109 Chapter One Hundred and Eight - Home is Where the Heart is

    The crow beak attempted to attract more trouble to the walls, however unintentionally, the individuals suffering decided to send him off duty first.  In the first two days since their people left to explore and raid, they hadn't so heavily covered the walls, just the usual three teams of two with Chang Min's constant back up and protection.  Now everyone who had the ability or experience manned the walls, only sending to rest one or two at a time.  Jonah, Eraj had been 'resting' on the southern walls during this attack (which generally saw the least problems due to the migration and due its distance from the main house), but rather than send Jimmy there and cause them trouble, they suggested he go sleep and wake up for the night duty with Phoebe (the woman from the second house) and Paul.

    Jimmy pouted, but his stomach rumbled before he could whinge too much about it and he headed towards the kitchens of the first property.  Strolling through the gardens, he noticed the two teenagers pushing the manual mower along the grassy patches, raking the remnants into a pile afterwards.  Nathan was picking the last of the ripe melons and removing their dying vines from the ground to become compost later.

    In the kitchen, the two young girls were helping pick out seeds from the cores of peppers and squash seeds from a pumpkin and an overripe courgette.  The older child was chatty, the younger quiet and attentive, despite their small age gap, they generally got on well.  Autumn was supervising, while feeding a bottle to baby James and Logan was holding Rohan's small son, who was playing with the messy pith from the squashes.

    "Anything to eat?" Jimmy begged, shamelessly.

    "I prepared some pumpkin soup earlier," Autumn indicated the two huge pots on the back of the stove keeping warm.  "Scoop yourself a bowl, if you like.  There are toasted pumpkin seeds on the plate beside the stove to add to it."

    "Thanks!" He said cheerfully and poured a slightly generous portion for himself, though it was by no means the large bowlful's he might have claimed before the end.  Still he wasn't overly greedy, he was aware that this was for everyone to consume, but it was hard to not want a little more.  The soup was thick and well seasoned, warming and filling his stomach in a satisfying way.  He smacked his lips in gratitude before taking his bowl to the sink to wash it.

    "Ah, Jaiden's fallen asleep!" He heard Autumn croon behind him.

    "So he has," Logan mused, "I'll go wash his hands before putting him down for a bit.  Be good for Aunty Autumn, okay, Sienna?"  Clearly this was addressed to the older of the two girls.  Jimmy heard a small confirmation from a milky voice before the screech of a chair and footsteps leading out.  He popped the cleaned bowl and spoon onto the drainer and shook his hands dry, splattering water about a bit, carelessly.

    "Dry your hands on a towel, Jimmy," Autumn chided him.  The irrepressible man flicked a grin over his shoulder.

    "Yes, Mum," he cheekily joked.

    "Not your mummy," Lucy scowled at him, scrunching up her small face.  "My mummy!"

    "Not sharing, little sis?" Jimmy teased ruffling her hair as he passed her.  She shook her head and crossed her arms about her small chest.  Jimmy threw a glance at Autumn and happily warned her; "This one is possessive!  Sure she's going to be able to handle it if Dexter and you make babies in the future!"  Autumn couldn't help blushing fiercely.  Of course she knew it was a possibility in the future, the contraception on hand wouldn't last forever and then it was up to fate.  Not that she minded either way, but she was too mindful of their current circumstances to think about it, plus, she had always thought she was too young to be a mother, her thoughts on that having not changed since before the end.  Even if it was different now.  She glanced towards her adorable, adopted daughter and her heart once more melted.  That was right, she was already a mother, why was she worrying about pregnancy!?

    Outside, the sound of a garden fork falling on the path surprised them both and they glanced out of the window to notice that the boys were looking dazed at the fallen tool and Nathan was no where in sight.  However, the herbs on the window sill began to look more vibrant and the hanging fruits on the chilli plant all ripened to red at the same time.  Autumn's eyes sparkled in realisation and plucked her child from her seat and spun her around a little, who giggled knowingly.

    "Go see Daddy?" Lucy wrapped her little arms around Autumn's neck.


    And so, as three vehicles slowly began to trawl into the sanctuary provided by the tall walls, a small crowd had gathered to welcome them in.

    Dexter jumped out of the supermarket lorry and saw his wife and daughter waiting for him.  He felt a swelling of pride mixed in with an indescribable warmth as he took large strides towards them.  This was the true feeling of home.  He claimed Autumn's soft, plush lips with his own, marvelling over the silken touch of her skin and the comfortable feeling of her curves as he wrapped an arm around her waist.  He pressed multiple kisses on Lucy's little cheeks, causing her to giggle out loud, her joyful tone filling the air.

    Close by, Ren Zexian had thrown out millennium of propriety for while holding hands could be seen as an innocent gesture of closeness, he was openly sharing a very deep and loving kiss with his man, who in turn knew no reason to push him away.  Others could only look away in a mixture of envy and embarrassment.

    Cole looked around, but the person he most wanted to see was not around.  His common sense told him that Chang Min, as one of their strongest defenders, would be on the walls, but his heart still felt a bit sour and sore.

    "So did you manage to get a lot?" Jimmy asked him, curiously looking around the trucks, "or did you just bring back these things for extra metal?"  He was referring to the smaller van with its horsebox trailer and the supermarket lorry.

    "Ha ha," Harry chuckled proudly as he slapped the side of the lorry on hearing Jimmy's question.  "While it couldn't be said that we slacked off, finding this one was all thanks to Shaun!"  He began to enlighten the other man to a rough sketch of what had occurred the past few days.

    "Where's Chang Min?" Cole couldn't help but interrupt, slightly irritable.  "Is he still on the walls somewhere?"

    "Huh?  Ah no," Jimmy scratched the back of his head as he realised Cole was talking to him.  "He went into that whatcha-ma-call it... Closed Cultivation."

    Closed Cultivation?  He couldn't help but frown, not quite understanding.  It wasn't that Chang Min didn't attempt to explain at all, but Cole's experience with the subject was flawed.  It was said before that Ren Zexian went into 'closed Cultivation' but that was just an excuse to segregate himself when he was infected by the zombie virus, to stop others worrying for him.  But thanks to his lover, Cole knew the complete truth of the matter.  So when Jimmy mentioned that Chang Min had entered Closed Cultivation, he couldn't help but worry.

    Noticing that Ren Zexian and Nathan's greetings had ended, Cole took the opportunity to press the question to him, before the two men slipped away without notice.  "At anytime one feel's that their cultivation is advancing to the next stage, one needs a period in which they can reflect safely and quietly either alone or if they are fortunate, with their Dao Companion.  In the early stages, one might need a few hours, a day at most, unless forming one's core, but as one progresses, one might require a much more prolonged length of time to advance.  Sometimes, even, more than one period of Closed Cultivation as well."

    Dao Companion, Chang Min had mentioned this to him as well.  It was the merging of two selves, in body, mind and spirit, tying themselves together for the entirety of their lives.  Not unlike a marriage, but not the same as one either.  There was no ceremony, no celebration and no chance of divorce.  However, there would always be a person beside you until the spring gave way to summer and autumn, until winter set in and the final breaths were cold as they were taken in the last moments.  Chang Min knew such a thing might terrify him and he couldn't deny that that was true, so he'd promised to wait for him.  Cole felt a slight pang in his chest.

    "Does that mean Chang Min will be out of this Closed Cultivation tonight or tomorrow?"

    Ren Zexian chuckled lightly before replying; "Well, I suppose it is only to sixth stage, not quite the final stage of body transformation, so as long as all goes well, it shouldn't be more than a lunar month."

    Cole's mood soured further.
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