Disclaimer: South Park does not belong to me and I don't own anything related to it. The lyrics are from Hammers and Strings by Jack's Mannequin.
Note: I tried looking for a sensible title and I could not find one. This title is a reference to Shakespeare's play Measure for Measure. I do not know if you've read this story, but it is fucking batshit crazy. When I first read the fifth Act, my only response was "what." That is now my response to this story. It is over 7000 words long, it is my first proper venture in South Park writing, and it is the first thing I have successfully written start to finish, as an enclosed story, in longer than I feel comfortable about. If it is out of character, tell me. They are meant to be older and a little bit matured, but that's no excuse for sloppy writing. Tell me how to get better, because at the moment, this fandom is the only thing keeping me from stopping writing altogether.
The title is also a tribute to pulling things out of one's ass and creating convenient circumstances in order to progress the plot. Ragostine I'm looking at you. Yeah. Same hair and beard colour my fucking British arse.
The Duke of Vienna is God-Modding
My friend calls me up
She says, how've you been?
I say, dear I've been well
The money's come in
But I miss you like hell
I hope you are doing well. I just thought I would say hi. You know. Because we went to school together. And other stuff.
At first, she didn't know what to make of it. Cartman hadn't been in contact with any of them for about eight years. But there it was, sat as plain as anything in her inbox.
It was innocuous enough. There were no overtones of a scheme, no hints he was trying to drag any of them back into his madcap lifestyle. They'd not been in contact with him, sure, but they'd certainly heard enough about him over the years. Every now and then there would be a news report on "notorious businessman Eric Cartman's" latest venture, and its debatable illegality.
She would reply. It would be only polite to reply.
It was nice to hear from you. I am doing well. I hope you are doing well too.
Her response had been curt and confusing. If she didn't want to talk to him, Cartman thought, the bitch could've just not replied. But then he remembered his own fumbling attempts at putting together an email that didn't sound suspicious or overly-friendly or off-putting, and thought that maybe he was looking too deeply into her reply.
Because, after all, the most important thing was that she had replied.
He got up from his computer and went over to the window. It was a cool California day, and he couldn't wait to go back home. The West Coast had always been too fucking liberal for him, and being this close to the remains of San Francisco gave him the chills. As soon as this damn pitch was over tomorrow afternoon, he'd be on the first fucking flight back to New York.
He grinned a little. Being back home would mean being a couple of days closer to the meeting that was one-hundred-percent guaranteed to make him the owner of the New Yorker. Business was good. Life was better. His bank balance was best. At twenty nine, Eric Cartman was well on the way to getting everything he ever wanted.
Just a couple of things left to put into place, he thought, and looked over at his computer.
He couldn't put it off forever. He'd already spent eight years pointlessly avoiding it, and it was only being stuck in stupid goddamn fucking liberal California that had made him take the initiative and send Wendy the email.
And since 'finish what you started' had been the big rule of his business life, he sat his ass down and replied.
Yes I am doing very well, thank you. I'm glad you are doing well. It is nice to hear from you too. How is Stan?
Stan is an ass, she thought, as she read his email, and you are an ass for bringing it up. She scowled at her computer screen for a few minutes, before taking a deep breath and reminding herself that Cartman had no way of knowing all the shit that had happened since he'd moved away. The last he'd have heard, she and Stan would have been engaged, and –
– and why would he ask about Stan when –
No, Wendy. You're being irrational. Again. Eric Cartman is not asking about Stan because of –
Right, right, reply, and forget about this. Come on.
Calm and collected, she typed out her response. Then, just as she was hovering her cursor over 'send', she stopped. A momentary vice of rashness gripped her, and before she could think twice, she had tapped out a P.S. and sent it on its way.
Oh God, she thought, slumping back into her chair. I'm going to look like a headcase.
I'm glad you are doing well as well. Stan is fine. We didn't get married, in the end, but we still live together. We have a little boy called Teddy. He turned seven a few months ago.
P.S. He has your eyes.
The plane was delayed. Un-fucking-believable. He was finally able to get the hell out of this shithole and his plane was delayed. Because apparently, God hated him. Shit like this always happened to Cartman, and he couldn't for the life of him figure out why.
Sulkily, he slouched down in his seat, the collar of his jacket riding up against his neck. Annoyed and over-heated, he pulled it off and dumped it unceremoniously on top of his carry-on bag. He pulled out his phone and checked the weather.
"God damn liars," he muttered. "There's no fucking storms today. There's not even any wind."
He brought up his email. His PA was reminding him about a pre-meeting meeting he was supposed to be at the day before the New Yorker thing was set, and some city school wanted him to come and give a talk about entrepreneurship. Buried underneath the requests and reminders was the message he'd been hoping for.
