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As Long as it's All of Us

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   The morning was bright, boasting a clear sky as the fog from the chill of the night’s rain rolled a gentle haze over the pond’s surface and down the streets, beating a slow retreat as the sun crested the horizon. It was serene, a gasping breath of relief after the madness of Negan, the Wolves, and the herd. For once it seemed they had run off all their enemies, and even if they were only hiding away to lick their wounds, maybe, just maybe, they were nearing an end to all the violence. 

   “Where are you off to in such a hurry?” Rick heard Michonne call after Carl from the kitchen as the teen bounded down the stairs, his footfalls thunderous against the wood floors. 

   “Lu’s back,” he shouted, racing through the front door as the dark woman cast a shared a lingering look with Rick, sitting on a couch with a steaming cup of coffee in his hand, a knowing smile settling on her mouth. The simple domesticity was lost on neither of them; they had all earned it, won the right to it. 

   The former Sherriff’s Deputy grinned back, setting his mug on the end table and hauling himself to his feet. He draped an arm over the swordswoman’s shoulders as the pair made their way from their home, following Carl’s path to the front gate. “You think he’ll be able to convince her to stick around this time?” Michonne asked her companion with a snicker as they drew closer to the old red Chevy Step-side and the gathering residents drawn like bees to honey by the resources she had no doubt brought from her latest haul. 

   Rick huffed a laugh, scratching at his beard and his boots scraping the asphalt as they draw nearer. “Which one, Carl or Daryl?” he wondered aloud. 

   Ahead of them, Carl’s dead sprint slowed to a stop as the crowd unloaded the bed of the truck. Cardboard boxes, coolers, insulated cases were passed down in a line by Alexanadrians casting nervous glances up at the cab of the old vehicle. 

   “Dad!” Rick registered Carl shout before his son darted around the hood towards the driver’s side door. 

   Then he saw it. Bullet holes sprayed up and down the side of Lu’s Chevy. The windshield and back glass were riddled with them, the passenger window completely shattered, and the bench seat was a mess of singed foam and cloth from the sheer number of holes in the back rest. 

   “Holy shit,” he cursed under his breath, hurriedly making his way around the abused truck to the woman, his son, and the shaggy-headed bowman on the other side. 

   “-came out of nowhere,” came Lu’s smoky, pained voice, the curtain of her hair hiding her face as she leaned out against the ruined door. “Maybe three shooters, who knows, it all came out of the damn tree line. Completely blindsided me.” 

   Rick had never seen the woman before him nearly as undone as she was now. Lu’s dark hair was splattered with blood, shards of glass, and dirt, and the braids she had always woven throughout its mass coming undone. Daryl stood before her, pushing her hair away from her face and running his fingertips along the gash at her temple, the blood covering half her face like war paint still wet and tacky. His face pinched with concern as fresh waves of pain made Lu draw in a sharp breath, tensing suddenly and gray eyes shutting tight against the sharp edge of it. Carl stood beside Daryl, clutching Lu’s rifle reverently to his chest while a pile of sodden cloth at his feet seeped a crimson burden along the asphalt, the boy’s one eye shadowed with worry. 

   “Let’s get you out of there, darlin’,” Daryl chided, looking over at Rick as he pulled Lu’s left arm over his shoulders. The former deputy stepped forward quickly to cast her right arm over his own shoulders, moving her gently from the wreckage of the truck cab so they could assess her injuries. 

   Michonne, Abraham, and Rosita strode toward them from the bed of the truck, expressions in varying degrees of worry settled on their faces at the sight of Lu being carted by Daryl and Rick. Once they set her on the porch of the nearest house Lu spat a mouthful of blood to the ground, her left arm pulled close to her chest as she wiped at the blood coating the right side of her face. 

   Lu had found Carol in the woods during the Terminous incident, had nearly killed her, too as she’d spent months beforehand scavenging and hunting down the Wolves. Rick still didn’t know how Carol had convinced her to help, but between the two of them they had decimated the cannibals; Lu rather lived by a “scorched earth” policy when dealing with Claimers, Wolves, and cannibals. 

