Playing With Fire

Chapter Fourteen


The rest of the night passed in silence, which was fine by me. The less talking we did, the better although I was surprised at his attempts at conversation at all earlier in the night. Why the hell he cared whether or not I lit up a cigarette was beyond me. It was the first decent snippet of conversation between us in a long time. Not that we had spent a lot of time conversing in the past. I’d barely known the man a few weeks and half of that time he’d been sick as a dog and unconscious. Despite the fact that I had spent almost three days taking care of him and another week hovering over his bedside in Woodbury, we were still utterly and completely strangers. He made it pretty clear that day in the clinic that he wanted it to stay that way too.

My eyes were starting to feel heavy as the sun began to slowly rise, the sky streaked with pinks like some sort of watercolor. I held back a yawn and ignored the cramps in my legs. I couldn’t wait to get back in my room and just lay down. Suddenly, a low whistle from underneath me caught my attention. I leaned over the side of the platform and grimaced, seeing Martinez down at the bottom of the ladder.

“Shift’s up!” He called up. “Governor needs you in the clinic!”

“Who? Me?” I asked doubtfully, gesturing to myself.

“Yeah you, sweetheart. Dixon sure as hell ain’t a doctor.” He added with a sneer. “Richardson got his leg all sorts of fucked up out on the raid. Governor wants you to check it out.”

I didn’t say anything as I started gathering up my things and placing them back into the backpack I set aside sometime in the night. I holstered the gun at my hip, though, not exactly sure why I felt so much better with it in sight. I swung my legs over the platform to climb down. Dr. Waters usually left it up to make to take care of injuries, which was fine. I was more comfortable dealing with broken bones and stitches than trying to figure out why someone had a runny nose and a bad cough.

I hopped off the end of the ladder and set off in the direction of the clinic. Martinez started to trail after me. “I don’t need you to tag along. I can handle it.” I said shortly, not even bothering to spare him a single glance. I was pretty certain, though, that he was most likely glaring daggers at the back of my head.

“Whatever.” I heard him mumble before I heard his footsteps veer off into a separate direction. I allowed myself a small, satisfied smirk. It was wiped clean from my face almost as quickly as it came, though, when Dixon fell into step with me.

“Did you not just hear what I said to Martinez? I can walk myself to the clinic.” I grunted.

“Ya’ sure are wound up tight, darlin’.” Merle drawled in his thick accent. “I ain’t goin’ with ya’ anywhere. Just gotta walk this way to git’ to where I’m headed.”

I pressed my lips into a hard line and didn’t say another word as we walked together down the empty street in silence. The sun was still slowly rising, and I focused instead on how the colors of the sky melded together to make the perfect shade of orange. I had seen many sunrises in my time, thanks to the abundance of night shifts I took as a paramedic. Still never got tired of watching the sun start to peek over the horizon and streak the sky with all sorts of colors.

The clinic finally came into view, the tiny little white building tucked away in between two taller brick buildings. I was surprised at how quiet Merle was being. It seemed he usually couldn’t stop himself from taking jabs at me or throwing some sort of vulgar comment in my direction. His silence was like music to my ears.

“Looks like this is your stop, sugar. Have fun playin’ doctor.”

I grimaced, realizing I had spoken too soon. Of course he couldn’t stay quiet just this one time. I ignored him, turning and heading up the cemented walk that led to the clinic’s yellow painted front doors. I wasn’t until my hand had curled around the door knob that I thought better and turned around to yell after Merle’s retreating back. “Stop calling me ‘sugar’, you asshole!” I hollered after him. He didn’t turn around, instead just lifting his one good hand in a jaunty wave. I rolled my eyes and pulled open the door disappearing inside.

I was usually pretty good at ignoring stuff like that. Comments like ‘sweetheart’, ‘honey’, ‘dearie’…They usually just bounced right off of me. I didn’t have time to be angry about every single person who decided to stick a petname to me. Dixon and his use of the word ‘sugar’, though…well that was an exception, even though I would have liked nothing more than to just care less.

“Mornin’, Harlow.”

I was greeted by the Governor himself, who was lingering just inside the doorway. “Morning.” I answered back with a nod of my head.

