The faint blue light from Kyle's laptop bathed their faces in an eerie glow. Kyle's eyes were flicking over the screen as Stan and Kenny flanked him on each side. Kenny's nervous energy was palpable and Kyle spared him an annoyed glance before his gaze snapped back to the monitor. "Can you stop hovering?"
"I just don't think this is the best idea you've ever had," he replied. "I just want to put on the record that I voted for going out to ice cream, not for hacking into an organized crime syndicate."
Stan snorted, "You really think those greasy guys are that big a deal? Anyway, Kyle knows his shit."
"Thank you Stan," Kyle smirked, blossoming into a grin when something on the screen started flashing red. "I'm in."
"In where?" Kenny groaned, squinting at the screen. He just saw rows and rows of numbers and code that didn't make any sense to him. Stan looked just as lost, but Stan also got turned on whenever Kyle did stuff like this so his confusion was laced with something decidedly lecherous. Kenny could only imagine the kinky hacker versus INTERPOL role-plays they could get into (mainly because he inadvertently started spying on them).
"These are encoded accounts – holy shit!" Kyle breathed, scrolling down. "They're laundering money to sixteen different accounts. I can follow the tracks in the US, but I think this one must be somewhere in Europe-"
Gripping Kyle's shoulder, Stan husked, "That's awesome, how do you know?"
The redhead waved flippantly at the laptop. "It's all right here. Coordinates. This code is so old school." Stan pressed harder against his side and Kyle bit his lip while the taller boy began to nibble on his ear.
"All right, freaks," Kenny announced loudly. "Enough. You proved that the new Laundromat is run by some kind of freaky Russian mobster wannabes. Great. Now can we do something less idiotic?" The other boys looked at him vacantly and Kenny threw up his arms. "Fine. But I'm not hanging around when the KGB or whoever comes crashing through the door."
Swiveling around in his chair, Kyle peered up at Kenny. "My computer's archiving all of this. It could be used as evidence to bust them."
"I love it when you play junior detective," Stan interrupted, his voice thick.
Kenny gave him an epic eye roll and proceeded to mock hang himself. When he realized that the other two boys had tuned him out he suggested irritably, "Then how about you just mention to the po-po that some shady business is going on at the Laundromat and let their suits take care of it?"
Now Kyle was frowning, arms crossed defensively. "What's your problem, Kenny? Seriously."
The blond scuffed his foot on the floor and fidgeted nervously. "I've got a bad feeling about it. I think you should leave it alone." Brightening, he motioned to the laptop. "Hey, why don't we hack into Cartman's Facebook again? That was fun."
"Dude," Stan drawled, "They aren't the boogeymen. They're just some skeezy assholes. This is South Park. Why would any serious shit take place here?"
"Because that's what everyone would ask, hence why they would be here," Kenny pressed, turning beseechingly to Kyle. "Can we just call it a night? Please?"
Glancing at the clock, Kyle shrugged. "Whatever, man. I still have that presentation to type up and turn in by midnight."
Stan winced, "Ouch. Well, don't forget Ike's having that thing tonight."
"Shit," he sighed, running fingers through soft red curls before standing. "I forgot about his stupid little tweenfest."
Glad for the change in subject, Kenny cracked his knuckles before lacing his fingers behind his head while he waited for Stan to pack up his things. "Put it on notice, Kyle: I might have to kick your little brother's ass."
"Be my guest," Kyle snorted. "Though I guess I should ask why."
"Ike's got a boner for Karen," Stan teased. He ducked Kenny's swing and tackled the blond before he could take another swipe at him.
"No boners around my sister," Kenny whined, squeaking in a very unmanly fashion as Stan yanked up his boxers in a wedgie.
Smacking his lips with obvious disdain, Kyle turned back to his computer to hastily close the series of numbers running down his screen. The data had all been recorded, though as he was closing out of the windows a strange language that looked like Russian suddenly appeared. Furrowing his brow, he leaned closer to the screen and ignored the muffled thumps behind him as Kenny and Stan wrestled on the floor.
He was so focused on trying to decipher the text that he didn't notice his webcam light come on.
Cocking his head, Kyle finally gave up and snapped the laptop closed. If his house was going to be invaded by Ike's little gremlin friends he was going to be as far away as possible. The only place he could get things done was the coffee shop in town. Gracefully stepping over the tangled mess of limbs on the floor that made up a red-faced Stan and Kenny (now engaged in some warped version of amateur grappling) Kyle started putting his things together for a night of studying at Tweek Bros Coffee.
He was late for his shift at the shop. Tweek bit his lip and stared at the floor. Standing silently across from him, slim body crooked against the edge of the counter, was Craig. The silence stretched and the blond twisted his shirt in white-knuckled fists.
"Tweek," Craig murmured, his voice endlessly calm. "You need to tell me what happened."
"I told you," he said, gaze sliding past Craig's tightly controlled expression like water. "I'm okay now."
"You're not," Craig shot back, uncrossing his arms to shove them in his pockets. Tweek's hazel eyes followed the movement before snapping back to the floor. "I know you're not."
"I will be," Tweek argued weakly, squirming under Craig's unflinching gaze. "I'm late for the shop. I'm closing tonight." He flinched when a hand touched the side of his face, blushing furiously in embarrassment. Craig sighed and started to withdraw, but Tweek pushed his cheek against the other boy's palm. "Just... anxious."
"Okay," Craig acquiesced. "Well, call me earlier next time."
Looking pained, Tweek nervously wiped clammy palms against his jeans. "You were hanging out with Token... watching a movie... relaxing..."
"For important things like this you can interrupt me. And it's Token. He's your friend. He understands," Craig patiently countered. "Tweek, you know you need to talk to someone when this happens."
"It's not important," he whispered, curling into himself when Craig exhaled noisily.
He stepped forward to wrap Tweek in his arms. "This is hurting you," he said firmly. "What kind of asshole would I be if I wasn't there for you?"
"I ask too much," Tweek blurted, his face buried in Craig's chest.
"You don't ask for anything," Craig corrected, tone quiet. "You're just dealing with stuff, and I understa-"
"But when will it stop? I want it to stop," he gushed, voice cracking. "I'm sick of feeling like this all the time."
