Kyle doesn't believe in fate, God, or anything he can't analyze. As much as he would like to deny it, he gets most of his personality traits from his mother, and as such, he tends to boycott things he doesn't believe in.
Throughout high school, he is solidly pessimistic with bouts of hope, burying himself in computer code and books on relatively unimportant subjects. He surfaces from his studies only to snark or offer moral support. The bullshit bureaucracy of public schooling is another thing he doesn't believe in, so he boycotts his classes as well. He's accepted into Colorado State only because of his SATs scores, which are just high enough for the admissions office to look past his GPA.
His mother is distraught.
Stan, on the other hand, believes in keeping his head down and doing what he's told as long as it's reasonable. He works his grades up, at first to appease his parents, and later when he discovers an unrivaled passion for treating injured animals, (after resolving to get over his habit of fainting at the sight of blood).
Stan is agnostic.
Kyle is there when Stan's mother hands him the letter. They both recognize it before Stan rips the seam. Kyle knows what it will say, doesn't need to hear it to know that Stan is leaving Colorado for New York, to go to a borderline-Ivy-League school and a future of veterinary studies and something other than perpetual snow.
He manages his own smile when Stan lets out a cry of, "I got in!" and hugs his mother. He's crying. He was always a crybaby.
Bebe is the type of girl to throw a party the weekend her parents decide to stay home because she wants to see if they have the balls to stop her. They don't, huddling in their bedroom while she hauls in the kegs of beer. The party comes straight out of a high school cliché, with most of their senior class drunk before midnight. Stan posted announcements about his acceptance on Facebook in all caps, and people keep coming up to congratulate him. Kyle feels sick but he's gotten used to hiding it.
Bebe lives out in the middle of about nowhere, far enough on the highway for the car to need snow chains to make it home. Stan drives. The awkwardness drowns out the sound of the radio. When the car starts to whimper, Kyle is glad, because it at least gives them an excuse to talk about something.
Stan calls the car company. They have to come all the way out from Denver, which will take over two hours. The two of them bitch about it for a few minutes. Then Stan interrupts their banter to answer a call from Wendy, then text Craig, then Token, then call his mother and then Wendy again.
"Congratulations," Kyle says a few seconds after Stan shuts his phone. "I mean, uh, I really mean. You deserve this. You really do. I mean it."
(He only means some of it).
"Thanks." Stan drops his phone back into the cup holder, and turns an exhausted grin on him. "It sucks my freaking car had to break down. But. I mean. We didn't really get to talk that much at the party. And it feels like we haven't really hung out much in ages."
"Yeah." Kyle shrugs. More silence.
"I'll miss you," Stan says. "While I'm off at college."
Kyle shrugs again.
Stan's fallback school was Colorado State, or its graduate vet program.
It had been a long shot, anyway.
"It feels like I'm losing my best friend," Stan says finally.
They could hang out more, Kyle wants to say. Stan could come home with him instead of to study groups or football practice and they could play video games and shoot hoops like the old days.
"We'll still email, and text, and stuff, though, right," Stan says. "So it won't be like we're totally apart. And we'll visit on vacations and stuff like that. So it'll be the same."
"Yeah," Kyle echoes.
They've had this conversation before, when they first started applying for college, and twice since Stan received his acceptance letter this afternoon.
Stan cocks his head. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Kyle echoes. He opens the car door, and the air almost freezes in his lungs. "I'm gonna – gonna walk around, okay?"
He knows Stan's coming after him, but he doesn't care, as long as he has something between him and Stan's breathing, something other than the background drone of the radio.
His sneakers crunch snow. They're drenched in seconds, but he doesn't care. The moonlight saps at the darkness in front of him.
"Kyle? What the fuck are you doing?"
He twirls when Stan grabs his shoulder, and the other's muddy-blue eyes are filled with so much fucking concern that he can't hold it in any longer.
"This is fucking bullshit, that's what it is."
And now the only tangible force between them is his words, and somehow that's even worse. His cheeks flame temper-red against the cold, except he doesn't even care anymore.
