Jimmy Comes Home

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Cassiel
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Jimmy Comes Home

Post by Cassiel » Thu Sep 21, 2017 2:32 am

JAMES HARPER--
Jimmy'd been watching the little section of his hometown that had been walled off for several days now, as quietly and cautiously as he could. He didn't have any illusions that he wasn't also watched in turn, even if he hadn't seen watchers. Yet. He was sure they were there. But...he hadn't been attacked, so that boded well, at least. Not savages, not this bunch. On some level, that made him happy. Well, as happy as anyone was likely to get, these days.

He'd made the trek east from Kansas slowly over the course of the past several months, never quite able to settle in with the few little bands of survivors he'd run across here and there along the way. Somehow, he'd managed the trip almost entirely alone, though even he still wondered when that luck would run out. But, it'd held him past savages and cannibals – and wow, had they been a surprise – and the, well...zombies. He didn't really have a better name for them, as incredulous as it still sounded, even a year later.

He wondered, though, if this might finally be where his luck held out. He wanted to get into that compound. Badly. It might be pointless, but it was the entire reason he'd made the long trip instead of just holing up somewhere in Kansas. Was there any chance at all his mother was still alive somewhere in this little compound that had sprung up right around the house he grew up in? He wasn't quite prepared to believe it could be true, but...he still had hope.

And if she wasn't? Well, he'd accepted that possibility months ago. He still wanted in, wanted to see if there was anything left of what had once been his childhood home. And, maybe, just maybe...he wanted the chance to rest for a few days. Wouldn't that be nice?

Shifting himself into a slightly more comfortable position in the tree – at the edge of the little town's park, a tree he'd climbed as a kid, so many memories here that he really couldn't afford to be distracted by just now – he'd been in off and on for the days he'd been watching the compound, he sighed. It felt like a strange sort of standoff. No one had approached him, or even indicated they knew he was there. And he'd done his best to stay hidden. There was no way he hadn't been seen at some point, though. He just...knew better.

The question, really, was...should he just bite the bullet and stroll up to those walls? Or, should he wait it out and try to get an even better feel for it before taking that risk? Either way, things would change. His journey was at an end. There was nothing left but this one last thing.

NATHANIEL READE--
All things considered, it really was a nice enough day out. People were going about their business, milling around and chatting. Working and doing whatever else it was that they did. And for the most part, it was an easy enough existence. Well, as easy enough as one could get in a world like the one that they now lived in. Still. As far as places went, Lawrence wasn’t so bad. It was it’s own little place with a decent enough population.

And given the proximity of the woods, it was easy to come and go, and have a bit of privacy. However, that also meant that there were those around who knew that as well. Nathan, of course, was one of those. And he used that often to his advantage. During his time at Lawrence, he had grown to learn the surrounding areas like the back of his hand. And he was good at what he did.

“Not the first time I’ve seen you around.” The voice finally cut through the silence, letting the man in the tree know that he wasn’t alone. Given the fact that the new figure could talk, it at least meant that he wasn’t among the shambling dead. However, it still didn’t mean that he wasn’t some lunatic or casual savage or cannibal who liked to lurk too close to walled off compounds and look for people in trees. Logic sometimes didn’t play any part in the minds of individuals like that.

Though, he could have also have been looking for weaknesses. For a way inside. So that would have made sense for him to be lurking around, too. But only Nathan knew for sure that that wasn’t the case. He may not have been the most mentally sound of individuals, but he wasn’t a savage or cannibal at least.

On the other hand, the bigger question at hand was what this other person was doing there. Watching. Creeping.

“So mind tellin’ me what you’re doing up in that tree? Didn’t really pick the best of places to be a peeping tom at. Not much to see from here.” While there was no obvious weapon drawn and no gun pointing right at James, the fact that Nathan was armed still couldn’t go without notice. In fact, Nathan preferred it that way. Preferred the other person to know that while he was keeping things amicable at the moment, that it could go either way.

The choice for that was up to James and how he chose to react.

JAMES--
FUCK. Despite the curse echoing in his mind, he didn't give any outward indication that he was rattled at all by the sudden voice seemingly out of nowhere. Hell, he had been kinda half-expecting someone to show up at some point. He'd just been thinking about that very thing, after all.

At first, Jimmy just went still, not wanting to make any sudden moves, not even looking around for the source of the voice. Okay, so, mental checklist. The guy spoke, and more than just creepy-assed moans and grunts and shit; not a zombie thing. He wasn't raving; not one of those insane savages. Probably. He wasn't already gnawing on Jimmy; not a cannibal. Probably. Not that any of that really meant Jimmy was in the clear, but, it was a start.

He'd take it.

Slowly, Jimmy eased his hands up where they could be seen clearly – as best he could without falling out of the tree flat on his face. Not the best way to make a good first impression, y'know? Also not always the best way to stay alive. Of course, he was armed. It would be insane not to be. And despite what his father used to insist, Jimmy wasn't crazy. There was a shotgun visible, slung around his back, held there with a shoulderstrap and tucked slightly under the backpack he wore. And, possibly visible, there was a pistol tucked into the small of his back, just under his jacket. But he made a point of not moving for either weapon.

“Watching the little place over there,” Jimmy replied carefully, jerking his chin toward the walls surrounding his childhood home. Despite over a decade away, his voice still carried the accent that marked him as a local. “Tryin' to decide if it's worth trying to get in for a bit.”

Just as slowly as he'd eased his hands up, he began to look around – carefully, he still had to maintain his balance, after all – until he spotted the figure. Armed, of course. Again, you had to be crazy, stupid, or one of the dead to not be these days. But, surprisingly, the weapons weren't pointed Jimmy's way. Before he could stop it, a sigh of relief slipped past his lips. Not out of the woods yet, but it was looking better.

After a bit of a pause, he offered a half smile to the man, trying hard not to think about how, if all this damn zombie business hadn't happened, he'd have been more than pleased to make the guy's acquaintance. “I'm sorta a little familiar with the neighborhood tucked behind those walls. Y'know, since I grew up there an' all.”

Jimmy shifted a bit, trying to adjust for the cramp starting in one of his legs from trying to balance himself with his hand still up. “Uh, this is getting pretty uncomfortable. You gonna shoot me if I put my hands back down?” He tilted his head a bit to get a better look at the guy. “Or, even better, maybe I could just come down an' we could have a little civil conversation?”

NATHAN--
“Yeah. And it might be occupied, you know. People don’t tend to take too kindly to be creeped on around these parts much.” There was a pause as Nathan fully appreciated the irony of the words he just spoke. “You chose a hell of a time to decide for a homecoming. Might have been a bit better a couple years ago.” Give or take. Whatever would have put enough time between then and now. Then, of course, being life as it once was. Before the whole world decided to go to hell.

“Mostly, I’m just seeing how long it takes for you to fall out, first. Gotta admit, you’ve lasted long than I would have initially given you credit for.” As he spoke, there was a bit of an underlying amusement to his tone. He did have to admit, though, he did have to give the other man additional credit for at least being prepared enough for whatever journey he had taken to get there. From his initial survey, Nathan could tell that he was at least armed well enough to take care of himself from any immediate threats. And given the fact he had managed to elude being spotted by Briar, there was at least some skill there, too.

Or just sheer, dumb luck. Whichever it was, it didn’t really matter too much to Nathan. The end result had still been the same.

The longer that Nathan spoke, though, it was a bit more obvious that he wasn’t exactly from the area. Not originally, anyway. The hows and whys of how he managed to find himself where he did was the sort of story for another day. And the sort of story that plenty of others shared. It was nothing special, after all. Just him wandering until he found somewhere to stay and make a go at trying to figure out how to live all over again.

Finally, he gave a bit of a nod, though. “Come on down. I’m not in the mood to shoot anyone, so you’re safe enough.” There was an unspoken ‘for now’, though. However, that was always an unspoken sort of thing for most people. You may not have gotten shot right away, but the possibility was always there until you figured out who you could trust.

“Whether or not it’s worth trying to get in depends upon what you’re after. A lot has obviously changed, but you don’t need me tellin’ you that.” Pausing for a few moments, he absently ran his tongue across his cracked lips a slight sigh escaping past them. “But nobody goes through the efforts of stakin’ out old haunts without a specific reason. I can probably take a stab at it, but I’ll forgo it for now.”

JAMES--
Jimmy snorted, wobbling a bit on his precarious perch. Coming home a couple years ago would have most likely resulted in being met at the door with a shotgun in his face. Still, there was no point in airing dirty laundry here and now, especially since he couldn't be quite sure if his mother was in there somewhere behind those walls, or not. He didn't really hold any hope of that – she'd been old and ill already, before all this happened – but, still, it'd been worth the trip to try to find out.

His little half-smile twisted into a smirk as he waited for the guy to make up his mind. As if sitting in a tree without falling out was some great feat. You sure as hell didn't grow up around here, especially if you happened to be male, without learning how to sit in a tree for hours. Best way to tackle bow hunting, after all.

At the guy's permission, Jimmy shifted himself, then eased down to a branch below the one he'd been settled on, then down one more. Then, taking a moment to judge the distance – because a broken leg was basically death without someone to help, and he sure couldn't count on that from anyone – he let himself drop to the ground, eyes fixed on the compound walls. “Considerin' last time I was here was about a decade ago...yeah, a lot's changed. Didn't have dead people rising to wander around looking for a meal, among other things.”

There was a sigh, and Jimmy dropped his attempts at humor, turning to face the guy. “My mom,” he said simply, after a moment's pause. What the hell, right? It wasn't like he was ashamed of his reason for coming back. She was all there was left in the world for him, if she was even still alive – and he really did doubt it. But he'd been driven to find out before he tried to figure out what to do next. “She, uh... Her house is right in the middle of that,” a tilt of his head back toward the walled compound, “little place y'all have there, and I just...I needed to know, before I...moved on.”

Jimmy hesitated, then, with a little shrug, continued. “An' I figured even if she's gone, maybe I could just...have a look. See if anything's left at all.” Despite his efforts to seem nonchalant about it, he couldn't help the faint trace of hope and longing that crept into his voice. “So, y'know, is there any chance maybe I can get in just to have a look? I can, uh... I can leave right after.” A pause again, as he regarded the man.

“If that's the way it's gotta be. But...I grew up around here. I know the area. I know how to handle guns – pistols, shotguns, rifles – and bows, and all that shit. Grew up hunting, fishing, did a little farming. Even learned some tanning one summer. I could contribute, too. If...you got the room.”

NATHAN--
“Do you honestly blame them? I hear the food in Hell is terrible. After being subject to that for a while, I’d probably be crawling out of my grave and searching for something else, too.” Never a wrong time for terrible jokes. Then again, there was never a wrong time for anything as far as Nathan was concerned. Needless to say, sometimes tact wasn’t his strong suit. But it worked well enough for him and he made no apologies at all for it. He had long ago embraced himself for who he was.

