Ike can take one hell of a beating. He knows this from experience.
Filmore throws another punch and it hits Ike right in the gut. Ike gasps before Filmore sends him flying back to the ground. When Ike tries to get back up he feels a foot on his back, and the force of it pushes his scraped bleeding knees into the pavement, where he can feel the dirt mixing into the wound.
"Is that enough?" Filmore asks. He's still standing poised above Ike, and he cracks his knuckles and shakes out his sore hand while Ike catches his breath and nods.
"Yeah, good, for now."
Filmore reaches down and grabs Ike's upper arm, to pull him up until they're standing side-by-side. Then Filmore pats him on the shoulder, and nods. After a pause, he speaks.
"See you tomorrow, then." But he squints and inspects a bruise blooming on Ike's face. "That one's a little darker than I meant. You think people will start to do something, if they get too bad?"
Ike shakes his head and pushes Filmore's hand away.
"No, I know how to cover it up. I've had bad ones like that before."
"No, don't be. It's about what I asked for, just a little bit extra."
Ike can take one hell of a beating, and he does so biweekly. Today, late Sunday afternoon, he looks down at his phone and sees that it's nearly eight. They went a little over, because usually they stop at seven thirty. He cracks his neck and watches Filmore walking down the street away from him, with his hands in his pockets and his head hanging sort of low. He knows Filmore doesn't exactly like doing this so he feels guilty about it. Both of them usually do. But they're better for it, really.
Ike wipes a bit of dirt off his shirt, then walks over to the edge of the sidewalk, where he left his glasses next to his neatly folded jacket. He puts both on and starts to walk back home.
It's always a little touch-and-go the Monday morning after. Ike gets up earlier than his parents and grabs a pop tart or something and zooms off to school on his bike. Actually, it's better for appearances if he gets there early and hides in his homeroom before anyone else shows up. Filmore promises to come to school late on Mondays so he looks the part, too, much more delinquent. The whole thing is well-rehearsed, really, and impressive, too. Ike takes some pride in it.
As soon as other students arrive they throw him the usual glances, eyes lingering on the new bruises. Ike makes sure to hang his head just the right amount and not meet anyone's eyes. And, oh, Filmore always does a great job with the glares and then the perfect smirk and the rough nudge he sends Ike's way when they pass in the hallways. Ike sighs, very softly, because he's always been careful not to overdo it on the sighs. Sometimes they can seem really fake.
In his classes, it's wonderful. It's a huge relief. They get back papers that count for ten percent of their grade and everyone complains about how bad they did and Ike hides his A+ away in his backpack. To everyone else, he's not The Valedictorian, anymore. He's the little scrawny victim with the black and blue covering him all over. Even though the color is under his skin, it's a costume he wears. He likes it so much better this way.
Ike sniffs, wipes the blood from under his nose, and picks a branch out of his hair.
"Sorry. I won't throw you in the bushes again. I didn't really think that through, you've got scratches everywhere."
"It's no big deal," he says, and bumps Filmore softly. "It's probably more realistic this way. They've probably been expecting you to get more creative."
Filmore smiles thinly and stares at the black road in front of them.
"One girl glared back at me, the other day. Tucker's sister."
"I mean, she really thinks I'm an awful person."
"That's what you're going for," Ike says, "isn't it?"
Filmore pulls his scarf tighter around his neck as a gust of wind blows past the two of them. The weather is getting chilly and Ike didn't bring a jacket this time. Filmore stares at Ike, who has blood and dirt on his face and bags under his eyes, and unwraps his scarf to wrap it back around both of them. Ike shies away.
"I'm doing fine, I can handle a little cold. I live in South Park, you know."
"I don't like doing this anymore," he says. Ike whips his head around and frowns deeply.
"The hell do you mean? You know the alternative, don't you?"
Filmore is still holding his scarf out.
"The alternative is," Ike says, with a little condescension, and a few hand gestures, "I get pegged as the weird genius kid and you're the one who ends up playing second fiddle. I like it better this way. We like it better this way, we agreed on it. I'd rather have the pity and you'd rather have the fear. Or else we both get snide glances and the like."
"You got anybody else who knows about this?" Filmore asks. "I mean this whole arrangement."
"No," Ike shakes his head.
"So, we know each other best." More wind that brings a flurry of snow with it, and Ike relents and moves to smoosh up against Filmore's warm jacket and Filmore wraps the scarf around them. They both stand there, still, with their hands in their pockets and warm air puffing out of their mouths and their boots deep in the slush from the day before. "Means I beat up my best friend a few times a month so everyone else can think fake things about us."
Ike scoffs and mumbles into the scarf.
"I don't have any friends, I don't need any. M'too smart for it."
Filmore looks down to his feet.
"Your glasses are still on the ground," he says, pointing. Ike shrugs.
"Don't really need those, either."
Ruby Tucker, who loves to a motherly fault, approaches him and puts a caring hand on his shoulder. He feels immediately uncomfortable, and wishes he were somewhere else.
"You know I'm a peer counselor, right, Ike?" she says. The pity in her voice is thick and visible in her face and especially her eyes. Ike smiles only a little.
"Of course, Ruby." When he tries to leave, she puts an arm out to stop him.
"I just mean, you can come talk to me, whenever."
"She really went up and said that to you?" Filmore asks. He chews his nails and nervously paces in front of Ike, whose ass is getting wetter every second he sits glumly on the sidewalk's edge.
"Yeah. What a bitch."
Filmore rolls his eyes.
"Christ, Ike, she's just trying to help."
