Author Note: This is my brand-new fic, which will probably run to about twelve chapters. The chapters are much shorter than I usually post, but I think my reasons why will become obvious as we go on. Shit, I'm terrified of posting this. It's a complete departure from what I've posted in the past, there's a lot of angst and a lot of depressing stuff. If you enjoy it, please let me know. Or if you see glaring errors, feel free to point them out too. The story slammed into my head whole one evening and I've written practically all of it in one sleep-deprived fortnight, I usually brood over them a whole lot longer before posting and I try to finish one story before moving on to another – this story just marks a ton of departures for me!
Warnings: Boy love and lots of it. I won't be giving away pairings for a while, for reasons which should become obvious later on. Character death from the very start. There are going to be a lot of flashbacks, none in this first chapter however. I had to dream up a name for Kindergoth, who is mentioned a few times, but I really dislike the fanon name most people give him (it doesn't sit right with me for the character) so he's got a sexy new one, lol. Bad language, occasional racist terms, other things that people might find offensive – as always, the characters views aren't necessarily mine. I swiped some song lyrics, which is probably illegal but hey, it's all free advertising. I don't own the characters or town, but you already knew that, right?
You can bury your dead but don't leave a trace...
Ike Broflovski arrives back in South Park on a Friday morning, pulling his year-old car into the parking lot of the only motel in the small town and taking a deep breath once the engine is shut off. He has not been in this town in years, almost ten of them to be exact, and although the drive through town to this spot was short, it has given him a weird sense of deja vu. There have been some changes, but for the most part, South Park is almost exactly as he remembers it. It gives him an unpleasant feeling of falling, being swallowed by his own past.
Calming breaths do not work, he is still struggling not to feel like the twelve year old boy he was the last time he set foot in this town, a standout in the small community for all kinds of reasons. He had already been skipped ahead four grades at that early age, being younger and shorter and far more awkward than his classmates had been a daily feeling and not a pleasant one. Since then he has become more comfortable with himself and being reminded of it is not nice. For a moment, he is tempted to floor the accelerator and get the hell out of there. Fuck South Park, this place has not been home for a long time.
He stops himself, although the urge remains strong. He is not here for himself. He is here to find his brother.
Kyle Broflovski has taken on almost mythical proportions in Ike's mind. As a child, he worshipped his big brother, wanted to be just like him. Kyle had been a hazel-eyed redhead with curls that would 'fro if he allowed them to and who had finished all his growing at five-ten. He had an explosive temper that had frightened Ike sometimes, but he had always been protective of his baby brother and that anger had been focused on people who hurt them, rarely Ike himself. He was incredibly smart but not freakishly so, like Ike was, he had good friends and passing acquaintances, unlike Ike who was isolated thanks to his youth compared to his classmates and his smarts compared to his age group. Kyle had been Ike's best friend, his idol, his template of adulthood. Even though he had been only seventeen when he died.
Before Ike moves on with his own life, he has to do something about his past one. He needs to come to terms with everything that happened that year, the year when Kyle had suddenly seemed both elated and desperately worried, the one where Ike had been left in the dark. The one that had ended with Kyle's broken body, the funeral, his devastated parents shipping the three of them out of town, a confused jumble of mental snapshots and overwhelming grief. Ike's final memory of South Park was the day they had left, his parents in the front, Ike in the back-seat gazing vacantly from the window. He had seen a boy encased so firmly in his hoody that only his reddened eyes showed, arms wrapped tight around his body; Kenny McCormick, all alone. Stan Marsh, his brothers best friend since forever, had not been present. Ike had turned his head away, only for his gaze to fall on the empty place where Kyle should be sitting. For a moment, he had seen Kyle with an almost hallucinatory quality, his expression as scared and broken as those of his friend. But there was nothing but that seat, where his brother should be sitting with a book or a games console in his hands, looking up to give Ike those confidential looks as if they were in on some huge secret together.
In the years since then, Ike has struggled. He has thrown himself into study, anything to escape that silence, the silence between his parents, the silence in his own life that should have been taken up by his brothers talk, his plans, his presence. It seems wrong somehow to be happy, every laugh followed by an unconscious look for Kyle's reaction and finding nothing. He second guesses what his brother might think of this job, this partner, this decision. Kyle dominates his life in a way he would never have dreamed of doing had he lived.
