The first section is set during those ten days (without a number) between "In Extremis" and "Zero Day". The rest come after the season two finale, edging into early season three.
Gulyásleves is a Hungarian stew. It has a lot in common with the soups I grew up with: meat, onions, and other vegetables. It also includes fresh noodles and/or potatoes, as well as paprika and caraway seeds. Most stocked kitchens in the US would have the basic ingredients, in other words.
This was written as a gift for obsess-poi-newyork on Tumblr.
The smell entered his subconscious mind first; what actually took his attention away from his computer screen was the sudden wave of hunger that washed over him.
That was when he finally noticed the enticing smell that filled this section of the library. Finch turned to look around the room and locate its source.
John Reese was sitting on the couch, a tiny smirk on his face. Next to him was an insulated bag, unzipped.
"What are you doing here, Mister Reese?" They hadn't had a new number in five days. Harold had plenty to do as he worked to track Decima's virus while it crippled his Machine. Apparently John didn't have anything better to do than to pester him, however.
"I brought lunch," John replied to his question.
Bribery, then—or keeping an asset in peak operating condition, maybe. Though the food did smell delicious. "Langouste grillée aux pousses de moutarde." The words rolled out with a snobbish elegance; John glanced at him as he said it, quiet mischief in his expression.
"Grilled rock lobster with?"
"Mustard sprouts," answered John.
How that man knew that rock lobster was one of his favorite dishes was, for the moment, a mystery to Harold. Acquiring a taste for fine food had come with the money, and with the need to wine and dine other rich people—something he did more now, when he was "dead", than he had done before Nathan had...
"So you made this, Mister Reese?"
Harold shouldn't be so surprised; he'd listened in when John had cooked for others, and he'd even been the recipient of a few dishes. Never anything this fancy, however.
If John was busy creating fine cuisine, at least Harold didn't have to deal with him underfoot for those moments, asking why another number hadn't come in yet.
In addition to the lobster, John had made a tomato-mozzarella salad with fresh basil, brought an assortment of cheeses for after the main course, and pulled out a dessert from Harold's favorite bakery.
"You're not going to join me?" asked Harold as he watched John set a table for one.
"I already ate." The man whistled for Bear and threw a couple of tennis balls for the dog to fetch, letting Harold pull out his own chair and start eating.
He thought about complaining about the difficulty of enjoying a meal with all of the racket, but honestly, it was more soothing than annoying. And certainly less alarming than watching John clean an increasingly large supply of guns.
His feet were killing him.
Fusco scrambled through his pockets until he found his keys. He turned the lock, anticipating the next moment when he could slip off his shoes, fall onto the couch, and maybe watch some of the hockey game.
Except that he smelled something spicy as soon as he stepped inside. Peppers, onions, and beef—he couldn't identify the spices, but they sure as hell weren't from his kitchen cabinets.
"Hello, Lionel." He froze in place as the whispery voice sounded across the room. That familiar feeling of dread and excitement washed over Fusco.
"You," he said, making the word snap in accusation. "How many times have you broken into my place now?"
He didn't expect an answer, and Mister I'm too cool to engage in human conversation didn't provide one.
Lionel stepped into the kitchen and turned on the light. John blinked at the brightness: a rare glimpse of a normal human reaction.
"What's this, then?" Fusco asked, waving his hand in the direction of the kitchen countertop.
"Dinner." Suit said the word with a smirk, the word dumbass implied at the end.
Fusco stared at the container on the warped countertop for a moment. From what he could see through the lid, it held some kind of kebab, meat and vegetables on short skewers. The spice coating gave them a reddish tint; presumably that was what created the heady, exotic smell.
Looking back at Suit, he asked, "What's the catch?"
John leaned against the countertop and raised an eyebrow. "It's just food, Lionel." He smirked again and added, "You can eat it in the car on the way."
"In the car? On the way where?" he demanded. But Suit had done that Batman swoop thing where he was already silently leaving through the front door.
Looked like he was going out tonight after all. Sighing, Fusco picked up the container and started toward the door. The food was still hot, even. Trust Tall, Dark, and Terrifying to do something nice in the most asshole-ish way possible.
But damn, Fusco's feet still hurt.
The apartment had some fancy decor, but it didn't have that lived-in look. Kata walked between the overstuffed chairs, arms crossed tightly across her chest. It kept her awake—though she really didn't think she could fall asleep even if she tried, at this point.
The woman who had brought her here was checking the view through the curtains, a big gun still in her hands. Such a tiny person to be so lethal, thought Kata.
