Daryl couldn’t say which he’d noticed first — the guitar accompanying a man’s voice singing the blues, or the weird feeling. He peered through the trees in the direction they were coming from, as if he could see through the dense woods to whatever it was. From the sound of it, the man singing wasn’t too far away.
He rubbed his forehead. That weird feeling… he’d noticed it lately when he was around the walkers. It was like he could sense them somehow. He hadn’t told anyone about it, of course. He was too afraid of what it meant. Was he turning into one of them? Had he been bit without knowing it, when the walkers overran the prison? He didn’t see how he could have been, but what other explanation was there?
That was why he’d gone on this hunting trip alone, while Maggie and Glenn did a run for baby supplies. He didn’t want any of the others figuring out his secret before he had a chance to, well, take care of things. There was no need for any of the others to do for him when he could do for himself.
He frowned as he realized something was different. The weird feeling wasn’t the same as the other times. This time it was stronger. Almost… cleaner. Healthier? Still damned annoying. Hell if he knew what was going on. A finger of ice slithered down his back. Oh fuck. Maybe he was getting worse. Maybe it was time. His arms tightened around his crossbow, cradling it to his chest as he pictured how it would go. It would be a bit difficult, using the crossbow, but he was sure he could manage it.
The worst part was thinking about Carol finding out what he’d done. The thought of her grieving for him hurt, but maybe that was better’n her figuring he’d lit out in his own? Maybe he ought to head back to the prison. Take care of things somewhere close, where Rick would find him, after.
Then again… there was the singing. And the guitar. Who did that? Noise would bring the walkers. Daryl shook his head as he started out in the direction of the music. He could almost hear his brother complaining that he had a curious streak a mile wide. He held his crossbow aimed loosely down as he threaded his way through the trees, ready to raise it and fire in an instant. He told the Merle in his head to shut up. He knew curiosity could get you killed out here. He might be a damn fool, but he didn’t want to die unless it was his own idea.
He scanned the area for signs of ambush as he slipped between the trees. These weren’t the woods he’d grown up in, but they were still the same. He was a tracker. He could spot signs where the ground had been disturbed and he knew how to move so nothing would suspect he was even there unless he wanted them to. Which was why, a few minutes later when he came to the edge of the clearing where the singing and the weird feeling were coming from, he couldn’t believe it. There was an old man sitting in a camp chair singing and playing the guitar, and across the clearing there were some horses with a younger man standing there beside them as if the guy had just been taking care of them before turning around and straight at him. Daryl swore under his breath. There was no way that guy could spot him through the leaves. Was there?
Methos let Joe’s voice wash over him as he rubbed down his horse. There was another immortal out there. Young… or simply not very strong. His lips quirked up in a smile. That would give him an edge, and he did so like having edges. He gave the mare a final pat and made sure she was securely tethered beside the other two. It wouldn’t do for any of the three to run off, frightened, if this turned out to be a challenge. He reached behind him, making sure his sword was loose in its scabbard on his back. Damn Duncan MacLeod and his Boy Scout ways. He wouldn’t be here, traveling through an unfamiliar forest with Joe and an unknown immortal approaching, if it hadn’t been for the Highlander’s influence.
He centered his attention on the trees where the quickening was the strongest. He snorted. Strongest. This quickening was so weak, he’d be willing to bet the immortal was young enough that he or she had never taken a head. Oh hells. Would he be stuck teaching the young one until he could find someone to foist a student on? He could picture MacLeod’s indignation if the Highlander found out he’d ignored a youngling in need of instruction.
He heaved a sigh. Better get this over with. “Are you just going to hide there, or are you coming out?” He prepared himself to wait the young one out with the patience of a predator. From the corner of his eye, he could see Joe shoot him a questioning glance. He shook his head, and Joe continued to play.
It wasn’t long before a lean young man, all wiry muscle, edged out from between the trees, as cautious as an alley cat. Good gods, was that a crossbow? He’d have to get the man a sword…
Who did he know that might be willing take on a student?
Daryl studied the two men, shifting his attention from the younger man to the older one and back. The younger man was maybe a couple inches taller than he was, and had on jeans and a t-shirt that were well-worn but clean. The old man, maybe about as old as Dale had been before the walkers got him, wasn’t singing anymore. He had leaned forward in his chair, and was watching them closely. Daryl frowned, puzzled. Why don’t he get up? “Who are you two?”
“The question is, young one, who are you?”
Young one? Daryl huffed. The man looked to be the same age as him, maybe even younger. Where did the man get off calling him young? The man studied him with a raised eyebrow. Hell, maybe he could sense how unimpressed Daryl was. He lifted his chin and stared the man in the eye. Daryl Dixon was a stubborn cuss, and he could out-stubborn anyone.
The old man huffed a laugh. “I think he’s got your number, Adam.”
Adam shot the old man an irritated glare. “Some people need to keep their mouths shut.”
The old man adjusted the guitar on his lap, holding it with one hand. With the other, he mimed locking his lips and throwing away the key. Then he folded both hands over the guitar, affecting an innocent, expectant look as he watched Adam.
Adam rolled his eyes as he turned back to Daryl. “Ignore the man with the guitar. He’s senile.”
“Why don’t you come sit down?” Adam gestured toward the old man. A couple packs leaned next to the tree, along with a second, still collapsed, chair. “We need to talk.”
“About what?” Daryl didn’t trust either of them. He sure hadn’t missed that while he knew Adam’s name — maybe — he still didn’t know who the old man was.
Adam pursed his lips, eyeing him consideringly, as if trying to decide what to tell him. “About the feeling that led you here. And the feeling you get from the walkers.”
Daryl learns a bit more about the two strangers in the woods, and has an unpleasant revelation.
Daryl felt the blood drain from his face. His crossbow almost dropped from nerveless fingers before he managed to make himself clutch it tighter. “How do you know about that?”
“I know a great many things —” Adam paused when the old man interrupted with a snort. Adam glared at the old man for a moment before he continued. “— and those things include that feeling. It’s almost a buzz, isn’t it?”
"You tell me right now!" Daryl demanded, bringing up the crossbow and aiming it. There was no way Adam could know what was wrong with him, was there? He didn’t dare let himself hope that there might be a cure.
Adam just stood there, stance easy and hands open. Not a threat, see?
Daryl didn't let that fool him. Two guys alone out here? They had to be dangerous — or they’d’a been dead long before now. But if this came to a fight? He figured he could take Adam.
“Listen, pal,” the old man said, putting aside his guitar, but making no other move to get up from the chair. “We just want to talk to you. From the looks of it, we have information you need to survive. You want to know what it is? Put that damn crossbow down and relax. Adam, break out the whiskey. I’m a bit parched from all that singing.”
Daryl slowly stowed his crossbow, thinking furiously as he tried to find the trap in the old man’s words. Was feeling the buzz a symptom of turning into a walker the way he feared, or was it something else, something these two knew about? He watched Adam rifle through one of the packs, and relaxed a bit when the other man pulled out a bottle. The old man leaned over and snatched it away, and Daryl found himself chuckling at the look of annoyance on Adam’s face.
He went to sit next to the old man, and when the bottle was offered to him, he took a swig. Maybe he was a damn fool, but one thing he’d learned since the end of the world. The more you knew, the better chance you had. He handed the bottle to Adam. “All right. Tell me what I need to know.”
Methos took the bottle. How to demonstrate? He knew Immortals who would kill themselves to show that they couldn’t actually be killed, or slice their hand to the bone to show off the way the wound healed. Killing himself was definitely out — especially since there were zombies around that rose from the dead. That left cutting himself, although slicing himself to the bone was out. Yes, it was dramatic, but he wasn’t exactly a fan of pain and blood. Well. Not his own, at any rate. He raised the bottle to his lips and drank. What to do… He lowered the bottle and handed it off to Joe. “All right, introductions. My name is Adam Pierson, and this is Joe Dawson. And you are?”
The young man shifted uncomfortably on the ground next to Joe’s chair, and for a moment Methos thought he wouldn’t answer, but then he said, “Daryl Dixon.”
“Okay, Daryl. First thing you need to know. You’re going to think what I’m about to tell you is impossible, but every word of it is true. And I can prove it.”
Daryl looked intrigued, but then his expression shuttered. “Lots of impossible happening last couple a years. What’s some more impossible joining the party?”
“You say that now,” Methos muttered to himself. Louder, he said, “There are Immortals in the world. Joe isn’t, but I am. So are you. That’s why you felt that buzz that led you here.”
“That was the old man’s singing, not the buzz,” Daryl scoffed. “Tell me something that don’t sound crazy.”
Methos smirked at Daryl’s reaction. Just as he had expected. “All right. All Immortals are foundlings. None of us know who our parents are. We can’t have children, either.”
“And there ya go. I know who my mama and daddy were. And my brother. Wished I didn’t more times than I can count, but I weren’t no foundling. Not like they would have adopted another mouth to feed they didn’t need ta.”
Complete denial, Methos thought. And the younger Immortal probably had no way of discovering the truth about his parentage, with the end of the world. He continued, his words falling into the familiar cadence of an explanation he’d given many times over the years. “We cannot die, except once, when we come into our Immortality. After that, we can heal everything except losing our heads.”
“You have got to be shitting me.”
He shrugged. “I knew someone who grew back a hand he’d lost at the sword of another.”
Daryl snorted, his eyeroll almost audible.
