PART 1: Chapter 1: Decisions
Category: TV Shows- The Walking Dead
Pairings: Merle/OC, Daryl/Carol, and all canon pairings
Originally published: 04-21-13
Chapters: 117 (cut down to 60)
Warnings: strong language, adult content, dark themes, possibly triggering.
Spoilers: Deviates from season three canon at chapter 30
Basically, guys, the first few chapters are basically setting the scene/ fluff stuff; it all starts kicking off around chapter fifteen. This fic needs alot of amending, but I haven't had a chance to get around to it yet. Hope you enjoy it, regardless!
PART ONE: THE PRISON
"Move that ass, boy, before you get a chunk ripped out of it!" Merle roared at his younger brother as they ran through the forest. They has spent the entire night on foot, travelling back to wherever the rest of the prison group were hiding out, avoiding Walkers and trying their hardest to keep on their toes. Rick ran ahead of the others at full speed in an attempt to create a barrier between Glenn, Michonne and Daryl's good-for-nothing brother, Merle.
"What the hell is he doing here?" Glenn screamed, all weapons drawn, and Michonne's face beneath her sword was not to be reckoned with- the two sides screamed unintelligibly at each other, Daryl acting as a defensive barricade between Glenn and his older brother.
"Calm down, China Town!" Merle barked from behind his younger sibling. Rick struggled to maintain some form of peace, until it all got out of hand; Daryl mouthed off at his brother, trying to force him into conforming to the demands of Rick, and Merle snapped.
"Shut up yourself, bunch of pussy's you roll with-!"
Rick took him out with the hilt of his gun and the huge man dropped like a ton of bricks. The group stared in silence for a minute at his dead-weight body.
"We need to talk," Rick growled, moving to the outskirts of the trees.
"So what, you just gonna leave him here under this tree?" Daryl called angrily to the others as they followed, then stoically shook his head and took a quick look at his brother. "Dumb-ass piece of shit," He murmured, giving him a not-quite playful kick before taking chase after the rest of the group. The others were already fired in discussion by the time Daryl reached them, one eye turned back and a hand resting on his cross-bow encase a Walker appeared and found its way too close to the unconscious Dixon. Daryl started yapping in a raised voice to Glenn. Michonne had been put to work laying to rest a couple of walkers who had stumbled upon their little argument, Katana blade whirling in the background as the row became more heated. It wasn't long till Merle was back up on his feet, a little disoriented but mirthful as ever, and he wandered back to the arguing group where he was met by abuse from Glenn's end.
"I'm going, then!" Daryl snapped eventually, "Merle and me'll go if you don't want us-"
"And what about Carol?" Glenn called over Rick's protests.
"Give him a chance," Daryl tried to reason. "He's good with his hands-"
"Hand," Merle corrected, jabbing his knife into the tree again.
"-Shut up, will ya? He's got experience up in the forces and he knows how this Governor thinks. I know he's a hot head and a dumb son of a bitch, but..." Daryl trailed off, looking helplessly at Rick, pleading with him to understand. From the car, Maggie continued to watch as the scene continued- It became heated again, Glenn and Daryl screaming in each other's faces, but Rick intervened, talking solely to Glenn. The scene played out like this for a few more minutes before it seemed to simmer.
"So it's settled, then?" Rick demanded, watching Glenn and Daryl uneasily, "Merle's coming back with us."
Daryl nodded coldly, joined after a quivering pause by Glenn, eyes dark. He glanced over at his brother, who had spent the last few electrolysed minutes of deciding his fate with the bayonet of his prosthetic stabbed into the nearest tree.
"Hey, lil' bro, look at this," Merle called, acting as though his fate hadn't just been decided for him- he stepped back with open hands in embrace of his creation. 'DIXON'was carved clumsily into the tree he'd been working on, a crude crossbow and what was supposedly meant to be a carving of his bayonet buried into the surface. "The Dixon Brothers, immortal," he shook proudly, moving over to his brother- a gesture which made Glenn tense a little. Merle ignored this, allowing his non-weaponized arm to fall over the winged shoulders of Daryl.
Inside the car, Maggie watched as Daryl, his brother and Rick moved over to the second car, followed by the assassin like Michonne. The four of them climbed inside the vehicle, and the engine revved up threateningly and with a gloomy expression, Glenn opened the door with a face of thunder and collapsed into the driver's seat.
"He's coming with us," he spat to Maggie, "I can't believe..."
Glenn let his words fall beneath the wheels of the vehicle and kick started the car, following out after the vehicle in front as they headed back to the prison.
