Disclaimer: Don't own South Park. Lyrics - Baobabs at Regina Spektor. I also don't own the Joker or Batman, for the sake of the one reference in this chapter.

Note: OH MY GOD IT HAS BEEN SO LONG I AM SO SORRY. And I reward you with this half-length chapter. I'm so sorry for the wait. This has been very much back-burnered for me but I've got back into it and should be able to ride it to the homestretch now. I don't think there's more than three to five chapters left in it.

Anyway, to anyone who still feels like picking this story up after basically a year, thank you for giving me a second chance, and do please enjoy. The next chapter should be up in three or four days, I think. Hope you're all doing grand!

x

Chapter Eight
Corsets and Charm

you have tamed me
now you must take me
how am i supposed to be adorned in my thorns now?


Kenny stood with his hands on his hips, squinting. "What do you think?" he asked, tone layered with caution.

Craig, arms folded and standing opposite, surveyed him. "No," he said flatly.

"No?"

"No."

Kenny breathed a sigh. "Well, that's a relief," he grinned, pulling Bianca's wig from his head. "I think I would have probably had to call 'problem' on this if you really preferred me this way."

Craig eyed him critically. "I never said I would. And Kenny, for fuck's sake, take the corset off."

"But I like how it simultaneously crushes my rib cage and makes me an object of derisive scorn."

"McCormick, for real, it's making you look deformed," Clyde said from the doorway.

Craig looked over and rolled his eyes. "Oh look, you're in your fucking costume again. What a fucking surprise."

Clyde didn't even have the good grace to look ashamed of himself. "I'm wearing it in," he told them, unapologetically.

"Wearing it in a very successful attempt to look like a douche."

"Tucker, your costume is like mine but without the armour bits. Who's gonna look more like a douche?"

"Kenny," Craig said, without needing to hesitate.

Kenny scowled. "Real supportive, bro."

"I still haven't forgiven you for your part in getting me roped into this. And I never will."

"Not even if I wear the wig?" Kenny asked, twisting his face into a grimace Craig assumed was meant to be 'cute'.

He rolled his eyes. "Kenny, you have to give it up with the wig. I am telling you this as your friend – the wig is hurting you and you have to let it go."

"Whatever you say, boss." Kenny dropped the wig to the floor. "So you really like me as I am, boy parts and all?"

A groan from the doorway. "Not this again," Clyde said, disappearing out of sight.

"Homophobe!" Craig called after him.

Clyde's reply came from down the corridor. "No, hating on gays is homophobic. Not wanting to watch two of your buddies play tonsil hockey for fifteen minutes is pretty fucking normal if you ask me!"

Kenny snickered. Craig sort of smiled.

"Yeah," Craig said then. "Boy parts and all, and you gotta stop asking. It's getting annoying."

Kenny rolled his shoulders in a relaxed shrug. Craig loved the way the bizarre, wiry parts of Kenny's body fit together. He was all angles and spikes and ashen skin, but there were sparks in his eyes and in his every move that ignited him in a way Craig had never seen before. Almost a month on from their first, drunken kiss, and he and Kenny were...together? He didn't really know. There'd been this one fumbling, awful attempt at organising what was happening between them into words, but they'd gotten tangled in semantics and expectations and had eventually abandoned the whole thing as a lost cause when Kenny attached himself to Craig's mouth. The fucker had done it to prove a point, but Craig couldn't fault him for where it had led.

After that, there had been no more questioning, no more quantifying. The gay/not gay debate came to an end, with both parties deciding that pushing labels back and forth wasn't getting them anywhere, but lying languid on Craig's bed learning the patterns of each others' shoulders and stomachs was. They knew they liked each other. They knew they liked each other, too – that they felt that way now, that they were both cool with that, that they liked kissing and if ever there came a time when one of them wanted to kiss girls or other dudes instead then they could deal with that at the time.

And after an awkward incident which Craig subsequently cited as 'the day Clyde finally realised the importance of knocking', they knew that their friends were cool with it, too.

So the way Craig saw it, there wasn't anything to worry about.

Kenny said he thought that too, but Craig knew that there was one thing still bothering him. But that very overweight, very obnoxious and suddenly very friendless bother was not his concern.

