If anyone asked, it had been the teacher’s idea, sending their class out into the forest for a nature walk on a whim. None of them had wanted to go on the nature walk - some kids, like Rebecca Cotswolds, had been eagerly anticipating cat dissection that day, only to be told that the teacher had decided to spontaneously declare that they would be going on a nature walk.
(If you asked some of them, they’d say the teacher’s brain had spontaneously exploded after the most recent South Park dilemma, which had involved walking tuna with hairy human legs and a tuna takeover, but that is a story for another day.)
The biology class (which was the only class, coincidentally, that all six core members of Craig’s gang shared) was a rather small group of fifteen, comprising of Craig’s group - Craig, Clyde, Tweek, Token, Jimmy, and Kevin - , Stan, Kenny, Kyle, Bebe, Sally Turner (or as she was nicknamed, Powder), Lola, Jenny, Butters, and Milly. Everyone had been paired off in a buddy system, but despite that, most of them had separated into smaller groups, Craig’s gang together, Stan’s gang together, and the girls all together.
Which, inevitably, was trouble.
Craig knew this; Stan’s gang all together was a disaster waiting to happen, but a part of him was thankful that Cartman was back in school taking a test with the English class he shared with Wendy. The damage would most likely be significantly less ‘World War III’ and more ‘exploding squirrels’.
The boy looked down at his buddy, his boyfriend Tweek, who peered up at him curiously through light colored lashes. “What are you thinking about?”
“You,” was Craig’s reflex reply, and Tweek’s cheeks turned pink as he headbutted the taller boy’s arm lightly, making him laugh. “Alright, you caught me. I was thinking about how great it was not to have this class with Cartman.”
Tweek visibly shuddered, a wave wracking his whole body, making Clyde, Token, Jimmy, and Kevin stare at him. The girls were a little farther ahead with the teacher and Stan’s group, which meant they were the only ones witness to the little episode. “Gah, d-don’t think about him! It’s like jinxing it!”
“Jinxing what?” Clyde asked, dragging his buddy Kevin along with him by the hand. The Chinese-American could only watch helplessly as his heels skidded across the muddy forest floor, wincing at the thought of his sister Esther chewing him out for it later on.
“Gh-! Craig was thinking about how g-great it was not to have Cartman here in this class!”
“Aw, dude, that is like jinxing it. Don’t think about the ol’ fatass,” Clyde let go of Kevin’s hand to waggle his finger in front of Craig’s face. “For all we know, he has cameras here and he’s gonna set the whole forest ablaze.”
“Now you’re jinxing it!” Tweek exclaimed, eyes wide. “G-gah, what if we get caught in a forest fire?!”
“We’re not going to get caught in a forest fire,” Token stressed, sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose as Jimmy hobbled closer to them, carefully maneuvering around a large rock in his path. “Clyde’s being paranoid.”
Clyde whirled around, pointing an accusing finger at Token. “Paranoid? We’ll see who’s paranoid after we all get turned into the next Kentucky Fried Chicken specials! We’re gonna be toasted, we’re not even gonna be the perfect s’mores!”
“GAH!” Tweek tugged at his hair frantically. “I-I don’t wanna be here anymore, can we go back, Craig?!”
“It’s going to be okay, I’m here,” Craig soothed, pressing a kiss to one of Tweek’s temples before swiftly delivering a kick to Clyde’s shin, the impact making the brunet yelp and ram headfirst into a nearby tree, startling birds into flying out of its branches. The commotion made the rest of the party - save for the teacher - all stop and look back at Craig, shaking his head at Clyde, who was rubbing his head ruefully.
“What was that for?!” Clyde demanded.
“Stop scaring Tweek, dumbass,” Craig told him. “We’re just on a nature walk, not camping. We’ll be home before class ends.”
“Thank God for two hour biology,” Token muttered under his breath.
Clyde outstretched his arms. “I’m just saying, Cartman could be looking in on us! I wouldn’t put it past him!”
“You’re just saying that because you’re still sore he knocked you out of the tree house.”
“That was in fourth grade-”
As Craig and Clyde continued to argue, Tweek clinging to Craig and trying to get him to stop while Jimmy and Token tried to get Clyde to stop, Kevin thought he heard some nearby bushes rustle, and with a curious look, he looked around, stepping away quietly from his friends to check out the surrounding bushes.
At first glance, there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Still the same old bushes, same old trees, same old everything. It still looked like the forest, and with a disappointed sigh, Kevin nearly turned around again-
Wait, what was that?
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted something shiny, and, turning around once more, he approached it, and picked it up. It was a pretty little stone, its color reminding Kevin of pearls, but tainted with reds and oranges, and for a few moments, he thought the thing might have actually been beating in the palm of his hand, like a heart. But it was probably a hallucination, since it was warm.
