Soundtrack: Coming Home – Diddy - Dirty Money

TW: Abuse.

The truck driver drops Butters off on the side of the highway, right up against Fairplay, with South Park visible over the crest of the gas station just outside of town. A jolt of nostalgia makes him shiver – or maybe it's the evening breeze, who knows. Butters hasn't seen this town for years. He hasn't been far, but Eric never let him visit home. It held a lot of memories for both of them, and for Eric those memories were too painful. And if Eric didn't want to ever see South Park again, it meant that Butters wouldn't either.

But not anymore.

No, no, no. Not anymore. Eric isn't in charge.

The knowledge is both exhilarating and terrifying. Butters has never been on his own before. He's never lived without somebody to tell him what to do. He's never felt this liberty before, and he doesn't know whether to embrace it or run screaming in the other direction. He's free, and frankly, he doesn't know what to do with that.

Butters lets a few cars whip by before he crosses the small highway and walks toward South Park. Not much has changed – a few shops are gone, and a few new ones have been erected in their wake, but mostly it's the same old cozy town. And thank God for that, because Butters doesn't know what he would do in a strange place with nothing but a single rolling suitcase to his name.

All he has is the most basic of his belongings: A couple of changes of clothes, his high school diploma, a small selection of comic books that hold sentimental value – and that's it. Nothing else. No credit cards, because those were all joint cards. Just the cash he withdrew while Eric was at work – which now amounts to exactly twenty seven dollars and sixty three cents. Butters spent some of it on lunch at a truck stop, and gave a few bills to a homeless man on the way out of Denver.

God knows he'll probably end up living with his parents for a while until he gets back on his feet. That's just how it's gotta be, he supposes. Butters isn't looking forward to it, but anything is better than being with Eric. Being with Eric…everyday was hell, and it's left Butters with scars both mental and physical. If being away from Eric means flying back to the nest, then that's what has to happen.

But he figures he can still avoid it for as long as possible – he spots Tweak Bros over the crest of the hill and decides to spend the afternoon there. The outside has a coat of fresh paint over it in earthy greens and browns, giving it a polished, but homey look. Butters remembers all the high school afternoons he spent in this shop, studying and studying so he could escape and get away from his parents. Too bad he leapt from one prison to another.

"Heya, Tweek," Butters greets the tall blond behind the counter.

Tweek turns around and his brows go straight into the messy nest of hair on top of his head. He looks much older than the Tweek Butters recalls from high school – God, that was ten years ago, wasn't it? No more baby fat sits on his face, which has been pierced to heck.

"Guess you got over your fear of needles, huh," Butters remarks.

Tweek shrugs, "You c-could say that. What can I make for you, man?"

"Could I get a vanilla latte, please?" Butters asks.

"Milk preference?" Tweek asks.

"Non-fat, if you have it," Butters says, remembering that Eric wants him to keep his weight just so, and then kicks himself mentally, "Wait! Whole milk. Yeah, whole milk."

"You g-got it," Tweek says, and turns to the espresso machines to get to work. While he works, Butters rolls his suitcase to a booth in the back to wait.

The coffee shop looks different than it did a decade ago – Butters doesn't know why this surprises him. The furniture is new, woodsy stuff, the colors of the walls are new and neatly executed – even the machinery behind the counter looks modern. The Tweaks must be doing well, to afford a posh-looking place like this. Though, Butters supposes, it does seem that the town has grown.

"Whole milk vanilla latte," Tweek calls, and Butters stands to collect his drink.

As Butters shuffles across the shop, the bell at the front door tinkles. Butters keeps his head down just in case. He doesn't want anybody to know he's here –

"Butters motherfuckin' Stotch," he hears a raspy drawl, and has to look up.

It's Kenny McCormick – at least Butters thinks it is. He's tall, but much less skinny than he was in high school, in a filled-out, adult sort of way. He's covered in dirt and grease from head to toe, though his blond hair is combed neatly and his jumpsuit looks like it might have been clean this morning. He grins at Butters when their eyes meet and asks, "Where the hell have you been, dude? You like, dropped off the radar. It's good to see you, dude, real good. You look great. Whatcha doing these days? Mind if I eat my lunch with you?"

"Uh," Butters says, not sure which questions to answer, and instead just says, "Okay."

Kenny orders a heated ham and cheese sandwich and a black coffee, though Tweek knows this before the words even leave Kenny's mouth.

When Kenny sits down at the booth, he has a ceramic mug in his grip that reads Kenny on the outside in loopy letters.

"Where'd you get that?" asks Butters.

Kenny glances down at the mug and back to Butters.

"Oh," he says, "Tweek made all the regulars their own mugs way back. I'm here every day for lunch, so."

"Yeah?" Butters says, and picks at the plastic lid of his own to-go cup uncomfortably, feeling like a stranger in his own hometown, "You still workin' at the old garage?" At least some things don't change.

Kenny stares for a second and then lets out a big, whooping laugh. He slams his fist on the table and shakes his head, "Nah, man. I bought the garage like, seven years ago. It went under and I'd been savin', you know. It's McCormick Auto Body now. I'm the big boss man. Got me a suit and everything, but I can't exactly wear that when I'm getting my hands dirty."

"Wow," is all that Butters can manage. Tweek, Kenny – it seems like everybody has their shit together. Everybody has built themselves a life. A home. And Butters thought he had that, but he didn't. He doesn't have a home, now.

"What about you, dude? You just up here visiting?" Kenny points to Butters' tiny suitcase.

Shame fills Butters, and the blood rushes to his cheeks before he can help it. He doesn't want successful Kenny McCormick to know the ugly truth about everything that's happened to him, but he supposes if he's gonna be staying up in South Park for a while that he should have a story.

In the end, Butters settles on a half-truth. He says, "Well, uh. I ran outta money, and I had to quit school. Got about twenty bucks to my name and I'm probably gonna come crawling back to my parents. I gotta be honest, I'm not real enthusiastic about livin' with them, but a fella's gotta do what he's gotta do, I suppose."

At this, Kenny frowns.

"Dude," he says, "Your parents don't even live here anymore."

Butters looks up sharply.

"W-What?" he stammers.

"Yeah, they packed up and moved to Hawaii like three years ago. I thought you – I didn't realize you guys hadn't been talking," Kenny says. He looks guilty, like this is somehow his fault.

Butters lets out a long, world-weary sigh and says, "Guess I'm sleeping under the stars then, huh?"

Kenny immediately shakes his head. He takes a sip from his mug and goes on, "Nah man, nah. I'll put you up at my place, long as you don't mind living with a couple a' hooligans that don't think they have a goddamn bedtime."

"You got kids?" Butters says, "Wait, you're letting me stay at your place? That's real generous, Kenny, but I don't know if I can accept –"

Kenny holds up a hand and says, "No arguments, man. You're coming home with me. Seriously, though, I hope you don't like sleeping in 'cause kids need like, five seconds of sleep before they're ready to go again. Plus I lost my nanny like a month ago. Hey, you wouldn't mind watching them sometimes, would you? I have Karen doing it a lot, but she works too, so…they kinda get passed around a lot, and I hate that."

Butters takes a moment to digest all this information. Kenny. Kenny owns his own company. Kenny. Kenny has children. Kenny. Kenny has his own house? With enough room for Butters to stay for a little while?

"How many kids you got?" Butters finally asks.

"Two," answers Kenny, as Tweek drifts to their table and sets Kenny's sandwich down in front of him. He fills Kenny's mug, gives Butters a brief smile, and then heads back behind the counter, where he picks up a beaten scifi novel with aliens on the cover. Kenny swallows a generous bite of his sandwich and goes on, "My boy's eight, that's Jayden, and Lily's about to be five next month. Jayden's a fucking pain in the ass right now, probably 'cause he takes after me. Lily's quieter but she's smart, you know. I watch out for her."

"They got nice names," Butters remarks.

Kenny shakes his head and says, "My wife named 'em."

"You're married?" Butters says, dumbly. He doesn't know what is supposed to surprise him anymore, at this point.

"Was," Kenny replies through a bite of sandwich, "Guess I shoulda said ex-wife, maybe."

Something in Kenny's tone tells Butters that he should drop the subject. Still, his eyes flit down to Kenny's hands, and sure enough, a wedding ring glints on his finger. So he's still wearing the ring. He wonders how long ago Kenny's wife became his ex-wife. Couldn't have been long ago, if he's still wearing the jewelry.

"So, I'm thinking," Kenny goes on, wiping at his upper lip with a napkin, "I'm gonna head down to the shop and tell Craig I'm taking off for the day, so I can introduce you to the kids. They're on summer vacation right now…so, beware. It's chaotic up in my abode."

"Craig works for you?" Butters queries.

Kenny stands, and Butters quickly follows. He replies as he throws away his soiled napkins and places the used dishes in the bin by the door, "I think of it more like he works with me, but sure, I guess I'm his boss. Don't say that to him, though. Remember how cranky he was in high school?"

"Uh-huh."

"Ten times crankier," Kenny says, "Like, already at the you damn kids get off my lawn stage, because let me tell you something, he actually fucking said that to my son and his friends."

Butters takes his half-drunk latte with him and waits awkwardly outside the coffee shop as Kenny says goodbye to Tweek. He watches Kenny clap Tweek on the shoulder through the glass, both of them grinning at each other. Friends. Butters hasn't had friends in years. Any friends that came to the expensive downtown apartment he shared with Eric were Eric's friends alone – something he had to find out the hard way. A bitter, lonely feeling fills him as Kenny shoves his hands into the pockets of his blue jumpsuit and exits Tweak Brothers with a big smile on his face.

"C'mon, you should remember where it is," Kenny says, and gestures for Butters to follow him.

The old garage definitely got makeover – sure, it's still greasy looking, but none of the lights on the sign are out, and the pavement around it is no longer cracked and overridden with weeds and sturdy mountain wildflowers. It looks swept, well-tended, and even…loved. Every person that they pass greets Kenny kindly with Heya, Kenny, or even a couple, Hi, Mr. McCormicks.

Butters doesn't realize that they've reached their destination until Kenny stops at the side of a beat-up pickup and clears his throat.

An employee wheels out from under the vehicle.

It's Craig.

He definitely looks different. He's covered in tattoos from the neck down, and he's put on a lot of weight, enough to make him chubby. He isn't bad looking, but certainly more rough around the edges than the Craig Tucker of their high school years. But one thing's the same – the scowl on his face.

"The fuck do you want?" Craig asks Kenny.

"You're in charge," Kenny tells him, "I'm introducing Butters to my offspring."

"Wha – whoa," Craig says, as he turns to lift a brow, "Christ, Stotch, you're fuckin' skinny. You could use a burger or some shit."

"Guess we got opposite problems," Butters laughs uncomfortably.

Craig narrows his eyes and stands at that. He says, "You wanna fucking say that again, man? You making fun of me?"