“He’s not going to believe until you show him your party trick,” Joe pointed out, punctuating his sentence with a healthy swig of the whiskey.
“You’re not helping,” Methos groused under his breath. He truly hated this part. He slipped the knife from his boot and drew the blade sharply across his forearm. He swore under his breath when the knife bit too deep and nicked an artery. That hurt, damnit . “I’m Immortal, and I cannot die. Neither can you. This will heal — and if I cut you, you would heal the same way.”
Daryl gaped at the blood welling up from from the wound, then seemed to realize just what Methos had said, and scrambled to his feet, fury obvious in every line of his body. “You damn crazy-ass fucker. What the hell are you trying to pull? You ain’t sticking that knife in me!”
Shit . Methos stood, wadding up a cloth to put pressure on the wound, and made sure he was between Daryl and Joe. “I’m not trying to pull anything. I told you it was going to sound impossible. I’m only telling you the truth. Look. The cut is healing already.” He shifted the wadded up cloth, wiping away blood, and revealed the half-healed wound.
“What the—“ Daryl cut himself off, staring in disbelief as the wound visibly healed. “That’s… that ain’t possible.”
“I told you. We’re Immortal. The healing is just part of it.”
“I don’t heal like that.” Daryl sounded half-convinced, despite his denial.
“Maybe once you had normal, human healing. But something happened to you recently. Some time when you thought you almost died. That’s when it happened. You did die, and came back. Immortal. And you’ve felt that buzz, off and on, when walkers are near, since that incident.”
Daryl’s eyes widened as he realized what Adam meant. He shook his head. No. He didn’t believe it. A week ago, when he’d been scavenging for baby stuff, the deck he’d been standing on gave way. He’d been fine though, even though he’d fallen about 12 feet through the rotting wood to the ground. Just knocked out. Hadn’t even had a headache when he woke up — he froze. No, no, nono no.
There was a roaring in his ears as he pulled out his own knife and slashed at his arm, staring as the deep cut healed almost immediately. He couldn’t breathe. Adam was right. He’d actually died that day! Nausea churned in his gut as his knees gave way. He pitched forward, struggling to hold himself up on all fours, and lost everything he’d eaten in the last little while as the memory of the accident washed over him.
Daryl looked up at the sky through the broken slats of the deck, still half stunned. The sun was a lot lower than it should have been. Fuck. He hadn’t checked that the deck was solid before walking out onto it. He coulda got his damn fool self killed because of that oversight. Idiot. He needed to be more careful . If he’d died, who would take care of Little Asskicker? Fear sent him scrambling to his bag, checking to make sure the precious cans of formula were undamaged. He blew out a breath, relieved. He needed to get back to the prison, back to his fam— Don’t be stupid enough to think that shit, moron.
He was still cursing his stupidity when he got back, snarling at anyone who got in his way. Finally they left him alone with Little Asskicker. He carefully cleaned her and changed her, and then settled her into his lap.
As she sucked down everything in her bottle, he promised her never to be so careless ever again. He held her after she finished, until she fell asleep in his arms.
Daryl shuddered. He had nothing left to come up.
“You all right, kid?” Joe asked, his brows beetling as if puzzled. “I know this is ups—”
“Upset? Seriously? Adam said… He said I died, and all you can say is you know it’s upsetting?” Dayl staggered to his feet. “Upsetting? What if I’d died for real? Who would take care of the group? Who would make sure Little Asskicker got her bottle and had clean diapers and such? Who would make sure Carol was all right? If I’d’a died for real that day, she would be dead in that damn cell she was trapped in. Who else would have looked for her? Who’d —” he broke off sharply, horrified he was showing his weakness to the strangers.
Adam and Joe looked at each other, then Adam said, almost gently, “Little Asskicker? A baby? You know she’s not yours. We can’t have children. I explained that already.”
Daryl glared at him. “Her name’s Judith. And I know that. You think I don’t know that she’s Rick’s? Or maybe Shane’s, I dunno, but she’s mine, my responsibility to make sure she’s safe.”
Joe and Adam traded glances again. Daryl was about ready to wipe those oh-so-concerned looks off their faces. “If that’s all you got to tell me, thanks for nothin’. I’m out of here.” He grabbed his crossbow and headed towards the treeline. If he wasn’t going to kill himself to keep from turning into a walker, he needed to get food, maybe some squirrels or a deer, to bring back to the prison.
He stopped abruptly when Adam stepped in front of him, arms spread wide. “Hold on, Daryl. There’s so much more you need to know.”
“Then talk,” he gritted. Yeah, he was still curious, but he was tired of this. He had no more patience for Adam. “There’s no call to drag this out any more than you’ve already done.”
Daryl learns more about immortals, walkers, and the buzz. He isn't sure he can believe or trust the two men he met, but he's sure that he can handle himself in any situation. Methos remembers a time when he needed a sword, and gives one to Daryl.
One of the horses snorted, stamping her hoof. Joe didn’t blame her — he was uncomfortable, too. Georgia summers were hot and muggy, and they no longer had the prospect of air conditioning to make it bearable. The traveling they had done the last few months had all been on horseback, and before that, on a tramp freighter from Terneuzen in the Netherlands, across the Atlantic to Plymouth Harbor in Massachusetts. Neither of those had helped either his backside or his disposition.
He studied the new immortal. The best word to describe Daryl was scruffy. Shaggy brown hair, clothes that were dirty, but not completely filthy, and a sleeveless t-shirt showing off muscled arms that said he wasn’t starving. Daryl, and the people he had spoken of, had obviously had access to sufficient food and water since the world ended.
How had they survived? What had they gone through? He and Methos had met pockets of other survivors since the world’s end, and they all had different experiences to share. Joe itched to pull out one of his journals and start writing, to record what had happened to Daryl’s group — as well as the current conversation between the two immortals.
Daryl took a breath, obviously reining in his earlier frustration with the slow pace of the information they were giving him, and waved a hand near his head. “What’s with that weird feeling? You called it a buzz.”
“That’s what we call it,” Methos corrected. “You might say it’s an early warning system, letting us know other immortals are near.”
Suspicion filled Daryl’s eyes. “And just why do we need an early warning system?”
“Most immortals believe in something called the Game. We cannot die unless we lose our heads, remember? If another immortal cuts off your head, they take what we call our quickening. Your power and memories.”
Daryl sat silently for a moment, just staring. “Let me try to wrap my brain around this. You crazy fuckers run around chopping each other‘s heads off?”
Joe muffled a snicker at that reaction. He sympathized — he’d had a similar reaction when his mentor, Ian Bancroft, had told him about immortals when he was healing after losing his legs.
Methos shot him a quelling look before answering Daryl. “Yes.”
They sat in silence as Daryl attempted to absorb that information. “What in the hell does that mean for me?”
Methos shrugged. “I teach you to fight with a sword, or find you another teacher.”
“A sword?” Daryl stared at him in disbelief. “Why?”
“We fight with swords, one on one, like a duel. The winner takes the loser’s head. The only rule is that no one is allowed to interfere in our fights. However, since the world’s end, there are groups of immortals that refuse to play the game, and they are banding together for protection.”
“But someone still might decide to fight me and chop my head off?”
“Uh huh. Okay. My crossbow may not be the most subtle of weapons, but I’ve got guns, too. Anyone challenges me to a duel? I’ll shoot them and chop off their head.”
What? Surprise made Joe sit up in his chair. “You... you can’t do that!”
Next to him, though, Methos smiled broadly. “My boy!”
“You approve of that?” Joe asked sharply. The idea went against the grain. In all of his experience with immortals, only a handful that he knew of had ever violated the one on one nature of their duels.
Methos looked surprised at his disapproval. “Why not? It’s practical.”
“‘Practical,’” Joe muttered darkly under his breath. Of course. He shouldn’t have been surprised.
Methos rolled his eyes and turned to Daryl. “If you do that, make sure you don’t get a reputation among us for cheating.”
Joe nodded. Now that was sensible.
“Just make sure you kill anyone who might see you cutting corners like that.”
Joe froze, then huffed out a laugh. Of course. He should have expected Methos to give a warning like that.
Daryl looked from him to Methos. “Now we got that settled, why do I get this buzzing thing with walkers?”
Methos sighed. “That is a long story, and requires a little background — and another bottle.”
“This is where I come in, isn’t it?” Joe asked sourly, shaking his head when Methos looked relieved. “Yeah, yeah. Just gimme that bottle, kid.”
Daryl handed him the bottle.
He drank deeply, then let out a satisfied sigh. They kept their alcohol supplies strictly rationed these days. He unbuttoned his cuff on his left wrist, showing his tattoo to the kid.
Daryl eyed it. “So you got some ink. What of it?”
“This is the symbol of an organization called the Watchers. It’s been around for thousands of years, just like the immortals.” Joe didn’t mention his suspicion that Methos had been the one to start the Watchers, no matter what their own records said — and had been the one stepping in to keep the organization going when membership faltered. “We keep records of them, and their fights.”
He could see Daryl shrink into himself, withdrawing uncomfortably. “Buncha voyeurs, ain’t ya?”
“Well, not actually voyeurs, but…” Joe sighed. “Yeah, I guess you could call us that. The problem with our organization was… some of the Watchers became jealous of the immortals they watched. They formed a secret branch, called Hunters. They killed the immortals and took their heads, instead of watching and recording. But that wasn’t enough for them. They…”
“When the world ended, Joe and I were in Holland,” Methos took over when the silence dragged on too long. “We’d heard some rumours of a falling out among the Hunters. After the chaos died down, we found the facility.” He went quiet, seemingly turning inward.
