AN: Ohgod, I should be studying. I should not be posting. Especially not ridiculously long, dry stories that no one in their right mind would take the time to read. But I got the idea to do a cop story after watching Law and Order: SVU and South Park too close to each other, and this was a perfect venting project for midterm-week. Strange, how writing angsty bad!fic can be so therapeutic! What I mean is I hope nobody feels obligated to read this. If I were my own reviewer, I think I'd flame myself for this one. Actually, I'm HIV positive.

Warnings: This really deserves the M-rating. Murder, violence, blood, slash, smexing, voyeurism, non-con situations, language, lots of other little nasties. Also inaccuracies with police procedure, but I did the research as best I could. This is a two-shot because I fail at chapter-breaks; Gregory is a main character in the second half. The main pairings are StanxKyle, CraigxThomas, PipxDamien (I think). Others are secret, or minor.

I'm really embarrassed that so much of what I write is such twisted shit, but it wouldn't be honest of me to apologize, because I'm not quite guilty enough to reform yet. I just hope no one thinks less of me for this. Especially my friends irl.

Thank you! I'm done now.

Lex Talionis

Stan Marsh and I were eight years old the first time we worked for the Park County Police Department. Our success was a fluke, and we quickly lost interest in the game, but you never really forget how it feels to be a part of something so righteous-it was a memory I returned to a thousand times in my life, whenever I needed to fall back on an ultimate good. My parents scoffed at me for the mindset. "Every system has its cracks, Kenny," my father reminded me frequently, as a born skeptic of the law. "Corruption is corruption, even if it's wearing a blue uniform." But I'd seen enough shit in the world, enough unfairness to know how to defend moral integrity. When my college advisor asked me to pick a major, I chose criminal justice.

By the time I got certified, there were just enough officers to open up a local precinct for the first time in South Park history. It was headed by Mitch Harris, previously partnered with Yates in the Park County unit, and easily the town's most competent transfer. He ran a clean shift: Johnson was forensics, Franks was a medical specialist, Dawson worked homicide and abuse, and Murphy patrolled with Officer Barbrady and kept him in line. Stan and I were the department detectives. I had maybe a year and a half of seniority because he'd dabbled in veterinary science for a few semesters, but I rarely had to pull rank. Stan knew what he was doing; he had the strongest principles of anyone in the station. We were best friends. The two of us had been inseparable since high school, after we'd lost contact with one of our closest companions shortly before junior year.

The crime rate in South Park was low, and generally harmless. Red got habitual speeding tickets. Randy Marsh sometimes volunteered himself into detox, much to Stan's embarrassment. Murphy once busted one Leopold Stotch for tagging a bridge, and Butters and I couldn't stop laughing as we filled out his paperwork. We ended up pinning the pictures of his graffiti on our bulletin board. Butters was an art teacher; his vandalism really just served as town beautification, no biggie.

The most serious incident we'd had so far was a murder-suicide. It had been a shock to everyone in town. After losing his job, a distraught father had come home and shot his wife and children, then turned the gun on himself. I hadn't known the family personally, like Harris and Franks, and even as an open-and-shut case, it had been traumatizing. Stan had a lot of trouble processing the concept of a man who would hurt his own kids out of love. I was no stranger to parental abuse, but I knew my dad cared about me. I went home to my parents that night and hugged them for the first time since I was twelve, and as I left, my father said, "I'm proud of you, son." That was what carried me to work the next day. From then on, I made it a point to always remember what I was protecting.

Apart from a few other robberies and drug-trafficking charges, that was pretty much the job. Stan and I did a lot of deskwork. That's why we were surprised when a young man our age walked into our office one quiet afternoon, personally escorted by Harris.

"Marsh, McCormick," Harris said. "Are you busy?"

I exchanged amused glances with Stan. We had been sorting files and debating the philosophies of Star Trek. "Sure, we've got a minute," I said. "What's up?"

"I am 'ere to report an incident of spousal abuse," the man said briskly, without preamble. He spoke with a heavy French accent. As we watched him, he popped a match on his ragged thumbnail and lit the cigarette between his teeth. Smoking was prohibited in the station, but Harris didn't say anything, so neither did we.

"What kind of spousal abuse?" I asked.

He turned to me with a scowl. The hollows of his eyes were circled in fatigue, like bruises. "Emotional, physical, sexual, psychological," he snapped, smoke leaking from his lips as he talked. "Whichever is easiest to prove. Believe me, if I 'ad any alternatives, I would not be 'ere wasting my time with private dicks."

I faltered a little in the face of his disdain, but Stan just pushed out a chair and graciously gestured for him to sit down. "Thanks, Harris," he said, and Harris gave us an appreciative look and closed the door. Our visitor waited until his footsteps had faded down the hall, then slowly moved to take a seat. He laced his fingers together. His leather gloves squeaked as he fidgeted, and I examined him, wondering if he was a druggie or just high-strung. He was wearing a faded green shirt and dark cargos. Heavy combat boots peeked out from the tattered hems.

"You aren't local, are you?" Stan asked. "You look familiar."

He snorted. "Like I'd want to live in this shithole of a town. No, I am visiting someone."


"The last name is Norman."

"Norman." I didn't know any Normans in South Park. "And is she the one in the abusive relationship?"

His eyes flashed. "He. It is a male friend of mine." He spoke with a strange significance, something that indicated that their relationship was more than casual. Stan caught it too; I noticed his expression change slightly. The guy flicked ash and dragged deep on his cigarette. "I only 'ope you are more competent than your 'ospital's medical staff."

"Why's that?"

"A week or so ago, my friend was seriously injured in a 'fall down the stairs.' The doctors failed to notice the bruising around 'is wrists and neck." He paused, swallowing with difficulty. That simple sign of emotion made me like him a lot more. "Listen, I 'ave known 'im for almost two decades," he said, his voice choked. "Maybe 'e is too kind, but I've never seen 'im so…weak. Defeated."

"Do you have any idea who's harming him?" I asked.

"Oui, I 'ave 'ad the recent displeasure of meeting 'is 'significant other.' I do not know the name, but 'e is large and strong, and 'e speaks with 'is fists. Piece of shit." He hissed out that last.

The worst part of working law enforcement in a redneck mountain town was the old-fashioned mentality. A slap in your spouse's face was just discipline; humiliation the norm. I was grateful this French guy was enough of an outsider to realize something was wrong. "We'll look into this right away," I said. "Do you have an address for us?"

He took a pen from the cup on Stan's desk and wrote the numbers across the file I was organizing. 21230, E. Bonanza Cr. Stan looked over my shoulder, his mouth curving into a nostalgic half-smile.

"Our old stomping grounds," he said wistfully.

