Black Haired Boy
A/N: I've never been so glad to have accidentally stumbled across a country song! "Black Haired Boy" by Guy Clark. Every word of it is fitting for my little construction paper boys, I think. ;w;
So here I am, yet again, with a Crenny oneshot. This one and A Thousand Days have one thing in common: Craig and Kenny start going out as a joke at first, in response to a rumor. (It's a headcanon of mine.)
But he's a black haired boy of some confusion. He makes no excuse for the things that he's usin'. And he's gentle and wild, a child of the mountain. His words are for singing and his days are for countin'.
They'd known each other since pre-k, but that was unsurprising, since the entirety of the town's children had that trivial fact in common. Everyone knew everyone, and yet so few actually knew each other—that was something Kenny discovered in sixth grade.
It started with a fleeting glance, transitioned into a double-take, and escalated into Kenny approaching twelve-year-old Craig Tucker while the other was eating lunch alone in the corner of the cafeteria.
The blond scooted into the booth across from Craig, set his tray down with a purposefully obnoxious clack, and shoved it toward the other. "Why didn't you get any food, dumbass? I could hear your stomach growling from Topeka."
Craig seemed used to Kenny's unceremonious method of breaking the ice—they had conversed in the past, after all, just never at length—and replied without even looking up at the blond. "You don't even know where Topeka is."
"I do, too."
Craig only grunted, shoving Kenny's lunch tray back at him.
"Why don't you eat it? I know it's shit, but if you're hungry—"
The noirette pointed at his own throat, and the conclusion that Kenny drew from the gesture had Craig rubbing his temples and shaking his head. Kenny grinned. "What? That's a damn good way to make your throat sore, if you ask me. And you should ask, 'cause—"
"God, stop," Craig croaked, tempted to reach across the dirty blue tabletop just to cover the McCormick's vulgar mouth. "Tonsils."
"Ohh…" Kenny's eyes widened with interest. "Why the hell are you at school if you got your tonsils removed?"
"'Cause I'm not a pussy like Cartman was about it."
"Well, Cartman got AIDS from it, in his defense."
"Don't defend that asshole."
Kenny snorted and lifted a spoonful of gray applesauce to his mouth contemplatively. "I know he's a giant dick and all, but he is my friend, I guess."
"Then why don't you sit with him instead of pestering me?"
"Well, why aren't you sitting with your friends? Like, y'know…Token and Clyde and Tweek."
"Token and Tweek aren't my friends. They abandoned me after fourth grade. Guess they were sick of my shit." Craig looked like he was trying hard not to cough, so Kenny cut him off when he began a new sentence to prevent him from straining.
"I just didn't feel like sitting with them today. Stan's got Wendy all pissed off 'cause he forgot their anniversary, so our table is a hellhole right now."
His explanation was met with silence, but he snapped his fingers and continued speaking nonetheless. "Oh, hey, I got a way you can talk." Presently, he withdrew a red Sharpie pen from the front pocket of his parka and handed it to Craig, who only stared at him with a look that clearly meant, "You're a dumb fuck."
It took Kenny a moment to decipher the look's meaning, but once he had, a sheepish laugh passed his lips, leading the Tucker to lift an eyebrow. "Oh, yeah, here." He reached into a different pocket and managed to fish out a crumpled pass to the clinic with the previous day's date written on it. "Write on that."
Before the black-haired boy could actually scribble anything down, the lunch release bell rang, and he was up from his seat so fast that Kenny didn't have time to arrange a calm-sounding plea for him to wait; the apparent desperation in his tone startled both of them.
"Uh…I mean, I didn't wanna lose you in the mob of children before I at least tried to help you out. So, um…" Kenny wished his brain could process thoughts faster, because the next twenty seconds of his life were quite possibly the most awkward he had ever experienced. "You maybe want to, like, you know. I mean—you don't know, that's why I'm trying to—fuckin' fuck. Dude, do you wanna hang out later today? You really need ice cream for that shit."
Craig raised the clinic slip up to hide an amused smile, then set it back down on the table and scrawled one word in sloppy red print.
