Stan doesn't normally volunteer for dangerous missions, and he mostly took this one to spite Kyle, though he suspects Kyle doesn't actually care. Stan is more focused on what Kyle might be doing right now than actually surveying this uncharted planet, grunting with disinterest when Kenny attempts to make small talk on their channel. Kyle is probably in a bubble bath with this guy he claims that he isn't leaving Stan for. He says it's about his career, about feeling stuck, and about being unable to imagine what his life might be like without the first boy who dry humped his ass during Group Movie Night.
Stan knows what it's really about. Kyle has met someone else, and this person is also leaving for the year-long excursion to Perseus 8, so Kyle is going with him. He can deny it all he likes, but Stan knows him too well. Kyle can't function without a relationship. Kyle can't function without Stan, or maybe it's the other way around — Stan grits his teeth in annoyance when Kenny shouts on the channel, like a trumpet blast directly into his ear. He turns the volume down.
"Shit," Kenny says. "I think there's — there's something alive in here."
"In where?" Stan asks.
"I'm in the southwest sector. Stan — shit!"
Stan hears blaster fire, then Kenny screaming. His breath hitches and he takes off for the speeder, but by the time he flicks on the engines Kenny's channel has gone silent.
There's a lot of blood when he arrives on the scene, near the mouth of a cave. Stan's stomach pitches, and his breath grows ragged as he approaches the cave with his blaster drawn. There's no sign of Kenny. Maybe this isn't his blood. Stan can't imagine that Kenny could have possibly had this much blood in him.
"Kenny?" he says, using their channel. "Are you — what — are you okay?"
There's no answer. Stan requests emergency assistance, and his heart sinks when Craig picks up the call. Craig is infamously nonchalant about rescue missions.
"Please hurry," Stan says. "I can't find him, and there's blood—"
It makes no sense that he should be able to hear the roar behind him at the same time he feels it, unless the beast that swipes at him as he turns has swallowed Kenny's transmitter along with the rest of him. Before Stan can even gape at the thing properly it's swallowed Stan's arm, torn away in one pass of its giant claws, along with his blaster.
Stan runs for the cave, immediately aware that it's the worst escape route he could have taken and that it's too late to change course. He would flip on the light in his helmet, but he normally does his flipping with his right hand, and it's gone. He's running blind through the darkness, the thing struggling to keep up only because it's so big that it can barely fit into the cave. Its claws slash at him again, tearing into his right leg. The stinging pain of the cut motivates Stan to scramble ahead faster, and also makes him wonder why he can't exactly feel the pain of his lost arm. He can feel the blood, and it's a kind of lubricant as he moves deeper into the narrowing cave, the monster raging at him from where it's gotten stuck, something like ten feet behind him already.
When the cave has narrowed so much that he can barely fit in it himself he stops, his helmet scraping against the rock that's closed in around him. He reaches back with his remaining hand and tries to feel his oxygen tank for any damage. It was banging against the rock as he ran, but it's one of the old X78 models, unwieldy but high-volume and sturdy. He moves forward and screams when the wound where his arm had been scrapes against the rock. Half of the sleeve of his suit remains, but the monster took his arm almost cleanly at the joint of his shoulder, as if extracting crab meat from a shell. Stan is sobbing pathetically as he stumbles through the darkness, running his hand along the wall of the cave as it becomes less narrow. It's still tight, and he'll probably die like this, trapped inside a tomb of alien rock, his signal untraceable. He tries his transmitter, slapping at the controls with his left hand, but it's useless. There's only a low fuzz of static; the rock is too thick.
Stan makes himself stop crying, stumbling forward. He's coated with sweat, dizzy from blood loss, certainly done for. At least Kenny died relatively quickly, though being consumed as protein isn't really an enviable cause of death. He supposes Kyle will find this fitting, that the moment Stan decided to assert himself by going off and doing something unpredictable he got himself killed. He wonders if Kyle will fall into the arms of the new guy for comfort, or if their romance will be ruined by Stan's death. He hopes for the latter, though should be making peace with his regrets, hoping that Kyle will have a happy life with someone else.
