Hello! Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. Writing this story was a blast as this was an idea I've had brewing for nearly five years. I couldn't fit it in with my old fandom, and suddenly realized South Park would be the best place for me finally let this idea come to life. I am so happy with the way it turned out and couldn't see it anywhere else. The best way to describe this is "Saw-esque" but... not. It'll make sense, trust me. Special thanks to fallingwthstyle who has been an amazing beta and friend- you really helped me and I don't think this would be nearly as well written if I hadn't had your assistance. And thank you again for reading this!
The lights flickered. The air was cold and reeked of mold and must. As he opened his eyes, an overwhelming shock of pain shot through his head and he reached to his temple. A throbbing sensation made him nauseous, and he groaned softly as his vision focused.
"What the fuck?"
To put it lightly, that was the least inappropriate way of questioning what kind of fresh hell he had been forced into; and this was definitely forced.
"Oh God... B-Butters?" The blonde heard his voice in between a weak moan of pain. He blinked and looked through the dim light as he heard a quiet voice call to him. He saw red curls and felt relief course through his blood, amidst the confusion and the disoriented sensation. Except, he recoiled as he tried to move.
"Kyle?" He called; his heart began hammering in his chest as he realized why he couldn't move. He turned his head and found his wrists and ankles shackled to the linoleum wall of this large, grungy, cold room. Everything was a tinge of grey and was extremely hazy. His body wracked with tremors from the cold temperature and he realized, due to the numbness in his limbs, he had probably been hanging for quite some time. "What's happening?"
"I... I don't know..." the twenty-year old auburn haired man replied. Butters whimpered and fought violently to free himself; after growing tired and breathless, he gave up and slumped forward in defeat. "We're not alone..."
Butters squeezed his eyes shut and opened them once more. It was extremely difficult to see more than a couple feet ahead of him due to the amount haze in the room. The only reason he saw Kyle was because of his flaming hair. From the corner of his eye, more red hair caught his vision. As he saw the person, he realized he couldn't tell who it was; but they were passed out.
"Can you move?" Butters asked; he heard a bitter laugh.
"No, can you?" He grimaced.
"I'm... chained to the wall." Kyle hissed an intake of breath and he heard sneakers squeak on the floor
as his dear friend tried to feel around, or escape.
"My arms are dislocated..."
"Mmm..." they heard another grunt from someone, and Butters peered at the person in the corner. It wasn't them; they weren't moving. "Wha... shit!"
"Stan?!" Kyle yelled as he heard the exclamation. Butters heard a few deep breaths of someone who was in immense pain.
"Y-yeah, I'm here... what the fuck kind of sick shit did Cartman get us into now?"
"It wasn't me, you fucking asshole."
A low voice was heard and Butters was surprised to know he was part of this... whatever this was. He wished the haze would go away so he could see his friends; it would make him feel a little more reassured. But right now he wanted answers; and to be freed.
"Shit, you're here too?!" Kyle cried to none other than Eric Cartman. He heard the brunette laugh bitterly against the harsh sound of chains rattling in the echoey room. The room they were trapped in sounded like a bathroom, honestly.
Butters' mind was fuzzy but he was trying to figure out who else could be in the room, and who could be their abductor. Kyle, Cartman, Stan, and he were all there, and as far as he knew they were the only ones; except the motionless person crumpled on the opposite wall. His heart raced and he looked to the corner once more.
"K-Kenny?" The person on the ground didn't move or reply, and he whimpered in fear.
However, a soft gasp filled the room, and everyone grew silent. Butters' head whipped to the direction the noise was heard, and he could faintly see a petite outline of someone. Someone else hanging... upside down.
Butters' heart dropped to the floor as he heard that voice. No, that wasn't Kenny. It was Karen. And from what he could tell, as he caught sight of her outline,she was naked. He looked away and felt red-hot anger burn in his blood.
"Karen?" Kyle asked softly. Soft sobs filled the room and Butters heard Stan swear under his breath.
"Karen, are you hurt?"
"W-what's going on?!" She cried, "my-my head! I'm upside down!"
Tears prickled Butters' eyes and he fought against his chains. If Kenny couldn't help her then he was second in command, and right now he was failing miserably. He had to figure out a way to break from his confines to save her. When his efforts turned out to be futile, however, he growled angrily and felt his limbs grow limp and heavy from their effort of keeping him in suspension.
"We're trying to figure out what's going on," Butters tried to assure her in a calm voice. If he couldn't physically help her, then he could emotionally. It was a start, at least. "Now, you need to stay calm. We're going to get out of this, okay?"
"Is anyone else noting a pattern here or is it just me?!" Cartman shouted. He was probably on the floor.
The fog in the room was starting to dissipate so he could see more than just the shape of the boisterous man. He was sitting on the ground like he had expected, as was Kyle. Stan was in suspension as well and looked as if he were being overcome by pain. Butters didn't want to look over at Karen; none of them wanted to.
"What are you talking about?" Kyle asked wearily; his voice sounded broken, as if he was trying his hardest not to cry.
"It's obvious now! At first it was just us four and it could've been anyone... but now we've got Karen involved... this is Kinny's doing!" Cartman cried angrily. To his surprise, he heard Karen scoff in the midst her tears.
"Right, so why would my brother hang me upside down, naked?" She asked; her tone of voice made her sound as if she were explaining something to a child in kindergarten. Cartman grumbled under his breath and Butters sighed heavily. As far as he knew Kenny wasn't in here, so perhaps Cartman was on to something. But that didn't explain why they were there, why they were in torturous positions, and who the person on the floor was.
"Okay, before we start accusing people..." Kyle began, "is anyone capable of walking? I-I'm handcuffed to the wall with dislocated shoulders..." Butters heard Stan's stifled shout of anger; he had been fairly quiet up until then.
"Uh... my feet are chained to the wall and I got a fuckin' collar or something. There's something in it too, it keeps poking my neck. So I'm out." Cartman explained in an unusually quiet voice.
"I'm kind of hanging..." Butters murmured, then lifted his arms to see if he could see a key of some sort. Unfortunately, there was none. It wouldn't be that easy.
"Me too," Stan mumbled with gritted teeth and knitted eyebrows, "I've got hooks in my back... fucking hurts..."
They could hear Karen whimper and no one dared to move their eyes in her direction. They all knew her predicament and would save her the humiliation of being naked against her will in front of her brother's closest friends. Not to mention she was upside down; he was sure she was light-headed.
"It hurts..." she sobbed, then rattling was heard as she fought against her chains.
"So that's... everyone then," Kyle said, Butters shook his head, and let his body relax; he'd grow tired faster if he kept himself in a "proper" position.
"No," he countered, his eyes tried to focus on the person in the corner. "There's someone else over there."
He heard chains clank and watched as Cartman moved as far as he could possibly reach. He sighed heavily then went back to sit down in silence. Everyone waited for him to speak. Finally, after what felt like hours, Kyle broke the sudden, tense quiet.
"Well?" He barked.
"Well what?" Butters felt himself smile; it was nice to hear such familiarity in a situation like this. It was proof that things were normal; though it was also proof this wasn't imaginary.
"Who is it?!" Kyle exclaimed with an exasperated tone, then cried out in pain as he moved his body. He heard Stan hiss in a breath.
Butters shivered and tried not to imagine how much pain his friends were in right now. He was going through enough on his own.
This was sick, whatever this was. What worried Butters was that Kenny wasn't there; he couldn't be the one at the head of this. Kenny was way too sane for that. Too kind. There was no way someone who was so loyal and caring would put his friends in this kind of situation. But a part of him grew anxious as he thought... maybe it was possible. No, no it couldn't be. Kenny loved them all; he wouldn't put them through this, especially his sister. Or... him; or so he hoped.
"It's your mom, Karen," Cartman said. Normally they would all think this was one of his "yo mama" jokes. However, his tone of voice was serious, and the expression on his face told them all he was serious. Another broken sob came from Karen; this time it wasn't for herself.
Butters' heart stammered as he realized this was looking more and more like Kenny was either behind this act, or the reason. And right now he wasn't sure which to believe.
He yelped as a ringing filled the room. It bounced off the walls and squealed in their ears. From the corner, Carol McCormick began to stir. The ringing turned to static, and a whirring noise was heard. They all stared as the ceiling opened; he gawked when he realized he was watching a television descend for them to all watch... or at least listen to.
"Welcome, my friends." The voice was definitely distorted, and Butters craned his neck to see the television. He realized there were screens on either side, so Karen and Cartman could watch as well. Butters couldn't recognize the person, or the thing, on the screen. The character reminded him of Jigsaw from the "Saw" franchise, but also like a Teletubby so he was having a difficult time processing what he was currently viewing. "The time has come for one... or all... of you to die."
"Son of a fucking bitch..." Cartman spat, "you're an asshole, Kinny!" His voice seemed to shake the walls. Karen was silent now as she stared at the screen.
"Kenny wouldn't do this..." she trailed off, then shook her head. "What... what is happening?" She whispered, mostly to herself. Butters watched her turn her attention to her mother, who was still unconscious.
"I have watched you all for years and it pains me to have you here. But you are the most important pieces to this puzzle. For without you, without love, someone very close to you would lack a purpose. He is your protector, your son, your best friend, and his purpose, his entire meaning to this life would vanish and leaving us a chance to take what is rightfully ours. Before we simply kill you off, that wouldn't be fair at all, we're going to give him a chance to fight for your life... and his. Each of you are a puzzle to this game. Each of you are a moment from death, and you are so oblivious. Eric- how does your neck feel?"
A dark, bitter laugh was heard from the television and Butters felt a chill run down his spine. What scared him the most was that the person speaking to them probably had heard him shout. Right now Butters was trying to figure out the person behind this character, this voice, and how they knew them. He wouldn't let himself break upon hearing his probable fate.
"The game is as simple as this. There are six tasks set up for your dear friend to complete. Each one will test his strength and ability, and if he fails one, then whoever he is fighting for, will die. If he loses any round, he dies, and whoever has not been saved dies as well. Any questions?"
Not a word was spoken as they absorbed what they had just learned. Butters felt tears burn his eyes and he clenched his teeth to fight off the anger rising in his body. Not only could any and all of them potentially die, but Kenny could as well. That meant he was here, he was somewhere close, and alone. Knowing he had to fight for his friends' and family's lives would be the fuel for him to finish each so called "level", but Butters also knew if he could simply sacrifice himself he would take that route as well.
None of this made sense. This was the stuff of horror films and right now he felt as if a huge prank was being pulled. Only the ache in his body felt too real, and seeing his friends chained with him, and hearing their moans of pain allowed him to realize that this was real. And it fucking sucked.
"Eric, there is a syringe in your collar. It is filled with poison that will kill you slowly if he is to lose your portion of the game. Kyle, you are on a trap door that will send you falling to a bed of nails. Stan, the hooks in your back will strip your skin and pierce through your skull as you slide off. Butters, there is a knife in the wall behind your back. Karen, you are to be drawn and quartered. And Carol is doused in kerosene. Don't believe me? Look around."
Butters slowly turned his body to turn around. Sure enough, he saw the handle of a knife within the wall. Kyle moved slightly and grimaced when he saw the tiles he sat on were separated from the others and moved slightly as he pushed on them . Stan just froze on the spot, and Cartman grumbled to himself as he felt the poke of a needle in his neck. Karen called out to her mom, who remained silent in her crumpled form.
"Cartman... can you reach Karen?" Stan asked in a strained voice. The chubby man huffed and tried to extend his reach to the eighteen year old, while he kept his eyes on the floor.
"She's too far away, man. I don't think Carol is chained, lucky fuckin' bitch."
"Hey!" Karen growled through her tears, "that's my mom."
"Right... right..." Cartman trailed off, "why'd you wanna know, hippie?"
"See if you could give her your jacket."
The sound of a gunshot caused them all to jump; Butters wasn't sure if it was from the television or the next room over. He believed it was from both.
Kyle looked to Butters with fear in his eyes. The entire room was tapped. Perhaps they would all just blow up in a fiery inferno. There was a moment's pause and Butters couldn't help but to glance at Karen. He saw her face was red from blood rush and her eyes were closed. He made sure not to look any farther. All he wanted to do was reassure the girl that everything would be okay; but he had a feeling it wouldn't.
But Kenny was the one to save them. Kenny was the one who had control. And he didn't feel safer than with Kenny; he trusted him with his life. In fact, they all trusted Kenny. His doubt was on himself, not his best friend, not his... he shook his head and rested his head against the cold, moist brick wall. He couldn't think about it... or anything else, for that matter.
"Death is all around you. I assure you that one of you will die tonight. With that in mind... let the game begin." Static blared on the television screen once more, before cutting to security camera footage. Butters squinted against the haze that was still in the room. His jaw dropped as he stared at the screen.
The dark blonde on the ground woke up with a terrible headache and face down in his own vomit. Twenty year-old Kenny McCormick groaned lowly, then slowly lifted his head from the pool of sick and tried his best not to heave once more.
"What the fuck?" He asked aloud as he looked around.
He had seen this place before, deep in the corners of his mind when sleep finally decided to grace him with its presence. The walls were wet and everything was tiled. The light flickered causing his surroundings to appear even more grimy and dingy than they already were. He could hear the humming from the wires, and with each pulse of energy the light flickered.
Kenny pinched himself. Nope; he was awake.
This is exactly what he had been afraid of. Recurring dreams didn't happen to him; in fact he didn't even dream. And now here he was, stuck in this fucked up version of what he realized had been more of a vision than a dream. If only he had realized this before, he could have avoided this mess.
He looked around the dark room and saw a letter on the ground. He slowly stood from his crouched position and reached for the old, wrinkled paper.
Welcome to the game. You have been selected as the one and only immortal cursed by Cthulhu to die, congratulations! At first I considered simply killing you, but realized that wouldn't do the trick. I decided to let you fight for your life; as well as the lives of your friends and family.
They are in the adjacent room to you watching you as you read this. Their lives depend on you.
Imagine that weight on your shoulders- but you already have it, don't you? Either way they will leave you, to find solace in the eternal rest you are ripped from nearly twice a week. Sucks, doesn't it?
But you would do anything to guarantee their safety and their lives. Every action you make has great cost. I give you the option to forfeit; but if you do they all die right now. I suspect you won't take that option; it's not your MO.
Instead, you will be taking this option. There are six trials you must complete, and each one will guarantee a loved one survives. If you fail before all six are completed, those who have not been saved will die. You would have failed them, and they simply couldn't go on living with the realization their unsung hero was really nothing more than, well, nobody. They won't be easy tasks, which is why I am providing you this very last moment to choose your fate; forfeit or fight?
You continued reading.
Congratulations, Kenneth McCormick.
To ease your fragile minds, the order is as followed: Kyle Broflovski, Carol McCormick, Eric Cartman, Stan Marsh, Karen McCormick, and Leopold Stotch.
Your life is now in your hands. As well as the lives of the people most dear to you. I wish you the best of luck.
Let the games begin!
Kenny glared up at the ceiling and shook his head as the gears in his mind began to run on overdrive. He was still shaking as realization fell upon him. He knew, even before he read the names, who would be in that next room. Yet unlike them, he had a good idea of who was behind this.
He slammed his fist on the wall and shouted in anger, before he punched the tile once more. His fist pulsed with a dull pain, and he loosened his grip. His knuckles were gnarled and his hand was already bruising; but that was the least of his worries right now.
"You wanna play?" He spat, looking up at the ceiling. "Then fine, we'll play. But just know this... I'm winning. And when I come out of this alive, someone's dying tonight, and I won't just have my blood on my hands, you sick fuck."
From the televisions, the four conscious captives watched and listened as Kenny screamed and punched at the wall. They could hear his thunderous voice echo from the walls right next to them. Butters swore the walls would crumble, he prayed his voice was strong enough alone to do so. But it was just wishful thinking.
