Chapter 1: Looking for an Axe to Grind

Kenny McCormick had his first dream about guys when he was eleven-years-old. He'd woken at two in the morning in a cold sweat, jolting his brother out of sleep as he whimpered and patted himself to make sure he was okay, that he hadn't died, that he was awake and that this was real.

"It was just a nightmare, you fucking fag," Kevin had muttered, obviously annoyed, and Kenny had gone cold all over. There was no way Kevin could've known… right? Right.

Only, "I don't have nightmares," he'd said very frankly, because he didn't. Doesn't. Not anymore. He'd seen shit, horrible Necronomicon, fire and brimstone shit, and he'd only been eleven.

"Fuck it," Kevin grunted and buried his face in his side of the pillow he and Kenny shared. "Dad got you pretty hard."

He'd rolled over then, his brown eyes narrow slits illuminated only by the flickering streetlamp outside Kenny's window, and moved to run his fingers over the lump on the back of Kenny's head.

Normally he doesn't make it through being hit on the head very well, but that day had been different for whatever reason. He'd crossed his legs at the table or something while he'd been reading through his homework for English class, and when his dad had seen that he'd hauled him up onto his feet, telling him he may as well have "bent over and begged for a cornholing", and tossed him aside like a ragdoll.

He'd smacked his head hard against the counter, hard enough to be dizzy when he stood back up, and he'd figured that if he didn't crack his head open and bleed out, he'd at least sustained a concussion and would die in his sleep.

Instead, he'd had a dream about a guy—a boy? A really pretty boy who'd taken him into his arms and stroked his hand over his hair and his chest and touched him. Just touched him. And Kenny had touched him back. He'd been hard under his skin, like Kenny's fingers had been grazing over stone rather than flesh, but it'd somehow felt good.

Kenny had just chocked it up to a jostled brain and the fact that it made him so nervous to have Kevin sleeping right next to him and left it at that.

Except the dreams didn't go away.

Kevin, Kenny, and Karen had all dragged an old mattress they'd found back up to Kevin's room the next week, but the dreams came back; Kenny had died and gotten a fresh brain, but still the dreams persisted. Amid the nights he'd spend in a pillowy heaven of breasts, soft flesh, and curves, he'd occasionally have one night where he'd spend whole stretches of hours lost among a throng of Adonis-like men, all with rippling muscles and square jaws and dashing smiles.

He told himself to ignore it—everyone has weird dreams sometimes. He could live with having sexy dreams about men every once in a while, just like he could live with occasionally having dreams about playing drums with Animal from the Muppets and shit like that.

But when puberty came around, everything got harder to ignore. Soon he'd started waking up with wet patches ruining his pants, all because he'd gotten to feel a pair of awesome tits in a dream. That was fine. So his days of rubbing himself against his bed without consequence were over—big deal.

"Eh, don't worry about it, son," his dad had clapped him on the shoulder one morning as he'd stripped his ratty old mattress of its ruined sheets. "Girlie dreams are gonna do that to you for a while. Just get the sheets in the wash before your mom sees."

Stuart, of course, had picked the one day Kenny hadn't spunked his shorts over a 'girlie dream' to play the role of a supportive father. Kenny was in fact well aware that, at age thirteen, he'd just had his first wet dream about dick-sucking. He'd spent all day hoping it would be his last.

Dreaming about it was one thing.

Jizzing in your pants over it is quite another.

And getting hard on your way to school just thinking about it is so far from okay that it's… fuck.

Butters had smiled at him and given him a cheerful greeting that morning in homeroom; Kenny had bitten his head off. And he thinks that's how this whole thing started.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with Butters. He's just often in the wrong place at the wrong time and he's so goddamned cheerful that it really grates on Kenny's nerves. Like, why does he get to think the best of everything when there's no best to be thought? Especially since he's been regularly called 'faggot', 'queer', and just about every other uncreative homophobic nickname these brain-dead rednecks they call peers can think up. Why does he get to come out of it unscathed? No one even knows about Kenny's… inklings, but Kenny's fully aware of the gravity of the situation and keeps it locked up tight.

Not that there's much to know, but Kenny can't be too careful. He's punched guys before for giving him looks, that's how serious he is about it. His mom can't understand why he does it, tells him that she thought he was better than his deadbeat father or his meat-headed brother, but his dad tells her it's just what boys do. They're scrappy, they get into fights, and so that's what Kenny does. The more people he fights, the more he throws his dad and everyone else off the trail. With every guy he socks, with every suspension from school, he can rest easy in his belief that no one knows about this.

This. What even is this?

Even if he doesn't exactly have a name for it, this is what's making him stare at Batman Forever through his fingers, unable to discern whether or not he wants Nicole Kidman to sit on his face or get down on his knees and start sucking off Chris O'Donnell.

