Playing With Fire

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Merle

I jolted awake, Harlow’s arm draped across my stomach and her dark hair fanned out across the pillow. I blinked, wonderin’ what the hell someone was doin’ poundin’ on my door this damn early in the mornin’ anyways. The loud, frantic knockin’ came again and Harlow sighed sleepily next to me, rollin’ over on her stomach.

“Whoever that is tell them to go to hell.” She muttered into the pillow.

“Way ahead of ya’, sugar.” I grumbled. I slipped out from under the sheets, and my feet hit the creaky wooden floor of the bedroom. I fumbled into a pair of jeans before pullin’ open the door to see Martinez on the other side, lookin’ keyed up ‘bout somethin’. “Christ, Martinez. This better be fuckin’ good.” I growled, runnin’ a hand over my face.

“Governor’s orders, not mine.” He said shortly, tryin’ to peer around me into the bedroom. I stepped further out into the hall, closin’ the door as I narrowed my eyes at him. He took a step back. “There’s a lot of smoke coming from somewhere a few miles outside the wall. Big, black clouds of it. Governor wants to go check it out.”

“So? Who gives a shit what it is. Ain’t our problem.” I said gruffly.

“Apparently it is. So get dressed and get to the wall. Your woman will be just fine.” Martinez finished, and I felt a flare of anger at the mention of Harlow.

“You better watch yer’ mouth, Martinez. Don’t gimme a reason to beat the piss outta ya’.” I threatened before steppin’ back into the room and slammin’ the door in his face. I shook my head, feelin’ pretty damn annoyed as I stooped to grab a shirt from the floor and pulled it over my head. I sat down on the edge of the bed to pull on my socks and boots.

“What did he want?” Harlow asked. I shifted to look at her, layin’ on her side and her chin propped up in her hand. Even this early in the mornin’ the most god damn beautiful thing I’d ever laid my sorry eyes on.

“Somethin’ ‘bout smoke outside the wall. Gonna go check it out real quick.” I told her as I laced of the boots.

“Damn. I was hoping we could just lay around in bed naked all morning.” She sighed before givin’ me one of her coy little smiles.

I chuckled and leaned over, pressin’ my lips to her warm, bare shoulder. “You’re a damn tease, princess, ya’ know that?”

She grinned before sittin’ up and brushin’ her lips over mine. “You like it.” She gave me another quick kiss before layin’ back down on the bed. “Just be careful.”

“Don’t worry that pretty head of yers’. I’ll be back soon.” I reached out and smoothed back the hair on her forehead before standin’, grabbin’ my metal arm attachment off the desk along with my gun, and headin’ out into the hall.

I glanced at the closed, locked door of Harlow’s old room as I walked past, knowing full well it was nearly empty now. She had moved across the hall with me ‘bout three weeks ago…Not long after we had hooked up for the first time. She had been pretty damn stubborn about it at first, not wantin’ to give up her own space. Then one day I came back from watch to find her carryin’ an armload of her stuff across the hall and dumpin’ it onto my bed. I tried not to act too smug about it. When I asked what changed her mind, all she said was that she spent pretty much every night in my bed with me anyways.

Most of what we kept locked up in her room now was stuff we planned on bringin’ with us when we finally got the hell outta here. We had both been doin’ what we could to take food rations, med supplies, or whatever we could get our hands on. Judgin’ by what we had now, I was pretty damn sure we’d be outta here in just a few weeks. ‘Course who the hell knew what kinda shit would happen between now and then. Pretty much every other day, I was talkin’ Harlow outta jumpin’ the gates. The sooner I could get us outta here, the better. Harlow was all I cared about anymore anyways. Her, and of course Daryl.

I made it to the front gates and sure enough, I could see the huge, black cloud of smoke in the distance. Whatever it was, it was big. It was either some sorta house fire, or a crash. Only two things I could think of to make smoke like that. I stood by the tail of an old pick-up, slippin’ on my metal arm and tightenin’ the straps.

