Human food was definitely one of Karkat’s many hang ups, especially at the beginning. Taking good care of himself was not his strong suit, due to his stubbornness and his dislike of letting anyone know his personal needs. Yes, even something as basic as needing to eat. He refused to explain himself, and John guessed it was a Troll Thing.
(There were so many of these issues, it deserved the emphatic capitalization. One day, John thought to himself, one day he’d get Karkat to tell him about each and every one, and he would be the gosh darned king of cultural sensitivity. They’d make him a crown and everything. No one would question his reign.)
Karkat’s not eating wasn’t only a danger to himself, but everybody around him as well. He was bad enough satiated, but his righteous anger and general crankiness grew exponentially when his blood-sugar was low. It was fairly obvious when this was happening. You could tell from a distance; he emanated a sort of bloodlusty aura, skulking about and glaring at any sudden movement-- the surest sign was when all the suburban creatures around the house suddenly fled for safer ground and the neighbor’s dog started barking like someone was trying to break in.
And then it was John’s job to get him to eat, because whenever there was a Karkat problem, it was John’s job to fix it, and that was because he made it his job. This circular reasoning was what he used to explain his meddling to his troll compadre, and it never failed at getting him a friendly almost-punch-in-the-face.
So the issue at hand was finding something that Karkat would eat and not complain about. If there was something on this planet that would satisfy his tastes, he would eat more often, right? Now, Karkat’s name and the words “not complain” in the same sentence should already be raising some eyebrows, and truly this was a task to behold. John tried to get him to eat different things, but each attempt seemed more disastrous than the last.
A peach. John didn’t think it would be an issue-- everyone loved fruit! But apparently trolls didn’t have any sense of table manners: when Karkat took the first bite like a starved wolf in midwinter, there was a very audible snapping sound. He covered his mouth with a hand and muffled a colorful curse.
“What? What happened?” John asked, leaning over the table.
“What the grubfucking shit was that,” Karkat screeched, and cradled his jaw, “something hard on the inside-- I broke a fucking tooth!”
“Oh my God, seriously? Oh crap, I‘m sorry! Are you okay? Oh man, I should get some milk--”
“Fucking-- Cool your distress glands Egbert, they grow back,” he rubbed at his cheek, then picked up the peach, tearing the flesh with his claws and digging out the tooth. John “ew”ed loudly, “What is this? If you put this in here for some kind of sick joke, I swear to God--”
“I didn’t!” John exclaimed before Karkat had the chance to claw out his throat, “That’s supposed to be there! It’s the pit!”
“A ‘pit’ is something empty, you pants-on-head retarded wriggler.” He glowered in return, taking the peach in one hand and crushing it in his grip. “This is a landmine in the guise of something actually edible! What else do you grow in your food that I have to look out for? Poison? Grenades? Small rabid animals?”
“I thought you’d know,” John fumbled, “Terezi is always talking about how stuff smells like fruit! Didn’t you have those things on Alternia?”
“Of course we did! AND we’re smart enough to genetically engineer any dental disasters out of them, unlike your primitive race.”
That was the first mistake-- from then on Karkat very pointedly asked if there were any traps in his fruit when John had some. If there was one thing the troll was good at, it was never letting anyone forget about anything.
Like that Red Lobster commercial on TV. John should have noticed the horrified look on Karkat’s face before he decided to say how much he loved crab. John couldn’t get him out of his bedroom for the rest of the day, shouting things like ’sick freak’ or ‘patricidal maniac’ whenever he’d knock or jiggle the knob.
But besides that, they’d have something different for dinner every night, and Karkat sourly picked at it all. Well, to be fair, if he were suddenly on a different planet that didn’t have any of his favorite foods, he’d be a little sour too. But he thought there’d be something out there, anything…
Asking about it directly didn’t result in anything more than it did when he asked about Karkat’s aversion to eating, and he was getting the distinct impression that Karkat wasn’t just being aloof, but intentionally staying mum on the matter. It was disheartening, watching his friend push food around his plate with such a gloomy (or even mildly upset) look on his face. Eating should be something you enjoy!
…But he didn’t have any idea of what to do about it. While Karkat could go on and on about some things from his home, others he clammed up about entirely. John knew how stubborn he was, so he’d have to think up some other approach.
