeh!" his mother said, turning from the stove. "Why aren't you dressed for school? Are you feeling sick?"

Kyle had no idea what his expression must look like. He was stock still in the kitchen doorway, his fingers trembling, wanting a weapon. These people were not the birth givers he had helped to drive away.

"Kyle?" his father said. "What's the matter? You're white as a sheet."

"I-" He flinched when his mother came toward him. But of course it wasn't his mother - she was gone-

"Let me feel your forehead," she said. He was too stunned to stop her from removing his hat, and he flinched again when she gasped, waiting to be struck. "Kyle!" she said, the volume of her voice almost like a blow. "Bubbeh, oh my God! What did you do to your beautiful hair?"

They were all staring at him now, waiting for an explanation. Kyle touched his hair, which was shaved down to short spikes, just as it had been since he was ten or so. Ike snickered.

"I like it," he said. "You look real butch, Ky."

"When did you do this?" Sheila asked, sounding like she would cry. "Oh my God, you look like a convict! Here, put your hat back on, I can't stand it!"

"C'mon, Sheila," Gerald said. He set the newspaper down. "It's not that bad. Son, are you okay? You don't look well."

"I'm fine," Kyle said, gathering himself. Someone had shoved him through the portal. Craig must have been instrumental, but Butters would have been complicit - they'd finally teamed up against him. His worst nightmare. He forced himself to concentrate on damage control instead of beating his fists against the wall in frustration.

"Sit down and eat something," Sheila said, pulling him toward the table. "You weren't out drinking last night, were you?"

"No," Kyle said, thinking of Larry's moonshine, and the way his bedroom had begun to spin somewhere between the second and third time he'd fucked Craig. He sat, sticking his trembling hands under his thighs. Maybe Stan had been shoved through, too. They'd come here together once before. It was full of weak people, watered down versions of their world.

"Here you go," Sheila said, plating two sunny side up eggs and serving them to him. "Eat something, God, you look so skinny! Have you been losing weight? You never eat enough, Kyle, you're just like your father." A bell rang and Kyle jumped, but it was just the toaster. Sheila collected the toast, buttered it and slapped it on Kyle's plate. The eggs were too surreal to start with; there had been chickens in Smileytown once, but they were mismanaged and gone well before the dark season. Kyle devoured the toast, remembering the taste of butter as it melted on his tongue.

"It says here that 300 homes in South Park are without power after that storm," Ike said, reading this off of some sort of miniature screen that was lying beside his plate. He ran his finger down the screen, stroking the thing like a pet. "I guess we were lucky."

"I hardly got any sleep with all that noise," Gerald said. "And I've got mediation today."

"Poor thing!" Sheila said, touching his shoulder. "Kyle, are you feeling better? You've got some color back in your cheeks."

"I'm fine," Kyle said, disliking the way that they were all looking at him, studying him. If he was back home, in his own household, he could have barked at Larry and the others to lay the fuck off and mind their business, but he knew things were different here. He didn't want to be caught, not yet, before he could figure out if Stan was here, too, and how they might use this nightmare to their advantage upon returning. He couldn't remember the location of the portal in this world, but he would find it, and he'd be ready for Butters and whatever army he'd mustered when he went back through.

"You'd better hurry and get dressed," Sheila said, taking the plate away before Kyle could finish his eggs. "Stan will be here soon."

"I am dressed," Kyle said, hopping out of his chair at the mention of Stan. "Just, ah. Point me toward my coat. I've misplaced it."

Sheila and Gerald exchanged a look.

"You can't wear that to school, Kyle," Gerald said. "Those are pajamas."

"Why are you talking funny?" Ike asked. "You're like a pod person."

"Fuck off," Kyle said, glowering at him. It was surreal to hear Ike speak in complete sentences, and Kyle felt sort of proud and happy about this, despite the fact that this was not his actual brother, and that he seemed to be a sarcastic bastard.

"Kyle!" Sheila said.

"Do not use that language in front of your mother!" Gerald said, throwing his paper down. Kyle nodded, backing out of the kitchen. He'd forgotten what it was like to be around birth givers. Even these seemingly kind ones had a lot of rules.

"I'm sorry," he said. "Has anyone seen my coat, though?"

"Bubbeh, you don't need a coat!" Sheila said, looking concerned. "It's supposed to be seventy-five degrees out today!"

"Oh." Of course, the seasons would be switched around, too. "Alright."

"Better run upstairs and change," Gerald said. "I think I hear Stan's car."

Stan. Kyle shook his head, still backing away from them.

"I'm fine in this," Kyle said. He could hear a car, too, and he turned, resisting the urge to race for the door. Talks about worst case scenarios aside, he had never seriously contemplated life without his faithful servant and only real confidant, his baby, if he was drunk enough to use Stan's idiotic terminology, his human blanket and most important person. They never parted for more than a few minutes at a time; they hadn't even bathed separately since they were children. He was desperate to be reunited with Stan, holding his breath with anticipation.

"Kyle!" Sheila shouted, stopping him as he opened the front door. "Bubbeh, aren't you forgetting something?"

"What?" he asked, trying not to show that his teeth were grit.

"Your backpack, dummy," Ike said.

Fortunately, the thing was slumped there on the floor in the foyer. Kyle grabbed it and sped outside, slamming the door behind him before they could further intervene. Just the sight of them was jarring, and he needed to lay eyes on Stan before the overwhelming confusion of this situation ripped him into pieces.

Stan was behind the wheel of the car, and Kyle didn't get a good look at him until he was in the passenger seat. His heart fell as he studied the boy beside him, who had his Stan's handsome face and sturdy arms but was certainly not the same one Kyle had kissed over Craig Tucker's sweaty back last night. This Stan was clean shaven and thicker, well fed, with shorter hair and eyes that conveyed a kind of sweet tiredness. He seemed much younger than Kyle's Stan, untested.

"Dude, what the fuck?" Stan said.

"What?" Kyle asked, adjusting his hat. "Sorry I'm late."

"You're not late," Stan said. "What's up with the sweatpants? I can wait if you need more time to get dressed."

"No," Kyle said, not wanting to go back in there. "I just - I want to wear this today, alright?" He wasn't used to Stan offering opinions on his clothing choices, or much else, unless Kyle asked him to weigh in. "Can we go, please?"

"Alright, dude," Stan said. He backed the car out of the driveway and turned up the radio. Kyle hadn't heard recorded music in years; he turned it back down.

"Did your house lose power last night?" Kyle asked, wanting to ask him if he'd seen another version of himself running around town recently.

"Yeah, we did," Stan said. "Power's still out this morning, too. That's why my hair looks like shit. Couldn't blow it dry after my shower."

"You're so vain about your hair," Kyle said, speaking more to his own Stan than to this one. It was a funny thing for them to have in common, like Kyle's hat; he remembered the little boy who looked like him wearing a green ushanka, too. The poor dope was probably dead in a ditch somewhere, a victim of whatever Butters' master plan was. "Speaking of hair," Kyle said, because this Stan, like his own, might expect to see him without the hat during particularly intimate moments. He removed it, and Stan gaped at him.

"Dude!" Stan said. "Why? When? How?"

Kyle laughed, because Stan - his Stan - had given him his last hair cut, as usual.

"I felt like a change," Kyle said. He'd certainly gotten one, but he didn't plan on living his life out in this universe like a chump, and if Butters thought he would be satisfied with just any Stan, he had another thing coming. Kyle looked out the window at the well-kept houses, the neat lawns, and tried not to think too hard about what Stan might be going through if he was back there in Smileytown, alone.

"You did it yourself?" Stan said, reaching over to rub his palm across Kyle's hair.

"Yeah," Kyle said, shivering when Stan continued to stroke him. He wondered if things were different between this Stan and the other Kyle, but he didn't want to risk reaching between Stan's legs and giving his cock a possessive squeeze in order to find out. In his world, there had been no real courtship or seduction, just a constant closeness that became sexual when they started getting erections.

"You okay?" Stan asked, his hand dropping from Kyle's hair to his shoulder. "You're all quiet."

"I'm fine, just tired. The storm kept me up." So the other Kyle was an incessant talker. This would be hard to fake. Kyle hated idle chatter and prided himself on being a man of few words, even with Stan, unless they were in bed together and Kyle had things on his mind that he wanted only Stan to hear.

They pulled into the driveway of a two-story house a few blocks over, and Stan honked the horn. Kyle wanted to ask what they were doing, but Stan seemed to assume that he would know, so he judged this to be part of their regular routine. Kyle went rigid with anxiety when he saw Butters Stotch hurry out of the house and toward the car, a brown paper bag swinging in his hand and a look of panic on his face. If this Butters was anything like the one Kyle knew, the bag would contain something dripping and bloody that he'd just hacked off of someone inside that house, but things were so different here—

"Hey, fellas!" Butter said, throwing himself into the backseat. "Sorry I'm a little late, I just had to finish packing my lunch." He was breathless and pink cheeked, and when Kyle met his eyes in the rear view mirror he smiled widely. "Morning!" he said.

"Yeah," Kyle said, still on edge. The boy in the backseat looked exactly like the one who had given Kyle the faint scar on his right cheek, and he remembered that pain acutely whenever he was in Butters' presence. It wasn't the cut that haunted him so much as the memory of that night and the other things that had been done.

"Kyle cut his hair," Stan said, and Kyle was annoyed. His Stan would never volunteer his personal information to anyone, and especially not to Butters.

"Oh, really?" Butters said. "Can I see?"

"No," Kyle said, and Stan laughed. Butters wilted and buckled his seat belt.

"Are you guys ready for your oral presentations?" Butters asked, digging some white cards from his backpack. "I'm sorta nervous. I practiced mine in front of my parents last night, and my mom said it was pretty good, but my dad said I needed to exude more confidence."

"Mine's probably going to suck," Stan said. "I spent like ten minutes on it last night. Shit. I guess I can work on it at lunch."

Kyle couldn't stop sneaking looks at Butters in the rear view mirror. He exuded everything but confidence, fidgeting and wide open to interpretation, guarding nothing. Every time he caught Kyle staring at him it sent a shock of fear down along the back of Kyle's neck, though Butters just smiled shyly.

"Dude, did you hear me?" Stan asked, poking Kyle in the ribs.

"Huh? No."

Stan laughed, but he was frowning a little, his eyebrows pinched. "What is with you today?" he said. "I was asking if you're ready for your oral presentation."

"Oh — probably not." Kyle wasn't even sure what an 'oral presentation' entailed. He thought of oral sex, Stan's mouth hot and wet around his cock, and a small but tight curl of arousal stirred in his stomach. This Stan smelled just like his did, and there was something so vulnerable about him, even more so than Kyle's own. He thought of what it would be like to bring this one back to his world whenever he returned — yes, of course he would. As they drove over a set of train tracks and into a more run down neighborhood, Kyle imagined what it would be like to watch his Stan teach this one how to please him, how his Stan would be gentle but firm in response to this one's shyness and inexperience. His cock started to harden, and he had to think of something else, but it was difficult. Much of the reason he'd wanted Craig in bed with them was to attempt to live out the fantasy of two Stans at once. Craig had the same black hair and a similar build.

Kyle's mind was racing by the time they pulled into another driveway. Having a second Stan to curl around him in bed and see that his boots were laced properly would be a fantastic perk, but there was more to mine here than just a second sweet-faced servant. Kyle wasn't the only one who stood up a little straighter at the very sight of Butters Stotch, and the Butters in the backseat was so clearly weak, the inverse of his Smileytown self. He could be manipulated, enslaved, and all the people back home would see was that Kyle was the one holding the leash of someone they had once thought fearsome. This other Butters could be a more powerful weapon than anything Kyle had ever hoarded in his basement.

Stan hit the horn again, and from the pathetic little house came another familiar face, one that made Kyle almost as nervous as Butters', mostly because he was Butters' tool, not a traditional servant but a sexless, stoic killer who would do anything Butters asked. Kenny was smiling as he came toward the car, and the sight was unnerving. He got in without a word of greeting and fell onto Butters, kissing his neck while Butters squirmed and giggled. Kyle looked at Stan, who rolled his eyes and put the car in reverse.

"Damn, you smell good," Kenny said, moaning and reaching up under Butters' shirt.

"I took a shower this morning," Butters said, beaming as if this was some accomplishment to be proud of. Kyle couldn't contain a disbelieving scoff.

"Kyle's just jealous," Kenny said smirking at him. His hand was still under Butters' shirt, and he seemed to be tweaking a nipple, making Butters arch and sigh. "You need to get laid, Broflovski," Kenny said. "Stan, will you man up and fuck that ass sometime soon, please? So Kyle will get off my back for being a sexually satisfied man?"

"God, shut up," Stan said. He was turning red in a way that made Kyle certain of two things: Stan had never done anything sexual with his Kyle, and he wanted to, badly. Kyle would happily deflower him, and was cheered by the prospect of taking Stan's virginity for a second time.

"Yeah, you're right," Kenny said. "You'd have to remove that stick that's up there first, and that's tricky work."

"Don't be mean, Kenny," Butters said, his mouth moving on Kenny's neck while he spoke. "You shouldn't — ah! Expect everybody to be okay with public displays of affection, you know."

"Well said, Butters," Stan said, giving Kenny a look in the rear view mirror.

"What do you want from me?" Kenny said. "I had to go all night with this squirmy little thing — c'mere, baby, fuck."

That endearment irritated Kyle further, because he felt a certain ownership of being called baby, since he'd never heard anyone but Stan use that word as anything other than an insult. The way Kenny was kissing Butters was offensive itself, noisy and shameless, both of them groping at each other shamelessly while they made out. Stan groaned and turned up the radio.

"So you seriously didn't spend all night obsessing over your oral presentation?" Stan asked, shouting a little, to be heard over the radio and the moans from the backseat.

"No, I — guess I didn't." Kyle felt lost, as if every blink put him in danger of slipping into yet another unfamiliar world, and the eggs and toast lurched in his stomach when Stan took a turn too fast.

"You sure you're okay?" Stan asked.

"Yes," Kyle said.

He didn't like lying to Stan, even in this universe where every move he made would necessarily be a lie, but he had no choice. None of these people would willingly come through the portal with him, and he needed to keep a low profile until he figured out how to trick them. If he could find this universe's Clyde and Tweek, they would be useful as weapons, too. His plans began to knit together more completely as they approached Park County High School, and Kyle was starting to feel more confident about coming out of this with an advantage that Butters wouldn't have foreseen.

He looked over at the Stan who sat beside him, praying that his own Stan would be resilient enough to survive until his return. This Stan noticed him staring and turned to give him an uncertain smile. It was everything Kyle could do not to reach over and stroke Stan's cheek, wanting to reassure him the way he would have if his own Stan was here. He supposed this one already belonged to him, or would very soon, and he allowed himself to wonder if Butters had kept that other Kyle alive in order to bring him to Smileytown and make him seem weak. If that was the case, Kyle would simply have to kill the other version of himself when he returned. Two Stans would be lovely, blissful, but sharing either of them with another Kyle just wouldn't do.

The Tundra cut across the frozen landscape as easily as a fingertip dragged through the frosting on a cupcake, and Stan seemed to have some sort of innate sense of how to get where they were going. Kyle wanted to ask a thousand questions about what to expect when they arrived at what the others referred to as 'the Mansion,' but he couldn't show his confusion with Craig listening in. Stan was silent, focused on navigating and gripping the wheel with both hands, and Craig was humming under his breath in a way that reminded Kyle of Butters.

"I love this vest," Craig said, sneaking his hand inside Kyle's coat to finger the tightly laced front, which was making Kyle breathe shallowly. Kyle wasn't sure if he should allow this or not, and glancing at Stan offered no clues. Authentically annoyed by Craig's behavior, Kyle harrumphed a little, shifting his shoulder, and Craig took this as a hint to remove his hand from Kyle's chest.

"Larry was out of line this morning," Stan said after the three of them had been quiet for a while. He looked at Kyle. "I'm sure you're planning on doing something about that."

"Of course," Kyle said, keeping his eyes on the windshield. He reached over to squeeze Stan's thigh, flushing, and told himself that it was only for purposes of playing his part. "Don't worry your pretty little head over it," he said, feeling idiotic. Stan grinned, and Kyle took this to mean that he'd responded appropriately.

"It's so good of you all to house Larry and Shelly," Craig said. "Clyde and Tweek are sympathetic to the older family members. Butters isn't, of course."

"Leave the politicking to them," Stan said, and Craig sighed. He put his head on Kyle's shoulder.

"That was so nice last night," he said, nuzzling at Kyle. "It could always be like that, you know. They're very generous, those two."

"Only when they have something to gain," Stan said. "Quit yapping about things you don't understand. Look, we're almost there."

A gate had appeared up ahead, just faintly visible through the driving snow. Beyond it loomed the shape of an enormous house, and Kyle recognized it from his own world as they drew closer: Token's. This was briefly reassuring, though he knew he couldn't count on any of the things he associated with the Token from his world welcoming him here. Craig was bouncy as they approached the front gate, and he smiled at a boy who was posted there, looking half-frozen and holding a rifle. When Stan rolled the window of the Tundra down, Kyle recognized the boy, who leaned in to check the contents of the front cab. It was their version of Kevin Stoley, whose difference in appearance to the one Kyle knew was the most shockingly dissonant so far. The left side of his face was scarred, and he wore a patch over his left eye.

"Hey, Kev!" Craig said, leaning across Kyle's lap. "We're not too late, are we? I stayed to make breakfast, I thought it would be a nice gesture-"

"Pull forward," Kevin said to Stan, ignoring Craig. "Token will receive you at the front door." He stood back and barked something into a walkie talkie. Stan rolled up the window and drove toward the house.

"Poor Kev," Craig said, as if he'd just burst into tears or something.

At the front door, there were two more boys with rifles, one of them speaking into a walkie talkie. Kyle recognized them as they exited the Tundra: Jason and Dougie, both stone-faced. Stan came to Kyle's side and prodded him discreetly, indicating that he should walk ahead of him and Craig. Kyle was shaking, feeling as if the giant house was about to swallow him alive. He lifted his fist to knock on the door, and was relieved when it opened before he could.

He was also relieved to see Token looking much like he did at home. He was dressed in a faded windbreaker and jeans, and wasn't scarred, disfigured, or armed. He didn't seem psychotically complacent or primed to tear someone's head off if they said the wrong thing, which was a nice change. Token put out his hand, and after a moment of hesitation, Kyle realized he was the one who should shake it.

"How was your evening?" Token asked as they followed him into the foyer, which was cleaner than Kyle had expected. In the sitting room to the left, he could see a pair of young girls dusting and polishing the furniture.

"It was fine," Kyle said. "We thank you for the gift."

"Don't thank me," Token said. "He's not mine to give." He reached around Kyle to pull Craig forward. "Were you treated well?" he asked. Craig smiled and nodded, gluing himself to Token the way he had to Kyle in the Tundra.

"It was very lovely," Craig said, petting Token's chest. "I've missed my family, though. How is everyone here? Did I miss any important developments?"

"Of course not," Token said. "You were gone for less than a day. Where's his thing?" Token asked Kyle, pointing to his throat.

"Uh-" Kyle said, looking to Stan, who was pulling something from his coat pocket: a leash and collar.

"Here," Stan said, and Token took it. Kyle had to look away while Token fastened the collar around Craig's throat, embarrassed.

"What are these marks?" Token asked, examining the red spots on Craig's skin where Stan had grabbed his neck.

"You people are into collars," Stan said. "Figure it out."

"It's nothing, really," Craig said when Token gave Stan a suspicious stare. "They were very kind to me, I promise. They even let me sleep in their bed."

"Well, c'mon," Token said, holding the end of Craig's leash. "Your owners will want to see you. They'll want to see you, too," Token said to Stan and Kyle. "If you've got the time," he added, and he smiled like this was a joke.

"We've got time," Kyle said, and he tried to fall into step beside Stan as they followed Token toward the back of the house. Stan wouldn't allow it. He stayed a step behind, and Kyle got the feeling this wasn't submissive so much as protective. He wondered why they hadn't brought any guns to this meeting, and then realized that Stan probably had, in the pockets of that giant coat. This was confirmed when they were searched by a very pregnant Bebe Stevens before entering a room at the back of the house that Kyle recognized as Token's father's study, where Cartman had once "killed" one of his dolls.

"I'll just hold on to the clip while you're in there," Bebe said, discharging it.

"Fine," Stan said. "We only brought it for protection on the road."

"Of course," Bebe said, and they smiled at each other tightly. Bebe looked wan and exhausted, but she had a kind of steeliness about her that made Kyle nervous, despite her current condition. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen her without makeup and perfectly styled hair. From the way Token touched her cheek as they passed into the study, Kyle guessed the baby was probably his. She followed them inside and shut the door behind her.

The study was warmer than the rest of the house, a fire burning in a large fireplace on the left side of the room. At the end of the room was a massive wooden desk, atop which sat a leather loveseat with short wooden legs that seemed to have been bolted to the desktop. It was a sort of throne, impressive if makeshift, and Tweek sat on the left side, Clyde on the right.

"So the ambassador of ass has survived his first adventure in diplomacy," Tweek said. He was shockingly plump, slumped back onto the love seat and holding an open bottle of wine.

"Very poetic," Token said. "Did you practice that all morning?" He unhooked Craig's collar, and as soon as he was free Craig yelped with what seemed to be glee, dropped his coat onto the floor and scrambled up onto the desk. Clyde, who looked much more handsome than the chubby, awkward dork Kyle knew from home, was patting his knee. Craig whined with pleasure as he threw himself into Clyde's lap, his arms circling Clyde's neck. Kyle stood gaping, unable to believe how awful Tweek looked and what a difference some muscle and a tighter jawline made on Clyde.

"Thanks for bringing him back safe," Clyde said, peering at Kyle from over Craig's shoulder. "We hope you enjoyed him."

"Um - yes," Kyle said, feeling slightly sick. He flinched when Tweek reached over to give Craig a hard slap on his upturned ass. Craig shouted and dropped onto his stomach as if to offer himself up for another, his legs falling across Tweek's lap while the rest of him spilled into Clyde's.

"I'm sure you enjoyed it, too," Tweek said, rubbing Craig's ass. "Little slut." He hit him again, and Craig squeaked, hiding his face against Clyde's thigh.

"So, gentlemen," Clyde said, soothing his hand across the back of Craig's neck while he panted, seemingly from over-stimulation. "I hope you gave some thought to our proposal while you were enjoying the use of our slave."

"We did," Kyle said, wondering if he should have said I did.

"And?" Tweek said. He seemed drunk, his eyelids heavy, and he was massaging Craig's ass while Craig shamelessly writhed against both of them. If it were up to Kyle, as himself, he would reject any offer to align with these obvious lunatics.

"And we'll continue to think about it," Kyle said, attempting to sound vaguely threatening. Clyde and Tweek exchanged a look. Craig went still, lifting his face to peek at Kyle and Stan.

"We pride ourselves on being more humane than the other camp," Clyde said. "But you shouldn't mistake our civility for weakness, Broflovski."

"I'm sure I haven't," Kyle said. His heart was slamming, and he thought of the armed men they'd encountered on their way in. The Mansion seemed to be fairly well stocked on weapons already. "I wasn't aware that this offering was a demand for - a decision," Kyle said, faltering only a little. "We were told it was simply a gift."

"Don't play dumb," Tweek said. "You know, we're not the only ones who are running out of patience."

"We'd prefer not to work with those animals," Clyde said, holding up a hand in Tweek's direction. "But you must be aware that we'd be willing to divvy up whatever you have hidden in that basement of yours if you refuse to cooperate with either party."

"In what sense am I refusing to cooperate?" Kyle asked. He forced himself to consider this a kind of debate team exercise; he was good at those. "I'm still weighing my options. You're not the only one offering favors." He prayed this was true. Clyde smirked.

"You expect us to believe you'd seriously consider aligning with Butters?" he said. "We know you too well, Kyle."

"We know you value your possessions too much to leave them vulnerable to the whims of a madman," Tweek said, as if finishing Clyde's sentence. He looked at Stan, and Kyle did, too. Stan was silent, making eye contact with no one.

"You must know that my only hesitation is the portal," Kyle said, hoping that he wasn't giving up too much information. "It cannot remain under his control."

"With your weapons and our men, we could take it from him easily," Tweek said. "We've talked about this, goddammit-"

"I need more information from him before I can declare myself an enemy," Kyle said. He imagined himself moving pieces on a chess board, trying to hear his own words over his pounding heartbeat. "If you were smart, you'd see my continued autonomy as a valuable asset."

"We would if we believed you were actually working for us," Clyde said.

"I'll demonstrate my loyalty in time," Kyle said. "Remember that I don't know that I really have yours."

"We loaned you our most prized possession!" Tweek said, his fingers curling around Craig's left ass cheek as he said so. "What more do we need-"

"Gas," Stan said. "We need gas for the Tundra. At least three tanks."

"Now you're making demands?" Clyde said. Craig was tense now, sitting up on his elbows. Kyle shrugged.

"We used some gas escorting Craig here in style," Kyle said. "Wasn't it lovely, Craig? With the heater blasting and everything?"

"Oh - yes," Craig said meekly. He sat up on his knees and clutched at Clyde's shirt. "Really," he said, whispering. "Dear heart, I think-"

"No one's paying you to think," Tweek said, slapping Craig's ass again. "Bebe, get him out of here so we can talk like civilized people."

Kyle had to bite his lip hard to hold in a derisive laugh. Craig scrambled down off the throne, looking dejected, and he picked up his coat before presenting his neck to Token, who refastened the leash and passed it off to Bebe.

"Come on," Bebe said, leading Craig away. "You probably need a bath, anyway."


When they were gone, Token went over to stoke the fire. Kyle wondered how Token had gone from the owner of this property to some kind of butler, but he knew he couldn't ask about this yet. He would have a lot to talk about with Stan on the way home.

"We'll give you some gas," Clyde said after a brief, whispered conversation with Tweek. "But we've also got to give you a deadline. This back and forth bullshit can't go on forever. We don't know that you're not selling our secrets."

"As you pointed out, I'd much rather settle with you two at the end of all of this," Kyle said. "I'd trust you to leave certain personal effects untouched." He gathered Stan against him as he said so, hooking his arm around Stan's waist, and Stan was a little stiff in response, but he placed his hand on Kyle's shoulder obediently.

"The only reason we trust that you won't sell us out is your pathetic attachment to your slave," Tweek said. "We provide the kind of environment where you could continue to shelter him, and the other weaklings you've attached yourself to."

"With the possible exception of the older boy," Clyde said, holding up a hand. "He's dangerous."

"I agree," Kyle said. "And I'm all too eager to get rid of him myself."

Stan stiffened considerably at this. Kyle slipped a hand under the back of Stan's coat and pinched his side. He wasn't sure if it was an apology or a promise to explain later; he had no idea what he was doing.

"Then your deadline for publicly aligning with us is one week," Clyde said. "Gather whatever information you can from the others before then. Tweek and I had an idea that you might snatch that little bitch Cartman from them. One snap of your fingers and he'd roll over to offer you his belly, and probably plenty of worthwhile secrets, too."

"You're aware that the idiot is infatuated with you," Tweek said.

"Oh -" Kyle looked at Stan, who kept his eyes locked on Tweek and Clyde, though he was looking at their knees rather than their faces. "Yes, I know," Kyle said, his head spinning. The real Cartman loathed him, so he supposed it stood to reason that the opposite version loved him. Still, he found it hard to believe. "I'll take that under advisement," Kyle said. "It's not a bad idea. His company is so trying, though."

"Well, we could always kill him later," Tweek said, waving his hand through the air. "After he'd served his purpose."

"I thought you weren't like that here," Stan said, and there was a palpable shift in Tweek's and Clyde's attitudes. They both looked at Stan as if they were sighting him with the scope of a gun.

"We do what we have to do," Clyde said, and the words curled across the back of Kyle's neck like cold smoke. "Like everyone."

"Aren't you going to punish him for speaking out of turn?" Tweek barked at Kyle, frowning.

"Of course," Kyle said. "Privately. We don't all issue spankings in mixed company."

This actually made Clyde smile for reasons Kyle didn't want to try to sort out. He looked at Token.

"We'll be going, now that we have our deadline," Kyle said. "There are other things I need to get done today."

"I'm sure there are," Tweek said, sneering at Stan, who was looking at nothing in particular, his eyes unfocused. "So you accept the deadline?"

"I do," Kyle said, because he didn't know what else to say. "We'll be in touch. Come, Stanley."

"Token, see them out," Clyde said. "And Kyle?" he said after they had all turned for the door.

"Yes?" Kyle said, looking back.

"I hope you've been more careful to hide your feelings when you meet with Butters," Clyde said. "For Stan's sake."

Kyle didn't know how to respond to that and was eager to leave. He gave Clyde an unfriendly look and took Stan's elbow as they followed Token out of the study.

"It's about time you two moved in here," Token said, speaking quietly as they headed through the halls of the house, which were lit by wall-mounted torches. "Life would be so much better for you, so much easier. Those two really aren't as bad as they seem when they're negotiating."

"Tweek is a bastard," Stan said, whispering this angrily. "I don't know how you can stand him."

"He's letting us keep our baby, isn't he?" Token said. "Do you think Butters would entertain the idea of an infant on the premises? He'd kill any girl who had the nerve to burden him with a pregnancy."

"You wouldn't be burdened yourself if you'd just pair off with a boy like everyone else," Stan said. "You're so odd," he said, stopping to study Token, who rolled his eyes.

"Don't I know it. I didn't choose who to be attracted to, okay? It just happened. Ask Larry." Token looked around to make sure that no one was in ear shot. Kyle thought it was strange that he only spoke to Stan, and assumed it was something to do with their similar station. Either way, Kyle was happy to have a break from doing all the talking. "Are you really going to let them get rid of Larry?" Token asked.

"I don't know," Stan said. He glanced at Kyle, but only quickly. "My sister - well. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

"Sorry," Token said, speaking to Kyle now. "You'll want to be getting on the road. Thank you for letting us talk. I do appreciate having a friend." He smiled at Stan, and Kyle was actually jealous when Stan smiled back. "Here's your ammo," Token said, handing Stan the clip for his gun. "I'll get your gas from the supply room. Follow me."

They passed a bustling kitchen where at least five young people were working on cooking something that smelled delicious and made Kyle's stomach rumble. For a moment he wondered why the other Kyle had bothered to hunker down in that freezing pigsty rather than coming to live here, then remembered the creepy way Clyde and Tweek had handled Craig like a pet, and sympathized with the other Kyle for holding out.

The door to the supply room was heavily bolted, and Token produced a ring with three old-fashioned skeleton keys to unlock it. He took a torch from the wall outside and led Stan and Kyle into a massive stockpile of goods. Food, blankets, medicine, and all sorts of other supplies were organized into neat sections. The gas was near the back, and Token gave them three tanks. Stan put one under each arm, and Kyle carried the third.

"This could all be yours, you know," Token said, gesturing at the piles of supplies with his torch. Stan huffed.

"It would still be theirs," he said. "And we would be, too."

"I don't see an alternative," Token said. "Not a realistic one, anyway." He gave them both a nervous look before leading them out of the room.

The Tundra was parked out front, and Stan refueled it before climbing behind the wheel, locking the remaining gas into the trunk. Kyle huddled in the passenger seat, glad to be free of Craig but missing the warmth of him. He scooted closer to Stan when he got in and started the engine.

"Well, I guess that was a disaster," Kyle said when Stan said nothing as he drove them out past the gate, where Kevin still stood guard, snow piling up on top of his hat. Kyle stared at Stan, waiting to be snapped at for screwing everything up. "Say something," he pleaded, tugging on Stan's arm.

"It's just amazing," Stan said, staring straight ahead. "How like him you are."

"What? Really? I thought I - I mean, I must have done everything all wrong-"

"I disagreed with some things you said," Stan said, "But they were the things he would have said, too. Your mind works like his. It's uncanny, and - God, you smell like him."

"I'm sure I've ruined everything, though," Kyle said, moving closer. He wanted to press his face to Stan's neck, to absorb the warmth there and hide from all of this for a few seconds, eyes closed against the glaring white that surrounded them. He supposed that he could, but even with this demonstrably gay Stan he feared rejection too much to try it. "That thing I said about Larry-"

"Kyle would have said that," Stan said. "And I would have hoped he didn't mean it. He probably would have, though," he added, muttering.

"He doesn't get along with Larry?"

"Nobody gets along with Larry," Stan said. "Except my sister, but that's just because she's a pushover, a sweetheart."

"She's very different in my world," Kyle said.

"Larry feels emasculated by Kyle," Stan said. "That's what Shelly says, anyway. He wants to take over, but he doesn't have the brains to run a household or deal with the political stuff, and anyway, nobody trusts someone as old as him."

"Why not?" Kyle asked.

"His generation - well, more my sister's, but Larry's close enough - they're the ones we had to fight against during the dark season." He glanced at Kyle. "They're the ones who made us killers."

"Killers?" Kyle put his chin on Stan's shoulder, shivering. He wanted to say, God, you smell like him, too. "We - you killed them? The older kids?"

"Not me personally," Stan said. "Me and you, we were only twelve. You were - afraid. I took care of you. I made sure you didn't get hurt, and that you didn't have to hurt anybody. Butters, meanwhile. Well. He took care of them, the older ones. He wiped them out. I don't like talking about it," Stan said, his voice lowering.

"Sorry," Kyle said. "And I'm sorry I agreed to the deadline. I didn't know what else to do."

"Kyle wouldn't have had a choice, either," Stan said. "He's pushed everybody to the limits of their patience. He knew we'd have to make a big move soon. Shit."


"Nothing," Stan said. "I was just thinking about Butters, the portal. Maybe he did this intentionally?"

"What, switched us?"


"From what I've heard, it sounds like he might have killed us rather than gone to all that trouble," Kyle said, almost wanting to laugh at the idea of Butters the sadistic killer. When they were kids, he'd cried over a dead ladybug he found on the windowsill at school. Only Stan had sympathized.

"I guess you're right," Stan said, squirming in his seat in a way that made Kyle lift his chin and move away a little. "Fuck, I wish he was here," Stan said. Kyle nodded, feeling worthless.

"What's with Token letting those two rule the Mansion?" Kyle asked. "Where I come from, that was his house."

"It was his here, too," Stan said. "Tweek and Clyde built their empire on discovering and exploiting people's weaknesses. Butters just slaughters anyone who gets in his way, but they use things like blackmail and coercion to get people on their side. With Token, it was Bebe. They promised to tolerate his eccentricity."

"His eccentricity?"

"The girl thing, and its consequences. Nobody wants to make another generation. They'd just overthrow us as soon as they got smart enough to think up a way."

Kyle scoffed. "So what's the alternative?" he asked. "Make sure you die out on top?"

"Pretty much," Stan said. "Tweek and Clyde were right about Kyle's weakness, too. It's me. That's the reason they gave us that particular offering, the use of Craig. They were reminding Kyle what I'd turn into if I ended up in the pool over at Butters' place."

"The pool?"

"Of subs," Stan said. "The ones that anybody can fuck if Butters says so."

"Jesus!" Kyle moaned, remembering nice Cartman. "Is Cartman one of them?"

"Yeah," Stan said. "It's a bad scene."

"Was that true, what Tweek said?" Kyle asked. "About Cartman, uh. Having feelings for me?"

"Feelings?" Stan scoffed. "Cartman would let you regurgitate his meals for him if you were willing. He loves you. You're god-like to him."

"Oh, my God!" Kyle said, not sure if he was more horrified by the idea of Cartman loving him or the thought of nice Cartman suffering under the reign of some evil Butters. "Why?" Kyle asked, and Stan laughed.

"Why does he love you?" Stan asked. "I don't know. For the same reason I do, probably."

"And what's that?" His Stan had only ever said that he loved him when he was drunk, and even then he just meant that he loved him as a friend.

"Because you're the only one in this fucked up town who deserves to oversee anything," Stan said. "Because you're smart and tough but not a sadist. You understand what people want versus what they need, and how to give them enough of a balance of both to keep them off your back. You're brilliant, Kyle. You're destined to take over in Smileytown." Stan was blushing when he looked over at Kyle, who was open-mouthed, speechless. "I mean, he is," Stan said. "But I'm sure you have a lot of the same qualities." He patted Kyle's knee.

"So you love this guy because he'd make a successful politician?" Kyle said.

"Because of the qualities that would make him one," Stan said. "And also, just. Because he stood up to Butters to save my sister. Because he loves me." Stan's mouth quirked, and he was silent for a while. "He sees me, like — I'm not just the sub he paired up with. He thinks I'm special. He - oh, fuck, never mind."

"I love my Stan, too," Kyle said, blurting this over the roar of the heater. "He doesn't know."

"You should tell him."

"No," Kyle said. "It's not like this in our world. Boys pair up with girls. He's got a girlfriend. Wendy. Well, he did, I mean, they break up and get back together all the time, it's, um. Anyway. He only loves me as a friend."

"I can't believe that," Stan said. "It's impossible."

"I wish you were right dude, but you're not."

Stan seemed as if he might continue to argue this point, but he went quiet when they both spotted something up ahead on the road. Stan narrowed his eyes, and Kyle leaned forward to try to make out the shape of the thing through the snow. It was in motion, coming toward them.

"What the fuck?" Kyle said when they were close enough to see what approached: two enormous black horses pulling an open carriage. There was only one passenger, sitting in the driver's seat and holding the reigns. He was nearly naked, despite the snow.

"Fuck," Stan said. "Shit."

"Who the hell is that?" Kyle asked, inwardly descending into panic when he saw the fearful look on Stan's face.

"It's Kenny," Stan said. "He'll have been sent by Butters. Just stay quiet, let me do the talking."

"Gladly," Kyle said, and he was rewarded with a reassuring squeeze of his fingers when he touched Stan's hand on the seat.

Kenny pulled up beside the Tundra and Stan let it idle, rolling down the window. Kyle was almost glad when Kenny hopped down off the carriage and approached the Tundra, because he wanted to get a better look at him. Kenny was wearing nothing but a brown leather loincloth and tall boots, the leather straps of two holsters crossing his chest in an 'X.' The handles of two rifles were visible over his broad shoulders. His face was blank when he peered into the cab, and he seemed almost hypnotized, vacant but dangerous.


"What can we do for you?" Stan asked, shouting over the Tundra's engine and the blasting wind.

"Emperor Chaos demands an audience," Kenny said. His voice was like evenly paved gravel, melodiously gruff.

"Alright," Stan said. "For what purpose?"

"The only message I carry is that I should find you and bring you to him at once. You will follow behind the carriage, keeping ten feet back at all times."

With this, Kenny resumed his position on the carriage and turned the horses back toward the direction he'd come from. Stan sighed and rolled up the window. As soon as Kenny was headed away from them, Kyle grabbed for Stan's hand again.

"This isn't good," Stan said.

"Maybe we shouldn't go," Kyle said. "I can't - it was hard enough to act like I knew what I was doing with those other two-"

"You did fine," Stan said. "I only worry that he'll notice your scar is missing. He's the one who gave it to you. I think that's a point of pride for him. I guess there's nothing we can do about that, though."