“How far you thinkin’ that is, Merle? A couple miles?” I recognized the Governor’s voice right away and lifted my eyes to see him sidlin’ up next to me, eyes on the smoke.

“I’d reckon it’s a good drive from here. As long as we head in the right direction, shouldn’t take too long, though.” I forced myself to answer. I couldn’t stand talkin’ to him, let alone bein’ anywhere near him. I played my part with him, though, knowin’ full well bein’ anythin’ else would get me into trouble and make it impossible to make it outta here alive.

“Why don’t you ride with me then? See if we can’t find our way there, to whatever caused that smoke.” He didn’t give me time to even answer before he was walkin’ off to climb up into his jeep. I gritted my teeth and followed after him, pullin’ myself up into the passenger sit and settlin’ in for the ride.

I stared out the window, not botherin’ with pointless conversation. The Gov wasn’t much of a talker, anyways, which was fine by me. There wasn’t anything I wanted to say to him that wouldn’t end up with me gettin’ a bullet to the head. Every couple of miles, he’d ask if I thought we were gettin’ close and I’d grunt a yes or no. Wasn’t that damn hard to track a cloud of black smoke. Wasn’t like the fire was goin’ anywhere. Finally, though, we slowed to a stop. I could smell it, the air all around us was heavy with it. I could see it risin’ just over the tops of the trees.

“Source should be right through those trees.” I said quietly. I pushed open the truck door and dropped out. I could hear the Governor doin’ the same. The rest of the cars behind us had stopped and all the men hurried to gather ‘round him.

“I want everyone’s weapon drawn. We don’t know what we’re gonna find in there, but it’s likely we’ll run into some walkers who were also curious about the smoke. If you find any people, who are still alive and breathin’, you come get me and I’ll deal with it.” The Governor spoke loudly, his voice drippin’ with authority. I pressed my lips into a hard, thin line. He knew exactly how much power he had. “Let’s go.”

There was about a dozen of us altogether and we traipsed into the trees, followin’ the smoke. I kept my eyes alert, on the lookout for walkers or anyone who looked like they wanted to kill me. I knew even if we did come across anyone out here, chances were they wouldn’t be all that friendly to see us. As we got closer, though, I started noticin’ pieces of debris. Metal it looked like, rangin’ from small fist-sized pieces to big, chunks.

“Some sorta crash.” I muttered. The Governor turned his head to look at me, but I didn’t meet his eyes. “Helicopter or plane.”

I saw him nod out of the corner of my eye and quicken his pace until he was a few steps ahead of me. I kept close behind, the smoke getting’ thicker and thicker until finally, I could see it. It was a huge, army issued helicopter. Dark green in color, layin’ on its side in the dirt. The huge propeller had dug itself into the dirt, but now it was still. Where the hell had it come from? I hadn’t seen a plane since the start of the outbreak. The skies had been empty ever since. I quickly glanced around at the men who were all gathered around the wreck with wide eyes and I knew we were all thinkin’ the same god damn thing. The army was supposed to have been wiped out. Where the hell had these guys been hidin’?

“Fan out. See what you can find. Remember, you find anyone alive, you come get me.” The Governor said, his tone had an excited edge to it. I didn’t understand it, but I knew I damn well didn’t like it.

I brushed past him towards the wreck. The first thing I saw was the body. Upper half dressed in military uniform, lower half missin’. Poor son of a bitch. The Governor was suddenly there, gun pointed at the dead soldier’s forehead. He fired a shot and looked up at me, eyes cold and dark. A man who clearly didn’t give a fuck ‘bout anything.

“Can’t have ‘em turnin’ on us, can we?” He said quietly, before stalkin’ on past towards the cockpit.

I didn’t say a word, steppin’ over the torn up corpse and followin’ after him. I pulled myself up into the wreck, and looked into the cockpit. The windshield was shattered, and what was left was splattered with blood. I crept closer and saw the two pilots strapped into their seats. The one was mangled somethin’ awful, a huge shard of glass had found it’s right into his neck. It reminded me of all the fucked up things I had seen when I’d been fightin’ in the military. The blood, the glass, the torn up bodies in their gear…too damn familiar.