The car Rick was driving began to run low on gas- in their search the group ended up on the abandoned highway where they had first lost little Sophia, back when they had been overrun by their first herd. Michonne ran her blade through a lumbering walker, lost amongst the baron world, ending its futile existence with barely any effort at all as Rick bent over the faucet of a carrier van. As he finished working on the nozzle, a surprisingly human sound came from within the abandoned vehicle. Michonne looked over at Rick, and he nodded. She thrust the blood-ridden Katana blade between the van doors and they opened up willingly; Rick pulled one rusted door fully open and Michonne prepared to take a swing, but no walker made its way forwards. Instead, a shaken-looking girl stood up at the back, adrenaline sparking off her like effervescence, causing her legs to tremble; she was stood defensively with a rusty crowbar braced in one hand, the other held out as though to defend herself. Realizing she wasn't faced with the dead, she gave a rushed sigh and visibly relaxed; though the crowbar, still tight in her grip, remained raised.
"What'cha doing in here?" Rick barked at her.
"I- I don't know-"
"You 'don't know'?"
"Just.. hiding," the girl lisped quickly, unable to believe that she's come across other humans, "from those- those things."
Rick nodded. "Anyone with you?"
She looked left and right, not knowing which answer would be more to her benefit. Realizing there was only one option- telling the truth- she affirmed, "Just me."
Rick shook his head from side to side, looking back towards Michonne in search of support.
"You been bit?"
Got a gun on you?"
"How long you been in there?"
"Three days," she told him, unnerved by his demanding questions. "The place I was at got overrun-"
"-You got any food with you?"
The girl tensed at this- she knew the threat other humans now posed. She considered lying for a second, but then saw the corner of a packet of food sticking out from underneath her limited supplies and quivered, "not much."
Michonne looked to Rick uneasily.
Glenn wandered over, staring absent-mindedly back at Maggie, who was stood beside one of the cars they'd brought holding the newly-filled can of gas, staring at nothing with a smouldering expression. God, he was worried about her. Carol sat within the car, her head in her hands; clearly coming back here was stirring bad memories. Glenn looked around as he moved towards the others, and sure enough, there it was; the car with the white message scrawled across its front.
SOPHIA STAY HERE
WE WILL COME EVERY DAY
Discreetly Glenn removed the small amount of supplies they'd left on the car's hood and placed them inside the bag on his shoulder, including a jar of peanut butter, a flashlight, several cans and bottles of water. It felt wrong somehow, but they needed all the supplies they could get at the moment.
"Rick, we got it the gas," Glenn said as he reached the others. "If we're gonna get to Woodbury-"
He looked inside the van and his mouth hung open. He glanced at Rick, and could see by his expression he'd made up his mind.
"Who's that?" Glenn asked, wiping his hand back across the wound underneath his nose, which was still giving way to blood prior to the attack he'd suffered at the hands- well, hand- of Daryl's brother.
"I'm Laurel," the girl piped up, moving forwards a little in the van. Rick gave her a warning look and she backed off. Glenn looked at the girl- she looked harmless enough, and certainly more weary of them than they were of her.
"We're not gonna leave her out here, are we?" Glenn asked, looking to Rick. Their leader looked left and right down the abandoned road, then growled huskily, "It's not safe to bring more people in, you know that. Our supplies are low and..." His sentence trailed off as she fought an inward battle. Get to Daryl, get back. That was the plan. But this... this was unexpected, a fork in the road.
"She's just a kid," Glenn said to Rick quietly, turning from the girl and Michonne, "If we leave her out here- she's all alone, she ain't gonna last long."
Rick rubbed his head in his hand. "I ain't riskin'-"
Maggie was walking over. She'd seen a figure in that van, deep in the shadows. A Walker that was stuck somehow? What were they all doing?! They needed to get back to the prison quickly , before there were any repercussions from that... that man.
Glenn stopped trying to convince Rick as Maggie approached- she handed him the gas cannon and walked waif-like past them all, up inside the van upon seeing the girl. Maggie stood there a moment, not moving, and the girl looked uneasily at her- then, very slowly at first, Maggie moved forwards and put her arms around the girl, shaking. The three of them watched the scene as though through crystalline glass- it was confusing, strange. It made no sense to neither Rick, Michonne or Glenn, nor to the girl they had discovered. But they all knew what it meant. Glenn turned his gaze to Rick, waiting for him to react. Eventually the sheriff sighed, hands on his worn hips. He directed a hand inside the van, looking somewhere into the ground, still in disbelief.
"Search her, then blind-fold her."
"Wait, what?!" the girl said quickly, stepping back from Maggie and standing a little defensively- Rick looked at her and drawled,
"Do you want to come with us, or stay out here by yourself?"
"I... I don't know," she galled quickly, "I don't know you people, you could be cannibals or-"
"Cannibals?!" Glenn said quickly, "what kind of people have you been hanging around with?"
"...Dead ones," she answered in a whisper, looking to the floor with a sudden pained expression. "You... you hear things."
Glenn looked to Rick again, and shrugged his shoulders.