There's a light source up ahead, and Stan isn't sure if it's the afterlife or another entrance to the cave. He's not even sure what he's hoping for as he stumbles toward it. He's lost Kyle, lost his arm, lost so much blood that he can't pin his thoughts down before they flicker away again. His transmitter crackles to life as he approaches the light, and it's not God speaking to him, it's Craig.
"Marsh," Craig says. "Where are you? What's happened?"
"I need help," Stan says. "I'm, I'm at the entrance of a rock outcropping. I'm hurt — do you, haahh, do you have my signal?" Something about talking to Craig is making the pain of his injuries worse.
"We're in range," Craig said. "I've got you on the scanner, but I can't see you."
"I'm coming out of a cave now," Stan says, and he sort of falls out of it, stumbling against the planet's rocky landscape. He half expects the beast that attacked him to leap over the rocks and take his head this time, but nothing comes until the shuttle that hovers overhead.
"You've been exposed to alien life?" Craig says.
"Hah — yeah, seems that way!" Stan looks up to glare in the direction of the shuttle. He cries out brokenly when he sees Kyle's face pressed to the shuttle window.
"Stan!" Kyle says. "Oh, God!"
"We're going to have to call for a quarantine pod," Craig says.
"Are you crazy, he's bleeding!"
Stan has never been happier to have Kyle advocate for him. He can't believe Kyle came. It's somehow the most shocking aspect of any of this.
"I'm not exposing four others to whatever he might have," Craig says.
"But he needs help!" Butters says. Stan is not surprised to hear Butters' voice; he's a medic. Clyde is also there, for reasons unknown, gaping at Stan's condition alongside Kyle.
"Let me out," Kyle says. "I'm going down to get him."
"Suit yourself," Craig says, “But you're not bringing him back in here. He's waiting for the pod."
"We've already ordered it, Stan!" Butters says. "A-and I'm coming down with my kit!"
They descend in necessarily slow motion, Kyle flailing to get to Stan like he's swimming upstream. He's got Butters tied to him with some elastirope, and as soon as he can brace himself on Stan he turns the gravity simulation in his suit on and yanks Butters down to them.
"It's okay," Kyle says, holding Stan's helmet with both hands while Butters plugs a pain killer into his oxygen tank. "You're okay, you're gonna be okay."
"Kenny's dead," Stan says, starting to cry again. He could blame it on the pain killer that's already fuzzing his thought process, but it's Kyle, Kyle came for him.
"That's alright," Kyle says. "I mean, it's not your fault. Everything's going to be alright, Stan, they're sending a quarantine pod."
"Oh, gosh," Butters says. He's tying the ripped sleeve of Stan's uniform into a knot, his hands slipping. "There's a lot of blood."
"Quiet!" Kyle says, and he looks back to Stan. It's strange to have Kyle's helmet pressed to his, their attempts to get closer blocked by the hollow thump of the triple-reinforced plastic. They've never done a survey together; Kyle thinks this type of data collection is beneath him. "You're going to be just fine," Kyle says. He's crying a little.
"What sorta thing did this?" Butters asks as he bends down to bandage Stan's leg.
"Ah, it was like a worm mixed with a wolverine," Stan says. "Only giant. Shit, we have to get out of here, it could come back!"
"Shh, okay, here comes the pod," Kyle says. Stan isn't normally claustrophobic, but after barely squeezing through that cave the idea of being snapped into a self-piloted pod is terrifying. "I'll ride with you," Kyle says before Stan can ask him to. He's stroking Stan's helmet as if it's his cheek.
"You'll have to go through quarantine clearance," Stan says. He can't stop crying, and he's relieved that Kyle's eyes are still leaking, too.
"I don't care. We'll be together."
"You're not bringing that infected blood back onto this shuttle," Craig says when Butters turns his gravity off.
So they end up with Butters wedged in along with them in what's really only designed as a one-person pod. Even for two it would be snug, but Stan doesn't mind having Kyle pressed tightly against him, especially once their helmets are off. He's clinging to Kyle, trying not to sob like a child. The pain is dulled but he can still feel the loss, the sharpness of what is now missing. He can also feel Butters shifting uncomfortably against his back, apologizing for every adjustment.
