When Butters leaves South Park for college, Kenny leaves, too. He moves to Ohio and rents a shitty apartment that's half an hour from Oberlin. Butters has a room in the dorms that his parents are paying rather dearly for, but he stays with Kenny most nights, keeping warm under the blankets piled onto Kenny's floor mattress as Halloween draws near and the temperature drops.

Kenny works two jobs just to pay the rent on the place and takes handouts that Butters sneaks from the cafeteria, his meal plan also funded by his parents. If they knew about Kenny they would cut Butters off, but their relationship is a secret to everyone but Cartman, and he's too happy in his own post-high school romantic bliss to give them any trouble.

When they're sitting at a campus coffee shop, Butters tucked under Kenny's arm while he works on a paper for his gender studies class, Kenny reading and not enjoying Gravity's Rainbow, which Butters has been assigned for his freshman lit class, Kenny looks up from the book and thinks he spots actual trouble coming, his grip on Butters tightening instinctively. Someone familiar has just entered the coffee shop. Damien fucking Thorn, walking in with a chirpy-looking blond stud who has the nerve to smile sweetly at Kenny's scowl as the two approach their table.

"I thought you were supposed to be enduring centuries of soul-crushing charades," Kenny says when Damien stares down at him, hands in the pockets of his black pea coat. Kenny's heart is pounding. Butters is oblivious; Kenny has never confessed to him about the abusive relationship with Damien that he subjected himself to for now reason, thinking he was saving the world from evil. "How did you escape?" Kenny asks, beginning to wonder how he and Butters will.

"I asked God to strip me of my immortal soul," Damien says. His voice seems different. Deeper, but less threatening, less angry. Everything about him seems different, in fact— Maybe losing one's immortal soul will have that effect, if he's actually telling the truth.

"The charades were that bad?" Kenny asks, raising his eyebrows.

Damien looks at the blond guy standing next to him and laughs. There's something weird about it— Something ... warm.

"You do hate charades," the blond guy says, smoothing Damien's black bangs from his forehead. Damien's lashes flutter under this attention; he nearly swoons. Kenny's mouth drops open. "I guess you guys don't recognize me," the blond says, still smiling like this is the best day ever. "My name is Gary Harrison— We went to elementary school together briefly, before my family moved back to Utah."

"Okay," Kenny says, none of that ringing a bell for him. His gaze slides back to Damien, but Damien is still gazing at Gary as if he's Gary's willing slave, awaiting his next order.

"Oh, hey!" Butters says. "I remember you! You were real nice to me when we were kids. How've ya been, Gary?"

"Very well." Gary smiles at Damien again. "I'm at BYU now. We're just in town for the day. Damien has some business here." Gary rubs Damien's back. "Go on," he says, softly. Kenny's skin crawls with secondhand embarrassment at the sight of Damien, of all people, being treated so tenderly. Damien sighs and stares into Gary's dreamy blue eyes for a few beats before turning to Kenny again.

"I gave up my immortality because I heard Gary's prayers," Damien says. "While I was in Heaven. What he was praying for is personal, but it moved me. To put it mildly. I begged God to make me mortal so I could be with Gary, and God answered my prayers. My father was furious, of course— Why, I don't know. It's not like I won't end up back in Hell with him when this mortal body fails me. But Gary will be there, too, and that's all that matters."

"Wait," Kenny says. "I remember you now, Gary, the Mormon kid. So he's going to Heaven, Damien, ha! Joke's on you after all. With the whole, um. Stripping someone of their eternal love thing that you. Tried to do."

"Oh no," Gary says. "I left the church. That's what I was praying to God about, in part. I still feel close to Him, but I grew disenchanted with the church. Anyway, enough about me. Damien, go ahead. Tell him."

Damien sighs and squares his shoulders. There's no red flame in his eyes now. He seems annoyed but determined.

"Kenny," Damien says. "I'm sorry."

Kenny just stares, then glances at Butters, who looks very confused.