"We gotta blindfold you," Rick explained to the girl, "we don't know you either, remember- don't want you seeing our camp before we decide you can stay or not, you could have a group..." he thought suddenly of Randall and sighed, "we've made mistakes before. We will not be making them again. Now you can accept the hand we're offering you, or you can stay out here- makes no odds to us if you choose to stay out here and die. But we have a safe place, good people... If you want it, you can have that, too."
The girl seemed to struggle inwardly for a moment longer, then gave a slow nod.
Merle sat out in the back of the car, his hand caught up over the back of his head as he squinted out of the window to try and see what the hell was going on out there. The group were on their way back now, Officer Friendly and the china kid with his girl, that black woman and... who the hell was that? They had a girl with them, blindfolded, tall and dirty blonde, being lead along by Rick's hand pressing down hard on his shoulder. Daryl peered up over his car door and tried to decipher who the new figure was.
"She ain't one of ours," Daryl told Merle, "she musta been hidin' out... guess she's comin' with us."
Glenn glared at Merle as they got closer, and the older man threw him a wink. Maggie hooked the girls arm and prepared to pull her down into the back of the second car- Rick stopped her with a hand on her shoulder, pulling the blindfolded girl over to himself and leaning close to her ear. She flinched a little as he growled,
"You understand this- one foot out of line, you try anything... you're the one who's gonna loose. You understand that?"
The girl nodded. Rick tapped his hand on her shoulder approvingly and allowed Maggie to help her navigate her way inside the car, closing the doors so neither of them would have to listen to the onslaught of arguing that was sure to come- Glenn and Merle were already spitting insults at each other.
Once the two were freed from the scenario, Glenn found he was unable to hold his disdain any longer- he turned to Rick and hissed,
"Are you really gonna have him sleeping in the same place as Beth?" He then turned to Daryl and eyed him coldly. "...as Carol?"
"He ain't no rapist!" Daryl cried out in disgust, standing up from his perch over the car door, and Glenn retorted,
"Yeah, well, his buddy sure is, we've all seen that-!"
"Oh yeah, Chopsticks, why don't ya come down here and try your chances sayin' that to my face?!" Merle screamed over, slapping an arm on the half-wound widow. "You just wait till we get back, I'll teach your ching-chong ass a lesson you won't soon forget-!"
"He's Korean," Daryl rasped, "now do yourself a favor and shut your damn mouth for once, Merle."
"Like I care which way his eyes slant, t's all the same to me... tell you what, Not-So-Mellow Yellow,
Glenn made to move forward, but Rick managed to grab hold of him- Daryl's face showed his disdain for the way Merle was showing himself to the others.
"You gonna let him talk like that?!" Glenn spat, outraged, to Daryl and Rick.
"He don't mean it, he's just tryin' to get to ya, can't you see?!"
"Oh, I do mean it, lil' brother-"
"Just shut your mouth," Glenn hissed. Rick, now in the driver's seat of the smaller vehicle, shook his head; Maggie shot a death glare at the man from inside the car.
"What's going on?" the girl asked a little nervously, on edge from not being able to see.
"Nothing much," Maggie lied, "just- Daryl's brother. He's making a scene."
"-Oh, right. Daryl, he's one of ours... well, you'll see him later, I suppose."
The girl nodded. "Can I take this thing off my face yet?"
"Sorry," Maggie told her, "Rick doesn't want you knowing the route to our place."
She thought for a minute the girl might ask why- she didn't want to have to tell her it was due to Rick's paranoia that she might have a group somewhere, just ready to spring on the prison the moment she was out. Didn't want her finding her way back encase they decided they didn't like her and were gonna drive her straight back out of the prison gates and leave her in a field somewhere with a can of beans and a flashlight... because that plan had worked so well with Randall.
"I'm Laurel," the girl finally tried, a gentle smile bruising her thin lips. She needed a drink- Maggie recognised this by the dryness of her voice and handed her one of the canteens they'd brought with them.
"Here," she said, placing it in her hands.
"Oh- thanks," the girl said unsurely, fingering the bottle as to decipher what it was. She gave it a little shake and determined it contained liquid. "What is it?"
Still a little unsure, the girl took a tiny sip. "Thank you," she chimed again. "haven't had a drink in a couple of days now."
"No problem," the older woman smiled. "I'm Maggie, by the way."
"Hi Maggie," she greeted lightly.
"Always nice to have more girls around the place. You'll get on well with Beth, I bet."
"Beth?" Laurel asked, and Maggie smiled a little at the thought of her angelic sibling.
"My sister," Maggie added, then remembered nothing was official yet- Rick could still change his mind. No point getting anyone's hopes up.
"Not cannibals, then," the girl muttered with a smile.
"No, not cannibals," Maggie smiled.