   “How many walkers have you killed?” Rick asked the woman, Lu, standing at the edge of the tree line. She was quiet, dangerous, and even though he still wasn’t certain if he’d forgiven Carol, she’d found this woman and together they’d saved them.  

   The sleeves of the woman’s duster were rolled up her forearms, displaying the canvas of ink and skin over sinew and muscle. She spared him only a brief warning glare with narrowed grey eyes then went back to reloading her magazines and cleaning her rifle.  

   “Please,” he prompted. “How many?”  

   “Dozens, maybe hundreds. They don’t end, only the living  do ,” she rested her rifle against her leg and pulled a long rope of braided hair out from under the back of her duster, unbinding it carefully and plucking out pieces of the leaf and twig.  

   He put a hand on his hip and kicked one leg out, shifting on the uneven ground, then “How many people have you killed?” and waited as he heard the rest of his companions go silent behind him.  

   She combed delicate fingers through her long hair for a moment, rearranging thinner braids woven throughout its mass before turning to face him head on. “At least twenty,” she affirmed with an expression he couldn’t quite place. “At least twenty today.” 

   And for some reason Rick couldn’t quite comprehend,  he  knew it wasn’t madness he saw in her face, it was something much less forgiving. So, all that was left was the final question. “Why?”  

   “Because people like your cannibals don’t hide in the shadows anymore, they hide in your hope that the good people outnumber the bad.  I hunt down the people that need hunting because I know better.”  

   Though Rick had initially had his reservations, he couldn’t deny that Lu was a strong fighter and, eventually, an even better friend. She gave Abraham a run for his money, both in tactics and poker, recounting her time in the company of rogue Marines, the first and only group she had fallen in with since the beginning of it all. She rattled off engineering and chemical something-or-others with Eugene and plants and cooking with Maggie and Carol. Rosita, Tara, and Sasha she taught to fight and how to run, and could she ever run; not even Glenn was so nimble. Eventually, Daryl had taken her hunting with him and though they had spent the better part of the day off in the woods, they’d returned with two bucks and a string of rabbits. Everyone slept on full stomachs for days after. 

   It was with Carl and Judith that Lu shone through, the way she guarded them without question or prompt. In the first months she had been wary of his daughter, and Rick saw her heart break every time she so much as glanced at the little girl, like she was afraid Judith would disappear if she looked too long. Then the tornado had come and Lu sang to Judith, capturing the baby’s attention with slow, soothing words and the tap of her fingers against her thighs, calming his daughter’s fear with songs that weren’t ever meant to sound so sweet. She taught Carl the words to every song she sang, the siren at the storm’s center drawing them all in to drown, and it was almost like watching Maggie with Beth back when she was alive and the world wasn’t so grim. Slowly, she began to heal them. Even Rick himself sang along when she tapped out the rhythm of Country Roads; they’d all sang through the worst of it. 

   Then Aaron had found them and they had settled into the Alexandria community...well, most of them had settled. They had all seen Lu jump at sounds and silence during the night, prowling through the house they’d been assigned; unable to sleep and a pair of knives she had refused to give up within reach of her fingertips at all times. Like the rest of their group she didn’t trust the people of the community they’d been invited in to; but unlike them, she saw danger in every corner and duplicity in every uncertain smile. 

   “Spent too long wandering,” she offered that last day, hugging Carl and Judith tight and pressing her forehead to Daryl’s before retrieving her weapons and walking through the front gate. She had left with a promise to visit which had turned into deliveries of supplies she had scavenged once every other week, a shared nod with Carol, pudding for Carl whenever she found some, and a lingering embrace for Daryl before she was gone again. 

   That first night the group had spent in the Alexandria community was nearly two months past, the quarry walkers, the Wolves, and the invading herd dealt with all with her assistance. But she hadn’t been around in the last two weeks, Lu wouldn’t know anything about Jesus, the Hilltop, or the Saviors they had killed; she wouldn’t know the threat the Saviors still posed to Alexandria even as they licked their wounds in silence. 