Behind me, I heard a gasp. I whirled around, pressin’ my gun to the temple of the other pilot. I watched his lips tremble, blood bubblin’ at the corners of his mouth. His eyes cracked open and I dropped my gun.

“Son of a bitch.” I breathed. I clambered outta the back of the copter. “We gotta live one in here!” I shouted. Richardson, who was kneelin’ on the ground goin’ through the gear that had been scattered, scrambled to his feet and was racin’ over. He climbed up in next to me and pushed past me to the pilot, who was somehow still livin’ and breathin’. Lucky son of a bitch.

The Governor was suddenly in front of me. “How bad?”

I shrugged. “I ain’t not doctor, but I’d say he’s tore up somethin’ bad. If he’s gonna live, we need to get ‘em back.”

He nodded. “Crowley! You and Richardson get this man and take him to one of the cars and get back to Woodbury.” He turned back to me. “I need him alive.” The way those words sounded made me wonder if maybe the pilot would’ve been better off dead. “Follow me, Dixon. Martinez found somethin’ pretty interestin’.”

I reluctantly followed him, lookin’ over my shoulder once to see Richardson and Crowley draggin’ the pilot away, his arms around both their shoulders and his boots draggin’ in the dirt behind him. I turned back ‘round and kept after the Governor as he led us into the trees. I saw Martinez, his back to us and his gun pointed at the ground. We go closer and I saw two survivors, kneelin’ in the dirt in front of him.

The one was a black woman, dark as coal and her eyes, starin’ dangerously up at Martinez like,she wanted nothin’ more than to rip his damn throat out. The other was blonde, head rollin’ on her chest, slumped ‘gainst the other. In bad shape, by the looks of it.

“Looks like we got ourselves some bystanders.” Martinez sneered.

The Governor put his hand on Martinez’s gun and forced him to lower it. I knew this act. It was the same one he had played with Harlow, no doubt, when he had found her runnin’ around tryin’ to save my damn life. I watched as he crouched down in front of the dark woman.

“Where’d you come from? You gotta group?” He asked, his voice suddenly pleasant soundin’…all friendly like.

She stared at him hard, takin’ her sweet time answerin’. “It’s just the two of us.” She finally said through gritted, white teeth. “Heard the crash and came to see. Same as you.”

“Lucky for you then.” The Gov went on, a smile on his face that made him look like a shark ready to eat its next meal. “Looks like your friend is pretty sick. We gotta town, not too far from here. We can give her medicine. Fix her up for you.”

“We don’t need your hospitality.” The black woman spat out.

The blonde one, who had been all quiet like through this all whole thing, suddenly began murmurin’. She slowly lifted her head and I felt a wave of shock roll right on through me. I recognized the face, even though it was colorless and pale, dark shadows under her eyes.

“Holy fuck.” I exclaimed under my breath. Every pair of eyes turned towards me. “That you, Blondie?”

She squinted her eyes as she struggled to keep her head up. I saw it on her face then. “Merle?” My name barely made it out before she was fallin’ to the ground. The other woman was suddenly scramblin’ towards her and pullin her into her arms.

The Governor was facin’ me. “You know that one?”

I nodded slowly. “Part of my old group. The one I had just outta Atlanta. Don’t know the other one, though.” Hell, I was more than a lil’ bit shocked. I hadn’t seen hide or hair of anyone from that group since they handcuffed me to the fuckin’ roof. I wasn’t as pissed as I thought I’d be, though. When I saw her, all I could think was that she might know where Daryl was.

“Does she know where the rest of that group might be?” The Gov asked, like he had pulled the thought right outta my head.

“Can’t say for sure, but she might. Who knows what the hell happened between then and now.”

I watched him nod slowly, lookin’ lost in his own thought before meetin’ my eyes again. “You and Martinez get them into the jeep. We’ll take ‘em with us. Both of them.” It was all he said before movin’ past us and headed back towards the wreck.

