Kyle POV. If boy-boy relationships are not your thing, please seek entertainment elsewhere.


They were going on a trip. That's what they decided together. Rather spur of the moment actually. It was the end of the school year and close enough to Kyle's birthday to provide a decent excuse. They had to get away. Get out of that town for at least a couple of days. Their parents made no objections. They had admitted the two boys were old enough to take a trip on their own and 'make mature, responsible decisions.'

So, Stan and Kyle planned it out. They weren't doing anything too extravagant, of course. Their modest, part-time-job-funded allowances wouldn't permit it, since, while their parents had approved of the trip, they hadn't felt it necessary to contribute anything financially to their get-the-fuck-out-of-Dodge fund. So they were being realistic. They chose Denver, for no other specific reason than it was close and it provided the perfect excuse. They were going to see a show, one about which they had both heard really great things and were willing to shell out the cash to see themselves.

Stan agreed to drive, which was doubly great because Kyle wasn't quite sixteen yet, so couldn't even if he had wanted to (a few more weeks, he kept thinking to himself; it had basically become a mantra in his head). Stan officially drove his mom's old car, but it was as good as his since his mom typically walked to her job these days or waited until the weekend to use Randy's car to run errands. Kyle did the planning, because he was good with that sort of thing. And Stan was more than happy to let him; he hated figuring and coordinating. The two boys were opposites in a lot of ways, really, but in all the right ways. The ways that allowed them to trust each other's judgment on the aspects they knew to be lacking in themselves. They complemented each other. And being best friends for pretty much their entire lives allowed them to go with their understanding as second nature.

So, while Stan offered suggestions and voiced second opinions, Kyle planned it all out. He arranged the schedule, with room for improvisations since this was a vacation after all, divided up the expenses evenly between them, and booked the room. They were staying the night because the show would get out fairly late, and they anticipated they wouldn't feel like driving back right after. Their parents had agreed it was the safer option. The boys couldn't swing more than one day away though, since they'd both have family stuff still going on afterward. In the interest of frugality (again, working with a modest budget), and not wanting to have to resort to parental assistance (since they were both underage), they decided to stay at a hostel rather than a hotel. Kyle's internet search had produced a promising location where they could have a private room for less monetary cost than any hotel. Sure, they'd have to use a college dorm-style bathroom for a night, but it would be worth it. They might as well get used to the arrangement, as they'd be going off to an actual college themselves the year after next. And this way they could still afford the tickets for the show with enough left over to eat, which was definitely a good thing, though it would most likely be fast food, but that was completely fine with them.

The best part about this trip was that Stan and Kyle could just hang out with each other for a while. They'd been so busy with exams and family things the past few weeks that they hadn't had a chance to hang out by themselves in what felt like forever. It was a simultaneous escape from monotony and anxiety and an excuse to just do fun and dumb shit together like they always did. They hadn't lied to their parents about being responsible, but damn were they going to enjoy some precious moments of freedom from everything else.

Kyle was glad for the trip for another reason, one that he hadn't communicated to Stan out loud. He had recently noticed a change in Stan's behavior. It wasn't anything big, but Kyle could sense it in the little things. Knowing each other as well as they did, they could distinguish the slightest variation in each other's habits. There were times lately when Stan seemed to be more reserved than usual, more drawn into himself. Kyle wasn't too worried about it. Stan usually acted that way when he was preoccupied with something. But school was out for the year and, as far as Kyle knew, there was no other big event going on in Stan's life. So he wondered what the hell had been bothering him lately. He hoped the trip might shake Stan out of whatever it might be.

They left the day after their last exams. They'd been shut inside proctored rooms all week, spewing the results, for good or bad, of several nights worth of studying onto papers that would then witness the scrutinizing eyes of their teachers. They hadn't seen their grades yet. They'd probably arrive in the mail while they were gone. But the boys weren't worrying about that during their time away.

Stan picked Kyle up at three o'clock. He sent a text saying he was outside the house and ready. They had to dress for the show, so Kyle was already wearing one of his nicer outfits, the kind he'd never don unless forced to by his mother or for a special occasion, and this was a pretty good one. He had on a pair of navy dress pants with tan oxfords, a white long-sleeve collared shirt underneath a light brown blazer, and a diagonally-striped navy and white tie. He almost hadn't added the tie, but he thought to himself, What the hell, it's not every day you get to see a Broadway musical in Colorado. He'd also managed to tame his constantly unruly hair into a passable arrangement of curls, instead of its typical jumble of knots. He had gotten better at doing this in the past couple of years, now that he sometimes cared more about his appearance than he used to - which was to say, not much at all. Kyle attributed this newer preoccupation to hormones.

Kyle opened the door and saw Stan parked and ready in the driveway. He didn't blame Stan for not coming in. If he had, Kyle's mother would have absconded him immediately and asked him all about how his exams went and for the two boys to have a good time but be safe and did Kyle remember to pack his diabetes medication, just in case. The boys knew instinctively to avoid this situation altogether if they wanted to make it off in the time according to their schedule.

Kyle waved at Stan, letting him know he was coming, before turning around and shouting back into the house a goodbye to his mother in the kitchen. He heard her calling back to have a good time and be safe (she managed to get some of it in no matter what), and Kyle closed the front door, leapt down the few stairs comprising his stoop out of sheer anticipation for the trip ahead, and jogged over to Stan's waiting vehicle.

"Lookin' sexy," Stan said as Kyle slid into the passenger side of the car and tossed his overnight bag into the back seat.

"Shut up," Kyle laughed, securing his seatbelt while Stan shifted the car into reverse and pulled out onto the street. Stan had on black dress pants, matching Oxfords, a medium blue collared shirt, and a nicer brown leather jacket Kyle knew he wore to church sometimes. Stan had forgone a tie, but Kyle was still happy with his own clothing choices. He thought Stan's outfit suited him just fine as it was.

It was about a two hour drive from South Park to Denver. Kyle thought it was perfect: not too long to get bored, but long enough so they could feel like they were far, far away from all the worries and hassles that had been plaguing them for the past few weeks.

Kyle asked Stan if he could crack a window. Stan consented, but only because it was spring and therefore not absolutely freezing out. Kyle pushed the button, lowering the glass about two inches. He didn't want too much air in since they were travelling on the state road by now, and the wind whipped by fast and hard. Kyle just wanted to feel the breeze for a minute. He sat back and leaned against the right side of his headrest, closing his eyes and enjoying the small but persistent breeze wash over his face, invigorating his skin and his senses. It was so relieving just being out and driving along stretches of road that seemed to go on and on. Not having to worry about schedules and the pressures of tests or end-of-term school activities. It was just him and Stan, and they were going away from it all.

"Not falling asleep on me are you?" Kyle heard Stan ask from his left.

"Nah," he replied, then promptly opened his eyes and raised the window, closing the small gap that had let him indulge in a moment's serenity. "It just feels so good, you know? Just finally being done with all of that shit."

Stan gave a small laugh. "Heh, yeah. I know what you mean."

They spent the next hour alternating between music (Kyle was in charge of the CDs, though Stan still vetoed several options before consenting to one of his choices) and idle talk. Eventually, they got around to their plans for the evening. There wasn't much to discuss, since they wouldn't be there long. They had time to get dinner, see the show at the Denver Center, and then head off to the hostel. It'd be fairly late by then and, seeing as how neither of them was old enough to drink, they wouldn't have a lot of other options open to them, so they planned to just check in, maybe stay up for a bit, and then crash.

Stan reiterated their thoughts from two weeks ago, when they'd been planning the trip: "It was a good idea to get a room at a hostel instead of a hotel. It'll be a lot cheaper that way."

Kyle replied, "Yeah, and the reviews were really good on this one."

Stan laughed a bit in his throat. "It's not a big trip or anything, Kyle. Reviews shouldn't matter that much since we're not gonna be, you know, using the facilities much. We just needed a place to crash for the night."

"I know that," said Kyle, gazing out the window at a passing field filled with cows. "But it's nice when you can find a cheap place that's still good quality, right? Especially for a double room. Besides, do you really want to crash in a shit-hole even if it's just 'for the night'?"

Kyle glanced back at Stan in time to see the boy roll his eyes slightly. "Not if I can help it, no," he conceded.

"Well then, reviews do matter, don't they?" Kyle smirked, making sure Stan saw him, gladly rubbing in the fact that he had won and Stan was well aware.

Stan smiled, a look of appreciation, Kyle supposed he would call it, crossing his face. He then turned his sight back on the road, saying just audibly enough, "Guess you're right."

Their conversation died down for the moment, both boys looking ahead at the road. Kyle used the time to let his mind wander, and he found it wandering to the behavior of his best friend. This was another thing that Kyle had noticed from Stan lately: these hard-to-decipher looks. This particular look wasn't necessarily negative, but it still seemed out of place, and that was enough to bother Kyle. He was usually pretty good at figuring out what was on Stan's mind, but lately he'd been having trouble, and whenever he started having trouble was typically a sign that Stan was worried about something. The main question in Kyle's mind was what? What was bothering Stan? It didn't appear to be anything too horribly drastic, or Stan wouldn't have been able to function as normal. This was something that was on the periphery, and it was vicariously eating away at Kyle's brain as well. Kyle didn't like being unaware of things, it was an unfortunate habit of his, and possibly being unaware of something that was concerning his best friend was starting to get to him. For now, though, Kyle let the moment pass, and the mutual silence lingered. He knew it would be addressed before long.

They made great time on the road. It wasn't even five o'clock when they reached the city limits. They drove to the garage at the Denver Center and parked. On exiting the car, Kyle tried to smooth out the wrinkles on his nice clothes, an after-effect of the long drive. He asked Stan if he thought he looked all right, to which Stan replied that he looked great. The boys were content to walk around the east side of the area until they found a place to grab a bite to eat. They finally settled on a café a couple of streets over.

After the leisurely meal, they made their way back to the Center. The boys waited in the box office line together, though Kyle went up to the window to claim their tickets himself, since they were in his name. He and Stan then went inside, found their seats in the mezzanine, and eagerly awaited the start of the performance.

It didn't disappoint. The Book of Mormon turned out to be hands-down the funniest thing Stan or Kyle had ever seen on a stage. They were laughing almost constantly; it was just their brand of humor.

At intermission, Stan and Kyle went out into the lobby and bought an overpriced chocolate chip cookie big enough to share. "Oh my God," Stan said between mouthfuls, still laughing, "I can't believe they can get away with this stuff! Hasa diga ayyy-" he glanced down at his program, "Eebowai? Seriously? It's too freakin' good!"

"I know!" Kyle said in agreement, then they both laughed even more at Kyle's accidental quoting of the song. Kyle broke off another piece of cookie and chewed it before asking, "So, catch any of those subliminal messages your dad warned us about?"

Stan groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose, simultaneously closing his eyes and lifting his head up to face the ceiling. "Dude, don't even," he said, "I'm pretty sure he was just making it all up anyway cause, you know, he's insane."

Kyle snorted. After they'd told Stan's parents of their plans for their trip, Randy Marsh had pretty much flipped the hell out and started going on and on about subliminal messages in Broadway musicals and how they were only produced to get women to give men blowjobs. With the help of his wife, Sharon, Randy had finally calmed down enough to hear Stan's protestations that that couldn't be true. When Randy wouldn't let it go, Stan played along and argued that, since he and Kyle were both guys, it wouldn't work on them, that their maleness made them immune. Randy conceded that he had a good point and sat back down to take a sip of his beer. Then, Sharon had asked them what they would be doing for a place to spend the night, and when Kyle had explained they were going to split a room in a hostel, Randy had spat out his drink and started ranting again.

"Besides," Stan continued, gesturing to the theater at large with his program hand, "with lyrics like these, I don't see how it would even be possible to hide anything like that. It's already crazily inappropriate. In an awesome way."

"I don't know, Stan," Kyle hinted playfully, "I might've caught something there at the end." Mimicking the lyrics to the act one finale, Kyle sang, "My time ta, time ta, now it's my time ta BLOWJOB!"

Stan erupted into laughter, nearly choking on the few cookie pieces still in his mouth. He recovered a bit and reached up to ruffle Kyle's hair. Kyle quickly batted Stan's hand away, immediately on the defensive to save any kind of suitability his stupid hair could retain, and ended up grabbing Stan's hand and pulling it back down between them. Stan smiled at Kyle briefly, then glanced down at their joined hands and quickly pulled his away from Kyle's. "Come on," he said, "let's get back inside." Kyle threw away the cookie's wrapper before following Stan back to their seats. He thought he had seen something there in Stan's eyes, another one of those looks in the way he had reacted to Kyle grabbing him, but Kyle didn't have long to ponder any meaning in this small exchange, as the second act began almost immediately after they had sat back down and he was again swept away in the show's brilliant insanity.

After the performance, Stan and Kyle made their way back to the parking garage and waited in the long line of cars to exit the complex. "Dude," Stan said, "Gary Harrison should never see this show."

"Holy shit, I didn't even think about him!" said Kyle. While the show was by no means vindictive toward religion, it wasn't particularly kind in any sense, and they weren't too sure their Mormon friend would consent to certain liberties taken with the material.

Stan and Kyle then began comparing each other's favorite parts, of which they both had several. Kyle voiced how he thought the show, even in and among all the somewhat crude humor, actually had a really nice message about the nature of faith. To which Stan replied, "Yeah, but that part with the book up Elder Price's ass was pretty fucking hilarious," and they both burst out laughing once more.

Once they finally were free of the garage and moved out of the traffic around the complex, it was a quick ride to the hostel. Stan parked in a lot adjacent to the building, and they both grabbed their bags from the back seat of the car before heading in. Once inside, Stan and Kyle gave the lobby the once-over before turning to each other with a mutual nod. It was a pretty nice place. Kyle's internet search had not let them down. The lobby area was big and open with a few cushy-looking armchairs along the left wall, which housed a well-stocked bookcase that Kyle assumed was there for open loans. Behind the front area, Kyle could see a terrace of sorts with tables, vending machines, and (Kyle was fairly certain) a popcorn machine, like a smaller version of the cart kind one might see at fairs. Straight ahead, he could see a hall and a sign for the elevators. The main desk was on the right, and this was where Kyle and Stan headed, still looking around at the little details that made this place seem like a great one in which to spend a month, much less a single night.

Kyle once again did the talking, since the reservation was under his name. After spelling his surname a couple times for the woman at the computer, they got their key and a list of all the activities planned for the week which Stan and Kyle would unfortunately be unable to attend. They thanked the woman and headed down to the elevators.

Stan pushed the button and said as they waited, "Dude, we've got to plan a longer trip next time."

"Right?" Kyle agreed. It felt like their trip was already half over, but Kyle didn't want to think about that right now. Everything that they'd done all day had been fantastic, and they were going to top it all off with a night in a freaking awesome hostel.

When the elevator doors opened, and they stepped inside, Stan asked, "What floor are we on?"