He read it over three times. Then, he read it over again. Three things jumped out at him, and in the heat and sunshine of the glass-ceilinged waiting room he couldn't sort them out in his head.
He checked the departures board. The afternoon plane to Colorado wasn't delayed. And it wasn't fully booked. If nothing else, it would get him the fuck out of this airport.
Cartman keyed in a four word response, and headed for the ticket station.
Town hall at 8
Wendy knew she was going to go.
At first, she hadn't been sure. She'd decided on a plan of action. She'd come up with a story, run it by Stan, and if he was suspicious, she wouldn't go. If he asked any questions, she wouldn't go.
She thought meeting Bebe because she was having a crisis over her latest boyfriend seemed like a plausible explanation, but before she find him to ask if he could put Teddy to bed that night, he found her.
"Hey babe," he said, poking his door into the study. "I'm going over Kyle's tonight. I'm probably gonna stay over, so take care of him, ok?"
He meant Teddy, and he hadn't even said his name.
He didn't wait for her to reply. She heard a fading, "night kiddo!" from the living room, and then the slamming closed of the front door. A couple of minutes later, a quiet shuffling brought Teddy into the doorway.
"Mom? Where's Dad going?"
"To see Uncle Kyle."
Something in her son's voice made her turn around. Teddy was standing with his shoulders slumped, looking despondent. He was wearing an oversized football jersey that she knew was one of Stan's, and had a dvd case in his hand.
"He said we were gonna watch this..." He held it up. It was some old football movie. Teddy loved them, but he would never watch a sports film without Stan there. When it came to football, Stan was Teddy's idol.
"Oh," Wendy said, her throat filling with emotion. "Oh, honey..."
"Naw, it's alright," Teddy said when she tried to bend down to hug him. "It's ok."
It shouldn't have to be.
"OK." She grabbed her son's hand and led him back into the living room. "Well, how about this, then. I have to go out and meet someone but I'm going to put together a little treat for you. I'm gonna put some popcorn in, and whip up some milkshakes, and we're going to ask Uncle Kenny to come babysit. How does that sound?"
"Uncle Kenny?" Teddy's eyes lit up. "But Mom, Dad said I'm not supposed to hang out with Uncle Kenny unsupervised. He said he's a bad influence."
"Oh, sweetie, what your father doesn't know can't hurt him. Besides, he's the one that flaked to go and see Kyle." She couldn't quite keep the bite out of her tone as she added, "again."
"...Can Uncle Kenny maybe bring one of his car chase films over?"
Wendy ruffled his hair. "Of course he can. But only if you promise not to tell him where we keep the good wine."
Teddy nodded, grinned, and disappeared upstairs, leaving Wendy alone with her thoughts.
When Kenny turned up, the first thing Wendy noticed was the six pack under his arm.
"No," she said, sternly. Kenny shrugged.
"Worth a try." He trudged back to his worn-out car and chucked the beer into the boot. "More for me tomorrow," he grinned, when he reached the door again.
"I'm sorry for calling you to do this, Ken."
He shrugged again. "You know I don't mind. Your kid's the only one who actually appreciates the mechanics going on in these things." He tapped the dvd case poking out of the pocket of his jacket.
"Stan's right. You are a bad influence." She stood back to let him into the house.
"Is he..." Kenny trailed off. "Er –"
Wendy nodded. "Kyle, yeah."
Kenny let out a soft sigh. "Wendy...at some point, you two are going to have to talk about –"
"Do you think I like this?" Wendy whispered back. She heard footsteps upstairs. Teddy must have heard the doorbell, and he'd be on his way down. "Do you think it's fun pretending Stan isn't sneaking off to bone his best friend every other night?"
"Just leave!" Kenny hissed. "Come on, Stan's not gonna take it personally. You're a reasonable lady, Wendy, you've never put up with anyone's shit and he knows you're not dumb. He's probably just afraid to suggest it himself."
"Mom?" Teddy called from the landing. "Is that Uncle Kenny?"
"Ted-ey!" Kenny called out, stepping over the doormat.
"That's why," Wendy said quietly. "A boy his age needs a father."
Kenny looked at her oddly. "That's not the first time you've said that, you know."
"What? A boy needs a father?"
"Yeah. A father. Not his father. Weird choice of words, that's all I'm saying." He had the same odd look on his face when he said, "So where is it you're going tonight again?"
"Never mind," she muttered, grabbing her coat and heading out into the dusk.
Eric - Don't leave. I'm on my way. Wendy.
He'd been halfway back to his car when his phone buzzed with the email. Grudgingly, he agreed to give it ten more minutes, and sunk back down onto the dry patch of wall he'd found.
Dry or not, the chill of the stone was freezing his ass. If Wendy didn't hurry up –
If Cartman was honest with himself, he still wasn't completely sure why he was here. It had seemed like such a brilliant, reckless idea back in California, in that fickle sunlight that made you think you were a fucking genius. But here, in the darkness and snow of his hometown, everything seemed a little dumb.