"Okay," Kenny says when he turns back to Damien. "Noted."

"I shouldn't have abused you for my own entertainment and sense of petty vengeance," Damien says, hurrying the words out. "It was wrong of me. I regret it. I hope you will forgive me, but that's up to you. I'm sorry, truly."

"Fine," Kenny says. "Okay."

"Oh, and I found Jesus," Damien says, airily. "He's sort of living in God's basement right now, taking a little time to reevaluate His afterlife, watching a lot of Netflix. But He's okay. He's thinking about returning to Earth when He gets his shit in order. Maybe for grad school."

"Fuck," Kenny says, wincing. "Um, of course. Sure, yeah."

"I think Kenny needs some time to process all this, hon," Gary says, rubbing Damien's back again. "Let's give them some space. Have a blessed day, guys."

Damien shrugs when Kenny frowns at him, and then turns to leave with Gary. They don't even order any coffee on their way out. They came all this way just for that. Kenny turns back to Butters.

"What was all that about?" Butters asks. He touches Kenny's cheek and strokes his thumb under Kenny's eye. "He said— He abused you?"

"He— Yeah. I— That was, um. My ex-boyfriend. He abused the shit out of me. I didn't want you to know, I— Guess I was embarrassed. For getting myself into that and not leaving, and—"

"Oh, Kenny!" Butters pushes his laptop onto the table and throws his arms around Kenny, holds him tight. Kenny wraps his arms around Butters and sinks into the feeling of security that lives here, anytime they hold each other, still so overcome, every time, by the soaring relief of it: Butters loves him. Kenny belongs wholly to Butters now. It feels so good, better than any return to life he's ever known. "It's not your fault," Butters says, very seriously, cupping Kenny's face in his hands when he pulls back. "I know that feeling like you— You think that it must be something did wrong. But no way, mister. You can't blame yourself for the bad things other people have done to you."

"I know, you're right." Kenny presses his face to Butters' cheek. "I love you," he says, for the third time today. "You're so— I just love you."

They kiss for a while before ordering another latte to share. It's outside of their budget, but it seems like an occasion to celebrate. When it arrives they trade sips and return to their paper writing and reading, respectively. Kenny thinks he knows a little something about heaven, probably more than the Mormons with their charades, up in the clouds. More than most people who've ever lived, he'd bet.

Kyle thought he would like college. He does like that it represents a literal and figurative escape from his parents and the shitshow that's going on in his childhood home which made even giving birth in Hell seem like a peaceful respite in comparison, and he likes that his parents are paying for a nice apartment that's big enough for both him and Ike, who has moved in with Kyle after threatening to file for legal emancipation. Less good is the fact that Kyle can't concentrate on his course work as much as he'd like to because he's constantly worried about Stan.

He supposes ‘worried' isn't really the right word. Preoccupied might be better. He's still friends with Stan, but that's all. They don't feel like best friends anymore, since their return to Earth. They don't feel like mother and son either, which is a relief, but Kyle still holds a pillow at night and imagines it's Stan, protected in his arms and rebuilt, body and soul, from Kyle's pain, humiliation, from everything he had to offer.

On Halloween, Ike goes out to some costume party and Kyle sits on the couch with horror movies on TV and a pizza that intends to consume alone. Stan made some vague overtures about doing something together on Halloween, since they always spent this night together as kids, but he's been flaky since school start, probably making new and more exciting friends. Friends who didn't once hold Stan in their makeshift Satan-generated wombs before pushing them out of their assholes. Cool friends like that.

There's a knock on Kyle's door a little after nine o'clock, after he's finished half his pizza. He grabs the bag of fun-sized Snickers that he got on the off chance that some trick-or-treaters might show up to these college apartments and mostly, actually, for the excuse of being able to eat the whole bag himself after nobody showed up. He opens the door, Snickers bag in hand, and finds Stan in what appears to be a Freddie Mercury costume, fake moustache and all.

