Safe Haven Village
Chapter 4written by confunded - illustrated by Nowhere and Samara/ContemplatingSketches
They buried Butters outside the NORAD station, figuring it was the least they could do to give him some sort of funeral. With no walkers to be seen, they took the time to say what needed to be said, about Butters, and about Clyde, and all the friends and family they assumed were lost to them, even if they hadn't encountered them back in South Park.
Stan took comfort in the fact that the most important person was still with him. Kyle was his family, his only family now, and Ike by extension, and that was oddly good enough for him. He was sad about his parents and Shelly, even if she was a bitch sometimes, but it was like something inside him changed the moment he saw that his dad was one of them. Everything clicked, and he simply accepted that this is how life was going to be from now on. They were on their own, and there was no going back to a normal way of living.
In some ways, it wasn't any different from the kind of crap that always seemed to happen to them. They'd even dealt with zombies before. Stan felt like his entire childhood had groomed him to deal with something like this with minimal panic and denial. But in the most important ways, it was different from everything else. This was more serious, and certainly didn't seem like it was going to be conveniently fixed by something simple or stupid. Life wasn't going to reset, the town wasn't going to be rebuilt in a day. People weren't going to go back to their lives like nothing ever happened.
Cruel as it was, he was happy about that.
He sort of wondered if something was wrong with him, because everyone else seemed to be more upset over Butters, over everything, than he was. And their parents - he knew for a fact that Kyle, at least, was never going to get over losing his parents. But Stan felt pretty okay about it. Not glad, but not that broken up either. Just okay.
There was a good chance he'd have a mental breakdown at some point due to burying his "real" feelings, though, and he acknowledged that. But for now he felt fine.
A part of him thought they were all being kind of stupid, and that they should all be used to this crap. Prepared for it. Expecting it, even. But he wasn't about to voice those opinions. It wasn't like he was the one with the apocalypse kit, either. He was just as stupid as everyone else.
They camped outside of the bunker that night, having decided to hit the road again at first light. While they were sleeping, a few latecomer walkers turned up and they lost Kenny to them. After deciding they needed to take turns watching out for zombies from then on, they had another funeral with the moon shining down on them, and Stan felt pretty unaffected by the whole thing. Almost like it had happened a million times before.
He really wanted a drink, though. But that probably wasn't going to happen for quite some time. Sure, he could steal something from someone's house or even a liquor store, but he'd never hear the end of it. Wendy would yell at him about his priorities, and then there was Kyle... Kyle would just shut down, quietly accepting his relapse into alcoholism. That would hurt more than anything, that disappointment.
No, drinking wasn't an option. He needed to be strong.
He needed to be strong for Kyle.
In the week or so that followed, they gradually moved west. They didn't know where they were going, really, but west seemed as good an option as any. At least, it seemed like a better option than going North and having to go through Denver. If Colorado Springs was scary, Denver would surely be a complete nightmare. Kevin suggested heading toward Las Vegas. Despite the likelihood of the city being completely overrun, allegedly the Hoover Dam would keep running for months, if not years, and there was a possibility of other survivors reaching the same conclusion.
As the days went by, Stan grew more and more uncomfortable with having both Wendy and Kyle around. He hated being affectionate with her in front of Kyle, but ever since Butters and Kenny died, she'd grown more attached to him. And to make matters worse, he could see that Kyle was getting along better with Cartman and he couldn't understand why it bothered him so much, but it really, really did. Maybe it was just that he couldn't say anything about it without having his relationship with Wendy thrown back at him.
He got his chance to be alone with Kyle when they set up camp in the woods off of Route 50. He had first watch and Kyle had second, so he simply stayed up once Kyle came to relieve him. It was surprisingly easy, given how long it had been since they had a real conversation.
"Don't you want to go to bed?" Kyle asked when he came to sit by the campfire, which was only embers by that point, and Stan didn't make any move to leave. The way he said it had an undertone of resentment that he figured had to do with the fact that Wendy shared his tent.
"Not really. We haven't talked a lot lately."
"I miss you. Even though we're together all the time now, technically, I feel like you're trying to avoid me."
Kyle shrugged again.