If Ike is to release his brothers hold on him, he must find a way to let go. It has led him to spend his annual leave in this town, that he has not seen for so long, to make some sense of what happened. Not to forget Kyle or anything so cold, but to find a way to make himself believe that Kyle would still love him but is not coming back. He knows it intellectually, but his heart has never accepted that Kyle is gone. He needs to come to terms with it – and he needs to find out what was happening in his brothers life just before his death. What happened to Kyle was ruled an accident but even in his grief, Ike heard the rumours. Oh yes, he was devastated, not deaf. He suspects it was these rumours that drove his parents from the town, those and the constant presence of Kyle everywhere they went.
Ike gets out of the car, slamming the door and going to get his rucksack and laptop from the back-seat. He has a good job, his genius paying for the expensive vehicle and his flat in another state and the designer clothes that will probably stand out a mile in this hick town. It doesn't really matter. Once news of his presence gets out, he'll be the topic of hot gossip. Might as well advertise that he's been successful. He wonders what Kyle would make of his success, of his return. He thinks his brother would approve.
He shrugs the rucksack onto his shoulder, glancing out of the lot at the snow-covered town. Some things never changed. "Home sweet home," he murmurs under his breath. "I'm gonna find out what was going on with you back then Kyle. See if I don't."
Brace yourself, replies Kyle from the confines of his mind. I can't promise you'll like everything you find out.
"That's a chance I have to take," says Ike, cursing himself for talking out loud. People are going to start thinking he's insane if they see him and that is not an impression he wants to make, not when he's there on Kyle's behalf. He wants them to think good things of Kyle, to see his brother in the same way that Ike himself does. A crazy sibling does not sit well with that image. But he does not make friends easily and talking to Kyle, imagining what he might say, has always helped him to come to a decision, or simply to feel less alone.
There is a woman behind the desk of the motel reception, one who looks slightly familiar although she is too old to be someone he shared a class with, too old as well to be one of his brothers friends. He asks her for a room and she tells him they are all out of singles, that he will have to take one of the larger family rooms. This does not bother him, he can easily afford the money.
"Some class reunion thing going on this weekend," she says as she processes his credit card, scorn in her voice. "Ten years since leaving good old Park County High. That's why you can't get a single, everyone coming home to show how well they've done for themselves, or to drink themselves stupid and hop into bed with a random ex. I'm guessing you're not here for that though, Mr uh..." She removes his card from the machine, transaction finished and looks at his name to complete the thought. Ike can see the way she tenses up and her eyes flash wider before she manages to hang on to her bored expression.
She recognises the name, says Kyle in that familiar, amused tone. It's not like you didn't expect this. Dead teenagers in small towns get remembered. Just deal with it.
He takes the card from her, not quite smiling. "Not really," he says. "That was my brothers class, not mine."
She takes the key for his room and gives it to him, not smiling either but definitely more friendly than she had been. "I didn't recognise you Ike. Welcome back."
Ike gives her a nod, putting the pieces together – the short dyed-black hair, the mild disinterest until she found out who he is, the lack of gushing now that she does know – but mostly it is the way she says his name. He knows her voice and although she has changed in the last ten years, she retains some of that Goth-chick mystique. Back in the day, after his brother died, his few friends avoided him like the plague and Kyle's friends were as broken as he was. Only one person of his own age had even tried and hadn't skirted around the subject of Kyle either. The kids in town still called him Kindergoth even though he was in middle school, something that had pissed him off no end, but his real name though was Keiran. The Goth scene in South Park was minute and in spite of the age gap – the girl at reception had been even older than his brother – they had stuck together. And they had accepted that Keiran wanted to hang out with Ike without question, accepting him. She hadn't been nice exactly but she had been normal and relatively sympathetic, he wishes he could recall her name. If he knew that, he could ask her how she came to be working in the motel, a job that seems too menial, more for a retired person than a woman pushing thirty whom he recalls as being quite intelligent.
"Thanks," he says to her, this time managing a small smile. "I wish I could say it was nice to be back. Place hasn't changed much."
"South Park? It's like a time capsule. Nothing ever really changes." She regards him flatly. "You being here at the same time as Kyle's high school class reunion isn't a coincidence, is it?"
He shakes his head, wondering what exactly there is to say. No, it's not. But he wants to learn more about his brother than he already knows, things he might have discovered had his brother seen him grow up. Things that can't be learned from doting parents or remembered from a childish perspective. He wants to learn about Kyle the person.
She leans on the desk a moment, looking at him. "Look, I've got a lunch break coming up. If you want, I can fill you in on a few things that have been going on since you left town. Maybe give you an idea who to talk to, how to approach them. Who to avoid."