"Hi," Stan say, adjusting his junk at the front of his deep-V, white unitard. "I— My roommates thought this would be funny, I guess because I'm gay? I don't know. They paid to rent it for me and everything. A bunch of people at this party I was just at Instagrammed it. But the party was boring, and I was getting drunk, and I walked here, just. Wishing I was with you."

"Come in," Kyle says, wanting to rip that moustache from Stan's handsome face. With it, Stan looks like his fucking father. Kyle is so tired of weird parental drama mixed with sexual tension. When Stan is in his foyer, Kyle does rip the moustache off. Stan makes a pained little noise that is mixed with something like gratitude.

"Oh," Stan says, looking down at the moustache when it's in Kyle's hand. "I forgot I was wearing that."

Their eyes meet. Kyle drops the moustache and the Snickers bag, the latter landing with an almost liquid splat on the tile in the foyer.

"Hi," Stan says again, his voice shaking now. Kyle is already leaning up onto his toes, already grabbing Stan's perfect jaw line, already kissing him even before their lips touch, somehow— It's unstoppable, more real than anything they've ever been put through, as solid as the hard-won ground they're standing on.

"I don't care," Kyle says when he can speak again, Stan still trying to kiss him like he's afraid he won't ever get this again so he'd better keep this one chance going for as long as he can. "I don't care, Stan, do you? What happened, whatever— I don't care, I just need—"

Kyle glances down without even meaning to. He wants to whoop and jump and clap his hands over his head when he sees Stan's big, hard dick straining against the front of the cheap Freddie-style unitard. He restrains himself and beams up at Stan instead.

"Kyle," Stan says. "I loved you even when I was possessed by Satan. I loved you when I was five years old and you retaught me how to tie my shoes. I loved you when we got back to South Park and you wanted to die because— Well, because of everything. I should have been there for you."

"I wasn't ready to have you back," Kyle says. "But now— Yeah. I can't live without you. Not for— Not for another second. That's what this whole fucked-up thing was about, really. That I would have laid down more than my life just to have you back. And I did."

"I know you did," Stan says. He kisses Kyle again, moaning into Kyle's mouth with what sounds like wonder when he's allowed to, and when Kyle's tongue slips out to stroke against Stan's. They kiss all the way to the bedroom. Kyle rips the unitard when he hurries to get it off of Stan, and doesn't care. Fuck Stan's roommates. They can pay the damn deposit for this costume.

Kyle's eyes get wet when Stan finally slides into him again. Not because of the time Stan very distinctly slid out of him. He's on the verge of crying because he needs this to be real, something he can finally keep. Because he would still do anything, anything.

"I'm so sorry," Stan says, whispering this against Kyle's mouth.

"For— What? It's okay, dude, we both needed some time—"

"No, I mean, for before— For the way it must have seemed like I was using you. Crawling in through your window like that. Saying all that dumb shit, practically forcing you—"

"Shh, okay. Yeah, you were pretty fucked up. It was fucked up, just— thank you. For recognizing that. But you're just— You always felt, like. Mine? Like my responsibility. Before the shit that went down in Hell. Oh my god, Stan, we went to Hell together!"

"I know, dude, I know." Stan is thrusting gently even while saying so, and crying a little. Kyle loves him so much, kisses him so hard. "I'd return the favor," Stan says, sniffling, his thrusts getting harder. "If you needed me to."

"Thanks," Kyle says, and when he starts laughing he can't stop, but Stan is laughing, too, still crying, and still fucking him. It's a good combination.

When they're finished they return to the living room and split the rest of the pizza before starting in on the bag of fun-size Snickers. No trick or treaters come. Kyle falls asleep on Stan's naked chest and doesn't wake until he hears Stan shushing Ike as he enters the apartment around three in the morning.

"Kyle's sleeping," Stan says, pushing his fingers into Kyle's hair. Kyle pretends to still be asleep and soon enough he is, dreaming of things that are truly, finally happening.

