Safe Haven Village
Chapter 8written by confunded - illustrated by Nowhere and Samara/ContemplatingSketches
"Hey, did you keep that promise ring I gave you last year?" Stan asked as he trailed his fingers along Kyle's stomach. It was dark, and their tent was so cozy they could almost let themselves forget this wasn't just a camping trip.
"You mean the one you gave me after you got back with Wendy? Accompanied by the promise that someday you'd have the balls to tell the world about us?" Kyle replied coolly, though he made no move to push Stan's hand away. He glanced over and was met with apologetic blue eyes. "Yes, I kept it. Though there were times I considered throwing it into Stark's Pond."
"I brought it with me," he added, blushing. "It seemed important. I guess that's dumb."
"It's not dumb. Can you put it on?"
Kyle smirked; Stan was always overly sentimental. He rolled over and crawled to his backpack, fishing through the front pockets for a minute before his fingers found the metal loop. Smiling, he withdrew it and slipped it on. It had always felt too gay to actually wear, back when the world existed, but such reservations were pointless now.
"Perfect," Stan said when Kyle settled back down, head resting against his shoulder. He picked up Kyle's hand, examined it for a moment, and then kissed it, like they were in an old movie. Kyle laughed.
"So gay," he said, but Stan didn't let go.
"Would you have married me? If none of this happened, I mean," he asked seriously, tugging Kyle closer.
"Of course," Kyle answered quietly, the question making him blush despite it being such an empty offer now.
"Can we pretend that happened?" Stan was blushing himself, fingering the ring as he earnestly stared into Kyle's eyes. "And this doesn't have to be about some stupid promise I was too chicken to follow through on. It can be a symbol of how much I love you, now. A reminder that nothing will happen to you while I'm around. 'Til death do us part', and stuff."
"You're so cheesy," Kyle said, shifting to rest his head on Stan's chest. "Alright, we can be married now. I guess we can decide that sort of shit for ourselves now, no certificate required. You need a ring, too, though."
"We can take one off a walker at some point."
"Pretty sure it's the only way, sorry," Stan joked, and rolled over to pin Kyle to the ground.
Later, asleep in Stan's arms, Kyle dreamt of what their life might have been like if society hadn't crumbled around them.
For three days, they waited for word from Cartman. They'd set up camp only a short distance from the village, out of sight but close enough to hear gunfire, if there was any. But only silence came through the trees, and although spending time with Stan and pretending everything was okay calmed his nerves a bit, Kyle felt more antsy every day.
"They should have done something by now," he said, perched on top of the large rock by their tent. "What if they failed?"
"They're not going to fail," Stan replied as he walked over. He stood between Kyle's knees, and held onto his hips as though he might fall off the rock otherwise. "I hate Cartman's guts, but I think he's capable of taking a town away from a couple of crazy Mormons."
"I hope so."
As if on cue, they heard rustling in the trees. For a split second, for one joyous moment, Kyle thought it was Cartman coming to bring them back, but it wasn't. Instead, a pair of walkers stumbled into their camp. It was disappointing, though not unexpected; they'd had a few strays drift into the vicinity since they arrived.
This time, though, another three of them emerged from the trees after the first two.
"Fuck," Stan said, and Kyle jumped down from the rock. They ran to grab their weapons, which were still by the fire from the last time a zombie wandered through their camp. By the time Stan handed Kyle the axe and took up his baseball bat, two more had joined the others. And then another two.
"Stan-" Kyle started, terrified. They'd never had to fight so many on their own before.
"Just start killing them," the other boy shot back, and charged the group.
Kyle forced himself not to pay attention to what Stan was doing and rushed at one of the walkers, swiftly plunging the axe into its skull. Not for the first time he wondered if the disease made bone softer; either that, or they were just getting that much stronger and better at killing them.
For a minute, it seemed like they could handle it. Kyle got two down, and he could see Stan out of the corner of his eye doing the same. But more were coming into camp, and they were quickly surrounded.
"There are too many!" he shouted, stumbling back as he pulled the axe out of an especially gruesome one.
"We need the guns, go get the guns!" Stan yelled back, and Kyle bolted to the tent. Their guns had been returned to them, along with extra ammo, but they kept them in their bags because they didn't expect to have to use them. Their other weapons had been serving them well, so far, and firing guns only seemed to draw more zombies to them.
Hands shaking, he loaded each pistol, listening for Stan's voice in case anything went wrong. Just as he finished, a groan came from behind him, cold fingers grabbing at his shirt. He cried out and whipped around, face to face with rotting teeth and sunken eyes. He could hear Stan call his name, but he'd already raised one of the guns and pulled the trigger.