Kata had seen too many weapons in the last six weeks, but at least this one wasn't pointed at her.
The woman said something in English to the tall man who'd met them here. "Good," he answered. Kata understood that word, but then he added something else, too quickly for her to grasp.
He turned to her and said, "Shaw was telling me that no one followed you. You're safe here."
Shaw was the woman's name, then. When they'd first arrived at this place, the man had said, "My name is John," in slow and deliberate Hungarian: the first words she'd fully understood in the last forty-eight hours.
John gave her a look, as if trying to guess what she was feeling. "You can sit down if you want," he told her, still careful with his words. He hadn't used Hungarian in a while, Kata guessed.
She went to the nearest chair and sat, back straight and feet flat on the ground, keeping both John and Shaw in view. The two of them exchanged a glance, communicating something about her that they didn't speak aloud.
Kata stayed upright in her chair, forcing herself to stay alert.
John stepped over to the kitchen area, still within view. It was strange to Kata, seeing most of a home's spaces in an open format like this. Opening and closing various cabinets until he found what he was looking for, John took out a medium-sized pot and set it on the counter. Next he grabbed ingredients from the pantry: onions, spices, flour.
The woman, Shaw, went around the area, cataloguing the room's contents, perhaps. Kata looked at John again; he was slicing the onions now, the movements hypnotic in their regularity.
"I'm making something for us to eat," John told her. "Do you want to watch while I cook?" His careful pronunciation made him sound formal.
He wanted her to feel comfortable eating the food, she supposed. Well, watching him make it was a good step in that direction. She walked over to the kitchen space and stood near the oven, out of his way.
John put some olive oil in the bottom of the pot and started sautéing the onions. After that he pulled out carrots and tomatoes, chopping them with the same quick precision as before.
It was after he browned the cubed beef that she blurted out, "Gulyásleves." Shaw looked at her; that was when she realized that she hadn't said anything since they'd arrived. She'd gotten so used to holding in her words these last few weeks that it was habit now.
John nodded and said, "Igen." Goulash soup, then.
"You should use lard instead of olive oil for the onions."
He raised one eyebrow in question and repeated the word for lard. "Animal fat," she clarified.
"We don't have any."
Not much of a kitchen, thought Kata. She watched in silence as he continued slicing, heating, and mixing.
Kata didn't say anything else until he started making the dough for the noodles. "Those are too big," she couldn't resist telling him.
"Maybe you should do it."
Her eyes got big and she began to stutter an apology when she realized that he was teasing her. John smiled at her and asked, "So what should I do?"
"You need to roll the dough flatter. And cut it into smaller pieces."
Kata didn't pick up the rolling pin to demonstrate; it was enough that she could tell him what to do. It felt good. It felt like who she was a few weeks ago.
The last part seemed the longest: waiting for the stew to simmer, for the tastes to blend together. With John's encouragement, Kata ladled a small serving into a bowl and carried it to the table. After trying a bite, she pronounced it good, saying the word in English so that Shaw would understand as well.
Shaw walked over to the pot and dunked in a big spoon, bringing it to her mouth and noisily slurping. John gave her a look of amused exasperation and then filled a bowl for her, taking the spoon she had used and placing it in the bowl before handing it to her.
"It is good," said the other woman, speaking slowly so that Kata could understand her. She nodded and kept eating, listening to Shaw's exuberant eating style. Kata's grandmother would have approved of the woman's appetite.
John didn't eat until Shaw finished, and then he took small spoonfuls, carefully held over the bowl to drip before he brought it to his mouth. By then Kata was sitting in the comfortable chair again, watching Shaw as she looked out windows.
She would just close her eyes for a minute, Kata decided. Just enough to ease the dryness of her tired eyes.
"Hot pockets? Seriously?" Leon gave a disgusted look at the plate John had set in front of him. "You give Bear better food than this!" He should know—he'd seen the receipt for the high-dollar food that John's rich partner had delivered to his apartment when he was dog-sitting.
"I thought you liked them," John said in that fake mild tone that set Leon's teeth on edge. "You certainly ate enough of them when you were staying with us before."
"That's because there wasn't anything else to eat. This house has a stocked kitchen!" Not that Leon had seen much of it before Batman here stuck him in front of a computer and told him to start sifting through some paper supply company's accounting records.
"You're welcome to use the kitchen yourself. As soon as you've finished checking those accounting logs."
What, was he some kind of slave now? A flunky? A sidekick?
Wait, Batman's sidekick sounded kind of cool. He could go with that.