"Can't we delay somehow?" Kyle asked. He realized suddenly that he needed to pee, badly.

"We can't delay," Stan said. "When Butters wants to meet with you, you go."

"What the hell is going on with Kenny?" Kyle asked, becoming slightly hysterical. "Why is he dressed like a - like a - won't he freeze to death?"

"The costume is part of his reputation," Stan said. "They say he's invincible. He certainly seemed that way during the dark season. He was Butters' chief assassin - he still is, I guess. They call him the Hand of Death."

"Holy shit," Kyle said. "I can't do this. This is too much."

"You've got no choice," Stan said. He sounded angry, and Kyle could see that he was scared, too, squeezing the steering wheel in uncertain twitches. "Just do whatever they say, and mention nothing about the deadline. They probably know that we've been to the Mansion, so don't lie about that. Say that we only went there for gas."

"Oh - okay," Kyle said, squirming. "Fuck, um. I have to take a piss."

"There's a cup under the dash," Stan said.

"What? A cup?"

"Butters isn't going to give you a fucking bathroom break, and I don't want you pissing yourself in front of him," Stan said, his voice still hard. "So relieve yourself in that cup, and make it quick. We're not far from town."

"What? Fuck no, I'm not peeing a cup, that's-"

"Then you'll just have to hold it," Stan said. "If you think you can."

Kyle moaned and fidgeted, trying to decide if he could hold it. He didn't feel like he could wait another two minutes to go, let alone get through a whole meeting with some terrifying sociopath who looked like Butters.

"It's - I won't be able to go," Kyle said, eying the cup, which was a plastic thing with a crack on the rim.

"Just try it," Stan said. "It will make you feel better." He reached over to rub the back of Kyle's neck. "Don't be embarrassed," he said. "I've seen it all."

"Not mine," Kyle said glumly. "Not technically." He picked up the cup, moaning. "This is horrible. I hate this. I want to go home - can't I just go home once I get there, through the portal?"

"He doesn't leave the fucking thing open for guests to jump in and out of," Stan said. "It's heavily guarded, and anyway, you're not leaving me here without a Kyle."

"Okay, alright," Kyle said, feeling guilty. He sighed and put the cup between his thighs. "Don't look," he said, reaching for his zipper.

"I'm watching the road," Stan said. Kyle scowled at him, detecting the hint of a smile at the corner of his lips, as if this was amusing somehow. Kyle's face was burning as he took his dick out and quickly hid it in the cup. He was half hard just from the pressure.

"I can't do it," he said, spreading his legs and shifting uncomfortably, every move sending a razor-like stab of pain to his bladder. "Not from this - fuck, this angle."

"You can, too," Stan said. "You're Kyle Broflovski. You can do anything."

"Where I come from people don't think that!" Kyle said. "Me included." He groaned and closed his eyes, trying to make his dick cooperate, but he couldn't do it with Stan sitting there, the Tundra moving, and that freak version of Kenny up ahead.

"Honey, c'mon," Stan said softly, taking him off guard. Kyle was even more taken off guard when Stan reached over to put his hand on Kyle's stomach. He held his breath and watched Stan rub him there, over his shirt, his touch progressively growing firmer. Stan was driving with one hand, his eyes still on the road.

"Fuck," Kyle moaned when he was finally able to pee, Stan basically pushing it out of him. He let his head fall back as the relief sank into him. It was quickly eclipsed by crippling embarrassment when he looked down to see the cup.

"There you go," Stan said, touching Kyle's cheek. "Feel better?"

"Not really," Kyle said, mumbling, though he did. "Um. Shit, what do I do with it?"

"Roll down the window and toss it," Stan said, so cheerfully that Kyle couldn't help but laugh, feeling insane. He put his cock away with one hand and rolled the window down with the other, feeling disgusting as he dumped pee out over onto the side of the vehicle, careful to angle it so that it wouldn't blow back in on him.

"This is horrible," Kyle said, zipping himself up again and tossing the dirty cup down onto the floorboards again, wanting it gone. "I don't know how you people can live like this."

"It's better this way," Stan said. "Harder in some ways, but better. Without the birth givers."

"I think maybe you're remembering things wrong," Kyle said. "We might have said that when we were little, but having parents isn't that bad, even if they are full of shit sometimes."

Stan went quiet then, his jaw clicking like he was considering saying more but holding it back for now. Kyle could see the shape of buildings up ahead, and recognized Main Street as they drew closer. There was a massive open gate that lead into town, and as they passed through it Kyle read a sign by the side of the road: NOW ENTERING SMILEYTOWN. NO ONE OVER THE AGE OF 12345678 SHALL PASS THIS POINT BY DECREE OF THE EMPORER.

"They spelled Emperor wrong," Kyle said. "That's what they call Butters?"

"That's what Butters calls himself," Stan said. "Some people accept that, others don't."

"What should I call him? During this meeting?"

"Just Butters," Stan said. "He's got no real authority over you, and he knows it."

"Because of the guns?" Kyle asked. "He's that afraid of our arsenal?"

"Mostly," Stan said. "And he knows we have a relationship with the people at the Mansion, too. You're his most dangerous rival, Kyle. You'll have to act that way."

"Perfect," Kyle said, closing his eyes. "Should be a piece of cake."

"You'll do fine," Stan said, reaching over to squeeze his thigh. Kyle's cock twitched in his jeans, and he thought of the way Stan had sort of - milked him. That was just pee, though, which was disgusting. His fear kept him from getting an actual erection as they pulled up to what looked like the police station. Kenny parked the carriage out front, and two teenage boys emerged from the building to take the reigns when he climbed down. The boys were heavily bundled in winter gear, and Kyle didn't recognize them. Kenny seemed completely unperturbed by the driving snow, zen-like as he waited for Stan and Kyle to climb out of the Tundra.

"This way," Kenny said, and they followed him into the building. Kyle remembered to walk ahead of Stan this time. He tried to project an aura of cool authority, but it was increasingly difficult as they made their way into the station, which was also lit by torchlight, more dimly than the halls of the mansion. There were people inside the jail cells that Kenny led them past, and Kyle tried not to look, his heart already slamming. The prisoners were lethargic and silent as they passed, and Kyle heard the faint sound of chains sliding over cement. Stan touched the small of his back, startling him, though Kyle knew he'd intended to reassure him.

They were led into the back rooms of the station, which were lit more brightly, and Kyle could hear music coming from the furthest room, its doorway covered with gauzy purple curtains. Beyond them, Kyle could faintly make out a few people and muttered conversation. The doorway was flanked by guards Kyle didn't recognize, one boy and one girl. They both seemed younger than fifteen, and they wore body armor that looked like SWAT vests Kyle had seen in movies. Both had guns. They pulled back the curtains for Kenny, who turned and indicated that Kyle and Stan should follow him into the room.

The first thing Kyle noticed was Wendy Testaburger. She was sitting in a chair against the right wall, her feet propped up on someone's back. The human footstool was Cartman, whose arms and legs were trembling with the effort of supporting Wendy's feet. He was maybe fifty pounds lighter than the Cartman from home, his clothes hanging off of him. Wendy caught Kyle staring and smirked. She was wearing a very short skirt and high boots, her breasts pillowed over the top of a tight blouse. Kyle looked away from her, trying not to offer any hints of his growing alarm. The music he'd heard was coming from a harpist who was playing in the far right corner: Jimmy Valmer. He kept playing, ignoring the entering parties. Kenny went to the center of the room and knelt down before an ostentatiously bedazzled throne where Butters sat, wearing shining metal armor and smiling very faintly when Kyle finally met his eye.

"My lord," Kenny said, his head still bent when he spoke. "Kyle Broflovski and charge. I came across them on the road to the country houses."

"Very good, Kenny," Butters said. "Come and take your place."

Kenny rose and went to kneel on a pillow beside Butters' throne, placing his hands on his thighs and staring ahead at nothing while Butters reached over to stroke his gloved fingers down the back of Kenny's head and along the length of his neck. Butters was just as small as he was in Kyle's universe, but he had the posture of a resting warrior, his legs spread and his elbows propped on the padded arms of his throne. The armor he wore was essentially his Professor Chaos costume, only this looked real, carefully beaten from scrap metal. Even his boots were plated with metal, and his helmet curved around his cheeks, shadowing his face and making his bright blue eyes look like two dangerous sparks of light from within that darkness.

"I presume you were traveling from the Mansion," Butters said, speaking to Kyle.

"We were," Kyle said. "We needed fuel for our vehicle. Why should this be your business?"

Butters turned to look at Kenny, narrowing his eyes a bit as he extracted some dander from Kenny's hair and flicked it away. Kenny remained expressionless and perfectly still. He didn't look frightened or content, merely present.

"Wendy," Butters said. "Make yourself scarce. I've got business to do."

"Am I not your advisor?" she asked, sitting up a bit straighter, her feet still propped on Cartman's back. "On business?"

"Not on all business," Butters said. "Go, and take this racket with you." He gestured to Jimmy, who immediately stopped playing.

"Fine," Wendy said. She got out of her chair and snapped her fingers at Cartman. "Up."

"No, leave him," Butters said. "You've worn him out. Eric, over here. You may lie at my feet."

"Thank you, sir," Cartman said, scrambling up. He could barely stand, and his gait was awkward as he lumbered over toward the throne. He sank down with an exhausted sigh, flopping onto his belly, his cheek pressed to the floor. He was panting, exhausted, and he closed his eyes, his limbs twitching. Butters put his feet on Cartman's back and crossed his ankles. Wendy left with Jimmy after giving Butters a long look that seemed intended to communicate her displeasure.

"Women," Butters said derisively, rubbing his fingers through Kenny's hair.

"Why do you put up with her?" Kyle asked, hoping this wasn't a question that the other Kyle would already know the answer to.

"Mhm." Butters gave the barest hint of a shrug. He looked at Kenny again, admiring him, tickling his fingers along the rim of Kenny's ear. "She'd be too dangerous as an enemy. Which brings me to my reason for calling you here."

"Wendy?" Kyle said, playing dumb.

"No," Butters said. "You're my enemy, Kyle. We both know it. That doesn't mean I don't want you close at hand, or that I won't give you a fair place in my empire. No one in town wishes to tolerate your sovereignty for much longer. As I'm sure you're aware."

"I'm aware," Kyle said. "And you're trying to tempt me to align with you by referring to me as your enemy?"

"I'm offering you honesty," Butters said. "You and I are not allies, therefore we are enemies. I'm not in the habit of sugarcoating things, as you know. If you want to believe whatever bullshit those two at the Mansion feed you, that's your problem. Their supplies are running low, and when those are gone they'll have nothing to support their status. You and I could take care of them easily, with my soldiers and your weapons. We could do it today and be done with it."

"And you'd slaughter anyone at the Mansion who resisted?" Kyle asked, thinking of Bebe, Token, and even poor Craig.

"It's always been my policy not to waste time," Butters said. "People think I enjoy being cruel, but it's not so. I simply don't have time to dilly dally with treaty making. You're a practical man, Broflovski. You can understand, I'm sure, how wearing negotiation can be."

"Yes, I'm finding it wearing," Kyle said. "But I'm not practical in the sense that I'm willing to murder anybody who disagrees with my policies."

"I recall your stance on that issue," Butters said. He put two fingers against his cheek, and Kyle sensed Stan's alarm from directly behind him, a slight quickening of his breath. Butters was quiet for a moment, staring at Kyle. One eye twitched. "Your input on who lived and died would not be necessary if you joined my empire," Butters said. "Nor would you suffer the burden of managing an arsenal but lacking an army. You could live a life of leisure, safe within the walls of the city, and you would have the Mansion's supplies to keep you comfortable. I would not harass you, or that pretty boy you're so attached to. I understand being attached to pretty things." He tipped Kenny's chin as he said so, until Kenny met his eyes. "I'd even let your idiot brother reside in your household," Butters said, still gazing at Kenny, his thumb sliding across Kenny's bottom lip.

"But not Shelly and Larry," Kyle said, remembering the age limit on the sign.

"Of course not," Butters said. "But they could stay in that house of yours and try their luck there."

"They'd be attacked and enslaved," Kyle said.

"Perhaps," Butters said. He released Kenny and looked at Kyle. "That's only your problem if you choose to make it so."

"You don't have siblings," Kyle said. "You don't understand."

"I understand that your slave makes demands of you," Butters said. "Demands that have made your life difficult." He looked at Stan and smiled. "I understand the value of a beautiful servant as much as anyone, but to indulge those who serve you is a fool's business that can only end in tragedy."

Kyle looked at Kenny, wondering what had become of Karen and Kevin. Kenny remained expressionless, but Kyle saw his throat bob when he swallowed.

"We won't be storming the Mansion today," Kyle said. "I have business elsewhere and need to be going soon. I will take what you've said today into consideration."

"Will you?" Butters sat forward, putting his elbows on his knees and pressing the tips of his fingers together. "Will you, really?"

"Yes." Kyle didn't like the way Butters was looking at him, as if Kyle was an insect in his web.

"I've always been honest with you, Kyle," Butters said. "Even when I struck you that day. It was my honest response to your lunacy. Clyde and Tweek are liars. They lie to each other, to me, to you. They'll perish in disgrace before long. I'm certain of that. I offer you the chance to survive the coming war only because I want your weapons. Not because I like you. Not because I will protect the ones you love. That will be your job, whether you end up with me or with them. It's up to you to decide who will give you a better chance to do so. That's the honest truth, and there is nothing more to it, whatever they've promised you. I think you know this. I respect you enough, I suppose, to assume that you must know this."

"I've heard what you said," Kyle said, eager to leave. "Now I have to go, but I'll be forced to make a decision soon, as I'm sure you know. You won't have to wait much longer."

"Good," Butters said. He seemed earnestly pleased, and he sat back, his hand going to Kenny's hair again. "You know, I do admire you for having survived on your own for so long, with your motley crew. It could never have lasted forever, though. You must have known that."

"Nothing lasts forever," Kyle said. "Even your reign will end."

"That's true," Butters said. "But it will happen on my own terms. Whereas you, well. Your fate will be in my hands or theirs. Please trust that in theirs it would be much worse. You would be a different kind of enemy if you joined up with them."

"Oh?" Kyle said.

"The kind who would be only a waste of my time," Butters said. He gave Kyle a long look, smiling crookedly. Under his feet, Cartman had fallen asleep and was snoring softly. "Now I'm finished with this conversation," Butters said. "Go and think, Broflovski. It's what you do best."

"Farewell," Kyle said, resisting the urge to salute. He took Stan's arm and turned, goosebumps rising on the back of his neck when he felt Butters' eyes there.

"See them out, my angel," Butters said, and Kyle didn't turn, but he judged that Butters was speaking to Kenny, not Cartman. He was: Kenny hurried around them and pulled back the curtain, ushering them through.

On their way out, Kyle noticed the eerie smell of the station, like disinfectant mixed with formaldehyde. Again, he struggled not to look at the prisoners in the holding cells, afraid that he would recognize some faces. It was hard enough to see Cartman treated that way, and he had the face of someone Kyle normally hated.

Outside, the snow was still coming down heavily, wind whipping through the empty streets. Kenny made no indication that he felt the cold as he watched them climbing into the Tundra. Kyle managed to catch Kenny's gaze just before he dropped down into the passenger's side, but Kenny quickly flicked his eyes away, looking again at nothing in particular.

"What the fuck," Kyle said to Stan as they drove away, back toward the gate. "What the fucking fuck, dude."

"They didn't frisk me," Stan said. "I kept thinking - the whole time - I could have taken him out. Kenny would have blown me away, but. For the good of the world, I could have taken him out."

"Your Kyle wouldn't have wanted you to," Kyle said, touching Stan's leg. "And I wouldn't have wanted you to, either, for whatever that's worth."

"They knew I was armed," Stan said. "And that I wouldn't try anything. It was a show of power, letting me keep my gun on me. Butters looks at me just like he looks at Cartman. I could see it in his eyes, how he was thinking about stripping me and turning me into furniture, putting his spurs in my back."

"God," Kyle said, his fingers closing around Stan's thigh more tightly. "So you think he's lying, when he says-"

"Of course he's lying!" Stan said, agitated. He was still breathing hard, his fingers squeaking around the steering wheel, knuckles white. "He's evil, Kyle. There's no coming back from what he's become."

"Do you think he noticed that I didn't have the scar?" Kyle asked.

"I don't know," Stan said. "But there's fuck all we can do about that, either way. Butters controls the portal, so he either already knows about the Kyle switch because he did it himself, or he can't conceive of how a switch could happen without him knowing. Me and Kyle always thought that he didn't understand how the portal works — none of us did, as kids. Cartman might have told him about what happened when the three of us went through, but Kyle made his swear that he wouldn't. Butters' weakness is his belief in his own absolute power. He really does think that he can take down the Mansion with or without our weapons."

"Could he?" Kyle asked.

"Maybe," Stan said. "He'd lose a lot of manpower in the process. He has some guns from when they took over the police station, but the Mansion almost definitely has more ammo. Token's family were hoarders, preparing for the apocalypse."

"Well, it came," Kyle said. "So what do we do? Join up with Clyde and Tweek?"

"Hell no," Stan said. "I don't trust those guys, and neither does Kyle. Even if we did, we need the portal, and Butters won't let us anywhere near it if we align with them. Kyle is going to figure out a way to take control of the whole town. I just have to get him back here before the fucking war breaks out."

"How do we do that? Like you said, Butters isn't letting us anywhere near that portal unless we align with him, and I don't want to risk that if he'll hurt you."

"I know," Stan said. "I just need to think. Fuck, I wish Kyle was here. Maybe you could come up with something, since you think like him."

"Sure, I'll get right on that," Kyle said, turning to stare out the window. The novelty of this insanity had long worn off, and he wanted to go home. "Have you ever considered finding the birth givers and bringing them back?" Kyle asked. "Since you're between a rock and a hard place anyway?"

"Things are different in your world," Stan said. "Your birth givers - your parents - they're probably kind. They probably put your well-being ahead of their own needs."

"Most of the time," Kyle said. "They drive us crazy sometimes, but they do what they think is best for us."

"It wasn't like that here," Stan said. Kyle expected more, but Stan was quiet for the rest of the drive back to the house, moodily keeping his eyes on the windshield. He didn't look at Kyle until he heard his stomach growl.

"I'll make you some lunch at the house," Stan said, reaching over to touch Kyle's stomach in a way that made Kyle look down at the cup he'd peed in earlier, something stirring just below the place where Stan's hand rested. "You're probably used to eating a lot more often than us."

"Probably," Kyle said, though his mother always accused him of eating like a bird. Thinking of her, he felt newly homesick. When Stan had parked the Tundra in the garage and closed the door to block out the unforgiving white landscape, Kyle felt numb, unable to believe that he was about to return to the garbage house, after all of that, with no plan for how to get home.

"Hey," Stan said, walking over to him when he lingered miserably near the cluttered tool bench. Stan put his hands on Kyle's shoulders, then on his cheeks, warming them.

"I'm so glad you're here," Kyle said, looking up at him. "I'm sure I'd be dead already without you."

"Will your Stan take care of my Kyle?" Stan asked. Kyle nodded.

"My Stan is wonderful," Kyle said. "Like you."

Stan smiled, and seemed to consider speaking, his lips parting. He kissed Kyle's cheek.

"Let's go in," Stan said. "The others will want to hear about our day."

"Will we tell them everything?" Kyle asked. He took Stan's hand and walked with him toward the door.

"We might as well," Stan said. "Except for the part about Larry not being welcome in either camp. We don't want to agitate him."

"Are we sure that he doesn't have some plan to overthrow me?" Kyle asked, whispering this. Stan stopped before opening the door to the house and shook his head.

"No," he said. "We're not sure of anything, except this." He brought their clasped hands up to his lips and kissed Kyle's knuckles. "All I've ever really known is that I'd die for you."

"You mean for your Kyle. For him."

"Yeah," Stan said, and he seemed sad, or just confused. "But you're so like him. I'd have a hard time stopping myself from doing it for you, too."

"Well, God, it won't come to that," Kyle said, though it wasn't a promise that he could make, not in this fucked up place. Stan smiled at him like he was very young, bent down to kiss his nose in a way that made Kyle swoon forward and forget where he was for a moment, and pulled him into the house.

By lunchtime, Kyle had worked out a plan to return to his world with a vengeance. He was distracted momentarily by the appearance of hot food: as much as it as he wanted, piled on a tray as big as his chest. He had to stop himself from becoming emotional over the taste of pepperoni pizza.

"Did you burn your tongue?" Stan asked when Kyle's eyes watered as he chewed. He nodded.

"I'm just so hungry," he said.

"Me too," Stan said. He picked up his own triangle of pizza and blew on the end while it dripped orange grease onto his place. "Pizza day is the best."

"Truly," Kyle said, and he didn't speak again until his pizza, cookies, overcooked broccoli and chocolate milk were gone.

Across from them sat Cartman, Kenny, and Butters. Kyle had already profiled and categorized them during his three hours at school, along with everyone else he had encountered. This Cartman was the opposite of his own, something he remembered from his embarrassing jaunt in this place as a child, a year or so before the banishment of the birth givers. At home, Cartman was useful, bewilderingly devoted to Kyle and always willing to get him an audience with loathsome Butters when he needed one. This Cartman was loud, arrogant, unintelligent, and possibly an even more psychotic megalomaniac than the Butters that Kyle knew back home.

This world's Butters, however, was perfect, more than Kyle could have dreamed of in a political weapon. He was agreeable, a bit dim, and having some sort of crisis at home. His romantic involvement with Kenny was amusing and unsurprising, considering the relationship Kenny had with Butters back home. There was a rumor that the so-called Emperor Chaos had castrated his Hand of Death to keep him in line, but Kyle had found this to be untrue last year when a strong wind lifted that ridiculous loin cloth Kenny wore everywhere. As far as Kyle could see, everything was still there, at least in a literal sense. In this universe, Kenny seemed to be in control of the relationship, but only marginally. The two of them were so wrapped up in each other that they would be easily manipulated.

Even more comforting was the ease with which this other Stan operated as Kyle's counterpart, whether he was providing Kyle napkins for his pizza grease or just gazing at him with that adoration that Kyle needed from him like oxygen. He'd been afraid that a Stan in the flipped-around world would expect to order him about the way Kyle did with Stan at home, and that Kyle would be expected to behave the way his Stan did, as a sweet, unquestioning servant. To Kyle's great relief, this Stan was a servant by nature, just like his own. Kyle wouldn't have to offer him much of an explanation in order to get him through the portal. He would point the way and Stan would follow.

The only tricky element to his plot was Clyde. Kyle had given up on using the Tweek of this world for anything after encountering him in the morning. He seemed to have some sort of mental disorder that would be a huge liability in Kyle's world - he was nervous, loud, and persistently panicked. He was also presided over by a very stoic, unmovable Craig, who would have been no real use to Kyle even if he'd proven as malleable as his lookalike in Kyle's world. Nobody there cared about Craig except as a kind of middling sexual currency. It was Clyde that Kyle needed.

"So are we crashing Wendy's last day of school party next week or what?" Cartman asked, distracting Kyle from his attempts to study Clyde in order to get a read on him. Clyde was sitting at the next table over, doing nothing more revealing than silently eating a cheeseburger while Token and Craig reassured Tweek that last night's lightning storm hadn't actually been a nuclear reactor exploding.

"I was invited to that party," Stan said. "So, no, I guess I won't be crashing."

"I was, too," Kenny said. He elbowed Butters, who was sitting close to him, nearly in Kenny's lap. "You'll still be grounded, I guess?"

"Yeah, I sure will," Butters said glumly. He put down his bologna sandwich and made a pouty face in Kenny's direction. "For most of the summer, too."

"That's fucked up," Kenny said. "It's not fair."

"Your buh - your parents grounded you?" Kyle said.

"No, his fairy godmother grounded him," Cartman said. "Of course it was his parents, Jew, who the fuck else would it be?"

"What was the offense?" Kyle asked, ignoring Cartman.

"All he did was return their car without remembering to fill up the tank," Kenny said before Butters could answer. "That means he's grounded for two months? What the fuck?"

"Alright, Kenny," Butters said, patting Kenny's wrist. "Next year it won't matter, you know? I'll be off at college, an' - and you'll move into your own apartment--"

"They'll be paying for your classes," Kenny said. "That means they'll still control you, and we'll still have to hide what we are - and fuck, dude, I hate to say it, but Karen's whole broken ankle thing is bankrupting me. I don't know if I'm gonna be able to move out next year. I can't leave Karen unless my mom gets health insurance, and that sure as shit doesn't look like it's going to happen."

"Oh," Butters said, staring down at his sandwich. Kenny rubbed his back.

"We'll figure it out somehow, though," Kenny said, quietly. "I mean. Someday."

"Here's an idea," Cartman said. "You could both run away to New York and whore yourselves out for a living. Since you both like gay sex so much."

"Yeah, or, here's another idea," Kenny said. "I could offer my services to Kyle as a hired killer. Kyle, would you hire me to kill Cartman?"

"With pleasure," Kyle said. He liked this Kenny, aside from his unfathomable devotion to Butters, who seemingly held no power aside from a marginal attractiveness. Kenny grinned and put his hand across the table for Kyle to shake.

"Problem solved," Kenny said. He elbowed Butters, who forced a laugh.

Stan and Cartman resumed their discussion of Wendy's party, and Kyle half-listened, glancing across the cafeteria to the girls' table. Wendy was there, talking animatedly with the others. Kyle had determined early on in the school day that she would be of little use to him; she was too smart, like her counterpart in his world, and too willful. If Clyde could be secured, Kyle would return to his world with a caravan of only five: himself, Stan, Butters and Kenny, who seemed eager to get away from the prison of their birth givers' burdens anyway, and Clyde. Initial intelligence suggested that Clyde was neither particularly bright nor dangerously stupid, and Kyle had yet to notice any romantic entanglements that would make Clyde susceptible to suggestion. He would have to get the boy alone later and have a closer look at him.

"Dude, you're so quiet today," Stan said after they'd dumped their lunch trays, Kyle noting the massive amount of wasted food with horror.

"I guess I am," Kyle said. He'd decided on seducing Stan as quickly as possible and considered this a good enough entry point. "Can we talk later?" he asked, stopping in the middle of the hallway to lock eyes with Stan, hoping to communicate serious longing. He wasn't entirely sure how courtship worked in this world, but it seemed to carry a sort of angst-ridden gravity. "After school, just you and me?"

"Yeah, of course." Stan smiled and squeezed Kyle's shoulder. "You can always, you know. Talk to me."

"Thanks." Kyle smiled back at him and walked on, moving ahead of Stan before he remembered that in this universe he had to be the one who did the following, because without Stan's guidance he didn't have any clue where he should be headed next.

The rest of the day passed without incident, and also without any opportunities to talk with Clyde. The only thing Kyle was able to learn by eavesdropping on the boy's conversations was that he had a shift later at the local movie theater. Clyde complained to Craig that he would have to work concession, his least favorite task. The Craig from Kyle's world would have fluttered all over Clyde with sympathy, petting him and offering to do the job himself, no charge. This Craig was quite different, in a way that Kyle could almost admire.

"Why don't you quit, then?" Craig said, speaking in a bored monotone that seemed to suggest Clyde shouldn't be bothering him with his trifling problems.

"I need the money," Clyde said.

"For what?" Craig asked.

Clyde snorted. "For buying things, asshole."

Craig flicked Clyde off and Clyde turned around in his chair; conversation over. Kyle made a mental note to visit the movie theater later, after he had dealt with Stan. He wasn't sure if he would be able to actually fuck Stan today, but he was jonesing to, his dick a little hard under his desk just from the sight of Craig, who they had so thoroughly fucked together last night. That seemed a long time ago already, and Kyle felt a pang of lonesome worry. While doing his best to ignore the drone of his teachers' lectures he'd pondered his theory that this world's Kyle was not dead but residing in Smileytown, possibly trying to convince the people there that he was the same Kyle they'd always known. Stan would have been able to tell straight off, and Kyle suspected that this Stan would figure it out eventually, unless Kyle distracted him with sex.

After school, Stan drove the same group that he'd brought to school home, dropping Kenny off first. It was somewhat hard to get rid of Kenny, who was kissing Butters in the backseat throughout the drive, and unwilling to let him go once they were parked in the driveway of his small house.

"C'mon, dude," Stan said after a few awkward moments, the radio barely concealing the sound of slick lips and sad little moans.

"Stan's right, Ken," Butters said, pulling back, breathless. "I gotta be gettin' home."

"I'll come to your window tonight," Kenny said.

"You shouldn't," Butters said, but he smiled.

"Cartman did have something of a point," Kyle said to Butters when Kenny was gone and they were driving toward Butters' house.

"Whoa," Stan said.

"What?" Kyle asked.

"Nothing, just. What just came out of your mouth. That's something I never thought I'd hear you say."

Kyle shrugged, irritated at being corrected on how to behave by Stan of all people. "I just meant about running away." He turned back to Butters. "Why don't you?"

"Well --" Butters frowned and looked at Stan. "'Cause I've got school and stuff. And I don't have any money."

"I want to help you guys out," Kyle said. "I might have a way."

"How?" Stan asked incredulously.

"I need to think about it more. Stay tuned."

Stan laughed, but when Kyle met Butters' eyes in the rear view, he thought he sensed curiosity. Kyle winked. When they pulled up to Butters' house, his mother was standing in the front yard with a pair of gardening shears, tending to some rose bushes. She stared at the car as it pulled into the driveway, crossing her arms over her chest. Butters sighed.

"Stay strong, buddy," Kyle said, rage tunneling in his chest at the sight of that woman. Butters' parents had been some of the cruelest birth givers before the banishment, and they had created the monster that called itself Emperor Chaos.

"I'll see you fellas tomorrow," Butters said, and he got out of the car. His mother had questions for him, and Kyle could hear a 'yes, ma'am' and 'no, ma'am' as they pulled away.

"They've got some fucking nerve," Kyle said, still staring at Butters and his mother as Stan pulled away.

"Who?" Stan asked.

"Butters' parents." Any parents, Kyle thought. He wasn't looking forward to going back to his house and seeing the watered down versions of his own. "Can we go to your house?" he asked Stan.

"Sure," Stan said. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

"I'll tell you when we get there," Kyle said.

"You okay?" Stan asked, reaching over to pat Kyle's thigh. Kyle resisted the urge to take his hand and hold it. He would be able to do that and more soon enough.

"Sort of," Kyle said.

"Dude, you're worrying me. You've been so weird today. And what the fuck was that about helping Kenny and Butters? How are you going to do that?"

"Never mind," Kyle said, staring out the window, hoping that he was increasing his mystique and not just getting on Stan's nerves. "I'll tell you, just. Let's wait until we're in your room."

Stan's house was blissfully free of birth givers. Shelly was also nowhere to be found, and Kyle supposed she was old enough to have moved away and had her own life somewhere. He touched the scar on his cheek, thinking of the day when he got it, for standing up to Butters and helping Stan save his sister. He was surprised Stan hadn't mentioned the scar yet, though it was quite faint, just a thin white line, high on his left cheek. Butters had been wearing an early version of his Chaos armor when he hit Kyle, including metal gloves that went to his elbows, and though the cut wasn't deep, it had bled profusely, soaking Kyle's neck. More painful was what the blow signified, because even Stan couldn't come to Kyle's aid: after the massacre of the older kids, Butters had become the most powerful person in Smileytown. That was the day when Kyle and Stan were themselves banished, doomed to hopeless vulnerability in the country houses because of their choice to harbor Shelly and Larry. If they hadn't trekked to Jimbo's secret bunker to raid his supply of nonperishable food, finding his impressive arsenal in the meantime, they would have been captured and enslaved by Butters before the sun rose over the blood-splattered fields where the Hand of Death had made a name for himself.

Stan's room was charmingly messy, and it smelled lived-in but clean, like his car. His bed was unmade, and his desk was cluttered with papers. Kyle sat on the bed and picked up a notebook that was half obscured by the blankets. He was afraid to ask what it was, since it was possible that the other Kyle would have known. Stan shut the bedroom door and raced over to the bed when he saw Kyle opening the notebook.

"Don't," Stan said, snatching it out of his hands. Kyle swallowed down the urge to bark at him and ask him who the hell he thought he was; he would never get used to being told what to do by Stan.

"Jesus, sorry," Kyle said, scowling up at him. Stan clutched the notebook to his chest, his cheeks coloring.

"No - it's just." Stan ran his fingers over the spiral binding on the side of the notebook. "It's my songs."

"Oh." Kyle wasn't sure what sort of expression to put on his face, unable to tell if it should be news to him that Stan wrote songs or if his Kyle knew all about it. "Sorry," Kyle said, smiling. "I didn't mean to spy."

"It's just embarrassing," Stan said, muttering. He opened a drawer at the bottom of his nightstand and slid the notebook inside.

"Do you write songs about me?" Kyle asked, fairly certain that it would be a secret if Stan had. Stan just laughed and sat down on the bed beside Kyle, his cheeks still pink.

"What did you want to talk about?" he asked.

"Oh, that." Kyle sighed. This was harder than he'd expected, having to talk his way into Stan's arms. As children, after the banishment of the birth givers, they'd always slept together for warmth, bathed together to save water, and when they somewhat simultaneously discovered that it felt good to rub their dicks against each other's skin, they could think of no reason not to. There was no discussion, and Stan was the one who was more forward in some ways, or at least more experimental. He was the one who introduced soft, aimless kissing into their bedtime routine. Kyle had been resistant initially. He'd felt awkward, never really sure what to do with his tongue, but he had a habit of indulging Stan, who helped him learn the art of exchanging caresses with their tongues as well as their fingers.

"Tell me, man," Stan said, putting his hand on Kyle's knee. Kyle sighed. He'd practiced a few things in his head during the car ride, but all of them seemed forced and sentimental. He wanted to pin Stan to the mattress and get the hell on with it.

"Do you ever feel lonely when you're not with me?" Kyle asked, rushing the words out. He was blushing authentically, humiliated by this. Stan raised his eyebrows.

"Yeah," he said. "Of course. You're my best friend."

"Even when you're with other people?" Kyle asked. He'd done his best to condense his feelings for his own Stan into this little question and answer bit. Stan nodded slowly.

"Yeah," he said, more quietly this time. "I do, sometimes. You're the only-" He stopped himself and looked down at his hand, which was still on Kyle's knee. "You're the only one who makes me feel like I'm not by myself. Even when I was dating Wendy, it was like I was alone with Wendy, you know, and there was this pressure. With you, it's not like, 'I'm alone with Kyle.' It's like, 'I'm with Kyle.' That's all."

Stan looked up shyly, and Kyle felt triumphant, the way he had when he finally solidified his position with his own Stan by fucking his ass, thereby sealing his role as Master not just of him but of the household, since girl-loving Larry could never qualify.

"That's how I feel, too," Kyle said, and it was true, at least when it came to his own Stan. He was complete when they were together. "If anything ever happened to you," he said, closing his eyes and speaking to the Stan who wasn't with him. "I would just give up. There'd be nothing for me without you."

"Dude," Stan said, moving closer to him. When Kyle opened his eyes, he could see that his goal had been accomplished: their faces were just a few inches apart, and Stan was breathing harder. "I'm not going anywhere," Stan said. Kyle moaned, wishing that his own Stan could make this sort of promise. They were always in danger of being separated, and now they had been. Kyle closed his eyes again and pressed his lips to Stan's, trying to stop worrying about what his own Stan was doing without him. Stan exhaled in surprise, his lips parting against Kyle's.

"Sorry," Kyle whispered, pulling back a little. This Stan was so wide-eyed and sweet, reeling just from a short, dry kiss, and Kyle was sorry. If things hadn't been flipped around, this Stan would be with his own Kyle, who surely loved him. Kyle couldn't imagine any version of himself who wouldn't. He touched Stan's cheek, brushing his thumb over that blush.

"Dude," Stan said, breathing this out in a shaky whisper. The word seemed special to him, like baby and honey and all of that nonsense was for Kyle's Stan. This made Kyle grin, and he kissed Stan again, leaving his eyes open this time. Stan moved closer and put a shaky hand on Kyle's waist.

"I want to be with you," Kyle said, trying to make this sound seductive rather than pathetic and obvious. "With you, Stan. Really with you."

In you was more accurate, and maybe Stan could tell that this was what Kyle meant, because his pupils fattened with interest and his hand tightened on Kyle's waist. Kyle closed his eyes and leaned in for another kiss, but Stan threw himself off the bed before he could get one. Stunned and annoyed, Kyle sat there frowning while Stan dashed to the other side of the room and vomited into the little trash can under his desk.

"Jesus Christ," Kyle said, offended. Stan moaned and spit into the trash can, hunched over it on his knees.

"Kyle," he said. "I'm sorry. Shit, dude. You remember - with Wendy. I'm so fucking - I get so nervous."

"So this is nerves, not disgust?" Kyle said. He wasn't sure if he should get up and try to assist Stan in some way, or if that would cause another avalanche of pepperoni pizza.

"Of course it's not disgust!" Stan said, looking up at him tearfully. He was so soft; Kyle kept expecting to be repelled by that, but it was touching. "Kyle, I - I want to be with you, too - oh, God, hang on."

He ran out of the room. Kyle sighed and lay back on Stan's pillow, rolling over to take a deep breath full of the smell of this Stan's hair, which was just like his own Stan's. He pet the pillow and mouthed the word baby against it, depressed.

Stan returned after a few minutes, looking sheepish and terrified. Kyle sat up and tried to make his expression non-judgmental. He'd never employed much tenderness or care when it came to sex, unless he was very literally getting Stan ready to be fucked, and that clearly wouldn't be happening today.

"So," Stan said, closing the door and leaning back against it. He was pale, dodging Kyle's gaze and crossing his arms over his chest. "That was, like. My worst nightmare. I'm so sorry."

"There's nothing to be sorry for," Kyle said. "Unless you're telling me that you don't want to kiss me again."

"I do," Stan said, his voice actually breaking. He took a few steps toward the bed. "I really, really do. I'm just so bad at this. Wendy always got - fed up, but then she got insulted when I didn't get nervous anymore, 'cause she thought it meant I didn't care, and she was pretty much right-"

"Come here," Kyle said, patting the bed. "You don't have to be nervous, dude." He hoped the endearment was mutual between them; it felt natural, the way that baby did when his Stan was particularly wrecked by an orgasm.

Stan approached cautiously and sat on the bed, too far away for Kyle's liking, but he didn't want to get thrown up on, so he allowed Stan to keep his distance. Stan put his hand out, and Kyle took it.

"Maybe if I just get the biggest thing out of the way, I'll feel less nervous," Stan said.

"Okay," Kyle said, perking up, because he could only mean anal sex. Stan swallowed heavily and nodded to himself, his eyes locked on Kyle's.

"I love you," he said, his fingers twitching against Kyle's. "I'm in love with you. Kyle. You're the love of my life."