No, it didn't. It seemed a lot dumb. It seemed fucking retarded.
Wendy and him – well, there'd never been a Wendy and him, had there? That was the whole entire stupid fucking point of this. There'd been a night, there'd been pre-wedding jitters, and there'd been Cartman's last chance at the one thing he'd wanted and never got.
He hated this tiny-ass town. He hated how cold this wall was. He hated Stan Marsh for being so upstanding and decent that even Cartman couldn't bring himself to fuck him up. And most of all, he hated Wendy for never, ever doing as she was asked and getting the hell out of his head.
Headlights pierced the gloom a little way away, and then the bonnet of a car came into definition in the wake of the light. Shielding his eyes, Cartman squinted at the driver's seat. He almost couldn't make anything out, but then she was brought sharply into profile as she turned in, studiously keeping her eyes away from his face. She turned off her lights, and then her engine, and the silence rushed back.
And then, with the click of a seatbelt, the clunk of a car door, and the trudge of boots on snow, Wendy Testaburger was standing in front of him.
"Hi," she said, a little awkwardly.
He'd had words planned, he really had. He'd had questions, and explanations; he'd had a 'nonchalantly superior and not interested in you' scripted escape route if things went sour. He'd thought this through maybe fifty times on the flight, and another dozen or so while he waited on this cold-ass wall. He'd had this down.
But as soon as he saw her, the words had gone out the window. She didn't look different. Sure, she looked a bit more worn, a bit more tired, and there was more sharp womanliness about her than coy teenage allure. But, Jesus Christ, the same girl he'd always –
Maybe he was just having one of those impulse-driven days, but he closed the eight-year-long distance between them, and kissed her.
The kiss was sudden and unexpected, and she broke it after just a few seconds. But she didn't pull away.
Cartman was just staring at her. This was maybe the second, perhaps third time, she'd ever seen him completely speechless.
"Hi," she said again, no less awkwardly.
Finally, he replied. "Hi."
"You look different," she said.
He did. He'd shed the slouchy jumpers and baggy jeans in favour of what seemed to be a tailor-made suit, and the scarf he was wearing looked brand new. He was still overweight, but a far cry from the lard ass he used to be, and – Wendy noticed, with a start, realising her hands where somehow pressed against his chest – seemed to be built with a lot more muscle than she remembered him.
That was probably true, too.
"Why did you come?" he asked, suddenly.
"Why did you?"
He scowled at that. "Wendy, you pretty much just told me I had a fucking kid. Of course I'm gonna come see if you're bullshitting my ass."
"I'm not bullshitting you," she said, quietly.
"I'm a rich guy now," he ploughed on. "I ain't having some ho trying to squeeze cash out of me for some brat –"
Wendy slapped him, hard, across the face. "You colossal bastard, Eric Cartman, like fuck I'd ever expect anything from you!"
"Hey, you're the money-grubbing hippie!" he growled, dropping his arms from around her. "Like hell you got knocked up from that one time. Marsh was boning you every which way and you're telling me –"
"Don't you think I would have got some proof before I gave an asshole like you the opportunity to come back into my life?" Wendy snarled, feeling her temper flare, and punching his chest to emphasise her point.
To her surprise, Cartman caught her fist, and prised her fingers open until her hand was linked with his.
"Jesus Christ, I've missed this shit."
"You've just accused me of lying about my son, Cartman," Wendy warned, eyes flashing. "Don't get sentimental on me."
He chuckled. "Some reunion."
"Yeah," she said coldly, wrestling her hand from his grip and stepping backwards.
Cartman didn't look particularly perturbed. In fact, his expression had slipped into one of easy charm and a casual smile.
"What?" she scowled. "Stop smirking, you asswipe."
"Yeah, but Wendy..." He spread his arms wide, and the look on his face was like he was trying to explain the most obvious thing in the world. "You came."
She sniffed. "I was hardly going to stand you up."
"Every other fucker in our graduating class would. It's just you, hippie, that would do what you've done; drop everything to come and randomly meet some guy you had a one night stand with."
"You're hardly just 'some guy I had a one night stand with', Cartman. I've known you almost my whole life."
Cartman shrugged. The smile on his face lingered for a few seconds, before fading. Slowly, he asked, "So...what's he like?"
"...Yeah. My...er...my kid."
Wendy looked at him. Deep, deep behind his words, there was flicker of uncertainty. Everyone, she thought, would want to know what a kid of theirs would turn out like, but Cartman...maybe he was afraid the kid would be as much of a dick as he'd been.
Wendy knew she'd been fucking terrified of that.
