Butters rubbed his knuckles together, trying to distance himself from the conflict. Eric looked pretty darn angry, and he never did like being involved in the aftermath of his friend's tantrums.

"Look, fatass, you did this to yourself!" Kyle wasn't sympathetic in the least. "Maybe if you hadn't spent the last ten years tormenting Wendy at every turn, Token would have invited you!"

"I wasn't tormenting her!" Eric's face was a blotchy red. "I was—testing her skills as the future voice of our generation! Right, Butters?"

Butters stammered out something that may have been, no, you're pretty much just an asshole or a yes, sir. Eric, apparently, went with the latter. He whirled back around and gave Kyle a triumphant look.

"It's Butters," Kyle dismissed. "That doesn't mean anything," which kind of stung.

Then the argument devolved into insults toward Kyle's religion and Liane Cartman's dubious sexual history. By that point, Butters was no longer trying to distance himself in a figurative way – he was actually inching toward the door, fully intending to power walk his way to his next class. He'd run, but, well, every time he dared, a teacher would always pop out of seemingly nowhere to scold him. No one else – just him.

It was, he figured, one of those things that nobody ever had to deal with but him.

Finally, Eric snarled a last insult and stormed from the classroom. He didn't say anything to Butters, but Butters knew Eric well enough to know he was expected to follow. So he did.

"You know, Eric," Butters stammered, "maybe you should just forget about the party. We can watch a movie at my house instead." He perked up. "Why, my parents just rented that new super hero movie, and—"

"I don't even want to go to the party!" Eric scoffed. "It's just—the principal of the thing! If that Jew gets to go, then I should have been first on the list!"

"Gosh, Eric, I—well, I reckon Wendy just gets along with Kyle." Butters wondered why he was bothering with trying to reason Eric out of this newest rage. "I'm sure it's nothing personal," but they both knew that was a lie.

"It is personal," Eric said with that familiar, dangerous glint in his eyes. "Very personal." He walked with purpose after that, his attitude shifting from indignant to smug in a matter of moments. Butters recognized the signs. After years of sticking with Eric, he could tell when a plan – undoubtedly a terrible one – was forming in his friend's mind, and this time was no different.

Butters stared down at his feet. It probably wasn't worth getting involved, but…

Once, about three months ago, Eric ditched Butters on the highway back from a day trip to Denver. It was in the middle of a snow storm, and Eric complained that something was wrong with the tire, saying that Butters needed to get out and check. He'd barely closed the door behind him before Eric pulled off the shoulder and back onto the road proper, speeding down the highway. At the time, Butters froze in fear. He'd left his phone in the car, and his parents would probably start calling, considering the way his luck usually went. He was going to be grounded, and worse than that, he was stuck twenty miles from South Park in below-freezing weather. He was also probably going to die, which was just not okay at all.

After walking for about ten minutes, though, his salvation came in the form of a big black SUV. It rolled to a stop next to him. The window went down, and Wendy popped her head out, frowning in concern. Token was in the driver's seat. "Butters?" she asked. "What on Earth are you doing?"

"Eric," was the only word he managed to get out before Wendy groaned. She rolled the window back up, and for a moment, Butters was sure they were going to drive away. But instead, the door opened, and Wendy stepped out.

"Come on," she grabbed his arm and opened the back door, climbing in and pulling him after her. "God, you're freezing!"

He'd climbed in, his vision going momentarily blurry from the heat blasting. Wendy pulled off her gloves and handed them to him, watching him with a sharp, motherly expression as he fumbled them onto his hands. Then she sat close to him, their sides pressed together, as she began complaining loudly about that fucking bastard, who does he think he is at the top of her lungs. Token would nod and glance sympathetically back at Butters.

That day, he'd felt really great.

The memory triggered an odd, protective feeling in Butters. Eric was still talking about Wendy, how she and that black asshat were going to really get it this time. Butters found himself nodding, but all the while, he was thinking about only one thing: it was Wendy and Token's party, so this time, he wasn't going to let Eric ruin things. It was time to return the favor.

"Hey, fellas."

Kyle didn't spare him a glance, but Stan nodded at him. Kenny waved, giving him a lazy smile. "What's up, Butters?"

Butters rubbed his knuckles together. "Well, it's about that party. You see, Eric's kind of—"

Kyle groaned loudly, this time turning to look at him. "Please don't tell me that fatass sent you to beg his way into the party."

