A/N: There be poetry half way through this FINAL chapter. It is an extract from a poem by (naturally) Arthur Rimbaud, called 'Les Reparties de Nina'. There are many wonderful Rimbaud translations out there, but I never agree with them completely so tend to do my own and prefer it that way. Anyway, the poem is Rimbaud's, but the translation is mine so I'd rather you didn't steal it without crediting me. Or him. Blates.
This is not the MOST conventional fanfic ending. I'm beginning to suspect that people might not be impressed by it.
But. I am going to try hard to make this good. No drunkenness, no 'forgetting' to edit this time. Read back over the last chapter I posted and whoo boy was it a mess. Fixed the major problems...er...like the MISSING WORDS. Sigh. And that's why alcohol is bad for you...
Anyway. Here we go.
Kyle had suggested that they meet at Stark's Pond. It was neutral territory, he had said, and it was mostly private. Kenny waited for him there, scuffing his sneakers into the snow, his fingers itching to chain smoke their way through all the cigarettes in town. He had kicked the habit three years ago, but hot damn if this wasn't the perfect time to start up again. He was pacing like a restless lion when Kyle finally showed, padding carefully towards him across the icy ground.
Kyle's red curls stood out like fire against grey sky, greyer water and grey-shadowed snow, while the air's bitterness flushed his cheeks and lips a subtle rose. Of all of the people Kenny knew in South Park, Kyle was the only one whose beauty seemed to actually be enhanced by the cold. Regardless of what Kyle was about to tell him, the way that boy looked right now made Kenny want to steal him away with him today, human rights be damned. Kenny wondered if that had been a factor in Kyle's choice of meeting place: if he had bet on his looks and played a cleverly chosen hand. Kyle was a self-aware little fucker. When it suited him, he could twist people to his will way more effectively than Cartman could because when Kyle did it, he did it with grace. You missed it coming until it was too late.
Kenny kind of hated himself for his neediness, but as Kyle stopped in front of him, the corners of his mouth curving into a tiny smile of greeting, Kenny couldn't help trying to read Kyle's decision from his body. Could the line of Kyle's shoulders be the clue? The way he held his head? How he clutched his elbows, arms crossed protectively against the chill?
But there was nothing. Kyle was unreadable this time and Kenny couldn't wait any longer.
"Have you made a decision?" he asked.
Kyle sighed and looked down at his feet, as if he had been hoping to somehow get out of this and was disappointed to find that wasn't going to happen. His head made a miniscule motion, which Kenny could only assume to be a nod, but he didn't say a word. Kenny gave him a minute before deciding that, hell no, these games weren't cute. He nudged a fist under Kyle's chin, forcing Kyle to look at him.
"Do I get to know it?" Kenny asked, his smirk jovial but no-nonsense. He felt the motions of Kyle's throat against his knuckles as the redhead swallowed. It was the only sign that Kyle's nerves were flaring; his eyes were steely with resolve.
"My decision is: don't go," Kyle stated.
Kenny hissed a breath in through his teeth and raised his eyes heavenward because this was the response he had dreaded the most. He didn't want the ball in his court. Not this time. He removed his fist and allowed Kyle's chin to drop.
"I can't just bail, dude," Kyle was saying, "Everything is here. My family, my job, my home..."
Kenny couldn't stop himself saying it. He couldn't keep the acidic edge out of the word, either. If he was honest, he hadn't tried to. Kyle looked at him with warning. The super-best was apparently not to be implicated in this discussion.
"Yeah. Stan. He's my best friend. Did you really think I'd just completely ditch him after all of this?"
"No. Honestly, no, I didn't. But I thought that it was worth a shot. Because, dude," Kenny heard a crack in his voice that he hadn't felt coming. He stepped forwards and ran his hands up Kyle's arms. Kyle's hands covered his. "Kyle. Kyle. Come on. We both know that this is...something."
"So don't walk away from it," Kyle pleaded, and used his fingers, his mouth, his sighs, to make his case. It was tempting. It was so very tempting, especially with the perfect angles of Kyle's body pressing against him and the sweet burn of Kyle's lips, moving against his jaw. Right then, Kenny wanted to agree. He wanted to give Kyle anything he asked for. But,
"No," he whispered and Kyle ripped himself spitefully away, leaving Kenny's arms cold and empty.
