“—What’s up with you?”
“Karkat, what’s up with Dave?”
“Comprehensively fucking damaged himself attempting to move a wardrobe, leave him alone or he’ll whimper and I do not personally feel strong enough to handle that shit.”
“…are you making pancakes?”
“No. I’m flying a fighter jet, can’t you tell? —Back off, Egbert, noli these fucking tangere.”
Thwap, with a spatula.
“Owwww, Karkat, you don’t have to be mean about it.”
“I do and you know it. Go away and let me finish this and then you and I can have ordinary non-crippled-people breakfast.”
“Oh my god are you making Dave special pancakes? You are so making Dave special pancakes Karkat that is absolutely adora—”
THWACK with a spatula.
“—okay okay okay you make your point, jeez.”
“Sometimes I have to make it three or four fucking times before it sinks in. Did you at least get your ID shit straightened out?”
“Yeah, turns out they’d transposed two digits on my student ID number, took like a second to fix that. Then I stopped by the store on the way back and got shit like notebooks because I figured we were gonna need them.”
“My God. An actual instance of fucking forethought from John Egbert. Hold me, I shall swoon. —Get off, jesus. If you’re going to stand around and get in the damn way do me a favor and go put a plate in the toaster oven at three-fifty, set it on Keep Warm.”
“As you command, man. Oh fuck, you got the good whipped cream!”
“Put that down, Egbert, or I’ll—”
“…I hate you. I want you to fucking know that, John, I fucking hate you with a powerful and coruscating hatred the likes of which your feeble brain could never contemplate, I just opened that can this morning and the rest of us might have wanted some of it on our fucking food before you got Egbertian germs all over the fucking nozzle.”
“Lighten up, Karkat, if I’m carrying anything you’ll both have it by the end of the week anyway.”
“…I hate it when you’re right. Put the fucking can down and go deal with that plate.”
In the living room Dave winced a little as he shifted against the sofa cushions, but mostly he was aware of a sort of stupid simple contentment he wasn’t used to.
Karkat didn’t do smiley faces on the pancakes, true to his word. Instead they had blueberry-flavored >:( faces on them, and Dave laughed hard enough to wince. The others had come to join him in the living room, Karkat crosslegged on the floor and Egbert perched on the arm of the sofa. That kid could balance fucking anywhere, it was insane.
“...so what’s the plan for today?” John asked, crunching up honey-nut cheerios. He’d put whipped cream on them. Karkat had shuddered. “I mean, if you’re basically sidelined until your back gets better it’s all up to me and Karkat to finish unpacking, right? So we get to decide where all your stuff goes.”
“Actually, no, we get to locate someone STRONG to finish moving all the fucking furniture,” Karkat told him. His Cheerios were innocent of anything but milk, and it was a good thing he hadn’t seen John take the carton out earlier and help himself to a good long swig. “And then we can torment Strider by arranging his things in inappropriate locations. The shitty anime swords, for example, might go nicely in the fridge.”
“You’re insane, Karkles,” Dave said, mouth full of pancake. “Completely bonkers. Those swords are not shitty, for one thing, and for another they do not go in the goddamn fridge they go in the cabinet under the sink, what even are you thinking.”
“Fuck, I’m sorry, I should have known, this is some bullshit ironic feng shui thing, right?”
“You haven’t reached a sufficiently high level of ironic enlightenment for me to tell you, dude.”
Karkat pegged a Cheerio at him, which seemed to settle the matter to general approval.
A little while after they’d finished breakfast and made a couple of brief but important phone calls, the wardrobe that had damaged Dave had been suitably tamed and made to settle becomingly right where it ought to be, and his desk and sound equipment relocated accordingly. The shitty anime swords remained where they were.
Dave was feeling considerably less at one with the universe several hours later when he hauled himself off the sofa--with Karkat’s help--and found that yeah, he still hurt like an absolute stone-cold motherfucking bitch. “--Fuck,” Karkat said succinctly. “That bad, huh?”
He could feel sweat standing out on his face. “You just went the color of old mushrooms, Strider, give us a heads-up if you plan to do any hurling in the near future just as a general courtesy?”
“Don’t...think the floor’s in danger of being decorated,” Dave said after a moment, leaning heavily on him. “Jesus fuck this hurts though. You got any more of those miracle pills?”
“Yup. But if you’re still like this tomorrow your ass is going to the clinic.” Karkat helped him to the bathroom without being asked, and Dave wondered not for the first time how many hidden depths it was possible for one grumpy little asshole to contain.
