Soundtrack: When I Grow Too Old To Dream – Vera Lynn

"Grandpa, we're almost at the house," announces Elizabeth – Stan's granddaughter. She and his grandson, Nathan, are driving him to a house in Florida that his retirement money bought, a place where he's supposed to relax and live the rest of his days in peace. There aren't many days left. Stan Marsh was born in 1922, and now it's 2012. In two months, he'll be ninety years old. That's too many damn years, if you ask Stan.

To remind you nice life can be, his daughter told him. Sharon looks like Stan does, or did, when he was young, anyway. Sharon thinks he's depressed because he appreciates good scotch.

"Grandpa?" Elizabeth says – she must have called him before, because she sounds irritated. Elizabeth always sounds irritated.

Stan glances away from the window and back at Elizabeth. She looks a lot like Wendy did when she was that young, tall, with long dark hair. She has Stan's blue eyes, though. He hears people sometimes say that their children and grandchildren are their mark on the world, but Stan doesn't think that way. No matter where Sharon got her oval face and blue eyes, or where Elizabeth got her dark hair, their features are their own. They never belonged to anybody else.

"That's wonderful," he says, even though he doesn't know what she said to him.

Stan doesn't care where they put him at this point. He's three-quarters of the way dead already. His family just wants him to die someplace nice, maybe. But they're not staying – they never do. No matter how nice Stan's house in Florida is, he'll be dying alone.

Stan never pictured it this way.

"This is it," Nathan says, pointing at the house from his place in the backseat.

The house is a tiny thing, a little yellow place with a new roof and a green lawn. Rows of flowers grow in front of the porch – not that Stan will be able to take care of them with his bad back. Nathan said that he and Elizabeth had been down to fix it up before Stan moved in.

Elizabeth helps Stan out of the car and up onto the front porch, while Nathan caries his cane. There's only one step. That's nice. It'll be easier on Stan's back and bum leg, where he got shot in 1944. Seems like everything's going bad – his joints, his eyesight…even his mind seems to be waning these days, drifting out to sea when he's supposed to be on earth with the rest of humanity.

The inside of the house smells like new paint. There are few personal touches. It's all new furniture and boring beige paint. Elizabeth helps him sit down on a new chair in front of a new television. Above the TV is the first nice thing that Stan has seen all day, a photograph of him and Wendy, taken a few weeks after their wedding. They were so young, and so frivolous. The Stanley Marsh in that photograph had no idea what he'd left behind in Germany, though soon, he would. The boy in that photo had no idea, not a goddamned clue, that doing the right thing was the worst idea that he'd had in his life. And maybe Stan's worst idea got him his grandchildren, but those grandchildren are leaving him behind. Wendy's dead, and Stan will die without anybody in the world. It's depressing. He wishes he'd just kick it already, but some days, it seems like his body is waiting for the right time.

"Is there booze in the house?" Stan asks gruffly.

"The doctor said you're not supposed to drink," chides Elizabeth.

"Fuck the doctor," Stan retorts, "I'm eighty-nine years old. I'm dead anyway, might as well help it along. Not like I'm allowed to drive anymore, anyway."

"Don't talk like that," Elizabeth says, and she has the audacity to look offended.

Nathan holds out a hand, stopping her before she can start an argument. He says, "I left a bottle of scotch on the kitchen table."

"You did what?" Elizabeth demands.

"Let me enjoy the rest of my life," complains Stan, and she quiets.

After a beat of silence, Elizabeth asks, "Are you going to be okay here on your own?"

"I thought you were sending a nurse," Stan says, knowing that he's too old to manage things by himself. It bothers him. He wishes that he could hurry up and die, but his life is dragging out for as long as possible.

Elizabeth sighs and says, "She's going to be here tomorrow morning. Will you be okay until then?"

"I'm not a child," Stan snaps, though some days, this doesn't seem true.

"I know that," Elizabeth responds, but he can tell that she doesn't agree with him. She exhales and leans forward to hug him. Stan doesn't hug back, but she still says, "I love you, grandpa. We'll see you in a few months, okay?"

God willing, he'll die before it comes to that.

"Okay," Stan responds.