“I get it, though. Doesn’t matter what the past is, sometimes. When the world goes to hell and the dead decide they don’t want to go, you start worrying about those who once meant something to you. Finding out what happened to them or if they’re still alive can be a bit of a high priority and I can’t fault anyone for that. Closure helps in these cases.” There was a hint of a frown as he covered it with a nonchalant smile and simple shrug. That was something Nathan could respect well enough. Family was everything. Maybe not necessarily one’s biological family, but those that they considered family, too. Not knowing what happened to them or if they were even still alive somewhere, could slowly eat away at someone from the inside, growing quietly over time until the guilt of having done nothing to figure that information out could swallow them whole.

But getting information wasn’t as easy as it once was. Which made everything that much harder. Sometimes, one had to weigh the options of making that journey to seek out information versus staying where they were in order to remain safe because they knew that was what family would say was most important – one’s safety.

It was also a topic he didn’t speak about, himself. Whatever his past was, wherever he had originally came from, he kept locked up. Not even Finn knew the entire story, and the kid hadn’t bothered to ask because he at least had known better. Some stories simply weren’t meant to be told.

“The little area’s called Lawrence now. Don’t technically know if that’s the original name and I didn’t bother asking. Seemed like a bit of a trivial note to me.” There was a bit of a shrug as he offered a hint of a smirk. Nathan probably did really know, but to him, it really was a bit of just a trivial point. It was simply Lawrence now, after all. And that was all one really needed. “We don’t generally mind taking in the wayward and the lost. Some just pass through, some decide to stay on. So if you decide to stay, I wouldn’t mind.” He probably should have said ‘we’ there, but for some reason, Nathan had simply said ‘I’.

“C’mon. The way in is over here.” As he spoke, he made a motion for James to start following him as he walked. “So do you have a name, or should I just start calling you Tarzan?”

JAMES--
Jimmy couldn't help but laugh. It probably shouldn't have even been all that funny, but...after nearly a year of far more seriousness than he could sometimes take from the few survivors he'd encountered, it was a welcome change to hear someone make a joke. Hell, maybe he wasn't the only crazy one in all this, after all. Well, if you didn't count the savages and the cannibals, anyway.

It did, however, make him consider the man more closely as he continued speaking. Jimmy didn't really have anything he could say in response, at least, not without sounding like a jerk, or something...probably. It wasn't that he didn't agree, he just...wasn't so good at crap like that. But, because he'd been watching – really watching – he caught the frown that flashed across the guy's face before he masked it. There was a story there. Then again, Jimmy supposed they all had stories of some kind, most of them less-than-pleasant. It certainly wasn't worth prodding for it, no matter how curious he found himself.

“Lawrence.” There was a faint smile, just a flash of one, really. “Okay, Lawrence.” No argument, no correction, and no hint at all of what it might have been called before. Whatever it had been before, that was gone. Faint hints, ghosts of the past, were all that remained for Jimmy, now. Hell, it hadn't been a very happy childhood here anyway, so what the fuck did he care what these people wanted to call it.

Jimmy caught the switch from 'we' to 'I' but said nothing about it. He thought about it, however. This guy, was he what passed for a leader here, or...had he meant it more personally? Again came that distant flare of interest, but, again, Jimmy pushed it aside. Now wasn't the time. Hell, that time would probably never come again. Besides, even if he could tell the guy wasn't local originally, he figured it was a safe enough bet that anyone even hanging out in this god forsaken area of the country was likely to be fairly violently opposed to any interest he might have.

Jimmy's lips twisted a bit as he followed along obediently enough, tempted to make a comment about being put to heel like a dog, but the thought went clean out of his head with the burst of laughter. “Tarzan? Yeah, no. Ain't ever gonna have the body to be that.” There was a pause as he tilted his head to look over at the guy, then a flash of a genuine smile. “James Harper. Jimmy, to the few who ever called me friend.” Yeah, it was an offer, even if a subtle – or so he thought – one. Pitiful, maybe, yeah. But god, he was so tired of being on his own. He was realizing he wanted to stay here, even if it held the bones of a past he mostly wanted to forget.

He might even, if anyone had asked, have been willing to admit that part of his growing desire to stay was the man he was walking beside. Fuck it, huh? Guy made him laugh. Laughter was a precious thing, these days.

“And you? You got a name? Or do you just go by Boss?” It was a stab in the dark, his curiosity piqued about what role this guy really did play here in Lawrence.

NATHAN--
Chances were pretty high that Nathan might actually agree that they were all a bit off their rockers. Most had to be these days. Sanity was overrated and when faced with zombies and cannibals and savages (oh my!), there was little room to actually retain full sanity. Hell. If he was a gambling man, he’d probably venture a guess that even Briar and Mina were a tad bit off their rockers. There was absolutely no doubt in his mind that he and Finn were, either.

And he was pretty sure that James was, too. …and that was something he’d happily share, no questions asked.

Repeatedly.

“Jimmy it is, then.” There was a wide smile as he spoke. For just a moment, Nathan had almost considered simply calling him ‘James’, but at the last moment he had caught on to that subtle hint finally. Which was a bit of a miracle, since half the time Nathan and subtle were the worst of enemies. Nathan and tact were better friends than Nathan and subtle were. Which was probably saying something.

“Probably for the better, too. Wouldn’t want you to think you can start swinging from trees around here. Our medic can probably only patch you up so many times before you’d be put on the ‘do not fix’ list due to constant self injury.” There really wasn’t such a list, but Nathan might sometimes be a bit of an advocate for one. Jokingly, mostly.

…mostly.

Because sometimes, he could be a bit cranky like that.

“I’m not the boss.” He offered a casual enough shrug. “That’s Jason. I’ll introduce you two soon enough. I’m more of the Chewbacca to his Han Solo, if you want a more formal explanation of my status in this whole little thing.” Or the Riker to his Picard. Whatever. One could choose their own analogy and it was probably fitting enough.

“But if you’re looking for my actual name, it’s Nathan. However I answer to everything from Nathaniel to asshole.” Because nine times out of ten, if there was some less than flattering name being used to ask for someone, they were probably looking for Nathan.

As far as interactions with relative strangers went? Nathan considered this one a bit of a victory. He wasn’t exactly too sure why, but he was rather glad that he was the one who decided to be the welcoming committee this time around. He probably could have easily of sent Briar to do it for him, but she probably would have punched Jimmy in the face first, then lectured him about being a creeper and how he should have simply of talked to someone first, rather than lurking around.

And it wasn’t like he was the worst company in the world so far. So there was that plus, too.

JAMES--
That smile, it was...just fucking brilliant. Jimmy couldn't help but be pleased by it, and by the choice of name. Offer made, offer accepted, fucking succeed. Apparently even in the middle of a damn apocalypse, good things could happen. And, yeah, being able to tentatively count someone a friend was a good thing, for Jimmy. It'd been a long year, a long trip, and maybe, just maybe, there was some sort of end to it now that didn't involve him being torn apart by one of the many dangers that abounded in the world.

Hell, maybe after more than a decade, he could even have a home again. Even if it was, ironically, right where the home he'd had to flee from used to be. You might not ever be able to really go home, as they said. But...maybe you could make a new home from the ashes of the old. It was something to think about, at least.

There was a hitch in his stride accompanied by another laugh, one that clearly startled him. “That's...not gonna happen. No matter how much Dad stuck me up in a tree come hunting season...and other times...trees really aren't my favorite place to hang out. I can do it, when I gotta, but it's not exactly a hobby of mine.” Jimmy slid another long look over to him. “I usually take care of my own issues, anyway. Don't expect I'll be pestering your medic much.” Without thinking about it much, he flexed his left hand, feeling the reassuring tightening of the skin up on his arm under his coat where the last round of stitches he'd had to put in himself were nearly ready to come out. Yeah, he could take care of himself just fine.

Jason. He took note of the name, just as someone he'd have to watch out for, make sure to play nice to. Not that it was generally an issue, he could be nice enough to people. But, it was probably a good idea to make extra efforts to the guy in charge. He'd seen places where people got kicked out just for annoying whoever was playing at king of whatever little group of people he – or she, in a few cases – had managed to gather. And if Jimmy left, he damn sure would make sure it was because he wanted to, not because he got the boot.

Though, despite the seriousness of his thoughts, his lips quirked a bit at the reference. Star Wars, there was something he'd not thought of in a long time. It was...nice, in a way, to know some things, no matter how silly, or how...well, geeky, lived on.

Jimmy snorted. “An asshole woulda shot me for...what'd you call it, creeping? I think I'll stick with Nathan. I like it. Nice name.” There was another of his long appraising looks, then he allowed a slow grin to form. Tempting, he kept thinking. Nathan was so tempting. Damn fine looking, and he had a terrific sense of humor. Godamnit. Maybe he just needed to get laid. He hadn't let himself even consider interest in anyone since the whole outbreak had started. And here he was practically mooning over a guy he just met.

Godamnit.

He could only hope Nathan didn't notice, even though he knew he wasn't being nearly as subtle as he could be. Hell, guy probably didn't even swing that way. Given where they were, and his own childhood, Jimmy didn't honestly expect any one of the guys to...well, swing that way.

Jimmy cleared his throat, both amused and annoyed by the awkwardness his thoughts caused. “So, uh...like, second-in-command or something? Guess that means y'all're actually a little organized?” It would be kind of a surprise, given the experiences he'd had with groups of survivors as he'd made his way east from Kansas. Then again, most of them weren't also holed up behind a wall like Lawrence had, either. “That's good. Pretty cool, I mean. I didn't see much of people bothering to organize out there. Not enough...forethought, I guess?”

NATHAN--
“Seems we’re at least in agreement there. Being in trees really ain’t my favourite activity, either. They’re a hell of a place to put a hammock to sleep when you need, though. Keeps you off the ground and all. But not too good to hang around in for long periods of time.” There was a bit of a grin as he spoke, followed by a hint of a shrug. “Hunting was never a pastime of mine growing up, either. I was more of the kind who found it fun to dangle off the edges of cliffs because somehow, that’s a fun activity.” …and it still was. Nathan was amazing when it came to activities like that.

And it still proved to be a hell of a useful skill.

It also went without saying that he did notice that way that Jimmy had flexed his hand when he spoke about not needing the medic. There was a small quirk of a brow as he gave a bit of a nod. “Still. Maybe I’ll introduce her to you, too.” …come to think of it, he didn’t think he even properly introduced himself to her yet, either. Well. That was another thing he’d have to check off his ‘to do’ list. Sooner or later, anyway. It wasn’t exactly like he was too pressed for time since there wasn’t much else he had to do and there was nowhere he needed to be.

“Like I said. You caught me in a good mood.” At least, he said something close enough to that earlier. Hell if he could remember his exact wording. The sentiment of it all was still there, anyway. Though, there was also a bit of a considering pause for a moment. “On the other hand, an asshole might have actually of just fired a close enough warning shot to startle you out of that tree, then laughed when you fell.” Like there hadn’t been any temptation there to do that very thing.

…maybe there had been a tiny bit at first. But for whatever reason, Nathan had decided against it. Probably because he was in a good enough mood. At least, that was the story he was going with, and the one he’d probably tell often enough that it became believable enough.

Most things that Nathan did were always with purpose, though. Always for a certain reason. He wasn’t exactly the kind who did something simply because he was feeling charitable. So whatever the real reasons where that Nathan didn’t just shoot him or whatever, where something that was only known to him at the current moment, and something that he didn’t seem to be too interested in sharing.

