Playing With Fire

Chapter Thirty-One

Merle

I could see the panic buildin’, the fear behind the Governor’s eyes and it made me almost giddy. I pushed myself up into a sittin’ position, which was a helluva lot harder than it should’ve been with my hands tied behind my back.

“Keep an eye on him.” The Governor spat. He grabbed a radio from his pocket and kept his steady gaze on me as he clicked it on and held it to his mouth. “If anyone sees Harlow, don’t hesitate. I want her taken down.”

I glared at him hard, the rage boilin’ under my skin like white hot fire and I lunged at him, but he stepped easily outta the way.

“You did this to yourself.” He said icily before turnin’ on his heel and hurryin’ off with Milton right behind him.

I glared after him. He had no idea she was gone, that I’d gotten her the hell outta here the first chance I had. If there was one good thing, it was that. She was safe.

“Looks like it’s just you and me, Dixon.” Martinez sneered, lookin’ down at me with his gun clutched tight in his hands.

“Bet you’re feelin’ pretty damn cocky right now. You forgettin’ about the time I beat the piss outta ya’, right here in this very spot?” I taunted him, a smirk pullin’ at my lips.

His eyes narrowed and I suddenly felt a sharp shoot of pain as the butt of his gun came crashin’ into my jaw. I tasted the bitter, irony flavor of blood in my mouth and spat at his feet. “Gonna take more than that to finish me off.” I grunted, lookin’ up at him.

“Trust me, Dixon. If it were up to me, I already would’ve put a bullet in your head.” Martinez said coldly. Before I could say another word, I heard the radio on his hip crackle to life. He grabbed at it, holdin’ it closer to his ear. Even from where I was sittin’ on the ground, I could hear the words clear as day.

“Breach in the wall, don’t know how many. Four, maybe five…” The unfamiliar, tinny voice was suddenly cut off and I watched as Martinez’s mouth turned down at the corners.

“What? You scared, Martinez?” I asked him with a grin. I spat another spray of blood from my mouth onto the concrete.

He looked down at me, suddenly givin’ me an icy, sinister lookin’ smile. “You’re the one that should be scared. You did all this for nothing. That girl you were trying to save? She’s as good as dead.” He sounded almost gleeful. “I left her in there with a walker. She’s probably torn to pieces by now.”

My grin fell and I felt my stomach turn to lead. Charlie didn’t deserve that. Even when she was a kid, she was all good. I turned my stony gaze back on the man hoverin’ over me. “You best hope to whatever god you pray to that she’s still alive ‘cause if that girl is dead, well I’d hate to be you when my brother gets ahold of ya’.” I threatened him.

“Even if that is him coming in through the wall, he doesn’t stand a chance. Just like that girl.” He answered. His boot was on my chest suddenly, shovin’ me back to the ground. “I’ll be damn glad when you’re dead, too.”

The radio in his hand came to life again, but it was hard to make out even one damn word over the loud ‘pop’ ‘pop’ ‘pop’ of gunfire and the yellin’. The loud, frantic yellin’. “Sounds like it’s not goin’ too well out there. Probably pretty glad you’re stuck here babysittin’ me.” I commented. Martinez ignored me, still tryin’ intently to listen to the radio. “Ya’ know, bein’ the Governor’s little pet probably ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. One of these days, when he’s done with ya’, he’ll put a bullet right in your back. Your ass is just as expendable as anybody else’s.”

“Shut the fuck up, Dixon.” Marinez hissed at me.

I couldn’t tell if it was me gettin’ under his skin, or the panic that was still streamin’ in over the walkie. Either way, he was losin’ his cool. “Why don’t ya’ untie me, huh? You and me, Martinez. End that fight like it was meant to, with me breakin’ your damn neck.” I taunted in a low, even voice.

“I said shut the fuck up!” He yelled, aimin’ another kick at me, but I rolled to the side and just barely missed the toe of his boot. He looked angrier than a damn grizzly and I thought for sure he was gonna pump a bullet into me until a loud voice was suddenly shoutin’ over the radio.

“No signs of Dixon’s woman but we got him, Governor! We got Dixon’s brother! You want him dead or alive?”

I felt the blood drain from my face. My gut had been right all along…Daryl was here. Unless they were just tryin’ to test me. Make me believe they had ‘em when they really didn’t.

Martinez looked at me, a grin on his lips. “Looks like your brother made it to the party after all.”