When he eventually hobbled out again John was sprawled on the sofa reading one of his screenplay-writing texts. “--Hey, sorry, I stole your place, man,” he said, rolling over and just catching himself before he fell off the edge. Dave waved this away.
“‘s cool, man. Kinda think I might go lie down properly for a while, you have the sofa. You’re, like, using it for official school purposes and all.”
School didn’t actually start for a few more days, thank fuck. Hopefully by the time he was expected to do shit like leaving the house he’d be able to, well, leave the house.
John was getting up anyway, coming over, stupidly blue eyes wide with sympathy behind his glasses. Dave was very, very grateful for the window-tinting privacy of his own shades. “You’re really feeling shitty, huh, man. Want a hand back to bed?”
He swallowed and nodded. “Yeah, that’d be good. Thanks, Egbert, sometimes you’re a helpful and competent derp instead of a standard garden-variety derp, it’s a wonderful phenomenon.”
“Fuck you, Strider,” John said cheerfully, and ducked slightly to let Dave lean on his shoulder. He was bony and angular and wiry underneath his hoodie, the build of someone who hasn’t got his full growth yet but is well on his way there.
Dave wondered again what the fuck was up with him noticing shit like that all of a sudden.
The process of regaining horizontality was about as pleasant as he remembered, and he just lay still for a moment breathing hard with his eyes shut when John helped him down to the bed. “Dude,” John said, sounding worried--Egbert sounding worried, what the fuck--”you really don’t look so good. You need to go to the doctor?”
“Nah.” Dave swallowed. “Just...strained something is all. It’ll fix itself, just need some painkillers. Karkles has like mad knowledge of pharmacy shit, I guess.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” Dave located something resembling a smile and equipped it. “Go get your learn on, Egbert, I’ll be fine.”
John left, with another mistrustful look. Dave was pretty sure he hadn’t convinced the guy but fuck it, there was only so much one Strider could handle at any given time. Now that he was properly supine he could start to think more clearly as the pain receded.
“Egbert thinks you’re on your deathbed,” said Karkat from the doorway. “He’s composing epitaphs. It’s kind of adorable, or it would be if he weren’t so damn shitty at it. I think he’s trying to rhyme things with Strider.”
He looked up. “Bullshit.”
“Later I might make him read some of them to you. --Here you go, miracle pills as requested.” Karkat looked at him critically. “You want anything else? I think there’s apple juice in the fridge.”
“Water’s fine.” Where had he even gotten bendy straws from, Dave wondered. He sure as hell didn’t recall picking those up at the grocery store. “Thanks, Karkles. You are the very best of housemates.”
“I sure as fuck am. I think this is soon enough after breakfast that you should be okay without like crackers or something, but shriek in agony if your stomach hurts, yeah?”
“Shriek in agony, check.” Dave swallowed his handful of blessed chemicals and set the glass aside. “Fuck, I’m tired, Karkles, I don’t even know why.”
“Don’t fight it, man, the more you’re asleep the less you’re actively in pain.”
Dave watched as he scrubbed his hands through the bird’s-nest of his hair, and couldn’t help remembering Karkat in the yellow glow of his bedside lamp, hair sticking out all over the place, pillow-wrinkles pressed into one cheek. “Mmh,” he said.
Karkat just pulled the blankets over him and told him to go the fuck to sleep.
“Dude, I’m serious, he looks terrible.”
“I know. You didn’t see him last night, it was a whole shitload worse. --Get off the fucking counter, Egbert, you’re as bad as a goddamn cat. Here. Look. You want something to do so badly, you can peel and chop the carrots if you promise not to cut your fucking fingers off with my good knife. I’m not having that knife get nicks in it from your derpy-ass fingerbones.”
“You say the sweetest things, Karkat,” John said, with a cloudless smile, and wrapped his arms around Karkat from behind in a patented Egbert-hug. As usual, it made Karkat flail and curse and whap at him with the spatula, which--as usual--led to a brief tussle ending in retaliatory headlock noogies from Karkat and John giggling like a complete and utter twerp.
“Get to work, you colossal retard,” Karkat said, letting him go and handing over the peeler. “Shit is not going to prepare itself.”
“I still can’t believe you’re making chicken soup.”
“I am not making chicken soup, we’ve been over this. This is what we in the world of grown-ups call chicken stock, which can be used as the base for soup and also in a myriad other applications to add fucking flavor, get this shit clear.”