"Kind of a trip, isn't it? That was nearly fourteen years ago. Yeah, we know where this is." I stood up and offered my hand to our visitor. His grip was cold and sturdy. "Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention. Go three doors down and talk to Lieutenant Dawson; tell him what you told us. Your name is…?"

"Christophe," he said, after a pause. He did not offer a last name.

Unmistakably, Stan stiffened beside me. I glanced at him. He simply stared at Christophe, and Christophe met his gaze in earnest for the first time, his dark eyes narrowing as he made some silent connection. They sustained eye contact for maybe three solid seconds. Then Christophe shoved his chair back and ground his cigarette out on his pant leg, nodding almost imperceptibly. "Competence, I 'ave yet to see," he said in a low voice, moving towards the door. He glanced at Stan a final time. "But perhaps this is assurance that you will care."

I turned to Stan when he was out of earshot. "What was that about?"

"I know him," Stan said, sounding bemused.

Obviously, but that didn't make any sense. With the exception of some Mormon guy named Gary downtown, we shared all of our friends. "From where?"

"I worked with him in-La-something. Revolution? La Resistance, shit, that's what it was." This wasn't ringing any bells. He sighed. "You remember that activist group I helped form a long time ago when our mothers were campaigning against Canada? That guy helped us break out Terrance and Phillip. A mercenary. We called him 'The Mole.' I didn't get to know him very well…I mean, he was lot closer to…"

He trailed off abruptly. We were toeing a line we hadn't crossed in years. I cleared my throat, trying to steer the conversation towards something safer. "He certainly didn't seem too impressed with our justice system, did he?"

Stan chewed his lip for a long moment. "Yeah…no surprise there. He's pretty anti-American."

"Why would he come back here?"

"Just visiting his friend, apparently. This Norman. I hadn't realized he'd made any."

"Small world," I said. I sighed, looking back down at the address he'd given us. Spousal abuse-a cottage industry in our town, ever-present, but rarely reported. "This is going to be a shit-lousy way to end a shift. You're coming with me, right? For the good-cop bad-cop routine? Assuming you don't want out, what with your connection to Christophe and all."

Stan waved his hand dismissively. "Like I said, barely knew the guy. I'm going with you. I've been aching to bust some wife-beater's ass."

"Husband-beater," I corrected.

His face darkened further. "Right. Mr. Norman."

He paused for a long moment, looking up at me with a sudden, strange sort of unease. I shifted, hoping he wasn't going to start spouting off statistics for gay relationships. His sexuality honestly didn't bother me-I'd known him my whole life; it was never really an issue-but even the most subtle mention of his preference reminded him of his only serious boyfriend. His soulmate. A certain young man whose absence still made me ache with heartsickness, whose name I put in the prayer box every Sunday at church. I saw all of this in Stan's eyes. It was nearing the ten-year anniversary of their last day together.

"Hey, Stan," I said gently.

Stan forced a smile. "I'm cool, Kenny. I'm just…I try not to think about it anymore. Water under the bridge." He nodded towards the file in my hand, adding offhandedly, "You know, my middle name is Norman."

I grinned at him. "Seriously? Because that makes your initials S-N-M."

"I do love my handcuffs," he agreed. "And what the fuck ever. Isn't your middle name Upton?"


"Uh, K-U-M?"

The tiny knot of tension in my stomach finally unraveled. I laughed, feeling honestly okay for the first time since Christophe's visit. "Yeah, douchebag, K-U-M," I said. "As in, 'kum' on and let's get this over with. We're wasting precious daylight."

Stan shrugged on his coat, flicking off the lights as we strolled out of our office, which was littered with paperwork and junk food wrappers from the last few weeks' minimal activity. I grabbed the keys for the second patrol car and signed out. Domestic violence was no cup of tea, but it brought us one step closer to justice-definitely a worthy pursuit, judging by the concentration in Stan's face as he paged diligently through his notes. Our badges glittered on the seat between us.

At least there was that, I thought, pulling onto the main road a few blocks from our potential victim's residence. Nothing got your minds off your past skeletons like being on a hot case.

"21230, East Bonanza Circle…this is the place."

The house was a dilapidated ranch, its redbrick facing cobwebbed from years of neglect. All of the windows were shuttered. I examined the oil-spotted driveway while Stan fussed around in the dying peripheries of shrubbery, trying to get close enough to hear through the cheap siding. Since our years away, the neighborhood had become eerily quiet-the predictable result of children growing up and moving out, but even that couldn't explain the street's sense of abandonment. I felt unwelcome in the silence. The green split-level across the road had once belonged to one of my close friends, sporting nothing from our past except for the skeleton framework of an old clubhouse.

A long tearing sound interrupted my reverie. Stan swore colorfully behind me, then stepped up onto the porch, blushing and brushing twigs off his pants. "Sounds like someone's home," he said. "I think there's an exhaust fan going inside."

"Alright, let's figure this out." I leaned forward and rang the bell. It chimed delicately inside the house. I sensed no movement on the opposite side of the door, no immediate signs of a resident, but we could both feel a hesitating presence as the fan slowly turned off. Footsteps paused in the hallway. I looked at Stan. "Are you ready?"

"Yes. Wait, no." He pulled his glasses out of his front pocket and quickly put them on. "Do I look better or worse this way?"

I rolled my eyes. "The point is, do you see better?"

"Kenny, seriously. Do I look like someone you would want to confide in?"

He did look trustable, comforting. He'd always had a kinder face. "You look like you're about thirteen years old," I said, not willing to admit it.

Stan whipped his glasses off, opening his mouth to retort, but we were silenced by the sound of a key scraping into the lock. The noise was followed by a series of tiny clicks-at least four bolts, from the sound of it-and the door opened an inch or so, still tethered by a chain. I made a mental note about the house's excessive security. Stan and I stood up a little straighter, quickly regaining as much of our professionalism as we could.

"Hello?" someone said warily.

I raised my badge. "Good afternoon, Mr. Norman? I'm Detective McCormick with the South Park police, and this is Detective Marsh. We were hoping to ask you a few questions."

The figure shifted awkwardly. "I'm not supposed to answer the door when my fiancé isn't home."

"Not even for the cops?"

"Especially not for the cops."

My resolve was not discouraged. I wasn't ready to call it quits yet; there was clearly something going on here. Norman fingered one of the locks, purposely keeping his face in the shadow of the door so I could only make out the right half of his eye. "We're investigating reports of a domestic disturbance a few weeks ago," I said, subtly peering past him. I couldn't really see anything inside. "I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation, but we want to make sure you're okay."

"Afterwards, we'd be happy to leave you alone," Stan added.

Norman hesitated, clearly torn between his instructions and his hope to get rid of us. After a long, strained pause, he closed the door and slowly removed the final chain. Stan and I had to let ourselves in. He immediately retreated back into the kitchen.