Butters flinches back before he can stop the automatic reaction and says, "N-No, I just – I mean, I'm real sorry, Craig, I didn't mean it."

Kenny frowns and steps between them, "Knock it off, man. I'll be back tomorrow bright and early, okay? Try not to dick around too much while I'm gone."

Craig grunts something unintelligible and plops back on his scooter, rolling underneath the pickup once again. Kenny touches Butters arm to get his attention, and Butters tenses immediately, jerking his arm out from under Kenny's fingertips.

Kenny shoves his hands back into his pockets and mutters, "Dude, Craig's real sensitive about his weight, you might wanna cool it. He knocked out one of my teeth once when I said something about him looking like his dad now."

"And you didn't fire him?" Butters whispers back.

"Nah, man," he says, "He needs the job, and I already got plenty of fake teeth anyway. C'mon, my house is a little bit outta town, I'll take us on my bike."

Bike, as it turns out, is Kenny's word for, huge black motorcycle. Butters always wanted a motorcycle, since he was just little. He brightens when he sees and exclaims, "Oh boy! What a beauty, Ken."

"Thanks, dude," Kenny replies, and then adds, "Hey, that's the first time I've seen you smile since you got back here."

Butters' excitement fades instantly. He frowns, and replies, "Oh. Um, it was just a long trip, is all. And I don't feel too great about quittin' school, either." He shuffles his feet and rubs the back of his neck. He doesn't want Kenny to know the whole truth, because it's just too humiliating to tell. And Kenny…he's doing so well. He doesn't need the burden of knowing the bad luck that Butters has had in the past years.

"Man, shit happens," Kenny says, "You'll figure it out. Here." Kenny passes Butters a helmet and gives him a soft, reassuring smile. The gesture highlights how handsome Kenny's become since high school – not that he wasn't already handsome then, but growing up has done wonders for him. He's still pierced in some of the same places, and his eyes still sparkle a little with that boyish sort of charm, but now they crinkle at the corners, and five o'clock shadow graces his jaw.

Butters climbs onto the bike, and when Kenny instructs him to wrap his arms around his waist, he obeys. Kenny smells like motor oil and soap scented like tree sap. It's a lovely combination, and if Butters didn't know better, he'd press his face into the tattooed back of Kenny's neck and breathe in that aroma forever.

They don't drive far from the heart of South Park, just up into the hills where neighbors are separated by rolling fields of wildflowers and thick mountain brush, and the driveways are made of dirt. Kenny turns them onto one coated with fresh gravel, and parks in a messy garage. The shelves are stacked with tools and loose parts, and car sits inside, an old 1960s-something that Kenny looks to be in the middle of fixing up.

When they enter the house, Kenny doesn't even have to say anything. Butters hears a shriek of "Daddy's home!" and two balls of energy come bounding from around the corner.

Kenny crouches down and opens his arms, catching both kids. He heaves them up while they wiggle with a growl and says, "Were you guys good for your auntie?"

"Auntie Karen let us have some of your gummy bears," announces Lily.

"Shh, stupid, you're not supposed to tell him," Jayden bites back.

"Don't call me stupid!"

"Okay, okay," Kenny says, and sets both kids on the ground, "Chill out. There's somebody I want you guys to meet," Kenny motions Butters over and says, "This is Butters. He's gonna stay with us for a while and watch you guys sometimes, okay? He and Dad were friends when we were teenagers."

"Are you our new nanny?" asks Lily.

Butters cracks a hesitant smile, "I don't know about that. But I-I'm real good at cookin' yummy dinners, and I love to play games, so we can do those things."

Lily squints, "Do you like dress up?"

"Well, sure," Butters says.

Before Lily has time to respond, they're joined by Karen, who rounds the corner and folds her arms when she sees them standing there. She remarks, "Good God, I thought I was hearing things. Where have you been, Butters?"

"Uh, Denver," answers Butters, "You look real nice, Karen."

It's true. Like her brother, she's filled out a little more, and doesn't look like the underfed teenager that Butters remembers leaving behind when he and Eric moved away. She wears a red cotton tank top and cutoff shorts, and has a few more tattoos than Butters remembers seeing. She looks happy, though. Like Kenny. Neither of them have that strain around them that comes from living in a broken home.

"Dude, are you gonna give me a hug or what?" Karen demands.

Butters laughs, and happily steps forward to hug her. When they pull apart, she squeezes his shoulder and asks, "So what brings you to my brother's house?"

"Well, uh, I got in a tough spot, and I was gonna g-go live with my parents, but Kenny says my parents don't even live here anymore…and so he's lettin' me stay here until I get back on my feet," Butters explains. He feels the shame fill his cheeks. He never thought he'd be accepting charity from Kenny McCormick, but there you go. Life throws a lot of funny things at you. This is probably better than living with his parents, anyway.

Karen's lips turn down. For a long moment, she studies him, a crinkle in her brow, before she glances up just over Butters' shoulder at Kenny. Butters doesn't like the feeling this exchange gives him. The hairs on the back of his neck lift up.

Kenny clears his throat.

"All right, Auntie Karen, you're free to go," he says, and both his kids groan, "Say bye, guys. I'm gonna show Butters his room, okay?"

While the kids hug their aunt, Kenny leads Butters around the corner and down a short hallway. He opens the door to a small bedroom, neatly made-up. The walls are blank and the closet is empty, but the bed is fitted with clean sheets, and there's a television sitting on a chest of drawers against one wall.

"It's not much, but you can decorate it however you want," Kenny says, "So long as it's not porn."

"You're one to talk," Butters teases.

"You're real funny," Kenny says dryly, "You need anything? You hungry at all?"

"Oh," Butters says – he hasn't been asked if he needs anything for so long that the question surprises him. He thinks for a second and then says, "To tell you the truth, I'm real tired, Ken. Is it all right if I take a nap? I can watch your kids right after, I p-promise."

Kenny gives him a look, "Of course it's okay. You get some rest, dude, you look like hell."

And with that, Butters closes the door to his new bedroom. It isn't much, but when he sets his small suitcase down beside the chest of drawers and stands at the window, he realizes he has a great view. Kenny's house sits atop a hill, and from Butters' window, he can see the entirety of tiny South Park, nestled in its valley. Under the summer sun, it's a wonderful thing to look at.

Butters pulls the shades down and turns away. He takes off his shoes, but doesn't bother changing out of his clothes before he collapses on the bed. It's softer than anything he's slept on in a couple of days – he's so happy that he could kiss it.

But instead, he just falls asleep.

xxx

When Butters shifts awake, the room is dark. His head is heavy from sleeping so long, and when he turns onto his back, his stomach growls. Butters slides off of the unfamiliar bed and pads across the room in his socks to flip on the light. In the glass gleam of the television screen, he can see shadows under his eyes, and his blond hair is sticking up, out of control. He runs his fingers through it in an attempt to tame it, but after a minute, gives up, and quietly opens his door.

The house is quiet, but not completely dark. Light spills out from the kitchen, and Butters can hear the faint noise of a game show.

"Hey, sleepyhead," Kenny greets when Butters steps into the small kitchen. He lifts his beer at Butters in a toast and takes a sip. He's no longer grease-stained and in a jumpsuit, but showered, shaved, and in pajamas.

"How long was I asleep?" asks Butters, mashing his knuckles together, and feeling guilty. What if Kenny wanted him to help make dinner? What if Butters was supposed to help put the kids to bed? He doesn't know what Kenny wants from him in return for letting him stay in the house, but he knows he didn't do it.

Kenny dips his hand into the pocket of his sweatpants and pulls out his phone. He glances at the screen and answers, "Only like eight hours. It's almost nine. Don't you have a phone?"

Butters shakes his head. Eric never let him have one, but instead of saying that, he says, "I couldn't afford one."

"I've been there, dude," Kenny nods, "You hungry? There's leftover spaghetti on the stove. Probably should stick it in the microwave for a sec, though."

"Oh," Butters says, "A-Are you sure?"

"Butters, you need to eat, man," Kenny says, "As long as you're a guest in my home, you are welcome to the contents of my fridge and whatever I leave on the stove. I'm no chef, but I make mean spaghetti."

A guest? Butters hesitates for a moment, but when Kenny quirks one brow up at him, Butters shuffles to the stove, where two covered pots sit on the unlit burners: one of noodles, and one of sauce. He realizes as he stares down at the food that he doesn't know where Kenny keeps his dishes – but before he can ask, he hears Kenny come up from behind him. Kenny is much taller than Butters, and reaches over his head easily to pull a plastic bowl down from the cabinet to right of the stove.

For just an instant, Butters can smell Kenny's soap – and a hint of cigarette smoke. It's such a pleasant smell, and with it Butters' gut rolls around.

"There," Kenny says.

As Butters dishes himself some food and pops it in the microwave, Kenny finishes the last of his beer, and tosses his bottle into a green bin that sits beside the end of the kitchen counter.

"Recycling?" Butters says.

"Yeah, Karen got really into all that green stuff a while back and I figure it's a little thing that makes her happy, so I got me some bins and pay extra to have them picked up," Kenny shrugs, "You want a beer or anything?"

Butters shakes his head. He doesn't have a taste for alcohol. He did once, but a few hard lessons made him never want to touch the stuff ever again. Thankfully, before Kenny can question him, the microwave beeps. Kenny fetches Butters a fork, and they sit together at the kitchen table – Butters with his plastic bowl of spaghetti, and Kenny with a second beer.

The smell of tomato sauce makes Butters' stomach roar to life and his appetite kicks into gear. He scoops spaghetti into his mouth, and even when the heat of it burns the roof of his mouth, he keeps going.

"Jesus," Kenny remarks, "Take it easy, man."

Butters swallows.

"S-Sorry," he says, and looks red-faced down at his lap.

"Relax, I'm just joking around," Kenny replies, "Are you okay? You seem, like, really not okay."

Butters starts to peel at the skin around his fingernails, but he makes himself look up at Kenny and force a smile on his face. He says, "I-I'm all right. Just a little stressed, you know."

"If I need to, I can take a couple days off from the shop and help get you and the kids acclimated," Kenny suggests, "They're smart little fuckers, and I don't wanna stress you out even more or nothin'."

"You don't have to do that," Butters immediately says, "I love kids. I'm real good with them, I promise."

"Dude, you don't need to convince me," Kenny replies, and holds up his hands. He takes a sip of his beer before he continues with, "Don't think I don't remember how many times I dropped Karen off on you when we were kids. And hanging with you made her days, man. I used to get jealous 'cause I thought I couldn't be as fun as you."

At this, Butters laughs a little, and says, "You're lots of fun, though. At least I'm guessin' you still are."

"I am the shit," Kenny agrees, and Butters laughs again.

But then Kenny leans forward and his tone becomes serious, "So. I'm curious, man. And you can tell me it isn't my place to ask, but how come you disappeared? You dropped off the map, dude. I figured when Facebook rolled around that you'd turn up again, but nobody ever heard a word. I thought maybe you didn't wanna be around South Park, but here you are. So. I'm wondering what happened."