He shakes the thoughts out of his head—Nicole Kidman. Of course. Stupid question.

This is also what makes Kenny's face go red and gut light on fire when the bell on the front door of the video store rings and Butters strolls in, cheerful as ever as he gives Kenny a wave and starts browsing through the DVDs on the 'New Rentals' rack.

Kenny's not sure why Butters still comes in to rent movies, but he doesn't actually ask. Usually the clients here are older people who don't know how to work the internet, and kids who need some place to go after school. Butters is neither of those things.

Butters is sixteen, a day away from being a senior in high school, for god's sake, and he's at renting movies at four in the afternoon on a fucking Wednesday. There's not much to say, other than the fact that this is just Butters all over. He does a lot of senseless shit, all with a dopey smile on his face, and it turns Kenny's spit into acid.

Boiling. Acid.

Kenny watches as he moves through the store, seemingly looking through every single title they carry like he does every time he comes in. He's not the type who dresses flamboyantly or who's way too effeminate for his own good, though he is an active member of the high school drama club and does sometimes wear clothes that are a little too snug on him.

Like right now. His jeans hug him in all the right places, in all the places Kenny shouldn't notice, and his shirt rides up just a little when he reaches up to grab movies off the top shelves, exposing strips of smooth, golden skin that makes Kenny's pupils dilate and mouth flood with saliva and fists tighten up so hard that his nails cut into his palms.

This isn't okay.

Butters is a guy.

Kenny goes back to his movie, even though it's hard not to watch Butters as he browses the racks thoughtfully, like whatever decision he makes will affect the final outcome of his life.

When he finally puts a stack of two movies on the counter, Kenny looks over and tries not to sneer at Butters' smile.

"How's it goin' today, Ken?" he asks as he shoves his hands in his pockets. Kenny heaves an irritated sigh and gives Butters a look.

"You know I need to scan your card into the system, dude," he says, and it's snippy and short and not at all okay, but Kenny can't fucking help it. This kid makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

"Oh!" Butters jumps a little and digs into his pocket for his wallet. It's Velcro, which Kenny figures he should've expected, and, interestingly enough, there's a Batman logo on it. He hands Kenny his card and waits patiently while Kenny scans it.

"Nice wallet," he says, because he actually feels like he may need to be a little nicer to him sometimes. And really, how much conversation could they have about a wallet?

"Oh, thanks," Butters laughs a little and tucks it back in his pocket. "Batman's my favorite superhero."

Kenny nods and scans the DVDs, Little Shop of Horrors and the old version of Hairspray with Ricki Lake when she was fat. Kenny's never seen the latter, but he actually really likes Little Shop of Horrors.

"We're thinkin' of doin' these," Butters chimes in as the total of five dollars flashes up on the ancient register screen. "I-in drama club, I mean," he stammers as he gets out his wallet again and hands Kenny a five dollar bill.

"Fascinating," Kenny nods, using all of his energy to put the money in the register instead of look at Butters' face.

"We got other options too," Butters continues as Kenny gets his receipt and stuffs it in the Little Shop case. "You should audition this year! Heck, we're always lookin' for fellas who can sing."

"No thanks, Butters," Kenny gives him a terse smile. He's been in the unfortunate circumstance where Butters has caught him singing in the showers in the locker room in freshman year, like they're on a fucking sitcom or something.

Butters just nods, looking a little more downtrodden than before, and it makes Kenny secretly gleeful. Good. Butters should feel half as crappy as he does every once in a while. He leaves the store, flame dimmed just a little bit, and Kenny sighs a little.

The thing about being mean to Butters is that it never makes him feel as good as it seems to make other people feel.

He finishes his work day around six and goes to head home. He doesn't have a car, since Kevin needs the truck they fixed up together to go to work during the week, so he rides a bike. It's doesn't exactly win him points in the coolness column, but he's never been that cool to begin with, so he figures it doesn't matter too much.

When he gets home, the sun is sinking low in the sky and his stomach is rumbling like crazy. Things have been better since he's started working—he has money for food almost always now, and it's getting to the point where he's not as much of a skinny fuck as he used to be.

Granted, he survives mostly on pizza and Tapatio Doritos when left to his own devices, but he hasn't died from it yet so he must be doing something right.

He's barely even in the door before he's bombarded by the sight of Kevin in nothing but his boxers, sitting on the couch and slurping back a cup of noodles as he watches an episode of COPS on their shitty TV.

"Jesus, Kevin," he mutters as he shuts the door behind him. "Don't you have a fucking job?"

"Working on a highway tonight," Kevin says through a full mouth. "Don't have to be in 'til eleven."