The inside of the house was strangely immaculate, given its outward appearance. The carpet fibers were lined from a recent vacuuming, and floor lamps radiated clean light onto the furniture, which was sparse, yet tasteful. Either Norman was exceptionally dedicated in his housework, or he had nothing better to do. A prisoner in his own goddamn house. The locks and shutters were enough to support this hypothesis, and I could tell from Stan's disturbed expression that he was thinking the same thing. He gestured to the picture frames over his shoulder. My stomach turned uneasily. They were all empty.

"Take a seat," Norman called from the kitchen. "Can I get you anything? Coffee, tea, hard liquor?" Despite his obvious reluctance, his voice was edged with sarcasm. There was a low buzz as he opened and closed his freezer door.

"Thanks, no," I said.

Stan sniffed the air. "I smell ammonia."

"Hm, I garden a little. Must be the fertilizer."

As demonstrated by the dying lawn and hedges? That was not at all convincing. Why the hell would he lie about something so trivial?

"Where is your fiancé now?" I asked, examining the row of shoes by the door. There were at least two different sizes. The smaller sneakers, presumably Norman's, were still a pristine white.


"Where does he work?"

"The Kermadec Islands. He's a part of the Polynesian mafia. They run all their rings by canoe; it's really quite intense."

At least his fall down the stairs hadn't affected his wit. I sighed and moved to sit down, missing Stan's cautionary gestures until I'd already planted my ass square onto the tightly-plasticized cushion. It squeaked incriminatingly. I could feel my ears turning red. "Oh god, he saran-wraps his furniture," I muttered, shifting awkwardly on the couch. My palms kept sliding off the armrests. "What is he protecting it from? Bad weather?"

"Sofa lambskins," Stan said, joining me more gracefully. "For your ultimate seating safety."

I tugged experimentally at the plastic cover. The upholstery underneath was a rich mahogany, probably as bright as it had been on its day of purchase. It pretty much summed up how deeply unsettling the house was-the place was like a museum, showy and fabricated. No way living people actually used this room; it was too perfect. "You get the feeling we're being put-on?" I asked Stan, keeping my voice low.

He nodded. "That's exactly how I feel. I think he was expecting us."

"What do you think about him?"

"Fronting. His pride is at stake, and it's put him on the defensive. His fiancé has got him under his thumb, but he's not acting like it at all-what does that mean? You think this is a fairly new relationship?"

"Or an old one that's he's losing patience with," I said.

Stan looked at me wordlessly, his eyes hardening.

We had our backs to the kitchen when Norman returned, stepping around the couch and lounging into the armchair opposite us. I stiffened a little in my seat. The cushions squeaked again. Norman was holding a bag of frozen peas against his left cheek, which was bruised in a pattern of blacks and purples. One of his eyes had swollen shut. His upper lip was plush and uninjured, but the bottom was split in several places, mended with tiny black stitches. Deep cuts traced the bored curve of his mouth. Even the less damaged side of his face was probably contused beyond his own family's recognition. I didn't need to turn to see the dismay in Stan's expression.

Silence reigned for a solid five seconds.

"So," Norman offered eventually, casually tucking his feet under him. His house slippers were worn out as hell. "Exactly how reasonable does my explanation need to be before you'll leave?"

"Try us," I said, my mouth running on automatic. Beside me, Stan was still motionless.

"I got mugged coming home from church," Norman said. He had cotton balls packed into his cheek, garbling his voice. "One guy with a pocket knife. He'd been drinking or something…I threw him my wallet, but he kept hitting me. When he finally backed off, I managed to get home and call the hospital."

"And what did your attacker look like?"

His eyes grew distant. "Average height? I don't know. He was wearing a baseball cap."

Oh, the infamous 'generic' suspect. I should've known. "Why didn't you file a police report?"

"No big deal. It was just some drunkard who made off with three dollars in bus tokens."

"Try armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. Potential sexual violence, from the looks of it."

He winced minutely at that, clearly not realizing that Stan and I had a pretty good view of the bruises around his wrists and neck. He shifted the collar of his shirt. "That's something different, alright?" he said. "My fiancé and I get a little rough sometimes. I don't have to chart out all the intimate details for you, do I?"

"Depends on how quickly you want to get rid of us," I said.

His mouth curled into a frown. Good, he was finally rattled.

"Let's start being honest with each other." Stan finally spoke up, his voice gentle, very good-cop. "You told a friend you fell down the stairs. Why?"

He paused for maybe half a second, then let his one good eye drift shut. "Chris ratted me out," he said tonelessly.

Stan didn't deny it. "He's worried about you."

"Oh, is that what he said? Did he mention that he's had a grudge against my fiancé for eighteen years, and would do anything to get him kicked out of my life? Chris is bored, that's all. He's used to boot camp and war. When he can't find any drama to thrive on, he starts making things up."

"Tell us what really happened," Stan urged. "You got mugged, fell down the stairs, what?"

"I don't know. Both. Neither."

Stan's expression became faintly confused. In our few previous investigations of domestic conflicts, the women had seamless excuses, detailed down to the very "sharp chair" they bumped into. Now that his first excuse had fallen through, this guy wasn't even trying. He rubbed a hand disinterestedly through his damp blonde hair, the strands drying into tiny curls. Bruises layered his neck and the ridges of exposed collarbone, unmistakably hand-shaped.

"Listen, Mr. Norman, we've seen plenty of falls down the stairs," I said. "And we're not stupid enough to believe they leave fingerprints."

Norman simply stared at me with his one good eye, waiting patiently. I knew a challenge when I saw it. He was maybe a few inches below average height, slender and cultured, but there was an intensity in his face that threw my whole "hardcore cop" act off kilter. He was no damsel in distress, and he was certainly not impressed by our badges.

"Is that all?" he said finally.

"Who's doing this to you?" Stan asked softly.

That made Norman blink. He paused for a long moment, squinting at Stan through his puffy eyes. Sizing up his frat boy charm. "It's honestly nothing to worry about," he said at last, abruptly dropping his strange, assumed roughness. "Really…Christophe was just worried because we haven't seen each other in a while. He doesn't understand. My fiancé and I share mutual consent, and a great deal of trust."

I could play the concerned card just as well as Stan. "That might be the case," I said. "Even so, masochism is one thing, but there's nothing tender about the ICU."

Norman dropped his eyes.

"Listen, I'm really tired of talking," he said finally. "I'm grateful for your concern, but I've got it handled, and I'm not the spokesperson for Battered Wives Anonymous. Either drop it, or come back with evidence."

"Mr. Norman-" Stan began.

"Send me a postcard from the station," Norman said evenly.