"Oh," Kyle said, and he actually had to withhold a baby. "Dude," he said instead, moving closer. He put his arms around Stan, who was trembling and seemed to be near tears. Kyle kissed his cheek. "I love you so much," he said, whispering, and it felt true in the moment, for this Stan as much as his own. He would take this Stan back with him and keep him safe somehow. This one, too, was already indispensable.

"Really?" Stan said, sniffling tears back. Kyle nodded.

"Really," he said. "Can't you see it when I look at you?"

"I love the way you look at me," Stan said, his mouth lowering over Kyle's as he spoke. "Like I matter so much."

"You do, oh. So much." Kyle wanted to slather him with endearments, which made him wonder if his Stan said all of those things to him because he saw Kyle this way, as a helpless little darling, but he pushed the thought away and kissed Stan deeply, tasting toothpaste.

Kyle had thought he would at least give Stan a blow job, if not a proper fingering, but that didn't happen. They stretched out in the bed together and mostly kissed, touching each other under their clothes, finally working their hands down between each other's legs after an hour of timid dry humping. Kyle's lips were sore and throbbing almost as painfully as his cock, but it wasn't entirely unpleasant, this lazy slowness. Stan came as soon as Kyle reached into his boxer shorts to grip him, and it was like watching him break apart, tugging at Kyle's heart the way it always did. Kyle finished soon afterward, wrapping his fingers around Stan's to guide his hand.

"Dude," Stan said when they were nuzzling at each other afterward, Kyle floating in a rare, buzzing calm, his plans and schemes very far away. Stan threaded his arm under Kyle's neck and held him, his hand coming to rest on Kyle's shoulder. "All of those songs in that notebook are about you," he said, his blush returning.

"Sing one to me," Kyle said, and Stan laughed, cringing.

"No way, dude," he said. He ran a fingertip along the curve of Kyle's ear, then down along his jaw. "They're not ready yet."

Stan fell asleep, which Kyle had fully expected. His own Stan could never stay awake for very long after an orgasm. He kissed Stan's face while he slept, reluctant to leave him, though the sun was going down and he had things he needed to get done. He allowed himself to daydream about his own Stan - or, his other Stan, now, really - comforting this one during the transition period, and how beautiful they would look together, how exquisite it would be if Kyle could train them to climax at the same time, shivering against each other with that pleasure that seemed to almost painfully overwhelm both of them. Maybe he would require his original Stan to continue being lazy about shaving, while this one would be expected to keep his cheeks as baby soft as they were now. Either way, Kyle would always be able to tell them apart. They had a different way of looking at him: this one reverently, and the other with slightly more fond indulgence, because he knew things about Kyle that no one else did. He was the only person in any universe who had ever seen Kyle weep.

Kyle extracted himself from Stan's embrace carefully, though he suspected that this Stan was a deep sleeper like his Stan at home, and it proved true. He considered peeking at that notebook full of songs, then decided that would be cruel, and penned a quick note for Stan before leaving:

Have to go home for dinner, etc. See you tomorrow. Dream about me. Love, K

He took one last look at Stan as he reached for the doorknob. Stan had his back to the door, and he was still dressed, his cock cleaned on the sheets and tucked back into his pants, something Kyle took care to do before he climbed out of bed. He wouldn't want Stan's birth givers to find him indecent. There had been very strict punishments for that in Kyle's world, before the banishment.

The town was laid out the same way that it was back home, and Kyle was able to find his house easily. He slipped inside without drawing the attention of the birth givers, who were again in the kitchen, his mother talking loudly and his father grunting in acknowledgement of each statement she made. Kyle put his backpack in his room and undressed, hoping that this house had an adequate water heater. He hadn't had a hot shower in nine years.

In the shower, he made the water as hot as it would go and stayed in for a long time after washing himself, touching his cock and thinking about Stan. He came twice more, feeling almost insane with arousal as the water blasted against his nipples. After his second orgasm, he was interrupted by someone knocking on the door, then opening it before he answered.

"Hey!" Kyle shouted. "I'm in here!"

"Bubbeh, you've been in the shower for almost forty minutes!" It was his mother, of course. Kyle grit his teeth with rage. "You're being very wasteful!" she said. "Also, dinner is ready."

"I'll be right down," Kyle said, the promise of another hot meal that probably wasn't just potato pancakes and jerky calming his rage somewhat. Still, he hated this. That woman had no right to tell him what to do.

Dinner was excellent: deliciously seasoned, fatty beef stew, buttery rolls, and all the cold milk he could drink. Kyle ate until his stomach ached, then ate a little more.

"It's good to see you finally have an appetite!" his mother said, boggling at him as he reached for a fourth roll. "I hope you don't have a tape worm or something." This made Ike laugh.

"Maybe Kyle is pregnant," he said. Kyle gave him a murderous stare, but Ike just grinned.

"Where are you going?" Sheila asked when Kyle rose from the table, finally too full to manage another bite.

"Out," Kyle said shortly. "To see a friend."

"Don't you have homework?" Gerald asked.

"It's finished," Kyle said. "I did it over at Stan's after school."

"Oh, I bet you did it at Stan's," Ike said, snickering. Kyle frowned at him, wondering how much he knew.

"You can go out, but only for an hour," Sheila said. "And put that plate in the dish washer before you go."

"Who is this friend you're seeing?" Gerald asked. Kyle turned his back to the table, wanting to smash the plate into pieces. It was none of their business what his plans were.

"Clyde Donovan," Kyle said.

"I didn't know you were friends with the Donovan boy," Sheila said.

"Well, maybe you don't know everything about me."

"Kyle!" Gerald said. "Don't sass your mother."

"You're so moody today!" Sheila added.

"Obviously pregnant," Ike said.

Kyle wanted to shout at all of them to shut the hell up, but he couldn't. He slipped his bowl into the dish washer and gathered his composure before turning to the table.

"Can I go now?" he asked. It was so hard to face the birth givers after everything that had happened. His rage was partially due to the fear he felt when he looked at them; he hadn't realized that it still lingered so strongly.

"Go ahead," Sheila said. "Just be back in an hour, young man, you hear me?"

"Yes," Kyle said. The demand was annoying, but he was fairly sure he would have all the information about Clyde that he needed in less than an hour.

He walked to the movie theater, which was abandoned in his world, raided for candy shortly after the birth givers had gone. Somebody had stolen the popcorn machine, too, but nobody in Smileytown had power after a few months of delinquent payments, so it was probably in one of the many dumps that had accumulated around town. It was strange to be walking at night without a weapon, alone and vulnerable, but Kyle made it to the movie theater unharassed.

Slipping in without a ticket was easy enough. It was a weeknight, and none of the attendants seemed especially interested in what was going on. Behind the concession counter, Clyde was playing with his phone, dressed in a dorky red vest, a black bow tie cinched around the collar of his white shirt. This Clyde projected a kind of blunt insecurity that made him seem less handsome than his counterpart in Kyle's world, who was quite vain about his body and had arms like tree trunks. This Clyde had the potential to be powerful-looking like the one Kyle knew, but he obviously wasn't interested in putting forth the effort. He was pudgy, with a soft, round face, the buttons on his vest straining to stay fastened.

"What's up?" he said when Kyle approached the concession counter. "You here by yourself?"

"Yeah," Kyle said. "I didn't really come to see a movie, though."

"Oh." Clyde stared at him for a moment. He seemed a bit slow, or just noncritical. "Wait, what? Why else would someone come to a movie theater?"

"I heard you talking about your shift in class," Kyle said. "I was bored, so I thought I might keep you company."

"Oh," Clyde said again. He frowned. "That was nice of you," he said, sounding as if he suspected ulterior motives. Kyle shrugged.

"I was also hoping for some free popcorn," he said. He'd burned off some of his dinner during the walk, and the stuff smelled delicious. Clyde grinned.

"I sneak it all the time," he said, going to the machine to fill a small container with popcorn. "It's why I'm getting fat, probably. You want butter?"

"Absolutely," Kyle said, and Clyde squirted three generous globs onto the popcorn. He set it on the counter, and they ate it together in companionable silence, a large television screen over the doorway to the theaters playing previews for upcoming movies. When Kyle's fingers became buttery, Clyde produced napkins.

"Soda?" he offered, and Kyle nodded. "All this stuff is so cheap," Clyde said while he filled a large cup with Pepsi. "And they charge so much for it. This soda would cost you $4.75 if you were a paying customer."

"That's insane," Kyle said. "I guess I owe you one for the discount," he said when Clyde brought him the soda. Clyde shrugged. He stared down at the countertop for awhile, and Kyle got the impression Clyde was trying to decide whether or not to say something, so he stayed quiet, munching more popcorn.

"I guess you heard what an asshole Craig was being," Clyde said.

"Yeah," Kyle said. "I noticed. He flipped you off, too."

"Well, that's normal," Clyde said. "But yeah. Why should I be okay with him flipping me off all the time? And always being an asshole? Why are we even friends, you know?"

"I know," Kyle said. He thought of Craig and Clyde in his world. Craig was hopelessly devoted to Clyde - more so than to Tweek, common knowledge that made Tweek treat Craig fairly horribly - and Clyde was neither cruel nor especially indulgent of Craig. He seemed to tolerate Craig with a bored indifference, which was precisely how Craig had behaved toward Clyde in class.

"And the thing is," Clyde continued, getting worked up, "He doesn't act that way toward all his friends. He treats Token with respect, probably just because he's rich. And Tweek! He acts like Tweek's fucking nut job ravings are entertaining or something. He never picks on Tweek because he's so fragile or whatever."

"Interesting," Kyle said. He wondered why his relationship with Stan wasn't somehow inverted. He supposed it was possible that Stan would expect to top, though Kyle couldn't imagine him getting through it without vomiting from anxiety.

"It's not interesting, Kyle," Clyde said. "It's stupid. And I'm sick of it. Craig was in here earlier, actually. With Tweek. Like, taunting me because I was working and they were watching movies for free. And getting free concessions. Why do I let them do that?"

He was agitated, and staring at Kyle like he expected Kyle to have an answer for him. Kyle sighed as if he was sympathizing deeply. He was actually finding all of this incredibly boring, though useful. Clearly, in this universe, Clyde was the one who was hopelessly devoted to Craig, or wanted to be, anyway.

"If you want, you could sit with us at lunch tomorrow," Kyle said.

"But you guys sit with Cartman," Clyde said.

"True," Kyle said. "But you're welcome to join us if you feel like you can endure Cartman. You know, if you want to show Craig that he can't walk all over you."

"Maybe I will," Clyde said. He was quiet for a while, as if thinking. Kyle had realized what he would need to do in order to get this guy to follow him through the portal, and he wasn't happy about it, but he was almost positive that it would work.

"Are you getting off shift soon?" Kyle asked, though he knew that Clyde was. He had heard him complaining to Craig that he didn't get off until nine. Clyde nodded. "Maybe you could give me a ride home?" Kyle said. "I walked here, and I saw this weird guy hanging around by the drug store. I didn't recognize him, and he was staring at me, and he followed me for a few blocks, until this car drove by." None of this was true.

"A creeper?" Clyde said, and his concerned expression was almost cute.

"Maybe," Kyle said. "Anyway, I'd appreciate it if you could give me a lift."

"Sure," Clyde said. "I'm off in fifteen minutes. You want more popcorn?"

"I shouldn't," Kyle said, his stomach aching with fullness. "But - yes."

Fifteen minutes later, Clyde turned off the popcorn machine and the lights in the candy display shelf, scooped the old popcorn into a Hefty bag and logged out on a computer in a back room while Kyle waited outside. When Clyde came out of the room, he was still carrying the trash bag of popcorn. He'd taken off the bow tie and vest, and had unbuttoned and untucked the shirt, revealing a thin white undershirt. He looked much more handsome than he had in his uniform, and Kyle tried to be heartened by this, though he still didn't want to do what he would have to do when they were alone in the car together.

"I take these home with me," Clyde said, indicating the bag full of popcorn. "I probably shouldn't."

"Don't worry about it," Kyle said. If they were home and things were normal, he would have said, Of course you fucking shouldn't, it's an entire garbage bag full of popcorn, I'm a goddamn pig and even I find that disgusting. "You look great," he said instead. Clyde snorted.

Out in the parking lot, Clyde's was one of three remaining cars. The theater was open for another hour, Clyde explained, but if you wanted concessions after nine on a weekday, you were out of luck.

"I wonder if that creeper is still around," Clyde said as they drove through town. He was leaning over the steering wheel and driving slow, searching the empty streets. "What did he look like? Other than creepy."

"Maybe fifty, with a scraggly gray beard," Kyle said. At home, anyone that old would be killed on sight if caught near Smileytown.

"Scraggly gray beard." Clyde made a face. "Sounds like a dangerous loner."

"For sure," Kyle said, sort of unable to believe this guy. His heart was beating fast with dread. He dug his nails into his palms and told himself to man up, because there was no other way.

"So another thing about Craig," Clyde said once they'd passed through town, and Kyle tuned the rest of it out. He had more than enough information about Clyde to make his play. This Clyde was an open book, the complete opposite - not surprisingly, at this point - of the Clyde at home, who was impassive and seemingly free from attachments. He only co-ruled with Tweek so that he could seem like the 'nice guy' in comparison, since Tweek was drunk and surly around the clock, and Clyde fucked Craig on a regular basis, but carelessly loaned him out to anyone he wanted a favor from. Even Butters had more personal liability, though Kyle suspected he would let the Hand of Death be tortured and killed rather than allow himself to be inconvenienced by retrieving him. Still, everyone in Smileytown knew that Butters would feel that loss acutely, whereas there was nothing and nobody that could be held hostage in order to get to Clyde.

When they pulled up to Kyle's house, Kyle checked the windows to make sure no one was watching. He almost hoped they were, so that he would have an excuse to abandon his plan, but he knew he was being foolish. It was just that he had never been with anyone but Stan, discounting Craig, who they'd had together.

"So anyway," Clyde said, concluding his lengthy rant about Craig. "Maybe I will sit with you guys tomorrow."

"Can I blow you?" Kyle asked, tired of him. Clyde turned to look at Kyle, both hands still on the steering wheel.

"Can you what?"

"Blow you," Kyle said. "Give you a blow job. Suck your dick. Would you like that?"

Clyde stared at him. He had big, cow-like brown eyes in both worlds, and in Kyle's it made Clyde seem likable when he wanted to be thought of as a good guy, and dangerous when he was smiling coldly, in disturbing contrast to those warm eyes. In this world, the warmth came off more like aggravating naivety. At least, it was aggravating Kyle at the moment.

"What about Stan?" Clyde asked. His nasal voice still lacked any inflection, as if he was merely considering this as a business proposal, able to disconnect from arousal and surprise for the sake of making a decision.

"Stan?" Kyle said. "What's it got to do with Stan?"

"Well. Aren't you and him. Together?"

"Stan likes girls," Kyle said, because apparently he had once puked on Wendy.

"Oh," Clyde said. "But. Don't you. Love him?"

"My God," Kyle said. "Is it that obvious? Well, we're in the same boat then, aren't we?"


"Me and Stan, you and Craig," Kyle said, unable to keep some cold impatience from leaking into his tone. "It's pretty obvious, dude. You want Craig, and Craig is more interested in Tweek. Who did he take to the movies tonight, Clyde? Not you."

"I was working," Clyde said, his hands dropping into his lap. He moaned and put his forehead against the steering wheel, closing his eyes. "Fuck," he said.

"All I'm saying is, I like dick," Kyle said. "And I'm curious about yours. If you want to put it in my mouth, I'd like that. So what do you say?"

Clyde said yes, of course. It was true that Kyle had always been curious about Clyde's dick, because he found the rest of the Clyde from home attractive. He'd never planned on actually encountering that Clyde's member, and the only good thing about this situation was the feeling that he was spying on the Clyde from home, who was powerful and somewhat fascinating. This Clyde was neither, but his cock wasn't bad, medium-length and thick, a little excessive in the foreskin department. He came quickly, one big hand on the back of Kyle's head while Kyle swallowed it down. His spunk tasted abysmally bad, probably from all that industrial strength popcorn butter. Kyle pulled off and wiped his mouth, hoping that his disgust wasn't apparent.

"Fuck," Clyde said again, blissfully this time. He just sat there panting, legs spread and cock still out, getting soft against his belly while he watched Kyle from beneath heavy eyelids.

"You tell anyone about this and I kill you painfully," Kyle said, feeling like himself again. Clyde huffed.

"Back atcha," he said. "Especially about the Craig thing. But, Kyle." He frowned and reached over to touch Kyle's leg. "We could kiss and stuff," he said. "You don't have to be all hard."

Clyde had seemingly failed to notice that Kyle wasn't hard; this was where his being dim came in handy. Kyle forced a smile and leaned over to kiss him. Clyde's breath was only slightly better than his come.

"I've got to go," Kyle said after enduring a few minutes of this. "I've got curfew. See you at school?"

"Sure," Clyde said. "And tomorrow, um. Maybe you could teach me how to do that?"

"Suck cock? Sure, yeah. Fantastic. Will do. Bye."

Kyle hurried into the house, ignoring his mother's questions and bolting up the stairs. He went into the bathroom, closed the door, turned the water on full blast and proceeded to vomit up everything he'd eaten all day. By the time he was done he was exhausted, shaking. He closed the toilet lid and rested his sweaty forehead against it, telling himself that he was doing this for Stan. If he could get Clyde and Butters through the portal and present them as a united front behind him, it would cause enough chaos and confusion to pave the way for his reign, and he could reshape the world at home so that it was a place where he could keep both Stans safe. That was what he was doing this for, he reminded himself over and over before he could rise on his shaking legs: for Stan.

In his room, he picked up the phone that he'd mostly figured out how to use and saw messages from Stan. There were three, each roughly an hour apart.

Hi :)

I miss you

you okay dude?

Kyle felt sick again, but he had nothing left to throw up. He opened a reply box and typed with his thumbs, which took even longer than it had when he'd tried this earlier, because his hands were trembling.

I am fine, i had to eat with parents and do homework. I love you stan. I wish you were here with me.

He got a response less than a minute after sending:

I wish that, too. love you

He went to bed with the phone curled in his hand, imagining that this was a message from his Stan at home, a promise that he was still safe, waiting for Kyle's return.

Since he couldn't do anything about the impossible political situation but hope that the other Kyle would soon return to deal with it, Kyle used his authority for other purposes. The first thing he did was order that the entire house be cleaned from top to bottom, arguing that the clutter left too many places for intruders to hide. Only Larry was against this, but he fell in line when Kyle barked that he could help them clean or find someplace else to live. It was amazing, being able to order someone older and bigger around like that, but Kyle wasn't on enough of a power trip to avoid helping out himself, even when certain untended corners of the household made him literally vomit with disgust. He forced himself to deal with it, though Stan told him he should rest. After two days of almost nonstop cleaning, the house actually resembled the one Kyle knew from home, floors clear and clean, everything in as rightful a place as possible. Stan burned some incense to get rid of the smell of harsh cleaning products, and to Kyle it seemed like he was banishing the old, filthy spirits of the house.

Toward the end of their second day of cleaning, Kyle was upstairs organizing the contents of the drawers in the bedroom when he heard a vehicle approaching outside. Stan had been working across the hall in the bathroom, and just as Kyle opened his mouth to call for him Stan was there, dashing into the room and going to the window.

"Stay back," he said when Kyle tried to join him. Kyle did, watching as Stan pulled back the curtain in a way that would be imperceptible to anyone outside. "Fuck," he said.

"Who is it?" Kyle asked. He was holding a dirty rag, exhausted from a full day of cleaning, and he wasn't up for battle with these people under the best of circumstances.

"It's Token," Stan said. "And Bebe -- and Craig, shit. What the fuck is this?"

"Do they have guns?" Kyle asked.

"Of course," Stan said. He let the curtain fall back into place and went to Kyle. "They're not drawn, though. Let me go downstairs and deal with this."

"Wouldn't I, though?" Kyle said. "If it were your Kyle, wouldn't he go?"

"I could tell them you're indisposed," Stan said. "It's an unannounced visit — Kyle would be insulted if these three expected an audience with him without warning. Token's more on my level. I'll talk to him. You stay up here." He kissed Kyle's forehead and went for the door without waiting for a response. Kyle felt slightly insulted, but mostly relieved.

Kyle went to the door and tried to listen, but he could only hear Larry's booming objections to whatever was going on. The others all seemed to be talking at once, and there was a feeling of confused panic that made Kyle's heart slam. He cracked the door open.

"It's out of the question," Stan said.

"Well, we can't take him with us!" Bebe said. "And we couldn't leave him there."

"I'm sorry to be so much trouble." That was Craig, and his voice was watery, weak.

"Shh," Shelly said. "Come into the kitchen. I'll wrap some snow in a dish towel. That will help with the swelling."

Kyle tried to maintain a calm, leader-esque posture as he walked down the stairs. Most everyone was gathered in the lobby, except for Shelly, Ike, and Craig. Kyle could hear Craig weeping softly in the kitchen.

"What's going on?" Kyle asked. Everyone had fallen silent to watch him descend. Bebe was giving him a brazen stare. Token had dropped his eyes to the ground.

"These idiots think we're going to harbor a fugitive," Larry said. "Just because Tweek beat him up a little. This can't be the first time," he said, turning back to Bebe.

"No," she said. "But it was never like this. He wouldn't stop. They're stressed out, you know, waiting to see what you'll do. At this point they're half sure that you're going to team up with Butters and use the Hand of Death to kill everyone in the Mansion."

"Whatever happens, we're done," Token said. "And we've got to hurry and get back on the road. They think I'm using the car to come here and threaten you, but they'll notice Craig and Bebe are gone soon."

"They've left the Mansion," Stan said to Kyle when he came to Stan's side. "They're leaving Smileytown for good."

"I won't make my baby suffer their whims," Bebe said, touching her stomach. "And whatever you guys decide, there's going to be a war."

"You don't know what it's like," Token said. He slid an arm around Bebe's waist and drew her to him. "When you really care about the person you're gonna have a kid with, when it's not just your duty. We already love our baby."

"You're selfish," Larry said, pointing his finger at Token. "You don't think me and Shelly could have done this? We didn't, because it would bring consequences for everyone in our household. Now you're doing this reckless shit and trying to put it off on us? Please. Kyle, tell them!"

"Please," Token said to Kyle. "We brought him here because we trust you guys. You're not like Tweek and Clyde, and you're nothing like Butters. If we didn't have the baby to think of we would stay here with you, too."

"You haven't been invited to stay," Stan said. "And neither has Craig."

"Let me see him," Kyle said. He headed toward the kitchen and stopped in the doorway when he saw Shelly tending to Craig. He had bruises rising on his cheeks and a cut on his lip. The sleeve of his shirt was torn, and Shelly carefully peeled it away to access the gash on his arm. Craig blinked tears and sniffled pitifully, his uninjured arm resting on the table. Ike sat across from him, holding his hand.

"I'm so sorry," Craig said when he saw Kyle. "I just thought. Usually Clyde stops him." He dissolved into tears again, and Ike knelt down on the recently scrubbed floor to hug Craig's legs.

"Kyle," Ike said, looking at him.

"We'll keep Craig," Kyle said.

"What?" Larry shouted. "We can't!"

"Kyle," Stan said. "They'll think--"

"We don't have a choice," Kyle said. "Even if we return him now, they'll take the fact that he was brought here as an affront. And this actually may work to our advantage."

"How?" Larry asked.

"Craig knows things," Bebe said, chiming in from the hallway. "About Tweek and Clyde -- they underestimate him, they think he's an idiot." Bebe pushed around Kyle and walked to Craig. "He's not stupid," she said, petting his hair. "Oh -- come here." She knelt down and hugged him while he cried.

"We've got to go," Token said.

"This is insane!" Larry said. "It's as good as declaring war!"

"They don't have to know he's here," Token said. "And the quicker me and Bebe get out of here, the better chance you have of hiding him. C'mon," he said, holding hand out for Bebe as she rose. "Let's go."

"Thank you," Bebe said to Kyle as she passed by. She touched his shoulder. "And good luck."

"I can't fucking believe this!" Larry said as Token and Bebe headed for the door.

"Larry, please," Shelly said. She looked up from cleaning Craig's cut and met Larry's eyes. "He needs us to be kind, not practical. We asked for the same thing, once."

"We're family!" Larry said.

"Shelly is," Stan said, and that shut Larry up, though he was still scoffing under his breath. Stan went to the door to say goodbye to Bebe and Token, and Kyle joined him, still feeling stunned, mostly by the sight of Craig's injuries. He thought of the beating they had tricked Tweek and Craig into giving each other as kids and felt bad about it all over again.

When Token and Bebe had gone, Larry went upstairs to sulk and Shelly started making dinner. Craig attempted to help, and she told him to sit down, to relax. Kyle took Stan's arm and pulled him into the empty foyer.

"Could it be a trick?" he asked, whispering.

"Maybe," Stan said. "But they wouldn't have trusted Craig with the plan, either way. They do think he's an idiot."

"I did the wrong thing, didn't I?" Kyle asked. "Not what your Kyle would have done?"

"You did the right thing," Stan said. He squeezed Kyle's arm and didn't answer his second question.

Craig was quiet at dinner, dressed in one of Stan's shirts, his arm bandaged and his bruises darkening. Kyle had intended to let him sleep on the couch, but Ike pulled Craig into his room after dinner, babbling about Cookie Monster while he made a nest of blankets for Craig on the floor near his bed.

"Are you alright?" Kyle asked, standing in the doorway and watching Ike tuck Craig in like he was a stuffed animal. Craig looked at Kyle. He seemed surprised by the question.

"Yes," Craig said, sounding uncertain. "Thank you."

Despite the unsettling presence of Craig, having the house clean and ordered was a comfort to Kyle. He still had trouble sleeping that night, though he was warm under the blankets, wrapped up in Stan's arms. He almost didn't mind staying awake, because he could listen to Stan's heartbeat and revel in the closeness of him. Stan slept in his underwear and smelled like heaven, even if it he wasn't actually the Stan that Kyle had always dreamed about.

Kyle slept late the following morning, and woke when someone opened the bedroom door. It was just Stan, but Kyle was still startled when he turned, thinking for a moment that it was his Stan from home.

"You shaved," Kyle said, surprised.

"I figured, since we're cleaning everything up," Stan said. He touched his face, and he seemed suddenly self-conscious in a way that also reminded Kyle of his own Stan. "Cut my hair for me?" Stan said, lifting a pair of scissors that looked as if they were more suited for cutting open cardboard boxes.

"I've never cut anyone's hair before," Kyle said, not thrilled about the idea of trying it.

"It's easy," Stan said, and he pressed the scissors into Kyle's hand. "You just make it shorter."

Kyle laughed, and Stan's grin affected him the way that it had for a few days now: warmth low in his stomach, heat on his cheeks, an elevated heart rate. Kyle knew what it all meant, but he wasn't sure what to do with it. He felt as if he was betraying the Stan he'd loved for so long, and that other Kyle, too.

Stan sat in a chair that they'd unearthed under all the clutter in the right corner of the room. Kyle had used some wood polish on it, and it actually looked pretty nice, like the rest of the furniture did after being cleaned and mended. He put a clean towel around Stan's neck and combed his fingers through Stan's hair.

"How much do you want me to take off?" Kyle asked.

"Just make it so it's not hanging in my face."

"I could buzz it off," Kyle said, because apparently Stan did his Kyle's hair with a battery-powered razor.

"No," Stan said. "Not too short."

"Are you vain about your hair?" Kyle asked. "My Stan is. He's got really nice hair, just like this." He ran his fingers through Stan's hair again, possibly in excess of what was required, pre-haircut.

"I like yours better," Stan said. "Take your hat off."

Kyle's cheeks got hot again, as if Stan had asked him to remove his pants. He removed his ushanka and hung it on the back of the chair. His hair was messy, he could feel it, but Stan seemed mesmerized by it anyway.

"Why does your Kyle keep it short?" Kyle asked, though he could guess. He'd been tempted to shave his off many times.

"Cause it makes him look tougher," Stan said.

"But you're the only one who sees him without his hat." "He wants me to think he's tough," Stan said, and he looked mildly horrified, like he wanted to take that back. "Go ahead," he said, nodding to the scissors. "Start at the back, okay?"

Kyle took only careful little snips at first, doing more as he gained some confidence. He moved around to the right side, then the left, trimming Stan's hair so that it no longer hung over the tops of his ears. Finally he came to the front, and he bent forward, pulling Stan's bangs through his fingers and cutting off the frayed, curling ends.

"You can sit in my lap," Stan said, and Kyle heard him swallow. "If you want. Kyle usually does. It's easier on your back that way."

"Oh — okay." Kyle straddled Stan's legs and sat down, feeling awkward. They both laughed a little when their eyes met, and Stan put his hand on Kyle's waist, drawing him forward. Kyle's hand was shaking when he lifted the scissors again. Stan's eyes were so bright, no longer hidden by his overlong hair, and he smelled like the soap he'd used to shave, freshly polished.

"How's it looking?" Stan asked when Kyle was putting the finishing touches on his bangs, making sure they were straight, but not too straight.

"Really good," Kyle said, pleased with himself. "I mean, it's funny. You look just like my Stan now. There's something different, though."


"Yeah, but I can't put my finger on it." Kyle reached up to set the scissors on top of the dresser, and he dropped back into Stan's lap to brush bits of hair from his soft, fragrant cheeks. He could feel Stan's eyes on him like a sun that he was afraid to look at directly, Stan's lingering gaze making him grow warmer inside his clothes.

"I can't believe your Stan doesn't kiss you," Stan said. "I don't think you could possibly convince me that he doesn't want to."

"It's different where I'm from," Kyle said. "Stan is normal for liking girls. Some people feel that way, anyway. Most people, I guess. I'm like Larry and Token are here. I'm weird for liking boys."

"That's so messed up," Stan said.

"Yeah," Kyle said, muttering. He kept cleaning Stan's cheeks, though he was really just stroking them, all the little hair bits gone. Stan caught Kyle's left hand and brought it down to his lips for a kiss. Kyle assumed this was a sign that he should get up, but when he tried to, Stan gripped his waist, pulling him back down.

"You should at least know what it's like," Stan said. "In case he never does kiss you."

"He won't," Kyle said. "But," he said when Stan leaned closer. Kyle's heart was pounding, both of his hands shaking on Stan's chest. "What about your Kyle?"

"He'd be insulted if I didn't want to kiss you," Stan said. Kyle grinned a little, swooning in until they were breathing the same air, both of them with their eyes still open.

"Alright," Kyle said, his lips already brushing against Stan's when he spoke. "Show me."

Kyle had never been kissed seriously before, and never at all by a boy. Certainly never by Stan. He'd expected it to be good, but maybe not as good as pointing the detachable shower head between his ass cheeks or other more sensational things. It was like that in the sense that his dick was filling with blood between his legs, straining against his pants, but it was better, too, soft and sweet and so intimate that he felt afraid, though not scared enough to stop kissing Stan deeply and without pause. Stan slid his hands under Kyle's shirt, rubbing calloused fingertips up and down his back. Kyle was beginning to writhe a bit, looking for friction against his cock, shifting until their trapped erections pressed together. They both groaned, and Kyle pulled back to pant, moving his hips again and again, electric heat pulsing from his balls to the base of his spine and back.

"There you go," Stan whispered when Kyle braced a hand on Stan's shoulder for leverage, rubbing his cock against Stan's more desperately. "Just like that," Stan said. "Good, yeah. That feel good?"

Kyle cried out in answer, coming hard in his pants. He fell onto Stan and hid his face against Stan's neck, embarrassed, but only a little, because Stan was whispering more praise, stroking Kyle's back with one hand, the other cupped around Kyle's neck.

"Jesus Christ," Kyle said weakly. He licked Stan just under his jaw, where he smelled amazing, clean but dark, secret.

"I could teach you everything," Stan said when Kyle shyly met his eyes. "I don't know how much longer we have, but. I could teach you everything today, if you want. You're him, you know, this is his body, so. I know how to make you feel good."

"Please," Kyle said, nodding, crazed, already getting hard again. "Yeah, please."

They moved to the bed, and Kyle squirmed out of his sticky shorts and too-tight pants before getting under the blankets. The sheets had been laundered, and they felt nice but too cold. Kyle pressed himself to Stan when he climbed in beside him, naked and still hard.

"What do you want to learn first?" Stan asked, helping Kyle out of his shirt.

"I don't know," Kyle said. He moaned and grabbed Stan's hip under the blankets, gluing himself to Stan's bare skin, shoulder to ankle. "God, fuck. Just this feels so good."

"Yeah," Stan said, running two fingers from the back of Kyle's neck and down along his spine, over the crack of his ass. "This is what we work for, you know, why we have to stay free. So we can have this one simple thing, the best thing."

"I want to suck your dick," Kyle said, whispering this against Stan's neck. He grinned when he felt Stan shiver.

"That's good," Stan said, pulling Kyle up until their eyes met. "You go right ahead. It's all yours. I'll give you pointers if you need them."

"I haven't even touched it yet," Kyle said, his heart pounding. His hand skimmed down over Stan's chest as he said so, and Stan smiled sweetly, giving him permission. Stan's eyelids grew heavier when Kyle took hold of his cock under the blankets, and Kyle moaned when he felt that thickness in his hand, that heat.

"Take your time," Stan said, hooking an arm around Kyle's shoulders while Kyle gave him timid strokes under the blankets, rubbing his index finger through the wet tip. He brought his finger up to taste it, and Stan moaned, nodding. "Baby," he said, and it was different from the way he'd addressed Kyle when he thought he was someone else. "You're such a baby, aren't you?" Stan said fondly, licking into Kyle's mouth again.

"I'm not a baby," Kyle said when he pulled back. "Just, I've been waiting for someone I'll never have."

"Don't make me sad," Stan said. "God, I can't imagine me without Kyle. I'd be so hollow."

"Is that how you feel now?" Kyle asked, worried. "Since you don't have him?"

Stan shook his head and shifted on top of Kyle, rolling him onto his back. Kyle held his breath, waiting to feel afraid, but it was still just Stan, warm and calm, and the only person in the world — whatever version he could have — who Kyle would ever trust to lie naked on top of him.

"I feel different," Stan said. "It's different, with you. Not hollow, though, fuck. You feel so good. You're so soft."

"Not really," Kyle said, hitching his hips so Stan could feel that he was hard again, and Stan grinned.

They didn't sleep that night, though Kyle was definitely not fully conscious at moments. They started slow, Kyle writhing while Stan licked him everywhere, lingering on Kyle's nipples until they felt more like objects of worship than awkwardly over-sized telltale signs of arousal. Stan sucked Kyle off first, to demonstrate, and Kyle was crying when he came, holding Stan's ears. He'd wanted to try sucking dick since the first 2D picture he saw of the act, and it was harder than it looked but not nearly as scary as he'd feared. Stan rubbed his hand through Kyle's curls the whole time, moaning like he was getting off on his hair, too. Kyle hadn't felt remotely attractive since Bebe made comments about his ass in elementary school, but Stan made him feel like he actually deserved to be treated this way, like he was as irresistible as he was sacred.

"Want more?" Stan asked when Kyle was on his back again, holding his legs apart so Stan could fuck him with his tongue, making the blush on Kyle's cheeks burn all the way down his chest. Kyle looked down at Stan, aware that he was referring to fingers.

"Yeah," Kyle said, realizing as he said so that he wasn't afraid of anything at the moment, not even the thought of Stan's big cock up his ass, or becoming embroiled in a war in an alternate dimension, or kissing his own Stan on the mouth if he ever got home, just in case, just to find out for sure.

"There's this thing Kyle does to me," Stan said, rubbing Kyle with the pad of his finger casually, like this was some commonplace thing and not the most incredible combination of strangeness and pleasure Kyle had ever felt. "I'll try to do it to you, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to. He never lets me, you know. Go inside."

"How come?" Kyle asked.

"It's a thing," Stan said. "A master-servant kind of thing." He grinned when Kyle laughed, toying with his nipples himself now, since Stan was too far away to do it for him. "What?" Stan asked.

"Nothing," Kyle said. "What's this 'thing,' anyway? The, uh, thing that he does to you?"

"It's a way he crooks his finger once it's in there," Stan said. "He hits this — spot. It's like, all he has to do is rub it a little and I come all over myself. It's amazing. I've been kind of sad, you know, that I can't do it for him."

"The prostate," Kyle said.


"That's what it's called, that spot. You should — yeah. It'd be cool if you could find it, 'cause. I've heard good things."

After maybe ten minutes of blindly exploring Kyle's ass with his finger, holding Kyle and kissing him throughout, because Kyle felt too vulnerable with Stan down there between his legs, Stan found it.

"Are you sure?" Stan asked, and Kyle screamed, kicking at the air with the leg that was least likely to connect with any part of Stan.

"Fuck," Kyle cried. "Yes."

Kyle wasn't sure how much time had passed, but the sun was already sinking a little, glowing somewhere behind the dense gray clouds and the navy sheet that covered the window in lieu of a proper curtain. Kyle was delirious from coming six times with only a few thin naps between the most significant ejaculations, but he was also addicted, not even to coming so much as to being touched in new and various ways, and he was begging for more in whispers that Stan kissed off his lips.

"You're so sleepy," Stan said, petting his face. "You can barely keep your eyes open."

"I feel good, though," Kyle said. "Don't you want to fuck me? Don't you want to know what it's like? What kind of noises your Kyle would make if he ever let you do it?"

"I don't know that they'd be the same noises," Stan said, looking down at him sadly, still stroking his cheek.

"How about when I came in your mouth?" Kyle asked. "Did I sound like him then?"

"God. Yes."

"I can't even remember what I sounded like, actually."

"You, um, you whined a little. And did this nhnn-- guh! thing. He always does that."

"You miss him," Kyle said. Stan nodded.

"He's everything I have," Stan said. "Everything good."

"So what does that make me?" Kyle asked. Stan thought about this for a moment, studying Kyle, his thumb going still on Kyle's cheek.

"All the parts that he doesn't let me see," Stan said. "You're the secret side of him. I already knew I loved these parts, too. I guess I can see them, sometimes, or just feel them."

"Is he hard on you?" Kyle asked. "Mean to you?"

"Oh, no. It's not like that. He — you see, um. Kyle was the first one who got rid of his birth givers. He did it for Ike, I think. Everything that's gone wrong since then, not the way we planned it, he thinks that's his fault. He'd never say it, but I know he does. So he has to look after us and keep us safe. He wants to fix the whole town, you know, everybody, but for now he's got us, and mostly just me."

"I was the first one who sent my parents away, too," Kyle said. "Kids died." It was one of the many misadventures of his youth that he'd tried to forget, and now it was all crashing back to him on a daily basis, how vulnerable his South Park was to deadly eccentricities. It was something that seemed to fade from the consciousness of its residents as they aged, but now Kyle wondered what sort of things his father half-remembered from his own childhood. He'd once joked that Kenny's family lived in a clubhouse that Gerald and Stuart had built together as kids. Now Kyle wondered if that had really only been a joke. "How did you get rid of your birth givers?" Kyle asked, though he was afraid to know.