“You are so making chicken soup, Karkat. You even got the noodles.”
“Peel those fucking carrots, Egbert, or I will come after you with the goddamn microplane, don’t fucking test me.”
John subsided, still grinning his bucktoothed grin, and got on with his task while Karkat browned chicken thighs in the big black cast-iron frying pan he’d insisted on bringing. “When the fuck are you going to use that, Karkles?” Dave had asked, snickering. “To brain intruders?”
“Yeah, but also to fucking cook in, you goddamn philistine,” Karkat had said, swinging the pan in a loose-wristed vertical circle the way show-offs did with swords. There was something about the way he did this which had convinced Dave to change the subject without much delay.
The whole world of cookery was pretty much a closed book to John beyond things you could put in the microwave and then take out and eat, or alternatively things you could put in the toaster oven and then take out and eat. He was pretty much down with those two modes. Peeling carrots was a task that made him feel like Gordon Ramsay, on whom Karkat had a not-so-secret mancrush. Actually chopping them up with Karkat’s good knife required concentration!
Karkat watched him, a little one-sided smile flickering across his face, before he turned his attention back to the pan and got on with the job at hand. “--If you survive the carrots you could maybe have an attempt at the celery, Egbert. I just mention it in passing.”
It was...nice, when John wanted to do something Karkat liked. He didn’t think too much about it, because he didn’t need to: simply nice, a pleasant experience. By the time he was done with the chicken and deglazing his beloved skillet, John had finished dismembering both carrots and celery and had come up beside him to peer at what he was doing. “So is that like it?”
“Largely. Now I stick these in this pot and add the onion and your vegetable carnage and all the herbs and shit and fill it up with water and let it simmer for the rest of the day. I told you this wasn’t complicated, Egbert.”
“But you’re like...making it. Not just opening cans.”
“My God you are perceptive.” Karkat dumped ingredients into his dented stockpot. “And when it’s done it’s gonna go in ziploc bags and get frozen and I won’t have to fuck around with making it again for a while. See how this works?”
“I guess,” John said, leaning against the counter, fidgeting. “Karkat, seriously, um.”
“Seriously um what?” He was grinding pepper on top of the stuff in the pot. “Be more communicative.”
“Seriously what if Dave’s not okay?”
Karkat put down the pepper grinder and sighed. “Then we’ll take him to the clinic. I think he’s just strained something really fucking badly, but if he’s still in this much pain tomorrow I’m at least calling them to say what the fuck do we do.”
“I never saw him like this before,” John said. “Like, okay, back in high school one time he broke his wrist doing some dumbass stunt and he had to have been in a shitload of pain then, cause, uh, broken wrist, but he didn’t look as gross as he does right now.”
“He’ll be fine, jesus.” Karkat glowered furiously at him and then sighed and put a hand on his shoulder, which apparently was permission for John to wrap tightly around him in a hug. “--erk. Christ, Egbert, not so damn tight, I need to breathe here. Relax, okay? Calm your tits and be of fucking use helping clean up.”
John eased off on his infant-gibbon imitation and gave Karkat’s back a couple of manly if belated whacks. “Right! Cleaning up. How come Ramsay never needs to do his own cleaning up?”
“Because he probably spent his entire fucking young adulthood doing just that very thing,” Karkat said drily. “Not a lot of envy for the life of a professional chef. --No, that doesn’t go in the dishwasher. In fact you know what, fuck the dishwasher, it was making really uncouth noises yesterday and I don’t think I want to risk it throwing up all over the kitchen. We got enough to deal with as it is.”
When Dave woke up in that weird not-twilight of late afternoon he wasn’t sure what day it was, or how long he’d been asleep. This was why he hated napping during the day, it fucked with your sense of present time passing, and he’d always kind of been super fucking sensitive to that shit.
He shifted a little and that woke up his back, and although it was enough to make him groan out loud it seemed--oh fuck he hoped it seemed like it was less fucking terrible than it had been before. Reaching out to turn on the light didn’t make him want to die, for example, which it had done not so long ago.
He rubbed at his face, reaching for his shades, feeling better the moment the familiar weight settled on the bridge of his nose; with the world at bay beyond that barrier he could deal with how he felt without having to try and keep his eyes expressionless. Slowly he became aware that the house smelled interesting, sort of homely--and that he was fucking starving, had he really slept all day with nothing but a handful of pain pills and Karkat’s frowny pancakes to sustain him? Jesus fuck. That would not stand.
