Actions

Work Header

Savin' Me

Chapter Text

Daryl sits on his bed, he'd heard the car come up the narrow road to the house. This man was different, his car a beat-up pick-up truck, a rusted red color. Not the black truck that roared meaning Negan was there or the silent silver car belonging to Phillip Blake. It was truck so it wasn't Joe or his gang coming to claim him for the night.


The door opens and Daryl see's the man briefly. Will with his long dirty hair, eyes already glazed over. Mason jar in his hand. "We got a deal?"


Daryl looks down at his bare feet while the man says. "Yeah." He draws the word like he's just now made the decision.


Will take a swig of his shine. "Cash only."


The bearded man hands over a wad of cash to Will. "You can leave now."


His Dad leaves saying to Daryl, "Play nice boy."


The words sent a shiver up Daryls spine. It wasn't the first time this had happened, it wasn't even the first time this week. No, it was the new man that scared him. All the others were familiar he knew them what they would do or want. This man with his blue jeans and white T-shirt, with the brown jacket was completely new. He sits on the bed unsure of what to do.


"I'm Rick," He says trying to get the terrified boy to look at him.


The boy nods, "You ain't never done this before, have you?"


"No." Rick looks around the room, its bare no posters or pictures. The bed is bare, this is looking more like a prison than a bedroom.
Daryl nods, that meant he would be quick. He takes off his shirt moving closer. He was tired yesterday was long and tonight would linger. The new guys were always the most violent till they found their thing.


The surprise cross Ricks face, "How old are you?"


Putting his hand on Rick leg, he mumbles, "Fifteen."


Fifteen, the word echoes in his mind. At fifteen he should be heavier and not so broken sounding. But, Daryl with his visible ribs and scars looks more like a war veteran than a teenager only a few years older than his own boy.


"I'm not here to hurt you, Daryl."


He scoffs, then smiles wryly, "It's gonna hurt no matter what."


Before he can say something to reassure the boy the sirens sound that the arrival of Shane and back-up. Daryl hears the sounds ready to flee. Rick takes his arm the boys broken eyes are now wild with fear in them. "They're here to help you."


Daryl hears his Daddys footstep running to the back of the house. Then the officers yelling outside for him to freeze. "I don't believe you."


Rick takes off his jacket holding out the coat. "Let me prove it to you."

-
"Ok," His voice is a whisper barely. Rick places the coat around Daryls shoulders.


Daryl had been drunk before, a reward his father called it. This was what time felt like right now everything was moving slowly to him, he felt numb. In the daze Daryl saw his Dad being put in a police car yelling and spitting. He saw all their stuff being put into boxes. All his Dads shine, the drugs, the money. Every gun his Dad had, even Darly's crossbow and blots.


The ride to the hospital is quiet, Daryl is looking out the window, his eyes glazed over. Rick's words having no effect on him. He looks to Shane, his knuckles bloody from hitting the car roof and not Will Dixon's head.


Daryl is sleeping in the hospital bed with the help of a seditave. During the exam he'd shut down that glazed look turn to numbness. He wasn't there, he was somewhere deep inside of himself.


Doctor Bob Stookey sighed, he'd seen men like this before vitcams of torture. He looks at the sheirff, "You should get home your wife is probably worried."


Rick shakes his head, he'd called Lori telling her it would be a long night. "How is he?"


"Under fed, a kid his age should be twenty pounds heavier. X-rays showed a dozen fractures that never healed right..." Bob rubs his eyes trying to erase the images. "Cigarette burns and scars on hands, chest and back."


"And?"


They both look at the boy curled into a ball, "There are multiple tears and evidence of bleeding. This is years of abuse."


<----*---->*<----


Daryl dreamed of Merle, he was five years old again. Merle was alive a teenager like him.


"Come on Merle this thing is heavy."


"You'll get used to it." The older Dixon says as wait. It was a warm day in April. The two were on their bellies waiting for an unlucky animal.


"I guess why you teachin' me this stuff for?" The little five year old asks shifting the weight of the crossbow.


"'Cause you need to know it now shut ya mouth." Merle had made him carry it three miles from the cabin to here.


That was easy Daryl had spent most of his day under the porch hiding from his Dad. While Merle went to school, before Ma would talk to him or they'd watch tv. Now Ma was gone, the house was gone and all that was left was Merle.


"Can you hear it? The older boy asks.


Daryl nods "It's coming this way."


Merle nods, pulling back the bolt, "Now aim for the left eye or the heart."


The squirrels come to along hold its head, listening, but the two brothers are quiet as death. Daryl aims for the eye waiting for it to look up. It does he pulls the trigger, the bolt goes so fast that the animal is implanted to the tree.


"Nice one little brother." Merle says moving to the tree taking the limp animal along with the bloody bolt. "Now all we need is a fire for cooking with."


"How we gonna do that," The young boy asks putting the bow on his back. "We don't have no matches or a lighter?"


"I'll show you how but you got to pay attention, remember it you gonna need when I'm gone."


Daryl's eyes widen, "You gonna leave like Mama?"


Merle pulls Daryl into a hug, that surprises the boy more than anything. When they pull apart Merle looks him in the eyes, "I'm gonna leave, but I'll come back for you."

"Promise?"


"I promise now lets get this meat cooking for it spoils heat do it fast you got to be faster."

Chapter Text

Rick is sitting in the chair, looking at Daryl sleeping he looks more like a child. He reaches for the blanket, bringing it around his shoulder touching him without meaning to. The moment's contact cause the boy to whimper. "Fucking Will Dixon."


"I concur," A older male voice whisper. Rick stands to see the social worker, "Dale."


"I came to get your signature there a group home in Atlanta that has a bed for him. I'll take him first thing in the morning when he's discharged." The older man says voice full of sorrow.


"No." Rick says firmly. The moment Shane came with the sirens, he saw that damn look in Daryl's eyes that caged animal look. "If you take him to Atlanta he'll never get better."


Dale was kind caring man, who'd done this job look enough to know that was true. He hated to take him to do it, taking a kid from the backwoods and dropping him in the city. It wasn't the first time he'd done it, they didn't adjust well, but it was the only place to take him. All the other foster parents, he called to say no. They didn't want a some abuse teenager. "I know that, but there is no one here who wants him."


"I do..." Lori is going to kill me for this, he thinks to himself. But, he has to do this. "I'll take him I have room."


Dale sighs, if only it was that easy. "You're not a foster parent, you'd need an emergency order from a judge to grant you custody."


Rick pulls out his cell phone. "Just wait." He presses the contact and the line rings three times before a voice heavy with sleep asks.


"Rick what the hell?" "Judge Jones, this is sheriff grimes." In normal times he would call him Morgan but he needs this to be official.


"Oh..." Morgan says, sitting up in bed. "What can I do for you, Sheriff?"


Dale watches as Rick explains the situation to the Jugde, with reverence. They trade word with Rick nodding and agreeing. His eyes widen when Rick nods, saying. "Sure, you can talk to him."


Taking the phone from sheriff Dale manages to say. "Hello."


"Mr. Hovrath, this is Jugde Morgan Jones, I'll have the order drawn up in an hour, meet me in my chambers at seven. The boy will be discharged to Officer Grimes, if anyone can help him its Rick."


"Yes, sir."


Rick sits back down, Dale pulls a chair over to him. "Look, I understand that you want to help this boy, but please think about it. He'll need thereby lots of it."


"Good."

"And medical visits and summer school." He's says voice rising causing Daryl to whimper.


Rick whispers harshly, "Keep your voice down. If you can honestly tell me with a straight face that boy will be taken care in a group home with twelve other boys in a city when he's spent half is life in the backwoods. And I'll call Morgan and tell him to forget it."


Dale chuckles, "Your right, but this won't be easy."


"I don't give up easily."


<---*<---*--->*--->


Daryl wakes just before the sun comes up, it was always one of the safest times. His father would be passed out meaning he could go hunting. Merle had taught him how to hunt and fish, to survive that didn't change in ten hours. Memories of the night before coming flooding back in.


This place is too foreign it smells unnatural. Its loud voice over the speakers speaking in a monotone. The night sky is gone, replaced by the gray in between. The grayness matches his mood. Back when his father traded him for drugs, he'd know it was wrong. Yelling that he would go into town and tell the cops.


Seven Years Ago


"Go on then," His father held the door open for him. "Go get they'll take you to Atlanta put in a foster home and guess they'll do worse than me."


Daryl looks down, "Please don't do it again."


Will leaves the door open he stomps over to Daryl, picking him up by the overalls. "I'll do whatever I damn well please to you." His open lands on Daryls right cheek. "You think your special?" He yells shaking the crying boy. "You think anyone gives a damn about you? I'm the only one who cares about you, but you got to earn your keep boy."


"Daddy let me go," He pleads, trying to wiggle out of the grip.


"I'll let you go." Will throws him out the door, letting the boy land on the gravel road.


The boy lands hard on the gravel but doesn't stay there. He runs into the woods. Looking over his shoulder, he doesn't stop till the house is out of sight. He stops breathless sinking to the ground crying, carefully reaching down, he picks the pieces for rock out of his leg.


"Daryl?"


He turns the fog clearing from his mind. "Your Rick."


The man nods, "Daryl do you know what's happening right." "I ain't stupid."


His voice is gentle, kinder than anyone has ever been even Merle. "So, you know what your Dad did to you was wrong?"


The boy pulls his legs to his chest while his eyes turn to the sky where gray is becoming pale blue. "I want to go home please, I'll tell you everything and then I can go home right?"


"Daryl," Rick sees the longing to be back and is sure that he could fend for himself. "You're too young I can't let you go back."


"Please, I won't bother no one, I...I don't want to go to Atlanta... And I know no one wants me so."


"That's not true," he puts his hand on the boy's shoulder. "You're going to stay with me and my family."


"Why?"


"Because I need to know where you are."


Dr. Stookey comes back in with a tray of food. "Daryl I'd like to ask you some questions if that's alright?"


Rick leaves, "I'll be back, should be getting some coffee."


The Doc put the tray in front of Daryl, his mouth is watering at the smell of food. But, he has not touched it yet. Bob nods toward it. "It's good, don't worry."
It looks familiar enough, eggs, toast, something that looked like a safe patty, and fruit most of it was recognizable but some of it was a pale orange color.


"Cantaloupe, it's good."


Daryl had been given breakfast the yesterday morning, but one bowl of grits and full day of chopping wood for these fathers still had made him very hungry. If last night had gone like any normal night he would be given dinner. He eats a bit of everything, digging in with more relish than sense.


"Don't forget to chew."


Daryl gulps down the apple juice, "Right."


Bob watches him eat till he's about half way through the meal then he stops. "It's not good?"

"No," the boy says gruffly. "Just full now."


The doctor writes it all down how much he ate and what he ate the most of. "Daryl what do eat at home?"


He shrugs, "Food, my Dad would bring burgers sometimes. I can hunt and fish."


"What about fruits and vegetables you need those too."


"They're easy to find." He picks the strawberries and blueberries with a plastic fork. "These are good, wild onions, mushroom and greens, they're good just got to know what they look like."


"But, not easy to find?"


"I'm use to it." Sometimes other times he hurt so badly that he couldn't move, or his father would have him chopping wood or helping with the shine. Then there were days it would rain or be so hot all he could do was lay in the stream to cool down.Winter was the worst, land curled into itself.


<---*<---*--->*--->


"Have you lost your mind?" Lori asks when Rick tells her what he's done.


"Lori, if you'd been there you would have done the same thing." Rick was on the hood of the car drinking his coffee. It was best to let Lori rant then introduce reason and logic.


"Well, I wasn't there what about Carl, did you even think about him. We let some teenager with god know what kind of issues in our home with our son."


"I was thinking about Carl and if it was him I would want him to be in place where he could get help not shuffled for one place to next."


She wrings her hands,"Ok. But, if anything goes missing or he hurts Carl I'll shoot him myself."


Rick had, no doubt, Lori was fiercely protective of her son, Rick was too of course, but knowing Daryl in just this short time he knew Carl would be safe. "I promise nothing bad will happen to him."

"Fine, but I'll be waiting him." She says arm crossed.


He stands, pulls her into a kiss, smiling that devil smile. "Yes, dear."

Chapter Text

The car stopped at a house, it was a two story house with worn white paint, and faded green shutters. There was a woman on the porch watching two children play catch. Daryl guessed the white boy was Carl son, while the darker boy was some neighborhood kid. They were playing catch paying Daryl no mind.


The woman talk and lean with long brown hair is looking right at him. He'd seen that look before on mother bears with young cubs, then and now Daryl decided his best shot was to stay away from them. Rick might want help for some reasons still unknown to him. The woman, however, she doesn't. He feels her distrust for him already it radiates across the yard.


Rick looked at Daryl in the rear view mirror. He was scanning the yard looking for danger. His eyes are alert "That your boy?"


"Carl yeah, he's eleven, Duane to you can say hey."


Daryl takes his bag, "I don't think so."


"Ok, how about going inside?"


Daryl opens the door every instinct in his body is telling him not to. Lori's eye is fixed on telling him that he is unwelcome. But, he walks up the cracked concrete path to the stairs. Lori looked him over one last time before her face changes its a subtle change from the fierceness to false happiness.


Rick kisses her sweetly, unaware of the change in her mood"Lori this Daryl."


She holds out a hand, "Nice to meet you."


He doesn't take it, he doesn't like pretending so he just nods respectfully to her. "Ma'am."


"Why don't I show you your room," She says with false sweetness.


" 'Kay," Holding his bag close he hopes Rick will follow, but Carl calls over asking his Dad to play.


Rick confident that the two have hit it off so well that he went play happily ignorant of the coolness between them. "I'll just let you settle in."


The teenager nods followed the woman into the house, as soon as the door shuts. She faces his venom in her voice she takes his chin, her nails digging into his skin.


"What the hell?" He asks thought clinched teeth.


"You listen good now I want to know that feel bad for you I do. But, those boys are my whole world if you hurt either of them, I have in a prison in Atlanta before you can blink. Do you understand me?"


"Yes, ma'am." He touches his chin there's no blood just a fading pain telling who's in charge.


She releases her hand and goes up the stairs and leads him down a hall. Lori knocks on the first door on the left. "That's the bathroom, knock first, don't use all the hot water and keep the toilet seat down."


"Yes, ma'am."


They pass a bathroom on the right with a door. Daryl sees the walls are a soft blue. "That's Carl's room you don't ever go in there." Lori says sharply.


"Yes, ma'am."


She taps on hall closet, "Extra blankets are in here." "Yes, ma'am."


That's mine and Ricks room, knock before you come in."


He nods. "Yes, ma'am"


They stop at an open door, Daryl beers in there is a bed a dark green blanket over it and black pillow. "This is your room we'll knock and don't lock the door."


"Yes, ma'am."


"I'll leave you to get settled, dinner is at six." She looks at the bag, lips pressed into a thin line. "Are your clothes dirty?"


"Yes, ma'am." He doesn't want to hand them over, but saying no to this woman it would end badly for him.


"Give it to me, I'll wash them, have them dry by morning, you can borrow some of the Ricks clothes for tonight. Feel free to walk around the house. I'll know if you steal anything."


He hands over the bag. "Yes, ma'am."


Daryl sits on the bed its too soft, so he slumps to the floor. He listens to the sounds of the house. There is a hum from the air conditioner, it's something he's never had, it's loud to him last.


Lori was like father, he thought. Neither of them really wanted him but they had to keep him around. His father when Merle was alive because he"d said would come back. Then when he died, his father left he left on his own till Joe and his gang first noticed him. Lori was only being nice to him for Rick. So, there he was waiting till it was safe to move around it was familiar.


Once the sounds of Lori cooking reach his ears, he starts creeping down the stairs He explores the house learning the layout; to the left is a dinning room with a table not set and dusty this is rarely used room. He sees a door that leads to the kitchen, he can hear Lori singing for a radio. Going to the right is the living room. It has a couch and lazy chairs all looking conformable.


There is a bay window with a layer of pillows for sitting and watching the boys outside. On the opposite wall are shelves covered with books. Going after he reaches for a book.
"You can borrow it if you want?"


His hands go to his side in an instant as he faces Rick, "No." "Can you read?" The older man asks tenderly. His father didn't like reading Daryl had every newspaper or magazine in the house.


"Yeah... I..." he looks down. Lori said not to take anything. Lori was a mother bear, while Rick was more gentle. This place seemed to be the best option for him right now so he'd follow Lori's law. He looks to the kitchen, then back to the floor. "I...I'm fine, just looking."


Rick nods coming over to the shelve he takes the book puts into his chest. "It's okay, you can read anything you want."


"Thank you," the teenager says taking the book quickly leaving the room.


<---*<---*--->*--->


Daryl sits on the floor of his temporary room reading his borrowed book, The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe vol. I. He heard the light steps of the younger Grimes. Lori told him to stay away so he would but the boy curious about this stranger in his house.


"Your Ma said for me to stay away from you."


"Yeah," Carl draws the word out sounding like his father. He walks into the room and flops on the bed. His head is only a few inches from Daryl's shoulder. "She's overprotective your not going to hurt me are you?"


"No."


"Good I'm Carl."


The teenager turns to face him, his pale like being mother, but has more of his fathers features. "Daryl."


"Are you in trouble?"


He shrugs. "I don't know I helped my Daddy to things that were against the law."


Carl nods, "You're just a kid like me you won't get in trouble my Dad's good Shane too. They'll make sure you're safe."


Daryl smiles at the kids innocents deciding that he likes this kid even if he is naive. "Thanks kid."


He hands over a paper bookmark. "Dad said to tell you dinners ready."

Chapter Text

The next morning Rick takes Daryl to the local school, where Dale was waiting. He smiles at Daryl, "How was your first night?"


"Good, I guess." Unlike the night before he had a full stomach. That feeling alone was strange, then the sound of the house was different too. Even the smell it crept into his nose it was a clean smell, the whole house was too different. It all combined in the sensory overload that kept his mind awake till exhaustion overtook him.
He'd slept for about two hours, when Lori called to Carl telling him it was time for school. Daryl who was just laying on the bed looking at the ceiling heard the boy getting though the thin walls. Carl's light steps bounding into his doorway telling him breakfast were ready. He followed, the boy down stairs to the kitchen. Lori handed each of them a bowl of oatmeal.


"Good so today you're going to take some test, just some basic stuff to see where you on the learning curve." Dale had tracked down the few records he could. Learning that Daryl had attended school till the fourth grade. It surprised him that his teachers had remembered him not as a problem but as oddity. Looking at the boy Dale was starting to believe them. Daryl with his dark cargo pants and shirts with the sleeves ripped off, he'd looked more like a junior biker then a student. But, the reports he read said that Daryl was a bright boy who'd been eager to learn. Then when his brother died, he started showing up with marks, sleeping in class and stealing food.


They enter the school, triggering a memories for Daryl. He thought about Merle, who'd walk him to school. Then he thought about his old teachers, they were nice. Learning was hard at first sitting still was a problem, but it was something he got used to. After that he surprised his teaching by showing that he did a quick mind and deep insights.
Daryl didn't like asking questions they would get him trouble, but Dale wasn't his father. "What'll happen after?"


They turn the corner into a hall full of lockers, "Well, Summers coming up you'll come here to catch-up."


He nods, looking into the classrooms, all the kids are younger than him. "What if I don't make up the difference fore the summers over?"


"You'll have to start the new school year in a lower grade, it's nothing to trouble yourself over son."


Dale puts his hand on his arm, but the he jerks away. "I ain't your son."


They enter the room its empty of kids but a young blonde is there smiling. "Hi, I'm Amy."


"Hey." He says, looking around counting the windows, noting all the exits.


While Daryl scans the room the two adults and exchange comments before Amy asks. "Is she his..."


"Yeah, um, that's our next stop."


Andrea would take a case like this she was strong but caring. "Daryl its time to go started."


That snaps Daryl back into the moment of testing. "Ma'am?"


Amy smiles a real friendly smile not the fake one Lori, "Don't call me Ma'am, my name is Amy." She pulls back the chair. "Sit pleases."


He sits at the desk, his stomach churning like storm clouds just waiting to let loose. She hands him packet the roads, Georgia State Aptitude test for ages 10-15. "This is a simple test you'll have ninety minutes to complete it." Placing some blank paper and a calculator on the desk; she continues. "Everything you need is right here, you may open your booklet and good luck."


<---*<---*--->--->


After the test they go to the court house and meet Andrea his lawyer. She smiles at him, a beautiful smile that makes him feel weak and small. "Daryl, I'm Andrea."
He shakes her hand, "I met your sister ya'll look a lot alike."


The mention of her sister gets her to smile differently the way that Merle would. Andrea had the same face as her sister and hair, but the way she carried herself with determination. Her blond hair in a tight bun while. Her whole body seems to say don't mess with me or I'll mess you up. "Thank you." She nods for him to sit on the couch.
Daryl checks the room, there are two doors and windows. The desk for working, a filing cabinet, and the couch where he and Dale are sitting. Andrea is in a chair opposite of him. "So, what now?"


"Now we just talk."


"About what, I'm here you want somethin' everyone does just say what it is. I ain't some stupid little kid."


Andrea likes him, he's got the facade of a ignorance little hick but she see through it there is intelligence. "No, you're not. Rick and the police are charging him separately for possession of firearms, illegal substances, that's them I'm here for you. What do you want?"


"I want... I... I want the people who hurt me to hurt too."


The woman nods, they all say that, but some of them aren't strong enough. This boy is, she hopes. "Ok, but before I do, I'll need to testify in a court of law. That means you'll have to be in the same room with all of them and your father."


"Will they all go to prison?"


"Yes."


That's what he wants, he's angry at his father at all of them. He wants them to hurt to be scary. He wants everything they did to him to happen ten fold to all them. "I'll do it."
She takes a pad of paper from her briefcase. "I need to write down everything about men who hurt you the names and everything they did to you. Then sign it."


He takes the pen from Andrea, "That's all?"


"For now, yes, this fight will be long and hard."


"I never stopped fightin'."


<---*<---*--->--->


"He what?" Loir asked, taking a sip of her wine.


Dale smiled, amazed the results himself, "I know it surprised me too, but he's not as behind as I thought."
Rick looked at the sheet of paper, Daryl had passed all of the reading and writing parts of the test even testing above the level of critical thinking. Science was at a remedial level all he needed was an improvement on a few concepts. History was fair enough, some holes, but still good. Even math was okay for what he'd missed he had a basic knowledge of the subject, algebra and formulas was where he was lost.


Daryl was on the porch railing, reading the book from last he was a good way through it. Dale and Lori are talking about schedules, what subjects to priorities. Rick steps onto the porch looking at the teenager, "So, what to do you think of all this."


"I don't know," He looks at Carl so free thinking that the world is a good kind place. "I missed going' to school." It was an escape from his father, also it was place to get a meal.


"But, all of this is so new."


All Daryl can do is not he doesn't know how to tell Rick that it feel like he's in a cage being slowly filled with water. How can he tell him that he was just trying to stay above the water. That's a weakness and he can be weak. Just stay out the way, keep my head down, he tells it to himself.


<---*<---*--->--->


Daryl set on the edge of his bed, his father had friends over they would drink till dawn, then he could go into the kitchen and get some food. He heard the men laughing, then the sound of boots coming toward his room. He moves back, pressing himself in the wall not speaking just shaking.


The door opens Joe looks at Daryl, "I'll take him."

His father nods, "About time he pulled his weight around here."


Joe's smile sends fear to Daryl's bones. His shaking gets worst the closer the long haired man gets to him. sitting down pets the space not to him. "Come on, I'm not gonna hurt you."


"You're lying," he said his voice shaking. This will hurt him no matter what, it will hurt like hell.


He reaches for the boy gently pulling him to his lap, "Look, your Daddy said I get an hour, so you can get out of this quickly or painfully."


"Please don't do this," He begs tears in his eyes.


Joe takes Daryl's hand. "You're the one who's going to do this.


"No." He pulls away in vain. Joe pulls him hard to floor on hand on his wrist another undoing his pants. "Please don't do this, please stop."


Carl, who was woken up by the sound whimpering. He tiptoed to Daryl's room. Looking he saw the teenager on the floor shaking, begging someone to stop. He thinks of getting his Dad, but then his Mom would wake-up too, he creeps closer. Seeing Daryl in the moonlight a thin sheet of sweat covers his skin. The teenager is curled into a ball the Carl sees the lines of scars on his back.


"Daryl," He calls softly.


That doesn't help, it only makes him louder, "Merle help."


Once he touches him Daryl's eye shoot up, he grabs the hand, thinking it's his father. Carl yelps causing the scared the boy to drop his hand and crawl backward still in a daze.
Carl not wanting Daryl to get in trouble opens the window, climbs out onto the roof. Quickly he walking across his room, he crawls into his bed just as his mother enters the room. She sighs with relief, "You ok."


He breath out evenly like he's waking up. "Of course I am." The boy adds a fake yawn for effect.


She kisses his head, "I'm sorry I didn't mean to wake you."


Rick finds Daryl in a daze, his eyes clouded over. All Daryl sees is a shape looming over him. A site that is all too familiar to him. "Please don't hurt me."


"Daryl?" Rick says calmly to the boy.


His breath is coming out in short burst. "I don't want to." He says it over and over like a prayer.


Cautiously Rick places a hand on his shoulder it backfire sending the boy into panic. His erratic breathing no longer able to supply the oxygen need for him to remain conscious.


"Please don't hurt me." He mutters as the nightmares take him back into darkness.

Chapter Text

Daryl is certain that Dale is taking him to Atlanta, last night he'd had a nightmare. It was one of the nightmares that didn't end when he woke-up. Then when came down stairs Lori looked at him with a pitiful side glance, Rick wasn't looking at him either. Even Carl, who was the most normal around him was quiet.
He knew something happened last night he'd woken up on the floor not on the side of the bed like normal. This time he was in the corner with a splitting head ache. There were times when he was hungry or sick that his nightmares would come alive. His father would call him a weak little shit.


"Where you takin' me now?"


Dale sighed deeply, he'd gotten the call late last night that Dary had had some kind of attack. Rick only needed to tell him a few details before it clicked. The old man kicked himself for not seeing it before. PTSD, was a common element of returning soldiers, but also victims of sexuall abuse.


"To talk with a friend of mine."


Daryl looks out the window his face is expressionless of course a feature that helped him survive.


Dale keeps going, "Carol is concealer. You can talk to her about anything you want or nothing."


"So I get to stay with Rick?"


"For now. "


So, that's how Daryl found himself on a flowered covered couch with a woman in a yellow cardigen smiling serenely at him. She was drinking a cup of tea waiting for the boy to talk.


Daryl looks around the whole room is comfortable but everything is too homely. This is all an illusion he thinks to himself, the woman too is a chameleon. Her flowery clothes for her match her scent, but it's all a fake meant to give a false sense of security.


She sighs, "You don't like it here, do you?"


He shrugs, "Does it work."


"Talking? Yes, most people seem to like it."


"No, I mean this place," he says, gesturing around the room. "It's supposed ta make people feel safe right, so they'll talk to you right?"


That gets a real smile and Carol writes down her observation. "Most of the time, but you're not most people, are you?"


"Guess not."


"Alright, lets about your living situation you do like it?"


Daryl thinks it over, did he like it? It was a simple question most people would have said yes or no a second later. "It's different, to new I know I don't to go to Atlanta I like being in the country."


"Why do you think that is?"


"It's simple, the rules are easy and. He stands suddenly mad at something he didn't even know what. "I... What hell am I even talkin' for."


Carol infuse writes more notes on her pad, "Talking helps if you keep this all inside you'll end up hurting yourself or others."


"Others?" He had to admit that he didn't care about himself he was too broken but the thought of hurting anyone else it made his blood run cold. Sitting down looks at the ground, "I won't hurt anyone."


"Let's talk about where you live now, Rick is nice?"


Daryl nods, "He's a good man."

"And Lori?"


She notes how the tension in his face at the mention of the woman. He breaths out evenly. "She's protective of her boy."


"Most mothers are."


"I think she thinks cause I've been hurt I'll hurt her boy."

Carol writes his words, it wasn't uncommon for the abused to turn into the abusier usually if it was male. "But, you won't?"


"Carl, he's just a kid... He doesn't know the words a shitty place yet. He's lucky."


Ten years ago


Merle was packing his bag a week ago, he's sighing up to be a marine. Daryl knew there was war that people could go fight make money that way. He was just too young to understand that he couldn't go that the law wouldn't let a barely eighteen year old man take his kid brother.


"Why cain't I come be a soldier too?"


The older Dixon pounds the shirt into the bag unwilling to look into his eyes. "You're too young if I could I would take you with me."


Daryl sits on the bed, picking at his shoe lace. "You leavin' just the same."


Merle stops come over to the bed, he puts his hand on the shoulders. "Look, I cain't stay here, I'll kill him, then you'll gonna be alone and I'll be in prison. This is the only way I can keep you."


"How long?"


"Four years of active duty, then I'll come back to get you."


The sound of a truck coming down the road sends him into a panic. "Please don't leave me."


Merle stands taking his bag, "Look, I taught you everything you need to know."


He follows him to the porch where his father is waiting, drinking from a jar. "Didn't think you had in you, boy."


Daryl stays in the doorway hidden, while Merle threatens. "I'm gonna be back for him."


Will just laughs, standing, "You ain't never comin' back here and that boy he's mine."


Merle pushes the man back into the wall, "I'm gonna come back and if you hurt him in any way, I'll bring back some friends."


Will looks to the truck were three other men are, then to the door where Daryls shadow is. "Never wanted him anyway."