Joe recognized the look. Methos was reliving everything that had happened to them at the facility. Immortal brains sorted and saved their memories differently than mortals — they had to, in order to cope with lives that could last hundreds or even thousands of years. With a single reminder, the immortal would remember what happened to them, almost as if they were experiencing the events again.
“And?” Daryl interrupted, looking impatient.
Methos jerked his head up to look at Daryl. “Of course. The facility we found had been abandoned.” His smile went cold and sharklike, a reminder that he had once been Death himself. “Which was a good thing, or I would have slaughtered them. They were the ones to release this plague — in the name of ‘helping’ mankind. They had no idea that they were so wrong in their calculations.”
“What… what did they do?”
“They had kidnapped a brand new immortal — one who barely even know what he was. They’d killed his teacher when they took him. They were jealous of the immortals, and had decided that their science,” Methos practically spat the word, “would help them discover the secret to immortality. They were wrong. What they managed to do was unleash death upon the world — and upon themselves. We found the immortal they experimented on in a cage, barely alive. They’d left him there, with no way to escape, constantly dying and reviving. He had no idea what they’d used him for, and when he did…”
“He couldn’t live with himself. It was a mercy to kill him.” Joe remembered the nameless immortal pleading with him, wanting him to take his head rather than for Methos to take it. Hell. They had never even learned his name. He hadn’t told them, and it hadn’t been in the records they’d found — the Hunters hadn’t bothered to find out. Joe picked up his cane, using it to lever himself up, out of the chair. Daryl looked at him with curiosity, but Joe ignored him. He needed to get away from immortals for a minute.
Leaning heavily on his cane, he limped to the edge of the clearing, ignoring the two men behind him.
Methos watched Joe, concerned, but let him go. He understood the need for privacy. He turned to Daryl. “That’s why you get a kind of buzz from the walkers. They’re an artificial kind of immortal, never meant for our kind of immortality. The buzz draws them together — they recognize it in each other. It draws them to us, too, so watch for that.” He fell silent, studying Daryl. Damn. He had no choice, did he? “Come on, up you get.”
“You need a sword.”
Daryl shook his head. “No, I don’t. I already said. Anyone I kill has a sword, I just use theirs.”
Methos ignored the protests, dragging Daryl along to where his pack lay. He reached in, unerringly finding the sword he wanted. It was a heavy British cavalry officer’s sword. He’d picked it up in 1813, after finding himself in the British Army as a lieutenant. His captain, a mortal, had carried a similar sword. Richard had been very good — and very lucky — in battle. “You need a sword,” he repeated, handing Daryl the heavy sword. “This was used in the Peninsular War against Napoleon.”
Daryl took the sword with obvious reluctance. He frowned. “Peninsu-what?”
Not wanting to insult the young immortal’s intelligence, and not familiar with what was taught in American schools these days, Methos said matter of factly, “The part of the Napoleonic War set in the Iberian Peninsula — that’s Spain and Portugal — from 1808 to 1814.”
“Huh. That’s old,” Daryl said, his eyes on the sword as he gave it an experimental swing. Growing bolder, he swung the sword around him in a wide arc.
Methos sidestepped the sweeping blade, and forbore to mention that it was barely two hundred years ago. In his mind’s eye, he could see Richard, walking along a trail in Spain, dust rising around his feet, Baker rifle in hand and sword at his hip. Richard turned, facing him.
“We’ll rest here. Harris, Perkins, Hagman — on picquet. If you spot any rabbits, Dan, bag them. We could use some meat for the pot.”
Hagman nodded and started moving into the brush. The other two riflemen said, “Yes, sir,” and headed in different directions to stand guard.
Richard waited while his orders were carried out, then called, “Harper, Adams, with me.”
Methos fell into step with Harper. How the hell had he ended up fighting in a war? He knew better than to pick sides and go into battle, but purchasing a commission in the British Army had seemed a convenient way to get away from another immortal who had been hunting him. He hadn’t intended to get ordered to Spain, fighting against Napoleon’s troops.
Richard had moved ahead, and alternated between looking at the trail ahead and studying a worn, ragged map. His green eyes focused on Methos as they approached. “Looks like we’re two days march from Vitoria. We’ll stop here and rest until evening, then we’ll get on.”
“I’ll see that the men are ready, sir. If Hagman doesn’t manage to get a rabbit, permission to let him trail behind?”
“Granted, Harper. Tell him to take whoever he needs with him — within reason. We could all do with a full belly.” Richard glanced at Methos. “You acquitted yourself well in our last battle, lad. I wasn’t sure about you at first, but you’re a good addition to the company.”
“Thank you, sir.” Methos kept his amusement to himself. He’d been leading armies centuries before this man had been born. His eyes dropped to Richard’s sword of their own accord. His own faithful Ivanhoe was out of reach for the moment, and the comparatively flimsy infantry officer’s sword he wore was no replacement. He needed to get his hands on a sword like that.
Richard’s eyes followed his gaze. “Like my sword, do you, Adams?”
“Yes sir. It’s not regulation. Where did you get it?”
Surprisingly, Richard ducked his head, utterly failing to hide a shy smile. “Patrick made it for me. Mine broke at Salamanca.”
The tips of Harper’s ears went pink. “You needed a sword, sir,” he said gruffly. He gave a possessive pat to the Nock gun he held like a baby.
The Nock gun, Methos already knew, had been a gift to Harper from Richard. The big sergeant was one of the few men who could handle the seven-barreled rifle.
Richard’s smile turned fond as he looked up at Harper. “That I did. Adams, would you like to see it?”
“Yes, sir.” He took the sword that Richard handed him. A tension that he had no longer been aware of left his shoulders now that he held a proper sword. He took a practice swing, parrying an imaginary attack. It had a good, solid weight. With considerable reluctance, he handed it back to its owner. He knew what sword he would be looking for next. He was sure he’d be able to trade for one — and if that failed, there was always looting the dead.
Methos pulled his attention back to the present to find the younger immortal was still swinging the sword around. “It’s a sword, not a bat,” he said, exasperated.
Daryl flushed, holding the sword awkwardly against his side. “It ain’t no big deal. It’s just a big knife.”
“A big knife,” Methos scoffed. “It’s a big knife that might just save your life one day.”
“Maybe. But I still have my crossbow. And a gun. I’ve killed walkers, kept myself and the others alive.”
“Well done, you. But facing a walker is nothing like facing an immortal.”
Daryl flushed. “At least I’m not dragging around someone who can’t even walk right. Your friend there is easy pickings for walkers.”
Methos went cold, struggling to contain his fury. “What did you say?”
Daryl learns a few life lessons - including why it's not healthy to underestimate an immortal named Adam.
Daryl raised his chin, tightening his hand around the hilt of the sword he held at his side. What he’d said was the truth, painful as it might be for the other immortal to hear. Surely Adam could see that. His eyes widened as he saw the reaction to his words. The previously mild-mannered immortal’s face twisted in fury as Adam stalked forward, his eyes hard and cold. Daryl couldn’t look away, feeling like he was a bird trapped in a snake’s stare.
Adam grabbed him, picked him up as if he weighed no more’n a child, and slammed him back against a tree trunk. The sword fell to the round, unnoticed. Daryl had no time to gasp for the breath knocked out of him. He scrabbled uselessly at the rock hard muscles holding him, dangling against the tree. Adam leaned forward, showing no strain at all. “You keep that ‘crippled old man’ alive, no matter what, you hear me? As long as you’re with us. No matter what. He’s your first priority. If… If there’s no other option,” Adam stopped, breathed, his eyes closing as if in pain. When his eyes opened again, they were bleak. “If it comes to it, if there’s no other way, you kill him. Painless. And make sure he can’t come back.”
Adam seemed to be waiting for a response, so Daryl nodded as best he could, still half stunned at Adam’s speed and sheer ferocity. He was in the presence of a predator — one that was stronger and more powerful than him.
That must have been enough of a response, because Adam released him. He collapsed, sucking in great lungfuls of air, staring up at the immortal, trying to make sense of what just happened.
One thing was sure. He’d do his damndest never to cross Adam Pierson again.
Methos forced himself to release Daryl, not caring that the younger immortal collapsed against the tree. “Pick that up. Lesson one. Never lose your sword.”
Daryl, visibly pale, stared at him like a rabbit at a wolf, while bending to pick up the sword. He straightened, the sword in hand. It seemed to give him courage. “What’s lesson two, then?”
“Survive.” He drew his sword, and without waiting for Daryl to bring up the cavalry sword in defense, stepped forward with an overhand slash. “Defend yourself.”
Daryl managed to bring his sword up to fend off the sudden onslaught. What the hell? He had no time to wonder what was going on — he could only concentrate on bringing the sword up, again and again, to keep his enemy’s sword from cutting into him.
He was sweating and muscle sore by the time Adam stepped back, and he took the opportunity to catch his breath. Adam, damn him, didn’t even look winded.
“Not too bad. You might even manage to survive for a while.” Adam studied him thoughtfully. “I’ll need to find you a teacher.”
Daryl nodded, not yet trusting himself to speak. That had been terrifying. He’d heard his brother’s voice, taunting him, calling him ‘Darylina’ again, because he couldn’t defend himself. Damn Merle anyway. Damn Adam, too.
