Author Note: I wrote this story back in September as a birthday gift for my good friend Evil Chibi Kitten. She's kindly agreed to let me post this as part of this collection and I'm very grateful - thanks dude! She's a major Bunny fan and I was racking my brains trying to come up with a plotline, as I'd never written the pairing before. This is a little odd, but I hope you all enjoy it.
"I've been having the strangest dreams lately," says Butters, seemingly out of the blue. To Stan, who has been waiting for him to spit out whatever it was bothering him, it's an invitation to ask for more. Stan, who took numerous psych courses before finally deciding to go into veterinary science, has never been able to resist analysing his friends. Some think it makes him a good listener and a fountain of advice, others think it makes him a pain in the ass, Stan sometimes thinks it his own way of coming to terms with the mark their odd childhoods have left upon them all.
He pours Butters another drink; they are in the apartment he shares with Kyle although his room mate is gone for the moment, visiting his brother at college. Butters showed up unexpectedly, the first sign of a problem. Butters is not the kind of person to drop in unannounced unless he has good reason, in fact Butters is more likely to try to book a conversation a week in advance. After all this time, he still does not truly feel that he belongs.
"I-it's Kenny," says Butters after a few careful questions, staring into his glass and swishing the wine around. "I dream about Kenny."
Stan is unsurprised. He too dreams frequently of Kenny, who out of all of them was always the strangest before he vanished into the realm of memory and uncertainty. Kenny could walk the line between life and death, Heaven and Hell; he had seen things that most mortals would never imagine and he always returned seemingly unaffected by the experience. Except in those eyes, those almost-hidden blue eyes that showed the depths of his experiences.
In Stan's dreams, which have been plaguing him since Kenny disappeared into myth, Kenny tells him that he is trapped. The location changes seemingly without meaning, but the message remains the same. He has always thought it his minds own way of coping with not knowing, that he is struggling to hold on to his friends memory.
"I dream about him," adds Butters redundantly, his voice low.
"Start from the beginning," suggests Stan, who is already looking forward to poking holes in the tapestry of Butters imaginings and letting shine through the light of rationale. "What do you dream?"
He dreams, explains Butters, that he is walking to Starks Pond at night, the light from the town hidden and only the moon to guide him. It twinkles from the ever-present layer of snow, in this landscape unspoiled by trespassers, and the night is silent, silent. The wind tugs at his hair, chills him through the thin layer of clothing he has chosen for this fools errand, whatever it may be. Perhaps once he arrives he will know more, for the moment he is clueless.
The pond comes into view through the trees, frozen over, a thousand times more beautiful in the imagination than reality could ever make it. This place, where Butters has played and skated and swum in that brief annual week of summer, seems familiar and yet unknown, an enchanted place through the eyes of another.
There is a fallen tree that does not exist in reality, lying close to the edge of the pond and upon it, he sees the familiar silhouette of a young man, his arms wrapped around himself, breath escaping his body in silver clouds as moisture meets freezing air. Butters heads forward to speak with him, but timidly, he does not wish to intrude on what might be a personal moment. He is sure the sound of his footsteps crunching on the snow will distract the boy, but there is no sign that he has heard and it is then that Butters realises there are no footprints leading to or away from the fallen tree, as if the boy has materialised there out of nothing. For some reason, this insight does not cause him fear and he sits on the log beside the boy, giving sideways glances, unable to see his face due to the ever-present hood. Several strands of blonde hair escape the confinement and dance in the breeze.
Kenny, whispers Butters.
Kenny turns to look at him for a moment, revealing those deathless blue eyes before turning away. Butters can see the dark shadows beneath them, that his skin is pale, but all other evidence that something is wrong is hidden behind the hood, as it always has been.
There is thick rope coiled around Kenny's feet, but Butters cannot see if it is attached to him or if the boy has dropped it from numb fingers to fall as it has.
It's cold down here, Kenny tells him, his words muffled by the hood, his voice sounding thick and wrong.
Butters reaches out to touch Kenny's arm and almost withdraws; his coat is soaked through. It is only the part of Butters that is kind that allows him to move closer, to keep from pulling away. In this snow, as wet as he is, Kenny must be close to death. But then, Kenny and death have always come as a package.
The dead should not come back, says Kenny in that new, strange voice. It's an abomination, an atrocity, an offence. So I'm bound. Trapped. Cold...
No longer able to bear the hopelessness and lack of life in Kenny's voice, Butters scootches further along the log and pulls Kenny into his arms. The water from Kenny's clothes dampens Butters shirt immediately, the thin fabric clinging to him. But he refuses to let Kenny go. It is as if Kenny has become some kind of vacuum, sucking all the heat from Butters body and leaving him frozen, but still he refuses to lessen his grip.