"We're almost back to the ship," Kyle says, stroking Stan's hair. "You're doing so good."
"I'm not doing anything," Stan says.
"Sure you are!" Butters says, so cheerfully that Stan laughs.
"Kyle, you came," he says, embracing his delirious condition. "You came, you saved me."
"Shh," Kyle says. He kisses Stan's forehead, and Stan finally gives in to his body's desire to lose consciousness, certain as he passes out that this has changed everything. Kyle won't leave him again.
Stan wakes up in quarantine on the hospital deck. Wendy is at his bedside, consulting a Telepath machine. They entered Basic Education at the same time, but Wendy is already a doctor, while Stan is still trying to finish his Extended Courses and isn't technically on a Career Path yet.
"I guess this means I'm not contagious," Stan says, because Wendy isn't wearing a helmet. She turns to him and smiles sadly.
"Poor Stan," she says. "I was hoping we'd have an auto fit in stock, but there's nothing. I've ordered one, though. It should get here in a few weeks."
"A few weeks?" Stan glanced at the place where his right arm should be. It was bandaged heavily, and even twitching his shoulder made him feel like he might vomit.
"Well, it's just that it's the holidays," Wendy says. "And all the annual shift changes start on January 1st, so everything is a mess in terms of Intership, and I really don't trust any of the private couriers with an auto fit arm, it's too valuable—"
"No, it's okay," Stan says. "It's just. Never mind."
"What?" Wendy takes his remaining hand, squeezing it. "Kyle hasn't changed his mind about Perseus yet? Oh, please. He will. Especially now!"
"I don't want to talk about it," Stan says, regretting that he ever confided in her, drunk and crying after his worst ever fight with Kyle. "Where is he?"
"He was released from quarantine this afternoon," Wendy says. "I had him go back to your quarters to get things ready for you. Poor Stan," she says, again, and she smoothes his hair down. They had dated during Basic Education, but it was over by the time they were ten years old.
"You know," Stan says, ready to change the subject, "Craig really shouldn't be allowed to pilot emergency rescue missions. He was halfway to deciding to just leave me there like damaged goods."
"Well, he actually got there in record time."
"Only because Kyle harassed him into it," Stan says, confident about this. "I'm lucky he was around to hear the distress call."
"You're very, very lucky," Wendy says, and she gives his left shoulder a squeeze. "I'm ready to release you, actually. I can take you back to your room."
The gash on Stan's leg isn't bad enough to keep him from walking, but Wendy still insists that he use a hoverchair. She walks beside the chair, and people stop in the hallway to congratulate Stan on his survival, including Kenny.
"That was quick," Stan says, a little resentful that the bio bot has already been fully regenerated while Stan has to wait two weeks for something as simple as an arm.
"Glad you made it," Kenny says, ruffling Stan's hair. "And look at it this way — whatever nasty thing took a bite out of you is probably having massive digestion issues with my more mechanical attributes."
"Yeah," Stan says, annoyed.
"I told you you'd hate the survey missions," Kenny says, sounding a little hurt as Stan continues down the hall.
When they reach the four-room domestic module that Stan shares with Kyle he's glad to be out of public view, embarrassed by the chair and by his temporary one-armed state. He's embarrassed again as he enters the front room, where Kyle is arranging flowers in a vase, wearing his best slacks and an ironed shirt with a collar, as if this is some sort of date.
"Welcome home!" Kyle says, rushing to him. Stan is just glad he didn't make a banner or arrange a surprise party. He allows Kyle to kiss his cheeks, feeling pathetic. The certainty that blanketed him in the pod is long gone, and he doubts any amount of painkillers or pitying flower arrangements will make it return.
"Here are all of his pills," Wendy says, dropping a white bag onto the table beside the flowers. "I've put very detailed instructions in there as to when he should take each, so I'll need you to stick to that religiously, Kyle. You can get in touch with me or Dr. Black anytime if you have questions."
"I know how to read a med chart, but thanks," Kyle says. He's never forgiven Wendy for taking Stan's first kiss, which is absurd, considering that Kyle has come to resent all of the other firsts he shared with Stan.
