The bench was cold beneath her, and the wind ruffled through her hair, sending a shiver through her body. She tucked her hands under her arms, hugging herself against the sharp bite in the air. There was no guarantee he'd show up today, but he hadn't disappointed her yet. He seemed to have a knack for knowing what she was doing and where she was going, and perhaps if it hadn't been him, the idea would have freaked her out.
She thought that perhaps today would be the day she'd see his face for the first time, without the disguise he hid behind. If he were willing to let her in that much, then she might have the courage to tell him how much she admired him. She could tell him that he inspired her, helped make her a braver person, one who was finally able to stand up for herself without needing an ever present guardian angel. She'd needed that back then, but over time, she'd come to appreciate the challenges he must face every day, during the times when she could only wonder what he was up to.
Her face was cold now, and she reluctantly pulled her hands from under her arms and put them to her cheeks. It helped somewhat, and she cupped her hands together and blew into them. A cape settled around her shoulders and she grinned into her mittens. She had to bite her lip to keep the smile from reaching her eyes, because he would notice, then, and she wasn't ready to tell him. She dropped her hands into her lap and stared straight ahead at the pond, waiting for him to take a seat next to her.
They sat together in companionable silence. Karen didn't need awkward conversation; it was rarely quiet at home and she was comfortable enough around him by now that no words were needed. Except the ones she would tell him, some day. She finally snuck a glance at him, noting the pensive expression on his face as he stared out at the still surface of the pond. It didn't seem like today would be the day, but that was okay. It was enough just to be here with him. He clearly felt something for her as well, or he wouldn't spend time with her the way he did. As far as she knew, he didn't do this for anyone else. She looked back toward the water, knowing that whatever he saw was far beyond the reaches of Starks Pond.
"You shouldn't be here alone," he said quietly.
She shivered at the sound of his voice. "I'm not alone," she pointed out.
"Perhaps I'm the one you should worry about."
She shook her head, and then, figuring he wasn't looking at her, said, "No. You're..." Special was on the tip of her tongue, but that would be too much like telling him, and she wasn't ready to do that, not while he still hid his face from her. "I trust you," she settled on, because it was true and also because that much was obvious after all this time.
She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, unsure how to respond to that.
"I've done...terrible things," he told her.
It was much harder this time not to turn to look at him, but there was an edge to his voice, like the tight control he maintained around her was in danger of snapping. She wanted him to open up to her but not by breaking. The wind blew her hair into her face and she reached up to pull a few strands away from her lips. As she lowered her hand, she hesitated, then placed it over his. She could feel rather than hear the crinkle of his glove.
"We've all done things we aren't proud of," she told him.
"Not you," he said with conviction, and she felt the corners of her mouth twitch. It was even harder to bite back the smile this time.
"You might be surprised," she murmured. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him glance over at her, and she finally gave in and met his gaze. "I have brothers."
He looked away again. It might have been her imagination, but she thought perhaps he was smiling just a little bit, too. He got to his feet.
"I'll walk you home." It wasn't a question, but Karen wasn't complaining. He walked her home every time, making sure she got there safely, but this was the first time he'd announced his intention. Perhaps that Some Day wasn't as far off as she thought.
Two pairs of eyes watched their progress as they made their way back toward town.
"You might never see that cape again."
"That's all right. I can always make another one."
The first speaker shook his head. "This is all your fault, you know."
The second one leaned back against the tree, sending a shower of snow into his hair and down the back of his coat. "Yeah, I know."
"I'll kill him if he hurts her."
"He'd kill himself first."
They exchanged a glance. "He makes her happy." He frowned. "It doesn't make any sense."
A shrug. "Is it supposed to?"
Mysterion looked over at his alleged rival, at the snow covered tufts of blonde hair and little puffs of vapor that escaped his lips with every breath. A grin tugged at his mouth. He supposed it didn't
"Dougie," he said, shaking his head again. "Fucking Dougie."
"He likes her," Chaos pointed out. "He likes her a whole lot."
"My sister," Mysterion bemoaned. "She has a thing for bad boys."
"General Disarray's not really bad," Chaos protested. "Just misunderstood."
Like his mentor, Mysterion thought. But then he and Karen had that in common, the ability to fade into the background and observe and to notice little things that others overlooked.
Like the way Butters was a fucking savant when it came to math, doing complicated problems in his head in less time than it took most people to type the numbers into a calculator. Like how he was a total wimp and a pushover, except when he wasn't. Like how he was the most loyal friend a guy could have, even to someone like Cartman.
Like how lately his eyes would sometimes flick down to Mysterion's mouth and then dart away, and how his forehead would crinkle like he was in deep thought immediately afterward.
"I'll take it from here," he said dismissively.
"Well, all right, then," Butters said, breaking character for the first time. He pulled off his mask and turned it around in his hands a few times.
"I mean it, Kenny," he said. "Dougie really does like her."
A blind man could see that, but Kenny liked that his sister wasn't rushing into anything. He was kind of proud of her, even if the guy she was into was a total Melvin. Typical McCormick right there.
"I know," he sighed. "The problem is I think Karen knows it, too."
"She's smart," Butters said, sounding as proud as if she was his sister. "Kinda like her brother."
"Go home, Butters," he said, but without malice.
Butters grinned. "Same time tomorrow?"
"Yeah," he nodded. "Same time tomorrow."
"'Kay!" Butters said cheerfully, and he skipped – he actually fucking skipped - through the snow, acting all of eight years old again. "Loo loo loo, it's a beautiful day, loo loo loo, gonna be okay..."
"Fucking Melvin," Kenny muttered under his breath. Try as he might, though, he couldn't stop smiling.