Rating/Warnings: PG-13. Language, some violence. Implied character death and mentions of rape. Please expect nastiness, imposed by zombies and humans.
Spoilers: AU after Season One.
Word Count: ~24,800 (complete)
Summary: "It's the end of the world. You can be anyone you choose to be." Daryl Dixon, at the end of the world.
Note: Massive thanks to my impeccable beta, readishmael, who deserves all the credit for making the story at all readable. Remaining mistakes and oversights are all mine.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Honest.
When Daryl held a hunting rifle and killed for the first time, he was seven.
A turkey shoot, Merle told him gleefully. They looked more like rabbits to Daryl, but if Merle said they were turkeys, then they were turkeys. Besides, the fuzzy little grey things, all gutted and bloody, looked nothing like the bunnies Daryl had seen on Sunday morning cartoons.
Still, Daryl didn't watch the cartoons again, after.
It takes almost half an hour, but Daryl manages to scavenge an almost-full bottle of whiskey from one of the employee lockers in the barricaded factory they're hiding out in for the night. Sure, they didn't get blown to pieces along with the entire CDC site and a deranged scientist hell-bent on dying, but they are still truly, utterly fucked, so his grand plan for the night mostly involves finding a quiet spot and getting shit-faced drunk.
It seems as good a plan as any, until he almost trips over Glenn. The kid is crumpled at one corner of a storage room, and his hands are white-knuckled, clutching hard at his shirtsleeve.
This pathetic display rankles Daryl something fierce, so he sets out to give Glenn a piece of his mind. Except, once he moves closer, he can see what the kid's staring at. Back when they were camping out in the forests, Glenn tore a hole in his shirt while trying to dodge a Walker and a tree branch at the same time. The kid argued for throwing out the ruined shirt and grabbing a new one on his supply run to the city. Why not, he said, since there are thousands of them just lying around in empty department stores? Only he got thoroughly scolded by Jacqui, who darned and patched it for him the next day.
The kid sees Daryl and turns his face away, but not quickly enough to hide the tears in his eyes.
Something inside Daryl twists and churns. He can taste it, rotten and sour, in the back of his throat.
"She's dead 'cause she wanted to be dead. Feelin' sorry for yourself and sobbing like some girl ain't gonna bring her back."
Glenn's fingers freeze over his sleeve. For a long moment, the kid is quiet and still, but he gets up in another second and walks up to Daryl. There are still tears in his eyes.
"Fuck you," he says flatly, right to Daryl's face, and walks away.
Well, shit, thinks Daryl, before swallowing another mouthful of whiskey.
Shane argues again for heading toward the army base. Dale wants to find another research center that might have answers, for all the good that will do. Everyone's skittish over making real decisions.
"What we need," Rick tells the group, "is a long-term plan. We need to gather intelligence and decide where we should be headed and how we should get there. This time, we plan things carefully."
For fuck's sake, thinks Daryl. "Oh, hell with that long-term plannin' bullshit."
Rick turns to him, all calm and composed, but Daryl knows a bare-threaded effort to keep his shit together when he sees one. "I suppose you've got a better idea, then?"
"I sure don't, but all this thinkin's a surefire way to get ourselves killed. We need to get the hell out, right now."
"And what good would that do without knowing—"
Everyone turns to Glenn, who hasn't made a single sound until now. Glenn, who's been quietly avoiding Daryl. With all eyes on him, the kid now seems to want nothing more than to sink into the background again.
"Speak your mind, Glenn," Rick encourages gently. "We're listenin'."
Glenn hesitates for another second before focusing on Rick. "We need a long-term plan, yeah, but we can't stop to think, not here. The Walkers are gonna be closing in on the CDC site anytime now, and we're in the way, whichever direction they're coming from. We should be leaving, now, and thinking and planning can come after."
Rick listens and thinks it through—they all do. When Rick looks around, T-Dog and Shane nod at him. The rest follow, nodding and murmuring in agreement.
"All right," Rick agrees, easily enough. "We leave."