Craig held him tighter. "Give the new prescription time to kick in. The doctor said you should feel better once your body adjusts. Anxiety and panic attacks can't... you know, Rome wasn't built in a day." Hew held the blond tighter against him.
Tweek didn't ask, What if it doesn't work?
Kyle didn't realize he was muttering to himself until Tweek finally said, "Sorry to interrupt your... um, conversation... with yourself... Uh, a refill?"
He blinked up into Tweek's face. The other boy was wearing the customary brown apron and had a headband keeping his unruly hair out of his face. It stuck up in random cowlicks and in the low light of the café it look particularly yellow. Rubbing his eyes, Kyle tried to chase the haze lingering from his focus on the bright screen of his laptop. "Sure. Thanks Tweek."
"No problem," he dismissed, navigating the tabletop's academic debris. He took the empty mug balanced precariously on a textbook and replaced it with the full one, steam curling up languorously into the air between them.
Noting that half the tables were stacked with chairs and that every other patron had already gone, Kyle stretched. "Shit, do you need to close?"
"Already did," Tweek admitted meekly. "But you looked really focused."
"Dude!" Kyle exclaimed. "Tweek, why didn't you tell me?" He started to pack up his things, nearly spilling the coffee in his haste. But Tweek shook his head.
"It's fine. I usually hang out a bit after anyway. More relaxing than home." He nudged the leg of a chair with his toe. "Craig's going to come pick me up when he's off work, so there's still time since the bar doesn't close till 2."
Hearing the time released pent-up exhaustion through Kyle's limbs. "What about sleep?" he asked, tapping the mouse pad on his laptop to wake the computer back up. "Aren't you tired?"
"No," Tweek shrugged. "Not really."
The redhead nodded. "Lucky, I guess." Tweek shrugged again. "Is it all the coffee?" Kyle paused, "But I thought you weren't doing caffeine anymore."
"I'm not," he confirmed. Shifting uncomfortably, Tweek attempted a self-deprecating smile. "Still can't sleep anyway."
"Well, Craig's a night owl," Kyle ventured, "right?"
The blond brightened. "He is. It's nice." Then his shoulders slumped slightly and his gaze wandered outside. Craig was never a night person until they started dating and he changed his schedule to fit Tweek's. Even though it had been Craig's choice to become more nocturnal, he couldn't help but feel guilty that this was another burden for his boyfriend to bear on his behalf.
Catching the distant sorrow in Tweek's face, Kyle sat up straighter in his seat. "Do you mind if I test my presentation out on you?"
Snapping out of his daze, Tweek nodded eagerly. "Sure!"
Kyle laughed, "Prepare to be bored beyond belief. This might actually be the thing that finally puts you to sleep."
Standing outside on the curb, Kyle peered down the street. Figuring that Craig was fulfilling his boyfriendly duties by picking Tweek up from work, Kyle decided Stan could be convinced to do the same. Mostly due to the fact whenever Kyle implied in any way that Craig was even remotely better than him Stan had to prove him wrong. And, after all, the sky was brimming with the twinkling stars; perfect for a drive over to Stark's Pond for some stargazing... and possibly more if Stan's didn't fall asleep on him.
Down the street a sleek black bar pulled up to the curb below a broken streetlamp. The boys were in perfect view from the front seat, standing in a pool of yellow lamplight. A heavy, gnarled hand held up the printed picture of a boy with red hair, his face stricken and pale from the glow of a laptop screen.
Tweek shivered. In his rush to get to work from home he'd forgotten a jacket. The days this early in spring weren't awful, but the nights were still bitterly cold. His teeth chattered noisily and he clenched them shut. Blinking in surprise, Tweek looked over to find Kyle had moved close to him. The redhead grinned and handed Tweek one of his gloves.
"Two gloves, two pockets," he explained, shuffling over until they were pressed into one silhouette. He opened his jacket and Tweek shyly wiggled in next to him. Each with one hand gloved and the other stuffed in one of the coat pockets, they stood shivering in the cold night. "Craig would kill me if I let you freeze," he pointed out, nose tickled by Tweek's hair. Luckily the blond was pretty small and fit perfectly. Kyle had tried this with Stan once but the boy's broad shoulders had ruined the idea. As tired as he was, Kyle allowed himself a little mental swoon thinking about Stan's shoulders. They were such nice shoulders.
"You okay?" Tweek asked, startled when Kyle jerked upright. He leaned warily away until the redhead blinked owlishly down at him and smiled.
"I think I fell asleep."
Tweek smiled. "You looked happy." Catching Kyle's blush Tweek bit his lip. "Were you thinking about Stan?"
"Maybe," Kyle laughed, rubbing his red nose with a gloved hand. "Is it that obvious?"
"You looked like me when I'm thinking about Craig," Tweek mumbled, ducking his head. Kyle's warm chuckle tickled his side and Tweek echoed it, tugging the coat closer around his shoulders.
In the sleek black car a heavy camera was pointed directly at the two boys. Refocusing until the blonde's features were clear, the dull clip of a picture being taken was the only sound beside the quiet thrum of the engine. A minute later the car slowly backed down the block and disappeared around the corner.
Kyle glanced down the street, squinting at something. For a second he felt like he was being watched... But his attention was diverted when car lights rounded the corner. Kyle and Tweek shuffled off the curb like some gawky four-legged beast. Craig rolled down the window and stared at them bemusedly. "Broflovski, you're a bad influence."
Rolling his eyes, Kyle disentangled himself from the blond and stepped back up onto the sidewalk. "Whatever Tucker, just preventing your boyfriend from becoming a popsicle."
They jumped when a honk tore through the air. Stan swung up to the curb and rolled down his window. "Your 2:30am chariot awaits," he griped sarcastically, nodding to Craig and Tweek.
Kyle got into the car and waved to Tweek before they drove their separate ways. Leaning over, he breathed a kiss across Stan's cheek and murmured, "Stark's?" Stan obviously caught his tone because the boy smirked and drove just a little faster.