Martinez looked at me before shruggin’ and grabbin’ the dark woman by the upper arm and haulin’ her away. She struggled against him for a hot minute, and I could tell it was ‘cause she didn’t wanna leave Blondie. Damn, what was her real name again? Ashley? Amanda. I knelt down and lifted her up into my arms. Andrea, that was it. She felt limp and lifeless. Cold sweat on her forehead made he look clammy. Her head rolled against my chest as I carried her towards the jeep, wonderin’ just what the hell she was doin’ out this way anyways and if that would get me one step closer to findin’ my brother.

-----

Harlow was already waitin’ in the clinic. Richardson and Crowley carried in the soldier, who looked more than just a little dead on his feet. The Gov and I came behind them. He had the black woman by the upper arm, pushin’ her along. Her dreadlocks hung in her face, hidin’ her eyes which were no doubt full on pissed off lookin’. I was stuck carryin’ Blondie again. She was out cold and I could feel the heat of a fever burnin’ on her skin.

“What the hell is all this?” Harlow asked, eyebrows furrowed together. Woodbury’s other doctor, the black one, suddenly was at her side.

“Put him on the bed, in there. Take the other two in the next room. Harlow, you go with them.” She pushed up her sleeves, givin’ orders. Harlow nodded, and our eyes met for a long minute. I could tell she was burnin’ to know the story here. For now, though, it was all business.

“Here, set her down.” Harlow gestured at a plastic chair near the wall. Blondie started mumblin’ somethin’ against my chest as she started to finally come to. I set her down in the chair and she leaned heavily against the white washed walls. The dreadlocks woman hovered over her.

“She’s been sick for a long time.” She said quietly.

Harlow was kneeling down by Blondie, cleanin’ the inside of her elbow. “Once we get her some antibiotics, she should be just fine. Don’t worry.” She offered a small smile to Blondie’s friend who didn’t return the favor. Woman must’ve had some sort of stick up her ass, the way she was actin’.

“So, you gonna tell me where you two came from?” The Governor drawled. I had almost forgotten he was still here, hangin’ around near the door. I leaned back against the opposite wall, crossin’ my arms over my chest.

“I already told you. We were taking shelter nearby. Heard the crash and came to check it out. We’ve been together for a while now, no others.” The black woman answered.

“What’s your name?”

She looked cautiously from the Governor to me before answerin’. “Michonne.”

“Well, Michonne, Harlow here is gonna do her best to fix your friend up. We’ll get you some food, clean clothes, and a place to rest.” The Governor said with a nod.

“We’ll be leaving soon.” Michonne answered shortly. She was still standin’ close to Andrea, lookin’ agitated and ready to take off at any second. She didn’t trust him. I didn’t blame her.

“Of course, but you’ll need to stay the night. The gates close at sundown and it’s probably for the best your friend gets some rest. We’ll send you off with supplies in the mornin’.” The Governor didn’t give her a chance to answer before he turned on his heel and left the room.

“I don’t blame you for not wanting to listen to him.” Harlow suddenly said quietly. “But your friend is weak. Stay the night and leave in the morning.” She had fitted Andrea with an IV, no doubt pumpin’ her full of meds. Michonne didn’t say a damn word.

Andrea stirred a little and finally lifted her head to look at me. She squinted, like she wasn’t really sure what she was seein’. “That really you, Dixon?” She asked.

I smirked as Harlow’s eyes snapped towards me. “You two know each other?” I couldn’t tell if she sounded more surprised, or maybe suspicious. Harlow knew by now I had a colorful past and I could tell she was yearnin’ to know who the hell Andrea was and where she fit into all that.

“Andrea here was part of my old group. The one from Atlanta.” I finally answered. Michonne was leanin’ against the wall next to Andrea, lookin’ uninterested.

“You mean the people that handcuffed you to that roof?” Harlow asked, perkin’ a dark eyebrow.

I couldn’t help but grin. “That’s the one.”