And Daryl doesn't get Rick Grimes, sometimes. Grimes isn't even one bit begrudging, like he doesn't actually mind being told he's wrong. Had it been Merle—
Daryl stops there. But what? Had it been Merle, things would surely be different, but Merle isn't here, is he? Daryl takes a breath and lets it out before the thought—and whose damned fault is it that he ain't?—starts to fester.
And he says, "What the hell we waitin' for, then?"
Glenn still doesn't meet Daryl's eyes, which is fine by Daryl.
They move on.
"What the fuck," Daryl seethes, "is your problem?"
Andrea, after dropping a bag full of ammo, looks up at him blankly.
After that little stint at the CDC, it's like everyone has all of a sudden wised up to the fact that the world's really fucking ended. Rick Grimes is walking around with another weight on his shoulders, and Shane has an even bigger scowl etched on his face. The kids are going around sniffling all the time, and Andrea—well, that woman's being almost as crazy-ass creepy as she was right after her sister bought it, and that's saying something.
Daryl snatches the bag away from her grip and gets in her face. "Listen, if you wanna be all suicidal or whatever the hell you're doin' now, do it on your own dime. Don't go draggin' us down with you, you hear me?"
He completely ignores Dale, who hasn't been anything more than a dead weight lately, and leaves them to join the rest of the group and check the damage to their ammo supply.
"Go gentle on Andrea," Rick tells him later, when the two of them are alone. "None of this is easy, and she just lost her sister."
"Right," Daryl sneers. "Because the rest of us haven't lost nobody."
"We all have—you have." Rick looks at him with quiet eyes. "So you should know how she feels."
More than once Daryl has given some serious thought to hightailing it and searching for Merle by himself. But being a part of a group, ragtag as it is, gives him a better chance at staying alive. Daryl figures this is as good an offer as he's ever gonna get, and without Merle around, he's got to make do with what he's got left.
Still, even with all that in mind, at this point it should've taken at least a minor miracle for Daryl to walk away without punching Rick Grimes in the face.
Instead, all it takes is Glenn, lingering behind them and uneasily worrying his bottom lip.
It sets Daryl's teeth on edge.
In their search for the elusive army base, they come across a K-Mart.
This presents a problem.
On the one hand, a chance for some good, old-fashioned looting is too good to miss. On the other hand, they have no idea what's waiting for them inside, so it has a good chance of whittling their ever-dwindling numbers down to zero.
When they gather on the hill looking down at the town they're about to pass by, Shane shakes his head. "It's way too exposed for us to go down there. Look, it's not that I don't know we're short on food, but—"
"There's nothing left for us to be even short on," Lori cuts in sharply. "The kids are starving, and we might never come across another opportunity like this. We have to risk it."
"How long can we last with what we have?" Rick asks.
T-Dog rifles through their meager supply list. "A day, man. Two, maybe. And even that's one hell of a maybe."
Daryl can read the same thought on everyone's face: We're never going to make it.
"If we plan it carefully, we might get inside and come out all right." Dale, as always, is the voice of the one scrap of optimism they've got left between all of them.
Shane's still not convinced. "What plan do we have other than barreling in and getting ourselves killed?"
"Look," Rick says, stepping in before the discussion grows into a screaming argument, "we've got no choice. We have no food, we have no gas, and we have to go in. The only real question is how."
Everyone stares at the gridlocked town streets below them. No options are forthcoming. Daryl can't think of any plan that won't get himself killed, either, except—
"What does the kid think?" Daryl asks, before his brain catches up with his mouth.
Rick looks at him, as if it's a complete surprise that Daryl cares for anyone's opinion that isn't his own, and then turns to the kid. "Glenn?"
The kid looks taken aback, and then nearing panic. "Uh, I don't know. I haven't actually, I mean—"
"Not tryin' to put you on the spot here, Glenn," Rick says gently, "but Daryl's right, we should've asked you first. God knows, if anyone can get us in and out alive, you can."
The kid looks like he can't quite decide whether to be proud or terrified. Still, it only takes him a few seconds to gather his thoughts. "It might work if we go in though the northwest corridor over there. It's probably the easiest to slip through. See that gate? We can block that pathway before going in—"
They listen while Glenn lays down their options, some of which are halfway decent and maybe even doable. All the while, Rick looks at Daryl sideways, like he doesn't quite know how to puzzle him out.