Before I could answer, Milton’s panicky voice crackled from the walkie. “Something has happened and the Governor is…is preoccupied at the moment. Ummm…” He trailed off, soundin’ worried and uncertain and like he was just barley keepin’ it together. Somethin’ else was goin’ on, but I didn’t know what.

The Governor’s voice suddenly boomed through the walkie. “Gimme that, Milton, you idiot! You have Dixon’s brother? Take him to the arena with Merle. I’ll be there in five minutes.” His voice came out like a growl, dangerous and furious soundin’ at the same time. “Get everyone else there too. I want ‘em all to see what we do to traitors.” Then, there was silence.

Martinez clipped the radio back onto his belt and grabbed me by my upper arm, draggin’ me to my feet. “Time for a family reunion.” He said.

My heart was poundin’ hard against my ribcage as we waited, my stomach churnin’ as I hoped like hell it wasn’t really Daryl they had, that it was some other poor sucker. I suddenly thought about Harlow, still waitin’ on me by the creek. She was probably losin’ her mind right now. I felt almost sick, knowin’ deep down I wasn’t sure that I’d find a way outta this. I had to try, though. At least for her, I couldn’t give up that easily.

People started filin’ into the arena. Their expressions everythin’ from fear, to anger, to curiosity. It was pretty damn obvious some of ‘em didn’t have a clue what was happenin’. All the metal bleachers, though, were filled within minutes. I could feel every pair of eyes on me, hands tied behind my back and standin’ in the middle of the ring. My own eyes shot up when I heard the sound of boots crunchin’ on gravel and the Governor appeared around the corner. Behind him, two of his men were draggin’ someone with a bag over their head. I had no idea if it was my brother under there or not.

I looked back at the Governor and saw the bloodstained bandage wrapped around his head, coverin’ one of his eyes. His mouth was turned down in a livid snarl and he had a look on his face that made it seem like the man was entirely off his damn rocker. I felt my blood curdle. Whatever was about to happen next, I knew it wasn’t anythin’ good.

“Woodbury is under attack by terrorists! Bloodthirsty, greedy terrorists who want nothing more than to take what’s ours and kill anyone who tries to fight back!” His voice thundered over the crowd and everyone fell silent. “Believe it or not, but these people were led to our doorstep by one of our own! By a traitor!” The Governor’s arm shot out as he pointed accusingly at me. I narrowed my eyes at him. There was nothin’ I could do to stop him. By namin’ me the town traitor, he had practically sealed my fate. “There were too many of them, dozens! One of ‘em was left behind though!”

The poor son of a bitch with the bag on his head was pushed to the front of the crowd and I felt frozen as I watched him, feelin’ almost sick as I waited for that bag to finally be pulled off so I could get a look at his face. A voice somewhere in the back of my head kept tellin’ me it was Daryl.

The Governor placed his hand on top of the man’s head, his fingers curlin’ around the sack. “Among these terrorists, Merle’s own brother!”

He ripped the bag off and stepped away and I suddenly found myself starin’ into my baby brother’s familiar face. I closed my eyes and I knew more than anythin’, that as much as I’d been wantin’ to see him again, that I wished it was anyone else but him. When I opened my eyes again, Daryl was starin’ at me. His eyes were wide. He looked like the little kid I used to know twenty-somethin’ years ago. He was afraid. I didn’t blame him. He’d be wrong not to be.

I heard the Governor suddenly yellin’ again, and realized he was lookin’ at me. “Where’s your loyalty lie, Merle? With your brother or with Woodbury?”

I looked back at Daryl, and I knew they were both waitin’ for an answer. One that I knew without even really thinkin’. Blood over anythin’ else. Blood over everythin’. I knew what needed to be done, though. If we had any chance of makin’ through this, I had to make it look real. I turned to the Governor, who was still waitin’ on a reply.

“Here. With Woodbury.” I said calmly.

Outta the corner of my eyes, I saw the change on Daryl’s face. Betrayal. I didn’t look at him. The Governor’s lip curled upwards. “Then prove it.” He said in a low voice. “Prove it to us all! Brother against brother. Winner goes free. Fight to the death!”

The crowd erupted in a loud, ear ringin’ cheer. My eyes suddenly caught Andrea in the very front. She was white as ghost, lookin’ at us in the center of the arena, horrified. I turned back to Daryl, who looked somewhere between hurt and beyond pissed off. I narrowed my eyes.

