re_mybrains: ('Cause I'm a wanderer)
[personal profile] re_mybrains
March 30-April 5, 2004: New York City

It's beyond bizarre to sleep in safety again. Actually, that's just bizarre -- what's beyond bizarre is how little time it's taken for Tom to fall back into the nervous habits of survival that Milliways had nearly trained out of him. It's beyond bizarre that safety became so unfamiliar, so quickly.

Tom tries not to think about that. When he does, he dismisses it with a mental shrug. So safety is a rarity again; with that in mind, hyperactive paranoia is a better attitude than complacency.

(He told Shaun once that he'd rather not stop being a person in order to be a badass. He'd rather not stop being a person in order to survive, too, and a bundle of nervous twitches with a gun doesn't really fit his definition of "person" any more than a cool badass does. Some things can't be helped, though.)

He spends a day recuperating from his travels, surprised by his own exhaustion. The day after that, Jess and Alan give him the full tour of the living area -- the watch posts, the ammo stockpiles, the vegetable garden -- and Tom wastes no time in telling them how impressed he is.

"I haven't seen anything like this anywhere." He straightens up from poking at a growing stalk of corn. "It's -- I mean, it's incredible."

"Just good planning," Jess replies with a smile.

Tom gives her a sharp look. "Did you know--?"

"Nobody knew," Alan says.

"But some of us planned anyway," Jess adds.

"For zombies?"

"What, you never did that? 'Gee, if zombies attacked right now, what would I do?'"

Tom winces. "Never did. I'm not good at, like, large-scale plans."

"A little picture guy," Alan suggests.

Tom winces again. "Yeah," weakly. "You could say that."

He insists on taking watches, and spends some time on the lookout posts with all the other members of the enclave. Val proves more than willing to talk about where she came from -- the South -- and how she ended up in New York ("I got here before Z-day," she explains. "Here when the bombs dropped. That was scarier than the zombies, if you ask me. You can do something about the zombies.") but she doesn't press him to reveal any more about himself than he wants. He stays as vague as he can be about the journey from Detroit to New York and claims a few times that he lost track of time wandering in the midwest. It's not entirely untrue.

Tim is quieter, a little more reserved with a stranger. Tom gets the impression that Tim's parents are out of the picture, one way or another, and doesn't pry. They usually end up debating Kirk vs. Picard vs. Janeway or topics of equally vital importance.

Betty, it turns out, is a singer, and cheerfully breaks into the Beatles and Queen and Leonard Cohen and yes, occasionally, Paul Simon -- always quietly, when they're outside, so as not to attract unwanted attention from either the living or the dead, but with no less gusto for that. One day, Tom bemoans the fact that the last time he touched a guitar was weeks before Z-day. "You're musical!" Betty exclaims.

"Eh." He shrugs. "I worked at a recording company, but I was a suit."

"Do you sing?"

"Oh no no no no."

She does, eventually, get him to join her on the choruses of "Yellow Submarine."

But it doesn't take long for Tom to get restless.

"This isn't working," he tells Jess one evening, four days after his arrival.

"You've only been here a few days. Give it a little more time."

"No, it's just -- it's not working. It's not you guys. You guys are great. Just. You guys are . . ." His chest aches, a little. "You guys are already, like, a family, you know? And you don't have the resources to take care of me on top of everything," he barrels on, since she looks like she's about to respond, "and I really want to find out if there's anywhere at all that's rebuilding. I really do."

Jess studies him for a minute, and then sighs and looks out over the surroundings.

"You know what I miss from before?"

Tom blinks at her.

"I miss biking."

. . . Tom blinks at her more.

"It's impossible to bike anywhere these days." She waves a hands towards the city. "You think biking in the city was crazy before. Sure, now you don't have to deal with the assholes driving, but with the shambles, and the gangs . . . and even if it were safe, I'm taking care of things here. And helping folks survive is worth giving up biking."

". . . That's . . . really noble of you," Tom says, and means it, but he's a little uncertain where this is going. It shows. Jess smiles.

"I understand the urge to be moving, is all I'm saying." She shrugs. "So if you want to keep moving, you should. Someone's got to. Where would you go next?"

Tom blows out a breath. "DC? I know they must have been hit just as hard by the bombs--"

"Probably harder."

"--but I mean . . ." He laughs. It's a little helpless. "It's the fucking capital. They must've had bunkers or whatever. Somebody in power must've survived. Somebody somewhere has gotta be doing something, and if they're not doing it here . . ."

"If they're not doing it here," Jess points out, "they may not be doing it anywhere."

"Yeah, thank you, I needed my parade rained on."

"Look, your logic is pretty sound, but you have to be realistic about this. And you have to have a backup plan if DC doesn't pan out like you're hoping."

Tom groans. "I told you, I'm terrible at planning."

"Yeah, little picture. I remember." Tom winces again. "Lucky for you I like planning."

He looks up at her, blinking. She grins.

"So tomorrow we'll sit down and we'll plan, okay? Get you fitted out for the trip."

"You don't have to do that."

"Yes, we do." She waves at the city again. "We're living post-apocalypse, Tom. Somebody's gotta set a standard."

Tom can't speak for a minute or two, but Jess doesn't press him to.

The next afternoon, loaded with food, ammo, and his belongings from Milliways (most importantly, his journal safely tucked at the bottom of his pack, and Shaun's bat over his shoulder), Tom bids a farewell that's a little more teary than he expected to the enclave, and promises to come back.

He has second thoughts as he starts down the road.

And third thoughts.

And tenth thoughts.

And he keeps walking south.

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