Chicken Or Tomato


squeaks5_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Chicken or Tomato
Synopsis In lieu of answers to anything, some soup and planning are a good place to begin.
Date July 9, 2020

Health Science Center

Winnipeg, Manitoba

"It's from the staff lobby, they have…" Zachery gestures vaguely. "Better."

He is sitting in the room Jac had been assigned three days ago, leaned back in a chair set by the window, one crutch leaned into a wall beside him On the table by the bed stand two bowls, their contents piping hot, five hastily grabbed spoons in a pile of napkins between them.

He's hunched over, looking down at some stationary paper in his lap, touching the tip of a stolen pen to the first letter of each item he's got written down as a list. His next comment is a smidge distracted. "I didn't know whether you might want chicken or tomato."

“I like both,” Jac replies, tone laden with her characteristic curiosity. She'd only just returned to her room and sat down a minute before Zachery came stomping in. She probably would have protested, but he'd brought food. The rich and hearty smell of it vanquished any thoughts of protest and temporarily stalled any questions relating to why he'd stumped into her space.

Those questions are coming, don’t be fooled.

The teen spends a solid minute watching while Zachery consults whatever list he's brought. Her elbows rest against her knees, legs tucked in criss-cross style as she leans from the foot end of her bed to observe. When it doesn't immediately become clear what it's all about is when she unfolds herself and slips to the floor to pick her soup.

It's chicken and noodles.

With a bowl and spoon in hand, she returns to her spot. “What's that?” Jac asks, putting the first hole in the dam. She interrupts getting herself settled again to motion with her spoon. It's jabbed at the notepad, then stuck in her mouth for safe keeping while she carefully pries the lid from the bowl. Spilling would be a travesty.

"That's a big question that I don't have the answer to," Zachery mutters, before looking up at Jac fully. It's not a great sight he offers her, necessarily, what with his left eyelid hanging somewhat structureless over the empty below it.

But while his look over Jac is studious, it is blessedly brief. He turns his attention downward again. "We can start with the little things. Hell, we can trade questions if you like. I'll go first."

Such a gracious offer to get them started.

"How are you doing?" The words leave him as if rehearsed, like he's somehow just another doctor calmly dropping by another patient. Like he isn't idly driving a thumbnail into the adjacent index finger without even realising, his actions almost entirely fuelled by coffee by this point, eye boring a hole into his scribblings.

“Do you want the real answer or the one I give the doctors,” Jac counters. It makes a difference, and she isn't sure which angle — survivor or doctor — Zachery is coming from. She doesn't really give him time to think about it, maybe not wanting to waste her question on a clarification.

“Except for cuts and bruises, and my hands have some stitches that itch, I'm fine.” It's true. It's also a mild complaint and deflection from deeper problems, but it's an honest assessment of how she's doing.

The lid from her bowl is set aside, and the teen lifts a pair of vaguely afraid blue eyes to Zachery. “But everything is gone.” Jac looks at her bowl, sticks a spoon into the soup and swirls the broth and noodles around. As she continues, her voice goes small and distant. “All of it. It's… like none of it ever was, even though I remember it.”

She lifts her spoon and turns it, allowing the contents to tumble back into the bowl. Then, sighing, she looks at Zachery again as if to mirror the question he asked first.

Movement leaves Zachery gradually. He stops fidgeting with the list, staring down at the words of it. When a verbally asked question doesn't come, he looks up to meet Jac's gaze.

"Oh." A single, surprised-sounding syllable before he clears his throat, holding the eye contact with a controlled neutral expression. "I, ah- yeah. Yes." He pauses, as if recalling the list of his own issues for the first time. "Bruises, probably a concussion, nothing… that should be a problem in the long run. Apart from this." He taps his pen around the cast on his leg.

A little quieter, he adds with flat affect, "We've been lucky, I suppose."

“It could have been worse,” Jac hears herself agree. But what is worse anymore? They were kidnapped, without any memory of it happening, stripped of everything. Her blue eyes angle away to touch briefly on Zachery’s notes, then flit off to some distant point where answers exist.

The teen returns to her soup after a beat, since that place of answers can't ever be reached. She spoons a mouthful of broth and chicken, sampling finer fare than what's been offered from the hospital kitchens. And while she eats she wonders and puzzles about their problems.

“Zachery.” Jac’s tone lifts with a question, but she hesitates before continuing. “I have a lot of hard questions. The hospital isn't going to find anything. Maybe SESA will, but… that will probably take time. And…” As she speaks she becomes very studious of the soup, the juxtaposition of noodles to shredded pieces of chicken, the occasional pop of color in the form of a carrot. It's very fascinating and has little to do with where here thoughts travel.

“And I think we need to work off the record, together.”

Zachery sits still, his stare in Jac's general direction uninterrupted, but too dulled with stress to be aimed at her with any real intention.

But that last line brings him back from wherever his mind's wandered, and he frowns, then slowly pulls himself up a little straighter and watches her more closely. "We might be on the same page," he admits, with what sounds like some amount of reluctance, taking a moment to inhale as far as his chest will let him, and then slowly sighing the air back out with a question caught on the last of his breath. "If you mean off the record in a just us capacity, I'm more than willing."