"He's smart," she told him. "He's really smart. He loves football, like his – like Stan. He has a slightly skewed moral compass that we've been trying to set right for years, but Kenny fights us every step of the way by sneaking him men's magazines and letting him try his beer."
Cartman laughed. "That asshole, seriously? Kenny's about for him?" Then, his expression darkened. "What about Kyle?"
"Teddy hates Kyle," Wendy said confidently.
He grinned. "Dude, if nothing else does, that proves he's my kid."
It hit her then that the uncertainty in Cartman's voice had been replaced with pride. A couple of seconds later, it hit her that in about two minutes he'd expressed more pride for her son that Stan had in years.
"Hey, uh..." Cartman had put his hands in his pockets, and was looking at her. "Do you want to, maybe, go get coffee, or something? It's just, you know, fucking freezing."
Wendy considered it, and then nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, alright. We can...catch up."
Cartman laughed, sounding relieved. "Yeah, this has been a bit of a fucked up way to say hi."
When they'd decided where they were headed, and she was back in her car, she watched as Cartman pulled away from the town hall first. Then, she let out a long breath and closed her eyes.
A week ago, Cartman hadn't been a part of her life anymore. A week ago, she wasn't having fucking rendezvous after dark, she was being a good mother.
She could go back to that. She should go back to that. Hell, he didn't know where she lived. She could just – drive – right now – go home –
– and what?
Send Kenny home, put Teddy to bed...wait for Stan to come home the next day. Have him kiss her hello and pretend like she didn't know those lips had just been around Kyle Broflovski's cock. Have him let her son down again because he wanted another fucking bootycall.
She turned on her engine, and followed the dwindling lights of Cartman's car towards the coffee house.
"Little dude, no, your mom made me promise."
"Aw, come on, Uncle Kenny! I'll tell you where the good wine is."
It was tempting. It was so, so tempting. Kenny knew for a fact that Wendy bought in some fine-ass wine. No, he told himself, come on. This is your last chance to prove you're safe to be around this kid on your own. Don't. Steal. Their. Booze.
"Tedster, you have to behave." Teddy stared at him, appalled. "Well, not behave," he amended. "but misbehave within the boundaries your mother has set. That way, we can just say we didn't know it was wrong." He put his hands on the kid's shoulders in a fatherly fashion. "This is important, kiddo, so listen up. What I'm about to teach you is called 'plausible deniability'."
The life lesson was interrupted by the scraping of a key in the lock.
"...Sorry about this, dude, I just forgot..."
"Stan, seriously, stop apologising, just hurry up so –"
Stan stopped in the doorway of the living room, staring blankly at his friend. Kyle's red hair appeared behind him.
"Kenny," Kenny confirmed, raising an eyebrow. "What are you guys doing here?"
"Er...I live here, dude." Stan's expression was a cross between anger and confusing. "Teddy, go to your room."
"Aw, but Dad, I –"
"Room, kid! Adults talking."
Teddy vanished up the stairs.
"Why the hell are you hanging with my kid? I told you, Ken, you're not a good influence. I mean, you're my friend, but I don't want you alone with him like this." A thought seemed to occur to him. "Wait, where's Wendy?"
Kenny shrugged. Damned if he knew. All he'd been told was to watch Teddy.
"Wait..." Stan's face darkened. "Are you fucking my girlfriend?"
The idea was such a sudden jump and so ridiculous that Kenny burst out laughing. When he calmed down, Stan was scowling at him, and Kenny got to his feet.
"Dude," he said, calmly, "I'm not. But if I was...are you seriously telling me you'd be a big enough bullshitter to call me on it?"
"What the fuck? You think I wouldn't have a problem with you – you –"
"Er," Kenny said, and pointed to Kyle. "I think you pretty much shouldn't have a problem."
Kyle flushed, but Stan stayed defiant. "What's that supposed to mean."
Kenny gaped at him. "Oh, no, man, really? You're gonna stand there and -?" He shook his head in disbelief.
"I'm going to go look for Wendy," Stan said shortly. "Come on, Kyle."
"Um...this sounds like it's sort of between you and her," Kyle said, as delicately as he could. "Plus...I'll be able to look after Teddy."
Stan nodded curtly. "Keep this asshole from saying stupid shit to him."
The door slammed behind him, and Kyle dropped onto the couch next to Kenny.
After a few moments of silence, Kyle said, "Because I didn't realise he hadn't told her."
"Huh?" Kenny was confused.
"To answer the question you didn't ask, of why I didn't go with Stan. Because I didn't realise he hadn't told her."
"She worked it out. I reckon Stan's just being a bit of a pussy and waiting for her to dump him so he doesn't have to feel guilty about walking out on –"
"He told me she'd said it was okay," Kyle said quietly.
Kenny caught himself halfway through his sentence. "...What?"