That suits Daryl just fine.
The fuckers just keep on coming.
Daryl can't even bring himself to be pissed about it, mostly because he doesn't have a second to spare. He cuts across heaps of garbage and runs between columns of crate piles, half-frenzied and trying to recall the way out of this maze. It wasn't in their plan for him to be separated from the group this far back, blocks away from where they're all supposed to meet up.
Then again, nothing ever goes down according to their plan, so it's not as if he didn't see this coming.
When a hand grabs his shoulder, Daryl whirls around and swings his machete, with every intention of cutting off the head that belongs to the hand's owner. His machete stops just a few inches before it does what it set out to do, because Glenn's standing behind him, blinking owlishly.
"Goddammit," Daryl snarls, "I damned near took your head off! The hell you think you're doin'?"
Glenn unfreezes quickly and places his hand on Daryl's arm again, which goes to show just how shitty the kid's survival instinct really is. "Up there," he says, tugging at Daryl's sleeve and pointing at the ladder on the side of the next building. "C'mon."
Even without turning, Daryl can hear—and smell, fuck, the smell—the sluggish, rotting bodies moving behind them. "Shit. Go, go, go."
Daryl lets Glenn lead him up the ladder until they reach the roof. The buildings are closely set enough that they can easily jump across the gaps, which is why they—Glenn—chose it as one of their possible escape routes.
They're at least seven blocks away when they finally stop. Daryl wipes the sweat trickling down his temple. "The hell did you come after me for?"
Glenn has his hands braced on his knees, his breath obviously caught in his chest. "What do you mean? It's what we do."
"No, it really ain't."
"Hey, you guys came back for me when that gang took me in Atlanta."
Glenn sounds so reasonable and sure that Daryl is tempted to rub it in the kid's face that Daryl was all for leaving him to the whims of the nursemaid homies from hell. Then again, Daryl isn't about to persuade Glenn not to risk his neck to save him in the future, so he just shrugs it off. "Whatever, kid."
"You know, I actually have a name."
"Do you, now."
The kid rolls his eyes. "Yeah, I do. And hey, no need to thank me for saving your life or anything."
Daryl has to stop in the middle of adjusting the straps on his sawn-off shotgun. "You muddled in the head? That what this is? Or you actually dumb enough to think we're some sorta buddies?"
Glenn stares at him, mouth agape. "Wow."
Daryl's beginning to realize that irritation will be the default mode for him wherever this kid's concerned. "What?"
"Nothing. I mean, I already figured you'd be an even bigger buzzkill than Shane, but I didn't think anyone could be this much of an ass, either."
Daryl almost snorts before he recalls that he's supposed to find this entire exchange irksome. So he elbows Glenn in the chest until the kid stumbles on his feet. "Shut up and get a move on, kid."
Glenn looks up at him pointedly, and Daryl rolls his eyes.
They start running again.
From the safety of their barricaded shelter, they watch a group of Walkers ripping apart a bunch of buzzards with their hands and teeth.
It's halfway between terrifying and hysterical, the way they go at each other's throats, literally, over a cut of some dead birds. It's also the closest thing they've got left to a spectator sport, so the children and Glenn are gaping at the scene. The grown-ups are also observing the scene more leisurely than usually possible, mostly because they aren't perilously close to sharing the fate of said birds.
Daryl, in the middle of fixing the lever of his crossbow, stops to watch for a minute. He notes to himself to try it out in the future—throw down some food and get these fuckers to kill each other over it. That should clear an entire field real quick.
"Reminds me of the mall on Black Friday," Shane remarks offhandedly.
"Well," says Rick, after a beat, "I suppose there're similarities. Viciousness, for one."
"Nah, this ain't nothin'." T-Dog sounds confident. "Ever try goin' after the last half-price iPod at Radio Shack?"
There's a collective wince.
"Right," says Shane, once he's apparently recovered from that mental image. "Clearly, Walkers aren't bloodthirsty enough."
Carol looks almost amused. "You men are terrible."
"It's true, though." Rick waves his arm in the general direction of the shambling corpses. "Black Fridays are worse than this."