"No, he didn't. I just, uh, well, you know, I wanted to—"

"You got invited, Butters," Stan pointed out. "You should come just to show him up."

Butters winced. "My parents don't like me going to parties."

"What do they like you to do?" Kyle asked, sharing a look with Stan.

Ignoring the question, as he didn't really have an answer that wouldn't make him feel bad, Butters continued – or tried to. "Look, Eric's pretty sore about the whole thing, so I think you should—"

"If you think anyone gives a shit about him, you're wrong," Kyle said, blunt as ever. "He's not invited. He'll just ruin things for everyone else."

"But that's not what I—"

"You should sneak out!" Kenny suggested. "We can pick you up!"

Frustration crashed over him without warning. They weren't listening. People rarely did listen to him, but when he had something to say, something of real significance, it really grated at him. "Listen, fellas—"

"Yeah, we could totally do that!" Stan said, enthusiastic. He had the same look on his face that he got when talking about saving animals or like that one time where he went vegetarian, though that only lasted about three weeks. "Butters, you should totally come with us, dude."

Butters deflated. "No thanks," he said, fixing a sheepish smile on his face. "It'd be more trouble than it's worth, that's all. Maybe next time."

Kyle shrugged it off, no big deal, and Stan patted him on the shoulder before losing interest. Kenny, though – he stared Butters down like he could read his mind. Butters stammered out an excuse, something about asking a teacher a question, before scampering off.

It looked like he was on his own for this one.

The trouble with keeping Eric from causing trouble was that Butters needed to know what the trouble was going to be. And he didn't. Eric was being awfully tight-lipped about the whole thing, and that didn't bode well with the fact that the party was that night. Butters had a very limited amount of time to figure out what his friend was up to and put a stop to it, quietly and discretely, before he lost control of the situation. Not that he had control, exactly, but, well, he was trying to get some!

He stuck annoyingly close to Eric that day in school, offering him his homework to copy, carrying his stuff for him – it was how their days together would usually go, only Butters was trying harder to play the accomplice instead of just riding along with whatever whim Eric had. If Eric decided Butters was sympathetic enough, he might divulge a bit of what was going on in his head.

Which was how Butters found himself bringing up the party, something he wouldn't have normally done in similar circumstances in the past. "It's a real shame," he was saying.

Eric rolled his eyes. "Fuck, isn't it?"

"They can't have a real party without you." Butters wondered if he was laying it on too thick, then saw the pleased look on Eric's face. Apparently not.

"You're right, Butters," Eric said, "which is why they aren't."

"What do you mean?" Was that it? Eric was already going to tell him? This manipulation thing was way easier than he'd thought!

"I'm getting into that party, and I'm gonna make those fags regret thinking they can just shut me out." He grinned, a bit manic over his own thought process, then looked at Butters. "You're coming."

Ordinarily, Butters would try to excuse himself from one of Eric's plans. They always got him in trouble with his parents, and the ensuing punishment was never worth it. But this time, Butters nodded eagerly. "Sure thing, Eric!"

In hindsight, he probably should have stuck to what was normal. Eric gave him an odd look, and Butters rushed for an excuse.

"You see, I'm just awfully tired of people getting excluded," he said quickly. "It really makes me sore!"

Eric likely took the simple reasoning at face value because he didn't say anything else on the matter. He probably thought Butters was just talking about himself.

"I'll come get you tonight," he said.

Butters' parents weren't going to like that. He was definitely going to get grounded, but… Wendy and Token, he remembered. "Okay. I'll have to sneak out, though."

Eric waved a hand, dismissing the thought. "Whatever. Just be waiting. If you fall asleep, I'm coming into your room and taking a dump on your bed."

"Ew! Jeez, Eric!" Butters knew he'd do it, too. He'd done worse. Ditching him in the middle of a snow storm came to mind.

The party was being thrown by Token in honor of Wendy's seventeenth birthday. They'd dated on and off in middle school, then again starting at the beginning of sophomore year. Everyone pegged them as 'the couple that would last', even though the title used to belong to Stan and Wendy in elementary school. It was kind of sad, Butters thought, that a title like that got tossed around so easily, but as he'd never been in a real relationship before, he figured he just didn't understand.

