Three hours from midnight, Kyle is exactly where he was last year at this time, and the thought depresses him. He's in Cartman's basement with his laptop on his stomach, stretched across the junky couch by the stairs. Clyde is sitting on the floor, shamelessly paging through hardcore porn videos, and Butters is lying on the same ratty old rug that's been here since they were kids, drawing ugly sketches of his original comic book characters. Cartman is over on the other side of the room on his desktop, blowing Kyle away in the game of Team Fortress 2 that they're playing online.

"Cartman, what the fuck!" Kyle shouts. "I'm on your team!" Cartman just laughs and flicks Kyle off without turning around.

Same as last year.

"Fine," Kyle says, closing the game. "I'm not playing with you anymore."

"Oh, no, whatever will I do without Kyle's shitty scouts?" Cartman asks, putting on a pretend weepy voice. "Dude, you have to admit that was killer. You totally didn't see it coming."

Kyle didn't, which is the worst part. He seems to need to relearn his lesson about Cartman at least five times a day. If he had any other place to be tonight, he'd be there, but as one of the four biggest dorks in the senior class, this was the only invitation he got.

"Check this one out," Clyde says, starting up some video with five big-chested women rubbing soap on each other and moaning theatrically.

"Ugh," Kyle says, cringing away. "Jerk off in private, please."

"I'm not jerking off," Clyde says. "I'm not even hard. Well. Not very."

"Lemme see!" Butters says, hopping up and coming over to sit beside Clyde. Kyle moves away from them, disgusted. They're both disturbingly fond of porn, and Cartman's only redeeming quality in this pathetic quartet is that he's as disinterested in it as Kyle. Cartman's reasons for being bored by Clyde's and Butter's porn are a mystery to Kyle, but he thinks his own reasons are apparent enough, at least among this crowd, though he doesn't like gay porn, either.

"The medic is a spy!" Cartman shouts into the mouthpiece of the headset he wears when he plays. Kyle settles down in Cartman's old bean bag chair and opens his laptop over his knees, wishing he had some headphones. Between the moaning from Clyde's computer and the gunfire from Cartman's, it's hard to concentrate on anything. He checks his Facebook, scrolling through pictures from parties that are still going on. He sees Kenny in one, shitfaced and grinning, and Stan in another. Stan is obviously stoned, two girls who look like freshmen clutching at him and posing for the camera, trying to make ironically self-aware faces. Further depressed by the sight of this, Kyle closes Facebook and logs on to the Closeted in South Park chat room that he's been going to since he was thirteen. He didn't see Craig Tucker in any of the party pictures, so maybe thistownsucks is online.

The chat room is the usual sad bunch of probably middle-aged assholes trying to get laid. Kyle doesn't respond to any of the messages he gets, because he only comes here to talk to thistownsucks, who's been chatting with him for a couple of years now. Kyle has been able to work out that thistownsucks is a high school student, that he's on the swim team, and that he has a crush on his dorky best friend who is hopelessly straight and obsessed with lesbian porn. Kyle has kept details about himself closer to his vest, and in this way he's been able to discern that thistownsucks is probably Craig, who wouldn't have revealed these things about himself if he thought the person he was chatting with had any frame of reference. Kyle's story is that he's in his mid-twenties and stuck here because he has to work to support his deadbeat parents and out of control siblings. He's pretty sure he's given Craig the impression that he's Kevin McCormick. It's a small town, and Craig has to suspect that he's somebody familiar. Kyle doesn't feel bad for Kevin, who is an asshole, though he'd never claim to be him outright.

After an hour of fooling around on news websites and listening to Cartman gloat about how awesome he's doing and how Kyle should totally rejoin the team because they're kicking ass, Kyle is surprised to see thistownsucks log into the chat. He almost immediately sends a private message to Kyle.

thistownsucks: im so wasted right nwo

compostable_styrofoam: Cool. Are you at a party?

thistownsucks: yeah im on my phone. you?

compostable_styrofoam: Hanging out with a bunch of losers.

thistownsucks: same here man im suf fuckin bord of these pdople

compostable_sytrofoam: I'm right there with you, man.

thistownsucks: you drinkein?

compostable_styrofoam: No I'm two years sober.

thistownsucks: whoa not to be adick but how do y live in south park without gettign fucked up ?

compostable_styrofoam: It ain't easy.

They talk for a while longer, Craig explaining that he's locked himself into a bathroom at the party and is sitting in the tub. Kyle asks a few questions about the party, and Craig's answers lead him to believe that it's Token's party, not Bebe's, which is the one that Stan and Kenny are attending. Token's party has more booze but fewer girls, because Token and Wendy are a couple and most of their friends are similarly paired off.

"Who are you talking to?" Cartman asks, the shadow of his body looming over Kyle and the bean bag chair. Kyle shrugs.

"Nobody," he says.

"Yeah, right." Cartman tries to steal Kyle's laptop, but Kyle is too fast for him and rolls away, clutching it to his chest. "Kyle is talking to his internet boyfriend, you guys," Cartman says, grinning.

"Jealous?" Kyle says. This shuts Cartman up and makes Butters laugh.

"Yeah, ha, yeah right!" Cartman says, flustered. "Anyway, tell your boyfriend goodnight, 'cause we're gonna play Knights of Templar."

"Not Knights of Templar," Clyde says.

"Yeah!" Butters says at the same time, bouncing. "I love that game!"

"See, Butters loves that game," Cartman says. He's tossing a few dice in his palm as he heads toward the gaming table. "So go beat off, Clyde, and get over here to play."

"I'm not gonna beat off!" Clyde says, turning red, but he goes to the bathroom shortly afterward, and comes back looking sleepy.

Knights of Templar was invented by Cartman, and he keeps trying to sell it to White Wolf, to no avail. It's modeled after D&D, only the players aren't trying to slay dragons so much as protect the chosen people from increasingly powerful tribes of goblins. The metaphors are not lost on Kyle, but it's actually kind of a fun game, sometimes. The enjoyment factor hinges on Cartman's mood. He's extremely creative and a pretty good dungeon master -- or God Figure, as it's referred to in Knights of Templar -- but if he's feeling particularly obnoxious he can make the fates of the players unfair and miserable.

"I assume you're all playing your usual characters?" Cartman asks as he's filling out the game sheet.

"Why don't you let somebody else run the game for once?" Clyde grumbles, though he's known Cartman long enough to understand that this is a futile proposition. Cartman scoffs.

"Because it's my game and you assholes would mess it up," he says. "Clyde, are you playing as Harrelson Darkslayer this time or not?"

"Yes," Clyde drones miserably. "Hey, do you think your mom has beer upstairs?"

"She has wine coolers," Cartman says. "Which would be appropriately faggy for you gentlemen, but I don't want to get burned for stealing them, so you can fucking forget about it. Butters, are you--" Cartman sighs and rolls his eyes as if it pains him to even say this name. "Princess Kardashian?"

"No, I think I want to play as Professor Chaos this time," Butters says thoughtfully. "Only Professor Chaos is a girl, alright?"

"Of course, Professor Chaos is a girl," Cartman says, jotting this down. The novelty of ripping on Butters for his dreams of dressing like a lady seem to have worn off even for Cartman, who takes it at face value these days. "Kyle, are you playing as fucking Errol again?"

"Yes," Kyle says, proudly. Errol Kofax is a half-goblin, though Cartman insists half-goblins can't be Knights. Kyle has worn him down on this over the years, and he always plays as Errol, who has special half-goblin powers that he uses in battle, and occasionally for purposes of negotiation, though Cartman usually doesn't allow that to go well.

"Alright," Cartman says, clearing his throat and propping up the game board. "Which of you wants to go upstairs and replenish our refreshments before we begin?"

"Why don't you do it, fat ass?" Kyle asks. "It's your house."

"Yeah, Kyle, and since I'm nice enough to have you here and share my food, you can fucking hoof it upstairs for some goddamn chips!"

"I don't even want any chips!" Kyle says. "We already had pizza and ice cream. How can you still be hungry?"

"Real men have appetites, Kyle. Being a fragile little wisp of a lady, you wouldn't know that."

"I'll get the chips, fellas," Butters says, standing. "No need to argue."

"Shut up, Butters," Cartman says. "And get me some goddamn Dr. Pepper, too."

"Bring me a wine cooler," Clyde says.

"Clyde, I will fucking kill you! No!"

"She won't notice one missing! Do it, Butters."

"Don't you fucking dare, butt wipe!" Cartman says, pointing a finger at Butters, who is standing at the foot of the stairs, trembling with indecision.

"Let him have one, Cartman," Kyle says. "If it will shut him up."

"It will shut me up," Clyde says, nodding. Cartman scoffs and looks at Kyle.

"What, you want Clyde to turn into a useless wino like Kenny and Stan?" Cartman says.

"Shut up about Stan," Kyle says. "Butters, go get Cartman some food so he'll stop PMS'ing."

"I'm the one PMS'ing?" Cartman says. "'Shut up about Stan!'" he says, mimicking Kyle in a high-pitched, watery voice. "Sorry if I tell the truth about your ex-lover."

"Cartman, I swear to God!" Kyle says.

"Oh boy," Butters says, halfway up the stairs now. "Don't fight! It's New Year's Eve!"

"Butters, shut up and fetch me my drink," Clyde says.

Butters returns without the wine cooler, giving Clyde a nervous speech about how he shouldn't be drinking, but Clyde sneaks one after a few rounds of the game and comes downstairs acting way more drunk than he could possibly be. Kyle grits his teeth through four rounds, fighting with Cartman when he torments Errol unnecessarily, and they nearly come to blows over a rusty nail that Errol apparently had in the sole of his boot for the entirety of the fifth game, which means he dies of tetanus poisoning just when his battle with the goblin king who killed his father is getting good.

"That's stupid!" Kyle shouts, standing. "You're missing the point of the game!"

"No, Kyle, I think you'll find that you're missing the point of the game."

"You guys," Clyde says. He's slumped on the couch beside Butters, since both of their characters have already been killed off. "I'm so wasted right now," Clyde says, reminding Kyle of Craig. Though it's pretty awful to be here with these idiots, Kyle imagines it would be worse to be among the high school's elite, pretending to be interested in the girls who came onto him and drinking himself sick with secret angst. He has a lot of sympathy for thistownsucks and his plight, and he wishes it would translate to Craig's actual human personality, but at school Craig acts like an evil chode, especially toward Kyle, likely because he's jealous of Kyle's time spent with Clyde. Kyle can't imagine anyone being jealous of a thing like that, but Craig is too cool to be seen with Clyde at school, so they have to restrict their best friends time to private hours, during which, thistownsucks complains, Clyde mostly wants to hunker down with some lesbian porn. Kyle thinks the whole thing is pretty pathetic, but he does have pity on anybody who develops a crush on a straight friend. He's never really had one on Stan, because the thought of touching Stan's dick seems weird and incestuous, but he still feels jealous, or maybe more like left out, when Stan goes off with girls.

After the game dissolves, Kyle goes back to his laptop to check for new messages from thistownsucks, but there are none. He worries about Stan and Craig and even Kenny, who is like a stranger to him now. Eventually, somebody is going to fall off the fifty foot high deck at Bebe's house, or get a girl pregnant, or crash a car into someone's front yard. Kyle drank with Stan once, and for an hour or so they had a lot of fun laughing about everything and playing with Kyle's old Legos, which sounded like a great idea about three shots in, but then Kyle got sick and felt miserable. He also hated the feeling that he couldn't remember everything they'd said, the reason for all the fun they'd been having, and it was even worse when he realized that Stan didn't remember any of it. He'd regarded the Legos all over the floor with surprise and confusion in the morning. Kyle thinks that's sad, that Stan is profoundly sad, which Stan will occasionally admit is true. Most of the time, though, he's singing Kenny's tune: life sucks, so you might as well get high and fuck silly bitches while you can.

Clyde falls asleep first, possibly because of the wine cooler. He's slumped over on the floor by the couch, and Butters puts a blanket over him in a way that makes Kyle wonder if Butters isn't also in love with Clyde, who would be sort of handsome if his skin cleared up and he ate less Doritos. Kyle has no hope unless he gets a nose job, which he's saving up for and will schedule as soon as he's eighteen. It would also help if he could gain thirty pounds of muscle, but after years of half-hearted attempts he has to admit that it probably won't ever happen. Butters is actually quite adorable, and Kyle might have developed a crush on him over the years if he wasn't so fucking annoying and steadfast about cross dressing around the clock once he's free of his parents. If there's anything less attractive to Kyle than actual women, it's men who want to dress like them.

Cartman's problem is his weight. His face is decent, and he's probably third after Craig and Stan for most perfectly shaped nose among senior class boys. Kyle fixates on this maybe a little too much, and has spent some time over the years gazing at Cartman's and Stan's noses with envy. Not so much at Craig's, but only because he doesn't gaze at Craig, ever.

As usual, Kyle and Cartman are the ones who are up latest, Butters having succumbed to sleep over on the bean bag chair. Cartman takes a picture, laughing, because it looks like Butters is trying to mount the chair, and Kyle laughs, too. In recent years, when nobody else is watching, he can actually get along pretty well with Cartman. They sit together on the couch and watch bad late night TV, Cartman munching on his mom's peanut butter rice cakes, probably because they're the only food left in the house.

"Is your mom coming back tonight?" Kyle asks when the horrible Dane Cook movie they're watching goes to commercial. Cartman shrugs.

"Who knows?" he says. "I don't keep track of that bitch's social calendar."

"Don't call your mom a bitch, dude," Kyle says.

"I'll admit," Cartman says, "She's nowhere near as big a bitch as yours." He smirks at Kyle, who just rolls his eyes, because it's a stale joke, and also somewhat true. Kyle loves his mom, and he knows Cartman loves his, but they're both eager to move out of their parents' houses.

"Did you finish all your college applications?" Kyle asks.

"Yeah," Cartman says. "Time for the scholarships to start rolling in."

Kyle snorts, not sure if Cartman is being self depreciating or delusional. Probably the latter.

"I only applied to five," Kyle says. "My dad said that wasn't enough, but it's so fucking exhausting. Those personal essays were the worst."

"What?" Cartman says. "Those were the easiest part. All you do is talk about how great you are and how much better their stupid school would be if you were going there."

"That almost makes me want to read your essays," Kyle says. "I just hope I get into Georgetown. If I do my undergrad there I might have a hope in hell of getting into their med school."

"You're such a fucking Jew," Cartman says, but even he sounds bored by this observation.

"Why, because I have a plan for my future? What the hell do you want to do with your life?"

"For your information, Kyle, I do have a plan. A great fucking plan, but it's entrepreneurial in nature, so I won't be telling you a goddamn thing about it. I'm sure you understand."

"No, not really."

"Well, you'd steal it from me, yes? My great idea?"

"Whatever," Kyle says, and he does steal something: the remote, changing to a news station that's showing footage of a New Year's Eve celebration in some other time zone. "Keep your plan to yourself. Save me the trouble of having to bear witness to your idiocy."

"Bare witness to my ass, Jew."

"No, thanks."

Unless they're fighting over Knights of Templar or some other game, there's not a lot of venom in their exchanges of insults these days. If Kyle didn't have Cartman, he'd be alone with Clyde and Butters, and that's a terrifying thought. He has a feeling Cartman has considered the same possibility, which is why he occasionally makes concessions, like allowing Kyle to play with a half-goblin character.

"What's your New Year's resolution?" Kyle asks when they're both close to falling asleep, slumped down with their heads tipped back onto the couch cushions.

"To lose my virginity," Cartman says, so plainly that Kyle laughs. Cartman frowns and turns to look at him.

"What?" Cartman says. "You think I can't do it?"

"Maybe at college," Kyle says, lifting a hand and letting it slap against his thigh again. "Unless you have some girl at school in mind?"

"No," Cartman says. "Any bitch who can handle this monster will do." He grabs his crotch and gives himself a squeeze as he says so. Kyle groans and leans away.

"Just tell girls that up front and I'm sure you'll be a huge success," Kyle says.

"Huge," Cartman says, shifting his hips in a way that makes Kyle laugh and cover his eyes. "That's the operative word. They're called size queens, Kyle. My dick will speak for itself."

"That's pretty much what's always done the speaking for you, I thought," Kyle says. Cartman punches his shoulder, and Kyle punches back, but both blows are weak and tired. "Seriously, what are you going to do?" Kyle asks, laughing again. "Just whip it out at a party and see who's interested?"

"Somebody will be," Cartman reasons, and he seems to believe this, so Kyle laughs harder. Over on the bean bag chair, Butters moans in his sleep, and Kyle covers his mouth to quiet himself.

"How big are you, anyway?" Kyle asks, because Cartman probably expects people to believe that he's two feet long at least.

"Eight and half inches, thick and juicy," Cartman says, and he's either grinning proudly or beginning to find this funny himself, his left canine tooth showing. Kyle falls over onto the couch, not even sure why this is so hilarious, except that it's almost four in the morning and he's delirious with exhaustion. Over on the bean bag chair, Butters makes another complaining noise in his sleep, twitching.

"Holy shit, he's humping it," Cartman says, and Kyle laughs so hard his eyes water, trying to bury the sound of it in the cushions. He rolls against them and stretches out across the couch, worming his feet between Cartman's bulk and the cushions until they're pressed behind the small of Cartman's back.

"Move," Kyle says, unable to wrench his eyes open again once they're closed. "I'm sleeping here."

"Yeah, right. You're not Jewing me off my own couch."

"Go up and sleep in your bed!" Kyle says, his voice muffled. "It's fucking freezing down here anyway." It actually helps to have his feet and ankles covered up by the oppressive weight of Cartman's body, which is always overheated. Kyle falls asleep quickly, only a little concerned about how weird that last conscious thought was.

The sound of the television mingles with Kyle's dreams, which are strange, mostly about earthquakes and being buried under rubble. They're not nightmares exactly. When he wakes he feels overly warm, and he realizes that someone has put a heavy comforter over him. He tries to shift underneath it, but it's so heavy that it's pinned him to the couch. It's Cartman, actually, stretched out behind him and slumped halfway onto him. Kyle thinks of complaining, but he's too tired. Cartman's body heat is like a very effective blanket, and his big stomach is pushing against Kyle's back in a way that's sort of comforting. Kyle is nearly asleep again when he realizes that the wet heat on the back of his neck is Cartman's open, drooling mouth, which is disgusting, but he falls asleep again anyway.

He has anxious dreams after that. When he twitches and shifts, trying to roll over, Cartman growls under his breath and puts his hand on Kyle's hip to keep him still. Annoyed, Kyle presses back, trying to shove him off, and that's when he feels it. Eight and a half thick, juicy inches, rock hard against the crack of Kyle's ass.

Kyle still isn't fully awake, but he's definitely more alert. He blinks his eyes open, but the basement is dark and windowless, so he can't see anything. He wiggles a little, trying to figure out if Cartman is awake at all. It's hard to tell. When Kyle's ass rubs against his cock, Cartman makes a low, pleasured sound and hitches his hips to meet the friction, nudging Kyle's ear with his nose. Kyle's heart is pounding, and his cock is getting hard, his mind still too foggy to process this. The idea of getting off on Cartman is too ridiculous to seriously contemplate, but at the moment his hugeness makes him seem less like the fat little bully Kyle has known since pre-school and more like an actual man, maybe because Kyle can feel the stubble on Cartman's jaw against the back of his neck. He shifts his hips back again, timid but curious, and Cartman's hand tightens over his hip. Kyle is getting very hard now, needy, and he can't believe how fucking big Cartman's dick feels through his jeans. He wants to feel more of it, wants to pull his pants down so Cartman can slide it through his crack properly. Cartman is breathing faster, and so is Kyle. He needs to touch himself, or roll onto his stomach and hump the cushions until he comes, but this is insane. Clyde is asleep on the floor, and Butters—

"Stop," he whispers, and Cartman goes still. His heart is pounding against Kyle's back, and Kyle is sorry he said anything, his cock aching inside his jeans. For a few tense moments they're both completely motionless, and Kyle arches needfully when Cartman licks his neck. He's relieved, he wants— more.

"Mhm," Cartman moans when his hand slides down to feel Kyle's cock through his pants. Kyle opens his legs like a slut, pushing into Cartman's grip. It's as if this is happening in a vacuum— the room is so dark, and Clyde and Butters seem very far away— and Kyle just needs to get off, he needs to come, he's going to come so hard.

"Fuck," he whispers, and he bites his lip to shut himself up. Cartman isn't holding back now, covering Kyle's neck with rough kisses, his scratchy jaw making Kyle's skin burn. He's massaging Kyle's cock just as roughly. Kyle has never been touched there before, not by somebody else. He's never really had any experience with another person, and the last person he ever thought he would do this with is Cartman, but it feels good, and he reaches down to press his hand over Cartman's, trying to guide it.

Cartman shudders violently, panting against Kyle's neck, and Kyle knows he's come. He's going to himself, his legs opening wider and his hips jerking desperately. He's right on the edge, but he can't stop thinking of the others in the room, wondering if they've heard anything.

"Come on," Cartman whispers, his lips moving on Kyle's ear. "Cream those panties for me, Kyle."

The stupidity of that actually breaks the spell somewhat, but Kyle is too close to care. He grits his teeth and throws his head back, rubbing frantically against Cartman's palm until he's spilling out, filling his boxers with come. It's a tremendous, bone-melting relief, at least until Kyle hears how hard he's breathing and his fear of being caught returns. He half expects Cartman to start laughing and bragging to Clyde about what just happened, but Cartman is still kissing his neck, licking over sore places that Kyle can only pray won't turn into bruises. He feels half-eaten, newly tired, and he just wants to sleep again, but Cartman is pushing his hand up under his shirt, rubbing his fat fingertips into the indents between Kyle's ribs, and what the ever loving fuck is happening?

"Move," Kyle whispers, elbowing his way out from under Cartman's weight.

"Hm?" Cartman shifts back, his hand still under Kyle's shirt. "Where are you going?"

"I have to—" Kyle winces. "Clean up."

He clambers over Cartman and ends up stepping on Clyde, who shouts and curses. Kyle stumbles away from him, tripping, and he hears Butters waking with a startled moan, beans shifting when he sits up to see what's the matter.

"There's a bathroom down here, dumb ass," Cartman says bitterly when Kyle jogs up the stairs. Kyle pretends not to hear him, and doesn't stop in the upstairs bathroom to deal with the sticky mess that's already gotten cold between his legs. The light of morning stings his eyes, and he realizes as he pushes out into the freezing air that he's forgotten his coat. He slams the door behind him and doesn't risk going back for it.

He'd be able to convince himself that what just happened was all a dream if his thighs weren't slimy with the evidence that it was real. Tucking his arms across his chest, he keeps his eyes on the ground as he walks, afraid that the first person who sees him will know that he just had a sexual encounter with Eric Cartman. Kyle groans and gnaws on his lip, hating himself. Cartman will tell everyone. Maybe. It's possible that he doesn't want people to know that he's into guys, and Kyle can't even get his head around that himself. He was sure that Cartman was straight, and maybe he is, maybe he was just trying to fuck with Kyle's head. Kyle reaches up to touch the left side of his neck, fingers shaking. His skin is raw from Cartman's stubble, from his kisses. Kyle groans again, drilling his palms into his eyes. He wants to take it back, can't deal with this.

When he gets home he's glad that only Ike is in the living room as he passes through. Ike is in his pajamas, eating cereal. He's a model son, handsome and brilliant, as well-liked as he is promising. Kyle sort of hates him lately.

"Whoa," Ike says. "Did you actually go out drinking last night? You look like shit."

"Fuck off," Kyle mutters, hurrying up the stairs. He goes into his bedroom, dying to get out of his clothes and take a long, hot shower, and he almost shouts with surprise when he sees someone in his bed. It's Stan, fully clothed and fast asleep, lying on his stomach. Kyle's trash can has been pulled over to the bed, and Kyle grunts angrily when he sees that Stan only mostly managed to puke into it last night. The rest is on the carpet.

"What the hell are you doing?" Kyle hisses, going to the bed. He shakes Stan awake, not in the mood to respect his hangover. Stan lifts his head and squints at Kyle. He looks miserable, pale and ashen with bags under his eyes, and there's some dried puke on his chin. "Do my parents know you're here?" Kyle asks, wanting to hit him. He's way too tired and freaked out for this shit.

"Mhm, no," Stan says. He rolls onto his back and coughs, rubbing his eyes. "Shit, what time is it?"

"Eleven o'clock," Kyle says, his eyes widening when he realizes this himself. "Dude, what the fuck?"

"Sorry," Stan says. He puts his hands over his stomach and moans, his eyes closed. "I just had the most fucked up night."

"Tell me about it," Kyle mutters, because he knows Stan won't ask. He only ever wants to talk about himself when he's suffering after a binge. "Thanks for puking on my floor, asshole."

"Oh, shit, dude, I'm sorry." Stan lifts his head as if he's going to get up, then flops back down again, wincing. "I'll clean it up, I promise."

"I'll fucking do it," Kyle says, because Stan never cleans anything to Kyle's standards, especially puke stains. Kyle sighs and goes to his closet for his personal cleaning supplies. He and his mother disagree about the effectiveness of brand name products versus generic.

"I couldn't go home," Stan says when Kyle returns to the bedside and kneels down to deal with the puke, trying not to gag. The come in his pants is drying now, getting itchy, and he keeps catching himself thinking that it's Cartman's, as if Cartman stuck his dick down the front of Kyle's pants and unloaded there. "My dad said he'd take my car away if I came home wasted again," Stan says.

"He probably should."

"Dude, you know I don't drive when I'm fucked up. I walked here. Froze my ass off."

"Poor you."

"Seriously, you don't have to do that," Stan says. He rolls over and lets his head hang off the side of the bed, watching Kyle scrub the carpet.

"I'm not leaving it to sit here until you recover," Kyle says. They're quiet for awhile, Kyle scrubbing and Stan sniffling.

"How was your New Year's Eve?" Stan asks. Kyle laughs darkly, because Stan is feeling so guilty that he's actually trying to make small talk, and because Kyle's New Year Eve was pretty fucking indescribable.

"Same old shit," Kyle says, though he actually wants to tell Stan, just to have someone to talk to. He can't, because he's lucky Stan even speaks to him now that Stan is cool and Kyle is a dork. Telling Stan that he's low enough to let Cartman stroke him off would destroy whatever respect Stan still manages to have for him.

"Mine was a fucking disaster," Stan says. He sighs. "I, uh. I think Karen McCormick blew me."

"What?" Kyle says, and he tries to dial it down, because he sounds like his mother, but his eyes are popping out of his head when he gapes at Stan. "Are you— she's like— five!"

"Fifteen," Stan says, rolling his eyes.

"Yeah, and you're eighteen now, dumb shit! You could get—"

"I know, okay, I know! I was drunk! And fuck the jail bait laws, I wouldn't even make it that far. Kenny would straight up murder me if he knew, so you can't tell anyone, okay? Especially not Cartman."

"Why the hell would I tell Cartman?" Kyle asks, and his face gets hot, so he pretends that the carpet needs further scrubbing.

"I don't know," Stan says, mumbling. "Aren't you guys, like, best friends now?"

"No," Kyle says, glaring at him. "You're my best friend. Though you're also the dumbest motherfucker on the planet, Stan, my God."

"I know." Stan moans and covers his eyes with his hands. "I'm so fucking done with drinking, and these fucking parties, and everything—"

"Uh-huh," Kyle says, because he's heard this before. "I'm serious this time, dude. I mean, fuck, I haven't even sent off a single college application. This is bullshit. I can't keep doing this."

"Don't have to tell me," Kyle says. He finishes cleaning and picks up the soiled trash can, wincing at the contents.

"Oh, shit, you don't think Karen will tell anyone, do you?" Stan asks when Kyle is heading toward the door with the trash can. He'll have to clean it with the hose, which will be fun, since it's like below forty outside.

"I don't know, dude," Kyle says. He thinks of Cartman and feels queasy. No way will he tell anyone. Kyle should have stuck around to make sure, though. It's possible that Cartman will brag to Butters, and Butters would tell the whole fucking school—

"What's wrong?" Stan asks.

"Huh?" Kyle looks down at the trash can. "Oh— nothing, I just really want a fucking shower. I can't believe you just— you always do this to me, dude—"

"I know, I'm sorry, but not anymore, I swear, I promise. This is rock fucking bottom, dude."

Kyle rolls his eyes and leaves the room. He manages to sneak out into the backyard with the trash can and clean it without his mother noticing, and he's freezing cold again by the time he returns to his room. Stan is asleep, curled up in the fetal position and hugging Kyle's pillow. Kyle strips out of his clothes and buries them in his hamper under less incriminating garments, just in case his mother gets a wild hair and decides to do his laundry for him this week. Kyle has been doing his own since junior high, partly due to come stains, though he's usually careful and prepared enough to avoid them. Mostly he just prefers the name brand detergent that he pays for with his own money.

In the shower, Kyle cleans himself thoroughly, paying special attention to his neck. He examined the marks in the mirror before climbing under the water, and they're not as bad as he feared, shallow and already fading. He experiences a troubling pang of arousal as he washes his ass, remembering what it felt like to press back against Cartman, his cheeks spreading around the shape of that big dick, and he pinches his eyes shut, trying to will the thoughts away. The worst part was that he was proud of himself for being able to arouse Cartman, that he was actually turned on by how badly Cartman seemed to want him, and what the fuck is that? He groans and washes his neck again.

He returns to his room in his robe and puts on a fresh pair of boxers, sleep pants, and a long-sleeved thermal shirt. All he wants to do is sleep, so naturally Stan is hogging half of his bed. Kyle kneels at the foot of the bed and unties one of Stan's boots, then the other, and he slides them off so that Stan won't make his bed any dirtier than he already has. Stan moans, and Kyle isn't sure if he's being scolded for waking him or thanked for taking care of him. Probably a little of both. Kyle climbs into the bed and pulls the blankets up over both of them, rolling toward the wall. Stan follows him there and spoons up behind him.

"Your hair's wet," Stan mutters, burying his face in it.

"No shit, Sherlock." Kyle finds Stan's hand and hugs it against his chest. They've always done this, and Kyle has taken varying kinds of comfort in it over the years, but ultimately it's just brotherly and automatic, because, even now, they're closer to each other than anyone else in the world. They've both woken up to each other's boners before, and there's never been any threat of dry humping. They just make fun of each other and roll apart when that happens.

It's what Kyle should have done this morning with Cartman. He hates himself for behaving so whorishly, even if he was half-asleep in the disorienting dark of that basement. He still wants to tell Stan, if only to top his story about Karen McCormick: Yeah, well, I got a hand job from the fat ass. It was a fucked up night all around. He can't risk losing Stan, so he just lies there trying to sleep, listening to Stan's breath as it wheezes from his stuffy nose. Cartman is probably still asleep on that couch, happily making plans about the many ways he'll be able to hold this over Kyle's head for the rest of their lives. That, or he told Clyde and Butters to get out and is crying into the cushions. Kyle pulls Stan's hand up under his chin and curls against him more snugly, hoping that's not the case. Either way, he knows he'll pay for that orgasm dearly.

At school on Monday, Kyle spends the entire day terrified that Cartman will reveal his shameful secret, but by the end of the day he's thinking of it as their shameful secret, because Cartman seems to be planning on keeping it, too. He's acting as if he forgot that it happened, laughing at his own bullshit jokes as usual, ragging on Kyle like nothing has changed between them, and in general behaving as if he wants to ignore the whole thing, too. It's a huge relief, until Tuesday morning, when Cartman takes Kyle aside and asks if he can talk to him about something.

"I have to get to class," Kyle says. He'd spent the whole night thinking he was in the clear, beginning to wonder if he'd imagined the Couch Incident himself.

"It'll only take a second, Kyle," Cartman says, pulling Kyle into the alcove near the vending machines. Kyle groans and braces himself to be blackmailed, his face getting hot. He would ask Cartman if they could at least do this after school, but he knows what kind of answer he would get.

"What?" Kyle asks, trying to use his surliness as shield.

"I just wanted to let you know," Cartman says, doing the pretend-friendly thing he always does right before he strikes a death blow. "I'm dating someone now."

Kyle snorts and looks away, not sure how this is going to fit into Cartman's plan to blackmail him. Kyle spent most of yesterday trying to console himself with the fact that Cartman had no evidence that Kyle consented to a hand job, but he knows Cartman is too creative to let that stop him.

"Okay," Kyle says when Cartman just stares at him. "Who?" He braces himself to hear Cartman say, you, Kyle.

"Butters," Cartman says instead, and Kyle barks a nervous laugh.

"Um, wow," Kyle says. He looks around Cartman's heft to make sure no one is witnessing this conversation, though Cartman isn't standing particularly close and doesn't seem to be preparing to start screaming about how he and Kyle touched wieners. "Why are you telling me this?" Kyle asks.

"Because you're my friend, you stupid Jew," Cartman says, but even this doesn't have much fire behind it. "And it's a secret," Cartman says, moving closer and lowering his voice. Instinctively, Kyle backs away.

"I won't tell anyone," Kyle says. Cartman smiles in that way that always inspires worry.

"Oh, I know you won't, Kyle," he says. "Because I know a secret about you now, don't I?"

"Whatever," Kyle says, trying to walk around him. Cartman blocks his path, and meeting his eyes is horrible, because he's still smiling like he's thinking about the way Kyle arched and pushed against his hand that morning in the basement, and Kyle knows his face is blazing. "Move!" Kyle says. "I'm not going to tell anyone your lame fucking secret about Butters, okay? Nobody cares what a bunch of dorks do with each other, anyway, trust me."

"I'm glad you feel that way, Kyle." Cartman steps aside, and Kyle hesitates, the sickening feeling that he's missed the catch growing in the pit of his stomach. "I appreciate your understanding. I just wanted to give you the heads up, you know, also, because Friday nights might be kind of different now."

"Different how?" Kyle asks. The late bell is ringing and he wants to run, but he's never been good at walking away when Cartman is obviously setting him up for something.

"Well, Butters might sit in my lap during Knights of Templar, for instance," Cartman says. Kyle can't control the look of disgust on his face, but Cartman doesn't seem perturbed.