"He told me..." Kyle swallowed, then pressed on. "He told me Wendy said it was ok. That...him and me...that it was ok. She just wanted him around for Teddy." He put his face into his hands. "Jesus Christ."
"Jesus Christ," Kenny agreed. "Fucking hell. This is Stan Marsh we're talking about. When did he turn into an asshole?"
"Probably when he realised he was raising someone else's kid," Kyle said glumly.
"Uncle Kenny, can I come back in?" said Teddy, from the foot of the stairs.
"So...yeah, basically." Wendy stared down into her cup of coffee. "Stan works up in Denver, commutes most days but does a bit of work from home. It's a good job, so I'm a stay-at-home mom."
"And you didn't get married?" Cartman queried.
"No. He got cold feet. He left me at the altar." She pulled a face. "Pregnant, though he didn't realise it at the time."
"You didn't tell him?"
She shook her head. "Cartman...I'd just realised that my one case of cheating – on my fiancé, no less – had got me pregnant. Stan was freaked enough as it was about getting married, I didn't want to..." She laughed. "I didn't want to scare him off," she finished, a little bitterly.
"Wendy," he said, wondering how to broach the topic. "Why didn't you, you know –"
"I couldn't. I just couldn't." She looked out of the window, her grip tightening on her mug. Cartman frowned at her. Was she – was she blushing?
"You – oh my God." He leant back in his chair, suddenly full of a familiar sense of self-satisfaction. "You wanted to keep him cos he was mine!"
"No!" Wendy protested, colouring. "I told you, I just couldn't. And – well – um – I guess – maybe –"
Cartman stared at her, his mouth hanging open in a half-grin. "Wendy Testaburger. Jesus Christ."
"Stop it, Cartman!" Wendy pressed her hands to her cheeks. "Just – drop it –"
"No!" he laughed. "Man, I come here to win you back, and I find out you've wanted me this whole time!"
"Well, you've gotta have liked me a hell of a lot to be so sure about keeping a kid that –"
"No, I mean – what? You came here to – to win me back?"
Cartman paused. Okay, shit. He hadn't really meant to say that. "Well," he said, uncomfortably. "not win you back, so much, you know, seeing as how we weren't really – but to sort of..."
"No," she said.
Now it was Cartman's turn to say, "What?"
"No," she repeated. "I can't."
The entire place seemed to go quiet. He could hear his own blood pounding in his ears, and the dull sound of the door creaking open and another customer enter the establishment. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. No. "What?"
"I can't. Cartman, I'm a mother now. I can't just – up and leave. Even if he's not Stan's kid, he's been raising him for seven years, I can't just – take him away!"
"But..." Cartman found himself floundering for words, again. "But...he's my kid."
"I can't take him away from Stan like that. I can't be that cruel."
"Could've fooled me," said a voice from behind Wendy, and Cartman wondered how the fuck he hadn't noticed Stan Marsh coming into plain view.
"Cartman." Stan's voice sounded flat.
"Er...hey, Stan," he offered.
"Eric fucking Cartman."
Wendy turned to face him. "Stan, I –"
"He's Eric fucking Cartman's son and you never fucking told me."
At that, Wendy got to her feet. Her eyes flashed dangerously and suddenly, Cartman knew she had ammunition. She knew she had an argument, and by God, she was going to make it, in front of the whole fucking town sat drinking their late night coffee if she had to, because Wendy Testaburger was not going to back the fuck down.
And in the middle of it all, Cartman realised for the first time that somewhere along the line, in spite of himself, he had fallen in love with her.
"Oh Stanley, are we talking about things we never told each other?" Her voice was calm and deadly and Cartman had heard that tone on her before, and damn, Stan was in for it. "I thought you were spending tonight with your boyfriend."
"He's not my –"
"Don't you dare lie to me Stanley Marsh, I know exactly what you've been doing with Kyle."
Wait, what? What the fuck? Cartman stared at Stan. Him and – him and Kyle?
Stan opened and closed his mouth a few times, and then pointed at Cartman. "I could say the same for you! How long have you two been seeing each other, huh?"
"We haven't!" Wendy said, her voice beginning to climb. "I can't believe you would accuse me of –"
"Well, you clearly don't have a problem with cheating, seeing as you fucked him, then made me raise his kid!"
"Wait, wait, wait." Cartman got to his feet, palms up. "I'm sorry to interrupt her, Stan, but I gotta ask something. Kyle? Kyle Broflovski?"
"Stay out of this, fatass, I'll deal with you in a minute."
"No, dude, you're missing my point. You had the opportunity to be with her every night, and you picked Kyle?" Cartman stared at him incredulously. "How fucking gay are you?"