Kenny grinned, relief and excitement hitting him in succession. "Stark's Pond, five o'clock? I'll bring ice cream and blankets and porn."
Craig laughed; it was a dry, scratchy sound, but the blond heard only promise in it, and that alone made his ears warm and his stomach twist.
That evening was spent under a clear autumn sky, with a tub of chocolate ice cream (courtesy of Stan, but Kenny wouldn't say so) and a pile of blankets that barely kept the crisp mountain air at bay, even when the boys were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder underneath them.
Kenny did most of the talking, but Craig would speak every so often, detailing his plans for the distant summer as if he were already counting down the days before school would end. Even the most mundane activities were spoken of with passion, an emotion that Kenny was so unused to hearing from the other boy.
He knew practically nothing about Craig Tucker, and he couldn't help but wonder how he managed to go so long without asking. All his life, the noirette had just been another mountain boy, but this year, he was actually Craig: A companion that Kenny never thought he would be glad to have.
But he's a devil in the morning and a savior at night. Tomorrow's a case of whatever is right. Lonesome and high are the things that he feels. And the cards that he plays are the ones that he deals.
They were even closer friends in high school, and Kenny's infamous posse didn't hesitate to heckle him about it. It was always some crude remark pertaining to Kenny's ambiguous sexuality via Cartman, an honest inquiry of whether they were dating from Stan (bless his heart), and subtle but frequent remarks of how they should be dating courtesy of Kyle.
It was routine. Not something that particularly bothered the McCormick.
Craig had the same situation with Clyde—the only person that had actively stayed his friend past elementary school—whose big mouth ended up alerting the entire school to their "bromance," as he called it. Kenny swore he was going to maim the kid, but, according to Craig, threats did absolutely nothing to quiet the athlete, so the effort would have been wasted. It was possible that rumors could be spread, and there would be nothing they could do to stop them—
—"Except," Kenny mumbled to him one morning, "to prove them true."
It didn't take any words succeeding the blond's statement to agree to the implicit question in it; they simply exchanged a glance, both pairs of eyes focused and serious. Craig nodded, and Kenny smiled.
That must have been why it didn't last, Kenny supposed. It happened too quickly. They dated in freshman year, but, over the summer, Craig had changed somehow…
The first night of summer vacation was when Craig appeared at Kenny's back door, a cigarette lit and nervously shifting from his hand to his mouth and back again. "Did I wake you?" he mumbled, rubbing at a spot on his side subconsciously with his free hand.
Kenny squinted at the flood of moonlight that hit his eyes, pulled a face, and sighed in exasperation. "Of course you fucking woke me up. It's one o'clock in the goddamn morning."
"Can't you fucking tell?"
The McCormick's eyes opened a little wider, a sure sign he was puzzled. "What?"
"I'm glad you're mad." Craig frowned and blew smoke from his nose. Kenny was much too tired and confused to ask when his boyfriend had picked up such a nasty habit—he sure hadn't been smoking during the school year, even off-campus—but he wouldn't have had time to, anyway, because within the next few moments, Craig had explained his reason for coming.
"I'd rather you have a reason to want me gone. Listen, I'm an idiot, all right? You don't want an asshole like me, so I guess we're done here."
Kenny was silent for such a long time that Craig was able to finish his cigarette, and had just dropped it on the porch to stub out when the other finally responded. "You're breaking up with me." It wasn't a question, but Craig nodded anyway. "Dude, is there something, like, wrong?"
"With me, yeah. Don't tell me you actually like me, 'cause I know that's bullshit."
Blond eyebrows knitted together in unabashed concern. "It is not. I do like you. You're—you're being ridiculous." Looking back on those words was painful for the McCormick. He wished the other boy would have come in the afternoon, when Kenny had a brain and could've kept himself calm, but, instead, he was half-asleep and ended up sounding desperate and idiotic.
Craig only shrugged, which prompted Kenny to raise his voice a notch. "How could you come to my house in the middle of the fucking night just to do this? What on earth possessed to be such an asshole?"
"I don't know." Apathy had crept into the other's tone, and it was then Kenny realized that he still knew next to nothing about the Tucker. It had always been like that, and he supposed he chose not to notice. To everyone else, Craig was a dispassionate inconvenience—they either disliked him or were indifferent toward his existence, and for a few months, Kenny believed otherwise.