"Terrific," Kyle says. "But. Wait. How the fuck did this happen? On Friday night--" He stops there. He was going to bring up the fact that they were still openly making fun of Butters together on Friday night, laughing when Butters humped the bean bag chair, but, on second thought, it's probably best to not talk about that night at all.

"Me and Butters went to McDonalds together on Saturday morning," Cartman says. Kyle snorts.

"Wow," he says when Cartman leaves it at that. "Sounds magical."

"Oh, it was, Kyle. It truly was. We spent the whole day together. He's really pretty fucking cute, you know? Don't you think? Because you would have an opinion on that, since you're--"

"Okay," Kyle says. "I see what you're trying to do."

"Excuse me?" Cartman says. He tucks his arms behind his back and leans slightly forward, batting his eyelashes. "Whatever do you mean?"

"Never mind," Kyle says, not willing to stand around in the middle of school discussing Cartman's pathetic attempts to make him jealous. "Just -- you know, I'm aware that Butters likes girls."

"Oh, so am I," Cartman says. "But you seem to have forgotten that Butters is bisexual."

"Jesus, he was nine when his parents sent him to that camp, and that whole thing only started because you put his dick in your mouth!"

"Well, that's neither here nor there," Cartman says. Kyle is hyper-aware of the fact that the late bell will ring in less than two minutes, but he still can't drag himself away from this idiocy.

"Look," Kyle says. "I don't know what your game is--"

"My game, Kyle? I'm hurt."

"Oh, shut up! You'd just better not be bullying poor Butters into playing along. I'm going to talk to him after school, and if he seems at all nervous about this--"

"Go ahead and talk to him," Cartman says, his calm fading as he leans down toward Kyle. It's easy to forget when they're sitting on the couch together, but Cartman is almost a foot taller than Kyle, something that never fails to fill Kyle with impotent rage. "Me and Butters have nothing to hide," Cartman says. "Not from you, anyway. You're the one with something to lose here, Kyle."

"Yeah? And what's that?" Now he has less than one minute to get to class.

"Your pathetic dreams of being butt buddies with Stan," Cartman says. "If he knew that you'd been tainted--"

"Oh, fuck off, Cartman!" Kyle says, trying to hurry away. Cartman blocks his path, of course, wall-like.

"We all make mistakes, Kyle!" he says. "Even me, obviously. Huge mistakes! But Butters knows all about those brief, shameful moments when I indulged your whorish behavior--"

"Get the fuck away from me!"

"--And Stan doesn't! So if I were you, I would just focus on keeping my romance with Butters a secret, because obviously he cares about me deeply, and I just want to protect him, you see, from ridicule--"

"You are insane!" Kyle says. The late bell is ringing, and he's able to shove Cartman aside and dash around him. "Just leave me alone!"

"Fine, Kyle, but you remember what I said! About QB!"

Cartman still calls Stan 'QB,' even though Stan hasn't been quarterback for any team since they were in middle school. The height of Stan's football playing glory was getting to postseason in eighth grade and losing, but his days of wearing a jersey to school on Fridays were around the time Stan and Kenny started becoming one thing and Cartman and Kyle became another. The difference lies somewhere between fighting over Knights of Templar and getting high while chasing pussy. Kyle is over it, annoyed by what Kenny has become and grateful that Stan still talks to him. Cartman still holds a considerable grudge, especially against Stan.

Kyle is late for History, but he's too angry to really care. Cartman has told Butters about what happened. Butters will tell Clyde, and Clyde will tell Craig, who -- well. Kyle isn't actually sure how that will play out. If he's right about thistownsucks being Craig, hopefully the asshole would have some sympathy for a fellow gay boy and keep his secret. Still, Kyle feels exposed and nervous. He actually thought Cartman might be human about the whole thing and keep quiet, but no. Of course he's "dating" Butters in the aftermath, and warning Kyle off of telling anyone, as if he fucking would.

Actually, the first thing Kyle does when he falls into the passenger side seat of Stan's car after school is tell Stan about this Butters and Cartman thing. Because he's Stan, and this is bothering Kyle, and Stan won't tell anyone.

"What the fuck?" Stan says, and Kyle feels better already. Since Friday night's drunken adventure with Karen McCormick, Stan has been lying low, staying sober and hanging out with Kyle. Like old times.

"I know," Kyle says, his heart pounding when he imagines Cartman taking revenge for this, telling Stan about what happened. Kyle could always deny it. Stan would never believe Cartman over Kyle, and he might even kick Cartman's ass for trying to start a rumor. "It's fucked up. I think we should go see Butters at Yogurtplex and make sure Cartman isn't forcing him to do this."

"Okay," Stan says, though he doesn't sound very enthusiastic about this plan. "But if he was, how would that be different from anything ever? Cartman is always forcing Butters to do stuff. Nothing we say to Butters is going to convince him to grow a pair."

"I just have a bad feeling about this, Stan!" Kyle realizes too late that the volume of his voice is incriminating. Stan raises his eyebrows.

"Fine," he says. "Yogurtplex sounds good right now, anyway. I'm fucking starving."

"You're always starving," Kyle says. With Stan, it's charming. If Kyle was with Cartman, he might have said something like, do you really need a mountain of chocolate yogurt with sprinkles and caramel sauce right now, fat ass?, and they would have gotten into a fight about the healthfulness of Yogurtplex, Cartman claiming it was low calorie because it was frozen yogurt and not ice cream, Kyle pointing out the disgusting amount of sugary toppings that Cartman always put on the 'healthy' stuff.

For a moment, he actually feels kind of terrible, but that's just Cartman trying to fuck with his head. Kyle is well within his rights to wish that the basement incident had never happened, and this bullshit with Butters just proves that he never should have trusted Cartman to touch his dick, anyway. He shifts in his seat when the memory hits him with a combination of arousal and sharp disgust.

"You okay, dude?" Stan asks.

"Yeah," Kyle says. "Just worried about Butters."

Stan snorts.

"Well!" Kyle says. "Cartman is dangerous, Stan!"

"Dude, you're the one who's friends with him."

"Not really," Kyle mutters, and the guilt returns.

At Yogurtplex, Butters is behind the counter in his uniform, complete with visor. He's slicing strawberries for the fresh fruit topping area. He looks annoyingly cute in plastic gloves and an apron.

"Hey, fellas!" he says. "Welcome to Yogurtplex!"

"Butters," Stan says, moaning. He grabs a paper cup and heads over to the dispensers.

"Hey," Kyle says, though normally his reaction would be Stan's. There's no one else in the store, and Butters should be pretty confident by now that Stan and Kyle aren't just secret shoppers sent in to Yogurtplex to make sure he greets every customer with that phrase. "How are you?" Kyle asks while Stan fills a large size cup with peanut butter and strawberry yogurt, his usual order. He'll put chocolate chips and coconut flakes on top.

"Well, I'm great!" Butters says. "How are you?"

"I'm fine. I was hoping maybe we could talk for a minute, if you're not too busy? About, um. Cartman?"

"Oh!" Butters blanches noticeably, to the point that Kyle wants to shout 'A-ha!' and point his finger. He restrains himself. "Well, okay," Butters says, and there go the fists.

"Aren't you going to get ice cream?" Stan asks, startling Kyle, because there are certain elements of talking about Cartman that can't be heard by Stan. Kyle is sure Butters has been warned not to drop the bomb until Cartman gives him the okay, so he relaxes a little.

"It's frozen yogurt, dude," Kyle says. "Not ice cream."

"Whatever. Are you getting any or not? Cause I'll pay for yours if you do."

"Seriously?" Kyle beams. He loves a free lunch, even a free snack. "How come?"

"To make up for all the puke cleaning you've been doing recently," Stan says, and he glances at Butters like he's intruding on their moment.

"Okay, yeah," Kyle says. "I will have some. Thanks."

Kyle gets green tea yogurt with white chocolate chips. He likes to keep it simple, especially because mixing the flavors often produces a grayish puddle at the bottom of the cup during consumption. Stan teases him for being boring while he pays. If Cartman was here, he would claim that green tea yogurt is faggy, and that white chocolate chips are even faggier.

"So, Butters," Stan says as he's accepting his change. "Kyle is worried about you."

"Dude!" Kyle says, frowning. Stan shrugs.

"What?" he says. "You are."

"That's real nice of you, Kyle," Butters says. "But I'm just fine, promise!"

"Are you seriously dating Cartman?" Kyle asks, going red just from using the words 'dating' and 'Cartman' in the same sentence. Butters nods solemnly.

"It's a secret, though," he says, whispering. "My parents would ground the heck out of me if they knew. They're not too keen on Eric."

"Can you blame them?" Kyle asks. "I know we hang out with him and everything, but Cartman is pretty awful, Butters. He makes fun of you all the time. To your face."

"That's just how Eric shows someone he cares!" Butters says. "He's like a wild animal, you know? Sometimes the only way he knows how to show affection is by biting you."

"Okay," Stan says, grabbing a spoon. "I'm gonna go sit over there while you guys hash this out."

"Since when do you like guys?" Kyle asks Butters, glad to have Stan out of earshot. "You're always telling us that just because you want to be a girl doesn't mean you're not attracted to them."

"I don't want to be a girl," Butter says. "I just want to dress like one. I like my wiener right where it is, thank you very much, and I like boobies a whole lot, but I don't want to get any stitched on my chest, that's icky. I'd rather just rub my face in 'em, you know? And the thing about Eric is -- he's got boobies. Big, squishy ones. And I like 'em, Kyle. A-and you're just gonna have to accept that if you wanna keep being friends with us."

"So you're not gay?" Kyle asks, confused.

"Gee, I don't know. I guess I'm still figurin' the whole thing out. A fella my age has the right to do that, doesn't he?"

"Well, of course, but -- Cartman? You're going to figure this out with Cartman?"

"Looks that way, yeah," Butters says. "Anyway, you don't have to worry about little old Butters. It might not always look that way, but I learned how to handle Eric and his bullcrap a long ways back."

"I just don't understand how this happened," Kyle says. For the second time today, he knows he should walk away from a conversation and can't. "You guys went to McDonalds? Did he proposition you over fries?"

"They were hashbrowns, friend," Butters says. "It was a breakfast service. And why're you so interested in all this, anyway? You expect me to start kissin' and tellin' or something?"

"Ugh, no. Please don't. It's just, uh. Well, I talked to Cartman this morning. He came up and made his announcement about all this, and he mentioned that he told you about--" Kyle checked to see if Stan was listening, but he was way on the other side of the restaurant, watching a report about the NFL draft on a wall-mounted TV. "Cartman said that you know about what happened that morning," Kyle says, keeping his voice low.

"What happened?" Butters says.

"On the couch," Kyle says, hissing now. "In Cartman's basement. I just wanted to make sure you know not to tell anyone about that. Ever."

"What happened on the couch in Cartman's basement?" Butters asks, so loudly that Kyle wants to reach across the counter and slap his hand over Butters' mouth. He whirls around to check Stan again. He's just eating his frozen yogurt, seemingly uninterested in the conversation.

"Cartman didn't tell you?" Kyle asks, his heart starting to race again. Of course. This was Cartman's game: now Kyle has implicated himself to the biggest gossip in school. Cartman didn't need to say anything to Butters himself. The fact that Cartman still manages to pull this kind of shit on him makes Kyle want to trash the entire fresh fruit area in a fit of rage.

"Tell me what?" Butters asks, eyebrows arching. "Oh, golly, did you guys finally have a moment? Is that why Eric suddenly wanted to suck me off and buy me breakfast?"

"Suck you--?" Reeling, Kyle forgets to check if Stan can hear until it's too late: he's just said the words 'suck you' in a devastated tone in the middle of Yogurtplex, full volume. Now he's afraid to look over his shoulder, and he grits his teeth at Butters instead. "And what the hell do you mean by 'finally?' And 'a moment'? And -- oh, just forget it, Butters!"

"Well, geez, Kyle, there's no reason to get upset!"

"I'm not upset! Stan!" Kyle heads for the door, scowling. "We're leaving."

"Kay," Stan says, and he follows Kyle out into parking lot. "You alright?" he asks.

"I'm great," Kyle says. "Butters sucks." He winces at the double entendre, though apparently Cartman did the sucking. "That's all. I try to do him the favor of looking out for him, and he acts like I'm -- like -- I don't even know, but I'm so over that guy."

Stan laughs and climbs in behind the driver's wheel, already nearly done with his yogurt. Kyle eats his in angry silence, his heart still beating fast. They're parked right in front of the store, and Butters is staring at them through the front window, looking confused and sad.

"Can we get out of here, please?" Kyle says. "I can't stand the sight of him in that visor."

"Alright." Stan hands his empty yogurt cup to Kyle, who does the best he can to shove it into the cup holder. "But, dude. You would tell me if you had a crush on Butters, right?"

"Stan! Fuck you! I don't have a -- oh, this is real funny to you, yeah?"

Stan is laughing as he backs out of the parking space, nodding. "Yeah," he says.

"Well, fine, but this is my social circle, okay? I know it's pathetic, but if Butters and Cartman are going to be humping each other on a regular basis, who am I left with? Clyde. Clyde Donovan, who can't go three minutes without watching a porn star fake an orgasm."

"Whoa," Stan says. "Eat some more yogurt. Calm yourself. And dude, fuck all those guys. This has been really good, you know, the last few days. Let's just hang out for the rest of senior year, me and you, like we used to."

Kyle sighs. Of course he wants that, but they've tried it, and it doesn't really work anymore. Stan will go through these periods, sometimes for weeks at a time, where he's fine with just doing Kyle's stuff: working on homework together after school, video games on the weekends, having meltdowns in Yogurtplex over Butters' social life. Eventually, Stan always gets bored, and wants to start using again, and chasing girls, and going to Denver on Saturday nights with Kenny to 'party.' He sometimes invites Kyle along, but Kyle would rather be in Cartman's basement playing Knights of Templar, even if Butters is in Cartman's lap. Though really, that last part sounds increasingly horrible.

"Are you mad at me?" Stan asks. It's his favorite refrain when he's dreading something honest that Kyle may or may not say.

"No," Kyle says. "It's just been a long, fucked up day."

"So let's go to my house and play Left for Dead," Stan says.

"Alright," Kyle says. He really prefers WoW, or at least Team Fortress, but Stan likes Left for Dead, and Kyle wants this period of Stan finding him entertaining enough to hang out with to last as long as possible.

Later that night, Kyle has trouble sleeping, preoccupied with the thought of his 'moment' with Cartman getting around to more people in school. He gets out of bed at one in the morning and logs on to Closeted in South Park, prepared to immediately log out if thistownsucks isn't online. He is, and Kyle grins when he gets a message from him after just a few minutes in the room.

thistownsucks: man where were you all weekend

thistownsucks: getting mad laid I hope

compostable_styrofoam: You know it.

Kyle blushes when he considers that, for the first time in his life, this is sort of true. Not the 'all weekend' part, or the 'laid' part, unless having a cock rubbed on his ass crack counts, but still. It feels partially legit.

thistownsucks: nice. how many dudes?

compostable_styrofoam: Just two.

He decides, for the purposes of fantasy, to count Stan, since they spent Saturday morning platonically spooning. Also, Stan paid for his frozen yogurt.

thistownsucks: they were hot?

compostable_styrofoam: Yeah.

thistownsucks: tell me, man. I'm fuckin hard up. need to live vicariously through my only homo bro

compostable_styrofoam: Well, the first one of was kind of a bear.

thistownsucks: old????

compostable_styrofoam: Nah, he was my age. Just big.

thistownsucks: big cock?

compostable_styrofoam: Fucking huge, man.

thistownsucks: thick?? long?? tell me!

compostable_styrofoam: Thick and long, eight and a half juicy inches.

Kyle is getting hard under his desk, though also increasingly uncomfortable. They've never really talked like this before. He just has to tell someone.

thistownsucks: damn that's awesome. u bottom?

compostable_styrofoam: Yah. You?

thistownsucks: yeah. guess we're not gonna become secret lovers

compostable_styrofoam: Haha! Well, I think I could be flexible.

thistownsucks: offering to fuck me? :)

compostable_styrofoam: Ummm . . .

Kyle's face is on fire now, and he puts his palm against his cock under the desk, just tentatively.

thistownsucks: just kidding bro, I would never meet a creeper from the net

thistownsucks: no offence

compostable_styrofoam: That's cool, I feel the same way.

thistownsucks: sounds like you're getting plenty of real life dick anyway. so tell me more about this big guy. were you sore after?

compostable_styrofoam: No, he wasn't rough with me or anything. It was kind of awkward, though. He's a friend. I sort of took off in the morning.

thistownsucks: oooh damn. is he out?

compostable_styrofoam: Nope.

thistownsucks: and you aren't either right?

compostable_styrofoam: Right. Anyway, like I said. Awkward.

thistownsucks: you gonna hit that again?

compostable_styrofoam: I doubt it.

thistownsucks: who was the other guy? hotter or less hot than yo friend?

compostable_styrofoam: Way hotter. He's a nonstarter, though.

thistownsucks: how come?

compostable_styrofoam: Sighhh. He's MARRIED.

thistownsucks: OMG! YOU WHORE

compostable_styrofoam: I know! It was good, though. We even held each other after.

thistownsucks: lol that's so gay. no I get it though. want to hear the gayest thing ever

compostable_styrofoam: But of course.

thistownsucks: that guy I'm in love with? my dorky ass friend? I've thought so much nasty shit about him over the years, what I want him to do to me, but about 75% of the time I just think about him holding me.

compostable_styrofoam: Damn, dude.

thistownsucks: yeah I am lame as fuck

compostable_styrofoam: That's not lame. I get it. I'm so fucking lonely sometimes.

thistownsucks: even after getting laid 2 times in one weekend?

compostable_styrofoam: That just made me feel lonelier in a way.

thistownsucks: fuck dude this is bumming me out. tell me more about the sexx. so the other guys cock was small or what?

compostable_styrofoam: No, average.

thistownsucks: what the hell is average?

compostable_styrofoam: Umm, the size of mine?

thistownsucks: lol, tru dat

compostable_styrofoam: :)

They talk for another thirty minutes, Kyle fondling his erection under the desk but never coming close to actually beating off. It's fun, making up the details of a sex life that is less confusing than his own, and when he starts feeling like he'll be able to sleep he says goodnight to probably-Craig and gets in bed. Readying his lotion and two tissues, he scoots out of his boxers and spreads his legs under the blankets. At first it's just the usual stuff running through his mind: the few fan art representations of video game characters fucking that have actually managed to arouse him, the idea of having his ass licked through a glory hole, the idea of glory holes in general. He doesn't often fantasize about himself in intimate sexual situations, because those thoughts are still too anxiety-ridden. Tonight, though, when he's getting close, he lets a memory of that morning on the couch creep in.

What gets him going is the way he described the encounter with Cartman to Craig, as if it wasn't something to be ashamed of but something to brag about. Craig was impressed by the size of Cartman's dick, and Kyle had been, too, in the heat of the moment. He whines to warn himself off of this course of thought, but it's useless to try to abandon these things once he's gotten started. His worst fantasy to date was one about Butters getting spanked by Mr. Stotch, which came out of nowhere and made him come like a goddamn avalanche. Eventually he wore that one out.

In Kyle's mind, he returns to the dark of the basement, and feels the weight of Cartman pinning him down, that hot breath on his neck. Kyle has always had a fear of being bested by Cartman, held down and controlled, and something about facing that and having it feel good was fucking fantastic. It hadn't felt like Cartman was just trying to pull one over on him, though Kyle had kept waiting for it to feel that way. Mostly he'd felt good, even triumphant, to know that he could make Cartman so hard.

He comes in his hand, arching up in that thought until it's not a thought at all, just the slow unwinding of his orgasm: Cartman wanted him that morning, and Kyle gave himself. Cartman took him. Kyle opens his eyes and feels the weight of regret settling onto his chest as his orgasm tapers off. He remembers what it was like to lie there tired and panting and feel Cartman's touch under his shirt, those sloppy kisses on his neck. That was why Kyle ran, and why Cartman is doing whatever the hell he's doing with Butters. Cartman has feelings. Real, human feelings, and they involve Kyle. He moans at the thought and rolls onto his side, covering his face with his pillow.

The subject of his own feelings is not yet open for consideration.

The following month is slow and excruciating for Kyle, because he can sense Stan's interest in continuing to stay clean fading. Stan is on his phone a lot during their homework sessions, and sometimes only grunts in reply to what Kyle says during their video game sessions, obviously more interested in what's happening on the screen than Kyle's recountings of whatever stupid, self-involved things he overheard people saying throughout the day, in the lunch line or while he was waiting for some inconsiderate junior class asshole to move so he could access his locker. He sometimes hears himself and becomes aware of how pathetic he sounds, but those are the times when he has the hardest time shutting up, for some reason.

He spends a lot of time masturbating and talking to thistownsucks online. For Kyle, a lot of time masturbating equates to doing it once nightly, and he always returns to the memory of Cartman, and to what he told thistownsucks about their tryst during their chat. He's given his chat buddy the impression that he wasn't just humped but properly fucked, that he had eight and a half thick and juicy inches stuffed up his ass until he was burstingly full and straining to take it, and he jacks off to this so often that he half believes that it really happened as he comes back down and the shame returns.

On Valentine's Day, Stan is absent from school, so Kyle is forced to walk there in the freezing cold, his nose stinging and red by the time he arrives. At lunch time, he has to choose between eating in a bathroom stall in the boys' room or rejoining Cartman, Butters and Clyde at their usual table. As he makes his way over, he's surprised to see that Kevin is sitting with them, and that he seems to be on the verge of tears.

"Well, look who decided to grace us with his Jew presence," Cartman says. "Sorry, Kyle, I think you'll find that the only kosher meals in this cafeteria can be found in Stan Marsh's pants. Oh, waittt, Stan's not heeere, is heeee?"

"What's with you?" Kyle asks Kevin, not in the mood to take Cartman's bait.

"Trish broke up with me," Kevin says, giving Kyle a hateful look, as if this is partially his fault. "On fucking Valentine's Day."

"Bitches ain't shit, that's what I say," Cartman declares happily.

"She left him for a guy who plays xylophone in a band called Panda Autocracy," Clyde says to Kyle, speaking with a mouth full of pimento cheese on wheat. Kyle makes a face, at Clyde's foul table manners and the name of that band. And the xylophone.

"That doesn't even make sense," Kyle says. "An autocracy is a government ruled by one person. Even if they're trying to amusingly suggest that an animal is ruling something, a panda is a whole species. They'd have to mention some specific panda, like 'Sexual Harassment Panda Autocracy,' for that to make sense."

Everyone stares at Kyle for a few incredulous seconds, Clyde paused in mid-chew.

"Man, fuck you, Kyle," Kevin says. He stands and leaves the table, sniffling as he hurries out of the cafeteria.

"Nice going, Jew," Cartman says.

"Oh, fuck off," Kyle moans, unwrapping his pickle.

"No, I'm seriously," Cartman says. "I hate that guy anyway, and he was getting on my nerves. Trisha Bogerman is butt ugly, by the way. It's like, why don't you just put a watermelon in the sun and drill a hole in it, Kevin, Jesus."

"Oh, my God!" Kyle says. "Sick!"

"I've done that," Clyde says, his mouth finally clear of sandwich. "The aftermath isn't worth it. Trust me."

"Geez, fellas," Butters says. "I think we oughta have a little more sympathy. Kevin really liked her!"

"He also ditched us completely the moment that bitch looked twice at him," Cartman says. "Kind of like Kyle does every time QB needs someone to clean the puke off his chin."

"Sorry you don't know what it's like to have real friends, Cartman," Kyle says. "But there's a thing called ups and downs."

"Oh my God," Cartman says. "That is the gayest thing you've ever said, holy shit. And you just lectured us about panda governments."

"I'm Eric's real friend," Butters says, sounding hurt.

"Thank you, Butters," Cartman says. "And, as everyone who is sitting here knows I've discovered: friends make the best lovers. Wouldn't you agree, Kyle?"

"No, I wouldn't agree," Kyle says. His face is getting red, but at least no one but Clyde and the alleged lovebirds can see. "I wouldn't fucking know. I don't have a lover. I've never had a lover."

"Well, that's a sad, sad story, my friend," Cartman says, clearly enjoying himself. "And that reminds me, gentlemen: I will not be able to host another thrilling round of Knights of Templar tonight, for you see, it is St. Valentine's Day, and I will be celebrating with Butters."

"Like you don't celebrate when I'm there anyway," Clyde says. Kyle has been skipping Friday nights at Cartman's house since the announcement about Cartman and Butters, hoping that by the time Stan loses interest in hanging out with him on the weekends, Cartman will have given up his charade so that Kyle can at least play video games over there without having to suffer the fakey affection Cartman slobbers all over Butters whenever Kyle is in view and the rest of the school isn't. Clyde, meanwhile, has been desperate enough to show up over there just to sit through what he describes as 'the exact opposite' of what he looks for in porn.

"Big plans for Valentine's Day, Kyle?" Cartman asks, coming up behind Kyle while he's dumping his tray. "You and Stan going to split a bottle of Wild Turkey and get each other pregnant?"

"Yeah, that's the plan," Kyle says, walking away. Cartman huffs, and Kyle feels moderately successful. He can sense Cartman's increasing disappointment that Kyle isn't falling all over himself with jealousy. Kyle only feels jealous of Butters when he's on his back in bed with his dick in his hand, timidly poking at himself with his fingers and trying to imagine what it would be like to take eight fat inches. Even then, jealousy isn't quite the right word, because he doesn't believe that Cartman and Butters are actually fucking, whatever they do in front of poor Clyde.

By the end of the school day it seems like every girl he passes is carrying something red, chocolate covered, or fluffy, some of them all three. Kyle digs out his phone and calls Stan, hoping he can at least count on a tense evening of video games and some fraternal spooning in bed.


Stan has three ways of answering the phone when he sees Kyle's name in the caller ID field: "Dude?", which means he's concerned, "Hey!", which means he's actually glad to hear from Kyle, and "Hello?," which means Kyle has interrupted him in the midst of getting fucked up.

"Hey," Kyle says flatly. "You missed school."

"Yeah, oh, Jesus. I couldn't take it, you know?" He's speaking slowly but not slurring -- pot, definitely. "Valentine's Day, man. Fuck."

"You're at Kenny's?" Kyle asks. This is best case scenario. Despite the fact that Kenny has morphed into a total fuck up in recent years, Kyle still trusts him to take care of Stan better than the other junkie randos Stan occasionally gets high with.

"Kenny's, yeah. You should come over! We're watching this, um, snowboarding freestyle competition? It's totally hilarious."

"Stan, goddammit."

"Well, I know, but look, Kyle, lookit. Token and Wendy weren't in school today, either, mmkay, because Token took her to fuckin' Vail for Valentine's Day. Get it? Vail for Valentine's Day. Fuck those fuckers. I am so much better off without that chick, dude."

"Yeah, obviously. I guess you're gonna be there all night?"

"Nnh, yeah, probably. You want to come over? You should come. Kyle!" He laughs in a way that would be sweet and indulgent if he wasn't high. As it is, it comes out sounding cruel and condescending. "Be a bro, dude. Be a fucking bro for once."

"Oh, Jesus," Kyle says. "I gotta go. Have fun."

"Yeah. I will. I will have fun, Kyle. You have fun, too, with Cartman. Jesus Christ."

"I'm not -- goddammit, fuck you! Goodbye!"

He hangs up, already halfway home from school. He has a habit of speed walking when he's livid.

By the time he gets home he's cold, angry, and not in the mood for his twelve-year-old brother to be in his room and snooping through his shit.

"Get out," Kyle says, throwing his backpack down. "What are you even doing?"

"I was hoping you had some condoms," Ike says, continuing to rifle through Kyle's underwear drawer.

"Um. Why?"

"Cause I've got a date with Cecilia tonight," Ike says. "And it's Valentine's Day." He gave Kyle a sickeningly self-assured and yet completely oblivious smile.

"Oh, my God! Ike, you are twelve. And just -- fuck you, get out of my room! I don't have condoms!"

"Fucking seriously?" Ike moans and pushes the drawer shut. "You're eighteen in three months and you don't have condoms?"

"You've been twelve for like three weeks and you need them? What is wrong with you? Sex should be a -- sacred thing, Ike! You're not old enough to understand."

"I understand more than you do," Ike says, heading for the door. "Kyle. Are you asexual?"

"Yes, Ike. I'm asexual. If that will get you out of my room, go ahead and make that assumption."

"For an asexual, you have an awful lot of cartoon porn of video game characters saved on your computer," Ike says, smirking. Kyle moves toward him as if to hit him, and Ike bolts down the hallway, laughing.

Ike leaves for his date, and Kyle spends Valentine's Day evening listening to his mother lament about what a heart breaker her youngest son is turning into, and how he's growing up so fast. Kyle hurries through dinner and turns down dessert, shutting himself in his room and hoping that thistownsucks will be online. He isn't, and the only new email Kyle has is from Cartman. It's titled 'Valentine's Day Wishes,' and Kyle is almost afraid to open it. When he does, he finds a picture of Butters in full drag, wearing a red silk dress and a wig with blond waves that fall to his scrawny shoulders. He's wearing makeup and holding a glass of champagne, sitting in Cartman's lap. Cartman is decked out in a fucking suit and loosened tie, also holding champagne, smirking at the camera and toasting his glass against Butters'. Kyle stares in disbelief for a while, wondering if Liane took this photo.

He turns his desktop monitor off and goes to bed, managing to fall asleep after a few hours of tossing and turning, too depressed to even attempt masturbation. He has bad dreams about accidentally showing up to school in a dress and having no place to hide except inside Cartman's coat, which is baggy enough for both of them in the dream.

"You smell like a flower garden, Kyle," Cartman says, sounding serial killer-esque, or at least as if this observation should be taken as a threat. Kyle wakes feeling panicked, and he scrambles up into a sitting position when he sees Stan at the window, pushing it open clumsily and trying to climb inside.

"Fuck, it's fucking cold," Stan says, dragging himself over the windowsill with a moan.

"Shh!" Kyle says. He gets up on his knees to help Stan, who is obviously wasted. "What the fuck, dude? You're getting snow on my sheets -- watch your shoes!"

"Oh, sorry," Stan says, but he doesn't seem very sorry. He flops onto his stomach and closes his eyes against Kyle's mattress while Kyle growls in frustration and moves down to take Stan's boots off for him.

"I'm so fucking sick of this, dude," Kyle says, and though it's true, he feels guilty saying so.

"Just please let me sleep here," Stan says, grabbing Kyle's pillow and hugging it to his cheek. "I had the shittiest night, Kyle. Wendy, I -- ah, fuck, I called Wendy like fifty times. She didn't answer. She's skiing with Token."

"Yeah, you told me," Kyle says, helping Stan out of his coat.

"Mhmm, and then. Kenny fell asleep, and Karen was there. I totally let her get me hard and ride my dick, man. I don't even think we, like. Used anything. What the fuck. What's wrong with me?"

This sounds so similar to many of Stan's regretful monologues, despite the raised stakes involving unprotected sex with an underage girl, that Kyle is actually surprised when Stan turns his face into the pillow and starts crying.

"Hey," Kyle says, and he rubs Stan's back, not sure how to continue. There's really nothing to say except, Yeah, you fucked up big this time, but he withholds that for now, pulling the pillow away so he can see Stan's face.

"Kyle," Stan says, and he's so broken that Kyle's eyes get wet, too. "What's wrong with me? Why am I like this?"

"Shh, just." Kyle pulls Stan into his arms and holds him while he sobs hard, his hand fisting the back of Kyle's t-shirt. Kyle has seen him pretty bad, but never like this before. He blinks a few tears of his own into Stan's hair, whispering shhh again, because he really doesn't want to get his parents involved.

"I don't know what to do," Stan says, his voice muffled, face hidden against Kyle's chest. "I don't want to feel like this anymore. I don't know what to do."

"Stan, God -- it's gonna be okay," Kyle says, holding him tighter. "I promise, we're gonna figure this out. I'm here, okay? I'm here, dude."

"Kyle," Stan says, and he's sobbing again, more quietly now. "What's going to happen to me? You're going off to college, and I'm just -- I'm gonna die like a fucking dog in Kenny's backyard."

"Stop it," Kyle says, his voice firming up. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You've made some bad choices, okay, we all have from time to time. You're going to have to deal with it. But a lot of people love you, alright, and you're going to have help. You have to help yourself, though. If you really want to."

Stan is quiet for a while, sniffling. He rubs his wet face against Kyle's t-shirt, which is soaked from his tears.

"Sometimes I don't know if I really want to," Stan says.

"You're still high," Kyle says, refusing to accept that. He pets Stan's hair and kisses his forehead. "Don't make any decisions while you're high."

"Kay." Stan softens a little and releases Kyle's t-shirt, his hand dropping to the mattress. "I love you, dude. Love you so much."

"Yeah, I know. So much love for Kyle when you're drunk."

Stan laughs sadly and squirms until he's comfortable, one arm crushed against Kyle's chest and the other locked around his back. He's quickly asleep.

In the quiet of his bedroom, Kyle realizes that his heart is slamming. He lowers his face to Stan's hair and tries to sleep, but he can't. He needs someone to talk to, someone he can trust, but the only person he really trusts is passed out on in his arms. He has no fucking idea how to help his best friend. In all these years, he never has.

The rest of February passes a bit more smoothly for Kyle, though he's still on edge about Stan, who refuses to entertain the idea that he might need therapy or some sort of medication. He claims he just needs to stay clean and that he can do it on his own, as long as he stays away from the McCormick household. Karen has informed him that they did use a condom, and that she's not pregnant, and was offended by both questions, as if Stan was accusing her of being ignorant white trash, so her infatuation with him seems to have ended. Stan is much airier about the whole incident than Kyle, who still fears that it will come back to haunt Stan somehow. In the meantime, he helps Stan research colleges and send in applications as deadlines approach.

Somewhere around the first of March, the whole thing starts to wear on Kyle in a way that it never has before. He's starting to feel like Stan's babysitter, as if Stan doesn't trust himself not to screw up if he's not constantly cowering under Kyle's judgmental stare. Stan is sweeter to him than ever, almost to a cloying degree, and even willing to play WoW with Kyle like the old days. Kyle appreciates this, though Stan's character is a hopeless liability to his quests. One day while playing online, they run across Cartman and Butters in the forest, and Kyle asks Stan if he wants to log off and go for a walk. Stan says yes; since Valentine's Day he agrees to pretty much everything Kyle suggests.