A glimmer of hope hammered violently in Butters' heart. Kenny was there, with them. He was so close he swore he could feel him. If they could shout for him then maybe he could free them without this twisted game they were a part of; they could avoid the pain and impending death altogether.
"KENNY!" He screamed so loud his lungs ached. He punched and thrashed with blind fury to break from his shackles. His shout of determination immediately became a wail of agonizing pain. His back felt red hot as something razor sharp sliced deep into his back, digging deeper, drawing more and more blood with the slight movements. It felt as if he had been cut into two pieces.
The pain was so unbearable that the cry from his mouth was silent and he began to shake violently. Butters swore he blacked out for a moment.
"Butters?" Kyle asked worriedly as he watched the blonde fight against the knife. His body convulsed with wracks that looked similar to heavy sobs; their eyes were suddenly drawn below him.
Blood, dark and crimson streaked down his back, staining his clothes, and landed in rhythmic drops onto the tile floor. A pool had begun to form and he began to lose the color in his cheeks.
"B-Butters?" Stan asked weakly; the same puddle, only larger and darker, had formed beneath him as well. His blood had begun to trickle in a vein-like path toward Cartman and Kyle. "Bite your lip."
Butters weakly clamped down on his bottom lip. The taste of iron was strong and he gagged against the rush of blood in his mouth. Suddenly his mind was crippled with anxiety and fear; he was going to bleed out. He was going to die, anyway. As he looked at the hanging man across from him, he felt the same mournful pain in his heart. Because he knew if all of them were to die, Stan would be the first. He was growing paler by the second and his eyes were slowly losing focus. Even through his quiet torture, his gaze was intent on the redhead curled on the ground. Kyle's own tormented gaze locked on his; silent comfort.
"Mom?" Karen's voice cracked and broke the silence as she turned her attention to the crumpled form
in the corner. "Mommy..."
Butters found himself distracted from his pain as the auburn haired woman stirred. Her leg uncurled first, and in a moment she was sitting up with a terrified expression on her face.
All of them stared in surprise as they watched her stand and stumble to her daughter's side. She wasn't chained. She was free. As Butters watched her, he wondered what on Earth kind of pain she could be in; then he noticed.
He couldn't help himself. The contents of his stomach poured out of his mouth as he vomited on the floor, and on himself, as he caught sight of Carol McCormick. Her lips were stitched shut and turning blue from constriction. Something was protruding from her back; he didn't want to know what. He was already nauseous just staring at her bloody, sewn face.
They watched as she tried to speak, and touched her fingers to her mouth. Her scream was stifled by her sewn lips, and Karen's shoulders quaked as she looked at her mom. But Carol, after the initial shock, was well-composed; she shielded her daughter's naked form from their eyes, and she peered at them all with a curious, scared look. The hazel pools were expressive; just like Kenny's baby blues.
Butters knew exactly what that look meant.
So he explained to her what they knew so far. He found it difficult to explain why they were there, as they didn't even know, and told her that Kenny was the one to save them. He directed her to the screen, where she saw her son pacing with the letter in his hand, and tears of fury fell from her blazing eyes.
Carol quickly wiped her tears and walked toward Cartman. Initially, he backed away, scared by her appearance, but when she pointed to his abandoned jacket, he threw it to her. She caught it and put her hand to her lips, then spun her fingers lowered them; Butters recognized it as American sign Language; "thank you". All the fat man did was claw at the collar on his neck.
The jacket was large and long enough to cover Karen's upper thigh. The problem was she was hanging upside down, so the effort seemed pointless, as the garment immediately fell. However, Butters watched in awe as Carol lifted her daughter with ease and held her at a slightly awkward angle, comfort-wise. She was half laying, half upside-down; but at least it offered Karen a chance to lose the blood rush and to feel relief from hanging. She also didn't have to worry about being naked in front of them.
Butters felt disgusted in himself as his body screamed in envy; Stan's eyes were closed and he appeared to be breathing heavily. He was happy Karen was being helped; she was left the most vulnerable. But he just wanted that relief; his limbs were going numb.
"Kenny..." the eighteen year old girl began weakly, "Kenny won't let us die. He'll save us. This'll be over soon."
And a part of him believed her. A part of him praised her naivety and innocence. A part of him wished he had her optimism. And a part of him felt like laughing in her face because, although he didn't doubt Kenny would be able to save them, not all of them would come out of this alive. He knew that was certain.
All, except Stan who hung his head as his quiet heaves and retching echoed in the room, turned their attention to the television screens. Kenny had dropped the letter and walked forward as the door slowly opened on the screen.
A voice, from the television, from the next room, and from the intercom, laughed as a low beep was heard.
"Let the games begin."
Kenny had no clue what to expect but knew this was the challenge to save Kyle. He followed the arrows on the wall, which directed him where to go, and he found himself staring at a metal door.
Nervousness ebbed in his heart but he knew he had faced worse. The only problem was that if he died sometime during this night, whoever he wouldn't be able to save would die too. He was fine with the idea of his own death; he knew it was going to happen tonight. He just didn't want it to be now, or until everyone was safe, and he couldn't help but feel a little scared as he touched the metal handle.
Biting his lip, he pushed on the handle and blinked in awe as he entered the room.
It was a swimming pool.
He furrowed his eyebrows as he walked to the pool, and found a note by the ladder. The chlorine was so strong, even in the air, that it stung his eyes. He instinctively rubbed his face and squeezed his eyes shut for relief. Kenny grabbed the letter and read the note.
The key to Kyle's escape is at the bottom of the pool. Grab it and return to the surface and you win the first round. You cannot come back up for breath. Good luck.
Kenny grimaced and his azure eyes glanced at the center of the pool. He saw something green glint against the cement bottom and smirked. All he had to do was swim to the bottom, grab the key, and swim back up. He laughed in surprise and humor; if this was how his was going to go he would have them out in ten minutes.
Deep down, he knew it wouldn't be that easy. There had to be something in the water to distract him from the one goal.
Kenny stripped off his clothes except his boxers and folded the letter. Looking up to an obvious camera, he flipped it off and grinned. If they could see him he had to show them he was strong, he was determined, and he wasn't scared; although the fluttering heart in his chest told him otherwise.
Taking a deep breath, he jumped in the pool.
Kenny's eyes shot open and he let out a gurgled cry as he felt shards of glass, invisible to the eye, slice and gouge his skin. He choked as he swallowed chlorine and glass infested water, and forced it down his throat. His skin cried in pain against the frigid water as well as the shards piercing and cutting his faintly scarred flesh.
Shaking his head, he clenched his jaw and kicked his feet as he swam toward the bottom of the pool.
Every move caused more pain, more cuts, and more blood to flow from his veins and into the water. But he kicked as furiously as he could and reached for the small key as he approached the cement. He swore his eyes were on fire as he blinked.
His hand scraped against a layer of ice, which covered the cement. His lungs and heart seemed to seize at that. Suddenly, panic gripped tight to his body and he needed to breathe; needed to get out. He shook his head, kicked down on the ice and shot upward. He blindly reached for something, anything, and felt his hand squeeze a large chunk of glass. It was about the size of his hand, and the razor-sharp edge bit into his flesh. He froze and watched for a split second as his blood streamed from his body and into the clear water.
Kenny knew he could only go for another minute before he needed to surface. Dying from suffocation and drowning enough times allowed him to work on holding his breath, which he was thankful for in a sick way. His body was beginning to go numb as he pushed downward once more to the ice.
Kenny stabbed at the thick layer of ice with the glass in his hand and felt it shatter. He stared with wide eyes as the thick shard broke in half; one part landed on the floor, the other had lodged in his skin. Instead of giving up, Kenny continued stabbing and used his nails to dig at the barely marred ice. Blood coated the ice, causing the view of the key to be tarnished by the crimson. As he clawed, stabbed, hacked, and scratched, chunks of ice and glass mixed into one and by the end he wasn't sure how many times he had stabbed himself or if it was just ice getting into his skin.
Kenny's hand barely scraped against the blue cement and his numb, bloody fingertips yanked on the dog-tag chain that was connected to the key. He stuck the sharpest edge of the glass under the ice and sawed through the bottom, leaving enough space for the key to slide out.
Adrenaline and excitement flooded his veins and he couldn't help but laugh. Water flooded his mouth and lungs. He quickly shut his mouth as he fought off the urge to cough. Kenny's feet kicked off of the bottom once more, weaker this time, and he pushed himself up to the surface. The light reflected off the water, and with every second it grew warmer and warmer.
His hand ran into ice as he touched the surface, and his eyes widened with terrified realization; the water had frozen on the surface. Putting the key and chain in his mouth so he wouldn't drop it, Kenny punched and clawed at the ice. His heart pounded in time to his movements, and he felt his body grow tired... warm....
Kenny blinked and his feet stopped kicking. He could sink, he could die... his lungs were beginning to flood and he would come back in a few hours. Good as new. He closed his eyes and stopped punching.
His tongue tasted metal. Copper. There was a key in his mouth. Kyle's key. He was the only way his friends would stay alive. If he gave up and allowed himself to die then they would too. And unlike him, their stop was a one way trip; he couldn't let that happen. Not now.
With as much strength as he could muster, Kenny kicked and pushed himself upward to the surface with hopefully enough speed to crack the ice. He thrust his fist in the air and closed his eyes as he braced himself in preparation for slamming into the ice...
The five of them watched in silence as Kenny disappeared under the water. Kyle stiffened and Stan looked away as they watched the clear liquid become stained with red. That was his blood.
Butters felt his stomach flip once again and he turned his head as he threw up bile and water. His body trembled as he watched the scarlet color taint the water. Kenny was bleeding for them. Fighting for them.
"Shit..." Cartman trailed off, "this... this fucked uppery is actually happening, isn't? He's like... down the hall, probably one room over, and he can't fuckin' hear us."
"That's the whole point of being abducted, dumbass," Kyle barked in response, his eyes glued to the television. But the redhead turned away after what felt like too long; he couldn't watch anymore. If
Kenny failed... he glanced down, then at his friends and saw their own vulnerabilities. Someone was going to die.
He had to trust Kenny; he did trust him. With his life. But now everything was literal and suddenly he felt he had overestimated Kenny's ability. Now that his life was on the line, as well as everyone they all cared about... was it worth it?
Yes, he decided as he turned back to the screen and saw no movement in the water. It had to be worth it, because they were worth it in Kenny's eyes. He would die for them. They weren't the only ones with their lives on the line.
Kyle knew that if he were in Kenny's situation he wouldn't be able to do one task, let alone six. The pressure and knowing he was the one to save the people he was closest to would be too much. But not for Kenny... because that's how he lived each and every day.
There was too much red in the water for any of them to feel comfortable. His eyes peered closer and his stomach churned with nausea as he saw Kenny; he was stuck under the water. It had turned to ice; there was no way he could escape that on his own.
"Oh my God," Stan gasped, then turned to look up at his chains. He turned back to the screen as they all watched Kenny realize he was trapped. "That's cheating."
"Are there even rules?" Cartman asked to no one in particular.
Karen and Carol were watching in silence. They were both well aware of what was at stake, but they also knew more about Kenny than anyone else in this room. Daughter glanced to mother, who gave a conspicuous nod and ran her hand through the brunette tendrils. If Kenny didn't make it, then Carol knew she would die trying to save Karen. She couldn't stand the thought of both of her children dying.
Butters was overcome by fear and anxiety as he watched Kenny's figure descend into the water. He couldn't give up. That wasn't Kenny; he wouldn't just give up without a fight. But as he looked at the water he realized he had fought. There was enough blood to tell it had been brutal on him.
Butters yelped as he saw Kenny's fist rise from the ice. Shards flew in every which way and he wasn't the only one who cheered when seeing the beginning to his first victory. He still had a long way to go, but suddenly the room was full of silent hope once again.
"He's gonna do it..." Stan murmured weakly, looking as if he were going to lose consciousness, "h-he's gonna make it..."
This is for Kyle, Kenny thought as he pushed his face against the ice and opened his mouth. There was enough space to breathe from his mouth. The air was humid and warm and a part of him felt like crying.
But he still had a lot of work to do, to save Kyle. To save everyone. He lowered himself back down and searched through the freezing water for a piece of glass big enough to slice through the ice.
Unfortunately, the pieces of glass surrounding him were simply tiny shards and chunks rather than big enough pieces to actually inflict any damage, so he punched at the ice surrounding him as violently and forcefully as he could.
His fingers were broken, he was fairly sure, but that didn't matter. What mattered was he was so close to saving Kyle, so close to making it, that he could feel it burn in his blood. He gritted his teeth and gripped the ice with his numb, bloody fingernails, and swung his bottom half to kick at the ice.
As his feet stomped against the bottom of the ice, he heard a large crack, and smirked. He extended his curl-up like position, then repeated the action. A small chunk of ice fell into his hand and, blindly reaching, tossed it above the frozen pool. He then forced himself to examine the hole he had managed to make. His furious hacking paid off; there was barely enough room for him to lift himself to the surface.
Digging his nails into the ice, he pulled himself up and gasped as his head surfaced. He closed his eyes as searing pain shot through his back and stomach caused by the sharp ice scratching his skin. He was bleeding and wet enough that his body was slippery, which helped to push him out of the trap. As soon as his legs were free, he laid on his back, and laughed as he looked up at the camera.
"I MADE IT!" He screamed; his voice ricocheted off the walls and bounced back to him. It allowed him that spark of hope and determination he thought he lost. His entire body trembled violently from the cold and he slowly pulled himself to the ladder, blood smearing as he crawled. He gripped the metal ladder with numb, purple fingers, and hoisted himself up. He spit out the chain and key, then held it up triumphantly. "KYLE!" He shouted, jumping in the air. "KYLE YOU'RE SAFE!"
All eyes in the room turned to the redhead, who gaped as he saw the raw and bloody version of one of his dearest friends stand happily with a green key in hand, declaring that his life had been spared.
Tears streamed down his face and his body wracked with sobs. Stan was crying too, and Cartman looked ready to kill him; but deep down they all knew he was a little happy that the person he loved to torment the most would be alive to take his bull shit.
A loud click was heard and Kyle braced himself to fall. However, his chains were broken, and his ankles were freed. His arms were still handcuffed, but he could walk now. He was mostly free.
"S-Stan..." he whimpered, running on shaky legs to his best friend and secret lover. Stan looked at him with tired eyes and shook his head as sweat and tears fell from his face.
"Ky..." he whispered, smiling down at him with a weak expression on his face. "You're alive." The auburn-haired boy nodded and laughed through his tears as he pushed himself against the wall; his shoulders were high enough to reach Stan's hanging legs. "N-no, you're hurt."
"Fuck that!" Kyle cried, "sit on me." Stan struggled to lift his weak limbs. Instead, Kyle bent his knees and put them over his battered shoulders. His head rested at Stan's crotch, and he felt Stan shake as he sobbed with relief. His hands rested on his partner's knees, and he joined him in crying.
Kyle had been saved. The first round was over. They looked to the screen and saw Kenny's bloody form holding the key before looping the chain around his neck. He wore it proud and whooped loudly on screen.
"He saved me..." Kyle gasped, ashamed that he had ever doubted Kenny. Because he knew he loved them enough to bleed and fight for them. He loved them all enough to die to make sure they were all alive and well. "He saved me..."
"Guys! Karen, Mom!" Kenny shouted, hoping they could at least hear him him and not the mastermind behind all of this. He tried to get as close to camera as he could, yet it was so far away. "You're going to be okay, I promise!"
Butters let out a mournful and hopeful wail as he looked at the bloody version of the young man he was so proud to claim as his best friend. Because he would promise that. He would ensure they would all live, even if it cost him his life. Because that was Kenny.
Selfless. Determined. Strong. Loving. Loyal.
He could see it in his eyes, though he was far from the camera. He could see the sheer will power pouring from his body like the blood that soaked him and the water that wracked cold through his body.
