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The Walking Nightmare

Chapter Text

 

Gift of Death by Esau13

 


 

The moon hides behind gauzy clouds, glowing silver. The night is bleak and quiet. The silence that reigns is an artificial one. Scared into existence after the trails of blood that led out in all directions. On one bearing, men wearing leather and the blood of their fallen scramble away. Dragging their leader whose throat burns and scrapes with each agonizing breath. In the other, two sisters, also wearing the blood of the fallen, limp towards a hidden camp. One that feels safer than four walls and a roof.

"You did good, eres tan fuerte (you're strong). We can make it," the little sister huffs. Alma, at sixteen, is taller than her sister. She's also slimmer and, as their mama would say, she's got her lumps in the right places. Lupe has plenty of lumps in appropriate places, just a lot more of them. "You killed them, Lupe. You stopped them." She smiles beneath her older sister's arm, dark brown eyes shining with reflections of the dim clouds.

"Some of them," Lupe corrects. Her words don't sound the same because her lip is split. She thinks she bit her tongue, cause it feels swollen in her mouth. Each word hurts in ten different ways to say. At almost thirty, Lupe once thought she had her shit together. This world evidently still has some new lessons to teach her. Her first was the most brutal. Kill or die. Those were the only choices. She struggles less with making the choice now. She wouldn't even call what she just did hard. She's just pissed off and in pain. "Pinche chingados…(Fucking fuckers)"

"Mira (look), we got away, right?" Alma insists, breathing heavy as they stalk through the dark forest. Neither of them takes their eyes off the shadows. They could be quieter, but they focus their efforts on speed, not stealth.

"They'll just keep coming. They'll find others," Lupe mumbles. Her eyes are wide as she scans the forest. Pain keeps her lividly awake. Her knee got stepped on and it now drags behind her. The stress from stomping through the skull of a living leather wrapped shit probably didn't help.

"Sé lo que tenemos que hacer, (I know what we have to do)" Alma adds with a deep sigh. She doesn't like the fact that they have to kill so many people. But, they've never drawn blood when it wasn't self-defense. Alma has killed less than a handful of times. Compared to her sister, it was chump change. "You need to heal first. They won't get far."

"Yo se (I know). Let's get to the car. We gotta get cleaned up. We'll attract more malditos with all this blood," Lupe grunts, doing her best to take some weight off of Alma. Her knee only screamed when she bent it, put pressure on it, or a blade of grass brushed against it. Her shoulder was nothing in comparison. It ached, but she didn't think it was fully out of the socket.

"We could use some more bullets," Alma mutters. "They took all the ammo out of my pack. I didn't get to grab it before you came for me."

"No hay bronca," Lupe replies quickly. "That culero viejo (old asshole) touch you?"

"No…" Alma grunts. She helps Lupe over a fallen branch not worth going around. "I don't know what he was waiting for, but he didn't. He smoked and chatted at me a bit. Then I heard the screaming. He didn't have his weapon in his hand, so I gut checked him. Cabrón (shithead) swallowed his cigarette, and while he was coughing I laid into him." She shudders remembering how the old asshole stared at her. Like he was trying to see someone else. "That's about when you came in."

"Glad he didn't touch you," Lupe's voice cracks in relief. She clears her throat before speaking but doesn't deny the quaking of her words, "I'm sorry about all that, 'nita. I didn't flag them in the area. We all must have been skimming each other's paths. They gotta be wanderers."

"It's a fucking forest, Lupe," Alma shoots back, "it's gigantic and the world is basically one giant imprint of fading life. There's the tread of people alive and dead everywhere. No one is used to this shit." She sighs. It's not much farther to their car. "We weren't made for this. No es tu culpa. (It's not your fault)"

Lupe swallows. The broiling sludge in her gut wants to scream at Alma that she's wrong. On both accounts. Truth is, that first time Lupe had to make the decision between kill or die, it wasn't that hard at all. She promised herself she'd keep her sister alive. She gave herself the grace to do whatever the fuck it took to ensure that. "Almost there. Thanks for dragging me."

"Happy to drag you any time, hermana. Not like I could've left you back with those assholes," Alma spits.

Lupe snorts, despite the amusement pinging in her ribs like a pinball of agony. "Only cause they ran away."

"Pinche cobardes, (fucking cowards)" Alma replies. "I hear another person say the word 'claimed,' los mataré y les come la cara. (I'm going to kill them and eat their face)"

Lupe smiles at her sister as she unhooks her arm from her shoulder. "Such charm and charisma." They stumble towards a large rock formation, edging along the slant of a hill. Both sisters are quick at pulling apart the cover, a large tarp with the remnants of ghillie suits sewn on. It turned a large, bulbous forest green truck into a lump of the hillside.

Alma checks the weapons while Lupe limps back to the trunk with the camper cover on it. She pops the back window open, then lays out the tailgate before climbing up with caution. Reaching into the massive stores of overflowing boxes and bags, she pulls out a first aid kit and gets to work. Luckily, the worst of her injuries seem to be her joints. She's rather used to that, having Ehlers Danlos syndrome. She cleans off one side of her body with anti-bac wet wipes. Her shoulder is still aching and she's afraid the journey may have popped it fully out of place. As she struggles, one-handed to clean herself, Alma comes from the cab.

Alma approaches Lupe and attempts to help. After a bit of a slapping contest, Lupe finally lets Alma set her injuries and clean off the other side of her. She takes her time rewrapping the joints and notices Lupe's twists and twinges. She checks beneath Lupe's shirt and finds bruising on one side. Alma wraps her ribs up too.

"I bruise worse than others, remember that. I'll be fine," Lupe insists, standing with a grimace. Alma waits nearby, making sure she won't drop.

"I know." Alma grins, but it's twitching with a reserved sadness Lupe has seen there all her life. As much as Lupe takes care of Alma, Alma tries to return it tenfold. She's always been too compassionate for this world, before and after it ended. Never had a mean bone in her body. Lupe wants to keep it that way, but also keep her alive. "Here, we have a few more to spare and I figure you'll need it tonight." Alma holds out a tiny pre-rolled cigarette they stole out of a half burnt down dispensary.

"Thanks." Lupe smiles and grabs the joint. She pulls out a lighter and lights up, taking a long, slow inhale and waiting for some pain relief. "You doing okay? No injuries?"

Alma nods her head, eyes distracted by the dark forest, but unfocused. "Not a scratch."

"Good." Lupe sighs. "We'll get some sleep and move fast before dawn. I think they headed east."

"Yeah, looked that way." Alma mutters her reply, unenthusiastic.

"You don't have to come with me. There's only like six of them left. If you don't want to be out there, you don't have to be." Lupe starts cleaning up, the joint clasped between her lips.

"I don't want either of us out there. We could just… not go after them," Alma snaps, a bit petulant as she kicks the rocks on the ground.

"We could..." Lupe exhales and looks over at her sister. Pinching the joint between her knuckles, she pulls it away from her mouth. "I just… What if they come across someone else? What if they hurt innocent people? What if they cross paths with us again, but now they've got more fuckass men in their group?" She bites down on the anger that swells. She knows she's not mad at her sister's hesitance. It's smart and warranted. But Lupe knows. "I can stop that from happening."

"It doesn't have to be you," Alma insists.

"No, it doesn't. And it doesn't have to be you either. This is my choice, Alma. I won't force you to go along with it, but they need to be stopped," Lupe says. She takes another long hit before exhaling slowly. "Mira, I won't let you get hurt again."

Alma nods. "They do need to be stopped and I'm not about to let you do it alone. Siempre somos nosotros, Lupe. Siempre. (It's always us, Lupe. Always)"

Lupe smiles sadly at her sister. "Para siempre, (Forever)" her words are soft and hallowed. "Now, let's get some sleep."

Lupe helps Alma off the tailgate and they close up the back. It takes some finagling, but they manage to get the tarp back on the truck. With little to no bitching at each other in Spanish. They fall asleep on the bench seats with Alma in the front, poised for a four-wheeled escape if need be. She'd gotten early driving lessons two years ago when the world went to hell. Judging by their most recent experience, Alma believes things are only getting worse.

Chapter Text

When Lupe wakes up and the sun is high in the sky, she can't help but be pretty miffed at Alma. She wanted to wake up with the dawn, but her little sister made an executive decision to let her rest. Granted, Lupe didn't exactly sleep all that well most nights. She should appreciate it. But she's also worried about losing the trail of the people who assaulted the two of them.

The truck gets parked outside a small residential area and hidden well. They stalk through houses. Their search is for useful supplies, but they check for signs of other humans in the area. They don't have much luck until one of the last houses. There was not only evidence of people there, but a fresh corpse too. One of the men who assaulted Lupe had some sort of burn around his neck and his head bashed in. It made her smile just a little bit.

The sisters go back in the woods to check the surroundings for clues and evidence. They catch the trail of a group stomping through the area without a care.

"I swear to God, I keep hearing like... a crying baby." Alma squinches up her face and looks at Lupe. "That's too wild, right?"

Lupe shrugs as she scans the area. "It's the woods, mija (term of endearment). All sorts of weird shit are out here. A fox can sound like a baby. A bird, maybe."

Alma scowls at her. "So can a baby," she shoots back. "I'm just saying, maybe we should watch out for them. Someone could need our help."

"You know better than that," Lupe laments, "it means we steer clear."

Alma turns to her, looking aghast. "You really think someone with a goddamn baby is gonna be a threat?"

"Everyone's a threat," Lupe snaps. "A baby is a beacon. I need to protect you. My baby."

"I'm not a baby!" Alma replies, her tone sharp.

Lupe rolls her eyes. "No it's worse, you're my baby sister. It matters. I need you safe." They make their way back to the car, hopping back in to travel a little farther. They find another place to park and investigate their surroundings for useful supplies.

Alma and Lupe stumble out of the woods and onto a nearby paved road. The McIntosh Trail isn't a main highway, but they follow the length of it along the edge of the forest for a while. There's no desire to make themselves a target on the wide expanse of asphalt.

They walk and discuss their options for finding the gang of rapists. They go over their inventory, pleased with their cache of food, weapons, and medicine. Lupe goes off to Keg Creek to gather some water. Alma remains by a wrecked and once silver Cadillac, scavenging some berries from the side of the road.

Alma collects enough to satisfy her sweet tooth. She turns back to the wreckage and decides to comb through the car, for fun. The thing looks about as skeletal as the maldito that's lying by the front tire. She investigates the inside by the front seat, humming to herself. The car wobbles a bit. As she is scrounging around, she thought it was her own movement. When it happens again, she retreats from the car with one of her pistols up. Looking around, she sees and hears nothing. She scowls and hopes that Lupe will come back soon. She wants to get out of this area. Alma's tempted to return closer to their hometown and see what, if anything remains.

Sighing, she manages to ease away her fight or flight reflex. She approaches the car again and uses the back seat as a booster, checking the roof for useful items. As she's rifling through some of the ruined luggage on top, the trunk pops right open and slowly raises. As silent as she can, Alma steps down. She swings her hunting rifle from under her shoulder, aiming at the body shambling out with a groan.

Blonde hair shines bright in the morning sunlight. Alma's eyes go wide. She's not seen such bright, gleaming blonde hair in a very long time. Her gun stays steady as the body turns towards her. Alma's shocked to see that the girl, not much older than her, is definitely alive.

The blonde teen huffs tight breaths out of her nose as she stares back at Alma and her gun, wide-eyed.

"Daryl..." the girl mutters.

Alma hitches her gun tighter as another person comes from behind the open trunk. She sees a tall, dirty man, dressed in black jeans and a leather vest. He blinks at her once, and then the blonde is behind him and he has a crossbow raised.

Alma holds her gun in position and glares at the older man as he shoves the young girl behind him. The blonde looks terrified and dirty. All she has is an empty, small knife sheath on her hip while the filthy guy has a big ass crossbow. Alma's stare turns volcanic as she levels her muzzle right at his face.

"The fuck're you?" The dirty man growls.

"Daryl..." The blonde girl whispers the admonishment. A glare flashes at her over his shoulder, and the blonde goes quiet. He doesn't take his eyes off Alma for long.

Alma watches their interaction and it only makes her angrier. "Who am I?" She snarls. "Who the fuck are you to ask me that?"

The man, Daryl, scowls at her, but he doesn't make any moves to attack her. Nor does his companion, whose name Alma doesn't know.

"What's your name?" The young blonde asks with a heavy southern accent. "I'm Beth." That earns her another hard stare from the man made of mud and grime.

Alma looks at Beth but does not lower her gun. Her eyes rove her body, looking for a sign, any sign. She doesn't know what to do. She doesn't have the same uncanny sense for truth that Lupe has, but this Beth doesn't look harmed. She's in complete disarray, likely from hiding in a trunk for however long. That Daryl doesn't look any better. She makes a carefully, but quickly calculated decision.

"I'm Alma."

"What're you fuckin' doin' out here all alone?" Daryl snarls. His narrowed glare scans her and the immediate area. He thinks this Alma might be younger than Beth. Still just a girl, only tall. Her long black hair is in a braid down the center of her scalp, trailing down her spine. She wears a pair of nylon hunting waders hooked to the top of her jeans. A jean jacket tied around her waist makes her look like a middle schooler. A skintight, shiny athletic shirt is beneath a loose tank top. From wrist to bicep, some sort of padded guard that looks like a full rubber sleeve covers her arms. The gun pointed at him and Beth is clean and aiming true. The scariest thing about her is the sudden smile that forms on her lips.

"I'm not alone..."

The crack that sounds causes Daryl to leap back and makes Beth scream. He gets splattered with some sort of liquid. A few hard shards of something smack against his arms as he shields Beth from the onslaught. He turns back between blinks, raising his bow and takes aim. Alma moved. What exploded was a plastic gallon jug hitting the side of the Caddy and now he's covered in water. He looks towards where the jug came from but is far too late. Alma stands in a new spot now with her gun still aimed at him. His bow flies up, but it doesn't matter one bit.

Steps away, Lupe rushes the dirty douchebag aiming at Alma. She's smart enough to move low and tight, beneath the aim of his bolt. Her shoulder rams into his gut and she feels more than hears the air rush out of him. Continuing with the momentum, she wraps her arms around his waist, lifts him off his feet, and slams him against the back ridge of the car. He hits with a harrowing bang that shakes the whole vehicle on its wheels. The bow goes skittering across the roof and onto the ground on the other side.

Lupe stumbles away from him sliding down the back of the car. She looks at Alma to make sure she's okay. Alma steps forward, looking serious and assured. Her eyes go wide and she tucks her rifle against her shoulder, aiming beyond Lupe.

Lupe turns back to find the delirious leather clad shit-stain charging at her. She's unable to side-step the massive reach of his arms. He gets a hard grip around her waist, but she hunkers down. Curling her elbow around his neck, she catches him in a headlock. She starts ramming her knee into his gut so hard she feels his pained grunts rattle against her kneecap. There's the vague notion of someone calling her name past the thrumming in her ears, but she can't stop.

Lupe didn't fail to notice that this dirty old man had a very young girl in his presence. The little blonde he forced behind him couldn't have been much older than Alma. There's something primal pumping through Lupe's veins. Something only overshadowed by the fact that this forty-year-old walking UTI had an arrow aimed at her sister.

He twists out of her grasp and turns on her again, pulling out a knife. Lupe's eyes go wide at the size of the blade, sharp and well kept despite the end of the world. A snarl forms on her lips as she pulls out two black sticks from behind her back. With a flick of her wrist, they extend to full-sized batons that she twirls at her side with a grin.

He tries to make a move, his hand slashing out at Lupe. She deflects the attack, snapping the sides of her poles against his forearm. The knife clatters in the street after she cracks him just right on the wrist. He lunges and she slips his grasp this time. Ducking and spinning, she manages to crack him against the side and he lets out a whoosh of air and a stream of curses. Before he can reorient, she whaps the length of her weapon against the back of his head. He crumples to the ground in a silent heap. Lupe looms over him, heaving and shaking with a fury she refuses to contain. She raises her arm, ready to plunge the sharpened end of her baton into his ear.

"Please no!"

The words finally buzz into clarity. A not so small blonde girl tugs on her arm.

Lupe blinks at her slow, trying to refrain from the instinct to strike at a stranger daring to touch her. There's something there in the girl's pleading eyes besides the tears. "What?" Lupe asks, half numb.

"Don't hurt Daryl!" She begs.

Alma steps up close and though she hates to do it, she presses the muzzle of her silencer against Beth's head. "Get off my sister now!"

Beth jumps off Lupe with her arms up. She's trying to hold back tears as she stares between the two in front of her. They share very similar features. Wide, sharp brown eyes only a few shades darker than their skin. High cheekbones, a sharp nose, but the woman has bow-like lips. Her thick black hair was in two simple braids that fell down to her lower back. Her face held less sympathy than the younger one's.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Just please don't hurt Daryl!" Beth begs as her tears finally fall.

Lupe stares down at the dirty man named Daryl and back at the young blonde girl. She blinks back to Alma and arcs an eyebrow.

"That's Beth. She and Daryl popped out of the trunk of the Caddy." Alma says with her gun still raised and pointed at Beth. The sisters move in concert, shifting and aligning as they step away from the strangers.

Lupe glares down at Daryl and a snarl twitches on her lips like it's an instinct. "You don't want him dead?" Her narrowed glare snaps to Beth. The girl gulps in response. Lupe reigns in the thrumming in her veins demanding she improves her week by stepping on this guy's neck. "Why?"

Beth nods slow as she gathers her thoughts. "We got separated from our group and he saved my life. He's a friend of my daddy, my sister. He's my friend!" Her voice shakes itself into a confidence.

Lupe nods, wary eyes twitching to Daryl. Her neck muscles spasm and she fights a grimace as she looks back at Beth. "He hasn't hurt you?"

Beth's face shows a genuine shock and then sudden indignation. "Daryl would never hurt me! He's never hurt anyone!" She sees the immediate disbelief in the sisters' eyes. Alma looks doubtful and Lupe bends a disinterested eyebrow. Beth scoffs, her tone petulant, "No one who didn't deserve it! He weren't gonna hurt your sister. He was just surprised and she had a gun pointed at us. He was scared and trying to protect me is all."

Lupe nods and then takes a few shaky steps to sit down in the front seat of the Cadillac. Alma lowers her weapon but still holds it ready in front of her, just in case. Daryl is still unconscious on the wet asphalt.

"Que chingadas? (What the fuck?)" Lupe asks Alma.

While Beth shuffles to Daryl's side, Alma explains, "Como dije, saltaron del maletero. No hablamos. Ella parecía estar en problemas y él parecía ser el problema, así que mantuve mi arma en alto." Alma glances back at Beth, dirty, shaking, with tear tracks down her cheeks. "Pudo haber sido uno de esos pendejos de cuero. No podría estar seguro." (Like I said, they hopped out of the trunk. We didn't talk. She seemed to be in trouble, and he seemed like the problem, so I kept my gun up. He could have been one of those leather wearing assholes. I couldn't be sure.)

Lupe nods, not daring to speak English yet. "Hiciste bien. Hiciste todo bien." (You did good. You did everthing right.) She looks over at Beth and switches, "He'll be okay."

"How do you know that!?" Beth snaps back. She looks a bit bashful after the outburst.

Lupe chalks that up to a natural reaction due to stress. "I didn't hit him that hard." Her smirk is grim. "And his brains aren't decorating that Caddy."

"Lupe..." Alma admonishes her. She insists, "Debemos darles comida y agua. No se ven tan bien." (We should give them food and water. They don't look so good.)

Lupe looks over at Alma like she grew a few extra arms. "Ni madres. No sabemos nada de ellos. El todavía podría ser uno wey cuero, uno putero de mierda. No sabemos qué pasará cuando se despierte. El todavía podría intentar matarme." She levels a serious stare at Alma, "Tenemos que ir." (No fucking way. We don't know them. He could still be one of those leather dudes, a huge piece of shit. We don't know what will happen when he wakes up. He could still try to kill me. We have to go.)

"No podemos dejarla sola!" (We can't leave her alone!) Alma growls.

"Seguro que podemos! Se despertará pronto. Ellos estará bien," (We sure can! He'll wake up soon. She'll be fine,) Lupe bites out.

"¿Están 'bien' como nosotros? ¿Más o menos 'bien' como cuando nos encontraron esos cabrónes de cuero? Ese tipo de 'bien'?" (Are they 'fine' like us? More or less 'fine' like when those leather wearing bastards found us? That kind of 'fine'?) Alma snaps.

Lupe grits her teeth and glares at the ground. She's still hopped up on a burning rage that really doesn't want to peter out. She has little trust for these two people they just found. She doesn't care if the blonde one looks like a walking angel, even in the midst of the worst kind of hell.

"Voy a compartir," (I'm gonna share,) Alma insists with a snotty tone as she turns away.

Lupe grabs her wrist. She sighs hard, eyes closed. She looks up at Alma and there's a softness to her stare. A smile stretches on her lips. She nods. "Tienes razón. Dales cosas de mi mochila." (You're right. Give them things out of my bag.)

Alma smiles back but rolls her eyes. Lupe would starve herself to death if it meant Alma would have a sure meal. She hated that about Lupe, but she couldn't stop it either. "Puedes compartir conmigo más tarde. Eso que ni que, escondes todas las mejores golosinas para ti." (You can share with me later. Without a doubt, you hide the best treats for yourself.)

"Witch..." Lupe hisses.

"Hag!" Alma replies over her shoulder as she walks over to Beth. She's relieved to hear Lupe snicker. She kneels down next to the blonde who looks wretched and distressed. "Hey, sorry your friend got his ass kicked by my sister."

Beth nods, shaking as she peeks at the other teen out of the corner of her eyes. "My sister woulda done somethin' similar. I'd do the same for her." She nods. "He'll understand too, just give him some time. He's..." she sniffs out her nose, "temperamental."

Alma snorts, "Yeah, you could probably guess my sister is too."

"No me desmayé! Puedo oírte!" (I didn't pass out! I can hear you!) Lupe says in a stage whisper.

Alma rolls her eyes. Beth has the decency to look bashful. "Don't worry about her." Alma waves her sisters mutterings away. She reaches into her bag and pulls out some cans and water. "I've got some beans, some stew, some fruit, and some water. You two look like you've been through somethin' or other."

Beth takes the offering with a tight, but genuine smile. "Thank you." These two found survivors seem to be doing much better than her and Daryl. "Do you have a community around here?"

Alma shakes her head. "No. We're nomads. We don't stay in one place for very long."

Beth nods. Her face drawn and sad. "Probably smart."

"So far it has been." Alma shrugs. "What happened to you? No supplies? Minimum weapons? You look run ragged too."

Beth goes still and suspicious for a blink. She shakes her head of the paranoia. If they wanted to kill her, they'd have done it. "Our community got destroyed by some invaders. We got overrun by walkers."

Alma's face pinches in concern. "I'm sorry. Is it just you two left?"

Beth shudders. "We don't know." She looks down at Daryl and as a mother would, pushes his bangs out of his face. She uses the tail end of her shirt to clean off some of the grime, but it only seems to push it around more. She smiles at him, holding back tears. "He saved my life when I got separated from my sister. He's been keeping me alive since then." Beth sniffles hard. "I'd be dead without him."

Alma reaches out and puts a feather-light hand on Beth's forearm. "He'll be okay. I know my sister went after him hard, but she didn't kill him. She saw that I didn't immediately shoot him. She knew. She wanted him incapacitated. She was worried that she needed to get you safe."

Beth blinks hard and frowns over at the older sister. Lupe glares at Alma a bit and then looks away, not bothering to address Beth's direct stare. A confusing admiration starts plinking inside Beth's mind. "She did that, for me?"

"Well, it didn't help he had an arrow pointed at my baby sister," Lupe spits.

Beth half-grins at that and wipes a hand under her leaking nose. "I'm sorry we scared you. We haven't had the best luck with people."

Lupe snorts. "Hey, preaching to the choir hun. Mira - espera, no, chale... I mean, look, if you're not gonna kill us, we're not gonna kill you. We usually keep a wide berth from others. Walls or not, it's just not that safe anywhere." (Look - wait, no, fuck...)

Alma looks over at Lupe and starts, "Deberíamos llevarlos de vuelta al camp. Manténgalos a salvo hasta que sean menos un desmadre." (We should take them back to our camp. Keep them safe until they aren't such a mess.)

Lupe sighs, knowing it was coming and still resenting it. "Chale... Alma, es demasiado. Ya les estamos dando comida y agua." (Shit... Alma, it's too much. We're already giving them food and water.)

"No podemos abandonarlos! Lo han perdido todo," (We can't abandon them! They've lost everything,) Alma grows insistent.

"Todos hemos perdido todo!" Lupe hisses. "Y si deciden robarnos nuestras mierda en el camp, eh? Quieres perder el camión de padre?" (We've all lost everything! And if they decide to steal our shit back at camp, huh? What if they take dad's car?)

"Si eso sucede, entonces los matamos como quieres desesperadamente!" (If that happens then we kill them like you so desperately want to!) Alma snarls.

Lupe's face goes slack. "No ... No digas una mierda así. ¡No quiero matar a nadie! Estas chingados constantemente forzan mi mano! ¿No te he dicho lo suficiente? Te amo, ridículo tocón podrido! ¡No voy a dejar que te lastimen! ¡Otras personas siempre significan que alguien se lastima! ¡He terminado con eso! ¡Sucede cada vez!" (Don't... Don't say shit like that. I don't want to kill anybody! These fuckers constantly force my hand! Have I not told you enough? I love you, you ridiculous rotten stump! I won't let you get hurt! Other people always mean someone gets hurt! I am done with it! It happens every time!)

It's Alma's turn to look ashamed. It wasn't even a day since her sister got assaulted. And there Alma was begging her to trust strangers. Especially dirty male ones wearing leather and acting aggressive as shit. "Lo siento. Pero esto se... se siente diferente." (I'm sorry... But this is... it feels different.)

Lupe sighs and leans back in the Cadillac seat. Her sister is a good person. Good people usually got taken advantage of back in the old world. In the new world, it's likely worse. The thing about it is, she trusts her sister. And Alma is, as usual, right. These two don't look like they're safe. They don't look like they're surviving well. In the back of Lupe's mind, thoughts swirl, trying to convince her there's something she can do about that. She exhales loudly between flapping lips.

Lupe wipes a hand down her face, muttering, "Fuck..."

Alma immediately perks at the resigned tone. "We'll help them?" She asks, her face brightening the morning itself.

Lupe chuckles softly. She remembers the very day the warmth of that smile changed her life. Alma is her everything. Lupe replies, "Safety in numbers I guess..."

Beth looks shocked at the conversation she can suddenly understand. "Help us?"

Alma nods. "Yeah, we'll take you guys back to our camp. I think we have some extra maps and some supplies."

Beth nods eagerly. "We'd appreciate anything you can spare. Daryl hunts too, so maybe we can find something good for you both on our way."

"That's only if your friend doesn't wake up with the mood of a dog and tries to kill us." Lupe scoffs, amused and annoyed all at once.

"Lupe, I don't think that means the same thing in English," Alma snickers.

Lupe flits her hand around, dismissive. "What is it then? Hope he wakes up on the right side of the asphalt?"

The girls snicker quietly, waiting for Daryl to regain consciousness.

Chapter Text

When Daryl wakes up he's not excited. He's even less enthralled when he sees the two sisters waiting in the gutted Cadillac. Beth is right there, plying him with food and water that isn't theirs. He scowls at her hard and garbles through his haze, "The fuck you think yer doin'?"

"They're not gonna hurt us, Daryl, you just scared them," Beth insists as he sits up.

"I scared them?" He growls, his face twisting up in annoyance, pain, and embarrassment. "That little bitch had that goddamn scope aimed at my eye!"

"What your mouth, cabrón." Lupe is out of the Cadillac and snarling at Daryl.

He puffs up too, glaring at her with a hate-filled gaze. "Who the fuck're you?"

Lupe's eyes light up like the fires of Mt. Vesuvius. Alma is the one who interjects, trying to de-escalate, "I'm Alma, we've met. This is my sister Lupe. You've also met." Alma wants to mention that Lupe is the one who laid him out, but she refrains. He looks a bit fragile at the moment with the way he's shaking, huffing, and glaring from his seat on the asphalt.

Beth tries to be gentle with him as he stands on knocking knees. Her thin fingers dust across his arms as she tries to get him to focus on her and not the others. "They're sisters. They keep moving, scavenging and living off the land. They aren't here to hurt us or anything. They actually want to help."

Daryl turns on Beth and yells, "We don'need their help!"

Out of the corner of his eye, Daryl sees Lupe tense. She holds those damn black sticks in her hands, unextended. Her eyes rarely blink to keep a close watch on him. He knows why as he looks down at himself.

The way his body bends over Beth as he shouts at her mimics a shadow lurking in the back of his mind and in the scars on his skin. Daryl rounds away from her, running his hands through his hair to hide their shaking. He won't hurt her. He couldn't. She's all he has left of his family… He can't think about what happened yet. He has to keep Beth safe. Nothing else matters to him at the moment. Damn both those sisters to hell. He doesn't care. He needs to get out of here. "We shouldn't be trustin' them. We don't know'em."

Beth's face scrunches, indignant at that. "I got to know them while you were out. They're just a family tryin' to survive, just like us."

"I can't have been out for that long! How well can you know them? God, fuckin' gullible!" He snarls, throwing his hands out in exasperation. "We can't trust people, Beth! We need to get gone! Get ourselves lost in the woods and stay that way!" His voice resonates through the empty stretch of highway. It's a snarling, growling thing, even when he's not feeling any particular way. He used it time and time again to intimidate people. It wasn't working on Beth.

She vibrates, curls blurring in the sunlight. Fury comes screeching out of her mouth as words, "I'm not staying in this suck-ass forest with you a moment longer." She turns away from him, towards the sisters and the Cadillac. The Caddy remains the same, aside from a dent Daryl's spine put in the back of it. The sisters wait there, watching the display wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

Daryl grabs Beth's upper arm to stop her from leaving him too. "Hey! You had your fun! Knock this shit off! We gotta go." She doesn't know he's begging her.

Beth rips away from him, her face twisting into a blank rage. "What the hell is wrong with you?! Do you feel anything?" She steps towards him, her tone dropping straight to disdain and sarcasm. "Yeah, you think everything's screwed. I guess that's a feeling." The disappointment is heavy in everything from her stare to the way she stands with her hand perched on her hip.

"You want to spend the rest of our lives staring into a fire and eating mud snakes? Screw that! They want to help and we need it!" Beth says, motioning back to the sisters.

Tears form in her eyes even though Beth doesn't want them to. "I can take care of myself if I have to." Her lips purse and her jaw rolls to hide the fact that her chin quivers. "Go on! Go be alone like you always wanted! I'm done wandering the forest like a damn Walker! I don't want to forget what it's like to be a human, even if it's still in this hell hole." Her breath shakes as she glares right at Daryl. Her tone is insistent as it is pleading, "We might as well do something."

When there's no response from Daryl, Beth sighs, long and loud. "I don't know why I bother asking, it's not like you give a damn. I know you think this is stupid and it probably is, but I don't care. All I wanted to do before today was lay down and cry, but we don't get to do that. So scream at me or beat up on walkers if that makes you feel better. I'm going with them."

Beth stalks away from Daryl, past the two sisters. Alma is wide-eyed and her face is tense trying to hide her reaction. She immediately turns and goes to follow Beth, knowing the girl needs reassurance. Lupe eyes Daryl with a wry grin.

He glares at her with a welling hatred and grabs his bow that someone retrieved. As he passes her, he snarls, "Fuck off."

Lupe chuckles to herself, more for the sake of not screaming than anything else. "Ah, esto será pan comido," (Ah, this will be a piece of cake,) she says with a chiming sarcasm.

The walk back to the sisters' camp wouldn't take more time than the rest of the day had to offer. Daryl was likely out for an hour or two and it was only edging into midday. Alma and Beth lead the way. Daryl trails behind Beth like a shadow. Lupe hangs back a little further, in case she needs to put a bullet in his head.

Daryl's miffed about Beth's attitude and it shows in the tension riddling his body. He wasn't pleased to see the two strangers when he woke up. He was less pleased with himself for getting his ass knocked out. He didn't realize the older sister would be such a good fighter. For being so short, she was strong as hell too. He hadn't prepared himself for a real fight. He'd been running on fumes until they offered up some food and water. He's got his belly filled now, but he still felt like an asshole. He knew he had to keep Beth safe, but by what she'd said, he'd been doing everything wrong. He felt like he had his ass hanging out the window of a car going ninety in a storm.

He likely won't admit that he feels a little jealous too. The two teenagers meshed almost on sight. They walk and chat like kids do. Somehow carefree even at the end of the world. Beth tried to talk to him heaps of times. He never knew what to say. He simply had no idea. His tongue felt thick and his brain went numb whenever people talked to him. He shadowed Beth, not because he didn't believe in her or trust her. He just couldn't stand the thought of losing one more person. He didn't want to be alone anymore.

But Lupe is ecstatic her sister and Beth get along. She isn't prideful enough to not admit she's a little bit jealous, but she'd always been a little bit jealous of Alma. The girl is just great. It's hard not to want to be exactly like her. She's thrilled that Alma can have someone else to talk to. She knows teens need their own social group to start creating that great identity of theirs. Alma's opportunity to do such a thing at school got interrupted by the end of the world. Lupe hopes it can be beneficial for both teens. Her grumpy ass and the somehow grumpier Daryl were likely no fun to be around.

They walk a few miles. The girls continue to share whispery giggles while leading up ahead. Alma and Beth both get the gall to turn around. Daryl isn't far behind them and Lupe is only a few steps back. They both freeze in the face of teenaged intensity.

"I want a drink. I need a drink," Beth insists with an unsure haughtiness. Daryl steps forward and hands her his water. "No," she scoffs at him and nudges it away, "I mean a real drink. As in alcohol." The two older ones look at her a little strange, but Alma stands by her side, backing her up.

"I've never had one 'cause my dad was an alcoholic. But he's not exactly around anymore," Beth mutters past the grief in her tone, "so I thought we could go find some." She points to a sign sticking out of the grass that warns off hikers of possible projectiles in the area. She asks, "Golfers like to booze it up, don't they?"

"Whoa-ho-ho," Lupe tries to placate Beth. "Look, I'm all about a little bit of teenaged rebellion, but that's not the best choice." Beth's frame morphs to something indignant to match her frown. Lupe is trying not to smile nor glare at her sister. "A bunch of rich people probably fled to that place thinking they'd ride out the bad times while others waited on them hand and foot. I bet none of them had an ounce of survival wherewithal in them. A place like that is gonna be a death trap."

"Yeah, a real WASPs nest," Alma deadpans. A burgeoning smile spreads as the newcomers give her a confused glare. Lupe grins and shakes her head at the pun.

Daryl steps forward, voice gruff as always, "Follow me." He waves them past the sign for the golf course. It takes a long while full of extended silence.

They end up outside an old green and brown single-wide with a big shed attached. Lupe knows exactly what this shit is on sight. She remembers an old show from the Discovery Channel about bootleggers. A fascinating and usually kinda deadly practice.

Daryl walks past the trailer and peeks in the broken windows. He goes to the shed and opens the door up as he talks, "Found this place with Michonne."

"I guess I was expecting a liquor store," Beth laments, tone flat.

Daryl snorts at her. "Trust me, this is better." He rummages through the room that has a big still inside of it, in a state of obvious disrepair. He starts packing some mason jars into a milk crate.

"What's that?" Beth asks.

Daryl turns with the crate and plops it in her arms. "Moonshine." He pushes past her and the strange sisters. "Come on. I'll clear it out."

"All right." Beth smiles at Daryl's back, but the cheer of it is blatant in her tone. She smiles more bashful at Lupe and Alma, but they grin back and nod their encouragement. They follow Daryl. The inside looks like a tornado hit it. It smells like stale beer, stale tobacco, and mildewy sweat.

Daryl fumbles around in cabinets and through countless pieces of random refuse. It's tossed all around like sad confetti. He comes up with a few clean glasses as Beth sets the milk crate on the table. He grabs a jar and pours a glass for Beth and Alma as they sit. "That's a real first drink right there."

Beth and Alma hesitate and stare at the glasses.

"What's the matter?"

"Um, nothing..." Beth blinks at Daryl and sees he's still staring. She taps her glass with her fingertips and sighs. "It's just my dad always said bad moonshine can make you go blind."

Daryl snorts and bumps the glasses closer to the girls. "Ain't nothing worth seeing out there anymore anyway."

Lupe catches the tension in his jittering movements. He glides around the space like it's almost his own. She doesn't want to think he lived like this. He looks like a child showing some random thing they found to their parents, hoping to receive praise.

The girls both take a taste and immediately gag and cough.

"That's the most disgusting thing I've ever tasted," Beth croaks.

Alma stares down at the glass like it attempted to stab her in the heart. "It tastes the way a urinal at a sports dive bar looks like."

Lupe tries to contain her laugh. She can see Daryl's still nervous. He offers her a cup. "Oh, um... No, no I'm good." She smiles at him. She can see something child-like in him. His nerves make his eyes bounce around the room, looking at anything but the people. She doesn't want him to think she disapproves. The feeling catches her off guard and she starts to overshare. "Uh, don't really drink anymore." Lupe pulls a joint out of her front shirt pocket. "Found this in a cabinet though."

Daryl chuckles at her and shakes his head. He's about to open his mouth when they hear Beth slam her cup down on the table top.

She chugged her cup down like a shot. She hits at her chest while clearing her throat. "Second round's better." Reaching for the jar filled with clear liquid, she pours more out.

"Slow down, damn," Daryl mutters.

Beth holds the glass out. "No, this one's for you."

"Nah, I'm good." Daryl waves the cup away.

"Why?" Alma asks.

Daryl shifts, but it's a minute stilled thing. "Someone's got to keep watch," he fudges.

"So, what, you're like the chaperone now?" Beth sasses.

"Just drink lots of water," Daryl grumbles before going about the rest of the room. He's trying to figure out a way to secure the busted windows so they can camp there for a while and catch their breath.

"Yes, Mr. Dixon," Beth drones. She gets up with her drink and starts rummaging around.

Alma stares at the cup in her hands with a grimace.

"You don't have to keep drinking," Lupe decrees, leaning against the kitchenette.

Alma deflates in relief, arms and legs splaying out as her head rolls back. "Oh thank fuck."

With disbelieving giggles, Beth asks, "Who'd go into a store and walk out with this?" She holds an ashtray in the shape of a bright pink bra that looks like it might be able to house a decent D-cup.

Daryl almost smiles at the thing, but it's tight and tainted. "My dad, that's who." Alma and Beth stare at him, shocked. "Oh, he was a grade-A dumbass. He'd set those up on top of the TV set and use'em as target practice." His lips quirk with a soft laugh, the memories almost deranged due to the distance he has from them now. He walks back to the window and starts nailing a piece of fallen roof to block the openings to the outside.

"He shot things inside your house?" Beth's question falls like an ax.

Daryl shrugs as he turns to not look at her, but pretends to. "It was just a bunch of junk anyway."

Daryl goes back to work. The girls both shift back to minding their own business. Lupe can't stop staring at Daryl and thinking about his response. He acted like the issue was that things got destroyed. It wasn't. Guns shouldn't get fired inside houses, especially not around kids. It showed an alarming level of irresponsibility.

"That's how I knew what this place was." Daryl beats at the window with a little too much force. "How I spotted that shed out there? My dad had a place just like this." He looks around, pointing at things as he goes. "You got your Dumpster chair. That's for sitting in your drawers all summer drinking. Got your fancy buckets. That's for spitting chaw in after your old lady tells you to stop smoking." He grabs some papers off the busted TV and holds it out to the girls. "You got your internet too."

A loud thump interrupts Daryl from giving more and more glimpses of himself away. He raises a hand and the girls go quiet in an instant. Lupe creeps up next to him and they both peek out the window. A single walker bangs up against the siding. It groans emptily as its head swivels, trying to find the origin of their scent.

"It's just one of 'em," Daryl reports in a grating whisper.

"Should we get it?"

"If he keeps making too much noise, yeah," Daryl grumbles back to Beth.

Lupe looks at him odd. Her goal is to kill as many of those monsters as she could. If it didn't put her or Alma in danger, she always stopped to put them out of their misery. The sisters called them malditos for a reason. They're cursed. Her overriding tone belies her opinion on his decision. "I'm gonna go get it and do a quick perimeter sweep."

Daryl glares at her a little, but Lupe can't be sure since his face always kind of looks like that. "Be my fuckin' guest," he snarls.

He pushes past her, knocking his giant shoulder into hers. She doesn't stumble. She stares out at the blue sky and begs for an intercession from gods she doesn't believe in, "El está como una cabra. Por favor no me dejes matar el pinche cabrón sin valor, mierda llameante, un putero de pinche pendejo..." (He's so fucking moody. Please don't let me kill the worthless fucking bastard, flaming shit, the biggest fucking asshole…) She continues muttering under her breath on her way out the door.

Beth stands up from her spot on the ground and hands Daryl a cup. "Well if we're gonna be trapped again, we might as well make the best of it. Unless you're too busy chaperoning, Mr. Dixon." She shoots him a wry grin.

"Hell," Daryl says swooping up the cup, "might as well make the best of it." He sits down in the dumpster chair. An old grief aches and rattles inside of him. The feeling is hollow. He stares at the hooch in his hand and breathes tight. "Home, sweet home..."

Chapter Text

Lupe comes back after taking out four malditos in the woods surrounding the trailer. When she opens the door, she can't say she's anything but shocked. A wooden box is set on the ground with Beth, Alma, and Daryl gathered around it like a table. Four glasses are in front of them with a jar of hooch in the middle. There's a side conveniently left open. Alma directs a pointed stare at her. Lupe scrunches her face in confusion as she looks at her sister.

Lupe closes the door behind her. Beth explains to Daryl, "So first I say something I've never done, and if you have done it, you drink, and if you haven't, I drink. Then we switch."

"Oh okay, like Never Have I Ever?" Alma asks. She nods at Lupe and then flicks her head to the seat opposite her. Lupe scowls but joins them. She hates this game.

"You really don't know it?" Beth asks Daryl.

He sits next to Lupe and looks more uncomfortable than any of them. "I never needed a game to get lit before."

Lupe snorts and nods. "Touche," she snickers, shaking a finger at him.

"Wait, are we starting?" Alma asks, staring down at her cup like it's about to bite her.

"How do you know this game?" Daryl asks Beth.

"Thought you never had a drink?" Alma teases.

Beth rolls her eyes at both of them. "My friends played. I watched." She squiggles around to get comfortable on the floor. "Okay, I'll start. I've never shot a crossbow." She stares at Daryl as he sits, still uncomfortable. He watches Lupe drink and his eyes narrow at her. Beth interrupts his thoughts, "So now you drink."

"Ain't much of a game," Daryl says as he sips.

"That was a warm-up. Now you go," Beth encourages him.

Daryl's fingers start picking at his lips. He shrugs. "I don't know."

"I think you can just say the first thing that pops into your head." Alma smiles at him, tight and small, trying to sound encouraging.

Daryl nods to her and Beth. Both of them look excited and eager. As if they've got a glimpse at some sort of secret rite of passage. "I've never been out of Georgia."

"Really? Okay, good one." Beth drinks.

"Does that only count for Georgia?" Alma asks, too strict about rules. "Cause, like, we lived in Virginia and I never left until after the end."

"I think that counts, you can drink up," Lupe lifts a glass to her sister and they both sip.

"Okay, Alma's turn." Beth smiles.

Alma looks bashful. Her eyes flit around the room. She sighs. "Never have I ever..." her eyes narrow and a grin spreads across her lips, "eaten a jalapeno and liked it."

"You suck and your taste buds are weak, you know that?" Lupe growls at her sister and drinks again. Daryl joins her.

"Okay, Lupe, you go." Alma grins wide.

Lupe can't help but smile back at Alma. She should probably lose some Big Sister points for letting a teenager drink. Lupe was drinking and smoking by the time she was thirteen. So what Alma was engaging in was beyond tame by comparison. "Never have I ever... Believed in God."

Beth gapes at her, but drinks. Alma laughs and rolls her eyes, but drinks. Daryl doesn't. Lupe scrutinizes him, but he doesn't move much at all.

"I've never been drunk and did something I regretted," Beth giggles.

Daryl huffs and drinks. "I've done a lot of things."

Lupe twitches at the tension in the words. After she sips her cup, she tacks on, "Unfair, you little tadpoles! This game is easy when you've had zero life experiences!" The girls both get distracted by her and giggle some more.

Beth smiles at Lupe. She clears her throat. "Your turn," she says to Daryl.

He grunts, annoyed, "I've never been on vacation."

Alma gapes at him. "Never?" He shakes his head at her. Alma turns to Lupe and almost begs, "We should take him!" Lupe gives her a strange look, but can't deny the enthusiasm makes her want to, just a little. She's not sure what would constitute as a vacation anymore.

Beth interjects, suspicious, "Come on, what about camping?"

Daryl shakes his head. "Nah, that was just something I had to learn, to hunt."

"Your dad teach you?" Beth asks. Daryl nods again but stays quiet, chewing hard on that lip of his. The three girls drink. "Okay..."

It's Alma's turn. "Never have I ever, done drugs!"

Lupe rolls her eyes. "Now wait a second, do you mean like hard drugs? Or like, party drugs?"

"Is there a difference?" Beth asks, out-right clueless. Her friends might have drank some, but none of them had the guts to try drugs. As preachers' kids, it might have been an inevitable part of their identity rebellion. They'd never know because they never got the chance when the world ended. Maybe none but Beth.

Lupe sighs. "No, I guess it just depends on the party." She downs another sip and Daryl does too. "Pinche niñas…" (Fuckin' kids…)

"I've never been in jail." Beth smiles at the group. Daryl looks at her with a strange pinched expression. "I mean, as a prisoner."

"That what you think of me?" Daryl's voice is whisper soft as he asks.

Beth's eyes go wide. "I didn't mean anything serious. I just thought, you know, one of you ended up in, like, the drunk tank. Even my dad got locked up for that back in the day."

"It's part of the game. You try to think of anything incriminating. It can be ridiculous, it can be sad, it can be people's dirty little secrets," Alma clarifies.

Daryl blinks at Alma and huffs out a small, sharp breath. His eyes trail back over to Beth. "Drink up," Daryl demands. Lupe tries to sip, nonchalant. Alma glares at her.

"Wait..." Beth says, her face lighting up with a realization, "Prison guard! Were you a prison guard before?"

"Wait, what?" Alma asks, looking between Beth and Daryl.

Beth smiles. "It's a game. Daryl never talks about before, so a bunch of us tried to guess what he did for a living." She turns back to Daryl. "Did Zack ever guess that one?"

"No, and no. It don't matter. It hasn't mattered in a long time," Daryl grumbles, agitation shaking out to twitches in his fingers.

"It's just a game. It's just what people talk about, you know, to feel normal," Beth replies to his morosity.

"Yappin' about my personal life never felt normal to me," he growls.

"Okay, how about my turn," Lupe interjects. Daryl is turning out to be a dreary drunk. She's not about to let him ruin the girls having a little bit of fun in this hell hole. She narrows her eyes at Beth and Alma, pursing her lips. She's trying to be dramatic, she wants them to sweat it a little. "Never have I ever gone through high school without kissing someone."

"Hey!" Alma snaps, giving herself away. She shrinks in her seat. "Pinche cabrón! Technically, I didn't get to finish high school."

"End of the world finished it for you. Drink up." Lupe smiles as Alma sips all by herself. A second later, Daryl takes a sip. The girls try not to stare at him in shock and let it pass, but they're bad at it.

"It's your turn again," Beth says to Daryl.

He grunts and stands. "I'm gonna take a piss." He walks over to the opposite side of the room. The glass full of moonshine slips from his grasp as he unbuckles his pants. It smashes to the floor with a loud crash and he kicks at the debris, cussing up a storm.

"You have to be quiet!" Beth stage whispers.

"Can't you do that outside?" Lupe snarls.

"Can't hear you! I'm taking a piss!" Daryl shouts, already urinating on the floor.

"Daryl..." Beth admonishes him. She glances at the sisters, horrified at his behavior. "Don't talk so loud."

"What, are you my chaperone now?" Daryl snarls, turning back as he buttons up his pants. "Oh, wait. It's my turn, right?" He stomps over to Beth. Alma is right next to her. Lupe is on the opposite side of the crate and her hand is slowly moving towards her batons. She shouldn't have left her gun by her bag. She shouldn't have trusted him.

Daryl's voice grows and morphs. It picks up a vile condescension. "I've never - never eaten frozen yogurt," he spits at Beth. "Never had a pet pony. Never got nothing from Santa Claus." He knocks over a chair as he shouts. Both Beth and Alma jump. Lupe rises to her feet, careful and slow.

"Never relied on anyone for protection before! Hell, I don't think I've ever relied on anyone for anything," he growls at Beth.

"Daryl..." Lupe starts, her voice dead level and calm.

He pushes on, yells at Beth like the sisters aren't even there. "Never sung out in front of a big group out in public like everything was fun. Like everything was a big game." He stomps closer to Beth and shouts, "I sure as hell never cut my wrists looking for attention!"

"Hey!" Lupe bellows back at him. "You can shut the fuck up right now or I'll beat your goddamn face in."

The sound of more malditos shuffle and slam against the outside of the trailer. Daryl shakes as he glares at Lupe. He looks at Beth and snarls loud, "Sounds like your new friend fucked up her job out there. We're gonna be crawling with them soon!"

"Daryl, just shut up!" Beth hisses at him.

"Hey, you never shot a crossbow before?" Daryl turns away from them and grabs his bow. He stomps towards Beth, full of a rage that doesn't belong to anyone in the room. "I'm gonna teach you right now."

Daryl goes to grab Beth, but Lupe jumps over the crate and slams him back against the table. They scuffle, both trying to draw weapons and get in a good hit. Daryl kicks off the table and rams his shoulder into the center of Lupe's chest. The hit sends her flying back into the small kitchenette. Her hip smashes into the edge of the Formica counter and she lets out a wail. She crumbles to the floor, holding onto her side.

Daryl sees nothing but red. He stalks toward Beth and grabs her arm. "Come on!" He rasps. "It's gonna be fun!" His growl indicates the opposite. Alma grabs onto Beth's other arm and pulls her back down. Daryl goes to raise his bow and point it at her.

"Daryl, cut it out!" Beth pulls her arm away from Alma, shifting in front of her, and pushes the bow away. Daryl ignores her protests and starts bodily dragging her towards the door. "We should stay inside!" She stumbles down the stairs with Daryl yanking on her, begging him, "Daryl, cut it out! - Daryl!"

Alma shakes, cowering behind the dumpster chair. Lupe guides her hip back into place with a pained squeal. She stumbles up and grabs her guns. She looks over at Alma, terrified and so small. She swallows the rage building inside of her. She forces the calm because she'll need the anger later. "You stay in here. I'm going to get Beth."

"No!" Alma leaps up. "You can't go alone." She quakes as she grabs at her sister. "You can't do it without backup!"

Lupe understands. It's less about Alma thinking she lacks skill and more about Alma needing the reassurance. She nods. "Get your guns."

They bulldoze their way outside together, slicing down several malditos. All to find Daryl and Beth still squabbling. A maldito stands pinned to a tree with a few of Daryl's bolts. Alma makes a move to step forward, but Lupe stops her.

"Come on, it's fun," Daryl snarls, as he walks up to the living corpse.

Beth wails at him, "Just stop it. Daryl!

"Come here." Daryl grabs at her and stuffs her under his arm, creating a writhing mess as Beth tries to get away. He holds the bow out in front of them. "Eight ball, corner pocket." He looses off a bolt and it hits the snarling walker in the chest. Lupe is four steps closer, but she stops.

Beth pulls away from him, shouting, "Just kill it!"

"Come on, Greene," Daryl shouts over his shoulder as he walks towards the undead. "Let's pull these out. Get a little more target practice."

Beth rushes from behind. When she pulls her knife out, Lupe is eager and afraid Beth might stab Daryl. Instead, she drives her blade into the walker's skull, killing it.

"What the hell you do that for? I was having fun!" Daryl turns on her, vibrating with rage.

"No, you were being a jackass!" Beth screeches and tears flood her eyes, "If anyone found my dad -,"

"Don't." Daryl sobers. He stares at her hard. "That ain't remotely the same."

"Killing them is not supposed to be fun!" Beth yells at him.

Daryl charges at her. "What do you want from me, girl? Huh?"

Lupe has her gun out at her side, watching the interaction. She could shoot Daryl in the head, but she can tell Beth is trying to accomplish something. Lupe won't take that away from her.

"I want you to stop acting like you don't give a crap about anything! Like nothing we went through matters. Like none of the people we lost meant anything to you! It's bullshit!" Beth snarls at him

"Is that what you think?" His voice is soft as he crowds Beth.

She stands tall with her scathing reply, "That's what I know."

"You don't know nothing," Daryl warbles, anger and grief tainting his tone.

Beth charges at him now. "I know you look at me and you just see another dead girl. I'm not Michonne. I'm not Carol. I'm not Maggie." She continues, her voice thickening with grief, "I've survived and you don't get it 'cause I'm not like you or them. But I made it and you don't get to treat me like crap just because you're afraid!" Lupe and Alma take a step back in shock.

Daryl quivers as he glares at Beth. "I ain't afraid of nothing," he snarls. His entire frame shakes with the falsity of his statement, no matter how he blusters.

"I remember," Beth responds, soft and anguished. "When that little girl came out of the barn after my mom? You were like me." Tears trickle down her cheeks. "And now God forbid you ever let anybody get too close."

"Too close, huh? You know all about that. You lost two boyfriends, you can't even shed a tear!" Daryl snarls at her. "Your whole family's gone, all you can do is just go out looking for hooch like some dumb college bitch."

Lupe steps forward at that, but Beth is already in his face. "Screw you. You don't get it."

Daryl whirls on Beth. "No, you don't get it! Everyone we know is dead!"

Beth screeches back, "You don't know that!"

"Might as well be, 'cause you ain't never gonna see 'em again!" He shouts in her face. "Rick..." he can't even finish the statement, but he looks back at Beth and bellows, "You ain't never gonna see Maggie again!"

"Daryl, just stop," Beth begs him.

"No!" He rips away from her.

The silence drops like a body from the gallows. Lupe can finally see the grief past Daryl's rage. She scoots back over to Alma and wraps her arm around her sister, hugging her tight.

His voice goes weak, like he lost the energy to be mad. "The Governor rolled right up to our gates... Maybe if I wouldn't have stopped looking... Maybe 'cause I gave up." A breath rattles in Daryl's chest. "That's on me."

Beth puts a hand on his shoulder, "Daryl..."

"No..." He turns away from her, but everyone can hear the tears in his voice, "And your dad… Maybe - maybe I could have done something..."

His shoulders start to shake. Beth charges and wraps her arms around him as he starts to cry. Lupe sighs and holsters her gun. She turns around and brings Alma back inside the decrepit house. The two strangers stay outside for a while. Lupe can hear them talking. Rather, she can hear Beth whispering to Daryl about all he's done to protect his family. She keeps telling him it's not his fault. Lupe knows it doesn't matter. She blames herself for all sorts of things that are out of her control. That's how it is when someone cares enough to want to protect someone else.

The sun is about setting when Beth and Daryl come back inside. They all sit around in silence for a while. Daryl gets up and heads outside into the burgeoning darkness. He's shaking bad as he pulls out a cigarette. He can hardly get it to his mouth and lit right. The grief is raging through him and he can't stop it. He feels terrible about everything and wishes he was less of a shithead.

A lighter flicks open and sparks to life in front of him. His eyes pop up and he sees the older sister at his side. Her face looks drawn and grim. "Thanks..." He mumbles around his cigarette.

"You put your hands on her. You aimed that bow at my sister again. I should kill you," Lupe upbraids him.

Daryl slants a look at her feet and nods. "I know..."

Lupe's sigh flutters out her lips. She busies herself by lighting up her own cigarette. "I'm sorry you lost people. But you can't take it out on Beth."

Daryl nods. "I know."

Lupe nods back to him and purses her lips. His upbringing likely didn't lend to developing proper impulse control or emotional regulation. But now, it couldn't matter. "You're a grown ass man and she's a child. I get that you're out of your element, but maybe you should take the help that's offered. You and I? We aren't equipped to help kids survive in this world. Honestly, no one is. But you gotta get your shit together."

Daryl shakes his head. "We just lost everyone. This place... it makes me..." He feels like a hornet's nest is inside his chest. He wants to cry and rage all at the same time. He feels like a kid again, clueless, uncontrollable, and so fucking afraid.

"It triggers you." Lupe nods. "It triggered memories and grief, powerlessness and pain. I understand. No one gets to choose the way things hurt them, but we can choose how to cope with it."

Daryl looks at her hard. He's about to reply but Beth comes walking out with three glasses of moonshine and a bashful smile on her face. Lupe, not wanting to reject the girl after such a painful moment, reaches out to take one so it's easier for her to carry. She offers one to Daryl and he nods a mumbled thanks and takes it.

Beth sits down on the porch and stares up at stars twinkling to life in the darkness. Lupe and Daryl join her and sip on their liquor.

"I get why my dad stopped drinking," Beth muses.

"You feel sick?" Daryl asks, full of concern.

"Nope." Beth pops the word out her lips and then smiles. "I wish I could feel like this all the time."

"That's a red flag," Lupe chuckles. "You're lucky you're a cheerful drunk."

"Hmm," Beth hums with a smile. "Yeah, I'm lucky. Some people can be real jerks when they drink."

Daryl snorts.

"Ah, he's just a drama queen drunk." Lupe grins. "I had a friend who used to always start shit when they drank. Some people act out when they want attention," she teases.

"I suppose I deserve that." Daryl sighs and leans his head back against the porch post. "You want to know what I was before all this?" He muses now, his voice tight and thick. "I was just drifting around with Merle doing whatever he said we were gonna be doing that day." He swallows the grief and the insecurity. The self-hatred is stronger than both combined. "I was nobody. Nothing. Some redneck asshole with an even bigger asshole for a brother."

"It's okay to miss your siblings," Lupe replies with a soft smile. "Even when your siblings are assholes."

"I miss Maggie," Beth adds, her voice whisper soft, "I miss her bossing me around. I miss my big brother Shawn. He was so annoying and overprotective. And my dad..." Her eyes trail off into the woods and she sighs. "I thought - I hoped he'd just live the rest of his life in peace, you know? I thought Maggie and Glenn would have a baby and he'd get to be a grandpa. And we'd have birthdays and holidays and summer picnics. And he'd get really old." She looks at Lupe and Daryl with a weak smile. "And it'd happen," she nods, "but it'd be quiet. It'd be okay. He'd be surrounded by people he loved." She scoffs at herself. "That's how unbelievably stupid I am."

"I'm sorry," Lupe replies. "I'm sorry you both lost so much. You aren't stupid. Hope isn't stupid."

"I wish I could just change." Beth looks at Lupe. "I want to be strong."

"You are," Daryl insists.

"Not enough. Not like you two." Beth gazes distractedly between them. "It's like you were made for how things are now."

Lupe grins ruefully. "I am what I am because the world was never kind to me and my sister. We were always adapting and surviving in a hostile world. We just learned how to do it out here too."

"I'm just used to it, things being ugly," Daryl mutters. He nods around to the trailer falling apart around them. "Growing up in a place like this."

"Well, you got away from it," Beth states.

Daryl looks around again with a tight grin. "I didn't."

"You did," Beth insists.

Daryl shakes his head. "Maybe you got to keep on reminding me sometimes."

"You can't depend on anybody for anything, right?" Lupe grins at him.

Beth nods. "You can't. I'll be gone someday too."

"Stop," Daryl interjects.

"I will. You're gonna be the last man standing. I bet you would, strong as you are." Beth smiles at him with something sweet and sad shining in her eyes. "You're gonna miss me so bad when I'm gone, Daryl Dixon."

"Maybe you aren't a happy drunk after all." Lupe snickers. She deflects. She's eager to change the subject. Agony burns her from the inside out. There's a flash of a future without Alma and all Lupe can feel is a screaming despair.

"Yeah, I'm happy," Beth sniffs and smiles, "I'm just not blind. You got to stay who you are, not who you were. Places like this, you have to put it away."

"What if you can't?" Daryl asks, sounding tired.

"You have to," Beth insists.

Lupe nods her head. "It'll kill you if you don't. Let that all go," she urges him. He gives her a blank stare. She swallows and tries again, "That past that says you're nothing? It's wrong."

"You're something now, Daryl Dixon." Beth smiles at him.

"We should get some rest," Lupe urges, a soft request.

Beth stares down at her cup, swirling it slow and gentle. Her head pops up and there's a cheery smile on her face. "We should burn it down!"

"What?" Daryl asks, gobsmacked.

"The trailer!" Beth insists. "Let's get all the booze and burn this place down." She looks over at Daryl and the smile she delivers is so bright, it nearly lights up the night. "You get to rise from the ashes, Daryl, like a Phoenix."

Daryl arcs a brow. He's not sure he can say no to a face like that. He looks around and his eyes land on Lupe. She's staring at Beth and there's a softness to her gaze he's not seen before. He sighs. "We're gonna need more hooch…"

Chapter Text

They abandoned the burning hooch house in the middle of the night. Alma was not at all pleased to get woken up from her drunken slumber. But she did brighten a little bit at the mention of some casual arson.

 

The fire attracted the dead, but they evaded most of them. It was almost a boon because the forest emptied out the further they got from the flames. Through their sleep-starved journey, Daryl taught Alma and Beth the basics of hunting. It helped them stay focused right through to sunrise.

 

It was Beth's turn with a crossbow. Alma caught a squirrel on her seventh try. Daryl follows the blonde and moves as fluid and silent as her shadow. "We close?" She asks in a whisper over her shoulder.

 

Daryl gives a softly growled response, "Almost done."

 

Alma follows Daryl, still trying to sop up some more learning. "How do you know?"

 

"The signs are all there," he replies over his shoulder, "just gotta know how to read'em."

 

"What exactly are we tracking?" Beth asks, looking at the ground and then back at Daryl.

 

Daryl gives her a wry little twitch of his lips. "You tell me." When her shoulders drop and her lips purse in annoyance, he shrugs. "Yer the one that wanted to learn."

 

Beth scowls at him and then transfers the glare to the forest floor. "Pattern's all zig-zaggy and uneven." Her eyes trail over the area around them. She spots broken twigs and thin branches snapped and hanging limp. "It's a walker!" She turns to look at Daryl.

 

He's contrary for the fun of it. "Could be a drunk..."

 

Beth rolls her eyes at him and readjusts. She pulls the bow tight to her shoulder with a smug grin. "I'm getting good at this," she focuses on the forest around them and teases, "pretty soon I won't need you at all."

 

"Yeah," Daryl rasps, "keep on trackin'."

 

Lupe hovers behind them a few steps. She keeps the dead ones off their backs. Alma has been trying to train herself to track and hunt since the start of all this. She's read some books they stole from libraries. She's an excellent shot with her hunting rifle. She just learns better practically. Lupe appreciates that Daryl is willing to try. She's surprised by how patient of a teacher he is with them.

 

They turn their way past a few trees and bushes and enter into a clearing. A walker is kneeling near the center and gnawing on something or someone. No one wants to think too close on it. Beth glances at Daryl and he nods to her as encouragement. She takes a few steps forward and works on steadying her aim. Daryl follows a few steps back. Alma stays in the trees like he asked. Lupe circles the edge of the clearing, trying to make sure they stay alone.

 

Lupe gets distracted in her own hunt when Beth wails to the accompaniment of a loud metallic clang. Lupe turns and Beth is on the ground with some metal contraption latched onto the heel of her boot. Beth shoots the walker, alerted to her because of the noise. The bolt hits it in the face, but it's through the mouth and cheek. The creature stumbles closer, reaching out its arms to her and hissing.

 

Daryl swoops in from behind with Alma following. Lupe's gun raises, but Daryl grabs his bow and cracks the walker across the face with it. Alma immediately goes to Beth and Daryl joins her after the walker is down. Lupe makes a few circuits, getting tighter and tighter around the group. She doesn't want an ambush now that Beth might be hurt.

 

Daryl gets Beth free with a grinding clatter. Alma asks the questions she learned as a volunteer EMT, manipulating the injured foot. Beth insists she's fine, but once she gets up and puts weight on it, the leg buckles. Daryl catches her to keep her from hitting the ground again.

 

"Shit," Daryl cusses. "Come on," he says and swoops under her arm.

 

"Hey," Lupe finally steps forward and Alma shifts into a guard position. "I'm more crutch height for her, let me help."

 

Daryl nods and Beth smiles, curling an arm around Lupe's shoulder. They adjust to each other and then make their way out of the clearing.

 

"The car isn't much farther. It's just past the cemetery," Alma assures both Beth and Daryl.

 

"I'm pretty sure we have some extra wraps that we can use for your ankle," Lupe smiles over at Beth.

 

She nods. "Thank you. I'm sorry about this."

 

Lupe shakes her head. "It was a hidden mini bear trap. The point was to catch something unawares. It was just, unfortunately, your heel instead of a small animal."

 

Beth snorts her derision out. "Lucky animal, I guess."

 

Lupe smiles. "I suppose so."

 

Daryl follows, behind and to the side. Alma is in front of the girls, leading the way to the truck. He has to admit the way these two sisters move through the woods makes him think they're naturals at it. Their tread is almost silent underneath Beth's limping. But Lupe is even trying to maneuver the girl to help mitigate it. Alma is attentive and focused on the woods around her. It's like there's a hum to the two of them, and the forest listens.

 

It's not long before they hit the edge of the trees. What lays in front of them is a large patch of flat grassland with a smattering of tombstones. They range from flat and basic stone slabs, to extremely gaudy, as in twelve-foot angels gaudy.

 

"Hey, can we stop for a second?" Beth asks Lupe. Lupe whistles to her sister in a warbling, bird-like way and Alma slows. "Thanks..."

 

"You alright?" Daryl asks, sidling up to them. The guilt burning in his chest has kept him silent during their walk. The last thing he wanted was for her to get hurt. He should have been paying better attention.

 

"I'm alright, I think I just need to sit down," Beth replies. She uses Lupe as support while she flexes her ankle and tries to test putting weight on it.

 

"Alright, hold up." Daryl takes off his crossbow and hands it to Alma. He huffs a little and shakes out his arms, stretching his shoulders too. He turns his back towards Beth and crouches. "Hop on."

 

"You serious?" Beth asks, gobsmacked.

 

Daryl flutters his fingers at her. "Yeah, it's a serious piggyback. Let's go. Jump on."

 

Beth gives him an amused little shrug and then does as he says. They start shuffling across the cemetery.

 

Alma turns to Lupe with a big bright insinuating smile.

 

Lupe guffaws. "Ni de coña." (No fucking way.) She walks off.

 

"Huevón!" (Lazy-ass!) Alma growls and chases after her sister. "You haven't given me a piggyback in ages."

 

"Alma, you outgrew me when you were like ten!" Lupe laughs as they trail Daryl and Beth, bee-lining for the mortuary building.

 

"Still, it's a big sister thing..." Alma mutters, petulant.

 

"Jesus," Lupe hisses. She stops and crouches. "Hop on, mamón.” (prick)

 

Alma sticks out her tongue but climbs on her sister's back with vigor. Lupe adjusts and then starts speeding forward. She eventually surpasses Daryl and a bit of a race ensues. Both Beth and Alma are laughing as they charge up the steps. Lupe is the first one to smack her hand on the door. Alma slides from her back without the support and thuds to the ground. Even Daryl chuckles at Alma hissing in Spanish at her snorting sister.

 

"Maybe there are people here," Beth smiles as everyone starts looking around the front of the mortuary.

 

Daryl's gaze flicks to Lupe and she's already looking back at him. Brown eyes shine steady, unblinking, and cold as Lupe bores into him. He knows what she's imparting and he agrees because he thought the same thing. "If there are, Alma and you go back to the woods. We'll take care of them."

 

"There are some good people left," Beth insists. She peeks into the windows, unfortunately, covered by heavy drapes on the inside.

 

"I don't think the good ones survive," Daryl mutters as he glances through the front door. It has panels of glass in it, but they're covered with plywood rectangles. He can only see through the slits and there's no movement inside.

 

"We all got here, didn't we?" Alma asks. "We're good. There might be others."

 

Daryl glances at her and then reaches out his hand without a response. She hands over his crossbow. He notices Lupe on the edge of the porch. Peeking around the corner of the building, her silenced MAC-11s drawn. He whistles at her and she turns to him. "Let's head in."

 

Lupe nods and approaches with him. Alma takes up the rear with Beth in the middle. Daryl reaches for the handle, ready to jiggle a locked knob. It opens right up on the first try. He glances at Lupe who has a distinct disbelief stretching on her features. Her brows roll up her forehead and she glances back at him. He shrugs and opens the door wide. Before they enter he raps his knuckles hard on the door jamb. Lupe whistles loud without her fingers. There's not a single sound in response.

 

Daryl and Lupe walk in while Alma helps Beth limp forwards. Alma closes the door while Daryl and Lupe fan out and start inspecting the many rooms. Available for memorial showings, they come complete with uncomfortable chairs, hideous colors, themed decorations, and an assortment of coffins.

 

"It’s so..." Alma starts, looking around and dragging her finger across a shining table.

 

"Clean..." Beth finishes for her, astounded.

 

Daryl nods to the girls, appreciating their observations. "Means someone's been tending to it."

 

"They might still be around," Lupe adds. She directs a pointed stare at Daryl. "Be careful."

 

He nods back and then they all enter the first room to get a closer look. The coffin in this room has a body in it. It's the first time any of them have seen a dead body staying dead in a while. The man still looks like a man, all rosy-cheeked and tan. He’s dressed in a fine navy suit. Laid to rest in an elaborate beige satin-lined coffin, made of the finest glimmering teak. Daryl approaches the body and reaches out.

 

"I wouldn't -," Lupe starts, but Daryl is already dragging his fingers across the corpse's face. His press left stripes of uncovered skin, rotting and grey beneath it. "It's makeup. Someone has been laying out the dead. Someone with mortuary experience. They have to treat the bodies with chemicals. Then use makeup to help give the corpse something that resembles the life that left them."

 

Beth stares at her. "Were you a mortician?"

 

Lupe shakes her head with a smile. "An old friend I met while bartending. She had two jobs. She worked at the bar with me and was a mortician. We talked about it sometimes. It's really fascinating work. Kind of worthless, even she said so. She said it's more economical and environmentally safe to cremate bodies. But the practice remains cause people can't face death." She snorts, amused in a grim way. "Ain't much choice about it now that death chases after you and tries to eat you."

 

Daryl nods and wipes his fingers off on the expensive cloth of the coffin. "I ever die, just wanna get tossed in the woods. Let the trees have me."

 

"Daryl!" Beth almost laughs, but she has to pretend to be upset. "You deserve more respect than that!"

 

Lupe shrugs. "Kinda feel the same way."

 

Beth groans at both of them and limps away with Alma watching her back. Daryl and Lupe nod at each other and follow the girls out, weapons drawn. They find a staircase in the kitchen area and follow it down to a furnished basement. It's all set up for draining the dead and surgically manipulating them to make them lifelike. Two bodies lay on metal slabs, dressed to the nines, but otherwise rotting away.

 

Daryl steps up to the cabinets and starts investigating. "They got some medical supplies here. We can get that foot wrapped."

 

Lupe is already at another cabinet and stuffing things in her bag. Alma leans over her shoulder to see what she's grabbing. They could always use medical supplies and potent chemicals.

 

Beth stares at the two bodies. Eyes roving across their faces, their wounds, and their state of decay. Her face wrinkles, but not in disgust.

 

Daryl tears open a package of bandages with his teeth. "Looks like somebody ran out of dolls to dress up."

 

"It's beautiful," Beth replies in a whisper, unable to look away from the bodies, "whoever did this cared. They wanted these people to get a funeral. They remembered these things were people before all this. They didn't let it change them in the end." She looks around the room at the somber faces. "Don't you think that's beautiful?"

 

"Come on," Daryl waves her over to the steps and gets her to sit down.

 

While he wraps her ankle, Lupe and Alma continue to dig through the cabinets. By the time Beth is standing their packs are full. Her foot got bruised up bad, but nothing seemed broken. At worst, it's sprained and she just needs to be tender with it.

 

They get back upstairs and start raiding the kitchen. They find a rather large and clean stash of food up in the cupboards.

 

"Whoa..." Beth says, astonished.

 

Daryl grins. "PB&J, diet soda, and pigs feet." He snorts. "White trash brunch, right there."

 

Beth starts taking stuff off the shelves. She inspects the labels with the appreciation of an archeologist staring at a newly discovered artifact.

 

"Looks good to me," Alma says, reaching past them for some jerky.

 

"All of this stuff is totally clean..." Lupe says. The cabinet looks like a grocery store advert in Kentucky. All of this has been set up. "I should go get the car. We should get out of here."

 

"Why?" Beth asks.

 

"This is someone's stash!" Lupe intones, just slightly less than frantic. "They could be coming back. I don't think we want to be here eatin' pigs feet when they return."

 

"You can't go get the car, it's almost sundown!" Alma insists.

 

Lupe replies matter-of-factly, "It's not that far -,"

 

"Hold up," Daryl interjects, "if they're still alive, let's just take some of it. Leave the rest."

 

"So only stealing some things is suddenly okay now?" Lupe gripes.

 

Daryl scowls at her. "We need the food."

 

"Then I should go get my car. We have more supplies." Lupe shakes her head, staring around the house. "This place is perfectly kept and stashed with resources and dead bodies. Why am I the only one not feeling great about this?"

 

Alma goes up to her sister. "Mira, you're not wrong, okay?" She looks over her shoulder at Daryl and Beth. "But I think we need a break. Beth's foot can't take much more walking." Lupe looks like she's going to interrupt so Alma shoves her hand over her mouth. "And you're not going out alone to get the car at night time. We need you here in case someone does come back."

 

Lupe shakes her head and walks away from the group. She hears the clanking of bottles and cans opening up. Daryl proclaims he wants the pig's feet for himself. She goes outside to sit on the porch and lights up a cigarette. She's on her second one when Daryl comes out with a bundle of twine and empty cans in his hands.

 

"Gonna set up a sound perimeter," he announces.

 

Lupe nods, even though she didn’t ask. "Smart." She stands up from the steps and retreats to the rocking chair. She sits down and puts a leg up, knee pressing into the arm and her other leg hanging down so her toes can push off. He finishes tying up the cans and goes to retreat inside. "Hey..." He pauses at the door but doesn't look at her. Lupe sighs and extends her hand with the cigarette in it. "Want some?"

 

Daryl nods and reaches over, taking a quick hit from her smoke. "So you worked at a club before this?"

 

Lupe nods. "Bartender." She smiles wide and sighs, reminiscing. "I also danced some nights."

 

"Danced?" Daryl asks. "Like a go-go girl?"

 

Lupe's eyes go wide. She takes her cigarette back from his outstretched hand. She shrugs and looks away. "Yeah, kinda."

 

Daryl squints at her. "You a stripper?"

 

Lupe flinches. She looks up at Daryl, ready for judgment. His face is rather blank. She narrows her eyes at him, but it's thoughtful and not a glare. "Yeah,” she admits. She waits for the leering sexual insults, but they don't come. “Side job from the grocery store. I had enough saved up to pay Alma's way through a state school or somethin'." She scoffs. "Not that it fucking matters."

 

Daryl huffs. "Never saved a penny in my life." He nods at her. "Shoulda figured you were a dancer or something with the way you move."

 

Lupe looks up at him, her features twisted in confusion. She waits again, ready for something more creepy to come out of his mouth.

 

"Yer quiet and capable on yer feet is what I'm saying. Stop lookin' at me like I'm gonna whip my dick out," he snarls, reaching for the smoke.

 

Lupe snorts. "You can't imagine how many times that's actually happened to me."

 

Daryl chuckles this time. "Shit, I bet. My brother went to strip clubs all the time. I'm surprised he didn't get banned more often. Thought his dick was a goddamn gift, the asshole..."

 

Lupe shudders at the thought. She looks up at Daryl and sees the grief all over him. At least, beneath all the dirt. "Merle, right?" Lupe asks and he nods, taking another fast hit on the smoke to hide the shake in his hands. She nods. "I'm sorry you lost him."

 

Daryl shrugs. "Thanks..." He shuffles around a bit and then hands her back her cigarette. "We should get inside."

 

Lupe finishes the rest with a long inhale and stubs the cigarette out on the bottom of her combat boots. She stands and has to adjust the thick nylon motorcycle chaps covering her jeans. She's got the same arm guards as her sister, but the athletic shirt she wears is long sleeved. The tank top covering it looks like it got cut from a bigger T-shirt. It has three white ghosts on the chest with words beneath them saying, 'If you got it, haunt it.'

 

As they get in the front door, Daryl locks it behind him and makes a quick sweep. Lupe goes straight for the viewing room where she hears Alma and Beth fiddling around on the piano. Lupe leans on the doorjamb, silent as she observes them. Alma had some piano lessons when she was younger. It was remedial stuff, but she can play a few classics. She's always had a good ear for tunes. She used to be able to pick out notes from any song and start jamming them out on the keys. She didn't enjoy the piano very much, so it wasn't a habit she kept up. Nor did they always have the money for it.

 

Beth looks like she's been playing all her life. She starts singing old songs her parents probably listened to. Alma and Lupe have a different set of classics thrumming through their blood. But when Alma jams out a few notes from 'Killer Queen' Beth gets ecstatic and starts playing alongside her. When they sing, it fills Lupe's heart with a warmth that feels like it's been absent for years.

 

"Got a nice voice too," Daryl murmurs soft, coming from behind her.

 

Lupe looks over her shoulder, not even realizing she'd been singing along. Her face folds in embarrassment. "Uh, thanks..."

 

Daryl leans on the door opposite her while the two young girls keep playing, giggling and singing. "We're all locked up tight for the night. Only entrance and exit is the front door."

 

Lupe nods. She bites her lip. "Cool. Now we just gotta survive the evening." She grins wryly. "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the cadavers bite."

 

Daryl snorts loud and it surprises the girls at the piano. They both turn to find Lupe and Daryl watching them. Beth and Alma immediately get shy about it.

 

Lupe walks right in, smiling bright. "That was great you two. I love Queen."

 

"Thanks," Beth replies, nervous as she glances at Daryl.

 

Daryl looks abashed, shuffling his feet and fiddling with nervous hands. "It's all shut up. We'll be safe for the night."

 

Alma nods. "Thanks, Daryl."

 

Lupe trails the sides of the room where several coffins are set up, likely an advertisement. There are six of them, ranging in designs and wood colors. A book of fabric selections supplies other options, sitting alongside similar magazines. She slides her hand in the coffin and her knees almost buckle due to the softness of the material.

 

"What are you doing, Lupe?" Alma chuckles.

 

Lupe whirls around and it's her turn to look abashed and shy. "The material was soft."

 

"Yeah, I think I heard you moan," Alma teases.

 

"Eat me, I'd rather sleep in one of those than the floor again." Lupe turns around and pushes against the soft pillow.

 

"Here," Daryl says, behind her.

 

Lupe turns in shock. Daryl's hands are around her waist, sinking into her soft love handles. He lifts her right up and plops her inside with nary an effort. She was too shocked to do anything but stare at him. He doesn't look at her as he scuttles away with his arms tight at his sides, rubbing his fingers against each other.

 

"Uh..." She starts, but her brain takes a while to reboot. "Thanks..."

 

He's already across the room. She tries to recover and adjusts in the coffin. She refuses to look at Alma whose face might break in half from the smile forming there. Once she lays down, she melts into the softness and sighs.

 

"This is so goth..." Lupe whispers to herself. She prays to her patron saint, Morticia Addams, in thanks.

 

"I don't want to sleep in a coffin," Beth frets as Daryl finds one for himself across the room. He's closest to the door.

 

Daryl hops in and starts wriggling around. He lays down and sighs too. "This is the comfiest bed I've had in years."

 

"Really?" Beth asks in disbelief.

 

Daryl shrugs himself into the coffin pillow, raising an arm above his head. "Play some more, y'all keep singing too."

 

Beth gives him a sassy look that's mostly narrowed eyes and pursed lips. "I thought my singing annoyed you."

 

Daryl shrugs again. His fingers rub their pads across each other. Unwittingly savoring the lost sensation of his hands on someone else, and not during a fight. He looks at Beth and there's an apology somewhere in his statement, "Don't got no jukebox. So..."

 

Beth and Alma grin at each other and go back to playing on the keys.

Chapter Text

Lupe wakes to the sound of cans jingling, a bark, and a whine. Her eyes snap open and she looks up out of her coffin. Daryl and Beth are gone.

 

Alma pops up like a vampire rising with the moon. She turns slowly to look at Lupe. Her face is still slack with exhaustion and her hair is frizzing a little. Her eyes are half open as she asks, hopeful, "Was that a dog?"