   “Just get me wrapped up, Rick,” Lu insisted, a detached expression settling on her face as she looked over the streaks of blood on her fingers and swiped at the still-wet blood running down her face. “I promised Carol a few bars of chocolate this time ‘round,” she offered conspiratorially then leaned forward to push herself up off the stairs, clenching her jaw against the fresh new hell pounding through her veins. 

   “Naw,” Daryl insisted and pushed her back gently by the shoulder. “Ya stay here, I’ll get Carol,” he told her, waiting for her to settle as the early morning light streaked across her eyes. When she waved him off, the shaggy-haired bowman pressed his forehead against hers, “Stay here, Lu, just...stay.” Then he pulled back and made his way off to Carol’s house. 

   Rick smirked at Lu and she grumbled under her breath. “That’s not such a bad idea, you know.” She gave him a scathing sidelong glare and quirked an eyebrow as if to ask ‘is this really the time?’ So, he cleared his throat and shifted on his feet, hands setting on his hips before he glanced back to the ruined red Chevy. “You want to tell us what happened, Lu?” he asked, Denise walking up to the group with bottles of clean water and bandages. 

   As he and Carl helped her to clean off her face, Lu recounted the events of the night before. “The shots came out of nowhere, Wolves or Claimers trying to steal what I had in the truck. Two or three shooters, might have been more, hidden in the tree line away from the road. I backtracked around so they wouldn’t know where I was headed, ran them around in circles all night, but… Rick they were waiting for me.” Her eyes fluttered and she squeezed them shut, clenching her jaw and taking steadying breaths before finally glancing up at him again. "I thought we had finished off the last of the Wolves.” 

   Michonne shot the former deputy a look as he pressed a bandage against the woman’s temple, knowing Lu was lucky to have only been grazed by the bullet even bleeding as heavily as she was. They were going to have to do something about the Saviors, they’d come entirely too close to killing one of their own and Lu was a friend that none of them could afford to lose. They certainly shouldn’t have found their gates this soon. 

   Abraham stepped up to Lu, holding out his hand for hers with a bristly ginger grin. “Sounds like you could use some food and some R&R then, Lulu,” he taunted as she placed her hand in his, pulling her to her feet. 

   Lu’s knees gave out then, she tilted into Abraham and as both he and Rick went to steady her, they heard a gasped “Oh shit,” from Rosita. Their gazes cut over to her, but her eyes were glued to the porch where he and Daryl had deposited Lu before the ginger man had pulled her up. The wood of the porch drank in a dark, viscous puddle like a sponge and then they all knew and the grey-eyed woman’s body finally started to give out: Lu was injured far worse than they had originally suspected. 

   “Dad...Lu’s duster,” Carl insisted, pulling the dark leather from her shoulders, Rick and Abraham catching her as her grey eyes rolled to the back of her head and she slumped against them. 

   It wasn’t just the one bullet, and they certainly hadn’t just grazed her. 

 


 

   Lu woke to acid running beneath her skin and lurched up off the bed with a barely contained scream. 

   “Please do not move, Lu, I would be remiss if I did not state for the record that you have been gravely injured,” came Eugene’s voice from her right side. 

   Gripping her side against the pull that lit a fire in her bones, Lu smirked, “Is that why I feel like I’m on fire?” She glanced up at him from beneath the waves of her dark hair, “Thought you’d decided to make swiss cheese of me.” 

   The entirely literal man blinked at her as she pushed herself to sit up on the bed, “No, Lu, one first needs a cow before they can make cheese and we don’t have any heifers here.” 

   She hawked out a gasping laugh, grinning against the pain running rampant across her nerves. Then taking measure of the bandages wrapped around her arms and the gauze taped to her side, she huffed a sigh. “Babysitting duty, huh?” 

   “I believe you are attempting to joke again, but Rick did charge me with watching over you,” he confirmed. “Given the severity of your injuries and the great possibility of infection, there was considerable cause for concern that you would not recover.” 

   As Lu eased her legs over the edge of the bed a scream came from outside the room, a decidedly female scream, something was very wrong. She forced herself off the bed, black spots like photo-negative disco lights around her vision as she pulled on her boots and grabbed her coat off the back of the chair Eugene had been watching over her from. “What the hell is going on?” she demanded, shoving her arms into the sleeves of her weathered leather duster, ignoring the pain from the multitude of wounds as best she could. 