"I'll leave you two to get some rest," Wendy says. "Just remember to keep him calm, no unnecessary stress. The shock can sometimes come in delayed waves."
"You weren't able to expedite the arm?" Kyle asks.
"Don't worry about that," Stan says before Wendy can answer. "I know your shuttle leaves in three days. You don't have to sit around waiting for my arm to get here, I'll be fine."
Kyle stares at Stan, his mouth hanging open. He looks hurt, and Stan feels badly, despite everything.
"Um," Wendy says. "I've got to get back. Call me if you need anything."
She takes the hoverchair with her, and Kyle helps Stan to the bed. He's feeling weaker than he realized, and he regrets opening things with that bitchy comment. They could have at least had a day or two of peace together before Kyle's departure.
"How are you feeling?" Kyle asks, touching Stan's forehead.
"Heavily medicated," Stan says. "Have you seen Kenny? Good as new."
"That whole project baffles me," Kyle says, and he rolls his eyes. "At least it was that pseudo person that got eaten and not—" Kyle moans and leans down to grab Stan, lifting him off the pillow to hug him hard. "Stan," he says, very softly, and Stan can't hold out against this, the way Kyle's voice sometimes quivers when he says Stan's name. He returns Kyle's hug fiercely, or tries too, remembering in a queasy rush that he's only got one arm.
"I'm sorry," Stan says.
"Sorry for what?" Kyle is stroking the back of his hair, his fingers tickling down to caress Stan's neck. Stan is becoming aroused, only because Kyle hasn't touched him in weeks, unless their bloody embrace in the pod counts.
"For, I don't know." Stan meant to apologize for the reminder that Kyle will be gone in three days, but he doesn't want to bring it up again. "Could we watch a movie or something? I just want to take my mind off of things for a while."
"Oh, of course." Kyle pulls back to kiss Stan's cheeks, and just the feeling of Kyle's chapped lips on his skin makes Stan's boner throb. "What would you like to watch?" Kyle asks when he sits back, and Stan sees him noticing the boner out of the corner of his eye.
"Yeah, I don't know what's going on with this," Stan says, tugging at the crotch of the loose-fitting pants they gave him in the infirmary. "Maybe it's, like. A side effect of the medication."
"Maybe," Kyle says, staring at Stan's tented pants. "Do you want, um. Some relief?"
"God, Kyle, no," Stan says. "You don't have to, like — just, can we watch a movie? It'll go away."
"Here," Kyle says, dumping the remote for the wall mount onto Stan's chest. "Pick whatever you want. I'm going to check the med chart Wendy gave you." He stands, puts his hand to his forehead and turns back to Stan. "Do you want anything to drink?" he asks.
"Yeah, a beer."
"Ha! Well, I'll consult your med chart and see if that's allowed."
He does, and it's not.
Stan, perhaps spitefully, picks the movie that they were watching when he first humped Kyle's ass ten years ago. They were in the Rec Viewing Area with the rest of their Middle Proficiency classmates, fourteen years old. Stan and Kyle always shared a blanket in the dark during the movies, and plenty of others around them were discreetly getting each other off under their own blankets, as usual. Kyle rolled onto his side, facing the screen, and when he pressed back against Stan and wiggled a little Stan's hips shoved forward without his permission. Kyle turned to smile at Stan over his shoulder, and Stan was done for, in love, ten seconds away from coming in his pants.
"Ugh, this?" Kyle says when he returns from the room and sees what Stan has picked. "It's so corny."
"Well, I love this movie, and I just lost my arm and almost died, so—"
"Fine, no, it's fine. I read Wendy's instructions and they do mention that this could be a side effect," Kyle says, glancing at Stan's persisting erection. Stan grabs Kyle's pillow and holds it over his lap.
"Good to know," he says.
Stan has seen this movie at least twenty times, and he does truly love it, mostly because of his fond memories of that night: trying to breathe quietly in the aftermath, holding Kyle and trembling in anticipation of his next move. Kyle had just lay there in glowing contentment that Stan was happy to take credit for, rubbing his thumb over the back of Stan's hand. Stan can hardly pay attention to the movie or his memories of watching it in better times, too perturbed by the fact that he can't get his dick to go soft for anything. He tries spelling things backward, doing math problems, envisioning Kyle in the arms of another man. Nothing works.