“Jason’s done some real good around here. Things weren’t quite as organised as they are now until he came along.” There was a bit of a smile with that, at least. “Since then, we’ve gotten others who help well enough with things and make sure everything runs smoothly enough. It helps, too. When you find the right mix of people and leadership, everything falls into place sooner or later.” For just a moment, he paused, sighing slightly.

“I’ve seen my fair share of places with far less organisation, after all. And it chaotic enough. On the other hand, there are those who are even more organised, and while some of them work, it all depends upon different factors. Some of them are some of the worst places around.” But then again, that was also to be expected. Personalities of people and leaders factored into things a great deal as well.

Once at the front gate, he paused for a few moments to chat in a friendly enough manner with those who were milling around. It wasn’t long before he was gesturing for Jimmy to follow him inside.

“Can’t quite say I know much at all about how others are organising anywhere else, though. I’ve stuck mostly with the eastern portion here since it’s what I know best.”

JAMES--
“Cliffs, huh? That's...a little beyond me. I didn't have to go quite that far to prove I was manly enough to make it.” Jimmy's tone had started out amused, but quickly turned sour. Maybe coming here had been a bad idea, after all. Too damn many memories lurked in the wasted background, and so few of them were good.

“Hunting was sorta required, for me. Hated it, so much. But...well, I guess I should be grateful it was forced on me. I am grateful. The skills I learned kept me alive coming out here.” It left a bad taste in his mouth to admit to even that much gratitude for his father. But, he was the honest sort, so admit it he did, even if he didn't much like it.

He shrugged, unconcerned. “I'll meet whoever you think I should. But don't go outta your way for me. Point me at stuff that needs doing, and I'm real good at staying out of the way and gettin' it done.” And it was the truth. Jimmy would put his head down and just do whatever needed doing. He might have little ambition, but it wasn't at all the same thing as not having any work ethic, or the drive to be useful. He was used to carrying his own weight, and would do so without complaint.

Jimmy's lips twitched with amusement. “An asshole is the only one that something like that woulda occurred to. Maybe you are an asshole.” His eyes slid over to regard Nathan. “A tiny bit. Maybe.” It was sort of funny, how every time he started sinking into dark thoughts and wondering if being here was even a good idea at all, Nathan managed to say something to pull him back from those thoughts, and make him realize being around other people would be a good thing, even if it was here. Maybe...even being around one particular person.

He squinted over at Nathan. “This, uh, Jason. You really admire him.” He found it interesting, really. Because if this guy, who probably saw the compound's leader at his worst as well as his best – being his second, it was something Jimmy just sort of took for granted – could admire him, then...maybe he wasn't a terrible guy. At least, maybe things would be a bit better than just tolerable here.

“Glad to hear it, though.” He considered saying more, but, there were other people now, and Jimmy found himself just sorta clamming up around them. Nathan, he'd been easy enough to talk to. But, despite this being his former home, there wasn't a single familiar face in the people he saw milling about. Jimmy'd never really been the most social of creatures, though he could be charming enough when he was really interested in someone.

Honestly, he'd expected to see at least one or two familiar faces. The thought that this place was inhabited purely by strangers, well...that came as a bit of a blow. Was everyone really gone? Still, he did his best to hide his shock at his realization that quite possibly everyone he'd known was gone, not just his own mother. That was something to deal with later. Weakness...well, this wasn't the time or place to show that. Not if he was going to earn a place here. Weakness, that was one of those things that got you shoved out as zombie bait.

His response, when Nathan spoke again after they'd gotten through the gate, was given absently. “I came out from Kansas. What little I risked of dealing with people, it was...bad.” As he spoke, his attention was taken by looking around, taking it all in. McCoy's General Store, it was still there, and even looked like they were using it. “Really bad. Most were barely holding on, and... There's some I think just musta lost it.” There, he could see the old school peeking up above the houses toward the back of the compound. It was still standing, apparently. “Savages, even...god, even people who were eating...other people. Like the fuckin' zombies eating people wasn't bad enough.”

He let his words trail off when he spotted it. There, his mother's house. It was still standing, still in use, it looked like. But he couldn't tell anything else about it from here. And, suddenly, he wasn't sure he wanted to. He'd need to at some point, but, right now, it was just too much. This was home, but...no one was left.

“Fuck.” The curse was muttered softly, Jimmy averting his eyes, finding himself turning to look at Nathan. Right then, he wasn't sure he cared what showed in eyes that his mother had always said were too expressive for a boy. It fucking hurt, more than he'd ever expected it to. And he was still human, he could only take so much.

NATHAN--
“I do it because I like to.” There was a bit of a dismissive shrug. “Nothing about having to prove manliness for me. Though, for some, I can see why it would be. Their loss for looking at it like that, though.” Something about his tone hinted towards a brief bit of grumpiness there. And that any offer to share some rappelling and rock climbing tips with were off the table. Which was still fine enough for Nathan. Finn had learned well enough and still made a decent enough partner. Even if the kid was still terrified of heights. On the plus side, he no longer screamed first when taking that initial drop over the edge when rappelling. And that was something that Nathan was so very grateful for.

“Glad to see you’re starting to embrace the truth, though. It’ll make things much easier and far less of a surprise later on, should you fully decide to stick around.” With a bit of a smirk, he casually reached out and gave Jimmy a bit of a shove on the shoulder, as if to reinforce that point that he probably was a bit of an asshole. “Which, y’know, is fine enough if you do.” It sounded a bit like a casual, throw-away comment at first, but there was something about the way that Nathan spoke those words that said he might have preferred to hear Jimmy say that he’d stick around for sure.

But outright saying words like that was not something that Nathaniel Reade was quite fully capable of doing. Hell. It was far easier for him to say his very next words. “You might not be far of the mark there. As far as people I respect go, Jason’s near enough to the top.” It wasn’t quite the same as saying that he fully admired Jason, but for Nathan, saying that he respected someone enough to put them on the list to begin with was a high enough vote of confidence or something. And it was something that spoke volumes, considering Jimmy was correct enough. Nathan had seen Jason at his best and his worst, and he was still there. Still held him in high enough regards to continue to be his wookie.

“Just when you think things have reached their lowest, we tend to prove that we haven’t even hit rock bottom yet. Goes a long way to show you the true depths of human depravity though, doesn’t it?” There wasn’t exactly anything too comforting about those words, but it was simply a bit of truth that they both knew. Zombies weren’t necessarily the evil ones out there. They didn’t have the capacity to think their actions through. They simply followed their baser instincts. It was the savages and cannibals, and even other regular humans that were generally the real monsters in the whole mix. They were the ones capable of thinking out their actions. Of plotting. And of doing terrible things to one another, despite having that ability to know exactly what it was that they were doing.

Then again, Nathan wasn’t the kind who ever believed that the end of the world was something that would bring everyone together to hold hands and sing kumbayah. That simply wasn’t humanity. It wasn’t the way that everyone could live. There would always be those vying for power. Those who used others and stabbed whoever in the back that they could.

There was nothing said as he moved to stand there right next to Jimmy, shoulder to shoulder. It was a silent gesture of almost comfort, if one wanted to read that much into it.

“Let’s get it over with now.” He spoke lighter, giving Jimmy’s arm a light nudge with his own. While he didn’t offer out loud, that was pretty much Nathan telling him that he was going to go right there with him. Step for step. Asking out loud was something that Nathan had decided against because he was pretty sure that he’d have simply been turned down. Sure. There was a chance that he might actually not have, but it also wasn’t a chance that Nathan was going to take. Sometimes, one simply needed to remove the illusion of having a choice in the matter when there really was none.

JAMES--
“Mmm. My father thought everything was about proving how much of a man you are. Especially after... Well, we just didn't quite see things the same, that's all.” He shrugged, dismissing it. Nathan didn't need to hear his family bullshit. Or...other things about him. Jimmy liked the guy. No point in running him off immediately, right?

Jimmy rocked easily enough with the shove, laughing. “Oh, I imagine I'll stick around. God knows it's better than being out there....alone.” He'd caught it, that slight note of...something under the casual words. It made him wonder, and he slipped Nathan a curious glance, though he said nothing about it. Besides, he was being honest enough. He really didn't want to be out there alone anymore. And, well, if there was something – someone – here more than just his old family home that might have caught his interest, then so be it. “Besides, if you are the town asshole, I think I could get along here just fine.”

He only nodded as Nathan spoke of Jason. Someone to at least show some respect for, he noted, filing it away.

“It ain't all bad, though. I mean, look at what you have here,” Jimmy said with a vague gesture around. Yeah, he was still avoiding looking back to his childhood home. “Everyone's making it, cooperating instead of fighting. As long as there're still a few places like this...it's not all bad.” He meant it. He really did. As much as he hated it sometimes, he was an optimist at heart. Maybe that's why he'd found the savages and cannibals so shocking. He wanted to see the best in people, and often could, even when they themselves couldn't.

He'd drifted off again, his attention finally going back to the house he'd been avoiding. And then, just when it started to become too much, there was a light nudge against his arm. He kept his eyes fixed on that house, ready to refuse. It was gonna be hard, too hard. And he was so damn tired. Then, it hit him. Nathan was...offering to be there with him. Well, not in so many words, but...the offer was there, anyway. Gratitude hit him like a freight train, leaving him in stunned silence for a few moments. Time that Nathan never moved from his side, just standing there, waiting for him. “Okay,” he finally replied, huffing out a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding.

“C'mon,” he said, forcing himself to walk toward the house. Yeah, as though he'd been the one to decide to do this, and was dragging Nathan along. Still, appearances, he thought vaguely as he glanced at the few people moving about.

He wasn't stupid, he could feel eyes on him, checking him out. Probably curious about the newcomer, about the one being seemingly escorted by one of the leaders. It was enough to make him steel himself, at least for a bit longer. If he was gonna break down – something he was afraid was a distinct possibility – it wasn't going to happen out here in public. He didn't care much what anyone might think of him, but...he wouldn't embarrass Nathan that way, not when the self-professed asshole was being...well, kind.

And there it was, the house. His mother's house, his parent's house...the house he spent the first 18 years of his life in. Up on that little porch, he noted the lack of swing that had once hung there, something his grandfather had made as a wedding present to his mother. All the cute little things she used to keep out there, they were gone, too. And he realized he should have expected that. She wasn't here. He didn't even have to ask who lived here now to know that. She was gone...probably a year gone, at this point.

Softly, so that Nathan was the only one that would hear him, he spoke. “She's not here. Stuff's probably long gone. I'm...sure someone else is living here now. No point in disturbing them, is there?” He couldn't admit, not even to himself, that he was hoping someone else lived there now, that everything was gone. It would give him a reason to not walk through that door, to not really have to face that.

NATHAN--
“I won’t say that I get it. Because that’s a cop out answer. But, I get where you’re coming from. I knew someone once who didn’t quite see eye to eye with their father. Especially over their life choices. So I’m not one to judge too much about anything.” There was… so much truth there. More than he ever really let on. On more than one occasion, he had dealt with his best friend’s father for them. He knew that he didn’t necessarily have to, but that’s what one did for their friends. And it was one of those whole complicated messes that he preferred not to speak about as doing so often opened deep wounds.