His usual morning routine went on as it always did. John dragged himself out of bed fairly early; he was the type that woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. He then either stumbled or floated (usually floated, he did it without thinking) down the stairs, turned on the morning news and maked himself a bowl of cereal. Karkat rarely woke up as early as he did, so John wasn’t surprised when he didn’t join him right away. After awhile, John would go to the stairs and call for him to come down, usually getting some kind of irritated growl in return, and then the little thump of Karkat’s feet hitting the floor.
Today though, when John shouted up for him, he didn’t get any reply, verbal or otherwise. At first he didn’t think anything of it. Whatever, Karkat didn’t feel like calling back, no big deal. But after an hour without any sign of the troll, John started to wonder. He decided to go upstairs and check on him personally.
“Karkat?” he spoke almost meekly as he pushed the door to Katkat’s room open. It was a ridiculously utilitarian space; nearly everything in the room had an application and a purpose. Decoration was minimal, if not non-existent. Everything was grey or black or white. It was like walking into the Twilight Zone.
Karkat slept in a huge hammock that hung from the ceiling, full of pillows and a couple of blankets. After trying many different sleeping options for him, most of which were unsatisfactory, they’d settled on this. It wasn’t a recupercoon full of-- sopor slime, he called it-- to calm his dreams, so at first everything was a bust. They were able to get around that in time… but one thing about this sling was that Karkat practically disappeared in it, especially if his horns were covered up somehow, grey and black all melting into itself.
John was extra careful to make plenty of noise as he entered the room and made his way to Karkat’s bed because this would definitely end in scratches if he surprised a sleeping troll. Yet as he came closer, and then shuffled through the bedding, it became clear that Karkat wasn’t there. Befuddled, John scoured the rest of the room for his friend, opening his closet and looking under his desk, and then checking the rest of the second floor, to no avail.
It was impossible for the troll to just up and disappear… Well, he was pretty sure he couldn’t. And if he had tried to go downstairs at any point, John would have noticed. He had to be up here somewhere. But where?
“Karkat!” he called again, drawing out his vowels and using his most grating pitch, knowing that the troll couldn’t possibly resist replying to tell him how annoying he was. “I know you’re around here somewhere! Why are you hiding? Is this some kind of game?”
Nah, the only kind of game Karkat liked to play was one where he could win and shove it in the other player’s face, not guessing games. Whatever he was doing, there had to be a purpose behind it.
Not getting any leads, John began to lose focus. He spotted a particularly large dust mote and began to hover after it, blowing it up higher and higher until he nearly conked his head on the ceiling. But this new perspective was exactly what he needed. Now that he was looking upwards, he noticed that the trap door leading to the attic was ever-so-slightly ajar.
“A-ha!” he chimed, pulling the door open and awkwardly dodging the makeshift stairs that unfolded with it. John popped his head up into the crawlspace, and lo and behold, there was Karkat, “Found ya! What in the world are you doing up here?”
Well, he only knew it was Karkat because he was the only other person that could possibly be in the house. The troll had a blanket thrown over his head and he shrugged away with a throaty growl when John addressed him.
“What’s the matter?” John asked, his volume dropping to a quieter hush for a reason he didn’t completely understand. He propelled himself over to his friend and landed on his knees in front of him with nary a sound, and leaned his head in to try and get a look at his face.
“Nothing, fuckass,” Karkat replied with the least convincing lie of the century; even John gave him a look of flat disbelief . Karkat cleared his throat. “Nothing you need to concern yourself with-- go away”
“No way! You’re hiding in the attic and being silly; of course I’m gonna concern myself,” John insisted, and grabbed for Karkat’s blanket, but he was sluggishly evaded. “Why’re you covering up your head like that? Bad horn day?”
“You can’t have a ‘bad horn day’ you raging invalid,” Karkat grumbled in return, coughing and pawing John’s inquisitive hands away every time he tried to grab for his hood. But he was foiled when, while he had both of the human’s wrists, John’s breeze puffed his sheet off of his head.
Karkat’s face was a shocking shade of wild cherry. Well, mostly his cheeks and the bridge of his nose, but it was still surprising, when he was so used to seeing the normal cold grey color of troll skin
“Oh wow, Karkat!” John exclaimed, putting a hand to his own face… And then putting both his hands on either side of Karkat’s, “you’re totally red! And kinda warm. Are you okay?”