The subject was clearly closed. I sighed and stood up, and after a few seconds, Stan followed suit. He lingered at the door, turning around to offer his hand. "Our names are Marsh and McCormick," he repeated, sounding a little desperate. "Please feel free to talk to us, if not now, when you feel ready."

"M-Marsh and McCormick. I…won't forget." Something in Norman's face had changed. After a long moment, he slowly reached out and shook Stan's hand, perhaps recognizing the move for its emotional significance-we were offering him a way out of his relationship, his dollhouse, his job as the free maid service. He and Stan held the gesture for a beat longer than necessary. His uninjured eye was filled with inestimable sadness, heartbreaking in its clarity. I was just gearing up to reiterate our concern when Norman abruptly pulled back and shut the door. Click, click, click. The army of locks fell back into place.

Stan and I waited for a few seconds before returning to the patrol car and backing out into the street, heading again into the freedom of our wide-open town.

"That didn't go very well, did it," I said.

Stan made no response. He was staring pensively out his rolled-up window, watching the trees by the road pass in soft, autumnal blurs. He'd put on his glasses to hide his eyes, but even in profile, I could sense his distress. His fingernails tapped incessantly on the dashboard. The red light of sunset flashed briefly across his lenses, catching the frustrated lines between his eyebrows.

"Stan, we don't always get them the first time," I reminded him gently. "He'll slip up eventually. They always do."

Silence. I didn't know if he had even heard me. I drove down a few more blocks before he finally spoke up, his voice low and upset.

"He's our age. Norman is our age, Kenny, about twenty-six years old, and his 'career' is scrubbing counters in a plastic house for a man who put him in the hospital. Did you see him? No wonder Christophe freaked out. 'Fell down the stairs,' what the hell. A hundred flights, maybe, and even that wouldn't explain the hand-shaped bruises on his neck and shoulders."

"I'm worried about his wrists, too," I said. "That means he was being restrained."

"What? I should've worn my glasses. I didn't even see his wrists. Fuck!" He lashed out involuntarily with his feet, knocking the glove compartment open. Paperwork spilled out onto the car floor. He swore softly and bit his lip, stooping to scoop the files back into place.

We stopped at a four-way intersection. No one was coming. I put the car in park and turned to him, waiting until he'd looked up at me before speaking. "I need you to calm down," I said, trying to sound professional, but it came out a lot edgier than I'd intended. "You're the most passionate person in the precinct, and I want you on this case with me, but not if it's going to screw you up. I'm upset, too. I really am. That's why I need a partner who won't flip out if things get ugly."

"They couldn't get much uglier," Stan said. He let out a slow breath, raking his hands through his hair. "I'm sorry for getting so emotional. I know this is our job, but it still…it really…"

"Blows," I said simply. "I know."

He met my gaze again. His eyes glittered in the growing darkness, achingly blue. "I always knew this was the danger of working in a quiet town. I've tried to prepare myself for the possibility of something bigger than speeding tickets or tagging, but the reality of it is so much bigger than the books can tell you. That murder-suicide nearly got me. The only thing that kept me working was the realization that those situations are few and far between. See, I don't stare many abuse victims in the face, Kenny. I didn't plan around it like I should've. I'll fight for justice, and I swear I'll do a good job, but…I won't turn down deskwork."

I knew exactly what he meant. There were days when I was thrilled to sit in my office, just because it meant nothing bigger was happening. As far as I knew, one didn't really take a law enforcement job for the action; you took it despite it. I didn't want the fanfare of shootouts and murder scenes. Quiet morality was just as fulfilling.

"Kenny, you're my best friend," Stan said suddenly.

I looked at him, startled. I knew it, he knew it, but he'd never actually vocalized it. I was sure the phrase had been stricken from his vocabulary years ago, meant for only one person…a person who also happened to be his lover and his soulmate. Tagged with my name, the words sounded so foreign. Not quite as deep. I studied Stan for a long time, feeling an inexplicable wave of sadness rush through me.

"You're my best friend, too," I said.

He quickly patted my hand. I brushed off the perfunctory gesture and pulled him into a rough hug, feeling the coarse six 'o clock stubble on his cheek. He was tired enough to relax into the embrace, it had been such a long day, but I felt him tensing up instead. Still the same old Stan. Relentless ghosts still roamed between us, repelling him with ten years of incomplete history.

"They had the same hands," he whispered into my shoulder.

I frowned. Before I could process the comment, my pager went off, chirping shrilly in the silence. I plucked it off my belt loop and squinted at the message, scanned it twice. By the second read-through, my body had grown cold with realization. "Oh, god."

"What?" Stan demanded. "Who's it from?"

"Dawson," I said. I hauled the car into reverse, swinging around into the empty intersection. "Christophe was hit by a truck when he stepped out of the police station. He's in the ICU at Hell's Pass. They're not sure if he's going to make it."

I flipped on the sirens. Stan refastened his seatbelt, and I floored it towards the hospital, tearing into the night on a trail of red and blue.

Nearly four hours had passed before they finally rolled him out of the ER. The gurney was dark with blood, and even from my place in the hallway, I could see the ugly setting pins protruding from his shattered limbs. He was gasping through an oxygen mask, barely conscious. Stan turned away. I touched his elbow quickly, and he when he opened his eyes again, they were filled with furious resolve.

"It was no accident," Dawson had told us, standing outside and chain-smoking with compulsive rapidity. His hands were trembling, but his face was dark with loathing. "The bastard swerved to hit him. He backed over him twice. Fucking miracle that the kid knew what to do; kept pulling the vital parts out of the way, even when his legs were crushed. I dropped my work and ran at the truck, screaming, and the driver peeled outta there. We've got his treads and some surveillance footage. Harris is running them now." He dragged too deep on his cigarette and choked, coughing out the smoke. "Ugliest thing I ever saw," he finished, viciously grinding the butt beneath one booted heel.

Stan and I were the only ones around when Christophe finally emerged from surgery. Stan got to the attending doctor before I did, his stride strong and purposeful. "South Park Police," he said, holding up his badge. "We need to talk to the patient."

"Absolutely not," said the doctor. "We've got him pumped with anesthetics. There's no way he's cognizant enough to answer your questions, if he even pulls through the night."

Stan's eyes didn't waver. "Perhaps your patient has something to say to us, then."

The doctor snorted. "Such as?"

"You think he survived this just so he could roll over and die in one of your cheap ass hospital beds?" I said, cottoning on to Stan's strategy. "He has information for us. He might even have the guy's name. Obviously, we'll back off if he's not well enough to speak, but we need to give him that chance. If he dies without telling us what he knows, it's all on your conscience. The murder and the murderer."

The doctor's mouth had thinned to a tiny line. "Room 211," he said finally, angrily. "But if you push him too hard, I'm throwing you out."