"What do you think my chances are of getting back with Wendy?" Stan asks as they're walking around Stark's Pond, which is still frozen solid, a few kids ice skating on the far end.

"Honestly, dude?" Kyle says. "Not that great. She's pretty serious about Token." He starts to say that he heard they're planning to go to the same college, but stops himself for the sake of Stan's spirits.

"It's cause Token has his shit together," Stan says. "But what if I got mine together? What if I went off to college and came back at Christmas break, like. Successful. What about then?"

"Successful like how?"

"I don't know. Acing my classes. And maybe I could get a cooler car."

"Wendy's not into cars," Kyle says, though he doesn't know her that well anymore. He just doesn't want Stan wasting his time. His last breakup with Wendy was freshman year, when Stan drunkenly told Kenny that Wendy had never had an orgasm, which quickly got around to the whole school. "I know Token has money and everything, but that's not why she's with him," Kyle says. "And it's not just his academic success, either. She really loves him, dude. You have to let her go."

Stan is quiet for a while, hands in the pockets of his coat. Kyle feels badly for him at first, and then annoyed. Stan never asks about Kyle's love life. It's true that there's nothing to tell, except that his chats with thistownsucks have gotten increasingly explicit and geared toward getting both of them off. Kyle has gotten proficient at one handed typing, and is sometimes peeved that Stan insists on staying over every Friday and Saturday night, because it means Kyle can't have his pre-sleep wank while thistownsucks describes how he'd like to be degraded before getting fucked. Kyle also kind of misses Friday nights at Cartman's house, though he can't figure out why.

Winter plods along, and Kyle quietly accepts Georgetown's offer of a partial academic scholarship. He tells only a few people, including Stan, who applied to only one school in D.C. and won't be able to afford to go unless he saddles himself with out of state loans. Kyle's parents give him a small party at the house to celebrate his scholarship and upcoming collegiate adventure, and Kyle invites Cartman, Butters, and Clyde, because without them the party would just be his parents, Ike, and Stan.

Kyle is tense before the party, because Stan has been manically accepting since Kyle told him that he'll be going to school in D.C. Stan's most realistic option is CTU, which he can commute to from home to save money.

"Dude, can we talk about the fact that we're not going to college together?" Kyle asks. It's an hour before the party, and they're upstairs in Kyle's bedroom, Kyle trying to make his hair look less awful and Stan leaning beside him, Stan's handsomeness making Kyle feel doubly self conscious. Their eyes meet in the mirror, and Stan just shrugs.

"I figure we can be roommates in D.C.," Stan says. "And I can take my CTU classes online. You can do the whole first two years online, I think."

"Oh." Kyle hadn't realized this was the plan. "Well. Yeah, I guess." He'd been planning on living in the dorms, getting the full college experience instead of sequestering himself in Stans-ville, but he doesn't want to upset Stan, so he keeps messing with his hair, feeling increasingly weird about Stan's silence.

"What?" Stan finally says. "You don't want to do that?"

"No, I do," Kyle says. "Just. I hope you'll be able to find a job."

"Well, of course I'll find a job, Kyle, Jesus. You think I'm just going to live off of you and hang around in my underwear--"

"No, dude, God! This is all just happening so fast, you know? We're graduating in like two months."

"Not fast enough for me," Stan says. "I can't wait to get the fuck out of here."

Kyle feels tense as they make their way downstairs for the party. Stan has gone quiet in the way that always makes Kyle wonder if he's wishing he had a drink, and Kyle has to wonder what it would be like to spend four years at college turning down invites to classy parties with wine and academic discussion because Stan might get wasted if Kyle brought him along or left him alone at their apartment. Kyle's mother has decorated the house with Washington D.C. themed festoonery, everything red, white, and blue, as if they're celebrating the fourth of July in March, and the fact that she's really overdone it for the amount of guests he's invited makes his anxiety intensify.

Butters arrives first, alone, and he's brought Kyle a gift, neatly wrapped in leftover Christmas paper with smiling snowmen and penguins wearing blue and green scarves. Kyle wasn't expecting gifts, and he's embarrassed by Butters' generosity. He unwraps the gift to find a ten pack of multi-colored Sharpie markers.

"I just thought they looked pretty, all lined up in a row like that, rainbow-like," Butters says, leaning over Kyle's shoulder to admire them. "Anyway, congratulations, buddy! You're gonna make a great politician someday."

"Thanks, but I don't want to be a politician," Kyle says. He glances at Stan, but Stan is doing the thing where he pretends not to share a thought process with Kyle, obviously irritated about Kyle's lackluster response to his roommate offer. "I want to be a radiologist," Kyle says, pretty sure that he's told Butters this at least once.

"Oh!" Butters says. "Well, see, that's what I thought, but then I thought, if you were goin' to Washington D.C. and all, you must want to end up in the Senate or something."

"No, thanks. I'll leave the politics to my mom. Where's Cartman?"

"Well." Butters knocks his fists together. "I guess I don't know where Eric is. We broke up, see."

"Oh, Butters, I'm sorry."

"Thanks," Butters says. "I feel bad about it myself, but I had to be honest about my feelings and such."

"You broke up with Cartman?" Stan says. Butters nods sadly. Kyle does an unintentional guffaw thing.

"I'm afraid we just weren't sexually compatible," Butters says.

"Right," Stan says. "I'm just gonna get a soda, then."

He disappears, and Kyle brings Butters into the dining room, sweating with curiosity about this development.

"How did Cartman take it?" Kyle asks.

"Well, I suppose he took it alright," Butters says, scratching the back of his neck. "He said, 'fehn, that's fehn' a lot."

"What did you mean about you not being sexually compatible?" Kyle asks, knowing he should stay out of it, but he'd been under the assumption that those two weren't having sex, just dressing up for elaborately staged Valentine's Day pictures so Cartman could send them to Kyle, who had later asked Clyde if he'd gotten one, too. He hadn't.

"Oh, you know," Butter says, sighing. "Eric's been losing some weight--"

"He has?" Kyle hasn't noticed any difference, though it's hard to tell what's going on under Cartman's ridiculously baggy clothing.

"Yeah, and it's made his boobies, you know." Butters made a vague gesture against his chest. "They're not the boobies they once were, I'm afraid. Also, you know, I tried to have an open mind about foolin' around with someone else's wiener, but Eric's is just -- well, it's too much wiener for me, Kyle! I think maybe I could handle a cute little one--"

"Was he trying to force you or something?" Kyle asks, curiosity eclipsing his dull horror.

"Oh, no, no," Butters says. "I'd have kicked him in the balls and been done with it if he had, but he was just sort of letting me try things out, you know, giving the old bi-curiousity a free reign. He'd take his wiener out and be like, 'well, Butters, do you like the looks of this?' And I'd give it a fair study, but--"

"Okay," Kyle says, nausea creeping up on him. "Enough. I get it. Anyway, um. Do you think he won't come, then? Since you're here?"

"Gosh, I don't know," Butter says. "I know he was lookin' forward to seeing you."

"He said that?" Kyle asks, stunned.

"Not in so many words, but I could tell," Butters says. "We've all been missin' you on Friday nights, pal."

"Oh, well, sorry," Kyle says. "I miss you guys, too, actually. That's why I invited you tonight. Maybe this Friday--" He broke off there, imagining Stan wandering over to Kenny's in his boredom, or snickering into his hands during Knights of Templar, making everyone feel self-conscious. "I've just been really busy," Kyle says hurriedly.

"Me too, actually!" Butters says. "Since me and Eric broke up I've had all this time to play around on Polyvore."

"Polyvore?" Kyle mutters, nervous about hearing that explained.

"It's this real neat fashion site where you can make collages and catalog your wardrobe and stuff!" Butters says, his eyes lighting up like he's talking about a visit to Willy Wonka's factory. "Course, it's just my fantasy wardrobe for now, but I'm saving up my money, and as soon as I'm off to school I'm gonna have me a big shopping spree. Wesleyan's real good about transgender folks and all that, so I'll get to wear whatever I want, an-and since I'm on scholarship, well, my parents will just have to deal with it or get out of my life!"

Kyle is happy for Butters, though a bit wary of the manic excitement in his eyes when he talks about his new life. He pats Butters' shoulder, hoping that everything will work out the way he's dreamed it. He's glad when the door bell gives him an excuse to escape a discussion about the price of wigs made from human hair.

"Dude," Clyde says when Kyle lets him in. "I haven't seen you in forever."

"I know," Kyle says.

"Did you get a girlfriend?" Clyde asks.


"Boyfriend?" Clyde grins. Kyle rolls his eyes, though he's not even sure why he's in the closet anymore, except to save himself the hassle of having a lot of heart to heart chats.

"No, no boyfriend," Kyle says. "Just school, and college stuff." Stan's college stuff. Kyle's applications were all in by October 1.

"Cool," Clyde says. "So where's the food?"

An hour later, Cartman still hasn't shown, and the party is small but lively, everyone gathered around the food in the kitchen, talking about the future and listening to Kyle's parents' officious advice about college. Even Stan seems more cheerful as he talks about wanting to do a health sciences major at CTU.

"Kyle can be the radiologist and I can be the technician," Stan says. Kyle is more in favor of that idea than the prospect of living with Stan in an off-campus apartment right off the bat.

"What's the difference?" Clyde asks.

"One of them is a doctor, and the other one tweaks the machine," Stan says.

"It's been our plan for a long time," Kyle says, which is true, to the point that it feels a little antiquated now, since Stan hasn't taken many steps toward achieving it. Still, it's not too late, and Kyle has worked out that Stan can transfer from CTU to a better school for his last two years, so that his major courses will be more intensive. It's exhausting sometimes, but he is excited about helping Stan get his life back on track.

"How about you, Clyde?" Sheila asks. "Have you gotten all your acceptance letters yet?"

"Yeah," Clyde says. "A few rejection ones, too. I'm gonna go to CCD. That way I can live at home with my parents." He says so without irony, as if this is obviously a happy ending for everyone.

There's a loud knock on the door as Kyle's mother is clearing away the bones from chicken wings and other debris, preparing for the cake. Kyle volunteers to answer the door, knowing that it will be Cartman.

On the doorstep, Cartman is dressed for warmer weather. He has no gloves, hat, or scarf, just the German officer's jacket that he wore obsessively during freshman and sophomore year. Kyle is surprised he can fit into it again. He has lost weight, maybe twenty pounds, and Kyle realizes that he hasn't really allowed himself to look at Cartman very much since that night on the couch.

"Jesus Christ, Jew, what is your problem?" Cartman asks, barreling in past Kyle without an invitation. "I'm freezing my balls off here."

"Didn't you know it was snowing?" Kyle asks.

"My coat's at the dry cleaners," Cartman says. He's got his hands stuffed in the pocket of his jacket, which is plain and brown, vintage nineteen-sixty-something, with a German flag stitched on the right shoulder. It makes Cartman look like a hipster. Kyle would never tell him so, because he likes the idea of Cartman being unintentionally ironic when he's really trying to advertise his Aryan agenda or God knows what.

"What are you looking for?" Kyle asks, because Cartman is glancing around the foyer like he's about to give Kyle an estimate for a remodeling job, looking at everything but Kyle.

"Nothing," Cartman says. "Just taking in the Jew-y atmosphere. What is that smell?"

"Teriyaki chicken wings," Kyle says. "My mom's recipe. They're really good. She's about to do the cake, though. You're late."

"Yeah, well." Cartman turns up his collar, obviously still cold. "You're not the only thing on my social calendar this evening, Kyle."

"Butters is here," Kyle says. "Just, you know. Heads up."

"Like I care," Cartman says, frowning. "I guess he told you that he broke up with me? Is that what he told you? Well, alright, fine, but only because I gave the little bitch an ultimatum. I was like, 'Ey, Butters, either you stop dicking me around and put out, or we're done.' And he's too much of a pussy to deal with my massive cock--"

"Yeah, I heard the whole story," Kyle says, wincing and holding up his hands. "Look, there's a fire in the living room. Go sit by it, and I'll bring you some chicken wings."

Cartman stares at him as if suspecting ulterior motives, but eventually he just huffs and heads toward the fire.

"Who was at the door?" Kyle's mother asks when he returns to the kitchen.

"It's Cartman," Kyle says. He gets a plate and starts to put some of the remaining chicken wings on it, then just picks up the whole platter. "Butters, are you okay with him being here?" Kyle asks.

"Well, sure," Butters says. "I got no hard feelings against Eric. Does he seem okay?"

"Yeah," Kyle says. "He's wearing that old German jacket, though."

"Oh, Jesus," Clyde says. "He thinks it makes him look hot."

"Why would Butters be uncomfortable?" Sheila asks. "Has Eric done something mean recently?"

"I'll let Butters explain," Kyle says, feeling awkward. "I'm just, uh, gonna bring these to him, and give him a second -- cause -- well, tell her, Butters."

Kyle leaves with the wings and finds Cartman sitting on the hearth in the living room, hunched over and blowing on his hands. He straightens when he sees Kyle, and Kyle notices that he's done something different with his hair. He looks like he's gotten it cut recently, maybe not by Liane this time, and he's got some sort of product in it that's making his bangs look carefully disordered rather than blown back by a strong wind. Kyle almost laughs out loud when he realizes this is why Cartman didn't wear a hat. He didn't want to mess up his hair.

"Ah, my serving wench arrives," Cartman says, eying the platter. "What, no napkins?" he says when Kyle sets the platter on his lap.

"Here." Kyle gets a box of tissues from the side of the couch. He sits down beside Cartman and puts the tissues between them, watching Cartman tear the meat off one of the wings with his teeth. "They're good, aren't they?" Kyle says, hoping that Butters is censoring himself appropriately as he explains his relationship with Cartman to Kyle's mother.

"Pretty good," Cartman says, starting in on a second wing. "My mom's fried buffalo wings are better."

"Speaking of fried things," Kyle says. "You look like you lost some weight. Did your mom spring for liposuction or something?"

"No," Cartman says. "I just stopped drinking soda. It was totally easy. Now I need to start working out and shit, so I can get all buff before I move the fuck out of South Park."

"And score lots of guys?" Kyle asks, keeping his voice low. Cartman gives him a look, wiping teriyaki sauce from his lips with a tissue.

"Yeah," Cartman says. "What the hell is it to you, Jew?"

"No, it's just." Kyle checks the doorway, but no one has appeared to interrupt. "You know. I'm, uh. Gay, as well."

"Oh, no kidding? Yeah, I kinda figured that out when you blew your load in my hand, but thanks for filling me in."

"Keep your voice down!" Kyle says, shouldering him. "I haven't really told anyone yet."

"Why the hell not? It's pretty fucking obvious."

"Yeah? Then why'd you wait seventeen years to make a move on me?"

Cartman stops eating and looks at him. Embarrassed, Kyle scoffs and checks the doorway again, sort of hoping someone will come. Cartman is still staring when Kyle turns back.

"And why'd you send me that picture of you and Butters on Valentine's Day?" Kyle asks, afraid to hear the answer to that other question. "That was so fucking weird, even for you."

"Just wanted to show you what you were missing," Cartman says, grinning.

"Oh, right. Dressing up like a girl for you and posing for incriminating pictures? Yeah, I totally cried myself to sleep with envy."

"Butters didn't dress up for me," Cartman says. "He did it for him. I'm not into that cross dressing shit. I mean, I would have put up with it if the little bastard would have blown me or something, but it was always like, 'nuuuu, Eric, I'm not sure about who I ammmm.' He seemed pretty fucking okay with being gay when I was sucking him off, I'll tell you that much."

Cartman goes red when he hears himself say this, and turns back to his wings. Kyle feels incredibly odd, mostly because he doesn't want to return to the kitchen and hopes no one will come in to the living room. He's thrilled to finally be able to talk honestly with someone about adventures in gaydom. It's jarring that Cartman seems to be the only candidate for the job, and that Kyle actually feels like he can trust him with this.

"Is that why you got your hair done and wore your old jacket?" Kyle asks. "To show Butters what he's missing?"

"I don't really give a fuck about Butters, to be honest," Cartman says, still eating wings, and Kyle believes him. He doesn't need to ask the follow up question: then why? Cartman is blushing hard now, avoiding Kyle's stare.

"What the hell are you guys doing?" Stan asks, appearing in the doorway.

"I'm making violent love to him, Stanley," Cartman says, and he picks a piece of chicken from between his teeth.

"What the fuck?" Stan says.

"It's from It's a Wonderful Life," Kyle says, standing. He feels embarrassed, as if Stan did catch them doing something, and he wipes his hands on his pants, not really sure how to proceed. Cartman is still eating wings.

"Well, the cake is ready," Stan says. "Why are you guys even in here? Cartman, Jesus Christ, I can't believe you still wear that thing."

"Sorry I'm not up on the latest metrosexual fashions like you are, QB," Cartman says.

"Why the fuck do you still call me that?" Stan asks, walking closer.

"Because you like to bend over and stare at guys' asses?" Cartman says, shrugging.

"That's funny," Stan says. "Coming from someone who just got dumped by Butters."

"Why are you even here?" Cartman asks. He wipes his hands on a tissue in a threatening manner, as if to prepare his fists for battle. "Are you out of booze money for the month? I've got a five dollar bill I could loan you if you want to go get yourself a bottle of Popov and get back to business as usual."

"Cartman!" Kyle says, shouting. "Stop! Stan, just. I'll be right there, okay? Tell my mom I'll be right there."

"What, oh, was I interrupting something?" Stan says, narrowing his eyes at Kyle. "Sorry, Jesus. Tell her yourself." He heads for the door, and Kyle groans, going after him.

"God, just let him go," Cartman says. "Fucking prima donna hippie."

Stan is already out the door and pulling on his coat. Kyle doesn't pause to get his own, just runs after him and tackles him in the front yard, grabbing him around the waist.

"Stan, please!" Kyle says, panicked at the thought that he might go off and do just as Cartman suggested. "Don't let him get to you, you know he's just an asshole--"

"Then why are you in there having a fireside chat with him?" Stan asks, whirling around and pulling out of Kyle's grip. "You were telling him about how you don't want me to move to D.C. with you, weren't you?"


"Right, cause who else are you going to complain to about how clingy and miserably fucking boring I am?" Stan asks, gesturing back to the house. "To your best friend, right?"

"Are you fucking crazy? I haven't even seen Cartman in like a month!"

"Yeah, cause I take up all your time, I know. I get it, Kyle. Have fun with your friends."

"No, please," Kyle says. "Don't go. Stan, come back inside." Kyle hanging on to him, pulling on his arm.

"I need to be alone," Stan says, shaking him off. "I know I'm this burden to you--"

"You're not, stop saying that!"

"--But I'm not gonna get fucked up, okay? I'm just going back to my parents' house. You can call later and check up on me if you want. You and my mom can have a long talk about my progress."

"Why are you being such an asshole?" Kyle asks, and he stops walking, halfway across the yard.

"I don't know," Stan says. "Just -- enjoy your party. Congratulations." Stan stops walking and moans, turning back to Kyle with both hands covering his face. "I'm sorry," he says when he takes his hands away. "I'm not mad at you, I just need to be away from people for a while."

"Please don't go to Kenny's," Kyle says, his voice shaking.

"Didn't I just tell you I'm not going to? Fucking -- let it go, Kyle. You don't have to take care of me all the time. I'm eighteen. I'm a fucking man or whatever," he says, mumbling that last part uncertainly as he turns to go.

The rest of the party is tense, and Kyle isn't even able to enjoy his cake, which is his favorite, rum raisin. Cartman eats two pieces and drinks water, which is something Kyle has never seen him voluntarily do before.

"Is Stan okay?" Butters asks as he's putting on his coat, preparing to leave. Clyde is already gone, and Cartman is hanging around in the kitchen, talking to Ike about some show they both watch.

"Stan's fine," Kyle says, and as soon as Butters is gone, he texts Stan to attempt to confirm this.

dude :(

That's all he sends, hoping this is pathetic enough to earn him a prompt response. He waits for a few minutes, and heads back into the kitchen when nothing comes, his stomach starting to get upset from worry.

"The one with the air boat was the best," Ike is saying to Cartman when Kyle walks in. "And the dry ice?"

"That one was pretty good," Cartman says, dismissively. "But the best is the one where that hooker shows up with his kid."

"Alright, boys," Sheila says, frowning and turning from the sink. "I think the party is over. Eric, thank you for coming."

"Yeah, sure," Cartman says, standing. "Thanks for the food."

Kyle never thought he would hear Cartman thank his mother for anything. He walks with him to the front door, then out onto the front stoop.

"I like how your mom just Jewed me out of the house with that 'thanks for coming,'" Cartman says, turning at the bottom of the stoop to look up at Kyle. "Real subtle."

"Shut up," Kyle says. "Why'd you have to say that shit to Stan? You can't make fun of him about that, alright? He's trying to get better and -- he's very sensitive."

"Oh, Jesus Christ," Cartman says, rolling his eyes. "Will you just get your mouth surgically attached to his asshole and get it over with?"

"Don't fucking joke about that!"

"It's not a joke! You take so much shit from him, you might as well make it official."

"Fuck you!" Kyle turns for the house. He tries to fight away when Cartman climbs the steps and grabs his shoulders, but Cartman is stronger, and he pins Kyle's back to the door easily, his breath coming in visible puffs as he leans down toward Kyle's face.

"It's just sad," Cartman says. "Too pathetic even for you. The way you arrange your fucking life around that asshole's moods. If he hasn't fucked you by now, it's never going to happen, Kyle."

"That's not what it's about with me and him," Kyle says. "We're best friends. He's like my brother. I just want him to be okay."

Cartman seems primed to continue his rant, but he must see that Kyle is being sincere, because he actually shuts his mouth. He's still holding Kyle's shoulders, looming over him, and Kyle is so cold that he almost wishes Cartman would lean down and smother him with body heat.

"I don't know how you can stand that motherfucker," Cartman says, presumably meaning Stan. "He has everything, and he doesn't even care."

"He doesn't have everything. He still has feelings for Wendy, and she doesn't give a shit."

"Oh, boo fucking hoo."

"Yeah, I guess you can't relate," Kyle says. Cartman sputters in disbelief.

"What, you think I'm pining after Butters?"

"No," Kyle says. "But I think you have feelings. For people. Even if you pretend not to."

Cartman opens his mouth, but he can't seem to figure out what he wants to say. Kyle can hear the beginnings of words at the back of his throat, little uh and ah sounds that don't quite make it off his tongue. Kyle's heart is beating fast. Cartman's hair actually looks pretty good. He looks pretty good in general. The German jacket has a slimming effect, and his eyes are sort of warm and sweet when he's taken completely off guard by something. Presumably, that's happening now.

Cartman leans in. Kyle closes his eyes, letting out the breath he was holding, and just as their lips brush an alarm goes off in Kyle's pants.

"It's my phone," he says when Cartman pulls back, not all the way, searching Kyle's eyes.

"You don't say." Cartman is still holding Kyle's shoulders. The phone rings again, and again. Kyle is frozen, waiting for someone to tell him what to do.

"It might be Stan," he blurts, knowing these words will send Cartman away. It's a relief, partly, and horrible, too. "I should get it. He might be. He might need me."

Cartman sniffs with disgust and releases Kyle, shaking his head as he walks backward down the stairs. Kyle pulls his phone out and answers.

"Dude?" he says.

"Hey," Stan says. "Look, I'm sorry about before. I ruined your party."

"No -- it's okay." Kyle wants to ask Cartman to wait, to stay, but he's already walking to his truck, which is parked on the street. He can't ask Stan to hang on, because Stan will know that he's interrupted another moment with Cartman.

"I totally overreacted," Stan says. "I just fucking hate Cartman, you know?"

"Yeah," Kyle says, watching Cartman climb into his truck. Cartman starts the engine and peels away without looking back. "I know," Kyle says, though he only hates Cartman for making him feel this way, like the ground and the sky have reversed positions. It's no less shocking to find himself here, after everything they've been through, wishing that Cartman would come back and kiss him hard.

At school on Monday, Cartman completely ignores Kyle, which has never happened before. It leaves Kyle feeling abandoned, much too alone with his confusing feelings, and Stan's company is only minimally comforting. They haven't talked again about their plans for college, and there's more quiet tension between them than ever before. When they spoon during their sleepovers, Kyle tries to pretend that the weight at his back is Cartman's, but it doesn't work, because Stan doesn't smell or feel like Cartman. One night, on the way to pick up Ike from one of his stupid dates, Kyle spots Cartman jogging along the side of the road near the river. He slows down to gawk, because it's below forty and dismal outside, and this is something Kyle thought he would never see even in the finest weather. Cartman notices a car pulling up alongside him and slows to a walk, panting.

"What?" he says when Kyle stops and rolls down the window. "You're stalking me? Move the fuck along, Jew. Nothing to see here."

"You were running," Kyle says, so stunned that he's able to forget all of their larger issues for the moment. Cartman is red-faced and breathless, wearing a zip-up fleece sweatshirt and track pants that are sagging around his still sizable hips.

"Fuck you," Cartman says. "I can run if I want to."

"You're still mad at me," Kyle says.

"I'm not mad. I'm just done with you. Done, Kyle! We're graduating in two months, and I'm getting the fuck on with my life. That's all. Enjoy babysitting that hippie for the rest of yours."

He starts running again, and Kyle drives alongside him, feeling like an idiot, but also kind of giddy, because at least Cartman is talking to him for the first time in two weeks.

"I don't even know where you're going to college," Kyle says.

"I'm not," Cartman says, huffing, every breath a visible puff in the frigid air. "College is for puh-- pussies." He's obviously struggling, his chest bouncing with every stride.

"So what are you going to do?" Kyle asks. "Work at Wall-Mart?"

"No, fucker, I told you. I'm an entrepreneur. I have a plan."

"Oh, right. Your big secret. The one I would totally steal."

"You would," Cartman says. He stops again, putting his hands on his hips and glowering at Kyle. "You more than ah-- anyone."

"Cause I'm a Jew."

"Well, yes, and for other reasons. Look, what do you want? I'm busy, shithead."

"I just wanted to say--" Kyle takes a deep breath, aware that he should probably hold this in, but he can't. "I'm proud of you. You look good. And I miss hanging out with you."

As Kyle predicted, this leaves Cartman speechless. He's still totally unprepared for sincere kindness from Kyle, who might have added, I want to kiss you, so bad, right now, I can smell your sweat and it's making me hard, oh, Jesus. He holds that back, because Cartman is frowning.

"Did Stan fall off the wagon or something?" Cartman asks. "Is that why you're bothering me?"

"If I'm bothering you, I'll go," Kyle says, hurt. Cartman's expression softens, but only briefly.

"Go," Cartman says. "Leave me in peace."

He starts running again, and Kyle drives off, his giddiness fading into disappointment that solidifies into depression by the time he reaches the movie theater and sees Ike on the curb outside, making out with a girl who is wearing a knit lavender hat and a puffy coat that's two sizes two big for her. It might, in fact, be Ike's. Kyle honks the horn and they both jump.

"Hurry," Kyle calls, rolling the window down. "I've got plans tonight."

"Oh, sorry," Ike says, loudly enough that everyone who is streaming into the theater can hear. "I know you've got a full evening of humping Stan's leg ahead of you."

The girl giggles, and Kyle wants her dead. He punches the horn again. Ike rolls his eyes and kisses the girl goodbye, murmuring something about his 'dork brother' before climbing in to the passenger seat.

"You're ungrateful," Kyle says. "I could have made you walk."

"Bullshit, Mom is making you do this."

Kyle drives back the way he came, hoping he'll see Cartman again, but he must have veered off down a side street. He puts the radio on and lets Ike change the station to the news.

"How's your girlfriend?" Kyle asks, because he feels sort of badly about the fact that he and Ike aren't friends anymore. There was a time when Kyle made Ike sandwiches and wiped peanut butter from the corners of his lips with moistened tissues. They should at least be able to get along.

"Cecilia is fine," Ike says. "We both hated the movie and made fun of it the whole time. It was awesome."

"You're not seriously having sex, are you?" Kyle asks, muttering this and dreading the answer. Ike shrugs.

"I'm mature for my age," he says.

"Well. God! You better have found some goddamn condoms."

"Yep," Ike says. "Stan gave me some."

"Stan? What? When!"

"You sound like Mom. A month ago, maybe. Around Valentine's Day. He told me not to tell you."

"Goddamn him," Kyle says, feeling betrayed.

"Oh, shit," Ike says. "Did I just start a lover's quarrel?"

"We're not lovers and you know it. Ike, just. Don't let Mom find out that you're having sex, and for fuck's sake don't tell her that Stan is enabling you. She'll find some way to blame that on me."

"Sure," Ike says. "I'll just cancel my plans to go home and have a long chat with Mom about my sex life. For you, Kyle."

"Fucking smart ass! What did I ever do to you?"

"Me? You're an asshole to me every chance you get! You honked at us!"

"How else was I supposed to get your attention? Sorry if I interrupted your attempt to seduce her again in public."

"Can you please get laid sometime this century?" Ike says. He crosses his arms over his chest and stares out the window. "I'm so sick of bitter spinster Kyle."

"Fuck you," Kyle says, though he's sick of being this way, too. It's not for lack of trying, finally. He doesn't know what else to do: stooping to complimenting Cartman for his weight loss was his last best idea.

At home, Kyle logs into Closeted in South Park, disheartened when thistownsucks isn't there. He minimizes the window and hopes he'll show up, ignoring the few instant messages he gets from randoms who want to know his age and if he has pics. Stan will be over in an hour, and Kyle was hoping he could get a wank in before then, but without thistownsucks he'll have to do it with only his porn folder as fodder, and the pictures there are getting stale. He's down to just thirty minutes until Stan's arrival when thistownsucks sends him a message.

thistownsucks: hey man

compostable_styrofoam: Hey. What's up?'

thistownsucks: nothing much, going out with some d-bag friends in an hour, thought I might stroke off a batch before then

compostable_styrofoam: Pretty much my thoughts exactly. :)

thistownsucks: soooo. gotten any action lately?

compostable_styrofoam: Yeah, actually.

Kyle feels guilty as a plan begins to form, but the day was so shitty that he wants to rewrite it.

thistownsucks: new guy?

compostable_styrofoam: No, it was that friend of mine I told you about. The guy with the big cock.

thistownsucks: ooh nice. how'd it go?

compostable_styrofoam: Pretty awesome, actually. We ran into each other at the gym. He's really into working out lately, and he was all sweaty and out of breath and shit.

thistownsucks: oh damn did you hook up in the showers

compostable_styrofoam: Hell yes.

thistownsucks: OLD SCHOOL. nice

compostable_styrofoam: Ha, yes.

thistownsucks: soap for lube?

Kyle takes his cock out, aware that Craig probably has his out, too. Any doubts that Kyle ever had that he's talking to Craig were erased last week when thistownsucks let it slip that his crush had a huge zit on the end of his nose and was still 'annoyingly fuckable.' Kyle couldn't disagree more about the fuckable bit, but Clyde definitely had a huge zit on the end of his nose last week.

compostable_styrofoam: Soap for lube, yes. We went into one of the private showers. We've both been wanting it since that last hook up, so it was really intense.

thistownsucks: fuck, did he slam you up against the tile and all that

compostable_styrofoam: Yah. He was still on this kind of adrenaline high from his workout, and he was really primal, you know?

thistownsucks: like grunting?

compostable_styrofoam: Yeah, and rough with me, but not too rough. He pinned me to the tiles, face first, and just started fingering me, breathing all hard in my ear.

thistownsucks: ah shit. did the soap sting

compostable_styrofoam: A little, but in a good way. He was still kind of mad at me because of me walking out on him last time, so he was saying stuff like, 'you like that, fucking whore?'

thistownsucks: oh shit yeah. i love dirty talk

compostable_styrofoam: Me too. And he's really good at it. He was like, 'need a dick up in that greedy hole? been wanting it, havent you?'

Kyle is mostly repeating stuff he's heard in porn, but he's getting off, so hard in his hand, throbbing when he takes breaks to type. He imagines Craig at home, his hand moving fast as he reads what Kyle writes, but mostly he's living the scenario in his head: Cartman shoving him up against a wall and digging thick fingers into his ass, making him beg for his cock.

thistownsucks: did he fuck youhard

compostable_styrofoam: So hard. Jesus, I can't believe we didn't get caught. His balls were slapping really loud against my ass.

thistownsucks: damn dude. where were his hands.

compostable_styrofoam: Holding my arms behind my back. So I couldn't jerk myself. I had to rub my dick on the tiles.

thistownsucks: were you quiet

compostable_styrofoam: No, I tried to be, but I kept moaning, his dick just felt so good, and he was like, 'yeah, tell everyone in here how much you like that dick.'

thistownsucks: unh fuck. i came lol

Kyle takes a break from typing so that he can, too. He leans back in his chair and spreads his legs wider, closing his eyes. In his head, he abandons the shower fantasy and imagines Cartman climbing into his car, still all sweaty from his run, yanking Kyle into the backseat and pounding him so hard that the car's axles squeak like mattress springs. He grabs some tissues and twists his palm around his cock one last time, coming hard just as someone throws his bedroom door open.

"Oh, fuck, sorry." It's Stan, of course, and he quickly darts back out into the hall, closing the door hard.

"Shit," Kyle whispers, cleaning himself off. It's not the first time Stan has caught him with his dick in his hand, but whatever redeeming qualities this jerk off had were just blown by the humiliation of being seen like this.

compostable_styrofoam: gtg my roommate just got home

thistownsucks: oh shit, later man. thanks for the story

compostable_styrofoam: Anytime bro, see ya

Kyle logs off, and he turns off his computer monitor for good measure. He rubs hand sanitizer between his palms before poking his head out into the hallway. Stan is there, leaning against the wall, red-faced.

"Sorry," Stan says, laughing a little. "I should have knocked."

"No, it's okay," Kyle says. He laughs, too, nervously. "Sorry you had to see that shit."

"Eh. No big deal. Can I come in now?"

