“Hand me the beans.”
“Which ones beans?”
“Those two cans on the table.”
Karkat picks up the cans and stares at the image on them. Green vegetables and—“Where green humans come from?”
John turns from the pot on the stove and raises an eyebrow. “What are you—oh! That’s just the mascot. Green Giant. Um, it’s not a real person, just like their logo? It’s how you recognize the brand. Here, have we shown you how to use a can opener yet?”
The troll purses his lips and, hesitantly, shakes his head. It’s a fair bet that if he doesn’t recognize the words then he hasn’t been shown, but there have been points where his vocabulary has become too saturated and overfull, words he’s already heard dropping right out of his think pan, which is embarrassing and frustrating despite Rose and Jade both agreeing that he can’t be expected to learn each and every English word after just hearing it once.
The past hour has been stuffed as full as the cooking turkey with terms and phrases that are unfamiliar, whether they’re new or forgotten. Karkat has to ask for clarification so often that he’s got a pretty strong feeling John would be better off in the kitchen without him, that he’s hindering more than he’s helping. Every time he tries to slink out of the kitchen and to the living room, however, John asks him to help with something else—pouring out ¾ cup of milk (John has to show him how to read the measuring cup) or mashing the potatoes (not so hard! You’ll mash them right out of the bowl) or putting the Pillsbury biscuits on a tray (when the cardboard roll pops apart in Karkat’s hands, he shrieks and drops it on the counter).
The doorbell rings, and John bolts from the kitchen, abandoning the pot on the stove after dumping only one of two cans of beans in. Karkat lingers, wondering if he should pour in the other can of beans and stir the pot as he saw John do; will the food items burn if they’re left still for any amount of time?
The sound of the door opening reaches his ears, as does John’s gleeful shout, “Dad!” Karkat leans around the door jamb to peek out into the living room. He can’t see much of the figure in front of John, just a pair of strong arms wrapped around his back and a hat that never would have sat right on a head with a proper pair of horns, for all that it has a certain distinguished air about it. After a long moment of lurking, eyes flicking back and forth from the stove to the front door, Karkat sees the two humans part. John steps back and welcomes (presumably) his dad into the hive—house—and shuts the door behind them.
Karkat’s seen the man before on Skype chats. He knows to expect an older version of John, a man whose face has filled out a little more, with a few lines beginning to show around his eyes and mouth, topped off by a strong slanting nose that John didn’t inherit. The warm smile is something he’s seen before, and the way his eyes crinkle up just like John’s is no surprise. But as John’s father steps around his son and approaches, Karkat finds that he wants to slink back into the kitchen, wants to scuttle away and hide.
“Good to finally meet you in person, Karkat,” the man says, holding out a hand. It takes a moment before the troll recalls this particular Earth human custom, and he thrusts his own hand out with frantic rapidity to make up for the minute when he stared blankly, trying to remember what to do. Shit, he has to make sure his grip is firm but not too tight, and not to dig in with his claws, and OW SWEET MOTHERGRUB OF FUCK!
He’s hissing and spitting out Alternian curses as he shakes out his hand, and John and his father are both sharing a guffaw, the buzzer on the man’s hand now visible.
Dave claims that he doesn’t know what to do in a kitchen if it doesn’t involve swords and/or a microwave, Jade has been forbidden from cooking after she burned both her own hands and the water, and Rose claims that she and her mom could infuse all prepared food with alcohol through simple osmosis if they were allowed within a ten foot radius, so it’s best that they’re exiled. Over the past couple of months Karkat has burned his own fingers a few times helping John, and he’s accidentally eaten things like eggshells and unpeeled shrimp before somebody could explain to him what’s normally considered food, but this isn’t the first time he’s watched John make culinary magic and sometimes fetched ingredients or even helped prepare them. (They’ve actually got a system down for breakfast every Sunday morning, Karkat tirelessly mixing eggs and milk and onions and peppers and bacon for John to pour in the frying pan and flip perfect omelets. John makes faces when Karkat snags a few eggshells to crunch between his teeth, and won’t kiss him on the mouth afterward until he’s brushed his teeth.)
With John and his father both in the kitchen, Karkat can only stare, watching the two of them work next to and around each other. The older man opens the oven to check on the gobblebeast--turkey--and independently John slips the tray of biscuits onto the top rack. They both rise at the same time and John’s dad checks the pot of beans while John begins to take plates out to the dining room table.
Dave and another older human (his brother, Karkat didn’t even see the man come in) are already seated at their places, staring so intently at the steaming dishes that John sets down that their shades do nothing to conceal their gazes. By the time John makes his second trip, Karkat trailing behind him and holding the string bean casserole with both oven-mitted hands, Rose and her mother have also appearified at their table, so now there's an entire row of blond heads and creepy stares. Karkat is all to eager to set his dish down and abscond to the kitchen, fidgeting next to Mr. Egbert who is putting the finishing touches on the turkey and gravy.
He winds up being drafted into helping carry the turkey, which, sloshing in its own juices and stuffed with bread bits and vegetables, is much heavier than Karkat expected. His fingers tremble and he shifts his grip on the platter. John’s father, on the other hand, displays no difficulties. Karkat wonders if the man couldn’t have just carried the whole thing out on his own.
By the time they set the platter down in the center of the table, Jade has also joined and found a seat, her hellbeast sitting at her feet and resting his great furry head on her knees. John is distributing drinks, pouring apple juice and sparkling cider for everybody. They sit at last, Karkat’s biceps still twinging a little from the strain of maneuvering the turkey.