"Thanks," Stan said, turning toward the indicated hall. I strolled after him, casting a quick, appreciative wave over my shoulder as the doors swung shut behind us.

"Pigs," the doctor muttered.

"Oink, oink," said Stan. He reached 211 before I did and opened the door after a few calming breaths, drawing the blinds so no one could look in on us. I started to turn on the light, then decided against it. The green glow of the heart monitor sufficiently illuminated the room.

It was the second time today we'd seen someone who'd been seriously injured, but at least time had softened some of Norman's wounds. Christophe's face was a mess. His jaw was wired shut, swollen in strange shapes, and even the dim lighting couldn't mask the devastation of his body. His legs were shattered. The metal supports screwed into his shins had more shape than the bones themselves did. He was still bleeding heavily through the gauze and makeshift casting, and each joint seemed to operate separately from the other, as if the surgeons had reconstructed him incorrectly. Stan and I stared at him in silence, and he stared back at us through half-lidded eyes, each breath as shakily labored as a sob.

"Christophe, Jesus," I said softly. "Are we glad to see you."

His breath rasped through his chapped lips in response. Bloody gauze peeked out from the corners of his mouth; I imagined he had lost a few teeth. After a moment's hesitation, I pulled a little closer and adjusted his pillows, dimly realizing the absurdity of such a trivial action.

"Can you move?" Stan asked, stepping forward.

In closer proximity, I thought I saw him lift his chin a fraction of an inch. He hissed in pain. After what seemed like an endless moment of agonized immobility, the sheets rustled, tenting near his side as he slowly managed to raise one trembling finger. Stan touched his hand, then leaned forward to mop the sweat off his face with his handkerchief. The moisture on Stan's clean linen was confusingly poignant. I felt a lump rise in my throat, then forced it away.

"We need to talk to you. We need to hear what you have to say. Can you stay with us for just a little longer?"

Christophe strained against the wires, grunting. A thin stream of blood trickled from the corner of his mouth and blossomed into the collar of his hospital gown. The muscles in his arms jumped as he tried to move his hand again, limbs anchored in heavy plaster casts, his entire body shaking with the effort. He let out a desperate, frustrated growl. Furious tears flickered in his eyes.

"I'm sorry, we'll come back," I said. "The doctor was right. You've got to rest."

"Nnn." He tried to speak through his teeth. The Vicodin had thickened his accent even further, and what issued from between his clamped jaws was little more than a series of urgent 'z' sounds. I turned to Stan, feeling helpless.

Stan stared at him for a long time, reading his expression, the anxiety in his eyes. God, Christophe looked too lucid to be properly drugged up-I wanted to shake down the medical staff and force them to give him a morphine drip, better pills, anything to help him escape his crushed body. It was clear that he'd had military training. Coupled with an unbelievably powerful resolve, Christophe managed to convey more strength through blinking than I ever could in any action, whether or not I was the one with the badge and the gun. Every move seemed deliberate. Even the tiny spasms in his hands spoke volumes, and Stan watched him intently, sitting perfectly still.

"We know that car was supposed to kill you," he said finally. "This has something to do with what you told us at the station."

Yes, I thought. Yes, of fucking course. The two biggest crimes in more than ten months, on the same day, involving the same person. There had to be some correlation. Christophe's voice jumped half an octave in confirmation. More blood slipped from between his swollen lips, and Stan dabbed it away gingerly, his own face darkening with realization.

"It was him, wasn't it?"

"Who?" I asked.

"Him. The guy in his report. Norman's fiancé."

Reaction was immediate. Christophe nearly sobbed his affirmative, quaking with relief, and I felt my jaw go slack as I digested all the implications. Everything pointed to one fact: our vic's faceless abuser was a fucking psycho. Thanks to Christophe's resilience, we had the bastard for vehicular manslaughter and attempted murder, even if Norman seemed willing to let him get away with domestic violence. All we needed was a name, which was easily obtainable through the grapevine. Criminals didn't hide well in small towns. Ironic as it was, ties of friendship served beautifully as tripwires.

"You've been an incredible help," Stan said to Christophe, wiping his face off one last time. "We know you're trying to tell us more. Don't worry; we'll be back."

Stan stood up. I readjusted Christophe's blankets, trying to convey my gratitude in my eyes, then followed Stan towards the exit. Christophe whispered something as we left.

Neither our language barrier nor the wires could change the sound of a 'thank you.'

"We've got to get back to Norman's," Stan said.

The two of us moved briskly down the corridor. He was paging Harris while I fumbled through my pocket book, searching for my rarely-used notes on arrest protocol. Neither of us had ever been on a case that necessitated more than a slap on the wrist. I felt ready; I felt terrified. Adrenaline raced through me, making me lightheaded. "We're pulling this guy on suspicion, that's it," I said. "It's a good defense, but until we get an official statement from Christophe or Norman, it's all conjecture."

"It has to be enough," Stan hissed. "Shit, if he gets away…"

"I know, I know. Just don't drop your guard, and watch your step."

I was talking as we rounded a corner, turned towards Stan, and I barely got that last sentence out before I crashed full-tilt into someone hauling ass in the opposite direction. The other figure only staggered a little, but I caromed off his sturdier form and tripped backwards over Stan's foot. I landed spectacularly on my ass. My notes flew everywhere. Stan gallantly tried to help me up, but his barely repressed grin prevented me from accepting his assistance. I thrashed back up to a standing position, my face flaming.

"Say it," I growled. "Comment on the irony, Stanley-Norman, I just dare you."

"I fail to see the irony, Detective Grace," he said calmly. He waved to the guy I'd bumped into, already moving past us. "Sorry about that, sir."

"Fine," the guy said carelessly.

I started to snap at Stan and stopped short, peering behind him in shock. There was something disturbingly familiar in the stranger's walk, his inflections, even the fussy part in his hair. A faint mixture of laundry detergent and bergamot followed the air behind him. Neither scent meant anything by itself, but the combination made my heart pound in my chest, igniting a thousand memories between sixth grade and high school graduation. Barbeques and sleepovers. Football games. Shopping. Hell, I had been there when he picked out that cologne.

Stan's smile faded as he too belatedly placed the man's voice, wheeling around to confirm his suspicions. He gasped sharply, then choked himself off. His hands curled into shaking fists.


"Eric Cartman," I said numbly.

"Who the fuck wants to know?" Eric snapped.

He paused halfway down the hall and tossed an impatient glance back over his shoulder. His irritated expression slowly turned into shock as he recognized us. There was a long moment of silence as he absorbed our adult appearances-Stan's slicked-back hair and wire frame glasses, my freshly washed slacks, the healthy weight I'd gained from finally eating regular meals. He himself had changed even more drastically. His bulk had redistributed itself. My first impression was of his sheer enormity-he was a solid six feet of pure substance, towering above even Stan's respectable five-eleven. I felt disoriented staring at his button-up shirt and office-regulation tie. Eric Cartman feeding the corporate machine in a cubicle…I could not digest that. Suddenly, everything seemed to make very little sense.