"Uh, no, Stan, I'm going to go blow a couple more loads. Yeah, you can come in." Kyle knees Stan in the ass as he walks into the room, just to make sure things are still cool. Stan smirks at him.

"Were you chatting with someone?" he asks.

"No." Kyle scoffs, going red. "I was just. You know. Whatever, I'm not talking about my jerk off habits with you."

"Fine, fine." Stan sits on the bed, still grinning as he pulls something from his jacket pocket. "Dude, I have the best news."

"Yeah? What's that?"

"An acceptance letter from that community college I applied to in D.C.!" Stan says. He hands it over and Kyle examines it. "Isn't that awesome? Now I won't have to worry about transferring out of CTU or whatever--"

"Well, I figured you'd get in here," Kyle says, frowning. "I mean, right? But it's out of state."


"So, expensive. You're going to end up with huge loans, dude. If you even qualify for them."

"Dude, it's community college," Stan says, snatching the letter back. "It's only three thousand a year." He scoffs, and Kyle wants to backtrack, but he's so tired, post orgasmic and hazy. "Why don't you just say it?" Stan says. "You don't want me there with you."

"Yes, I do!" Kyle hates lying to Stan, and he turns away, groaning. "It's just--"

"What, Kyle? It's just what? You think I'm gonna get wasted every night and puke all over your textbooks--"

"No! It's just that I kind of wanted to live in the dorms, okay?"

"Why?" Stan makes a face, crumpling the letter in his fist, which is maybe the saddest thing Kyle has witnessed him do in years. "Dorms have all kinds of stupid fucking rules, and you'll be paired up with some random asshole -- but I guess any random asshole is better than me, right?"

"It's not that!" Kyle says. "It's just, ah. If I bring you with me it's like I might as well still be in South Park."

"Fine," Stan says, and he throws the letter down onto the floor. "I release you from your obligation to your former friend."

"Oh, fuck, don't be all dramatic--"

"Fuck you!" Stan says, loud enough that Kyle knows he'll have to answer questions from his parents later. "Don't be dramatic? This is my life! This was my plan! I don't want to stay in South Park, either, okay? And I can't move away by myself. God, I can't believe how fucking selfish you are."

"Me?" Kyle scoffs. "I'm selfish? I'm fucking selfish, Stan? I've given up the past goddamn month to keep you company while you try to stay clean--"

"Oh, go to hell--"

"I've all but filled out these applications for you, I've given up every Friday and Saturday night to spend time with you--"

"Like you have anything better to do!" Stan shouts. "Sorry if I'm keeping you away from Cartman and Butters, Jesus Christ. I could have been out having fun, too, okay, but I thought we were working toward something together."

"You were!" Kyle says. "And I want to help, but fuck! You never even ask me how I'm doing, you never do anything for me, all you do is take everything and throw it back in my face when I have the nerve to want one goddamn thing for myself!"

"You suck," Stan says, and the weakness in his voice makes this hurt worse than the fuck you he screamed at Kyle before. Stan leaves. Kyle locks his bedroom door so that his mother won't come in, goes to his bed, puts his face in his pillow and tries to cry, but he's still too angry to muster up anything other than some minimal eye wetness. He punches his pillow, the mattress, then his headboard, which hurts. It's so stupid, so unfair, but he wishes he would have just gone on lying to Stan until they both finished college, or forever, anything to take back what they both just said.

Thursday is St. Patrick's Day, and Kyle forgets to wear green to school. He's unable to convince Butters that his eye color counts and gets pinched on the arm. The urge to punch the simpering grin off of Butters' face is intense, but Kyle manages to swallow it down.

"Touch me and get thrown through a window," Cartman says when Butters turns to him. Kyle has been sitting with his old group since his fight with Stan, who has been skipping lunch period, probably in the company of Kenny. Kyle tries not to obsess over Stan's whereabouts, but he's so worried that he's considered calling Stan's mom to ask if he's okay.

"So I hope you gentlemen are prepared for a very special edition of Knights of Templar on St. Patrick's Day," Cartman says. "A subplot involving a leprechaun will be integrated into game play for the occasion."

"Does that subplot also involve your balls getting sucked?" Kyle asks, because Cartman hasn't shut up about that in nine years. Cartman grins, and Kyle feels it in his chest, because it's the first time Cartman has smiled at him since that night when Kyle answered Stan's call instead of kissing him.

"Sorry, Kyle," Cartman says. "But the details of this epic adventure will be shrouded in mystery until tomorrow evening."

"So I'm actually invited?" Kyle asks. He pushes black beans around with his fork, pretending not to care much.

"I suppose the time has come to lift your suspension," Cartman says, sighing as if it pains him to do so. Kyle looks up at him, and when their eyes meet that thing happens in Kyle's chest again, more sharply this time.

"Why was Kyle suspended?" Butters asks.

"Whorish behavior," Cartman says, and Clyde chokes on his milk.

"Cartman!" Kyle says, hating him again. Cartman smiles and bats his eyelashes.

"Whorish behavior is strictly forbidden in the Knights of Templar rule book," he says.

"Oh, yeah, I have the utmost respect for the rule book," Kyle says. "Considering rule number one is--"

"Jews can't win Knights of Templar!" Cartman says gleefully. "Well, Kyle, it's in keeping with the spirit of the game. The real Knights of Templar were, like, Jesus' personal secret service, so--"

"You are so full of crap!"

After having a painfully substantive fight with Stan, it feels good to fight with Cartman over bullshit again, and they go on for fifteen minutes, until Butters and Clyde get up and head toward the tray return. Kyle follows them, leaving Cartman in mid-rant, and he feels more effervescent than he has in a long time as he walks with Clyde to study hall. He's actually looking forward to stupid Knights of Templar and finding out what Cartman is up to with this stupid leprechaun, though surely it will infuriate him.

"What'll you do if he tries to get you to suck his balls for real?" Clyde asks as they're walking together toward Kyle's next class.

"Um, not suck his balls?" Kyle says. "He can't make me." Despite everything that's going on, Kyle still has no desire to put his mouth on Cartman's sweaty, probably extra hairy balls. Kyle has, however, recently given some thought to sucking Cartman's dick. Even mentally acknowledging this makes him feel dizzy, and he's not paying attention as he mutters a goodbye to Clyde, crashing straight into Craig Tucker.

"What the fuck!" Craig shouts. He's holding a smelly organic juice carton, and as Kyle backs off he sees that some of it spilled on Craig's shirt during impact. Token and Jason are with Craig, both laughing, probably because they know, like Kyle does, that Craig is obsessed with his appearance, especially his clothes.

"Shit, sorry," Kyle says, trying to scurry away. Run-ins with the real Craig were awkward even before Kyle started beating off with him over the internet.

"What the hell is your problem, fag?" Craig asks, grabbing Kyle's shirt and pulling him back. He's bigger than Kyle, and his eyes are as mean as they've been since Kyle met him in pre-school, his lip raised in disgust. "Are you high? Look what you did to my fucking shirt."

"I'm sorry, Jesus!" Kyle tries to leave again, and again Craig grabs him and pulls him back, this time throwing him against some lockers.

"Craig, c'mon," Token says.

"How'd you like it if someone threw shit all over your shirt?" Craig asks, still snarling. "Whoops," he says, and he dumps the rest of the juice onto Kyle's shirt, which makes Jason laugh harder. The juice is orange and slimy, and it drips onto Kyle's pants and shoes as he stands there in shock, staring down at himself.

"Fucking asshole!" Kyle shouts. Craig just grins and drops the empty juice carton at Kyle's feet, more of it splashing onto Kyle's shoes.

"What are you gonna do, Broflovski?" Craig asks. "Kick my ass?" He starts toward Kyle as if he's going to pounce on him, and laughs when Kyle flinches. "Fucking faggot, stay out of my way," Craig says as he walks off, flipping his perfect hair out of his eyes. Jason follows him, and Token does, too, after casting an apologetic but noncommittal look back at Kyle.

People stand staring at Kyle, some of them laughing, others just gawking. The humiliation makes Kyle's eyes water, and he tries to wipe some of the juice off with his hands, just getting it everywhere in the process. This is his favorite fucking shirt, too, the one that makes him look less skinny and defenseless than most others in his wardrobe. Obviously it wasn't enough.

Kyle walks out of school before he can start crying in front of random freshman onlookers. He keeps walking, up past the football stadium, through the woods that are littered with cigarette butts from the Goth kids, toward home. It wasn't enough for Craig to humiliate him and assault him, he had to use the fucking f-word, too. Kyle has heard Cartman and plenty of others toss it around, and it never feels good, but it's never been so hatefully directed at him like that before. He's burning with rage despite the frozen landscape and the gray sky that promises more snow. Craig probably saw him walking with Clyde, he's probably just jealous, certainly projecting his own insecure bullshit, but Kyle is not in a forgiving mood. He has a plan by the time he's working his key into the front door, his hands still shaking with fury.

Upstairs in his bedroom, he rips off his clothes and throws them into a heap on the floor, pacing around the room a bit before grabbing his robe. There's a rickety tower of toothpicks in his chest that feels like it's about to topple over or go up in flames, but there's no fucking way he's going to let Craig Tucker be the one who breaks him. He pushes out into the hallway and shouts in surprise when he almost crashes into his mother.

"Kyle!" she says. She has three ways of saying his name: condescending, demanding, or furious. This is the furious tone, and she's looking at him like he's holding a severed head by its hair. "What are you doing home from school?"

"I had to leave early," Kyle says. "I was sick."

"Oh, really? You look fine to me. Did you check out with the nurse? Did you get a note?"

"I didn't have time for all that," Kyle says, and he tries to move around her, but she grabs his arm. It makes him think of the way Craig grabbed him, the way Craig wouldn't just let him go, and he growls a little, ripping his arm away from her hand. She gapes at him before giving him a look of fury that's increased tenfold.

"Young man, you are grounded!" she says, her voice trembling with authority, or righteousness, or whatever she gets off on when she ruins his life. "You are not going out this weekend, you're not having Stan over—"

"Mom, someone dumped juice on me!" Kyle says, shouting. "My clothes were wrecked, what was I supposed to do?"

"Tell a teacher!" Sheila says, and he knew she wouldn't back down, but it still makes him mad enough to want to start stomping around like a toddler, knocking things over. "Kyle, what is going on with you? First you're fighting with Stan, now you're skipping class— are you on drugs?"

"Yeah, Mom, I'm on drugs," Kyle says, nodding. "I'm totally hopped up on pot, that explains everything."

"That's it— you will not speak to me this way! Three weeks, Kyle, you're grounded for three weeks! No using the car, no friends, no going out—"

"Yeah, good, take away the one thing I was looking forward to," Kyle says, pushing around her and thinking of tomorrow night, Knights of Templar, the leprechaun— Cartman. "That's great, thanks."

She keeps on ranting as he goes into the bathroom and slams the door, but he's stopped listening. As soon as he's got the blast of the shower to hide the sound of it, he lets himself start crying with futile rage, his fists curled over his mouth.

Kyle skips dinner, and no one comes up to collect him. He imagines his parents having a somber discussion about his delayed adolescence with Ike, who will cite psychological studies he's read about teenage boys with small to average genitalia. Kyle sits on his computer, vigilant and puffy-eyed, and when thistownsucks logs on, he's ready, no looking back.

thistownsucks: ugh hey man

thistownsucks: I had the shittiest day

thistownsucks: really glad you're on. been with big dick lately?

compostable_styrofoam: Hi, Craig.

Kyle counts the seconds, feeling like a serial killer, like Dexter, the one who wipes out the bad guys to satiate his murderous anger.

thistownsucks: lol whut

compostable_styrofoam: I know who you are, Craig Tucker. I ran an IP address search and cross referenced it with South Park internet plans. And, hey, guess what? I know who Clyde Donovan is, too.

compostable_styrofoam: :)

Kyle's heart pounds. He feels like he's spilled blood that he'll have to clean up, and like he's bleeding, too, flooding the room. He makes himself remember what it felt like to get pushed, laughed at, called a fag and covered in juice.

thistownsucks: who the fuck is this

compostable_styrofoam: Someone from your high school who's been playing a prank on you for a lonnnnng time.

compostable_styrofoam: Now I finally have enough evidence to prove that it's you.

compostable_styrofoam: I wonder what Clyde would think of the many chat transcripts I've saved where you talk about how you want him to fuck your ass?

There is no response from thistownsucks. Kyle sits at the computer for a long time afterward, not sure what he's waiting for. Closure, or revenge, justice. Nothing happens. He goes to bed feeling run over, like something on the side of the road with greasy tire marks on its matted fur: still-breathing roadkill.

In the morning, it takes Kyle a few seconds to remember why he feels a vague but heavy pall of guilt hanging over him, like he started a forest fire the night before and it might have burned out quick or destroyed a national park. When he fully regains consciousness he starts to feel more acutely terrible and nervous, but it's not like Craig knows that compostable_styrofoam is him, and even if he figured it out somehow, Kyle has too much dirt on Craig to again become a victim of his petty bullying. If anything, Kyle has an insurance policy against harassment now. He tries to feel good about that as he dresses, and he checks his email with trepidation. There's nothing new, and no further messages from thistownsucks. Dread sits in Kyle's stomach like an undigested meatball, though he can't say what he's dreading exactly.

At breakfast, he can tell that his mother is still annoyed with him. He wouldn't care, except that he really, really needs to get out of the house and hang out with his friends tonight, and he really, really wants to sleep on that couch in the basement at Cartman's house.

"Can I please go out tonight?" Kyle asks.

"I told you yesterday, Kyle, you're grounded for skipping class!" Sheila says, shaking her head. "Not to mention for all that foul back talk."

"I'm sorry!" Kyle says. "But, listen, I already made plans with my friends, and they're counting on me, and I don't want to be irresponsible or, um, unreliable, so maybe my grounding could start on Saturday--"

"Absolutely not!" Sheila says. "You are grounded for three weeks, no exceptions."

"Mind your mother, Kyle," Gerald mutters, still reading his newspaper.

"Mom, you don't understand!" Kyle says. "I couldn't stay at school!"

"How come?" Ike asks, and Kyle stabs his toast with a fork, groaning. He really doesn't want to explain it in front of Ike. It's so fucking humiliating.

"Kyle, if someone is bullying you, you know how to handle it," Sheila says, and Kyle stabs the toast again, which makes Ike laugh. "You tell an adult! Walking away is always a good idea, but leaving school entirely is not acceptable!"

"Who was bullying you?" Ike asks, and the way he pronounces 'bullying' seems to imply that it's something that only happens to a certain kind of person, the kind of loser he could never possibly relate to.

"Please, Mom," Kyle says, his teeth grit. "You don't understand--"

"Of course I do, bubbeh! But I can't let you saunter in and out of school on a whim just because you've already been accepted to college. You could lose your scholarship if you get into trouble before you graduate!"

"They're not going to take away a scholarship over one day of playing hooky!" Kyle says, unable to stop himself from shouting once he comes to the end of that statement. He feels out of control, like someone has erased the borders that were drawn around him in black ink.

"Stop shouting!" Gerald says, and he actually puts down the paper. "I think a grounding is just what you need. You're getting a little too big for your britches now that you're almost off to college. You've still got another five months under our roof before then, young man, and you're going to follow our rules while you're still here."

"Ike is having sex," Kyle says, so infuriated by that fucking speech that he feels like he could stab his fork straight through his plate. "Sex. With Cecilia."

"You fucker, what the fuck!" Ike shouts.

"What what what?" Sheila shouts. "Ike -- that can't be true!"

"You're only twelve!" Gerald says, gaping as Ike turns bright red, his jaw clicking and his gaze locked on Kyle, as if Kyle is going to feel threatened or something.

"It's not true," Ike says. "Kyle is just trying to--"

"He's got condoms in his room, go check," Kyle says. He stands from the table and throws his fork down. "I'm going to school now. Have a nice day."

"Kyle!" Sheila shouts.

"I thought you wanted me at school!" Kyle hurries out the door before any of them can offer a rebuttal, and he can hear Ike and his mother shouting at each other as he walks across the road.

He has a feeling it's going to be a bad day.

The weather is shitty and blizzard-like, and by the time Kyle arrives at school he's rigid with cold, his shoulders raised to his ears because he forgot his scarf and hat in the rush to leave the house. He sits through his first two classes still fuming about the scene at breakfast and the fact that he won't be allowed to go to Cartman's tonight, but by lunchtime he's more worried about retaliation from Craig. At their usual table, Cartman and Butters are there, and Clyde is not.

"Is Clyde out sick today?" Kyle asks, sitting beside Cartman.

"How the fuck should I know?" Cartman says. "Do you want your fries?" he asks, eying Kyle's tray. Kyle moves it slightly farther away from Cartman, frowning.

"Yes, I fucking want them. I wouldn't have ordered them if I didn't want them. Didn't you get any?"

"No," Cartman says, groaning. "I'm not eating fried shit. Not that much of it, anyway. Can I have, like, one? Please?"

Kyle stares, more shocked by the fact that Cartman just sincerely said the word "please" than anything else that's happened in the past week. He picks up two fries and puts them on Cartman's tray. Cartman devours them without thanking him, which is more like it.

"I sure hope Clyde's not sick," Butters says. "He'll miss Knights of Templar tonight if he is."

"Whatever, we can play without Clyde," Cartman says. "All he does is die pathetically and then sit around complaining that I'm not serving him wine coolers."

"Um, actually," Kyle says, muttering. "I'm not going to be able to come, either."

"What?" Cartman slams down his water bottle and stares at Kyle in disbelief. "Are you fucking serious? Why not? Stan needs someone to throw up on for the evening and you volunteered?"

"No!" Kyle says. "God, my life doesn't revolve around Stan, okay?"

"Sure fucking seems that way," Cartman says. He shoves his half-eaten lunch away angrily. "No, but that's great, Kyle, you guys have fun together."

"I'm not going out with Stan, I'm not going out with anybody! I'm grounded, okay?"

"Oh, geez," Butters says. "That's too bad, Kyle. Eric was really looking forward to having you back in the game--"

"Shut the fuck up, Butters!" Cartman says. He's really getting worked up, and Kyle doesn't have the energy for this. "Kyle is lying. He's not grounded, he's just trying to get out of--"

"Why would I lie?" Kyle asks, whacking Cartman on the arm. "I'm grounded, you can ask my fucking Mom if you want to."

"Oh, like she's not complicit in your scheme." Cartman stands and picks up his tray. He starts to walk off, and Kyle grabs the tail of his shirt, pulling him back.

"Where the fuck are you going?" Kyle asks. "You seriously don't believe me?"

"No, Kyle, I don't," Cartman says. "Why the fuck would you get grounded? Did you take the fall for one of Stan's empty whiskey bottles or something?"

"God, you are so fucking obsessed with Stan!" Kyle says, loudly enough to make some nearby nerdy girls laugh. "I skipped school yesterday, okay, and my mom caught me."

"Bullshit!" Cartman pulls free of Kyle's grip. "You never skip, you only miss school when you're sick. Look, if you want to follow Stan around some fucking party with a puke bucket, be my guest. It's no skin off my ass! C'mon, Butters, we're leaving."

"I'm still eating," Butters says glumly.

"I don't give a shit, Butters, let's go!"

"No, Eric!" Butters says. "Gosh darnit, I'm not your boyfriend anymore, and you can't tell me what to do!"

The girls at the neighboring table laugh harder, and Cartman walks away, red-faced and muttering to himself. Kyle watches him go, wondering if he should chase after him. He decides not to, because fuck Cartman if he can't trust Kyle enough to understand that he actually wants to be with him tonight, pretty much more than anything. Kyle picks up a french fry an throws it down, his appetite gone.

"Dang him," Butters says, shaking his head. "He's such a dumb shithead sometimes."

"Yeah," Kyle mutters, not in the mood to discuss it with Butters.

During study hall, Kyle feels his phone buzz in his pocket. He normally wouldn't risk getting caught to check it, but he pulls it out stealthily, because it might be a message from Cartman. He sees that he has a new text, but it's not from Cartman, it's from Clyde. Kyle's heart beats faster as he clicks to open it.

Hey can you come over after school

The study hall monitor seems appropriately distracted, possibly hiding her own phone in the book that's propped on her desk, so Kyle types a response:

No, I'm grounded. What's up?

I need to talk to you. Meet me by the soccer field right after school. Come alone

Uh, okay, Kyle sends back, his heart pounding now. Everything alright?


You going to kick my ass or something? Kyle sends, wondering if he should have added an "lol" to that.

Why would I kick your ass? I really really need to talk to you. Please kyle?

Yeah, sure, I'll be there, Kyle sends, and the rest of the day is pretty much shot, because he can't do any work or listen to his teachers, his thoughts completely consumed with dread. When he moves through the hallways he's jumpy, afraid to run across Craig, but by the end of the day Kyle still hasn't seen him.

The soccer field is behind the school, adjacent to the woods, away from the parking lot and the buses. It's covered with a thick layer of snow at the moment, and as Kyle walks along the back wall of the school he's afraid he'll have to wait a long time for Clyde to show, but then he spots him. Clyde is seated with his back to the wall, his knees pulled to his chest and his head buried in his arms.

"Hey," Kyle calls, no longer afraid that this is some kind of ambush. Clyde lifts his face and sniffles. His eyes are puffy and red. It's nothing out of the ordinary for Clyde to have a random cry fest, but Kyle's guilty sense of dread is becoming so heavy that he feels like he needs to sit, too. Clyde gets up and rubs his palms over his eyes.

"Thanks for coming," he says. His voice is scratchy and small. "I really, just. I need to talk to someone. To you."

"What's up?" Kyle asks. His voice is distorted, too, pinched with anxiety.

"Um," Clyde says. He crosses his arms tightly over his chest and looks out at the soccer field. Kyle looks, too, but there's nothing, just snow with a few trails of footprints through it. "I know Stan is like, kind of fucked up and stuff," Clyde finally says.

"Oh, shit," Kyle's dread flips over like a tarot card, red hot panic on the underside. "Something happened to Stan? What happened? Is he--"

"No," Clyde says. "No, Stan's okay, I saw him driving home when I was walking over here. He offered me a lift, but we were going in opposite directions -- just, I was wondering, though, because you're his best friend, and he has those problems sometimes, like. Has he ever tried to hurt himself?"

"What the hell is going on?" Kyle asks. The panic, dread, and confusion in his stomach reach a kind of crescendo that actually makes him feel momentarily calm, as if he's in the eye of a storm. Clyde's face pinches up again, and he winces to hold in a sob.

"Craig tried to kill himself last night," Clyde says, the sob coming out as he speaks. "He took a bunch of his mom's anxiety pills, the whole bottle, they had to pump his stomach. He had a seizure -- he almost died."

Clyde sobs again, covering his face with his hands. Kyle feels the shock that just entered his system slowly peeling away his temporary calm, and nausea seeps in through the cracks, acidic and tremendous.

"What," Kyle says. "What--"

"He's in the hospital and I want to go see him," Clyde says, still crying. "I do, it's just, I don't know what to say, I don't know what to do."

He cries harder, and Kyle moves toward him numbly, giving him a hug. Kyle can't think yet, because as soon as he lets himself think, the first thought will be, I did this, followed by the more on point, it's my fault, so he just holds Clyde and lets him blubber against his shoulder.

"I know me and Craig don't really hang out that much at school anymore," Clyde says, "But he's still my best friend, it's like you and Stan, we're still really close, and I had no idea he was hurting like this, I have no idea why he'd even do this, he seemed fine, and -- and I just want to go and tell him that everything's okay, but I don't know if that's what he needs to hear right now, I have no fucking clue what to say to somebody who feels that -- that unhappy." Clyde pulls back to sniffle. He's an ugly crier, and somehow this makes everything hurt worse. Kyle swallows heavily, telling himself that he's not allowed to hurt right now. He's not allowed to feel anything human at all, because he's a monster.

"Just," Kyle says, weakly, because Clyde seems to be expecting some sort of advice about dealing with this. "Just go there and hold him," Kyle says. "That's the only thing that helps Stan when he's down. You don't even have to say much, or anything. Just get in the hospital bed with him and hold him really tight. If he'll let you. I think he will."

Clyde nods slowly and cries a little more, wiping his face with the sleeves of his coat. Kyle is increasingly failing in his attempts not to think yet, and he can feel the words being tattooed into every crevasse of his mind: my fault, my fault, my fault. Even the advice about holding Craig is possibly murderous, because Craig might get his hopes up and fall even further.

"Thanks, man," Clyde says. "I just, I'm so nervous about seeing him. But I want to go to him so bad, too. I do want to hug him, yeah. Thanks." He hugs Kyle again, patting his back. "Don't tell anyone about this," Clyde says when he pulls back. "I mean, not even Cartman and Butters. Not even Stan, okay?"

"Okay," Kyle says. He has to tell Stan. He has to talk to someone. He's going to be sick all over himself in about thirty seconds.

"I'm gonna head over to the hospital now," Clyde says. "Do you think I should bring flowers?"

"I'm sure he'd rather just see you as soon as possible," Kyle says, though he's not sure, and he wants to shut himself up, to sew his mouth shut, maybe chop his fingers off so he can't do any further damage by typing, either.

"I'll talk to you later," Clyde says, walking off. He stops and turns back when Kyle remains in place, frozen. "Um, you okay?" he asks.

"I'm just in shock," Kyle says. "I'm okay. I'm fine."

"Alright," Clyde says. "Thanks, Kyle. Hey, you should go give Stan a hug, too, maybe. He seemed a little upset when I saw him earlier. Or just, tense, or something. Anyway, um. Bye."

Kyle slumps against the wall when Clyde is gone. He stays there for a long time, just staring at the soccer field as the school parking lot gets quieter and quieter on the other side of the building. He drove a gay teenager to suicide. Acknowledging this makes him want to swallow a bottle of pills himself. He pulls out his phone and curses when he drops it into the snow, his hands shaking terribly. He picks it up and sends a message to Stan.

I know you are mad at me right now but something horrible happened and I really need you. Please.

Something about typing the words need you makes his eyes get wet, but he doesn't start crying, not yet. He doesn't fucking deserve to cry. He's seriously considering bashing his head against the wall of the school when he gets Stan's response.

ok dude. Im at bebbes. cant really drive righ nw. come here, ok? u ok?

Stan is drunk, of course. Possibly in the middle of fucking Bebe. Kyle doesn't care. He's going to completely fall apart, and he just doesn't want to do it alone. He wants to be with Stan, wrapped up in Stan's arms, even if he doesn't deserve comfort, and even if Stan is wasted at the moment. He sends a response.

Am not ok. I'll be there in 15 mins.

hang in there dude :(

It's a stupid, cheap, drunken sentiment, but Kyle loves Stan so much for sending anything at all.

The walk to Bebe's house passes in a blur but seems to take forever. By the time Kyle is knocking on her door, he feels like a week has passed since he learned of Craig's attempted suicide. He stopped twice along the road to try to vomit, but he could only dry heave. From inside Bebe's house, there's the sound of music and voices, and Kyle is actually glad that it's a party and not just a one-on-one with Bebe and Stan, because he'll be able to slip off somewhere with Stan and talk without getting Bebe involved.

"Hey!" she says when she answers the door. "Kyle, wow. Long time no see!"

"I'm in your Spanish class," Kyle says. She was absent today, and she seems drunk, too, grinning widely, wearing a mini skirt over leggings, her sweater tight and her tits amazing. Even Kyle can see that, objectively.

"Oh, right," she says, grinning. "Anyway, come on in. Stan's in the kitchen. Can I get you a drink?"

"No, thanks," Kyle pushes around her, aware that he's being rude.

It seems that everyone is in the kitchen, gathered around the booze, ten or so of them laughing and talking loudly. Stan is leaning on Token's shoulder and pointing at Token's chest, cracking up while trying to tell some story. Token is smiling tightly, but he only looks mildly annoyed, not devastated, so he must not know about Craig yet. Kyle makes his way over to Stan, feeling the looks of the other cool kids as they try to figure out why he's here.

"So then she's like, 'what's the zodiac?'" Stan says, not even noticing when Kyle stands beside him. He's slurring his words, and Kyle wonders if he's been getting fucked up like this all week, ever since their fight. Just another life ruined by Kyle Broflovski's carelessness, par for the course.

"I think Kyle wants to talk to you," Token says, lifting Stan's hand from his shoulder as if it's a soiled rag. Stan swings around wildly and basically falls onto Kyle, laughing.

"Oh, Kyle, dude," Stan says. "Hey, you came. You were -- are you okay? Whats'a matter?"

"I need to talk to you," Kyle says, and of course, in the middle of a party, everyone staring at him and Stan, now he feels ready to cry, his eyes welling up. "Please, can we go somewhere?"

"Hmm? Yeah, lemme just make another drink. You want something? Where'd Wendy go? She was just here." Stan scratches his head, craning his neck like she might be hiding behind someone else.

"She's in the bathroom," Token says.

"Oh, righ." Stan snorts and elbows Kyle, grabbing for a bottle of something and knocking a bottle of something else over in the process. "I forgot, Token knows s'everything about Wendy, he's like, such an expert and shit."

"Dude, don't start with this, please," Bebe says, righting the bottle that Stan knocked over. "And, like, maybe take it easy," she mutters as Stan pours himself a strong drink. Kyle is crying for real now, tears pouring down his cheeks, but nobody seems to want to deal with it, and Stan hasn't noticed.

"Gimme a break, s'St. Patrick's Day," Stan says.

"St. Patrick's Day was yesterday," Token says.

"But we're obs-observing it today, obviously," Stan says. "He's -- where's Kyle? Oh, there you are. Dude, are you crying?"

"Fuck you," Kyle says, sobbing the words out. He turns and walks out of the kitchen, his chest quaking with the effort of holding back loud, angry sobs. A few of the girls make little gasping noises of delight at this drama, and some junior Kyle doesn't know laughs under his breath.

"Kyle?" Stan calls, stumbling after him. "Kyle? Hang on, wait, wait a minute, what'd I do?"

Kyle reaches the front door, but somebody else throws it open before he can turn the knob himself. Kyle jumps backward, narrowly avoiding being cracked in the nose by the door as Kenny pushes his way inside, wearing no jacket, looking like he wants to kill someone.

"What the fuck's wrong with you?" Kenny asks Kyle as he backs up against Stan. "Did this pervert fuck your little brother, too?"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Stan says, holding up both hands, spilling some of his drink onto Kyle's shoulder in the process. "Hang on--"

"I don't think so, motherfucker," Kenny says, and he slams the door shut so hard that someone in the kitchen shouts. "You're fucking dead." Kenny moves toward Stan, who is still behind Kyle, holding on to him like a shield.

"Fucking -- calm down -- Kenny -- shit!" Stan drops his drink when Kenny grabs his shoulder, and Kyle moves away numbly, feeling as if he's in a movie about someone else's life. "She came on to me!" Stan says, trying to push Kenny away and failing. Kenny growls and grabs the front of Stan's shirt, pulling him upright before punching him hard in the face.

"Fuck!" Bebe shouts. "Kenny, stop!"

"This son of a bitch fucked my sister!" Kenny says, pointing at Stan, who is crouched on the ground, moaning and holding his face, so drunk that he's actually laughing a little. "My fifteen-year-old sister! You're a fucking dead man, Marsh," Kenny says, pulling Stan up again. "I thought you were my friend!"

"She's not pregnant, is she?" Stan asks, and Kyle closes his eyes when the next blow falls. Stan drops to the ground again, no longer laughing, spitting blood onto Bebe's carpet.

"Dudes, you guys can't do this in here!" Bebe says.

"Kenny, are you crazy?" Wendy runs into the room and sinks down beside Stan, putting an arm around his shoulders. "What are you doing?"

"He fucked Karen!" Kenny shouts. "And no, you wasted piece of shit, she's not pregnant. I found condoms in her room and asked her what the fuck she needed them for. We fought, she said -- I couldn't fucking believe it. Not you. Not fucking you, man!"

He grabs Stan again, ignoring Wendy's protests. This time Kenny punches Stan in the stomach, and Stan immediately throws up. Wendy groans and runs over to Token.

"You guys, fucking stop!" Bebe shouts. "Kenny, I'll call the cops, I swear to God!"

"What the fuck happened to you, Stan?" Kenny asks, almost sounding like he'll cry as he stares down at Stan, who is kneeling in a pile of his own puke, blood dripping from his lip. Kenny looks at Kyle, and Kyle just stands there wishing Kenny would hit him, too. "You shouldn't hang around with this kid," Kenny says, pointing to Stan. "You're too good for him. Don't let this motherfucker drag you down."

Kenny gives Stan a final kick to the ribs and leaves, slamming the door again on the way out. Stan barfs again, and there's a chorus of eww from the other side of the room, some of the kids laughing. Kyle hears someone sobbing, too. It's Wendy, her face hidden in Token's chest.

"Kyle, can you please get him out of here?" Bebe says. "Shit, look at this fucking -- I'm gonna have to clean this up, fuck! What gets blood out of a carpet?"

"Where's Wendy?" Stan asks when Kyle tries to help him up. "I though-- was Wendy here? Shit, ow, fuck. Did Wendy hear about Karen?"

"Just shut up," Kyle says, starting to cry again as soon as he tries to speak. He hears Kenny's truck peeling away outside. "Fucking shut up and try to walk."

"Ah, Kyle-- he hit me, Kenny -- he doesn't understand. Nobody understands, Kyle, okay? Nobody understands."

Kyle gets Stan outside, and he fumbles through Stan's jacket pocket until he finds his keys. He puts Stan in the passenger seat of his car and buckles him in, feeling like a zombie, his vision blurred by tears. Stan is moaning, his right eye beginning to puff up. Kyle curses when he turns from the car and sees Wendy standing there, her face wet. Token is at the front door of the house, watching them.

"Is he okay?" Wendy asks.

"Wendy?" Stan says blearily, and Kyle shuts the passenger side door.

"I don't know," Kyle says. "I'll take him to his parents. I don't know."

"Kyle," Wendy says. She grabs him and hugs him hard. Kyle just stands there, so shredded up inside that he wonders if he should drive. He supposes that if he crashes the car and kills himself and Stan, he would really be doing them both a favor. Wendy releases him and runs back to Token without another word.