"It was Kyle's idea," Stan said. "We anonymously accused them of crimes against the government. Treason. That gets you taken away. When it worked so well for Kyle, the rest of us did the same."

"Why weren't you put under the care of some other adults?" Kyle asked.

"I guess we slipped through the cracks."

"We did, too," Kyle said. "God, our town could have been just like this one. Maybe worse," he said, considering the fact that their Cartman was likely more ruthless than this world's Butters.

"We're not so different," Stan said. "That's why I think your Stan must love you."

"It'll never be like this between me and him," Kyle said, shaking his head. "Some things are different, trust me. Some things are flipped around."

"I guess that's true," Stan said, and he rubbed his hand through Kyle's hair again. "Me and Kyle never talk like this. He says, 'the past is past' if I try to bring any of it up with him. Or that it's not for me to worry about. As if I'm too — but he's the one who's afraid to think about it."

Kyle drew him down for a kiss, and Stan seemed reinvigorated, kissing Kyle hungrily again, as if it had been a long time since he had. Kyle knew that he was only one of two people who were being kissed, and it made him feel stronger, his hand closing into a fist in Stan's hair. They clung to each other, and when Stan's hand slid down between Kyle's legs again, over his half-hard cock and down to where he'd been loosened, opened, readied, Kyle knew he would have what he'd asked for.

"I won't last long," Stan said, breathing this down onto Kyle's face while he lined himself up, slicked with the vegetable oil he'd been using on Kyle all night, the same thing Shelly had fried their potato pancakes in the night before. Kyle shook his head.

"Don't say that." Kyle was thinking of everything outside of the bed, all the ways that the grown up game these children were playing could go irreversibly wrong, the ways that it already had. He was thinking about what Stan said in the garage, that he would die for him.

Then he wasn't thinking of anything, because Stan was sinking into him, keeping his eyes locked on Kyle's as he slid deeper, going slow but never stopping, making Kyle feel like he would be endlessly reshaped by this, like he'd opened himself to a river that would always flow through him. When Kyle felt like he couldn't breathe, he drew his air from Stan's lungs. He could feel it; Stan was open, too. Kyle could reach into him and have whatever he needed.

"There," Stan said, very softly, when their chests were pressed together. Kyle could feel Stan's ribs, every heaving breath pressing them down against his own. Stan's elbows framed Kyle's ears, and his thighs were snug against Kyle's hips. He was covering Kyle completely, shielding him from the chill of the room. Kyle said nothing, too overwhelmed by sensation to verbalize any of it. He nodded, because, there, yes, and he kissed Stan, trying to stay perfectly still, moving only his lips and his tongue, letting his eyes fall shut.

"You can move," Kyle whispered when they'd been lying there together for a long time, Stan so deep inside him that Kyle was still afraid to move himself, though he was growing curious about what moving might feel like. Stan shook his head.

"I don't think I can," he said, and they kissed some more, Kyle's arms winding around Stan's neck. Finally, he wrapped his legs around Stan's back, and they both groaned at the shift in position. Stan shifted again, back and then forward, and they both sighed.

"Fuck yeah," Kyle said, squeezing around Stan's cock. Stan sort of sobbed, nodding.

"Kyle," he said, and it felt like the first time someone had ever said Kyle's secret name, the one reserved for this moment, spent once and never said again. Kyle kissed Stan's face and flexed underneath him, gasping when it was too much, holding his breath until it was good again. He was so open, fucking full. There was something inside him that he'd gone his whole life remaining basically unaware of, and Stan was in that place, deeper than Kyle had thought anything could go, pressing against every border.

As he predicted, Stan didn't last long, just hitched his hips a few more times, trembling so hard that Kyle was the one comforting him through it, holding Stan's gaze to keep him from shattering into pieces. Stan buried his shout against Kyle's neck when he came, but the effort to conceal the sound of what they were doing was in vain, because Kyle screamed at the feeling of Stan pressing in even deeper, unloading into him with one hard thrust. Kyle was shaking, too, some of Stan's hair in his mouth, one leg still hooked across the small of Stan's back. Only half-hard, Kyle knew he wouldn't be able to come again, but he didn't care, and he wouldn't let Stan pull free until they were both beginning to fall asleep.

Under the blankets, they tangled up together and tried to do more kissing, though they were both too tired for it. Kyle drifted off with his head on Stan's arm. He woke at moments and wiggled until he could feel the burn in his ass, proud of himself and a little grossed out by the feeling of Stan's come drying there. Stan slept without stirring, and Kyle kissed his lips, which were wet and still swollen. The sun went down and no one came looking for them, but by the time Stan finally woke, Kyle knew they were both again thinking of those who soon would.

"What if your Kyle doesn't come back in time?" Kyle asked after they'd spent a long time just studying each other's eyes, touching each other under the blankets. Stan shook his head.

"He's never let me down before," he said.

Stan sat up beside him and stretched his arms over his head, moaning. Kyle admired the length of his back and the definition in his shoulders, all lean muscle with no padding. He knew Stan must be hungry; Kyle was starving. He wanted pizza, cookies, anything but another meal of jerky and potato pancakes.

"I'll bring you some warm water," Stan said, sliding out of bed. "So you can clean up."

"Does your Kyle do that for you?" Kyle asked, shifting uncomfortably, his ass cheeks glued together. "After—?"

"He does," Stan said. He put on a robe and stepped into his boots. "He cleans me himself, he's very — sometimes it's my favorite part." Stan smiled, trying to hide the sadness in it. "Want me to do that for you?"

"Yeah," Kyle said. "But you don't have to. If it's something, uh. Special for you guys."

"You're special, too," Stan said, walking back to the bed and bending down to kiss Kyle. "My first," he said. "In one sense, you know. You were my first, too." Kyle smiled up at him. He rolled toward the window and pulled the blankets up a little higher when Stan left to get the water. He felt happy, accomplished, because he'd lost his virginity at last, and it had been good, close to perfect.

Still, there was a hollowness at the pit of his stomach when he thought of the Stan he'd always wanted to give this to. His Stan would have politely declined, heartbroken at the thought of Kyle pining for him. It was best this way, Kyle knew, more than he'd dared to hope for, getting something so near to what he wanted. He could still say, I lost my innocence to Stan, and we love each other. He couldn't put his finger on what felt wrong about this, except for the obvious: he was in the wrong world.

Thinking of it this way, he realized what the problem was. Though this world contained a Stan who was willing to tenderly show him things in the bed they shared, Kyle still couldn't say that, despite being in the wrong world, he'd found the right Stan. The right one was the one who had held Kyle on the third night that the adults in South Park were gone, when Cartman declared war on Treasure Cove and kids started dying at the foot of that statue. Stan had held Kyle on the fourth night, too, and every night after that, until their parents came home. They were all relieved to have things back to normal, but some things had changed in Kyle forever, and one of them was a persisting feeling of emptiness when he got into bed and Stan wasn't there to hold him.

His Stan might not have been the right one to teach him about sex, but he was still the right Stan, always, and he was too far away, even when the other one was so close.

Kyle knew some things were true in every universe, and he was pleased to discover that Jimbo's obsession with artillery was one of those. He'd been begging Stan to bring him up to visit his Uncle Jimbo all week, with the flimsy excuse that he wanted to get some fresh country air and that he believed Stan shouldn't let his relationship with his probably gay uncle fade.

"You need a positive gay role model," Kyle said, though he hated that word and the whole concept that it was something exceptional.

"Jimbo isn't really a positive role model," Stan said after they'd been at Jimbo's house — or camp, more accurately — for close to an hour. Kyle still hadn't managed to snag a gun, but he had a plan. "And why are you so sure he's gay?" Stan asked, lowering his voice, though it was unnecessary. They were in the backyard, and Jimbo was firing at quail, Ned collecting the fallen birds like a hunting dog.

"How else do you explain Ned?" Kyle asked.

"They could just be friends."

"Has Jimbo ever had a girlfriend?" Kyle asked, growing impatient with this. If they were at home, Kyle's insistence that somebody was of a particular persuasion would be met with Stan's agreement that this was certainly true, case closed.

"Not that I know of," Stan said. "I could ask my dad."

"Don't ask your dad. Look, go give them a hand."

"Dude, you know I hate being around dead animals," Stan said, looking queasy. Kyle snorted, thinking of his Stan at home, up to his elbows in a deer carcass at least once a week.

"Be a man, Stanley," Kyle said, pushing him toward Jimbo and Ned. "I'm going in to use the restroom."

"You're being mean," Stan said.

"Sorry," Kyle said. He was getting tired of pretending, ready to return to a world where he could behave like a rational person and not a babysitter of everyone's feelings, but he still had yet to figure out how he would persuade Kenny and Butters to come with them through the portal. The gun would likely go a long way toward the formulation of his plan, though using it to overpower four people was hardly ideal. Kyle stood up on his tiptoes and kissed Stan's lips. Stan was just as easy to lead around as Clyde, though Stan was more interested in affection than simple dick-in-mouth satisfaction. Annoyingly, Clyde had some interest in affection himself, and it was much harder to fake than a taste for Clyde's cock, which Kyle had found tolerable at the start. Now it seemed grossly over-foreskinned, and Kyle couldn't spend many more days pretending to crave it.

"I just want to go home," Stan said, checking to make sure Jimbo and Ned weren't watching. He turned back to Kyle and took his hands. "I really don't get why you wanted to come here. They're so weird."

"This will be me and you someday, you know," Kyle said, smirking. "Living on the outskirts of town, killing game for dinner, fucking after we finish chopping the firewood—"

"No, they do not fuck," Stan said, wincing. "Even if they're gay. Don't put that image in my head."

"Alright, fine," Kyle said. "They're platonic lifelong male roommates. Sure, that happens. I'm going in. Go be nice to your uncle for a moment. He's obviously very fond of you."

Kyle headed for the house, checking over his shoulder to make sure Stan had done what he'd asked. Good boy, he thought, watching Stan stuff his hands in his pockets and walk down the hill toward Jimbo and Ned, who were reloading. Inside the cluttered, greasy-smelling house, which felt more like home than any other place had recently, it was easy to find an appropriately sized gun. Kyle didn't know the proper name for it or any other firearms, but it was smallish and fully loaded. He made sure the safety was on before tucking it into the back of his pants, under the overly baggy shirt that he'd selected that morning. He hated wearing clothes that didn't fit properly, but the circumstances were desperate enough to call for dressing badly.

They left Jimbo's shortly afterward, with a tin full of deer jerky that Kyle wanted to pitch out the window of Stan's car. If he never ate another piece of leathery dried meat again, he would die happily. Since coming here he'd dined on something different, hot, and lovingly prepared every night. It was almost enough to made him like the woman who looked just like his mother, but there were too many bad memories to allow him to feel anything but nervous contempt for her lookalike.

"We're not really going to be like them, are we?" Stan asked when they were nearly back at his house, where Kyle planned to fuck Stan for the first time. Stan was adorable with his slowness and inexperience, but Kyle had gone long enough without sinking his cock into Stan's ass, and he was feeling particularly proud of himself for having stolen the gun. He always wanted sex when he'd been successfully deceitful — something brutally honest to counter the tedium of strategy.

"Like them how?" Kyle asked. "I was joking about killing game and all that." He wasn't, of course, and the idea of his Stan patiently teaching this one how to handle a gun was almost as arousing as the thought of this timid Stan learning how to suck cock and take dick. Kyle would teach him that himself soon enough. They'd already done a bit of sucking on each other, but Stan's attempts were more like artless licking than the masterful deep throating Kyle was used to.

"I mean, hidden," Stan said. "Secret."

"Oh, well. I don't see any reason to stay hidden forever."

He was anxious to be done with it himself.

Stan's parents were still at work when they arrived at his house, and, happily, Stan seemed to have sex in mind, too. He reached for Kyle as soon as they were through the door to his bedroom, and Kyle danced away from him, laughing as if this was a game and not his attempt to keep Stan from discovering the gun.

"Do me a favor?" Kyle said, stepping out of Stan's reach again.

"What?" Stan asked. He tucked his arms across his chest, either being respectful or petulant about Kyle's evasiveness.

"Go to the bathroom and see if your parents have any baby oil under the sink," Kyle said. Stan's eyes got a little wider, and Kyle laughed again.

"What for?" Stan asked.

"Oh, God. What do you think? Just go, please?" Kyle sat down on Stan's bed and spread his legs. "I promise to be naked when you get back."

"Jesus, dude," Stan said, and he seemed to consider advancing on Kyle again, but then he nodded and backed out of the room.

"Good boy," Kyle said, muttering this very low as he toed off one boot and stashed the gun inside it.

As promised, Kyle was naked by the time Stan returned with the baby oil. He'd propped Stan's pillow against the wall that faced the door, and he was leaning against it with his knees bent, legs open, stroking himself, his other arm tucked behind his head. He actually blushed when Stan froze in the doorway to stare. Kyle wasn't accustomed to offering himself up so obviously. He was usually the one coming through the door to this sort of sight.

"Kyle," Stan said. He squeezed the bottle of oil, and it must have been slippery, because it slid right out of his hands and landed on his right foot. Stan cursed and collected it, his cheeks bright red.

"Come here," Kyle said, because Stan seemed to be waiting for permission. Stan hurried to the bed, stepping out of his shoes and pulling off his shirt on the way there. The shirt got tangled up with the bottle of oil, and Stan's blush had spread down to his neck by the time he got himself sorted enough to drop down onto Kyle and cover his nakedness with his body, kissing him. Stan had his eyes closed, and Kyle took peeks while they kissed, stroking Stan's back.

"Let me--" Stan said, dropping the oil onto the bed and pulling back. He knelt over Kyle, breathing hard as he undid his pants. Kyle drew his knees up closer to his chest and reached down to touch himself again. Stan seemed to forget what he was doing. He went still, staring at Kyle's hand.

"Every time I did this, alone," Kyle said, "I thought about you. What it would feel like if it was you touching me. Or what yours would feel like," he said, reaching up to grip Stan through his tented boxers. In truth, Kyle had never experienced any of that sort of curious longing. If he'd wanted to know what Stan felt like, he'd reached over to touch him. Kyle was the one who'd made the first move, scientifically, a year or so before the dark season. Stan had just lay there, patient and sweet, both of them watching Kyle's hand. When Stan let out his breath and spread his legs -- or, more accurately, when he blushed as he caught himself doing so -- Kyle knew he would always be on top, calling the shots, giving the orders.

This was not like that time. Kyle was firmly on the bottom, at least while they made out hungrily, Stan's weight pinning him to the mattress. Kyle kept trying to think of ways to move things along and establish positions, but before he could settle on anything he was distracted again and again by things Stan did to him: teeth on his nipples, finally, and Stan's fingers sliding up and down over Kyle's ribs in a weirdly pleasurable way, as if Kyle was an instrument to be played. Kyle knew that it would be easy to take the reins. He would simply issue an order, and Stan would obey, because it was in his unchangeable heart to belong to Kyle, in this universe and all others. Because he knew it wouldn't be difficult to shift gears, Kyle continued to let things play out according to Stan's whims, curiouser and curiouser about this feeling of rolling through sex without calculating his next move -- without calculating anything. He was very hard, and he heard himself making pathetic noises when Stan bit gently at certain spots.

"Dude," Stan whispered when his hand was down between Kyle's legs. Kyle realized dazedly that Stan's fingers were slick with the oil. He wasn't sure when that had happened, or why he was only spreading his legs and breathing a little harder as Stan touched him -- there.

"Careful," Kyle said, not sure what he was asking. Stan kissed Kyle's cheeks very softly, then his lips.

"Have you ever?" Stan asked, still whispering, though the house was empty, and in fact the whole backward world out there felt empty and quiet while Kyle's heart pounded and his legs inched apart a little wider. "With your fingers, or? Anything?"

"No," Kyle said, and it was true. This was a sacred ritual at home, and for all he knew, it was sacred here, too. Once you were penetrated, you were claimed. Kyle wasn't seriously entertaining the idea of letting anyone have him like that, not even Stan, and certainly not this Stan, but he whimpered and grabbed two handfuls of the sheets when Stan pressed against him like he meant to get inside there.

Stan's eyes had changed. He didn't look nervous, or manic with unrefined teenage neediness. He had a look of dark determination that made Kyle shiver. Kyle knew he should put a stop to this, that he had already gone too far, letting Stan massage him with the pad of his finger, opening that tightness very slightly, feeling him while he flexed. It was just that he didn't want this to stop. It was just that it felt so good.

"When I was alone," Stan said, "I thought about fucking you. Right here, just like this. On your back in my bed."

"Stan," Kyle said, and then they were kissing, and Kyle was shouting as Stan's finger breached him just a little, the tip sliding in easily because Kyle had been relaxed -- seduced. He clenched and whined against Stan's mouth.

"Yeah," Stan whispered, sliding in deeper, slowly. "Squeeze me. Again. Fuck, dude. So tight."

Kyle was reeling, sweating, clawing at the sheets. He'd miscalculated. He was outmatched, and Stan was in control. Kyle moaned, thinking this. Stan licked his lips and pushed his finger in as far as it would go. When he wiggled it a little, Kyle knew Stan was asking him to clench. Kyle did, obediently, every time. He was an instrument and Stan was playing him, licking the sweat from Kyle's face as it rolled down from his temples.

Stan stretched himself out along Kyle's side so that he could kiss him while he worked his finger into him, and Kyle wondered what he must look like as Stan watched him without blinking, his expression serious. Kyle felt as if the heat inside his body had been released and allowed to roam over his skin, and it was shuddering over him in waves, making him writhe. He closed his eyes and let Stan have his mouth, too, opening for Stan's tongue and thinking about the way his Stan got when Kyle spent a long time just feeling him like this. His Stan had a little knob inside him that could reliably make him lose whatever semblance of control he was hanging onto, and when Stan brushed his finger through Kyle's tightness in a particular way, Kyle knew he had one, too. Any remaining willpower was a lost cause when Stan touched that spot again, making Kyle shout and arch in an irreversible way. If he was going to be claimed, he wanted Stan to do it, and he opened his mouth wider for Stan's kisses, spread his legs wider for Stan's hand. If he could have he would have split open his ribcage for Stan and let him see all the way inside, everything on offer.

"Can I put another one in?" Stan asked, and Kyle wanted to guffaw at the childish cadence of that question, but this was a very grave matter, something that only the two of them could understand in the moment, and Kyle nodded slowly.

"Please, just," Kyle said, his voice shaking because he feared what he might say. "Open me, yeah. Wider, and more, deeper, just — yeah."

A second finger hurt at first, but Kyle had a phobia when it came to admitting that he couldn't handle difficult things, so he bit down on his lip and threw his head back, bringing his hands up from the sheets to dig his fingers into Stan's forearms instead. Stan took his time with the second finger, to the point that Kyle grew impatient for the release of having it all the way in and shoved himself down, clenching hard around the shock of it and making Stan groan. They were both foggy-eyed, mouths wet at the corners. Stan's hair was damp with sweat, drops of it trembling at the ends of his bangs before they fell down onto Kyle's face. The first time Kyle did this to his Stan was during the summer, too, so hot. Stan had held onto him desperately afterward, and Kyle had felt victorious, bigger than the whole house, protecting his most important person in his arms, promising with his caresses that he would be taken care of. He'd felt almost sorry for Stan, but now he felt sorry for himself, in hindsight, because this was paradise, giving everything up a little at a time to someone who would never hurt him.

"We don't have to do this today," Stan said when he was holding his dick in a hopeful, boyish way that made Kyle want to cry. Stan had removed his fingers, and Kyle couldn't stop clenching around his new emptiness. He was trembling on the sheets, transformed, but not transformed enough.

"Yes, we do," Kyle said, reaching down to take hold of the backs of his knees. He showed Stan what he'd done, how worked on and ready for him Kyle had become, dripping. Stan groaned and scooted forward until Kyle could feel the fat head of Stan's cock asking for entrance. Kyle nodded, suddenly understanding something enormous and earth shattering, something he'd maybe already sort of known. His epiphany was displaced as soon as Stan started to push inside him, because he had no thoughts then, just a feeling, reckless trust that had reduced him to something that wanted to be further and further reduced, completely dissolved into Stan.

Stan's head lolled on his shoulders while he took his pleasure from the tight heat of Kyle's ass, a low moan rumbling at the back of his throat and not quite making it past his lips. When Kyle gripped his dick and jerked himself, Stan grunted and replaced Kyle's hand with his own, locking eyes with Kyle while he pumped him. Kyle came, shouting, and in the panting aftermath he felt that it was different from most orgasms he'd had, more like being reshaped than released. The euphoric clenching of Kyle's ass sent Stan over the edge, too, and he fell down onto Kyle, crying out as he spilled himself.

Kyle languished in the feeling of dissolution for as long as he could, imagining that he was living inside Stan's skin, not pressed beneath him but into him. Stan moved first, lifting his head to rub his nose and his lips on Kyle's cheeks.

"Fuck," Stan said, pulling out slowly. "Kyle." The blush returned, and Stan let his mouth hang open, as if he was wondering if he should apologize for something. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"Just hold me," Kyle said, rolling toward Stan, onto his side. Stan moaned and wrapped around him, kissing Kyle's face again. He pulled the blankets up over them, though the air in the room was still sweltering.

"I love you so much," Stan said, whispering. "Kyle. Please, ah. Was it good? Did you like it?"

Kyle smiled to himself, his eyes still closed. He felt more powerful than he ever had, and he wondered if his Stan had felt this way once, or often, and if he'd shielded Kyle from it. He cracked his eyes open and looked up at Stan.

"I loved it," Kyle said, and it was as if he'd saved Stan's life just by saying something true. Stan beamed and kissed him, moaning into his mouth.

"I just," Stan said, shaking his head, his forehead still pressed to Kyle's. "Love you, I love you, Kyle, I do—"

"I know," Kyle said, putting his hand on Stan's side. "I felt it."

They kissed, though Kyle was really too tired for it. He'd forgotten where he came from, where he needed to get back to, and the memories were creeping in on him, but he just wanted to sleep for a few minutes, to wallow in the feeling of being claimed and well cared for. He tucked his face to the pillow and moaned with approval when Stan kissed up along the line of his neck and over his jaw, licking his earlobe.

Lying in bed with Stan, pressed up against his sweaty skin, Kyle felt like he hadn't experienced a summer in many years. In some ways, at home, the summers were just as dreadful as the winter, and harder, because food spoiled more quickly and the heat wasn't as easily escapable as the cold, which could at least be combated with blankets and body heat. Still, there was a lazy pace to the summer months that Kyle loved and craved during the long months of snow, and he felt more peaceful than he had in a long time, languishing in how overheated he was as Stan stroked his arm and kissed his face.

"I love you so much," Stan whispered, again. He couldn't seem to stop saying it. Kyle kept his eyes closed, smiling. "You're so hot," Stan said, pressing his hand to Kyle's cheek, seemingly referring to his body temperature. "I'll go turn the air down," he said. He kissed Kyle's nose and scampered over him. Kyle was too tired to even lift his head, and it felt good to lie there alone for a moment, in a patch of sunlight from the window, awaiting Stan's return. He hid his face in the crook of his arm when he felt Stan's come leaking from him. He was embarrassed, a little frightened for what he had just given up, and strangely proud of himself.

When Stan came back, he had a cool washcloth, and Kyle rolled onto his stomach so Stan could clean him. It was odd that Stan knew to do so; this was one of the most important parts of the ritual at home, a kind of promise that the person who had offered himself would be cared for, that his sacrifice was respected. Kyle felt a little sad as Stan carefully mopped up Kyle's sweat and cleaned between his legs, because this was the last thing Kyle had done for his Stan at home before falling asleep and waking up here. Stan had cleaned Craig, which Kyle had thought unnecessary, but it was a sort of kindness from one sub to another, he supposed, and the sight of it was a pleasant thing to fall asleep to. Kyle rolled onto his back so Stan could clean his front, too, and they met each other's eyes nervously throughout, smiling.

"That's good enough," Kyle said, his skin tingling under the chill from the central air conditioning, which was almost too cold, making his nipples stand up again. "Come here."

Stan dropped the rag on the floor and leaned down into Kyle's arms. Kyle was warm again as soon as he held Stan, who was sighing sleepily, his hand closed over Kyle's hip.

"Dude," Stan said, sounding like he might cry, though it was possible his voice was shaky just from exhaustion. "I'm so happy right now."

"Oh," Kyle said, kissing Stan's hair. "Me too." It was true, and Kyle felt guilty, imagining his Stan back at home in the cold, vulnerable to a world of horrors without Kyle's leadership. Kyle closed his eyes and tried to console himself by thinking about the gun in his boot. He would find a way back, and this boy in his arms would come with him, even if Kyle had to get him through the portal at gunpoint. Luckily, Stan was the forgiving sort, and anyway, they were properly bonded now.

Kyle was sleeping thinly when the knocking woke him. Stan sat up only after being shaken awake by Kyle, and he pushed his hair off his forehead, squinting around the room.

"Someone's downstairs at the door," Kyle said. He sat up and looked through the window, but the awning over the front door protected the identity of whoever was knocking. Stan leaned beside Kyle and yawned.

"What the fuck," Stan said. He kissed Kyle's cheek. "I'll get it," he said, and Kyle laughed, because, well, of course he would. It was his house. Kyle was glad for the opportunity to dress in private, and as soon as Stan was gone he started putting on his clothes, securing the gun in the back of his pants.

The person at the door was Kenny, in the company of Butters, and by the time Kyle laced his boots and made it downstairs, he knew he could expect commotion. Kenny was agitated, pacing and talking loudly about how he was fucked and he couldn't believe that had happened. Butters was crying and Stan seemed shell-shocked, barefoot in a t-shirt and sweatpants, his hair still wrecked from sex.

"What the hell is going on?" Kyle asked, actually thrilled about this development. He'd needed an excuse to gather the whole gang together, and now here they all were, minus Clyde, who was well primed to come when Kyle called.

"He found us," Kenny said, and Kyle noticed the bruise that was darkening on his cheek. "Butters' dad. He fucking -- the shit he was saying -- I lost it. I fucking lost it, man. I hit him."

"Jesus Christ, Kenny," Stan said, putting his hands over his face. "How -- what--"

"They'll have called the cops," Kenny said, starting to hyperventilate. "They'll be looking for me. Shit, Stan, what do I do? Jesus, what the fuck am I gonna do? I've got priors, man, for possession, they're gonna lock me up--"

"Kenny," Butters said, sobbing into his hands. Kenny moaned and grabbed him, squeezing him tight.

"I'm so sorry," Kenny said. "I'm so sorry, fuck. It's just -- what he said to you, when he called you that--"

"We have to act fast," Kyle said, his heart thumping with nervous delight. "We have to get Kenny out of town."

"Whoa," Stan said. "And put him where? Look, maybe if you go to the station and explain--"

"Didn't you hear, he's got prior arrests!" Kyle said. "Kenny, are you on probation?"

"Fuck yes," Kenny said. "Oh, God, fucking look at me. I'm not gonna make it in prison, man. I'm so fucked, shit, I'm so fucked."

"You're not fucked," Kyle said. "Look, I know a place where you can hide for a while. We just have to--"

"What place?" Stan asked. "What the fuck are you talking about? Where?"

"I don't have time to explain!" Kyle said. "And we shouldn't take Stan's car. People know who Kenny's friends are. We need a fairly anonymous vehicle. I think I know someone who'd be willing to give us a ride."

"Give us a ride where?" Stan asked.

"It's out toward the mountains," Kyle said. He'd located the portal by doing a little research based on what he remembered from coming through it as a child. There had been animals in cages, and only one pet store had shut down in South Park in the past ten years, apparently under 'mysterious circumstances.'

"What is it, like, a shack?" Kenny said.

"Something like that," Kyle said. "We've got to go now, though. It won't be long before they start looking for you at your friends' houses."

"Oh, God!" Butters said, lifting his tear-soaked face from Kenny's chest. "Let's go then, please. My dad will press all sorts of charges. He was so mad, I've never seen him like that."

"It's gonna be okay," Kyle said. "You guys just have to trust me. Let's go, c'mon. We can stick to backyards when we walk to Clyde's."

"Clyde's?" Stan said, making a face. "Clyde Donovan?"

"That douchebag will just call the fucking cops, man," Kenny said, shaking his head.

"No, he won't," Kyle said. "He owes me a favor. Come on, hurry, before Stan's parents get home."

"What does Clyde owe you a favor for?" Stan asked.

"I'll explain later!" Kyle said, perhaps too harshly, but he hated being asked questions that he didn't want to answer. "Go put your shoes on, Stanley, and I'll let Clyde know we're coming."

Stan did as Kyle asked, and Kyle could sense that he was hurt and confused, but there would be time to comfort him later. Kyle dug out his phone and sent a message to Clyde.

Can you give me and the guys a ride? It won't take long. Me and you could hang out after.

"Hanging out" with Clyde meant sucking his dick, so Kyle wasn't surprised when a response came quickly:

Sure come on over

Darkness was falling as they walked to Clyde's, and it felt like another stroke of luck during a day when everything had played out remarkably well for Kyle. There was still the tricky business of getting everyone through the portal once they arrived, but he had the gun, and a plan for how things would proceed once they were back in his world. As they walked, he reached for Stan's hand, wanting to give him some measure of reassurance. Stan threaded his fingers through Kyle's.

"Are you sure it wouldn't be better just to go to the station?" Stan asked.

"Fuck no," Kenny said. "Those pigs already have it out for me. It's not an option."

"I agree with Kenny," Kyle said. "And I'm sure he'll safe in this place."

"You still haven't explained what the hell this 'place' is," Stan says.

"As long as it's outside of town, that's all I need right now," Kenny says. "I just -- I can't think until I'm hunkered down somewhere. Then I can make a plan."

"Exactly," Kyle said.

"Then why don't we just drive to Denver?" Stan asked. "We could get Kenny a hotel room--"

"Well, for one thing, I don't know that Clyde would be willing to drive us all the way to Denver," Kyle said. "And also, dude, hello? How are we going to check into a hotel? None of us has a credit card. It's an option, maybe, after we get Kenny safe, but in the meantime, this is what we're doing."

"God, fine," Stan said. Kyle gave Stan's hand a squeeze, and Stan squeezed back. It was enough to make Kyle confident that he could at least get everyone to the portal without Stan asking too many more questions.

"Kenny, take your shirt off," Kyle said when they were halfway there. Kenny scoffed.

"Huh?" he said. "Why?"

"Throw it here in this person's yard. Butters' parents will have given the police a description of what you were wearing, and if they find the shirt here, they'll have a false clue and get preoccupied. Look, dude, it can't hurt," he added when Kenny frowned. "It's not like it's cold out or anything."

"Should I take off my shirt, too?" Butters asked.

"No, that will look too calculated," Kyle said, pleased when Kenny pulled off his shirt and threw it onto the ground. He wasn't as muscular as the Hand of Death, but he had a broad chest and strong-looking arms.

"Kyle, have you been covering up crimes as a hobby all these years?" Kenny asked as they moved on. Stan snorted.

"I'm just good at strategy," Kyle said, and nobody argued this. Kyle was proud of himself for getting Kenny in costume without having to use the gun.

At Clyde's house, Kyle had the others hide around the side of the garage while he went to the door to fetch Clyde, who answered the door looking chipper. At this point, every dumb smile Clyde gave him was annoying, because Kyle knew Clyde was thinking 'hot, wet mouth' when he looked at him, and possibly also 'secret boyfriend,' which was even worse.

"Where's everybody else?" Clyde asked.

"They're over by the garage. You haven't told your parents that you're going out, have you?"

"No," Clyde said. "Mom's at the store. Dad's working late. Why?"

"Perfect," Kyle said. He grabbed Clyde's wrist and pulled him out of the house. "Come on, we have to hurry. Kenny's in a bit of trouble."

"Oh, shit," Clyde said. "What'd he do now?"

"Never mind," Kyle said, and they arrived where the others were hiding in the shadows, Butters still sniffling a little and Kenny pacing anxiously, his hands tucked under his armpits.

"What happened?" Clyde asked. "Why isn't Kenny wearing a shirt?"

"Just, let's get in the car," Kyle said before anyone could answer that. "Kenny and Butters, you two lay low in the back. I'll ride up front with Clyde. C'mon."

Everyone was either anxious or confused enough to do as Kyle asked without further discussion, and except for the burn in his ass he felt like his old self, herding his caravan into action under pressure. He was connected enough to this Stan to understand that he was bristling a little at the seating arrangements, but Kyle didn't feel it was overly incriminating, because of course Butters and Kenny would be in back, and of course Clyde would drive, and Kyle was the only one here who had any sort of connection to him. He knew that was the part Stan was silently objecting to.

"Drive out toward highway 5," Kyle said as Clyde backed out of the driveway. "Don't go through town."

"Did Kenny kill someone?" Clyde asked, his monotone making Kyle want to laugh, or hit him, or both.

"No," Stan said sharply. "He didn't do anything wrong. He just stood up for Butters, that's all."

"Stood up for him now?" Clyde asked. "By killing someone?"

"Clyde, shut up," Kyle said, unable to help himself. Stan laughed. "I mean, sorry," Kyle quickly amended, reaching over to touch Clyde's shoulder. "It's just, we're all very stressed out. Please, can you just drive?" He dropped his hand down to squeeze Clyde's bicep, and he could feel Stan wanting to rage at him. Kyle kept his eyes on the windshield.

"If I end up getting arrested--" Clyde started to say.

"You're not doing anything illegal," Kyle said. "And for that matter, the less you know about what Kenny did, the better, right?"

"I guess," Clyde said. He looked over at Kyle uncertainly, and Kyle smiled at him, still holding his arm. Clyde smiled back, and Kyle heard Stan huff angrily in the backseat.

"Since when are you guys even friends?" Stan asked.

"Just recently," Clyde said. He looked at Kyle. "Does he know?"

Kyle took his hand from Clyde's arm. This was the danger of being forced to work with idiots.

"Know what?" Stan asked.

"Nothing," Kyle said.

"Dude, what the fuck is going on?" Stan asked, getting agitated. "Kyle? Fucking look at me! What is this?"

"This is us trying to help Kenny!" Kyle said, whirling around to face Stan. He really didn't want to have to pull out the gun before they were in sight of the portal, but his patience was wearing thin. "What do you want from me? I'm sorry if I'm the only one here who actually has a plan!"

"What's Clyde asking about me knowing or not?" Stan asked, his voice starting to shake.

"Can you guys please not have drama right now?" Kenny hissed. "I'm kind of on the run for my life and shit."

"He totally killed someone, didn't he?" Clyde asked, and the dryness of the question almost made Kyle lose it and whip out the gun. He bit down hard on his tongue instead, closing his eyes for a moment.

"Kenny is right," Kyle said. "Let's just focus on getting him safe. Stan, I don't know what the fuck Clyde was asking about, alright? Clyde, what were you asking about?" It was a risk, because Clyde might have been stupid enough to be honest, but Kyle was giving him a look of fury that would have penetrated even the thickest skull.

"I was asking if Stan knew what Kenny had done," Clyde said, and Kyle was briefly and madly in love with him for the gracefulness of that lie, though he supposed it was also possible that Clyde really was asking about that, and not if Stan knew that Kyle had been swallowing Clyde's come all week.

"Oh," Stan said. "Well, yeah, I know what happened, but Kyle's right. The less you know, the better off you'll be."

"I want to stay with you," Butters was saying to Kenny, whispering. They were curled up together, their heads ducked down below the line of the windows. "I can't go back there. He'll punish me. He'll tie me up and make me go without food until I tell him where you are."

"Jesus Christ," Stan said. "They're your parents, Butters. They wouldn't really--"

"You don't know that," Kyle said, something tight and sharp uncoiling in his chest. "You don't know what people are capable of when someone threatens their control."

"I can't go back," Butters said. "I just can't."

"Don't worry," Kyle said. "You won't have to. Clyde, take a left here." They were outside of town now, the streets dark except for Clyde's headlights. "We're almost there."

"This is creepy," Clyde said. "Isn't this where the mystery spot is?"

"Oh, yeah," Stan said. "It is. I thought they had FBI agents guarding that thing?"

"That's just a rumor," Kenny said. "Me and Kevin came up here last year and threw rocks into that thing for hours. Nothing happened."

"It's just a geographical anomaly," Stan said.

"Are you fucking kidding?" Kenny asked. "Why does nobody in this town but me remember goddamn anything? It's the portal to the world that nice Cartman came from, dude! Remember?"

"Nice Cartman?" Stan was frowning when Kyle turned back to look at him. Up ahead in the dark, they could already see the glow from the portal. "I thought that was just a game," Stan said. "Some trick Cartman played on us--"

"You guys are fucking unbelievable," Kenny said. "I bet you don't even remember Smileytown."

"I remember Smileytown," Butters said. "Jesus, I almost died!"

"You did?" Kenny said, hugging him. He kissed Butters on the forehead. "Fuck, baby. I guess I was gone by then."

"Gone where?" Butters asked, tipping his face up. Kenny just shook his head.

"Stop here," Kyle said once they were in sight of the portal. It was smaller and dimmer than Kyle remembered, a self contained blue glob of electric light just fifty yards from the road. Clyde stopped the car and Kyle braced himself, sitting forward. He wasn't looking forward to this part, but it had to be done. "Everyone get out," he said.

"I don't get it," Kenny said. "Where's this safe house?"

"Right near the mystery spot," Kyle said, climbing out of the car. "Come on."

"Bullshit," Kenny said, but he got out, and everyone else did, too. "I told you, I was just here last year. There's nothing but that burned out old pet store."

"Come over here," Kyle said, his hands starting to shake. He had no problem with the idea of pointing the gun at the other three, but the fact that Stan wasn't complicit in his plan was jarring. "You'll see. Come on."

"Kyle, what the fuck?" Kenny said. Kyle had suspected that Kenny would be the first one to resist. He was smarter than Butters and Clyde, and he didn't have the blind allegiance to Kyle that Stan did. "What's going on?"

"You guys are going to have to fucking listen to me," Kyle said, and he pulled the gun out, stepping back to point it all of them.

"What the fuck!" Stan shouted. "Kyle!"

"Oh, hamburgers," Butters said, clinging to Kenny, who had gone quiet, his face a steely mask that made him look like the Hand of Death who sat at Butters' side back home.

"Shit, I fucking knew it!" Clyde said, his voice trembling. "Craig told me not to get mixed up with you assholes! Oh, goddammit, fuck! I knew you wouldn't have sucked my dick if you didn't want something!"

"What?" Stan said, already starting to cry. Kyle had hoped that wouldn't happen right away. "What's going on? Kyle? Dude, what the fuck?"

"It's not Kyle," Kenny said. Kyle was most worried about Kenny trying something, but he was also the most expendable person here, and Kyle would drop him if he needed to prove a point.

"What the fuck do you mean, it's not Kyle?" Stan asked, his voice steadying a little. "You didn't really blow Clyde," he said, turning back to Kyle. "Right?"

"He's pointing a fucking gun at you and that's what you're asking?" Kenny said, shouting.

