Playing With Fire

Chapter Twenty-Eight


“You have a name, soldier?” I asked, carefully changing his bandages. I was amazed at how well he was doing, especially for someone who had been in a helicopter crash barely one week earlier. Just days after he’d been brought into Woodbury, his vitals had improved on a monumental level and we had him stabilized. I was relieved. I hated losing patients.

“Lieutenant Welles.” He answered quietly, watching as I rewrapped the bandage on his leg.

“Well, Lieutenant, I think you’re gonna be okay. It’ll be a long road, but you should make a full recovery.” I gave him a small smile.

I heard two knocks on the wall behind me and looked over my shoulder to see the Governor. I turned back around to Lieutenant Welles before the Governor could see how unhappy I was to see him there. He had been showing up almost every day, waiting for the soldier to wake up. Always asking if he was able to talk yet. I felt in my gut that he was up to something. Why else would he be so interested? Whatever he wanted from this man, it wasn’t good.

“Is he okay to have a visitor? I still have some questions I’d like to ask him.”

I sighed. I had been able to keep him at bay the last few times he’d shown up, telling him over and over again that he needed rest. This was the most awake and alert the man had been since he had been brought in, though. I knew the Governor could see that. I wouldn’t be able to stop him this time.

“Not too long. He doesn’t have all his strength back yet.” I finally answered. I met Lieutenant Welles’ gaze. “As long as you’re feeling up to it?” I was hoping he’d refuse, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath. He had no idea who the Governor was. He had no reason to be paranoid.

“Its fine, I’m feeling up to it right now.” The solider answered, giving me a reassuring smile.

I forced a smile back and nodded before standing to my feet. I headed over to the single sink in the room and washed my hands. I heard the Governor’s footsteps as he walked into the room. When I turned back around, he had taken my chair and was scooting it closer to the bedside. He gave me a quick glance.

“Why don’t you give us some time, Harlow?” He said good-naturedly, although I didn’t believe his tone for a second. “Dr. Waters is across the hall if we need anything. Shut the door on your way out.”

My stomach tightened and I didn’t move for a long second. My gut was warning me not to listen, not to leave Lieutenant Welles alone with this man who I knew was capable of anything. I also knew, though, that he would eventually force me to leave whether I wanted to or not. I finally moved my feet and left the room, shutting the door behind me with a soft click. I hovered outside of it, feeling reluctant to go too far.

“You okay, sugar?”

I turned around at the sound of the familiar voice, feeling suddenly relieved to see Merle walking towards me. I sighed, shaking my head. “The Governor’s in there with him. I don’t like it…I don’t trust him.”

Merle’s blue eyes slid from me to the closed door. “Don’t blame ya’….whatever he wants to talk to him about, it probably ain’t nothin’ good.” He muttered. He came a step closer and I tilted my head towards him as he brushed his lips against mine. “I don’t like seein’ ya’ so worried all the time.”

“I’ll be fine.” I assured him with a small, barely there smile. “We won’t be here too much longer anyways.” I added under my breath, carefully eyeing the door that hid the Governor behind it.

Merle nodded in agreement before switching subjects. “I was just on my way to go find Andrea…been a few days so I was hopin’ she’d be up to sharin’ where the hell that damn farmhouse was.”

“I’ll go with you.” I offered. I was a little torn, not wanting to leave the clinic while the Governor was still there. I knew there was nothing I could do, though. I would just have to come back and check on him later. Make sure everything was alright.

“Hope that Michonne ain’t with her. She acts like she’s Blondie’s god damn guard dog or somethin’.” Merle drawled as we filed out of the clinic.

I rolled my eyes. “She’s just looking out for her. Same as what you would do for me.”

“I can watch out for you without actin’ like I gotta damn stick up my ass.” He grumbled under his breath.

I tried to fight back a smile and lost. I couldn’t remember when Merle’s crudeness had started to grow on me. Probably about the same time I realized I was helplessly falling for someone who was such an ass. I spotted a familiar blonde head up head and quickened my pace. “Is that her?” She looked almost like a different person. Her skin had gained its color back and her eyes no longer looked sunken and dead. It was good thing I had gotten those meds in her when I did.

“Yep. Hey! Blondie!” He was suddenly calling out. I watched as Andrea swiveled around, her expression falling when she saw it was Merle calling her. He hadn’t been kidding. Despite how civil they were to each other the other day, I could tell there was no love lost between these two.