Cartman drops his laundry off at Liane's before driving to the Broflovski house. He checked the garage for her car before letting himself in but is still nervous when he creeps through the living room to leave the huge bag of stinking clothes near the coffee table. He stares at it, reconsiders, and moves it to the laundry room so she won't have to haul it there. Sheila draws the line at doing his laundry. Cartman tells himself he'll get in touch with his mother later and leaves.

It's snowing hard, and there's another storm coming, supposedly due to arrive around midnight. Though it's only three o'clock the sky is already darkening, and the town is quiet. It's Friday, and later there will be drinking and music at the town's few bars, but it's nothing like the scene at CSU, and Cartman is glad. He's started sleeping with other guys, but something about this town and the house where he's headed keeps calling him home, every other weekend or so, and it's not just laundry-related.

As he'd hoped, Sheila's car is gone when he arrives. Gerald has a pussified little electric car, and it's sitting in the driveway, three inches of snow collected on its roof. Their driveway needs shoveling. Ike moved to Boulder to live with Stan and Kyle, apparently preferring the sound of their gay lovemaking to that of Cartman being fucked by Gerald. Cartman gets it, sort of. It's not like he ever had a dad to hypothetically hate for fucking a guy who's almost thirty years younger than him and had some confused ideas about Hitler as a child, but if Liane was suddenly fucking Kenny or something he'd be pissed as hell, though he supposes that's impossible since Kenny moved off to Kentucky or some shit to tend to the needs of Butters' bleached asshole while Butters goes to some prissy private school.

Cartman feels wistful as he approaches the front door, digging out his key. He's not sure what for: not those so-called friends of his youth, because fuck those guys. Cartman hasn't actually seen Kyle since he returned home with Stan and packed up his shit to leave for college, mostly because Kyle refuses to see him and barely even speaks to Gerald, still all butthurt about the fact that Gerald and Cartman found love in a hopeless place, but Cartman fully intends to accept Sheila's invitation to join them for Thanksgiving, and Kyle can just get over himself if he doesn't want to miss the sweet potato casserole with the little crumbly sweet things on top. More for Cartman, if Kyle decides to be a little bitch and eat with the Marshes.

It's tiring, having a pseudo-stepson. Cartman needs to Kyle to behave himself so that Gerald won't get all mopey because his feelings are hurt and he thinks he's a bad father or whatever. Fuck Kyle's ungrateful ass. Gerald is a great father. Cartman might not know shit about having a dad, but he can tell.

"Ey, babe," he says when he finds Gerald in his home office, going through some shithead client's messy box of documents.

"Oh, hey," Gerald says. He tilts his chin and accepts a kiss on the cheek when Cartman hugs him from behind. "I hoped that was you. How was the drive from school?"

"Pretty shitty, the traffic sucked and it's snowing hard. Is that the Talbot case?"

"No, this is a new client, a lawyer who's being sued by a former client. The circle of legal life."

"Jesus. Do you guys have beer?"

"I don't think so, but there's some wine in the fridge."

Cartman can't find a clean wine glass, so he drinks wine out of a coffee mug and watches the snowfall through the kitchen window. The wine is pink but it tastes okay. Cartman can't really tell, with wine. He normally drinks vodka mixed with Gatorade, or rum with Coke, or whiskey sours, or whatever's around, really. College is about getting laid and getting fucked up, and the classes are a pain in the ass, but Gerald helps with his papers sometimes. He says they're fun, compared to writing briefs about RICO violations and real estate malpractice.

"All done," Gerald says when Cartman has finished a mug full of wine and has started in on some leftover pasta salad.

"Remember when I asked you to fuck me on that table?" Cartman asks, nodding to it.

Gerald grins and nods. "You know," he says, "You've grown up a lot since then."

"It was only six months ago," Cartman says, though he thinks he knows what Gerald means. He's started lifting with some of his friends at school and has lost a little weight, despite all the drinking. He might have just gotten taller. His dad was six foot five, apparently. "I guess I grew up because you finally fucked me." Not on the kitchen table, not even in this house. Two weeks before Kyle came home, they got a room at the Airport Hilton. It was magical. They went to the pool afterward and shot hoops in the little basketball net that hung over the shallow end, then got kicked out of the jacuzzi for being overly affectionate in view of other guests.