"How's it going under there?" Kyle asks when the movie is halfway over. He's looking at the pillow over Stan's crotch.
"Don't worry about it," Stan says.
"Stan, are you still hard? You are, aren't you? God, just let me suck you off, alright? It's driving me crazy."
"What's driving you crazy?"
"Knowing that you're — uncomfortable."
"I don't see how you can care so much about one fucking erection when you're leaving me in three days, sorry."
"Oh, here we go!" Kyle gets up from the bed, and Stan pauses the movie, unwilling to fight in its sacred presence. "Glad to see you still think you know everything, that's a good sign of a full recovery."
"What am I claiming to know that you haven't told me? You're leaving, okay, and I appreciate you coming to get me on that planet, and sitting with me while I'm here feeling like shit, but don't act like you're still interested in sucking my dick."
"That, there!" Kyle points at him, glaring. "That's what you think you know that don't. I do want to suck your dick, okay? No, scratch that, I want to slide down onto it and ride you, but offering to suck it seemed less pathetic." He gets red-faced as soon as he's done with his rant, and turns his back on Stan.
"Well," Stan says, at a loss for a moment. He moves the pillow a little to stimulate himself as pre-come begins to bubble out of him. "I guess I don't want to be used for sex, then."
"I'm not supposed to stress you out," Kyle says. He walks to the wall and puts his forehead against it, arms crossed over his chest. "But I don't want you sitting there thinking I'm going to leave you like this just for a job. I'm not, Stan. I don't want to."
"I'll have a new arm in two weeks, dude. This is — your big life change. It's still what you want."
"Is it? I don't know what I want." Kyle's voice has gotten small. "Except."
Kyle says nothing, slumped against the wall. When he crosses the room he doesn't meet Stan's eyes. He sits on the bed and scoots closer to Stan, who would gather Kyle in with his arm, but Kyle is on his right side. He doesn't need to: Kyle falls onto him and kisses him with the kind of slow precision Stan loves, working him over, biting and licking all the right spots. Kyle kisses as if he's studied it, applying what he's learned with care. Stan's whole ribcage aches when he thinks of Kyle doing this with someone else, and he pulls back.
"God, I'm so hard," Stan says, feeling like he might cry. He'd meant to say something else entirely, an apology for having doubted Kyle's loyalty.
"I know," Kyle says, petting Stan's cheek. "Poor thing. Let me help you. Stan, oh, God." Kyle touches the lumpy bandage under Stan's empty sleeve. "Every inch of you is irreplaceable. I'm so fucking mad at you for doing this to yourself. I loved that arm."
"I didn't mean to. Kyle, shit. If you want to go—"
"Shh, shut up. Just let me have this, I know I want this."
He removes the pillow and slides Stan's pants down, wasting no time getting his tongue on Stan's dick. Stan is throbbing, desperate, thrusting his hips up as gently as possible. Kyle holds them still when he takes him in fully, and he only bobs his head three times before he's crawling over to the bedside table for the Astroglide Classic.
"I'll cry," Stan says, warning him, because Kyle hates it when he cries during sex.
"That's okay," Kyle says. He seems to be trying to uncap the lube and get his pants at the same time. "Cry your heart out if you need to."
Stan doesn't actually cry, too preoccupied with pumping himself up into Kyle and blowing his load in record time. He's dizzy afterward, and Kyle frets, still hard, Stan still inside him.
"I should take your temperature," Kyle says, leaning down to feel Stan's forehead. "You're all shaky. Are you usually this shaky after you come in me?"
"Kyle," Stan says, desperate to see him unravel, too. Kyle moans and resumes his bouncing. Stan's cock is oversensitive, but it's oddly good, every inch of him reeling as Kyle jerks himself, braces a hand on Stan's chest, and comes.
They lie together, trying to get their breath and still kissing hungrily, the movie paused on an image of the lead actor falling off a bicycle. Stan worms his clumsy left hand up under Kyle's shirt and finds his nipples, pinching until Kyle whines.