A few moments later, the feeling died down, and with a look of relief, Kevin turned to pocket it and head back for his friends-
His foot met a pitfall, and with little more than a yelp, he fell.
But he didn’t hit the bottom of the pit.
“- and for the last time, you don’t feed guinea pigs ground meat, especially when it’s come from tacos and already drizzled in whatever bullshit sauce you picked out!”
“What if they like it?!”
“I’m not letting your grubby mitts get anywhere near my Stripe ever again if you insist on this stupid idea-”
“Aw, come on, Craig, you never know-”
“I think I’d know my own fucking guinea pig thank you very much-”
“... Uh, g-guys?” Jimmy tried.
The two turned their heads around to look at Jimmy so fast that he thought they might get whiplash. “What?!”
“H-huh-has...” Jimmy looked around. “A-anyone seen Kuh-K-K-Kevin?”
Tweek blinked, looking around, and with a startled yelp, realized a terrifying thought. “GAH! He’s m-m-missing!”
“Kev?” Clyde’s voice was small as he realized that he had broken the first rule of the buddy system; never lose track of your buddy. “Kev, buddy- this isn’t- this isn’t funny, my dude-”
Token turned around, seeing nobody behind them, and only the girls and Stan’s gang in front of them, and with a feeling of dread in his stomach, raised his voice to call out, “Kevin! Kevin, where are you?”
“Kuh-K-Keeeeviiiin!” Jimmy called out in the other direction, attracting the attention of the others - and yet again failing to catch the attention of the negligent teacher. With curious looks, the other group approached Craig’s gang as most of them began calling out for their missing member.
Stan tilted his head to the side. “Guys, what’s wrong?”
“You look like hell,” Kenny commented to Clyde, whose face was slowly transitioning into a look that consisted only of full-fledged panic.
“Keeeeeviiiiin!” Token yelled out again.
That made the newcomers focus on the fact that there was a missing presence in the area. With a horrified gasp, Jenny and Lola looked at each other, and both of them whispered in terror, “Oh no.”
“Wait- you guys lost Kevin?” Bebe’s face was unreadable as she crossed her arms, eyeing all five of the remaining members of Craig’s gang.
“M-Maybe he just went back home, or wandered off a little! He can’t be far!” Powder tried to reassure.
Kyle groaned before yelling as loudly as he could, “KEVIN, WHERE ARE YOU, GODDAMMIT?!”, startling a lot of birds into flying out of the trees, taking off into the sky.
“There’s no way he didn’t hear that,” Stan grumbled, having been standing right next to Kyle when he had yelled.
They waited a few moments, but there was no answer.
A few moments later, Craig swore. Loudly.
“Nichole is going to fucking kill us.”
Lola shook her head. “Nichole might be strangling just you guys, but Esther? She’s going to commit genocide.”
Everyone visibly swallowed at the thought.
Around ten minutes later, the group had returned without the teacher - said teacher had plumb forgotten that they were maintaining a class and had gone back to school without them minutes before. A teacher in charge thought they had skipped school, and had given them detention. Of course, they were all dismayed, but then a chilling thought occurred to them.
Detention was going to be nothing compared to Nichole and Esther’s reactions.
“You did WHAT?!”
Esther’s screech rattled the windows of the school as she lunged at Clyde, everyone standing next to him scrambling to get away as she grabbed at his collar, livid. “YOU LEFT MY BROTHER IN THE FOREST?! HOW DUMB ARE YOU?!“
“It wasn’t his fault-” Token began, only to back up into the nearest locker as Nichole turned a poisonous glare on him, making him swallow harshly. It was jarring to see such a look on the normally sweet, kind-natured girl’s face, but her boyfriend thought it rather ironically appropriate - Nichole was undecided on whether she would be studying horticulture or mycology, and thus was trying out both in the meantime, which meant she was caring for some rather dangerous fungi amidst all of her flowers.
“You are going to get my brother back, or so help me-” Esther pointed at each of the members of Craig’s gang before pinning Clyde by the neck to the floor. “Taco Boy here dies. I don’t care if Bebe’s going to fucking marry him, he’s dead if my brother isn’t home by sundown.”
“Esther, let go of him-” Craig took a step forward only to take two more steps backward at Esther’s shrill “STAY BACK!”, hopping back on one foot to avoid her wrath. He then tried again. “Esther, seriously, this isn’t going to help one bit-”
And then, something rather strange happened.
Bradley Biggle, having noticed the commotion, had informed his sister that he’d be going home later so she could go and talk to the other Goth kids if she wanted (Henrietta had scoffed at his words, but had turned towards the back of the school anyway), and had headed in the direction of the shouting, stumbling upon this scene: Clyde, choking as Esther had his throat in a vice grip, Craig and Tweek, standing a little far off but close enough to intervene, and Jimmy and Token, wilting at Nichole’s death glare.
