The thing about chicken soup is, it's a pretty simple thing to make: bits of chicken, bits of onion, potatoes, and anything else you might have around the house. Throw it all in a pot, bring it to the boil and let it sit there and think about what it's done for the next however many hours. He's even been known to make it himself upon occasion, brewing up entire cauldrons of the stuff and living off the reheated bowls for the rest of the week.
He did that the first week after he was released. He got himself a car, collected Sydney from the Sloanes, and he picked up some food on the way, aware that his apartment must be empty. The cleaner had left - presumably for an employer who'd actually be around to pay her at some point - and had apparently thrown away all of the rotting food his hasty departure had left behind. He remembered that he'd have to feed Sydney, if not himself - well, all right, Emily had reminded him, gently, as if speaking to a mental patient, and he'd given her a frosty look in return - and that restaurants and other crowded places probably weren't a good idea. It was before instant meals, that time, and so he had the choice of cooking, or ordering take-out, and, really, it was no choice at all.
He can make a grand total of four meals that do not involve grilling things: pasta carbonara, chicken and potato pie, roasted-salmon-with-things-on-the-side, and chicken soup. The chicken soup is the only one that resembles the intended product in any way, shape or form, and it was also the only one, incidentally, whose very thought did not make him taste bile.
He used Laura's largest pot, filling it with all the vegetables he had picked up, and throwing in a poorly chopped-up chicken carcass in there too. It's funny; he'd used to love chicken soup as a kid. Whenever he was ill his mom would tuck him up in bed, and hand him a book, and make an entire pot full of the stuff, feeding it to him in too-big bowls with crusty bread and a glass of OJ for his medicine. Long after he thought he had ceased equating food with love, he found that it imprinted upon him to such an extent that he took into adulthood the memory of warm broth, a cold compress and thick blankets tucked around him.
It was cold in the kitchen, despite the heat from the stove. Sweater? If he was his sweater, where would he be? Wherever his cleaner left the last lot of laundry she'd done, presumably.
And then, dully, I wasn't prepared for this; followed swiftly by, but I should have been.
Someone had let themselves in during his brief trip to the Sloanes, and had left a case of his stuff in the middle of the bedroom. It would hold the clothes they had arrested him in, he realised. They'd taken everything away and given him an orange jumpsuit within minutes of arrival at the facility.
He kicked the suitcase to the far corner of the room and draped a chenille throw over it, hiding it from sight. Too late, he remembered that it had been Laura's favourite blanket.
All of a sudden, he was horribly, bone-achingly tired.
From behind came a quiet shuffling sound; tiny shoes scuffing against the bare wood. Then, sweet and tiny, "daddy?"
It took a long moment for him to remember to speak. "Sydney," he said, his voice hoarse, "why don't you have a nap until dinner is ready?"
She was unwilling, unhappy with letting him slip from her sight again, but after many promises that he would be there when she woke up, she at last picked up her dolly and, with an injured air, went into her room. Laura would have made sure that she was properly tucked inn.
Instead, he set the soup to simmer on the stove and stretched out on the sofa. Just for a minute, he promised himself. Just a quick minute to get my bearings. The sofa was a little too short for him, and his feet dangled off the end, socked and still too cold. It would have been more comfortable to sleep in his own bed, but that would require moving the suitcase, and moving the throw, and burning all the sheets, and possibly dismantling the bed itself, and he really couldn't bring himself to do all that he needed to do to it to be able to sleep there. The sofa would be fine, he reasoned.
Besides. Tomorrow, they could move.
He must have been more tired than he realised, or maybe six months in isolation had dulled him somewhat, because he didn't even hear the front door open. To be fair, Sloane had always been quiet and was still a field operative, so it wasn't as if he'd missed a riot, but it still rankled when he did wake at last, Sloane's hand on his arm, urging it away from his sidearm.
"I came to check on you," Arvin said quietly. "You weren't answering the phone."
Wasn't he? Sleep-befuddled, his mind wondered why that would be until he remembered yanking the cord out when he got home that first time. Some idiot had tried calling him to check that he had, indeed, gone home instead of heading for the nearest airport, state secrets beneath his hat and a hammer and sickle tattooed on his ass. Not that they'd phrased it quite that way, of course, but the incompetent moron they'd had phoning him had not been the world's most subtle operative. "I took it off the hook," he said. He tried to sit up: to give Arvin room to sit; to pull back so he could get some air.
Arvin saw it, of course, concern creasing his face. He moved back a bit, giving him some room. "Sorry," he murmured. "I didn't realise."
No, of course not, he thought, furious, then instantly abashed. If there was anyone truly blameless in this, it was Arvin. "It's fine," he said, mortification staining his cheeks. "I'm still just - it's fine."
Arvin's lips thinned at that. "All right," he said, his voice flat and uninflected. "I'll go check on the soup."
It took him a little while to remember that he was supposed to get up, now, and go after Arvin, instead of sitting on the sofa. Or maybe Arvin was giving him some space? Maybe he should go into the garden.
He picked at the fraying threads on the upholstery, mulling this over. When, finally, he got to his feet, he still wavered a little. Slowly, quietly, he picked his way around the creaky floorboards, stopping just outside the kitchen door. Inside, Arvin fussed over the stove, setting out bowls and cutting thick chunks of bread that he must have brought with him, because there was no bread in the house. There were some more brown bags on the living room table, with a head of broccoli and a red wine and chocolate and a box of sleeping pills sticking out of the top.
Inside the kitchen, Arvin was speaking quietly. It took him a second to realise that Arvin must have reconnected the phone, and was talking to Emily, rather than to the soup. "- it's atrocious. Her fingerprints are on everything here, and he can barely remember to - " Arvin paused, listening. "Well, yes, but -" Another pause. He pressed his hands to the doorframe. Her fingerprints are on everything. Of course they were. Laura had cleaned everything herself, and not even months of a cleaner's efforts would have wiped her away.
And wasn't it funny that it hadn't even occurred to him until Arvin had mentioned it?
"Thank you, my love," Arvin said, with audible relief. "I appreciate it. I'll see you soon." He hung up the phone, and set it on the side. "Jack," he said in exactly the same voice, "I'm going to be staying here for a few days. Is that all right?"
Slowly, Jack exhaled, his grip on the doorframe tightening.
He went back to the sofa. Stretched out. Closed his eyes.
When he woke up, some hours later, he found a brand new blanket - the tag absent-mindedly forgotten in a corner - tucked carefully around him. Arvin was saying something in the living room, and Sydney was laughing as he walked in, and thick around them all was the warm scent of chicken soup.
"Hi," Arvin said, and smiled at the tentative thaw in his expression. "Feeling hungry?"