"Wear knee pads."

Stan rolled his eyes.

"I'm going to wear knee pads, Kyle," he said for what the two of them were sure was the fiftieth time that week. "I always wear knee pads. It'd be stupid not to. It'd be against regulation not to."

Kyle did not care how many times he was reassured. The bout was in Boulder, and, quite frankly, he was surprised that Stan's team had made themselves well known enough to go up against the clearly better leagues of under-twenties. Surprised and concerned.

His knuckles turned white on the steering wheel as he waited at the red light nearest the rink. "And elbow pads," he warned. Stupidly.

"You're starting to sound like my dad," Stan grumbled, and glared out the window.

And, oh, Kyle had been there for those conversations. The if you wanted to knock other people out in sports you should have stuck with football, Stan, conversations. The roller derby is a girls' sport, Stan, conversations. The long-winded shout fests about the integrity and growing popularity of the sport that were little more than elaborate fuck yous between father and son.

Kyle had been supportive, ever since the day at the roller rink in South Park three years ago that got Stan and Kenny into roller derby in the first place. They had stepped in for the hell of it when two of Wendy's teammates were out with the flu for a scrimmage; from then on, it all seemed to fall into place. Kenny stuck with it for the girls. Stan, because it was different, and interesting. And not a sport that his father had chosen for him.

"Sorry," Kyle said when the light turned green. "Contact sports just aren't my thing."

"Maybe they could be if you watched me once in a while."

There was nothing that Kyle could say in response, not when Stan got like this before a game. So, forcing control, he pressed his lips together and did not say a word.

The parking lot was sparse, but it was early. Ahead, the venue loomed, a short, concrete thing from the seventies, decorated in decades of graffiti, sporting an LED sign that probably had not worked in at least five years. Only the letters —NK could be made out from the dead bulbs above the front doors.

It was true that Kyle had rarely watched Stan play. As supportive as he was, the process of watching a bout simply made him sick to his stomach. He'd hardly made it past the initial whistle blow at the track in Broomfield the previous year before getting nauseous and spending the rest of the afternoon in the mens' room with a litre of ginger ale and a boring book. He tried; he just didn't have the constitution.

Plus, he hated watching Stan get pummeled for what to Kyle appeared to be no reason. He'd wait it out; they would meet up after games and Stan would be glowing and sweaty and bruised, not to mention horny as hell. Kyle would mostly tune out Stan's graphic descriptions of how an opposing Blocker had cut him in the sternum and shoved him against the wall or whatever, and focused instead on however Stan chose to channel the urgent sexual energy he'd built up during the jams.

Kyle enjoyed what roller derby did for their sex life. He did not enjoy what it did to Stan physically. In the past year alone, Stan had needed a molar replaced and two fingers relocated. He had broken his left arm in a particularly heated match a few months before they had started dating, and broke an ankle after Kyle's sixteenth birthday. Others, he knew, had had worse.

Holding his breath, Kyle parked in front of the grotesque building.

"The hotel said we could check in after three," Stan reminded him.

"I know, Stan," Kyle said without breathing. "I'll get that all settled."

"Thanks for the ride."


Without exchanging a glance, Stan got out of the passenger seat of Kyle's mother's bright red SUV and rounded the vehicle to the trunk for his duffel bag full of gear. Kyle had painstakingly packed his and Stan's suitcases for the weekend, along with a cooler of food and cleverly hidden though terribly tasting cans of beer from Kenny's collection.

The clock on the dash read 3:15. The bout was at 5:30. Kyle had exactly 2.25 hours to stress over whether or not he'd have the stomach to watch. The stress would probably be worse.

There was a knock on his window, causing him to jump and slam his foot on the gas. The engine growled at him, scolding him for attempting to accelerate while still parked. Perturbed enough to make him forget being obsessive for a moment, he rolled down the window and snapped, "Fuck you for the heart attack, Kenny."

Grinning at the window, left hand still raised from the knock, Kenny flipped Kyle the bird and said, "I've died of worse."


"Nothing. You coming today, or what?"

Kenny had a scar on his upper lip from a fight he'd gotten into with a jammer from Jefferson County. He'd taken the stitches out himself, which was what disturbed Kyle most about it: the same could easily happen with Stan. Kenny's girlfriends never seemed to mind the damage Kenny took. Kyle, however, was cautious.

