Summary: 'I've been afraid of changing because I built my life around you.' The future terrifies Stan for vastly different reasons than most people.
It wasn't a surprise to any of them that Kyle was accepted to John Hopkins in Maryland to study medicine. In fact, his parents had been planning his congratulations party for nearly two months before hand, because he was a shoo in anyway. Sheila had the letter from the school opened before Kyle even knew it had arrived, and he walked in to his home from his internship at Hells Pass hospital, tired and anxious, and found himself surrounded by his best friends, the friends he'd grown up with, his family, and Eric Cartman, who told anyone who'd listen in a loud, defensive voice that he was only there for the food, though they knew better.
Through all the shouts of congratulations, the good lucks, and the well wishing, Stan Marsh stood by the food table as if chained to it, his resolve to be happy for his best friend wavering with each passing minute. He sipped on his Dr. Pepper, the plastic red party cup getting crushed in his grip as he watched Kyle socialize with everyone, his glowing, happy face sending Stan into an even farther depression. He wanted to be happy for him, he really did, but the fact that he was going to be 2,000 miles away for nine months out of the year just didn't sit very well with him.
Emerald green eyes were suddenly looking into his, and Stan pushed his black hair out of his face, feeling self conscious. "Dude, what's the matter?" Kyle asked, leaning against the table next to stand, their arms barely touching but the electricity between their skin gave Stan a shock down his spine. He suppressed the feeling though, and gave Kyle the best smile that he could muster.
"Nothing dude, I just can't believe we're going off to college now," he said enthusiastically, nudging Kyle in the ribs and laughing. "It's going to be crazy isn't it?" Kyle nodded, watching their friends screw around in his living room on Rock Band 3, his smile returning. Stand would never want to take his happiness away from him.
"Do you know what your major is yet?" Kyle asked conversationally, and Stan knew he was truly interested in his best friend's future, but Stan didn't have the heart to tell the truth and say that he didn't even want to go to school, that he wanted to travel the world while he was young. Just get a job and save up for a year or two and get the hell out of South Park, Jack Kerouac style.
He admitted, shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly, "Not sure yet." He took another sip of his drink to avoid saying anything more on the subject, and try to keep his thoughts and plans to himself. Kyle continued to wait for Stan to add to the conversation and after a moment of thinking he managed to blurt out, "You'll make a great doctor though, Kyle. Seriously, man."
"Thanks Stan!" he said, squeezing his free hand once before moving over to talk to his other friendsy The feel of Kyle's hands made his cheeks warm and Stan wanted nothing more than for every feeling he had ever had for his best friend to just disappear. He knew how this story was supposed to end. Stan was going to marry Wendy Testaburger and probably settle down with her in South Park after college. They'd get entry level jobs in their fields, have a couple of kids and all that shit. He would spend his life pretending to be fulfilled and happy, and maybe never hear from Kyle ever again.
Life moves on, and though he was once completely ready to accept it, right then his heart wasn't in it. He wanted Kyle to be his best friend for the rest of their lives, and even if Kyle never knew that Stan loved him, at least he'd have that: a consolation prize.
"Why don't you just fuck him already?" Stan nearly cricked his neck in his haste to see who had just spoken. Eric Cartman was right beside him in all his obese glory, chocolate outlining his lips as he stuffed cupcakes into his mouth.
"The fuck are you talking about?" Stan laughed, turning to Cartman with what he hoped was a convincing air of confusion, one eyebrow raised and his arms crossed over his chest, a bemused smile on his face.
Eric snorted. "Nothing, man, nothing."
Stan was surprised he lasted as long as he did in college. Four semesters later, he was waiting tables at the local Red Robin, staring at the clock so he could get off work and run to the bar with Kenny for a few drinks before going home to his empty apartment. When it finally turned nine o'clock, Stan clocked out and hurried to his shitty jalopy, changing his shirt and throwing his apron into the back seat.