He liked being this way with Kenny, so fuck it, he was gonna be this way with Kenny.

...Kenny, who had somehow closed the gap between them and unfastened the black-ribbed corset he'd been wearing. He was spaghetti-thin beneath it, but Craig was quickly learning the lines and curves of his ribs through his skin, and his hands drifted absently to their favourite resting place – half-on-half-off Kenny's bottom ribs, feeling his diaphragm move, his stomach and lungs expand and deflate.

"This getting annoying?" Kenny said, all innocent-eyes and slick charm.

"Yeah," Craig said. "You hovering in front of me is pretty fucking annoying."

"Better fix that."

"Better had."

"Wouldn't want to annoy you, after all."

"Kiss me, you fuck."

And he did.


"Come on Wends, please."

"No, Bebe, and I cannot even believe you're still asking me this."

Bebe skirted in front of her, extending her hands palm up. "Wendy, please, I need this. Come on. It's me."

"It's fighting."

"It's boxing."

"Yes," Wendy said agreeably, taking Bebe's hands in her own and lowering them. "And for what must be the forty fifth time this week, I'm not – interested."

She strode off, but Bebe was in front of her again a second later. Girl was fast, Wendy had to give her that. "That's the best part! You don't have to be interested! Just pretend you are – for twenty minutes!"

Wendy looked at her disbelievingly. "Bebe, if I pretend for five minutes, I'm going to get punched in the face."

"They're not going to punch you in the face, Wendy – plus you might even be up against be, and I wouldn't hurt you, c'mon, you know I wouldn't hurt –"

"I don't know if I can express to you," Wendy said very slowly and deliberately, because Bebe was very clearly not getting this, "how much I do not want to get punched in the face."

"I swear you won't get punched in the face. A tap in the shoulder, that's like, the absolute worst that will happen, I promise."

"It won't, because I'm not going."

"Wendy!" Bebe cried, anguished. "I need five girls! That's it! You just need to try out! Express an interest! Please!"

She sighed. Bebe hadn't begged this hard for anything in years – not since that thing with the escaped rabbits, which had been a disaster for everyone. "I really don't want to get hit, Bebe."

"No one will hit you!"

"I don't want to hit anyone!"

Bebe flapped her hands impatiently. "You can miss!"

Wendy studied her friend carefully. "Ugh. You really, really want this, don't you?"

"More than you can imagine," Bebe said earnestly. "Johnson says that if five girls try out – just five – he'll go to Kendall about letting girls join up."

Wendy stopped suddenly. "Join up? You didn't tell me Johnson wasn't letting girls join up. You just said you wanted me to try out with you."

Bebe blew hair out of her face. "C'mon, Wends, you should know I don't need you to hold my hand any more than you need me to hold yours. Johnson's just citing some stupid, old rule to stop me from joining up. To look like a tough guy in front of the boys."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Wendy said, feeling a familiar tingle start to spread through her blood. Bebe sighed. She could clearly see what Wendy could feel was happening.

"Because now you're going to go on one of your insane campaigns again and seriously Wendy, I just need five girls, not to piss Johnson off so much he hates on me for the rest of –"

Wendy cut her friend off by putting her hands on her shoulders and giving Bebe her most winning smile – a trick she had learnt a while ago. "What if we piss him off so much they have to hire another gym teacher?"

"Er...you've lost me. You want to get him fired?"

"Oh no," Wendy said, still smiling. "I just want him to split the job. With a woman."

Bebe gave her a disapproving look. "You are hijacking my hobbies for your personal political reasons again. I hope you realise that."

Wendy's smile turned vicious at the edges. "It's a habit. I'm trying to break it."

"You're doing a lousy fucking job."

"But...?"

Bebe sighed. "But go ahead. It always turns out okay in the end."

Wendy hugged her tightly just as the bell for third period rang. "Spanish," she said mournfully."

"History," Bebe said, equally mournfully. "See you at lunch, I guess."

As Bebe headed off down the hall towards the History room, and the halls started to fill with people flowing from the classes, Wendy's head started to buzz with ideas. She had several poster slogans and a couple of campaign-name ideas already bubbling to the front of her mind when Bebe stopped in the doorway and looked back, wearing a devious smile.

