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43 Chapter Forty Three - A Little Space and Time

    "Nathan."

    It wasn't the fact his name had been called that had the young man drop immediately the hoe he had been using onto the grass beside the green vegetable patch, but he who spoke it.  The smooth, level tone of the voice never seemed too much for his ears and always seemed to pierce through any background noise that might threaten to otherwise overwhelm him.  It had been especially noisy the past few days and several times the urge to drive them all from the house rose within him and as if on cue, he would appear and make everything well again.

    His eyes met those obsidian ones and his heart skipped within his chest, the thumping within him drowning out all other sounds and the warm feeling within his gut began to spread outwards.  The garden seemed that much greener and vibrant around the man approaching him, the last of the late blossoming flowers upon squash vines and closed buds of pea vines all seemed to burst open to greet him.  A gentle breeze brushed past the thick, midnight hair which, despite being tamed into a long rope of silk that stretched down his back, danced with the touch of the wind.  Nathan's fingers itched to touch it.

    "Nathan," Ren Zexian said softly once more, calling for Nathan's attentions and waiting as his pretty eyes shifted in focus.  The boy blinked a few times and managed to maintain eye contact with the older man for a few more seconds before instinctively glancing aside.  Ren Zexian still felt pride swell within him, for the young man was able to connect with him for longer periods of time each day, while with others, even young Lucy, who was standing close by pulling tufts of grass from the flower bed, he could not meet their eyes for more that a handful of seconds.

    "Nathan, I will be leaving shortly," Ren Zexian told him and suddenly, the world looked a little more grey.  Ren Zexian had already mentioned to him that he would be joining a few of the others and leaving the mansion for a couple of days or so.  This expedition counted as important for supplementing their winter supplies.  Not only that, Ren Zexian wished to bring to him new seed for his garden that in the spring, he could expand and grow more.  There were even other gardens that they would be looking after in the future.

    Nathan's imagination was not rich.  However, he had a dream in which Ren Zexian working in the soil beside him with freshly budding plants eager to spread their first leaves against their fingers and his thoughts even extended to allow quiet little Lucy with her watering can to aid them and Aslan digging holes in order to break up hard ground for seeding.  Dogs dug holes sometimes, didn't they?  Yet, not being able to see Ren Zexian, even for one day, this caused an ache in his chest that he did not know how to deal with.  He'd tried taking a couple of paracetamol the day before, but the ache never went away.  And now Ren Zexian had said the time had come; he was leaving.

    "I'll be back before you know it," the man was saying, sensing that Nathan was not really receptive to his words.  He sighed, also not wishing to separate from the boy, but to a man of his many years, these days would pass within a heartbeat, thus he could not understand why Nathan was so quick to retreat inside himself over this short period of time.  His hand extended, longing to reach for the boy and reassure him, but he paused with an inward sigh and instead bent his knees to ruffle Lucy's tangled nest of hair.

    The little girl looked up at him, before glancing at her big brother, who was picking up his abandoned hoe, and quickly grabbed the handing messing with her hair.  She then reached for Nathan's free hand, which was almost snatched away in surprise, before bringing both together.  The men looked at their touching hands for a brief moment before their fingers tangled together contentedly.  Little Lucy nodded her head, feeling pleased with her small self before skipping away.

    *****

    Before the sun had reached its zenith, the squad left in the large truck.  Since road safety laws are pretty much useless in a world where there is no one around to enforce them, most of the squad sat in the back of the truck.  The vehicle had once ferried goods around the country, but had been abandoned upon a length of duel-carriageway that linked many towns in this part.  Alas, it had been on a return journey, so instead of being filled with anything useful, it was empty barring a bit of packaging and cardboard when Jonah's men had claimed it.

    Still, its size and the healthy tank of diesel had been its positives and even now, there was half a tank remaining before they would need to find more fuel or resign it to parts and a storage space.  For now, it zoomed down the quiet stretch of road, smashing into the odd, wandering zombie that the noise attracted into its path.  Jimmy flipped on the windscreen wipers only to smear the green-grey flesh across the glass and had to rely on water from the jets to gain some visibility.