"Baby, please talk to me," he tried again, keeping his voice at a whisper.
"Don't call me that."
"You like it when I call you that."
"Well, I don't want you to right now."
Stan reached for his hand and sighed with relief when he didn't pull away.
"I know you're mad, but you need to tell me what I can do to make it better. I really don't want to waste any more time with this silent fight, or whatever this is, especially if there's a good chance we could die any day now."
"You know what you can do to make it better," Kyle snapped, though he thankfully kept his voice low. "It was hard enough having to deal with you and her at school for months after you said you wanted to be with me, and standing on the sidelines for years before then while you did your on-again, off-again thing... but it's even more unbearable now that I have to be around it every day all day."
"I can't just dump her now, with everything that's been going on. She doesn't deal with rejection well at all and she's more stressed out than usual. We all are."
"Gee Stan, I'm so glad to know you put her feelings before mine. Thanks for reminding me where I stand."
"You know you're the most important person in my life."
"No, Stan, I don't know that. You talk a lot about how much I matter and throw around stupid, meaningless shit about how much you love me, but I'm still something you're ashamed of. I'm still in the background, still the ?other'," Kyle said, and then he did pull his hand away. "She broke up with you. She broke up with you and then just when it finally seemed like decided you wanted to be with me, after we had those great few months, you fucking got back together with her. And you expected me to just be okay with that, like I should be grateful you even bothered with me to begin with."
Stan felt like his heart was being torn out of his chest. Part of him wanted to pretend Kyle was overreacting, but fact was that he wasn't doing that. He knew he fucked up, and he'd been systematically making it worse for months. He stared at the side of Kyle's face.
"Kyle. Look at me, please." He did, though he didn't seem happy to oblige. "You do matter, and I do love you. And I'm not ashamed, I could never be ashamed of you. You're amazing."
"You're ashamed that I'm a dude, then."
"No, not even. Wendy and I just have a lot of history and this - us - has always been a fear of hers and I know it would crush her. I needed a reason not to get back with her and I couldn't think of one that wouldn't come back to you... it's just been for show, anyway; we haven't even had sex since the last time we dated."
Kyle glared at him. "You're completely missing the point. This isn't about sex, Stan. If you care so much about her feelings, or mine, why the hell are you still playing this game?" He sighed. "I'm just... I'm so fucking done."
"I... you know how it happened, it's complicated."
"Yeah, I know how it happened," Kyle spat. "I know I waited my whole life for you to want me, and you figured that out somewhere along the way and took advantage. What I don't understand is why. I always hated Wendy in all this, but really you're the asshole. You've been taking advantage of both of us, cheating on both of us, and I-" Kyle paused and turned away. Stan knew that move; it meant he was trying not to cry. "I let you, because I wanted it so badly. I could have ended it when you got back with her. I could have told her. I should have. She's really the only one not in the wrong, and I can't live with it anymore."
"Is that why you've been avoiding me?" Stan asked, his voice strained. "You want us to be over?"
"I don't know. Sort of."
"Please, don't. I never meant to take advantage of you. That's not - that wasn't my intention at all. I wanted you so badly I wasn't thinking about what I was doing, and then it just seemed easier to pretend nothing changed when we were in public." It felt like he'd said all this so many times before, but Kyle either never listened or refused to believe him. "I've loved you forever. I loved you before I knew what love was. I'm pretty sure I must have loved you when I was three. Jesus, Kyle, I... the world has gone to shit and you're the only thing that matters now. You can't leave me."
"I need you to do more than just say that. I shouldn't have accepted the way things were for as long as I did. But it ends now. Either you end it with her, or with me. You have to choose."
"It'll crush her."
"I'm not going to be your backup, Stan. I'm done being a hole to fuck when you're bored of girls. It's the end of the fucking world, if you aren't going to really be with me now, when the fuck are you going to do it? Tell me you're in love with her and I won't bother you again, I'll go somewhere else, find another group to travel with-"
"Is that really what you think you are to me?" Stan cut in, desperation making his voice rise. He'd known for a long time that Kyle felt unappreciated because their relationship wasn't public, but he had no idea it ran that deep. Knowing it was a risky move but not really caring, he pulled Kyle closer. It suddenly felt like if he didn't grab onto him now, he'd disappear into thin air. "Why don't you believe me when I tell you I love you?"