Nathan hugs him too, and as quickly as they arrived at the house, his grandchildren are gone. The noise of their rental car's engine rumbling to life sounds outside as Stan stares tiredly at the photograph of him with Wendy. She looks happy in the picture, but soon after she'd never be happy with him again, it seemed. It wasn't Wendy's fault. Stan was never happy with himself, not even now. He doesn't know that he's been happy since 1945. He should never have married, should never have had children. All that came of it was a family that resented him and parked him in a house far, far away so that he could die someplace convenient.

Stan doesn't move from that chair for a long time. Getting up requires preparation. It's only when he's hungry that he pushes himself onto his feet, snatching his cane from the place against the chair where Nathan left it for him.

Instead of checking the refrigerator, Stan spots the bottle of scotch on the kitchen table. It's an expensive bottle – thoughtful of Nathan, especially knowing how little his grandson cares for him. Stan checks the lower cabinets for a glass to pour it in and finds nothing, so he takes the entire bottle out to the back porch. He sits on the plastic lawn chair in the corner. Here, he can see the ocean. He thinks that the ocean view was supposed to be a thoughtful touch, but instead Stan wishes the rolling waves were the mountains. He belongs in Colorado, not here, but here's where they put him.

Stan cracks open the bottle of scotch and tips a swallow down his throat. The sun sinks down to the horizon. It's pretty, he supposes.

Stan gets through a third of the scotch before he's too drunk and exhausted to move.

He falls asleep on the porch.

Stan dreams of red hair and bones sticking out from skin like paper.

"Mr. Marsh, thank God!"

Stan jerks awake.

A young blonde woman with small breasts and thick hips stands before him. She says, "I thought you were dead!"

"I wish," remarks Stan, "Are you the nurse?"

"Yes, sir. I'm Charlie," she responds, "I brought you your medication." She sticks out her hands, one holding a glass of water, the other holding a gaggle of pills. Stan doesn't bother fighting. He takes the pills and downs them.

Charlie asks, "Are you hungry?"

Stan shrugs, and Charlie says, "I'll fix you something."

With a heave, Stan takes up his cane, and follows her inside.

XXX

Stan likes Charlie. She's nice to him even when he's an asshole back, and as long as he takes his medications, she brings him a new bottle of scotch every Friday that she pays for out of her own pocket.

"You like getting me drunk," Stan accuses on Friday evening. By now, she's usually turned on the television for him and moved on to make him something for dinner, but tonight, Charlie sat down beside his armchair and split the scotch with him. She looks tired. Stan wonders for a moment if he did that, make her tired, but decides that he shouldn't care. She's got years ahead of her. He's got jack shit.

Charlie laughs a little and smiles. She responds, "No, Stanley. But I do like hearing your stories."

Stan forgets which stories he's told her and which ones he's still kept to himself. Charlie seems to like hearing about the misadventures of Stan as a shitty father to his three children, and of the trouble he got into as a teenager (there was a lot of it).

"You've never told me about the war," she says, "About your leg."

"I don't talk about the war," Stan tells her, "which you well know." This isn't the first time that his nurse has asked him to talk about that time. She's a history student at some nearby university taking a gap year to save some money.

Charlie replies, "I know. I still want to hear about it."

Stan is tempted. He doesn't know why Charlie can coax stories out of him while he remains close-mouthed to his own family. Maybe it's because he knows that his children loved their mother, and that his grandchildren loved their grandmother – not that Stan didn't care for Wendy. If he didn't enjoy her company, he wouldn't have married her. It was just that he couldn't love her, not really, but back then, being homosexual was a matter kept strictly hush-hush. And Stan kept his preferences tucked far away, so nobody would ever know.

His brain seems to shut down for a moment, because Stan says, "You want a story? I'll give you a story about the war."

"You will?" Charlie asks. She looks surprised.

"Yes," Stan responds, "But you're not to tell my family, you hear?"

"Of course," she nods.

XXX

April 29, 1945

Stan's leg was stiff as his company marched toward the concentration camp that lay a short distance outside of the city Dachau. After he'd healed from the bullet to the leg, they'd deemed him fit enough to return to duty, and placed him with the 157th Infantry Regiment, in the designated reserve unit. He'd been with them for a few months, now, and made some good friends – in particular the hardy Private Kenny McCormick, who seemed to be able to bounce back from any battle without so much as a scratch. He didn't understand during that march what, exactly, the camp was. Kenny seemed to know, though, his lips sealed tightly into a grim line.