"Mm," Kenny nods back and heads to the kitchen. He wants to fire off a comeback, or say something along the lines of a wildly grandiose "Fan-fucking-tastic", but he's gotten backhanded for being clever one too many times in his life, so he just leaves it at a hum and calls it a day.

He opens up the cabinet, ready for his own dinner of ramen, and falters.

"Hey fuckface," he calls and walks back into the living room. "I know you didn't leave me nothing but that jenky shrimp flavor."

Kevin just shrugs, not looking away from the TV, "Fuck that shit, it's pink."

Kenny gives him a look, he knows he does, and says nothing but, "Really?"

When Kevin nods, Kenny figures arguing is a lost cause, so he goes over and socks Kevin in the shoulder as hard as he can, relying solely on the fact that he'll have time to run because Kevin will need time to set down his noodles before he comes chasing after him.

Only, Kevin tosses his cup down on the already stained carpet and tackles Kenny right then and there. Kevin's nineteen, and much bigger than Kenny now that he's started working in construction. Normally Kenny's at least fast enough to outrun him, but today he's a little sluggish and annoyed and it's costing him dearly.

"Get the fuck off of me!" he shouts and tries to wriggle away, kicking and hitting until Kevin inevitably relents and lets him up. Kevin's not having any of it, though. He flips Kenny easily, bending one arm behind his back with one hand and smashing his face into the carpet with the other.

"Hit me again, faggot," Kevin taunts and yanks forcefully on Kenny's arm, continuing over his yelp of pain, "Come on, I fucking dare you."

"Aw, for God's sake, Kevin, let him up!"

It's their mom. She looks like she just woke up, all scraggly-haired and puffy-eyed. Kevin gives Kenny's face one final push into the ground before he hops up and returns to the couch. He doesn't pick up the mess of noodles on the floor, which means Kenny will probably end up doing that tomorrow when everyone else has also failed to do so.

"Jesus, Kevin," their mom sighs as Kenny stands. "He hurt anything important?" she brushes at the carpet burn on his cheek and gives him a concerned look. He's always been his mom's favorite, and she's never been shy about showing it.

"Nah, ma, I'm fine," he gives her a resigned smile in return and ducks back into the kitchen. It may be a shitty flavor, but shrimp ramen is probably the only thing he's going to have in his stomach until lunchtime tomorrow, and by then he'll be at school.

He eats up in his room, telling his mom that he's not feeling very well and that he's just going to go to sleep after. He ignores the fuck out of Kevin calling him a pussy, because he knows he's going to get his ass beaten if he tries to start anything.

He pulls out a trashy gossip rag he nicked from the convenience store last night on his way home and props it up on his knees as he nurses his disgusting noodles. He doesn't care much for things like In Touch or Star or People, even though he reads them frequently. It's easy, it's mind-numbing, and it's way nicer than sitting downstairs with Kevin. Plus, Karen loves reading them, so he just gives them to her when he's done.

Plus, they're pretty free from things like sexy perfume ads and the like. It's not that Kenny minds those, but ever since his body went haywire and started popping stiffies at men's underwear ads, he's tried to cut back on the confusing masturbatory material.

He's still pretty convinced that this is a phase, something every teenager goes through that he'll one day laugh at himself for taking so seriously.

Still, one can never be too cautious.

He goes to bed early, which is good, he supposes, since he hasn't been sleeping great the last few weeks. He's worn down from working as much as he has this summer, and it's like his body won't let him recuperate. And, with working more hours and being as tired as he's been, it's offered less time to chill at all the kickbacks that went on this summer. Less booze, less weed, and less sex than he's used to. No wonder he feels like shit.

Like, last time he got laid was with Bebe when they'd both skipped the last day of school and found each other at the mall.

Fuck, that's pitiful.

He falls asleep thinking about Bebe—the curve of her hips, the green and white polka dot bra she always wears, that he can always see through her shirts, how fucking gratifying it was to slide between her legs and get her off with nothing but his tongue and his fingers, and how she'd begged him for more even after she'd come… he needs that. He needs to make people feel good like that. He smiles, wondering if he'll dream about how hard she rode him after, how he'd nuzzled the curves of her breasts and licked and sucked over every last bit of skin he could get his mouth on.

He dreams about two things: one is an alien invasion that ends in Kenny being eaten by a giant plant, and the other is an unsettlingly familiar, distinctly male ass in a pair of tight jeans. Fine, he's used to these. He'll fucking deal with it.

Only, suddenly he's somehow on his back, and, god fucking damn it, it's Butters crawling all over him, shirtless and sucking hickeys into his neck and—

Oh god, and fucking him. Like, somehow this dream ends with Butters thrusting into him without abandon, and Jesus Christ, Kenny's whimpering and shouting and writhing below him and it's good.

It's so fucking good.