He had never looked more proud of himself than he did at that moment.
Kenny quickly slipped into his jeans and t-shirt. The clothes caused his skin to sting and the cloth stuck to him, but he could ignore it. What was a little pain to suffer through, when he had just saved one of his best friends' lives? He held up three fingers to the camera, in hopes they could see him; his thumb, index finger, and pinky were raised to say "I love you" before he ran with new ambition and adrenaline to his next task.
That had been tough; he had underestimated the person behind this. But if he could survive near-drowning, then he could handle whatever else was thrown at him.
His body wracked with tremors from the cold as he ran, but he was used to that feeling. He kept his eyes on the arrows, directing him down the dim corridor. The air around him was damp and cool, and he couldn't help but wonder where they were. Honestly it reminded him of a school basement after hours, only no classrooms and a lot more frightening. A lot more like the seventh layer of hell.
The arrows pointed upward to a door at the end of the looming corridor. Kenny, instead of hesitating, pushed open the door. This time he was saving his mom. He didn't know what to expect yet felt it would be something completely different from Kyle's. In fact, he had a feeling they were specifically designed for their relationship in mind, or at least the person he was saving.
Kyle was afraid of drowning.
Now, what was his mother afraid of?
He took a step into the room and his heart stopped as his eyes caught sight of something he had seen only in the horror movies when someone was on the brink of losing their sanity. With shaking hands, Kenny picked up the note and read it over and over again, praying that the four worded sentence didn't mean what it said.
X Marks the Spot.
Kenny looked up slowly, with agony evident in his eyes, and he shook his head with a slightly trembling lip.
His mother was afraid of his father.
Blue eyes gazed at the crumpled body before him, with light brown hair and track marks and bruises on his veiny arms. The man before him was nude, save underwear and a red cap with the word "Scotch" written on the top. Kenny shook his head and took a step back.
"I-I..." he trailed off, staring at his father's stomach, slightly bloated from years of drinking, although skinny due to lack of food and drug usage. A large black X was painted from his ribs to his hips, and a shard of glass, much like from the pool, lay beside him.
His mother's key was in his father's stomach.
Karen closed her eyes and burrowed her head in her mother's shoulder as she wept softly. Carol held her close and felt tears burn her eyes as she looked at the television screen. Everything was crystal clear and she looked at the form of her husband, still and useless as usual, at the verge of losing his life to save her and her children; if he wasn't already dead. No matter how much she hated him, she loved him at one point. Seeing him like this, and knowing what was about to happen to her babies' father broke her heart as he had done countless times before. Only this was real; this was a permanent break for the loss her children would be forced to endure.
What struck her as odd was letting go that easily and becoming a pawn in this game wasn't his style. He wouldn't be so willing to give up. He'd fight to the death and the swollen skin under her right eye was proof of that. She tightened her hold on her daughter and kissed her forehead.
"It's okay, baby girl," she wanted to say, tried to say, but her lips were sewn and her voice just couldn't bear to make a sound in the tense air.
"W-what..." Kyle trailed off, arms aching from Stan's body resting against his dislocated shoulders. But it was relief for Stan, who he think had fallen asleep. "What does Kenny have to do?" He couldn't help but ask, even though he knew the answer.
"Have you never seen "Saw"?" Cartman barked with a tone of disgust as he couldn't tear his eyes from the screen. "He has to get the key from inside of Stuart."
Butters swore his heart stopped at that. He watched Kenny pace and shake his head, then step toward his father and take a step back. He was battling this, he was unsure of himself.
For years his father put him and his family through hell when he was too drunk or high. For years Butters nursed Kenny's wounds in the middle of the night from a fight gone too far. But this was his father, and killing someone to save someone else, no matter how hateful, just wasn't right. Especially when they are of the same flesh and blood.
Butters knew what Kenny was dealing with right now; loss. Either way, Kenny was going to lose someone. Either way he would have blood on his hands. And Butters wasn't sure if Kenny could live with that.
"Well, at least we know two of the possibly saved," Cartman grumbled, looking at the two female McCormicks who were trying to make each other feel comforted, though their affection was cold and their eyes were vacant as they looked at the television. They watched their son, their brother, their unsung hero fight with himself as he pulled at his hair and yelled incoherently to no one in particular.
Kenny felt the nausea in his stomach claw at his insides as he picked up the broken glass. It stung in the still-bleeding wound from his first task, and he knelt on the ground in front of his father.
Stuart looked dead. And as he touched his arm, searching for a pulse, he certainly felt dead. This wouldn't be as difficult then; the shock of his dad actually being dead hadn't settled in, and he knew it wouldn't until his friends and family were safe.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, then raised his arm and stabbed his father's stomach, right in the center of the painted X.
A blood-curdling scream that stilled his heart echoed through the small room. Kenny dropped the glass as he began to slit the skin; it clattered to the ground with a dissonant, sparkling ring. The blonde fell on his hands and covered his mouth, his head shaking violently back and forth, as Stuart bolted up and stared at him with manic eyes.
He was alive.
Kenny let out a shuddering gasp and covered his ears as he heard his dad's screams and shouts. This was his fault. He couldn't do this. He rocked back and forth in a curled position, much as he had done as a child, and continued to shake his head.
Finally, he looked up and at the wound he had made. He watched his dad's eyes fade in and out of focus. Stuart was definitely on something, although he wasn't sure what exactly, and he struggled to speak. In fact, Kenny couldn't understand a word that fell from his shaking lips as he clutched the gouge and coated his trembling hand with blood that looked too much like wet paint.
Stuart was going to bleed out, anyway. Stuart was going to die, because of him, and he could see in his fading eyes that he was suffering.
"D-dad..." Kenny whimpered, his voice thick from the knot in his throat. He reached for the piece of glass and felt empty as he slowly knelt before his father, who stared at him with a knowing expression.
"Dad, I'm sorry."
"I'm so sorry..."
He closed his eyes as he swiped the glass across his father's throat. He heard the faint splatter of blood on the pavement and the sound of gurgling and choking as Stuart fought for air, sank into relief as his pain was finally over.
Kenny let out a sob and bowed his head as he held his father in his arms. All of those years of fighting and drugs and screaming and drunken beatings and false hope that his father really cared, false love that his father wasn't afraid of him and all that he was were laid to rest. Now he lay in his arms, coating them with the crimson of his guilt and he squeezed his eye shut. Tears fell with the blood, washing away the mess he created, and he took his father's cap from his head, then put it on his own.
He wasn't worthy of such a crown.
But his father was dead and his mother was depending on him to save her. He couldn't bear to lose both of his parents, his sister, his best friends and... he shook his head. Wiping his eyes, which smeared blood on his face, he held the stained glass in his hand and bit his lip.
With every saw and every cut he felt his body shake. His father's blood coated his arms, face, clothes and his hair as he opened him in such a primal way. Kenny fought back the urge to vomit as he plunged his hand inside his father's stomach, searching, touching organs and tissue, bones and the underside of his flesh. It felt like warm velvet on the inside.
"I HATE YOU!" He screamed in agony as he dug his hands and nails into whatever he could feel and find. His nails scraped painfully against bone and he flinched at the contact.
Under the tube of his intestines he felt something unnatural, metal beads, and his pushed his hand deeper, trying to grasp the chain with slippery fingers. His jagged nails finally caught it, and in an adrenaline haze, yanked it out and fell on his back as he cried openly.
In his hand was a bright red key. He held it up with pride and shame and screamed out of pure hate, pure disgust, as he began to come to terms with what he was going through, what he was doing, who he was doing it for, and what he had done.
He killed his father. What else would he have to do? The idea gripped him like the hands of death itself, but for now he was happy he had saved his mother.
Everyone in the room had turned their eyes. Carol and Karen were crying with each other, out of grief for their unloving husband and father, and for what Kenny was willing to do to save them all.
Kyle felt sick as he leaned against the wall, propping up a quickly fading Stan who had fallen asleep once again, after they watched Stuart McCormick sit up and shout at his son. He held tighter to his best friend and couldn't fight off that hollow feeling in his stomach and heart as he realized how much Kenny had to lose; everything and everyone that gave him the will to live.
Cartman just stared in indifference. He didn't think he could possibly feel anything anymore. Once they were free from this twisted mind-fuck, once he was on his own and years ahead realized to what extent his closest friend had gone through to save their lives... he would feel it. Something. He just didn't know what.
Butters looked at the screen with hollow eyes as he watched Kenny. His hand shook violently, coated with blood and stomach acid and ripped flesh, as he held up the red key.
"M-mom," Kenny gasped as he stood on shaky legs and walked toward the camera, still holding up the key for everyone to see. "Ma, you're safe."
Karen sobbed loudly, in happiness and in terror. If that was their mother's trial... what would Kenny have to do to save her?
Carol shook her head and pressed her temple against her daughter's. She held the small girl close and wouldn't let go. If she could trade, be assured her daughter would live, she would in a heartbeat. But she couldn't even speak. And she had a twisted version of faith in her heart as she looked at her son, covered in cuts and blood of two people as he blinked with bleeding eyes.
She could see it in the glowing blue. He had snapped. He was completely unhinged, and completely broken.
That meant he was stronger than ever. With his emotions aside, with all thoughts except for the task at hand forgotten, he would make it through until the very last one. But she knew her son would never be the same.
He was gone.
Kenny bowed his head and slipped the bloody chain around his neck. The red and green keys clanked together as he walked away from the camera and to the door. He slipped the piece of glass in the waistband of his jeans in case he needed it again. He felt it stab into his hip; a reminder he was alive and what he was fighting for.
The arrows stopped at a door farther down the hall. There was a piece of paper nailed to the wall and he yanked it free, smearing his blood on the paper in the process.
"The key is at the beginning of the end." was all that the note said. Kenny furrowed his eyebrows and grabbed the doorknob yet quickly pulled his hand back in shock. His skin seemed to pulse from the burn of the white-hot door knob and he bit his lip.
The room was an inferno.
Kenny actually heard his skin sizzle as he opened the door. A gust of hot air rushed out and flames licked at the sides, curling around him as if they were inviting him inside the blaze. He took a deep breath and closed the door behind him.
This was fitting for Cartman, he thought as he slowly stepped forward. Considering how anti-Semitic he was, a room that could burn him alive seemed to be a sort of tribute to his strong beliefs. He laughed, because it was the only thing he could do, and then he choked on the smoke that filled the room and his lungs. Kenny resorted to holding his breath as long as he could.
His shoes began to melt and burn, so he kicked them off, as well as his socks. He was left to walk on the floor; he bit his lip as he felt his skin begin to blister. In his mind he was wax and his body was slowly melting in a puddle of nothing that would be evaporated. The smoke stung his eyes, making the effects of the chlorine that much worse.
Kenny couldn't see the source of the fire. If he found that, he'd find the key. But everything was red and orange and the smoke created a haze. The flames licked against his leg and he cried out as his back was singed.
This seemed absolutely futile. He couldn't see anything and if he didn't die from suffocation he would die from the burns. Kenny glanced down at his arm and watched his skin bubble and blister, turning black and red as the flesh burned away, exposing the blood and tissue.
He didn't have much time. His lungs were aching for air and his mind was starting to swim with that woozy feeling he always felt before he died. Kenny gave a violent shake of his head and looked up at the ceiling. If he were Cartman, where would he start the flame?
"This is me," the fat man announced as he stared at the inferno on the television. He swore he could feel the heat and he watched in distaste as Kenny's body burned.
"How do you know?" Stan managed a whisper before groaning in pain and resting his head on the wall. Butters kept fading in and out of consciousness from exhaustion and loss of blood. "Ky..." he whispered. The auburn-haired young man looked up at his dearest friend, and tilted his head. "Go help Butters."
"I'm f-fine..." he trailed off weakly before locking his eyes on the screen.
"I know because it's like a... gas chamber crematorium sick combo." Kyle looked at the brunette on the floor, whose neck was raw from scratching, and shook his head. "You can see the opening for the casket... whatever Kinny needs is in there."
Of course he would know that. Of course this would be the task for his safety. At least he wouldn't have to worry anymore.
Butters blinked lamely as he watched Kenny dive into the flames, as if he had found something. He hoped he did; he had been in there too long. Any longer and he'd probably end up dying in there and he couldn't stand to see that.
A loud wail was heard as Kyle slowly moved from beneath Stan. It chilled them to the bone as his cries echoed through the room. A rush of blood practically poured from the raven's back, splattering like spilled paint and Butters felt his stomach flip; this time he swallowed back the vomit.
Kyle was crying as he walked toward Butters; he hid it well, but he could see the tears shining in his eyes. Butters looked to his companion and saw Stan's head was slumped forward; he wondered if he had passed out from the pain.
"You don't have to," Butters whispered, Kyle shook his head and grunted in pain as he fit himself beneath Butters. The bright blonde nearly wept in relief. His legs draped over Kyle's shoulders and he was at a height tall enough so his arms weren't being pulled. He still couldn't feel them yet this was a start.
He thrust his head back and laughed woefully. Kyle glanced up at him before chuckling weakly. Their quiet laughter gradually changed to manic hysteria as their bodies shook from shock and amusement.
They laughed at the fact that they were all in a torture room, watching one of their dearest friends be go through physical, mental, and emotional trauma for them. But in reality this was their breaking point; they were open and raw. Now they were just laughing to hear something better than agony.
Cartman watched them with wide eyes and felt a chill run down his spine. This was the point in the horror movies that the ones who lose it first die. Or they kill. Butters and Kyle had clearly lost it and Stan was on the verge of death. No one was making it out of this alive, mentally and perhaps even physically. He growled darkly and slammed his fist against the wall.
"It's okay," he heard a gentle voice, and saw Karen looking at him with watery eyes. He laughed darkly and she shook her head. "I promise you... we're all going to be okay. Kenny will save us."
Her belief was enough for that hopeless room to have a little light. Yet it didn't touch his cynical heart and he just shook his head as he watched the man he claimed as his best friend fight fire with fire.
Kenny couldn't feel half of his face and his feet were about as black and red as feet could get. In fact, half of the feeling in his body had disappeared, which he considered more of a good thing, honestly.
Because whatever happened next he wouldn't be able to feel. It gave him a slight advantage, even though the cost was serious.
Kenny could die all he wanted as soon as everyone else was safe. He'd wake up brand new, and no one would remember a thing. But did he want them to forget? Did he want to go back to being the one in the sidelines? A part of him said no, they had to remember, but a bigger part of him knew this was the stuff nightmares were made of. If they lived with these memories of whatever was happening to them, and him, then they would live with the results for the rest of their life. He couldn't do that to them.
Sometimes there was a beauty in forgetting. Sometimes it was just easier.
He stared at the chamber in front of him and felt his stomach sink. If the key was anywhere, it was in the retort. Kenny, against better judgment, sighed heavily and opened the door. He gasped as heat expelled from the chamber and he closed his eyes against the warmth.
There was no way he could do this and survive.
But he had to try; for Cartman, and for his sister, Stan, and Butters, who were depending on him. He
prayed they couldn't see this; he didn't want them to witness his failure. And that sinking realization, that disappointment, would be the last thing they felt before they died.
He couldn't do that to them.
Kenny covered his mouth as he leaped up into the open door of the chamber and pushed himself inside. His skin sizzled and he screamed into his hand as the hot air alone was enough to scald him. He felt around with closed eyes and shouted as he heard the flames around him; it was now too hot to feel their scalding licks.
He should have died by now. He opened his eyes and coughed in the sweltering air; he should have been roasted by now, after all he knew what it was like to be cremated. Perhaps the temperature wasn't high enough; a part of him rejoiced at that thought.
Kenny found the key at the end of the retort and pulled it close. It was hot, he could feel it burn, but not enough to matter. He was already a walking third degree burn, and worse, as it was. After looping it over his neck, burning a circle on his skin, he crawled as fast as he could to the opened door. As he approached, he watched in horror as it snapped shut.