From the outside, the camp looked like any of the other German outposts that Stan had come across. It had a high fence and guard towers. Its main gate was closed and locked, and the soldiers at the front were forced to scale the wall.

Rifle fire – Stan swallowed the lump of nerves in his throat and followed the command to shoot at the SS officers firing from the guard towers. The fire didn't last long. Stan climbed over the wall with the rest of the troops, and landed with a thump on the other side of the thick walls surrounding Dachau.

"Jesus," Stan whispered to Kenny.

Kenny responded to this, "I know."

What first caught Stan's eyes were the number of train cars filled with skeletal bodies, hundreds of them, so many that his head spun and he thought that he might throw up. A layer of fine coal dust covered the ground, and in the air hung the smell of rot, of death. It frightened him despite the carnage that he'd already seen – because Stan had never seen anything like this.

Stan had thought that the inmates at the camp would be happy to see the Americans, as so many other places had been. In some towns, people surrounded their companies and waved handkerchiefs and food at them while they cheered.

But this place was full of bodies.

The inmates look like living skeletons, something out of one of the comic books that Kenny carried on him to read in their down time. They didn't move as the Americans spilled out into the camp – they stared, unspeaking, standing on brittle legs. Their bones stuck through their skin.

"Come on," Kenny said, "We're gotta round up the Gerries."

Stan tore his gaze away from the ghost inmates and marched with Kenny and a clutch of other men. They retrieved two German soldiers that had been hiding behind one of the wooden barracks, and rounded them up with the rest of their division.

The battle seemed oddly short – Gerries surrendered within instants of being spotted by American troops, and came to stand in line with their companions, where they were guarded by a handful of young privates.

What happened next rattled Stan, shook him to his very core, made his insides twist up as thought tearing themselves apart in his gut. There were whole rooms of dead bodies. The coal dust on the ground came from a crematorium, where the dead were taken after being locked in the gas chambers.

"What do we do?" Stan asked Kenny. He felt his eyes well up, and at the sight of a mangled body of a child, the tears spilled over. Stan cried into his hands, repeating the same words over and over, just asking Kenny what do we do.

"I don't know, Stan," Kenny responded, and he placed his hand on Stan's shoulder, "I don't know." Kenny always knew what to do – this was new. His jaw tightened with rage and his blue eyes flashed as they stood tucked together.

The prisoners of the camp seemed the grasp the gravity of what was happening, then, and in streams they poured out of the wooden structures and ran at the gates. People were torn apart, shouting, screaming and crying – none of the happiness that Stan had pictured on the march here. The shouting seemed to last for days, but the inmates quieted after a mere ten minutes, slumping down, exhausted. They'd given up. Stan willed himself not to cry again, but he wasn't certain he'd be able to stop himself.

It took an hour to get everything in order. Stan and Kenny's commander posted them at the prison gate, afraid that the inmates of Dachau would tear it down. Stan pulled out his English-German dictionary to explain to them in broken sentences that they couldn't release them immediately, but that food and nurses would arrive soon to help them.

"I don't think they understand you."

Stan's eyes shifted to one of the prisoners. Like the others, he looked like something undead, with sunken, shadowed eyes and his head shaven. He looked young, around the same age as Kenny and Stan, but he seemed a thousand years older. His voice was accented heavily, but his English was fluent: "Tell me, and I will tell them."

"Oh," Stan managed, "Um. We've got orders that we can't release you, yet, but we've radioed for food and medical help. They'll be here soon."

The prisoner shouts behind him to the people. They don't seem to react.

Stan's heart felt weighed down in his chest, sinking down into his stomach as he watched them. He couldn't take it. He took his rations from his pack, despite Kenny's protests that he would need them later, and passed them through the fence. The boy that had spoken German for them passed on everything that he was handed, until Stan said, "Please. Take something for yourself."

"I am younger," he responded, "I would rather see the food go to people that need it more, but…thank you."

And stupidly, to this, Stan had said, "I'm Private Stanley Marsh. You can call me Stan, though, if you want."

"Good to meet you, Private Stanley Marsh," replied the young man, "I am Kyle Broflovski."