“Glad to hear it, though. So long as you can put up with me, you can probably put up with pretty much anyone around here.” There was enough confidence in those words, at least. Putting up with Nathan was one of those benchmarks that was sometimes used around the place. If they could put up with him and deal well enough with Jason, then they would have no problems at all finding a niche and fitting in well enough.

He followed beside him, stride casual enough with no real effort to it and no real rush. There wasn’t no need for it, after all. No need for much of anything. And there was that constant presence, at least. That constant presence of Nathan still there by Jimmy’s side, never once leaving. Never once looking bored or sighing and telling him to hurry up and get on with things. Nathan probably had a million and one better things he could be doing, but he never once seemed like he’d rather be anywhere else other than right where he was.

The others around them? They didn’t matter to him. They were just there. Going about their own business. He knew that he’d get the occasional glance in his direction since usually, he tended to dump people off on Jason much sooner, but some probably figured that maybe Nathan had simply gotten tired of Briar nagging at him to be a bit kinder to people that they bring in.

“Probably no real point. There’s a chance some stuff’s remained, but sometimes it’s better to let things lay as they are.” No point in stirring up memories and the unknown more than necessary. And sometime, it was better to let things rest instead of completely ripping open any old wounds. Preserve the memory and all. “Besides. Most have done a fair enough deal of swapping things out and around. Trades for trades.” That sort of thing. What suited one’s taste didn’t suit another. So they swapped around and made do with what they had. It was easier that way, of course. And simply the way some things where done.

There was a bit of silence for what seemed like a bit too long before Nathan spoke again. “I’m staying right over there.” There was a nod in the direction of a nearby house as he spoke. “It’s just me and Finn right now, but he won’t mind if you crash there.” As much as it was a statement, he was also asking in his own way for Jimmy to come stay with him while he was there. For Nathan, that wasn’t something that he offered many, either. It wasn’t something that he had ever offered. Finn was a bit special, of course, but only because they shared a certain bond with one another now.

Even before Jimmy could really give him a solid answer, he was walking off towards the home he had indicated to. There was a pause for just a moment, though, as he glanced over his shoulder to see if his offer had been accepted. While he didn’t really seem to make any outward expression on whether or not he cared if it had been or not, there was that inner hope that Jimmy did continue to simply follow along with him for the time being.

Maybe Nathan wasn’t such the terrible asshole as he sometimes professed himself to being. Most of the time, he simply preferred to hide behind masks. Make himself out to be a bit of a terrible person in order to dissuade anyone from even considering trying to get close in the first place. In some ways, it was a defense mechanism. If he didn’t let people close, then he didn’t risk getting hurt all over again. Didn’t have to worry about letting anyone down on that personal level.

Finn was one of those rare cases. He had invited himself into Nathan’s life, and Nathan had simply shrugged and let him tag along. For them, it worked out well enough in the end. They formed a bond between them and where there for one another when needed. They were now family. And that was something that would never change between them, even as Finn grew into his own and no longer needed Nathan to be that protective figure in his life in the same way as he did before.

Jimmy, though….

Jimmy wasn’t necessarily in the same category as Finn was. Jimmy was someone that Nathan, himself, had extended the offer to. And while Jimmy might not realise it at first, that was something so very huge.

NATHANIEL READE--
All things considered, it really was a nice enough day out. People were going about their business, milling around and chatting. Working and doing whatever else it was that they did. And for the most part, it was an easy enough existence. Well, as easy enough as one could get in a world like the one that they now lived in. Still. As far as places went, Lawrence wasn’t so bad. It was it’s own little place with a decent enough population.

And given the proximity of the woods, it was easy to come and go, and have a bit of privacy. However, that also meant that there were those around who knew that as well. Nathan, of course, was one of those. And he used that often to his advantage. During his time at Lawrence, he had grown to learn the surrounding areas like the back of his hand. And he was good at what he did.

“Not the first time I’ve seen you around.” The voice finally cut through the silence, letting the man in the tree know that he wasn’t alone. Given the fact that the new figure could talk, it at least meant that he wasn’t among the shambling dead. However, it still didn’t mean that he wasn’t some lunatic or casual savage or cannibal who liked to lurk too close to walled off compounds and look for people in trees. Logic sometimes didn’t play any part in the minds of individuals like that.

Though, he could have also have been looking for weaknesses. For a way inside. So that would have made sense for him to be lurking around, too. But only Nathan knew for sure that that wasn’t the case. He may not have been the most mentally sound of individuals, but he wasn’t a savage or cannibal at least.

On the other hand, the bigger question at hand was what this other person was doing there. Watching. Creeping.

“So mind tellin’ me what you’re doing up in that tree? Didn’t really pick the best of places to be a peeping tom at. Not much to see from here.” While there was no obvious weapon drawn and no gun pointing right at James, the fact that Nathan was armed still couldn’t go without notice. In fact, Nathan preferred it that way. Preferred the other person to know that while he was keeping things amicable at the moment, that it could go either way.

The choice for that was up to James and how he chose to react.

JAMES--
FUCK. Despite the curse echoing in his mind, he didn't give any outward indication that he was rattled at all by the sudden voice seemingly out of nowhere. Hell, he had been kinda half-expecting someone to show up at some point. He'd just been thinking about that very thing, after all.

At first, Jimmy just went still, not wanting to make any sudden moves, not even looking around for the source of the voice. Okay, so, mental checklist. The guy spoke, and more than just creepy-assed moans and grunts and shit; not a zombie thing. He wasn't raving; not one of those insane savages. Probably. He wasn't already gnawing on Jimmy; not a cannibal. Probably. Not that any of that really meant Jimmy was in the clear, but, it was a start.

He'd take it.

Slowly, Jimmy eased his hands up where they could be seen clearly – as best he could without falling out of the tree flat on his face. Not the best way to make a good first impression, y'know? Also not always the best way to stay alive. Of course, he was armed. It would be insane not to be. And despite what his father used to insist, Jimmy wasn't crazy. There was a shotgun visible, slung around his back, held there with a shoulderstrap and tucked slightly under the backpack he wore. And, possibly visible, there was a pistol tucked into the small of his back, just under his jacket. But he made a point of not moving for either weapon.

“Watching the little place over there,” Jimmy replied carefully, jerking his chin toward the walls surrounding his childhood home. Despite over a decade away, his voice still carried the accent that marked him as a local. “Tryin' to decide if it's worth trying to get in for a bit.”

Just as slowly as he'd eased his hands up, he began to look around – carefully, he still had to maintain his balance, after all – until he spotted the figure. Armed, of course. Again, you had to be crazy, stupid, or one of the dead to not be these days. But, surprisingly, the weapons weren't pointed Jimmy's way. Before he could stop it, a sigh of relief slipped past his lips. Not out of the woods yet, but it was looking better.

After a bit of a pause, he offered a half smile to the man, trying hard not to think about how, if all this damn zombie business hadn't happened, he'd have been more than pleased to make the guy's acquaintance. “I'm sorta a little familiar with the neighborhood tucked behind those walls. Y'know, since I grew up there an' all.”

Jimmy shifted a bit, trying to adjust for the cramp starting in one of his legs from trying to balance himself with his hand still up. “Uh, this is getting pretty uncomfortable. You gonna shoot me if I put my hands back down?” He tilted his head a bit to get a better look at the guy. “Or, even better, maybe I could just come down an' we could have a little civil conversation?”

NATHAN--
“Yeah. And it might be occupied, you know. People don’t tend to take too kindly to be creeped on around these parts much.” There was a pause as Nathan fully appreciated the irony of the words he just spoke. “You chose a hell of a time to decide for a homecoming. Might have been a bit better a couple years ago.” Give or take. Whatever would have put enough time between then and now. Then, of course, being life as it once was. Before the whole world decided to go to hell.

“Mostly, I’m just seeing how long it takes for you to fall out, first. Gotta admit, you’ve lasted long than I would have initially given you credit for.” As he spoke, there was a bit of an underlying amusement to his tone. He did have to admit, though, he did have to give the other man additional credit for at least being prepared enough for whatever journey he had taken to get there. From his initial survey, Nathan could tell that he was at least armed well enough to take care of himself from any immediate threats. And given the fact he had managed to elude being spotted by Briar, there was at least some skill there, too.

Or just sheer, dumb luck. Whichever it was, it didn’t really matter too much to Nathan. The end result had still been the same.

The longer that Nathan spoke, though, it was a bit more obvious that he wasn’t exactly from the area. Not originally, anyway. The hows and whys of how he managed to find himself where he did was the sort of story for another day. And the sort of story that plenty of others shared. It was nothing special, after all. Just him wandering until he found somewhere to stay and make a go at trying to figure out how to live all over again.

Finally, he gave a bit of a nod, though. “Come on down. I’m not in the mood to shoot anyone, so you’re safe enough.” There was an unspoken ‘for now’, though. However, that was always an unspoken sort of thing for most people. You may not have gotten shot right away, but the possibility was always there until you figured out who you could trust.

“Whether or not it’s worth trying to get in depends upon what you’re after. A lot has obviously changed, but you don’t need me tellin’ you that.” Pausing for a few moments, he absently ran his tongue across his cracked lips a slight sigh escaping past them. “But nobody goes through the efforts of stakin’ out old haunts without a specific reason. I can probably take a stab at it, but I’ll forgo it for now.”

JAMES--
Jimmy snorted, wobbling a bit on his precarious perch. Coming home a couple years ago would have most likely resulted in being met at the door with a shotgun in his face. Still, there was no point in airing dirty laundry here and now, especially since he couldn't be quite sure if his mother was in there somewhere behind those walls, or not. He didn't really hold any hope of that – she'd been old and ill already, before all this happened – but, still, it'd been worth the trip to try to find out.

His little half-smile twisted into a smirk as he waited for the guy to make up his mind. As if sitting in a tree without falling out was some great feat. You sure as hell didn't grow up around here, especially if you happened to be male, without learning how to sit in a tree for hours. Best way to tackle bow hunting, after all.

At the guy's permission, Jimmy shifted himself, then eased down to a branch below the one he'd been settled on, then down one more. Then, taking a moment to judge the distance – because a broken leg was basically death without someone to help, and he sure couldn't count on that from anyone – he let himself drop to the ground, eyes fixed on the compound walls. “Considerin' last time I was here was about a decade ago...yeah, a lot's changed. Didn't have dead people rising to wander around looking for a meal, among other things.”

There was a sigh, and Jimmy dropped his attempts at humor, turning to face the guy. “My mom,” he said simply, after a moment's pause. What the hell, right? It wasn't like he was ashamed of his reason for coming back. She was all there was left in the world for him, if she was even still alive – and he really did doubt it. But he'd been driven to find out before he tried to figure out what to do next. “She, uh... Her house is right in the middle of that,” a tilt of his head back toward the walled compound, “little place y'all have there, and I just...I needed to know, before I...moved on.”

Jimmy hesitated, then, with a little shrug, continued. “An' I figured even if she's gone, maybe I could just...have a look. See if anything's left at all.” Despite his efforts to seem nonchalant about it, he couldn't help the faint trace of hope and longing that crept into his voice. “So, y'know, is there any chance maybe I can get in just to have a look? I can, uh... I can leave right after.” A pause again, as he regarded the man.