When his alarm goes off in the morning, Kenny shoots up, all short of breath and definitely sporting some mad morning wood. He can't… he can't believe he—he didn't even know his mind had the capacity to build that scenario. And now he's fucking fit to burst because of it.

He looks down at the erection tenting his boxers and flops back against his pillow, deciding that he can just get off really quick and it won't matter. Bodies do weird things when they sleep; it doesn't mean anything. He dips his hand below the waistband of his undies and grips himself in a loose fist, whining a little as he swipes his thumb over his slit and starts working himself into a sleepy, lustful haze.

No sooner is he bucking up into his hand, so close to the edge, does Karen come busting in without so much as a knock to make sure he's awake and cut his little self-love session short.

"Fuck, dude!" he exclaims and pulls his covers back up over himself as Karen yelps and covers her eyes. "Knock much? Jesus."

"Uh, wow," Karen mutters, turning away to face the other side of the wood-paneled hallway. "I'm—sorry, wow."

"Where's the fucking fire?" Kenny grouses out.

"I just wanted to know if you wanted the last waffle!" Karen exclaims and stomps her foot. She's already dressed for the day—their first day of school.

Shit. Kenny runs his hands over his face and falls back against the bed.

"No, dude, you can take it," he sighs. "I'll grab some poptarts out of the machine at school." Even though he probably won't.

"Cool, thanks," she mutters and grabs the doorknob. "Uh, as you were… or something."

"Ha!" Kenny barks and rolls out of bed. "In hell."

Karen turns and shakes her head before closing the door. Meanwhile, Kenny goes on a valiant search through the piles of clothes on his floor, seeking his cleanest pair of pants while cursing their shitty washing machine for breaking down after thirteen years of halfway decent use. He sniffs at the pits of his shirt and decides it's good enough to wear for another day before wriggling into a pair of pants and pulling on his least-stiff pair of socks. He's trying to get his dream out of his head, trying to will himself into a state of presentable…ness, but nothing's working.

He pulls on a ratty old sweater that he stole from Kevin a while back. He's since gotten rid of his trademark orange—it's flashy and too many guys used to grab their junk and ask if Kenny wanted to suck them off when he wore it. He likes gray just fine anyway, and when put together with his Dropkick Murphys shirt and his stained jeans and his scuffed up work boots, it's… Okay, Stan's right, he looks like a trailer trash punk, but it's better than peacocking and drawing unnecessary attention to oneself, right? Right.

Kenny walks with Karen to the bus stop, but doesn't stay there long. Stan pulls up in his mom's old Volvo and honks long and hard. It makes Kenny smile and flip him off, and Karen tells him to go.

"I like riding the bus with Ruby still," she reassures him. "I'll see you later."

Kenny gives her a wave and hops into Stan's car, kicking his feet up on the dash and pulling his hood up over his head as Stan peels away down the road.

"Can you believe we made it to senior year, dude?" Stan asks amusedly, drumming his hands on the steering wheel and leaning back in his seat. "Gotta be honest, I didn't think we'd last this long."

"Fuck it, man, I don't think I have," Kenny says with a relieved sort of smile as he runs his fingers through his hair. It's greasy, and he should've showered this morning, except he'd been too busy pulling his pud to think that one through.

His balls kind of ache as his thoughts flit back to the dream, but he quickly stamps it out.

"Okay, quick stop dude," Stan says, "We gotta pick up Butters. His mom says he can't use the car."

Kenny feels his face immediately color at the mention of Butters' name. Butters Stotch, the kid who ass-fucked Kenny in his dreams last night. They're picking him up and taking him to school today. Fantastic. Thinking on it, it makes total sense. Why wouldn't his fucking life go this way, you know?

"Seriously?" Kenny finds himself whining. He knows he sounds like a two year old, but he doesn't think he can actually look at Butters without getting a hard-on right now.

"Dude, what's your deal with him?" Stan frowns. "I know he's kind of weird and everything, but you don't need to be such a dick to him."

"I can't do the smiles today, Stan," Kenny shakes his head as they roll to a stop outside the Stotch residence. "I can't fucking do it, man."

Stan smiles as he pulls out his phone to text Butters, "Why, too distracting?"

"Who the fuck smiles that much!" Kenny protests, even thought he knows it's a weak as shit argument. As much as Butters pisses him off, Kenny doesn't believe in blindly hating people, no matter how much they smile, which is why he concedes. "I'll be nice," he says as Butters comes out of his house and walks toward the car with a cheerful spring in his step. Kenny will bet anything he's whistling, the hopeless little fruit.

He's in those same jeans from yesterday, with those same yellow shoes. He's wearing an all-too stylish black leather jacket over a brightly colored shirt… He's fucking good-looking. It was the biggest fucking upset amongst the female population of Park County High School when he'd turned up the first day of sophomore year as attractive as he was.