It was by the third time his call went straight to voicemail that Craig knew something was wrong. Tweek's oblivious parents had already left for a coffee farm tour in Costa Rica so Craig had to use his spare key to get into the house. It was silent, which unnerved him. Tweek wasn't a fan of silence. At the very least decaf coffee should be brewing, happily gurgling away on the counter. When Craig saw the coffee machine empty he broke into a run, taking the stairs up to Tweek's room two by two.
Tweek's bedroom door was ajar. Beyond it his room lay in shambles. His clothes were strewn across the floor, trash upended, bed wrecked. Craig felt his blood run cold. For a second his vision went black and he couldn't breathe. Tweek. Where was Tweek!? Stumbling across the carpet, Craig froze when he saw a piece of paper pinned to Tweek's pillow. Craig blanched, lunging at the picture and tearing it free. Staring down, it took him a few moments to recognize Kyle's face. It was distorted by jagged red letters streaking the page; reading with disturbing clarity: WE SAW YOU.
The fist that slammed into the side of his face was probably at the bottom of things Kyle was expecting at the moment.
Kenny choked on his shake, dropping the fast food bags as Craig tried to take another swing at Kyle, his expression a blank sheet of rage. Leaping between them, Kenny shoved Kyle back before he grabbed Craig by the shirt collar and swung him to the ground.
"What the fuck, man?" Kyle shouted, pushing Kenny aside as Craig climbed to his feet. "Craig-" He jerked away, narrowly avoiding getting his nose broken as Craig charged him. They went crashing into the wall of the Tasty Freeze, the cold cement cracking against Kyle's back.
"Where is Tweek?" Craig hissed, lashing out at Kenny when the blond yanked him off Kyle. "Where the fuck is he, Broflovski?"
"How would I know!?" Kyle crowed, rubbing his jaw. "Jesus Christ, I haven't seen him since yesterday."
"He's gone," Craig snarled, shoving the crinkled paper into Kyle's face. "His room looked like a tornado tore it up, and this is what I find there."
Kyle stared down at himself in the picture, a cold coil of terror settling in his stomach.
Warily mindful of Craig, Kenny sidled over and craned his neck to see. "Holy shit," the blond breathed. "That looks like it was taken last night."
They turned to see Token jogging up the street. "What the hell, man? You just took off-" He slowed to a stop when he saw Kyle's swollen jaw and Craig's face. "Uh..."
Suddenly there was a screeching of wheels, the slight smell of burnt rubber pervading the air. Token barely got out of the way as Stan sprinted from his car, not even bothering to shut the door. His face was drawn and his eyes haunted with fear. Going right up to Kyle and blatantly ignoring the others he said in a rush of words, "Kenny was right, Kyle. They're more than we thought. My dad has this radio that can pick up the police signal-" He stopped. "What the hell happened to your face?" he exclaimed, whirling around to find Craig staring at them murderously. "Tucker, did you-?"
Stan didn't finish his sentence. Craig had launched at him in the blink of an eye, his fists just flashes of movement as he nailed the other boy in the ribs. Stan doubled over, still with the wherewithal to use momentum to crack his skull into Craig's chin. He missed the taller boy's lip, but it still did the trick. Craig staggered, giving Stan enough time to punch him square in the solar plexus. He raised his fist again, but Kenny's hand closed over his wrist, jerking him back. Token, still looking hopelessly confused, had jumped on Craig, struggling to hold him still. When Stan ripped his wrist free Kenny hugged him around his chest, squaring his feet to anchor him.
The two boys glared hotly at each other. Stan was wheezing slightly. Craig jabbed his finger towards Kyle, lips twisting angrily.
"Your fucking boyfriend got Tweek kidnapped," he bit out.
Straining slightly against Kenny's hold Stan spoke through clenched teeth, "What the hell are you talking about?"
"He's talking about this," Kyle softly interjected. Everyone turned to look at him, standing there clutching the creased picture in a shaking hand. "They saw us – me."
Now it was Stan's turn to go pale. Kenny let him go and he grabbed the picture from Kyle, staring down at the writing. "Shit," he whispered. "Shit."
Token still held Craig firmly, even as he struggled. "What the fuck is going on?" he demanded. "You better explain or I'm calling the cops-"
"You have no fucking clue what you're up against," Stan snapped, his eyes still fixed on the red letters. "I caught the story on my dad's wireless. They're gone. The guys at the Laundromat are gone. The police were going to raid the place after they caught some illegal activity on surveillance. But they're gone." Behind him Kenny cursed.
Craig tried to elbow Token to get free, but the other boy caught his arms in a half nelson. "Calm down," Token ordered. His dark eyes snapped back to Stan. "Explain this, Stan. These guys took Tweek?"
Shaking his head, Stan explained, "They're tied to a US-based branch of the Russian mob trafficking drugs up to the Northwest. Denver's too hot so they settled on South Park." He held Craig's gaze for a second before meeting Kyle's wide eyes. "They must think you saw something," he continued tightly, "Kyle, they think you tipped off the police."
"Fine, so they can kidnap your ass," Craig growled. "Why the fuck did they take Tweek!"
"Hostage. Or what do you call it - collateral," Kenny supplied thoughtfully, fingering his lips. "They're probably after Kyle." He swallowed down a dry throat, the slick oily feeling of fear sliding through his gut.
"But why Tweek?" Craig hissed, finally breaking free from Token and stalking up to Kyle. Stan immediately stood between them, raising his chin challengingly. "Why would he be collateral?"
"Oh god," Kyle gasped. "Last night! There was something..." He scraped his fingers through his hair. "Something, maybe a car? It left before you guys got there. I didn't see it, but I thought someone was... watching." He faltered. "Tweek and I," he started haltingly, "We were sharing my jacket. I guess maybe if you didn't know us you might think we were..." Glancing nervously at Craig, he finished, "Maybe together. But we were just trying to stay warm."
Brows furrowed, Kenny crossed his arms. "He's the damsel in distress. A trap."
"A trap for Kyle?" Token frowned.
"Well, he's my fucking damsel," Craig snarled. "And we're going to get him back or it's your head on a platter, Broflovski."
"I swear I'll get him back, Craig," Kyle said quietly, worry etched over his face. "I really think I can." Mind going a mile a minute, he started walking towards Stan's car. "I still have the data. It can lead me to them. Laptops they used or smartphones that carry any of the information recorded holds the same signal and I can track it."