We're missing one, I thought dimly. My mind mulled briefly over the curves of a wicked smile, red hair and tiny, deft hands. Stan never wanted to talk about him, but he was there. He was always there.

The three of us held our ground in the long hallway, not moving, bound together by a fourth invisible presence.

"Holy shit," Eric said finally.

Half of me wanted to embrace him and invite him out for drinks. The other half was acutely aware of the empty eight years between us. He had disappeared from South Park shortly after graduation, not a call, not a letter, not one single fucking word. I'd given up on him after six months; his unexpected disappearance was that hurtful and complete. Stan lost interest much more quickly. He stared at Eric with wide, disbelieving eyes, and Eric stared back, expressionless.

"It's been a while, hasn't it," I said at last, clumsy from shock.

"Right," said Eric slowly. "You guys-cops, huh? Get tired of playing laundromat owner?"

An old joke. It made me uneasy; I had to force a smile. "No. Craig and Thomas took over the business. And where have you…?"

"I work for an insurance company in downtown Denver. This French guy-he's my client."

"Small world."

"Not really. The commute is a bitch."

"So you live around here, then," said Stan.

Eric shifted. "Yeah. I've got a place not far from my old house. It's…strange that we haven't run into each other before today."

I bobbed my head in agreement. Stan followed suit, and after a moment, Eric gave his own brisk nod. We stared at each other in silence long enough for me to feel the blood pooling in my extremities. Then, without consciously realizing I was going to move, I bridged the gap between us in three rapid steps and shoved Eric hard against the wall. "So where the fuck did you go?" I demanded, my body tingling with rage.

"McCormick," someone said sharply.

Stan and I whirled. I quickly dropped Eric's lapels. Dawson had returned from his lengthy smoke break, holding the empty pack in one hand and his pager in another. He eyed me and Eric suspiciously, evaluating our defensive postures.

"Old friend of yours?" he asked delicately.

I cast a sidelong glance at Eric, gritting my teeth. I didn't want to call him my friend after the shit he had pulled, but I couldn't be shaking down random citizens in front of a senior officer, either. "Yes, sir, an old classmate," I said finally, ignoring Eric's faint smirk. "The two of us were just…catching up."

"Ah." Dawson waited a few seconds to hear his side of the story, but Eric seemed content with the excuse. Dawson turned back to me. "Harris got your page, and he's on his way to pick up the vic's friend, Mr. Norman. We need Marsh back at the station to do questioning."

They always utilized Stan as the nice guy in their good-cop-bad-cop interrogation duos. I wasn't sure whether to feel insulted or grateful. "So I'm done for the night?"

"We'll call if we need you to run names, but I doubt we'll get anything useful," Dawson said. "If that kid Christophe was any indication, he and his friends are hiding something bigger than a domestic spat."

Stan brushed by Eric without looking at him, following Dawson down the hall and out into the parking lot. I turned back to Eric, my gaze even. "We'll talk later," I said briskly, knowing it wasn't true. If there were to be any amends, they would start with him. I was furious. The past had just come up and slapped me in the face, and I didn't appreciate feeling like the butt end of someone's joke.

"You bet," he agreed. His eyes bore holes in mine, and he broke into a strange, calm smile, slow and unashamed. "Catch you on the flipside, Five-O."

Stan called me shortly after midnight, as I was finally toeing off my shoes. "We caught up with Norman and released him after he gave us a name for his fiancé," he said. His voice sounded strangely tight, probably from exhaustion. I could relate. "It was a wild goose chase-we sure don't have a 'Theodore Richards' here on file in South Park, where he allegedly set up residency. Harris is sending me home. We're going to have to pick this up tomorrow. If we keep harassing Norman, his lawyer will press charges, and it'll be easy enough to write off Christophe's accusation as a tired police force grasping for straws. Frankly, that's a pretty accurate observation right now."

"We can't force Norman to accept our help, or provide us with any," I said, yawning. "When the domestic abuse case ties into the accident, fine, but Christophe is our primary concern right now."

"So we just let the nameless fiancé walk away," said Stan.

"I said 'when' they come together. Not 'if.' We'll work it out sooner or later."

"Sooner, I hope, because we just let someone walk right back into the arms of an abuser and possible murderer. Did you see him, Kenny? Did you see Christophe? This is not okay with me. It shouldn't be okay with anyone."

I sighed, slowly rolling into my bed with my clothes on. A headache throbbed steadily in my temples. "Stan, I care. I really do. I'm just not noble enough to lose sleep over this after working for seventeen hours straight. This job is as much about discretion as it is dedication. Pick and choose your battles-normal people just don't have the energy to fight them all."

Stan was silent on the other end of the line.

"Get some rest, I mean it," I said, and hung up.

Burying my head in a pillow was like finally reaching heaven. What a fucking day. A hit-and-run murder attempt, an old companion, a close-mouthed boyfriend, and an abusive spouse who didn't even have an identity yet. Of course, it all had to happen in perfect South Park tradition: within the same twenty-four hour time period. Fatigue gnawed at my body. I felt like I was about fifty years old, barely able to turn off my beside lamp.

I sighed and wrapped myself in my sheets. Sleep came immediately, easily. It was starting to rain outside. But I'm not out there, I thought, with half-conscious relief. Thank God. I'm safe at home, falling asleep. I'm racing back into the nightmares of my past. I can never escape the memories in my subconscious; they're forcing me to relive the moments that Stan will not let me talk about. I'm dodging people in the hallways of Park County High School, my best friend huffing behind me, minute-bells ringing. I'm laughing. I'm careless. I'm…


I'm fifteen years old.

"Go, go!" I shout, ushering Eric into the classroom, which is finally empty after the pre-lunch lessons. The music room is the perfect place for prank-fodder-there are cymbals, metronomes, tape recorders and wire stands, everything we need to wreak havoc in seventh-period lecture hall. We waste no time pulling boxes off the shelves. I find an old bike horn and squeeze it right in Eric's face. It honks loudly. He nearly topples over in surprise, noisily dropping an armful of sheet music.

"Goddamn it, Kenny!"

I shush him, trying hard to contain my laughter. He grumbles, but I can see that he's as excited as I am. After all these years, the prospect of trouble-making still hasn't lost its novelty; the two of us will pick a dozen locks and steal and cheat just for the chance to cause a little chaos. Eric stuffs maracas into his backpack, his head turned slightly so he can hear the people walking by in the hallways. He's better at this shit than I am. He was breaking and entering years before I joined his first heist. So when he stiffens abruptly, I drop everything and look at him, immediately trusting his instinct.

