"You guys weren't kidding. This place is amazing." Glenn said in awe, taking in the enormous concrete structure.
"It is perfect. We can make this work." Lori added, absentmindedly rubbing her stomach.
I felt a swell of pride that I had been the one to find our soon to be new home. Never mind that it was by complete accident and totally unintentional. The point was, I felt like I had finally done something good. Something that had earned me a permanent place among the group.
"Won't be fun clearin' out all those damn walkers, though." Daryl added.
"We'll manage. It'll take a while, but we can do it." Rick answered. He clapped a hand on my shoulder and we exchanged a smile. "This would be a good place for Lori to have the baby."
I nodded. "Place might still be full of supplies, too."
"Let's find out." Rick said. He held a pair of garden shears in his hand that we had taken from the old house we had camped out in the previous night. They easily cut through the fence and one by one we all carefully slipped through the gap. Daryl and T-Dog quickly tied the hole together with some wire, making sure the walkers couldn't follow us.
"There's another gate up there, past the prison yard." Maggie pointed out, using her other hand to shield her eyes from the sunlight. "Someone's gonna have to run through there to get to it."
"I'll do it." Glenn offered right away. "I'm the fastest."
"Or I could do it…I'm not much of a runner, though." I admitted, shrugging my shoulders.
"Yeah, and you're clumsy as shit. You'd trip over your own feet and be on the ground within ten seconds." Daryl snorted. "You ain't goin' in there."
I shot him a glare, but didn't try to argue. I knew I wasn't the best candidate for this sort of thing.
"No, I can't ask either of you to risk your lives like that. I'm gonna do it. Carl, Daryl, Carol and Herschel- I want you all in the guard towers coverin' me. The rest of you stay out here and try to distract the walkers as best you can. Lori, you close the gate behind me and chain it shut." He began handing out orders. Everyone was in motion right away, headed to their assigned task. Lori moved closer to Rick, taking his face in her hands. I turned my back to give them a private moment.
I jogged a little ways down the fence, unsheathing my knife just in case. A quick glance up towards the guard towers assured me everyone was in place. I turned and watched as Rick braced himself as Lori slowly pulled open the gate. The second it was far enough open, he was out, sprinting full force through the yard. The walkers immediately went after him. I felt my stomach leap and I realized how afraid I was for Rick.
Gunshots began to rain down from the guard towers and one by one, the walkers around him began to drop. I followed Maggie's lead and grabbed the fence, shaking it and trying to rattle it as loudly as I could. We were all yelling at the top of our lungs, our voices carrying across the prison yard. Walkers that had been straggling behind changed direction and instead came towards the fence. I waited until one was right up next to me before I jammed my knife through one of the links and into its decaying skull. I twisted the knife sharply before tugging it out. I quickly moved onto the next one, working as fast as possible.
I heard Glenn cheering and glanced up, searching the yard for Rick. He had made it and was currently slamming the other gate shut, using a thick chain to hold it in place. I watched him run to the nearest guard tower, no doubt wanting to help pick off the rest of the walkers. There were only a dozen or so left. One of them had noticed me and was stumbling towards where I stood safely behind the fence. Half its jaw was missing and thick, black blood oozed from its mouth. God, these things were disgusting. I gripped my knife tight in my hand.
"Come on, you piece of shit. Just a little bit closer." I beckoned.
It was about a foot away from where I was ready to stab the crap out of it when the walker suddenly sank to the ground. I noticed an arrow sticking out of the back of its skull.
"What the hell! That one was mine!" I yelled. I scoured both guard towers till I spotted Daryl. His smirk was evident even from where I stood. I smiled sarcastically back before proudly giving him the middle finger.
The rest of the daylight was used clearing out the other areas of the yard, taking down walkers and using the trucks to dump their bodies into a single pile at the edge of the fence. Needless to say, that by the time night finally fell, I felt more tired than I had in days. It was a happy tired, though, knowing that my energy had been spent actually doing something other than being on the road, running.
We had a fire that night and the mood was cheerful for the first time since we had left the farm. It was nice that we all felt at ease enough to relax and crack jokes. Carl asked me if I could start teaching him again once things settled down and this made me smile. I told him I had planned on it, which seemed to make him happy. I noticed one person in particular missing, though.
"Where's Daryl?" I asked curiously.
Carol smiled from next to me. "He offered to take watch so the rest of us could have a break. Why? You missin' his company already." She teased.
I felt my cheeks flush and was glad it was dark. "I don't know about that." I mumbled. "I was thinkin' he's probably hungry though."
Carol helped me fix a plate of the leftover venison and pointed me in the right direction. I could make out the old prison vehicle Daryl was keeping watch on, though it was just a shadowy shape in the distance.
"Just me!" I called out in greeting as I got closer, really not wanting to get an arrow in the face today. "Thought you might be hungry." I set the plate down on top of the car before climbing up the hood to join him.
"Thanks." He answered in his usual gruff tone.
"You're welcome. Mind if I sit for a little while?" I asked.
Daryl shrugged. "Won't bother me none."
I dropped down onto the roof of the car, dangling my legs over the side. It was quiet between us for a while, but I wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as I felt it should be. It was almost nice. Not quite the way it used to be, but maybe someday it could be.
"Remember that story I told the night after we left the farm? The one about the fire when I was a girl scout?" I asked suddenly, breaking the silence that had settled between us.
"What about it?"
It was my turn to shrug. "I don't know. I guess I was just surprised you remembered." I said, leaning back onto my hands. "That was so long ago. Another life time ago."
"I remember a lot of things from back then." He answered, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. I glanced up at him, curiosity building inside me.