"I do." Merle said, he walks over to his brothers. "I want you and I love you little brother don't ever forget that."


Daryl nods, "I'll be good."


Merle watches trough the rear view mirror as the small boy gets smaller and smaller. He'd never been religious or even said one prayer, but now he was. He was praying for God to have some mercy on his brother.


<---*<---*--->*--->


Carl knocks on Daryls door, "Can I come in?"


"It's your house," he says from his place on the floor in front of the window. Carl walks on and flops on the bed, like the first time giving Daryl the impression that it would be a regular thing.


"Dad said you're going to school over the summer."


"So?" He asks his eye on the book he was almost finished with it.


Carl pulls the marker out of his pocket, "So, you'll want a good nights sleep."


That gets him to look up, "You were here?"


The boy nods, "You were having a nightmare."


"So?" His voice is defensive.


"Gimme your hand?"


He puts his arm out, "Why?"


Carl had seen the terror last night he wanted to help the older boy. "I was in the library today doing free study." He takes the cap off the marker, "And, I found this book about native Americans and how they would put marks on their children at night so the evil spirits wouldn't get them."


"Really?" Watching Carl drawing the spiral-fish symbol on the back of his left hand.


"Yep," He says with all the confidence of the child. "So, this was the symbol in the book." Finishing the loop he caps the marker. "This should keep your nightmares away."
Daryl looks at the kid, "You're a lot like your Daddy."


<---*<---*--->--->


Lori sits on the edge of the bed, while Shane just stared at the ceiling. She hated herself for doing this for needed it, but Shane was there to listen he always seemed to be on her side or at least he always agreed with her. She need that even if it was a lie.


"You can't stay the night?"


"Rick's working late." She answers him putting on her bra.


Shane sits up kissing her neck carefully not to leave any marks. "I know it's perfect."

Pulling on her shirt she on, "No, I have to be home for Carl."

"He can stay home alone."

Her blood runs cold, stand quickly she pulls on her pants. "He's not alone, that's what worries me. He's there with him I don't like it."


Shane knew who the He was, and Shane knew that Daryl was for the most part harmless. Rick saw him as a child with someone who needed help, which was right. Lori saw him like a fighting dog, a dangerous animal that had been beaten into submission. A dangerous predator in her house something to be watched and pitied.


Shane found himself leaning more toward Ricks side, that Daryl was just a kid you'd had a shitty life but wasn't dangerous to another "Fine," he looks at the woman he loves. Reaching out he takes her arm. "When can I see you again?"


"Tomorrow night Carl is spending the night and I know He won't steal."


She arrives back at the house just as Rick is leaving, they stop two cars on the road. He says he loves her, she says it back. Then she in the driveway looking at her house. Turning the car off, she take her neckless from the rear view mirror. Taking the gold band from chain she puts it on her finger. Looking at herself, she says the familer lie, "I won't do it again."

Chapter Text

The Ceder Grove Youth center was a new building, the gym still had that new it smell like freshly waxed pine and paint. It wafted down into the small side room where games were played on the tables. Echoes of laughter and the scent of joy hang in this normally happy room. Looking around at the room that had soft green walls and encouraging posters one would feel happy and safe here. Today, however, the room wasn't filled with happiness.


The tables were pushed to the side of the room to make room for the chairs. They were the metal folding kind, each chair had a boy sitting in it. Six in all in ages from ten to fifteen, each with one the boys bring their own feeling of shame and self hatred. Carol had agreed and this would make him feel less alone and far more open to talking if he knew he wasn't alone. They were all in a circle looking at each other. Daryl looked at each of them, they were mostly looking down. Only one other boy caught Daryl looking around too.


A portly black man with a bald head enters the room. "Okay, so we're all here let's start with our names and ages, who wants to go first?"
No one raises his hand so the guy started. "My name is T-dog because my mother named me Theodore and I'm 34."


A few laughs at him Daryl smiles, and the boy next to him laughs. Daryl sees it through his long brown haired boy. The rest of the boys introduce themselves, Mark the youngest is 10, Louis, who turned 12, Henry and Jon not related both 13.


Daryl stands looking down, "I'm Daryl, I'm 15." He sits and swears that is the last thing he's going to say all night.


Then comes the long haired boy. He looks around at the faces of all them some sad others angry. "Hi, I'm gay Jesus, I'm 15 too."


The sound of laughter is heard all the way down the hall. T-Dog stands up silencing the group. "What is the name your mother gave you?"


"Paul." He says, but he got the boy next to him to smile again so he's happy


They both sit T-Dog goes on, "Now we're all here cause some bad has happened to you." They all look around at each other some nothing other stone face. "It happens to me too. I was eight and my uncle Ron he molested me the first time it happen to me."


"My uncle hurt me too," Louis says not looking up. "He said it was how you showed love."


"Lying bastards," Jon says softly.


Henry adds, "They all lied."


"Damn straight," Jesus says.


Daryl's nods in his agreement, but stays silent. T-Dog moves the conversation along. "Why do you think they did that."


"Greed," Jesus says it automatically.


"Greed," Daryl echo's softly no one but Jesus can hear him.


The rest of the meeting goes around the boy's talk, they agree and T-dog tells them it's not their fault. Daryl knew it was bullshit for him anyway the rest of them were innocent. But he wasn't like them he hated himself for what he was.


So, T-Dog takes the boys to the gym to play basketball. Daryl stays in the bleachers reading the thick history book, he had a test on Monday. Jesus sits next to him. "Summer school?"


"Yeah, something' like it."


Jesus like this boy he was "Who was greedy with you?"


Daryl looks at the boy, "My Daddy?"


Jesus does a half-smile, "It was my Mom. She's giving me to anyone with a dime bag." He rubs his arm, long shelves in the June.
"Cigarette burns?"


He rolls up his shirt, the burns are old lighter skin is circular with slight wrinkles on the outside where the new knitted itself together. "You too?"


Daryl touches his chest "A few on my chest and a couple on my left shoulder."


"I'm Paul Rovia," He holds out his hand.


Daryl shakes it, "Daryl Dixon."


"Yeah," he sighs then smiles. "Gay Jesus?"


Paul smiles, "It got a few laughs. I hate sitting around and talking about it reliving it. I just want to forget it all happened."


Daryl understands all too well, "Yeah, but then you take off your clothes and it's all there."


"Where did they find you?" Jesus asks pulling a hair tie from his wrist.


"My father's house, he was tricking me out for drugs." It had been a month since his father's arrest. He'd given multiple interviews with the police, Rick said they a lead on Phil Blake, that's where he and Shane was right now making an arrest.


"My foster parents kicked me out when they found out I was gay," He puts his hair in a bun. "The police caught me stealing a sandwich."


"Do you miss it, being on your own I mean."


Paul chuckles playing with another hair tie this one is orange, "I do," He very sincere about it. While being hungry was annoying, he'd spent most of his life that way so it didn't bother him. Not having to worry about being beaten or mocked that was his freedom. "I'm in a group home now. You?"


"Um... I'm living with one of the cops that busted my father. I like the guy and his son's nice."


"But the mother is cold?" He picks the word carefully wrapping the orange hair tie around his index thumb.


Daryl nods, "She doesn't like me thinks I'll hurt her boy."


Shaking his head Jesus agrees. "Mothers are like that.


T-Dog watches the two young men talking. It was good to see them talking. He'd seen this kind of friendship before, they might not talk in the group, but they sensed it in keep order. It was what they wanted if they didn't know it yet. Having someone to talk to who really understand.


<---*<---*--->--->


Eight Years Ago


Daryl was mad at Merle, he lied to him and for the first time in his life he hated his brother. His father was drunk again playing loud music dangerous. Merle was dead his brother had been shot in a desert leaving him alone. Daryl knew that the funeral was happening that he wasn't going.


He was in the woods, his father hadn't been sober in two days the amount time that Daryl had been hiding here. It was early winter the chill of coming months creeping in. Daryl had built a small fire to keep warm, but he knew he had to go back to his house.


Looking into the flames, he sniffles, "You promised you said you'd come back."


He stays there crying the fat tears of loss that his father would surly smack him for crying. There are so many things that Merle said they would do, place to go. He adds a stick to the fire, "Lies."


They were all lies, his father was right, Merle died and no one wanted him now. He stands, brushing the dirt off his pants picking up his crossbow. It was Sunday, he had to go to school tomorrow, kicking dirt onto the fire the he start walking back.


Looking at the house he hears music, lylynryd Skynrd but his father isn't singing. Daryl enters the house slowly, quietly, his father is passed out on the floor. The boy pulls a blanket from the couch, putting it over this father. He groans, but doesn't move, Daryl put more wood in the fire.


In his room, he reaches under his mattress feeling the smooth fabric of the American flag. Two of them had been mailed to the house, one of them was for Daryl the other for his father. Will burned his but Daryl held on to him. Will told him to hand it over, he refused and got a nice bruise on his cheek for it.


<---*<---*--->--->


Rick watched Phillip Blake, in the park with his daughter playing, laughing with life, not having a care in the world. They'd found him in the next county, Daryl said his car said the governor. Phillip worked at the Governors choice insurance firm. Rick remembers sitting with Andrea and Dale watching Daryl pick the photo out of the row.


Shane taps his shoulder, "They're in position."


"Good," He says opening the door. "Let's do this."


They walk through the park to the little patch where Phillip is sitting with his wife. "Phillip Blake?"


He stands to his full height, "Yes, officer, can I help you?"


"Come with us, please." Shane does the talking because Ricks blood is simmering and if he does talk it will go full boil.


"What's this about?" The wife asks as the little girl comes to her mother's side.


Shane looks at the woman respectfully, "Ma'm your husband has been identified by a witness, we need to take him for questioning."


"I haven't done anything wrong, what is about?."


The words trigger Rick, he'd seen what nothing was. Taking out the cuffs he says. "Put your hands behind your back."


"Daddy?" the little girl says worried.


Shane tries to get them to leave, "Ma'm take your daughter away." "Honey, stay."


"Phillip Blake you are under arrest for the rape of Daryl Dixon."


"Rape?" The woman asks her voice filled with equal parts terror and surprise."


He looks to his wife, "Honey this is just a misunderstanding."


Rick has placed the cuffs on him tightly enough to drive the point home he goes on. "You have the right to remain silent, anything you speak can be used against one in a court of law."


"Trish call my lawyer."


"You have the right to an attorney if you can't afford one, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand this right as I just read to you?" Rick asks his even tone even but his eyes wild with hate.


"I understand perfectly."


"With these right in mind do you wish to talk to me?"


"Lawyer." Blake says coldly.


Shane puts him the car not trusting Rick to do it. "Your gonna need a good one.

Chapter Text

Three days later Daryl wakes up in his bed, with a sharp pain in his stomach. Sitting up, he looks down at his stomach, its fuller now then before a month of three meals a day had added the needed fat to his body. Standing, he gets dressed not looking in the mirror, knowing there still ribs that he can see clearly.


Pulling on his shirt he tells himself it will pass like pains always have. Going down stairs. He likes the quiet of the house Carl was sleeping over at his friend's house and Rick was working late.


Taking the bowl from the cabinet, he debates eating at all. With Rick he would make a show of it, but he's not here. Then again if was to come in and find Daryl just watching TV without having something he would say something.


A small bowl of food won't kill him, he decides to set the dish on the counter, he gets the cereal to the top of the fridge. He's just added the milk when he hears Lori pull into the drive.


"Oh," She gasps seeing the boy up so early. "I was getting coffee we're out of coffee."


The machine turns on and the black liquid pours into the pot, mixing with Lori deception, it only adds to the pains in Daryl's stomach. He just eats his cereal, he'd know for a month now that at night when Rick worked and Carl spent the night she would leave.


"Don't tell Rick, please?"


"It's your business not mine." He says indifferent to the whole idea. Lori goes to take a shower while Daryl slowly eats his breakfast. His stomach had been bothering him for days now at first it was just a pain. He thought it was his stomach getting bigger, but now he wasn't sure. Tossing the milk into the sink, he rinses his bowl, leaving it in the sink.


He puts on his shoes they were his boots the one that Rick got him from the evidence along with most of his clothes and the flag from Merle's funeral. Lately he'd been thinking about his brother a lot more. Carol had told him that he needed to forgive himself. He knew that would never happen but Merle he could work on forgiving him.


Walking lost in his thoughts, he looks up, he's in the wooded area behind residential area. He had to be a couple miles from where he started. "Shit." Walking West he hopes to come across the road again, only aware of the pain in the stomach and how thirsty he is.


Twenty minutes later he to see a little boy, he's dirty and familiar. "Hey kid, you know where the road is?"


He shakes his head, "Come on." There is urgency in his voice, he waves Daryl forward, "Come on, Merle."


"What," He asks the boy.


But the kid doesn't hear him or see him.


"I'm coming, baby brother."


"Merle?" The older Daryl asks in a dazed voice.


He follows the Merle through the woods till he comes to a creek, turning around he sees no one. "Aww," he breaths the pain in his stomach causing him to double over. Then fall to his knees. Daryl knows something is really wrong.


"You should get in that creek, there to cool off."


Daryl looks up, "Merle?"


"You expecting Mary Poppins? Get yo skinny ass in the water."


He crawls to the edge of water its so cool to his hot skin. "Your dead?"


Merle sits beside him shrugging his shoulders, "So what?"


"So... How are you here?"


"Just am." The man says looking at his brother.


Daryl stays in the water listening to his bothers telling him about how he died and what happen. How sorry he was that he died leaving Daryl alone with his father. That he's been going to be okay.


"How is it going to be okay?"


Merle chuckles, "Ya got officer friendly looking out for you and that woman and people you don't even know yet."


"What woman...Lori?"


He wrinkled his face that mention of her name, "Not her the gray haired woman."


"Carol," Daryl smiles at her name his eyes closed. Of all the people that tried to and failed to understand him Carol was the first to really get him. He had no idea how but she understood how he was feeling what he needed to hear not just what he wanted to hear.


"And, that friend of yours, Jesus."


That makes him smile. Jesus was the next to Carol in understanding. They would barely talk at group, but afterward they would sit in the bleachers and talk till Rick came to get him. The two were the most unlikely friends. Which, is why they got along so well.


"I hated you for leaving."


"Do you hate me now?"


He shakes his head, "Can't hate someone for dying'."


Merle puts his hand on Daryl's cheek, "And can't hate yourself for being' who you are either. I love you baby brother wish I had said it when I was alive but I love you.


"I love you too, Merle." Daryl opens his eyes, but Merle is gone again. Sitting up, he hears rushing in the trees. He feels dizzy again and knows he's seen things cause right now he sees a horse and girl.


Beth Green gets off her horse Nelly, "Hey, are you okay?"


The boy is younger than her, he's half in the creek his cheeks redder than they should be. He's smiling at her, "I forgave him."


She reaches to touch him, his whole body is on fire. "Can you tell me your name?"


"Daryl."


Beth knows something wrong. She whistles and Nelly come over shorting her nerves, but standing firm. "Come on." She pulls the boy out of the water. "Nelly, get down girl."


The horse nods, sitting down so that Beth can maneuverer the fever ridden boy onto the horse. Beth puts her nose lovingly, "Good girl."


She swings herself back onto the animal, the boy smiles at her. "You an angel?"


"No," she tells him sweetly. "But, I think the angels are looking out for you."


Nelly snickers as Beth leans her legs into her sides, "Come on girl we got to get him to Daddy quick. They take off toward the farm quick as lighting.


Glenn, was carrying a basket of peaches toward the house when he sees Beth bonding into the field. Nelly the normally calm horse jumped the fence like it was nothing. He drops the basket running to meet the girl along with Maggie.


"Beth, what is this." Maggie asks as her sister slides off the horse.


"Maggie gets Daddy." She says commanding them. "Glenn helps me get him inside I think its a heat stroke."
The two look dumbfounded at the normally passive girl giving orders till she claps her hands. "Come on you get jobs to do. Maggie go. Glenn help me. MOVE IT!"


<---*<---*--->*--->


Rick came into the house loudly, "Carl get some dry clothes on now."


Lori, who on her computer catches a glimpse of her son went to the bone slushing up the stairs. Rick comes into the living room, kissing the top of Lori's head.


"Water war season has begun?" She asks. Carl had left with a water blaster last night and 100 count bag of water balloons.


Rick sits in his chair, smiling, "No survivors."


They both laugh, water wars was the game that Carl and Duane had invented when they were five. It started innocently enough with water hose's and buckets just the two of them. Then, as time passed it has become a theme of the summer. Almost every kid in the neighborhood would come together on hot days and wage war in a underdeveloped lot three blocks from the house.


"How's work?"


"Good, Sarah liked the new designs." Lori was degree in business math along with creative art back around. There wasn't a sign in county that she didn't have any hand in making.


She was about to say something else when Carl now in dry clothes came down the stairs. "Where's Daryl?" He'd wanted to invite him to the water war he'd said no that his stomach was hurting.


Lori looks to Rick, "He's not in his room?"


Carl shakes his head the still wet hair clings to his head, "No did Dale take him to the doctor?"


Rick cocks his head, "No why would he?"


The boy leans on the door frame. "He said his stomach hurt a couple days ago. And, I asked him last night he said it was still hurting him, I told him to tell you."


"Lori?" Rick looks to his wife you looks taken aback.


She looks at her watch, "I saw him eating breakfast this morning." That was the last time she seen him and she hadn't really thought of him since. Most days when he was in the house he would either be in his room doing school work or outside. A couple times Carl had gotten him to play catch. "Then he went for a walk."


"When?"


"A while," She says her voice unsure.


Rick stands suddenly mad at his wife and himself, "I'll go look for him."


"I'm coming too." Carl says following his father to the door.


Lori follows them both, "No you are not."


"But Mom?"


Rick agrees, "No buts Carl. Lori call Shane tells him and the guys to keep a look out, then call the hospital see if there are any John Doe's matching his description attempted."


<---*<---*--->*--->


Dale is the first person Rick sees when he walks into the hospital, his first question is. "How is he?"


"He's in surgery," Dale says, walking him to waiting room.


Shane is there in uniform talking to a young woman with short brown hair. An Asian man has his arm around her. A teenage girl is sitting nervously in a chair, a white haired man her father rubs her back.


Shane nods to the couple and they join the blonde and white haired man. He walks over to two men. "The blonde was riding her horse and found Daryl in the creek by her farm."


"Good, what about Daryl?"


Shane looks at his notes, "Nurse named Sasha said it was acute appendicitis mixed with a mild case of heat exhaustion." "What happen?"


Rick rubs his hands through his hair. "I don't know he didn't say anything to us about being sick or even in pain. He told Carl but not us. Lori was working, she said he wanted for a walk, but she swears she heard him come in."


"And he doesn't have a phone or ID?" Dale knew was being harsh but this was serious.


"I...We...He." Rick tries and fails to explain because this is the explanation. Daryl was there, but they'd failed to see this one need, the need to where he was.


Shane steps in to defend him, "Look, it was a mistake can't you see he's worried."


Dale shallows, "He needs to be worried, he promised to care for the boy and look where we are."


Rick walks away from the two arguing to talk to the short haired woman. "Thank you."


"Maggie," She holds out her hand. "Maggie Greene. And its Beth you should thank."


He walks over to the young woman she stands, "Your Daryls Father?"


"Um, Yeah. Your Beth you saved his life, thank you." He pulls her into a hug.


Beth hugs him back, "It was the right thing to do."

Chapter Text

Smell was the first thing to come back, in this case it was the smell of hospitals. Daryl opens his eyes to see, Rick, Carol, Dale, and Carl all sleeping in his hospital room. A nurse comes into the room, "Mr. Dixon your welcome back to the land of the living."


He holds a finger to his lips, "Shhh."


"Mmm," She smiles then whispers. "They've been here all night, your mothers getting coffee."


"Mother?"The nurse checks his chart, "Lori."


"Foster mom," He whispers back.


She nods, "Okay. How are you feeling?"


"I'm fine, ma'am." Her dark eyebrow goes up conveying her comment that she knows he's lying. "I'm a little sore."


"Better," She smiles at him and he thinks of a hare. Watching her work, her movements are quick and graceful that along with her light brown skin, it makes him think of the noble hare.


"Can I have some water, Ma'am?"


"My name is Sasha and I'll ask the doctor about some Jell-O for you, but water is fine, I'll bring you some."


Carl smiles as he opens his eyes, "You're okay." He nods, but before can say anything the boy hugs him.


Sasha chuckles gently telling Carl. "Careful, he has stitches."


Carl back as Rick wakes, along with Dale they both smile. Dale shakes his head. "Son you gave us quite a scare."


He looks down at his paper gown muttering, "Sorry."


The old man stands scratching, "Don't worry." He looks to Rick, "Remember what I said."


Rick nods, "I will."


Dale leaves and Andrea come in saying in a relieved tone. "You had my sister worried, kid."


Amy, she was still tutoring him in math. "Sorry."


Andrea is in her cute clothes so it's just a quick visit, "She sent this along." She hands him a book.


Lord of the Flies, he opens the book flipping through the pages, "What no pictures?"


She laughs, "Get better okay." Andrea leaves and it's just the two Grimes and Daryl.


Rick sighs, "Carl why don't you go find Mom, she's should be in the cafeteria."


"Ohh, okay."


Now it's just the two of them, Rick stands up. His muscles protest at the movement. "We need to talk."


"Yeah." This was it, he'd tried to stay out of the way but now he was out.


"Why didn't you tell us about being sick?"


"I don't know I thought it would go away. When I got sick before it would go away."


Rick nods his hatred of Will Dixon reaching new levels something he didn't think was possible. "Right, cause your Dad never took you to a doctor."


"No, I'm sorry."


He pulls the chair closer to the bed, then sits down, "Nothing to be sorry for but when you come home we'll a few rules okay?"


Rules, he could deal with rules. "Okay."


Sasha comes back with Dr. Stookey, "Hey Daryl."


"Hi, Doc."


Sasha set a plastic cup and pitcher on the table next to him, then wheels it in front of him. "Water, and Bob here said you can some jello any kind you like?"


"Umm." He remembered back to kindergarten. They would have Jell-O at snack time. "Red, cherry." He says unsure if that was right.


"Sure thing." She leaves and Rick goes with her.


"I'd hoped to not see you again so soon." He sits in Ricks chair. "Now what do you know about your organs?"


"Not a lot, I know about the major ones but that's it."


He nods. "Well, in the lower right abdomen its a thin tube about four inches long."


"What's it do?" I mean can I live without it?"


"Yeah," He chuckles lightly. "Yes, um its unknown some doctors think it's left over from cave people times. Others think it acts as a storehouse for good bacteria, rebooting the digestive system after diarrheal illnesses."


Sasha comes back, "He bores you with the cave man theories?" She asks setting down a bowl of jello.


"No," He watches them. They like each other he can tell.


Bob checks on the stitches. "Next time you feel sick, please tell Rick and Lori. They were here all night worried about you." He writes a note on the chart and leaves.


<---*<---*--->--->


Phillip kept his head down in the yard, it was the first time he'd been out of cell in a month. His wife was gone, she'd taken Penny to Augusta where her parents lived. Walking the grounds he see's the cliches of the prison. They were divided by colors, some where tattooed others weren't. What they all had in common was they weren't alone.


A young black man walks alongside him, "You need something?"


"Not from you," He says coldly walking by the fence.


"Come on man, everyone needs something, what you in here for." "Armed robbery." His lawyer had advised him not to reveal the real reason he was incarcerated.


The man knocks him playfully, then laughs. "Me too, I knocked over a Piggly Wiggly in Coventry."


"I robbed the bank next to where I worked." The lie comes out smoothly. The only TV channels in here were PBS and soap operas. It was easy enough to lie.


He nods, "Where was that?"


"Governors insurance firm in Buckstown."


The man whistles, "Governor fancy."


"The pay was for shit."


The young man goes back to his group, telling them all that he learned about the new Greenie. Word travels fast around the yard about the governor and his crime. When the bell rings and the men go back into the dull gray building.


Phillip walks along the halls to the cafeteria, he takes the gray tray getting his meal. It was meatloaf looking, he missed his wife's cooking. They'd taken his ring along with everything else a comment to a man calling himself Julie that morning at breakfast.


He's about sitting down alone when a man stands in front of him, he's white, tattoo's of skulls and flames down his arms. "You're the Governor, Armed robbery in Buckstown."


"Yes," He says holding his tray tightly.


"You sit with us."


<---*<---*--->*--->


Lori sat on the toilet in the hospital holding the plastic strip utterly horrified at the pink plus sign. She'd known for a while now that she was pregnant, but this conformation hit her like a tidal wave. Unlike Carl, who she knew with certainty was Rick's this one was a mystery. "Fuck."


Standing, she braces herself on the sink, looking at herself in the mirror. This was punishment, she'd gotten away with it so many times, but now this was it. "Fuck."


There is a knock on the door, "Hello."


"I'll be right out," she says pleasantly to her son. She stuffs the test and box into the trash can. Then she takes the plastic cylinder with her as she leaves.


Carl watches his Mom, hurry out of the room. He thinks she's worried and he's right about the emotion, but the reason is wrong. He brushes his teeth for two minutes, then rinse and spits. His mind on his friend. When Daryl first showed up, he thought that he would be a bully. Then just watching him it all change.


Going into his room, he climbs through the window onto the roof. Everyone thought he was an innocent kid you didn't know there were bad people that do terrible things to kids. He knew that the Daryl was hurt, he'd seen it before a girl in his first grade class.


He looks at the stars, "Sophia, I'm trying to do better this time."


Sophia would show up at school with those same tired eyes and bruising on her arms. Everyone saw, but no one spoke up and when her father killed her everyone mourned. Carl felt guilty, a deep burning guilt that he should have helped her. The day before it happened she'd dropped a book about the constellations.


She told him that when she was scared she'd look at the people in the stars that they would talk to her. He'd spent the rest of the recess talking about stars. Sophia gave him the book, saying he could borrow it for a while. The next day she was gone, he cried.


The next night he came out here for the first time, talking to her. Sometimes he would see her in the stars. The outline of her face or a spread of bright stars that resembled her freckles. He told her about her Mother mostly. How she was sad for a long time after but now she was doing better.

Chapter Text

One month later, Daryl was doing better than before. He wasn't pretending to be okay. For the first time in a long time he really was alright. School was kicking him down, but everyday he went back to learn more than and retained more he thought he would. Then there was his job, he was employed at the Hershel Greens farm. It was a good job gave him money, real money for the first time in his life.


He didn't spend much of it on himself either, mostly it was kept in a bank account Rick set up for him. He'd tried to give some of it to the cop, he said no that as foster parents they got a check for his living expense. What he did buy was a bicycle, it gave him mobility and did need it.


Going to school and work, and just being out of the house, it helped him to not feel so caged. What he really wanted was motorcycle having no license or even a learners permit made that a far off dream.


The trail was coming up soon his father was in jail and Phillip Blake was in jail too. They court dates starting at the end of July. It was a month away still but the thought of going to court and testifying make Daryl sick to his stomach.


Therapy was also something he was being more active in, at least with Carol he was. The group therapy was more to talk to Jesus after. But, this night it was Daryl who was talking the most Jesus was quiet.


"What's wrong?"


The long haired teenager just stayed down looking at the ground, smoking. "My..." He blows smoke. "My mother, she wants to see me." "Why?"


He scoffs, "Says she sober."


"Can..." Daryl doesn't want him to leave their friends he. There was feeling that he can't name it, he'll ask Carol. "Can she take you back?"


"Hell no. She surrendered her parental right years ago when I was seven. She just wants to talk."


"Everyone wants to talk."


So, they spend the next twenty minutes just smoking until the bus comes to take Jesus back to his group home. The bus comes Jesus leaves a cigarette with his friend. On the way back, he ponders his situation. Looking out the window of the bus, he watches the farmland thin into house's then into the highway walls. By the time the gray city building is surrounding him, he's narrowed his problems down to two.


He liked Daryl as more than just a friend and how that came with a problem. The problem was that Daryl was still conflicted about who he was. Jesus had been that way too, for a long time he hated that was gay. Because, he was gay did that mean what was done him okay? Daryl was struggling with that question. He wanted to tell him that yes, it was a wrong, you didn't want it. Your body reacted in the only way it knew how. But, by Daryl admitted who was he to himself whatever Paul told him he wouldn't believe it.


The second problem was that Paul didn't know that he would be around long enough to even see Daryl come to know himself. He'd been in this group home for eight months. Now group homes were the end of the line, but this group home was closed. Before the start of the new school year it would be closed down. All eight of the boys would be sent elsewhere. Jesus had known from the start that his place was temporary. His whole life was just moving from one place to another. He tried not to get attached to anyone.
Walking up the steps to house itself, he sighs, as the familiar car of his case worker is parked in the driveway. He's waiting for him in the house with "Paul."


"Tyrese."


He looked scary from a distance, but up close he was gentle in a way that rare for someone in this job. People came and went they lasted for about five years. Tyrese was only in year three, that was the best time they knew the rules but aren't burn out yet. "Found you a place."


"Another group home, where is it?"


"A foster parent," He holds out the trash bag, the one for all his clothes. "He's..."


Paul takes the trash bag, "I know the drill." He thumps up the stairs to the shared bedroom. The three other boys look at him, they're all younger, but just as damaged as him otherwise they would be going first. The room could be shared by two comfortably, but with two bunk beds it slept four. The other room down the hall had another four boys.


"Did he say who he was?" Carlos asks from the top bunk.


"Does it matter?"