With a sigh, Bradley walked over, despite the warnings from the others, and promptly grabbed Esther by the waist and lifted her up effortlessly, channeling his mint and berry alien heritage into lifting her up and not letting go. In her surprise, Esther had let go of Clyde, who wheezed and rolled over, trying to regain the oxygen he had lost.
“Sometimes, I forget that Bradley’s an alien,” Craig muttered. “God, isn’t anyone normal in this stupid town?”
“What’s happening, anyway?” Bradley asked them as he tightened his hold on Esther, the girl finally realizing what had happened, and now consequently trying to break away. “Why is Esther so riled up? And where’s Kevin?”
“Huh-h-he got lost during a nature walk in buh-b-b-buh-biology,” Jimmy explained. “Esther started her juh-g-genocide with Clyde.”
Bradley blinked before his mouth dropped open in an ‘o’ of realization. “Oh. Now I get it. But wait, wasn’t your biology class an hour ago? He’s still lost?”
“Unfortunately,” Nichole sighed, crossing her arms. “I’m so worried for him. What if he’s hurt and lost out there?”
“I could help you guys look for him, if you want?” Bradley offered. “I can fly and look up from above. I’d have an aerial view of the forest while you guys searched.”
Tweek nodded. “T-that’s a good idea, actually. We should’ve gone to you f-first, shit.”
“They shouldn’t have lost track of my brother in the first place-”
"Shoosh,” Bradley papped her face gently with a palm before saying, “Look, why don’t we all just go out to the forest now? School’s out, and it’s still an hour or so before sundown. We can find him if we head out now.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Token agreed.
“You guys will be careful, right?” Nichole turned to him, all former traces of her anger gone and replaced now only with worry and anxiety. “Bring back Kevin before Esther commits genocide, hopefully safe and sound.”
Token nodded gently and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “We’ll be careful. Will you stay with Esther for us?”
“What?! You’re not letting me go look for my own brother?!” Esther exclaimed indignantly.
“Honestly? You’re a wreck right now and if we lost both Stoleys everyone would get their asses kicked,” Craig intoned. “So no. You’re staying.”
“No, he’s right,” Bradley turned her around to face him. “Essie, you gotta stay behind. We’ll bring Kev back, I promise. Just stay here with Nichole and we’re gonna find him before sundown. I swear.”
Esther was quiet for a moment. “... You swear?”
“On my mint and berry crunchiness, I swear,” Bradley grinned at her, and somehow, this seemed to reassure her, her form relaxing. Sensing her relaxation, he let her go, and turned to hold up a hand to Clyde. “Come on, guys. We have a buddy to hunt.”
“Keviiin, buddy, come on out!”
“Kevin, where are you, d-dude?!”
“Kevin?” Bradley lifted up a boulder, and out came a snake. With a yelp, he dropped the boulder back down on the floor. “Not Kevin!”
“Kevin?” Token peered into a fallen tree trunk before sighing. “Nope.”
“Keviiiin?” Clyde poked his head into a particularly large clump of bushes, and got a face full of squirrel tail in response. Gagging, he drew back. “Not Kevin, blah.”
Tweek, on Craig’s shoulders, peered into a large hole in a tree, big enough to fit an average teenager. “Kevin’s not hiding out here either.”
“Where could he be?” Token worried, brushing off some leaves on his sweater. “It’s almost sundown...”
Bradley shrugged, but just then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted something glowing faintly from his seat on one of a tree’s branches. Narrowing his eyes, he looked closer. “... Hey, wait a second. I see something.”
“Kevin, hopefully,” Craig said, letting Tweek down.
Bradley shook his head, and with a gentle descent, floated over to where he had seen it, the others following him, until they came across what looked to be a pitfall, where there was a pink glow emanating from within it. “A pitfall?”
“What’s m-muh-making it glow?” Jimmy wondered.
“I don’t know, but... it feels kind of familiar...” With a frown, Bradley signaled that he’d be going down the pitfall, and with only a rustling of the leaves, descended into the pitfall. It took about one minute before his voice came echoing out, screaming bloody murder.
The others’ eyes widened as Bradley practically zoomed out of the hole, nearly creating a sonic boom at the speed he had barreled out of the hole. When the dust cleared, they saw that he was clutching-
“Oh God,” Tweek wheezed.
With little more than a slight tapping of his heel, Bradley took off with Kevin in his arms, the others scrambling to get back to town after them. Something wet hit Token’s cheek on the way, but he attributed it to the tears in Bradley’s eyes. Once they made it out of the forest, they saw Bradley laying Kevin down on the lawn in front of the school, Esther and Nichole hurrying over, and it was then that they saw what had happened to their friend.
A thick branch, driven through one of Kevin’s thighs. Kevin looked unconscious, thankfully enough, but the blood that was seeping into the grass was terrifying to look at.