“If you don’t remove your hands from my skin right now, I’m going to turn this hivetop into the most gruesome crime scene--”
John didn’t really want to let go, but he did. Karkat sniffed sullenly and pulled the sheet back over his head. He didn’t seem like he had the energy to fly into his usual fit of unmitigated rage, and John realized that he was actually feeling bad that he couldn’t. It was a coping mechanism, or something, right?
“Are you sick?”
He got a non-committal sound in return that he took as yes.
“Then why’re you hiding? This attic’s all stuffy, your big hammock is way comfier than this.”
“Why not? Your human concept of comfort doesn’t apply to this situation at all. Besides, ‘hiding’ is a perfectly natural function in reaction to illness--”
“Uh, no it’s not.”
“--Don’t interrupt me. Now listen, and allow your puny, inferior think pan to try and grasp this concept. If you lived in a world where the word for ‘friend’ is the same as ‘enemy‘, you take care of your caretaker, and you’re at the constant threat of culling for showing any sign of weakness, wouldn’t being seen ill be the last thing you could possibly want?”
John could appreciate what he was saying, really, and he had to chant in his head as always, cultural sensitivity, cultural sensitivity! Yet…
“Yeah, that makes some sense,” he pondered out loud, taking to the air and floating back around Karkat, “But you’re being dumb! This is Earth, and on Earth we can take of sick people.”
“I’m not people,” Karkat mumbled petulantly.
“Yes you are. Now come on.”
The troll does his best to dodge John, but he’s no match for the windy thing. John grabbed him under his armpits, and Karkat called him a large variety of things too unsavory to repeat in this fan fiction. About halfway down the ladder-stairs he realized that struggling was doing nothing to help him, so he went completely limp instead. His useless butt clunked on each rung, and he even started to lose his pants as he was dragged across the carpeting and into his room.
“Damn it Karkat, why do you always have to be so difficult! I’m trying to help!”
“Yeah, and why do you always have to shove your ridiculous buck-toothed face into my personal business?”
“It’s not personal business if you live in the same house,” John replies with a huff. But really, Karkat was pretty light and it wasn’t much work to hoist him into his hanging bed. John got distracted again by the incredible redness of his face and belatedly realized that that was probably another reason the troll went into hiding. He hated having the color of his blood revealed in any way.
“I didn’t know trolls could get sick though!” he remarked, crossing his legs pretzel-style and sitting on thin air next to his reluctant pal, “like, cold sick. Isn’t that a human thing?”
“Egbert, we both have oxygen sacs and nasal secretion planes, of course we can get respiratory illnesses.”
“Lungs John, lungs,” Karkat sighed.
“I knew that!”
John hovered about a bit, while Karkat buried himself in his pillows as deep as he possibly could, trying to camouflage himself. It did work. To a point. His coughing kept giving him away, no matter how hard he tried to keep it in.
“Do you need anything?”
He got a muffled grumble from underneath Karkat’s impenetrable fortress of duck feathers.
That was most likely the least helpful utterance of his life, but John could work with it. He retrieved a box of tissues from the bathroom, which Karkat accepted with an arm thrust up out of his cocoon, reminiscent of all the worst horror movies. He also strategically positioned a wastebasket under the hammock for wayward garbage, and then made his way out.
Hmm. Being downstairs again felt odd, knowing his friend was sick just upstairs. John tarried about aimlessly, then into the kitchen, opening the cupboard for no particular reason.
Then he had an idea.
No. No no no. He is not answering that. Shut up, go away, let me sleep until my face doesn’t feel like exploding anymore.
Ugh, where is the snooze button on this thing?
“What, what. Okay, I’m awake,” he blinks owlishly; he is never going to get used to this whole sunlight thing. “This better be important, I am trying to convalesce here.”
“You punched me in the snout!” John exclaims, holding his hands over said appendage with a look of betrayal on his face, like he has been wronged in a horrible way.
“To establish authority,” Karkat mutters, and John looks so perplexed by his answer that he forgets to be offended. He moves on to his next inquiry.
“Are you okay? The trashcan looks like you‘ve had a major nosebleed.”