"Everybody shut the fuck up!" Kyle shouted. "Kenny's right. I'm not the Kyle you know. I came through there," he said, flicking his head toward the portal. "Your Kyle is on the other side. If you help me, I'll get him back for you."

"Help you do what?" Kenny asked. "How do we know you haven't killed our Kyle already?"

"Oh, God," Stan said, pressing his fist to his mouth. "Jesus, fuck, this isn't real -- Kenny--"

"Your Kyle is safe," Kyle said, actually hoping that this wasn't true, to save him the trouble of killing that Kyle himself when everything else was squared away. "But not for long if we don't go through that portal and get him back."

"What the hell do you care?" Kenny asked. "And why were you pretending to be him?"

"I had to until I could figure out how to get you all here." Kyle glanced at Stan. His eyes were wide, his cheeks wet. "Where I come from, Butters and Clyde are powerful. I need to pass them off as the ones from my world, just for a while. Then you can all come back here. Or hell, Kenny. You can stay there in my world if that's easier."

"I don't believe you," Kenny said. "You people are evil. You're lying about Kyle."

"Kyle," Stan said weakly, wrapping his arms around himself. "What--"

"I've answered enough fucking questions!" Kyle shouted. "Stan, I'm sorry, but if you want your Kyle back, you're going to have to shut up and do as I say. Butters and Kenny, you'll go through first--"

"I'm not doing shit," Kenny said, shaking his head.

"I can do this without Butters if I have to," Kyle said, pointing the gun in the general direction of Butters' head. It was a lie; Butters was the most important piece of the puzzle, but Kyle had to try this before resorting to blowing Kenny away. Butters whimpered and hid his face against Kenny's chest.

"I'm gonna fucking kill you," Kenny said.

"Oh, shut up," Kyle said. "You're an embarrassment to the Kenny I know. Throwing punches at Butters' father? What the fuck were you thinking? Where I come from everything you do is calculated and dispassionate--"

"Can I leave?" Clyde asked, blubbering. "You guys said you just needed a ride--"

"Shut up!" Kyle said, turning the gun on Clyde. "You're even worse! The Clyde on the other side at least has some dignity. Stop crying! I need you and Butters to do exactly what I say, or I'll blow all three of you away and go back through alone."

"There's four of us," Stan said. He'd stopped crying, but his voice was still choppy. "And you'll have to kill me, because I'm not going through that fucking thing."

"Quiet," Kyle said. He felt terrible for putting Stan through this, but he didn't have time to dwell on it. He pointed the gun at Kenny and Butters. "Listen. You two need a place to hide, and I need your faces for a while. Butters, all you have to do is walk through that portal and tell the guards on the other side to bring Cartman to you, and to tell no one. Kenny, all you have to do is stand there and keep your mouth shut. In exchange, you'll guarantee Kyle's safety, and I'll even give you two a place to stay if you cooperate. It's better than prison and torture, yeah?"

"Why are you doing this?" Kenny asked. "How did you get our Kyle?"

"Never mind," Kyle said. "Just do as I say and I won't hurt any of you. Clyde, you'll follow them through after just a few seconds. Don't say anything, just hang close to Butters as if the two of you are working together. By the time the guards have brought Cartman to the chamber, Stan and I will be there, and I'll take the lead."

"I'm not going through," Stan said, shaking his head. "You fucking -- you made me think--"

"Don't you want your friend back?" Kyle asked. "The person you thought I was?"

Stan stared at Kyle for a long time, his lip shaking. When he pinched his eyes shut hard Kyle knew that Stan had accepted that he was looking at a stranger. It was understandable, and painful. Just a few hours ago, Kyle had allowed Stan inside him. He was very glad now that it hadn't been the other way around, for Stan's sake.

"Craig was so right about you guys," Clyde said, sniffling.

"So, what's it going to be?" Kyle asked Kenny. "Go through the portal, or wipe your boyfriend's blood off your chin before I finish you off, too?"

"Kenny, please," Butters said, looking up at him. "Let's just do what he says."

"You'll have to be calm and collected, Butters," Kyle said, his eyes still locked on Kenny's. "They'll call you Emperor Chaos."

"Chaos?" Butters said meekly, wiping at his eyes.

"Yes. Kenny?" Kyle clicked off the safety and chambered a bullet. "What's it going to be?"

"We'll go through," Kenny said. "But if Kyle's not really over there, if he's not safe, I'm going to kill you, and that's a fucking promise."

"Terrific," Kyle said, not very worried. "Now go, and remember -- Butters, you're asking the guards for Cartman. If they start asking questions, tell them to shut up. You don't owe them any explanations. Kenny, say nothing. These people will kill you without hesitation if they don't think you're the Kenny they know."

"Won't they wonder why I'm not wearing a fucking shirt?" Kenny asked.

"No," Kyle said. "You never wear a shirt where I come from. Now go." He walked closer to them, gesturing to the portal with the gun. "Let's get this over with quickly."

"Kenny," Stan said. "Wait, what--"

"Just do what he says," Kenny said. "He's not our Kyle, dude. Our Kyle's in trouble."

"Kyle," Stan said, but he wasn't talking to the one who was holding a gun on him. Stan turned away from the portal, covering his face with both hands.

"Will it hurt?" Butters asked as he stepped up to the portal, taking Kenny's hand.

"No," Kyle said. "And remember, those guards will think you're their boss, Butters. The Emperor. Just ask for Cartman to be discreetly brought to the chamber and say nothing else."

"Oh, Jesus," Butters said.

"It'll be okay," Kenny said, whispering. He turned to give Kyle one last threatening look before stepping through and pulling Butters with them.

"Fuck," Kyle muttered to himself. "I should have told them not to hold hands." He supposed it wasn't too out of the ordinary; everyone at home knew that Butters was openly if condescendingly affectionate toward the Hand of Death. "Alright, Clyde," Kyle said, keeping the corner of his eye on Stan as he pointed the gun at Clyde. "You're next. Just step through and stand at Butters' side. Don't say anything. We'll be right behind you."

"This is so fucked up," Clyde said. "Craig warned me, he told me free blow jobs were too good to be true--"

"Shut up about the blow jobs!" Kyle said, gesturing with the gun in a way that made Clyde cower. "And by the way, your spunk tastes like toxic waste on a good day. Get through that portal, now, and don't you dare speak a word once you're on the other side."

"Fuck, man," Clyde said, sniffling. "Craig told me, he fucking told me--"

"Say that one more time and I'll send you through with a bullet in your arm. Go!"

Clyde went through, the portal buzzing around him as he disappeared into its electric blue glow. When he was gone, Kyle turned to Stan.

"Your Kyle is over there," Kyle said. "I'm giving you the opportunity to get him back. You shouldn't look at me like that. You shouldn't." He stopped talking then, his own voice starting to waver a little.

"I don't believe you," Stan said. His face was still wet. It was jarring; Kyle hadn't seen his Stan looking wrecked like this since before they banished the birth givers. "You did something to him. You hurt him."

"No," Kyle said.

"How could you let me say that shit to you?" Stan asked. He looked away from Kyle, staring at the portal. Its reflection made the blue in his eyes seem possessed. "You let me think he loved me, too."

"I'm sure he does," Kyle said, impatiently.

"You don't know anything!" Stan shouted, rage making his features unrecognizable. Kyle had never seen his Stan like this. "You're evil," Stan said. "What you did was evil."

"We're wasting time," Kyle said. He wasn't prepared for this sort of reaction, though he'd expected Stan to be upset. Where they came from, the people they called evil were murderous thieves who only cared about power. "Let's go," Kyle said. "You'll be back with your Kyle soon, and you'll see. He certainly loves you."

"Stop fucking speaking to me," Stan said. His face pinched up again, but he forced the sob away before it could make any sound. "He'd better be there," Stan said.

"Or what?" Kyle asked, lowering the gun to his hip. "You'll hold me down while Kenny kills me?"

"Kyle," Stan said, and this time he was talking to the one who stood before him. He shook his head slowly and looked toward the portal. "Let's go," he said. "If Kyle needs us. Let's go."

"I'm Kyle, too, you know," Kyle said, stepping up beside Stan. He flicked on the safety and tucked the gun back into his pants so that Butters' guards wouldn't fire on him as he came through the portal. "I need you, too," Kyle added, more quietly. Stan scoffed and kept his eyes straight ahead.

"My Kyle would never put his mouth on any part of Clyde Donovan," Stan said.

"I suppose that's true," Kyle said. "I do wonder, though, if he's found my Stan--" Kyle swallowed, hardly wanting to contemplate this himself. "I wonder how exactly my Stan has been taking care of your Kyle."

Stan looked at him then, aghast, and Kyle took the opportunity to grab Stan's elbow and pull him into the portal. Soon enough they would find out.

On the morning of Clyde and Tweek's deadline, Kyle was sitting up in the room that he'd begun to think of as his, watching the road from the window. He hadn't left the room much for the past two days, mostly because he was afraid of Larry, who was growing increasingly agitated about Kyle's determination to wait and see what the Mansion's next move would be. He was also afraid of Ike, or at least afraid of looking him in the eye, and felt the same way about Shelly and Craig, to a lesser extent. Kyle was beginning to feel increasingly certain that his inaction had doomed the entire household, but he'd come up with no potential plans that wouldn't only doom them more certainly. He alternated between feeling sorry for himself, because he hadn't asked for any of this terrible responsibility or personally contributed to ruining this society, and extreme guilt.

The door opened and Kyle turned to see Stan coming in with his breakfast: a couple of potato pancakes wrapped in a dishcloth. Stan came to sit on the bed and Kyle took the dishcloth, which was stained with grease, the pancakes still hot inside it. Stan put an arm around him, and Kyle leaned against Stan's chest while he ate, taking a small comfort in the warmth of him. They had fallen into a routine of not talking much and fucking constantly. Sex was really all Kyle could deal with, especially when it was hard and hungry, a kind of replacement for conversation, an antidote to the tension that had thickly fogged every room of the house.

"Is Ike okay?" Kyle asked after he'd finished one pancake.

"He's fine," Stan said. "I made sure he had his breakfast. I think he can tell something is wrong, though."

"Well, of course he can. I'm sure Larry is still ranting around the clock."

"Larry is just scared," Stan said. "Like any of us."

"You're scared?" Kyle asked, feeling horrible about this. Stan shrugged.

"I'm worried," he said. "I thought Kyle would have been back by now. And if he's not coming back -- I don't know."

They were quiet, and Kyle ate the other pancake, though his stomach was twisted up, his appetite gone. He'd just begun to seriously consider the possibility that he could be stuck here forever, or until one of the opposing forces in town killed him. He knew Stan was hurting, too, longing to again have a Kyle who was good for more than getting fucked. Kyle finished the pancakes and wiped his hands on the non-greasy portions of the dishtowel, wishing for a hot shower, his mother's Western omelet, Stan's emo music on the drive to school -- anything familiar. Because the Stan that was there with him felt familiar enough, Kyle buried his face against Stan's neck and sighed, wanting to to sleep again. Stan pulled the blankets up over both of them and rubbed Kyle's back.

"I guess we should start having you guys practice with the guns," Stan said. "That was always going to be our last resort, you know. If someone hears gunfire, they'll send spies, and if we're seen practicing, they'll know we're not good enough at using them to take on their armies."

"Shit," Kyle said. "I don't know. I think maybe you should just take charge."

Stan responded to Kyle's invitation to leadership by pushing him onto his back and reaching into his pants. Kyle went quiet and got hard, closing his eyes and arching when Stan stroked him. They'd been doing this over and over for the past two days, until Kyle was sore and too tired to move. It was the one thing he could do for Stan right now, and it felt so good to give it. When they were fucking, they weren't worried, or scared, or lost. Under the blankets, they tore each other's clothes away, grunting impatiently when something got tangled up or snagged. Stan's fingers were a little slick from handling the potato pancakes, and Kyle was still open and wet from the sex they'd had two hours ago. He moaned when Stan pressed into him with two fingers, evaluating the already well-fucked state of him. Stan leaned up over him, watching Kyle's face while he shuddered and pushed himself down onto Stan's fingers.

"Tell me what you want," Stan said, softly. This was new. Usually they didn't speak at all. Kyle's eyes watered, because he knew Stan was begging for something only the other Kyle could give him: real orders to follow, a way to survive.

"Fuck me," Kyle said, sobbing it out. Stan kissed him, knelt between his wide open legs, and pushed into him without applying a fresh layer of oil. Kyle screamed and reached up over his head, his fingers scraping futilely against the headboard until Stan took his hands and pinned them.

"Shh," Stan whispered, and Kyle calmed down, squeezing around Stan's cock, letting himself sink into the burn. They locked eyes, and Stan kept still while Kyle adjusted. Stan had changed in the past few days. He shaved every morning, and did little favors for Kyle, but more insistently than before, pushing Kyle's hands away if he tried to do things himself. Kyle felt claimed, and it was arousing, a comfort in the dark of night, but not the kind of deliverance that belonging to his Stan might have been.

"Put my ankles on your shoulders," Kyle said, because Stan had done that last night, and the angle was perfect, good enough to give Kyle two blistering orgasms that left him mindless. That's what he wanted to be, mindless, just an inhabitant of a body that Stan knew exactly how to touch.

"I will," Stan said, and then he proceeded to fuck Kyle how he pleased, which was on his back, slow, Kyle's legs lifted as far as he could get them on Stan's back. Kyle hissed and arched, letting Stan kiss him while he panted through it. Stan rubbed circles on Kyle's palms with his thumbs, staring down at him the whole time, looking for something in Kyle's eyes that they both knew wasn't there. He kept looking for the other Kyle, as if he expected him to return via this Kyle's body in lieu of triumphantly bursting through the front door.

"Please?" Kyle tried. Stan grunted, lifted Kyle's ankles onto his shoulders, and fucked him hard. Kyle came, and the mindlessness persisted after his dick stopped spurting, because Stan was still driving into him, blanking all of his thoughts that weren't directly connected to the sensations in his ass. When Stan came he sounded almost pained, and he dropped down onto Kyle, hiding his face against Kyle's neck, his chest heaving against Kyle's.

"Shit," Stan said when he pulled out, slowly. "Sorry."

"What for?" Kyle asked, turning so that their faces were pressed together.

"You must be so--"

"I don't care," Kyle said. "Fuck me until I can't walk. It doesn't matter. It's the least I can do."

"Oh," Stan said, looking like Kyle had just slipped a knife between his ribs. They were both still breathless, and Kyle was a little wet-eyed, mostly from exertion. Stan grabbed him and hugged him hard. Kyle burrowed into it, every part of him throbbing from overuse. He just wanted to stay there in the dark, his eyes closed against Stan's chest, Stan's heart pounding against his cheek. When Stan moved to get free, probably thinking of going to the bathroom for a cloth that he would use to lovingly, almost apologetically clean the mess he'd made from Kyle's skin, Kyle groaned and held him in place.

"Don't," Kyle said. "Just stay."

"Whatever you want," Stan whispered, sincere and repentant, and he held Kyle as he drifted into a more deeply exhausted sleep.

Kyle dreamed of home. He dreamed that Stan -- his Stan -- was crying. Stan had always been more of a crier; it didn't embarrass him the way it did Kyle, or most normal people. Stan wasn't afraid of his feelings. It was why Kyle had always been so certain that Stan didn't love him like that. If he ever had, he would have just said so.

He woke up at the same moment Stan did, both of them shooting into a sitting position. Stan went for the gun, because someone was pounding on the door and it didn't sound friendly. Kyle grabbed Stan and huddled behind him, terrified.

"What?" Stan shouted when the knocking continued. He had the gun aimed at the door.

"Get out of the fucking bed," Larry said. "Someone's coming."


"Look out the window," Larry said. "There's a fucking -- convoy, or something. What the fuck are we gonna do?"

Kyle moved for the window first, and Stan did more slowly, as if he knew what he would see and wanted to ignore it for as long as possible. It was late afternoon, and the skies were gray and thick, no snow falling yet. There were two vehicles parked maybe fifty feet from the house, and some men -- boys, whatever -- milling around, setting things up. Tents.

"They've come for their answer," Larry said, vocalizing what Kyle and Stan were both thinking as they stared out the window, immobile and speechless. "So. Which of you shits is going out there to give it to them? If you'd rather hide in your bed I can go myself. I say we fake like we're going to join up and blow them all away. There's six of them, and I'm pretty sure that Stoley is in charge. He's battle worn, he knows what he's doing. If we can take him down--"

"Shut up, Larry," Stan said. "We're not killing anyone. They're not even carrying weapons."

"Um, correction?" Larry said. "They're definitely carrying weapons, they just haven't drawn them yet. Look, join up with them if you don't think we could stage a real fight, but most people in their household aren't fighters --"

"Kind of like most people in this one," Stan said, quietly. He looked at Kyle. "I don't know what to do," he said. "Kyle, please."

Kyle could have yelled at him. Please what? He didn't owe anyone here anything. He just nodded and let the curtain fall over the window.

"Get dressed," he said. Stan bounded out of bed, clearly glad to have an order. Kyle wished now that he had let Stan clean him. They must have slept for hours; everything was dry and itchy. He put on a pair of sweatpants and went to the door shirtless.

"Well?" Larry said, scowling when Kyle pushed past him, headed for the bathroom. "What now? Where are you going?"

"To have a piss," Kyle said, wearing the attitude of the other Kyle. It was his only armor, thinner than anyone knew. "Go out and tell them I'll speak to them from the window. They should send one man to the front yard. Kevin, preferably. And don't say a fucking thing about Craig."

"I'm not stupid," Larry said. Kyle shut the bathroom door in his face.

Inside the bathroom, Kyle cleaned himself with the bath water that only got replaced once a day, drawn from a well in the backyard. When he was through, he stared at himself in the mirror for a long time. He could hear Stan and Larry talking, their voices rising angrily. There were footsteps on the stairs, Shelly's voice from the first floor, then the front door opening and closing. Kyle kept his eyes locked on his reflection. He might have just sent Larry to his death. He waited to hear gunfire, but there was nothing until someone knocked softly on the door. Kyle jumped, cursed, and opened it.

"You alright?" Stan asked. He cupped Kyle's cheek, staring at him guiltily.

"I'm okay," Kyle said, trying to comfort Stan by looking at him the way his Kyle might, with confidence and determination. "Did Larry go out to speak to them?"

"Yeah," Stan said. "I don't know if it's such a good idea, asking to speak to Kevin. He's a pretty hard guy."

"I've got a plan," Kyle said, though he didn't, not yet. Stan smiled and didn't ask to hear what it was.

Back in their room, Kyle let Stan dress him. Stan picked a pair of dark green pants with lots of pockets, baggier than most of what was available here, a black turtleneck and a brown leather vest with copper fasteners. On top of that vest Stan put another, something he'd dug out from the back of the closet. Kyle hadn't noticed it during their cleaning.

"Is this bulletproof?" he asked, because it felt like it weighed five pounds. Stan nodded, keeping his eyes on the vest as he fastened it up. "Is there one for you?" Kyle asked, fairly sure he already knew the answer.

"Larry has the other one," Stan said. "It's way too big for me, anyway. Jimbo was huge. His friend Ned -- this one was his. He was small, like you."

Their eyes met, and the air around them wavered with the truth in this: Kyle was small. He felt small, under the weight of the vest. He leaned up to give Stan a closed-lipped kiss on the lips.

"You stay down then," Kyle said. "When I'm at the window."

"Like fuck I will," Stan said. "I'll be there with a gun trained on their tents. They'll have more than one trained on you, so. It's only fair."

"Oh." Kyle hadn't wanted to think about that. He walked back toward the bed, his knees feeling wobbly.

"Here," Stan said, picking up the gun that he'd left resting on their pillow after the interruption by Larry. "Do you know how to use it?"

"My Stan's uncle Jimbo showed me how to use a rifle once," Kyle said, not even wanting to touch the gun. He felt like the metal would burn his hand.

"This is the safety," Stan said, pushing it back. "When it's released, you can fire. Don't waste bullets on anything long range. I'm gonna go downstairs and get my hunting rifle. I'm pretty good with that."

"Can anyone else shoot?" Kyle asked. "Larry?"

"Fuck no," Stan said. "Larry's good with traps, but his aim is shit. Shelly's okay. Ike has never touched a gun."

"Where is Ike now?" Kyle asked. "We need to keep him safe."

"I'll see about him when I go down to get my gun." Stan clutched Kyle's shoulder and pulled him closer, kissing his forehead. "Be right back. Don't go near the window, alright?"

"Alright." Kyle was impressed, and confused. It seemed like Stan actually had taken the lead now. All he'd needed was a moment of Kyle pretending that he could.

Kyle realized there was no reason to wait upstairs, except that he was scared, so he went down. Shelly was boarding up the kitchen windows like it was something she did every day. Craig was sitting on the floor near the hall bathroom, his arm tucked around Ike, who was hugging his elbows, staring into space. He didn't look scared so much as deep in thought. Kyle knelt down and put his hand on Ike's knee, alarmed by the long seconds that passed before Ike seemed to notice he was there.

"You okay, buddy?" Kyle asked, patting him.

"Okay," Ike said.

"How about you?" Kyle asked Craig, who looked much worse off than Ike. He had chewed a sore spot onto his bottom lip. The bruise on his cheek was a shade of lavender that only made him look prettier.

"I just don't know," Craig said. "I think maybe I should have stayed."

"Well," Kyle said. "We're glad you're here. Aren't we?" he said, shaking Ike's knee a little. Ike smiled, but he seemed annoyed, like a parent who was only half-listening as a child interrupted a more important thought process. Kyle stood and went into the kitchen to help Shelly. Stan was at the table, loading his gun.

"I'm so sorry it's come to this," Kyle said, to all of them. It wasn't something he would have said in front of Larry, and he wasn't sure that Shelly or Craig should hear it, either, but he couldn't hold it in. Stan looked up from his gun and Shelly turned from the window she was working on.

"No," Shelly said. "It's good. At least, I think so," she said more timidly, touching the end of her blouse. "They never would have let me and Larry stay in that house. I know we've made such trouble for you and Ike, and I'm sorry--"

"It's alright," Kyle said. He looked at Stan. "Maybe we're the only ones left who understand what it means to be family, but. You and Stan would do the same for Ike. You've helped so much with him."

"Oh, it's a pleasure, he's so sweet," Shelly said, looking like she would cry. Stan went to her and hugged her.

"It's gonna be okay," he said. She wrapped her arms around him and nodded, closing her eyes.

"Yes," she said. "I know. I'm not worried."

The front door opened and everyone turned, stiffening. It was Larry, pulling a compact gun from the other bullet proof vest. The vest was huge indeed, almost too big for even him.

"Kevin's coming to talk," Larry said. "I told him you'd address him through the upstairs window. And I told him not to step over the line I drew in the snow. He seemed agreeable."

"Good," Kyle said, and Shelly said, at the same time, warily: "Kevin?"

"Kyle wanted me to get Kevin," Larry said, shrugging. "What's the plan there?"

"You'll see," Kyle said, though he wasn't sure they would. Kyle was more comfortable with Kevin because he knew him, though of course he didn't really, not any more than he knew this world's egomaniacal Butters. Kyle had sensed something in Kevin when they saw him at the Mansion, something that wasn't present in this world's Butters. Kevin wasn't happy. This wasn't all working out as peachily for him as it had for some.

Also, Kyle knew Kevin back home. They were on the Academic Bowl team together. Kevin was their pop culture guy, specializing in comics and movies. That Kevin was sweet and shy, appealingly naive. Kyle had come to believe that this place wasn't what it had appeared to be at first glance: these weren't the opposite versions of the people he knew at home. They were just thrust into different circumstances, and certain extreme personality traits had been fostered as opposed to others.

Kyle and Stan went upstairs alone, the rest of the household working on boarding up the windows, save Ike, who was still sitting on the floor, humming to himself and chewing on the ends of two fingers. Kyle was worried about him, though he seemed calmer than everyone else. Stan was silent and steely-eyed by the time they reached the bedroom, and he made Kyle stay back while he drew the sheet away from the window.

"Kevin's out there," Stan said, peeking around the window frame. "Waiting. I'm sure he's armed, but he hasn't got anything trained on the house."

"The guys across the road might have long range stuff," Kyle said. His heart was slamming, and he kept forcing himself to think of his Kevin, who Kyle had found crying in the boy's room last year after some sophomore girl laughed at his invitation to go the movies with him. "Don't show them your gun," Kyle said.

"Where is Kyle?" Kevin asked, speaking with the assistance of a bullhorn.

"Do we having anything like that?" Kyle asked, whispering. Stan shook his head.

"You'll just have to shout," he said. "You ready?"

Kyle nodded. Stan removed the curtain entirely and opened the window. Kyle was so overheated from nerves that the chill from the air outside felt good.

"He's here," Stan shouted. He motioned for Kyle to join him at the window.

Kevin was closer than Kyle had expected, standing just behind the thick line Larry had drawn in the snow. His proximity startled Kyle, and so did the eye patch. Kyle hadn't forgotten that Kevin wore one here, but he'd forgotten how jarring the sight was, along with the scarring on his face. Kevin lifted the bullhorn again.

"You wanted to speak with me?" he said.

"Yeah," Kyle said, shouting. He swallowed. Below the line of the window, Stan touched the small of his back. "What are you guys doing over there?" Kyle knew he sounded young, stupid, and unprepared. His voice was steady, but he wasn't calm enough to choose his words carefully.

"We've come for your answer," Kevin said. "Clyde and Tweek are disappointed that you made no good faith efforts to contact us during the week. They're also aware that you took a meeting in Smileytown directly after your last trip to the Mansion."

"That was not forbidden per our arrangement," Kyle said. His hope that a plan would emerge in the nick of time was rapidly evaporating. "And I was under the impression that we had until the end of the day. It's still afternoon."

"You have had a week," Kevin said. "Announce your alignment now."

"This was not the arrangement," Kyle said, beginning to tremble. "We were -- preparing gifts to bring tonight--"

"Are you harboring the criminals Token and Bebe?" Kevin asked, cutting Kyle's bullshit off at the knees.

"No," Kyle shouted. "At what point did they become criminals?"

"When they stole provisions, an automobile, and other property from the Mansion."

Kyle put his shaking hands on the windowsill. He assumed the 'other property' referred to Craig.

"I haven't seen them," Kyle said. "But this makes me wary about my choice to align with the Mansion. What were their reasons for leaving?"

"Their reasons were irrelevant," Kevin said. "They stole from us. Taking a vehicle in particular is a serious crime. If you're found to be harboring them, we'll burn this house as soon as your guard is down, Broflovski. We'll salvage whatever weapons we can from the ashes."

"Kevin," Kyle said. "We're harboring no one. This is all very unsettling. I want to be able to trust Clyde and Tweek the way you do."

He allowed that to settle onto Kevin's shoulders. Kevin was silent for a moment, the bullhorn still raised to his lips.

"We operate based on real trust in this household," Kyle said. "You must understand that this is my only reason for hesitation. I have a real foundation here. I would rather build on it than dissolve it."

He was glad that the guys across the street couldn't hear him. In this sense, not having a bullhorn was a blessing, though his throat was already sore from shouting.

"That's a fantasy," Kevin said. "Nobody outside of that house trusts you, Broflovski. Least of all me."

"Why least of all?" Kyle asked Stan under his breath, moving his lips as little as possible.

"Well," Stan said. "You didn't directly maim him, but--"


"It was that night," Stan whispered. "The night of the massacre, when we left with Shelly and Larry. Kevin was with Butters then. The Hand of Death was busy with the older kids, so Kevin was instructed to trail us and kill you for defying Butters, but he didn't want to. This was before anyone knew what Butters was really capable of. Butters fucked Kevin up and left him for dead. We tried to help him, but he left for Clyde and Tweek's camp. I guess he thought they had a better chance at getting back at Butters."

"Jesus Christ," Kyle said. "You weren't going to tell me this?"

"I--" Stan stared at him, his mouth hanging open. "I guess I got confused. It was like -- I thought you knew."

"Shit," Kyle said, turning back to the window. Several of the guys across the street had moved closer, holding guns.

"You have five minutes to surrender to us," Kevin said. "Or the firefight begins."

"You know you're outmatched!" Stan shouted, shouldering Kyle aside and showing them the barrel of his gun. "And we've got cover!"

"I have six soldiers," Kevin said. "You've got maybe four, all untested, plus a child who doesn't know how to wipe his own ass. I've been instructed to take my chances."

"Tweek and Clyde are willing to sacrifice all six of you," Kyle shouted. "That's what this really is."

"They have confidence that we can get the job done," Kevin said.

"Maybe," Kyle said. "Or maybe it doesn't matter to them either way. Our resource is our weapons, and believe me, we have enough ammunition to finish off dozens of soldiers. Butters has the portal, and those prison cells, freedom from empathy. Clyde and Tweek have what's left of Token's families' supplies, but once that's gone their main resource is people. They're spending that resource today, Kevin. They're gambling with your life."

"You're not talking me in to your tea table, Broflovski," Kevin said. "I have an allegiance--"

"Based on what?" Kyle asked. Stan was holding on to the back of Kyle's pants, his fingers tucked inside the waistline, and it felt like encouragement. "The fact that they loan Craig to you on occasion? That they're willing to use your anger toward our household and Butters as ammunition for their cause?"

"Fuck," Stan said under his breath, and for a moment Kyle took it as a compliment for his ability to use his opponent's emotions against him, then he saw what Stan was actually referring to. A vehicle was approaching. It was van that had been fitted with monster truck-worthy snow tires, cutting through the frosted landscape and trundling toward the house.

"Is it from the Mansion?" Kyle asked, his heart hammering as the guys at the tent noticed the van, some of them turning their guns in that direction.

"Yes, you're so trustworthy, Broflovski!" Kevin shouted into the bullhorn. "So much so that you've stalled me with useless talk until Butters sent men to assist you." Kevin pulled a gun from his coat and Kyle sucked in a sharp breath as Stan yanked him down below the window. Two bullets zipped over their heads and hit the bedroom door, splintering straight through it.

"Fuck," Stan said, rolling Kyle down onto the floor. There was more gunfire outside, presumably directed toward the van. "Butters must have sent people, too," Stan said. "If we're lucky, they'll thin each other's numbers before they come at us again."

For a few seconds they just lay there, breathing hard, Stan holding Kyle protectively against his chest. Stan's back was to the window, and Kyle waited for more bullets to come through, but the gunfire had quieted outside. There was shouting.

"Whatever happens," Stan said. "I won't let them hurt you."

"But I'm the one wearing the bulletproof vest," Kyle said. He felt like he was in a video game, raw adrenaline pushing away most of his reality-based terror.

"Let's move," Stan said, taking Kyle's hand and pulling him onto his stomach. "We'll be safer down in the basement, with the guns."

"We'll also be trapped," Kyle said as they crawled toward the door.

"We're already trapped," Stan said. "The basement only has one entrance. If we can blow them all away as they come through the door--"

"They could set fire to the house!" Kyle said when they'd reached the door. Stan extended his hand toward the knob slowly, and Kyle winced when Stan threw it open. No more bullets came.

"Then what's your plan?" Stan asked. "What should we do?"

"Listen," Kyle said. "They're not shooting at each other. I hear voices. That sounds like -- Clyde?"

"C'mon," Stan said. "We'll look through the downstairs windows." He made his way out into the hallway and Kyle followed, hurrying along, still crouching low.

They slithered down the stairs as quickly as possible. Larry was at the front window, ducked down so that only the top of his head cleared the sill. He was watching whatever was happening outside, frowning, a big gun hugged to his chest and two others at the ready on the floor. The door to the basement was open and Shelly was on the top stair, holding a gun, her face white and her eyes trained on Larry.

"Where's Ike and Craig?" Kyle asked, whispering, as if their enemies were already inside.

"In the basement, at the bottom of the stairs," Shelly said. "Are you guys okay?"

"Fine for now," Stan said. "Go sit by her," he said to Kyle, nudging him in that direction. "Stay low." Stan went to the window, hunching down beside Larry. "Shel, go down and grab me something automatic and another rifle," he said.

She nodded and crept down the stairs, carrying a lit candle that had been sitting on the basement stairs. Kyle took her place on the first step. He could faintly make out Ike and Craig at the bottom, both of them silent. Craig was staring up at the doorway, his eyes wide and fearful. Ike was muttering to himself under his breath.

"What the fuck," Larry said, still staring out the window, ignoring everything that was going on inside the house. "What the hell is this?"

"What do you see?" Stan asked. "Kyle thought he heard Clyde."

"Yeah, Clyde's out there," Larry said. "And Butters, and the fucking Hand of Death. And Cartman. Why would they bring him? And where's Tweek?

"What the hell?" Stan poked his head up for a look. "Oh, God," he said. "Kyle." His voice broke when he said the name. He wasn't speaking to the Kyle inside the house.

Stan scrambled up and went for the door just as Shelly was jogging back up the stairs with more guns. Kyle stood and let her through.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Larry said when Stan opened the door.

"Wait!" Kyle said, afraid someone would shoot him.

"It's you," Stan said quietly, turning back to Kyle. "I mean. It's him."

"Huh?" Larry said. He looked out the window again. "Fuck, nice going, dumb ass," he said. "Now they're all coming this way."

Kyle pressed his back to the wall, not sure what was going on. He could hear heavy footsteps approaching in the snow, and an eerily familiar voice.

"Stand down, Marsh!" someone said. "Lower your weapon. We want an audience with Broflovski."

"Kyle," Stan said again, weakly. He stepped aside, allowing a guy with a gun into the house. He was dressed like the guards at Butters' headquarters, all in heavy black, wearing a black helmet, a scarf covering everything but his eyes and nose. Despite this, Kyle realized what Stan had seen from fifty feet away: that was him. The other Kyle.

"Hurry," that Kyle said, ushering more people into the house. The first was Clyde, looking shaken, then Butters. He was wearing his Emperor Chaos helmet, but he didn't look at all imposing. Kenny was behind him, shirtless. That trim Cartman from Butters' base came through next, glancing around the room as he entered, visibly nervous. Finally, there was another guard, his face similarly covered. The other Kyle shut the door behind him, and Kyle let a silent sob break in his chest when he realized who the second guard was.

"Stan," Kyle said. Both Stans turned, but one was preoccupied with grabbing desperately for the other Kyle. The Stan in the guard's uniform -- Kyle's Stan, the real Stan -- dropped the gun he was holding and hurried to Kyle, pulling the scarf away from his face.

"Dude," Stan said, his eyes full of tears. Kyle raced to him and fell into his arms, shaking. He'd never, never felt such relief. Even coming back from the brink of death as a child hadn't felt like this. It shook through Kyle, moving from his shoulders to his feet as they held onto each other: Stan was here, really here, the real Stan, Kyle's Stan. Everything would be fine, because Stan was here.

"Stan," Kyle said, whispering this against Stan's neck. "Oh, God, Jesus." This Stan smelled just like the other one did, but also like home, like that fake pine air freshener that hung from the dash of Stan's car, his old fashioned clear-stick deodorant, and the expensive shampoo that Stan had been using since he was fourteen, around the time he'd realized he was hot.

"Are you okay?" Stan asked. He pulled back, his face wet, eyes puffy and soft. Kyle nodded.

"Yeah," he said. "You?"

"I don't fucking know," Stan said. He turned to look at the other Kyle, who was whispering with the other Stan, their foreheads pressed together. That Stan was sniffling, too, cupping his Kyle's cheeks. "That guy pretended to be you," Stan said, whispering this in Kyle's ear. "He's crazy. He made us come here. He made--" Stan broke off there and shook his head. He kissed Kyle's cheek, which would have stunned him a week ago, but after getting so much affection from the other Stan, it didn't seem strange. "I'm so glad you're okay," Stan said.

"I'm so glad you're here," Kyle said, wanting to kiss Stan's cheeks, his lips, everything.

"You're really okay?" Kenny asked, walking over with Butters hugged under his arm. Kyle beamed when he realized it was his Kenny, his Butters.

"I think I am now," Kyle said.

"Oh, thank goodness!" Butters said, and Kyle laughed. He never thought Butters' cloying little sentiments would be such a relief.

"Alright," Larry said. He was looking through the window again, his eyes narrowed. "What the fuck's going on?"

"Stan, why are there two of you?" Shelly asked, her voice shaking.

"Remember when I told you I'd been through the portal?" the other Stan said, turning to his sister.

"The portal leads to another dimension," the other Kyle said. He pulled his helmet off, revealing his short hair. He met Kyle's eyes briefly, and Kyle curled in closer to Stan, unnerved by the sight of his double, and by the meanness in his gaze, his hard-set jaw. "That dimension is a mirror of this one," the other Kyle continued, walking into the center of the room. "Nobody here knows this except me, Stan, and him." He gestured to Cartman, who was standing near Clyde. They both looked terrified.

"I don't understand," Cartman said. "Kyle, you said--"

"Shut up!" the other Kyle barked. "Everybody fucking listen. Not even Butters knows what the portal is for. He knows it's powerful but he's been afraid to fuck with it. If he was aware that Cartman knew its use he would have tortured it out of him years ago, but Cartman kept that secret for me." Kyle walked to Cartman and patted his cheek. Cartman smiled.

"I sure did!" Cartman said. "You said it was important, and I said to myself, 'Eric, Kyle always knows--'"

"I said shut up," the other Kyle said, giving Cartman's cheek a light slap. "Alright," he said, addressing the others. "Here's what we're going to do--"

"Fuck that," Kenny said. He bent down to pick up the gun Stan had dropped. "You're taking us back to that portal," he said, pointing the gun at Kyle. "We're going home. This place is fucked."

"Oh, please," the other Kyle said. "If you'll just do as a I say, this world could be much more accommodating for you than--"

"Kyle, I need to talk to you!" the other Stan said. "You need to tell me what the fuck is going on, where you've been--"

"There will be a time for that," the other Kyle said. He gave his Stan a pleading look. "Not now, not yet."

"Somebody needs to tell me why fucking Emperor Chaos and the Hand of Death are in our house," Larry said, still holding his gun. "Not to mention motherfucking Clyde."

"I don't know why I'm here!" Clyde said. "All I know is that if I live through this, I'm never getting near any of you assholes again!"


That was Craig, his voice creeping up timidly from the bottom of the basement stairs.

"Craig?" Clyde shouted, running toward the stairs. "Oh, fuck, they've got you, too?"

"Excuse me!" the other Kyle shouted. "I'm trying to organize a very delicate situation here, if everyone could just--"

"Clyde!" Craig shouted, running up the stairs and throwing himself at Clyde, so forcefully that Clyde stumbled backward. "Oh, God!" Craig said, squeezing Clyde's waist. "I'm so sorry! I didn't want to leave, I really didn't, Token was just so mean! I know you didn't want Tweek roughing me up like that, but you just couldn't say anything, I understand! I'm so sorry, oh, God, my darling, forgive me!" Craig dropped to his knees and hugged Clyde's legs. Clyde stood there with his mouth hanging open and his hands frozen in mid-air.

"Um," Clyde said, staring down at Craig. "What?"

