Hi there! This is my first South Park fanfiction and also my first try at a romantic story with an actual plot. Oh and, if someone would be interested in beta-reading this story, that'd be really great - I'm open to all comments and suggestions, by the way. Thank you for reading ^^.

Prologue – Mysterion's quest

A cold gust of late-winter wind clashed the shutters of his bedroom window with a loud thud as he crawled in and jumped to the floor, swiftly turning to pull the panel shut before the noise woke anyone. His hands were stiff and red, his nose and ears frozen: he was happy to finally be protected from the wind. His body relaxed as it slowly adjusted to the temperature – not that it was very much warmer inside: Kenny's parents could barely afford heating.

A quick glance to the alarm clock informed him that he only had a few more hours of sleep before he'd have to get up for school. With quick and silent movements, he took off his Mysterion outfit, neatly folding it before tossing it inside the secret faux-bottom compartment of his upper-left drawer. His back and arms hurt and he felt a stinging sensation where multiple shallow cuts crossed his knuckles. Man, he'd had a rough night. Maybe he really should have ditched the superhero act when all the others did.

Kenny sat on his bed and stretched, trying to shake the hurt off his back and arm muscles. As he lay down, heavy with exhaustion, the pain grew numb and easier to forget. It was a familiar sensation. Ever since he started playing Mysterion, he had spent countless nights roaming the city looking for crime and a chance to stop it. He was moderately successful in doing so. Over the years he'd been involved in numerous cases and helped the police catch quite a few bad guys. It was very tiring – a lot more than it was rewarding – and he was not sure why he kept doing it.

For a while when he was a kid, the people of South Park looked up to Mysterion and called him a hero and at that moment Kenny believed that he had purpose. To him, the superhero act was a lot more than a game – it was an attempt to make sense of his life, of his power; an identity quest of sorts that, in the end, only managed to send him back to square one. Still, even after he'd lost all hope to find out anything about himself and his ability to cheat death, he had never been able to give up on Mysterion. Was it because the persona was now such a big part of him that he could not let it go, or because he still felt purpose fighting crime? Was it because he felt that, as Mysterion, his actions had more impact than when he was Kenny? Was it a kind of twisted escape from reality? He may never find out.

Chapter 1 – In which Cartman exploits Kenny's weakness

Kenny managed to show up to the right class a few seconds before the bell rang. Relieved that he'd made it on time, he sat down and greeted Kyle, who sat on his left, with a wide toothy smile that always seemed to make his friend slightly uncomfortable. It was barely perceptible but there was always the faintest hesitation on his face before he smiled back, a minute shrivel of disdain twisting his nose. It was not that Kyle disliked Kenny; in fact, they were great friends and hung out together most of the time, but there was something about the strength and authenticity of Kenny's smile that he found near unbearable. It was too loud, too selfless, too free and weirdest of all, it forced you to smile back, almost against your will.

The History teacher began his lesson and Kyle's attention focused on the day's subject. Kenny opened his book and glanced around the class as the other students shuffled about to find the right page. In the front row, Butters tapped his foot silently, his eyes glued to the blackboard as the teacher unfolded the world map to locate the action of the events they were going to learn about. Behind him, Cartman sat lazily, rolling pieces of paper into small balls between his short, fat fingers. He lined them beside his book and every so often threw one at Butters' head, never missing his oblivious target. Clyde and Craig sat in the back, looking uninterested. Normally Bebe sat next to Clyde, but today she seemed to have chosen the farthest seat from him, which indicated that they were currently off. Kenny guessed that by the end of the week they would be on again, though it would certainly cost Clyde a new pair of shoes. For the moment however, Bebe sat next to Wendy, stooped over her iPhone, probably scrolling through her Facebook feed. The contrast between her posture and Wendy's was striking: Stan's ex-girlfriend sat very straight, her long black hair cascading down her back. She listened to the teacher with attention and wrote down neatly organized notes in a black leather-bound notebook.

Kenny had not realised that he was staring at her when, as if she'd sensed it, she slowly turned her head back and met his eyes, holding his gaze for a moment. This sudden acknowledgement of his existence made him uncomfortable and he glanced down at his opened textbook, letting the hood of his sweatshirt fall lower on his face. When he dared a quick look in her direction again, she had resumed her previous attitude, deeply absorbed in the lesson.

He shuffled through his backpack to retrieve worn out loose-leaf sheets, wrote the date on top and started taking notes, too. They probably were not as exhaustive or as neat as Wendy's, but they were adorned with cool little dinosaur drawings, which was definitely a big plus.

After class Kenny and Kyle joined Stan in front of his locker. They made plans to meet at Kyle's house after school to play videogames and the conversation quickly drifted on to other mundane subjects. The 15 minutes break between periods came to an end rapidly: Stan and Kyle waved their friend goodbye as they disappeared in the hallway while Kenny grabbed a plastic bag containing a crumpled sports outfit from his locker. His next class was PE.

He pondered skipping class for a moment. His arms still hurt from last night and he was already so exhausted, he would probably end up snoring through the last period – again! Plus he barely had anything to eat this morning and his stomach growled, protesting to be filled. On the other hand he would get to ogle the girls' bare legs and round, perky bottoms for 45 minutes. No surprise – the latter argument won. He was about to enter the changing room when Cartman's voice called him out from the nearby bathroom.