“Yes,” Jac says carefully, and in a way that also implies not entirely them alone. Yes, they should work together, off record, the two of them. But she recognizes some great minds that were also among the survivors, and anticipates a reluctance to include her — she’s still a kid, and one who’d done more bad than good several months ago. Not that she’s missed Zachery’s stated willingness to include her.

Lifting her eyes from her soup, the girl looks over and meets Zachery’s gaze. “Where do we start?” Not when, because they’ve already started. “Did you find any patterns?”

Zachery slides a hand over the paper in front of him, the pen caught in between. If this is off the record, he'll note down what should be noted down later.

He's had so many of these talks, and frustration is clear in the tension of his jaw. Still, he answers easily, "As far as I can tell, everyone seems to have some ties to New York. Degrees of separation between us are…" He grimaces, scrubbing a hand over his face. "More of us know each other than I feel should be coincidence. But we're also…"

He pauses, and breathes out a dry excuse of a chuckle. "We were part of quite a unique club. Like attracts like. I'm still sifting through for anything that makes sense." That last admission comes with no small measure of annoyance knitting his brow.

“If you mean being slice.” Jac sighs and hangs on her own point of clarification. Why us is what she wants to ask, even if it’s the same burning question they’re working on right now. She sets her bowl of half finished soup aside so she can lean over on her stomach, head propped up in her hands. She leans, just so, to look at the writing that Zachery’s trying to hide.

“I think maybe a third of those I actually know. And the rest either I’ve met or never seen before.” That isn’t discounting the theory of degrees of separation. Or that like attracts like. She offers that bit as an observation of her own.

With so little in between them but the conversation at hand, Zachery darts a look from Jac's face to his work, and puts two and two together within seconds.

"There's, ah-," he starts, before sliding the top page out from under his grasp and setting it right on the edge of the bed. With it right there, she can see the items on his list have been summarily crossed out, each and every single one except for 'how are you doing' at the top.

Rejected questions are basic - age, place of birth, emergency contacts, questions about occupations, planned travel, all of them run through with hospital pen blue. Next to them, a small but angrily underlined scribble of 'irrelevant???' has been left in the margins.

"I'm sorry," he says flatly, "there's not much there. Here, neither." He taps a knuckle to the paper in his lap, letting his gaze drift off to the ground as though suddenly wondering why he's even here. "I'm not… good at this. Not good with people. Or patterns, it turns out."

These people are impossible,” Jac points out, a hand moving to indicate the world outside her room and probably meaning anyone affiliated with the hospital as these people. “They're all not helpful at anything.” Her past experiences of hospitals and doctors make her something of an expert on the matter.

Folding her hand in front of her, Jac rests her chin on it. She studies the list for a bit. It's something she'd like to commit to memory, or at least be able to recall enough of it to make sense later. Even if it's stuff she already mostly knows.

“Once we are out of here.” The teen’s eyes lift and focus on Zachery. Fear floats like icebergs in a sea of confidence. She's at once trying to be brave for the old man while navigating through her own pitfalls and shortcomings. “It's going to be easier when we aren't stuck here, right? When we get home we can figure this out the old fashioned way.”

"In theory, yes, other than bothering our fellow mystery passengers, everything should be easier. After some proper rest, and some…" Zachery's attention is returned to Jac's face, his own expression neutral, but deliberately so - at least, until his eyebrows tick lower at a passing thought.

He lets it float around for a second, grasping at what he knows of Jac. A narrowing of his one remaining eye suggests it's not much. "You have family to return to, correct?"

“Yes,” Jac answers in a way that implies kind of. “Gillian’s here, she adopted me a couple years ago. Lene’s her biological daughter. There's others, like Brynn and Kaylee. The Lighthouse, Raytech, mostly people who looked out for me when they learned I exist.” That might explain the tone. At least a little. Contrary to the questioning scowl that's on Zachery’s face, her own brows lift in askance.

Zachery raps a thoughtless pattern against the paper in his lap and then says with uncertainty painting his tone of voice, "Right. Good."

The last piece of paper is snatched up from the bed again, and he twists in his seat to look over at where he leaned the crutch, before deciding aloud, "I'll know roughly where to find you, then. And you, me, in case-… I don't know. In case something… clears up." There's a restlessness in how he suddenly pushes himself up to his feet, grabbing the crutch and leaning himself back onto it with his gaze averted, eye on the door out to the hall. "If it does."

“The library or home,” Jac confirms. And it goes unsaid that enough people know, generally, where to find her. Some things haven't changed. She watches Zachery get up to leave, even sitting up herself. But before he can escape and try to brute force the answers out of the puzzle, she reaches for his notepad and pen.

“I have a new phone.” That's all the explanation she offers as she scribbles the information down on its own sheet of paper. She hesitates once finished, probably wondering if there was anything more to add, then hands both back to Zachery. “Just in case. Sometimes it's faster to text. Or call.”

"Thank you," Zachery returns dully, as if fueled by habit more than real gratitude, as the paper finds its way back into his hand.

He is silent for a moment, and then simply says, "I should go," When he begins to leave, the first thunk of the crutch's rubber base hitting the ground is many measures angrier than he's letting his voice be when he adds, "I have some more people I need to awkwardly stare at between fruitless queries no one knows the fucking answer to."

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