"I... I have to check us into the hotel, so..." Kyle began aimlessly.

"Bullshit, that takes, like, five minutes. Token's here with Nicole, since her thing's tomorrow. Sit with them or whatever."

It's not who I sit with, Kyle wanted to correct him, it's what I'm watching.

It was senseless, as far as he was concerned. Pointless going round and around a skating rink at top speed, punching out whoever rolled ahead of you. No better than lobbing a ball down a field and mowing down anyone in your way.

"Maybe," Kyle muttered instead.

"Dude, just go inside," Stan piped up, shoving Kenny away from the car. "I'll meet you guys in a minute."

He lowered one hand onto the ledge of the window to prevent Kyle from rolling it up again, and the two made eye contact for the first time since that morning. It hadn't been a smooth one, what with Randy making a scene and Kyle just wanting a few nice hours out of town alone with Stan, and Stan raising Cain about Kyle's dislike for his chosen sport.

Stan sighed. "Please come," he asked, gentler in tone than Kyle had heard him all day. "Just one time, Kyle."

Frustrated, and angry mostly at himself for being so sensitive about such stupid things, Kyle rested his head back against the car seat, angling himself toward Stan. "Okay," he gave in. "I'll... okay."

Confidence lit up Stan's features, and he leaned in through the window to kiss Kyle hard on the mouth. Kyle felt a shiver and twinge as his boyfriend's tongue glided back smoothly over his. Stan grabbed at the tangles of Kyle's hair, pulled back to kiss Kyle's forehead, and said a hushed, "I love you."

As Stan stepped back away from the SUV, Kyle sputtered out a hesitant, "I... what?"

"See you later!" Stan called back, before disappearing through the black double doors.

Kyle sat speechless in the car for two silent minutes, grinding his fingers into the steering wheel. What the hell, he wondered, had just happened?

The drive to the nearby hotel and the elevator ride to the fifth floor kept his head in a flurry. Why now? Why fucking now? He and Stan had been out and dating for a year and a half, and only now, after all the stupid hem and haw that came with Stan's taking part in this match, did the I love you finally surface?

One more delightful thing to get worked up about over the next two hours.

The hotel room was decent enough, with a king-sized bed (per Kyle's request), and a large bathroom with a pink porcelain claw-foot tub. Kyle slowly unpacked toiletries and stashed the cooler away into the closet, then wandered to the bed and fell softly onto his back.

It wasn't just to goad him into watching the match, right? Stan wouldn't drop an I love you for so superficial a reason. Kyle groaned and stared at the ceiling.

He passed some time with a book and clicking through the hotel's expansive cable channels. This held his interest for an hour before he went back to staring at the ceiling and attempting to figure Stan out again.

Half an hour went by before he declared aloud, "Fuck it," and got off the bed, changed into a nicer pair of jeans than the ruddy ones he'd been driving in, and left for the arena, half wishing he'd brought some of Kenny's shitty beer with him.

The building was a bit more welcoming on the inside, and flashes of color streaked by in the form of teams checking out their competition. The South Park guys' team members were easy to spot in red and black (the demand of their one Goth teammate, who had joined mostly to fulfill the phys. ed. equivalent credit he needed to graduate from high school), and the girls in green and white. The teams from Boulder all sported a shade of blue.

He mingled for a while, swapping quick enthusiastic hellos with Wendy and a few classmates from home, but eventually glanced around to find Nicole waving to him from the front of what he realized was the admission line. "Hey, Kyle! Cut on up!" Nicole hollered. Kyle obliged, avoiding the admonishing glares of some of the others in line between them. Nicole, proudly wearing her team tank top, emblazoned with their collective name, Greenpieces. Wendy's brainchild. "I had no idea if you'd be here."

"Yeah, well," said Kyle, digging into his wallet for the ticket Stan had given him days ago, "you know."

"Uh, no?" Nicole laughed, flashing her derby ID for a free pass. "You, like, never come to these. Let alone in Boulder."

"I'm being supportive," Kyle defended himself.

Token, who had been Nicole's silent arm candy up until that moment, gave Kyle a slap on the shoulder. "You really don't know what you've been missing, dude," he said. "This shit's pretty addicting."