Kenny was waiting outside, his hands permanently smudged with car oil and dirt. He wore a clean shirt and a huge grin, pulling Stan into a bone crushing embrace before steering him into the bar. "Good to see you, man!" Kenny greeted, buying the first round of beers for the two of them and sliding Stan's over to him. "I was wondering when you were going to see me, you've been back in South Park for like a month haven't you?"
"Something like that," he mused, nursing his beer. Stan wasn't much of a drinking, fearing to go down the road his father had most of his life. But Kenny's insistence that the two newly turned twenty one year olds reconnected at a bar was hard to deny. He really should have seen his friend much sooner than he had, it just pained him to know that it would just be the two of them.
"How'd Denver treat you?" Kenny asked, downing half his beer and wiping his mouth off with the back of his hand. Stan could tell that, twenty one or not, Kenny was quite accustomed to drinking and drinking quickly. He wasn't sure if that was attributed to Stuart McCormick's own drinking problem that got passed down to Kenny, or if Kenny was always just the more wild of the four of them, and drinking was nothing next to the amount of drugs that he had done anyway.
Stan shrugged, tapping his fingers against the wood of the bar as he put his thoughts together. "College really isn't for me Kenny," he answered, finally admitting the truth to someone and running a hand through his black hair. "Too stressful. I'm just trying to make some money until I can save enough to travel somewhere. I'm not going to be in South Park forever."
Kenny laughed. "I sure as hell am. I know it. The McCormicks are destined to be fucking stuck in this town. Besides, I could never leave Karen behind."
Nodding in agreement, he asked, "How is she anyway?"
Groaning, Kenny answered, "Knocked up, unfortunately." Stan's jaw dropped. He couldn't believe sweet little Karen McCormick was pregnant. It was like some kind of bad joke. Before Stan could even ask, Kenny provided the answer to the question just about to leave his lips. "Clyde Donovan, she says. Little shit is lucky she begged me not to beat the fuck out of him."
"That's fucked up dude," Stan sighed, downing the rest of his beer and buying the next round for himself and Kenny. It grew silent between them, but Stan finally posed the query that had been sitting at the forefront of his thoughts. "Have you heard from the other guys?" Kenny's eyes grew sad and he looked sympathetically at Stan, knowing exactly who he meant.
"Butters and his parents moved to Las Vegas not to long ago," he mused, counting off on his fingers all of the people he knew. "Cartman is a cop now, believe it or not. Token and Craig are in town on summer vacation from college, Wendy is in California with her family, and Kyle hasn't been back to South Park since he left for Maryland two years ago." Stan tried to keep a straight face, but he knew it was true. Even on his own breaks from school, Kyle had never been around, and rarely if ever returned his calls and texts about why. "He has a swank little apartment in Baltimore that he stays in during school breaks. I see pictures on Facebook sometimes of his friends there, all rich little bastards if you ask me."
Stan chuckled and kicked back the second beer, determined to drink his thoughts away, at least until morning. He had suspended his Facebook and was unconcerned with the whole institution, but he may have to reinstate it just to better understand what was going on in Kyle's life away from home.
Kenny and Stan stumbled away from the bar and loudly traipsed the silents streets of their quiet mountain town. He felt a little more like he was back where he belonged, right in that moment with Kenny, whom he had also known since kindergarten and as a whole had completely taken for granted for most of their lives. They made it back to his friend's apartment and Stan passed out on the couch, glad to finally get to close his eyes.
It was an unexpected moment when he saw Kyle again. He was taking a piss in the men's restroom at the mall, looking to buy Wendy a homecoming present when she finally returned from UCSD for the summer. As Stan was zipping up his fly, a flash of red hair caught his eye as the person was leaving the rest room, and he was fully prepared to let it go. There were plenty of people in the world with red hair, that wasn't exactly surprising to see. But it was a familiar back of the head to him, as strange as that sounds, and he could help but rush out without washing his hands to find the person.