Butters chews on his lip and says, "I-It's kinda personal."

"Tell you what," Kenny says, "You tell me one thing, and I'll tell you one."

Butters still doesn't like the idea of revealing to Kenny everything that's happened, but he says, "Okay."

"Cool," says Kenny, "Okay. Let me sit on this for a second…I got it – you live alone, with roommates, or what?"

Butters picks too hard at one of his cuticles, and the skin rips open. He starts to bleed, but it feels kind of nice, like it's grounding him. He murmurs down at the table, "With a guy."

"Really? What's his name?" pries Kenny.

"You said one thing," Butters says.

Kenny sighs, "You're right. I did. So, you got a question for me?"

"Um," Butters pauses, "W-Where did you meet your ex-wife?"

Kenny lips twist into a wry smile and he takes a long sip of beer. He replies, "Touché, Stotch. I met her at Starfest."

"What's that?" Butters asks.

"Science fiction convention," Kenny replies.

Butters doesn't know why, but this makes him smile. He always wanted to go to conventions – the second Denver Comic Con just happened, but Eric wouldn't let him go, no matter how hard he begged. He tells himself that next year he'll be in a better position – next year he'll get to go. He'll do all the things that he never got to, because he's free. He's free now.

Kenny yawns and stands to throw his second beer bottle in the recycling. He stretches, and then says, "Okay, so, you want me to take some time off or what?"

Butters shakes his head, "No, you go to work. I can handle things, promise."

"Cool. I'm gonna head to bed then, so I can make it early to the shop. You can watch TV if you want or use my laptop or whatever if you need. My password is YOLO0508. All caps," Kenny yawns again, and turns to head toward his bedroom.

Before he goes, though, Butters says, "Ken, wait."

Kenny turns, "Mm?"

"Thank you," he says, "T-This is a real nice thing you're doin' for me. I c-can't tell you how much I appreciate it." He really can't: he can't tell Kenny how much it means to have a warm, safe bed in a familiar place, to have food at his disposal, to have busywork to take care of to keep his mind occupied – Butters' chest tightens at this. He just hopes Kenny understands how grateful he is.

"Dude, it's nothing," Kenny says, "You're my friend, even if we haven't seen each other in for-fucking-ever. Besides, I never forgot all the times you let me n' Karen crash in your room."

"It isn't nothing," Butters insists.

"Well, in any case, what's mine is yours," Kenny says, "I'm gonna hit the hay. You make good choices while I'm gone." Kenny winks at that and grins. He turns on his heel and walks away. A beat later, his bedroom door opens and closes, and Butters is left with nothing but the sound of Jeopardy playing on the living room television.

Butters finishes his now lukewarm spaghetti and rinses his dishes in the sink before filing them away in the dishwasher. For good measure, he loads the rest of the dirty dishes inside and then starts it up – no harm in keeping things tidy, after all. After he finishes, he steps down into the living room and struggles with the array of remotes until he figures out which one turns the television off.

With the noise gone, everything is silent.

Butters forgot how quiet the mountains are.

He can hear the neighbors' laughter even though the houses are yards and yards apart, and even hear the noise of the handful of cars on the highway a mile below. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Kenny's laptop (decorated with stickers of various punk bands – some things never change), and decides to distract himself. He hasn't used a computer in ages. He wasn't allowed to, except for schoolwork, and Cartman kept the internet disconnected when Butters worked on papers.

Carefully, Butters picks it up and opens it. He types in Kenny's password and the desktop pops up. The background is a picture of Kenny with his kids: They're in Denver, at Comic Con. Kenny is dressed as Batman, Jayden as Robin, and Lily as Batgirl. All three of them are grinning, like they've never been happier than they were in that moment.

After a moment, Butters shakes himself out of his trance and clicks into the internet. He doesn't quite know where to go, really. It's been so long. Out of curiosity, he types facebook into the browser. Kenny is logged into his profile – his picture is another, similar photo of himself with his kids at Comic Con.

Butters jumps when the computer makes a noise, and a box pops up at the bottom of the screen.

Stanley Marsh: Hey what are you doing up past your bedtime dad

Butters chuckles.

Kenny McCormick: Not Kenny, just logged into his account by accident

Stanley Marsh: Oh who is this

Kenny McCormick: Butters

Stanley Marsh: Quit fucking with me Kenny and go to bed

Kenny McCormick: I'm not

Kenny McCormick: Seriously, I'm staying with Kenny right now

Stanley Marsh: ….

Stanley Marsh: Dude

Stanley Marsh: Where the hell have you been

Kenny McCormick: Denver

Kenny McCormick: I quit school and moved back to South Park

Stanley Marsh: You should get your own fb man

Kenny McCormick: I'll think about it

Kenny McCormick: I should go

Kenny McCormick: Goodnight Stan!

Butters clicks out of the internet window and closes the laptop. His heart is beating a million times a minute, and all because he went on the internet and interacted with one of his friends from high school, though under another person's name. Still, he's anxious, and his hands are shaking from it.

To calm himself down, Butters exits into the kitchen. He shuffles around, opening drawers and cabinets until he finds the cleaning supplies, and sets to work to polish the place until it's spotless. Kenny keeps it decently clean, but it isn't to Butters' standard. And if Butters is going to live here, he should take care of the place in any case. He scrubs the counters, puts away the now-clean dishes, washes the sink and sweeps and mops the floor. He consolidates the clutter and moves it to where he thinks things are meant to go: he puts the kids' drawings on the fridge with magnets, takes the mail down to the living room where Kenny has a messy desk and places it there, and puts toys in the chest, also in the living room.

When Butters is finished, the kitchen looks like it belongs in a model home, and it's nearly midnight. Butters' muscles ache from scrubbing and working himself too hard. He doesn't mind, though. He's just making sure Kenny knows he's grateful for being able to stay.

After a little while of pacing and watching a couple of shows on TLC, Butters decides he's tired enough to sleep again, and retreats to the little bedroom.

He doesn't sleep for long, though: When he wakes, he can see the sun rising through the blinds on his window, and decides to get out of bed and get showered before Kenny or the kids are awake. He doesn't want any of them to have to see his scars, so he'll make quick work of it before he sneaks back to his room.

Kenny's bathroom definitely needs a good cleaning, too. But he can worry about that later.

Butters strips down and steps into the small shower. It's littered with plastic bath toys, and some toys that most likely shouldn't be in the bath but made it there anyway. He nudges a Wolverine action figure away so he doesn't tread on it, and switches on the water. He turns the heat up, way up, and lets the scalding water wake him up. He uses the no tears kid's shampoo and gives himself a quick once-over with a bar of soap that smells like Kenny before he shuts the water back off, pulls a towel from the rack on the wall, and scampers across the hall to his borrowed bedroom.

When Butters opens his suitcase, he realizes he should really do laundry. He didn't take many clothes with him, and only one of the outfits he packed is still clean. He changes into fresh underwear and a blue t-shirt, and the same jeans he's been wearing for the past few days.

Outside, the house remains quiet, as does the town below. Butters tiptoes into the clean kitchen and fetches a few things to whip up breakfast for Kenny and his kids.

On Butters' third chocolate chip pancake, Jayden emerges sleepy-eyed from the room that he shares with his little sister.

"Hey there," Butters greets, "You wanna a chocolate chip pancake?"

Jayden stares for a moment, and then gives Butters a toothy grin that makes him look eerily like Kenny. He says, "Really?"

"Really really," Butters confirms, and pulls down a plate to serve a pancake onto. He sets this and the maple syrup on the kitchen table. When Jayden climbs up and takes his fork in hand, Butters asks, "You want some orange juice or milk or somethin'?"

"Milk please," Jayden says through a bite of pancake.

"Hey there mister," Butters scolds, "Y'can't talk with your mouth full. That's bad manners."

Jayden ignores him, which Butters supposes isn't the worst response.

Lily follows her brother soon enough, rubbing her eyes in a caped Wonder Woman nightgown. She, too, looks like Kenny – it simultaneously makes Butters smile, and wonder what Kenny's ex-wife looked like.

"What smells good?" she asks.

"I'm makin' chocolate chip pancakes. Do you want one?" asks Butters.

"Yes please," Lily says.

Butters serves her and sets her up at the kitchen table, and while he cleans up his mess he starts coffee for Kenny. It's as the coffee brews that Kenny appears in his pajamas, hair sticking out every which way – looking a little like the Kenny that Butters remembers from high school.

"Something smells good," he mumbles.

"I made pancakes," Butters brightly announces, "And I got coffee brewin' for you. D'you want me to make anything else while the stove's still hot?"

"Dude, you made pancakes?" Kenny steps over to inspect the plate of chocolate chip pancakes, and then adds, "Did you clean my kitchen?"

"Yes, sir," Butters answers.

"Christ, thanks, man," Kenny says. When he moves to clap Butters on the shoulder, Butters flinches before he can stop himself. Kenny frowns and his hand falls to his side, but he changes the subject, "I usually just make a Hot Pocket and run. This is great, dude."

"That's unhealthy, Kenny," scolds Butters, "Y'need your three square meals a day, you know."

"I'm pretty sure the nutritional value of pancakes is about on par with Hot Pockets," Kenny chuckles, "But I appreciate you concern." He serves himself three entire pancakes while Jayden comes back for a second. Butters takes his first, but doesn't sit at the table until the coffee maker beeps to alert them that the coffee is finished.

Butters pours Kenny a mug and then one for himself, and only then does he sit.

"Did you guys say thank you to Butters for making breakfast?" asks Kenny.

"Thank you," Jayden and Lily chorus.

"You didn't have to do all this, you know," Kenny says. He washes down a bite of pancakes with a swallow of hot coffee.

Butters replies, "That's all right. I wanted to. Y-You're doin' a real nice thing lettin' me stay here and I wanted to show my appreciation."

"I think Butters is spoiling us, huh guys?" Kenny asks his kids.

"We should have pancakes every day," Jayden says back.

"I like pancakes," agrees Lily.

"Guys," Kenny warns, and lifts his brows in a way that only fathers master.

"You only have to make pancakes if you want to," Lily amends.

"Well, thank you, Lily," Butters replies.

After the kids finish breakfast, Kenny releases them into the back yard. He and Butters linger a little longer, though, and when Butters moves to start loading the dirty dishes into the dishwasher, Kenny holds out a hand to stop him.

"I can't let you do all the work around here," he says, and files the sticky plates into their rightful places.

Kenny excuses himself to shower, and Butters amuses himself by picking up the clutter in the living room, organizing the toys back into the toy chest in the corner, and placing the scattered DVDs back onto their shelves. The kids come running back in, Jayden in the lead with a plastic red truck in his hands, and Lily shrieking after him to give it back.

"Jayden," Butters says, and puts his hands on his hips, "Whose truck is that?"

"Mine," Jayden immediately answers.