This was a fight now, Kenny realised as Kyle stared him down, his shoulders squared aggressively. Somewhere along the line, they had lost the easy casualness of what they had. It was too late to go back on it now. Kenny wasn't getting out of this in one piece.
"You're completely fucking me over by leaving," Kyle accused, the feeling of betrayal typed clear across his face. But Kenny wasn't folding.
"I'd be fucking myself over if I stayed," he countered.
Kyle's eyes were like bullets; their gaze tore into him. Kenny kept his cool, despite the tightness in his chest and the clamminess of his palms.
"Dude, I love you, but I'm not going to let you take this from me," Kenny said firmly, and watched as those cleverly wrapped words jolted through Kyle and struck deep. "You can come with me, or..." Kenny made a helpless gesture. When Kyle spoke next, his defences were weakening and the desperation was starting to creep in.
"You- You're asking me to choose between you and everything else in my life, Kenny. That's not even a choice. Can't you see that?"
"Right. And you're asking me to do the same thing."
The fallen silence seemed to grow and solidify, as the very air around them held its breath.
It was Kyle who broke it.
"Then...I choose life, dude," he said in a hollow voice. Kenny swallowed down the instinct to object. He nodded.
"So do I."
Another silence fell, defeated and wretched.
"Oh God," Kyle murmured, as the reality of what was happening began to sink in. "Oh God," he repeated, louder, because this was so fucking ridiculous that he could have screamed.
"Kyle," Kenny tried, stepping towards him, but Kyle's eyes just flashed at him dangerously.
"No," Kyle snapped and his vehemence stopped Kenny in his tracks, because that was the end. There was too much hurt, too much stubbornness in Kyle's eyes for Kenny to ever be able to break through it. He could only stand in the snow and watch as Kyle walked away, back to a world that Kenny had never really belonged to.
* * * * * *
When Kyle returned to the apartment, still shivering despite the warmth of the building, it was to find the fat-ass sitting on the couch with Stan. They had been speaking in low voices, heads bent close, but they both looked up as Kyle entered, Cartman faking an expression of innocence. Kyle gritted his teeth. Whoever had given Cartman the apartment address in the first place was a fucking idiot, Kyle thought. He knew that he himself would never have done something so retarded, so that left either Stan or Kenny or possibly both deserving to get their asses kicked.
"Why, afternoon, Kyle," Cartman whined, sugar sweet, "I trust you have had a pleasant day? Whoring your way through more of our mutual friends, perhaps?"
"Dude. Not cool," Stan chided, shooting a stern glare of disapproval at Cartman.
Since Kyle had spilled his guts to him about Kenny going to Australia, Stan had been acting every inch the model best friend. He didn't pester Kyle with questions. In fact, he didn't question him at all. He just radiated constant assurances of support, the way he had done when they were kids, they way he was doing now. It was sweet of Stan to care, but he needn't have bothered. There was no way in hell that Kyle was getting involved with Cartman today.
He walked right on past with a dignified, "Fuck you, Monstro," and headed towards the hallway with the full intention of climbing under his covers and sleeping until the world stopped turning.
At least, that was Kyle's intention until Cartman slung one thick arm across the back of the couch and twisted awkwardly in his seat.
" 'Ey! Fag!" he barked at Kyle's retreating back, "When am I gonna get my money? I swear to God, you try to Jew me out of it and I'll finish the job for you. You obviously can't cut for shit, but since I have more than three hairs on my chin, I actually know how to handle a razor blade."
Kyle's restraint crumbled in an instant. He'd spent too much time recently trying to repress what he really thought. He dashed the last few strides to his room, snatched his chequebook from his desk and scrawled a signature across the bottom of the first cheque the book opened on. He stormed back to the living room, anger curling at his lips, and hurled the chequebook as hard as he could at Cartman's head. It connected with a satisfying smack.
"Holy fucking hell! Take your goddamned money! I don't give a shit," Kyle screamed, while Cartman was lumbering to his feet as fast as a mammoth like him could lumber.