 

Lupe turns to see Daryl pass in the hallway, his bow in his hands. She sighs and starts clambering out of the coffin. It was much easier to get in than get out. Alma's feet finally fumble to the floor, she walks, more like stumbles, in her sister’s direction, wiping at her eyes.

 

They follow Daryl out to the door and he opens it. There's a scraggly grey mutt on the porch. "It's just... a dog." Daryl kneels down and reaches out a hand, slow and careful. The dog sniffs at him and their tail wags a little. When Daryl reaches to grab the dog's scruff, the animal whines and slips away. Daryl sighs and stares after the retreating mutt. He stands with a huff and closes the door.

 

When he turns around, Lupe, Alma, and Beth are all standing in the foyer. He narrows a glare at Beth. "Told you to stay back."

 

"You said there was a dog." Beth smiles at him.

 

He rolls his eyes and walks past the group. "If it comes back we'll try to lure it in with some food."

 

Beth smiles. Alma bounces on her toes. Lupe is impassive. She's still waking up. Beth follows Daryl, and Alma helps her. Not knowing what else to do, Lupe trails them. They sit down at the table with an assortment of food laid out. Beth has a notebook and she scribbles on the page.

 

"What're you doin’?" Daryl asks, peeking at her writing.

 

Beth smiles. "Writing a thank you note."

 

Daryl quirks an eyebrow. "Why?"

 

"Just in case they come back. I think it'd be nice to find something like that," Beth murmurs as she writes. She shrugs. "Feels like the right thing to do, even if they don't return."

 

Daryl starts scooping out boysenberry jam and eating it straight. Lupe's stomach cringes at the thought of all that sugar coursing through her. She'd never had a sweet tooth like Alma. She grabs the peanut butter and knocks the spin cap off with a flick of her hand. She plucks a spoon off the table, sticks it in, and hands it to Alma, near mechanically. Lupe sits back down, face blank and still in a daze. Alma leans against the counter behind her and starts to chow down.

 

"Maybe you don't have to leave that," Daryl says with a mouthful of jam. He points at the note with his clean spoon. Beth looks at him, concern pinching her brows. "We could stick around here for a while."

 

Beth's face morphs into a smile. "Really?"

 

Daryl nods, trying to keep a reflective smile from his lips. "They come back, we can make it work. They might be crazy, but who ain't?” He shrugs. “Maybe it'll be alright."

 

"Lupe and Alma too?" Beth asks, her voice ringing like a bell on Christmas. She looks over at the two sisters. Lupe is still less than awake, staring at Beth with her mouth hanging slack. Alma stands behind her sister, still as stone, but there are tears glimmering in her eyes. A slow smile spreads on her face.

 

Daryl didn't exactly have them in mind for staying. He just didn't think they'd want to. Beth looks at him again and she's still beaming. He glances at Alma who looks excited. His eyes flash to Lupe and he thinks she's slowly catching up to the conversation. He stares back down at the jam and keeps eating. He shrugs and spoons in a mouthful. "If they ain't got somewhere better to be."

 

"We could make this place defensible," Alma mutters, hopeful.  She looks at the back of her sister's sleep mussed head.

 

"Espere..." (Wait...) Lupe says, face quirking into half a squint and then a yawn interrupts her. She rubs her face hard and looks back at Alma. "You want to stay here? In a mortuary?" The additional 'with strangers' goes left unsaid but understood. Alma's face is trying to remain reserved, but Lupe can see her lips wriggling and her cheeks twitching. The tears still haven't fallen, so she's spared that at least. The pope couldn't say no to Alma if she cried.

 

"Yes," Alma admits straightforward. They weren't very good at communicating any other way.

 

Lupe scoffs at that. "Ah, no tienes pelos en la lengua." (Ah, you don’t mince words.) Lupe chuckles and rubs her face some more. She looks up and Daryl is watching her. At least, he was until his jam became the most interesting thing in the world. “Shit… It is pretty goth to live in a mortuary."

 

Daryl snorts down at the jam. Beth's grin is so wide she's outshining the candles. She faces Daryl. "I knew you believed there were still good people around. I knew it!" Her smile breaks and her teeth gleam in the candlelight. "What changed your mind?"

 

Daryl stares at her a long time. Sweet Beth who was like the sister he didn't know he wanted. She was smart and thoughtful. She fought hard, but she was likely the kindest soul he'd ever met. His eyes flicker to Alma who waits patiently for his reply. That girl is something else. She's goofy and almost seems immature until she suddenly isn't. She's a crack shot and absorbs the world around her like a sponge. She protects her kindness more than Beth does, but he doesn't begrudge her that. He glances at Lupe last. She's back to staring at the pig's feet and he's pretty sure she's turning green. Outside of waking up, she's easily keener than him. She's a badass fighter and takes no shit. Sometimes she's so intense, he's sure he sees the scales of justice in her eyes. She understands the world as it is, but he also thinks she'd mold it all with her own two hands if she could. He thinks she might do it one day too.

 

He shrugs off Beth’s gaze and there's just a twitch of one of his full sweet grins. He goes back to eating and mumbles, "You know..."

 

Beth blinks at him. Her nose crinkles but her smile remains. "What?"

 

Daryl looks at her. She's genuine and curious. He feels put on the spot a bit. Alma is waiting, but she looks interested. He's thankful Lupe still stares at the pig's feet with blank numbness. He looks back at Beth and embarrassment starts heating up his cheeks. "I dunno..."

 

"No, hey…” Beth chuckles. She puts a hand on his shoulder. "Tell me."

 

Daryl blinks. Unsure. His eyes flit around to the people in the room one more time before he settles back on Beth. He gives her a once-over with a sad, but friendly smile.

 

Beth almost frowns. "Oh..." She looks around at the group gathered. She smiles winningly at everyone. Even Lupe returns it with a small, sleepy grin.

 

The cans rattle outside and the dog whines again. Daryl groans and then puts down the jam. "I'm gonna give that mutt one more chance," he grumbles, reaching for the pig's feet in front of Lupe. He spins open the top and jams his fingers in to grab a floater. Lupe fights off a severe gag that is sure to wake her up.

 

Daryl leaves the room and heads towards the front door. He looks back and savors the soft chattering floating on the air. It ignites something odd inside of him that scares him. But he hears Beth laugh and crack jokes. He sees her smiling bright with Alma. He got worried it'd never happen again. He didn't want her to suffer. He didn't want her to feel alone as he felt.

 

His hand wraps around the knob. He opens the door a crack, still preoccupied with the voices that somehow mean peace to him already. It's cut off when the hissing and growling starts. He turns and is face to face with a giant throng of walkers, so deep he can't see the grass and graves beyond them. They lunge at him, growling and hissing. He does his best to slam the door on their grasping limbs.

 

"Lupe!" Daryl shouts. "Weapons now!"

 

Lupe is up and out of her seat in an instant. Daryl left his crossbow by the doorway so she scoops it up as she leaves. She looks over her shoulder to shout at Alma. But she's already skittering out of the kitchen and towards their packs. Lupe turns the corner and sees Daryl jammed up against the door. He waves at her and she tosses his crossbow to him. Alma comes running in with weapons jumbled up in her arms and all their packs hanging off her shoulders. She hands Lupe her guns first and Lupe straps them in. She then holds out Lupe's batons.

 

"Get Beth and get out," Lupe demands as she wraps her hands around her batons. "I need your pistols, but take your rifle, the extra guns, and go."

 

"I'm not leaving you!" Alma shouts, frantic. Beth comes limping out of the kitchen with a butcher knife in her hand.

 

"You're just getting a head start!" Lupe snaps. "Take Beth and get to the car! I will find you."

 

Alma nods her head, hands over her Glock 18s, and digs into the packs for extra weapons. She hands a few to Beth to replace the butcher knife and grabs her elbow. "Let's go to the car. They'll be right behind us," she insists as she tugs Beth away. Beth is obviously reluctant.

 

Daryl stares at her hard and shouts, "Git yer shit and run!" She nods and then she and Alma are heading towards wherever will grant them freedom from the horde.

 

Lupe turns back to Daryl after taking the guns and placing them on the floor behind her. She flicks out her batons and grits her teeth. "Open the door and get behind me." Daryl stares back at her odd, like he's unsure he heard her right. "Let them in Daryl! Spot me from behind!"

 

"I don't have enough bolts!" He snaps.

 

Lupe shakes her head hard. "That's why I'm telling you to get behind me. You get the guns and spot me!"

 

"Spot you fer what?" Daryl shouts back.

 

The door finally shoves open and he gets thrown to the floor with the force of it. His crossbow skitters to Lupe's feet. She jams her batons in her holsters with her guns and picks it right up. She shoots the walker intending to climb on top of Daryl. The bolt sinks right into its head as its decaying fingers brush across his boots. She tosses the bow behind her with the guns and then lunges forward, grabbing Daryl under the armpits. She yanks on him and they skitter away from the converging horde. Once he's by the guns, she drops him and leaps straight for the crowd.

 

"Lupe!" Daryl bellows. He rolls onto his side and grabs the nearest gun as he scrambles to his feet.

 

Lupe charges towards the horde. She kicks the closest one hard enough in the chest that it goes flying back into the rest. The wavering throng of bodies all undulates backward. She draws her batons and readies herself. Reoriented, the horde charges at her with snarling, gaping maws.

 

Lupe's batons swirl and slash too fast. Daryl can only follow the spray of blood that starts to coat the walls, ceiling, and floor. She cracks through outstretched arms and shatters shambling knees. She jams a sharpened end through one skull, then uses that one's head to bash in another's. She lands kicks between her strikes. Bodies thud to the floor and skulls crack against accent tables and base molding. She's a violent, flailing grace. Her blood slick batons shine like onyx in the moonlight, glimmering like omens. Her grip doesn't waver. Her momentum can't be stopped. He doesn't think a single one has laid a hand on her.

 

Daryl goes to the stairs and climbs up a few steps. He shoots at the back of the crowd. Soon enough, it starts to thin out. He keeps shooting until he hears Lupe.

 

"Get the girls!" She bellows. "Make sure they're safe! I got this!"

 

Daryl pops off a few more walkers to be sure. He hops over the banister and threads himself through the halls. He has to find those girls. The back exit was already nailed up when they arrived, so he pries it open. He runs around the back of the house in the direction Beth and Alma would have to take to get to the truck. He's sprinting as fast as he can go, dodging the smattering of dead that still shamble on. He makes it around the front of the house at the same time Lupe kicks the last of the walkers through the open doorway. It flies back and its head bursts on the stairs like a watermelon hit with a mallet.

 

Covered in gore, she steps off the porch like a god descending Mt. Olympus. The whites of her eyes stand out like the stars in the night sky. The deep brown of her iris glows amber in the moonlight. "You find them?" She asks, not yet breathing hard.

 

Daryl shakes his head. "Come on, they woulda headed towards the road." They start running through the grave markers and towards the pitch black of the forest.

 

Once they break through the trees, the road itself is empty, barren. Yet, the bags are in the middle of the street. They sit there, the contents are strewn about as if the girls had disappeared and dropped them on the spot.

 

"No, no, no, no, no," Lupe repeats as she runs. She pushes on with a burst of speed and skitters to a stop next to her and her sister's packs. "No!" Lupe screams.

 

It almost covers the sound of squealing tires. Both Daryl and Lupe turn to see a boxy Oldsmobile with a white cross painted on its back window. It swerves away at high speeds.

 

Lupe wrenches the pistol out of the front of Daryl's pants and aims for the car. Daryl smacks her hand down as she fires a shot and it pings off the asphalt.

 

Lupe turns on him. "What the fuck!?" She screeches.

 

"You could hit them!" He shouts and then starts sprinting after the car.

 

Lupe growls but follows after him. She keeps up with him for miles, but she's finally breathing hard and her entire body aches. Daryl fumbles to a stop, bent over and sucking in air. Lupe reaches out for him. She's breathing too hard to speak at the moment. He yanks away from her and runs. She cusses between her gasping breaths and follows him. Daryl keeps running far past dawn until he reaches a perfect crossroads.

 

"Daryl!" Lupe gasps out, "Daryl stop!"

 

Daryl stumbles around the area in a frantic pace, eyes scanning in all directions. He's gasping for air and his lungs rattle and shake. He can't breathe. He can't think. His body buzzes with another one of his terrible failures to protect his family.

 

Lupe might be saying something, but he can't hear her. His heartbeat thrums through his veins and pounds in his ears. He shakes his head and looks around. There's nothing to see. There's no sign of them at all. The crossbow falls from his hands and clatters to the asphalt. His knees buckle and he falls onto his ass, staring at the dead leaves on the ground.

 

"Daryl..." Lupe's voice is dull like his ears are stuffed with cotton. "Daryl, my truck..." She grabs onto his shoulders and shakes him a little. His head flops back and his eyes scan her face.

 

Lupe holds back a sob behind her bit lips, shaking her head in a deep despair. He looks completely empty. Something deep and rooted inside of her urges him to just hold on. "I'm gonna get my truck. It's not far!" Lupe huffs, gripping his arms. She begs him, "Just stay here! I'm gonna go get it. We'll go after them together! I just gotta get my car, man!" Her hands plant themselves on the sides of his head and she tries to catch his vacant gaze. "Please Daryl, just stay here. Stay safe for them! For me!"

 

The warmth of her hands disappears. The fire in her eyes gets replaced by the bleak asphalt his gaze falls to. He stares at the ground and still can't breathe. His face drops into his hands and his lungs shudder air in and out, but it doesn't feel like anything.

 

Daryl tries to get back on his feet. He can't leave her to run through the woods alone. But his knees quake and ache with a violent agony. He sees stars in his vision. He huffs and it feels like a sob. Daryl doesn't want to cry. He doesn't think he can spare the energy. He's just trying to keep his eyes open. But the light is lost.

 

He closes his eyes and the next time he opens them, it's to the sounds of scuffling steps on the road. His head barely raises, but he sees a set of worn black cowboy boots and ratty jeans enter into his space.

 

"Well, lookit here," a deep, melodious voice chimes.

 

Daryl glances up as five other men surround him, circling him in. He huffs out a disappointed breath and closes his eyes. The man with the ratty jeans approaches Daryl and reaches for his crossbow. Daryl cold-cocks the stranger the second his face comes into range. He stands with a strength he forgot he had and his crossbow levels at the man's face.

 

"Damnit, hold up!" The man growls to his group from his place on the ground. He's older, greying, with sparse facial hair not dissimilar to Daryl's. He's wearing too much denim and leather, as are most of his men.

 

"I'm claiming the vest!" One behind Daryl shouts. "Like them wings," he muses.

 

"Hold up," the greying man growls, wiping the blood from his cracked nose. A smile splits his face. He stares at his hand, sees the red on his skin and laughter bubbles out of his mouth. He guffaws. It peters out and he sighs, amused. He climbs to his feet and wipes at his tender nose one more time.

 

Daryl's bow doesn't waver as the stranger stands. He's crouched and ready and doesn't care one bit about the guns or the compound bow aimed at him. He's itching to fight. He's ready to kill.

 

"A bowman..." The greying man muses, eying Daryl up and down. "I respect that. See, a man with a rifle or a bat, he could have been some kind of photographer or soccer coach back in the day." He stares Daryl down with a grin on his face. "But a bowman's a bowman through and through."

 

Daryl doesn't respond. He's staring deep into the dead eyes of the man in front of him and he feels fear. He recognizes them instantly. He doesn't know any of them per se, but he lived his life around men just like them. Daryl doesn't care how amiable and charming the older man is. He can see past the smarmy cover right down to the black hole inside that desires to consume.

 

"That bow you got there, well, I'll be donkey-licked if that don't fire at least 300 feet per second." The stranger smiles. "I've been looking for a weapon like that." He chuckles and long tendrils of his wavy hair fall into his face. "Of course, I'd want one with a bit more ammo and minus the oblongata stains."

 

"Get yourself in some trouble, partner?" asks the man who claimed Daryl's vest. He holds the compound bow aloft, but not correct.

 

"You pull that trigger, these boys are gonna drop you several times over. That what you want?” The old man interjects. "Come on, fella, suicide is stupid…” He grins wide, staring right into Daryl and searching for something that isn't there. "Why hurt yourself when you can hurt other people?"

 

He leans in with a wide and devious smile and says, "Name's Joe."

 

Daryl doesn't flinch, but he makes a quick decision. He drops his aim and mutters, "Daryl."

 

The guns all lower and Joe's smile morphs into something almost ecstatic. Daryl hates the decision he makes, but he knows it's right. Lupe is coming back and these men need to be gone when she gets here. There's no way she'd be safe with the likes of them. He at least has a chance of surviving them. He'd done it all his life.

Chapter Text

 

 

Lupe ran like an angel was dragging her out of hell. For the first time in a while, she didn't stop to kill a single maldito. She only ran. Her entire body screamed in agony, but she didn't stop. She couldn’t.

 

Lupe's preoccupied by a guttural worry for Alma and Beth. She never trusted the world around them. There was always something there to try and kick her and her sister down. They once lived in an insulated community. Stepping outside of that made her remember how horrible people could be. She knows they didn't improve.

 

She tried to guess at the type who would kidnap two young girls in the middle of the night right outside a cemetery. If she went back to the days of yore, she'd absolutely say it was a serial killer. Post-apocalypse, in the world of cursed corpses, she's still leaning towards serial killer. The white crosses on the back of the car made her think religious cult, which would honestly, not be any better.

 

Once she reaches the car, the cover is off and she’s inside faster than she thought possible for a human. She races out of the hidden spot and navigates the forest with careful precision. Once she hits the road, the never-flat tires she stole squeal sure and loud against the asphalt and she is gone.

 

It takes her very little time to reach the crossroads. She gapes at its emptiness. Clambering out of her car, she looks around, eyes wide and frantic.

 

"Daryl!" She hisses out into the open expanse, but there is no response.

 

She sinks into silence. Lupe shudders as she looks around, stumbling much like Daryl did less than a couple hours ago. She is alone and she has no idea what the fuck to do. She is lost. Hope is lost.

 

She stumbles back to her car and climbs behind the wheel. Her hands grip the curve of leather wrapped steel and she squeezes until her knuckles go ashen. Her teeth grit, but her lips mutter out desperate prayers. They are not to man-made gods; such simple, weak visages in a world where their power means nothing. She prays to her family. Her mama and papa, her grandmothers, grandfathers. The blood that runs through her body, that she's spilled on this soil. She begs for an intercession. Not on her behalf, but for Alma, for Beth. Even for Daryl, especially if she ever catches sight of him again.

 

She bites her lip and anger wells deep inside her. She knew that Beth and Alma were fighters. They'd only get taken unwilling or unconscious. Thinking of Daryl abandoning her makes her spirit wither. Something else surges in its place. It is a simple, clear instinct. She will find a way to protect those girls. And if she sees Daryl again, she'll rip out each of his organs nice and slow.

 

She starts up her truck and races down the road. Fortunately for Daryl, it's in a different direction from where he wandered off. Lupe roars along the highway with no regard for her own safety. Every couple of miles, she stops to investigate the area, trying to find any sign of her girls or that car. She does this for hours, meticulous, hyper-focused, and panicked.

 

The sun starts to get lower in the sky. Lupe knows she has little daylight left to keep moving. She would travel at night. Doing so all by herself, so soon after what happened, she isn't sure she can manage. She's already too hopped up on terror from losing her sister, the only thing that mattered to her in this world. She thought she might die from fright if she got one more surprise. Her heart won’t stop beating 200 times per minute.

 

She follows the road for a long time. There's a speck in the distance. She presses her foot down on the accelerator, but it's all for naught. As she approaches she sees it's an old wreckage, a blue tank-like Tahoe with open doors and cracked windows. She's getting closer and her grief is raging with the worthlessness of her chase. She has no idea what to do.

 

Her eyes pop open wide when a person walks out from behind the car. It's a wild looking bearded white man wearing a puffy jean jacket and a hand cannon on his hip. Lupe presses the accelerator further down. As she's swerving past the wreckage, a Black woman with a huge sword on her back comes to stand by the man. Lupe shudders and pushes on. She lets her eyes flicker to her rearview mirror and then she sees him. The kid. He can't be older than Alma.

 

She slams her foot on the breaks. The truck skids to a stop with a squeal. Her hands grip the wheel and twist. Breathlessness takes over as she stares out at the empty street. She bites her lips and refuses to cry. It's so close to night time. She can't leave that kid to nothing more than broken windows and busted doors. Alma would kill her.

 

Lupe peels one hand from the steering wheel and shifts into reverse. She soars backward towards the wreckage and jolts to a stop. The bearded man has his giant gun drawn and the woman stands in front of the boy with her sword angled expertly.

 

Lupe parks and leans all the way across the bench seat to roll down the window. They stare at her wide-eyed with pinched expressions to hide their suspicion. She's seeping sweat and still covered in gore. She gives them a horrifying smile that's twisted like a grimace. "Hi..."

 

The man stares at her in shock. "Hi..."

 

Lupe shakes like her aunt's geriatric chihuahua. "You haven't happened to see a classic Oldsmobile with a white cross painted on the back window passing through, have you?"

 

"Why?" The man demands more than asks.

 

Lupe would give him attitude but she doesn't have the energy. "That car abducted my sister and her friend," she replies, cold and hard.

 

The Black woman and the man glance at each other. She speaks and her voice is deep and calm, "No, we haven't seen anything like that."

 

Lupe drops her head to hide the way her face crumples in despair. Tears well in her eyes, but she forces a stiff upper lip and looks back up at the small group. She shudders out a tight smile. "Thanks," she warbles. She clears her throat, frowning. "I, uh, I'm guessing y'all have had it pretty rough lately?"

 

The man nods, narrowing his eyes. "Who hasn't?"

 

Lupe shrugs in agreement. "If you -, I mean, I, uh, I have some food and water I can spare. If you want it..." Her eyes flash between the man and the woman. She meets the gaze of the teen boy peeking out. She smiles at him, but it's broken and full of anguish.

 

"Why?" He demands again.

 

Lupe shuts her eyes and a tear finally escapes. She wipes it away hard and looks at him, sniffling. "Cause you're desperate enough to comb through that skeleton of a car. Because it's getting dark. And I can't stand to think of a kid out here trying to survive the night in a busted truck." She shudders hard and tries to breathe. "Because my sister would hate me forever if I didn't help you."

 

"Wow..." the boy responds. The man looks over his shoulder at him with faux annoyance and then back at Lupe. He can see she's barely holding it together.

 

The man nods. "Pull up right here and no weapons."

 

"You gonna put down yours?" Lupe asks.

 

The man scoffs and the smile that spreads on his face turns him from dour to almost dashing. "No, we're not."

 

"Then eat me," Lupe grumbles as she scoots back over to the driver's seat. She pulls in front of the wreckage and parks. Getting out, she raises up her hands in surrender. At this point, if someone killed her, it'd probably be a relief from her anxiety. In her heart, through her whole body, she knows that Alma isn't dead. Lupe is only alive to find her.

 

The man and woman approach. The boy hangs back, looking petulant. "I'm Rick, this is Michonne, and that's Carl."

 

"I'm Lupe." She hobbles over to her trunk and opens it up wide, stacked to the gills with boxes and bags. She turns back to the couple and gets to observe their gaping faces. "I'm kind of a hoarder."

 

"I'll say..." Michonne says with a grin on her face. She shuffles forward and stares at the mountainous stores Lupe has in her trunk.

 

"Whoa! Where'd you get all this?" Carl, the boy with the cop hat, pushes past Michonne and Rick. He leans in his entire upper half and gazes inside.

 

Lupe chuckles, perching on the tailgate. Exhaustion wants to settle in and make a home, but she fights it. "Around. Me and my sister mostly move and scavenge to survive."

 

"Smart," Rick says as he leans in for a peek, trying not to show how impressed he is.

 

Michonne smiles at Lupe. "We'd appreciate anything you can spare." She looks at Rick, and a silent conversation happens between them.

 

"Course..." Rick says, not entirely unsuspicious. He eyes Lupe's blood covered form with caution. "We could use whatever help we can get."

 

Lupe shakes while she unloads some water and food. She's still holding back tears as she hands it over. They accept the provisions with many thanks, ignore her grief, and go off on their own. Lupe goes silent, but it's not that she's trying to be rude. She's in so much pain she isn't sure she'll be able to move tomorrow. She's completely consumed with guilt and rage. She's utterly terrified.

 

Sitting on the tailgate, Lupe pulls out some wipes and begins to clean herself. The sun falls beneath the horizon by the time she's done. She changes into some clean clothes in the back seat. When she emerges, she resembles a human again, but she doesn't feel like one.

 

Lupe offers the bench seats to Carl and covers the cab with the tarp to help block out the moonlight. By the time she's done, Carl passed out, sprawled on her backseat and snoring soft and slow. She can't help but smile at that.

 

Rick and Michonne sit next to a small fire they built between the cars. "Join us, please," Rick says and this time his voice is soft and kind.

 

Lupe sits across from them, her back to the road. She doesn't say anything yet. She's unsure she's capable of it.

 

"Thank you for the food." Michonne smiles.

 

Lupe's exhausted, but still awake enough to end up dazed by her beauty. Her long locs sway with her movement like they dance on the breeze of her breaths. Her sable skin reflects the silver moonlight and the fire crosses its path to twine in some gold. She's ethereal even in such a dismal place. Lupe nods to her, but can't manage much else.

 

"Did you eat?" Michonne asks. Lupe shakes her head. Michonne turns to her side and pulls up two tin cans. She showcases them and says, "I've got refried beans and a can of string beans."

 

Lupe points to the refried beans and Michonne hands it over. Lupe pops the top and starts eating with her small non-maldito knife.

 

"Good choice," Michonne says. She watches Lupe as she eats. It's too easy to see her unraveling. She's pulling further and further into herself at the hopes of staying together. Michonne recognizes it well.

 

"Beans give me cramps," Rick intones. Michonne looks at him with a stern expression of disinterest in his bad jokes.

 

"I'm Mexican," Lupe mutters around a mouthful. "Refried beans are the building blocks of my genetic code."

 

Rick and Michonne both snicker at that. Rick sighs. "I feel like that's all anyone gets to talk about anymore. Food."

 

"Probably because everything else on this wretched earth is terrible," Lupe grumbles.

 

Rick smiles and nods. "That may be true." He sighs and looks around the forest. "I forgot what this feels like, being out in the wilds."

 

"Me too," Michonne exhales, tight and hard, "I hope we're able to forget again soon."

 

Lupe snorts. Both Rick and Michonne look at her. She eyes them both. Judging by their frowns, she likely insulted them or something. "Sorry, I, uh, me and - uh, I live out of my car. This has always been it for me."

 

Michonne's frown deepens. "You've been living out of your car this whole time?"

 

Lupe nods. "Just me and my sister until recently."

 

Rick frowns. "You mind if I ask what happened?"

 

Lupe sighs. It's a laborious process to get the air back in. "My sister and I found some other people that needed help. We were with them for a little while, but things went bad. We got hit by a big horde. Tried to hold them off so the girls could escape," her voice shakes. She bites her cheek until she tastes blood and feels calm. She clears her throat and keeps going, "We killed most of the malditos, but when we went to search for the girls, they were gone."

 

"Mawl-dee-toes?" Rick asks.

 

Lupe glances at him with a grin. "The dead ones. We call them malditos. It's Spanish, basically means they're cursed."

 

"Could you find a trail?" Michonne asks.

 

Lupe purses her lips to keep them from trembling. She shakes her head. "Their packs were left in the middle of the road like the girls just vanished. I wouldn't even know where to fuckin' start if it weren't for the car we saw driving away."

 

"The Oldsmobile with the white cross?" Rick asks and Lupe nods. He glances at Michonne. She's chewing on her lip and responds to his silent question with a slow blink and half a shrug. Rick says to Lupe, "We know a place, maybe a day or so away from here. It's supposed to be a refuge, a safe zone. They might know something about your sister or that car." Lupe chews on her lip and she looks fully doubtful. Rick tacks on, "If they're taking in people, they've got to be strong. They've got to have a system figured out. They might know where to look for those cars. People might be willing to help you find her. It's slim, but it's something."

 

Lupe looks up at him while she gnaws on her lips. "That's if it's even legit."

 

Rick doesn't think he's seen her eyes not wet and reddened by unshed tears. "It's always the same, isn't it? We don't get to know, till we know."

 

A rueful smile spreads on Lupe's lips as she looks down at the ground. "Yeah," she sighs. "Not sure what I can trust anymore," she laments. “Last time I trusted a long shot, my sister and Beth got taken and that hick-ass redneck pendejo abandoned me." She grits her teeth. 

 

"Did you say ‘Beth’?" Michonne asks, her tone urgent. "Blonde teenager?"

 

"Redneck? Did he have a leather vest with wings?" Rick blurts out at near the same time, his voice shaking.

 

Lupe looks up and her eyes go wide. It should’ve been the shock that overwhelmed her at the coincidence, but it isn't.

 

A gun cocks and presses against Rick's head.

Chapter Text

"Oh dearie me," a familiar melodic voice says, sounding much too cheery, "you sure screwed up asshole!" The muzzle of the gun presses harder against Rick's temple. More men step out from the woods and into the open road. One kicks Michonne's sword away. Another moves towards Lupe's car and tries to peek under the tarp. The other two circle around and aim their weapons. It's too familiar to Lupe.

 

"You hear me? You screwed up!" There's a small chuckle that rumbles in the man's throat. "Today's the day of reckoning, sir." He stands tall and smiles with the gun against Rick's eye. "Restitution!" He glances at a terrified Michonne and then his eyes trail over to Lupe.

 

Lupe's face twists into a mask of terror. Blown wide, her eyes well with tears. She shakes from head to toe and out into her fingertips. Her lips twitch as her gaze plinks around to every wretched face. She stays still as if it matters, but he sees her. Joe recognizes her right away.

 

"Well, just pinch my ass why don'cha?" Joe laughs, long and loud. "Boys we got ourselves a twofer!"

 

"Ah shit, I missed you girl," the man behind Michonne says to Lupe. He makes a sloppy face at her and grabs his junk.

 

A snarl curls on Lupe's lip, baring her teeth as she glares at the man named Tony. She remembers his stench. The hands that grasped at her and groped her bared bruised body. She remembers the hits, the kicks, and the hot breaths against her skin. She quivers in front of them, stunned in terror, rage, and grief. Her fingers clench the dirt at her sides.

 

"It's like the balancing of the whole damn universe." Joe smiles and laughs, "And shit, here I was thinkin' about turning in for the night on New Year's Eve." The group joins in on the laughter. "Who's gonna count down the ball dropper with me, huh? Lupe? I know how much you like balls."

 

Lupe twitches hard. The sound of metal clattering against glass rings in her ears. She looks over at her car and a squat man with long stringy hair leans against the window, knife in hand. She can see Carl through the windshield, not wholly awake and already terrified.

 

Lupe grits her teeth and looks back at Joe. "You'll regret this," she hisses at him.

 

"Come on now, big girl, don't ruin the fun, help me out!" Joe grins, tapping the gun against Rick's head. "Ten Mississippi! Nine Mississippi! Eight Mississippi!"

 

"Joe!" Another familiar voice calls out.

 

Rick and Michonne go still and their faces fall slack. Their eyes stare, hopeful at the sound. Lupe turns to see Daryl come out from behind the busted truck, his gaze glued to Rick and Michonne. Her eyes almost bulge out of her head. She tries to get to her feet but Billy in the beanie is there to shove her back down. She glares at Daryl and she's ready to kill every single one of them if only to get her hands on him.

 

Daryl sees her and his eyes widen. His chest shudders so hard the words come out broken, "Hold up."

 

"You're stoppin' me on eight, Daryl!" Joe chimes in disappointment.

 

"Jus' hol' up," Daryl repeats, shuffling closer to the sitting group.

 

Harley responds, gruff, "This is the guy that killed Lou! That's our girl that got away! We got nothing to talk about."

 

Lupe turns back to Rick, her mouth gaping. She almost wants to thank him for offing Lou, that piece of shit. Some people don't deserve to live.

 

Joe sighs. "Thing about nowadays, we got nothing but time. Say your piece, Daryl."

 

Daryl starts with a crack in his voice, "These people," he clears his throat, "yer gonna let'em go. All of'em, even the woman." He gestures towards Lupe. "These are good people."

 

Joe stares at him with an empty gaze. His head wobbles side to side in a detached disappointment. "Now, I think Lou would disagree with you on that." His smile goes sharp. "I'll, of course, have to speak for him and all, 'cause your friend here strangled him in a bathroom."

 

"Lou was a rapist! He deserved worse!" Lupe hisses at him. Billy backhands her hard.

 

Daryl stutters forward. "Stop!" He snarls at Billy. He looks back to Joe and shakes his head. "You want blood, I get it." Daryl glances around at the faces of people who are too important to him to lose again. "Take it from me, man." Daryl drops his crossbow and raises his hands. "Come on..."

 

Joe's face drops. His mouth hangs open and his eyes pinch in severe grief.  "This man killed our friend," Joe starts, his tone shaky, "yet you say he's good people." He raises a hand and points a finger at Daryl. "See, now that right there is a lie." The finger shakes and Joe's face morphs into a snarling rage as he bellows, "It's a lie!"

 

Billy and Harley charge at Daryl. Harley knocks him in the gut with the butt of his gun and Daryl whimpers from the impact.

 

"No!" Lupe growls, but Tony is there with a gun in her face. She snarls at him again. Her eyes burn with a twisted vow, a bleak promise to tear him apart. She can't take her eyes off Tony, not with how he leers at her. But she can hear Daryl struggling against the others. Huffs of pained air come out trembling. She hears his body slam against the side of the wrecked Tahoe.

 

"Teach him, fellas," Joe encourages. "Teach him all the way!”

 

Lupe finally looks away from Tony when she hears the familiar creak of her dad’s car door. Her head snaps to the side and that stringy-haired asshole, Dan, starts dragging Carl out of the truck. "Fuck no!" She screeches and starts to get to her feet. Tony kicks her in the side and she falls to the dirt, the air knocked right out of her.

 

"You'll get yours," Tony smiles, walking over to loom above her and gaze right in her eyes. "Just you wait." He licks his lips and winks at her.

 

Dan puts a knife to Carl's neck and sniffs his hair. "You leave him be!" Rick roars, trying to stand. Joe shoves him back to the ground. Rick lands hard, face hitting and sending up dirt and dust. He scrambles up fast, trying to look over his shoulder at Joe but the gun stops him. "It was me! It was just me!" Rick growls, voice cracking with desperation.

 

"See now that's right!" Joe cheers, leaning in next to Rick. "That's not some damn lie!" He grasps Rick's shoulder and squeezes. "We can settle this, we're reasonable men. First, we're gonna beat Daryl to death. Then we'll have your girl.” Joe's voice goes low and a deep laugh grumbles in his belly, “Then the boy." 

 

Joe sighs. "After I kill the others, I'll shoot you and we'll be square. Lupe here…” He grins at her writhing on the ground for air. She stares over at Carl, crying as he struggles against Dan's groping hands. “She's our party favor. We're gonna take her with us and wear her out till she breaks." Joe chuckles, but it grows to a maniacal guffaw.

 

"Let him go," Rick growls, built on fury.

 

Carl gets thrown to the ground. Dan crawls on top of him with the knife, hissing at him to quit moving. Carl wails into the night and won't stop fighting.

 

"Let him go!" Rick demands. His chest huffs as his eyes flicker around the space, taking in the devastation. There is no response but the laughter of their captors.

 

Rick shakes with the gun at his temple, his face contorts in rage and a snarl forms on his lips. He can't look at Michonne, but Lupe is right in front of him. She's on the ground, holding her side and quivering. Her gaze meets his and though she looks wrecked beyond the realm of fear, her eyes are stone cold and ready. Her lips curl into a snarl that mimics his.

 

Rick throws his head back and it slams directly into Joe's face. The gun goes off right by his ear and swirls the world around him into chaos. Lupe rolls over to miss the bullet hitting the dirt. Tony scrambles after her, but she kicks him right in the crotch. He tumbles over and she skitters beneath her car like a rat on acid. Rick gets up on shaking legs but lands a hard shot on Joe. Joe bounces back fast and socks Rick hard enough in the face to send him toppling over the log he sat on.

 

"I got him!" Joe snarls. "Tony, get up and drag that bitch back from under the car! I might need an appetizer to start my new year right!" Joe storms over to Rick scrambling on the ground and kicks him in the gut. "Oh, it's gonna be so much worse now!"

 

The night erupts into chaos. Michonne tries to disarm Tony as he gets up, but he punches her hard in the face and she falls to the dirt. He stomps over to the truck and peeks down beneath it, screaming obscenities at Lupe. She scrambles away from him and starts chucking dirt and rocks every time he ducks under to yell at her. Daryl lays on the ground, struggling as the others go to town stomping on him. Rick rolls in the dirt, his eyes whirling around in his head. He struggles to orient himself after the boom of the gunshot and the punch threw off his equilibrium.

 

"Come on! Let's see what you got!" Joe taunts him.

 

Rick ignores the jibe, stumbling back to his feet hearing the cries of his child. "Leave him be!" He snarls and tries to charge over to save his son.

 

Joe jumps in front of him. "Right over here!" He wraps his arms around Rick and laughs. "What the hell you gonna do now, sport?"

 

"You throw rocks at me again I'll shoot you!" Tony shouts at Lupe. She immediately throws a handful of rocks at him. He starts roaring and unleashes a burst of bullets that sink into the dirt. Lupe rolls behind the tires for cover, ending up next to Carl who is still fighting against his assaulter. Lupe's eyes widen and something snaps.

 

She rolls out from under the car and socks the guy on top of Carl as hard as she can in the ear. He topples off the kid and thuds into the dirt like a brick. She grabs the knife on the ground and hefts Carl up, shoving him back against the car and out of the way. She hands over the knife and a muscle in her neck and jaw twitches.

 

"Stay here, kill him if you want," she croaks at Carl.

 

She rounds the front of her truck and sees Joe bleeding from the neck. Rick's covered with blood. He spits out a chunk of what she guesses to be the missing part of Joe's jugular. She looks back to her car and Tony is still on his knees, his head hovering above the bumper. He watches in horror as Joe tumbles to the side, gurgling on the remnants of his wrecked throat.

 

"Tony," Lupe says, soft and sweet. In a daze, his head swivels to look at her. She smiles wide and then raises her foot, stomping down on the spot between his shoulder blades as hard as she can. At the awkward angle, Tony's head slams into the bulbous bumper of her dad's truck. His neck snaps with an audible crack before he crumples to the ground.

 

Michonne scrambles up with her sword and rushes towards Carl. Lupe picks up Tony's gun and also grabs his knife. She walks through the massacre, stepping right over Joe as Rick moves closer to the body bleeding out. Lupe heads for the men attacking Daryl.

 

She shoulders the rifle and takes a shot, hitting the man in front of Daryl through the side of his neck. Harley holds up Daryl but jumps back as Billie falters to the side bleeding profusely. She's not quite used to the rifle so she slings it over her back and pulls out the knife. Harley turns and looks over his shoulder at her in terror.

 

"Always wanted to try this," she hisses. Her knife jabs into the man's back, on the left side of the spine, fourth lumbar down. "It's called the sweet spot," she whispers into Harley's ear as she yanks out the knife. Blood spurts out of him like a torrent and Lupe smiles. "Burn in hell, asshole," she snarls and shoves the guy to the ground. Daryl stomps in his head for good measure.

 

"I'll kill him!" A frantic voice shouts.

 

Lupe turns to see Dan holding onto a squirming Carl with the knife back in his hand. She trembles, stumbling a few steps in his direction with a hopeless rage. She shouldn't have walked away from him.

 

Rick kneels in front of her and pulls a knife from Joe's waist while he twitches towards death. Rick, covered in blood from nose to navel, grips the knife tight and stalks forward.

 

"He's mine…”

 

Dan throws Carl to the ground and holds up his knife in self-defense. The point glimmers in the moonlight as he shakes. "Step back! Leave me alo-,"

 

Rick doesn't listen and jams the knife into his gut as hard as he can. The man wails, struggling against Rick to no avail. Rick snarls and drags the knife from his pelvis to his sternum, slow as he can. Dan screams, far too alive while Rick finishes his slice. When he hits bone, Rick pulls out the knife and then stabs and stabs and stabs. Dan's knees go weak and Rick lowers him onto the quaking joints. The knife moves to his chest and Rick begins stabbing again. The sound of metal sliding into flesh resonates in the night.

 

Michonne holds Carl tight and he grasps her like a lifeline. Daryl leans against the busted truck. His body shaking and thrumming with pain and adrenaline. Lupe stands near the dead fire, at Joe's stilled feet. Everyone stays silent to witness this deserved justice.

Chapter Text

Lupe stares around at the remnants of the carnage. Carl cries in Michonne's arms. Rick staggers back, away from the mutilated Claimer, covered with even more blood. She turns and Daryl is still behind her, steadying himself on the old blue clunker. She staggers around to face him, the kick to her side was in an already tender spot. A reminder from her first encounter with the Claimers. Scrambling under the car wasn't easy either. Lupe limps over to him, determined nonetheless.

 

"Lupe, yer -," Daryl starts, but he's interrupted by her fist slamming into the side of his face. He hits the ground hard, skidding cheek first into the dirt.

 

“Pinche cobarde! Pendejo! Eres la grandísima pedazo de mierda!" (Fucking coward! Asshole! You’re the biggest piece of shit!) She snarls at him, stalking over to his prone form.

 

"Hey!" Rick shouts from behind her.

 

Lupe turns and sees the massive hand cannon pointed at her. She's running on zero sleep and less patience. She still had the assault rifle at her back, but she didn't draw it. She didn't want to kill any of them, especially not in front of the kid. Except maybe Daryl, she is rightfully furious at Daryl.

 

Lupe glares at Rick, blood covered and dazed. "Why you drawin' your weapon on me?" She spits venomously. "This is the asshole who abandoned me, Alma, and Beth! I'm gonna fucking kill him, and if you have to shoot me, so fucking be it."

 

"You said that earlier," Michonne interjects. Her voice shakes due to adnrenalized hope. "We think you knew our Beth."

 

"And that's our Daryl, one of our group," Rick mutters, his voice a little airy and his eyes still too wide.

 

Lupe gapes a little. "Oh, fuck. No way."

 

A distant memory of Beth and Daryl fighting has her recalling some names. She glares back at Daryl as he groans his way to his feet. She fights the urge to keep wailing on him and looks back at Rick.

 

"Sorry for hitting your friend, but he still abandoned us," she spits, "joined this merry band of assholes." A sharp smile spreads on her lips. "Kinda hurts my feelings and pisses me right the fuck off!" She finishes, seething and glaring at Daryl as he limps past her. She grabs him by the arm. "I need to find those girls. What the fuck were you doing palling it up with a bunch of rapists, you dip-shit?!” She snarls and shoves him.

 

Daryl stumbles and Rick jumps to his side to support him. Shaking his head, Daryl’s eyes flash between her and Rick. "I was tryin' to keep'em off yer tail. They came through not long after you left." His voice builds into a solid growl as he regains his footing, "You come back with your truck and supplies, they'd a raped ya and shot me. Then taken you and the truck. Ain't no way I'm risking that!"

 

Lupe rolls her eyes. "You kidding me? We could have taken them!" The group stares at her in shock. She sighs with her whole body and groans loud. "Fine! Fuck it! I won't kill you." She stomps over to her truck and rips open the tailgate.

 

Michonne comes around the back and she watches as Lupe tries to cope through a violent set of shakes. She leans her hands on the tailgate and gasps for air. Michonne waits until she calms. Everyone who survives has been there before.

 

"I want to thank you," Michonne starts gently. Lupe looks up at her like a trapped animal. "Thanks to you, Carl didn't get assaulted."

 

Lupe stares down at the tailgate. One of her hands curls into a fist and she presses her knuckles into the cold metal. She huffs out a tight breath and shakes her head. "Cause I left him, he had a knife to his neck a second time."

 

"Because you left him, Daryl didn't get stomped into mush on the pavement or knifed eighteen times," Michonne interjects. "You can't protect everyone at once."

 

Lupe shudders out a breath. "No, you - you don't get it. That was the second time I almost let those assholes slip through my fingers. The second time they almost hurt a kid." Lupe's face pinches tight and her chin quivers.

 

Michonne frowns. "So you did run into them before."

 

Lupe nods. She lifts her shirt to show the remnants of bruises, hand marks, and scratches littering her torso. "They captured me and my sister. I managed to kill three of them and scare the rest off." She shakes her head and glances up at Michonne. "It was my responsibility to take the rest of them out. I'm sorry I let them go. I'm sorry they found you and hurt you too."

 

Michonne smiles, but her eyes are sympathetic. "Honey, it was everyone's responsibility to take them out. How many people did they hurt before you, huh? You can't lay all that at your own feet."

 

Lupe shudders and closes her eyes. "Carl almost -,"

 

"Carl is safe now. He's surrounded by people who love him. He'll be protected and supported." Michonne looks her up and down. "What about you?"

 

Lupe grits her teeth and reaches into the back of her truck. "Carl can rest in the back again if he feels safe enough. You're welcome to join him."

 

Michonne sighs through her nose. She nods. As she turns to walk away Lupe clears her throat. Michonne turns back and there's a box with some first aid supplies, water, and food.

 

"For your family..." Lupe mutters.

 

Michonne nods her thanks. "Do you mind if I just take some for me and Carl? I'm not sure Rick or Daryl is ready yet."

 

Lupe nods. Michonne scoops a few things into her arms and goes to get Carl. They climb into the back of the truck while the night still rages on, quiet in the shadow of so much death. Lupe sits on the back of the tailgate and stares into the dirt, hoping it might impart some special wisdom.

 

She's startled by movement, steps along the asphalt. She shimmies off the tailgate and leans around the edge of her car to observe. Rick sits against the deflated wheel of the busted Tahoe. He's still covered in blood and he stares out into the night wide-eyed. She pities him as she pities herself. He knows the evils of this world well, much like her.

 

She finally catches what is making all the noise. She sees Daryl limping around, knife in his hand, and stabbing all the Claimers in the head. He starts dragging corpses off the road. She glares at him for most of it, but once the night edges into the grey of pre-morning, she goes back to her tailgate. She stares at the box of supplies for a long time.

 

Once the sun is shining, she hears a voice for the first time in a while. "We should save it to drink."

 

"You can't see yourself, he can."

 

Lupe looks down at the box again. She frowns, tilting her head like it's the strangest thing she's ever seen. Her shoulders slump, she sighs heavy and grabs the box. She limps around the back of her car, her hip stinging from crawling around flat on her belly. She eventually reaches Rick and Daryl. She gets a close up look at Rick in the burgeoning dawn. She'd say calling him haggard was a compliment. Her eyes flash to Daryl, but she can't stand looking at him for more than a blink.

 

Lupe puts the box down at Rick's side, opposite where Daryl sits. "There's food, water, and some first aid stuff. I got some hydrogen peroxide in there." The men both turn their faces up to her with slacked jaws and blank eyes. "There's these, um, these anti-bacterial wipes I included. They get blood off really well." They stare up at her still. She shuffles on her toes and her hands slam into her pockets. "Uh, bye." She turns on her heel and gets a few hobbling steps away.

 

"Wait, Lupe…” Daryl says, rushing to her side.

 

She stops but doesn't turn to face him. Her shoulders hunch and she's ready to get hit in retaliation for cold-cocking him.

 

"M'sorry I left," Daryl mutters. His lip got split and a bruise forms around his eye like he's half-panda. "I knew men like them before. Nothin' about this world brings out the best in people. I didn't want your ass under fire cause I went fuckin' crazy."

 

Lupe bites her lip and closes her eyes. It was exceedingly rare that people apologized to her after doing her wrong. She nods slightly and forces herself to look in his eyes, past the scraggly bangs. "I'm sorry I hit you. I guess, I went a little bit crazy too. The girls being gone is the worst thing that's ever happened to me. When you disappeared, I didn't know what to think... You get killed? Was it a setup? I just... I hated you for it, leaving me alone."

 

Daryl nods, nibbling on his lip and then flinching because he hit the tender spot. "Don't hate me no more?"

 

She blinks her face into a stunned blankness. She did not expect that question. "Uh, no," she squints at him, "I suppose not."

 

"Good. Cause we gotta find those girls," he mumbles, "can't have you tryin' to kill me while we do that."

 

Lupe chuckles. "Yeah, I suppose that'd make it a little harder, getting distracted thinking about all the ways to kick your ass." She looks back up at him with half a smile. There's the merest twitch of a grin on his lips.

 

"Thanks for takin' out Harley and Billy," Daryl mutters, shy again. "Couldn't believe y'all were alive. I kinda shut down."

 

A small sympathetic smile perks her cheeks. "I get it. And no problem, I, uh," she swallows as a frown pinches her face, "I had scores to settle."

 

Daryl blinks. "All of 'em?"

 

Lupe shudders. It takes her a moment to uncoil, but she nods. "Every single one."

 

A growl builds in Daryl's chest. It surprises both of them. "M'sorry they hurt you and Alma. I didn't -, I knew they were scum, but -,"

 

Lupe waves her hands to make him stop talking. "It's... it's not like I talked about it. You couldn't have known." Daryl stays quiet, but his head shakes as he drops his gaze to the floor. "They're dead now. That's all that matters to me."

 

She walks away from him, back to her tailgate. She perches again but scoots closer to the inside so she can lean against the wall and stretch out her legs. She swivels her pelvis a little and a few pops happen in her hips and tailbone. She sighs from the slight relief. Reaching towards the hidden compartment, she pulls out a small Ziploc bag and grabs half a joint. There's no way for the smell to reach the inside of the cab, so she doesn't feel guilt lighting it up. She exhales and her eyes follow the smoke as it travels out into the open air.

 

She finishes the joint and scrapes the embers off on her shoe before tossing it into the road. It just so happens Rick is walking up at the same time. It lands right at his feet.

 

"That a joint?" He stares at it between his toes.

 

"What, you a cop?" Lupe snaps back with biting sarcasm.

 

"Used to be." Rick smiles softly as he looks up at her.

 

"Well, shit..." Lupe mutters and wipes a hand down her face.

 

"I think I can grant a little leniency, it being the end of the world and all." Rick walks past the stub and approaches the tailgate. "I wanted to thank you," Rick starts, clearing his throat and failing to take his eyes off the ground. "Carl said you helped him."

 

Lupe bites her lip and lowers her gaze too. "Barely. I should've -,"

 

"You saved two members of my family, Lupe," Rick interjects. "Let me thank you for what you did do."

 

Lupe looks up and him, chewing on her lower lip. She nods.

 

"Daryl told me about what happened with y'all," Rick says. "I think you should come with us. We can protect each other."

 

Lupe nods slowly. "You're still going to that place?"

 

"Terminus, yeah," Rick replies, short and gruff, "we're hoping to regroup. Maybe see if any of our family survived elsewhere." He clears his throat. "Beth's sister could be there. She'll want to help you find her and your sister."

 

Lupe keeps nodding, her head basically bouncing above her shoulders. "We can take my car."

 

Rick's eyes pop open. "We can?"

 

Lupe chuckles. She looks at Rick. "Sure. Y'all should get some rest."

 

"What about you?" Rick asks.

 

Lupe shrugs, clambering out of the back of the truck. "No one drives this car but me or Alma, thing's finicky as all hell." She shivers and leans on the tailgate. "I don't know if I'll sleep till I find her. Or I'll crash hard at some point, but it's not right now."

 

Rick nods, lips pursing. "I need to find my family. Beth's my family." Rick clears his throat and looks at Lupe. "All things considered, you and your sister get lumped into all that too." His shoulders square on her and his eyes go a little too sharp. "I just have three questions."

 

"Alright..." She squints at his sudden intensity, unsure.

 

"How many walkers have you killed?"

 

Lupe chuckles. "Thousands. Upwards of 6k, I think. I'd have to check Alma's tally." Rick gives her an odd look. "We're trying to see who can reach 10k first. Just... kind of a friendly competition to pass the time."

 

He nods and shakes his head. His eyes focus on her again and he bores into her gaze. He's looking for something as he asks, "How many people have you killed?"

 

Lupe snorts at that. An abnormal reaction judging by Rick's face. She smiles, but it is grim. "250 people."

 

Rick's jaw hardens. "Why?"

 

"Some of them, I had to put out of their misery, but that's a small count." She swallows heavy and her eyes settle on Rick. There are no illusions between them. "Over 600 days have passed since all this started, Rick. We learned to avoid people, but not soon enough. The rest of them hurt or tried to hurt me and Alma. I don't negotiate the lives of my sister or myself, Rick. Especially not with rapists."

 

Rick sighs long and hard. He nods. "We aren't like that."

 

Lupe gives him a sad smile. "I know."

 

"I just -," Rick swallows, "last night, I -,"

 

"Rick..." Lupe says hard and cold. He focuses on her with reddened eyes. She shakes her head at him with a soft smile. "You did the right thing."

 

"Right?" He gasps at her, chest caving in with guilt. "Carl saw -,"

 

"Carl saw his father do everything he could to save his family's life. You gave him justice, Rick, and sometimes justice is bloody. Don't you dare apologize for saving your child from a rapist. Not to me. I won't accept it," she commands. "I would have done that and worse to them."

 

Rick stares at her a long time. "Alright..." he nods, "alright, thank you."

 

"No, thank you," Lupe says. "What you did saved all our lives." Rick blinks at her, but nods. He walks off to go talk to Daryl. Lupe stares after them for a little while, until she realizes it's awkward. She goes back to her tailgate and sits down with her face crumbling into her hands. The tears fall, but they're guarded and silent. She'll follow them to Terminus. The last thing she wants is to be alone.

Chapter Text

They roll along parallel to the railroad for a few hours. Most everyone sleeps except for Lupe, who drives. And Daryl, he sits in the back with Carl and Michonne.

 

"You said this place was at the end of the tracks?" Lupe asks Daryl, quiet as she can.

 

He nods to her gaze in the rearview mirror. "Yeah, supposed to follow them all the way to the terminal."

 

Lupe sighs out flapping lips, but the sound is airy as not to wake the others up. "Okay, well, I think this is the last road to intersect the tracks before the terminal. Rick said he wanted to approach on foot, right? I want to hide my car."

 

Daryl rouses the group while Lupe pulls off the road. They probably would've gotten shaken awake from the bumpy terrain anyway. She soon finds a nice patch of lumpy earth and gnarled trees. Everyone gets out and gears up. They watch Lupe manipulate the truck, the tarp, and the brush until the pieces fade into one another. They're all pretty shocked at how seamless it looks surrounded by the rest of the woods.

 

They make a beeline for the railroad and start to follow it. Carl balances on the tracks. Daryl limps along, morose and eying the woods with a squint. Rick and Michonne lead the way. They whisper back and forth to each other. Michonne leans in and curls her arm around Rick's. They walk in tune with each other until they reach some busted posts sticking out of the ground.

 

Lupe approaches warily and sees a large hunk of dirtied plywood. Rick kicks it clean with the toe of his boot. The lettering has faded, but she sees the offering, the entreaty. She shudders at the wording.

 

"I have seen some bait in my life, and that is some goddamn bait." Everyone turns to look at her. She swallows, throat tight and nervous from the attention. The anxiety never quite stopped her from speaking her mind. "This is where you're going? Some place that leaves signs out in the wild? With directions? For literally anyone to find?!" Her eyes pop to each of them between blinks. "That doesn't seem suspicious to you?"

 

Rick sighs hard and nods. "We'll be there soon, well before sundown." He glances at Daryl and Michonne, he's still wary of looking at Carl. He's afraid of what he'll see in his son's eyes. "We head through the woods now. Lupe's right, we don't know who they are."

 

"Alright," Daryl nods. He glances around, through the trees and up the tracks. He looks at Lupe and she's gnawing on her lips. Her frown is so deep it's like her brows are swallowing her eyes. Rick heads into the woods with the rest trailing him. Daryl looks back at Lupe and asks, "You comin'?"

 

Lupe looks up at him, eyes twitching through the forest. "I don't like this."

 

Daryl sighs. "Me neither, but we gotta find the rest of our group. We find them? We can definitely get the girls back safe."

 

Lupe swallows, her face cringes with sadness, but she buttons it up. She nods at Daryl and they head into the woods to meet up with the rest. They hike through the brush for a while, silent and careful. Lupe doesn't feel alone in these woods. And it's not because of the ‘warmth’ of her current companions. There's the itch of someone's eyes on her back. Her paranoia grows and grows with each step.

 

They soon reach the outer gates of Terminus. The chain link stands at about seven feet, covered with leaves and vines. Wooden crates dot along the perimeter on the outside. Spikes stick through too, but they're wobbly and could be sharper. They'll suffice as footholds to climb over.

 

Daryl waves over the group and Rick approaches first with his gun drawn. They all patter over to the fence as he peeks in. Daryl and Lupe stand guard and watch their backs.

 

"We all spread out. Watch for a while and see what we can see," Rick says as he eyes the compound, a veritable hive of buildings and pathways. "Get ourselves ready." He looks back at his family and commands, "Stick within shouting distance." The group nods and starts to disperse. Carl passes by his father. Rick licks his lips, nervous as he brushes his son's shoulder to stop him. "Want to stick with me?"

 

"It's alright," Carl shoots back without inflection and walks away.

 

Rick grits his teeth, eyes fleeting back to the compound. He exhales hard, fingers gripping the chain link.

 

"Don't take it too personally."

 

Rick turns to see Lupe at his back. She gazes off after Carl as he walks with Michonne. "My sister did the same thing when I killed people in front of her. In a way, both of us did." Lupe sighs. "It's less about him feeling scared of you, but rather a guilt. Carl doesn't know what you'd do for him, not really. It's difficult to confront the sort of unconditional devotion that wreaks havoc. A little like staring into an eclipse. It burns, it's scary, it's humbling, but it’s beautiful."

 

Rick purses his lips to stop his chin from quivering. His voice is gruff with unspoken grief, "How do you know that?"

 

"Because the first human me and my sister came across that tried to do us ill?" Lupe swallows hard. “Well, I wasn't the one to kill him.” She remembers being so scared of the man who attacked her, she could barely function. She froze right up. "I felt awful that it was Alma who went through it. The one who had to kill. I vowed I'd never put her in that position again. I may have failed at that, but I do what I can to keep her from having to do something she hates."

 

Lupe swallows, trying to get her mouth to stop being so dry. "Carl’s scared of putting you in a position where you'll have to save him. He probably feels weak and foolish too. I've been assaulted like that. It’s one of the most dehumanizing feelings on the planet. He's confused and he'll need your support. But you'll have to wait until he's ready." Lupe gazes at Rick, sad and sympathetic. "It's not about morality. You did the right thing. You both know that. But you can also just wish it didn't have to happen."

 

She walks off to follow the group into the woods. Her eyes flicker to the expanse of the compound as she traverses the perimeter. Her first suspicion arises when she doesn't see anyone out and about. It's past dawn now and the world is waking. But not Terminus.

 

She gets distracted by some sounds in the woods. She creeps through the trees and stumbles upon Rick burying his blue duffle bag. Daryl stands at his side.

 

Rick looks up at her, then Daryl, and mutters, "Just in case..."

 

She gets it. Lupe left her duffle full of weapons hidden in her truck. They didn't need to know about that yet.

 

Rick finishes covering up the duffle and hiding the shovel so they head towards the fences. They use the pikes like Lupe suggested, climbing up and over in no time at all. The second Lupe's feet touch the ground, she knows she's in hell. Or at least another level of it.

 

The group crouches against the fence and looks around, weapons drawn and ready. Racing behind the buildings, they keep Carl in the center. Lupe and Michonne buffet him while Rick leads the charge and Daryl pulls up the end of their train. They cross over the empty tracks and make themselves disappear.

 

Rick rushes towards an open door to one of the buildings and waves everyone in. He presses a finger to his lips as if it weren't obvious to stay quiet. Lupe gets distracted by a loud whining whir. It sounds electrical, like a big saw. It's not close by any means, but it bounces between the buildings. She looks around, trying to swallow past the tightness in her throat. She follows the group inside and hears a voice.

 

"Terminus..."

 

"Sanctuary for all."

 

"Community for all."

 

They step into a giant warehouse, the room wide open. An elderly woman sits at a desk speaking into a microphone. Several others are across the way, working at standing tables. They paint signs for Terminus.

 

"Those who arrive survive."

 

Daryl is first, glaring around the room with his weapon up. Rick walks right past him, his gun low.

 

"Hello," he says.

 

The woman at the desk stops talking into the microphone and jumps. Her eyes go wide. But Lupe doesn't see panic. She sees anger and indignance. Her hand grips one of Alma's pistols, she wears it like a totem for comfort and reassurance. Her palm and fingers curl around the carvings on the grips, feeling at home against her skin.

 

Rick turns to the group working at the tables. "Hello," he says louder. His group spreads out into a line, weapons poised to look relaxed. But they're ready.

 

A lanky brunette in a grey button-down looks at them and sighs. Lupe sees that same anger welling in his chest before he huffs out air. "Well, I'm guessing Albert is on perimeter watch." He puts down his paintbrush and turns to Rick’s group. He walks around the tables and stares at each of them.

 

Lupe meets his gaze head-on.  His eyes are dead just past the iris. She leans back, away from the senseless, endless void in him. A stare like that is hardly human. He does his best to walk the walk and talk the talk. But there’s a shadow looming about him that even the most charming grin can’t shake.

 

Looking back at Rick, he asks, "You here to rob us?"

 

"No," Rick states. He holsters his pistol as he walks forward. "We wanted to see you before you saw us."

 

"Makes sense," the man drawls. He shifts and his face morphs. Much too fluid, like it’s practiced. He walks forward with a grin. "We usually do this where the tracks meet," he clears his throat and opens his arms. "Welcome to Terminus. I'm Gareth." He drops his arms and looks through the group again. "Looks like you've been on the road a good bit."

 

"We have," Rick nods, "I'm Rick. That's Carl, Daryl, Michonne, and Lupe."

 

Gareth gives them a stilted wave. He walks forward, saying, "You're nervous. I get it!” But the animated tone doesn't match his lifeless gaze. "We were all the same way. We came here for sanctuary. That what you're here for?"

 

Rick nods, his tone is deep and stern, "Yes."

 

"Good, you found it," Gareth says, bouncing on his toes. "Hey, Alex..." he shouts over his shoulder, then turns back to their group, "This isn't as pretty as the front. We got nothing to hide, but the welcome wagon is a whole 'lot nicer." He grins wide.

 

Lupe scowls at him. People who have nothing to hide, don't need to say it. The other man, Alex, approaches. His smile is wide, but his eyes aren't empty, they're ravenous.

 

"Alex will take you out to get some food and refreshments. He'll ask you a few questions too. But first…” Gareth sighs. "We're gonna need to see everyone's weapons. If you could just lay them down in front of you."

 

Rick looks towards his group and Lupe checks in too. She's grateful to see that none of them look particularly comfortable about any of this. Alarm bells are ringing in Lupe's head. Red flags are popping up like fireworks in her brain. If any of them try to touch her, she might start shooting and never stop. This place vibrates with a horrific energy. She wants to burn it away.

 

"Alright," Rick mutters, putting down his gun.

 

"M’Sure you understand," Gareth says, arms flopping to his sides.

 

Rick doesn't take his eyes off Gareth. "I do." The rest of the group follows his lead. Gareth makes a T-pose and everyone raises their arms to be pat down.

 

Alex approaches Daryl while Gareth frisks Rick. Alex takes in the wreck of Daryl's face. "Hate to see the other guy," he chortles.

 

"You would," Rick replies, tone grave.

 

Alex moves to Carl and pats him down. "They deserve it?"

 

"Yes," Carl says. With his young voice, it's irrevocably chilling to hear.

 

Gareth starts talking as he approaches Lupe, "Just so you know, we aren't those type of people." He reaches for Lupe and she flinches away from him. "But we aren't stupid either." He eyes her up and down like she might be lunch. She fights the urge to snarl at him. He reaches for her again and she steps back. He backs off from her and raises his hands in supplication. "And you shouldn't be stupid enough to try anything." Gareth smiles right at her.

 

Gareth turns towards Rick with a different grin. "As long as everyone's clear on that, we won't have any problems. Just solutions." He claps his hands. "Okay." He turns and walks away while Alex goes to grab Michonne's sword. He hands it back to her. She watches him with a strained stare the entire time.

 

"I got it," Lupe growls when he tries to approach and touch her and her sister's guns. She grabs them herself.

 

Daryl doesn't say a word. He grunts and grabs his bow before Alex can reach it. Alex does have luck with Carl and Rick. Rick glares at him, but Alex keeps smiling.

 

"Follow me." Alex waves them over and starts walking. The group follows him out of the warehouse.

 

Once they exit into the open air, Daryl looks around, following Alex close. "So how long's this place been here?"

 

Alex glances over his shoulder, the smile is almost gone as he speaks, but the corner of his lips curl up in his cheeks. "Since just about the start. When all the camps got overrun, people started finding this place." He looks around, pleasantly pleased. "I think it was instinct, you know? Follow a path. Some folks were heading to the coast, others out west or up north, but they all wound up here."

 

They pass through a narrow alley between the buildings. There are flowers in clay pots lining the way. They enter into a wider common area with a raised garden bed. Some tables are set up with chairs and umbrellas. Charcoal, dropped and stepped in, scuffs the ground in scattered footprints. A huge silver grill sits to the side.

 

"Hi," says an older woman behind the grill. She seems tense as she gazes between each person. "Heard you came in the back. Smart." She smiles, but it's empty. "You'll fit right in here."

Chapter Text

Rick's group stands staggered in front of the grill. Their eyes scan the area, still looking for threats. Lupe shifts on her feet. Something tacky sticks to the bottom of them, like the ground itself is trying to latch on and pull her under. She stares down at her shuffling toes, smearing the charcoal beneath her. There's a divot in the ground by her toe that she rubs at. She's tempted to inspect it, her knees start to bend, but she freezes.

 

"Mary, would you fix each of these new folks a plate for me?" Alex smiles and looks towards the older woman.

 

Lupe gets distracted by movement in the courtyard. Random residents start trickling in like a wedding procession. They wander around the space like NPCs on a specific track. One man sits and opens up an orange backpack, but he's not even looking inside of it. Another man sits facing a wall. He stares right at it, that's it. He rarely moves. A ginger gentleman walks out with a set of full body riot armor. She watches him take off the lid of a wooden crate and place it back on twice before picking it up. He glides to another spot and does it again. A woman sits at a table. The day is already heating up, but she's wearing a thick woven poncho. The fork in her hand pokes into her plate, but there's no food on it.

 

"Why do you let people in?" Michonne asks.

 

"When people become a part of us," Alex smiles, "we get stronger." He turns to Mary to grab some plates, handing them off to Carl, then Michonne. "Here..." His grin spreads wide again. "You guys look like you're starvin'. We better fatten you up."

 

Rick walks past Lupe right up to Alex as he extends his hand with a plate in it. Rick smacks the plate to the ground and reaches for Alex's hip. In a blink, Rick has the man twisted in his arms with a gun to his head. Everyone raises their weapons and points them at the gathered crowd. Those NPCs all face the burgeoning chaos now and they have weapons too. Lupe turns around in a slow circle and starts inspecting their routes for escape. She knew she hated it here.

 

"Where the hell did you get this?" Rick snarls, holding up a silver pocket watch on a chain.

 

"You want answers? You want anything else? You get'em when you put down the guns!" Alex mutters through lips stretched tight, smile now gone. He tries not to struggle against Rick. Very few are foolish enough to doubt the way he presses a gun into their face.

 

Lupe turns to see a figure strolling towards them in the alley. She doesn't want to take her eyes off of it, even as Rick speaks.

 

"I see your man on the roof with a sniper rifle," Rick muses, turning Alex with him to put him up as a shield. "How good's his aim?" Rick leans in and growls, "Where'd you get the watch?" He exhales tight. When there's no response, he roars, "Where'd you get this watch!?"

 

"Don't do nothin'! I have this!" Alex screams at the sniper. "You just put it down! You put it down!"

 

Lupe takes her aim at the sniper. He doesn't put the gun down, but he crouches a bit behind the top edge of the roof. Lupe feels adrenaline starting to snake through her. She grits her teeth. They shouldn't have trusted Terminus. People didn't deserve to trust anymore. She knows.

 

"You want to listen to me," Alex whimpers through his threat, "there's a lot of us."

 

"Where did you get the watch!?" Rick screams into his ear.

 

"I got it off of a dead one," Alex gargles out, "I didn't think he'd need it."

 

Rick turns him sharp, pointing him back toward the crowd. "What about the riot gear? The poncho?" Lupe maintains her aim at the sniper, clueless about what Rick's saying. She has a vague idea, but she doesn't quite want to ruminate on it yet.

 

"Got the riot gear off a dead cop," Gareth says emerging from the alley with his hands lowered. "Found the poncho on a clothesline."

 

Everyone shifts at Gareth's entrance. Lupe pulls out Alma's pistol. She has a gun in each hand, one pointed up at the sniper and one leveled at Gareth.

 

"Gareth, we can wait..."

 

"Shut up, Alex," Gareth says in a monotone.

 

"You talk to me," Rick growls at Gareth.

 

"What's there left to say? You don't trust us anymore." Gareth shrugs.

 

"Gareth..." Alex begs, "Gareth, please."

 

"Shut up!" Gareth snarls at Alex. He sighs and then tries to placate him, "It's okay. It's okay." Gareth steadies, raising a hand. "Rick, what do you want?"

 

"Where are our people?" Rick demands.

 

"You didn't answer the question." Gareth smiles and his hand closes into a fist.

 

Terminus erupts with gunfire. Rick twists around in time for bullets to riddle Alex's body. Lupe fires off both her guns with a simultaneous squeeze of her grip. Her shot at the sniper hits true, but the one towards Gareth only skims his arm. He wails and his hand jumps to cover the wound. He glares at Lupe and then runs away fast. Gunfire pelts the ground around them or cracks into the brick walls, kicking up dust. The group converges as Rick calls for Carl. Only four of them run off down the alley the gunshots direct them towards.

 

Lupe sprints after Gareth but the little rat slips into a door and locks it. She looks around and realizes that she's alone. She can't hear much of anything over the gunfire. In snippets, there's the sound of distant radio chatter, but she can't discern it. She thinks she hears Rick yelling, but she doesn't know which direction to go. Most of the rooftops have shooters up there. She starts to run, but skitters to a stop and looks to the building at her side.

 

Except one.

 

Lupe squares up to the building and her eyes scan the available real estate. There are some low windows and an awning with what looks like a water collection tank next to it. She shakes her head at herself, curses several times, and then runs towards the tank.

 

The gunshots focus on the group fleeing them. It gives Lupe ample time to get up to the roof without being bothered . As she throws herself over the edge, she tumbles down onto the rooftop and rolls. She hears the crunching of uneven footsteps in the gravel and lifts her head and her gun at the same time.

 

The sniper is dead, but not fully dead. She hit him in the throat. He must have bled out fast because he's already white-eyed, up, and shambling around. The maldito reaches for her, but she pulls the trigger and kills him a final time. She scrambles low on the rooftop and grabs his weapon. Alma is better on the long-range guns, but Lupe never shied away from an opportunity to improve. As she's fiddling with the gun, getting accustomed to it as fast as she can, the static of the radio buzzes it to life.

 

A strange too casual voice speaks, "Heading into the main."

 

Lupe grits her teeth and scrambles back over for the radio, tucking it into her pants. She goes back to the rifle, perches its muzzle on the roof, hugs it to her shoulder, and then starts firing.

 

Her shots ping off the other rooftops until she gets the hang of it. The rifle kicks like a mule, but she forces herself to keep going despite the ache in her shoulder. She manages to pick off four of the Terminus rooftop snipers, smiling at herself all the while.

 

The radio comes to life at her hip. "We've got a rogue one!"

 

"Get them off B!" Someone shouts and it's suspiciously close.

 

Lupe turns to look over her shoulder and Gareth comes from the rooftop entrance on the opposite side. He has at least four other people with him.

 

Lupe raises her gun and fires off as many shots as she can until they're all jumping for cover. She peeks over the edge of the roof. The Terminus group will get the balls to fire back soon. She doesn't have many options.

 

"This is bull shit. This is bullshit. This is bullshit!" She screams as she jumps, staying tight to the side of the building. She falls down with a wail, tucking her body at the last second. She smacks into an awning that almost buckles beneath her weight, but doesn't break. She's able to roll out of the thick material and lower herself to the asphalt.

 

"Holy shit!" Lupe rasps, knees knocking as her entire body quivers. There isn’t much time for fear so she sprints off down the alleyway with the fewest bullet holes in the walls.

 

"Rogue is off the rooftops!"

 

Lupe hears Gareth not only through the radio, but his voice echoes in the alley as she runs. She doesn't stop, winding down the paths that look the least destroyed. Skidding to a stop, she kicks open a random door. Once she sprints inside, she slams the door shut behind her and pulls a heavy metal table in front of it. She turns around and goes completely numb.

 

Luckily the room is almost empty, but only empty of people that are alive. Her eyes stay wide-open and unblinking. She flinches hard hearing the gunshots erupt outside again. But her eyes refocus on the corpse laying on the other metal table. The man's head lolls to the side, eyes wide open and unseeing. The back of his skull dents in from a hard blow, but there's also the gaping wound across his throat. There are pieces of him missing. She knows well enough what those absent chunks mean. She read Silence of the Lambs when she was eight.

 

She sprints through the open warehouse and out the back door. She runs towards the fences until she sees two people pop out of the brush. They poke their muzzles through the chain link.

 

"Put the guns on the ground!" One man screams.

 

Lupe huffs, eyes unblinking. She takes off the rifle and lowers it to the ground, nice and slow. She stands with her hands up and her eyes flickering through her surroundings.

 

"The pistols at your side too!" The woman yells.

 

Lupe nods. She lowers her hands to her weapons but takes her sweet time. She's halfway there, acting like it’s the longest process in the world. The people behind the brush start to stand right as her hands brush against the handles.

 

She draws so fast they don't see it. She re-holsters the pistols as the two Terminus guards drop dead on the other side of the fence. Shoving her toe under the rifle, she kicks it up into her hands and slings it across her back. She sprints towards the fence and scales it as fast as possible. Once over the fence, she stomps on the heads of the dead guards, takes their guns, and disappears into the forest. She knows she needs to get out of there, but she's not leaving them behind.

Chapter Text

The trees are green and the sun is bright. Lupe can't tell shit from shit as she sprints through the forest. She doesn't think anyone is trailing her. She felt like these woods had eyes before, so she's not gonna risk it.

 

She follows a set of railroad tracks from the edge of the trees. She needs to get back to her truck as fast as possible. She doesn't quite know what she's gonna do yet, but when she gets to the car she can figure it out. Alex wasn't lying when he said Terminus has a lot of people. Luring in unsuspecting victims and eating their flesh likely had something to do with keeping them all hearty and prolific.

 

As she runs down the sides of the tracks, Lupe gets forced to divert from her path. She manages to keep all her inventive curses inside her head. A group of malditos with at least fifty or so heads shambles in the direction of the remaining gunfire.

 

She jets through some trees in the opposite direction of the creatures, silent as the wind around her. The radio at her side crackles. Her hands slap against the little black box until she turns it off, but she hears voices anyway.

 

"Ten-minute count," a woman says, her voice distorted by the small speaker of the radio. "You screw up, you're on your own, Martin."

 

Lupe follows the sounds, her feet careful across the floor of the forest. She hides behind some brush and observes. There's a man kneeling on the ground of a clearing. A small shack is behind him and a coupé sits parked a foot or two away from him. He digs around in a black duffle and pulls out a tall yellow firework.

 

Setting it down on the ground, he reaches for his waist and grabs his radio. "You don't have to tell me. I wipe my own ass." He smiles as he stands and goes back to the duffle. "Alex didn't get it. See, I knew it. The chick with the sword was bad news. The fat woman with the pistols too. Bitches looked like weapons with a weapon. I bet they grew up in the ghetto," he snorts, setting up another yellow firework.

 

"Alex was always a sloppy-ass mother," the woman on the radio replies. Lupe uses the noise to mask her footfalls as she rushes forward.

 

Martin smiles into the radio, "Yeah, I told Albert I want the kid's hat after they bleed him out."

 

Lupe presses the muzzle of her gun into his temple. "Drop the radio." Martin listens, the radio falls from his fingers and lands in the dirt.

 

"They're only doing eight before public-face," the woman states over the radio.

 

"Listen, you don't have to do this," Martin tries. He tilts his head as much as the gun will allow and his eyes go wide when he sees who it is.

 

Lupe smiles at him. "Oh, I really think I do."

 

She's about to pull the trigger when there's rustling coming from behind the car. Lupe glances up, but when Martin tries to turn, she presses the muzzle harder against his temple. "Don't move, don't speak," she growls pulling out her other gun.

 

A silver-haired woman walks out from the trees with her gun raised. A very tall black man in a beanie trails behind her. He has a lump in his arms. A blanket drapes over half the lump, but Lupe sees tiny shoes hanging down near his waist. The blanket wriggles and big blue eyes turn to gaze at her.

 

"That a fucking baby!?" Lupe can't help but screech.

 

Martin shifts, his hand raises to slap at her. She cracks him upside the head with the butt of her gun and he crumples. She ignores the woman, man, and baby for a moment and gets him back up. This time, she makes him kneel on top of his hands. She stands at his side, with him bent over between her and the strangers, her gun pointing at his head. The other gun raises but aims closer to the forest floor than at the strangers.

 

"Help me!" Martin whines. "She's gonna kill me!"

 

"Yeah, I fucking am! Shut up!" Lupe snarls. The woman approaches, sure of herself. The man and the baby hang back. Lupe is thankful. She loved babies before all this. She doesn't think she's seen one since the world went to shit. She definitely didn’t want to kill the sort of people likely desperate to try and keep one alive.

 

The woman doesn't say a word. Her gun is still aimed in the general direction of both Lupe and Martin, but she's not devoted to either mark yet. She arcs an eyebrow at the both of them and the unusual way Lupe makes Martin cower.

 

"She come through and attacked us! We offered her food and shelter and she went berserk!" Martin's voice quavers in a too fake way. "Help me and you can have whatever you want. We got a place where everyone's welcome!"

 

"Shut up!" Lupe growls again. Lupe looks up at the silver-haired woman and waits for her to make a move. She is still as she observes the interaction. Her bright eyes flicker between them. Then she gazes at Lupe for a good long time.

 

The strange woman lowers her gun. "We're friends with the chick with the sword and the kid in the hat." She stares hard at Lupe. "I imagine she might be too."

 

A palpable relief thrums through Lupe. She looks at this woman and feels like she could kiss her. She couldn't believe she ran into more of Michonne and Carl's group. It's like they sprouted from the trees themselves.

 

Martin sighs at Lupe's feet and chuckles to himself. "They attacked us. We're just holding them."

 

"I don't believe you," the woman spits as she gets closer, completely merciless. She stares at Lupe some more.

 

"We were just protecting ourselves!" Martin growls.

 

The woman scoffs again. Her voice is cold as ice and she enunciates, "I. Don't. Believe. You."

 

Martin curses in whispers, facing the dirt. "There's a bunch of us out here in six different directions," he threatens. "There was a lot of gunfire back home. We need to set off our charges all at the same time to confuse the dead ones away." He turns his head to glance up at the silver-haired woman. "That's good for you, too."

 

"No, it isn't," she replies with a hard, disinterested tone. Lupe's eyes pop open wide. She stares at the woman and then down at the duffle bag. She has an idea. She imagines this woman does too.

 

"There's a herd heading toward Terminus right now!" Martin seethes.

 

"We wouldn't want to confuse them away." The silver-haired woman grins. She looks at Lupe and her head tilts to follow her gaze towards the duffle. Their eyes meet and the woman speaks again, "We're gonna need their help."

 

"It's a compound. They'll see you coming," Martin spits out. "If you even make it that far with all the cold bodies heading over."

 

"I think we'll manage," the woman supplies, condescending. "I don't have any use for him. Do you?" She asks Lupe.

 

Lupe grins at her wide. "No, I don't." Martin turns his head up at her with a deep, hate-filled scowl. "Any last words?" Lupe smiles at him, her tone pure saccharine.

 

"Fuc -,"

 

Lupe pulls the trigger. His head explodes, splashing the dirt with blood and chunks of brain matter. "Don't care, asshole." Lupe snarls. She huffs out a tight breath as the body falls into the dirt. She sizes up the woman. "Your friends' names, the sword chick and the boy with the hat. What are they?"

 

"Carl and Michonne," the woman replies. She looks over her shoulder at the black man as he approaches.

 

Lupe nods to him and he nods back. When he speaks, his voice is deep and melodious, but soft and kind. "Was anyone else there with them?"