“If that's the way it's gotta be. But...I grew up around here. I know the area. I know how to handle guns – pistols, shotguns, rifles – and bows, and all that shit. Grew up hunting, fishing, did a little farming. Even learned some tanning one summer. I could contribute, too. If...you got the room.”

NATHAN--
“Do you honestly blame them? I hear the food in Hell is terrible. After being subject to that for a while, I’d probably be crawling out of my grave and searching for something else, too.” Never a wrong time for terrible jokes. Then again, there was never a wrong time for anything as far as Nathan was concerned. Needless to say, sometimes tact wasn’t his strong suit. But it worked well enough for him and he made no apologies at all for it. He had long ago embraced himself for who he was.

“I get it, though. Doesn’t matter what the past is, sometimes. When the world goes to hell and the dead decide they don’t want to go, you start worrying about those who once meant something to you. Finding out what happened to them or if they’re still alive can be a bit of a high priority and I can’t fault anyone for that. Closure helps in these cases.” There was a hint of a frown as he covered it with a nonchalant smile and simple shrug. That was something Nathan could respect well enough. Family was everything. Maybe not necessarily one’s biological family, but those that they considered family, too. Not knowing what happened to them or if they were even still alive somewhere, could slowly eat away at someone from the inside, growing quietly over time until the guilt of having done nothing to figure that information out could swallow them whole.

But getting information wasn’t as easy as it once was. Which made everything that much harder. Sometimes, one had to weigh the options of making that journey to seek out information versus staying where they were in order to remain safe because they knew that was what family would say was most important – one’s safety.

It was also a topic he didn’t speak about, himself. Whatever his past was, wherever he had originally came from, he kept locked up. Not even Finn knew the entire story, and the kid hadn’t bothered to ask because he at least had known better. Some stories simply weren’t meant to be told.

“The little area’s called Lawrence now. Don’t technically know if that’s the original name and I didn’t bother asking. Seemed like a bit of a trivial note to me.” There was a bit of a shrug as he offered a hint of a smirk. Nathan probably did really know, but to him, it really was a bit of just a trivial point. It was simply Lawrence now, after all. And that was all one really needed. “We don’t generally mind taking in the wayward and the lost. Some just pass through, some decide to stay on. So if you decide to stay, I wouldn’t mind.” He probably should have said ‘we’ there, but for some reason, Nathan had simply said ‘I’.

“C’mon. The way in is over here.” As he spoke, he made a motion for James to start following him as he walked. “So do you have a name, or should I just start calling you Tarzan?”

JAMES--
Jimmy couldn't help but laugh. It probably shouldn't have even been all that funny, but...after nearly a year of far more seriousness than he could sometimes take from the few survivors he'd encountered, it was a welcome change to hear someone make a joke. Hell, maybe he wasn't the only crazy one in all this, after all. Well, if you didn't count the savages and the cannibals, anyway.

It did, however, make him consider the man more closely as he continued speaking. Jimmy didn't really have anything he could say in response, at least, not without sounding like a jerk, or something...probably. It wasn't that he didn't agree, he just...wasn't so good at crap like that. But, because he'd been watching – really watching – he caught the frown that flashed across the guy's face before he masked it. There was a story there. Then again, Jimmy supposed they all had stories of some kind, most of them less-than-pleasant. It certainly wasn't worth prodding for it, no matter how curious he found himself.

“Lawrence.” There was a faint smile, just a flash of one, really. “Okay, Lawrence.” No argument, no correction, and no hint at all of what it might have been called before. Whatever it had been before, that was gone. Faint hints, ghosts of the past, were all that remained for Jimmy, now. Hell, it hadn't been a very happy childhood here anyway, so what the fuck did he care what these people wanted to call it.

Jimmy caught the switch from 'we' to 'I' but said nothing about it. He thought about it, however. This guy, was he what passed for a leader here, or...had he meant it more personally? Again came that distant flare of interest, but, again, Jimmy pushed it aside. Now wasn't the time. Hell, that time would probably never come again. Besides, even if he could tell the guy wasn't local originally, he figured it was a safe enough bet that anyone even hanging out in this god forsaken area of the country was likely to be fairly violently opposed to any interest he might have.

Jimmy's lips twisted a bit as he followed along obediently enough, tempted to make a comment about being put to heel like a dog, but the thought went clean out of his head with the burst of laughter. “Tarzan? Yeah, no. Ain't ever gonna have the body to be that.” There was a pause as he tilted his head to look over at the guy, then a flash of a genuine smile. “James Harper. Jimmy, to the few who ever called me friend.” Yeah, it was an offer, even if a subtle – or so he thought – one. Pitiful, maybe, yeah. But god, he was so tired of being on his own. He was realizing he wanted to stay here, even if it held the bones of a past he mostly wanted to forget.

He might even, if anyone had asked, have been willing to admit that part of his growing desire to stay was the man he was walking beside. Fuck it, huh? Guy made him laugh. Laughter was a precious thing, these days.

“And you? You got a name? Or do you just go by Boss?” It was a stab in the dark, his curiosity piqued about what role this guy really did play here in Lawrence.

NATHAN--
Chances were pretty high that Nathan might actually agree that they were all a bit off their rockers. Most had to be these days. Sanity was overrated and when faced with zombies and cannibals and savages (oh my!), there was little room to actually retain full sanity. Hell. If he was a gambling man, he’d probably venture a guess that even Briar and Mina were a tad bit off their rockers. There was absolutely no doubt in his mind that he and Finn were, either.

And he was pretty sure that James was, too. …and that was something he’d happily share, no questions asked.

Repeatedly.

“Jimmy it is, then.” There was a wide smile as he spoke. For just a moment, Nathan had almost considered simply calling him ‘James’, but at the last moment he had caught on to that subtle hint finally. Which was a bit of a miracle, since half the time Nathan and subtle were the worst of enemies. Nathan and tact were better friends than Nathan and subtle were. Which was probably saying something.

“Probably for the better, too. Wouldn’t want you to think you can start swinging from trees around here. Our medic can probably only patch you up so many times before you’d be put on the ‘do not fix’ list due to constant self injury.” There really wasn’t such a list, but Nathan might sometimes be a bit of an advocate for one. Jokingly, mostly.

…mostly.

Because sometimes, he could be a bit cranky like that.

“I’m not the boss.” He offered a casual enough shrug. “That’s Jason. I’ll introduce you two soon enough. I’m more of the Chewbacca to his Han Solo, if you want a more formal explanation of my status in this whole little thing.” Or the Riker to his Picard. Whatever. One could choose their own analogy and it was probably fitting enough.

“But if you’re looking for my actual name, it’s Nathan. However I answer to everything from Nathaniel to asshole.” Because nine times out of ten, if there was some less than flattering name being used to ask for someone, they were probably looking for Nathan.

As far as interactions with relative strangers went? Nathan considered this one a bit of a victory. He wasn’t exactly too sure why, but he was rather glad that he was the one who decided to be the welcoming committee this time around. He probably could have easily of sent Briar to do it for him, but she probably would have punched Jimmy in the face first, then lectured him about being a creeper and how he should have simply of talked to someone first, rather than lurking around.

And it wasn’t like he was the worst company in the world so far. So there was that plus, too.

JAMES--
That smile, it was...just fucking brilliant. Jimmy couldn't help but be pleased by it, and by the choice of name. Offer made, offer accepted, fucking succeed. Apparently even in the middle of a damn apocalypse, good things could happen. And, yeah, being able to tentatively count someone a friend was a good thing, for Jimmy. It'd been a long year, a long trip, and maybe, just maybe, there was some sort of end to it now that didn't involve him being torn apart by one of the many dangers that abounded in the world.

Hell, maybe after more than a decade, he could even have a home again. Even if it was, ironically, right where the home he'd had to flee from used to be. You might not ever be able to really go home, as they said. But...maybe you could make a new home from the ashes of the old. It was something to think about, at least.

There was a hitch in his stride accompanied by another laugh, one that clearly startled him. “That's...not gonna happen. No matter how much Dad stuck me up in a tree come hunting season...and other times...trees really aren't my favorite place to hang out. I can do it, when I gotta, but it's not exactly a hobby of mine.” Jimmy slid another long look over to him. “I usually take care of my own issues, anyway. Don't expect I'll be pestering your medic much.” Without thinking about it much, he flexed his left hand, feeling the reassuring tightening of the skin up on his arm under his coat where the last round of stitches he'd had to put in himself were nearly ready to come out. Yeah, he could take care of himself just fine.

Jason. He took note of the name, just as someone he'd have to watch out for, make sure to play nice to. Not that it was generally an issue, he could be nice enough to people. But, it was probably a good idea to make extra efforts to the guy in charge. He'd seen places where people got kicked out just for annoying whoever was playing at king of whatever little group of people he – or she, in a few cases – had managed to gather. And if Jimmy left, he damn sure would make sure it was because he wanted to, not because he got the boot.

Though, despite the seriousness of his thoughts, his lips quirked a bit at the reference. Star Wars, there was something he'd not thought of in a long time. It was...nice, in a way, to know some things, no matter how silly, or how...well, geeky, lived on.

Jimmy snorted. “An asshole woulda shot me for...what'd you call it, creeping? I think I'll stick with Nathan. I like it. Nice name.” There was another of his long appraising looks, then he allowed a slow grin to form. Tempting, he kept thinking. Nathan was so tempting. Damn fine looking, and he had a terrific sense of humor. Godamnit. Maybe he just needed to get laid. He hadn't let himself even consider interest in anyone since the whole outbreak had started. And here he was practically mooning over a guy he just met.

Godamnit.

He could only hope Nathan didn't notice, even though he knew he wasn't being nearly as subtle as he could be. Hell, guy probably didn't even swing that way. Given where they were, and his own childhood, Jimmy didn't honestly expect any one of the guys to...well, swing that way.

Jimmy cleared his throat, both amused and annoyed by the awkwardness his thoughts caused. “So, uh...like, second-in-command or something? Guess that means y'all're actually a little organized?” It would be kind of a surprise, given the experiences he'd had with groups of survivors as he'd made his way east from Kansas. Then again, most of them weren't also holed up behind a wall like Lawrence had, either. “That's good. Pretty cool, I mean. I didn't see much of people bothering to organize out there. Not enough...forethought, I guess?”

NATHAN--
“Seems we’re at least in agreement there. Being in trees really ain’t my favourite activity, either. They’re a hell of a place to put a hammock to sleep when you need, though. Keeps you off the ground and all. But not too good to hang around in for long periods of time.” There was a bit of a grin as he spoke, followed by a hint of a shrug. “Hunting was never a pastime of mine growing up, either. I was more of the kind who found it fun to dangle off the edges of cliffs because somehow, that’s a fun activity.” …and it still was. Nathan was amazing when it came to activities like that.

And it still proved to be a hell of a useful skill.