Butters cocks a brow.

"Lily's," he sighs.

"It's not okay to take your sister's toys," Butters says, "Please give your sister her truck back. And say you're sorry."

"You're not my dad. I don't have to," Jayden asserts, and places his hands on his hips.

"I'm not your dad, but I'm sure as heck in charge, mister," Butters says back, "And if you don't give Lily back her truck, I'm gonna tell your dad exactly what happened here."

Jayden hesitates, searching Butters' face as if looking for the bluff. After a moment, his face falls into a pout and he throws the truck on the ground at Lily's feet. He stomps off to his bedroom, passing by Kenny, who's damp and freshly dressed in a muscle shirt, with his jumpsuit pulled up to his legs and the arms tied around his waist.

"Let him sulk it out," Kenny says, "He takes that damn truck about every other day. I bought him his own, too, you know? But he doesn't want the blue truck, he wants the red truck."

Kenny circles around Butters and takes a travel mug down from one of the cabinets. He pours what remains in the coffee pot into it, screws the lid on, and crouches down to hug Lily. He kisses the top of her head and says, "I'll be back tonight, Lily-Bear. Be good for Butters, okay? I love you."

"I love you too!" Lily exclaims, and wraps her chubby arms around Kenny's neck.

Except she doesn't let go, and Kenny warns, "Lily, Dad's gotta go to work."

"No you don't," Lily mumbles into his shirt.

Kenny glances back at Butters and shakes his head, like she does this to him every day. Instead of moving her off of him, Kenny just stands, and lets Lily hang onto him by the neck. He asks, "You like my new necklace, Butters?"

Lily giggles.

"It's very fashionable," agrees Butters.

"Too bad I can't wear my necklace to work," Kenny sighs. He sets his coffee on the kitchen counter, and pulls Lily off of him, setting her back on the ground. At the door into the garage, he shoves his feet into work boots, ties the laces, and gives Butters' a salute. He says with a crooked grin, "May the force be with you, Stotch."

No more than ten seconds after Kenny's motorcycle roars to life and starts snaking down the road, Lily bursts into tears.

"Oh, sweetheart," Butters says, "It's okay, your daddy'll be back in time for dinner."

"I want him now," she cries.

"I know, but he has to go to work so he can earn money," Butters replies, crouching down next to her, "So he can buy food, and pay for the lights and the water, and buy clothes and toys for you and your brother. He wants to make sure you have everything you need. Now, I think I remember you sayin' that you like playin' dress-up. You wanna play dress up with me?"

Lily sniffles but nods, and takes Butters' much bigger hand in hers when he stands up again. She pulls him along to the bedroom that she shares with Jayden. Jayden glares at them from his bed when they enter, and flops over onto his other side to continue pouting.

Lily leads Butters to her dress up trunk, and throws the lid open. She announces, "I'm the princess, and you're my maid."

Methodically, Lily removes costume after costume, and settles on a shiny, sequined yellow dress and a pink crown. She picks a tutu for Butters, and then says, "My dresses won't fit you. Follow me."

Butters does, and where they end up is Kenny's bedroom. It's a little cluttered like the rest of the house, but more personal that many of the other rooms. The walls are painted a deep green, and posters and framed comic books line the walls. He even has a bookshelf with a small selection of books on it, though most of the shelves are taken up by action figures.

"You sure we're allowed in here, Lily?" asks Butters.

"Daddy has costumes too," Lily says, "If we are careful we are allowed to try them on. Except for the Batman one."

Lily instructs Butters to flip through the clothing in Kenny's closet, which is mostly utilitarian (which some punky high school throwbacks mixed in) until they get to the end , where a bounty of costumes hang, as promised. Lily has him go through the costumes until they hit a mesh purple shirt – God only knows why Kenny owns it, but clearly Lily knew it was there, because she says, "Yeah, that one! You can change in the bathroom, maid."

And this is how Butters winds up in a child's tutu and a purple mesh tank top. He's been in worse clothing before, but his scars are visible in this ensemble…a lot of them.

Still, when Lily knocks on the bathroom door and demands, "Are you done yet?" Butters exits.

Lily declares when he exits, "You look fabulous," and takes his hand again to lead him back into the kids' room. She sits on a red beanbag chair close to her bed and instructs Butters to serve her some of the fake food from the play kitchen crammed in her corner of the bedroom. He does, and when he treads back over to the beanbag, Lily commands, "Kneel."

But before Butters can serve her the plastic goods, Lily says, "Hey, wait."

Oh, God. Oh, Jesus.

She slides off the beanbag and points to one of Butters' scars, a round, puckered cigarette burn right below his collarbone. But instead of asking what it is like Butters expects her to, Lily says, "Hey, Daddy has some of these. He says when he was little that his brother was real mean and hurt him sometimes. Did your brother hurt you too?"

Butters shakes his head, "No, sweetheart. My boyfriend hurt me."

"Well, your boyfriend was a big butthead," she tells him firmly.

Jayden, brought to attention by the sudden change of events, pads across the bedroom and peeks at Butters' scars, too. He announces, "I would never be the kind of brother that hurts people."

"You pulled my hair," Lily says back.

"That was one time," Jayden argues, "What are those ones?" he asks immediately after, and points to the long scars on Butters' thigh.

This is what he was afraid of. He doesn't want to be dishonest, but explaining a suicide attempt to children is a difficult thing to do. He takes a deep breath and says, "It's a little tough to explain, but…sometimes, people get really sad, and they want to hurt themselves…so they can go to heaven. That's what happened to me."

"Why were you sad?" Lily asks, frowning deeply at him.

"I was…stuck in a really yucky situation," Butters says, "And I didn't see another way to get out."

"I don't think that you should hurt yourself," Lily tells him in a soft whisper, "I like your pancakes and you're a good maid. You're not supposed to be in heaven yet."

"Thank you, sweetheart," Butters says, and he means it, "That's a very nice thing for you to say."

And in the next second, Lily has thrown her arms around Butters' neck. Butters hugs her back. For the first time in a very, very, very long time, his heart feels warm. He doesn't feel weary, or distraught, or angry. He feels a rush of affection.

He feels good.

xxx

The rest of the day proceeds with little incident. Lily and Jayden get into another couple of arguments, but they seem to listen to Butters now, at least. He makes them a lunch of tuna sandwiches and some frozen french fries that he found in the freezer. This seems to be the height of luxury, because both kids get giant grins on their faces.

Still, a grim reality hangs over Butters' head all the way into the evening: He's going to have to tell Kenny about discussing his scars with Jayden and Lily. You can't talk to kids about sensitive information like that without telling their parents about it. He knows that.

In the afternoon Butters walks the kids to the playground at the old elementary school, and lets them run and get some energy out in the heat of the day before they return home. There, he sets them up with a movie, and starts on making dinner: Garlic chicken breast, mashed potatoes, and broccoli with cheese.

Kenny arrives home just before Butters puts the finishing touches on the chicken. He wipes sweat from his brow as he steps into the house, and sniffs at the air.

"What's cooking?" he asks.

"Chicken, mashed potatoes and broccoli with cheese," Butters replies.

"Jesus, man, sounds incredible," Kenny responds, "I'm gonna swap out these gnarly clothes first, but I'll set the table. You're a saint, Butters."

One thing that Butters has learned since his arrival is that Kenny can really put food away. He loads his plate up with goodies after the kids are served and set up at the kitchen table, and cracks open a can of beer to accompany the setup. He cleans his plate entirely, and even returns for seconds.

"You can really cook, dude," Kenny remarks.

"Aw," Butters says, and feels a blush come on, "Thanks."

Truth be told, when he lived with Eric, his cooking was one of his only freedoms. He chose what to make, and breakfast and dinner were his favorite times of the day, because he could be as artistic and loving with his cooking as he wanted, and Eric never complained, because he loved eating the meals that Butters created.

Afterward, the kids return to the couch to keep watching the Miyazaki movie that they paused so they could have dinner, and Kenny and Butters handle cleanup.

Butters should probably approach the uncomfortable subject of the scars before the kids get put to bed.

"H-Hey, Ken?"

"Yup."

"I, uh, need to talk to you about something," Butters says.

Kenny pauses rinsing his plate and sets it down in the sink, "Okay, shoot."

"I – um. W-Well, I had a kinda sensitive conversation with the kids today," Butters says. Kenny just lifts a brow, so Butters goes on, though he feels the shame fill his face, "I was p-p-playin' dress up with Lily, and she s-saw one of my burns, and she said, you had burns just like m-mine. Well, Jayden c-comes over, and he sees my other s-scars, on my legs, 'cause I t-tried to…" Butters trails off, his breath catching, and his throat closing up with nerves, "from tryin' to kill myself. I didn't want to be d-dishonest, so I t-told them s-sometimes people get sad and t-try goin' to heaven."

Damn his stupid stammer.

But when Butters finally gets the courage to look up at Kenny, he doesn't seem angry. Instead, he reaches out and rests his hand on Butters arm, and smooths his palm over Butters' skin. He says, "It's okay, dude. I prefer being honest with the kids…maybe I should ask, but, uh, what happened?"

Butters runs a hand through his hair and blows all the air out of his lungs. He doesn't want to go into the hairy details, really doesn't, but Kenny's doing him a favor letting him stay and so he deserves at least a little information, right?

"Right o-outta high school, I started livin' with my boyfriend," Butters explains, "I-It took me a long time to realize it, but he – he was real bad to me, Ken. I didn't think I could make it out any other way, so I tried a couple a' times to off myself. B-But I finally got away, and I ran back to South Park 'cause I t-thought my parents would be here a-and…" He can't go any further. His chest seizes up. It feels like an elephant is sitting right on him and he can't get enough air to his lungs. His eyes burn with tears, but he doesn't want to cry in front of Kenny. It would be humiliating.

Kenny closes his hand around Butters' arm and steers him away from the view of the living room, and into Kenny's bedroom. He has Butters sit on his bed and closes the door.

"Why didn't you tell me, man?"

"It's embarrassing," Butters chokes out, "I don't w-wanna talk about the stuff that happened to me 'cause it's a-awful and humiliating."

"Aw, dude," Kenny says, "It's all right. You're safe with me, okay? We don't tolerate that shit in this family. And you know what? You're one of us now."

Butters looks up at Kenny and wipes the traces of tears from his eyes, "R-Really?"

"Really," Kenny nods.

Butters gives him a wobbly smile, and Kenny smiles back.

And then Kenny goes, "Hey, how would you like to be the kids' nanny? I mean like, for real. Paid position. You're already doing a great job as it is."

"Kenny, you can't be serious," Butters says, "You don't have to pay me. It's enough j-just being able to live here."

"Dude, I fucking insist," Kenny says, "I paid my last nanny four hundred a week, how's that sound to you?"

Butters' eyes go wide and he has only the power to reply, "It sounds a-amazing Kenny, but I can't accept that kind a' money, that's a lot!"