Maggie noticed Glenn turn back to the red car and begin to skulk towards it. Before he reached them, Maggie murmured to the girl they'd found.
"Whatever happens, just... stay away from Merle Dixon."
Glenn snapped open the door of the car and turned the key roughly in the ignition. The engine groaned into life, and the survivors cursed their way back through the dust of the bitter road.
"Hey there, good lookin'!" Merle Dixon cried, falling to his knees before the head of the motorcycle and kissing it gently, "oh, Daddy's missed you, you cruel son of a bitch..."
The rest of the group clambered from the cars just inside of the prison gates as Rick pulled the last fence shut, then began to lead the girl they'd found on the highway up inside C Block steps, a little rougher than probably need be. Maggie watched from a distance- Glenn tried to catch up with her, but she had slipped in through the metal grill of the gates before he could reach her. He went in after her with a sigh; in the doorway, Maggie met Carol.
"Is everyone alright?" Carol tried, wrapping her arms around the girl, "who was that who's with Rick?"
"Her name's Laurel," Maggie explained, "we found her up on the highway, all alone. Must have been hard, being all alone... no idea how long she was out there, but it can't have been too long. She seems nice." Maggie paused a moment before adding in a dry tone, "Daryl's brother's back."
"What?" Carol said in surprise, remembering Merle from back in Atlanta. "Thought we'd seen the back of him after that roof thing," Carol mumbled absent-mindedly. She had a bad feeling about the way this might turn out. "Merle Dixon- racist, sexist, neo-nazi drug dealer... and user, I wouldn't be surprised. At least that's the Merle Dixon I know."
"Times don't change much," Maggie muttered and Carol nodded, remembering back to the early days just outside Atlanta, when she was still with her vicious husband... she could barely bring herself to think his name.Ed,she forced herself, Ed Peletier. Your husband. She looked out at Daryl, his angsty posture and swirl of dark hair and sunk into thought of him.
Maggie moved onwards and Glenn followed through after her- she had become so distant since they'd made it out of Woodbury. Michonne slipped inside after him, giving a quick glance at the Dixon's, Merle still on his knees before the hawg as though it were some shining idol, talking to it in a slurred, thick voice. His wide fingers rubbed at the paintwork, trying to plaster down what appeared to be a Schutzstaffel symbol, beside a vibrant red logo which read 'SSMC'. The two stood alone in the courtyard for quite some time before Carol appeared down the steps and drifted to where Daryl stood; she touched his back with spider-web fingers and he flinched a little.
"Hey," she whispered lightly. He nodded, lips flinching at the corners into a vague smile. "I'm glad to see you all back safe."
"Thanks," he replied in a black drawl, but he was distracted by the presence of his brother. "You seen that new kid yet?" Daryl asked absently, "Rick's still got her blindfolded, I think."
"Her name's Laurel," Carol smiled at him, folding her arms over her chest and rocking a little, feeling queasy. "Maggie said she seems harmless, I recon she'll be sticking around... I hope she will." Carol looked down at the mass that was Daryl's brother, still crooning over the motorcycle. "Glad to see you're alright, as well, Merle."
Merle turned his head a little, a coy smile on his lips but opted to say nothing- he waved at her with his bladed arm and she raised her eyebrows in surprise at the knife attachment. Well, that's one way to make use of a bad situation...
"Has Darlena been taking good care of you?" Merle mock-whispered to the bike a couple of seconds after Carol had disappeared, "...no? Cuz if he hasn't, I'm gonna tan his lily ass..."
At first Carol flushed, thinking Merle was talking to her- but then Daryl stepped in with a yawn and muttered, "I been lookin' after you're bike just fine."
"Like she was your own?"
"She was my own," Daryl moaned in an annoyed tone, hands dug deep in his pockets. "until you decided to make her yours-"
Carol touched Daryl's bare arm again, then swept herself away inside the cell block.
"Oh, the stickers, right?" Merle laughed with a thick growl, picking the edge of one of the white-supremacist logos rubbed against the dark paintwork, "well, you got a fair deal for her, huh?"
"What, $200 bucks? You call that much a fair deal when you and your shitty friends ran her up the walls on your skit-runs? You, sendin' that Ash kid round and round on it in circles droppin' off your gear to every dick wad with a taste for grass-?"
"I dealt in better than grass, kiddo. They came to me for their crystal, shipped in all the way from 'Querque. Blue, but still... clear as day. Besides, it weren't like that- only once or twice. That Ash prick was a useless son of a bitch anyway, never used to turn up- I had to beat his ass a good few times for missin' pick-ups. And I wouldn't call them friends, neither. I don't got friends."
"Yeah," Daryl acknowledged as soon as the others had dispersed, "well it ain't gonna be like that anymore. Soon as we get in those doors, you make the right impression, y'hear? These people are a good bunch, nothin' like the scum-bags you've been hangin' around with. They'll treat you right if you treat them right, simple as that. Hell, if you're real decent could even talk Glenn around in to gettin' on with ya."