"Oh, really." Stan narrows his eyes. "The car breaking down is fucking bullshit, is it?"
"That's not what I mean, and you know it." Kyle clenches his fists. "This. All of this. We're barely talking. We hang out maybe once a month, and that's only to keep into some sort of routine. I doubt you even know what I'm majoring in."
"Mathematics," Stan says.
"Computer science, you fucking dipshit." He takes a step back. "I thought we were Super Best Friends, or something, Stan, but I guess that was too long ago for you to remember."
"Kyle – aw, goddamn it-!"
But he's already running, into the darkness, and he yells, "Just give me a fucking minute!" back, but Stan is coming after him, and he's a football player and a swimmer and Kyle knows he'll catch him.
There is light up ahead. Spots dancing and glowing against the black. Kyle slows just before he reaches them, and Stan bumps up against him.
"What the fuck are those?" Stan whispers.
"I don't know," Kyle whispers back in between pants. The lights hanging in the air are glowing yellow and green and blue, etching sick florescence into their skin.
"Shit," Stan mutters. "South Park," and Kyle has to agree. He's somehow glad for the lights to act between them.
"Wonder if they're warm." Stan reaches out and touches them before Kyle to scream for him not to.
The disintegration comes in a wave, before either of them can move to stop it. Stan's arm falls to pieces. The disintegration continues up his shoulder, and all of him is gone in less than a heartbeat.
"Stan!-" And maybe it's because Kyle is an idiot, or maybe it's because Stan is still his Super Best Friend no matter what either of them say, but either way he doesn't think before he touches the lights himself to follow after him.
The lights are lukewarm, a bit below body temperature.
In this world, Kyle can fly.
Or swim for miles under the water's surface, or bound up branchless trees, or run faster than he can breathe.
Stan is always right besides him, and it's all very domestic.
They live in the grass fields, wear clothes of angel hair, eat what prey they catch with their newfound supernatural abilities.
They go mountain-catching, and star-hopping, playing games of trick-the-sunrise and swallowing gravity.
They sleep curled in each other's arms. They are the only two humans in this world, although other sentient beings also wander the oceans of waving grass.
This Stan reminds Kyle of the boy he was friends with back when they were younger. The boy who would rage and bitch with the best of them, but relax into friendliness once the two of them were alone. Kyle hasn't seen this side of Stan for a long time, not since the stress of high school got to them.
He smiles a lot, and he listens, intently, and he likes to hold Kyle in his strong arms.
Sometimes Kyle feels trapped in those arms, clamped down to the earth.
But it doesn't matter, because in this world, Kyle can soar.
There is no conflict here, no monsters to overcome, no lessons to be learned.
So each day is built up of slow exploration, of both this world of waving grass they've found themselves in, and each other.
Kyle and Stan are romantically engaged, you see.
Quite the couple.
There's petting and soft kisses and rough kisses and touches in places and I'm not ready yet, and I'm scared, Stan, just give me a little longer.
"You should come see this beach I found yesterday," Stan says one night, cracking the darkness. "It's very beautiful."
"Oh," Kyle says, and he thinks about it, because he has been considering visiting the beautiful forest nearby, or going to swim through the beautiful blue sky, and, well, everything in this world is beautiful, so it's hard to make the choice.
But it's Stan, asking with a question on his lips and a suggestion in his mirror-blue eyes, and Kyle sees what he means, and says yes.
They run as four-legged beasts of any sort, whatever will get them there the longest. They nip and tease at each other on the way, and by the time they arrive Kyle is out of breath and smiling and red.
They meld back into humans, naked and glistening sweat in the perfect golden sun, and Stan twines his fingers with Kyle's as they stroll down the beach.
It is indeed very beautiful.
"It's better like this, you know," Kyle says.
Stan looks surprised. "What?"
"You know, just the two of us. We don't have to worry about you leaving, or not keeping in touch, or not really caring enough to do so in the first place. We just have to be here together. It's nice."
"Oh," Stan says. "I thought it had always been like this. "
They kiss as the sun dips behind them. This time, when Stan touches, Kyle doesn't say no.