At once, a jet-stream of fire filled the chamber and he crawled as fast and as humanly as possible. He smacked on the door, pushing and kicking and punching to open it; he had the key. He made it. This wasn't fair.
As he blinked, he saw a keyhole and he shook his head. That wasn't normal. With trembling limbs, he pulled the chain off of his neck and fumbled with the key. It wouldn't fit. He flipped it upside down and jammed it in, then pulled his hand away when the key became too hot.
The air was on fire. He couldn't breathe and his body was a mess of burns, blood, charred flesh, and tissue. All he knew was he couldn't give up now; not when he was so close. He just had to open the door, run through the fire, and get out. That seemed easy enough.
Turning the key, he pushed and the chamber door opened. He quickly crawled out and laughed with relief; the air in here was full of smoke and fire but to him it felt cool and fresh. He almost felt like he could breathe. Kenny was sure a part of him was just in shock and he was surviving off of pure energy; but if he thought about it he knew it would cause the power within him to dwindle and die.
His feet faltered and he fell several times as he stumbled to the door. The flames bit at his skin and he couldn't help but whoop in determination as he waved his arms to push them away, not that it worked.
He slammed into the door and with a weak hand turned the knob.
He fell in a crumpled heap on the floor. The tile felt like ice on his skin; he let out an agonizing wail from the physical shock of the difference in temperature. The door screamed shut behind him. Kenny closed his eyes as his body continue to sizzle in the cool air. He could relax for a few minutes; he had the key. He made it out alive. Cartman was safe.
"Hey!" He tried to shout, but his voice was hoarse and weak from the smoke. He coughed violently and waved at the camera before feebly holding up the key. "Hey, you fat fuck!" Kenny exclaimed, laughing now as he curled up on the floor. "BFFs forever, right?"
Cartman turned his head and threw up as he caught sight of who he did claim as his best friend, and had since they were eight years old. The twenty-year-old on the screen wasn't Kenny, but a charred and raw version of him. He closed his eyes and bit his lip as a violent shudder of disgust wracked through his shoulders and body.
He shook his head and spit out the acrid taste of vomit before looking back at the screen. He didn't know what happened in there but he felt relieved when he realized Kenny was alive. And so was he.
The sound of a click was heard and the collar fell from his neck. A puncture wound bled softly from the tip of the needle pricking into his skin. Cartman shook his head as he rubbed his sore flesh.
"God fucking dammit," he couldn't help but laugh. He got the crazy bite, too. Being driven to that point made him more aware; his nerves were so raw he felt as if he were on overdrive. His laugh filled the room and even Kyle couldn't help but smile as he realized his best frienemy was alive. And Kenny had made it through the third task.
Three more to go. He still hadn't moved from the floor and Butters watched with worry written all over his face as he prayed for Kenny to stand. He couldn't be dead. He couldn't die.
"G-g-go to Stan," Butters murmured to Kyle; they both looked at the stocky man hanging deadweight from the hooks in his back. He had fallen asleep shortly after Kenny entered the inferno and still hadn't woken.
The bright blonde grunted in pain as Kyle carefully pulled himself away from him. The same knotting ache throbbed in his arms and he bit his lip to fight against it. Stan moaned softly as Kyle lifted him effortlessly on his shoulders and kept a protective hold around his legs. Stan's blood dripped on his shirt and he tried to avoid stepping in the puddle, but his efforts were pointless.
"Stan?" He asked quietly, nudging him. He heard a quiet whimper in response. "Stay awake, okay? This is halfway over... you're gonna be okay." Stan let out a quiet hum and opened his mouth to try to speak but his words were unintelligible. "What?"
"...I always wanted to die. But now that... that I'm close, I don't want to, Ky."
"I won't let you die, okay? Just stay awake, we're almost done," Kyle reassured him gently as Stan let out a woeful moan.
Kyle jumped in surprise when Carol McCormick walked up to them. Once more, they kept their eyes away from Karen, who had been supported by her mother all this time. Carol ripped the bottom of her shirt, pointed to Stan, then Kyle and moved her hands, beckoning him forward. Kyle looked confused and his eyes widened as she ripped Stan's t-shirt as well.
He could smell the kerosene on her. It was strong and made his head swim. The thought of her burning reminded him of Kenny, and he glanced to the screen as she tore the bottom of Stan's shirt, exposing his midriff. Now the smell of kerosene mixed with blood.
Kyle watched as Kenny remained on the ground, seared and bleeding. Yet they could
hear him laughing. Laughing was the way he coped. But he sounded crazy and it chilled him to the bone; just looking at him did, really. He didn't know how he could carry on; if it had been him he would be dead by now.
"Kyle, help my mom," Karen murmured quietly, voice strained. He looked back and saw the auburn-haired woman wiping the blood with the cloth from her shirt. Stan was whimpering softly at every slight touch; there wasn't much she could do as the hooks dug deep in his back and poked out of his skin, stretching it along the rounded skewer. The metal had slid up slightly from the middle of his back, however, and she could work on stopping the bleeding from the gashes.
She made a cut-throat motion, then pointed to Stan. Kyle furrowed his eyebrows but kind of understood what she was trying to say.
"Stan, this is going to hurt a little," he murmured, Carol gave him a deadpan look; it would be more than "a little painful" and they both knew it. But compared to the pain Stan was in now it could be alleviate some of the ache.
Carol dug in her pocket and pulled out a small flask of alcohol. Without a second thought, she opened it and poured it on the clean half of her shirt, then pressed the soaked cloth to the cut. Stan yelled at the sudden burn, and Kyle rubbed his leg to distract him. She then took it off, flipped it to the other side, and drenched it with the rest of the alcohol, and repeated her actions with the cut on the right.
With an easy yank Stan's shirt split, turning into one long strip of cloth. She stood on tip toes, barely fitting behind the stocky raven-haired man, who was biting hard on his lip. Carol pressed the fabric onto the wounds, then held them tight as she wrapped it around him and tied it tight in the front.
The pressure would hopefully stop the bleeding and make him feel a little better. Kyle smiled at her in thanks. She gave an understanding nod as she squeezed his shoulder affectionately before walking back to her daughter.
"Mom..." Karen murmured, hoisting herself up the best she could into a crunch position to hold up the jacket. Carol ripped her shirt, as she had done Stan's, then held Cartman's jacket tightly around her daughter's legs. She wrapped the cloth tight so it wouldn't fall, and tied it around each of her legs like awkward makeshift pants. "Mom, can you... can you go make sure Butters is okay?" She asked, glancing at the blonde who was staring at the screen before him as he fought to ignore the throbbing in his back.
Butters glanced with weary eyes at the woman he considered to be more of a mother than his own. He felt her cool hand against his back and he winced. Carol gave a reassuring nod and hoped he understood what she meant; the slice in his back had scabbed over but the flesh surrounding it was inflamed. He whimpered as she wrapped her arms around him in a hug, then tapped his legs.
"I'm okay, Carol," he mumbled sleepily. Her hazel eyes gave him a stern look before they turned to the television. If she couldn't help his son then she wanted to help the person he was closest to. He sighed heavily and felt her lift him as if he were weightless. The pull on his arms was replaced with numbness as she hoisted him on her shoulders. He couldn't help but laugh softly as his discomfort temporarily subsided.
After all, who was he to complain when all he had to do was look at the screen and thank his lucky stars he wasn't the one who had been nearly incinerated?
Kenny groped for something to hold on to with trembling hands. He hoisted himself up by leaning against the wall as he stood on raw and trembling legs. Three keys jingled around his neck and he coughed softly before looking up with foggy vision at the arrow in front of him. It pointed down the hall, and with shell-shocked legs he made his way down the corridor; he used the wall for support every struggling step of the way.
His mind was a fog; all emotions and thoughts were null, which left him numb and void. The desire to finish saving his friends outweighed his need for survival. Every step and every breath weighed heavy on his battered body and soul. His footfalls were uneven as he stumbled down the hallway, feeling and tripping in the darkness that seemed to envelop him like an old friend. It was comforting, and he could easily let himself slip away into the cool embrace.
But he stopped walking when the next arrow pointed upward instead of forward; he was at the fourth task to complete. He could do this... couldn't he? This was for Stan, and that was all he would allow himself to think as he reached for the note outside of the door and quickly scanned it.
There was no riddle this time; the words merely told him to "look at the collars". This task was easy to figure out, and as he opened the door he knew that assumption was correct. Only he hadn't expected to be immediately pummeled to the ground by two large dogs he swore were going to tear him in two.
Stan was still fairly active with animal rights. His views on animal cruelty were different than anyone on either side, but they all knew he deeply cared for animals. Yet he knew as he felt their claws dig and their teeth ravage and pull at his skin that these dogs would be shot down in less than a second if Stan had any say so.
Kenny growled as he pushed one of the large dogs, this one appeared to be a Rottweiler, off of him and clocked its snout. A loud yelp and snarl was heard and he cried out as its sharp teeth burrowed deeper into his arm. More dogs growled from behind the cage in the center of the room. Kenny heaved his body forward, pinning down the large brindle-coated dog who had dug its teeth in his shoulder and started to shake its head. The dog snapped its jowls and lunged for his face; teeth connected with his skin and he felt a tooth break off into his flesh.
With adrenaline flooding his veins, Kenny forced his weight down on the dog, then held its face to the ground. A pained yelp sounded as his teeth clamped down hard on the ear, quickly followed by a warning growl. In response, his teeth sunk even farther as his body shook to keep the canine beneath him.
Kenny cried out when he felt two other dogs, larger than this one, sink their teeth in his side and back. It stunned him long enough for the dog beneath him to right itself and he felt a sickening crunch in his head as its teeth dug into the flesh around his left eye.
There was nothing else he could do. Kenny grabbed the piece of glass from his side and without a second thought, stabbed the dog's throat. He watched, with no mercy in his eyes, as it bled out, then crumpled to the floor in a bloody mess of fur. He then turned to the other dogs, both around him and in the cage.
They snarled and gnashed their teeth at Kenny as he stood up. Their eyes were almost red and he briefly wondered if they were rabid. He held up the glass threateningly and watched as their ears pinned back to their heads.
Kenny bent down and tapped his leg, trying to get one of the dogs to come to him. He got close enough to look at their collars, and saw they didn't have keys. He sighed heavily, waved the glass around in front of him, then walked toward the cage.
He was met with foaming mouths, thunderous growls, and crazed eyes as he approached the large iron
cage. He knew they smelled blood and, based on their appearance, had a lust for it. He had seen the same thing happen with his dog as a child; his dad put the old mutt out of its misery after it went to attack Karen. In a way he had done that with his father as well, and, if he failed right now, these dogs would do the same to him.
Kenny opened the cage enough for him to fit through and let out a painful yelp as teeth bit and pulled at his flesh. He searched as many collars as he could reach while they tugged at his charred flesh and exposed tissue; new wounds began to ooze and he thankfully found himself numb to the pain. He was well aware of the fact that he had nerve damage, which benefited him right now.
He gripped the tallest wire of the cage and lifted himself away from their mouths and claws. They jumped to try and reach him but he was too high for their teeth to grab. He watched as his blood dripped down onto them and the floor. After the first droplet they were attacking each other; he would have cared if they hadn't tried ripping him to shreds and if today were any different. Soon fur, blood, and flesh from the animals filled their mouths and the floor. Kenny couldn't help but laugh.
He felt a lot like them right now. Fighting for survival, fighting to be the fittest, the one to make it out alive. Only he didn't do it for himself; he could easily fall away like the the weakest. But he fought for his friends and family, who couldn't fend for themselves.
Kenny's mind started growing hazy as he watched a pit bull and some mixed breed slaughter the others in the cage. The stench of blood wafted in his nose, which caused a slight queasiness in his stomach. He craned his neck away and took a deep, wavering, breath.
He grimaced as he began to slip from the top of the cage; his arms trembled as he strained to hold himself almost in suspension, waiting.
He jumped down and, as the dogs were distracted, began to search the collars of the weak or dead. The ones still alive whined and snarled at him, but that was about it. He sighed heavily when he couldn't find a key.
A low growl sounded and he turned to the mixed breed who had taken down the pit bull; well, that shocked him. He didn't have enough time to think how that happened because in an instant the dog had slammed him against the cage, jaws snapping and teeth tearing in a matter of a few milliseconds. And this time he fought right back. He was broken to the most primal of instincts.
He kicked the dog in its belly and felt the sharp teeth gouge into his stomach in retaliation, trying to open him up. Every move caused its teeth to clamp down more and he breathed shakily while trying to find a way to free himself. His eyes focused on the dog's neck while he reached a blind hand for the glass. A rush of dread flooded his veins when he realized it wasn't in the waistband of his pants.
Without giving it much thought, Kenny burrowed his own teeth into the dog's jugular. He heard a surprised howl and felt claws on his back, pushing away his fried skin as the nails dragged across the sensitive and raw tissue. The blood was hot and thick in his mouth as he pushed his teeth farther into muscle and tendon. Kenny choked on the blood and dug his hands into each of its ears. The dog's movements grew slower and weaker, and he felt something rip as he clamped down with unhinged ferocity.
Soon the dog's pulse from beneath his teeth stopped and he pulled himself away from the dead canine. He didn't take the time to wipe his mouth as he grabbed the collar and felt the underside. There was a piece of paper, and he ripped it away.
"Stan's key is with Eric."
Kenny's eyes widened as he slowly looked up, searching for a camera. If he could tell them, if they could hear him... Cartman could save Stan. Wherever they were, and if they were even together. He couldn't think about the worst possibility; he wouldn't allow himself.
"CARTMAN!" Kenny howled, pushing his way through the cage, over the bodies of the dogs who had barely survived, and fumbled to open the door. His mind was weary and he felt like his hands couldn't even push it, but he fell through and quickly locked it before any dog one of the surviving dogs had the thought to escape. "FATASS!"
Cartman looked up from staring at his hands as he fought off the urge to throw up once again. Karen was crying softly as she watched her brother crawl out of the cage on shaky legs, with red tinged eyes as he looked around for the camera. He was almost inhuman, with his blackened, bloody skin, his feral eyes and jerky movements.
"Cartman!" He cried, unable to find the camera. "Dammit, I hope you can hear me..." his voice was almost a growl and Cartman looked nervous as he waited to hear what Kenny had to say. "You- you have Stan's key! If you can find it... something about a collar... if you can find it, Stan's safe! I'd look but I don't know where you guys are!"
Cartman's hands groped for the collar that lay next to him; he dug his nails deep into the leather and felt from end to end, feeling for something metal. Although he hated the stupid hippie he really didn't want him to die. And if he could be taken down from hanging it would help all of them out; the smell of his blood was almost suffocating.
He felt a key inside the leather by the metal loop for a leash and pulled at it. His hands shook as he dug his nails into the collar, trying to pull it out. It seemed to be sewn inside the cloth. He managed to work a hole through the leather after struggling for a few moments, and pushed the key through. His hands dropped the key, and he quickly picked it up. The blue key hung on a silver chain, and he tossed it to
Carol, who caught it in mid-air.
She looked to Butters who was trying not to fall asleep as he focused with bleary eyes on the television.
He nodded weakly as she looked to Stan and bit his lip as she carefully moved from under him. Kyle, who was considerably taller than Carol, took the key from her and stood on tip-toes while she took his spot under Stan.
Kyle wiggled the key around and let out a quiet cheer as the handcuff on his left hand came undone.
Without warning, Stan's hand flopped down to his side and he screamed from the soreness and the pins and needles feeling radiating through his entire arm. He was breathing heavily and listening to Kyle as he murmured quiet nothings to him to keep him distracted while he worked on freeing his right hand.
Butters felt uneasiness in his stomach as he heard Kyle fumble with the shackles, Karen's soft weeping, and Kenny's quiet mumblings on the screen. Everyone was completely broken and he wasn't quite sure how they would cope with the trauma from this night. He felt as if he were one of those beaten down dogs in the cage behind Kenny. He felt as if that were the point; to break them. And right now he couldn't help but wonder if death would be better than living with these memories and scars.