Ike considers this and nods, slightly touched. She doesn't have to do it and he doesn't think she has an agenda, like extracting the gossip from him before anyone else can. The last time he saw her she was what, eighteen, nineteen? And even then, she had never pried. Keiran's friends had understood his hurt but never fed on it. Coming home had been more intimidating than he had anticipated and he feels as if being forewarned would help.
"I'll drop my stuff in my room and be right back," he says, thinking that he can buy her lunch – working here can't pay well – and find out what has been going on. He knew Kyle well, but there was still the age gap, the family bond that meant that Kyle might not have told him everything. And it has been ten years, she might be able to remember something or someone who has slipped from Ike's memory and remained in hers. He is slightly tired, he has been driving all morning and most of the day before, but thinking that he might be about to get some answers about his brother invigorates him. Although he's embarrassed he can't recall her name.
Henrietta, supplies Kyle as Ike walks into the room, too large for him but is all that is available. Ike nods, that's right. Henrietta, that was it. Better to run into her than to go into town alone and overwhelmed, perhaps to be recognised by someone less discreet.
He leaves his bag, changes his shirt and runs a hand through thick, dark hair before heading back to reception. Henrietta is in front of the desk, showing that she is wearing black boots, black pants and a low cut black top – Ike has to hide a smile. People matured, he thinks, but they don't change as much as others assume they will. Her replacement is apparently a cleaner, wearing whites and her hair tied back.
"I've only got a half-hour," Henrietta explains, leading them out of the building and immediately lighting a cigarette. This time, Ike does not hide his grin. If South Park has not changed, then nor has she. She leads the way across the street to a bar, where Ike vaguely remembers his father would occasionally drink with his friends. But no one in the depths looks familiar.
Henrietta orders a burger and a double vodka, Ike settles for curly fries and a beer. They find a booth and wait for the food, Henrietta taking a sip of her drink and playing with an unlit cigarette. "I can only get a half-hour because that girl's no use at all. Likely to forget to charge money, or mess up the machine, but it should be quiet enough. One of the high school kids takes over from me at five-thirty, my kids come to the motel once they finish classes and I take them home from there. That's why I'm working there." Her eyebrows go up, but she doesn't seem irate. "I could see you wondering."
Ike drops his eyes, embarrassed – he knows he is socially awkward and gives himself away too easily. Now he feels as if he has been caught looking down on Henrietta and it is not like that at all. But when he raises his eyes, Henrietta seems more amused than anything. "You still wear your feelings on your face Ike. I'm not ashamed, I can work around the children and get paid. There's not many jobs going in this town you know." Her dark eyes examine him. "You seem to be doing okay for yourself. How have you been, really?"
Taking his bottle, Ike takes a mouthful of beer and wonders how to answer. "I've survived," he settles with, although things are not that simple.
Henrietta nods, as if she understands this, and asks nothing more than he has already volunteered. "Keiran's still in town," she says casually. "He works in Denver, but he lives here. You should look him up, if you have the time."
Ike nods, he remembers that in spite of the wrenching pain of missing Kyle, then moving and having everything familiar and right torn from beneath his feet, having no Keiran to talk to was the final straw. They had not kept in touch, Keiran had no computer at home and Ike had not been supposed to use facebook, they had fallen out of touch and never fallen back in again.
Henrietta looks up as their food arrives, not looking especially appetising but Ike has seen worse. She takes a healthy mouthful while Ike picks at a fry, taking a small nibble. It tastes fine, but Ike has never had a big appetite. Too many meals missed or eaten without thought while he works.
Eat, says Kyle. You're too thin and you're not working right now, you've got no excuse.
Jewish mother, Ike thinks back but fortunately does not say aloud. He eats the fry and takes another. Henrietta rests the burger on her plate and watches as he eats more for the fuel than with any sense of pleasure or indulgence.
"I didn't know Kyle very well," she says abruptly. "I knew Stan really and Kyle by association. But you already knew that."
Ike nods. He did. When he was growing up, Stan was as much a staple in the Broflovski house as Kyle himself, the two boys were inseparable. If there is anyone who can tell him some stuff about his brothers life prior to his death, it's Stan Marsh. If only he knew where the man was. But there were two others who spent almost as much time with Kyle as Stan, one of whom actually liked him and he was hoping they would be available as well.
"Kenny never left," says Henrietta dryly. Ike can sense some story there, but he isn't sure how to ask for it. Henrietta takes another bite of her food, clearly wondering how to phrase things. "I don't know how much of this you can remember, it was a long time ago, but Kenny McCormick was one of the poorest kids in the whole town. And he's got that – thing. Where he doesn't die."