Leon picked up the plate. At least it was hot.
Being a vampire sucked, thought Joss, and let out a tired sigh at the old pun. She'd sent Taylor off to school after the night shift ended; she should be in bed. Or following one of Terney's pals—not that John needed to know about that possibility.
Mid-morning, and this street still had pedestrians. Not as many now that people had left for work or school. Even with the car windows rolled up, Carter could hear some birds singing in the trees; it was a sound she didn't often notice anymore.
Stakeouts with John were weirdly comfortable. Sometimes she threw questions at him about the work he did with Finch, but John was always too discreet to admit anything. Joss wasn't sure how much of her motivation was ongoing curiosity and how much was secret amusement at his reactions. He would try not to smile, his cheeks tensing with the effort; sometimes he would get exasperated and either give her the reproachful look or hold back a sigh. Another game to pass the time while sitting in a car waiting for something to happen.
Today they'd parked his car just around the corner from their target's apartment, getting a side view of the building and a reflection of the front in the mirrored building across the street. Whenever and however John had planted a bug in the man's home—something she was better off not knowing—they had clear audio of what was going on. Now they were playing a waiting game.
"Never left the country other than with the military," Carter said. Somehow they'd stumbled into a sort of "Never have I ever" minus the alcohol. She peeked at the side-view mirror to keep an eye on one of the pedestrians who had walked past them a moment ago.
"So Iraq, Afghanistan..." John glanced at her before returning to the front view.
"That's it." She hadn't visited much of either country outside of the military bases.
"Is there something in particular that you want to see?"
"Everything," Joss told him.
His eyes crinkled at the corners. It was true, though. The Eiffel Tower, the pyramids of Egypt, Mount Fuji...
West Africa, with Taylor. She wanted to see something that her ancestors might have seen, hear the languages they might have spoken. No way of actually knowing what their ancestors actually experienced, or where they had lived, though.
"Got a few other priorities in my life right now, though," said Joss. Not that she needed to tell him that; he knew about most of them.
"I took Jessica to Mexico once," John said.
She'd given John the photo of him and Jessica a few days ago. Too much of a risk to keep it at the house right now, and it just seemed like it was time. The picture wasn't her memory to keep, anyway.
Joss recognized John's statement for what it was: an acknowledgment of the information they shared. She nodded her head once and looked away, feeling touched by the open recognition.
"It was a resort, so it didn't really feel like we were in a different country," he added.
She was surprised that John was giving her more information. "I've heard that before."
The moment passed, leaving the car quiet. Carter was comfortable with that; she'd learned to appreciate stillness as a blessing in her hectic life.
A large dump truck lumbered past them, leaving a trail of noise and black exhaust, breaking the silence for a moment. Feeling every minute of the last twenty-odd hours she'd been awake, Joss stifled a yawn. Their target was in the kitchen, guessing from the noises they could hear. Frying something, maybe.
Her stomach rumbled in protest. How long had it been since she last ate? She remembered planning to grab a snack when she stopped her squad car, but...
"I know you have your policy about not eating on the job, but I'm not going to make it without some food," she finally said.
He didn't make a verbal reply; instead he held out a twenty dollar bill. She glared at it for a moment, but then took it. Too much effort to argue, and really, he was the reason she was stuck out here without any food. Not to mention that his partner was probably richer than Donald Trump, and could pay for a thousand breakfasts without noticing any difference.
"I'll be right back." Opening the car door, Joss stepped into the sunshine. It seemed extraordinarily bright after seeing it through tinted windows for the last two hours.
She walked quickly to the bodega she'd seen a couple of blocks back; after a chat in Spanglish with the woman behind the counter, Joss left with a bag of something warm that she hoped was decent breakfast food.
It was delicious: some kind of breakfast burrito with spicy sausage, egg, and who knew what else. She ate one on her way back to the car, and was halfway finished with a second one when she got there.
John glanced at her as she climbed back in. "Nothing new," he told her, and looked at the side street again.
"You want one?" she asked, holding up the half-full bag. "They're good."
He didn't bother answering; instead he fiddled with the setting on some of his fancy spy equipment. Way better grade than the stuff they'd used when she was in the military.
Joss finished the second burrito and balled up the wrapper. The car smelled of sausage and coffee now, but she didn't regret it. Easing her seat back to accommodate a pleasantly full stomach, she sighed in satisfaction and then placed the bag of food between their seats.
Twenty minutes later John ate the extra food she bought.
She held in her smile and didn't say I told you so.