Chapter Track: Blue Jeans – Ladytron

"Just so you know, bro, I invited Stan," Kenny's voice rings out of Kyle's cell, which is across the room, on speakerphone.

Kyle, though he would never confess to Kenny (the bastard would probably figure it out anyway), still feels a jolt of disappointment at the mention of Stan's name. He sighs, hoping that the little breath is quiet enough that Kenny won't hear it on the other line, and folds his favorite Flogging Molly shirt neatly, tucking it into the corner of his suitcase, on top of his perfectly rolled-up scarf assortment.

"Your silence is encouraging," Kenny says wryly. Kyle can almost hear the smirk on Kenny's face. He's never quite given up over the years upon insisting that Kyle and Stan are still best friends. And now that…well, now that another era of Kyle's life as come to a close, he's beginning to get irritated. Not that Kenny isn't naturally just annoying sometimes, because he is – and often. But the fact of the matter is that Kyle hasn't spoken to Stan since they were about fourteen. What is that? Like, over eight years ago? Stan hasn't been a part of Kyle's life for a long fucking time.

Kyle replies hastily, "What? I'm just packing, dude. Whatever, Stan and I will be fine. We're fucking adults, for Christ's sake."

Kyle would be lying if he said that he didn't think of Stan from time to time. It was a pain in the ass, how it happened, really. He'd just being doing something or hanging out with some friends, and he's see something, or somebody would make a joke, and Kyle's first thought would be Stan would like that. At least, that Stan would have liked something before he changed.

It's for this reason exactly that Kyle tries not to think about Stan. And, for the most part, that had been working out just fine. If only Kenny would shut the fuck up for ten fucking seconds about Stan doing this, or Stan doing that. But Kenny doesn't. Sometimes he's like a broken fucking record, the way he goes on about Stan Marsh.

"You're a bad liar," accuses Kenny.

"Yeah, fuck you, Kenny. It'll probably be weird, but I can handle it," says Kyle. He looks over his suitcase with brows furrowed. Despite being excellent at folding, he isn't good at packing in general. He always forgets something, usually something obvious, like toothpaste, or he'll be short a couple pairs of underwear. He knows as soon as he gets to South Park, or maybe even as soon as he's far enough away from his apartment that it's damned inconvenient to go back, he'll remember what he's forgetting right this instant.

"Kyle," Kenny says.

Kyle's head snaps up, looking accusatorily at the cellphone across the room. He responds, keeping his voice deliberately calm, "I'm not a stupid kid anymore, dude."

"No, you're a stupid adult," Kenny says back.

Before Kyle can stop himself, he makes an indignant noise of frustration. Kenny laughs loudly, the noise echoing across Kyle's bedroom.

"Fuck you. I'm hanging up," Kyle bites out.

"Alright bro," Kenny replies, unfazed as usual by Kyle's temper, "See you tomorrow."

Kyle disconnects the call on the touchscreen of his iPhone. He hooks it up the wall charger, before going over his mental checklist. Maybe he should have typed up a real checklist and printed it out. It's too late now, of course – he won't bother wasting his time at eleven o'clock at night, not when he has a nine AM flight out of New Hampshire. Nevertheless, he stores the typed-up checklist in the back of his mind for the next time he takes a trip.

The prospect of this trip shouldn't make him so flustered. He's just going back to his hometown. That's all this is. But still, he hasn't been back in Colorado since he was eighteen. Last month, he turned twenty-two. He's kept up with Kenny pretty often, sort of Skyping when they get the chance, sometimes passing amusing memes to each other over Facebook. Very occasionally he'll have a conversation with Wendy or Bebe, and this one time a couple years ago, Token called him for some reason. But other than that, Kyle's just had a few required conversations with his family (or desperate, ranting phone calls from Ike in which he prattles on about something their mother said or did – "She means well, I fucking know that, but I am so fucking pissed Kyle, you don't even know!" ).