"Uhhh..." Kyle responded astutely. He checked the key ring the woman had given him. "Room 406. So fourth floor, right?"

"Should be," Stan responded and punched the appropriate button.

They began talking about the show again, agreeing that they would be playing the cast recording (Stan had headed straight to the merchandise table and bought a CD at the end of the second act) during the drive tomorrow. Once the elevator doors opened, they followed the signs to their room. Kyle put the key in the lock and turned it. He opened the door and stepped in two feet, before stopping suddenly. Stan had moved to follow him in, but had to stop short himself right behind Kyle. He peered over his best friend's shoulder to see why he'd come to a halt.

The room didn't look too bad, certainly cozy. It contained a desk, small chest of drawers, built-in closet, and dressing table complete with mirror. And a single bed.

"Oh," said Kyle, sensing the smile he'd felt he'd had for a solid three hours fade, and turned around to look at Stan to state the obvious, "there's only one bed."

"Oh, yeah," confirmed Stan, mildly surprised himself.


There was a slight pause, and then Kyle stated unnecessarily, "I thought it was a double room."

"Well," Stan said hesitantly, "do you want to go back downstairs and ask them what the deal is?"

"Um, I guess," Kyle looked a bit perplexed. He didn't really want to be a problem for the hostel staff, and it wasn't like the room was unsatisfactory or anything, like it wasn't falling apart, but it was true that it wasn't what he expected. "I mean, it's not a big deal or anything. I just..."

"Thought it was a double," finished Stan.

"Yeah. And I guess I do want to check, just cause that's what I thought I paid for and all."

"Yeah sure, man. Let's go back to the desk."

They locked the door and headed back to the elevator. Kyle was aware that the ride down was noticeably more subdued than the one up. They continued to remark on their surprise at the arrangement of the room, kind of repeating things unnecessarily, Kyle thought. He all of a sudden hated how the mood between them had changed in the matter of minutes. There seemed to be something in the air that hadn't existed previously. In spite of the newly-off vibes, Stan and Kyle returned to the front of the lobby.

The nice woman at the desk smiled when she saw them. "Hello again, boys. Was there a problem with the room?"

"Um, not really," replied Kyle, "but do you mind checking something for us?"

"Of course not, how can I help you?"

"Well, it's just that I thought we had booked a double room, and the room you sent us to only has one bed."

The woman asked to see their confirmation sheet again and clicked away on her computer for a minute.

"Well, Mr. Broflovski, the system shows you did pay for a single room with a double bed."

"Oh!" remarked Kyle, surprised, "I thought 'double deluxe' meant two beds."

"No, I'm sorry, sir. 'Double deluxe' refers to one of our fully outfitted rooms with a double mattress. We may have some larger rooms available with two beds, but there will be an additional charge of about $30."

"Oh, well, um," Kyle turned to look at Stan. They both knew they had planned this trip on a budget, and had gone with a hostel to save on the ridiculous hotel prices they'd come across on their online search. If they had to fork over an additional $30, they would be out a significant amount more money than they had anticipated. "Is that ok?"

Stan nodded his head, understanding Kyle was asking him if it was okay they not spend the extra money. "Yeah, man, it's fine. It's not a big deal."

Kyle nodded back and turned again to face the attendant. "We'll be all right, but thanks."

"Of course," she said, "and I apologize for the mix-up."

"No, it's all right. I just interpreted the webpage wrong, I guess." The boys thanked her again and repeated the trip to their confirmed room.

Kyle opened the door again, and this time they walked fully inside before closing it behind them. They both hovered silently for a minute, feeling out what they should do first. On family trips, the first thing Kyle and his younger brother would always do when getting to a hotel was immediately claim a bed for themselves (or, at least, what passed for a bed, as the brothers usually ended up fighting over a pull-out sofa versus a roll-away mattress or something similar). Kyle didn't know if there was a different protocol for claiming a side of the bed.

Stan dumped his bag on the dressing table, seemingly signifying that the bed wasn't an issue yet. Kyle followed his example and went to put his own bag on top of the desk. They wouldn't really be using the space for work or anything since they hadn't even brought anything much with them other than their confirmation sheets for both their reservations, a couple changes of clothes, and their toothbrushes.

There wasn't anything else to do, and they had already been saying how tired they were on the drive from the theater, so the two boys went about the routine of getting ready for bed. Stan went to make use of the communal bathroom, and Kyle used the opportunity to change into his pajama bottoms. He removed his jacket and outer shirt but kept his undershirt on as a sleep top (he'd planned his outfit so he could do just this, since it saved space in his bag and all... God, I'm a dork, he thought to himself).

While he folded the clothes he had been wearing (another internal groan at his own expense) and draped his jacket over the back of the chair in front of the desk, he couldn't help but think about the bed situation. Kyle wasn't bothered by it. Just, having to deal with it made him realize that he and Stan actually had not slept in the same bed in a good long while. They used to all the time when they were little. It was a lot less hassle than having to roll out a sleeping bag every time one of them was at the other's house (which, of course, was quite, quite often). But, they hadn't really once they'd gotten too big to share a bed comfortably. They both had twin beds in their rooms, and it only worked well with one teenage boy in them at a time. So, once they had gotten to be about thirteen, they'd started having to use sleeping bags out of necessity. Each of them had one stuffed into the bottom of their closets for this express purpose, and they would take it out whenever one of them would end up at the other's house too late in the evening, whether it was planned or not. Their parents never cared. The two boys had been friends for so long, and impromptu sleepovers happened so often, that their parents always said the boys actually had two rooms apiece. Their dads even sometimes joked that they should really be able to claim another dependent on their taxes. It was kind of annoying, but Stan and Kyle knew their parents were merely kidding and were happy to have them around whenever.

Still, it was true that this situation was actually odd for them. This bed, thankfully, was a full-size, so it shouldn't be too bad with both of them in it. It would be snug, but there should still be enough room for both of them to lay down comfortably with enough space in between so they weren't on top of each other or anything. That would definitely be awkward.

Stan came back to the room (he had to knock and Kyle opened the door for him, since there was only one key and Stan hadn't taken it with him), so they switched places, Kyle going to the bathroom while Stan did whatever he had left to do in the room.

Kyle smiled, thinking about Stan's nightly routine, or as much as he could, anyway, with a mouth full of toothpaste and a rotating brush. Kyle always folded his clothes unless they were going in the laundry bin. He used a shelf in his closet to hold the items that he had worn once but weren't dirty enough yet to warrant cleaning, so he kept a small stack of folded clothes there. Stan, on the other hand, would toss his clothes in the general area of his closet or chest of drawers, and they'd mostly all end up on the floor, whether they were dirty or not. Kyle teased him about this ceaselessly, since he much preferred more order in a living area. Stan argued that the mess wasn't around the entire room, just in a localized area, and that made it more manageable, and he knew which items were dirty based on which pieces ended up closer to his laundry bin, which was shoved into a corner of his closet. Kyle had to concede that point to him, since the mess was never an issue when they sat on the floor to work on a project or when Kyle needed to roll out the sleeping bag if he was sleeping over, but he would still always sigh exasperatedly at Stan's professed logic. It didn't really bother Kyle, it was just fun to tease Stan about something that he could so easily fix but chose not to.

His bathroom activities complete, Kyle gathered the few items he had brought in with him and walked back to their shared room. He smirked again, making a silent bet with himself that, while he had folded his used clothes and put them back in his bag, leaving the ones for tomorrow neatly stacked on the top of the desk, Stan's clothes would be draped all over the dressing table. Kyle knocked on the door (he'd forgotten the key, too), and once Stan opened it for him, he glanced at Stan's temporary area and hid another smirk, finding that he had been right. Stan's bag looked like it had been through a minor explosion, with some of his few clothing items hanging half in and half out of the bag, while his shirt from today hung limply over the corner of the table.

It was almost ridiculous how predictable Stan could be, Kyle thought. He practically knew what his friend would do even before he did it. But, at the same time, in a way, it was also comforting. Stan and Kyle had gone through a lot of changes during the course of their friendship. They'd been friends for so long, it was almost scary how greatly things were different now from when they were running around the playground as toddlers. But, during these times of predictability, Kyle could remember the little boy that Stan used to be. He could see that little boy within his friend and remember why he'd stuck with him all these years. Stan was a constant in his life, and these moments helped reaffirm that.

Now, if only Kyle could decipher why Stan had been showing an unnerving amount of lapses in his predictability, he would feel a lot better.

At the moment, though, there was one important issue which they needed to address: there was only one bed and two of them. They didn't need to make a scene about it or anything, but Kyle felt the need to address it all the same. "So," he said once he'd returned his bathroom supplies to the plastic bag he'd packed them in, inside his larger one, "how do you want to do this?"

"Do what?" inquired Stan. He looked up from checking his phone messages, apparently his mom had been checking to make they were all settled for the night.

"The bed, what do, you know, want to do?"

Stan looked at the bed and then back at Kyle, phone still in hand. "Uh, sleep on it?"

Kyle ran a hand over his face. Stan could be a bit dense at times. He got that from his father, though Kyle would never say that to Stan openly. "Yeah, ok, Sherlock, but, like, do you care which side or anything?"

"Oh. Uh, no, not really." Done with his reply message, Stan flipped his phone shut and put it on the nightstand on the side closest to him; it would act as their alarm in the morning. He stared at Kyle over the mattress and gestured between them with his left index finger. "Since we're already kinda on different sides, you wanna just call it like this?"

Kyle shrugged. "Yeah, sure, whatever. It doesn't matter much to me. I just wanted to, you know, check."

"Unless you want this side? Would you rather not be close to the window or something?"

"Huh? Oh, no, I don't care."

Stan eyed his friend marginally. "You sure?" he asked.

"No, Stan, it's totally not a big deal. It's fine. You wanna go to sleep now or...?"

"Honestly, kinda, yeah," Stan managed to get his answer out before being overcome with a giant yawn which Kyle thought could not have been more appropriately timed.

He just had to grin at Stan's simplicity. "Ok," he said and then pulled up the covers to maneuver himself underneath. Kyle was anticipating actually getting to sleep for him to be somewhat of a problem. It had nothing to do with the bed situation. He just always had a hard time falling asleep in a place that wasn't familiar (basically any place besides his or Stan's room). On trips, he'd always still be awake long after his family had nodded off. He was used to it, but it was inconvenient as hell. He hoped that because Stan was there, maybe he could trick his stubborn mind into believing the place was familiar enough to shut off and let him get some rest.

Stan stayed standing for a moment, Kyle assumed to give him time to adjust or whatever. He was sitting in the bed and turned around to pull his pillow closer. It was then that he properly noticed there were three. "Oh," he said, holding up the middle cushion, "uh, what do you want to do with this extra one?"

Stan regarded it for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders. "You want it?"

Kyle lay back and tested out the pillow already behind his head. It was far too thin and soft for his standards. "Actually yeah," he admitted, "this one by itself kind of sucks."

"Go for it, then."

Kyle sat back up to maneuver his pillows and made an attempt at witty banter to try and shake off the still slightly awkward atmosphere between them. "Sorry if I kick you in my sleep or something."

"No problem, I'll just punch you in the face if you do," Stan returned, laughing. Kyle laughed a bit as well, but the joke still didn't fully diffuse all the tension from the room. Damn it, thought Kyle, what the hell is wrong with us all of a sudden?

"Do you mind getting the light?" he asked Stan.

"No problem. That's why I stayed standing, waiting for you to get settled." Well, that was courteous, thought Kyle.

Stan did indeed walk over to the light switch by the door and stopped with his finger over it, paused in readiness. He turned toward Kyle, letting him know without words to pay attention to what happened next. At the same moment he finished singing the line, "Turn it off!" his finger went down on the switch, cutting the light. Kyle laughed at this final reference to the spectacular show they had just seen, Stan joining him.

Stan then made his way back to his side of the bed in the dark. There was enough light filtering in from the shades in front of the window to make his trek not too hazardous. He got under the covers, both boys now lying down on their backs, looking up at the blank unfamiliar ceiling.

Kyle suddenly felt a bout of remorse. He felt like it was his fault that they had ended up with a room that was slightly inconveniencing for the both of them. He didn't want anything to ruin their trip. They'd been looking forward to it for so long and they'd already had such a good time, he didn't want to be the one responsible for ruining it because he couldn't decipher a stupid webpage. "Hey, Stan," he said softly, "I'm sorry I messed up the room."

"You didn't, Kyle, it's not a big deal," Stan assured him. "We've done this before."

"Yeah, but not in a long time," Kyle argued. It's not a big deal. That phrase kept reappearing like an echo. If it wasn't a 'big deal' then why did they keep having to say it wasn't?

And why were they still talking about this? Or, at least, why did Kyle feel the need to?

Changing priorities, Kyle decided to just get away from the subject and end the night on a more positive note. He turned to face Stan and said, "Still, I'm really glad we got to do this, the show and just hang out together. It's nice to get away from all the normal heavy shit, yeah?"

Stan looked over at Kyle. Kyle couldn't be sure in the dark, but he thought he saw something pass behind Stan's eyes, like he was debating within himself for a moment. Then, the look passed, or the look Kyle thought he had seen, and Stan smiled and said, "Yeah, I'm glad, too." Then, with a final "Night, man," he turned over and faced the opposite wall.

Kyle blinked, wondering if he should pursue that oddity, but he didn't want to open up the awkward box again, so he returned his own "Goodnight," and turned over to face his wall as well.

As Kyle lay on his side, thinking (curse his perpetually analytical brain), he became unnervingly aware that there was actually one aspect of Stan's behavior that he'd never been particularly good at predicting, and that was these bouts of reservation. From time to time, Stan would kind of draw in on himself, become incredibly stand-offish, and even shut down completely. These bouts were usually the result of some emotional trauma or, worse for Kyle, some thought process that he refused to share with anyone.

Whenever Kyle was faced with a serious problem, he would typically get angry and ramble on about it to anyone who was unfortunately in the vicinity to hear it, or he'd seek Stan out specifically because he knew he would listen to him and help him deal with it. Or get him to shut up, which Kyle recognized did need to happen on certain occasions.

However, when Stan faced a similar problem, he would sometimes internalize it but still act out against it, appearing like he was depressed or pissed off for no reason. And the worst part was that Kyle could never get him to talk about it. He'd always have to wait until Stan finally exploded and revealed the big mystery. It was horrible for Kyle, because he always felt so helpless during these times. No matter how desperately he might want to help Stan, there was not a thing he could do, and patience was not a particularly stellar virtue of his. He'd learned to deal with it over the years, but it was still difficult to wait through. Based on Stan's late behavior, he wondered if this might be one of those times.

Trusting the problem would go away by morning, when they'd both wake up rested and refreshed, Kyle also hoped the added awkwardness of... whatever was going on between him and Stan... wouldn't aggravate his other bad habit, leaving him tossing and turning all night. Mercifully, the long day and drive coupled with the awesome show had left him pretty tired, so he managed to fall asleep rather quickly (by his standards anyway).