"Can't she see I don't need it? I would've gone to someone else a long time ago, anybody before her, anyway. Can you calm down, for god's sake?"
Filmore, frustrated, spreads his arms out.
"Can you blame me for being nervous? What if she talks to someone about it, and gets me in trouble with the administration, or something?"
Ike gives Filmore a look like he hates him.
"You're awful. Aren't you supposed to be the one everyone's afraid of?"
"That's just what I look like to anyone who doesn't bother double-checking," Filmore says. "It's obvious, if you take a little while to look. I'm nothing like what you make them believe I am."
Ike stands up and walks, then stops close to Filmore.
"I'm done talking about this, anyway. Just throw a few punches and get me out of here."
Filmore stands his ground and raises his chin.
"No, Ike. Listen, I'm done with this."
Ike grabs him by the collar and growls.
"Fuck you, Filmore. Punch me. Come on, you can do that, at least, can't you? Curl your hand into a fist, it's easy, or do I have to show you how to do everything? That's how it always is with you. You can't do anything without my help, but you like to pretend you can."
Filmore looks at Ike's face and his expression changes a little, to something sadder.
"I'm not a bad person," Filmore says, "but sometimes you make me act like one."
Ike's mouth twists into a sour frown, and he drops Filmore's collar and turns around and starts walking away.
"You're a bully, Ike," Filmore calls, "and your ass is soaked, I can see it from here."
Ike rolls his eyes, but stops and looks over his shoulder. Filmore is looking smug and proud of himself. So Ike narrows his eyes and flexes his fingers. Then he shoots his arm out to the mound of snow beside him, grabs a handful and spins around and takes aim and hits Filmore square in the mouth. He laughs, loud and happy, before he takes a snowball to the gut. Filmore rushes towards him and tackles him into the snow bank, the both of them going flying, Filmore's scarf somewhere that isn't around his neck.
Ike lands a few hits and Filmore lands a few hits and before they know it they're covered in snow and damp all over. But they lie on the ground and don't care much about frostbite. Ike looks down at his cold blue hands and breathes into them, though they're still shaking.
Filmore props himself up on his elbows beside Ike and looks down at him.
"It's a control thing isn't it?" Ike doesn't respond. "You want to know you can change how they think of you. And whether they think worse or better, you don't care."
"That's how it is for you, too," Ike says. Filmore shakes his head.
"No. I don't like not knowing what they think. They could be happy to see me, or annoyed, or be sad when they do. But if I'm the bad guy to them then I know they'll just be afraid or hate me." He sneezes. "It makes everything simple."
Ike gets back up and Filmore follows.
"I like you," Filmore says, earnestly, "I like that I can tell your smart, even though you're an ass."
"Yeah, I know, Filmore."
"You'll forget your glasses again."
They're buried in a bit of snow at Ike's feet, but when he reaches down and plucks them out, they bridge is clearly cracked down the middle and won't stay on his face.
"It's fine," Ike says, when Filmore looks upset. "Like I said, I don't need them."
"Glasses are expensive, y'know, if your mom would get mad—"
"No," Ike says, "I really don't need them." He walks over and tries to hold one of the lenses up to Filmore's eyes. "They're completely fake."
Filmore pushes Ike's hand away before he gets too close.
"Filmore," Ike sighs, "I know you like thinking you're the only one who knows me and that makes you someone special. But I keep secrets from everybody. You just know a few more than most people. I do this and put on a show so that nobody knows how I act for real, and I don't have to be afraid of people really hating me, for what's really there. It's not a control thing, like you think."
"Well," Filmore says quietly, "now I know what it really is, then."
"Or I'm lying, again."
"I don't think you are."
The next Monday at school is a little different.
Both Filmore and Ike have bruises to match. Everyone is surprised, since it looks like he fought back. Ruby Tucker gives him a huge smile and looks down on Filmore as if he's a bug that needs crushing. Then Filmore sits next to him and eats with him at lunch and nobody knows what to think about that. Poor Filmore follows him around like a puppy and Ike wonders when Filmore fell in love with him so much. Not that it matters, anyway, but it'd be nice to know exactly what he did, to see if he could do it again whenever he felt like it.
Ike is glad things went so smoothly. He's smarter than everyone else in South Park, and things can get boring. That's why he decided he was done with being pitied and wanted to change things. So he got Filmore to start feeling really bad about what they've been doing, and now he can try this out for a while.
He's always been jealous of Kyle, who could go toe-to-toe with somebody who was really his equal, since Filmore is the closest thing he has to that, and it's a poor substitute. Ike just gets bored of all of this, since he's damn smart, and knows it, too. He wouldn't know what to do if he wasn't lying all the time. He can't blame Filmore for liking him so much, because if he was in Filmore's shoes he'd be doing the same thing. He thinks it's all anyone needs to be, a little smarter than him, to get his respect. So it's too bad there's never been anyone like that or even close to it.
Maybe from now on he'll try to be friends with Filmore, or tease him or lead him on. Or do the same with Ruby Tucker.
Maybe he'll read Kafka untranslated, again, or calculate astronomical figures or see if he can hack into a government server. All that was fun, for a while.
There's a lot Ike can do but not a lot that makes him happy, and that's the big problem with all of it. No matter what Filmore or anyone else says there's no one around who really knows him.
He'll do one of these things or any number of others. He'll do whatever he wants, or whatever takes him at the moment. He really wishes there was something that genuinely wasn't boring, but there isn't. So he'll keep doing nothing special.
But before any of that, he'd better fix his glasses. God knows he can't see a thing without them.
If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!