"What is it?"

"Someone's coming," he says.

He may be smarter, but I'm faster. I grab his collar and haul his protesting ass backwards into the closet, kicking the door shut half a second before two people stumble in. The slits are too narrow to make them out in the darkness. Grinning at each other in relief, Eric and I lean forward and squint as they stagger towards the desk. They're tugging at each other with fevered desperation, breath coming in gasps, shedding clothes with every step.

"Fuckin' peepshow," Eric whispers.

"Hell yes," I whisper back.

"Should we bail before they reach second base, or right in the middle?"

I laugh into my hands. I'm about to respond when one of the shapes moans audibly.

"Stan," it breathes, low and sultry.

I freeze. Eric freezes. Then he lifts one hand and claws the slits in the door open wider, flooding the closet with new light. The hinges creak. I flail wordlessly, panicked, but our secret lovers are too preoccupied to notice-they're perched on the podium now, kissing slowly and luxuriously. My heart pounds in my chest as I recognize the redhead's graceful hands, the other's letter jacket and shaggy black hair. Incredible. Somehow, I'm simultaneously shocked and utterly unsurprised. Something poignant flutters in my chest.

It's Stan Marsh and Kyle Broflovski.

"I'll be damned," I say softly. "Look at 'em go."

Stan has both hands under Kyle's shirt. Kyle is urging him closer, teasing his fingers across the exposed skin where Stan's jacket has hiked up. "Love you," he whispers, and I hear Stan mumble it back before they bring their mouths back together. God, they actually close their eyes when they kiss. They touch each other tenderly and ask permission, fighting back their obvious fervor in lieu of gentility.

My own breathing becomes a little ragged, and I sit back, feeling nervous. There should be something weird about seeing two of my best friends making out between classes, but there simply isn't-their bodies fit together like puzzle pieces, groin to groin, legs and arms interlocking to form a single pulsating entity. They look so natural. It's nothing like the Catholic horror stories we hear from Father Maxi in church; they're too beautiful to be a sin. I turn away as Stan strips off his shirt and positions Kyle carefully above his hips. I can watch porn for days, but this isn't an afternoon quickie. Kyle is saying his name over and over, like a prayer.

They're making love. And love is the one thing that I would never intentionally intrude on.

It's only then that I remember Eric.

He's watching them intensely, his eyes narrowed to dangerous slits. His mouth is twisted and his breathing is labored. I hear a rasping noise, and when I look down, I see his fingers curling into fists, then unraveling, knotting the coarse fabric of his jeans not two inches from his obvious arousal. He makes no move to relieve himself.

"Eric?" I whisper.

"It's fucking disgusting," he hisses. "None of it is right."

I don't know what to say. Stan and Kyle cry out in our silence, synchronized in their oblivious pleasure. The sound makes Eric's face curl into a sneer again. He watches them. His fingernails cut crescent moons into his palms, and he sits there with the blood swelling into beads above the skin, but he doesn't look away.

"If it's grossing you out-" I begin, and he silences me by grabbing my wrist and fucking twisting. I yell in pain just as Stan murmurs something. I scramble away from Eric when he finally lets go, furiously rubbing my injured arm. "What the fuck!" I demand.

He doesn't respond.

I kick him as hard as I can.

He just scoots away and opens the closet blinds a little more.

That's when I realize where he's looking.

It's Kyle. He's watching Kyle move rhythmically against Stan, hungrily charting the rise and fall of his shoulders as he gasps for breath. Stan doesn't exist to him. Only Kyle, his peaceful face visible in profile, flicking red curls out of his eyes every time they pause to rest. "It's okay," he murmurs to Stan, and his voice is husky and smooth, with none of the typical shrillness he adapts whenever he's within a few feet of Eric. I forget Eric has never heard him like this. He quietly huffs for breath, and a shadow darkens his expression.

"Eric," I say.

"I could do better," Eric snarls.

I get a chill. "Neither of them seems too experienced, sure, but they're still-"

"He doesn't deserve him," he interrupts.

Kyle stills in Stan's arms, buries his mouth against his neck, and softly gasps his release. Stan follows suit a second later with a little less finesse, feverishly chanting his name. They're silent for a long time. Kyle recovers first and moves away, sorting through their abandoned clothing. Stan sits up very slowly, still winded. "I love you, Ky," he manages, clumsily fingering a lock of his hair. "Love you. And I'm not just saying…I mean, this is more than…"

"Yeah," Kyle says, kissing his knuckles. "Me too."

And then they're quickly putting themselves back in order, and the one-minute bells are going off, and Eric and I are still sitting numbly in the cramped closet. My wrist still aches; I'm terrified to move. Eric's hand is on the inside handle and I can't work up the nerve to push past him. His breath is still ragged. "They don't love each other," he whispers, turning on me viciously. I flinch away. "Stan's looking for a convenient fuck because Wendy won't put out, and Kyle's just desperate. I'd do better. I could…"

"I'm going to study hall," Stan says. "You?"

Kyle sighs. "Got a chemistry test. Send me a postcard from the free world, will you?"

"The science department doesn't allow mail from outsiders," Stan replies, grinning, and Kyle hits him. A final kiss, and they disappear together into the noise of the school passing period.

The final bells ring.

Eric still hasn't moved.

I woke up gasping. My pager was beeping somewhere in the darkness, and rain had become torrential outside my window. I thrashed out of my sheets. They were sticking to my skin, cold and clammy, and even as I groped for my nightstand in the dark, my heart beat heavily in my throat.

How could I not have seen it? Like me and Eric and Stan, his mannerisms were unmistakable. The way he walked, the sarcastic lilt of his voice, the eyes, the mouth, the hands. The ammonia Stan had smelled was not fertilizer, it was fucking hair dye. The gold could mask original color, but not the wild, distinct curls around his face-my only excuse was the bruising, which had swollen him beyond immediate recognition. I pictured Norman with that bag of frozen peas against his cheek. Stitches or not, one distinct eye had been visible, and now I remembered where I had seen that dark, subtle green and the familiar sweep of lashes. It was someone so close to me that I couldn't even see him.

Norman. Kyle.

I finally found my pager. The new message lit up the screen, a few words from Harris, hastily typed in shorthand. I only needed to read the first two words before leaping from bed, jamming my aching feet back into shoes I'd kicked off not an hour ago, pausing only to snatch my keys off the bedside table on my way out the door.


Outside, lighting tore patterns in the sky.

I still had the second patrol car. I was first on the scene, my sirens lighting up the evening, halfway up the driveway when Murphy pulled up into the lawn beside me. He vaulted out of the front seat with his gun drawn, rain dripping down his face. "Backup's on its way," he said, pushing ahead. "Head down, weapon out. Keep it cool."