They begin the run again as horses, eager for something, fighting for something for once. They race close enough together to tangle in each other and trip and collapse, and all at once they're shifting back to human without even wanting to, because body-on-body is all they know.
Kyle falls back into the grass, his legs still equestrian and animal, while half-human Stan rests over him.
"Stan-" he gasps. "I'm scared. I don't know if I can do this-"
"You can do this," Stan assures him, and there's some more of the pleading in his eyes. "This was the way it was meant to be, Kyle. This is the way it's always meant to be. Just the two of us."
He strokes a finger down Kyle's cheek, and kisses him with such genuine passion, that Kyle can't help the flush that spreads and the nod of his head.
They bump and press and melt together, moving almost frantically, horribly human near the end.
It's very beautiful.
Afterwards, they lay in the rivers of grass, Kyle curled with his back to Stan's torso, twisting their fingers together. The smells of sweat and sex clog in his nose.
"Thank you," Stan says.
"For what?" Kyle asks.
"For being here. Doing that with me. It – it means we're finally meant to be together, doesn't it? That nothing can tear us apart. Right?"
Kyle pulls himself free of Stan, who sits up straight and looks at him like he's been punched.
"I'm sorry," Kyle says, "but I never wanted any of this. I wanted us to be best friends, and I think that's all you wanted, too. I don't want to kiss you or touch you too much or have to be the only two people left. I just wanted to be with you, okay? And this isn't it, not really."
"Kyle-" Stan begins.
"I don't want to be here anymore," Kyle says, trying not to cry, and the world crumples around them.
In this world, Kyle is vicious and a fighter and the handcuffs fucking hurt.
Guards push him through the camp. Soldiers are running in and out of tents, readying weapons. They wear the dark grey uniforms of the Enemy, and Kyle feels like a target in his blue and black.
The tip of a spear prods against his back. He turns back to glare at the guard behind him.
"Hurry up," the guard says. "The Colonel wants to see you now."
The camp smells of sweat and mold and smoke. The trench walls tower above him. He feels tiny, crushable. He walks with a straight back and a raised chin. It wouldn't do for a soldier of the Allies to show fear.
They lead him to a tent set up against the wall. Soldiers pass on the walkways snaking above them, heading out to the battlefield again. The howling of gunshots reverberates through the trenches.
Three men in grey uniforms lean over a map on a table. One of them has mirror-blue eyes, and Kyle recognizes him on several levels of consciousness.
"Lieutenant Colonel Broflovski," the mirror-blue man says, standing and rolling his shoulders. "It's a pleasure to finally speak with you."
"I'd shake your hand, Colonel Marsh, but I'm currently handcuffed."
Marsh smiles a little. "You'll have to deal with that. Can you gentlemen leave us?"
"Sir?" One of the soldiers cocks his head.
"I said leave us."
Everyone files from the tent, leaving the two of them alone. Kyle swallows, trying to somehow calm his height.
"I suppose you have business you want to discuss," he says, after the silence stretches to intolerable.
"Well," Marsh says, "My regiment has been battling your single battalion for three weeks in our attempt to get past the mountain range. I would, first, like to congratulate you for your two hundred men managing to hold off a thousand."
"We're familiar with the terrain," Kyle says, not even trying to keep the arrogance out of his voice.
"Still," Marsh says, the same quirky grin on his lips. "It's impressive."
The cloth tent walls muffles the gunshots somewhat, but every crack! still makes Kyle wince.
"What do you want, Marsh," he says.
"It's Colonel, and I want to negotiate. Your capture did not even cause your battalion to halt. You're outnumbered and spread thin. Don't try to deny it, our spies are smarter than that. You're all going to die and we'll get through anyway. We want the fighting to cease."
"No," Kyle says.
Marsh ignores him. "The Nation treats her prisoners well. You'll be fed, and returned to your families once the fighting is over. We'll assign medics to look after your wounds."
There is still blood trickling down Kyle's arm from the bullet, drenching the sleeve of his shirt. He says nothing.
"We just want to set up a meeting, a negotiation. We want you to help us facilitate a surrender. Talk to your men. We want as little bloodshed as possible."