Yet John still manages to be that special kind of retard only a lusus could tolerate. Karkat gives him a stare a bit like a capital b followed by a vertical slash viewed with your head tilted ninety degrees to the left.
“What? Dude, I don’t know! Are nosebleeds regular when you have a cold?”
He has no energy for this. He is trying to think of a proper insult to throw back, but all he is coming up with were butt jokes and fuckwords, and he isn‘t the type to show up to a challenge with anything less than his best.
“I don’t have a nose bleed,” Karkat explains, looking as though the weight of the world is pressing down on him, and he is resigning himself to it. It is a sad, sad day when Karkat Vantas decides to resign himself to anything, “my mucus is naturally red.”
“…That’s really gross.”
And then he begins to bury himself back in his lair of pillows.
“Okay, okay! Wait, don’t burrow, I’ve got something good! Two good things!”
Karkat sighs deeply. Could these two things possibly be worth the effort of un-burrowing? Experience told him there was a 95% chance they weren’t. But as usual, he is an idiot and gives the poor moron a chance.
“You’ve got one chance to prove yourself worthwhile Egbert, and if you don’t make good I am spitting in your mouth so you too can suffer my pestilence.”
Karkat can see the thought of the logistics of such an act rattle around in John’s empty head, and then when it falls out as the human blinked it away. It is promptly replaced with the thought of whatever surprise John had in store for him. He is easily the most obvious person Karkat has ever met.
“I made you something!” he replies, so bright eyed and bushy tailed it is making his headache worse. John turns back to the small desk over to the side, and picks up a bowl of… something, he had placed there. Karkat takes it reluctantly. He doesn’t like human food. None of it ever tasted right, and the textures and consistencies grossed him out. Some things were plain enough that he didn’t mind them, but on a whole, it was an experience he did not enjoy.
It’s white, like milk, and somewhat gelatinous by the way it jiggles around in the bowl. He can’t smell it right now, but it’s warm. There’re bits of something clear and gummy looking, a food he hasn’t seen before.
“Ugh, food?“ Karkat pulls a face, highly disappointed by this surprise, and shoves the dish back into the human’s hands “Not now, I don’t want to deal with this. Get rid of it.”
“But you never ate breakfast!” John gives him such a whine he can almost feel his auricular sponge clots ring, “aren’t you hungry?”
Starving, actually. And it isn’t improving his mood.
“I don’t want to eat,” he mumbles, turning his head away from John’s sad and quizzical expression, “and that’s it.”
There’s a long pause. He’s trying to ignore John until he goes away, but he can tell that the boy isn’t leaving. After a good five minutes of silence, he feels a weight settle down near his feet on the hammock. He tries to ignore that too, but it doesn’t leave either. Finally he gives in enough to open his eyes and glare at his intruder.
It doesn’t work. John only stares back with worry in his eyes.
Stop pitying me. It’s not something you should have to do.
“Karkat, why won’t you eat? Like, ever?”
He hates it when this happens. He wants to deny him or get angry, but there’s nothing fundamentally reproachable to get angry at. And it isn’t an amorous hate, or a platonic hate, but a frustrating one that he wants to get rid of and never have to feel again.
He breathes deeply, and heaves a disgusted sigh. A conversation he didn’t want to have was about to start, whether he liked it or not.
“I eat,” he replies with reluctance.
“Not really,” John says, and pulls his knees up to his chest, maybe to give Karkat more room, who knows, “you pick at stuff, and when you do eat it, you don’t like it.”
“Yeah, and that’s it. Now fuck off. I‘m tired.”
More silence follows. Karkat leans his head back to stare angrily at the ceiling. He can’t keep it up at that face for very long. He almost feels bad, and that alarms him in a way he doesn’t want to deal with, much like everything else. There’s another word synonymous with feeling bad, and he refuses to think that way in relation to John Egbert.
“What did you eat on Alternia?”
Fuck. Why does he always know exactly what to, or more like not to, poke at? This is what he has been avoiding. It’s not like John needs to know. Things could continue to go on their begrudgingly merry way if he would just stop caring so much. But no, it’s never that easy.
“You don’t want to know,” Karkat answers, knowing that John definitely did want to know.
“I want to know.”
Of course he did.