What he did understand was that barring Eric from the party was probably the nicest thing anyone had ever done for Wendy, or else that was how he expected she would see it. Butters didn't blame her. He'd somehow managed to allow himself to be filed into the slot reading 'Eric Cartman's best friend for life', and even he didn't like being around him all that much. Sometimes, sure, but then Eric would have those moments where every little thing that went wrong would get dumped on Butters' shoulders. Neither of them were particularly effective at communicating, but Eric really was the worst.

He probably needed therapy – not that Butters could judge him for that.

His parents went to sleep around nine, and Butters waited in his room after that, keeping an ear out for either his dad to wake up or Eric to come calling – however he might arrive. It was around 10:30 that a tap sounded on his window. Butters pushed the curtain aside and opened it.

"Gee, Eric," Butters tried to sound positive, "you really went all-out for this, huh?"

Eric was perched in the tree outside Butters' window, a donut clenched between his teeth. He had what appeared to be a utility belt on, reminiscent of his days as The Coon. There was also the matter of the floatation device looped over his shoulder, the head of it, some kind of pink pony-dragon creature, staring at Butters with big purple plastic eyes. "Hurry up," was all Eric said before making his way back down the tree. It seemed unnecessarily dramatic, all of it, but that was Eric in a nutshell.

"But—hey, wait! Eric!" Butters hissed, leaning out his window and trying to keep quiet. "What are we doing?"

"I'll tell you in the car." Eric was already down at the bottom of the tree, his feet back on the ground. For someone as large and sedentary as he was, Eric sure could move fast.

"Coming!" Butters gingerly eased his way onto the branch Eric sat on earlier, then looped his arms around the tree trunk, slowly sliding down. He always got scared doing this, even though he should really be used to it. Eric had him sneaking out more often than not.

He lost his grip about half the way down, falling with a thud that sounded almost as painful as it felt.

"Butters! Get your ass moving!" Eric was unlocking the door of his mom's minivan. He threw an impatient glance backward, then climbed in and slammed the door.

An impatient Eric was much more likely to leave him behind, so Butters scrambled back to his feet and jogged over to the passenger's side door. "Your mom let you have the van? That was awfully nice of her." Butters' parents would sooner sell him than let him borrow either of their cars.

"I borrowed it," Eric said.

Butters sunk down into his seat. "Oh. Well, uh, what's the plan, Eric?" Liane probably would have let Eric use the car, but Butters suddenly had the distinct impression that Eric hadn't bothered asking.

"Look in the back," Eric said, a gleeful grin breaking across his face.

Butters, wary, glanced into the back seat. "What the—are those… milk jugs? What's in them?"

"Piss," Eric announced. "Seven milk jugs full of piss. I paid a couple homeless guys to help me with it. This is gonna be fucking awesome."

Oh, jeez, this was way worse than Butters thought it would be. "What—Eric, what on Earth are you going to do with that?"

"Dump it in Token's pool," he said, as though that should have been obvious, "and probably on Kyle. And Wendy. It'll be fucking hilarious, Butters, just wait!"

No, actually, Butters didn't think it was going to be funny at all. He thought it was gross and awful and just the sort of thing Eric was prone to doing.

Eric parked down the street from Token's house. He claimed it was so they wouldn't be seen approaching, but the party was already in full swing. No one was going to be paying attention to the driveway, regardless of the threats Kyle and the others might have been making. Not that Butters shared this opinion with Eric – that would have been counterproductive.

"Do I really have to carry all this?" The seven jugs were loaded into two large gym bags, one hanging from each of Butters' shoulders. It was heavy and painful and made him walk with an awkward gait.

"Well, someone has to, Butters, and I'm already carrying this!" Eric wiggled the floaty ring. "Jesus, just stop complaining. We're almost to the house."

It was good that they had to walk because as Butters' made his way painstakingly slow up Token's driveway, he realized one very important fact: he didn't have the slightest clue how to keep Eric from causing trouble. Because he wasn't stupid enough to believe Eric would stop with just spiking the pool. No, he'd undoubtedly trip upon some other brilliant scheme to bring misery on everyone in attendance. It was a matter, at this point, of keeping Eric from even starting. If someone found them out, or if the initial plan was somehow ruined – those were the best-case scenarios.

Eric walked off the pavement and onto the grass, gesturing for Butters to follow. "We're climbing the fence to the pool," he said, leaning close to Butters. Then he straightened himself out, a smile twitching at his lips. He was excited. That much was obvious.