“You boys done playing?”
He turned to see Joe stood watching them, leaning heavily on his cane.
“For now.” Adam walked over to where Joe waited, beside their packs. “Are you all right?”
“As all right as I can be.”
“You still need to rest.”
“You nearly fell out of your saddle.”
“Not all of us can ride for twelve hours a day. I’m fine.” Joe limped heavily over to his chair, and sat.
Adam scoffed, but turned away, muttering under his breath, and stalked over to the horses. “Come along, Daryl. Next part of your training. Calibrating your sense of the buzz.”
Daryl blinked. The sword Adam had been trying to kill him with was nowhere to be seen. Where had it gone? He followed Adam to the horses. “What’s that supposed ta mean?”
Adam turned around, one hand on a horse’s shoulder. “We’re going to track a herd of walkers. You need to learn to feel the way the buzz changes with distance and direction. Can you ride?”
Daryl eyed the horses with distaste. They didn’t look skittish, at least. “I can ride.”
“Good. Get ready to leave.” Adam picked up one of the saddles and placed it on the horse.
“Now, wait one damn minute, Me — Adam.” Joe sounded confused. “You’re taking him to find walkers? You think he’s ready for that?”
“We don’t have time to take it slow, Joseph. Anything can happen out here.”
“Do you think MacLeod would do something like this?”
“He’s not here. And I’ve been teaching younglings longer than MacLeod’s been alive.”
Joe snorted. “Well that’s true.”
Adam smirked at Joe, but when he spoke, it was for Daryl. “I told you the walkers have their own version of the buzz. It draws them together — but they sense ours, too. It attracts them. We’ve discovered that if we get in their range, they’ll go after us. That’s why we’ve learned not to group too many of us together. Just enough for protection from other immortals. The more Immortals in one place, the more powerful the buzz — and then the walkers come.”
“What do you mean, range?”
Adam cinched the strap around the horse’s belly another notch tighter. “You can gauge the how far away another immortal is from you, and where they are, if you know your range. One thing you need to know. A buzz stops when immortals recognize each other. If they don’t, it keeps on. If the buzz fades before you recognize the other immortal, they’ve backed out of range.”
Daryl fought not to frown. He hadn’t noticed when the buzz had stopped. Had it really been when he’d seen Adam? “It stopped after I saw you. I think.”
“When we saw each other,” Adam corrected. “And no, we don’t know why it works like that. Only that it does.”
“Well, that don’t sound any more ridiculous than the dead coming back to life.” Daryl stopped, replaying what he’d just said in his mind. He snorted to himself. His whole life these days was filled with the dead coming back to life. “Coming all the way back, I mean.”
Joe picked up his guitar and strummed it. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”
Daryl watched as Adam fussed around Joe, making sure the old man had everything he might need and would be comfortable while they were gone. Finally Joe shooed him away, and Adam strode over to where Daryl was waiting with the horses.
"Are you ready?"
Truthfully, he wasn't. He wasn’t sure if he could trust Adam, and this hair-brained scheme involved riding. The last time he was on a horse, the damnfool thing threw him into a ravine and bolted. Still, Daryl said the only thing he could at this point. "Yeah."
"You’re sure you can ride?"
The doubt stung. "I said I could, didn't I?"
One dark eyebrow raised. "All right. Let's get going."
Daryl scrambled up onto the horse's back, grumbling under his breath. When they were both mounted, Adam turned his horse and led the way out of the clearing.
Adam tossed a casual wave to Joe, who called out, "Have fun storming the castle!"
Daryl didn't bother hiding his laughter as Adam's waving hand turned into a one-finger salute.
Adam gives Daryl a grisly lesson in using the buzz, then they find someone unexpected back at the clearing where they left Joe.
Daryl pulled his horse to a stop next to Adam’s. “What is it?” They’d been riding for an hour, and so far, there had been no sign of walkers.
“Do you feel anything?” Adam asked, turning in his saddle to scan the area.
He considered for a moment, then shook his head. “Nothing.”
Adam switched to studying him, hazel eyes narrowing. “Yes, you do. Just a sliver of… something, don’t you? Almost imperceptible. Almost. But you do feel it. Now, concentrate so you recognize it. Think of it as an early warning, or the extreme limit of your range. And remember, you’ll be able to sense immortals a bit farther out.”
Daryl nodded, although he was sure Adam was wrong. He focused his attention inward. He knew he didn’t feel anything. Wait. Was that… What was that? The skin on the back of his neck prickled. He opened eyes he hadn’t been aware of closing and met Adam’s.
“Yes,” Adam said, approval in his voice. “That’s it.”
“But how?” How could he be aware of such a slight sign? And how did Adam know? Then the feeling changed. He concentrated on it again. Ah, that was it. “It’s getting stronger.”
“Yes. They’re on the move, coming closer. Now see if you can tell the direction.”
“Direction…” Daryl frowned, then pointed ahead of them to the left. “That way, right?”
Adam shrugged, an irritating, superior smirk on his face. “Let’s see. If it doesn’t get any stronger, then we’re going in the wrong direction.”
After a few minutes, though, it was apparent that he’d been right. The itch had become a full blown buzz — a sickly one that he associated with walkers. Within another minute, the horses had become restive, and he could hear the sound of a herd of walkers ahead. He shot a look at Adam. “Aren’t we going to turn around?”
“Nope.” Adam nudged his horse’s flanks, urging it into a trot.
Daryl groaned and followed. They crested a hill and stopped. A mediumish herd of walkers — about fifteen of them — shuffled along the highway below. First, two of the walkers at the front of the herd turned their heads toward the hill, then a few more, until they were all looking at him and Adam. One at a time, the walkers changed direction, slowly heading toward the hill.
“Shit. We need ta get outta here.”
“No, we don’t.” Adam gave him a somber look. “They need the peace of death.” With that, he wheeled his horse, drawing his sword as he raced for the oncoming horde. His sword cut through the walkers like a hot knife through butter.
Daryl drew his own sword and followed, swearing. He cut down all the walkers within reach as they converged on him and his horse. He was amazed that the horse was as calm as it was. Most critters were frightened of the walkers — the last horse he’d been on sure had been.
When all the walkers had fallen to their swords, Daryl realized they still had a problem. He kicked himself for not realizing sooner. “What about their heads?” Unlike immortals, who Adam had said died when their heads were cut off, walkers’ heads would still move, even when they left their bodies.
“We finish them.” Adam slid off his horse and thrust his sword into the nearest moving skull. His horse sidestepped delicately until it was a few feet away from the dead on the ground.
Daryl copied his new mentor, dismounting and stabbing skulls. “If the walkers are attracted to our buzz, how do we get away if there’s a lot of them? And… what happens if they kill us?”
“We can’t die unless we lose our heads, remember? Temporary deaths we revive from.”
Daryl nodded. “All right. Now what about my first question?”
Adam stabbed the last still moving skull. “They don’t have a long range. We can sense them a lot farther away than they can sense us. Avoiding them is your best bet. When you can’t avoid them, and there are too many to easily kill, you need to get outside their range That’s usually not too far. About 50 to 100 yards.”
“What if… I got people, in the prison. What if walkers swarm again?”
“If you have a vehicle or a horse, you can lead the walkers away. When you’ve taken them far enough away from your group, you can move faster than they can, and get out of their range. Then double back to your friends.”
“Just that easy, huh?” He didn’t believe it.
“It can be,” Adam shrugged. Then he glanced up at the sky. “It’s getting late. Do you have any more questions?”
Daryl shook his head. “I need practice, though.”
“Practice you’ll get just living. I want to get back to check on Joe.”
Adam reined in his horse, abruptly raising his hand for silence when Daryl started to ask what was wrong. Then he felt it, too. An immortal’s buzz, strong and healthy, coming from the clearing where they had left Joe.
“Stay here,” Adam said sharply. “I’m going to find out what’s going on.”
“Yeah, no. I’m coming too.” Daryl almost chuckled at the exasperated sigh he got in response. It was one that he was familiar with coming from other people around him.
“Fine, but stay behind me.”
“Sure,” Daryl promised, having no intention to keep that promise. If whatever immortal had Joe in the clearing wanted to fight anyone, he’d make sure to stick a crossbow bolt in their eye.
The buzz got stronger as they approached the clearing. It wasn’t quite as strong as Adam’s, the one that had drawn him there earlier. Did the difference in strength mean something? He made a mental note to ask later, when it was safe. No sense distracting Adam now, when there might be a fight ahead.
A woman’s voice ordered, “Come out,” when they were within a couple yards of the clearing.
Adam nodded to him, and they dismounted, leading their horses the rest of the way.
A tall black woman stood in the center of the clearing, a katana held in a ready position. “I am Michonne,” she announced, her dark eyes moving between them both.
Daryl snorted at that, only to receive a quelling glare from Adam. What was the big deal about her saying her name? Did she expect them to know it?
Adam didn’t seem to care about the woman’s name one way or the other. “Where is Joe?”
“Introduce yourself as is proper,” Michonne commanded. “It is, after all, our custom.”
Custom? What custom? Daryl shook his head, confused, but that obviously meant something to Adam.
The older immortal drew himself up and snarled, “Adam. Since we’re going by single names. Now. Tell me. Where. Is. Joe.”
Michonne obviously had a death wish because she just shrugged. “Secure.”
