Kyle Broflovski, a twenty-two years young curly haired man with an endearingly large nose, gave a start and faced the doctor he worked for.
“A man just came to, after surgery late last night. See to him, make sure he's comfortable.”
Kyle nodded, “of course, sir.”
The cringe that rippled through Kyle couldn't be stopped.
“He's a bit stubborn. Try not to argue, if you please?”
Kyle flushed pink but nodded. “Yes sir.” He skittered off once he had gotten the bed number. He wasn't particularly fond of being a nurse, but it wasn't as if he was honestly cut out for being on the actual battlefield. And after the injuries he had seen, sometimes he was more thankful to be cooped up in scrubs all day than in a uniform.
Fearing the worst, Kyle hurried to the assigned patient. He timidly drew back the curtain, and was met with an eyeful of a bulky soldier, shirtless and bruised and cut and missing a leg. Kyle swallowed noisily, wordlessly and somewhat tactlessly announcing his presence. The soldier looked up, and Kyle was filled with pity at the anguish brimming the man's eyes.
“What do you want?”
“I-I'm Kyle Broflovski, I'll be your attending nurse. I'm here to make sure you're as comfortable as possible.”
The man scrutinized him. “You a Jew? Name and a nose like that, you gotta be.”
Kyle nodded slowly, unsure. He'd come face to face with plenty of jackasses with this complex or that. He steeled himself for the barrage of insults.
“You're a nurse? Not a doctor? Aren't Jews supposed to be like Asians? Go on to do the good shit and help the world while the rest of us sorry bastards sit and get fat?” Te cynicism was startling and in any other context, would've been amusing. But this was war, funny could be hard to come by.
“I'm just a nurse. I'm happy as a nurse,” and it was true. It fulfilled his sense of being a “good-doer” and he didn't always have to deal with the big messes.
“Hello,” Kyle greeted again, flashing the smallest, most sympathetic smile. However, when he extended his hand for a shake, Cartman didn't return the gesture.
“I don't want your pity.” He snarled, and shifted so that it was very clear—this conversation was over.
Despite this, Kyle came back each day; the main doctor, a complete prick named Kenn McCormick, had Kyle drop all other responsibilities so that Kyle could tend to only Eric Cartman.
“Good afternoon, Eric.” Kyle greeted, setting the tray of food across the small table that was perched in Eric's lap.
“Told you not to call me that.”
“You call me Kyle. It's really only fair.”
Eric glared at him but didn't argue. He tucked into the food, chewing slowly, thoughtfully. “When're,” he swallowed then continued, “when're they gonna let me walk?”
“As soon as the cuts have healed properly.” Kyle soothed. Or rather, he did his best to. The uneven lumps at the ends of Cartman's bed were essentially a bright pink elephant in the room. “Then you'll do some physical therapy to build up the strength in your leg, and then they'll get you walking.” Instinctively, Kyle laid his hand on Cartman's shoulder. “It's only a matter of time, I promise. It'll fly by.”
As he turned to wash his hands in the room's sink, Kyle was sure he caught a brief smile on Cartman's lips.
Kyle blinked, surprised that Cartman greeted him essentially the moment he walked in the door. “Hey yourself.” He retorted pleasantly. “Ready for breakfast?”
Cartman nodded, sitting up a little straighter. He ate in silence, and Kyle busied about his room, tidying up this or that. There was the telltale sound of a fork being set to the plate in completion of a meal, and then Cartman started to speak. “I started therapy yesterday.”
Kyle beamed. “Really?”
Cartman nodded, but didn't speak further. Kyle stepped up alongside his bed, and against pressed a hand to his shoulders.
“I could barely take a few steps on my own.” Cartman's voice came out choked and uncomfortable. “I was so fucking weak.”
“Cartman—Eric. Eric, you knew that would happen. You haven't even stood for at least a month, month and a half.” Kyle shushed him, “you are not weak, you're human.”
Cartman sniffled, but no tears fell. “I'm supposed to be a soldier. I was supposed to be the guy who left town a sick fat fuck and came back a war hero. I was supposed to come back with something worth mentioning.”
“You're already done a lot more than most could.” Kyle assured.
Cartman only shrugged. “It doesn't feel like it.”
Kyle frowned. He had no more words; this wasn't really covered in their training, so he did the only thing he could think of. He wrapped his arms across Cartman's shoulders.
“So,” Kyle swiftly marched into the room, setting the dinner tray not in Cartman's lap but on a table far from his bed. “I heard you punched Nurse Stotch.”
“He deserved it.”
Cartman remained brooding and silent.
“Fine, don't tell me. I'm going to leave your dinner right here.” Kyle patted the table, and turned to leave. He heard the bed creak.