Jewish – not that Stan was surprised. He spoke with Kyle through the fence and learned that before the war, he'd been going to university. He wanted to become an engineer. Instead, he'd been taken and imprisoned, where the Germans used his own knowledge against him. Stan wanted to cry again, for about the hundredth time since he'd climbed over Dachau's walls. Though it wasn't perfect, his life back home was easy. He had a pretty girlfriend that wrote to him often, and a dog waiting for him to come back home. He had a good family full of decent people back in Colorado. He told Kyle some of this, and confessed about Wendy – she was Stan's best friend, he told Kyle, but he didn't want to marry her like his family wanted him to do.

"Why not?" asked Kyle, "You said she is beautiful and that you care for her."

"She is. And I do," Stan replied, "But not – not like that."

"Oh?"

And somehow, though he'd never been able to say it to his family or any of his friends, Stan came clean to Kyle. He said, his voice low in case Kenny could hear him, "I don't like women like that. I'm not supposed to say so, could get me into trouble around here."

Kyle chuckled.

It was the first good thing that Stan had heard that day, and he wanted to hold onto that chuckle forever. Kyle responded, "It is – the same for me. How I got here, in truth. My lover sold me out to the Nazis."

Stan didn't know what to say to this, but he didn't have time to think about it. A reporter was at the prison gates, lifting the latch.

"Lady, don't!" Kenny shouted, but it was too late. Prisoners streamed out, and their commander shouted at Stan and Kenny to shoot them. Stan cast a frantic glance between Kyle, who had not moved from his same place, to the officer, who glared down at Stan. Stan obeyed. He felt flayed inside, watching people fall to the ground just as they might have been freed at last. The struggle was thankfully brief, and they close the gate again.

For hours, Stan stood sentry at the prison gates. Sometimes he and Kyle spoke to each other, other times they kept quiet. When Stan pulled his water out for a drink, he gave the rest to Kyle, and he drank too – but he still passed the water on to the others.

More soldiers arrived at the front of the camp. Stan's bad leg was stiff and sore, and he'd kill to rest it. He was hungry, and exhausted, but felt bad for thinking those things when he saw the people gathered behind him at the gate.

A private from their company jogged up to them and stuck his thumb toward the fresh troops. He said, "We're being relieved. They say we're being moved up to the fight in Munich."

Stan looked back at Kyle, who still stood in the same place that he'd been standing in for hours.

"I," Stan begun, but his voice dropped off. He said, "It was good to meet you."

Kyle's bone-thin arm reached through the gate to stop Stan before he marched to follow the rest of the soldiers in his company. He said, "Stan. Wait. Give me your address."

"Why?" queried Stan, confused.

"I want to write to you," Kyle told him.

Stan wanted that too. He made it quick, scrawling the address in pencil onto a biscuit package. He smiled at Kyle and told him goodbye, and then said more quietly that he couldn't wait for his letters.

It was the truth.

XXX

Present Day

"Pour me another, will you?" Stan asks Charlie, lifting his empty scotch glass.

Charlie obeys, but eagerly questions, "What happened after that?"

"The war ended," Stan tells her, "Kenny disappeared in Munich. No idea where he went, but I doubt he died. I like to think that he made off with a German girl or two."

"But…what about Kyle?" she asks, "Did he write to you."

"Yes," Stan says. He feels raw at the thought. His letters from Kyle are stashed in a shoebox in the closet of his bedroom here. He made certain that the letters came with him to Florida. They're the most valuable thing he owns, better than gold or silver – or even great scotch.

Charlie's brows sweep together, and she asks, "Are you going to tell me about it?"

"After I drink this," replies Stan.

He doesn't want to tell the story sober.

XXX

1952

Denver, Colorado

Stan received his first letter from Kyle in 1950, a week after he married Wendy. It detailed his life after the liberation of Dachau. He'd moved from Germany to Great Britain, and there was finishing his degree in engineering. He said that he'd thought of Stan often since they day where they talked at the prison gate, and that he hoped Stan was doing well.

Stan responded in turn that, yes, his life was good. He talked about marrying Wendy, and said that he wished there was another way for him to live. He didn't think there was. He told Kyle about the job that he'd gotten, an office gig at a newspaper. It paid decent money and the work was simple. He liked it.

For an entire year they traded letters.

And after that year, the letters changed.

Stan's last letter to Kyle detailed Wendy' pregnancy, and how he didn't know if he could be a dad, and that he didn't like keeping such a big piece of him a secret from the world.

Kyle's next letter was a love letter.