"Want to go upstairs?" Gerald asks.

"There's too much garlic in this stuff," Cartman says, still forking pasta. "My breath will stink."

"You can use my mouthwash. C'mon, before Sheila gets back."

Cartman follows Gerald upstairs, swishes mouthwash over his teeth for thirty seconds and can still taste garlic after he spits. He doesn't really care. He's already getting hard inside his jeans. At school, so far, he usually tops. Most guys who are into him expect him to be toppy as fuck in bed. He takes it as a compliment, but he misses this when he's gone. He walks into what used to be Kyle's bedroom, already pulling off his shirt. Gerald is in the bed, naked under the blankets.

"Come here," Gerald says, reaching for him. "Big boy."

Cartman snorts, secretly liking this. Or maybe not secretly, since he's hard for it.

"Can you, uh." Cartman still gets embarrassed by the idea that he can just ask for what he wants and get it. It seems like a trick, but Gerald is never tricking him, somehow. "Eat me out?" Cartman says, mumbling it like it's all one word.

"Sure," Gerald says, as if Cartman just asked him to please pass him the salt. "But c'mere and kiss me first. I've missed you."

Cartman whines in agreement. They don't talk that much while Cartman is at school. It's Cartman's fault, mostly. He gets distracted. Suddenly dudes want to be fucked by him. It's surreal. Gerald had told him this would happen, but Cartman hadn't believed him. He believes Gerald about stuff now, generally, because Gerald is smart. He thinks Cartman can actually pass all his classes and graduate in four years. That sounds more outlandish than ‘dudes will want to fuck you' did to the ears of high school Cartman, but he's going to try to make it come true, anyway.

The sex is good, and Cartman whimpers during the eating-out stage, because he knows Gerald likes it when he does this and because he feels like fucking whimpering and he can do whatever the fuck he wants. The sound of the garage door opening while he rides Gerald's dick makes him come, the sort of startle of it making his orgasm particularly powerful, and he wonders if she'll hear him shouting. Probably not; she's kind of hard of hearing. Which is maybe why she's always talking so goddamn loud. Cartman likes her, though, sort of. She's a good cook and she's cool about all this sex stuff, which makes sense since apparently she does her own weird sex shit on the side. Cartman doesn't want to know.

He falls asleep in Kyle's old bed and is alone there when he wakes. It's dark outside, still snowing. The house smells like some kind of baking casserole. He gropes for his pants on the floor and digs out his phone. There's a message from his mom.

Got your laundry started, sweetie! Hope you'll be home for dinner. I'm making your favorite lasagna.

Cartman snorts. His favorite lasagna, as if he has several lasagnas he likes and this is the best one. Liane didn't finish high school. Sometimes in her texts she uses ‘there' when she should have used ‘they're.' It embarrasses him, like most things she does.

He dresses and goes downstairs to find Gerald and Sheila watching Jim Lehrer and having wine in actual wine glasses. Liane watches Fox News and drinks gin and tonics with diet tonic. Cartman sighs.

"Ey, Sheila," he says, and they both turn.

"Oh, Eric, hello! I didn't hear you come down. Would you like something to drink? We're having wine, but I've also got milk and ginger ale."

Ginger ale sounds pretty good, and so does just staying here and getting fucked by Gerald again instead of driving through the snow and dealing with his mother. But something has happened to him. It's probably Kyle's fault. Too many night spent in that pussy's bed, on his old Terrance and Phillip sheets, where Kyle probably got fucked by Stan's weepy hippie cock like a thousand times before Cartman moved in. Probably some kind of weak, useless guilt crap crept into Cartman that way, leeched from the germs Kyle left in those sheets, too deep to be washed out in the laundry.