"Almost done," Kyle murmured as the key clicked the lock. Stan let out a quiet noise and stiffened as his numb arm fell to his side. The ache in his limbs made his muscles scream but he didn't have the strength to make a single noise to match the pain in his body. "I'm going to try to get these hooks out now, kay?"
"W-why didn't he...?" Stan trailed off in a haze of delusion. His eyes were unfocused and he was struggling to stay awake; he didn't see much point in fighting anymore.
"Why didn't he what?" Kyle asked then turned to Carol, "Mrs. McCormick, can you reach the hooks? I can't hold him and get them out at the same time." She nodded and went behind Stan as she began to work on finding the most pain-free way to free him.
"L-let me die, 'm not gonna... m-make it, anyway. He didn't..." Carol wished she could speak but turned her attention to the hooks. If she could take them off of the chain somehow they wouldn't pull so much on his flesh as she worked them out from his flesh.
"Because, Kenny wouldn't let you die. He wouldn't let any of us die... if he didn't save you then Butters and Karen wouldn't be saved either. You're worth it, Stan. And you're not gonna die. I'm not letting you."
Stan whimpered as Carol's careful hands tugged on hooks that pierced the flesh deep in his back. He could feel the slightest touches as she worked to unscrew something. Her meticulous work reminded him of hospitals and doctors... this was like surgery. A really fucked up surgery.
Carol couldn't figure out a way to remove the hooks. She peeked over at Kyle and yanked her arm back. He nodded slowly and braced himself.
"Stan, this is gonna hurt, okay, but once you're down she can look you over and you'll feel better. We're getting you away from this and then you can sleep all you want." Stan lazily opened an eye and gave him a faded look.
An shriek of agony ripped from his throat as Carol carefully pulled the hook. She felt the ripping and heard what sounded like a mix of squishing and tearing as she continued following the shape. It reminded her of when she pierced Kenny's ears; she had been able to feel each and every pop in his ear as she poked the hole in his lobe and cartilage. This was practically the same thing; or at least she had to tell herself that.
"It's okay, it's okay..." Kyle coaxed as Stan screamed into his shoulder. His shirt was soaked with tears and blood now, and Kyle bit his lip as Stan's teeth sank in his own flesh to distract himself of his misery. The redhead closed his eyes and couldn't help but run a hand through his dark hair; a sense of comfort in the midst of all of this torture.
Blood flowed from the two gaping holes in his back as Carol pulled one of the hooks completely out of him. Her hands were stained with crimson and her grip on the second hook was lubricated by his blood.
She kept sliding as she tried to pull the other hook from his back; she wanted it to go quicker. Only her faulty movements caused him even more pain.
The stench of blood had filled the room and turned their stomachs sour. Stan's quiet, dull whimpers echoed off the walls and Kyle couldn't help but shake with sobs as he held his best friend. They were both coming out of this alive. They all were. He just couldn't stand to see Stan in so much pain... or any of them.
This was hell. This had to be hell. He just didn't know what they had done to deserve this.
What had Kenny done?
Stan's weight fell in his arms when he was finally freed from the hanging confines and the hooks in his back. Kyle caught his weight and held him tightly as he fell, limp and overcome with pain. Stan was a mess of sweat, vomit, sobs, and blood as he fell apart in Kyle's arms. His body quivered from the amount of shock he had just endured.
The raven-haired man seemed to lose control in his muscles as he practically convulsed in Kyle's arms. He let out a wet sob that echoed on the walls as he held Stan tightly and prayed to whatever deity would listen to let him be okay. Carefully, he carried him far from the hooks and his blood, to lay as comfortably as he could.
"Carol?" Kyle asked softly as he made sure the makeshift bandages were tight around the gouges in his back. The woman looked at him curiously and he smiled a little. "Thank you for all of your help." She nodded and her lips pulled up as much as they could in a sad attempt at a smile. The auburn-haired woman then retreated back to her daughter, who looked squeamish and ready to pass out.
Butters watched Cartman, who was playing with the collar that had once been around his neck. He wasn't interested in it, he could tell, but he had a feeling he was trying to discover anything about the person behind these events. He seemed to be just as rattled as them, although he was trying his best to appear nonchalant.
Stan let out a pained whimper as his torso seized with pain. He froze as a muscle contraction ran through his back, causing his abdomen to stiffen and his back to arch in response to the pulling. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth and he let out a hitched gasp before his eyes rolled in the back of his head.
"S-Stan!" Kyle cried, shaking him as gently as he possibly could. "Stan, stay with me! P-please?!" He begged with a ton of desperation in his voice. Though the noirette lost consciousness he didn't stop breathing; his inhales and exhales were wheezes and rattles in his lungs that sounded more like metal dragging on pavement than breathing.
Butters tore his eyes away as Stan fought his own war to stay alive; it wasn't fair for him to die even though he was supposedly saved. That seemed to be a cheat in the game. They couldn't even think he was going to die though; he was going to make it out alive and well. Or as well as he possibly could be after a night of constant torment.
His eyes flickered to the screen where Kenny was struggling to stand on charred and torn knees. Red still glimmered beneath the blackened flesh. He stumbled and limped as he took several steps, then collapsed on the wall as he fought to stay standing.
There was no way he could go through something so physically grueling anymore. His body was in ruins; it seemed if he took one more step he would die. And there were still two people to be saved.
Except, as Butters watched him, he realized three lives were in danger. They couldn't lose Kenny but that wasn't part of the bargain. His heart nearly stopped as he considered what had been said. Just because they were to make it out alive if Kenny saved them didn't mean Kenny, himself, was going to be there with them. That had never been a guarantee.
Both misery and determination flooded his veins. If there was one helpful thing he would do tonight it would be to make sure Kenny got out of here alive with them. He could play this game too.
Kenny heard a whimpering behind him as he stumbled to the door. He turned around and saw a wounded dog limp, bleeding heavily from its belly, over to him. Before he left he scratched behind its almost fully intact ear and sighed.
"Good pup," he mumbled in a hoarse voice before he pulled himself out of the room. Kenny winced and hissed with every step. His movements were shaky and his vision kept going in and out of focus.
Every step was hindered out of uncertainty of where his foot was falling.
Nearly blind, he staggered down the hall. He used the wall to support himself; his blood smeared on the grey concrete as he dragged himself in the direction the arrows led him. Against his body and mind, he fell forward onto the door. Moaning softly, he leaned against it with all of his weight; the heavy door opened and he fell through the entrance, and onto the ground.
Kenny's body seized with pain; it was safe to say the adrenaline and shock was wearing off. But he couldn't focus on how badly he felt; Karen and Butters needed him. He was so close, he couldn't give up. The taste of victory and freedom was sweet on his tongue.
With a grimace and a grunt, the dark blonde lifted himself off of the ground with shaky limbs and dizziness swimming in his head. Letting out a trembling sigh, Kenny searched the room for a folded piece of paper; his clue for this next task.
This was for Karen; no matter what he encountered he couldn't let her down. Since she was born he had been there and made sure she was safe and sound; there was no way he would let her down now. No matter how much pain he was in, no matter how badly he wanted to quit he would pull through; he had to. They were all so close; as soon as Butters was safe he could let go.
His body quivered from the shock he was going through. With fumbling fingers, he grabbed the folded letter and leaned against the wall as he read it.
"Who is Mysterion? Type in the answer." Kenny looked up and found a keyboard connected to the wall, with cords running up to the ceiling and to the floor. He felt his eyes burn with tears of relief as he realized this would probably be the easiest of the six tasks he had to complete.
Except, as he took a step forward he knew it wouldn't be as simple as he thought. Of course, he wasn't swimming through a chemical and glass infested pool, being mauled by dogs, going through an incinerator, or killing his father. Yet he was giving away the only secret he kept from his sister; he was about to ruin her childhood. Perhaps she wouldn't know; although he knew he wouldn't be that lucky.
He put his fingers on the keyboard and sighed heavily. He didn't want to type any mistakes; he didn't know if that would cause his answer to be incorrect. But he was also trying to find the courage to finally admit what he had kept from his sister for so long. But she needed to survive; he would rather know she was alive and well and have her hate him than let her die believing in her guardian angel; in him, when all he ever did was fail her.
With quivering hands that ached from the cuts and burns, he typed the first three letters, "I A M". He cried out in alarm and agony as a razor sharp blade stabbed through the keyboard, into the palm of his hands, and out the back. The action repeated two more times, once for every letter. Blood dripped onto the keyboard, and as it retracted he felt more than one bone break and crack against the blade.
He had nine more letters to type; nine more times he would be stabbed. He could do this. It hurt like hell and he watched his entire hand slowly rip apart. Kenny could live through this, though. Compared to everything else he had endured, the knife felt like a pin prick.
Kenny stared at the keys and wondered if he should type them one at a time or all together as fast as he could. He wanted accuracy but he also wanted to get it over with and move on to saving the last person; Butters.
He was glad Karen's was so easy; he didn't have to worry about failing her. She could hopefully be with their mom as soon as he was finished with this. They would be safe together. He could only hope Butters' task was as simple as well. But he knew better than to expect that.
They could hear the crunching of his skin and bones as he typed onto the keyboard. With every tap, a letter appeared on the screen. Karen had curled up the best she could in her mother's arms and the smell of kerosene was making her head swim. But it didn't matter; Kenny didn't have to suffer so badly now. Although hearing the blade and the cry of surprise didn't settled her.
"All he has to do is type? That's bull shit," Cartman grumbled. Kyle and Butters glared at him, and Carol sent the scariest mother look any of them had ever witnessed. The brunette faltered and shrugged, "what? I'm just saying that's a stupid thing to do... it's not that difficult."
"Y-you actually want him to suffer?" Butters snapped, with barely an ounce of energy left in him. He was on the verge of passing out but he was going to do it while standing up for his best friend. There was no easy or hard task in this messed up game they were subjected to. None of them understood Cartman's thinking; was he jealous that his task wasn't as easy?
"The sooner he's done the sooner we're all safe and we can go home," Kyle added, sending a reassuring look to Butters, who was struggling with the fact that he and Karen were the only two left to be saved. He wasn't sure who this was for, but he hoped it was Karen. If Kenny died while saving him, well... at least he would die with his best friend.
Tears stung his eyes and he lowered his head. Suddenly he wanted his mom to hold him and save him from this mess. He knew in reality she would be no help and his father would say this was his fault. But he just wanted to feel safe. And he didn't want to cry again in front of his friends; but he just wanted to go home. Home to South Park, not his quiet little apartment in Boulder that he shared with the other three boys in the room, plus Kenny.
Kyle looked as if he wanted to get up and comfort him but Stan had fallen asleep on his lap. The noirette appeared frail and ashen, as if his body were beginning to shut down. Butters watched as the redhead checked his pulse from time to time. He also saw him conspicuously run his hands through his sweaty, wavy hair.
He wanted someone to do that to him. He wanted to feel comforted. But he was left to hang and could only find comfort in knowing he wasn't alone in this; which really wasn't a comfort at all. Cartman watched the screen and his face fell as he watched more letters appear on the screen. The blonde looked as well, and grimaced.
His gaze turned to Karen; this was hers. He already could tell what Kenny was typing; it was the one thing that would both save and ruin his little sister's life. His face fell and he whimpered as tears fell from his eyes.
He was last. Kenny could easily die from all of his wounds. Or from what he may have to do to save him. Butters shook his head and sobbed as he felt a pair of arms wrap around him. He smelled kerosene and let out a wail as he burrowed his head in Carol's shoulder.
She should be with her daughter; not him. But it was the little reassurance that he needed. He wasn't alone; and if he died he could die with a smile... his friends would be safe. The people he loved would be okay. And Kenny wouldn't have to worry about Karen. And he wouldn't have to feel bad about not saving him; because he had seen what he had gone through. Butters would probably be the only one to be proud of Kenny, rather than angry he failed. And if there was an afterlife he could tell him that as they spend the rest of eternity together.
Karen's tired eyes watched as letter after letter appeared. She flinched and cringed her eyes each time the blade rang a high pitched note as it sliced through her older brother's skin. The eighteen year old grew curious as to what he was spelling; what he was supposedly saying or answering. She glanced to Butters and watched him fall apart in her mother's arms.
Maybe he knew he was safe. Or maybe he was crying for himself... or for all of them. It didn't matter; it brought tears to her own eyes and she quickly looked away.
She noticed all eyes were on her as she looked around the room. They knew something; they knew this was the task to save her... it had to be. Karen whimpered as she looked at the letters on the screen: "I A M M Y S T".
"No," she whispered, voice trembling as she watched the blood drip from the keyboard. It looked like paint; she was surprised the movies were so accurate. Kenny seemed to be struggling now as he moved his middle finger up to the next letter. She blinked as an "E" appeared on the television and she heard his hitched gasp of pain; he no longer had a voice. She wasn't sure if his sanity vanished with it.
Kenny's eyes rolled in the back of his head as he felt the blade splinter a bone. His hands shook and he bowed his head; he couldn't remember what he had last typed. His mind was growing hazier by the second from the torture his body had been put through in the past however long he had been at this. He looked up in hopes for some sign yet he didn't have a screen to see where he left off.
He looked back down at the keyboard; the cracks between the keys had filled with his blood and it was making them all stick. All he could do was try; he couldn't give up. But if he got this wrong it would cost both Karen and Butters' lives.
His charred eyebrows furrowed and blood leaked from his forehead from a wound that had sealed earlier. Kenny hissed in pain as he wiped away the streaks on his burned face. With a determined grimace, he looked away from his red and black hands, away from the fingers missing chunks of skin and fingernails, and back at the blood-stained keyboard.
With as much intuition as he could muster, he pressed down on the button and waited, as if he would hear something that told him he was right or wrong. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he waited for some sign to tell him to go ahead and type in the last three letters.
Karen bit her lip and nodded at the television screen. Her shoulders shook with sobs and Kyle started, yet faltered when Stan clutched his knee. Cartman watched the eighteen year old from his spot and sighed.
"I A M M Y S T E R-" was what had been spelled so far on the screen; but that was all she needed to see. Karen nodded and let out a sob.
"Karen..." Kyle trailed off with a tone of sympathy. But she shook her head and looked up at the wall in front of her.
"I know you are," she said to Kenny, although she knew he couldn't hear her. "I've known all along... you were all I ever needed, guardian angel..." Karen trailed off with tears in her eyes, although a smile spread on her face. She laughed, happily, hopefully. She hadn't lost it; her hope still burned strong, like the muscles in her body. Karen hadn't let herself fall away in temporary hysteria; her mind was still intact. Her laugh was bright and bounced off the walls with new found optimism.
Kyle, Cartman, and Butters looked to her with curiosity and worry on their faces. Stan let out a weak chuckle as he looked to the girl; the only one of them who hadn't given up on or second-guessed Kenny. He was still her hero, regardless of a question mark and a cape. He was still going to save them all.
"Kenny!" Karen cried loudly; her voice was shrill as she hoped that wherever he was he would be able to hear her. "Kenny!"
The blonde looked up from the keys as he heard a faint voice. Spinning around, he looked to find the source of the noise. But he was alone.
His heart swelled as he heard that distinct voice shouting for him; a burst of encouragement. A bright warmth of hope in this dark place. Karen. Whether it was in his mind or not, it was all he needed to hear. Because if it was really her he knew he was close. He could hear her.
She was alive. That meant the others were too; this hell hadn't been in vain after all. Kenny whimpered as his heart swelled with sudden determination and desire to be rejoined with the people he loved the most.
But right now Karen needed him. And perhaps she always had; maybe that was the purpose of this challenge. For so many years he wasn't good enough to save her, when all she really ever needed was him. Karen never needed a super hero; she just needed her big brother. And her biggest fear was losing him; not Mysterion.