I think about you all time, it said, I remember your eyes most. I could tell that you'd been crying, and I think that it might have given me a little hope.

My heart feels full when I think of you.

I wish you didn't live so far away.

Kyle's letters made Stan feel things that he'd thought he would never get to feel. He was full to the brim with something foreign but wonderful, a buzz. Half of the time he felt drunk on the emotion. Wendy asked him why he smiled so much now, and Stan told her that he was excited about the baby. She didn't believe him, but she didn't complain.

And in November of 1952: I bought a ticket to travel to the United States. I will come to Denver for you, Stan. I will finally see you again.

Their meeting took place in December, during Kyle's break from university for the winter holidays. Stan lied to Wendy, as he'd lied for ages, and told her that he had a business trip in California. Instead, he booked a room at the Brown Palace Hotel for two entire weeks. His heart beat with excitement as he'd checked in and mounted the stairs to their third-floor room. It had only one bed. He hoped that Kyle liked that.

Hours of anxious pacing passed, and by evening, Stan thought that he should pack up and return to Wendy and little Sharon – what was he even doing here? This was ridiculous. This was a bad idea, a dream, the notion of children. He shouldn't be indulging his fantasies, when they were wrong. He was wrong.

And just as Stan reached the doorknob of the hotel room, suitcase in hand, a soft knock rapped against the other side. Stan dropped the suitcase and tugged the door open.

Kyle.

It really was Kyle.

He looked so much healthier than last Stan had seen him. His face had fleshed out, and his eyes shone more brightly. They were green. Stan hadn't seen the color in Dachau.

"Your hair is red," Stan breathed, tugging Kyle inside the room. He pulled Kyle's hat off of his head, and for a long while, just stared at the curls. It was a beautiful color. Timidly, he asked, "May I touch it?"

Kyle laughed and took each of Stan's hands in his. He squeezed Stan's fingers in his before moving them up on top of his head. His hair was soft, and smelled clean. A good smell. An intoxicating smell. Stan rakes his fingers through them over and over again. He was too scared to kiss Kyle at first, even though they'd written dozens of letters describing the way that they'd kiss when they finally met again.

Kyle lifted Stan's hat from his head and tossed it onto the bed. He kissed Stan first. His kiss was nervous, but firm. Kyle tasted good. Stan coiled his arms around Kyle's body and held them close together so that he could deepen the kiss, anything to make them closer, anything to make it so that Kyle could never part from him.

Stan had never done anything with a man beyond a few stolen kisses when he'd been in high school. He'd always been afraid, but Kyle wasn't afraid at all. He tugged Stan's tie off and cast it aside, and pushed him onto the bed. He whispered in Stan's ear that he could do anything with Kyle that he wanted.

That first time that they slept together, Stan was slow. He ran his fingers over the scars that roped through each other on Kyle's back, scars from beatings that Stan didn't want to ask about. Being wrapped up in Kyle was the greatest thing he'd ever felt. He felt as though he was soaring, carried up by wings that he didn't know he had.

They did everything together. They kissed, they fucked. They fell asleep curled together underneath the sheets. They bathed together. They ate together. One night, Kyle fed Stan dessert bite by bite, and kissed him every time that he swallowed.

"I think I am in love with your lips," Kyle told him. They were naked, Kyle sitting astride Stan with his arms draped around Stan's neck. He kissed Stan and brushed back his dark hair, and then added, "I think I am in love with you."

Stan's mouth fell open at the words, but it made too much sense. He wanted to cry, or shout, or sing – something ridiculous, but instead, he flipped Kyle onto his back and kissed his throat. He said back, "I know that I'm in love with you."

It had been the happiest moment of Stan's entire life.

Who knew that he would have over sixty years after that couldn't compare?

The last day that they had together, they had sex four times, with naps in between and whispered 'I love yous' under the covers. Stan held Kyle after the last time and let him sleep in the crook of Stan's neck. Anxiety overtook Stan, making his stomach boil with a feeling of sick worry. He didn't want to go back to his wife and daughter, he wanted to live forever in Kyle's arms. But he knew that was wrong, and knew where his responsibilities laid.

Stan slid out from underneath Kyle. He tucked Kyle in and began to pack his things back into his suitcase. It was as Stan was leaving cash for Kyle to use to pay for the room that he woke.

