At three in the morning, you wake from a comfortable slumber beside your husband and bolt into the bathroom to throw up, shaky and sweaty and fucking miserable. You shouldn’t even be awake right now and this is already the worst day of all time. You have about a thousand prayers and apologies you need to toss at various nonexistent gods to make this end quickly.
“Oh my god,” Karkat says from the doorway, apparently having woken at the sound of your distress. One look at his face tells you he is somewhere between passing out and screaming. “I’m calling 911.”
You wave an impatient hand as you heave again and sit back on your heels, wiping your mouth. Now that your stomach is empty, the world seems a little less dizzying, but there’s still sweat beading on the back of your neck and your entire body feels like it was run over by a bus. Fuck. You must have that obnoxious strain of the flu that’s been hitting people at work. You cannot believe you got the flu for the first time since Before. This is what you get for not using a liberal amount of hand sanitizer before every meal.
“I’m fine,” you say, leaning back against the shower stall and trying not to pant.
“I’m calling 911!”
“I’m not dying.” Christ, the last thing you need is for Karkat’s hysterics to bring both an ambulance and the press to the doorstep. “It’s either the flu or some other stomach bug. You’ve heard of the human flu, right? Pain in the ass, not going to kill me, not when I’m generally healthy. Okay? Just gotta – gotta – check my temp…”
You punctuate this by heaving over the toilet again.
“Oh my god.”
You wipe your mouth again. “Go back – back to bed, I need to quarantine myself, can’t make you sick, what if you get sick and it’s some weird mutated strain because your body doesn’t have the immunities and then you end up keeling over before tomorrow morning, that’s going to put such a damper on pretty much all of the plans we’ve made for the next month, shit.”
“Right, because we have so many documented cases of either of our species going extinct by germ cross-contamination.” Karkat rolls his eyes. “You won’t infect me. Let me get the thermometer.”
You can’t even remember when you last used the thermometer. Karkat’s temperature fluctuates naturally, always somewhere above a hundred degrees, so it’s borderline useless for him. You’re not in the business of getting sick – you’ve only used it to be sure your various colds aren’t anything more serious. But when Karkat unearths it from the top shelf of the medicine cabinet, you discover that your temperature is currently 102.3 degrees.
“That’s bad, isn’t it?”
“It’s supposed to be around 98.7.”
“I really feel like I should be calling 911.”
You pull yourself to your feet and nearly collapse as the bathroom swings around you. Karkat catches you before you can stagger into the dirty clothes hamper.
“I’m okay, I promise. I promise.”
“Are you done throwing up yet?”
“I…” You consider this for a moment, and then reach back and flush the toilet with your foot, bracing your weight on Karkat for balance. “For now.”
“Back to bed, then.”
It’s surprisingly difficult to go back to sleep when everything hurts and you’re dizzy and nauseous and would like nothing more than to be unconscious. Fuck your body. Fuck the flu.
Karkat gives you a sick bucket (long gone are the days when the practicality of using pails for things other than concupiscent activity was lost on him) and presses his arm against you as he furrows his brow in concentration, tapping away at his husktop. Probably reading everything he can find about the flu to reassure himself that you aren’t going to die. You rest your head on his shoulder and shut your eyes, since trying to focus on his screen makes you dizzier. It can’t be a pretty sight, considering you’re sweating and reeking of illness, but he doesn't complain.
“I’m going to stay home to make sure you’re okay,” he says at six AM, the time he’d normally start getting ready.
“Mmmnnno.” You frown. “I’m honestly fine. I’ll just be in bed all day, you don’t have to stick around, I’m going to recover fast. You’ve got an assload of shit to do. You can just text me and I’ll let you know I’m not dead and we’ll get by fine.”
He pauses. “Okay,” he says, kissing your hair, which is a pretty gross thing to do considering the circumstances. “Try to sleep some more, alright?”
After he leaves the bedroom, you do manage to doze off, no longer distracted by the clacking of his keyboard or his breathing. It’s not exactly the restful slumber of the blissful angels, but it’ll do.
You wake around eleven AM to be sick in the bucket, though you’re too empty to spit up more than bile. The apartment smells… nice, but you can’t tell if that’s your mind playing tricks on you or not. You text Karkat to let him know you aren’t dead, most of your body still cocooned in the blankets, and two minutes later the door opens.
You jump about a foot in the air and are reflexively searching the area around your bed for a weapon when he says, “Sorry, sorry!” and comes fully into view. There’s a steaming bowl in his hands, and it looks suspiciously like he changed back into his pajamas.
“So I didn’t go to work. Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Can you sit up?”
You take a few deep breaths to calm your pounding heart, prop the pillows up, and wriggle until your back rests against them. He sets the bowl carefully in your lap. Tomato soup, you think. Either that or some kind of bizarre blood-infused vampire cuisine you’ve never sampled, on account of not being a fucking vampire. You’ll hedge your bets on tomato soup.
“You should have gone in today, I’m really okay,” you say, but it’s sort of hard to convince him of that when you still look and feel fucking terrible.