"What, the midget China kid?"
"Yeah, yeah. Ain't gon' be no talkin' him nowhere, lil' bro. He's straight made up his mind about me, and the both of us know it. Don't blame him, neither."
There was a long, drawn-out pause, and the sun began to stretch a burnt rose-orange across the thickening sky.
"What happened out there?" Daryl asked, the question that'd been ripping at the back of his brain since he'd found it all out. "'Tween you and Glenn and-"
"I didn't do nothin' to her if that's what you're thinkin'," Merle seethed, watching the gates glow in the sunset, "I know you think you're big brother's a psycho son of a bitch, but don't you dare... I didn't even touch her, and if she tries to say I did I swear to whoever's listenin'-"
"I- I know you wouldn't do somethin' like that... I know that, but they don't. I gotta live with you being a dumb-ass son' bitch but they won't. They don't have to deal with your shit."
"You watch how you're talkin' bout our Ma, boy, or I'll wring that throat out with soap and Jesus."
Daryl shrugged his shoulders, smacked a hand at the back of his neck as a critter buzzed by.
"Damn 'scitos," he muttered, and another surged gently through the smoggy evening air, tiny gnats dancing about the tops of the barbed fences. Another flew close by Daryl and he swatted at it with his hand; It shimmied into Merle's space and the older Dixon mimicked the action with his prosthetic.
"So what'd you do to Glenn?" Daryl asked, stirring the conversation back into more dangerous waters. Merle tensed a little, and Daryl got to thinking he might actually be feelin' a little ashamed of himself.
"I pinned him up, threw a couple punches his way, s'all. Put a Biter-"
"That's what I said, ain't it, you ain't deaf! ...Yeah, I threw one at him, but I done worse." Merle looked down for a second, his voice a little cracked. "I done a hella lot worse to other guys."
He trailed off and Daryl suddenly felt awkward- it was the same uncomfortable feeling that had overcome him when Beth had hugged him after she'd told him they'd lost Carol; the same feeling as when Carol had kissed him on the head back at the farm. He felt exposed, because Merle didn't run out of words, not ever. Hell, if you could get him to shut his damn face at all it was a down right miracle. Merle not talking was like the sun not setting.
"You comin' in?" Daryl asked quickly as he stood up, unable to cope with the silence any longer. Merle watched his back a moment as he went over to the motorcycle, wiping his finger over some smudge of dirt obscuring the glassy surface of the front light. The shine of those damn wings on his little brother's back was blinding.
"You go ahead," Merle drawled, looking up into the sky to avoid the glare. "I'll be right on in."
"Yeah, well when you do, don't you talk to no one till I'm in that room with ya, y'hear?" Daryl instructed, imagining in his head all the things that'd go wrong if his brother decided to open that big mouth of his.
"Don't you worry, lil' brother," the older Dixon smiled, his voice going all quiet. "I won't say a word."
Merle pressed a finger to his lips, cold eyes watching the furnished sky.
Carl had been sat outside the cell for quite a while now; the girl that his dad had brought back hadn't moved in some time except for twiddling her fingers and picking at her short fingernails. He could see she was quite tall and was boasting quite the head of hair, an off-gold colour that ran in messy, detangled waves all around her shoulders. Carl could tell that her bangs must be tickling her face because she kept tucking them away behind her ear- either that, or she was nervous.
"Carl?" Beth whispered, stood to the side of the cell. He felt a little jolt in his stomach then quickly looked over at her, eyes hooded. She grabbed hold of his shirt sleeve and pulled him over a little closer.
"Stop staring," she whispered. "It's rude."
"Why is it? It's not like she can see me-"
"Maybe not, but she isn't deaf!"
Beth herself took the opportunity to glance into the cell where the new girl was- she looked to be about her age, maybe a little older. She was definitely bigger, regardless. Beth noted that her own clothes were a little more run-down than this girl's- she must have been living quite well before she came here to maintain her curves and clothing of a decent quality. Beth wandered if she was scared; she knew she would be if it was her, not being able to see in a place full of people she didn't know. Heck, for all this girl knew, they could all be cannibals- Beth had heard stories like that from Jimmy back at the farm. He'd said that, when things got worse and food got scarce, it wouldn't be the Walkers you'd have to worry about anymore. Beth thought of the Governor, of that little town Woodbury, and thought to herself; he's right. She just looked at Carl for a minute, not knowing what to say.
Carl moved swiftly out of the way as metal clanging began to sweep up the stairs to the second floor where they stood; when it stopped, his dad walked up onto the balcony, Daryl not far behind with his crossbow slung lazily up on his shoulder; Rick pulled out a key from his pocket.