   “Maggie is experiencing complications with her pregnancy,” he explained as he shadowed her steps into the room where the woman’s screams originated. 

   “-her to the Hilltop, they have a doctor who could help,” came Rick’s voice. 

   As Lu rounded the corner on a limp Rick, Carl, Sasha, Abraham, and Aaron all turned to watch her. “Lu, what are you doing out of bed?” Rick strode toward her and gently took hold of her shoulders, attempting to herd her back to the other room. “You’re still bleeding and Denise only pulled those bullets out an hour ago.” 

   “Not a chance, Rick, if Maggie’s hurt I’m going to help,” she insisted, pulling her injured arm from the man’s grasp. As she looked about the room, her brow furrowed, “Where’s Glenn?” 

   Rick sighed, rubbing at the back of his neck and shaking his head. “He, Michonne, and Rosita went after Daryl; Carol took off last night.” 

   “Why wo- No, we’ll talk on the ride out.” Lu hobbled over to Carl, damning the pain in her side even as she put as much pressure against it as she was able. She tipped up his hat with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, “Where’d you put her, hun? We’re gonna need her if those assholes take another potshot at us.” 

   Carl smirked knowingly and ran to retrieve Lu’s rifle as Abraham, Sasha, and Aaron left the room to get what they’d need to transport Maggie to this Hilltop place. Even Eugene nodded to her as he shuffled around her, careful not to touch her and aggravate raw but healing wounds. 

   “Lu, you’ve been shot, you need to stay and get better, heal up at least a little before you go back out there. Hell, if something goes wrong and we have to stay longer than a few days...you’re the only person I trust to keep these people alive,” he leaned down just enough to look her right in the eyes, blue clashing with gray in a battle of wills but he already knew he’d lost. 

   “I wouldn’t give half a bucket of bricks for this place, Rick, and you know that. Maggie’s my friend, the group matters, not this place. If you want to argue, you'll just have to do it while we’re on the road taking care of Maggie,” she stated with finality, narrowing her eyes and daring the former deputy to push the subject. 

   Rick sighed and grimaced as Carl barreled into the room with Lu’s rifle and handgun a few minutes later. “As long as it’s all of us, we can do anything,” Lu told him with a smirk. 

   How wrong she had been. 

 


 

   She’d gotten separated from the group, offered to scout out ahead, she remembered that much as the re-opened gash at her temple bled down her face. 

   The Saviors. Rick had told her about them on the way to the Hilltop. They’d set up a blockade on the road; eight men in total and Rick, in spite of Abraham’s warning, didn’t want to attack them. They’d stepped out of the RV and Rick put his hands up, offering to make a deal. 

   "Give us all your stuff," the mustached man had  de manded  with teeth too straight and a geeked-out grin , "We'll probably have to kill one of you. That's just the way it is, but then we can start moving forward on business. All you have to do is listen.” The man had said that they don't negotiate.  

   In a haze, Lu recalled comparing Abraham’s mustache to the Savior’s, and as she coughed up mouthful after copper mouthful to ease the pressure in her chest, she laughed to herself.  

    "What if it's your last day on Earth?" she’d heard Rick ask.  

    "No, but that is a good thing to bring up. Think about it. What if it's the last day on Earth for you? For someone you love? What if that's true,” the mustached Savior had rebutted. “Maybe you should be extra nice to those people in that RV,  'cause  you never know... Just like that. Be kind to each other. Like you said... like it was your last day on Earth.”  

   “They sound like Wolves to me,” she’d snarled once Rick and Abraham were back in the RV. “Like people who need hunting...”  

   “Whatta fucker,” Lu mumbled, blood spilling from her mouth, she pulled the bandage from around her left arm to bind the burning hole in her thigh. 

    They had encountered another, larger group of Saviors blocking the road later, maybe sixteen of them with vehicles. Rick had looked to her and Abraham but they’d all known shooting their way through wasn’t likely, they’d turned around slowly to the symphony of a Savior firing a rifle in the air as they retreated.  