"What the hell is Craig still doing here?" the other Kyle asked, shouting.

"I think everyone needs a moment to catch up," the other Stan said. "Particularly me and you, Kyle."

"You're calling the shots now, is that it?" the other Kyle said. His Stan scoffed, his eyes darting to Kyle's for a moment.

"It's been a long week," the other Stan said. "Some things have changed around here."

"That's ominous," the other Kyle said. He turned in a circle, frowning. "Shit, where's my brother?"

"Kyle!" Ike cried, emerging from the basement stairwell. He smiled and ran to the other Kyle, throwing his arms around him. "I missed you!"

"Ike is talking in complete sentences now?" the other Kyle said, petting Ike's hair and looking to his Stan, who shrugged.

"That's the first time we've heard him do it," Stan said. "And Ike -- I don't know how he figured out that the Kyle we had here wasn't really you. Shelly and Larry didn't know."

"Christ, did you think that was me?" the other Kyle asked, pointing at Kyle. Stan's arms tightened around Kyle, as if the other one was aiming a weapon. Kyle pressed his cheek to Stan's shoulder and breathed in the smell of him again.

"No," the other Stan said. "Not after five minutes of shock. Please, come upstairs with me. Tell me what you're thinking before you tell them. That hasn't changed, has it?"

"Fine," the other Kyle said. "But we don't have long. Butters' men will find the guards we tied up before long. Or they'll realize Cartman has left. He'll send the Hand of Death here, Stan. I have to get my thoughts in order before that happens."

"Let me help you do that," Stan said. He put his hand out. "Please?"

The other Kyle huffed and walked to his Stan. He took his Stan's hand and pulled him up the stairs, both of them casting a look back at Stan and Kyle as they left. Kyle felt nervous for the Stan who had cared for him for the past week. He didn't trust that other Kyle at all.

"Keep an eye on them, Larry," the other Kyle called.

"You said he pretended to be me?" Kyle said to Stan. Their faces were close, and Stan's arms were still snug around Kyle's back, Kyle's hands resting on Stan's shoulders. Just this would have been thrilling, once, back home.

"I need to talk to you," Stan said. "Alone, somewhere."

"Hey, what the fuck?" Kenny said, whacking Stan's arm. "Can't we be included in this little pow wow?"

"I had to pretend to be Professor Chaos!" Butters said to Kyle. "Only they called him Emperor Chaos, and you see that Cartman over there? He does whatever I say! Hey, Eric," Butters said. "Bend over and touch your toes."

"Yes, sir," Cartman said, and he did.

"Very good, thanks," Butters said. He turned his wide-eyed gaze back to Kyle. "Ain't that something?"

"Uh, yeah," Kyle said. "Look, guys, Stan's right. Me and him need to talk."

"Fine, shit," Kenny said. He folded his arms over his chest and groaned. "Can I at least put on a fucking shirt now?"

"Here," Stan said. He slid off the guard's jacket he was wearing and gave it to Kenny. "Is there somewhere we can go?" he asked.

"The pantry in the kitchen," Kyle said. "C'mon."

"Hang on," Larry said. "Nobody leaves this room."

"Oh, fuck off, Larry," Kyle said. "What are we doing to do? We'll be right in the kitchen. You can guard the pantry door if you want."

"Who is that guy?" Stan asked in a whisper as they walked toward the kitchen, past Craig and Clyde, who were crouched together on the floor, hugging.

"That's Larry," Kyle said. "Shelly's boyfriend, don't you remember?"

"Shit, the kid who died?"

"Yeah. He didn't die in this version of, uh. Reality. Here, c'mon." Kyle opened the pantry door and stepped inside, pulling Stan with him. When he shut the door behind them there was no light. Kyle felt for Stan's elbows and held them. They were facing each other. Kyle could feel Stan's breath on his forehead.

"Dude," Stan said, whispering. "What the fuck."

"I don't know," Kyle said. "I woke up here and -- ah. Things were different."

"You just woke up here?" Stan said. "How?"

"I don't know! Believe me, it was confusing as fuck. And, like. That other Stan? He knew I wasn't his Kyle, he remembered about the portal, the last time the four of us saw each other -- you. You didn't remember?"

"I guess I did," Stan said. "After Kenny reminded me. The fucking mystery spot and all that. I'd put it out of my head, Kyle, you know how things are--"

"I know, I know. I had, too. But it's real, Stan. Oh, fuck, c'mere. I was afraid I'd never see you again."

Kyle felt for Stan's shoulders and pulled him close, hugging him. Stan was shaking. It was worst in his hands, and he rested them only lightly on Kyle's back.

"I didn't know," Stan whispered. "I didn't know he wasn't you. I -- I -- he pretended."

"Shh, it's okay. He seems like a real asshole."

"He acted like you," Stan said. He squeezed Kyle, moaning. "He made me think. I mean, okay. He acted a little weird. Different. But--"

"Like how?" Kyle asked. "What did he do?"

"He, um. He--"

"Because the Stan and Kyle here? They're gay for each other, dude," Kyle said. His heart was pounding, and Stan's was, too. Kyle could feel it against his chest. "With each other, I mean. Fuck, did he try to do stuff to you?"

"No," Stan said, but it was sheepish, and Kyle always knew when Stan was lying.

"Please tell me he didn't hurt you -- that way," Kyle said. "Please, I, Jesus—"

"He didn't," Stan said. He was telling the truth, but something was wrong. "Kyle. God." Stan pushed out a long breath, and it was warm against Kyle's face, making his eyelashes flutter. "So much has happened. What about the guy here? He didn't -- did he?"

"No. I mean." There was a long pause, and Kyle could feel Stan reading his thoughts. They didn't even need to be able to see each other's eyes. "Not against my will," Kyle said, very softly.

"What are you saying?" Stan asked. His hands moved up to squeeze Kyle's forearms. "Kyle?"

"Dude, you know I'm gay," Kyle said. This came out surprisingly solid, not shaky at all, because it was the least of his concerns at the moment. Stan scoffed.

"What," he said. "No."

"Yes, actually. I am."

"No, I mean." Stan let go of him but stayed close. "I didn't. How was I supposed to know that?"

"Uh, I don't know. My lack of interest in girls? Look, anyway. This was -- he missed his Kyle. I knew, like. You'd never want me like that. So we did stuff."

"Stuff?" Stan was breathing harder. "What stuff?"

"Pretty much everything. But whatever, I just, why am I even telling you this?" Kyle tried to laugh, ready to change the subject.

"Kyle, what." Stan backed away, landing against the shelves. Something fell off and hit the floor with a thud; the smell of flour filled the air. "He fucked you? That other -- me?"

"I'm sorry if you feel violated," Kyle said. "But it wasn't about you. I mean, it was, but. Look, whatever. How did you guys even get here?"

"Through the mystery spot," Stan said. His voice was harder, angry. "That other Kyle, he turned a gun on us. I thought it was you at first. I thought. I don't know what I thought."

"You thought I would ever point a gun at you?" Kyle asked, edging into anger, too. "For any reason?"

"Look, I had no frame of reference, okay? I thought it was you! I was so fucking sure it was you." Stan sort of growled, and it was muffled, presumably because he had his hands over his face. Kyle reached for him and Stan moved away, knocking something else off a shelf. Potatoes, by the sound of it.

"I'm sorry he was able to fool you," Kyle said. "He's a dick. Let's just concentrate on getting home, alright? Then we--"

"Was he good?" Stan asked.


"That other me. Was he good, when he fucked you?"

"Jesus!" Kyle moved away, his shoulder blades touching the shelves on the other side of the pantry. "What the hell kind of question is that?"

"It's a legitimate question. Why, just. Why would you let him do that? If you knew he wasn't me?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Kyle asked. His ass still felt raw from how many times they'd done it in the past few days. He blushed, glad that Stan wouldn't see it.

"Why wouldn't you?" Stan scoffed. "Because he's a stranger? Because you were lost in an alternate dimension, and why the fuck would you be taking your pants off for anyone?"

"I was scared," Kyle said. "I'm sorry." He was angry with himself as soon as the words were out. "But it's really none of your business."

"None of my business! Fuck you! He's me!"

"No, he's not! No more than that prick with short hair is me! I can't believe you couldn't tell! I'm nothing like that guy! It's like you don't know me at all!"

The pantry door opened. It was Larry, holding a gun. He didn't look happy. Kyle moved toward Stan, not sure if he was offering or asking for protection.

"Quit fucking around and get out here," Larry said. "Butters is coming." He stepped back and pumped his rifle. "The real Butters."

Kyle examined the bullet holes in the door while Stan watched Butters' forces amassing outside. Kyle was concerned, too, his breathing shallow, but he didn't want Stan to see it. The cleanness of the house was alarming. It felt like an insult.

They hadn't said much to each other yet. Stan had explained about Craig and the departure of Token and Bebe, and he'd listened without comment when Kyle told him how he'd gotten the others here and what he meant to use them for. It had been easy enough to flummox Kevin and his men just with the sight of Butters and Clyde, united and preparing to align with Kyle, but if the other Butters was out there among the troops he'd sent, they'd have problems that Kyle hadn't yet figured out how to deal with.

"Where's your hat?" Stan asked.

"I left it," Kyle said, touching his hair. "In Stan's room. We were. We left in a hurry."

"You took your hat off for him," Stan said. He had his back to Kyle, his eyes still on the action outside.

"I hate that hair cut," Kyle said, irritated by what Stan was doing, by the way things had changed, by everything. "Did Shelly do that?"

"No. He did."

Kyle sniffed, knowing who 'he' was. That other Kyle. He was a sniveling, nervous thing -- and that hair. He was a reflection of everything Kyle vowed he would never become himself.

"And you're clean shaven," Kyle said, walking toward Stan. "And the room smells like grease. I asked you not to bring food up here. You remember the mice--"

"What are we going to do?" Stan asked, turning from the window. "Mice, Kyle? Butters is mounting an attack. Clyde and Tweek won't be far behind after Kevin radios the news abut Butters and 'Clyde' joining forces. What now? What's your plan?"

"Don't worry about it," Kyle said. "Just know that everything's fine." His scrap of a plan was a weak one: to confuse the leadership by threatening to kill the people who looked like them. He could claim that he'd made clones and that the death of a clone would hurt the original. It was his only idea.

"Everything's fine?" Stan said. "How can you say that? Do you think I'm stupid?"

"Why are you talking to me this way?" Kyle asked, grabbing Stan's wrists. He gave him a jerk, but Stan just stared at him, unmoved. "You're angry with me? Why? I didn't abandon you. This wasn't my choice, and it wasn't easy getting back here! I sacrificed for you! The things I had to do--"

"What things?" Stan asked. His face fell. "You fucked him, yeah? Claimed him? He's yours now, too?"

"I did not fuck him," Kyle said, and this was technically true. "But I had to -- that pathetic excuse for a Clyde. I had to seduce him. Not with anything -- bonding. Just my mouth. It was horrible."

Kyle had intended to win sympathy by admitting this, but Stan looked disgusted, not sorry for him. Kyle dropped Stan's wrists and walked away from him.

"Clyde?" Stan said, weakly.

"He's hardly Clyde," Kyle said. "He's just someone who looks like him. Same as the one who looks like me. I'm sure -- he didn't try to fuck your or anything, I'm sure."

That came out sounding more like a question than Kyle had intended. Stan touched the back pockets of his jeans, something he always did when he was nervous.

"No," Stan said. "He didn't."

"I can't imagine how Shelly and Larry believed he was me," Kyle said, not wanting to know anything more just yet. He was wondering, though -- Did he sleep in our bed with you? Did you hold him when he was frightened? Did you call him baby, honey, sweetheart -- did you call him by my name? "Good on Ike for seeing through him," Kyle muttered. "I should have thought it was obvious enough for even an ignorant ass like Larry to notice."

"He actually did very well," Stan said. "You can imagine what a disaster it would have been if Craig or any of the leaders realized you'd been replaced by someone who didn't belong here."

"Tell me he didn't have an audience with Clyde and Tweek when you returned Craig!"

"He did," Stan said. "And with Butters, that same day. He did great. They didn't--"

"Fucking hell!" Kyle said, pacing, unable to look at Stan while he assumed that defiant posture. "No wonder they're all sending armies to our door!"

"They're sending armies because we've run out of time! You always said this would happen eventually. You always said you had a plan."

"Now you don't trust that I do?" Kyle went to Stan and grabbed him by the shoulders, wishing he was taller. "Or maybe your new Kyle has a better plan, is that it? You're angry that I've returned to spoil things?"

"He's not my new Kyle," Stan said. "But that's your new Stan, isn't it? You'll want to keep him, won't you?"

"We'll have to keep all of them if we have any hope of surviving," Kyle said. "I've more than doubled our household, and all you can feel is petty jealousy?"

"I fucked him," Stan said, his lip trembling.

"Pardon me?"

"The other Kyle." Stan stepped out of Kyle's grip, leaving his hands hanging in mid-air. "I took him. Claimed him. I've fucked him so many times."

Kyle stared at Stan for a long time, seeing a stranger. Stan was upset, anxious, clutching at his elbows. If things were normal, Kyle would punish him. Kyle wasn't sure he would be allowed to anymore. Stan had always been bigger than him.

"What am I supposed to do with this information?" Kyle asked. He wondered if Stan expected him to crumble. He was crumbling, surprisingly delicate structures washing away inside his chest, but if his birth givers had bestowed anything useful upon him, it was the ability to stand up straight while he was folding in on himself.

"I don't know," Stan said. He walked to Kyle and touched his hair, his hands sliding down to hold Kyle's face. "Baby," he said, softly, and Kyle slapped his hands away.

"I guess you'll expect to fuck me now, too?" Kyle said. "And to run this house?"

"I don't expect anything." Stan was starting to cry. Kyle couldn't take much more of that after the scene at the portal. "I don't know. Everything's so turned around. I feel different. I want to hold you, and I -- I feel like you don't need me anymore."

"That's ridiculous," Kyle said. He wanted to comfort Stan, but didn't want to show -- whatever, weakness. The crumbling thing inside him. "Of course I need you. Do you think I was on vacation? Having fun? All I thought about was getting back to you. I was worried about you. I thought -- but maybe you don't need me. You seem fine. Maybe you're better without me."

"No," Stan said. He walked to Kyle and held his face again, but didn't kiss him. It was hard to look Stan in the eye and not say, He fucked me, just hours ago, I can still feel it when I walk. Stan dropped down to kiss Kyle's chest, then his stomach, the bulge at his crotch, his knees. "Please," Stan said, wiping his face on Kyle's pants. "Please, tell me what to do. I'm so -- they'll kill my sister. They'll make us their slaves."

"Stop this, goddammit," Kyle said, pulling him up. He took Stan to the bed and thought of fucking him in view of the troops. Maybe it would confuse them? Mostly he wanted to kiss Stan, so he did, pushing him down below the line of the window, hiding him on the mattress. Stan sighed into it and wrapped his long legs around Kyle's back.

"On the floor," Stan said, his eyes brightening, face still wet.

"Is that an order?" Kyle asked. Stan rolled his eyes, and Kyle took it like a punch.

"We shouldn't be doing this at all," Stan said. "Everything that's going on--"

"Shut up," Kyle said. He kissed Stan again, and pulled him to the floor. Stan came willingly.

It was different. So different, with the boy he'd invented all of this with in the first place. Nobody had told them about sex, except that babies came from the man-woman kind and the rest was recreational and best kept discreet. Kyle had always taken everything they did under the blankets in stride, but as he got older his hands would shake when he thought about going to bed with Stan. He had been afraid, for years, that Stan would push him away one night.

"What did it feel like?" Kyle asked when Stan rolled on top of him, undoing his pants. "Fucking him? Me?"

"It wasn't you," Stan said, shaking his head. "That's what it felt like. Good enough to come, but not you."

"You know I'm going to kill him," Kyle said. Stan went still above him and frowned. Kyle shrugged. "I can't have two of me," he said. "Two of you, yes, but--"

"I won't let you kill him," Stan said, and Kyle realized he should have waited until he had Stan pinned to bring this up.

"Excuse me?" Kyle said. "You don't give me orders."

"You don't kill people. Least of all him."

"You have changed," Kyle said. He tried to push Stan off, but Stan held him down. Kyle didn't struggle again. He didn't want to; he could hear voices downstairs, mostly Larry. He was embarrassed by his erection, which hadn't been true in many years.

"Look at me," Stan said.

"You will never tell me what to do," Kyle said, but he didn't jerk away when Stan grabbed his chin and turned his head so that their eyes were locked.

"You're not killing that boy," Stan said. "That Kyle. He's so like you, you would be--"

"You're fucking crazy!" Kyle shouted, struggling a little. Stan held him down, his expression unchanged, almost neutral. "He's nothing like me! He hadn't even -- he'd never touched his Stan, before me. And he'll never touch you again, not while I'm alive."

"Before you," Stan said. He frowned and tugged Kyle's pants off. Kyle bit down on his lip to keep a frightened whine in. He closed his eyes when Stan felt him, his thighs twitching. He wasn't sure if he wanted to part them or close them. "He fucked you," Stan said, feeling it.

"Mmph," Kyle said. He kept his eyes shut, tighter now. Stan had never touched him there except with his tongue, and even that made Kyle antsy. Now his fingers were rubbing everywhere, even inside, just a little, examining Kyle's soreness. Kyle wanted to spread for him, wider than his pants would allow.

"You wanted it?" Stan said, gruffly. Kyle opened his eyes. He wanted to say no, to save face, but his Stan would kill the other one if he did.

"Of course I wanted it," Kyle said. "It was just. I had to play the part. That other Kyle, he would never be on top. It was an act. But the other Stan. He's so sweet. He was careful."

"So sweet," Stan said.

"The only way I could get back to you was to pretend to be him," Kyle said. "At least I had that excuse. You were fucking someone else. Someone who you knew wasn't me."

"I thought I might have lost you forever."

"One week and you'd given up? That's nice, great."

"Kyle." Stan pressed Kyle's shoulders more snugly to the floor. "I thought I had lost you. I saw what my life was without you. It was hollow, it was nothing -- he's, the other Kyle, he's sweet. I took him, God, I took him so many times. But he wasn't mine. I couldn't make him mine. You're mine. You're the only thing I've ever had, and I--"

Kyle leaned up to kiss him, not wanting to hear anymore of that. I took him so many times. Kyle was jealous, so much that it hurt, like his ribs had grown thorns. He bit Stan's lip on purpose and glowered when Stan pulled back.

"Turn over," Stan said. His gaze was sharper than Kyle's teeth. "And I'll show you."

Kyle was still, thinking. They'd left the window open just a crack, so they could hear the progress of what was going on outside. There were distant voices, a hammering sound.

"Turn me over yourself," Kyle said, pretending to believe he was being defiant.

Stan did. Kyle was on his hands and knees, panting against the disturbingly clean-smelling carpet. He let Stan pull his pants down to his knees and spread them a little wider, his breath hitching. Stan was touching him, appraising his condition, making a low noise that sounded slightly disapproving.

"You're all pink," Stan said, tickling his fingers around Kyle's blushing skin, making him shiver. "Are you sure--"

"We might be dead in an hour," Kyle said. "If you're really man enough to fuck me, I want to see it. Feel it, I mean."

"Feel it," Stan said, the heat in those words making Kyle flex a little. He heard Stan let out his breath. Only the lowest subs got fucked like this: on the floor, hands and knees, not even looked in the eye. Kyle wanted it this way. He was scared; doing this would make him brave, like walking over coals before battle. He sighed against the carpet when Stan touched him with gentle, oiled fingers.

"We don't have much time," Kyle said, pushing back. "And I'm already, you know. Worked on. Used."

"Kyle," Stan said, admonishing. He kissed Kyle's ass cheeks one at a time, as if introducing himself. Then his fingers were back, pushing inside. Kyle grimaced and hid his face between his crossed wrists, his hands curling up tightly. He moaned when Stan found that spot inside him easily.

"There," Kyle breathed out, arching.

"I know," Stan said. He put a hand on the small of Kyle's back and kissed his quivering ass again. "Did he touch you here?" Stan asked, rubbing his fingertip in tight, slow circles that made Kyle feel like his spine would buckle under the weight of this pleasure.

"No -- yes." Kyle moaned. His hands went limp, then his shoulders. "Yes, but. Not like that. Ahh. Stan."

"Did you call him that when he fucked you? Did you say Stan, like that?"

"I don't know," Kyle said, holding in a sob. He was drooling, wiping it away with his wrist. "Please, oh, God. If Larry comes up here before you've been inside me--"

"Larry can wait," Stan said. "They can all wait." He took hold of Kyle's cock and stroked him, inside and out, and Kyle felt more like a gun than an instrument, ready to go off. He sunk his teeth into his thumb when he came, mostly muffling it, shuddering as Stan pumped it from him. "Good boy," Stan said, very softly, as if he was afraid of what Kyle would do when he heard that. Kyle put his shoulders on the carpet and inched his legs apart more widely.

"Please," he said, squeezing weakly around Stan's fingers, trembling. "Now, please."

Kyle bit his other thumb when Stan sunk into him. The thumb he'd used to muffle his cry when he came was still painful, throbbing. Stan went slower than he needed to, but Kyle didn't object. They both sighed when Stan was balls deep, Stan's chest pressed snugly to Kyle's back, his arms sliding down over Kyle's. Kyle spread his fingers on the carpet, allowing Stan's to thread between them.

"Yeah," Stan said, his lips moving on Kyle's ear. "Yeah, oh."

Kyle tucked his head down, completing his submission. Their breath seemed to have synced, and the fullness in Kyle's ass seemed to bloom into something slightly bigger every time Stan took a breath, receding when they exhaled together. Stan licked Kyle's neck, kissing him there in a leisurely way, as if they had so much time.

"I need you," Kyle said. He turned his cheek toward Stan's lips. "How could you. Think I don't, how could you--"

"Kyle," Stan said, quieting him. He kissed Kyle's cheek, the corner of his eye. "I know."

"You said--"

"I wanted you to say it."

"Don't toy with me," Kyle said, losing the end of that to a sob, his lungs in a vice. Stan moaned sympathetically and hooked his arm across Kyle's chest, holding him more tightly.

"Shh," he said. He moved, and they both gasped.

"Again," Kyle said. He was either begging or ordering; he didn't care. He felt like he could see Stan more clearly than he ever had, though they weren't facing each other. Stan moved, dragging out slow, just halfway out before he pushed in again. Kyle groaned and tried to arch more deeply, his back aching.

"I want to fuck you hard," Stan said. His heartbeat was the loudest thing in the room, bigger than their breath, heavier than what was happening outside. Kyle couldn't even hear it, not with his ears, but he could feel it drumming against his back.

"Do it," Kyle said, squeezing around him until he hissed. "You know I need it."

"Baby," Stan said, sounding like he'd cry again, and then he snapped his hips. They both shouted, and after that they were moving together, Kyle pushing his ass back to follow Stan's dick. He cried against the carpet, everything but what they were doing long gone in his thoughts. He had no real thoughts at all, just a soaking wet mouth that Stan pushed two fingers into and a wide-open ass that Stan claimed and claimed until he was done, his weight and the force of his orgasm pressing Kyle flat to the floor.

Stan rolled onto his side, putting his back to the door, shielding Kyle's body from anyone who might look in through the bullet holes. They were both breathing in gulps. Kyle was a little hard but not very. He didn't want to come, he just wanted to lie there fighting for breath with Stan's stomach pushing hard against the small of his back. Stan was still inside him.

"Honey," Stan said breathlessly, moving a trembling hand over Kyle's chest, thumbing the soft hair under his belly button. "Sweetheart."

"That other one called me 'dude,'" Kyle said, murmuring this against the carpet. He was too tired to wrench his eyes open, and the chill of the room was beginning to reach him. Stan made a soft sound and disconnected, exhaling. Kyle knew Stan was watching his cock slide free, admiring the way Kyle looked now, wet with his come, red rather than pink.

"You can't kill that kid," Stan said, settling at his back again, his arm hooking across Kyle's chest. Kyle laughed.

"Do you think of me as a kid, too?" he asked.


"A man?"

"Not really." Stan opened his mouth on Kyle's neck and licked him a little, breathing him in. "You're Kyle. I don't care how many of them end up running around here, looking just like you. You're the only one who's really Kyle."

"I'm yours now," Kyle said tiredly. He could hear vehicles crunching over the snow outside, a clipped voice giving orders. "Do with me what you want."

"I'm going to clean you," Stan said. "Dress you for battle. That other Kyle has your vest -- I'll get it back for you. Then we'll arm all of them. I don't know what else we can do. Unless. What was your plan?"

"To threaten to kill their doubles."

"Oh. I don't think they'd care, would they?"

"Probably not, but they don't know what we know. They don't know how they're connected to these people who look like them." Kyle rolled onto his back and opened his eyes, closing them again when Stan kissed his mouth. Stan pulled back to fuss with Kyle for a few moments, touching his face and his hair as if he was making adjustments, rearranging the parts that he'd mussed up himself.

"What was their world like?" Stan asked. "I hardly remember."

"There's hot water," Kyle said. "Everything's clean. Every meal is a feast. And the birth givers. They weren't like ours, they were. They didn't." There was something welling in his chest, taking up too much room. If they died, he would want Stan to know this first. "I did what I did for you," he said. "For myself, too, and for Ike. But I had that idea for how to get rid of the birth givers when I was lying awake, thinking about -- you remember. Your little fingers."

He picked up Stan's left hand and bent the index and middle finger. They were no longer little, but they were still knobby in the places where the bones had healed. Kyle kissed Stan's knuckles, his fingernails. He'd let his cuticles go untended. Kyle would see to that if they survived. Now that Stan had claimed him, it would be up to Kyle to take care of Stan's grooming. He touched one of Stan's soft cheeks, resolving to give him a shave every morning. If they survived. Stan was breathing through his nose, watching him.

"I'd raze the whole town if it meant I could keep you safe," Kyle said. "I did, didn't I? That's what I did, when I was nine years old. Why didn't it work, Stan? Why can't they just leave us alone? How can they not understand what they've become?"

"Tell them," Stan said. "You saved our lives with nothing more than words and your backbone, once. The day Butters gave you this." He put his fingertips against Kyle's scar, very lightly, as if it was still fresh. If the other Stan had noticed it, he'd never mentioned it. "They're scared, too," Stan said. "You told me never to forget that. You told me they would have had their way with us a long time ago if they weren't just as scared as we are."

"I never told you I was scared," Kyle said.

"I know," Stan said. "But you would jerk in your sleep like you'd stepped in a bear trap. When I put my arms around you, squeezed you, when I told you it was okay, that you were safe -- Kyle, you. You'd make the softest noises." He kissed Kyle's eyelids, and Kyle was glad to have an excuse to close his eyes.

"Don't tell anyone," he said.

"Don't tell them what?" Stan asked. "That you're scared? Who am I going to tell?"

"That other Kyle. I don't want him to know me."

"Jesus, honey. What a thing to say."

They cleaned themselves and dressed. Kyle was surprised that no one had come upstairs to retrieve them, but he supposed they'd only been gone for twenty minutes or so. It had felt like weeks, and he was revitalized, shoulder to shoulder with Stan again as they descended the stairs. He cursed when he saw Wendy and Kevin standing in the living room, their arms raised, Larry and Shelly's guns trained on them.

"What the fuck is this?" Kyle asked, vaulting down the remaining stairs. "You captured them?"

"They asked for an audience," the other Kyle said. Kyle glowered at him. He was holding the bullet proof vest, offering it. "This is yours," he said, quietly. The other Stan was lingering close to him, giving Kyle a cold, hateful look that tore at him. Kyle snatched the vest from his double and turned to Wendy and Kevin.

"Nobody is granting audiences with anybody without my permission," he said, though this was a kind of boon, and more than he'd expected as a first move from either camp. "That said. What the hell do you two want?"

"Pre-war conference," Kevin said. "Not with us, but with the leadership, at a neutral location. There's a lot of confused information passing between the camps." He glanced at the soft Clyde. Clyde had his arm tucked around Craig, who clutched at him as if he was the Clyde who owned him. Someone had armed both of them, which infuriated Kyle, though he supposed it was the only thing to do. They looked more interested in cuddling against each other in terror than firing their weapons.

"Just where did you get those two?" Wendy asked, flicking her chin toward Butters and Kenny, who were standing in the kitchen doorway. Butters had put his helmet back on. Cartman had fetched one of the spares from Chaos' collection before they slipped away from his headquarters. "They're such perfect doubles, but they can't be -- I rode here with the Hand of Death."

Kyle fastened on his vest and ignored her question, still not exactly sure how he wanted to play his information about the portal. Stan and Kyle had shoved Cartman through it on a whim as children, wanting to see what would happen. They both pretended that remorse had no part in the fact that they went in after him. Kyle had seen it as a moment of weakness for both of them; he never thought their short and humiliating trip to the other world would be the lynchpin in a campaign for power. Before the banishment, the birth givers had controlled the portal, and they'd answered no questions about it. Kyle had never seen them enter it without the guns that he didn't even know the proper name for. He had stolen two before going through with Stan, something they were both beaten for later. Apparently the guns had been the only ones of their kind, and no birth givers risked going through again once the guns were lost. The value of what they had stolen contributed to the brutality and duration of the punishment Kyle and Stan suffered for retrieving Cartman. Their birth givers needed them to understand that the loss of the guns was not worth something as petty and trifling as some other mother's child.

"Is Chaos out there?" Kyle asked Wendy.

"No," she said. "But he's very eager to meet with you. He wants to know how you managed to sneak onto our base and rob us." She looked at Cartman, who was seated on the couch, hugging a pillow to his chest. He cowered.

"I wasn't aware that Cartman was bonded to someone on your base," Kyle said. Wendy huffed.

"We don't do that shit and you know it," she said.

"Oh, I think you do it, you just don't have the proper respect for it," Kyle said.

"Excuse me," Kevin said. "I have a time limit for reporting to my superiors. We need to talk about a neutral space to meet."

"Am I seriously being asked to choose a location?" Kyle asked. He realized in hindsight that he shouldn't have sounded so surprised. "Your leaders must have had some news about my new source of power."

"Which is what?" Wendy asked. "Making lifelike copies of them? Are they--" She regarded Kenny and Butters nervously. "Capable of, um--"

"We're capable of plenty," Kenny said.

"My, my," Wendy said, muttering. She was a sex-obsessed lunatic; Kyle imagined that she was envisioning a room full of Cartmans, or her own Hand of Death, even more scantily clad than the original.

"You can make a suggestion," Kevin said, "About where to meet. We'll clear it with our leadership. My personal suggestion is the statue."

"The John Elway statue?" Kyle said. Elway was some famous gladiator of the birth givers' generation; the statue meant nothing to Kyle, but he saw an opportunity to win some favor with Kevin, who Kyle had always believed to be strategically undervalued. "Alright," Kyle said. "That's fine with us if Butters agrees to it."

"You'd do well to call him Emperor during negotiations," Wendy said.

"He's not my Emperor," Kyle said. "I am, however, willing to start seeing him as an equal. You can tell him that."

"He'll be thrilled to hear it," Wendy said dryly.

"He will be," Kyle said, "Once he realizes what I've accomplished."

Wendy and Kevin left. Kyle was nervous and trying not to show it. He instructed Larry to guard the doubles and took Stan and Shelly down to the basement to appraise the arsenal and strategize. Ike followed them, and Kyle didn't stop him.

"Alright," Kyle said, setting the candles they'd brought on the small table that sat in the center of the amassed weaponry. "The plan is this. Myself, Stan, and the doubles go to the meeting. Shelly and Larry, you stay here and guard the house. And Ike," Kyle added, squeezing his brother's shoulder. Ike would have been a slave if he'd grown up under the birth givers' rule, just some chattel picked up from a disbanded household, not a blood relation. Kyle had started calling him a brother as soon as the birth givers were gone.

"I doubt either side will make a move on the house until negotiations have ceased," Kyle said. "But if they do, Shelly, you're to fire on them with the grenade launcher. If you can figure out how it works."

"I know how it works," Ike said, surprising everyone. They all stared at him for a moment, the candles flickering on the table.

"Ike," Kyle said. "You're speaking." Ike shrugged and walked over to a chest that held miscellaneous ammo and some of the smaller guns.

"I made this for you, Kyle," he said, removing a parcel that was wrapped in burlap. He held it out to Kyle, who was too stunned to take it. He'd always suspected that Ike wasn't an idiot, but in twelve years he'd never spoken in full sentences. "Here," Ike said, unwrapping the burlap. "Look."

"Jesus," Stan said, moving closer. "Is that--"

"Like the ones we lost," Kyle said, staring at the gun. Stan had made up a name for them when they were kids, 'gingerfication' or something like that. The birth givers had only referred to them as 'the weapons.' But it couldn't be one of those, unless Ike had been to the other world and found the ones they'd lost. "Where did you get this?" Kyle asked, taking it. It felt much lighter than he'd remembered.

"I didn't get it," Ike said. "I made it."

"How?" Kyle asked. Ike shrugged. "Does it work?" The guns they'd had as children had sent them back to this world when they were fired in the other.

"Yes," Ike said. "I think."

"You think?"

"I haven't tried," Ike said. "It sends people away. I haven't wanted to send anyone away."

"There's no way," Stan said, shaking his head. "No way. What did you use to make it?"

"Things." Ike smiled when they all stared at him.

"Guys," Shelly said. "We should get moving. You have to be at the meet site in half an hour, and you'll have to walk."

"She's right," Kyle said, still reeling. He took a gun belt from the same trunk Ike had pulled the warping weapon from. Kyle had no reason to believe it would work, but for some reason he did. He tucked the gun Ike had made into the belt before adding two that fired regular bullets. "Stan, arm yourself," Kyle said. "I don't think we should arm the doubles. I don't trust them not to panic and turn on us."

"Kyle wouldn't," Stan said.

"You've known that kid a week," Kyle said.

"He's you, though," Stan said. "A part of you, I mean, and--"

"No. Enough. They won't have guns. Except, shit. If we're selling them as soldiers who are fighting for us--"

"They should have guns," Stan concluded. Kyle didn't like his tone, which seemed to suggest that Kyle was being slow.

"Nothing loaded, though," Kyle said, muttering.

Upstairs, the doubles were congregated together in the kitchen, speaking in low voices. Larry was at the front windows again. Cartman was beside him, both of them watching the troops across the street. Kyle wanted to yell at Larry for being a shitty guard, but it was pointless. He stood in the kitchen doorway and stonily regarded the doubles -- and Craig, he noticed, who seemed to have aligned with them. That, or he was simply unwilling to let go of Clyde. The doubles were all looking at Kyle like he'd killed their pets, except for the other Kyle. He was sympathetic, maybe, or just curious.

"Alright," Kyle said. "We need to move out. We've got guns for all of you. They're not loaded, but nobody knows that. You're all to stand back and keep quiet, unless addressed, and then you follow my lead. Don't reveal any information about where you came from or what you are. Kenny, get your shirt off."

"Fuck no," he said. "It's cold."

"Get your shirt off," Kyle said, "Or I'll castrate you so that you match the other Kenny."

"Jesus Christ!" Stan — the other Stan, the double — shouted. He glowered at Kyle. "What the fuck is wrong with you? We've done what you wanted, okay? Just let us go home!"

"Sadly, you can't go home until I placate Butters-- the other Butters," Kyle clarified when the pathetic one who was clutching at Kenny glanced at him confusedly. "We're nearly done, alright, this is simply the final step." He didn't like lying to Stan — the Stan who'd been inside him before any other. They would have to keep all of the doubles in order to maintain power. Even his own, it seemed, since Stan wouldn't let Kyle kill him. He looked at the other Kyle. He still had his hat off, and Kyle glanced away when his stomach twisted at the sight of those fucking curls, which looked less despicable on another person than they had in the mirror.

He might have had a hard time killing his double, anyway. He'd never killed anyone. He didn't really know -- what he was doing, he realized.

"So Kenny," Kyle said. "Please take your shirt off. Look, I'm asking you nicely. We all want the same thing. We need to make peace between the three camps in order to get access to the portal. Once we've got that, you can all go home. Alright? Okay?"

"Fucker," Kenny muttered. He slid off the guard's jacket he'd been wearing and draped it around Butters' shoulders. "My guy. He's not. Really, is he?"

"No, actually," Kyle said. "Not as of last year, anyway. Last time I saw his junk."

"Hey, what?" Stan said. Kyle gave him a look, though he sort of liked it. Being possessed. Stan behaving possessively.

"It was a strong wind," Kyle said, patting Stan's arm. "I thought I told you."

"Oh, right," Stan said. He blushed and walked into the kitchen to pass out the unloaded guns.

It started snowing during the walk. Naturally, Kyle thought. He wanted to hold Stan's hand like they had when they went on walks together as kids. He'd always gravitated to Stan's left before the broken fingers, and he trained himself to switch to the right while they healed, something that he still did without thinking, as if he might hurt Stan by walking on his other side.

"I'm fucking freezing, by the way!" Kenny shouted after just a few minutes.

"You'll live," Kyle said, because the Hand of Death always did, somehow.

They'd brought Cartman and Craig, to plump their numbers and to demonstrate that people from both sides had already begun to defect to them. The fact that they'd managed to snag only the two most pathetically overused subs in town wasn't exactly impressive, but it was better than nothing, Kyle thought, and subs had a way of learning vital information that the people who lay with them assumed they'd never have any use for.

"Cartman," Kyle said, drawing him close as they neared the Elway Memorial Park. "You've spent more time with Butters and the Hand of Death than even Wendy, I'd imagine?"

"I think so," Cartman said. He was visibly terrified, and Kyle felt for him. Betrayal was something that was not taken lightly under the reign of Emperor Chaos. "Wendy's around them a lot, too," Cartman said. "But not, you know. Behind closed doors and all that."

"That's what I was going to ask you," Kyle said. He was holding Cartman's arm, hoping that some proximity would flatter him. "If you'd been to bed with them, and learned anything there."

"Well," Cartman said. He licked his chapped lips. "This is a big secret," he said, leaning closer to Kyle and lowering his voice. Kyle could sense Stan's annoyance. It pleased him. "Butters, um," Cartman said. "The Emperor. He lets the Hand of Death. Put it in."

"It?" Kyle said, scandalized and delighted.

"His wiener," Cartman said gravely.

"Holy shit." Kyle boggled at Stan, who had clearly heard this. Stan seemed less shocked and more trying not to laugh. "So they're," Kyle said, looking at Cartman again, "That is. Butters takes orders from H-oh-dee in the bedroom?"

"Oh, no, no, no," Cartman said. "That's the thing of it. Butters orders the Hand of Death to put it in. He likes having it. In there. You know? Well, I guess you don't know. Maybe Stan can tell you. Sometimes it feels great."

"It's true," Stan said when Kyle looked at him, blushing, and Kyle wanted to slap him for his smugness, though also he was adorable, gloating.