"Could you go downstairs a minute?" Rick asked, running a hand over the thick lines of stress on his forehead.
The two of them made themselves scarce quick enough, and Rick gave Daryl a small nod before working the key into the lock. He saw the girl jolt a little with nervous surprise, edging back onto the bunk slightly as his footsteps entered, accompanied by Daryl's lighter, more agile steps. She still wore the blindfold regardless of the fact her hands were untied, which Rick read as a sign; it meant that she was scared and, at least for now, prone to doing as she was told. Good, he thought.
Rick knelt down in front of her. She shifted a little uneasily, pulling her legs in closer to her as Rick spoke.
"Your name's Laurel, is that right?"
She nodded her head lightly.
Rick didn't really know what to do with her- he didn't want her here, that was for sure; the more people here, the more there were to look out for, the quicker the supplies would run out... the downfalls were endless. But Glenn had been right, she was just a kid. And she was alive, and that was something of a rarity now. He didn't want no more blood on his hands... not unless it was the Governors.
"How did you end up alone in that van?" He asked her, a little kinder than he'd spoken before- she wasn't a danger, that he was sure of now. She just seemed happy to be safe, to be inside, somewhere away from the flesh-eaters outside.
In a timid voice, recognising Rick's thick drawls as those belonging to the man who had warned her off earlier, the girl asked,
"Can I take this blindfold off-?"
Quickly Rick tugged the thing down around her neck, watching as she blinked at the dim light for a second. She tried a smile at him, then at Daryl, but neither gave her anything reassuring back- Rick continued to stare hard, and Daryl looked away.
"Where are we?"
"You just let me ask the questions- you just sit tight and answer 'em for me, okay?"
Feeling a little threatened by this, the girl rolled her shoulders back into place and waited patiently, carefully nodding her head.
"How many Walkers have you killed?"
"The things. Out there."
"I never had to... we were safe where we were living."
"My friends and me. They're... they're gone now."
Rick nodded in understanding- there was no need for his other questions. Instead he asked,
"So how did you end up in that van?"
She looked solemnly at the floor. "There was a group of us, living out in this supermarket we'd geared up at the start of all this- been living there since, but then we got attacked."
"Someone didn't lock the gates properly- they got in, and that was that. I was the only one who got out."
She seems legitimate, Rick thought. Harmless, he supposed- if an eye was kept firmly on her for a little while, if she knew full well leaving wasn't an option, maybe this could just about work. The girl watched him nervously, and eventually he sought Daryl's advice. His friend shrugged, an expression that read,
It's your call.
All of them stayed quiet until Rick eventually concluded;
"You'll stay in here for the night. Maybe tomorrow, too. Then you can meet the rest of the group, and if they like you... well, I guess you can stay."
She nodded her head and Rick got up.
"Thank you," she whispered as the two men left the cell.
"Don't thank me yet," Rick murmured back at her, wiping a hand over his forehead. As they descended the stairs, Rick turned to Daryl for some affirmation that he'd made the right decision.
"Not my call," Daryl said dismissively; Rick could never understand how he was so passive, so distant all of the time. Rick chose not to argue with him over whose call it was, instead asking,
"But what would you do?"
Daryl looked thoughtful a moment, and the two stopped near the bottom of the stairs so that the others wouldn't have earshot of their conversation.
"She's gonna die out there," he reasoned, arm up against the bridge of the wall. "Ain't no two ways about it...alone, no weapons or food or nothin'. She'd survive another couple days at most, I reckon. Givin' her food and sendin' her packing ain't no honorable thing when we know it's same as killing her straight. Might as well just...put a bullet in her head, if that's how you wanna play it."
"No...no, course not. You think this could work?"
Daryl nodded; just as he was about to reply, Axel's head appeared from around the door of the cell block.
"Uh, Rick?" he called awkwardly, realizing he was interrupting something, "there's some big fella out here, goin' right crazy. Kicking up a fuss, if you follow me."
"'Some fella?'" Rick asked, Making for the door; Daryl put a hand on his shoulder, cursing under his breath.
"Yeah, ugly-lookin' bastard with one arm-"
"S'my brother," Daryl interrupted hotly, and Axel pulled a face which suggested an apology. "I'll go sort him out," the youngest Dixon offered, and Rick gave a curt nod before Daryl jogged over and followed Axel out.
Rick considered following to assist the group in dealing with whatever bullshit Merle was starting... he held his head in his hand a second, then slowly and unwillingly began his journey outside.
"Beth!" Hershel yammered quickly from across the yard, realizing they were going to need a few more capable hands if this were to be dealt with properly, "go get Rick, now!"
The little blonde gave a yelp of acknowledgement then ran through back into the cell block, cheeks flushed as she called out,
Rick bumped in to her on his way out as she ran through.
"What is it?" he asked, holding her shoulders reassuringly.
