A/N: This fic was written for the 2012 South Park Secret Santa exchange, for laddertoheaven, beta read by julads. This is the final one I'll be archiving today, unless I actually finish my New Year's Eve fic on time!

Ned dies two days before Christmas, and when Sharon calls Stan with that withered voice she used to tell him that Sparky had died during his freshman year of college, Stan goes online and buys a plane ticket right away, the phone still pinched between his ear and shoulder. At short notice, and so close to the holiday, it's almost six hundred dollars to fly from San Diego to Denver. He could have driven, but he's only been making short trips since the accident. Even driving to the airport in the holiday traffic makes him jumpy.

His flight is overbooked, and he's invited to take a later one in exchange for vouchers, but he declines and ends up with a seat toward the back. The flight is a little over two hours, just enough time to sit in a meditative funk without feeling guilty for doing nothing. Stan doesn't even page through the Skymall magazine. He pays for a plastic glass of red wine to wash one of his remaining two Vicodins down. He was saving them for a rainy day.

By the time the plane lands, he's groggy and irritable, and he rolls his eyes at a woman who is taking her time with her carry on in the aisle. He's got only a backpack himself, stuffed full of wrinkled items from his clean laundry pile. He's almost thirty and he's still living like a kid just out of school, so maybe it's appropriate that he's looking forward to his mother's coddling. When he sees her in the arrivals lobby he drops his backpack and hurries into her hug, resting his cheek on top of her head.

"Thank God you're here," she says when she pulls back. She reaches up as if to touch the scar, then puts her hand on his shoulder instead. "Jimbo's a mess."

"I figured," Stan says, and he hoists his backpack again.

He hasn't been back to Colorado since last Christmas. His mom came to visit him in San Diego after the accident, and stayed for a week on his pull out couch, dutifully cleaning the puss from his ear. Randy lives in Brazil, among a colony of unwashed American surfers who all suffered a mid-life crisis in the same decade. Stan hasn't seen him since his disastrous trip to Rio after college graduation, when he and Randy nearly got into a fist fight over some comment Randy made about Sharon. Stan can't even remember what the comment was, exactly; he'd been pretty drunk.

"I take it Dad's not coming home for this?" Stan says when he's in the passenger seat of his mother's car, Christmas music playing on her usual smooth jazz station.

"Well, no," Sharon says. "Randy and Jimbo stopped speaking after the divorce. After the third one, I mean."

"Is Shelly gonna come?"

"She can't get away, you know, she's hosting Ron's whole family for Christmas, and Brendon has the flu, poor thing."

"You were going to go up there, weren't you?" Stan says. Shelly lives in Trenton, Ohio with her husband and two kids. Stan envies all of it: her family, the steady normalcy, her husband's long devotion. He's lived in three different states since graduating from CSU, and he's never come close to settling down with someone.

"I was going to go see them for Christmas, yeah," Sharon says, and she sighs. "I was sad that you weren't going to make it, though. At least - oh, this is terrible, but I'm really glad to see you, baby. Even under these circumstances." She reaches over to pat Stan's knee.

"Is Jimbo staying at the house?" Stan asks.

"Of course," Sharon says. "He shouldn't be alone right now."

The nature of Jimbo and Ned's relationship was never openly discussed in the Marsh household, but by the time he left for college Stan knew that they were more than just friends. He couldn't say exactly when or how the realization had come to him, but it was a bit like his recognition of his own flexible sexuality. He knew he liked girls, but he was curious about boys. In college he satisfied that curiosity, partly. There is one boy he's still curious about, after all this time.

At the house, Jimbo is on the couch in his pajamas, watching TV, fairly massive under an old quilt. Something about this scene reminds Stan of Big Gay Al, though he can't precisely recall seeing Al in this state. There is a mountain of crumpled tissues on the table beside the couch, and a couple of empty mugs with cocoa crust ringing their insides.

"Stanley!" Jimbo says, his eyes lighting when Stan comes to the couch. "Jesus, it's been a while. I barely recognize you." He stands to hug Stan, the quilt slumping off of him and down to the floor. Stan has to suppress the urge to interpret Jimbo's euphemism literally. He just means that it's been since last Christmas, not that Stan's scar and fucked up ear have disfigured him beyond recognition. At least here, where it's cold outside, he can wear some douchey knit hat to cover the ear. He should have thought to pick one up at the airport.

Still, he's rattled, especially at the thought of others in town who haven't seen him in years giving him similar greetings. He hasn't seen many people at all since the accident; he's been working out of his apartment and ordering food when he can. He knew this trip would be hard, but he's glad to be here for Jimbo, who was there for Stan when Randy bolted. They have a beer together in the kitchen while Sharon fires up the gas range for Stan's favorite stir fry rice.

"It was his time," Jimbo says, his eyes fogging up but not quite overflowing. "He'd been suffering a while. You don't smoke, do you?" he asks Stan, his tone sharpening. Stan shakes his head.

"No, sir," he says.

"Good boy," Jimbo says, and he pats Stan's wrist on the table. "You're a good boy, Stanley."

"Um, thanks. You want another one?" Stan lifts his empty beer bottle, and Jimbo nods solemnly.

They eat in front of the TV, watching the Broncos game. Stan doesn't have the heart to tell Jimbo that he hasn't been following the team in recent years, so he pretends to be enthralled along with him, nodding in agreement with his commentary. It's kind of exhausting, though it makes him nostalgic for those middle school years when Jimbo stepped in as the father figure in Stan's life, taking him to Broncos games and teaching him more efficient methods for splitting firewood.

Jimbo has taken up residence in Stan's room, and though he insists that he's fine to trade, Stan doesn't want to kick him out, so he takes Shelly's old room, which has been converted into a proper guest room. She always gives Sharon hell about this, half-seriously, because Stan's room is more or less how he left it when he moved out at eighteen, the same posters on the walls and sheets on the bed. Stan actually thinks it's a kind of compliment to Shelly that their mother felt confident transforming her room into a neutral space for guests, while she's kept the shrine to Stan's childhood as if she expects him to move home eventually.

He lies in bed staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why he feels so low. It's the loss of Ned, probably, and the thought of Jimbo having to move on without him. The accident, too. Stan hasn't felt quite right since it happened. He touches his scar, and then, more carefully, his ear. It was burned in the crash; his ear fucking melted. His mother insists that it doesn't look that different, and it's true that he didn't lose much skin, but it's mottled in this weird, awful way that he can't stop thinking about. For a while he was touching it incessantly, until the healing skin was raw again.

He rolls over to crush the offending ear against his pillow, forcing himself to think of something else. Like Kyle Broflovski. Why not. This whole town sings that name for Stan like cicadas in the summer, a pervasive soundtrack that ebbs and flows in random and occasionally alarming intervals. Kyle is the one who got away, though they were never together romantically. He just got away, generally, first to college in New York, which segued into an adult life that Stan couldn't relate to at all. It's not that Stan hasn't been successful himself, it's that he's been successful on another coast, in more than just a geographical sense. They think differently, now. Last time Stan saw Kyle was at a party Kenny gave three Christmases ago, which Kyle's playwright boyfriend declined to attend. A few months later Kyle deleted his Facebook, and Stan heard the rumors that they'd broken up after five years together. He hasn't talked to Kyle since then, or heard much about him, except that he's living here now, in South Park.

Stan looks at the window, which is glowing with moonlight that's diffused through a thin layer of clouds. He imagines he can feel it, that Kyle is here. He's awake, too, probably. Maybe looking at his window.

The next day is Christmas Eve, and Sharon is baking and decorating cookies, something Stan hasn't seen her do since he was twelve. She seems a little harried, and she's watchfully attentive to Jimbo, as if he's a baby animal who might injure himself if left untended. Jimbo is staring at some Christmas movie on TV, looking newly listless.

"I want you to have this," Jimbo says when Stan goes in to sit beside him. He places a box in Stan's lap: it's a fancy electric razor. "That's a Christmas present I'd gotten for Ned," Jimbo says, and the tears come quickly, his face pinching up. "He was real particular about his facial hair," Jimbo says, blubbering while Stan rubs his back.

"Thank you," Stan says. "I've needed, um. One of these - God, I'm so sorry."

He's not sure what else to say to Jimbo, and most of the rest of the day plays out like this, between phone calls to arrange Ned's burial and memorial. Obviously he won't be buried on Christmas, but they've gotten "lucky," according to the funeral home director: he's got the day after Christmas free. Father Maxi will do the graveside service, and some of Ned's friends who play in a local cover band will provide the music at the reception.

