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"Here you are, hon."

The welcoming clink of the plate had barely traversed from the vinyl tabletop to Arthur's ears before he already had a forkful of- whatever , God, it was hot and dense and filling and he was reaching for another even as he swallowed. 

Jesus, Arthur-

"What?" He lifted his head, scanning his unseeing eyes each way for the voice- for John. "What is it?" He didn't hear anything untoward. Had that hound somehow- or a masked cultist amongst the diners? "I-" 

Arthur's throat spasmed on a choking cough, speech and nourishment meeting at a crossroads and finding not quite enough room to pass.

Fucking slow down, people are staring at us.

He pressed his right hand to his sternum and cleared his throat. "So? Let them. I haven't had solid food in weeks, I'm-"

Just fucking- Jesus, just take a second, before you-

Arthur pivoted his left elbow, still automatically trusting in muscle memory and John's cooperation to shovel another forkful into his mouth. Instead, he heard his left palm slam onto the tabletop, clattering the tableware and pinning his fork underneath.

"What are you- give me that-" He reached over with his right hand and tried to wrest the utensil free.

Arthur, what good are you to Amanda Cummings if you choke to death in a fucking diner before we find her, just slow down.

" Fine - fine. Alright." He held up his right palm in a conciliatory gesture.

The waitress is coming over to check on you. She's looking at you with concern – say something.

Arthur smiled apologetically in the direction of the murmuring crowd chatter. "This is very good, thank you. Please give my compliments."

She's smiling and walking away. Just fucking- drink your tea.

Arthur reached out for the warm mug at his right and took a long, slow sip. There was a chip in the ceramic that caught his lower lip as he set it back down.

How is it?

It was awful. It was bitter and flat, almost dusty, brewed too hot and oversteeped. But the warmth of it across his tongue and down his throat and seeping into his fingertips felt like a long nap in clean sheets. "Incredible," he breathed.

Good. Let's enjoy this, shall we? We don't know the next opportunity you'll have.

"You're right, of course. Why don't you tell me what I have to look forward to? I didn't even ask."

The remainder that you didn't inhale, you mean?

"If you wouldn't mind," he answered, self-conscious and clipped.

Alright. John paused, as if taking a surveying breath. Most of the porridge you've already mowed through. There's also two slices of toast, two fried eggs, and four slices of bacon–

"God, yes," Arthur whispered reverently.

The eggs are large and glossy, with bright yellow, almost orange yolks just waiting to be burst, he continued, warming like an artisan to his tableau. The whites are set, browned and lacy at the edges, and they're speckled with black pepper. The toast is cut thick, sliced in triangular halves, and also fried- in butter, it looks like. The surface has a golden sheen to it. The bacon looks crispy but slightly burned at the ends. 

Arthur could smell all of it, now that he was paying it rapt attention. The richness of the butter and bacon fat was palpable on his tongue, cut through with the sharp pepper and bitter tea. He had never been one to say grace before a meal, but now he understood the impulse.

-Arthur?

"Mm?"

Where do you want to start?

"Eggs. Let's start with the eggs before they go cold." He felt out the handle of the knife with his right hand, tracing his finger across the flat to orient it correctly before holding it over the plate.

A bit right. Up. There. Arthur lowered the knife to the plate until he heard it clink and twisted his wrist.

The yolk is running down the white and soaking into the bread. It's shiny and viscous, golden, pooling into the crevices.

Another clink of metal on china, a short scrape. Here. There was a warm press against his mouth and he parted his lips to accept, humming happily as he chewed. It was savory and salty, soft with crunchy edges, rich and warm and coating his tongue in butter.

"God, that's good. Dip the toast in as well?"

As he heard the fork set down on the table, Arthur's heartbeat inexplicably kicked up in tempo. To cover it, just in case John could somehow feel, he joked (half-joked), "Don't let me bite your finger, now."

John huffed a short chuckle. Believe me, you'd know. Here.

A corner of toast pushed past his lips and he bit down cautiously, sighing deeply as he chewed. It was the same heavenly combination of soft and rich, chewy and crunchy, coating his tongue and inside of his mouth, plus the millenia-deep satisfaction of bread

He was beginning to feel steadied, with a reserve to draw on more substantial than the desperate fumes of adrenaline and shaky limbs. John was right – it was good to take pause and simply enjoy this moment of peace. To gratefully accept the bites of warm, filling food pressed to his lips. To let the murmur of conversations and swinging doors wash over him, syncopated with the occasional bright chime of a bell or the register keys. He could breathe deep and even, and he could think- more than just surviving the next few seconds, but properly and methodically sort through questions, leads, options for next steps, maybe even (if they were lucky and clever) get ahead of all this and start moving on the offensive-

Arthur-

John's voice was tight, almost timid, and Arthur was halfway to asking what was wrong when he realized that he had been tonguing egg yolk off a torn cuticle of his left- of John's-

He yanked his left arm away and winced at the wet pop that resulted. "Oh, my God, I'm so-"

It's- it's fine-

"I didn't mean-"

I said it's fine.

Arthur cleared his throat and took a long sip of tea, hoping he was the only one who could feel the flush high on his cheeks and the tips of his ears. "It is really good. I wish you could taste it."

I'll try not to take your tongue, all the same.

"Much appreciated."

There's still a bit left. No sense in letting it go to waste. 

"No, I suppose n-"

Two blunt, wet fingertips pressed at his lower lip, and he drew them in past a scrape of teeth that made something deep in his chest squirm. As he sucked clean the last of the rich butter, yolk, and breadcrumbs, he traced the whorls of his- John's- fingertips, the clean, un-bitten arch of the nails. (Had the nurses trimmed his fingernails while he was in the hospital?) There was a little scar on his second knuckle, nearly too faded years ago to see but he both felt it and didn't feel it, slightly raised under his lip. It was almost dizzying, the intimate familiarity of every miniscule detail, and yet-

And yet the low, rumbling hum in his head was as vivid as the lingering taste in his mouth.

Finish your tea. We can- let's not linger here too long, alright?

"Yes. Alright."