“It’s apparently a human tradition to make soup when someone’s sick with the flu since it’s easy to eat and not terrible on the stomach and also gives you nutrients while minimizing the chances of puking your guts up?” Karkat says, ignoring you entirely. “But I didn’t know if cluckbeast or tomato would be better and we had the ingredients to make both so I followed some online recipes because it wasn’t like I had anything better to do with my day and I don’t know if it’s going to be any good because you know I suck at making human food because you never season anything like rational people but I think it’ll be okay on your stomach, I hope? You don’t have to eat it if you still feel nauseous I just think it would be good to get some kind of nutrition and trolls don’t really have protocol for how to take care of sick loved ones besides standing guard and making sure nothing attacks them so I don’t even know if I got the cultural part of it right but…”
You stare down at the bowl in your hands, an odd pressure building in the back of your throat. It’s warm, and the soup smells tantalizing even despite the nausea, and you’re fairly sure you could sip at it without throwing up. Not that you’re willing to play too many games with your intestines, but…
It never occurred to you that Karkat would stay home, and it never occurred to you that he’d throw himself so fully into taking care of you. It never really occurred to you that you could weather feeling like a festering pile of manure baking in the hot sun with someone else making sure you were okay. Getting violent stomach bugs was a yearly rite of passage in elementary school, rewarded by missing at least half a week of class and watching TV all day. But Bro always seemed to disappear after calling you in sick (didn’t want to deal with wiping some snotnosed brat’s nose, your brain recognizes now) and education-free freedom wasn’t as fun when you were standing on the counters to find the canned soup that didn’t make you sick, or crying as you wiped vomit off your crayons.
You should have known Karkat wouldn’t leave you alone when you were ill, especially considering how panicked he was earlier, especially considering everything else he’s done for you. Considering he researched human marriage and proposals for months through movies and stories and historical articles, considering he actually proposed by cooking you mac and cheese with hot sauce and buying the expensive apple juice you like and making a candlelit dinner out of it with good plates and wine glasses. Considering he popped the question in the safety of your apartment with a ring inset with garnets instead of diamonds, held your hands as you cried like an embarrassing shitbaby and told you he wanted it to be a nice night, not somewhere public, not somewhere that would make you nervous, not something so elaborate you’d feel pressured, he just wanted it to be a nice night.
Your issues definitely don't come from Karkat. You guess that even after years, you just still get surprised when people love you.
You’re dangerously close to crying like an embarrassing shitbaby now, which is when you register that Karkat’s started to punctuate the silence with more anxious chatter.
“…you don’t have to eat it or anything, I swear, oh god was this not okay, I mean I know taking care of partners like this traditionally tends to wax more pale than red but you’ve never minded quadrant blurring before, was this not okay, I can leave if you want to go back to sleep or you can yell at me or…”
You set the bowl on the bedside table and wrap your arms firmly around him, tugging him down against your chest and burying your nose between his horns.
“You are the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me,” you mumble into his hair.
His rambling dies off and he relaxes against you, the tension in his shoulders and back melting away. “You’re delirious,” he grumbles, but you can hear the smile.
“I might puke the soup back up.”
“Do you think the cluckbeast would be easier on your stomach? I can get you a bowl of that instead, I just didn’t know which one you’d want more, I thought the tomato might be better because there’s not pasta or chunks of meat in it but if it’s too thick then maybe the other broth would be better, I really don’t know anything about how human indigestion works aside from what I read on the internet which wasn’t that helpful because most websites tend to assume you already know the basic ins and outs already so” –
“Karkat, shh. Shhh.” You pet his back like you’re soothing a disgruntled cat, and he immediately settles down again. “The tomato’s fine. Perfect. I just don’t know how much I can keep down right now. I’ll eat it slowly.”
“Okay. Okay, that sounds good. If you get sick try to – please try to use the bucket, I really don’t want to have to scrub off this quilt, it’s such a fluffy quilt and it would be so fucking sad if it was vomit stained.”
“I agree wholeheartedly,” you say, and unwrap yourself to eat your soup.
Karkat gives you permission to choose the movies you watch in bed, so you take advantage of the opportunity to make him watch the entire Home Alone series. You sleep through most of it – there are five terrible flicks, after all – and you wouldn’t be surprised if he dozed for part of it too. You wake up a few times to puke, and then to drink the water he pushes at you, and sometimes to puke that up too. Being sick is not fun. 0/10. Would not recommend.
But Karkat combs through your sweaty hair with his fingers and takes your temperature every time you wake up and presses closer every time you start to shiver, wonderful space heater that he is. And he murmurs these soft clicking warbles you can’t quite translate despite how much you’ve studied Alternian, and you’re pretty sure they’re the sounds a lusus uses to calm a hurt grub, his version of lullabies.
You love him so much, and you’ve gotten better at saying it over the years, so you make sure to tell him every time he brings you soup or switches the movie or adjusts your blankets. I love you, I love you, I love you. And he says I love you too with a genuine smile every time you do, even though you don’t really need to hear it, because every little way he cares for you is a nonverbal confirmation.
In the end, he takes three days off work as you recover. When you finally manage to keep down a full meal without throwing up and stand without staggering, you shower with him and he washes your hair and goes on a rant about how fucking much impractical fleshmammal biology can sweat.
True to his prediction, he also manages to withstand your germs without succumbing to the flu like some kind of backwards-ass cheap War of the Worlds ending. You take one more day to get back on your feet, but now that you’re fully functional, you shoo him off to work. There’s probably a thousand stacks of paperwork for him to deal with by now, so when he comes home you’ve cooked him grubsteak with the Alternian sauces he likes. Once he’s double checked that you haven’t had a massive relapse and don’t need to be rushed to the hospital, he’s ranting between bites, cultural preservation and politics and morality and people with no common sense and people who insist on asking his permission to take a shit, and he looks so tired you decide it’s your turn to take care of him.
After you finish dinner, you usher him into the bedroom – you changed the sheets and sprayed Febreze everywhere and cleaned most traces of your illness – and tuck him in and let him pick the evening movie.
“Karkat,” you say, fifteen minutes into watching The Wedding Singer for the fifth time this month.
“Mmm?” He’s almost asleep.
“Thanks for marrying me.”
He smiles and brings your hand to his lips, kissing your knuckles. “I didn’t just marry you as a favor, you jackass. I love you. Thanks for marrying me too.”