"Thanks," Cartman says. "But I gotta go. My mom's cooking."

"Oh, isn't that nice! Well, you tell Liane hello from us. And come over for dinner before you go back to school. I want to hear all about your Roman History course!"

"Heh. Okay." Cartman looks at Gerald and lifts his hand. "See you tomorrow," he says.

"Goodnight, sweetheart," Gerald says. "Drive safe."

It's only a three minute drive to Liane's house. All the streets are empty. Families are inside eating dinner. There's something angry that twists in Cartman's gut when he considers that he's returning to this house where he ate dinner on the sofa while she went in and out of the kitchen, bringing him whatever he asked for. It's her fault he's fat. Those are her genes, not Jack Tenorman's. Liane only avoided being fat by being psycho about food. Most of the time she didn't eat dinner, just read magazines at the kitchen table and jumped to answer Cartman's every demand. If she was so worried about being fat that she skipped meals, why the hell did she let him stuff himself like that? He's in a bad mood by the time he parks in her driveway, which also needs to be shoveled. He's sure as shit not doing it.

"Poopsikins?" she calls when he lets himself in. He can hear the laundry machines tumbling away in the room between the den and the kitchen.

"I've asked you not to call me that," he says when he walks into the kitchen to find her pulling a huge loaf of garlic bread from the oven. It smells pretty good. So does the lasagna, which is under foil on the stove top. Cartman peeks at it while she leans over to kiss his cheek. "Extra cheese," he says, approvingly. It's not like he eats this kind of shit all the time at school. He can have a cheat day.

"I have shaky cheese, too," Liane says, meaning shitty powdered parmesan. The Broflovskis use real, stinky parmesan that they put in a little grinder with a crank on the side. Like the kind they have at Olive Garden. "What's the matter, baby?" Liane asks, reaching up to pat his cheeks like he's still three years old. "You look a little grumpy."

"Don't say grumpy." Cartman puts his hand on her head. It's a gesture of fondness. "Thanks for doing my laundry," he says. "Mommy."

"Of course, of course! I don't mind! I get to see you, so it's an even bargain! Sit down, you look tired. Do you want a beer? Or can Mommy make you a gin and tonic?"

"Gin and tonic— Ugh, but you only have that shitty diet tonic."

"Not so, I got the regular kind when you texted me that you'd be home! Just in case." She makes him a double with a squeeze of fresh lime and kisses his cheek again when she delivers it. She always seems so desperate, even with him, and he doesn't get why she can't find a man. She's still good-looking.

"Were you with Gerald and Sheila?" she asks when she sits down next to him with her own drink.

"Just Gerald," Cartman says, sharply. Nobody wants to believe that he doesn't fuck Sheila, too. It's perverted. "Yeah, me and him had sex, and then Sheila was like, Eric, in exchange for making my husband a happy man in a way that I never could, can I please cook you dinner? And I was like, nah, bitch. My mom's a way better cook."

"Oh, Eric!" Liane giggles and swats his shoulder. "You're so bad!"

It still feels like a compliment, coming from her. Cartman grins. He eats two big pieces of lasagna and three slices of garlic bread while telling Liane about how awesome college is going and how much his teachers appreciate his bold commentary during lectures and how many guys are fighting over him because they wish he would be their exclusive boyfriend. Some of it is true. Kinda.

"I'm so proud of you, baby," Liane says at one point. It's true, somehow, and it feels pretty good to hear, even coming from someone who watches Fox News and once encouraged him to idolize Hitler. She's a fucked up old broad, and Cartman is lucky to be alive, lucky to have Gerald and a place to run to when he needs to get the hell out of here. But being in his mother's kitchen still feels pretty good, for some reason, for now.

"I can't do this," Kyle says when they're parked outside of his parents' house, Stan behind the wheel and the banana pudding Stan insisted on making clutched in Kyle's lap. Stan reaches over to squeeze Kyle's leg.

"We'll just stay for an hour," Stan says, reminding Kyle of the plan they've been going over all month. "Then we'll head over to my parents' place. We've got a good excuse to leave."