   “Waste of bullets,” she’d mouthed to Carl, then out the window she shouted “I can DO THAT, TOO!” The bullet wounds, oncoming fever, and dehydration were making her delirious and angry and dangerous. 

   Clawing her way out of the ditch, Lu lost her grip and fell backwards, smacking her skull into a tree, rifle digging into the tender skin of her wounded back. “Aargh fuck,” and she cried out, unable to help the ragged scream that pulled itself from her throat, white lights dancing with the black spots against her brain to a cinematic horror show, flashes of recent memory flitting before her eyes. 

    The line of  dead  chained  together across the road.   

    Michonne's dreadlocks.   

    Daryl's crossbow bolts.   

    Saviors firing at them from the woods on both sides of the road. Rick cutting the chain,  the  dead  loose  everywhere,  and  the realization that “They want us in this direction.”  

    “Maggie's fever is worsening.”  

    Turn around.  

    "I believe in you, Rick."  

   “Look at that,” Lu didn’t recognize the voice that ricocheted through her skull. “We got ourselves a straggler.” 

   Hands grab at her roughly, snatching away her rifle, dragging her by the shoulders of her duster. “Lemme go, pencil dick,” she threatened weakly, swinging her fists out to catch naught but air, her vision swimming. 

   “Come on, sweetheart, it’s time to meet the man.” 

    A giant wall of logs. Tire marks on the road. The logs erupt in flames. Drive away.  

    “They're probably waiting for us right now. So, they're ahead of us, probably behind us. But they're not waiting on us, per se, they're waiting on this rust bucket. And they don't know the moment-to-moment occupancy of said rust-bucket. I'll have them thinking we're playing their game. All phases of the turn, level after level, move after move, I'll keep them spun. I assure you, I will. I got something for you. It's a recipe, and it  ain't  gazpacho. How to Build Bullets 101. Abraham can show you where, just in case. Thank you for this.”  

    Eugene.  

    "You're a survivor."   

    Abraham.  

   “As long as it’s all of us.”  

   Maggie.  

    “I’ll take the lead, follow close and don’t get lost.”  

    Running through the trees.  

    Whistles.  

    “Go. Go!”  

   There’s s omething by the road…cars, trucks, people. Shit, sprint right.  

    RUN.  

   “-is Lucille. And she. Is. Awesome-“ 

   I know that voice… 

   “Hey, boss,” called the man dragging her to a shadowed figure among the cacophony she’d avoided. “We got ourselves a runner, not a good one ‘cause she got herself caught anyways.” 

   Then she was tossed before the group and pain radiated throughout her entirety as she crashed to the asphalt. Lu curled inwards, knees to her chest, Rick on his knees in front of her. Abraham, Eugene, Glenn, Maggie, Carl, Michonne, Rosita, Aaron, Daryl. 

   “Well, what have we here?” came a voice that was familiar in a way she couldn’t recall with her memories a paint splatter against the canvas of her skull. 

   “Lulu!” 

    Abraham.  

   “Lu!” 

    Sasha. Glenn.  Maggie  

   “Get away from her!” 

    Daryl.  

   “Leave her alone.” 

    Carl. Rick. Michonne.  

   Their voices cried out in her defense as someone dragged her by her mangled arms to kneel between Maggie and Sasha, a scream shuttered by her clenched teeth. Ragged, damaged skin tight over raw nerves bleeding pain and acid. Her hair, damp with blood and sweat despite the cold, hung before her face; her head weighed more than her neck could support. The world spun around her and her gray eyes clenched shut, blood seeping from the wound at her temple, down her face to drip from her chin, further drenching the fabric of her jeans and when everything tilted she braced her weight as best she could with her only slightly less damaged right arm. 

   “You’re a little late to the party, sweetheart, but as I was telling Rick here. Your merry band of fuckups is about to pay for killing my men. And not just a few, a whole GODDAMN lot of my men.” As she opened her eyes a pair of black boots stood mere inches from her knees, the words didn’t quite register but I know that voice. “But before we begin, you mind tellin’ me exactly fuckin’ where you got that jacket?” 