 

"Yeah," Lupe starts, "I ended up with Rick, Carl, Michonne, and Daryl. We got split up and they got captured inside." She looks between the two and steps over Martin's corpse, reaching out her hand. "I'm Lupe."

 

"Carol." Carol shakes Lupe's hand, firm and sure.

 

"Tyreese." He shifts the baby in his arms to do the same.

 

"That a real baby?" Lupe asks and the small child turns to face her. Lupe quivers, eyes welling with tears. "Holy shit - fuck - I mean, sorry. I just... a baby?" She looks at Carol.

 

Carol gives her a tight little smirk. "Her name is Judith."

 

Lupe smiles wide. "Judith..." The name comes out her lips like a whisper. "Whoa..."

 

Carol and Tyreese both observe her odd shock. "I'm gonna need your help," Carol says to Lupe.

 

Lupe blinks out of her trance and stares at Carol. "Good, cause I was about to ask for yours." Lupe turns away from them and grabs the fireworks. She tosses them back in the duffle before shouldering it. "I need to burn that place down."

 

Carol's smile perks a little more, but Tyrese looks concerned. "How are you two gonna do this?" He asks.

 

Carol turns to him and her face goes slack. "We're going to kill people." She looks around a little and then goes towards Martin's body. She picks up the radio in the dirt and rummages through his pockets until she comes up with some keys. "Go wait in the house. Keep this radio and listen in. If we need you to go, we'll radio back a codeword."

 

"Poughkeepsie," Lupe interjects with a grin. "I love thinkin' up codewords."

 

Carol puts the keys in his hands and shrugs. "You hear 'Poughkeepsie,' you get in the car, take Judith, and go, alright?"

 

Tyreese shakes his head, his face pinches with concern. "You two be safe."

 

Carol nods and he walks towards the house. She turns back to Lupe. "Tell me what happened."

 

Lupe brings Carol up to speed as they start to organize their packs. It helps with the plan they're formulating. She tells her about the alleys with bullet holes but no blood. She talks about rooftop snipers and a maze of buildings. She talks about the room with the trough and the table with the slab of meat on it that used to have a name.

 

"They're eating people?" Carol asks, actually shocked.

 

Lupe leads her through the woods and back towards the compound. "Yeah, I think they eat a lot of people. They had the routine down pat."

 

"Jesus..." Carol mutters.

 

A crack sounds in the woods so the women freeze. Two walkers come shambling out from behind the trees. Carol and Lupe approach them, stab them in the head, and the malditos both drop in synch. Lupe goes to move on.

 

"Wait..." Carol says. She drops her bags and kneels next to the walker.

 

Lupe is nervous she's doing some weird religious shit, but then Carol pulls out a knife. Now Lupe is kind of hoping she's gonna do some weird witchcraft shit.

 

"I'm sure you're not going to like this, but," Carol sighs, "I know a way to give us some extra insurance." Lupe nods and she continues, "If we cover ourselves in their blood and guts, the walkers won't be able to smell us."

 

Lupe raises her eyebrows. "For real?" She asks and Carol nods. "Shit, that's smart. Wish I would have figured that out sooner. That's useful as hell. Disgusting, but useful."

 

Carol stabs her knife into the walker's gut and rips a slice up to its sternum. She lays two blankets down and cuts holes in the dead center. She hands one to Lupe. Lupe follows Carol's directions. She smears blood and guts all over the material making a grim finger-painting. They help each other slip the contraptions on and then Carol waves Lupe over. Scooping some mud into her hands and rolling it around, Carol wipes it all over her face and neck.

 

Lupe snorts and Carol looks up at her, confused. "I'm already brown." Carol chuckles and the smile that lights up her face makes Lupe's heart stutter. It's the sweetest thing.

 

"It's to help cover up the smell of sweat coming from your pores." Carol's smile still stretches as she speaks.

 

"Oh, shit, you’right." Lupe kneels, digs her hands into the mud, and rubs it all over her exposed skin.

 

They start walking again, worrying less about getting spotted by the dead.

 

"How'd you meet Rick et. al.?" Lupe asks.

 

Carol's face folds into a thoughtful curl of lips. "I met them at the beginning. We were all strangers to each other."

 

"Wow!" Lupe says, eyes going wide. "So you guys have stayed together this whole time?" She’s starting to get an interesting view of the people she’s met.

 

Carol shrugs. "We've lost quite a few of the original group along the way, but picked up others too. We all wanted to keep going. We wanted to live. We wanted each other to live. Then we were just a family."

 

Lupe nods, thoughtful. "Shit, I get that. It was me and my sister since the start. I only ran into Daryl a little while ago. He was with Beth." Carol's eyes shoot to Lupe's face, inspecting it and looking for the worst news. "She got abducted with my sister. Daryl and I were trying to find them, but shit kept happening."

 

Carol sighs and nods. "Sometimes I worry there's nothing left but shit."

 

Lupe snorts and smiles at Carol. Despite the vitriol in her tone, the silver-haired woman gives her a tight, amused grin.

 

"I'm glad Daryl had Beth. He would've fallen apart if he was all alone." Carol muses, gaze lost in thoughts as she walks. "I'm glad Beth found you and your sister." A smile curls on her lips and it's only half sad. "Daryl would have driven her crazy."

 

Lupe watches her while she talks about them. There's an awful lot of concern in Carol's tone. She smiles and nods. "That was about what it looked like when we first met them. She screamed her head off at him. Set him straight right quick."

 

Carol chuckles at that, that smile growing bigger and bigger. "That's my Bethy."

 

Lupe's face splits wide at the adorable nickname for the girl. Her smile becomes pained as she thinks on Alma. She realizes she's been forcing the thoughts further and further away from her mind. Alma's absence is burning something horrible into Lupe. Lupe is afraid of what will be left if she never finds her sister.

 

"We'll find them," Carol says, looking at Lupe with concern in her eyes. "We'll burn this place to the ground, we'll get everyone safe, and we'll find them."

 

Lupe's eyes water and she doesn't want to mess up her mud. She sniffles a little too hard and Carol places a gentle hand on her wrist. Lupe has to hold back the full body shiver that goes through her. She hasn't had someone touch her with that much kindness since long before this happened. She shakes her head of all the tumultuous emotions and levels her stare at Carol. She smiles, despite it being a hollow, broken thing. "I know."

 

Their conversation gets interrupted by shouting in the distance.

 

"Put your backs to the wall on either side of the car now!"

 

Lupe and Carol both assume defensive positions and creep their way forwards. They see a chain link fence not too far away. The tops of buildings crest over the curve of the land. Using bushes and refuse to hide, they plant themselves at the base of the fence and look inside.

 

"Shit..." Carol whispers.

 

There's a large group of Terminus guards. They surround four men lying prone on the ground, gagged and bound.

 

Lupe recognizes Rick and Daryl, but the other two are strangers to her. "Your friends too?" She asks.

 

Carol nods, but her eyes don't move from the scene before them. "The Korean man is Glenn. The Black man is Bob."

 

Two men pick Rick up and drag him away. The others look like they're prepping to do the same to the rest of Carol's group. At a distance, the women trail the two carrying Rick. He gets hauled into the large building Lupe recalls kicking her way in and out of.

 

"Shit, that's the slaughter room I told you about," Lupe whispers at Carol's side. "I escaped right across from the back door on the other side."

 

"Alright, let's follow the fence and see if they have someplace else that won't be as guarded. Then we can set the fireworks. We'll circle back and enter here to start our attack." Carol starts to follow the fence.

 

"Wait!" Lupe hisses, reaching out her hand and grasping Carol by the ends of her gutty poncho. Lupe giggles to herself and sighs. Carol looks at her strange. Lupe buckles it all in, too good to be true, and stares back at Carol with a smile. "I've got a better idea. I just remembered something I saw while I was escaping from this place. Follow me."

Chapter Text

Rick and his group get dragged from the train car, bound and gagged. The guttural whimpers from those gathered for the slaughter get drowned out by the grating wail of a saw. Rick gets plopped down hard on the cement. His knees crack against it and he bites down on the gag in his mouth. His chest leans against a long metal trough, gleaming under the large lights above them. The stainless steel is so clean, Rick can see his own reflection. He has to admit, even he looks scared. Daryl gets set next to him, writhing, and growling through his gag. Glenn is on the other side of Daryl and Bob gets set down on Rick's right side.

Opposite the trough, several yards away, metal tables are set up. A body lays on top of one, still and completely nude. One person pours a green liquid. Sharp and caustic, Rick can smell it from where he is on his knees. The other person holds the saw. The metal contraption screams through the large warehouse.

Other soon-to-be-victims line up along the trough, all men. They wriggle and groan. When Rick sets his eyes on the farthest man from him. He can't believe it. The shock of bleached blonde hair makes his mouth gape around his gag. It's the boy from when he and Carol split up. When he kicked her out. A welling guilt rises up. He wishes he could apologize to her before it all ended. He doesn't want it to be the end yet.

There's a clanging behind Rick. He turns his head towards a man in a plastic apron, already sprayed with blood. The butcher holds appropriate tools, sharpening a knife the length of Rick's shin.

The man behind Daryl and Glenn wears a plastic apron too. He holds a metal baseball bat, taking practice swings like he's in the majors.

"Alright… Ready," baseball bat mutters. The two of them stroll down the line towards the kid with the blonde hair.

There's not even a moment's wait as the metallic thud sounds and there's a loud splash against the trough. The people at that end of the line scream behind their gags and squirm. The second one goes easy as the first. The further the butchers move down the line, the less writhing and muffled shouting. Rick starts to pull a stake of wood out of his pant leg while they stay busy. He pauses when Gareth strolls in.

"Hey, guys, what were your shot counts?" He asks.

"Thirty-eight," the man with the bat says.

He swings. The man next to Glenn flies forward, head crushed and hanging limp over the trough. The guy with the knife hesitates for a second, then shuffles forward to slit the man's throat. They shift to stand behind Glenn. The man with the bat pulls back for a swing.

"Hey!" Gareth snaps at them. Bat-guy pauses mid-swing. "Your shot count?" Gareth asks the man with the knife.

There's a squeaking shift of plastic and rubber. "Crap, man, I'm sorry," his voice shakes, "it was my first roundup."

Gareth rolls his eyes. "After you're done here, go back to your point and count the shells." Gareth looks down at the notebook in his hands and sighs. "Kaylee won't be picking them up until tomorrow."

"Hey!" Bob screams, muffled by his gag. "Hey! Let me talk to you!"

Gareth doesn't acknowledge him. He swings his finger around, waving between corpses and the living, gaze indiscriminate. "Four from A. Four from D?"

"Yeah," one of his men replies.

"Hey! Let me talk to you for a minute!" Bob screams again. His voice falls to a mumble and he keeps repeating it.

Gareth rolls his eyes and approaches. "What?" He asks, ripping the gag out of Bob's mouth.

"Don't do this. We can fix this," Bob begs.

"No, you can't." Gareth sighs, disinterested. The people they killed never had anything interesting to say. He reaches to place the gag back in Bob's mouth.

"You don't have to do this!" Bob yells, trying to keep Gareth distracted. He just needed time. "We told you, there's a way out of all this." Bob entreats between panting breaths. "You just have to take a chance. We have a man who knows how to stop it. He has a cure. We just have to get him to Washington." Bob begs, "You don't have to do this, man. We can put the world back to how it was."

Gareth looks at him with narrowed eyes. A disbelieving smile ticks on the corner of his lips. "Can't go back, Bob," he replies matter of fact, shoving the gag back in Bob's mouth as he screams.

Gareth crouches in front of Rick. He stares back without flinching. His eyes aren't dead like Gareth's. They're alive with a deep-seated hatred and a very harrowing truth.

He has to fight the revealing grin he has for Rick. "Spotters saw you in the forest with a big blue bag. Didn't see you bring it in. What was in it?" Rick doesn't respond, he keeps staring. "You hid it, right? In case things went bad." Gareth leans in toward Rick, amused. "Smart." His head teeters on his shoulders. "We'll find it, but it's too dangerous to go out there right now. That big bitch you brought in killed a bunch of my people."

Gareth pulls out a knife. He grabs onto Bob, yanking him over the trough, putting the point of it at Bob's neck. "What was in it?" He asks Rick. "I'm curious, cause it was a big bag." Gareth waits. He sighs. Jerking his head towards Bob, he asks, "Are you really gonna make me do this?"

"Let me take'ya out there," Rick says, voice hoarse from screaming and the tear gas. "I'll show you."

Gareth chuckles. "Not gonna happen." His smile stays, but his eyes go serious as he wiggles Bob over his knife. "This might though." He moves to jab Bob in the neck.

"There's guns in it." Rick supplies, never willing to risk his own. "AK-47. 44 Magnum. Automatic weapons. Night-scope. There's a compound bow, and..." Rick's face twists in thought as he stretches out the word. "A machete with a red handle." His eyes settle on Gareth again. His voice is casual as he continues, "That's what I'm gonna use to kill you." He chuckles, soft and grim. "That's if Lupe doesn't get to you first."

"Heh," Gareth exhales his laughter. He shakes his head and levels an empty stare at Rick. "We'll find that fat bitch and she'll be fine dining for months," he snarks. He looks at Rick, almost sad as he shakes his head. "She abandoned you. Why in the hell do you think she's coming back for you?"

Rick leans back, eyes wide with amused disbelief. He scoffs. "She ain't comin' back for us." He squints with his smile. "She's coming back for you."

Gareth goes still for a moment. His face bends back into a sick amusement. "Whatever, thanks." He jams Rick's gag back into his mouth and rises. He looks at the workers behind them and says, "You have two hours to get them on the driers. I'm going back to public face. Now's the time to get messy, but we have to dial it all in by sundown."

"Got it."

"Yes, sir."

Gareth turns to leave, but they hear the pattering of distant gunshots. He yanks his radio off his belt. "Hey, Chuck?" He nods his head at his lackeys to go back to work. The man with the bat pulls back another swing. The gunshots sound again but they're closer. Gareth brings the radio up to his mouth.

They feel the rumble of the explosion before they hear the blast. When the boom comes, the earth beneath them quakes like it's alive and trying to buck them off. Chunks of the roof clatter to the ground, bringing down the building around them. The men get thrown to the floor, losing their balance in the shockwave.

Gareth and his men climb to their feet, eyes roving the area, all shocked and confused. The radio comes to life. "What the hell was that!? Gareth! Do you copy?"

Gareth raises a hand to his lackeys and stares around in a stilled rage. "You stay here."

"Gareth, these guys aren't going anywhere -,"

"Stay here until I know what's happening!" Gareth roars at them and then runs out of the building through the door with the kicked-in latch. He gets outside to find the entire compound already sinking into complete anarchy.

The explosion started at the propane tank. The gate got blown to shit. The people of Terminus try to fight back, but it's useless. The number of dead ones drawn from the forest looked like a tidal wave from hell. The creatures passed through the flames undeterred, chasing after the fleeing humans. Some got set alight and trailed the fire inside.

Carol and Lupe split up after the explosion. Carol walked right in with the horde while Lupe snuck in a back way. They did their best to pick off as many of the people of Terminus as possible. Carol was careful and discriminate, looking for her family. Lupe was a little less careful and a lot more focused-driven on doing as much destruction as she could.

Lupe runs around with the black duffle slung on her shoulder and keeps setting off fireworks. Lighting them with her zippo or off the backs of flaming malditos, she tosses them around like candy. She hurls them inside buildings and dumpsters. She throws them into alleyways to block off people trying to escape. She chucks them up on rooftops, aiming at snipers trying to pick off the dead. She meant it when she said she wanted this place burned to the ground.

She has some shots fired in her direction. Because of the smoke, she's sure it's due to the malditos surrounding her. She ducks into a building and finds herself in a room lined with tables. She freezes and forgets how to breathe.

Stacked and sorted on the tables are remnants. The scattered and gathered belongings of all the people killed here. Lupe stumbles forward, her eyes tracing over each and every item. There are hundreds of them. There are weapons. Piles of clothes and lines of jewelry. Mounds of stuffed animals and children's shoes. She leans hard on the table for some stability, meeting the black eyes of a stuffed giraffe. Covered with mud and blood, her hands leave imprints of her presence. Like the rest of them, all that's left is an imprint.

Footsteps sound from the other doorway. Lupe dives under a table and hides. She pulls out her pistol and aims, steady and waiting.

Another dirtied form shambles in. Lupe recognizes Carol in an instant. Carol spots her only seconds after Lupe lowers her gun and she crawls out. Though it surprises them both, they run at each other and hug. Neither knows who initiated the embrace, but they both jump back, half embarrassed.

"See you found the prize room," Carol says in a cold and sarcastic tone. She lets her eyes wander, but there's an absentness to them. Her gaze settles on the jewelry section where watches are all lined up.

"We need more weapons," Lupe bites out. She walks over to the pile and starts shoving things in the now empty black duffle. She grabs a crossbow off the top and turns to Carol, holding it out.

"Daryl..." She says, voice soft and reverent. She takes it in her hands and Lupe swears she sees tears in the woman's eyes.

"Find them," Lupe urges. "Find them and keep them safe."

Carol stares after Lupe as she starts to walk away, leaving the weapons table with scraps. "What are you gonna do?"

Lupe looks back over her shoulder at Carol and smiles. "I'm gonna kill every single one of them." She's out the doors and into alleys where all the dead men roam.

Lupe picks a direction at random and starts running. She soars through the malditos and they rarely acknowledge her. They catch something moving fast. But because their senses are decaying like the rest of their bodies, there's not much to do about it. She turns a corner and skitters to a stop. A few of the dead turn to look at her, but give a sniff and walk towards the action.

In the distance is a group close to fifteen or twenty people surrounded by malditos. She doesn't recognize most of them as they sprint towards the chain link fence. She smiles wide with what she sees next. A man wearing a vest with dingy angel wings and hair in his face. A Black woman with a new stabbing contraption whirling like the wind on a sea of red. And a bearded wild-man with a puffed up jean jacket carrying an assault rifle. She takes a step forward but hears gunfire erupt right above her head. Rick faces in her direction and fires back up at the roof. Lupe looks up in time to see Gareth get shot in the shoulder.

"Hijo de mierda!" (Son of a shit!) Lupe growls. She looks back to see Rick and his group climbing over the chain link. Gareth and his people stumble around as they try to flee the roof. Lupe makes a split-second decision and follows Gareth. She assumes they went down through the building, so she circles to the exit she hopes they'll come out. The others are a little occupied by the dead. She hides behind a dumpster, settles her bag next to her, and waits.

The door opens slow and only a crack. She stills as whoever is inside scours the area for corpses. The alley is pretty clear. Lupe killed the few malditos roaming around and tossed them in the dumpster.

The first person comes out and it's a man. He's followed by a woman and two other men. Then Gareth pops out his head. The second he steps whole-bodied into the light, Lupe unleashes a maelstrom of bullets.

The bodies drop to the floor, one by one, completely riddled. Lupe stands and stalks over to the bleeding group. She kicks all their guns into a pile and stabs each one in the head with a reclaimed sword. She finds Gareth, with a great big assortment of bleeding gut shots and a bullet wound in the shoulder from Rick. She hefts him up and drags him back to the dumpster, tossing him against it.

"Uh oh, looks like the catcher got caught in a trap!" Lupe smiles as she squats in front of him.

Gareth shakes, his face contorted in rage and pain. "It was never a trap. It was a choice: join us or feed us."

Lupe guffaws. "Oh, that so? See, I find that funny. Cause I found your little store room. I saw the stacks and stacks of personal belongings." She shakes too, but it's from a well-tended rage. She roars, "I saw the stuffed animals and baby shoes, you disgusting piece of shit!" She punches him in the face hard and his head gongs back against the dumpster.

Gareth gasps and coughs up blood. He turns his head with a sway from all the blood loss and stares at her. "Bears eat their young if they're starving," he rasps as crimson leeches into the cracks on his lips. "If the bear dies, the cub dies too. But if the bear lives, they can have another -,"

Lupe punches him again. "We ain't bears, mamahuevo!" (cock-sucker!) She growls. She looks down, the red stain seeps and grows through his t-shirt. He won't last much longer and she wants to make the best of this. "You lied to people. Lured them here. You preyed on desperate humans yearning for something good. You are fucking despicable."

"You don't get it. We used to save people!" Gareth snarls and there is little clarity in his rolling eyes. "You weren't here when they came for us. They beat us. Raped us. Tortured us. We had to - we had to end it."

"You think you're the only person who got beat on? Tortured? Raped? Fuck you, you vapid asswipe," she hisses. "I can respect murdering those assholes. Justice is justice is justice," she snaps, "but butchering people? Eating people?"

She shakes her head. "Just because you have trauma doesn't mean you get carte blanche to hurt others." Lupe leans in close, his eyes steady on hers and she can see that emptiness filling up with fear. "You are a vile, pathetic little meat sack and I can't wait to sit here and watch you bleed out." She smiles and her tone is soft, almost tender. "I'll feel nothing but relief when you do."

Gareth gazes at her, eyes rolling and bleary. "Rick - Rick said he was gonna kill me. He'll be disappointed."

Lupe shrugs. "Rick's a big boy, he can manage."

Gareth laughs and blood bubbles up out of his mouth. It spills onto his chest as he rattles for air. "I bet you've never been truly hungry," he says, looking her up and down.

She ignores the pathetic dig because he's wrong. She's lived most of her life on an empty stomach. She's built as she's built, short, strong, and full of fury to fuck shit up. Just like her mama, her mama's mama, and all the mamas that came before her. Lupe stares at him, sighing slow into a smile.

"I bet you would have tasted delicious," Gareth snarls through the blood.

Lupe chuckles. "If you wanted to know how I taste, there are easier ways to find that out than all this. Take me on a date. Buy me some ice cream. Maybe have a little toke. Say you wanna lick my box. Be imaginative," she knocks him on the shoulder like a pal. Except it's the one with the bullet hole, so he cringes and whines.

She leans in slow, tilting her head to catch his gaze. "You wanna find out what it's like to have a little piece of me in your stomach?" He glares at her and grits his teeth. Her grin is too sharp as she speaks, "I am more than happy to oblige."

Lupe rams her pointed hand into his gut, digging through the jagged gunshot wounds. Gareth screams a bloody and horrible sound, but it doesn't stop her hand from twisting deeper. His wails gargle down into silence and he shakes himself into stillness. Lupe pulls out her hand, covered in the mess of his bullet-shredded innards, and wipes it off on his sleeves.

She waits and soon enough Gareth's eyes open again, milky white. She smiles. "Nice to see you back so soon." Her hand reaches up and he snaps at it, but she moves it to his hair and holds on tight. A knife shines clean in her bloody hand. "Hope you don't mind. I wouldn't want anyone to feel left out..."

Chapter Text

Lupe stumbles through the forest. She doesn't bother being quiet. She's covered in so much blood it doesn't matter. She can no longer smell herself. She's not sure she can smell anything anymore. What bliss.

She could hardly keep her eyes open after finishing off Gareth. Her body was completely drained. But the hell around her had become a little too literal for her taste, so she could not rest. It takes her a while to reach the cabin. She's got three separate duffles strapped to her. Each one packed to capacity with as many useful supplies as she could find. Lacking how much sleep she did, who knows what's actually in there.

Lupe spots the back of the cabin through the leaves and huffs out a chest shattering breath. She made it. It appears she is just in time too. Silvery hair shines in the sunlight on the road. Lupe hears the door to the cabin creak open and shut. Rick's supplies all clatter to the ground. He stumbles forward and falls into a sprint, his face contorting in a silent sob. Tyrese enters her vision and Rick skitters to a stop at his feet. He steps back with a baby curled in his arms. The tenderness that radiates off of him is a tenderness that Lupe knows in a visceral way. That child is his world. Carl and Michonne come up behind him. The muffled sounds of their sobs reach Lupe's ears.

Her eyes flutter to the large group behind the family. There are so many faces she doesn't know. But they're all smiling. A Black woman rushes at Tyreese and jumps into his arms, they both start sobbing. Lupe finds Carol again because of her hair. Daryl moves towards her and curls an arm around her. She snuggles against his side like she belongs there. Daryl's face pinches and his eyes redden with unshed tears. His face turns to Carol and he presses his forehead against hers as his shoulders shake.

Lupe stops at the edge of the house. She leans on the side of it, her lungs twitching for air. Their reunion moves her in a devastating way. She's got no good reason to be here aside from her sister. None of these new people knew her. None of them would trust her. They all had each other. All she had was a hollowness. Now devoid a whole chunk of her soul. Her heart aches around the shattering breaths desperate to pass her trembling lips. She lowers her head, trying to bite the emotions back.

She pushes away from the house and turns to go back to the woods. Her feet catch on a pile of trash outside the cabin and it clatters. She freezes because of the sound it makes. It causes a bunch of armed, terrorized cannibal victims to turn with weapons drawn. Lupe hears the clack and whump of a crossbow firing and drops flat to the ground. The duffles feel like they're crushing the life out of her, but she's alive. And none of her pain feels like an arrow sticking out of her.

She pops her head up and glares, screeching, "Dixon if you kill me, I'll kick your ass!"

There's a rumbling of voices and scattering footsteps. Lupe gets plopped on her feet and she's face to face with Daryl. His hands shake to her cheeks, wiping away the grime as best as his dirty fingers can. The duffles start falling off of her and she wobbles with the loss of their weight. The guts-pancho gets tugged over her shoulders and Daryl disappears from her vision. She's whirled from under the fabric and Carol initiates the hell out of a hug, pulling her in close.

"I'm so glad you got out," Carol smiles as she says it.

"I brought some bags," Lupe mutters, gone numb in surprise. "There's a car by the road too. I found gas canisters before they burned."

Carol chuckles in her ear before she pulls back. "That's just great," Carol murmurs while her hand steadies Lupe's bobbing head. "Are you injured?"

Lupe shrugs. "No idea." She gets turned into another set of arms. These ones covered in a puffy jean jacket. Lupe blinks through the idea that this is some sort of wild hallucination. She might be dead. It's that, or Rick is actually hugging her.

"Thank you," his voice chokes in her ear. She wraps her arms around him on instinct as he shakes. "Carol told me what you did for my family. I can't thank you enough." He pulls away from her, unashamed of the tears streaming down his cheeks.

Lupe nods to him about five times before she realizes that it may not be a dream after all. "Wait!" Lupe's eyes go wide and she stumbles away from Rick. "I have something!" She crumbles to her knees and tugs the duffles to her. She rummages around in one and then another before finally coming up with a big balled up blanket. She clambers up to her feet and sways her way to Rick. Handing it over to him, she lacks proper proprioception and rams it into his gut. "Don't say I never gave you nothin'."

Rick squints at her and sniffles, confused. He holds the ball in his hands and starts to unwrap it. It moves in his grasp. He jumps back, dropping the lumpy thing, and it bounces on the ground. As the blanket unravels, the reanimated head of Gareth rolls out. It thumps against the toes of Rick's boots, snapping at the air. Everyone shuffles back, appalled.

"The hell?" He asks no one in particular, lifting his toe away from its teeth.

Lupe's sways on her feet in front of Rick. "Gareth said you wanted to kill him." She fights the slurring of her words. Her eyes roll in her head and she shakes them back into place, hitting her wrist against her temple five times. She blinks back to Rick and mumbles, "Didn't want to deny you the opportunity. Cause the first time felt great!"

Rick struggles between reacting with adequate horror and laughing his ass off. He settles on shaking his head with a soft chuckle that bounces in his shoulders. His hand shifts to his waist. Then he stabs through Gareth's skull with his red-handled machete. She was right, it did feel good.

Lupe smiles at the squish, elated at having the privilege to witness Gareth die twice. She stumbles while not actually moving. She glances over at Rick with one eye squinted shut and the other forced open. "Remember how I said I won't be able to sleep until I found Alma? I'm definitely wrong and absolutely about to..." Lupe's eyes roll back in her head, fluttering shut as she goes boneless. The last memory she has is big warm arms wrapping around her and the gravelly voice of someone telling her to rest.

The next time Lupe is conscious, the sun is somehow high in the sky again. She squints hard and tries to wipe a hand across her face, but only ends up slapping herself. She adjusts in her seat and looks out the window at the passing trees.

"How long was I out, Alma?" Lupe croaks.

"Through the night," a voice replies. It's several octaves deeper than she expects. It sounds like a carton of Marlboros moved in sometime during the 80s and never left.

Lupe looks to the driver. Through her sleep addled daze, she finally realizes it's not Alma. She screeches and flails. Thankfully, Daryl manages not to swerve and kill them both.

"Shit, woman, you alright?" He asks through huffing breaths.

Lupe has her hand on her chest and her shirt clasped in her fist. "Jesus. Shit. Fuck."

"Ain't none of those," Daryl grumbles. "You do remember who I am, right?"

Lupe nods, still trying to get her heart back down her throat. "Fuck... No one drives this car but me or Alma. I just wasn't expecting it. I wasn't expecting," she swallows carefully and squints, "you..."

Daryl glances at her and shrugs. "Car wouldn't start for no one else."

Lupe snorts and adjusts in her seat with a cringe. "Yeah, that's usually how she rides."

"She?" Daryl smirks.

"Yeah my truck's a she," she snaps. "Her name is Chingada and I love her." Daryl's smirk stays in place. To distract herself from it, Lupe looks out the window and into the mirrors. She asks, "Where's everyone else?"

"Most of them jammed themselves into the TAC truck you stole," Daryl grumbles. "Carol also took the car that Martin asshole left behind."

"Ah, the dearly departed are so gracious," Lupe mumbles, playful and reminiscent. She leans back in her seat with a shaky huff.

"I meant my question. You alright?" Daryl asks again.

"No, not in the fucking slightest," Lupe replies. She's used to being candid with her sister. But Daryl is still a stranger to her. She's sure he doesn't actually care. She can't imagine driving through the night with an unconscious person would be very fun. Considering how much she cusses at him though, her unconscious state might have been a relief.

"Well, don't worry too much. Rest up as much as ya need. We'll watch yer back." Daryl nods at her. "You only leveled an entire compound of cannibals."

Lupe blinks her eyes through the car again to ignore his statement of praise. It's odd being in this position. She's used to driving pretty much all the time. She actually kind of enjoyed it. She wiggles in her seat and tries to get comfortable. Her eyes settle on the dashboard where a pack of cigarettes sits. She sits up ramrod straight. "Did you smoke in my dad's car?"

Daryl huffs out a laugh at her tone. He shakes his head. "Was waiting fer you to git up so I could ask. Didn't want to upset ya."

"And you conveniently left them on the dash for me to see?" She reaches forward and grabs the pack. "My dad would just be disappointed they aren't menthols. You can have one if I can?" Daryl nods. Lupe greedily opens the pack and pulls out two cigarettes, popping them between her teeth. She opens the glove compartment, chock full of random shit. She digs through assorted tools and flashlights, batteries, and paperclips. She soon finds matches and lighters. She grabs a lighter and sparks both cigarettes up on the same inhale. She rolls down the window before she exhales. Once Daryl's window gets cracked, she hands him one.

"Thank you," Lupe says with a long groan. "Shit to fuck, thank you."

Daryl chuckles with his cigarette between his lips. "I should be thankin' you, ya know."

Lupe looks over at him and her cigarette flops about as she asks, "Thanking me for what? Drooling on the seats?"

Daryl shakes his head. "You brought a bunch of supplies back for us. A car." He grips his smoke in his knuckles and points at her, his tone is hard, "You protected Carol. You saved my entire fuckin' family from getting slaughtered and gutted like livestock." He stares back out at the road. "I owe you my whole damn life."

Lupe shrinks in her seat. She's not sure if he's being genuine or he wants something. For most of the time she's known him, he behaves exactly as he pleases. She struggles to not make the same mistake she always does. She doesn't want to trust him. It feels foolish. It always has. She doesn't want to need anyone. She doesn't want to be so eager for someone's approval and acceptance.

"It's closer to the other way around." Lupe swallows. "Carol saved you all." Lupe grins, tight and half-hearted, chasing a bit of wonder. "That woman is a planetary storm."

Daryl snorts. "Ya damn right about that."

Lupe tries not to stare at him, all puffed up with pride for Carol. Her sleepy, grumbling thoughts don't help. She nods to him. "I'm glad you two found each other again. It's good to have someone worth it in all this." Lupe shrugs. "World is shit, might as well find a person to spend it with." There's a hard pang twisting in her gut. She scowls down at the sensation.

Daryl arcs a brow at her. "Ain't like that with Carol. We aren't... together," he mumbles. "She's family. Just don'wanna live without her."

Lupe feels like a fool. She glances over at Daryl, bashful. "Oh," she smiles, tense, "okay. I get that." She tries to relax. "That's cute."

Daryl shoots her a soured look.

Lupe can't help but smile. "What? You mad I called you cute? Face it, dude. It's sweet." Daryl grumbles and keeps smoking. "I'm half in love with Carol already. Don't sweat it."

Daryl chuckles and turns to her with a real smile on his face. It's timid and a bit small, but it's also a bit dashing. Lupe smiles back, her face stretches closer to resembling a grimace. She looks away. She's gotta remain focused. She can't let herself catch feelings for the walking UTI. Even if he's actually kinda sweet-hearted.

The familiar sound of a radio crackling to life echoes in the car. Lupe jumps about a mile, her cigarette flying out the window. She scrambles around in her seat looking for threats.

"Calm down, we're just using those radios you stole," Daryl grumbles as Rick's voice fills the air.

"Let's stop here, stretch our legs, recount supplies, and switch drivers."

Lupe's eyes stay wide. She huffs her breaths in and out her nose because if she opens her mouth she might scream. They roll to a stop at the side of the road. Everyone gets out and Lupe gets a roundtable revival of introductions. She's still pretty dazed, so she hardly speaks. She remembers zero names, but everyone seems nice. Even the big ole ginger who walks like he's got a tank in his pants.

They all split off into small groups. Rick takes out Carl, Michonne, Glenn, Maggie, and Tara. Daryl plans on checking for something to hunt and tugs along a still sleepy Lupe. She doesn't want to stay back with the cars, so she follows him. Carol, Tyrese, Bob, and Sasha all head towards the nearby creek to start filling up more jugs of water.

Lupe and Daryl trail Rick's group until they get deeper into the woods. They're about to split off when they hear someone screaming for help. The group stutters to a halt.

"Dad, come on!" Carl urges him. He looks out into the forest and then back at Rick. Rick hesitates. The obvious choice is not to go, but that's not who they are. Not truly. "Dad! Let's go!" Carl tugs on him. "Come on!" He begs one more time and then rushes off. Daryl is the first to follow the kid, then Rick. The rest of the group picks up the pace.

They come upon a sizable boulder. Four walkers surround it, scrambling to reach the frantic man on top. He wails and screams and more walkers bleed from the woods to find the source.

Carl rushes in and raises his gun, shooting the walker that has a hold on the man's ankle. Rick rushes to his side, slipping past him. He grabs the walker that turned for his child and slams its head up against the rocks. Carol jams her knife into another. Michonne's sword slices through the last one at the boulder. The group turns to see more walkers coming from the trees.

Daryl gets one in the head that popped up behind Carol. He looks around, frantic, but then he sees her. Lupe combs through the trees like she's made to be there. She's got her batons out and moving fast. Whirling them around, she bashes through the heads of the stumbling corpses. She takes out at least four that he sees. He turns away from her to check on the rest of the group. Soon enough, Lupe comes from the other side of the boulder. She's a little splashed with blood, but she completed her circuit and the walkers are all dead.

"We're clear," Rick growls, "keep watch." He steps towards the boulder and reaches up to the terrified man on top of it. "Come on down."

The Black man shimmies off with Rick's help. He looks like he's wearing a full suit, shined shoes and all. His face contorts as he leans against the boulder. His eyes flash between the dead on the ground and the living surrounding him. He shakes his head, his cheeks puff out, and then he's bent over, puking into the grass.

Once he finishes, he wipes at his face. "Sorry..." he mutters, sounding a bit pathetic. He stands to his full height and faces the whole group. A pop of white gleams at the center of the collar on his neck.

Lupe hisses out a curse and walks away from the scene. She's on the other side of the boulder when someone grabs her arm. She whirls with a knife in her hand, poised to stab, but freezes. Daryl stands there. He's almost unfazed, but his eyes flicker to her weapon. When he looks back at her, she thinks there's concern in his gaze.

"Y'alright?" He asks.

"You gotta stop asking me that." Lupe bends over at the waist and huffs out air.

"No promises," he grumbles at her. "What's wrong?"

She shakes her head hard. "I hate priests."

His eyes widen. "Huh?"

Lupe stands up and exhales. She looks Daryl in the eyes and repeats it, "I hate priests."

Daryl's mouth turns down, almost looking impressed. "Why?"

She shoots him a dark look. She contemplates lying but decides not to. She's too tired to think up something good. "My best friend in high school got sent to a conversion camp because he was gay and transgender."

"What's that?" Daryl asks.

Lupe sighs. "What's gay and transgender or what's a conversion camp?"

"The camp..."

Lupe closes her eyes. Relieved she wouldn't have to spend her afternoon educating a hick on Queer History. "It's like pray the gay away prison. But instead of prayers, they torture you until you pretend you're not queer anymore," she growls. "My friend got raped by a priest while he was there. He killed himself before he got 'converted.'" She sniffles. "One goddamn benefit to the end of the world is that organized religion crashed and burned with everything else."

Carol comes around the boulder and sees Lupe and Daryl talking. "Everything okay?"

"No!" Lupe smiles and its cherry to match her fake tone. She sends two thumbs up.

Carol gives her a sympathetic smile as she approaches. "Have some water. You'll need food too. You're exhausted."

Lupe nods and she reaches for her pack, only to realize she didn't bring one. She rams her wrist against her forehead several times. A soft hand against her arm jostles her out of her self flagellation.

Daryl waits with a bottle of water extended towards her in his hand. "Drink..."

Lupe takes it, eying him through the process. She drinks, still staring at him. When the water hits her lips, she's distracted by how great it tastes.

"Take her back to the car," Carol says to Daryl, but it's no big secret. "She needs food and more rest. Did you get enough sleep last night?" The last question is for Daryl.

He nods. "Yup, thanks for driving."

Lupe looks over between them. "Thought you said my car wouldn't start for anyone else but you?" She asks with an arched brow at Daryl. She hands him back the bottle with a grin.

He flashes a sharp smirk at her as he takes it. "It won't. I had to keep it running for her."

Lupe snorts. "I think I can drive if you need more sleep."

Carol interjects, "No, you should rest more. Rosita had to pop a bunch of your joints back into their proper places."

Lupe frowns. "Oh, that." She clears her throat. "That's not entirely a big deal. My joints pop out of place all the time." She raises her eyes to Carol and Daryl and they stare at her in confusion and slight horror. She sighs hard. "I have a physical disability called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. It's characterized by hypermobile joints. Plus a slew of other symptoms I don't really want to talk about. I deal with a lot, plus constant chronic pain. I have to be careful with how I move to make sure things don't get injured too bad. Alma used to help me wrap up my joints and I wear compression garments. It helps."

"Should you even be fightin' so much?" Daryl asks with an emergent concern.

Lupe shoots him a rueful smile. "In a perfect world? No. I'd just live in a swimming pool until I'm pruny and die. In this world? There isn't a choice."

"She knows her limitations, Daryl," Carol replies cooly. She eyes Lupe. "I have a feeling we'll all need to know'em a bit too. You had five dislocated fingers, Lupe. Five."

Lupe squints at Carol with mock relief. "Only five?"

Carol rolls her eyes. She goes stern as she looks to Daryl. "Get back to the car. We're gonna head back soon anyway."

"What about huntin' and gettin' water?" Daryl grumbles, staring around the rock to get a glimpse of what Rick is doing.

Carol sighs, looking back over her shoulder. "We need a place for everyone to take a break. That guy offered us shelter so we're taking him up on it."

Lupe groans through grit teeth. "Let me fucking guess..."

Carol looks at her with slight confusion. "It's a church."

"Fuck!" Lupe spits and stomps back towards the cars.

Carol's eyebrows reach towards her hairline as she looks at Daryl.

Daryl scoffs and shakes his head. "She don't like religion."

Carol's lips purse. "I can tell." She nods in the direction Lupe stormed off. "Take care of her, Pookie. She needs it."

Daryl scowls at her, but his lips quirk. He turns away from Carol and tracks Lupe. He hopes she gets all that rage out of her system with the way she stomps through the brush.

Chapter Text

They roll up to St. Sarah's Episcopal Church and unload. The church is in pretty good shape. Nature weathered the outside, but the building itself might be close to a hundred years old, so it's expected. Rick sends out a party to check the perimeter. He and a slew of others investigate the church. As the crew heads inside, Lupe actually feels a sense of relief they're taking this so serious. Churches give her the jibblies.

Lupe stands outside with a gun on her hip and a baby on the other. The priest stands next to her, glancing at her and quivering. It might have something to do with the death glare she sends him every time he tries to speak. She hears a soft whistle and Rick comes out with his group. He hands the keys back to the priest named Gabriel.

Gabriel smiles and nods. "I spent months here without stepping out the front door. If you would have found someone, well, it would have been surprising." His smile is almost smarmy.

Lupe watches him, stiff and poised. She sees something of a younger boy, forcing himself to stay still. His awkward way of conversing doesn't help. His voice has a forced softness to it. The frock he wears feels as fake as his smile. Lupe knows he's hiding something.

Carl takes his sister from Lupe. The teen smiles at Gabriel. "Thanks for this." Gabriel blinks at him, shocked, and nods.

"We found a bus out back," Abraham sidles up next to Rick, "it don't run, but I bet I could fix that in a day or two. Father here says he doesn't want it. We could have another transport vehicle." But Rick doesn't look at him. Rick is staring at his children. Abraham squares his shoulders. "You understand what's at stake here right?"

"Yes, I do," Rick replies, eyes on Judith.

Lupe squints at the two of them. Her eyes flash to Daryl, up on the top of the steps by the entrance. He nods to her and she assumes that means he will explain later.

Michonne interjects, seeing the exhaustion in Rick. In everyone. "Now that we can take a breath -,"

"We take a breath, we slow down, shit inevitably goes down," Abraham interrupts her.

"Shit is always going down. It's the end of the world," Lupe growls. "And don't interrupt people when they're talking. It's fucking rude." She glares at Abraham. He glares right back for a solid minute, but the corner of his mouth quirks up.

"We need more supplies," Michonne replies, stern and serious, "no matter what we do next." The forced amiable smile on her face grows sharp.

"That's right," Rick croaks, "water, food, ammunition. Lupe brought us back a lot of weapons and clothes, but we need more of everything." He walks over to the steps and heads inside the church.

Daryl directs his statement at Abraham, "Short bus ain't goin' nowhere." He takes a few steps down and reaches out his hand.

Lupe doesn't realize it's for her until he shakes it in her direction.

"What?" She asks.

"Take it," Daryl grumbles.

"Take what? There's nothing there?" She murmurs, eyes-wide and feeling the pressure to spot something.

"My hand, take my hand!" He snaps. He sighs, voice softer but still grating, "I'll help ya up the steps. Yer knee had to get popped in too."

Lupe blinks. She steps forward and grasps his hand, not quite prepared for what he's going to do with it. He actually helps her up the steps. Once Lupe reaches the top, he lets her go and retreats into the church without a look back. She stares after him a bit, unmoving, and not sure what just happened. She feels a hand at her lower back and turns to see Carol behind her, urging her forward.

"Let's get you settled and I'll catch you up," Carol says, guiding her inside the church.

Lupe doesn't need much help on the flat surface. She walks straight down the aisle and stops at the foot of the dais, raising up a large cross behind the altar. The stained glass is simple and she stands in its multicolored shadow, glaring. She grew up Catholic, Mexican Catholic to be specific. The entire religious identity is the notion that humans are faulty. It contradicts with the message that everyone's made in God's image. Despite God's love being the antidote for brokenness, it never fixed the world. So God was either weak or negligent. His creations could do so much harm and he sits by, doing nothing.

"How'd you survive here so long?" Rick asks Gabriel.

Lupe turns and Rick is holding Judith. She clings to him greedily, though like most babies, hangs like an inanimate weight. She smiles at the baby and the baby gurgles back at her. Carol comes up at her side while Gabriel blathers on about the canned food drive. He survived solely on luck and called it God's Grace. Lupe is not surprised.

"I used to believe in all this," Carol mutters at Lupe's side. "Devoutly."

Lupe nods. "Me too. At least, I tried. Ever since I was a little kid I got told off by older people. I asked too many questions. Noted too many biblical inconsistencies with their beliefs." She chuckles, soft and airy. "My parents made me go to church every single day until I was in my teens. I had to wake up for six a.m. mass. My parents would take me and go to work after. I'd walk to the public school a little ways away."

"Sounds... grueling," Carol replies.

Lupe snorts. "It sucked. I hated every second of it." She still stares at the stained glass. "I hate churches too, but I have to admit I've always had a thing for the stained glass."

"The music got me," Carol muses. "I always loved the music and the choirs."

Lupe smiles over at Carol. "I get that. I was all about the big choirs and that Gregorian chant stuff." She looks back at the window. "Music is a surer way to the spirit than the rest of this shit."

Carol snorts. They remain silent for a while, staring at the sun shining the colors into the space. "Wish I had a camera. I'd like to take a picture of you in this light. You look like a human kaleidoscope."

Lupe snorts and looks over at Carol. "Did you used to do photography?"

Carol laughs. "No, not really. I liked taking pictures but it was never a career or anything."

"Maybe we can find you a camera. You can document this all for the history books." Lupe chuckles back at her.

"That'll be the day..." Carol mutters. After a few beats of silence, she speaks, but the tone is no longer playful, "You trust the priest?"

Lupe sputters out a rude raspberry between her lips. It's enough of an answer for Carol.

"I don't get a cannibal vibe off him," Carol mumbles through a grin.

"God, if only that wasn't a fucking metric we have to use now." Lupe closes her eyes and shakes her head with a rueful snort.

Carol stares up at the cross. Her words shake, "Ever wonder if we deserved this?" Before Lupe can respond, she walks away.

Gabriel's voice carries through the church, "I've cleaned out every place nearby. Except for one."

"What kept you from it?" Rick asks as Carl comes to take Judith and change her diaper.

"It's overrun," Gabriel replies, nervous.

"How many?" Rick asks unfazed.

"A dozen or so," Gabriel says, terrified, "maybe more."

Rick looks around at his group. Several eyes are on him, nodding. He nods too. "We can handle a dozen." That number would almost be a relief.

"Bob and I will go with you," Sasha offers. Her features curl into a tender smile as she looks back at her brother. "Tyreese should stay here, help keep Judith safe." Tyreese stares back, smiling and bashful.

"That'll be okay?" Rick asks him.

"Sure. You ever need me to watch her, need anything for her, I'm right here," Tyreese replies, earnest.

"I'm grateful for it." Rick nods. "And everything else." Tyreese nods back with a tight, pained smile.

"I'll draw you a map," Gabriel says as he walks towards the altar.

"You don't need to," Rick commands, "you're coming with us."

Gabriel freezes and turns on a dime. "I'm not gonna be of any help. You saw me. I'm no good around those things."

Rick walks over and leans in close to him. His eyes stare unblinking as he snarls, "You're coming with us." Gabriel nods as an immediate response, shoulders bunched up tight as he quivers.

The group all starts to move, preparing for their outing. Lupe stays stuck, staring at the stained glass.

Rick sidles up to her. "I hope you'll understand why I'm going to ask you to stay here with Tyreese and Carl."

Lupe nods. "You don't trust Gabriel. You shouldn't. I don't. He's too shifty." She glances at Rick and he's giving her a hard stare. He knows she's right. "I'm a good fighter, but I know Daryl and Carol will kick my ass if I try to go out scouting or scavenging with you all."

Rick scoffs. "Mine too, if I let you." He nods. "Thank you," he leans in, "Tyreese and Carl will help you protect Judith. You'll all be safe."

"Yessir," Lupe gives him a three finger salute.

"Stay safe and stay smart," Rick mutters, his hand squeezes her shoulder before he walks away.

Lupe sighs. Her mind whirls at the thought of Judith. Lupe still can't believe babies exist in the apocalypse. All the bloody and heartbreaking evidence indicated the opposite until now. Her eyes trail over to Carl who has Judith in a basket. She's waving and kicking and gurgling as babies do. The big brother leans in and murmurs to her with a huge smile on his face. Judith looks back up at him like he's the center of her universe. It's amazing. Lupe remembers being just a few years younger than Carl, holding a fat baby Alma who liked to yank on her hair. Lupe fights hard not to tear up.

She shakes her head, trying to look away from the beautiful display. Her eyes settle in on Daryl. He's next to one of the tall windows on the walls and he's staring right at her. She stares back at him, not knowing what else to do. She tries for a smile. He turns away like she slapped him. With his gear all readied, he's gone.

Daryl walks out of the church. He tries to deny the images reeling in his head of her standing in the light of the stained glass. The rainbow painted on Lupe looked destined to thrive in her dark brown skin. It was a stunning visual and near too much to bear. But he can't stop thinking about it. About her. He thought he'd never be afraid to see Lupe running away from him until he watched her disappear at Terminus. She ran down that alley after Gareth and when he tried to follow, bullets riddled the ground at his feet. He watched her drop to the forest floor, getting squished by the packs. He only fired at her thinking she was a walker. His whole soul just about leaped out his ass when he realized he could've killed her. He shudders, feeling like a fool.

Carol sidles up next to him as they head out into the woods. They stay quiet, both thoughtful and tense. Their job is to get as much water as possible and start filtering. Daryl is also in charge of trying to bring back more meat or protein for the group, in case the Food Bank is a bust.

"I know you ain't gon'talk about what happened to ya. I get it," Daryl says to the silent Carol at his side. He's got a rope of dead squirrels over his shoulder. They're carrying gallon jugs of water down the road that passes behind the church. "You okay, though?"

Carol looks at him and a small smile perks on her lips. "Gotta be."

Daryl's lip twitches with a sad smile. "You know, this is kind of a do-over. Maybe we can restart. All of us. With each other." He huffs out a tense breath. "You and Lupe saved us, all by yourselves."

"We got pretty lucky." Carol sighs. "We all should be dead."

"Luck ain't got nothin' to do with it. Y'all saved us and you did it by thinkin' it through, planning. Stop acting like you ain't Rambo. Give yourself a little respect."

Carol doesn't respond. They continue in silence and come upon a little sedan sitting on the side of the road. It's covered in dust and looks pretty busted. But everything looked that way in this new world.

"I'll check it," Carol offers.

"Alright," Daryl mumbles, disappointed that Carol is so closed off.

They approach the car and Carol puts down her jugs and goes straight for the driver's seat. She finds the keys in the ignition and attempts to start it up. It takes a few tries, but the car sputters to life for a minute or two and then dies. There's about half a tank of gas left in it. She tries again and it stays on longer. She leaves it running to supe up the battery while she investigates the trunk.

Daryl turns from his position standing guard. "Hey," he says to get Carol's attention. Her head pops out of the trunk and she looks around for threats. "We ain't dead," he insists.

Carol's face scrunches in confusion.

"Whatever happened out there? It happened," Daryl urges. "Let's start over."

Carol glances at him, shifty and tense. "I want to..."

"You can," Daryl insists.

Carol finds the Jump Starter in the trunk and flicks it on. It starts to buzz. She closes the trunk and looks at Daryl. "We should leave this here. In case things go south at the church." She bends down to pick up her jugs. She looks back at Daryl, slinging his crossbow on his back before picking up his.

"Want me to carry one of those?" Daryl asks, raising his hand with a jug in it to indicate Carol's load. Unfortunately, the jug slips from his fingers and clatters to the ground. Carol and Daryl both stare at the jug, bouncing to a stop.

"Mmmm, no," Carol replies with a pursed lip grin.

Daryl tries to wipe the embarrassment off his face and grabs the jug from the ground. Carol walks away trying to hide her laughter. Daryl grumbles at her until he catches up. She looks over at him, her face straining to hold back her smile.

He scowls at her. "Don't," he mumbles, sounding playful.

Carol looks away, but the smile breaks free. "You know, you get to start over too."

Daryl stares at the ground and sighs. "Not yet."

Carol frowns at him. "Why not?"

He shrugs. "I gotta find those girls."

"We gotta find those girls," Carol corrects, "that's all our responsibility. After what Lupe did to help us? After she went back and made sure Gareth and his people wouldn't survive? We owe her everything. And I think her everything is Alma."

Daryl nods, biting at his lips. He sighs hard. "Yeah..."

"You're doing a good job with her," Carol adds, a too innocent tone to her words.

Daryl scowls at her. "She ain't a horse I'm rearin'."

Carol laughs. "That's not what I meant. I meant I can tell you're trying with her. That's...nice."

"I ain't nice," he growls.

"Sure ya are, Pookie," Carol grins.

"Stop..." Daryl drawls.

Carol's grin grows. "She's pretty good. I'm glad you found her."

Daryl snorts. "More like she found us." He scoffs. "I never tell you how she and I met?" Carol shakes her head. He sighs. "Beth and I hid in a trunk to keep away from a herd one night. The next morning we're climbing out and her punk little sister pulls a gun on us. She didn't trust me for shit." He chuckles. "Lupe chucked a water jug at me, just like this one. Exploded on the car and caused a distraction. She came barreling out of the forest and slammed me into that Caddy so hard I swear I left imprints of wings in the roof."

Carol fights against her smile and nods. "She's a good catch," Carol lets that linger for a bit before adding on, "for our group." She nudges him in the shoulder. "Even the strong ones need to be cared for, Daryl."

Daryl frowns at her. "Why you telling me this?" He grumbles. "You, Maggie, Glenn, shit, even Carl is better at caring for people than me."

"Then why do you watch her so much?" Carol asks, tone blunt.

Daryl fumbles his step and almost drops the waters again. He glances at Carol and lies, poorly, "I ain't."

She levels that disbelieving stare at him. "You can fool yourself, but you don't have to tell me fibs, Pookie."

Daryl looks at her hard and shakes his head. "I watched her cause I was suspicious of her. She could probably kick anyone's ass in our group if she wanted."

Carol smiles. "Maybe... If she wanted." She tilts her head at Daryl. "She seems pretty intent on protecting us."

"Don't know if it's us..." Daryl mutters. "Rick says she didn't stop for him until she saw Carl. She knows she needs to save her sister. She knows going at it with a group will be an advantage. She's just smart."

Carol nods. "She is smart, but she's loyal too. She told me she saw you all escaping Terminus. She could have fled right then. Instead, she went back for Gareth. Got a serious threat off our backs."

"We owe her more than she owes us," Daryl spits.

"So that's what you think? You think she's just here to collect?" Carol asks.

Daryl shrugs. "Her sister got took with Beth." He swallows despite the guilt trying to clamp down on his throat. "Feels like it's my fault. Teaching Beth and Alma how to hunt, Beth got her ankle mangled. We had to stop and rest and someone took those girls." His breath comes out shaky and his pace picks up, "If I was watching out properly Beth wouldn't a gotten hurt-,"

"Stop… can't think like that," Carol interjects. "You helped each other. Just gotta keep helping each other. She seems good. She seems like she cares. That's rare."

"So what? We just trust her?" Daryl growls. The feeling in his gut twists and turns. It's distinctly not hunger. It's needy and cavernous. He's not sure what it wants, but it's desperate.

"Haven't we already?" Carol asks.

Daryl grunts, annoyed, and they continue back towards the Church. Carol is making him think too much and he just wants the thoughts to stop.

Chapter Text

Lupe circles the church another time as the sun sinks closer to the horizon. She's done circuits of the area, opposite of Carl and Tyreese. She got to spend quality time with Judith and was completely sure she'd die for the child if need be. She was a sweet kid.

She stops at the same spot and stares at the side of the building. She's checked it several times now, hoping it was a hallucination. Carl and Tyreese hadn't mentioned anything after their rounds. She's scared she imagined it, fueled by paranoia. She wasn't lying to Daryl when she said she was the furthest thing from okay. She would fall to pieces, but it felt like all the important ones were gone.

She hears the shuffling of boots in the dirt and looks to her side. Carl walks over with his sheriff hat on. She smiles wide at him. "Hey."

"Hey," Carl replies as he sidles up to her. "So you saw it too?"

"Yeah, I didn't say anything cause you two didn't say anything. I worried I imagined it." She exhales, trying to calm herself. Carl stares at the carvings hard. Lupe sees the wheels spinning in his head. The kid is bright and eager. She expected him to outlast just about everyone.

"No," Carl sighs, "you didn't." He looks over at her from underneath the wide brim of his hat. His face is too grim for his age and it mimics a look she's seen on Rick once or twice. "I'm afraid to show my dad."

"Why?" Lupe blurts.

Carl purses his lips. "I'm afraid he'll kill Gabriel."

Lupe tilts her head, weighing that outcome. "Well, maybe. I mean, this is quite telling. Along with all the pry marks all over the windows, it's really not a good look." Her head swivels back to Carl as his shoulders droop. "What?"

Carl doesn't say anything. He just hangs his head.

"Come on, mijo. You need to talk about things. It'll wreck you from the inside out if you don't. And don't let every man here fool you, you can't bottle everything up. You'll become an insufferable asshole." She smiles a soft gentle thing.

Carl huffs out an airy laugh but shifts right back into a somber mood. "What…" he asks, his voice almost a whisper. "What if I'm already wrecked?"

Lupe flicks up his hat and grins at him. "Bebe, you feeling wrecked right now is completely normal. You, like everyone else surviving, likely has PTSD from what you've gone through."

"PTSD? Isn't that just for soldiers?" He asks.

Lupe shakes her head. "No, definitely not. It's not Post-Traumatic Soldier Disorder. It's Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And love-bug, you've gone through a metric shit-ton of stress. It's compounded too, by continuous, sustained trauma." She shrugs her shoulders and sighs. "I have CPTSD. I've had it since I was little."

"What happened to you?" Carl asks, with the gentle bluntness of a kid.

Lupe bites the inside of her cheek. "Well, it's not easy for me to talk about, or remember for that matter. But I was abused for a time when I was younger."

"Your parents hit you?" Carl asks.

Lupe shakes her head. "First off, abuse isn't just physical, neither is trauma. It can be psychological too, emotional, you know? Secondly, no, my parents didn't hit me, they were very good people. They went through a lot. They weren't perfect, but they tried and learned." A breath shudders out. The grief is still so strong. She misses them with a desperate ache.

"It was someone else I trusted. They hurt both my mind and my body. I was barely your age when they started grooming me. It continued for a while. I didn't really know what was happening, I just... needed someone. They preyed on that desperation." She swallows. "I also got harassed a lot once puberty hit me like a truck and my body changed. Grown men would say horrible things to me. One man says something once to me. But I hear it a thousand times." She shakes her head.

"So a person can get hurt in a lot of ways. It can be multiple things over a period of time or a single incident. PTSD is pretty common, even though people don't want to admit it. The anxiety, the anger, the exhaustion... Your body is running on high alert at all times, just waiting for a threat. That puts a strain on anyone. So it doesn't matter if you're already wrecked. We fuckin' all are, kid. And guess what? There's nothing wrong with that, not really. But you have to deal with the things you went through. You have to find healthy supports that will help you cope."

"I'm guessing shooting walkers isn't a way to cope?" He chuckles.

Lupe grins at him. "Ballot's still out on that. But I do know that if we want to survive? If we want to live? We gotta take care of each other."

"That's why I don't want Gabriel to die." Carl sighs. "Not everyone can be bad."

"The unfortunate truth is that we are all good and bad," Lupe admits. "Badness doesn't come from some inherent factor of birth. It happens from choices and decisions. It's hurting people for no other reason than you can. It comes from indifference and ignorance." The sigh that comes out of her mouth shakes past her lips. "I wouldn't consider myself a good person."

Carl stares at her and his face scrunches up in angry disbelief. "What are you talking about? You're a great person! You saved all our lives!"

Lupe scoffs. She forces a grin and looks at Carl. It widens to an honest smile as she stares at him, seeing what he feels like he can't. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, bud. I think you're amazing." He blushes a little and looks down to hide behind his hat. "I think you should tell your dad because honesty is important. I think not telling him will set him up for a dangerous surprise later and that might cloud his thinking. People make better decisions when they are calm and able to process information."

Carl nods. "That makes sense." He stares at the writing and steps forward, running his fingers along the letters. "I kinda don't want to know why someone would write this on a church."

Lupe shrugs. "The world is shit right now, Carl. I can think of several reasons to write something like that." She looks over at the kid and his eyes glide from the carving back to her face. "I'm sorry you're growing up this way. My sister is about your age and it's been hell for her. I know... I know we're strangers, but if you want to talk, I'm here. And hopefully, when we find my sister, you two can be there for each other."

Carl smiles wide. "We'll find your sister and Beth. I know it."

Lupe nods at him. "Me too."

"Who do you think took her?" Carl asks.

Lupe bites her cheek. She stares at the inscription again and sighs. "People who don't deserve to live."

"How do you know that?" Carl says, voice a scared whisper.

Lupe stares at him, holding back her tears. "Because I know Alma would never walk away from people in trouble. I don't think Beth would either. They would have never left Daryl and me behind by choice. Someone took them, against their will. I can't abide by that. The world can't survive like that." She swallows her rage and grief and looks back at Carl with a smile. "We have to be deserving of this life, Carl."

"How do you know if you're deserving?"

She shrugs. "Sometimes you don't. But you have to try to be anyway."

He nods and the look on his face is ages older and wise. "I'll tell my dad when he gets back."

Lupe winks at him. "Good plan. If you need back up or anything when you talk to him, I got you, alright?" He nods and goes back to staring at the inscription.

Lupe walks away from Carl, giving him time to think. She heads past the bus where Abraham is half underneath it and Rosita is helping him on the top side of the engine. Lupe gets near the entrance and hears the crunching of gravel and scuffing in the dirt. She turns, and down the path is the scavenging group gliding in. They have two big rolling dollies with piles of large plastic storage boxes strapped on. They get up to the front steps and Lupe smiles at everyone except Gabriel. She hardly looks at him, but when she does, icy would be a compliment.

Rick catches her glare as he unstraps the boxes. He looks around and asks, "Carl?"

"On the side of the church. We were doing a walk around when I heard y'all coming up." She flicks her head in the direction of the teen. Her stare is stern and serious. Rick picks up on it fast. "I'll help with the boxes. Go grab him." Rick nods and takes off. Lupe starts helping pull the weighty boxes off the carts.

"Hey, you're supposed to be resting."

Lupe looks over her shoulder and sees Carol and Daryl coming from the woods with jugs of water in their hands. It was Carol that spoke. Her brows are stern to go with the statement.

Lupe forces a smile. "Uh, Rick made me do it?"

Carol rolls her eyes. Daryl approaches and takes the box away from her. She scowls at him as he carries the beast of a thing inside.

Tyreese comes out chuckling, looking at Lupe. "Quite a frown."

She frowns deeper and crosses her arms beneath her chest. Tyreese comes down the steps to stand by her. Judith squirms in his arms, reaching for Lupe.

"You take her, I'll help carry things." Tyreese grins, handing over the baby.

"Yeah, okay, fine," Lupe replies petulant, but once the baby is in her grasp, she's smiling and babbling in Spanish.

She takes Judith over to a patch of grass and they lay down. Lupe watches Judith investigate the world around her, mostly by trying to put things in her mouth. She labels things in English and Spanish. The child is unusually quiet as she picks at grass. They're lucky. Some children don't like to be quiet. Alma was one of those. Once she found her voice, she never stopped using it.

Rick and Carl come from behind the church. Carl looks a little somber and Rick is seething. He walks straight over to Lupe and Judith. He grits his teeth as he approaches, but Lupe knows the anger isn't for her.

"Carl said you saw the scratches and the carvings." There is a question Rick isn't asking.

Lupe nods. "Yup. I found them on my rounds after you left. Carl spotted them independent from me. We only talked about them right before you all got back."

Rick nods. "Carl doesn't want to assume the worst of Gabriel. What's your take on it?"

Lupe snorts. "I assume the worst of everyone." Rick actually cracks a smile at that. It's a relief from his intensity. She sighs. "I don't like killing people, Rick. It isn't fun for me or anything, but I'm not afraid of doing it." She looks over at the church as people start milling inside. The sun burns red, sneaking through the trees between their shadows. "He's dangerous to us." Rick tenses at her words, but she continues. "But I think it'll be more out of indifference and cowardice, not malice. At least, I don't think so. That could change." She sniffs. "Everyone can change."

Rick nods. "That's about how I feel too. I can't trust him, especially not after seeing that."

"People don't need to pry windows open when there are open doors," Lupe muses.

Rick stares at her hard for a while. He kneels and grabs Judith who reaches for him, gurgling and gleeful. "No... they don't." He takes his daughter back inside. Lupe stays sitting on the grass for a while, picking at the blades and letting them fall in the wind.

Once the sun is a mere remnant, Lupe stands and goes inside. She spies Daryl and Carol setting up some filtering stations. She walks over to them first. "Need help?"

"Nah, we got it," Daryl grumbles. "Go sit yer ass down and rest. Damn woman, am I gonna have to tie you down?"

Lupe snorts at his obliviousness. She grins. "Only if you ask me real nice." Carol snickers from where she's fiddling with some funnels.

Daryl looks up at Lupe and stares at her for a while like the physical embodiment of a progress bar. She waits. He blinks hard and then a stripe of pink burns on his cheeks. She smiles wide at him.

"Ass..." He grumbles fast and turns back to his work.

Lupe bites her tongue to stop herself from laughing. She looks over at Carol who's trying not to grin. Carol winks and then shoos her away. Lupe sighs. Instead of being a good listener, she goes straight for Michonne.

"Need help?"

Michonne looks up and smiles at Lupe. "Sure, that'd be great. You can help me sort."

Lupe kneels down with Michonne and starts picking out cans. She checks expiration dates. She places them in boxes meant for meat, vegetable, fruit, or miscellaneous.

Lupe holds up a can of cheese-whiz. "Oh man, no shit!"

Michonne looks up and grins. "I have regular and bacon flavored."

Lupe's eyes roam to her and her face scrunches up in a smile. "You can keep the bacon flavor," she laughs. She holds the canned cheese and chuckles. "My mom used to put this on Nilla Wafers."

"Really?" Michonne asks, a curious tone of interest and disgust.

"I thought it was weird at first too, but it's damn good." Lupe grins.

Michonne laughs. "I guess we'll need to find some Nilla Wafers. I gotta try that."

"You do, it's odd, but delicious," Lupe insists.

They go back to sorting but finish rather quick with their teamwork. The sun is gone, candles are lit, so Lupe and Michonne help set up for dinner.

Everyone digs into the options. They spread out, sitting and chatting. Someone even cracks open some unconsecrated wine. The room fills with soft laughter and comfortable chatter. Lupe grabs a can of Spam and heats it up over a candle still in the tin. She spoons it out while she lays on a pew, feet stretched out and perched on a stack of bibles.

Daryl ends up sitting at the base of the pew right in front of her. Carl sits in the pew Daryl leans against and chows down. Glenn is behind her and Carol is across from her next to Bob and Sasha. Everyone else spreads out on the floor in front of the altar. The food is good enough, but the company is what makes the evening feel right.

Abraham stands. "I'd like to propose a toast..." The chatter dulls and everyone finds their seats after milling around for a bit. Abraham grins. "I look around this room and I see survivors. Each and every one of you has earned that title." He raises his glass. "To the survivors."

The room erupts into subdued but earnest cheers and chants of 'To survivors'. Abraham chews on his lips after his drink.

His question comes out point blank, "Is that all you want to be? Wake up in the morning, fight the undead pricks, forage for food? Go to sleep at night with two eyes open? Rinse and repeat?" He chuckles but the sound that passes his lips is airy as he looks around the room. "'Cause you can do that. I mean, you got the strength. You got the skill. Thing is, for you people, for what you can do, that's just surrender."

His tone turns pontificating. "Now, we get Eugene to Washington and he will make the dead die and the living will have this world again!" Abraham continues, "And that is not a bad takeaway for a little road trip."

Abraham pauses to look around the room. When he speaks, it's deliberate and sure. "Eugene, what's in DC?"

Eugene looks around the room, curled up and sheepish. When he talks, it's rapid-fire. "Infrastructure constructed to withstand pandemics even of this FUBAR magnitude. That means food, fuel, refuge," Eugene pauses, his eyes shift away from the group. "Restart..."

Abraham nods and smiles at Eugene. "However this plays out, however long it takes for the reset button to kick in, you can be safe there." He looks around the room. "Safer than you've been since this whole thing started."

There is a desperation in Abraham's eyes as he looks at Rick. "Come with us. Save the world for that little one. Save it for yourselves. Save it for the people out there who don't got nothing left to do except survive."

The room fills with soft murmurs. Lupe lays on the pew and her can of Spam sits forgotten on the floor. She stares up at the ceiling and tears form in her eyes. She sighs hard. She doesn't believe there's a cure. Lupe sits up when she hears Judith cooing and Rick murmuring back at her.

"What was that?" Ricks smiles at his daughter. "I think she knows what I'm about to say." The room shifts and people are smiling, staring at each other, and feeling hope. "She's in," Rick chuckles. He looks over at Abraham. "If she's in, I'm in. We're in."

The group converges and bursts with newfound energy. Everyone gets close and starts chatting and planning. Lupe is up and out of the church before the happiness can settle in. She's fuming and she doesn't want to destroy their glimpse of something good. Even if it is a flat out lie. She's not sure if Abraham is in on it, or too clueless to figure out Eugene is leading him on a wild goose chase.

She gets out to her truck and yanks open the trunk. She starts checking her own supplies and rations. She lights up a cigarette while she does it. Her body buzzes with anger and resentment. This group was supposed to be different. They're not. They're acting like Beth and Alma are as good as dead. They act like this lofty pyramid scheme to save the world is more important than two flesh and blood girls. Lupe walks around her car and kicks at the tires. The things are almost indestructible, so she wails on them good. She only stops when she hears someone sobbing.

Huffing, she walks back out from the side of her car and sees Bob. He's leaning against a tree and crying his eyes out. Horrified, Lupe runs over to him, the cigarette forgotten, perched in her lips.

"Hey, are you okay?" Lupe asks urgently.

Bob whips around on her, eyes wide in shock. "Lupe?"

She nods. "Shit, sorry, I totally snuck up on you," she mutters the apology. "I just... saw you crying and... it sounds... painful."

Bob stares at her and his lips tremble. He opens his mouth but nothing comes out. He shakes his head hard and then his hand reaches up to pull aside the neck of his shirt.

"No!" Lupe rasps. She walks up to him and stares at the gaping bite wound on his shoulder. "Oh shit, Bob, no..."

"Yeah..." He grumbles, soft and meek, wiping at his face. "Happened in the Food Bank."

"Fuck man, I'm so sorry," Lupe replies, her own lip trembling. "Do you need privacy? I didn't mean to intrude."

Bob laughs, but it's a sad and empty sound. "I don't know what I need. I just... don't want Sasha to..." His face crumbles and he sobs into his hands.

Lupe remembers her cigarette and flicks it to the ground before she grabs Bob and pulls him into a hug. It takes a moment, but he eventually melts into her and keeps crying. She holds him as long as he needs it.

He pulls away from her and wipes at his face, sniffling. "I thought maybe if I come out here, I can just start walking. I can keep going until she can't find me."

Lupe frowns, her face pinched in concern. "Bob, you can't leave it like that."

"I don't want Sasha to see me die!" He growls back.

Lupe nods. She's unaffected by his anger. His feelings are valid and she's not about to take that away from him. "I understand why you want to make that decision. I'm just telling you it's a bad decision." She shakes her head at him. "It's bad for the both of you, Bob. Do you really want to die alone?"

Bob shudders and the tears return. "I don't know anymore. I just don't want her to suffer too."

"Listen, please, I understand that. The fact is though, you walking out, letting yourself die out there, it won't help anyone," she begs. "You won't be able to regret anything when you're dead. But Sasha will have to live with the fact that you're gone and you left her and she doesn't know why. You want to make her feel abandoned? You want her to hunt your ass down and find you like that? Cause she will! You really want to do that to her?"

Bob's breath shudders through his lips. He shakes his head. "No... No, I don't want to do anything to hurt Sasha, but I will. This bite, me dying, it'll hurt her too much and she doesn't deserve it."

"No, she doesn't. Neither do you, dude," Lupe rasps, holding back her own tears. "Now, you go back inside and you tell her the truth," she insists. "You let her love you until your last fucking breath! You accept that comfort and care because you deserve it! You understand me?"

Bob nods his head.

"This is shit, Bob. I'm sorry. You don't deserve this."

He nods at her, dejected and sad. "None of us do..." He starts walking but a few steps in, he looks back at her, his face wrecked by tears and grief. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, Bob," Lupe murmurs. "Be surrounded by people you love. Let them shower you with care and support. You're allowed to accept that. You're owed that." He nods and then walks away.

Lupe shambles over to her tailgate and plops down on it. When she hears Sasha's screams peter into sobs, Lupe's face drops into her hands and she cries too.

Chapter Text

Lupe sits and cries in her car for what feels like a very long time. The moon shines over her, bathing her with a compassionate light, but Lupe can't feel it. She's devastated Bob is going to die. She's wrecked because of the absence of her sister. She feels like she's descending into madness thinking of not finding her.

"You did right by him..."

Lupe looks up and Daryl stands right in front of her. She wasn't exactly hiding, so she's not completely surprised.

She stares at him with tears streaming down her cheeks, but her face is stern. "I didn't do anything for him. He's still going to suffer and die."

"And now he can do it with the woman he loves," Daryl replies. "He can be with family when it's time and he won't have to turn. We'll grant him mercy before he does. That's quite a big somethin' many of us won't get."

Lupe shrugs. Daryl steps a little closer and holds out his pack of cigarettes. She sniffles and pulls one out. The lighter in her pocket suffices. Her exhale is a shuddering thing. Daryl stays standing in front of her as he lights up his own. She pats the metal tailgate at her side. His walk started out with stunted steps, but he finally makes it up and onto the tailgate.

The cigarette hangs from his mouth as he slumps. "I'm tired of loss," he says.

"Me too," she mutters back. She closes her eyes and takes another hit from her smoke. "I'm not going to go to D.C."

Daryl looks over at her. "You should. We need good people if we wanna do this."

Lupe rolls her eyes. "This is said to be some kind of virus, right?" Daryl nods his head as he inhales. "Then this whole thing is bullshit. Abraham is bullshit. Eugene is mega-bullshit!" She hisses. She grits her teeth. "Now I don't expect everyone to understand virology, but some common sense might be useful." She looks at Daryl and asks, "What happens when you get the flu?"

"Get sick. Go to the doctor." He shrugs. He never went to the doctor but he figures that's something normal people like Lupe would do.

Lupe nods. "And when you have the flu, can you pick up a cure at your local pharmacy? Is there just a simple pill anyone can pop, and boom! Flu's gone?"

Daryl takes his time to turn and look at her, his eyes narrowed. "What are you sayin'?"

"I'm saying there's no cure, Daryl! You can't cure a virus! Antibiotics definitely don't work. Over the counter meds don't make it go away. That just treat the symptoms. You know why?" She snaps. "It's because viruses fundamentally change the host's DNA at a cellular level. With how strong this virus is? With how quick it takes over our system? Absolute best case scenario? There is a vaccine to prevent infection. Your body would have to acclimate to the dead virus so you can fight off a live version of it. An anti-viral won't work when the damn thing kills people in the first 24-hours. The body wouldn't likely be able to process the medication in time for it to take effect. Not unless administration is instantaneous... And let's not even get started on the possible viral mutations! I doubt it's self-limiting either. We don't know if this virus can even die. We only know its host does every single time."

"You serious?" Daryl asks, anger rumbling beneath the words.

"Yes. Dead serious." Lupe sighs. "Though I only know for sure that Eugene is lying. His terminology is all wrong and he sounds like he walked out of a thesaurus. Wait, I'm sorry, he perambulated," she quips, snarky and bitter. "I'm unsure about Rosita and Abraham. I think Abraham needs to believe in Eugene, for whatever reason. Rosita believes in Abraham and so the chain goes." Lupe clears her throat and then hocks a loogie. "Fuck... I hate liars!"

Though he's impressed by her distance, Daryl snarls, "Ain't the only one."

Lupe looks at him hard. The words are right on her tongue. She wants to beg him to go with her and help her get the girls. She's owed that, at least. But the intensity of his love for his family would make him reluctant. She needs him though. She hates it, but she needs him.

"Daryl, I -,"

"That Carol?" He interrupts, distracted.

Lupe turns her head and does see Carol sneaking out the back of the church and heading to the woods. "Fuckin' shit, what is she doing?"

Daryl hops off the tailgate and reaches out his hand for Lupe. She tries to stop herself from staring at it for too long and forces herself to take it. He helps her down and then turns back to her truck.

"You got some supplies to spare back here?" He asks. "We should go after her, but I don't wanna alarm everyone when they're tryin' to care for Bob."

Lupe frowns at him. "That's really thoughtful..." She hasn't pulled out any of her stores yet. It isn't that she doesn't trust these people, but she doesn't entirely trust these people. She looks at Daryl and she can't deny that something resonates in her when she does. She sighs and a regretful smile forms. "Yeah, I do."

Lupe follows Daryl into the woods after Carol. He's a much better tracker than anyone. It's nighttime too. And Lupe can't tell shit from shit with all the frustrated tears refusing to leave her eyes. Daryl seems pretty intent on a direction though and doesn't stop much to investigate.

When they find Carol she's stabbing a walker in the head, but three more are hissing at her. She scoots back, ready to kill, but a bolt goes through one head, and two black batons skewer the others. When the bodies drop all three of them stare at each other.

"What're you doing?" Daryl snarls.

"I don't know..." Carol responds, tears flooding her eyes.

"Come on, Carol. Come back." Lupe smiles. "No one likes me 'cept you. You're the only nice one," she half-jokes.

Carol's face crumples and she turns away to gain some composure. She opens her mouth, but the loud sound of an engine revs not too far away. Daryl grabs both women and pulls them behind the trunk of the sedan, tucking them both down to hide.

The car passes their street and they breathe a sigh of relief. Until Daryl sprints off.

"Oh shit..." Lupe gasps, her voice shaky as she crouches.

"What?" Carol asks.

"The car -!" Lupe starts.

Daryl comes careening back towards them. He grabs Lupe by the waist one armed and turns with her, swinging his crossbow at the tail light she was blocking.

"What are you doing!?" Carol yells at him, chasing the wild movements.

He lets go of Lupe and she stumbles into Carol's arms. He rushes over to the other tail light and smashes that one too. Lupe shivers in Carol's hold, knowing exactly what he's up to.

"Them's the assholes that got Beth and Alma!" He growls, rushing towards the driver's side. "Come on! Come on!" He growls at the both of them until they start to move.

They hop in the car and Daryl races out as fast as the little sedan will go. Carol is in the backseat and Lupe is in the front. Her hands are on the dashboard and she stares out into the night with a desperate focus.

Carol can recognize the agonizing tension between them. She sighs. "Daryl, was it just you and Beth after the attack?"

"Mmmhm," He says, staring out at the road, looking for that car with the white cross painted on the back of it.

"That was the whole prison thing, right?" Lupe asks. Carol and Daryl both nod their heads.

"Did you save her?" Carol presses, trying to keep them distracted, but not unfocused on their goal.

"Nah, she saved herself," Daryl replies, voice thick and gruff. "She's tough. We were out there for a while."

"How long were you with them, Lupe?" Carol asks.

"Just a few days I think," she responds, focused on the road. "Days pass different now." She snorts. "Time is an illusion."

"Lunchtime doubly so," Daryl responds, almost automatic.

Lupe scrunches her face, recognizing the quote from Douglas Adams' book. She turns to face Daryl and stares at him long and hard as he drives. She can tell he knows she's looking at him. He gets increasingly wiggly under her gaze.

He finally looks at her and snaps, "What? I read!"

Lupe's face pinches tight to hold in her guffaw. The laugh forces its way out through her pursed lips and she sputters. Carol giggles in the back seat with her hands over her mouth. Daryl looks back up at the road and grumbles angrily until they stop laughing.

"You know," Lupe starts, still holding back her snickers, "I'm laughing more at your reaction. Not the erroneous assumption that I believed you can't or choose not to read."

"Yeah, yeah," he grumbles, "whatever." There isn't much heat to his indignation. His cheeks flare pink because it was so nice to hear both of them laugh.

Lupe sobers. "Hey, I think I see'em up ahead."

Daryl squints and Carol leans forward to do the same. "Rick's gonna wonder where we went," he says.

"Hopefully they stay distracted by taking care of Bob for a while," Lupe says, "we can take care of ourselves."

"We could end this quick," Carol says, popping her head up between the seats. "Run them off the road or somethin'."

"Nah we're good for a bit," Daryl's eyes flicker to the dash, "got half a tank left."

"We could interrogate the driver," Carol suggests. "If they have Beth and Alma, we can find out where they're being held."