Only Stan caught the note of doubt in his voice.
"Can I just point out," Kenny volunteered later, "That when we're all blind-folded and being held hostage by the Russian Mob, any pleasure I achieve from getting to perform the ‘I told you so now suck it' dance is going to be pointless because I'll probably get sold into sex slavery."
Craig stared at him with an impassive expression while Stan and Kyle – already desensitized to Kenny's random outbursts – ignored him and continued to fuss over the laptop.
"I'm too pretty to shoot," the blond added logically.
"So," Token loudly said, practically shoving Kenny off the side of the bed, "Can we go over this again?"
Kyle swiveled in his chair, chewing tenaciously on his knuckles. Delicate brows were knit, the familiar green ushanka shoved down onto his head showing only a dash of red curls to sprout out like a border of red flowers. Stan lovingly called it his thinking cap, something Craig hadn't been in the mood to hear earlier.
"I've locked onto their coordinates," Kyle said in a clipped tone. "They sent an email to someone, which I've managed to translate roughly to understand that they'll move in another eight hours." Glancing at Craig uncomfortably he gulped down a dry throat. "They're outside of town at the abandoned mill."
"Was there anything about Tweek," Craig said tightly, eyes practically spitting sparks. He'd sat quietly for most of the night, watching Kyle work. The only indication of any tension was the white-knuckled grip he kept on his phone, as if he hoped Tweek would call and tell him he was fine and this was all a bad joke.
"I haven't heard," the redhead admitted gently, his mouth twisting in agony when Craig cursed and stood up to pace. "Craig-"
"Don't fucking say a thing," he snapped, facing away from the group. The line of his shoulders was wrought with tension. "You fix this." Cobalt blue eyes sliced over to the other boy, worry and frustration bleeding out of them. "I don't care if you deliver yourself up as a sacrifice-"
"Hey-" Stan started, but Kenny elbowed him to be quiet.
"-as long as I get him back safe."
After a beat, Kyle nodded. "I understand." Purposefully not looking at Stan's shocked expression, Kyle said, "I need to go to them."
"No," Stan yelled, whipping the chair around to stare hard into Kyle's face. "You are not. We're in over our heads. We might as well just call the police."
His voice was barely audible when Kyle hung his head. "They'll kill him Stan. If they end up in police custody that is a death sentence according to their moral code." Craning to point to a line of Russian he'd pasted into the translator, he said, "Remember this? I saw it at the end of every message. It's translates to ‘The garbage man makes a pickup the treasure is trashed'."
They'd been at this for hours, and it had been Token who guessed the translation sounded like a play on ‘one man's trash is another one's treasure', memory triggered by the presence of two unlikely words like trash and treasure being in the same sentence in any other context.
"Token was right about the meaning, but I wasn't sure who the garbage man was supposed to be." Clicking across the screen, a slang database popped up, documenting international slang terms for ‘police'. "It turns out that a Russian slang term for police is ‘garbage'."
The boys crowded around and both Token and Kenny traded a baffled look. But Craig's lips thinned with understanding and he deadpanned, "So this means that if the police find them, they're dead to the mob anyway."
"Not only dead to the mob," Kyle murmured, pulling up an article about increasing activity of the Russian Mob stateside. "But dead by the mob. They've gotten so entrenched in the criminal system both with agents and by some complex hacking schemes-"
"Broflovski," Craig warned, earning a sharp glare from Stan.
"Long story short," he sighed, "Once these guys are booked, they'll be dead the moment they enter prison for betrayal."
"So they've got everything to lose if the police find them," Kenny began.
"And nothing to lose by-" Token stopped.
The pregnant silence in the room reigned until Craig lifted his chin and stated bluntly, "Killing Tweek." He met Kyle's worried eyes. "So no cops."
"No cops, and no fucking deathtrap," Stan growled. "Kyle, you aren't going to present yourself to these guys just to get killed."
"I'm aware of that, Stan," Kyle asserted irritably. "Their whole plan is to lure me there. Then they plan to kill us both and silence witnesses..." He trailed off, nervously scratching his head beneath his hat. "That's, of course, after they torture me to find out how much I gave the police." Stan sputtered, but Kyle spoke over him. "They saw me, as has been established. But they don't know what I saw." Rubbing his hands over his eyes tiredly, Kyle mumbled, "The South Park Police just aren't equipped to deal with this and considering the circumstances, Tweek will get hurt if we contact them to deal with this." He met each one of their gazes in turn, mirroring the confusion and the fear. "It's up to us if we want Tweek back alive. They don't know about you guys, so we have – well – at least the element of surprise." He didn't look very confident.
"This shit," stated Token with a quavering voice, "Is straight up crazy."
Their paintball uniforms, complete with heavy masks, transformed the group of boys into an entirely different beast. Kyle opted out of the extra protection, knowing that it would just give him away. He felt small between Craig and Stan, both of them staring grimly ahead as Token drove them in his bigger car to the outskirts of Kenny's neighborhood. They'd stopped at Token's house first to collect some equipment from his chemistry set, picked out by an unexpectedly astute Kenny.
The blond jumped out of the car, opening the door for Kyle to slide over Stan's lap. His boyfriend caught his arm and Kyle turned to look at Stan. Their breath mingled in the close proximity, noses barely brushing. Stan closed the bare inches and caught Kyle's mouth in a kiss that cut straight through him. Kyle withdrew a little breathless, his cheeks flushed.
"See you in a bit," he whispered, glancing over at Craig as the tall boy moved into the front seat to take the wheel. "I'll call you when we're ready." Hesitating, Kyle trailed his fingers along the black paint Stan had dressed his face with. He looked like a soldier and the image chilled Kyle to the bone. "Things'll be all right on your end?"
"Don't worry," Stan assured him, offering a dashing grin that conjured an answering smile on Kyle's face. "I know where the key to Uncle Jimbo's shed is, and it's not like we're shooting with real guns."
"Well, Jimbo's paintball guns tend to..." his mouth twisted with dry humor, "Pack a little more punch than others."
"Exactly," Stan winked, pressing one last kiss to his mouth before shutting the car door and leaving Token, Kyle, and Kenny at the end of the block.