"Could be a Greenie most of the new ones want someone really young or old enough to take care of themselves?" The boy had been in the system for three years, but his first placement had been terrible and he had a scare from the corner of his left eye to his left ear from barbed wire guaranteeing that no one would ever take even if he was only ten.


Jesus nods shelving in his clothes, he hated these trash bags they were systems way of telling you your just smiles trash. "I'm not stupid I know how this works."


"What are you leaving behind?" It was a tradition that was as old as the system itself. Leaving behind a toy or piece of clothing for the next kid.


He holds up a pair of gray socks, "Barely used and freshly washed."


Carlos slides off the bunk holding out his hand, "Gonna miss you gay Jesus."


They shake, "See you around, brother."


<---*<---*--->*--->


Chow time and the governor were choking down his grits, they were lacking flavor and had the texture of wet cement. He was eating with the Aryan brotherhood. They were accepting him into the fold little by little today was different. Yesterday had been a visiting day, his wife had come to see him to tell him that she was talking to a lawyer. That she was leaving him. That she'd seen the evidence for herself.


As they were leaving the chow hall, a brother pulls him into a side hall. "Governor?"


"Yeah, I don't really like it, but hey a name is a name."


Billy Harrison nods and three others surrounded him, he feels the hair on his neck stand. "My old lady came to visit me the yesterday, her cousin is a court reporter. She told me about a named Phillip Blake, he raped a fifteen year old boy. Then he made a video of it like a dumb ass."


Phill smiles, "I can explain."


"I don't want to hear it, boys."


The one behind him, pulls a rag around his mouth. Phill struggles, but the other two who where muscle monsters held him in place. Billy pulls a shank from his pocket. "Don't do this."


"Did that boy says that?" The tip presses into his cheek


Phill mutters something trying to move he can't.


The man laughs, "You know we got a saying around here you need to sleep with both eyes open."


He feels the blood running down his cheek, raging against the arms around him, he yells but no one hears him. Even if they do, they don't call the guards. It had gone around that he was a liar and rapist, that marked him as an enemy to everyone.


The knife goes into the eye, sending a shooting pain through his body. They let him drop to the ground the shank still in his eye. That's how the guard finds him almost unconscious with a knife in the eye. He'd told the man to go into protective custody. He'd lasted a month, which, was longer than he thought. For the man dying, he had no remorse. What he was upset about was that he lost the bet and owed twenty bucks to the guard on D Block.


He gets on his radio, "Hey Mac I need a medical unit and tell Red I'll give his money when I'm done writing my report on this asshole."


<---*<---*--->--->


Hershel had let Daryl go early today, so he made it home an hour earlier than he normally would have. There was a police car in front of the house Daryl thought it was Rick. He was about to open the door when all too familiar sound of yell entered his ears. It wasn't Rick and Lori is fighting it was Lori and Shane.
"Lori you can't do this I have a right to my child."


There is the sound of slapping skin and Lori answering, "You are not the father."


He hides under the window, his heart pounding in his ears at what he just heard and still is hearing. As Shane fires back, "You don't know that. Lori look I love you have for years we can make this work. Rick will understand and Carl... He's smart he might get it all right now, but please." "Get out," Her voice is cold.


Daryl stays still as possible as the boots stomp from living room to the door. He slams it shut not seeing Daryl, who was pressing in the corner of the porch the swing holding him very well. The cop is in his car and out of the driveway in twenty seconds.


Daryl lets out his breath as he hears Lori crying in the house. He swallows the lump in his throat. Carefully, he opens the door, Lori is on the stairs crying.


She looks at him, "So now ya know are ya gonna to tell Rick?"


He shuts the door cautiously he sits beside her, offering his bandana, "No. But you should. Have you been to the doctor yet?"


Lori smiles, reaching into her purse, she pulls out a bottle, "Yeah, I'm ten weeks along that's."


"Two months." He looks at her stomach its still flat. "How long you known?"


"Since the hospital, I was in the carefree and they had some meat it made me sick." She wipes her eyes. "You think I'm a terrible person, I am, I've treated you like dirt."


He nods, "I've met terrible people seen'em in all shapes and sizes. You're a mother you protect but you a human being too. Ya feel guilty right?"


"Yes."


"Shane he won't tell yet so you got time. Tell Rick about the baby at least convince Shane to wait till its born. It could be Rick's right?"


"It is Ricks'" She says the words, but there is uncertainty in her voice.


Daryl goes up the stairs, "Whatever you got to tell yourself."


He lands on his bed, all kinds of thoughts running through his head aside from Lori. Beth Greene had been looking at him all day. He wanted to like her the way Glenn liked Maggie. Just looking at the two of them, he knew they cared for each other. Glenn would hold Maggies hand, he knew they cared for the other.


Beth liked him and he wanted to like her back. He wanted to hold her hand the way Glenn did. But he couldn't, pulling out the cigarette he lights one up. Normally, he would smoke on the roof, but he could get away with it. When he thought of caring and being with someone it wasn't Beth or even a woman that came to mind. Jesus just thinks of him made Daryl smile and feel better.


"No," he stands up opening the window. "You were doin' so good."


This is wrong, he tells himself that he shouldn't feel this way. Maybe if he kissed Beth it would click for him. All his life, it had been other men so if he just does it then it will work. But Merle's words echoed in his head, can't hate yourself for being' who you are.


He presses the cigarette into his hand, "Don't know who I am."

Chapter Text

"Who is this guy?" Paul ask as the car stops at a house its old and well kept. There isn't any other kids or evidence of any past kids.
"You stuck me a Greenie?"


"He's the only person who takes a fifteen year old in this district." He shuts off the car. "So you can play nice with this guy or I can take you the holding cells at the Westbrook for the next month.


A man with gray hair opens the door, he's old wrinkles on his face add to his overall asshole look. "Fine," He opens the door.


"Smile," Tyreese says through gritted teeth. "Who want him to like you."


Jesus paste's a smile to his face, "How this?"


Tyreese opens the door, "No one likes a smart ass."


They walk toward the house. The tight look on the old mans face doesn't go away. He looks Jesus over from the tops of a battered and only pair of shoes. Pasted the ripped jeans and shirt with his hair it was pulled back into a bun right now.


Tyreese nods to the man, "Gregory."


"Tyrell."


"Its Tyreese." Paul says.


The man clears his throat, "Just sign here."


Gregory has signed the form accepting guardianship for the teenager. Tyreese shoots him a be good look, then leaves him here on the porch. Gregory looks at the boy waitng.
This jerk doesn't have a clue what he's doing Paul thinks to himself. He sighs. "This the part where you show me where I sleep and explain what I can and can't do." "Oh course." He says bumbling into the house.


It's a nice house well kept like the yard that wouldn't last this guy is a prude but no malice in him. He won't last, Paul was easy could take care of himself most of the time.
"This is the house kitchen there, bathroom is down the hall second door on the right." He leads him past two other rooms not saying what they are. They stop at a door at the end of the hall, "This is your room."


"What about rules? Do I have a curfew or anything?" He asks entering his room. Its bare the cream colored wall is clean, a twin bed frame is in one corner a set of dressers for his clothes. There is a mirror on the back of the door. A window is open with delicate white curtains blowing in the breezes, airing out the room.


"Right, um midnight for your curfew, I have a study that you are not allowed into. You can watch TV but keep the volume low. Other then that your on your own I will need your cell phone number."


Paul sets his trash bag on the bed, "I don't have a cell phone."


"Right what if I need to call you?"


He laughs dumping his clothes on the bed "You are so new at this. Look you get a check for having me use that money to buy a pre-paid phone. You give that to me, then when I leave I give it back to you and you give it to the next kid."


He nods, "Right...I'll get right on that."


"what do you do for a living?"


Gregory, straightens his jacket, "I am a historian for the Atlanta history museum."


"Why are you doing this? You don't need money and clearly you don't want me or anyone like me here."


He closes the door, "I'm up for a promotion at work this will look good to my bosses. If I can have a job and a be a pillar in my community."


"But, you don't want a child because then you have to actually take care of them where's I can take care of myself right?"


He nods.


"So, when you get this promotion I'm out right?"


He just looks dumbfounded at the boy.


"That's a yes so lets play it like roommates, I do my thing you do yours, we eat together and you get me a phone."


He finds his words again asking the very personal question. "You are Gay right?"


"Yes," The boys says not looking at him folding his clothes. "But you're not my type."


"Very funny, dinner is at six I can't cook very well so we'll order a pizza."


Jesus sighs living off of take out wasn't fun or very hot. This guy is a jerk, but he can work with that. Taking his meager stacks of folded clothes he puts them on the floor. He lays on the bed stretching out. "I can cook, I'll leave a list in the kitchen. Pizza is fine for tonight I'll start tomorrow night."


Gregory nods going back to his study, he looks over the file that Tyreese gave. He'd read that the boy was smart, decent grades in school and had all his shots. He'd read about the passed abuse's but therapy was helping. There was a group session that he went to on Saturdays.


Sipping his scotch he decides that he can still go as long as he can get there on his own. He didn't want to be carpooling him everywhere and his cooking was good since he could hardly boil water. The phone was a competition, but the check that came with him would cover that. Also, he needs shoes, he'd promised Chuck Fuller his boss to bring him around. But, if looked like Oliver Twist he wouldn't get what he wanted.


He'd told Chuck that he was a foster parent months a lie told in a moment with no real thought. Then Chuck asked about him about it again he lied saying Julie was his foster daughter and was staying with him for a couple weeks. But, she was very shy around new people and he didn't want to trouble her. He did, however him a picture of some girl, that he'd found on the internet.


Charles Fuller was a man with a real compassionate heart and told the him to bring the next child to museums. That was two months ago the next day filed the papers. Not even two days after that he was asked to foster a brother sister duo ages seven and five. They were no good to him, they would have run around and touch everything. He said no and the two children were sent to separate homes. The one was even worst a baby was abandoned at a fire station. Then came ten year old, but Gregory had plans that weekend so he said no again.


Tyreese coming in with this boy was a golden opportunity, someone he didn't have to rearrange his life for. Yes, he could do this for a couple weeks, then the boy would go on to somewhere else. Him being gay was a bonus for him. He smiles as he savors his drink, yes this is a boy who get him promoted.


<---*<---*--->*--->


Daryl was on the hill that overlooked the farm, he was eating his lunch, Beth had brought it out to him. She was sitting next him talking about the school, how she wanted to join the 4H club like Maggie did. He was trying to just do it. The thought of kissing this girl had him conflicted because she was great. Beautiful even he could see that her skin was smooth and fair, but smelled like coconuts from the sunblock.


Her personality was even better she was quiet and small that was a smoke screen. Under the good girl face was determined, Once she sets her mind to something that was it. She wasn't naive like her body and generally sunny personality suggested. He'd seen her gently coax a new cafe in the world one minute and cut off a chicken's head the next.
Any guy would kiss dirt just get a look from her, but kissing her right now to Daryl. It felt like he was falling out of a plane going down at a hundred miles per hour. He looks at her and she smiles sweetly, leaning in he'd felt so wrong.


When his lips meet hers, its nothing.


That was two hours ago and now he's in the barn smoking, "I didn't know you smoked."


Glenn Rhee fascinated Daryl more than he liked to admit. The man was insane the kind of person he happens seen much of. Glenn himself was different too. He was a watcher, but when he spoke you listened. One thing was sure that he loved Maggie. His whole world began and ended with her.


"There was this one winter when I was eleven. I hadn't eaten in three days. My Dad hears me sticks one of these in my mouth, after that I wasn't hungry anymore. If I ever felt sick after that I'd take one from him when he was passed out."


Glenn nods hiding his rage for the boy's father, "Beth told me what happened." "Was wrong I won't do it again."


The Asian man steps closer to him taking off his cap, "Oh, I'm sure of that. Your fifteen right?"


"For another two weeks I am."


"You've had a hard life Rick told us a little not all but enough to know your tough." The toughest kid I've ever met, he thinks. "And relationships are tough too. I've been playing the game long enough to know that much."


"I saw my brother. The day Beth found me, I saw his ghost, told me to not be ashamed of myself. But, if I'm queer that means I wanted them to do it."
Glenns response is rapid, "No. Did you say no? Did you want them to touch you."


"Fuck no." He stands ready to fight.


Glenn holds up his hands in peace, "Then you didn't want to and that makes what they did wrong."


"I got hard sometimes."


"Your fifteen when I was fifteen, I could get it up for tomato soup, that doesn't matter what matters is what you said."


Sitting back in the hay he looks at the ground, "I begged them to stop at first, but hey just hit me more for it. If I tell people what if they hate for it what if Rick kicks me out?" As much as he distrusted Rick and his house in the beginning now he really wanted to be there. He'd hear Paul struggles to find a place that foster parents didn't teenagers or queer kids and if you were both forget it.


Glenn puts his arm around the teenager, "Then you can stay with us. We don't care who you like to kiss or don't like."


<---*<---*--->*--->


Shane and Rick were driving past the bar, the third time. It was just off the main street of Woodville. It was a dive bar one story make of pine, the neon sign reading Joe's. He was the second man Daryl ID and the owner of this bar. At first they were just going to go in taking him into custody. It was simple enough that was before they saw the patrons of the bar. Ten gleaming bikes all of them owned by Hells Angels, the patch on their backs speaking of just how hard this simple arrest became.


"How do you want to run this one?" "Quickly if possible." Rick looks at the bike ten bikes means ten men and maybe as many women. They would have guns, now if Joe came out willingly they might be able to do this without turning it into a fire fight. One that ends with Joe doing. Cause once the Angels knew what he was they would kill him out right on principle. Phillip Blake learned that the hard way loosing an eye, but still alive.


They park the car entering the bar its smoke filled with mullet rock blasting. There are ten men plus the Joe they are after the only sound is rock music and the fading echo of pool balls being hit against one another.


"We are with the King County shellfish department, we have a warrant for Joe Kent."


Three of the man reach for guns, Shane adds to Ricks statement. "He done some unkindly business with a man named Will Dixion."


Joe steps for behind the bar. His gray hair is parted to the right, there are a few wrinkles on his face. He's dressed in all black a chain hanging from his pocket, "I haven't done anything. If no one see's or tells did really happen?"

"Will's son ID you can come quietly or loading." Shane says knowing this has to end one way.


"I like loud," He reaches for a gun in his waist and has shot off before Rick can even think.


The two main dive down into the pool tables while the bikers defend their own. Rick radios in the situation, "This is deputy Rick grimes I am requesting back up."


Shane is firing back at the crowed the blood running down his side but neither man notice. Everyone stops firing the smell of gunsmoke thick in the air. "Y'all don't know him, he raped a kid."


Rick curses, "Hold your fire."


They stop firing the leader look to his boys, "Lets hear what this pig has to say."

Rick stands gun held in his hand, but with the safety on. "It's true, he did and we just want him. We'll take him and you can all go left quickly I never got a good look at any of you."


The leader knew that it was true and that being here in place without taking action would end him. Reaching around to his waist he shakes his head. "No, sir, we can't have that."


The shot is clean going through the head into the pine behind him. Joe falls dead onto the floor with blood pooling around the hole in his head. The Angels put their guns down the other leave while the shooter stays.


"Shane gets up its over." Rick keeps his gun on the leader as he backs up to his friend the sound of other cops and ambulance fast approaching.


Shane is sweating a thin layer of it, "Rick."


"Shane!" He kneels at his brother's side pressing on the wound. "It's okay helps coming, helps coming."


The room is a mess wood splinters and broken glass shards one man dead and another dying. Rick is trying to stop the bleeding not noticing the rest if the bikers making there exist. Not caring really.


Shane can feel Rick pressing the wound, but he knows its too late his vision is fuzzy. "Lori." He croaks, thinking of her face in his bed all the night, he's loved her all the times he's kissed her. losing his eyes, he sees her standing in front of him. "Baby."


Rick feels the life leaving him his confession lost in the translation. The medics come in the loading Shanes body in on a stranger trying to put like back in his body but they fail. They take Joe's body in a black bag, arresting the one who shot Joe. All the others are gone, leaving their guns they could be fifty miles from here. They might catch three of them this was over.


<---*<---*--->*--->


That night as Rick comes into the house his sorrow mixed with a somber mood already there he looks at Lori, her eyes red with tears shed. "Is there something you want to tell me."


"I'm pregnant." She starts crying again. When the call came she cried tears of sorrow. Shane a man she loved was dead, the feeling of him being dead, it washed over her like a shower and rolled off just as quickly. Carl found her smiling and crying at the same time. The boy hugged his mother, his emotions being purely sorrowful.


While Daryl was leaning on the doorframe, his mood was also tinted with sorrow Shane was dead, he wasn't perfect but he was good enough. He didn't feel the death as deeply as the mother and her son, but he did feel it. It was the lack of sorrow that helped Daryl see the reason for Lori's smile. Lori could tell Rick now and depending on what the baby looked like he would never the difference. He looks up to the sky God had a sick sense of humor.


"Shane knew?"


She nods into his chest, "He was here when I got the call, but Daryl was in the hospital and... I... I didn't know how to tell you." She sobs. "If you'd be upset."


Rick cries again, this time tears of joy holding his wife close. "No." He says gently. "This is great. We need some life, something good. Let's just wait to tell Carl."

Chapter Text

Daryl phone rang, he looked at the number it wasn't a number that he knew. "Hello?"
"Hey man."
"Jesus," he stutters, "Hey man, what's up?"
Paul looks up the sky, it was cloudy rain was threatening to fall but was holding off for now. "I'm in a foster home again."
The boy sits up, "What? Why did they kick you out?"
He laughs resuring his firend, "No the home was closing, I knew that being moved so quickly. Look, I'm at the youth center can you meet me here?"
"Yes, I'll be right there."He off his bed and down the stairs in record time, he passes Lori who says.
"What-"
"Have ta meet a friend I have my phone with me." The boy says it all in one breath and is out door in one bound.
Now it normally takes thirty minutes for Daryl ride there on his own he tested it out just in case he needed to bring himself. Today however, he makes it there in twenty minutes. He's sweating through all his clothes, panting heavily, but he's here.
"Are you a-" Daryl's kiss comes out of nowhere it an explosion. Jesus braces himself against the building, this was what he wanted for Daryl to be happy. He kisses him back tenderly holding his cheek sublimely telling him that this was okay you can go on. While enjoying the feelings that have simmered turns into a full boil.
For Daryl its everything Beth wasn't, he's acutely aware of every moment. The sound of the thunder it vibrated his bones, subtle drop in pressure that announced the storm was there. More than anything he felt the bliss. He wanted this feeling of wanting all his like he's wanted this, he'd trade everything he had for more of it. The taste of this boy is addicting, he'd never understood his father until now.
Jesus laughs as rain starts to fall the storm is here. "What I did do it wrong?"
Jesus takes his hand, leading him under the awning out of the rain, "You did just fine come on."
The center is all but empty only the only person around is a woman at the front desk, Jacques. She just smiles at the two boys, Daryl is blushing a fine scarlet shade. They sit in the bleachers in the gym talking its the same and its different all at once.
Paul puts his arm around Daryl who flinches he looks down, "Sorry i ain't ever done this before had a relationship I mean."
"I haven't either I move around too much to have someone."
Daryl changes the subject "How's the guy ya with now."
Paul laughs, "He's a new foster parent a poser."
"Poser?"
Daryl was new at this too, "He's just taking care of me to impress his bosses, makes him look like a saint. I'll stay there till he gets what he wants."
"Then he best not get what he wants."
Paul smiles all foster kids are to some extent thieves. They steal food or clothes, some are con artist they put on a different face to appeal to different parents. "Daryl Dixion you surprised me."
"Could get used to that."
"How's Lori?" Daryl had talked about Lori how she is equal parts manipulative and proactive. Paul had never met her, but he knew the type and didn't want to meet another.
"Still sad about Shane is dead, but she's also happy cause now she doesn't have to tell Rick he might not be the Daddy."


Five Years Ago on Dixion Land


Daryl was reading a newspaper left by Phill, he'd brought it as a joke to Will. He didn't think it was funny and kicked the guy out without him even touching Daryl. Needless to say Will in a pissy mood. He came into Daryls room hungover bloodshot eyes glaring at the boy. "Come on boy time to work for a change."
He follows his father out of the house onto the back porch. There was shed made tin sheets that his grandfather hammered into a building years ago when his father was younger than him. It was a shine house, used for making moonshine. Will had spray painted it to blend in with forest canopy. Daryl doubted that anyone was looking for them, they'd been forgotten.
Will had used a chainsaw to fall a couple trees last week, now it needed to be chopped into cord wood. Will thrust the axe into Daryls hands. "Get ta work boy."
Taking the axe he slams it into the tree, the tree's limbs had been removed, they were piled up in a heap to be burned later. The naked tree was then sliced them into round disc's now Daryl had to split them into sections with a nail.
Rolling the first one out of the tree he sits it down its big three feet in diameter and about two feet high. Daryl count eleven others just like it. There is more this is just all his dad had cut the tree itself was forty feet tall. Daryl curses softly as his father cracks a beer. In all his remembered life he could count on one hand the number of times of he'd seen his father sober. "Where's the nail?"
Will pulls it his pocket throwing it at the boy, "Keep it down, you brat."
Daryl catches it one handed, he never asked where it came from but was pretty sure it was part of the railroad. It's the size of his fist, he set in the center of the wooden disc it sticks. Going back to get the axe, he turns it so the opposite end will pound the nail into the center of the disc till it splits down the middle. Daryl does the same it the wooden Smi-circle. Once it splits, then he uses the axe blade to chop the wood.
Four discs later Daryl is covered in sweat, but the wood was chopped, he looks at his father, he's snoring lightly. Wiping the sweat off his face with is drenched shirt he considers going inside the house for some water. If his father woke-up and catch him, he'd get a beat down but dehydration wasn't fun either.
Going over to the water hose, he turns on drinking his fill of the cool water. Once his empty stomach is full he turn the water onto his own body. He's so lost in the feeling of being cooled that he doesn't hear his father until he says.
"You lazy little shit."
Daryl turns his father isn't dunk yet, "Dad, I was just gettin' some water."
He doesn't hear it, he takes off his belt. "Turn around, boy."
Turning around, he takes off his shirt, bracing himself as the belts worn leather rips into his already sunburnt back. He winced at each strike, but doesn't cry out. Counting each and holding his breath for each strike.
Seven lashes in all three of them are bleeding, Daryl falls to his knees, "Clean yourself up and get fuck back to work."
Daryl had made himself a little shack in the woods by the creek. It was mostly made of old tin sheets his father had lying around. The roof was made of wood with a tarp thrown over it to keep the rain out. He'd slept here most nights from April to about November, he had his fishing line here and hooks. There were jugs of water that boiled, can's of beans that he'd stolen, and his sleeping bag. Everything he needed to live really.
Once he finished cutting the wood he'd come here, his tired arms and aching back where numb. He'd slept it off in the stream letting the cool water to clean his wounds. Staying there for a whole hour he just let nature work. The sun would be down in an hour, Will starts his moonshine brew then. While all Daryl wanted to do was eat and sleep. He'd fished his dinner out of the creek a trout it was roasting over the fire the entrails already burning on embers it smelt terrible enough that any animal wouldn't come near, no Predators would come his way if he stayed still and quiet.
Being quiet is how he survived.


Also Five Years Ago in Atlanta


Paul was walking aimlessly around a grocery store, his foster parents had kicked him out a month ago when his teacher had caught him with another boy. They'd called him a fag and tossed him out with nothing. So, here he was hungry and alone again.
The hunger he could deal with that was easy, he'd set a trap on the next aisle. He'd had a knife on him when he was kicked out, he used that to poke a hole in a laundry detergent bottle then left on the floor. Now he was waiting for someone to slip.
It didn't take long, there was a shout and someone a man cursed, then came the sound. "Clean up on aisle four."
The manager who would normally stay in the office watching the security camera came out to apologize to the fallen customer. Paul used that to his advantage, he was on a food aisle. He took cans of fruit shoving into his bag. There was a about a twenty minute window where he could take before he was notified. Moving down the aisle, he takes more cans not reading the label just taking.
He walks out of the store unnoticed, but his pack was heavy with the food he needed. Walking along the ally to the abandon building he'd been calling home for the last month. It was dry inside the unwashed windows letting in enough light so that the boy could see his plunder. There were a dozen cans laid out in a row. Canned peaches, fruit cocktail, baked beans, green beans and a party sausage.
. Food first, he says to himself, he'd stolen a can opener and a lighter in the first week. Using old newspaper he built a small fire, surrounded by cinder blocks. A dis-guarded steel grate over that made a nice cooking surface. Carefully, he set the opened can of bean on the grate. Its bubbling in twenty minutes
With a full stomach, he thinks about himself and how he got here. It was an innocent touch really. A bully had knocked him down, he was an easy target being the only foster kid in school he was an outcast. Tom was just helping him up. It wasn't anything really, but his hand lingered on Pauls. They'd looked at each other almost knowing the other thought. Both of them blushing, then brushing off the whole encounter.
But, he came back found reason's to touch him, it wasn't a bad for either of them. They would go to the back of the library experimenting on each other did this feel good, did feel bad was this just weird. Then Mr. Brooks saw them sending a note home with both boy's.
Frank his foster Dad had asked him about it, Paul couldn't hide his feelings. He got a black eye and a split lip for it, then was kicked out of the house literally kicked he had bruises. The next days he saw Tom again who said he confessed that he didn't know what right, but his father showed him what was.
Paul didn't want to know what the other boy saw, he looked scared a mirror of his own eye. So, he left. He started walking away from houses and manicured lawns into the city. He didn't look back just kept moving.
Moving around is how he survived.

Chapter Text

Andrea was pacing in her office waiting for Daryl, Will had heard about Phillip Blakes eye, then bikers had killed Joe Anderson, the one Daryl called Negan was still in the wind, but with the most recent development he called her ready to talk about a plea deal. Andrea wanted to cut a deal her job was Daryl and as brave as he was, she didn't want him to put through the traumatic events like a trial.


Dale knocks on the door, her breath out her nerves sits in her chair, putting a smile on her face. "Come in."


Daryl enters the room he's visibly nervous, "Ma'am."


The two men sit, "Your father's attorney called this morning. He wants to cut a deal."


"What kinda deal?"


Andrea smiles, "He pleaded guilty to all charges in exchange he'll serve a life sentence."


"Don't sound like much of a deal." Daryl says coolly.


"With good behavior he'll be able to get parole in twenty-five years."


The teenager smiles, "Ma'am ain't never been good."


Andrea nods to the point, "He'd be in a cell block with offenders like him safe as he could be in prison. Also Phillip Blake died last night."


Daryl's eyes widen he'd heard about the eye, but this is new. That means two are dead only began is left. Negan was the worst no doubt, but Joe and Phill being dead means no trial. He wouldn't have to testify or see his father ever again. It was freedom what he'd wanted since was seven years old to be free.


"Daryl?"


"He'd be in prison? Will I have to be there in the courtroom?"


She shakes her head, "No, you don't have to see him ever again."


"Do it." He signs it ready for this darkness to end but also terrified at what comes next.


One Hour Later


Will Dixon foot was tapping out a rhythm on the old floor of the conference room. Andrea looks across the room, coldly staring at him, "He took the deal?"


She looks at his lawyer, "Yes."


"Knew he would the little queer coward."


Andrea keeps her cool, "He agreed to the deal I have the paper work." She places the paper on the table.


Will takes her pen signing his name to the paper next to his son's, "So, he gonna be at the hearing."


Standing, she says, "No. He never has to see you again and neither do I."


<---*<---*--->*--->


Daryl was outside in Carol's garden it was easy for him to talk here, "I'm confused."


"About what?"


"Mostly 'bout my Daddy and all of it really. I mean it all happen to me I won't ever forget, but..." He groans at the sky.


Carol writes in her notes, "You're angry that that's what happen to will never happen to them."


"No, Phil Blake lost an eye then died cause of infections, Joe's dead in hell, my Dad's going to prison for the rest of his life. I ain't mad I don't know what I am."
"This is normal, Daryl for so long your mind was dead set on surviving. I have a game." He rolls his eyes in a very teenager way that makes the woman proud but she doesn't show it. "I say a word and you say the first thing that come to your mind."


"This is stupid."


"Ready?"


He sits up, "Fine."


Carol starts simply, "Home."


The word brings to images to Daryls mind, one is the country where he was born. The woods and creek, that fed him, but there was also another image, it was Carl flopping in bed talking with him and Rick drinking coffee in the morning. All the images make him feel. "Safe."


"Books."


He smiles, books were heavy, they had a scent of old paper and ink in their covers. They would transport him away from the world he lived in if only for a short time. "Escape."


"Family."


Merle was his first thought, of course, his brother the tall man that taught him how to survive. His father who abused him made him hate the fact that he was even born. They were his blood, but lately he has come to know not all family was made of blood. It was, "Complicated."


"Love."


Love that was a mystery to him, no, not mystery he saw it. He saw it all around him. When Glenn would whisper to Maggie making her laugh. He saw it on Friday when he stayed for dinner the Greene family, it was in Hershel eyes when he saw his daughters being happy. Love was Rick talking to Lori's belly. It was Lori absent mindlessly rubbing the slight bump on her stomach. "People."


"Anger."


"Pain."


"Pain."


He breathes out. The pain was many things it was bleeding and crying. It was people yelling at him. His father belt, Joe's cigarettes and Negan's bat. The pain was "Life."
Carol nods, this was all good, Daryl has clear definitions of what his life was. But, they were mostly based on his past influence. The word love made him smile and home there was a hint of joy in that word like he was starting to know them both.