"Nonsense, it's settled," Kenny says, and he reaches out and squeezes Butters' shoulder.

They smile at each other again, and eventually Kenny lowers himself onto the edge of the mattress beside Butters, a safe distance away. His face goes serious, and he lowers his voice, "So you got cigarette burns, huh?"

"Yeah," Butters murmurs.

"I'm sorry you had to explain that to my kids, man," Kenny says, "It sucked when I had to do it, 'cause like, on one level I don't want them to know how fucked up people can be, but on the other, I don't want to lie to them and have them get hurt 'cause they didn't know any better, you know? When I explained it to Jayden, he drew his own scars in markers so he looked just like his dad and it was endearing, sure. But man, I don't want them to have to go through that. And I'm so fucking sorry that you had to, Butters."

"That's okay," Butters says, "You didn't do it to me."

"So? Some fucker did," Kenny responds.

"Your daughter's words were 'a big butthead,' I believe," Butters answers.

Kenny laughs, "That too."

xxx

The kids take to Butters as their nanny like fish to water, and as the days pass, Butters has never been happier. He takes them on trips to the park and bakes cookies with them, and even though he separates fights and gets sassed, he knows they're good kids, and he kind of starts to love them a little. He knows he shouldn't get attached – he knows this situation isn't permanent, and it isn't wise to fall in love with the family when it isn't his.

…but he does anyway.

One night when Kenny has to work late, Butters puts the kids to bed for the first time – Lily cries, but when Butters sings 'Over the Rainbow' to her, she seems to feel much better. Jayden demands his own song, and from Butters' somewhat limited repertoire chooses to hear 'Castle on a Cloud' from Les Miserables.

When Butters finishes the song, Jayden's eyes droop, but he has just enough energy left to say, "Hey, Butters?"

"Hey, Jayden," Butters says softly back.

"I'm glad you're our nanny," he says.

Butters melts a little, and replies, "I'm glad too."

On the Saturday after Kenny gives Butters his first paycheck, he takes Butters and the kids out of the mountains and into Littleton, where they spend the day shopping, and get noodles and then ice cream for lunch.

Butters buys himself some new clothes. When he looks in the mirror in the dressing room, he can't help but smile. It feels nice to look at something on his body that he's going to buy himself, and that isn't something that Eric purchased for him.

When the sun starts to hang lower in the sky, they load up into Kenny's car (his 'family vehicle,' as he calls it) and head back up into the mountains. No more than thirty minutes into the drive, Jayden and Lily are both knocked out in the backseat, and the car goes quiet. Kenny turns up the radio just a little on a classic rock station, and hums along with the music.

"Ken," Butters says, at last.

"Mm?"

"Thank you," he says, "For everything." For a place to live, for a job – for what's starting to feel like a home and a family, even though Butters knows that's silly and that he shouldn't let himself feel that way.

"Dude, don't worry about it," Kenny says, "You're a part of the family now."

Butters glances over at Kenny, and a rush of feeling comes over him, like a bucket of ice water dumped over his head. Slender, older Kenny, who gets five o'clock shadow and smells like grease and tree-sap soap. Whose eyes crinkle at the corners when he smiles. Who can't cook anything but spaghetti and mac n' cheese. Who dresses up with his kids and takes them to Comic Con…Butters' heart swells when he thinks of all this, and he realizes something dire.

He may very well have feelings for Kenny McCormick.

xxx

The end of July rolls around, which means Lily's fifth birthday. She expresses to Butters that she would like to have a mermaid party, and he starts in right away on the work of planning an excellent birthday party. He is nothing if not a good party host.

Butters gets permission from Kenny to use his car and purchases supplies to make the party a smashing success, though he leaves the ordering of the cake to the bakery back in South Park.

When he returns to the McCormick house, he puts the party supplies away in his bedroom, and sets to work assembling the invitations at the kitchen table. While he scrapbooks eight invitations for eight little girls, Jayden and Lily color across from him. Butters uses turquoise paper and see-through vellum and green glitter. He's quite proud of what he comes up with, but doesn't have time to linger on the design before Lily tugs at his sleeve.

"I made you a picture," she says, and pushes a paper in front of him.

There are mountains, and a crude house, and four figures: One tall one with a blond beard and a blue outfit – Kenny – two children…and Butters. He has a big red smile on his face.

"I gave you a smile 'cause you're happy," Lily tells him, "You're not sad when you're with us."

Butters smiles and brings Lily into a one-armed hug.

"Thank you, Lily," he says, "It's a beautiful drawing. I think I'll hang it on my wall."

Butters does exactly that.

When Kenny arrives home in time for dinner (cheeseburgers with fries), he gives Butters the addresses of the girls that Lily wants to invite to her birthday party – although he insists he can just tell the parents of these girls that the birthday party is on Saturday.

"You have to have invitations, Kenny," Butters replies, "That's just good manners."

"If you say so," Kenny says, "Seems like a lot of work to me, though."

Butters slides each invitation into a creamy envelope and addresses each in "fancy letters," as Lily calls them, which is really just his regular handwriting – but she loves it, so he supposes that's what matters.

When Saturday rolls around, Butters wakes up extra early in the morning to shower and get dressed in one of his new outfits – but as he slips out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist, he hears a creak on the floor, and turns to see Kenny, staring at him. He tenses immediately, knowing that all his scars are showing, and backs up toward the wall.

"H-Hey, Ken," he says.

"Dude, your back," he manages, "It's all messed up."

"I-I know," Butters replies, "I'm just g-goin' t-to cover it up now."

"No, wait," Kenny says, "Let me see."

"It's embarrassing, Kenny," Butters says, and pulls back, "I d-don't like people lookin' at my scars."

"Please?" Kenny says.

Butters doesn't know why he does it, but he turns so his back faces Kenny, so he can see the long scars roping down from below the back of his neck to right at his waist. It started innocently enough: Butters doesn't mind a little pain with his sex. In fact, he likes it, as long as it isn't taken too far. But that was the problem. Eric took everything too far, and Butters wasn't safe with him. Sometimes when he came home from work, Eric didn't want dinner.

No, instead, he tore Butters away from the kitchen and he'd back him into their bedroom. Butters protested the first few times, but after a while he started to just let it happen. He let Eric tear off his clothes and he let Eric turn him over, and he let Eric hit him with his stupid, awful belt until his skin broke and he started to bleed.

Eric usually stopped hitting him after that, but then he'd fuck him. He was rough and unforgiving, and he'd make Butters bleed with that too.

Just thinking about it makes Butters tense, and his hands shake.

He feels the tips of Kenny's long fingers trace over the ugly scars.

"Belt?" he asks.

Butters nods silently.

"I got a couple a' these too," Kenny murmurs, "Not this many, though. Who the fuck is this guy that did this?"

"N-No one," Butters whispers.

"Hey, c'mere," Kenny says, and pulls Butters to face him. He brings him in for a hug, and holds Butter close against his chest. Kenny's heart beats in his ears and his smell wraps around Butters like a blanket. Butters isn't shaking anymore, he realizes. He's starting to relax under the touch, and eventually, he rests his head on Kenny's shoulder, and just breathes.

"No one's ever gonna hurt you like that again, you hear?" Kenny says, "'Cause if they do, they're gonna answer to me. And no one likes me when I'm pissed."

Butters manages a little laugh. After that, he pulls away, and excuses himself to get dressed.

He and Kenny don't talk about the scars after that. The kids wake up and Kenny serves them a couple of bowls of cereal. While Kenny rinses their bowls and Jayden and Lily run off to play in the back yard, Kenny's phone beeps. He flips it out of his pocket and his eyes flick across the screen.

"Aw, shit," he mutters, "I've gotta run to the shop for like a half-hour. Can you hold down the fort while I'm gone? I'll be back before Lily's party – Craig just fucked something up and I need to fix it."

"I'll be fine," Butters chirps, "You go on."

And so Kenny shoves his feet into shoes, kisses his kids goodbye, and runs out the door. Butters moves onto decorating the house for the affair: he hangs green, turquoise and yellow streamers from the ceiling like seaweed, strews plastic gold coins and beaded necklaces over the floor, and sets to work on the treasure hunt he's put together. He fills a beaten wooden chest he bought at a Goodwill with boiled spinach noodles and more coins, and arranges the goody bags for the girls inside. Lastly, he hangs a fish-shaped piñata in the back yard before diving into making cupcakes. (She has a cake, too, but Butters can never resist an opportunity to make cupcakes.)

Kenny arrives back home just as the cupcakes come out of the oven. He glances around the place and says, "Damn, dude. This is really nice."

"I throw a good party," Butters hums, and sets the cupcake tray on the counter so that they can cool.

"I'll say," Kenny smiles, "Quality nanny work, dude. Could even be time for a bonus, eh?"

"Aw, Ken, don't do that," Butters says, "You already pay me real generously."

Kenny lifts his brows, but doesn't have time to respond before the kids come running in the house – Lily wailing about something and Jayden shrieking back at her. As Kenny swoops into handle it, Butters returns his attention to the cupcakes. He bought enough baking equipment for any three bakers, but proves to need most of it as he removes each cupcake and squeezes swirled frosting in purple, teal and blue onto the top. He sprinkles each with food glitter, and presses a sugar fish each onto the tops.

The first guest arrive mere minutes after everything is in order – Kenny is off lecturing Jayden about his behavior, and so Butters opens the door to two little twins with their hair in pigtails.

"Well, hey there," Butters greets, "Kenny's a bit busy – I'm Butters, it's nice to meet you."

"Susan," the mother replies, and shakes Butters' hand, "Are you…Kenny's boyfriend?"

Pink stains Butters' cheeks and he shakes his head, "No ma'am, just the nanny."

Susan smiles and instructs to her daughters, "Be good for Butters and Kenny, okay?"

"Okay, mom," they reply in turn.

The guests soon all file in, little girls in mermaid outfits or Ariel t-shirts, laughing and shrieking and playing with the coins and necklaces and streamers. Kenny emerges with a sullen Jayden, just in time for the treasure hunt: Butters gives the girls a starting hint, and the hunt begins for the treasure chest.

Lily finds it first – probably because she spied on Butters while he hid it in the backyard.

With goody bags in hand, the girls return to eat cupcakes and play before cake and presents. It's over the gaggle of girls that Butters' catches Kenny's eye. Kenny is staring at him, with something strange and soft in his blue eyes. Butters smiles at him, and Kenny smiles back. That awful twist of feeling starts up in Butters' gut, and he tears his eyes away from Kenny to keep looking after the party guests.

He shouldn't be having feelings like this. He only just made it out of his relationship with Eric – a person that he thought he had feelings for, but ended up only being afraid of. He can't risk letting that happen again. And he doesn't really deserve a good person like Kenny, anyway.

Kenny brings out the cake and they all sing Happy Birthday before Lily blows out the candles.