Stan tries to sleep while Kyle drives, but Kyle won't let him, afraid that he might have a concussion from Kenny's first blow. Stan moans with annoyance and bats at Kyle's hand. He's got puke all over his clothes and on his cheek. Kyle wants to dissolve into sobs again, but he can't. He's got to keep his eyes on the road.

"Fucking Kenny," Stan says, and he spits. "Saying that shit to you. To Wendy. He wants to ruin my life just because his sister blew me."

"You're ruining your life," Kyle says. "It's all you." Stan scoffs.

"Dude, whatever. Why are you even talking to me? Go to college, have fun. Go be a doctor, Kyle. Save someone else's life, okay? Leave me the fuck alone."

"I fucking hate you so much right now," Kyle says, trying to blink his eyes clear. It's getting dark, but he's too upset to even remember how to turn the headlights on in Stan's car.

"Dude, why are you crying?" Stan says, and suddenly he is, too. "Kyle? Please, dude, just take me home with you. Just, let's do that thing that we do, where we don't talk, we just lie there, I just need to sleep. Fuck, I think he broke my ribs."

"Quit it," Kyle says, because Stan is trying to take his seat belt off. Fortunately, he seems unable to figure out how to do it. "You can't come to my house," Kyle says. "I'm already in fucking trouble."

"Just don't take me home," Stan says. "Seriously, I can't deal with my parents right now." Abruptly, he's no longer crying. "I seriously can't."

"I don't fucking care what you can deal with," Kyle says. "I can't deal with you."

"God, Kyle, you're such a piece of shit when I really need you! Yeah, you know, you do me all these favors, whatever, so you can feel superior, but when I really need you--"

"Shut up, shut up, shut up!" Kyle says, screaming this as loud as he can. "Shut the fuck up, please, just shut up."

"Whoa, dude, don't--" Stan actually seems a little frightened, his shoulder pressed to the passenger side window. "I mean, fuck, you know I love you more than anyone, it's just--"

"Please, please," Kyle says, and the softness of his voice must convince Stan that he actually does need to shut the fuck up. Stan reaches over to touch Kyle's leg.

"What did you want to talk to me about, dude?" Stan asks, and Kyle laughs bitterly, shaking his head.

"Nothing," he says, his voice croaky and broken. "Fucking nothing."

They arrive at Stan's house, and Kyle helps Stan out of the car. By the time they reach the front walk, Stan's mother has seen them through the windows, and she's running out, asking questions, calling Stan her baby and starting to cry herself. Kyle's tears have dried up, and Stan is mostly out of it at this point, mumbling incoherently about how his eye hurts and asking where Wendy went.

"I'm sorry," Kyle says, backing away after he's answered Sharon's most basic questions -- fight with Kenny, too much to drink. "I have to go." He gives her Stan's car keys.

"Honey, are you okay?" Sharon calls as Randy comes out to bring Stan into the house, asking if he won the fight.

"I'm fine," Kyle says, not turning back when he says so. He walks into the wind, which is pushing wet, sharp little bits of snow through the air almost horizontally. Kyle puts his hands in his pockets and tucks his chin down. He starts to feel sorry for himself before he remembers that Craig Tucker had a seizure last night and almost died because of him. He hopes to God that Clyde is still with Craig, that he's holding him, and that Craig is able to find some comfort in it. Kyle wants that, too, despite everything. Just something warm and quiet, a place to hide. He thinks of going home and walking into the surely ongoing family drama about Ike's sexual awakening. His mother will completely explode over the fact that Kyle was late coming home from school and that he smells like regurgitated alcohol. He's earned a shitload of misery and he knows it. He stops walking at the end of Cartman's driveway, thinking about how much he deserves the wrath and chaos that's waiting for him at home.

The walk to Cartman's front door is slow, but he knows the whole time that he won't turn back. He knocks, trying to keep it together, expecting Liane to answer, but it's Cartman who pulls open the door, looking annoyed, surprised, then just confused. He's wearing a t-shirt and flannel pants. The living room is dark behind him, except for the shifting colors of the television set. His house smells like popcorn.

"What happened?" Cartman asks. He looks up and down the street as if expecting to see the gang who chased Kyle here. "Get inside," he says, grabbing him by the elbow. Kyle lets Cartman pull him into the house. Knocking on the door took the last of his energy.

"Is Butters here?" Kyle asks, when Cartman shuts the door. He locks it, then bolts it.

"No," Cartman says. "Nobody's here. What happened? Who fucking -- someone beat you up? Where'd they hit you?" Cartman flicks the lamp near the door on and begins looking Kyle over, checking for injuries. "Oh, you're fucking kidding me," Cartman says when he sees the puke stains. "You are fucking kidding me."

"Please don't be mean to me right now," Kyle says. He can't look Cartman in the eye when he asks for this. He knows he deserves a rant about letting Stan walk all over him, bringing this on himself, but if that's all Cartman has to offer him, he'll go back to Bebe's party and drink until he drowns.

"What happened?" Cartman asks, grabbing Kyle's chin and making him meet his eyes. "Who hit you?"

"Nobody. Um." Kyle closes his eyes. He wants to keep them closed, but he opens them again before asking, "Can you just hold me for a minute?"

He waits for Cartman to laugh uproariously. He has every right to, and Kyle sees his mouth quirk a little, as if he's waiting for Kyle to get on with telling the rest of that joke. Cartman's face falls when he sees that Kyle is serious.

"Come over here," Cartman says. He takes Kyle's hand and brings him to the couch, which is a nest of blankets at the moment, a Cartman-sized gap in the middle of them. Cartman sits in it and pulls Kyle down with him, into his lap. Kyle puts his arms around Cartman's shoulders and his face against Cartman's neck, straddling him. He's so warm, and Kyle squeezes him hard, trying to disappear into the softness of Cartman's chest.

"What the fuck is going on?" Cartman asks. He wraps his arms around Kyle and covers the back of Kyle's neck with his palm, soft and hot. "Kyle? What? Who do I need to kill?"

"Me," Kyle says, his mouth still pressed to Cartman's neck. Cartman scoffs.

"What'd that hippie bastard do to make you think that?"

"It's not Stan," Kyle says, because that's a whole other issue, one he doesn't want to discuss with Cartman. "It's Craig. Craig Tucker."

"Oh, fuck." Cartman's shoulders drop. "You're in love with him or something?"

"No." Kyle sits back, but only a little, touching his nose to Cartman's cheek. "I did something terrible. I fucking— Jesus. He tried to kill himself, cause of me. I drove him to suicide."

"What?" Cartman says, shouting this. "No, you didn't."

"Yes, I did."

"No, you didn't. Kyle, seriously. What the fuck?"

"How are you so sure that I didn't?"

"Because that's not something you would do!" Cartman says. "And Craig loves himself too much to do anything like that. Like, what, did you give him a bad haircut? I can't imagine anything else driving that soulless bitch to suicide."

"He's not soulless, don't say that. Everybody has a soul, Cartman." Kyle rests his head on Cartman's shoulder in lieu of saying, Even you, apparently, and thank God.

Kyle tells Cartman everything: the chat room, the way Kyle figured out who he was talking to, the obvious crush on Clyde, the juice incident that drove Kyle to threaten Craig with exposure. Cartman listens without comment, shifting Kyle so that he can remove his jacket, then his boots. When Kyle is in his jeans, sweater, and socks, Cartman arranges the blankets around Kyle's shoulders and leans back, still holding Kyle in his lap. Kyle was going to stop before he got to the bit about Bebe's party and Stan's public humiliation, that terrible car ride, but before he can reconsider he's telling Cartman all about that, too, choking up at points. Cartman offers no commentary about the evils of Stan or Kyle's idiocy for putting up with them, just holds Kyle and listens, his thumb moving on the back of Kyle's neck.

"So I'm evil," Kyle says, looking up at Cartman when he's caught up to the present, the part where he's sheltering inside a cocoon of blankets with the person who is supposed to be his worst enemy. "Oh, and I outed my brother for having sex this morning, too. So home life is going to be pretty fucked up for a while. I can't go over there, shit. I can't see my mother right now."

"No, you can't," Cartman says, tightening his grip on Kyle at the mention of her. "That fucking bitch would just bite your head off and pickle it."

"Cartman, fuck, can you maybe not call my mom a bitch right now? And I don't even know if that other thing was supposed to be a joke about Jews, but--"

"Alright, alright," Cartman says. "Geez, go ahead and cut my balls off while you're at it." He presses his forehead to Kyle's and peers down into his eyes. He seems a little nervous, though Kyle is the one with his heart on his fucking sleeve at the moment.

"I just want to stay here," Kyle says. Cartman nods and drags his hand through Kyle's hair, messing it up, though he supposes it's already a disaster.

"You can stay," Cartman says. "My mom's off with some guy. She won't be back tonight, maybe not until Sunday."

"I should text my mom to let her know I'm safe," Kyle says.

"Fine," Cartman says. He moves his arm from Kyle's shoulders and drapes it along the back of the couch. "Need to get up?"

"No," Kyle says. He pulls Cartman's arm around him again, digging out his phone with his other hand. He knows he'll be grounded for the rest of the school year for this, possibly for the entire summer as well, but he can't imagine spending a night alone in his bed with all this guilt and sadness crushing the air from his lungs. He moans with dread as he sends the message to his mother.

Staying with a friend tonight. I know I'm in trouble. I'll be home tomorrow, and you can yell at me then. Please just let me have this. I'm safe.

"So they seriously grounded you for skipping?" Cartman asks as they both stare at Kyle's phone, waiting for a response.

"Yeah, you dick," Kyle says. "I wasn't lying."

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Cartman says. "Some piss slit throws vegetable juice on you and they expect you to just hang around smelling like a carrot?"

"My mom wanted me to 'tell an adult.' I'm like, shit, are you for real? I'm an adult in two months. I made a decision, and it was the right one for me. I hate that they don't trust me. What did I do to make them not trust me?"

He's directing this at Cartman, too. Cartman shrugs bashfully and looks down at the phone when it beeps with a new message. Kyle opens it, bracing himself for a tirade.

I just spoke to Sharon. Kyle, I was so worried! Thank you for letting me know you are okay. We will talk tomorrow. We love you, Kyle.

"Oh, Jesus," Cartman says. "She's just trying to guilt you into coming home."

"No, she's not," Kyle says. He turns his phone off and tosses it to the other side of the couch. "And nobody could talk me into leaving." He touches Cartman's jaw and feels Cartman's hand clench on his waist in response. "This is the only place in the world where I want to be right now," Kyle says, and it's true.

He waits for Cartman to kiss him, but Cartman seems scared, and he's growing sweaty, the humidity inside the blankets they're sharing increasing. His lips are parted just a little, and Kyle kisses them softly, trying to inspire him to take the lead. Cartman makes a lost kind of ha sound in the back of his throat, his fingers twitching on Kyle's side.

"Don't you want to kiss me?" Kyle asks, pretty sure he hasn't miscalculated, though it's possible. Cartman groans and grabs Kyle's face with his free hand.

"That is the stupidest fucking thing you have ever said," Cartman says.

He kisses Kyle with blunt determination, moaning when Kyle opens his mouth and offers his tongue. Cartman is a wet, hungry kisser, which doesn't surprise Kyle at all, but he also has moments of timidity, backing off to breathe hard and sneak glances at Kyle's eyes, pressing soft kisses to Kyle's cheeks and the tip of his nose. He seems to be waiting to be made fun of, obviously still nervous, his hand shaking on Kyle's cheek. To show Cartman that he's fully on board with this, Kyle takes Cartman's hand and brings it down under the blankets, spreading his knees. They both suck in their breath when Kyle presses Cartman's hand to his erection.

"Fuck," Cartman whispers, flushing. "Kyle."

"Seems like I only feel good when I'm with you," Kyle says, pushing his hips up a little, holding Cartman's hand against him. "Lately, anyway. So, like. Make me feel good. Please?"

Cartman gives him a growling kiss, squeezing his hand around Kyle's dick. Kyle moans and arches, gasping when Cartman's hand slides down his back and into his pants, chubby fingertips sneaking beneath the waistband of his boxers. Kyle freezes and locks eyes with Cartman, not sure if he's ready for that.

"What?" Cartman says, spreading Kyle's ass cheeks and tickling his crack with his middle finger. "You said to— I'm doing it. Check this out."

Kyle groans when Cartman touches his hole, circling him softly. Kyle has touched himself there, has used the water in the shower, once even the end of a Sharpie marker -- the pink one from the set that Butters gave him -- but never has he ever felt anything as good as this. It's so different, having someone else doing it, having Cartman doing it. It's so fucking good.

"Yeah," Cartman says when Kyle arches, his head falling back and his eyes going foggy. "Yeah, you like that, don't you?"

"Uh-huh," Kyle says, drowsy with pleasure, his dick throbbing in Cartman's palm. "Oh. Oh, yeah, that's--"

"Feels good?"

"Mhmm. Yes. Eric." No, that sounds wrong, even now. "Cartman."

"Yeah, say my name." Cartman licks up the length of Kyle's neck and bites at his jaw. "Goddamn, Kyle, it's so tiny. All virgin tight." Cartman pants as he presses the pad of his finger there, not daring to try to get it inside yet. Kyle moans and humps Cartman's hand, getting close.

"So sure I'm a virgin?" Kyle says, smirking at Cartman, who rolls his eyes.

"Yes," Cartman says.

"Takes one to know one."

"Yeah, hilarious. No way was I fucking Butters, seriously. Who the fuck knows where he's been. It's always the quiet ones, you know what I mean?"

"I wouldn't call Butters quiet," Kyle says, his eyes falling shut as Cartman rubs him a little faster. "Why'd you date him, anyway?" If Kyle keeps talking he'll be able to last for a few more minutes, and he so needs this to last.

"I don't know," Cartman says. "To piss you off. It totally worked."

"No, it didn't."

"Yeah huh it did. Is my hand wedged into your ass crack right now, Kyle? I think it is, yeah. So it worked. Everything worked."

They kiss again, Kyle's mouth much wetter now. He snakes his hand down between them to feel for Cartman's dick, moaning at how hot it is even through his pants.

"God, I want your mouth on that cock," Cartman says, almost sounding like he'll cry. "So bad, Kyle. It's all I've fucking thought about since I was twelve."

"You've never thought about fucking my ass?" Kyle asks, pressing back against Cartman's finger. Cartman moans and rubs him more roughly.

"Have I, hah--" Cartman is humping Kyle's hand now, trembling. "Have I thought about fucking your ass? R-really? I'm thinking about it right now, Kyle. Thinking about getting my cock right in here, yeah." He's touching Kyle's hole like it's an itch that needs scratching, and Kyle has lost the ability to speak, so he just stares down into Cartman's lust-darkened eyes and writhes in his hands. "Pushing into this tiny fucking hole, fuck yes," Cartman says. He's falling apart, too, and they're both so hot under the blankets, sweltering. "Just -- stretching you until you're crying cause you're so full, pounding this virgin hole so hard--"

Kyle comes with a scream, and Cartman is right behind him, shuddering and still humping Kyle's hand, thigh, anything he can get his dick against. Their kisses are even hungrier, post-orgasm, and they're clinging to each other despite the unbearable heat that's settled over them. Cartman slumps down onto his side and pulls Kyle with him, still kissing him.

"Fuck, Jesus," Kyle breathes out. Cartman huffs.

"Don't talk shit about my savior, Jew. Not even after pleasuring me. I won't have it."

"Asshole," Kyle mutters, kissing him. Cartman laughs against Kyle's lips, so clearly delighted with himself that it's almost cute. "Fuck, I'm all sticky," Kyle says, closing his eyes against Cartman's blankets, which smell like Cartman's sweat and now like their come, also like Lucky Charms.

"Ah, Kyle," Cartman says, stroking his cheek. "How long have I waited to hear you say that."

"Take your shirt off," Kyle says, peeling off his own sweater and undershirt.

"Nuh-uh," Cartman says. "You're not seeing that shit until I have a six pack."

"But I like you the way you are," Kyle says, touched. Cartman snorts.

"Yeah, okay. That's why you're always calling me fat ass and telling me not to eat so much--"

"No, I do that because you're always calling me a sneaky Jew or whatever the fuck."

"It's different," Cartman says, rolling his eyes.

"It is not different! And if it is, calling me a Jew is worse. It's hateful, and ignorant, and--"

"Are you telling me that if we do this thing, I can't call you Jew anymore?" Cartman asks.

"Yeah, that's what I'm telling you."

"Fucking hell," Cartman says. "Ah, well -- can I call you it one last time?"

"Fine," Kyle says. "One last time, then never again. Make it count, asshole."

Cartman is quiet, and Kyle actually wonders if he managed to hurt him by calling him an asshole, but he's acting like one, so it's only fair. Cartman sighs tremendously.

"Goddammit," he says. "I can't think of anything that won't make you refuse to suck my dick."

"Well, maybe that's just how you should operate from now on. Say what you want, but consider the effect it'll have on how much I do or don't want to, uh. Make you feel good."

"So you're saying you will suck my dick?"

"No! Well, I mean, probably--"

"Oh, sweet Jesus, thank you Lord." Cartman actually rolls onto his back and clasps his hands together, lifting them toward the ceiling. "You are a merciful God."

"Hello, I'm the one who offered, not him," Kyle says, tugging on Cartman's arm. Cartman grins and rolls toward him.

"Oh, Kyle," he says, and his tone suggests that he's going to follow this up with some smart ass remark, but he just kisses Kyle, and Kyle kisses him back, sleepy and warm but still thinking about everything that's going on outside of this house, none of it good.

"Hey," he says when they've both been quiet for a while, kissing and rearranging the blankets as their skin cools down. Kyle will need a change of pants and underwear soon, which should be funny, since he weighs about sixty pounds less than Cartman. "Could you do something for me?" Kyle asks.

"Yes, Kyle, I will suck your dick if you suck mine," Cartman says. "It's only fair."

"No, it's not that--"

"Alright, alright, you can fuck my ass, too," Cartman says, rolling his eyes. He's blushing. "You talked me into it."

"No, listen! Tomorrow, before my mom grounds me for life, I want to go visit Craig in the hospital. I want to tell him what happened, that it was me, that I won't tell anyone else about him, especially not Clyde, and that, you know. I'm sorry."

"All of this sounds like stuff you can do without my help," Cartman says. "Do you need a ride or something?"

"Well, yeah," Kyle says. "And just, I was wondering if you'd go in with me. Not into the actual hospital room, but maybe you could wait out in the hall?"

"I guess so," Cartman says. "What for?"

"Just, you know. So I don't have to do it alone."

He's expecting at least an eye roll and a belabored sigh, but Cartman nods, a little impatiently, as if it should be obvious that he'll wait in any hallway Kyle asks him to.

"I feel so terrible," Kyle whispers. "About Craig. I feel like my insides turned black as soon as I sent those messages, and they'll never be clean again."

"Craig started it," Cartman says. "And it's not like he was skipping around all happy about his gayness until mean old Kyle came along and ruined it for him. Obviously he was already pretty fucked up if one asshole on the internet could make him try to kill himself."

"It wasn't just some asshole on the internet," Kyle says. "It was someone who was threatening to tell the boy Craig is in love with that he's gay and in love with him. Someone he'd been talking to for years— someone he thought he could trust! That's horrific, Cartman. That's what I did, a truly horrific thing. I'll never fucking forgive myself for this."

"Well, I forgive you," Cartman says. Kyle rolls his eyes.

"And Stan," he says. "I know you don't want to hear about him, but fuck, you didn't see him. He was so awful, on his hands and knees in a puddle of his own puke, fucking falling apart over a girl who broke up with him three years ago."

"That asshole made his bed," Cartman says. "Now he's sleeping in it. Don't waste your time worrying about a lost cause."

"You can't say that," Kyle says. He burrows closer so that they won't start fighting for real, because he would not survive another blow up right now. "I won't give up on him. He's too important to me."

"Oh, Christ," Cartman says. He rubs his fingers through Kyle's hair, and it's soothing enough to make Kyle feel like he could actually give in to his exhaustion and sleep.

"Are you sure your mom's not coming home tonight?" Kyle asks.

"Yeah," Cartman says. "And even if she did, she'd be too wasted to notice us here, so don't worry about it."

Kyle opens his eyes against Cartman's t-shirt. He pushes his hand up under it, hoping Cartman will allow it. Cartman stiffens a little, but doesn't stop Kyle from pushing his hand all the way up to cover Cartman's heartbeat with his palm.

"I used to think you didn't have a heart," Kyle says. "When we were kids. You were cruel to me, but that doesn't mean it was okay for me to be cruel to you. Jesus, I can't believe I said that to Craig." He moans and lifts his face to look at Cartman. "God should just sent a thunderbolt down to blast me off the face of the earth."

"If your bastard Jew god tries anything like that, my God will stomp his ass," Cartman says, hugging his arm around Kyle's shoulders. "Nobody's incinerating you on my goddamn watch."

"You're saying shit about Jews again, asshole."

"No! I'm not! Just about their, you know. God 'n stuff."

"Do you know anything about religion at all? It's the same God!"

"Nuh-uhh, because my God had a son named Jesus and yours didn't! PS, Jesus was the best part."

"Oh, fucking hell, are we seriously having this conversation?" Kyle regrets putting a stop to it, actually, because he was beginning to feel normal again. "Do you have something I can change into?" he asks. "My cock is glued to my boxers."

"Uh, I might have some old stuff from elementary school that would fit you," Cartman says. "Not underwear, though. My ass hasn't been as scrawny as yours since I wore diapers."

They go up to Cartman's room, and Kyle changes into an old pair of basketball shorts and a t-shirt that says BUCKEYE ROADHOUSE on it. Cartman puts on a fresh pair of sleep pants, and there's an awkward moment after they're both changed when neither of them knows how to proceed.

"Are you hungry?" Cartman asks.

"Yeah," Kyle says. "Fucking starving, actually."

"Want to order a pizza?"


They smile at each other, and that's how they proceed: with pizza, which they consume down on the couch in front of the TV. Cartman stays close and kisses Kyle's neck a lot, and Kyle hopes he'll understand that he already feels shitty about the fact that he got off at all tonight, considering what's going on with Craig, not to mention Stan. He's surprised and relieved when Cartman starts to drift off with his head on Kyle's shoulder, no demands yet for the blow job he's been dreaming of.

They sleep there on the couch, wrapped around each other. Kyle has horrible dreams, anxiety-riddled and scary, and he clutches at Cartman every time he wakes, burying his face in the comforting smell of him. By dawn, he can't get back to sleep, so he just lies there listening to Cartman breathe, trying to figure out what the fuck he'll say when he faces Craig.

He sits up and checks his phone, thinking he'll at least have a message from Clyde, but there's nothing. Cartman mumbles in complaint when Kyle leaves the couch, but he's quickly asleep again. Kyle heads upstairs to have a shower and snoop around a little. The most interesting thing he finds in Cartman's room is a picture of himself in Cartman's bedside drawer. It's from a pool party for Clyde's thirteenth birthday, and Cartman and Clyde are in the foreground, Clyde smiling and Cartman staring at the camera like he wants to know what its problem is. Behind them, Kyle is sitting on the end of the diving board, halfway turned toward the camera, his ass crack just barely visible. The picture seems like it gets handled a lot. Kyle puts it back where he found it and heads toward the shower.

In the shower, his mind keeps drifting to the things they did last night, Cartman's promise to fuck him hard and his somewhat earth shattering invitation to let Kyle fuck him. Kyle tries to put it all aside and imagine what he'll say to Craig. He envisions Craig sitting there in angry silence, or just staring through him, hollow and unseeing. Kyle deserves whatever horrors await him in that hospital room, all the guilt and judgment that Craig can possibly rain on him. The guy threw a drink on Kyle's shirt, and Kyle threatened to expose Craig's most closely held secret in the cruelest way possible. He's kind of hoping Craig just pulls out a gun and fires on him.

When he goes downstairs, back in the gym shorts and BUCKEYE shirt, he picks up his phone and thinks about texting Stan. He puts it down again, not sure what he would say. Cartman sits up and gives him a long, groggy look.

"I would have liked to watch you shower," Cartman says, as if Kyle has been very thoughtless about his feelings. Kyle raises his eyebrows.

"Kay," he says. "That's not creepy at all."

"Kyle, we're having a torrid affair. All bets are off."

"Um, no," Kyle says. "We're maybe, possibly— dating? For the rest of school and for the summer, before I leave for college. Some bets are still on."

"Whatever." Cartman rubs his hand over his face and moans. "Why are you awake? Why am I awake? What's happening?"

"The hospital, remember?" Kyle says. "I know it's early, but I really want to go now. I've waited long enough, and I need to tell him that it was me, and that he doesn't have to worry about me telling anyone. I need to face this."

"Oh, God," Cartman says. He moans and throws the blankets away, standing. "Your morals are going to be a huge liability in this relationship."

"You're seriously going to pretend that it wouldn't bother you at all if someone you harassed tried to kill himself?"

"Kyle, please. I was unintentionally driving people to suicide before your balls dropped. Don't even."

Kyle supposes this is the only way it could have happened: in his most self-loathing hour, he allowed himself to be with Cartman the way he's wanted to for some time now. He feels like the Natasha to Cartman's Boris as they drive toward Hell's Pass, Kyle wearing some old pants of Cartman's that are too short for him, exposing the socks that he also borrowed. He's glad that he looks like an idiot, because it's appropriate. He should really show up in a tutu and let Craig take pictures. He should really just die in a fire. He stalls by insisting that they stop to get flowers, which may be a wildly inappropriate gesture, and Cartman insists that they get donuts, too. He has two, and Kyle is so seasick with remorse and cowardice that can't even manage to steal a bite from Cartman's strawberry jelly-filled donut, which is usually Kyle's favorite. He's chewing his lip by the time Cartman parks his truck in the Hell's Pass parking lot, tasting blood and digging in deeper.

"Hey," Cartman says when Kyle sits there staring at the hospital, unable to exit the truck. He's clearly the most despicable thing on earth, and it's immobilized him. Cartman reaches over to wipe the blood off Kyle's lip, and he licks it from his thumb. "Salty," he says.

"We're vampires," Kyle says, nodding. "We're disgusting." Cartman rolls his eyes.

"Nobody's perfect," he says, and he gets out of the truck.

By the time they've inquired at the front desk about Craig and learned that he can have visitors, Kyle's vision has tunneled. He lets his shoulder bump against Cartman's as they walk down the hall, and he wishes Cartman would say something, though he's probably the worst candidate for offering words of encouragement in a situation like this.

"Do you know what you're going to say?" Cartman asks when they're standing outside the door to Craig's room. There's a window on the door, and Kyle is afraid to get close enough to look through it.

"I thought I knew," Kyle says. "But now that I'm here--" He stares at Cartman, fidgeting. Eventually Cartman realizes what Kyle wants and gives him an awkward hug, patting his back.


"Whatever," Cartman says when he pulls away. "Just get it over with, and then we can go back to my house and blow each other."

"Cartman! Jesus Christ! This is serious! How are you not getting that? I'm not going to want a blow job after this. I'm probably going to want to rock in a corner and sob."

"Fine, fine," Cartman says. "So you'll do that, and I'll sit there with you, thinking about how you'll soon be blowing me. Either way."

"You are such a pig," Kyle says, but it's a comfort at the moment, so he touches Cartman's chest fondly anyway. He takes a deep breath and lets it out, nodding to himself. "Okay," he says. "I deserve whatever I get in there. I'm going in."

"I'll be out here," Cartman says, gesturing to a small waiting area nearby. "Thinking about your mouth."

"Great, I'll keep that in mind." Kyle gives Cartman a soft punch to the shoulder and steps in front of the window to Craig's room, his vision narrowing again. Eventually his eyes focus on what's going on inside, which is not the horrific, feeding tube-laced, tragic scene he'd pictured. Craig is stretched out in a bed, wearing normal clothes, looking paler than normal but otherwise fine. Clyde is lying beside him, his chin on Craig's shoulder and his arm thrown across Craig's chest. They're watching something on a television that's mounted on the wall across from the bed. The blinds on the window are closed, and no one else seems to be in the room. Craig sees Kyle first. Kyle lifts his hand and holds Craig's gaze for a moment, feeling as if he's watching him exist in some other dimension, in the afterlife. Clyde lifts his head and waves to Kyle.

"Hey," Kyle says, walking into the room. He feels stupid for having flowers, and he stands there holding them at his hip, nervously picking at the back pocket on his jeans with his other hand. "Um."

"It's okay, I told him that I talked to you," Clyde says, sitting up. "Thanks for coming, man. Aww. Flowers."

"Jesus, Broflovski," Craig says, sitting up. "Thanks."

"No -- I mean, you're welcome, but don't thank me, uh. I wanted to talk to you." He isn't prepared to do this with Clyde in the room.

"To me?" Craig says.


"Here," Clyde says, sliding out of the bed. He takes the flowers from Kyle and brings them over to a table across from the bed, beneath the television, where another tremendous bouquet is sitting.

"Look," Craig says. He leans back against the pillows again and stares down at his hands. Kyle was envisioning bandages on his wrists, even though Clyde told him that it was pills. "I'm sorry about the other day," Craig says. "I'm just, like. Going through a lot of shit right now. Clearly."

"What happened the other day?" Clyde asks, turning from the flowers.

"I threw my drink on Kyle," Craig says.

"No," Kyle says, shaking his head hard. "It's okay--"

"It's not okay," Craig says. "I felt shitty about it, alright? And about what I said to you. What I called you, I mean," he says, mumbling and looking down at his hands again.

"I need to talk to you about that," Kyle says. He turns to Clyde. "Could I talk to him for a minute?"

Clyde looks at Craig, and Craig shrugs.

"S'fine with me," Craig says. "Go get some breakfast, dude. Your stomach was growling."

"Do you want anything?" Clyde asks.

"Maybe a plain bagel," Craig says, making a face. "My stomach's still pretty fucked up."

"Kay." Clyde gives Kyle a nervous look, as if he's not sure he wants to trust him to watch over Craig while he's gone. "You want anything?" he asks.

"I already ate, thanks."

Clyde nods and goes. When the door clicks shut behind him, Kyle allows himself to look at Craig again.

"Did he tell you why I did it?" Craig asks. Kyle shakes his head.

"He didn't know why you did it when he, um, talked to me. I know why, though," Kyle swallows heavily. He's pretty sure he would be crying already if all of this didn't feel so completely surreal, like that party at Bebe's hand. Craig raises his eyebrows.

"You know?" he says. "How?"

"I'm compostable_styrofoam," Kyle says, and saying his secret gay chat name out loud only adds to the surreality of this moment. Craig just stares at him, perfectly impassive on the outside. Kyle wishes he could learn how to do that himself. Kyle's lip is shaking, and he's having a hard time staying still, worrying his hands together like vintage Butters.

"Oh," Craig finally says.

"I'm not going to tell anyone," Kyle says. "About you, about the chats -- I was just bluffing because I was mad about the drink thing, I didn't say anything to Clyde, and you know, it wasn't a prank, I'm gay, too, Jesus, Cartman fingered me last night, if that makes you feel any better, I think I'm in love with him or something, it's so fucking weird--"

"Whoa," Craig says. "Stop -- stop talking." He doesn't look angry, surprised, hurt, anything. He just stares. "How did you know it was me? That IP address thing sounded like bullshit."

"It was," Kyle says, nodding. "I just knew because we'd been talking for so long, and I'd guessed, because you'd say stuff sometimes -- I figured out you probably went to my school, and that you were probably in my grade, then the stuff about Clyde, um. Not that it's any of my business, but, just so I know, when he comes back or whatever. Have you talked to him?"

"Yeah," Craig says. "We talked last night. All last night." He goes quiet again, studying Kyle. "Are you alright?" he asks.

"Me?" Kyle asks, spitting this out in disbelief. "Yeah, Jesus, except that I should be in jail for what I said to you. That's, that's cyber bullying, a fucking hate crime, it's sick, and I'm so sorry, I'm sorry, I never wanted this to happen, God, Craig, if you had -- I mean --"

"I didn't try to kill myself because of compostable_styrofoam," Craig says. "I guess that sort of set off a chain of events, but. It was my mother."

"Your mother?"

"After I got those chats," Craig says, "I went in to steal one of her Valiums. To calm me down. So I could sleep. Whatever. She caught me, and I had sort of a thing. A breakdown. I told her this kid was going to tell everyone at school that I'm gay. She said, 'but you're not, and your friends know you're not, so who cares?' I told her that I was, actually. She just stared at me for a long time and told me that no, I wasn't. And that I'd better not ever get confused like this in front of my father, because he would kill me."

"Fuck," Kyle says. He sits down in a chair against the wall, his legs too shaky to continue supporting him.

"She left the pills on the bathroom counter," Craig says. "That was the thing. It was like she was telling me, you know, to tow the line or just get on with it. So I got on with it. Only not, because it didn't work. I'm glad it didn't work, though. I have to do all this counseling bullshit now, but. I don't know, maybe it's good. Look, uh. What you did was shitty, but you're not the reason I'm here. And it's been kind of a relief in a fucked up way, this whole thing. Cause now Clyde knows."

"Are you guys, uh--?" Kyle asks, thinking of the way Clyde was holding Craig when he came to the window. Craig snorts.

"He said he'd be gay for me if it meant I wouldn't do anything like that again," Craig says. "Clyde is -- well, he's an idiot. He's never gonna -- the way I want him to -- Jesus, I can't believe I was saying that shit to you all along."

"I'm so sorry," Kyle says. "I never meant to use it against you. You've got no idea how much I needed those chats."

"Oh, God," Craig says. "When I was beating off to those stories you would tell -- were you talking about Cartman?" He cringes at the thought.

"Uh, sort of," Kyle says. "We hadn't really done anything yet. Well, not much. Those were, like. My fantasies."

"Shit," Craig says, and he laughs. "That's fucked up, Broflovski."

"Yeah, I know." Kyle moans and gets up to walk over to the bed, though Craig isn't exactly giving off approachable vibes. "I just had to tell you how sorry I am. I feel like you should be able to do something to me in retaliation, like. Tell the whole school that I'm with Cartman or something."