"I don't know," Kyle muttered, his face hidden by Stan's shirt. "If you loved me you wouldn't have put me through this."
Stan sighed. "I know. It was stupid and douchey. I was afraid of Wendy's reaction and afraid of being labeled as gay... I know that's shitty. I was being selfish... I wasn't thinking about your feelings, or Wendy's, really... not as much as I told myself I was. And for a while you seemed to be okay with how things were...I'm sorry."
"I was just happy to have you."
He hugged Kyle closer still, reveling in being able to touch him, finally, after what felt like so long. Then he took him by the shoulders and pushed him back just enough to maintain eye contact. "Listen, and please believe me. You are my soulmate. I don't know what I would do if anything happened to you. Kyle, literally, my number one goal in life has always been to keep you safe and happy and I've obviously failed miserably at doing one of those things. I'm not going to fail anymore, at either of them."
Kyle nodded and whispered softly, "Okay."
"It's been way too long since I've been able to kiss you," Stan said, grinning. He was, in a strange way, grateful for the apocalypse. He wasn?t sure he?d ever have grown the balls to fix things with Kyle otherwise, at least, not until it was too late. "Will you shove me into the fire if I do it now?"
With a quiet laugh, Kyle shook his head, and Stan didn't waste any time in yanking him forward. Kyle let out a small moan against his lips, something that never failed to make Stan's blood rush.
"Do you remember our first kiss?" he mumbled against Kyle's mouth.
"We were twelve and you got wasted and stumbled through my bedroom window at three in the morning," Kyle whispered bitterly, pulling away just enough to break contact. "You woke me up and told me you hated me and then kissed me... it hurt and your mouth tasted like alcohol, and I hated you for months afterward."
Stan flushed. He hadn't been referring to that first kiss; he could barely remember that and wished Kyle didn't either. "Not that one. The other one, the real one. Fourth of July after eighth grade. I wasn't drunk that time. And I kissed you and you told me you'd waited your entire life for that moment, and I loved you so much right then."
Kyle pulled away, and Stan felt cold again. "But you still pretended like nothing happened the next day. I wanted so badly to be good enough for you. I kept waiting for you to ask me out after that, or show up outside my window with your guitar or something ridiculous, but you didn't. You kept dating girls for another four years and then wondered why I wanted to stop having sleepovers."
Stan leaned in and kissed him again, tentatively, afraid Kyle was going to start another fight. "I loved that you finally demanded to know what was going on... I was going to run away from my feelings for you forever, I think." Another kiss. "I can't take back the last few years. But it's you and me now, that's it. I don't want to die with you thinking you don't mean the world to me." And another. "I'll tell her tomorrow."
And with that, Kyle grabbed his shirt and opened up for him, sighing and melting against his chest. "Stan..."
"Fuck, I love you," he whispered between kisses, hands grabbing at the redhead's hips. He had the urge to get Kyle inside his tent and fuck him senseless, to let all of his pent up desire and anger out, but that would seriously endanger the rest of the camp. Even the distraction of kissing was compromising their safety. Besides, Ike was sleeping in there and that would just be plain weird. But mostly it would be dangerous.
And, as if on cue, there was a rustling in the bushes. In half a second they were apart, guns at the ready, wildly searching for where the sound came from.
"It's me!" came a voice, and Kenny emerged from the trees with his hands up.
"Kenny?" Kyle called out, grabbing his flashlight to get a better look. "Where have you been?"
"I, uh... got out to take a piss a ways back and when I got back you all were gone. I think each of you must have thought I got into the other guy's car or something," Kenny said, and even though it sounded like a lie, Stan figured it must be true. He had a vague recollection of Kenny not being there for the past week, but couldn't remember when he'd gotten separated from the group. "I hijacked a car and just drove... first I went North but Denver was completely clogged with abandoned cars so I turned back and headed west. I'm glad I finally saw your cars on the side of the road, jeez."
"Were you followed?"
"Maybe a few, but they're a ways back."