"What about Jesus, how is that working out?"


He shrugs, "Don't know. I like him, but I don't know if I can be in a relationship."


"They're hard." She agrees with him but introduces another idea. "But all relationships are not just romantic, family and friendships too."


"I don't know much about them either."


She smiles, shaking her head, "Well am I your friend?"


"You're different."


<---*<---*---*--->


Carl was on Daryls bed waiting for him to come out of the shower, he'd come home and gone to get a shower first thing. But, he was so excited to tell him that his Mom said yes to his request to camp out on Hershel Greene's back field. He was beyond excited for it cause it would a guy trip.


Daryl opens the door thinking that room is empty, its not Carl is on his bed.


That first night Carl had seen his scars, but it was dark and just a quick look like watching lightning flash. This time both of them are frozen. Some are obvious the burns on his shoulder, they are a mug-is color clustered on his left shoulder. Then there are three of the going down his chest on his sternum. Others hint at the abuse, a scar that ends at his waist.


Carl stands his eyes wide taking in every mark while Daryl stays still, his eyes down breathing slow. "I'm sorry."


Daryl gets dressed not looking at himself, he hated his body because it betrayed him. People would look at him and see a redneck, that was ok too. Being seen as ignorant was good because he hated that look of pity. He'd seen it in Rick, Shane, Dr. Stookey, and even Lori. Pulling on his shirt he feels shame.


He stay's on the floor under the window until the sun goes down. Daryl liked having a friend, Jesus was a friend, but now he was more than that. Carol was good, but she was always staring the conversation onto him. Carl was his friend, of course he's realized he had a friend in time to lose him.


A soft tap on his window, he looks up to see the familiar freckles pressed against the glass. He stands opening the window, "Are you out of your damn mind get off the roof 'fore you fall."


"I do this all the time," He says with ease motioning for him to come out. "Come on."


Daryl follows him out onto the roof of the house. "Carl?"


"I'm sorry." He looks at the stars. "I should have waited."


Daryl sits on the still warm shingles, "I don't think anyone ever apologized to me before."


"They should."


"Most of them are dead now. Does your Mama know you come out here?"


He shakes his head, "No. I knew a girl like you her father would hurt her and her Mom. Everyone knew it and all this girl wanted was a friend I couldn't help her but she loved the stars. She gave me a book about them, when she died, she became a star. I come out here to talk to her sometimes."


"What you saw its why your Momma doesn't trust me."


He smiles at him, his face still innocent but his eyes aren't, they are changing the childhood innocents his leaving him. "But it's the reason I trust you. You have seen so many bad by you're one of the most gentle person I know."


The words stun him, "I ain't gentle."


"You are." Carl lays out on the roof. "I know you are that's why we're friends right.


Daryl looks at the stars then at the boy there isn't any pity in them only friendship? He could feel it radiating off the boy like heat. "My brother taught me about the stars."
Carl chuckles lightly, "Yeah, bet you can see them really well on a horse farm."


"Your Mom said yes."


Daryl sits near his friend. "You can ask if you want to about them."


"No, they're yours if you want to tell me you will."


They sit looking at the stars Daryl points to a constellation Carl name it. Carl points to a group of stars, Daryl names them. So, they sit naming stars till the moon is high. Once the last star has it's name Carl asks his question.


"Do you think I'll be a good brother?"


Not the question that he thought the boy would ask, but still a good one. Carl was eleven would be twelve when the baby was here Merle was a little older than him but they were the same cloth. Merle was darker he hid his emotions while Carl wasn't good at hiding how he felt, although he was good at hiding most other things apparently. Carl saw good and bad, was loyal to the people he trusted, a good son listened to his mother and father but made his own choice, they were mostly for the greater good. He was patient too, he'd waited for people to understand and was fair to those who didn't.


"Daryl?"


"Yeah," He looks at the boy's eyes. "I think you'll be a good brother."


He smiles broadly, "You'll be a good brother too."


Daryl smiles cynically. "I ain't your blood."


"Shane wasn't my father's blood, but they were brothers we could be brothers too." He holds his hand.


Daryl takes it, "I miss having a brother."


Brothers they swear it under the stars, a bond that will be tested and tried in the years to come but neither knows that. They sit under the stars in a rare moment of peace.

Chapter Text


Jesus had a foster family, they were his second and he was young at the time, greener than grass on how the system worked. He didn't know that they were prodding him around for their own personal gain. Once they got what they wanted, they took him to a police station and left him there. He cried that night wondering what he'd done wrong, learning that he didn't do anything wrong it was just the way some people were.


Gregory is cut from the same cloth, but Jesus was older and smarter, however, he took Daryl's advice in setting terms. Come to the museum as a new exhibit sure, but he wanted to go camping. Daryl laughed when he told him that he wanted to come along. A city boy in the country, it was funny to even him, but Daryl asked him to come saying Rick was okay with it as long as Gregory said ok.


So, this is it. He's sitting in a tiny office stuffed with paper and his guardian is typing on a computer. "I thought you said historian?"


"I am, a historian, I research and I type all the principals that go out to the patrons of the museum."


"And when you get promoted what will you do then?"


"I'll give the presentations and run this whole department."He turned back to his book, in this small hot space it was all he could do. Daryl liked reading it was something of a surprise to him, but if you could get around the thick Georgia accent Daryl was a good speaker. He was about to ask another question when someone knocked on the door.
"Chuck," Gregory says with fake fondness.


"Greg," He says with real fondness.Paul rolls his eyes looking at his book. Reading wasn't his thing he understood it and read for school, but reading just for the sake of it was not his idea of fun. He'd rather be out in the museum exploring the galleries, not here. The two men who are talking turn to him, and he feels their eyes on him.


Gregory clears his throat, "Paul say hello to Mr. Fuller."

He looks up through the curtain of his hair, "Hey."


Chuck holds out his hand, "It's nice to meet you."


Paul takes his hand. This guy didn't seem to be a dickhead like Gregory so he shakes. He sits back down re-reading the same page for the eighth time. Once this guy left Greg said he could go home, where at least he had TV and AC.


"Sorry about him, he's having a hard time adjusting."


Chuck laughs, "I see and here I thought it was because he's in this cramped little room."


Under his hair Jesus smiles at the comment, Gregory recovers quickly, "I told him he could walk around."


"Good, why don’t I show him around so that he doesn't get lost."


Paul closed his book, "I would love that."


That night as Jesus minces the vegetables for chilli, Gregory, who normally stays in his study is sitting at the table questioning him about his tour. "What did he ask?"


"Stuff. Like if I liked living here, how you are as a parent..." He drinks his stocks.


"And?"


"Well, I do like living here, told him that it was going to miss it when the summer was over. As for your parenting skills, I told him you weren't the worst." In truth his parenting skills are laughable, it's a minor miracle that he's kept himself alive this long.


"Right, well that's the deal."


He stirs in the peppers, "I know. This should last a couple of days."


"Right, the camping trip. Is there anything going on here that shouldn't?"


Not that he wouldn't love to fool around with his boyfriend, the short answer would be probably not. Daryl sleeps a tent with him very strong yes. "Nothing that you should concern yourself with."


<---*<---*--->*--->


Rick was helping Carl put up their tent while Daryl was done with his tent. He was sitting on a log watching Jesus make a fire pit with a strange smile on his face. "Where did you learn that?" Daryl ask as Jesus adds some dry leaves to the pit.


"I was homeless for a while, you pick up a thing or two."


He nods, watching the father son duo pitch their tent. "Yeah, you do."


Paul puts the tinder bundle in his left hand then with the right he produces a zippo. Lighting the bundle he inches it into the pyre of firewood. The wood catches fire and within minutes there is a nice fire crackling away.


Rick and Carl finish their tent ten minutes later and they come sit by the fire. Daryl hands them each a bottle of water from the cooler, which, they both take long drinks from. For Daryl this wasn't like the camping he'd known. Having a cooler full of drinks and food was new to him. But, Rick did get his crossbow from the evidence locker, Lori had a fit when he brought it home and Carl was fascinated to say the least.


"So what now?" Carl asks, his eyes flickering to the fishing poles on his Dad's truck. Fishing was one of the few things he thought he was good at and he was. Andrea had been a friend of his fathers for years now ever since she became a prosecutor. She taught him all kinds of fishing knots, how to cast a line, and to gut and clean fish.


Rick chuckles lightly, "Now you get to go fishing, Daryl can show you to the stream."


His eyes light up, "By myself?"


Rick nods, "I think you're old enough." He pauses, "Just don't tell Mom."


Carl scoffs like it's the stupidest thing he's ever heard. "I won't." Grinning wildly he collects his pole, a bucket, and tackle box. Daryl slings the bow on his back. Paul stands looking more out of place than normal, the younger Grimes sees it. He holds out the tackle box. "Here you can help me fish."


The three boys walk into the woods, Daryl knows the way. Carl is chattering like a bird to Jesus telling him all about fishing how wet-knots are the best to use. Paul decides that he likes Carl, he's a sweet kid like Daryl had said. But, he was smart too seeming to know what a person needs to feel not so alone.


They make it to the stream in five minutes. Carl analyzes the water, it's a slow moving creek. Taking the bucket, he fills it with water setting it to the left of the group. He takes the tackle box, selecting a lure and taking out the old coffee can, he opens it. It's full of worms Carl had dug for them yesterday in the empty lot. Daryl puts his hand on Paul's shoulder, "I'm going hunting you want to stay here?"


"Sure."


Carl takes a worm from the can, sticks it on the hook with the hook going through the middle of the pink body. Paul makes a face that causes Carl to laugh. He cast the line into the slow brown water. The lure stays on top of the water bobbing from the live bait."Why not kill it, why do you leave it alive?”


"Fish like live bait better than dead. Daryl likes you, can see why you two lived in different places, but your a lot alike."


"Thank you."


"I like Daryl too not in the way you like him,to me he's like the older brother I always wanted so if you hurt him I'll be very upset."


The line moves downstream Carl reels the line, a fish it's almost a foot long with a dark green upper body that faded into a white belly. Carl reeled in the fish it twisted and turned trying to break free. Quickly the boy measures out the fish. "It's good."


"Good?"


"This is a largemouth bass it's ten inches long legal sizes for keeping." He puts in the bucket, "In this heat it would spoil before we get back, I'll kill them at the campsite."


While Carl was giving Jesus the quick version of fishing Daryl was hunting. Unlike every other time he didn't really need to find anything but it had been months since he hunted. His body remembered it, his mind remembered it. The land was Hershel's, it hadn't been hunted on in years, a whole generation of animal that never learned to fear man.


Daryl used that to his advantage, he had three very fat rabbits. Lori had sent along food as well, so this was all they needed to be sure. Rick had talked with pride in his voice about what a great fisherman his son was. He makes his way back to the campsite.


He passes by the two at the creek, they seem to be getting along with each other. That was good, he thought. He wouldn't say that he loved Paul. Love was still a vague idea to him, like a dream it was something that he barely remembered. For now he knew that Paul made him happy. That was enough for now, to be happy.


Rick has two visitors, one was Hershel Greene. He explained the rules and said that Daryl was a hard working young man. The two had a nice conversation. The next visitor was Glenn Rhee, an Asian man with the beginnings of mustache on his upper lip.


"We like Daryl around here, he’s a good kid, a real special type. He's had shit that could have made him hateful, angry at the world but he's not."


Rick nods, "I know."


"No you don't. Daryl isn't like us he's different." Glenn hopes this gets through to him right. "He'll tell when he's ready I guess, but know this, if you even think of turning him away just know that we'll have him here and you won't be welcome for it."


Glenn stands looking at the farm, when he first got here it was an alien place for sure. Both girls lost in grief for their step-mother and brother, they'd died in a car wreck. To Glenn everything was different than what he'd grown up with, but Hershel was patient with him and kind. It was a trait he'd passed to his daughters, especially Beth. Maggie had it as well, but there was more of a leader in her, while Beth was more of a peacemaker. All together they had started to make a new family, but Beth was quick to remind them not to forget.


Daryl enters the clearing and he smiles at Glenn. "Hey man what's up?"


Glenn smiles easily, "Just came to make sure that ya'll were settling in ok."


Daryl nods, he's not used to people lying to him. His father never did, it was of the few not terrible things he did. So, Daryl doesn't know he's being lied to, he understands there is tension between the two men but doesn't question it. The questions were a tricky thing to ask and then the answer might be more terrible.


"Thanks for the talk." Rick says as Daryl sits on a log. He nods. Rick watches as he expertly skins the animals, "Did your brother teach you that?"


"Yeah."


<---*<---*--->*--->


"Come to eat it." Daryl says in almost teasing tone. Carl is happily eating his rabbit. Jesus is eating a fish with gusto suggesting he's come around to the idea of camping. Rick turns the roasted animal in his palms all the other boys are watching him. He brings it to his mouth, taking a small bit of it. There is an earthy taste to it. Taking a bigger bite he nods, "This is good."


Carl and Daryl bust into laughter and it's Carl, who asks, "Why would we lie?"


"I wasn't saying you were lying it's just I have different taste."


As soon as he says it Jesus starts to laugh uncontrollably almost choking on his fish. "It's okay."


In their tent Daryl lays on his sleeping bag, "I haven't told Rick yet."


Paul is laying on his sleeping bag, "You need to, it never ends well when they find out on their own. Cause then you're gay and a liar."

"I know it's just... I don't want him to look at me differently."


Paul reaches over taking his hand, "I'm not going to lie, they'll look at you differently because they'll know you better. I've been in some shit places and you have too. Do you think Rick will boot you out?"


"No."


Sitting up, he leans in close so that their heads are touching, Pauls long hair is brushing against his arms. "You are one of the bravest people I know."


"I hate you."


Gently Paul kisses him, "You're lying."


"Fuck you."


He chuckles, "Yeah you're not ready for that yet."


Rick is sitting in front of the fire when Daryl comes out of his tent, there is something weighing on his mind because he's not wearing a shirt. He sits across from him the still hot coals between them. "Is there something you want to tell me?"


Daryl is looking down, "No. I don't...For the first time I like where I'm at."


Rick nods, "We like you too you're a good kid."


His breathing is shallow and fast like he's been hit. "Rick...I'm gay."

Chapter Text

The words hang in air, as the two think very different thoughts, the only sound is the crackle of the fire. Rick is surprised to say the least and he has fifty questions with no idea how to ask them. While Daryl is tense waiting for a hit, he looks at the fire wanting nothing more than to take back his words.


Rick swallows, "O...Okay. Are you sure?"


Daryl laughs smiling in spite of himself. "Yeah, um...I tried with Beth...I kissed her. There was nothing."


"Why didn't you tell me sooner?"


"Thought you'd toss me on my ass."


Glenns threat makes more sense now and this is a bombshell making him rethink everything. "I'm not." He breathes out a long breath, it's what he does when he's thinking. "Lori and I were talkin' and see, we want you to stay with us permanently."


He looks up trying to read Rick's face, he's not lying. "What about the new baby?"


"Well um...it's going to sleep with us till it's about six months old. That should be long enough for us to enclose the back porch maybe widen it a little."
It settles on him like a sudden rain, they would keep him.

"Yeah." He croaks.


Rick looks at Daryl's tent, then the wheels start turning in his head and his eyes go to Daryl from the tent. "You and Jesus? He's more than a friend isn't he?"


He nods. "I don't know what the hell we are... mostly I say we're together."


"Does Carl know?"


"Um," He starches his chin where the rough chin hairs have started to pop up. Bob had said that he would start seeing more signs of puberty and his changing body. He figured that was right everything else had changed why not his body. "I ain't told him but he probably knows. He sees a lot more than you think."


The older man nods wondering what else he hasn't seen. "Apparently." He stands and Daryl braces his body for a hit. But Rick doesn't hit him or even yell. "Is there anything else you want to tell me?"


Lori, his mind yells it at him. That had weighed more on him than this. Being ‘out’ as Jesus called it, was liberating even if he hadn't told many people. Just being able to say it to himself without all the shame and hate. The only thing that seemed to hold him down now was Lori. HE knew the reason she agreed was because he knew who that baby’s Daddy really was. Then again if everyone was content right now he'd be the one to ruin it. Rick was happy with another baby, Carl was over the damn moon, and even he would admit it wasn't the kid's fault.


Looking into the embers he lies, "No."


"Thank God. I'm gonna go to sleep and we'll talk more about this at home right?"


He nods not trusting himself to say another word.


Two Years Ago


Daryl was shaking on his bed. He'd heard him roaring up the road in his truck. It sent fear down into his very soul. This man was insane. He'd looked at Daryl like he was just a toy. All the others would have that moment where they realized Daryl was a person. It was a flash of guilt. He didn't have that.


"Little pig let me in."


He bites his lip to keep it from quivering, as the door opens. He comes in, leather jacket and blue jeans, he looks like any other blue collar asshole his father brought around.
"Mmm Ummm," He says like he just tasted something wonderful.


Daryl wonders if it's his fear that he can taste. He sees the baseball bat in his hand. "Pl...plea....please not the bat."


"Aww," Negan swaggers into the room. "Come on...you'll hurt Lucille's feelings."


The smooth wood touches his face causing his breathing to change to short quick bursts. "You wouldn't want to do that would you?"


He doesn't answer, it was his experience that any answer was the wrong one. Negan puts his free hand on his neck, choking him before he can even blink. "When someone asks a question, you answer them."


Letting go Daryl coughs air back into his lungs while Negan takes off his jacket. "Now do you do want to make Lucille angry?"


"No," His voice is hoarse.


Negan wasn't sure about this the first time. He'd just wanted to beat up Will for being a dick. Then he came up with trading his son. Will had talked with a kind of arrogance that had fascinated him. So, he followed him to this shit shack. Daryl was dirty. Not just dirty looking but dirty, with dirt under his nails and grime on his skin.


He'd enjoyed that night. Just making him hurt and bleed, it was better than any drug. And, when he was done, the boy was bleeding and crying, but, he felt better. Less dead on the inside. So, he came back with Lucille. He didn't care that he had to pay. He was just some white trash that no one cared about. His old man didn't that was for sure.
"Good now take off your shirt."


Two hours later, he's smiling. Daryl is leaning against his wall. He'd only stopped when he heard the crack of bones breaking. Picking up Lucille he whistles leaving the room. Will is passed out on the floor, and he drops an extra fifty next to him.


Back in the room Daryl can barely move, every part of him aches from the bat. His feet were hit multiple times. He needed to get them in his boots. Keeping them in that position would keep everything in place, cause something somewhere was broken that much he knew.


<---*<---*--->*--->


The next morning he wakes up with Jesus’ arm around him, it wasn't an unpleasant awakening. Jesus is dead to the world, the sun is barely up and Daryl is thinking he's the only one but as he's blowing life into the embers from last night, Carl comes up the path into the clearing with more wood for the fire.


"Good morning."


Carl hides his smile, "Late night?"


He scoffs, "I told your Daddy that you knew already."


The boy adds wood to the fire, "I kinda thought so when you first came to live with us. Then whenever you talk to him you get this little smile on your face.”
"You don't mind?"


He shakes his head, "Your still my friend and you can still be my bother if you want to be."


They smile at each other as Jesus yawns loudly, then crawls out of the tent. He looks rough, like his sleep had been as rough as Daryl’s. He looks at the two, "How do you sleep with all this quiet around you?"


They both laugh at him as he comes over to the fire. "And no coffee."


Carl giggles, "I'll get some started. Daryl there should be eggs in the cooler."


Paul watches as the two work. Carl sets about making coffee. He pours water into the metal can. Then he attaches it to the poles over the fire. While the water heats up, Daryl takes a carton of eggs from the cooler. He sets it beside Jesus, "Just leave them be."


"I can scramble some eggs."


"Over a open fire?"


He shrugs, "How hard can it be?"


"Very." Both of them say.


Daryl puts his hand on his shoulder, "Just sit back and watch you might learn something."


Carl puts a grate over the fire then adds a frying pan, dropping a pat of butter on the pan. While that melts he kills two more fish this time slicing them in half, setting two halves on either side of the pan where the butter is melted and bubbling.


As silently as possible Daryl sit next to his...Jesus. "Here." He holds out a cup with a spoon in it.


He nods, "Thanks."


Carl takes out a pack of the powdered coffee handing it over to the tall long haired man. "We only have the one flavor but Dad should have some creamer in the cooler."
Setting the cup on the ground Paul takes a thick cloth and pours the hot water in the cup. while he mixes his wake up juice, the elixir of life, Daryl starts scrambling the eggs in the pan.


Carl flips the fish over, the smell mixing with egg into a delightful smell that wafts into Rick's tent. He wakes up to the sound of laughing and smell of coffee. Coming into the circle of laughing boys he says. "Good morning."


Paul pours him a cup of water then takes a pack of coffee. "I'm usually the one who sleeps late if I can help it."


He takes the cup and pack of coffee, "You're a city boy use to cars, sirens, and city noise."


Drinking the liquid he watches as the boys work, Carl on the fish and Daryl on eggs. Jesus found the plates and was loading them down with eggs and fish. He hands a plate to Rick.


They all get a plate and are sitting eating in less than ten minutes. Rick feels a swell of pride for Carl who he’s realizing isn't a kid anymore, not completely at least. He's changing into a young man, one that he's proud to call son. Daryl is also adding to that pride, he'd be proud to call him son too.
The boys talk about the day, how they were going for a hike that would lead to waterfalls with shallow pools. Rick reminds them to take lots of water. Lori packed sandwich meat and bread so they could carry lunch. Dinner would be hot dogs, then tomorrow they would break camp, going back to normal life.
Looking ahead he could see them all camping, Lori and the baby, here with them. He wanted a little girl. Carl was great, Daryl too but lately he'd been thinking more of girls. Some tiny thing with Lori eyes hopefully.

Chapter Text

The long hot summer, faded into fall and for Daryl it brought more changes than he thought possible. He'd gained about twenty pounds and grown four inches, making him as tall as Rick, but still skinny. Turning over in his bed, he looks at his clock. It reads 7:10. He groans. It was early, but he still has lots of work to do.
School had been a bigger adjustment than he thought. Going to summer school had been fine, it was just him and the teachers. Regular school was different. He was around kids his own age for the first time in years. He felt so alienated those first few days, being new and a sophomore in a school where everyone had known each other since the first grade. He was new. He was a curiosity.


They asked the normal questions and he answered them truthfully enough. Beth was a great comfort to him. She was a junior, but had friends in Daryl's classes so he had a group to eat lunch with. Classes were okay, he'd caught up enough that, academically, he was on the same level as everyone else. It was from the peer standpoint that he lacked knowledge. There was so much he'd missed as a kid that he wouldn't talk much.


That came with problems too. Girls seemed to like that about him. That he was ‘silent and brooding’ whatever that meant. He'd had plenty of them ask him out or flirt shamelessly with him. Finally a week before Christmas break, he outed himself when one girl had all but given him a lap dance. He'd stood up a little too quickly causing her to fall on her ass. That led to her telling her brother Nicholas, who was a typical jerk, and captain of the wrestling team.


The whole team had caught him after the incident. It was three on one, with Nick watching, not getting his hands dirty. Daryl wasn't the easy target that they had thought though and, like the cowards they were, they ran when he broke Aidan's nose. Rick was furious, almost as much as Deanna, who wanted to press charges, until Principal Gabriel Stokes had shown her the video of both incidents.


It ended with Nick being sent to a military school in Florida, and led to Daryl making two very special friends, the only other gay kids, Aaron and Eric who at that point had lived as Nicholas’ favorite targets. They were an established couple, more than willing to answer his questions and give him the relationship advice that he needed since Jesus had conned his way into staying with Gregory.


Chuck, who’d been a foster child himself, had taken a liking to the boy. He'd told Gregory that, when he was promoted, the underlying message getting through. Jesus had even gotten something great out of the whole deal. A fight similar to Daryl’s had landed him in martial arts class as a way of getting his aggression out. What happened was that he loved the class. Years of slipping in and out of situations had given him wonderful balance.


Back at home Lori had progressed from the slim twig woman into a twig with a balloon taped to her stomach. She was thirty-eight weeks along and ready for her C-section. But, that would have wait must to her dismay.


There was a track of the storm coming this way. It had ravaged Alabama and wasn't stopping. Rick was at the station organizing evacuation for people in the low-lying areas where flooding would be eminent which left Daryl here to finish boarding up the windows. Their house was on the high ground so Rick had stocked up the pantry, gotten gas for the generator, and left Daryl in charge.


He rolled out of his bed in his new room. It had taken him and Rick five months to get the back porch widened and insulated into this room. He liked it, it was longer than most ordinary rooms. The bed took up most of the west wall. There was a small table beside him with a lamp and his phone. Checking the phone it was fully charged with four messages; two from Paul, one from Glenn and the other from Aaron.


Setting the phone back on the table, he walked over to the dresser where his T-shirts are. He looks at the flag in the frame on top of the pine, smiling at his brothers picture with it. It was one of the very few that had been in the cabin. This one was of Merle and Daryl just before he left. Then there was one of his Ma. She was pregnant sitting on the porch of the old house, Merle standing behind her with a sour look on his face.


Pulling on the shirt, he enters the kitchen. Carl is already there. He'd changed too. His baby face had turned into an older look. He wasn't a teenager yet, but definitely not a boy anymore. "Ready to work?"


"Yep."


They go out to the front yard where the windows still needed to be covered. The swing was already in the garage, the ladder was leaning against the house, and the wooden planks piled in the yard. Rick’s tool belt was right where he'd left it. He looks to the west, the sky is just waking up, but he can feel the storm coming.


Putting on the belt, he climbs the ladder, they still had eight windows to cover. Carl follows Daryl's gaze, "Is the storm gonna be bad?"


"Maybe," The older boy answers. He didn't sugar coat it the way Lori did. Telling the truth was necessary, it prepared him for what might happen.


"Will people die?" He asks, handing Daryl a piece of wood.


Daryl hammers in a couple nails. The answer is yes, but Carl knows that the real question was, would someone he knows die. That was tricky. "I don't know. We'll try our best to keep our people alive. It’s all we can do."


<---*<---*--->*--->


Rick came home around three that afternoon to change clothes and check on Lori and the kids. Daryl had gotten the windows finished, and he was snoring on the couch, his hair clinging to his his face from the last shower he'd get.


Lori was in the kitchen picking at chicken salad, "They upped the warning."


"I know." They were under a tornado warning now that would only be upgraded to a watch during the night.


He sits across from her. "I have to go back out there, the roads are a mess."


She takes his hand "We'll be here when you get back."


Going up the stairs he finds Carl in his room, "Hey."


"Dad." He hugs him close, having worried about his father. Since Shane had died, he'd thought more about death, how it took with no regard to who that person was or what they could do or have done. It was coming as unstoppable as the storm. Death would come to his family. He didn't know how he knew but he knew.


Rick hugs his son, feeling better knowing he was safe. "Hey buddy."


"Daryl and I finished the windows. Are you staying? Please stay, we need you here."


Rick shakes his head. "Carl I can't, I have responsibilities, you're safe here with Daryl."


"That's why you have to stay, you won't be safe out there."


"Carl no more kid stuff, I need you to help Daryl look after Mom."


Now Carl is mad. He knows this already. "Dad, I'm being serious.”


The man sighs, "Okay, I promise I'll be careful."


Carl stomps back to his bed.


<---*<---*--->*--->


The storm darkened the sky just before six. It started with light rains that turned into pounding waves by eight. Lori stayed in the living room watching Carl and Daryl play cards. It looked like poker with the boys betting with hard candy. The two played for an hour before Carl started to nod off. He was sleeping before ten, his weight on Lori's side. The power was still on. Lori switched on the radio, listening to the storm reports.


The first round of thunder woke Carl and the snoozing Daryl just after midnight. "Mom?"


"Shhh," She cooed running her hands through his hair. "We're okay." Looking for the older boy she repeats. "We're okay."


Lori holds Carl closer to her side as the thunder booms and shakes the whole house. She's praying silently for his safety, for the storm to end, and for the pains to stop. They'd come almost as soon as Rick left, but she ignored them as Braxton-Hicks. She told herself that's what it was as the lights went out.


Daryl is unmoving from his place in Rick's easy chair. She can tell he's alert, but unlike Carl, who'd flinched as the thunder shook the house, Daryl stayed still. It was only when lightning flashed that she saw him breathing steadily but his face was showing fear. She saw him in fear and he saw her in pain.


He nods to the kitchen and she looks at Carl, scared but not crying. "I'll be right back okay, sweetheart."


Carl nods solemnly, wanting to be brave.


In the kitchen, Daryl switched on a battery powered lantern, getting a proper look at the woman. She was covered in sweat, her face looking hollow with pain. "How long?"
"A couple hours. I thought it was false labor, but it's not."


"We need to call an ambulance?"


She waves him off, "I tried, all I got was an automated system."


Daryl looks around, "Rick?"


Lori shakes her head. "The phone's are out the storm must have knocked down a cell tower." She groans, bracing herself against the counter as she feels a warm liquid rush down her legs.


Daryl lowers the light, illuminating the blood that is coming from under her skirt. "We are so fucked."


"Oh-no." She mutters, slowly lowering herself down to the floor. "It's coming."


Another thunder clap sounds, this time with a wind so powerful it sends a tree limb through the window. It causes Carl to flee into the kitchen just in time to see his mother on the floor. "Mom?"


He rushes to her side, his fear is confirmed at the sight of the blood. Looking at Daryl, he sees the older boy is frozen. "Daryl?"


The sound of Carl's young voice grounds him back to reality. Lori is panting softly, her eyes pleading for any kind of help. "Okay. Carl I need you to go find some clean towels and get a blanket."