For a moment, Ike is confused but there are some memories crowding his mind, of Kenny being maimed or mauled. Away from South Park, it had seemed like something he'd dreamed up but once home, it was just something else that he remembered. That it doesn't seem strange is the strangest thing of all.
"There was never anywhere else for Kenny to go," says Henrietta sympathetically. "He's still around but no one really sees him much. He works, I think, I don't know where or what he does. Lives on his own. He doesn't really encourage friendships but for you? I think he'll talk to you. I know he looks after your brothers grave. You didn't hear that from me though."
Ike remembers Kenny as as a sociable, friendly young man, ready to talk to anyone, a smile on his face and a joke (usually filthy) at the ready. That Kenny would have become almost a recluse from the way Henrietta speaks does not sit well with his memories. But Kenny had thought the world of Kyle too and Ike knows all too well how his death has changed everything, for everyone.
"I don't really keep up with who does what," says Henrietta, pausing to finish her burger. Ike has barely touched his fries and he forces himself to have a couple more. "Kyle hung out with that fat boy too, but I don't know what he might be doing. There aren't that many of that class still in town. The Tweak kid, he's still around, but no one sees him either. He's agoraphobic, he never leaves the house. I didn't know him at all and obviously I don't see him. His parents still work at the coffee shop though, you could start there."
She looks at him curiously, finishing her drink. "It's none of my business, I know. But – what are you doing back here? What are you trying to prove?"
"Prove?" Ike shrugs, frowning at the odd word. "Nothing. I just – I wanted to know more about my brother. I loved him, y'know? And I miss him... I just want to do this. To see if I can put the whole thing into some perspective."
Henrietta nods, her own frown mirroring his. "There was talk when it happened. That it might not have been an accident. I wondered if you'd come to find out for sure."
Ike heard the talk at the time, and it has been on his mind to find out if there were any signs. If Kyle really was depressed enough to deliberately take his own life. Because if Ike finds out that he was, then he will never forgive himself. But he has not forgiven himself anyway, for not seeing that there may have been something wrong and leaving their whole family with questions and guilt and blame. An accident will be easier on them all.
But there are so many unanswered questions.
"There's a few people staying in the motel, but most of the parents are still here, so there might be more staying with them. I'll tell you this though, there's no Marsh booked in and his parents are long gone." Henrietta pushes her plate aside and checks her watch. "I gotta go back to work. Ike..." She looks up at him. "Good luck."
He smiles at her, watching as she walks from the bar and immediately lights a cigarette. Ever since he heard about this reunion while browsing the net, looking for someone else who recalls his brother, he has known he would be there, but he has been dreading it. Mostly facing the people from Kyle's past, who have no reason at all to talk to him and may not be able to tell him anything he doesn't already know. But Henrietta has made him think it might not be so bad, that he might actually be able to get through the weekend. And of course, she has given him a few helpful pointers.
He goes to the bar, orders another beer – he doubts he will be driving anyway, the town is small enough so that he can walk to most places – and while he gets his drink, asks if the barman has a town phone book. He does, Ike is pleased to see that it also lists the addresses of the people in it. He asks for a pen and realises the man sat at the bar with what is almost certainly not his first drink is giving him a sharp look. Ike looks back, thinking it might be someone who knows him but if it is, Ike does not recognise him, although he has the nagging sensation that he reminds him of someone. He's not nearly as old as he appears to be on first glance, perhaps the same age or a little younger as his own parents but prematurely aged, watching him through faded blue eyes beneath a baseball cap advertising a popular beer brand, possibly a freebie. The man meets his eyes and turns away slowly, just as the barman hands Ike a pen.
Ike returns to the table and flicks through the phone book. He finds a number for Kenny McCormick and an address, in an apartment building that used to be a largish house. Not quite middle class but a step up from what he had, if Ike remembers correctly. He hesitates a moment, then goes through the book again, finding an listing for a Richard Tweak, the only one in the book. It could be the person Henrietta had mentioned, there is only one way to find out. He scribbles both addresses on a beermat, then closes the book and takes a long drink of his beer, noticing that the drunk at the bar has pulled out a phone and is talking into it in low tones. Shit. Hopefully, it is not Ike who is the subject of the conversation.
He leaves the bar and heads for the address he has for Kenny McCormick, wondering – hoping – the man will talk to him. He sees no reason why he wouldn't but if Kenny is as isolated as Henrietta made it sound, he might be reluctant. Kenny was devoted to Kyle though, maybe he will make an exception for Ike.
But when he gets to the apartment and rings the bell repeatedly, no one answers and Ike is left at a loss.