"Hey fellas," Butters greets them happily as he settles into the back seat. "Ready for our last first day of high school ever?"

"Ready as I'll ever be," Stan nods and looks in the rearview at Butters as he drives away. "How's your week been?"

"Oh, just fine," Butters shrugs, "My aunt's comin' into town this weekend… I guess she's got a work thing to go to in Denver, but she's also takin' me to dinner for my birthday."

Kenny finds himself sinking lower and lower into his seat. It's residual from the dream, he tells himself. That's why his pants are getting tighter and his lungs are closing up, because he's still not completely awake.

"Cool story, bro," is how Kenny attempts to stave off the blood rushing to his cock, and Stan shoots him a look. There's a beat of silence before Butters pipes up, "I don't know who shoved all that sand up your butthole, but it sure has made you cranky."

Stan breaks out into uproarious laughter while Kenny sinks down further, drawing the strings on his hood tight and resolving to stay like that until the motherfucking apocalypse comes.

He keeps his mouth shut for the whole ride to school, while Butters and Stan discuss something about drama club; Stan's involvement in theater came as no surprise, since Wendy had been an active participant from the get-go and he actually likes all that singing and performing crap. He's been trying to get Kenny to join for the last three years, and Kenny wouldn't be surprised if he and Butters have some elaborate plan to capture him and put him on stage.

When they get to school, Kenny doesn't wait for Stan or Butters before he walks around to the back of the school. He needs a cigarette desperately, and people to be around who don't talk about singing and dancing, or spend free time with dicks down their throats. That's what all drama guys do, right? Kenny takes out a cigarette from his near-empty pack and taps it a few times on the palm of his hand before slipping it between his lips.

He goes toward the back wall, where the familiar figures of Eric Cartman and Kyle Broflovski are leaning up against the dull red bricks, each sucking on the ends of their own cigarettes and looking to be in heated debate. As he gets closer, he can hear them arguing about something that sounds way too academic for Kenny's liking, but it's better than being around Wonderqueers.

"Hey, guys," he says as he approaches them and lights up. The first drag is always the best, he finds, and he's more than happy that Cartman and Kyle barely acknowledge his presence amidst their quarrel.

"That's not the point of socialism and you fucking know it, fatass."

"The hell it's not, Kahl!" Cartman shoots back as Kenny leans against the wall beside Kyle. It's like white noise by now, more calming than anything he's ever heard.

"What the fuck are you guys even talking about," Kenny stifles a yawn.

"Our AP Government summer assignment," Kyle rolls his eyes, seemingly done now with the entire conversation. "He's being retarded."

"I am not!" Cartman bellows back. They re-launch into their argument full throttle, and Kenny can't be bothered to care. It offers up a nice distraction from his cruddy morning, and even after all three of them have finished smoking they stay there. Kenny checks his phone—they still have fifteen more minutes before the first bell rings, and as long as he doesn't have to go to homeroom yet and sit with the ever chatty Butters and Stan, he thinks he'll be okay.

After a few minutes, Wendy and Gary come around the back of the school too, hanging a 'welcome back' poster for their student government class. It's cool, until Wendy spots Cartman and Kyle and feels it's necessary to stalk over like a woman on a mission.

She's tall and slim, like the kinds of girls everyone always thinks should be models or something. Kenny thinks she's pretty enough, but then she opens her mouth and gets scary and Kenny's not sure he could deal with someone who's so intense about everything all the fucking time.

"What's up, assholes?" she braces her hands on her hips and scowls. Out of the corner of his eye, Kenny can see Kyle and Cartman doing a really shitty job of covering up their laughter. "Do either of you know who tagged a bunch of dicks on the inside of my locker?"

Cartman snorts as Kyle bites his lip and shuts his eyes.

"Wendy, what are you talking about?" Cartman asks, false innocence in his voice. "School just started today."

"Someone must've done that at the end of last year," Kyle shrugs and bites on his thumbnail. Wendy just smiles, taking it all in stride.

"That's right, go ahead and laugh," she nods. "But I'm gonna take you bitches and eat you for breakfast this year, you got that? I'm going to be valedictorian. Me. I'm the one who works for it, I'm the one who wants it, and you two are just being assholes."

"Shyeah right," Cartman scoffs. "I totally work hard for it, Wendy. I wanna go to fuckin' Harvard," he can't keep a straight face at that last part. He and Kyle crack up and have to lean on each other for support, they're laughing so hard. Kenny doesn't get it, to be perfectly honest, and from the way Gary's looking at him and shrugging beside him, he doesn't either.