"Fuck it," Craig says. He shrugs. "School's almost over. I don't even really care if people know about me. I'm blowing the fuck out of this town forever as soon as I graduate. It's just. Clyde. I didn't want him finding out from some jackass who had chat transcripts of me theorizing about what his come tastes like and all that shit."

"God," Kyle says, hating himself. "I'm so sorry."

"I got that," Craig says, beginning to sound a little annoyed. "But it's good. I'm gonna stay with Clyde until graduation. His dad loves me."

"Have your parents been to see you?" Kyle asks. None of this is his business, but they've had some chats in the past about thistownsucks' bigoted father.

"They were here yesterday," Craig says. "They were upset. It's not like they really want me dead. I think my mom was just too freaked out about the gay thing to remember to grab the pills. I tried to talk to them about it again, and it's like. They pretended not to hear me. Whatever."


"It's better, because when I'm staying with Clyde, like." He laughs a little. "I can say this to you, cause you already know all my embarrassing shit. But, like. He said he'll hold me every night. All night. That's all I really want from him. He'll never be, you know -- he's not gay. I knew that. But he really loves me, like. I knew that, too, but since this all happened, he's just. Been here for me. Maybe he doesn't want to fuck me, but he loves me. That matters more than I thought it would." Craig sniffs and shakes his head. "You're weirdly easy to talk to," he says.

"Yeah, you too," Kyle says. "It sucks, like. School's over. We could have been friends."

"We were friends," Craig says. "Some days, compostable_styrofoam was my best friend."

"Can I hug you?" Kyle asks, and Craig laughs.

"Sure," he says, extending an arm toward Kyle. "Why not."

So many unbelievable things have come to pass in the last twenty-four hours, but tearfully embracing Craig Tucker might be the most bizarre. Kyle thinks about all the intimate moments he shared with thistownsucks as he rubs Craig's back, not just the sex stuff but the details of their days, their little frustrations and accomplishments, and just the fact that they were both closeted in the same tiny town. Sometimes, faced with hateful graffiti in the boys room or FCA crusaders in debate class who compared gay marriage to bestiality, Kyle would take tremendous comfort in that small miracle: he wasn't the only one in South Park who felt helplessly angry when he was hurt by those things.

"Cartman is out in the hallway," Clyde says when he returns with the food. "He refuses to tell me why."

"Kyle is fucking him," Craig announces dryly.

"It's true," Kyle says when Clyde pauses in mid-stride, his eyes blown open.

"Ho-lee shit," Clyde says, and he brings up a hand to cover his mouth, laughing. "I knew it! Cause this one night, in Cartman's basement--"

"Oh, God," Kyle says, wincing.

"--I could have sworn I heard you guys jerking off together," Clyde says, grinning. "You totally were, weren't you?"

"There goes what little appetite I had," Craig says.

"I'll leave you guys to your breakfast," Kyle says. "I just, you know." He's aware that Craig will tell Clyde everything once he's gone, and that Clyde will be out for blood later on, even if Craig is resigned and mellow about the whole almost-dying thing. "I'm glad we got to talk," Kyle says to Craig.

"You had to talk to Craig about fucking Cartman?" Clyde says, sitting on the end of Craig's bed and passing him a bagel. "How did you, uh--?" He looks at Craig, obviously wondering why Kyle knew that Craig would be someone he could confide in about his big gay secret.

"I'll explain," Craig says to Clyde. "Later, Broflovski. Good luck with -- that." Kyle turns to see what Craig is looking at. Cartman is peering in through the window now, frowning.

"He has lost weight, you know," Kyle says defensively, mumbling.

"As if," Craig says, pausing to laugh, "The weight was the problem."

"Hey, peace out, Kyle," Clyde says, already settled in at Craig's side again, leaning back onto the pillows and unwrapping a foul-smelling breakfast burrito that Craig is eying warily. "Knights of Templar on Friday?" Clyde says when Kyle waves and goes for the door.

"You know it," Kyle says. "Although, fuck. I'm grounded."

"Aw, lame," Clyde says. "Well, we could network you into Team Fortress, at least."

"God, you guys are such dorks," Craig says, and Clyde turns to smile at him. Craig smiles, too, which is something Kyle hasn't seen in a long time. He slips out of the room, leaving them alone together.

"Well?" Cartman says, backing off to give Kyle room to exit.

"Everything's fine," Kyle says, pulling Cartman away from the room. "Let's go, alright?"

"You're not crying," Cartman says as they walk down the hallway together. "And Craig was, like, smiling and shit. Getting all up on Clyde. Seems like maybe. Blow job time, I don't know."

"Are you serious about this?" Kyle asks, stopping in his tracks near the check in desk. Cartman glances around at passing nurses and patients.

"About blow jobs?" he asks, actually having the decency to lower his voice. "Um, I'm extremely serious about them, yes, Kyle."

"No, about me," Kyle says. "Cause I can't figure out if this is a joke to you or if you're just this goddamn retarded about personal relationships and how to respond to another person's emotional cues."

"Fuck," Cartman says. He looks away from Kyle, sighing and dragging his hand through his hair until his bangs are sticking up the way he used to do on purpose with gel. "Emotional cues," he mumbles.

"See, it's just -- it's not even worth it, I'm just going to get too frustrated." Kyle walks off, through the front doors of the hospital and toward Cartman's truck. Cartman trails him, sighing as if he expects Kyle to turn around and feel sorry for him for having to deal with this.

"I'm sorry, alright," Cartman says when he catches up to Kyle at the truck. Kyle pulls on the locked door handle, keeping his back to Cartman.

"Unlock it," he says. "I'm freezing."

"It's just that we've always -- I don't know --"

"Unlock it, Cartman!"

"I don't know how else to act around you!" Cartman says. Kyle turns, prepared to tell him off, but Cartman looks kind of devastated, his lips actually shaking, maybe just from the freezing wind. "I don't really know what to do," Cartman says, mumbling. "I'm not completely fucking retarded. I know I'm acting stupid. I just don't know how else to act."

Kyle has never really seen Cartman vulnerable before, or at least not since they were kids. He waits it out, still wary about Cartman shouting nyah nyah nyah! and telling Kyle that he fooled him again. When that doesn't happen, Kyle hugs Cartman, nuzzling at him until his face is hidden against the heat of Cartman's neck. Cartman lets out his breath and slides his hands into the pockets of Kyle's coat.

"What's this?" he mumbles into Kyle's hair, closing his hand around something in Kyle's left pocket.

"A used tissue," Kyle says, and Cartman laughs, still holding it.

"I'd just like to take a moment to acknowledge that I would have made a really funny joke about the fact that you're frugal enough to save old tissues, if I was allowed to." Cartman taps his fingers against something in Kyle's other pocket. "Is this lube?"


"Oh, sweet." Cartman takes it out and puts some on. Kyle stares up at him, and allows Cartman to clumsily apply some chapstick to his lips, too.

"Thanks for coming with me," Kyle says. "Just, fucking cool it with the blow job jokes. At least for another twenty-four hours."

"So many restrictions on my award winning humor," Cartman says. He kisses Kyle, and Kyle kisses back. It's very chapsticky but still pretty good.

Kyle falls asleep on the drive back to his house, and wakes up still feeling too tired to dread going inside very much, especially when he realizes that his parents and Ike are still at synagogue and he'll be able to nap before the big family meeting over yesterday's events.

"Want to come in for a minute?" Kyle asks, because he feels better after having talked with Craig, but there's still the matter of Stan, and he's not ready to be alone yet.

"Sure," Cartman says. "Need to use the can, anyway."

"Ah, God. C'mon, then. My parents aren't home."

Kyle unlocks the door and leads the way inside, shouting with surprise when he sees someone in the house, standing from the hearth. It's just Stan, who's had a key to the Broflovski house since he was twelve, but Kyle wasn't expecting him and barely recognizes him with his left eye blackened and swollen shut.

"Fuck, Stan," Cartman says. "Who kicked your ass?"

"Kenny," Stan says. His voice is hoarse and small, tired.

"Oh, right," Cartman says. "Embroiled in a drug war, then?" Stan ignores him, hands in the pockets of his jeans. He's staring at Kyle, and Kyle feels it in his chest, how bad his best friend is hurting, how much he needs him. Kyle had needed Stan the day before, and all he'd gotten was a drunken asshole who got residual puke on his clothes. Still, he already wants to run across the room and pull Stan into a hug, just from the sight of his bruised face.

"Can I talk to you for a minute?" Stan asks, walking toward Kyle.

"Sorry, no," Cartman says. "We have plans. Kyle's life does not stop and start at your convenience, asshole."

"Cartman, don't," Kyle says. "Just -- will you go wait up in my room?"

"Oh, my God, are you serious?" Cartman asks, already getting worked up. "Are you serious right now?"

"Yes, I'm serious!" Kyle says.

"Why don't I just fucking leave you two alone together," Cartman says, turning for the door. "Jesus Christ, it's like I'm on goddamn candid camera--"

"Stop!" Kyle shouts, and Cartman actually does, turning back to frown at him. "I don't want you to go, but my life doesn't stop and start for you, either, okay, so please, just. Give me a break, man. Go wait up in my room."

"Fine," Cartman says, not looking at either of them. "I have to take a dump anyway. Might as well do it here."

Kyle watches Cartman walk upstairs, partly because he's not ready to face whatever Stan has to say to him, and partly to make sure that Cartman won't just linger on the landing and eavesdrop. He hears the bathroom door slam in the upstairs hallway and turns back to Stan. It hurts to look at him. Kyle has never seen him look this bad, this low, this ruined.

"Do you want to sit?" Kyle asks.

"No, I -- I don't want to--" Stan glances toward the stairs. "This won't take long."


They stare at each other. Kyle feels like they almost don't need to speak. He's heard Stan say things about rock bottom during countless hangovers, but this is something else. The real thing. Stan is limp with defeat, battered in every way a person can be, and he did all the real damage himself.

"I'm so sorry," Stan says. "Kyle -- I don't even remember that much from last night, but. Kenny came over this morning to see if I was okay, and he told me what happened. How I was acting. I never thought Kenny would be telling me to stop acting like a fuck up, you know?"

"I guess he's not going to press charges?" Kyle says. "For Karen?"

Stan shakes his head. "We talked. He's still pissed off about Karen, but he felt bad about the whole, uh. Hitting me thing, and for giving me stuff over the years. I guess he thought I could handle it. I guess, I mean. I thought I could, too. I can't, though. I think I've known that for a while." He looks away, toward the living room windows. "I need help."

"I know," Kyle says. "Stan--"

"I talked to my parents for a long time, too, this morning. Mostly my mom. Here, look."

Stan takes something from his jacket pocket and hands it to Kyle. It's a brochure for something called Abini. Kyle looks it over in the grayish light through the windows, trying to figure out if this is a meditation camp in the desert, a hippie artist colony, or a drug rehab center. It seems to be some combination of the three.

"Abini is the Navajo word for 'morning,'" Kyle reads from the back.

"I found out about this place last year," Stan says. His voice is shaking a little. Kyle looks up from the brochure, steps closer and touches Stan's arm. "I think it would help me, um. But I know it's dorky and shit. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. Or, fuck that, it's like -- I was too afraid to hope that anything could fucking help me."

"Is it new age?" Kyle asks, moving his hand up to squeeze Stan's shoulder, already wary about trusting him to a place like this. "Holistic?"

"No," Stan says. "Or, like, maybe a little, but they have real therapists there, you know, licensed psychiatrists and all that. They're not anti-meds. But it's not just some place to go get doped up, either. They have yoga, and, like, music classes. I just need to get the fuck out of South Park, dude. And I'm so sorry I tried to put that on you, like you were my only chance to get out of here--"

"Dude, it's okay--"

"No, it's not okay, and just, the way I've been using you, expecting you to clean up after me, it's not okay."

"I just wanted to help," Kyle says. "I still want to help, it's fucking killing me, even after what you put me through last night, I feel like a piece of shit when I can't help you."

"Kyle, fuck." They grab for each other like it's been a long time. It feels that way when Kyle buries his face against Stan's shoulder, and he's not sure which of them is comforting the other. They're both sort of shaky with exhaustion, drained after too many earnest conversations with other people, and Kyle doesn't need to say or hear much more. He just wants to fall asleep somewhere with Stan and stay there for days, silent and wrapped up together like the single organism they become when everything else breaks apart. He thinks of Cartman upstairs and pulls back a little, sniffling. There's no sound from the second floor.

"Your parents are okay with this Abini place?" Kyle says. Stan nods.

"They had no idea how bad I've been," Stan says. "Or for how long. I put all of that on you, dude. Fuck, I'm so sorry."

"No, Jesus, it's okay."

"It's not okay, Kyle, stop saying that."

"When are you leaving?" Kyle asks. He tries to dry the tears that are leaking from Stan's painful-looking black eye, very carefully sweeping his thumb under the darkened skin.

"After graduation," Stan says. "The day after. Mom's been on the phone with the place, they have a spot for me. I, um. I hope you won't hate me if I just want to spend every fucking second with you until I leave."

"Of course I won't hate you," Kyle says. "I want that, too." Again, he thinks of Cartman.

"I know it's a lot to ask," Stan says. "I don't even know how you fucking put up with me."

"Dude, whatever. You're my best friend. For better or worse."

"Did we take vows?" Stan asks, grinning.

"Um, yeah," Kyle says. "I'm pretty sure we took vows after the second or third time you saved my life. I think it was something like, 'thanks for saving us, Stan. You're my super best friend."

"You're my super best friend, too, dude," Stan says, and they both laugh. "And I'm gonna miss you so fucking much. I just have to -- you were right. Wherever we go, if we go together, we're still in South Park. I've gotta get out of South Park for a while. I've gotta go someplace where everything's new."

"Me too," Kyle says, and it's fucking terrifying, but when he thinks of Stan in some desert zen garden, writing songs about Wendy and doing yoga poses, he feels happy.

"You're gonna do so great in college," Stan says, as if he's thinking the same thing, imagining Kyle in D.C. with his highlighters and his Metro card. "Kyle, dude, you're gonna laugh, but--" Stan takes hold of Kyle's face and looks down at him very seriously. "I am so proud of the man you have become."

"Dude, what the fuck?" Kyle says, laughing, and Stan laughs, too, but they're both a little wet-eyed. Kyle hears Cartman on the stairs and turns, hoping he can pull away from Stan in time to at least protect Cartman's feelings a little, but Cartman is already halfway across the foyer, headed for the door, muttering under his breath about sneaky Jews.

"Cartman, wait," Kyle says, going to him. "Hang on--"

"No, thank you," Cartman says. "I'd stay just to kick the hippie's ass, but Kenny beat me to it, so fuck this."

"Wait!" Kyle says, pulling on Cartman's arm. "What's your problem, why--"

"My problem?" Cartman shoves Kyle away, and he lands against the banister on the stairs.

"Hey, asshole, what the fuck!" Stan says, hurrying over to them. Cartman ignores him, hyperventilating with fury, staring at Kyle. He points his finger and Kyle flinches.

"Fuck it, Kyle!" Cartman says, shouting. "Just fuck it, alright? I'm not -- emotionally -- whatever you said -- enough for this. Find someone else to tickle your butthole, m'kay? Stan seems like he might be up for the job."

"What the fuck?" Stan says. "Cartman, why are you even here?"

"Good question," Cartman says, and he leaves.

Kyle lets him go, flinching when Cartman slams the door behind him. His jealousy is understandable, because Kyle can barely explain his feelings for Stan himself, except that they're definitely not romantic and somewhat more than familial. He would go after Cartman, but he's too worn out and pissed off. That thing about having his butthole tickled was too personal to blurt in front of Stan, even if Kyle said something similar during his frenzied monologue in Craig's hospital room. At least he'd been disclosing information about his own butt, not Cartman's.

"What the hell is going on with him?" Stan asks. "Why's he talking about your butt?"

Kyle sighs and sits on the stairs, propping his head in his hands. Stan sits beside him, close, waiting for an explanation.

"He's talking my butt because I let him touch it," Kyle says, muttering.

"Why?" Stan asks, so clearly upset by the concept that Kyle laughs.

"I actually don't know," Kyle says. "I was feeling really low about something terrible that I did, and that was why I came to Bebe's party to look for you. After I saw you, the way you were -- you know, I was really upset."

"Oh, Jesus," Stan says. He throws an arm around Kyle's shoulders and moans, pulling him closer. "I drove you into the arms of Cartman? Fuck, I'll never forgive myself."

"Don't worry about it," Kyle says. "I'd actually been in his arms before."


"Hey, dude, check the judgment a little, alright? You were with a fifteen-year-old."

"I'm sorry, it's just." Stan is at a loss for a moment, making a croaking sound of disbelief. "It's Cartman."

"I'm gay, by the way," Kyle says. Stan nods and gives him a squeeze.

"I know," Stan says.

"Since when?" Kyle asks, not exactly surprised.

"I don't know, middle school? You never talked about girls."

"How come you didn't say anything?" Kyle asked, elbowing him.

"Dude, what was I supposed to say? 'Hey, you're gay, right? Just wanted to confirm.' I didn't want to harass you before you were ready to talk about it."

"Weren't you worried that I'd fall in love with you?" Kyle asks. "I mean, we're always -- look what we're doing right now, dude." Kyle is practically in Stan's lap, his forehead pressed to Stan's cheek. He feels like he could sleep right here on the stairs.

"It just didn't seem possible," Stan says. He sits up a little, and Kyle does, too. "It's not possible, right?" Stan asks. Kyle rolls his eyes, thinking of the time Stan asked him to confirm that he didn't actually cause 9/11.

"At this point, I think probably not," Kyle says. "Fuck. What am I going to do about Cartman?"

"In what sense?" Stan asks, looking queasy.

"In the sense that -- I don't know! I hurt his feelings."

"How? By talking to another guy?" Stan scoffs. "Man, fuck that noise. You don't need to be dealing with someone who's that insecure, and, I mean, and just -- he's Cartman, Kyle! He's a fucking Nazi!"

"Not really," Kyle says, though he's never been entirely sure if Cartman actually hates Jews or just says all of that stuff to give Kyle a hard time.

"You're leaving for college soon, dude," Stan says. "I'm sure there's gonna be, like, a million people falling in love with you in D.C."

"Oh, fuck you."

"I'm serious! You're just, you know, these are going to be the best years of your life. I can feel it. So fuck Cartman and whatever he did to your butt. It wasn't actual dick-in-butt sex, right?" Stan asks, muttering this nervously.

"No. I did not lose my virginity to Cartman."

"High five," Stan says, and Kyle snorts, pressing his hand to Stan's. He knows Stan has a point. Kyle doesn't need the stress of all this back and forth bullshit. If Cartman can't accept that Kyle wants to be with him, not Stan, that's his fucking problem. Kyle still feels guilty about the whole thing, like somehow he actually is being the bigger asshole here.

"Want to take a nap?" Kyle asks. "My parents won't be back from synagogue for a while. They've got a lot of praying to do about Ike's lost innocence. Thanks for loaning the motherfucker condoms without telling me, by the way."

"Better than letting him get a twelve-year-old pregnant," Stan says, and Kyle can't really argue with that. He takes Stan's hand and lets Stan pull him up. "And fuck yes, I want to take a nap," Stan says. Kyle grins and hugs him again.

"I'm gonna be so lonely without you," Kyle says.

"I know," Stan says. "Me too. But I think we need to learn how to be lonely for a while. We kind of stunted each other with too much, like. Automatic acceptance, I guess. I'm still puking in front of the girl I'm in love with, and you're having your butt tickled by Cartman."

"Please don't use the word tickle in reference to that," Kyle says, wincing. "I can't fucking believe he said that in front of you."

"Dude, you're seriously surprised? Cartman will say anything, anytime, to anyone. It's one of his many shitty qualities."

Again, Kyle can't really argue Stan's point, though he still feels badly as they walk upstairs together. He'd thought what happened in the hospital parking lot, between Cartman's confession and the application of the chapstick, had actually meant something. It must not have if one hug with Stan was all Cartman needed to betray the trust they'd started to build.

Almost as soon as they're in bed together, Stan falls asleep. Kyle is the big spoon, and he's careful about where he places his arm, not wanting to put any weight on Stan's bruised ribs. He rests his chin on Stan's shoulder and tries to sleep. He knows he should feel relieved, because while Craig is surely still fucked up about a lot of things, he's alive and not alone, and Stan is definitely a long way from being healed, but at least he wants to get some real help. Kyle closes his eyes and listens to Stan breathe. It's like he's gone backward, back to the first day of the year: he had a moment with Cartman and let himself be totally lost to it, this time with actual dialogue instead of just frantic dry humping, and as soon as it was over Kyle fled the scene. Cartman was the one who actually ran away this time, but Kyle didn't try very hard to stop him. It was a relief to slip back into the world of Stan's problems, which have always been bigger than his own, and it's a comfort to be able to hide up in his room with Stan tucked safely to his chest, and to hide inside the feeling that Stan needs him so badly, more than anyone.

He's just not sure anymore that this is true. Stan has other people who love him; even Kenny was concerned enough after their fight to talk with him this morning. Stan's parents were there for him last night when he needed them, and they love him so much that they're going to pay some probably exorbitant fee to send him to a rehab program that includes music classes and looks like a desert oasis in its brochure pictures.

Kyle thinks about what Cartman has to go home to: Liane still off with some guy, the blankets on his couch still smelling of Kyle's come. Soon, Butters will be moving on to his new life in ladies clothing at Wesleyan, and Clyde will probably spend most of the summer with Craig. Kyle will be alone after graduation, with Stan off at Abini and three long months until Kyle leaves for D.C. He's pretty sure Cartman isn't the love of his life, but they could have spent some time together this summer, sheltering from the heat in the shadows of Cartman's basement, doing things to each other on that ratty couch.

He closes his eyes and tells himself it wouldn't be worth it. Beyond the day to day aggravation of spending time with Cartman, there's a bigger risk to reconciling with him, and it's the real reason Kyle didn't chase him out to his truck. With Stan away at Abini, Kyle would have no one to run to when things got too heavy. He wouldn't have a reason to drive Cartman away.

The last thing he wants to do just before he finally ditches this hick mountain town and gets on with his real life is fall in love with Eric Cartman.

Compared to the first two and a half months of the semester, the final two and a half are quiet and drama-free. Kyle spends most of his time with Stan, and now that he knows he'll spend the whole summer without him, not to mention most or all of his college years, there's nothing Stan can possibly do to irritate him. Stan is on good behavior anyway, still humiliated about what happened at Bebe's party and avoiding most other people at school. Kenny is the only other person Stan is willing to see socially, and at this point Kenny is just as invested in keeping Stan sober as Kyle is. On weekends, with the weather beginning to grow less harsh, the three of them go for drives together and tell stupid stories about the old days, sometimes stopping at Stark's Pond, where Kenny ice fishes and Stan and Kyle huddle together for warmth, watching him. He's kind of alarmingly good at it, to the point that Kyle wonders how many McCormick family meals have come from Stark's Pond over the years.

"I almost feel like we should invite Cartman," Kenny says one afternoon when the three of them are riding together in the front cab of Kenny's truck, headed toward the mall. Stan is leaving for Abini in just three weeks, and they've sent him a list of supplies to bring: sunscreen, three blank diaries, and "loose-fitting, organically made clothing in neutral colors." There's a hippie clothing store in Fairplay with fruity ponchos made from hemp, and it's not far from a big Bass Pro Shops where Kenny wants to stop for some supplies of his own.

Stan glances at Kyle at the mention of Cartman. Kyle shrugs. They haven't spoken much about the whole Cartman thing, which resolved itself easily enough when Cartman started ignoring Kyle again. Kyle considers blurting something about his rendezvous with Cartman just to shock Kenny, who seems to think Kyle has the sexual maturity of a particularly uptight toddler, but he's still too thrilled that Kenny wants to hang out with him again to risk alienating him, so he says nothing.

"What do you think?" Stan asks when he's alone with Kyle in one of the changing rooms at the hippie store, which reeks of incense. There's something Phish-like playing on the store's stereo system, as if these people are determined to be as stereotypical and caricature-like as possible, which actually makes them just like all other hippies Kyle has ever encountered, excluding Stan, who looks fairly ridiculous in shorts and a shirt made from hemp, both a kind of dirty beige.

"Doesn't really work with your skin tone," Kyle says. Stan smirks.

"Are you gonna be my sassy gay friend now?" he asks, pulling off the shirt. "Saying shit about my skin tone?"

"That was a joke," Kyle says. "I have the same stance on metrosexuality and all that as I did when I was nine. And I don't think these clothes are really about fashion, dude. Or looks, generally."

"I know," Stan says. "They feel comfortable, though. Maybe you should get some hemp boxers."

"Ew, no. I don't want my dick getting a contact high. I'll stick with cotton."

Stan laughs and starts putting the clothes he already owns back on. He seems okay in the light of day, smiling easily, his eye mostly healed. During sleepovers, late at night, Stan whines and jerks in his sleep, and Kyle knows he's scared about what desert therapy and long term sobriety will really be like. Kyle has accepted that he can't do anything for Stan except pet him and whisper shh when he's clearly having nightmares, and that's what he does. It usually calms Stan back into sleep, at least. Kyle is worried about what Stan will be like when he doesn't have Kyle to cling to late at night, but he knows it's time they both found out how to live without each other.

"So you haven't heard from fat ass?" Stan asks when he's dressed. Kyle looks up from the shirts and shorts he's organizing into 'buy' and 'leave' piles. He shakes his head.

"It's better this way," Kyle says. "I was afraid he was going to try to blackmail me or something. Maybe he knows at this point that I'd just roll my eyes if he threatened to tell the whole school I'm gay."

It's also possible that Cartman is keeping Kyle's secret for the sake of concealing his own heartbreak, but Kyle doesn't want to think about that. Cartman seems well enough at school, mostly hanging around with Butters now that Clyde and Craig are again inseparable. He's given no indication that he's falling apart in Kyle's absence, and it's a cold comfort. Kyle misses him. He thinks about Cartman a lot, especially late at night, after he's awakened to one of Stan's nightmares or when he's alone and can't sleep. He thinks about the sex, and the other stuff, too: the way Cartman was still too shy to take his shirt off, the oddly sweet smell of his skin, his curiosity about the contents of Kyle's coat pockets.

Stan collects most of the supplies from his list, and as the weeks go on and the weather gets marginally warmer, Kyle helps him pack. They're both heartsick and terrified about parting, and they're both trying to hide it, putting on happy faces despite the fact that they can't lie to each other about what they're actually feeling.

"Do you think Cartman really cared about you?" Stan asks Kyle one night when they're lying in bed together. Kyle knew this was coming, and he doesn't want to talk about it, so he avoids Stan's eyes, staring at the collar of his t-shirt instead.

"It's hard to tell with him," Kyle says.

"Yeah. But, dude. You've been kind of—- you seem sad."

"I'm sad about you, stupid," Kyle says, curling against Stan's chest so that he can continue to avoid looking him in the eye. "You're leaving in a week. Jesus."

Stan is quiet for a while, chewing on one of Kyle's curls, which is something he hasn't done since they were maybe seven years old. They've been reverting to all of their oldest, weirdest stuff, recently.

"Did you care about him?" Stan asks.

"I don't know," Kyle says, mumbling.

"You must have, a little. I know you, dude. You'd have to trust someone a lot to let them touch your ass."

"Why are we talking about this?" Kyle asks, getting hot inside his pajamas.

"Because, I don't know. You always listen to my bullshit about Wendy. I just want you to know that you can talk to me, like. If you want. About anything. Even about Cartman."

"There's nothing to say." Kyle rolls over, making himself the little spoon. "He's an insecure douche who can't handle human relationships. The only person he can really get along with is Butters, because Butters lets Cartman walk all over him. Anyone else is going to get fed up. I got fed up. The end."

"I saw him running around the track after school," Stan says. "Cartman, not Butters. He barely even has boobs anymore. It's pretty crazy."

"He's just doing all that out of spite," Kyle says, his flush spreading and intensifying. "Just to get to me."

"You think?"

"Yes, Stan! He's the laziest motherfucker on the planet, unless he wants something. Then he becomes completely single-minded and relentless."

"So you're saying he wants you?"

"No! He wants me to suffer! So he's trying to make himself look good. Can we not talk about this? I really don't want to talk about this."

"Okay," Stan says, tucking his face to Kyle's neck. "Just. Can I say one more thing?"

"No!" Kyle groans. "What?"

"When you were hanging out with Cartman and those guys, like, playing your dice rolling games or whatever, I was jealous."

"Oh." Kyle takes Stan's hand and hugs it to his chest. "Well, I was jealous when you were out getting fucked up with Kenny. Not that I wanted to be getting fucked up, just. It was something you did without me. So I can relate."

"Yeah, but for me it was a little different," Stan says. "I don't think you were jealous of my connection with Kenny or anything. I wasn't jealous that you wanted to do stuff with other friends. I was glad you had that outlet, you know, so I didn't feel like I had abandoned you. I was jealous of Cartman, mostly. Because you guys had always had this thing that I wasn't a part of."

"No, we didn't," Kyle says. He rolls onto his back. "What thing?"

"The fighting thing," Stan says. "The competitive thing, and this like, absolute fucking joy for getting under each other's skin. If you ever pulled one over on Cartman, Jesus, I had to hear about it for weeks. Same if he screwed you over. Nobody could get to you the way he could. It didn't bother me when we were kids, but later, I was jealous of that. He was important to you, like. You cared about what he thought."

"He's the one who made irritating me his number one goal in life," Kyle says.

"Just because he wants to bone the hell out of you," Stan says. Kyle snorts.

"That doesn't make it a noble goal."

"I know. That's why I was asking, though. I could always tell Cartman wanted you on a leash. I knew that when we were ten."

"On a leash? Fuck, Stan!"

"Well, that's what I thought! I thought it was a sick obsession at best. The whole thing with you sucking his balls? And he was always trying to make us his slaves. But, okay, here's my question. When you guys -- did stuff -- was he nice? I mean, like. Did he kiss you?"

"Why the fuck are you asking me this?"

"Because if you have this connection," Stan says, "If there was actual, um. Kissing, and not just gross, leash-like stuff--"

"Okay, first of all?" Kyle says, sitting up. "Nobody is ever putting me on a fucking leash, least of all him. Where do you even get this stuff?"

"I watch a lot of porn," Stan says, shrugging. "The kind that Kenny is into, which is not exactly vanilla. And Cartman is a sadistic bastard, right? Or wrong?"

"Cartman is a scared little boy," Kyle says. "You saw the way he acted the last two times I dared to talk to you. And yes, okay, he kissed me. But he also complained that I took a shower without waking him up so he could watch, and made stupid jokes about me blowing him when I was upset about something, and just. What, are you, like, rooting for me and Cartman to get together now?"

"Hell no," Stan says. "I was just thinking. I wasn't giving you enough credit. You wouldn't have pulled your pants down for Cartman unless he'd changed. And now he's fucking jogging after school. Maybe I don't really know him that well anymore."

"You're just worried that I'll be lonely after you leave," Kyle says. He sighs and sinks back down to the pillow, letting Stan rest his chin on his shoulder. "And I didn't pull my pants down for him, goddamn you. He stuck his hand in there without my permission. I just happened to like it," Kyle says, mumbling.

"I always kind of thought you might," Stan says. Kyle turns over and hits him hard. Stan laughs, rolling away from him.

"What the fuck?" Kyle says, hitting him again. "Why would you think that?"

"Dude, why are you so offended? You're the one who kissed him. I thought you might like it because you get so fucking riled up about everything he does. I just thought -- maybe -- sexual tension or whatever--"

"This conversation is over," Kyle says, still attacking Stan, mostly by tickling him. Stan laughs and curls up into a ball, and Kyle clamps around him, pinning him into place. "No more talking," Kyle says, tucking his knees in behind Stan's. "Go to sleep."

"Dude, I'm so sad that I'm gonna miss this," Stan says, still laughing a little, his eyes closed. "Kyle's summer of love with Cartman."

"That is not going to happen. Don't make me mad again, dude," Kyle says, though he isn't really mad. He moves his fingers up to Stan's armpit in warning, and Stan flinches.

"You have to write me if anything does happen," Stan says. "You have to tell me everything."

"You want to hear everything?" Kyle snorts. "Cause I could tell you some stuff about Cartman's dick right now if you--"

"Oh, fuck, no, don't!" Stan says, cringing and laughing again. He seems almost drunk, but it's different from when he's actually drinking. He's authentically happy, and it's infectious, making Kyle laugh, too.

"Go to sleep, fucker, or you're going to hear a very detailed description of what Cartman is packing."

"God," Stan says, laughing tiredly. Kyle chews on some of Stan's hair, for old times sake. It tastes different than it did when they were seven. He must have changed his shampoo.

A couple of days later, Kyle is driving to the grocery store when he sees Cartman jogging along the road. He thinks about slowing down, but he's too nervous, and too unsure about what he might say. He drives on, hoping Cartman is too absorbed in his workout to notice him.

Kyle checks Closeted in South Park nightly, but thistownsucks is never online anymore, maybe because he's no longer closeted. Two days before their finals begin and high school ends forever, Craig grabs Kyle's elbow as they're passing each other in the hallway, and Kyle's heart does an anxious, skippy thing as he waits to be thrown against some lockers. Craig doesn't throw him, just guides him toward the wall.

"Going to Token's party next week?" Craig asks, referring to the massive graduation party that the entire senior class is invited to, even the dorkiest dorks. Kyle shrugs.

"Depends on if Stan wants to or not," he says. There will certainly be alcohol and other temptations there. "You going?"

"Yeah." Craig shrugs. "It'll be lame, but Clyde wants to go to a real party, and Token's my friend. You should come. Did you dump Cartman for Stan or something?" he asks, cocking his head. "Nice upgrade."

"No," Kyle says. "Stan's not -- we're not -- it's not like that. He's just leaving right after graduation, going down to Arizona for a while, so. We're trying to spend a lot of time together."

"Oh." Craig scans the passerby and looks back to Kyle. "Cartman is cool with that?" he asks.

"The Cartman thing was a fluke," Kyle says, keeping his voice low. "Temporary insanity or something."

"I see." Craig is expressionless as usual. "Well. I'm leaving right after graduation, too. Me and Clyde are going up to Maine to spend the summer with his lesbian aunts. Do you think he's obsessed with lesbian porn because his favorite aunts are very friendly lesbians who indulge his bad snacking habits?"