He didn't come home for Thanksgiving. He never came home for Hanukkah. Not for Passover. Not for Rosh Hashanah. Not for Yom Kippur. Not for anything.

Kyle just didn't want to be there. Maybe it's selfish to feel that way, but he's enjoying his life outside of South Park. The last four years have been some of the best of his life. Sure, there's been stress, but that's what you get when you study at Dartmouth. Everything else has been fantastic. He's had a couple boyfriends, he's worked hard, he's partied a little. He has his own apartment. It may be a tiny piece of shit apartment, but he's put a lot of effort into making it home. And that's what this is, now. This is home. Yeah, okay, the heat sometimes turns itself off, and alright, his electric was shut off last month for two days when he couldn't pay on time with his shitty waiter's wages, but it has its charm. He likes it here.

Unfortunately, he'd promised Kenny that he would come home.

At their high school graduation, they'd shaken on it. Kyle promised he would come back to South Park after he graduated from university (even though he's just coming back for more after the summer comes to a close).

Kenny's a dick sometimes, but Kyle loves him. They're best friends.

Something that he and Stan have not been for a long time, and will never be again.

Kenny's friends with Stan, too. He always was. He ignored their falling out in the ninth grade and decided to play peacekeeper. Kyle once asked (a little bitterly, if he had to admit it) why Kenny still hunf around with Stan, and Kenny answered, "Well, somebody's gotta keep an eye on him, and you're sure as fuck not going to do it."

That's always how it was, and how it progressed. Kenny stayed in South Park and apprenticed to become a mechanic at the one garage in the entire town, and Stan stayed, too. Kyle doesn't know what Stan does, now. He hasn't ever bothered asking, even if he is a little curious. The only option that Kyle can eliminate is Stan going to college – there is no college, community or otherwise, any place near South Park. And if the way that Kenny talks about Stan is any indication, Stan has not budged from the tiny mountain town.

Fucking Kenny. Stan Marsh is the last person that Kyle wants to worry about the night before he leaves. Kyle folds another t-shirt and tucks it into his suitcase, before deciding that he's as packed and ready as he'll ever be. Against his wishes, he knows that there isn't really anything that can "prepare" a person for South Park, anyway. He'll just have to roll with it. No more perfectly ordered, scheduled life in New Hampshire. No, Kyle is purposely putting himself in a chaotic situation.

Kyle decides to take a shower before he attempts sleep (which he knows he won't get, because the process of getting onto an airplane is a goddamned nightmare to him). On a typical day, Kyle tends to be all business about bathing. He's never understood the people that can sit under the water for ages, just thinking. He likes to get clean and get out and get on with shit. Tonight is different, though. He finds himself lingering under the showerhead even as the water turns from hot - he likes it scalding - to warm, to lukewarm, to cold. He isn't even thinking, really. He just stares ahead at the yellowed tile of the shower wall.

Eventually, he does get out. He towels himself dry and scrubs at his hair with the product that's supposed to keep it from being frizzy, and changes into his softest pajamas because he feels like he needs the comfort. He tries to read for awhile, but when he picks up the book that he's reading, The End of Science, Kyle realizes that all he can do is read the same sentence over and over without processing the words. He sets it aside after scanning the sentence, "Quantum mechanics, in particular, has to be flawed, because it is so glaringly inconsistent with ordinary, macroscopic reality." Normally he lives for this shit, but tonight it just makes him feel incredibly stupid.

In the end, he watches old episodes of Spongebob instead of reading or sleeping. It'll kick his ass in the morning, he's sure, but he finds that he can't work up the capacity to care.

Still, he can't stop himself from being anxious. A horrible feeling settles in the pit of his stomach, one that makes him feel like he abandoned South Park and when he flies into Colorado, he'll discover that it's gone up in flames.

Kyle knows that's ridiculous in the logical part of his brain, but he also knows this:

This is going to be one hell of a summer.

o.o.o.o

Flights stress Kyle out. He hates security and getting felt up but old men in uniforms, hates the stress of getting there on time, hates wondering if his luggage will be too heavy and he'll be charged extra. He hates it.