Kyle woke up what he guessed was a few hours later. His bad habit couldn't let him get away with a sound night's sleep that easily. He thought about getting up to get a drink of water from the bathroom sink, then he realized there was something wrong with the way he was lying in bed. His face was still angled toward the window, but at some point his body had shifted so that he was lying flat on his back. He tried to turn on his side again, but there was something restricting his movement. He wondered vaguely if he was caught up in the sheets before he came out of his sleep-haze enough to realize that there was a thing lying on top of his chest.

And that thing felt like an arm.

Confused, and still a little drowsy, he opened his eyes to see that, in fact, Stan's arm was draped over his torso. And not only that, but the rest of Stan was awfully close to Kyle's body as well. Kyle looked at Stan's face. He seemed to be sleeping peacefully, eyes shut, apparently completely out of it. He was breathing steadily with his head bent slightly down on the pillow. Kyle wondered if Stan's movement or the air from his breath had been what had woken him up.

But then Kyle realized that Stan was holding him in his sleep.

Kyle was awake now, but he stayed frozen for a moment. This was wrong somehow. He didn't really care that Stan was touching him. They'd hugged and rough-housed plenty of times, so the physical contact kind of wasn't an issue. But, they shouldn't be sleeping like this, right? Best friends don't sleep with their arms around each other. The people who do that kind of thing are...

Kyle's eyes went wide, and he tried to slide out from under Stan. It wouldn't leave him much room on his side of the bed, as Stan had kind of conquered it all, but maybe Kyle could shake him awake or just push him over once he had extricated himself.

He managed to get a couple of inches, but then Stan apparently felt the movement in his sleep, and chose to reach over further to try and keep his new, live, quite freaked out snuggle buddy within his grasp.

Said buddy was so taken back, in fact, that he pushed himself a little too far and ran out of bed. Kyle yelped as he managed to free himself from Stan's grip only to end up falling to the floor in a heap.

The noise woke Stan, who grunted something incoherent before poking his head over the side of the bed to look down at Kyle below him. "Why are you on the floor?" he asked oh-so-astutely in a sleep-thick voice.

Kyle let out a moan before replying, "Because you're a dick." Thankfully, he'd missed hitting the desk with his face and landed more or less on his side, allowing him to control his descent with his arms. He wasn't hurt; only his pride was bruised.

Stan stared at him perplexed. "What'd I do?" he asked.

"Nevermind. Just help me up, will you?"

Stan reached a hand down to do as requested, then backed up on the bed so that Kyle could sit down on the edge. "Seriously, man, what happened? Did I push you?"

He actually sounded genuinely sorry if that was the case, and that touched Kyle. Then he remembered the real reason he'd ended up on the floor and looked away, embarrassed. Though he wasn't sure why. He hadn't been the one getting all touchy-feely. "No, dude, you didn't push me," he said.

"Well, then, what?" Stan persisted.

Kyle still didn't want to look at Stan, but he knew that his friend wouldn't let the issue go until he received a decent answer. No matter what new level of awkwardness it might lead to on this trip. So he settled for the truth. "You had your arm around me."

Stan thought about this for a moment. "Oh," he said, still fairly oblivious, "was I hurting you?"

Kyle let out of frustrated sigh, "No, Stan, you weren't hurting me, you just... you were almost hugging me, or something."

"A-oh," Stan vocalized in quick comprehension-apprehension. After a pause he added, "Like cuddl-?"

"Yes, like that!" Kyle shouted before Stan could finish the word. It was bad enough that they were having to deal with this, but did Stan have to spell it out in the most awkward manner possible?

"Ahh." Stan stayed silent for a while, which was only prolonging this horrible patch in Kyle's opinion. "I'm, uh, sorry, dude, I didn't... I mean I was sleeping, so I wasn't trying to... I couldn't-"

"It's all right, Stan," Kyle said, trying to move beyond the moment now. He really just wanted to get some sleep. He turned to look back over at Stan, who was still lying on his side raised up on one arm. "It didn't mean anything, it just... surprised me is all. It's not a big deal." There was that phrase again.

Stan almost looked hurt for a minute, but then shrugged his upper shoulder, "Uh... yeah, of course."

Kyle sighed. "Let's just go back to sleep, ok?"

"Yeah, sure." Stan moved over about as far as he could go on his side of the bed, giving Kyle a copious amount of space to re-settle himself under the blanket. Away from Stan. "Sorry, again, dude, I didn't mean to hurt you or anything."

"I know, Stan. It's all right. It's fine. Let's just go to sleep," repeated Kyle.

Kyle turned over toward the wall again. Of course, he couldn't fall asleep right away, so he awkwardly thought about what had just happened. Lying there, he remembered suddenly that Stan usually slept while hugging a pillow. Of course, Kyle mentally slapped myself, how could he have been so stupid not to remember that? Stan had started doing that during one breakup with Wendy and kind of kept going with it after. Maybe he used to sleep like that with her? Had Kyle just become the unknowing replacement for that? He was surprised Stan hadn't thought of it as well. Maybe it was such a subconscious thing that he didn't even realize he did it. Maybe Kyle should have let Stan have the third pillow. Whatever the logistics, it was over now, and Kyle was fairly certain Stan had already fallen back asleep. He hoped he could get over that high-anxiety episode and manage to do so himself.

It didn't take too long before he slipped back into unconsciousness, but, of course, his natural restlessness refused to be merciful with him. After a few more hours, he woke up again. This time, he was on his other side, facing away from the window.

And right into the face of his best friend who had once again wrapped his arm around him and apparently pulled him closer to his body.

Kyle didn't hesitate this time, he immediately freaked the fuck out. He pushed his arms out in front of him and hit Stan in the chest at full force, yelling, "JESUS CHRIST, STAN, WHAT THE HELL?!?!"

"OW! Shit, what?" Stan was winded from the attack, but recovered (and woke up) quick enough to protect himself from any further assault. He kept trying to grab Kyle's arms, which were still trying to simultaneously pound and push away from the black-haired offender. His legs got into the fight as well, but only really succeeded in getting caught up in the sheets. "Jesus, Kyle, stop flailing!" Stan demanded.

"I'm not flailing," Kyle retorted, "I'm trying to get out from under the damn covers!"

"And you're kicking me like crazy, so fucking stop!" Stan rolled over so he could pin Kyle's spastic limbs to the mattress, legs on top of his and hands clamping down on his wrists. The further unsettling result was that he was now straddling Kyle. Stan's expression was unreadable. Kyle thought he looked kind of pissed, at least.

Kyle glared up at his friend. "Get the fuck off of me, Stan!"

"Kyle, shut up a minute, just - stop!" Stan continued to stare down, refusing to break eye contact with the redhead. Kyle narrowed his own gaze and pursed his lips together, giving Stan some reluctant, non-verbal communication that he was consenting to his request. "Thank you. Now, can we just fucking deal with this like rational people for a minute?"

"Dude, this is really not helping your case right now," Kyle said, referring to their current physical positions.

"I'm not making my case yet, I'm just trying to get you to calm the fuck down so I can figure out what the damn issue is."``

"You were hugging me, Stan. In. Your. SLEEP. Is that not an issue to you?"

"Uh, not really. Dude, what's the big deal? We've hugged plenty of times before." There was that phrase again. What the fuck? thought Kyle. Was it haunting us or something?

"Yeah, but Jesus, Stan, that's while we're awake!" he shouted. "Hugging while we're asleep is just totally freaking -" Kyle stopped himself from finishing that sentence.

"What, Kyle? What is it?" Stan insisted.

Kyle could hardly stand this. Stan was still on top of him in a manner that only flat-out screamed what he had just thought and was trying avoid.

His moment of silence apparently annoyed Stan more. "Kyle, fucking WHAT?!"

"It's completely GAY!" yelled Kyle. "It's totally, utterly and outstandingly GAY!"

And then they were stuck in a moment of the most awkward silence Kyle had ever experienced in his life.

"What's wrong with that?" Stan finally asked.

"WHAT?!" Kyle was so confused all of a sudden. Where had that come from? "Stan, what're you saying?"

"I dunno, just..." Stan fumbled, though Kyle couldn't be sure if he saw something once again flicker across his friend's face, though it was gone as quick as it appeared, so he couldn't have been sure. Stan continued, "I'm just asking what's wrong with being gay?"

"Well, nothing, really," Kyle honestly responded, though a bit taken aback by the moralistic question, "but, fuck Stan, we're not gay." A thought suddenly struck Kyle and he stared up at his friend with quite a different expression. "Wait... unless..." Kyle let the rest of the sentence hang in the air.

Stan nervously looked at the pillow behind Kyle's head, determinedly not looking at Kyle's face.

"Stan..." Kyle tried cautiously. He was reluctant to ask this outright, but there was no way around it now. It was hanging there, openly in the air, and Kyle had to acknowledge it. "Are you?"

Stan still didn't look at him. "I've been thinking about it," he answered cautiously, "for a while now."

Kyle waited. Stan said nothing. "And?" Kyle prompted.

"And..." Stan hesitantly forced his gaze back to his friend, "probably, yeah."

There was an awful moment where neither one of them moved, or hardly even breathed, for that matter. Then, all of a sudden, Kyle inappropriately exclaimed, "What?!... I-I-I......What?!" He realized he sounded an awful lot like his mother at this most delicate of times. Way to fail, Kyle, he thought, but this was so out-of-the-blue to Kyle's perception that he was having a hard time wrapping his head around the situation. Which was probably why he first responded with something that wasn't entirely appropriate, "Shit, Stan, you could have told me."

"I was waiting for the right time."

"So you decided to come out to your best MALE friend while sitting on top of him?"

"Well that, like most of this conversation, wasn't really planned out, you know?" Stan said with a definite note of frustration as he finally got off of Kyle and returned to lie down on his side of the bed. Kyle remained on his back in the same position, but turned his head so he could keep looking at Stan.

Kyle sighed. He realized he wasn't acting as supportive as he knew he was supposed to be in a moment like this. "Look, Stan, I'm sorry for... well, for freaking out. It just startled me was all. I don't care if you're gay, dude, it doesn't matter. You're still my best friend and that's certainly not going to change that."

Stan let out a small laugh. "Thanks, dude," he replied, genuinely.

"Is that why you've been acting kind of distracted lately?" asked Kyle.

Stan looked toward the other side of the room. "You could tell?"

"I'm your best friend, dude," Kyle gave in explanation. "But it wasn't anything major, just, you know, something I picked up on."

"Hmm." Stan was still looking off to the side.

Kyle felt the need to prove things were really ok now. "Hey, are you... did you want to, like, talk about it or anything?"

"Actually," Stan turned his head so he was gazing down as his hands resting on his stomach, including Kyle in his peripheral vision, but still not looking directly at him. Kyle supposed he was still not quite comfortable enough to do so. Stan started to absentmindedly pick at his nails before continuing, "I was kind of planning on bringing it up during this trip. Not that that's why I wanted to come or anything, just... that it was convenient and all, you know?"

Kyle guessed that Stan meant here, in a private room in a hostel miles away from South Park, where they could be guaranteed no interruptions, not from either of their parents or friends or even having to split up and go home because it was getting late. This is what they'd wanted, to be alone, just the two of them. Kyle could understand how that seemed like an ideal opportunity to have a discussion as serious as this. Maybe Stan had even tried to earlier, and Kyle just hadn't given him the opportunity.

"Sure, dude. So... let's talk."

And they did. Kyle mostly listened as Stan told him about a realization that had taken him the better part of the past year to get to.

Some of it Kyle already knew, of course, but that was only the obvious events. Like Stan and Wendy's final breakup about a year and a half ago. They had been on again/off again for the longest time, but during their last stint together, Stan had told Kyle that they were really trying to make it work. Stan and Wendy decided that this time, they were really in it for the long haul, for better or for worse. But, it still hadn't worked. Neither one of them could really say why, but they both knew, in their hearts, that they just couldn't be together. And when Wendy asked Stan one night if he honestly, truly wanted to keep their relationship going, he had honestly, truly responded, no. So, they mutually agreed to let it go for good this time.

"I was sad, you know, even though we both knew it was for the better," Stan confessed to Kyle, still staring down at his hands resting lazily on his stomach. "Wendy was... all I knew, really, but then after it was over, I finally started to think about other things." Remembering how (what Kyle felt was overly) dramatic Stan had been during his and Wendy's early breakups, Kyle almost made a smart remark, but he heard the small hint of truthful pain in his friend's voice, so he kept his mouth shut as Stan continued his story.

Kyle listened as Stan described all the jumbled up feelings he'd gone through in the next month or so, basically questioning everything he had simply assumed to be true about himself. Kyle thought back on those months himself. It had been the middle of their freshman year, and also a particularly academically-demanding one for Kyle. He'd had three honors classes, debate club and lacrosse season to juggle. He'd been really busy, and though he had told Stan at the time that he'd do whatever he could for his friend in the wake of his final breakup, he realized that he might have missed some signs of the severeness of what Stan had been going through. He suddenly felt horrible. He'd been preoccupied with his own (in retrospect) silly affairs while Stan had basically been going through a severe emotional dilemma.

He suddenly interrupted his friend's confession, "Stan, dude, I'm so sorry. I had no idea. Why didn't you let me know all that was bothering you?"

Stan shrugged as best he could while lying down. "You were really busy with your own shit," he said, "I didn't want to bother you with my crap."

"But, dude," Kyle argued, "I hate myself now that I know you were going through all that while I was stressing out over fucking algebra and stupid games. I was so fucking oblivious, I'm sorry."

"Kyle, it's ok." Here, Stan turned to look Kyle in the eyes. It was the first real time he'd done so since getting off him to lie on the bed. By this time, Kyle had shifted so that he was lying on his right side, facing Stan, giving him his undivided attention. He'd been watching Stan's face this entire time. He wished now that he'd been so attentive when his friend needed him most. Keeping his gaze fixed on Kyle's, Stan continued, "It sucked, but... it was really something I had to work through on my own, you know? And I knew, once I started to really figure out what was going on, that I wanted to be absolutely sure before I told anyone. You were always one of the first people on my list to tell."

"Like, right after your parents?" Kyle asked.

"Maybe even before, dude. That's what happened anyway, and I'm glad. I'm glad you're the first to know."

Unintentional pride rose up slightly within Kyle at these words. He was honored that Stan favored him so highly. "Well, I'm glad, too," he said, giving Stan a smile, which the black-haired boy returned. "But, why did you still wait so long? It's been over a year, Stan."

"Well, it took a lot longer to sort out than you think. Like I said, I wanted to really be sure, and then, I wanted to live with it a while, you know. Like, I dunno, a test run, I guess. Just kind of go around with it in my head and just operate under that assumption for a while? Does that make any sense?"