Daryl’s eyes widened as he saw the older immortal’s reaction to Michonne’s words.
Adam shook with rage before visibly getting himself under control, his face turning as cold as ice. “If anything happens to him, if you have harmed him in any way, you die.”
Daryl shivered at the explicit threat.
“I have no intention of harming him.” Michonne straightened, sheathing the katana on her back with one smooth motion. “I’m looking for someone from the prison group. I have a message they need to hear.”
“What is it?” Daryl asked, suspicious.
She looked at him dismissively. “You should teach your student not to speak unless spoken to.”
“I’m not his student.”
One dark brow raised. “Oh no? Then you aren’t under his protection.”
“He’s under my protection,” Adam sidestepped, moving between Daryl and Michonne. “And he’s from the group at the prison. What do you need to say?”
She huffed, and leaned around Adam to look Daryl up and down once more. “What is your name?”
“Daryl.” He didn’t bother with his last name, because they hadn’t, either. Maybe last names weren’t important among immortals? But Adam had introduced himself as Adam Pierson, earlier. He pushed that thought aside. He’d figure it out later.
“Very well, Daryl,” Michonne said, “I was in town, and I saw two of your friends. They called each other Maggie and Glenn —”
What? Daryl surged forward, alarmed. “Where are they? Are they all right? Did you hurt them? I swear, if you did —”
“Calm yourself, youngling. Why both of you seem to think I’m out for mortal blood…” She shook her head, exasperated. “They were captured, by the Governor’s men. I couldn’t warn them. But I overheard them talking about the prison, and taking baby supplies there.” She turned, looking Adam dead in the eye. “I would never harm a baby. Or allow one to be harmed.”
Daryl felt like snarling. “Do you know where Glenn and Maggie are?”
“Okoye,” Adam interrupted, oddly intent on the strange woman. Daryl had no idea what that meant.
“How do you know that?” Michonne spun around, staring at Adam, irritated, then almost frightened. “Methos,” she breathed, almost too soft for Daryl to hear.
Adam spoke rapidly in some foreign language that Daryl didn’t know. Michonne answered, still in that same language. What the hell?
Both the older immortals had relaxed, though. Daryl wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not…
Michonne brings news of two of Daryl's friends, and Methos learns more about her - and about Daryl's other friends at the prison. He's not sure if that's good or bad...
Michonne disappeared into the forest, coming back out a few minutes later, herding a disgruntled Joe in front of her. She seemed respectful of the slow progress he made with his cane, but she was unapologetic. She shot a glare at Methos, who hovered nearby. “I know he is a watcher.”
“As if that matters now,” Methos snorted. He ignored her muttered ‘more than you know,’ after making a mental note to look into it later. He checked Joe carefully, hiding a smile at the expected grumbling over his ‘fussing’. His smile disappeared, though, when he found fresh bruises on Joe’s arms. He gritted his teeth, fighting down the urge to challenge Michonne for daring to injure his friend. He lowered his voice as he asked Joe, “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yeah. She got the drop on me just after you and the kid left,” Joe said, rubbing his wrists with a scowl in Michonne’s direction. “Said she’d seen the two of you head out.”
“She must have been keeping watch, staying just out of my range. I didn’t sense her, only the walkers that have been passing through.” It wasn’t a precisely an apology for leaving Joe undefended.
“I wondered about that. Usually you’re better at picking up when there’s another immortal nearby.”
He was just about to respond when Daryl spoke, drawing their attention.
“Hey!” Daryl stalked over to Michonne, grabbing at the battered bag slung over her shoulder. “That’s Glenn’s!”
She returned his attention coolly, dancing back a step to keep him from pulling the bag away from her. “Yes. It’s full of the baby supplies he and the girl had managed to collect before the Governor’s men captured them. This was left behind.”
Daryl let his hand fall away from the strap. “Asskicker needs that stuff.” His eyes never left the bag as he gnawed at his lip, as if considering something.
“Who is the Governor? You mentioned him before.” Despite how angry as he was with her, attacking a potential ally was counterproductive. No matter what, he and Joe needed local information, and the young one wouldn’t keep still for long.
“He is known only as the Governor. He rules a town called Woodbury, about ten miles away.”
“Rules.” It wasn’t quite a question, but he waited for Michonne to nod. He caught Joe’s eyes. Should they get involved? Helping a brand new immortal was a duty, but they had other business in the area. “That’s… interesting.”
“Very,” Joe agreed, leaning more heavily than usual on his cane. The events of the day were apparently catching up with him. It was getting late — they needed to make a decision, soon, or call it a night, so Joe could rest.
“Interesting or not, we have to rescue Glenn and Maggie!” Daryl had evidently made up his mind which was more important to him — his friends or the baby supplies.
“I’ll help you get your friends back,” Michonne promised, “but you need reinforcements. The group at the prison, maybe?”
She might have a point, but Methos would have felt better if Daryl had been the one to mention his group. Did she have ulterior motives? Was she a spy for this ‘Governor’?
“There ain’t no time for that,” Daryl protested. “How long have they been prisoners now? They’re in danger!”
She hesitated. “I… don’t think that the Governor would have them hurt. Not this soon, anyway. There’s time to do this right.”
“To hell with all y’all,” Daryl spat. “I don’t need help. I’ll go rescue them myself.”
“Wait.” Before the younger immortal could move away, Methos reached out and caught his arm, then asked Michonne, “You think we’ll need help. Why?”
“A small group has a better chance of infiltrating a town than a large group,” Joe pointed out.
“True,” Michonne said. “But the Governor has guards and soldiers. A larger group can split up if needed, and still be a force to be reckoned with. If nothing else, the baby and its mother need these things, yes?”
Daryl scowled. “Her ma died birthin’ her. I already did a supply run for her. This stuff is needful, but…”
“We can leave the bag here, with Joe. He can take it to the prison while we go rescue your friends.” And that, Methos thought with satisfaction, would keep him out of harm’s way, and hopefully headed towards a real bed — or at least, a prison cot.
“That’s not a good….” Daryl sighed heavily. “Fuck. All right. We go to the prison and try to explain to Rick.”
That was interesting too. Daryl was willing to let this Rick decide, but he was reluctant for that to be their first course of action. What wasn’t Daryl telling them?
Methos walked beside Michonne in the gathering gloom, leading his horse and the pack horse, as they followed Daryl toward the prison. Joe rode behind them, maybe keeping watch, but more likely just trying to stay in the saddle. When this was over, he ought to bring Joe to McLeod, even though that meant another trip across country. The Highlander would make sure Joe had a chance to recover.
Michonne glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “What are you doing here? Neither one of you sound native to this area.”
“Neither are you.”
“I’ve been around here long enough,” she shrugged.
He inclined his head towards her, as though she’d scored a point. Maybe she had. The Okoye he remembered from the 1850s had been in Boston, complete with a Bostonian accent. “We’re here searching for a facility run by the watchers. According to our information, they were working on a cure.”
“I know that place,” Michonne’s expression changed, turning grim. “It’s empty.”
Methos studied her, surprised by the harshness in her voice. What did she know? Was it why she still thought Joe being a watcher mattered? Silence stretched for a few moments before he prompted, “You’ve been there.”
“Yes. I thought they were hunters, trying to kill me, but they were trying to find a cure for… this… plague. Had they asked, I might have volunteered willingly. This sickness is evil. Instead, they ambushed me, and put me in a cage. Well. Those of them that survived the battle,” she bared her teeth in a predatory grin.
No wonder she had been so suspicious of Joe. “And you got free.”
“I did. It was a few months after the plague started. They each fell to it, one by one. I knew what they were after by that time, so after I freed myself, I looked through their research.” She shook her head. “Nothing.”
She paused, stopping him with a touch on his arm. “There might still be hope. They didn’t have all the research there. I overheard them talking about another facility.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. It wasn’t information I was interested in at the time.”
Methos looked back at Joe, sitting slumped on his mare. “We’ll have to check it out. Maybe we can find a clue.”
Up ahead, Daryl paused, waiting for them to catch up. “The prison is up ahead. Just… let me do the talking. I’ll explain things to Rick and the others.”
“Just what do you think will happen?”
Daryl shifted uneasily rather than look directly at him. “Nothing. Just… we haven’t had good luck with letting strangers hang around, and Rick gets kinda… protective.”
Methos exchanged a look with Michonne, who shrugged and nodded, and then with Joe.
“Might as well, kid,” Joe said, sounding exhausted.
Methos sighed, and said, “Lead on, then.”
Daryl shrugged, resigned. “This way.”
Methos shook his head, troubled. Just how ‘protective’ was this Rick? Was he right in allowing Daryl to lead them into a possibly dangerous situation?
Methos, Joe, Michonne, and Daryl arrive to an uncertain welcome at the prison. Carol isn't sure what to make of the new people Daryl has brought home with him, or the news they've brought about two of their members that none of them knew were missing.
“Daryl! Dad, Carol! Look! He’s back!” A boy, maybe in his early teens, Methos thought, ran towards them eagerly, kept away only by the fence surrounding the prison. “Daryl, where ya been?”
A man looked over from where he was hauling wood towards a side yard, and straightened, scowling. “Carl, get back here!”
“Stop right there, all of you. Daryl, are you all right?” A woman’s voice asked sharply from the guard tower overhead.