"She played me," Wendy said, aloud and incredulously. Led her right into thinking this was just a quiet personal thing, when Bebe wanted the war as much as Wendy did. She could almost have laughed. Oh, there would be a war, alright. God, Bebe must really want this, if was stooping to the kind of tactics that –

Remembering class, her heart sank. Another period of playing the 'avoid the elephant in the room' game with Eric Literal Manifestation Cartman himself. Thing had just been so...so awkward. He'd barely been in hospital four days when he was released with a clean bill of health (thank God). The Tuesday night he'd headed home had been chaos. Wendy had gone to meet him to find him unreasonable, rude, standoffish and even more pugnacious than normal. The first time she'd gently (well, roughly speaking) reminded him that he was the one who'd asked her to come, he'd practically shouted her out of the hospital. He was back to school a couple of days later – his arm in a sling, unbroken but still injured – with moods even more difficult to predict. After two weeks of being subjected to intermittent anger and awkward affection, Wendy had mentally resigned her position as Friend and stepped back.

...Except they still sat by each other in most classes, and their lockers were still only four feet apart, and he still kept trying to start conversations, so it wasn't turning out to be that easy.

"Wendy?"

She started, surprised at the interruption to her thought. She had drifted quite close to the classroom without realising it, but her way was blocked by Clyde – tall, sports jacketed and grinning.

"Hi," she said, smiling pleasantly. "Hate to run, but I've got to get to class. Catch you later?" She made to move past him, but Clyde sidestepped in front of her. What was it with her friends and getting in her way today? "Clyde."

"Wendy?"

"You're not letting me pass," she said, stepping aside again. Once more, he blocked her.

"Oh. No, you're right, no I'm not."

Wendy waited to see if he had anything else to say. When he continued to simply stand there and grin, she sighed and prodded him in the chest. "Why?"

"Because I have such a great plan."

Wendy frowned, seeing where things were headed. "This is a class-ditching kind of plan, isn't it, Clyde?"

"You're so astute, Wendy. It's one of your best qualities."

She put her hands flat on her chest and tried to push him back. The boy was as solid as steel. Fuck. Footballers.

"Oh, come on. Do you want to ditch with me and go laugh at the pictures I have of Kenny in the Bianca costume, or do you want to spend a period in a subject you hate sat next to a dude who smells like grease and shame?"

Wendy looked up at him, half smiling. "A compelling argument but I still pick Spanish."

"I will carry you out of here if I have to," he warned.

"And I will sue you for battery, Clyde, so help me God."

He sighed. "Wendy, the pictures are really good. Plus," he added, his grin slipping into a softer kind of smile, "I reckon you could use a bit of time off. A bit of a talk."

She bit her lip. Ditching was not her thing, but...

At that moment, Cartman rounded the corner. His face was full of thunder and his hair was a mess, and his bad arm hung unhappily in its sling. He caught her eye for a second, and in that moment, looked like he was going to say something. Wendy watched him until he broke eye contact, and he slammed the door to the classroom much louder than was necessary to make his point.

Clyde sighed again. "You were almost smiling a second ago. Now, you're all bummed out. C'mon. Really?"

She looked up at him, and she rolled her eyes. "Fine," she relented. "Fine. But if this is just going to turn into another episode of 'Clyde's Traumas' because you were stupid enough not to knock again –"

"Shut up," he said genially, nudging her backwards. He was grinning again. "Let's get out of here."


09/12/2010 11:37

Kenny
I AM SO BORED ARE YOU SO BORED

09/12/2010 11:41
Craig
I am learning.

09/12/2010 11:43
Kenny
please stop learning nd txt me instead.

09/12/2010 11:49
Craig
Learning learning learning

09/12/2010 11:50
Kenny
HURTING IN MY SOUL

09/12/2010 11:55
Craig
I love to learn but my baby just loves to dance

09/12/2010 11:57
Kenny
ill show you dancing

09/12/2010 11:58
Kenny
hurr hurr

09/12/2010 11:58
Kenny
craig?

09/12/2010 11:59
Kenny
!

09/12/2010 12:00
Craig
Fine what did you want to talk about. x


Wendy had a look of confusion mingled with suspicion on her face as Clyde led her behind the school.