It occurred to Butters that he ought to just refuse to do it. He should just drop the bags and walk away, should really give Eric heck about what he was doing. But his feet moved anyway, and suddenly he was climbing the gate – or trying to, as weighed-down as he was by the bags. It took a few tries before he finally gave up.

"Eric, this is—there's no way I can get these over on my own!" Frustration crept into his voice. He should refuse, he remembered. He should just leave—

Eric rolled his eyes. "Ugh, fine. Look, I'll get on this side, you just—drop it over the side, okay?"

"Well, okay…" That sounded like it might work, though Butters didn't envy Eric the task of playing catch with the stuff.

He managed to get the first and lighter of the two bags over without too much trouble. It was the heavier bag where the plan suddenly snagged. Butters managed to get it to the top of the fence, but he couldn't quite lift it over.

"Butters, I am so seriously, if you fuck this up for me—" Eric cut off with a discontent sound. He'd shifted the floaty so it was around his waist now, and he was holding the first bag. He looked ridiculous. "Just toss it over!"

"It's—it's really heavy, Eric," Butters said, hesitant. "I don't think," and here, his voice tried to cut out on him, "this isn't—"

And then everything started to go horribly wrong. In the middle of his stammering, he'd started hefting the bag up. He'd somehow managed to get it up and, with one big burst of energy, launch the bag over the fence at Eric, only something went wrong with the jugs. One of them, apparently, hadn't been shut properly. The moment the bag came down, it exploded all over Eric, drenching him.

For a brief moment, they both froze. Then Eric looked up, fury burning in his eyes, and he opened his mouth—

"Dude, is that Cartman?"

Kyle's voice carried across the patio. The anger bled into fear, and Eric looked up at Butters like he was now expecting a savior.

Butters watched the crowd over the top of the fence, his head lowered, his body aching and tired. Most of his classmates were starting to migrate toward the patio, all of them pausing to watch Eric and the ridiculous picture he made.

"Butters," Eric said – hissed it, more like. "Don't you fucking leave me here!"

Butters let go of the fence, sliding to the ground on the opposite side. He could hear some of what was going on, definitely the rising distress pitched in Eric's voice, but that didn't stop him. This time, his feet carried him away, down the driveway, past the minivan, heading back into town. This time, he wasn't going to be the one left behind.

Butters wondered if he'd feel better about the whole thing after he gave it some time.

Butters was grounded for pretty much forever. Liane had called over at some point during the night, asking if they'd seen Eric or her car. His parents had checked on him.

It hadn't been fun, going home that morning.

He was still smarting from the stern talking-to he'd gotten – not to mention all the chores. Butters figured he wasn't ever going to get the chance to go to a party and actually be at the party. Maybe when he was a senior?

"Hey dude!" Kenny dropped down next to Butters. His desk was technically supposed to be at the back of the room, but no one ever said anything when he shuffled around like he did. "So, did you hear?"

Butters lifted his head from where he'd been cradling it in his arms. "Hey, Kenny. Did I hear what?"

"Cartman got humiliated last night." He laughed – in fact, when Butters looked around, everyone seemed to be laughing. Eric was nowhere in sight.

His cheeks growing warm, Butters chanced a laugh. "Oh—oh yeah? How'd that happen?"

"Apparently, he tried to sneak into the party last night with – get this – a bunch of bottles of urine. I don't know what the hell he was going to do with it all, but he was covered in it when Token found him."

"Found him where?" Oh, Butters was going to get it for this – but he wasn't yet sure if he cared.

"By the pool. He even had this pink floaty ring on." Kenny barked a laugh, the loudness of it startling Butters. "It was the best thing I've seen all year! He ran himself into the ground, man. I wish you'd been there."

Wendy walked into the room with Token at her side. She looked happy, much better than she would have if Eric had succeeded.

"Yeah," Butters said, watching her until she sat down before returning his attention to Kenny. "I sure wish I'd been there, too."

Maybe it wasn't the nicest thing to do, and maybe, when he really thought about it, Butters would start to feel guilty, too. But at the same time, well – he figured it was worth it. Even if they didn't realize it, Butters decided he'd paid Wendy and Token back pretty darn good.

And it sure as heck didn't hurt when Kyle showed up and pulled out his phone. His background was Eric in the floaty, his face a livid red and his hair drenched. Butters laughed at it with the others and reveled in the momentary feeling of belonging.

He'd worry about the guilt later.




If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!