"Could you do me a favor and run to the grocery store?" Sharon asks around three o'clock. Jimbo is asleep on the couch, the quilt pulled up to his chest and a balled-up tissue clutched in his fist. Stan realizes his mother is talking to him.

"I guess," he says. "I mean." He's not thrilled with the idea of driving an unfamiliar car. "What do you need? Can't we just order food?"

"This is for tomorrow," she says. "I want to do a proper Christmas dinner for the three of us. Since you're here - that's special! And I think it might perk Jimbo up. He loves a well-dressed turkey."

"Turkey?" Stan says, making a face. "Mom-"

"Just do this for me, Stanley, please!" She thrusts a shopping list at him. "The car needs gas, too, if you don't mind. Here, take my debit card."

Stan's first thought as he steps out into the cold is that he hasn't driven on icy roads in a long time. He pulls a knit hat that he found in his bedroom closet on, securing it over both ears. It's dark blue, and he's pretty sure there used to be a red poof ball on top, but the dog ate it or something. Only a few red threads remain.

Driving is easier than he anticipated; the roads aren't actually icy. Of course they're not: South Park citizens put a lot of tax dollars into keeping the roads reliably clear. The drive to the grocery store is only ten minutes long, and he stops on the way to fill the gas tank. He doesn't have very high hopes for this Christmas dinner that his mother is suddenly invested in preparing, and he imagines Jimbo weeping quietly while holding a turkey leg, Sharon too sick with worry about him to eat much of anything, and a giant turkey serving as the ridiculous centerpiece to their three person meal. He's glad he's still got one Vicodin, and he makes a mental note to pick up some booze at the store. His mother has requested only a box of white wine.

He sees the hair first: that fucking hair. Stan has met other redheads, but none with precisely the same color as Kyle's, or the same weird combination of frizz and curls. Kyle clearly hasn't bothered to have it trimmed in a while, and he's gained more weight since that party at Kenny's house. He's not especially big, but he was so scrawny as a kid that his adult chub is always kind of a shock. Stan waves, and Kyle looks up from the driver's side door of the sedan he'd just unlocked. It's Sheila's car; Stan recognizes it from his childhood. Stan makes the approach, because Kyle is frozen, a little white bag from the gas station's convenience store swinging in his left hand. He's not even wearing a jacket, just an over-sized cardigan.

"Dude," Stan says, and he hugs Kyle, which is awkward, because Kyle doesn't really reciprocate.

"What the hell happened to you?" Kyle asks. It takes Stan a moment to realize that Kyle is referring to the scar, which is weird, because usually that question brings the scar to mind immediately.

"Oh, um." Stan touches his cheek, wanting to leave his hand over the scar. "Car accident. No big deal."

"Stan," Kyle says, and his eyes soften. He pulls Stan to him for another hug, and Stan sinks into it gladly, his eyes watering a little. "I'm sorry, I just." Kyle gives him a squeeze before releasing him. "I didn't know you were home."

"I just got in yesterday. Ned died."

"Oh, yeah, I guess I'd heard that."

"Uh-huh. Jimbo's not taking it well. Or maybe he is, I don't know. I don't know what grieving people are supposed to do." He hears himself rambling; Kyle is still standing close, lingering in the hug-space. "The funeral's the day after Christmas, um. If you want to come."

"Wouldn't that be awkward?" Kyle says. "I mean. Ned and I weren't exactly friends."

"Doesn't - matter, whatever. How are you?"

"Ugh," Kyle says. "How do you think? Look at me. I'm in South Park, and I'm not visiting. What are you doing? Right now, I mean? Do you want to come eat a disgusting four o'clock meal with me?"

"Fuck," Stan says, and he grins. "Yes."

They go to Shakey's Pizza, which is looking pretty rough, inside and out. Apparently Shakey's has obtained a liquor license, and they've gotten rid of most of the old arcade games, replacing them with a few Stan doesn't recognize. He orders a pitcher of beer and drinks most of it while Kyle takes tiny sips from his glass. They get cheesy bread and a medium pepperoni pizza, and it's like they're thirteen again, both eating fast and grabbing more greedily, before the other one can take more than his share.

"So, this accident," Kyle says after they've covered the usual small talk: Kyle is working for the mayor's office, editing press releases and website content. Stan is still peddling his sound mixing software, not doing much studio work anymore. "How - what." Kyle clearly wants to know the grisly details, but is trying to check his bluntness. Stan smiles and waits, feeling a little drunk. "Were there other injuries?" Kyle asks. "I mean - are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Stan says. He tugs his hat down more firmly over his left ear, reassuring himself that it's covered. "And it was my fault, but I wasn't drunk."

Kyle's eyes widened, and he scoffed. "I didn't presume that you were!"

"Sure," Stan said, he gave Kyle a friendly smile, though he was kind of tender when it came to this subject. They'd gotten in a bad fight senior year when Kyle insisted Stan was too drunk to drive home from a party and Stan insisted that he wasn't. Kyle had been right; Stan ran into a mailbox on the way home. He drove off and never told anyone about the mailbox, but he always felt like Kyle knew somehow. It was the beginning of the rift between them. When Kyle came out at the end of the summer, he only told Kenny and Bebe. Stan had to hear about it third-hand, through Wendy.

"How's San Diego?" Kyle asks, playing with a straw that the waiter left for their untouched waters.

"It's fine," Stan says. "I've been kind of hanging out, uh. By myself, a little. I just. I was dating this girl who kind of fucked me up, so."

He's definitely a little drunk; he reaches for the water.

"Oh, Jesus," Kyle says. "You make yourself so vulnerable to that."

"To what?"

"I don't know, people? Girls? Women? Not that I should talk. Blaine demolished me, as you know."

"Blaine," Stan says, and he rolls his eyes. Blaine Wilhelm was the writer Kyle lived with for five years in New York. They worked together on various minor theatrical productions; Kyle was, according to some article Stan found three years ago, Blaine's 'muse.' Kyle was not, however, a good actor. Stan had known that back in high school, when he followed Kyle reluctantly into that particular extracurricular activity. Stan ran the sound board and helped with the music sometimes. He was always there mostly for Kyle, usually cringing.

"So who was this girl?" Kyle asks.

"Just some girl," Stan says, and he jumps like a startled cat when Kyle hits the table with his fist.

"Tell me!" Kyle says. "You don't even talk to me anymore, God. I have no idea who you are." Stan sees him eying the scar.

"Finish your beer and I'll tell you," Stan says. Kyle sighs as if this is a herculean task, and he takes a little sip. "No, finish it," Stan says. "Like, chug."

"What is this, a frat party? No!" Kyle takes a bigger drink, narrowing his eyes at Stan while he swallows. "I'll finish it as slow as I goddamn please. Who was this girl? What did she do? She didn't die, did she?"

"No," Stan says. "She, uh, well." He lowers his voice and leans over the table. "She got pregnant," he says. "By me. She was only twenty-four."

"Oh." Kyle looks authentically shocked for a moment. He takes another big drink from his glass of beer. "So you have a kid?"

"No, she didn't want one. So I helped her, you know. We went through the whole thing together. Abortion-wise."

"Abortion-wise," Kyle repeats, and he closes his eyes for a moment. "Christ. I'm sure that was hard for you. I know you like - children."

Stan grins at the way Kyle pronounced that last word, like it was a dirty tissue he was plucking from the table.

"I didn't want to have a kid with her," Stan says. "She was kind of nuts, a singer. We met at the studio, when I was mixing her album. But it was sad, yeah. Just the thought of, you know. A baby, but not really. And she was a mess after. She was raised Catholic, like me."

"Hmm." Kyle is staring at the straw again, rolling it under his finger. "Well. How did it end?"

"I was just exhausted," Stan says. "I guess I shouldn't blame her, but. It was the afternoon, I missed a stop sign, bam. My car rolled over onto the driver's side, the window sliced my cheek, I broke my arm." He decides not to mention the ear. "And Petunia, she-"


"Yeah. It was a stage name, she's a folk singer. Anyway, uh. She just totally flaked out on me. She said she was in 'too weird a place' to be my nurse, or some shit like that. She was like, 'well, it's your left arm that broke, not your right one, so you'll be fine.' I know people out there, but I don't have any real friends, like, the kind who could help me get dressed, so I had to call my mom. After I made paella for this girl while she was laid up, feeling low, she wouldn't even. Not even for a few days. She just bailed."

Again, he's rambling; he drinks more water. Kyle is quiet, studying him.

"So now you know the whole story," Stan says, a little bitterly, because Kyle has still told him virtually nothing about Blaine.

"Were you in love with her?" Kyle asks.