"Clyde, this'd better not be some kind of –"

He tsked and winked at her. "What do you think of me, eh? Up here." He tapped the ladder they'd arrived at. "We're going to the roof."

"The roof?" Wendy said disbelievingly.

Clyde grinned. "That's right. It's perfectly safe, Craig and I have been up here loads of times. It's a pretty great place to go if you're bunking off because most of the teachers can't be fucked climbing up to check there."

"There's an access door inside, though."

"Yeah, a broken locked access door."

Wendy raised a single eyebrow. "Why do I suddenly feel as if you had something to do with that?"

"Because I really like the roof," he told her, seriously. He could see her struggling against a smile. She wanted so badly to disapprove of skipping class and climbing up to the roof and breaking fire exits, but she couldn't quite bring herself to. She'd been so much...lighter lately. If Clyde had to put a cause to her apparent good mood, it would be the absence of Eric Cartman. "After you," he said, gesturing to the ladder.

She scoffed. "What, so you can stare at my ass while I climb?" she said teasingly.

Clyde held up his hands. "I swear, I won't even peek. But it's good manners. I can catch you if you fall."

"I'm not going to fall," she said, but she was watching him pensively. Then, she moved forward, and climbed onto the first rungs of the ladder.

And true to his word, Clyde kept his eyes fixed straight ahead. Checking out a girl was one thing – checking out a girl when you specifically promised her you wouldn't was bang out of order. Or at least, so he'd always believed.

Wendy was waiting for him at the top, when he pulled himself the last rung and onto the roof. "We're really high up," she said, somewhat unnecessarily. "I've never been up here."

Clyde shrugged. "Like I said, it's quiet. Check it – if we go over to that side, we can look down over the track. See if there any other classes out for gym."

They sat down at the west edge of the roof – Wendy sitting cross-legged a few paces from the edge, Clyde swinging his legs into the nothingness below. A class from what looked like the freshmen year was running slow laps around the track, but besides that, the only people in sight were the odd groups of students that drifted out of one door and into another aimlessly. Clyde glanced back at Wendy, who was looking down at the ground below.

"Nervous about heights?"

"Not really," she said, looking up and smiling a little.

He leant back, taking a better look at her face. "You've been a lot more chill lately, you know."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. Since you started hanging out with Bebe more...and since you and Kenny started kicking with me and Craig at the weekends...you just seem a lot less stressed out. Even with the play coming up and everything."

"That reminds me, you owe me Kenny pictures," Wendy pointed out.

"Right, right." Clyde fished for his phone in his jean pockets and leant backwards until he was laying down on roof. The sun shone brightly into his eyes, but it wasn't on his screen, which is what counted. Wendy leant over him, her hair curtaining around his face and providing a measure of shade. "Check this one."

"Is that – is that a corset, Clyde?"

"You bet your fucking life it's a fucking corset." Clyde grinned up at her. Amusement sparkled in her eyes. "He's going to look like an absolute freak on Saturday."

Wendy shook her head, the tips of her hair brushing against his cheeks and his chin. "Thursday's going to be worse for him. A whole day dress rehearsal? The entire class there? I've planned out all my homework for this whole week so I have that night guaranteed free just to laugh at him."

Clyde chuckled. "Man, I might have to join you. I mean, that is going to be just – amazing."

"He and Craig will probably slink off somewhere to lick their wounds afterwards," she observed.

Clyde rolled his eyes. "Or lick something –"

"Thank you Clyde, don't need that."

There was a pause, where Clyde wondered if it was good manners or not to ask the question on the tip of his tongue. "So," he said after a moment, deciding it was probably okay, "what do you think about...that?"

"About Kenny and Craig?"

"Erm, yeah."

Wendy sat back, and the full brunt of the near-midday sun hit Clyde in the face. He gave a kind of undignified and raised his hands in front of his face. Wendy laughed. "Well, I think it's good. As long as I've been friends with Kenny, his crushes have always been really temperamental, always really fleeting. I don't know, it doesn't seem like that with Craig. They seem to really like each other. And I think that's good."

"I guess," Clyde said, pulling a face.

Something sharpened in Wendy's gaze. "You have a problem with it?"