Kenny turns again to look into Butters eyes, the blue that once danced with secrets and life now appearing glassy and unreal. For the first time, Butters feels fear.
"And that's where I wake up," Butters finishes, a long way from the chill of Starks Pond, but he shivers anyway. "I wake up cold."
Stan tries to look merely interested, but he is unnerved. It's the use of that word, trapped, all too similar to his own bad dreams. "Don't tell me you wake up soaked in water."
Butters gives a short laugh. "Well gee, if I did, I'd know it wasn't just a dream."
Stan's lips twitch up into a slight smile, he had forgotten that sometimes, Butters can cut right to the heart of an issue without seeming to have that intent. "It was only a dream though Butters, you know that, right?"
"Yeah," replies Butters, but he sounds unconvinced.
"There's too much wrong with it," continues Stan, suddenly needing to prove to himself if no one else that there is no chance it could be anything else. "I mean, how long has it been since anyone saw Kenny?"
"Two years," replies Butters gravely. Stan hears the reproach and cringes a little, but he doesn't really need to be told, the question is strictly rhetorical.
"Right. And he hadn't worn the hood all the time in at least five years before that. It's a hangover from childhood, not a literal representation. And you said it wasn't his voice, that he didn't talk like himself."
Butters looks candidly back at Stan. "They were his eyes."
"They're just the part of him you remember most," replied Stan. "It'd be hard to forget them."
Frowning, Stan pours them another drink. Neither of them are usually big drinkers, at least not when they're together, but the conversation has made them both uncomfortable, with the subject, with their unanswered questions, with their inability to do anything but talk and drink and wonder.
"He's never been gone this long before," says Stan abruptly. It's the truth, one spoken in the recesses of everyone's mind but rarely said out loud, in case the words carried the weight to change the virtue of hope.
Butters nods, not looking up at Stan, seemingly refusing to acknowledge what he has said. "My dad used to say that dreams want to be real. He said that when we wake up, they hang on to our minds and try to escape into the real world. The strongest ones can last for as long as half a day and that's why I should only have pure thoughts, so I could only have good dreams."
Stan finds this idea typical of the Stotch parents brand of child raising, using the implication of fear to control everything about Butters, even his thoughts. He refrains from saying Butters dad is an asshole though, because although the idea is patently ridiculous, he also finds it quaintly awful.
"Did he ever say what happened if they did escape?"
Butters plays with the stem of his glass. "He said that the good ones never do. And the bad ones eat you alive."
Lost in their morbid discussion, neither notices the time until it has gotten very late and both have had rather too much to drink. Stan insists that Butters takes Kyle's room rather than taking the fifteen minute walk home and Butters agrees without putting up much of an argument, thinking that Stan is deluding himself if he thinks even Butters could be fooled by calling the rarely used room Kyle's – it is clear to anyone who cares, and even those who don't, exactly where Kyle sleeps and the extra room is purely for show. Or as Kenny once said, I don't know who those two think they're foolin', or why they even bother tryin'. We all know they got a karmic-chi-love-thing goin' on.
Butters thinks back to the way Kenny spoke when he said that, teasing and affection in his voice, no trace of malice, or the despair that has infected the words he hears in his dream. He can remember Kenny's melodious tone that day, his mouth curled into a confident smile, his eyes meeting Butters as if to impart some great secret that he hadn't spoken of, sparkling with life and hope and good humour. The memory of that look that is Butters last conscious thought before sleep claims him.
But with sleep comes the dream and the dream is always the same.
It's Stan who shakes Butters awake, dark hair mussed but there is no sign of sleep in his eyes. Butters sits up hurriedly, his eyes adjusting to the dark thanks to the thin strip of light coming from the hallway and recognises Stan, the surroundings that comprise 'Kyle's room'. He shudders, wrapping his arms around himself in an attempt to lend himself heat, although he feels as though he will never be warm again; the chill has set into his bones.
"I-I'm okay Stan," he says shakily, surprised that his breath does not fog the air when he speaks. He feels as though the air he exhales is spitting out the frost within.
Stan runs a hand through his hair in distraction. "You were shouting," he says by way of explanation. "About the cold... was it Kenny again?"
Butters nods slowly, rubbing at his arms. "It's always Kenny," he says in a low voice, reminding Stan of the times he and Kyle have speculated there is more to the relationship Kenny and Butters have – had – than meets the eye. What that might be he doesn't know; Kenny was always full of secrets but he doubts that he would have kept something like that to himself, while Butters was and still is an open book. For the most part at least, there is something in Butters eyes that tells Stan he is not sharing everything.
"It's like..." Butters looks up at Stan through weary eyes. "Like he's trying to tell me something. But he won't just come out and say it."
"It's just a dream Butters," says Stan uneasily. "Get some more sleep. You'll feel better about it in the morning."