“…Grubs,” he mutters. John leans in curiously.
“I said, grubs.” he repeats, this time loud enough for John to hear.
“What, you mean like bugs?” the human replies, tilting his head and smiling, “that’s all? Karkat, that’s not a big--”
“Grubs are what trolls are when they first hatch.”
This shuts up John very quickly.
“When they pupate, they become wrigglers, and after that they become adult trolls. That’s how it works.”
“So you mean… Baby trolls?”
The look of horror, no matter how hard the other tries to mask it, is obvious.
He still doesn’t totally understand the human connotation that came with the word “baby”, but it sounds right enough. Karkat nods.
There’s silence. It’s exactly like Karkat thought it would be, and he feels that much more right in not telling the boy. He knows that there was no way a human would be alright with the eating one of their own young, they were so stupidly sentimental about their own, raising them all by hand… John will never get over it. Now this is going to be awkward forever.
He begins to bury himself back in bed to wait for John to leave and deal with it on--
“How does that work?”
“I mean--” Karkat looks up, watching John as he tries to explain himself, “wouldn’t there not be enough for everyone? Or you wouldn’t be able to, like, continue to get bigger? As a population?”
It’s all he can do to remember to blink. John is still here? And he’s asking questions about it?
“A mother grub lays millions of eggs at a time,” he answers robotically, “not all of them are going to survive. And we eat other stuff too.”
“Just huh,” John shrugs. He looks like he’s eaten something sour, but he’s not entirely disgusted, “I mean, there’s a whole bunch of things it could’ve been. It even could’ve been worse!”
“How could it possibly have been worse?” Karkat certainly couldn’t think of anything.
“Well,” John floats up and around, so he is behind Karkat in the hammock, and looms over him. Karkat looks up to meet his eyes, “it is kinda-- okay, it’s a lot gross. Because when you say it I think about eating babies, and…”
John shudders, sticks his tongue out and shakes his head.
“We’d never do that. But I have to remember you’re a troll and not a human! It’s not fair to compare it like that, right?”
“And honestly,” he adds, looking to a particularly interesting spot next to Karkat, but not at his face, embarrassed, “I thought you might be… dying, or something, because you weren’t getting the right food. So I’m glad you’re okay.”
Karkat is still obviously shocked, and his gaze fixed, so John gives him a big toothy smile and ruffles his black mop of hair. That snaps him right out of it. He swats at John’s face, and the human dodges with a laugh. But he never meant for it to hit in the first place.
“Jesus fuck, why can’t you humans ever be consistent? Some things you’re completely horrified over, and others…”
“I am pretty horrified!” John replies, floating back over to the untouched food he had offered him before, “But it’s not going to do either of us any good just to sit around and think about it to death. That’d just be a huge waste of time.”
He pushes the bowl back into the troll’s hands.
Karkat’s upper lip twitches. None of this changes the fact that he still isn’t particularly fond of human food. But after telling John this and getting it off his chest, he feels… better.
He takes a bite.
John waves a hand in front of his face He doesn’t get a response. Karkat’s pupils have dilated to a ridiculous degree, and his pointed ears have perked up, and John could have sworn he heard the troll make a chirping noise.
“For the love of the holy-- Egbert, what is this stuff? It’s… It’s…”
His voice lowers in reverence.
Karkat’s expression of delight (which he somehow made without smiling) makes the hairs on the back of John’s neck prickle. Rarely has he seen such joy on the troll’s face. This was the one of the biggest successes he’s had since Karkat came to live with him.
When he asks what this lovely concoction of pudding was called, John tells him it’s tapioca, and Karkat doesn’t even make a quip about how ridiculous it’s name was.
Oh, and if you were wondering about the second surprise, John had found the old portable DVD player in the back of the electronics cabinet. So they watched Independence Day, followed by Men in Black and then Karkat’s unchallenged number one favorite Earth movie, Hitch, all smushed together in his hammock so they could both see.
By the time they’re done, the wastebasket was filled to the brim with soggy red tissues, and Karkat was half-asleep on his shoulder. John slips out of the hanging bed as quietly as possible, replacing his shoulder with a pillow under Karkat’s head. He was reveling in his hard earned victory, and while looking down at this pal, attributed the little skip in his adolescent heart as only a part of that.