   My duster. The world tilted just a little further on its axis and Lu pitched forward a few degrees until a wooden bat wrapped in barbed wire came into her field of vision and the black boots had a pair of gray jeans tucked into the top of them. 

    “Happy birthday, lover.”  

     A white box hidden underneath Star Wars wrapping paper.  

    “Aw, doll. You shouldn’t have.”  

    She had chuckled. “Figured it might come in handy with the new job.”  

    “I fuckin’ love it, doll.” His deep laugh.  

    “Yay sports! Do the things, win the points!”  

   “’Cause I knew someone who had a duster fukin’ just. Like. That one.” 

    Another white box, silver paper.  

    “It matches your eyes, doll.” A smirk.  

    “All that glitters  is  not gold.” A grin in return.  

    “Just fuckin’ open the thing, I’m  dyin ’ here.”  

   Lifting the paper o ne corner at a time, just to see if he’d lose his patience.  

   “All that glitters is not gold,” Lu muttered, her head swimming. 

   “What did you just fuckin’ say?!” the man with the voice she knew and unfamiliar gray jeans and black boots demanded. 

   Somewhere in her head Lu knew she shouldn’t close her eyes, something about a concussion being dangerous if she were to fell asleep. But her eyes were heavy and if the world would just stay still for a moment it wouldn’t be so damn difficult. A gloved hand touched her chin and lifted her head slowly, puffs of air shifting her hair, the interspersed braids swaying with damp, clumped strands as fingers slid against the blood masking half her face. 

   Dark hazel eyes met gray and her heart hammered a stuttering beat behind her ribs. 

   “Lucille.” 

   And she knew that face, those eyes, that whisper of awe against her skin. 

    “Lucille! Doll, what are you doing home?”  

    Dark hazel eyes wide in panic above a lying mouth in the face of the man she’d loved for years.  

    “Who is this?” Anger so thick it could choke her.  

    “Doll it’s not what it looks like.”  

   A trespasser in their bed. Shocked eyes as she slammed the first door shut in her wake, pictures crashing to the floor from where they had hung  since he’d put a ring on her finger and sworn to her that she was all he’d ever need.  

   The bat fell to the ground with a wooden clink and those hands smoothed her hair out of her face, the same eyes wide in panic, searching as Lu’s world continued to tilt and spin and hurt. Fingers pressed against her skin, searching, assessing, acid thrummed through her veins on every heartbeat and her jagged nerves went up in flames. Pressure beneath her chest threatened to burst and viscous, wet coughs bubbled up her throat, metallic and hot against her lips. 

   “Fuck. Shit. Simon, get her in a truck and take her to the fuckin’ Sanctuary.” 

    I know that voice.  

   “Boss?” came a voice she recognized. Abraham’s moustache is better and you’re a shitbird. 

   “FUCKIN' NOW!” 

   A cacophony of voices rose up in outrage as the world went out like a light but finally stopped spinning. 

 


 

   “This-- this is Lucille, and she. Is. Awesome. All this, all this is just so we can pick out which one of you gets the honor.” 

   Negan grinned, looking over the fucksticks that had been ballsy enough to kill his fucking men. They were going to pay, tit for tat, just as it fucking should be; as many as necessary until the goddamned message got through. A strangled scream sounded out a few hundred yards into the tree line and his gaze snapped over as two of his Saviors followed, searching for the source. 

   “Oh, I hope you didn’t have someone waitin’ on me,” he jeered, all but bouncing on the tips of his toes. “I surely fuckin’ hope you didn’t have someone a few hundred yards off just a-fucking-waitin’ to take a shot at yours truly. Because that too would be not. Fucking. Cool.” The shits in front of him all looked to each other and boy did he have a feeling that scream belonged to someone near and dear to them. 

   The two men returned mere moments later, dragging a beaten and bloodied woman between them, her features hidden behind a curtain of long, dark hair and a well-worn, darkleather duster. “Hey, Boss. We got ourselves a runner, not a very good one ‘cause she get herself caught anyways.” Then they tossed the woman before Rick-the-Prick and the whole group of fuck-sticks shifted like they were going to rush to the heap of blood and sweat and leather curled up in front of their ever-so-fearless leader. 