“I’m gonna do whatever it takes to prove where my loyalties lie!” I shouted through gritted teeth. I watched as one of his men cut through Daryl’s bonds, feelin’ my own hands come free as my own ropes were cut. The minute I had both hands free, I lunged forward and swung my fist at Daryl, knockin’ ‘em to the ground. He staggered to his feet but wasn’t fast enough as I swung again and felt my fist collide with his jaw. I knelt down on the ground, grabbin’ him by the front of his shirt as the crowd went wild behind us. Both his hands were suddenly around my throat, squeezin’ tight and chokin’ the air from my lungs, his face twisted with rage.

“Follow my lead.” I finally managed to choke out. The look on his face faltered for a minute and I pried his hands off me, staggerin’ back to my feet just in time for a walker to be pushed in my direction. I aimed a kick at its chest, sendin’ it stumblin’ backwards. I suddenly felt Daryl behind me, our backs pressed together as more walkers were pushed in on us. For the first time since the start of all this shit, I thought for a second that we might not make it outta this alive. Even if we got through the walkers, we were surrounded by guns. To hell with it, though. If I was gonna go down, I was gonna go down fightin’.

I threw a punch at the walker, aimin’ for its skull. I felt its bone crunch underneath my fist. That was when I noticed the smoke suddenly coilin’ around our feet. Smoke bomb, from where though, I had no fuckin’ clue. All it took was a second for it to become almost impossible to see anythin’. I finished off the walker in front of me and the bright lights next to the ring started to spit out yellow sparks as someone shot out the bulbs.

“Daryl?” I heard a woman yellin’ over the panic. She yelled his name again and I whirled around, squintin’ my eyes and tryin’ to see through the smoke. I caught sight of a figure then, comin’ out of nowhere and slammin’ herself into Daryl.

“Charlie? God damn it did I not tell ya’ to stay put?” He answered.

Sweet Jesus, the girl was alive. The walker hadn’t gotten to her after all. Somehow, she’d lived through all this shit. She tugged at Daryl’s hand and they were off and runnin’. I hadn’t a damn clue if I was invited or not, but I tore after them through the thick smoke. I was the last to make it to the sheet metal wall, pushin’ Charlie aside and kickin’ at the siding with the heel of my boot. It only took a few minutes before there was a gap just big enough to fit a few bodies through.

Up ahead, I thought I recognized that damn Officer Friendly, though it was hard to tell between both the dark and the haze of smoke. I ducked down through the narrow, lil’ openin’ after Daryl as we headed towards the forest. I felt a strong fuckin’ mixture of relief, and maybe even excitement, as I realized I was finally outta Woodbury and I was never gonna go back. Harlow, I suddenly thought. The second we were through the trees and on the road, I knew I’d be findin’ my bearings so I could get to her. I hoped like hell she was okay, that she hadn’t taken off back to Woodbury tryin’ to find me. She was supposed to stay put and wait, no matter what. A promise was a promise and I’d find my way back to her.

I could hear Charlie and Daryl mumblin’ up in front of me, but didn’t pay either of ‘em any mind. Now that I had finally lived through the last couple of hours, all I could think about was Harlow. We went on in silence for a long time and even though my head was somewhere else, I couldn’t ignore the fact that Daryl and his little girlfriend were holdin’ hands. I remembered always teasin’ him about her when we was kids. Never thought it’d actually happen.

I saw the break in the trees up ahead. When we finally broke through and made it to the road, the first thing I saw was the SUV. Michonne was leanin’ up against the side, right next to a girl with dark hair that was a little too short for my tastes. I felt my limbs tense up when I recognized the dark skinned guy next to ‘em. I remembered him, just like it was yesterday, slammin’ my fist against his face over and over again before Officer Friendly was suddenly cuffin’ me to the roof. I didn’t have time to be mad, though. Didn’t have time to waste on the past. My girl was waitin’.

A body moved from inside the car and the Asian kid was sittin’ up. His eyes narrowed when he finally caught sight of me, hoverin’ at the back of the group.

“What the hell is he doin’ here?” He spat.

I rolled my eyes. “Don’t get all bent outta shape, Korea. I ain’t stayin’.” I said, lookin’ over my shoulder back towards the forest. I was thinkin’ hard, tryin’ to get some sorta map inside my head. From where we were all standin’, I’d figure it was at least an hour’s hike to where I’d left her.

When I turned back around, Daryl was lookin’ at me all confused like. “What the hell does that mean?” He asked, his voice risin’. “Course you’re comin’ with us. You’re my brother.”