"I won't let you down," he murmured, shaking with energy, "I will always be here."
Kenny ran his fingers over the keys and, in three swift movements, pressed down on them. He didn't so much as flinch as the blade broke through the bones in his hands and mangled the already torn flesh. Kenny didn't care though; his hands trembled for a different reason when he yanked them away from the spikes.
He had saved Karen. He had saved them all; the only person left was Butters. Kenny's heart hammered furiously as he balled his fists and grinned.
"Karen! Karen, I heard you! You're safe, Kar-bear!"
All eyes focused on Karen who let out a wail of happiness. Her tears dripped from her face and onto the cold floor. A clatter was heard above, and in an instant the chains seemed to break from the ceiling.
The brunette yelped in fear as her legs fell at an alarming rate from the confines. A sickening crack was heard. In an instant, both Kyle and Carol were running for the girl who had fallen silent as the shackles around her arms detached from the walls. She fell in a crumpled heap on the ground before they got to her.
"Karen!" Butters bellowed, fighting against his own confines. He yelled and thrashed about angrily and hissed as the blade from behind him dug in his back. The bright blonde didn't care, however. Karen wasn't moving.
Kyle and Carol both knelt before her. With cautious hands, they laid her properly on her stomach; the sound had come from her back. Kyle's hand reached for her wrist before Carol could; if she died she didn't need to be the one to find out. The redhead McCormick looked to the young man with horror in her eyes as she silently pleaded for her youngest child and only daughter to be alive.
He sighed in relief and nodded as he felt a pulse drum against his fingers.
"She's alive." The air in the room seemed to lighten immediately. Carol's shoulders shook for the first time, and Kyle froze as he watched the young mother cry. She had been the only one to not break down; it was her motherly duty to stay strong for the children she had watched over countless times. In a sense they were all like her children.
But now, in the face of the end and with the agonizing worry of her childrens' well-being, Carol's strength had run thin. Her lips trembled, pulling the stitches, and she quickly wiped at her eyes. They stung from the kerosene on her hands and she suffered in silence.
Kyle put an arm around her and bowed his head. He watched as she ran a hand through her daughter's hair and took her tiny hand in her own and squeezed.
Kenny heard another familiar voice yell, not but for him. It was Butters; and he had said Karen's name. Something happened.
In a blind whirlwind of fear and fury he searched for the arrows to take him to his last task; the task to save them all. The one to save Butters. As much as it pained him he couldn't worry about Karen right now; she was to come out of this alive and unharmed... they all were.
Letting out a fierce growl of agitation, Kenny broke out in a weak run. Every few steps he stumbled or felt a new tear in his flesh. But soon this would all be over; he could stand the pain just a little longer. The end was near; he just couldn't get too far ahead of himself.
He found the first arrow about three meters from the room he had just exited. His run had slowed to a fast hobble as his legs had just about given out. His head swirled and he let out a weak exhale as he passed a familiar room; that was the room where he had woken up. Crawling realization sunk his heart when he stopped at the door with the arrow pointing up.
This was where they were; it had to be.
With anxiety and anticipation churning in his gut, Kenny put a timid hand on the handle; it was cool to the touch. He turned the door knob and pushed slowly, as if he were intruding on something. He looked up and froze.
Five pairs of eyes turned to look as the door opened. Butters' jaw dropped and Cartman crawled backward in mild fear before realizing who stood before them. Stan just stared with a vacant expression as he lay on the floor. Kyle and Carol both stood up from tending to Karen; there was nothing they could do except wait for her to wake up. Right now, there was something much more serious they needed to take care of.
"K-Kenny?" Butters gasped. His eyes widened as he took in the walking scab that was his best friend.
Kenny looked to him, then looked around to take in everyone's health. They were supposed to be unharmed, but all of them had been hurt in one way or another. He shook his head and tears finally leaked from his unharmed eye.
They were really here. They had really stood in the face of death. And, for all of them, he had conquered the reaper; all except Butters, who looked to him with sheer terror in his eyes that was masked by determination.
Carol ran forward yet Kenny took a step back. She looked at him curiously, and with a quivering and slow hand he pointed to Butters.
"I have to save you," he croaked. But he had no clue what he was supposed to do. Right now he wanted to jump for joy and hug them all, even kiss them maybe, but there was one person waiting to join them in life. And Kenny had no idea what the last task entailed. "Has anyone seen a piece of paper?" It sounded stupid to his ears as he said it. They all shook their heads and he sighed.
As he looked at the bright blonde hanging on the wall, he wondered what his biggest fear... or inspiration was. The first half of the trials to revolve around the concept of fear, while the others were something they had been passionate about. Kyle was afraid of drowning, his mother's biggest fear was their father, Cartman was afraid of being proved wrong about his beliefs. Stan was passionate about animal rights, Karen looked to him, and only him, for protection, and Butters... what did Butters care about? What did Butters feel so inspired by?
That was his ticket to saving him. If he found that out then he would finish this in a heart beat and get them out of this hell.
"Butters," he spoke slowly as he approached the blonde, who sent him a tired yet adoring smile and reached for him, "tell me... I need to know. What... what do you love? What's something you really care about? Or... care the most about?"
Weak, but bright, eyes shined down on him and his smile seemed to widen. A laugh suddenly sounded from the young man and Kenny lowered his gaze; they were all ravaged, just like him. But as he heard his chortles they didn't sound crazy. He sounded truly amused. And now Kenny was even more confused.
"You," Butters finally said, amidst his laughter. The silence that followed pounded in his ears and he couldn't seem to shake the awful feeling digging in his brain. "Kenny, you. I... I love you. I care about you."
"Ahh hell," Cartman growled before he slammed his head against the wall in annoyance. Kyle looked between the two with a small, knowing, smile on his face, although there was more than a hint of sadness in the slight curl of his lips. He now knew exactly what saving Butters would cost. At that, he sat next to Stan and took his hand in his before he looked away from the two reunited blondes.
"M-me?" Kenny gawked. Butters chuckled and nodded.
"Yeah, you, you idjit. Does that help or not?" A weight had been lifted from his chest and he couldn't help the pink rise in his cheeks. Kenny looked at him with new eyes and Butters smiled bashfully. This wasn't how he thought his confession would go, and he was sure this wasn't how he planned to talk to Kenny when he saw him again. But it would have to do.
Kenny's heart raced as it plummeted down deep in his stomach. He loved him. He cared about him. Him... Butters' key was with him. It had been all along.
His ruined hands reached for the keys on his neck and yanked them off; the chains clattered against each other as he ripped them in two. He tossed a green one to Kyle, the red one to Cartman, the blue one to Stan, and both Karen and his mother's red and green keys to his mom.
That left him with no keys.
Kenny tugged at his shirt next. He groaned in pain as the cloth finally peeled away from his burned and sticky flesh. His was in tatters, anyway, and the green cloth was now singed with holes and stained with blood. His fingers shook as he dug in the pockets of his pants as well; unfortunately they were empty.
Kenny's mind flickered to his shoes, which had melted in the inferno and knew it wasn't there. The key hadn't been in his socks either.
Unabashed, he stuck his hands in his boxers and felt around in the front, then the back. The ticket to saving Butters wouldn't be in his pants; he couldn't help but chuckle at that. But it would be with his understanding and acceptance, and maybe even reciprocated feelings, he reasoned.
Butters' key wasn't with him, he realized. In fact, it was in him. It had to be. But retrieving it would bring about Butters' biggest fear; losing Kenny. However, unlike them he would come back. And they would forget all about this.
Suddenly ignorance did seem like bliss.
"Kenny...?" Butters asked weakly as he watched the man look around wildly for something; he wasn't sure what. "You... did you figure it out?" Kenny laughed a little as he nodded.
"Yeah, dude..." Kyle bit his lip and ran his hands through Stan's noir locks.
Kenny's eyes settled on blood-soaked hooks and he gave a side glance to the black haired man. He cringed as he realized that was the cause to his current condition.
"I'm going to save you, Butters, I promise. But... you gotta promise me something."
"Okay, a-anything." Kenny felt his smile drop at that; he knew that was an honest response.
"I want you to close your eyes. All of you... close your eyes and you'll be safe. I promise. You're gonna make it out of here alive and just fine."
His trembling fingers ran over his neck, down to his chest. He hissed a little from his burns as he felt the skin. Just as he presumed, a string of beads could be felt if he pressed just deep enough.
Kenny then grabbed the hanging hook and tightened his grip. He heard the links rattle and Butters' flinched from the noise.
"K-Ken... what're you gonna do?" Butters asked timidly with his eyes squeezed shut.
"Save you," was the response he received.
When he heard a gasp Butters opened his eyes. The sound of flesh ripping seemed as loud as a shriek. His stomach clenched as he watched Kenny plunge one of the two hooks across from him into his chest.
"K-Kenny, NO!" Butters screamed, causing Kyle to jump and Cartman to open his eyes as well.
A dark river of crimson flooded down Kenny's chest as he pulled out the hook. He fumbled to grab onto something and ended up collapsing on the wall. Kenny controlled his breathing as he reached inside of himself. His blood was warm and slick; it reminded him of his father.
Kenny's hands followed the chain and pressed further, searching for the key. He heard Butters screaming at him but he had to ignore his pleas. He didn't understand that everything would be okay. He didn't understand that as soon as he had his key Butters would be safe. And he would be safe to die.
And once he finally did that then they could forget about this mess.
None of them understood that. These would be the physical and mental scars he would live with the rest of his life. But as long as they were happy and healthy he would be okay with bearing their subconscious wounds for them.
Blood gurgled in his throat as he felt the key. He spluttered and tried to breathe but found his airwaves were blocked. His blind fingers wrapped around the metal and carefully pulled Butters' means of survival from himself. Kenny slipped from his leaning position and onto the floor; his legs finally gave out. He could rest.
His vision began to fade in and out of focus as he looked at the golden key in his hand. It was coated in thick blood but it still shined brightly; just like Butters. He smiled weakly at the man across from him and felt the chain slip from his fingers, and to the ground.
The bright blonde shuddered as he watched the man he had loved for so long bleed out in front of him; for him. Two clicks were heard and Butters' feet were freed from their confines. His weight dragged heavier now and he groaned, waiting for the shackles on his wrists to unlock as well.
His body toppled to the ground and he whimpered as he landed wrong on his knee. Something snapped, but he could live with that pain. What he couldn't live with was allowing Kenny to die; they were all leaving here together, alive. Kenny made it through the so-called games; he saved them all. He had never once given up hope.
But as he looked at Kenny, it seemed he had given up quite awhile ago. His body was mauled and he was a walking scab and festering blister. His blood pulsed out of his body with every beat of his heart and his breath was short and jagged, much like Stan's had been.
Yet Stan was doing better now. Stan was laying there, regaining his strength. So that meant Kenny would too. He had to.
"K-Kyle!" Butters pleaded as he knelt before Kenny. "C-come help, please?!"
In an instant the redhead was next to him. Butters heard Carol's muffled cries from the corner and he looked in her direction. His eyes widened as he watched her fingers dig into the stitches and ripped them, one by one. Her lips bled profusely and were left in tatters but he realized why she had done what she did.
She was the one to give Kenny life and she was the one who had the means to save him. Suddenly the threads that stitched her lipsmade sense. Carol ran to Cartman and grabbed the collar, then yanked the needle from the syringe. The liquid spilled on the floor and the brunette quickly backed away.
"Cartman, go check on Karen," Kyle murmured gently as his hands hovered over Kenny. He was afraid to touch him, as if the slightest healing touch would be the one thing to end his life. Butters, on the other hand, pressed down hard on the flowing gash and swallowed back vomit as he held his flesh together in attempts to stop the bleeding.
As he looked down at Kenny, he briefly wondered if he should let him die. With all of the wounds he had he wasn't sure if he would make it, anyway. Butters felt disgusted in himself immediately after pondering that; Kenny was the last person who should die tonight. There was no way he would let him give up. Whatever happened next they would all take care of together.
"My b-baby..." Carol spoke for the first time with a weak, distorted voice caused by her damaged lips. Butters let out a sob and watched as Kyle checked his vitals. "My babies..."
"He's still alive, they're both gonna be okay, Mrs. McCormick. We need to act fast though. Is the needle sterilized?" Butters gave him a look, as if that really mattered, but Carol nodded. And it did matter, to her at least.
His stitches wouldn't be perfect, but it would be enough to stem the blood flow until they arrived at a hospital. Carol's hands shook as she carefully sewed her son's chest back together. She stitched as close as possible, but with the limited amount of thread she had to space them out to reach the bottom of the wound.
Kenny's body shook with near seizure-like convulsions as she worked. Butters held him down, as best he could, with a little help from Kyle who was struggling to use his hands and arms due to his dislocated shoulders.
"It's okay, Ken, you're gonna be okay. We're safe. We're all okay, and you will be too." Butters reassured in a soft tone; he was unsure of what to say.
What were they supposed to say now? That they were proud of him? That they were sorry? There were no proper words for something like this. None of them knew how to act with Kenny, or with each other. Everything had changed the moment they woke up. And now, as soon as they arrived at a hospital, and later home, everything was supposed to go back to the way it was? There was no way that was possible, for any of them. There was never a normalcy in their lives to begin with; so how would they function now?
"You're okay, Karen," Butters turned, as did everyone else, at the sound of Cartman's voice. "Do you hurt anywhere?"
"I-I can't feel my legs..." Butters closed his eyes and shook his head. Carol looked to her daughter, then her son, and hung her head. How could she choose which one to help? There was no way she could do so- they both needed her.
"Hey, baby girl," Carol spoke with her warm southern accent.
"Mama?" The redheaded woman couldn't help but laugh in absolute happiness at the sound of her daughter's voice. It brought more joy to her heart than she could ever imagine feeling in such a place.
"Yeah, I'm right here. I want you to try to wiggle your toes for me, okay?" Carol asked as she continued her careful stitching through Kenny's skin. Blood still seeped through the sewn flesh, but it was enough to at least hinder the flow.
"I-I can't..." Karen whimpered, "I can't move my toes... I can't mama, I can't..." She was crying now, and Cartman bit his lip before he put his hand on her side.
"Can you feel that?" The brunette girl nodded and tensed as he touched her waist. "That?" She shook her head and he turned to her mom.
"It could just be temporary," Cartman explained, "but there's like... paralysis or something." Butters closed his eyes at that, and silently sent a prayer to whatever deity put them through this. He knew that was against the rules; no one was supposed to be hurt after Kenny saved them. The fact that it was Karen, out of all of them, would be the final attack on his nearly snapped mind.
"M-mom..." Karen pleaded as tears streamed down her face. Kyle and Butters looked to Carol, who kept her eyes on the work. She bent her head and bit at the remaining thread and put the needle in her pocket. After several attempts, she managed to tie the string off with a small knot, and bowed her head as she ran her hands through her son's blood-crusted and singed hair.
"I'll be right there, you're gonna be just fine, baby girl."
"Cartman?" Kyle asked as he looked over Kenny's battered body, "can you go find a way out of here?" The brunette glared at the redhead before he stood up, away from Karen.
"If I die out there I'm haunting your fucking ass," he grumbled before he approached the door and sighed heavily. Kyle and Butters glared with venomous eyes before they turned to Kenny. The door closed, and soon they were all left in the mercy of Eric Cartman. Both of them knew they had to trust him, as they had trusted Kenny.
"Hey, hey..." Butters said, then couldn't help the whimper that caused him to tremble, "Kenny... you gotta wake up. Come on, we're safe. You're okay. Just wake up..."
Kyle put his fingers against his wrist and felt for a heartbeat. A faint pulse drummed against his fingertips and he squeezed Kenny's wrist.
With shaky arms, Butters lifted Kenny in a leaning position against him. He felt his stomach churn at the smell of blood and burned flesh, and his heart sank as Kenny's head rolled back onto his collar bone. Carol gave Butters a wistful look before she went to tend to her daughter.