"If they don't end up killing each other this might actually be a pretty badass event," Kenny approved as the car faded into the distance. Turning back to the other two, he grinned widely in the face of Token's obvious discomfort and Kyle's anxious expression. "Ready to break into a meth lab?"
In a run-down shed that was far too prone to fire for comfort, Kyle stood by as Token and Kenny finished distilling the crystalized remains of a chemical he'd never heard about. Token was carefully lifting the substance bit by bit into a zip lock bag. Sweat beaded his brow, and he didn't even blink until the last of the chemical was safely in the bag.
"Meth heads have the best shit," Kenny stage-whispered, busy pouring nameless liquids into plastic bottles, his face lighting up when he found a blowtorch being used as a redneck Bunsen burner. "Sweet! This is definitely coming with us." Throwing it, along with the bottles, into a backpack Kenny signaled to the other two to follow him. "Do you still have all the Martinelli's bottles?"
Token arched an eyebrow. "Why am I carting around a bag full of Martinelli's apple juice bottles?"
"Because they're round and small and perfect to throw," Kenny drawled obviously. "And they're Karen's favorite drink and she refuses to throw them away, but my parents won't recycle, so..."
"Corrupting the use of Martinelli's apple juice bottles? You're such a pyro," Kyle grumbled, trotting alongside Token as they followed the blond down the quiet street.
"You'll be thanking me later," Kenny sing-songed in reply, throwing a mischievous grin over his shoulder. "Trust me."
Token and Kyle traded a nervous glance.
An hour later the three of them were waiting on the curb when Stan and Craig pulled up.
Stan rolled down the window. "All three of you are smiling." It was eerie, even Kyle was grinning with an impish glint to his eye. "We are still surprise attacking a bunch of Russian mobsters, correct?"
"You sound worried," boasted Kenny as he crawled into the backseat with Token and Kyle piling in behind him, "You shouldn't be. Wait till you hear about the shit we've got in store for these bastards. Though Kevin's gonna kill me since I've basically hijacked his April Fools plans for Town Hall..."
"Great," Craig muttered despondently under his breath. He looked into the rearview mirror. In the back Kenny was pulling up the guns he and Stan had retrieved from Jimbo's and was loading what looked like travel-sized shampoo bottles into the launch chamber. His back seat was brimming with Martinelli's apple juice bottles, all filled with cloudy white liquid. There may have been the faintest whistling sound coming from them but Craig stubbornly went against his better judgment and ignored that. "Do I want to know?"
"Patience grasshoppah," Kenny cooed in a horrible Chinese accent. "You'll see soon enough."
Leaning up between the front seats, Token held out his phone. "I also set a timer on this GPS. If we get into trouble I can alert the cops through an anonymous signal, thanks to Kyle."
Stan sniffed. "Do I smell kerosene?"
"Don't worry about it." Kenny waved him off. "Alright, these babies are loaded," he confirmed from the backseat. "Now Token, take this backpack-"
"Is that a fire extinguisher?"
Kenny blinked at Stan, mouth downturned. "Yes? Now listen, these grenades are a last resort in case of chemical rebound." He pointedly overlooked Token's stare of fright. "I also stole my dad's set of walkie-talkies." Handing one up to Stan, he added, "Token you're rich and have a smart phone that could probably do my science homework so I'm going to take the second radio, deal?" Not waiting for an answer, Kenny dug around the floor of the car until he pulled up a small bottle of bleach he'd swiped from the meth lab. He passed the bottle to Kyle before he took out his wallet. "Now Kyle," he warned, "Don't freak out."
"Pretty much guarantees I will," Kyle grimaced, eyeing the condom Kenny had removed from one of the wallet sleeves.
"I didn't know they made Pepsi flavored," Token observed sagely, ducking out of the way as Stan whipped around in his seat with alarm.
Kyle's boyfriend narrowed his eyes. "Kenny," he growled.
"It's for his protection!" yowled Kenny defensively before pausing and laughing. "Well, I mean, a different kind of protection. Here, give me the bleach. Kyle, unravel the condom and hold it open."
"Is this what you guys do?" Craig asked flatly. "Because this is weird."
"Calm your tits, gentlemen," Kenny murmured, carefully pouring the bleach into the open condom. Once the liquid filled it ¾ of the way he capped the bottle and took the condom back from Kyle. "Observe." Then he proceeded to tie off the end of the rubber, twisting it into a thick spiral before he looped it around Kyle's thin wrist. Under the redhead's horrified stare he neatly synched the ends together in an easy knot. "Boom," he stated proudly.
"Boom?" Stan exploded, "You just tied a bleach-filled condom-"
"Pepsi flavored, too," Token added helpfully.
"-to my boyfriend's wrist."
"You're welcome?" Kenny cocked his head quizzically. "It's the only weapon he can take in with him." Eyes moving across the line of mystified faces, Kenny sighed heavily. "Bleach is toxic. If it comes into contact with skin, especially without any dilution, it can leave chemical burns. And if Kyle hits them in the face, well..." He shrugged. "And the condom is durable enough to hold the knot, and lubed up enough that you can release the knot easily."
Silence reigned until Craig looked at Kenny in the rearview mirror and drawled, "I don't even want to guess what life you lead that you can think up this shit."
"Okay, rules," Kenny chirped. "You don't throw the Martinelli's until shit gets real."
"What's in them?" Stan asked.
"Typical redneck hand grenade," Kenny dismissed airily. Kyle narrowed his eyes with suspicion as Token looked on with a distinctly constipated expression.
Reaching behind the seat, Craig grabbed one of the grenades, staring blankly at the Martinelli's label before he pitched it out the car window. Kenny squawked, scrambling across the seat. A second later there was an audible crack of an explosion that scattered the side of the car with dirt and rocks.
"DUDE," Kenny shrieked.
"Redneck grenade," Craig repeated, unimpressed. "A redneck grenade is vinegar and baking soda." They all stared pointedly at the acidic hissing crater outside the car.
"... with some potassium phosphate Token and I scrounged up in my neighbor's meth lab," the blond added, the note of pride apparent in his voice despite the obvious effort to appear sheepish.
"Still not okay with my car being filled with these things," Token mentioned nervously, zipping his backpack over the bunch of grenades.