“I take it your watch shift went alright?” He asked me, leaning back against the wall.

I shrugged. “It was fine. Nothing exciting.” I said, although I really just wanted to scream at him to never, ever pair me for an entire night shift with Merle Dixon. That would have been against my better judgment, though, considering this was the man who had not only taken me in instead of killing me, but could also change his mind at any second and get rid of me without even blinking an eye.

“Glad to hear it. You’ve been doin’ a good job around here, Harlow. You fit in Woodbury well.” He commented, giving me one of his false smiles. The ones that never quite seemed to light up the rest of his face. “Richardson is in the next room. Somehow accidentally shot himself in the leg last night and I was hopin’ you could clean him up.”

My eyebrows shot up. “How the hell does that happen?” I asked before I could stop myself. What kind of idiot accidentally shoots themselves?

“Must have gotten spooked and pulled at the trigger without thinkin’. I’m not doctor, but I don’t think it’s anything too serious. Just fix him up as good as you can, alright?” He said, patting my shoulder before moving around me to head out the door. “Hold on, almost forgot. You mind takin’ watch again tonight? Have to do another run tonight since ours got cut short by Richardson’s injury.”

I didn’t even know why he was bothering to ask at all. It wasn’t like I could really just say no. “Sure.” I said, forcing my lips upwards in a smile. “No problem.”

“Great. It’s nice to have good help around here, Harlow.” He said before pushing open the doors and walking outside into the new morning.

The second he was gone, I couldn’t stop myself from rolling my eyes. I had to remind myself to feel grateful that I was here, some place safe, instead of outside the fences fending for myself. It was, though, when something about that man rubbed me the wrong way. I let out a sigh, forcing the thought from my mind as I rounded the corner and into the room Merle had been lying unconscious in just weeks before. Now, though, a different man was lying on the bed. He was white as a ghost, the look on his face a mix of pain and something else…fear maybe? I couldn’t quite tell.

“Hey, Richardson.” I greeted, washing my hands in the tiny sink across from the bed. I quickly dried them before pulling up a chair near the foot of his bed. The bottom part of his leg was wrapped in a bloodstained piece of fabric, a makeshift tourniquet tied just below the knee. “I’m gonna go head and take this off now, see what the damage is. You feeling alright?” I asked, my gaze flicking to his pale face before looking back his leg. I slowly started to unwind the bandage.

“Besides being in pain? Yeah, I’m fine.” He managed to stutter out. He flinched a little as the bandage came off completely and my fingers prodded gently at his wound. It looked like the bullet had grazed through the muscle of his calf…he’d live. What bothered me, though, was that there was no way this was self-inflicted. The angle was all wrong.

“Richardson, you wanna go ahead and tell me what really happened?” I asked quietly, as I stood up and moved to the cabinet to the other side of the room to gather the supplies I needed to clean the wound and stitch him up.

“Like the Governor said. I got a little too trigger happy. I thought I heard a walker behind me, jumped, and pulled the trigger.” He said a little too quickly. I looked over my shoulder at him to see his eyes downcast. I felt my skin prickle. A sure sign that something about this wasn’t right. I finished gathering together the supplies before wheeling them over on a squeaky metal cart.

“I said to tell me what really happened. Not whatever lie you’ve been forced to tell me.” I said. “I’ve seen enough gunshot wounds in my time to know when something is an accident, and when it’s on purpose. And to me, this looks like someone took a shot at your leg.” He didn’t answer me, instead closing his eyes. I waited a second longer, but he still refused to talk. I shook my head and began to work quietly. My mind was racing, the scenarios building and crashing around inside my skull. All I could think about was the Governor’s cool, calm politeness with that underlying tone of danger…his forced smiles that seemed to hide something a little bit more sinister. I bit my tongue, though. Making accusations of any kind about the Governor wouldn’t do much good. I’d probably end up like Richardson, or worse. Especially since I had no hard evidence to back up my thoughts. I mentally shook myself. I had to stop analyzing or I’d drive myself insane.

Better to pretend I didn’t know the difference between an accident and an attack.

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