"Yeah, but if he don't talk we're back to square one," Daryl replies. "Right now we got the advantage." He sighs. "We'll see who they are. If they're a group, see what they can do. And then we'll do what we gotta do to get them girls back safe."

Carol sighs and leans back into her seat. "They're heading North on I-85."

Lupe's eyes go wide. "Towards Atlanta?"

"Looks like it," Daryl growls.

"Fuck..." Lupe snarls. "Alma hates the city."

"Why?" Daryl asks, maintaining his distance and proper speed. Driving right behind them on the dead freeway might cause some problems.

"Same reasons I do. It's loud. It's crowded. There's just so much happening. It's so goddamn busy all the time," Lupe already sounds annoyed.

"Did you live outside Atlanta?" Carol asks.

Lupe grins. "We lived in Manassas, Virginia."

Carol leans forward to ask, "And you ended up all the way down here? Why?"

Lupe shrugs. "We just decided to keep going. There was nothing left for us back there and it started getting too dangerous."

"What happened?" Daryl asks.

Lupe grits her teeth. "Bad situations with worse people."

"I hear that," Daryl mutters and presses his foot down on the accelerator.

They follow the car for a few more miles and wind up in the depths of Atlanta hell. Lupe hated cities before the fall of civilization. They somehow got much worse after, not only considering the dead. The crumbling buildings, the failing infrastructure, it made the big cities a mess. Give her wide open spaces any day.

Atlanta is overrun with the dead and most places got cleaned out ages ago. The city is another skeletal imprint of disaster. The car with the white cross keeps driving until they come upon a three-way stop. The three of them park a little ways away and wait. The other car sits there for a minute or two, engine idling.

"What the hell's he waitin' for?" Daryl grumbles.

The car's tail lights flicker red-white-red, indicating someone shifted through Reverse to Park. Daryl immediately turns off their car and they sit in silence. The passenger's side of the abductor's car opens.

"Shit..." Lupe hisses.

"There's at least two of them," Carol adds.

The figure that gets out of the car, steps out of the shadows, and into the sparse light of the evening.

"That a cop?" Daryl asks with a growl.

"Course it's cops!" Lupe snarls. "I fucking hate cops."

"Won't hear me disagree," Carol muses. As a victim of domestic violence, the police were never all that helpful to her. She still remembers the time they asked her what she and her daughter did to make Ed so mad he'd beat them. If she could go back, she'd slap that cop silly.

"ACAB," Daryl spits. He and his brother weren't strangers to law enforcement. Merle was an asshole who did a lot of illegal things. Daryl wasn't, but he followed Merle like a shadow. He tried to keep himself clean most of the time. But that never stopped him from catching a beating from a cop on a power trip.

"Wouldn't think you'd say that about Rick," Lupe smiles.

Daryl shrugs. "Rick ain't been a cop for a long time now."

Lupe blinks through that thought. "I suppose that's true."

The cop heads down the side street and disappears. The three sit for a little longer. Lupe is already growing bored. Daryl and Carol are as cool as cucumbers.

A walker rams into the window of the sedan with a snarling wail. Lupe doesn't scream, but she's just about in Daryl's lap with how far she jumped from the fright. She looks over at Daryl and they're both breathing hard from the scare. That's about when Lupe realizes they're face to face.

"Shit..." Carol hisses.

Daryl and Lupe peek around his seat but Carol isn't visible. Lupe moves to inspect the back, using it as the perfect cover for pretending she wasn't on top of Daryl. She leans further between the seats.

"Carol?" Lupe asks.

Carol curls up behind Daryl's chair, her gun lowers, slow and steady. She looks at Lupe and shakes out a sigh. "That scared the shit out of me. I thought they saw us and tried to flank us."

Lupe jams her ass back into her rightful place and shudders. The maldito still scratches at the glass, hissing. It gets a little extra excited and bangs against the side. The sound gongs, reverberating each time.

"Get the window," Lupe says. Daryl flicks the car on but does not start the ignition. Lupe rolls the electronic window down just enough and uses two hands to extend one of her batons. She jams it in the creature's eye and it goes limp. She's about to let it slide off when Carol stops her.

The cop comes out of the street holding busted bikes in each hand. He tosses them on the sidewalk and goes for the last piece of debris. That item is heavy and he has to drag it all the way to the sidewalk. He drops it and walks toward his car. Pausing, he looks in their direction.

Lupe strains to hold up the dead weight of the maldito on the end of her baton. The cop walks back to his car and climbs in. They turn down the road they cleared and speed off. Daryl goes to start the engine but the car stalls.

"Fuckin' battery!" He hisses as Lupe yanks her baton from the walker's head. The sound of the cop car roaring away coupled with their car's whining draws more walkers in.

"We gotta get out of here," Lupe says, turning to Daryl and Carol.

"They're probably hiding in the city somewhere. That's a residential street," Daryl murmurs. "Let's move, find someplace to hole up in till morning."

Carol replies, but her tone is hesitant, "I know a place. It's only a couple blocks from here." She looks between Daryl and Lupe and grins. "We'll be fine."

Chapter Text

They slip from the car and try to stay low and quiet. They don't alert too many walkers in their short journey, but it is still a path lined with corpses. Carol and Daryl lead the way with Lupe pulling up the rear. Daryl had distance, Carol knew where she was going, and Lupe had speed. The process wasn't too bad, but running in the city at night felt far more than dangerous.

They arrive at a nondescript building. Carol and Lupe keep watch while Daryl pries open the door. As they slip inside, the new soundtrack of the world, the hissing and groaning of the dead, gets shut out. They all slump over in relief for a few seconds, regaining their breath, and then they're off.

They get into a small tight formation with Carol leading the way. Lupe offered her one of her batons, so they both have one and a knife. Daryl brings up the rear, his crossbow raised. He has no intention of letting either of these women get hurt. They feel the same about him and each other.

Lupe has to admit she's a little jealous of how well Carol and Daryl work together. Their movements are fluid and nearing a Vulcan mind meld. Watching them makes her think of Alma. She misses that surety and safety in a partner. Lupe likes Carol. She's certainly skilled and trustworthy. Lupe is getting over her antagonistic feelings towards Daryl. Though his attitude never helps. She still can't deny that he's someone she's starting to feel safe around. He knows what he's doing and he cares enough to make sure people make it. Even if he's sometimes a jerk to her, that means something.

Carol guides them through hallways and small rooms. The place has a lot of doors that lock from the inside. They pass a desk and Lupe peeks at the files and papers resting there. There's a manilla folder open, filled with something that looks like a police report. Paper-clipped inside is a picture of a small child's face from the shoulders up. There are other pictures of the child too. Lupe doesn't want to think about the bruises that paint the little kid's skin.

"You used to work here or somethin'?" Daryl asks Carol as she paces through the room.

"Or something," Carol replies. Lupe turns to her and their eyes meet for a pained second. Carol turns away as a pinched look steals the impassivity from her features. Lupe's heart breaks, but she doesn't say a word.

Carol leads the way through an unlocked door. They travel through hallways with more rooms. They end up passing through an office space that leads into a little bedroom. There's a desk pushed up against one wall, a few chairs, and a very small table. Taking up the back wall is a bunk bed with a full mattress on the bottom and a twin on top.

"You take the top bunk," Carol says to Daryl. "Lupe and I can share the bottom."

"Good plan, I ain't climbin' my ass all the way up to the top," Lupe jokes and gets a very small twitch of a smile from Carol. They both turn to Daryl, waiting for his response. He stares at the table. His flashlight beam hovers on a book called 'Treating Survivors of Childhood Abuse.'

"What is this place?" He finally asks.

"Temporary housing," Carol replies as she starts to make the room more suitable for them.

"You came here?" Daryl asks. Lupe rolls her eyes. Daryl needed some lessons in tact.

Carol's reply is cold, "We didn't stay."

Lupe moves past Carol and brushes her fingers across her shaking hands. They exchange another short look, but Carol doesn't look away. She stares at Lupe and absorbs the compassion for just a little while. She smiles wide this time, but it's tinged with sadness and the tears welling in her eyes.

"I'll take first watch, you two should sleep," Carol says, pulling away.

Daryl's stripping out of his layers as he turns to reply, "This place is locked up pretty tight."

"I know," Carol replies, her tone dismissive.

"We're good then," Daryl murmurs. It's almost an entreaty but doesn't have the honest communication behind it to make it clear. Or Carol doesn't want to hear it and he supplies her the leeway.

"I don't mind," Carol says over her shoulder, walking over to the window to stare out of it.

Lupe approaches her. "Can I suggest something?" She asks, looking between the two of them. "I've been getting a lot of rest lately. You two haven't. I should take watch and you two should sleep."

"You're still recovering," Carol says with a frown.

Lupe shakes her head. "You have to understand I live with constant pain. I'm really used to this. I feel as tip-top as I'm gonna get. You two, however, should get some rest. You were out all day and now you've been driving half the night," Lupe insists. "Since this place is locked up, all I have to do is make sure it stays that way. We're good. Get some rest."

Both Daryl and Carol glance at each other and then back at Lupe. They don't like it, recalling what bad shape she was in after Terminus. They were starting to like Lupe, and care about her safety. She hadn't done them wrong one bit yet.

"Thank you," Carol murmurs.

"Mmhmm," Daryl mumbles at her.

Lupe sets down all her stuff and then moves towards the table to grab the book. She takes it over to the window that Carol left and perches on the sill. She reads while the other two get ready for bed.

Carol keeps herself busy, but the nagging in her head won't go away. She doesn't deserve Daryl's trust or Lupe's compassion. She feels like an asshole for savoring it, almost craving it. She turns to Daryl suddenly and whispers, even though Lupe can definitely hear in the tiny space, "You said we get to start over..."

"Yeah..." Daryl replies just as soft.

Carol goes to sit next to him on the mattress. "Will you?"

Daryl shakes his head. "I'm tryin'."

Daryl picks at his nails and Carol fiddles with her hands. Lupe stares at the words on the page but has trouble focusing. She hates to hear the pain in their voices. The loss and agony trails each word like a shadow. It twists her gut something awful.

"Why don'you say what's really on yer mind?" Daryl says to her.

She sighs and looks him dead in the eye. "I don't think we get to save people anymore."

"Then why you here?" Daryl asks.

Carol smiles at him, drawn and sad. "I'm tryin'."

Daryl's face sinks into his hands. He rubs at the dirty skin and his palms move to cover his ears, pressing hard. His fingers twitch away to run through his greasy hair. Carol flops back on the bed with her arm over her eyes.

"When we were out by the car?" Daryl mutters, staring at his fingers. "What if me and Lupe didn't show up?"

"I still don't know," Carol says. It's breathless and airy and might be a lie.

Daryl flops down next to her and they fall into silence. Lupe keeps reading for a while. Then she hears the soft, level breaths of Carol and Daryl. She smiles to herself, glad that they feel safe enough to get some honest rest. She's still not gonna climb her ass up on top if neither of them wake up. She'd bet dollars to donuts the office couch is a pullout. She'd been in a place like this too.

Lupe doesn't bother them. She keeps reading. Sometimes distracted, she looks out the window. She has to contort to see the night sky above the jammed in buildings. Lacking light pollution, even the small bit she gets is full of stars. It makes her smile. Everything can change, but some things stay the same.

A distant banging brings her out of her celestial musing. She stands up and grabs her weapons, one of Alma's pistols with a silencer tucked into her holster. She slips out of the bedroom and closes the door, but doesn't latch it shut. She wants to dampen the sounds to make sure Carol and Daryl won't get disturbed.

Lupe walks down an almost pitch black hallway. She can see fine enough without a flashlight. She's accustomed to moving through the darkness. Her and Alma had plenty of unexpected opportunities to travel during the night. Life on the road was never a stable thing.

She reaches the end of one hallway and has to turn down another. She finally sees what is making all the racket. A dead woman is in one of the holding rooms. Lupe can't get a great look at her to see her condition, fresh or grody, because of the frosted glass. She sighs and moves to open the door, but another maldito slams against the glass. The noise, muffled and weak, comes from a body, too tiny to be growling and hissing in such a way.

The dead child hardly reaches up to the door handle. Its little hands slam uncoordinated against the entrance, next to the larger maldito. The tiny fingertips drag down the inside of the door and squeal against the glass.

All the energy drains from Lupe. Her readied weapons drop in limp arms. She sinks to the floor with a shuddering breath, landing on her knees. She slides down onto her ass and her feet splay out at her sides. Dropping her head into her hands, she bites her cheek to stop herself from crying, but doesn't work. The tears fall and all she can taste is blood.

It takes her a long time to get back to her feet. She wipes at her face and takes harsh breaths to stop her spasming lungs. She reaches for the door but hears footsteps. Her gun raises towards the sound as a flashlight shines in her eyes. She can't see because of the light, but her aim doesn't falter. The beam falls away from her face and focuses on her shoes. She sees Daryl and Carol standing in the doorway to the other hall. They see the bodies immediately and both go still.

"I'm sorry if I woke you up," Lupe says, sniffling. She turns back towards the door to the malditos and her hand clasps the knob.

Daryl's arm crosses in front of her, his hand lands on hers and squeezes hard. "You don't have to."

"I will," Carol says stepping forward.

"Neither of you do," he snarls back at her.

Lupe is face to face with him and she's struggling to hold back her tears. "They deserve to rest," her voice cracks out.

Daryl stares at her hard. "So do you." He peels her hand off the door and starts to pull her and shoo Carol. "Come on. Let's go."

He manages to convince them both away. They head back into the room and get Lupe to lay down. Carol joins her on the bed and Daryl climbs up on top. They both ignore the soft sobs coming from Lupe that lull them into a gentle sleep.

When Lupe wakes up in the morning, she and Carol lay curled around each other. Lupe's chest is to Carol's back and her short silvery hair tickles her face. She unwraps her arms around Carol in the hopes of not disturbing her, but it doesn't work.

Carol rolls over, still halfway in Lupe's arms. Her face twists up in bleary confusion. "You the big spoon?" She croaks through her still sleeping throat.

Lupe chuckles and pulls back. "Sorry. Sometimes me and Alma would sleep like that in the truck. It helped us stay warm during the winter when it was too cold. Old habits die hard I suppose."

Carol sniffles with a smile. "Won't see me complaining, that's the best sleep I've had in ages." She chuckles as she sits up and wipes at her face. "They should bottle your hugs."

Lupe looks away with a bashful smile and starts maneuvering off the bed herself. Both women stand up and finally notice that Daryl is gone.

"Shit!" Lupe says, immediately panicked. She starts to go out the door with her weapons all getting garbled into her hands.

Carol grabs onto the back of her jacket to stop her. "Wait..."

Lupe looks back at Carol, both of them sleep addled and their hair sticking up in all directions. Carol points out the window and Lupe sees smoke.

"The fuck?" Lupe rasps.

"Come on," Carol says, grabbing her assault rifle.

They move out of the bedroom and into the office. The bigger window offers a better vantage of the large pyre built on the gravel outside. Lupe is about to head towards the door when they see Daryl. He carries the body of the small child in his arms, wrapped in a white table cloth. The mother already laid to rest, burning away. Lupe lets out a shuddering gasp as tears fill her vision. Carol bites her lips as her eyes fill up too. Daryl lays the child in the flames and steps back.

The women rush out the door together. Daryl turns to face them with a grim look on his face and reddened eyes. He turns back to the fire without a word. Carol and Lupe approach him on either side and stare at the flames.

"Thank you, Daryl," Lupe chokes out in a murmur.

"Thank you," Carol repeats in a gentle, broken voice.

The smoke rises from the pile of bodies, consumed by the fire. Lupe and Carol both reach for Daryl's hands at the same time. They all entwine together, like an unbreakable chain. They stand witness to the mother and child finally getting released from this world. They do not have to suffer it any longer.

But others do.

They do.

And they'll survive.

Together.

Chapter Text

The ticking of the clock is the only thing that punctuates the silence. The seconds pass into minutes and then into hours. The first thing Alma's body is capable of doing is taking a big deep breath. Her eyes pop open and she tries to move but her entire body hurts.

The ceiling is blank and bare. Little pockets of water damage fade the eggshell white to a dingy grey. Alma blinks a few more times then forces herself to get up. She looks around to the beige, sterile surroundings that have fallen to disrepair. The room looks too familiar. She's been in one like this before. Plenty of times with Lupe after she got too hurt for herself to fix. Three other times too. Once after her father got injured by a hit-and-run, and two other times when her parents passed away a year apart. One thing is distinctly different from all her times in hospital rooms. Her lungs shudder as fear takes over. Alma is alone.

She scrambles out of bed and removes the IV from her arm with care and precision. Looking down at her body, it's covered in scrapes, sewn up gashes that look a few days old, and bruises in their prime. And ace bandage wraps tight around her ankle and she has trouble putting her weight on it. Alma looks at the saline drip. She investigates the bag, wanting to know what these strangers are putting into her. She closes all the drips, takes it off the pole, and stares around the room again.

"Lupe?" Alma asks in a whisper.

She remembers the night with all the corpses. She remembers helping Beth escape the house through a pried open window. She remembers running out to the road by the mortuary with Beth, heading for the truck. The last thing she remembers is headlights shining in her eyes and the rev of an engine. Then darkness and pain.

"Lupe!?" Alma says louder this time. "Beth!?" She yells and starts to investigate the room. She runs to the bathroom and whips it open. "Daryl!?" She screeches, desperate.

She hears the garbled chatter of a radio and it sounds too familiar. Her hair stands on end when she hears thunking footsteps. She runs over to the IV pole and wraps her hands around the thin, cool metal. Raising it up in front of her like a bo staff. She crouches despite the pain in her ankle and waits as the door unlocks and clicks open.

Two strangers come in and Alma stays ready to throw down until she sees Beth standing behind them. Her face is blank but her eyes settle on Alma and Alma gets a sense that they are in terrible danger. That's only confirmed by the woman in full police blues and the man in a white lab coat.

Alma's eyes widen and her staff raises steady. She grits her teeth hard and contemplates how she and Beth will get out of this.

"Everything is okay," the man says soft-voiced. His hands rise in supplication, trying to calm her.

The police officer speaks, "Put it down. Drop it." Her hand heads towards the gun at her hip.

Alma raises the pole higher and a snarl forms on her lips.

"Now," the woman growls. Her eyes strain, the whites of them too bright as she glares at Alma.

Alma shakes her head.

"Drop it or I will be forced to fire on you," the woman snaps.

Alma scoffs. "Yeah, fearing for your life, right? A gun versus a sixteen-year-old with a big stick?" She spits. "How fucking original."

The cop's face contorts into an angry grimace and she grips the handle of her pistol.

"Wait!" Beth finally speaks. The cop somehow looks more upset at her than Alma. "Alma, it's okay," Beth says walking forward. She steps in front of the strangers' line of sight and her face morphs into something terrifying. Alma has never seen Beth look so scared. "Alma put it down." She keeps her tone the same but her eyes flicker to the side where the cop stands. Her face bends again in a stern fear. Though Beth's eyes water, there is a distinct determination in them.

Alma gets the message that now is not the time to fight. She stares at the cop with her hand on her gun. "Take your hand off your gun first. Beth's in your line of fire anyway, I won't let her get hurt," she snaps.

The cop's face morphs in annoyance, her brow arcs, and her lips stretch thin. "The same time then?" The cop replies, haughty.

Alma nods. The cop lets go of her gun and pulls her hand away from it. Alma lowers the pole to the ground and steps back.

The doctor comes forward. "I'm Dr. Steven Edwards. This is Officer Dawn Learner. How are you feeling?"

"Like I've been hit by a car," Alma snaps, not withholding her disdain for the police officer. She didn't trust cops. She couldn't. They'd never served and protected her, her sister, or people like them. She looks over at Beth who migrated back behind the doctor and the cop. Beth widens her eyes and shakes her head. Alma sighs. "Where are we?" she asks, trying to edge away from the fury she feels.

"Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta," Steven replies.

Alma's brows fold in towards the center. "Why? Why did you kidnap us?"

"Kidnap?" Dawn scoffs. "We found you both injured in the middle of the road, surrounded by rotters a few days ago."

"Funny, I recall feeling fine until I saw some headlights charging at us," Alma spits. Dawn's eyes go wide and distinct anger fills them.

The doctor steps forward again, his voice is calm in a forced way as he tries to diffuse the situation. "You sprained your ankle. And you've got some superficial scratches, bruises, and cuts on your body. You'll be fine after a little bit of rest."

"Where are the other two that were with us?" Alma demands.

"Others?" Dawn almost laughs. "You two were abandoned."

"No!" Alma growls at her. "We weren't. Where are they?"

Dawn steps forward and her eyes go lifeless. Her voice is soft and condescending, "If we hadn't saved you, you would be dead right now. Eaten up on the side of the road."

"No, we wouldn't've," Alma snarls back. "Pinche cochino... (Fuckin' pig...) Where's my bag, my gear?"

Dawn tilts her head. "You didn't have -,"

"Stop lying!" Alma screams at her.

Dawn's eyes widen again. She steps forward, teeth gritting as she speaks, "You should show us a little more appreciation. We saved your lives." She unclenches her jaw and sighs. Her voice takes on that same patronizing lilt, "You owe us..."

"We owe you shit," Alma grumbles. "Come on, Beth." Alma moves around the doctor and the cop and grabs Beth's uninjured arm. The injured one definitely wasn't there at the mortuary. She pulls Beth out into the hallway and they take a few steps before they're forced to stop. Beth pulls Alma close and they stare at the line of armed officers blocking their path.

"Don't," Beth whispers. "They're everywhere and they're not police anymore. They kill people. They let people die."

Alma laughs, but it is empty of amusement. "Oh, then they're still exactly the same." She glares at the line of men and women, with all their hands on their guns. Most of them are white men and Alma scans until she finally sees a brown face. His eyes focus on hers and he immediately looks away. Alma spits on the floor in their direction. A wholly bald white cop stares down at the spit and his face contorts in rage.

Dawn comes out, watching the display. That pale officer steps forward and she raises a hand to stop him. "Don't worry, she'll clean it up."

"Ain't that your job?" Alma snarls at the woman. "Protect and Serve, right?"

Dawn chuckles behind her pursed lips. She levels a glare at Alma. "My officers are here to protect you and everyone else here. We save people from that world out there. Both of you are here, safe, because of us. Don't forget that."

"I'll take my chances with the dead ones, thanks," Alma replies. "Let us out of here."

"I can't do that," Dawn says with that empty softness.

"I won't ask again," Alma snarls, stepping in front of Beth.

Beth grabs at her scrubs and holds on tight. "Don't... please, Alma, don't. It's too dangerous."

Alma starts shaking with a fury too big for the exhaustion and pain she feels. She grits her teeth as tears form in her eyes. "What the hell do you want from us?"

"Everything costs something, doesn't it?" Dawn asks her. "All we want is for you to contribute to this place. Pay off what you owe us for saving you, then you'll be free to go."

Alma looks around and back at Beth whose eyes fill with a restrained terror. Alma looks back at the cop and holds back her rage as best as she can. "That easy, huh?"

"That easy." Dawn smiles. Her veneer is a fractured thing and Alma can see right through the cracks. The woman is like a screen door in a tornado, completely unhinged.

The doctor steps in. "Beth told us you have some volunteer EMT experience, that right?"

Alma glances back at Beth and that nervous terror is still there. They talked about their pasts back when they were traversing the woods. Beth loved music. Alma loved dancing. Beth wanted to be a nurse, like her friend Patricia. Alma wasn't sure what she wanted to be, so she volunteered everywhere she could. She'd worked at an animal shelter. She volunteered with scout troops and the YMCA during summers. She loved being a volunteer EMT. She has a feeling that little piece of information might have saved her life.

"Yeah..." Alma replies, the fight winding out of her.

"Good," the doctor says looking around a little nervous, "you'll be a perfect addition to Beth on my team."

"Hey!" The bald cop growls.

"We're the ones that found them." Another white cop steps forward. He's a good ole boy type with perfect combed blonde hair. He was probably winsome once, in that generic WASPy way. But he's not aged well.

"Everyone has a job," Dawn replies. "We'll see where she fits best. Right, Alma?"

"We won't be here for long," she replies quick and with poorly veiled disdain. "We'll pay off our debt and we'll be on our way. I'd be happy to help the victims - I mean, the people you 'save'." She eyes the cops that claimed to save her and Beth. She memorizes their faces and promises herself she'll kill them if she gets the chance. They took her from Lupe and she can't rest until she finds her sister again.

"Come on along now," the doctor insists. He raises his hand up and directs her and Beth towards a separate hallway. "I'll show you where you'll be doing most of your work."

Alma stares at him for a long time. She doesn't like or trust anyone here. She's known plenty of doctors who were negligent assholes. Most of them were the ones in charge of treating her sister's conditions. They usually failed to do so because they didn't want to deal with it.

"Fine," Alma replies. She grabs Beth's hand and they entwine their fingers as the doctor leads them away.

Alma doesn't take her eyes off the cops until they're well out of sight. "What the fuck, Beth?" Alma whispers at her side. The doctor walks in front of them a few steps.

"I don't know what any of this is, but it's bad," Beth whispers back. "I woke up earlier this mornin' and been helpin' out. Dawn gave me the same sort of lecture. Talked about the debt and working it all off. I haven't eaten or gotten any water since I came to," she mutters. "They've already let one man die since I woke up. They don't like to 'waste resources.' We can't stay here, but they've got this place locked down tight."

"Doesn't matter," Alma says, "we'll find a way."

Beth replies, "What I know now, Dawn carries all the keys to the locked doors. The ground floor is open to the outside. They dump corpses down elevator shafts. Maybe we can talk to them and get more information, figure somethin' out."

Alma nods. "That'll have to be your job. They won't trust me."

"Well that display didn't help," Beth murmurs.

Alma stops and lets go of Beth's hand. "Do you know how cops used to be before all this? Like, do you really know?" She asks, her tone warbling. "We are not safe here. I am especially not safe here." She states with frantic anger. "Do you even know what the police force got formed for in the first place?" Her whisper is harsh and biting.

Beth steps back, appalled. Alma looks around and sees more people dressed in scrubs like them. They clean floors and wipe down walls. They fetch food, suffer behind closed doors, and push big rolling bins of laundry and supplies. They all look haggard and resigned.

Alma shakes her head. She looks back at Beth and snarls, "Slave Patrols..."

Alma walks away from the blonde girl and follows the doctor. She wonders where Lupe is. She's terrified these people did something to her sister. Alma knows Lupe would never leave her. She didn't think Daryl would leave Beth either. There is a distinct terror flitting through her veins. This whole place reeks of death and the thrumming of fear paints its very walls. Alma knows that this place is a death sentence for whoever enters it. But she has no intention of letting it best her or Beth. This place is just one more level to the hell they're forced to survive.

Chapter Text

Beth and Alma are finishing up in the doctor's office when Dawn comes in and says they have a new victim. This one supposedly 'fell from a first story building' trying to escape the dead. Alma didn't think the injuries would be that bad. Not unless the ground came up to meet him with the speed of something like, say, a car.

It didn't matter anyway because the prognosis was not good. The guy's lung got punctured and he had terrifying bruises pretty much everywhere. Dawn had been livid when Steven said the guy couldn't be saved. She slapped Beth hard enough to reopen her stitches. Alma had been on the other side of the hospital bed. If Steven hadn't grabbed her arm, she'd have climbed right over the dying guy and jabbed Dawn with a scalpel. But Dawn left in a huff. Alma redid Beth's stitches back in their room and helped her change into a new shirt. Two lollipops appear in the front pocket of the clean shirt, and it was the first time either of them smiled.

The next morning they're forced into their rounds. Alma gets a lot of restocking duties. She knows what things are useful in an emergency situation. She doesn't bother trying to steal anything. The cops hover worse than a Mother-in-law missing her firstborn son. She's exhausted by midday.

She returns to her room to find Beth cleaning off some medical supplies from the morning. She passes by with a smile and goes to the bathroom and tries to finish up quick. Neither of them has been accepting food or water in the hopes that they'll actually pay off their debts. The more she works, the more she'll burn off.

Alma hears some voices as she washes her hands, but puts it in the back of her mind. She's missing Lupe so much she feels like she'll burst if she doesn't see her soon. Her whole sense of self feels incomplete without her. Lupe had always done everything for Alma. She sort of hated it but appreciated it at the same time. They didn't have anyone else but each other for a long time. Until Lupe started working at the bar more. Her co-workers became a good family to the sisters before the world came crashing down.

Alma walks out the door and freezes. Gorman, the WASPy asshole, stands in front of Beth, hovering over her. Beth eyes him with trepidation, she scoots back with words caught in her throat.

"I - I don't want it," Beth whimpers.

"Oh come on now," Gorman hums as he moves closer. The bed at the back of Beth's thighs traps her in place. He lifts a green lollipop, already opened, and sways it in front of her lips. "I just wanna be sure I'm returnin' this to the rightful owner." He smiles and chuckles, swiping the already licked lollipop across Beth's closed lips. Beth quivers and tears well in her eyes when he tries to force it into her mouth. "Come on, be a good girl for me and open right up."

"Stop it!" Alma screams, as loud as she can.

Gorman jumps about a mile, dropping the lollipop. It lands with a smack onto the floor. Turning with his hand on his gun, he sees Alma in front of the bathroom. He chuckles and relaxes his posture, glancing at Beth and licking his lips. Looking back at Alma, blue eyes roam her body, up and down real slow. He grins. "What're you gonna do about it if I don't?"

Alma's eyes flicker around the room and they settle on the tray of clean tools on the table next to her. There's a scalpel and other small instruments that won't do much good. But the tray itself is hearty enough for a damn good smack. She jumps for the tray, but Gorman lunges for her at the same time. He grapples with her, his arms wrap around her waist and he turns, flinging her across the room. She rams into the bed and Beth runs around to help her as Gorman starts to charge.

"Leave them alone!" Steven comes running in. "Gorman you stop right now and leave these girls alone!"

Gorman pauses, huffing as he stares at the girls. The licking fires of possession burn in his light eyes. Both Beth and Alma see him exactly as he is, a snarling, rabid beast that needs to get put down.

Gorman smiles, but it's empty. He scoffs and turns to face the doctor. "These girls shoulda been mine and Licari's. We found'em, it's fair."

"People aren't possessions, pendejo," (dipshit) Alma growls.

He turns back to her immediately and rage stretches his features thin. "What'd you call me, you little bitch?"

"Enough!" Steven snarls. "No one belongs to you, Gorman. Get over yourself. These girls are off limits to you."

"What? You think Dawn's gonna stop me?" Gorman chuckles emptily.

"I will," Steven replies. It's shaky, but he squares his shoulders and starts getting serious.

Gorman smiles wide. He saunters over to the doctor. "You gonna step up, doc?"

Steven shifts away from his fear and his features bend into a simple grin. "What happens when you get sick, Gorman?" His words carry a heavier threat as he goes on. "You get an infection? You get bit?"

Gorman hums, thoughtful as he scans up and down the doctor. "There's gonna be somebody. Somebody who ain't you." He turns and smiles at Alma and Beth. "Both of my girls here know some medicine, don'cha?"

"No hablo ingles, cabron," (I don't speak English, asshole,) Alma snaps.

Gorman glares at her and grits his teeth. He takes a step and the room buzzes with his instant rage. The doctor moves, Alma moves, Beth moves, but they all freeze when Dawn passes the door.

"Gorman!" She calls, hardly paying attention. "Let's go."

Gorman stuffs the monster back behind his meaningless shield and rookie blues. He smiles and winks at the girls. "You take care'a me? I'll take real good care of you." He saunters out and everyone left in the room deflates.

"Why do you stay?" Beth asks the doctor, her voice quite close to a beg. "You could just go! Why don't you?!"

The doctor sighs and adjusts his glasses. "Come with me. Both of you. I need to show you something."

They follow the doctor out into the hall, reluctant and nervous. It takes a little while traversing stairs upon stairs upon stairs. They finally reach their destination, which is some sort of maintenance duct. He leads them right up to a human-sized grate with large metal blinds in front of it.

"Why'd you bring us here?" Beth asks.

Alma looks around the place. Her hands trace over walls and locked doors. She thinks if she could get some of those medical tools, they might be able to pick some locks and get out.

"Watch..." The doctor says. He scoops up a metal pipe and then drags it down the blinds. A thundering clanging sound reverberates through the shaft. A breath later, the dead come charging into the room on the other side of the grate. They ram into the metal, scraping bloody fingers against the barrier. They hiss and groan, the fresh scent of the living is an undeniable appeal. Steven says, "Every time I think about leaving, I come down here to look at this."

"Why'd you bring us here?" Beth demands again.

"You asked why I stay," the doctor mumbles, staring at the dead. He looks at her and shifts, the emptiness in his gaze is gone. "Come on, let me tell you two a story..."

He walks away with Beth trailing him. Alma steps up to the grate and stares at the dead pounding on the metal. She looks down to that pipe Steven grabbed and picks it up herself. Testing it out, she stabs one of the malditos in the head through the holes. The pipe slides through, a perfect fit.

"Alma!" The doctor shouts.

Alma stares at the dead and smiles wide. She turns away and goes to follow Beth and the doctor.

When they get to the roof, Steven finally starts talking. "When everything started, Dawn reported to a guy named Hanson. They had orders to clear the hospital and move everyone to Butler Park. It was close to midnight when we heard the jets, the bombs. The screams..." He shows them the expanse of Atlanta around them, the husks of society are crumbling in the air as they speak.

"I was on the third floor," he continues, "Dawn and Hanson's teams were doing a final sweep. And we knew it was bad. Just didn't know how bad till we came up here." He takes a deep breath and attempts to remain impassive. His voice belies a deep regret. "The city had fallen and everyone we evacuated..." he swallows hard, getting shifty as his eyes well with tears, "they were just gone."

He turns away from the wreckage that was once their home and sighs. He sits on the roof ledge and plops his elbows on his knees. "We kept mostly to ourselves at first. Till the food ran out. We started going out on runs, a few of us at a time. We'd see people who needed help, barely holding on. But we were barely holding on ourselves."

He reaches down and picks up some gravel, weighing the stones in his hands. "Came a time I couldn't look away anymore. I found this kid. Napalm burns on his clothes, his skin. Dawn said we couldn't spare the resources. So we struck a deal. I'd use what I could to heal him and he'd compensate us for those resources through service." He looks at both Beth and Alma and his eyes fill with terror and remorse. He looks away. "Now..."

"You're not the problem," Beth insists.

Steven stands and adjusts his glasses. "We lost people. That was the problem. Hanson cracked. He made some calls that got people killed." He sighs. "Dawn took care of things. She took care of him," he mutters, but the statement is pointed. "She saw us past it. Kept us together. Kept us alive."

Beth looks down at Atlanta and shakes her head. "You call this living?"

Steven chuckles, hands stuffing in his pockets. He shrugs. "We're still breathing. Patients we brought here, they're still breathing. Outside these walls, alone, unprotected, they'd be dead. We'd be dead." There's a grieving smile on his lips. "We're not the ones who make it. As bad as it gets, it's still better than down there."

"Easy for you to say when you're not one of their servants," Alma snaps. "This is worse than a debtors prison." Steven looks at her and his head drops, nodding.

"We should get back," Beth mutters, anxious.

"Beth, how about you look in on Mr. Trevitt. Alma, you get to prepping other rooms." He nods at them with a tight grin. "Call it a day after that, okay?" Steven says.

"Okay," Beth and Alma murmur.

"Oh, uh, Trevitt's stable, but due for another 75mg of Clozapine," Steven says. A hand knocks against his glasses as he smiles, but it's not very strong. "And tomorrow we'll start fresh."

"Sure," Beth says, soft and unsure.

"Whatever you say, boss," Alma mutters. She turns away from the doctor with Beth to walk back inside to do their jobs. They want to get out of there as soon as possible.

Alma is in the midst of setting up a room when she hears a commotion in the hallway. She peeks out and sees two cops bring in a girl with tightly curled brown hair. Her skin is just about the same shade as Alma's. She's covered in blood with her hands restrained behind her back. It doesn't stop her from wriggling in the cops' arms and growling at them in Spanish.

One of the cops shouts down the hallway for the doctor and Steven walks out of his office, frowning. They slip right into Alma's room and the doctor comes running. Alma immediately steps back as they drag the girl in, kicking and screaming. They lay her on the hospital bed and start to strap her down. Alma frowns and is about to say something when the Doctor comes in. His eyes tell her all she needs to know. Whatever this is, it's bad.

Dawn comes in and helps with strapping the girl down. "She's lucky we found her," Dawn says, tone frantic, but no one in the room really believes her. Especially not the girl writhing on the bed as Gorman tries to get a hold of her ankles. "Whatever you were thinking, it wasn't worth it!" She snaps. "Okay, Joan, you have two choices. Either we cut off your arm or you do."

Joan lashes out as much as she can with her body strapped down and Gorman at her feet. Her teeth grit and she snarls, "Screw you and your little bitch!"

Gorman lets go of her legs and tries to walk around the bed as he snarls, "Smart-ass whore."

Alma's about ready to smack him with the tray for real this time, but Dawn shoves at him. "Gorman, get out of here!"

The doctor moves towards Joan with a needle. She kicks at him with a wail. "It's anesthetic, you need it!" He entreats.

"Go to hell!" Joan snarls at him through the tightness of unshed tears.

"She made her choice, do it!" Dawn shouts. "Do it!"

"No, no, no!" Joan wails, flailing beneath her restraints. Steven pulls a thin metal wire out of his pocket. She surges against his attempt to wrap it around the arm with a bite mark on it. "I said leave me alone!"

"We're not going to let you die," Dawn insists, her eyes are wide, but blank. Alma doubts she even sees the girl. "We are not going to let you turn!"

Joan starts crying in earnest now. Alma turns to walk away from the room. She refuses to be a part of this.

"Where do you think you're going?" Dawn shouts at Alma's back.

Alma turns around and charges toward her, screaming, "She doesn't want your help! She knows what this place is! She'd rather die than let you save her! I won't rob her of that!"

"Do you want her to die, Alma?" Dawn asks with a large dollop of gaslighting.

"It doesn't matter what I want!" Alma bites back. The girl on the bed wails against her captors.

"I need you to hold her down," Dawn growls.

"Keep your hands off me!" Joan wails even though Alma doesn't move. "I'm not going back to him!" She screams at Dawn.

Dawn turns back to Joan with tears in her eyes. "You don't have to!"

Joan screams from the pain. The agony of being back at the hospital is so much deeper. It comes through in her tone as disdain. "You can't control them."

"I will," Dawn insists uselessly. She turns her head to Alma with another snarl on her face. "Hold her down!"

"I won't," Alma growls. The girl on the bed watches her with frantic eyes.

"Do it, now!" Dawn demands again, standing tall to try and intimidate Alma.

"Fuck you," Alma snarls.

Dawn pulls her gun and presses it between Alma's eyes and screams, "Now!"

Alma scowls and flicks her head away from the gun. She walks over to Joan and bends over her. Alma's hands and arms press against her, but it's the exact opposite of restraint. Alma holds Joan while she sobs, and she holds her tight.

"No soy nada, pero estoy aqui. Yo se, echo agua al mar," (I'm nothing, but I'm here. I know, it's useless,) Alma murmurs into the side of her head. "Pero eres fuerte y te mereces algo mejor." (But you're strong and you deserve better than this.) The girl whimpers, pressing her face into Alma's and shuddering.

"Now!" The doctor yells and he starts sawing at Joan's arm with the metal wire.

The hour passes by pretty much entirely like that. The doctor cut off Joan's arm and she passed out from pain and shock. Alma can hardly remember who she is by the time she walks out of the hospital room. Joan's screams and the sounds of sawing through bone haunt Alma in a way she can't explain.

Alma walks down the halls covered in Joan's blood and doesn't say a word to anyone. She finds the laundry room in order to get cleaned up. That's all Dawn said to her after Joan stabilized. 'Go clean yourself up, you look disgusting.'

Alma pushes through the door, ready to cry, and sees a Black guy not much older than her folding clothes. He freezes. She freezes. They stare at each other for quite some time.

"Rough day?" He asks eying her bloodied form.

Alma swallows, shaking from head to foot. "You know Joan?" She asks with a rasp.

The boy's eyes go wide and he wipes his hands down his face. "Shit... They found her?"

Alma nods. "She got bit," her voice is a grating whisper. The concern on the boy's face is vibrant. She doesn't want him to worry too much because of the blood. "The doctor had to take off the lower part of her right arm. But if she makes it through the night without showing infection symptoms, she should be okay." She swallows again, throat dry and thick.

The guy reaches over and grabs some new clothes and some washcloths for her. "I'm Noah. I saw Beth earlier, she told me about you. Alma, right?" She nods. "Uh, the lollipops were from me. Sorry that asshole Gorman ruined them."

Her eyes finally settle on his face for more than just a blink. She looks down at the items he's handing her and grabs them. "Thank you."

He points towards a basin in the corner. "You can wash up there, and you can change in the back area, it's secluded enough. I can take your clothes now and wash them. That way you don't have to walk all the way to your room and back."

Alma nods and heads towards the basin. There's a decent mirror propped up on the wall. While she cleans the blood off her face and arms, it feels like her reflection belongs to someone else. Once she finishes, she's shivering, but she's unsure if it's from the cold water. She turns around to see Noah watching her, giving her a small, sympathetic smile.

"They'll never let us out, will they?" Alma asks. Noah bites his lips and shakes his head. Her reserve almost breaks. She stares down at the bloodied water until she feels like she can breathe again. Her chest is still tight as she asks, "How long have you been here?"

"About a year."

Alma turns to look at him with her eyes blown wide. "What!?"

Noah scoffs and nods. "Yeah, they, uh, found me and my dad and we were both messed up bad. I got a gash all the way down the back of my leg. Cops said they could only save one of us." He shrugs.

"Oh, what bullshit," Alma spits. She grits her teeth and looks over at Noah. She shudders out a sigh. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Noah nods. "Thanks." He gnaws on his lip a little. "You know, you might want to be careful with the cops. Dawn's control is slipping. They've always been... worse than regular cops," he scoffs, "somehow. It's not improving."

Alma snorts and shakes her head. "I don't plan on being here very long."

Noah gives her a grin. "Hey, I'm with you. First chance I get, I'm outta here. I'm going home, getting back to my mom."

"Where're they at?" Alma asks as she walks behind the shelves to change.

She can hear the smile on his face as he thinks about it. "Richmond, Virginia."

"No shit?" Alma chuckles, slipping on her fresh clothes. "I'm from Manassas!"

"Ha! Good to have some goddam decent company around here. I'm starting to think everyone in Georgia is an asshole," Noah replies.

Alma smiles wide and walks out from the back. "Thank you." She hands him her dirty clothes and watches where he puts it, so next time he doesn't have to. When he starts back up to work, she fidgets. "Hey, so..." she mutters, "uh, you get your chance?" Noah looks up at her and he stops what he's doing to listen. "I'll have your back if you'll have mine."

Noah grins, he extends his fist and she bumps it. They nod and Alma turns to leave. She walks down the hall, less bloody, but still not talking to anyone. She thinks about heading to bed but instead goes to check in with Beth who should be finishing up with Trevitt. She passes by Joan's room, but she's still unconscious. Alma hates herself for participating in that but she didn't want to die. She couldn't. She had to find Lupe. She hates that she can't help everyone.

A loud beeping fills the air and at first, Alma thinks something is wrong with Joan. Then she hears Beth's frantic murmuring. She runs into the next room to witness Trevitt seizing on the bed. Alma steps forward, but she knows she can't do anything until his movement stops. The second he stops thrashing, the beeps flatline into a long and drawn out blare.

"Shit!" Alma screeches, rushing to him. Careful as she removes his mask, she's delicate as she starts to check his vitals.

When there are no responses to any of her tests, she crawls on top of the bed. Straddling the man, she begins with chest compressions. The heels of her hand press into his sternum with her elbows locked.

Alma says, "Beth get the manual breath resuscitation pump and a mask. I'm going to need you to help me get oxygen into his system!"

Beth listens and preps the tool. She stands next to the bed and watches and waits for Alma to signal her.

"Go!" Alma says. Beth squeezes but his chest doesn't rise. "Adjust his neck and head by the jaw, tilt it up, make sure his airway is clear. Watch for his chest to move." Beth tries again and it works. "Okay, I'm going to give thirty compressions. Then you'll supply two rescue breaths each time I say go, alright?" Beth nods. "Okay, let's -,"

"What are you doing?" Dawn yells from the doorway. "Stop it now!"

"I'm saving his life!" Alma screams.

Two officers come in and tear her away from him. She fights back as best as she can, being almost completely restrained. The flatline continues to whine while the doctor skims in and checks the patient. He officially calls it.

"No! I could have helped him!" Alma shouts. The bald white cop, Licari, slaps her so hard she tastes blood.

The doctor turns off all the machines. Dawn stomps over and grabs a pair of scissors off the table. She jams them in Trevitt's head and turns on Beth with a snarl and bloody scissors pointed in her face, "What did you do?"

"I - I -," Beth starts, eyes wide and petrified with fear.

Dawn interrupts her, scissors waving as she screams, "He was fine until you two were alone with him! Tell me what happened!"

Beth shakes as Dawn yells at her. Alma speaks instead, "He started seizing and he flatlined! It just happened! With the trauma he incurred from 'falling off a one-story building', he could have had a brain bleed and you'd have no clue!" She snarls, a hair past derisive. "I might have revived him if you let me try, you worthless fucking pigs!"

Dawn bellows, "In my office, now!"

The doctor steps forward to stop Dawn, "It was an accident, Dawn. And she just lost a patient, she doesn't know what she's saying."

Dawn glares at him before she walks away. She follows Gorman and Licari as they drag Alma to her office. She kicks, screams, cusses, and bites. The cops rough her up, trying to stop her from making a scene. The doctor has to hold Beth back as she wails at them to stop. Dawn realizes she should have killed the girl before Beth knew she was alive. These two were causing nothing but problems.

Chapter Text

The next morning Beth has to help Alma dress because she's beat so black and blue she can hardly move. After she got dragged to Dawn's office, Alma got beat to shit by Gorman and Licari. She got tossed back in her room late in the evening and left there without treatment. She didn't want it anyway.

The doctor comes in to check on her. She hardly responds to him, but Beth helps him get her stitched up. She also gets a wrap around her ribs because one of them might be broken. Probably when Gorman kicked her with his steel-toed boots.

"You'll heal fine once you get some rest," Steven says, adjusting the wrap around her torso. "Right as rain in a week or so."

Alma glares at him hard. "Fuckin' peachy."

He scoffs and stands up. "That should do it. Beth, you're with me today."

"What was the name of the drug you wanted me to give Trevitt?" Beth asks before he leaves. Alma looks up at her odd question with a swollen eye.

Steven freezes at the door. "Clonazepam." He takes a step.

Alma's face lights up. "No..." She says and stands with a creaking agony. She looks over at Beth who is trying to remain impassive, but her face is tense. Alma's thoughts whirl and she puts a hand to her head. "You said Clozapine. You told her 75 mg of Clozapine, not Clonazepam. You fucking fink! You made Beth kill him, why?"

Steven turns around. There's shock on his face for a blink, but it shifts into a practiced, empty grin. "I didn't -,"

"He was a doctor," Beth interrupts. "I found his Hospital ID in his wallet before we disposed of the body," she snaps. "That's why you had me kill him. Cause if he survived, you wouldn't be the only one."

"And you'd get tossed to the rotters in a heartbeat," Alma snarls.

Steven's facade fades. His lips pinch with tension, but his chin trembles. He looks down with a sigh. "Trevitt was an Oncologist at St. Ignatius. I - I knew him." He looks back up at the girls, his face wracked with grief and fear. "They would have kicked me out, or like Alma said, done much worse. I mean Gorman..." He shakes his head. "I didn't have a choice."

"Use everything you can use," Beth muses, tone grim.

"When they arrested Christ, Peter denied being one of his disciples. He didn't have a choice. They would have crucified him too," he replies, stern.

"Maybe," Alma spits, "but Peter didn't offer to drive the first nail in either."

Steven looks to her with an appropriate horror on his face. He leaves quick after that and the girls both deflate. Noah was right, this place was slipping. They needed to escape, and fast.

"I better go," Beth starts, "I'll come in a check on you soon, okay?"

Alma nods and Beth leaves. Alma sits down on the bed and lays herself down with careful precision. She curls up on her side and squeezes a pillow at her chest.

She'd hardly spent any time at Grady's, but it felt like a pointless eternity. She aches for Lupe something fierce. Her heart felt like it was missing a beat. Alma hoped Lupe wasn't too scared about what was happening to her. Lupe had to know that Alma would do anything to get back to her. Daryl better not have been an asshole and driven Lupe to abandon him. They'd both deny it, but neither of them should be alone. Not after losing the people they cared about in such a bullshit way. Alma hoped they could survive this, somehow. She falls asleep crying and hugging her pillow like the lost child she feels like. Nightmares and dreams became the same thing a long time ago.

Alma gets woken up by someone nudging her shoulders. She opens her eyes to see Beth and Noah standing at the side of her bed.

"We need to go, now," Beth urges.

"Good." Alma immediately rises and despite her grimacing, kneels next to the bed. Under the frame, wedged into the steel channels, she hid a few foot long pipes. She hands them out, they get slid into pants and sleeves, and they all hobble out of the room together.

They get to the elevator without incident using the key Beth stole. Once Noah finishes tying his sheet rope to the pipe, they lower Beth down. That's when the screaming starts.

"Go," Noah pleads. Alma shimmies down the rope as quick as she can.

Noah drops the rest of the sheets down and he descends. A walker reaches out for him at one of the abandoned lower floors. Noah tries to fight it off, but ends up falling the rest of the way and landing hard on the piles of half-eaten corpses. Alma and Beth jump down and help him up. He's limping worse on his old injury so they both agree to keep him safe.

"Alright," Alma says as she grabs the pipes they threw down, "let's get the fuck out of here."

They step into the dark basement and hear the shambling of walkers all over. They stay quiet and they don't use the flashlight at Alma's request. It was less disorienting that way. Plus, the open elevator shaft provided enough light for them to see the exit in the far corner. Alma leads and Beth is at the back with Noah in the middle. Beth and Alma only had to kill a few of the dead ones on their way out. They were able to sneak past all the rest.

Once they get outside, the sunlight is overwhelming. Beth leads and Alma steps in as Noah's crutch as he rasps directions. The three of them hobble through the remnants of safe camps set up around the perimeter of the hospital. They get across the lot and through a hole in one of the interior fences. There's one more fence to clear before they're free. Unfortunately, that space fills with the dead, attracted by the mere smell of humans. These city walkers had been lacking food a long while and their desperation showed.

Alma looks to Beth. "Beth, you and I need to cover Noah. Let's get him to the fence first, then we'll follow." She asks Noah, "Can you make it on your own or do you need one of us to help?"

"I got it. Thanks." He nods, appreciative, but it's hard to sound like it when he's hurting as much as he is.

"No problem. Let's go." Alma turns and the first maldito is within spitting distance. She charges at it and jabs it in the head with her pipe. The creature falls over and two more come forward in its place.

"Go!" Beth says pushing Noah behind them so he can try to slip between the gaps. With the girls kicking and smacking the brains out of all the undead, Noah has an easy time getting through.

"Come on!" Alma says and starts sprinting for the fence. She sees Noah there, waving and pointing in her direction. When Alma turns around, she sees Beth staggering in the center of five or six malditos. "Shit!" Alma goes straight for Beth and knocks out a few of the dead. She helps Beth shove off another and then they sprint towards the gate.

Gunshots fire and spray the asphalt at the girls' feet. They jump away from them pinging off the asphalt. The girls start running zig-zag to make them harder targets. They sprint and push and scream out their frustration until they reach the gate. But they don't quite make it before they're tackled by Grady cops.

Beth looks up and sees Noah outside the gates. His face screws up with anger, guilt, and indecision and he hits at the gate in a rage. She smiles at him wide and nods.

"Go!" Alma screeches. She screams because it pisses off the cops and draws the malditos. She'd be happy to watch them all turn. "Run! Don't stop!" Alma screams bloody murder to pull the dead ones at the gate away from Noah. The more she draws, the less likely the cops will be able to follow him. "Come mierda!" (Eat shit!) She bellows as the cops yank her to her feet, arms tied behind her back. "Anda a cagar, cabrones!" (Fuck off, assholes!)

Alma goes limp once she sees that Noah is gone and malditos are converging on the hospital. The officers drag Beth and Alma back up to the occupied floors. They separate them and shove them each into dark musty rooms, arms still bound. They're in there for hours. But the cops eventually come and take them straight into Dawn's office.

They're both sat on hard chairs with their hands bound behind their backs. The corpses of Gorman and the other cop still lay on the floor. The carnage pleases both Beth and Alma. The body of Joan is an undeserved tragedy.

"Who the hell do you two think you are?" Dawn yells at them, standing before the corpses like they're her backdrop for a speech.

"Gorman attacked me," Beth snarls. "Just like he attacked Joan! You let it happen!"

Dawn has the audacity to look pained.

"Don't you dare," Alma growls. "Don't you fucking dare act like you cared."

Dawn's mouth pops open in shock at Alma's words. "You have no idea what it takes to make it in this world."

"Don't we?" Alma responds. "We were doing fine till your bacon-bits kidnapped us." Dawn looks ready to deny it again so Alma shouts, "They kidnapped us! They raped Joan! They raped her! And you look the other way while they terrorize people! You're fucking scum! Cowards and monsters, all of you!"

"I didn't want it to be this way!" Dawn bites out. "It has to be this way! Mistakes court chaos. A good man's bad decision almost cost all of us our lives. I will be damned if I let that happen again."

Dawn steps forward and the soft condescension comes out. "Every sacrifice we make needs to be for the greater good. The second we lose sight of that? It's all over." She scoffs. "Neither of you are strong enough to make it on your own."

"We are strong," Beth insists, cold as ice.

Dawn turns on her. "How many people had to risk their lives to save yours?"

Both Beth and Alma fight the insecurity that burns within them. Alma has always hated herself for feeling too weak to survive this world. Lupe seemed like she could do just about anything. Alma believed in her like she believed the sun would rise every morning. Alma has never told her that out of sisterly spite. She might, if she ever gets out of this place.

"Hmm?" Dawn leans in towards the girls and waits for their answer.

After their silence, she continues, "In here, you are part of a system." She glares at them, a threat in her eyes. "The wards keep my officers happy. The happier my officers are, the harder they work to keep us going." Her empty stare returns. "None of this has been easy. There have been," she pauses and swallows, "compromises, but it's working."

"That is peak entitled goat-shit!" Alma spits. "You have some nerve thinking your officers deserve to be 'happy' while others suffer. Fuck you, Dawn."

"We're the ones holding on. That's the good we're doing here," Dawn growls. "You contributing to that is the only good you're capable of!" Her eyes flash and widen with a fanatical fire. "That's what makes you worth something. Because out there? You two are nothing except dead or somebody's burden."

"That's bullshit!" Beth snaps.

"We're worth more than you," Alma spits. "We aren't spineless slavers and rapists!"

"You are weak. You need to accept that. Some people just aren't meant for this life, they're too soft," Dawn says, ignoring them with fresh pity in her eyes. "And that's okay. As long as they don't take advantage of the ones who are." She grits her teeth and the fury is back. "Because when they rescue us, the ones who are worthy are going to be the ones who need to put the world back together."

"Whomst?" Alma laughs. "You think y'all are worthy?" She spits. "A bunch of murderers and rapists?"

Dawn glares at her. "We have to survive until someone -,"

"No one's coming, Dawn!" Beth says, gratingly stern. "No. One. Is. Coming." Her eyes widen, staring her down. "You are all gonna die, and you let this happen, for nothin'."

A desperate denial shines in the cop's eyes. Dawn moves to strike Beth, but Alma jumps from her seat. She rams her shoulder into Dawn's chest, sending her toppling back with a dull thud. Dawn climbs back to her feet with the sap club she grabbed from her desk and hits Alma across the face with it. She falls to the ground in a heap. Beth leaps up and kicks at Dawn. She lets out a wail at the hit and then two of her officers come charging in. They toss Beth to the floor and each one presses a knee into the girls' backs, pinning them to the ground.

"Both of you are worthless and it's time for that to change." Dawn stares down at them with a still fury. "I want them separated," she bites out through shaking, snarling lips. "Licari, you're in charge of Alma now. Alma, you'll tend to his every need or you'll get punished. Beth, you're working with me since you let Noah escape. You'll pick up all of his duties and you'll wish for punishment if you let me down." She glares at the girls with disgust. "Officers, get them out of my sight."

With that, both Lupe and Beth get dragged out of Dawn's office. Licari's got himself almost wrapped around Alma. He laughs every time she thrashes away from his touch. Beth tries to yank out of O'Donnel's grip but it's more than absolute, it's downright painful.

As they're getting pulled away, a set of cops come rushing in with a body on a stretcher. There's some yelling, and Dawn runs past the struggling girls, stopping at their side. She waves over the doctor and he comes to investigate.

Before Alma gets pulled away down a separate hall, she goes to shout to Beth, to tell her to stay strong, and not give up. She freezes at the look on the girl's face. One directed at the silvery-haired woman lying on the gurney, unconscious.

For the first time in a while, Alma sees hope shining bright in those big blue eyes

Chapter Text

Daryl finishes putting everything back in his pack. He turns to check and see how the women are doing. The fires finally burnt out and so were they. None of them wanted to admit how difficult it would be to scour a gigantic city for two girls.

"Car looked like it was headed downtown," Daryl starts. He glances over his shoulder at Lupe jamming a stuffed wolf and orange cat into her bag. He doesn't question it. "If we get up on top of a tall building, we get ourselves a view and see what we can see."

"We'll stay close to the buildings, keep quiet," Carol adds throwing on her pack and sliding on the strap of her gun. "Sooner or later we're gonna draw'em."

"In that event, I might happen to have a few tricks up my sleeve." Lupe reaches into one of the pockets of her pack. She pulls out a Ziplock bag full of small fireworks. "Just in case..." She smiles wide.

Daryl and Carol stare at her for a beat and smile back. They head out into the streets of Atlanta bright and early in the morning. There are few of the dead out and about. It's still rather brisk at the start of the day and the corpses move slower.

They do as Carol says. Daryl leads the charge with Lupe and Carol following him. They're there to make sure nothing sneaks up from behind or the sides. They are all quiet on their feet, but going as quick as they can. It's no time for mistakes.

Daryl reaches the corner first and peeks out. There's a decent smattering of walkers milling around, but they don't have much spunk to them. That could change very quick though.

Lupe lights up one of the firecrackers. She sends it flying in the opposite direction they're intending to go. They hear the loud snapping, the eager snarls of the walkers, and the dragging footsteps. Daryl gives it a minute and leans out again. He waves them to follow and they all sneak across the street and into a parking garage.

A single walker snarls from the pay booth, but Daryl plants a bolt in its head. He moves around the little pen to make sure no more are gonna pop out. When he finishes his circuit, he sees Lupe standing there. Her eyes scrutinize their surroundings, but she holds his bolt, now clean. He walks up to her and she hands it over, not even looking at him.

He urges them on and they make their way up the bones of the parking garage. Daryl directs them through a doorway that leads to the sky bridge. They immediately hear the hissing and groans of the dead. Daryl sneaks forward, bow raised and peeks around the corner. They see his shoulders slump for a beat and then he waves for them.

When Lupe and Carol step into the bridge, they understand his reaction. Several walkers are stuck in sleeping bags, wriggling on the floor like grubs. There's a couple of them trapped in tents at the back too. Left behind trash and some random supplies litter the halls. Not knowing what shape the girls will be in, Lupe grabs a whole bunch of things just in case. There's an especially pretty woven blanket. It's thick, dense, and a beautiful multicolored plaid with a main purple base. Since Alma hated purple, Lupe took that one for herself.

Daryl kills one of the walkers trapped in a sleeping bag. "Some days, I don't know what the hell to think."

Lupe looks around and deadpans. "Kinda makes me think 'Sad Twinkie.'" They hear Carol sputter near the doors. Lupe smiles even though Daryl rolls his eyes.

When they reach Carol, she pulls out some bolt cutters from her pack.

"Do women always carry around bolt cutters in their purse?" Daryl jokes.

Carol looks up at him with a crooked smile. Lupe sniffs, petulant, and says, "Of course we do. We're not animals, Daryl." She winks at Carol and helps her unwind the chain from the door.

They latch the chain on the other side once they're through. Daryl ties it off a little sloppy, but it holds. The building is pretty well dead. They make it through several floors without even spotting a single walker. Once they hit the top, they find the biggest corner office and take a look around.

It's furnished with an elegant plainness. Dark woods. Dark leather. Simple abstract paintings within the neutral color scheme. Daryl checks out the huge desk and Carol goes straight for a window. Lupe hates looking out there. The burned city is a horrifying testament to how little humanity cared for one another.

She shakes her head and reaches for Carol's water. "Let me fill it up?"

Carol nods, distracted, and Lupe takes her bottle. She hits up Daryl next and doesn't even ask him as she takes his. She walks over to the water cooler and fills up all their stores. The full bottles go back in their owner's possession. Lupe unloads the jug of water from its dispenser. The effort is a little disastrous but she manages to save almost all its contents.

Daryl sidles up to Carol and stares out at Atlanta with her. "How did we get here?" Carol asks.

Lupe sets the big five-gallon jug on the desk. She grabs the nearby lamp, cutting its wire to use as a rope.

"Mm-mm," Daryl says and shrugs, staring out at the empty, faded carnage, "we just did."

"You still haven't asked what happened. After I met up with Tyreese and the girls," Carol adds, voice meek.

Daryl keeps staring out at the dead city. He mumbles, "Don't hav'tuh. They ain't here."

Lupe freezes tying off the last of two slip knots at either end of the cable. She's trying not to be too nosy about this group and their ridiculously complex dynamics.

"It's worse than that," Carol's voice catches.

Lupe searches through the desk and finds a plastic bag full of rubber bands. She dumps the rubber bands into a pocket in her pack to use for later. She inspects the plastic bag as a distraction from their conversation.

Daryl finally turns to face Carol. He speaks and it's probably the softest and most tender he's ever been, "Reason I said we get to start over? It's cause we gotta..."

"Yeah..." Carol murmurs.

Lupe uses the bag as a cap, held on by the first slip knot around the mouth of the water bottle. The other knot goes around one of the deep grooves of the jug, making it a little backpack. She sets it next to her other two bags and tries to convince herself she's not a pack mule.

There's a clack against the windows. Lupe jumps, thinking it's a maldito, terrified they spontaneously learned to climb. But it's just Daryl pressing his face up against the glass.

"See something?" Carol asks.

"Yeah, maybe. Give me yer rifle," Daryl says reaching out a hand.

"Here," Lupe offers them hers. Technically, it's Alma's, but Lupe hasn't had the opportunity to give it back to her yet. "It's got a better scope than the AK." She looks at Carol's frown. "No offense."

Carol raises an eyebrow. "None taken. Thank you." She grabs the rifle and hands it off to Daryl. He takes a few seconds but finds what he was looking for.

"Right there, on the bridge," Daryl says, handing the rifle to Carol.

"Looks like its been there a good long while," Carol muses. She pulls back and hands the gun to Lupe and helps her find the mark.

Lupe adjusts quick and finds the bridge. She scrolls along the expanse through the scope and finds what they're so excited about. It's a large white panel van. It has two big white crosses on the back windows. Lupe drops the rifle with a huff. "Chinga de la mierda..." (Fucking shit...) she growls.

"You recognize it?" Daryl asks.

"Not... specifically," Lupe grumbles as she goes to finish organizing her stuff. "At least it's not a fucking religious cult." She shakes her head and the motion is forceful, angry.

"You wanna fill in the class?" Carol jokes.

Lupe turns on her with a sheepish smile. "Sorry..." Her hands shake until she curls them into fists. "It's like an old ambulance, medical crosses on the back and everything. I'll bet they're likely hiding at a hospital." She clears her tight throat and sighs. "When the virus started spreading, police got dispatched first. To help with crowd control and the injured and stuff like that. Some got stationed in hospitals. They got put there to help keep the peace until the armed forces could arrive and escort people to safety. That obviously didn't happen." She waves her hand out to the expanse of destruction that used to be a society. She looks back at Carol and Daryl as the wheels start to spin in their heads. "What's the nearest hospital?"

"Grady Memorial, I think," Carol replies. She looks back out the window and lets out a shuddering sigh as she glares towards the van. "Goddamnit. A hospital will be hell to get into."

"Fuck," Daryl grumbles wiping a hand down his face. He paces away and starts mumbling to himself

"I don't think we should attempt to infiltrate," Lupe says. Both Daryl and Carol turn on her, angry. Her eyes widen and she puts up her hands. "Not by ourselves! I just think we should gather information first. Someone should also head back to the big group and check in. If we do wanna go in by force, we'll need the whole Scooby Gang."

Daryl's lip quirks. Carol shakes her head with a grin. "Alright, why don't we go check out Grady," Carol says, "make sure we can spot everyone. We might be able to get an eye on the girls."

"Alright, let's go," Daryl nods. Everyone packs up and takes whatever might be useful. Daryl pauses as they're leaving and stares at the painting on the wall by the door. "Bet this cost some rich prick a lot of money..." He walks up to it waving his free hand around. "Looks like a dog sat in paint and dragged his ass all about."

"Wow," Lupe muses, "Daryl Dixon, Art critic, and connoisseur. What are your thoughts on cubism?"

"Shut up," he grumbles at her playfully.

Carol squints at the painting and tilts her head. "I kinda like it." Daryl and Lupe both give her pointed looks. "I'm serious," she insists. She rolls her eyes as she strolls away, haughty. "You don't know me."

Daryl grins and follows her. "Yeah, you keep tellin' yerself that."

Lupe chuckles. "Startin' to think I'd like to!"

They make their way back to the sky bridge without incident. Undoing the chains they tied around the door takes all their hands so they don't make too much noise. It's still deadly quiet on the other side and they hope no new walkers made it in. They step through, only to be met by a Black kid with a shotgun aimed right at them. Their weapons are conveniently not raised. Left untouched due to the efforts with the chain.

"Weapons down," the kid growls, glaring at them.

Daryl sways like a jungle cat ready to strike. "You got some sack on you," he drawls.

"No one needs to get hurt, man!" The kid insists, tone frantic. "I jus'need weapons, that's it!" He spits out rapid-fire. He aims at Daryl, straightening up and sobering. "Now please, lay down your crossbow. You two as well, please."

Daryl shakes his head at the kid, paces a step and then puts down his bow. He lines up with the women again and his lip curls with his glare. Carol leans down and places her assault rifle on the ground. Lupe twitches and mutters to herself.

"Weapons on the ground," the kid says again.

He tries to sound forceful, intimidating, but he's not belligerent. He's likely so scared he can hardly think. Lupe can see the way he grips that shotgun so tight his knuckles go ashen.

"Please..." The kid says again and it's almost a beg.

"Hey," Lupe says, trying to keep her voice steady. "Okay, so listen, we really need these weapons too. Like, real bad, kid." Her eyes shift around the room. She's surely got options for an attack, but she doesn't want to hurt him. She needs the weapons. A lot of them belong to her sister and Lupe is dead set on returning them.

"Is that a Mossberg?" Lupe tilts her head at the impressive high-spec gun. "Very good choice and a seriously great coincidence. I have some shells in my bag that'll fit it. You can have every single box. I even have food and water I can give you -,"

"Lupe?" Carol questions her judgment.

The kid stares at Lupe with a deranged hope. Lupe nods at him and ignores Carol. "I don't give a shit about food and water. I have something far more important I need to find, but I do need these weapons. I even have an extra pistol and a knife I can spare -,"

"Lupe, what the hell?" Daryl snarls.

Lupe finally turns on the others. "He's a fucking kid! A scared kid! We don't have to always kill each other for fuck's sake! I need to find Alma! But I'm not gunning down some poor child who just needs help!"

The shotgun wavers. "Did you say 'Alma'?" The kid asks. All three heads turn to him. He swallows heavy under their glares. The fear shines through the cool facade he was working so hard for. "Alma, like, she's almost as tall as me. She's got long black hair, and uh, well," the kid squints at Lupe, "she looks a lot like you."

"That's cause she's my sister!" Lupe beams at him. "You know Alma? H-how -? Uh, what about Beth? Did you meet a blonde girl named Beth? She's about your age."

The kid's eyes go wide. "Yeah, yeah I know Beth too." He swallows and his face cringes with regret.

"H-how -? W-where -?" Lupe mutters, frozen and consumed with hope. The feeling is so strong she doesn't know what to do with it.

"They got taken, right?" He asks her. "They told me about that. They told me about being with other people too. That musta been you." He shakes his head and lowers his gun. "I met them a Grady Memorial Hospital. I'm Noah. I was held captive there too, for about a year." He swallows, eyes shifting between the three people gathered.

"That's where we're headed." Lupe smiles.

"It was supposed to be all of us..." Noah blurts, eyes slamming shut as his face contorts with a sob. "We all tried to escape, but my leg, it's bad, and I couldn't move well on my own." His breath huffs and he looks at Lupe with deep sorrow behind the welling tears. "They made sure I got out first, they watched my back." He wipes a hand down his face. "Beth got caught by a throng of rotters. Alma went back to save her but the cops grabbed them. Alma told me to go. She started screaming to draw more of the dead, cause problems for the cops, giving me cover to disappear." His face crumples again. "So I did. I'm so sorry. I didn't... I wanted..." He takes in a few shaking breaths and tries to calm himself.

"I can't go back there, ok? I really just can't..." Noah shakes from head to foot. He bites his lips hard. "But I can't leave them there either." He lets out a shuddering breath as several tears fall down his dark brown cheeks. "I couldn't do shit alone, but I can help you do it. I don't want to leave them there for one more second."

Lupe's smile breaks so wide it's like the sun came out from behind rain clouds. "I - I don't know what to say. I need her safe." She shudders and fights to hold back her own tears. "Thank you."

"How do we know we can trust you?" Daryl snarls.

Noah shudders, but his face scrunches in concentration. "Beth's last name is Greene. She's got a sister named Maggie. She likes to sing, she's played piano since she could sit up on her own. And she's a badass underneath that helpless white girl act." He looks over at Lupe. "You're Lupe, Alma's older sister. You guys lost your parents, I'm sorry. I lost my pops too. The rest of my family is back in Richmond. You two are from Manassas." He glances between the three of them. "That work?"

Daryl reaches down and yanks up his crossbow, but doesn't aim it at Noah. "Yeah, that works."

Carol bends down to get her gun. Lupe is about ready to charge at Noah and hug him. But he looks terrified and exhausted. She knows better than to surprise someone as jumpy as him. He's been scrambling to survive against a city full of malditos and cops being cops. He's likely strung tighter than a corset.

"So look, I got -," Noah starts, eyes flickering around, "oh shit, get down!" Noah ducks, out of sight from the windows.

Everyone does what he says. Daryl caught a peek of a car with white crosses turning the corner a couple blocks away. His hands almost shake, but he grips his bow sure. He can't quite settle the anger coursing through him. It's been burning him from the inside out since those girls got taken.

"It's Grady cops," Noah whispers. "They've been trying to catch me, but they can't." A curled smile starts at the corner of his lips. "It's been a while since I've been out of the hospital, but it's comin' back."

"Why didn't you leave the city?" Carol asks him.

"I -," Noah looks away from her, "it didn't feel right to leave without them..."

The blip of sirens fills the air for a short moment. Noah curses under his breath. He gnaws on his lip a little and looks back at the group. "They chirp the sirens and lure rotters in, trying to flush me out." He sighs hard and tries to peek out the windows again. "We should move. I'll tell you all about Grady and the girls. The next building over has a basement we can hide in. It should be clear, I just came from there."

They all shuffle out of the sky bridge and make their way through the parking garage. Noah limps bad on one leg but does his best not to linger. He's looking around, shifting his gaze all over, trying to use what he knows to keep these people safe. He's not gonna risk another opportunity to get those girls out. His focus causes his toe to drag and he trips. Lupe isn't far behind him. Being preoccupied herself, she sees him too late. She tries to scramble for stability, overcorrects, and lands hard on her hands and knees.

Daryl swoops in to get Noah back on his feet first. Carol heads to the garage entrance to keep an eye out. Noah starts shuffling towards Carol while Daryl picks up Lupe. She does a weird thing with her wrists and he can hear an audible pop along with her grimace.

"I'll go across and make sure it's clear," Carol says as Lupe hobbles forward. Daryl is at her side, offering wordless and awkward support.

They perch against the wall of the parking garage to wait for Carol's signal. Daryl checks out Lupe's knees, pants ripped open and bloody skin underneath. She keeps smacking away Daryl's concerned hands, feeling like a total tool. They hear the squealing of tires and a terrifying set of thumps.

It's too late for anyone to do anything. Carol lays on the side of the road. Both Daryl and Lupe get ready to charge out, weapons drawn and ready as the cops rush to pick up Carol's limp form. Noah throws himself on top of them and forces them behind a guard wall.

"Please..." he whispers. "This is what they do. They hurt people and bring them in to work for them as a way to pay off their debt." He peeks around and sees Carol strapped into the portable stretcher. "But they also have a doctor who can help her. We don't know how bad she's injured."

Daryl and Lupe both cuss and throw a silent shit fit. Quiet and hidden, they stay behind the wall with Noah until the cops drive away. Daryl is up on his feet and kicks at a car with a loud set of rambling expletives.

Lupe breathes hard and turns to Noah. "You okay?" He shrugs and nods while his body quivers and he tries to breathe. "It's okay, we won't let them take you."

"But we'll let them take Carol!?" Daryl snarls, charging back over.

Lupe steps in front of him and Daryl freezes. He seethes still, glaring at the kid who's coming down from a panic attack. "Daryl, look at him. He's terrified. He's telling the truth."

Daryl starts pacing in front of her. He glares out around them like he's gonna tear the world apart with his bare hands.

"We're going to get Carol back. We're going to get all of them back," she insists, "but we need help." Daryl finally looks at her, blinking and blank for a solid second like he's in a reboot. "I need you to go and get the rest of the group. Noah and I will stay here and we'll gather some more information."

"I ain't leavin' you alone with him," Daryl snarls. "Not a goddamn chance."

Lupe's lips widen with a pained smile. "Okay, then take him with you. He can update the group while you bring them back."

Daryl glares at her. "You're comin' with us."

Lupe shakes her head. "No, I'm going to stay here and figure the area out. I'm gonna watch the hospital and see what I can get from observing them." She leans in and whispers, "I can also try to verify what he says, okay? Don't worry about me, I'll be fine."

"I just saw you crack your wrists back into place after fallin' over," he snaps.

Lupe rolls her eyes, then levels a scowl at him. "I got surprised and didn't fall properly. Plus, they work now. See?" She flaps her hands in front of his face until he pushes them away. She's smiling behind the action. "I survived a long time without you, Daryl Dixon. Don't start doubting me now."

Daryl glares hard at her, gnawing on his lip. "Ain't that..." he grumbles. He paces a bit and then sighs, glaring at Noah again. "Fine, but I wanna know everything now. Tell us on the way to find a damn car." Daryl stalks past Lupe and Noah out into the road. He swoops up Carol's belongings and starts walking down the street.

Lupe goes to Noah who is still trying to calm his shaking. She helps him get walking and sighs. "Don't worry too much about him. Or Carol for that matter."

"How can I not? I just let her -,"

"Hey, we can't do shit right now. It was the only call we had," Lupe interjects. "Slate's clean with us, kid. I just want to get them back. I don't care how." She nods to Noah and then they both hobble after Daryl. Lupe contemplates putting Daryl on a leash next time. He walks too damn fast.

Chapter Text

Daryl and Noah take the entire group back to where Lupe said she'd meet them. When they find her hidden in the parking garage, she has three Grady Officers trussed up like turkeys. Scraps of cloth cover their eyes and they have gags in their mouths.

Daryl glares at her. "We weren't even gone a day!" He growls.

Lupe shoots him a look that's half confusion, half indignation. She waves back at the cops and says, "They tried to hit me with their fuckin' car. But I ran away. They chased me. So I stopped them."

"How?" Glenn asks, his voice shakes in stunned disbelief.

"The cabrones (assholes) followed me into a building," she snorts, "I basically just 'Die Hard'ed it." She flits her hand about and her face squints up halfway in thought. "Maybe a bit of 'Home Alone' too, but, like, with malditos." She grins at Daryl. He's staring at her with a glare so hard she's scared she's gonna catch the bad end of his knife.

"Why didn't you evade them?" Rick asks as he walks forward.

"Cause I didn't want to?" She replies like it's the simplest answer in the world. "Running sucks. These guys live like hot shit twenty floors away from the real world. I've been living in the woods since this all started. We didn't even have guns for a quarter of it!" She snorts. "They were easier to trick than the malditos."

Everyone blinks at her a few times and stares over at the three officers.

"I haven't asked them anything yet. I really didn't care to hear it. Not after what Noah said." Lupe looks back at the group and sees the kid. He is still a little shaky but he nods a hello. She smiles at him and looks to Rick. "He filled you in, right?"

Rick nods. "He did, and we already have a plan. Seems like half of it has just been done for us." He grins. Lupe arcs an eyebrow. "Instead of infiltrating, we were going to capture some officers and use them to trade for our people."

"Wait, what?" Lupe's brain blinks out in a sharp rage. "No, we need to go in there and kill them. Rick," she looks at him, her face scrunched in disgusted disbelief, "did you even listen to Noah at all?"

"Some of the group doesn't want to take part in a massacre."

"So we're just gonna gloss over everything that they've done?" She asks. "We're just gonna ignore that they hit Beth, Carol, and Alma with fucking cars? That they kidnapped our people? That they do this routinely to others? Force them into permanent servitude?"

"This is the plan we've decided on," Rick steps forward, his jaw clenching. "We already have the hostages."

"Fuck them. They could have killed me and they've probably killed countless others!" Lupe snarls at Rick. "Did any of you ever think that maybe these assholes don't deserve to live?" She gets a few shocked looks, but she can't stop the nightmare raging through her. "You ever think about the innocent people held captive in there? The ones raped or beat by these trash ass pigs?"

She leans into Rick's space and her eyes narrow to a glare that gores him. "Will you ever stop aligning yourself with a dying world?" She spits at him. "Don't you get it? Things aren't the same! People aren't anymore decent than they ever were before, now there's just nothing left to hide behind! That facade is over. Let it die." Lupe glares back at the police officers. "These scum should go with it. Turn them to ashes."

"Lupe, we -,"

"You know why rapists rape people, Rick?" Lupe interrupts with a watery growl. "They ever teach you that in Hot-Shit-Cop-School? These guys evidently missed that day!" She mocks him.

"There's only one reason, Rick. One." Lupe scowls deep and hard. Her stare, weighted with an agony so fresh and so old, it tears at her through space and time. "Power. It's harming someone to benefit from it. That's it." Her chin quivers as she holds back the fear aching to unleash its rage.

"These assholes make people their slaves, Rick! I know this is the south, but come the fuck on! Wasn't there a big war about this where y'all fuckin' lost?" She shouts at him and the group. "Your Beth? My Alma? Noah? Everyone in there has been harmed in ways that can't be excused. Are we all just gonna look the other way now? Is that what this group is really about?" She levels Rick with a stern frown. "No one deserves to suffer like that. No one. These cops don't get special treatment. In fact, they should get exterminated with extreme prejudice. Exactly because they should know better." Her face twitches into a snarl but there are tears shining in her deep brown eyes. "So should you," she growls at him.

"This is our plan, Lupe," Rick bites out, stepping forward with a glare.

Lupe scoffs at him, disgusted. Her vibrant disappointment is far worse than if she decided to yell or kick at him. "People make their own choices. We have to be responsible for the consequences too. In my mind, there's no coming back from that shit. We walk away today with just our people? We walk away and let these pigs live? You're leaving countless others to suffer. That is all on you!"

She huffs out a few short breaths, staring at Rick like this is the first time she's ever seen him. Her voice comes out tinny and sad at first. "Siding with the remnants of cops over their living, breathing victims? You still toein' the thin blue line?" She bites out, "I'm not about that. There will be no peace without justice." She steps closer, whispering with a cold disdain, "People like them... People like you... The reckless compromisers? You are why we'll keep losing this world over and over and over." She storms off.

Rick growls after her, "Where are you going?"

"Having a toke, Nuremberg," she snarls right back, flipping him off over her shoulder. She knew it wasn't mature, but it didn't matter. This entire facade was bullshit. It was going to get someone killed. They couldn't trust these cops. She sits around the corner of the next level and lights up a cigarette.

Not long after, Daryl comes around the bend. He has his pack out and looks surprised that she has her own. She smiles, but it's weak. She holds her cigarettes up to him. She owes him enough.

"Rick's questioning the cops." He waits an inhale and exhale, but she doesn't respond. "Noah says he thinks the ones you caught will help. Says two of'em are decent. Other guy's a dick, but he's compliant." She continues smoking in silence. "Rick thinks the exchange will -,"

"Fuck him," Lupe snarls.