"Can we go again?" Kyle asks. He glances down. "I mean, since you're still hard?"
"Five minutes," Stan says.
"It's just that I'm so terrified of being away from you," Kyle says, closing his fist around Stan's ear. "I was nauseous the whole time you were on the planet, even before the emergency call. It's messed up, how much I depend on you. There's this entire universe that I could access if I wanted to, but I'm still on the ship I was born on, and I'm happy here, Stan. What does that mean about me? About my – simplicity?"
"I don't know," Stan says, wishing he did. "Kyle. I'll fucking come with you, okay? I would have said so from the start if I wasn't too busy convincing myself that you were leaving me for someone more interesting."
"You bastard, Stan," Kyle says, his nails digging into Stan's ear. "I hate you for thinking that. Fucking hate you," he says, and he sucks Stan's bottom lip into his mouth, worrying it gently between his teeth. Stan waits for him to bite down hard, but he doesn't.
"I know," Stan says. They're so close, eyelashes brushing each other's cheeks, but it's not enough, never enough, and maybe Stan doesn't need a full five minutes to recover. "I hated me, too," he says. "That was the whole point. I feel kind of like. A failure, and stuff. You're the only thing I was good at and now you want to leave."
"I don't want to leave," Kyle says. "That's the problem, I hate myself for not wanting to leave. And you're not a failure. You're good at other things."
"Yeah, I'm great at surveying planets, clearly."
"Well, God, Stan, you survived an Inup's Caniform attack! You're the only human who ever has! I'm fucking impressed, okay?"
"Okay. What's Inup's Caniform?"
"That thing that ate Kenny number 128. Why does he die so much?"
"I don't know. I guess that's what bio bots are for. To look human in dangerous situations."
"Well, that's not what you're for," Kyle says, nudging Stan's dick with his knee. "I don't care how much I piss you off, don't do that again."
"I won't," Stan says, and he presses his face to Kyle's, closing his eyes. "I'm kinda of traumatized and stuff, anyway."
"Poor Stan." Kyle runs his fingers along the shell of Stan's ear, and Stan shivers, grabbing Kyle's leg to hump it more thoroughly. "You want to be inside me again? Hmm? Would that make you feel, like. Safe?"
Stan nods and gropes for Kyle's hole, sliding two fingers in easily. They both moan, and Kyle takes their cocks in his hand, stroking them together.
"I could do this forever," Kyle says, whispering, and Stan isn't sure if he still thinks that's a bad thing.
This time Stan is able to last, so they arrange themselves into their favorite slow-motion spooning position. It's not quite the same now that Stan can only hold Kyle against him with one arm, but it's good, twitching into Kyle until he's rutting back desperately, squeezing Stan's cock. Kyle wants Stan to stay inside him after they've both finished, and Stan wants this, too, but he's increasingly unnerved by his inability to lose his erection.
"I like it," Kyle says, wiggling on him. "Wendy's instructions said that if it lasts for three hours we should let her know, but until then supposedly it's normal."
"What the hell kind of pain killer gives you a boner?" Stan isn't looking forward to calling Wendy about this.
"I don't know," Kyle says. "Does it hurt? Want to pull out?"
"No," Stan says, and he hugs Kyle closer. "But are you sure you want a hard cock up your ass for, like. Possibly three hours?"
"Maybe," Kyle says. He scoots back onto Stan, making him whine a little from the overstimulation. It doesn't hurt, exactly, but his dick can't take much more friction. "I'm kinda traumatized, too, okay?" Kyle says, and he reaches back to hook his arm around Stan's neck. "Seeing you — like that. Hearing your voice when you were scared and asking for help."
"You made Craig hurry, right?"
"Ha! Yes. I pointed a blaster at his head."
"Oh, God, Kyle, is he going to press charges?"
"I doubt it, I've got too much dirt on him."
"Why was Clyde there?"
"Um, he wasn't?"
"Yeah, Kyle, he was. He was sitting right next to you in the shuttle."
"I think you were hallucinating, dude. I have no memory of Clyde being there."
"Why would I hallucinate Clyde? You were just too panicked to notice him."