“I’m fine, Carol,” Daryl said, looking up at the woman, his voice pitched to be reassuring. He looked oddly bashful at the attention he was getting from the her and the boy. “These folks are okay, we can trust ‘em. Glenn and Maggie are in trouble, though.”
Other people had come out of the prison yard, drawn by the boy’s excited shouting. A young woman holding a baby gasped at Daryl’s announcement. An old man stumping along on crutches stopped close to her and called, “What do you mean? What happened to Maggie?”
The woman descended from the guard tower and met the scowling man at the gate by the boy. She held a rifle at half guard, looking ready to have it up and aimed in a heartbeat.
Daryl nodded to her and smiled at the boy, then focused on the man. “Rick, this lady, Michonne, she saw Glenn and Maggie get attacked. They were captured and taken to somebody calling himself the Governor. We got to go get them.”
Rick glanced around at them.
Methos was uneasily aware that there wasn’t a great deal of sanity in that gaze. Instead, the man’s eyes were full of overwhelming grief. He caught Michonne’s attention and inclined his head slightly toward the horses. Her chin dipped in understanding, and she drifted back to stand by Joe’s mare. By the annoyed look in Joe’s eyes, he was going to have to find some way to make up for being overprotective later. That was all right, as long as there was a later, and Joe was all right.
“They need ta leave.” Rick waved away Daryl’s immediate protest, echoed by the young woman and older man, who had come closer to the group at the gate. “We’ll rescue our people, but they can’t stay here.”
“We need people, Rick,” Carol said, her words a deliberately calm, almost offhand reminder. It reminded Methos of someone who couldn’t be sure if their words might set someone off. “We’ve lost too many.”
“And we don’t know who they are,” Rick said, waving his hand. “We can’t trust them.”
Daryl looked down, as if he didn’t want to challenge his leader. “We didn’t know Hershel and his family, neither.”
“And look how that worked out,” Rick snapped.
Behind him, the young woman bit her lip, casting an anxious look at the old man next to her. He scowled, not looking at her, and shifted his weight on the crutches in a way that suggested he was embarrassed.
“But Dad,” Carl’s wide eyes darted between the adults, and he waved a hand toward the two unnamed onlookers. “Hershel and Beth —”
“No.” Rick glared until the boy’s shoulders slumped in defeat.
Carol’s lips tightened. “Sophia was dead. Hershel admitted that he was wrong to try to save walkers. And he operated on Carl after Otis shot him. Bad and good, Rick. Sometimes you just have to take a chance. We’re all in this world together.”
Rick stared at her, challenging, and Methos expected her to back down given her earlier care with her words, but she stood her ground. In the end, it was Rick that walked away, avoiding everyone, muttering that anything that happened was on her head.
Carl unlocked the gate, and Daryl led them through it, only to abandon them to go to Beth. He took the baby from her, cooing and bouncing the baby in his arms, ignoring her questions.
Carol shook her head at the sight of Rick walking away, then turned back to Methos. “You might as well come in and set up a place to stay. Lord knows we have plenty of cells available. Then you can tell us about Maggie and Glenn.”
Carol watched the new man, Adam Pierson, with the horses. She wasn’t sure about him or his friend, or even the woman that came with them but didn’t seem to know them. The way he took care of the horses went a long way toward reassuring her. No one who was that careful with animals could be all bad. Besides, Daryl trusted them, and he seemed to have good instincts about people.
Adam finished with the horses and nodded to her, as if knowing — understanding — that she was keeping watch. As he headed inside, she fell into step beside him. They walked in an almost companionable silence that she felt hesitant to break. He had an air about him that she associated with Daryl. A kind of quiet watchfulness. But was he a good man, like Daryl?
Inside the prison, Adam detoured to the cell he’d claimed for him and his friend, and dropped off their packs. He came back out to join her again, and they went to find the others in the communal area.
The current prison population — those that survived of their original group except for Glenn and Maggie, the two surviving inmates, and now the newcomers — were there, sitting at the tables, eating dinner. Carol turned, looking for Daryl. She found him, as she half-expected, holding Judith and giving her a bottle. Her smile softened, and her fingers itched to brush the hair away from his face. He still seemed half-feral at times, but the last year or so had seen him become an integral part of the group, its heart, rather than someone barely holding on at the fringes. She remembered when she’d been so frightened of him and his brother. Merle had been no better than her husband, and she’d thought Daryl was just like them. How wrong she’d been! They’d both come a long way. She was no longer a timid mouse, frightened of her husband, and Daryl was no longer a posturing loudmouth, being offensive to cover up his own fear.
Of course, both of them had their losses to bear. Her husband and daughter both gone, turned, and had to be put down. At least her grief didn’t stab quite as deeply anymore. As for Daryl, his brother had been his world, for all she suspected Merle had been an abusive bastard. Merle was gone, and even though they didn’t know his fate for sure, he was probably dead or turned, and she was viciously glad — Daryl was better off without him.
She went and sat nearby, but not too close, careful to give Daryl the illusion of space, and Adam sat next to her. Beth got up from her spot between Michonne and Carl, and wordlessly brought them each a plate of food.
Hershel and Adam’s friend, Joe, were seated, talking quietly together about something. Maybe about their children? Did Joe have children? She knew Hershel would be worried about his older daughter, even if Maggie was with Glenn. Or maybe they were talking about their injuries? She’d seen how carefully Adam had helped the old man down from his horse, and Michonne had made sure he had his cane. The two former prisoners, Axel and Oscar, were seated on the outskirts of the group. Part of them, but not, too. The sight of them left her uneasy, even though it was better to know where they were, to keep an eye on what they might be up to. Rick sat alone, off to the side, occasionally flinching at shadows that weren’t there. Lori’s loss had hit him hard — harder than she had expected. Even Carl was holding up well, even though from what Beth carefully didn’t say, the boy had been the one to make sure his mother didn’t turn.
Hershel cleared his throat. When everyone — except Rick — turned to him, he asked, “What do you intend to do about my daughter and Glenn?”
Rick stopped eating, but didn’t otherwise show that he’d heard the question.
“Dad?” That was Carl. Carol’s heart went out to the poor boy. His faith in his father was taking a beating.
Rick bowed his head. “Tell us about the people who took them. Can we negotiate to get our people back?”
“There are about sixty or seventy survivors in Woodbury. It's run by this guy who calls himself the Governor — he’s charming, but like a snake. There’s no way he will negotiate with you. I’ve seen…” Michonne took a breath. “He’s come across other groups. He welcomes them in, and as long as they follow his orders, they’re all right. If they don’t, well… ”
Carol frowned, not liking the sound of that. “What do you mean?”
“It’s what he did with me and my friend, Andrea. I didn’t trust him, not like her. He’s got her completely charmed. I was lucky to get out. He has a herd of walkers. He throws dissenters in with them.”
Andrea? She leaned forward. “You have a friend named Andrea?” It couldn’t be… could it?
Michonne nodded. “Yes. I wasn’t sure at first, but I believe that you are her friends. She’s spoken of you. She thinks you are all dead.”
Carol sat back, stunned. Andrea! They thought she had been killed by walkers when they overan Hershel’s farm!
Beth, obviously shocked, brought her hand up, covering her mouth, as tears filled her eyes. Hershel closed his eyes, muttering a prayer. Daryl smiled down at Judith, and Carol saw him mouth a promise to her, something about getting everyone back safe and sound. She hoped that would be true, for Daryl’s sake if nothing else. After the way he went searching for her little girl, she knew Daryl would never give up.
“All right. So we have three people to rescue, not two. Is there anything else you need to tell us, Michonne?”
“He thinks he’s got the upper hand, that he’s safe. He’s got armed sentries on every wall, and a group of about twenty men who act like a military unit.”
Rick nodded, obviously thinking over what Michonne had said. “You know a way in?”
“Yes. The wall is secure from walkers, but we could slip our way through. I know a place where there’s a gap in the wall, close to a building.”
“We’ll need a rescue party.” Rick finally looked up, his eyes finding Carol’s, then searching out Daryl. “Someone has to stay here, to protect this place.”
“No, Carl, not you. I need you to stay here, to protect your sister.”
Carl’s face fell, but then he grinned, excited. “I can do that, Dad!”
“I’m going, of course.” Michonne shrugged, looking at Rick with a small smile. “I have to, if you want to know how to get to your friends, don’t I?”
Adam looked down, shaking his head ruefully. When he looked back up, his face was resolved. “I’m going.”
Axel and Oscar exchanged a glance, and Oscar nodded. Axel rolled his eyes, but said, “We’re going too.”
Carol bit her lip. She wanted to go help bring Glenn and Maggie back, but she knew Daryl wanted to go. With him and Rick gone, she would be the only one of their original group who could fight. Hershel couldn’t go, and she was sure he wouldn’t allow Beth to go, either. He wouldn’t want to lose his younger daughter the way he might still lose his older daughter. That left protection of the prison and the children up to her. “I’ll stay. Keep an eye on the old place while you’re gone.”
Daryl smiled shyly at her, and she knew she had made the right decision.
Rick nodded at her. “All right then, that’s our rescue party.”
Joe spoke up. “Best time to go on a raid — or a rescue — is in the early morning, when the guards will be sleepy. They won’t expect you.”
Carol watched both Adam and Michonne nod in agreement and tensed. Did they have that much experience with raids or rescues? What had they been involved in? Oh, of course, she thought, relaxing a bit. Maybe they had been in the military, or had been police, before the plague started.