Dave...wasn’t sure he was actually hungry enough to chance waking the pain up all the way by trying to get up on his own and go find the others. It represented a sort of paradigm shift in his thinking: the concepts of caution and self-preservation had been introduced as valid variables in a shifting world of stoicism, pragmatism, self-sacrifice, and general bloody-mindedness.
That concept had got away from him a little, he thought, and closed his eyes again. He was going to have to get up, though. Just a couple more minutes of lying perfectly still and he’d make an attempt, at least. He had to make the attempt.
Knock knock. “Dave?”
He blinked behind the shades. “--Huh?”
The door opened and John poked his head through--from this angle Dave could just make out a shock of black hair and a blue sleeve, he wasn’t about to try twisting around to get a better look. “You feeling any better?”
“Some,” Dave said. John came into the room and peered down at him anxiously. Anxious on John didn’t really work very well, aw, jeez, that was fucking stupidly adorable.
What did he just think.
“--Karkat made dinner if you want some. Uh. You kinda don’t look like you should be out of bed, though, dude.”
Dave lifted a limp hand and let it flop. “I’m fucking useless, Egbert. Ripe for the culling. Woe.”
That got a better half-smile out of John. “Well, he was all making huffy noises and looking for a tray, so I guess he’s not set on making you get up and be all formal and shit.”
“Egbert,” said Karkat, muffled through the door. “Come here and open this fucking door like a half-sensible human being, I only have two goddamn hands.”
Dave didn’t miss the way John’s face lit up. He’d totally been right about the hateflirty romcom thing, he thought. They were fucking sweet. He swallowed hard as John opened the door for Karkat, who came in carrying a tray with...what the fuck, looked like actual food, not pizza or takeout. “You cooked?”
“He totally cooked. He made chicken soup! From chicken! And other stuff.”
Karkat was going an amusing brick color. “Shut your face before it gets shut for you, Egbert. I told you I was just preparing stock, that’s all.”
Dave had to swallow again before he was entirely sure he’d sound the way he planned to. “Welp, that’s it, Karkles. Will you marry me?”
He was not prepared for the even deeper flush in his friend’s face. “Fuck you, Strider. Eat your damn nourishing homemade soup. --Can you sit up, actually?”
“Dunno. Let’s find out.”
It was...maybe kind of a relief that John was the one to offer him an arm while Karkat fussed with the tray, and Dave was exceedingly gratified to find that while it hurt, it didn’t hurt to the point where he felt queasy, and presently he was settled with the tray on his lap indelicately slurping soup. “--Jesus Christ, Strider. Your table manners are atrocious.”
“Mmf,” he said. “Karkles, this is really good. Like really good. You should do this all the time.”
“You should!” John said. “If I damage myself by accident will you make me soup?”
“I did make you soup, moron, what the fuck do you think you’re eating, and no, just for that I will not. No soup for you. No pancakes either. You can get your own goddamn nourishment, I know when I’m being manipulated.”
John pouted at him and Karkat glowered, and for a moment Dave felt like it was last year again, last year in the quad room they’d all shared since their fourth roommate had dropped out. That had been good times, but the fucking housing fees on campus were through the roof and when they’d seen this ad in the paper they couldn’t resist it. A whole fucking house for the three of them. With all the fucking furnishings provided.
He had to admit this was a pretty okay bed, all things considered. Way better than that dinky little dorm single. It had been a challenge to sleep on that narrow child’s bed with anybody else and wake up in the morning with both parties still a) on the bed and b) remotely comfortable.
“Seriously though,” he said. “Thanks.”
“Mhh. You’re welcome, asshole. We can’t move the TV in here but if you want I can go get your laptop if you wanted to watch netflix or whatever.”
“Hey, yeah, that’d be awesome. I still have like half of Breaking Bad season two to get through.” Dave smiled at him, and thought probably the smile looked a bit weary, but hoped it did its job nonetheless. He thought Karkat might have flushed again, but couldn’t be sure through the shades. “--You guys wanna watch that with me?”
There was enough room on the bed for one of them on either side of him if they were careful.
“...yeah, okay,” Karkat said, grudgingly, and John bounced to his feet. “Go get the ice cream, Egbert, and don’t eat the fucking whipped cream out of the fucking can that is fucking disgusting, were you raised in a den or something?”
When John had gone he looked seriously down at Dave. “You sure you’re up for this?”
“Yeah, I’m cool,” he said. He even thought it might be something close to true.