The man was thin framed and tall, almost taller than Stan himself, with a slightly timid walk as he trailed listlessly through the throngs of people. Finally gaining courage, Stan shouted to him, "Kyle Broflovski?" A couple of random people turned around to see who shouted, but the young man stopped in his footsteps and turned around to meet Stan's eyes. They were about twenty feet apart, but Stan could see the surprise in his best friend's eyes as they stared at each other. Kyle was still as Stan caught up to him, and crushed him in a hug. "Hey, man, didn't know you were back in town."
It felt like an accusation, but he hoped that Kyle didn't take it that way. You're back in town but you didn't let me know? What the fuck man? That's what it meant, but he didn't want to be an asshole if there was something going on. Kyle smiled weakly. "Sorry, Stan, I've been so busy lately. My girlfriend came to South Park with me and I've been busy trying to find the perfect ring." Those words rebounded in Stan's skull painfully, and he stared at Kyle as if he was an alien creature.
"Girlfriend? Ring?" Stan asked, laughing nervously. "Kyle, you're going to propose? Why haven't you told me about any of this? I didn't even know you were dating anyone." Again, Kyle's expression grew nervous, and Stan couldn't help but feel like he was the only person left out of the loop of Kyle's life once again. It hurt him badly, and he felt his heart ache.
He shrugged. "Like I said, Stan, I've been busy with school. I'm trying to double major and it's been rough, and Sarah has been helping me a lot with everything." Sarah. That was the name of the mystery girl that Kyle was hoping to marry. God dammit. Stan didn't know quite what to do, except the only thing a true best friend would do.
"Congratulations man," he said, trying to seem excited for him. "Dude, I mean it. If you love this girl and all that shit, then hell yeah, go for it. I can't wait to meet her." Whatever Kyle was expecting from Stan, it certainly wasn't that and the surprise certainly showed on his face.
"Thanks, Stan!" he responded with the first meaningful smile he'd had since the start of their conversation. "You know, I'm going to need a best man, and I couldn't think of a better man for the job, if you want it." Stan agreed with wild abandon, and the two began to talk like old times, as if they hadn't been separated for the past three years without a single hello said between them, on the phone, through text, Facebook, email, or in person. With the excitement that Kyle had, Stan couldn't help but actually feel incredibly happy for him.
Stan and Kyle were alone in the room as they tried on their tuxedos. The girl, Sarah, her parents were quite wealthy Jews, which tickled Sheila pink when she found out they were paying for the entire wedding and the reception and wanted her to plan everything. The young men met eyes, both suddenly unable to believe this was happening, each for different reasons. In less than a month, Kyle was going to be married and Stan was going to be the best man. For one of them it was going to be the best day of their life; for the other, the worst.
"You look awesome dude," Stan said after a moment of awkward silence. "Sarah's the luckiest girl on the planet."
Kyle laughed. "Nah, Wendy is. You guys will be really happy when you get married." Stan, as a ploy to try to make Kyle see all the reasons why he would be a better candidate to spend the rest of his life with, asked Wendy to marry him less than a month later, to which she happily said yes. Despite his best efforts, Kyle was still madly in love with Sarah and was going through with his plan to marry her. It made Stan depressed for all the wrong reasons, and even though he should be happy for himself and for Kyle, all he felt was lost.
None of them had ever been to Las Vegas before. Butters had agreed to host Kyle, Stan, Cartman, and Kenny during Kyle's bachelor party since his parents were out of town and wouldn't be back for a few days after the group left. The five of them, since Kyle asked Butters to join their party, went to every bar they could find on The Strip until they were so shit faced they couldn't tell up from down. Except for Stan, who decided himself that he was going to be the designated driver and take care of them all while they were fucked up.
The loud music, the skanky girls, the alcohol, the weirdly dressed people lining the sidewalks outside of all the major casinos made him almost miss South Park's quiet, rustic atmosphere. While Kyle insisted on getting a huge margarita at the base of the Paris hotel's replica of the Eiffel Tower, Stan watched a young man sitting on one of the planters, singing his heart out with an open guitar case at his feet for tips. "...I've been afraid of changing because I built my life around you. But time makes you bolder even children get older and I'm getting older too." He sang, and suddenly Stan couldn't feel anything anymore, the strong tenor voice hitting so close to home with the familiar song that he nearly caved. Pulling out a twenty dollar bill from his pocket, he dropped it into the man's case and walked away, nearly forgetting about his friends.