It also went without saying that he did notice that way that Jimmy had flexed his hand when he spoke about not needing the medic. There was a small quirk of a brow as he gave a bit of a nod. “Still. Maybe I’ll introduce her to you, too.” …come to think of it, he didn’t think he even properly introduced himself to her yet, either. Well. That was another thing he’d have to check off his ‘to do’ list. Sooner or later, anyway. It wasn’t exactly like he was too pressed for time since there wasn’t much else he had to do and there was nowhere he needed to be.

“Like I said. You caught me in a good mood.” At least, he said something close enough to that earlier. Hell if he could remember his exact wording. The sentiment of it all was still there, anyway. Though, there was also a bit of a considering pause for a moment. “On the other hand, an asshole might have actually of just fired a close enough warning shot to startle you out of that tree, then laughed when you fell.” Like there hadn’t been any temptation there to do that very thing.

…maybe there had been a tiny bit at first. But for whatever reason, Nathan had decided against it. Probably because he was in a good enough mood. At least, that was the story he was going with, and the one he’d probably tell often enough that it became believable enough.

Most things that Nathan did were always with purpose, though. Always for a certain reason. He wasn’t exactly the kind who did something simply because he was feeling charitable. So whatever the real reasons where that Nathan didn’t just shoot him or whatever, where something that was only known to him at the current moment, and something that he didn’t seem to be too interested in sharing.

“Jason’s done some real good around here. Things weren’t quite as organised as they are now until he came along.” There was a bit of a smile with that, at least. “Since then, we’ve gotten others who help well enough with things and make sure everything runs smoothly enough. It helps, too. When you find the right mix of people and leadership, everything falls into place sooner or later.” For just a moment, he paused, sighing slightly.

“I’ve seen my fair share of places with far less organisation, after all. And it chaotic enough. On the other hand, there are those who are even more organised, and while some of them work, it all depends upon different factors. Some of them are some of the worst places around.” But then again, that was also to be expected. Personalities of people and leaders factored into things a great deal as well.

Once at the front gate, he paused for a few moments to chat in a friendly enough manner with those who were milling around. It wasn’t long before he was gesturing for Jimmy to follow him inside.

“Can’t quite say I know much at all about how others are organising anywhere else, though. I’ve stuck mostly with the eastern portion here since it’s what I know best.”

JAMES--
“Cliffs, huh? That's...a little beyond me. I didn't have to go quite that far to prove I was manly enough to make it.” Jimmy's tone had started out amused, but quickly turned sour. Maybe coming here had been a bad idea, after all. Too damn many memories lurked in the wasted background, and so few of them were good.

“Hunting was sorta required, for me. Hated it, so much. But...well, I guess I should be grateful it was forced on me. I am grateful. The skills I learned kept me alive coming out here.” It left a bad taste in his mouth to admit to even that much gratitude for his father. But, he was the honest sort, so admit it he did, even if he didn't much like it.

He shrugged, unconcerned. “I'll meet whoever you think I should. But don't go outta your way for me. Point me at stuff that needs doing, and I'm real good at staying out of the way and gettin' it done.” And it was the truth. Jimmy would put his head down and just do whatever needed doing. He might have little ambition, but it wasn't at all the same thing as not having any work ethic, or the drive to be useful. He was used to carrying his own weight, and would do so without complaint.

Jimmy's lips twitched with amusement. “An asshole is the only one that something like that woulda occurred to. Maybe you are an asshole.” His eyes slid over to regard Nathan. “A tiny bit. Maybe.” It was sort of funny, how every time he started sinking into dark thoughts and wondering if being here was even a good idea at all, Nathan managed to say something to pull him back from those thoughts, and make him realize being around other people would be a good thing, even if it was here. Maybe...even being around one particular person.

He squinted over at Nathan. “This, uh, Jason. You really admire him.” He found it interesting, really. Because if this guy, who probably saw the compound's leader at his worst as well as his best – being his second, it was something Jimmy just sort of took for granted – could admire him, then...maybe he wasn't a terrible guy. At least, maybe things would be a bit better than just tolerable here.

“Glad to hear it, though.” He considered saying more, but, there were other people now, and Jimmy found himself just sorta clamming up around them. Nathan, he'd been easy enough to talk to. But, despite this being his former home, there wasn't a single familiar face in the people he saw milling about. Jimmy'd never really been the most social of creatures, though he could be charming enough when he was really interested in someone.

Honestly, he'd expected to see at least one or two familiar faces. The thought that this place was inhabited purely by strangers, well...that came as a bit of a blow. Was everyone really gone? Still, he did his best to hide his shock at his realization that quite possibly everyone he'd known was gone, not just his own mother. That was something to deal with later. Weakness...well, this wasn't the time or place to show that. Not if he was going to earn a place here. Weakness, that was one of those things that got you shoved out as zombie bait.

His response, when Nathan spoke again after they'd gotten through the gate, was given absently. “I came out from Kansas. What little I risked of dealing with people, it was...bad.” As he spoke, his attention was taken by looking around, taking it all in. McCoy's General Store, it was still there, and even looked like they were using it. “Really bad. Most were barely holding on, and... There's some I think just musta lost it.” There, he could see the old school peeking up above the houses toward the back of the compound. It was still standing, apparently. “Savages, even...god, even people who were eating...other people. Like the fuckin' zombies eating people wasn't bad enough.”

He let his words trail off when he spotted it. There, his mother's house. It was still standing, still in use, it looked like. But he couldn't tell anything else about it from here. And, suddenly, he wasn't sure he wanted to. He'd need to at some point, but, right now, it was just too much. This was home, but...no one was left.

“Fuck.” The curse was muttered softly, Jimmy averting his eyes, finding himself turning to look at Nathan. Right then, he wasn't sure he cared what showed in eyes that his mother had always said were too expressive for a boy. It fucking hurt, more than he'd ever expected it to. And he was still human, he could only take so much.

NATHAN--
“I do it because I like to.” There was a bit of a dismissive shrug. “Nothing about having to prove manliness for me. Though, for some, I can see why it would be. Their loss for looking at it like that, though.” Something about his tone hinted towards a brief bit of grumpiness there. And that any offer to share some rappelling and rock climbing tips with were off the table. Which was still fine enough for Nathan. Finn had learned well enough and still made a decent enough partner. Even if the kid was still terrified of heights. On the plus side, he no longer screamed first when taking that initial drop over the edge when rappelling. And that was something that Nathan was so very grateful for.

“Glad to see you’re starting to embrace the truth, though. It’ll make things much easier and far less of a surprise later on, should you fully decide to stick around.” With a bit of a smirk, he casually reached out and gave Jimmy a bit of a shove on the shoulder, as if to reinforce that point that he probably was a bit of an asshole. “Which, y’know, is fine enough if you do.” It sounded a bit like a casual, throw-away comment at first, but there was something about the way that Nathan spoke those words that said he might have preferred to hear Jimmy say that he’d stick around for sure.

But outright saying words like that was not something that Nathaniel Reade was quite fully capable of doing. Hell. It was far easier for him to say his very next words. “You might not be far of the mark there. As far as people I respect go, Jason’s near enough to the top.” It wasn’t quite the same as saying that he fully admired Jason, but for Nathan, saying that he respected someone enough to put them on the list to begin with was a high enough vote of confidence or something. And it was something that spoke volumes, considering Jimmy was correct enough. Nathan had seen Jason at his best and his worst, and he was still there. Still held him in high enough regards to continue to be his wookie.

“Just when you think things have reached their lowest, we tend to prove that we haven’t even hit rock bottom yet. Goes a long way to show you the true depths of human depravity though, doesn’t it?” There wasn’t exactly anything too comforting about those words, but it was simply a bit of truth that they both knew. Zombies weren’t necessarily the evil ones out there. They didn’t have the capacity to think their actions through. They simply followed their baser instincts. It was the savages and cannibals, and even other regular humans that were generally the real monsters in the whole mix. They were the ones capable of thinking out their actions. Of plotting. And of doing terrible things to one another, despite having that ability to know exactly what it was that they were doing.

Then again, Nathan wasn’t the kind who ever believed that the end of the world was something that would bring everyone together to hold hands and sing kumbayah. That simply wasn’t humanity. It wasn’t the way that everyone could live. There would always be those vying for power. Those who used others and stabbed whoever in the back that they could.

There was nothing said as he moved to stand there right next to Jimmy, shoulder to shoulder. It was a silent gesture of almost comfort, if one wanted to read that much into it.

“Let’s get it over with now.” He spoke lighter, giving Jimmy’s arm a light nudge with his own. While he didn’t offer out loud, that was pretty much Nathan telling him that he was going to go right there with him. Step for step. Asking out loud was something that Nathan had decided against because he was pretty sure that he’d have simply been turned down. Sure. There was a chance that he might actually not have, but it also wasn’t a chance that Nathan was going to take. Sometimes, one simply needed to remove the illusion of having a choice in the matter when there really was none.

JAMES--
“Mmm. My father thought everything was about proving how much of a man you are. Especially after... Well, we just didn't quite see things the same, that's all.” He shrugged, dismissing it. Nathan didn't need to hear his family bullshit. Or...other things about him. Jimmy liked the guy. No point in running him off immediately, right?

Jimmy rocked easily enough with the shove, laughing. “Oh, I imagine I'll stick around. God knows it's better than being out there....alone.” He'd caught it, that slight note of...something under the casual words. It made him wonder, and he slipped Nathan a curious glance, though he said nothing about it. Besides, he was being honest enough. He really didn't want to be out there alone anymore. And, well, if there was something – someone – here more than just his old family home that might have caught his interest, then so be it. “Besides, if you are the town asshole, I think I could get along here just fine.”

He only nodded as Nathan spoke of Jason. Someone to at least show some respect for, he noted, filing it away.

“It ain't all bad, though. I mean, look at what you have here,” Jimmy said with a vague gesture around. Yeah, he was still avoiding looking back to his childhood home. “Everyone's making it, cooperating instead of fighting. As long as there're still a few places like this...it's not all bad.” He meant it. He really did. As much as he hated it sometimes, he was an optimist at heart. Maybe that's why he'd found the savages and cannibals so shocking. He wanted to see the best in people, and often could, even when they themselves couldn't.

He'd drifted off again, his attention finally going back to the house he'd been avoiding. And then, just when it started to become too much, there was a light nudge against his arm. He kept his eyes fixed on that house, ready to refuse. It was gonna be hard, too hard. And he was so damn tired. Then, it hit him. Nathan was...offering to be there with him. Well, not in so many words, but...the offer was there, anyway. Gratitude hit him like a freight train, leaving him in stunned silence for a few moments. Time that Nathan never moved from his side, just standing there, waiting for him. “Okay,” he finally replied, huffing out a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding.

“C'mon,” he said, forcing himself to walk toward the house. Yeah, as though he'd been the one to decide to do this, and was dragging Nathan along. Still, appearances, he thought vaguely as he glanced at the few people moving about.

He wasn't stupid, he could feel eyes on him, checking him out. Probably curious about the newcomer, about the one being seemingly escorted by one of the leaders. It was enough to make him steel himself, at least for a bit longer. If he was gonna break down – something he was afraid was a distinct possibility – it wasn't going to happen out here in public. He didn't care much what anyone might think of him, but...he wouldn't embarrass Nathan that way, not when the self-professed asshole was being...well, kind.