"It wasn't some grand love story," Stan says. "And that's how she felt, too, obviously. And, hey, look. It was my responsibility, too, the abortion fallout. It's only fair that I helped her, since I got her into that. She didn't owe me anything. Whatever." He'd been disproportionately hurt by her desertion, mostly because of the timing. Earlier that same day, before the accident, he'd been wondering how he would ever get rid of her after what they'd been through.

Kyle stares at him for a while, and Stan waits to hear something revealing about Blaine, because it's only fair.

"Are you seriously wearing that fucking hat?" Kyle asks.

"Yeah," Stan says, and he yanks it down a little further, the back of his neck getting hat. "It's just. It's cold."

"In here? I'm fucking sweltering, they're blasting the heat and I just ate my weight in cheese. No, I meant. Isn't that your hat from when we were kids?"

"I found it in my closet at home," Stan says. He's beginning to sweat. "I don't have that many winter clothes anymore."

"You're so weird," Kyle says, but it seems like a compliment. Stan shrugs.

"I'm supposed to be at the grocery store," he says, and he grins when Kyle laughs.

"Let me drive you," Kyle says. He eyes the empty pitcher of beer. Stan's heart does a thing, a sort of zigzag between anger and guilt. He nods.

"I'd appreciate it," he says, and he flicks the plastic pitcher. "I sorta thought you were going to drink half."

"Stanley." Kyle rolls his eyes. "I know I look like a dumpy old redneck, but I haven't become a beer drinker while you were away."

"You look great," Stan says, and Kyle makes a wet noise of disagreement, his lips flapping. It's true that Kyle looks good, despite or maybe because of the wild hair. He's got a lingering shine of pepperoni grease on his lips. "At least you don't look like a comic book villain," Stan says.


Stan points to the scar. He's still flushed, all hot inside his clothes.

"Oh, Jesus," Kyle says. "You'll get so many women with that thing."

"I'm not into getting women at the moment," Stan says. He's not sure what he's trying to convey, and he stands from the table, feeling almost sober now. "C'mon," he says. "I've got to buy a turkey."

"Of course you do," Kyle says. At the register near the front door, he lets Stan pay.

Stan is cheered by being back in Sheila Broflovski's sedan, and by being a passenger again, watching the town pass by while Kyle drives. They're barely out of the parking lot when Kyle puts his window down halfway and digs a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.

"What the hell are you doing?" Stan asks.

"I know, I shouldn't smoke in her car," Kyle says, and he groans. "She'll crucify me, but I'm just feeling a little tense. Right now, so. Do you mind?" He tosses a neon pink disposable lighter into Stan's lap and leans toward him, the cigarette clamped between his lips, his eyes still on the road.

"Yeah, I fucking mind!" Stan unrolls his window and pitches the lighter out.

"What the fuck!" Kyle says. The cigarette falls into his lap. "You? Littering?" He stops the car, though they're in the middle of a fairly busy road. "That's my favorite lighter!"

"Keep driving," Stan says. "Someone's probably run the thing over by now. And what the fuck, Kyle? Don't you know how Ned died? Slowly, and because of that shit." He tries to grab the cigarettes, but they're resting between Kyle's thighs, and he loses his nerve, crossing his arms over his chest instead.

"This is so unlike you," Kyle says. He sounds almost pleased.

"Since when do you smoke?" Stan asks.

"Uh, since New York? Blaine did, everyone did. I'm down to half a pack a day, okay-"

"Goddammit, Kyle!"

"What? Why are you freaking out?"

"Because I don't want you to die a painful death!"

"Like we're even friends anymore!" Kyle says, shouting. The quiet that follows is like a lack of oxygen. Kyle is still stopped in the middle of the road, and people are blaring their horns as they swerve around him.

"Drive," Stan says. "And we are still friends. You hugged me."

"I didn't mean to," Kyle says, mumbling, and something about that makes Stan flush again, pleasurably this time.

The grocery store is crowded with last minute shoppers who are preparing for Christmas. Stan is afraid Kyle is mad at him about the lighter, but only until they get a cart and Kyle demands to see the shopping list. He takes charge, and Stan fetches things as requested, secretly thrilled to be doing such a mundane task with Kyle. He's always appreciated Kyle's businesslike attention to detail, and he waits patiently while Kyle asks the butcher to show him all available turkeys, finally approving the fifth one he sees.

"After all this, seems like you should come eat with us tomorrow," Stan says when they're waiting in line to pay, their shopping cart comically overstuffed, quite a few of the items not on the list, suggested as additions by Kyle. "If you're not busy," Stan says.

"I'm never busy on Christmas," Kyle says. "But, ugh. My parents would want to come. They love your mom."

"So bring them! The more the merrier. I mean, Jesus, look at the size of that turkey."

"It is kind of enormous," Kyle says, and he's smiling faintly as he gazes at the butcher-paper wrapped bird.

"I'm so glad I ran into you," Stan says, gushing, and their eyes meet for a moment before the cashier asks them if they've found everything they needed.

"We have," Stan says, and he means it. He feels like himself again not just for the first time since the accident, but for the first time since - when? Brazil? He'd wanted Kyle there with him when he was sobbing at the airport, waiting for an early flight home. They hadn't been close in years, but Kyle was the one he'd wanted, then. He'd sent Kyle a pathetic text, something like: everything is ruined.

Kyle must have been going through something himself at the time, because he texted back: I know.

"I disapprove," Stan says when Kyle uses some crumpled dollar bills to buy a new lighter.

"You're cute," Kyle says, and then he won't meet Stan's eyes, not even when they're out in the parking lot, loading the groceries into the trunk. Stan knows that Kyle meant to dismiss his concerns by calling them 'cute,' but he feels kind of giddy, highly complimented, and he thinks of that old Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special, how Rudolph took off flying when the girl deer called him cute.

Sharon is happy when Stan tells her that he ran into Kyle, and she's happy to have the Broflovskis over for a dinner. She's already begun preparations for the meal, making a homemade cranberry sauce and a few other things ahead of time. Stan hangs about in the kitchen and sips spiked egg nog with Jimbo, who is mostly quiet, staring into space.

"Have you decided on the song list for the reception?" Sharon asks during dinner, placing her hand on Jimbo's fat wrist. He looks up at her as if he's not sure what she's talking about.

"Oh, the songs!" he says, and he shakes his head. "I sure haven't. Ned was so musical. It's hard to pick."
Stan has never heard anyone describe a loved one as 'musical,' before, and though he thinks it's probably just a misuse of the word, it tears at him a little. He thinks of Kyle sitting at his bedroom window, cracking it open to let the cold in and the cigarette smoke out. It boils Stan's blood that Blaine got Kyle started on that shit.

Stan never met Blaine. At one point he got the feeling that Kyle didn't want him to, but eventually he came to believe that Blaine thought he was too good to hang around with Kyle's hometown friends. Blaine was seven years older than Kyle, a guest lecturer during Kyle's brief stint in graduate school. He saw an attentive, note-taking redhead in the front row and whisked him away from academia. According to that article about Kyle being his muse, anyway: this was how it happened.

The house is quiet and Stan can't sleep. He's vacillating between joy and impotent anger, thinking of the way Kyle hugged him in the gas station parking lot, and the way Kyle must have been with Blaine: a pretty little protégé who Blaine fattened up and tossed away as Kyle approached his thirties. Not that Kyle is or ever was pretty, exactly. His eyes are pretty, and he has nice skin. Soft cheeks. A plump lower lip that looks suckable.

Stan rolls onto his side and snakes his hand into his sweatpants, wondering what things were like between Kyle and Blaine in the bedroom. Stan doesn't know much about Blaine beyond what he's read on theater blogs, but he's gotten the impression that Blaine would have wanted to be on top. To demonstrate his mastery of the art or some shit. Which would leave Kyle on the bottom. Legs spread, eyes pinched shut. Maybe a tooth snagging on that fat lip while he whined and clawed the sheets. All vulnerable and soft, penetrated, hot across his cheeks, stuffed full of dick. Stan turns onto his back and starts stroking himself properly, thinking of it.

What sort of noises would Kyle make during sex? Swallowed up little things at first, protecting his pride. Then he would lose it, maybe, clenching his ass around the cock that was thrusting into him, moaning and drooling and calling out the name of whoever was having him. Not Blaine's name, though; Kyle had probably never said that during sex, because who could? It was an unsexy name, disease-like and beige. Stan had been told that his name was good for shouting during sex. Like a blunt object, one guy had said, but not too blunt. Which matched the way Stan fucked asses, apparently. According to that one guy.