I let out a dry laugh before anyone had a chance to argue with him, and I knew better than to think any of ‘em would be willin’ to just let me tag along. “No offense, baby brother, but I can tell when I ain’t wanted. Got someone waitin’ on me.” I tilted my head as I looked at him. “Why don’t ya’ come with me? Leave these folks behind, huh?” I knew it was a long shot even before the words left my mouth. Daryl thought he belonged with them now.

What surprised me even more than that, though, was how willingly I suddenly felt to let him walk away. I had spent all my time lookin’ for him, searchin’ high and low. I never thought about what it’d be like when I actually found him. Never thought I’d have to choose between him and Harlow. I saw the way he looked at the damn girl, though. He wouldn’t leave her unless he had too. Normally I’d fight with him on that, but not anymore. Not since Harlow.

“I won’t leave, Charlie.” He was sayin’, not even missin’ a beat. Almost exactly what I’d thought I’d hear from him word for word. “I ain’t gonna let your ass go stompin’ around in the woods alone, though. I’ll go with you to whatever you’re lookin’ for, but then I’m gone.”

Before I even had a chance to say a damn thing, to argue or accept his help, Charlie was interruptin’. She sounded panicky. “Wait, excuse me? No, you can’t just keep leaving me behind like this!” She hissed in a low voice. “I’ve spent the last two days thinking I was gonna die and I’d never see you again. You’re insane if you think I’m gonna let you hike off with Merle for a few days. No offense.” She turned her brown eyes on me and I shrugged.

“None taken, sugar.” I said, holdin’ my hands up.

Daryl let out a long breath, lookin’ from me to her. “Gimme one minute, Merle.” He finally said. I nodded, watchin’ as he disappeared behind the other side of the car, draggin’ Charlie with him.

The minute they were outta sight, the damn Asian was tryin’ to argue. “We can’t let Daryl just run off with Merle! Who the hell knows where he’s going and what he’s looking for! He’ll probably get him killed!” He had his eyes on the police officer, whose actual name I couldn’t even remember. The short haired girl put a hand on the kid’s shoulder, tryin’ to settle him down.

“Daryl’s a big boy. He can make his own decisions.” I said coolly, crossin’ my arms over my chest.

Glenn’s eyes looked like they was full of murder when he looked back at me. He opened his mouth, no doubt to spit somethin’ else insultin’ out when I heard Michonne’s raspy whisper of a voice. It quieted down real quick, which made me think I wasn’t the only one surprised to hear her speak up.

“He’s going to get Harlow.” She said, her dark eyes meetin’ me across the small half circle of people. I felt my eyebrows shoot up in surprise, wonderin’ how the hell she had guessed that. “I take it you got her out before things went bad?”

I nodded slowly. “Took her out to a creek, a few miles north. Figured she’d be safer there.”

“Wait, who the hell is Harlow?” T-Dog was askin’, forehead furrowed together in confusion as he looked from me to Michonne and back again.

“None of your damn business.” I finally said. “I know I’ve done some fucked up shit, and I’ve done more than enough to piss you and everyone else off, but I’m done with that. All I’m tryin’ to do is get to where I need to go, whether it’s with or without my brother.”

“Merle’s right.” Officer Friendly surprised the shit outta me by suddenly takin’ a step forward. “As much as I hate to admit it, he is. We let him go off and do whatever it is he needs to, but it’s Daryl’s choice on followin’ him or not.” He said calmly.

Glenn looked like he wanted to keep arguin’, but I didn’t think he’d have enough strength his body to even get another word out. So instead, a heavy silence was settlin’ in around us. All it did was make me even more impatient. I couldn’t wait around forever. Which was exactly why I was so damn relived to see Daryl finally comin’ back around the car, with his girl trailin’ behind him.

“You sure you wanna do this, Daryl?” The Korean kid asked, and I could tell both him and Charlie were hopin’ like crazy he’d change his mind.

Daryl just nodded. “I’ll be back by tomorrow.”

I looked impatiently over my shoulders at the trees. Enough with this fuckin’ waitin’ around. I needed to get to Harlow now. “Glad you got your lil’ goodbye in and all, but we need to get goin. Come on.” I grunted. Tired of standin’ around, doin’ nothin’, I set off into the trees. I hadn’t gone very far, though, when I heard Daryl stompin’ after me. He fell into step right behind me after a second, his steps growin’ quiet. “You didn’t have to do me any favors by comin’.” I finally said, lookin’ over my shoulder at him.