"Right." He carefully leaves the room.


"You have no idea what to do." Lori says her pain passing.


Daryl kneels in front of the woman, "You're right, I don't. But I'm the closest thing you've got to an adult right now. Besides, you're gonna be doing the hard part."
That causes her to chuckle, "Right. Can you see anything."


He lifts her skirt, seeing more of her than he ever wanted to, "I don't know. I can't see the head."


"This could take awhile."


The boy returns with towels, along with thick comforters from his parents' bed. He looks at Daryl as she groans in pain, he whispers, "We try our best."
Daryl nods, putting his hand on the boy's shoulder. "You're gonna help to deliver your little brother or sister."


The winds howled along with Lori for the next four hours. She'd screamed and grunted through the pains. But, now as the storm died outside, she felt it. "It's time. I need to push."


Daryl clenches his fists, "Carl. I need you to find me some alcohol, a jug of water and a pot."


He scurries to find the items as Lori say breathlessly, "Alcohol? You picked a hell of a time to drink."


Lifting the skirt again, he doesn't see the head, but it's wider. "Really, I think it's the perfect time to drink."


Carl returns with a bottle of rubbing alcohol. Setting it by his brother, he grabs a jug of water from the counter and the stew pot from the cabinet. All of the items gathered, he waits for intrusions. "What now?"


"Pour half the bottle into the pot, then add the water till the pots half full." He checks on Lori, who sees his eyes going wide. "I..." Shallowing he says. "I see the head. Lori push."


"I can't, I can't." She breathes. It was all too much. The pain, the lies. It was all hitting her at once.


Daryl washes his hands in the pot, "Lori just one more push and your baby will be here." Breathing in she gives one more push, feeling the baby leave her body. Daryl catches the small thing as it comes out. He holds it in his hands feeling the beating of a tiny heart. "It ain't breathing?"


Lori smiles in a daze, "Rub the back."


Slowly, with a bloody hand, he makes a small circle with his left thumb on the back. There is a small hacking sound that is immediately replaced by tiny wails. "She's alive."
"She?" Carl asks in an awed voice, holding out the towel.


Tenderly, Daryl turns the baby girl so he can lay her on the gray towel, wrapping her in the soft material. He's about to hand her over to her mother, but something's wrong. Lori isn't as alert. She's faded. Looking down again, he sees more blood when it should be stopped.


"Shit." He puts the baby awkwardly in Carl’s arms. Taking another towel, he presses it into the bleeding mess.


"Mom?" His voice trembling as he shifts toward his mother with his little sister in his arms. Her eyes are wide open, but she's not crying. Lori feels herself going and she takes Carl's hand. "You need to promise me that you will take care of her."


"I promise."


"No, Lori stay awake." Daryl says as the blood keeps coming. "You need to stay awake."


She can't look at Daryl. She'd distrusted him from the moment she saw him but now he was the best chance her children had to live through the aftermath. Help would come but not in time and lawlessness it thrived on chaos, the storm brought that in excess. "Take care of them."


"I will. Just stay awake."


"Mom..." Carl says knowing that she is gone.


The two boy's stay there, until the baby who had been utterly silent, starts wailing. It was a demand for food that they did not have, but needed desperately.
"Not her." Daryl gently eases Carl back to the couch. "Carl, I need you to stay here and take care of your sister."


"Where are you going?"


Daryl had made his decision hours ago. Putting his bloody hand on Carl's face, the two men look eye to eye. "I need to go find formula for her." He kisses the top of her head. "You're family too."


Passing through the kitchen, he empties the pot and pulls the blanket over Lori's still body. In his room, he takes his crossbow off the wall, grabs the money that he'd saved all summer. He could almost hear Merle laughing at him for the sentiment, while Lori is begging in her desperate voice. Carl is looking at the baby, content for the moment to suck on her brother's finger.

Chapter Text

The world outside is a mess. The tornado didn't come across their way, but all the debris seemed to. The road is covered in tree limbs and bits of houses. Looking at his house, it’s in good shape. Only a few missing shingles and the window will need to be replaced, but that was on the outside. Inside was a whole different wreck.


He doesn't linger on damage. He finds his bike tangled in the power lines. They aren't sparking so the power must be out. He tries cars, but none of them work. He's on a deadline; literally. That girl won't last long without food. Shifting the bow on his back, he breaks out into a run.


Daryl doesn't stop till he reaches the edge of town. He'd brought his phone with him. He couldn't call anyone but it had a clock on it and a flashlight. The town is quiet. It's not like his street covered in limbs. What isn't covered in glass is waterlogged. Taking the bow in hand, he stalks his way to the store.


The telltale sound of a shotgun causes him to stand. "Whatcha doin' boy?"


He doesn't recognize the voice but the question sends fear down his neck causing goosebumps in the humid day. With his own shaking voice he says. "I need to get to the store. I got a baby that needs food. She was just born."


The man is older than him, though not as old as Rick. Early twenties maybe. Daryl really doesn't care about that. It's the shotgun that has him worried. It's the gun that has him pointing his bow at the man. "You're the Daddy?"


"Brother." The man takes his hand off the trigger. He was here for free booze not to kill some kid.


"Store's that way." He nods toward the building, there's a light pole on it.


Daryl doesn't put his bow down. He keeps it on the man who walks in the almost carefree way to the liquor store. He waits till the man is in the store. Once the sound of clanging bottles reaches his ears, he turns, making a mad dash for the store.


Closing in, he slows down. There isn't anyone else here. The lines of the light pole are still sparking. Somewhere there is still electricity flowing. He crawls over the pole, the bow on his back, but the hunting knife in his right hand. Once he's safely inside, he pulls the flashlight out of his pack.


Where the light pole ripped through the ceiling, it lets little bits of light in, but not enough. The smell of rotting food mixes with his smell of sweat and blood. It was the smell that made him want to vomit, and he would have too, if he'd had anything in his stomach. It manages to get him into a painful dry heave. On his knees what little water he had is mixing with something that was probably tomato soup.


Breathing heavily, he thinks of Carl, the boy who after this would be a man and of the unnamed baby girl. She was early, fragile, and innocent. Worth protecting. Worth saving. So he goes forward into the damp hall. He'd rarely come with Lori on shopping trips. He regrets that now, as he searches for the baby food.


When the clutter changes from food stuff to pacifiers, he knows he's close. Slowly going down the aisle, he looks around. This smells worse than the rest of the store. The baby food jars are broken, their foul smelling contents on the floor. Stepping lightly, he looks around. What he needs is in a can.


"Yes!" he says finding a couple of cans. They're dented but still sealed tightly. She'd need to eat every four hours, but he didn't know how long a single can would last. It didn't matter. He decided to take every can he could get his hands on. Zipping the now heavy bag, he's ready to go when he hears them.


A gruff voice barks orders, "Get in there."


Not wanting to push his luck, Daryl gently puts the bag on his shoulders. Creeping down the aisle, silent as stone, his light on the floor guiding him toward the backroom. His heart is beating rapidly like it hasn't in months. The man keeps barking orders to his underlings to find cigarettes and beer.


Slipping through the back, it smells worse than the front and is more of an obstetrical course. Balancing on fallen crates, then falling through on soggy boxes of cereal. He's almost to the door when he hears, "Hey boy."


Ducking between two towers of canned beans, the conversation goes on, "I swear I saw a kid, Garrett."


"So?" The question hangs in the air. Daryl uses the pause to move from his hiding place. Creeping along and feeling his way along the wall. Garrett groans, "So, deal with it."
The gunshots ring out; four random shots in the dark. Daryl ducks making himself small. But one of the bullets finds his calf, "Ahh." He groans in pain.


"There he is." Garrett says in an annoyed tone. "Now go finish him."


Acting on pure instinct, he rips part of his shirt, wrapping it around his bleeding leg. Limping along the wall for another few feet, he finds a door. The bright sun blinds him, but he's not waiting. He breaks into a run along the back of the building.


Rounding the corner of the building he stops dead when he hears the door open. A few more bullets are fired, but not in his direction. He stays there till the people leave their cars, announcing the safety. Daryl, not trusting them to be completely gone, stays to the shadows. Creeping along the back of the buildings.


<---*<---*--->--->
Glenn rode with Maggie and Beth to the highway, where they parted ways. She went along to find help for her father. He was resting with the help of Otis and his wife. They had come over from their place, which was likely to be flooded.


Glenn didn't want to split up. Maggie read his face. "I'll be fine."


"I love you." She tells them both. Beth nods as Maggie turns her horse toward the shelter. ‘Everyone has jobs to do’ she tells herself. This is her job. Get a doctor. The emergency amputation of her father's leg last night had kept her up all night. Beth was the one who had acted, and after had continued by stopping the bleeding and administering the sedative. Hershel had made it through the night; it was miraculous.


Beth leads on Nellie as Glenn follows. Beth wanted to check on Daryl, Carl and Lori. Call it a sixth sense or voodoo or just her being her. When Maggie said she was going into town she said she was going to check on her friend.


Glenn offered to go with her, one of Otis' six shooters on his hip. "You think they're in trouble?"


"I don't know. I just have this feeling; like something happened." Beth says, keeping her eyes on the road. It was a deep, gnawing feeling. The same way that she knew her Dad was going to be alright, was how she knew something was wrong with Daryl, Lori or Carl. Or all of them.


They make it to the house and Glenn looks around. It's a mess, but otherwise alright. "Everything looks okay."


"Shh," Beth says listening. "Do you hear that?"


The man listens. There is a soft mewing sound like a kitten, followed by a very human sighing sound. The two look at each other, their eyes mirroring panic and fear. They rush into the house, finding Carl on the couch.


"Oh my God." Glenn says in shock.


Beth slowly goes over to the boy, "Carl?"


He looks up at Beth. His eyes seem far away as he looks at the girl thinking she's an angel. "Have to... take care of her."


Beth looks down at the tiny baby. "Carl it's me, Beth, Daryl's friend. Where's your Mom?"


Carl looks back at the baby, she was alive. "Mom's dead."


Getting on her knees in front of the boy, she sees he's sweating. The heat of the day mixing with a death smell. He's in the early stage of dehydration, but he doesn't seem to notice. Its shock his wide eyes only half seeing her and really only caring about the tiny thing in his arms. Beth's mind goes back to the foggy time when her stepmother died. "Glenn go into the kitchen and get Carl some water, please."
"I..."


"Now, Glenn." She orders the Asian man.


Gently she moves to take the baby from him. "No." He moves back deeper into the couch. "Daryl said to look after her."


Beth nods, her voice kind and sweet, "And you did. You did a great job, but now Glenn and I are here, and we'll take care of her."


Glenn comes back with a bottle, "Lori's body is in the kitchen. There's a sheet over it."


The pieces click into place. Daryl did that, put Carl here, then left. "Carl, where did Daryl go?" She asks, taking the baby girl in her arms.


"Food." He says, noticing Daryl's boss, Glenn, for the first time. "Need food."


Not trusting him, Glenn puts the bottle to the young man's mouth. Carl drinks the liquid greedily. The water helps to clear the haze in his head. "Daryl went to the store, because she needs food."


Glenn put the bottle in his hands. "I have to go get help."


Beth nods. She could handle this; she seemed to thrive on chaos. "I'll be fine. Daryl should be back soon. I'll stay with them."


<---*<---*--->*--->
It took Daryl longer to get back since he'd gone through the woods, because the road didn't seem safe to him. But he did it; he was back to his street, his eye's spanning the house. Then he spots the horse. "Nellie?"


Running into the house he meets Beth, who pulls him into a hug. "Daryl!"


His amazement is short lived since the baby girl chose to start wailing in Carl's arms. Taking the pack off, he hands it to Beth, "I got her food."


Beth takes charge, ordering Daryl too. "Sit down. Carl give him the baby."


He sits on the couch taking the small child in his arms, "Shh." Cooing at the baby who is crying short sobs. Beth mixes the formula right there in the bottles they have. She hands the bottle over to the teenager. “Lukewarm will have to do.” She says as he puts the bottle to the little lips. "Come on, come on." He encourages her to eat. The milk trickles into her mouth, that's all it takes and she latches onto the nipple.


Carl laughs as the baby greedily eats her first meal. "She's alright."


"Yeah," Daryl agrees. "Does she got a name yet?"


He shakes his head. "Not yet. I was thinking maybe Sophia or Carol, Andrea, or Jackie." He pauses to let a sigh escape. "Or Lori, I don't know."


"Yeah, you like that, huh, Little Ass-kicker." The two laugh. "Right?"


He looks at the tiny thing, "You like that Little Ass-kicker? You like that sweetheart?"


Once she's done eating Beth takes her. "You two both need to get cleaned up."


"Should save the water."


"Come on Little Ass-Kicker you need a bath. You and your brother stink." She coo's leading him to the bathroom. "Yes, you do."


They leave Carl, who is sleeping. He'd done more than enough for the day. Daryl goes into the bathroom. Beth nods to the sink, "Water's still running."


She has the baby on a clean towel on the floor, there's water in the tub. With a rag she starts washing the baby. She's not crying, more like watching, cooing in delight at the feeling of being clean. Daryl starts on his hands with the hard soap, cleaning off several layers of dirt, blood, and vomit. "Ran into some unfriendly types. You shouldn't be going anywhere alone."


Beth nods wiping the stained face, "I'll stay here for the night."


Wetting his face, he rubs himself with soapy hands, "Good. Could use the help."


"My Dad lost his leg last night."


"Is he?" The thought of losing Hershel hurt him more than his leg. It was still hurting, but the bleeding stopped. He'd tend to that when he was alone.


She shakes her head, "He's alive. Maggie said I saved his life. I just acted that's all. My Daddy says we all got jobs to do. That was my job."


He smiles, "You're good at it.


Wrapping the baby in the clean towel, she beams. "I am. I think this is what I want to do."


Helping her up he asks. "What? Help babies?"


"Help anyone. I want to be an EMT."


"I want to sleep." He says off handedly, leading her up to Rick's bedroom.


Beth wants the same thing, but the jobs not done yet. She finds diapers and clothes. "Watch me."


Daryl does as he's told, obediently watching Beth dipper the baby, noting the gentle touch she uses. She puts the girl in a pink outfit, then sets her on the bed. "She'll sleep for a couple hours." Beth says, laying on the bed.


"Good we could all use a couple hours sleep." He says, turning to leave.


She takes his hand. She doesn't want him going through the kitchen to his room. "Stay?"

Chapter Text

Little Ass-Kicker wakes up demanding to be fed. Daryl puts his hand on Beth's shoulder. "I'll get her."
Daryl takes the baby. She's still feather light. Making his way down the stairs he feels the dull throb of his leg. The shot wasn't bad, it was just in a sensitive place. Add on not eating, running on it and not tending to it. But, he had this baby girl to think about. He was still thinking about her while he was mixing her formula.
Looking at the baby, he wondered about his own parents. His mother must have cared about him when he was this small. His Dad, now that was a different story. Merle cared about him in his own way. "Baby girl, I'm gonna be honest with you. I have no fuckin' clue how to take care of you."
She opens her eyes, looking at him. They aren't her mother's eyes. No doubt they belong to Shane. He didn't care. This baby wasn't Rick's and if he didn't want her, then Daryl would take her. "Rick, he might not want you, but I do. See, my Daddy didn't want me. But you ain't never gonna know what that's like." She'd finished with the bottle by now and Daryl puts her on his shoulder, rubbing her back.
He laughs when she burbs a tiny adorable sound. Rocking her slowly in one arm he goes into the kitchen. Lori is still there. They need to move her body. It's a big concern, but not what he came back into the room for. He grabs more water, putting it in his deep pockets, and some granola bars.
Back in his room, he lays the baby on his bed, using the pillows to block her in. He gets the first aid kit from under his bed, then takes his pants off. The bullet was a graze. It took some skin off of the leg, and being exposed to sweat and heat didn't help. The skin is red and angry. Taking an alcohol swab, he winces as he cleans it. Ass-Kicker is making cooing sounds again, looking like the center of a pillow flower.
After cleaning it, he applies a layer of triple antibiotic ointment. When Rick comes back, he'll have to see a doctor. He wonders who else is dead. He doesn't really dwell on the thought. The baby starts crying so he lays next to her, his finger rubbing her belly. "How about a story? I don't know many kids stories. I know one about roses you want to hear that?" He knows he won't get an answer, so he begins.
"Well a long time ago when the Cherokee were being forced off their land on the trail of tears, the mothers were crying. See they were losin’ their kids along the way. So the elders prayed for a sign that the children were okay. The next morning, where the mother's tears had fallen, flowers had grown. They were called Cherokee roses. They bloom all around here. I'll pick you some."


<---*<---*--->*--->


Rick had to evac the shelter at Daryl's school to a mall in Vicksburg when the tornado left part of the roof in the parking lot. He'd gotten everyone under the bleachers and in the locker room. The Army had arrived just in time to bus the people to safety. As the only sheriff there, he'd gone with him. The last day and a half he'd gotten twenty minutes of sleep on the bus.
Sergeant Ford had offered to go get Lori and the kids but he'd had every confidence that they were okay. Daryl was with them, and Lori could barely move, she was so big. They had plenty of food and water. They were supposed to be okay. It was only when Glenn Rhee entered the building yelling for him, that he had any doubts.
Now he was here, sobbing over his wife's corpse. “No, no.”
"Rick?" The voice is distant sounding. There are lots of voices, lots of crying. He knows these voices. Daryl’s is chief among them. The other voices, the dispatch requesting back up, all of them are calling for him.
"Rick?" Abraham asks. He'd only met the man seven hours ago, but he was sure this was bad. This whole situation was messed up, with the dead lady and crying baby.
The adults are all looking at each other. Abraham is staring at the teenager. He knows this boy from somewhere. Beth is holding the baby while Carl is crying at her side. Daryl is watching Rick, one of the toughest men he knows, cry over Lori's body.
"Beth, get Carl out of here." Daryl says, cautiously reaching for Rick.
Beth wraps her free arm around Carl. "Come on Carl, you're gonna stay with us for a few days.
Once Daryl's hand is on Rick, he snaps. Rick lands hard in reality, his eyes alive with rage. Paralyzing Daryl with fear. Rick takes his radio. "This is Sheriff Grimes responding."
Rick wakes up with a jolt, Lori is laying next to him smiling brightly. He smiles, "You're here."
She puts her hand on his cheek. "I'm always here."
"No, you're not." He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, she's gone.
The baby is crying loud wails that could peel the paint off the walls. From the very first moment he saw her, he knew she wasn't his. He'd known for a while that Lori was hiding something. Then he saw those eyes. It was Shane. This baby was all Shane, and it filled him with rage. He hated both of them and loved them at the same time. He'd gone off the deep end a little, working for twenty-four hours straight. Not that he wasn't needed, it was chaos, with the people looting.
Daryl stepped up, he took Carl and the baby to the Greene farm where they could heal. On the farm he worked for Glenn and Maggie. Hershel was still in the hospital, leaving Maggie in charge. She was great at it, born for leadership. For a week, the three of them stayed on the farm. Daryl working by day and at night, taking care of the baby so Carl and Beth could sleep.
Rick came a week later, when things settled down and reinforcements arrived. Rick had to make a choice about the baby. It was easy really. He smiles at the girl. "Good morning sweetheart." He picks her up gently in his arms.
In the kitchen he meets Carl making a bottle. Daryl had worked twelve hours yesterday on three hours sleep. "I was going to get her."
Rick nods to the bottle. "I got her."
The young man hands his father the bottle. "Daryl's been calling her Ass-kicker."
"He has?" Rick says, voice laced with humor.
Carl nods, sitting next to his father. He knew something was off with him. Yesterday morning when he first got here and held her for the first time. He was there, but part of him was changed. They all were different now. Still, he watched his father closely with the baby for the rest of the day. Daryl watched him too, his stone face not giving a clue why. "I was thinking what we should really call her."
"And?" He coo's the question.
"Remember my third grade teacher? Ms. Muller? Her first name was Judith."
Rick rolls the name around his head. He really had no real claim to the baby. He certainly hadn't been there for her. "Judith." He smiles. "I like it." He kisses the top of her head. "Hi Judith."
Carl goes back to his and Daryl's shared room. Daryl comes out ten minutes later looking more exhausted than ever. "You good?"
Rick nods, "Yeah. You knew about Shane and Lori didn't you?"
"Not at first. I knew she was steppin’ out on ya, but I didn't know it was with Shane at first. I wanted to tell you. I really did. But I thought you were happy. I was hopin’ she'd look like Lori." That was the whole reason he was here. To make sure she was okay.
"I never thanked you, did I?"
Daryl looks up. "For what?"
"You took care of her, you brought her into this world. She wouldn't be here without you, Carl too."
He shrugs. "It's just what you do for family."
“So…. Ass kicker, huh?" He hands the baby over to her brother.
He smiles at the baby. "Yeah, she needs a real name."
"Carl said Judith, but you should pick her middle name."
"Rose." He'd found Cherokee roses all around, and had been picking a fresh one for her each day. There was a bouquet of them in a coke bottle on the nightstand. "Judith Rose."
Rick nods toward the bedroom. "Go on. Get some sleep. We need to be awake in three hours."


<---*<---*--->*--->


Two days later, Daryl was putting the final touch on the window. Carl was with Carol. Rick was meeting his new partner, a transfer from Atlanta. "What do ya think Judy?"
Judith was in a bouncer when Abraham pulled up. He's in civilian clothes in a deep blue truck with a tarp covering a unknown object.
"Dixon?"
Daryl turns. He’d met the burly texan when Rick brought him that day he went crazy over Lori's body. He liked the man, he was different than anyone he ever met. While most people had that little part of the brain that filtered what they said, Abraham Ford did not. "Hey."
The redheaded man nods to Judith. "Damn it's hot. My nuts are about to slide off."
The teenager laughs, opening a cooler and handing him a cold drink. It wasn't that hot, it was just humid. "What can I do for you?"
"It's not what you can do, it's something I can do." He'd been looking for him actually. "I knew your brother."
The bottle falls from his hands. "You what?"
He smiles, taking a photo from his wallet. "Merle Dixon had the foulest mouth I ever heard."
In true Merle fashion he's flipping off the camera. "That's him alright."
"He talked about you all the time. His sweet little brother."
Daryl chuckles. "I'm a big softy alright."
"He was one of the bravest men I ever knew, and you are the toughest."
Daryl smiles with pride at the statement. "I miss him."
"All he wanted was to make sure you had a good life."
"Life's pretty good right now. Got a roof over my head, three meals a day. Lot of people don't have that right now. I'm lucky."
The older man agrees. People lost their homes and loved ones. Rick lost his wife, the little boy lost his mom. Daryl didn't seem heartbroken, but felt the loss. "You are. But when Merle joined up he had to name a beneficiary on his life insurance policy and he left a pretty nice savings account."
Daryl sees where this is going but lets the tall ginger go on.
"He willed it all to you, along with that bike." He points to the motorcycle in the truck.
The bike was the surprise that caused his jaw to drop. "That's mine?"
"Yeah. Well the bike is yours now. The money won't come till you're eighteen. I don't know the particulars, you'll have to get a lawyer for that."
"What if I died, who would get it then?"
He shrugs. "Next of kin I guess."
"Son of a bitch." That's why his Daddy kept him after. He could have given him over to foster care or let him die, but he needed him to be an adult. His father was a piece of shit white trash, but not the stupid kind, the sleazy kind, who would do anything for a buck.
"You okay, kid?"
Standing, he looks at his bike, "I'm… I think I'm in shock. Can I have a minute?"
Abraham finishes his drink. "Go on. I'm gonna make cute at the baby."


Miles away
Rick is face to face with his new partner. She’s lean, but he's struck by her presence. It radiates power. Her eyes are the deep brown and show kindness and compassion, a contrast of her face that is hard set. Her skin is a rich chocolate shade. Not milk chocolate, more like a cup of hot coco. He’s so lost in her that he stumbles out his name. "I'm Rick Grimes."
She smiles at him shaking his hand "Michonne Rivers."

Chapter Text

Daryl held Judith in his arms as the preacher spoke. This was the fourth funeral he'd been be too. This was Bob Stokey's. Sasha was crying into Maggie's shoulder. Amy and Bob were the two he really knew, but he had gone with Carl to Duane and Mrs. Jones’. Morgan was a wreck, not leaving the house. Barely there, lost in his grief.


Andrea? He didn't know if she had the right idea at all. Killing herself was...It was a choice. Wrong or right, it was her choice and she made it. But it didn't help the hole in his chest.


Carl was with Carol. She was helping him through the grief. Rick too and they had a long way to go. He looks over at Sasha, crying for her losing a lover. Daryl could see it happening to her, the change into someone harder. Glenn puts his hand on Daryl's shoulder, "Let's give them a minute."


As the teenager straps the baby in the carseat, Glenn feels a tremendous amount of respect for him. He’s been the one holding them together, keeping Carl on the ground, trying to pull Rick back. Then there was his own life. The army had pulled out of town leaving them with restored powered and order. Rebuilding would be a long hard road, with struggles that would leave their mark on everyone.


But, Hershel was walking again on crutches and Maggie was wearing his ring. The community was at a breaking point before nature had unleashed her fury. Now with nothing left but each other people were working together to rebuild their lives. Glenn had hope for the future he saw in little moments like this. He wasn't naive. Scars mark them all. He hoped that the world would see them not as victims, but survivors.


They leave the two woman at the grave, Glenn letting Daryl drive them back to his house. He needed the practice after all. He was a good driver, at least with the baby. Looking at the motorcycle, he has the feeling that kid would break all kinds of speed limits.


"So, you're keeping it?

"
Daryl gets a huge smile on his face. "Hell yeah."


Glenn was sixteen once too. "Just drive careful and wear a helmet."


Taking the baby gently he nods. "I will."


Walking into the house he sighs looking at the for rent sign on the lawn. Rick had announced that he was putting the house up for rent the day Daryl had put the new window in. Daryl understood why living in the house where his wife died would be hard on most people. There were people who wanted the house since it was one of the few around that was left standing.


The new house across town was bigger than this place, with three bedrooms, one for each child. Daryl knew that Little Ass kicker would stay with him however. Then when school started again he had a few ideas on who would take her. Maggie would offer but she had her hands full with a farm to rebuild and her father to care for. Beth would be in school like him so, she was out. Carol was his top pick for the job. He'd ask her when the time came. For now he had packing to do, or redo since Carl was the one who wanted to stay.


Putting Judith in her playpen, she sleeps peacefully allowing Daryl to nap. With school still closed the two of them had a routine. Daryl would take both of them to work, where Beth or more likely Carl would feed her and sleep when she slept. Mostly she ate every four hours, meaning sleep happened in between. At night it was Daryl who was up, Rick too if he was off.


Sleeping was something that was different too. It used to be full of nightmares. Now it was brief and dreamless. Daryl would close his eyes once, only to open them again when Judith was crying. He'd named her well since right now she was collectively kicking all their asses. Rick promised that she would sleep longer around six months. Daryl was certain that when she did start sleeping through the night, Carl would start having the nightmares that would surely follow him for the rest of his life.


Right now Daryl is waking to her shrill cries, only to hear a deep shushing sound. Rick is home, "Hey Judy."


"Bottles are in the fridge." Daryl mutters before sinking back into the sweet dreamless sleep.


Rick takes the baby into the kitchen. This place was too full of Lori. He saw her everywhere. There were parts of her in Judith too. She was the perfect mix of Lori and Shane. It ate at him that he was so blind to not see it. To not see them. Daryl knew. That's why he kept his eyes on Rick when he first came to the farm. When his own blood had turned against him, he was right to be protective of the baby. He had kept his eyes on her those first few days.


In truth, Daryl still was protective of this new little life. Right now he was laying down, but not asleep. He was wide awake listening to Rick warm up the bottle. Rick comes back into the room with Judith happily sucking at the bottle. Rick is talking to her.


"Oh, Judy do you know that you're two months old today?" Rick smiles at the baby. She might be the only good thing to come out of this whole mess. "You're going to be strong when you grow up. Your brothers will protect you. Carl, he's gonna make sure you remember your mother." Pause to sigh at the sleeping teenager. "Now Daryl, he'll teach you how to take care of yourself. He's good at it too. He's been doing it for a long time now."


<---*<---*--->*--->


The next day was Sunday. Not that it really mattered much. The days seemed to blend into one another. It was only on the rare days, when he was off from the farm that he really bothered to check the day. Sunday, a day of rest, started with breakfast. Carl is on the couch, eating and making funny faces at the baby.


"You packed your room yet?"


"Nope." He waves the spoon at Judith. She follows it cooing. "I'm not leaving."


"You don't have a choice."


Carl nods. "I know, and it's stupid. This is my home. I've lived here my whole life. Mom's here. If we move she won't know where we are."


"You're dreaming of her?"


The boy nods. "Not dreams most nights. Just her voice, like a ghost."


"Look I know a thing or two about ghosts." Carl looks up at him, he was sure Daryl would tell him he was crazy. "See my brother, he's with me. When my appendix made me sick, I saw my brother."


"He followed you?"


Chuckling lightly he nods. "I think the people who love us can follow us even if they die. They watch us."


"Do you remember your Mom?"


"Sometimes I can see her but it's not clear." He puts his fingers in front of Judy. She grabs one of them, holding on. Two months and she was getting a little better at holding her head up. The light dusting of brown hair lightening into a clay color. It wasn't Lori or Shane, all the family pictures had blondes and brunettes. No red.


"Do you think it's worse to not remember at all or to have half memories?"