Kyle thought he might understand what Stan was attempting to explain. He knew this issue was a big deal, for anybody. And maybe Stan had needed some time to himself, to be okay with the realization himself first, and that was totally fine. Kyle couldn't blame Stan for being cautious with it. It was a big deal, but not so big that it changed anything majorly.

"Sure, Stan, I get it. Like I said, I'm glad you're telling me now. And it's all ok, man, no worries." Kyle paused and then went ahead and confirmed this new (old) fact about his friend. "You're gay. And, now I know. Now you've told somebody."

Stan grinned hugely in Kyle's direction. With a slight laugh, he said, "Dude, thank you. Thanks for being so... cool and understanding about all of this."

"Of course, man. I'm not Cartman or anything. I'm not gonna freak out and yell that you're gonna give me 'gay cooties' or anything dumb like that," Kyle said, joking about their intolerant dickhead of a 'friend,' attempting to bring some levity back into the conversation.

"Oh God," Stan fake-groaned and put a hand over his eyes. "Maybe I don't want to ever come out to him. He'd never fucking shut up about it."

Kyle laughed in agreement. "I promise to keep it hidden from him as long you want, by any means necessary."

"Thanks again, man," Stan said, lowering his hand and shifting to lie on his side as well. They mirrored each other's positions for a moment, each facing the other, each one smiling at his best friend. Then, Stan reached his arm up and once more enveloped Kyle in an embrace. This time, however, they were both fully awake and cognizant. Kyle allowed himself to be held, and, without much of any hesitation, he reached his arm up as well and wrapped it around Stan's back, returning the hug. Stan squeezed him a little bit tighter once he did. "I really did want to tell you, you know," he confessed, whispering in Kyle's ear, "I just, never had the right moment."

"I believe you, Stan, you don't have to prove anything," Kyle assured him, rubbing his hand across Stan's shoulder blades a couple times. Though Stan showed no signs of teariness, the boy had been known to be the more emotional one of the two (when it came to quieter emotions anyway; Kyle beat him in the more loud, angrier emotional department), so Kyle added an extra little bit of assurance to his statement. He continued, "And I don't think there really is a right moment anyway. There are good ones, but you can never find an absolutely perfect one."

"Yeah," Stan chuckled, pulling back, "as your flailing clearly pointed out to me, thank you. My chest will never make that mistake again."

"Oh, shut the fuck up, dumbass," Kyle retorted. They both laughed as Kyle playfully knocked his hand into Stan's shoulder. They once more rearranged themselves properly on the bed. It took a bit of work, as Kyle had actually managed to pull half of the sheets untucked and they had to get out of the bed to fix it, but they eventually settled back on their respective sides of the single bed. This time, Kyle and Stan lay facing each other.

The two boys honestly were exhausted, and it didn't take long at all for them to fall asleep again. Whether it was due to the conversation or the fact that Stan had finally managed some semiconscious self-control, there were no more incidents. Stan kept his hands to himself (as it were, thought Kyle), and they both slept straight through till the alarm on Stan's phone went off the next morning. Or, at least, Kyle knew he did. He assumed Stan had as well since he seemed alert enough and wasn't complaining about any additional lack of rest.

Getting up, the boys changed into the more relaxed attire they'd brought with them, used the communal bathroom once more, grabbed their bags and the complimentary breakfast downstairs, returned their key with a thanks to the morning desk attendant, got into the car and set off back to South Park.

During the drive back, they listened to the CD Stan had purchased of the show. By the halfway point of their journey, they were well on their way to having memorized most of the words. Once they had gone through the entire album once, they skipped around to their favorite songs.

In between the tracks, Kyle, ever the thinker, managed to reflect on Stan's confession. He was still horribly proud of his friend for going through such a difficult self-realization process on his own, and the fact that he felt Kyle worthy to be the first witness to it. He glanced over at Stan, who, quite understandably, had his eyes fixed on the road. He considered him for a moment and confirmed that his opinion of Stan had not changed. Of course it hadn't. Maybe he would amend what he said to Stan from now on, in a way, like not necessarily pointing out cute girls to him anymore, but nothing big. Hell, he would probably understand Stan's behavior better from time to time. That would be a definite improvement.

In fact, looking back, Kyle thought he could already see reasons for Stan's behavior that he couldn't before. Fact: Stan had recently been acting different than usual. Well, in hindsight, Kyle realized that made perfect sense. Stan had achieved a new awareness of himself, of course he was going to act differently once that happened. Kyle would be concerned if he didn't. In response to his revelation, Stan had altered how he behaved on a regular basis, how he carried himself, how he interacted with other people. It just made sense. Kyle did wonder, though, if the fact that he now also knew of this change would alter how Stan behaved around him specifically. Of course, Kyle hoped it wouldn't, not in a negative way at least. Still, maybe now Stan could feel more at ease being able to confide in someone who understood. Maybe Kyle could help him out in any circumstance that was particularly affected by Stan's sexuality. Kyle wondered if he'd be any good giving his friend relationship advice.

It wasn't that Kyle was inexperienced in the relationship field. He wasn't. He'd dated three girls through middle and early high school. Four, if you counted Rebecca back in the third grade. But, he had never been particularly serious with any of them. Each relationship had ended after a few months (five was the record). He'd always felt afterward, once it had broken off with each of them, that he had just been going through the motions of having a girlfriend, like each one was nice and all, but the only reason he'd gone out with them in the first place had been to satisfy social conventions. Also, to satisfy his hormones, because those definitely affected him, too. So, while Kyle had had relationships, he did not feel by any means that his experiences made him an expert on the subject.

And then there was the matter that Stan wouldn't be dating girls anyway, so Kyle felt pretty useless on the subject overall.

Still wanting to maybe leave that door open for Stan, to let him know that he was willing to help his friend with anything along those lines, Kyle prompted some more serious discussion once they were done singing along to Two By Two for the third time. "So," he started, "just so I know, do youuuu... want to keep it a secret for a while longer, you being gay?"

"Oh, yeah, I guess," Stan admitted, shifting gears from laughing at the lyrics. "I mean, do you mind? It's turning into a real slow process, but I kind of prefer it that way, you know? I need to figure out how I want to tell my parents and everything still, too. I mean, coming out to my dad? That's gonna suck, no matter how I go about it." They mutually chuckled, albeit warily. Kyle knew Stan's father was perhaps one of the most eccentric people in town, so he could understand Stan's trepidation. Even if he meant well, Randy Marsh could very easily blow a situation like this out way out of proportion, making it much harder for Stan to deal with personally. "I guess I'll just," Stan continued, "... I don't know, take it as it comes?"

Kyle smiled. "Yeah, sure, no problem, Stan. I just wanted to be sure how you wanted to go about it. I won't say anything, I promise."

Stan smiled as well, though his eyes remained facing forward. "Thanks, man. Really. Thanks for having my back on this."

"No problem, man," Kyle repeated, then grinned, making an overly sincere face as he sang, "I am here for you!"

They laughed at Kyle's quoting of the musical, and skipped ahead to that song as their next sing-along selection.

Kyle hated how, whenever he took a trip, the ride back always seemed quicker than the ride there. It felt to him that they were passing into the South Park town limits all too soon. Home sweet home, he thought. Now he and Stan would have to return to their regular lives. They both had a lot of activities planned in the coming days, and the chances to hang out with each other were once again going to be slim. Kyle sighed. Their trip was officially over, and while it had been even more eventful than he had anticipated, what with the incident with the bed and Stan coming out to him, it had still been a wonderful break from the busy norm. Stan and Kyle would immediately have to go back to family activities. Kyle had a family dinner planned for tonight, and Stan had to get ready to leave tomorrow on another trip, this one with his parents to pick up his sister, Shelly, from college. All of these plans were the reason why the boys had had to make their excursion so brief.

"Oh," Kyle remembered suddenly, "hey, dude, I think I left my mp3 player at your house. Can we swing by there first so I can get it?" At least that way they could milk a few more minutes together, Kyle thought.

"Yeah, sure," said Stan, and he altered his course toward his own home.

Before long, they pulled into the driveway, and the boys got out of the vehicle. Stan led the way to his front door. Once he opened it, he called through the house in general that he was home. They heard his mom call a greeting from upstairs, while his dad entered from the kitchen, a mug of coffee in his hand. "Hey, boys, how was your trip?" he asked.

"All right," Stan answered. "Kyle's here because he forgot his mp3 player the other day."

"Ah," said Randy. "So, uhhh... how was the room?"

"Fine," replied Stan. Kyle noticed that he chose not to elaborate on the single bed situation. Kyle thought that was wise, especially considering his father's next inquiries.

"Oh, that's good. ... So... did, uh... did anything happen while you were there?"

Stan gave his father a questioning glare. "No, Dad."

Randy quirked his eyebrows up. "No, blowjobs or any-?"

"Jesus Christ, Dad, shut up! No!" Stan yelled at his father.

"Ok, ok, I was just, y'know, asking..." Randy sipped his coffee and turned to head back into the kitchen. Stan groaned, loud enough that Kyle could tell he didn't care if his father heard or not.

Of course, those insinuations made Stan and Kyle both blush a little harder now. Nothing had happened along the lines of Randy Marsh's perverted train of thought, but to have the idea brought up in such a blunt way did make both of them a bit nervous. He wasn't close to the truth, but, because Stan hadn't informed Randy that his son was, in fact, gay, he didn't realize how sensitive the subject was now. Stan and Kyle were both highly aware of all the directions that train of thought could lead, and it was slightly awkward, yes, Kyle thought, trying not to go there in their minds with their best friend standing right there next to them.

Ignoring his father and his stupidity, Stan motioned for Kyle to follow him upstairs to his room, where the object of their search undoubtedly was. Sure enough, Kyle found the device under a couple of Stan's T-shirts by his desk. Kyle again brought up how, if Stan kept his room in slightly better order, things like this probably wouldn't happen as often. Stan shrugged off the jab and Kyle grinned to himself. It was always too amusing poking fun at Stan like this.

"You want me to drive you over to your house?" Stan asked, shaking Kyle out of his thoughts.

Kyle considered his options. While it was true that driving would get him home quicker, Kyle found that he really didn't want to rush getting there. It was a nice day, he could walk. But again, he knew he wouldn't get to see Stan again for a while, not with him leaving town again the next day. He decided he'd rather have the most preferable option. "Thanks, you don't have to drive. But do you want to walk over with me?"

Stan smiled. "Sure," he said, and they made their way back downstairs, Stan yelling back into the house that he'd be returning soon before they exited through the front door.

They retrieved Kyle's bag from the back seat of the car (Stan left his since he'd forgotten it when they first walked in, saying he'd get it on his return), and set off on the sidewalk in the direction of Kyle's house.

A few more minutes with Stan. Well, Kyle didn't want to waste them. Now that the safety of the car was gone, and they were walking out in the open of their hometown, Kyle didn't want to pressure Stan into talking about his sexuality. Instead, he settled on a much safer topic, that of their summer plans. "So, got any jobs lined up for the summer yet?"

"Eh," said Stan, "maybe something, but I won't know for sure until, like, a week from now. You?"

"My dad said he might ask me to help around his office. It doesn't really count, since he's basically just saying 'Here, do these random tasks so I don't have to.' But he did say that he'd give me some extra money in my allowance each week for doing it, so that's cool."

Stan agreed. They continued on in a similar fashion, just talking and strolling down the sidewalk, until they finally reached Kyle's house. Kyle asked if Stan wanted to come in, but Stan conceded that he should probably get back to his own home, seeing as how they both had things they had to get ready for. Kyle reluctantly agreed. "So, uh," he said, "when do you think we'll have time to hang out again?"

Stan sighed and rubbed his left hand along the back of his head. "I dunno, dude. Lot going on. Not that I don't want to or anything, just, you know, stuff."

"Yeah," Kyle said. He wasn't sure, but he thought he felt the start of that annoying feeling again, the awkward one where it felt like talking to Stan was more like having to put his hand into something squishy and unpleasant. It didn't make any sense, but that was how Kyle felt. He tried to shake himself out of it. "Well, text me whenever you're free, ok?" He reached up to punch Stan in the arm.

Before he could make contact, however, Stan turned so that he was already starting back down the sidewalk the way they had come. He didn't look back as he raised his right hand in a kind of backwards salute-wave and said, "I will. See you later, man."

Kyle blinked. Had Stan just snubbed him on purpose? Kyle was sure he wouldn't have. Stan had already been facing away from his right side when Kyle had moved his arm. Maybe he honestly hadn't seen his friend's gesture. But still, he had moved away so suddenly. Kyle hadn't expected a teary goodbye or anything, but it certainly was abrupt.

No, Kyle rationalized as he watched Stan walk away, he was being silly. Stan wouldn't do anything like that to Kyle on purpose. His overactive brain was just getting the better of him. Kyle shrugged off his anxious thoughts as he turned and walked across the yard to his own front door. He was sure his mother would have plenty of questions for him about the trip, most of which he would answer.

The next few days essentially went right back to the way they'd been before they left. Even after Stan returned from helping shepherd his sister home, there were still some fall-out events from the end of the school year to attend to, so Stan and Kyle were mostly busy with their respective family things. They were both frustrated that the reason they had planned their trip in the first place (too much time with other things, not enough time left to hang out together) was still persistently there. They texted a few times, normal stuff, like, "Man my dad is still bugging me about stupid subliminal bway messages," and "You should give your mom a copy of West Side Story. That'd get him to quit bugging you," or "Ew gross leave my mom out of this jackass," and finally "XP." Normal stuff.

Thankfully, after only a week, they both finally had the free time to get in a visit with each other. It was Sunday and, after Stan's religious obligation and Kyle's family brunch for which their respective parents insisted on them participating, they both had the afternoon free. Kyle kept texting Stan before and immediately after his meal (he would have continued during, but years of experience dealing with his mother informed him that doing so would have resulted in, at best, grounding and, at worst, the loss of his head). He kept his head bent over his phone the entire car ride back to the house. He and Stan kept shooting off different places they could go, everything from the arcade to Orlando (another in what had become a long list of The Book of Mormon references between them). Once they reached the house, Kyle bolted out of the car, leaving his family still fumbling with their seatbelts. He ran into the house and upstairs to his room long enough to change his clothes before running back down the stairs and out of the door just before his father could close it once they'd all gotten inside. Kyle heard him yell at his fading back to make sure he'd be home by dinner. He waved vaguely behind him to acknowledge he'd heard, but did not slacken his pace in the slightest.

Needless to say, Kyle was excited. Not only was he going to spend time with Stan again, which he'd been waiting for all this past week, but they had finally decided to go to the outdoor mall as their activity (plane travel was too much trouble, so they'd scratched the Orlando idea). They didn't know exactly what they were going to do there when they arrived, but they could wander around for a while and find something to amuse themselves. Kyle thought it was perfect, and, actually when it came down to the details, he didn't care much. He was just looking forward to spending time with Stan again; he didn't give a rat's ass what they did during.