Imagining Kyle screaming his name and clawing at his back doesn't make Stan come, and in fact it kind of stresses him out, because he's wanted that too much and for too long. He has to take himself out of the picture, to imagine just Kyle again, getting fucked by an invisible, off-screen cock, his face all twisted up in agony and pleasure, because he's getting fucked just a little too hard, a little too deep, but he wants more, and greedily slams himself down onto the dick in his ass, barely able to take it.

Stan comes with a groan and bites his pillowcase. He hasn't blown such a significant load since the accident, and it feels stupidly good to do so here, in the house where he first discovered the joys of jerking off. He feels a little guilty afterward, and when his hand is clean he pulls his pillow into his arms, holding it and kissing it, imagining that it's Kyle.

I didn't hurt you, did I? He doesn't go as far as posing this question to the pillow out loud, but he imagines pillow Kyle whispering that no, he wasn't hurt, that his ass is still tingling with come-drenched satiation, but now he's sleepy, and would Stan please hold him all night long? Yes, of course Stan will. Would. Stan is delirious, wishing he could call up the real Kyle and ask if he's hurt him, psychically, with his somewhat depraved fantasy. Kyle would laugh. Stan hopes he's not smoking right now.

When Kyle arrives with his parents for dinner the following evening, he's had his hair cut, his curls trimmed and neat, fluffy from a recent washing. Stan is bewildered by the prospect of a barber in South Park who works on Christmas Day, then realizes that Sheila probably cut it for him. He hugs Kyle hello in the foyer after embracing both his parents, and this time it's awkward. Sheila has brought an onion kugel that reeks but looks delicious.

Nobody asks Stan why he's wearing a knit hat indoors, and he thinks his mother must have told Sheila about the ear. It's possible, then, that Kyle knows. Stan hates the thought of Kyle picturing the damage as something worse than it actually is, but he leaves the hat on anyway.

Dinner seems to go on forever, and Stan longs to be alone with Kyle, though he's not sure that will happen. Jimbo cries some, and Sheila and Sharon both pat at him, offering tissues. Kyle and Stan have a few muttered side conversations while the others talk, mostly updating each other on who they have and haven't heard from lately. Kenny is still obnoxiously political and omnipresent, constantly sending them both articles about things they should be outraged about. Wendy is an AP photographer who no longer speaks to Kyle but occasionally sings 'happy birthday' to Stan on his voicemail. Bebe is a Unitarian minister who has brunch with Kyle every Sunday.

"I suppose you two don't hear from Randy much?" Sheila says toward the end of the meal, and Stan sees Kyle give her a look of outrage.

"No, never," Sharon says. "Unless - hon, did he ever call you? After your accident? I emailed him about it."

"Yeah," Stan says, lying. "We didn't talk long, though. I guess he's fine."

"Of course he's fine," Gerald says. "Now that he's only got himself and his whims to think about. Sorry, Stanley," he says. "I still get mad about the whole thing sometimes." Gerald and Sheila had sided firmly with Sharon; Gerald represented her in the third and final divorce proceeding.

"It's okay," Stan says. "I get mad, too."

After dinner, Stan and Kyle help Jimbo select pictures of Ned from an album, for display at the memorial service. Mostly it's Kyle who has opinions, and Stan sitting back to nod in support of his choices. He'd never realized that Ned was good looking as a young man. Young Jimbo was goofy and overweight, but he radiated the kind of easy happiness that people want to be near. Stan remembered that about him from just a few years ago, the last time he'd seen Jimbo and Ned together. Ned was already sick, barely able to speak, but Jimbo had always been cheerful in his presence, loud enough for both of them.

When Jimbo goes up to bed, Sheila and Gerald head for their coats. Stan doesn't want Kyle to go, and doesn't know how to say so, but Kyle solves the problem for him.

"I'm going for a walk," Kyle says when his mother asks him if he's ready to go. "I feel all bloated, I ate too much, need some exercise." He looks at Stan and says, "You coming?"

It's eerily quiet outside, except for the sound of snow crunching under their boots as they head in direction of Stark's Pond. There's a light scatter of new snow falling, and when they leave the glow of the street lamps Stan realizes that the moon is hidden behind thick clouds, leaving the woods around the pond very dark.

"You okay?" Stan asks when they've walked almost a mile without much conversation.

"Yeah," Kyle says. "Sorry my parents are so. I don't know, tactless? Is it tactless to talk about Randy? I'm not saying that I'm not tactless, but that's their fault."

"I don't mind talking about my dad," Stan says. "It's like he was a character in some show I used to watch."

"Fuck," Kyle says. "That's depressing."

"I guess. Do you remember, after college, when I texted you that everything was ruined? That was after we'd almost punched each other, me and my dad. During that trip to Rio."

"Oh," Kyle says. "Huh."

"You thought - what?" Stan waits for an explanation, but Kyle is just frowning slightly. "You thought I meant something else?"

"I didn't know what you meant," Kyle says.

"But you said, 'I know.'"

"Well." Kyle kicks a pine cone. Stan hopes he won't walk on the frozen surface of the pond. It's not reliably thick in all areas until mid-January. "Who remembers?" Kyle says when Stan goes on staring at him, unflinching. "You hang on to all this shit."

"Don't get combative," Stan says. "I loved that response, whatever you meant. 'I know.' That was the only fucking thing I wanted to hear."

"You're so romantic about this," Kyle says. He's looking at the pond.

"About what?"

"I don't know, the past, our friendship. Like I'm this key that's supposed to unlock you. It's very draining."

"Wow," Stan says, flattened by that. He tries to walk away, but Kyle grabs his arm and yanks him back.
"He didn't really call, did he?" Kyle says. "Randy, I mean. After your accident."

"Of course not," Stan says. "You think I want to say that, though, even in front of my mom? It's fucking humiliating."

"But you didn't do anything wrong." Kyle reaches up to touch Stan's scar with two fingertips, brushing them down the length of it. Stan shivers, and he feels himself leaning closer, wanting to drop his head onto Kyle's shoulder.

"I don't see how I can be draining," Stan says, that wound still gushing at the center of his chest, "If you don't even talk to me. When I'm not even around."

"That's when you're more draining than ever," Kyle says. He's still touching the scar, and Stan shudders every time Kyle's fingers move across his cheek, down toward his jaw.

"What the fuck?" Stan says. "Why? How do I drain you, Kyle? Tell me, so I can stop being such a fucking burden."

"I want to be your key," Kyle says. "I always did. But I'm not."

"Bullshit you're not," Stan says, everything in him surging toward his beating heart with interest, like it's a light that's been flipped on in the dark.

"Uh!" Kyle says. "No, I don't think so. You're not looking for a friend key. I guess I'm not either."

"You don't know what I'm looking for," Stan says. He reaches up and covers Kyle's hand with his, pressing Kyle's more firmly against his cheek.

"Jesus, don't," Kyle says. He doesn't pull away, but there's real anger in his eyes. "You're still fucking girls without condoms, getting them pregnant? What the fuck is that? You don't want. You don't know what the hell you're looking for."

"We used a condom," Stan says, as if that's what matters now, here, in this moment. Kyle rolls his eyes. "We did! I don't know what happened. Later, you know, after everything. I think maybe it wasn't even mine."

"I want to punch you right now," Kyle says. Stan doesn't believe him. Kyle's hand is still on his cheek, trembling under Stan's.

"Why do you want to punch me?" Stan asks.

"Because, I don't know," Kyle says, mumbling. His eyes have softened considerably, and Stan can smell the oniony kugel on his breath. "You fucked a girl named Petunia. That makes me embarrassed to know you."

Stan wants to kiss him, but more than that he just wants to put his face against Kyle's in a kiss-precursor way, so he does. Kyle stares at him, or tries to, blinking angrily. Stan makes the exasperated staring difficult by continuing to rub his face on Kyle's.

"Are you drunk?" Kyle asks.

"Do I seem drunk?"

Kyle doesn't answer, just closes his eyes and lets Stan take his face in his hands. Kyle's cheeks are so fucking soft now, and Stan is kissing them before he really makes the decision to do so. He licks the left one, making a line with the tip of his tongue that's roughly approximate to the length of the scar on his own cheek. Kyle whines.

"You don't want to open this box, okay?" Kyle says when Stan pulls back, still holding Kyle's face in both hands. "You don't know how lonely I've been."

"Yes, I do," Stan says. "I know."