They didn't notice as he hurried back to them, chugging down their drinks as they followed Stan back to the parking garage where Butters had parked his car. Stan started the vehicle after getting the four of them safely strapped into their seats, heading towards Butters' house. Kyle, in the passenger side seat, stared at Stan while he was driving, still chugging his drink as he said, "You're really beautiful, Stan." The words were almost unintelligible, but Stan understood them and nearly crashed his car into the shoulder of the highway, choking on his bottle of water.
"What was that?" he asked, trying to remain calm and not kill them all.
Kyle leaned over in his seat, his hand on Stan's thigh. "You're really, really beautiful. I never told you that before, but it's true. I've always thought that." Not taking his eyes off the road, he fended off Kyle's drunken advances with one hand, trying to concentrate on getting them home safely. As he pulled into the driveway, nearly all of them had fallen asleep save for Kyle, who hadn't stopped watching Stan from the moment the drive had started. Ignoring Kyle, Stan carried Butters first into the house and tucked him into his own bed and went back out for Kenny, positioning him on the couch with a blanket he found in the linen cabinet.
As he tried to get Cartman out of the car, Kyle stumbled over to try to help, and the two of them somehow managed to get Eric into the house and on the other couch in the living room. Sweating from exertion, Stan bolted the front door and got himself a cup of water from the kitchen, hoping that Kyle would have fallen asleep by the time he returned to the guest room Butters offered them. Stan climbed in tiredly next to his best friend, getting comfortable and closing his eyes, ready to sleep well into the next day.
Just as he was dozing off, he felt a warm hand slide cautiously down his stomach, fingers slipping gently underneath the waistband of his pajama pants. Kyle began to play with him, and Stan couldn't stop it, it felt too good, it was exactly what he had been wanting for so long that he let it continue. Suddenly Kyle was under the covers, pulling his pajamas off roughly, surprising Stan so completely that he stared at his friend, his face barely visible in the darkness. Kyle leaned down and put Stan's cock into his mouth, rocking his head back and forth and eliciting such a groan from Stan that he had never heard himself make before under and circumstances.
The mixture of the first sexual encounter he'd had in months and the fact that it was Kyle sucking his dick so expertly made Stan come quickly, his voice nearly a sob as Kyle swallowed, crawling back to the pillow to lay down beside Stan and curl up next to his naked body. He realized that Kyle was naked too, waiting for this to happen, their bodies intertwined so tightly that Stan wondered what exactly it was that Kyle had been thinking. "I love you, Stan," Kyle whispered, finally falling asleep in his arms.
If Kyle remembered that night at all, he didn't say anything. Stan had made sure to get up early and get dressed before Kyle even woke up, erasing all evidence of his drunken mishap. And now, standing in his tuxedo at the chapel, waiting for his best friend's future wife to emerge from the doors and make the entire congregation revel in her beauty. He caught Kyle's eyes a couple of times, giving him smiles of encouragement that this was the correct course of action, even though Stan believed that it wasn't.
He would never be able to forget the moment, when Kyle told him that he loved him, never be able to get the memory of it out of his head. It had been eating away at home for the past few weeks, killing him slowly from the inside as he wondered whether or not Kyle actually meant it or not. A couple of girls he didn't recognize made up Sarah's bridesmaids, and Wendy was glaring at one of them who had been staring at Stan since the rehearsal dinner the night before. He didn't really care about either of them at the moment, just the look on Kyle's face as the piano started to play, and Sarah walked into the room.
Stan had to admit that she was a pretty girl. Long black hair, deep brown eyes and perfect skin, a little on the chubby side, but not to the point where it was unattractive. He hated her on principle, even though she had never been anything but sweet and polite and kind to him. She was all smiles, and he was ready to scream, but didn't. The ceremony went perfectly, with Sheila sobbing in the background, and the bride was officially Sarah Broflovski.