"Then why don't you skate?"

"Cross country. Plus," Token added, "it's Nicole's thing."

"Yeah," Kyle realized, "it's Stan's thing, too." God knows why.

He chatted with Token and Nicole as the room began to fill, and spectators packed themselves tightly into the seats around the large rink where the teams were beginning warm-up laps and running strategies. A few feet below them, Kenny was gesticulating to two of his teammates—Pete and Craig—about something having to do with, as far as Kyle could tell, a wide circle and the helmet Kenny slapped twice.

Kenny's helmet sported stars on either side, while his teammates' were solid black. Stan, who nodded to Kenny and mouthed something that looked like calm down, we got this, clipped his own helmet, bearing a white stripe, into place. He then kicked off and eased onto the rink, gliding into a practice lap.

Skating came naturally to Stan; Kyle had plenty of ice skating memories to call up in their long history as friends, so the eventual transition to wheels rather than blades had been a relatively easy one. He'd taken it on wholeheartedly, too, and, Kyle had to admit, derby had done much for Stan's confidence. Prone to depressive periods, it was an outlet for him.

Kyle leaned forward, and held his breath to watch as Stan made seamless curves, fast breaks, and weaved his way around the polished wooden floor.

"It's like, you just get so lost in concentration, right?" Nicole was saying. "I mean, I dunno about the guys, but for us, like, the world just rolls off you down there."

The words sank in as Stan continued his laps around. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe Kyle was being nervous for nothing. He even let himself get excited as the energy in the crowd began to build. Stan was skating against Boulder, and some of those guys were huge... he had to know what he was doing. Kyle prayed he'd better not get himself killed.

He'd become so invested in watching the practice laps, in fact, that he was shocked when a prompt went out over the loudspeaker—a shoddy, nigh on incoherent system probably as old as the building—for teams to gather at their designated areas. Below Kyle, Token and Nicole, Kenny huddled up his team, shouted and gestured indiscernible things in all directions.

The loudspeaker was drowned out by the roar of the crowd—or at least by Nicole, who was screaming encouragements to the team—but they must have been called to set up the first jam, since the next thing Kyle noticed was the lineup: Kenny, Stan, Craig, Pete, Clyde. Park County Gold Crush, as they were collectively known.

Kenny, rolling under the moniker Coma Ghost, clearly had the South Park crowd on his side as the undoubted leader of the group, but it was his trusted pivot, Stan—Marsh Madness—who would set the pace during the match. He had a plan; even yards away in the stands, Kyle could see that in his expression. Kyle had heard him talk about the game-changing tactics he and Kenny used, swapping positions at just the right times, feeling out when Kenny was fatigued and Stan needed to step in.

Upon a whistle, the teams shot forward, beginning the first jam. Stan bolted to the head of the pack, signaling himself the Lead for that jam, while the three other South Park Blockers started to ooze into a diamond around Boulder's Jammer, his blue, star-marked helmet disappearing among the solid black. Kenny orbited the pack after a lap, passing Boulder's Blockers for the first point. Kyle thought Nicole would burst a lung with the cheer she let out, but realized that he too had leapt to his feet with the rest of the crowd.

"You don't sit and watch roller derby," Wendy had told him once. "This isn't ballet."

Kenny pumped his fists up into the air to celebrate the initial score, but was shoved back by Boulder's Pivot and nearly tripped both himself and Craig. The two righted themselves, but had fallen back considerably.

Boulder's Jammer ducked through Clyde and Pete, and grabbed the hand of one of his teammates. Stan noticed, and shoved himself into both skaters, disrupting the whip. The Blocker lashed out with a backhanded punch, getting Stan hard in the gut. Kyle choked on his own breath watching, and could only imagine Stan's discomfort.

"Kill him!" Kyle heard from behind where he stood. He turned, angrily, to see a girl from Boulder decked out in blue, with stars painted... no, he noticed, tattooed at the corners of her eyes. A Jammer from the girls' team, no doubt, and therefore Wendy's competition. And apparently, by her tone, the girlfriend of the Blocker who was trying to take Stan down.

Kyle whipped back around to watch the action on the rink, noticing that Kenny was gaining momentum. Craig whipped him forward and Stan side-checked the Blocker that had punched him a moment ago. Before Kenny had a clean break, the opposing Jammer shoved him aside and sped forward.