"Ow!" he squawked, enraged and stabbed one finger in Kyle's direction, "That is assault Kyle! I'll sue your fucking ass off."
"I'd love to see you try! Make my day!" Kyle yelled back, throwing the pen he still held in his hand. It was childish, an act of frustration. If Kyle had been thinking straight he would have marched over and split his knuckles open on Cartman's face instead, but as it was, the rage made him see black. His aim was shit. Cartman caught the pen easily.
Stan was on his feet now too, throwing his weight against the brick wall of Cartman's torso to hold him back. Cartman cast the pen violently aside, where it connected with an abandoned mug on the coffee table and sent the contents cascading over the floor.
"Dude, what the fuck, Stan! Control your Jew!" Cartman spat, glaring murder at Kyle over Stan's shoulder.
"He's not 'my' anything," Stan said firmly. Cartman did not try to knock him aside and throttle Kyle, but he speared Stan with a look of pure disgust.
"Fucking hell. You're such a Jew-loving pussy," Cartman told him, "You'd have been shot as a sympathizer during the Great War."
Stan squeezed his eyes shut in exasperation.
"Jesus Christ, dude," he muttered, "You gotta stop referring to the holocaust that way."
"The Great War was the First World War, dickhead. Read a fucking history book," Kyle snapped at Cartman, before he retreated into his room and slammed the door hard behind him.
He was restlessly folding laundry, blood still boiling, when Stan knocked on his door fifteen minutes later.
"I made sure he only took what he was owed," Stan said, holding up Kyle's somewhat battered chequebook. Kyle grunted his thanks. Stan laid the chequebook down on the desk, which was still cluttered with piles of paper and law tomes open to marked pages. Stan frowned. He had expected to find Kyle's room half-packed into boxes by now, but here everything stood still in its right place.
"You're..." Not packed. Not going. Stan's voice stalled on the words and he pushed them away before they came out wrong.
Before the chequebook incident Cartman had spent an hour plying Stan with plans to force Kyle to stay, most of which involved either Kenny's unfortunately gory demise or Kyle being gagged and handcuffed somewhere far, far away from the airport. Stan had ignored them all, just as he had ignored Wendy, because he knew Kyle better than everybody else in the world combined. You couldn't trick Kyle into anything, least of all loving you.
"Did you speak to Kenny?" he asked cautiously and although Kyle did not look up, his folding somehow seemed to grow more violent.
Stan watched as Kyle slapped one shirt onto the folded pile and wrenched back the arms of the next without the slightest break in rhythm.
"I refused to go and he refused to stay. So."
"But I thought..."
Stan hesitated. Resolving to support Kyle no matter what was one thing, but he didn't think he could stomach anything that even resembled encouraging Kyle to leave. Kyle pursed his lips and looked up. The sudden rush of green nearly knocked Stan off his feet.
"I'm not just going to adopt somebody else's dream, Stan, so I can pretend that it's what I want too," Kyle said.
Despite Kyle's matter-of-fact dismissal of the question that Stan hadn't been able to ask, he was not going to fall into the trap of thinking that Kyle's unpacked belongings meant that he shouldn't still be drafting an ad for a room to let. Kenny was still in the country and Kyle was still in love with him. Stan remembered how this part of a break-up felt. Nothing was over yet.
Sure enough, two days later, Kenny turned up at the door. Stan had been expecting it, but actually seeing him still made Stan's hand clench so tight against the doorframe that the wood bit dents into his palm. Kenny looked at him in a shifty, winsome way that made his skin crawl. Tricks to get Kyle back were practically spilling out of Kenny's fraying sleeves and Stan could see the determination bubbling in his too-blue eyes.
"Dude. Kyle's not here," Stan said, silently thanking God for small miracles. Kenny shifted his weight and braced one arm against the doorframe, leaning haphazardly close.
"I know. I wanted to talk to you."
"Shit." It slipped from Stan's mouth before he could stop it and Kenny raised an amused eyebrow. "I mean...," Stan attempted to backpedal, before deciding it was pointless. "No, yeah, I meant 'shit'."
Kenny smiled his crooked smile.