"I fucking hope not," Kyle says, his eyes bugging out a little. Craig actually smiles.

"Me too," Craig says. "But they are really friendly. I've met them. Totally not hot, but they make good chowder."

"Are you doing okay?" Kyle asks, wishing they could have this conversation in a more private setting. He's missed talking to Craig almost as much as he's missed being manhandled by Cartman. Craig shrugs.

"It's been weird," he says. "Not living at home. But me and my sister have been talking. I haven't really talked to her in like five years. Turns out she's actually pretty cool."

"That's good," Kyle says, feeling depressed about Ike. They've barely spoken to each other since Kyle outed Ike for having condoms in his room. Ike has been grounded ever since, and Kyle is still technically grounded himself, unless he's with Stan, because his parents know all about the 'situation' and Stan's upcoming departure.

"I'm gonna skip the rest of the day," Craig says when the warning bell starts ringing. "You want to join me?"

Kyle doesn't want to get in trouble again for skipping, but he feels as if the world is ending, with graduation approaching and Stan leaving town soon, so worrying about whether or not he attends Spanish class seems ridiculous. He grins and nods.

"Cool," Craig says. "I've got Clyde's keys. We just have to come back and pick him up after school."

"Oh," Kyle says, kind of surprised that Clyde won't be joining them. "Kay."

They drive away from school listening to music that Kyle has never heard before, Craig's mp3 player hooked up to Clyde's crappy stereo. Craig is silent and stoic, and Kyle is increasingly nervous as he realizes they're driving toward Stark's Pond, which is deserted at this time of day, school still in session. The ice on the surface has mostly melted, but it's hanging around in places, slushy and dirty-looking. Craig parks near the north side of the pond and turns the engine off but leaves the key in the ignition, turning the music down a little.

"You want to make out or something?" Craig asks, still expressionless. Kyle laughs, then realizes that Craig is serious.

"Okay," Kyle says, only because he feels like it would be babyish and stupid to say no. Craig is hot, and there's a piece of dry skin on his bottom lip that Kyle wants to lick. Craig nods and adjusts his seat, spreading his legs as if to invite Kyle to climb onto him. Kyle feels out of his depth; he's not even a little aroused, and there's still the possibility that Craig is out for revenge somehow.

"I just figure it makes sense," Craig says as Kyle awkwardly gets into position, his face on fire as he straddles Craig's lap. "I mean, you used to get me off so good. Online. With those stories."

"I don't know if I can tell them live," Kyle says, not sure what to do with his hands. Everything seems too intimate. "I had time to think, you know, when I was typing--"

"You don't have to talk," Craig says, and then he's kissing Kyle, licking into him. Kyle opens his mouth and slides his hands onto Craig's shoulders, trying to kiss back in a competent fashion. It wasn't something he'd had time to worry about when he was kissing Cartman. He'd been so hard when it was Cartman's tongue invading his mouth, but he's completely soft now, too nervous and confused about what's happening to get aroused. Craig pulls back and gives him a searching look.

"Sorry," Kyle says.

"For what?"

"I don't know," Kyle says, and he closes his eyes, trying to kiss Craig again. It doesn't feel like kissing, though Craig tastes fine and his mouth is warm, his tongue neither over-eager nor timid. It just feels like two people rubbing their mouths together. Craig pulls back again.

"I thought maybe I looked enough like Stan to get you going," he says. He doesn't seem disappointed exactly, and his indifference is making Kyle's eyes water.

"It's not Stan," Kyle says, shaking his head. "I never wanted Stan."

"Cartman?" Craig says, one eye twitch the only sign of his disgust. Kyle moans and climbs out of Craig's lap, back into the passenger seat.

"I don't know," Kyle says, looking down at his hands. "Maybe. Sorry. I know I'm fucked up."

"No, it's okay," Craig says. "It's like that with me and Clyde. I don't know why I'm into this person who has jelly rolls and smells like a french fry vat on a good day. Then there's his taste in -- everything. Even porn. Especially porn. You know, when we were thirteen, we used to jerk each other off."

"Really?" Kyle actually feels vaguely aroused by that, but he's still not willing to try to kiss Craig again.

"Yeah. You and Stan do anything like that?"

"No," Kyle says. "It would be too -- I always think he's like a family member, but it's more than that. Okay, this might not make any sense to you, because you don't read fantasy books, but in some made up universes people have these spirit guides who are always with them, and they're closer to you than family, or sex partners, or whatever, it's like they're an extension of your fucking soul. That's what me and Stan are. I just don't -- I really don't want to touch his dick. But sleeping in his arms feels great. It's weird."

"I think that's how Clyde feels about me," Craig says. "Even back when we were jerking each other, it was a convenience thing. We were watching his porn. He was thinking about the chicks."

They talk for two hours, until Craig has to return to school to pick up Clyde. Kyle feels satisfied when he climbs out of the car, better than he does after even the most amazing jerk off. He feels like he did when he would climb into bed after hours spent chatting with thistownsucks not about his fake sexual conquests but about things that were real, complaints about friends and teachers, parent-related stress, and the depressingly poor quality of whatever porn they'd recently encountered.

"We should keep in touch, you know?" Kyle says when he's leaning in the passenger side window.

"Yeah," Craig says. "I'll have to make a new user name. I don't plan on living in any more towns that suck."

"Where are you going to school?" Kyle asks.

"UCLA. I got a scholarship for this stupid movie I made."

"That's awesome, man," Kyle says. "I'm going to Georgetown. In D.C."

"Here's to some real fucking lives," Craig says, putting his fist out for Kyle to bump. "Finally."

The last week of school passes too quickly, and by the morning of graduation, Kyle is exhausted from cramming for finals and worrying about the future. Stan has been quiet for the past few days, and Kyle is almost afraid of bringing up the subject of Token's party as they dress for the graduation ceremony after a night of somber, restless spooning in Kyle's bed.

"I can't fucking believe you're leaving tomorrow," Kyle says when he can't hold it in any longer. Stan pauses in buttoning up his shirt and looks over at Kyle sadly.

"I keep thinking I'm gonna puke," he says.

"Trash can's over there if you need to."

Stan nods and finishes with his shirt. He stares at himself for a while in the mirror, and Kyle puts his chin on Stan's shoulder.

"There's a party tonight," Stan says. "Token's party."

"I know."

"I kind of want to go," Stan says. "Just for a little bit, just so I can see Wendy and, like. Apologize. For everything." He turns from the mirror and looks at Kyle. "Would you come with me?"

"Sure, dude. Of course." Kyle isn't sure about this, and his heart is beating a little faster already, at the thought of what a bad confrontation with Wendy can turn Stan into. Still, he knows there's unfinished business between the two of them, and getting some closure might help Stan make a fresh start.

Graduation is boring but brief, with only 51 graduating seniors. Butters is the valedictorian, and the highlight of the ceremony is the fact that he's attending in drag, his graduation cap pinned over soft blond hair that falls to his shoulders, lips shining with tasteful pink gloss. He looks pretty. Kyle applauds loudly as Butters leaves the podium after his speech, and searches the bleachers for Butters' parents. They don't seem to be in attendance.

"I hope he has a place to stay," Kyle says to Henrietta Biggle, who is next to him in alphabetical order and clapping just as loudly as Kyle for Butters and his plucky courage.

"You think they threw him out?" she asks.

"I don't know. I don't think they came, which isn't a good sign." Kyle looks down the row at Cartman, who is separated from him by only two people. Cartman is clapping, too, but he seems distracted, his expression unreadable.

After the ceremony, Kyle's parents host a small get together at the house with snacks and punch. Only the Marshes are invited, and Stan watches over Kyle's shoulder as Kyle sends a text to Butters to make sure he's okay. Kyle gets a response after they've waited for a few tense minutes.

I sure am! Having brunch with Bebe and her parents. My mom even came along. See you fellas tonight at the party!

"Butters and Bebe are friends?" Stan says.

"I think she does his makeup," Kyle says. "I'm just glad he's okay. Can you imagine getting up there in front of everyone, dressed like that? Butters has some big fucking balls, dude."

"Please tell me you're being metaphorical and not speaking from experience," Stan says, and he laughs when Kyle starts pummeling him.

Kyle is nervous before the party, and he goes over to Stan's to dress in some of Stan's old clothes. He feels a little stupid in stylishly distressed jeans and a flannel with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, but Stan tells him he looks great. Kyle is still messing with his hair in the car on the way to the party.

"You know people will be drinking, right?" he says, afraid to look at Stan when he mentions this.

"I know," Stan says. "It's alright. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is get wasted in front of these people again."

Kyle reaches over to touch Stan's thigh, and they spend the rest of the ride in silence. It's still cold outside, but there's a faint scent of the coming summer in the air, even at night. Token's house is outside of town, where the smell of pines is a little thicker. Kyle cracks his window and closes his eyes.

"You tired or something?" Stan asks, squeezing Kyle's hand.

"Yeah," Kyle says, and it's profoundly true. He's exhausted, ready for a long and hopefully uneventful summer. He wishes he could spend it with Stan, but South Park will be a whole new world without Stan at his side, and Kyle is ready for something new. He's scared, too. Even the sight of Token's house makes his heart race.

"I doubt Cartman will come," Stan says.

"I wasn't thinking about that," Kyle says, lying.

The party is crowded, and many of the attendees already seem pretty drunk by the time Stan and Kyle make their way inside. Kyle has to stop himself from grabbing Stan's hand and holding it like a little kid. He hasn't been to a real party since crashing Bebe's, and there are five times as many people at this one.

"There you guys are!" Clyde says, bounding over to them. He's obviously been drinking, his cheeks bright red, and he looks beside himself with joy. Craig is trailing after him, dressed impeccably. He seems far more sober, though he is holding a beer.

"Is Butters here?" Kyle asks.

"Yes," Craig says. "He's wearing a cocktail dress. And pulling it off, actually."

"Of course he's pulling it off," Clyde says, slumping against Craig. "Butters is hot as a girl. If he had bigger tits I'd be all over that."

"Shut up," Craig says, sliding an arm around Clyde's waist. Clyde giggles idiotically and rests his head on Craig's shoulder, hugging him.

"This is my best friend right here," he says to Stan and Kyle, pointing a finger at Craig's chest. "Look at him. Isn't he great? Isn't he the greatest thing?"

"Sure," Stan says. "Um, we're gonna go find Wendy."

They wind through the crowd, and Kyle waves when he sees Butters on the far end of the room, looking quite classy in a little black dress with a thin pink belt around the waist. Kyle hurries over toward him, pulling Stan along, and stops in his tracks when he sees that Cartman is standing beside Butters, drinking a beer and scanning the room, one hand in his pocket. He looks terribly good, still wearing his fancy graduation clothes, his shirt untucked and his tie loosened. He's dropped another ten pounds or so, and Kyle wants to tell him to stop that before he loses the softness at his jaw. Cartman catches Kyle staring at him, and Kyle looks away, stepping back awkwardly and crashing into Stan.

"I see Wendy," Stan says, looking toward the kitchen. "Shit, and she's not with Token. I'm gonna go -- do you mind?"

"No," Kyle says, though he wants to hide inside Stan's jacket and duck out of here. "Go ahead. I'm gonna talk to, um. Butters."

"Oh," Stan says, spotting Cartman, who is looking away now, drinking beer. "Yeah, good," Stan says, elbowing Kyle. "Go have a chat."

"Cartman is not my Wendy, dude," Kyle says, because the music is loud enough that he can declare this in the middle of a crowded room. Stan shrugs.

"I know," Stan says. "But he's your Cartman." Stan gives Kyle's shoulder a rub and walks off toward Wendy, leaving Kyle to wonder what the fuck that means.

Kyle wishes he had a drink in his hand as he heads toward Butters and Cartman. He puts his hands in his pockets, and takes them out again when Butters hurries forward to hug him. Kyle pats Butters' back, looking at Cartman from over Butters' shoulder. Cartman is pointedly not looking back at him, staring at the front door as if he's waiting for someone to arrive.

"I'm so glad you came!" Butters says, holding Kyle's shoulders, and Kyle laughs when he realizes Butters is tipsy, his breath reeking of beer. He's still wearing his shoulder-length wig, a sparkling barrette holding a section of hair back over his right ear. "Eric, look!" Butters says, turning to Cartman. "Look who's here."

"'Ey, Jew," Cartman says, muttering. Kyle never expected that to actually hurt, coming from Cartman, but it does, badly. He shrugs.

"I guess I can't call you fat ass anymore," he says.

"Yeah, look how much weight Eric lost!" Butters says. "Thirty-three pounds total!"

"Butters, don't start telling people about my personal shit," Cartman says.

"This isn't people, Eric," Butters says. "It's Kyle. Look how handsome Kyle is tonight! What a nice shirt!"

"Oh, for Christ's sake," Kyle says, untangling himself from Butters, who is pawing him like he's a show dog who needs fluffing. "Cartman, could we go somewhere and talk, please?" Kyle asks. Cartman stares at him, his eyes narrowed.

"Talk about what?" Cartman says. "I see QB has ditched you for the prom queen." He flicks his chin toward Stan and Wendy, but Kyle doesn't turn. "Tough shit, Jew. Find someone else to be your backup plan."

"Please, Cartman?" Kyle says, though he wants to get angry and call him an asshole. "I really need--"

"I know what you need, Kyle," Cartman says, lifting his pinky finger from his beer bottle to point it at Kyle. "You need to get bitch-slapped, put over the side of something and fucked in the ass."

"Eric!" Butters shrieks, horrified. Kyle rolls his eyes.

"And I was gonna give it to you, too!" Cartman says, getting slightly louder. "But that was a limited time offer, and you blew it, Kyle! You blew your chance to have the best sex of your life, all for that piece of crap who's over there trying to get Testaburger to step on his ball sack with her stilettos."

"Oh, fucking hell," Kyle says, grabbing for Cartman's arm. "How long have you been saving that one up? You're more obsessed with Stan's sex life than I've ever been. Come here," he says, and he gives Cartman a tug, leading him toward the stairs to the second floor. He's surprised when Cartman actually lets himself be pulled, and he doesn't look back, afraid that Cartman will see how scared he is right now.

Kyle walks up the stairs, still holding Cartman's wrist. It's early, but there are already a few couples in the upstairs hallway, giggling from behind closed doors and whispering in the shadows, watching Kyle and Cartman pass by. Kyle brings Cartman into a dark room with a door that's half open, hoping that it's not the site of some poorly planned tryst. He flips on the light, relieved to find the room empty, and shuts the door behind them.

"What the hell is this?" Cartman asks. "You want a grudge fuck? I told you, you're too late."

"All I want is to apologize to you," Kyle says. This was hardly his plan for the evening, but he was beginning to suspect that he would grovel eventually, maybe after Stan had gone.

"Apologize, why?" Cartman asks, starting to pace. "Because it didn't work out with Stan? Aww, how sad."

"I love Stan," Kyle says, and this makes Cartman stop and turn to him, his expression blanked by shock. "And I'll always love him. He'll always be a big part of my life."

"How great for you, Kyle--"

"But I don't want to do things with him, not the things I did with you," Kyle says. "I thought that you'd be able to get that, that it was your failing that you couldn't, but that was wrong of me, actually. I understand how you felt used. I didn't mean for you to feel that way, but--"

"Kyle, look, it's a little late for talk about your feelings--"

"No, it's not, shut up!" Kyle says, making his hands into fists. Remarkably, this works. "I'm telling you that I realize now that I was a bad friend to you. And that I -- I played with your emotions, and I expected you to back off whenever Stan needed me, and that was shitty. I really like you, Eric." They both wince at this, and Kyle shakes his head. "I mean, Cartman. I want to spend my summer with you, and it's not just because Stan's leaving tomorrow. Although, the fact that he is -- I think it will be good. It will give us a chance to, you know. It will give us a chance."

"What do you think, I'm in love with you or something?" Cartman asks, glaring at him. Kyle knows he's on the defensive, but this still cuts straight through him, the idea that Kyle was fooling himself about Cartman having feelings for him. He turns away, not sure how to proceed.

"I tried kissing another guy," Kyle says, growing desperate. He can feel Cartman's stare on the back of his neck. Cartman is relentless when he wants something, and he wants to hurt Kyle right now, to get back at him. "Not Stan. Another guy, a gay guy. It sucked. I wanted it to be you."

He says all of this with his back to Cartman, and he can't force himself to turn after it's out. He hears Cartman breathing heavily, angrily, and he stiffens when Cartman walks across the room.

"I don't love you, Kyle," Cartman says, spinning him around roughly. "I don't," he says, and he shakes Kyle by the shoulders, his face bright red with anger or embarrassment, his jaw tight. "I hate you, okay? I fucking hate you, I'm so tired of thinking about you, so fucking tired of you--"

"Okay," Kyle says, starting to cry. "Okay--" He tries to squirm out of Cartman's grip, realizing too late how much was really at stake here, the real weight of what he wanted from Cartman. Cartman growls and pulls Kyle back to him, lifting him off the ground. In two steps he's got Kyle pinned to the wall, and Kyle gets the wind knocked out of him on impact, his legs winding around Cartman's waist for balance.

"I don't love you," Cartman says as Kyle wraps his shaking arms around Cartman's neck, resting his forehead against Cartman's. "I don't," Cartman says, his voice breaking. They kiss, and Kyle can taste it, laced with beer: Cartman loves him so much it hurts. He's been hurting for a long time, at least since Clyde's birthday party, when that picture of Kyle on the diving board was taken. Kyle tries to kiss it better, holding Cartman's cheeks and squeezing himself around him like a bandage, wanting to stop the bleeding. Kyle has war wounds, too, but Cartman feels like one big bruise in Kyle's hands, so raw that anywhere Kyle touches him will hurt. He tries to be tender, but Cartman is devouring Kyle like he's everything sweet and salty that Cartman has denied himself in his attempt to lose weight. He carries Kyle to the bed and drops him there, falling onto him.

"Cartman," Kyle says, afraid of what's about to be done to him. Cartman is mostly just licking and biting at his neck, making Kyle writhe beneath him. "Wait," Kyle says, checking to make sure he still has some measure of control here. Cartman pulls back to stare at him, his breath coming hard and hot against Kyle's face. "Wait," Kyle says again, more softly, and he touches Cartman's cheek. Cartman grunts like an agitated animal, but some of the mania drains from his eyes when Kyle leans up to nuzzle at him.

"Don't tease me," Cartman says, pinning Kyle's shoulders to the bed again. "You're such a fucking tease. You just want to drive me out of my goddamn mind."

"No, I don't." Kyle flexes in Cartman's grip, his heart beating faster when he realizes how strong Cartman has gotten. "Please, just. I'm scared of you, too, alright? You scare the shit out of me."

"Why?" Cartman asks, narrowing his eyes. He eases his grip a little.

"Because," Kyle says. "You could hurt me if I let you. You could rip me apart."

"I could," Cartman says. He skims his hand down over Kyle's chest and smirks when Kyle shivers. "It's more fun to make you beg for it, though."

"Please," Kyle says, playing along. "Please, Cartman." He leans up a little bit, closing his eyes and rubbing his nose on Cartman's cheek. "Please don't hurt me," he says. He's speaking softly, embarrassed, and so fucking hard. "Be gentle. You know, I'm a lot smaller than you. And I'm so tight," he says, whispering this in Cartman's ear.

"Oh, fuck," Cartman says, sounding like he'll cry. He pushes Kyle back down and kisses him hard, grinding their dicks together. Kyle spreads his legs and arches to give Cartman better access to his neck, letting the tension drain from his limbs as his body completely submits. He whines when Cartman pulls away, sitting back on Kyle's hips.

"Don't stop," Kyle says, writhing.

"You're such a slut," Cartman says. He pushes his hands up under Kyle's shirt, thumbing his nipples until he arches. Cartman laughs under his breath and presses his thumbs in harder. "I just need one thing from you," Cartman says. "Then I'll accept your apology."

"What?" Kyle asks nervously, cracking his eyes open. Cartman is smiling like he already knows he's won, that Kyle will give him anything.

"My balls," Cartman says. "Suck on 'em."

Kyle takes a few ragged breaths, staring at Cartman and trying to read his eyes. It's possible, because this is Cartman, that everything up to now has all been an elaborate ruse designed to get Kyle's mouth on his balls. Possible, but not likely.

"Okay," Kyle says. "But not on my back like this. Let me get on my knees."

"Oh, fuck yeah," Cartman says, scrambling off of him, already working on his belt. "I'll let you -- Jesus, Kyle, yeah. On your knees, on the floor."

Cartman sits on the side of the bed and Kyle kneels on the floor between his legs, licking his lips for effect. He feels out of control, and Cartman seems to be breaking apart himself, his hands shaking on the waistband of his pants as he prepares to shove them down.

"Beg," Cartman says. "Beg me to take my dick out."

"Please?" Kyle takes hold of Cartman's legs with both hands, spreading them a little wider. He kisses the bulge of Cartman's erection, keeping his face tilted upward, his eyes on Cartman's. "Holy shit," Cartman says. He pushes his pants and underwear down, and there's a new fragrance in the room when his dick is free, heavy and dark. Kyle wants to suck on the leaking head and run his tongue up and down the shaft, but he feels like he should focus on the balls first. They're less appealing, hairy and sort of huge.

"Hold your dick out of the way," Kyle says, because he wants to see Cartman touch himself, and also wants to find out if he can issue demands. Cartman swallows heavily and spreads his knees a little wider, pulling his cock up toward his belly. Pleased with this response, Kyle darts his tongue out and touches the tip to the split of Cartman's balls, just barely tickling him. Cartman breathes out through his nose, his lips clamped shut.

"Suck them," Cartman manages to say after Kyle has teased his tongue between the hairs, so far successfully avoiding any pubes in his throat. "C'mon, do it. Suck those balls, Kyle."

"I'd rather suck your dick," Kyle says, and Cartman moans, closing his eyes. He lets go of his cock, and Kyle narrowly avoids being slapped in the face with it. He's pretty sure that was Cartman's intention, but he gives the head a preliminary lick anyway, and grins when Cartman whimpers.

"Don't laugh," Cartman says. "And don't -- don't tease me. Please, Kyle. Please, you don't know how much I want this. You've got no fucking clue."

"Shh," Kyle says. He grips Cartman at the base, and he feels suddenly nervous with Cartman's thickness filling his hand. "I've never done this," Kyle says. "You can't fuck my mouth."

"Oh, God," Cartman says, trembling hard now. "Just -- just fucking lick me again, I don't even care, just put your, your mouth on it--ahhhhh, yeah. Fuhhhck, Kyle. Mhmmm, yeah."

Cartman is so vocal that Kyle is certain anyone who's lingering in the hall knows exactly what's going on, but he hardly cares. He takes to sucking dick much better than he expected to, and he likes the taste, the feeling of salty heat on his tongue, Cartman's heavy dick stretching his mouth. He can't take it very deep, but he does the rest with his hand, and as soon as his fingers slide down to rub Cartman's balls, Cartman comes hard in Kyle's mouth. Kyle manages to swallow some, pulling off when he thinks it's over. He gets another two shots in the face for that assumption.

"Oh, Jesus Christ," Cartman says, sobbing through the end of his orgasm. "Wait, wait, let me do it," he says when Kyle starts to wipe his face clean. Kyle stands and allows Cartman to clean his cheeks with the corner of a blanket from the bed.

"Token's gonna be--mpfh!"

Kyle lets Cartman yank him onto the bed, on top of him. Cartman sweeps his tongue across Kyle's again and again, moaning into his mouth. When Kyle pulls back, Cartman looks almost startled by whatever he's feeling, as if someone just told him that he's inherited another million dollars.

"Shit," Cartman says, whispering. "You taste like my come."

"Well, I would, wouldn't I?" Kyle says, barely getting this out before Cartman pulls him down for another long, deep kiss. Kyle is still hard, and he whines, rubbing himself against Cartman's stomach.

"Lie back," Cartman says, some of the fog clearing from his eyes. "On the pillows. Take off your pants."

Kyle thinks this must be what getting high feels like. He's lost control of himself, and he doesn't care, he wants to be even less in control, even more unhinged. He scrambles out of his pants and underwear, spreading his legs for Cartman and shouting loud enough to alert the whole party to their secret business when Cartman licks his cock.

"Goddamn," Cartman says, fondling Kyle and licking him again. "I knew it'd be all cute and shit."

"Don't call it cute! It's almost six inches! That's average!"

"No, it's great, it's perfect," Cartman says, licking him again. "Um, you could fuck me," he says, taking Kyle completely off guard. Kyle sits up on his elbows and gapes at Cartman, panting.

"Now?" Kyle says.

"Well." Cartman picks one of Kyle's legs up and puts it over his shoulder like he's sliding on some suspenders. "Yeah, if you want."

"That's too— I can't handle that right now," Kyle says, flopping back onto the pillows. "I can't handle any part of that. Just— ahh, yeah. Like that. Unh, like that. Yeah."

Cartman is good at more things than most people who know him are willing acknowledge, but everyone who's ever met him would confidently say that he's good at doing at least one thing: eating. Kyle is still completely surrendered when Cartman puts his other leg over his shoulder and lifts his ass off the bed, and he shouts with surprise when Cartman's tongue slurps down over his balls to lap at his hole. Surprise quickly gives way to jolts of pleasure that make him jerk and sob, and he claws at his chest, trying to force his body to transform into something that can handle this feeling. Cartman takes it in stride and holds Kyle steady, grunting and sticking his tongue in as far as he can, until Kyle is crying out shamelessly and tugging at his curls, unable to vocalize anything but a long string of Cartman's name, over and over, until he can't even say that much. He's back to hissing yes, yeah, yes as Cartman circles him a wet finger. Kyle wants it in, fat and hot and perfect, he wants to be opened

Then someone opens the fucking door, and it's fucking Tweek, of all fucking people.

"Jesus!" Tweek screams, his huge eyes resting on Kyle and Cartman for only half a second before he bolts. Cartman sits up, breathless and gaping at the door, which Tweek only closed halfway. Kyle's ass hits the bed, and he's still tingling, pulling the buttons on his shirt open sloppily, trying to get better access to his nipples.

"Fuck," Cartman says, looking at him. "They'll all. Tweek will tell them—"

"I don't fucking care," Kyle says. "Go lock the door and— I'm gonna come, please, I need to come—"

Kyle has never seen Cartman move so fast. He vaults off the bed, slams the door, locks it, and is back in a flash, hoisting Kyle's legs up onto his shoulders again. Cartman groans when Kyle pulls his ass cheeks apart, begging for more, staring down at Cartman over his heaving chest. He's going to come, it's not going to take much, only a few more wet passes of Cartman's tongue, and he's almost there, almost, when someone knocks hard on the door and tries the knob.

"Kyle?" It's Stan, sounding as if he's ready to kick down the door. "Dude? Are you okay?"

"Oh, fuck me," Kyle mutters, and Cartman lifts his head, grunting.

"I'm trying," he says.

"Kyle?" Stan calls, trying the knob again.

"I'm fine, dude," Kyle says. "Jesus!"

"Oh. Okay. Are you sure?"

"That's it," Cartman says, lowering Kyle toward the bed. "I'm kicking his ass."

"No!" Kyle hisses. "Stan, I'm sure, please, fuck! Give me a minute!"

"Alright," Stan says, still sounding worried. Kyle lets out his breath with relief when he hears Stan walking away and down the stairs. Cartman is giving him an irritable look.

"Please," Kyle says, flexing. "Continue."

"Beg harder," Cartman says.

Kyle groans and lets his head fall back, trembling in Cartman's hands.

"Please, please," he says, feeling like his whole body has become one raw nerve. His balls are so full, and he can feel Cartman's breath on his hole. "Please," Kyle says, letting his voice come out in a weak, reedy whimper, and Cartman moans.

"You taste good," Cartman says. He gives Kyle one slow lick, and Kyle moans, pawing at his chest. "So, alright. Just -- just -- touch your cock, too. That's good, yeah, like that. Mmph."

Then he's feasting on Kyle again, and Kyle is mindless, all his senses pulled into a tight, hot line as he jerks his cock and digs a fingernail into his left nipple, biting his lip, arching, arching a little more. Cartman's tongue moves up to Kyle's perineum, giving his finger room to rub and then press, and Kyle comes with a shout, nodding as he goes limp on the bed, sheened with sweat, drained of everything in a way that's left him buzzing with relief. He's so delirious in the aftermath that he lets Cartman kiss him, realizing too late that Cartman's mouth is extremely unsanitary at the moment. In any other circumstances, Kyle would pull away, but it feels too good to have Cartman cover Kyle's body with his own and press him down with deep kisses. Kyle lets it go on and on, his arms winding around Cartman's sweaty neck, one leg hooking across Cartman's back. When their eyes meet, Kyle feels like they haven't actually looked at each other in some time, as if they both just went somewhere else and now they've returned.

"I don't hate you," Cartman says, lowering his eyes. He has nice eyelashes, on the thin side but pretty, soft brown.

"I know," Kyle says when Cartman meets his eyes again. Cartman rolls onto his side, pulling Kyle with him. They study each other for a while, naked from the waist down, timidly rubbing their knees and ankles together. Kyle kisses Cartman under his jaw, where he's still soft, and tries to put his finger on the sweetish smell of him that's strongest just there. It's like flaky pastry dough, the kind Kyle's mother uses to make rugelach.

"You know you're gonna have to face everyone now," Cartman says. He's got his hand pushed up under the open flannel shirt, resting on Kyle's side. "Stan probably came running up here because Tweek flipped out and shouted something about how I was raping you or whatever."

"Well, that's ridiculous," Kyle says. "Tweek is paranoid and insane. Stan was just -- making sure. He knows I like you."

Cartman huffs doubtfully and closes his eyes against the pillow they're sharing.

"He does," Kyle says. "We've talked about it. He was encouraging me to talk to you again. Sort of."

"Oh, so you're only spreading your legs for me because you have Stan's permission?"

"Dude, shut up," Kyle says, kissing Cartman's face. Cartman's eyes are still closed, eyelashes trembling. "What do I have to do to convince you that Stan's got nothing to do with the way I feel about you?"

"And how do you feel about me, Kyle?" Cartman says, trying to be smug, but Kyle can see him sincerely wondering when he rolls onto his back and opens his eyes.

"Fond," Kyle says. Cartman stares at him for a moment before cracking a smile.

"That's a delightfully faggy way to put it," Cartman says.

"Well. As someone who just ate my ass, I guess you can appreciate delightfully faggy things."

"Yeah, your ass definitely qualifies," Cartman says, his hand sliding down until he's gripping it. He blushes, and Kyle grins.

"My breath is disgusting, isn't it?" he says. Cartman shrugs.

"Smells pretty good to me," he says.

"I can't go downstairs with breath like this," Kyle says, dropping onto his back. "Go fetch me a mint."

"Bitch, what!" Cartman sits up and twists one of Kyle's nipples when he laughs. Kyle laughs harder and squirms away. "I'm not your slave just because I enjoy the taste of your butt," Cartman says, palming Kyle's ass possessively.

"Yes, you are," Kyle says tiredly. He closes his eyes and thinks of all the people gathered downstairs, many of them surely whooping with laughter at the gossip about what Tweek walked in on. It seems remarkably unimportant. School is over. Things have changed.

"Like hell I am," Cartman says, and he leans down to bite at Kyle's neck, sinking his teeth in just a little, until Kyle whines nervously and Cartman chuckles. "I'm gonna blow my Kyle's ass flavored breath onto those fuckers with pride, personally," Cartman says.

"Oh, God," Kyle says, still laughing. He can feel Cartman smile against his neck. When he rolls onto his back and grins up at Cartman, there's something more than fondness tightening in his chest. He strokes Cartman's cheek with the backs of his fingers, waiting for him to say something that will ruin the moment. Cartman seems to finally be speechless. He takes Kyle's hand and licks his fingertips one at a time, as if Kyle is his last meal and he wants every drop of gravy off the plate.

"There might be mouthwash," Cartman says, flicking his head in the direction of the attached bathroom.

"Go check for me?" Kyle says.

Cartman's eyes narrow slightly, and Kyle knows the nature of whatever will eventually happen between them is being determined right now, in this moment when Cartman decides if he's going to fight or forfeit this particular battle.

"I will," Cartman says. "If you hold my hand when we walk back downstairs."

"Deal," Kyle says, because he was going to anyway.

Kyle persuades Cartman to use the mouthwash, too, promising to kiss him again later if he does, and they walk back into Token's grand den with their hands clasped together. There's plenty of pointing and laughter, but Butters looks like he's going to cry with joy, and Kenny slaps them both on the back as he passes behind them toward the kitchen.

"Called it," he says.

Token has reclaimed Wendy, and Stan is hanging out with Bebe in the kitchen. Kyle goes tense, afraid that Stan might be drinking, but he's only sipping from a can of Coke. Cartman's hand tightens around Kyle's as they walk closer, and Kyle can't lie to himself: he wants to let go, to save face. He doesn't, because Cartman's feelings matter, too. He can finally acknowledge that, though it still makes him feel squirrelly and strange.

"Hey," Stan says, leaning off the counter and standing up straight, as if he's about to meet his girlfriend's parents or something. "Sorry, um. Sorry."

"It's okay," Kyle says.

"You're leaving tomorrow, right?" Cartman says. Stan laughs and looks at Kyle.

"Yeah," he says. Kyle wants to let go of Cartman and throw his arms around Stan, but he'll be able to do that tomorrow when he drives Stan to the airport. Stan is entrusting his car to Kyle for the summer.

"Damn, Eric," Bebe says. "You lost some weight, dude."

"It was totally easy," Cartman says, flexing a little. Kyle gives Stan a look, and he can see Stan reading his thoughts, his smile almost imperceptible.

"Would it be weird if we played Twister?" Bebe asks.

"Are you being euphemistic?" Kyle asks. Stan laughs, because that's one of their old jokes— a classier take on 'that's what she said,' Kyle thinks. He squeezes Cartman's hand and smiles up at him, trying to share the joke with him, too. Cartman hesitates, shuffles, and grins.