When Kyle reached the outskirts of the mall, he saw Stan standing by the western entrance, where they had agreed to meet. Kyle smiled at seeing him. Stan was gazing absentmindedly out at the parking lot so that Kyle was looking at him in profile. Kyle suddenly got hit with the feeling of just how happy he was to have Stan as his best friend. He'd always enjoyed hanging out with him so much; it was so great that their friendship had lasted as long as it had. They were each other's constant, in a lot of ways, and Kyle never wanted to lose that.

Before Kyle could get too enveloped by this train of thought, Stan looked over in his direction, smiling and waving as he approached. All these cheesy, sentimental thoughts could wait, Kyle realized; right now he was just glad to be with his friend.

They spent most of their time wandering along the length of the mall. They never ended up going into any shops, but that was okay, they weren't there to get anything specific anyway. They window-shopped a bit, but that was all. After nearly an hour they got a couple sodas at a vending machine along one of the side alleys of the complex, and sat down on a bench by the fountain to drink their beverages. Even after they had finished, they remained there for a while, people watching. There was a musician on the other side of the fountain from them playing for tips, his sole instrument, a ukulele. Kyle told Stan, softly enough not to be overheard, that if he yelled over at the guy with a dumb request, he'd buy Stan a car for his next birthday.

"What, like 'Do 'Freebird'?'" Stan asked, laughing.

"Yeah, like that," Kyle replied grinning.

Stan brought his hand up to his chin, rubbing it in mock contemplation. "Well, as much as getting a new car would be awesome, I think I'll pass."

"My bank account thanks you, but... wuss," and with that necessary taunt, Kyle stuck his tongue out at Stan and went to ruffle his friend's hair a little. Before he could, however, Stan abruptly stood up and waved at something over to his right. Kyle, confused, leaned forward to peer around Stan. He saw his other best friend, Kenny McCormick, on the far side of the courtyard, waving back at Stan. Eric Cartman was right behind him, though he, apparently, felt no need to return Stan's greeting, choosing instead to look completely annoyed that he had to follow Kenny across the courtyard to talk to Stan and Kyle. Kyle would have been offended if he had not had years of experience dealing with Cartman's unsociable attitude.

Kyle stood up himself to meet the other boys as they approached, smiling at Kenny. "S'up guys? What brings you out today?" Kenny asked the two of them, grinning his huge grin. The boy, perpetual orange sweatshirt unzipped over a simple white T-shirt, was always so upbeat and just about bursting out of his skin with excitement for whatever, he was always great to be around.

"Nothing much," said Stan, "just hanging out."

"How's your summer going?" asked Kyle. He hadn't seen either of the two since school had let out.

"Bitchin'," Kenny replied, still grinning like a maniac. "It'd be even better if this asshole would get the giant stick out of his giant ass."

"Aye!" said ass responded. "I wouldn't be so upset, Kinny, if you had told me we'd be walking for fucking hours."

"It's been twenty minutes!" Kenny yelled at Cartman, his happy expression finally altering into an incredulous glare. "And you were the one who called me complaining that you were bored and wanted to do something."

"If you weren't too poor to own a car then we at least could have driven over here instead of fucking walking!"

"Shut the fuck up, Cartman, at least I could drive if I wanted to since I'm actually sixteen." Kenny smirked at his jab at the youngest boy in their group. Kyle smiled at that. He had always loved how he himself beat Cartman in age, even by just a couple months.

Cartman narrowed his eyes at Kenny, then apparently decided to ignore him. He turned to face the other two boys in their circle and asked, "So, Stan, Kyle, how are you two fags doing?"

Stan coughed before also telling Cartman to stuff it. Kyle made sure not to make eye contact with any of them and desperately hoped that their jerk acquaintance wouldn't catch Stan's tell. Kyle was pretty sure that he was the only one who noticed, since he would be the only one looking for it in response to Cartman's traditional insult. Kyle attempted to get the conversation on an actually decent topic. "Where are you guys going?"

"Oh, well after fatass over here called me complaining that his summer vacation wasn't living up to his expectations, I reluctantly met up with him and suggested we go to the arcade. You guys want to come with?"

"That sounds like fun. Do you want to, Stan?" Kyle turned his head to ask his friend.

Stan shrugged with a grin. "Yeah, sure, why not? I could go for a rousing game of Junkie Hunt."

With that agreed, the four boys left the outdoor mall and piled into Stan's car to drive the rest of the way to the arcade. It was only a few blocks, but Stan didn't see any point in leaving his car farther away than their destination. Plus, it placated Cartman so that he was almost in a pleasant mood. They hit the change machine first, then split up to each conquer their own gaming challenge. They spent the next half-hour respectively killing zombies, ninjas, gangsters and junkies. Passing Stan on the way back to the change machine, Kenny prodded Stan into playing a racing game with him. Stan agreed, and Kyle, who had been monopolizing the game next to Stan's and had just unlocked the ever popular "GAME OVER" screen, followed them to watch the competition. Kenny and Stan went through five levels on the game. By this point Cartman came over to watch as well, having just yelled and kicked his machine before muttering to the others that he had gotten 'bored' with his game. Kenny was just about to pull out in the lead of Stan, when a digital old lady suddenly walked out into the middle of the street on his half of the screen, forcing him to turn sharply to the left. He ended up jumping the curb and a bench, turning over a few times before the screen informed him he had lost.

"Aw, man, I died! That lady always pops up out of nowhere. Oh well. Anyone else wanna shot?"

"I'll play Stan," said Kyle, and he stepped up to take Kenny's place at the controls.

Stan bent down to feed more coins into the slots as he asked, "Think you can take me, dude?"

"Oh yeah, I got this," Kyle sarcastically assured him. The machine was wider than most of the others in the arcade. It was the traditional upright but its main controls were a small steering wheel and two buttons, ignition and stop, instead of a joystick with the same. The wheels took up more space, hence the larger machine. Thus, Stan and Kyle were standing fairly close to each other with just enough space in between to operate their controls without bumping into each other, impeding their chances. Kyle's imitated bravado did prove very loosely founded, as he lost the race after only two levels.

"Maybe next time, champ," Kenny comforted him, clapping him on the back.

"Yeah, once Jews learn how to drive faster than twenty below the minimum speed limit." Cartman said from behind them.

"Shut the fuck up, Cartman, Jews aren't bad drivers!" yelled Kyle.

"Fine, whatever, just maybe you should use that Jew-temper of yours and focus it more on the road instead of all that sand in your vagina." Kyle would have punched Cartman hard for that one if Kenny hadn't held him back.

Once Kyle was more or less under his own control again, Kenny asked which of them should have a turn at the game next. Kyle refused to end his turn on Cartman's smartass remark, however. Years of attempts at proving Cartman wrong on various subjects had created a Pavlovian response in Kyle whenever the larger boy insisted on something that Kyle knew to be false or absurd or, as in this case, completely insensitive. Thus, he reacted accordingly. "No," he said, "no, I'm playing again. Come on, Stan."

Stan agreed to a rematch, but said that he was out of quarters. Rather than having to wait until he went back over to the change machine to obtain more, Kenny offered him a couple. In the midst of Cartman making another comment about how Kenny was too poor to be loaning anybody quarters for a video game instead of saving them for food for his starving family, and in the midst of a chorus of "Shut up, Cartman!" from the rest of boys, Kenny held out his hand with the proffered money.

Kyle had turned back around to face his controls, gripping the mini-steering wheel in anticipation of the next game. Kenny was standing to Kyle's left, on the other side of the game machine from Stan, and the way Kenny held out the money, it would have been easy for Stan to reach over Kyle's console area to grab the quarters. Instead, Stan stepped back onto his left foot and reached around Kyle's back to receive the money from Kenny. Cartman made another comment while this transaction was taking place, saying how he didn't even understand Kenny having money to spare in the first place, much less how he wasn't spending it on porn or pop-tarts. Kenny promptly turned around to finish what he had prevented Kyle from doing earlier and commenced to beat Cartman repeatedly with his fists.

Stan laughed at the scuffle, and bent to feed the quarters into the machine. Kyle laughed a little but mostly watched Stan out of the corner of this eye. That was definitely an odd occurrence in Kyle's book. He didn't understand why Stan hadn't simply reached over Kyle's area of the game and gotten the quarters from Kenny that way. It would have been a lot simpler on his part, and saved him some unnecessary maneuvering. It wasn't a big deal, but he couldn't figure out the reasoning for it.

After another round of the game, which Kyle did lose again, but this time mostly out of his overly aggressive manner of driving in an attempt to basically do the exact opposite of what Cartman had said he was doing, Kenny admitted that he should probably be heading out since it was nearing dinnertime. The other boys agreed it was best for all of them to do so. Stan offered everyone a ride in his car, but Kenny acknowledged that he'd rather walk, and Cartman followed him, saying that he didn't want to be left alone with "the Jew and his friend." Kyle glared at him, wishing he could punch Cartman hard in his stomach, but trying desperately to be the bigger man (figuratively speaking) and resist his more violent urges. He also thought it was immensely stupid that Cartman had made such a big fuss about having to walk earlier, and now doing so willingly, but, that was Cartman - he usually never did make much sense to any sane person. Stan turned to Kyle, extending the same offer, which Kyle accepted. He'd much rather be in a car with Stan than having to walk part of the way home behind that jackass.

Saying goodbye to Kenny and Cartman (well, just Kenny), Stan and Kyle got into the car. Once they'd pulled out of the parking lot, Kyle asked if he could put in a CD, even though their drive was relatively short. Stan consented, and Kyle opened the glove compartment to shuffle through Stan's small collection. He found the disc case to The Book of Mormon and held it up for Stan to see. "Hey," he said, grinning, "wanna listen to this?"

Stan glanced over at the case in Kyle's hand, then back at the road. "Nah," he said, "try something else."

Kyle blinked, a bit hurt. Stan's dismissal was brief, but somehow insensitive at the same time. Kyle put the case back and pulled out an old mix that Wendy had given Stan, which Stan had continued to like even after their breakup and popped that in the player. Kyle found he didn't much care what they listened to anymore.

He was upset now, that was certain. He could definitely tell that Stan was acting weird, but, as far as he knew, there was no reason for it. He thought Stan had gotten what had been bothering him off his chest at the hostel, yet he still had these moments of odd behavior. For the most part, things were normal, but Kyle felt as if Stan was more distant since they returned from their trip. Kyle had no idea why. He thought they had reached an understanding lately, what with Stan's confession.

But this was silly; this was the first day the two of them had spent together since returning from their trip out of town. Maybe there was something new going on that Stan hadn't told him about. Maybe he had just had a bad week or was tired from getting up early that morning. Kyle tried to write off Stan's behavior with any of these average conclusions.

They reached Kyle's house having spent most of the ride in silence. If it hadn't been for the mix CD providing some noise to the drive, Kyle thought he might have been unable to endure it. He got out of the car and the two shared a perfunctory wave before Stan drove off, leaving Kyle standing alone on the side of his lawn.

He was really starting to get worried.

Kyle entered his house and, meeting no one, walked straight upstairs to his room. He closed the door and went to his bed, taking off his shoes before collapsing on top of the covers. He faced the ceiling, arms splayed out to his side, legs extended - if his bed had been snow-covered ground he could have made a snow-angel.

However, there was only one main thought running through his head, and that was a resounding, What the fuck?

Kyle felt like he was failing, like this was some problem in class he just couldn't understand, but, instead of receiving an 'F,' Kyle felt that he might end up further distancing himself from his best friend, who was apparently already doing so to him. It was frustrating Kyle to no end. He had to figure this out; he had to try and understand Stan's odd behavior.

Okay, Kyle told himself, what are the facts? Focus on the facts. Kyle closed his eyes as if by doing so he could read an imaginary data sheet. Stan's behavior, that's where the facts lay. Okay, so, what about Stan's behavior? Well, he seemed to be shirking Kyle's rough-housing or playful gestures lately. Kyle had tried to ruffle Stan's hair on the bench before they had seen Kenny and Stan had stood up, but Kyle supposed it made sense for someone to avoid a move like that. Stan had avoided that punch to his arm last week, but Kyle had wondered at the time if Stan had even seen him going for it. What else? There was the fact that Stan reached completely around Kyle to get something he could have gotten much quicker by reaching over his own hands. Also, Stan had refused The Book of Mormon CD, something they had been enjoying so much on their entire ride back from Denver just last week. Kyle tried to find the correlation in all of these instances.

Then, it hit him. They all had to do specifically with Kyle's behavior toward Stan, or, at least, mostly. Stan had avoided Kyle's touch every time he had attempted to make contact since coming back from their trip. Not only that, Stan had avoided even potentially touching Kyle by reaching around his back instead of between him and the game machine, ensuring that he wouldn't accidentally bump into Kyle in the process. The incident with the CD didn't involve touching specifically, but it did still go back to the two of them sharing a connection.

Kyle's eyes snapped opened. Stan wasn't seriously avoiding Kyle's touch.

Was he?

He thought back and tried to honestly think of one time they had touched since pulling into Stan's driveway last week. And he couldn't, he couldn't remember a single instance.

Now, Kyle was scared.

He turned over on his side and pulled his pillow out from under his head, hugging it to his chest in a desperately childish action. What was the reason for all of this? He was terrified it was something he might've done, maybe something he had failed to do. But, he had been nothing but supportive of Stan since hearing him come out to him. Maybe Stan was regretting telling Kyle this secret of his? Kyle had no idea, but was getting more anxious by the second. He felt that if he didn't figure it all out soon, something much worse might happen.

Kyle had only spent so much time with Stan lately, but he couldn't deny the pattern he'd detected. Stan had almost certainly avoided physical contact with Kyle on several occasions. But how was Kyle going to confront Stan about it? Should he just ask him outright? How awkward would that be? And worse yet, what if Kyle was wrong about all of this to begin with? What if Kyle was actually just imagining the whole issue? Stan hadn't talked to him too much about personal things since they'd gotten back from their trip. Maybe the fact that Stan was being distant with him emotionally was manifesting itself in Kyle's paranoid brain as him being distant physically. But that was ridiculous; Stan had been so open with Kyle recently, coming out to him on their trip and all. But where was all of that openness now? Kyle had no idea what had caused things to shift so suddenly and significantly, but they had. Still, maybe there was a perfectly reasonable explanation to everything that Kyle was simply unaware of. Maybe Stan was sick or something. Kyle couldn't act without knowing the entirety of the situation. Well then, what should he do?

Kyle decided fairly quickly that what he needed was more data. He wanted to test his theory and make sure that it was actually based on specific behavior as opposed to him just fabricating the issue in his mind. But to do that, he needed a situation where he and Stan would understandably be in close physical proximity to one another, to keep Stan unaware of what he was trying to do. Kyle decided to create just such a circumstance.