What he doesn't hate is airports.

Particularly Denver International. It's spacious and well-decorated. It smells good and there's a giant fountain. Plus, outside, there's the gigantic demon horse statue with glowing eyes that killed its own artist, which he has always considered pretty badass – like it's saying, "Welcome to Colorado, motherfuckers."

"Kyle!"

He hears the shout as soon as the escalators bring him up to the ground level and he and his carry-on suitcase start rolling across the floor. Kenny is waving wildly from the gated area. Even though Kyle's seen his photos on Facebook and occasionally on Skype, he looks different in person. His face has thinned out from the always just-slightly baby-faced look that he had, and he's taller by perhaps an inch or two (though not quite as tall as Kyle is). Nevertheless, he's still wearing a McCormick-style tacky t-shirt that says I have a little Seaman on my shirt, with a caricature of a guy in a sailor suit beside the words, and his shorts look like he made them out of a pair of jeans by cutting off the bottoms.

They hug tightly with a synchronized, "Dude!"

"How've you been?" Kyle says, at the same time that Kenny goes, "What's up with Captain Ivy League?"

They start laughing, and hug again. Kyle feels the tension in his gut about returning to South Park ease a little as Kenny claps him on the back and they head off to the baggage claim.

"How's South Park?" Kyle finally asks, as soon as they've both been quiet for awhile. The silences between Kenny and Kyle are always comfortable, though. Never awkward, even if Kenny does make a nasty joke and Kyle doesn't know how to respond.

Kenny inhales loudly and scratches the back of his neck. He says, "Well…"

Kyle lifts a brow, "Well, what? Have you been hiding something, asshole?"

"Not necessarily hiding, as I just found out recently myself, but…"

Kyle gives Kenny a look before returning his focus to the rotating suitcases. He always misses his suitcase when it rolls by on this thing, and ends up chasing after it.

"I kind of knocked up Wendy," Kenny says.

At that, Kyle whirls around, mouth agape, and goes, "WHAT?"

Kenny gives an uncomfortable little laugh and says, "Uh, yeah." He looks a little more than sheepish about his confession.

"I thought she was in New York? Why the hell would she sleep with you? Holy shit, dude!"

"She was in New York, but she came down for spring break, right? And she and I ran into each other when I was like buying dental floss or something. And like a dumbass, I'm all, 'let's get drinks and catch up,' and so we did. Except, we kind of got trashed, and, uh, got a little carried away. She came back to South Park a couple weeks ago and broke the news to me on Wednesday," Kenny says. A second later, he points to a red bag going around the corner of the claim and says, "Isn't that yours, dude?"

"Damnit," mutters Kyle, and he scrambles after the bag to retrieve it.

Kenny rolls the larger suitcase along for Kyle as they head out into the parking garage. It's fucking sunny as all hell, not a cloud in the sky. And damn, Kyle forgot how dry it could get. As a teenager, he practically had to bathe in lotion, since the climate irritated his eczema. He's still trying to process the fact that there's a Kenny-Wendy thing even going on, let alone the fact that he got her pregnant. Sure, Kenny was always fairly promiscuous, but he was never stupid about it. He happily employed the use of condoms, and Kyle would have thought that Wendy would be on some kind of birth control.

Kyle asks, "So, what are you gonna do?"

"Huh?" Kenny says, snapping out of his thoughts, "Oh, you mean about the kid. Well, I can't do anything. I may have donated my DNA, but I ain't the one delivering that shit."

"Okay, what is Wendy going to do, then?" Kyle clarifies.

"She wants to keep it," Kenny says, "I offered my help, you know? And she just was all, 'I can take care of myself, I just thought you should know.'" Kenny's face goes funny, an expression that's a mixture of emotions that Kyle can't name.

"That's good, though, right?" questions Kyle. It seems like Kenny might be more touchy about this than he wants to let Kyle know, and Kyle thinks it's rude to pry. Nevertheless, he wants to get more out of his friend. Because really? Wendy goddamn Testaburger? Kyle hasn't even been in Colorado for an hour and his mind has already been blown.