"But I'm not obligated to go in there at all! Ike still refuses!"

"Yeah, well, Ike is a little brat. I know you're justified in being angry with your parents," Stan says, hurrying this part out when Kyle gives him a look of hellfire. "But, you know. I also know you don't want to sever your relationship with them completely, and you've got to start somewhere. And they are paying for your tuition and your apartment—"

"They'd fucking better be! After what they did!"

"I know— I know. Dude, let's just go in. The anticipation is killing me."

"Killing you? Stan! How do you think I feel?"

"Nervous, and still mad, and like— Like you really want to go in and see them. C'mon, dude. Let's go."

Kyle sighs and allows Stan to take the bowl of pudding from his tightly tensed hands. Stan gets out of the car, and he's relieved when Kyle does, too. All the way here, Stan wasn't sure Kyle would actually go through with this, but it's important. Kyle was very close to his parents, before this. It's been hurting him not to see them or even speak to them, and he loves Thanksgiving. Stan just wishes Cartman had enough tact to stay the fuck away during this delicate moment, but Cartman remains the most tactless person on the planet, his giant truck parked in the driveway already.

"If I brandish a fork and try to stab him in the face," Kyle says as they walk toward the front door, slowly, "Don't actually let me do it."


"He's not worth jail time for assault, and he would press charges, even after all he's done."

Kyle says so like Cartman should be willing to let Kyle stab him in the face with a fork at least ten times, on principal. Stan pats Kyle's back and prays Cartman won't provoke Kyle intentionally, though he knows that's a fool's hope.

Stan passes the pudding to Kyle and rings the doorbell. He can hear laughter inside, as if they're having a big old time already. He suppresses a groan, still having a hard time believing that Cartman has charmed his way into Gerald's bed and has also made himself comfortable at Sheila's dinner table. Randy swears up and down that it's a threesome arrangement between all of them, but Sharon says it's only Gerald and Cartman fucking on occasion, and Stan is more inclined to trust his mother's opinion on the subject.

Sheila opens the door and shrieks in joy at the sight of Kyle, nearly upsetting the bowl of pudding when she hugs him. She's crying a little, talking so fast that she's lapping herself.

"Look at you two!" she says when she pulls back to beam at Stan. "A couple of lovebirds, college sweethearts, oh, I always knew it! Didn't I always say so, Gerry?"

She turns to Gerald, who is lingering in the doorway to the den, smiling nervously.

"You sure did," he says. "Come on in boys, come out of the cold."

"Thanks for having me," Stan says when Kyle remains silent, his face hard.

"Oh, hush," Sheila says, swatting at Stan. "Our home is always open to you, Stanley."

"Is there anyone in my graduating class that's not true for?" Kyle asks, beginning to turn red in a shade that Stan associates with both rage and embarrassment. He's not sure which this is— Maybe both. "Have Craig Tucker and Clyde Donovan moved in here as well, since last we spoke? Are they sharing Ike's room and joining in on the orgies?"

"Kyle," Sheila says, sharply. "That's enough. Come in, come have a glass of wine. You look like you could use one, oy."

Stan rubs his hand across Kyle's shoulders, knowing that comment will enrage him. When Stan walks toward the kitchen, he gently guides Kyle along with him, bracing himself for what he knows he'll find there: Cartman, at the kitchen table. Stuffing his face with appetizers.

"Ey, Kyle," Cartman says. He's sort of red, too, maybe just from the exertion required to eat heartily, though actually he looks like he's lost about twenty pounds since graduation. "Stan," he adds, nodding to him.

"Hey," Stan says, tightly. Kyle says nothing. He drops into the seat farthest from Cartman, still holding the pudding with both hands.

"Let me put that in the fridge," Sheila says, easing it from his grip. "Stan, what can I get you to drink? We have some very good craft beer."

"Stan doesn't drink," Kyle says, sharply.