Cartman, sure. He only takes all the same classes as Wendy and Kyle and works so hard so he can give them a run for their money, but Kyle? Kyle actually gives a fuck about school and wants to do well. Kenny didn't think he'd resort to petty psych-outs like Cartman.

"When did they start getting chummy?" Gary asks, arms folded over his chest and looking entirely confused. Normally he doesn't stick with Kenny's crowd, hangs with nice guys like Butters and Clyde, but even he's not impervious to the obvious camaraderie.

"I don't know, man," Kenny sighs and shoulders his backpack. Not even to homeroom yet and this is shaping up to be a pretty lousy year. He doesn't say goodbye to Cartman or Kyle as he leaves, and sure as shit doesn't expect Gary to tag along close behind him.

"Wendy's pretty smart and everything, but she's sure scary," he offers as segue into polite conversation, and Kenny almost takes the bait. Gary's not a bad guy either—it's hard to be when you spend so much of your life being a Mormon, Kenny thinks. He's blonde, built, runs Key Club, plays baseball in the spring and football in the fall, and he's just one of those guys you can't hate, but don't necessarily want to love.

"Yeah," Kenny just mutters and walks a little faster.

"She's sure pretty too," Gary keeps up with him. Kenny's legs are longer, but Gary's got a brisk, athletic gait.

"I don't know, I'd be too scared to sleep with her," Kenny shrugs. It's a good excuse, he thinks, because saying he'd never sleep with a girl Stan once dated, however long ago it may have been, sounds a little too gay for him right now. Gary seems a little to amused by this, though, and it makes Kenny's blood boil. People tell him off for saying shit like that—Wendy's pretty choice, and under different circumstances, Kenny likes to think that he would totally bone her.

"Hey, chin up," Gary says when he catches the look on Kenny's face. When he fails to do so, Gary frowns and stops, which somehow compels Kenny to stop too. "Hey, man, are you doing okay?"

"Why the fuck do you care?" Kenny scoffs. He could actually probably tell Gary what's been on his mind without too many ramifications. The guy's like a lockbox when it comes to shit like this.

"I don't know," Gary shrugs. "You look like you could use a friend. That's what I am; I come by it naturally." He smiles at that last bit, and it actually gives Kenny pause. Someone cares enough about him to ask if he's okay. Someone would actually sit there and listen to every word he had to say, if indeed he had anything worth talking about.

He doesn't though.

"It's nothing," he says and turns to walk away.

"Kenny?" Gary follows him, running to catch up with him a bit as he walks in the back door to the school building. "No offense or anything, but I don't think it's nothing. You look really beat up, dude."

"Dude, fuck off!" Kenny wheels around, stopping Gary dead in his tracks and getting the attention of a few surrounding freshmen.

"Look, I'm not trying to be a dick or anything," Gary holds up his hands. "Just, sometimes it's helpful to talk to someone, y'know? I'm friends with the other peer counselors, okay, you don't have to talk to me—"

"And what the fuck makes you think I wanna talk?" Kenny snaps back. He's taller than Gary; it's only by a little bit, but somehow it makes Kenny think he can get away with shoving his shoulder. Gary moves along with it and looks down where Kenny's just touched him, raising an eyebrow and cocking his head.

"Are you serious right now?" Gary asks, sounding entirely unafraid and it makes Kenny's vision go red around the edges. He throws off his bag and holds out his arms, putting on the macho dickhead thing he's seen time and time again from his dad and brother. This is how guys act.

Somewhere inside of him he knows he doesn't believe that, but he's not really thinking properly right now. Right now, all he can process is that Gary thinks he has something to talk about, and this? Whatever it is? It's not worth anything, much less a fucking conversation.

"Damn fucking straight I'm serious, fucker," Kenny scowls and pushes Gary again.

"Dude, I'm not," Gary laughs a little now and folds his arms across his chest. "I'm not going to fight you."

"Go ahead, I fucking dare you," Kenny continues, louder this time. People are definitely staring now, but he can't be fucked to care. Gary's smug face is rubbing him in all the wrong ways and it's making his fingers itch like crazy. Before he knows it, he's making a fist and—fuck—he clocks Gary right in the cheek. Gary takes it well, like he was expecting it, but also seems to retaliate without too much thought. He's got a mean right hook that makes Kenny go down like a sack of potatoes.

Everyone watching is in uproar. They're not a terribly big school, but there's enough of them to draw in a decent crowd. Kenny's face is red hot, though he's not sure whether it's from rage or the fact that he drew more attention than he'd intended.

He doesn't have time to dwell on it before he's being hauled up off the floor. He gets a whiff of familiar cologne and clean-smelling shampoo, and sure enough it's Butters has him on his feet. Kenny shrugs him off, but can see that Stan's over with Gary, grabbing his jaw and inspecting the red mark on his cheek.