Cartman carried on. "You think if I'd been fucking your woman, I'd have let her stay with you? Or if I knew I had a kid, I wouldn't at least be rubbing your fucking face in the fact that you'd had to do all the work for me for seven years? Dude, do you know me? What, you think I'd sneak around and try not to hurt your feelings? Jesus Christ, man, have you lost it?"
Stan blinked. "It...doesn't...really sound like you," he admitted.
"Stan, you know what we should do?" He still had his hands up, now more a gesture of peace than a call for quiet. "We should go grab a beer. Talk this whole shitty mess over. See what we're gonna do about it."
"Um..." Stan shook his head, looking dazed. "I could fucking use a drink right now."
"Exactly, man, exactly."
Inside, Cartman smirked. Oh, he hadn't lost it.
Kyle and Kenny looked up when they heard the front door open. Teddy stayed focused on the movie.
"Wendy?" Kenny said, getting to his feet.
Kyle followed him. "Uh, I should probably explain why I'm here. Look, Wendy, Stan told me he'd –"
Wendy held up a hand. Kyle fell silent.
"I'm somewhere in the middle of a very, very confusing night, Kyle. I'm going to ask that you do not make it any more so until I have poured myself a very large measure of a very strong drink."
As she headed into the kitchen, Kenny called after her, "Can I get the six pack out, now?"
"...Still no, Kenny," came her distant answer.
Kyle and Kenny looked at each other.
"Listen, Kyle, you and her probably have a couple of things to iron out," Kenny said. "I'm just going to hang in here with Teddy, alright?"
Kyle nodded. "Yeah. Oh, man, I'm not looking forward to this."
Kenny clasped his shoulder. "You're a braver man than I, Broflovski."
"...I might still run."
He didn't. He headed into the kitchen, to find Wendy leaning against the counter with a large whisky in her hand.
"So," he said, awkward, unsure of exactly how to announce his presence.
Wendy looked up. "So," she replied.
Just come out with it. "Stan told me you knew," he blurted, as quickly as he could.
No surprise registered on Wendy's face. She just looked tired.
"He told me you –you were okay with it." He swallowed, and then he added, "he doesn't think he's Teddy's father."
Wendy was still unmoving. Then she took a sip of the whisky, drew a breath, and said, "He isn't."
"...oh." After all of Stan's theories, he'd sort of come to believe it, but he hadn't expected her to...well, to admit it just like that.
"It was the only time in my life I've ever cheated." She stared at him, and her eyes looked shiny, like when a girl's about to cry. "Can you believe that?"
"Well...karma's a bitch," was all he could find to say. And then, he couldn't hold it back any more. "Who...?"
Wendy took another sip of her drink. "Cartman."
Kyle stopped. "Um."
"...Wendy, where's Stan now?"
Cartman was calling for another round.
Stan didn't really feel better about everything after he'd finished his first beer, but it certainly felt a lot more manageable. As their second bottles arrived, Cartman said, "Okay, so let's lay out the facts here, buddy."
"Wendy fucked you."
"Yeah. I ain't gonna lie to you and be all like 'I'm so sorry', and shit, because crap, if I felt that bad I wouldn't have done it." Stan was finding Cartman's honesty to be kind of appealing. He knew he should be feeling a lot more mad at him, and a lot more resentful, but if he was straight up, he was sort of just enjoying being bullshit-free for a while.
He shrugged. "Kyle always told me you had a thing for her."
"Which brings us to number two, you and him."
"No, no, number two is Teddy."
"Right. Number two is him. Then number three is you and the Jew."
Stan nodded. "Okay...now what?"
Cartman took a swig of his beer. "A'ight. Those are what's on the table. You just gotta decide what to do."
Stan picked up his beer, and studied the label. It was good shit. It surprised him a little, considering how reluctant Cartman had always been to shell out on other people. Then again, he hadn't talked to him in nearly eight years. And since then, he'd become the rising star of the business empire and raked in a fuckload of cash. Hell, maybe he even had his million dollars by now. Or, wait, was it ten million?
"You know," he said, contemplatively, "I've never hated you."
"I never hated you that much, either. Though I sort of have to now, by your dick-association with Kyle. Jewishness is catching, you know."
"No it's not, Cartman."
"You tell me that when you have the overwhelming urge to dig up bodies to steal the gold outta their teeth," Cartman told him seriously.
Stan had to laugh at that. For a second, it was like they were kids again. Oh, man. Where had shit got so crazy?
"Look," he said, feeling suddenly like he ought to put his cards on the table. "I don't love Wendy. I haven't for a couple of years now. I do love Teddy, but, man, he deserves better than a father that resents him." Stan rubbed a hand through his hair. "I'm gonna admit it, I haven't been the best dad to him. I sorta, well, sorta figured he wasn't mine. It wasn't even the poor kid's fault, but..."
Cartman didn't answer. He took another pull on his bottle.