He shrugged. “I ain’t tryin’ to. Just wantin’ to make sure you’re okay. Make sure you get wherever you’re goin’ in one piece.”

I snorted with laughter. “Dunno what the hell you’re suddenly all worried for. Made it this far and I’m still alive, ain’t I?”

“Barely. Almost didn’t make it off that roof, didn’t ya?” I heard him say quietly.

I felt the muscles in my jaw stiffen. “Things was different back then.” I finally said.

“Oh yeah? How so?”

I pursed my lips, lettin’ out a long, drawn out sigh. “’Cause back then I didn’t give a damn. Felt like I didn’t have a fuckin’ thing left worth livin for.” I finally admitted, though it was the absolute last thing I’d ever thought I’d hear leavin’ my mouth.

“I can talk to Rick, get ‘em to give ya’ another chance.” Daryl was suddenly sayin’, the words rushin’ outta his mouth.

“Can’t.” I grunted.

“Figures. You was always findin’ reasons to leave, reasons to back outta my life.” I heard him say, so quiet I almost missed it.

I stopped dead in my tracks, turnin’ around to face him. His eyes widened in surprise, and he took a step back with his crossbow still tight in his hands.

“Listen, Daryl. I know I’ve been lettin’ ya’ down your entire life. I know I’ve been a shitty ass brother.” I said slowly, frustration leakin’ out into my tone. “But I’m doin’ the best I can right now. I spent the last four months lookin’ for ya’. Hell, I almost got myself killed tryin’ to get your girl outta Woodbury. Like I said, I didn’t ask ya’ to follow me out here so I need you to shut the hell up and trust me. I gotta find her.” The words had left my mouth in a long strand and I was breathless by the time I had finished, wonderin’ where the hell it had all come from anyways.

Daryl was lookin’ at me, his eyes narrowed and I didn’t have a damn clue about what he was gonna say next. Finally, though, he licked his lips before openin’ his mouth. “Her? Did you just say her?” He asked.

I rolled my eyes, turnin’ back around and movin’ deeper into the forest. “No more questions, Darlina. Keep quiet before we have every damn walker in a five mile radius on our tails.” I could feel his eyes burnin’ into my back, no doubt still full of questions just like he always had been as a kid. He kept his mouth shut, though, keepin’ close as we moved silently weavin’ in and out of the trees.

We kept at it for a while, the moon our only source of light, makin’ all sort of shadows jump outta the trees and bushes. I felt like maybe I had gotten turned around in the dark and led us in the wrong direction before I heard the tricklin’ of a stream. My pulse quickened as I sped up, hurryin’ towards the sound. I broke into a jog, tryin’ to cover as much ground as possible, knowin’ I was close. When I finally broke into the clearin’, I froze. The relief that flooded through me was unlike anythin’ I’d felt before as I saw her pacin’ back and forth by the bank of the stream, chewin’ her lower lip.

Her eyes shot upwards and I saw her mouth drop, the color drainin’ from her face. Her cheeks looked wet and I wondered for a second if she had actually been cryin’. We stared at each other long and hard for a minute before she was speedin’ towards me. I held out my arms for her, but she surprised the hell outta me by givin’ me a shove backwards. I stumbled, bumpin’ into Daryl.

“You asshole, Merle!” She breathed, shakin’ her head. “God, I thought you were dead! I thought something had happened and I didn’t know what do. I didn’t know what to do!”

I stepped forward and pulled her into my chest, wrappin’ my arms around her waist as her head fell onto my shoulder and her warm, shaky breath hit my neck. “It’s okay, sugar. Nothin’ happened to me. I’m here. Ain’t gonna be leavin’ ya’ no more.” I said quietly. I knew Daryl was hoverin’ somewhere nearby, but I didn’t give a damn as I pressed my lips hard against hers and I felt her arms slip around me, her hands grippin’ the back of my shirt tightly. She pulled away and buried her face in the front of my shirt. I closed my eyes as I tilted my chin and brushed my lips over the top of her hair, breathin’ her in while thankin’ anythin’ and everythin’ holy that I had found my way back to her.