Except for Rose’s mother, sipping from her martini glass, nobody has moved to actually partake of the meal in front of them, and Karkat’s gaze circles around the table. Jade is sitting on her hands and wiggling back and forth in her seat, eyes darting from mashed potatoes to cranberries to biscuits, and she licks her lips but doesn't move to put anything on her plate. Both Striders are frozen like ornamental ice statues, and Rose is toying with her glass of cider, turning it this way and that. John and his dad exchange glances, and his father tilts his chin down the slightest bit while raising his eyebrows. John squirms for a moment, but turns to face everyone else and clears his throat.
“So, um, before we eat, dad and I, we usually like to say the things we’re thankful for. And, do any of you guys say grace? Because we could do that, too.”
“I have been without a doubt on the edge of my seat waiting to get my sermon on,” Dave says. Karkat is glad to be seated next to Jade, because she nudges his foot preemptively, and he crosses his ankles under his chair instead of kicking Dave in the shin. John, meanwhile, just rolls his eyes.
“Karkat, son, do you have anything you usually say before a meal where you come from?”
Caught unprepared, Karkat frantically replays the question in his mind. Something about Mr. Egbert’s gentle tone and patient stare makes his think pan fumble, and arranging the words into comprehension seems to take twice as long and five times as much effort as usual. “No,” he mutters at last, “nothing to say before meal.” He thinks Nepeta sometimes observed rituals of thanks for the hunt, and Terezi had always been big on ceremony for special occasions and celebrations, but for himself, he had never followed any such traditions.
Next to him, John bumps their shoulders together, and gives him a smile. “Then I’ll start! I’m thankful that I can be here with everybody, that I’m not on America’s Most Wanted OR in jail, and that Karkat is with us too!”
From there they go down the table in order. John groans at his father’s declaration of, “I am thankful to have a son I am so, so proud of.” Similarly Rose rolls her eyes at her mother’s words, which are a little too slurred for Karkat to catch but which make Mr. Egbert’s cheeks go red. For herself, she states, “I am grateful that we have, thus far, managed to wield the media to our favour and prevent catastrophe.” After her, Dave says he’s thankful for a free home cooked meal; his brother smacks him on the back of the head and says something long, winding, and verbose, and John’s father goes just a little redder while Rose’s mother titters. In contrast, what little colour there is in Rose and Dave’s cheeks seems to drain, and John grimaces and hides his face in his hands.
Jade just giggles, and then it’s her turn. “I’m glad that all of our colleges were willing to take us back next year since we couldn’t start yet,” she begins, and the older humans put whatever weird word game they’re playing on hold to give her their attention. “I’m glad I’ve gotten to spend the past few months with you all. I feel like we’re so close now! Like the five of us could do anything at all. We still have to make the government lay off our backs but I know we can manage it. I have the very best friends in the entire universe.”
She looks at everybody in turn, falling at the last to Karkat, who does his level best to meet her eyes but eventually has to look down under the intensity of her gaze. Mirroring John, she bumps the troll’s shoulder, “Your turn, Karkat!”
His fingers curl on the tablecloth and he inhales, going over the words he’s chosen in his mind. John has informed him several times that it’s adorable the way his grammar gets worse when he’s worked up, but Karkat hates it beyond measure. In Alternian he was able to wield his words with as deadly precision as his sickles; at best he can clumsily lob his English words and hope they fall in the general direction he intended. At times he feels as though a limb has been hacked off and is now crookedly growing back in.
“I’m… thankful for John. For John saving my life and liberating me from hell.” John places a hand atop Karkat’s, ruddy caramel fingers weaving between his own gray prongs, right out there on the table where everybody can see them. Somehow Karkat manages to keep speaking. “I’m thankful for Sollux, who is dead now. Sollux was an asshole and he was smarter than me and he helped me not die.” He breathes deeply, in and out.
Later that night he will pay his respects to the other trolls. Later he can rest his head on John’s shoulder and cry. Not now. John had explained the tradition to him, though it took the both of them quite a bit of fumbling and rephrasing to find terms that made sense. Karkat thinks he gets it now, though. There’s so much bad shit going on all the time, and sometimes they need to remind themselves that not everything in their lives is a completely terrible waste of energy right down to the molecular level.
“I’m thankful for Rose who tells me when I am being dumb, and I tell her when she is also. I’m thankful for Jade who helps me not hate Dave too much.”
For a while nobody else speaks. Then Dave pipes up, “Well? We’re waiting here.”
“I’m done,” Karkat grumbles.
“You forgot your shout out to the person who taught you the most important pieces of your vocabulary.”
“I’m thankful for all minutes Strider shuts his shit eating mouth and there is beautiful silence. Oh wait, the miracle never goddamn happen!”
John’s father frowns at him in disappointment, and Jade punches him in the shouler, but Dave’s brother is laughing. There’s no change in the younger Strider’s expression. “Well, um,” John giggles nervously, “I guess let’s dig in!”
When Karkat proceeds to do so, John taps him on the elbow and tries to say discreetly, “Start with just a little bit!”
Of course, Rose overhears. “Indeed, it would be a shame if you were to overtax your system and spend the rest of the night hunched over the toilet.”
Karkat shakes John’s hand off, scowls at Rose, and out of spite plops another spoonful of mashed potatoes onto his plate.
An hour later he is kneeling on the cool tile floor of the bathroom, John next to him rubbing circles on his back. He grips the rim of the toilet seat as his stomach churns with enough fury to make him wonder if he didn’t accidentally ingest a horrorterror.
On the plus side, Thanksgiving dinner tastes almost as good on the way up.