Playing With Fire

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Merle

The map felt like it was burnin’ a hole through my back pocket as I headed down to see the Governor. The fact that I still had to even ask permission at all to leave Woodbury made me seethin’ mad. The only thing that helped me keep my cool was knowin’ that I had a damn good lead on findin’ my brother. That and knowin’ Harlow and I would be gone pretty damn soon. She was rarin’ to go and finally got me to admit we couldn’t hold it off anymore. We’d go out on a last run, like we always did. Only this time, we wouldn’t come back. I smirked a little, imagin’ the look on the Governor’s face when he realized we’d gotten the hell outta dodge and taken one of his precious vehicles with us. God damn, that made me feel good.

I felt a little better as I took the stairs two at a time up to the Governor’s apartment. I rapped my knuckles on the wooden door and waited until he opened it. He didn’t look surprised to me. Instead, he was lookin’ at me like he had been expectin’ me. I was set on edge all over again.

“Merle, just the man I needed to see.” He said, which did nothin’ but confirm my feelin’. He stepped back and held the door open to let me in. I tried not to look at the locked door on the other side of the room, knowin’ full well what he was keepin’ locked up inside it. Instead, I sat down at one of the empty kitchen chairs and stretched my legs out in front of me.

“That so?” I asked, doin’ my best to sound uninterested.

He nodded, shuttin’ the door tight behind him as he moved into the kitchen. He sat down opposite me and poured two glasses of whiskey from the bottle sittin’ next to him. He pushed one across the table to me and I caught in my good hand. “I’m sure there’s another reason you came here, though. You go on ahead first.” He leaned back in the chair and took a sip from the glass.

I shifted in my chair, diggin’ the map from my pocket. I unfolded it and spread it across the table. The Governor learned forward, suddenly lookin’ interested. “Andrea gave told me where that farm was. The one she and my brother were at. I was thinkin’ Harlow and I could take a run up there. Maybe see if there’s anythin’ that got left behind, somethin’ that might lead us to where he could be now.” I pointed at the spot Andrea had circled on the map before liftin’ my own drink to my lips and takin’ a long gulp.

He pulled the map across the table closer to him, tracin’ the route from Woodbury to the farm with his finger. “She say how many of them there were when she got split up from them?”

I felt a stab of annoyance, unsure why he was askin’. Not like it fuckin’ mattered. “No, she didn’t. When I was with ‘em, though, couldn’t of been more than twenty.”

“Hm.” It was all he said for a long, long minute as he continued to stare at the map. I didn’t have a clue as to what was goin’ on in his head, but I didn’t give two shits as long as he let us go. He finally sat back up and looked across the table at me. He was twirlin’ his glass around on the table, makin’ the amber colored liquid inside swirl around the glass. “That’s a long ways off. You might be gone a whole night.”

I nodded slowly. “We might be. Shouldn’t take much longer than that, though…this is the first real shot I have at findin’ Daryl. Seems damn stupid not to at least try.”

The Governor let out a drawn out sigh and I knew it was a bad sign. “I’d really like to let ya’ go, but I’m already gonna be down one good man.” He explained. When he saw the confused look I had, he went on. “I’m about to send Martinez out after that Michonne. Can’t have her runnin’ around, spreadin’ all our secrets here. Too many people find out about how good we have it here, we might have a problem on our hands.”

I felt a flare of anger heatin’ up under my skin and pushed it back as best I could. I wanted to lunge across the table at him and ask what ‘people’ he was talkin’ about ‘cause last time I checked half the world was dead. Woodbury wasn’t in anymore danger of bein’ overrun by other survivors than our camp outside Atlanta had been. Here he was, gonna kill one woman over nothin’. One woman who clearly wanted nothin’ to do with this place, considerin’ she was so quick to leave. Harlow had told me all about her talk she had with Michonne two nights ago, sayin’ how quick the other woman had been to pick up on the Governor’s bullshit. Harlow would be sick if she knew what he had planned.

“Let me go after her instead.” I offered quickly. I’d be damned what anyone else said, but I couldn’t let her get killed for the sake of this bloodthirsty asshole sittin’ across from me.

The Governor’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “No need for that. Martinez is already packed and ready to go. Shouldn’t take him too long to track her down. I doubt she’s gotten very far.” He commented, drinkin’ from his glass. He’d talked about killin’ another person like we was havin’ a conversation about the god damn weather. “Besides, I have somethin’ bigger that I need you for.”

I felt my insides squeeze tight. I almost didn’t wanna ask what he had planned, but I had to. “What’s that, Governor?” I said quietly, wonder if he was keen enough to catch the sarcasm there.

“I finally got that solider to tell me where the rest of his men where. Seems there’s an entire unit still intact out there. Shouldn’t be too many for us to take out, though. From what the Lieutenant said they have lots of guns and ammo. Maybe even a tank.” His eyes lit up with a sick kinda excitement. “Imagine how unstoppable Woodbury would be with all that. We’d be invincible.”