He understands now what Kyle meant when he texted that response eight years ago, and why it was exactly what Stan needed to hear, even without context. Kyle just knows, and this is why Stan drains him even when they're apart. They have this mysteriously persisting connection that neither of them has been willing to sever or bridge. Stan pulls Kyle to him, not sure how this will go, but Kyle feels so ready for him that it hurts, Kyle's lips parting for for the first timid press of Stan's tongue. It's a gentle kiss, both of them on guard even when their tongues brush, slow and hot.

"I threw a candelabra through a sliding glass door when I heard that you fuck guys sometimes," Kyle says when Stan pulls back. Stan stares at him for a moment, still overly focused on Kyle's lips.

"Oh?" he says.

"Yeah," Kyle says. He leans up to rub his soft cheek against Stan's scar. "It's not like I was sitting around pining for you. I wasn't. But if you were going off to college to fuck guys, well. I guess I was offended that you didn't try to practice on me."

"You didn't even tell me you were gay," Stan says. "You told Bebe, and freaking Kenny-"

"I was mad at you."

"I know. But wait. Who told you I sometimes fuck guys?"

"Really, Stan? Kenny did, of course. I think he wants us to be together. He's so - everything's an agenda with him, do you know what I mean?"

"Mhm." Stan kisses Kyle again, to make sure that he still can. Kyle allows it, and returns the kiss sort of fiercely, nipping at him. "Whose candelabra was it?" Stan asks.

"Oh - that was at Butters' house. Yeah, his dad threatened to sue me. I had to pay to replace the glass."

"But not the candelabra?"

"Well, no, it survived, it was some antique brass thing that weighed like forty pounds. Anyway, Stan." Kyle grabs Stan's jacket by the shoulders and gives him a shake. "What's happening here? What's going on?"

"I don't know," Stan says, honestly. "Want to go back to my house?"

"What, and get fucked while Jimbo cries in the next room? No, no." Kyle sighs and hugs his arms around Stan, burrowing against his chest. "I can't do any of this, actually," he says. "Not if we're just going to, like, relieve our decades-old sexual tension and then part ways. No, fuck no. I'm not doing that."

"Me either," Stan says. "Come to San Diego with me."

Kyle snorts. "Right," he says.

"I'm serious," Stan says, though he's not sure that he is. He cups the back of Kyle's head and kisses his forehead. "Your hair smells really good," he says.

"What are you, fifteen?" Kyle says, but he's beaming when he looks up at Stan.

"You make me feel like I am, sorta," Stan says. "Like some other guy made all my mistakes, that future Stan who wasn't really me."

"I can't even handle the things you say," Kyle says, and he kisses Stan, maybe to shut him up.

They hold hands on the walk back to the neighborhood. Kyle talks a lot, mostly about how he loves his parents but hates living with them, and about how he loves his brother but hates Ike's personal and professional success. They both talk a bit about their experiences with therapy over the years, and discover that at several points they'd been on the same medication, on different coasts.

"I did pine for you, eventually," Kyle says when they're at Stan's front door, kissing each other goodnight in shy little pecks. "But not in high school. Not until New York, when no one listened to anything I fucking said, not even Blaine, not really. I would get silent and bitter and think, Stan would have listened. Stan would have cared."

"I would have," Stan says. He kisses Kyle for real, deeply, until they're both breathing harder.

"Do you need a ride to this funeral thing?" Kyle asks.

"Yeah," Stan says. "I'm kind of weird about driving, right now."

"I don't blame you," Kyle says. "Poor Stan." He touches the scar, then looks up at the knit hat.

"I'll show you tomorrow," Stan says. His ear suddenly feels very itchy under the wool. "Just. It's not that bad, but."

"I couldn't sleep last night," Kyle says, "Because I was thinking about how I would have taken care of you. I don't know how to make paella, I can't even cook frozen pizza without fucking up the crust, but I would have been there, trying, giving you food that had been, like, at least lovingly ruined. I wish you had called me."

"That would have been kind of insane, considering we hadn't talked in like two years," Stan says. "But, yeah. I wish I had, too. Just take care of me now, okay? Tomorrow's gonna be - poor Jimbo."

"Were they lovers?" Kyle asks, and Stan laughs. "What?"

"Nothing, that word. Lovers. Um, yeah. Pretty sure they were."

"Goddammit," Kyle says.

"Yeah, it's fucking horrible."

"I'll take care of you, though," Kyle says. He kisses Stan just once more before heading toward his house, but it's a long kiss, and Stan's lips are fat by the time Kyle leaves, buzzing from overuse. His mouth is wet, his cock is hard; he goes inside and just stands in the dark foyer for a little while, thinking about Jimbo upstairs. It seems incredibly unkind to be this happy when his uncle is hurting, preparing for the funeral of the love of his life. Stan feels guilty for almost looking forward to it, because Kyle will be there. At the moment, Kyle is already much too far away.

Stan has to hold in a laugh when Kyle comes to the door the following morning. Kyle is dressed for a funeral in New York, maybe - Stan has never been to one, but certainly Kyle is dressed for something in New York, his shirt a fine-looking pastel blue paisley, tucked into tight black pants and buttoned under a black jacket that's a few sizes too small. He's also wearing giant, Elton John-like sunglasses. He smells like nutmeg and whipped cream.

"I like this," Stan says, touching the handkerchief that is folded neatly in Kyle's jacket pocket. It's nearly the same shade of blue as his shirt, but not quite. Stan assumes this is very intentional.

"You're leaving it on?" Kyle says. He pushes his sunglasses up onto his head and eyes the knit hat Stan has pulled over his ears.

"Yeah," Stan says. "For now."

As they drive to the funeral, Stan riding again in the passenger seat of Sheila's sedan, he thinks about how ridiculous they must look as a pair: Kyle in the finery of his slimmer youth and Stan in one of Randy's old jackets that's too big for him, the knit hat snug over his hair and ears. He loves the thought of the awkward combination of their personal styles, and he reaches over to squeeze Kyle's thigh.

"It's Boxing Day, you know," Kyle says.

"Who's fighting?" Stan asks.

"No, it's - give me a break, you've never heard of Boxing Day? It's the day after Christmas. They observe it in the United Kingdom, and in Australia, South Africa. It's when you give your servants gifts. Or it was, back when people had servants."

"I'm sure some people still do," Stan says.

"Cartman probably does," Kyle says. "He lives in Hong Kong now, did you know that? I guess he's rich, or whatever."

"Do you think he speaks Mandarin?"

"Doubtful. He probably just forces all of his employees to use English in his presence. I'm sure he thinks of himself as some kind of colonizing force. God! Why is it that the worst people in the world are the ones who get everything?"

"That's not true," Stan says, because he feels like he has everything right now. Kyle is beside him, his thigh warm under Stan's hand. Kyle, who Stan loves, and who seems willing to become his lover. Jimbo would certainly say that Stan has everything.

"I'm not as bitter as I was a year ago," Kyle says.

"Me either," Stan says, and Kyle grins, still looking ahead at the road.

It's a cold but clear day, and the graveside service is more well-attended than Stan expected, lots of Ned's military, gun club and drinking buddies standing somberly while Father Maxi reads and Jimbo weeps. Sharon comforts Jimbo, and Stan touches his shoulder occasionally. When the casket is lowered, Kyle grips Stan's arm. Stan looks over at him, hoping that he's resolving to give up smoking this very moment. He puts his hand over Kyle's and rubs, trying to warm Kyle's fingers.

The memorial service at the church is even more densely populated than the graveside service was, and Stan is surprised when Jimbo gets up to speak. He's nervous, too, on Jimbo's behalf, and he moves closer to Kyle. They're sitting at the front of the chapel, Stan between Sharon and Kyle. At the podium, Jimbo wipes his eyes and prepares to speak. Stan can sense his mother's notice when Kyle clutches at his arm. Stan is still wearing his knit hat. Kyle is still wearing the sunglasses.

"I wasn't sure what to think about Ned when I met him in basic training," Jimbo says. "At first I thought he was kind of a show off, because he was such a good marksman, but Ned was real humble about that. About everything! He had a quiet dignity. Like a panther."

Kyle leans forward slightly at that, bringing his hand up to rub the smile off his lips. Stan elbows him.

"But the most important thing about Ned, to me," Jimbo says, "And I think to a lot of you out there as well, was what a loyal friend he was. Ned would do anything for his friends. He stood by me in all kinds of trouble. I felt sorta lost after leaving the army, so Ned moved to South Park to be my roommate. All the way from West Virginia, away from his parents and his friends. But that was just the kind of thing Ned would do, for me. For any of us, really."

Stan and Kyle exchange a look, and though Stan can't see Kyle's eyes through the sunglasses, he knows that Kyle is disappointed, like Stan, that Jimbo is going with the friend narrative even now.