And there it was, the house. His mother's house, his parent's house...the house he spent the first 18 years of his life in. Up on that little porch, he noted the lack of swing that had once hung there, something his grandfather had made as a wedding present to his mother. All the cute little things she used to keep out there, they were gone, too. And he realized he should have expected that. She wasn't here. He didn't even have to ask who lived here now to know that. She was gone...probably a year gone, at this point.

Softly, so that Nathan was the only one that would hear him, he spoke. “She's not here. Stuff's probably long gone. I'm...sure someone else is living here now. No point in disturbing them, is there?” He couldn't admit, not even to himself, that he was hoping someone else lived there now, that everything was gone. It would give him a reason to not walk through that door, to not really have to face that.

NATHAN--
“I won’t say that I get it. Because that’s a cop out answer. But, I get where you’re coming from. I knew someone once who didn’t quite see eye to eye with their father. Especially over their life choices. So I’m not one to judge too much about anything.” There was… so much truth there. More than he ever really let on. On more than one occasion, he had dealt with his best friend’s father for them. He knew that he didn’t necessarily have to, but that’s what one did for their friends. And it was one of those whole complicated messes that he preferred not to speak about as doing so often opened deep wounds.

“Glad to hear it, though. So long as you can put up with me, you can probably put up with pretty much anyone around here.” There was enough confidence in those words, at least. Putting up with Nathan was one of those benchmarks that was sometimes used around the place. If they could put up with him and deal well enough with Jason, then they would have no problems at all finding a niche and fitting in well enough.

He followed beside him, stride casual enough with no real effort to it and no real rush. There wasn’t no need for it, after all. No need for much of anything. And there was that constant presence, at least. That constant presence of Nathan still there by Jimmy’s side, never once leaving. Never once looking bored or sighing and telling him to hurry up and get on with things. Nathan probably had a million and one better things he could be doing, but he never once seemed like he’d rather be anywhere else other than right where he was.

The others around them? They didn’t matter to him. They were just there. Going about their own business. He knew that he’d get the occasional glance in his direction since usually, he tended to dump people off on Jason much sooner, but some probably figured that maybe Nathan had simply gotten tired of Briar nagging at him to be a bit kinder to people that they bring in.

“Probably no real point. There’s a chance some stuff’s remained, but sometimes it’s better to let things lay as they are.” No point in stirring up memories and the unknown more than necessary. And sometime, it was better to let things rest instead of completely ripping open any old wounds. Preserve the memory and all. “Besides. Most have done a fair enough deal of swapping things out and around. Trades for trades.” That sort of thing. What suited one’s taste didn’t suit another. So they swapped around and made do with what they had. It was easier that way, of course. And simply the way some things where done.

There was a bit of silence for what seemed like a bit too long before Nathan spoke again. “I’m staying right over there.” There was a nod in the direction of a nearby house as he spoke. “It’s just me and Finn right now, but he won’t mind if you crash there.” As much as it was a statement, he was also asking in his own way for Jimmy to come stay with him while he was there. For Nathan, that wasn’t something that he offered many, either. It wasn’t something that he had ever offered. Finn was a bit special, of course, but only because they shared a certain bond with one another now.

Even before Jimmy could really give him a solid answer, he was walking off towards the home he had indicated to. There was a pause for just a moment, though, as he glanced over his shoulder to see if his offer had been accepted. While he didn’t really seem to make any outward expression on whether or not he cared if it had been or not, there was that inner hope that Jimmy did continue to simply follow along with him for the time being.

Maybe Nathan wasn’t such the terrible asshole as he sometimes professed himself to being. Most of the time, he simply preferred to hide behind masks. Make himself out to be a bit of a terrible person in order to dissuade anyone from even considering trying to get close in the first place. In some ways, it was a defense mechanism. If he didn’t let people close, then he didn’t risk getting hurt all over again. Didn’t have to worry about letting anyone down on that personal level.

Finn was one of those rare cases. He had invited himself into Nathan’s life, and Nathan had simply shrugged and let him tag along. For them, it worked out well enough in the end. They formed a bond between them and where there for one another when needed. They were now family. And that was something that would never change between them, even as Finn grew into his own and no longer needed Nathan to be that protective figure in his life in the same way as he did before.

Jimmy, though….

Jimmy wasn’t necessarily in the same category as Finn was. Jimmy was someone that Nathan, himself, had extended the offer to. And while Jimmy might not realise it at first, that was something so very huge.

JAMES--
There was a twist of his lips. “I...think I can put up with you.” Jimmy's tone made it perfectly clear that he really didn't think Nathan was someone to be 'put up with' at all. But, hey, if that's what it took to basically pass around here, good deal.

Jimmy was so grateful for that steady presence beside him, even if Nathan was basically a stranger. Right now, that didn't really matter to him in the slightest. He'd happily count Nathan a friend, just for this act alone, this willingness to be there when he needed someone to be. And he did need someone to be. This...he'd have lost it, he was sure, had that steady presence of Nathan not been standing there, willingly at his side. “Yeah, I...guess you're right.” The acknowledgment was quiet, soft, with a touch of gratitude to it.

He'd allowed himself to get lost in thought, just standing there on that porch, when Nathan finally spoke again, pulling him back to the present. Jimmy looked up, to see Nathan nod off toward another house, a little confused. And then realization hit. An...invitation. Fucking hell, an invitation to stay somewhere safe, presumably warm, with actual people that – probably – weren't as likely to kill him and look at him. He had no idea who Finn was, but...if Nathan said this Finn wouldn't mind him staying a night there, then he sure as hell wasn't going to argue that.

God, to sleep, really sleep...

Nathan started to walk off, and Jimmy just stood in place, staring after him, thoughts racing. It was only when Nathan hesitated, turning to look back over his shoulder at Jimmy, that he shook himself out of his thoughts and moved to catch up. “Hey, uh, thanks,” he said when he'd come up beside Nathan. “I really mean it. For, uh...givin' me a place to crash tonight.” He hesitated, giving Nathan a sidelong look, considering his next words.

“All of it, really. Lettin' me in, lettin' me have a peek at...well, y'know.” Jimmy was so intent on finding a way to express the gratitude he felt without coming off as just creepy that he didn't even notice his accent thickening a little, as it tended to do when he got overly emotional. “Bein' there. I... Thanks, Nathan.”

NATHAN--

Nathan had intended for his initial response to be ‘Don’t get used to it.’ But the words didn’t come. They died somewhere between that initial desire for that quick retort and the act of actually saying them out loud.

“Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that we’re still a bit human.” There was a casual enough shrug as he spoke. “Sometimes, we try to do so on purpose. Makes things easier in these new times. But even so, I’m still not quite as insane and depraved as some others out there.” Even at his lowest, Nathan didn’t quite think he could ever find himself agreeing with the choices made by those that they referred to as savages. Cannibals? Maybe. It was easier to rationalise the eating of others out of sheer necessity. Look at the Donner Party, after all.

But even then, at least Nathan didn’t think he’d just randomly make that choice to go join their ranks, either. Because despite everything, despite his best efforts to distance himself from feelings and caring and all that sort of nonsense, he knew he couldn’t fully do so.

Because in the end, he wasn’t quite as devoid of emotion as he wanted to be. He kept a good, tight lid on them most of the time and was so well at keeping them at bay, but sometimes they still managed to creep up despite his best efforts to keep them tucked away. Finn had taken that leap and latched onto him, earning that silent care and sensation of family. Jason had managed to find his place, too. Nathan cared about him well enough, and looked out for him as well. Even if sometimes they told people they did the whole ‘bad cop, worse cop’ routine.

And now…

…now there was Jimmy.

Was Jimmy in the same category as Finn? No. As Jason? Again, no. And that was a bit frustrating for Nathan. He wasn’t too sure he understood it. If he wanted to. He wasn’t too sure he was ready to face that sort of thing yet. Or ever again.

So he said nothing for the remainder of the walk. Instead, he had simply nodded at first, and let that be his answer to being thanked like that. Because it was easier that way. Easier to compartmentalize and deal with everything when he could pretend that nothing really mattered.

It wasn’t until they were actually inside and the door shut firmly behind them that Nathan turned to Jimmy once more and offered him a genuine, almost caring smile. It was different than those usual ones. The kinds that he offered when the situation called for it because he knew that it was done mostly for reassurance and comfort. Those were the hollow kind. The ones that could be tossed out simply to toss out.

“You’re probably tired. The room just off to the left is Finn’s, so that’s off-limits but you’re free to crash pretty much anywhere else.” The offer was open like that. Anywhere. So long as it wasn’t Finn’s room since the kid wasn’t around to offer that up and Nathan wasn’t going to do it for him without asking first.

JAMES--
Despite being overwhelmed by the sense of loss that had hit him, and maybe even the realization that it was over for him, every goal he'd had was met, and...he was at a loss for what to do next, Jimmy was able to focus on what Nathan was saying. Even using it as a sort of anchor, because thinking about what Nathan was saying was far, far easier than dealing with what was going on in his own head. He could get why people might try to shut down, to, as Nathan put it, 'try to forget they're still human.' But Jimmy himself? He'd never really been good at that sort of disconnect.

“Yeah, I dunno. Don't seem insane at all to me. Not...compared to what's out there,” he said, jerking his chin roughly toward the gate of the compound. He understood, though. It was more than just random commentary Nathan was offering him. It was an explanation for why he'd been willing to help, of a sort. The kind of explanation that didn't have to offer anything personal. And that made sense to Jimmy. He was a stranger here, to these people if not to the place itself. No reason to expect any excess of kindness.

Even if he'd gotten it, anyway.

Once he'd fallen silent, it was just easier to remain that way. Then again, he'd always been the quiet one, the one easily overlooked, the one that faded into the background. He found himself hoping this strange little skill of his might help him make it here. After all, no one tends to have an issue with you if they don't even notice you.

So, Jimmy just followed along with Nathan quietly, lost in his own thoughts just as it seemed Nathan was. It was a companionable sort of silence, not awkward as so many were. He felt no need to fill that silence with empty chatter. It was just...easy. Nice. Just the sense of the man he walked beside was enough. It was just...yeah, nice. Jimmy hadn't really understood how much he missed people, sane, rational people who weren't looking to shoot him or steal from him – or even worse – until now.

Once in Nathan's house – Joe and Marlene Wilcox's house, his mind supplied unhelpfully – he let his eyes drift around briefly. He...yeah, he hoped in a lot of ways that his mother's house was like this, with nothing really left behind to show who had lived here previously, before everything had gone to hell. When he turned to Nathan, it was to find him smiling at Jimmy, a real smile that just shifted the entire planes of his face. Good lord the man was handsome.

“Uh.” Jimmy really wasn't even sure how to respond. “I mean, the couch would be great. Really.” He let his attention wander around the room, then down the hall, before turning back to Nathan. “Hell, a damn corner would be a lot better than what I've had in months. Just...someplace I won't get in y'all's way overnight.” There was hesitation, then an easy shrug. “I'm sure I can find somewhere better to be outta the way tomorrow. Don't wanna put you out or anything. You been really...accommodating to a guy you found spying.”