Rick sighed and stood up, putting his plate on the table next to him. “Let’s turn in, get some rest. We’ll follow Joe’s advice, and leave just after midnight. That will put us at Woodbury with a few hours to go until dawn. Plenty of time to get in position and rescue all of our people.”
A small rescue party sets out from the prison. Rick, Daryl, two former inmates, and two strangers, headed to Woodbury, to rescue their missing friends. Their journey ends in fights, revelations, and death.
Carl wasn’t sure how long he’d been sort of awake, staring into the darkness while listening to the low voices of his dad talking with Daryl and Carol. There was no light inside the prison, except for the flickering of a few candles nearby. No one used flashlights or lanterns unless it was necessary, because they needed to save the batteries. They were using up the candles too fast, though. He’d overheard Carol and Maggie the other day, talking about needing to pick up more candles on the run for baby supplies.
“Are you ready to go?” He almost jumped as a louder voice interrupted the others. It was that new guy, Adam.
Go? Oh! Carl sat up. They couldn’t be ready to leave already, could they? He looked toward the hallway. His dad and the others were right outside the cell. “Dad?”
His dad looked over at him, and then came over to his cot, putting a candle down on the crate next to him. “It’s all right, son. Go back to sleep.”
“But… I want to go, too!” His dad had told him no before, but he’d planned on being awake and ready when the others were, so his dad would have to take him. He wanted to help rescue Glenn and Maggie.
The shadows thrown by the candle gave his dad a strange expression as he knelt next to the cot. “Carl, I need you to stay here and help Carol. You’ve got to look after Judith for me, all right?”
Carl bit his lip and nodded. “Yeah…” He looked up at Daryl and Carol, who had followed his dad into the cell. Daryl gave him a small grin and a confident nod, like he knew Carl would do all right. That thought warmed him. Daryl was cool. Then Daryl and his dad went out of the cell, talking again in low voices. Carol bent over him, urging him to lay back down, and pulled his blanket up to his chin, like she was tucking him in. He didn’t protest, because he knew Carol missed her daughter. He’d give anything to have his own mom back, so letting Carol get some of her mothering out with him was… well, he could tolerate it. For her sake. For a little bit, anyway.
“Don’t worry, sweetie. Your dad and Daryl will be back before you know it.”
“‘M’not worried,” he grumbled.
“No, of course you’re not.” Carol smiled at him and then pressed her lips to his forehead. He squirmed a bit. Ugh, kissing! “Good night, Carl.”
He stared into the darkness again, listening to the distant sound of his dad and the others getting ready to leave, as she left with the candle. He almost wished that she could have left it.
Methos stayed in the shadow of a large tree at the edge of the woods and looked out over the deforested expanse between the tree line and Woodbury’s wall.
“So that’s it?” Rick squatted down next to Michonne, behind one of the nearby bushes.
They had left their vehicles a couple miles away, walking the rest of the distance to the town through the woods. They had evaded two patrols on the way there. It hadn’t been especially difficult. Nothing like the old days, when men knew the dangers other men could bring, and were more alert. As dangerous as the walkers were, they were no match for the danger men could pose. He smirked to himself. That was probably for the best.
“Yes. There’s a weak spot there,” Michonne pointed to a section of the wall to their right. “It’s a gap, with some loose boards. The guards view is blocked this way by that building inside the wall. We should be able to get through without being seen.”
“All right,” Rick nodded decisively. “When we get inside, where do we go?”
Michonne hesitated. “I told you that there are two possible places for the Governor to keep your people.”
“We could… I could take Michonne and Adam with me, and check one of ‘em, and you could check the other with Oscar and Axel,” Daryl offered.
Methos caught Michonne’s eye. They’d have to train that diffidence out of the boy. It might kill him one day.
“I don’t like the idea of splitting up.”
He refrained from rolling his eyes, even if it wouldn’t be seen in the darkness. Even after knowing the other man for less than 24 hours, he could have predicted that Rick would say something like that.
“Don’t worry, I can keep an eye on them.” Daryl nodded to Axel and Oscar. “You just keep an eye on them two.”
Rick shook his head, obviously thinking of all the ways this could go wrong. “All right, let’s do it.”
Daryl waited until everyone had climbed through the gap into Woodbury, and then nodded to Rick. “Good luck.”
“You too. C’mon.” Rick gestured to Oscar and Axel, and the three of them headed between the houses on the other side of the street.
He turned to Michonne when he could no longer see Rick. He wasn’t sure he quite trusted her yet, but he wasn’t sure he trusted Adam all that much, either. He’d have to wait and see what happened when they got back to the prison. “Lead the way.”
“Of course,” she said, and with a strange glance at Adam, she headed towards the middle of town, keeping to the shadows between the buildings.
They were about to come out onto one of the side streets when they heard voices ahead. Daryl stopped, stunned, as he recognized the people talking. He grabbed Michonne and Adam and pulled them back between the buildings, hissing at them to keep down.
Andrea left her house, looking up and down the street carefully as she closed her door. It would be…. inconvenient to have someone come across her wandering around.
She shook her head, annoyed with herself. Why? What did it matter if she went for a walk at… she took a quick glance at the illuminated numbers on her watch. Four thirty in the morning? She had as much right as any other citizen of Woodbury to be out and about at this hour.
Still, some whisper at the back of her mind — a whisper that sounded suspiciously like Michonne — told her to keep to the shadows.
She wanted to go check out the maintenance building she’d overheard the guards talking about. She thought she remembered seeing it on her tour of Woodbury, next to an abandoned warehouse that her guide told her was off limits because the structure was unsafe. After the tour, she had asked the Governor why the warehouse hadn’t been pulled down yet, like some of the other abandoned buildings, and used for the wall around Woodbury. He had distracted her with… she blushed at the memory. At the time, she hadn’t realized he never answered her. But now she needed to see for herself. The guards had been talking about prisoners there. She still couldn’t believe that. Michonne had warned her not to trust the people here, and she hadn’t listened. They all seemed so nice. But… one of the guards had said the prisoners were an Asian guy and a white girl. She had immediately thought of Glenn and Maggie, even though they’d been dead for almost a year now, along with all of her friends, when the Greene farm was overrun by walkers, so it couldn’t be them. Except… what if it was? She had to check it out, just to be sure.
She took a deep breath, straining her ears, for any suspicious noise. Nothing. Just the sounds of crickets. All right, then. Might as well get started. She crept down the steps to the sidewalk.
She had gotten a couple of blocks away when something out of the shadows grabbed her arm, pulling her up short. She gasped, unable to scream, her heart pounding in her throat.
“Where do ya think yer goin’, blondie?”
Her heart sped up as she recognized the harsh voice whispering in her ear. Merle. She tried to step away from him, but she couldn’t work her arm free from his iron grasp. “What are you doing? Let me go, you have no right!” She aimed a kick at him, and he dodged it, laughing.
Then his laughter stopped, like someone had thrown a switch, and he shoved his stump, along with its unsavory accessory, into her face. Andrea gulped, unable to take her eyes off the blade. Merle spun her around, his creepy eyes raking hotly over her body, and she wanted to cover herself, to hide herself away from his disgusting gaze. She could imagine what he was thinking. He’d said things to her often enough. ‘Uppity,’ at the very least. Maybe something about how ‘all women were the same’ when ‘they were horizontal.’ She shuddered.
“You didn’t answer me, blondie.” He bared his teeth at her in a fake smile. “You think you’re too good for the likes of someone like me?”
She swallowed, then made herself meet his eyes and shrug, feigning nonchalance. “Nowhere. Just going for a walk.”
“Just going for a walk,” Merle mimicked in a gravely sing-song. “Really? At ass o’clock in the morning?”
“Yes, really,” she said with as much dignity as she could muster. “Now let me go, or I’ll tell —”
“Who? The Governor?” Merle scoffed. “What makes you think he’ll care? All he wants is you intact enough for him to fuck.” But his grip on her arm loosened a bit, although he didn’t quite let go.
The Michonne in her head agreed with Merle, and wasn’t that a bitch? She decided to fall back on the truth. Merle had to have some decency left in him, right? “I overheard a couple of the guards. They said —”
He squeezed her arm, hard enough that she thought she’d end up with a bruise, cutting her off. “Yeah, I know what they said. What’s it to you? They left you for dead, same as me.”
She didn’t whimper at the pain. Wouldn’t. “Don’t you even care that your brother might be out there?”
“Why should I care about him? He never came —”
Merle huffed a laugh as a man’s voice cut him off. “Daryl? That you, little bro?”
“We did come for you, but you were gone, like the impatient sonofabitch you are.” Daryl stepped out from between two houses, followed by a man she didn’t know, and… Michonne.
“Mich!” Andrea felt like crying in relief. Michonne shot her a small smile and a nod.
Merle twisted around, still holding her, keeping her between him and her friends. “Hey, hey, little brother. Why are you here? You come for ole Merle?”
“We came for Glenn and Maggie. Where are they?”
Andrea didn’t know why that felt like such a shock. She suspected, hadn’t she? And Merle had basically confirmed it. “How long have they been here? Why didn’t I know?”
She could practically feel Merle rolling his eyes behind her. “Cause the Governor didn’t want you told.”
He cut her off, ignoring her, to speak to Daryl instead. “So you’ll come for a Chinaman and a girl , but not your own flesh and blood. You see what I had to do? What your friends forced me to do?”