Blood spattered the walls of the tent, and the body slumped forward into his lap. He shoved it aside with a disgusted groan and scrambled out into the open, guns in hand.
Stan was surrounded. More had come during the time Kyle was inside, though it couldn't have been more than a minute or two.
No, it's not going to end this way, not now, he thought miserably. Brow furrowed, he turned and shot another walker in the face before rushing toward Stan. All he had to do was get to him, give him one of the guns, and they'd be okay.
Shots were being fired, the sound ringing in Kyle's ears, and it felt like he wasn't in control of his body. He was moving, aiming at the zombies and taking them out, but his eyes were on his partner, couldn't look away as Stan fumbled - just for a second - and lost control.
Kyle screamed as one of their hands tore so easily through the fabric of his shirt, through the flesh and muscle of his stomach, unbelievably strong for being so easy to kill. Stan doubled over, shock on his face as his eyes met Kyle's, and another took the opportunity to bite him right where his neck met his shoulder.
Time stopped, and Kyle felt like his heart had been ripped from his chest.
"NO!" he shouted, vision blurred as he took aim at anything that was moving. He had to get them off of Stan, had to, and if he could just kill them, they'd be okay. They could get through this. Stan would be fine, he had to be, because this wasn't how their story was supposed to end.
And when he was finished, when it was over and all that was left were twenty corpses littering their campsite, he rushed to Stan's side.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he said, voice broken and desperate as he uselessly tried to cover one of Stan's wounds with his hands. "I couldn't get to you -"
He blinked the tears out of his eyes and looked at Stan's face. He was actually smiling, the stupid asshole, like he was trying to tell Kyle everything was going to be okay. "No, don't look at me like that," Kyle said, his panic coming out very clearly in his voice. "You'll be fine, we just-"
"I love you," Stan said, and coughed, blood dribbling from the side of his mouth. "Remember that, okay?"
"You can't." Couldn't die, couldn't leave, couldn't do anything that would separate them. He knew that. It was an unspoken rule.
"Do you remember, all the times you were sick when we were kids, and I said you couldn't die until I did?" He groaned as he lifted his hand to take Kyle's, as though every movement was painful for him. "I was always meant to go first. I kind of thought we'd be eighty or something, though, so this sucks."
Kyle shook his head, unable to handle how lightly Stan seemed to be taking this. "You can't go."
"Promise me you won't come with me," Stan said, serious now. Kyle knew what he meant. "You wait for them to come find you. Do not give up because of this. Do you promise?"
Kyle nodded, though he wasn't sure he'd keep that promise.
"And don't," he coughed again and closed his eyes, "please don't let me come back as one of them."
"Stan," he whispered, bending over to press their foreheads together.
"I'm fine with this, so don't cry."
"How can you be fine with it?" Kyle asked, angry at him for being so calm.
Stan's grip tightened on his hand. "I met my soulmate when I was three years old, and we had a really fucked up life. Sometimes you were the only good thing in the whole world, and sometimes I took you for granted. I?m sorry for taking so long to realize you?re the only thing that matters. And I'm sorry for all the times I said shitty things to you, I never meant them."
"Tell me you love me, please."
"I love you," Kyle whispered, his voice gone. He kissed Stan's lips, tasting blood. The other boy moved his arm out, inviting Kyle to lie next to him. It seemed so ludicrous, to lay like that now, the way they always had, even during sleepovers when their feelings for each other were still unknown to them. But Kyle obliged, saying nothing. He wanted to tell Stan that he didn't know how to live without him, but he knew Stan needed him to be strong right now.
"Tell me about the first time you knew you loved me."
"You know that story."
"Tell me anyway."
Kyle wiped his eyes, unable to stop the tears from coming. "Okay," he said, and tried to ignore the smell of blood, the way it was seeping through his hair and sticking to his skin. "We were eleven, well, you were twelve, but I was eleven, and Cartman had just finished some stupid scheme, I forget what it was. But he started making fun of me, more ruthless about it than usual, like saying I'd end up a fat bitch like my mom and telling me how ugly and annoying I am, and then you punched him."
He shifted against Stan, listening to his heart. He was still there. Still there, but Kyle began to talk faster anyway. "And you didn't usually do that, you usually let me fight my own battles when it came to him, but it was like what he said made you so mad you couldn't help it. And he cried, and you told me none of what he said was true, and I don't know, it was such a stupid thing to fall in love with you over. But it wasn't really falling in love, it was more like realizing I was already in love. And -" Something was wrong. Stan's breathing was too shallow. "Stan?"