Honestly? He'd rather stay here longer than just a night. Nathan was a familiar face, now. And someone Jimmy was finding himself more and more comfortable with. But, he knew better than to press his luck. Better that he do whatever was needed to fit in without waves. After all, his entire life had been about getting along without making waves. Why change that now?

NATHAN--
Like pretty much everyone, Nathan had happily enough swapped items around with others in order to make the place feel more like home. It had felt maybe a little bit odd at first, but it was something that Nathan had gotten over fast enough. Sure. Everything was once the carefully collected belongings of someone else but the world was a bit different now. One couldn’t just head on down to the furniture store and pick out their own matching living room set on a whim. At the very least, Nathan had at least the courtesy to have removed personal photos from the place. Doing so had helped well enough. It removed that more personal touch that the previous owners had given it and offered an easier sense of ease.

He didn’t just throw them out, though. While that would have been rather easy to do, given that Nathan had absolutely no sentimental value at all attached to them, he had simply boxed them up and stuck them away in the back of a closet. The chance of the original owners showing back up and asking about things was pretty slim, but sometimes Nathan still did little things like that, anyway. There was still that slight sense of respect there.

And there was some part of him that realised that maybe Jimmy would remember the former owners. Maybe he would be able to supply information about what kind of people they where. What they were like. On the other hand, Nathan was also prudent enough to know that sometimes stories like those didn’t really matter any longer. They were long gone and it was simply the Reade-Weston residence.

“I wouldn’t blame you for choosing the couch, really. It’s one of my favourite places to nap.” It was one of those places he was comfortable enough with, after all. While he’d say that he lucked out on getting a decent couch, chances were also pretty high that Nathan could fall asleep pretty much anywhere, so that wasn’t necessarily all that good of a bench marker for anything.

And, really, Nathan could fall asleep pretty much anywhere.

But he was moving closer to Jimmy, smiling so softly as he did. When he stopped, he was standing in front of him, so close that the concept of personal space was almost laughable. “How about we leave it an open-ended offer for the time being. Come morning, I won’t go kickin’ you to the curb quite so soon until we figure out what’s going to be goin’ on around here.” While Nathan clearly didn’t make it a habit of bringing home wayward, lost souls, sometimes exceptions were made.

Though ‘sometimes’ was probably even too strong of a word. Maybe ‘rarely’ was a better choice since it was closer to how many times Nathan had done such a thing. If asked, Nathan would simply shrug it off and say he does it occasionally. Finn would be the one to say that it’s actually never quite happened before.

“Besides. As far as creepers go, you’re the best lookin’ one I’ve seen in a while.” …which was clearly a compliment, Nathaniel Reade style. “So why don’t you go ahead and take my room for now.” It wasn’t exactly a polite statement, either. More of a gentle demand. Sure. Jimmy still had the opportunity to turn Nathan down and go curl up on the couch for a while, but those sorts of offers weren’t exactly something he voiced out loud very often at all. The fact that he even asked it in the first place, instead of just pushing Jimmy off down the hall, was one of those things that meant more than a lot probably realised at first.

JAMES--
Jimmy nodded, shifting the pack on his back restlessly. He was thinking he could maybe crash for a bit, then sneak out to find somewhere to get cleaned up and situated before finding some food and a job to do to start contributing. Because, really, it would be good to have a purpose again, something other than just trekking for months across dangerous territory just to find out if his one family member was gone, or still alive. A purpose would give him a reason to keep going; yeah, it would be a good thing to do.

But all that went clean out of his head when Nathan stepped closer, and closer still, a soft smile touching his lips in a very appealing way. Jimmy told himself he should be bothered by the lack of personal space. Yep. Really should be bothered. Well, he was bothered alright, but not quite the way he thought he should be. Jimmy licked his lips unconsciously, fixated on the man before him.

“I...uh...okay.” Smooth, real smooth. “I mean, that sounds good. Great.” Jimmy couldn't even begin to understand why Nathan was being so nice to him. Well, probably couldn't. Maybe couldn't. He swallowed visibly and licked his lips again, nervously, but made no move to step back away from Nathan. He rather liked being this close, and he wasn't ashamed of it.

Ooooh lordy. Jimmy swallowed once again, slowly coming to the realization that Nathan...may actually return his interest. That was quite the surprise. He was home, and home meant having to hide away the shameful fact that he was – and always had been – just as interested in men as he was in women. Then again, Nathan wasn't a local. And these days? Well, maybe it was best to just say fuck it and grasp at whatever opportunities presented themselves.

Forcing himself to pay attention to what Nathan was saying, Jimmy squinted at him. “Your room?” He shook his head rapidly. “No, no way. C'mon, I don't want to put you out like that...” There was something in Nathan's expression that made Jimmy let his denial trail away. He suddenly got it, that Nathan wanted him to crash there, instead of just offering it to be polite or some silliness leftover from the days when politeness mattered. “Well, okay, I guess.”

Then, surprising even himself, he tilted his head a bit, a warm, welcoming smile touching his lips. “Just...so you know, though. I don't wanna kick you outta your room. There's...not really a need for that.”

NATHAN--
Had Jimmy decided to step back, Nathan wouldn’t have blamed him. Wouldn’t have held it against. Hell. He had probably actually have probably been sort of expecting it. It was the most natural of responses when someone who was pretty much a complete stranger suddenly decided to move that close without being asked to do so. So when Jimmy hadn’t, there had been a twitch of a smile that flittered across his lips for just a brief moment. Maybe he wasn’t quite so wrong about his assessment of Jimmy, after all.

For as often as he said he didn’t care too much about understanding people or trying to read them, he was sometimes rather good at it. Whether it was because he wanted to be or only did it when there was something at stake for him, though, was something that Nathan didn’t bother too much to clarify. There was never any real need to do so. Because for him, it didn’t really matter too much in the end.

“It really is a good thing you decided against your little protest.” Despite the nonchalant shrug that went with his even tone, there was a hint of a smile that tugged at the corners of his lips. “Otherwise, I would have had to tell you to shut up before pushing you off down that hallway.” Which… really wasn’t all that much of a terrible threat, was it? Especially since the threat could really have been much worse. Nathan could have decided that he was tired of listening to the protest and shipped him off to find somewhere else to say so that they could listen to his incessant denials, instead.

Briar would probably have put up with that. Until she smacked Jimmy with a wooden spoon and told him to stop it. Then nagged him for a little while. So maybe I was a good thing he didn’t decide to take that route for all of their sakes. Though, he did have to admit, it might have been fun to watch that little spectacle for a little while.

But to tell the truth, it wasn’t even a consideration. Nathan might have said he would have done something like that, but actually following through would have been an entirely different matter.

The only warning that Jimmy got for what Nathan was about to do next was the fact that he was smiling slowly in an almost mischievous manner before he leaned in close. “Just so we’re clear, I have no problem sharing my bed with you.” The words where practically a softly whispered promise, punctuated by the subtle brush of his lips across Jimmy’s ear as they were spoken. The fact that he had purposely chosen to say ‘bed’ instead of ‘room’ as Jimmy had? Well. That was definitely Nathan getting a bit closer to other matters.

For once, it was probably about the most solid piece of evidence that Nathan offered out, too. Jimmy really wasn’t so far off on his ideas, either. He could definitely be a hard person to read sometimes, but at least Nathan wasn’t too impossible to figure out. With a little attention to word choices and being able to read between the lines, the clues where there. Little by little. There was definitely a returned interest towards Jimmy.

JAMES--
Oh, that smile; brief, barely there at all, but it just lit Nathan's eyes up. Jimmy's lips twitched in response, without thought. There was just something about it that made Jimmy want to return the smile, every time. It was that, those brief glimpses of the man beneath the rough and confident survivor, that kept him from stepping away, that prompted him to stand his ground and just...wait to see what would happen next.

Jimmy's lips twitched again, accompanied by a soft laugh. “Really? No need for that. I mean, unless you really wanna.” The smile twisted into a smirk, brief, but inviting nonetheless. Jimmy wouldn't have had a problem admitting the idea was appealing, had anyone bothered to ask. Then again, there was very little regarding Nathan he didn't find appealing at the moment.

Jimmy's eyes went wide, just a bit, when Nathan leaned even closer, so much so that Jimmy would have only had to lean forward slightly himself to be pressed against Nathan. He remained still, almost frozen, afraid that anything at all he might do would chase the moment away. But then, there was that warm breath against his skin, words whispered tantalizingly, accompanied by the welcome brush of lips against skin.

Well, that settled the question with no room for doubt. Jimmy's interest was returned, and Nathan was plenty willing. “That's...uh...that's..” Jimmy's reply was said in a huff of breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding, before he gave it up entirely. Nathan's statement really didn't require a reply, anyway. At least, not a spoken one. And a good thing, since Jimmy suddenly found himself beyond the ability to make coherent words.

Jimmy finally shifted into that tiny bit of distance between them, leaning against Nathan. He turned his head, tilting it just enough to nuzzle into Nathan. And then finally, finally he allowed himself to believe this could happen, would happen, that he could have this thing, at least for tonight, that he could be close to someone, that he could give in and relax enough to just be for a night. “You're right,” Jimmy finally breathed out against Nathan's neck. “I'm tired. I...wanna rest.” And somehow, he said it just knowing Nathan would understand, that he would just get that Jimmy wasn't turning him down, and that the kind of rest he wanted didn't have to involve sleeping at all.

NATHAN--
For just a moment, there was a twitch of a smile that flickered across his lips in a considering manner. In that instant, Nathan had actually given some consideration to doing just that – giving Jimmy that casual push on down the hall. But he filed that away for later, instead. It was a suggestion he’d revisit at a later time. And when he did, he’d probably just not mention it at all and simply follow through with it. Because, technically, permission had been given to do so, after all.

Thankfully, words weren’t exactly needed any longer. Not for the moment, at least. The most important ones had been said already. Maybe not entirely directly, but they had still been said well enough that there was at least no more room for any doubts. So in that comfortable silence, he finally slipped his arms around Jimmy and held him as Jimmy leaned against him.

His initial response to those last words was simply a smile. It was definitely a smile of understanding, though, so there was no doubts at all about that. So it seemed that Jimmy was definitely right in putting forth that belief in Nathan being able to understand what he was meaning. “C’mon. I’ll help you there. Wouldn’t want you deciding that the hall was a good place to pass out in.” That smile still remained a bit as he let go of Jimmy and took a step back. Yet, while at the same time, he snagged Jimmy’s hand with his, then gave him a small tug before starting to walk off towards the bedroom.

Things hadn’t really gone so bad, after all. Sure. Nathan probably had initially been intending just to grill Jimmy a little bit and see what he was up to before deciding on whether or not to shoo him on his way, but sometimes the best laid of plans never quite turned out how one initially thought they would. Nathan generally didn’t go picking up wayward Tarzans, but sometimes…

…well, he probably couldn’t even really explain it in any logical manner, even if he wanted to. But that didn’t really matter. Sometimes, some things were just beyond logic. They were feelings and emotions and all of that hard to categorise things that made no sense to anyone but the person that they belonged to. That was just fine, though. Because sometimes words didn’t really matter in the end. It was the actions that spoke the loudest.

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