"So here's to my best friend, Ned," Jimbo says, beginning to sniffle again. "I don't know how I'm gonna live without you, buddy. Suddenly I've got too much turkey sausage on hand, and I'm drinking twice as many mint juleps, because you're not around to finish your share of the bourbon. And I've got these Christmas presents for you, 'cause I thought we'd have this one last Christmas together-" Jimbo trails off there, staring into space for a moment. Sharon fidgets as if she's thinking about rising to rescue him.
"I guess that there is what I want to impart on you all," Jimbo says, gripping the altar. "Don't drag your feet and think there will always be another Christmas. Sometimes there won't be. Sometimes this one's all you got. You think I mighta known that, since Ned was sick for so long, but I never woke up thinking 'today might be the last day.' Never! Not once." He trailed off again, and wiped at his eyes with his palm, looking for a moment like a sleepy toddler. "So don't let the end of something sneak up on you," he says. "Do what you mean to while you still can."

Jimbo returns to his seat, and Father Maxi gets up to do a final Bible reading. Stan finds himself feeling angry. Was Ned really such a big fan of the Catholic church? Is Jimbo? Having Bebe conduct a Unitarian service might have been more appropriate. Stan is annoyed with himself, now, for not asking these questions two days ago when the plans were being made.

"Well, that was fucking depressing," Kyle says as they climb back into the car together. He pushes the sunglasses up onto his head, and Stan is glad to see his eyes again. "Not that funerals usually aren't depressing. Or that they shouldn't be, but, Jesus." He reaches over to grab Stan's leg. "Hey," Kyle says, softly, and for a moment Stan is afraid Kyle will ask to see the ear now. "If you died before me - well, first of all, I'd never forgive you for that. But if you did, I would get up there and talk about how much I loved your beautiful cock. Assuming it's beautiful. I'm sure it is."

"It's-" Stan grabs Kyle by the ears and kisses him everywhere, finally coming to his mouth. He makes the kiss kind of dirty, hungry, in defiance of the church parking lot. "Yeah," Stan says when he pulls back, nodding. "Yeah, please do that. Talk about how gay we were together, please. We're going to be gay together, right? From now on?"

"I don't know that I believe that you're gay," Kyle says. "You're just. I don't know what you are, but I know that if I have that dick I'm going to eulogize it proudly. Should the need arise. Which, it'd better not. Don't die," he says, grabbing the front of Stan's shirt.

"I won't," Stan says, and Kyle kisses him again.

On the way to the reception, Stan paws at Kyle, stroking his neck and hair, unable to stop touching him. Kyle has no protest, and he's smiling absently, his cock visibly stiff inside his too-tight pants. Stan wants to rub that, too, but he refrains for now.

"We'll just put in an appearance," Kyle says when they've parked outside the reception hall. Stan nods. He can hear the band playing 'Burnin' For You.'

"After," Stan says. "Where should we go?"

"Not to my house," Kyle says. "My parents are both home. And your house - I don't know, that would be disrespectful, if we were basking in the afterglow when Jimbo got home."

"We could get a room," Stan says. "At, like. That La Quinta by Highway 19?"

"Yeah," Kyle says, and they make out for a while, until gets too heavy and blissful for the occasion.

"Do you think Ned would be pissed at us?" Stan asks as they walk toward the reception, adjusting their pants. "For doing this when we're supposed to be like, remembering him?"

"Are you kidding?" Kyle says. "What better way to honor a closeted gay man's life than to openly express homosexual affection? Here, hold my hand."

Stan does, and they enter that way, heading toward the refreshment table. Stan wants Jimbo to notice them, so that he'll know, if nothing else, that Stan accepts him and would welcome an honest discussion about Ned. He worries when he can't find Jimbo, and when his mother says she's been looking, too. He showed up at the reception, at least, but has since disappeared.

"I'm going to look in the back rooms," Stan says to Kyle, who is helping himself to a third mini blintz. "I'll be right back." He wants to bring Kyle with him, doesn't want to spend a moment apart now that he knows that being with Kyle can make him feel this way, but Jimbo might not want Kyle there if Stan finds him crying.

The reception hall is smallish but has lots of rooms and intersecting hallways. It's an old house with wooden floorboards that creak under Stan's feet. There are a couple of locked doors that Stan calls Jimbo's name through, but he gets no answer. He's feeling panicked by the time he finally checks outside. The sky has gotten overcast, and the temperature is dropping rapidly as the sun begins to dip behind the clouds.

"Hey," Stan says when he finds Jimbo at last, sitting on a block of concrete stairs that lead from the reception hall's kitchen and into the backyard. Jimbo is alone, and he's not crying. He sighs heavily when Stan sits down beside him and pats his back. "You alright?" Stan says. "I mean, I know you're not. But. Is there anything I can do?"

"Nah," Jimbo says. "I just wanted to get away from the crowd for a minute. I'm glad you found me, though."

"I liked your speech," Stan says. "At the church." He's lying, but this is no time to criticize Jimbo for not being bolder.

"I just said whatever came to mind," Jimbo says. "Shit, I called Ned a panther. That was sort of a private nickname."

"Oh?" Stan says. He waits to hear more. "I'm gay," he says when nothing else comes. Jimbo turns to look at him, his expression only mildly curious. "I mean, bisexual," Stan says. "Maybe my mom told you?"

"She never said anything," Jimbo says. "Goddammit." He puts his hands over his face. "This is my fault, isn't it? If Randy hadn't left-"

"Hey, stop," Stan says. "I was gay before my dad left. Sort of. I had feelings, anyway, uh. For Kyle. That I figured out later. Why would it be your fault? You were a better dad to me than Randy."

"I appreciate you saying that," Jimbo says. His voice is weaker suddenly, shaking. "But there's no replacement for a boy's real father. I did what I could, I suppose."

"You did awesome," Stan says. "My dad used to spend the weekends drinking and watching TV. You actually like, took me places."

"Well, I provided an unsavory example," Jimbo says, staring to cry. "Dammit, Stan, I'm sorry. I was starting to wonder why you hadn't gotten married."

"Dude," Stan says. "There's nothing wrong with being gay. Seriously, like. Please, just accept me for who I am. It would mean a lot to me." Now Stan is starting to cry, too. Jimbo turns to him, sniffling wetly.

"You said - Kyle?" Jimbo says. "You're with Kyle?"

"Yeah," Stan says. "I mean, we're still figuring it out. But we love each other." He sobs after saying so, because Kyle hasn't said as much, but he doesn't need to. The way he talked about eulogizing Stan's cock: Stan believes it. Kyle would.

"Hey, hey," Jimbo says, and he hugs Stan to him, both of them crying hard now. "I accept you," Jimbo says, blubbering the words out. Stan feels ridiculous, but good, too, and he grabs a handful of Jimbo's coat, pressing his face to Jimbo's meaty shoulder. "I do, I really do," Jimbo says.

"Me too," Stan says, when he can talk again. He sits up and wipes at his face. "I mean, you. I accept - you."

"Ned was my best friend," Jimbo says. He uses his tie to dry his cheeks, then his nose. "First and foremost. Everything else was just a bonus."

"It's a really good bonus, though," Stan says, thinking of the motel room he'll get with Kyle.

"Yeah," Jimbo says. He smiles and looks out at the yard, which is covered with stale snow, a few trails of footsteps cutting through it. "It really is. Your best friend, and. It makes it so damn easy."

"Well, it should," Stan says. "Me and Kyle made it hard. We took a long time. Longer than we should have."

"You remember what I said, then," Jimbo says, and he looks at Stan again. "Seize the day. That sort of thing. And hey, let's go in. It's damn cold out here, and they're playing Ned's favorite song."

They hug before heading inside, and it takes Stan a moment to place the instrumental version of "Africa" by Toto that the band is playing. He winds through the crowd, which seems to grow with each new venue, and is beginning to feel irrationally worried about Kyle's whereabouts by the time he finds him near the front windows, holding a glass of white wine and talking with Mr. Garrison.

"You were friends with Ned?" Stan says after they've greeted each other. Garrison's eyes are just as mean as Stan remembers from childhood. Stan slips his arm around Kyle, daring Garrison to say something crass.

"Oh, sure, me and Ned go way back," Garrison says. "I always thought the missing limb was kind of hot. So, Stanley. Are you back in town just for the funeral, or has Kyle lured you home with his siren call?"

"None of your business," Stan says, but he hugs Kyle closer to him. Kyle laughs and leans into it, one of his curls tickling against Stan's temple. He seems a little tipsy. Stan hopes this won't spoil their motel plans. "And how are you these days?" Stan asks. Garrison doesn't look well. His skin is sort of yellowish, and he's trying to work a grey goatee that makes him look like a homeless man who wandered in for the free food.