When Lily opens her presents, Butters can feel Kenny's eyes on him again, but he makes a point of ignoring it.

And then, almost as soon as it began, the birthday party is over. Little girls go home with party favors and leftover cupcakes, leaving a mess in their wake. Kenny helps clean it all up with Butters, while Lily naps on the couch, exhausted by all the excitement, and Jayden plays with one of her new toys – which Kenny pretends not to notice.

Butters takes his own nap when the work is done, and doesn't wake again until the sun has set and it's after Lily and Jayden's bedtime. He emerges from his bedroom in pajamas to make himself a cup of tea, and finds Kenny hanging out in the living room on his laptop.

"Hey," Kenny greets.

"Hey," Butters says back, and yawns.

"So…I wanted to say thank you," Kenny goes on, "For today. I'm not good at that kind of stuff and…well, you made her day. You're kind of amazing, dude."

"I-I'm just bein' a good nanny, is all," Butters insists, though warm fills him at the compliment, "Do you have any tea at all? I f-forgot to check and uh –"

"Yeah, I think we got some in the back of the cabinet, hang on," Kenny says. He closes his laptop and sets it aside, and joins Butters in the kitchen. Butters steps aside to give Kenny room as he rummages through the cabinet.

Kenny turns back empty-handed and says, "Got nothing. Sorry, dude. I can get some next time I buy groceries."

Kenny's eyes are burning through him.

"G-Geez, that's okay," Butters says.

"Butters," Kenny murmurs, and he reaches out and touches Butters' arm, just lightly. The touch is enough to send sparks throughout his whole body. His voice is low, and it feels like the heat in the kitchen has gone up twenty degrees. Kenny swallows and said, "You did a real nice thing today."

Butters starts to say "it's nothing," but can't, because Kenny leans down, and suddenly, their lips are touching. It's a kiss. A kiss! A real sweet one, though Butters hardly has time to process what's happening before Kenny jerks back.

"Aw, shit," Kenny simplifies, "I'm sorry, dude. I just – damn it. I've wanted to do that forever."

"That's okay," Butters finds himself saying, despite his brain screaming at him to run to his bedroom and lock the door behind him, "You can kiss me again, if you want."

"I really want to," Kenny says lowly, "But only if you want me to."

"Please kiss me," Butters whispers.

Kenny does, and it's the best feeling in the world to feel his chapped lips. Butters wraps his arms around Kenny and pulls him in closer. It's been so long since he's felt something like this – in its purest form, an attraction that doesn't make him feel dirty or used or sick to his stomach. He feels good, better than good, he feels incredible – so light that he could float right off of the floor.

Kenny's tongue slides into his mouth. It's pierced, and with the sensation of warm metal in his mouth, Butters moans.

Kenny pulls away, and Butters blushes at his noise.

"Sorry," Butters automatically says.

"What're you sorry for?" Kenny asks, "I really liked that noise. I – wanna hear you make it again."

"You can do that," Butters agrees, his body temperature rocketing at the suggestion.

Oh, God. He's getting hard in his pajamas. There's no way to hide that, no way at all. He blushes deeper as Kenny glances down, and a smile curls the edges of his lips up. Kenny reaches down, but before he touches Butters at all his blue eyes flick back up to study Butters' face. He asks solemnly, "You're okay with this, right? I don't wanna go around making you feeling obligated to do anything."

"I do want it!" Butters exclaims, and hushes himself when he remembers that the kids are sleeping only a few paces away, "But maybe in your room instead of the kitchen."

Kenny smirks and pecks another kiss to Butters lips with a cheerful, "Come on, then."

Butters follows Kenny and closes the door behind them, locking it just in case. When he turns back, Kenny already has his shirt over his head and into his overflowing laundry hamper (Butters should really take care of that – Kenny doesn't separate his colds from his warms and it drives Butters nuts). He steps forward and takes both of Butters' hands in his. Kenny's palms are rough – work-calloused hands, with long fingers too elegant for the person that they belong to.

He looks Butters' in the eye and gnaws a little on his lower lip before he says, "You tell me if you wanna stop, okay? I don't wanna hurt you, I don't wanna scare you. I wanna make you feel good."

Just that is enough to send Butters forward, launching his arms around Kenny so that he can bring him in for a kiss, a harder one. Kenny reacts instantly and pushes those wonderful hands underneath Butters' t-shirt. The pads of his fingers feel amazing against Butters' skin, as Kenny runs them all the way up and down Butters' chest, over scars and unmarked skin, then to his ruined back, where he strokes over the long ripples of damaged skin softly.

Butters shivers and pulls away.

"You want me to stop?" Kenny asks, and pulls his hands away.

Butters shakes his head, and in one swift, bold move, he whips his t-shirt up over his head. He follows up by kicking off his pajama pants, and scoots back onto Kenny's mattress in nothing but his briefs. He hasn't been naked like this for someone for a couple of months now. Butters thought that he would maybe never want to be naked with another person again. But his heart melts when Kenny unbuttons his jeans and casts them aside, and his cock gets harder when Kenny crawls up onto the mattress over him.

Kenny leans down and kisses one of the old cigarette burns. He kisses them all, each and every one, and goes lower and lower and lower. Butters thinks that Kenny might be moving to take off his underwear, but Kenny's mouth moves from Butters' abdomen to his thighs, where thick, vertical scars slash down his skin. Kenny stares at them for a long, long time, before he licks his lips, leans down, and kisses them, too.

Butters' heart twists in his chest, wrenching more and more with each touch of Kenny's lips to another scar.

Kenny has lots of scars, too…

Butters sees cigarette burns just like his on Kenny's arms, though they are much older than the ones on Butters' chest. Kenny's back has welts in it, too. A lot of his skin is covered in ink, though. A flock of birds flies down Kenny's chest, and tentacles rope on one of his arms. His biggest tattoo, however, is on his back, over the scars that look a lot like the ones Butters has, too. Two deer rear up, though not in a fight. One is a doe, and the other a stag. Underneath each is a banner: Jayden James, 2005, and Lily Carol, 2008.

"You're so beautiful," Butters blurts out.

Kenny's eyes soften. He leans back up and cups Butters' face in both hands to kiss him, hard. He says against Butters' mouth, "I think you're beautiful, too."

Kenny reaches down, then, and moves his palm over Butters' erection, through the thin cotton of his briefs. Butters gasps and his hips buck up into Kenny's touch of their own accord. When Eric did this, Butters started to feel filthy, but with Kenny he feels perfect. Kenny is careful and thoughtful, and works in slow movements, pausing each time Butters makes a noise to consider what places make Butters tick.

And then Butters' underwear are off. He's naked, completely naked, in front of Kenny. The realization makes him shiver. A pinprick of fear pierces his heart, and he shifts a little, feeling exposed. Kenny notices instantly and moves back, like a tamer backing off from an angry lion.

Butters lets himself breathe for a moment, and study Kenny. Butters has been hurt a lot, but he doesn't think that Kenny would do that to him. Sure, Butters hasn't been a sterling depiction of good judgment for the last decade, but this feels so different. Kenny gave him a bed, a job, a life…a home.

Butters has a home.

And it's all because of this man.

Butters sits up and pushes Kenny down to sit beneath him. He slides his fingers up underneath the elastic waistband of Kenny's plaid boxer shorts, and tosses them away, off of the mattress.

Kenny has a lovely cock. He's all hard and flushed against his belly, and there's a barbell looped through the skin underneath the head. Butters flashes Kenny a grin before he ducks down and licks along the shaft. Kenny shifts and makes a soft, rumbling noise of approval. So, Butters does it again. And again. He sinks his mouth down over Kenny. He tastes good, and he isn't rough with Butters at all. He threads his long fingers through Butters' hair, but waits patiently as Butters swallows him down inch by inch.

Kenny lets out a long groan when Butters hums around him. He slides his mouth up and down over him, and Kenny's grip on his hair tightens and his hips start twitching.

Then an idea strikes Butters.

"Do you have any lube?" he asks, "An' condoms and stuff?"

Kenny nods and doesn't bother asking what Butters has in mind – just knocks open his bedside table drawer and tosses the things at Butters. Butters pops open the lube and spreads it on his fingers. Kenny has a little half-smile on his face like he knows exactly what's about to happen – but Butters surprises him by, instead of spreading Kenny's legs open, shifting his own, and pressing his fingers inside himself.

Kenny whines, and Butters shudders at the cool sensation.

"Jesus, dude," Kenny says, "You – damn it, wow. You don't have to do this."

"I know that," Butters says, and hits his prostate. He hangs his head and moans softly before he adds, "I want to. I want this with you. I wanna ride you."

They both groan.

Butters pulls his fingers away from himself when he feels ready, and rips open a condom packet to roll it over Kenny's cock. He crawls up to kiss Kenny first, smashing their lips together as he holds Kenny's cock and sinks down on him.

Butters feels full, but he feels good. Kenny feels right like this, underneath him and inside him, pink-cheeked and lips parted from the sensation. When Butters slides up and back down on Kenny's cock, Kenny groans and writhes beneath him, clutching at the striped sheets at his sides. Butters' hips work into a slow, comfortable rhythm. He angles himself so Kenny's erection hits his prostate, and moans happily with each touch.

In an instant, though, Butters is on his back, and Kenny is above him. His first instinct is to be afraid, but Kenny stills inside him and runs his knuckles over Butters' cheek, and kisses him before he starts to move, driving into Butters over and over again.

Butters comes first, all over himself.

Kenny looks surprised, but after a moment, runs the tip of one finger through the mess on Butters' stomach and pops his finger in his mouth.

"You taste damn good, sugar," he says, and Butters whimpers.

Kenny comes only a handful of minutes later, curling in close to Butters so that they can kiss and laugh. They stay tangled like that for some time – until Kenny shifts away first. He trudges to his trashcan and dumps the condom in it, and then unlocks the door and exits. He returns with a wad of wet toilet paper, and mops up Butters' chest before climbing back into bed.

"You wanna sleep here with me, or back in your room?"

"D-Do you want me to leave?" Butters asks, and feels the warmth in his chest start to cool.

"No, man," Kenny assures him, "I just wanna do what makes you comfortable, okay? This is a house where people are safe. That applies to everyone. I always want you to feel safe, you hear?"

Butters nods, and then in a small voice says, "I w-wanna stay."

Kenny grins wide and the warmth is back, just like that. Tattooed arms loop around Butters and hold him close, even though it's hot outside and they've only got a standing fan to cool them off. Butters doesn't mind. He likes being this close to Kenny. He likes smelling Kenny's skin and the scent of sex being in the air.

Butters relaxes into the mattress. He feels content here, and satisfied...

And safe.

xxx

All hell breaks loose early the following morning, when Butters, barely awake, hears a soft, "Daddy?"

Kenny grunts and shifts, and that's when Jayden bursts into tears.