"Were," says Andrea. Her voice is slow and indistinct, like it's on autopilot. "Not are. We won't ever have another Black Friday."
Buzzkill, Daryl hears himself think, rather distinctly.
"Shit." Rick runs a hand down his face. "Yeah, you're right. Were."
The rest of them begin to talk about things they lost, things they miss, things they will never have again. Daryl goes back to replacing a loose wire on the crossbow, because when he remembers the things he's lost, he can only bring to mind things like sweating in the withering, yellowing field under the heat of the July sun, the putrid smell of furs and dried blood from their collapsed backyard shed, and Merle's muttering—you better kill or else you get killed—after he's come home, buzzed and drunk from another hunt.
When he looks up again, the Walkers are still gorging on tiny, bloody bits of buzzards.
All the things that his life used to consist of, they're still right here. It's still a struggle, and it's still pretty shitty.
"It don't change all that much."
He doesn't realize he's spoken out loud until Dale, standing behind him, agrees with him, "No, it sure doesn't."
When Daryl turns to Dale, he sees a hint of something that might be a grin on Dale's face. "Still," Dale adds, "the world as we know it has ended. Maybe now we can try to be the people we've always wanted to be."
It's not that Daryl is buying all the bullshit Dale is selling wholesale, but Daryl lets his eyes follow Dale's until they're both watching Andrea, sitting apart from the rest. She's just ghosting along, like she's not all in there anymore.
And now, even that little hint of a grin on Dale's face fades. "Well," Dale says ruefully, "we live in hope, don't we?"
When Dale walks away, his footsteps seem heavier from the weight of his own words.
Nothing, thinks Daryl. Nothing's changed.
They are still truly, utterly fucked.
They reach the army base.
Outside, there's not a single soul or a rotten corpse—undead or not—in sight. They do some poking around—mostly by following the scent of death, which they've all become intimately familiar with—until they find a large pit inside the fenced-in courtyard. They stop and stare at the remains of crumbling bodies, piled up high and scorched black.
A crow flies by low and caws at them.
Rick crouches down and grabs a handful of ashes. Daryl watches as Rick lets it scatter in the wind.
The inside is also empty; some people have already gone through everything and taken anything that could've been useful. Still, Lori and Carol scrape together a few leftover boxes of military MREs and Dale picks up replacement tools. Daryl salvages a couple of M-4s, except there's too little ammo for them to be of much use.
They come across a large office that could've been used as the main operations center. Rick examines the long-range communication radios and tests them out. "No signal," he says grimly, but it's not like it's even a surprise. They've been getting nothing but static on the radio for weeks.
"No," T-Dog snorts, "'cause that would've been too fucking easy."
"Hey," says Shane. He lifts his rifle to point at the door to the office.
A piece of paper is stuck on the middle of the door. It reads, in scribbled handwriting: Some of us are going to try Robins Air Force Base. A list of names, thirteen in total, is attached to the note.
The list doesn't include Merle's name. That isn't a surprise, either.
There is also a map attached to the note, with a red circle identifying where the base is located.
Everyone stares at the map.
Shane is the first to break the silence. "What now?" he asks, like just saying the two words takes everything out of him. "Do we take a chance and follow?"
Fatigue leaks out into everyone's face at the very idea, but in the end, they've got no other choice. They put it to a vote. They all say go.
"Guess we'll take that chance," says Rick.
Before they leave, they add their names to the list.
It's Daryl's watch, but for some stupefying reason, Glenn is also up and awake with him. The kid bumbles around with a little stove, trying to boil up water and rambling on about making coffee to help them stay alert.
Daryl has mostly tuned him out, except to let the cadence of the kid's voice keep him company while he scrubs off the rust crusted on his arrows—zombie blood is hell on iron, and he's got no spares—until Glenn interrupts his rhythm with, "Where do the souls go, you think?"
The kid seems to mistake Daryl's glare for an actual sign of interest, because he proceeds to explain, "My parents used to believe in the afterlife. And with the Walkers—I mean, don't you wonder sometimes?"
Daryl squints his eyes at him. "Is this some Chinese bullshit again?"
"They were Christians. And for the tenth time, I'm Korean."