"Well," Stan continued. "If I'm being honest, the whole thing behind all of this is Wendy and I didn't know when to call it quits. I got so obsessed with the idea of us working, being this perfect family, that I couldn't even admit it wasn't. And then Kyle –"
"Skip that bit," Cartman said quickly.
Stan snorted. "Anyway. I think she and me...I think that's over, dude. I think it's been over for a pretty fucking long time.
Cartman tilted the neck of his drink towards him. "High school relationships aren't meant to last."
"You're probably right," Stan said, lifting his own beer.
"Dude, what? Of course I am. I'm always right."
And the Mormons will get into heaven, thought Stan, and took a long drink.
Cartman sat in the quiet of his car, alone. He was sort of probably over the limit to drive, but hell, he'd driven in a worse state than this. Directed meetings, too.
He realised he didn't really have a place to stay. Nor, he realised, did he have an up-to-date number for anyone who lived round here. Shit. His only choice was to rent a room for the night.
He found a place pretty easy. It was South Park, after all. It was hardly inundated with tourists. Once he'd squared things with the receptionist and dragged his ass up to the third floor, he collapsed onto what he decided might be the most comfortable bed in existence. Convenience was everything.
He could feel himself starting to fall asleep. He rubbed his eyes and fumbled for his phone. Just send this, and then he could sleep. He could feel a yawn building even as he thought it.
He was pretty sure he'd spelt the hotel name wrong, but really, how many Grand Diplomat's were there in South Park that it wouldn't make sense?
Gnadr Diplimot room 326
Please call me or something
you looked so fucking beautiful tonight
She only checked her email out of habit. That's what she told herself. She wasn't expecting a message from Cartman, nope. She knew better.
And she only called the Grand Diplomat because she was sure he wouldn't be there. Or, if he was, she had to at least ask him if he wanted to meet Teddy.
And the fact that he said she looked beautiful was just a nice compliment. It didn't make her insides flutter, because he was Cartman, and that was silly.
...and that was the second kiss he'd given her tonight.
"...what time is it? Who is this?" he mumbled into the phone, after finally getting his hands on the thing.
"Mr Cartman, we have a call for you. Can we patch it through?"
"...ugh...whatever...yes, do it."
There was a click, and then, "Cartman?"
He was awake now.
"Um, hi." She sounded nervous. "You said you wanted me to call, so..."
"Yeah...but Jesus, ho, it's like –" he checked his clock – "four in the morning."
"Stan and I only got done talking a little while ago."
Cartman sat up. "Yeah? So, what? You guys back together?"
"We're breaking up. For good. As if you didn't know."
He grinned into the receiver. "Yeah, I knew."
"He's going to get Teddy for a couple of weeks in the summer and at Christmas. I know he's not his dad, but he's played the apart for seven years, and –"
"Where the hell are you going?" he yawned.
"Well, about that."
There was a pause on the line. "I was wondering if you...maybe...if you still wanted to..."
"Wendy," he interrupted. "Do you wanna, like, be my girlfriend, or something?"
"Well, Jesus, you don't have to sound so eager about –"
He stopped mid-sarcasm. "...Do you want to come live with me in New York?"
"Alright. Oh, but..."
"Teddy too. Er, if he likes me." Shit. He hadn't really thought of that part. His kid was nearly eight, and he remembered what a bastard he'd been at eight. If Teddy hated him –
"He'll like you," Wendy said, "maybe even as much as I do."
And she sounded so certain that he sort of believed her.
Two and a bit years later
"You're sure you want blue dresses?"
Bebe thumbed through the papers on her clipboard and pressed her finger halfway down another sheet. "You need me to check on both cakes, and to make sure that Teddy's is bigger."
"Yes, and thank you." Wendy was distractedly pushing her hair into different styles, trying to find one that worked. Setting down the clipboard, Bebe stepped up behind her.
"You need the flowers to be ready, but not delivered, the night before, and you want them to come in the next morning."
"Right. Kenny said he'd take care of that so you could get ready properly."
"And you can trust Kenny?"
"I can trust Kenny. He won't do anything to mess up Teddy's birthday."
"It's not the birthday party I'm worried about. I think you should put it up tonight, sweetie, you've got that off-the-shoulder dress and it'll make your neck look stunning."
"Thank you, Bebe."
She gathered Wendy's hair up into a loose ponytail and started pinning it into a bun.
"You want to make sure the vegetarian option hasn't been sabotaged by Cartman."
"It would be just like him to sneak gelatine into it, or ham."
"And same goes for the kosher option."
"Especially the kosher option."
"Your shoes are at mine..."
"...I'm coming over at seven to help you get ready..."
"...and you're sure you want to do this?"
The blonde held up her hands in defence. "All I'm saying, Wendy, is it's Cartman."