"No!" Clyde said quickly, shaking his head. "No, not like that, nothing like that! I mean, well. It's just...thrown me a bit, y'know? It's not that I care if my best bud is batting for the other team, it's more..." his brows knitted, "it's more that I didn't notice it. What kind of friend doesn't notice shit like that?"

Wendy gave him a look he couldn't quite work out. "Has Craig ever expressed romantic interest in anyone?"

Clyde thought about it. "Er, no, not really. Not until now."

She sat back, seemingly satisfied. "There you go, then. You've had no basis to compare his behaviour with. It's not that you're an inattentive friend. It's that Craig is an emotionally reclusive tool."

"That he is," Clyde said agreeably. "Though I gotta admit, bastard has seemed just...smilier lately."

Wendy nodded. "Yeah, I've noticed."

"It's a bit creepy."

"It's really creepy."

"It's fucked up as hell. He has, like, a Joker smile."

"Couple that with Kenny's dead eyes when he's tired."

"Oh, God, tell me about it. It's like the fucking circus of the damned."

"Like some kind of demonic possession."

"They're chill bros but if they're going to keep this shit up I'm going to ban them from happiness."

Wendy laughed. "Can we really allow them their peace and love if it makes us vaguely uncomfortable?"

"Absolutely not," Clyde said, sitting up. "Got to put a stop to that crazy shit right now. Inconsiderate assholes."

Wendy laughed again, framed in the sun. Clyde studied her outline, taking in the line of her neck and the sweep of her hair. He smiled. "Hey, you know something?"

"What?"

"When I first found out that Kenny and Craig were hanging out – before it turned out they were into each other – I wanted to try to get Craig to get Kenny to get you to talk to me more."

Tucking her hair behind her ear, Wendy said, "oh? And why's that?"

Clyde grinned, a little goofily. "'Cause I liked you."

Wendy raised both eyebrows this time, haughty in an almost-silhouette. "And what about now?"

He pulled himself properly upright now, considering. "Now, I'm not so sure."

Wendy made a derisive – but amused – noise. "Oh, thanks –"

"Hey, hear me out!" Clyde protested. "Now, I'm not so sure, 'cause I know you. Like, I know you as a friend. As a person. You're not just...the hot smart chick that hangs out with McCormick and Cartman. You're Wendy. And you're awesomeness."

"My awesomeness makes me less attractive?" A smile tugged at the corners of her lips. Jesus, she was just so relaxed now.

"Yes. No! Yes, but no, it's more like..." he fumbled for words, finally igniting on an idea. "It's like when you try a new soda."

"A new soda."

"Yeah. And it's all crazy and fizzy and shit and you're like, wow, what the fuck is this flavour and how can I get it all over my tongue. And then you drink more of it, and instead of it being this crazy new thing that you want to have all at once, it becomes, like, your favourite drink. And you enjoy it slowly, and better, instead of drinking so much at once you need to piss every five minutes for two hours."

Wendy eyed him critically. "An elegant metaphor."

"Hey, I'm a footballer, not a linguist."

She opened her mouth – probably to make some correction that that statement – but she held herself back. "I know what you mean," she said, after a few moments. Being around you and Craig is just...nice. It's easy. It's simple. It's...what friendship should be."

Clyde nodded. "I reckon if we got together that would fuck shit up a little bit."

"Probably."

He paused, and then he said, "Do you think it...might have happened, though? If Kenny and Craig...if Bebe's party..."

She tilted her head to the side and smiles. "Who knows?"

"I reckon Cartman would have murdered me."

Wendy's face darkened at that, and Clyde frowned. "He probably would have," she said, in a strange tone.

"I've gotta ask, Wends. What went down at Bebe's? You and Kenny just suddenly...stopped dealing with him. And I think that's a great thing – you've both just been so much fucking happier with him out of your life – but I've got to wonder why."

She hunched her shoulders uncomfortably, pulling her knees up to her chest. "Kenny tried to stop him being mad at me. He said about Craig. Cartman called him a fag. Cartman got in a crash. Cartman came back from the crash and turned into an asshole to me. End of story."

"I see."