"Whatever," Kyle says. "We can ask him later if he was actually there."
"He might be kind of insulted by that."
For some reason this sets both of them off into giddy laughter, and Stan has to pull out of Kyle, too sensitive to handle the way his ass clenches when he laughs. He's sad about this, because he loves it when Kyle's ass clenches for any reason.
Stan falls asleep with his head cradled against Kyle's wrinkled shirt, his wounds beginning to throb as the pain killers wear off. He wakes up with a dry mouth and agonizing discomfort in his arm socket. The erection is still persisting, starting to hurt.
"I'm calling Wendy," Kyle says, stroking Stan's hair while he swallows his next pain pill down with water.
"Don't tell her we fucked."
"Why not? It might be relevant."
"Here, just — give me the comm, Kyle, I'll call her."
Kyle allows Stan to make the call, and holding the comm with his left hand is disorienting. He gets Wendy on the third ring, and wishes Kyle wouldn't sit and stare at him while he has this conversation.
"What's up?" she says.
"Um," Stan says. "My dick."
"Don't just say 'my dick,' tell her what's going on!" Kyle says.
"Oh, shit has it been three hours?" Wendy says. "Sorry, I meant to call and check up on you. There's an antidote pill in the package I gave you, a little green one in an envelope."
"Antidote to what?"
"Um, to the erectile dysfunction drug I may have slipped into your fluids just before you left quarantine."
"What did she say?" Kyle asks, groping for the comm. "Put it on speaker."
"Well, did it work?" Wendy asks. "You assholes are so stubborn, I just thought, here's my chance to give Stan an erection that Kyle won't be able to resist."
"Excuse me," Stan says, rising from the bed to avoid Kyle's attempts to get the comm from him. "That is not. That's—"
"It worked," Wendy said. "Right?"
"What's that woman done now?" Kyle asks. "I told them you'd prefer to be treated by Token, but no one listens to anything I say."
"That was kind of unethical," Stan says, walking into the front room to fetch the envelope with the antidote.
"But it worked, didn't it?"
"It's not your business, okay—"
"No, sure, so I guess it's also not my business to mention that Inup's Caniform venom can give humans the ability to make their male sexual partners pregnant."
"Ha! See, you fucked, I knew it. That was a joke, by the way, about male pregnancy. Though technically I suppose it's possibly true, since you're the first surviving human who's been attacked by one of those things—"
"I'm hanging up now," Stan says.
"Good, okay, and take that antidote pill. Kyle didn't want to leave, Stan. He regretted signing up for Perseus. You're not the only one who got drunk and sobbed about your troubles that night."
"He came to you?"
"No, God, of course not. He went to Butters, who came crying to me, saying he thought you two were breaking up."
"Why would Butters cry about that?"
"What's going on?" Kyle asks, nearing a shout. "Are you going to be okay or not?"
"Go calm him down," Wendy says. "And call me back if the antidote doesn't work within five minutes. You might have trouble getting an erection for the next few hours, but I'm sure you've already fucked him at least twice—"
"Hanging up," Stan says, and he does.
"Well?" Kyle is standing in the doorway between the front room and their bedroom, his arms crossed high over his chest. "What'd she say?"
"I just have to take this pill," Stan says, and he fishes the envelope out of the bag. "It's — nothing to worry about."
"Are you sure? She's so cavalier. And she has it out for me, she always has."
"I don't think that's true, Kyle."
"Don't defend her. Come here and lie back down, you shouldn't be on your feet."
Stan does as he's told, and as soon as he's on his back the painkillers begin to kick in fully. He's still a bit whiny, and Kyle indulges this, leaning over him and making sympathetic noises. They watch the rest of the movie, and Stan drifts in and out of sleep. Every time he wakes he tries to clutch at Kyle with both hands, and remembering that he can't is jarring, but not as horrifying as it would be if Kyle wasn't there to take his left hand, kiss his palm and lick the pads of his fingers.
"I can't get hard for a few hours," Stan says, drowsy and curved into the familiar harbor of Kyle's body. Kyle is still wearing the fancy shirt, but he's unbuttoned it so that Stan can toy with his nipples. They've always been a source of comfort.
