The bowl slipped from his hand, raising a small cloud of flour into the air. The egg shell cracked in his grip, egg white dripping onto the counter.
He took a sponge cloth to clean the mess, but had to stop halfway as a familiar smell made him curse under his breath: the butter had melted completely.
This was all wrong.
A half hour later, Hadden was chewing on a spongy, flavourless pancake.
Well, it was an improvement, on some level. At least this time he had managed to make them edible. But they still were nowhere near decent, let alone good. As good as Ian used to make them.
If he couldn’t make pancakes, how could he cope to bake any of the rest?
Hadden had never learned to cook anything harder than a boiled egg. Living in the city, food was never more than a brisk walk away. Fast foods, street food, food stands, carts, restaurants, delis flashed their signs at every corner, inviting him to taste their delicacies. Why waste time in the sorry, cramped corner that his landlord had once enthusiastically called ‘a bachelor’s kitchenette’?
But now he was living in a ranch-style house in the rocky desert, a half-hour drive from the nearest food outlet. Sure, he could use Agartha to have dinner literally anywhere, but using the world tree meant there was a chance of meeting… them. His old friends. No, Ian’s old friends. They had made that abundantly clear. They were not his friends.
The past week had been a rollercoaster, trying to explain to people the traumatic events of the few last months. He had expected understanding, compassion, offers of help. Naivete, of course. What he mostly got was suspicion, distrust, accusations, outright hostility.
There were still a few he had to talk to. He couldn’t waste those chances as well. He had to be perfect.
And that meant, among other things, learning how to cook again.
Another pack of flour. Another carton of eggs. Milk, sugar, butter. Bowls and dishes and pans and griddles, whisks and wooden spoons. Everything laid out to perfection.
He opened his memories: all the steps were there. What to do, how to do it, executed to perfection by expert hands. His hands once, but not his hands now.
His hands now didn’t know those movements.
Hadden took a deep breath. Weighed the flour, poured it into the bowl. One more time.
By the end of the day, Hadden was sick of pancakes. Metaphorically as well as literally.
The rational part of him knew that trying the same recipe over and over in the same day wasn’t going to magically make them better. It was basically muscular rehabilitation. This was going to take time.
Time was what he was racing against, before he drove everyone else away.
He awoke to the sound of silverware on a dish.
Somewhere the previous night he had given up to the mix of frustration and exhaustion, and decided to go all in with the help oh half a bottle of that yellowish vodka Ian liked so much.
It had burned in his throat, but it had done its job.
Hadden groaned as he tried to stand from the couch. Having superpowers apparently did not make you immune from the kind of back ache that came from drunk sleeping on a surface that hadn’t been meant to be used as a bed.
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he gathered himself and went to check on his unexpected guest.
His heart rose a little as he spotted Marsyas at the breakfast table. It sunk again just as quickly as he saw what he was eating: the last batch of pancakes from yesterday, which he had not had the strength to throw away before collapsing.
The Greek man, apparently uncaring, was digging heartily into the pancakes, showered in a copious amount of maple syrup and melted butter. “Hey there. Good stuff. I mean, they’re reheated, but I had worse.”
Hadden was not sure if that was a compliment. He sat silently on the opposite side of the table, looking at the other man eating contentedly.
After a while, Marsyas finished his buffet, wiped his mouth with a napkin, then turned his eyes to the still befuddled Hadden. “You look like you need a whole pot of coffee to yourself. Do you know why I’m here?”
“You texted me yesterday in the middle of the night. Well, your night. Something about burnt butter and pancakes and a life not worth living.”
Hadden laughed, despite himself. “Yeah. Uhm. Sorry. I get sad drunk sometimes. Especially when I’m already sad before.”
Marsyas just smiled in return, then rose to grab a cup and pour a generous amount of coffee for his host. Half and half, sweetener, three stirs. Hadden accepted the cup with a smile, sipping from its contents. The warm liquid spread through his body, bringing him to wakefulness.
“I still can’t believe you ate those. I meant to throw them away. They suck.”
Marsyas leaned his head on his wrist, smiled. “And yet.”
“It’s true! I spent all day on them, and I couldn’t make a single batch half as good as before.”
“That’s not the same thing though.”
Hadden blinked. “Sorry?”
“That they’re not the same as before. It doesn’t mean they’re bad. Did you even try them?”
“I can see it. The colour-”
Marsyas stabbed a piece of pancake from his dish, waved it threateningly at Hadden’s face. “Try it.”
Hadden did as he was told. He chewed thoughtfully, trying to ignore the sweetness of the syrup and concentrating on the consistency of the cooked batter underneath. Maybe too much flour. A pinch less sugar. But all in all…
“OK. It’s not bad.”
Marsyas stacked a few of the remaining pancakes on a plate and pushed it toward Hadden. “Maybe it will never be the same as before. Maybe it will be worse, or better, or just different. That’s not necessarily something bad.”
Hadden smiled sincerely, for the first time in a week. “No. It’s not.”
“Oh, and make a new batch. We’re bringing some to Charlie’s bar.”
“Wait. No. What?”
“You two are stupid and need to make good to each other.”))