Kenny supposes he should suspect something then, what with the way Stan's fingers sit gingerly on Gary's skin, how Gary so subtly leans into the touch, but he's got a pulsing ache in his jaw and he can feel the heat of Butters standing behind him.

Before he knows it, he and Gary are sitting outside of the dean's office, both with ice packs on their faces and refusing to speak.

Okay, so the refusal is more Kenny's thing than it is Gary's, but the fucker seems to finally be picking up on Kenny's social cues and getting that he's not into talking.

At least, he is until he comes out with a, "I didn't mean to get you so hard, man."

"Don't," Kenny just says.

"I can't help it," Gary sighs. "You hit me, I just get into defense mode. I've taken too many years of Tae Kwan Do not to, y'know?"

"It's fucking fine, asshole, Jesus!" Kenny shouts just as the dean opens up the door and gives them a long, hard scowl. And okay, he's looking more at Kenny than he is at Gary when he does that, but he calls Gary in first. Kenny figures it's because it's Gary's first infraction and Kenny's millionth.

It's well into first period by now, and it so happens to be the same period that Butters is an office assistant. Because of course it is. He comes to sit beside Kenny in Gary's empty spot and just looks at him. Kenny still refuses to talk, just sits there and white-knuckles the frozen sponge on his face. Butters sighs a little and braces his elbows on his knees.

"If you'd let me check for swelling—"

"Fuck off," Kenny spits. He doesn't need this shit right now.

"I'm just trying to be a friend," Butters scowls, looking genuinely upset now. It's a little bit of a relief—Kenny thinks that if he were smiling right now, he'd clock him too.

"I don't need any fucking friends right now, Butters," Kenny says a little too loudly, and he's given a warning look from one of the office workers. Kenny sinks in his seat and runs his fingers through his hair again.

If he'd showered this morning, he would've been able to jerk off in peace. He could've cleared his mind and that would've been that.

Scratch that—coming to the thought of Butters fucking him probably would've pissed him off even more.

Butters looks like he's about to respond, but the dean comes back out, sending out a resigned-looking Gary and beckoning Kenny forth. Gary sits down beside Butters, but Butters doesn't pay him too much attention. Knowing him, he's going to press his ear to the door as soon as it's been shut.

God, Kenny just does not care anymore.

"All right, Kenny," says the dean as he sits down behind his desk. "This is a new record for you. I'm impressed."

"I do aim to please," Kenny nods and removes the ice from his jaw. It's a little tender, but he's definitely had worse.

"Do you want to tell me why you hit Gary?" the dean leans back and folds his arms. "Or are we going to do what we always do and just suspend you for a few days and think nothing more of it?"

"That," Kenny points and nods. "That sounds fantastic. Write me up for one of those."

The dean laughs a little and steeples his fingers, "I'm getting pretty tired of your shit, McCormick."

Wait. That's… not right.

"'scuse me?" Kenny asks uncertainly.

"How's expulsion sound to you?" the dean asks, now very grave, and Kenny's eyes get big. Yeah, he's kind of a fuck-up, but he needs to be in school. Otherwise he just sits at home all day with his brother and his dad. If he's not in school, that's his fucking one-way ticket, man. He loses every single chance he has to get the fuck out of that house and live a somewhat decent life.

Big a pipe dream as that is to begin with.

"No," he just shakes his head. "No fucking way, you can't do that."

"Then I'd love to hear an alternative," the dean throws up his hands. "Kenny," he begins and starts ticking off on his fingers, "I can't have you starting fights, you don't want to tell me why you do it, you don't seem to want to stop… my hands are tied."

"I'm bored," Kenny supplies quickly. That seems like something these people love hearing. Say what you want about him, Kenny McCormick is actually very adept at kissing ass. "School's boring, I need…" he gulps. "I need something that'll occupy my time. Or something."

The dean raises his eyebrows and studies him for a few moments. Honestly, Kenny's talking out of his ass in the worst way and he won't be surprised if this is the last time he's on this campus. It would make today the best day ever, that's for fucking sure. Then the dean leans forward, folding his arms over his desk and looks at Kenny over the top of his glasses.

"I will have you know that I'm not stupid," the dean purses his lips and drums his knuckles on the desk. "But I'm absolutely dying to see what you're capable of. So, I'm gonna suspend you for a week, but,"

He takes a pad of paper out of his drawer and scrawls something on it. "You're bored?" he asks, pseudo-sympathy lacing his voice as he stands and motions for Kenny to follow him down to the counseling office. "Then we're going to shift around your schedule, and then you're going to sign up for at least two extracurricular activities. If that doesn't occupy your time enough, and you still find yourself getting into fights, then we'll have ourselves a dialogue. Sound good?"

"Shift?" Kenny raises his eyebrows. "What the hell are you shifting?"