"You know what? Whatever. Get out of here before you get shot or something."
"Not that you'd care."
"Go the fuck away," he muttered, punctuating this childish command by slamming the door.
They didn't speak to each other again the entire summer.
Even intuitive Kyle couldn't make a likely suggestion as to what had gone wrong with Craig, as many times as he tried to for Kenny's sake. It was evident, even to Cartman, that the blond was trying too hard to pretend like it didn't hurt.
"Breakups always hurt," Stan told him later on that day, tone thick with pity that Kenny didn't really want at the moment.
"No they don't."
"They do if you care about who you're dating."
"That's why I don't care."
Stan sighed through his nose and directed his attention back to the movie that had been on mute for the past ten minutes. "Right," he mumbled, mostly to himself.
Kenny ignored him.
Kyle also tried his hand at helping the other, but it only resulted in the same outcome as Stan's attempt had: An irritated, in-denial blond hugging his knees on Stan's living room couch. Cartman gave a practically nonexistent effort, which was to be expected, and everyone in the room had come to the conclusion that their heartbroken friend would keep on pretending he didn't care to hell and back.
In sophomore year, he'd finally perfected the act. No one suspected that he was thinking about the black-haired boy much more often than he should've been, and nobody could have guessed that he was constantly wondering why Craig had suddenly become so bitter. He was good at feigning disinterest, and sometimes he thought, vehemently, that he'd learned from the best.
No one suspected a thing until the day preceding Thanksgiving break, when Kenny's meticulously-built barrier was down and the one thing that could break it had wormed his way into the table's crowd.
"Craig!" Butters exclaimed, more of an alert to Kenny than an actual greeting. "Fancy, uh, seeing you here."
"In the cafeteria?" Craig deadpanned in response while he set his tray down and settled a deliberate stare on the McCormick's face. "It's not all that odd."
Butters turned his attention to Cartman, who mumbled something to Stan, who carried whispers all down the table so conspicuously that Kenny almost laughed, despite himself. Once everyone had quieted again, they resumed eating in a tense manner, and, slowly, the rest of Kenny's shield peeled away.
"So," he began, swallowing hard not once, but twice. "Craig." Whispering, now. The other boy shouldn't have been able to hear it, but their table was so silent that it carried quite easily. Suddenly, there were a million things Kenny wanted to say; he wanted to ask him why, most of all, but the onslaught of inquiries rendered him tongue-tied. The words that did make it out were jumbled, nonsensical, and yet the greatest absurdity of the day was that Craig somehow understood.
"It's a long story," the boy said easily, shrugging one shoulder at the questioning stares he received. "But I'll go now. I've heard enough rumors to know you don't care about anything I have to say." With that, he stood from his briefly occupied seat and left the table, and Kenny thanked God that no one saw Craig's hand dip to drop a note into the blond's lap as he passed by.
He waited until the next class to pull the note from his pocket, and he felt as though all the air had left his lungs when he saw that it was just a crumpled clinic pass bearing a single word written in red Sharpie pen: Yeah.
It had been a few years since he'd seen it, but he still knew what it meant, and the fact that he followed the memory all the way down to Stark's Pond that day after school reminded him that he really did care far more than he should have.
"All right, Tucker, what's this about?" he mumbled, refusing to meet the other's eyes. "It's still daylight and someone's gonna see us here and think we're all buddy-buddy again."
The dejected way Craig furrowed dark brows and pressed his lips into a line surprised the blond, but his words did a better job. "That really bothers you? Guess I did a damn good job running you off."
Kenny laughed once without humor. "Yeah, you don't fuckin' say!"
"Listen, remember—remember last year, when I came to your house in the middle of the night?"
"It's kinda hard to forget, considering I'd gotten dumped when I was standing in my pajamas, in the kitchen doorway at one a.m. on the first day of summer vacation." Craig cringed; Kenny felt self-satisfied for only a second before it dissipated into regret. "But anyway, yeah, I remember. What about it?"
"I started smoking that day, y'know?"
"No, I didn't know."