"I've been thinking that since the first morning Kenny disappeared," replies Butters with a humourless laugh, but he settles back down beneath the covers, drawing them around himself for comfort.
"Seriously?" Stan frowns. "You've been having this dream for that long? But we didn't really start worrying about him for a couple of weeks."
"Maybe you didn't," says Butters, closing his eyes. "Because Kenny always comes back. But this time he didn't – because somewhere, he's trapped."
Stan hesitates, wanting to see if there's more, but Butters begins breathing slowly and regularly and he realises that in spite of the nightmares, Butters is too exhausted to let sleep elude him for long. Quietly, he leaves the room and returns to his own, wishing more than anything that Kyle were here to help him work out what is happening.
What Butters might have said, had he not fallen asleep, was that back then the dream was rare, coming once every few weeks, allowing him to function from day to day. But recently, it has become more frequent, until every time he closes his eyes, all he sees is Kenny, cold and lifeless and lost.
Butters finds himself once again at Starks Pond, Kenny wet and shivering in his arms. He pulls the other closer, trying to lend him warmth but feeling only as if Kenny is draining him, until he must become as frozen as the boy he is trying to help.
Still, Butters cannot let him go. He has never been able to, even though it feels like hanging on will kill him.
Kenny leans back, allowing Butters to see his face, eyes without hope.
Butters gasps, fear running through his body as rapidly as the heat is leaving it. He fights against the instinct to flee, the sheer exhaustion he has been subject to of late the only reason he does not succeed in jerking himself from sleep. And still, he holds on to Kenny, feeling the sodden clothing beneath his arms leeching him of strength.
Kenny's mouth opens as if to speak again, vomiting out a mouthful of water that makes Butters cry out in disgust and shock. The water is cold, so cold that it almost burns as it douses Butters, making his shirt almost as wet as Kenny's own clothes.
And then Kenny is choking on the water, struggling for breath, his eyes looking back at Butters helplessly.
Butters grabs Kenny around the chest, trying to remember what he should do for someone who is drowning – Heimlich? Turn them over? But Kenny is drowning without dying and Butters starts to panic.
"Kenny, I – I'll help you, just hold on, I'm..."
Kenny slumps in his arms, water spilling from his mouth in a seemingly unending torrent, although there cannot possibly be this much in his stomach. His chest hitches feebly, as if fighting to fill his lungs.
It is his own scream that drags Butters from the recesses of sleep and he sits bolt upright, heart pounding heavily in his chest, hearing Stan hit the floor in the other room with a hasty thud. He shivers uncontrollably, but he does not bother to try to warm himself. Heat may or may not return later, for now, there are more important things on his mind.
Stan throws the door open and stares into the room, blinking owlishly at Butters. "Holy shit, are you okay?"
"...So cold," murmurs Butters to himself. "It's so cold down there."
Butters rouses himself, looking up at Stan through wild eyes, scrambling in his hurry to get out of bed. "Come on, we've gotta go."
"Go?" Stan looks so bewildered that Butters almost laughs. "Go where?"
Butters pauses in the middle of dragging on his clothes, looking Stan dead in the eye. "We're going to free Kenny."
"Those people, the ones who said Kenny was – well, wrong." Butters stares out of the window as Stan drives, unsure as to why he is facilitating this delusion, but wracked with the feeling that something is very, very wrong. "That cult that tried to recruit a bunch of folk in town. You remember them?"
"Like I could forget." Stan changes gears, focusing his vision on the road. "An abomination, they called him. As if the cycle was something he had any control over."
"Yeah." Butters pauses, considering. "After Kenny went missing, they got awfully quiet about it. We just thought it was because he was out of sight. I thought..." He laughs, but there's no humour in the sound. "I thought maybe he'd left to get a little peace from them."
"Just another bunch of crazies," says Stan. "They're long gone."
Stan looks over to Butters. "You think they did something, don't you? You think they found a way to keep him dead."
"No." Butters shakes his head emphatically. "I don't think they kept him dead. I think they found a way to keep him from staying alive."
Stan frowns. "I don't get it."
They pull up at Starks Pond and Butters is out of the car almost before it stops. Stan jumps out after him, grateful that in the early hours of the morning, there is no one to see them, they probably look crazy themselves.
Butters hurries to the edge of the pond, staring at its waters as if he has never seen them before. It is close to summer and the ice has melted, but the water is still terribly cold.
"What if Kenny came back to find there was no air?" asks Butters, his voice sounding distant even to his own ears. "That his first breath sucked in nothing but water? He'd drown Stan. And he'd die. And then he'd come back, only for the same thing to happen, again and again and again..."
Stan pales in sudden, horrified understanding. "You think Kenny's down there."
"I don't think so," replies Butters. "I know it. Kenny told me."