Daryl was about to answer when someone knocked on the door. The teenager goes to the door. There is a woman, tall, lean, with dark skin that is set off by the light blue of her uniform. "Hello? Are you Carl?"


"Daryl. Who the hell are you?"


"Officer Rivers." She said evenly looking at the teenager. Rick had said he had three kids. She'd seen the picture of a little kid on his desk, but no teenager. Also, this young man didn't look like him at all. She wonders briefly if this is the right house.


The name clicks a piece of information in his mind. "Your Mishcon."


She laughs lightly. Most people did mispronounce her name. "It’s Michonne."


"Sorry, Ma'am. Come on in." He opens the door letting the woman inside.


Carl looks at the woman until Judith starts crying. She was good about crying now. If she was crying it was because she was hungry, dirty, or wanted to be held. Daryl nods to the woman. Carl presses his lips tightly before saying. "Hey."


"Hi." This was Carl, the son and that was the new baby, Judith.


"I'm gonna go change her." The boy says. He's bigger than the child in the photo but this is definitely Carl.


Daryl looks up at the ceiling. "Yeah. See if your Dad's up too."


"I'm ready." The man says, coming down the stairs pausing to place a kiss on the baby. He looks at Daryl, then at Michonne. He'd told her about three kids, but her face is alive with questions. "Try to get Carl to pack some, then get some sleep."


"I'll try."


As the two drive down the road Rick feels the questions on her lips. They were still getting used to each other. Rick would do most of the talking. He'd talked about his early life, what the town will be like when things got back to normal.


"He's not mine." Rick says keeping his eyes on the road.


Michonne glances at him. The young man was a little too different from the other two. "I wasn't going to..."


"There was case. Daryl was there. I saw him so hollow looking. He was supposed to go to a foster home in Atlanta."


"Why didn't he?" Rick was still a stranger to her in many ways, but she could see he cared about the people that were lucky to know him. That being said she knew there had to be more to the story.


"He'd grown-up living on the land, half feral like a fighting dog."


She couldn't see the boy as being violent. He looked protective of the two younger children. "He's dangerous?"


"Yes. But more of a danger to himself than others. He's become a big brother to Carl and Judith. He took care of her when I couldn't. I owe him a lot."


Back at the house, Carl was putting some of his books into a box as Daryl was in his room doing the same. Judith was on his bed in the pillow flower again. He didn't have much to pack. It was mostly clothes and the few possessions he had.


There is a knock on the door. It was a leftover from when this was a porch. "Come in."


Jesus comes in with a stuffed purple duck. Daryl laughs at it. "That better be for the baby."


He sits on the bed, putting it outside her reach, then laying down. "Hey Jude." She giggles at him. "She's the only girl I like." He pauses. "Does Rick know I'm here?"


"No." Rick had been slowly coming back from the edge, and both of the young men had been cautious in asking him. Laying on the other side of Judith he says. "He won't mind."


Paul looks up at the ceiling, "Do you ever miss being on your own, or think about the future?"


Daryl sits up looking at Jesus. "I rarely thought about my future. Mostly it was just the next day. Why? You thinkin' 'bout yours?"


He nods. "I've been at the museum so much, mostly talking with other historians. Gregory is...Gregory. But I want to travel."


"Like Indiana Jones type travel?"


"Indiana Jones?" He smiles. Of all the pop culture that Daryl didn't get, this is the one that surprises him.


Looking down at the baby, he jokes, "Oh no Little Ass-Kicker I broke him."


Paul leans over kissing him deeply. "Daryl Dixon you keep surprising me."


"Yeah I'm full of surprises." Daryl saw the trend coming. Everyone seemed to be settling into a career.


He had no idea what he wanted to be. Mostly he was only good at surviving. He thought maybe he could do that, go back and live off the land. But, he looked at Paul smiling as Judith caught bits of his long hair. He had too much here to go all the way back. Maybe he could live between. Maybe he still had time to figure it all out. But right now, he wants to stay in this moment.


<---*<---*--->*--->


Maggie was at the fence of her farm, Glenn was standing next to her. Both of them were watching Beth help her father across the yard to feed chickens. The sun was up, burning the morning dew off the grass, making the farm look like a piece of heaven on earth.


Last night Beth had announced that she was going to be an EMT and gladly willed her share of the farm to Glenn as a wedding present. Glenn was happy to have it. Looking at the watch that Hershel gave him, he leaned his head on Maggie. "What is it?"


"I'm thinking about my parents." He said looking at the land; his land now. "They came from Korea with nothing really. My father worked in the mailing room of an office and my mother was a maid. Last night when I told them about us being married and Beth's gift they cried."


"Are they mad at you for marrying me, or for staying here."


He smiles up at her, "No. Everything they ever wanted for me is here." Closing the watch, he puts it in his pocket. "I made my father and mother proud of me. Now, all I want is to be here, with you, in this moment, forever."


"Forever will have to wait. We have cows to milk and horses to brush."


Beth watches the two adults walk toward the barn. "Daddy?"


"Yes Baby?"


"Are you disappointed in me for not wanting to stay?"


Hershel Greene was a wise old man. He'd be the first to admit it. He'd lived many lives. One as a drunken fool, the other as a husband, and then as a father. In all that time, he'd come to know that family was just about all you could count on. "No. You want to help people. It's a noble calling. Just like working the land." He was so very proud of both of his children. "If this is what you want, then go for it. Take it. Just know that you'll always have a proud father and a home waiting for you if you need us."

Chapter Text

Daryl was enjoying himself. Paul was kissing him with those kisses that were quick and full of joy. Right now it was just them. In their world, it was just them. Paul was patient with him, and he wanted this too. He wanted to feel someone loving him. Carl had Judith in his room, Rick was gone, it was now or never. He wanted this, he really did and he wanted for this to be normal.


Paul puts his hand on Daryl's shirt, pulling it over his head. Its sends warning across his body. He reminds himself that Jesus won't hurt him, that this is good, that he can do this. "I'm good."


"Good." Paul kisses him again, this time moving onto his lap. He didn't want to go all the way, just as a test run to see how far they could go.


Daryl tries to let his mind take control. For so long in situations like this, he forced himself to hide his mind, to go numb. This wasn't Phillip, or Negan, or anyone else. It was hippy Jesus with long hair, who would never force him ever. He resents his mind for how he feels while the fire burns hot inside of his chest.


Paul was in his lap, both of them getting hotter and hotter with each kiss, with each touch. Daryl is getting hard, Paul too, and all thought of this being a test run jumped out the window in the way it does with teenagers. Jesus put a finger on Daryl's chest, slowly lowering it to his belt. It was meant to be a question, ‘can I go farther?’, but it brought a memory to Daryl. A terrible memory that triggered his old ways.


He pushed Paul off of him and to the end of the bed in a moment of blind fear. It changed his whole body. It was relaxed, now it was rigid. Daryl was breathing short pants that would surely cause him to blackout. "Daryl?"


His eyes were shut tightly, tears were forming. "I'm fine, we can keep going."


This was too far. He'd pushed or triggered something that lead to this. Taking his shirt, he sighs. All the heat escaping, leaves both of them chilled. Paul sees the goosebumps all over Daryl's rigid body. Gently he pulls the blanket around him. "You're not fine."


Daryl had been raised to never show an ounce of weakness, so he kept his eyes closed. Winding himself to a near blackout, then Paul brought him back. He'd been so close to bliss, then his own mind had to go and ruin the moment. Being angry at himself and not wanting to be seen crying like a baby, he wouldn't open his eyes.


Jesus pulled him into a hug muttering, "It's okay."


Finally, when he was sure that the tears wouldn't fall, he opened his eyes. "I'm sorry."


"You're fine. I remember the first time I was with a guy willingly. We were getting hot too. Then he said something to me that triggered me back to a dark place."


"Did he help you?"


"No. He called me a cock tease and left."


Daryl growls out the word. "Jackass."


"Being with someone is hard when it's just two normal people. With us it'll be harder, because of our past. But it is past..."


"But it don't stay there."


Paul nods, leaning on Daryl, who puts his arm around him, bringing him into the warmth of the blanket. "It doesn't. But if I can help you and you can help me, we'll be fine."


Atlanta Three Years Ago


Paul was on the left side of Cheshire Bridge road. It had been the center of Atlanta's red light district for years. On the other side were the women in short dresses and skirts. Each one painted like dolls, hoping to earn enough to fill their stomach or veins. On his side, were men hoping for the same thing. Like him. He'd been hookin' on the streets for most of the year.


His foster father had beaten and raped him for fun, saying he was a fag and no one would believe him. So he packed his shit and left. If this was life, being used, then he would at least get paid for it. An old Queen had found him on Harmon Ave, where the junkies were. She'd told him about this place. His first night, he'd been scared to even look up. A man in a red truck had paid fifty bucks for a quick blow job.


Fifty bucks meant a good meal for the first time in weeks. After that it was easier to walk along the streets. Just one of the many workers against the backdrop of strips clubs and porn shops. He was young, fourteen. Couldn't get that in a shop or a club. Wearing a tight pair of jeans and white mesh tank top, he waited. It was Thursday. Not much business on Thursday. Friday and Sunday were the best days.

"Hey kid. You lookin’ for a good time?"


Paul looks at the car. It's a cadillac, deep blue almost black, the tinted windows offering lots of privacy. "Maybe. For a price." He leans into the open window. The man is alone, mid thirties, a gold circle on his right hand and a twenty in his left.


"How much of a good time will this get me?"


"Nothing from me." He wasn't that desperate yet.


The man pushes the bill revealing a twin. "How bout now?"


Paul opens the door. "Let's go somewhere private."


The man drove toward a building while Paul listed his prices. They arrive, and other cars are there. It sends red flags up his torso. He puts his hand on the door. The man grabs his arm. "Oh baby boy. You're not leaving."


Pushing the guy off of him he opens the door, where younger, stronger hands push him against the car. "Oh you got a good one Tommy."


The man, Tommy, opens the door smoothly saying. "This one has fight in him."


Three other voices chuckle, sending dread to Paul's stomach. This wasn't going to be easy. "Look, we can work something out." He says. They want him, that's fine, but they didn't have to do this.


The muscle spins him around, pushing him into the building. It's walls are half sheet rock and plastic, pale in the moonlight. Forcing him into the room with a mattress on the floor, he lands hard on the used springs which squeak in protest at the new weight.


The sun is just barely coming up over the city buildings. A doctor was smoking a cigarette outside the hospital when he saw the teenager. He was drunk or high, one or the other and staggering towards the building. The doctor rubs the cigarette out on the brick, walking cautiously toward the boy.
"Hello? Son are you alright?"


The boy looked up. His right eye is swollen shut, the other brown eye is the only sign that under all the blood, is a face. He's limping, his jeans a mix of dirt and blood. The boy reeks of alcohol, but there isn't any on his ragged breaths. "Help me. Help me I don't want to die."


<---*<---*--->*--->


Rick was concerned about his eldest son. He was distant when he came home. Rick was sure it had something to do with Jesus, who wasn't as sneaky as he thought. Rick could smell it, he and Daryl used the same deodorant. It happened most weekends, Daryl had taken on so many adult situations that Rick was happy to let him have this very teenage one. Now he wasn't sure.


At dinner, Daryl was off somewhere deep in his own thoughts. Thoughts that had to do with axe body spray that drifted through the kitchen.
Carl was asleep in his bed for the last time. Judith was sleeping soundly in her playpen. Tomorrow was moving day and Daryl was packing the china plates that they rarely eat off of. The last time was Christmas.


"Did you and Jesus have a fight?"


"What?" Daryl grips the plate so hard he thinks it might break. Then Lori's ghost truly would haunt him.


Rick takes a beer from the empty fridge. "Come on Daryl. You're sixteen and axe body spray has a very different smell from old spice."


Putting the plate away he says. "You ain't mad?"


"No. Did you two fight?"


Daryl sits. He'd called Carol hoping his friend would have some advice for the next time. She said time helps. That years of abuse wouldn't go away in one year when it took multiple years for them to make him that way. It wasn't what he wanted to hear. "We were fooling around and I...I got triggered into the past."


That wasn't surprising. He'd come a long way in the last year but it was a time game. Sure he could act the part, put on a brave face, but in private it was a different story. "Did he do something?


"No, no he helped me get through it." Daryl looks down at his boots, he didn't want to be weak. "I want to be normal. You know, have one moment where I ain't a victim. Where I'm just Daryl."


"It's a simple want for sure, and you'll get it in..."


"Time." They both say.


<---*<---*--->*--->


Rick was thinking of time too. How it would take time for everyone to get back to whatever the new normal would be. Looking at Judith, she was asleep, her small chest rising and falling. For her, normal would be the four of them in a house that didn't have so many painful memories. It would be Glenn and Maggie. It could be Michonne, his new partner, that like him, was healing with time.


She'd offered to help him with the move and he'd said yes. Time was moving both of them closer to an unknown relationship that would define them. The whole group would be over. Jesus, Glenn, Maggie, Beth, and of course, Carol. They made up the family now. But others were unexpected, like Abraham and Sasha, who seemed to be sticking around.
All of them working together to help each other. It was a beautiful example of humanity. As was Judith, waking up crying for food or attention. "Come on Judy."


Picking her up, he carries her down the stairs, past the empty walls and into the kitchen. Carol is already making a bottle. Luke warm is the best they can do for now. "So, how are the boys?"


He smiles at her. "Good. You'd be proud of Daryl, he was actually acting his age."


She nods. "I know. He called me after it happened. He was upset with himself. Watch him closely." Her voice is serious. "When he's angry at himself, he'll hurt himself."


"I know. That's why tonight he'll be so tired he'll just sleep."


"That's good. But what about tomorrow and the next day?"


Rick puts the baby on his shoulder. "The same thing. Have a little faith in the man."


Carol prided herself on being a practical woman, making educated guesses about people and being right. Still, she knows that Daryl would find a way to hurt himself. She knew it. Rick sees the good in everyone, gives everyone a chance. It works about half the time.


The two keep talking downstairs while upstairs another more unlikely pair are talking. Carl didn't like her. She was new, an intruder into his family group. The past months had taught him to take a dim view of new people. That trust was earned not given. This woman hadn't earned anything yet.


"Candy stash?" She asks holding up a Big Kat  bar.


"My mom said it would rot my teeth if I eat to many." He hadn't eaten any since she died. "You can have one if you want."


She looks at the boy. He was aged from the traumatic events of the last two months. He had a boy's face with a man's thoughts in his head. "How about we split it?"


"No thanks." He says shortly, taking the box with such a force that the weak cardboard buckles, spilling the comic books all over the floor. "Shit." He cussed picking them up. He needed them, they were Judith's bedtime stories.


"You read comics?" The ebony woman asked, crossing the room soundlessly. "I do too. The art is beautiful." She touches the cover of one of them. "I knew someone who...who collected them."


"Good for you." Carl snatches the color comic out of her hand leaving the room. He was being a dick and he knew it, but she just couldn't show up and be all buddy-buddy. It didn't work that way.


Passing his Dad he asks. "Why did you bring her here?"

Chapter Text

The convoy stops at the house. Carl, still reluctant about the whole move, is doing his very best to not be interested.


Daryl hadn't been too terribly excited by the move either. When his first house burned down and his father moved him and Merle to the cabin, it was a quick affair. They had a few boxes of clothes and his father's guns. It took less than an hour. Merle took the young Daryl on a tour of the land, while Will started his first batch of moonshine.
Looking at the two story house, it's newer than the old house and bigger, made for a larger family. But really, nothing special to him. He opens the door, pulling lightly on Carl’s sleeve. "Come on. Quit your sulkin’ and get to work.”


Glenn was behind them in the moving truck with Maggie. Beth had helped them load, but drove back to the farm. Hershel was due back from physical therapy. They were fitting him for a prosthetic leg, and Beth, with a patient and gentle nature, was his caretaker. Carol had an unofficial appointment with Sasha in the form of lunch. Abraham was going too, because he followed her like a dog in heat. That left just Glenn and Maggie to help get them in the house.


"Do most normal people have this much stuff?" He asked Glenn, grabbing a box labeled pictures.


The asian man nods, chuckling and grabbing a box of his own. "You know I asked my Dad that when he took me to work with him. We moved rich people's stuff for them and do you know what he told me?"


"What?" He puts down the box.


"He told me. Il-eul gyesoghaela. geuligo man-il dangsin-i mueos-ilado tteol-eo tteulimyeon naneun misigan ho."


"Meaning?"


"Keep working and that if you dropped anything, I'll throw you in Lake Michigan."


Daryl laughs, picking up the box again and taking it into the house.


Two Hours Later


"Damn I'm tired." Daryl says laying on the couch.


Rick sinks into his chair. "Hard part's over. Now we just have to put it all away."


"Come on Rick, can't it wait till tomorrow?"


‘No. I need you to be the walking dead so you don't hurt yourself.’ He thinks to himself. "Just a little bit more. I won't be here to help tomorrow."


He rolls his eyes. "Fine. But we're starting with my bed."


No one was sleeping that night. Judith, who was on track to sleeping through the night, was crying the ear piercing wails of a two month old.


Daryl is outside on the roof, smoking. Rick had been called to a three car pile-up on the highway. So, the boy was outside smoking a cigarette he bummed from Paul. He was sure that Carol or Rick would disapprove, and he knew it was bad, but he needed to feel the pain. Living with Rick, with the odd little family that they were making, had given him hope that one day he wouldn't have to do this.


Burning the end into his foot, he enters the room through the window. Carl was in his room trying to get Judith to sleep by reading her a comic. It wasn't working, which meant Daryl would take her for a walk. Pulling a sock on his foot, he sighs. He'd named her too well.


Entering Carl's room he takes the baby muttering, "Get some sleep."


Carl drops the comic then jumps into his bed. "Okay."


Walking the baby into the halls, she quiets down almost at once. He steps back into Carl's room and she resumes the screaming. It causes Carl, who was already asleep, to wake up. "What’s wrong?"


"Its the walls."


"What about them?" He asks, his voice heavy with sleep. All the bedrooms were painted white.


Taking the baby down stairs to the living room, which was a plum color, he sits on the floor with his back to the couch and the baby on his chest. "Now little Ass-Kicker, are you mad cause of all the white in your room?"


She coo's, her breathing slowing, as he makes a mental note to get paint, any color of paint, to paint every other room in the house, since this was the only room not painted white.


<---*<---*--->*--->


"I like this one." Carl said, tapping a blue hue that reminded him of storm clouds.


Daryl had rode his bike to the hardware store in the early morning to get the paint colors. He hasn't slept in 24 hours. With the white walls affecting both of them, Judith was not sleeping and Daryl had headaches.


Daryl writes the number and name of the color on a piece of paper. "Good color. Now what for Little Ass Kicker?" He asks, yawning.


"No pink." Carl says, looking at Judith. She's in her play pen, set up in Daryl's room. The two of them are on his bed looking at paint colors for their rooms.
"Yeah she ain't gonna be a pink kind of girl." Living with three men, she wasn't going to be a girly girl. Or maybe she would be, but for right now, it was the two of them painting, so they said no pink.


"How about yellow?" He looks at the yellows; they all look the same. "This is the best."


Daryl looks at the color. "Buttercup Dream. Looks like piss." He was tired to his very bones. "How about an orange?"


Carl looks at the shades. Most are bright, like vivid sunsets. He wanted something that was muted, to calm her. "This is a good one."


"Autumn orange." It was a pale orange that looked like a fall leaf. "Good enough."


"What about Dad?"


"Emerald Pine for him, and Sandy Beach for me." He leans back on the wall. "I'll go in an hour, I need a nap."


Carl had been through alot in the past two months. He'd lost a mother, gained a sister, and grown up. That's what he told himself when he left the house. Daryl needed to sleep. Judith was fed, napping happily in her play pen. They would be fine until the time he got back.


Everyone was treating him like a kid, like he couldn't do anything to help. He'd prove them wrong. Riding his bike into town, he'd felt very grown up. The guy at the hardware store was sceptical at first, then Carl showed him the list. It was all mixed and ready in half an hour.


"Are you sure your father is okay with you buying this?"


Carl handed over the money. It was a big chunk of his savings, but worth it if Judith stopped crying. "Yeah, my sister doesn't like the white walls. They make her cry and it's giving my older brother headaches."


"This is very nice of you to come get this." He says, handing over the paint to Carl.


Carl puts two cans in his bookbag, the other two cans ride on his handle bars. "Well, Dad is working and Daryl stayed up all night with Judy, so I'm the only one who can do it."
"What about your Mother?"


He keeps his eyes down. "Mom died."


Going back was harder than coming, the added weight of paint cans slowing him down. Still he was determined to get back, keeping his eyes forward. That's why he didn't notice the police car coming up on his side.


Michonne was sure that Rick wouldn't like his son riding alone on the side of the road. She was also sure that he wasn't supposed to have paint cans. "Carl?"


He stops his bike, looking at the woman in the car. "What are you doing here?"

She raises an eyebrow. "I'm working. What are you doing?"

He sighs. Daryl would be awake soon. "Judith doesn't like the white walls of the house. She cried all night. So Daryl said we had to paint the walls."

His tone tells her that he's not supposed to be here. "You need a ride?"

"No." He says, quickly pushing forward.

She groans, getting very annoyed at the little punk. "Can you quit the BS? I don't know why you seem to have it out for me. I don't know you, and you don't know me."
"Good." He doesn't look at her. "People that know me, they get hurt or they die."

She stops the car dead, dumbfounded by the answer. It was simple, a childish answer for infinitely complicated concepts, like friendship and death. He'd known people his whole life, now they are dead. It made sense for him to not want to get close to anyone. It was a shocking realization, that she had more in common with this child, than anyone else.

"Well I'm not dying today, so get in the car." She pops the trunk, helping him to put the bike in.

He sets the paint cans on the floor, looking down, ashamed of himself, when he see the cat. It's a little wooden carved cat. It's the size of his palm, with an arched back. Not painted like a normal cat, it has all kinds of bright colors, in little squares.

Michonne sees him looking at it. "That’s Artie. When I left Atlanta, I left a lot of stuff behind, but I couldn't leave him. He's too damn gorgeous."


<---*<---*--->*--->


Rick was watching Carl paint the room. Daryl was asleep, dead to the world. Carl said he'd been that way all day. Which was good, he needed the sleep and Carl had been okay. Rick was mad that he'd left Judith alone with Daryl asleep. Even more upset that he went into town alone and came back.

"Michonne told me what happened."

"Yeah. I think she might be one of us."

"Us?"

Carl turns around. "Yeah."

He doesn't question instead he takes a paint brush and starts to help paint the walls. "I like the color."

"Green always was your favorite. Daryl picked the shade."

He doesn't want to ruin the moment. Carl had grown and was growing before his eyes into a good man. But, there was a rift between them. It started when Lori died and had been growing ever since. It was partly his fault. He'd been lost in his grief, then he'd thrown himself into his work. They needed an activity that the both of them could work at. Also, Michonne. She was sticking around so far and Carl being more accepting was great.

Still, there was work to do here. Judith's room was painted but she was in the living room for tonight. Carl had known to paint with the windows open, but the smell lingered.
He'd come home to find her in the hallway, in her play pen. She was on her stomach, looking up. Her room was an orange shade that reminded him of fall leaves. He'd just finished taking the tape off of the walls, revealing clean lines.

Of all the things he'd lost, Carl was the one he'd hate the lose most. So he smiles, asking him about baseball and if he was ready to go back to school in two weeks. All the county schools were opening again in two weeks. Rick worried about them going back to school. It was hard to fit back into the life they'd known. He doubted they ever would really.

Chapter Text

Daryl woke-up to his phone alarm, "Fuck me." He turns over to find Judith was awake just looking at him, confused for the first time in her very short life. Her bright blue eyes looking at him asking. ‘What the hell? I'm the one who wakes everyone.’


"You ready for today Little Ass-Kicker?" He stands. Yawning he runs a hand through his hair. It's longer than it was a year ago. It had to be close to a year. No. He pushes the thoughts away picking the girl up. "Are you gonna be a good girl for Ms. Carol?"


She gives him a toothless grin and he takes that as a maybe. Laying her on the bed he changes her diaper then puts her in a light cotton dress. Once he's done with her he takes her to the kitchen. Carl is there eating breakfast.


"Morning."


Daryl notes that he's already showered and dressed, his hair damp.


Two weeks flew by like a bird in spring and both boys were back in school. Carl entered his class. It was the same as when he left it but he was different. The empty seat next to him where Duane had sat was a painful reminder of the loss. He thought of Judith. Was she happy with Carol looking after her? Then his thoughts turned to Daryl, who would be thinking of Judith too. Lastly, his thoughts turned to Michonne. The woman who had that fierce look on her face most of the time. But, then in the car talking to him, she had that soft look. It confused him that she could be both.


A girl comes into the classroom. She's got a buzz cut, her dark hair like a shadow over her head. She sits next to Carl. Nervously, she takes a sharpy out of her bag. He watches her write three letters on the top of her right hand. JSS


He leans over to her. "Hey."


She smiles. "Hi."
He nods to her hand. "What's that mean."


A blush colors her cheeks, but it looks good on her. "It's just something I would write on my hand when I was scared."


"I'm Carl." He says holding out a hand.


"Enid." She'd been in remission for six months now. As more people came into the room, they looked at her. Trying to figure out who she was. It was a question she was asking herself lately.


Her parents died in a car crash two years ago. This was her first time in a normal school in years really. The cancer started when she was seven. Chemo, then a bone marrow transplant and more chemo on top of that had made her a survivor. The phrase had just been something she told herself when her bones were on fire and she was dry heaving everything.


"Don't be scared, alright? This is just a place and these people are just people."


Leaning in she whispers. "They're all staring at me.


"They've never seen anyone as beautiful as you." He says as her cheeks redden again.


"Give me your hand."


He does and a current of electricity runs through him. Enid takes her marker, gently writing the letters on his hand. "Just Survive Somehow."


Daryl would like her. Looking at the empty desk, he nods. This girl could be someone. He wants to know more about her for sure but, before he can ask, the teacher comes in.
All morning, Daryl had tried to keep his thoughts on school. It wasn't working very well. His thoughts were on his younger siblings; on Judith and Carl. It was the first time the three of them had been apart in two months. A year ago he'd never thought that he'd have siblings again.


"Hello?" Carol says breathless.


He smiles. Judith was a rock when she slept, but demanded to be with someone while awake. Mostly she was on her stomach, wiggling around until lunch or naptime. "She just wake up?"


"Yep." She sings out the word. "We're about to eat some lunch, which is what you should be doing. So, say hello to your sister then eat something."


"Hey Little Ass-Kicker."


The shrill coo makes him smile. "Say hi Judith." She keeps cooing and he could see her trying to eat the phone.


Carol takes the device back. "Happy now?"


"Very."


"Good. I'll see you tonight."


He turns around opening his lunch box. Carl had made it for him. Beth comes over, sitting down with a new boy. "Daryl, this is Zach. Zach, this is Daryl."


"Hey man." They shake hands.


"Talking to Jesus?" Beth prompts, opening her own drink.


He smiles. He'd been texting Paul all day. "Little Ass-kicker."


Zach laughs. "Who's that?"


Daryl pulls up a picture of her on his phone. "My baby sister."


Zach nods. "She's a little cutie. That your brother?"


"Carl." He says to the guy studying him. Zach's got a baby face and an easy smile that doesn't seem to leave his face. His sandy hair has the hint of a curl to it if he would grow it out more. All in all he's cute, and Beth likes him so he must be alright.


They keep talking all through lunch. Zach and Daryl get along great. They keep the subjects light; cars is the big topic. Zach tells him about his challenger he's fixing. Daryl tells him about his brothers bike that he’s getting up and running again. Beth watches them all. Everyone is trying to get back into school; into normal life. 'They can't.’ She thinks to herself.


What happened affected them all in some way that they would never go back from. Whether it was the loss of a parent or their home, it changed them. The current of carefree youth was gone in all of them. Harsh realities settled on them too soon. She was certain that moments like this, where they did act their age, would happen. She could see it; football games and dances, but the undercurrent of adulthood was on them all now.


In that way they were more like Daryl, forced to grow-up to early. Vaguely, she wonders if he can sense it too. The shared camaraderie of this new world they've all entered into. He must. Before everyone was off in their own little groups. William, a stereotypical Jock who seemed to think he was a God before, was talking to Eugene. Easily the smartest in the school, if not the slimmest. The two were working out a trade; Eugene would help him rewire his house in exchange for tips on girls.


<---*<---*--->*--->


Daryl smelled the smoke. Of course he did. It made up part of the common smell of his house. It was mix of his Mom's cigarettes, Dad's booze, and Merle's greasy smell. He kept his eyes closed. It was Saturday. Mom was smoking, of course, and Dad was at the cabin while Merle must be at work. Merle was thirteen years older than him, that made him seventeen. Except, now he was five and Merle was only twelve years older than him.


He'd been at school, this was the year he liked. The other kids made fun of him at first, then he punched one kid who'd pulled another girl's hair. After that he had friends, and everyone left him alone. It was scary that day when Merle walked him to school. The principal looked at Merle like he was the devil and watched him closely. He didn't like him. He was what Merle called a Dickhead.


His teachers were nice, they always let him have an extra snack, since there were days he didn't have lunch. Then, on nights when Momma and Daddy had been fighting and Daryl couldn't sleep because of the yelling they would let him sleep in the classroom during recess. He breathes in deeply, noticing the smell changing, he drifts into sleep again.