   “Well, what have we here?” he taunted, swinging his beloved Lucille just this side of too close to the woman’s head until something familiar caught his eye. The faded outline in the shoulder of the sleeve where a patch should have been, round and taunting, igniting an unholy fury because if this fucking bitch had killed her and taken her jacket... 

   “Lu!” 

   “Get away from her!” 

   “Lulu!” 

   “Leave her alone!” 

   Now, that is interesting. The fury simmering out and despite the years of disappointment and failure and sheer fucking desperation that had long-since faded into dull resignation; in spite of everything, a flicker of mad hope bloomed. 

   Negan gave a sharp nod to one of the men who had dragged her from the depths of the trees and he hauled her up to kneel next to her fuck-stick friends. She slumped where the Savior left her, swaying until she had to throw out an arm to keep herself from falling over. A steady drip-drip-drop pattered a steady beat into her ruined jeans, her breaths shallow and wet and wheezing; someone had certainly gotten herself into  a heap of fuckin’ trouble, that was for sure. 

   “She’s in worse shape than you are, sweetheart and hell, do you look shitty,” he snickered to the pale, short-haired woman. “You’re a little late to the party, sweetheart, but as I was telling Rick here. Your merry band of fuckups is about to pay for killing my men.” He only knew of one person who had ever worn braids like that throughout her hair; someone who had the same dark, thick hair that curled and frizzed at the first sign of humidity. “And not just a few, a whole GODDAMN lot of my men.” He walked right up to her, the tips of his boots nearly right against her kneecaps as viscous black-red continued to run from her face to her faded jeans at a steady pace. 

   “But before we begin, you mind tellin’ me exactly fuckin’ where you got that jacket?” 

   Sure as shit the woman was in bad fucking shape and she fell forward a few inches, dark hair swaying in front of her face, hiding her further from his view. So he squatted down in front of her a bit, bracing his weight against his Lucille.  

   “’Cause I knew someone who had a duster fukin’ just. Like. That one.” 

   “-glitters is not gold,” the woman murmured and he knew that smoky, cigar-room voice. 

   “What did you just fuckin’ say?!” he demanded. His heart jackhammered in his chest at the possibility, the ‘please, please, please,’ the years of ‘don’t be dead,’ and prayers to a higher power that he’d never believed in for just five more minutes with her.. 

   Negan brought his gloved hand to her chin beneath her hair and lifted gently, his breaths shifting the braids and bloody, damp strands as his lungs struggled to inhale. His glove slid against her skin and bad blood ran a slow stream down his covered fingers until he finally saw her. Through the mask of red on her face he knew that smattering of freckles across her nose, he knew that mouth that had teased him with the barest hint of a smile, he knew those eyes. His heart shuddered to a stop then jumped up into his throat, suffocating every word he’d ever promised to say, every apology he’d sworn to make if only to touch her again, until all he could manage was her name. 

   “Lucille.” 

   Negan’s heart squeezed as the bat she’d gifted him, the one he’d named for her, fell to the ground at his feet, forgotten. He brought both hands to Lucille’s face, the face he’d dreamed of since she slammed their bedroom door and the world burned in her wake. Smoothing her hair back, through the blood and the torn gash at her temple, he needed to see her. Then he felt her throat contract, saw her chest heave as she coughed and bad blood slipped from between her lips on a gasp. He heard the rattle in her breath and squeezed her tighter as pure, blind panic wrapped icy fingers around the heart he was still trying to swallow back into its proper place. 

   “Fuck. Shit. Simon, get her in a truck and take her to the fuckin’ Sanctuary,” Negan ordered as Lucille lost her ability to hold her own, miniscule weight. 

   “Boss?” his right hand asked, confusion coloring his voice. 

   “FUCKIN’ NOW!” 

   And as Simon came forward to retrieve her, damn it all if Rick and his fucking groupies didn’t have something to say about that.