So, the next day, Kyle invited Stan over to his house to watch television, an innocent enough activity to fit his purposes. Kyle's parents were out with Ike, so he wouldn't have to worry about any distractions. It was Monday, not a great day for television, but Kyle figured they could find some decent programming among the after-school specials. (He had tried to consider every factor to this rendezvous, ensuring it to be as innocent as possible.) Stan arrived a little before two o'clock. Kyle greeted him in the usual fashion, which Stan returned, but only words were exchanged here, no touches. Kyle didn't want to force anything too quickly. He took his time closing the door as Stan went ahead into the living room. He silently hoped that the afternoon's experiment would not end badly.

Stan had lingered standing by the sofa, politely waiting for Kyle to join him in the room. Once Kyle came in and reached for the remote, Stan went ahead and sat down on the far cushion, accepting the remote that Kyle handed him. Kyle usually let Stan pick whatever they watched, never much caring what it was and trusting Stan's judgment (also, Stan typically had higher standards than Kyle, so, rather than deal with Stan complaining, he just let him choose from the start). Kyle sat in about the same position as Stan on the other side of the sofa. Again, he didn't want to force anything too soon. He planned to be strategic about this.

Once Stan settled on a station, Kyle asked if he wanted a drink or a snack. Stan admitted a drink would be nice, so Kyle got up and fetched two sodas from the fridge. He came back and handed one to Stan. However, when he went to sit back down, Kyle settled closer to Stan, mostly resting on the middle cushion, but just enough off on the side opposite Stan so that he wasn't actually touching him. Stan shifted a bit, but it wasn't anything much to go by. It was the kind of movement most people made whenever someone sat down close beside them, making room or adjusting to the new depression in the cushions. Okay, thought Kyle, reaction duly noted, now to really start experimenting.

Kyle gave them roughly fifteen minutes of non-interrupted television watching. He had been sitting in an average manner, both feet planted on the ground, leaning back against the sofa and arms resting on his lap, holding his soda can. Stan sat in roughly the same manner, but holding his soda away from himself on the right cushion. Kyle made note of their respective positions, and then finally acted. During a commercial break, he brought his right leg up to cross his ankle over his left knee. The result was that his extended right knee came very close to coming into contact with Stan's left leg. Kyle watched Stan's reaction out of the corner of his eye. Stan did not look down, but casually moved his leg away from Kyle's.

Kyle saw this response... and then felt incredibly stupid with what he was doing. He was trying to casually touch his friend without him realizing he was trying to touch him. He felt like he was playing some silly game of 'Are you nervous now?' like an eight-year-old girl. Kyle groaned inwardly at himself. He may feel stupid, he rationalized, but it was all for a good cause. His best friend was avoiding physical contact; that was a big deal. What if Stan was depressed or falling into himself like he had done before? He'd shut down and then Kyle wouldn't be able to shake him out of it for weeks. Kyle had to know if this was going on now; that way, he could deal with it before it got that bad. He was doing it to help Stan, and that was as valid a cause as any he could think of.

His resolve solidified, Kyle decided to go in for the killer move. (Okay, now he was trying to 'put the moves on Stan?' What, was he Kenny trying to make it with a girl? No, this was an experiment, this was for Stan's well-being, Kyle reiterated in his mind.) As nonchalantly as he possibly could, Kyle rested his drink in the crook of his legs and reached his arms up and around his head, draping them over the back of the sofa. His right arm, thus, ended up directly behind Stan's head, which was leaning against the back as well. Kyle felt Stan's hair brush against his forearm as it settled just behind him.

It was only a momentary thing, however. No sooner had this action been completed, than Stan immediately leaned forward, bringing his hands to cup his soda can as he rested his elbows on his knees.

Stan had just given himself completely away, for two reasons. One, being that Stan had basically just adjusted into the farthest position possible to get away from Kyle's arm without actually having gotten up off the sofa (he'd even slid forward a bit so that he was only half-sitting on the cushion anymore). And two, was something that Kyle would not have noticed at all if he hadn't again been peeking at Stan from the corner of his eyes: Stan had unmistakably glanced at Kyle's arm before moving. And the look Kyle saw in Stan's eyes was somewhere along the lines of worry.

There was no doubt in Kyle's mind now: Stan was avoiding Kyle's touch. His heart actually started beating a bit faster out of concern over whatever could be wrong to warrant such behavior. Maybe Stan really was sick, and was worried Kyle would catch something. Stan hadn't been showing any signs of sickness, like coughing or anything, but Kyle wondered if maybe there actually was something physically wrong with his friend. Or maybe... Kyle didn't know what. But now he did know for sure that there was an issue here. And he had to address it.

Never one to dance around something that was bothering him, Kyle asked outright, "Stan, what's the matter?"

Stan was understandably caught a bit off guard by this question, especially since neither of them had said anything out loud for a good twenty minutes. He turned his head to look at Kyle and asked, "Huh? What d'you mean?"

"I mean what's up with you trying to avoid touching me lately?"

Stan stared at him steadily. "What?" he said.

Kyle sighed. This was apparently not going to be easy. Stan wasn't known for it, but Kyle had experienced several occasions trying to discuss something with Stan in which he felt a frustration that he assumed would be akin to pulling teeth. This, he supposed, was going to be one of those times. "You're purposely not touching me as much lately," Kyle explained, raising his hands palms up and shirking his shoulders slightly, as if to present the invisible problem before Stan. "What's up with that?"

Stan stared at him blankly for a minute, before shrugging his right shoulder up in a noncommittal dismissal. "There's nothing up. I haven't been doing anything like that."

"Yes, you have," Kyle argued, "just now you kept moving away from me. And yesterday at the arcade you reached around me to get those quarters from Kenny when you didn't have to. What the hell, Stan? Are you scared of me now or something? You're acting all nervous and stuff."

Stan said nothing, but looked away, down at his hands still clutching his soda.

When Stan gave him no further reaction, Kyle tried his foremost hypothesis. "Are you sick? Are you worried I might catch something?"

"No, Kyle, I'm not sick," said Stan.

"Then what is it, Stan? Please tell me. You're making me worry here."

Stan rubbed his soda can between his fingers. "Nothing's the matter, Kyle. Here, where's the remote? This show's getting stupid."

Stan glanced around for the device, locating on the small table next to his side of the sofa. He picked it up and again started to flip through the channels. This annoyed Kyle. Stan had been the only one in control of the remote; he knew perfectly well where it was residing. Which just also happened to be, once again, away from Kyle. Stan had also not looked at Kyle since diverting his attention to his apparently enrapturing soda can, so he was now purposefully avoiding Kyle's gaze as well as physical contact.

"Well," he said, still trying to act as though this was an innocent discussion, "you're still acting weird."

"No, I'm not. Come on, Kyle, shut up and let's watch TV."

Kyle narrowed his eyes. He was getting awfully tired of staring at the back of his friend's head. They'd told each other to 'shut up' thousands of times before in perfect jest, but Kyle felt like he was being snubbed in this moment. He wondered how Stan could be so calm when an issue was staring him so disturbingly in the face. He had been so open during their trip, Kyle was shocked that Stan was so reluctant to even acknowledge the issue at hand now.

A sudden thought struck Kyle. He desperately hoped that he was wrong, but he voiced his fears anyway. He had a habit of having to talk through his troubles; he'd come to Stan countless times to do just that. Now, he wanted Stan to do the same with him, and the fact that he was reluctant to do so frustrated Kyle to no end.

So, he took a breath and out of nowhere brought up the subject of Stan's homosexuality. "Are you worried about telling other people that you're gay?" he asked.

Stan stared at him incredulously. "No, I- where the hell did that... what?"

"Jesus Christ, Stan, stop fucking asking me 'what?' I'm trying to figure out the 'what' here. Are you worried about talking to other people about your sexuality? It's a simple question."

Stan stood up and ran a hand over his face, the other still clutching his drink. The television played on, forgotten by both of them. "No, Kyle. I'm just waiting for the right moment, like I said. What's gotten into you, though? Why is this such a big deal all of a sudden?"

Kyle noted the return of that infamous phrase, the one that had refused to leave them alone during their night in the hostel. But right now, he was more annoyed with his friend than with those words. He kept his gaze locked on Stan as he argued, "You're the one making an issue out of something, Stan. I'm just trying to understand it. Is it your dad? Are you worried about how he'll react?"

"Holy shit, what the fuck, Kyle?" Stan demanded, finally turning to glance in Kyle's direction. "No, I just- I mean, yes, ok, I am worried about how he'll react. I mean, did you hear those stupid things he said after we got back? How he wouldn't let the whole thing about the room go? Imagine what he would've said if he knew that we had to share a bed, much less that one of us was knowingly gay while doing it."

"What the fuck, Stan? You sound like you were just thinking about raping me the whole time."

"I wasn't!!" Stan protested, decently looking utterly appalled at the idea.

"I know you weren't Stan, but, jeez, lighten up or something, I dunno. You sound like you could hardly stand being in the same bed with me."

"That's not what this is a-errrrrrgh!!" Stan growled. Kyle knew very well that Stan had no inclinations of the sort. Sure, Stan had ended up hugging Kyle absent-mindedly in his sleep a couple of times, but he had never made Kyle feel uncomfortable during the incident. Stan was just being stupid right now. And it was pissing Kyle off. Kyle dimly wondered if Stan would have to awkwardly end up pinning anyone else to a bed before he'd admit anything openly again. It did nothing for Kyle's temper when Stan then tried to once again avoid the issue. He put his soda can down on the side table and said resolutely, "You know what? I'm done. I'm just gonna go home now and we're gonna fucking forget this shit, all right?"

Kyle stood up and faced Stan. "What the fuck, Stan?! You can't just walk away when we're trying to talk about this stuff. For starters, you're being a fucking dumbass, and second-"

"Kyle, Jesus Christ, why is this such a big deal?!?"

Stan did walk away at that point, but, since Kyle had been blocking the way to the front door, Stan chose instead to turn around and retreat through the dining room and into the kitchen. He could have gone out of the back door, but Kyle saw him make a sharp left toward the cabinets and out of his vision.

Kyle felt hurt more than anything. His intentions had been sincere, born out of a genuine concern for his friend's well-being. But then the situation had exploded into this confrontation. Kyle admittedly partially blamed his temper for this turn of events, but also Stan's stubbornness. There was something going on here, Stan couldn't deny that. Kyle knew the boy well enough to know when he was talking complete and utter crap. And while Kyle applauded Stan's cool casual skills at thus far maneuvering around Kyle physically, he was fairly pissed that his theory had turned out correct.

Refusing to give up on his friend just yet, Kyle clenched his fists and followed Stan resolutely into the kitchen. He found him leaning against the counter, his arms stretched out and his head bent down. Kyle could see that his eyes were closed. He looked troubled, like he was holding something in. Maybe tears? thought Kyle. He did not want to see Stan cry, he hated it because it always made him feel just as sad.

Kyle approached him, but stayed a good five feet away, treading cautiously. "Stan, come on, dude, what's the matter?" he asked. "You can tell me. I told you, you can trust me no matter what. So, what is it?"

Kyle saw Stan take in a deep breath, though his posture didn't alter, and said "I can't tell you, Kyle. Ok? I just can't."

In spite of himself, Kyle was getting mad again. "Why not?" he demanded. "Why can't you tell me what the hell's going on, Stan?"

At that point, Stan said something entirely wrong for the situation. "It's just, ever since I came out to you-"

Kyle, perhaps prematurely, took the offensive at this point. "Are you seriously afraid to touch me now that I know you're gay?? Are you freaking kidding me? Why would you even think I might have a problem with any of that? I told you I didn't!"

"Jesus, Kyle, hang the fuck on for a minute, ok?! Just... just freakin' chill!!"

Kyle was all but fuming now. "What is it, Stan? Why won't you touch me?"

"Kyle, I am not afraid to touch you!"

"Bullshit!" Kyle yelled, and then he reached out his hand to try and grab Stan's arm. Just as he'd anticipated, Stan shirked back from his fingers. Kyle growled and tried again with his other hand. Stan again dodged his attempts, twisting his body out of the way. "For fuck's sake, Stan, what is wrong with you?!" Kyle yelled. He took a huge lunge forward and finally caught his quarry. Kyle's movements forward had caused Stan to move back, and he'd run out of space in which to retreat. Kyle awkwardly had Stan pinned between himself and the countertop. Kyle had kind of landed on him, and they were still scrambling with each other, but Kyle was not letting up a single inch. He kept the majority of his body pushed forward, allowing Stan absolutely no freedom of movement. He imagined he was probably hurting Stan in the process of all this, but fuck it, he didn't care anymore. Stan could walk it off later if he needed to. Though he had Stan trapped, Kyle was still trying to get control of the boy. Stan's arms wouldn't stop moving and Kyle kept trying to grab them and pin them to his sides or something, just keep them still.

Stan had been taking an evasive strategy so far, trying to avoid Kyle at all costs (in this fight and in his general behavior lately, Kyle assessed), but now, faced with an unavoidable confrontation, his survival instinct took control. With the precision of someone who had actually practiced real wrestling for a couple years in middle school (Kyle regretted at this moment in time not joining him on the team), Stan avoided Kyle's hands, whipped his own around and under his opponent's, pulled up harshly under Kyle's armpits, and used his leverage to twist Kyle around full circle. Stan came around with him, and the result was that now Kyle's back was the one against a firm object with Stan planted securely in front of him. Of course, Stan had Kyle pinned much more securely than when the tables had been reversed. They had run out of counter space, so Kyle was pressed against the kitchen wall, right next to the back door, a much more substantial area to trap someone. Stan also successfully kept Kyle's arms stuck to his sides, gripping him at the forearms so he couldn't maneuver out of his prison. Finally, Stan was pressed bodily up against Kyle just as it had been the other way around, but again, a fuller backing allowed Stan more complete control over his opponent.

Kyle glared furiously right into Stan's eyes, who glared just as furiously right back at his. The scuffle was over, but Kyle knew who the real winner was. Stan had overpowered Kyle and beaten him physically, but Kyle had achieved his objective. Stan was touching him. In fact, there wasn't much space where Stan wasn't touching him. Stan had him bodily pinned between the canned goods and the key rings. The corners of Kyle's mouth twitched up in a smirk. He wasn't typically one to gloat, but he'd won, he'd beaten Stan in this small way when Stan's natural fight instinct had ended up failing rather than saving him.

He was about to taunt Stan with the news of his loss, but he had just barely opened his mouth before Stan surged forward and kissed him.

Kyle's eyes went wide. Since his mouth had already been half open while he'd taken in a breath, preparing to speak, Stan now invaded that space entirely. Kyle could feel Stan's tongue furiously assaulting every single crevice and detail he could find. And, in spite of the unbelievable suddenness of the action, Kyle, completely and utterly blown away, found himself attacking Stan with nearly the same level of intensity. Stan responded by upping his, though that seemed impossible. They kept this up for, Kyle logically realized, what must have been just a few minutes, but what sensorially felt like forever. And neither of them let up a single degree in their ferocity. Their battle for bodily entrapment had become a battle for tongue supremacy.