I felt her shoulders rise and fall as she took a deep breath before takin’ a step back, keepin’ her hands on my waist as she looked up at me with wide eyes. “What the hell happened? And don’t say nothing because something held you up like that.” She reached up and wiped at my jaw with her sleeve. “You have blood on you.” She said quietly. There was the loud snappin’ sound of twig breakin’ and Harlow’s eyes darted over my shoulder. She froze and I knew she finally spotted Daryl. “Who the hell are you?”

She pushed past me and I turned, seein’ Daryl standin’ awkwardly by the creek like he didn’t have a damn clue what he was supposed to be doin’. She took him in, lookin’ him up and down before carefully turnin’ back to me. Her mouth was hangin’ open, the look of disbelief on her face almost funny. “Holy shit, Merle. Is this your brother?” She finally asked.

My lips twitched as I started to grin. Daryl was still starin’ at Harlow, watchin’ her like he didn’t know what the hell to make of her. “This is Daryl. My baby brother.”

“Jesus.” Harlow exclaimed quietly. “Merle and I have been looking for you everywhere.” She started to smile a little bit. “I’ll be damned.”

Daryl looked uneasily at me. Whatever he thought we was hikin’ after, I could tell by the look on his face he never in a million years expected it to actually be a woman. Probably that I’d lost my mind and was makin’ crazy shit up. “This is Harlow.” I finally said.

“I’m the one that saved Merle from bleeding to death after the rooftop incident.” She explained.

“You mean to tell me this entire time I thought you was dead, you had a woman lookin’ after you?” Daryl suddenly blurted out.

“Not the whole time.” Harlow huffed, crossin’ her arms over her chest. “Trust me, there were plenty of times I wanted to put him back on that rooftop.”

“Quit tellin’ the kid lies.” I smirked.

She rolled her eyes before lookin’ back at my brother. “So Merle was right. He was saying he thought you were bound to show in Woodbury, looking for your girl. Is she okay?” Harlow asked, her eyebrows furrowed together. She was lookin’ around him, like she half expected Charlie to suddenly appear outta the trees and I realized she was wonderin’ why the hell he wasn’t with her.

“She’s fine.” He said slowly. “Probably should be headin’ back to her.”

Even though I knew that had been his plan all along, still stung a little to hear him say he was leavin’. Never thought in a million years that once I finally found Daryl, we’d still go our separate ways. Seemed a damn shame. A waste. Harlow was lookin’ mighty confused about this so I cleared my throat. “Daryl and Charlie got a group. One that I ain’t exactly welcome to.” I said gruffly. “And he sure as hell ain’t gonna drag her away from ‘em and bring her out here with us.”

Daryl’s mouth was frownin’. He didn’t say a damn thing, but just his face said enough. I was right. The last thing he was ever gonna do was put his girl’s life in danger out here. It should’ve pissed me off he’d choose her over me, but I got it. Lookin’ at Harlow, I got why he was leavin’.

“So that’s it then? You finally found each other and now you’re already saying goodbye?” Harlow was shakin’ her head, lookin’ baffled still.

“Come back with me. Both of ya’.” The words spilled outta his mouth so fast I almost didn’t catch ‘em. He was lookin’ at me with uneasy eyes, like even he knew what he was sayin’ wasn’t a good idea.

I waved my hand at him. “I already told ya’…they ain’t gonna let me come back.”

“They might…since ya’ have her with you.” Daryl nodded his head at Harlow. “Maybe you ain’t the most pleasant son of a bitch, but she seems alright.”

I snorted. “What? You empty your head out or somethin’? You not remember the time I beat the piss outta that black fella? Tried to take control of the group and endin’ up chained to a drain pipe?”

Harlow’s hands were suddenly on my arm. “Wait, he’s right.” I looked at her like she was crazy and she shook her head before goin’ on. “If I’m with you, you won’t look so…so hostile.” She said, searchin’ for the right word. “They might give us a chance. If I can forgive you, they can too.”

“Listen to her, Merle. Girl’s got more brains than you.” Daryl was sayin’.

I shook my head, lookin’ between the two of ‘em like they was both off their rockers. “This ain’t gonna work. Officer Friendly’s gonna take one look at me and send me off. Maybe put a bullet in my ass first, who the hell knows.”

“We can at least try, Merle.” Harlow said quietly. I felt her fingers closin’ over my wrist before slidin’ down to hand. She was lookin’ up at me with a hard, determined look in her eyes and I knew that look enough to know I was fightin’ a losin’ battle.

I sighed, knowin’ I was gonna regret this. I looked up at Daryl, crossbow in his hands. “Lead the way, little brother.”



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