Kenny and Butters are both wholly awake then. The memory of last night hits Butters like a freight train, and he leaps to yank a sheet around his waist. His whole face turns red as he watches Jayden rush from the room and Kenny yank a pair of boxers on before tripping out of the room after his son. Butters takes the opportunity to hastily arrange last night's pajamas back on his body before he follows them out.

He finds Kenny and Jayden in the living room. Snot runs down Jayden's nose, and he's still sobbing like it's the first time that he's seen Bambi. Guilt rushes through Butters. He shouldn't have slept with Kenny…he wanted to, but he shouldn't have, because Kenny's a dad and he has responsibilities. And Butters is a nanny, and he has responsibilities too. None of those include fucking the boss, but he did that anyway.

Jayden spots Butters as soon as he rounds the corner, and yells, "I don't want you to leave!" He slides off of the sofa and runs to Butters. Jayden throws his arms around Butters waist and hugs him tight, pressing his tear-stained face into Butters' wrinkled t-shirt.

Butters rubs a hand over Jayden's back and soothes, "I'm not goin' anywhere, darlin'."

"Yes you are!" Jayden shouts, "Whenever Daddy does the sex with our nannies they leave us. I don't want you to leave."

At this, Butters looks over at Kenny, who's smearing a hand over his face. He looks like he feels awful, feeling guilty like Butters feels guilty about last night's transgressions. It's just that – he adores Kenny, and he didn't know he wanted that intimacy so badly until it happened.

Butters kneels down and wraps his arms around Jayden. He keeps circling his palm over his spine and assures him, "I promise that I'm not gonna leave." Even if he wanted to (which he most certainly does not), Butters wouldn't have another place to go.

Jayden pulls back and sniffles, "You promise?"

"Pinkie swear," Butters says, and holds out his hand. Jayden stares for a moment, and then hooks his pinkie with Butters'.

Jayden whispers, "You have to cut your pinkie off if you break your promise."

"Good thing I'm not gonna break my promise, then," Butters replies.

Jayden, through his tears, manages a toothy smile and throws his arms around Butters' neck. Butters holds him for as long as Jayden wants to stay in his arms, and when Jayden finally wiggles away, Butters asks, "How about some bacon and eggs for breakfast?"

"Yeah," Jayden says, and smiles again.

Butters sets to work immediately. Kenny goes to shower, but Butters brews a pot of coffee so that there will be some when he comes out. By the time that he does emerge, dressed for the day and squeaky clean, Jayden and Lily have already finished their breakfast – Jayden ran to play outside, while Lily retreated back to their bedroom to play with some of the new toys that she got for her birthday.

"I made coffee for you," Butters hums.

"Thanks, man," Kenny replies.

"No problem," Butters cheerily responds.

"No, I mean – thank you, for handling that," Kenny answers, "You – you're really good with the kids. And Jayden's right, I guess…the nannies always do leave, and it is because of me. I just – fuck. They all wanted more than I did, I guess."

"Aw, Ken," Butters says, "Don't you worry, okay? I'm stayin'. And if you w-wanna keep sleepin' together, I'm okay with that, too."

"Dude," Kenny says, "I don't want you to feel obligated to fuck me, okay?"

Butters frowns, "I don't. I liked it."

Kenny blows all the air out of his lungs and runs a hand through his hair. He sighs, "Sorry. I don't wanna snap at you. I just feel like a shitty father today."

Butters shakes his head at this immediately and stops scrubbing at the greasy frying pan to hug Kenny. He pulls away and says, "No way, mister. You're a great dad, you hear me? I-I bet you didn't mince words w-with those nannies, that you told 'em what they were gettin' into and they wanted more anyway. That's their fault, not yours. If I ever hear you callin' yourself a bad dad again I'm gonna – gonna – I'm gonna make nothing but cereal for you for breakfast!"

Kenny laughs. He laughs a huge, deep, belly-laugh. And so Butters laughs too, but quiets eventually and says, "Really though, Ken. I wish I'd had a dad like you when I was growin' up. I probably woulda made better choices if I did."

"Butters," Kenny says seriously, "What happened to you was not your fault."

"But…well, it was, 'cause I chose to go with him, and I let him do awful things and didn't say nothin', and most times I did somethin' bad and messed up," Butters says.

"Dude. Butters. He chose to hurt you. Normal people make mistakes, okay? And sometimes they fight about it but they don't hit people because that's not fucking okay," Kenny answers, "They don't burn you or beat you. That's what fucked up people do. Don't tell me what happened to you was your fault because it wasn't."

Butters doesn't know what to say, so he just launches himself into Kenny's arms and holds him there. Kenny plants his lips on the top of Butters' head and keeps his arms around him until Butters finally sees fit to draw away.

Nobody's ever said that to him before.

Everything was always his fault.

He still thinks it might be, but Kenny doesn't think so, and that means the world.

xxx

In the following weeks, Butters and Kenny fall into a happy routine. Butters makes breakfast and coffee for Kenny and the kids every day before Kenny jets off to work, and when Kenny arrives home Butters has dinner ready and the kids occupied with a movie. Butters saves his paychecks, spending his money only to buy the most necessary of items, and utilizes the majority of his free time to clean up Kenny's house. He organizes the bathroom (purchasing a new, less gross shower curtain and bits and pieces to organize toys and bath products in), Kenny's desk, and even helps the kids get their bedroom sorted out (a task that Kenny finds particularly impressive).

And at night, after the kids are in bed and asleep, Butters usually finds himself in Kenny's bedroom. More often than not Butters sleeps in Kenny's bed in lieu of his own. He likes being there with Kenny. Sleeping next to Kenny makes him feel safer. Kenny even holds Butters – which always sends the warmth in Butters' gut rocketing up.

Butters loves waking up next to Kenny.

He realizes how dangerous that is.

He knows that he shouldn't.

But he loves it.

He loves being fucked and held and paid by this man. He loves the laugh lines on Kenny's face and the burns on his arms and the scars on his back. He loves Kenny's intricate tattoos, and his blue eyes, and the sandy five o'clock shadow he comes home from work with.

It doesn't take long realize after considering these things that he may in fact just love Kenny McCormick.

Butters swallows it down, though. Kenny has children and responsibilities. He has his own auto body shop and staff to manage, and God knows he doesn't want anything more than sex from Butters. And that's okay most days. Butters is more than happy to sleep with Kenny and sleep next to Kenny, even if sometimes a little piece of his heart says that he wishes there could be more than that.

So he'll just continue keeping his feelings to himself, and go about his business. Kenny doesn't want a used up bit of junk like him – someday Kenny will find the kind of wonderful person that he deserves, and they'll get married and Butters will find a new life, in a new place.

The thought leaves a sour taste in his mouth.

But still, something has changed inside Butters: One morning, he opens Kenny's laptop and decides to make himself a Facebook account. He's safe here with Kenny, he knows. And besides, he has a lot of catching up to do with a lot of different people.

It turns out that Kenny actually has a lot of pictures of Butters on Facebook already. There are a ton from Lily's birthday party two months ago, and various photos from trips to the park or zoo or just being goofy at home.

Butters chooses one where Lily and Jayden drew on his face with Crayola markers and then on each other, where they're all grinning at the camera, looking like they've just laughed at something funny that Kenny said. He spends all day tagging himself in photos – finding even a few from high school, when he had more meat on his bones and baby fat on his face and no scars yet.

But Butters likes the recent pictures of him. His eyes crinkle at the corners, too. And he thinks he might be getting smile lines like Kenny has. He looks happy in all the pictures Kenny has taken of him, even when they're candid shots where Butters looks a little nutty.

Maybe all these pictures make up for the ten year gap in Butters' history.

There's a new history in them.

Butters holding Lily up so she can see the zebras at the zoo. Butters in a party hat at Lily's birthday party. Butters playing an intense game of checkers with Jayden on the living room floor. Butters in the backyard in his brand new swimsuit, running with Jayden and Lily through the sprinklers.

There's even one of Butters and Kenny that Lily took when she nicked her dad's phone. They're just sitting on the back porch – Kenny has a beer, and Butters has a glass of iced tea. Butters is smiling at Lily, but Kenny didn't notice the picture being taken…he's looking at Butters, and he's smiling too.

Butters really likes that picture.

His new fascination with photographs is what leads him up to Kenny's attic. Mostly there are boxes of old stuff that once belonged to Carol or Stuart, and some old furniture and even some car parts that couldn't fit into the garage with the rest of them. But in the back of the attic, Butters finds one big, dusty box labeled 2004-2009.

Inside, he finds Jayden and Lily's baby books, filled out mostly in a handwriting that definitely isn't Kenny's. He finds photo albums of the kids as babies.

And at the very bottom, he finds a dust-encrusted album with gold filigree stamped on the cover: Our Wedding.

And there's Kenny, all dressed up in a suit. There's Stan and Kyle dressed up too, right next to him, and Karen, in a purple bridesmaid gown. And beside Kenny is a woman Butters has never seen before – a thick, beautiful woman with bright blue hair and a huge smile. Kenny's ex-wife. They look so happy together here…Butters has to wonder what made her leave Kenny and the kids behind. He knows she isn't dead, because Lily got a birthday card from her with twenty dollars in it.

In any case, all these pictures shouldn't be up in the moldy old attic, where no one can see them. Memories are supposed to be shared, not stowed away.

So, Butters heaves up the box and takes it downstairs. He carefully cleans the dust off of the photo albums and baby books and places them all on the bookshelf in the living room.

This naturally leads to Butters cleaning out the entire attic. He does a good job, if he says so himself, organizing the clutter into sections, and bringing down what can be thrown away in garbage bags. It doesn't look half bad when he's finished.

When he emerges for the last time, he hears Kenny coming home. He wants to surprise Kenny, and so he quietly pushes the ladder back into the ceiling, hoping the dust on his clothes won't completely give him away.

Butters tiptoes around the corner and finds Kenny in the living room, looking at the bookshelf.

"Aw, you discovered me before I could surprise you," Butters says.

Kenny turns around.

Oh.

He doesn't look happy.

"What the fuck, Butters? Why the hell is my fucking wedding album on this bookshelf?" he demands. His voice is loud and sends a shockwave through Butters. Kenny only gets louder as he goes on, "Do have no fucking respect for other people's things? That was goddamn private! There's a reason I had it put away, you idiot!"

Butters stammers, "I-I didn't know. I t-t-thought maybe you forgot about t-them."

"Well, you thought wrong," Kenny shouts, "I don't want to remember my fucking ex-wife. She abandoned me and the kids, and you think I want to see this shit down here? Are you kidding me, Butters? How could you do this?"

Butters hangs his head and wrings his hands. He feels like trash, stupid trash, so stupid for thinking he was doing something good when it was clearly something bad. He whispers at his hands, "I'm r-real sorry, K-Ken, I d-didn't…"

"I can't fucking hear you," Kenny says, and surges forward.

Butters flinches back immediately. He tumbles over onto the floor, and before he can help it, bursts into tears.

The commotion sends the kids in from the backyard.