"I guess," Kenny says, "It's freaking me out, though, dude. Like, fuck. Anyway, now that you're up to speed on the fuckery that is my life, what's up, man? Any gentlemen caught your eye?"

"Nah, not really," Kyle says. Kenny loads Kyle's bigger suitcase into the flatbed of his truck, then the smaller carry-on. The truck is a lot nicer than Kyle recalls it being. Kenny found the half-destroyed and all the way rusted 1949 Chevy 3100 in a dump when they were maybe fifteen years old. The tires were all blown out and everything, but Kenny had it towed back to his house and, despite having almost no money, he ordered expensive-ass parts and fixed it up. The last time Kyle saw the truck, it was still rusted and couldn't run for shit. Now it's got a shiny coat of metallic red paint and not a spot of dirt on it.

"You wanna know something fucking weird as shit?" Kenny asks, as they slide into the seats. He starts the ignition and reverses out of the space.

"Because your bastard child with Wendy fucking Testaburger isn't weird as shit?" Kyle's brows lift high into his red hair.

"Fuck you," Kenny says, "But seriously, this is crazy shit I'm about to tell you here, if you weren't being such a dickwad."

"I'm not a dickwad, but go on," Kyle replies.

"Cartman came out of the closet," Kenny says. He gives Kyle a shit-eating grin.

"Cartman did what?" Kyle knows that Kenny was waiting to get this reaction out of him. Suddenly, he does feel oddly left out of the South Park loop. Why did Kenny keep all of this stuff from him during their phone calls or Facebook messaging? Maybe he wanted to wait until they were together, but still. It isn't like Kyle directly thought, word for word, Oh, my town can't function without me, but in a way, he did think it. Like, things shouldn't be carrying on without him.

He suddenly feels narcissistic as all hell.

"It gets better," Kenny says eagerly, as they pull onto the E-470. Now comes the three hour drive into the Rockies… "He's with Butters!"

"He's with who now? What the fuck?" Kyle just stares. There isn't anything else to but stare, really. True, Kyle had always pegged Cartman as an extremely severe closet case (he'd like to believe that his gaydar is of superior quality), but Cartman and motherfucking Butters? Maybe it shouldn't come as such a surprise. Butters had always seemed to fall in with Cartman's schemes, up until their junior year of high school, when Butters refused to even hear Cartman's name be mentioned.

Wait.

"How long has this been going on?" Kyle asks.

"A looong ass time, my friend," Kenny admits, "I sort of knew about it. You remember my experimental thing when we were seniors, yeah? Well, Butters and I sort of…fooled around. Didn't last, 'cause Butters broke down when we like, half naked, and spilled everything about his little liaison with Cartman. It was kind of gross, when I think about it. And definitely fucking awkward. But yeah, he told me in confidence and shit. It's just that they got caught in the act by Bebe a couple months ago, and Cartman just told everybody she was lying. But then, Butters throws a fit when I'm fixing their car. He was all, 'I'm not going to be your dirty little secret anymore, Eric,' and then he stormed off. Moved in with Bebe. They made up a few weeks ago, when Cartman decided he'd just say it."

Kyle whistles lowly.

"Right?" says Kenny, "Anyway, I think that's it. Everything else is exactly the same."

Kyle wants to ask about Stan, and he thinks that Kenny might be waiting for him to do exactly that. He won't humor him. Instead, Kyle turns onto his side and stares out of the truck's window. He's exhausted, actually, from a sleepless night worrying about all the bullshit that comes with flying. The fact that he can't sleep for shit on airplanes doesn't help, either. Fortunately, he's talented at falling asleep in cars. The guys always used to make fun of him for it, but Kyle could never help but fall asleep in cars. It's something about the rocking motion of the vehicle, and the white noise from driving against the wind, that just lulls him to sleep, even if the drive is only fifteen minutes long.