Kyle did not regain his senses until Stan suddenly and forcibly pulled back, leaving Kyle dazed in a fog. His mouth still hung open, and he had the fleeting thought that he probably had the appearance of someone drunk out of his skull. It was pretty accurate to how he currently felt. He couldn't have formed a cohesive thought if his life depended on it. What had just happened was so completely out of sync with what he took to be the norm, his brain had to make up a few laps to catch up with the rest of him.

While he was still vainly trying to process what had just happened, and his reaction to it, Stan leaned forward again, this time slowly and deliberately, aiming to lean his cheek against Kyle's so that his mouth was just next to the other's ear. Kyle could hear the unevenness of Stan's breathing as he whispered right into it, "I fucking like you, all right? That's why I didn't want to touch you anymore. In case something like this happened."

And then, Stan released Kyle from his death grip, turned around, and walked out of the kitchen.

Kyle vaguely heard the front door open and close somewhere in the distance of two rooms over. He was surprised he was still standing when his brain was currently incapable of cohesive thought. Finally though, one definite question bobbed to the surface of his mind: What the fuck had that just been?

Whatever it was, apparently his body was all for it, if his instinctual behavior was any indication. Kyle mentally slapped himself as his body finally began responding to his brain again in real time. He stumbled back to the counter and gripped it with both hands. Looking down, Kyle registered that he was marginally shaking. He supposed it was a result from all the adrenaline pumped into his system, and between the fight and the... kiss... he knew he had plenty to spare.

Okay, assessment time, Kyle tried to rationalize. He had to process this, to... try and comprehend it. Fact: Stan had just kissed him and proclaimed that he liked him. Not liked him in the best friend sense. Best friends don't kiss each other like that. Best friends don't avoid touching each other because they're worried their hormones will get out of control. Only potential couples do that.

Kyle's eyes went wide and he tried to gulp in some air to feed his oxygen-deprived brain. He ended up choking on it though, and got thrown into a minor coughing fit. The déjà vu had rattled his already fragile mind. That had been the exact line of thinking he'd used when he had freaked out so much at Stan holding him in his sleep. Has this been going on the whole time? Kyle wondered. No, that had just been a subconscious reaction on Stan's part, his body looking for something to make him comfortable while he slept. And Kyle had been the thing to comfort him.

Kyle felt himself start to get a little light-headed and decided he should probably sit down. He managed to get back into the living room and collapsed onto the sofa, on the side Stan had been claiming only... how many minutes had it been? He thought only a few, but then he thought maybe it had been a lot longer. Why Kyle hadn't just sat down at the kitchen table, he wasn't sure. It had just seemed to him that he should sit down on the sofa again. That seemed necessary somehow.

After several minutes of jumbled back-and-forth attempts at cohesive thought, Kyle eventually settled on one blinding fact, that Stan said he liked him. Then his mind proceeded to completely overanalyze the nature of that revelation. He realized that maybe Stan had been trying to tell him this on the night he'd come out to him. But Kyle didn't think that was right, because there hadn't seemed to be as much awkwardness after the confession. Things had actually been exceedingly comfortable then. It seemed like Stan was done, and they had gone on from there like normal. So what the hell? Kyle thought, Why didn't Stan try to tell me this before? Kyle wondered how long Stan had carried this crush for him. How long had he thought of his friend in this way and been unable to tell him about it? Had it been since he'd realized his homosexuality or had it surfaced after? The thought of Stan suffering with these burdens made Kyle's heart hurt. And then Kyle also realized that Stan had obviously felt this way for a while now, so why had Kyle not perceived it? Had Stan truly been that good at hiding it? Kyle felt like a complete douche for not noticing this sentiment coming out in his friend's behavior.

Then Kyle realized that wasn't true, he had noticed Stan acting differently lately, and maybe this was the cause. Maybe Stan had been nervous because he didn't want to slip up and confess his feelings for Kyle. Like he had just been forced to do, essentially, by Kyle. Why hadn't Stan just told him? Maybe it was because Kyle would be freaking out like he was doing right now. Kyle shoved his face in his hands and growled. This was too much for him to get through on his own.

Once Kyle's family came home, he jumped, realizing he'd been sitting in the same position on the sofa, face in hands, for at least an hour. He said some perfunctory greetings to his parents and then retreated to the solitude of his room. He didn't accomplish much more in the ways of productive thought up there, but at least he managed to breath a bit better.

During dinner, Kyle was still in a funk. He almost didn't even want to look into the kitchen in case his mind started going down the over-analytical highway again. His mother tried to talk to him. From her tone, he could tell that she knew something was bothering him, that something was up. He managed to give enough of a response to reassure her, though, of course, it was all a lie. Kyle was not fine, and he knew it. He felt like his entire world had just been uprooted and turned on its head.

Toward the end of the meal, Kyle felt his cell phone vibrate. He'd forgotten it was still in his pocket. His mother made it clear she preferred the boys not to use their phones at the table, but Kyle's still-stunned brain forgot to account for this rule, and he numbly reached for the device. Thankfully, his mother was distracted with a story his father was relating from work.

Kyle kept the phone under the table, but turned it so he could read the notice on the small screen. It was from Stan.

Kyle's mind kicked back into gear as his eyes widened at the possibilities. He wondered what on Earth Stan wanted to say to him. Kyle rationalized that it was most likely something in the form of a peace offering or, much more likely, that it was some kind of ultimatum, one that would end with a ruined friendship and Kyle refusing to come out of his room for the next forever.

He had enough sense to then excuse himself from the table. He was finished anyway, and he wanted to be alone when he saw whatever it was that Stan had sent him. He wasn't sure how he would react to it. He went upstairs to his room and locked the door for good measure. He gave himself a moment, and then, swallowing, terrified, he pressed the button that would display the message.

It read, "Meet me at the pond."

Kyle blinked. Well, that was good, he thought... right? Those words seemed to mean that Stan wanted to talk to him. And talking seemed to be a good thing in Kyle's head, so he let himself have a little bit of hope. Not much, but enough to get him to Stark's Pond in one piece.

For once, he was grateful he couldn't drive yet, since he didn't trust himself to, not right then, not in the scattered way he felt, so he walked. It was a brisk night, but Kyle paid absolutely no attention to the weather; he was too busy running through horrible scenarios in his head. He was like a plane on autopilot, preoccupied with ceaseless calculations but moving forward toward his destination nonetheless.

So, when he looked up to find himself turning the corner onto the pond road, he was a bit surprised. He shook himself out of his whirring brain, and gave himself another moment (this one small lest he think about it too long and run away petrified) before heading down the main path from the road which led to the water.

Kyle saw Stan long before he reached the pond. He was standing next to the bench right at the end of the path, which was where they always met when they planned to go down there together. Kyle wondered what he was going to do to alert Stan of his presence. He felt tapping his shoulder was out of the question now, but he really didn't want to vocalize his friend's name at the moment; he wasn't sure how it would come out. However, he was only about fifteen feet away from the bench when Stan turned around to face him as he came the rest of the way and stopped right in front of him.

They both stared at each other. Neither one said hello, and Kyle was too nervous to be the first to speak. Stan had asked to meet him, he should be the first one to talk.

After what felt like an eternity, Stan finally said, "Let's walk for a bit." It wasn't really a command, but it wasn't quite a question either. It was a remarkably similar request to his typed message. Kyle stupidly wondered if this was how Stan was going to talk to him from now on. He also hoped that they would keep talking to each other after this encounter.

Stan turned around and began walking around the edge of the pond. Kyle assumed this was a signal for him to follow, so he set off after him, shadowing Stan as they strolled leisurely by the water.

Kyle felt like this was anything other than leisure though. He had moved so he was walking to the side of Stan, slightly more than an arm's length away. He felt like he was awaiting orders, waiting for another signal from Stan as to what to do. It felt weird. He always knew how to behave around Stan, but now, he seemed lost in some kind of alien social etiquette.

He hated it.

He also felt like a hypocrite. He was the one who was avoiding touching Stan now, instead of the other way around. Kyle thought maybe he should start yelling and hold himself against a wall to try and force some sense into his stupid self, but that probably wouldn't have ended with any more resolution than his encounter with Stan. And, now that Kyle was thinking of that again, he felt a blush on his cheeks and promptly told his brain to shut the hell up.

Kyle trusted Stan, didn't he? Well, then he would just wait for Stan to initiate the next stage. His friend usually kept silent right before addressing something really big, and when he did, he would unleash a torrent of words that revealed everything he really felt about a subject. Though, those explosions often ended in Stan being even more depressed than he had been before he had let them out, so Kyle hoped this wouldn't be exactly like those other cases.

He also hoped Stan would still be his friend at the end of all this.

They had gone nearly halfway around the pond before Stan finally spoke. First, though, he stopped walking, and Kyle mimicked him. Stan had ended up on the inside of their self-made path, so, when Kyle angled himself to face toward Stan, he could also see the pond stretching out behind him, even the bench where they had started way on the far side of the water. On any other day, Kyle would have taken a moment to appreciate the view, but, again, this was not any other day. He stood there, half looking at Stan and half scared to look at him, waiting once more for Stan to do something.

Stan had his gaze lowered to the ground. His hands had been in his jeans pockets while he'd walked, and now he took them out to cross his arms. His eyes remained downcast. But their talk finally began. "Kyle," he said, softly, calmly. Kyle hoped their whole conversation would be as mellow. Stan continued, "I have to be honest with you."

Kyle did not trust himself to respond, so he nodded as best he could and hoped Stan could see him do it.

"But, first, I do want to apologize for... well, jumping you... like that."

Again Kyle said nothing. He didn't know how much longer he could hold out though, he felt like a string about to snap from being pulled so tight.

Stan sighed. "It's just... I can't not be honest with you, you know? I don't want to be anything else. You're such a good friend to me, Kyle, and you deserve an explanation." Kyle thought Stan had given him an explanation for his behavior right after he kissed him, but he didn't interrupt Stan; maybe there was more to it that Kyle didn't know yet. "It's true, I've liked you for a while now, well, been aware of it for a while anyway. Not right after I realized I was gay, though. It wasn't as long as that. It was about around the start of the school year. And it wasn't anything sudden either. I just..." here Stan shrugged his shoulders, hinting at a small embarrassment, Kyle thought, but then that made sense, since Stan was for all intents and purposes confessing to him....... again. In a much more subdued manner. "I just," he continued, "started thinking about you in a different way, like, in a crush way, and that actually weirded me out for a bit. I mean, I didn't really want to fall for my best friend. 'Cause what if it didn't end up working out? What if it got awkward or you didn't want anything to do with me anymore or thought the whole possibility was disgusting or something? I'd lose my best friend, and I didn't want that."

Kyle could understand that. Similar thoughts had gone through his head while he'd been trying to process Stan's first confession. He hadn't settled on any of them, of course, but they couldn't predict the future, and there was always that possibility, however marginal, that things may not settle right in the end.

"But I still wanted to be with you. I wanted to smile at you more and touch you more... So, I started to catch myself. I definitely didn't want to do anything weird until you at least knew about me being gay. Then, I thought I'd just see how things went from there. But, it got worse. I was even more paranoid. You'd taken my coming out so well, but I still didn't know how you'd feel about me coming out for you. So I clammed up. I didn't bring that part up. I let my fear get so big that I was scared to fucking get anywhere near you in a not-so-best-friend way. And, dude, I wanted to. I wanted to tell you, but... I was just so scared, and-"

"Stan," Kyle finally stopped Stan talking. He'd confessed enough, plenty to Kyle recently, he didn't have to anymore. Kyle appreciated Stan's continued directness. Stan had been direct in the kitchen, though perhaps, maybe a bit too forceful. Now, Stan was still being direct, but in a much more calm and controlled manner. One that Kyle could share and return. Kyle used the strength he found in this assuredness and echoed the words he'd spoken the night on the bed when Stan had first come out to him. "It's all right. You don't have to be scared. I will never judge you for feeling something like this. Or for being so freaking honest about it. I just... had no idea what was going on. It was frustrating me."

"I know," said Stan, and here he finally looked up at his friend, "and I'm so sorry, Kyle. I just didn't know what to do. And then it all kind of came out in a really awkward way. I just kind of snapped, and I'm sorry for that."

It was Kyle's turn to sigh, in relief, he felt, mostly. In feeling that things could be ok between them no matter how exactly this situation panned out, but also finally feeling like he understood his friend again. "Ok, well. It's done now. It's all out. Right?"

"Yeah," Stan confirmed sheepishly.

"Ok. So..." Kyle was almost afraid to ask this part, worried that he was wrong and things would turn out worse than he feared, "where do you want to go from here?"

Stan turned his head and looked out over the water. Kyle wondered if he was literally pondering where the two of them were going to walk next. But then, Stan turned back around to face Kyle, and gently reached up and placed his hands on Kyle's shoulders. Kyle tensed up a bit, due to the new significance of this action from Stan, but didn't move otherwise. Stan stared right into Kyle's eyes and held his gaze. "Does this bother you?" Stan asked.


Kyle found he was unable to answer right away. He was worried that this could be some sort of puzzle and he had to answer exactly right or risk losing everything.

Stan cautiously continued talking to Kyle. "If this bothers you, I won't do it anymore. I won't touch you. I wish I could give you another option right now, Kyle, but I can't. I can't do in between. So, I need to know. 'Cause when I touch you, I want this to be more. I want this to be more than just a friendship. I want more of you. I like you, Kyle. And I want to treat you like that."

Kyle was floored by Stan's words. He found himself paralyzed in way different from any other that he had experienced with Stan lately within all of these confessions. Stan's words were so pure, so earnest and heartfelt, that he couldn't move for the beauty of them. He had never expected his best friend to talk to him like this. He had never looked for it or wanted it. But, now that it was happening, he felt a great swelling in his heart that threatened to consume him. It immobilized him with its raw power.

Kyle was stunned for so long that Stan must have assumed Kyle was rejecting him. He began to pull away.

Kyle realized this with terror and reached up wildly, grabbing Stan's forearms and pulling down, keeping his hands pressed against him. Kyle's eyes never left Stan's for a second. He couldn't live without Stan touching him. He just couldn't. Besides that just being ridiculous, he hated the idea. Kyle enjoyed being with Stan, hanging out with him, playing games, lounging on the couch, whatever. He just enjoyed being with him. Finally, Kyle found enough strength within himself to shake his head, truthfully, no. "No," he said. "No, Stan, it doesn't bother me."