Kyle shakes his head. "Beyond the mountain range is the plains, and beyond those, the Capitol. We will fight to the last man."
Marsh punches the table. His smile is gone. Somehow, Kyle manages to swallow down the jerk of fear.
"Reinforcements won't arrive for two weeks. All of you are going to die if you keep this up," he almost shouts.
"With all due respect, Colonel, we would rather die then let you past that mountain range."
Marsh takes a deep breath, then shakes his head. The smile comes back.
"You're exactly like I'd thought you'd be from your telegrams, Lieutenant."
"I try." Kyle shrugs. His wound throbs with aching numbness. He wonders if the Colonel will let him see a medic even if he refuses to negotiate. The wound isn't life threatening if it's seen to soon, but infection and blood loss will start to catch up. "Why did you send your guards out? Aren't you afraid I might be dangerous?"
Marsh rolls his eyes. "Right. You. Dangerous."
Kyle doesn't say anything.
"I wanted to talk to you alone," Marsh says, then shrugs. "We've sent telegrams. But we've never spoken."
"That would be because we're enemies." Kyle smiles with only a little bit of sarcasm.
"No, but, you-" Marsh cocks his head. "I feel like we've done this forever. Like you're the last and first thing I've ever had to overcome. Like something out of the bible. We were meant to be enemies, or something, at least."
"Please keep this professional," Kyle deadpans, somehow holding back the choking horror building in his chest. If Marsh is like that, then he's in no position to defend himself.
Marsh only shrugs and sits back at the table, crossing his legs. "Please reconsider my offer for surrender."
Kyle tells him something rude he can do with that offer, and then the soldiers return and drag him back to the world of crunching bullets and too much roaring noise.
Later, when they come to rescue him, the roar is just the blood in his ears.
They come in night-stained clothes, wrapped in layers of ammunition, wielding wire cutters, whispering, come on, chief, we'll get you out of here, just keep quiet, come on.
He keeps quiet as they twist the stolen keys through the handcuff locks and lead him past the guards, through the tents, up the trench walls, and back into the sky.
The battle collapsed at sunset, but Kyle still feels like a target as he and his rescuers run over the field separating their two camps. Their bodies silhouette black upon the moonlight.
The Allies camp is cropped close to the mountain's beginnings, a fistful of tents scattered amongst snow and rock. Tumbleweed wire guards the edges of the camp. The soldiers are waiting for him.
The air reeks of gangrene and antiseptic. It hardly feels like he was captured over two days again.
He chews down exclamations as the doctor splashes him with alcohol and stitches the ragged edges of his wound together. His lieutenants approach him, and there is enough concern in their eyes to make him look away.
"I'm okay," he assures them to the unspoken question. "I didn't tell them anything. I got out of there okay."
"He just talked to you?" the first Lieutenant asks. "What did he want?"
Kyle hisses but manages not to scream while the doctor wraps bandages over the wound. He shrugs a new uniform coat back on, decorated with the appropriate medals.
"Yeah. Wanted to negotiate. Wanted us to give in. I refused."
The second and first lieutenant exchange raised eyebrows.
"He wanted to talk to you alone."
"It was weird," Kyle emphasizes, even though his heart is pounding. There is a glimpse of sun on the edge of the horizon, pink streaks flaring through the night.
Soon the battle will begin again. He wonders if the Colonel is upset over his disappearance, or if he had expected nothing less.
"Yes," the lieutenant says, "but what did he want?"
The battle resumes before the throbbing has faded, and gunfire drowns out the roaringscreaming of blood in his ears.
The enemy makes another go at the front lines, bullets spattering and drawing red. The Allies hide in the rocks and snipe off approachers with one-shot riles.
The battle gets messy as the enemy breaks through the first snow drifts and attack the Allies. The combat turns to hand-and-hand. Men draw swords, slash, tear, kill.
Holding the path through the mountains is first priority, and Kyle has to cling to his hope when the Enemy breaks through the first wave of Allies and slaughters their way up to the entrance.