“Yes?” She asked with an irritated huff.

Merle slowed to a stop in front of her and I hung back a few steps. She gave me a curious look before turning her attention back to Merle. “You got some information that I’d really like to have.” He said.

“Look, I already told you everything I know about Daryl-“

“Not everythin’.” Merle interrupted her. “Ya’ can start by tellin’ me where that farm is.”

“That place got overrun. I can guarantee you there’s nothing left of it.” She shook her head.

“But it’ll at least give us a starting point. Maybe they didn’t end up too far from there.” I jumped into the conversation. Merle was wearing that irritated look he always got when he didn’t get the information he wanted fast enough.

Andrea gestured towards me with a nod of her head. “What the hell did you do to get her to help you?”

“Believe it or not, Blondie, she wants to help. Didn’t have to do nothin’.” Merle smirked.

“I’m the one that saved his ass after he got left up on that rooftop.” I added, shrugging my shoulders, as if it was no big deal. I could tell this surprised her. A lot.

“You’re shitting me. You actually wanted to help him?”

I gave her an amused smile. “His bad attitude grows on you after a while.” I could hear Merle chuckling under his breath at the turn in conversation. “So can you tell us where the farm house is or not?”

Andrea shifted her weight from one foot to the other before letting out a sigh. “It’d be easier to show you. You don’t happen to have a map, do you?”

To my surprise, Merle was suddenly digging one out of his back pocket and handing it over to her with a black marker. I could tell by the look on Andrea’s face that she was also surprised by this. She didn’t say a word, though, instead taking the map and carefully unfolding it. Her eyes roamed the paper for several long minutes before she was carefully marking a place on it with the black ink.

She handed it back. “Somewhere right around there. Not far from the highway.”

“Thank you.” I said, trying to sound as genuine as I could. I was more than just a little hopeful that this would help us finally track down Merle’s missing brother. I turned my eyes towards Merle expectantly. He caught my eye and let out a sigh when he realized what I was after.

“Guess you ain’t half bad after all, Blondie.” He grinned and I realized this was as probably as close as a thank you as Andrea was going to get from him.

She looked amused. “Sure, Dixon.” She started to walk away but turned around, taking a few steps backwards. “You better thank God this girl has low standards because she’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to you.” I caught the smirk on her face before she had turned her back and was gone.

I let out a loud laugh, looking up at Merle who was staring after her with a look that somewhere between irritation and something else I didn’t really recognize. “She’s probably right, you know.”

“Don’t I know it.” He muttered, shaking his head.

I grinned and leaned towards him, pressing my lips to his cheek.

The amount of relief I felt when I went back to check on Lieutenant Welles that night was overwhelming. I hadn’t realized till I saw him how worried I’d been. He was still there, though, and his vitals were as strong as they’d been since he came in. Dr. Waters must have sensed my paranoia because she promised to check on him in the middle of the night for any changes. I was grateful for that.

I was on watch duty for the third night that week and I was not looking forward to it. I had been spending more and more watch shifts on my own, which I took as a good sign. It meant the Governor now trusted me enough to leave me on my own. It also meant, though, that I was spending far too much time thinking. And of course, less time with Merle. I cringed a little, wondering when I had turned into such a sappy person. I blamed Merle and that redneck charm of his.

I smirked a little to myself, remembering what Andrea had said earlier today. It was easy to see that the two of them weren’t exactly friendly, but I didn’t sense anything as strong as hate there. I hadn’t spent enough time around her to really have an opinion about her either way. I was grateful, though, that she had been good enough to tell us where the farmhouse was. I had a good feeling about that. We hadn’t had any good leads on finding Daryl since the day we had found the crossbow arrow, which seemed almost like another lifetime now.

I was pulled from my thoughts suddenly at the sound of soft footsteps on the pavement below. I froze, listening carefully. Curfew had been a few hours ago now, which meant no one was technically supposed to be out unless they were like me and had a job to do. I carefully leaned over the side of the platform. I didn’t see anything at first, but then I slowly was able to make out a dark figure moving in the shadows. They were creeping towards the wall in a way that made me certain they knew they weren’t supposed to be there.