Stan thinks how it must be to be Kenny, to be trapped in the cycle of life and death, finding himself being killed before he can draw breath. He thinks of the pain of drowning, dark, cold water filling airless lungs. Of how hopeless it would feel to wake to that over and over, without the chance of salvation or an end to suffering.
He fumbles for his phone, almost dropping it in his need to get someone there who can help them. The pond is deep in the centre and the townspeople have lost their children to it before, small bodies falling through thin ice and vanishing into the depths. The local authorities are equip to deal with such tragedies.
He calls to tell them there is a body beneath the water.
Butters stares out over the water, his heart feeling like a lump of ice within his chest. The scene is peaceful, quiet, the trees casting shadows, the moonlight reflecting on the still pond. In his mind, he can see what lies beneath the calm, at the very bottom of the pond where none of them have ever managed to dive to. Rusted cars, dumped there rather than junked, the floating debris of everyday life that has been dropped there, weeds struggling through the mess. And Kenny; his feet tied to something too heavy to be moved or buoyed by the water, his hair floating around his head in a halo, face pale and untouched by sun. Butters envisions those blue eyes opening, hands reaching for the surface even as the body takes an involuntary gasp that brings nothing but rushing, choking death.
"I'm here Kenny," he says quietly, the cold seeping into his bones. "We're coming for you. Don't give up."
He takes a step forward as if to enter the water, dive beneath the surface and head down as fast and as far as he can, to ignore the way the water hurts his eyes and hunt out Kenny, try to tell him they have found him. Stan reaches forward and catches his wrist.
"Don't," he says in a voice that is supposed to be stern, but comes out more shaken than anything. "You can't make it. Stay here."
"But it's cold down there," says Butters, almost whimpering the words.
And then the police arrive and the calm is shattered.
The officers are used to such strange occurrences and although a close eyes is kept on the men, there are surprisingly few questions about how they can be sure there is a body in the pond. There are however, graphic threats about the consequences of playing a joke. Stan tries to reassure them that this is no joke, that time is of the essence. But Butters ignores them all, his entire attention on the rescue attempts.
Daylight is touching the trees when a diver emerges from the lake, summoning the attention of the officer watching from a boat. A moment later, the boat radios in a message to those waiting on the banks.
They have found a body.
Butters closes his eyes and wishes for the whole thing to be over.
They are commendably quick, the diver taking a heavy rope into the depths in order to pull the corpse out of the water – as Butters has known all along, there is something trapping it, preventing it from surfacing. By the time dawn arrives proper, they are winching their find from the pond. It is hard to see from where they are, but Butters notices a flash of faded orange as they struggle to pull the body into the boat. The hardest part is the anchor, what appears to be a cinder block still tied to the body. They cannot remove it until photographs have been taken, evidence of murder catalogued.
The boat returns to dry land, the body itself on the floor, laid on tarpaulin to prevent further evidence from escaping. There is an ambulance awaiting it, but the sirens are dead, mute testimony of the futility of hurrying. There is no need, there is no life to be saved.
Butters and Stan attempt to get closer as the body is loaded with some difficulty onto a stretcher, the concrete block that had weighted it down still attached. Stan tries to explain but these are cops, cops do not listen to reason if there is any way they can avoid doing so. And there is no need for the young men to see the corpse, although it is worryingly fresh, it is not something a civilian needs in the memory.
It is Butters who notices the movement first and breaks free from the officer attempting to hold him back. He dodges a second cop with an ease no one who knew him would ever have guessed at, almost crashing into the stretcher and staring down at the form lying there. Kenny, as he knew it would be, still and pale. His clothes are tattered and faded, even his hair seems to have been bled of colour. His lips are blue, his eyes closed. He does not look peaceful.
His chest hitches.
Kenny opens his eyes wide, revealing the same blue that Butters remembers so well, the same as they have always been, the only true colour remaining in him. He gasps, sucking in a lungful of air and choking it back out, as if the mere act of breathing is agony. He takes in a second breath, noisy, struggling, his face a mask of panic.
Butters takes one of Kenny's cold hands in his own, trying to lend a little warmth, a little comfort.
Kenny's panic fades to confusion as he pants a little more easily, staring up at Butters questioningly. His eyes rest on Butters face, registering tentative hope as he realises he is no longer trapped, no longer drowning. That he might finally have been saved.
Sitting up on the stretcher, Kenny reaches for Butters, pulling him into an embrace and resting his head on the man's shoulder. Butters has not realised he is shivering until Kenny does so, affected by the chill in the early morning air. Kenny is soaked and cold, just as he remembers from his dreams and just like he has dreamed of doing for all this time, he pulls Kenny closer, using his own body to heat Kenny's.
For the first time in a long time, both of them are warm.