I watched him chew on his lower lip for a moment, the expression in his eyes somewhere far away as he tried to bring up one of the many long lost memories we used to share. "Like that time I tried to teach you how to fish." He finally said, a smirk growing at one corner of his mouth. "You were wearin' one of those ugly, frilly dresses your momma used to always dress you in."
I snorted with laughter. "Yeah, I had great style back then."
Daryl's smirk grew into a small smile as he continued. "Anyways, I was tryin' to teach ya to cast a line and you just kept whipping the pole around like you had no idea what to do. It's a damn wonder how you didn't take one of my eyes out. You kept tryin' though, but I could tell you was gettin' more and more pissed. Then, finally, you got it to cast just right, but you took yourself with it. I just remember turnin' around and seein' you falling into the lake. The look on your face when you climbed back out, all drippin' wet and covered in mud. You looked at me like it was my damn fault before just takin' off and runnin' home."
I was laughing before he had even finished, recalling that day perfectly from my memory. "God, my momma was so pissed. That was like tenth dress I ruined that summer."
"You came back out maybe twenty minutes later, wearin' some dry clothes. You didn't say nothin', just picked the pole back up and tried again. You were stubborn as hell, woman."
I grinned. "Still am."
"Things were fuckin' easy back then." He murmured. "None of this end of the world shit."
I nodded slowly, realizing, though, that I didn't know much about Daryl's life anymore. There was a thick stretch of time in his life in which I hadn't existed. I was once again struck by the feeling of much I had missed him and all the times we had spent together doing everything, and doing nothing at all. The words were on the tip of my tongue. I wanted to tell him that I had missed him, but something held me back. Most likely the worry that saying anything like that would piss him off. The last thing I wanted do here was take a giant step back towards the decade long animosity that had been built through the passage of time. It felt like that was slowly ebbing away and I didn't want to ruin any chance we had at being friends again. So I decided to keep my mouth shut.
"What the hell did you do for ten years?" I asked instead. I kept my tone light, implying I was merely curious.
I heard him sigh and was surprised when he crouched down next to me, taking a seat. "Not a god damn thing."
I perked an eyebrow. "I highly doubt that. You spent ten years doing nothing?"
"Nothin' important. Took a job at the mechanic shop in town and spent most of my time workin'. And when I wasn't workin', I was drinkin' beer and shittin' around with Merle. None of that fancy, excitin' college stuff like you, city girl." This time, he said it without the disgruntled tone, with the angst in his voice. He more or less sounded regretful for some reason.
"It's not all it's cracked up to be. Not if you take it seriously. There were about a thousand times I wanted to come home." I admitted, stealing a glance in his direction.
"Why didn't ya?" He asked quietly, his eyes still watchful of our surroundings as we talked.
I paused for a moment, thinking. "I don't know." I answered truthful. "Guess I just didn't see myself giving up that easily."
"I'm glad ya' didn't. I woulda kicked that scrawny lil ass if you dropped out. You were always too smart for that sorta shit." I liked the way he had said it, like we still would have been friends. Like we had been, even though we both knew we weren't. "What the hell you'd go to school for anyways?"
"I'm a teacher. At least I used to be anyways." I said with a sigh.
It grew quiet again. I wanted more than anything to keep talking, but I knew the conversation would eventually lead to that day we said goodbye at the end of his driveway. I didn't know if that was a talk either one of us were really looking forward to or ready to have yet. Although the ache of not knowing was growing the longer I was around him. Now that I was seeing his face every day, it was eating my alive not knowing why Daryl had pushed me out of his life ten years ago. Instead, I tried to enjoy the silence. Tried to enjoy the fact that walkers weren't trying to eat me and that the one good thing about no power meant you could see the stars for miles and miles. As I craned my neck to admire the sky, a spasm of pain rocketed down into my shoulders.
"Jesus." I muttered, rubbing my shoulder with one hand. "All that zombie killing must have fucked up my shoulder. Either that or I'm finally starting to feel old." I said.
"You ain't old yet." Daryl commented. "Just a pussy."
"Wow, you're hilarious. I forgot how god damn funny you were." I said sarcastically.
"And I forgot how much of a bitch you are." He shot back, though the humor was evident in his voice. "Let me." I heard his cross bow being set down on the car and suddenly felt his calloused hands on my shoulders.
"Seriously?" I asked, not bothering to hide my surprise.
"You see anybody else linin' up for the job?"
I rolled my eyes. "Whatever." I said, though I made no attempt to stop him. Things like this had never been a big deal when we were kids. We had been friends and that was that. Now, though, I didn't know what the hell we were supposed to be. Something between strangers and friends was my best guess. But I was suddenly very much aware of the way his hands felt, though it was nothing more than a friendly, little shoulder rub. And while I was trying to stay relaxed I couldn't ignore the heat that was creeping into my cheeks and the knots tying and untying themselves in my stomach as he hands continued to work the actual knots in my shoulders. It reminded of the fleeting jolt I had felt the other day when I was watching him hunt.
A voice suddenly cut through the silence and we both froze. Daryl's hands left my skin as he picked up his crossbow and dropped to the ground. "Yeah?" He called out to whoever was coming towards us.
As the figure continued to jog closer to us, I recognized it as T-Dog. "Rick wants us to change watch now. Figured I'd come and relieve you. Didn't know you had company, though…" He trailed off, eyeing me.
I hopped off the car and joined Daryl on the ground. "I was just droppin' some food off for him." I explained. "But I'll just…I'll just get going and stuff."
"I'll walk you to the camp." Daryl said in his southern drawl as I headed off towards the direction of the campfire in the distance.
I was both relieved and disappointed for T-Dog showing up. I didn't know which one I felt more or for what reason, which only just concerned me more. I stole a quick glance at Daryl and allowed myself to wonder, for just a tiny moment, if he felt it too.