"Well, I did. I had to get something to calm my nerves. It distracted from the bruised ribs, and all, too."
Kenny didn't answer this time. He looked Craig full in the face, and the expression he saw there reminded him (very painfully so) of himself, his siblings, of Cartman, and of Butters. Of all the kids that had ever faced the problem that he knew Craig was about to confess he suffered from. The McCormicks had fixed themselves over time, Cartman's problem had disappeared in an instant when he was little, and Butters' situation was never spoken of again, but he seemed to be fine. It only took one look for the McCormick to see that Craig, however, was still in the line of fire.
"I know I was shitty, Kenny. But my dad sort of caught wind of…of us. It's hard not to hear about all that in a town as small as ours, I guess, so I shoulda seen it coming. He told me I had to stop seeing you. I didn't want you to go out of your way to fix things—and I know you would've, don't lie and tell me otherwise, because you're a fantastic fucking kid that cared about me more than I deserved to be cared about—so I had to purposefully fuck it up so you'd hate me and…"
Craig cut himself off with a sharp huff, then looked away. "That's all I wanted to say, I guess. It was bugging me."
Kenny very nearly rolled his eyes at the way the other boy was playing the situation off as if it were no big deal. But, then, that was Craig to a T, pretending that nothing bothered him and no one really mattered.
"You are such an asshole." The blond's eyes were sharp and alight with too many emotions, but he ignored everything else in favor of pulling Craig into a hug. "The biggest fucking asshole ever."
The noirette clutched at Kenny's parka as if it were the only thing keeping them from falling away from each other and mumbled back, "I know."
"Why are you telling me this now?"
This made Craig's breathing hitch for a moment, and Kenny backed up a step to get a proper look at his face. He looked embarrassed but fairly hopeful—that, coupled with the way he leaned in to whisper in the other boy's ear, told Kenny what he needed to know, and the words he whispered were exactly what he'd wished to know.
"My parents are at a hotel for their anniversary tonight. Ruby's with a friend."
That was all it took for Kenny's lips to quirk up into a smile, and the night was lived by their secret endeavors, created through hushed words and gentle movements that the blond had never known Craig was capable of.
Perhaps their secrecy was a sin, Kenny considered, but, then, he felt it was much too right to be bad. He couldn't see himself regretting the night he'd learned that Craig Tucker was an entirely different person when he was unguarded—a completely different man in the late hours of the night. In fact, the only thing that the McCormick did regret was letting Craig suffer loneliness for as long as he did. And, if he had his way, that would never happen again.
But he's one of the chances you're entitled to take. He's one of the hearts that it's too late to break. I've seen him be sad and never know why. Seen him fall down to laugh, seen him stand up to cry.
"What if word gets around again?"
"What if it does?"
Craig drew a breath. "I don't care."
"You're positive?" A nod. "Positive?" Kenny repeated.
"Yeah. It's a little too late to do any more damage than has already been done, wouldn't you say?" No response. "What about you? Are you okay with this?"
"I've already had my heart broken once, dumbass, so there's not much else to lose."
"I could break it again."
Kenny smiled and hummed. "Yeah, you could."
Craig grunted. "So this is it?"
They stood at the school's front doors, their joined hands nearly covered by their too-long sleeves. "Guess it is," Kenny replied, staring at the building almost quizzically. "It's not that big of a deal, right?"
A laugh on the blond's part, then, "So stop freaking out. Come on."
Craig found himself being tugged into the school by a thin, orange-clad arm, and it took a great deal of willpower not to laugh. It felt strange to him, being something other than the nobody in the back of the classroom. Though his previous situation wasn't exactly bothersome to him, the position he now occupied as Kenny's (he flushed a little awkwardly at the thought) boyfriend wasn't one he would be able to relinquish without some regret on his part.
Suddenly, he was jostled from his musings by the boy at his side questioning him. "What are you gonna do about your father?"
"Mom doesn't care if I'm 'a faggot,' as my dad so lovingly puts it. Maybe I'll convene with her and she'll leave his sorry ass."
"She doesn't know he's hitting you?" Kenny asked, the pitch of his voice spiking in incredulity.