They got an early start that morning, mostly to outrun the walkers that might have been on Kenny's tail. In all the excitement over Kenny's return and commotion from disassembling camp, Stan forgot to take Wendy aside, though he really did intend to break up with her. If he was going to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, he wanted to do it with Kyle. And more importantly, he needed Kyle to believe in him and trust him, fully and with no reservations, and that simply wasn't going to happen if Stan continued with what he'd been doing.
But one thing happened after another, and between driving and setting up various camps and fending off the undead, he never found the right moment. And day after day, Kyle grew more and more withdrawn.
Nearly everyone was gradually reaching the comfort level Stan had experienced right away - walkers were just walkers and killing them was becoming part of their daily life. After losing Butters, they'd all stepped their game up and gotten good practice with their weapons, sometimes going out of their way to hunt walkers just for the sake of "thinning the population". It was beginning to seem like a game, with Craig, Kevin, and Cartman keeping tally counts of their kills.
But despite that comfort, or maybe because of it, they weren't prepared for the small herd that happened upon their camp a week later, at the border of Colorado and Utah.
They'd just finished a meager dinner of canned beans and stale bread when suddenly Craig let out a shout. Before anyone could say or do anything, the walker had already ripped his throat out with its teeth and more were pouring into camp. Having no time to strategize or waste a moment to mourn for Craig, they all scrambled to grab their weapons.
Curses ran wild as they all began hacking and shooting away at any and all zombies they could, and everything seemed to blend together in the way it always did when they were doing any killing. It was hard to differentiate one walker from the next and none of them ever knew if they'd gotten hurt until after it was over. The aluminum baseball bat Stan brought from home continued to crush skulls perfectly, and it wasn't long before his shirt was splattered with brain matter and blood (not that anyone had been able to get the previous blood stains out). He caught glimpses of Bebe's wild blonde curls and Cartman's machete, felt the squish under his feet as he sprinted through the puddle of blood pooling next to Craig's body, but the camp was nothing more than a jumble of sounds and colors.
Except, as suddenly as it all started, everything came to a standstill when Stan heard Kyle let out a scream that wasn't simply one of rage and determination. This one was terrified. He fired a shot into the face of the walker in front of him before whipping around to locate Kyle. Wedged between two walkers, he spotted a flash of red hair. Kyle had his axe embedded in one of them, but another had grabbed his arm from behind, leaving him without a weapon as he struggled to keep away from its jaws.
"Kyle!" Stan shouted, leaping over dead bodies to get to him. His legs may as well have been made of jelly, moving in slow motion and tripping over everything. Sounds were distorted and even though he knew he was moving in the right direction, it felt like the distance between him and Kyle never grew any smaller, like he was deep underwater and fighting against a strong current.
Before he could so much as lift his arm, a single shot took out the offending walker. It wasn't important who did it, Stan didn't care - the thing let go of Kyle and fell to the ground, and that was all that mattered.
Time resumed its normal pace and he shouted Kyle's name again as he finally reached him, vaguely aware that the camp was strewn with corpses and Kenny was finishing off the last of them. All that really mattered was right in front of him, and before he could think twice about it, he was kissing Kyle with a level of desperation he'd never felt before.
"Are you okay?" he asked when he pulled away, though it came out more like he was just yelling at the other boy. Grabbing him by the shoulders, he scanned him for any obvious wounds. "Kyle, fuck-"
"I'm fine," Kyle replied breathlessly, looking dazed and pale. "It didn't-"
Stan cut him off and kissed him again, grateful that it was just a close call. His heart was hammering and he could feel Kyle shaking as he moved his hands to his face. "Shit. I heard you scream and my heart stopped."
"Did you shoot it?" Kyle asked hopefully, looking at Stan like he expected him to be his savior.
Stan shook his head, suddenly feeling like a failure. "No, it was... I don't know, I didn't see, I couldn't look away from you."
"It was me." Cartman's voice brought Stan back to reality, bursting the bubble he and Kyle had been in. And he realized that they were surrounded by their friends, who were all watching them. "And what the fuck was that?"