"Hard to imagine," Kyle said, mumbling. His ass was stinging a little. He never would have expected a physical reminder that he'd been claimed to make him feel more courageous and confident, not less. "So, alright. This is good." Kyle couldn't figure out why yet, but it was always advantageous to know the secrets of powerful people, however trivial. "What's your opinion on the Emperor's feelings for his Hand of Death? Would he be upset if his slave was in peril?"

"I think so," Cartman said. "Butters would be awful lonely without Kenny."

"He sure would," the other Butters said, apparently eavesdropping. Kyle gave him a look to shut him up, and Butters shrunk more deeply into the over-sized guard's jacket.

"I've always thought that if it came to it, Butters would let the Hand of Death die rather than take demands from anyone who was in a position to kill him," Kyle said. "Do you think that's true?"

"I don't know," Cartman said. "Butters can be real hard. He sleeps with the Hand of Death, though, every night. There's this story that the Hand of Death doesn't need sleep, but I've seen him sleeping with his head on Butters' chest."

"Interesting," Kyle said. "You think the Hand of Death cares for the Emperor, too?"

"He'd do anything for Butters," Cartman said, nodding. "He'd cut off his own hand if Butters asked him to."

"That's basically true," Kenny said, and Butters moaned as if to warn him off self-mutilating on his behalf.

"We're not talking about you," Kyle snapped, turning to Kenny.

"Yeah, you are," Kenny said. "Ass wipe," he added, and Kyle lifted his fist, feeling stupid, because Kenny was two heads taller than him and didn't seem to feel very threatened.

"Well, okay," Stan said, touching Kyle's shoulder to recapture his attention. "That's all really useful, Cartman, thank you. Craig, can you tell us anything about Clyde and Tweek that might help us strike a new treaty?"

"I'm not telling you their secrets!" Craig said. He turned almost violet and wound his arm more firmly up along the length of Clyde's.

"That's not Clyde, Craig," Stan said.

"Yes, it is," Craig said. He looked up at Clyde, who stared down at Craig with dumbstruck admiration. Kyle couldn't believe he'd sucked that guy's dick, though if they pulled this off he'd have to say it was worth it. "Of course this is Clyde," Craig said. "I'd know my Clyde anywhere. Wouldn't I, dear heart?" he said, nuzzling at Clyde's cheek. Clyde beamed.

"Craig," he said. "Jesus. I'm so glad you're here."

"Clyde, that is not Craig!" Kyle said, flustered. "Not your Craig, anyway. Not the one from home."

"Bullshit," Clyde said. He glowered at Kyle. "Fuck you. I'm sick of your lies."

"Shh, darling, he's just confused," Craig said, petting Clyde's cheek. Kyle thought he looked a little pleased.

"He's an asshole is what he is," Clyde said. Kenny laughed. Kyle wanted to kill all of them.

"Fine," he said, tightly. "Craig. As you can see, Clyde has defected to our side. Whether or not he thinks I'm an asshole, he's here with us. So we need you to help us with some information about Tweek, or anything else about the Mansion that could help us negotiate so that you can live peacefully with us -- and Clyde -- from now on."

"Craig's not living with you fuckers," Clyde said. "He's coming back with me."

"Did I not just say 'and Clyde?'" Kyle said. Stan slipped an arm around his shoulders to calm him away from the tirade he wanted to launch into. Kyle huffed and looked straight ahead.

"Craig, buddy," Stan said. "We need your help here. Clyde does, too. Tell us anything that might be valuable."

"Oh, gosh, Stan," Craig said. "I thought you didn't want me running my mouth about things I don't understand."

"Craig." Stan closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Alright. I'm sorry if I was dismissive of you that day. Or disrespectful. I was kind of having a rough morning."

Kyle would have told Stan not to insult himself by apologizing to a fuck toy, but they needed something from Craig, so he bit his tongue. Craig sighed.

"Darling, are we really done with Tweek?" Craig asked, his bruised cheek pressed to Clyde's shoulder.

"Do you want to be done with him?" Clyde asked, eyes widening.

"Oh -- yes," Craig said, very softly. "But I know it's not really up to me. I understand that you need to do things a certain way--"

"You're saying you pick me over Tweek?" Clyde said. Kyle withheld a groan. Stan looked very confused. The other Stan and Kyle were quiet; they seemed moody. It perturbed Kyle that they weren't hovering close to each other the way Butters and Kenny were.

"Of course I pick you over Tweek!" Craig said. "Don't you know?" he said, his voice dropping to a whisper. "All that -- mess, at the house. We can go back there if you like, but I've always wanted it to be just you and me. In our own little cottage somewhere. The way Stan and Kyle are."

"I want that, too," Clyde said, sounding like he would cry, and then Craig did start crying, seemingly with joy, beaming up at Clyde while he blinked tears.

"You idiots do realize that there are two Stans and two Kyles here," Kyle said. "Don't you?"

"Yes, that's very odd," Craig said, sniffling. "But it's got nothing to do with us, has it?"

"My God," Kyle said, muttering. Stan hugged his shoulders.

"We're almost there," he said.

"Wait, then," the other Kyle said.

"For what?" Kyle asked, turning back to him. Everyone stopped walking, as if some dramatic confrontation was about to take place. The other Stan moved a bit closer to his Kyle. That Kyle shrugged, fidgeting. "I just thought, if we have time--" He looked at his Stan. "Me and you could talk," he said, looking back to Kyle.

"Me?" Kyle said. "And you?"

"Well, yeah." The other Kyle frowned a little. He seemed so young, and he looked ridiculous in Kyle's clothes, making him wonder if he looked ridiculous himself. "Both times the four of us have met, we exchanged a few words and it was over. I know we don't have a lot of time, but even if we just have a little. Could we talk for a second? And maybe the Stans could talk to each other, too?"

"If we pause for a talk fest someone's got to give me their jacket," Kenny said, hugging Butters to his chest. "My nipples are about to fall off."

"Oh!" Butters said fretfully, reaching up to cover them with his palms.

"Two minutes," Kyle said to his double, perturbed by this request. "That's all the time we have."

"Fine," the other Kyle said. He walked away from the group, beckoning for Kyle to follow. "Over here, alright?" he said. "Privately."

If it were anyone else, Kyle would have been afraid that this was an assassination attempt, but he didn't believe this other, softer Kyle to be capable of killing him. He looked at Stan, who shrugged.

"I guess I'd like to talk to him," he said, glancing at the other Stan. "Couldn't hurt."

Kyle felt nervous as he approached his double, and the nervousness made him angry. He gave the other Kyle an aggravated stare.

"What is it?" Kyle asked.

"Nothing, just." The other Kyle touched his elbow and looked away. Kyle followed his gaze. He was looking at the two Stans, who were also standing apart from the group, talking. They appeared to be discussing something serious. "Listen," the other Kyle said, and he looked like he might cry when Kyle turned back to him. That would be just perfect, to go into the most important and delicate negotiation of his life with three blubbering idiots standing behind him. Maybe they could get Butters and Cartman going too, just to complete the picture.

"I'm sorry you've had such a hard life," the other Kyle said. He stood there staring at Kyle afterward, as if expecting to be thanked. Kyle scoffed.

"I suppose Stan told you all about it," Kyle said. "While he was fucking you?"

"No. Well, he told me some things. Hey, you know. I was thinking. You guys could come back to South Park with us, if you want, to get away from all of this--"

"'All of this' is where we belong," Kyle said. "I've got no use for that other world. I just spent a week there and I couldn't wait to get back home."

"I find that hard to believe," the other Kyle said.

"The only thing there I wanted to keep was your Stan," Kyle said. "What's wrong with you that you'd never even kissed him? The poor thing wept with relief when I touched his crotch."

"You." Kyle looked at the Stans again. They were laughing about something, both with their hands in their coat pockets. "You touched. What."

"What, he didn't tell you?" Kyle smirked, though he felt sort of wretched, faced with this other Kyle's wide-eyed disbelief.

"God," the other Kyle said hoarsely. He looked at the Stans again. "Why-- what did he do?"

"What do you mean, 'what did he do?' He spread his legs and humped my hand like a kid. I taught him a few things and then, well. I'll be honest. He fucked me. So we're even, I guess, in that regard. He's still a virgin himself, so I've really left the choicest cut for you, if you know what I--"

"Stan kissed you?" The other Kyle's voice was high and tight, tiny. "He. You kissed him, and he kissed-- he wasn't mad?"

"I just said he fucked me, are you not paying attention? And yeah, kissing. He's a big kisser. What he lacks in finesse he makes up for with enthusiasm."

The other Kyle's eyes went unfocused, his lips parted in a way that made Kyle want to put his hand under his double's chin and close his speechless mouth. At some point Kyle realized that this was probably how he looked when he was grieving, too: as if he was hearing faint, funerary music from a distance.

"He hates me now, though," Kyle said. "So he's all yours. I did the hard part for you, really. He threw up on me the first time we kissed."

"I wanted that," Kyle said. His eyes were wet. "That was. For me, that was supposed to be mine."

"The vomit?" Kyle gave him an incredulous look. "Well, I suppose we all have our own peculiar fetishes. When we were kids, I used to make Stan hold my dick for me when we were in bed and I had to -- pee, never mind. Alright, let's go, anyway. It won't hurt to get there early. Unless you have something else to say to me?"

The other Kyle stared at him like he was a stranger. He was, of course, but even so. Kyle looked away. The Stans were watching them, muttering. Kyle could sense their speculation about what was being said.

"Maybe don't tell him," Kyle said, moving closer to the other one. "That I told you. That's his to tell, really. I shouldn't have. I just thought--"

"Did he say anything?" Kyle asked. "About how he felt? After you kissed, and. Was he. I need to know--"

"We should be moving on." That was Stan -- Kyle's Stan, the one he loved, because he hadn't loved that other one, really. Had he. No.

"I had to hear all about how much he loves you," Kyle said. "Really, you should tell him, um. Not to say it so much. It cheapens the sentiment."

The other Kyle walked away without looking at or speaking to him, and it hurt worse than even the softest and most ruined 'fuck you' might have. Kyle tried to imagine what it would have been like to miss those first times in bed with Stan, when no one had ever touched either of them in the places where their fingers were suddenly trembling. They'd blushed beet red and tried not to catch each other's eyes too often, laughing nervously every time they did. Their first kiss: Kyle was so awkward, watching Stan's fluttering eyelashes and closing his own eyes only when Stan stroked his bottom lip with his tongue, just a little, nudging him into a tenderness that couldn't be taught or learned. It was innate, and Kyle would have been different without it, without Stan, who didn't need to say it when he pulled back and looked at Kyle shyly: did you like that? He'd wanted so badly for Kyle to like it. And he had, that was the thing. He actually had.

They trudged on, everyone in a sour mood except for Craig and Clyde, who were irrelevant. Stan kept bumping Kyle's shoulder with his, trying to make it seem accidental. They came within view of the park. Kyle could see the car that Clyde and Tweek always traveled in parked maybe twenty feet from the statue, and one of Butters' monster trucks over on the other side of the courtyard. Kevin was sitting at the base of the statute, smoking a cigarette. Wendy was there, too, pacing.

"Everyone get your weapons ready," Kyle said. "Act as if you're prepared to fire."

"Should I really have a gun?" Craig asked, holding his like it was a pail of fish guts. "They know I can't use one."

"They don't know we haven't taught you," Kyle said. "Craig, you know — this backtalk is really amazing. We didn't have to take you into our house, did we? If I wasn't just a little fucking preoccupied right now I'd--"

"Hey!" Clyde said. "Quit talking to all of us like we're you're idiot servants. We're doing you a favor, aren't we? You need us. You wouldn't have lowered yourself to sucking my dick if you didn't need even me."

"You sucked his dick?" the other Kyle said, giving Kyle a look of abject betrayal.

"I didn't do it with your mouth!" Kyle said. "Everybody shut up, for God's sake. Do you have any idea what's at stake here?"

"A lot," Cartman said tremulously. He was staring at Wendy, who had noticed him and stopped pacing. She was watching him like he was a rabbit frozen in mid-dash.

"What's going to happen?" Kenny asked.

"God," Kyle said, pumping his shotgun so that Kevin and Wendy would hear the bullet chambering. "Don't ask me that."

They walked to the foot of the statute. Wendy and Kevin appeared to be alone, but Kyle knew there were plenty of others waiting to strike if the need should arise, watching them through binoculars, weapons locked and loaded. His own gang seemed pathetically overeager in comparison. Wendy was wearing a gun belt under her coat; Kyle could see the bulge of a revolver at her hip. Kevin had something semi-automatic strapped across his back, and he seemed similarly unconcerned about accessing it. He was still smoking, the cigarette clamped between his lips.

"Well," Kyle said. "Were you lying before? Where is the leadership?"

"In their vehicles," Wendy said. "I'll go and get Butters if you're ready to negotiate."

"Clyde is eager to see this for himself," Kevin said, eying Clyde's double. "Craig, you'd better come with me," he said.

"Why would I?" Craig asked, still clutching Clyde's arm with his free hand. "We've left Tweek behind, Kevin. He's really — well. You saw what he did to me."

"Yeah," Kevin said. He glanced at Wendy, who was watching this exchange with interest. "I didn't like it, but. Fucking wake up. They're going to demolish you when they see this."

"Who will?" Craig asked. "Clyde won't let anyone hurt me."

"You're not the real Kevin, are you?" Clyde asked, looking like he might cry at the sight of Kevin's scars.

"Quiet," Kyle snapped. "Craig is with us now. Cartman, too," he said, looking at Wendy. "They've been underestimated and underappreciated by the leaders. Abused, even. Anyone who's tired of being used without mercy is free to align with us."

"You're pathetic," Wendy said. "Amassing an army of the weakest people in town? What a strategy." She looked at Cartman, and Kyle wanted to kick him for flinching. "You're going to be very sorry about this disloyalty after the dust settles," she said. "Very, very sorry."

"Oh, shut up," Kyle said. "Go get Butters. I don't have all day to stand here in the snow listening to idle threats."

Wendy and Kevin went to the separate convoys, and when they were out of earshot Kyle turned to survey his sad little army. Craig was all but fondling Clyde, who didn't look as bold as he had when he gave Kyle lip before they reached the statue. Butters looked like he might piss himself; Kenny was shivering. Cartman was inching backward in a way that made Kyle fear he might try to run. The other Kyle was staring off into space as if he hardly cared what happened next. His Stan was sneaking wary looks at him.

"Alright?" Stan said softly, touching Kyle's elbow. Kyle nodded.

"Um," he said. He looked back at the others, and they stared at him with varying degrees of woeful resignation. Kyle moaned and leaned up to press his lips to Stan's ear, cupping his hand around it. "I love you," he whispered. As far as he could remember, which was pretty far, he'd never said it.

Kyle faced Butters' convoy again, watching the Hand of Death climb out of the truck and kneel down to hold out his hands, making a foothold for Butters to step into. Butters was wearing new armor for the occasion — spray-painted black, spikes on his helmet. Stan leaned down and put his lips to Kyle's ear.

"I know," he said.

"Good," Kyle said, beginning to think that they couldn't win this. He hadn't amassed the weakest people in town; he'd collected the people who had the most to lose. It was hardly an advantage.

Clyde and Tweek approached from the other convoy, Clyde with his head uncovered, Tweek wearing a ridiculous fur hat. Tweek appeared drunk, as usual, and, as usual, his incompetence made Clyde seem regal in comparison. Clyde's brow pinched just a little when he drew close enough to see his double. The other Clyde gaped openly at the trimmer, stronger version of himself.

"Well," Butters said when he and the Hand of Death reached the foot of the statue, Wendy hanging back slightly. "Here we all are." He was staring at his double.

"Just what the fuck is this?" Tweek asked, swaying. "Where did you get — that?" He was referring to the other Clyde. Craig had released him and was staring back and forth between the two, his mouth hanging open.

"Craig," Clyde said firmly. "They've used that thing to fool you. Get over here."

"What—" Craig said, his voice shaking. "What—"

"Yes, my thoughts exactly," Butters said. "You." He pointed at his double. "What — what are you?"

"Don't answer him," Kyle barked, just in case his Butters had forgotten. The Hand of Death looked almost as perturbed as Craig, glancing back and forth between his Emperor and the trembling Butters who seemed like a child playing dress up in the helmet they'd stolen. It was the first time Kyle had ever seen any emotion on the Hand of Death's face; he hardly seemed to have noticed his own double.

"What is this supposed to be, Broflovski?" Clyde asked. "How did you — who are they?"

"I don't have to explain myself to either of you," Kyle said. "As you can see, I have access to power beyond your imaginations. Even your former servants have recognized this and fled to me for protection. They know your reigns are nearing an end."

"Craig," Clyde said. "Get away from that golem and go to the car. I won't ask you again."

"Clyde," Craig said, but he grabbed for the softer one, Clyde's double. "I—"

"He doesn't belong to you anymore," Kyle said. Clyde met his eyes, and his gaze was like a knife across Kyle's throat, but Kyle didn't flinch. "Things have changed, gentlemen. It's only because I respect the two of you—" He looked pointedly at Tweek, so that he would know he was being left out— "that I'm willing to meet with you like this, on your terms."

"Respect?" Butters barked. "You show your respect by stealing my property? Cartman, you fuck." He sneered, and Cartman faltered, but Stan caught his arm and held him in place. "I know you just want to open your fat ass to as many people as possible, but I could have loaned you out. You didn't have to resort to this treachery."

"Cartman is not a slave in our household," Kyle said. "Do you two really fail to see what you've become? Who made us slaves once? Do you not remember the birth givers?"

"Do I remember?" Butters ripped off one of his gloves. He thrust his wrist out so Kyle could see the scars. "Yes, Broflovski, I remember what it was like to let other people tell me what to do. I remember being chained to a fucking wall. It will never happen again."

"Becoming the thing you hated is not the only alternative," Kyle said. This hadn't been his plan at all; he had thought he might point his gun at Kenny's head and see if the Butters in black armor was moved enough by the loss of anyone who looked like his beloved slave to agree to compromise. That strategy seemed ridiculous now, though this was hardly better.

"You're a naïve child," Clyde said. "You always were, Kyle. You ran away crying into Stan's chest when the rest of us took care of what had to be done."

"That's what had to be done?" Kyle asked, pointing to Kevin. "And that?" He gestured to Craig's bruised cheek. "I know the reasons for the dark season. I know what the older kids would have done to us. I know what they were already doing," he added, touching his throat. Clyde flushed and yanked up the collar of his coat, trying to cover the scar that circled his neck. Shelly had helped him escape. Stan had put ointment on the cuts and fed him broth; they'd done the same for Butters, once. Butters was the only one who didn't call the government about his birth givers. The other children — his friends, then — had to do it for him. "We're all still angry," Kyle said. "That doesn't mean we need to do it all over again, to each other."

"I don't have time for this sentimental nonsense," Butters said. "The world is what it is. You're going to have to grow up sometime, Broflovski. Now tell us what the hell you mean to do with these impostors so we can decide what to do with you."

"These aren't impostors," Kyle said. "They're perfect copies, and they know your secrets. And even if 'the world is what it is,' that doesn't mean it's always what it appears to be. Does it, Butters?" Kyle smirked and glanced at the Hand of Death, then back to Butters. "Some things are more complicated than the birth givers made them seem. Relationships, and so forth. Things that happen behind closed doors."

Butters was silent, seething. He looked at the other Butters, the other Kenny. They were holding hands.

"What do you want?" Clyde asked. "You want us to unite under you? That will never happen."

"I know," Kyle said. He had thought that it was possible once, but he had been truly naïve then, blind to much of what he was saying himself. "I want cooperation between the three of us. I want to be left alone to do as I please on my own goddamn property, and I want the freedom to harbor anyone who's had enough of your camps and comes to me seeking sovereignty."

"This is nothing more than a play for power," Butters said. He put his glove back on. "You're no different than the birth givers, or the other generation we had to execute—"

"I am different," Kyle said. "I got rid of the birth givers without spilling any blood, and I might have gotten rid of the older kids, too, if you had given me the chance."

"It's easy for you to say!" Clyde said, shouting. Craig cringed and squeezed closer to the other Clyde.

"I don't blame anyone here for doing what they did," Kyle said, keeping his gaze locked on Clyde, unblinking. "Least of all you." Clyde huffed and turned away, dragging his hand through his hair. Tweek pulled a flask from his pocket and drank. Kevin walked around him, and he held up both his hands when Kyle raised his gun.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Tweek asked. Kevin came to stand beside Kyle, who quickly disarmed him. Stan started frisking him, patting his pant legs, looking for explosives or hidden weapons. Kyle knew he wouldn't find any.

"Kevin," Clyde said. His shoulders were slumped. "Don't."

"Even Token's left," Kevin said, shaking his head. "I've had enough. I'm tired."

"This is absurd!" Butters said. "Do you really expect me to let you keep a copy of myself and my servant? Hand them over and we'll consider your proposal to remain autonomous."

"No," Kenny said, tucking his Butters against his naked chest.

"You do not say no to me!" Butters shouted, glancing at the Hand of Death as if to make sure that he wasn't becoming mutinous, too.

"Baby," Kenny said, his voice cracking. "What happened to you?"

"What did you call me?" Butters asked, snarling.

"That's his name for me," the other Butters said. "He doesn't mean nothing bad by it, honest."

"Shut up," Kyle said, not wanting Butters to reveal that he was a different person. "Here's my proposal," he said. "We meet here once a week to trade goods and give each other a basic report on the goings-on in our households. All of us have things that the others need, and whether we want to admit it or not, we've all survived only because of the times when we've taken care of each other, and despite the fact that we've hurt each other, too. We could have a war that only one of us would win, but we're all heavily armed enough to ensure that many of us would die in the process. As you can see, I've got a method of making copies of any of you, even the most powerful. I've also got this," he said, pulling out the gun Ike made for him.

"What the fuck is that?" Tweek asked.

"It's one of the weapons that the birth givers used to take through the portal," Butters said. "Where did you get that? What does it do?"

"Never mind," Kyle said, putting it away. "Just know that I have it, and that you've both underestimated me. I could be devastating your camps right now, but you know I don't like to spill blood. Can't you value that instead of hoping to take advantage of it? Don't you remember what it was like to cower under the shadows of people who were stronger than you? Is that all you want for yourselves, to be the ones throwing shadows now?"

Kyle held his breath through the silence that followed. When he exhaled, Stan did, too. Butters was expressionless. Tweek was watching Clyde, who was still half turned away from the rest of the crowd, breathing heavily.

"Do you remember why we called this place Smileytown, for fuck's sake?" Kyle asked. "Because we were a bunch of dumb, hopeful kids who thought this could become the kind of place where we were allowed to be happy. Are you happy like this?"

No one answered. The snow was falling harder, daylight waning. Kyle thought of what he would do if he was allowed to walk away alive: sit by the fire with his Stan and eat the deer stew that Shelly had promised to make while they were gone. Maybe Larry still had some of that moonshine. Kyle was tired. He felt that more acutely than anything else, even stronger than his fear, and tonight, if he could make the others see that he meant everything he was saying, he would sleep so well in Stan's arms.

"We're going now," Kyle said. "We're going to turn and walk away. The men you had stationed at our house will have told you that we've got no allies hidden in the hills. When you see our backs they'll be unguarded. I've got these doubles, this gun that we thought was lost, the weapons back at the house, but you can still kill me whenever you like. That's always been true, and you haven't done it. Think about why, and know that the first person who fires on us has become what the birth givers were training us to be before we sent them away. Monsters, the kind we all still have nightmares about. Maybe it was too late for the older kids — it certainly seemed that way, and I don't grieve for the ones who hurt you." He looked at Clyde, but Clyde wasn't meeting anyone's eyes. "But I think we can be different. We already are different, better, and I'd rather one of you gunned me down now than sit back and watch us all become old enough, or bitter enough, or scared enough to turn into our parents."

That was what they had called the birth givers before the banishment: parents. Butters twitched at the sound of the word, his shoulders lifting. Clyde was already walking toward their car, stomping through the snow while Tweek stared after him, his flask tipping in his hand until what was left of it spilled out. His parents had given him alcohol almost from birth. They bragged that it made him easier to control.

Kyle turned away, his heart pounding. Stan did, too, and the others followed suit, walking toward the tracks they'd left in the snow on the way toward the statue, already partially obscured by new snow. Kyle followed behind the group, bringing up the rear with Stan at his side. When Stan's hand bumped against his, Kyle held it. He could feel Stan's heartbeat in his palm.

"Should we meet here again, then?" Butters shouted before they could get far. "Next week?"

Kyle looked over his shoulder. Butters was closer to the Hand of Death than he usually dared to be when both were standing, because he looked so small beside him, even with the armor. Clyde was at the car, his hands braced on the roof and his head dropped between his arms. Tweek was halfway to him, looking back, waiting to see what Kyle would say.

"Yeah," Kyle said. "That'd be good, I think. We'll see you then."

No one spoke on the way home. Kyle kept hold of Stan's hand. Cartman reached for Kevin's at one point, and Kyle was surprised when Kevin allowed it. Kenny and Butters had their arms around each other, and so did Clyde and Craig. The other Kyle and Stan walked together without touching.

It was dark when they reached the house, snow still coming down. Kyle had grown accustomed to the summer weather, and he was shivering hard, pressing close to Stan, half-expecting a gunshot to ring out behind him even as he crossed the threshold into the house.

"Well?" Larry said. Kyle could smell the stew. Shelly was standing in the kitchen door way, wiping her hands on an apron. Ike was sitting on the stairs. "You're all alive, but. How'd it go? The guys stationed outside left about twenty minutes ago."

"It went well," Stan said. There was a fire going, and most everyone gravitated toward it as they pulled off their coats and gloves. "Kyle. He fixed it. He did it."

"Yay, Kyle!" Ike said, clapping. Kyle leaned down to hug him.

"So we're in control now?" Larry asked. "What the hell's he doing here?" He gestured to Kevin with his gun.

"We'll talk at dinner," Stan said. "You're to treat Kevin like a guest."

Kyle was glad not to have to say anything himself. What normally passed for his voice was a trembling, pulled apart mess at the back of his throat, not capable of anything but dry heaves or sobs, maybe. Stan came to him and put a hand on the small of his back.

"Can we talk about going home now?" the other Stan asked.

"Yeah," Stan said, guiding Kyle up the stairs. "Just a minute. Get something to eat. We'll be right back."

Kyle didn't look at Stan until they were in their room, and even then it was only the barest glance, because he didn't want to start crying. Someone had reaffixed the navy sheet over the window and patched the bullet holes in the door; Shelly, probably. Stan sat on the bed, and Kyle fell into his lap, pressed his face to Stan's neck, clung.

"I'm so proud of you," Stan said while Kyle shook with tremors that weren't quite sobs, silent and sharp between his ribs. Stan's voice was unsteady, and his hands were shaking, one on the back of Kyle's neck, the other squeezing his waist. "So proud of you, fuck. You — you're back. You're here, and. Everything's gonna be okay now. Everything's gonna be okay."

"I love you," Kyle said, more loudly this time, squeezing him. "So much. Stan—"

"I know, I know. And you know—"

"Yeah — yes. Of course."

They kissed, fingers in each other's hair. It wasn't really sexual; they were both soft. It was something else, something that kept them from quite catching their breath. Kyle was afraid to meet Stan's eyes, worried that he would see something there that confirmed that he was dreaming, that none of this could be real, but when they looked at each other it was: real, all of it.

"That day when they broke my fingers." Stan shook his head. "When we were kids, that day. I went to you because I knew you would fix it. And you did, you saved me."

"No, fuck," Kyle said. "I never could have done that today — any day — if you weren't standing there, just. Without you, I. Well, I'd be sucking Clyde's cock, apparently."

"Poor baby," Stan said, kissing his cheeks, and Kyle laughed.

"His come tasted like — like — sewage, it was unfathomable."

"Well." Stan sat back, shrugged. "Let's send them home, right? If Ike's gun actually works."

"Oh, yeah, by the way?" Kyle wiped his eyes. "Ike is, um. A genius?"

"He's something," Stan said. "We're all a little bit more than we were giving ourselves credit for, seems like."

They went downstairs and found everyone spread out in the living room, chattering and eating deer stew out of their laps. The talk quieted as Kyle entered, Stan behind him.

"So?" the other Stan said. He set his bowl on the mantle and stood. "Where's this portal? You're done with us, aren't you?"

"Yes," Kyle said. "And we won't need the portal." He took the gun Ike had made from his belt. "Do you remember these at all?"

"That's like the gun we used to send you and Cartman back here," the other Kyle said.

"Yep," Kyle said. He looked at Ike. "You haven't tested this one, though?"

"No," Ike said. "But it should work. I think."

"Well," Kyle said. He looked around at the doubles. "I'm not going to lie. I know I've — I'm sorry about the lying, before." He looked at Clyde, then at the other Stan. "This gun, we've never tried it, so. Whoever goes first—"

"I'll go first," Craig said, hopping up.

"No!" Clyde said, standing.

"I'm not even your Craig, darling," Craig said, taking both of Clyde's hands between his. "I'm nobody's Craig, it seems."

"You're mine," Clyde said, shaking his head. "I mean. If you want to be."

"I'm getting a refill," Larry muttered, heading for the kitchen.

"I could go first," the other Stan said.

"No," the other Kyle said. They stared at each other.

"I'd volunteer," Kenny said. "But. Me and Butters talked. Dudes, uh. If it's alright with our bizarro world hosts, I think we're gonna stay."

"What?" the other Stan said. "Seriously? Why? I mean, this place — it's not right, it's not safe."

"It's not right at home, either," Kenny said. "Not for us."

"You can stay," Kyle said. "You'll be expected to work, to contribute—"

"I know what work is," Kenny said sharply. "Butters does, too. We— at home, we're the only ones who — whose parents, um. I don't know, here — maybe we belong here." He looked at Butters and Butters smiled up at him, nodding.

"I just wanna be with Kenny," Butters said. "I don't mind pitching in, really."

"Kenny," the other Stan said, his voice shaking. Kenny went to him and hugged him hard.

"You'll be okay," Kenny said. "You've got Kyle."

"So who's going first?" Kyle asked, lifting the gun, eager to get to his dinner and climb into bed. "Craig?"

"No," Clyde said. "Do me."

"Clyde, please!" Craig said, tugging at his elbow. "Let me do this."

"It's dangerous, you don't know—"

"I've never gotten to do anything, really," Craig said. He was trying to smile, and it only made him seem sadder. "Nothing that mattered. Please, let me do this, and if you're really meant to be my Clyde, I'll be there waiting for you in the other world. We could have our little cottage together."

They kissed; Kyle rolled his eyes. Stan elbowed him.

"Alright," Clyde said, sniffling. "Okay."

"Everyone stand back," Kyle said. "Ike, come show me how this works."

"You just pull the trigger," Ike said. "See that blue stuff in that clear chamber? As long as you've got enough of that, it should send them away. Do one person at a time, though."

"Wait," Larry said, appearing in the kitchen doorway, frowning. "Why is Ike talking? Did we figure that out?"

"Shut up, Larry," Kyle said, and he flushed when he realized that the other Kyle had said the same thing, at the same time. That Kyle smiled at little, and Kyle shrugged. It was bound to happen sooner or later. "Alright," he said. "Craig. Go stand by the door."

Craig gave Clyde a long look before doing as Kyle said. At least five people shouted when Kyle fired on him without preamble. Kyle trusted his brother, and he grinned when he saw Craig disappear the way Stan had when they were kids, slipping back into another dimension. Kyle had been terrified as he watched Stan diminish within the blast of a gun. They'd thought they knew what the guns did, but they'd learned not to believe anything they were told, even if they'd only heard it said in whispers that they weren't meant to overhear. They'd both landed in a field not far from the country houses, groping for each other, and they didn't let go until Cartman landed nearby. Before he did, Kyle had thought they might be in heaven, free from everything, still together.

"Did it work?" Clyde asked, hyperventilating.

"Only one way to find out," Kyle said, and he fired on Clyde, too. Only Shelly and Butters shouted this time.

"It worked," Ike said, doing a little victory dance near the stairs. "They're back, in the other place. But, careful. Your goo's almost gone."

"Goo?" Kyle looked at the gun. The neon blue fuel in the chamber was halfway depleted.

"I can make more, but it takes a long time," Ike said. "Half a season, almost."

"Are you two ready?" Kyle asked, turning to the other Stan and Kyle. They were standing near the fireplace, beside Kenny and Butters.

"I'll go first," the other Stan said, stepping forward. He looked back at his Kyle. "Unless—"

"No, you go," the other Kyle said. "It's fine."

The other Stan walked toward Kyle, whose arm shook a bit as he got closer. They held each other's gaze, and Kyle's arm shook harder.

"What are you waiting for?" the other Stan asked.

"I —" Kyle looked at his Stan, the one he'd reached for in that field, before he'd even opened his eyes all the way, before his stomach had resettled into the real world. He'd known as soon as he hit the ground that Stan was there waiting for him, close enough to touch. "I'm sorry," Kyle said to the other Stan. "I wasn't. Lying, it was—"

"You can shoot me now," that Stan said, and Kyle did.

Everyone was quiet as the other Stan receded into the world that most of them hadn't seen. Kyle wanted to take it back. He felt like he had more to say, or explain. He looked at the other Kyle and knew that he would do it for him. That Kyle said goodbye to his Kenny and Butters, who gave him instructions about what to tell their parents about where they'd gone. When he'd hugged them both goodbye, he walked toward Kyle and Stan.

"Hey," he said, and Kyle looked away when he realized that his double was speaking to Stan, not him. They clasped each other's arms. "Will you be okay?" the other Kyle asked.

"Yeah," Stan said. "Didn't you see?" He leaned down toward that Kyle's ear, but Kyle could hear what he said, and he assumed that Stan wanted him to. "You can do anything."

"Thank you," the other Kyle said. "For believing that, for — everything, thank you."

Kyle lifted the gun. "Ready?" he said. There was barely a quarter of goo left, and he hoped that it would get this Kyle home, that he would grasp blindly for his Stan and find him.


Kyle wasn't ready himself, though he didn't know what more he needed to say to this boy who looked just like him. He grinned when he realized what it was.

"He's got this whole book full of songs about you," Kyle said. "In his bedside drawer. Check it out."

The other Kyle opened his mouth, but Kyle wanted to leave it at that. He fired, and when his double disappeared, Kyle was lonely and stunned for half a second. Then Stan touched his arm, smiled at him as he lowered the gun, and Kyle had his other half back.

Having a homecoming when no one knew he'd been gone was strange, and it lent the entire experience an even more dream-like feeling. Kyle was thrust right into finals week at school, and his parents were haranguing him about getting his college applications started, though summer hadn't even technically begun and the earliest application due dates weren't until October. He could see that Stan was similarly out of step with the real world once they returned, but they didn't talk about it. They didn't talk much at all.

School let out for the summer, and Kyle skipped Wendy's end of the year party. He usually went, though he was never explicitly invited. People tended to assume that if you invited Stan, Kyle was coming, too. Kyle spent the night playing Thirst for Blood VI with Ike, and he didn't get a text message from Stan until two o'clock in the morning.

dude why

Kyle knew he should wait to respond until Stan was sober, but he was angry as he read the message for the tenth time, up in bed, Ike having abandoned him for a rerun of NOVA that he really wanted to watch.

Why what? Kyle sent. Stan didn't know that the other Kyle had told him that they fucked, kissed, said 'I love you.' Stan didn't want Kyle to know about any of that, presumably because he regretted it, or didn't feel that way about his Kyle, the one he'd gotten stuck with. There must have been something about the other one that tipped Stan over the super best friends edge and on into fucking. His confidence, or his shorter hair. Kyle didn't believe what the other Kyle had said about a notebook full of songs about him. Stan had stopped writing songs when they were kids.

why is this happendd to us

Kyle rolled his eyes and put his phone away. Stan had been drinking a lot since they got back. He missed Kenny, and Kyle did, too. Kyle had typed up and anonymously delivered letters to both the McCormicks and the Stotches informing them that their sons had run away together and that they might be back someday, but probably not anytime soon. He had practiced Butters' girly signature all day before adding it to the bottom of the letters. Kenny's was easier: K.M. in an angry little script. Kyle had expected to be questioned about what he might know by Butters' parents, but so far they hadn't sought him or Stan out, maybe too embarrassed by the circumstances of their son's departure. Kyle had convinced his father to hire Carol McCormick as an assistant so that Karen would have health insurance, which had been Kenny's primary concern about leaving. So far, Carol had actually shown up for work every morning, and she cleaned up pretty well.

"You heard anything from Kenny?" she'd asked Kyle when he dropped something off for his dad on her second day at work.

"He's okay," Kyle said, and she nodded.

"That's good," she said. Kyle got out of there before she could ask anything else, though he didn't have the feeling she would.

On the first real morning of summer, Kyle woke up and checked his phone to see if Stan had sent any further messages after he went to sleep. There was nothing.

For a week, they didn't even see each other.

Kyle passed most of his days inside the house, afraid to go out, because he might run into Stan, or Clyde, for that matter. Though Kyle hadn't done anything to deserve it, Clyde had given him suspicious, angry looks throughout the final week of school. The alternate version of Craig was living in Stan's old clubhouse for the time being, perfectly content to spend his days tidying it needlessly and waiting for Clyde to ascend the stairs that were nailed into the tree like some kind of prince who'd come to ravish him. Kyle had to admit, Clyde looked better since they'd gotten back. He was growing his hair out of its usual Great Clips neatness, and apparently eating less popcorn. The biggest difference was in the way he carried himself. Kyle supposed it had to do with no longer being a virgin, or maybe it was just from being adored. The mirror showed Kyle no indication that he looked any different since losing his virginity, except that he was even skinnier than usual after a week with such a meager diet.

The long days with no real schedule made Kyle think of his time in the other world, when he would sit up in the room and wait for that Stan to come in and pin him to the bed. He thought of that Stan fondly, but he only really missed him when he was alone at night, his arms around his pillow. It was nothing compared to how much he missed his own Stan.

Finally, on a Sunday morning, there was a new message from Stan. Kyle was almost afraid to read it, anticipating a friendship-ending decree.

Token & fam gone for the summer. Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, then French Polynesia. Must be nice. Have been hired to house sit. Nice Craig is staying here with me. He is driving me crazy while Clyde is at work. Please come over.

Kyle grinned at the reference to "nice Craig." He'd heard about Token's trip, and he'd been jealous. Kyle had wanted to run away for the whole summer, too, but now that Stan was speaking to him again - needing him, apparently - he wanted nothing more exciting than a trip to the Mansion, this time without thrones and guns and torchlit hallways.

Both cars were gone, so Kyle walked the three miles to Token's house. It was nice outside, warm enough for short sleeves, the earth soggy from the snow that had melted throughout the month. Kyle figured this was a good transition back into their old routine: he would help Stan deal with the wealth of personality that was nice Craig, complain about the fact that he hadn't been able to find a summer job while Stan had seemingly secured the best one in town, and they would relearn how to talk to each other without envisioning the things they'd done with their lookalikes. Kyle would remember how to be close to Stan without thinking about the weight of Stan's cock on his tongue, and Stan would get past whatever happened with that other Kyle, who had probably only told Kyle that Stan said 'I love you' to make him feel better about the whole thing. Things would go back to normal. It was all Kyle could ask for, after so much abnormality.