Pete cut the jammer off, and Stan, while able, ended the jam. The regulated two minutes was nearly up as it was.

"Wipe the fucking floor with these guys, South Park!" Wendy could be heard shouting from somewhere nearby. Kyle could not tell where she was. All he noticed was that Stan and the Boulder Blocker were looking at one another with a dense air of unfinished business.

In the next jam, the rivalry continued, involving Stan skidding to a fast halt and sending the other Blocker out of control into the wall around the stands, and a retaliation in the form of the Boulder kid elbowing Stan so hard from one side in the ribs that Kyle's stomach flipped over worry about a break.

Stan took the hit and skated it off, fully committed to keeping his pace going and to not bring down the team. Boulder grabbed two points over the course of that jam, and for the next, Stan and Kenny switched helmet markings.

With Stan now as the designated Jammer, and therefore the one able to score, the opposing Blocker seemed even more keen to knock him out, and after Stan procured another point for Park County, the offended party rammed him in the back with enough force to make an official stop the jam.

"What the fuck?" Kyle shouted.

"It happens," said Nichole.

"Well, it's some bullshit."

"You enjoying yourself?"

"Yes, actually, but that asshole might ruin it."

Nichole laughed, and the match raged on.

The next several heats were clinching, with Stan present in most of the jams, but Boulder had won by two by the time it ended. With the exception of the Boulder Pivot twisting an ankle and Clyde getting punched in the jaw, Kyle was glad that the result of it all had been relatively less violent than he'd been expecting. If anything, he found himself excited, and eager to catch up with Stan.

Attempting to clear the stadium was chaos, and nearly as dangerous and exhilarating as being on the track. Kyle was finally feeling the contact high Stan had for so long been assuring him the sport could cause, and did not care that he was shoving his way through others—he had no idea where he was being led, either. He was simply reeling with the fact that he understood; this was indeed Stan's sport. Offense and defense played at the same time, spur of the moment tactics, intricate planning, nothing but teamwork. No wonder Stan was so riveted after jams.

Nicole maneuvered Kyle and Token toward a corner food service counter, where she broke off to huddle with the rest of the girls' team, no doubt to plot a revenge win over Boulder the following day. Kyle ordered a Fresca at the bar and had no sooner taken a sip than Stan and Kenny worked their way through the crowds, both sans helmet and skates but otherwise still in full gear.

"You're here!" Stan exclaimed, lighting up. "Holy fuck!"

Kyle laughed, set down his Fresca, and returned, "I only almost threw up once. It would have been on a guy from Boulder anyway."

"You watched the whole thing?"

"Witness," Token offered, raising one hand while grabbing a Coke with the other.

"I actually really liked it," Kyle admitted. Stan cornered him at the bar, placing both hands on the too-shiny black surface while his wrists grazed Kyle's ribs. Kyle felt himself tighten and swell, and Stan leaned in to kiss his neck.


"Minus the, like... you getting rammed up against the wall."

"By someone other than you."

"Ha, ha, Stan, I mean it." Kyle grabbed the front of his boyfriend's tight black team shirt. "All things considered, you do look stunning out there."

"Hmm," Stan lilted into a hard, full kiss. "Stunning. I'll take stunning."

Stan's body heat added onto the heat of the crowd began to make Kyle dizzy, to the point of wanting to grab him and run straight back to the hotel. He conceded, however, to staying for the best the venue could do legally for high schoolers in the way of an after party.

It did not last long, as Stan's Boulder rival sought him out not twenty minutes later, mowing down some of the gathered crowd along the way. He was taller than Stan by a few noticeable inches, but built roughly the same; lean, lanky, not the type Kyle would expect to start a fight.

"Yo, Pivot!" he called out. Stan flinched.

He grabbed Stan back by an elbow pad and shouted, "You made me look like shit out there."

"Dude, not my job to make you look good," Stan retaliated, shaking the guy off. Kyle felt a lump catch in his throat. "Besides, you won. Get off my ass."

"No. Next time," the Blocker threatened, "you're dead, got me?"

"Yeah, you, too, good game." Stan rolled his eyes and walked back toward Kyle.

"You mocking me now?"