''Kinny! Kinny! Come in here! I've got something to tell you.''

Kenny shrugged and went in the changing room. The fat jerk probably had something stupid to tell him anyway. Something made-up and overdramatic that he would make a fuss about just to get his hands on whatever it was he wanted. Heavy footsteps followed him – Eric would not let him go.

''Listen McCormick, seriously. I've got confidential information! The whole school's well-being is at stake. There is an important mission to be fulfilled and you're my man! Hear me out.''

''Whatever, Cartman, it probably isn't important – if it is even real at all. Get lost.''

''Duuuude, I'm telling you, it's so seriously, it's a matter of life or death!''

Kenny chuckled. ''And why exactly would that matter to me?''

His sarcasm was lost on Cartman, who kept following him.

''Because! Don't you want to stop being so poor? Don't you think your life is shitty enough, Kinny, so shitty that you can't even ask a girl out because you're afraid you won't have any cash to take her on a date? Eh! Who's gonna want to date someone so poor, that he can't even pay attention! But we can make a deal. I need you to do something for me, real important. I'm even gonna pay for your trouble. Can't say I ain't fair.''

Insults aside, Cartman's suggestion smelled fishy. It would have been even subtler if he'd worn a sign that said ''It's a trap'' over his head. His plans always lead to disaster and it was crystal clear to Kenny that agreeing to help Cartman would only get him into trouble. But you could always count on the fat ass to try and exploit your weaknesses against you. Kenny really did need money and yes, he would risk getting involved in Cartman's crazy schemes to earn it. He turned to face Eric.

''Well I'm all ears. What do you need me for?''

Running shoes squeaked on the gym floor as the students hopped and ran about the basketball court, tossing the ball back and forth. Kenny sat on the bench waiting for his turn to replace another player, completely dumbfounded. His confusion was such that he even forgot to watch Bebe's ample breasts bounce underneath her white T-shirt as she jumped, tall, pretty and energetic.

Cartman had asked him to volunteer at the school's library. Simple as that. Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting today. Kenny would earn $20 for each time he went. The only condition was that he would tell no one that Cartman had asked him to do it. There surely was a catch, but what? Cartman refused to disclose any more information about his ''mission'', arguing that if Kenny was ''aware of his purpose'' he would ''ruin the authenticity of his act'', whatever that meant. In what way would Kenny's volunteering benefit Cartman enough to motivate him to invest money in it? There was no apparent explanation – nothing that made sense.

''McCormick! For God's sake, McCormick! Are you deaf?'' The gym teacher barked, pulling him from his thoughts. ''Come on, get up, it's your turn!'' he added, gesticulating toward the court.

The teenager stood up mechanically and slowly jogged to join his team on the court. Concentrating on passing the ball would at least take his mind off Cartman's case for a while. The game resumed. Almost immediately, Token threw the ball at him. ''Right here, McCormick'' shouted Clyde from behind him. Kenny dribbled a bit, waiting for Token to run past the other team's defense. ''Let's roll!'' he thought, and passed the ball.

Students were rushing past Stan to exit the classroom, hurrying to get home. Without haste he put his books back into his bag and walked over to Kenny. The other boy, asleep on his desk, had not heard the teacher dismiss class. Stan woke him up by pulling his hood down, causing him to jump with surprise.

''Dude, you fell asleep again!''

Kenny groaned, replacing his hood on top of his head. ''Class is over?''

''As you can see. What the hell, Kenny, do you really watch porn all night?''

''Well'' he grinned playfully ''I am a 16-years old teenager with raging hormones. What can I say?''

''You're incredible.''

''That's what your mom said last night!''

''Dude, that joke's so old'' Stan laughed as they both grabbed their bags to leave the classroom. ''Seriously, though, Kenny, you fall asleep every day in the last period. You could at least try not to snore!''

They walked to their lockers where Kyle waited for them, his bag packed, coat on and green ushanka completely covering his red curls. As soon as he saw them, he started babbling about the game they had agreed to play later on.

''You guys! I thought about a great strategy to defeat the other team. It won't be easy but with a bit of practice I think it's possible! Our best chance to succeed is to use each player's assets in a way that it'll benefit our team. Ken, you're the fastest shooter, so…''

''Ah…about that, Kyle. I won't be able to come today.'' The boys looked at him with surprise.

''Why?'' they asked at the same time. ''You agreed to come, this morning'' recalled Stan.

''Yeah, I know, but something got in the way.''

He'd forgotten to think about what he would tell the guys. It had to be something believable as he would never miss an occasion to spend time with his best friends, not to mention raid Mrs. Broflovski's fridge, without a very good reason. He racked his brain for a plausible excuse.

''I've been given detention.''

''Dude, you're so lame'' said Stan. ''What did you do this time?''

''Nothing much, I was late for PE. The teacher said I've been late too often and gave me detention.'' It was a lie but not so much, since he had indeed been late for PE and his teacher did complain about it – although all of it was Cartman's fault. His friends rolled their eyes – this was commonplace for Kenny. They would try Kyle's new strategy some other time. Stan put his hat on, zipped his coat and both of them left after exchanging a few jokes about how their friend would never change.

There remained only a few other students in the hallway; most of them had left already. Outside, the dirty late-winter snow reflected a feeble, declining sun. It was cold and Kenny could see the students pulling their hats lower and hiding their hands in their pockets as they hurried home.