Clyde didn't really see at all. As far as he could tell, Cartman was always calling Kenny obscene things and always being a complete dickhead to Wendy. How this recent turn of events had changed any of that was lost on him. But it seemed to have changed it for Wendy, and seeing as she was the one who'd been friends with the fat bastard, he supposed that was all that matters.

"It still bothers me. A lot. I wish it didn't."

"You're happier."

"Sometimes. When I'm with you guys. "

"Then we'll stay with you all the time," Clyde said, like it was the simplest thing in the world, and Wendy smiled a sad and lovely smile. Shit, she really was a looker. It was a pretty good thing he was on the tail end of his thing, otherwise it'd be so easy to just reach out and...

But he wasn't feeling that way so much anymore. Clyde, for all the idiocy most people credited him and all the obliviousness Craig insisted he approached life with, always got there eventually, even if it was way after everybody else had worked out the story.

"I don't think he's really your friend, you know."

"Who, Cartman?" she asked. "No shit."

"No, I mean, I don't think that's what you guys were. Friends. You and Kenny are friends. Me and you, we're friends. Kenny and Cartman...were friends. You and Cartman, nah. You were like...something else."

"Like what?" Wendy was watching him with a gaze that looked almost fearful.

For Clyde, it was all starting to make sense. The reason she was happy whenever she was with friends, how worn down she'd been before, how she and Cartman had both reacted to the breakdown of their friendship.

"Wendy, I really hate to be the one to break this to you – like, really hate it – but dude, you like Cartman."

She looked up at him. "I really don't want that to be true," she said piteously.

"I don't think anyone wants it to be true. Anymore than I want Craig to keep stealing from ten year olds on a weekly basis."

"What?"

"Nevermind. The point is...I don't really know what the point is."

Wendy sighed. "The point is I'm much happier not being his friend," she said, with the heavy air of someone undergoing a very reluctant realisation, "but I'm not happier not being his anything."

"Wendy, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but digging Cartman is pretty fucked up shit."

"I know," she groaned. "I hate myself, too."

"So...what are you going to do?"

She flopped backwards onto the roof, staring at the sky. "Die of embarrassment," she said.

Clyde thought it sounded like a pretty reasonable approach.


marshlander has come online

marshlander: bro!
broflovskik: bro.
broflovskik: hear the latest?
marshlander: which latest, there are so many
broflovskik: good point
broflovskik: ummm bebe and wendy latest i guess
marshlander: is this about the boxing
marshlander: wendy and bebe would not shut up about it at lunch
marshlander: i mean seriously you left me with them THEY TALKED WITHOUT BREAKING FOR TWENTY MINUTES
broflovskik: does it even occur to you that you can leave in situations like that?
marshlander: NO
marshlander: no wait kyle they were talking about BOXING, if i had tried to leave they would have PUNCHED ME
broflovskik: marsh, you are a fucking football star. bebe could take you but you might break wendy on one bicep.
marshlander: when are you coming over anyway, i am so bored
marshlander: and you abandoned me at lunch
broflovskik: i had stuff to do
marshlander: gay stuff
broflovskik: hur hur funny you should say that
marshlander: this would be classed as a bad way to come out to me
broflovskik: douche
marshlander: you cant resist my charms
broflovskik: it's about Kenny
marshlander: been trying for years but just cant hold your feelings back anymore
marshlander: wait kenny? our Kenny?
broflovskik: Kenny and Craig.
marshlander: kenny?
broflovskik: Kenny
marshlander: and craig
broflovskik: indeed.
marshlander: COME OVER RIGHT NOW, we need to girlie gossip about this shit right here
broflovskik: listen to yourself dude
marshlander: im trying but all the noise inside my head is like KENNY AND CRAAAAAIG
broflovskik: dl though right?
marshlander: dude everything we dig up is kept quiet, you know that
brofovskik: it's Kenny, we do owe the guy respect
marshlander: BUT WE CAN STILL GIRLIE GOSSIP IF ITS SECRET GIRLIE GOSSIP
broflovskik: i hate you so much
marshlander: you cant resist my body
broflovskik: so fucking much hate right now.
brofovksik: be over in ten or so
marshlander: I'LL BE READY

broflovskik has gone offline

marshlander: AND SO WILL MY BODY oh wait you've gone :(