Stan was grabbed back yet again, this time by the collar.

"Fuck off," he warned, turning and throwing a left-handed punch.

The Blocker dodged and struck back, grazing Stan across the face.

"Dude, the hell?" Kyle heard Kenny holler from a few feet away.

Just as they had on the track, the members of the South Park team began to slowly converge upon the Blocker, and a natural curious circle of spectators circled round besides. The girl with the star tattoos on her eyes stood not far from the young man, who, without another warning, lurched forward and threw another punch, this time hitting Stan square in the face.

Before Kenny could grab him, Kyle made a move first, rushing to Stan's side to steady him as he tripped backwards. Enraged, he did the first thing he could think of: he returned the favor. Kyle had not gotten into fights in years. He thought himself to be quite under control.

Letting that go, he delivered a solid blow to the Blocker's face, finding himself hoping that he had done justice with interest on what the guy had done to Stan.

"Hey!" the tattooed girl snapped.

"Oh, shut up and fuck off," Kyle bit back.


The girl's eyes flared, and before he knew what was happening, Kyle was being shoved back into the bar. His hip bone slammed hard into the side, but he cursed it off and stumbled forward so as not to lose track of Stan.

This set off a chain reaction of events, beginning with the girl going for another hit, only to be cut off by Kenny and another girl in blue—a teammate clearly mortified by her friend's behavior.

"You okay?" Kyle tried to ask Stan. The skin around his right eye was already beginning to swell and turn terrific shades of red, black and purple. "Oh, shit. Oh, shit, Stan, oh, shit."

"Just get him out of here," Kenny advised. "Someone'll come break this up soon enough."


"Get out, dude, we've got this under control."

It looked to Kyle more like pre-apocalyptic mayhem than control, but he did not question Kenny, and pushed his way through the crowds, keeping Stan in tow.

Upon refusing medical attention, claiming it was 'nothing,' Stan agreed to let Kenny or someone else from the team pack up his gear and rode back then and there to the hotel with Kyle, who fumed the entire way. Kyle felt his face grow hot at the stares the two received from patrons in the lobby, punched the elevator buttons with a bit more force than was necessary, and helped Stan into the room.

Kyle drew a bath and heard Stan groan from the bed where he'd been seated. "I don't need a bath, Kyle, what am I, five?"

"The bath is for me, you're welcome." Kyle was surprised he was not shaking.

He emerged from the bathroom to discover Stan lying flat on the bed, sweaty and sticky from the match and the fight, right nostril still dripping blood from the final hit. "The whole damn thing," he mumbled. "I held back the whole damn game so if you were watching I wouldn't get fucking body checked or any of that shit you hate, and then that asshole—"

"Well... I mean... well." Kyle went to the closet to open the cooler he had earlier stashed inside. "You want some ice for that?"

"No, it's a battle scar."

"My tender ass it is. I'm getting you something."

"Kyle, it's a black eye."

"That'll swell, Stanley, here." Kyle rummaged through the cooler and pulled out a frozen steak. "Good thing Kenny wanted to tailgate for the girls' match tomorrow," he said, offering the meat up to Stan. "This'll do."

Stan sat up, defeated, and took the frozen steak. As he nursed the black eye, steak in his right hand, Kyle knealt in front of him and deftly started to remove Stan's Chucks and protective gear. "You held back?" he wondered.

Off came the knee pads, and then Kyle began to slowly work off Stan's left wrist guard. "You got worked up when I dislocated my index finger," Stan reminded him. "If getting you interested meant trying not to get hurt, I figured it was worth a shot."

"You shouldn't have been trying not to get hurt," Kyle scolded, pulling off Stan's left elbow pad. "You should've been trying to win."

"I was doing that, too."

"Well, maybe that prick noticed."


"Maybe that asshole Blocker guy there noticed you were dodging a lot or something, and that's what pissed him off," Kyle speculated. "Just... fuck, Stan, I don't know. I did like watching it. And obviously you like it, so just... same as anything, I guess, just be careful."


Stan switched the steak into his left hand to allow Kyle to remove the rest of his protective gear, and said, "Sorry."

"Hey," Kyle reconciled, "technically you didn't start the fight."