"It's Daryl's brother, he's got Glenn, we need your help-!"
"Shit!" Rick hissed, kicking himself into action- he spurred out through the doors faster than Beth could find her own way, and as he burst out into the concrete yard, his heart hammered in his chest. "Hey!" Rick roared, stampeding forwards through the middle of the group- the older Dixon was up on the balcony of the left guard tower, one good hand holding on to the front of Glenn's shirt front as he held him half-over the balcony rail, his bladed hand pinned against Glenn's neck as he screamed down into his face. Maggie and Daryl were up in the opposite tower, Maggie's arms hitting out at Daryl as she wrestled with him for her gun; he flung it out over the fence where it landed close to a Walker who might once have been wearing a policeman's uniform. The two screamed indistinguishably at each other before Maggie pushed him away and found her way back to the staircase- Daryl shot after her, but by the time he reached the foot of the stairs she was already halfway across the court yard- Daryl heaved a sigh of relief as Rick grabbed her by the arms and struggled to console her.
"Calm down, Maggie- calm down!"
She didn't seem able to hear him, and only screamed up at Merle, who was laughing raucously at Glenn as he fought to escape.
"Get down here!" Daryl screamed up to his brother, who either he couldn't hear or didn't want to, "Merle, you dumb bastard, leave him alone!"
"Get her inside," Rick called to Herschel, and he, Beth and Axel proceed to try and force Maggie back into the C block.
Daryl spun his head round at the mention of his name and found that Carol was stood there, looking determined to help but obviously not sure what to do. Hell, he didn't know what to do either- never did, especially with Merle.
"Go on in," Rick advised her, "they're gonna need you in there."
Carol nodded and made her way back inside, where Maggie's roars could still be heard.
"Let's go get him," Daryl demanded, finding his way to the foot of the stairs and heading on up. Rick followed closely behind, almost unable to believe he'd ever agreed to allow a scumbag like Merle Dixon anywhere near this place, their home- of course it wasn't going to work. How could it ever work?!
They came out at the top of the guard tower, a little across from Merle and Glenn.
"Well, How-dy, partner," Merle said mockingly to Rick with a brief salute of his blade, as he crushed Glenn's legs a little harder against the hilts of the rails.
"Get of me!" Glenn roared, pushing with all his might back against Merle, but on sheer size alone there was no chance of him moving the man.
"Careful there, China," Merle hissed down at him, "all that wrigglin' around ain't gonna do you no good- my hand's gettin' mighty tired up here, and you gotta remember I only got the one..." he loosened his grip a little on the front of Glenn's shirt and he gave an involuntary yell of distress. Merle laughed voraciously and tilted Glenn even further off the balcony's edge.
"Put 'im down, Merle!" Daryl snapped, grabbing the back of his brother's shirt. Merle shrugged him off then cooed, "speakin' of hands, fancy lendin' me one, little brother? Kinda difficult punching this sack-of-shit kid in the face when I gotta hold him off this balcony too... you see, your little Chink friend here thought it a swell idea to come on up to tell me I ought to slip out of here while I still can... guess he hasn't learnt that Dixons stick together no matter how thick the shit is. By the looks of it, I'm not the one who'll be doin' the slippin'..." He lunged forward a little more and Glenn was suspended almost completely by only Merle's singular grip.
"Rick!" Glenn shouted-
"Your boyfriend can't save you now, little guy," Merle taunted, nodding down to the beasts below, "how 'bout them there Biters? You reckon they got a taste for Chinese food?"
"Enough," Rick ordered sharply.
"Oh, boo hoo," Merle mocked, "what ya gonna do, arrest me? Heh. We're already in prison 'case you hadn't noticed, Sunshine, and do you see any Screws around coming to give you a hand?"
Rick exhaled deeply, bringing the hilt of his gun up into the base of Merle's neck, feeling the grind of his vertebrae beneath it- the man turned a little, hiding his surprise at the Sherriff's reaction well.
"Oh, I see how it is. Big man. Go ahead, officer friendly," he smiled, "your yellow friend 'll only become Walker meat if you do."
Rick cocked the gun, and Merle laughed again; Daryl glanced quickly at Rick, who gave him the same look back.
"They'll kick us both out if you don't stop this shit," Daryl said coldly.
"Oh, they'd never get rid of you, lil' brother. You're the Sheriff's favourite pet- ain't he, DC Dickhead-?"
"Don't matter," Daryl hollered, ignoring his brother's taunts, "you know if you go I go too, that's the way it is."
"Then I best drop this China-man right now," Merle concluded, "cuz I sure as hell don't wanna stick around this place. Biters lookin' at ya day and night sizin' up which part of ya looks most delicious, stuck behind bars and with our old pal the Governor on his way in here any day now? We don't need this shit! We're meant to be out there-" Merle gestured to the trees around- "eating whatever we can kill and killing whatever's lookin' to eat! We can survive out there, Darlena- we can leave, right now!"