Cartman looked annoyed, or angry, Stan didn't really care which, or over what. He let go of Kyle and looked for Wendy, who he found standing a few feet away with tears in her eyes. The moment they made eye contact, she turned and ran toward their tent.
"Fuck," he muttered, and gave Kyle an apologetic look. As he left to go after her, he could hear Kyle asking Cartman how he'd been so quick. Stan hated the fact that Cartman was going to get credit for saving Kyle. It should've been him, was supposed to be him, and it was suspicious that Cartman was keeping an eye on Kyle to begin with.
He'd deal with Cartman later, though.
"Wendy, I'm sorry," he said as he lifted the tent flap. She was putting his stuff in his backpack, clearly intending to kick him out of the tent.
"So was that a heat of the moment thing where on the brink of death you realized you loved him all along?" she snapped without looking up. "Or has that been going on for a while now?"
"I didn't want you to find out like that. I was going to tell you."
"Well that answers that question. How long?" She finally looked up, and she looked so hurt and livid that Stan almost wanted to take it back. "How long, Stan?"
You can't make everyone happy, he reminded himself. She'll get over it. She has to.
"A year, almost."
"A year?!" she screamed, and if any walkers were still in the area they were probably making a beeline for their camp.
"You knew I always suspected something was up with you two. Since we were thirteen, Stan. The least you could have done was tell me when you finally started fucking him. Fucking Christ, a year, really?1"
"I didn't want to hurt your feelings!"
"Wow, thanks for the consideration! A cheating, lying bastard who cares about my feelings. Fuck off." She zipped up his backpack and threw it at him. "And by the way, it's completely gross for you to be making out with him when one of our friends died not even twenty minutes ago."
"I- I wasn't thinking, I was just overwhelmed with-"
"Spare me the speech about your feelings for him, that's the last thing I need right now. Get out of my tent."
"Fine. But technically, Wendy, you dumped me last year, before I got with Kyle. Maybe I wanted to before, but I didn't do it until after we broke up. So really, when we got back together, I was cheating on him, not you." That was definitely the wrong thing to say, but he'd never been good at placating her. "And I still want to be friends. We need to stick together."
Her glare was murderous, and when she spoke her voice was much scarier than he knew it had the capacity to get. "Get. Out. Of my. Tent."
Sighing, Stan stepped back outside. He dropped his backpack in front of Kyle's tent and rejoined the group, who had already started dragging bodies to the perimeter.
"If we outline the camp with them, the smell of them might mask the smell of us and keep other walkers away," Kevin explained, though he wasn't his usual cheerful self. Stan knew he and Craig had gotten close since this all started, but he didn't know what to say.
"What are we going to do about Craig?" Maybe it was insensitive, but it had to be asked.
"He won't be coming back as one of them. I made sure of that already," Kevin replied quietly, and walked off to grab another body.
Bebe pushed her hair out of her eyes, watching Kevin's back with an odd expression on her face. "We have to bury him like we did with Butters. It's the right thing to do."
"And by the way, before you make a big deal about it, none of us are surprised about you two," she waved her hand in his and Kyle's direction, "but just because the world has ended doesn't mean it's okay to be a cheater. You're a douchebag, and that's all I'm going to say about it."
"Fine with me." He didn't want to get into details with Bebe of all people; if Kyle wanted to talk to her, he could, but Stan didn't really care what she thought of him.
Wendy didn't come out of her tent that day, not to help move the corpses, not even to help dig Craig's grave. It annoyed everyone, especially Stan, that she was putting her own anger and embarrassment over her obligation to respect Craig's memory, even if he was an asshole. But he was putting his own feelings first, too. Maybe it was selfish and probably disrespectful, but Stan couldn't really force himself to feel sad about Craig when he was finally able to sleep next to Kyle that night. It was like coming home again, and holding Kyle gave him some peace of mind. Despite the events of the day, he fell asleep feeling happy for the first time in weeks. If that made him a dick, so be it.
It was the apocalypse, after all. Rules no longer existed and morals were questionable at best, especially in a world where humanity's true nature was forced to take over. Everyone was selfish, had to be in a situation like this.
Stan didn't mind being selfish. It made things simpler. As long as he and Kyle were alive, that was all that mattered. Simple.