Hope that maybe reinforcements will arrive from the Capitol early.
Hope that maybe they'll make it through this war okay.
He's naturally inclined towards negativity, that doesn't mean he can't be optimistic every once in a while.
And he isn't a Lieutenant Colonel for nothing. He cuts down the first screaming Enemy soldier to race up the dirt road. Blood dots and melts the wet snow. More soldiers convulse upon them and other Allies begin their battle.
A sword cuts his cheek. That close, that fucking close to being dead. He ducks and rips his own blade through the attacker's stomach, steps back to avoid the splatter and the falling weight.
Then he sees the Colonel through the crowd.
Marsh is smiling that smile a little, only now the mirror eyes are wide with adrenaline and his uniform is stained with red.
They don't ending up fighting on purpose. It's the natural progression of things, for Marsh to end up clashing his sword against Kyle's, for them both to draw back and appraise each other.
"Good afternoon, Lieutenant-Colonel," Marsh says. "I trust you're enjoying the weather?"
"It's fantastic," Kyle snarls, lunging for him. Marsh ducks out of the way.
"This could have been avoided if you'd just agreed to negotiate," he says. "But I guess I shouldn't have expected anything else. Not from you. You were always going to fight me."
Kyle almost catches him in the stomach; as it is, the tip of his sword rips through a good deal of fabric.
"The only bad thing is that a good deal of people had to die for this." Marsh's brows furrows.
He's on the ground a second later, Kyle over him, kicking him down, straddling him to keep him in place. The fightingsobbingkilling continues on in his peripheral vision.
"The people here are dead because you're invading our homelands and killing our people! We're dead because we're refusing to give up! That's all there is to it, Colonel.There isn't some sort of bond between us. We weren't meant to be any sort of biblical opposing force. We don't having some sort of fucking tie because of fucking fate. This is just how it happened."
He pushes Marsh's head back against the dirt.
"Kyle-" he begins, and is cut off by the sword.
Kyle is there when Stan's mother hands him the letter.He's there as Stan opens it with shaking hands. He manages his own smile when Stan lets out a cry of, "I got in!" and hugs his mother.
The ride home from the party is a few more congratulations, then silence. The awkwardness drowns out the sound of the radio. When the car starts to whimper, Kyle wants to scream at the injustice of it all.
"Congratulations," Kyle says a few seconds after Stan shuts his phone. "I mean, uh, I really mean. You deserve this. You really do." There's a lot of bitterness in his voice, too much to hide.
"Thanks," Stan mutters, dropping his phone back into the cup holder. "It just kind of sucks that this had to happen. But. I mean. We didn't really get to talk that much at the party. And it feels like we haven't really hung out much in ages."
"Yeah, well." Kyle shrugs. More silence.
"I'll miss you," Stan says. "While I'm off at college."
Kyle shrugs again. It had been a long shot, anyway.
"It feels like I'm losing my best friend," Stan says finally.
"Yeah," Kyle says. "It does. A little bit."
"We'll still email, and text, and stuff, though, right," Stan says. "So it won't be like we're totally apart. And we'll visit on vacations and stuff like that. So it'll be the same."
"It won't," Kyle snaps. "No, it won't."
Stan stops. "What?"
"People always said that. And I've said that to other people. But it doesn't happen. People grow apart, that's what happens." He clenches his fingers into fists. "These are just words, just fucking words, and they don't mean anything. We're barely even friends right now, and we both know it. There is nothing holding us together."
Stan looks like he's been slapped.
"I don't want you to go," Kyle continues. "But I know you have to. So I'm going to shut up and let you go, but not without at least saying it like it is, so there isn't this awkward oh-yeah-we-used-to-be-friends between us. Let's just say it. We're not super best friends anymore."
That's when the tow truck comes, and they ride in even worse awkwardness all the way, and Kyle feels like a horrible human being but at least he got it out in the open, at least whatever nothingness between them is real.
He climbs into his bed a few hours before sunrise, sinks into the covers, and pretends none of this is happening, that he'll wake up and it'll be okay like normal, or like a normal a few years ago when they were still friends.