Now he wasn’t just talkin’ about killin’ on person, but at least a dozen if not more. All so he could get his hands on their fire power. “You really need all that? Walkers don’t take much to put down…Sounds like you’re tryin’ to build an army yourself.” I said. My grip had tightened around my glass, my knuckles white.

He gave me a smile, one that sent a chill rocketin’ down my spine. I could see by the look in his eyes how full of crazy he was. “I need Woodbury to be at the top of the food chain. What’s a few lives lost for the sake of this town’s safety?”

I dropped my hand to my side where he wouldn’t see my clench and unclench my first. “I’m not gonna willingly help you slaughter dozens of men. I’m alotta things, Governor, but I ain’t a murderer.” I said coldly. I sat rigid in my chair, waitin’ for his reaction.

“When I took you in Merle, I could tell what type of person you wear. Strong, disciplined. Willing to do whatever it took to get to the top. I was hopin’ I could eventually count on you to stand at my side. As my right hand man.” He began, his takin’ on a dangerous edge. “All that’s changed, though. You’ve gone soft. And I bet it had everything to do with that woman of yours.”

I felt somethin’ in me snap when he mentioned Harlow. I narrowed my eyes at him. “You don’t talk about her. She has nothin’ to do with this.”

He poured himself another glass of whiskey. I could tell he was enjoyin’ this, getting’ me all riled up like I was some sort of pet he had control over. “She doesn’t have to be a part of this. Help me get what I need from those military men, and you and Harlow can continue your search for your brother.”

“No.” I said flatly.

I saw a break in his calm demeanor for half a second before he was back together again. “I’m not askin’ anymore, Merle. Help me, and I’ll help you. Keep on refusin’, and I promise you I won’t hesitate to get rid of her. She’s not an asset here. In fact, that girl is probably more trouble than she’s worth.”

I stood up abruptly from the table and slammed my palm hard down on the table top, rattlin’ the glasses and the half empty bottle of liquor. “You touch one god damn hair on her head, and I swear-“

“You can’t threaten me. Keep tryin’, though, and I’ll kill her anyways. Keep tryin’ and you’ll find out how unforgivin’ I really am.” He threatened in a low voice. “She’s expendable, but I need men like you. You were made for this world. You’re a walking, talking weapon.” He let his shoulders relax after a second and leaned back in the chair again. “I don’t want to hurt her, though. Just do what I ask, Merle, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.”

The anger was bubblin’ beneath the surface, I could feel the heat and a part of me just wanted more than anything to launch myself across the table and kill him right then and there. I couldn’t, though, not now. I couldn’t risk anythin’ happenin’ to Harlow. He knew that, and he was goin’ to use that against me for as long as he could. I took a deep breath and stood up, my mouth stretched in a thin, tight line and my hand in a fist at my side.

“I’ll do it.” I said through clenched teeth.

“Good, we leave this afternoon.” He sounded pleased. I hated it. I didn’t say a word, instead turnin’ on my heel to head out the door. I was half way out when his voice stopped me. “You made the right choice. You’ll see.”

I took a deep, uneven and shaky breath tryin’ not to shatter to pieces because then there would be nothin’ left to stop me from rippin’ him a part limb from limb. I stepped out into the hall and slammed the door behind me, where it rattled loudly and echoed up and down the staircase. If he took one step towards Harlow, though, he’d be dead before he even knew what was comin’. The first chance we got, we were gettin’ the hell outta here.

--

It was dark when I finally pushed open the door to my room, my eyes finally adjustin’ enough to make out Harlow’s curled up form in the bed. Even after I’d gotten back from the Governor’s fucked up mission, I’d stayed away. I didn’t know how I would be able to force her, knowin’ what I had just done. Whether I’d wanted to do it or not. I had been a military man myself a long time ago. Seein’ the looks on those scared sons of bitches faces when we unleashed all the gun power on ‘em…Well, I couldn’t stop thinkin’ ‘bout it. I’d done a lot of wrong in my life, done my time in jail, but I ain’t ever done nothin’ even close to that. I sat on the foot of the bed, my head in my hands. I heard Harlow stirrin’ awake behind me.

“Merle?” Her voice was quiet, still full of sleep. “Where’ve you been?”

I didn’t answer right away. Not sure what to say yet. I finally cleared my throat though. “We’re leavin’ tomorrow. Can’t stay here another god damn day.”

There was silence again before Harlow was crawlin’ down to the edge of the bed. I felt her arms suddenly around my shoulders as her face nuzzled into the back of my shirt. “What happened, Merle?” She asked. She sounded almost afraid to know the answer. I didn’t blame her.

“Have you check on that solider in the clinic at all?” I asked gruffly.

I felt her stiffen. “Not since this morning. Why?”