"Hey -,"

Lupe scrambles up to her feet and stomps over to Daryl. "Fuck you too! You threw a whole shit fit over Beth and Carol! But now, you're cowed into thinking we should pal around with these moldy blue abominations? I mean, that's some bullshit, Daryl. You couldn't even vouch for me?"

"I tried vouching for Noah. He agreed with us about ending it. Said the wards would help. But -,"

"I don't care..." Lupe sighs and sits back on the ground. "I just want my fucking sister back." She inhales on her smoke. "Leave me alone, Daryl. Noah can fill me in on the rest of the plan later."

Daryl sniffs hard out his nose and stomps off, hurling his cigarette against the wall. He wanted to burn that hospital to the ground. He wanted to kick it down with his own two feet. He wanted to slit those cops' throats just to watch them panic. He didn't care neither, but his group wasn't a dictatorship, no matter what Rick said. Never was. Every person was a part of something. They all contributed. That's what made it work. Rick took the lead often enough because he was accustomed to it. The group trusted him. Daryl's pissed Lupe didn't even want to try to work with them.

Daryl goes back over to Rick. The woman, Shepherd, and the bald white guy, Licari, talk about taking Dawn out themselves. These three were part of a group pretty outspoken about her lack of abilities to lead. Lamson, the bald brown guy, won't go for that though. He encourages the exchange. He says they can set up a meet to arrange it.

Rick and a small team take Lamson within rage to communicate via their radios. When he calls in, the conversation remains stilted on both ends but terms are set. Once the group starts organizing for the exchange, Lupe comes back over. She doesn't just look drained, she looks empty.

Noah goes right to her. "I tried to tell them..."

She puts a hand on his shoulder and smiles at him. It's tired, but it's honest. "This isn't on you, Noah. This is on them. They don't get it."

Noah shakes his head. "No, they don't." He scoots in closer to her, his eyes a shade away from panicked. "The cops... The cops are cops. Some of them are less terrible than the others, but they all look away when the line gets crossed. They're all culpable. They'd do anything to maintain what they have," he says, pointed and angry. "If they lose the hospital, the wards, they've got nothing." He sniffs out a tight breath from his nose. "If this goes bad, I want to know if you're going to help me save Alma and Beth before it's too late."

Lupe grins at him. "I was about to ask you the same thing."

"We're rolling out," Rick demands. Him, Daryl, and Glenn each hold onto one of the officers. They walk them to the big truck Lupe stole from Terminus and lock them up in the back with several armed guards. The rest all crowd in the bus Abraham got working at the old church. Before Lupe hops in her truck with Noah, she has a short conversation with Rick. She asks for one thing, to which he agrees.

Once they're close enough to the hospital, they hide the cars. They approach the meeting point where other officers wait. The cops cleared the area of the dead so Rick's group can enter without a hassle. Lupe forces Noah into the center of the formation. She gave him all the bullets she promised, so he has his trusty shotgun. She also guards his ass like her life depends on it. She refuses to let him keep getting hurt.

The long trek upstairs is something no one enjoys. Through dim, winding hallways, Rick holds Lamson, Glenn holds Shepherd, and Daryl holds Licari. Abraham and one officer lead in the front and another covers the back with Tara. They eventually reach the floor where the exchange will take place.

Rick's group slows at a set of wide swinging doors. There are thin rectangular windows in each one. Through them, Lupe can see several silhouettes moving at the far end of the hall. She swallows heavy and focuses on figuring out which one is Alma. There are a lot of them and it doesn't bode well.

A voice crackles over the cops' radios, "Holster your weapons." There's a beat before the cops move to follow the order.

"Yeah, us too," Rick says. He eyes Lupe specifically. She gives him a marked stink-faced glare until he looks off. The gathered group puts their weapons away.

The officers swing open the wide doors and lock them in place so the group can come in. There are seven cops standing in line two by two. They block four figures that hover behind. One is in a wheelchair, another behind, and two stand taller than everyone else. Lupe focuses in on the tall one that doesn't produce the shadow of short curly hair. She vibrates with incomparable emotions. They shake the muscles of her legs and beg her to run.

As they get closer, Lupe finally can see Alma's face in the light of the fading day. She's exhausted with relief, but it soon washes away with a heavier tide of fury. Alma's eye is coming down from being badly swollen, and she's littered with black and blue, all over her face and arms. The most disturbing sight is the hand mark around her neck.

The officers stop Rick's group and walk back over to Dawn. Lupe takes a step forward unhindered by sense. A rage too visceral thrums through her. She stares down each and every cop. She knows that these assholes don't deserve to live any more than the Claimers did. She had always experienced worse from men in uniform than men in leather. Though she really was sick as shit of all the fucking leather.

Noah grabs her by the arm and squeezes. "Wait..." he whispers.

Lupe can't take her eyes off Alma. She tries to smile wide at her. Alma stares back, near empty. Her body coils in tight standing next to Beth. Beth is behind Carol, sitting in the wheelchair, looking roughed up herself.

Lupe looks at Noah with unabashed grief. "What did they do to her?" Lupe whispers as they stop several yards apart.

"She got punished because she tried to save a man's life against orders. She back talked Dawn," Noah spits out, bitterness is heavy in his tone. "Some of those look new since I saw her last."

Lupe grits her teeth hard and tries to silence the screaming in her veins. Rage and destruction tickle at her fingertips like she's a live-wire. She itches for the smallest opportunity to show those cops what it felt like to lose their power.

Chapter Text

The line of officers split and the doctor pushes Carol to the front. A single officer steps up to walk her towards Rick's group. Glenn steps forward with Shepherd and they walk towards the cops. When they meet in the middle, they exchange prisoners and turn back to their respective sides.

Alma comes next. She has a pretty distinct limp and her arms stay wrapped tight around her sides. Lupe grabs the bald white guy. Before he starts walking, a leering smile blooms on his thin lips. Not caring much about it, Lupe drags him across. She shoves him, close enough to picking him up and tossing him over her shoulder, just to get to Alma faster.

About halfway there, Lupe falters when she catches her sister's glare. For a second, Lupe unconditionally accepts the scathing rage as something she deserves. Lupe knows she failed to keep Alma safe. Her sister suffered in a horrific way because of her own inadequacies. But Alma's fury is not directed at her. It's directed at the man she holds.

Alma appears more miserable the closer she gets. She leans away from this Licari despite the cop behind her edging her on roughly. Alma's reddened eyes are still fierce, but she's shaking and gritting her teeth to fight off welling tears. The asshole Lupe transfers has the gall to wink and send a kissy face at her little sister. Alma cringes hard and shudders in her captor's hold. Lupe's vision burns red.

The way Alma limps, how she stares at the cop, so filled with a wretched fury, can't be denied. The agony, both physical and emotional, radiates off the young girl. Like it's scorching her from the inside out. Lupe looks to Alma with a question in her eyes. It's a pained one that she hates to ask. Alma's eyes peel away from the man and meet her sister's. There's a squalling hatred inside them.

Lupe starts to shake. She wants to deny the truth in her baby sister's broken gaze. But she can't. They come to a halt. Almost face to face. A cop stands behind Alma and Lupe stands behind Licari. Alma ignores the monster in blue as he leers at her. She nods at Lupe once.

Lupe pulls out her gun and levels it in a blink, shooting the cop behind Alma in the head. Before the blood splatter settles and the corpse can drop, Alma grabs the body and hefts it on her shoulder. The dead officer's gun is already drawn and pointed at Licari. His leer is long gone and replaced by the splash of his comrade's blood, still warm against his skin. The power he trusted in, the one he used to torment a child, is completely absent. Alma smiles as she shoots him in the face. There's still a satisfying fear in his eyes as his corpse starts to keel over.

Lupe swoops her arm around the dead man's neck and holds him in front of her like a shield. Alma stands next to her, doing the same. The sisters' guns are up and unwavering. They fire on the Grady Hospital cops without a second's worth of hesitation. It all happens so damn fast.

The cops drop one by one with bullets exploding out the back of their heads. Surprised and shocked by the attack, they're unprepared. They expected this to be a peaceful exchange, completely within their control. Dawn rushes to raise her gun, screaming expletives at Alma and Noah. But Beth steps through the falling corpses. She stabs the cop right in the temple with a pair of medical scissors. Dawn crumples to the floor, eyes still wide with fury as she twitches into perfect stillness. Beth stands over her body and fights the snarl forming on her quivering lips.

A hush falls over the hall. Lupe and Alma let the corpses of the pigs slump to the floor. The sisters turn on each other and immediately jump into a sobbing mess of a hug. They hold each other tight and whisper things in Spanish. Promises get extended and there's pleads for forgiveness. But the repeated 'I love you's' negate the need for all of it.

"No!" Lamson screams. He rams his shoulder into Rick and it throws their stunned leader back against the wall. The remaining cop grabs one of Rick's guns as he stumbles, and sprints forward. A roar comes out of his mouth as he charges at Lupe and Alma, taking his aim.

Lupe steps in front of her sister. She stands there like a burgeoning cosmos, unrelenting and unstoppable. She raises up Alma's gun and snarls, about to squeeze the trigger. But Lamson crumbles to the ground and skids to a stop on his face. The bolt of a crossbow sticks out of the back of his head.

The sisters look up and see Daryl at the front of Rick's group, his bow, aimed and sure. He stares at Lupe, looking almost blank, but the tension in his shaking arms as he lowers his bow gives him away. A crooked smile forms on her face due to her soaring adrenaline. He nods back, jaw working hard.

Noah sprints forward the same time as Beth and they converge in the center on Lupe and Alma. Maggie shoves her way through and joins the reunion, hugging everyone present.

"Thank you," Maggie gasps as she squeezes the air out of her sister. She looks at Noah and Alma. "Thank you so much for being there for her." Still holding Beth in her arms, Maggie turns to Lupe. Her eyes are wide, green, and shining with joyous tears. "Thank you," she says with a warbling voice, "thank you for giving us justice. Thank you for keeping them from harmin' anyone else."

Maggie leans in, wrapping a freed arm around Lupe and pulling her close for a hug. "You're family now. You protected us and helped us. You cared when a lot of others didn't. We won't forget that. I won't." She sniffles and pulls away. Beth curls against Maggie and finally lets herself cry. Maggie can hardly hold back her own sobs, but her face is open and honest as she looks at Lupe. "I owe you everything."

There seems to be a gravitational pull to the statement. A besieged power has yet to arise behind the strength in Maggie's tone. But with the way she hugs Beth so tight, the tenderness is what bleeds into the space around them. The rest of the group tries to wait patiently while everyone welcomes each other back home.

The man with glasses and a lab coat hasn't moved. The coat used to be white, but he's doused with red. His stare is empty, he's in deep shock taking in all the corpses around him. Slowly but surely, the other wards start coming into the halls.

Rick's group raises some weapons, but Noah runs over and starts hugging people. Some people sob with tears of joy to see the cops' corpses littering the hallway. When Noah and the doctor relay exactly what happened, the group of wards rushes to the sisters to thank them. Lupe and Alma accept their gratitude. They hear their stories. They witness their grief through held back tears. They celebrate their freedom with joyous ones. The Grady crew eventually lets them go.

Lupe has to hold Alma up as they make the short trek back to Rick's group. Alma limps and doesn't look at anyone. The stunned group mutters between themselves. Lupe catches a few nods of appreciation. She accepts the looks of horror with resignation. She doesn't care. She has Alma back.

Daryl stands closer than the rest. He hasn't moved since he put Lamson down. As they pass, Lupe gives him a short nod. "Thank you for protecting me and Alma."

"You woulda had it," he grumbles. He steps forward and his eyes flash towards the group over his shoulder. "I meant what I said. We got yer back."

Lupe gives him a soft, tired smile. Alma still won't look at him.

Rick charges forward, his gun in his hand, but lowered. "What in the hell did you just do!?" He roars at Lupe, grabbing her arm.

Alma lashes out the second she sees that strange man touch her sister with his gun drawn. She pounds her already bruised fist into his temple and sends Rick flying to the floor in a heap. Alma surges forward, but Lupe wraps her arms around her sister. It's less to hold her back and more about holding her together. Lupe can feel the agony, whistling through the hollowness inside of her, carved out by grief. Just by looking at her sister, she knew. Alma is hurting. She lost so much agency. She lost so many chances to protect herself. She would not hold back anymore.

"Never touch me or my sister!" Alma screams, leaning away from Lupe's hold.

Rick looks up at her, gaze gone numb. He shakes his head of the bells ringing in his ears and the stars blinking in his vision. That's when he sees the bruises around Alma's neck.

She wails at him like a wraith, "Never!"

"I got you," Lupe murmurs, "estoy aqui, pequenita." (I'm here, little one.) Alma shakes, huffing hard despite her broken lip and bruised jaw. She shivers into her sister's arms and then bursts into tears. Lupe holds her tight. "You head to the truck with Noah, okay? I'll be right out."

"No -!" comes out of Alma's throat in a garbled sob. She clings to her sister.

"Alright, hey," Lupe replies with a soft smile, "never mind, we stay together. I just gotta talk to the guy you decked for a second, okay?" Alma nods and despite her reluctance, turns to Beth and Noah who stand nearby. Maggie and Glenn are behind them, watching and anxious, as Rick gets back to his feet.

"Lupe," Rick starts, too firm and angry.

Lupe turns on him with a tempest of unfiltered rage swirling around her. "Shut the fuck up Rick, or I will put you back down!" She snarls with a deadly surety. "How the fuck can you look at any of their victims and tell me what I did was wrong?"

Rick grits his teeth, but he does as she says. He watches the freed Grady wards. They look at each other with a newfound sense of peace. It changes the atmosphere of the hospital, even with corpses littering the ground. They celebrate like it's the best achievement they've ever had. He glances over at Carol, slowly standing from her wheelchair as the group welcomes her back. Daryl shakes as his arms wrap around her, trying not to squeeze too tight.

Beth and Noah curl around Alma like a protective blanket. They stare back at Rick hard. He has a difficult time returning the look because he sees the trauma painted on them. It's not only the bruises and scars that litter their skin. It's in the bend of their bodies and the way they occupy the space like they're already half gone. He meets Alma's eyes and he sees what Lupe must have. He immediately drops his gaze. He's too ashamed of what he'd almost done, the type of people he almost compromised with. He leans back against the wall with a thump, wiping a hand down his face and trying to blink the tears in his eyes away.

He shakes his head and exhales tight as his jaw hardens. "Let's go," he rumbles, but it has very little bite to it.

"Go where?" Abraham asks.

"We get out of the city, that's our first priority," Rick spits over his shoulder.

He looks around at the group to provide reassurance. Several of them seem accepting, but he still struggles with what happened. The sisters gunned down several police officers. Rick knew they weren't the good kind, the kind he tried to be. He saw the suffering they sowed, planted deep within the ones they tortured. His own people. Children barely older than his own son.

There was still a deep-seated reaction in him. He knew two things now. The two sisters could dismantle a group of professionals without breaking a sweat. And they're ruthless. An old part of him fears that they're so willing to become cop killers. He grapples with exactly what Lupe said. He's still clinging to a dying world.

He bites out, "We'll find somewhere to hole up for the night and make a decision tomorrow."

"I gotta get back to my family," Noah says, a little frantic and loud.

"Don't worry, I'll get you there," Lupe replies.

"Me too," Alma nods, her voice tinny, but not empty.

Noah smiles wide at the sisters. It quivers with the raw explosion of emotions that arise when he knows they mean it.

"I wanna come too," Beth insists, "if that's okay." She smiles at Lupe a bit nervous. Lupe grins and nods her head, about to speak.

"We're not splitting up," Rick cuts in, voice hard.

"Listen," Lupe bites out, "this has been a real fuckin' blast meeting you all. But let's be real, you don't want me around any more than I want to stay." She ignores the distinct burst of grief in her chest. The one telling her some of these people might mean something to her. "We don't have to stay with you," she decrees, though a tinge of regret seeps into her tone.

"Ain't going back out on yer own." Daryl steps forward. He eyes Alma and she looks back at him. Sorrow blinks in his vision and he gnaws on his lip. "It's too dangerous out there."

"It's always been dangerous," Lupe replies. Her tone is flippant to hide the surge of whatever that warmth is. The errant belief that he might actually care.

Carol puts a hand on Daryl's arm and passes by him. She scowls at Rick and shakes her head. Looking back at Lupe, Alma, and Noah, she says, "Let's find somewhere safe. Recoup and get everyone back on their feet after a bit of rest. Okay?" Her eyes flicker between them and she does her best not to beg. "We can make real plans in the morning. Not rushed ones made on little sleep, mindless adrenaline, and fresh injuries."

Lupe purses her lips and chews on the inside. She looks at Alma, who's indeed exhausted, but not exactly eager to bed up with a bunch of strangers. She waits for Alma to feel comfortable enough to engage and can see her answer in her eyes. It's resigned, but clear. Lupe looks at Noah and he immediately nods and shrugs. It's probably a better idea to rest and care for the wounds they all now have, visible or not.

"Alright," Lupe nods at Carol. Her smile remains restrained and a little sad. It's reflected by the silver-haired woman. Carol goes directly to Rick, steering him away from the sisters who just saved a lot of lives.

Lupe slips under Alma's arm and holds her weight so she can walk a bit easier. They're about to follow the rest of Rick's group when a few of the wards come forward. They hand over a little box full of medical supplies to treat Beth and Alma's wounds. The escapees begged the rest to leave the hospital, but they didn't really have anywhere else to go. Most of them wanted to try things out at Grady's and see what they could build. The ones who were leaving couldn't really begrudge them that. The sisters and Noah accept the gift, freely given, and part ways with the ex-wards.

Rick's group walks out of the hospital shaken to their core. No one knows exactly what to think about what transpired, but all of them are thankful it's over. The setting sun crests above the buildings. Most raise a hand to block out the blaring red and orange of the dying day. They make it to their cars without incident and speed away from Atlanta, desperate for the new dawn.

Chapter Text

Rick's group leaves the hospital and the city behind in their dust. They find a place to camp in some remote woods and set the cars up like a perimeter, front facing out. In the morning, when the sun starts rising in the sky, several people are already up and getting ready for the day.

Rick paces around, trying to keep himself busy gathering firewood and checking stores. He is still reeling over the brutality of yesterday's exchange. It's not like he could pretend to ignore the way the survivors cried or screamed through the night.

Daryl is out in the woods, already trying to find food. They still have a decent amount of supplies, but he can't deny they always need more. The way he sees yesterday is different than most of the group. He's happy those cops are dead. He's just not sure it was the right way to go about it. Of course, he didn't miss the way that cop was eying Alma. He can't say he wouldn't have done the exact same thing if it were Beth in her shoes. He's already overheard Beth whispering to Maggie about what happened to them. It boils his blood until the anger burns near nuclear in his chest.

Noah and Alma are out of the car at dawn. Alma pulled the tarp over half the car to try and ensure her sister would get more rest. Lupe stayed awake most of the night. Guarding them in the car and disliking that the group wasn't better hidden. She also held Alma when she woke up from a nightmare, giving her the stuffed orange cat to snuggle back into calm. She talked Noah down from a few panic attacks, hearing life in the woods around him. The group seemed to be running high on hypersensitivity.

Beth and Maggie are setting up for breakfast with Glenn trailing them. None of them can stop smiling despite their puffy red eyes. Maggie and Beth are so thrilled, reunited like they deserved to be. Glenn was just so happy to see the sisters smile again. He loved his wife more than anything. Beth is an important member of their family and losing her would be devastating. He's so glad they got back safe. He's not quite sure how to feel about the carnage in the hospital. But the results are far more than he ever expected.

Rick approaches Alma and Noah as they sit by the fire. He clears his throat to get their attention. Two sets of dark brown eyes pop up, all a gleaming amber in the morning sun. He nods to both of them. Noah seems indifferent to the man, but Alma watches him like a snake getting ready to strike.

"Mornin'," Rick grumbles.

"Mornin'," Noah replies. Alma doesn't. Noah nudges her in the arm but she looks away from Rick like he's not even there.

Rick sighs, but understands her hesitance, at least some of it. "Beth was tellin' me about your home in Virginia."

"Yeah, in Richmond," Noah replies, watching Rick close. He trusts that the man is trying his best. Noah's just not sure what anyone's best is anymore. "We had a community, houses inside a gated complex that we locked up tight. When me and my pops went looking for my uncle, they were just starting to work on building up the walls."

Rick asks, "How many people?"

Noah's eyes widen and blink, trying to think. "Maybe about twenty, but that was a year ago."

"Alright," Rick says. "We'll talk when everyone gets up. I know Beth and Alma wanted to get you there."

Noah gives him a reserved smile and glances over at Alma. He looks back up at Rick. "So you think everyone will want to go?"

"I don't know," Rick replies. "But if you think your community would let us in so we could try to make a home there..." he levies, kicking at the sticks on the ground, "it'd be something to consider."

Noah nods, excited. "Oh hell yeah. We could always use more people willing to help the community. No one should be stuck out here without help. We had open houses left too. There are a few gated communities in the area that might still be safe even if there isn't. I know a lot of the people there would want to help y'all."

Rick nods. He's about to respond to Noah when he hears the loud clang of a metal door slamming shut. He looks to the noise and sees Abraham strolling over with his shoulders squared.

"And what if it's not there anymore," Abraham muses and it's too gruff to be a question. He glares hard as stomps over. He ignores the way Noah seems to shudder at the thought. He directs his stare at Rick. "You said you'd come with us to DC."

"DC ain't that far from Richmond," Rick replies. "And I gotta find safety for my children."

"Ain't gonna be anywhere safer than DC," Abraham insists. His mustache ruffles as his lip twitches. "Doesn't any of your group understand the gravity of this situation?"

Beth, Glenn, and Maggie finished prepping breakfast. Glenn leaves Maggie and Beth to join the others at the fire. "What's up?" He asks as he approaches Rick and Abraham, eyes shifting between the two and the brewing tension.

"Rick here wants to go against the plan. He wants to stop in Richmond," Abraham replies, catty and tight. "I told you that if your people showed up in time we'd help with whatever new shit-storm arose and then you'd come with us. Well, we did. We got your people back from that hospital. We held up our part of the deal. Now it's time for you to help us save the world."

"Save the world?" Alma finally speaks, tone derisive as she looks up at Abraham with disbelieving eyes. "What world?"

Abraham scoffs. "You've missed out on a few things while you were sitting pretty in that hospital."

"Sitting pretty?!" Alma screeches, standing to her full height which isn't that much shorter than Abraham. "The fuck do you think you're talking to, mierda rojo!?" (you red shit!?)

Noah stands with her, trying to keep Alma calm. From where Beth sits next to Alma, she tries to grab the girl's hand and soothe her. Beth's also preparing to hold her back. She doesn't know the red-haired man from Adam, but she doesn't want Alma to tussle with him. Even if Beth knows Alma can handle herself.

"Show a little respect!" Abraham bites back taking a step towards Alma. "If it weren't for us, you woulda been stuck there."

Alma sniffs, disinterested in him. "You fucking cowards wanted to let those cops live. Don't act like you saved us when their blood is still drying on my own fuckin' hands."

"I told you to show a little bit of respect," Abraham growls.

Alma squares her shoulders and snarls, "Fuck you!" Abraham tenses, his face pinching tight in rage. He takes several steps towards the scowling teen.

Everyone hears the click of a gun cocking. They look over to their side and Lupe approaches, sleep-addled, but her aim is sure as she points her guns at Abraham.

"Back off from my sister, fuck-head," Lupe demands. She maneuvers closer to Abraham, between him and the Grady survivors. "You ask for respect? Earn it. You're spitting on a child's hope to get back to his family. He got kidnapped almost a year ago, stolen from them, and you act like your pipe dream is any more important than his?"

Abraham glares at Lupe, undeterred by her raised guns. His stare is one hell of a damning look, but she's seen worse.

"Lupe, put the gun down," Rick snarls.

She doesn't even look at him. "I don't take orders from you, Rick. I'm not going to fall in line because there isn't one. He makes one more move towards my sister, a recently traumatized child, may I remind you, I will gun him down. I ain't got time for assholes who like to threaten kids."

She glares hard at Abraham, "Tell me, where exactly does Eugene want to go? What secure facility can we just look up on Google Maps and head towards?"

Abraham's mustache twitches. "That's classified."

Lupe laughs at him. Her guffaw is uproarious. It stops what everyone is doing and forces them to pay attention. Rosita comes up behind Abraham looking serious as she glares at Lupe. Eugene stays hovering over by the bus. Lupe smiles at Abraham and Rosita, she looks over at Rick, gritting his teeth.

"You know that's bullshit, right?" Lupe grins at Abraham. "I'm guessing you were a man in uniform?" She waits for a response but there is none. "I call Marine. You can always tell a Marine from the others. They're the ones that join up knowing they get to kill. They're the ones eager for a fight," she bites out through snarling lips. "Tell me one time in the history of your service that 'It's classified' meant anything other than 'We're lying to you.' Go on," Lupe urges. As more people start gathering around, she holsters her weapon. She's not willing to let innocents get hurt. She tilts her head at Abraham and arcs a brow. "I'm not risking my life, Alma's life, or Noah's life for that big load of bullshit wrapped in a mullet."

"Don't you dare -," Abraham steps towards her.

She squints at him. "I'm not afraid of you," she states, toneless. "You don't get to bluster and bullshit and intimidate me or anyone. If you have to threaten kids and piss and shit all over the place to get people to follow you, your goal is worthless. I don't give a fuck about your fake mission."

"It's not fake!" Rosita insists.

"Igualmente?" (You too?) Lupe snaps at her. "Confías en el?" (You trust him?)

"Si," Rosita replies with a narrowed glare. "Con mi vida." (Yes, with my life.)

Lupe snorts and shakes her head. "No saben ni jota de el virus, o cualquier virus." (You don't know shit about the virus, or any virus.)

"English!" Abraham demands.

"Anda a cagar, pajero," (Fuck off, jerk,) Lupe replies. "If you want respect, if you want trust then you need to earn it. That kid going home is on the way to D.C., so it's not like you'd really be going out of your way." She shakes her head at him. "Unrustle those jimmies of yours, you can get back on your bullshit after Noah and his family are safe. That super secret facility Eugene keeps talking about will still totally be there." Her tone goes soft and lofty with her grin, "If you're so sure of it."

Abraham tenses. "I am."

Lupe laughs again. "Then that's your fucking problem." She takes a step towards Abraham and everyone tenses. "Leave my sister alone. Leave Noah alone. If you go near them, I'll rip out that mustache hair by hair and shove it down your thick neck."

"Rick, this is bullshit!" Abraham yells. "You gave me your word!"

"It's on the way," Rick insists, trying to defuse the situation. "We have to check it out."

"We don't have to do it any more than we have to stick our dicks in a light socket!" Abraham snaps. "We can't keep diverting! If you plan on stopping in Richmond, you're doing it on your own." He glares at Rick and then Lupe. "We'll be takin' the TAC truck too."

"Over my dead body," Lupe snarls.

Abraham's eyes go wide and his mouth firms into a thin line. "That can be arranged," he snarls.

"I stole that truck myself for this group. You don't get to commandeer it. The fuck is wrong with all of you entitled pieces of shit?" His shoulders roll with the rage seeping from his glare. Lupe scowls right back at him. "Try me, you big red bitch."

Abraham charges at her and Lupe cracks him in the throat with the purlicue of her open hand. He grabs his neck and falls to his knees gasping. Rosita runs for Abraham as he coughs and gags. The group all shuffle and mutter around the scene. Lupe walks straight past the both of them and up to Eugene, cowering by the bus wide-eyed.

Lupe shoves Eugene back against the bus with a bang. "Tell them the truth!" She snarls in his face.

Chapter Text

Eugene gapes at Lupe. He quivers from head to foot, soaked in flop sweat. "The Human Genome project -,"

Lupe smacks him across the face with her open hand, but it's hardly a tap. Eugene blinks and she has a gun pressing into the center of his forehead.

The barrel of a hand cannon comes into Lupe's peripheral vision. "Put the gun down," Rick demands. "I will kill you."

"Then you're killing an honest person over a liar," Lupe spits, her gun doesn't waver an inch. The only thing she has to do is force herself to ignore Alma's screams as she gets held back by Noah. The ginger recovers from the tap and storms over with Rosita. Lupe raises another gun and points it at them. "Don't. You'll want to hear this."

Lupe faces Eugene again and he's shaking like mad and sweating profusely. She glares at him. "Tell. Them. The. Truth," she bites out. "Or I will, you fucking hack."

Eugene's eyes stay wide. His mouth flops open and shut, wordless. Not a sound comes out.

Lupe sighs. "Viruses can't be cured." She immediately lowers her guns and everyone stares at her in confusion. She turns to face Abraham, his face pinched up in a furious confused frown. "Viruses. Can't. Be. Cured," she emphasizes.

"What the fuck are you on about?" Abraham snarls.

Eugene quivers behind Lupe, his eyes roving and shifty. Lupe shakes her head at Abraham. "I'm sorry, but he's been lying to you this whole time. The CDC would have been working on a pre-emptive vaccine or an anti-viral at best. But even those wouldn't be a sure thing. The virus acts too fast."

"What are you saying?" Glenn asks from the other side of the fire. "There's no cure?"

Lupe sighs. "No. There's no such thing as a cure for a virus." She looks around at the confused faces of the group. "Is there a cure for the flu? No, we can inoculate and hope or we can treat the symptoms. That's because a virus attacks our cells from within and alters our DNA."

Lupe turns back to Eugene with a serious glare. "The best option would be a vaccine with the dead virus in it. Our immune systems would fight that off and become stronger against the live strain. That's if our immune system can react fast enough. Which, if you've ever had a cold or flu, you know healing isn't instantaneous."

She looks around, beseeching, but it's tainted with her overwhelming anger. "That's only if we can actually get the virus to die. Problem is, in order for a virus to die, it has to be self-limiting. But I don't see any of the walking corpses out here dying off on their own after the virus runs its course. That means we'd have to engineer something to kill it, with tools and a team we don't have. That still can't account for mutations that occur outside of vaccinated populations."

Lupe glares at the man with a mullet, cowering against the bus. "Do you have any idea how complex this virus is? It literally restarts the nervous system! Or have you just been too busy bullshitting everyone and getting people killed?" She shakes her head and her lip curls in disgust. "There is no cure." She moves towards him, stalking like a wolf towards its prey. She grabs onto his shoulder and snarls, "You lied to all these people, you spineless piece of shit!"

"You don't touch him!" Abraham snarls. He grabs onto Lupe roughly, yanking her away from Eugene. She smacks his hands away and lands an open palm across his face. Abraham reaches his boiling point. He pulls back a punch and hits Lupe in the jaw. She falters and the second after she regains her feet, she charges at him. She moves like she did against Daryl, low and tight. She gets him in the gut hard. Using her momentum and rage she lifts him off his feet and then drops Abraham into the ground spine first. Lupe scrambles on top of him. He gets a hand around her throat, but she punches the inside of his elbow and his arm buckles.

The group screams at each other, all frantic and trying to pull the fighters apart. They can't be stopped. Lupe wails and lands several punches on Abraham's face. Abraham jams his other elbow hard into her ribs and manages to scramble himself on top of her. It's a bad choice.

Alma comes tearing through the discombobulated group, escaped from Noah and Beth's clutches. She rams into Abraham's side and tackles him to the ground with a scream. Lupe is up and she scrambles over to make sure her sister stays safe from the toxic man. Abraham is roaring and shouting and swinging like a madman. He strikes out and hits Alma.

Lupe's vision shrinks to a pinpoint as her sister topples over. Abraham wavers to his feet but Lupe kicks him hard in the gut and he flies back down onto his back. She climbs on top of him, pinning his elbows under her knees, and pulls out a knife. It's at his throat in a blink. It digs hard enough into his skin that a trail of blood winds down through his stubble like Plinko.

Everyone roars at each other, butting heads and squabbling, trying to get Lupe to stop. She can't hear them over the blood pumping through her veins. Her heartbeat hammers in her chest, sending shockwaves out into her limbs. She's ready to kill.

Eugene's voice finally rises over the din. "I'm not a scientist! I'm not a scientist!"

The chaos stills into silence. Lupe waits for Abraham to process the words. His face goes slack. Lupe climbs off of him. She only sheathes her knife to pull Alma away from the ginger man she's desperate to smother into the dirt. She puts Alma behind her back and holds her hand. From the ground, Abraham huffs and shakes with rage as he sits up. He stares at Eugene with a frown, but his eyes sit with a broken hope behind them. Everyone looks at Eugene with the same grieving rage and disgust.

Eugene curls in on himself, muttering to the group, "I'm not a scientist. I don't know how to stop it," he grumbles with a weak, warbling tone. "I'm not a scientist."

"You are!" Rosita insists, her eyes watering as she stares at him. "I've seen the things that you can do."

Eugene can hardly look at her. His face twitches with uncontrollable fear and shame. "I just know things."

Glenn steps forward, his eyes narrowing and his tone scathing, "You just 'know things'?"

Eugene replies in a quavering monotone, "I know I'm smarter than most people. I know I'm a very good liar. And I know I needed to get to DC."

"Why?" Maggie asks, breathless and hopeless.

"Because I do believe that locale holds the strongest possibility for survival. And I wanted to survive," Eugene continues. "If I could cheat some people into taking me there, well, I just reasoned that I'd be doin' them a solid too. Considering the perilous state of the city of Houston, the state of everything..."

Rosita stares at him, deflated and disgusted. "People died trying to get you here."

Eugene straightens. "I'm aware of that…" He chokes on his words, "Stephanie, Warren, Pam, Rex, Roger, Josiah, Dirk, Josephine... And Bob." He looks away with a pained grimace. "You see, I was losing my nerve as we grew closer," his voice cracks, "for I am a coward." He looks around at the disappointed faces. "The reality of getting to our destination and disclosing the truth of the matter became some truly frightening shit." He looks around and shakes. "But at this moment, I fully realize there are no longer any agreeable options. I was screwed either way."

The group lets out a unanimous shuddering breath. They look around at each other. Lupe glares at Eugene with a tempestuous wrath.

"I also lied about T. Brooks Ellis liking my hair," Eugene supplies the worthless addition. "I do not know T. Brooks Ellis. But I did read one of his books, and he seemed like the type of guy that wouldn't blink twice at a Tennessee Top Hat." He shakes and finally turns to look at Abraham who hasn't moved a single inch. "Again I am smarter than you. Now, you may want to leave me here -,"

Abraham leaps up and punches Eugene right in the face. The man with the mullet falters back. Rick, Glenn, Maggie, and Rosita all clamber after Abraham and try to pull him off Eugene, but he lands a second punch. Eugene stumbles back into the bus, dazed. The group yells at Abraham but he's on a warpath. Abraham lands one more punch to Eugene's face.

Mullet first, Eugene smacks back into the metal siding of the bus with a gong. The throng of people finally pull a snarling Abraham back. But Eugene's eyes roll back into his head, he goes ramrod straight and falls face first into the forest floor.

"Oh shit," Maggie mumbles and goes right for Eugene with Tara.

Abraham fumbles away from the hands that hold him back and he pushes straight through again. Rosita steps in front of him, breathing hard with her hand on her gun. Abraham freezes and looks down at her. The pinpoint of his rage widens and he finally starts to breathe again. He really sees her this time, tears welling in her beautiful brown eyes. She shakes her head at him, clueless to what she should do. They both know she won't let Abraham kill Eugene.

Abraham huffs, breaths uneven, staring down at the blood on his hands. He flexes his knuckles and grits his teeth with the pain of his reopened stitch. His face twitches and his eyes go deep and sorrowful. Without looking at anyone, he storms off into the woods.

"Abraham!" Rosita says, almost charging after him.

Glenn stops her. "Give him a moment. We'll go get him in a bit."

Rosita sighs and goes back to help Maggie with Eugene. They roll him over and his face is a swollen mess of blood and a burgeoning black and blue.

Daryl returns right about then. The group is all whipped up in a somber disarray. He has a few squirrels on his shoulder and a couple of birds in his bag. He sees Lupe and Alma standing close together, glaring at the group helping a knocked out Eugene. The sisters curl up, clothes disordered, looking like they got caught in a scramble. Alma hovers behind Lupe, gripping the back of her shirt. Lupe seems like she's teetering near the edge of a murderous agony. He goes to Carol who watches on, her rifle in her arms, but relaxed.

"The hell did I miss?"

Carol looks over at him with a sad smile. "Lupe accused Eugene of being a liar. Threatened him and made him tell us the truth. Not before Abraham manhandled her and a fight broke out. Alma jumped in too." She sighs. "Eugene was lying about the cure. He made it up to get himself protection on the way to D.C. He just... guessed it'd be safer there."

Daryl glares over at the unconscious form of Eugene. The guy's face was a wreck, but Daryl figured he deserved worse than that. "Where's the ginger?" He asks with a damning tone for the red-haired man.

"Stalked off into the woods. He's the one that banged up Eugene after he told the truth," Carol supplies.

Daryl's face pinches into a snarl. He had a mind to beat some fucking decency into that red-haired asshole. He looks over at Alma and Lupe, retreating to their truck to be alone. He wants to follow after them, make sure they're okay, but he doesn't know if it's his place. He's surprised by the fact that he wants it to be.

"Give'em a minute," Carol says, guessing right to what Daryl's thinking, as always. Daryl turns back to her as she takes off her gun and sets it down. "I think Abraham really scared Alma when he went after Lupe. She got smacked around too."

"Should track that asshole down and string him up by his innards. What's he thinkin' hitting a woman and that girl?" He growls.

Carol's smile pinches a little. "Lupe gave as good as she got, maybe even better. Don't you worry."

"Ain't that," Daryl grumbles, "he shouldn't be attackin' women at all."

Carol sighs. She knows. She knows that all too well. She knows that Daryl does too. She watches him as he stares at the bulbous green truck. His eyes narrow, fury shakes into his fingertips as they flick at his sides. She gives him a warm smile and reaches for his arm. He jumps at her touch.

"Let's go clean and prep your kills. We should try to get everyone to eat before we head out." She taps him gently on the elbow as a reassurance.

"So where we goin' now?" Daryl grumbles.

Carol sighs, her lips pursed and tilted to the side. She gazes up at Daryl with a soft and possibly scared smile as she shrugs. "Richmond..."

Chapter Text

The path to Richmond is over 500 miles in the cars. The gas Lupe stole is helpful in getting them there. They still have some to spare and they siphon whatever dregs they can as they go. The group parks about five miles out from Noah's home and splits off. Those that stay back watch the kids, the cars, and the supplies. Aside from Alma who wouldn't separate from Lupe. The group with Noah heads for his community in the TAC truck.

They park in the woods next to a big wreckage. Tyreese climbs out of the driver's seat. Noah comes out of the passenger's side, looking around wide-eyed and with a desperate hope. Rick, Michonne, and Glenn pop out the back of the cab. The other half of the group climb out of the back of the truck.

Lupe hops out and helps Alma down. During the long trip to their home state, both sisters had some opportunities to heal, both inside and out. Sometimes, Noah and Beth would join them in Chingada and they'd laugh and tell stories for a good long time. Sometimes, conversations would turn grim and anguished. Lupe never tried to silence them. The words all helped them heal in one way or another. It became a treasured and almost sacred place.

The sisters go over to where the group congregates at the side of the beastly truck. Rick looks around, nodding and seeming pleased with their position. "Through the trees, it'll just blend in with the wreck." He points around to the jumble of cars and a big semi.

He's about to open his mouth but the grating hiss of a walker fills the air. The entire group shifts into active defense in an instant. They only ease up when they hear the rattling of a car window. Rick turns to the sound. A grim silhouette moves behind the dusted glass. It's stuck inside and looks frail, so he turns his back on it.

Noah stares uneasily at the car. He blinks at Rick and uses his thumb to point over his shoulder. "This way..." he says, urgent for any reason to walk away from the unsettling crash.

The group follows him. Except for Alma. And Lupe, because Lupe and Alma were too scared to walk away from one another. Lupe hovers a little ways away, giving Alma some space and watching. She could approximate what Alma was feeling and thinking. They'd been together for so long it came natural to feed off of each other. The incurred trauma was a meaningless blip in their beautiful life together.

"Alma, leave it!" Rick shouts from the head of the group.

Alma stares at the car window, watching the maldito writhe and groan. "No..." The word tumbles off her lips, soft but resolute.

"I said leave it," Rick states, more insistent, starting to walk back through the group toward her.

Alma turns on him with a wildfire in her gaze. "We don't leave them to suffer and we don't leave them to hurt other people." Her jaw firms but not in rage. She's displaying the confidence she deserves in herself, standing strong. "If we can stop them, we do." Alma turns away from Rick and goes straight for the door. Lupe backs her up.

"Que hay en su culo?" (What's up his ass?) Alma grumbles to Lupe.

Lupe smirks at her sister. "La delgada línea azul, probablemente," (The thin blue line probably,) she replies. There's a peek of an honest smile on Alma's lips. "I'll get the door, you jab it."

Alma pulls out her buck knives, preferring to be over than under prepared. Lupe leans against the door and waits for her sister to nod. Alma exhales and gives Lupe the signal. The kill is lightning fast. Usually, they'd scavenge the trucks after taking out all the dead. But Rick stands, looking impertinent and all scowly. They decide not to take their sweet time with the area. Because today, helping Noah is more important than spiting Rick.

They walk past Rick without a word and head over to flank Noah. They head through the forest and get closer and closer. It's obvious Noah is eager in the way he picks up his pace despite his limp. A perimeter of thick wire wraps through the trees like a faux laser grid guarding a museum piece. It spans pretty wide but stops only a few trees out.

Beth actually stops Rick from approaching Noah on instinct. She goes a little wide-eyed at herself for the action and lets Rick pass. But after, she does get a little burst of pride. Knowing she could stand up to Rick, for even a moment, made her feel like she could stand up to anybody.

"Your people do this?" Rick asks as they approach the wiring.

Noah skips up to it. "Yeah, we wanted to," he grins wide, "they must have."

"Wow, this is brilliant!" Lupe says, staring up and around as she starts to maneuver through it. "Securing a perimeter out in the woods this way is such a good way to go."

Noah smiles wide. "My brothers, the twins, we thought up stuff like this all the time. You know, like spies vs rotters. They'd pull all sorts of 'Lord of the Flies' shit." He looks at Alma and Beth. "Can't wait for you to meet them. They're a little obnoxious at first, but they're, damn... eleven now! Annoying is kinda the standard." He grins wide.

"They sound awesome," Alma replies and it's a real snapshot of the tender girl she is. Her inner pain still forms sharp and defensive points around her. They're starting to recede the more she remembers what it's like to care and be cared for.

"Pre-teens are wild!" Beth grins at him. "I used to volunteer for junior horse riding lessons. They're relentless."

"Now you know how us old folks feel," Lupe jokes. They wait to roll their eyes at her until they're out of the wire grid.

The vague shape of a large welcome sign peeks through the trees. Noah just about sprints forward, but Rick grabs onto his shoulder.

"They got snipers? Spotters?" Rick grumbles, ducking behind trees and branches to get a better look at the area. "Anything we need to worry about?"

Noah shrugs, his focus absent as he stares in the direction of his home. He looks to Rick a little dazed. "We had a, uh, a perch. We built it on a truck and park it outside sometimes."

Glenn, Maggie, Michonne, and Tyreese fan out. The teens stay packed in close to Noah and Lupe stays close to them. Rick squints, trying to get a good look around. Alma walks forward and holds out a long metal tube, an extra scope. They don't exchange pleasantries, but a small peace is won on both sides. Rick is serious about this effort and he's glad they are too. He looks through the scope and the area is clean.

"Not out there today," he mutters with impassivity and hands the scope back to Alma. She hands it to Noah so he can take a peek too. "Let's stay tight and quiet as we approach. If anyone fires, we go straight to the woods."

"They won't fire on us," Noah insists, almost insulted by the notion.

Rick puts up a hand in supplication. "They may know you, but you've been gone for a year. They don't know us at all. I don't want to risk them mistaking us for your kidnappers.

Noah nods and swallows slow and thick with his nerves. They group together and start walking towards the walls. At first glance, the brick and rod iron gates patched with extra wood at the top make it impossible to see in.

Lupe buzzes with a discordant feeling. The sound of the forest fills her ears. The life of it thrums beneath her feet. When she stares at the gates of the community, she hears, sees, and feels nothing. Absolutely nothing. Dread replaces the comfort the forest supplies. She tries to force her face from suspicion to apathy. Right in time for Alma to glance back at her. Her eyes shine with a knowing grief. The walls creep closer and the feeling gets worse.

Noah rams against the gates, eyes wide and nervous because there aren't any lookouts up on the wall. He leans in, pressing his ear at the seam of the doors and waits. He turns after the sound of distant movement. "You hear that?" He asks, looking around to every face, begging them to not confirm his worst suspicions.

"Just... wait..." Glenn says softly. He holsters his gun and passes through the group. His features lay with a grim and strained blankness across his face. Approaching the wall, he uses the rod iron to lift himself as he jumps up the bricks. He stabilizes his footing on the lower wall and looks over the top of the plywood defenses. The strained blankness on his face snaps into hopelessness.

Noah looks up at Glenn. He's shaking his head. He keeps shaking it after Glenn's shoulders droop and a big sigh comes through his lips. Noah shakes and shakes. Glenn looks to the group, and even his features don't know how to explain the tragedy he sees over the fence. Noah keeps shaking his head as he runs to the other side and climbs up himself.

Rick, Michonne, Maggie, and Tyreese all deflate. Beth, Alma, and even Lupe charge over the fence after Noah. There was nothing else for them to do.

Noah lands first and starts hobbling his way down the main road. He shakes his head, trying to rid his gaze of the horrifying visions playing out. He can't believe it's true.

"Noah, hold up," Rick calls out.

Noah can't stop moving. He has to be imagining this. Some of the best friends he's ever made are at his back, tight in formation. He's gracious for their blanket of safety. Otherwise, he'd think he never survived being out with his dad, and he's been dead this whole time. That'd be so much better than what he's facing. Noah starts to run. Something he once loved to do. Now it causes him pain, but that's easier to feel than anything else.

"Noah!" Rick growls at him to stop, but he can't hear. "Lupe!" Rick says in a harsh admonishment. It's because she doesn't stop Noah, she only cares about watching his back.

Noah reaches the four-way stop in the middle of their town. He stumbles and slows, faltering around in a circle as his breaths pick up fast and hard.

Everything is gone.

The houses that line the roads sit gutted and burnt from the inside out. Trash and refuse litter each yard and are strewn about the roads. Some of the dead lay shriveled in burned circles of grass. Mangled corpses line the streets, rotting away. The bodies were viciously torn, cut, and pummeled until hardly anything was left. A few rotters traipse through the streets, excited about the arrival of fresh meat.

Noah sobs, his arms wrap around his head as he turns and gazes out into complete ruin. He can't breathe and cry at the same time, but his body is sure pushing the limits of his effort. He falls, hitting the ground hard and rolling to his side as he rasps and wails. His friends surrounded him but he can't feel anything but agony.

Lupe stands watch as the girls get close to Noah. They don't interrupt his grief. They don't try to tell him how to feel. They wait and occasionally lay gentle hands on his sides, trying to encourage him to breathe.

Rick paces behind Noah. Tyreese stands and stares out at the community with a distinct pain in his eyes. Michonne has to walk away from the group. Her lips quiver as she tries to hide the disappointment she feels. Glenn looks around, mostly for threats. His eyes are sad but unsurprised.

Michonne and Glenn move to go take out the walkers trying to get close. Rick kneels at Noah's side. Beth and Alma both level him with a narrow-eyed glare. He nods to them, trying to show he means no harm.

"I'm sorry Noah," his voice shakes and he can't help it, "I truly am." He shudders and stands. He walks over to Tyreese and waves back Glenn and Michonne before they get too far.

"We should have a look around, see if there's anything we can use," he says to the group.

"Then what?" Michonne bites back. She turns her face away to try and hide the grief again. She looks back at Rick and all either of them can feel is regret. "They see us," she says like a demand. Turning away from the pain, Michonne goes to take it out on the dead.

Noah remains on the ground. The girls got him sitting up. He's curled up on himself, sobbing into the arms that circle his knees.

"We make a quick sweep," Glenn says to Rick. It's too firm not to be tainted by grief.

"Glenn with me. Tyreese, Michonne, and Lupe, you take -,"

"I'm not leaving them here unguarded," Lupe insists.

Rick nibbles on the inside of his cheek and purses his lips. He nods and turns back to the others to make the plan. They're off in different directions in no time flat.

Rick stops at the sign in the middle of the road and leans up against it. He sighs and brings the radio up to his mouth. "Carol, you copy?" She responds. He can't help but spit out the truth as he stomps away, "We made it...It's gone."

Noah continues to sob and rock. Beth hums. Alma whispers small assurances that mean nothing and everything all at once. His grief is real and he doesn't have to pretend it doesn't hurt. They love him and they're here for him, no matter what. He can take his time to heal and they'll take care of him. His family will have justice and peace. The universe demands it. His sobs eventually peter out. The girls say nothing, but once he starts to stand, they don't let him start running like he wants.

"I gotta," Noah insists with a grieving snarl, "I gotta!" He tries to rip his hands and arms away from his friends. The anger, the guilt, the regret, the swirling sludge of emotion takes over. He's piloted by a primal urge that wants to tear everything apart.

Lupe jumps in front of him. "You gotta what?" She bends to try and catch his gaze. She hates eye contact on principle, but Noah looks to be drowning in a far-off place. "Just tell us, we'll listen."

Noah slows his vicious attempts to pull away from Beth and Alma. He looks at them with agony and an apology at once. They wait patiently for him. He can see their grief. It's not for his family, the ones they'll never get to meet. It's for him. "I gotta find them..."

Lupe nods. "Alright. We find them. Tell me where first."

Noah blinks and his head shakes. He huffs out a few breaths and replies, "Down the straight path to the right. A few streets down is us." Lupe smiles at him. It's simple and not tinged with any of the toxic emotions he feels. There's not even pity.

"Alright, let's head out then, but we do it right and we do it together." She gazes at Noah and waits for him to blink and nod. "Good, let's go."

Chapter Text

Lupe walks out in front of the group of teens, heading straight down the road. Her careful patience is getting stripped away. She looks around and nothing but rage burns inside of her. This wasn't an accident. This wasn't the dead. This catastrophe was people.

There's graffiti on the walls they pass. 'The Wolves are Coming' written in white on a black wall. It shines like neon against the scorched stone. She narrows her gaze at that. Some random assholes hopped up on egocentric nonsense modeled themselves after animals. It's disrespectful to wolves. Creatures far too smart and peaceful to do something like this.

Rick tried to call what she and Alma did at Grady a massacre, but it was retribution. The scene in front of them was a true massacre, done by human hands. The evidence is in the bodies, big and small, lining the street cut apart by knives and blades, not hands or teeth. It's in the burnt out and unbroken Molotov's lying in lawns. The holes in windows that looked about the same size as the bottles. Malditos didn't use blades. They didn't throw Molotov's. They surely didn't run down back gates with trucks that left giant wheel imprints in the dirt.

They reach Noah's house and Lupe catches him as he runs towards the busted husk. It sits somewhat charred, with windows blown out. Some just have brick sized holes. The storm door is wide open with the glass door behind it kicked through. There's blood on the jamb.

"Let me walk through," Lupe insists with softness. "I have to make sure no one else is there. Then you won't get disturbed." Noah leans up against her and sobs, holding on hard. She squeezes him back for a good long time and then hands him off to Beth and Alma. She turns towards the house and tears are already in her eyes.

She lets them fall as she steps over broken glass. The first thing she sees is the corpse of a woman likely not much older than she is. Her head got bludgeoned through on one side like she was hit with an ax. The rest of her body is in worse condition. Lupe wraps the woman up in a blanket. She transports her from her face first position on the ground to the nearby couch. She turns away from the agonizing scene and hates that this is Noah's reality.

Once she's in the hall, she flicks out her batons. Reaching one out, she starts rapping the end of it against the wall. A large maldito comes around the corner with a hiss. It looks like it's from the outside, covered in dirt and leaves. Lupe stabs it through the eye and then drags the corpse back down the hall and into a room that looks like an office. She checks out that space, then the next bedroom. That's where she finds another maldito. This one rots so bad, its falling apart, dropping globs of skin as it shambles and sways. She kills it where it stands and drags it to the office. There's another open door that she peeks through and she sees a child lying on the bed. His entire stomach has been ripped open. The rest of him rots away.

Lupe hears a clatter behind her and turns to the noise. The last remaining door is closed but something hisses and slams against the back of it. The shadow beneath the door is small and thin, wavering in the sunlight. She sighs hard and retreats to the other room where one twin lays dead. She once had a friend with a house like this. She shared a bathroom with her brother and it connected each room in the middle. She was glad to see her assumption is correct and she passes through the Jack & Jill bathroom. The door to the other room is open allowing her to walk in without a sound.

The other twin is also dead, but he bangs against the door. His spindly arms and tiny hands beat against it like he's frozen in a loop. Lupe walks up behind the little body and skewers him in the back of the head as careful as she can. She lays the kid down with gentle shaking hands and removes her weapon. Her fingers brush against his rotting forehead. She allows herself a few, restrained tears. Picking up the little form, she carries him back into his bedroom, so he can be with his brother. She gets both twins in bed and covers them with blankets before she goes back out to get the others.

Beth and Alma walk Noah in and he immediately goes to his mother's corpse. He falls to his knees on the side of the couch and curls over her body with deep, shattering sobs. He stays there for a while. Lupe and the girls sit back and wait for him to be ready. His cries fade. Noah lays a hand on his mother's chest, right over her heart, his other hand rests over his. After that, he stands and is ready to see his brothers.

Alma and Beth take him back. Lupe stays in the front room. She stares at Noah's dead mother and lets the rage make a home for her in her memories. She turns away from the body and looks at the broken pictures on the floor. That is what a family should look like. Not whatever this is. Someone stole that from Noah, brutally, and it is an ultimate injustice.

"He kinda fell asleep," Alma says as she exits the hallway. Her voice is almost a whisper, "He's been crying and running a lot. I just think his body needed a break. Beth's gonna stay with him. She lost a lot of her family to this too."

Lupe nods. "I'm glad our parents didn't have to see this world."

Alma squints, the pain obvious in the way her cheek twitches. "Me too. Mom would have hated being stuck in the forests. It'd remind her too much of leaving Mexico. Dad's PTSD would have gotten a lot worse."

"He'd worry himself to death before a maldito got him." Lupe grins, but her words shake with grief.

"Thank you for taking care of Noah's family." Alma swallows as she walks closer. "Seeing his little brother as a maldito would have hurt too much."

Lupe frowned, "How could you tell? I tried to make sure it didn't show."

"The eyes," Alma admits. "I closed them before Noah saw them."

"Carajo..." (Fuck…) Lupe chastises herself. "Thanks for that. I kinda... it wasn't easy."

Alma nods. "I know." She steps closer to her sister and squeezes her hand. "This seems bad, Lupe. Worse than overrun towns by malditos. This is why we left, right? Things were getting a bit too Mad Max around here."

"Yeah mija, it's why we left." Lupe swallows hard and looks around. "I don't think it got better."

"Chale…" (Shit...) Alma hisses. "This is another fucking bad omen. More brutalizing assholes out here? World needs more of that, do we?" She growls.

Lupe shakes her head. "Yeah…I don't know if we should trust this area.

"I don't fucking think we should either," Alma admits, regret heavy in her tone.

Lupe looks to Alma and asks her, "Do you want to stay? We can head south. We could head west." Lupe wants that scrunched sadness on Alma's face to go away. She tries to joke, "I know you hate the cold but we should probably head North. Hope the snowy white bullshit freezes them out." Alma doesn't laugh nor smile. Lupe sighs. "We don't have to stay close to home. It's… It's not home anymore. We-we don't have to stay."

Alma looks stricken. "But what about them? They're our friends. If it's not safe -,"

"We can try all we want, but after this, I'm not sure what they'll do. I can't follow them if they're gonna charge head-first into danger. That makes them food or fodder and I'm not interested in living like that! I'm not interested in seeing you hurt anymore."

Alma snorts. "What else are we gonna do? We can't just abandon them. They need us!"

Lupe scoffs. "So? I don't give a damn about that. I need you safe!"

Alma glares at Lupe like she can sniff out a lie. "And what about you?" She spits. "How many more groups are we gonna run across that you're gonna have to fight off? Even if we start now, the assholes that did this could be anywhere! They could rip out our guts before we get out of state." Her chin quivers but her voice is strong, "We can't go off alone again."

"Why!?" Lupe bites back. "We were fine -,"

"Define 'fine', Lupe!" Alma growls back. "I need you safe too, and I can't do that alone!"

Lupe steps back, blinking. "Th-that's not your responsibility -,"

"Of course it is!" Alma spits, trying to keep her voice down. "We'll never stop protecting each other, but I'm not you Lupe! I'm not as strong -,"

"Te paras! Es mierda!" (Stop! That's shit!) Lupe hisses. "You and I are a team. We are both strong! We work best together, you know that!"

Alma bites her lip. "But we aren't always gonna be together. Like, it's just possible more bullshit could happen. If we stay with the others, there's a lot of people who can keep me safe. If you and I get separated, I need to know people will be there for you too."

Lupe scoffs. "I don't need -,"

"We all 'need' Lupe!" Alma snarls back.

They both shut up when they hear some sounds down the hall. They turn to see Noah walking out. He can't stop wiping at his nose or his red-rimmed eyes. He walks straight over to Lupe and slams against her, throwing his arms around her in a hug.

"Thank you," he whispers, shuddering against her.

"You're welcome," she replies and squeezes him tight.

He pulls away and has a hard time looking at anyone. He nods around the room and shudders out a sad breath. "Can I bury them?" He asks Lupe.

"Yeah," Lupe nods with a soft grin, "course we can. Where would they like it the most?"

Noah smiles through the sob that wants to come out. "By the big Elm in our backyard."

The group gets some shovels from a nearby shed and starts to dig. They soon have three graves ready underneath the swaying leaves of the tree. It's a beautiful spot where the kids spent almost all their lives growing up and getting into trouble. It was a perfect place for peace too.

After they finish, Noah hangs off Beth and Alma as they walk back down the center road. Rick and the others wait with a few trash bags full of useful items. He gives the group a scathing, annoyed look before he storms over with a lecture right on his tongue.

Lupe swoops in front of him and gives him the hardest stare of her life. She withholds the snarl on her lips when Rick meets her eyes. He sees it. The grief they all carry is like a thickened shadow looming over them.

His face goes slack and he nods. "Let's head back to the truck."

Everyone agrees and they walk back to the truck in somber silence. They load up without really talking about anything. It seems to be fitting. The grief needs to settle before they can start to move on. The truck starts right up and Tyreese shifts to drive away from the wreckage. Unfortunately, the TAC truck doesn't move. The wheels whine and spin, useless as they deepen the mud hole beneath the back wheel.

Tyreese curses and does his best to get the wheels to grip. He gets a little frustrated and slams his foot on the accelerator. The big truck jumps, careening out of the hole and ramming into the large semi-trailer. Both of the cars rattle and shake, including sending some of the occupants out of their seats and onto the floor. Tyreese is able to pull back and Rick hops out to investigate the damage. There's a sizable dent in the semi, but the TAC truck remains unscathed.

Rick starts to head back to the cab when he hears movement. He doubts there are survivors, but he owes it to Noah to check it out. He turns and walks over to the semi, peeking under to make sure there aren't any of the dead sneaking beneath. He comes up empty. He walks over to the back of the truck despite Glenn and Michonne's questioning. He sees a single walker with half its body stretching beneath a trailer door partly open.

It turns to the smell of Rick and writhes harder through the crack. It flops around, stuck, back and stomach banging up and down. Rick walks forward. He stabs it in the head right as the thing rams its back against the metal one last time with a gong. The door rattles its way up with a booming clatter. Rick shuffles backward, falling onto his ass, wide-eyed. More than fifty walkers stand stuffed inside the back of the trailer. They all turn on him in unison and charge.

"Stay in the truck!" Rick bellows and scrambles back as the walkers shuffle out from the tall trailer. He rolls up onto shaking legs and manages to miss the few that tumble out onto the ground.

"Go! Go!" He waves at Tyreese. More and more corpses start funneling out. They thump onto the backs of others before crawling to their feet.

Tyreese turns the truck and gets the big beast rolling. Rick sprints away from the undead mayhem. He manages to jump into the back as several walkers scramble after him. Flailing arms and snarling, bloody maws chomp, desperate for food.

Lupe yanks Rick out of their grasp as the TAC truck finally rumbles itself away. A single walker clings to the back end. Its clothes are stuck on the tailgate, arms reaching for the people scrambling away. Lupe shoves Rick behind her and charges at the walker. She pulls back her foot for a champion level high kick she learned as a baton twirler. She uses the W carved right in the center of its forehead as a place to aim. The toe of her boot sinks right through the face and it sends out a spray of blood and chunks on the ones trying to follow. She toes at the shoulder to dislodge the rest of the body. It falls to the ground, rolling like a barrel into the rest of the following malditos and knocking them down.

Every single one of them has a W carved into their heads.

Chapter Text

After leaving the destroyed community, the group still seems hell-bent on DC. They were running out of water and closer to running out of everything else. Lupe and Alma offered up everything they had in the back of their truck. But trying to use stores meant for two for a group near ten times that size could only subsist for so long.

After a near month since leaving Georgia, the trucks finally run out of juice. They'd made a little home out of the TAC truck, turning it into its own chaotic version of a covered wagon. Mattresses lined the floor, sheets, and blankets cover the walls for extra insulation. They worked some shelving and storage into the seats, thanks to Tyreese's ingenuity. They had to leave it all behind.

Lupe almost got in a fist fight with Rick when he suggested they leave her truck. Alma had to talk her down. After some harsh words and harsher tears, Lupe helped Alma get the truck into the woods to hide it as best they could. They marked it on their map and promised they'd go back for it someday. With whatever marginal stores left, the group went off on foot.

Somewhere about fifty to sixty miles out from D.C., in the bouts of the Virginia wilds, they run out of baby food for Judith.

At around five miles from that point, they run out of water. Little local springs and brooks are all dried up from the burgeoning cruelty of summer. They'd have to divert a significant amount to find a good source.

At fifteen, they accumulate a large throng of walkers. The starving dead trail the similarly living group for miles. They lead the dead to an overpass. Lupe and Alma use makeshift slingshots to take out some of the ones in the back. Rick lines up with a few others and dashes the rest of the dead into a rocky ravine. They don't have much energy to spare.

At about twenty miles, thunder rolls like a faraway fantasy. Daryl heads out to look for water. The rest move down the road. They find several gallon jugs and a handful of tiny plastic bottles in the middle of the street. There's a big note attached that says, "From a Friend."

Rick immediately tells Sasha, Abraham, Glenn, Carol, and Lupe to go out and secure a perimeter. The rest all ready themselves. It takes an intense effort not to gaze upon the water like it's not the only thing they need. The guards go off in all directions to make sure the group is not in immediate danger.

Lupe speeds through the woods. She's not the best tracker, but unless a group tries exceedingly hard to hide, the path of humans is easy to see. Most humans have no care for the earth they tread. They stomp through everything like they own it. Flowers get kicked, the grass gets bent, and branches get snapped and cut. Humans are deliberate and selfish while traversing the world. They always insist on making a path instead of following one.

It's why Lupe is only half surprised to find Daryl sitting near a small trail by a large decrepit farmhouse. Daryl is a person who is careful in the world. He grew up living off of it. His father likely wasn't a stalwart about respecting the earth and caring for nature. But she could see how Daryl tried to make himself invisible with every step he took. He used everything at his disposal to survive, but not at the expense of others. He managed not to grow up selfish, even in the hell he endured.

She's about to turn around and leave him to his cigarette and contemplation until she sees what he's doing. He presses the lit tip of a cigarette into the tissue stretched between his forefinger and thumb. She can hear the hissing of his burning skin from where she stands.

"Te paras!" (Stop!) Lupe hisses as she runs up, smacking his hand with the cigarette away. A jumble of things happen as the cigarette falls to the ground. Daryl pulls out his knife in shock. She ignores it, grabbing at the injured hand. The first this she does is dust the ash away from the wound. Daryl's mind goes through a full reboot as her cool breath ghosts over the injury.

"I'm sorry I surprised you," Lupe says before blowing on the injury again. "I didn't mean to intrude, but, I..." she fumbles for words and focuses on his wound. "I know that pain." She swallows heavy in the back of her throat, doing her best not to look at him. "I don't want you to feel it."

"S'nothin'," Daryl grumbles. He rips his hand out of her grasp and stands up, sheathing his knife. He charges off, not daring to look back at her. He's fuel by shame. He's been so damn worried about the group. No water. A forest starving and thirsting as bad as them. The constant stream of walkers. They're lucky Lupe and Alma figured out those slingshots after the bullets got scarce. It didn't matter how smart they were if he let them all dehydrate or starve. Every time he saw their chapped lips or heard their gurgling stomachs, it beat him like a wrecking ball. He was letting everyone down.

"I don't know why you do it, but I'm sorry you're hurting. I really am... I..." she says to his back, but he keeps moving. "I know you're trying as best as you can to keep this shit together. We all are." She huffs, annoyed at his inattention. He's far enough to shout at, so she does, "You don't deserve that!"

Daryl stops mid-step and the momentum could have keeled him over if not for how stiff he went. Very few people have said that to him in his life. Maybe only Carol. He can't believe it. It's almost impossible with how brainwashed and abused he was as a child. His father wanted him to feel as worthless as he did. Daryl couldn't help but believe he's a failure when that's all he ever had. One continuous failure after another. There's no evidence his life is worth more than shit. The worst part is that time and time again, he's been proving his daddy right.

"Look, you're not the only one that hurts," Lupe says. Once he's stunned, she charges after him. "I can't show you my scars cause I've hidden them too well. I'd also have to take off my pants, which in this heat sounds magnificent, but like you need more misery." She huffs out a derisive laugh and walks in front of him, glaring at his stubborn face.

"I've got tattoos over them now. For years, I was so goddamn ashamed of them. I was ashamed of myself for doing it! I was supporting the house after my dad's accident when I was seventeen. My parents died when I was barely twenty. I had an eight-year-old that depended on me and I was alone and terrified."

Lupe leans in, even though Daryl won't look at her. "I thought I had to hate myself to make me work harder and be better, but it only got me closer and closer to giving up. Thinking Alma would be better off without me pretending I could care for her…"

Daryl finally looks at her. A burst of anger burns righteous in his chest. The notion is absurd. Alma and Lupe were near seamless when they worked together. Lupe did everything for her little sister. She was always watching out for her. Alma got the last drink from the bottle Lupe hardly sipped at. Alma got the first and last bites of food Lupe could scrounge up. Alma had the warmest jacket and the lightest pack. The little sister wasn't spoiled or unkind about it either. She just used the grace of her survival to be more kind to others.

Lupe buffeted Alma in protection, but she was the complete opposite of smothering. Lupe was just always there, trying to take care of her. It even leaked out into the rest of the group. Mending peoples clothes. Making sure everyone's water got topped off. Constantly scavenging with Carl to find suitable food for Judith. She never stopped trying. Daryl had seen very few people capable of love that fierce. It was terrifying and stunning. He almost pined for someone to care about him like that. He wished he could feel that way about someone. But he felt broken and undeserving.

Lupe's chin wiggles and a tragedy plays out on her face. "I'll never live up to what she deserves, but in the end I'm selfish. I don't want an existence without her. The thought of her absence just tears me apart." She huffs and sniffles, wiping at her face hard.

When Lupe looks back up at him, that gut-wrenching agony gets tucked away. Her eyes shine golden in the sunlight that sneaks through the trees. There's something ethereal about their glow. The tears shine in them like some secret elixir that could heal the world.

"Someone feels that way about you, Daryl Dixon. Beth was right. You're something now," she insists. Her breath comes out ragged, "I get falling back into it. I almost pulled out all my hair from anxiety when all this started. But you don't gotta do that anymore. We survive or we don't, Dixon…" A small smile curls in the corner of her lips and it perks up her plump cheeks. "No need to take the personal initiative to make it harder on yourself."

Her eyes flit away from him and Daryl is stuck staring at the shadows of the leaves dancing across her skin. Her smile spreads as she shrugs. "You ain't a bad dude. Bad shit happens. You got your scars like I got mine, but we're not just made of scars."

Lupe finally realizes how close she is to him. She could easily lean in and peak up under those bangs, but she doesn't. She burns with embarrassment. Everything shot out of her mouth like a rocket. She should be asking how he was feeling, what she could do. She shakes her head and shuffles back.

Clearing her throat, she mumbles, "We found weird water, come back." She turns and runs off.

Daryl stands there dazed for a moment. The forest looks the same despite her sudden absence. But it feels emptier somehow. A deep thread gets sewn through him, so he follows it in a slight trance, knowing it'll end with her.

When he gets back to the group, Lupe is with Alma already, definitely not looking at him. Daryl has to force himself to stop looking at her when Rick charges up to him, note in hand. Daryl blinks at it and his bow comes off his back. He's ready.

"What else are we gonna do?" Tara asks.

"Not this," Rick replies quick and hard as he paces. His eyes scan their surroundings. No one found much on their perimeter sweep. That only made him more suspicious. "We don't know who left it," he grumbles.

Eugene hasn't taken his eyes off the water. He's hardly even blinked. "If this is a trap, we happen to already be in it. But I for one would like to think it is indeed from a friend."

"What if it isn't?" Carol challenges despite her exhaustion. "What if they put something in it?"

Eugene jumps for a bottle. Rosita and Tara both reprimand him, but he twists off the top. "Quality assurance," he says like a cheers and tries to put the bottle to his lips.

Abraham charges over and smacks it out of his hands. He hasn't so much as looked at Eugene after the startling revelation of his lie. The action freezes everyone up in shock. Abraham stalks back over to his side of the group and sulks.

"We can't," Rick insists.

Thunder rumbles ominously as he speaks. Rain begins to fall. The entire group shudders under the big fat drops and relief starts to spread. Smiles widen and mouths open as faces turn up towards the bleak grey clouds.

Alma drops her pack and rummages through it. She yanks out a few things and runs for the gallon jugs. Cringing and hating herself for wasting the water, she dumps two of them out. She shoves the funnels in the top of the jugs and collects rainwater. Rick soon charges everyone with doing the same.

While they're filling up, Lupe watches the clouds. The wind bursts like a brisk slice across her cheeks and through her fingers. She shields her eyes from it kicking up dirt and debris, standing in the middle of the road. The clouds are low and heavy, dark as stones on the riverbed. She feels the thunder before she hears it. It rumbles from its origins, not too far away, and shakes the ground beneath her. The sky crackles and booms as if Tlāloc himself were making his demands known. The slow fat droplets soon become a downpour, dropping on top of them all at once. The big burst falls like a literal wet blanket.

The clouds boom again, louder and longer. The air feels thick like each droplet connects to another by a dry and fuzzy gauze. The storm speaks, the flash and boom aren't even a second apart. Lupe gets a front row seat. A blast of lightning cracks down a tree likely older than the road it sits by. The tree ends up as a gnarled husk, smoldering and smoking in the cool rain.

Lupe is breathless in the face of that glorious terror. It was no wonder that the first humans thought such a thing as lightning came from the gods. No matter how well she knew the science behind it, the experience was transcendent. She wasn't that close, but Daryl yanks Lupe back away from the scorched tree, shouting at the group about the barn.

She's still half dazed as Daryl drags her through the woods, leading the rest of the group to shelter. Daryl leans her against the wall outside till she gets her feet under her. The whole group squeezes in under a thin awning while Rick takes a few people inside to clear it out.

They all shuffle in just as the storm starts kicking up. It crackles and pounds against the shoddy walls like an infant needing attention. Everyone is careful about setting up their space. The feeling is grim inside the musty old barn, but it's something, and they desperately needed it.

After Lupe and Alma set more jugs and bottles out for water collection, they go to set up their own space. Alma gets invited to set up a little camp with Carl, Beth, and Noah. Lupe shoves her, with love and encouragement, to go join them. She assures Alma she'll be fine. Even jokes about finally getting some peace and quiet from Alma's snoring. For a while, they bicker just a little bit in Spanish about who actually snores. Lupe smiles wide and pushes Alma away. Alma immediately runs over and leaps right into the teenaged fun.

Lupe is proud of her sister for finding such a sweet little niche. She's not mad or sad really, but she won't pretend she's never been jealous of Alma's easy way with people.

"Lupe..." Lupe turns to see Carol behind her, a soft grin on her lips. "Found a place that might be comfortable for the night."

"Oh, I'll be fine setting up anywhere. You take it."

"The rain, the cold, all the walking, that can't be easy on your joints." Carol arcs an eyebrow. "I can sniff out a lie, I know you're hurting."

Lupe shrugs halfway, embarrassed. "I'll be okay once I change and wrap up. Really, don't fuss over me, I can -,"

"It's already made up," Carol interjects. "In the alcove beneath the stairs. Come on." Carol pulls her over to the little section. Straw piles on the ground and there are a few blankets laying on top. It's like a little nest.

Lupe's throat tightens. "This is too much. The baby -,"

"The baby has one of her own with Rick and Michonne." Carol smiles, it ticks, almost devious. "Daryl threw this together right after he helped sort out that one." Carol looks over with bright eyes and a restrained smile. "Rest well." She winks and walks away.

Lupe looks around at the little spot. It's kind of secluded, but not totally cut off. She walks towards the cushion of the hay and tests it. It's not so bad. The blanket doesn't even smell like death or horse. Sitting down uneasily on the little mound, she feels like she might throw up. It's the nicest thing someone other than Alma has done for her in a long time.

Chapter Text

By the time the sun sets and the storm starts to kick up a squall, most people are bunkering down for the night. Aside from a few small leaks, the barn stays dry and pretty warm.

Lupe sits under her staircase. She feels a little bit like a troll, but for whatever ridiculous reason, she likes it. She's down to her compression shorts and a sports bra. She has to re-wrap her knees, ankles, elbows, and wrists. Her knee wrap is currently giving her problems. Caused directly by her fingers, frozen solid and swollen stiff. It's hard to move when it feels like someone's flossing razor wire through her bones.

"Shit..."

Lupe looks up and Daryl's got his chin tucked down to his chest, twirling away from her. She looks down at herself, curses the universe in Spanish under her breath, and then looks up at Daryl's back. "Uh, hey," she says, mostly to the wings.

Daryl pauses from his terrible attempt at an escape and only half turns back to her. He keeps his eyes pointed at the floor. It's the first time he's seen her like that. She tends to wear those shiny garments that cover her almost neck to ankle. Sitting on the blanket in the hay, she's in little more than her underwear. He knows she's just rewrapping her joints. He's heard her talk about it and seen her do it over her clothes.

It's not a sexual thing. He knows that. But the smooth planes of her brown skin are lines he wants to traverse with his fingertips. The gorgeous ink covering her thighs, inside and out, are like a beacon to him. The soft curve of her, the roll of her stomach looked like the most inviting home. The way her arms flexed and folded in the candlelight was fluid and graceful. He'd never felt such a yearning for someone his whole life and it scared the shit out of him. Daryl felt like Medusa lay before him, a gorgeous, untouchable fury, and turned him right to stone.

He manages to clear his throat but still won't look at her. He's not gonna be that asshole that makes a woman uncomfortable while she's trying to live her life. It doesn't matter if she sparks something in him he thought was dead. She didn't ask for none of his feelings towards her. He didn't either, but he'll be damned if he gives it away. "Hey..."

Lupe snorts out a soft laugh. "Ya need somethin' champ or is the ground by my stairs just super interesting?"

"Bed alright?" He asks. He almost looks in her direction, but still hesitates.

She looks around. "Yeah, best hay bed I've ever sat on. It's my first, so lucky you." She grins. He nods about a thousand times while gnawing on his lip. "Never slept on hay before, but it has to be better than packed dirt or linoleum!" She attempts some humor to diffuse the situation but it falls flat. She goes back to wrapping her leg with a little too much embarrassed vigor. She rams her thumb into her kneecap, and there's an audible pop. "Puto!" (Bitch!) She snarls, then there's another pop.

"You okay? That was loud," he mutters to the floor but has an urge to check on her.

"Yeah, my wrap is just being an asshole and my fingers are worse. It's cold, so they've decided to go on strike," she grumbles at her hands. "Just dislocated my thumb a little, but it's fine now."

"Do ya -," he clears his throat, "do ya want help?"

Lupe looks up at him. She stares at him for a long time. She's not quite sure what she sees. He's often like a nervous boy packed behind a wall of muscle. He would help anyone. She'd seen it.

"Sure," comes out of her mouth. She's not confident where it originated from, but she means it. "I'd appreciate that. My joints are sucking right now."

"No problem," Daryl mutters. He shuffles over, still trying not to look at her. He decides maybe talking will distract him from the way the heat of her wet skin sends up steam in the cool air. "My ma had arthritis. Merle helped her a lot cause he was older than me, but I remember a few things."

Lupe smiles. "That's pretty sweet."

Daryl huffs as he kneels down next to her outstretched legs. He picks up the wrap. "How tight?"

Lupe lets out a huff and flops back onto the blanket. "Tight enough to cut off circulation and smother the damn thing."

Daryl allows himself half a grin before he touches her. Once his fingers are on her skin, he tries to turn everything off. He gets about half her knee done when he hears her sigh. Looking at her, lying back with her face turned up to the ceiling is quite a sight. He forces himself to finish wrapping. Trying not to think about how gorgeous she looks with the sparse lamplight glowing gold on her skin.

"Do you hear it?" She asks, her voice a husky whisper.

"Hear what?" Daryl replies, gruff, grabbing the other wrap and getting ready to do her other knee.

"The rain, the thunder, the wind..." Her eyes flutter and a smile spreads, peaceful and sweet.

Daryl's not sure he's ever gotten to see her look so in her element. The squall wails outside and scares the pants off literally everyone else. But she lays there like she's the eye of her own storm, appreciating something just as wondrous as she is.

"It's beautiful," she adds with a soft sigh.

Daryl looks away from that dreamy smile and gets back to his job. His hand slips under her knee, soft as velvet with little dark hairs tickling his fingertips. When he grips her, she shivers beneath his touch and goosebumps raise up on her skin. He has the instant urge to rub them away and bring some heat back to her.

His palms glide up and down her leg, curling around her thigh. His fingers gloss over the transmutation circle inked there. He feels the scars she talked about hiding beneath it. He doesn't care. Her skin soothes back down and he finally realizes what he just did. Looking away to hide the heat of shame rising up to his hairline, he wraps up her other knee lightning fast.

"Get warm fast. It's gettin' ugly out there," Daryl mutters. It's a plea and a demand all at once. As he stands, he still won't look at her.

Lupe is trying not to breathe heavy and writhe on the ground like a geek after touching their first boob. She bites her lips shut. It's her turn to nod at him about a thousand and one times, even though he's already gone, retreating into the darkness.

Lupe is so thankful that she's tucked back under the stairs and behind some crates. No one would have seen that interaction. No one should have noticed how she had to grip the blankets in order not to make a single sound. No one would notice the pathetic way she quivered from him touching her skin.

She knows it's been a goddamn while, but she can't give herself the freedom to feel that good. She can't allow herself distractions, not now. No one was safe. And it wasn't like Daryl seemed all that interested. He could hardly look at her. Insecurity tells her he's repulsed by her bare body. She likely should have put on some clothes, but everything moved a bit fast. A small confused part of her wonders why she didn't feel self-conscious enough around him to care at first.

The conversations in the barn peter out to people falling asleep. Lupe remains awake, dry, dressed, warm, curled up in her nest, with the sudden wish that she wasn't alone. Pretty much everyone was hitting a depressive spiral. All the hunger and dehydration likely didn't help. Things were looking grim. They were out in the middle of fucking nowhere, with one map of the territory that no one was confident with. Despite the storm throwing a meteorological shit fit, she's thankful they'll have water in the morning. She closes her eyes and the storm lulls her into a sense of peace. The last thing she hears is Daryl's heartfelt insistence while talking to Rick.

"We ain't dead..."

Lupe wakes up to a crack of thunder and a flare of lightning that illuminates the whole damn barn. She wiggles to dislodge the pressure on her back. When she looks behind her, she sees Alma tucked up against her. They hadn't slept apart for a very long time. Neither of them slept well when they separated either. Lupe can remember Alma hating sleepovers. Her mom or dad would have to drive in the middle of the night to go pick her up, sobbing her eyes out from anxiety. Old habits tend to die hard. Lupe could extend a lot of forgiveness. Especially considering how fucking terrible the world turned out to be. Lupe smiles warmly, happy her sister can finally find some blissful sleep, not in the backseat of a car.