The rap on his window awakes him an hour later.
Stan's eyes reflect the yellow glow of his lamp. He slides the window open.
"Hey! Turn it off or your parent's'll see!" Stan whispers, gripping the sill. The wind brushes through his hair, and he latches on tighter as the branch below him shakes.
Kyle feels like it's middle school again, like they still hang out every day after school and weren't about to disappear from each other's lives in every way that mattered. Stan bangs about a little when he collapses to the floor, but is quiet enough otherwise, and with the lights off, their breathing is the only sign of life.
"What are you here for?" Kyle whispers. "I already said everything that needed to be get. We both got everything that needs to be figured out. You don't need to be here."
Stan flops down onto the bed. The mattress whines when Kyle shifts away from him.
"I thought for a bit, you know," Stan says. "After I got home. And I realized."
Kyle doesn't say anything.
"Sure, I could go to Cornell and go to pre-vet school." Stan squares his jaw and sets his shoulders back. "I could probably get a great education out of it. But they have good science programs at Colorado State. And, look."
"What," Kyle says finally.
"Look," Stan repeats. "Some things are more important. Like, I don't need something shallow like a big-name school on my resume. I need someone to keep me from turning into an emotional wreck when I'm in college, like I know I can get."
He laughs, softly.
"You can make new friends," Kyle says.
"Yeah," Stan says. "But they won't be the same, okay? Because I don't want to give this all up, give this all behind. I need something from my old life to keep me together. It's been too long since we were real friends. I don't want to loose this. I want to go to Colorado State with you."
Kyle swallows hard.
He's never been brave enough to dream of this, of Stan caring as much as he does, as their friendship actually mattering in the eyes of anyone except for him.
Something releases inside of him. He stretches out his hand a little bit, close to Stan's arm but not quite touching.
"Do you really mean that?" he says, barely audible over the thump of his own heart.
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Stan snaps. "Do you think I want to be here, in this made up dreamworld?"
Kyle pulls his hand back.
"I don't even know if this is real or magic or if I'm going crazy!" His whole body tenses. His fists tremble. "One moment we're like magical creatures and the next we're in the military and we're watching people die and then we're here and the worst part of it all is that I know you're in charge of all this, Kyle, I know you're somehow making this happen."
Kyle flinches. "I'm not-"
"Shut up. I'm not doing this, and you're the only other consistent force in these messed-up worlds we're living in. You and I always have some sort of bond. In the first world we're fucking. Is that how you wanted it to be all along, Kyle? You wanted us to be little fuck buddies? Cartman was right about you?"
"No." Kyle can feel his cheeks heating, and he doesn't know if he's embarrassed or angry or scared as hell. "I didn't fucking want that, Stan, I wanted out of that world, don't you remember-"
"And we go somewhere completely fucking different, and all of a sudden I'm in charge of a military command, and it's even worse because I kill people, I fucking kill them and I can't even help it because I'm nothing but some sort of character for you to foil with!" He's shouting, but in this world Kyle's parents are plot devices and won't wake until he needs them to pretend to be real.
"Because of this shit we're going through, I feel like I'm falling apart. In one world I'm a monster and another I'm a murderer and in this one I'm just some weak caricature of who I used to be, and in none of them is any of this real, Kyle, maybe this is all a fucking illusion but we're going crazy and I want out!"
He grasps at Kyle's arms, shaking, shuddering, and he says, "I'm scared," and then he doesn't say anything else.
Kyle is sure it's real for a second, then he whispers, "Stan? Are you okay?"
"Huh?" Stan sits up straight. The moonlight highlights his uplifted brows, the oils of his nose, the ridges of his cheekbones, the smiling curve of his lips.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Really tired, though." He shrugs. "Had kind of a freak out there? Sorry about that. But we should hang out tomorrow. Shoot some hoops. Like old times."
There is no bitterness in his voice.
"Stan-" Kyle begins, tentatively.
"I said I'm okay." Stan shrugs. "But. I really need to be getting to bed. Get out of here. Before I say anything else."