Bebe was not being euphemistic: she brings out an old Twister mat and spreads it on Token's living room floor. Kyle refuses to play, and he's relieved that Cartman has no interest, either. They sit together on the couch, and Kyle puts his cheek on Cartman's chest as he watches Stan, Kenny, and his other childhood friends twisting around each other, collapsing with laughter when they can't hold themselves up any longer. Craig is on the other end of the couch, talking to Tweek about film school and petting Clyde's hair. Clyde has already passed out, fast asleep with his head on Craig's thigh.

Cartman is drinking another beer, and Kyle sneaks a few sips, though he doesn't like the taste. He feels grown up, like he's watching his friends from a distance: the way they've twisted around each other, knocked each other down and helped each other up. Wendy lets Stan give her a hand after she's fallen, and when she's back at Token's side Stan goes to Kenny, who hugs him. It's strange to see after witnessing their fight at Bebe's house just a few months ago, but Kyle has his arm hugged across Eric Cartman's uncharacteristically trim chest, so he thinks, closing his eyes and breathing in that sweet pastry scent that's tinted with the smell of come and mouthwash: anything is possible.

Fifteen years later, Kyle is sharing an apartment in D.C. with Stan.

It's supposed to be temporary, but like the last time Stan got divorced, he's made himself quite cozy in Kyle's life, and he's been sleeping on Kyle's couch for five months now. Kyle doesn't mind, and actually prefers to have Stan living with him, because Stan's flexible schedule works well around Kyle's completely inflexible one. Kyle can get home from the hospital at one in the morning, and Stan will be cooking some insanely fattening pesto ravioli thing that Kyle will devour before falling into bed. Stan is perfectly happy to be ignored by Kyle until he finally gets some time off, and they'll have a best friends day in the city whenever Kyle's schedule allows, checking out visiting exhibits before stuffing themselves at Indian buffets or Korean barbecue. Even after fifteen years in the city, Kyle never fails to appreciate the variety of restaurants, as opposed to what he grew up with: City Wok, Bennigan's, and one Italian place that was supposed to be romantic and was always changing names and ownership. There was also Whistlin' Willy's, but that didn't really count after he'd reached a certain age.

The only time Kyle's current arrangement with Stan is inconvenient is when Cartman is in town. Last time Stan lived with Kyle, which was for almost a year, Kyle had to ask Stan to make himself scarce five or six times, and each time he did it was an awkward burden that reminded him of their senior year of high school, when Stan and Cartman were so bitterly jealous of whatever attention Kyle gave the other. Kyle's excitement after receiving a text from Cartman is quickly dampened by his dread of telling Stan that he needs the apartment for the night, and why. He reads the text again, trying to recapture the excitement.

in town for 2 nights. need room & board. also some ass, pls recommend some or provide yourself. also my cat had better be ok. also pls have silver tree vodka and pistachios ready when I arrive. SHELLED pistachios, kyle. see you soon

Kyle hasn't seen Cartman in almost six months, and he's glad he has time to go down to the cafeteria and get something to eat before his two o'clock surgery, because he needs a moment to let his mind wander before he can focus again. He gets coffee and a caesar salad in a plastic box. The salad tastes a lot like plastic itself, but he can't be bothered as he imagines what tonight will be like. He hasn't even had time for random, unfulfilling sex since he last saw Cartman, and he's got the beginnings of an erection as he types a response to Cartman's message.

Good timing for once. I'm off call at seven, and I've got tomorrow free. Fuck your Silver Tree, I've got Kettle One and that's good enough. Unshelled pistachios are like $15 a bag, so you'd better pay for dinner. It's not like you're a billionaire or anything. Of course Fluffy III is fine. Except that she misses you. What a pussy.

He knows it's a dumb joke, but they always put up a front in their messages, pretending not to look forward to seeing each other so that there won't be any electronic evidence of tenderness if they have a bitter breakup someday. Kyle knows Cartman will be able to read between the lines: it's not just his old ass cat who misses him. He gets a response a few minutes later, and grins down at the screen as he imagines Cartman typing it in one of his private jets, headed home from Asia, where he's been selling products from the future for the past six months.

goddammit you get cheaper every year. fine, I will bring my own booze. and of course I'm paying for your fucking dinner, kyle, jesus christ. you can tell my cat that I will be working closer to home for the next 6 months. you can also tell your ass that, in case it missed my dick.

Kyle rolls his eyes and puts his phone away. Cartman can spend the next three hours wondering if that annoyed him or not. It mostly just made him harder inside his scrubs, which is annoying, because his break is over.

He listens to a Best of John Williams CD during his surgery, though he knows his interns make fun of him for his bad taste in music. He doesn't care; the Jurassic Park theme relaxes him. It's a routine bypass, over in two hours, which means everyone in the surgery gets to hear the CD twice. Kyle has been at WHC for five years, and he's considered the top 'junior' heart specialist, junior in the sense that he's not yet forty. He has some opinions about his abilities compared to that of the senior staff, but he keeps those to himself. It's almost embarrassing that he once wanted to be a radiologist because they make a lot of money without getting their hands dirty. A few jokes about this from the others in his program during pre-med were enough to make Kyle's competitive side win out, and he was firmly set on specializing in heart surgery by the time he applied for med school. His parents are very proud, but he's still not quite Ike, inventor of the time travel technology that saved the world from sexually transmitted diseases, among other things. Ike is a Nobel Prize winner, and Cartman's business partner. The fact that he sees more of Cartman than Kyle does is one of the many things about Ike that continues to burn Kyle's ass.

Kyle showers at work, something that never fails to make him a little self conscious, because he's afraid the interns will think he's trying to look at them if they find out he's gay. The world has changed a lot since his adolescence, and D.C. isn't exactly a hick mountain town, but he still has some long held insecurities, and often wonders how much people at the hospital know or have guessed about him. He makes every attempt to keep his personal life private, mostly because he doesn't really have one, unless Stan is crashing with him or Cartman is in town.

He takes the Metro and is home by five, glad to find Stan just sitting on the couch reading, not cooking or cleaning or doing something else that would have made Kyle feel guilty about tossing him out for two nights. Stan works for a Smithsonian children's program about nature and makes a little bit of money, most of which he hands over to Kyle to help with rent and bills, and he insists on supplementing these payments with chores and hot meals. Kyle continues to tell him that he doesn't need to do this, but he would be sad if Stan actually stopped. Last time Stan moved out, it took Kyle almost another year before he got back into a routine of cleaning that made his apartment semi-livable, and he always eats out for every meal when Stan isn't here, which is expensive and fattening. He finally has the ability to put on weight, and it's not what he always dreamed it would be.

"Hey, dude," Stan says when Kyle drops down onto the couch beside him and leans over to look at his book: something about birds. The book is occupying half of Stan's lap, and Fluffy III is sleeping on the other half. The cat loves Stan, something Kyle would never tell Cartman. "How was your day?" Stan asks.

"Fine," Kyle says. "I did open heart surgery on Arnold Gault."

"Who's that?"

"A senator -- never mind. Dude, can you do me a favor?" He puts his head on Stan's shoulder. They still spoon sometimes, if one of them has had a bad day. There were two straight weeks of spooning following both of Stan's divorces. Kyle was the big spoon, mostly.

"Of course," Stan says. "What do you need?"

"I need the apartment," Kyle says, unable to look at Stan while he asks for this. He stares at an illustration on the page of Stan's book instead, a hawk in flight. "For two nights."

"Cartman," Stan theorizes, and Kyle nods. "I thought maybe that was -- over?"

"Well, it's not," Kyle says, sitting up. "He's just been out of town on business. Look, make fun of me if you want, but I haven't gotten laid in six months, and I'm just--"

"Don't tell me about getting laid by Cartman," Stan says, wincing, "And I'll agree to anything."

"Where will you go?" Kyle asks.

"Actually," Stan says. He flips through the pages on the book. "I was kind of thinking of renting a car and driving up to New York. To see Wendy."

"Oh." Kyle knew they'd been talking again, but he wasn't aware that their friendship -- or whatever -- had reached the random visit stage. "Yeah, that'd be nice. It'd be a pretty drive, too. All the leaves changing and what have you."

Stan smirks at him. "Can I give you a quick pep talk before I go?" he asks.


"You can so do better than Cartman," Stan says. "Really, dude. I know he's rich as all fuck now--"

"I'm not with him cause he's rich," Kyle says. Stan knows this. Cartman's billions actually intimidate the hell out of Kyle, and it's almost a relief that their careers prevent them from co-habitating, because Kyle's financial contribution would be like pouring a pitcher of water into a swimming pool.

"But you're not really with him, Kyle," Stan says. "And who the fuck knows what he gets up to when you're not around."

"It's a moot point," Kyle says. One of the technologies that Cartman and Ike brought back from the future was a universal STD inoculation, making undeclared promiscuity medically irrelevant. "We're not exclusive. We've never been." They were, actually, once, during that summer before Kyle left for college.

"Well, you're thirty-three," Stan says. "Don't you think you deserve something exclusive, and, like, real?"

"I don't have time for a real relationship," Kyle says. "I mean, when was the last time you and I even had a chance to talk? Wednesday?"

"You sound like Claudia," Stan says.

"Dude, don't compare me to your ex-wives."

Claudia was Stan's first wife, originally from Ecuador, tiny and beautiful. She met Stan when they were both attending CCD. They dropped out during Stan's sophomore year and moved to Peru, where some friends apparently ran a farm, and they lived all over South and Central America like true hippies for three years, until Claudia's father died and she came home to take over his textile import business. She quickly became very serious about work and responsibility, and Stan did not. Their marriage actually lasted another two years, because they were both Catholic, but eventually even the threat of offending God couldn't keep them together. Stan now considers himself lapsed, but doesn't seem to have much angst about it. He was only ever very interested in his religion when he was trying to bed Claudia in college; they were married when they were twenty.

"I'm just saying," Stan says, gesturing with his hand in a way that wakes Fluffy. She peers up at Stan groggily as if to listen to what he's 'just saying.' "Eventually, you're going to want a real life with someone who doesn't chase teenagers."

"Oh, Jesus, that was one time, and he was only twenty-six!"

Cartman was outed when the nineteen-year-old son of one of his investors went to the press with a story about the night of passion they'd spent together. Kyle had actually taken the whole thing as a kind of perverse compliment, because the kid had coppery red hair. Cartman eventually issued a statement about his gayness, adding that in the future, labels about sexuality had largely been abolished. This was met with mixed enthusiasm. No one has been to the future except for Cartman, Ike, and certain government agencies that sued to purchase the rights to the technology. Ike generally is the one who goes, returning with new technologies that he and Cartman in turn produce and sell here, unless the government refuses to allow them to privatize. It's all very tricky and stressful for Kyle to even contemplate, and the only person who could possibly hold any power over the government in this position is Cartman, who is somehow still financially successful after many challenges.

"I know you're impressed by him and shit," Stan says. "But he wouldn't be anything if he didn't have your brother."

"And my brother would have been steamrolled without Cartman," Kyle says. "It's a good partnership."

"Fine," Stan says. He pets Fluffy, and picks her up when he stands from the couch. "I tried."

"You did. Leaving now?"

"Oh, God, is he on his way?"

"I told him I'd be off duty by seven."

"Christ," Stan says. He puts the cat down. "I'd better pack a bag."

"And call Wendy, maybe?" Kyle says. Stan grins.

"She'll be okay with it," he says. "Trust me."

"Are you two, like--"

"Don't jinx it!" Stan says, so loudly that the cat bolts for Kyle's bedroom.

Fifteen minutes later, Stan has a bag packed and is texting Wendy on his way out the door, letting her know that he's coming. Doing something like this on such short notice would stress Kyle out, but Stan takes everything in stride.

"Drive safe," Kyle says, leaning in the doorway while Stan sends his text.

"Kay," Stan says. He kisses Kyle's cheek like they're an old married couple. Kyle has occasionally felt more married to Stan than he ever has to Cartman, though there's never been anything remotely sexual between them. Losing a patient is much harder when Stan isn't around to spoon him through the pain. Kyle figures their relationship is one of those that will never have a easily defined label, which apparently is very futuristic of them. "Maybe I'll rent a really cool car," Stan says.

"You still think Wendy's going to be impressed by a car?" Kyle says. She was engaged to Token all through college, but they broke up over a pre-nup just before the wedding. Token is the one who initially funded Ike's research and Cartlovski Industries. He's become much richer through their success, and he's still single, apparently enjoying bachelorhood. Wendy is divorced, just once and recently. She's bonded with Stan over this.

"Don't let Cartman give you a hard time," Stan calls as he's headed toward the elevators.

"I won't," Kyle says, though all he can think about is how badly he wants Cartman to give it to him hard.

Kyle goes down to the corner store to get a fifteen dollar bag of shelled pistachios, feeling a little stupid, but he knows Cartman will take him to the best restaurants and pay for everything all weekend, and that he'll feel shitty about this by the time Cartman leaves, so he swallows his Sheila Broflovski-bred outrage at the price of a fucking bag of nuts and pays the cashier. Back at the apartment, he straightens things up, puts two martini glasses on the counter and brushes Fluffy, who purrs throughout, happy for the attention. She's a long-haired Maine Coon, and she sheds constantly. Stan likes her much more than Kyle does, but when Cartman started traveling nonstop, Kyle was the one who was entrusted with the cat, not Liane. Cartman claims it's because his mother is living with some man he doesn't approve of, which is probably true, but Kyle still thinks he just wants an excuse to come over whenever he can.

The sun is going down, and the colors that stream in through Kyle's floor to ceiling windows make his apartment seem more romantic and sophisticated than it really is. Kyle makes himself a martini, feeling nervous. He's pretty sure this is the longest separation they've ever had. Even during college, when Cartman and Ike's business was in development, Cartman would show up at Georgetown periodically to plow Kyle in his dorm room and take him out for pizza afterward. They actually took a trip together for Kyle's twenty-first birthday, at the start of the summer between his junior and senior year. It was the longest time they'd spent together since leaving home: a week in Orlando during the Disney gay days. It was surreal, the first time Kyle had been drunk for almost twenty-four hours, and the first time he'd been affectionate with Cartman in public since they sat together on Bebe's couch during the graduation party. It was then that Kyle discovered Cartman's somehow not surprising love of gay bars and barely concealed public sex acts. Just last year Kyle had ended up with Cartman's hand down the back of his pants at Ziegfield's, the fact that Cartman was fingering him in the middle of a crowded room concealed only by the bar top that shadowed Kyle's ass. Just remembering this makes Kyle throw back the rest of his drink, hoping the alcohol will kill his erection.

There's a knock on the door ten minutes later, and Kyle is hardly surprised that Cartman managed to get into the building without buzzing up. Kyle checks his hair in his reflection on the window, and it could be better, but he didn't have enough warning to get it done, so Cartman will have to take what he can get. The knocking continues impatiently.

"Did I catch you on the toilet or something?" Cartman asks when Kyle opens the door.

"Charming," Kyle says, stepping aside to let him in. Cartman is wearing a well-fitted suit and tie, like always, and his prediction that he would lose some weight during his time in Asia seems to have been correct. He's almost too trim for Kyle's taste, because he's come to appreciate Cartman's bulk, and the way he can pull the skin under Cartman's jaw between his teeth. Kyle takes the bottle of Silver Tree that Cartman offers and leans up to kiss him, feeling awkward. Cartman grunts and bends down to lick Kyle's lips apart, pushing his tongue into Kyle's mouth, opening him. Kyle remembers in a panic that he didn't brush his teeth after that caesar salad, but Cartman doesn't seem to mind. He kisses Kyle deeply and for a long time, pressing him against the wall in the foyer.

"Fuck," Kyle says when Cartman pulls back to stare at him, his lids heavy. Cartman is holding Kyle's hips tightly, and Kyle has his fist wrapped around the end of Cartman's tie, his other hand occupied by the vodka bottle.

"I had a long flight," Cartman says, as if to excuse himself for needing this, and he kisses Kyle again. Kyle is hard, rubbing his cock on Cartman's thigh when he pushes it between Kyle's legs, and he wonders if they're actually going to fuck before dinner for once. Cartman pulls back abruptly, leaving Kyle in mid-moan. "Where's my cat?" he asks.

"Um." Kyle is heady and slightly disoriented, not even sure what Cartman is talking about for a moment. "Oh, probably under my bed."

"Fluffy?" Cartman calls, leaving Kyle hard and needy against the wall. He always does this, teasing Kyle until he's shivering with need, and Kyle would hate him for it if it didn't make finally getting fucked after a long night of restaurants and bars so incredibly good.

Kyle makes the martinis while Cartman has quality time with Fluffy, cooing over her in the bedroom. Kyle's erection wanes a little, but he's still moving stiffly when Cartman emerges with the cat in his arms.

"She seems skinny," Cartman says.

"Dude, she's five pounds overweight, don't start. You're the one who seems skinny," Kyle says, though skinny certainly isn't the right word. Cartman is simply twenty pounds overweight as opposed to forty.

"Yeah, well, I've been in Japan for two months and I hate fish," Cartman says. "Unless it's fried and comes with a side of potatoes." He puts the cat on the countertop, which makes Kyle cringe. "Here's to America," he says, picking up his martini. Kyle toasts him.

"Last time you were here you were ranting about how America is breaking your balls," Kyle says after drinking.

"Well, it is," Cartman says. "Always, but that's just the government. Fucking communist pricks trying to act like they've got a right to my shit. The food's good here, though." He drains his martini and sets the glass down hard, which makes Fluffy spring down to the floor. "I've fucking missed it," Cartman says, moving closer to Kyle.

"The food?" Kyle says.

"Yeah. And just. Home." Cartman leans down to lick Kyle's neck, and Kyle tilts his head to give him access, his eyes falling shut. Even with Stan around, he's been so lonely. He's needed to be licked. "Ooh, you got them," Cartman says, noticing the pistachios. He reaches around Kyle and tears open the bag.

"Let me get you a bowl," Kyle says, squirming free as Cartman starts chomping nuts near his ear.

"So, how've you been?" Cartman asks. He slaps Kyle's ass when Kyle reaches up for a small bowl from a high shelf. "You look well."

"I've been fine," Kyle says. "Busy."

"I heard the hippie got dumped again."

"Who'd you hear that from?" Kyle asks, frowning. Stan still doesn't have a Facebook.

"My Mom."

"You and your mom gossip about Stan's personal life?"

"She brought it up, not me," Cartman says. "So what'd he do this time? Infidelity? Heroin?"

"No, asshole," Kyle says. He snatches the nuts from Cartman and pours half the bag into the bowl, still amazed at how simultaneously he can want to kill and fuck this person he's known for so long. "It was just -- a mutual decision, according to Stan. They'd grown apart."

"Was this one as hot as the last one?" Cartman asks, crunching nuts. Kyle shrugs.

"Sara was pretty," he says. "Maybe not as pretty as Claudia, but I thought she was more compatible with Stan."

"So much for that," Cartman says.

"Did you come here to catch up with me or gloat about Stan's failures? Because I'm really not in the mood--"

"Well, he's living here until he finds some other dumb chick to marry, I assume," Cartman says. "I was just wondering if he was going to pop out of the shitter and spoil my evening."

"He's gone away for the weekend," Kyle says. "I'm fine, by the way, thanks for asking."

"I did ask," Cartman says, sounding offended. "Did you have surgeries today?"

"Yes, just one. Arnold Gault."

"Oh, shit!" Cartman slaps the counter. "I hate that asshole! He's such a hypocrite bastard, always breathing down my neck about national security. I hope you fucked him up."

"I did not," Kyle says. "But, yeah. I hate him, too. He's really anti-gay."

"Did you see his dick?" Cartman asks. "I bet it's fucking tiny."

"No, I didn't see his dick. I don't generally wander down there during heart surgery."

"Not even if it's someone famous?" Cartman asks, and he seems genuinely disappointed.

"Not even then."

"I want to come see you in action again," Cartman says. He pinches Kyle's cheek. "It's pretty hot watching you yanking bloody stuff out of some guy's chest. Especially if it's some guy like Gault."

"There's more to it than yanking bloody stuff out, but thanks, I guess." A few years back, Kyle pulled some strings so that Cartman could sit in the gallery during a routine surgery. He'd thought it would make him nervous, but he actually felt newly confident knowing that Cartman was up there, interested enough about what Kyle did to endure the gory sight of it. They had some pretty intense sex afterward in Cartman's car, in the hospital parking lot. It was the first time Kyle felt that Cartman had come within a few inches of admitting that he was proud of him.

Tonight, Cartman has a driver, and he puts the privacy screen up so they can paw at each other and kiss in the backseat on the way to the restaurant. Cartman complains about Asia and traveling in general, and Kyle listens jealously. He hasn't been anywhere outside the states since he was a kid, always too busy with school or work to plan a trip. Stan has been nagging him to go to the Galapagos Islands with him, claiming it's 'life changing,' but Kyle isn't much for roughing it. Cartman has offered to take him pretty much everywhere in the world at this point, but his business trips never work with Kyle's schedule. Sometimes, alone at night, Kyle allows himself to imagine what those trips would be like: staying in the best hotels, eating in the finest restaurants, sleeping in and having leisurely sex whenever they wanted to. He's afraid he would like it too much to return to reality, or that he would feel like a kept man and become disgusted with himself, but most nights he fantasizes about what it would feel like to fall asleep beside Cartman here in the real world, after a long day at work. He still thinks about that night on the couch in Cartman's basement, the first time he slept with Cartman's big stomach pushing against the small of his back, how surprisingly safe that felt.

The night progresses as usual, despite the fact that they haven't seen each other in six months: the restaurant they go to is excellent, Cartman gets off on the people who recognize him and point, and they mostly talk about work, trying to one-up each other with stories about how hard their jobs are and all the bullshit they have to deal with, the endless hardships that they both secretly love.

"Did you keep in touch with Butters while you were away?" Kyle asks.

"Not really," Cartman says. "He texted me on my birthday."

"I guess he's still with Spike?" Kyle asks, shifting in his seat at the mention of Cartman's birthday, because Kyle had consented to long distance phone sex for the occasion, and it was much better than Kyle had expected.

"Yeah," Cartman says. "Jesus. Those two."

"I think it's sort of perfect," Kyle says. Spike is so convincingly masculine that Kyle was actually attracted to her both times they met. She's tall and blond with short, overly gelled blond hair, and she's got a kind of mechanic's swagger, a cigarette always tucked behind one ear. Butters favors flippy wife-of-the-Republican-candidate haircuts and sun dresses, and together they make an ironically traditional-looking couple.

"Best I can figure, Spike wears a strap-on and fucks Butters," Cartman says, already slurring a little. "I mean, there's no way Butters is topping that."

"I guess it's none of our business," Kyle says, wishing Cartman would lower his voice a little.

"Please. Don't pretend you haven't wondered. Speaking of the bums we went to high school with, how's Craig? Still working the coffee counter?"

"He does advertising for Tweak Brothers," Kyle says. Cartman knows this. Kyle's friendship with Craig is just as asexual as his whatever-it-is with Stan, even if he did have sex with Craig, once, years ago on New Year's Eve, in a moment of weakness. It wasn't very good for either of them, and they both vowed not to try it again. "He's actually dating someone now," Kyle says, hoping this will calm Cartman's Craig-related anxiety. "This really douchey guy he knows from college."

"So you don't approve," Cartman says, sawing at his steak.

"I don't really care who Craig dates. I hardly ever see him in person. We mostly just text."

"I heard Clyde married Kenny's sister," Cartman says.

"Yeah, I'm the one who told you that. I was in the wedding party."

"Oh, right." Cartman looks up from his plate, frowning. "I think I was in Malaysia that week."

"Singapore," Kyle says, remembering how depressingly lonely the whole experience had been. Stan had come home for Clyde and Karen's wedding, too, but he spent most of the trip drunk and lamenting the fact that Wendy wasn't in attendance.

After dinner, they go to JR's and then Omega, and Cartman commands the attention of the room at both, reveling in his fame, his tongue making frequent slobbering passes at Kyle's ear. Cartman drinks too much, not just now but always. Cartman and Stan are both what Kyle would describe as high-functioning alcoholics, something Kyle can only handle in small doses. He tries to be relieved about the 'functioning' part, and that neither of them ever got involved in harder drugs. They both have the kind of friends who surely provided the opportunity over the years.

Cartman wants to go to Green Lantern, too, but Kyle whispers a drunken come on into his ear, something about needing his dick, and Cartman tells his driver to head back to Kyle's apartment. In the elevator, there's a young guy with a bike, and Kyle makes out with Cartman in the poor guy's presence, realizing how drunk he is only then. He's kind of mad at himself, and Cartman, because this is one of two nights that they'll have together for however long, and they won't remember chunks of it, possibly including the sex. Still, with the sex forthcoming, he's feeling forgiving as they tumble into his apartment.

They start to do it on the floor, but then the cat trots over to investigate, and also there's no lube here. Cartman is sober enough to carry Kyle to the bedroom while they continue kissing, and he kicks the door shut to keep the cat out, which is possibly the sweetest and most touching thing he's done for Kyle in years. They skip foreplay, because everything since that first text message from Cartman has been foreplay, and Cartman pushes into Kyle after only minimal fingering. He knows by now that this is how Kyle likes it. Kyle whimpers to remind him to go slow at first.

"Shh," Cartman says, kissing him. "I know. Fuck, Kyle. Have you had anyone since the last time—?"

Kyle chooses not to answer that, but when their eyes meet he can see that Cartman knows he hasn't. The technology that abolished the threat of STDs ushered in a new sexual revolution five years ago. Cartman and Ike weren't allowed to privatize, but the fact that Cartlovski Industries was involved was good for the brand, and Cartman is seen as a kind of champion of sexual liberation in the global imagination. Kyle knows Cartman has a lot of sex, all the time, that he binges on it like he does with drinks at clubs. He knows Cartman is lonely, too. Kyle found that picture of himself on the end of the diving board in Cartman's bedside table last time he visited Cartman at his primary residence, a ranch in southern Colorado.

"Nobody feels like you do," Cartman says when he starts to rolls his hips, and Kyle kisses him, closing his eyes, not willing to have a conversation about what others do or don't feel like right now.

This is the only time they ever openly praise each other: God, so tight, Kyle and fuck, you're so big, careful, and if they're really drunk, like they are now, they'll murmur about how much they've wanted this and how badly they need it. Cartman is sweating from the drinking and the clubs, and Kyle can't stop running his fingers through Cartman's damp hair, so in love with the feeling of that big dick inside him that he wants to drink Cartman's sweat. They both come quickly the first time, and it's barely cooled on Kyle's stomach and in his ass before they're going again, switching places.

Kyle went through a long period of not wanting to top, because he so rarely gets to see Cartman and prefers it the other way around, but the past few times they've been together he's been inspired to try it again, usually by Cartman turning over onto his hands and knees and hiding his face while he silently begs for it. At the start, Kyle gets himself worked up over the thought of fucking this billionaire playboy who's been on magazine covers and has taken meetings with two presidents, but eventually he just gets off on the idea that this is Cartman bending over for him, as in fat little Eric Cartman, the bully from South Park. Then Cartman will start to plead for more when Kyle slows down to appreciate the last moments, and it's all over too quickly, again.

They sleep where they fall, horizontal across the bed, and they both pull one end of the blankets up so that they're enfolded in them like the contents of a burrito. Kyle knows he'll feel like ground beef in the morning, hungover and bloated, crusted with come, but he's happy as he starts to fall asleep, still kissing Cartman, so wrapped up in him that he doesn't have to fully be himself, which is so exhausting, worn thin after six months without this.

In the morning they shower together. They've done so many things to each other over the years, kinky and desperate, shameless, but showering together is rare. They're both self conscious about their bodies, still teenaged when they're naked and sober.

"How are you doing on going backward?" Kyle asks when he's rinsing shampoo from his hair, tipping his head back until he can feel the blast of the shower on his forehead.

"Still working on it," Cartman says. So far, the technology Ike invented can only propel a visitor forward into the future and return them to their point of departure.

"Where would you go?" Kyle asks when they're back in bed together, clean and shivering, holding each other under the blankets. "If you could go to the past?"

"If I could go like I am now?" Cartman asks. "Or if I could, like. Re-experience something?"

"Re-experience," Kyle says, because of course that's what he's really asking.

"Easy," Cartman says. "That summer. That whole fucking summer."

Kyle smiles and hides his face against Cartman's soft jaw. He wouldn't be able to pick a particular day, either. He'd need the whole summer, those three months before Kyle left for college and Cartman started canvassing the country for investors so that Ike could start to build his invention before some institution Cartman couldn't control got involved. Kyle had no idea what Cartman was plotting, but he knew that they would part in August when Kyle moved to D.C., so he held nothing back while they were together. In June Kyle had gotten his nose done without telling anyone but Cartman, who drove him home after the surgery and took care of him for two weeks, after Kyle's mother declared that she couldn't even look at him. Kyle was miserable in the aftermath, doped up on painkillers and too hideous to see the light of day, a huge bandage across his nose and black bruises under both eyes. He spent most of his time spooning himself back against Cartman and watching bad television. He was too sore to give blow jobs for most of June, but he let Cartman fuck him three weeks after the surgery, his bruises still fading, the skin on his nose raw and pink. He thought he must have looked awful, but Cartman kissed his face like he was unbearably beautiful. Cartman has a thing for seeing Kyle a little battered and in need of extra care.

"I'd pick that summer, too," Kyle says when Cartman has been quiet for a while, playing with the hairs at the back of Kyle's neck.

"Yeah," Cartman finally says, in answer to nothing in particular. "Fuck it, anyway. I'm still lobbying for civilian rights to teleportation. Once we've got that, I could just come here whenever. Every night."

Kyle looks up at him, and Cartman ducks his eyes away. He shrugs.

"Better get ready," he says, sliding out of Kyle's arms.

Cartman has a lunch meeting with his investors, and he's still hungover as Kyle helps him dress. Kyle keeps a few of Cartman's suits at his apartment, along with some t-shirts and jeans, a pack of the brand of boxers he likes, and a couple of pairs of shoes. Kyle is mostly okay with their arrangement, whatever Stan says, but he does sometimes feel sad when he sees Cartman's size 12's sitting there in his closet.

"We should be able to do this online," Cartman says. "Fuck these old bastards and their sentimental attachments to lunch meetings. They just want an excuse to get drunk at noon."

"Don't drink anything yourself," Kyle says. "It'll just make you sicker. Take a break."

"Yes, dear," Cartman says. He stands from the bed with a groan and goes to examine himself in Kyle's dresser mirror. "I never drink when there's business to be done, Kyle," he says. "It's the secret to my success."

"I thought the secret to your success was your huge balls. You told me that, once."

"That's true, too." He kisses Kyle goodbye, pets Fluffy on the way to the door, and leaves for his meeting.

Kyle experiences the immediate sadness that always follows Cartman's departures, even though he'll be back later. He checks his phone, surprised and a little concerned to see seven new text messages, all from Stan. He's relieved to see that the first five are just pictures of trees with pretty fall colors that Stan saw during his drive. The sixth one, sent at midnight, says that he's made it safely into the city. The seventh one was sent an hour later. It's titled 'proof,' and it's a slightly blurry picture of Stan and Wendy in some wine bar, cheeks pressed together. Wendy is smiling, a glass of something red clutched to her chest, and Stan's expression is more serious as he tries to capture both their faces with the camera on his phone, his other arm wrapped around Wendy, wine glass pressed to her shoulder. Recently, while drinking, Stan remarked that he and Wendy would have adorable children.

"With black hair," he'd added, as if that was important.

"Unless you're both recessive ginger carriers," Kyle had said, not wanting to otherwise touch that. Stan can get very weepy about Wendy when he's drinking.

Hope you're behaving yourself. Nice trees, btw

Kyle sends this message and makes himself a late breakfast, his appetite beginning to return. By the time he's finished he has a response from Stan:

no worries, wendy's keeping me in line

Kyle supposes that if anyone can, it's her. He grabs his laptop and turns on the TV, half-watching the news while he reads email and checks his usual sites. He goes to the Google News tab and searches Cartman's name, something he does daily.

"Oh fuck," he mutters, because there's a picture of him and Cartman from last night, posted on some gay society gossip site. With trepidation, Kyle opens the link. It's a two paragraph thing about how Eric Cartman was spotted with his "childhood sweetheart," Dr. Kyle Broflovski of Washington Hospital Center. Kyle looks like shit in the picture, his mouth open and one eye half-closed, and Cartman looks wasted. Kyle emails the link to Cartman with 'fyi' in the subject header. He gets a response via iPhone a few moments later.

at least it's accurate

Kyle knows he shouldn't push it, but he sends a response anyway: in what sense?

There's a longer wait between this message and the last one Cartman replied to, and Kyle starts to feel stupid, like he should have let that lie and assumed what he wanted to. When Cartman's next message comes, Kyle reads it and smiles.

childhood sweetheart

Kyle isn't sure how to respond, so he waits until Cartman returns from the meeting and pulls him into the apartment, kissing him before he can speak. They have sex on the couch, half-dressed but slow, both of them able to last this time, and the cat loses interest after a few minutes of observation.

"You've got another meeting tomorrow?" Kyle asks when they're lying together afterward, the day already halfway over. Cartman nods.

"A bunch of NSA assholes," he says. "They'll never get off my fucking back for as long as I live. Your deadbeat brother gets to call in via satellite, but I have to show up in person. Then I have to fly to Houston." He studies Kyle after saying so, and Kyle keeps his face impassive. Cartman scoots closer, pressing his naturally perfect nose to Kyle's surgically improved one. "I might be able to come back next weekend," he says. "If I can get Ike to go to Toronto for me."

"He should," Kyle says. "He's the Canadian."

"That's what I'm saying."

They do the bars again, more leisurely this time. Kyle sits on Cartman's lap at Green Lantern and drinks white wine cut with club soda. People take pictures, and Kyle tries to look good this time, sitting up straight when he's not giving Cartman territorial kisses on his cheek and at the corner of his eye. He wants to write his own captions for the photos that will end up online:

Dr. Kyle Broflovski, obviously the only man worthy of Mr. Cartman's long-term attention, enjoys his Sunday off of work.

Kyle Broflovski gives his childhood sweetheart a possessive but confident embrace.

Kyle Broflovski doesn't want this day to end.