"Eh, I need a break from sex anyway," Kyle says. "It had been a while, you know. I forgot what it's like to be, like, um. Re-opened by your cock."
"Shit, did I hurt you?"
"No, not at all, it's not exactly pain. It's like when you work out after a long stretch of not doing it, you know, the way your muscles burn? It's a aching reminder of time well spent."
"That's beautiful, Kyle."
"Oh my God, no, it's not. Are you going to come to dinner with me, or should we have them bring something to the room?"
"No way I'm going out there," Stan says. "I have to stay in our module until my arm gets here."
"What! But it's Christmas next week. We're supposed to go to Clyde's thing. Ugh, Clyde. Come to think of it, he was there in the shuttle. I remember wondering why."
"I wondered that, too."
"Well, I think he and Craig fuck. I heard a rumor that Craig has Clyde's name tattooed on his dick. And I was like, yeah, right, but then again, it does sort of sound like the kind of thing he'd do. And not even when they were already together, you know, like, he'd get it done and then present it to Clyde as some sort of evidence of why he should be the one who's sucking it. I can totally see Craig doing that."
"Kyle, what are you talking about?"
"I don't know, I may have taken one of your mood stabilizers. It's sort of wonderful. Stan, you can't skip Christmas, Butters will have knit you a sweater."
"He can bring it to the room. Butters understands. Wait, so. But you'll be gone."
"No." Kyle sighs and arches deliberately, seeming to suggest that Stan should lick his right nipple. He does. "I'm not going. I don't even want to. A year on a 50 person research vessel? It would be an exercise in self-torture. And they'd expect me to do data collection, which I do not do."
"That's true, you don't do data collection," Stan says, speaking with Kyle's nipple still mostly in his mouth.
"I mean, robots collect data. Look at what it almost cost us, this fucking 'first hand exploration' bullshit." He moans and hugs Stan to him, still rubbing his nipple on Stan's lips. "Really, Stan. I almost lost you. It keeps hitting me in waves."
"I was so happy you came," Stan says. "You don't know how happy I was, how much it helped to have you there."
"Well, I sort of do, you told me about five thousand times in that pod. But, God, of course I came. I wasn't going to leave you in the hands of Butters and Craig."
"Of course not," Kyle says. "No one can care for you but me. Not when you're broken like this. My poor, poor Stan. One-armed on Christmas."
"As long as I've got you, I've got three arms," Stan says.
"But I'm still not going to that fucking Christmas lunch."
He sort of knows that he actually will, and, when the time comes, he does. Clyde hosts as usual, and Craig's presence is proof enough for Stan that they're fucking, because Craig doesn't do parties, ever, unless there are illicit drugs involved. This is more like veggies with ranch dip and a cheese log that Cartman is already working on by the time Stan and Kyle arrive. It's Stan's first public appearance since he left quarantine, and he feels weird about his empty sleeve, which Kyle has folded up and pinned to the side of his sweater. It kind of flops when Stan moves.
"When are you getting your arm?" Craig asks, and Clyde elbows him.
"Uh," Stan says. "In about a week, I guess."
"Anyway," Kyle says, sharply. "Clyde, I have to say, you've done a nice job with the decorations this year."
"Oh, thanks!" Clyde says. "Craig helped."
"Clyde," Craig says, and he gives him a withering look. Kyle elbows Stan furiously when they're not looking, as if to say, See, see??. Stan is way ahead of him.
The present exchange is done hours later, when everybody is pretty drunk. Though they all work on the same relatively small ship, this is the only time of year when everyone in their Basic Education class reunites, and Stan is glad he came, despite his flopping sleeve. He sits near the simulated fireplace with Kyle in his lap and exclaims happily when he unwraps the usual clunky, hand-knitted sweater from Butters.
And he means it, this year, actually. His eyes even water a little, but everyone is distracted by Cartman unwrapping the organic produce synthesizer Wendy got for him, and by the fight that immediately ensues. Stan wipes his tears on Kyle's shoulder, assuming he hasn't noticed, but something about the way Kyle reaches back to cup his ear makes Stan think that maybe he has.
If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!