    "The plan is," Jonah was reminding them, "to hit the industrial area to the south of the town.  There is a few food-stores as well as places originally for buying home improvement items, garden products and a large clothing store.  I'm sure the ladies could do with a few more outfits and Brooke will be needing some maternity wear.  The kids are still growing as well, and I noticed that all of Lucy's stuff are boy clothes."

    "How adorable will she look in a dress?!" Jimmy gushed.  Tyler almost nodded in agreement, only Monika's words made in pause.

    "I swear," she teased, "you are more of a girl than I am!"

    "How is appreciating the cuteness of a toddler being girly?" Jimmy huffed, grumpily.  He'd always liked kids and had once hoped to find a girl to have a whole heap of rugrats with.  Nieces and nephews were nice enough, but he always believed it wasn't the same as having your own.

    "My cousin had three brats," Arthur mentioned, "all three of them rough and tumble boys and not adorable at all."  The three bickered as they compared their family's offspring for a while.  It was the sort of conversation that would not have seemed out of place before the end, but now... Tyler exchanged glances with Patrick, who simply shrugged.  Their team chose to bury within their hearts their lost loved ones, some who turned, some who lost their lives and others whose fates were still unknown, yet Jonah's men spoke openly about them.  They could only accept that this was their way of dealing with things, remembering those loved ones as if they were still out there, somewhere and forgetting the bleakness of the current world.

    "Yeah, yeah, yeah," Jonah pitched in when things became heated between the terrible trio, as he'd long since labelled them in his head.  "Your family's children are all great, but my baby will be the most cute."

    The three turned to glare at him, incredulously, while Cole chuckled into his hand.  "Pick on us single dogs, why don't you!"  Jimmy complained.

    "Anyway, back to the mission at hand," Jonah sighed, changing the topic.  "The priority is clothes, cloth and seeds.  Bedding, thick curtains and duvets are also needed as we don't know how cold winter will be and can't rely on fires all of the time.  Coal, charcoal and wood for the fireplace.  The food stores and supermarket are most likely void of food, we've hit it ourselves a couple of times way back, but if there is any toilet paper or soap products left, it wouldn't be a bad idea to grab them."

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    "There's a carpet store," Jimmy mentioned, recalling vaguely what was in that area, maybe grab some thick rugs to line the floors with?"  Not every room in the house had carpet, the bathrooms and kitchen had stone tiles, which would be particularly cold even in a mild winter.

    "Not a bad idea," Jonah conceded, "but there's limited space in the van.  We still got to get ourselves back and stop off to grab some wheat from one of those fields."  The golden grasses were swaying in the wind close by, but unlike previous years, the fields were woven with green as weeds had freely burst through the field's soil and oppressed the wheat's free reign.  Not only that, but any pests that liked to feast upon the growing grains would have not been suppressed.  However, they were not in need of a great deal of wheat, just enough that they could start their own small field of it once Spring arrived again.

    "Gaining space should not be too difficult," Ren Zexian mentioned suddenly.  He placed most importance upon the seed and wheat, but also felt that Nathan's comfort through the Winter could not be denied.  If they could have everything they sought, would that not be the best scenario?

    He reached into the pouch that he always wore by his side and thought for a moment, before withdrawing an almost identical pouch, only differing in embroidery and decorative beads.  Only Tyler and Patrick's eyes did not widen in disbelief, they were used to weird things occurring about Ren Zexian.  The others thought they were seeing things, for the pouch was not smaller than the first and neither were more than a fist in size... how did the second pouch fit into the first with all its ornaments and all and the first pouch not look stuffed originally?

    "Admittedly, one can only fit around five metres squared of contents within," Ren Zexian spoke of his spare interspacial pouch in a modest tone, "but that should be of some assistance..." Finally noticing all eyes on him and jaws dropped, he frowned as he asked; "What?  You look as if you have never seen an embroidered pouch before."
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