"Oh, for—you think I give a shit about that difference?"
"Now that I know you, yeah," Glenn answers easily. Daryl has half a mind to disabuse the kid of that notion real quick, except now there's something else in the kid's face, hesitant and uncertain. "Dale says it helps to believe there might be something better waiting for us after all this, now more than ever. I'm not sure I do. Believe, I mean."
Daryl remembers a small golden cross his mother used to wear around her neck. Every Sunday morning, she used to scrub his face clean with a piece of cloth that felt like sandpaper and stuff him into his Sunday best, then go on about telling him and Merle about the Baby Jesus and the angels singing and the glory of Heaven and all of that that comes after the end of the world. Merle never believed a word. Daryl's never been convinced either way, but then again he figures this particular version of the end of the world they've got going now probably isn't what she was talking about back then.
Daryl isn't sure what the kid is getting at with all this talk about souls and whatnot, but he stops what he's doing and waits for Glenn to spill whatever's eating at him.
After another moment of hesitation, Glenn sits down next to Daryl and opens up his palm. In his hand is a white plastic bottle.
"Sleeping pills," Glenn explains when Daryl picks up the bottle. "Found them at the bottom of Andrea's bag. I was looking for some bandages, and they were just...there."
Daryl thinks back to the last time they were on a supply run. When they hit a Wal-Mart at the last town, Andrea was in charge of stocking supplies from its pharmacy. Daryl figures that's when she must've grabbed them. He puts the bottle back in Glenn's hand. "Let her have at them." This way, at least, she won't waste another precious bullet.
"I don't know," Glenn says helplessly. "Shouldn't we do—something?"
"Like what?" Daryl snaps. "Don't you think she's gonna find a way anyhow if she's that set on dyin'?"
Glenn's shoulders sink. "But she can't. What about Dale? What about the rest of us? Doesn't she care what it would do to—"
At the hard tone in Daryl's voice, the kid stops and looks up.
"You know that ain't how it works."
Glenn stares at him for a long moment. "Yeah," he says, rubbing his eyes, "yeah, I do." After a pause, the kid turns to him again. "You know, it's kinda scary how you actually make sense sometimes."
Glenn cracks a grin at Daryl, like there is a joke lost in there somewhere, but it's not a happy kind of smile.
That bothers Daryl in ways he doesn't get, but he doesn't care to find out why. "Get up."
"What?" Glenn blinks. "Why?"
Daryl drops his crossbow in Glenn's lap. Glenn stares at it and then stares up at Daryl.
"You said you wanted to learn. Now's your chance."
Glen blinks at him again. Then he grins, this time for real, and bumps his knee against Daryl's.
Daryl doesn't smile back, but he feels it anyway, a half-formed grin trying to surface against all his better judgment.
Andrea cuts herself and requires several stitches. Everyone nods understandingly when Dale says she stepped on a shard of broken glass; no one necessarily believes it. Between Carol and Lori, they have a few hours' worth of first aid training, so they manage to put her back together, but now everyone is waiting with bated breath for the other shoe to drop.
She's sitting on a log and staring unblinkingly at the indigo sky that's already smudged in amber. You don't stay out after the sunset these days unless you've got some urgent desire to get killed.
She doesn't move.
By some unspoken agreement, everyone gives her a wide berth—even Dale, who seems to have aged about a decade overnight. Daryl reloads his rifle and watches the horizon. He's still intact and whole, nothing broken and no hole where it shouldn't be, but at times he feels like he's already been bled dry. His trigger finger itches.
To hell with it, he thinks. He's not gonna tiptoe around that woman and her damned feelings and put himself in danger along with the rest of the lot. He's going to drag her sorryass inside—kicking and screaming, if he has to.
He steps out of the shade but pauses in mid-stride because Glenn—of course—is gingerly making his way toward Andrea.
"Hey, Andrea," says Glenn, shuffling his feet.
When she doesn't answer, he sits down at her side. In the twilight, she looks distant and faint, like she can pull a disappearing act on them any time she decides.
"I, um, are you okay?"
