Brian and Daryl pulled off the highway into a gas station. With the power out, the pumps were inoperable. They filled their tanks with what they could find in the garage, but it wasn’t much. Thankfully their bikes didn’t require a lot.
“We should go inside and get some food.” Brian said, grabbing his stomach with his right hand.
“There won’t be anything here.” Daryl shook his head. “This place was picked clean days ago.”
“How do you know that?”
“I was the one who did it,” he said as he turned to Brian. “Let’s just get to Lila.” Daryl threw his left leg over his motorcycle and turned to his companion.
“Fine,” Brian grumbled and rubbed his growling stomach again before he mounted his bike.
“Wait!” Daryl held out his hand and stared down the tree-lined highway. Something was moving in the distance.
“It’s one of them,” Brian said, raising his automatic weapon and aiming for the stumbling thing. “Look at that limp.”
“No,” Daryl said. “I think it’s a person.” After dismounting, he jogged towards the lone figure, hope rising in his chest. He came closer and recognized the sloppy blond hair and green eyes. Corrigan stumbled towards him, naked but otherwise completely unharmed. His skin was free of any blemishes and his limbs, which had previously been shredded by shrapnel fire, were now fully formed again.
“Corrigan!” Daryl ran and held his arms out for the teen just in time to catch him as he collapsed.
“Daryl? I don’t wanna do what he says.” Corrigan muttered before losing consciousness. The cop carried his body back to the motorcycles and Brian stared wide eyed down at him.
“What’s going on here, man? We gotta kill this kid.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Daryl shook his head, going over to a small patch of grass that thrived beside the garage. “He’s fine.”
“He’s fine?” Brian protested. “I was there when Felicia attacked the tower. I saw her turn into a human when we knocked her out and you said then that she was fine. Remember?”
“Brian, this isn’t the same. We don’t even know if what happened to Felicia is happening to Corrigan. I never saw him actually become a monster, and he spoke to me! He was conscious and he was fine. Felicia was only human when she was unconscious.”
Brian pulled his pistol from his hip and aimed it at the kid’s head. “I’m gonna shoot him whether you’re holding him or not. It’s up to you, but do you really wanna spend the night picking brains from your hair?”
Daryl thought about it for a moment. He slowly bent down and placed Corrigan’s body on the ground, but didn’t let him go right away. He looked down at his young face and lamented, wondering how much of this scenario was his own fault. If he hadn’t shot his wife and child he wouldn’t have stopped at Jacob’s farm, he wouldn’t have taken Corrigan and Eden away from their brother, and they sure as hell wouldn’t have had a monster hunting them down. He sighed and glanced at Brian without moving his head.
“Good choice,” Brian said, nodding once. “Now get up and back away.”
Daryl released his grip on Corrigan, he felt his own heart beating intensely, irregularly. He looked down at Corrigan and realized the boy’s bare chest was pressed against his own, he was feeling Corrigan’s heart beat alongside his.
“I said, get up and back away.”
Daryl tensed the muscles in his legs, he judged the distance between himself and Brian, he was sure he could make it. He sprang up over Corrigan’s body, slamming into Brian’s chest. Brian fired his gun as he fell off balance, the bullet harmlessly planting itself in the dirt several feet from Corrigan.
“What are you doing?” Brian called out as Daryl pinned him to the ground.
Daryl drew his pistol and placed it against Brian’s chin as the other man pressed the muzzle of his own gun hard into Daryl’s gut. There was a gunshot and Daryl fell on top of Brian, both men limp and covered in blood.
“Unnhh...” Corrigan stirred in the grass, shivering as the breeze passed over his naked flesh. He rolled over, coughing and hacking, struggling for breath. Quickly realizing his lack of clothing he curled up into a fetal position and covered himself as best as he could.
“Daryl?” He called out.
“I’m alright, kid,” Daryl raised a hand and pushed himself up off of Brian’s dead body. “I’m alright.”
Corrigan huffed a sigh of relief and started to blush as he realized Daryl could now see his naked body. He tried to close his limbs in around himself and Daryl laughed at him.
“Don’t worry, kid, you can take his clothes.”
"His clothes? I don’t think they’d fit. Never mind the blood and brain bits-”
“Well fine then, you’ll ride naked. If you hit the asphalt you’ll just get the wickedest road rash ever imagined.”
“Ugh,” Corrigan rolled his eyes then he extended a hand and looked up at Daryl. “Pass me his pants.” When Corrigan was finished dressing, he looked down at himself. The material swam around his body and he frowned.
Daryl chuckled and dragged Brian’s naked body out of sight. He slung Brian’s automatic weapon over his shoulder then returned to Corrigan and handed the pistol to him before mounting his bike. Corrigan looked at Brian’s motorcycle with excitement in his eyes but Daryl was quick to temper it.
“No way,” Daryl said. “You can’t drive that thing. Get on mine. We’ll just have to come back for it later.”
“What? Why can’t I get my own?” Corrigan whined.
“There is no way you could control it. Maybe when we get back to the city I’ll give you some lessons and we’ll see if Lila is willing to lend you one to do donuts in the parking garage.”