"I get by," Garrison says. "I was just telling Kyle that he should come down to Shooters sometime. He'd be considered a nascent twink in that crowd."

"Shooters is the gay bar," Kyle says.

"I know," Stan says. "I've been."

"You have?" Kyle boggles at him, hugging his arm across Stan's chest.

"Yeah, Kenny took me. It was awful."

"Ugh, he took me, too," Kyle says. He beams and closes his eyes, pressing his face to Stan's jaw. "Oh - Stan," he says, mumbling, still smiling.

"God, gag me," Garrison says, and Stan looks up from Kyle to snap at him for that, but Garrison isn't looking at them. He's looking across the room, snarling at something. Stan turns to see Big Gay Al and Mr. Slave talking with Jimbo. "Whoever thought that would last?" Garrison asks. Stan feels sorry for him. He knows what it's like to hate another couple's happiness. Back when Stan had believed Kyle was happy with Blaine, he'd snarled like that at articles about Blaine that he'd gone out of his way to search for and read.

"We're gonna take off," Stan says, not wanting Garrison's misery to infringe on his mood. "Can you tell my mom we're leaving?"

"Sure," Garrison says. "Right after I tell Al that ascot is totally fucking hideous. God, if they come to Shooters tonight I'll die."

"He goes to Shooters every night," Kyle says as he walks to the door with Stan, Garrison still snarling in their wake. "He's like, the mayor of Shooters."

"Christ," Stan says. He finds Kyle's coat in the front room and helps him into it.

"I was afraid that would be me," Kyle says.

"What? Garrison? God, don't even. You're nothing like him."

"Aren't I? Gay and bitterly alone, stuck in this town, working a dead end job? That's not like me?"

"You're not alone," Stan says, and he kisses Kyle there in the coat room, with tongue, despite onlookers.

"Take me somewhere," Kyle says, gazing up at him with heavy eyelids, his head tipped back.

"Kay," Stan says.

It's getting dark as they drive out toward Highway 19. Stan is at the wheel, and he feels okay with driving for the first time since the accident. He knows these roads well. The clouds above look heavy, but there's no snow yet.

"I talked to Jimbo," Stan says. "I mean. Really talked."

"I figured," Kyle says. "Your eyes were all puffy when you came back." He reaches over to rub Stan's shoulder. "Was it a good cry, or a bad one?"

"A good one."

"I thought so."

The La Quinta Inn is crowded with holiday travelers who will depart in the morning, but there is a room available on the third floor, in the corner, near the ice machine. Stan had envisioned tearing Kyle's clothes off as soon as they were through the door, but Kyle pokes around the room examining things, still fully dressed. He turns on the light to have a look at the bathroom, presses a hand to the mattress to test its give. There are two double beds; they were out of kings. Stan feels awkward, and suddenly unable to come up with anything to say. He walks over to Kyle when he realizes what needs to happen next, before they can move forward.

"Hey," Stan says. Kyle turns to him, and Stan can see that he's nervous, too.

"It's just been a while," Kyle says, blurting this. "Ever since I moved home. I haven't. And I don't just mean fucking." He groans and looks away, as if Stan's earnest expression is irritating. "You're the first person I've kissed in two years, so. You know. I wasn't exactly getting folk singers pregnant in recent months."

"Hey," Stan says again, and Kyle looks at him. His eyes soften at the corners when Stan reaches up to touch the knit hat, sliding his thumbs underneath it. He pulls it off slowly, revealing the good ear first, then the bad one. Kyle is blushing, probably from his confession about the past two years. Stan had expected to blush furiously once the ear was exposed, but he feels kind of numb, waiting for Kyle to react.

"Oh, Jesus," Kyle says, and Stan's stomach twists up. "That's nothing. Wait until you see my tits."

"I like tits," Stan says. His eyes water, but it's a good cry, again.

"Right, of course," Kyle says, coming to him. "You're bisexual, and so forth. Well, have I got the tits and cock combo for you. Mhmm, Stan," he says, touching the ear, his fingertips tickling along the chewed-looking rim. Stan shivers, and he leans down into Kyle's arms when they open for him. For a while they stay like that, Stan slumped against Kyle, his arms hugged around Kyle's back while Kyle strokes his hair.

"I was dying to see this hair," Kyle says.

"It's all staticky," Stan says, feeling it crackle under Kyle's palm.

"I love your spindly, static-filled hair," Kyle says. "It's so fragile or something. Like you're this delicate woodland nymph whose hair wafts beautifully in the slightest breeze."

"Dude," Stan says, squeezing him closer. "Are you drunk?"

"A little. But, no worries. My cock's already hard." He rubs it against Stan's thigh. "Let's undress. In the dark."

Since they're on the third floor, they open the curtains to let some light in from the parking lot below. The sky is effectively moonless; it's still not snowing. Kyle does have a soft chest that might be described as tit-like, but his tits are small and mouthwatering, cute. Stan sucks on them under the blankets, humping Kyle's leg while he moans for Stan's tongue and hisses when Stan uses his teeth.

"I want to fuck you," Stan says, whining, because they don't have lube or a condom.

"Mhmm," Kyle says. He lifts his legs and wraps them around Stan's back, humping up against his stomach. "I'd hoped you would." He points to his discarded jacket. Behind the handkerchief are two condoms wrapped in gold foil. In the bathroom, there is shower gel that slides nicely when applied to Stan's fingers.

"Was Blaine on top when you were together?" Stan asks. He's massaging his fingers around Kyle's hole, watching Kyle writhe and fall apart, and he hopes to God that Blaine was never capable of making Kyle's back arch like that. Kyle looks at him and huffs.

"Sort of," he says, and that's good enough for Stan. He pushes one finger in, carefully, wiggling to make room. Kyle is so tight, and Stan is nervous about hurting him. He feels newly clumsy, as if he's never prepared an ass for fucking before. He's never had his fingers in one that he cared about so much, certainly.

"Is it okay?" Stan asks. He's cradling Kyle against him while he fingers him, so he's working kind of blindly down there. Kyle has his cheek resting on Stan's forearm, and he's touching his already swollen nipples, doing a high pitched whimper thing under his breath. He's drooling a little, which Stan takes as a good sign, but he needs verbal confirmation.

"Nn," Kyle says, nodding. "That's okay, yeah. That's okay."

"Did you miss this?" Stan asks, gently, hoping that Kyle likes to talk a lot during sex. Stan normally doesn't, but this is Kyle, and he never tires of hearing Kyle talk.

"Fuck, are you kidding?" Kyle bites at Stan's bicep. "It's just. It's not the same when you're trying to do it to yourself. Just not the same, and you. Your skin, it's like. All warm, and - your heartbeat. You smell wonderful."

"You're very poetic while getting felt up," Stan says, and he kisses Kyle's forehead. "I love your voice."

"My voice?" Kyle gives him a disbelieving look. Stan nods.

"I love everything about you," Stan says. He wants to make a list, but he's too overwhelmed by the way Kyle is clenching needfully around his finger to think straight. "Including, you know, the whole package. In its entirely. You, yourself."

"That's a very roundabout way to tell someone you love them," Kyle says, and he smirks up at Stan, opening only one eye, the other pressed shut against Stan's arm. "God, yuh - huhhh, right there. Mmph, Jesus. Wah, why. Why do I feel like you never left?"

"Because I didn't, really," Stan says, and they're not talking about South Park.

They have very slow, traditional sex: Kyle on his back, Stan on top of him, both of them under the blankets. Stan doesn't mind the lack of adventurousness, mostly because he suspects that Kyle will be up for some kinky shit once they're both emotionally comfortable with doing this. In the meantime, just establishing this level of eye-locking intimacy is thrilling enough that Stan is near tears, trembling all over. They kiss a lot, Stan twitching his hips carefully, trying to last. Kyle does talk at random intervals, about about random subjects.

"Oh my God," he says, touching the fringe on Stan's forehead, which is damp with sweat. "When you dyed your hair red!"

"Ugh," Stan says. That was his sophomore year of college. He was drunk when he allowed his then-girlfriend to do it. "Yeah, that. Happened."

"Was that a me thing?" Kyle asks. He squeezes hard around Stan's cock after asking, and Stan groans. "I was so sure it was."

"Well," Stan says. "It was more like, 'fire engine' than 'Kyle Broflovksi,' but you probably had something to do with it. You've had something to do with everything."

"Even Petunia?"

"Yeah. She chewed her nails a lot."