Kyle sat up ramrod straight in his seat. "We're close! Craig, stop here and we'll be just up the hill from the silo."
Pulling his helmet on, Kenny's teeth showed white beneath the visor in a rakish grin. "Get ready for the lightshow, boys."
"Just be careful," Stan cautioned, "You could light us all up."
"Aware, mon frer," Kenny clucked. "Scouts' honor, I won't blow you all up in a fiery inferno of phosphate gas. That's just for the silo."
"Wait a second," Kyle muttered. "They've set up surveillance cameras along the perimeter." His fingers flashed over the keyboard. "I can disable them... They must have been in a hurry, they're just webcams. All attached to the same CPU." The light shading his face changed from bluish-white to green. "Got it. They shouldn't notice. I managed to loop the frame."
"Aren't there patrols?" Token asked, strapping into his own helmet. Kyle shook his head. "That goes against every set of Russian bad guys in any Bond movie I've seen."
"If you take the dirt road you can see the mill," Kyle said, "They probably didn't want to risk a cop driving though and seeing them."
"Whatever the reason, we need to move," Kenny griped, dragging Token out of the car. "Kyle-" He paused, biting his lip, "Put that giant brain of yours to good use and don't get killed, okay?"
The redhead smiled. "Deal. Don't set yourself on fire."
Watching the two figures disappear into the darkness, Kyle turned back to his laptop. "Headlights off. About a hundred feet down the road drop me off."
"I don't like this Kyle," Stan whispered, reaching back to touch the back of Kyle's hand.
"I know," he murmured, rubbing his fingers up Stan's arm. "You have to trust me. We can do this."
"We have to do this," Craig echoed from the front seat.
Kyle nodded sharply, taking a deep breath when the car slowed to a stop. Climbing out, he met Stan's eyes before turning to jog down the hill towards the mill. Craig watched him go, his stomach twisting. Tweek was in that place. The mill loomed out of the dark, a black shadow in the field of dead grass that sloped up the hill leading to the mountains. Kyle's slim frame zigzagged over the unsteady ground and Craig grew very still as the redhead became nothing but a barely discernible mark in the distance.
Next to him Stan was putting on his helmet, face camouflaged amongst the dark green and black fabric. His blue eyes glowed with ethereal light, frame by his painted skin. They'd wait for Token's signal once Kenny set the silo aflame. Craig was itching to have Tweek in his arms again. The small bottle of Tweek's prescription rattled slightly when he continued driving slowly down the hill.
He hit the ground running, figuring the fire would take at least fifteen minutes to catch inside the silo and climb the walls. The sorry state of the structure, combined with the dry wood encasing the crumbling rusty skeleton made for an ideal catch. In the window of time before things got dangerous, Kenny planned to scale the silo and clamber onto the connection pipes running from the tower to the mill. Unfortunately both his backpack filled with mild explosives and the canteen of kerosene were heavy. Not that he hadn't been in the gym after school regularly working on his buff physicality, which admittedly still fell short of Stan's.
Once he'd finally lugged the bag and the canteen up the pipes, Kenny straddled the freezing metal and reviewed his options.
"Well," he grunted, "Anyway I go it'll be fucking badass."
The muzzle of the gun pushed up under his chin was ice cold. Kyle's mouth twisted as heavy hands pawed his body. Several men surrounded him. His eyes slid down to the bleach-filled condom strapped around his wrist, looking like some cheap amber colored rubber bracelet if you didn't look too close. When callused fingers stinking of tobacco sunk into his hair and ripped his head back he couldn't help the sharp cry that escaped him. He clamped down on it quickly, staring with mutinous ire into the face of a bear-like man who loomed over him darkly.
"Figure you come for your little bitch," he rumbled in a heavy accent.
His green eyes sparked. "Where is he?"
The man tilted his head with a threatening smile. "Maybe we talk first."
"First," Kyle hissed, "You show me that he's all right."
"Maybe is not wise to have such fragile thing around when we have our..." At this he bared his teeth. "Discussion." The boy gave him nothing but an icy glare and he couldn't hold back his grin. "You have spirit. Too bad you make such silly mistake."
Kyle followed him out when the big man turned, scowling at the back of his thick neck. Behind the other men spoke in Russian and moved around the room. Hooded by thick lashes his eyes darted to and fro, cataloging details that might come in handy once he and the others were escaping. So far he'd only counted three other men. At the Laundromat he'd never seen more than two, not including his newest friend lumbering along the hall in front of him. The mill was run-down, most of the rooms collapsed or covered in mold so thick the walls looked like tree bark. Considering the main room, and wherever they held Tweek, Kyle surmised that at most four rooms were usable. It was his guess that only around five men made up the enemy camp.
A shock of blond hair caught him off guard. Tweek sat shaking on the ground of a tiny room, naked but for a pair of thin cotton pajama pants. Kyle's blood boiled at the sight of bruises lining the boy's arms and the obvious black eye swelling beneath his brow. He took deep breaths, aware of the large Russian man watching him closely. Shooting the man a scathing glance, he knelt down and gingerly unwound Tweek's tightly crossed arms.
"Tweek," he whispered, "Tweek, it's Kyle." Glassy hazel eyes floated up to meet his gaze and Kyle leaned in to hug him, pulling his freezing body close. Hastily shrugging off his coat, Kyle wrapped it around Tweek's thin shoulders, his lips pressed to the boy's ear to murmur, "We're gonna get you out, Tweek."
Token wasn't sure how the fire extinguisher ended up in his bag, but he figured at this point in the game beggars can't be choosers. Kenny seemed to have made quick work of the silo; Token could already see flames licking up the bottom of the building. If what Kyle said was true and all the cameras were down the men inside wouldn't notice until the entire thing was lit up like a beacon, easily seen from town.
Squinting, he peered into the dark along the shadowy line of pipe running the ground. He thought he saw Kenny scooting along the contraption backwards and on the cold breeze Token thought he smelled the faintest whiff of kerosene. Frowning, he hoped Kenny knew what the hell he was doing. Once the silo was burning they'd only have a little time before the police would spot the smoke and the flames.