Kyle didn't move, couldn't breathe, as the hand that was around his shoulders went limp and Stan's heartbeat went silent beneath his ear. "No," he whispered, as though it would bring him back. He lifted his head, hair sticking to Stan's chest, soaked with his blood. "Please."
He inched forward, his entire body feeling too heavy to move, and reached up to touch Stan's face. "You can't do this, it's not fair," he said, voice cracking. It was no use, he knew. His hand was shaking as he ran it through Stan's hair.
He stayed that way, staring at Stan's face, wishing for him to open his eyes, for a couple of minutes. Part of him, the most desperate and insane part, wanted to wait, wait until he turned and just let him take his life. Then they'd be together again, even if it was in undeath. They would feel no affection for each other's soulless husks, but at least they'd be together, and he wouldn't have to be alone.
But no. No, he promised Stan he wouldn't let him turn.
Slowly, numbly, he pushed himself up into a sitting position and picked up one of the guns he'd discarded the moment he reached Stan's body. He knew he was running out of time; people turned quickly, sometimes mere minutes after dying. Stan's eyes could open any second, though they wouldn't be his eyes anymore.
Kyle held the gun steady, whispered an apology and one last declaration of love, and pulled the trigger.
He wasn't sure when or how he went from standing over Stan's body to lying beside it, and if it weren't for the hole in his head, Kyle might have thought he never even stood up to begin with. But it seemed like the only thing that made sense, to just lie with him and waste away into nothing. His heart was heavy, his whole body weighed down with how much this hurt, and it seemed impossible to even consider moving.
He tried to hold the gun to his own head, tried to tell himself he had the strength to pull the trigger, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Stan asked him not to. He promised him that he wouldn't. And even if he hadn't, he wasn't sure he'd be capable of doing it. Finally, he decided to just stay with Stan until another herd of walkers came along. Even just one would do. He'd wait, for as long as it took, and then let it rip him to shreds. That way he at least wouldn't be breaking his promise to Stan. Kind of.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, though no one was there to hear it.
The stench of blood made him want to vomit. It wasn't Stan's fault, really. They were surrounded by bodies in various stages of decomposition. He would have tried to relocate to a nicer area if he thought he had the strength to do it. But he didn't, so he just curled tighter against Stan, closing his eyes and pretending that they were just dozing off together in a field back in South Park.
"It's stupid that you think I can do this without you," he said, lifting his head to look into Stan's unmoving face. "I've never been able to do anything without you. I'd be dead already, would've been for years, if it weren't for you. And you think I can survive in this world by myself?" He sighed. "You always thought too highly of me."
Gradually, the sky began to darken, but Kyle didn't move. He stayed with Stan and relived some of his fondest memories, not just of their relationship but of their entire life together. He pretended that this was all a dream and they were back in South Park, and he talked about how they'd visit each other's colleges and never drift apart. He told Stan about his perfect house, what kind of dogs they'd have and how many kids they'd adopt, intermittently sobbing because he knew he should have said all of this while Stan was still alive.
"I wish you were cleaner," he said eventually, as though Stan could have helped the gaping wounds in his stomach and shoulder. "I always loved the way you smelled. That crappy shampoo you used... I miss it. I miss you already."
The stars were bright that night, brighter than they ever were, even in the Rocky Mountains. It probably had something to do with having no electricity, but staring up into them made Kyle feel like he was floating in space. Maybe he was dead too, and this was simply what death felt like. Seeing, feeling, but being unable to move or keep track of time. It couldn't just be grief. He grieved for his parents. This was worse, closer to insanity than anything he'd ever felt before.
Stan? He blinked once, and then again, slowly tilting his head toward Stan's. His hair seemed to crack, so encrusted with dried blood that it felt solid. How long had he been lying there? Surely a zombie must have killed him by now. But he wasn't dead, and Stan wasn't talking to him.
"Holy shit - Kyle!"
That didn't sound like Stan. He blinked again, glancing up to see a figure standing in the dark. No, you're too late. Go away.
But hands were on his shoulders, pulling him, forcing him up and away from Stan's body. He shook his head, felt his limbs hitting and kicking, heard the protests coming from his mouth but they sounded so far away, like the real Kyle was submerged deep underwater somewhere.
The back of Cartman's hand met his cheek and then he was on the ground again, skin burning where he'd been hit. "What the fuck?" he said, all at once back to reality.