"I know, right? Can I come in, though? I promise if it comes to blows, you will be able to beat the crap outta me. I swear not to fight dirty, and dude, you know without that I got nothing."
It was against his better judgement, but the potential opportunity for violence kind of swayed him. Stan stepped aside and let the door gape open. Kenny slipped through the gap and into Stan's home, just as he had all those weeks ago when Stan had inadvertently set this whole thing in motion.
They hovered uneasily together in the living room beside the couch where the ghostly imprint of Kenny's long limbs and Kyle's sweet gasps still lingered. Stan had to fight to block the images from his mind.
Eventually, Kenny pulled his hands out of his pockets and looked Stan in the eye. His gaze was sincere but he held his body tense, as if ready to bolt.
"Listen, Stan," he said slowly, "...Are we cool?"
That was it: 'Are we cool?' That was all the apology Stan would be getting, right there. Not that Kenny technically had anything to apologise for, Stan had to remind himself. Kyle had obviously been more than consenting. And besides, all was fair in love and war. Stan couldn't honestly say that he wouldn't have behaved exactly the same in Kenny's position.
"I guess so," he shrugged. "I can understand. I can understand why you'd want to...I mean, Kyle's...I mean, yeah."
Stan could have kicked himself for his lack of eloquence. But this was Kenny, who had been there every step of the way when Stan had been growing up; who had given Stan his first taste of hard liquor; who had bought Stan his first condoms when Stan had been too embarrassed to do it himself. And Kenny got it.
"Yeah," Kenny agreed, "He is."
"I'm gonna miss you, man," Kenny blurted, and meant it. Stan shifted his weight from foot to foot and tried to forget everything but the fact that there was a very old friend standing in front of him who was about to bail out of his life for Christ knew how long. It mostly worked.
"When do you leave?" he asked.
"Seriously?" Stan said, and that had done it. Regret flooded through Stan. He knew that it was showing on his face. Cartman was right. He was a pussy if he could get damn near choked up saying goodbye to the guy who had practically cuckolded him. "Weak," he muttered, "So this is the last time I'll see you in..."
"As long as it takes," Kenny shrugged.
And Stan looked so miserable all of a sudden that Kenny's heart half broke with guilt, because Stan was an honest-to-God good guy who hadn't deserved all this shit. Stan had never exerted the full strength of his super-best power to sway Kyle and for that alone, Kenny was grateful, not to mention for putting a roof over his head and for not beating the crap out of him for everything he had done. The guy was a fucking saint. Hell's Pass was the luckiest hospital standing. And Kenny had just one last favour to ask of him.
"Dude, will you do something for me?" he said, pulling an envelope from his pocket and pushing it into Stan's hand. "Give this to Kyle."
Stan took it, looking bewildered.
"You're going to see him to say goodbye, though," he stated. Kenny shook his head and gestured to the envelope hanging from Stan's fingers.
"That is my goodbye."
Stan's eyes, which had drifted down to the envelope inquisitively, snapped back up to meet Kenny's in a flash of realisation.
"Dude. No. You can't. It's not fair. You have to say bye to him to his face."
All the breath escaped Kenny in an uneasy sigh.
"He knows when I'm leaving, Stan. He's seen the ticket. He hasn't contacted me. He doesn't want to know." Stan opened his mouth to protest, but Kenny cut him off. "It's cool. I get it. If that's how he needs to play this, let him. I've already dumped enough shit on him."
"Kenny, it isn't like that," Stan pleaded, but if Kyle's teasing lips had not been able to convince Kenny then Stan's entreaties couldn't even come close. Kenny forced a careless smile and flicked his rebellious bangs out of his eyes.
"Dude. Forget it. It's my turn now to get the hell out of this shithole town. I've finally done my time. You should be happy for me."
Sensing the futility of any argument he might make, Stan just nodded gravely.
"You're right. Good luck, man," he said, offering his hand. Kenny reached out and clasped his hand into Stan's strong grip. He could feel his smile about to crack and turned away before Stan could see that happen.
"Take care of things, dude," Kenny said, meaning 'take care of him', and then, with a final wink he was out the door, sauntering away as smoothly as he had come.