He was aching to discuss more, but his bath would overflow if he did not leave the room, so he stood and offered his boyfriend a hand up. Stan took it, and followed Kyle into the bathroom, where his nose—or possibly the thawing raw steak—spilled a few droplets of blood onto the black and white tiled floor.

Undressing for the bath felt therapeutic to Kyle, the misty air clinging to his bare skin when he tossed his clothes aside. Removing his shirt, however, he discovered a bleeding cut above his hip where he'd been feeling sore. "Motherfucker," he complained, touching two fingers to the caked, sticky blood.

"What?" Stan was at the sink, the steak on a towel as he washed his face and arms.

"When I got shoved, I guess," Kyle said, "into the bar. I got cut."

"What?" Leaving the sink running, Stan moved to turn Kyle around. Stan squinted at the cut and said, "For fuck's sake! I'm gonna kill that guy."

"Stan—Stan, it's fine. Save it for the next time you go up against these guys."


"It's... fine."

Smiling a little, Kyle rubbed his thumb under Stan's bruised eye, then caught his breath and sat down in the tub before his erection could change his mind. He turned off the water and choked back some rising bile as he watched the blood from the cut on his hip puff up like a cloud and stain a wisp of the water a faded red.

Turning his attention away from himself, while still attempting to relax into the bath, he watched Stan leave the bathroom. The steak thawed and bled onto the white towel on the sink counter. A moment later, Stan returned, having changed out his derby shirt for a looser blue one. He dragged the white chair from the hotel room's computer desk behind him, and propped it up at the edge of the tub, where Kyle was resting his head.

Stan reclaimed the steak and sat down in the chair, running his clean right hand through Kyle's thick red curls as he did. The room fell silent but for the lapping of the bath water against the sides of the tub, and remained that way until Stan said, "I can't believe you punched that guy."

"Hmm?" Kyle had lost himself in the ongoing massage Stan's fingers were offering to his scalp.

"You fucking knocked him right back. I haven't seen you fight back like that since we were kids."

Kyle shivered and sank down further into the bath. Nothing, he thought, was more stress-relieving than a warm bath. The shiver died down easily. "I guess everyone's got fight in them," he offered. "At least sometimes."

"Thanks for it, though. It was pretty fucking awesome."

"Just be careful if you're gonna keep this up, Stan."

Stan sighed, out of understanding rather than defeat. "Gotcha."

In another moment of silence, Kyle breathed in the steam from the bath, then glanced up at Stan over his shoulder and said, "You, too, by the way."

Stan removed the steak from his eye and glanced down with a confused, "What?"

"I love you, too. You said it earlier, I thought it was out of the blue, but—"

"Out of the blue? What?"

"You haven't said it before, at least not since we've started dating."


Stan replaced the steak. "Maybe I should have. I dunno. I guess, um—thanks for watching today, Kyle. Even if it meant we both got fucked up."

"As long as this is the worst it'll get with this sport."

"Might not be."

Kyle felt his stomach churn, but he forced himself to relax. "Worst so far, then," he conceded. "This is important to you, so it's important to me. Just be—"

"I know."

"Doesn't hurt to repeat it."

"Sure doesn't."

"And to be honest," Kyle admitted, glancing up at Stan again and giving him a wink, "I do sorta want to see Wendy and Nicole and them kick the shit out of the Boulder girls tomorrow."

Stan removed the steak from his face again, hesitated, and smiled, then rose, saying, "I'm gonna throw this thing away."

"Wash your face and come have a bath with me."

"I might."

When Stan had left to dispose of the spoiled steak, Kyle leaned forward to drain the tub. His hip was aching, but the bleeding had stopped. This was not exactly how he had pictured a partnership with Stan, constantly worrying about major and minor injuries, but there was something nice, he thought now, in knowing that he could see through it. Not bother much with imperfection. Cuts and bruises here and there weren't enough to spoil anything.

Stan returned, and splashed his face as Kyle began to fill the tub with clean water. "How's your eye?" Kyle asked.

"I can almost open it."

"Come here."

The water slowly rose. Stan removed his shirt and dried off his face with the inside, then slipped out of his grey derby shorts and boxers, exhilarated from the match despite the tousle that had come afterward, and bent to kiss Kyle's cheek. Then, slowly, he lowered himself into the porcelain tub.




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