I drew my own gun and released the safety latch for the first time in my career. The metal felt cold and solid in my hands, steady. Murphy knocked twice before taking a step backwards and cracking the door open with a few well-placed kicks. Only a few chains had been in place; all the bolts were undone. "South Park Police!" I shouted, lunging into the revealed space with my gun brandished. No response. Murphy groped for a switch and flooded the living room with stark yellow light. The place was still immaculate. The only items out of place were the white sneakers, sitting on the rug instead of in their neat row behind the couch.

Murphy grabbed his transceiver off his belt. "Clear," he reported.

A roar of static, then Harris's voice, garbled over the distance: "Proceed, perp was seen in the bedroom by a neighbor. East end of the house."

Murphy gestured me ahead. We moved cagily down the hall, back-to-back, me covering the rear while he peered forward into the darkness. Nerves jumped in my fingers. Thunder boomed above us, rattling the roof. Murphy braced a flashlight against his forearm and turned when we hit a wall, guarding my back so I could turn. "There," he whispered, pointing to a fan of light coming from underneath a closed door. As we watched, shadows passed, and the door creaked open partway. The muffled sound of someone sobbing escaped through the space.

"Police!" I yelled again. There was no response.

"Come out with your hands on your head!" Murphy ordered, also to no avail. He waited for a few seconds, then nodded me forward. We crept up to the door. "I'll give a three-count," he mouthed, barely audible. "Are you ready?"

I sucked in a deep breath. The image of Kyle Broflovski lying dead on the floor flooded my mind briefly, terrifying in its clarity, and I forced myself to blink it away. Mustering up every bit of courage I had, I gave Murphy a curt nod.

He responded by holding up a finger. One.



He burst through the door. I ducked under his arm with my gun drawn, fixating on the first movement I saw, the rustling of the curtains in the corner. The sweet, cloying smell of iron hit me in a wave. The scene slowly dawned on me. I gagged into the crook of my elbow, unable to believe what I was seeing.

Eric Cartman's body lay prone on the carpet. The blood was everywhere-his hair, the bedspread, the walls, soaking the carpet in a two foot radius around his fatal wounds. His throat had been slashed. Stab marks had torn his stomach to shreds, and his blue button-up shirt was a splash of red, shockingly bright against the bedroom's soft yellow décor. Murphy swore and knelt beside him, groping futilely for a pulse. I could no longer feel my body. When something stirred to the side, I whirled reflexively, training my gun on the jerky sign of motion.

Mr. Norman, incognito. Kyle Broflovski, trembling and bottle-blond, his distinctive small hands soaked in Eric's blood.

"Against the wall, Kyle," I said numbly.

He shuddered violently. The kitchen knife was at his feet, skewered deep into the carpet. "Kenny?" he whispered.

"Against the wall!"

Slowly, Kyle obliged. I waited until he had stilled before stepping over Eric's body and seizing his shoulder, forcefully turning him around and yanking his wrists behind him. He held himself immobile as I secured the cuffs. My trembling fingers kept sliding in the blood; it took me a few tries to get them latched properly. I kept my grip on his arms and hauled him around the other side of the bed, where he didn't have the advantage of a small space.

Kyle just looked down at Eric, choked, and made a soft whimpering noise in the back of his throat.

"Dead," Murphy reported uselessly.

I found myself staring at the bruises on Kyle's face. His shirt had slipped down over one shoulder, revealing the huge, dark handprints on his neck and forearm.

"It's over," he moaned. "It's over."

Below us, Eric's large fingers contracted with the onset of rigor mortis. I looked at him. Then I looked back at Kyle's neck. My throat closed up as something fell into place. I sagged against the wall, my thoughts racing, trying to recast this recent domestic abuse case with two of my childhood's most familiar faces. I couldn't do it. It didn't make any sense.

"No," I whispered. "No way, I-"

"Detective McCormick, I'd like you to meet my fiancé," Kyle said rapidly. "His name is Eric T. Cartman. You might've gone to school with him, actually; when was your graduation year?"

I turned to him. "But-how the fuck could you?"

Kyle just looked at me, his stitched mouth pulled into a faint smile. Tears streamed down his face, and I realized with shock that he had never been crying. He was laughing. His hands were soaked in blood, and he was laughing. Hysterically.

"Today is the best day of my life! Ten years, Kenny. For ten years, I cooked his meals, cleaned his house, did his dirty fucking laundry. Yesterday night, I begged him to have sex with me because I was that starved for human contact. I actually became what he's always wanted me to be-imagine it, me, a toy, something that just bakes and cleans and sucks. Do you want to know where I've been all this time? I've been here, the laundromat, the grocery store, and church. Four blocks. That's all. Four blocks in ten. Fucking. Years."

Pure disgust churned in my stomach. "No. No."

"I'm finally going to sleep for the first time since graduation," Kyle sobbed, raising his eyes to the ceiling. "I'm going to sleep and not have to worry about feeling his hands on me in the middle of the night!"

Brought back to attention, Murphy stood up and wrenched Kyle forward by the arm. I started to protest before remembering my professional obligations: Kyle was a murderer, now, not a friend who'd completely disappeared a full decade ago. I had to look away, fighting not to puke. Murphy knotted a hand in his freshly-dyed hair and began forcibly leading him outside. Kyle was still laughing and crying.

Murphy did not pause at the door to let Kyle put on shoes, and the three of us walked into the rain, bathed in flashing red and blue light. Our small police force was here in its entirety. Harris was rolling out the yellow tape, Barbrady and Franks were readying a car for criminal transport. People were stepping out of their houses, murmuring, and Dawson was doing his best to dispel the growing crowd. "Nothing to see," he kept saying. "Go back to bed, nothing to see here."

"You have the right to remain silent," Murphy said to Kyle, leading him to the waiting arrest vehicle. "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, and to have said attorney present during your questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you at government expense."

Kyle looked at me. He had calmed down. "Kenny," he said, very softly.


"I really missed you," he said.

Murphy forced him into the back of the car and slammed the door shut. I stared at Kyle through the rain-beaded window, and he held my gaze with sober exhaustion until Murphy drove him off into the night, sirens blaring. Stinging tears blurred my vision. The night slowly melted into a soft kaleidoscope of color. I sat down heavily on the sidewalk, my body aching with confusion, struggling to make any sort of sense out of what had just happened.

The last thing I remember from that night was Stan, his face finally flooded with recognition, standing numbly on the curb as the rain poured down over his defenseless form.

End of part one

With the exception of a few paragraphs, this was written entirely in class. And I wonder why I'm poorly prepared for my midterms?

If you made it through this, thank you so, so much. Thanks also to everyone who tried; I really appreciate it.