Crossing through the open front gate at the start of Token's driveway made Kyle shudder. He looked around in all directions, though he knew he would find no armed gunmen. At school on Thursday Kyle had randomly hugged Kevin when he came in to the boys bathroom as Kyle was leaving it. Kyle was pretty sure Kevin now thought he was in love with him, but he didn't care. He felt disconnected from the social anxiety that had once plagued him at school, maybe because he'd seen the secret selves of so many of his classmates, softer or harder, all of them more raw than the kids Kyle knew.

Craig opened the front door of Token's house for Kyle, beaming at him as if it had been a long time since they'd seen each other. Kyle supposed it had been -- over a week, with Craig sequestered in Stan's tree house. Craig looked good, the bruises on his face almost entirely faded. He was wearing flowy linen pants that looked like they might belong to Token's mother and a tight t-shirt that Kyle remembered Token wearing back in middle school. It was some designer brand, powder blue; Kyle and the others had teased the shit out of Token for it, but he'd continued to wear it for years, defiantly.

"How've you been?" Kyle asked when Craig bound forward to embrace him.

"Oh, just wonderful!" Craig said. "Look at this house, Kyle! Can you believe how different it is here? How warm? And it's just so empty, I never would have expected to like that, but it's peaceful! I do get a little lonely, but your Stan is such a sweet, sweet boy, such wonderful company, and of course Clyde is here when he's not working, oh, Kyle, he's such a prince, as if I'm -- I'm -- you know." Craig steps back and wipes at the corner of his eye, smiling. "Properly bonded. I never thought I would be."

"That's great, Craig," Kyle said. "Where's Stan?"

"I'm here," Stan said, walking out from the hallway that led to the kitchen. He was carrying two beers and wearing nothing but his tattered gray swim trunks, nipples stiff from the air conditioning. Kyle took one of the beers, flushing. This wasn't the reception he'd expected. He allowed Stan to toast him and drank, hating the taste.

"Working hard, I see," Kyle said. Stan grinned.

"C'mon," he said. "I've got a bathing suit I can loan you."

"One of Token's?" Kyle said, and the face he pulled made Stan laugh.

"Freshly laundered, I promise," Stan said. "The finest designer bathing suit in the land."

"I didn't know we'd be swimming," Kyle said, glancing at Craig, who was backing toward the stairs with an impish smile, looking like he knew something Kyle didn't.

"I've been swimming every day," Stan said. He took Kyle's elbow and pulled him toward the back of the house. "Can you tell?" he asked, presenting his arm so that Kyle would admire his tan.

"Yep," Kyle said. He felt fish white and tiny.

Stan took Kyle into the spacious kitchen and presented the bathing suit he'd selected for him. It had a Polo logo high on the right leg and seemed too small.

"Would you guys like me to make you some sandwiches?" Craig called from the foyer.

"No, thanks," Stan said. "Just take it easy, pal. You're off the clock." He looked at Kyle and shook his head as they listened to Craig jogging back upstairs. "He's under my feet every five seconds," Stan said. "Last night he offered to give me a manicure. I was like, what? No. But then I cut my nails, 'cause he'd made me all self conscious. What are you looking for?"

"A place to change," Kyle said. "Remind me — where's the bathroom?"

"Over there, but you can change in front of me," Stan said. He tried for a carefree smile, then took a long drink of beer. Kyle pushed out a laugh and headed for the bathroom.

When he was changed, he walked back into the kitchen, arms crossed high over his nipples. Stan had gone out to the pool deck, the French doors that led to the patio hanging open. Token's backyard was gorgeously manicured, the property giving way to rolling hills dotted with wildflowers and a view of the mountains. The pool itself was darkly tiled and rectangular, with disappearing borders that made it seem to go on infinitely if you were eye level with the ledge. Kyle had been in it before, but not for years. There was a hot tub at the left end, luxuriously padded lounge chairs everywhere, and a sort of outdoor bed thing under a grand canvas tent that was open on three sides. Stan was sitting with his feet hanging in the deep end of the pool, holding up Kyle's beer.

"Thanks," Kyle said. He took it and sat down beside Stan, not too close.

"I've got sunscreen," Stan said, gesturing to the bed thing, which looked as if it had been recently slept in, pillows and sheets strewn around. Stan had always liked sleeping outdoors, but Kyle thought it was really still too cold out at night to do so.

"Oh, yeah--"

"I'll get it," Stan said when Kyle started to get up. He seemed tense, and nearly knocked over his beer when he stood.

"Thanks," Kyle said again, taking the sunscreen. It was hot under the sun until the wind from the hills started blowing across the water. Kyle was very acutely aware that his nipples were hard. Stan's were, too, and he had goosebumps over his suntanned skin.

"Man, smell that air," Stan said. Kyle barely held in a disbelieving laugh. He couldn't remember the last time Stan had been this awkward.

"Yep," Kyle said. He slathered on sunscreen, hoping that Stan wouldn't offer to do his back. He didn't.

"So, shit," Stan said. He finished his beer and stared down at his legs, kicking them lazily through the water. "How've you been?"




They looked at each other, both allowing their irritation to show, though Stan's quickly faded to a pathetic look that made Kyle feel bad.

"Why are you ignoring me?" Stan asked.

"I'm not," Kyle said. "You're ignoring me."

"Uh, no? I'm the one who's been texting you and getting no response--"

"Oh, one time! And you were drunk. And, like, hello? I came when you fucking. Called."

"I know you're mad at me," Stan said.

"I'm not mad at you," Kyle said. "Why would I be mad at you?"

"Dude, please. Are you gonna drink that or just hold it?"

Kyle brought the beer up to his lips and tried to chug it all in one go, keeping his eyes locked on Stan's. He ended up coughing when he was halfway through, some beer splashing into the pool when he jerked the bottle away from his lips. Stan slapped his back a few times.

"Fuck you, anyway," Kyle muttered when he could talk again. He put the rest of the beer down on the ledge and slipped into the water.

In motion, underwater, the bathing suit was even more uncomfortable, too loose, fitted for some other guy. Kyle opened his eyes and swam toward the shallow end, reaching for his fly when he was halfway there. He didn't want normal anymore. There was no going back, so Kyle swam straight out of his bathing suit, letting it float away behind him. His lungs were burning when he surfaced in the shallow end, naked. He turned to look at Stan just in time to see the splash that kicked up as he jumped into the deep end. Stan's bathing suit was on the ledge.

Kyle ducked underwater again, trying to sit cross-legged on the bottom. Despite floating a little, he mostly accomplished it, having virtually no body fat to make him buoyant. Stan had his eyes open, too, and he was swimming toward Kyle in big, clumsy strokes under the water. Kyle tried not to look at Stan's cock as he got closer, but the vantage point was too interestingly weird, and he ended up staring. Kyle could hold his breath for a long time, so he waited, calmly, until Stan put his hands under his arms and pulled him above the surface.

Stan was gasping for breath, and he'd come nowhere close to regaining it as he yanked Kyle against him and kissed him hard. He was a bad, frantic kisser until Kyle reined him in, cupping Stan's cheeks and wrapping his legs around Stan's hips under the water. Stan panted against Kyle's mouth, letting Kyle kiss him at the corners of his lips and on his chin. Kyle opened his eyes and they stared at each other, the water sloshing around them.

"Your dick's on my stomach," Stan said.

"Yeah," Kyle said. Stan's was wedged under Kyle's ass, just beginning to get hard, as if it wanted to support Kyle's weight.

"Kyle," Stan said. "Everything got so messed up."

"No, it didn't," Kyle said. He kissed Stan to demonstrate, more deeply now, drawing back a little when Stan started to get sloppy and overeager again. "I thought it had, too, but it's okay," Kyle said. He rubbed his nose against Stan's and squeezed Stan's waist with his thighs. "Don't you think? Don't you — feel it, I mean? It feels okay."

"I wanted to die when I realized it wasn't you," Stan said. "I'm so stupid. I'm such a fucking idiot, I should have known--"

"That guy was a master con artist," Kyle said, though he didn't actually think so and hadn't totally forgiven Stan for shrugging off the freaking scar on the other Kyle's cheek, among other things. "You saw him talk his way out of a gunfight. He -- just. Don't feel so bad. Like you said, I knew the other one wasn't you, and I still-- I just never thought, like. Since when, dude?" Kyle asked.

"Since when have I felt like this?" Stan gripped Kyle's ass more tightly to emphasize his feelings. "I don't know. Remember that first song I wrote for you? When we were nine? Probably since about then."

"Oh -- bullshit! Then what was with Wendy? You dated her last year, you got drunk and threw pebbles at her window, I was there--"

"Yeah, but! Why the fuck would I bring you along when I did that? Why do you think she got all pissed when she opened the window? I mean, the first thing she said--"

"Why is Kyle here?" Kyle grinned. "Hey, you are. Really hard." He shifted a little, and Stan's sunburn seemed to deepen.

"Yeah," he said. "Sorry it's, like. Jammed against your ass."

"That's exactly where I want it, actually," Kyle said, trying to say this seductively, and they both laughed. Kyle was hard, too. He wanted to hump Stan's stomach, but this was also nice, just holding each other while the water went still around them.

"He wasn't you," Stan said. "I can't believe I didn't see it. He made me go to Jimbo and Ned's house."

"What? Why?"

"So he could steal that gun, I guess." Stan looked down at Kyle's throat, and Kyle kissed Stan's cheeks, because Stan was embarrassed. It was almost endearing -- almost -- that Stan would follow Kyle around like that, scratching his head at any odd behavior, doing what he asked, just because he was Kyle.

"I wanted you to be my first," Kyle said. "I thought I'd never have that, so. I should have waited. I wish I had."

"Was it bad?" Stan asked. "With him?"

"No," Kyle said. "It just wasn't -- you. Even though, you know. It was, kind of. Just not-- he wasn't my Stan. You're mine," he said, kissing Stan, wanting to taste it on him. He was tempted to ask about Stan's experience with the other Kyle, but he didn't want to fly into a fit of rage that he could only really direct at his doppleganger, so he didn't. "I'm gonna swim," he said, disconnecting. Stan looked slightly bowled over by how good he felt already, and he nodded slowly when Kyle's hands slid over his arms, to his fingertips, until they weren't touching anymore.

Underwater, Kyle felt intensely naked, a delayed sense of his vulnerability making him look down longingly at the swim trunks he'd stripped off, which were carding along the bottom of the deep end. He could hear Stan swimming behind him, and he surfaced when he pictured the view Stan had, doggy-paddling shyly toward the end of the pool. He pulled himself out of the water when he got there, turning toward Stan, his legs in the water, everything on display. His cock was still hard, nipples even harder when the wildflower-scented breeze blew across the patio again, scattering seeds.

"Dude," Stan said, bobbing between Kyle's legs. Kyle hadn't been asking for a blow job, necessarily, but he spread his thighs wider when Stan grabbed his knees and surged forward to lick him. The heat of his tongue was sharper than the sunlight, in such perfect contrast to the breeze that Kyle shivered. He moaned in encouragement and leaned over to kiss the top of Stan's head while Stan licked him again, again.

"I don't think I'm very good at this," Stan said, looking up at Kyle, his eyes ridiculously blue, brighter than the water.

"Fuck him for making you think that," Kyle said. He kissed Stan, holding his face. Stan tasted like chlorine and beer, like Kyle's dick: he tasted like the right Stan.

Stan sucked Kyle off like he had something to prove, doing fancy things with his tongue and clawing his hands into Kyle's thighs. Kyle sort of wanted to cuddle him throughout the whole thing, to hunch over him and shield them both from the possible prying eyes of Craig, if nothing else, but eventually he gave into the urge to lean onto his elbows and drop his head back between his shoulders, closing his eyes against the glare of the sun. He came almost as soon as he assumed this posture, bracing his feet on the edge of the pool, trying not to pump his hips too hard. Stan swallowed, which was impressive. Kyle slumped forward to kiss him and Stan met him halfway, surging up out of the water and bracing his hands on the ledge, between Kyle's legs.

"Will you fuck me?" Kyle asked when Stan pulled back, his arms trembling from the effort of holding himself up.

"Yeah," Stan said. His voice seemed different, post-swallow, deeper and a little broken. Kyle kissed him again. When he stood, his legs were wobbly. Noticing this, Stan scooped Kyle up and carried him over to the bed under the tent.

"Have you been sleeping here?" Kyle asked, pulling Stan down onto him. Kyle had dried off only a little, and Stan was sopping wet.

"Just last night," Stan said. "I had to get my courage up. I heard coyotes, actually. They sounded kind of close."

"Courage for what?" Kyle asked, though he knew. Stan shrugged and ran his hand down over Kyle's chest, then up again.

"For you," Stan said.

"Is there lube?" Kyle asked. Stan grinned.

"I wasn't that optimistic. But, uh, the sunscreen."

"That works," Kyle said, and they just kissed for a while, rolling around amid the damp blankets.

Kyle had spent a lot of time over the years envisioning the impossible bliss of sex with Stan, and particularly what their first time would be like. None of his fantasies had been out of doors, certainly none involved Token's house, the potential for a Craig Tucker from an alternate dimension to be covertly peering at them from one of the house's upstairs windows, sunscreen in his ass, or the fact that he'd already had quite a lot of sex with another Stan who didn't belong to him. Those were all of the things that somehow made it perfect, though Kyle supposed he would have called it perfect even if they'd rutted against each other frantically in a bathroom stall, as long as he could consider it the beginning of something that would last.

Stan took his time with everything, kissing Kyle's neck a lot, sucking his nipples; Kyle came again before Stan had worked his way up to sliding inside him. When he had, Stan arranged the blankets around them while Kyle adjusted to the feeling of being full again. It was different, even with the same dimensions pressing him open and the same sweet, worried face hovering over his. Stan was sweating a little, trembling.

"Is that okay?" he whispered when he'd decided whatever he'd done with the blankets was sufficient, his elbows framing Kyle's ears.

"Mhm." Kyle nodded and reached up to tuck some of Stan's hair behind his ear. It was getting kind of long. He wondered if Stan would let him cut it, now that he'd had some experience, and wondered if that other Kyle had been tighter than him. He was tempted to ask, but that would probably ruin the moment. "I missed you," he said instead. "While I was gone, I really. I missed you so much."

"I missed you, too," Stan said.

"But you thought you had me."

"But I didn't."

Stan fucked him in slow rolls of his hips, pausing for long intervals to kiss him, trying to last. Kyle folded his legs against Stan's sides and stretched his arms up over his head, crossing his ankles at the small of Stan's back when he started moving faster, letting himself lose his rhythm. He came with a soft cry that made Kyle want to wrap him into his arms and hold him safe against his chest, so he did. Stan allowed it, still trembling, his face hidden against Kyle's neck.

"That other Kyle had a message for you," Kyle said when Stan lifted his face. "He said not to tell me that you love me too much. He said that it cheapens the sentiment."

"Oh." Stan pulled out of him and flopped onto his side, rolling Kyle against him. "Is that what you think, too?"

"No," Kyle said.

"I was really saying it to you," Stan said. "And I couldn't stop, like. I must have said it twenty times. It was like 'there's no place like home.' Like, something to bring you back to me."

"Are you changing your story now?" Kyle asked, smiling to show Stan that he wasn't mad, though he was, maybe, still, a little. "Trying to say you knew all along--"

"No," Stan said. "I didn't know. But I was afraid. I threw up on him."

"I heard."

"He scared me, the way he was acting, telling me to-- he was just like, 'fetch me the baby oil, Stanley.'"

Kyle laughed hard, rolling away, and Stan spooned him. They were tangled hopelessly in the blankets, which were made from some very fine material, velvety and soft, in neutral colors.

"I wasn't scared with you," Stan said. "I was scared last night. I rewrote that text that I sent you this morning about fifty fucking times. But once you were here, I mean, I was nervous, but not scared. And then you took your bathing suit off."

"Token's bathing suit. We should rescue it before it ends up in a drain."

"Nh, no, stay here," Stan said, squeezing him hard, demonstrating his unwillingness to let him go. The wind picked up, and Stan secured the blankets around Kyle the way he had when he was first inside him, all the way.

"Smell that air," Kyle said, but Stan didn't catch that he was making fun of him, probably because the air did smell really good, tinged with sunscreen, a scent would now always be arousing to Kyle.

"Stay here with me tonight," Stan said.

"Alright, but we're sleeping indoors. I've had enough of the fucking elements."

"I'm so glad you didn't get injured or anything," Stan said. He kissed the back of Kyle's neck and fussed with the blankets again. "That place, Jesus Christ. You have to tell me everything."

"I will," Kyle said. "But, shit. Here comes Craig. And he's got sandwiches."

The fact that they were willing to sit there naked, blankets covering their laps, and accept post-coital turkey and provolone on sourdough from Craig spoke volumes about what they'd both been through during the switch-around, Kyle thought. Stan talked with Craig about his job prospects while Kyle ate, and Kyle only began to feel modest about his sex hair and flimsily concealed nudity when Clyde showed up.

"Oh," Clyde said, standing there like Stan and Kyle were some kind of exhibit, Craig nuzzling at his shoulder. "So, it worked."

"Shut up, Clyde!" Stan said.

"What worked--"

"You know what?" Clyde said. "I'm getting a little goddamn tired of you two telling me to shut up all the time!"

"He's just embarrassed, darling," Craig said.

"What worked?" Kyle asked again.

"My plan to get you to talk to me," Stan said.

"Talk, right," Clyde said, smirking.

"Clyde." Stan gave him a look while he wrapped Kyle more completely into a blanket, shielding him from prying eyes. "Please be quiet."

"Has Craig met his counterpart yet?" Kyle asked. "The other Craig?"

"No," Clyde said. "I'm trying to figure out the best way to broach the subject. The other Craig came by the theater yesterday and asked me where I'd been, and why I have a shit eating grin on my face all the time now, and why I have a tan--"

"I'm just too nervous to meet him yet!" Craig said. "Though I'm sure he's not as bad as you all say."

"He is," Stan said.

"Yeah," Clyde said. "At least, as a friend. I think he's good to Tweek."

"I refuse to believe that anyone would pick Tweek over you," Craig said, hugging him.

"Tweek isn't like the one from your world," Kyle said while Clyde palmed Craig's ass, his other hand curled under Craig's chin. "He's not fat and drunk all the time, he's small and cute and-- hey, okay, if you guys are going to ignore me and make out, maybe do it inside?"

"Yeah," Stan said. "We claim the patio."

"Whatever," Clyde said, disconnecting from Craig's mouth. Craig was still absorbed in him, nibbling at his jaw. "You guys can have it. We'll be in the guest bedroom with the aquarium."

"Don't feed the fish," Stan warned as they walked off together. "They're on a very specific feeding schedule."

"Thanks for the sandwiches," Kyle called, glad to see them go. He was ready to sleep, and maybe there would be more sex afterward. There were things he hadn't tried with the other Stan, like climbing on top and riding him, which was one of his long held fantasies. He crawled toward the pillows and dumped himself onto them. Stan took care of the blankets before snuggling up beside him.

"Oh, hey, you know what we should do?" Stan said.

"Mmph?" Kyle didn't feel like doing anything, and he moaned in complaint when Stan moved away, sliding out from under the blankets. He started fussing with the tent, dropping the flap that faced the house, then the flaps on the sides. He opened the only one that had been closed before: the one facing the field and the mountains. The other flaps were weighted at the bottom, billowing just a little when the wind blew in hard.

"Here, also--" Stan said, and he sprang out of the bed, walking naked into the field. Kyle rested his chin on his pillow and watched, worrying about Stan's bare feet.

Stan picked flowers. Kyle hoped that Clyde and Craig weren't watching. He thought they probably weren't, too wrapped up in their own weird bliss. Kyle smiled at Stan as he walked back with the flowers, his thighs very white where his bathing suit normally covered them.

Kyle expected to be handed the flowers, maybe with an 'I love you,' maybe a serenade -- hopefully not with a serenade. He didn't expect Stan to hop back onto the bed, stretch out beside him, and busily begin tying the skinny stems of the flowers he'd picked into knots around Kyle's curls.

"Um," Kyle said, resting his cheek on the pillow.

"Just humor me," Stan said.

Kyle closed his eyes and let Stan continue. This was the right Stan, his Stan. He wondered how the other two were doing in their world, two weeks after their attempt to live in peace with the other households. He thought they were probably okay. They might not have plush pool furniture and velvet blankets, cold cuts on fresh bread, wildflowers in their hair, but they were together. They were okay.

Spring had been wet and cold, so when the skies cleared and the days became reliably warm, everyone in the household wanted to be outdoors as often as possible. The house's windows were always open, and the backyard was occupied as long as they had daylight, Kevin and Larry attending to the crops in the adjacent fields and Shelly doing the washing in a tub on the back patio, Butters hanging what she'd already cleaned on clotheslines. Ike spent his afternoons sketching schematics in the shade of the crabapple tree while Cartman harvested the bitter little things before the squirrels could. The roof had leaked a good deal during the rainy season, and Kenny and Stan were repairing it. Kenny had some knowledge about roofing from a summer job, which was helpful. He was endlessly helpful about repair work in general, which made Kyle feel a bit useless sometimes. He tried to help out on the roof, but the sun was relentless and Kyle burned so easily. He'd forgotten to trade for sunscreen at the last town meeting.

After taking as much sun as he could, he would slink into the empty house feeling tired and puffy, wanting a nap, which was impossible with the footsteps and hammering on the roof. He usually got in bed anyway, lying on top of the sheets and hugging his pillow until Stan came in to check on him.

"We're almost done," Stan said on an unbearably hot afternoon when Kyle had ventured outside for only a few hours. It had been more than enough, and he rolled onto his back with a groan when Stan sat down on the bed and pushed Kyle's sweaty hair off of his forehead. Stan had asked him to consider growing it out. Kyle threatened to shave it daily, but so far it was tolerable.

"Almost done for the day, or entirely?" Kyle asked.

"Both," Stan said. "Kenny thinks we'll be finished in three days."

"I suppose he'd know," Kyle said, mumbling. He was in his underwear, and he felt a bit childish in the presence of Stan, who was wearing dirty jeans and a t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off, a gun belt that he'd modified to hold tools hanging around his hips. He was sweaty, and his skin was darker than Kyle had seen it since the birth givers put them to work during the summers as children. Kyle sat up and took the safety glasses Stan had pushed up onto his head, examining them.

"You okay in here?" Stan asked. "You look pretty red."

"It's just a sunburn," Kyle said. He started to put the glasses on, but they were slippery with sweat from Stan's hair. "I'm going to ask for some sunblock for all of us tomorrow. Why don't you and Kenny burn?"

"We do," Stan said, looking down at his browned arms. "See? I'm a little pink here."

"A little pink," Kyle said miserably. He leaned back onto his pillow and handed Stan the glasses. "I was only out there for a few hours in the garden, wearing that stupid hat, and I look like a lobster."

"You don't," Stan said. He leaned down to kiss Kyle's puffy cheeks. "You look adorable. Like you're blushing."

"Well, I hate blushing and you know it."

"Shh, quit whining. Give me a kiss."

Kyle made a petulant sound but obeyed. Over the past two seasons he'd become quite accustomed to doing as Stan asked. It helped that Stan only asked for things that Kyle wanted, too, requests that Kyle stop complaining about things aside.

"Nn, you'll make me hard," Stan said when Kyle leaned back to bite his lip and toy with one of his nipples, which were stiffening up despite the heat.

"You're the one who came in here and kissed me," Kyle said.

"I have to get back to work," Stan said. He gave Kyle a sharp, admonishing kiss on the forehead. "I'm gonna take a bath after, if you'd like to join me."

"I think, yes," Kyle said, as if the late afternoon-early evening bath he took with Stan wasn't the highlight of his day.

"Alright." Stan kissed him again, on the lips. "Don't just lie in here touching yourself," Stan said, keeping his eyes locked on Kyle's as he reached down to cup Kyle's cock, which was a little hard just from the smell of Stan's sweat. "Like a bad boy," Stan added, more quietly.

"I--," Kyle said, spreading for Stan's hand. "I won't." He tried to hump the damp heat of Stan's palm, moaning when Stan took it away and stood.

"I'll be back in a bit," Stan said. He adjusted his tool belt, and Kyle smirked when he saw that Stan in a similar state of uncomfortable arousal.

"Don't fall off of anything," Kyle said. It was the only order he gave Stan anymore. "The roof, namely."

"Kay," Stan said.

Kyle touched his thighs when Stan was gone, and his chest, his stomach. He wanted to reach into his underwear and get some relief, but he didn't, though Stan wouldn't know either way and only said things like that to tease him, not because he really cared. Kyle was pretty sure that was the case, anyway. He sometimes hoped that Stan was serious about such demands, probably for the same reason that he obeyed them. In front of the others, they did things as they always had. Kyle spoke on behalf of the household at Memorial Park meetings, assigned chores and bedrooms, approved projects. Upstairs, in their bedroom, he was at Stan's mercy.

Eager to get rid of his erection, Kyle forced himself to think about what he might trade for sunscreen and the other things they needed. Clyde liked Cartman's crabapple pies a lot, but they were low on sugar, and a sour pie would be a political loss. Butters was always needing things mended, and Ike was oddly fond of sewing, capable of very precise little stitches. When they began the trade meetings Kyle was able to bring weapons and get ample supplies for them, but the need for guns was waning. The three camps were actually beginning to trust each other somewhat, though all the leaders and their escorts still came to the meetings armed.

When he was no longer hard, Kyle got up and put on some pants and a loose fitting shirt. He was bloated from the heat, or from eating well since they'd started trading for food and harvesting things other than potatoes. Getting his zipper up took a bit of tugging. Everyone had put on weight, and Stan was stronger than Kyle could ever remember him being. He could feel it mostly in Stan's arms, when they were in bed, Kyle's fingers digging into hard muscle while Stan plowed him. Kyle adjusted his pants, thinking about this.

He moped around the house for another hour, doing nothing more strenuous than cleaning the bathtub and bringing water from the well to fill it. By the time he was done, Stan was in the doorway of the bathroom, pulling off his shirt, and Kyle grinned.

"You saw me carrying water and cut out early," he said, crossing behind Stan to shut the door.

"I'm exhausted," Stan said, breathless. "Thanks for getting the water."

"I always get the water," Kyle said, though 'always' wasn't accurate, because it had once been Stan's job.

"I know," Stan said. "But thanks."

Stan peeled off the rest of his clothes and Kyle did the same, glad to be free of the confinement of his pants. He got into the water and hissed the temperature, despite the fact that he was hot enough to feel half-melted, even with some breeze coming in through the open bathroom window. The water felt good after the initial adjustment period, and Stan had no complaints about the temperature when he climbed in and sat between Kyle's legs.

"This is what we were doing when I first noticed that I liked the way you looked," Kyle said while he cleaned Stan's back with a soapy washcloth.

"Ha," Stan said. "Makes sense."

"Well. Yes. Do you remember when you first thought that about me?"

"Hmm. When you grabbed my dick and started examining it like it was some rare mushroom that had grown there overnight?"

"Oh. Not until then?"

"I was joking, Kyle," Stan said, leaning back to squish him. "I think I liked the way you looked when I first saw you. Yeah, I did."

"Please," Kyle said. He hugged his arms around Stan and cleaned his chest. "You don't even remember meeting me. We were infants."

"No -- were we? No, I remember. I was like, 'wow, that hair.'"

"You are full of shit," Kyle said, but he was flattered enough not to threaten to shave it off.

When Stan was clean Kyle reached between his legs to stroke him. He was hard; they were always hard when they did this, but Stan refused to come in the bathwater, which meant that Kyle couldn't, either. To get back at Stan for this, Kyle teased him until he was trembling, which usually resulted in Kyle being yanked out of the bathwater and fucked against the sink basin. That was typically Kyle's goal.

"So you're really almost done with the roof?" Kyle asked. Stan was spilled back against him, his head on Kyle's shoulder, eyes closed and lips parted while Kyle stroked him with just his fingertips. So far Stan was just twitching a little, sighing.

"Almost done, yeah," Stan said, muttering. He turned his face into Kyle's neck and let out a long breath. "Baby," he said.


"Nothing. I love you."

"Oh, I know." Kyle kissed Stan's forehead.

"I love doing this with you," Stan said, starting to move his hips a little.

"Me too, me too."



"Nnh. I don't know. I wanna fuck you and I'm too tired to stand."

"Poor thing," Kyle said, earnestly. He took his hand away from Stan's dick and wrapped both arms around his chest. "Should I carry you to the bed?"

"Yeah, do it."

They stayed in the tub for another five minutes, Kyle kissing Stan's freshly shampooed hair. Stan alternated between stroking himself and nuzzling at Kyle sleepily. He did manage to stand, eventually, and to fuck Kyle when they were back in their bed, still damp enough to leave wet spots on the sheets. The sun was just beginning to sink, and the wind through the open window smelled like the laundry that was hanging on the clotheslines. Stan lasted longer than Kyle had expected him to, longer than Kyle had himself, and fell asleep almost immediately afterward, slumped against Kyle's chest. Kyle held him and watched the sky change colors. He realized he was smiling like an idiot and buried his face in Stan's hair to hide it, as if anyone could see.

The household had been taking their dinner outside for close to a month, at a long communal table that Kenny had built from furniture he'd collected from the abandoned houses on their street. It was set for the meal by the time Kyle and Stan made their evening appearance, Stan yawning and Kyle feeling energized by the cooler air and the night sky. He sat at the head of the table as usual, Stan on one side and Ike on the other. Larry was fussing over Shelly at the other end, pulling out her chair and putting a napkin in her lap as if she was an invalid who couldn't do so herself. She was pregnant, starting to get pretty fat. It made Kyle nervous, the idea of having children around, and he'd given Kenny permission to start working on one of the houses down the road, fixing it up for Larry and Shelly. Kyle had selected the house they would inhabit after doing an experiment: he had Butters stand in the house's foyer and mimic an infant's cry while he went back to his bedroom to make sure he couldn't hear it there.

"This looks good," Kyle said when Cartman served him some roasted vegetables and the best cut from the fat tenderloin Kyle had approved for the evening meal. Wendy had left Butters' camp with a couple of boy toys and set up a cattle rustling operation. It was dangerous business, but profitable; everyone had been salivating for cow meat by the time she returned to town with a couple of heifers to trade. She'd asked Kyle for Cartman in exchange for two, but he refused, giving her two rifles and his favorite vest for one. The nerve of her asking for that vest in front of his household while they all quivered at the thought of steaks still infuriated him, but the cow had lifted everyone spirit's, and he had to admit it was well worth it. He planned to buy another cow the next time Wendy came to town, and to and keep it for milk. She would likely ask for Cartman again, but Kyle wasn't giving him up. Cartman was a good cook, and Kevin was in love with him, for reasons Kyle couldn't fathom. They slept together on the couch downstairs, and Kyle had caught them fucking down by the stream in the foothills when he went there one afternoon hoping to cool off. He'd been annoyed when Stan ushered him away, telling him to give them privacy, and surprised, also, that Cartman had been the one doing the claiming. He considered them bonded, anyway, and wouldn't even entertain Wendy's requests to have Cartman just on loan for a few hours.

"You know," he said when dinner was served and everyone was seated. "I think I just had a great idea."

"Yeah?" Stan said.

"I thought of something we could give Wendy that she might trade us three cows for."

"What's that?" Kevin asked, a little sharply. He hated Wendy, understandably.

"A trip to the other universe," Kyle said. "We could blast her with Ike's gun and tell her how to find the Cartman from that world, and how to get back through the portal. She'd be well matched with that other Cartman, don't you think?" Kyle asked, elbowing Stan.

"Yeah, actually," Stan said. "Though that dick might try to take over if she brought him back here."

"She'd keep him in line," Kyle said. "He had a crush on her in the other world, I could tell."

"Are you sure?" Cartman asked, looking fretful. Kevin slid an arm around the back of his chair.

"He's right," Kenny said, speaking out of turn as usual. "Cartman told me he was in love with her this one time, when he was high."

"Do you really think Eric would come here?" Butters asked, worrying his fists together.

"He would if Wendy pulled him here by the end of his dick," Kenny said. "And stealing cows is right up his alley. If there's anything Cartman's good at, it's organized crime. Fuck, they'd have a ranch set up in a year."

Pleased with himself for thinking of this, and with Kenny for supporting him for once, Kyle spent the rest of the meal talking quietly with Stan about their plans for the following day, letting Larry and Kenny's drunken boasting dominate the conversation at the other end of the table.

"Should we do a picnic?" Kyle asked. "On the way back?" They had the week before, and it had been nice, being away from the others for a few hours, fucking amid wildflowers.

"If you want," Stan said. He put his foot over Kyle's under the table, pressing the toe of his boot down gently over Kyle's, and it was like a signal that he approved as Kyle's master as well. Kyle liked that it was their secret, and not just to save face. The fact that nobody knew that they'd switched places made him feel like he belonged to Stan that much more completely. Stan was the one who had ordered him to keep it quiet, mostly because he didn't want to be troubled with running the house.

"Do you think the Hand of Death might secretly be Butters' master?" Kyle asked when he was upstairs in bed with Stan, the curtain billowing over their bed and the house quiet except for the laughter of Kenny and Larry, who were playing cards with Kevin in the backyard while the others did the dinner dishes.

"Maybe," Stan said. "I wonder whose decision it was to start letting him wear clothes."

"Yes, I was wondering that, too." The Hand of Death was still the constant chaperone of Chancellor Butters -- which Kyle and Clyde had agreed to call him, rolling their eyes as soon as their backs were turned -- but he no longer went about town in a loincloth. He was still silent and stoic, but he wore normal clothes, pants and shirts, and when the six representatives sat during meetings, the Hand of Death sat at Butters' side, not his feet.

"There's no question about Clyde and Tweek, of course," Kyle said, wanting to continue gossiping despite the fact that Stan was beginning to drift off, blinking heavily. "It's amazing how much more well-behaved Tweek is now that Clyde has taken him in hand. That was quite overdue, don't you think?"

"Yes, quite," Stan said, and Kyle pinched him for making fun of him. Stan curled his arm around Kyle more tightly, drawing him down to his chest.

"He looks like a completely different person," Kyle said. "Tweek, I mean. He looks even better than he did in the other world, I think, now that he's lost weight. He's calmer than that one was. That other Tweek was with Craig, over there."

"You've told me," Stan said.

"I know, I'm just saying." Kyle lifted his head. "I wonder how our Craig is faring over there?" He thought about it a lot, though more about the other Stan and Kyle than Craig. He felt horrible, at times, about what he'd taken from them, though he'd do it all over again if he had to, for the sake of his household, his world, his Stan.

"I'm sure Craig's doing great," Stan said. He smiled at Kyle consolingly, as if he knew who Kyle was really curious about. Kyle worried sometimes that he'd wrecked things between the other Kyle and Stan by letting Stan have him that day. "He's got Clyde, hasn't he?" Stan said, rubbing Kyle's back.

"That Clyde," Kyle said, huffing. "I hope he's made himself worthy of our Craig."

"Mhm. Worthy of Craig, that's a funny concept."

"Well, you know what I mean. Craig had his merits, and he was ours, anyway. One of us."

"I feel like Kenny and Butters' are one of us now," Stan said. "Or, you know. Two of us."

"Oh, shut up about how wonderful Kenny is," Kyle said, and Stan smirked, rolling toward him.

"You're jealous of him," Stan said. Stating the obvious was one of his more annoying habits. Kyle rolled his eyes.

"I'm not," he said. "He just aggravates me. He thinks he knows everything just because he can unclog a drain."

"Do you think he could do what the Hand of Death did?" Stan asked. "Level a battlefield almost singlehandedly?"

"Now you're just taunting me," Kyle said, and Stan grinned. He tucked his face against Kyle's throat and slipped an arm around him, settling in for sleep. Kyle played with Stan's hair for a while, thinking.

"Stan?" he asked after a few quiet minutes had passed.

"Mph?" "Do you think — if Wendy were to want to go over there, you know, if she accepts it as part of a trade. Do you think she would look in on the others for us, maybe? And let us know how they were doing?"

"It might cost you a cow," Stan said.

"Oh. True, yeah, you're right. But, actually, you know. It might be worth a cow, to me."

"You're worried about them?" Stan asked, lifting his head. He didn't clarify, but Kyle knew that Stan understood which people in that other world Kyle would take a loss to check in on, and that Craig wasn't one of them. Kyle shrugged.

"It was strange," he said. "To see you — not you, but. So angry at me."

"I'm sure he's forgiven you," Stan said.

"Oh, please. He — I — what did you two talk about?" Kyle asked, his heart beating faster. He'd wanted to ask for since that day, and had been afraid to know. He was still afraid to know. "That day, before the inaugural meeting at the statue. You and the other Stan."

"You," Stan said.

"Me? Or just Kyles, generally?"

"About you, specifically," Stan said. "I asked him if he'd taken care of you."

"Oh. And he said?"

"He said he had, and that what you'd done was low, when he'd been so good to you. I told him he didn't understand, that we were raised not to trust people."

"I'm sure he was unmoved," Kyle said.

"He was still angry," Stan said. "But I told him about that day when my fingers were broken, how you were nine years old and you swore that no one would ever hurt me again. I said, look. This is all just part of Kyle keeping his promise. Don't take it personally."

"I wouldn't have — said that, if I couldn't have done it," Kyle said. He ducked his eyes away from Stan's, embarrassed by how well taken care of he was, and by his failure to see, at nine years old and for almost nine years afterward, that Stan had let him make that promise to protect him, to make him believe that he could.

"That's right," Stan said. He squirmed down to press his face to Kyle's. "That's what I told that other Kyle, when he was worried about Clyde's deadline. Kyle's never let me down."

"You're making fun of me," Kyle said, his voice shaking.

"No, honey — what?" Stan looked sincerely upset when Kyle met his eyes. "Why would you think that? I cared about that other Kyle, too. I wouldn't have told him that if I didn't believe it. Shit, don't you know what I think about you? Do you need to fuck my ass to understand that I respect you? 'Cause I don't give a shit about that, who's on top, or — I mean, I do that for you, because you like — roles, or whatever, but fuck, Kyle. I'm not faking it when I say you saved my life. All our lives, everything."

"Stan, shut up," Kyle said, and it felt good to give him an order in bed, even if he didn't mean it and his voice came out choppy and weak.

"You're worth a thousand drain unclogging smart asses to me," Stan said, nudging Kyle's cheek with his nose until Kyle met his eyes again. "A thousand of anyone. Fuck, even a thousand other Kyles. They could bring them and bring them and fill a whole fucking mansion with people named Kyle who look just like you, and think like you, and taste like you, and I'd be crying into my hands until they brought you."

Kyle kissed him, nodding, wanting him to feel it, because Kyle wouldn't be able to say it without sobbing: me too, that's right, I know: there's nothing like this anywhere, nothing like you and me.