Kyle wakes up a couple hours later to the sound of a slamming door. He rubs his eyes. He's in front of a house – Kenny's house, he guesses? Kenny mentioned something about renting a place. Kyle remembers this house. It was always empty when they were kids. They knew the family that owned it didn't manage to sell and rented it out when they could.

Kenny's futzing with the keys at the front door. He has Kyle's bags with him.

After four years, he really is back in South Park.

o.o.o.o

Kenny is such an asshole. That's all that Kyle can think. Kyle has only been in South Park for a day, and he pulls this kind of shit. Yes, Kyle knew about the party, sure, but he didn't know that Kenny was throwing the party for him. Fucking hell. No wonder Kenny was so eager to get Kyle out of the house that afternoon. He was all, Kyle, could you run and grab some Cheesy Poofs? I would, but I'm kind of busy.

And Kyle returned to this. He opened the front door to Kenny's place with two jumbo bags of Cheesy Poofs, and there were like, a hundred fucking people in Kenny's living room. It's like a goddamned high school reunion. Everybody's there except for Red, who's apparently backpacking across Europe at the moment.

Some people exactly the same as he recalls – Craig is still tall and thin and kind of angry-looking, Clyde is still a little chubby but amiable and fun to talk to. Others look completely different – Cartman isn't as fat as he is solid, and apparently he frequents the gym, and even though Kyle had had a forewarning, the very slight swell of Wendy's stomach still freaks him out. Especially when he know the father of that kid is Kenny fucking McCormick. Like, what the hell. He's reminded of it again when he offers to get her a drink, and Wendy lifts one perfectly plucked brow, pats her belly, and says, "Does it look like I should be drinking alcohol?"

"Probably not," Kyle chuckles, "So, uh, do you know if it's a boy or a girl?" Forced conversation. His favorite. And it's all this party is. He reminds himself that he's going to murder Kenny in his sleep once all of these people are gone.

"Not for a couple months," Wendy shrugs.

"So, Kenny, huh?"

Wendy gives this the evil eye and says, "Don't be an asshole, Kyle," before she slinks off to where Token and Bebe are laughing over some evidently hilarious joke that Bebe told.

Shit, dude. Kyle does not want to get involved in baby drama. But, he has a feeling that since he's living with Kenny for the summer, he's going to be stuck with the drama no matter what he does.

Kyle opens a bottle of beer (while buying Cheesy Poofs for Kenny Lying-Bastard McCormick, he also bought himself classier beer than Kenny's fare. Kyle has become an unapologetic beer snob), and wanders. He's wanted to say hi to Butters, but waits until Cartman goes off to do something else. He's not sure how being reunited with Cartman will go, though he's even more dubious about Stan.

"Kenny's really outdone himself, don'tcha think?" Butters comes to stand next to Kyle, who's still trying to take in the explosion of streamers and the giant banner with the words, "Welcome home, Kyle!" painted across it in green. He guesses that maybe Kenny really did miss him. Sure, Kenny has had Stan and all, but Kyle has a feeling there's some tension there with the whole Wendy being pregnant with Kenny's bastard child thing.

Or maybe he's just slightly envious of the friendship between Stan and Kenny. He can't tell. Kyle's always had a leaning toward jealously, despite trying to keep it down. He decided some time ago that maybe it would be better just to admit to this fault than try to pretend it doesn't exist.

Butters looks the same as ever. He's still round-eyed and round-faced and still has his same military-style haircut, but he seems more cheerful. Kyle hates to attribute Butters' happiness with Eric Cartman, but he thinks that that's probably it.

Kyle's just overwhelmed by the attention. Kenny said that he'd be throwing a party (or as Kenny put it a "hootenanny" – Kyle thinks that Kenny was joking when he said that, but isn't entirely sure), but he never specified that the party was in Kyle's honor. He doesn't think that Kenny told that to Stan, either, because Stan is hovering back in an empty corner, alone, with a beer in his hand.