When they arrived at the location of the reception, Ike took Stan aside for a moment, watching him warily. "What is wrong with you?" the young Canadian asked him, his arms crossed over his chest. Ike was sixteen now, and too intelligent for his own good, that much was for sure. "The entire ceremony you couldn't take your eyes off Kyle and not you're nothing but a nervous wreck." Ike had always been a sort of catalyst for things that should have been left unsaid, but Stan couldn't deny it any longer. Someone had to know.
He led the younger Broflovski brother into the bathroom and checked to make sure no one was inside before bolting the door behind them. "I love him, Ike," he blurted out, not wanting to try to tiptoe around it anymore, not wanting to lie to himself or anyone else anymore. "And when he got drunk in Vegas, he told me he loved me too. Not that anything will ever come of it." Ike was silent, his eyebrows drawn together in an expression that Stan recognized as sympathy.
Not surprise. Not disgust.
Sympathy. Like he had known all along.
"Well, Stan," he said slowly, leaning his back against the tile walls. "You have two options. You can spend the rest of your life, or his marriage, whichever comes first, pining over him, wishing things would be different and basically wasting away any chance of something great coming along for you in the future. Or you could let him go, be his friend but never hope or expect anything else from him, the two of you living your lives in separate way because sometimes life doesn't give you everything that you want."
It wasn't fair that this little kid was wiser than anyone else he knew, but Stan believed Ike. There was so much truth behind his words that it was almost like a slap to the face. It was time to make a change, and accept life as it was.
"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Stanley, happy birthday to you!"
Stan begrudgingly blew out the candles that depicted the 3 and the 0 on his cake, wondering when his parents would realize that he was really much too fucking old for this. Shelley was shaking her head to his left, probably thinking the same thing, and his friends, those still around in South Park, were drinking wine.
Eric Cartman and Kenny McCormick were there of course, and Karen, as well, with her seven year old son, Max. Ike Broflovski attended, on break from his senior year of college. Wendy Marsh, Stan's wife of four years was there too, serving the cake and ice cream with his mother. Kyle hadn't shown his face, though there was no guarantee he was going to. It was difficult for him to get away from the hospital he worked at, to return for any length of time to this godforsaken town for any reason, especially with his wife and daughter in tow.
Everyone had grown up, Stan noted. Married, with jobs and lives. Kenny and Bebe, Karen and Clyde, Kyle and Sarah, he and Wendy. He was still tied into this town that he so desperately wanted to get away from, and no matter how hard he tried, he could do it. He lethargically ate his cake, trying not to puke with each bite but barely managing it. A knock sounded, and he turned to see the frozen faces of Kyle, Sarah, and Marley Broflovski standing at the door, weather beaten but still there.
Energized, Stan stood up from his cake and pulled Kyle into a fierce hug, melting the snow and ice on his jacket. Kyle returned the hug, the two men squeezing each other so tightly to make up for the past five years of not seeing each other. It was a painful reunion for Stan, as he could hardly recognize Kyle's face. They really were getting older. "You made it," Stan said quietly, closing the door behind the small family.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," he replied, leading Stan with a hand on his shoulder back to the table where the cake was being served.
Long after everyone else fell asleep, Kyle and Stan were still sitting on the porch, a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon between them and the radio playing hits from the nineties. "Nothing beats drinking beer with your best friend," Kyle mentioned, putting his empty can down on the ground by the others.
"Still my best friend?" Stan asked, half in amusement, half in desperation. His loneliness had been more pronounced of late, and this little revelation gave him a little hope for the future. Kyle smiled at him and leaned over, staring straight into Stan's eyes. There was a moment of electricity between them, and Kyle tentatively tried to kiss Stan. It was a moment of weakness for Stan, who promised himself a long time ago that no matter what happened, he would stay true to Wendy and live the life that was dealt to him, no questions asked.
But this was different.