In the mirror, she caught sight of her friend's fond smile.
"He's not all bad."
"Yeah, apparently he's really fucking fertile."
"Alright," she conceded. "He has pretty good genetics. Teddy's a complete angel, and when you and Cartman kill each other in a fit of 'marital bliss', I'm going to raise him as my own."
"Good to know," Wendy said dryly.
"Right, your hair is done. Doesn't it look pretty? Aren't I wonderful? Doesn't that solve so many problems?"
She rolled her eyes. "Thank you, Bebe."
Bebe grinned. "Well, I'm gonna go grab my dress and catch up with Kenny. See you in a few!"
Kenny elbowed Cartman in the ribs. "Hey, fatass."
"Kenny –" he started, warningly, but then he followed his gaze.
Wendy looked great. Again. As usual. Her hair was up in this sort of sweepy loose bun that showed off how fucking gorgeous her neck was. Her dress was black and classy and cut just above the knee, with that secretive little slit up the side that always drove him crazy in her dresses.
"Last time you're gonna see her now before the big day," Kenny grinned. "Nervous?"
Wendy caught his eye, and smiled. Teddy turned around just at that moment and said, "Mom!" He got to his feet and ran over to hug her.
"Come on, honey, sit down, your food's going to get cold."
"Hey, it's the night before my birthday, I can do what I want!"
Kenny snickered. "Sounding more like you every day."
"Shut it, McCormick."
"No, Teddy, that's not how it works. When you're with Uncle Kenny, you can do what you want. And why is that?"
"Because he's a slack-moraled bum who's reliving his own childhood through me?"
Cartman flipped Kenny the bird.
"That's right. Now, sit down, and eat up." She met his eyes again across the table, and headed round to him. "Hey," she murmured, leaning down to kiss him.
"Poured you a whisky," he said, putting it in front of her.
The gathering was a pretty small one. They'd had an official pre-wedding dinner, with parents and various officials from Cartman's growing company. There had even been a couple of politicians present, because "you need these connections," he told her, quite seriously, especially if she was serious about trying for government herself in a couple of years.
Tonight, though, it was just friends. Kenny and Bebe were there, sat either side of Wendy and Cartman. Teddy sat next to Stan across the table, with Kyle on his other side. Cartman couldn't help but think, a little proudly, how damn grown up his son looked sat at the table with them like that.
After dinner, he stood up. "Ladies, gentlemen. Jew." He nodded at Kyle. "I would like to say a few words here. As you all know, I am very awesome and very rich, so there will be important people there tomorrow. Don't embarrass me."
Someone snorted. It was probably Kyle.
"Ahem. Well. As we all also know, the main event is obviously going to be Teddy's tenth birthday party. Applaud, for he too his awesome."
A smattering of condescending applause went round the table, and Teddy stuck his tongue out.
"Unfortunately, the hippie to my left has insisted we have a little ceremony of our own before all that. So, there's gonna be a quick little wedding, and then we'll get onto the important things. I just want to say thank you. We really appreciate your gifts, especially the expensive ones. Your company, I can do without, but apparently, it's Wendy's 'special day', so she insisted.
"All that's left, friends and Kyle, is to offer you drinks in the studio. But not too drunk, especially Kenny and Bebe, because the priest will get pissy if we have a hung over best man and maid of honour." He caught sight of Teddy. "Er. I mean. Angry."
Teddy snorted. "Dad, I know words like 'pissy'. I'm not a kid."
"Then I guess you're too old for the ice-cream cake in the refridgerator," Wendy said, nonchalantly.
"I'm a kid!" Teddy said apruptly. "Can I -?"
"Off you go."
As the others began to filter through to the studio, Cartman caught Wendy by the arm.
"Hey," he said.
"I've been meaning to ask you..."
"Teddy. His name...was that -?"
Wendy smiled. "Maybe."
"Got any pre-wedding jitters this time?" he asked, raising his eyebrows and casting a meaningful look at her stomach.
She laid a hand over her belly. "Don't be an idiot." She kissed him on the cheek and whispered, "the only baby growing in there is yours."
"Good," he said, lifting up her chin and leaning down for a kiss. Then, he stopped. "Wait, what?"
Wendy smiled mischeviously, and turned to follow the others.
She ignored him, and kept walking.
"Goddamnit you hippie! If you're pregnant, I deserve to know!"
"Can it be a boy?" Teddy called from the next room over. He appeared in the doorway, the entire tray of the ice-cream cake in his hands. It occurred vaguely to Cartman that he should tell the kid he was going to get fat if he kept eating like that, but there were more important issues at hand.
She turned back and gave him a wicked smile. "Honestly, Eric," she said, a little scathing, and a little teasing, "when have you ever known me to turn down a proper whisky without good reason?"
She left, and speechlessly, he followed her.