"What are you doing?" he had asked, "What's wrong?"

"I have to leave," Stan gruffly replied.

"Run away with me," Kyle suggested. His accented words made Stan's heart split open in his chest.

"I can't," Stan had said, "I have a wife. A daughter. A job. I have responsibilities. We can't – we can't do this anymore. I'm so sorry, Kyle." Before he could hear what Kyle might have to say, Stan declared, "I love you," and threw open the door to the hotel room. He had a taxi waiting for him at the front of the hotel so that he could make a quick escape, so the goodbye didn't have to be prolonged.

It was the last time that he saw Kyle Broflovski.

And Kyle never sent him another letter.

XXX

Present Day

"Oh," Charlie says to Stan's story. And then, "Do you regret leaving?"

"Every damn day," Stan answers, "With all this Facebook shit, though, no one ever has that 'one that got away' anymore. No more long lost love. It's not possible." He's drunk, really drunk. Thank God – he couldn't handle this sober, even if he tried. He hasn't thought so hard about Kyle in years, and now he remembers why. His chest in on fire, as though somebody took a cattle brand to his heart. He didn't know it was possible to still feel like this at eighty nine years old, but then, he supposes, it seems that it is.

"I want to go to bed," Stan says.

Charlie doesn't argue with him. She helps him to the bathroom and brushes his teeth for him. She helps him into pajamas and aids him up onto his bed, where she pulls the covers over him. She says, "Have a good night, Stan. I'll be back in the morning."

But in the morning, it isn't Charlie that wakes him up for breakfast. It's a different nurse, a wide-eyed young man named Tyler that looks afraid of Stan every time that he speaks.

"Where's Charlie?" Stan asks.

Tyler brings a plate of breakfast to Stan and responds, "She's on vacation for a few weeks. Emergency, she said."

"Oh," answers Stan. He feels a little odd when he hopes that the girl is all right – he doesn't tend to give half a stinking shit about how other people are doing, but Charlie's a nice girl.

Stan misses her in the coming days. He passes the time with daytime television, mostly. He asked Tyler to take the shoebox of Kyle's letters out of the closet and set them on his bedside table, but he hasn't opened the box yet. He's afraid that if he reads them, he'll die crying. Stan doesn't want to die crying. He wants to die with a scotch in his hand and nobody left to bother him. He wants to die being left alone, which is something that maybe Charlie should have done – so that he didn't replay his brief love affair with Kyle Broflovski over and over with new endings, ending where he says that yes, he'll run away with Kyle, and they grow old together, and Stan isn't resigned to self-hatred and loneliness.

He spends a lot of time drunk, trying to forget 1945 and 1952 completely. He doesn't succeed, and on one Friday morning, Tyler finds Stan crying on the floor next to his bed, sauced beyond coherency.

"I've got good news, sir," Tyler tells Stan that day, when he helps him back onto his feet and to the kitchen table. He always calls Stan 'sir.' Stan hates it.

Tyler goes on, "Charlie is coming back tomorrow. I know you like her."

At least there's that small comfort.

He does like her, much more than frightened Tyler.

Stan finds himself looking forward to seeing Charlie as the day wears on, and it puts him in a reasonable mood, for the first time since she left. He thinks that he'll have her read Kyle's letters to him, because she knows who Kyle is, and she knows that story of how Stan met him. Nobody else in this whole world knows that – except Kyle Broflovski himself, but by now, he's probably long dead.

When Tyler helps Stan into bed that night, Stan almost smiles looking forward to the day ahead, and thinking that it would be nice to die after he's read Kyle's letters one last time.

XXX

"Good morning, Stan," Charlie greets the following morning. She helps him dress, selecting one of Stan's nicer ensembles, a suit that reminds him of the suit he wore on the first night at The Brown Palace.

"What's the occasion?" he asks, frowning as she assembles a bowtie around his neck.

Charlie grins brightly and responds, "I have a surprise for you."

Stan huffs as she guides him out to the living room, and remarks, "I hate surprises. What did you do?"

She doesn't answer, only smiles wider and tips her head toward the living room. Stan freezes in place. His lips part in surprise, because it can't be true. It isn't fucking possible. A tall gentleman stands in the room. His hair is white and the top of his head bald, his face carved with wrinkles. His shoulders hunch over and his hands rest on a walker. None of these are things that Stan recognizes, but –

The green eyes are.