"You were getting hysterical," Cartman said, indicating bright red scratch marks on his face. "You scratched me, you crazy bitch!"
"Go away!" Kyle shouted, staggering to his feet. He took a step backward, away from Cartman and closer to Stan. "You're too late! You waited too long to come for us! Look around you, it's a fucking graveyard here!" He could barely understand himself, could barely see Cartman he was crying so hard. "He's gone! You did this, it's your fault!"
"That's insane. Kyle, we needed time! The second we found out you guys were gone, we put our plan into action. We thought they killed you! I've never been so mad in my life, I didn't even kill Elder Hales right away - I made him talk first. He deserved what came to him, and I found out they just sent you out here on your own," Cartman said, with the nerve to sound like he'd done something positive. Stan was dead - nothing Cartman did would ever matter again.
"I'm glad he's dead. Now go away," Kyle spat, taking another step back. "Leave me alone."
"I came looking for you the moment it was possible, I swear it."
"Not soon enough." Kyle bent down to pick up his gun, the one he'd been unable to use on himself. "You waited too long. And we got ambushed, there were too many of them. Are you happy, Cartman? Are you glad he's gone?"
"Kyle..." Cartman held his hands up, took a cautious step forward, like Kyle was a wounded animal he'd found in the wild.
"I couldn't do it," Kyle said, laughing despite himself. "It was my idea, the suicide pact. I told you that, right? That it was my idea? I wanted it. I told him, if he died, I would die too. But he died, and I couldn't do it. I tried, but I chickened out."
"That's not chickening out."
"So I thought, I'll just wait. Another walker will come along. It'll kill me and then we could be together again. I was going to wait," Kyle ranted, waving the gun carelessly, wanting to point it at Cartman's face. "And then you came along instead, and ruined it, like you ruin everything good in my life."
"I'm not ruining anything, I'm saving your ass from dying in the wild!" Cartman said, and seemed legitimately offended. He took a step closer. "And not for the first time, either! I know you're sad, or whatever, but I'm not leaving you out here to starve to death or become walker food. You're coming back with me."
"No! I'm staying with him. I can't leave him."
"He's dead, Kyle. There's nothing you can do." Another step closer, and then another.
"I know that he's not coming back. That's why I need to stay. I can't live without him."
"I know," Cartman said, quiet and placating. He took another step and slowly reached forward, taking the gun out of Kyle's hand. He placed it on the ground and kicked it aside. "I know you think that. But you're stronger than you think you are. Just because you've never had to live without him before, doesn't mean you can't."
Kyle shook his head, but the moment Cartman's extended his arms he collapsed into them, exhausted and unable to control his grief. Cartman let him cry, resting his chin on top of Kyle's head, muttering consoling words, though they were clearly not coming naturally to him.
Eventually Kyle agreed to go back, on the condition that Cartman bring Stan's body with them. He needed a proper funeral, and Kyle needed a grave to visit. Returning to Safe Haven was a blur, the cheerful welcome quickly ending once the rest of the group saw Stan's body.
It turned out that after Elder Hales kicked Stan and Kyle out, Kevin and Cartman threw caution to the wind and simply broke into the weapons shed and raided the town, killing anyone who resisted them (at least on Cartman's part). Most of the Mormons surrendered immediately, having no idea what was going on or for what reason. The leader and his three underlings were murdered and burned, and no one had since spoken out against Cartman taking over with Kevin and Ike at his side.
Kyle found that he couldn't care less about any of it. He was barely able to muster up the energy to hug Ike before retiring to his bed, willing to stay there forever if they'd let him.
At one point, Bebe came to visit him. He turned over to look at her, unsure of how much time had passed since he first collapsed onto the cot. "Hey," she said from the doorway, nervous and quiet, like she pitied him. "I brought you some chocolate. There was a bunch in food storage... your brother took a decent amount of it for his own personal stash, too. He said you liked this kind the best."
Kyle pushed himself up and accepted the candy from her as she sat down on the foot of his bed. It was a simple chocolate bar with almonds, the most expensive kind they had at the checkout counter but not expensive enough to have its own display.
"Chocolate always makes me feel better. I'm sure it makes everyone feel better."
"Are you making a Harry Potter reference?" he asked, and his voice came out cracked and hollow, completely spent after hours of painful sobbing.
"Sort of," she said, smiling.
"Thanks. But it won't make me feel better."
"You should still eat something."