Kyle stays awake after he goes, until the sun has eaten up the night. He remembers a gentle romance, and he remembers a fierce and violent and everlasting rivalry, and he remembers genuine, lasting-a-lifetime friend, and none of them seem real, and he desperately wants them all to be.
The next evening, they head down to the Denver mall. Stan's basketball shoes are flapping and filthy from years of disuse, and after an hour on the court, they fell apart. Kenny and Cartman meet them there, like old times.
Stan is smiling like it's genuine, and from the light in his mirror blue eyes Kyle almost thinks it might be.
They each buy ice cream – Cartman gets an extra-large, the fatass- and they lounge on the benches, watching pretty girls in packs and wanna-be gangsters and families with screaming children walk past. Standard mall fare.
"So Colorado State, huh?" Cartman says.
"It's more affordable," Stan says with a shrug. "Ivy Leagues don't come cheap."
Neither Cartman nor Kenny are headed off to university, Kenny because he's a slacker who can't afford it, Cartman because he's a slacker. They can still sympathize.
So Stan talks about school and majors and the campus and the football team, and how great it'll be to take classes with Kyle again and share an apartment when they're upperclassman, and all Kyle can do is smile a bit and nod and making agreeing sounds.
"This is pretty awesome for you, guys, huh," Kenny says, his voice still mostly-incomprehensible through the hood, as Cartman waddles off to get another ice cream. "Since you were always really great friends."
Stan glances at Kyle and grins, and Kyle grins back, and he wonders if Stan isn't screaming the same desperate plead as last night underneath the pearly whites.
Stan doesn't outburst again, and their friendship remains easy, genuine. It grows back to almost what it used to be, before the stress of high school got to them and something fell apart.
They hang out every day after school. Kyle goes to Stan's baseball games and makes fun of him afterwards for being such a jock. Stan eyes Kyle's computer code and his designs and tries to get him to hack into the pentagon. They play video games and do each other's homework (Stan on Chemistry, Kyle on math) and it's like they never even drifted apart.
Days and weeks and months and school ends and they wear blue-and-white to graduation and then summer is over in a rush and the trip to Fort Collins and college is just waiting for them on the edge of the horizon, or at least on Monday.
Bebe hosts another party on the Saturday before they head off to their new life as super best friends together, and almost everyone from their Park County senior class shows up. It's a frenzy of alcohol and weed and dubstep. Kyle dances with Bebe, necks with another girl he doesn't even know, plays beer pong with Kenny and Craig, looses horribly, and somehow ends up out on the porch with a can of beer in his hands, shivering in the air and trying to breath.
Stan follows him out after telling Wendy he needs some air, and the two of them lean on the railing together, drinking and trying to sober up at the same time.
"So," Stan says. "Pretty fun, huh? Wonder if we're going to have crazy-ass parties in college. You'll have to be the designated driver instead of Butters."
"Are you kidding me," Kyle says, because they've had this debate in the last few months since this world began, and Kyle always wins, and he loves it anyway. "You've got to drive home. You've already gotten to party it up with the footballers and I've been stuck in the nerd club in the back of the school for the past four years. You're designated driver."
Stan laughs, and Kyle laughs with him. It is loud from the party and quiet from the cold expanse of the world beyond.
"Stan?" he says after a few seconds. "Is any of this real?"
"Of course, it is, idiot," Stan says, rolling his eyes and shaking his head so naturally that Kyle has to, needs to believe him.
"But, I mean," he says. "Do you really want to be my best friend forever? Are you really giving up Cornell for me. Are you really giving up that perfect future just to be my friend forever."
"Dude," Stan says. "Shut up. Don't get sappy on me. This is what I want, okay?"
He smiles again, with those mirror-blue eyes that have always been such a beautiful color in every world they're in, and Kyle knows that the real Stan's eyes are a muddy-sky color and not all that beautiful to begin with.
"Shit," Kyle says. Then: "If we go back, will we still be friends?"
Stan looks away.
"We'll still be friends," he says, quietly.
"But. I mean." Kyle reaches out and the world swims and he's still drunk, so he stops and leans into he wooden railing.