Kyle noticed Stan let out a relived breath he'd apparently been holding, and Kyle felt the fingers around his shoulders tighten ever so gently. "Then," asked Stan, "you're ok with everything else, too? I know this is asking a lot of you right now, Kyle, but-"

Kyle silenced Stan with a firmed grip of his own on Stan's forearms. "Stan, I want to try it," Kyle said, realizing the truth of his words as he said them, "I want to try... a relationship with you. I don't want to be without you, Stan, so... let's... try."

Stan issued a kind of sigh-laugh and broke out into a huge grin. His grip on Kyle tightened even more before he promptly pulled him against his chest into a bone-crushing hug. Kyle returned the embrace with equal force. He didn't really need a reason, or, at least, not one more than he already had. Kyle felt like he and Stan had finally achieved the understanding that had been missing between them for too long. They were on the same level again, and it wasn't exactly the level they'd been on, but that was okay. They were there together, and that's all that mattered. They had always been incredibly close and comfortable with each other, so the rationale that they could make the step and be even more so wasn't such a big leap. They could try it. They could try taking this step together.

Stan and Kyle pulled out of the hug at the same time. Kyle briefly wondered if they were expected to kiss again. Stan though, thankfully, diffused any tension that could have arose from their apprehensions at taking things too fast. He raised his right hand and laid it gently against Kyle's cheek. Kyle felt himself smile, he couldn't help it. The touch was gratifying, in more ways than one. Kyle was exceedingly grateful that Stan was unafraid to touch him anymore. And now, those touches would carry a new weight with them, the weight of their promise. It wasn't a heavy or cumbersome weight, but fresh and deeply meaningful. Kyle had never experienced anything like it before, with Stan or anyone else, and he found that he liked it a lot.

Stan let go of Kyle's cheek, but slid his other hand down Kyle's arm so that he was lightly gripping his hand and interlaced their fingers. Kyle had not stopped smiling, and gave Stan a little squeeze where they stayed connected. They finished their walk around the pond with their hands tightly clasped.

Once they'd completed their circuit and started back on the main road into town, Stan asked Kyle what he wanted to do now. Kyle let himself think about it for a minute and looked down at their connected hands. He realized that he didn't want to let Stan go right away. He asked if they could just go over to his house, not specifying what they would do. Stan consented, not caring to specify their exact activity either, and the two walked the streets that led to their neighborhood.

When they got close, Stan finally released Kyle's hand, after giving it a light squeeze. Kyle accepted the break. Kyle was still the only person who knew about Stan's sexuality, and now, not only were they developing a relationship, but Kyle realized he probably had a personal exploration to go through as well. He didn't know if he was gay himself, but he didn't feel the need to be preoccupied with that right now. It wasn't that this manner of soul-searching wasn't important, it just wasn't at the forefront of Kyle's mind. He was exploring a relationship with Stan, and anything that came about because of that would be secondary.

After they reached the driveway, Kyle went ahead of Stan to open his front door. Once inside, Kyle called through the house to find out where his mother was. She answered and came through the dining room into the front hall, a basket of clean laundry under her arm. She greeted Stan before asking how Kyle was doing. He gave her a sincere answer that he was fine, and he saw the relief in his mother's eyes. She had been worried about her son, but it was clear that everything was all right now. Then, Kyle asked if Stan could stay over for a little while.

"Of course, bubbele, Stan is welcome over any time. Were you planning on spending the night, Stan, or were you going to head home soon? It is getting rather late, and I don't think Sharon would want you walking home much later than an hour from now."

"Oh," said Stan and glanced over at Kyle. Neither of them had thought much about the time. Kyle shrugged, indicating that it was up to Stan to decide how late he wanted to stay. "Um, maybe Mrs. Broflovski. We honestly weren't even sure what we were going to do."

Kyle's mother smiled. "Well, whatever you decide, boys, as long as you call your mother, Stan, and let her know if you stay over, all right?"

Stan agreed and thanked her. Then he and Kyle walked up the stairs to Kyle's room. Once Kyle closed the door, he finally asked Stan what he wanted to do. Stan stood in the middle of the room and shrugged. It was not a gesture filled with tension, as it had been that afternoon. It was a casual, easy signal that had existed for years in their friendship. "I dunno, man," he said. "Want to just watch a movie or something?"

Kyle agreed and went over to flip through his modest DVD collection below his personal television set. Before long, he pulled out a classic, The Fellowship of the Ring, and held it up to ask Stan if he approved of the choice. Stan did, grinning as he said so. That would definitely keep them occupied for a while. Kyle popped the DVD into the player and got it going before retreating to join Stan.

They typically sat on the floor or the bed to watch Kyle's television. Kyle had turned around to find that Stan chose to sit on the bed this time. He settled next to his friend and felt the small beginnings of tension percolating up again. Kyle figured it was just new-relationship (still a little odd for Kyle to think that word) jitters. He caught Stan's eyes and communicated through them that he didn't want to feel awkward with him anymore. The side of Stan's mouth rose slightly, and he reached his arm up and to the side, inviting Kyle into the space between. Kyle smiled a little as well and scooted over to nestle into the crook of Stan's arm, placing his hand against his friend's chest. Stan's arm came around and wrapped around Kyle's shoulders, giving them a little squeeze as they both adjusted to the other. The two boys sighed contentedly as the title screen appeared for the movie. Kyle could not remember the last time he had felt so at ease with everything. He hoped that this feeling would remain for a good long while.

Of course, though, Kyle's ever-whirring brain could not let him rest easy just yet. He began to wonder if things would remain like this from now on. It was true that Stan and Kyle had reached an agreement with each other. They were comfortable with each other again, thank God. But, Kyle couldn't help but worry if it was all a passing thing, only temporary until they got into another fight. Plus, they were in a relationship now, and fights meant much more serious things in a relationship. What if they got into an argument which proved to be an impasse? Their relationship might be ruined. And then, would that also mean that their friendship would be ruined as well? What if there was no going back and Kyle finally did really lose Stan?

Kyle could hardly contain this new anxiety. He thought he was done with feeling like this for the time being, like there was a nasty creature that kept poking and nipping at his inside, but apparently, it would simply not leave him alone. The tension must have manifested in Kyle's body as well, for Stan looked down at him with worry, his arm tightening around Kyle's shoulders. "Kyle," he asked, hesitantly, "something wrong?"

Kyle realized that he was tensing up while Stan was holding him and that Stan probably thought he was sending him mixed signals or something. To rectify this, Kyle grabbed Stan's right hand with his as it dangled over his shoulder, not wanting to give him any chance to pull away. "No, Stan, everything's all right," he said and looked up into Stan's eyes to try and convince him of this fact.

Kyle must not have been very successful, for the expression on Stan's face did not change. "No, Kyle, you're all tense, something's not right. Come on, don't be me now. Tell me."

Kyle laughed at Stan's jab at himself. He sighed and said, "All right, I admit I am worried about something. But it's just my brain not wanting to shut up and enjoy everything. It's nothing right now."

"Then, what are you worried about happening?"

"I... I don't want our... relationship... to ruin our friendship. Like, if something goes wrong or something, I don't want to lose you as a friend." Kyle thought his words sounded more pathetic out loud than they did in his head, but Stan did not laugh at him. On the contrary, his look of concern seemed to deepen, and he hugged Kyle tighter to him, wrapping his other arm around the red-head as well.

Stan said, "I don't want to lose you as a friend either, Kyle."

"But what if something really bad happens?" Kyle challenged, apparently unable to stop now that he had started. "Like, we have a fight and decide it can't work out or something. I don't want to fuck up our friendship. I don't want to be without you, Stan. I'm just scared a fight like that could ruin everything."

"Not if we agreed that it wouldn't," Stan said with a surprisingly, to Kyle, earnest conviction. "That no matter what happened, we swore that it wouldn't affect us being best friends."

Kyle sighed. Stan could be such a little kid sometimes. Most people would consider defining the parameters of a relationship a big deal, but Stan was trying to make it as simple as making a promise on the playground. Of course, Kyle realized, those promises were never usually about simple things anyway. He'd promised several things when he was eight that his sixteen-year-old self knew would be impossible to keep. Just like this one. "It doesn't work like that, Stan. You can't guarantee that it wouldn't affect us somehow."

"But we could still swear."

Kyle couldn't help but roll his eyes against his friend's chest. "Yeah, I suppose."

There was a moment of silence, then Stan abruptly said, "Sit up."

"What? Why?" asked Kyle, staring at Stan who was already following his own order.

"I want to do something, come on." He gave Kyle a hand, helping him right himself. Kyle hesitantly did as he was bidden, and the two boys positioned themselves so that they were both kneeling on the bed horizontally, facing each other, their mutual gaze steadily holding firm.

"Do you swear?" asked Stan.

Kyle swallowed, nervous in spite of himself. "Swear what, Stan?"

Stan took in a meaningful breath. "That no matter what happens next, or in the future, no matter what may happen between us in our relationship, we're still best friends and nothing on Earth, Heaven or Hell can change that."

That was a pretty heavy commitment, but Kyle knew that it was in no way far-fetched. Sure it was simple, but this had been one promise they'd managed to keep thus far, and they lived it out every day. Even during the rough spots, like the one they had just gone through, they always came back around to their unalterable friendship. So, Kyle knew, of course, that he'd make this promise again. He just hoped there really was nothing that could separate them. "Yeah, of course, Stan," he said with conviction. He thought for a minute and then added, "Do you?" They always did everything together, and Kyle realized this should be a consensual promise.

Stan smiled and nodded. "I promise."

Kyle smiled, too, and looked at Stan. He looked at the boy who he had known his entire life and who he knew he would absolutely crumble without. He realized something right then, something that he hadn't known for sure until now: he loved Stan. Not loved him just as a best friend, but loved him without question or hesitation, completely and fully, in a way that only true couples loved each other.

Kyle laughed inwardly at himself. What else do couples do, Kyle? He asked himself.

He knew the answer, so, when Stan slowly leaned forward and kissed Kyle, he returned it, with no hesitation or second-guessing of his actions. The kiss was small, but it was sweet and quite sincere.

Stan pulled back to look into Kyle's eyes, checking his reaction, making sure he hadn't been too bold. Kyle saw the same conviction he felt mirrored fully in Stan's eyes, that same devotion, voiced in the words they had just promised, but extending so much farther. Stan affirmed their promise even more by leaning forward and kissing Kyle again, this time more deeply than the last.

Kyle gave himself over to the sensation. This kiss was so different from the one they'd shared previously in the kitchen. That one had been full of fury and almost mindless; this one was delicate with even the tiniest move purposeful, but still so, so warm. Kyle kissed back and let his eyelids fall shut. He simply experienced the moment, experienced the feeling of kissing Stan. Of diving his tongue into his friend's mouth and really examining what Stan tasted like (clear air and this headiness Kyle couldn't more greatly describe). Of reaching his hand up to run it through Stan's hair. Of feeling Stan's arm reach around him to push against the small of his back, encouraging him to rock forward slightly. Kyle reached his other arm up behind Stan's shoulders, grabbing onto the fabric of his shirt there and gripping it gently between his fingers. They explored each other for a long time. Each relishing the reactions of his partner and the sensations garnered.

There was nothing to question about this. Kyle knew he could not with certainty predict the future, but he did know that this was right. He wanted to be with Stan, no matter what. And he found that he didn't feel the need to complain much about the road they were taking.

Finally, they pulled away from each other. Their lips giving one last mutual kiss to finalize the event, cementing it in history, Kyle thought. He opened his eyes, but kept his arms wrapped around the other, as did Stan. They gazed heavy-lidded at one another.

They stayed there, breathing against each other for a moment, before Stan asked, "Kyle? You ok?" His voice had dropped to this low, husky timbre that Kyle had never heard before. He absolutely fucking loved it.

"Yeah. I'm fine," he replied in a voice that must have had the same effect on Stan, if his resulting small but definite moan was any indication.

"Mmmm, well then," he said, "still friends?"

"Of course, dude," Kyle assured him, slipping back into their catch-all nickname.

Stan moved his head to rest in the crook of Kyle's neck, nuzzling the area with his nose. The tickling sensation and the feeling of Stan's warm breath on his skin made Kyle shiver with delight. Oh yeah, he could get used to this.

Stan left a small kiss against Kyle's neck before pulling back. He caught Kyle's gaze and smiled, a gesture which Kyle returned. Stan pulled one of his hands up to place once again against Kyle's cheek, stroking the skin there gently with his thumb. "What do you want to do now?" he asked.

Kyle considered his options. The movie was still playing off to the side. They'd missed a good bit of it, not that they didn't know it by heart anyways. Still, Kyle didn't know if he was in the mood for it anymore. It was getting fairly late, and the long walk earlier had made him tired. "Do you mind if we just go to bed?" he asked, "You can stay over, of course."

Stan grinned and nodded. "Bed sounds great," he said.

They broke apart only to make the necessary preparations. Kyle switched off the movie while Stan called his mom, abiding by Mrs. Broflovski's request, and let her know he was staying at Kyle's for the night. Kyle loaned Stan a set of pajamas, and the boys took turns in the bathroom.

Once all that was set, Kyle automatically walked toward his closet, intending to retrieve the sleeping bag stored within. However, Stan stopped him with a small noise. "Um," he said, "do you think we could...?" He trailed away as he half-committedly pointed to the bed.

"Oh," said Kyle, honestly not having considered their alternative. "Uh, we can if you want. It's gonna be a bit cramped though, with the small bed and all."

"It won't bother me. Would it bother you?"

"No. No, we can do it," Kyle affirmed, and the two boys made their way over to the bed.

Kyle got in first, since it was his bed and all, and he held the covers up for Stan to slide in next to him. It was indeed a snug fit, but, as the two boys were much more inclined to be close with one another now, it wasn't at all uncomfortable.

Kyle found himself in essentially the same position to which he'd woken up to twice when they'd shared a bed at the hostel: he lay on his side, facing Stan, while the other had his arms wrapped around him. There was just the small added change that now Kyle rested his arm lightly over Stan's waist as well. And also Kyle wasn't fighting nearly as hard as he had been then. In fact, he wasn't fighting at all. Now, he welcomed it. This is it, he thought, this is exactly what couples do.

"I guess it's not such a big deal if we hug in our sleep, anymore, is it?" Kyle asked.

Stan chuckled and said, "I mean, it's kind of expected, you know?"

"Yeah," Kyle agreed and snuggled even closer into Stan's embrace.

Stan pulled back for a minute to smirk at the boy lying next to him. "For freaking out so much that night, you sure seem to be ok with this now, huh?"

Kyle smacked Stan on the shoulder, punishing him for his remark. He very unconvincingly said, "Shut up, Stan," and pulled the boy toward him, kissing him sweetly once more on the lips. Stan's smirk melted into a genuine smile as he gifted Kyle with a small kiss of his own.


The two boys stayed in the same position as they drifted off to sleep. And the next morning, they found themselves waking in exactly the same fashion - Stan's arms firmly wrapped around Kyle's middle. And Kyle wouldn't have had it any other way.