At the sight of Kevin, Nichole immediately dialed the hospital as Esther’s eyes grew wide with horror, sinking to her knees. In minutes, there was a stretcher, and Kevin had been taken to the hospital, leaving the others to stand around, unsure of what to do. Bradley’s hands were shaking, his palms covered in smeared blood. Nichole looked at Token, and with a half-choked sound, raised her hand up to wipe off something from Token’s cheek, revealing it to him to be blood. Token looked like he wanted to vomit.
“I-” They looked at Bradley. “I found this- Kevin was holding it when I found it and it seemed to- it doesn’t feel like a regular stone.”
He held out the stone that had led to Kevin’s downfall, and Craig asked, “What do you mean, it doesn’t feel like a regular stone?”
“It feels alien,” Bradley mumbled. “It feels alive, or rather it felt alive when I first got a hold of it, but when I- when I removed Kevin from the pitfall, it seemed to have died, like it was spent or exhausted or something.”
“Kevin could not have survived bleeding out that long,” Nichole whispered. “Pete told me how long a human can last with wounds like that. There’s no way he’s still alive in that ambulance anymore.”
“No, he- he probably still is, Nic,” Bradley turned to face her. “I think this little thing- whatever it is, it must have helped in keeping him alive. I have this strong feeling that it did. I- Kevin’s probably gonna make it.”
“Talk about an actual deus ex machina,” Craig grumbled, but inside, he was relieved that Kevin wouldn’t die. “Fuck, though. That’s still a probably. We should- we should go after him.”
Esther keeled over, finally passing out from shock.
“... right after we deal with Esther.”
After delivering Esther to her house, the others went to the hospital to check on Kevin, and it was there that they were led to a room, where Kevin was sound asleep, but looking well, though it was terrifying how pale he looked. When Token asked the nurse watching him, they were informed that he had nearly died from blood loss on the operating table once the branch had been removed, but it had been remedied as quickly as they could. He would be knocked out for a few more days because of the blood loss, but, barring any complications, he would be alright.
Everyone had breathed a sigh of relief at that.
The next school day, everyone had been informed of the predicament, and, predictably, Red Tucker had flown out of the school and barreled towards the hospital, the rest of the student body that cared about Kevin right on her heels. It was quite a sight, seeing Red tear down all the nurses to get to her best friend, but heartbreaking, because the moment she saw how fragile he looked she actually burst into tears, cursing the forest and the pitfall.
She didn’t leave his side for the rest of his stay in the hospital.
Kevin’s eyes fluttered slightly, and, with a small yawn, he opened his eyes to the white walls of his hospital room. With a blink, he looked around, surprised that he was in the hospital, but when he attempted to move his right leg, he was immediately reminded of why. Ah. That... branch. And... Bradley found me... right? He closed his eyes, trying to recall the blurry image of his blond haired savior. Yeah... the others... they found me too, and... okay...
He was thankful he was alive. The pain had been excruciating, but shock had stopped him from screaming out loud, and blood loss had knocked him out promptly. It was a mess he didn’t want to relive.
A snore alerted him to the presence of someone else in the room, but it took a while for him to figure out that it had been Red, who had fallen asleep, her head resting on her arms on the side of his bed, snoring quietly, one of her hands close to one of Kevin’s. The moment he saw her, with a tender smile, he strained himself a little to gently brush the tips of his fingers against Red’s, trying to wake her up.
The slight movement made her rouse from sleep, and with a yawn, she straightened up, only to freeze at the sight of Kevin’s hazel eyes staring at her, a hesitant but genuine smile on his face.
“Good morning,” Kevin told her quietly.
“Kev,” Red sounded breathless. “You’re awake.”
“Yeah,” For some reason, he also sounded breathless. “And you’re... here. How long was I-”
“Three days,” Red told him immediately before she took careful hold of the hand closest to her and held it to her face, feeling that yes, he was awake, and here. “Jesus, Kev- when the guys told us you were in the hospital I thought-”
“You think too much, young Padawan,” Kevin laughed.
Red stuck out her tongue before sighing. “I just- I’m glad you’re awake, Kev. I- I really am.”
“You know it, doofus.”
With a laugh, Kevin tucked a lock of hair behind Red’s ear, and for a few moments, they only looked at each other, smiling, until Esther burst in, saying, “I swear to God, you guys, if you stop me from seeing my own-”
She stopped at the sight of Red and Kevin.
“Hey, Es,” Kevin waved weakly with his other hand.
Esther dropped her phone, but this didn’t matter to her as she screamed and nearly suffocated Kevin as she threw herself at him, hugging him senseless. Everyone else who had been outside stumbled in, and yelped in surprise at the sight of the awake Kevin, surrounding him and effectively blocking Red from him, delighted that he was awake.
Red just rolled her eyes, though, and took a seat on the chair a little farther away from the commotion. She’d talk to Kevin later.
At least he was safe.