* * * * * *
As the days before Kenny's departure had slipped steadily away, Kyle had thrown himself headfirst into his work and powered through closures on three separate cases without surfacing to breathe. He needed the intense grind of hard labour to keep him grounded and to eliminate the spaces in which his mind could wander. When his boss called him in on Wednesday to praise his efficiency, Kyle was initially surprised to hear it.
"You're a credit to the firm, Broflovski, and you deserve to know that," his boss had said around a genuine grin.
Kyle had dismissed the words modestly but was unable to stop the gentle flush of pride he felt as he returned to his desk to file away closing statements and unneeded transcripts.
Kyle had chosen his career because it came naturally to him and he had already suspected that he would be good at it. But the real reason he had excelled was that beneath the fronted apathy, Kyle secretly worked damn hard and he worked damn hard because he enjoyed what he did. It might not have been spectacular. It might not have been saving the world or breaking boundaries or touching the stars. Kyle's life wasn't as glamorous as that, but he wouldn't have wanted it to be. Kyle was through faking like he wasn't okay with being conformist.
And that was why Kyle nearly tore up Kenny's letter without reading it. If it hadn't been for Stan watching him all expectantly, he would have done.
It was like that last drink too many when you already know you're too far gone. He didn't want it, he couldn't take it, but it was already in his hand. Kyle set his jaw firm and ripped open the envelope, deliberately remaining in front of Stan so he would have something to keep him from overreacting. There was a single sheet of paper inside, patterned with Kenny's scratchy writing. Kyle read it slowly. Twice.
Then, like a little death,
Heart in a swoon,
You'd say, carry me,
I'd carry you, quivering,
From the path,
A bird trickling its tune:
To the hazel tree...
I'd speak into your mouth
I'd go, pressing
You to me, like a cradled child,
Drunk with blood
That flows blue beneath pale skin,
And flushes you rose:
I'd speak frank language
- Yours!...that only you know.
Our forest would smell of sap
And the sun
Would sand fine gold across
Their green vermillion dream.
(Because there was beauty somewhere in the madness)
Kyle was glad he had stayed beside Stan, because that had been designed to eviscerate. All the blood in Kyle's body seemed to plummet to his feet while the first twinges of a debilitating headache scraped at his temples. Stan was looking at him with concern.
"What's it say?" he asked.
Kyle couldn't talk through the regret clogging up his throat. He dropped the sheet of paper on the table before heading to his room, where he sat on the bed and stared out of the window.
He didn't regret his decision. He was just sorry that he'd had to make it. Kenny was right. It had been something.
The tiny sliver fleck of a plane was sliding across the sky. Although it was at the wrong time and probably heading in the wrong direction, Kyle imagined that Kenny was on it. The sun began to set, turning South Park to burning amber, but Kyle stayed watching until the pale, scar-like trail left by the plane had melted completely into the glowing sky.
Stan left him to brood for exactly the right amount of time. When he did appear at Kyle's door, he came bearing coffee. The rich, throaty aroma of it tugged Kyle gently out of his daze and Stan's familiar sympathetic smile seemed to absorb half of the weight hanging over Kyle's shoulders.
Stan handed the steaming mug to Kyle, who wrapped lithe fingers around it and drew it into his chest like it could protect him from the world.
"Thanks," Kyle muttered, but didn't look at him. Stan sat down on the bed cautiously, leaving a sensible distance between them.
"Are you okay?" he asked, casting a professional eye over Kyle's tense features. Kyle's gaze flickered towards Stan then quickly away again.
"I've been more okay," he replied honestly. For Kyle, admitting that was practically bearing his heart. Stan nodded thoughtfully. After a minute, he said,
"Do you want to hear what happened to me yesterday?"
Kyle blinked, caught unawares by the sudden conversational tone. Stan was looking at him with raised eyebrows, so he nodded, while the mug of coffee was still warming life into his listless fingers.
"This guy was brought in, right?" Stan said and his smile was fresh and bright, "College freshman. Drunk off his face. Bear in mind, dude, this is at, like, four in the afternoon."
Kyle felt a wry smirk break through his black mood. They had both been there.