Merle was on his way home from the shop. He'd been called in on his day off because the other guy had been arrested last night. He didn't care about that guy. He was a jackass and it meant more money for him. Looking up he saw the black smoke rising into the sky. He broke into a run. A fire truck driving alongside of him.
They both reach the house at the same time. People are standing outside, watching the smoke pour through the broken window. The fire crew starts their work. Merle looks around, but his little brother is nowhere to be seen. He doesn't think about it as he runs into the house.


Eyes watering, he crouches low to the ground with his fingers on the wall leading to his room. He finds his brother asleep on his bed. "Daryl?"
The boy groans but doesn't open his eyes. Merle feels the heat coming from the living room. They're trapped in the room. Merle doesn't want to die here. He doesn't want Daryl to die here. Wrapping the blanket around his hand he punches the window. The rush of oxygen causing the fire to grow. Taking his brother in his arms he jumps out the window.


EMT's rush to the two of them, giving Daryl the oxygen that he needs.


The sixteen year old Daryl wakes up, sucking in air, his nightmare fresh in his mind. He didn't remember the fire, all he remembers is being outside having a medic holding a mask over his face. Not being able to sleep, he walks the house, checking every room.

Chapter Text

The new routine is established quickly thanks to Daryl getting his driver's license. And, while driving Lori's ‘mom mobile’ as it was called had setbacks, one being it was a mini-van and two it had a ‘worlds greatest mom’ sticker on it, he had a car now. And it was the only mini-van in town that would have rock music blaring.
The day would start with Daryl waking-up with Judith on some days. More deputies were hired meaning Rick was home more now. But Judith still had place to sleep in Daryl's room.


Carl would have their lunches ready and already be showered by the time Daryl got downstairs. Having spent so much time on his own, he was never up early except to go hunting. Other than those times he would sleep till he woke up which was sometime around ten. Then the two months where everyone was cleaning up, he got used to it.
Turning over, he smiles at Judith who is eating her hands while on her stomach. She'd started to wiggle at the start of the month. It scared Daryl at first, thinking she'd roll off the couch. He couldn't leave her on his bed or furniture. Carl loved it. He called it her turtle move and it delighted his new friend Enid.
"Good morning Judy."


Her blue eyes flicker to Daryl before going back to her hand. She was understanding more now, noticing everything, making feeding her a more time consuming task. It was a trade off as she would sleep through half of the night before waking up hungry. She was also more vocal and the cooing noises were starting to become more human like in sound. Ba and Ma where her go to sounds. Carol was encouraging her to say more.


Downstairs Carl is writing in a journal. Daryl puts the baby in her high chair, counting the days when they can move to solid food. As he's making the bottle he asks, "Writing love notes?”


"No." Carl’s thirteenth birthday was last month. It was a quiet party with just the immediate family, but also his new friend Enid. Daryl and Abraham took the opportunity to praise him till he was red as a cherry.


"You're still a bad liar."


"So, are you." He retorts hotly.


Daryl starts feeding Judy, smiling. "Yeah that's why I don't lie."


Carl sighs. He wants to ask advice but it was different with Jesus right? Then there was his Dad; they were getting better at talking. Hershel Greene had come over and turned half of their large backyard into a garden. The two Grimes were seen most weekends outside weeding. It got them together, but girls were a touchy subject. Michonne was also a factor as she came around a lot now.


Two months had passed and most weekends when she didn't work she was here just hanging out, learning the finer points of hunting from Daryl or trading comics with Carl. Judith loved her; lately it was the hair. Michonne had tight dreadlocks that Judith would grab and not let go of. Thinking of conversations he'd had he thought that she would be the best choice.


"I'm working my way up to it." Carl says in a voice that is heavy with embarrassment.


"Yeah?" Daryl asks, burping the baby, raising his eye in that ‘yeah right’ way that all older sibling have for calling bullshit.


"I am." He says putting the papers in his bag. Daryl catches a glimpse of it. It's not words but a drawing of the girl. He was his mother's son; Lori was always drawing on scrap paper. She was good at it and Carl seemed to be too. "I just don't know how."


Daryl chuckles. "And you're asking me?"


Carl cocks his head. "You're the one with a boyfriend." He says like Daryl knows what the hell he's doing.


Leaning in close he says. "Yeah well if you need advice I'd ask Glenn since he's the one getting married now."


"But you have Paul."


The older boy just shakes his head, the wisps of hair moving with him. "A boyfriend. The key word being ‘boy’. Your girl is a ‘girl’ it's different and every other girl is gonna be different."


He huffs. "So I should…?"


"Talk to Glenn or your Dad."


<---*<---*--->*--->


Sasha was angry at the world. It took Tyreese and Bob from her in one fail swoop, leaving a gaping hole in her heart. It was a festering wound that filled her up with a burning anger, a wildfire of hate. She felt it, she knew it would kill her, but that was what she wanted; to die and see them again. Then she would hate herself for not having the courage to do it. Maggie was trying to help her through it, but talking wasn't working.


Action was working. Shooting was her comfort. Every time she looked at the target it was her dying. Pulling the trigger, she sends another bullet into her dead heart. It was only when she paused to reload that she noticed the tall ginger looking at her. She was the oddball. Not the only woman in here but she was the only black woman. Most guys would look at her like she was a joke. This guy wasn't staring like she was a joke. He was looking at her with a mix of respect and fascination that she didn't like.
"You gonna keep staring?" She asks taking off the ear muffs to reload and rebuff.


Abraham puffs on his cigar in defiance of the sign telling him not to. "Yes, I am. You're a hell of a shot. I think I'm in love with you."


He watches her load another magazine into the automatic rifle, slapping it into place. It's a lucky piece of metal he thinks. When she first came, he would say she was crazy, a little thing like her with a gun. But, she knew how to work it to her advantage, never letting her size stop her. It made her so damn hot.


She looks him up and down. He's a leprechaun on steroids. "You don't even know me." As soon as she says it she regrets it, leaving herself exposed.


"Let’s change that." He holds out a hand. "Abraham Ford."


She knew him, he was there on moving day, they worked together but never were alone. "Sasha."


They shake, then she puts the ear muffs back on and holds the gun. Abraham just laughs, "IF YOU WANT TO GET TO KNOW ME BETTER JUST SAY SO."
The tall texan yells so loud that she can't help but to hear it. She hears it and that hole in her heart fills just a little. It scares her that it happens because everyone else around her seems to be filling the void, forgetting what made it. That is something she won't let happen. She won't forget her brother and she won't let this albino bigfoot make her forget Bob. She shoots the target sending a hole through the heart.


Abraham was smiling as he left the range, his old man was rolling over in his grave right now. He'd tried to beat so many theories into his head about how he’s part of the great master race. It was something he never believed, which made his Dad beat him more. The army was what he ran to cause everyone thought he was like his old man, that he’d never be better in his hometown. Merle understood that all too well and they became friends because of it.


Now, he was keeping the promise he'd made to make sure Daryl was being taken care. Finding Sasha was a gift from the universe, or God sending him the mocha colored warrior that he would try to be worthy of. He'd try it till he breathed his last breath. Everything about her made him want her. She was smart, a nurse. He'd seen that on the first night. She was gentle as a lamb to the little boy with a broken arm. Then she'd threatened to cut off a guys balls when he reached for her morphine.


Yeah, he loved his first wife and he took care of their kids, but this was different. With Ann he'd always been afraid to break her. Sasha was broken right now, but he saw her putting herself back together. She had a rare inner strength that made him respect her even more.


<---*<---*--->*--->


Paul was making dinner. Gregory was eating out, so he was making spicy chilli that made his eyes water, just so it was good stuff. He was singing off key when his phone rang. It's Daryl. "Hey babe."


"We need to go on a date." The country boy says.


"A date?"


He hears Daryl nodding. "Yeah. We've never been on a date before."


Stirrng in more peppers he agrees. They'd hung out and stuff but never a real date where they dress up, go out to eat or bowling. "I've never been on a date unless you count locker rooms or supply closets."


"Good, cause I have no idea where to take you."


Paul brings the spoon up to his mouth. "You'll think of something I'm sure."


"So, this weekend. You free?"


"I should be."


"Good. I'll get you."


He laughs. He'd tried to see Daryl, the stereotype redneck, in a mini-van. It made him giggle. "I'll be looking for the sticker."


Paul hangs up the phone still laughing. You could tell a lot about a person by their car. The silver mini-van wasn't brand new but was taken care of. As a mini-van it said ‘this person has kids, one who was old enough to be in a sport or two’. You'd expect to see a Mom or Dad driving it.


As much as he tried to resist it, he was putting himself on the line. He lived his life on his own, never trusting anyone, knowing that no place or person was permanent. Even now, he knew that Gregory would get rid of him the minute the turned eighteen. He's sixteen, going to be seventeen in July. It guaranteed that he would be in a home through the rest of high school. That was good, most home's that he'd been to would turn you out the minute the money stopped.


Gregory is a greedy man, not capable of hitting him. He's a coward but the moment that money stops, he's out. He would have a high school degree that would get him some kind of job. Not the kind of pay that a college degree could get him. He's street smart and book smart too. He'd need to get a scholarship for college. The problem with that was that he was an average student with an average GPA. If he was some kind of genius he could get one. Being just him meant he'd need a miracle.


Eating his food he thinks on his problem. Daryl would offer his place but Rick wouldn't do it. Maybe he would, but four adult men and a baby. It was to much for them. If he had a job that would be something. Looking at the paper he doesn't have many options outside the fast food industry.


Putting the paper down he looks at his food the thoughts swirling his head, dampen his appetite. Picking up his glass he sees the ring around the job notice. For the Atlanta zoo of all places. He'd never been to the zoo before. Cleaning animal shit was better to him than serving it. He liked animals so he made a mental note to put in an application.
Many miles away, Daryl is laying on his bed just listening to the house. The sounds so different from what he would have heard a year ago. There is Carl in his room doing his homework. Rick is home so he's making dinner. Judith is likely rolling on her stomach in her play pen.


A year ago he'd thought life was just enduring pain and happiness was not being in pain. He'd thought on rare days when his father was gone or when he was out in the woods that was the best he could get in life. Now it was all different. Better for sure but he'd come to realize that life wasn't completely free of pain.


Now he thought life was painful, you lost things; people, possessions, homes. But you gained to. He didn't know that you could gain, he'd thought life was just loss. It was a half life that he'd lived and now it was a full life. Still there were times when it hit him that it was life that he'd missed. Like right now having no idea what to do for a date.
But, he wasn't alone. He had friends and one in particular that he'd always been able to talk to about this. The phone rings twice before the guy answers. "Greene residence this is Glenn."


"Hey Glenn." He'd been hoping that he would be the one to answer. They all have cell phones of course but when they got home they all went in a basket. Hershel started the practice when Maggie got her first cell phone. Everyone knew that after five you called the home phone. "I need some advice."


Glenn is pleasantly surprised. Beth was the one who the young man came to for questions. It hurt Glenn a little at first that his young friend was talking to his future sister in law. Maggie helped him see that it was a good trend. That it meant he was having teenager problems, not adult worries. "Sure what's the matter?"


Daryl pauses, not knowing how he should word this. "I have a date."


"Okay." It wasn't a secret that he and Jesus had been together for months now.


Glenn heard the uncertainty in his voice, "I've never been on a date. I...I don't know what to do or where to go."


"Go where you'd both have a good time. What does Paul like to do?"


"Watch movies." They'd done that when Daryl said he didn't know who Bruce Lee was. The long haired teenager had made a list of movies that he had to see.


"That's good. Find a nice movie, get some dinner. It sounds hard dating, but it really isn't." He looks over at Maggie. With the right person, even mocking is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Chapter Text

Carl was nervous. He'd talked to girls before, but it was different now. They'd changed, or they were changing right in front of him. They were growing out in the chest and that was good, he noticed it, but there was more. Under the surface of growing chest's, they were becoming smarter, it was in their eyes. Meanwhile Carl felt himself becoming dumber. He used to be able to talk to any girl. He'd known most of them his whole life. Now he couldn't mumble two words to any of them.

Except Enid. She was growing into her body, becoming a woman, but he could still talk to her and he did. He told her about his Mom, how she died, how he couldn't save her. He told her how he didn't want to forget, like it seemed everyone else was doing. She'd held his hand, understanding that need to not forget the past. Olivia was more about moving on to the future and not wanting to talk about the past.

They were eating lunch outside at a picnic table, just the two of them. Enid is reading a comic book. She looks up at Carl staring at her. "What?"

“Nothing." The boy says quickly. "Your hair is longer. It's different. I mean it's nice, you look good. Not that you didn't before. It's different, but good." He says it all in one breath and it causes a red hue to color her slightly olive skin.

She runs her hands over her dark brown hair. It was longer now, more of a pixie cut than a buzz cut. It wasn't as long as before she was sick. It had been past her shoulders then and she could fan it out like a shield. She wanted it to be that long again. Everyone talked about it. No one but Carl knew she was sick before and she wanted it that way. Pity was something she never wanted from anyone. If she was the girl who had cancer, that's what she'd get.

"Thanks. It still has some growing to do."

"Did it ever snow in Virginia?"

Enid thinks back, the out of the blue question throwing her off. "A couple times, but we were too close to the coast for it to really snow like in the mountains."

"A few years ago, it had snowed here and it wasn't enough to even cover the ground. A dusting my Mom called it. It melted that afternoon, leaving the surface wet. Then that night the temperature dropped below freezing and the melted snow turned into ice. Everything was frozen and looked like glass on every tree breach. It was beautiful."

"It sounds like it." She could see it. The way he described things for her, it made them come alive.

Carl nods, taking a deep breath. This was the moment. "I took this inner tube to the hill down the road. I wasn't the first, every kid within a mile was there. The hill was big enough that we'd all roll down in the summer and one year my friends took this tarp and we made a huge water slide."

She smiles seeing a little Carl flying down a hill yelling in complete bliss. "I bet it was fun."

"No one had gone down, they were all afraid. I was too. I could feel my heart beating in my chest. I knew the only way to stop it was to jump, so I did. It was great. I was flying down this hill so fast I felt like nothing could touch me." He slides the drawing of her across the table.

"Carl?" It's her face, but where her hair should be there are bright, wild flames of hair that are blowing in a breeze, highlighting her own features. This is how he saw her, as alive and free as wildfire. She'd had her body be dangerously hot after chemo. It was like a fire in her bones. Cooling packs and cold showers didn't help her, it was like she was fire itself; that she could touch anything and it would ignite. Then when the fire died, putting her in remission, there was a part of herself that she lost. Her parents dying cooled her even more.

‘Just survive somehow’ meant turning herself into ice. To not care about anyone. It worked for a long time. People avoided her, sensing the icy walls she'd made. Moving down here, she'd promised to do the same, not letting anything warm her soul. Carl Grimes was restarting that fire. Gently blowing the embers into a small flicker like a candle in the wind, then adding fuel with his understanding eyes, not seeming to care that she might burn him

He's looking at her waiting for an answer. She curls her fingers around his. "This is how you see me?"

"It is."

"Is that a smile?" Olivia asks from the doorway. She'd seen Enid come home from school with a strange smile on her face.

Enid is plucked from her memory into reality. "So what?"

Olivia comes to sit on her bed, looking around. The room is more lived in now. When they first got to Georgia, her niece had refused to unpack even her clothes. Now, two months later, this looked like a teenagers room. Olivia was sure it had something to do with Carl. A friend who seemed to be more than a friend.

"So, what made you smile?"

Enid shows her the drawing. "I just... feel something... for the first time in a long time."

"I'm glad kiddo." The older woman is happy for her niece, but is also worried. She doesn't want some boy to break her heart.


<---*<---*--->*--->


Daryl had never been to Atlanta, but he was too worried about his date to even look at the city. He's laser focused on finding the house. It was easy to see on google maps, but now he was having trouble. It was all so big, with lots of people. He still wasn't very good in large groups of people. A year ago a large group was more than five.
Turning onto the street he sees Paul leaning against the house looking very unconcerned. Daryl smiles. The helmet covers it of course, but Paul has an equally huge smile on his face. "Does Rick know you took that thing out?"

"Maybe." He takes the helmet off, offering it to Paul.

"So, what now?"

Daryl smiles. "A movie from your list, then dinner."

He laughs, "Which movie?"

Daryl shrugs, looking impish. "You'll see."

Two and a half Hours Later

Leaving the theater, Daryl is happy. He's in the moment, nothing is wrong, everything is good. He's with someone who understands him, who won't pressure him. They held hands at the theater, easily the youngest ones at the show. No one seemed to mind.

"So what did you think?"

The movie, Logan's Run, was about a future where all the adults were killed at thirty years old. It was a good movie made in 1976 when his father was four. Paul said it had to be a good story because the effects were in early development. He didn't really have a good comparison for it, so he focused on the story.

He liked the end of the story where Logan and his girlfriend Jessica escape the city, only to find the old civilization gone, but they found an old man in the ruins of Washington DC. Jessica wanted to go on to find the promised sanctuary. They were arguing and Logan said that sanctuary was just an idea and that so many people needed it to be real because it gave them hope. Then when it was proven to be wrong, they had to be the hope to make their sanctuary real. There was deeper meaning, he made a mental note to bring it up with Carol.

Now they were having chinese food. It wasn't Daryl's first time eating the extremely different food. It was however the first time he was using chop sticks. He gives up in a huff, stabbing the dumpling with the stick and eating it like a campfire hotdog. "Stop laughin'. It ain't funny."

Paul hides his smile in his glass. "They gave you a fork."

Daryl growls at the sticks. "Where did you learn that?"

Jesus takes the sticks, expertly taking a dumpling off the plate. "My fourth foster home."

"How many have you had?"

"Greedy." Daryl puts his hand on Paul's tight fist. "Hey. You ain't there, you're here with me."

Jesus nods. Here wasn't so bad. Here was great, it was just the two of them. "With you."

<---*<---*--->*--->

"This is nice." Rick says, pouring wine into the glass.

"What is?"

"Silence." He says, handing the glass to the woman on his coach. Carl was at his friend Patrick's house, Daryl was on his date, and Judith was napping happily in her room. It was a moment where all his children were happy and gone.

Michonne laughs, looking at Judith on the baby monitor. "She's practicing her sleep."

Rick smiles, trading her wine for the monitor. "She'll be walking before we know it."

"You can't wait for that day." She says knowingly. Rick was a devoted family man. Proud of all of his children, and acknowledging each milestone and attachment.

"We'll make it work, we have so far. Carl has really stepped it up. He's becoming a fine young man."

"He is." The dark woman agrees, sipping her wine. After the highway scene the two of them had become friends. He'd talk to her about comics or school or family. It was an odd sort of friendship that the two had made. But then again, looking around this house, it was just another pair. Everyone was different, from their skin, to their lifestyle, to who they loved. What seemed to bind them all together was Daryl of all people.

"Daryl too, he's good."

Michonne nods, taking a sip of the red wine. "Without a doubt."

Daryl was the stereotypical redneck if you just looked at him. That's what she'd thought, but then they started talking and she found out that he had the greatest heart of all of them. Rick had shared a little bit of his story with her and Daryl filled the rest of the gaps. Maybe that's why he was the linchpin of this odd family. He had so much love in his heart, that if you were lucky enough to get some you'd want to stay.

Rick sees her looking at the picture. "We aren't the nuclear family anymore."

"There's nothing wrong with that cookie cutter life. If what you have works, does it matter who's playing what role?"

Rick chuckles lightly. In the past year so much had changed. It was a testament to their character that they could all still be here. "No, it does not. I'm glad you're here with us.

You've helped us so much."

"We help each other. It's what partners do right?"

Partners. The word has many meanings. Yes they work together, they work well together. But the other meaning of partners; two people who are equal in all matters, who care about each other, who hold the other up when they might fall. They have no secrets between them, just them. Lori and Rick were never like that. They let the other fall, then picked them up. They could fill books with the secrets they hid or words left unsaid.

He raises his glass, this is just the first step into it. "Partners."

Michonne raises her glass to meet his, the sound bouncing around the room. "Partners."

Chapter Text

Pulling up to the house, Rick shuts off the car. This was the first day of summer, but also the one year anniversary of the raid on Will Dixon. Michonne is beside him. She knows what the day is and he's glad she's here. "Come on, I'll show you the guest room."

They both worked twelve hours. They were tired and needed sleep. Michonne's new apartment was an hour's drive to the opposite side of town. Her plan was to sleep in the break room. She'd had her clothes for tonight but when she told Rick, he’d offered his guest room.

As they entered the house they could hear Judith rattling her toys in the living room. Carl is watching her until he sees his friend. "Hey."

They share a quick hand shake, then she reaches into her bag holding out a comic. "I found this and thought you might like it."

Carl's face lights up. "Cool thanks. I'll read it tomorrow." He looks over at his sister then to his Dad. "I know you're both tired, but will you watch her while I take a quick shower?"

Judith is on her back kicking and reaching for her jingling toys, happily giggling when she strikes one. Rick nods, moving to the sixth month old. "Sure where's Daryl?"

Carl looks up to the ceiling. "Still asleep. It's the first day of summer, I didn't want to wake him."

"Right." Rick is glad that Carl is thinking of his brother but since today is what it is, he doesn't want him to be alone. "Hi Judy." He coo's as she smiles at her father. Picking her up, he asks. "How's my big girl doing today?"

Carl answers. "She slept till nine, then I changed her and fed her baby oatmeal and strained apples. Then about an hour ago, she pooped so, I changed her again, she's been playing ever since."

"Good, did you eat breakfast?"

"I had a pop-tart when I woke-up, but I'll get a sandwich after I take my shower." The young man says honestly.

"Alright, go on." Rick says, ushering him off. Judith sees Michonne and grunts.

"Mem, Mem."

"Hello sweetheart." Michonne takes her, holding her close as Judith leans into her chest familiarly. Judith is looking like a delicate pearl inlaid into the woman’s smooth dark skin.

"Meme."

Rick knows she's trying to say Mama, but is waiting until the word comes out to deal with it. Michonne, Carol and Beth are the main three motherly figures in her life. Judith can say the Da sounds and Ba. She knows Carl and Daryl are Ba's and he's Da, Carol is Ra and Beth is Be.

"That's right. Say Michonne." The woman encourages her to speak.

He puts his hand on Michonne's shoulder and leans in. "Come on, lets go wake-up your other brother."

One Year Ago
Daryl wasn't sleeping, he had his eyes closed, trying to remember his dream. It was about Merle, he thought. He read in the newspaper how everyone in a dream was someone you'd seen in real life. That explained why he never dreamed a good dream. He didn't know of many good people.

His Dad was passed out, so he could mouse around for food. For a while now he'd been thinking of leaving. Just taking his bow and boots going deeper into the woods. He could live there, never needing anyone, which was good because no one had helped him in a long time.

Groaning, he sits up. It was hot and he didn't have a fan. Pulling on a shirt, he doesn't even notice the bruise on his chest. Quietly, he leaves his room, tip toeing past his Dad on the couch. But he's awake, or close enough to it. "In the kitchen there are instant grits. Get a bowl. We got work."

He mixes the packet into hot water. His Dad is snoring again on the couch, so he eats outside on the back step. As much as he wants to eat the whole thing in one gulp he paces himself. There was a large pile of wood that needed to be chopped for his Dad's still. Will was always either drunk or high and if he wasn't either of those, then he was making more alcohol.

Taking the bowl inside, he rinses it in warm water, then drinks down a whole glass of cold water. If his Dad was working today, he'd need every drop of water he could get. He refills his glass, drinking it on the steps while he looks at the pile of wood. Looking out at the land he wonders about killing his father. No one would miss Will Dixon, just like no one missed him. Sure, his friends would still come over wanting him, but he could scare them off easily. Or he could go deep into the forest and live there alone. Safe forever.

Alone was good. Alone was painless, death was painless too. Killing himself was an idea that he thought more about each day. How was easy with so many guns in the house, or pills and booze. It would be like sleep, but where would he go. Heaven was out and if hell was a real place, then he was already there. Maybe he'd be a ghost, wandering the earth forever. That had possibilities.

This was going to be a long day and an even longer night. Daryl would chop the wood, then go hunting for a few days while his Dad worked most of the time. That was the routine. But, his Dad came home drunk from the bar saying there was going to be a new guy coming over.

"Daryl?"

He knows that voice but, looking around, he can't see the person who called him.

"Daryl, come on. Time to wake up."

The sixteen year old opens his eyes. "Rick?"

Rick is smiling over him, the sounds of the shower in the next room telling him Carl is awake. Looking passed Rick he sees Michonne holding Judith, and both adults are in their uniforms. It's the first day of summer and everyone was going out tonight in celebration. Sitting up he rubs the dream from his eyes. "What time is it?"

"Almost Noon." Rick says. That means they just got off work. "I was gonna let you sleep longer, but you were shaking.”

"Right, sorry. It's just today and remembering."

Rick puts his hand on the boy’s shoulder. "We can cancel tonight, they'll all understand."

"No." He looks at Michonne and Judith. "I want some new ones for today."

Rick breathes out deeply, proud of how far Daryl's come. "Okay, well can you watch your sister while we get some sleep?" Daryl raises his brow, the question not needing to be asked. "She's gonna sleep in the guest room."

"Sure." He stands reaching out for Judith. "Hey little Ass-kicker."

<---*<---*--->*--->

Carl Grimes was scared, and it took a lot to scare him these days. Holding shirts to his chest, he tries to find one that will make him look handsome to Enid. It shouldn't be this complex. It was Enid, the only girl in the world he could talk to these days. Every other girl was a vault, tightly sealed, with no way in.

He throws them on the bed, looking closely at his reflection. His baby fat was gone. His face was longer with the beginnings of whiskers that were clearly inherited from his father. The rest of him was 100% his Mom. The freckles that he had were all Lori, and his hair the same deep brown.

Carol comes by his room with Judith and he see's her reaching. "Brother?" The woman coos. "Do you see brother?"

Carl smiles at his little sister. She wasn't much like him or his Dad. She had Lori's eyes, but her features are someone else's. He's sure his Dad sees it. "Hey Judy."

"Juju"

Carl takes her. "Yeah, that's you." He tickles her tummy.

Carl guessed that it was her being young, or maybe it was just him, but he loved watching Judith. He'd sit for hours watching her as a baby, just seeing her make the little reflex movements. Then as she got bigger, he watched her grabbing Michonne's dreads. Her crawling was the best. She'd move like she was sitting then fall on her butt and start using her butt and legs to move. It was adorable. He took a video and sent it to Enid.

Carol looks at the tee shirts. "For your date tonight?"

He nods, standing Judith on her feet. She was good at standing and would pick her feet up, but hadn't made the jump to walking. "It shouldn't be hard right?"

Carol smiles, and a very stealthy Daryl chuckles from the doorway. "It shouldn't be, but it is."

Judith looks up at Daryl. "Ba."

"She likes you, not your clothes." Carols says, patting his shoulder. "But wear the blue shirt, it brings out your eyes." Then she takes Judith to put her down for a nap, as practical as ever.

Miles Away

"This is hopeless." Eind says, falling flat on her bed. Of all the clothes she has, none of them yell date. In fact, all of them seemed to scream, ‘I have no idea what I'm doing.’

Oliva chuckles. This was the most normal her niece had been in years. "Come on E, it's not hopeless."

"I have nothing that makes me look like a woman."

The older woman picks up a yellow sundress. "This is nice." Enid makes a sour face.

"I look like a banana."

"Okay." She draws out the word hoping a great idea will come along. It doesn't. "Carl doesn't care what you wear."

"I care!" She says sharply. "I want to look good. I want him to look at me and say ‘wow’ and none of this says ‘wow’!"

"I might have something." She leaves and returns with a dress that is a deep green with tiny white flowers printed on it. "Try it on."

"Liv, I love you, but I'm smaller than you."

Oliva rubs her stomach up and down. "I know, put it on."

She pulls the dress over her body, then Olivia descends on it. "What the hell?"

Pulling a sharpie from her pocket, she explains. "I am going to cut about six inches off the bottom then pull it in. So, you'll need to wear legging or tights with this, got it?"

She stands there stunned into silence as her aunt makes lines on her dress. "Why are doing this? You don't like him."

Standing, she answers. "I like you and want you to be happy and if this..." She searches for the word. "Boy... makes you happy, fine."

"And if he ever makes me unhappy?"

"Then I get to kill him." She says in that no nonsence way, taking the material in her hand. "I'll have this ready in an hour."


<---*<---*--->*--->


It was Friday night, the skating rink was full of people. Most were out in the ring on the waxed floor, others were on the benches talking or taking videos on cell phones. Carl was skating with Enid, both of them laughing, being at ease with their date.

He leans in. "You look really nice."

She blushes. "Thanks."

The cantina was serving all kinds of grease flavored food, the same food it first served in the 50’s. Daryl and Jesus are eating with Beth and Zach at the same tables that so many other couples sat at over the decades. Past the tables, Maggie and Glenn were playing pool with Rick and Michonne, laughing as the music from the Dj in the rink floats into the room.

The smell of millions of cigarettes smoked is still faintly there, mixing with the smell of unhealthy food. It creates an atmosphere of fun and carefreeness. This is a celebration day. Not only is it the start of Summer but it's the day Daryl was rescued by Rick.

This was summer, everyone needed a break, and this was best place for it. School had ran longer by two weeks with half days on Saturday, but everyone made it through. Beth and Zach, soon to be seniors and still together like a damn romance novel. Jesus and Daryl making it to the 11th grade, but ready for summer. Carl is an eighth grader to be and Judith had reached six months old and had become a mobile terror.

"So, Jesus, do you have a job?" Zach spoke up.