"K-Ky?" Stan piped up finally, then grunted as he tried to lift himself. The raven-haired man managed to drag himself a mere three inches before Kyle was at his side, hoisting him up. "Is he gonna be okay?" Green eyes settled on Kenny for a moment before he looked back to Stan.
"I hope so," was all he could say. He honestly didn't know how anyone could live with the injuries he sustained. There was no way he could have made it through those challenges. How could anyone?
"What's the point?" Stan asked as he carried himself on sluggish legs. He stumbled, and was thankful for Kyle's arm around him. "To all of this. Why...? Why would someone do this to us, to anyone? Why Kenny? Why us?" Kyle shook his head and helped Stan lower himself to the ground, next to Butters who was holding Kenny tight in his arms and letting a few silent tears slip through his shut eyes. The redhead joined them, and then bowed his head.
"The only thing I can say I learned from all of this was that Kenny will do anything for us," Kyle finally replied, "other than that... I don't see a point other than that the person behind this is really fucked up." Stan gave a grim nod and winced as he tried to sit up straight.
"I'll kill them," Butters finally whispered. He looked up with ice cold eyes and placed his shaking fists around Kenny, "f-for all of this. I'll fucking kill them." Kyle shook his head and sent a worried expression to Stan, who just blinked as he heard Butters speak.
"That won't do any good, dude." Was his response, earning a frustrated growl.
"Was this any good?!" Butters shouted; his voice cracked from the sudden volume. "What good could possibly come from this?"
"We're alive," Karen answered in a quiet voice. The room buzzed from his shouts and now hummed with her gentle tone. "We would have been if this never happened... but that's life. This is messed up. But we're alive right now, thanks to Kenny. He wouldn't want you to kill the person behind this."
"Or he'd want to kill them himself," Stan mumbled, Butters just stared at the man who lay unconscious on him, and held him tight. Karen was right; anger was the last thing they needed. All killing them would do would be to play into the game, to let the person win. But they wouldn't... because they didn't. Kenny had won; Kenny was the one who made it. His work wouldn't be done in vain.
The door opened and everyone startled, yet relaxed when they saw Cartman. He was sweaty and puffing for air, but he was there, and his eyes looked alive.
"Guys!" He exclaimed, "I found a way out... it's just a little walk... this place is so fucked up. But we can go... guys, we can go home. We gotta go." Butters looked down at Kenny and shook him in his arms slightly.
"Did you hear that?" He whispered as tears stung his eyes, "we all made it."
With two dislocated shoulders, Kyle helped Stan onto his feet and wrapped an arm around him. He was determined to carry him if it meant they both got out of there.
Carol pressed a kiss to Karen's forehead and lifted her in her arms. The girl hugged her neck and wailed loudly in her shoulder in relief and a flood of fear and everything else she had held back.
Cartman held the door open and clutched the keys Kenny had rescued in his hand; to keep forever, to remind them to never forget just how valuable their lives were.
And Butters looked down at Kenny and stood carefully, before he lifted his unconscious best friend in his arms. His arm hung limply and his head tilted back against Butters' bicep. But he had survived, and even if he hadn't he still deserved to join them in their freedom. Even if for a moment. Thankfully, Butters didn't have to worry about that, because he could feel Kenny's heartbeat and saw his battered chest rise and fall with shallow breaths.
He felt nothing but love for the man who saved them all. Love and awe. He was sure they all felt that way; and in a sense it was obvious as to why Kenny was chosen to save them. He was determined to protect them; even if it meant he, himself, would be lost. He wasn't quite sure if anyone else in the room had the same mental and physical strength to carry that weight.
But now Butters could at least carry him to his well deserved sanctuary.
The hall was dark and cold, made of concrete and dingy lights that did little more than make their shadows loom hauntingly on the wall. Cartman led them silently down the path he had discovered, but stopped after awhile, outside of a door. Kyle looked at him angrily; this wasn't their exit. It couldn't be.
"Don't even think about it," he growled lowly. Cartman shook his head.
"I uh... looked into the rooms to see what was what... this really happened guys," he said softly; he looked vulnerable. As if the events that occurred were finally hitting home. He bit his lip and looked to Carol, who was fighting off tears as she ran her fingers through her daughter's hair. "This is the room where Kinny's dad is."
Everyone stiffened at that, and looked to the brunette with wide eyes. He looked at the handle, stained with Kenny's blood, and hesitated.
"Do you want me to go in there?" He asked Carol, who remained silent, with vacant eyes as she stared at the door. Karen looked at her mom with sleepy eyes and tightened her hold.
"I..." she trailed off, unsure of what to say. "No," she shook her head, "no one needs to... see that. Any of this. We'll find out the location of this place and... have authorities come here. It's okay, sweetie," she whispered and fought off tears as she turned away from the door.
Kyle smiled a little at Cartman, who shrugged and continued walking down the hall. Barking echoed in the distance, and Stan tensed against Kyle, who kept a reassuring hand around his waist.
Butters glanced down as he felt Kenny stir slightly. He didn't want to alarm anyone else; he wanted to get out of here and then they could rejoice at the fact that Kenny was close to consciousness. He ran a tentative hand through his singed and sooty hair; it was the gentleness that he needed after going through so much torture.
He could have cried as he watched Kenny's eyes crack open slightly. Butters put his index finger to his lips and threaded his hands through his hair once more. Kenny let out a soft sigh and closed his eyes once more as he basked in gentleness of his raking fingers.
His mind reeled. He was determined to find the person responsible for this and exact revenge. What scared him was this person knew them. He knew who Kenny was close to, what his friends' and family's fears were, what they loved, what they wanted out of life. This person knew exactly what it would take to hurt them, to make them bend, and to break them. This person was able to detect their weaknesses and have them play right into his or her hand.
The person who did this was close to them. But they wanted to cause harm, either knowingly or in secret. This had to be a person who was tormented all their life, who saw the best and the worst in people because they brought out the worst in them. Most of all, whoever was responsible had to care for them because they knew he, out of all of them, would be the one to make it out of those tasks alive. And in turn, they wanted everyone to live.
Kenny's heart sank, and a tear slipped out of the corner of his undamaged eye. He knew exactly who it was. And it all made sense. The most difficult part of this to grasp was knowing he could never tell; because telling would break them all. It was a far worse knowledge than remembering the torture they endured. He didn't want them to remember at all; but knowing what he knew would drive them all insane. They would kill and he couldn't have that happen.
But there was something worse than that. Knowing they had been the cause of so much muted pain. Knowing that this was partially their fault; these actions were uncalled for and absolutely twisted in the worst possible ways, but he saw the motive. He saw the reason. And seeing that in himself made him sick. They had driven someone to this breaking point, to be so damaged and warped, just as he was now. A part of him wondered if he deserved these wounds... if they all did. And he would exact revenge. Just not in the way he had originally planned.
"Kenny," Butters piped up as they stopped walking. Cartman opened the last door and they all stared out. They had no idea where they were, they couldn't recognize this place, but at least they could see the real world. See outside. They could see life, and a way to move forward. They could do this together. "Kenny, look."
A sob tore through his throat at that, and everyone turned to him as they realized he was awake. He couldn't stop the tears or the shaking of his body as he felt the cool air on his face. As he looked up into the night sky, with the sun barely lighting the horizon over the mountains that overlooked South Park. He couldn't stop himself from feeling, living, and knowing. And that hopeful voice from above, that angelic voice from the most innocent person he knew would be his constant reminder of why he needed to keep silent.
"We made it guys," Kyle said with a tear-filled voice. "We're alive."
"It's so beautiful..." Karen trailed off with a sad smile.
"It's yours, Ken," Butters whispered so only he could hear. "You did this... you saved us. We're gonna be okay. You... we made it."
They were all laughing now, and crying, and Kenny nodded as he longed to hug his best friend. Everything was broken and everything was different. But he was right. He did this. They were alive, here, because he saved them from the most damaged person he knew. He saved them from a tormented nightmare that could finally, after years, be laid to rest. He could fix it all, fix them, and most of all he would keep it that way.
He had to protect them; all of them. And he always would.
"I did this..." he croaked as he squeezed Butters' shoulder. "I did this for you. For all of you. For us..." he trailed off and breathed in the cool night air. "I won." He paused for a moment as a sob he couldn't hold back ripped from his chest. He felt Butters' hands tighten around him. "Just... just don't remember, okay?"
There was nothing left to say or do. Everything would be just fine; he knew it. As soon as he died, his friends and family would be able to live happily and never remember the events that happened. And for what it was worth, Butters had gotten him out of there. He made it out alive just like they did. But now... now he just wanted sleep, wanted the overwhelming burns and tears in his skin to stop throbbing, bleeding, and stinging. He wanted a temporary sense of relief; and even though he would come back brand new, he would still have those memories. He would still know they had all suffered because of one person who finally got his revenge he sought for years, even though he had long since been accepted and loved.
Most of all, he would die with a silent honor to the McCormick name. Even though he died constantly, he would die this time knowing more lives were saved because of him. He could die happy. And then he could apologize to his father, maybe, and tell him he died just the same as he did.
Right now death seemed like a comfortable bed and an old friend. He needed that right now.
"H-huh? What?" Butters asked in confusion, then froze in panic as Kenny's eyes rolled in the back of his head. "N-no, Kenny!"
Carol spun around at his cry and covered her mouth as her son's body seized in Butters' arms. After a few violent tremors, his hand fell from clutching his shoulder and his head drooped back. He was limp and still as Butters held him, and the twenty-year-old shook his head as he realized what just happened.
"Kenny, wake up..." he whimpered uselessly as he shook him in his arms. "K-Ken..."
Karen buried her head in her mother's bosom to muffle her soft cries. Kyle approached Butters and grabbed Kenny's wrist. He could already tell them what they didn't want to hear.
"He..." the redhead trailed off; his voice caught in his throat and tears of anguish and fury burned in his eyes. "He's gone." Butters closed his eyes and a few tears rolled down his cheeks. He held tight to the wrecked, empty shell of his best friend, of the person who died for them all. It wasn't fair; where was the sense in his death?
They wouldn't get away with this, Butters thought. Whoever put them here... whoever forced Kenny through those tasks... he would find them and make sure they just as Kenny had. Just as they all had. And the thought of their suffering brought him the greatest joy he could feel at this moment, as he held the body of the man he loved unrequitedly for so long in his arms. And the thought of vengeance made his blood burn with the need to find them once and for all; just as he swore he would. He would be the one to bring them to their destruction.
Kenny saved them, yes. The fact he died to make sure they were all safe and alive meant more to him, and all of them, then anything else that ever happened in their lives. But Butters would do what he felt Kenny was afraid to do, out of fear of losing himself. He would go to the ends of the earth to make sure they never had to be afraid; because Butters wasn't afraid of losing his mind. After all, so many years of being told he was crazy made him start to believe the allegations.
It was then that Butters realized Kenny was a far better person than he was. He had no ounce of hatred in his body, even for the monster who did this to them all; to him. Kenny had thought better of his plan to kill the person, for some reason, but Butters couldn't do that. They needed guaranteed safety. They needed to regain their lives the best way they could; they needed vengeance for the loss of their son, their brother, their best friend, and the man he loved. Or at least he needed it.
After walking for hours with no car in sight they finally made it home. The outskirts to South Park seemed like paradise, and he was fairly sure everyone was crying with joy. Except for him. Instead of going home, they went to the hospital, where they were treated for their wounds, stitched up, given medication, and questioned by the authorities about the events that occurred that night.
Butters fought to hold on to Kenny, who had gone stiff in his arms long ago. His body was void but it was Kenny, it was the man who fought for them all, who looked into his eyes before letting out his last breath. He fought so hard against the staff that they were forced to sedate him and he woke up days later with arm restraints; just like his mom the last time she was institutionalized.
"-Gonna fucking kill him."
Butters jumped as he heard the growl in the distance, heading toward his room. The sound of shuffling feet was heard and several voices protesting against none other than Eric Cartman.
His door banged open and Butters shrank back in fear. His mind was still foggy and he felt warm, comforted. As if Kenny was there next to him, and had been the entire time. His guardian angel; protecting him from everything.
"You fucking asshole, you... you... you're fucked up. What the fuck is wrong with you?!" Cartman screamed and lunged for Butters. The heavy set man was pulled away by Stan, who appeared much better than the last time he saw him. Kyle looked worse, and his left shoulder was at an awkward angle compared to the right. Karen was wheeled in on a wheelchair by Carol, who had several stitches in her lip to repair the damage done.
"W-w-what?" Butters managed to gasp. An inhuman growl was heard from the brunette, and Butters looked to them all for an explanation. "W-what happened? What... that wasn't a dream. That was real... we're here. I'm here... and Kenny. What day is it?"
"YOU FUCKING DID THIS TO US!"
Butters jaw dropped and he shook his head at Cartman's roar. Stan wasn't strong enough to fend him off this time, and Butters fought against his restraints as Cartman approached him with a raised fist.
"I said. You. Fucking. Did this. To us." Tears stung his eyes and his lip trembled as the fat man raised his fist. Kyle ran to stop him, and Butters flinched violently before he put his face to the pillow. "I managed to find security footage of that fucking place. And do you know who I saw? DO YOU?!" Butters' shoulders wracked with sobs as Cartman screamed so vehemently in his face that flecks of spit landed on his cheeks. "I SAW YOU! YOU! INNOCENT FUCKING BUTTERS! You... you're fucked up. You dragged us there. You chained us up. You broke us. And most of all YOU'RE THE REASON KENNY DIED! He died for nothing! He died because of you... because you put us there, and laughed, and you KNEW!" Butters shook his head and tried to hide under his pillow.
"No, no, no..." he repeated over and over. The door opened once more; this time a doctor and two security guards rushed in and pulled Cartman back, who tried to fight them off. Karen was crying now, and Stan was holding on to Kyle as he fought off nausea. Carol just stared at him, searching for answers, searching for something. Empathy? Realization? Insanity?
Butters squeezed his eyes shut and screamed into the pillow. Cartman's words echoed in his brain long after everyone had left, after trying to get answers from him. His mind was fuzzy as he focused on grainy images he didn't remember... but were memories, no less.
It had been him.
He was the one who carried them all there. He had been the one to put the hooks in their backs, stitch their lips, dislocate their bones, ruin them. He was the one to hurt Kenny. Because he knew what they feared, what they loved, what they wanted.
And he wanted them to understand him. And he wanted Mysterion to finally die. And he wanted Kenny to love him back... but not like that. Not as Professor Chaos... he gave up on that long ago. Hadn't he? He didn't want to hurt his friends, he didn't remember doing any of those things. But those were his hands that harmed them. His mind that wore them thin. His words that killed Kenny.
Now he saw why Kenny didn't want to kill the monster behind the acts. Because that monster, that twisted, evil person, was him. And Kenny knew that. Kenny was going to let him live, even though he knew all of the damage he had caused them all.
"What have I done?" Butters whispered as hot tears flooded down his cheeks. They fell into the pillow, soaked up by the fabric, and he screamed. He ran his voice out for them, for his remorse of what he had supposedly done. He screamed so they would finally understand. He screamed for sanity. But most of all he screamed with hope that Kenny would hear him and know that he too knew what evil tarnished his seemingly innocent blood.
He closed his eyes and felt himself drift off to sleep. He couldn't help but feel calm, comforted, happy.
Why did he feel that way? Why wasn't he sorry? Why wasn't he scared? About... about what? Everything was fading, drifting away from his conscience and he tried so hard to drag them back. He had to remember. He had to know what he had done... because he would think they hated him for no reason. He would hate himself for no reason.
But just like his conscious state, the horror movie memories turned into just that; moments in a horror movie. That never happened to them. That would never happen in South Park and he would never do something so sinister. And then, even the movie faded from his memory. He swore he saw something in the theatre today... but what? Now it didn't seem so scary.