Distracted from adoring her sister, Lupe hears a stream of muttering, hissing curses. She peeks between the stairs. It's almost perfectly pitch black inside the barn. Thunder rumbles and lightning flashes. In the brightness, she sees a snapshot of Daryl pacing in front of the entrance.

The thunder and lightning are relentless. The wind and the rain surge. The barn door rattles and swings open to the small limit the chain holding it together allows. With each great gush of the storm, it looks like an army is trying to push its way inside.

She wouldn't mind watching Daryl pace around in lightning flashes like a jaguar on a hunt. But she prepares to look away and gives herself another ten seconds of shameless ogling. As she's about to lay down, Daryl puts down his crossbow, staring at the banging barn doors.

He creeps up to them, getting ready to shove them closed, and tighten the chain they tied around the handles. When his eyes gaze out through the gap, he freezes. Less than a second later he's shoving the doors closed hard with a grunt as he tightens the chains. Then he slams his back against them, spreading his arms out, and digging his feet into the dirt. The doors behind him surge against his back.

Lupe is close enough. There's a vast difference between the sound of a gusting wind and hands beating against wood. A low, steady hum of gurgling growls and hisses accompany the way the door folds inward. She jumps up to go help Daryl. The look on his face is too frantic not to take serious. As she approaches, the door surges open a crack and she sees what he does. A horde. In the flash of lightning, it looked like an army of shadows come to reap them. She slams herself against the door right next to Daryl and digs into the mud. Every time Daryl tries to talk, there's a resurgence of the dead outside. They slam and snarl against the doors, rabid as they try to get in. Lupe and Daryl strain to hold them back.

Maggie comes to help first, throwing her body against the wood next to Lupe. Noah and Beth are right behind her. Sasha and Tyrese push next to Daryl. Soon, Rick, Glenn, Carol, and Michonne are there. Carl and Alma are at their heels and they chip in too. Rosita, Abraham, Eugene, and even Gabriel come to aid.

Feet dig into the mud, slipping, sliding, and useless beneath their straining legs. The sounds of the dead and the storm outside silence their howling efforts. Muscles strain against the roar of nature's rage and the unnatural dead that yearn to devour them whole. The group presses against the doors with all their remaining strength and will. Entwined with one another, they strengthen each other like strands of a cable. They hold up the impossible in the face of an uncontrollable squall.

The lightning flashes and faces are frozen in a single blink. Stretched in agony. Quivering in terror. Gritting teeth with a fragile rage. The booms of thunder shake the wood between the beats of the walkers' hands. Everything resonates within the small enclosure like a death knell. The shuddering of their breaths and their pained grunts become the shoddy tempo. Each person is so utterly determined not to die.

Nature's plans are inescapable.

But they aren't running.

Chapter Text

The sun shines bright in the morning, but it's frigid as Santa's dick. Lupe wakes up groggy, aching through every inch. She's in her full body compression garments, as she usually sleeps. Her legs feel particularly heavy. When she looks down to figure out why, Alma is there, curled up and half on her lap. Lupe doesn't move. She is unreasonably good at playing possum while her sister sleeps on top of her. She doesn't actually want to move anyway. She can't deny that her sister is warm and her presence is comforting. She missed this.

Lupe hunkers down in the coziness she feels, knowing it won't last. She blinks slow as she looks around the barn, trying to remind her eyes how to focus. Some others are starting to wake up and move about. When she glances to her other side, she has to force her body not to eject her soul in absolute shock. She realizes why she's so enormously warm and comfortable. It's because she has Daryl, evidently a human-sized space heater, on her opposite side. He's curled against her, scrunched up, and slouching with his temple on her shoulder.

She thinks it has to be an accident. Last night was a horror show. She's not sure she's been so scared. It's all a terrible blur. There's a vague memory of stumbling back over to her little nook sometime around oblivion o'clock. Daryl was under one arm and Alma under the other. Her joints were an absolute mess after that struggle.

Lupe blinks. Daryl looks up at her with a slack cluelessness in his opening eyes. For a single long breath, they're stuck inside of a luxurious lethargy. Tired gazes lock and neither one dares to blink the remnants of the sleepy moment away. No matter how delirious, both are far too confused and smitten not to treasure the brief silent peace.

Daryl loses the game. He twitches up and away from Lupe so hard it jostles Alma awake. Without a word, Daryl speeds off, clearing out the sleep in his eyes. The side of his head that nuzzled against Lupe has hair sticking up on end. His fingers comb through it and his palms force it down. The movement is all a bit frantic. Rubbing at his face some more, he dodges everyone else that's starting to rise and heads to his spot.

Lupe and Alma watch his retreating back in numb fascination. Lupe is still trying to understand what's happening. But she can hardly function because it's morning and mornings fucking suck. She finally looks down at Alma and her sister stares up at her with a sleepy, smug smirk.

"Que?" (What?) Lupe croaks with a mean squint.

"Me estás tomando el pelo!" (You've got to be kidding me!) Alma snorts. "What was that?"

"What was what?" Lupe groans, wiping at her face. It's far too early for Alma to be so fucking observant.

"Callate la boca, chingada..." (Shut your mouth, fucker...) She still lays in Lupe's lap, staring up at her with eyes too keen for the hour. "What was Daryl doing over here?"

Lupe squints more and frowns, shaking her head. An easy desperation is right on her tongue. She's tired enough to say it but she doesn't. She looks down at Alma and shrugs. "Think he fell asleep over here on accident." Alma arcs a brow. "Really. I think he's just disoriented. He hardly knows us."

"Él nos conoce lo suficiente para ayudar a tu culo a volver aquí. I think he even tried to carry you." (He knows us enough to help carry your ass back here.) Alma sits up and wipes at her eyes. She turns back to her sister.

"Oh my god, did I slap him?" Lupe asks with a horrified confusion.

"Nah, you just whapped him a little. He grumbled somethin' about he can wrestle three hundred pound gators... or was it deer?" Alma's face folds in deep contemplation, her hand even rises to grip her chin. "¿Así es como coquetean los nacos?" (That how hicks flirt?)

Lupe drops her face into her hands. "Oh my god..."

Alma rolls her eyes. "Whatever..."

"Just..." Lupe mumbles, "don't tease him about it or anything, okay? I don't think he likes me very much, but he's too nice to turn his back on people."

Alma's concentration snaps. Her face twists up in a disbelieving grimace. "I'm sorry, did you just call him nice? Him? You?"

Lupe fights a groan. "Dije lo que dije, te mierda," (I said what I said, you fuck,) Lupe snarls. Her anger replaced by a full body shiver due to the absence of so much body heat. "Shit-fuck it's cold. I gotta put on an extra layer."

"You better," Alma reprimands, heavy on the sarcasm. "Need to keep all those butterflies in your stomach."

"Alma, shut up," Lupe huffs out, already exasperated.

"What? I'm just saying…" The teen stares after Daryl as he hobbles around the barn where all his stuff is, still dazed from sleep. His spot is conveniently on the opposite side of where they are but within perfect sight lines. She grins. "He's not that bad for a….walking UTI…" Alma sputters into her hand

"Jesus, Alma…" Lupe bites back her own laughter. "Nunca debí haberte dicho eso." (I should never have told you that.)

Alma smirks. "Can I at least tell you that I've seen him looking at your ass?"

Lupe's head pops up in shock. Her eyes flutter to Daryl who is now fiddling with his crossbow but doesn't seem sure where to start. There is something about that man that makes her think about things other than her sister and death. She looks back at Alma hiding behind faux indignation. "Are you, mi carne y sangre, somehow implying that it comes as a surprise anyone would be checking out all this fine fuckin' real estate?" (my flesh and blood)

Alma giggles hard into her hands. "Madre de Dios... Cállate. You're the worst." (Mother of god... shut up.)

"La tuya," (No you.) Lupe shoots back.

Alma scowls. "La tuya," she spits.

They continue repeating this for a while. Until the front doors creak open. Maggie and Sasha are coming back from watching the sunrise. Maggie looks exceedingly nervous as she pokes her head in.

"Everyone..." She starts and pushes the doors wide open. "This is Aaron."

All guns immediately draw on Aaron. He's got that serial killer vibe about him. White guy, 30s to 40s, and dressed as if he walked out of the 'nondescript' section of a Land's End catalog. He would 'seem like such a nice young man' to just about anybody. Then they'd discover the flayed faces of twenty-eight people in his garage. Lupe is up on her aching legs and standing in front of Alma. Her MAC-11 aims for Aaron's nose.

Daryl comes tearing through the barn, scowling hard at the new guy as he passes to look out the door. Making a quick sweeping glare out into the forest, he then closes up. He goes right up to Aaron and roughly frisks him before taking up his bow again. Daryl stands at the man's side and glares at him. Lupe drops her aim because of Daryl stepping in her line of fire.

"We met him on the outside," Maggie tries to remain calm. "He's by himself."

Aaron looks around slow. He nods to everyone. When he speaks, his voice sounds like it belongs to an easy-listening DJ. "Hi..."

The room is so thick with tension, Judith starts crying. Rick hands her over to Carl before approaching Aaron. He is silent and his glare is far past severe. He's furious.

"It's nice to meet you," Aaron says, stepping forward and reaching out a hand. He stops due to the way Daryl adjusts his aim and growls at him.

Rick doesn't take his eyes off Aaron. He speaks to Maggie, "You said he had a weapon?" Maggie walks over and hands Rick the little six-shooter. He checks to see if it's kept clean and whether it got fired recently. He tucks it in the back of his pants. "There something you need?" Rick snarls at the still man.

"He has a camp, nearby." Sasha looks at Rick with a serious and disbelieving frown. She turns to Aaron and her glare morphs to suspicion. "He wants us to 'audition' for membership."

"I wish there was another word..." Aaron says. "Audition makes it sound like we're some kind of a dance troupe." He shrugs. "That's only on Friday nights."

Silence stretches through the room despite his little joke. Aaron swallows heavy, glancing around at each armed and angry person.

"Ese puto llevando Dockers?" (Is this bitch wearing Dockers?) Alma whispers to Lupe.

Lupe tries to restrain her smile. "Creo que también tienen plisados." (I think they have pleats.) They both snicker into each other as quiet as possible. It doesn't save them from Rick's moderate death glare blinking in their direction.

"Um, and it's not a camp," Aaron blurts, "it's a community. I think you all would make valuable additions, but it's not my call." He looks around wide-eyed but hopeful and determined. "My job is to convince you all to follow me back home."

The disastrous silence stretches on and Rick's glare redirects to him. Aaron continues, "I know... If I were you, I wouldn't go either. Not until I knew exactly what I was getting into."

Aaron stays still but looks over to Sasha. "Sasha, can you hand Rick my pack?" She does as she's asked, but she's not eager to do it. "Front pocket, there's an envelope." Aaron waits for Rick to start digging in to find what he's talking about.

"There's no way I could convince you to come with me just by talking about our community," Aaron says. Rick pulls out a fat stack of photographs from the envelope as he continues, "That's why I brought those. I apologize in advance for the picture quality. We just found an old camera store last -,"

"Nobody gives a shit," Daryl snarls at his side.

"You're absolutely 100% right," Aaron amends, nervous as he glances at Daryl. That's when he sees the two standing by the underbelly of the staircase. He tries to smile at them. The taller one tilts her head with a look of indecision. The shorter one scowls at him hard. He finally looks away when Daryl starts growling at him again.

Aaron looks back at Rick. "That's the first picture I wanted to show you. Nothing I say about our community will matter unless you know you'll be safe." He tries to impart sincerity in his words, "If you join us, you will be." He clears his throat. "Each panel in that wall is a 15-foot-high, 12-foot-wide slab of solid steel framed by cold-rolled steel beams and square tubing." Aaron describes the photographs. "Nothing alive or dead gets through that without our say-so."

A derisive little giggle bubbles past Lupe's lip. She's shaking her head. No way in hell would she trust this mediocre Bear Grylls.

He seems to track the sound to her. His tone is still desperate and sincere, "Like I said, security is obviously important. In fact, there's only one resource more critical to our community's survival. The people."

Lupe does frown this time. The idea of people being a resource is something she's long despised. Labor is a resource. People are people. Not meant to be exploited. She loses more respect for this fool.

Aaron catches her frown. He even leans into his statement as he talks. "Together we're strong," he smiles around the group, "You can make us even stronger."

Rick is still flipping through the pictures as he stands. He looks over his shoulder at Michonne. She stares back at him with a pointed stare, but in a relaxed way to not give too much up. Rick looks back down at the photos and stares at each one a long time. As Rick walks forward, Aaron goes on.

"The next picture, you'll see inside the gates. Our community was first construc -,"

Aaron's diatribe gets interrupted by Rick's right hook. He sucker punches the man so hard, Male Layne Bryant flops onto the ground like a dead fish. Rick paces back over to the rest of the group and his children. The others swarm in on Aaron to double check for weapons. Maggie stares down at the stranger with a guilt-ridden shock. Her hand hovers over her gaping mouth.

"So we're clear, that look wasn't a 'let's attack that man' look," Michonne bites out as Rick approaches her. "It was a 'he seems like an okay guy to me' look."

"We got to secure him," Rick replies, almost pleading if he didn't look and sound so pissed off. He turns to everyone else and his demand is firm, "Dump his pack. Let's see what this guy actually is."

"Rick..." Michonne chastises him.

Rick paces, hands tensing at his sides. The paranoia is visible in the tension stretching through his body. It's not completely undeserved. "Everybody else, we need eyes in all directions. They're coming for us. We might not know how or when, but they are."

"Me and Sasha, we didn't see him," Maggie beseeches. "If he had wanted to hurt us, he could've."

Rick ignores her. "Anybody see anything?"

"Just a lot of places to hide," Glenn replies, unhelpful and trying to get Rick to snap out of it.

"All right, keep looking," he grumbles to the group. He stalks over to Carl and starts asking about the stranger's pack.

Lupe and Alma are on their side of the barn, staring out through the slats for no good reason. Visibility was shit out in the dense and destroyed woods.

"Estás bien?" (You good?) Alma murmurs out of the corner of her mouth.

"Sabes que me gusta ver a un gringo ser golpeado," (You know I like to see a white boy get hit,) Lupe mutters and gets a good-natured snort out of Alma. Lupe swallows, staring out at the wreckage of trees. "Pero está de la chingada. No me gusta." (But this is fucked up. I don't like it.)

Lupe looks back over her shoulder and watches Carol and Daryl tie the man up. Maggie presses a wet handkerchief against the side of Aaron's slack face. Rick and Carl sort through his bag. There are a few mason jars that look filled with some food. Maps, extra clothes, water, and more of the sort of stuff anyone would carry. Except for the flare gun. Rick looks pissed about it. Lupe understands the concern.

"Que sigue?" (What's next?) Alma asks, eying her sister up and down and noticing her tension.

Lupe looks back out into nothingness where nothing is doing nothing. She sighs and grumbles, "Probably more bullshit."

Chapter Text

"That's a hell of a right cross there, Rick," Aaron groans, smiling halfway as he regains movement in his face.

"Sit him up," Rick snarls, pacing a few steps as he glares at the stranger.

Michonne looks at him hard and her tone comes out disinterested, "I think it's better if -,"

"It's okay," Aaron says, nodding his thanks to her.

"He's fine," Rick says, dismissive, waving away the annoyed concern on Michonne's face. "Sit him up," he demands.

Michonne roughly yanks Aaron to a seated position and stands. She crosses her arms and stares at Rick, expectant.

"You're being cautious, I completely understand." Aaron stretches out his legs and looks around the group.

Rick steps closer, his gun drawn at his side. "How many of your people are out there?"

The look on Aaron's face is the first time true fear is evident. Lupe becomes curious. If he was planning on killing them all, it would or should have been at night or early in the morning. It'd likely be a two man effort, though it could get done with one. But they weren't dead. The fact that Aaron reacted at all means someone must be out there. Whoever has his back must not be someone he wants to reveal. That likely makes them important. She's wondering how important this person is and why.

Aaron still won't reply to Rick. "You have a flare gun," Rick says, narrowing his eyes into a scowl. "You have it to signal your people. So how many of them are there?" He demands.

"Does it matter?" Aaron says and his voice is thick with the nerves suddenly squeezing his throat.

"Yes," Rick says as if it's obvious. "Yes, it does."

"I mean, of course, it matters how many people are actually out there. But does it matter how many people I tell you are out there?" He waits for a beat while Rick's jaw tenses and the people in the room shift. "Because I'm pretty sure no matter what number I say: 8, 444, 32, 0..." He sighs. "No matter what I say, you're not going to trust me."

"Well, it's hard to trust anyone who smiles after getting punched in the face," Rick opines.

"How about a guy who leaves bottles of water for you in the road?" Aaron replies with a tad too much aggression in his tone.

Rick freezes. His glare narrows as he stalks forward. "How long you people been following us?"

"Long enough to see that you practically ignore a pack of roamers on your trail." He glances towards the stairs and ends up with Lupe and Alma in his gaze. The ones who had slingshots and picked off roamers with startling accuracy. Both glare at him. Daryl growls low in his throat and Aaron's not sure the man even knows he's doing it. "Long enough to see that despite a lack of food and water, you never turned on each other. You're survivors and you're people."

Aaron starts losing his cool in the name of urgency. "Like I said, and I hope you won't punch me for saying it again, that is the most important resource in the world."

"People aren't a resource," Lupe finally snaps. "Their time and labor are. Human beings are not some sort of profit machine."

Aaron's eyes go wide and she sees a distinct embarrassment light up his face. "No, no, you're right! That's a much better way of saying it. But what I mean is that our community is only as strong as the people in it. We need more people to get more strength. We need you -,"

"How many others are out there?" Rick demands, his tone rising and severe.

Aaron deflates. Resignation is clear on his face. He swallows heavily and his voice breaks as he admits, "One..."

A rueful smile stretches on Rick's lips as he turns away from Aaron. He looks out at his people and there is a mixed bag of emotions playing out on their faces. Some look rightfully pissed and disbelieving. A few look curious. The rest look sick of strangers and their bullshit. Some are a combination.

"I knew you wouldn't believe me." Aaron chuckles, a tinge away from bitter. "If it's not words, if it's not pictures, what would it take to convince you that this is for real?"

Silence beats like a heart in the room.

"What if I drove you to the community?" Aaron's face brightens. "All of you? We leave now, we'll get there by lunch!"

"I'm not sure how almost twenty of us are going to fit in the car you and your one friend drove down here in..." Rick replies with enough heat to melt steel beams.

"We drove separate," Aaron responds and Rick gives him that too sharp smile again. "If we found a group, we wanted to be able to bring them all home," he explains, desperation crackling in his tone. "There's enough room for all of us."

Carol chimes in. "And you're parked just a couple miles away, right?" She asks, her tone akin to responding to someone offering to sell her a bridge in Jersey.

"East on Ridge Road, just after you hit Route 16," Aaron supplies despite her tone. "We wanted to get closer, but then the storm came and blocked the road. We couldn't clear it."

"Yeah, you've really thought this through," Rick says it with a grin, but it's intoned with a growl.

"Either he thought up a million answers to hypothetical questions you might ask, or it's true," Alma blurts. When all eyes shift to her, she hides behind Lupe. Lupe rolls her eyes at her sister's habit of being right and despising the attention she gets for it.

"Rick," Aaron starts pleading, "if I wanted to ambush you, I'd do it here." He looks around, shrugging. "You know, light the barn on fire while you slept, pick you off as you ran out the only exit." He looks back at Rick. "You can trust me."

"Says the guy listing ways to kill us all," Lupe mocks.

Aaron's eyebrows shoot up, but he nods thoughtfully, conceding her point. He's about to try with Rick again, but Michonne steps forward.

"I'll check out the cars."

"There aren't any cars," Rick leans in towards Aaron with a real subtle growl.

"There's only one way to find out," Michonne fires back.

Rick finally looks to her, blinking long and slow to contain his frustration. "We don't need to find out."

"We do," Michonne insists and it falls into the room with finality. Her eyes narrow on Rick. Her voice is soft-toned but sharp in its intent, "You know what you know and you're sure of it, but I'm not."

"Me neither," Maggie adds. She does send Rick a sad smile when his gaze snaps to her.

Rick licks at his teeth behind pursed lips and shakes his head. He sighs. Looking back to Michonne, he says, "Your way is dangerous, mine isn't."

She stares at him with startling disbelief and indignant rage. "Passing up someplace where we can live? Where Judith can live?" Her tone goes hard, "That's pretty dangerous." She shakes her head and tries to plead with him, "We need to find out what this is. We can handle ourselves." She nods and squares her shoulders. "So that's what we're gonna do."

Rick and Michonne stare at each other for a long time.

"Then I will too," Glenn interrupts. He nods at Rick. "I'll go." He lends himself more as being back up. He's not eager like Michonne and Maggie. He doesn't know what to bother trusting in any longer other than the people around him.

Rick's jaw clenches and it's still visible beneath his bushy beard. His hands plop on his hips and he nods. "Abraham..."

"Yeah, I'll walk with them." It sounds like a threat.

"Rosita?" Rick asks.

"Okay." She nods and puts away her knife. One last little death glare flashes at Aaron before she goes to join Abraham.

"I'll go," Lupe raises a hand and Alma steps to her side like a shadow. Everyone knows she's going too.

"You'll sit yer ass down," Daryl growls as he hefts Aaron up by the collar. "You popped a fuckin' knee last night."

Lupe rolls her eyes at him. "It was a sublux."

"That's a partial dislocation," Alma clarifies.

Lupe stiffens, her face a parody of rage as she turns to glare at her sister. The less anyone knew about her condition, the better. She didn't want them infantilizing her or treating her like a burden.

Daryl passes by them, frog-walking the stranger over to one of the posts. He grumbles, "You'll sit yer ass down with the baby and rest." Lupe growls and grumbles at both him and Alma as she walks off in a huff.

Rick turns to Glenn. "If there's trouble, you got enough firepower?"

"We got what we got," Glenn says, shrugging.

Rick leans in to speak to him, "The walkies are out of juice. If you're not back in sixty minutes, we'll come." He levels a hard look at Michonne. "Which might be just what they want." Michonne rolls her eyes at him with her whole body and then stalks out.

"If we're all in here, we're a target," Rick commands. The room springs to life. Everyone understands the implicit direction to clear the hell out.

"I've got the area covered," Daryl says swooping up his bow. "I'm takin' yer sister," he grumbles at Lupe.

Lupe leans against the opposite post of where Aaron's tied and glares at the stranger. "Bye," she says with blasé indignation, not bothering to look at Daryl. She's mad, but Lupe knew they'd be fine. She looks at her sister and gives her a quick wink to absolve her visible guilt. Alma feels a little better having to leave her sister knowing she's not actually mad. Daryl doesn't see the playful gesture while he grumbles off, all piss and vinegar.

"All right, groups of two, find somewhere safe within eyeshot," Rick commands. The barn clears out quick, leaving Lupe, Judith, Rick, and Aaron.

Aaron decides that a story must be what will work on them. "When the world was still the world, I worked for an NGO."

Lupe rolls her eyes. "Oooh boy, another White Savior?"

Aaron looks at her. There's a sincerity to his gaze that she didn't expect. Something a little pained too. "I tried not to be. Our mission was to deliver medicine and food to the Niger River Delta. I had guns pointed in my face every other week by bad people, and I mean the illegal poachers and slavers kind of bad." He stares at Lupe, serious and maybe a little scared. He insists, almost begs, "You're not bad people." He looks up at Rick pacing with Judith in his arms. "You're not going to kill us and we are definitely not going to kill you."

"Just because we're good people doesn't mean we won't kill you," Rick says as he peeks out the door. "If the five of them aren't back in an hour I'll put a knife in the base of your skull."

Lupe nods appreciatively. That was sure one way to get the white boy to shut up. Rick closes the door and starts pacing again. His eyes shift around too fast. Lupe can tell that he hates being stuck inside while his people are out there risking their lives. She'd find that admirable if it wasn't so currently annoying. She tries to look at the pictures Aaron brought but his shuffling boots are distracting.

Rick's pacing starts to piss even Judith off and she starts to wail. Rick tries to hush her and bounce her, getting more and more agitated as the minutes pass. He goes to start preparing her some food, a little bit of acorn paste, mashing up bits with the butt of his gun. Judith wails in his grip. Lupe would offer to help, but he already bit off her head the first time. Now she wanted him to suffer a little bit. She was a pro at listening to a kid scream their head off and having no fucking clue how to help.

"You did see the jar of applesauce in my bag, right?" Aaron asks. Rick glares at him hard while Judith screams. "This isn't a trick. This isn't about trying to make you like me. It's self-preservation." Aaron blinks around the barn, nervous.

Lupe sprawls out in her hay nest and mutters to herself, "As if Rick has an ounce of that."

"Because if the roamers hear her and come this way, I know I'll be the first to go."

At least Aaron has no illusions to his importance. In all honesty, Lupe would just about feed their leader to a maldito at this point. Rick keeps shushing Judith as if it's going to help. Lupe sighs heavy and rolls her eyes. Getting back up to her feet, she walks over to Rick. He stands over the applesauce, glaring at the container, and Judith continues to cry.

"Give me your baby or I'm gonna punch you in the throat." She holds out her arms expectantly. Rick gives her a grim stare. She rolls her eyes. "You're freaking her out. You're too fucking tense. Give me the baby and sort out your shit."

Lupe doesn't let him respond. Stepping forward with a smile for Judith, she scoops her into a deep hug. "Sana sana colita de rana, si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana..." She repeats the song in a sweet melodic tone, swooping Judith through the room.

Rick sighs and shuts his eyes, trying to take deserved advice. He looks back down at the applesauce. He knows his daughter is hungry, exhausted, and stressed. He picks up a spoon and scoops some out. He carries it across the barn and over to Aaron, leveling it in front of his face.

Aaron stares at the spoon, his head leaning back at a drastic angle. He looks up at Rick, shocked. "You think I'm trying to poison your baby daughter?"

Rick doesn't move or blink.

"I'm tied up and you've already expressed a willingness to stab me in the head. How would cruelly killing your daughter in front of you in any way help the situation?" Aaron asks with a severe distaste for the supposition.

"Maybe she doesn't die. Maybe she gets sick. Maybe you're the only one that can help her and I just lose," Rick snarls. Lupe continues to sing and dance Judith around the room. Judith calms. The occasional sniffling giggle replaces her loud cries, whines, and whimpers. He should get Lupe to rest her leg, but her help is about the only thing that's keeping him level-headed at this point.

Aaron responds, exasperated, "I am the only one who can help her because I have applesauce. We all win." Rick shoves the spoon closer to his mouth. Aaron leans away in repulsion. His voice breaks and goes whisper soft, "I hate applesauce. My mom used to make me eat foods I didn't like to make me more manly."

Lupe freezes across the room as Judith gurgles, trying to eat one of her braids. She turns slow to look at Aaron. He cringes and gags away from the stuff on Rick's spoon. Not exactly covert if he planned on poisoning them.

"Salmon patties, applesauce, and onions. She was a very confused woman who tried her damnedest," Aaron adds, leaning away as far as the post will allow.

"Rick..." Lupe cautions. That sort of life sounds too familiar.

Rick pushes the spoon forward.

Aaron cringes. "I just bring the jar to show that we have apple trees nearby."

"Rick!" Lupe hisses but continues to get ignored.

"She'll get hungry," Rick says, voice soft but deadly. "Like you said, you'll be the first to go."

"Mierda comiendo gringo fucking cop-ass pinche puto mother fucker..." (Shit eating white man fucking cop-ass fucking bitch mother fucker...) Lupe snarls under her breath. She stomps over with Judith on her hip, trying to chew through her braid. Lupe grabs the spoon out of Rick's hand and puts it in her mouth. "He's traumatized, you ass-wipe." She takes the spoon with her as she goes over to the applesauce and starts scooping some out for Judith.

Rick's face pinches up in distaste. He glares down at Aaron who gazes after Lupe in shock. Rick clears his throat and Aaron's child-like gaze shoots up to him.

Trying to diffuse the situation, Aaron pleads, "The community is big enough. We can find a place for you to live where even when she cries, no one, nothing, can hear it outside the walls."

Rick snarls, "You got 43 minutes." And walks away.

Chapter Text

Michonne's group comes back with an RV, an old Caddy, and a shit ton more food than any of them had seen in a while. Aaron was, so far, telling the truth. Michonne and Maggie look a little smug. Judith now gurgles, full and happy in Alma's arms as they bounce and sing together. Rick seemed pleased with the score. After talking it through with everyone in hushed whispers, he goes back over to Aaron.

"This," Rick gestures to the supplies, "this is ours now."

Aaron nods and he is visibly relieved. "There's more than enough."

"It's ours whether or not we go to your camp," Rick clarifies with a growl.

Carl interjects, "What do you mean? Why wouldn't we go?"

Michonne sighs and uses that calm lawyer voice of hers that Rick hates. "If he were lying or if he wanted to hurt us, he'd have done it. But he isn't, and he doesn't." She levels a stern stare at him and her voice breaks, "We need this. So we're going. All of us." She looks around the group to see a majority of relieved faces. "Somebody say something if they feel differently."

"I don't know, man," Daryl grumbles from his seat on a crate. "This barn smells like horse shit."

Lupe snorts. "Can't tell if you think that's a positive or not, Daryl." Carol smacks her playfully on the arm. The rest of the group joins in with their own smiles. Even Daryl, if anyone can call the little twitch of his lips a smile.

Rick looks around. He feels gutted. Terrified. But he knows the group needs this. Maybe him especially. He nods to Michonne. "Yeah. We're going." There's an apology in his gaze. Her smile pinches at the corner of her lips, trying to keep her chin from quivering. She nods back, relieved.

Rick turns back to Aaron. "So where are we going? Where's your camp?"

Aaron's head pops up. "Well, every time I've done this, I've been behind the wheel driving recruits back. I believe you're good people. I've bet my life on it." The faces all start scowling at him again. Even the baby because he got her friend distracted enough to stop playing. "I'm just not ready to bet my friends' lives just yet."

Michonne stalks forward, gobsmacked and pissed. "You're not driving." Even Rick looks wary of the anger radiating off of her. She centers her gaze in on Aaron and he withers from its intensity. "So if you want to get home, you'll have to tell us how."

"Go north on Route 16," Aaron says.

"And then?" Michonne arcs a brow.

"I'll tell you when we get there," Aaron replies softly. The room swells with tension. Michonne won't stop glaring at him.

"We'll take 23 north and you'll give us directions from there," Rick says from his spot on the floor with the map.

"That's... uh, I don't know how else to say it," Aaron shoots back, tone urgent. "That's a bad idea. We've cleared 16. It'll be faster."

"We'll take 23," Rick says with a squint. "We leave at sundown."

"We're doing this at night?" Sasha asks, sounding annoyed.

"Look," Rick sighs, "I know it's dangerous, but it's better than riding up to the gates during the day." His gaze hardens like his jaw. "If it isn't safe, we need to get gone before they know we're there."

"No one is going to hurt you," Aaron begs. "You're trying to protect your group, but you're putting them in danger."

"Tell me where the camp is," Rick challenges, "we'll leave right now."

Aaron remains silent.

"Then it's going to be a long night," Rick says as he stands, "so eat, get some rest if you can." The group huffs out disappointed sighs and plenty of shoulders droop. No one actually likes this idea. Rick starts to leave the barn, intending to go check out the cars.

Lupe grumbles herself to her feet. She passes by Rick as he's trying to storm out. She grabs him by the shoulder and spins him back around, yanking him along with her. She goes right up to Aaron and hovers above him, glaring.

"You wanna die by feeding into Rick's paranoia?" She asks Aaron. He fleetingly looks at her and then away. She rolls her eyes with a sigh and squats. Both her knees pop. "You want to risk your partner's life by feeding into Rick's paranoia?" She asks, pointed on one specific word. Her eyes flash down to the hands now tied in his lap. There's a gold band on his left ring finger.

Aaron's gaze snaps to hers, he swallows heavy in the back of his throat. His eyes shift around the rest of the group in a panic before dropping completely.

"I don't like hurting people and I don't like seeing people get hurt. Especially don't want to see people lose out on a good partner. Do you have a good partner?" She asks, her tone a far cry from threatening.

Aaron nods at her, face crumpling with an urgent concern. She smiles back at him, a reassuring, genuine thing. She can relate to his fear. She's not about to out him to everyone here. She tries to seem sympathetic. She'd be worried too. His eyes shine and she has to fight the tears forming in her own.

"You said we could come. You said you'd take us there. Well, you will take us there, but if you want our trust, you'll have to trust us a little too." Lupe challenges. She looks to their leader next. "Rick? Everyone? Can you live with a halfway point?"

Rick licks at his teeth again. He glances around the room to desperate and agreeable faces. He turns back to Lupe and nods.

"Good," she patronizes him. "Aaron, can you take us to the halfway point and then give us directions and let one of us drive the rest of the way?"

Aaron stares at her for a while. His eyes drop to the ground, gazing about the dirt and hay in a thoughtful daze. His exhale is shaky before looking back up at Lupe, and resigned, he nods too.

"Fucking superb," she replies, deadpan. She crackles herself to a standing position with a slight wobble. Rick reaches out to steady her and she mumbles her thanks to him. She looks around the room, meeting everyone's stunned gaze. "Now, can we quit this petty, posturing bullshit? We're all scared!" She snaps, glaring right at Rick and Aaron.

"If you want to survive it takes some goddamn bravery, even when it makes you sick to your stomach. If we're gonna do this, let's just do it," she spits, rankled. Her lip curls in annoyance. "Cause we are not traveling down an unknown path, to an unknown location, in the middle of the night, where it is a hundred times easier to ambush people in a large slow-moving metal bullseye!" She turns away from the shocked silent group. Stomping over to her little alcove, she starts to aggressively pack.

Rick follows her while Daryl, Michonne, and Maggie help untie Aaron. He ventures, "I'm thinking me, Daryl, and Glenn drive with that guy. Carl and Judith are safer in the RV."

"That's smart, Rick," Lupe replies coldly.

Rick nods at her icy nature. He did muck this all up a bit. "We'll do whatever it takes to get there. And I want to be able to thank you for helping it happen, even if I don't act like it right away. But I've got my reasons..." She doesn't respond, but her packing slows to a far less lethal force. "When you came up on the walls outside Terminus, what did you notice first?" Rick asks.

Lupe freezes. She sighs. "The silence. The stillness. The place wasn't... living."

Rick nods. He takes a step closer and his voice lowers. "Sometime today, we'll be outside his camp's walls. And without seeing inside, I'm gonna have to decide whether to bring my family in." His words choke off and he swallows heavy.

Lupe looks up at him. "I know you don't think it's the same for me, but it is."

He nods. "I know, that's why I mention it." He swallows again and sighs. "He asked me before what it would take for me to believe it was real. Truth is... I'm not sure if anything could convince me to go in there. But I'm gonna try."

"For them," Lupe affirms, feeling much of the same way.

"For them..." Rick replies with a nod and walks off.

Chapter Text

Lupe finishes her packing. She does Alma's packing too, since she's still carrying around the baby and it takes a village and all that. The group cleans out the barn in no time. They pack up in the RV in even less.

Aaron leads the way in the old Caddy. Everyone is too nervous, too excited, or too both to grasp that they may have a chance. A choking apprehension is the only emotion people are willing to express on the way. Hope is too brittle a thing in this world.

A little while later the cars roll up to Route 16 and Hollowville Road, the middle point. A small herd congregates on the highway. Rick stops the cars, waiting for them to pass from about a mile away. Both groups sit, quieter than during the drive while watching the odd way this horde seems to ebb and flow.

Lupe exits the bathroom, stunned at the idea of working toilets. She realizes they're stopped and sidles up next to Alma. She and Beth stand near the front of the RV, staring out the window. Abraham sits behind the wheel, chewing on a piece of grass he picked up outside the barn.

"Que tal?" (What's up?) Lupe asks Alma.

"Malditos in the road," she replies, tone bored. "We need to fix plows on the fronts of our vehicles so we can just mow these loitering assholes down."

Abraham snorts in his seat. "That is some ingenuity right there. And I'd damn near pay to see it in action."

Lupe glares down the road. They hadn't stopped for long. They were still driving before she had to take a piss. Usually, a mini-horde like that would just keep moving. Attracted to the nearest sounds so abundant in the woods. Even if the cars did attract them, they would be coming closer, not staying in the same place. She fumbles over to her pack, unable to take her eyes off the throng. She digs out what she wanted and places the scope to her eye.

Staring out at the mass of malditos, she sees the usual. Corpses, ashen and shambling. Dead bodies in ratty clothing. Exposed viscera. Blood and dirt and misery. She sighs. She's thinking about grabbing some fireworks and distracting the dead ones. She might be able to draw them back into the woods. That's when she sees the abandoned backpack on the side of the road. It's clean.

"Abraham..." Lupe says, the scope dropping from her eye. Her gaze focuses in on the horde that still doesn't seem convinced about moving on. She thinks she might know why. "Drive..."

Abraham looks past Beth and Alma at Lupe. "Huh?"

"Drive," Lupe growls. She squeezes past the girls and glares down at an unmoving and confused Abraham. "Drive or I'll knock you out and do it myself!"

Abraham gazes up at her slack mouthed so she yanks him out of the seat and shoves him into the passenger side. Lupe revs the RV to life and shifts into drive, already slamming her foot down on the accelerator. The beast surges forward and she swerves hard around the Caddy. Aaron and Daryl are on the driver's side as she passes. They stare out the window in slack-mouthed shock as the roaring RV soars past them.

Lupe charges through the half mile and skids to a stop. There's ample space for the people in the RV to turn and escape the horde if need be. She looks over her shoulder at Alma and Beth. "Get the slingshots to the roof and pick them off!" She commands, kicking open the driver's door and jumping out.

Lupe's batons flick out and twirl as she charges the horde with a roar. Her batons swing through the air, vicious as Death's scythe itself. They jab and slash between blinks. Bodies drop and flail and burst. She tries to stay near the center mass. At her sides, corpses thud to the ground. Rocks and other round-enough projectiles start whizzing through the air.

Lupe cuts through the middle of the horde and almost collapses with relief. A white man about as old as she is, limps around, brandishing his long rifle like a bat. The butt of it smashes through skulls as malditos try to charge him. His entire body quivers as he grits his teeth and swings off balance, favoring one of his legs. She sees tear streaks through the blood covering his face.

"Hey!" Lupe screams. The horde freezes and turns to look at her. The man stills too, completely stunned. "Get down!" She demands as several of the dead turn for her. "Now!" She bellows and the blonde man drops to the ground, covering his head.

Lupe pulls her MAC-11's from their holsters, thrilled to use up her ammo in such a way. She aims high and a torrent of bullets come out of the weapons in either hand. The spray of blood and brain matter is indiscriminate in how it rains down on her and the stranger. In a matter of seconds, most of the malditos are half mush on the ground. She holsters her guns and charges at the rest, jabbing her batons into their softened skulls. After she's cleared the last threats, she goes straight for the blonde man cowering on the asphalt.

She crouches down next to him. "You okay?"

With shaking arms lifting off his head, the man looks up at her, utterly spooked. "Th-Thank you, I -,"

She waves it away. "Hey, pleasantries later, are you okay? I saw you limping."

He blinks up at her, his head wobbling and eyes wide. He shudders and cringes. "My ankle..."

"Okay. Can I help you sit up so I can take a look?" Lupe asks and the man nods. She helps the shaking mass of the smaller man turned jello to a sitting position. "I'm Lupe."

"Eric," he says through chattering teeth.

"Nice to meet you, Eric." Lupe helps him straighten out his leg. She rolls up his dirty khakis and looks down at the swollen bruised thing. They both cringe at the sight. "If you don't mind, I can call over my sister. She used to volunteer as an EMT with the local Junior Fire Department. I'm better with dislocations and sprains. This..." she glances down at the sad looking limb, "might be worse." He chuckles softly and she has a moment of smug pride for her bedside manner. She looks back to the RV to signal Alma. Then she sees the group from the Caddy stomping over.

Rick looks stern and furious. Glenn looks confused and a bit stunned. Daryl is storming over, straight towards her, and it's like the lecture wafts around him like an aura as he rages.

"Eric!" Aaron pushes past them all, his face a macabre twist of agony and terror as he sprints towards them. "Eric! Oh my god!" Aaron skids to a stop, collapsing to his knees. He scrambles on the ground and throws himself at Eric. They wrap up in one another, holding on tight as they allow a few small tears to shed. They kiss, hard, and Lupe smiles as she looks away, trying to give them privacy.

"I'm okay," Eric insists breathily. Aaron stares at him wide-eyed. He looks down at the injury. He sees Eric drenched in blood. The look of deranged guilt on his face shines like neon. "I'm okay, I promise. It's just a ridiculous injury, I tripped on my way through the woods. It's no big deal. I could walk on it for a long time. The roamers just overwhelmed me in the open space." Eric huffs. "She got here just in time," he nods to Lupe. In a stage whisper, he says, "I like her."

Aaron snorts and sniffles, tears welling in his adoring gaze. He looks back up at Eric and slams against him again. He holds him tight and kisses him long and slow.

Lupe waits with pursed lips hiding her smile. The rest of Aaron's carpool come charging up. She immediately glares at them. Despite Rick being ready to open his mouth, he pauses at her vehemence. He recognizes Aaron and Eric's reunion as something intense and important, so he and the rest wait.

The two pull apart and Eric looks up at Aaron, dazed and smitten. Aaron still shakes as he holds onto Eric's face tenderly. Aaron asks, "Why didn't you send up a flare?"

Eric scoffs and waves a hand around. "Uh, not much time." His smile is sharp and sweet as he gazes up at Aaron. "You were worried, were you?" He teases.

Aaron's head bobs up and down like a piston. "Yeah, no shit."

"Well," Eric muses, "I was worried too. And when I'm worried I do stupid shit. Like, run through Virginia forests with a bunch of roamers on my tail, hoping to lose them. Also hoping to get here in time to meet up with the cars as you passed." He snorts. "My timing was great, though the execution was poor, I'll admit." Eric and Aaron chuckle. They look at each other with enough happiness to blot out the carnage around them.

Rick clears his throat. Eric and Aaron both swivel their heads to look at him. Lupe glares harder.

"Hi," Eric beams. "I'm Eric."

There's a round of grim introductions.

"Rick."

"Glenn."

"Daryl."

Alma and Rosita come pushing through with Beth and Maggie hanging back, just in case. The sisters had some experience with medicine because of their dad, but it was on the farm with animals. Rosita and Alma both had practical experience with humans. The two of them introduce themselves and take a look at Eric's ankle.

Aaron turns on Lupe and he lunges at her, hugging her tight. Lupe is shocked by the action but belatedly hugs him back. He pulls away, abashed as he gazes between her, Eric, and the mounds of dead surrounding them. His wide-open stare finally shakes back to Lupe.

"Thank you," Aaron chokes out. "You saved Eric. I owe you." His panicked stare flickers to Eric getting worked on. When he looks back at Lupe the tears in his eyes are much closer to falling. "All of you. I will make sure that debt is paid in full when we get to our community. When we get to Alexandria."

He chuckles through his sniffles and looks at the people around him. "Now, I'm not sure about you, but I'd rather not delay this process one more second." His hand curves around Eric's cheek. He smiles at Aaron despite the pain of getting his ankle wrapped. "I want to get us home."

"That sounds fine," Rick says, "but if we're traveling together, you and him stay separated."

"What?!" Lupe barks out, clambering to her feet about the same time as Aaron. Lupe stalks forward to stand in front of Rosita and her sister finishing up with Eric's leg. Aaron stays by Eric's side, unmoving.

"It's the safe play," Rick growls at Lupe but he's still glaring at Aaron. "We don't know you."

Aaron responds, and despite his tears, his tone is deadly. "The only way you're gonna stop me from being with him right now is by shooting me."

Rick glares hard at Aaron and takes a step with his hand on his gun. Lupe shoves a hand in his chest and grips at his ratty shirt, clenching her other hand into a fist.

"Whoa..." Glenn steps forward, seeing the fury in Lupe's glare and the tension in Rick's entire frame. "Let's cool off a bit."

Lupe's lip curls. She shoves Rick back by his shirt and snarls, "Then ease up on all the aggression and latent homophobia. Separating them is ridiculous, cruel, and entirely unnecessary. You wouldn't pull that shit with a sobbing woman and her husband! It's a bull shit power play and fuckin' rude."

"She did just massacre like fifteen walkers on her own," Eric mutters as he's helped to his feet by a fretting Aaron. Eric chuckles. "I mean, I certainly can't take her and Aaron can't either."

"Hey," Aaron admonishes with a teasing bite of indignation. Eric grins up at him.

"Eric should go in the RV. We can pull out the bed. He should stay off his ankle because I think it might be broken," Alma says, trying to diffuse the tension. Her voice is shaky and nervous in the face of Rick's anger.

Lupe, nodding, interjects to take the heat off her sister, "Some of us can move to the Caddy to make more room. Rick, you can be in the RV with them and lead the way. We'll follow in the car."

Rick's lips pinch and his cheek twitches. He nods once and then turns. He leans into Daryl's side and says, "You trail in the Caddy with Lupe, Carol, Tyreese, Carl, and Judith. You do not hesitate to protect them if anything happens in the RV." Daryl gnaws on his lip but nods at Rick. The leader storms away in a huff.

Eric tries to hobble off. When he puts weight onto his ankle, he lets out a tight hiss and a groan, falling into Aaron's side. Aaron whips him up into his arms, smiling, "Let's get you home. We'll need to take you to the infirmary so Pete can have a look."

Eric grumbles in Aaron's arms, "Ugh, Pete... Can't we just go straight to Denise?" His face twists up in a pantomime of precious, wide-eyed innocence. As they start to walk off, he drags out the word in a saccharine sweetness, "Please?"

"For you?" Aaron replies with a big grin, "Anything." They both smile at each other as they make their way back to the RV.

Alma and Rosita follow them. Lupe stares after the couple with a long drawn out sigh.

"That was dumb," Daryl growls at her side.

Her sigh edges out into a tense huff of air. "Come mierda," (Eat shit,) she spits, "I'm smart as hell." She finally looks over at Daryl. His glare is just about as sharp as his buck knife. She rolls her eyes. "I won't fight you on impulsive, okay? I know I should have tried to talk it out and all. But if I didn't move when I did, he'd be dead, and Aaron would have had to watch his husband get eaten alive."

"You coulda been hurt," Daryl bites back.

Lupe stares at the back of Aaron as he carts his loved one over to the RV. "Our lives are a walking nightmare, Daryl." Her breath comes out like an ache and her shoulders slump. "We'll all end up hurt," she mutters, walking past him and heading towards the Caddy.

Chapter Text

Aside from the small snag of the battery in the RV going out, the trip was painless and almost serene. Glenn, the RV Wizard, got the beast up and running again. They pass the Washington Monument and the smoldering remains of the country's capital. It was almost a relief to watch D.C. fade in their rearview mirrors.

When they reach the gates of Alexandria they park outside and all climb out. They group together, molding into natural formations that are familiar. Alma, Lupe, and Noah are by Beth and her family. Daryl hovers over to the side, trying to get a clear line of fire. Carol, Tyreese, and Sasha are just in front of Daryl. Abraham, Rosita, Tara, and Eugene are on the other side. Gabriel hovers inconclusively near the back. Rick, Michonne, and Carl with Judith in his arms are in the front. They're all so tense their heartbeats thrum in their ears, waiting for the gate to open. They all fear entering another level of hell.

"Listen!" Alma whispers. There's a collective breath, a force-induced calm, and then they hear it.

Laughter.

Chatter.

The delighted giggles of playing children.

That fact washes over the group, stunning them with a wide array of thoughts. Desperation for safety was a common one. Thankfulness. Eagerness. And helpless terror.

Michonne reaches down and grasps Rick's hand. "You ready?" She asks, voice husky with equal measures of hope and fear.

"Yeah," Rick nods stiltedly, staring at the gate. "Yeah..." He squeezes her hand tight.

The large rod iron gate squeals as it slides open. The second chain link fence, covered with a tarp, jangles along its track as it's pulled back. Aaron walks in first, holding Eric. He places Eric down on a nearby bench and asks a few of the Alexandrians walking by to grab whoever Denise is.

The group walks forward quite slow. Alma almost bumps into Carl cause he stopped right in her way. She catches him staring off into the distance and turns to see what he's looking at. There's a small, rotting church house that has a steeple. A girl with long brown hair stands in the lower window staring back at them. In a blink, she's gone. Carl and Alma look at each other in confusion until Lupe urges them along.

They stop at the rails of the gate and stare inside. The trash cans right behind Daryl rattle and hiss. The entire group turns on a hair, guns up and ready. Daryl lets loose a bolt, which nails a pissed off possum in the heart. It keels right over and the rest of the group deflates in relief.

The chain link gate squeals open further. A single guy steps out with light brown curly hair, a sparse mustache, and goatee. He stares out at the group, armed to the teeth, with an open-mouthed shock.

Daryl yanks up the possum by the bald tail. "Brought dinner," he says without affect.

The curly haired guy gapes at him.

"It's okay," Aaron insists. He waves the group in. "Come on, it's okay."

Daryl slips in first, keen eyes shooting everywhere they can touch to assess for threats. The rest of the group follows him in, eyes roving, and a little stunned. Once each member crosses the threshold the thicker gate gets shut. It makes a clang that hits each of the group's ears like a death knell.

The curly haired guy steps up. "I'm Nicholas. Before we go any further, I'm gonna need you all to hand over your guns." No one moves an inch. He blusters a bit, narrowing his eyes to a glare. "To stay, you hand them over."

Rick steps forward, baby now on his hip and the hand cannon on the opposite side. He looks at Nicholas once and the guy folds, eyes dropping away. Rick snarls, "We don't know if we wanna stay."

"It's fine, Nicholas," Aaron insists.

Rick leans in towards Nicholas, squinting in the sun. His voice is grating and hollow, "If we were gonna use'em, we would have started already."

Nicholas gets the guts to glare at Rick, but he still shakes. Aaron interjects, "Let them talk to Deanna first."

"Who's Deanna?" Abraham barks.

"She's the person to talk to if you wanna know anything about this place. She's our leader," Aaron explains as he looks around the group. "Rick, how about you go first?" Rick looks around and nods. Aaron turns to Nicholas. "Please show the others to Deanna's garden. Get them food, water, whatever they need, okay?"

"Sasha..." Rick's voice cuts through the conversation.

Sasha notes Rick's gaze over her shoulder and turns. A walker is a couple feet from the back of the RV. She raises her rifle and fires off a single shot that tears through the walker's head. She turns back to see both Aaron and Nicholas gazing at her in awe. She looks over at Tyreese, wearing the proud hidden grin of an older brother. But he didn't miss the way they gaped at his baby sister's perfect shot. That underlined the suspicion that this place was much more of a veneer than anything else.

Rick starts walking with Aaron and muses, "Good thing we're here."

Nicholas is still staring at Sasha, aghast. He stammers, "Follow me." Turning on his heel he guides them around the opposite side of the house Rick and Aaron head towards. They get rounded into a big brick patio with a fire pit and a bunch of outside furniture.

Everyone spreads out and takes their positions. There is a stony silence within the group. None of them want to worry about getting distracted. They look casual enough that Nicholas doesn't start screaming in terror. But they're all angled against walls or furniture, watching the entrance and exit. A few strategize in case of an emergency, stuck in hyper-vigilance.

Later, Rick comes out the door with a very petite red-haired woman in her mid to late fifties. "Hello everyone," she says once they hit the bottom steps. "I'm Deanna Monroe. I was a congressperson in Ohio, the 15th district. I figure I can give my introduction to you all at once instead of wasting any time in our interviews. And yes, I would like to have a conversation with each and every one of you. I need to know exactly who is coming through those gates. I hope you'll understand. It also gives me an opportunity to see where you might fit best, as we all have our jobs to do. Of course, if you have any particular skills you want to utilize, I would love to hear about it."

"I'm the so-called leader of Alexandria. So welcome." She smiles and it's almost genuine. Her eyes are bright and she seems like the type not to miss a thing. "Alexandria was formed after my family and I got redirected here by the Army. One that never returned for us. We had some supplies, so we made the best of it."

"This housing tract was built to be the beginnings of sustainability. It has its own solar grid, cisterns, eco-based sewage filtration, and much more." Deanna nods. "We built the wall using resources from a nearby mall construction site. My husband Reg is a professor of architecture and he got the first plates up with our sons. After a few weeks, more people arrived and we had help. We started to build and shape a community."

Rick's entire group glances over to him in confusion. This community got built right at the start and they'd had the protection of walls the entire time. They lasted since the beginning and none of Rick's group could ascertain how.

"We still want to build up this community. We can only grow stronger the more people that join our efforts. We hope to learn how to better survive and adapt, and to do that, we need help. Your help, specifically." Deanna looks upon them all with a pride that seems only partially manufactured. "We need people who understand the outside world, but still want to fight for it." A smile quirks in the corner of her lips. "Your group is the first one we've been willing to consider for a very long time."

"Here in Alexandria, we want to survive. We need your help, we need everyone's help to do it," she sighs, "but I also want us to do more than just survive. I want us to be able to cultivate lives, I want families to be supported, I want our children safe." She smiles over towards Judith. "I want them to live to have a future where all this is just history."

Rick clears his throat and steps forward, eying his group. "I want y'all to talk with Deanna. They've graciously offered us a place to sleep and some supplies. We should take some time to rest and we'll discuss things ourselves in time. I want you to have confidence in how you feel."

"I hope to inspire that confidence." Deanna grins. "Now, the one thing I ask of you is to hand over your weapons to my dear friend Olivia."

She gestures over to a round woman with dark brown hair and nervous, but kind eyes. Olivia is obviously a little afraid of the roughly hewn group, but she smiles nonetheless.

Deanna continues, "They're still your guns. You can check them out whenever you go beyond the wall, but inside here, we store them for safety."

Rick nods to his wary group, but they follow directions. The stack of guns grows and grows. Particularly weighted by Abraham and Lupe's contributions. Carol does a pantomime of ineptitude, her smile a bit goofy towards Olivia as she fumbles with her gun. The woman in charge of the inventory house is more focused on the teetering pile. With so many weapons, some hang over the side.

"Should have brought another cart," Olivia jokes as she pulls away.

"Now, who would like to go first?" Deanna asks.

Maggie goes. Then Glenn, Beth, and Noah. The line continues until Lupe and Alma decide to make their way up. Alma didn't want to go into the interview alone and Lupe respected that. Alma didn't want pressure on her to talk about what happened to her at Grady's. She didn't want to trigger a panic attack on her first day. She still struggled with the memories of being there, the nightmares. Lupe didn't mind being Alma's back up. She'd happily take the brunt of any tense conversation that turned sour. She'd always wanted to fight a politician, so maybe this was just gonna be her chance.

Chapter Text

When the sisters get inside the house, Deanna is setting up the camera. She turns at the sound of them walking inside with the heavy soles of their boots. She smiles over her shoulder. "Oh, hi. I didn't expect two."

"My sister is a minor," Lupe explains as they look around the gigantic study. Plush couches, high back chairs, lines and lines of books on the shelves. It's impressive.

"May I have permission to speak to your sister alone?" Deanna asks.

"No," Lupe replies immediately, "but I appreciate the respect in asking." She strolls around while Alma gravitates towards a shelf opposite the couch. "I won't be answering for her or anything. I'm just here as moral support."

"Understood," Deanna says. She looks at Alma. "Would you like to have a seat?" Alma complies. She doesn't overtly show her nerves. She seems prim and proper as she sits, patiently waiting for Deanna to ask her questions. "May I videotape our conversation?"

"Why?" Alma shoots back.

Deanna grins. "For transparency and posterity."

"Do you have one?" Alma asks.

Deanna's grin widens. "I do."

"Do we get to watch it?"

Deanna squints at Alma, but the smile beneath her stare is thoughtful and amused. "If you want."

Alma fidgets in her seat and looks over at Lupe. Lupe shrugs. "No thank you, I don't want to be taped."

Deanna nods. "Alright." She goes to sit on the large couch. Being so small, it almost swallows her whole. She sits on the edge of the cushions so her feet can touch the ground. "So Rick said he started in Atlanta, were you with him from the beginning?"

"No," Alma admits. "Just me and my sister for a long time. We just met Rick and his group a few months ago."

"And how did that happen?" Deanna asks.

"They got separated and we ran into some of them. Just sort of steamrolled after that." Alma smiles, but it's grim.

"Are you both from Atlanta?"

"No, we're from Manassas."

Deanna smiles wide. "Oh, that's not so far from us. How did you get down to Georgia?"

Alma shrugs. "We decided to head south and just sort of... kept going."

"So it was just you two before you met all them?" Deanna questions, her tone a bit surprised. "How did you survive?"

Alma shrugs. "We scavenged. We scrounged. We learned along the way. Sometimes we'd catch fish and we'd filter our own water."

"Sort of like an absurdly long camping trip?" Deanna smiles.

Alma grins. "Except everyone is trying to kill you." The smile drops off Deanna's face and Alma fears she did something wrong.

"No te preocupes. La mujer no entiende lo que hemos tenido que hacer. Ella es despistada," (Don't worry. That woman doesn't understand what we've had to do. She's clueless,) Lupe muses at an adjacent bookshelf.

"Wow, are you two fluent?" Deanna asks, looking between them.

"Yes," Alma replies. "Our parents were from Mexico."

Deanna's face crinkles with concern. "Did you lose them during all this?"

Alma shakes her head. "No, I was young. Lupe took care of me ever since."

Deanna nods. "I'm sorry for your loss. It's difficult to lose your parents, no matter what age." Her eyes trail over to Lupe who's trying to look preoccupied. "I'm very glad you and your sister have had each other this whole time."

"Me too," Alma grins tight, flashing a glance at Lupe.

"So Alma, how old are you?"

"Sixteen. Just a few months ago, I think."

Deanna nods. "That's great. We have a few other teenagers that you and Carl should get along with. You'll also be encouraged to attend school or start an apprenticeship for one of our many jobs. Everyone participates here in their own ways, even if its just to receive the support and care they need."

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." Alma smiles.

Deanna squints and grins. "A fan of Karl Marx?"

Alma shrugs. "Not a fan per se. But I believe a cooperative approach to societal structures is more beneficial than almost everything we've ever tried before."

Deanna's eyes pop wide, but a smile spreads and she chuckles. "I can't say I disagree. We need each other now more than ever." She looks at her watch. "Thank you so much for talking with me Alma. I appreciate your willingness to share your story. I can see you'll become quite an influential member of our community if you so choose to stay."

Alma grins tight again. Her fingers curl in her pant legs. It's a little bit agitation and a little bit excitement. This place is curious, to say the least. But she can't pretend like she doesn't want to look around and forget what it's like outside the gates. "May I go?"

Deanna smiles. "Yes, thank you again."

Alma nods and gets up. She goes towards Lupe and leans in to kiss her cheek. They squeeze each other's hands and Alma goes to the hallway to leave. Lupe still stares at the books. She sighs. Waiting.

"May I start asking questions?" Deanna asks.

"You may, but I can't promise I'll answer," Lupe replies.

"May I film our conversation?" Deanna turns towards the camera.

Lupe smirks. "You may, but I can't promise I'll sit down."

"Anxious?" Deanna asks, flipping on the camera. She still points it at the seat, letting the audio roll is good enough.

"A little." Lupe shrugs. "This is big and very different from anything we've had so far."

"I didn't want to press your sister, but I am curious for more detail."

Lupe sighs. "We lived out of my dad's truck. We kept moving. It was the safest play."

"How so?" Deanna asks.

Lupe travels to another bookshelf and peeks at the spines. "Well, anytime you stay in one place too long, disaster strikes. Either you attract the dead or people find you. Either one can be a death sentence out there."

"So you've both been through the wringer then?"

"And then some." Lupe scoffs. "We stayed close to here for a while. Kinda skimmed your area, but we had decided on going south." She isn't quite inclined to mention why yet.

Deanna leans back to observe Lupe. "That's where you met Rick's group. What's your impression of them?"

Lupe squints at the wood grain. "They're strong. They're resourceful. They never stopped being kind to us, no matter how bad things got and things got pretty bad.

Deanna nods thoughtfully. "What did you do before all this?"

Lupe looks at her strange. "Like before the end of the world?" She exhales, flapping her lips. "Grocery clerk. Assistant manager. I also bartended on some nights and weekends." Lupe sighs. "I was the sole earner of the household at seventeen."

"Was that when you lost your parents?" Deanna shows true compassion in her gaze, even if it's focused and hard.

Lupe shakes her head. "No, my dad had an accident and couldn't work. My mom couldn't either cause she had to care for him. So I dropped out of high school and got a full-time job at the grocery store. They passed right before my twentieth birthday."

"I'm so sorry. That's heartbreaking." Deanna looks down at her clasped hands. "I have a feeling you had to work very hard to get here today. I imagine you worked even harder to make sure your little sister did too."

"I have and will do anything to keep her safe," Lupe growls. "She's safe or no one is."

"That's quite a statement." Deanna blinks, leaning back. "Do you believe she's safe here?"

"Not this very second, no," Lupe says, walking past the windows. "I believe she could be though."

"Is she the only reason you'd want to stay?"

Lupe sighs. "Maybe, maybe not. If Alma ever got the chance to be truly safe, I'm not sure what I'd do with myself." Both of the women chuckle.

"It sounds like you've got the right parenting instincts," Deanna jokes.

Lupe grins. "I need my sister safe. Even if I think me and her are always better off on our own, I won't force her into a life of seclusion." She sighs as she leans her elbows on the high back chair. "I'll stay because the group is here. Because I want them all to be safe. I've learned we can do that pretty good if we're all together."

"So you steered clear of people completely before Rick's group? What changed your mind?"

A leather vest. Silver hair. Laughing teens. A missing sister. Cannibals. A desperate fear of being alone. "I had less of a need for pride and more of a need for help. They provided help. We all sort of just... got stuck with each other at some point." Lupe scowls. "Sometimes I think it was easier. Staying away from people. To avoid helping people. They're a danger and a liability."

Deanna narrows her gaze in a curious way. "Do you think this place is a liability?"

"I admire your dedication to community building. It's obvious, you're trying. Things could be better though, especially security-wise," she replies.

"You don't think the wall is adequate?" Deanna asks with a scoff of humored disbelief and condescension.

"Why are the supports on the outside? I could tap dance my way up one of those!" Lupe snaps back. "You need thicker defenses with a wider expansion. You probably should have included some of the trees inside the development. Add some roosts for better sight lines." She sighs and looks at Deanna. She only seems moderately insulted. But she is paying attention and she's not stopping Lupe either.

"You should invest in securing your perimeter too. There are no guards on the walls. I doubt you have scouts in the woods." Lupe continues, "No traps. I mean, you could really go 'Rambo' out there: bear traps, pits, pikes, swinging logs with spikes..."

"That sounds barbaric," Deanna replies airily.

"Then you have no idea what is waiting for you and your people out there," Lupe bites back.

Deanna exhales shakily. "No, no I suppose you're right, I don't." Her gaze narrows again as she contemplates. "What makes you think all that is necessary?"

"Because the dead aren't the ones you should be afraid of..." Lupe shakes her head and sighs.

"You believe humans are the bigger threat too?" Deanna replies in disbelief.

"Humans have always been the one and only threat." Lupe chuckles grimly. "It's a privilege to have not lived that truth before the dead started eating people."

Deanna nods thoughtfully. "Aaron says I can trust you. He said you cut through more than a dozen of the dead all on your own to save Eric."

Lupe shakes her head and scoffs. "I had back up. My sister and Beth were on the RV taking out the ones trying to flank me. I wasn't alone. None of us can survive alone."

"That's something we can absolutely agree on." Deanna sighs. "I want to build a community, but I'm under no illusions that we're all not in over our heads. We need survivors. We need people willing to contribute so we can care for one another."

Lupe sniffs. "When we were waiting outside, I heard a lot of kids. And I saw some elderly people walking down the street." She turns to Deanna with a frown. "Your community has a lot of people who don't know how to fight. That's a flaw you need to correct. This 'no weapons' rule you have is unwise. People need to be trained and armed. Even kids need to learn."

"You think we should arm children?" Deanna almost gasps.

"Please..." Lupe rolls her eyes. "I'm not talking about child soldiers for shit's sake. I'm talking 'bout making sure the kids can defend themselves and survive." She levels Deanna with a harsh glare. "Not too far from here, there was another community, like yours, that got torn apart. When Alma and I were surviving up here, we saw remnants of some truly awful shit. It's why we left in the first place. I'm not sure I want to stay up here unless you're serious about this."

"You think we've, what? Been playing house here?" That tinge of defensiveness springs back into Deanna's eyes.

Lupe scoffs and grins. "I think you don't know anything about what's out there. I think you're all damn lucky to have survived. I think you're ignorant," she raises a hand to stop Deanna's head from smoking. "But being ignorant isn't a fault if you intend on learning and you depend on growth. The world isn't the same as before your walls went up. People are losing their humanity."

"Did you?" Deanna's question thuds into the silence.

Lupe laughs. "God no... we've been fighting like hell to keep hold of it. Problem is... our humanity has had to adapt to a hostile world." She glares down at her hands and wonders if the blood on them will ever wash away. She doesn't regret the people she's killed. She regrets they existed to cause pain in the first place. She murmurs to herself, "Kill or die..."

"Pardon?"

"It's not so cut and dry out there," Lupe says as a distraction. "It's not so easy to know bad from good. I'm not sure there are any wholly good people left in the world. It's not easy at all..." Lupe shakes her head, her tone challenging, "Humanity? Decency? It calls for different things now. You have to be prepared for that."

Deanna nods. "Thank you, Lupe. I will keep that in mind."

Lupe sighs. "Shit, I fuckin' hope so," she mutters and leaves.

Chapter Text

Lupe and Alma sit on the porch of one of the houses given to Rick's group. They're on the bench swing, all jumbled up. Alma has her back facing Lupe while her sister brushes out her long hair. They both just took real showers with hot water for the first time since they left home.

"Daryl, you really gotta do that here?" Alma squinches up her face in disgust as Daryl slops some possum guts onto the porch.

"Sorry, yer highness. Moving into a big nice house make you all uptight?" He grumbles at her, but it's playful, if forced. He's on edge as all hell, but he's trying not to ruin it for everyone else. He hates houses, especially ones he'd never dream of stepping foot in. And he hates these walls that cut them off from their grim reality in this Stepford-ass town.

"You'll ruin the paint, peasant," Alma grumbles right back. Lupe snickers as she starts braiding Alma's hair up on top of her head like a crown.

Daryl flashes a glance up at her. He scoops the possum guts up with bloodied hands and tosses them onto the grass. "Does that please ya, yer grace?" He asks with gruff sarcasm, spreading out his arms in a mock-bow.

Alma giggles and snorts. Lupe focuses on finishing up her sister's braid but smiles down at Daryl, wide and unabashed. Despite how gruff he likes to play things, he fixed his shit since they first met.

Daryl catches Lupe's big bright smile. He stares back down at the possum corpse, which somehow makes him feel less sick to his stomach. He'd been around blood and guts his entire life, but watching a pretty woman smile at him like that was near a first.

"Alright," Lupe grins as she tucks away the last of Alma's hair. "It's secure and you're free."

"Thanks!" Alma turns and gives her sister a big tight hug. "Want me to do yours?"

Lupe shakes her head. Her face scrunches up and she laughs at herself. "I think I might... actually... leave it down."

Alma's face bends into a pantomime of ultimate shock. She gasps, "No! The humanity!"

Lupe shoves her a little roughly and Alma laughs and laughs. Lupe can't deny that the shower did the girl wonders. She can't deny these walls lull her into a sense of security they haven't had in years. Lupe can't deny that seeing her sister so bubbly and energetic again is like getting back a lost piece of her heart. She grabs onto Alma and hugs her tight. Ignoring that the towel wrapping up her hair dislodged and is starting to fall. Alma may or may not know why Lupe holds her so tight, but it doesn't matter in the end. Her little sister hugs her back just as firm.

Rick walks out the front door with Judith in his arms. Carol and Carl follow him and stare out at the neighborhood. Carl keeps blinking his eyes over at the other house. Carol and Daryl had checked it out, but none of the group was willing to stay inside it yet.

Rick follows Carl's gaze. He smiles back at his son, who looks over at him with a mischievous little grin. "You can look, just be quick."

Carl beams and turns right to Alma. "Wanna come?"

Alma looks to Lupe with a bright smile. Lupe would never say no to Alma getting to be a silly kid again, even if it's just temporary. Lupe nods. Alma jumps out of her seat, sending the swing flying.

She and Carl rush over to the house to check it out, giggling like the kids they are. Sprinting over, they're neck and neck, because Carl has always been quick, but Alma has long strong legs. They reach the door about the same time and both tumble in together laughing. They both go silent as they look around.

Carl walks over to the kitchen while Alma inspects the front room. Carl stares around in wonder. "These places are like mansions."

"McMansions," Alma giggles. "You know, those mass-produced Rich people houses that are all made big, but they're jumbled together with all the wrong designs?" She sighs as she looks around. "Usually they pop up after something important in your community gets torn down."

Carl nods. "Yeah, we had some of those in our area. My mom always complained about the traffic construction caused."

"And all the rich assholes who think they get to do whatever they want in your neighborhood," Alma chuckles. "Our house was probably half the size of this. Nice little bungalow my parents bought when they first came to the US. How about you?"

"It was two story, like this, but totally not like this." Carl smiles. "I mean our house was really old and fell apart all the time. My dad and Shane always tried to fix things and my mom said they always made it worse." He chuckles, but it's tinged with sadness.

Alma looks over at him. She sighs and walks towards the kitchen where he stands staring at the fridge, face blank. She approaches Carl's side and wraps her arms around him tight.

Carl jumps at the touch but settles into her embrace. He clears his throat a little nervous, unused to such open affection. "What're you doing?"

"Hugging you so you can get through the sadness," Alma mutters. "It's okay to miss them. And I'll say it again, it's not your fault."

Carl drops his head and his face presses into the sleeve of her jacket. He nods softly and waits a while, letting the relief wash over him. He and Alma had gotten close since she came back from the hospital. It was nice to have someone he could relate to. The adults were always so stressed and obsessed with his safety. It made him feel a little smothered. But Alma was just there by his side. They protected each other and they'd gotten good at it.

"Let's go look around some more, okay?" Alma says, grabbing his hand and pulling him along.

They go upstairs and peek into all the rooms. Carl laughs at the hideous bedspread with giant, garish bows on it. Alma steals a candle off a nightstand. It brings back memories of her mom baking churros and Banuelos on the weekends.

The last door off the hall leads to a small staircase. When they go up, they find a big unfinished attic space. It's littered with a whole bunch of stuff. They push in through the doorway at the same time and start investigating.

"Whoa! We got some squatters," Alma chuckles as she approaches a cardboard box turned table. It has a fake skull with a toy crown on top of it and sunglasses wedged over its orbital sockets.

CDs, markers, notebooks, and magazines litter the floors. There's some generic art on the walls that might have been stolen from other houses. Blankets and pillows wedge up in little nooks as if someone sat there often.

Carl walks up to a rope that's tied to an exposed beam and trails out the window down towards the ground outside. He looks to his side and picks up a comic book and another book that might be a graphic novel.

"Hey," Carl says over his shoulder. "You like comics too right?" He shakes the issue at Alma and she comes over to take a peek.

"I do," she replies, squinting at the unfamiliar title. Then she sees what Carl has in his other hand. "Whoa! Is that Naruto?" She grabs the manga out of his grasp and her eyes go wide as saucers. "I love Naruto!"

"What's Naruto?" Carl asks, confused as he looks around Alma's shoulder to see her flip through the pages.

"It's a manga!" She grins. "Remember, I showed you the one called Full Metal Alchemist."

"Oh! Yeah! Okay, so this is kinda like that?" Carl asks.

"Yeah, kinda. Same medium, different story." Alma grins wide. "Oh man, I can't believe someone else likes manga and comics here. That's great!"

Carl smiles at Alma's excitement. "So are you looking forward to meeting the other kids?"

Alma shrugs. "I guess. I mean it's nice having other kids around like you, Beth, and Noah. The adults are too intense sometimes."

Carl snorts. "Yeah, I get it. I'm nervous though. You're the only other kid I've talked to. And I mean, you were out there too. You get it."

Alma looks over at him. "You're nervous they won't like you?"

"I'm nervous they'll be scared of me," Carl replies. "I mean, look at us, Alma. We carry knives and guns like other kids probably carry around game boys and cell phones."

A rueful smile spreads on Alma's lips as she nods. "Yeah, I know. But maybe we don't have to be like that anymore."

"Of course we do," Carl replies, tone grim.

Alma reaches out and puts a hand on his shoulder. When he finally looks at her she smiles at him. "Not all the time." Carl nods, looking away from her. "Hey, lets head back over to the other house. Maybe we can take Judith on a walk or something before the sun goes down. Do some recon."

"She is our best spy." Carl nods. Looking back over at Alma with an unrestrained grin, he grabs onto her elbow and they make their way out of the house.

The teens do as they bid the rest of the day, skirting the tense adults as they scope out Alexandria. It isn't long before the sun is setting. Rick's group all come back to the one house to set up for the night. They start winding down, all tucked into the front room of the large house. They spread out sleeping bags or perch their clean heads on their dirty packs.

Carl and Alma end up in a spot near Noah and Beth. Carl and Alma are still considered too little for most of the adult stuff. Noah and Beth are stuck in the midpoint between the two age groups. They all still bond through the destruction of youth their world has wrought. They manage to keep it surviving one more day while giggling over some comics.

Michonne comes out after brushing her teeth for an eternity and talks to Rick in hushed tones. She brushes a gentle hand over his fresh shaved face and chuckles with him. There's a knock on the door and they pull apart. The entire room tenses, hands on or near their available weapons. Rick goes to open the door.

Deanna peeks her head in. "Rick, I..." She freezes, staring up at him, showered and shaved. "Wow..." Rick groans a little, turning away. He's bashful and it's obvious now that his beard is gone and his face burns pink. She smiles wide. "I didn't know what was under there," she teases. He grumbles at her a bit and she fights a smile. "Listen, I don't mean to interrupt. I just wanted to stop by and see how you were all settling."

She looks around and sees everyone gathered and huddled together in the front room. "Oh, my..." She mutters out on a breath. She recovers quick with a tight smile. "Staying together. Smart."

Rick replies, "No one said we couldn't."

Deanna looks over at him and her smile is more genuine. "You said you're a family. That's what you said." She looks around at the group again and shakes her head, astounded. "Absolutely amazing to me how people with completely different backgrounds and nothing in common can become that. Don't you think?"

Rick nods, glancing around at his group, his family. "Everybody said you gave them jobs."

"Mm-hmm, yeah." Deanna nods and grins out to all the people. "Part of the deal to this place." She glances over at Alma and the kids, sitting at the table and bent over a few comic books. "Looks like the communists won after all." She winks and Alma grins.

Rick asks without a question. "Well, you didn't give me one."

Deanna grins, squinting up a bit as she leans into her own thoughts. "I have, I just haven't told you yet. Same with Michonne." Deanna nods over to the black woman who leans against the archway with a grin.

"I'm closing in on something for Sasha and Lupe." She smiles at both women who nod at her. "And I'm just trying to figure Mr. Dixon out, but I will." She sighs and tries to ignore Daryl's intense stare. She turns back to Rick. "You look good." She smiles wide and looks out to the group, nodding once before she leaves.

Lupe exhales, staring up at the ceiling from her place on the floor. Her resting spot hovers right next to the giant table. The teens made a camp on the other side. Carl and Alma have their sleeping bags half beneath the table itself. Judith's pack-n-play is up by her head. Lupe would say she chose this spot as an advantage to protect the kids, and it is half that. The other half is that she's right underneath a window. It showcases a chunk of the night sky and the perfect full moon.

Lupe tilts her head back to get a peek at her beautiful face. Instead, she finds Daryl. He sits on the coffee table they pushed to the wall to make room. He's sheathing his knife after Deanna's exit, picking at his lips. His eyes flash down to hers and she gives him an upside-down smile. He looks away from her and grunts, standing up and walking off. Lupe turns away from all that confusion, tucking her chin into her chest as she rolls.

She struggles with figuring Daryl out. She doesn't believe he'd hurt her, ever. She's also just unsure whether he likes her or is even willing to tolerate her. He can have moments of being so kind. Then he acts churlish and quiet like she's somehow pissed him off for breathing. She curls up on her side and ends up eying the toe of a small brown boot. Following up the leg, she spots Carol, doodling in a notebook on the couch. Her eyes rise from the paper to look at Lupe and they smile at each other, both with frayed nerves. Carol puts down her notebook and looks around the room as everyone settles into their spots. She turns off the light and hopes that people will actually sleep.

Lupe doesn't. Not well, at least. She wakes up in the middle of the night, panicking. She can't move at first. Her eyes flutter around, wondering why she felt so terrified and tense. She figures she's used to waking up like that, used to being ready for a fight at all hours. She hopes one day she'll get an actual full night of sleep.

Now distracted, she gets up and rummages through her pack. She pulls out some cigarettes and makes her way outside as quiet as she can. Luckily, she had years of experience sneaking out of her parents' house, so no one gets woken up.

Once she steps outside, she freezes. Daryl is there too, smoking in the darkness by himself.

"You know..." she starts, voice quiet. His head snaps over to her as he exhales smoke through his nose. "Smoking out here by yourself looks a little ominous."

"Weren't you comin' out here to do the same?" He grumbles.

Lupe grins as she joins him on the steps, leaning on the opposite side. "Well, I didn't want you to look creepy and ruin our good reputation."

Daryl scoffs, a smile spreading on his face though he tries to tuck it back. He shakes his head and hands her the lighter he was fiddling with. "So you not get a job yet neither?"

"No… It's kinda freaking me out," Lupe replies, lighting up her cigarette.

"Why? Less I gotta do for this weak-ass group the better," he says as she hands it back.

Lupe snorts. "Come on. I mean… I know they look more like they belong back at Day One than whenever this is." She jokes, "But Ba Sing Se or not, the walls are something. I've never been behind a wall really. Their security could be heaps better, like way better, but big ass walls are a start."

"Can't believe y'all survived out there," Daryl mutters. Lupe arcs an annoyed brow. Daryl rushes to exhale, "I ain't mean yer not capable. I mean it's hell out there. We barely survived with walls."

Lupe scoffs at him behind quirked lips. "It was, but it was better than staying where we were."

"Ya never said what happened," Daryl ventures.

"No. I didn't." She takes a long inhale off her cigarette. On her exhale she starts, "We tried to manage in Manassas. We had a few friends nearby, but... things got bad." Lupe swallows. "I had a friend in a gated community not far from where we were. When our area got overrun we headed there first, but it was gone."

"Was it the dead or like Noah's community?" Daryl asks.

Lupe shakes her head. "Neither. It was," she closes her eyes and breathes deep, "it was brutal, but not like Noah's place. The homes weren't destroyed so much as stuff got stolen and left ransacked." She stares down at the ground. The memory of her on and off again girlfriend's body, splayed out in the dirt with her head bashed in haunts her. "People were killed but it wasn't as indiscriminate and wild as Noah's community." Her exhale shakes. "There, people looked like they were... executed."

Daryl freezes. "How'd you know?"

"Bodies left on the ground, heads bashed in by something, others got a bullet through the back of the skull. They looked like they fell face first from their knees." Lupe sniffles. "I've seen pictures of that kind of stuff before in books. My dad told me about that kinda stuff happening to communities back in Mexico." She shakes her head trying to jumble the memories away. "I knew what it was and I knew we weren't safe staying near home. Alma and I just kept moving after that." She snorts and it's a bitter one. "Wasn't exactly my first choice in seeing the great ole US of A."

Daryl grins. "This is pretty much exactly how I saw myself ever getting a chance to do anything other than followin' my ass of a brother and stayin' lit every day of my life."

"Hey, sometimes it's a shit existence where we have to self medicate to cope," Lupe replies, blasé.

"You psychoanalyzin' me or something?" Daryl asks. It's gruff but it's a bit playful too.

Lupe smiles halfway. "No, no, sorry. I did it too, and it's just something I learned to understand. I hadn't exactly had a perfect life. I had good people in it, but the path wasn't easy." She sighs and lets her eyes roll over to Daryl. She needs to distract herself. The shadows contrast with the moonlight shining down on his skin. It wraps him up like an omen and a snack all at once.

Lupe swallows and looks away. "Alcohol was a bad way I used to cope. It dulled the world around me so I could tolerate it for one second." She hadn't talked to anyone about this much. "When my parents died I just wanted to drown. But then there was Alma, just as lost as me. And it wasn't like I could offer her a shot."

"Shit, I was younger than eight when I first tried hooch," Daryl jokes.

Lupe laughs quiet, smiling wide. "Fair enough. I suppose I could have, but I didn't." Her smile lingers as she looks over at Daryl. "Just sayin' I get it and it doesn't make you a bad person cause you wanted to feel something other than dread."