He examined the package for a moment before opening it. When he found it next to impossible to chew and swallow the first piece, he offered the rest to her. She told him she would eat a bite for every one he took, like he was a child being told to eat his vegetables.
"I need to apologize to you," she said after a few minutes of silence. "What I said when Kenny was sick, at the pharmacy before we came here... about how you didn't know what it was like to lose someone so close to you. I meant to say sorry before. I felt bad about it right after, because we all lost our parents, you know? But it seemed unfair, that you still had so many loved ones left and I'd just lost Wendy... it was really selfish, and I want you to know I wasn't wishing this on you, ever. I would never think that."
"I know. I never thought that's what you meant," Kyle replied, sighing. "I haven't been mad at you."
"Are we still friends?"
"Of course." Kyle didn't think he'd been much of a friend to her, though, or to anyone.
"I understand if you don't want to talk about it yet," she added, and he knew what she was referring to. "Or ever."
They sat in silence, and he was grateful for her company, despite not wanting to talk. He ended up asking her to stay with him that night, and even though she fell asleep and he didn't, he was glad not to be alone.
The next morning, Cartman called a town meeting.
"People of Safe Haven Village," he began, standing on top of what looked like a milk crate. Kevin and Ike stood on either side of him. Kyle and Bebe stood together in the front row, surrounded by the original residents and the remaining Mormons, all of whom looked frightened. "It is my pleasure to welcome you to a new era of humanity."
He paused, as though he was expecting applause. "My first order of business, obviously, is to rename this town. Safe Haven Village sounds retarded, but my friends and I have yet to decide on something suitably awesome."
If it were any other situation, Cartman would have been wearing a tie and had his hair slicked back to look more political. As it was, he was tieless and looked like he hadn't slept in days. It almost made him look more intimidating, despite how stupid his speech was so far.
"Secondly, I want you all to rest assured that you won't be murdered in your sleep." Kevin cringed, and a few of the residents exchanged worried glances. "Unlike your previous leader, I am not a psychopath. No one will be put out into the wild due to background or lifestyle. Even if I personally am not a fan of certain minority groups, frankly that shit isn't important anymore. What matters is survival. Our survival. The survival of this town."
Cartman puffed his chest out self importantly and adjusted his shirt collar. "As far as I'm concerned, everyone here has a purpose, a role to fulfill in the next stage of human existence. In the coming days, the members of my group and I will be assigning roles, mostly with the intent of continuing to gather supplies and clean up the zombie population." He grinned. "Unless you prove to be a liability to the community's survival, you have nothing to worry about."
"The founders of this place wanted the people who lived here to be able to survive, in the previous fucked up society and in situations like the one we're in. They may have been dirty hippies - no offense - but they had the right idea. The world is a dangerous place, moreso now than ever before, and only the strong will survive. And everyone here is strong, otherwise we wouldn't be here. That is why I can safely say, in this war against those zombie fucks, we're already winning.
"That being said, I need to know that all of you are loyal to me and my friends. That is not to say we'll be ruling over you, per se, as things concerning the town will be put to a vote," Cartman continued, though he didn't look pleased about the last part. "But the only way any of us will survive is if we're loyal to each other. If you spot any suspicious activity, inside or outside of the compound, tell someone immediately. Like I said, frivolous differences won't be punished, but dangerous behavior will not be tolerated."
At this point, he had everyone's attention, even Kyle's, though he was perhaps more skeptical of Cartman's abilities than the rest. "Put your faith in me, and you will get through this. Your children will live to see a world where hiding behind gates and walls won't be necessary anymore. Our loved ones, friends, and family, will not have died for no reason. And we won't forget about them. We shouldn't." He looked directly at Kyle, then. "But in order to succeed, we must all move on from the past. Grief won't help us now."
He smiled again, the winning, cocky smile that always ended up getting Cartman what he wanted. "If you're ready to join us and embrace the new way of life, say 'aye' now. If you're not willing, then the way out is right over there," he said, pointing in the direction of the guard tower.
The murmurs of 'aye' began slowly, quietly, but eventually everyone joined in. In some insane way, Cartman's speech, however full it was of ulterior motives, made Kyle think that maybe everything would work out in the end. He was right, after all. Their goal should be to reestablish society, to make the world livable for the next generations. It was only right that he should be involved in that; it would be selfish to give up now, when so much was at stake. Stan would have wanted him to do this. So he added his own 'aye', the last person to say it.
Cartman's grin widened further. "To the future."
"To the future."
The echoed words sent chills down Kyle's spine.