"I don't even do that anymore."

"I know, but you did. In high school. Your fingertips would get all raw. I used to want to suck on them, like. To soothe them."

Kyle grins and puts his fingertips against Stan's lips. Stan sucks on them, though it's kind of awkward and not as sexy as he'd once imagined.

"This is so great," Kyle says, and Stan laughs around his fingers. "What - no, I know, what a stupid thing to say, but I just. Love this, this is so fucking fantastic." He starts crying then, which takes Stan off guard and feels disturbingly good on his cock, Kyle's whole body bouncing with the sobs that he tries to hold in.

"What's wrong?" Stan asks. He kisses Kyle's cheeks, licking up tear tracks. "Hmm? What?"

"Your poor uncle," Kyle says, and he cries harder.

"I know," Stan says, stunned. "But, well. He and Ned did have a lot of years together. I think he'll look back on his life and see it as, like. Mostly happy."

"But he's alone," Kyle says. He's sniffling and chewing his lip, trying to stop crying. "You don't know how hard it is to be alone. You had your Petunias."

"The Petunias made me miserable. She picked the mussels out of the paella, and she faked a Southern accent when she sang. You had Blaine, anyway."

"Blaine made me feel like I was on stage all the time," Kyle says. "You make me feel like I can hide. Like it's okay if I want to just curl up in a ball and grow tits. And like you'll hide with me."

"I will," Stan says. "God, Kyle, that's all I fucking want in the world."

"I can't believe you were worried about this," Kyle says, touching Stan's ear. "And this makes you look like an action hero, not a villain." He runs his fingertips along the scar, then leans up to lick it. "You're shockingly beautiful," Kyle says when he drops back to the pillow. "Or, like. It's shocking, to me, that someone who looks like you has his cock in my ass right now. Is maintaining an erection, even."

"You're so hard on yourself," Stan says.

"I'm not really. I talk a big game. If I was hard on myself I'd go to the gym or something."

"Don't," Stan says. "I love your - chest. How it is. And your ass is, like, so freaking inviting. I want to sleep with my face between your ass cheeks."

"I think Bebe said that, once."

"I'm sure a lot of people have," Stan says. He's twitching his hips more sharply now, while talking of Kyle's ass.

"You act like I'm so-" Kyle says, but he loses the rest in a moan, because Stan is fucking him a little harder with each thrust. Kyle grabs Stan's forearms and squeezes, nodding. "Yeah," he says, softly, and that sends Stan into a brief thrusting frenzy, until he's spilling into Kyle, collapsing down onto him. He's huffing, trying to think clearly enough to tell Kyle that unloading into this perfect ass feels like coming home, but his phone is ringing on floor, from somewhere within the pile of his clothes, and Kyle is coming with a yelp, humping Stan's stomach until the skin there feels raw.

"God," Stan says as he pulls out, rolling Kyle against his chest. "Okay."

"Okay," Kyle agrees, and he presses his panting mouth to Stan's neck. "Yeah, that. Worked for me. You want to take that condom off?"

"Oh, yeah." Stan looks down at it, kisses Kyle, and slides out of bed. When he returns from throwing it away and giving himself a quick wipe down in the bathroom, he finds Kyle leaning over the side of the bed, pulling something from the pocket of his trousers. "Hey, no," Stan says, like Kyle is a dog who is chewing something he shouldn't. Kyle freezes, pack of cigarettes in one hand, lighter in the other. "This isn't even a smoking room!" Stan says.

"Ugh, I know," Kyle says. "And I'll quit, I will, I promise, but just let me have one last cigarette? To celebrate getting fucked by such a superior dick?"

"Don't try to flatter me," Stan says, though he's actually kind of hurt by that.

"Have you ever smoked after sex?" Kyle asks. "It's so wonderful. You get kind of dizzy, and everything tingles."

"Try this first," Stan says, and he climbs back into bed. He takes the cigarettes, easing them from Kyle's hand, then the lighter. Kyle seems only slightly annoyed when Stan tosses them onto the table by the bed and crawls back toward him, dragging the blankets up over them. Stan pulls Kyle against him, tucking him to his chest. "I don't know if this will make you tingle," Stan says. "But this is what I like to do, after."

"Like this is a surprise to me, that you want to cuddle?" Kyle is smiling, and he draws Stan's face down to his, nipping along his jaw. They're both still a little short of breath. Stan settles his hand onto Kyle's ass and squeezes, content. "Your phone rang," Kyle says.

"It's probably just my mom," Stan says. "I'll call her back in a minute."

"It's snowing," Kyle says, and they both look to the window. Stan is rubbing Kyle's back, still squeezing and releasing his ass in a slow rhythm with his other hand, hoping that he's not thinking of those cigarettes.

"I miss the snow when it's like this," Stan says.

"Like this?" Kyle says.

"When it's outside and I'm inside. And when you're in my bed." Stan turns to press his face to Kyle's, closing his eyes. "Always loved that, even when we were kids. Being cozy with you."

"You can't just leave town now," Kyle says, clutching at him. "Can you? Think of Jimbo."

"I can stay for a few weeks," Stan says. "As long as I've got a computer, I can work."

"A few weeks," Kyle says. He tucks his face to Stan's neck.

"You could come out to California with me after that," Stan says.

"And do what?" Kyle asks, his voice muffled against Stan's skin.

"Be my boyfriend and shit."

"And shit." Kyle snorts. "I guess that's the part where I'm supposed to make money somehow, too. The 'and shit' part."

"I've got money," Stan says, and Kyle laughs, but it's not derisive, it's giddy. He laughs harder when Stan pinches his ass.

"Oh, God," Kyle says. "I'm starving."

"Me too," Stan says. He hasn't eaten anything all day. "Can you order a pizza to a hotel room?"

"Yeah, dude," Kyle says. He gives Stan a peck on the lips. "This is America. You can order a pizza to a tree house if you want."

"Oh yeah," Stan says. They did that fifteen times one summer. It was both the first summer when they had enough allowance to blow on pizzas and the last one that they were young enough to want to hang out in Stan's tree house. They were twelve, and they used to eat the pizza so fast that they'd make themselves sick, Kyle always anxious that Cartman and Kenny were going to show up and steal some of their hard-earned slices, which was a legitimate and occasionally realized fear. When the pizza had been successfully devoured they would lie there moaning, hands on their stomachs, angled so they could watch the sky darken through the tree house's window. Kyle would talk and Stan would listen. Sometimes Stan would pretend to fall asleep, rolling over to put his face against Kyle's shoulder. Kyle never pushed him away. "You'd smell like pizza-infused sweat," Stan says, and when Kyle grins at him Stan knows he was remembering, too.

"You can fuck the pizza-infused sweat out of me after we eat," Kyle says, and he gives Stan a dainty kiss on his ear. "Order up. You know what I like."

Kyle swats Stan ass as he's leaving the bed, and only when Stan puts his phone to his ear does he realize that Kyle just kissed the bad one. He touches it while the phone rings against it, walking to the window. Examining it in the reflection on the glass, he decides it's not such a bad ear, really.

After ordering the pizza, he checks his voicemail, and goes back to the bed before returning his mother's call. Kyle dozes on his chest while he tells her that everything is fine, that he'll be home in the morning, and that he's with Kyle.

"I saw you guys at the reception," she says. She's speaking softly, maybe because Jimbo is sleeping. "Honey, you looked. So happy."

"I was," Stan says, and he leans over, pressing his face – the scar, the ear – into Kyle's hair. "I am."

He hangs up with her and rubs Kyle's shoulder for a while, pretending to believe that he's really asleep. Kyle gives it up after a few minutes, and he scoots up to yawn and nuzzle Stan's neck.

"I'm tingling," Kyle says, quietly, as if he's embarrassed to admit it. "From this, um. You should know."

"Me too," Stan says. Kyle burrows in closer, and Stan reaches for the TV remote, which is sitting on the bedside table, near Kyle's lighter. Stan has missed this so much: watching TV with Kyle, eating pizza with him, and just being close, having him near. Kyle takes the remote from Stan's hand – gently, the way that Stan took the cigarettes from Kyle – and flips through the channels until he finds a suitable cooking competition. Stan kisses Kyle's hair and thinks about how good this pizza will taste when it arrives. Jimbo was wrong: Stan can't go forward thinking that every pizza might be their last. He'd rather envision the countless pizzas ahead, and he does, holding Kyle close and half-listening to his commentary on the monkfish stew that some chef is making on the show. There are going to be so many pizzas in their future, Stan is sure of it. He opens his eyes and basks in the tingly feeling of waiting for the first one to arrive.