"It doesn't really mix well with my meds," Stan says when Sheila gives him a surprised look.

"What're you on?" Cartman asks, cracking pistachios at the table. The little papery bits inside the shell are getting everywhere, scattered onto his sweater and the table.

"You don't have to answer that," Kyle says, as if Stan doesn't know that.

"Lexapro," Stan says, unashamed. He finally found a good therapist at the campus health center, after trying two others who didn't work out. He's going to work up to the ‘my boyfriend gave birth to me via his ass' thing eventually, maybe through some kind of complex metaphor.

They sit down to dinner after Liane Cartman arrives. She's suddenly dating Mr. Mackey, and they both dominate the conversation at dinner, which is a relief. Liane seems happy and maybe a little tipsy, and Mackey is practically swooning toward her. Cartman seems to want to object to this but doesn't. When Mackey brings up a story about a teacher who lost his job recently for vaping weed during school hours, Cartman says there's a professor at CSU who does that, and everybody turns a blind eye.

"This guy I'm fucking is in his class," Cartman says, scooping more sweet potato goop onto his place. "Astronomy. Ha!"

"Excuse me," Kyle says. "You're sleeping with people your own age now? Does that mean—" Kyle glances at his mother, then at his father. "This bullshit is behind you?"

"Kyle," Gerald says. "Let's not discuss personal matters like that in mixed company."

"Nah, it's fine," Cartman says, sneering. "I get around, you know, I'm open to many experiences. Not everybody looks at the first dick they're handed and thinks: he's the one! This is it for me, forever!"

"Well, no," Kyle says. "Considering yours was the first dick I was handed, I can certainly relate to looking for other options."

"What, what?" Sheila says, dropping her fork. Liane is giggling into her napkin, and Mackey looks like he's trying not to laugh, too. They walked here, and they keep bringing up weed, so it's possible they're both baked.

"Wait," Stan says, when he allows himself to hear what Kyle just said. "Wait— What? When?"

Cartman has gotten very red. Gerald looks like he just swallowed a bug. Kyle, meanwhile, looks quite pleased with himself as he saws at a piece of roast turkey.

"Oh, Cartman and I lost our virginity together at sixteen," he says. "I topped. And always did, afterward, when I was desperate enough to return to that perfunctory experience. But anyway, then Stan expressed his feelings for me, and it changed my life for the better— The far, far better." Kyle leans over and kisses Stan on the lips. It's a closed-mouth kiss and brief, but Stan still gets a little hard in his pants for the look Kyle gives him. "I love you so much," Kyle says, wiping a bread crumb from the corner of Stan's mouth. "Please forgive me for lowering myself to fucking Cartman before I was saved by your love."

"I— I forgive you," Stan says.

Everyone is silent. Stan is a bit gut-punched, but it doesn't last long. He returns his attention to his plate, dragging a big forkful of stuffing through gravy, and when Kyle reaches for his hand under the table, Stan takes hold of his and squeezes.

"Anyway," Kyle says. "Ike says hello, and that he will cross the threshold of this house again when you guys have made restitution to him in the form of a Tesla. That's his price."

"Ike is a brat," Sheila says. "And so are you. Oy, Kyle, this disrespect! I hope you have children of your own someday. Then you'll understand what you've put us through."

Kyle starts laughing under his breath. Stan glances at him, and Kyle loses it then, laughing hard.

"What the hell's so funny?" Cartman asks.

That makes Stan laugh, and eventually he and Kyle have to excuse themselves to completely lose it in hysterical laughter in the den while the rest of the group at the table mutters about how strange it is that Kyle should find this comment so amusing. Stan never thought he would consider what they went through in Hell funny, but now that he thinks at it, in light of what Sheila said: yeah, it is. He pulls Kyle to him when they're both red in the face from laughter and almost breathing normally again and kisses him in the low light from the fireplace, confident that they can go back in there and face everyone. They've pretty much proven, in their own unique way, that they can face anything as long as they're together.




-Mad Tuna-