"No," he says, "It isn't possible. Who the hell is he?"

Kyle laughs, wheezing a little at the end of a chuckle. He responds, "I am not quite as pretty now, am I?" He still has his German accent, though now it is faint.

Stan shakes his head and blurts, "No, no, you're perfect. I just – you're perfect."

Charlie says, "I'll be out back – holler if you two need anything."

Stan waits until he hears the back door, and hobbles toward Kyle. He wraps his arms around Kyle's middle, which is considerably thicker than when they were young, and absolutely wonderful to hold against him. He's crying, and he doesn't know how long he has, just that tears blur his vision as he kisses Kyle. He pulls back and remarks, "Damn it, I hope that's still okay after sixty years."

Kyle laughs, and kisses him in response.

For a long time, they stand in each other's arms, holding still. Stan thinks for a moment that if he moves, the spell will break, and he'll wake up in bed with frightened Tyler telling him that it's time for breakfast again. But when he moves back, Kyle is still there, and his green eyes are just as wet as Stan's.

They retreat to Stan's bedroom together, and climb onto the bed fully clothed. They can't do much else but hold each other, but that's okay – Stan couldn't ask for anything more.

"Did you ever find anybody else?" Stan asks, "I always hoped you would. I wanted you to be happy." He reaches over and touches Kyle's white hair, wishing he'd gotten to be with Kyle more when it was bright red. He regrets it, but then wonders if he shouldn't. If he'd never said goodbye to Kyle that night in the hotel, he never would have had this moment here, pressed against him and in some kind of dream-like haze of happiness.

Kyle replies, "I tried, but I always thought of you. I sent you letters to your old home, but I think you must have moved. They were returned to me."

"Oh," Stan manages, and like lightning he starts to cry again, "I thought that you hated me."

Kyle looks shocked, and wipes the tears out from under Stan's eyes with his thumbs. He shakes his head and says, "No, God no, I could never hate you," and he lowers his voice, adding, "I am as in love with you now as the day that I met you, Private Stanley Marsh."

"I love you, too," Stan says, hugging Kyle tight to him, "I never stopped. It was like this big hole inside of me, one that only you could fit inside and I – I make my family miserable, they hate me, Kyle, I know they do. I drink and I want to die, and it makes them crazy."

Kyle kisses the center of Stan's forehead and shushes him. Stan leans his head into the crook of Kyle's neck, resting it where he did sixty years ago, that first time that he'd been inside Kyle. He remembers how safe he felt, how at peace he was, and the same feelings wash over him now, blanketing him in warmth.

Kyle draws back after a few silent minutes and reaches into his coat pocket. He extracts an envelope from the inside pocket and hands it to Stan, explaining, "I wrote this letter for you. I want you to read it."

The envelope isn't sealed. Stan pulls out the crisp stationary tucked inside and unfolds it. He says, "This is dated two weeks ago."

"I never stopped writing you," Kyle responds, voice rough.

Stan shakes as he reads.

Dear Stanley –

Today I thought of you when we had crème brûlée at my home. Every time I see it, I remember the crème brûlée that I fed to you at The Brown Palace. Those two weeks were the happiest of my life, Stan. I would do anything to get them back. I wish that I had chased you down the street and made a scene until you listened to me. I wish we hadn't cared what we looked like to the rest of the world.

I love you, so much that when I wake up, my heart is heavy in my chest. I don't know where you are, but I hope wherever it is, that you are well and happy. And I hope that you still love me, too.

Yours,

Kyle Broflovski

Near the end, the handwriting gets sloppy, messy where Kyle's hand must have seized up. Stan knows the feeling. He looks up from the words and at Kyle's eyes. He whispers, "Yes. Yes, of course I still love you."

Stan leans back into Kyle and kisses him, holding their bodies close together.

And he thinks that, now, whatever force wanted him stranded on earth for eighty nine years has lifted. He is tired, and happy, and in the arms of the man that he loves. Through heavy eyelids, he sees Kyle's eyes closed, and realizes that no more breath comes from those old lungs.

And that's fine by him, because in the next moment, everything fades to black.

And he knows that Private Stanley Marsh and Kyle Broflovski will never be apart again.

So, kiss me my sweet

And so let us part

And when I grow too old to dream

That kiss will live in my heart