“In our defense, he deserved it.” Andrea managed to wheeze out.

“I don’t doubt it.” Harlow murmured. She had a small flashlight in one hand and was checkin’ Andrea’s eyes. She stopped for a quick second to give me a small smile and once again I thought about how I was one lucky bastard.

“Ya’ seen my brother at all?” I finally asked. It was the one thing I really wanted and needed to know, tired of all the damn small talk bein’ made.

Andrea look over at me. “Last time I saw him, he was alive. That was months ago now, though.” She said in a quiet voice, like it hurt her to talk. Maybe it did, but I needed to know. “You’d be real proud of him, Merle. He really got it together. Became an important part of the group.”

I threw back my head and laughed. “That’s my baby brother…always the helper. He know what ya’ll did to me?” My eyes burned into hers as I waited for her to answer.

“He knew. He was pissed at first, sent us all to Atlanta looking for your ass.”

I nodded slowly. I knew he’d come after me. As much as I got under his skin, we was still family. “What about yer sister? What was her name?”

Andrea cringed. “Amy…she…she didn’t make it.” I watched as she swallowed hard.

“Sorry to hear that. She was a good kid.” I said quietly. Andrea couldn’t hide the surprised look on her face. Didn’t blame her. I wasn’t ever good at apologies, didn’t see the point. Things change, though. I had Harlow to thank for that.

“Thank you.” Andrea said quietly. She sighed, her shoulders saggin’. “I don’t where Daryl is now, though, if that’s what you’re gonna ask next. We were on a farm, and we got overrun. I was separated from everyone else and have been ever since.”

I was just glad to hear someone had seen him alive since Atlanta. I had spent all this time runnin’ on gut feelings, but now I knew for sure he had been alive a few months ago. He was still alive now. I just had to find him. And now I had a little more to go on. I opened my mouth to ask more about the farm, but was interrupted by someone steppin’ into the room.

“We set up a place for you to stay. You’ll have beds, clean clothes, and even a shower if you like.” Dr. Waters said.

Andrea groaned. “Shower. God, I haven’t heard that word in so long.”

“I’ll take over from here, Harlow. I’ll need you in the morning again, though, to check on that soldier. Why don’t you and Merle head on home now?”

“As long as you’re sure.” Harlow sighed, standin’ to her feet. She glanced at me over her shoulder. “Coming?”

I cleared my throat. “Sure.” Blondie had closed her eyes again and was back to leanin’ against the wall. Looked like I wasn’t gonna be able to get anymore outta her anyways. I followed Harlow outside, the air thick and humid.

“So what are the chances of that?” Harlow asked, as soon as we had hit the sidewalk. “I mean, you’ve been separated from that group for months now.”

I nodded. “Hell, I know it. Wasn’t too fond of any of ‘em, but Blondie especially had a way of gettin’ on my nerves.”

Harlow smirked. “I think most people tend to get on your nerves anyways.”

I elbowed her side playfully. “Ain’t gonna argue with that. Everybody ‘cept you anyways.”

She made a big show of rollin’ her eyes, but I could tell by her smile she liked hearin’ that. “We should try to find out where that farm is. Even if there’s nothing left, we might find something that could lead us to where your brother is. Chances are they didn’t get too far if there was a lot of them.”

“That’s the idea. As long as she feels like tellin’. She ain’t too fond of me either.” I admitted.

“Yeah, I don’t doubt it considering she played a part in the whole handcuffing to the roof thing. I’ll go with you to ask her. Make sure you didn’t rough her up too much.” She grinned up at me.

I wrapped my arm around her shoulder, pullin’ her close before plantin’ a kiss on the top of her head. “Woman, you know me too well already.”

She let out laugh, shakin’ her head. I felt better than I had in a long time, at least with findin’ Daryl. I was damn glad Blondie’s path had crossed with mine again, although I sure as hell never woulda guessed feelin’ that way before. Now, though, I had a pretty good feelin’ I’d be seein’ Daryl again real soon.



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