When Kenny has his new class schedule in hand, wrought with advanced placement classes, and is sent home with his mother, he can't find it in himself to listen too closely to her ranting and raving. It's just about how he's no better than his lazy-ass no-good deadbeat father anyway, which he's heard about a thousand times before. He can't look away from what has to be an exact duplicate of Kyle Broflovski's timetable in his hands.

"What in the fresh hell is AP Art History," he mutters to himself instead. "How is that going to help me do anything."

"Kenneth McCormick, are you even listening to me?" his mom shouts as she comes to a stop at a red light.

"I don't wanna talk about it, ma," he mutters. He can't talk to his mom about this, anyway. Favorite or not, there are just some things a son doesn't share with his mother, and this is one of them.

Man, AP English Literature… that's gonna be a fucking hoot, he can already tell.

"You're suspended a week, and all you can worry about is your classes?" his mom scowls. "Hell, the worst your goddamned brother ever got was four days."

"I trumped him by a day, ma, bring out the handcuffs" Kenny rolls his eyes, and that gets him smacked, right where Gary got him on the jaw.

"Don't you dare be smart with me, young man," she warns. "Hell, I wouldn't wanna be in your shoes right now, goin' home and havin' to tell your father what you did." Kenny shifts a bit, tucking the piece of paper into his sweater pocket. The fight he'll be fine with, the suspension he won't mind—he'll balk at the new books Kenny had to pick up while he was waiting for his mom, though.

These are the kinds of books Kyle carries with him everywhere, the ones without pictures, with teeny tiny print that makes Kenny's eyes hurt (because okay he actually needs glasses and no one can afford them). They make his bag heavy and his back is already hurting.

Books like that? They're for those intellectual faggots who're taking everything away from hardworking Americans; his dad's been saying so for years.

Kenny's wanted desperately to ask why, then, Stuart feels he of all people is being attacked, but that'll get him a nice swift belt to hide, and he'd rather that didn't happen.

When they get back to the house, his mom can't stay. She's got a job at Walmart that she's had for the last two months and would like very much to keep, so she drops Kenny at the curb and tells him that his dad should be asleep for at least a few more hours.

He's not, though. Kenny gets into the house and sees his dad on the couch, Pabst in his hand and looking over at Kenny like he's a leftover acid trip from the fucking seventies.

"'the fuck are you doing home?"

"Got suspended," Kenny shrugs and shifts his bag on his shoulder. There are four big-ass books in there, more than he's ever had to carry in his life, and he's trying not to let on. English, US Government, Art History, and fucking Environmental Science. What the shit is his life right now?

"For what," his dad grunts.

"Fight," Kenny shrugs, and as expected his dad breaks out into a grin.

"Good for you, son," he says. "Rule one of being a man: you never let anyone push you around. You assert your dominance. How long you out for?"

"Week," Kenny replies and walks toward the stairs. His dad lets out an amused 'whoop!' that's so painfully white trash that Kenny actually gets a little pain in his forehead.

"Goddamn, boy, who'd you hit?"

"The, uh," Kenny runs his fingers over the cracked paint on the banister. "The Mormon kid."

"Mm," his dad nods. "Good, someone needs to teach those fuckin' weirdoes a lesson."

"Yeah, power to the people," Kenny mutters and raises a fist in solidarity, knowing his dad's not watching, and goes upstairs.

"Hey!" his dad calls when he's about halfway down the hall. "If you're around for a week, you're not sitting up in your room and whacking off! You're gonna help me fix shit up in this house."

"Fine!" Kenny calls back. He knows that means he's going to be stuck fixing the washer and dryer (or trying to, at least), and cleaning out the gutters and patching the roof… everything his mom has bitched at his dad to do in the last year has officially moved from a Stuart job to a Kenny job.

What's he supposed to do? He can't say 'no, I have homework to do'; a. his dad would never believe it, and b. then he'd know about the goddamned fucking smart books and burn them on a fucking pyre in the front yard. Matilda Wormwood status, that's what Kenny's life has become.

He cracks the spine of his English book—a thick tome filled to the brim with short stories and poetry and plays, and just looking at it kind of makes him start falling asleep. He looks at his phone to check the time, since he has to be at work around four, and raises an eyebrow when he sees a missed text from Stan.

'sux about suspension and the new classes an shit. i know where you can find a good extracurric tho.'

Kenny scowls. He knew Butters had been listening at the door, the nosy little fuckhead, and of course he couldn't wait to tell Stan. They're best friends or some shit now, right? He has half a mind to text back 'hell fucking no'. To put drama club on top of advanced classes is to actively destroy everything about himself. He'll do shop and run cross-country or something.

God, today would've just been so much better if it hadn't been for Butters fucking Stotch.