It's a dumb question. At least it looks like the kid knows it, too, because he winces the second it leaves his mouth. Still, it doesn't seem like Andrea notices. She doesn't look like she notices anything, in fact. But the kid waits.
And waits, and waits some more, until she says, "I'm not sure this is living anymore, Glenn."
The kid looks stricken, but eventually gathers himself enough to press on: "Once we find that Air Force base—"
"It'll just be more of the same."
"But we won't know until we get there, right?"
There's no answer, and the kid's face falls again. He stares at his hands.
"Do you ever—you ever think you should've stayed behind? At the CDC?" Glenn asks, painstakingly hesitant, like he's harbored the question for a long time and dragging it out will only hurt him. He stares at his hands some more. "I was so happy when I saw you and Dale get out of that building. But maybe it was selfish, to think it could give me hope when you're not, when you don't—when you can't even stand to be with us anymore."
Andrea finally turns to him. "It's not," she stops, and really looks at the kid, and Daryl thinks maybe it's the first time she's really seen anyone in a while. "Oh, Glenn, it's not—it's not you. Or Dale, or anyone. It's just, when your hope dies, little by little, you start thinking you would've been better off if it'd never been there in the first place. That's all."
"But it might not always be this way," Glenn says, doggedly sincere. "It could get better, things might even change. I mean, you won't know, really, until you get there, right? That's just it, isn't it? You'll really never know what we'll find. No one does."
So fucking soft, thinks Daryl. There's no edge in Glenn, inside or out, and the kid truly means it when he tells Andrea that things can still turn out for the better. Daryl wants to grab the kid by the shoulders and shake him, wants to ask him where he's been during the last few months while everyone's been slowly and surely losing their shit, because, really, what the fuck.
But even as Daryl fights the urge to shake Glenn until something snaps, he can see Andrea, who now seems more solid and there, and how her eyes soften. "Glenn—"
"Things might still turn out to be all right," the kid insists mulishly. "I mean, can you tell me you're absolutely sure things will always stay like this? Can you tell me that?"
"No," she tells Glenn, almost kindly. "No, I can't."
"Then, maybe, you can take a chance? With us?"
The kid looks at Andrea, anxious and hopeful at the same time, and Daryl almost sympathizes with her. He idly wonders how long she's going to be able to hold out.
Not too long, apparently, because she gets up slowly and offers Glenn her hand. Glenn stares at it until he's convinced himself he is seeing what he thinks he's seeing, and finally takes the offered hand. The kid's grinning so hard his face neatly splits in two.
At dinnertime, Andrea actually smiles once, if briefly, and Dale looks about two decades younger again. When they're done feasting on canned ham and rock-hard biscuits, Rick decides to crack open his secret stash of wine that has somehow survived their trip across Georgia. The Grimes kid makes a face at the taste of wine, again, and that little girl of Carol's, Sophia, giggles at him.
After, there's even some half-drunk singing by Shane that Daryl ends up—all very unwittingly—joining in.
All of this makes Daryl forget, if only for a short while, that they're all just the turkeys in a turkey shoot.
"I didn't—I didn't know." Shane, helpless against Rick's rage, stumbles on his feet and over his own words. "I didn't know you were still alive. I thought you were dead—I thought you were dead, Rick!"
Because they obviously can't have something like a series of good days, a Grimes family crisis fucks things up just when Daryl makes the mistake of thinking they might make it, somehow, without anyone else getting eaten.
Normally, Daryl has a good enough sense of self-preservation to stay the hell away from any domestic bullshit, but he can see Lori, ghastly white, holding onto Andrea's hand and looking seconds away from passing out. Carl Grimes is watching from inside the RV, even as Carol's trying to shield him and Sophia from the sight. T-Dog and Dale are trying their damnedest to pry Rick off Shane—trying and failing.
And Glenn. Maybe for the first time Daryl's seen him, the kid looks pale and hopelessly afraid.
That tips the scale.
Daryl pushes in between the two men and blocks Rick's fist, which is about to pummel Shane's face.
"Let go of my hand." Rick is cold and level and deadly, and not for the first time, Daryl thinks Rick Grimes would've made a fine sheriff, one that Daryl would've known not to fuck with if he could help it.