"But. I mean. Like this. Super best friends."
Stan's shoulders slump. He looks away. "I can't promise that."
"We don't have to be like, fucking true love and romantically engaged. I don't want that and neither do you," Kyle says. "We don't have to have some kind of permanent bond, either, fierce enough to manifest even if we're on other sides of a war. Neither of us want that, either. We just have to be friends. Super best friends who grew up together. That's all I want, I swear. That's all you want, too. Isn't it, Stan?"
Stan still isn't looking at him.
"I'm sorry," he says again. "I can't promise that."
Kyle sets his beer on the railing. He steadies himself, because he knows if he falls, Stan will catch him, and take him home, and they'll drive up to Fort Collins on Monday and settle in their dorms and start taking classes and begin their new lives as adults and functioning members of society, and Kyle will never work up the resolve to have this conversation, and nothing will ever be genuine, not really, not as long as Stan's eyes remain nothing but a beautiful reflection and his words exactly what Kyle wants to hear.
"Please," he says again, even though he knows it's useless. "Please. It's all I want," and he knows Stan's response, and he knows how this could go on forever, and so he says, "Let's go home."
In this world, Colorado March is still knee-deep in snow, and when the police find Kyle Broflovski and Stan Marsh buried up to their necks in a drift, they can't get them to a hospital fast enough to prevent frostbite.
Half of Stan's foot needs to be amputated. Kyle was wearing a heavy jacket for the single night they were missing in the woods, and thus only looses a toe. When they are conscious enough to sit up straight, their friends bring them homework and gossip from school and the assurance that they'll be better soon.
The police ask them what they were doing in the woods. They insist they were lost in the dark. The police suspect drug abuse or alcohol consumption but find no proof. The case is recorded as some sort of accident. Stan's baseball team visits and tells him they need their best pitcher.
They never make any sort of agreement on the secrecy regarding the night they were missing. Even during the week of recuperation in the hospital, they only talk about things like homework, and pretty girls, and the future in which Stan goes to Cornell and Kyle goes to Colorado University, both of them following their dreams.
The floating lights never show up again.
They get out of the hospital. Stan learns to get around with part of his foot missing, and even though he won't play football or swim until he can be fitted with some sort of prosthetic substitute, the baseball team still places second at state. Kyle designs a few websites for commission, continues to spend most of his days in front of his computer, and manages to pull his grade in Chemistry up high enough to walk down the aisle at graduation.
Kyle is there when Stan's mother hands him the last box, when they pack everything into the car and Wendy says her weeping goodbyes. They promise to call.
Stan shoves his hands awkwardly into his pockets. Cartman and Kenny said their goodbyes at the going-away party last night, and now it's just the two of them left.
"So. Uh." Stan clears his throat. "You're going down to Fort Collins on Monday, right?"
"Right," Kyle says, and waits.
Stan rubs his shoulder. His mother turns the engine on. It's a long drive to the Colorado airport, and the last thing Kyle wants is for them to miss their flight.
"I'm going to miss you," Stan says, and there is a good deal of honesty in his voice. "You've know me more than anyone else, better than anyone else, and I've know you the same. We've gone through so much shit together, you know?" He twists his lips. "Hopefully we'll learn something at college. But – I mean – not to get all gay on you and shit, but the lessons I've learn from you will probably last longer."
Kyle laughs. "Right back. I'll miss you, too." When Stan left for baseball camp at the end of eighth grade, Kyle wrote a speech in iambic pentameter about how distraught he would be in his absence. Now, they just hug and bump fists.
"We'll still email, and text, and stuff, though, right," Stan says. "It - it won't be like we're never gonna see each other again. And we'll visit when we get vacations and stuff like that. So it'll be the same, or almost."
"Right," Kyle echoes.
He wants to scream, and beg again, and yell how this is all fucking unfair, but he doesn't. Stan deserves better than that.
Stan notices his silence and thanks him with tears in his dark-washed blue eyes. He was always a crybaby.
They hug again, and then Stan gets into the car and his mother drives off. Kyle waves, and Stan waves back through the window before the car turns the corner.
If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!