"Superficial second degree burns to the genital area," Stan continued, chuckling as Kyle's mouth dropped open in alarm. That was somewhere that thankfully neither of them had been. "Ask me what happened."
"Dude. I don't wanna ask that," Kyle said, but the disgust in his tone could not distract from the spark of curiosity in his eyes. Stan grinned.
"You're dying to."
Kyle's mouth twitched. His eyes narrowed. There was something like a smile.
"What happened?" he asked reluctantly.
"Set fire to his pubes. With the help of an aerosol can and the burner on the stove in his dorm kitchens. A bunch of guys were doing it, filming it on their phones. He was just unlucky."
The laughter was shocked from Kyle before he had even realised he was amused. The sound rang foreign and delightful in his ears, as if it had come from somebody else. The sense of distance barely lasted a moment, though, before he was caught up in the immediacy of conversation.
"Why, though? Why the fuck would you?" he exclaimed and Stan was grinning back.
"An entire bottle of tequila."
"Ugh, my death drink," Kyle winced. Stan made an enthusiastic gesture with his hands.
"I know, dude! That's what I told him! I was all like, 'Woah, man, that's my room-mate's Drink of Doom, you want to watch yourself handling that stuff'. He didn't really get that, though. He was way too wasted to comprehend."
"Weak. God damn, I'm kinda glad I'm not in college anymore if that's what kids are up to these days," Kyle said, clutching at his coffee protectively.
"Dude, me too! You know I would have been right in there with that shit, burning up a storm."
"Texting the photos to your Dad," Kyle smirked.
Stan was quiet for a moment after that, lost in thought, his smile fading bit by bit.
"You know, it's weird," he said, "but...I kind of feel like I'm only just now beginning to settle back into life again. After college. You know? College is like this bubble. You get me?"
The words hit Kyle hard, because they were so relevant that they could have been plucked right out of his own brain. Kyle was about to ask how the hell Stan had worked that out, when he realised that Stan hadn't worked it out. He was simply feeling exactly the same thing himself.
"Totally," Kyle murmured.
"It's not so bad being out of it, after all, though. Huh?"
Kyle stared at him openly. Then he let his mug-guarding hands drop loose into his lap and smiled a little, because it seemed that Stan, night-shifting, life-saving Stan, was okay with being conformist too.
"It's not," Kyle agreed.
It was sort of gloomy in the room, Kyle realised. The sun was down and the only light was the soft glow leaking in from the bulb in the hallway. It reminded him of that night in the kitchen and his fingers strayed absently to the scar still healing on his wrist. Perhaps it was because Kyle's thoughts had strayed there too that when Stan bent his head towards him, for a panicked second Kyle thought that Stan would try to kiss him. However, Stan simply pressed his forehead against Kyle's, close enough for their breath to mingle, too close for them to be able to see each other without blurring.
"I'm glad you're staying," Stan breathed, so quiet, and Kyle felt something vibrant flood through him from head to toe. The heavy shock of it stole Kyle's breath away, for it was something that he recognised too well, a distant echo of fifteen-year-old feelings.
There was more to them than friendship. Kyle knew that now with a certainty that reverberated down to his bones.
When Stan pulled back a moment later, his face showed no reflection of the revelation. He was covering a night shift as a favour, he explained and Kyle noticed for the first time the uniform brushing the chiselled angles of Stan's collarbones.
"I'll see you tomorrow?" Stan asked, and Kyle could only nod vacantly in response.
Alone in the apartment that night, Kyle slept restlessly and awoke repeatedly from sunlit dreams to find butterflies of excitement tingling inexplicably in his stomach.
When the next day dawned, it was wet and glistening, with a rainbow mirrored between the clouds and the sound of Stan's house keys jingling in the door.
A/N: Yay! Done. I hope you believed in it. This was the ending I'd deep down intended from the beginning. Thank you to so much to everyone who has read all this way. I honestly thought I was completely done with writing fanfiction, but I have had an absolute blast working my way through this. I'd love to hear people's final thoughts so please do leave a review if you have stuck it out to the very end. I latch onto things that you guys say in reviews and build on them in my writing. Who knows? Your throwaway comment could be the birth of a new story!