Dipping a fry into ketchup he smiles. "I do."

"Where at? Are they looking for more help?"

"I work at the Zoo. It's great." Yeah, he spent his time shoveling shit but he was paid to do it. He liked his co-workers and the animals of course.

Zach chuckles. "Bet it's cool working and seeing all the animals and stuff. When I was little I always thought it would be the best job in the world."

Paul nods. "I think all kids do at one point or another."

"What about your boss?" Daryl asks. He was in the booth with his back to the wall. Jesus was on the other side of Daryl. He wanted his boyfriend to meet the whole Greene family. Beth was a package deal with Zach now, but he treated her with all the respect she deserved.

"I have a most eccentric boss."

"How so?" Beth asked, leaning back on Zach's shoulder, utterly content with her life.

Jesus shakes his head, his long hair in a tight bun. "Ezekiel is William Shakespeare if he ever had a kid with Bob Marley and then left him in Atlanta."

"Really? He sounds like a character." Beth says sweetly.

Jesus nods, taking a sip of his drink. "If I ever figure out which character, I'll tell you." Zach chokes on his drink, causing everyone to laugh.

Rick watches the scene play out. He'd asked Daryl what he wanted to do. This was the one year anniversary of his rescue and this is what he wanted; for everyone to be together. So he called Carol to babysit. Glenn and Maggie loved the idea of a date night. Michonne had remembered skating with her friends as a kid and how fun it was. Now, as an adult, she was living it again with new friends and it was good too.
Rick sets a bottle next to her. "What do you think?"

She likes the place. It's very retro looking, not by design of course, it was just the owner trying to keep up with the times. "I think it's very retro."

"Retro, huh?"

She smiles. This isn't the kind of place she thought it would be. She was expecting a country bar or some bluegrass joint. More banjo's and less Bon jovi. This place was truly small town USA, but she didn't care. It was different.

"I'm glad you came." His hand inches closer to hers.

Her hand meets him in the middle. "Me too." "

“I'm glad you're a part of this."

"Me too."

Chapter Text

For the first time in a long time, Sasha woke up to the warmth of another man. It's not who she thought it would be when she was little, not her prince charming. No it was the giant cigar smoking luperchan. She'd imagined this whole life with Bob, then it was taken away in a moment. But, time healed her in the way it always does. She wasn't the same woman as before, she was stronger.

He takes her hand kissing it sweetly. "Good morning."

"Oh shit."

Abraham smiles a mile wide. "That bad huh?"

"No, I just didn't want this to move so fast."

He nods, hiding his disappointment. Fast was good, last night made him feel like he was made of fire and Sasha was gasoline. Together they were a blazing star. But, she had the power and this would last him a long time. He felt her ghost touches on him for many nights to come.

"You have the power here. I'll ride beside you, but you're in the driver seat."

She liked that, being the one to set limits. "I want us to be something but...were you happy?”

He nods. "I am. I was last night and I'm happy right here right now."

"I need coffee." She says with a yawn.

This is a test. He's about to get up and get her a cup but he paused. What kind? "I'll get it for you, any kind you want. Just tell me."

Propping herself on her elbows she traces a pattern on his chest. "I like that. Anything I want?"

"Anything." He echos.

She should go slow, she knows this, but she did that with Bob. She let it go slowly like lazy river. Then like lightning he was gone and she had too many regrets. She knew that she might lose, in fact she probably would lose Abraham at some point. So, she didn't want any regrets this time.

Slipping out of the bed she says. "I'm going to take a shower."

He stays on the bed, enjoying the view as she walks toward the bathroom. She stops at the door, "Aren't you coming?"

Pulling off the sheets he just smiles. "Yes ma'am."

<---*<---*--->*--->

Daryl was sure this was the stupidest thing he'd ever done. He didn't even know why he was here. Surrounded by guards and walls, the lights bleaching the color from everyone. He wasn't even sure if his father would show-up. Then the door opens, Will sits looking just as surprised as Daryl.

Will looked bad. Bags under his eyes a testament to the lack of sleep he's getting. The wrinkles more pronounced on his face, like it was the booze and drugs that kept him young. He looks like a feeble old man, not the monster that haunts Daryl's dreams.

Will looks at his son. His hair is longer now, washed and dried. He's bigger too, by four inches and twenty pounds. Daryl looks like his mother and it makes Will just stare. He was guilty of his crimes and prison was a bad place to be sober. Being in solitary meant he couldn't get booze or drugs. For the first time since he was eighteen he was truly sober.

Picking up the phone he watches Daryl do the same. "Thought you was with Officer Friendly?"

"Rick doesn't know I'm here."

Will scoffs lightly. He'd known this was coming, his boy coming to gloat. "You're his bitch now?"

Daryl clenches his teeth, this glass was the only thing keeping him from choking Will. "No. He's gonna adopt me."

"I know. I got the papers."

That was the hold up. Rick had told him about it last night, how Will wouldn't sign away his parental right. The court could strip them away of course, but that would mean a hearing, evidence, and Daryl testifying. He wasn't afraid of it, he just wanted it to end quickly.

"You gonna sign them?" His anger is smoldering under his lungs. "You never did one thing that was right or good for me so do this."

Will laughs. "I'm the only family you got left."

Breathing in deeply he shakes his head, pulling the photo up on his phone. He puts it to the glass. "This is my family now."

Will studies the picture. Daryl is sitting at a table between a hot blonde and a long haired hippy looking boy. On the other side of the blonde is another boy with curly hair. They all look about the same age, the blonde and curly haired boy maybe a year or two older. Squeezed in beside the hippy boy is a much younger boy with a girl, she looks like a dike, both of them not even teenagers yet. Officer Friendly is behind the group and has his arm around a black woman. There's a chinaman with a white girl with short hair cut like the other girl.

"That hippy boy got more hair than them dike looking girls."

"Paul is with me and Maggie is Glenn's wife."

Will’s arrogant smile fades into a hard look of pure hatred and it strikes Daryl hard. "Phillip told me you liked it. Guess I didn't want to believe my son was a fag."

"Sign the papers and I won't be your son."

"My son, the fag." He slams the glass causing Daryl to flinch back, almost falling out of the chair.

The guards come and pull Will out of the room as he screams "Faggot."

Daryl stands, feeling all the eyes in the room on him. Walking out of the room in a fog, he numbly makes it out into the sun, the brightness of the day warming him. He gets on the bike and drives, trying to outrun the feelings of shame that are chasing him.

He hears Paul's heavy feet on the path. He listens to them coming closer and closer but he doesn't turn around. When he gets in the range of hearing he asks. "How'd you get here?"

Standing next to him he shrugs. "I took a bus out of the city, then walked the rest of the way."

"How'd you know to find me here?"

Paul tries to smile. "I know you pretty well." He says, looking out at the quarry, the sun shining on the water. Daryl would never truly be comfortable in a city setting. He'd always go to some refuge deep in the forest or in the hills.

"Guess you do."

Jesus turns his eyes to the unopened bottle of Jack Daniels next to him. "It went that well?"

"He called me a fag."

"Yeah it sucks when they call you that." Jesus moves the bottle, sitting next to him and taking his rough hand. He'd been called every name in the book and then some. Daryl was lucky, he came out to people who didn't judge him. People who didn't make him feel less. He had some problems with it at school, but other wise he was lucky.

"It does."

"Why the booze?"

"I was drunk once and I was completely, utterly numb. Couldn't feel anything. But, the thought of going home drunk, facing Rick and Carl, or hurting Judith." The very thought of ever hurting that child made his stomach knot. "I couldn't do it. And, here...we were here together and happy. I didn't want to taint it. So, I've just been sitting here waiting to not feel so ashamed. Cause I got nothing to be ashamed of."

<---*<---*--->*--->

It was almost night, the last sun rays fading into the neon colored sky. Rick was in uniform on the front porch, waiting for his oldest son to come home. Michonne would be here soon for their shift. He wasn't worried about Carl being home alone with the baby. He was more than capable to care for her. In fact, right now he was pulling a wooden duck along the soft grass in front of Judith who was crawling toward it.  

A friend at the prison had called him, telling him about Daryl. He called Carol, the memories of Daryl's burst appendix flooding his mind. Carol received the frantic call and she assured him that Daryl would come back. His condition was questionable, but he would come back alive.

The sound of the motorcycle is music to his ears. Judith looks up with her still toothless grin to Daryl, in his all dark clothing, skillfully parking his bike and taking off his helmet. Judith crawls toward him shrieking delightfully. "Dare."

"Hey Little Ass Kicker." He holds her close inhaling the sweet smell of innocence.

Walking toward the house, Rick joins him. "Glad your back, Judith was getting worried."

"About me? No, I might leave sometimes but I'll come back. It's what brothers do, right Carl?"

The young man nods. "Yeah."

Rick stands on the porch, "How'd it go?"

"It went."

"What happened?" Carl asks. He didn't know where Daryl went or what was going on, all he knew was that there was a cloud of sorrow hanging over his friend's head.

Daryl hands the baby over to her brother. "I'll tell you later, right now your Dad and I need to talk."

"Come on Daryl, we tell each other everything." It's not a whining tone that the young man has, its more a tone of disbelief.

Daryl looks at Rick, Rick looks at Carl. He was old enough to hear all of this, not a little boy, and treating him like one would do more harm than good. "Might as well."

Carl sat on the porch railing, balancing on the smooth surface. Daryl sits in one of the wicker chairs, with Judith in his lap, eating her hands. Rick is in the chair next to him.

"I went to see my Father in prison." He was speaking more to Carl since Rick knows most of this already. "He won't sign away his rights as my father. Your Dad said we could sue for the rights, but to do that, we need a court hearing. Proof of his unfitness to be my parent."

"That's stupid. He's in prison because of how bad of a father he is."

Daryl nods. "I told him that I'm gay and he screamed at me. The guards had to remove him."

"Did you hurt yourself?" Carl asks, looking for a cut or burn.

He shakes his head. "No. I wanted too, but I couldn't… I wouldn't

"Hey guys." Michonne says from the cruiser.

Carl waves and Daryl stands. Judith smiles at the sight of the woman coming towards her.

"Hi sweetheart." Judith reaches for her and Michonne takes her, happy for a brief cuddle with her favorite girl.

"Mama."

The group freezes as Judith leans into her chest. Michonne blinks, looking at Judith. "What did you say?"

Rick steps towards her, putting his hand on her head.

"Mama." The little girl says in her precious baby voice, putting her hand on Michonne's chest. Then she looks right at Michonne, with her gray blue eyes staring into the warm brown of Michonne's. "Mama."

Chapter Text

Two Weeks Ago

Michonne was in Carl's room; she needed a moment to collect her thoughts. Mama...It wasn’t his voice or even the same pitch, but it was the word. Just the simplest word that made her crumble.

Carl knocks on the door, “Michonne?”

His voice full of concern and bewilderment. “Are you alright?”

“You can come in, it's your room.”

He opens the door fully and coming inside, he sits on the floor next to her. “Judith didn’t mean it.”

“I know.”

“It could have been any woman who comes around. Beth, Carol or Enid.”

She nods, “I know but…” She rubs the thin gold chain. “Before I came here...”

Carl touches her shoulder, sending a wave of calmness through her body. “You don’t have to explain it to anyone.”

Her wide brown eyes are pleading with the need to say this. “I do.” She needed to tell someone this, and if it was Carl, well he might be the only person who would understand. “See, I was a lot like you used to be. Someone I loved died and I hated the world for it. In my anger I pushed everyone away.”

She rubbed her necklace with the letter “A” and it's not the first time he’s noticed it.

“Before I was a cop, I was an art dealer. I was good too, getting noticed and respected in my field. My boyfriend Mike and I... we had a great apartment.”

“Then when Andre was born.” She smiles at his name. “That was it, we were a family.”

“That’s how I felt when Mom told me that she was pregnant.” It was great, he thought that he could get a baby sister and a brother all at once.

“I was out at a sale in Savannah, Mike was at home with Andre. His friend Terry was there two. Now Terry was always partying.” She paused to let out a cynical laugh. “He said that if he had one life to live then he’d live it to the last.”

“What happened?”

Closing her eyes she can see the whole scene in her mind fresh as the day it happened. “Terry was getting high, I didn’t know it but um...Mike was too. They were high when the fire started and they were high when they died. But my baby boy, he was scared when he died.”

“It wasn’t your fault.” Carl had been working through this with Carol.

“I was his mother. I dream of him calling me, begging me, to help him.”

Carl nods his agreement. “I would hear my Mom, she told me to protect Judith and to take care of her. It was the last thing she said to me.”

Michonne nods looking at him, feeling a pang of anger for Lori. Carl was just a kid. That was a big responsibility to place on him. “It was your fault, you were just a kid.”

“When my Mom died and Daryl went into town to get formula for Judith, I was numb. I kept playing the events over and over just thinking what I could have done differently. Could I have saved her.”

“Carl.”

“And after, I tried to make myself hard, not letting anyone new in our lives. Just trying to keep my family safe.”

“I was just trying to forget it all.”

They sit there thinking, watching the shadows lengthen along the room. “You know I bet Andre and Judith would be friends.”

“Yeah, they would have been. Andre loved to make people laugh. Like his father, he always knew what to do to make someone laugh. I don’t know if I’m meant to be a mother again.”

“I don’t know… You’re my friend and you’re a good person. Judith doesn’t know about any of this.” In that way he envied his sister, who would never quite understand how they came together. All she would know was that they were here. “She’ll never have a normal family.” Carl does the cynical laugh this time, his words sounding wiser than a normal thirteen year old. “Daryl told me that normal for him was beaten and abused. Normal for me was something completely different. And my normal now is different from your normal before.”

Michonne can't help but see the logic, that yes life changed and change could be good or bad but it was a choice. “You're right.”

“I know I'm right now.” He sounds like a teenager.

Michonne stands up and Carl follows her to his feet. He'll be taller than her soon. “Thank you.” She says pulling him into a hug.

 

2 weeks later
Paul was looking over the field where Glenn and Maggie were going to be married. It was a warm day, only in the low 80s and the humidity wasn't bad either. In the city it was unbearably hot, all the buildings and all the people, it trapped the heat making it more of a hell hole than a city. Gregory of course was in his new office overlooking all of his new minions.

He was really considering whether he wanted to stay with Gregory. Sure it was a house and the rules are pretty easy but being around Daryl and the family that he had created, it reminded him of what he really wanted. He had an idea about it though, how he could explain to him that they could still technically be living together. Since Tyreese's death, they were down a man and the city was not going to hire anyone anytime soon so they haven't seen a caseworker in a month. He was pretty sure that he could live with Ezekiel and as long as the checks kept coming to Gregory, who would know.

Sitting on the fence lost in his thoughts, he doesn't hear Daryl coming up, but then again most people don't he was so silent. “You clean up pretty nice.”

Paul laughs, kissing him. “Yeah these are my new good clothes. Gregory got them for me when we had to go to a charity event. I never thought I'd be wearing them to someplace I actually wanted to be.”

Daryl pulls at his tie “I know whatcha mean. If it wasn't for this being Glenn and Maggie's wedding, I would not be wearing this suit.”

“If I ever get married, Imma let everyone wear what they want to. No suits, no nothing.”

“Getting married in the nude, that would be an interesting wedding for sure.”

Paul knocks him with his shoulders saying, “No one likes a smartass.”

Daryl knocks him back lightly saying, “You like me.

He nods, countering back with, “Well I'm a messed up person. I have warped views on just about everything.”

The lean redneck sitting next to him asks. “What has brought up these deep philosophical questions?”

Paul was looking up at the clouds in the sky, they were also a factor of the wedding being outside. “I'm thinking about,” He pauses “What I want and where I want to live.”

Darryl raises his eyebrows, the silent question of what's wrong with where you live now, being spoken without words.

Paul takes his hand giving it a light squeeze. “I used to live my life being shuffled from place to place and I made my peace with that. To not get attached to anyone. But…” His voice is full of longing and desire. “But now I want more. I want to live with people who want me because they want me as a person, not a check or a promotion.”

Daryl understands. For a long time that's what his father wanted from him, he was just a means to more. Being used for someone else's selfish desires left both of them cynical. Daryl however was better now. He had found people and brought in people who cared about him and loved him. And seeing all this desire and hope in Paul's eyes he wanted it for his boyfriend to. He wanted him to know what it was like to truly be wanted and to have a home.

“Look I don’t…” He wants to say this right. “I don’t share my feelings to much. But, I love you and I want you to know that. And, your home is with me if you want it to be.”

“I do.” He says, the gravity of what they both said heavy in the air.

<---*<---*--->*--->

“Are you ready for this?” Daryl asks Glenn as he was tying his tie.

“I've been ready for this for a long time.” The Asian man replied looking in the mirror at himself. He wondered briefly what Maggie would look like, but then realized that it was Maggie and she could be wearing an old faded dress and he would be happy with that. Today wasn't about getting dressed up, or drinking or any of the stuff that weddings are now.

It was about his commitment that he was swearing to make before God and her father to always be there for her. To listen, to have her back, to love her and never do anything that would dishonor her. She was making that same promise to him now and they'll do it before their friends and family and God. So no, he wasn't nervous, he was ready.

“It’s time.” Herschel says from the doorway.

They walk down the stairs of the Greene family home, out to the backyard. The day before Zach, Beth, Daryl and Jesus had put up decorations. The wedding colors were white and mint green. Daryl being the tallest put up the paper lanterns while Jesus had set up the folding chairs. Zack had set up the entertainment system and was the DJ for the whole affair. All in all, the entire place looked very nice. Simple, but it had a touch of class to it, something that described the way Maggie was.

Not too far away from the dining area was where the wedding itself was taking place. Simple white folding chairs have been placed on either side of the white runner where going in, Maggie would be seeing their backs. Hershel, as the father and pastor, stands at the front and Glenn stands just to the right of him.

Everyone takes their seats once Hershel and the groom are in place. There is the Greene family cousins and aunts from out of town that make up a majority of Maggie's family. On Glenn’s side is the Grimes family and his sister from Michigan and a few of his college friends also in attendance. Sasha and Abraham are also there, looking very happy to just be in the moment. When they first showed up it had surprised everyone but Carl.

Daryl sets the scene from the end of the aisle where he's waiting for the music to start and for Beth, who of course is Maggie's maid of honor and Glenn being such good friends with him, made Daryl his best man. And thinking about her must have called her because before Daryl can even finish his thought Beth is right beside him.

She looks very nice in her simple mint green dress. She smiles and leans in close to whisper. “You look very nice.”

Daryl blushes a shade of red. “You look very beautiful.”

“So how are things with Paul?” Of course she had seen the two of them talking on the fence before the ceremony was to begin.

“Good.” He says in a tone signalling it’s not all good, but nothing to worry about yet. “We were just talking about the future and where he would be living.”

“And?”

“And we are going to talk about it later. It's Glenn and Maggie's day, let's not spoil it for them.”

She nods. “Fine but tell me if there's a problem.”

“Yes ma’am..”

She looks over to Zack and he starts the music. Daryl practiced this part, keeping in step with the rhythm. He had a pretty good rhythm when it came to tracking animals. But dancing was not something he would have ever really done before, and walking to music seemed even harder. Beth takes the lead getting them down the aisle. They separate, Beth standing to the left of her father and Daryl to the right.

Herschel clears his throat and lifting his hands, everyone stands up. Zack starts the traditional wedding march music and all the eyes turned towards the house.

Maggie looks beautiful in her dress. It was a simple white dress of course, with cap sleeves that seemed to be made completely of lace. The beaded bodice went right down to her navel. Then it was a complete drop-waist of white silky material that was easily breathable in the Georgia heat. Her veil was made of lace as well but it didn't cover her face, it was covering her shoulders and seemed to be mostly there for show.

Daryl hears Glenn taking a breath. “You can do this.”

Maggie makes it to the end of the aisle and smiles when she sees Glenn. He looks at her with a book of pure amazement. “You look beautiful.”

Maggie smiles saying. “You look very handsome.”

The music ends and everyone takes their seats. Herschel smiles at the gathering of family and friends, a little bit of sadness in his eyes that his dear wife couldn't be here to witness their child getting married. But if the clear blue sky was any indication, she was watching.

“Dearly beloved,” he starts. “We are gathered here today to witness the union of Maggie Greene and Glenn Rhee. As a father, it gives me no greater joy than to know that my daughter is marrying not only the man that she loves, but a man of wonderful character. This is a union first and foremost. A union is merging or integrating two fractured elements into a whole. Glenn and Maggie, you are two such fragmented pieces that will come together to form one holy union of marriage.”

At the mention of coming together the two take hands causing a few awes from the audience. Daryl even sees Abraham lift his hand to his eyes. Why was it the biggest, bearliest, of men would be the first ones to cry, or turn to mush at the site of a baby.

“Glenn Rhee, do you promise before God and these witnesses to love, honor and cherish, Maggie Greene as your lawfully wedded wife, from this day forward until your last, in sickness and in health for richer or for poorer?”

“I do.” Glenn says looking into Maggie's eyes.

Hershel says in a strong voice. “Glenn, please state your vows to Maggie.”

Glenn takes a deep breath, then he starts. “I, Glenn, take you, Maggie, to wed. I promise to respect you as a person, a partner, and an equal. I marry you with no hesitation or doubt, my commitment to you is absolute.”

Hershel asks the binding question . “Do you, Maggie, having heard all of this take Glenn Rhee, to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

“I do.” she squeezes his hand.

“Maggie please State your vows to Glenn.”

“I choose you, to stand by your side,and to sleep in your arms. I promise to laugh with you in the good times and cry alongside you in the bad times. I promise to respect you and cherish you as an individual, a partner and an equal.”

“Do you, Glenn, having heard all of this, take Maggie, to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

“I do.”

“Then by the power vested in me by the state of Georgia and the Lord God, I now pronounce you to be man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”

A cheer erupts as Glenn takes Maggie's face into his hands and kisses her softly and sweetly, sealing their promise forever.

An hour later the party is in full swing. Sasha and Abraham are very close together dancing. Zack and Beth are also dancing with each other, whispering things in each others ears, making them giggle. Daryl sits at the table, scoffing under his breath. “Like a damn romance novel.”

Carl is attempting to dance with Enid, but it's the most awkward dance that he's ever seen. Rick has Judith in his arms and is dancing with her. Michonne and Carol are watching the two of them, each of them with a smile on their faces.

Paul sits beside him, holding out a drink. “I think this is the first wedding I’ve ever been to.”

Daryl takes the drink. “Me too. I mean, I've seen them on TV and stuff, but this was nice.”

“Do you think you'd ever want to be married someday?”

Daryl shrugs. “I don't know. I mean I'm not that religious. I believe in God, that there's some kind of other being and when we die we all go someplace, but I guess I don't do any organized religion. As for marrying someone, I guess if they wanted to, I would.”

The tall long-haired boy stands up holding out his hand. “Come dance with me?”

“I don’t know how.” He says standing.

“I’ll show you.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 28



Atlanta heat was special kind of heat, the tall buildings trapped the blazing sun making it twice as hot as in the suburbs or the country. That meant that everyone at the zoo was working extra hard to keep the animals cool. The penguins and polar bear habitats where the best place to be. It went to the senior caretakers while the new guys got stuck with monkey cages.

Jesus was lucky Ezekiel or the King as he was known in the zoo took liking to him. So he was cleaning out the tiger habitat. Sheva was in the secondary holding while he was cleaning her pool, it was a long pool that ran the length of her hab. It was cool water knee deep filled with trash thrown in by careless children. Sheva loved the food the sweet treats and hotdogs. The trash however was problem that she left to them.

“How was your wedding young Jesus?”

“Good, I had a nice time.”

“And your guardian did he enjoy himself.” The tall man asked carefully taking the jagged soda can out of the water.

“Umm.” Gregory had spent the weekend alone but if the cheap perfume was any hint he had a companion. The dirty sheets that he found the washing machine conformed it. “He had other plans so I spent the weekend with at Daryl's house.”

The King nods, he hadn’t shown any outward displeasure to Paul being gay and the subject was one he tired to avoid talking about until he knew a person better. He redircets the conversation. “What about you?”

“My ward Henry had a Aikido tournament this weekend.”

“Ward?”

He nods. “I had good friend William who made me godfather to his sons Benjamin and Henry. Last year he and his wife passed from a car wreck. I’ve been trying to be a good guardian.”

“I bet your great at it?”

“Benjamin is almost a man now, Henry is adjusting having Benjamin is a godsend doing it alone I don’t know how I would mange.”

Paul tries not to feel so rejected as his idea of asking to live with Ezekiel goes down the drain. “You’d mange people can deal with more than they know.”

“Your right young Jesus.”

They keep cleaning for another hour then they take the trash to the dumpster. By then it's time for lunch, Jesus didn’t take a lunch mostly he cooked enough for Gregory to eat that night and for him to have lunch the next day. Being away all weekend Gregory ate out and he didn’t bring anything back.

Paul had to go grocery shopping after work was used to being hungry so it didn’t bother him. King Ezekiel looks at him nursing a bottle of water. “Too hot to eat?”

“No, I’m just not hungry.”

“Come with me young Jesus.”

Paul stands thinking he’s in trouble but doesn’t ask questions he just follows him to the Zoo Cafe. They enter through the back music is playing not the zoo music this is techno mixed with dungeons and dragons. It works though the odd mix nice. The man who is tapping along with a knife is huge tall and wide.

“Jerry.” King Ezekiel booms over the misc.

“Your majesty, what can I do for you today.”

Jerry is Hawaiian no doubt about that but he’s not the deep tan color half hawaii maybe. He’s got an easy going vibe to him he looks at Paul and nods like he knows what the tiger king is going to ask. “You got it boss.”

With that Ezekiel sits him down while Jerry makes him a sandwich. Paul eats it as Jerry talks about the Kingdom. The kingdom is the Zoo Ezekiel is the king because he’s been there the longest and is the only one who can get Sheva under control.

Jerry puts the sandwich in front of him. “I know you don’t trust people that your used to keeping yourself closed off hidden because you’ve had a crap life. But, it isn’t always going to be like that and your gonna have to trust and that’s scary at first but you can trust Ezekiel tell him if anything is going wrong.”

<---*<---*--->*--->

Rick brought up the idea of camp at dinner that night, while he was so worried about what Daryl would react he didn’t think about Carl. While Dary sat there stone faced feeding Judith Carl was the one who exploded at him.

“What? You don’t want us around? Who’s gonna take care of Judy and the water the garden?”

“It would just be for a week you two have taken on so much this year I thought you deserved a summer off.”

“Me?” He looks over at Daryl. “What about Daryl why can’t he come?”

Daryl looks at his little brother, “I’ll be here taken care of Little-Ass Kicker and your Dad. We’ll be fine sides singin’ kumbaya by the fire not my style.”

“What about Enid?” They were just starting to get the hang of this relationship stuff. He didn’t want to leave her then he’d feel guilty about leaving his girl and his siblings.

Rick had seen this question coming. “I spoke to Oliva Enid is going to be going to an art camp in Savannah the same week. She’ll be fine you will too. The rest of us will be fine too Daryl can take Judy to the Greene’s when I have to work. And, Carol is on standby in case we both have plans.”

“Both?”

The elder grimes pales a sure sign that he misspoke. “I...might be working on stuff and things.”

That night as the two brother are on the roof they talk about the stuff and things. Daryl in laid out in just a t-shirt, the stars that he knew and the ones that Carl had taught him. Carl was looking at he brochure Rick had given him.

“This place looks fun.” He said looking at picture of two boys in kayak.

There is hesitation in his voice, year ago he would’ve been excited grinning from ear to ear and looking so much like his Daddy it hurt. He’s more cautious the picture is nice but the place itself could be very different. Carl was growing up not so trusting of the world now.

“Could be fun you’d like it,” He says truthful.

“You wouldn't be mad that I get to go and you don’t?”

He laughs harmlessly. “That’ ain’t my idea of camping and you know it for once think about you and want you want.”

“I think I want to go to camp?”

“You better tell your old man then.”

Carl smiles then laughs lightly. “What kind of things and stuff do you think my Dad was talking about?”

“Stuff and things that he doesn’t want us to know about yet. When he wants to he’ll tell us.” Rick was like that he kept problems close to his chest when he figured it out he would tell them. Daryl was good at figuring out problems.

<---*<---*--->*--->

Dwight looked that mirror at his face, it was clean unscarred he wanted to keep it that way. Sherry was on the bed she was trembling with fear. “He’s crazy.”

“What choice do we have? We’re in it now.” He was in it Sherry might get away but she might not. When they’d both shown-up here it seemed like paradise, she worked in the kitchen and he fixed boat engines. No rent meals for free they could save money.

Then he showed his true nature the camp was cover for the real money and they were the workers. The last person that had tired to run had the iron. Heated in the furnace till it glows it then he’d pressed it to his face the smell was what lingered. Sherry had almost passed out it caused him to look at her.

That was another thing any woman here could be his woman, Sherry tired to hide it under sweaty clothes and greasy hair. If he saw her that was it. They could run but where, they had no place to go and the police? If he helped hide the body tonight he would be in it forever.

A light series of taps on the door and a voice. “Dwighty Boy! It's time to go.”

Sherry looks at him fear in her eyes, he hated to see her like that. He’d promised to take care of her always. If this was how then then it was easy to choose. “I’ll be back soon.”

“You kept me waitin’.”

He looks down, “Sorry boss?”

A black gloved hand brings the bat up to his face, “You made Lucille wait, that hurt her feelings.”

Swallowing his fear the says in a low voice. “Sorry.”