Cartman had swung his good leg onto the floor, his left foot planted on the ground. “He called me Lieutenant Dan.”
Kyle barked out a laugh before slapping his hand over his mouth. “I'm sorry. I'm sorry. That was unprofessional.”
Cartman grinned, and reached towards his bedside table for his crutch. “It was kinda funny. In a “punch him in the face anyways” kind of way.”
Kyle leaned against the doorway. “Sure.” He watched Cartman walk slow and sure towards the table where the food sat. He was still unsteady on his feet at times, and the slick hospital floors didn't help. But he had regained most of the function in his left leg, and was slowly coming to terms to life without his right.
“Yeah?” He answered after he'd helped Cartman, who was easily exhausted, back to his bed.
“What're you gonna do when you get home?”
Kyle shrugged. “Live somewhere cheap. Get an easy job. Do something... artsy.”
He pondered the question, fingering the itchy hospital blanket. “Painting.”
“Gay.” Tumbled out of Cartman's mouth, and he pinked brightly. “Sorry. Habit.”
Kyle raised a brow. “You have a habit of being a homophobe?”
Cartman shook his head wildly. “No, no, no! I just.. it's.. I'm a jackass. It's what I do.”
Kyle was, oddly enough, convinced. Eric could be very genuine when he really wanted to. “Anyways. I want an easy life after this. Simple.” He left the bedside momentarily to drag a chair closer. “What about you?”
“I want to go home and shove it in Stan Marsh's face that I'm not a fucking fat ass.”
Kyle had seen Cartman naked—it only made sense, being his attending nurse. And he could personally attest to the fact that Cartman wasn't fat. He grinned. “You're not,” he tacked on.
Cartman laughed. “Thanks.” And there, too, was genuine humor.
“Would you move back home?”
“After this? No. I hated my hometown.” Cartman spat out the word like it burned his tongue. “I want somewhere sunny, new.”
Cartman grinned. “Yeah, like California.” Kyle couldn't help but match his grin.
“Cartman, Cartman, stop. Eric.”
That got the man's attention. He paused at the edge of the stairs, two boxes gripped in delightfully muscular arms.
“Let me take at least one of those.”
“Kyle, I got it.”
“No, no you don't.”
“I'm not on crutches anymore, Kyle. The prosthetic works fine. It's literally seven steps.”
Kyle opened his mouth to protest further, but before he could Cartman was two steps up and well on his way. On edge, Kyle watched his kind of-sort of-almost but not quite-boyfriend ascend the stairs and bump the door open to their apartment with his elbow. He called out a cheeky “toldja so!” and set the boxes in the living room.
Kyle gathered a few boxes, much lighter ones, in his own arms, and followed Cartman's example, rolling his eyes in exasperation the whole way up.
“Does it ever bother you?”
Kyle looked up from his book. “Does what ever bother me?”
Cartman kept silent, then nodded at the air where his leg would be. It was too hot, too much of a hassle for the prosthetic, and it was times like this that Cartman seemed to remember that, physically, he wasn't whole.
“No.” Kyle dog-eared the page in his book. “No, it doesn't bother me. It's a part of who you are.” Kyle scooted closer on the couch, reaching across Cartman to rub at his thigh. “You're no lesser a man, no weaker a man.” He murmured, lips just barely brushing his boyfriend's. “I had eight months to get used to it in Iraq. It didn't bother me then and it never will.”
Cartman grinned softly.
“Okay?” Kyle pestered.
Kyle sighed, and rolled onto his left side. He swung an arm over Cartman's chest, forcing him to turn. “You need to sleep.”
“You need to.”
Kyle pursed his lips. “Nervous?”
“As much fun as talking like cavemen is, full sentences are always appreciated.”
Cartman cracked a grin and forced out a semi-hysteric laugh. “I—I.. I don't want to fly out there tomorrow.”
“I know.” Kyle rubbed circles into Cartman's chest.
“What if they all think I'm some.. retard or some cripple.”
“Well then they're wrong, aren't they? Why does it matter. They sound like assholes, anyways.” Kyle tucked his head under Cartman's chin, kissing the skin of his collarbone. “At least you aren't stuck in a shitty job with a bitchy wife and sniveling kids.”
Kyle pinched his side harshly, and Cartman squealed then laughed.
Kyle yawned. “No you're not.”
Cartman ran his fingertips along Kyle's scalp, massaging gently. “Sleep, babe.”
A kiss, warm and dry, pressed onto Kyle's forehead and Cartman murmured, “sure.” Exactly twenty minutes later, when the clock stroke two, Eric fell asleep to the rhythm of Kyle's breathing.