"What...?" he trailed off out loud, groggily, "what did I do today?" At that, he fell asleep with a bemused smile on his face.
"Kenny?" The twenty-year-old grunted in his sleep and woke up with a splitting headache. He flinched as he remembered the events from last night, and let out a shuddering gasp as he felt his skin. Brand new, unharmed. No burns, no cuts...
"Shit," he whispered; his tears were hot in his eyes, and he quickly rubbed at his eyes when his mom walked in his room.
"Ken, didja lose a set of keys?" He tilted his head, "they're fuckin' weird. They look like Kevin's kid's... only they're metal. Fuck if I know. Here ya go." She paused and tossed him a set of keys on a keychain.
"And have ya heard from yer dad? He was s'posed to be home from that deal he cut last night... I know I shouldn't worry but... I can't help it."
Kenny's stomach reeled as he realized his father would never be returning home. He closed his eyes and put his fists on either side of his head as tears threatened to fall once more.
"Ken, baby, you okay?"
"Y-yeah..." he managed to gasp in a tight voice, "just... just fine. A little... headache."
"I told ya to stop partyin' so much. That Tucker boy is really gonna mess with you one of these days. You two are good boys and you deserve ta get outta here. So stop drinkin' so much and fuckin' do it." Kenny nodded numbly and felt his heart break as he realized everything he both wanted and didn't want to happen occurred last night.
Life could carry on.
Except for him it wasn't so easy. He would remember; he would remember diving into shards of glass, climbing through a crematorium, fighting off dogs, killing his father, having his hands torn up, and literally opening himself up... to save them all. And it's not like he wanted the recognition; but once again he was the middle-child screw up McCormick. The one who didn't seem to care about anything. The follower. The quiet one. The one who didn't matter. The one who was hanging by a thread.
They would never know how far he would go to make sure they stayed alive just a little longer. But they wouldn't remember the physical and mental trauma they went through. In fact, all evidence to the wounds had disappeared from his mother; she looked like her beautiful malnourished self. No opened stitches on her lips.
And Butters would never remember what he had done to them; or, more like, what Professor Chaos had done to them. His best friend didn't have that kind of evil in him. But his alter ego was fully capable of such violence. Yet either way, if Kenny hadn't died he would probably remember... and knowing that information would drive him completely insane. He was better than that; far better than his mother. And Butters was virtually harmless.
He just needed to get rid of Professor Chaos. This couldn't happen again.
That meant he needed to get rid of his motive. Years of bullying and abuse had created Butters' alter-ego, who was made to protect him from those who hurt him the most. Kenny had even been one of them, once a long time ago. And he never tried to make it easier for him, for awhile, at least. He was bullied all through high school, sought for the same motherly affection Carol shared with her children, he wanted Kenny to open up to him the way he opened up with Karen, and he wanted Cartman to leave him alone. But what about Kenny? What did Kenny do to deserve going through hell for them?
Suddenly, something clicked in his brain. He was Mysterion. He was Karen's guardian angel and the masked vigilante of South Park. He was Professor Chaos's archenemy. Professor Chaos had wanted Mysterion dead long ago, back before they had all even started playing superheroes as children.
In order to fully kill Professor Chaos and give Butters that final closure that he was loved and accepted by them, then he needed to kill Mysterion.
But could he do that? Was he ready to let go of that masked hero, who still wandered the streets at night? Was he ready to let Karen defend herself, to grow up? He needed Mysterion just as much as she did; it allowed him to be the strongest person in her life, to influence her, when he, as her stupid older brother, would do just the opposite. Or so he thought.
But yes, if it was for Butters, he was ready to give up Mysterion. There were other ways to protect South Park... and to protect Karen.
Kenny's gaze shifted to the keyring next to him, and he let out a strangled sob. Six keys hung off of the ring; blue, two different shades of green, two red, and gold. They clinked together as he lifted them, and his thumb ghosted over the gold one. He then touched his chest and allowed his tears to fall.
So, it really happened. It hadn't just been a fucked up nightmare like he hoped.
He went to his closet and opened the broken door. He rifled through the few clothes he had, and pulled out his Mysterion outfit that he kept in the back. Kenny stared at it wistfully for a moment, then sighed heavily and shut the door.
"I'm going out for a bit," Kenny said to his mom as he walked out of his room.
"I'm headin' out for work... won't be home 'til midnight. Make sure Karen does her homework," the blonde nodded and waved to his mom as he walked out of the old shack of a home that his father had built with Gerald Broflovski. His heart ached as he looked at the hard work of a ten year old, and closed his eyes.
After a moment of silence, he pulled out his old flip phone and dialed Butters' phone number. After two rings, the blonde answered, and seemed happy to hear from him.
"H-hey, Ken!" He heard the slight stammer on the other end.
"Hey, will you... can you meet me at Stark's Pond? Just you and I. And... can you bring your Professor Chaos outfit?" There was a terse pause on the phone; Butters was embarrassed to still have the costume.
"Uh... yeah..." he finally trailed off in a flustered confirmation. "You want me to pick you up?" Kenny looked at the old vehicle in his parents' driveway that hadn't worked for quite some time.
After he hung up the phone, Kenny retreated back inside for a moment. Carol gave him an odd look as she tied her hair back in a thick auburn ponytail and took a drag from the cigarette between her lips. He ran into his room and took the keys that had somehow gotten here last night; his reminder, and possibly the only way any of them would remember.
Kenny stuffed them in the pocket of his jeans and ran a hand through his shaggy hair. He then looked around the rest of his room, for the outfit he had worn last night. He found it, in perfect condition, and shivered as he held the shirt that had to be peeled off his battered body the night before. Kenny cringed as he remembered the feeling; it felt like pulling a layer of raw skin after a bad sunburn. But he found what he was looking for.
"Ken, your friend's here!" The blonde looked up and grabbed the hat from the pile of clothes. He put it on his head, and made a mental note to give it to Kevin once they found out Stuart was dead; that should be in the next few hours. His mom gave him an even odder look but said nothing as he waved once more and ran out of the house.
As soon as he was to the car, he was squeezed in a hug by Butters. Kenny refrained from bursting out into tears when he saw his unharmed, innocent face, and found himself reaching to touch his cheek; to prove this was real. Yet he stopped himself and cleared his throat as he looked at his best friend.
"So, what's up?" Butters asked as he drove his Toyota back up the street. Kenny sighed heavily and looked at the folded cloth in his hands.
"I think... I think it's time we move on." The bright blonde tilted his head and a worried look washed over him. "I mean, I don't... think I need Mysterion anymore. Karen... Karen can take care of herself. I can help her when she needs it, but she's eighteen. She's an adult. And this fall I'm going to Boulder with you and her... so we're gonna leave South Park behind, they don't need a hero anymore. This town is beyond repair."
"I never thought I'd hear you say that."
"You say that as if you think otherwise." Butters shrugged and hummed quietly to the radio as he turned down a block.
"And... Professor Chaos... doesn't really have a point if he doesn't have any heroes to combat." He saw the blonde visibly tense; he knew he was pushing boundaries because no one talked about that character. Because it was Butters' shield, and his alone. He needed Professor Chaos so he could stand up for himself; that's what he told himself, anyway.
Butters then laughed a little, and turned amused eyes to Kenny.
"W-what d'you think he's gonna do without Mysterion? Paint the town red?" Kenny felt his stomach churn at that, for multiple reasons. That had been exactly what Professor Chaos had done. Hearing Butters refer to his alter-ego as "he" was also spine-chilling; but the fact he disassociated himself with Professor Chaos was a slight relief. "I-I mean-"
"You know what I think?" Kenny interrupted, Butters shrank back at that. "Mysterion and Professor Chaos were created for the same reason. They were stronger than us; they could do what we couldn't. People were intimidated, or looked up to us... because we weren't us. We could be anything we wanted to be behind those capes. We were strong. Both of us finally wanted someone to understand what we were going through, to know the truth... to see us as more than pawns. They may have been on the opposite side of things, but they... we... understand each other more than anyone else. Because no one knows what we've been through, go through... no one but us."
Butters remained silent yet tears welled in his eyes. He stopped the car as he pulled up to the pond, and wrapped his arms around himself. Years of trying to hold back showed on his face, and Kenny took his wrist.
"People have thought you and I are weak for years. We're nothing in this town. We're just the steps for our friends to climb. But we're necessary and we're important. You are stronger than you know, and... I guess I am too. We don't need masks and alter-egos to show that. You have a mind, you know what's right... and you can't be afraid to stand up for yourself anymore. You deserve so much more than to be walked all over. Professor Chaos, he... he may have helped you, but he's holding you back from finally letting yourself forgive and be happy. Just like Mysterion with me. I don't need to be that anymore. I don't need to exceed anyone's expectations but my own. Same for you. This is your life, Butters... there are so many things I've done to you that I regret," he couldn't help but brush the long scar on his left eye with his thumb. Butters twitched at that, and let out a hitched sob. "I've hurt you, and everyone has hurt you... but we all let that go. We accept you as one of the kindest people we know... and I love you."
The bright blonde looked up at that, and blinked in awe. Kenny looked down at him and bunched his Mysterion costume in his hand.
"I'm losing Mysterion before I lose myself. You don't have to, but I think you should. It's time to move on."
With that, no more needed to be said. Kenny opened the passenger side door and stepped out, leaving Butters in his own reverie. Kenny pulled out the lighter from his pocket and walked to one of the little fire pits around the pond. He set the soft fabric in the pit; first went the cape, then the shirt and pants, the gloves, the belt, the underwear... all that was left was the question mark and spring. He held the spring in his hand and gazed at the symbol for a moment. He was finally letting go and it left him with a sour taste in his mouth. But there was no going back; he had to show Butters he was serious. He had to show Butters it was okay.
Kenny grabbed the corner of the cape and flicked the lighter. A small flame glowed and he brushed his thumb over it momentarily. He felt the stinging and briefly found himself back in that room, with the flames biting at his skin until he blistered and bled. Kenny shook his head and felt a tear escape his right eye.
He felt someone put their arm around his shoulder. Kenny lifted his head and saw Butters with his Professor Chaos gear folded in his arms.
"...tin foil won't burn."
"We'll cast it out in the water," Kenny mumbled shakily. He couldn't help but let out a painful moan as Butters squeezed him tighter.
How could he live with these memories of seeing his loved ones on the verge of death? How could he go through life terrified of the things he had had to face to save them? Or remembering how badly his body hurt. Once again, he was the only one who knew... and no one would understand. But it was better this way; so much better.
Kenny smiled at Butters as the shorter man put his costume into the fire pit. The green and blue seemed to match with the black and purple.
"See, we go together quite well," Kenny couldn't help but say, causing the man next to him to gnash his knuckles together and blush darkly. His eyes then widened, as he realized something else; Butters didn't remember he confessed his feelings for him. Without that unhinged and primal mindset, Kenny was sure the little blonde next to him would never be able to say the things he needed to.
"U-uh, sure K-Ken..." Butters murmured in a quiet voice. "A-are you sure this is... a g-good idea?" Kenny nodded and flicked the lighter once more. Butters flinched; perhaps he remembered the events of last night in his subconscious after all.
"Trust me, dude. Once these are gone... we can start over. We can move on, we're gonna feel better. And... you know I'm gonna be here for you if you ever need someone to be a little stronger for you."
"Y-y-you too," Butters whispered uneasily; Kenny smiled at that and put his arm over Butters' shoulder, pulling him closer. This caused his bright eyes to widen and stammer even more.
"Ready?" Kenny whispered. The lighter blonde nodded and bit his thumb nail as Kenny lit the corner of his own cape. The flame was small but grew gradually, and they were both mesmerized for a moment.
Butters jumped as Kenny handed him the lighter.
"Your turn," he said, and gave him a reassuring smile as he held the lighter in his hands. After several tries, he finally got it to light. Butters shook as he lit the corner of his own cape. A few tears fell down his cheeks, and Kenny was a bit surprised when he hugged him tightly.
"I-it's... it's so hard..." he gasped, "all those y-years of... a-anger and hurt... of fear... I'm so weak, Ken. I just... I j-just wanted... want... people to-"
"Leopold Stotch, you are the strongest person I know for what you've gone through, and don't think other wise. Life has given you hell, but you smile. You're so strong. You don't need fucking Professor Chaos to prove that to me or anyone else. I would die a thousand deaths just so you could see that in yourself."
"Y-you..." Butters trailed off and rubbed his bloodshot eyes, "you can't do that to me." Kenny smiled sadly at that and wasn't quite sure what to say. "You can't die and leave me here alone... I-I..."
Kenny bowed his head and sighed softly before he wrapped his arms around Butters. He felt the smaller man hold him tighter, and closed his eyes when feeling his shoulders shake. That was something he could never promise, no matter how badly he wished he could.
After Butters calmed down, they watched their costumes burn in silence. The fire had fully engulfed their clothes by now, and soon they would be nothing but ash; nothing but memories. Mysterion and Professor Chaos were no more, and Kenny and Butters could now put the past behind them.
Most of all, Kenny didn't have to worry about Professor Chaos... or Butters... putting anyone in harm's way anymore. He knew that there could be someone else to rise in power like that and torture them all... but for what reason? What would be their motive? Butters' had burned, along with the old feelings of repressed anger, and now he was nothing more than happy, loving Butters. Kenny didn't have to worry about his sanity any longer.
"Hey," Kenny said as the fire began to die, leaving little embers in its wake. Butters looked up to him with young eyes, and the dark blonde smiled. "You know what?"
"I'm damn proud of us." Butters nodded and let out a shaky whimper. Kenny squeezed his shoulder and felt his throat tighten once more.
"Thank you," Butters whispered, and held on to his jacket sleeve as Kenny headed toward the pond. He held his question mark, and handed Butters his tin foil cuffs and headpiece. They stood at the bank and looked over the calm water. Of course, they wouldn't float away; but long after everyone died and Kenny was alone, he could come here and remember what happened, and have watered down proof that at one point he was an anti-hero alongside a tormented villain.
Kenny chucked the question mark as far as he could throw. Since it was paper, it didn't go far, and he watched it float on the water. Butters looked to his foil and sighed heavily before he set them in the water and watched them float to join the famous question mark. Kenny's hold on Butters tightened, and he smiled as he felt the young man lean into his side.
"Feel better?" He asked. Butters nodded numbly and bit at the skin around his thumb. "I... I have one more thing," Kenny finally said. He dug in his pocket and pulled out the set of six keys. The bright blonde looked at them curiously, and touched the gold key. Kenny held his breath, and watched for some flicker of memory in his eyes. Nothing happened, and after a brief moment, Butters let go.
"W-what're those?" Kenny shrugged and looked at them fondly.
"Just a reminder," he replied and jangled them a little in his hands. Butters furrowed his eyebrows.
"Of what? Not to forget your car keys?" Kenny snickered and shook his head before he pulled back his arm. He threw the keys hard, and heard the splash as they sank to the pond floor.
"No... a reminder that we're alive." Butters was silent for a moment, then smiled a little. The keys would be with their symbols; a sign that although they were gone, they were still alive in their hearts. They could still be strong, but strong as them. Not a ten year old hero and villain behind masks.
"That's... kinda nice." Kenny nodded and rested his head on top of Butters'. He looked down for a moment before he took his hand in his, and squeezed. Butters looked up at him with wide eyes, and he couldn't help but laugh, happily. For the first time in years, it seemed.
Because now he knew everything would be okay. For all of them. And if it wasn't, then he'd go through this all over again in a heartbeat, just to see his friends and family happy and alive. Everything was nice He didn't feel so afraid anymore; breathing didn't seem so difficult now. Maybe now he could live, rather than stay alive. That thought seemed really nice.
He looked down at Butters and smiled affectionately, and squeezed his hand once more. This time, Butters squeezed back.
"Yup, sure is."