Daryl’s eyes went to the blade-enhanced stump waving at him. “Glenn’s Korean, and I already tole you we went back for you. You just hadta wait, and I would have been there.”
Merle scoffed. He let her go, edging around her to the side, like he wanted to be ready for an attack. Who was going to attack him?
“As enchanting as this family reunion is, we are on a schedule.”
Andrea blinked, surprised. The stranger with Daryl and Michonne had just pronounced that like ‘shed-ule.’ Who was he?
“You remember what happened when we were kids?” Daryl looked his brother in the eye. How odd. Now it was Merle who looked uncomfortable. It seemed to her as though he had to fight not to look away as Daryl spoke. “You gonna help me? For once in your miserable life, be there when I need you?”
She didn’t know what that meant, but it was obvious that Merle sure did.
Merle shook his head, raising his hands in a warding gesture. “I swear I didn’t know about that, little brother.”
This time it was Daryl who scoffed. “Yeah, you did. He did it to you, too. That’s why you left. You were always leaving.”
“Nothing keeping you there, then. Your own fault for not leaving.”
“I was a kid!”
Merle shrugged. “Knew you’d grow out of that. I did.”
“It was never you and me against everyone else, was it?”
“You were the damn fool that believed that kinda shit.”
“Excuse me?” The strange man cut in, looking between Daryl and Merle. “We really do need to get going. Are they going to come with us or not? Because if not, we need to do something about them.”
“I wouldn’t mind killing him,” Michonne said coldly, and Andrea couldn’t believe the amount of hate in her friend’s eyes. What had Merle done to her?
He sneered. “I’d like to see you try, girlie.”
“You aren’t gonna help,” Daryl said, sounding disappointed. “Get out of here.”
Michonne shook her head. “We can’t just let him go. He’ll raise the alarm.”
“Nah.” Merle turned away with a little salute. “One time favor. You’ll find your little friends in the maintenance shack. I won’t stop you. This time.”
Andrea watched him saunter up the street, whistling, and then suddenly Michonne was there, hugging her.
“Are you all right, Andy?”
She nodded. “Yeah, are you?”
Michonne nodded, then turned in her arms to face the men, so that they stood there, united, with one arm around the other’s waist. “The Governor has a locked room in his office. I want to see what’s in there.”
Daryl glowered at her. “What about Maggie and Glenn?”
“Your Rick and the others will find them,” Michonne said confidently.
The strange man — and she really needed to learn his name — had an odd look on his face. “You really think it’s important?”
“I’m curious. It might be pertinent.”
Andrea bit her lip. “Mich is right. He keeps that door locked all the time. Not even I’ve been in there.”
Daryl sighed. “Ah, hell. All right, then. Let’s go.” He gestured for her and Michonne to lead the way.
Merle waited in the shadows behind the corner of the house, listening to his brother’s friends. Sounded like they thought the sheriff and his pals would find their lost little lambs. Why the hell had he said he wouldn’t raise the alarm? Of course, it’s not like he couldn’t do it anyway. The Governor finding his prisoners gone would put a nail in his own coffin. But… something was stopping him. He growled, shaking his head. It was his brother’s fault. He’d never had a conscience. He couldn’t afford one starting up after all this time.
He swore under his breath as they decided to go pay the Governor a call. Damn fools. They’d be lucky if they survived. Hell, he’d be lucky to survive if the Governor killed them and thought he’d helped them.
Fuck. Damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.
He stared into the darkness, realizing with a jolt that it had been getting lighter for a while. He chuckled as an idea came to him. It wasn’t quite certain death, and maybe, if his plan worked, he might even survive.
Michonne led them to the building where the Governor’s office was located.
Methos looked it over. It appeared as deserted as Woodbury’s streets this early in the morning. If there were guards that patrolled inside the town, at least they weren’t nearby.
Once inside, they went upstairs. He strained his ears, listening for any sign there might be someone laying in wait. Daryl started down the hallway towards the front of the building, but Michonne called him back.
She stopped at one of the doors toward the rear of the building. “This one.”
Methos nodded, kneeling in front of it with his lockpicks. After studying the lock for a moment, he allowed himself a small smile. Child’s play. He twisted his lockpicks and was rewarded with a click as the lock gave way. He stood, putting his lockpicks away, and turned the knob.
Muffled hissing and growling greeted them as they entered the room. They seemed to come from a door cracked open on the far side of the room. The three of them traded glances. It sounded to him like a walker, but… inside the Governor’s office?
Michonne signaled them to stay back as she went to the door and peeked through the gap. She straightened suddenly, as if surprised by what she saw. “So this is your secret.”
A man’s voice snapped, “How did you get in here?”
“The door was unlocked.” She looked back at him and Daryl and beckoned to them.
Well. Methos thought, It was unlocked after I picked it, anyway . He and Daryl crossed the room, and followed Michonne through the door.
He looked around. The room was dark, lit by an odd glow. There was a small walker in a ragged dress, hooded and chained to the wall. That was the least of the bizarre sights to meet his eyes. All along the walls there were the source of the glow. Stacks of fish tanks, each with a number of still animated heads snarling out into the room. In the center of the room, a man stood, glaring furiously, his hands fisted at his sides. Was this the Governor?
“Get out of here!”
Daryl looked around the room and shook his head, looking sick. “We need to put them down. All of them.”
Evidently that was the wrong thing to say. The man backed away toward the corner of the room, and shouted, “Get out! Leave my daughter alone!”
Methos tensed. Was he looking for a weapon?
Michonne circled around, cutting off the man’s retreat. “She’s not your daughter, not any more.”
The man’s eyes darted around the room, searching for… something. “Don’t listen to them, Penny baby. Don’t worry, Daddy’s here.”
“You’re nuts, man.” A trace of sympathy appeared in Daryl’s eyes, despite his words. “She’s dead.”
“Yeah, let’s go.” The sympathy in Daryl’s eyes turned to pity. “There’s nothing here, Michonne. Just a crazy guy and a walker.”
Methos agreed in principle, but his skin crawled at the idea of leaving an enemy at their backs. Before he could say anything, Michonne darted towards the girl.
“I have an idea,” she said, as she broke the chain holding the girl back and sprang away with the hood in her hand. She dropped it as she ran for the door. “Let’s go!”
“No,” the man’s eyes widened in horror as he stared at the zombie girl. “No! Penny!”
Methos made sure Daryl and Michonne went out the door ahead of him. He turned back, pausing for an instant just as the walker lunged at the man.
“Penny honey, it’s Daddy!” The man brought his hands up, warding the walker off. He scrambled back, somehow finding a gun that he brought up and fired. He dropped the gun, face slack with shock, as the walker collapsed. “Oh my god, what have I done? Penny baby, Daddy is sorry…”
The man’s sobbing filled his ears as Methos followed the other two into the outer office. He stopped, looking around when he realized. There was something wrong…
Michonne was at the window, staring down at the street. “We need to leave. There’s a herd of walkers out there.”
That was it. Almost like the buzz, but sickly and wrong.
“Let’s get out the back. If we’re fast, we can get out of their range, right?” Daryl seemed hopeful as he looked at them.
Methos shrugged. “We can try.”
Daryl followed Michonne and Adam. They were headed to the spot they had separated from Rick and the other two, and he hoped that they had found Glenn and Maggie. He breathed a sigh of relief when that sick buzz faltered and stopped. They were getting away from the walkers!
He felt a stab of relief when he caught sight of Glenn by the gap in the wall, and just beyond him were Maggie and Rick. He was even glad to see Axel and Oscar still around.
“We need to get out of here, now!” Rick whispered harshly, urging them on. “There’s walkers all around in here.”
“Yeah, we came across some ourselves,” he answered, looking back over his shoulder, even though he knew he wouldn’t see any stray walkers there. The lack of a buzz told him that.
Adam gave him a little push, so he hurried to climb through the gap in the wall.
On the other side, he went to Glenn and put an arm around his shoulder to help him walk. Michonne and Andrea were already helping Maggie. He could see that they had questions about Andrea, but no one asked. They had more important things on their minds — getting away from Woodbury.
They just needed to make it through a couple of miles of woods, to get back to their cars. Then they could get back to the prison, and they’d be safe.
Merle grinned as he sat on the porch of one the houses. He enjoyed the chaos he’d created. Walkers shambled through the streets attacking the citizens of Woodbury. Would one of them make it up the stairs to the porch and attack him? He didn’t know. He didn’t even care at this point.
The Governor limped into view, carrying a small body.
Merle thought all his attention was on his burden, until the Governor’s head turned toward the porch, and he yelled, “You!”
“Yeah, me.” Merle stood, finding he didn’t want to be sitting down for this. Maybe he had a shred of self-preservation left after all.
“Your brother and his friends did this,” the Governor spat, not appearing to care that there were zombies rampaging through the streets around them. “They’ll pay for killing my Penny! All of them. Dead!”
Merle wasn’t sure which was controlling the Governor now — the fury that stiffened every line in the man’s body, or the madness glittering in his eyes.
Ah, well. It didn’t really matter, did it? Daryl was right. He’d always been a sorry excuse for a brother. Never around for the kid; always in Juvie when he was younger, then in the Marines when he’d been to old for Juvie. And all those times he’d tried to toughen his brother up? Daryl had been tougher than he’d ever given him credit for. “I was never there for my brother when he needed me. Time to make up for it.” He aimed the pistol he’d stolen from the armory and pulled the trigger.