"Shhh!" Craig smacked him on the arm. "Don't be so fucking loud, McCormick."
"Sorry, sorry! But…she doesn't?"
"No. I don't really wanna bother her with it." The Tucker boy's eyes scanned the hall walls, obviously in a weak attempt at ignoring Kenny's hard stare. Eventually he caved and looked over at the blond. "She loves my dad."
"She loves you."
"I don't wanna take dad away from her."
"She'd prolly want him gone if she knew he was hurting you."
The next words were out of Kenny's mouth before he'd meant to voice them: "Are you afraid to find out?"
Craig grunted again and shrugged. "I don't—I—maybe, okay?"
Kenny stopped short in the middle of the hall, prompting Craig to halt as well and shoot him a questioning glance, which he managed to wipe away when he leaned against him and tilted his head a small fraction. "Listen, I understand. You may think I don't, but I do." He flashed a toothy grin, one so full of fervor that Craig had to smile back, small and distracted though it may have been.
"The bell's about to ring, you know."
"Yeah, I guess it is." Kenny blinked, smile fading. "You'll tell your mother, won't you?"
When Craig didn't respond, the blond lowered his gaze and nodded once. "Well," the latter began airily, "that's up to you, I guess." Though it came off as nonchalant, the concern in Kenny's voice was unmistakable.
After shuffling though a list of ready responses, the Tucker boy settled on a mumbled, "Gotta get to class," and kissed Kenny on the forehead before slipping around the corner and heading down the hall just as the bell rang.
And Kenny may've been crazy, but the spot at which he'd been kissed practically buzzed from the contact, and he thought to himself that Craig was one of those people you'd feel entitled to kiss all the time for no good reason. Kenny wasn't sure if he was deserving of it, but he realized, with a somewhat sinking feeling, that he wanted that more than anything in the world. That, and for Craig to be happy.
And happy he was, for sometime in the following months he had confided everything in his mother, resulting in her immediate request for divorce and—so Craig had told Kenny—a colorfully-worded note of displeasure. At first, Craig admitted to feeling guilty. ("He could've changed." "How long would that've taken?" "I took him from mom." "If he couldn't love you, he couldn't love her.") And maybe Kenny regretted those last words a bit, true or not, because Craig had sighed such a dejected sigh at them, but Kenny's father adored Craig, and so perhaps the Tucker boy wasn't destined to be without a father-figure. (So long as he didn't actually model himself after Stuart, Kenny forewarned him, at which Craig only chuckled.)
The situation may not have blown over as quickly as the McCormick would've hoped, but it was a start. As long as he could see that Craig wasn't bottling up emotions to protect his father's secrets, he was content, and perhaps a bit more than that.
Definitely more than that; he was able to affirm such by the telling crescendo of his heartbeats as Craig dragged him out onto the iced-over Stark's Pond one evening and whispered that he loved him. They had toppled to the ground and had begun laughing at the very fact before Kenny managed the words back in a voice far louder than the whisper they were originally conceived with. His breath fanned out in front of him, momentarily crystalizing the phrase in the quickly-diminishing space between them.
"I've never—oh, Christ, my sides still hurt!—I've never seen you laugh so much before, Craig."
"I don't think I ever have laughed this much before."
From where he lay on his back atop the frozen water, Kenny stared at the sky in an effort to catch his breath and felt gloved fingers weave between his own, providing an oddly distant warmth to combat the ice beneath them.
"You sure know how to make this lame-ass mountain town interesting, Ken."
At that, the blond snickered, raising their joined hands above his head so he could roll onto his side, closer to the other boy. "And you're freakishly good at making this lame-ass mountain kid's life interesting."
"Are you always this cheesy?"
"For God's sake, I should dump you now."
They both laughed through their nose at precisely the same moment, and Kenny punctuated his with a wide grin. "So we're on for tomorrow, then?"
Craig turned his head to the side and gave such a soft smile that the McCormick had to blink a few times to register that it was actually there. "Stark's Pond, five o'clock?"
It took all Kenny had not to reassume his previous grin, but he managed not to as he muttered a rather fluttery affirmation against Craig's lips. "Yeah."