“No way! I wanna hit the highway and feel the wind in my hair!”
“I’d imagine that would be tough through your protective head gear,” Daryl held a helmet out for Corrigan.
“Really? You want me to wear a helmet?”
“Of course I do. You wore one on the way out here didn’t you?” Daryl shook the helmet, as if to taunt Corrigan into grabbing the shining black thing like a fish to a lure.
“Yeah, but... I mean... come on, man!”
“Let’s talk for real here?” Corrigan said. “I just woke up naked on the ground and you killed Brian and we’re fighting over whether or not I’m grown up enough to get my own motorbike?” He spoke quickly, putting his hands on his hips and tapping his toe impatiently.
“What would you like me to say?” Daryl climbed off his motorcycle and threw the helmet aside. “He was going to kill you! Would you rather I let him?”
“Kill me...?” Corrigan looked over to where Daryl had dropped the body and put a hand to his chest. “But... why? And why was I naked? Why aren’t we at the farm?”
Daryl tilted his head and asked, “You don’t remember, do you?”
Corrigan stared at him during another long moment of silence. “Remember what?”
Daryl blinked and considered his options. He could tell Corrigan the truth, tell the kid he’d lost it, killed a person and beat another to a bloody pulp. He’d be crushed, though. Lying was easier on everyone.
“The farm-” Daryl picked his words carefully. “Do you remember getting to the farm?”
“I remember... I remember parking the motorbikes in some trees and walking down the road, but that’s it.”
“The farm was gone,” Daryl lied. “It burned down during a zombie attack. Some of the survivors were still around and they told us about it.” Daryl had to think fast. He needed to convince Corrigan he had no reason to go back there. He couldn’t risk Corrigan remembering what had happened. Let alone the risk of the others finding out about those flashing green eyes and all the dreadful things that came along with them.
“Jacob-” Daryl looked away from him and tightened his jaw muscles. “Jacob’s gone.”
“Gone? What do you mean, gone? He wouldn’t abandon our land like that. He’d defend it as long as there was something to defend.”
“And he did, he fought every second until the house fire got him,” Daryl said, confident in his new string of half-truths.
“Okay.” Corrigan bit back a tear. There would be plenty of time for grieving when they returned to Eden. “That still doesn’t explain why I was naked.”
“You just... You just lost it. Had a fit when you found out what had happened and ran away, I have no idea why you’re naked.”
“So, why can’t I remember any of this?”
“I... I don’t know, man. Intense emotions can do crazy things to people. I couldn’t begin to fathom the ways our brains work when we have trouble processing things like that.”
Corrigan looked unconvinced but still he stepped forward and grabbed hold of the helmet. “You know Eden will know if you’re lying, right?”
Daryl hadn’t thought about that, but he figured that would be something he’d deal with when they reached the tower. They both straddled the motorcycle and took off towards the town where they knew Lila and the others would be waiting. The streets of the town were littered with dead zombies, but they seemed to be in strange positions. Almost as if they had died while fighting each other. When they pulled up to Noah’s house, he and Lila were waiting for them on the lawn.
“What happened to Brian?” Lila asked as Daryl and Corrigan hopped off the bike.
“There was trouble at the farm.” Daryl said, noticing Corrigan stare at him through the corner of his eyes. He hoped the teen wouldn’t call him out over his new lies.
“What sort of trouble?”
“It was gone, burned down, but the people who’d done it were still there protecting the land. They attacked us and only Corrigan and I got out.”
“Pity,” Lila said. If she felt grief over Brian’s death, she didn’t show it. Instead she turned, gesturing to the bikes. “Noah, you’ll drive Vicky’s. You’re okay with that, right?” He nodded. Lila looked at Corrigan and tilted her head. “Is that blood?”
“Yeah, he’s fine, nothing to worry about.” Daryl grabbed onto Corrigan’s arm, dragging him back to their motorcycle. He hoped Lila didn’t notice that Corrigan was wearing Brian’s clothes.
“You should let me take a look,” Noah said, stepping closer to them.
“No, he’s fine,” Daryl said.
“Are you sure? If he’s hurt it could get infected. Just let me-”
“I said he’s fine. No bites.” Daryl cut Noah off, staring hard at him. “We should get back. Where’s Vicky?”
“She’ll meet us at the tower,” Lila said and Daryl looked confused. “We found Cynthia, she was running from your wife with a dog named Harley.”
Daryl felt something inside him jump. “A German Shepherd?”
“No reason.” Daryl tried to convince himself that Harley was just a common name for dogs, but still he grasped on to the scrap of hope that it was his Harley. The likelihood of that was slim though, given that he’d last seen the dog in the city when Felicia attacked them.
They sped off toward the highway, then south into the city. They clung to the asphalt as they took the off ramp that led home and picked their way through the abandoned vehicles that lined the roads. Daryl started to feel the same sense of dread Vicky had when they noticed the tower was missing from the skyline and he followed Lila’s lead as she increased her speed, rocketing through the city on their thunderous motorcycles toward the smoking ruin of the tower.