He ducked when voices filtered through the dirty window above his head. The men must have sat down because the voices stayed. They were far enough away from the front of the building that Stan and Craig wouldn't be able to hit them with their surprise attack. Gritting his teeth, Token unloaded grenades and checked the ammo on his paintball gun. He'd never been the best at paintball. Moving his gaze from the gun to the extinguisher, he picked up the red cylinder instead and put his hand on the switch.
Kenny shimmied along the pipe, increasingly fast as the flame on the silo grew higher. He left a few bottles of chemicals to guarantee a show, but now that he thought of it, the pipe was currently lined with kerosene and fire traveled fast. When the first explosion roared up the core of the silo to rip out the top like a volcano he started to run. Just as the piped burst into stinking licks of flame Kenny managed to scramble like some gawky spider up the side of the building to roll onto the roof.
"And that," he panted, staring at the flaming silo glowing like a huge torch in the night, "Is a light show."
"You look good together," the burly Russian man leered, thick fingers coiling heavily through Tweek's hair. But his hand was slapped away and the redhead was in his face, spitting like an angry cat.
"Don't touch him!"
He backhanded the boy, letting his knuckles split the plush lips and send the slender frame sprawling across the floor. The blond gasped, the one eye not swollen shut pretty in its fright. Sneering, the man grabbed him by the throat as the boy - Tweek - tried to run to the redhead, who was cursing through bloodied teeth as he tried to uncross his eyes. "Settle down," he ordered, the rough skin on his thumb catching up in the boy's soft cheek. "I thought you learned your place?" The boy's Adams apple pulsed against his palm when he gulped noisily down a dry throat. "I make sure sell you to buyer who knows where your place is," he promised darkly, fingers tightening on the slender neck just slightly.
"Put him down," Kyle snarled, staggering to his feet.
Just then the blast from outside lit the windows up brilliantly. The Russian man stared outside as the sudden inferno engulfing the towering silo lit the snaking pipes. "Der'mo," he spat.
Grabbing Tweek, his ears still ringing from the blow to his face, Kyle tore the blond away from the man, hastily clawing at his wrist. Just as the huge man began to round on him Kyle released the knot on the condom and whipped it up, shoving it into the man's face. Right in his eyes.
His screams were beastly, tearing at the air like fingers. Tweek stared in horror while the man scratched at his eyes, crumpling pitifully to the ground. But Kyle was pushing him, dragging him down the hall. They heard shouts and footsteps coming and Tweek switched their handhold so that he could pull Kyle into a side room just as the other men rounded the corner. Slamming the door shut, he frantically dragged anything he could grab in front of it.
Oblivious to Tweek's blockade-in-progress, Kyle was staring at the mass of blinking computer screens and primitive wire-devices tangled around the room like overgrown vines. Climbing over a messy pile of duct tape and thick cords labeled in Russian, he was drawn like a moth to flame. The code running down the main computer was identical to those he had seen before. The offshore bank accounts. Fingers twitching manically, he attacked the keyboard, overwriting the programs as he tore through their files. He misdirected, corrupted, and erased as much as he could after sending the codes out along traceable federal channels.
Tweek was about to grab the nearest crate to stack against the door when he noticed his face on one of the screens, alongside Kyle's blurry picture. "Kyle," he called, pointing when the redhead looked back at him. When the other boy's eyes widened Tweek bit his lip, hugging himself as Kyle sprinted to the machine, eyes flickering over the screen too fast to follow.
"They're downloading... us," he said. "Everything about us... School records, medical records." Narrowing his eyes, he wondered aloud, "But why?"
"He... he said he was going to sell us," Tweek whispered.
Kyle stared wordlessly at the screen. "They're going to make us disappear," he realized out loud, meeting Tweek's frightened eyes. "These bastards were going to erase us." Stepping back from the computer as if burned, he looked around frantically. "The files haven't been sent anywhere. This is just for cataloging, but once the records have completed download they're going to be sent somewhere." His finger drifted along the destination coordinates. "Jesus, somewhere in Russia." Trying to keep his heartbeat from drowning out his hearing, Kyle looked at Tweek. "We need to destroy it. Nothing can be traceable. By them or by the police."
Tweek opened his mouth to ask a question when a loud crunch sounded above and suddenly a human leg was hanging through the ceiling.
"Jesus Christ," Kyle shouted, jumping out of the way as moldy wood and plaster rained down onto him. The leg was yanked up and suddenly Kenny's beaming face was peering down at them.
"You're alive!" he observed brilliantly.
"No," Kyle droned, the drying blood on his mouth cracking as his lips twisted with derision. "Are you sure?"
"Someone's in high spirits," Kenny shot back, disappearing for a second before shoving the blowtorch through the hole. "Here. Now, if you'll excuse moi, I have more redneck grenades to surprise unsuspecting Russian mobsters with."
Tweek caught the blowtorch clumsily, staring down at it in complete bafflement.
"Stay here, Craig and Stan are on their way."
"Kenny!" Kyle shouted as the blond made to disappear again. "What's happening out there?"
"Well, two are out cold, one is wandering around running into things, and two others were blasted by the fire extinguisher Token had, before Craig shot them in the head like a badass. That's all of them as far as Token counted."
Kyle nodded sharply, some of the tension melting away as the winding cry of sirens slowly rose in a crescendo across the night. Meeting Kenny's bright gaze, he said, "Let's wrap this up."
"Aye aye, Cap'n," Kenny crowed happily, vanishing to wreak more havoc on the mill and its unpleasant occupants.
Tweek stared at the blowtorch then at the ceiling. "Why are you guys so good at this?"
Looking slightly guilty Kyle muttered, "We've had a lot of practice."
Blood was running so the side of Craig's face where one of the mobsters had pistol-whipped him. Stan was standing warily beside him, fingering the trigger of his gun. After he'd been hit Craig had calmly straightened up and shot the man in the face with a redneck grenade. They'd ran out of the room while he was still screaming, and Craig had picked up the man's handgun. Stan's eyes slid down to the weapon clutched tightly in Craig's trembling grip. The adrenaline running between them was dizzying. They'd been shot at coming in, before Kenny had appeared like some ridiculous angel to drop grenades and flaming bottles of kerosene and as of yet unnamed chemicals. Panicking, the men had opened fire on the ceiling, leaving them empty when Craig and Stan emerged from the smoke like ghastly monsters in their protective gear.