"Daddy, what are you doing?" Lily cries, and she runs across the room to stand in front of Butters, where he sits crumpled up and shivering a little. She says, "Don't be mean to Butters, we love him! Don't be mean like your brother."

Kenny's face slackens at this.

He runs his hands down his face and mutters, "Shit," before taking off toward his bedroom, away from where Butters is on the floor.

Eventually, Butters makes himself stand. He says to Lily and Jayden, "I'm goin' to take a nap, okay? You guys take care of your dad."

Butters strides to his room with his head down. He locks the door behind him, and wipes the angry tears still coming down his face. He's scared, shivering still. He'd been doing so well. He did nice things for the kids and for Kenny and hoped it would be enough so he could keep living there. But he messed up real bad, and now Kenny'll fire him and he'll have to find a new home.

Butters tries to cry quietly as he packs his things back into his tiny suitcase. There are more things than he arrived with – more clothes, and even a couple more comic books. When he reaches the drawings hung on his wall, presents from Jayden and Lily, Butters starts to cry all over again. He can't pack those, because they'll just make him sad every time that he sees them. So, he carefully pulls them off of the wall, and arranges them neatly on the bedside table.

That's when the doorknob rattles, and Butters' heart jumps straight into his throat.

A knock comes a moment later.

"It's Kenny," Kenny says from the other side, "Please let me in."

Butters shakes the fear out of himself. He has to say goodbye, at least. Kenny isn't like Eric, even if he got mad because Butters did wrong. He pads across the floor and opens the door. Kenny doesn't come in at first. He just stands in the doorway without speaking.

"I-I'm real s-sorry," Butters manages, "I w-wish I didn't m-m-m-m…damn it." Butters starts crying again.

"Butters," Kenny murmurs, and finally enters the room. He closes the door behind himself and asks, "Why are all your things packed up? You're not leaving, are you?"

"I'm f-fired, aren't I?" Butters says, confused.

"What the fuck? No, you're not," Kenny says, "I came to apologize, dude. I shouldn't…I shouldn't have yelled at you, okay? I just – my ex is a sensitive topic, you know? I know you just meant to be helpful. I feel like shit, man. I never wanted to make you feel that way. I never wanted to scare you like your boyfriend did. And I did and it was terrible. I'm sorry. Please, please don't leave."

"W-What?" is about all that Butters can croak out.

"The kids love you," Kenny says, "They've never loved anybody like that. And shit, baby…I love you, okay? I haven't felt like this in the longest time. You take care of me, and you take care of my family, and you never fucking ask for anything. You just do it, because that's what you do." Kenny's voice catches, and he takes a moment to breathe. He licks his lips, and when he looks back up at Butters, his eyes are glassy.

Kenny goes on, "Please. Butters, don't leave us. Don't leave me."

"You love me?" Butters says.

"Yeah," Kenny replies, "Sorry…it just kind of happened."

Butters breaks. He can't think of what to say, but his heart soars. All Butters can think to do is throw his arms around Kenny's neck, and smash their mouths together. Kenny loves him. Kenny loves him. Kenny loves him. Over ten years, Eric never once said that he loved Butters. He was only ever cruel. But Kenny is kind and good and a perfectly imperfect human, and he loves Butters.

And Butters loves him.

Butters yanks their mouths apart and pants, "I love you, too."

"No shit?" Kenny says.

"One-hundred percent shitless, darlin'," Butters answers.

Kenny kisses him again, and lifts Butters up off of his feet. He laughs, and Butters laughs too. Nothing is funny, but he's so happy that the feeling has to escape somehow.

"You wanna, uh, date and stuff?" Kenny asks, and finally sets Butters down.

Butters nods and grins. A boyfriend. Kenny is his boyfriend. And a good boyfriend, too.

When they emerge from Butters' bedroom, Jayden and Lily back off, clearly having been listening in through the door. Jayden demands, "You're not leaving, are you? You pinkie promised."

"No, I'm not leaving," Butters says.

"Butters is my boyfriend," Kenny says, "You know what that means?"

"I can have my own room?" Jayden says hopefully.

"I have two daddies?" Lily puts in.

"We can discuss your room later," Kenny says, "And you have to call Butters what he wants to be called. If he's okay with you calling him dad, then you can do that."

"Can I call you dad?" Lily asks.

Butters looks over at Kenny and says, "All right, if you want to."

"Dad, dad, dad, dad," Lily chants, "Butters is my dad."

Butters feels like he's melting inside. He feels like he could fly if he wanted to. He has a family. He has a boyfriend.

He has a home.

xxx

But that doesn't last long.

It happens on the Saturday following. Butters is in the front yard with the kids, planting some flowers in front of the house while they chase each other in an intense game of pretend (that has something to do with Lily being a dragon and Jayden being a knight). He's just troweling out a hole for some gardenias when a car pulls up.

A car that Butters knows all too well.

Immediately, he stands and calls, "Lily, Jayden! Come here."

Eric Cartman gets out of the car.

Butters whispers to the kids, "You go inside and you call nine-one-one right now, you hear?"

Their eyes go wide, but Jayden nods and grabs his little sister's hand, yanking her up the steps of the front porch and inside the house.

"So you're Kenny's whore now, are you?" Eric drawls, as he sidles closer and closer.

Butters backs up, but Eric is up against him in seconds. He steps on some of the snapdragons that Butters just planted, and grips Butters by the hair, forcing him forward. His breath is sour with expensive liquor, and his eyes flash with rage that sends Butters reeling back into the world that he used to be trapped in.

"Fucking Kenny for money?" Eric goes on, "You always were a dirty fucking slut."

And that's when Butters gets angry.

"Maybe I am a slut, but I'm sure as heck not your slut!" Butters snaps, "Kenny's my boyfriend, and you're just a-a jerk!"

Eric's grip on Butters' hair tightens. Butters knows what comes next. Eric slams Butters down onto the ground and sits on his chest, his huge girth preventing Butters from being able to breathe. Eric wraps meaty fingers around his throat, and growls, "You fucking worthless piece of shit. I should have killed you when I got the chance. You're mine, not that poor fucking asshole's. I own you, bitch."

Butters can't breathe.

Behind Eric, he hears the noise of a shotgun being cocked.

Kenny appears over them, wild-eyed and furious. He places the barrel up against Eric's skull and says, "Nobody owns Butters. You get the fuck up before I shoot you dead."

Eric wobbles to a stand and holds up his hands, "C'mon, poor boy, we're friends. Just give your slut to me. He doesn't matter. He's worthless."

"He's worth everything, you fat fuck," Kenny says lowly. He fires a shot into the air, and Eric stumbles backward. Kenny rolls forward and bites out, "You get the hell off of my property. You come here, you threaten my family –"

"I wasn't going to hurt the brats, you asshole," Cartman defends, hands still up, but he rolls his eyes, "Just this little bitch. He ran away from me. He stole from me. He's all I wanted."

"Butters is my family," Kenny roars, and fires another shot. This one isn't a warning. It hits Cartman in the shoulder.

Cartman bellows out pain and sinks onto his knees, "Fuck you, Kenny!"

"No, fuck you," Kenny snaps, and marches forward. He points the shotgun over Cartman's heart, but Butters manages to scramble up and jerk Kenny back.

"Kenny," Butters gasps, "Don't kill him! Y-You'll go to jail, and you'll leave me and the babies, and –"

Kenny turns back to Butters. After a minute, the feral look in his eye dies down a little. He keeps the shotgun aimed at Cartman, though, and orders him not to move.

But when the sound of police sirens fills the air, Cartman pushes himself up, shoulder aside, and makes a break for it. Kenny is on him instantly, chasing him down the dirt road with his shotgun, firing at Cartman's heels. Butters bites down on his knuckles until he tastes blood.

Until at last, a Park County police car turns the corner. From it burst two familiar people in blue uniforms: Clyde Donovan and Bebe Stevens. Bebe darts after Cartman and Kenny, quicker on her feet than Butters would have expected. She makes it past Kenny, and with an impressive leap, tackles Cartman to the ground. She wrenches his hands behind his back and slaps handcuffs onto his wrists.

Clyde watches and lets out a low whistle before he saunters back to Butters, "We're gonna need statements from you guys."

"O-Okay," Butters nods, "Um, well, Eric is my ex-boyfriend, and –"

"At the station," Clyde adds.

"Oh."

Kenny comes trudging back with the shotgun behind Bebe and Cartman. He makes it to Butters' side as Bebe shoves Cartman into the back of the police car. Clyde reiterates to Kenny that he needs them to come to the station as soon as possible and give their statements, before he climbs into the passenger seat beside Bebe.

Kenny yells after the car, "That's what you get for messing with a redneck, dickhead!"

Kenny wraps his arm around Butters' shoulders and rubs his arm. He asks, "Are you okay?"

"A little banged up, but I got rescued by my redneck in shining armor," Butters replies.

Kenny grins at this and pecks a kiss to Butters lips. He inclines his head at the house and says, "I'm gonna get the kids' shoes on so we can head over. Hopefully they don't need to keep us too long, but…I did shoot him."

With shoes on and sanity regained, they load up into the family vehicle and drive the short distance to the Park County Police Department. There, Bebe takes Kenny back to give his statement first, while Butters waits in the front. Clyde entertains the kids for a little while – he's still about as chubby as he was in high school, and also just as handsome. He shares some doughnuts with Jayden and Lily.

"Hey, Butters, you want anything?" asks Clyde, "Like water or a soda or something?"

"I'm fine," Butters says.

Bebe emerges with Kenny a half-hour later to retrieve Butters. She asks him standard questions about the incident, and though her eyes are like stone for most of the interview, they soften when Butters glosses over the ten years he spent in Denver with Eric. She gives him a hug before she takes him back out, and says that they should get coffee and catch up sometime. Butters agrees.

When they return to the front of the station, Clyde whirls around in his chair and offers Bebe a smile. When Butters glances back at Bebe, she's smiling too, though softly.

He wonders if there's something there.

By the time that they make it back to the house, the kids have fallen asleep in their seats. Kenny and Butters each heave up one child and let them nap on the couch.

Meanwhile, Kenny pulls Butters back into their bedroom, where he kisses Butters until they're falling asleep, wrapped up in each other's arms. Butters watches Kenny's eyelids flutter as he tries not to give into sleep, his blond eyelashes flickering against his cheeks. A flood of affection fills Butters at the sight. He can't help but lean forward and kiss the tip of Kenny's nose, murmuring, "I love you."

"Love you too," mumbles Kenny tiredly.

Who knew that this is where Butters would end up? Less than a year ago he was trapped and afraid, constantly scheming a way to find a better life. To find a home. He left South Park at eighteen thinking that he would have a home with Eric, a dream quickly destroyed.

But then he came back. And he's found a new home.

It took a long time, but he found it.

Butters found where he belongs.

xxx

Dedicated to Mary, who lost her home. May you find a new one.