I ran my hand over my face before lettin’ it drop into my lap. “The Governor got him to tell him where the rest of his men were. Probably made up some bullshit lie about wantin’ to bring ‘em all here where it was safe.” I shook my head. “I went to the Governor and asked him permission to head to that farmhouse. Said he wouldn’t do it unless I helped him get rid of all those military guys. When I still said no, he threatened you. I didn’t have a choice…” My voice trailed off.

“You mean…he had you help kill them all? Why? Why the hell would he do that?” Harlow’s voice had taken on a low and dangerous tone.

I let out a short, humorless laugh. “Why else, sugar? He wants all that power. He wanted to take all their weapons, their ammo, their tanks, and whatever the hell else he could his hands on.”

I heard her let out a long breath before she was shiftin’ so she was sittin’ next to me on the edge of the bed. She took my hand in both of hers. Her skin was also so warm. “It’s not your fault, Merle. We both know what he is. I would’ve done the same thing if it meant protecting you.”

I glanced at her sideways. “Still don’t change the fact I helped him kill about a dozen men.”

She squeezed my hand and laid her head against my shoulder. “Don’t, Merle. We’ve all had to do some crazy, horrible things to make it out here. You know that better than anyone. We’ll get the hell out of here tomorrow.”

“I just hope like hell he doesn’t come after us. Or if he does, we’re too far away for him to catch up.” I murmured. Once again, I felt that strong pull to protect Harlow more fiercely than anythin’ I’d ever felt before. Didn’t matter if I was one man or not…I’d do just about anythin’ to keep her safe. Which is why I’d done what I did today. “He sent Martinez after Michonne. Tried to get him to let me go instead, but wouldn’t have it.”

“What?” Harlow breathed, liftin’ her head to look at me. “God, I hope she outran him. I hope she got far away from this shit hole.”

“Even if he did find her, I don’t think he’d stand much of a chance against someone like that. She’s rip ‘em to pieces before he got one good shot in.”

“I seriously hope so. He’s almost as bad as the Governor.” Harlow shook her head. “I wish we could warn everyone else here. It’s seems cruel to just run off and leave them with someone who’s so evil.”

I brushed my lips over the top of her head. “I know ya’ do. Can’t save everyone, though I know you’d try like hell to do it. Let’s just worry ‘bout gettin’ ourselves outta here.”

She nodded after a long minute. “We should start getting everything together in the other room. Decide what we can take and what we can leave behind.”

“First thing in the mornin’ I’ll see if I can scrounge up any last minute things. Might not be a bad idea to see if we can swipe somethin’ from the weapons supply.” I added. Hell, who knew what we’d be facin’ out there past those walls. Especially with just the two of us.

“Just don’t get caught doing it.” She warned me.

For the first time all day, I caught myself grinnin’. “You ain’t gotta worry ‘bout that, princess. I’ve done more than my fair share of stealin’.”

Even in the darkness, I could see her roll her eyes. “I definitely don’t want to hear about your criminal past.” She stood up from the bed, stretchin’ her arms over her head. Her shirt rode up and I caught a small peak at her tiny stomach.

I stood up suddenly and wrapped my arms around her waist, pullin’ her close. “I bet your pretty damn happy you didn’t pull the trigger on me in Atlanta.” I smirked.

She laughed into my shoulder before pullin’ back to look up at me. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re arrogance is mind blowing?” A smile stretched one corners of her lips.

“Probably about as many time as you’ve been called a stubborn pain in the ass.” I shot back. She opened her mouth to argue, but shut it quickly and I knew I’d won. I leaned down and pressed my lips hard against her mouth. “Let’s get ready to get the hell outta here. Whadya say, princess?” I asked gruffly after finally pulling away. The mood in the room had settled back to bein’ heavy and serious.

“It’s about damn time.” She agreed. She walked past me to the door, grabbin’ my hand and givin’ it a gentle squeeze. “I’ll start going through what we stashed in here…pack up what we need and see what can be left behind.”

I nodded and she gave me another small smile before disappearing out into the hallway. I started gatherin’ up clothes and stuffin’ ‘em into a duffel bag, formin’ a plan in my mind. I knew we had an advantage. The Governor had no idea we were plannin’ on leavin’ at all, had no clue we wanted the hell outta his town. As long as we played our cards right, we might have a full day or two before he realized we weren’t comin’ back and sent someone out to track us. We’d be long gone by then. If he thought he was gonna be able to track Merle, well he had another thing comin’.

I spent my whole life disappearin’ and not turnin’ up until I wanted to. I was good at it and I’d damned if anyone came near me or Harlow in or outside these walls. A different Merle maybe would’ve stayed, would’ve worked as the Governor’s pet in exchange for savin’ his own neck. That was a different Merle, though. A Merle with nothin’ to lose. At least nothin’ worth losin’. I glanced towards the closed door, where I knew Harlow was in the other room packin’ up what little we had. Now, though, I had everythin’ to lose and that made all the difference.



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