I grabbed the flashlight from next to me and clicked it on. “Hey!” I called, quickly shining the beam on the shadowy figure. The person froze and slowly looked up into the light. It take a second, but I realized I was looking at Michonne. My eyes widened a little as I wondered just what the hell she was up to. “You know its past curfew, right?” I finally asked after a long minute. I was technically supposed to report anyone I caught roaming the streets after dark, but I knew I wasn’t going to. No one deserved to feel the Governor’s wrath, especially someone who hadn’t even wanted to be here in the first place. Michonne was only in Woodbury because he had dragged her here.

“So?” Michonne finally answered in her low voice.

I lowered the flashlight beam so it wasn’t shining in her eyes and let out a sigh. “Nothing, I guess. Just wondering what you’re trying to do. Make a big escape?”

“I’m just trying to get a look around. See what this place is really about.”

I could tell by the tone of her voice that she knew Woodbury was more than what it seemed. That there were secrets here, and they weren’t exactly good ones. Like me, it hadn’t taken her long to see through the Governor’s façade. “Come up here.” I said, pointing towards the ladder.

Michonne paused for a minute, looking up at me with her dark eyes. I could tell she was trying to figure out whether or not she could trust me. After a minute, though, she stepped towards the ladder and slowly began making her way to the top. When she finally stepped onto the platform, I motioned to the empty seat next to me. She gave me a wary glance before sitting.

“Listen. If you’re looking for a way out besides the front gates, I’m not sure if you’re gonna find one.” I started, keeping my voice quiet. The last thing I needed was for what I was about to say to be overheard. “If you want to get out, you’re best bet is to get them to open the gates. Then you just hustle and get as far away as you can as fast as you can.”

If Michonne was surprised to hear me say this, her expression didn’t show it. Instead, she looked at me carefully before finally speaking. “You want out, too.” She wasn’t asking, instead sounding like this was already a well-known fact.

I nodded. “Been trying to for a while. The timing just hasn’t been right.”

Michonne let out a long breath, leaning back in the chair. She had turned away from me, and was instead staring out over the stretch of land outside the high wall. “It’s the Governor, right? He’s not what he seems. I could tell right from the start.”

“I don’t know what he is, but I know he’s not a good man. I’ve seen things, bad things. Bad enough to make me want to go back out there.” I sighed, shaking my head. I didn’t want to go into the horrific details of what the Governor had locked up in his apartment. That was still something I wanted to keep between Merle and I.

“I always said it’s the people you have to watch out for…sometimes they’re the real monsters.” Michonne muttered. “Andrea thinks it’s safe here. She wants to stay. I won’t, though. I’ll leave without her if I have to.”

“This place seems safe to almost everyone here. I think it’s the normalcy. People are so desperate for their old lives, their willing to do anything to make believe they can have that again.” I added. I used to wish for my old life every single damn day. I missed my brother, my dad, my friends, my job, and even the heavy city traffic. I knew better now, though, than to make pointless wishes. “I’m telling you now, though, if you’re going to leave you should do it soon. It’ll be harder if you let yourself become a part of this town.”

I felt Michonne’s eyes on me. “Why don’t you leave with me then? You don’t want to be here, we can go together.”

I raised my eyebrows, surprised. “You trust me enough to ask me that?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “You see through this place just like I do. I have a good sense about people.”

I felt a faint smile on my lips. “Thank you. Really. I can’t though. Not yet. Especially not without Merle.”

Michonne nodded. “I’m going to have to leave Andrea behind. I know she won’t go back out there, especially not this soon. You’re right, though. The longer we continue to stay here, the harder it will be to leave.” She said softly. “I’ll leave tomorrow.” She added after a minute.

I felt a pang and I knew I was wishing that I could go, too. It was easier for her than it was for Merle and I, who had been in Woodbury for months now. Although I knew it wouldn’t be much longer before we left behind these walls as well. “I guess I’ll wish you good luck then. I don’t think we’ll see each other again.”

“No, I don’t think so.” Michonne said, sounding thoughtful. “Although no one can say for sure.” She stood up from the chair abruptly and headed for the ladder. “Be careful.”

I nodded. “You, too.”

She didn’t say anything else, instead climbing down the ladder. I heard her feet drop to the pavement, followed by her quick, quiet footsteps as she headed away from the wall and back into the dark town. I settled back into my chair again. I liked her. I could tell she was smart, a badass survivor with a zero tolerance for bullshit. I didn’t think I would see her again, though. The world was a big place outside these walls and I was planning on getting as far away as I could.

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