"You get any sleep?" Daryl deflects.

Lupe sighs. "Don't like sleeping in strange places."

"We always sleep in strange places." Daryl scoffs. "We've been out in the wilds and I seen you sleep like a baby."

Lupe snorts. "Well, the forest isn't strange to me anymore."

Daryl grins. "Shit, I hear that."

"So, you know what job you wanna get?" Lupe asks, ashing her cigarette and waiting for him to reply.

Daryl stares down at the embers fading in the dirt and shrugs. "I dunno, huntin' or runs sounds like the place I should be. Prolly you should be too. Don't think I've seen anyone go up against a group a'walkers like you did today... 'Sides maybe Rick."

Lupe smiles and nods. "Yeah, well… Just don't like seeing people that scared. I don't want people to get hurt." She sighs. "Alma was safe in the RV, but if that horde got unruly she could have been in danger. Anyone of those things left wandering around is a danger to her or the people I care about -,"

"You care about us?" Daryl blurts.

Lupe looks at him and swallows hard. She nods eagerly but her face folds in a confused frown. "Yeah, maybe against my better judgment, but I do. Alma's cared since the second she knew you weren't a threat. It's a little bit contagious." She smiles, but Daryl looks away. She tucks back the expression and stares down at her cigarette. "And I've seen you all working together well enough by now. I believe in you when you talk. Y'all don't lie and sneak and try to hurt people, but you won't not defend yourselves. None of you treat Alma and me like strangers anymore."

"You've proved yourself time and time again. No reason to," he grunts.

Lupe grins at him even though he's not looking. "Thanks, Daryl. You know, you've grown a lot too, even since I met you." She swallows heavy but forces the words out. "You're one of the main reasons I feel safe in this group, that I trust this group."

Daryl is quiet for a very long time. He flicks his cigarette out into the damp lawn and it immediately sizzles out. "You should get some sleep."

Lupe looks away from him and her entire body curls up in anxiety. She hates herself for saying things like that to Daryl. She should have noticed that he doesn't like it a long time ago. For whatever reason, she still wants to try. "Yeah, probably," she clears her throat of a pathetic sadness. "You comin?"

"Nah, I'm gonna stay up on watch," he replies, staring out at the street and not at her.

Lupe stands and flicks her cigarette out into the grass near his. As she turns away, she mutters, "Alright, enjoy the moon."

"What?" Daryl's tone is akin to if she asked him to perform a blood ritual, naked in the streets.

"The moon is out." Lupe chuckles as she looks back at Daryl's upturned face, awash with confusion. "Enjoy her. Might be the first time you can in a long while."

Lupe goes back inside and finds her spot. No one has moved aside from Rick and she figures he's likely stressed out of his mind. She was having a very difficult time adjusting to this place too so she can't blame him. She curls up in her sleeping bag and stares up out the window. The moon is big and bright. Bright enough she can see everyone's faces in the darkness, lax and resting for once. She keeps staring up at the moon until she falls asleep.

Daryl stays up like he said he would. The night is quiet and he tries to stay vigilant. His mind wanders to long black hair tousled in the breeze and dark brown eyes that glow amber in the moonlight. His eyes raise to the source of silver light that shines down on him. And despite the chill of the evening, he feels warm inside.

Chapter Text

"Demasiados bachitas... Son malos para ti!" (Too many smokes... They're bad for you!) Alma clicks her tongue to reproach Lupe, sidling up next to her on the porch.

Lupe smokes her first cigarette of the morning. She sips on some instant coffee she found in the cabinet. "Regañón," (Nag,) she spits back at her sister around the filter.

Alma smiles, lips pressed together as her shoulders wiggle. "Can I have one?"

"Cuando cumples dieciocho," (When you turn eighteen,) Lupe snorts. "I already let you drink, borracha (drunkie). You want in on all the vices now?"

"I was kidding, they smell." Alma giggles at her sister's ire.

"Tu hueles," (You smell,) Lupe grumbles back.

"La tuya." (No you.) Alma grins.

"Ugh," Lupe groans, bending over the porch railing backward with the effort.

Daryl sulks on the opposite side, fiddling with his bow, and hasn't said a word. Lupe tried to say good morning and she's pretty sure he growled at her. She turns her back to him and tilts her head towards Alma as she leans back against the railing. Alma's toe swirls on the wood as she looks off in a thoughtful haze in the direction of Daryl fidgeting on the floor.

"You going to meet up with the kids today?" Lupe asks.

"Yeah, me and Carl are gonna go. His dad talked to Jesse yesterday. She has a son our age, uh, Ron. There's another kid, Mikey, I think, and there's a girl, Enid," Alma replies.

"Que padre!" (How cool!) Lupe smiles. Alma fidgets as she stands and looks at her shoes. "Hey, ni modo, (don't worry about it,) okay? You'll do great."

Alma grins a little and looks over at her sister. "Yeah, maybe. What about you?"

Lupe shrugs. "Yo no se. No tengo trabajo." (I dunno. I don't have a job.)

"Huevón," (Lazy ass,) Alma mutters.

"Que te den," (Up yours,) Lupe chuckles and shakes her head at her sister.

The rest of the group starts to flow out of the house. Rick steps out and nods to everyone as he passes. He stares out at Alexandria with a sigh. "They said explore, so explore."

The group peters out onto the streets. Alma sees Carl walking Judith in a stroller, so she says goodbye to Lupe and joins him.

Lupe finishes her cigarette on the porch. Staying silent while Rick looks out, consumed in his own thoughts. He blinks a few times and finally sees her and Daryl through his haze.

"You gonna head out?" Rick asks Daryl.

"Nah, I'll stay," Daryl says, shaking his head and staring at the wood between the scuffed toes of his boots.

"All right," Rick replies, tone soft and pointed. He can sense Daryl's unease. He feels it too, he's just slightly better at hiding it. Doesn't help that he's noticed Daryl being more agitated around Lupe. He hopes they aren't antagonizing each other. The last thing he needs is infighting. Everyone's too on edge for drama right now. He looks around again and acknowledges Lupe before staring off, far past the streets. "Lori and me, we used to drive through neighborhoods like this." He sighs. "Thinking, 'One day...'"

"Well, here we are," Daryl spits.

Rick looks over at him with hurt bending his frown. He blinks a few times and sighs. "We'll be back." Rick steps off the porch and heads in the same direction most of their group did.

"Didn't his wife tragically die?" Lupe asks into the silence.

Daryl's head pops up to glare at her.

She finally gets to meet his stare. She gives him a pointed look to which he bristles at. Then she sighs. "Want a smoke?"

Daryl shrugs and grunts.

She huffs and lights one up for him and walks it over. She hands it to him filter first and he takes it with a mumbled thanks.

"I used to bring Alma to places like this. Trick or treating and seeing Christmas lights," Lupe says, sitting in the chair near Daryl. "We'd hit all the Full-Size Candy type of places. The ones that could pay other people to put up their lights and mow their lawns." Lupe scoffs and stares around. "They did it all by themselves, didn't they? Ridiculous people in ridiculous houses, buffeted from the reality around them…"

Her shoulders slump. "This time by literal walls." She shakes her head and adjusts on the chair. One leg hangs over the armrest and the other curls up on the seat under her. "Sometimes it feels like the old world never actually ended. Like this was just the natural progression. People still wanna be ignorant and selfish, people still want to hurt and kill," she says, short and rueful. Tensing, she tries to bite back the emotion broiling in her gut. She forces down the primal urge to run and hide. "I like the idea of this place, but it's like you said, the people are weak. We're not, and we're not gonna let ourselves get weak either. Me oyes?" (You hear me?)

Daryl looks up at her, eyes shifty, but he nods.

Lupe sighs as Carol comes out the front door.

Carol looks at them with her canned smile. "Time to punch the clock and make the casseroles." She looks picture perfect in her cardigan and flawless pressed khakis.

Lupe gives her a wolf whistle. "You look like the queen of the PTA." She smiles at a blushing Carol. Daryl kinda scowls at the woman. "Gotta say I'm diggin' the Hot Young Pinterest Mom at Target look. Super MILF, for sure."

Carol gives her an amused, but sharp look. "Gonna make dinner for the older people, moms who need a break, you know, people who need extra help." She smiles at Lupe in that same pristine way and cocks her head. "Get to meet a lot of the neighbors that way."

"Devious." Lupe grins wide.

Daryl snorts a derisive sound as he picks up his crossbow. "Fuckin' absurd..."

Carol scowls at him. "You taken a shower yet?"

Daryl doesn't look at her, but with the grime still caked on his skin, it's a bit obvious. "Mmmmmm," he hums and the response is ambiguous at best.

Carol rolls her eyes at him. "Lupe, make sure he takes a shower. I'm gonna wash that vest if it kills me. We need to keep up appearances." She walks by Daryl and nudges him. "Even you."

"This is my appearance," he grumbles at her, bitter and harsh.

"Up it then," Carol barks as she walks away. "Or else I'll hose you down while you're asleep!" She shouts over her shoulder.

"You look ridiculous," he growls at her retreating cashmere covered back. He looks over at Lupe who's snickering behind her hand. "What? You gon'help her do it?" He blusters with a growl.

Lupe peels her hand away to reveal a smirk. "I'll at least watch. I think it'd be the height of amusement to see Carol hose you down at gunpoint."

"Asshole," he grumbles, head dipping to focus on his bow.

"Come mierda," Lupe replies on her exhale. "We get an ashtray yet?" Daryl nudges over a water bottle that's almost empty. It already has a few butts floating in it. She sticks the rest of her cigarette in there. "Thanks."

Lupe clears her throat while Daryl works on his bow again. "You wanna go out and explore? I could use someone to watch my back. I'm kinda..." She swallows through a tight throat. The vulnerability clawing at her trachea wants to stay down. "... Nervous."

Daryl freezes. A few blinks later, he gets back to working in silence. Lupe believes he's done with the conversation. She exhales a long harsh breath.

"Someone needs to watch our stuff," he grumbles out.

Lupe focuses on him with a scrunched up frown. "Do you think they're going to steal your possum corpse?"

Daryl side-eyes her. "Don't want them rummagin' through our shit!" He barks.

Lupe blinks and takes a step back. "Shit, alright dude. Sorry, I wasn't - um, I'm sorry..." She mumbles and then makes her way down the steps before he can reply.

Lupe heads down the main street and looks around. The houses are nice and kept up. The streets are clean and free of refuse and corpses. It doesn't even smell like death a little. People smile at her but keep their distance. She smiles back at them a little tight, but she forces every single one out, a poor imitation of Carol. She knows that this place can be a real opportunity for their group to be safe. It's an opportunity for Alma to have a life. So Lupe wants to do anything she can to make the transition as seamless as possible. The sisters have always been adaptable. She just hopes the rest of the group will be too.

Lupe glances back in the direction of the house and has to try to fight the tears stinging in the corners of her eyes. She feels like an absolute fool for being so caught up in Daryl's reaction to her. She figures it's probably time to let go of her misdirected urge to befriend him.

Lupe walks around a corner and finds Rick pushing Judith's stroller. A single panicked heartbeat feels like a knife in her chest, but she swallows it. "Where're the kids?"

Rick grins, an air of disbelief to his words. "Socializing... Over at Jesse's."

Lupe's face stretches into an impressed downturn of her lips. "They don't waste time."

Rick shrugs. "Suppose there's not much time to waste."

Lupe weighs that in her mind. "True." She looks past Rick. "Hey, you mind telling me which house belongs to Jesse? I wanna make sure I know, in case I need to go get Alma." Lupe tries to keep her voice calm. With the way Rick watches her, she knows she failed.

"Four houses down on the right," he points over his shoulder, "the gray one."

Lupe nods. "Thanks, Rick. See you later." She walks away, intending to get an eye on the house to make sure she's familiar with it. She gets a few houses away from her target. Relieved, she sees Alma walking up the porch steps with Carl and another kid. She guesses that might be Jesse's son, Ron. Lupe lets out a warbling whistle.

Alma turns to the sound and spots her sister on the street. She waves once to Lupe before following Ron and Carl inside. Ron's house is nice, furnished well and homey. Alma surmises that since the family has been here since the start, they've had the time to decorate. It didn't feel generic to her. It felt lived in and loved.

"We're almost always here after school, so you can come by any time," Ron says over his shoulder as he guides them inside.

"You really go to school?" Carl asks in disbelief.

Ron shrugs. "Well, I mean, it's in a garage. Little kids go in the morning and then it's us in the afternoon." He looks over his shoulder. "Probably both of you will too, right?

"Probably," Alma replies as they head up the stairs. "Deanna also mentioned apprenticing people for certain jobs. You ever do that?"

Ron gives her an odd look. As if the question was a bit ridiculous and a bit insulting. "No, I'm only sixteen. I don't really think there's a job out there that I want." He smiles with a sharp charming grin. "I mean, they're gonna treat us like babies, milk it a little, right?"

Both Carl and Alma shrug at him. He walks them down the hall and into a typical teen boy's bedroom. Posters cover the walls. Most stylistic accents consist of unfolded clothes, trash, and leftover food. It's not hideous or unclean, and it doesn't smell bad. It's just very much the home of a teen and his friends.

"Guys, this is Carl and Alma." Ron gestures to the two of them. The brunette girl from the church sits on the bed, not acknowledging their presence. A boy is on the ground in front of the TV. He stands as Ron introduces them. "Carl, Alma, this is Mikey and Enid."

"Hey," Mikey says with a small wave.

"Hi," Enid throws it out there, but still doesn't pay them any mind.

"Enid's from outside, too," Ron starts. "She just came eight months ago."

Carl smiles, stunned and a little excited to meet another person who gets living out there. Watching her focus on the book, he remembers the comic he found and fumbles for his back pocket. Holding it out, he asks, "Oh, um is this any of yours?"

Ron's eyes go wide as he reaches for his comic. "Oh yeah! Sorry, we didn't know you guys got that house."

Mikey smiles. "We mostly just hang out there and listen to music."

"I found this too," Alma says with a big smile, holding out the manga.

"Oh, Enid likes that weird stuff," Ron says, flipping through his comic.

Enid's hand shoots out and rips the manga away from Alma.

Alma doesn't restrain her scowl at Ron. She looks back at Enid and tries to be more polite. "I have a few volumes of -,"

"Don't care," Enid snaps as she flips through her own book.

"Rude," Alma immediately shoots back. Enid finally deigns to look at her, and it's with a severe scowl. Alma arcs a brow in response to Enid's dirty look, but the girl just turns away.

Ron looks to Carl. "Want to play some video games? Or Mikey's house has a pool table... But his dad's kind of strict about it."

"It's okay." Mikey smiles. "He's at work."

Mikey's eyes are so kind, almost too kind. To Carl, that kid does look like a child. He hasn't known the horrors of the outside. He's innocent and clean. Carl stands frozen, feeling numb. The guilt that has been lurking inside of him for too long rears its ugly head. He's stunned by a surge of insecure self-hatred that bubbles up in his gut. It's not like he had a lot of free time to navigate, always running and fighting for his life. Definitely not in the realm of working electricity or a full pool table.

"Um, sorry, I guess we come on kind of strong," Mikey starts. "We can just hang out. You don't even have to talk if you don't wanna." His statement sounds so sincere.

Ron chuckles. "Yeah, took Enid three weeks to say something. And she still usually just sits there and reads."

Everyone looks to Enid, but she doesn't react. Ron chuckles at his own joke anyway. It becomes apparent he's the type of guy who wants to dominate the space and conversation. Usually by putting someone down. He's a little too slick to believe he puts an honest face forward. Something about the pitilessness in his eyes makes it seem like it isn't his real personality.

"Pull it together, sport," Enid grumbles at Carl.

"Let's, um," Carl starts, blinking away from Enid, "let's play some video games,"

"Cool, yeah," Mikey says, smiling wide and waving Carl over.

The boys all congregate in front of the gaming system and tunnel vision into the game. Alma stands at the side of the bed where Enid sits and just glares at the brunette.

"Problem?" Enid asks, acting unaffected.

"There's no good reason for being catty like you are. What the hell has Carl ever done to you?" Alma hisses at her. Enid's eyes pop wide in shock for a beat before morphing back into a cool detachment. Alma rolls her eyes. "I'm sorry you're angry or sad or feeling complex, but you don't have to take it out on Carl or me." Alma leans in and whispers, "Honestly? This place kind of freaks me out. Way more than the woods."

Enid scowls at her book, but her eyes are flickering towards Alma under the guise of traveling the page. Enid nods softly, but nods.

"Cool. So..." Alma sits down next to Enid and pulls away the book she's using to hide the manga beneath. "Bang, marry, kill: Roy Mustang, Kakashi Hatake, and Renji Abarai."

Chapter Text

The next day, a handsome twenty-something strolls out of the armory to meet the new run crew. "Glenn, Lupe, Tara, Noah?" He reaches out his hand to each of them with a sparkling smile, brown hair, and angular features made for TV. "Nice to meet you, I'm Aiden. You met Nicholas pulling gate duty." He jerks a thumb over his shoulder.

"Hey," Nicholas mumbles.

Glenn eyes Aiden. "You're Deanna's son?

"That's right," Aiden nods to Glenn. He eyes him up and down with an unimpressed curl in his grin and says, "I hear you got experience making supply runs."

Glenn gives a simple nod. "I saw your pantry. You guys seem to do pretty well," he replies in monotone.

Aiden's chest puffs up. His face bends to a haughty fake humility as he speaks, "Yeah, well, had some training before this. ROTC. Was nearing lieutenant when this shit blew in."

Noah nods. "My dad did ROTC." Noah couldn't remember him touting it around like it made him a badass though.

Aiden looks at Noah with a concerned frown. There's sincerity there. "He didn't make it?"

Noah sniffs and he shakes his head. "Nah."

Aiden's frown buckles with some honest sadness. "I'm sorry." He clears his throat, but it's still thick. "I'm sorry a lot these days." He shakes his head and turns. "Come on, I'll show you the ropes."

Glenn blinks, looking at his people selected for the run team. Their faces all reflect the same concern and confusion he feels. "We're doing a run today?" He's trying to play the territorial game right, but he lacks enthusiasm. He and his people were risking their lives to go out on runs for this community. Glenn wanted to be able to trust it. He is already a little unimpressed by how thick the guy was laying it all on. Glenn wants to give Aiden a little bit of grace. Having to grow up in a public and political family was likely difficult.

Aiden turns and the smug prick look slots back into place. "Just a dry run. Show you the terrain outside the walls, see how you do." He shrugs. "Weigh each other's sack a little, you know?"

Tara deadpans, "No, I don't, but cool."

Aiden scoffs. He eyes Tara and Lupe up and down with an unimpressed arched brow. "Well, we have to make sure you can really keep up with us out there."

Lupe straight up guffaws while Tara takes the high road and only heaves out a heavy sigh. It's not like either of them had never got that weak shit before. Tara's just slightly thick and Lupe's true to rights fat, so they'd heard it all. They could still fling Aiden around like a pool noodle if they wanted.

Glenn scoffs. His tone is derisive at best. "Don't worry, Lupe is one of our strongest and quickest fighters. And Tara is one of our best scavengers, she can get into anywhere and find just about anything. They're here because they know what they're doing and they do it better than anyone else."

Tara and Lupe appreciate Glenn quite a bit. Lupe grins wide at Glenn's intensity, standing his ground and defending them. It makes Nicholas physically wither. Aiden bristles, but it's all posturing. His eyes radiate insecurity.

"What about weapons?" Noah asks, already bored with this shit show. He trusted his people. He did not trust Nicholas or Aiden and he likely never would. Their cavalier attitudes would absolutely get someone killed. If it hadn't already.

"Oh, yeah." Aiden shoots off a challenging smile before looking away from Glenn. "We pulled out some sweet-ass biscuits for today." He turns to Nicholas to grab the guns.

Lupe, Noah, and Tara all glance at each other at the same time. Noah mouths the word 'biscuits?!' with widened eyes. Tara mouths 'what the fuck?' like she's just seen a ghost. And Lupe mouth the word 'YIKES'. The three of them get a front row seat to watching Glenn's shoulders slump as a hand raises to rub his forehead.

"Here you go," Aiden says handing out the little pistols.

Lupe giggles at the silly thing. It looks like it belonged back in the Moonshiner's hut a few years shy of 1922. "Estaría más seguro con La Chancla." (I'd be safer with La Chancla. - a sandal)

Nicholas and Aiden blink in her direction with a twisted look of discomfort.

Lupe scowls at them. "It's just Spanish. Fair play since I can't understand half the shit you white boys say." She flips her braid over her shoulder and checks her gun. It's clean, but not recently cleaned. Likely, it hasn't been fired in a while.

"Whatever," Aiden says with a scoff. "We're gonna head out the gates and go north a little while. Follow me."

"So I heard you and your brother helped put up the wall with your dad." Tara tries to start up a neutral conversation as they walk. It might be beneficial to learn more about these two in a casual setting. She's good at looking unpresuming. She's cute as a button with adorable mouse-like features and she used it once or twice to get what she needed.

"Yeah," Aiden puffs up again as they near the gates. "That was pretty close to the start. It was sort of amazing to see it finished." He scoffs and that aura of asshole dims for a moment. "Feels like one of the best things I ever did."

"It really is awesome," Noah adds. "I'd love to know all about the process."

Aiden chuckles and a peek of a boyish smile shines through. It fights hard against his need to feel superior coming from a family of impressive people. He looks over his shoulder to Noah, eyes shining earnest. "Honestly, I was more of a grunt worker. My dad would talk your ear off for hours about it though. Neither me or my brother give half a shit about architecture, so he'd love someone to gab with."

They get deeper into the woods with more stilted conversation about surviving. Most of it is jokes from Aiden with Nicholas as his laugh track. Glenn's group is doing their best to remain open-minded about their new leadership. It's harder than battling a horde. They skirt a clearing where there's a bunch of dead grass. Aiden looks around, trying to seem like he's vigilant and in the zone.

"We've been increasing our radius mile by mile, spreading in a semicircle around the town," he says.

"We've made it 53 miles out so far," Nicholas adds.

"We usually break into two groups when we step outside our vehicle," Aiden continues. "If shit hits, we fire a flare. One group gets the other." His jaw hardens as he speaks.

Noah nods, impressed. "Good system."

"It is," Nicholas bites out. Glenn's group looks to him, every single one wanting to take a step back to escape the vehemence.

"Still, you're standing here because we lost four people last month," Aiden says. The haughty tone weighs with something grating and sad.

Glenn squints at his back, eyes flickering to Tara. She doesn't seem settled either. "What happened?" He asks.

"We were on a run and roamers came out. They didn't follow the system," he replies like rote. The statement is completely detached but polished up with veneer.

"They were good people," Nicholas interjects like he needs to be a part of the conversation.

"They were." Aiden sniffs. His shoulders droop. "They were just scared."

Lupe is immediately suspicious. The way they talk about this is all wrong. She doesn't see or hear grief. Guilt laces itself beneath their too practiced features and tones. They look like interrogation suspects, forcing out contrived alibis.

"Look," Aiden speaks over his shoulder, "I can be a hard-ass and I know I'm a douchebag." He shrugs as he stops and turns to face them. The look on his face is too practiced to get called severe. "Someone's got to call the ball around here and that someone is me. If you're on this crew, you do exactly as I say."

The other group stands unanimous and unimpressed. Their team had a system, but they were still a team. Glenn, Rick, or Daryl were often the leaders on their runs because they did well in those situations. But the group made plans as a team and everyone got a say. They trusted their people to make good decisions for each other. They cared about each other too much not to. Aiden and Nicholas seemed more intent on dick measuring contests.

"Sorry you lost your people," Noah says.

"Yeah," Aiden replies, gaze absent. His face twists too quick into a smarmy smile as he glances over at Nicholas. "We got ours, though. Managed to snag one of the deadheads that took them down." He turns and points down a little, worn path. "Strung it up there."

"What?" Tara blurts through clenched teeth.

Glenn steps in front of his group, his face twisting into a harsh scowl. "Why?"

"The fuck?" Lupe mutters, mostly to herself. She looks over to Noah. His eyes blow wide. He is beyond uncomfortable disbelief. He swivels his gaze towards Lupe and shakes his head.

"Well, we got ourselves a little pregame ritual," Nicholas smirks. "Get our heads on straight.

Aiden charges forward like a war hero on parade. "Reminds us what we're up against."

"Vete a la chingada," (Go fuck yourself,) Lupe hisses, "you forget this shit?" These two knuckleheads are acting like this is play time. She can't respect anyone who doesn't take the threat of the outside world serious. Of course, there was fun to be had, but not risking food on the table and the people at your side.

They approach a tall tree with a chain hanging from one of the thicker branches. A large tangled mass of blood, skin, and who knows what dangles from the end. The only thing living or not in the area are the flies buzzing around the leftovers.

"Son of a bitch!" Aiden growls as he rushes forward. "Help me find it." He leans his gun against the tree and stomps around. "Look at this shit," he hisses, staring at the chain.

"Blood's still wet," Nicholas says, sounding encouraging. "It's nearby."

Glenn and his group all look at each other with concern. They are quick to realize how little these two know about surviving, acting more like this is a video game. They all share a silent conversation. Exchanging huffs of disbelief and blinks of distrust. A loud whistle pierces the air.

Glenn rushes Nicholas. "Hey! Hey! Hey!" Glenn rasps in a harsh whisper as everyone shushes too. "It's gone," he growls and Nicholas stumbles away from him.

"It took down one of our friends," Aiden snarls.

"Boo fuckin' hoo!" Lupe spits back. "Everyone's got dead friends."

Aiden glares at her with a clenching jaw. "It's nearby, we're not letting it go," he commands, but it falls flat.

The two of them start clapping and whistling. Glenn's group pulls out their weapons and flank the men to protect them from themselves. They have no idea how active these woods are and they have a feeling these two fools don't either.

Aiden hears a harsh rasping behind him and turns to see the roamer reaching out for him.

"Hey, over here!" Nicholas yells at it. "Come on!" He continues over and over, egging on the rotting creature. It turns and charges after him, hissing and groaning. "Hey, come on. Come at me!"

Aiden pulls on the chains and approaches the roamer from behind. Noah pulls out his gun and aims at the rotter stumbling after Nicholas.

"No, don't touch it!" Nicholas shouts.

"The rest of you, back off!" Aiden growls as he grabs onto the creature's blood slick wrists and tries to reattach the chain. The roamer yanks against his hold and shambles towards Nicholas, still yelling.

Tara and Lupe approach from the side. Tara draws her knife and Lupe pulls out a baton. Both wait, watching the horrific and inept display in shock. Aiden fumbles with the rotting flesh and the roamer slips his hold and turns on him, teeth snapping in his face. Tara rushes forward shaking her head, raising her blade to kill the walker. Aiden, however unintentional, panics and shoves the walker off of him and right onto Tara. Surprised, her hands sink into the rotting flesh of the walker's back and she struggles to pull away.

"Hold on to it!" Aiden yells, gathering up the chain as he stumbles around to get his balance back.

The thing twists away, turning on Tara. She can hardly get her hands out from behind its shoulder blades. Its rotting mouth snaps at her face. Her fingers sink into the flesh above the walker's collarbone to keep it back. Then its head freezes, skewered through the temple by a long black baton with a sharpened tip.

Lupe yanks the maldito off of Tara and flings it to the ground. To rid her baton of gore, she flicks it down in an arch. Aiden and Nicholas charge at her and she pulls out her other baton and flicks it out in their direction. She grips her trusty weapons tight, feeling an unnatural fury coursing through her. Her vision burns red and she wants retribution.

"Damn it!" Nicholas snarls as he glares at her, gripping his gun in his hand. He hadn't unholstered it the entire time until then.

"What the hell?!" Aiden bellows.

"Yeah, what the hell?" Tara steps in front of Lupe with Glenn at her side.

Glenn glares and his voice is ice cold, "You almost got Tara killed!"

Aiden's eyes flash and blink too wide. His face curls up in indignant rage and he shouts, "I told you all to stay back! I told you to listen to every damn thing I said." His breaths come out harsh, coming down from whatever took hold of him. He glares at Glenn and then straight through Tara to snarl at Lupe. "I told you that."

Lupe meets his glare with little concern. Her brows bend to meet in the middle and her tone drops straight to disdain. "That's when we thought you actually knew what you were doing. This isn't some game where the prize at the end is an extra inch for your pathetic fucking dick." She growls, "You don't keep those things alive!"

She walks forward and passes between Glen and Tara. She gets so close to Aiden she can feel his shuddering breaths on her face. "You ever put my friends in danger that fucking absurd again?" The sharpened point of her baton rises and pats against his jugular three times. She pulls it away and glares, biting the words out with an earth-rending snarl, "I will kill you myself." She turns and stomps off back towards Alexandria, hissing in Spanish.

"Unbelievable..." Tara spits and follows Lupe. Glenn hardly spares them a look before leaving. Noah follows Glenn, not acknowledging how the other two start bristling and broiling.

They stomp their way back to the gate in relative silence. Lupe speeds in first, clenching her hands into fists as her face twitches in annoyance. Glenn and Tara are behind her, trying to catch up so they can talk. Noah uses his limp as an excuse to go a little slower. He ends up behind Aiden and Nicholas. It's nice to go a bit easier on his leg. But this position also gives him the opportunity to make sure those assholes behave.

"You all need new gigs," Aiden shouts, his voice shaking in anger, "especially the fatass!"

Lupe turns on a dime and glares at him. "Bitch, what you call me? You sentient cumrag!"

"You're not ready for runs yet," Aiden says, shuffling to an abrupt stop at Lupe's glare.

"Yeah, pretty sure you got that backward," Glenn snarls. "She's better out there than you could ever dream to be. Now apologize!"

"I'm not apologizing for anything!" Aiden spits back. "We got a way of doing things around here -,"

Glenn shouts at him, "You tied up walkers! Went at them like kids tearing off the wings of a fly!"

"It killed our friends," Aiden yells in Glenn's face.

"So you kill it back! You don't torture it!" Lupe growls. She vibrates with disgust and rage. It shows in her tone as she screams at Aiden, "They don't know the difference, Fuck-O! This is all about your weak ass pride!"

A crowd starts to gather because of the noise. Aiden takes a step forward and his teeth grit. Nicholas is at his back and the look in his eyes doesn't bode well either. He's filled with more than anger. It's complex and shadowed, a bleak need not satisfied with just abusing dead things.

Aiden scoffs, shaking his head. "Look, we're not having this conversation. You obey my orders out there!"

"Then we're just as screwed as your last run crew," Glenn replies, derisive and disappointed.

Aiden glares at him, shaking. "Say that again." Aiden reaches towards Glenn and nudges him in the chest. Glenn steps back, swaying with the pressure and readying himself.

"No," Tara interjects, stepping forward, her tone firm but not yelling. "Back off, Aiden." She's trying to mediate even though she's gritting her teeth she's so pissed.

"Come on," Noah says, reaching out from behind the group. "Come on, man. Just take a step back."

"Come on, tough guy," Aiden taunts Glenn, pushing him back again.

Glenn's face is blank but his eyes go black with fury. He still remains calm and shakes his head. His tone is flat and imparting the uselessness of this display. "No one's impressed, man."

Aiden shoves hard this time and Glenn stumbles back. Lupe immediately steps between them. She wants to give Glenn time to recover and she also needs to stop this before it starts. "Back the fuck off, Aiden."

"What are you gonna do about it, bitch?" Aiden growls, turning towards her and raising his arm up like he's going to strike.

Noah surges toward Aiden and shouts, "Whoa, back off man!"

Tara stomps forward and growls, "Hey keep your hands off her!"

Lupe smiles at Aiden wide. He's thrown off by it and stutters back. Lupe tilts her head to the side, smirking. "I wasn't joking when I told you I'll kill you if you put my friends in danger." Her glare flashes to Nicholas over his shoulder, "You and your bitch can try me."

Aiden's lip curls up in an indignant, childish snarl and he pushes Lupe. Lupe's shoulder curves with the shove and she doesn't even stumble back.

"That all you got?" She guffaws in his face. "Who's impressed by that? I could push you harder with my arm dislocated."

Glenn is back on his feet and he rushes to Lupe's side, trying to back them away from each other. His snarl is severe as he glares at Aiden, "Walk away. Now."

The moment is thick, like right before the lightning struck the tree. Before the flash of violence, the thunder booms through as Deanna's voice.

"Aiden! What is going on?" She charges up to the group and stands next to her son, staring agape at the face off.

"These guys' got a problem with the way we do things." He turns on her and snarls, "Why did you let these people in?"

Lupe snarks, "Because we've survived more than 53 miles out there."

Glenn replies, tone scathing, "Because we actually know what we're doing."

Aiden scoffs, feinting back like he's going to turn and then swinging a sucker punch at Glenn. His mother wails for him to stop. Glenn dodges the strike. Lupe steps forward to intercede and get Deanna out of the way. Nicholas storms into Lupe's path and socks her as hard as he can. Caught unprepared, Lupe flies back and her head cracks against the steel siding. It gongs like it's time to start a boxing match. Her ears ring as she slides down the wall.

Glenn moves to aid Lupe but Aiden takes another swing while he's distracted. Glenn side-steps the hit and pops Aiden in the face hard enough to send him flying towards the asphalt. Aiden holds his face, rolling on the ground as his mother screams. Glenn lunges at Nicholas, shoving him away from Lupe. Noah steps in to hold Glenn back from going at him. Tara tries to make her way to Lupe to check on her.

"That is enough!" Deanna screams again.

Nicholas reorients and shoves past Noah and Glenn. He charges right at Lupe with a snarl on his face. She struggles to stand, eyes blinking uneven in the sunlight. The brightness of the day has her vision hazy. The hit to her head makes the shadow that charges split and swirl in two. She tries to get Tara out of its path, but it's too late.

Daryl comes out of nowhere and rams one of his giant shoulders right into Nicholas' gut, lifting him off his feet. Daryl hurls him toward the ground so hard air ejects out of his mouth with spittle and a wheeze. He climbs on top of Nicholas ready to break his face in. He jams his arm down over Nicholas' throat, cutting off his air. Nicholas looks up at Daryl as he writhes, eyes shining with tears and true fear. Daryl bathes in the pathetic terror. He's seeing far past red. His snarls and heaving breaths come out through trembling lips. This piece of shit hit her and he needs to pay.

Deanna wails as she grabs at her son. Rick comes rushing from the streets with Carl behind him. His eyes pick apart the chaos and he sees the most immediate concern. With the way Daryl hovers over that other guy, Rick's sure he's about to have to bury someone.

"Whoa, whoa!" Rick shouts, skittering to a stop next to Daryl. He curls him up in a restrictive hold, trying to pull him back. "Hey, hey, hey! Let's not do this now," he growls in his brother's ear, trying to peel him off of the terrified Alexandrian.

"Tell him," Daryl seethes through grit teeth. He leans into Nicholas' face and snarls, "You touch her, or any of my people again, I'll rip your guts out with my bare hands." Rick pulls Daryl away and back towards the rest of their group. Daryl huffs and shoves Rick's hands off him. His arms quiver and he starts to pace as he spits out breaths. Tara kneels behind him next to Lupe, trying to help her get steady.

Aiden stumbles back to his feet with his nose bleeding. His eyes are searching for Glenn as he tears away from his screaming mother. He takes two steps in Glenn's direction, eyes wide and his body thrumming with fury.

Michonne steps up into his space, eyes boring into him. Her tone is level and deeply terrifying, "You want to end up on your ass again?"

Aiden deflates. He swallows, panting hard. His face morphs into something calm and detached. He throws up his hands. "It's cool, all right?"

Deanna walks over to her son as he wipes the blood away from his nose. Nicholas gags on air, curled up on the ground. She makes sure neither of them is in immediate danger and starts to fume. She turns around to the gathered crowd, eyes radiant and serious.

"Rick and his people are part of our community now. We don't own them, nor do we get to boss them around like they're our servants. They are going to help us learn to keep surviving. They are our equals here! Understood?" The faces all watch her in awe and slow sets of nodding heads spread through the group. She turns to both Rick's group and her son. "Log your weapons," her glare focuses in on Aiden and Nicholas and she snarls, "and then you two come talk to me."

Deanna turns to Rick and her face is stern. "I told you I had a job for you. I'd like you to be our constable." Rick's only response is a blank stare. She urges, "That's what you were. That's what you are." Deanna turns to Michonne. "And you, too." Her eyes dance between the two of them for a long silent moment. "Will you accept?"

Rick sighs, shaking his head. It's a little unbelievable for him. He glances at Michonne and she's looking at him just as shocked. He raises his brows in a question and she smiles. He looks back at Deanna and shrugs. "Okay."

Michonne nods. "Yeah, I'm in."

Daryl scoffs and walks away. He goes straight for Tara and Lupe, grumbling and pissed. Rick, Michonne, and Deanna all watch him stomp off in concern.

Deanna looks over at Glenn. "Thank you," she says with surprising sincerity.

Glenn glances around. "For what?" He asks, like the timid kid he once was.

Deanna exhales. She leans in and emphasizes, "For knocking him on his ass." Glenn nods unsurely and walks away to cool off. Deanna looks over and calls out, "Tara, you should take her to the infirmary. One of the doctors can check her out. Please let me know how she's doing. I'd like to speak with her when she's feeling better as well."

"Got it," Tara replies, tone tight. She focuses in on Lupe, leaning against the wall, barely above sitting. Her knees quake and her arms splay wide for balance. "Can we get you on your feet?"

Lupe is still trying to get her vision to stop swirling. She blinks up at the assorted faces and waves their concern away. The loss of support has her sliding to the side. "I'm fine. Just let me sit up."

"You're sitting up, almost," Tara replies with a pinched grin, reaching out to steady her.

Lupe sighs. "That is unfortunate."

Lupe's vision jumbles up worse and she feels her guts jump into her throat. She shrieks from the unexpected movement that makes her feel weightless and dazed. She's held aloft in someone's arms and it takes a little too long for her eyes to roll themselves around up to their face.

"Daryl?"

"I got ya," he grumbles, face pinched in frustration and concern. "Ain't gon'stand for none of tha'shit," he growls.

Lupe blinks up at Daryl, bewildered. She shudders in his arms and clings to him. Her eyes roll at his quick pace but his warmth is beyond comforting so she nuzzles against his chest. "I can't be on a team with them. I can't trust those little maggots," she mumbles, lips trembling in sudden exhaustion. Her eyes flutter, feeling safe for the first time in forever. The words pass through her lips like a whisper, "They got their people killed. I know it."

Daryl hears her though, and his grip tightens. Once they reach the infirmary, he's unsure if he'll be ready to let her go. He knew they couldn't trust this place. He's furious he ever even thought he could let himself believe such a pitiful thing.

Chapter Text

Lupe is fine by the next day. When Alma found out what happened with Nicholas and Aiden, she spent a serious amount of time fuming. She had a distinct desire to go find them herself and teach them a lesson, but she didn't. She stayed with her sister in the infirmary and made sure she was safe during the night as she slept. Despite the goose egg on the back of her head and a bruised jaw, Lupe seemed okay, if a little riled.

After Lupe got let out of the infirmary the next morning, she talked to Deanna. Lupe told her exactly what happened and how dangerously inept her son is at running the supply team. The older woman hadn't looked very pleased, but Lupe couldn't give a shit. When she got back to the main house, it was during Rick's speech. He urged everyone to try to settle in and make something for themselves. When he finished, she and Alma picked out their very own home. It's all quite surreal.

The sisters decide on a hunting trip right after school to get out some energy. They couldn't handle being behind the gates and acting as if everything was hunky dory. So far, everything still felt like an act.

The girls converse freely, walking through the wilds surrounding Alexandria. It is at least, peaceful there.

"Qué tal la escuela?" (How's school?) Lupe asks, their tread silent along the forest floor.

Alma shrugs. "It's fine. I mean, es aburrido, pero, (it's boring, but) I was in AP classes when this all ended, so a lot of it's regurgitated bloat."

Lupe nods. "Yeah, that's pretty much how school always feels." She has her high powered rifle in her arms, keeping an eye out while her sister tries to track. "You thinking about apprenticing someone instead?"

Alma hems and haws. "Quizás, (Maybe,) I just can't decide what I want to do. I could offer my services at the infirmary, but Ron's dad es como una cabra (is crazy as hell). I was thinking about asking more about the solar grids, but I don't know if they have anyone to maintain them yet. Eugene seems pretty interested, but since we're outsiders, I don't know if they'll let us do anything."

Lupe smirks. Eugene had stepped it up since his reveal as a coward. He never granted himself the opportunity to become anything more than that. "Well, estamos echando raíces (we're putting down roots) and getting houses and all that. I assume we'll be trusted to actually function within the community without being babysat."

"Probably... Yo creo que..." (I think...) Alma gulps back her nerves and insists, "I want to ask Daryl about apprenticing as a hunter." Lupe's head swivels over to Alma. Alma tries to hide the insecurity and fear. She knows Lupe and Daryl have a bit of a rocky understanding of each other. She didn't want it to seem like she was trying to pick and choose sides.

"You comfortable with that?" Lupe asks. Alma is the one to look up in surprise. Lupe chuckles. "What? Did you think I was going to ban you from it or something? No manches! Mira, (No way! Look,) Daryl's a bit of a come mierda (shit eater) and he's moodier than all hell, but I don't feel like he's dangerous to you or me. I don't know how he feels about settling in..." Lupe thinks about how agitated and irritable he'd been acting. "But if you want to ask him, I think it'd be an awesome skill to learn. And we both know he's very good at what he does."

Alma smiles tightly and exhales in relief. "Thanks, Lupe, I think he -,"

There's a rustling not far off and both of them freeze and crouch low. Their eyes scan around in opposite directions, backing each other up. They don't immediately see the maldito, but it doesn't sound like it has many friends, if any. They rise from their positions and walk forwards, scanning the woods for threats.

When they stumble upon the maldito, it's a frail and tumbling thing. Lupe walks right up to it and skewers it through the temple. When it falls to the ground on its back, they see the W carved in the skin of its forehead.

"Que mierda?" (What the shit?) Alma mumbles, staring at the stringy corpse.

"Another one of those W corpses," Lupe says, kneeling next to the body and leaning in for a closer look. "Looks similar to the ones we found at Noah's camp."

Alma shudders, looking around the woods. "You think they've traveled all the way up here? Do you think it's safe?"

Lupe shrugs as she stands, using her rifle as a cane while her knees pop themselves into place. "I'm starting to think nowhere is gonna be safe until we make it that way." Lupe sighs staring down at the body. "This one looks old, it might mean they've moved on."

Alma shudders again so Lupe goes to stand by her and wraps an arm around her. "Hey, I got an idea. Maybe tomorrow or the next day we can talk to Deanna about taking some gas and going to get Chingada. We could make a road trip of it. You could drive by yourself all the way back."

Alma snorts and leans into her sister. "I do miss the truck sometimes. Dad got really nice seats put in."

Lupe smiles. "We're lucky he was so damn obsessed with that car after his accident. He would have smothered us with upgrades otherwise."

Alma grins and nods. The sisters walk with their arms around each other and ignore their original intent to hunt. She sighs into her sister's side, comfortable and familiar. "Alexandria is really confusing."

"Por que?" (Why?) Lupe asks. She doesn't disagree, but she wants to hear her sister out.

"Well, the defenses are really remedial, but it's nice to be in a house again," Alma muses. "Some of the people act nice, but there's something beneath it, like they want something."

"Anyone giving you problems?" Lupe asks, trying to restrain her immediate big sister mauling instincts.

"No, not really. I mean, Enid is pretty cool. She showed me her secret way of climbing the walls, so we hung out in the forest yesterday afternoon." Alma glances at her sister all shifty. "It's why I wasn't there to back you up when -,"

"Whoa, oh, okay, hey, no, that's not, no..." Lupe shakes her head like a rattle. "You shouldn't have to get involved in the squabbles of grown ass adults. That's not on you," Lupe insists. "Tell me more about Enid."

Alma nods, unsure. "Enid is nice, just quiet. She's stand-offish because she's been at it alone for a long time." Alma looks over at her sister. "She had to watch her family die and turn. She had to put them down."

Lupe cringes. An agony so distinct clenches her chest, but she's unsure she knew the true depth of it. "Jesus, that's horrible. This world is horrible."

"Yeah," Alma mutters. Her eyes squint. "How can you be sure people aren't just acting nice, but planning to spit in your face?"

"I mean, that sounds like a lesson in 'Carol' if you're really asking," Lupe smiles wide and Alma laughs. Carol's Alexandria persona was a riot. She also had an amazing read on people. "Honestly, some people are just good at faking it. You can't always tell till it's too late. You think Enid is faking it?"

Alma shakes her head. "No, not Enid. It's Ron. He's gotten really weird lately. Like, he didn't really talk to me when Carl and I first arrived. But now he's like inserting himself into me and Enid's conversations. He got all weird about us writing notes in class yesterday too. Said he should be able to read them."

Lupe rolls her eyes. "Jeez, that's a bit overbearing and invasive. Do you think he's getting possessive of Enid or you?"

Alma shudders. "I hope not. Yuck..."

Lupe tries not to smirk. Her sister has never been all that interested in the dating world. While most kids had their first relationships, Alma built trebuchets in the backyard. In high school, she went to dances with big groups of her friends instead of finding a date. She never seemed hell-bent on indulging in that stuff like a lot of her peers. She might be less inclined to recognize toxic behavior and petty games. "Those seem like red-flags to me, so be careful. If he's making either of you uncomfortable, you can tell me and I'll stop it, okay?

Alma looks over at Lupe and nods with a frown. "I think he's just immature."

Lupe shrugs. "Hopefully, it's just a teenaged shit fit and he'll back off. He probably misses the attention since he's not the fresh cool thing here anymore. But that doesn't mean you have to compromise your boundaries."

Alma shrugs. "That could be it. It's just really annoying. Carl isn't like that. Him and Mikey have really hit it off even though Mikey's kind of a doughnut."

Lupe fights to hold in her snicker. "Mande?" (Pardon?) She asks primly.

"A doughnut. I dunno, soft and sweet or something? It just works for him," Alma replies.

Lupe grins. "Alright, so Mikey's a doughnut, Enid is pretty cool, and Ron is a no-go at this point." She nods to her sister's assessment. "Well, if you ever want to have Enid over or whoever, you're welcome to. Mi casa es su casa."

"Damn right it is." Alma chuckles and Lupe tugs her in close as they walk.

They find a small, dilapidated white house with a bunch of trash piled up around it. There's another W maldito that's already been taken out. Lupe and Alma approach slowly and check out the corpse.

"That W looks a little too fresh for my taste," Lupe grumbles, face folding into a frown.

There's a tight grouping of bullet holes in the malditos chest and a perfect headshot. Lupe hasn't seen anyone in Alexandria all that proficient with a gun. She has a few suspicions of who might be hanging out in the area.

"Hey, is Carl coming out here on his own?" Lupe asks.

"No, he chased after me and Enid yesterday, but we didn't come this way at all. He would have told me he was coming to practice shooting, I think." Alma stares out around the corpse, looking in the dirt and leaves. She nudges some forest deleterious with her toe. "Hey, this looks like a boot print… Uh, I think it's a cowboy boot, with the, um, a heel, right?"

Lupe moves away from the corpse and checks out what Alma describes. It definitely looks like a cowboy boot print. Not any old boot print either. That one and a few others look like Rick with the way they saunter off, toes pointed out. She sees another set of prints belonging to simple sneakers, dotted like Keds. Lupe frowns hard and looks over at Alma.

Alma reflects her sister's concern. "Are Rick and Carol meeting out here in secret?"

Lupe sighs. "I heard Carol talking about going out for shooting practice while she was in the Inventory house. But we both know that's bullshit. Carol's one of our best shots aside from you, Carl, and Sasha."

Alma nods. "There's another set of boot prints. These have really thick treads. But they don't have much of a trail."

Lupe drops her face into her hands. "That means Daryl's probably out here too." She grits her teeth and throws her hand down, looking up at her sister. "Qué cagar están haciendo estos gringos?" (What the fuck are these gringos doing?)

"No lo sé, pero quiero irme." (I don't know, but I wanna go.) Alma looks around, eyes wide. "I don't know if I like this area."

Lupe sighs. "Look, we'll talk to them at some point, okay?" Lupe starts walking her sister back towards Alexandria. "They're not ones to lie about important stuff. It's possible they're just trying to formulate a backup plan."

"You don't think they'll hurt anyone do you?" Alma asks, her gun only half relaxed as she walks.

"No, I don't think they would. Worst case scenario is they're too paranoid to trust the community yet. They probably don't like the 'no weapons' bull. They want to make sure this place is defensible against people as much as malditos." Lupe shrugs. "Let's hope they keep their heads on straight."

"What? Like you fighting with Deanna's son?" Alma snickers.

Lupe rolls her eyes. "First of all, I was attacked and my dignity, impugned." Alma starts cracking up. "I had every right to defend myself and I would have. If my eyeballs didn't get dislocated when that string cheese little gringo assaulted me." Alma laughs so hard she snorts and then Lupe guffaws. They only slap hands over their mouths when they hear another set of footsteps come up from their side.

Chapter Text

Daryl comes from behind the brush and his face is all pinched up in annoyance. It might have been like that for a day and a half so far. "Y'all are gonna scare the game away," he growls. Stomping over to the sisters, he reprimands them, "Cackling like banshees..."

Lupe smirks. "Maybe the game just need a better sense of humor." Alma snorts.

Daryl scowls at them both. "What're you doin' out here?" He is quick to be accusatory in a stunning way.

"Hunt'n'!" Lupe grunts and Alma descends into giggles.

"Ass…" He grumbles at Lupe.

"Come mierda," she replies with a sweet smile. He rolls his eyes and scoffs, walking off. Lupe arcs an eyebrow at Alma and they decide to follow him. Perhaps her and her sister being relentlessly friendly would wear the fucker down. "Hey, you didn't tell us what you were doing out here."

"Didn't ask," he rumbles over his shoulder.

"Pretend I did." Lupe grins as she sidles up to him. Alma is on his other side, eying his bow every time he looks away from her.

Daryl scoffs again. He glares at Alma who looks like she's imagining snatching his crossbow right off his arm and making a run for it. "Hunt'n," he replies with a crooked little smirk.

Lupe reflects it and rolls her eyes. She knows he was out here and she knows he's seen the W corpses. She realizes no one talked much about the carnage at Noah's community. Too much has happened since then. So Lupe breaches it. "You remember what happened with Noah's home?" He nods and looks at her odd, like the question is unexpected and silly. "Do you remember what the bodies looked like? What was done to them?"

Daryl stops, thoughts in progress, and stares at her. "The Ws."

Lupe nods. "The Ws," she confirms, "we've seen two corpses with those carved into their heads up here. One old and one a bit too new."

"Let's head back," Daryl grumbles. His eyes search the surrounding woods and his arm reaches out for Lupe and Alma to get them going.

They keep a pretty dedicated pace back to the gates. Daryl still gets lucky with a wreath of squirrels and a big rabbit. Alma gets a couple wild turkeys. They're not far off from Alexandria when Daryl slows up and lets the sisters get in front of him. He grips his bow before turning and aiming for the tall brush at their backs.

"Come out! Now!" He barks, a death threat and a demand all at once. The girls both jump at Daryl's sudden growl, turning with their weapons up.

Aaron comes from the brush. Alma gasps in surprise and her sister rolls her eyes. Aaron smiles at them tight, arms raised as he glances at Daryl who has yet to lower his bow.

"You can tell the difference between walkers and humans by sound?" Aaron asks, rightfully astounded. Daryl drops his aim but his glare is as sharp as the point of his bolt. "Can you tell the difference between a good guy and a bad guy?" Aaron muses, "Rick doesn't seem to be an expert at that."

Daryl immediately bristles. "There ain't much of a difference no more."

"That how you feel about your people?" Aaron asks with a level tone and a quirked brow.

Daryl charges at him, but Lupe and Alma come scrambling to stop him. Lupe presses her hands flat against Daryl's chest. A growl brews beneath her fingertips before she can hear it. She looks up at his face but his eyes narrow, full of rage directed right at Aaron. He'd already attacked Nicholas, for good reason. But if he started just beating up on everybody, things would go bad. She takes a risk and reaches up, brushing her fingertips against the scruff on his jaw. Daryl nearly jumps out of his skin at the soft, warm touch, but the spell breaks as he stares down at her, stunned.

Lupe turns and charges right up to Aaron with a scowl. He holds his rifle in front of him like a hat to wring in his hands. "What about your people? Aiden's a spineless dick and Nicholas…" She huffs and her lip curls. "Aiden probably got his entire squad killed and I feel less threatened by him. I don't trust Aiden to tie his own shoes, but I don't feel safe around Nicholas. I hear that other doctor is an asshole too!"

"Hey, all the people you just mentioned are on my shit-list. For personal reasons," Aaron mutters, all nerves. "And you're right, Nicholas is a fucking creep. He glares at Eric and says homophobic shit all the time."

Daryl moves forward despite Alma tugging at his arm. He stops at Lupe's back and growls right over her head, "Why you following us?"

Aaron's face goes soft in shock. "I didn't know I was... I came out to hunt rabbits." His eyes flicker between each person in the group and a small grin forms. "I know why you're all out here. Mind if I join you?"

"That'd be great!" Alma replies over Daryl' shoulder. Alma likes Aaron and Eric. She was lucky to get to see them a lot when checking in about Eric's ankle. They've been really nice every time she saw them. They gave her food, talked to her about what she wanted to do. Best of all, they listened and respected her wholly as she was.

Daryl huffs out his nose, turns on his heel and goes off stalking through the woods. "Keep up and keep quiet," he barks over his shoulder, "maybe these sisters can learn a thing or two."

"Oh eat me, Emo," Lupe growls at Daryl's back. Aaron and Alma snicker.

Daryl scoffs at her and seems to get distracted by some tracks. There's an effortless grace about the way Daryl bends with the earth. He moves like the wind. He slips through the trees, bowing with branches and gliding around flowers. Alma follows him as he moves through the brush. Aaron and Lupe trail at an angle a few feet behind as not to disturb their work.

"You and your sister have been nothing but kind to me and Eric," Aaron says to Lupe.

"I mean, I helped hold you captive in a barn, but go on." She smiles at him.

He grins back, waving his hand like he's flicking her words away. "Water under the bridge. You saved Eric's life. I'd sleep under a barn for a week if you asked."

Lupe chuckles. That gets Daryl and Alma to look over their shoulders with a scowl. She rolls her eyes at them and waves them off. "Well, I won't," she says to Aaron. "You've been good to my sister. She needs more kindness in her world."

"Hey, she makes it real easy," Aaron muses. "I have to admit, I was actually a bit upset with Deanna when she put you on runs. I had a much better plan. I -,"

Three snaps of a finger sound and Lupe reaches up and puts a hand over Aaron's mouth. She looks over to Alma after one of their signals to freeze and be silent. Alma stands a few feet ahead as Daryl creeps towards a clearing.

Aaron rushes from behind Lupe's hand and goes over to Daryl and Alma. Lupe follows at her own pace, less enthused by hunting. But seeing what's in the clearing takes her breath away.

"I've been trying to catch him for months, bring him inside." Aaron's smile breaks wide open. "His name is Buttons." The group turns to look at him with raised brows. Aaron shrugs. "One of the kids saw him run by the gate a while back. Thought he looked like a Buttons."

Back in the clearing, the large black stallion rummages face first in the grass. His coat is inky and shines with threaded gold in the late day sun. Lupe thought he looked happy there, living his best life as a horse.

"I haven't seen him for a while. I was afraid it was too late. Every time Eric or I come close, he gets spooked." Aaron takes off his pack and pulls out a rope. Daryl puts his bow on his back and reaches for it. Aaron, a little stunned, asks, "Have you done this before?"

Daryl stares out at the horse. "My group did. But they weren't out there that long. The longer they're out there, the more they become what they really are."

"Hey, um," Alma comes forward holding out her hand with an apple in it. "I have this. What you can do is hold it out on a flat hand as you approach real slow. Calming noises might help or might not, it just really depends on the horse -,"

"Have you done this before?" Aaron looks to her now.

"Well, sort of." Alma shrugs. "My friend lived on a farm and I helped her with her chores sometimes. She worked with the horses a lot, so I learned some."

Daryl stretches out his arm with the rope. "You do it." It's gruff, but it kinda sounds like a vote of confidence.

Alma gulps and looks at Lupe. Her sister nods with a smile. Alma takes off her big rifle and hands it off to her sister for back up. She takes the rope and starts tying a very loose knot. Lupe, Daryl, and Aaron fan out on the forest's edge to secure the area. A few walkers get put down before they can enter the clearing.

Walking out, she moves careful and slow. Alma approaches the big horse and holds out the apple just like she said. She makes soft noises that attract the horse's attention without spooking it. It trots a bit in place and patters a few steps forward. It sniffs the apple, it's big eyes trying to focus on her and the delightful treat. She smiles and speaks low in Spanish, calling it loving names. It finally takes the last few steps forward and starts chewing on the apple.

A loose slipknot hangs around Alma's wrist. While the horse eats the apple, she strokes its nose and works the loop up and over the horses head. While she pats at its neck and side, she starts to secure the lead. Once the horse chomps up all the apple, he looks straight at Alma. Leaning in, he nuzzles her face and shoulder with a delightful neigh. Alma walks the horse back towards where the group sprouted from.

"You caught a horse," Aaron mutters, his body strung tight with restrained excitement.

"Damn…" Daryl says. He walks forward slow and reaches out to pet the horse. It stands behind Alma's shoulder and before he can get close to her, the horse snaps at him. Daryl rips his hand back and skips back behind Lupe. "The fuck!?"

"Oooooh, you tried to touch his apple dealer," Lupe jeers. "I think he's protective, mija."

"Es fresa," (He's snotty,) Alma mutters rubbing the horse's cheek as it hangs over her shoulder.

"Let's head back," Aaron says, still stunned and enthralled that they finally caught Buttons.

Lupe trails with Alma and the horse trots behind them. "Hope you don't think he's living in the house."

Alma chuckles. "No, but I was gonna ask Deanna about materials for a pen so we can expand the backyard." Her eyes widen as thoughts swirl. "We need a barn! Then maybe we could domesticate more animals. We could find a female horse to breed him with."

"Okay, okay, no empezamos la casa por el tejado." (let's not get ahead of ourselves.) Lupe grins. The horse sways over between the two girls and nudges a bit at Lupe's pack. She turns on the horse and tries not to glare at the ridiculous looking creature. Evolution is weird. Reaching back, she rummages through her pack and pulls out a little bag of oats she keeps on hand for a hearty hot meal. She scoops out a handful and feeds it to the beast, giggling as its lips flop against her fingers.

"You ride horses, Daryl?" Aaron asks as they turn away from the sight of the two sisters giggling at the big horse.

"I ride bikes," Daryl growls, his scowl turning sharp cause of the sound of the three behind him.

"I take it you don't mean 10-speeds," Aaron quips. He clears his throat when there's no reaction. "I know you're all feeling like outsiders, even as the rest of the group tries to acclimate. It's not your fault, you know. Eric and I, we're still looked at as outsiders in a lot of ways."

After the oats, the horse seems to be in better spirits. The girls get close to the conversation Aaron is trying to include them in. "We've heard our fair share of well-meaning, but hilariously offensive things from some otherwise really nice men and women." He sighs and shrugs. "People are people. The more afraid they get, the more stupid they get. Fear shrinks the brain."

"They're scared of you n'us for different reasons," Daryl grumbles. He guides their way through the trees, making sure there's enough room for the horse.

Aaron sighs. "They're less afraid of me because -,"

"You're white?" Lupe snickers.

"You fit into the stereotype of an acceptable socio-economic bracket?" Alma adds.

Aaron smiles wide, nodding. "Fair enough." He chuckles and tries to sound insistent, "They're less scared of me because they know me. It's less and less every day. So let them get to know you." He looks around at the group. "You should go to Deanna's party tonight," he insists.

Lupe snorts. "Not sure I care if we all become chummy. Not sure it matters. But I've made worse situations work." She gives Aaron a rueful smile. "I really do fucking hate parties though."

"Oh, I love parties!" Alma cheers as they approach the gates and the horse huffs behind her, clomping its hooves into the earth.

Aaron and the sisters turn to Daryl, expectant.

"I got nothing to prove," Daryl grumbles. "I met a lot of bad people out here doing a lot of bad shit." He looks at Aaron and bites out, "They weren't afraid of nothin'."

As the gates squeal open, Aaron chuckles, but its throaty and bitter. "Yeah, they were..."

Chapter Text

An hour or so before sunset, Lupe plasters on a bright fake smile and lets her sister cart her over to the party. Alma managed to find 'suitable' party clothes. She got a beautiful maxi dress with a geometric pattern in neutral tones. And though Lupe wanted to kill her sister, the gorgeous stretchy sundress with big yellow sunflowers on it looked positively bomb on her.

They get inside and do their usual rounds of burst socializing. They speak with Deanna and finally get to meet Reg, her husband, and Spencer, the other son. They chatter with Carol and a few of the inventory workers. One lady will not shut up about a pasta maker. They meet and mingle with the who's who of Alexandria. They laugh at very bad jokes and supply little quips. Each effort is a process to make themselves appear non-threatening and 'like a good fit'.

Lupe always does a little better with Alma there as her back up. It's easy to feed off of one another and play up the delightful sisterhood act. It wasn't entirely an act, but it could get laid on pretty thick. Their performance comes to an end after they gab with every group in the room.

Lupe is already exhausted. Alma spots the teens gathering on a set of couches in the connected den and Enid waves her over. Lupe just about throws Alma over there herself. She assures her little sister she will be alright and sends Alma on her way. Lupe can't help but smile when almost all the faces in the group light up as Alma arrives. Aside from too-cool-to-smile Ron, it seems like she and Carl really did find a good niche.

Lupe discovers Abraham, Rosita, Tara, Eugene, and Glenn huddled by the hors d'oeuvres. Lupe strolls up and picks at some food off the coffee table. "You know when we group together like this, it looks suspicious."

Tara gives her a tired frown. "Stop…" She groans.

Lupe smiles at the group. "Having some good ole fashion fun?"

Abraham shrugs. "They got beer." Everyone snickers and he hides his smile behind his mustache as he grins down at Rosita.

"It's adequate," Eugene mumbles, eyes cascading over the people in the room.

"There's already drama unfolding," Rosita purses her lips.

"Chisme!?" (Gossip!?) Lupe wiggles forward and grins. "Tell me!"

"Okay, so that big ass blonde dude just hit on me. He's the goddamn town doctor," Rosita says, crossing her arms. "Wasn't even a smooth line."

"Isn't he married?" Lupe blinks, anger taking place of the excitement for gossip.

Abraham's mustache twitches again. "Should break his hands."

"We might need his hands," Tara muses, "just take his tongue."

"El cree muy muy," (He's self-absorbed,) Rosita narrows her eyes in his direction. "A total pig, so steer clear if you can."

Lupe pantomimes a gag. "My pleasure."

"So how are you feeling? Settling in?" Glenn asks Lupe.

Lupe shrugs. "It's weird, but it's where we're at. I'm just trying to make the best of it. Alma deserves something like this. Something..." Her hands wave in front of her as she tries to search for the words. "I mean, nothing will be normal, but like, not living out of a car is a big selling point."

Rosita laughs and nods. "Yeah, all the kids that have made it this far deserve some peace. World is hard enough when you're young."

"Hell, we'll get them that peace," Abraham smiles, "we'll do whatever it takes. Am I right?"

His grin is infectious and everyone raises a glass. Lupe crinkles her plastic cup of water against a few others and takes a sip. Her eyes travel through the room. She does a double take seeing Noah stuck in the hallway leading to the exit. He is leaning up against the wall, next to a garish hanging decoration and an accent table. She snakes away from the group and heads right for him.

"Hi." Lupe grins, bending to catch his gaze.

There's a sudden drop in his features, like a curtain came down with his smile. "Hey."

"How's it going?" She asks, leaning against an adjacent wall to give him room.

"Good." He shrugs, face tensing up a bit. "Uh, yeah. I'm okay. Someone carted off Beth to talk about the horse, and it wasn't Alma. She hasn't escaped yet." He huffs out an unsure laugh and looks to Lupe. "Parties have never been my thing."

"Me either, I kinda despise this. I'd jump out a window, but I look too good in this dress. I'd need a diversion," she replies with a chuckle.

Noah snorts. "Smoke bomb!" He pantomimes throwing down the round explosive. The two giggle with child-like glee.

"It's gonna settle, man," Lupe says after the laughter peters out. "It's bad, but it'll always settle."

Noah nods and sighs. Maggie and Glenn come up to check in too. He plays it all off, smiling at the group that cares about him enough to scare him sometimes. He looks over to Maggie. "I think I'm gonna head out. Could you tell Beth?"

Glenn laughs and scoffs, his smile tight. "No, no. You're not bailing. We're in this together." His gaze is playfully crazed as he grips Noah's shoulder. Noah scoffs and shakes his head.

Maggie sighs, trying to take things serious. "You're here with us now. You're here with family." Noah looks up at her a little dazed.

Lupe leans in with a gentle nudge to his arm. She grins. "And Family suffers together. How about shots? I know how to make great shots. Not too strong but it'll get you nice and buzzed and keep you there." She curls a scoffing but smiling Noah under her arm, which is difficult cause he's so tall. She drags him into the kitchen asking about what he likes to drink.

What ensues is a very 'Mad Max' meets 'Stepford' drink-a-thon. Lupe gets several prominent members of Alexandria and her own group to try some inventive concoctions. There were a few drinking games, a few daring tricks with kitchen tools, and a lot of smiles and laughter. Noah finally got Beth back and they both seemed a million times more cheery. Everyone got comfortably blotto after an hour or so. Lupe made them all one last drink which was orange juice, ice, water, Gatorade, and grenadine. The group becomes preoccupied with mixing and mingling and Lupe manages to slip away.

She gets out the front door quiet enough and closes it with painful precision. Turning towards the steps, she digs around in the top part of her dress. From the depths, she yanks out a pack of smokes and pulls one out. Her whole body sways as she squints and focuses on getting the lighter to the tip of the cigarette. It takes her several flicks to get a flame going. The intensity of her focus causes her heel to miss the next step and she tumbles down two more. Her ass thumps along as her legs splay out helplessly, dress riding up her thighs. And to really add insult to injury, she dropped her cigarette and it broke.

Lupe struggles to decide between cussing up a storm and laughing at herself. It's a little too late. She can't stop the giggles, even as she tries to hold them in with her hand. She'd always been such a pathetic drunk, but she could hold her liquor back in the day. She only had like two shots and she's already a blathering mess. She accepts being the thirty-year-old who's gonna have stair imprints on her ass cheeks at the end of the world.

Out from the shadows comes a tightly wound silhouette. To Lupe, it's a big blur, like a walking plank of wood. The gravelly voice gives him away. "Damn, you a cheap date."

"Que te den, culero," (Up yours, asshole,) Lupe snarls, but the giggles keep interrupting her threat. "Me comeré toda tu cabeza." (I'll eat your whole head.)

"Chill, ain't gotta eat the whole damn thing." Daryl grunts and walks closer, reaching out his hand to help her up.

Lupe's legs wobble beneath her and she sways. But she primly flips her long black hair back and brushes at her dress to get off dirt and smooth it out. Her lips purse and she is laser-focused on the way her hands glide across the fabric.

"You're shit-faced, aren't ya?" He teases.

Her head flips up and a fiery glare aims at him. She snaps back, "Well your face is shit!" A second after it comes out her mouth her face buckles in regret. She shuffles up to him with shaking hands reaching out. "Espera, espera, no, lo siento, pobrecito, (Wait, wait, no I'm sorry, poor baby,) your face isn't shit." A finger glides down his nose and under his jaw. She tilts his head this way and that while he's frozen by her touch. A slow, honest smile spreads beneath her sleepy eyes. "Muy guapo. Muy, muy," (Very handsome. Very, very,) she mutters, patting his cheeks.

"Stop," he rumbles, sounding more mad than playful.

Lupe pulls back her hands and curls in on herself like someone left out in the cold. Looking up at Daryl with her wide blinking eyes, her chin trembles. "Sorry…I shouldn't have touched you."

"Shit…" Daryl grumbles. He turns on his heels and stalks away.

Lupe huffs out a shaky breath and the tiny amount of booze in her system makes her brave. She stomps her shin-high combat boots right after him. "Hey! Hey!" She shouts at him. He doesn't stop his determined stalking. Though she wobbles, she jogs and jumps in front of him, spreading her arms wide. She scowls. "Did I piss you off or something? Do I as a person offend you? Cause if you don't like me just say it and I'll back off. I just… thought... after all this..."

Daryl fidgets in front of her. He seems like he's weighing his options on making a run for it. He shakes his head. He can't look at her in that dress with her long ass hair shining and swaying like a night-black sea. He gnaws on his lip. "Ain't it..."

"Then what, goddamnit? I can't stand this back and forth with you! One second you're nice, the next you practically bite my head off!" Lupe growls at him, waving her arms around in anger. "Just fucking decide!"

Daryl paces a step or two, back and forth. He pauses in front of her. "Why do you care? Huh?" He snaps at her. "You got plenty of things you should be focusing on! Where's that little sister uh'yers? She getting drunk off her ass too? Why ain't you there?"

Lupe pulls into herself as the scowl forms on her face. Her chin quivers again but her voice is stern. "Because I can't treat her like children used to get treated. Because she's growing and needs to start making her own decisions. And all I can do is be the one she falls back on, the one she can depend on no matter what. That's what I need to be!" She huffs out tight breaths. "I have spent every moment of my life devoted to teaching that kid to survive. She's smart. She has friends to watch out for her too. Close ones. Good ones." Lupe bites at her lip. "I don't, okay? I got people drunk and pretended to smile, all so I could run outside for a cigarette I don't actually need." She sighs. "Plus it's sensory hell in there. My nervous system gives up."

Daryl gets all stiff, hands stuffed in his pockets and shoulders hunched. "M'Sorry…" He grumbles and walks past her.

Lupe turns with an eye roll that almost tips her over. She stomps after him. "Hey, I wanna go home! And it's your duty as a southern gentleman to walk me!"

Daryl stops and turns on her, his face screwed up in confusion. "What about me screams 'southern gentleman' to you?" He snarls. "No! I ain't going to fuckin' tea parties! I ain't walkin' drunk women home!"

Lupe exhales and her body deflates. She stares up at him with a half-formed frown. "I am tired as ass from today. I fell down some stairs and I hurt," she grumbles, stern. "You're from Georgia, that's in the south. You're already halfway there so just be a fuckin' gentleman!" She barks at him with clenched fists.

"Whatever," Daryl grumbles and walks over to her side, gripping her elbow, none too gentle. "Let's fuckin' go then."

As he walks her down the street she sways into him and wraps her arm around his for stability. Daryl warms and buzzes where his side meets hers. Her body is plush and her skin is soft and smooth. He wants to splay his fingers along every inch of her. But he stifles that down hard. He's sick to his stomach thinking all these tortuous thoughts while he's supposed to be a gentleman. He'd never imagined being the type to walk a woman home on a nice evening. She's drunk silly too and he'd rather die than take advantage. Merle may have been a piece of shit, but Daryl didn't play any games. He didn't even think he could when Lupe was on an entirely different playing field.

Lupe yawns. Her eyes wander up to Daryl, taking in his profile. He always looks so ominous with the scraggly hair and dressing almost always in black. She knows he's more than that, he's strong, skilled, honest, and even though he's very reserved, he's sweet and kind. His eyes hold a whole lot of sadness turned anger though. She worries for him a lot.

"So what's with you and the clandestine meeting with Rick and Carol out by the white house?" She blurts.

He freezes and she tumbles forward, thinking the momentum was gonna stay the same. He swings her by his grip on her elbow, arm wrapping around her waist to keep her from falling. Squeezing her to him, they are chest to chest. Lupe's feet hardly scrape the ground they refuse to navigate.

Meeting each other's eyes, Daryl knows he's not going to bother lying to her. "How'd you know about that?"

Lupe swallows, They're awfully close and he still radiates heat like he did in that barn. She replies with a forced blankness. "Alma and I found all your footprints and the body riddled with a perfect grouping."

Daryl huffs and his face twitches with anger. He shakes his head. "It ain't what you think…"

Chapter Text

At Daryl and Lupe's side, a porch light flickers on. Both of them turn, shocked. Daryl raises a hand to block the light from his eyes. Lupe grumbles. The glare is agonizing to her addled brain. She groans and tucks her face behind his vest's lapel.

"Daryl?" Aaron's voice calls out. "Lupe?"

"Hi," Lupe drones, muffled against Daryl's chest.

"Hey," Daryl grunts and lowers his hand. Aaron gapes at them. That's about the time Daryl notices how Lupe burrows into his chest. He's got her curled up in his arms nice and close. It's to keep her from falling, but her entire body crushes against him, setting him alight. His face heats up so fast, he's sure his head is smoking. He deflects like it's an art. "Thought you were going to that party."

Aaron slips his hands into his pockets and rocks back on his heels. "Oh, I was never going to go 'cause of Eric's ankle. Thank God." He grins.

Daryl bristles. "Why the hell did you tell us to go, then?"

Aaron shrugs. "I said try." His smile spreads as he nods to Lupe in his arms. "Seems like you did."

Daryl shakes his head. "Whatever, I gotta get'er home."

"Hey, come in," Aaron says gesturing to his house. "Have some dinner. Food will probably do her some good. When was the last time you saw her eat and not hand off half of it to her sister?"

Daryl hesitates. Lupe's still pressed up against him like a cat clinging to a scratch post.

Aaron smiles. "Come on, man. It's some pretty serious spaghetti."

Lupe's head pops right up, eyes blinking at different times. "Someone say s'getti?" She leans away from Daryl, blinking herself into coherency. "I never say no to pasta. You can eat my dust, Dixon." She turns and wobbles up the steps with Aaron coming down to offer her a hand. Daryl tries to bite back the smile on his face as he shakes his head and follows her.

The two of them get inside the home and look around. The house is comfortable and lived in. It's decorated with trinkets and collected things. There's a large mural on one of the walls with a bunch of license plates arranged in corresponding spots to a map. There are rocks, crystals, and pressed flowers. Set on bookshelves are grainy photos of the couple together, living life in a dead world.

Lupe fusses until Aaron lets her help set up the table. Daryl helps Eric get situated across from Aaron. That puts Daryl across from Lupe. Once the food is set out and the wine flows, they start to eat. The meal passes in silence until the plates get cleaned. Daryl slurped down the pasta with vigor. Eric and Aaron shared a chuckle at that, just thinking he was being his usual uncouth self.

As she sobers, Lupe recognizes the familiar behavior. There'd been a time or two when her family struggled to get food on the table. There had been plenty of times her very own beautiful face hoovered down gallons of food at a friend's house or some free event. All so she wouldn't have to eat rice and beans on a tortilla for the millionth time. She'd chewed only gum for weeks to make sure Alma got to go on a trip to D.C. in Junior High. So Daryl's behavior didn't amuse her. It was like looking into a distorted reflection.

Daryl wipes at his face with his sleeve. He glances at his arm like it might have betrayed him, distressed at his own behavior. Then out around at the faces watching. "Thanks," he mutters. He grabs a napkin and goes for a second round of cleaning the sauce from around his mouth.

Eric leans into Daryl. "Of course!" He smiles wide as he sips at his wine. "So when you're all out there, if you happen to be in a store or something, Mrs. Neudermyer is really looking for a pasta maker." He smiles and it's a little devious. "And we're all really trying to get her to shut up about it."

Daryl takes a sip of wine and his gaze narrows in confusion. He flashes a look to Lupe. She looks coherent now and pleasantly fed. Her cheeks glow and her smile is soft despite the slight frown pinching her brows together.

"I mean, we have crates of dried pasta here," Eric continues, "but she wants to make her own or something." He huffs and sips again. "I really think she just wants something to talk about so she can feel important. So if you see one out on your travels it would go a long way to…" Eric frowns as he takes in their reactions and the sentence comes out half finished. He finally glances over at Aaron who cringes, shaking his head infinitesimally. His eyes widen as he looks at Daryl and Lupe, then back at Aaron. "I thought it was done. You didn't ask them already?"

"Ask us what?" Lupe says, looking between the two men.

Aaron sighs. He smiles at Eric, beaming with affection. "Let me get him on the couch to start a movie or something. I'd like to talk to you two after." He nods and goes over to his husband, helping him out of the chair. He settles Eric on the couch with the remote and a bottle of wine. Aaron kisses him on the head and then waves for Lupe and Daryl to follow.

They go into a garage full of mechanic stuff. To Lupe, it looks piled high with garbage. To Daryl, it's a playground.

Aaron shows them around the two car garage. "When I got the place, there was a frame, some parts, and equipment. Whoever lived here built them, I think."

"It's a lot of parts for one bike," Daryl says, inspecting the room. He stares at the tools and picks up certain pieces and peers at them from every angle.

Lupe sneaks over to the tarp-covered bike and pulls up the covering on it for a peek. "Did you work on it?"

Aaron shakes his head. "God no. Whenever I came across any parts out there, I brought them back. I didn't know what I'd need. I always thought I'd learn how to do it, but Daryl, I get the feeling you already know what to do with it." He sighs. "And the thing is, you're going to need a bike. And Lupe, you're gonna need your truck." Aaron points to a milk crate on the floor behind him. There are some car necessities like oil, a jump kit, an extra battery, and a few red jugs of gasoline.

Lupe can't even breathe. The simple gesture and the mere idea of being able to get her truck back made her heart stutter in her chest. She had no words.

"Why?" Daryl asks.

Aaron sighs. "I told Deanna not to give either of you a job because I think I have the best fit for you two. I'd like you to be Alexandria's other recruiters." Aaron continues past the blank shock on their faces. "I don't want Eric risking his life anymore -,"

"You want us riskin' ours, right?" Daryl grumbles, his eyes flash over to Lupe but he forces himself to look back at the table.

"Yeah," Aaron scoffs. "Because it's less of a risk. You both survived out there. You kept others alive out there. I've seen you two work. I know I don't have to worry about the two of you because you're probably as good, if not much better than me." He shakes his head. "And Eric… he's not like us. He's alright outside the walls and I trust him more than anyone else inside them. But I'd feel better knowing he's where he belongs, at home. Safe. He was an engineer, he could be helping people instead of stressing about me."

Lupe squints at Aaron in slight confusion. Daryl is still glaring around the shop.

"I know it's hard getting used to this. To houses and parties and people," Aaron says. "And I understand right now, you both need to be out there sometimes. So do I. But we don't belong out there. No one does." He smiles at them, soft and genuine. "But the main reason why I want you two to help me recruit is because you both know the difference between a good person and a bad person."

After their prolonged silence Aaron is almost begging. "You can't tell me that either of you would want positions that keep you behind the gates."

Daryl shrugs, chewing on his lips. "I dunno, Carol don't make cookin' casserole look so hard."

Lupe turns on him and points at him to stop. "Hey, you get a casserole wrong it's basically just vomit with a crust." Both Daryl and Aaron cringe and/or gag. Lupe scoffs. "Babies…"

Aaron laughs and shakes his head. "Are you in?"

Daryl looks at Lupe. She freezes for a moment, confused by his attention. He eyes her with a question lingering in his sharp gaze like he wants her opinion about all this. She's a bit muddled by the fact that he even cares. She tilts her head at him and can see a sense of eagerness in his eyes and that little grin. This is their chance to be a part of something.

Lupe frowns back towards Aaron. "I don't know how I feel about recruiting. I'm not good with people."

"You managed to convince Rick's group that you belonged. And you had to do it with two of the most difficult people." Aaron turns to Daryl with his hands raised. "No offense, but you and Rick are a bit… intense."

Daryl shrugs. Aaron is not wrong.

Lupe scoffs. "I didn't do anything. That was all Alma. She's the people person."

"Alma wasn't there for half of it," Daryl mutters. "You kept my ass together after they got taken. You kept us all alive when you shoulda been scared silly about your sister. You're honest and you don't do bullshit. Some people will appreciate that. Hell, they'll need it."

Lupe blinks at Daryl, mouth almost gaping.

"And I struggle to talk to people too," Aaron replies. "It's not like I'm perfect and it's not like I always do well. I hate talking because my mom made me take diction classes so I didn't sound like… a sissy." He shrugs with deflated shoulders and a pinched mouth. "I just used it to improve on my acting skills in drama club. Turn homophobia on its head, you know?"

Lupe smiles at Aaron. "Hey, I hear that. Queer to my ears growing up Catholic. Went through some shit like that too. Lost a friend 'cause of that kind of stuff gone too far." She licks her lips and bites at them to hold in the grief. "My parents changed their tune about it after that, but it's not an easy culture to navigate."

Aaron snorts derisively. "My parents were evangelical. Boy, do I get it." He looks at Lupe with a soft smile. "But you understand why I'm asking you too, right? I mean you just made me feel reassured in like four sentences."