Daryl stared at the back of his brother's head, an inward struggle clearly being fought within him; Rick watched cautiously, ready to pounce should Merle make any sudden movements. Daryl blinked harshly, then seemed to squeeze the words out.
"I don't wanna leave," he quipped, hitching his crossbow a little higher up on his shoulder.
Merle was quiet for a few seconds- hell, so was Glenn, so was everyone. Even the Walkers seemed to pipe down a little to listen in. Slowly, Merle hoisted Glenn back over to the safety of the rail; the slighter man stumbled over to the other open end of the tower, shaking considerably through the shock that had been delivered to his system- then, with a sudden infuriated rage he span around and lunged at Merle. Both Daryl and Rick instinctively took hold of him, and Glenn flayed under their arms for a few solid minutes before exhaustion at his ordeal overcame him and he visibly deflated. Merle watched him with a wry smile the entire time; then, as Rick began to guide the stricken Glenn to the stairway, he threw the boy a wink- this seemed to give Glenn a burst of rage-filled energy, but soon enough it was containable again. Rick didn't even look at the two Dixons.
"Stay up here," he drawled in a dull, monotonous tone, and Daryl couldn't distinguish whether he meant Merle or himself. Rick managed to reach the bottom of the stairs with Glenn still moderately composed, be it from pure exhaustion if nothing else.
Daryl, stricken with disappointment by the whole ordeal, slowly turned to his brother.
"Why have you gotta do that?" He spat, "Every time?! Go and ruin everything?"
Merle eyed him coldly, lenses ice against the heat of the afternoon.
"You think these people will ever trust you now? We could'a- I had something good here, Merle. Something real. But no, you have to go and fuck it all up, don't ya?" Daryl spat over the rail of the balcony.
"You had what?" Merle yammered in a mocking tone, "couple of pussies and cripples who'll do nothing but drag you down when the time comes? How many of them can hold their own, huh? That one-legged farmer and his two girls, you think they're gonna hold up if the Governor decides to run his way through these gates?! You think that woman who hangs off you like a damn-!"
"-Don't you talk shit about her!"
Merle looked blankly a second, then shook his head, beginning to laugh that condescending, thick cackle that sent shivers through Daryl's entire body each time it was fired in his direction.
"This can't be what I'm thinkin' here... you ain't tellin' me you got a thing goin' for battered up housewives now, have ya?! What, you've finally found your balls and copped yourself a woman?"
Daryl winced inwardly a little, then groaned, "I've got it here. I've got a family-"
"I'm your damn family-!"
"-And you sure as shit ain't gonna ruin it just because you can't control that ragged-ass temper of yours!"
"Now you listen here, little brother," Merle seethed in a hushed voice, dulcet tones coming up thick through his accent as he cornered his little brother, hand threatening to come up around his neck- he forced down some emotion coming up inside him that he didn't wanna think about, and filtered it through to rage as he took hold of his little brother's face in his hand and leaned right on in, skin against skin. "I'm the only family you ever gon' have, you hear that? These- people- they ain't nothin' to you, y'hear? They don't care about you. Not like I do. Not like old Merle. And you know why?" Merle manually shook his brother's head for him, squeezing his cheeks so that his lips pursed involuntarily. "It's because you ain't nothin' to them but a squirrel-munchin' piece of redneck garbage Dictator Grimes managed to slap a heart onto, that's all. You ain't nothing but shit on the bottom of his shoes, that's how he sees ya... that's how they all see ya, and that ain't never gonna change. That woman you're so fond of, why'd you think she's stickin' around ya? It's because she's scared. She's weak, and you're good with your bow. She don't like ya, kid. She likes feelin' safe, you remember that... and when the tables turn, these people'll cast you out like the Leper you are. You hearin' me, son?" Merle manually nodded Daryl's head and concluded, "Good."
Daryl managed to pull himself away, and found he was weaning his way down the metal steps. He went as quickly as he could, blocking out whatever it was Merle was trying to call out after him. He wasn't going back into the C block, that was for sure... hell, he wasn't sure he'd ever be able to face them all again. Shit, what was happening to him? A Few months back he'd a just said screw them- but he felt- he felt like this place was his, like he needed to be here, with these people, and with Merle here too... ah, shit.
Daryl decided he'd go round through the next gate over, up into the guard tower in the B block which they'd cleared for Axel's group. He'd go up there and he'd sit in the quiet and he'd wax up the crossbow and just think on nothing at all- yet Merle's words were there, eating away at him like some degenerative disease, gnawing on his bones and supping his blood.
You ain't nothing but shit on the bottom of his shoes, that's how he sees ya.
She don't like ya, kid.
They'll cast you out like the Leper you are.
...Just think on nothing.