Stan catches Kyle staring. Shit. Kyle lifts a hand a waves weakly.

Apparently, Stan takes this as a cue to walk over and greet him.

Aw, shit. Shit shit shit. Stan looks good, really good. He seems a little tired, or maybe he's just annoyed that Kenny's a douche and tricked them both into this, but his longish hair is cut neatly (courtesy of Bebe), he's actually kind of tan, and he looks like he keeps in shape. Kyle feels a traitorous twist of attraction inside him. It's some sick combination of being drawn to his ex-super-best-friend physically, and remembering all the bullshit that he left behind when he left South Park. It's an uncomfortable feeling, and Stan must be feeling something like it too. Kyle thinks their expressions might be mirroring each other.

"Uh, hey," Stan says, lifting the can of beer in acknowledgement.

"Um, hi," Kyle says back.

"I – I'd best leave you two alone, I think," says Butters, blushing, before running back to find a new person to talk to.

"How are you?" asks Stan. He asks it in the way you ask somebody you knew "from that one class" when you run into them at the grocery store. Awkwardly, and like you don't really care, because you'd rather just get back to your shopping so you can eat your TV dinner in front of Law & Order reruns.

"Good," Kyle answers in the same manner, "You?"

"Good," states Stan.

Could this be any more painful? Kyle would rather be anywhere but here. Kenny was wrong, all wrong about this whole thing. He and Stan aren't friends anymore. They haven't been and they won't be. They probably can't be, quite frankly. They have history. History does shit to people, even if that history dates back years and years.

"So…uh, Kenny says you work at the shelter?" Kyle says, in an attempt at conversation. He'd rather be escaping, but from behind Stan's head, he sees Kenny giving him a thumbs up across the room. Kyle flips him off. When Stan makes a face, Kyle explains hastily, "Kenny."

Stan forces out a chuckle, "Ah. Yeah. But yeah, I do work at the shelter. It's kind of sketchy, since I don't have a license, but I kind of picked it up." It doesn't surprise Kyle at all that Stan ended up working with animals. He's always loved them as a kid, more than anybody usually does. And, sometime back when they were in high school, Kyle heard that Stan had decided to become a vegetarian, though he doesn't know the truth of that. He never asked Stan himself, it was all just hearsay.

Kyle did a lot of that in high school - listening to hearsay about Stan. He missed him then. He misses him now. God, this is so fucked up. You shouldn't care so much about a best friend you stopped speaking to after middle school. But Kyle does, and he hates himself for it. He hates Stan for making him miss their friendship like he does. He hopes those emotions don't read on his face, because he's trying hard. He's trying so damned hard to be an adult and suck it up and pretend that it didn't hurt like fuck when their super-best-friendship ended.

There's another lengthy pause. The tension between them is almost electric. It always was. In high school, Stan and Kyle couldn't bear to be in the same room together.

Stan coughs into his hands. He says, "Look, I've gotta bounce, but do you wanna get coffee or something? Catch up or, I dunno. Would that be cool?"

The truth is definitely No, Stan, that would be super fucking awkward and not 'cool' at all, but Kyle finds his mouth moving before his brain, and he responds, "Yeah, totally cool. How's tomorrow?"

"Uh, got work, but Friday maybe? Like, in the evening? Tweak Bros?"

"Yeah. Sure. Friday evening," Kyle says.

"Awesome, dude," Stan offers a crooked grin. He tosses his empty beer can into the trashcan, and Kyle can't help but wonder how many of those he drank before Stan is walking toward the door. Stan turns, though, mid-walk, and says, voice a little more soft and certainly more sincere than it had been moments before, "Dude? It's good to have you back."

o.o.o.o

If you haven't ever had the privilege of seeing the Denver International Airport demon horse statue (actually it's supposed to be a bronco but who cares, its eyes glow red), you should google that shit. And it did actually kill its own artist!

Comments/questions/suggestions? They'll be the most help now, when the story is just at its beginning stages and you have the most chance of influencing me. ;D