Daryl doesn't let go. Instead, he meets Rick's eyes and holds his gaze until he sees something other than just rage there. "The world has fuckin' ended. You get that? The world has fucking ended." He turns to Shane. "Get your heads outta your asses."
Rick stills into silence, and there's one long second when everyone else is left holding their breath.
"Let me point out the irony of Daryl Dixon being the voice of reason here," says Dale, calmly.
An eternity later, Rick takes one step back. He looks at his wife, and then at his best friend, and walks away from both. A minute later, Lori follows after him. Shane remains slumped on the ground. The rest start to breathe again.
Glenn gives Daryl this now-familiar look, the one where he looks at him like he's just saved a newborn puppy from certain death. It used to be irritating as hell, an itch he couldn't quite scratch. Now, it pulls at him like a noose around his neck.
Now, it feels like the real danger is something other than those dead fuckers out there.
They're maybe a few dozen miles away from the Air Force base when they pass by a lone woman digging a hole on the side of the highway. It's been a while since they've come across anyone alive, so this isn't exactly unwelcome, except there's something not right about the whole thing.
"She gone crazy in her head or somethin'?" Daryl asks, once they stop and a few of them make their way toward her. It wouldn't be the first time this has happened, either. More often than not, other survivors they come across tend to be on the crazier side, not that Daryl blames them. But it always pays to be careful, so when Rick leads the way, Daryl and T-Dog have their shotguns ready. Daryl even has his aimed.
The woman doesn't even look up at their approach. Up close, Daryl can see the blood on her fingertips. He tenses even more when he sees three corpses laid out at her side.
"Hey there." Rick is slow and careful, like he's trying hard not to spook a wild horse. "You doin' all right there?"
Rick takes a few steps forward and suddenly stops in his tracks, his face gone oddly tight.
He signals the rest of them to stand down and then looks over at Andrea, who nods and goes over to the woman. "Here." Andrea wraps her arm around the shoulders of the frail woman, who doesn't react to her touch. "Let's take a look at your hands, alright?"
After she and Carol cajole the woman into the RV, T-Dog walks over to Rick's side. "What's up?"
Rick grimly nods at the bodies, and Daryl sees it, too: the bodies are all riddled with holes. Bullet holes.
"No way," T-Dog shakes his head, "no way any Walker could've done this."
"No shit," says Daryl. Someone—someone walking and breathing—pumped these people full of lead. Scatterguns, most likely.
After a moment of staring at the bodies, Rick disappears into the van and comes back with a shovel. Daryl exchanges a look with T-Dog and does the same.
When they're done digging the three graves, Andrea comes out of the RV. She looks whiter than a sheet, which tells Daryl this is about to go nowhere good.
"One of them was her husband," she tells them. "They were traveling with an elderly couple when a few men came after them. They killed everyone except her, raped her and took their car and food." It's hard to tell whether her voice is shaking from anger or shock. "Those men—they were soldiers. Or at least wearing the uniforms."
No one says anything for a while.
"We went to that base, Robins Air Force Base, looking for other survivors," the woman tells them later that night. "There was no one there, but then after we left the base, we came across Frank and Hazel, and they told us about this place they heard about, Woodbury."
A marionette without the strings, thinks Daryl. Nothing about the woman seems alive, though she talks and speaks like she is. "It's supposed to be somewhere west of here," she says, in a clear, monotone voice. "Apparently it's a safe haven, for all of us. Those things, not one of those things can get in there. That's what Hazel heard anyway, but they thought they were too old to travel. Nick convinced them, you see, told them that the four of us can make it out there if we help each other. So Woodbury was where we were headed when—"
The woman's face turns blank again. The rest of them watch in stilted silence as Carol takes her inside the RV to make her get some rest.
The next morning, they find her body next to her husband's grave.
Rick falls to his knees. A long moment later, he removes from her hand the gun she stole from Carol. Then he picks up a shovel and starts digging.
Shane, who's been standing a few steps behind, follows him with another shovel. They haven't said a word to each other since their blow-up, but they don't need words now, not for this. No one does.
"Makes you wonder who the real monsters are," Dale says, resigned, as they mark another grave.
Once they're done burying her body, they turn west.