Stan pulled back, and Kyle became terrified at the unresponsive stance that Stan took to that forward gesture. "I'm so sorry," he whispered, standing up from the porch chair and heading back into the house. Stan grabbed his hand and pulled him back into the embrace, his lips touching Kyle's for the very first time. It was like a drug, and he knew that if he didn't get this fix every single day he would lose his mind. He dragged Kyle to the backseat of his station wagon, and the pair grasped each other tightly, their mouths hardly parting.
"Why now?" Stan begged, attempting to understand.
"Because Sarah and I are getting a divorce," he replied, his expression wild. Stan had never seen Kyle so ethereal in the moonlight, so beautiful and so chaotic at the same time. "I can't be with her Stan, I need you." That was all he needed to hear.
The proceedings for Stan's divorce to Wendy came quickly after Kyle's was finalized. Those who knew them best were suspicious, and Wendy was already in on why. She was interested in another man as well, and it was best for both of them to end their loveless marriage and remain as friends. Stan was glad neither of them wanted children, because it would have made it that much more complicated. For Kyle, the remnants of his old relationship with Sarah, namely Marley, was a light in his life. He loved his daughter and was absolutely devoted to her, and Stan was happy that he was such an excellent father to his daughter.
The two got an apartment together quickly after everything was taken care of, and that added more fuel to the gay conspiracy fire that had been started under their asses. Not that Stan or Kyle really cared with what people thought. They spent every night curled up under the covers together even though they leased a two bedroom apartment, mostly to keep up appearances. They talked and talked, they made love and dreamed about getting old together, laughing at the idea of marriage for them.
They probably would never get married, even if it was made legal.
Life went on happily for the next twenty years, and everyone was either accepting of their relationship or in denial that it even existed, like Sarah and Kyle's parents. But as long as she got her child support payments, she didn't stop him from seeing his daughter all the way up until she turned eighteen, and then it didn't matter. Besides, Marley viewed Stan as a sort of stepfather figure anyway, and was supportive of her father's decisions.
It was a life that Stan could only dream of, somehow coming true. Everything he could ever hope for was suddenly a reality for him, and he couldn't be happier, despite the fact that his ex-wife actually ended up marrying Eric Cartman only a year after the divorce. But as long as Wendy was happy, Stan didn't really mind.
It all ended in fire.
Stan couldn't believe his eyes when he arrived home to the fire department outside of the house he and Kyle had bought only ten years prior in South Park, getting tired of their apartment and needing a change. He watched as the hoses put out the flames, after an hour of blazing, it was finally safe to enter the home. His heart stopping in his chest, he watched as the medics put a destroyed body into the back of their ambulance, and he knew from the ring on its finger that it was Kyle.
Depression struck after his death. Sudden, unwarranted, and tragic. Stan didn't eat, he didn't talk to anyone, didn't do anything but waste away in bed of his mother's home, who also lost her husband not five years ago due to a heart attack. Sharon Marsh kept moving along, but Stan couldn't cope with the loss of the only person in his life he had ever been truly in love with.
"Stan?" His eyes were glazed over as Ike and Wendy visited him in bed, and he looked worse for the wear. His hair unwashed, his sheets unchanged, his body falling to ruin. "Stan, you can't live life like this you know." Wendy Cartman's words rang true, but he didn't care. Nothing mattered anymore.
"Kyle wouldn't have wanted it," Ike said disapprovingly, looking particularly dapper in middle age. He knew that too though. Kyle would want Stan to get up and move on and be happy that he had a life with him while he could.
Stan found himself sitting in a snowbank, not sure how he got there. His had a pair of red mittens on his heads, and a blue hat with red trim and a red pom pom adorning the top of it. He felt better than he had in years, and jumped to his feet, realizing that he was a lot closer to the ground than he had been used to. Steadying himself, he began to run through the snow in a familiar direction, his body seeming to have a mind of his own.
A orange and green blob came into sight, but he couldn't make out what it was until he got closer. Stan realized it was a child in a green hat, with matching mittens, watching him from the distance with the biggest smile on his face. He jumped into the child's arms and they toppled to the snow.
Stan knew that he was where he was meant to be.