Now they stared at a door that Kenny had shouted something about. Stan tried the doorknob, grimacing when he found it barred. Pressing the side of his head to the wood, he winced when another explosion rocked the building, flames glowing closer outside the window as the silo collapsed in a cascade of sparks and red heat. He didn't hear anything from the other side. Turning his head until his forehead pressed the surface, Stan hissed, "Kyle? Kyle!" Stumbling when the door was yanked open, he yelped when his arms were suddenly filled with a slender redhead. Kyle's hair smelled faintly of smoke but his mouth still tasted like Stan loved.
Craig charged inside the room and found Tweek trying to disentangle himself from a blowtorch. Grabbing the blond and letting the torch clatter to the floor, Craig wrapped his arms solidly around his boyfriend, pressing warm kisses to his mouth, cheeks, nose... Tweek sneezed.
"Sorry," he gasped, scandalized, until Craig just laughed with relief and pressed their foreheads together. Hazel eyes widened when Tweek saw the blood on the side of his boyfriend's face. "Craig," Tweek whispered in a tiny terrified voice, "You're bleeding. You're bleeding!" Shaking, he practically pawed at Craig trying to find the source of the wound. Tears welled in his eyes, but Craig caught his hands and kissed his fingertips.
"Not the time to play nurse," Craig suggested.
"Who did that to you?" Tweek demanded, the nature of his tears changing as dark protective anger threaded into his tone. "Who hurt you, Craig?"
Kyle and Stan saw the change in Tweek's demeanor and gave each other a wary look. They slipped past the pair and instead focused on hacking the running codes before any more reached their destination.
Tightly wound in coil of building wrath, Tweek ground his teeth. "Craig," he repeated calmly. "Who hurt you?"
"I'm fine," he urged. "Tweek-"
A wild howl broke the steady noise of crackling fire and explosions. With a loud bang Kenny came hurtling through the hole in the roof above their heads. His hair was a tousled tangle of blond cowlicks, teased into complete disarray by smoke and dust. Somewhere along the line he'd lost his helmet and his gun. Twinkling blue eyes, edged with a manic burn of crazed joy, met each of their stunned faces. "That... was fun." Then his gaze slid beyond them to zero in on two familiar faces. "... Guys?"
Kyle glanced back at the monitor displaying his and Tweek's faces. "Shit," he cursed. "We have to destroy this thing... Like, nothing can be left or the police might be able to salvage something."
Kenny sauntered over, picking up the blowtorch. Handing it to Tweek, he grinned. "Wanna do the honors, Tweekers?"
Eyes sparking with anger as he glanced once again at the blood lining Craig's cheek, Tweek stalked towards the computer and ignited the flame of the torch.
As they watched the machine melt in a pathetic slip of sparks and warped plastic, the door swung open to reveal a very dusty Token, paintball gun in one hand, the fire extinguisher in the other. Behind him rose the wail of sirens, approaching like a cloud of crying birds. Token ignored the blood on Craig's face, the sight of Tweek wielding a blowtorch, and Kenny's distinctly insane aura. "Time to go," he snapped.
They ran, their boots crunching over the ground. Tweek looked small in Craig's paintball jacket with his feet slipping and sliding in Craig's shoes. His boyfriend ran beside him, feet in nothing but socks. Their fingers entwined, and as they continued through the sparse woods their eyes would meet in an outpouring of emotion. Ahead of the pair ran Token and Kenny, bantering about what explosions were best and the benefits and pitfalls of a fire extinguisher as an assault weapon.
Kyle was busy building an alibi for all of them by hacking each of their Facebook accounts and checking them into various locations set hours before. It slowed him down, Stan glancing back at him every now and then to make sure he kept up. After nearly tripping Stan kept his eyes ahead instead and missed the quick shadow that passed behind his boyfriend.
Fingers smelling of bleach and tobacco tangled in his hair, tearing his head back and Kyle tried to scream but a heavy callused hand slapped over his mouth. Thrashing viciously in the bear-like Russian man's grip, Kyle stared at the distancing group of his friends. He was being dragged back into the brush, heels digging at the ground uselessly. The man's ragged breath whistled past his ear, and Kyle could smell the tang of coppery blood beyond the stink of bleach.
Throwing the boy down, the man watched the redhead scramble up onto his knees. Fierce green eyes were alight with defiance. His shallow chest expanded with the breath to yell, but the Russian man kicked him. The boy lurched back, whimpering helplessly when a sudden rise of alarm rung through the forest. Five different voices erupted with the boy's name. Leering, the Russian man leaning down and dragged to boy up to his feet by his hair. His eyes were still hazy and burning with the sting of the chemical the brat had thrown on him. "Kyle, where are you, Kyle?" he sneered. The boy scratched at him, lashing out with his legs. "I bring you to bosses and maybe save my skin. Pretty little firecracker, I now many man would make you his bitch."
There was a violent crack and the man's face froze in an expression of pain. His grip went lax and Kyle twisted free. Stumbling back, he saw Tweek standing behind the man, paintball gun raised. Mouth set in a stern line, Tweek fired again, nailing the mobster right in the back of the skull with another sizzling redneck bullet.
Token pulled the car up on the ridge. It wouldn't be safe to drive through town until there was enough light to navigate the back road down the mountain. By the looks of the swarm down below, all of South Park's finest had been called out to storm the smoldering remains of the mill.
"Is it bad that I feel... better than I have in a long time?" Tweek asked quietly, snuggled against Craig's chest. One hand reached out where it met Kyle's, fingers loosely hooked onto each other.
"Great," Craig deadpanned, "Now you're going to get addicted to weirdness like these assholes." He sighed heavily. "Is there any hope?"
"Your boyfriend melted a computer with a blowtorch and shot a bad guy twice in the back of the head with mini redneck grenades," Kenny reminded him cheerily. "He's far past the point of no return, bro."
Tweek peeked over Craig's shoulder to find Kyle's eyes as the redhead sat wrapped up in Stan's lap. Their gazes met and Kyle grinned as he squeezed Tweek's fingers.
If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!