Lupe shakes her head. "But I didn't -,"

Daryl interrupts her. "He's right. You just about broke my cheekbone after I left ya in the lurch. But I still felt safer with you in those woods than my entire time with Joe."

Lupe looks at Daryl with an empty laugh. "That's not a high bar to beat, Dixon." He levels a sharp grin at her.

"Both of you have great instincts and smarts that can benefit us out there. I think you'd do this community a great service by being the gatekeepers." Aaron grins. "So?"

Daryl huffs and shrugs. "Ain't got nothin' else to do."

Lupe smiles. "I've gotta talk to Alma. I'm concerned about being away for long periods of time." Aaron and Daryl chuckle at her. She sighs and shrugs. "Likely she'll try and shove me out the gates herself. So yeah, I think I'm in."

Aaron's face splits wide in a huge smile. Even Daryl shows the peak of a real one too.

"I'll go huntin', get you and Eric some rabbits to celebrate," Daryl says, shy with his excitement.

"Someone hunt me down a bed," Lupe bends at the waist and lays face first against the workbench.

Daryl and Aaron both laugh. Daryl shuffles over to her and looks at Aaron. "I'm gonna get her home."

"I'll see you two tomorrow… uh, afternoon." He nods to Lupe's groaning. "We can hammer out details then." Aaron grins and goes to open the garage door.

Daryl pulls Lupe to his side and they both wish Aaron goodnight. They get back out onto the darkened streets and stroll through the twilight. Lupe curls tighter against Daryl's side.

"You cold?" He asks. The weather is temperate. He's in long sleeves though and she's only in that cute little dress that hugs her body and swirls every time she moves. He's about to offer her the shirt off his back if she wants it.

Lupe shakes her head. "Nah, you're a space heater. Is jus'comfy." She smiles and nuzzles in closer. "You don't like it?" She asks, looking up at him with a startling sincerity. "I'll stop -,"

Daryl tugs her back before she can slink away from him. "Nah, it's alright," he mutters, trying to play off his desperation for keeping her close. "Don't want you to fall and scuff up that pretty dress a'yers."

Lupe grins. "It is pretty, isn't it?" Her voice is tender and sweet. There's a soft vulnerability to her as she gazes down and her fingers brush the material like it's sacred. "I didn't think I'd ever get to feel pretty again."

"The hell you talkin' bout? Yer pretty all the damn time," Daryl snaps back. His face heats up as he realizes what came out of his mouth.

Lupe stumbles, stunned a man like Daryl would ever call her pretty. She corrects before she eats it on the street and latches on him for balance. She looks up at Daryl with a nervous smile as he steadies her. "Thanks."

Daryl clears his throat and won't look at her again. "Yer welcome," he mumbles right as they reach Lupe's porch.

She turns around and smiles up at Daryl. "Looks like we're gonna be teammates again."

Daryl stuffs his hands in his pockets as she leans on the banister. "Seems like it."

"Hope I don't have to punch you this time." She grins.

Daryl chuckles, kicking at the loose chunks of asphalt. "No promises."

Lupe laughs. It's a trilling sound that resonates through Daryl like he's her tuning fork. It's like the best sound he's ever heard. Lupe gives him an unrestrained smile and then gets up on her toes, pressing a small kiss to his cheek. "Goodnight, Daryl"

Daryl swallows heavy, his face feels like it's on fire, but he manages to mumble, "Good night."

And he means it.

Chapter Text

Alma and Enid sit by the manmade lake inside Alexandria. After school the other day, they saw some ducks sneaking around. They followed the animals and got led to their new favorite spot. Tucked behind a few bushes and trees in a little nook, they hide away from the world. They play with each other's hair and try to make each other smile. They sit and read. Imagining they could team up with their favorite heroes to level undead hordes and save the day. They talk about Alexandria and what they'd be doing if the world wasn't the way it was. They talk about finding each other in another reality and the way things should have been.

The day is breezy, but the bushes and trees seclude them from the worst of it. Leaning against the same dumpy tree, they sit haphazardly tangled. Alma's head rests on the inside of Enid's thigh. Enid's other leg bends over Alma's stomach. Enid holds the manga so they both can see. She brushes her fingers through Alma's hair. Around her finger, Alma twirls a strand of Enid's locks the wind blew over her shoulder.

"God, Sauske is so annoying," Alma groans.

"I know, it's like 'waaaaah all my family is dead. So instead of carefully planning my revenge, I'm gonna go run off at eight and just throw my tiny hands at people'," Enid gripes. "You ever notice he's also just like a bad fighter? Like, barely any strategy. He has some brute power and thinks he can just toss it around and everything will do what he wants."

"It makes me so mad!" Alma replies, sitting up so she can look at Enid and get serious. "He doesn't deserve Naruto's devotion. He didn't deserve to train with Kakashi. And I don't know why Sakura or Ino even give a shit about that greasy little Emo. I mean...they have each other right fricken' there! And if they really did like dudes, I mean… Shikamaru? Kiba? And look, I would die for Rock Lee."

"Right!?" Enid yelps, teetering on the edge of a screech. Alma shushes her and they both descend into soft giggles.

A gust of wind comes winding through their little spot. It rustles not only leaves but the long locks they've let down. Enid sits against the torrent and it swells up the back of her neck. She's completely windswept and her long hair gets all over.

"Jesus!" Alma giggles as Enid spits and sputters trying to get her hair out of her face. "You look like Cousin It!"

Enid laughs beneath the curtain of her hair. "Oh my god, it's the Bermuda Triangle in here! Help me!" She wheezes.

Alma laughs and digs her fingers into Enid's long brown hair. Her hands swipe away the strands until Enid's face is almost visible. Periodically, they both burst into uncontrollable fits of laughter. They hardly get any progress made.

"Okay, okay..." Alma forces a sober look, going onto her knees for stability. She leans in, trying to hide her smile as Enid fights to suppress her giggling. "Stop it, I don't wanna lose my best friend to her hair!"

She rakes both her hands across the sides of Enid's head, finally getting it all out of her face. Once Enid's eyes peek through, staring up at Alma, Alma sighs. Her brown eyes travel Enid's flushed cheeks and wide smile, their faces only inches apart. "There's that gorgeous mug," she muses, followed by a forced, nervous chuckle with the squirming in her gut. It accompanies her tender movement of pushing Enid's hair behind her ears.

Enid's eyes are wide. Her mouth hangs open in shock as she stares up at Alma, smiling and holding her face like a treasure. Looking up at her friend, her stomach bubbles and her palms get sweaty. The wind must have taken Enid's breath along with it. She can't seem to find the strength to smile back. She's too startled by this giddy panic she feels when frozen in that kind brown gaze. An instant, desperate urge takes over. She leans up and presses her lips against Alma's. Alma's fingers respond first, curling into the hair at Enid's temples.

Enid pulls away fast, her face beet red. Her eyes scan Alma's dazed look, blinking a thousand times a minute. Her lip quivers, looking up at Alma like she's got a loaded gun pointed at her. "I'm so sorr-,"

Alma leans forward and presses her lips against Enid's before she can finish the statement. The sensation is new and unexpected. Enid's lips are soft and gentle. Alma feels like hers can rest there forever if she dared to let them. They savor the gentle kiss. It's innocent and pure, something that bolsters the genuine care they have for one another. It's absolutely perfect.

"What the fuck!? Get off of her!" A voice screeches.

The girls get ripped apart, but it feels like being shattered.

Ron stands over them, glaring at Alma. Alma, shocked and terrified, glances at Enid who looks as scared as she feels. Ron turns his back on Enid and goes straight for Alma. She starts scrambling away, trying to get to her feet. She uses a tree to get there, keeping her eye on Ron. He charges at her and wraps his hands around her throat. Alma shakes and there are so many things inside of her screaming out for help. She's frozen, locked in Ron's widened, furious glare as he tries to squeeze the life out of her.

"You're fucking scum!" Ron growls at Alma, slamming her back against the tree. "You're disgusting! You keep your filthy hands off of her!"

"Ron! Stop!" Enid screams as she finally jumps up. She starts beating at his shoulders and back. "Stop it! I kissed her!"

Ron lets go of Alma's neck with one hand and flails an arm back at Enid. His knuckles catch her cheek and send her stumbling to her knees. He turns back to Alma and his hand slams against her throat hard enough to make her gag. "I hate you!" He snarls as his nails cut into her skin.

Seeing Enid get hurt sends a jolt through Alma, bursting through bad memories, panic, and fear. Her vision blurs and burns hot. Tears start streaming down her cheeks. She raises up her arms and slams her fists on the insides of Ron's elbows, disengaging his grip. He's weak so his hands slip right off of her neck. Alma grabs onto the lapels of his jacket, extends her arms, and then yanks Ron towards her. She uses the tree as leverage to propel herself in the opposite direction. The added force to her tug sends him hurtling face-first into the trunk like a battering ram. Leaves shake loose, and the resounding crack almost blots out the way Ron screams.

He stumbles around and flails at Alma once more, a bloody screaming mess. She does her best to evade and slap away his hands. He's inexperienced but rage-fueled and determined. A dangerous combination. She strikes out to make him stop, getting in a solid punch to his gut. He stumbles away, finally resigning to his fate as tears stream through the blood on his cheeks.

"You fucking fags!" Ron screams, holding onto his stomach. He turns and fumbles his way through the brush, screaming for his parents and sobbing.

Enid and Alma both stare after him, shaking and terrified. They swivel to look at each other and tears well in their eyes at the same time.

"I'm so sorry!" Enid wails and shakes.

Alma rushes at her and grabs her hands, squeezing them tight. "It's not you. It's not!" Alma insists as tears fall, unreserved and undeserved. "We have to go!" She tugs at Enid who's legs feel made of cement. "Come on!" She yells and pulls, finally dislodging her terrified friend.

They sprint through the tiny path they formed through the brush. Skirting the lake, they scan around like they're surrounded by a herd. They're terrified Ron will show up followed by townsfolk with torches and pitchforks. Neither of them knows what the hell to do. They're so confused and so hurt that their perfect moment got ruined. Alma goes to find the only thing in this world that truly means safety.

They fumble up the steps, stomping, panting, and whining. Lupe is already opening the door with a high ratcheted concern.

"Qué onda? Are you - Alma, tu cuello!" (What's up?... your neck!) Lupe screeches, stumbling out of the door to grab her sister. She looks over at Enid and sees the welt forming on her pale cheek. She reaches out a gentle hand and places it beneath Enid's trembling chin. "Oh baby, oh no... What's happened?" Her eyes drift between Enid and Alma.

There is no accusation there. No antagonism or hate. Enid and Alma both crumble into one another, bursting into tears. A jumbled version of their story comes out at the same time. Lupe does her best to listen to both of the girls as she curls them up into her arms. She tries not to let her rage get the best of her when she learns the bruises are from Ron. She forces herself to stop contemplating the grizzly death of a teen. Something so hateful should've never happened to two innocent girls sharing something amazing.

"Come on, come inside," Lupe insists. The girls latch onto her and continue sobbing as they cling to one another. She tries to get the squid they make through the doorway. Lupe shuffles them along and finally completes the turn to get through. She urges them further while doing her best to hold them all together. The fragile thing breaks once they all step past the threshold.

"Hey!" A deep angry voice shouts out. "Hey! I need to talk to her!"

Lupe lets go of the girls and turns to see the big blonde asshole that hit on Rosa at the party. She frowns and her brain whirrs into action. Big blonde asshole. The town doctor. Jesse's husband. And Ron's dad, Pete. Lupe shakes her head as all the tendrils she didn't connect during her time in Alexandria snap together. This man is the one Alma said she didn't like. They both should have heeded her instincts. Her sister felt the same about Ron too. Lupe now knew where he must have got it all from.

Pete storms down the street towards her house, waving his arms. "Hey! Don't let that little bitch get away! She attacked my son!"

Lupe's neck twitches hard. She steps towards him, her hands curling into fists. Her teeth grit and she's ready to charge that fucker down and turn him to mud. A hand grasps her wrist and tugs her back. She looks over her shoulder and sees Enid, her entire face splotchy and red. Her quivering lip goes still. Her features go blank. She stares at Lupe in pure fear.

"He beats them…"

Her whisper is like a whirlwind and Lupe gets swept up in a rage too powerful for her small form. She looks between her sister and Enid. "Get to the woods. Hide until I come and get you."

"No, I'm not leaving you here with him!" Alma snarls, but it quivers past her lips.

Lupe shakes her head and rids herself of any residual anger. She knows who to save it for. She smiles at the girls. "Get to the woods now. Go through the back of the house. Protect each other. I will find you," she insists. She tries to sound reassuring as she flattens and fixes their hair with soft and steady hands. "Go. Please." Alma and Enid both nod with tears welling and run further into the house. Lupe shuts the door behind herself with a slam.

Pete walks right up to her porch, screaming, "That little dyke put her hands on my son! Get her back out here now!" He gets one foot on the steps.

Lupe charges at him and shoves him hard, sending him flying back into the street with a thud. He gasps for air as she stomps down and waits on her bottom step. It gives him plenty of time to climb to his feet as he wheezes.

"You fucking bitch!" He gasps and snarls.

"Who was just on the ground?" Lupe jeers. "I'd call that a bitch."

Pete storms back over and Lupe blocks him on the bottom step. He glares at her, almost eye to eye with the porch's boost. "Let me through," he spits.

There's actual spittle Lupe has to dodge. "Fuck you, that's my house and I don't know your deranged ass." He pants like a hog, inches away from her face. She can smell the distinct tang of hard liquor on his breath. "Pendejo, (Asshole,) are you drunk? You're a doctor for shit's sake! What is wrong with you?"

"That dyke little sister of yours and that little slut Enid attacked my son," he snarls. His shoulders square and his eyes go black with drunken fury. "They need to be set straight and taught a lesson."

"Uh, the only lessons needed here are: You, the main doctor in town, not day drinking and using so many slurs. And your boy, realizing he doesn't own the earth and the people in it." Lupe snaps back. "You get the fuck away from my property and you keep your wife-beating hands away from my family." She leans in and snarls, "I don't give a shit if you're a surgeon, you fucking pig. I'll turn you inside out if you or that little rat you call a child so much as looks at those girls again."

Pete huffs and puffs and his own house comes crumbling down as he pulls back a fist.

Lupe has the time to sigh, resigned. "Don't do this..."

Pete takes a swing and she sidesteps on the stairs with a roll of her eyes. He tumbles on to the steps face first but scrambles up to his feet and charges like a delirious bull. "I'll beat that little whore bloody for putting her hands on my son!" He snarls, reaching out to grab Lupe.

Lupe hops off the bottom step and slams the heel of her hand into Pete's sternum. He gasps and stumbles back. Lupe grits her teeth as she walks forward, tilting her neck until it pops. She stretches back her collar bones to prep as Pete charges again with a rasp. He gets his grip on her shoulders and tries to fling her around. She curls her hands around his wrists, holding on while he shakes her like a rattle. When he appears to lose some steam Lupe twists his hands off of her. Because his reach is so long, she can pull back a full half-time worthy kick and let it ride. She swings like she aimed at his head, but her boot lands in his crotch. Pete screams and crumbles to his knees. He bends over at the waist, throwing up onto the ground.

Lupe walks forward and pulls his gaze up to hers with a fist in his thinning blonde hair. He huffs and tries to swipe at her, gagging from the pain. She slaps his hands away and pulls out her knife. The tip presses underneath his chin until blood draws and he stops fussing.

"You listen to me now, and you listen to me good," Lupe demands with a growl. "You need to fix yourself before it's too late. And by too late, I mean someone guts you like you deserve, you pathetic maggot," she hisses. "You and your son need some serious fucking therapy. Your obsession with gendered slurs and homophobia is something that needs addressing. And I can't believe you rotten cheese wheels have the gall to attack members of your own community because they're queer."

She shakes and her features twitch in fury. She holds his head in place with the tip of her knife. "My sister and Enid are perfectly fine just the way they are. My sister wouldn't attack your son unless she believed he was a genuine threat. The marks around her neck prove he is," she snaps. "He's young. He has time to learn. But you… you will fix your shit. And if you can't grow the fuck up, you will learn to shut the fuck up in the hardest way possible. Get the hell out of my face," she hisses, pulling back her knife and stepping away from him. "And I will kill you if I ever even see you again." He glares at her and her face drops all affect. Her eyes bore into him and she sees the fear start to bloom. A greedy smile forms on her lips. "I mean that."

Lupe shakes as she sheathes her knife and turns away. She intends to go back into her house, straight into the woods, and scream her lungs bloody. She gets about five steps away when she's tackled from behind.

Chapter Text

Lupe slams into the pavement with enough force to drive the air from her lungs. Her cheek and temple bounce and skid against the asphalt. It feels like someone took a cheese grater to her face. There's a pop when her wrist twists at an unnatural angle. It's no help that she and her assailant land on it. She feels the weight of some six feet several inches climb on top of her, straddling her lower back. Grabbing her already messy bun, Pete pulls back her head and bashes her face into the ground again. This time her nose cracks and she tastes blood.

Lupe reaches up with her good hand and digs her nails into the spaces between Pete's knuckles. Although it hurts, she worms her body around as hard as she can. She wiggles and scooches herself back far enough and then sinks her teeth into Pete's inner thigh. With enough effort and fury, she's sure she can get her jaws to meet. Pete screams and lets go of her hair as he flails around. She bucks underneath him and he flops forward, his face getting a nice meet and greet with the asphalt. The grating sound it makes when his teeth get pulverized by the street might haunt her for life.

Lupe gets to her feet and her body's a horror-scape of agony. She can only see out of one eye because the other eye is pulsing, caked with blood and grit. She sways on her feet as Pete, finally stunned, rolls over onto his back. There's a good amount of gravel stuck in his road flattened face. Blood pours out of his broken nose and his shredded mouth.

Lupe sniffs out dirt and blood from her busted nose and walks over to Pete. She kicks him in the ribs as hard as she can with a wail. The echo of her scream is a delightful crack. She climbs on top of him. She punches him hard in the ribs and he spews up a fountain of blood. She hits him, one, two, three, or more times before someone's arms wrap around her. Big arms that slip right under hers and lift her up like she weighs nothing. They're strong and sure and Lupe is fucking grateful because she goes limp and feels a complete loss of control. She stares down at Pete, shaking and groaning. Bubbles of blood form on his lips as he sputters pathetic breaths in and out. The drone of the world comes back to her ears as her heartbeat settles into its normal discordant thrum.

"I got ya," Daryl's voice fills her ears. "Jesus woman, I got ya. I'm sorry, I started running when he tackled you and couldn't get here, I'm sorry." He keeps muttering. "Ya did good, ya did good."

Lupe blinks and now Rick and Michonne stand over Pete's body. They both wear the navy constable uniforms. Lupe gets a flash of a terrible memory she'd wanted to burn away. She thrashes in Daryl's arms but he manages to keep hold.

"Settle down, I got ya," Daryl repeats.

Lupe shakes her head. "He'll kill me," her voice comes out like it's fifteen years ago. Her clothes are ripped and her body is covered in bruises and blood. She just wanted to say no. She wanted it to stop. He said he wouldn't hurt her and he lied.

"Ain't gon'do shit," Daryl growls and it pulls her from that darkness. "His shit stank since the first day we came. I'll kill him myself he so much as thinks about you."

Lupe shakes as Daryl gets her up on staggering feet. He wraps an arm around her waist to keep her standing and she hangs off him like a bad painting. He drags her away from the scene, slithering between houses, and through backyards.

"Where're we going?" She blinks up at him. The pain is a pinpoint of sunlight through a magnifying glass, baking her from the outside in.

"Takin' ya somewhere safe, where no one'll bother you," he grumbles.

Lupe snorts and shakes her head but it's a lackadaisical thing. "They'll kick me out…" She mumbles, words a little garbled.

"They won't do a thing," Daryl snarls it like a threat. "That fuck-head went after you. He was gonna kill you if you didn't do something."

"Like they care," Lupe sniffles and groans. "He's a surgeon," she mocks the glorifying echoes of Alexandrians.

"If that walking turd can get a medical degree, someone else can too," Daryl snarls. He pulls her towards a side door of a cream-colored house. "Come on."

Daryl drags her in and flips on the lights. Lupe blinks around and it's painful. She's inside Aaron and Eric's garage. Daryl leans her up against a shelf and an adjacent wall like a teetering surfboard. He walks over and sweeps his arm across the large workbench. Scooping everything up, he places it all over by the tools in a heap and rushes back to her.

He gets her to limp her way over to the table and scoops her up in his arms to lay her on top of it. Lupe isn't sure if it's the massive head wound, but she might have swooned at his swift grace. She lays down and cringes from the agony twitching through her. He reaches up and turns off the light right above her real fast. The others are enough.

"Still with me?" Daryl asks. He brushes loose hair away from the scratches on her face with an astounding tenderness.

"Only corporeally," she mutters, her body quivering.

"You cold?" His hands hover over her as he tries not to panic or touch her too much and hurt her more.

Tears start streaming down her face as she shakes. "Sort of," she whimpers, "i-i-it's a panic reaction." Daryl nods and rushes over to grab a blanket off the cot. He goes to lay it on her but she shakes her head. "M-my wrist, it-it's dislocated," she whines.

"I done a shoulder, but no wrist. How do I put it back in?" He asks, his manner child-like and tense.

Lupe nods through her shivers. "Just-just h-hold my hand as it is," her teeth chatter, "I c-can do the r-rest."

"Alright, be careful," Daryl replies. He stabilizes her hand as much as he can. He hates that she winces when he touches her.

She grits her teeth and then jerks and twists her arm from her shoulder, using her whole body to move. The pop sounds and her face crumples as tears break through again. She heaves out a few breaths and tries to calm down. "B-blanket, p-please."

Daryl immediately complies. "Anything else bad? I really gotta clean out yer face."

Lupe shakes her head. "Busted nose, bumps, and bruises, but nothing else other than the wrist. Maybe a little pelvic sublux but..." She grits her teeth again, tensing her whole body and arcing up at the hips. Another audible crack sounds but it's not as loud as the wrist. She sighs and settles back down. "Okay, yeah, that's better."

Daryl tucks the blanket around her tighter. "You scare the shit outta me, you know that?"

"Color me surprised," Lupe replies. The uncontrollable twitches in her muscles hit her face and neck the hardest. It's currently hell with chunks of the earth embedded in her raw skin. "Be honest, do I look like Two-Face from Batman?"

"Christ..." Daryl huffs, grabbing a first aid kit and pulling up a stool. "Don't move, but tell me what happened. I heard y'all scuffling and headed over. Thought you handled it and was 'bout to walk away when he scrambled up after ya. Nuts near jumped out my throat when I saw you go down and you couldn't catch yerself in time." He clears his throat to cover the way his voice trembles. He looks at her and nods. "You'll heal just fine."

Lupe gives Daryl a very pained smile. His hand brushes some more hair out of her face. Starting the work, he digs out a little bit of asphalt as Lupe relays the story. He's furious. Those girls getting attacked and Lupe getting beat on was shaking him into a man he never wanted to be again. He didn't like vengeance. He didn't think it was worth as much as true restitution or just getting lit and letting go. But he was human, with impulses and faults. Sometimes people deserve a healthy dose of Karma. Some people deserve to get exactly as bad as they give.

The damage to Lupe's face isn't too severe. Her skull is intact and her nose isn't actually broken. Her eye seems okay, just swollen and dirty. Her face might scar a bit, but most of it is superficial and easy to clean, just bloody and peppered with grit. He should take her to the infirmary but he didn't want her anywhere near that fucking void, Pete. If Daryl saw him right this second, he was sure he'd snap his neck. Lupe stays halfway lucid while he cleans her up, but she hardly makes a sound through the process. He doesn't mind, he needs to be meticulous. He couldn't lose her to some godforsaken infection.

"You should be the town doctor," she murmurs as he finishes putting bloody tools in a tray to clean later.

"The fuck, why?" He grumbles moving to lay gauze across the fresh but clean scratches.

Lupe's eyes roll around a bit trying to find him. Once she focuses her distant gaze on his face, she blinks her way into a slow, sweet smile. "I think it's your bedside manner."

He snorts at her and keeps laying gauze, getting ready to tape it down. The parts not covered in scratches on that side of her face are blooming with bruises. She looks like she got in a fight with a mountain and lost, but only barely.

She closes her eyes and sighs. "You've got soft hands, steady hands. You're real gentle."

"Darlin' is yer brain leakin' out yer face?" Daryl presses the tape into place and grumbles, "Quit talkin' nonsense or else I'll think you got concussed." He forces his fingers to stray away from her skin. He wants to feel the warmth of her, solidify that she's real, she's safe, and with him. He sniffs hard and tries to focus. "Gotta keep this clean, you get yer sister or Carol or someone to help." He presses the last piece down at the bottom of her jaw.

Lupe swoops up his hand and presses it against the opposite side of her face. She nuzzles into his warmth. Her eyes glow gold in the halo of fluorescents, tears shining like diamonds. "Thank you," she says, her chin quivering in his palm as she forces a smile. The beauty of it hits him about as hard as a horse kicking him in the chest.

"I ain't done nothin'," he snaps and tries to pull his hand away.

She holds him in place. He stays like she moves the earth itself and he's just some lump of dirt at her mercy. Tears drip from the corners of her eyes and fall down her temples, tickling his fingertips. She stares up at him, face crumpling with fear and sadness. "Thank you," she insists.

Daryl's breath shakes on the exhale, ruffling against her gauze. The brightness of his blue eyes is almost as harsh as the fluorescent lights around them, but she can't look away. His hand molds to the curve of her jaw and he holds her face in place as he leans in.

His eyes flutter shut as he presses his forehead against hers. "Yer welcome," he grumbles, the words a breath on her lips.

"Hey, Daryl -," Aaron's voice echoes from the door that connects the garage to the house. He pops in his head and his eyes widen to take in what's going on. Rushing in, his face drains of color seeing Lupe on the table and all the bloody remnants of her injury around her. His brain registered the way Daryl curved over her, protective, like a shield. It was the second time he caught them in an intimate position. But right then, he's overwhelmed with concern for Lupe. The tender moment could wait. "Oh my god, does she need the infirmary?"

"Nah," Daryl mutters as he pulls away and starts to clean up. "We handled it all here. Plus they're gonna be a little busy."

"What happened?" Aaron asks. He gets a condensed version from Daryl. Lupe blinks on the table, eyes bleary and directed at the ceiling. Aaron gulps back the bone-chilling trauma that gets dug up hearing what happened to Alma and Enid. He'll have to see if they need someone to talk to. "Since you won't take it, that guest room is still clean and it's got a nice big bed. We should let her rest," he mutters at Daryl.

"I gotta get the girls," Lupe mumbles and forces herself to rise. A full body gag comes with it. She shakes it away with some shivers and a set of independently rolling eyes. She settles and huffs out a tired breath.

"Where are they?" Aaron asks. "I can bring them here."

Lupe shakes her head. She realizes its a mistake as she wobbles to the side. She slams down a hand to steady herself. "Told them to hide in the woods." She swallows. "You won't find them."

"I can," Daryl grumbles lowly, wiping at his hands with a cloth. "There's an imprint of your face out on the asphalt somewheres. Git some goddamn rest for once. I'll bring them here." He looks over at Aaron. "Can you help her?"

Aaron nods. "Yeah, Eric has been yelling at me about assisting and carrying people so that I'm up to nursing standards. He's a picky patient."

"Lucky for you, I'm a real doll," Lupe smiles with half her face.

Aaron chuckles. "I'd bet my life on it."

Daryl walks over to his cot and grabs his crossbow. He hooks it around himself and walks back over to Lupe, still sitting on the table. He steps in close and reaches out, hand curling around her jaw. He's dying to feel her warmth again. Touch always surprises them like the jolt of a static shock. He knows she'll do that thing, looking at him all wide-eyed and ethereal. Her gorgeous brown gaze is like a tractor beam. He's trapped, but for the first time in his life, he wants to revel in it.

"I'll take care of'em." It's gruff, but it's still a vow.

Lupe's hand snakes up to cover his. She nods into the calluses on his skin and smiles. "Thank you."

Daryl's lip quirks and he shakes his head. "Ain't gotta keep thanking me for every lil'thing."

Her cheek twitches as her smile grows. "No promises."

He grins. His thumb brushes over her cheek and leaves a stripe of tingling heat. Then he's gone.

"Come on," Aaron's voice is tinny in her ears as he approaches her side. "Let's get you into bed."

"You know," Lupe blathers as they get inside the house. "At the dinner table, before I knew you were asking me and Daryl to be recruiters... I had this split second fight or flight thought that you were gonna ask us for a foursome or something." Aaron sputters and Lupe smiles and giggles. "I was a little toasted, okay? And like, I'm telling you, in my experience, the Buttoned Up types have the weirdest fuckin' kinks."

Aaron laughs as he helps her to their guest room up the stairs. "I'm almost too curious for my own good," he snickers through bit lips. "I am so close to begging to know how you formulated that hypothesis."

"Sex work, sweetie." Lupe smiles and chuckles. "You learn a lot about people doing sex work."

"I imagine." Aaron laughs and sits her on the bed. "Okay, I want to hear everything you're willing to share about the depths of the human psyche. But right now, you should rest."

"But Alma, Enid -,"

"Daryl's getting them," he says while helping her lay down. Albeit, it has to be a little forceful.

Her entire body relaxes at that. She sighs, eyes are already blinking shut. "Oh good. Daryl's a good one," she murmurs with a small, dreamy smile on her face.

Aaron grins as she falls asleep. He sighs heavy and frowns a little. "So are you… Just wish you both could see it."

Chapter Text

Enid and Alma are out, trying to get themselves lost in the forest. They're awfully close to losing each other as well. They're too afraid to talk about what happened. The pure elation or the horrifying confrontation. It's a complex combination and it all feels like too much to process.

"Hey..." Alma finally mutters. She curls in on herself with the weight of her confusion crushing in on her from all directions. Enid walks a few steps in front of her, knife out, but her head is down and a curtain of brown hair falls, blocking her face. Alma has a split second memory of what it felt like to have her fingers curl into the soft strands. The surge of giddy desperation pushes her forward, stomping after Enid as she huffs. "Hey!"

Enid spins around and snaps, "What?" Her face twists up in anger but fresh tears well in her reddened eyes. There's no doubting that she's tangled up inside too.

"Do you hate me?" Alma asks, but it comes out like a pained whisper.

Enid's face drops. She blinks slow. Her lips tremble and her head shakes back and forth fast. "No… I - I couldn't - how- how could -? Wh-why would you think that?"

"Because it feels like you're running away from me." Alma bites her lips shut and tries to stay calm. She didn't think bursting into tears would help this situation. "I didn't mean to scare you when I kissed you back."

Enid's face pinches in the center. "You didn't…" She crosses her arms and her chin jaws around the way her agony tastes. "I… scared myself." She blinks in Alma's direction and then turns, walking away again.

Alma goes after her. "Why? What scared you?"

Enid sees Alma coming up to her side, but she can't look at her. The bruises on her neck blare like a boat horn for her shame. Enid blinks back her tears and her face goes blank in a perilous way. "It was just a stupid selfish impulse. A mistake..." She can't help but cringe at the word. It belongs nowhere near a discussion of their kiss.

Alma rolls her eyes and huffs. "Jeez, what bullshit."

Enid fumbles a step, shocked. She gapes at Alma who glares at her.

"Maybe it was impulsive, but you just sound absurd. Like, are you trying to 'White Fang' me right now?" Alma scowls. "You were there for the part where I kissed you back, right?"

Enid sighs, her whole body deflating. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have - it was - I just -,"

"Hey," Alma whispers, "we don't need to make excuses, but shut the fuck up for a second so we don't get eaten." Alma tilts her chin up, indicating a spot behind Enid with her eyes. Enid looks over her shoulder. There's a few wavering malditos up ahead. They aren't walking around. They're stationary and silent. Alma and Enid watch the undead and wait to make sure they haven't attracted them. The girls huddle up close behind a large tree. Alma turns to glance at Enid, close in a physical sense, but otherwise far, far apart. She sighs. "You also sound ridiculous. I'm…" Alma swallows through her aching throat. "I'm really glad it happened."

"You are?" Enid gasps, a little too loud.

The small group of malditos perk at the sound. Their heads all swivel around to search for the noise. They start shambling around, dragging their feet as they head in the girls' direction. Enid and Alma clamber up the tree together. They huddle close on a thick branch too far up for the Malditos to see, let alone reach. Enid has her knife and Alma has her slingshot. Alma reaches out with her free hand and places it over Enid's, resting on the branch. Alma slots her fingers between hers. Enid stares down at the hands. She's a little stunned, as slack-faced as the dead that pass underneath them, oblivious. Enid follows the line of Alma's arm up to her face and can finally remember what hope feels like.

The little group of malditos with Ws carved into their foreheads passes beneath them. Alma whispers, "I am glad." She smiles wide. "Really glad. I just… want to know how you really, honestly feel?"

Enid shudders and looks back down at their entwined fingers. Her's fit within Alma's like they're meant to be there. "Right now?" Enid asks, breathless. "Wonderful?" She smiles, but she shudders and her chin trembles. "Terrible?" She hazards a look up at Alma who frowns, but the hope is not gone. Enid sighs and cringes. "I just got you and your sister into a fucking nightmare. You got strangled! We don't even know what happened to Lupe!" Enid huffs out staggering breaths. Alma squeezes her hand.

"Hey, I'm gonna be okay, alright?" Alma tries to use her tone to coax Enid back into calm. "It's fucked up for both of us. You handled yourself. I handled myself. And my sister is the one who taught me how. I know she'll do whatever she has to."

"I got you into this! I can't believe I hurt you!" Enid whines, turning her face away from Alma as she cries.

"You didn't hurt me. Ron hurt me," Alma growls. She squeezes Enid's hand but she doesn't respond. Alma exhales a shaky breath. "The only thing you're responsible for is giving me the best kiss of my life…"

Enid finally makes a noise as she sniffles. Her voice is tight with sadness but deliberate. "The best?"

Alma grins. "Yeah, I mean… I've never exactly had one, but this is the first time I ever really wanted to." She scoffs. "Kissing you felt… right."

Enid turns to look at Alma. A small smile twitches on her face and she looks down at their still entwined hands. "...Same here."

Alma smiles back. "Good. It's settled. We both enjoyed the kiss." She nods, supercilious. "Now, if there's a next time, we'll both practice giving each other a little bit of a warning."

Enid chuckles and squeezes Alma's hand tight. There's a little glimpse of how nice it was before Ron's interference. The girls hold onto that feeling because it's the one that matters. The other ones, the hurt, and the anger, only need to run their course. They never have to forgive. They will or won't forget. But they can covet those precious moments that warm their still-beating hearts.

Enid exhales long and slow. Calm and surety wash over her as she stares out at the woods and holds Alma's hand. She's realizing this is where she's always wanted to be. A sharp grin spreads on her lips. "I find it so funny that people behind the walls would never dream about living out here. But everyone that has lived out here almost prefers it." She sniffs, blinking away the remnants of her tears. "We always end up back here."

Alma nods. "We can't trust the woods any more than we can trust the walls, but we know what's out here." She squints out at the forest that feels like home. "It's always different, but that's familiar in some way." She shrugs. "Maybe it's more about the culture inside Alexandria. They're acting like the outside world doesn't exist, which is not only dangerous, but just fricken' weird."

Enid chuckles. "God, for a while I was one of the only ones that had been on the outside. When I first got to Alexandria, I thought I was in the twilight zone. Thank fuck for Aaron and Eric."

Alma sighs, nodding her head like a piston. "Yeah, I'm not sure what we'd have done if we didn't meet them."

"We would have died eventually." Enid grins and sighs.

"Ha, I thought I was morbid, but that was uniquely twisted," Alma snickers.

Enid chuckles. "Well it's true," she insists with a playful and indignant frown.

"Well, I'm glad we didn't," Alma replies. She lifts up their hands and tilts them in the warm light of the day. She gazes at them like a long-lost artifact, returned home. "Otherwise we'd never get to have this." Alma waves her other hand out around them at the still and living beauty of the forest.

They get to take in a close and intimate view of the woods around them. The green is vibrant. Interspersed neutral tones give the land enough warmth to stoke some in their bodies. They get a good long time together. The flowers dance in the breeze and the leaves shudder out the perfect tempo. The forest breathes with the movement of life and vitality. Enid and Alma get rejuvenated.

There's a soft rustling that doesn't belong, and it's trying very hard not to get heard above the din of the woods. Alma immediately but with great regret, lets go of Enid's hand. She spins on the branch and straddles it. Gripping with her thighs and knees, she wraps her ankles underneath to stabilize. She uses both hands to draw her slingshot and aim.

"Y'all done up there? Doing whateverin' in that tree?" Daryl grumbles as he steps beneath the wide reach of the branches. His neck tilts at near ninety degrees to get them in his sights.

Alma sighs and her arms drop in relief. She's so tense, she hadn't even felt Enid gripping at the back of her shirt. She huffs out several breaths and looks back at Enid, feeling reassured. Alma then peers down at Daryl. She cringes a little. She knows Lupe either had to be unconscious or locked up to not come herself. "My sister okay?"

Daryl chews on his lip a little. "She'll be alright, but she tussled with Pete." Both Enid and Alma look horrified and stricken. "She's just a little scratched up and bleary is all. Shit's been nonstop lately." He shuffles on his two feet as they stare at each other in fear and shock. "I said she'll be fine! I took care of her myself. Now git out of that damn tree 'fore I get a crick in my neck."

The two of them climb down and charge at Daryl, wrapping their arms around him. Daryl stands with his arms out and away from the two girls. He's not sure who was the last person to hug him. It's not like he ever gave off a huggable vibe. But it was either Carol or Lupe. He gets a full body flush with the mere realization and pats the girls' backs with a frantic beat until they let go.

"Thanks for watching out for her, Daryl," Alma sniffles.

Enid stands next to her and their hands curl together as if magnets are in their palms. "I hope she fucked up Pete bad," Enid snarls.

Daryl snorts. "Yeah, well, she did. So y'all need to come back and tell Rick and Michonne what happened with Ron." He sniffs and gnaws on his lip. "Ain't gotta tell them everything, if ya don't want. Don't know what those dipshits gonna say though." He nods to their clasped hands that squeeze tighter at his motion.

Enid and Alma look at one another. Their eyes search each other's faces, bending with concern and twitching in fear.

"Ain't gonna have to worry 'bout that shit no more, ya hear?" Daryl blusters.

The years of shame and confusion about his own attraction to more than women curdles in his gut and riles him up. His own family stewed in a sickness derived from their hatred for so many people. He grew up thinking he's broken and still hadn't shaken it. He'd die before he let those girls feel that way.

He sniffs. "Ain't nobody gonna say a thing. They'll grow up or they'll catch a beatin' from yours truly." He's glad he's got enough bullshit left in him to say it. He's exhausted from the day and it likely shows. But it makes the girls smile. He feels himself hoping that they trust he's on their side. "At least if they ain't set straight by what Lupe did to Pete. Yer sister's a terrifyin' badass."

Alma and Enid snicker as they sidle up to him and start walking back towards Alexandria. "Doesn't mean she doesn't need someone on her side too. Thanks again for that." Alma smiles.

Daryl looks away with a flip of his bangs, shrugging and giving a tilted nod. "It's nothin'..."

Enid and Alma both glance at each other. The way his body twitched out agitation as he fled the statement seemed suspicious. And that meaningless platitude seemed more evasive than usual for Daryl. Only a little less damning than the blush on his cheeks.

Alma narrows her eyes for a second as she looks back at him. Daryl is sometimes a nice person but definitely a good person. A common trait of his was disliking attention, even for his good deeds. But there is one other reason he might be so cagey about the situation. Alma's eyes widen with the assumption blooming in her imagination. She inhales for a good long time and tries to keep the laughter that wants to trail the thoughts right out of her mouth. She decides to try a different approach.

"So, what sort of motorcycle do you ride?" Alma asks.

Daryl frowns out his confusion over the random question. "The fuck you know about bikes?"

"I watched Sons of Anarchy a few times," Alma replies. She tries to hide the smile that pops onto her face when Daryl's shoulders slump and his eyes roll.

"That show is bullshit and annoying as all hell," he grumbles.

Enid bites her lips, looking over at Alma, she nods, encouraging her. Alma keeps going, "And Lupe used to watch that West Coast Choppers show all the time."

"Why?" Daryl seemed more offended by that than the mention of SOA.

Alma snickers at his reaction. "It was on the Discovery Channel. Of course Lupe watched it." She pays attention. He seems the tiniest bit more distracted from the woods when she mentions Lupe. "You know she's never been on one before."

"Maybe you could invite her out on a ride," Enid chimes in.

Alma has to force back the screech of laughter that wants to escape her mouth. Lupe likes motorcycles in theory. They were often very pretty. Her firm belief is that they exist in the same category as any abomination that disregards the natural laws of the universe. They're awesome, but still terrifying, gorgeous little death traps. But that minute glance Daryl shot Enid's way had those blue eyes pinched up with the slight notion of hope. Alma couldn't have missed it, even though he looked away right after to hide it. She didn't want to quash that.

"You know you don't have to be so weird around Lupe," Alma says. She attempts to go straight for the jugular of the situation, but in a casual way.

Daryl almost trips on his own two feet. He glares over at Alma. "I ain't weird around her," he growls.

Alma gives him a playful narrow-eyed stare over her curling grin. "The gentleman doth protest too much."

Daryl rolls his eyes at her. "What're you even goin' on about? I ain't weird, I'm just bad at peoplein'."

Enid and Alma snort. Enid asks, "Then why are you blushin' so much?"

"It's hot!" Daryl barks, cheeks blinking brighter. That same heat creeps up the back of his neck too. He charges away from the girls and their ridiculous but too right notions. He is weird around Lupe and he doesn't know how to stop it. It pisses him off.

"She gets sad when you're mean to her..."

Alma's statement sticks his feet in the ground like it's quicksand.

"She usually doesn't get sad when people are mean to her, she gets even," Alma muses.

Daryl sinks fast into burning guilt and shame. He hated himself for all the bullshit he kept pulling. He didn't know how to function with Lupe around. The other women who sparked something meaningful in this grim damn world were his family. Lupe was that and something else. He just didn't know what and it flustered him to all hell. He hasn't ever been able to get her off his mind. Ever since she knocked the daylights out of him, she's been like a constant errant thought.

He'd like to say she plagued him, and at first, maybe she did. Looking at her was a shot of shame every time. He was the one that got her sister taken. Despite his efforts, she still got hit by the Claimers. Every time he looked at her he felt a bone-crushing remorse and it pissed him off. Cause he couldn't stop looking at her, couldn't stop thinking about her. He doesn't know when it switched. When it became almost the exact opposite. Sometimes the thoughts of her were the only good thing about his whole damn day in their living nightmare.

Enid and Alma approach Daryl like he's a trapped bird. They stand next to him as he tries to move, but he can't. He's still stuck, always so stuck. Frozen. Scared.

"You know, I kinda hated Alma when I first saw her," Enid interjects into the silence.

Alma swivels her shoulders back and tilts her head with a frown. "Gee, thanks," she deadpans.

Enid smiles at her wide and then looks to Daryl. "But it was because I didn't want to make friends. I was scared of being vulnerable, being myself. It made me feel weird and desperate to be excited about someone new, someone who would understand." She shrugs. "I also thought she was pretty. And it made me uncomfortable, so I lashed out."

Alma grins at Enid, her cheeks burning with delight. She looks over at a twitching Daryl, hands flickering at his side while he chews on his lip. Alma adds, "And when I saw Enid's anger I stood my ground. I pushed back. I tried to communicate, to show her she could trust me, and we were able to become friends. And now we kinda like each other and stuff."

"So why do you get all uncomfortable and irritable around Lupe?" Enid frowns. "You're not like secretly a huge racist, are you?"

Daryl glares at her. He huffs out a staggering breath. "I mean, probably… Weren't raised right," he grumbles. "Been tryin' to keep fixin' that. Keep learnin' better."

"So do you hate her?" Alma asks.

"No!" Daryl snaps.

Alma fights the grin on her lips. "Do you think my sister's pretty?" Daryl's shoulders slump and his eyes go blank as Fight, Flight, or Freeze kicks in. Alma bites her lips not to laugh.

"I mean, I'm not surprised. You'd be right to. She's mad pretty." Alma's smile finally breaks through and she bounces on her toes. "But like… I've never gotten in on this before! She was always so secretive about dating. Rare as it was." She rolls her eyes and grins. Clapping her hands she leans towards Daryl, eager. "This is great! I can hook you up with her!"

Daryl fumes. "What in the hell are you on? I ain't 'gittin' with' yer sister. Not in a million years!" He whirls on the girls in a rage. They watch him with a pained fascination, but are unafraid. It only seems to fuel his anger more. He scowls, snarling, "You ever look at me? You been around me? What can you possibly see in all this that makes you think I'm worth her? Huh?!"

The girls gape.

Daryl goes stone still. The progress bar is back and it's stuck halfway.

The forest thrives on around them like a ticking clock. Daryl flounces off alone, cussing up a storm beneath his breath. He stomps through the woods like a rabid behemoth. He doesn't know what keeps coming out of his mouth. He can't believe he's falling into teenaged traps talking about feelings and shit.

Alma and Enid run after him this time and reach his side. Enid clears her throat and primly says, "You can't let insecurity keep you from living your life, Daryl."

"Like I'm gonna take advice from a couple'a dumb kids," Daryl snarls over his shoulder, "I ain't doin' nothing!"

"That's obvious," Alma bites out with little humor. Daryl scoffs and keeps charging forward. "Teach me to hunt," she demands.

Daryl almost gets whiplash from these girls, but manages to spit back, "No!"

"Teach me to hunt and I won't tell my sister you like her," Alma growls.

Daryl stops on a dime and turns. He glares at Alma long and hard. His voice comes out like a cannon dragging along stone to right its aim, "What is this? You blackmailin' me?"

Alma rolls her eyes. When she's done she arcs a single thick brow. "It's not blackmail it's an arrangement." Daryl scoffs hard. Alma grits her teeth and scowls. "Look, it's not like I'd go and tell her, but if you teach me to hunt it'll never pass my lips. Even if she asks."

She walks up to Daryl with Enid at her side, still holding hands. "But listen to me, I despise keeping secrets from my sister, and honestly, I'm not really sure the last time I ever did. This kind of sucks for me, so I want something out of it." She stands in front of Daryl and implores, "Necesitas hacer de tripas corazón! (If you don't have the heart, you need to have some guts!) Until then? You mentor me in hunting, Enid too. We never wanna go back to that sham of a school."

Daryl twitches and then stars to pace and cuss. Alma sighs. "I wasn't lying when I said Lupe gets sad when you're mean to her. Lupe cares about you a lot too. She's just always obsessed with her 'responsibilities'. She always thought she had something to prove." Alma shrugs but her tone goes hard, "That world is dead, most of those responsibilities are dust, and I'm growing up. If you deprive her of even a chance at happiness just cause you're a coward, I'll put an arrow in your ass myself." She squeezes Enid's hand and they both turn towards Alexandria and storm off.

Daryl gets left in their dust, overwhelmed and exhausted. He follows them, weary and feeling exactly like the coward Alma called him. He couldn't even be mad since it was so glaringly true. He wanted to get his shit together. He wanted to figure things out so that he could verbalize what goes on in his brain and body when Lupe is around. He wished he could do what Alma wanted, but he wasn't sure he had the guts or the heart.

When they enter the gates of Alexandria, the entire town is in an uproar. The run group returned from their trip to go get solar panel supplies, but none of them are in decent shape.

Tara has a massive, bleeding head wound and hasn't woken up since the heavy duty shelves fell on her. Aiden got hit by a grenade blast and has burns covering a good portion of his body. He can't stop moving or screaming. Noah lost the lower part of his leg. It got tugged through the door they were trying to block. Glenn pulled him out but not before Noah got bit and scratched to hell. Glen sits at his side, doused in blood. He performed the surgery inside a section of a cramped glass turn-style door. Eugene is covered in a surprising amount of blood. He managed to save Tara and come in at the nick of time to draw the walkers away from Glenn and Noah. Nicholas stands shaking in rage and terror as he stares at Aiden and he's far too clean. Deanna was obliviously apoplectic.

It's like Alexandria is falling apart at the seams, weakened and worn for too long. It's starting to reveal just how shoddy the foundations are.

Chapter Text

The next time Lupe is conscious and functional, she's sitting up in the spare bed of Aaron and Eric's house. The room is obnoxiously full. A smattering of Rick's group is there aside from a few who wanted to help keep up appearances. Which were already slipshod, to say the least. Alexandria was still in an uproar over the return of the run crew. There is currently a lot on everyone's plate. Lupe really just wants to sleep.

"Deanna's planning to have a meeting tonight," Glenn says to the room. "For anyone who wants to attend."

"Is it about Lupe? Do they want to kick us out?" Alma asks, voice shaky.

Lupe immediately reaches out to her, grabbing her hand at the same time as Enid. Lupe didn't miss the way Alma included herself in the equation of who stays and leaves. Lupe didn't want to force Alma back out into the wilds. But Lupe didn't know if she could bear to leave her sister behind if they kicked her out. Being without Alma would kill all the good left in her.

"I'd like to see them try," Carol grumbles, her tone dripping with ire.

"We don't know what it's about," Michonne replies, trying to establish calm.

"We can't let them!" Alma blurts, blinking a tearful gaze over at Daryl. Her eyes beg for help, for some reassurance.

"We won't," Daryl snarls like the ultimatum is his lifeblood.

Lupe looks up at him in shock, surprised by the death knell in his tone. He shies away from her with a flip of his bangs. Lupe gets distracted by her sister getting the wiggles and not looking at her either. She frowns between the two of them, acting cagey. Her eyes narrow.

Glenn raises a hand to try and reassure Alma. "Maggie's with Deanna right now. She's gonna find out what it's about."

"Doesn't matter," Lupe mumbles, eyes trailing to Glenn. "I won't accept any sort of punishment for this. Ron attacked and threatened my little sister and Enid, completely unprovoked. That was self-defense. Pete did the exact same thing to those girls and me. Ain't my fault I'm better than him! Fuck them both and fuck this town if they even try to justify their behavior." She huffs.

"No…" Carol's eyes center in on Lupe. "At the meeting, you tell them about the abuse and the bruises left on your sister and another child. You tell them Ron attacked the girls and Pete attacked you. You tell them you feared for your life and that's why you defended yourself. You don't let them forget that he's a dog-shit abuser." Her voice almost hits imploring, "You act scared and say you'll do whatever they want you to. Shed a tear. Milk it. Just tell them a story that they want to hear." Carol sighs. "It's what I've been doing since I got here," she grumbles.

"Why?" Michonne growls, crossing her arms and scowling.

Carol deadpans, "Because these people are children and children like stories." Michonne shakes her head and wipes a hand down her face.

After a few beats of silence, Abraham asks. "What happens after all the nice words and they still try to kick her out?"

"They're guarding the armory now," Glenn mentions. "I saw Tobin and a few others out there earlier."

"We still have knives." Carol shrugs.

Daryl scoffs. "That's all we'll need against them."

"Well, tonight at the meeting, if it looks like it's going bad, I whistle," Rick finally speaks. His lips purse as he looks around the room. "Carol grabs Deanna, I take Spencer, and Michonne grabs Reg. Glenn and Abraham, you cover us." He nods to Carl. "Carl, you and Alma need to be watching the people within the crowd, I want you listening in and I want you ready."

"Dude, what the fuck? You can't just elect my kid sister into your Gestapo," Lupe snarls.

"We're supposed to be trying here," Glenn says, looking around like he hardly knows the people in the room.

"Maybe they should be trying harder too," Alma snaps. Lupe looks at her with a frown. She can't fault her sister for feeling that way. She just hates to hear that much anger in her voice. It's deep and scathing.

Michonne scowls at Rick and insists, too calm, "We can talk to them."

Rick nods, placating her, "Yeah, we will. If we can't get through, we take the three of them and say we'll slit their throats."

Lupe gapes. "Whoa, these people are clueless, they're a threat for being ignorant. Pete deserves punishment, but -,"

"Deanna knew..."

"What?" Lupe says, face already curling up in fury.

"Deanna knew about Pete abusing Jesse, the kids," Rick spits out, starting to pace. "Deanna knew and let it slide. Threatened people who tried to cause a ruckus about it cause they needed a doctor."

"Un putero de mierda!" (What a huge load of shit!) Lupe snarls. She squeezes her hands into fists, wishing she could lay into that snake-politician. It stretches the bruises on her knuckles and feels like her skin is finally about to split.

"We just tell 'em that if they give us the armory, it's over," Rick commands.

"Did you want this?" Glenn asks, flabbergasted and betrayed.

"No," Rick snarls a bit too quick, a bit too defensive.

"Then what's with the secret meetings in the woods?" Lupe adds, voice level and eyes narrowing. Carol, Daryl, and Rick all snap their heads to her. She rolls her eyes. "Alma and I found distinctive prints next to a corpse out by the white house. Next time, be more careful." She huffs crossing her arms with a deep scowl.

They all stay in the perilous silence for a few beats. Rick doesn't respond other than the way he licks at his teeth.

"All this is bullshit!" Lupe spits. "All this sneaking around? All these lies?" She says, glaring down the entire group. When she gets to Daryl and Alma, they can't even look at her and they're making it obvious. She grits her teeth and forces herself to leave that for Future Lupe to worry about. "This crap is gonna tear this group apart! Much faster than the dead or some delusional polo-wearing asshole! Just stop it! We start lying to each other? It's all fucking over," she insists with a cruel finality. It's less of a warning and much more of a threat.

The group grows reflective and silent. Glenn and Michonne seem to be on her side, silent and fuming at their leader and his accomplices. Enid and Alma glare at the conspirators. The expectant youths demand to get treated with respect. It's obvious Rick is thinking hard and struggling with what he's done and likely what he'll need to do. Carol looks at Lupe, appreciative but unremorseful. Daryl stares at his shoes like a kid that just got his first detention.

"Everyone go somewhere else to think. I'm tired and I want a nap before my tribunal," Lupe grumbles. She shuffles in the bed and scoots around to get comfortable under the covers. "If they try to throw me in the river to see if I float with innocence, I'm leaving your asses behind. I'm gonna swim to a remote island somewhere away from all this bullshit." She curls herself under the comforter and that's the end of it. The room starts to clear out except for Alma. A lingering Daryl eventually gets dragged away by Carol.

Alma lays down on the bed and sighs. "I'm sorry I got you into this."

Lupe immediately rolls over. "Don't you dare assume guilt that belongs to others," Lupe commands. "That is not yours to carry. You did something completely normal for kids your age. You found someone special and something else special happened. You did nothing wrong and this is all at the feet of a bunch of vapid bigots" She seethes, "Fuck them."

Alma snorts, nodding with her sister. "Fuck'em."

Lupe smiles for a short time. She watches Alma lay there, deep in thought and gnawing on her lip. She asks, "What's going on with you? You wouldn't even look at me earlier."

Alma sighs. "There's just… a lot happening."

Lupe frowns. "Yeah, of course. And you know I'm always here for you, right? Like you can always be completely, freely honest with me." She smiles at her sister. "I will always listen to you. Even if it's me you gotta set straight, okay? I can handle the truth."

Alma's grin is soft and pained. "Part of it isn't my truth to tell. And I'm just… worried, is all."

Lupe nods and digs a hand out of the comforter to brush her fingers through her sister's hair. "Te amo." (I love you)

"Te quiero." (I love you.) Alma smiles and leans in, pressing a kiss to her sister's forehead. "Now get some sleep. You need it. Tonight is going to be…" She fails to come up with an adequate word, but lays there, face strained and her mouth stuck open.

"Yeah, every word for terrible," Lupe sighs. "I'd prefer you weren't there. I hope Rick doesn't let Carl come either. This place isn't safe yet and tonight has a lot of potential to go wrong."

"Then I should be with you," Alma replies, insistent and scowling.

"Yeah, you should, but the thing is, there's Carl to think about, Enid, and Judith too. They don't have your skills," Lupe beseeches. "So if anything happens, you take the kids, Dad's car, and go. I'll get out, I'll find you. Every time, okay?"

Alma gnaws on her lip and nods at her sister.

Lupe snorts. "Alright, get outta here. I'm tired."

"Hasta pronto, culo tonto." (See you later, silly ass.) Alma grins wide as she sits up.

"Come mi culo, hermana puto!" (Eat my ass, bitch of a sister!) Lupe snaps with an overt, playful anger. She'd be annoyed if her sister wasn't so good at thinking up ridiculous shit. The momentary chuckle can't quite help Lupe escape the feeling of persistent exhaustion this place eeks out of her. She rolls over to her side and immediately falls asleep.

Chapter Text

"We're going to start," Deanna says to the mix of Alexandrians and Rick's group that had gathered for the meeting. She stands next to a fire pit, burning bright in the void. It's the only illumination, flickering shadows to play upon grim faces. Night had fallen and the moon is nowhere to be seen. Lupe overslept on accident and they had to wait for her to arrive. It was unfortunate. She was cranky about having to be conscious and functional.

Deanna continues, "We're going to talk about what has happened to our community." She looks around the group, scattered with fear and distrust on both sides. "Not just the fight or what precipitated it. Not just the run that went bad and how it all occurred. We need to be an involved community, and I want you to know what happens from me and from direct sources. I don't want rumors to fly. I want us to make well-informed decisions, together."

She sighs and strolls around the fire pit like the lawyer she once was. "We need more information about what happened on that run. I have two separate accounts and to be honest, I don't know which to trust." Deanna glances at Glenn who looks stricken. Then at Nicholas who appears to be completely zoned out while his knee bounces fast.

"Noah lost one of his legs and we are hopeful he will heal and be able to adapt with our support. Tara is still unconscious, her head injury is a severity we cannot ignore, but we cannot help much either." Deanna swallows, trying to conceal the grief in her voice. "Aiden is irredeemably injured. We cleaned his burns, but he hasn't woken up since he lost consciousness from shock. He wasn't cogent enough to tell us what happened while he was awake and in indescribable pain. But we await his recovery with open hearts and minds."

She freezes in the center of the group and scowls. "However, this distrust? The possible irresponsibility? It needs to be remedied. Until then, I'm halting all supply trips. None of the run group is allowed out of the gates, no weapons of any kind either." Her eyes narrow on Glenn. He nods, jaw working, but he doesn't seem bothered by her decree. Maggie sits next to him, upset with the decision for more than the obvious reasons.

"How're we supposed to get what we need?" Nicholas whines. "You don't have to trust those people, but there's plenty of us -,"

Deanna's glare snaps to him and he shuts his mouth. "It is decided and you will be quiet about it. We have more to discuss and it's getting late. I want to see my son before the night ends." Her tone lowers to a hiss, "So be silent and appreciate that it's not you in the infirmary." Nicholas withers in his seat and glares at the ground.

Deanna clears her throat and tries to blink away her blatant rage over her son's needless suffering. She breathes, careful and slow, and looks back at the gathered throng. "We're going to talk about one of the new members of our community, Lupe. We're going to talk about how she fought in the streets. Brandishing a knife without regard for others, and injured our surgeon. We're going to talk about her issues with authority and lack of teamwork. How she caused friction in the run group before she got reassigned."

"We going to talk about your kid torturing walkers? Or the homophobic wife beater who tackled me into the street face first? Or his little rat of a son that attacked two innocent girls for no good reason? No mention of him leaving bruises on their neck and cheek?" Lupe snarls.

Deanna exhales through her nose. "Pete was treated by Denise and he's been sentenced to house arrest, separated from his family in an empty home. He's currently being guarded by our people and he is no longer a threat. There will be a chance for you to speak, but it's not now."

Lupe guffaws, leaning back in her chair. "Oh good. That doesn't sound like a miscarriage of justice at all…"

Deanna tries to continue, "Lupe has already been in two fights -,"

Sasha chimes in, "Both started by other people!"

Michonne steps in before Deanna can react. "Lupe has saved our lives more times than I can possibly be grateful for." Her eyes glance at Lupe and a careful smile forms on Michonne's lips. "She didn't even know us. Her sister got taken captive. And still, she stopped when it was almost dark and gave food and shelter to a bunch of strangers. To Rick. To me. To Carl, a child in need. She helped us take out men who would have killed Rick and done much worse to me and Carl. She is honest and she is clear-headed despite the fear she feels. She hasn't let it destroy her as we all have. She's never stopped trying to keep goodness and righteousness alive."

Glenn stands too, clearing his throat. "Our group got taken by cannibals. We were gonna be bled, hung, skinned, and eaten." The crowd collectively gasps in horror and disbelief. Glen sniffs hard and nods. "We saw'em do it to others, right in front of us. But Lupe escaped." A smile almost forms on his lips and he shakes his head. "She escaped an armed compound with at least twenty people shooting at her. Probably more chased her through the woods."

He looks around at the stunned faces. "They were gunning for her, intent on killing her. You want to know what she did? She immediately came back for the rest of us and saved Rick's infant daughter in the process." Glenn scoffs. "These people, these cannibals? They lured unsuspecting, desperate survivors with the promise of paradise. Then they slaughtered them and ate them without a single shred of remorse. That horror? She stopped it. She didn't just save our lives that day, she saved an entire future that's now free of those people." His lips clamp shut and he shifts a little, looking over at Lupe. He nods to her and sits down.

Carol talks next, her voice taking on the meek tone. "There's terrifying people out there." Her eyes are wide and wet with unshed tears. "And Lupe rescued me from them." She sniffles, looking around with big puppy dog eyes, innocent enough to make an angel swoon. "People like me? people like us?" She motions to the Alexandrians. "We need people like her. I know what happened the other day was scary. And I'm sure she's sorry for that. But maybe we should question things more. Maybe we should talk and listen to each other. Maybe we shouldn't condone abuse and hide things from each other." Carol says that a little pointedly, looking at Deanna.

Abraham grumbles, "There is a vast ocean of shit you people don't know shit about. Lupe? She knows every molecule of said shit and more. She is aggressive about the truth and she won't let no one get hurt for the sake of a lie. I made that mistake myself and she set me straight." He shakes his head. It's all he needs to say on the matter. These cowards should figure out the rest themselves.

"Lupe saved my sister's life," Maggie adds. "Beth got taken with Alma. Lupe saved them both, saved others, even when she didn't have to. She's an older sister. She values family. She knew exactly what I was going through. It broke me for a while. She understood that fear in a visceral way, but she didn't stop caring about those girls one second. Our sisters got put through hell and worse and she stopped it. She kept my sister alive and saved her from a fate worse than death."

Maggie's chin trembles. She pushes on, "Lupe is a person with a good heart. She never fails to think through the things she does, the things she has to do. She never takes a moment for granted and she appreciates this world for exactly what it is." She glances around. "And all of us who were together before this place, no matter when we found each other, we're family now. Rick started that and you won't stop it." She looks back at Deanna, determined. "You can't. And you don't want to. Rick listens to us, even when he doesn't want to hear it, he does. Lupe has set us all right a time or two. She's got an invaluable sense of integrity and takes everything to heart. This community, you people, you should appreciate exactly who she is." There's a resounding silence as Maggie takes her seat. Glenn wraps his arm around her.

Lupe sits stunned to the side. Her anger has dissipated, replaced by a vacuous confusion. The things the group are saying, it doesn't even sound like her.

Someone clears their throat, a tight agitated sound. "Before we hear from anyone else..." Father Gabriel says as he stands, "I'd like to say something and my only regret is that I did not say it sooner." He looks around at Rick's group, licking his lips with his eyes widened in fear. Lupe scowls at him with a severe disdain and it chills him to the bone.

Gabriel clears his throat again as he looks at Deanna. "Satan? He disguises himself as the angel of light. I'm afraid that false light is here, inside these walls. Your community, you say it's not a paradise, but it is." His smile squints up his face, but Gabriel radiates insecurity and fear. "I'm grateful to be here, I am. But you made a mistake letting in the others." His eyes flicker around, noticing everyone's stances change. "Rick and his group, they're not good people. They've done things. They've done unspeakable things."

Reg interjects, "To make it out there as long as they did? They must have done things. Everyone has said as much." He watches Gabriel with an introspective stare. "They survived. That's what makes them assets."

"You're wrong," Gabriel snaps. He shivers underneath the anger radiating off Rick's group. "They can't be trusted. They're dangerous. You may believe that they did what they had to do. That they were afraid and so they -," he chokes on the fear jamming his throat shut. "These people are not who they seem to be!" He turns and points at Lupe with a stiff, straight arm. "She and her sister killed police officers back at Grady Memorial Hospital. Without a moment's hesitation! Gunned down peacekeepers in the beat of a heart! Every single one shot in the head before any violence on their part occurred."

His eyes flare as he stares around at the people of Alexandria. "It was chilling. It was vicious. It was unholy. She values only her sister's life and nothing else. She is just like the others, a product of their violence. The day will come when this group will put their own lives before yours, and everyone else's." His jaw rolls. "They will destroy everything you have here, everything you're working so hard to build!"

Gabriel pants. "Satan? He disguises himself as the angel of light. His servants are the false apostles of righteousness." He spreads his arms towards some of Rick's group standing to the side. "They don't deserve this. They don't deserve paradise!"

Tyrese steps forward, his voice deep and harrowing. "And you do? A man of God that willfully killed his parishioners?" His eyes burn with fury as he glares at Gabriel, daring him to look away. Sasha puts a hand on Tyreese's arm, not to stop him, not to calm him, but to reassure him that she's on his side. He growls, teeth bared, "Why don't you tell Deanna about that? How you locked them out of your chapel and let them claw at the siding like desperate animals as they got torn apart!?"

There's another gasp that rolls through the gathering. Deanna stands gaping. Her eyes flutter between Tyreese and Gabriel. She blinks back tears and looks to Maggie.

"Gabriel told Rick himself when we first found him," Maggie confirms. "Tyreese, Lupe, Rick, and Carl found the evidence on the outside of his church. There were pry marks on all the windows and 'You'll burn for this' was carved into the siding."

Deanna turns her glare onto Gabriel and he immediately sits down. His face drops into his hands and he starts to sob. A muffled murmur leaks out of his fingers, "They died. They all died because of me."

Daryl steps out from his spot, gnawing on his lip. "Being on the outside ain't no picnic in a gazebo," he starts, voice hard despite his nerves. He hates attention, but he'd weather anything for his family. He's not gonna let her down anymore. "Lupe's been to hell and back and she's protected her sister the entire time. When I met up with her? She was worried I was a threat to Maggie's little sister. She took me down and made sure that girl was safe. After those girls got taken and I lost my way? She kicked my ass back into gear and kept me going, even though I didn't deserve an ounce of her trust or kindness."

He shuffles and scoffs. "And those cops? They ran people down with cars. They went out mowing down strangers they found trying to survive. Would take them back to their hospital and fix them up, but it came with a debt." Anger storms in his chest. He can't pin a single reason for it, but he lets it come out in his tone, "Cops forced the wards into servitude. With no rights to nothin'. Those cops killed people who would cause them trouble or fight back. They'd kill people they didn't deem useful."

He glares at Deanna who stares at him with distrust. "They beat on and raped their goddamn captives, some of which were kids and the elderly!" He points at Gabriel, snarling with severe disdain, "This coward? He don't tell you that every single one of those people thanked them sisters on the way out. Lupe saved their lives because she didn't hesitate. She saved the lives of me and my family more than once now. She's saved the lives of the people in here already too."

He points toward the darkness around them that hides the truth they are desperate to ignore. "Outside those gates, there are no goddamn remnants left of the world you knew. The one y'all cling to like damn children. If any of you had any goddamn sense, you'd see that to survive, you'd want to become just like her."

He scoffs at them. His eyes finally meet Lupe's and it's like his nerves take the reins. She's staring up at him slack-jawed. A few errant tears escape her watery eyes and slide down her bruised cheek. His voice shakes as he continues, looking right at her, "And you'd be lucky to - at your goddamn best - be even half a what she's worth."

Footsteps sound behind Deanna and she turns. The whole meeting gets distracted when Rick comes through the garden entrance. He's covered in blood and gore and has a walker corpse on his shoulder. He stomps past Deanna and throws the body on the ground with a wet thump. He turns to Deanna and his voice is thin and furious, "There wasn't a guard on the gate. It was open."

Spencer gapes and his mom turns to him with a severe scowl. "I asked Gabriel to close it," he explains, looking over at the priest, still muttering and crying.

Deanna glares at her son. "Go!"

After Spencer sprints off, Rick looks to Deanna first. She's glaring at the corpse so he turns to the community. "I didn't bring it in. It got inside on its own." He shakes his head as regret and rage tense and weigh down his shoulders. "They always will. The dead and the living. Because we're in here and the ones out there want what we have. They'll hunt us. They'll find us. They'll try to use us. They'll try to kill us." He gazes around at the terrified Alexandrians and his brows bend into a stern frown. "But we'll stop them. We'll survive. I'll show you how," he waves around at his people, "we'll show you how."

He sighs, walking closer to Deanna. She looks up at him, dazed with anger and concern. "You know, I was thinking - I was thinking how many of you have to die until you'll actually face reality?" He scoffs, looking back at the appalled faces. "But there aren't gonna be any more people dying. You're gonna change." He grits his teeth and the statement is a promise and an omen all at once. "You're not ready, but you have to be. Right now. You have to be," he implores.

"Luck runs out. You can't coddle each other anymore. You can't keep looking away in the name of propriety. You can't let people abuse this world and the people in it. They're not to be trusted, they're not to be welcomed. If you want to rebuild this world, you need a strong foundation. You want people with surety. You want people who can see past the bullshit." He shakes his head and smiles, half grim. "You want us here. You want Lupe here." He wipes a hand down his face and the smile is still there, tainted by disbelief. "She stopped a child abuser from hurting more kids, for shit's sake! And we're gonna reprimand her? What kind of society are we even trying to build here?"

Another set of footsteps sound on the brick. Everyone turns, expecting Spencer, but it's the wrong shade of blonde. Pete comes stumbling through the open gate. There's a knife in his hand he likely stole from the person guarding him. Judging by the blood on the blade, no one thinks that the other person is currently living.

Pete shambles forward, much like a maldito and just as hungry for something. He glares at Lupe, slurring, "You're not one of us. You're not one of us!"

Reg starts walking forward to block him, his hands raised in supplication. "Pete, you don't want to do this."

Lupe rises to her feet, keeping her eyes glued to that knife. Daryl moves to the side of her, a step or two in front. She stares at his back for a blink. Seeing the wings makes her wonder if this is what having a guardian angel might feel like. She didn't know if she liked it. It caused her stomach to feel funny, and not in an IBS way.

"Get the hell away from me, Reg!" Pete wails.

"Pete, just stop," Reg replies, getting a few steps closer.

"Get away from me!" Pete bellows, swinging his non-knife hand.

Deanna steps after her husband, eyes too wide and urgent with her begging, "Reg… Reg… Stop, Reg!"

"Get away! Get away!" Pete yells. Jessie is in the crowd, held by her friends and trying to yell at him through her sobs.

"Now, Pete, stop -," Reg finally gets too close.

Pete starts to charge with a roar, swinging the knife around, unwieldy. Reg stands right in the blade's path, frozen in fear. Lupe barrels past Daryl and leaps for Reg, hoping to keep him from getting stuck like a pig. She reaches forward, trying to get the old man out of the blade's range. If not, then at least she could shield him. She rams into his side at the same time the long and violent slash of fire-lit steel tears through skin.

"No, no! Oh, no, no! Oh, God!" Deanna screams as she catches her husband. His eyes glaze over in shock. "Oh, my love. My love…"

There's blood. There's a lot of blood. And a lot of screaming.

Chaos explodes in the small space. Pete gets tackled by Abraham and his face gets to meet the pavement again. Lupe stumbles back in a breathless agony. Reg ended up getting the tail end of the slash across his shoulder. Lupe thinks she caught the majority of it. Her side and back sting with that specific horrible, aching burn that comes with a knife wound. Pete screams through the blood on his face. Everyone is screaming.

"This is her fault!" Pete wails as he writhes beneath the Ginger Behemoth.

"Shut up!" Abraham grumbles.

"This is her! She made me do this!" Pete slurs, eyes rolling in his head. He tries to turn towards Deanna, shouting, "It's them! This is them! They ruined everything when they came!"

Lupe stands dazed. The fire pit roars behind her, casting her shadow on the crowd of terrified Alexandrians. Her eyes flicker through the faces and capture the honest fear in them. They never confronted the ugliness of the world before, but they had to now. There was no other choice.

Her eyes settle in the breadth of her shadow and her head tilts at the way its center seems to move. She realizes Nicholas stands there in the darkness. He gleams with sweat, covering his face and neck. His eyes are wide and glowing white in the form she casts by the firelight. Within the contained chaos, he starts to raise an arm. Gripped in his hand is a small pistol. Lupe has a feeling she already knows where he intends to aim. Her eyes follow the line of Nicholas' murderous stare. Glenn stands holding Maggie tight, watching the drama with Pete unfold, completely unaware.

Lupe moves so fast, she doesn't have time to blink.

A gunshot fires.

Sparks light against the bricks, stretching between the shooter and his targets. Everyone jumps at the sight and sound. Another scream tears through the night.

Nicholas keels over with Lupe's KA-Bar sticking out of the side of his head. It's not aimed well and the blade sits a little janky, but it landed true. She only had his profile to aim at, so she threw on instinct. It was good enough.

More screams echo and ring like bells in Lupe's ears. Her hands raise up to cover her ears from the onslaught. A pain so sharp it burns shoots through her, it feels like she's the tree when lightning struck. Her knees go weak and she collapses in the whirlwind of screams, movement, and blood.

Lupe's eyes blink through the darkness for a long time. She's warm and then cold. There's a breeze. Her body aches. And though she doesn't have the ability to move, it's a bumpy ride to wherever she's going. Lupe sees lights and then more darkness. For probably the first time in her life, she doesn't fight it.

Chapter Text

Lupe blinks open her eyes and sees sunlight. She tries to swallow but her mouth is unbearably dry. There's an attempt to sit up that is immediately quashed by the searing pain along her side. That's when she recalls how recently she was in a knife fight. She exhales harsh, letting her lips flap to exert some of the anxious energy she feels because of the pain. There's always so much pain. She feels like she'll never escape it.

"Oh, you're awake," a soft voice murmurs.

Lupe turns her head to the side in her bleary search for higher life forms. "Huh?" She mumbles wiping at her face with the arm that hurts the least.

A blonde woman with glasses hovers at the side of her bed. Lupe blinks the gunk of exhaustion from her eyes. There's the cream walls. The crown molding. The neat medical cabinets blocking the accent walls. She knows she's in the infirmary. She'd only been there a few times. She didn't like hospitals or doctors, and that hadn't changed post-apocalypse. The next surgeon she met was gonna get a goddamn life-ectomy.

"I'm Denise, the other resident doctor in Alexandria," the blonde smiles. She's got a wonderful smile, so Lupe stares up at her in a daze. Denise is fat, soft and curvaceous in all sorts of delightful places. Her face is round and elfin, with pointed features and plump cheeks. Lupe feels a swoon or a wave of nausea. She can't be sure which.

"Hi, Denise. Good to know there's another doctor," Lupe grumbles. "Heard the other guy left a lot to be desired in a practitioner."

Denise snorts. "Yeah, that's an awfully diplomatic way to put it." Lupe tries to move again and Denise goes to stop her. "I don't recommend you get up yet. You have stitches and a lot of them." Lupe looks at her hard. Denise swallows and continues despite the unintentional glare. "Bottom rib to the top of your shoulder. It's over a hundred stitches, but they're not too deep. And you totally saved Reg from being pretty much gutted in entirety. He just had a six-inch gash on the front of his shoulder. That cut would have likely reached hip to collarbone if you didn't do what you did."

"Goddamnit," Lupe whimpers, tears gargling in her throat. The arm opposite her wound comes up and hides half her face as she tries not to cry. She's thankful Reg is okay. She's furious she has another mark on her body that will force her to remember terrible things and terrible men. "Fucking asshole…"

"Yeah," Denise agrees. "I'm really sorry this all happened. You should heal well if you take some time to rest, though."

"Yeah… Rest during the apocalypse. How hard can that be?" Lupe snorts, tone derisive.

"You'll at least be able to go home later today," Denise says with a gentle nudge, prodding Lupe to roll over onto her side. "Just wanna check the stitches a few more times to make sure they stick."

Lupe nods at Denise as she rolls, not quite paying attention until she has to lay her head down on her pillow. Straight across from her, tucked next to some unused medical machines, sits Daryl. He's sleeping in a chair. She swallows hard. "How long has he been there?" She whispers to herself.

"All night," Denise replies. Her fingers press along the long line of stitches down her back and side. "He carried you in here too, damn near kicked my door down." She grins wide. "I think he threatened me when he demanded I stitch you up, but it was kind of hard to understand him. He was shaking like a Chihuahua in a Michigan winter."

Lupe smiles halfway. She can't take her eyes off Daryl sleeping. His face is slack, not pinched up in anger or distrust. He was usually up and at'em before everyone else. Often seen scowling prior to any bad news. She only saw him sleeping one other time. He'd been at her side then too.

She refuses to read into the gestures or their significance to her. He's only being kind. He'd do this kind of thing for anybody. She's not going to fall into another trap. She's not going to believe that someone being nice means they actually care about her. She won't do that to herself again. She lost too much the first time she trusted someone so recklessly. She closes her eyes and tries to breathe those memories away. It was a long time ago when that part of her died a very quick death.

"He was really worried about you," Denise says. Her voice is soft and leaning towards reminiscing. Denise taps Lupe on the shoulder to inform her she's done. "I think you're gonna heal just fine," she continues pointedly, "if you take it easy for at least two weeks."

"Two weeks!?" Lupe blurts, twisting to look at Denise and immediately yelping in pain.

Daryl snorts himself awake in his chair. After wiping his face and blinking his eyes open, he sees Denise and Lupe, still and staring at him. The scowl forms immediately. But he stands up and pulls his chair closer to the bed in silence. He sits and looks up at Denise, expectant.

"She's out for two weeks. Tie her down if you have to." Denise smiles, blithe and sweet, and walks down the hallway toward the other rooms.

Daryl looks over at Lupe. She scowls and grits her teeth. "I'm not laying down for two weeks."

"You sure as hell are," Daryl grumbles, low and scratchy from sleep. "I'll sit on ya if I have to. Get Alma to help me."

Lupe clicks her tongue at Daryl in reproach. "Low blow, dude." She glares up at the ceiling and sighs. Her voice is tinny and small, "We were supposed to start recruiting soon."

Daryl sniffs and grumbles as he adjusts in his chair. "Rick and Deanna put a halt on bringing new people in. We're relegated to hunting and runs for supplies," he bites out. His shoulders shrug up and down, tight and tense like they've got a grudge. He glares at the sheets by her arm. "Probably smarter that way. We gotta make this place secure first."

Lupe bites her lip. "Damn, I was looking forward to that, but it makes sense."

"I was too," he mumbles in response.

She turns her head to look at him because of the snarl in his tone. He is close to glaring at her. She frowns in response to his hard look. "What?"

"You keep scarin' the shit out of me," he growls.

Lupe frowns back. Her tone is acrid, "Like I had a choice in any of this?"

Daryl clicks his teeth shut and sinks in his chair. "Ain't sayin' you did, but ya still scare me. Every time I see you get hurt it's like a kick to the nuts," he spits, jaw clenching in anger. "Can't take much more."

"Well you get two weeks of me confined to a bed, so congrats, you get your wish," she bites back. She turns away from him and glares at the ceiling, rustling in her bed to get comfortable. She realizes being on her back isn't very appealing. Everything scratches against the tender cut like it's getting reopened. She scowls as she rolls over to her side. Her eyes meet Daryl's for a blink. She forces herself to stare at the sheets.

Her folded hands get covered by a large one. It's got badly healed knuckles and it's riddled with callouses, but the touch is soft as a warm exhale on her skin. "What's so wrong with me being concerned about you? Ya think I have a choice in it either?" His voice is so gentle, but the growl rolls through it anyway. "Yer… family."

Lupe fights the cringe she feels forming. She closes her eyes. She tries not to think of how many times someone she's had misguided feelings about has said that. That they considered her to be more like a sister. Relegated into an amorphous family bond category where she was closer to being a plank of wood than a human. She was always left hurt and wanting more. She didn't even want to admit to having feelings about Daryl, but hearing it from him ached worse than her stitches.

"Yer important," Daryl shakes out, fingers twitching over hers. "I don'wanna see you hurt no more."

"Look, that's not something I can promise, bro," she snarks, lashing out. "This world is pain more than anything else."

"Y'ain't wrong," Daryl grumbles, "but ya ain't right neither. There's more than that."

"Enlighten me then," she bites out, laden with a hurt sarcasm. "Better yet, just leave me alone. I should rest."

Daryl fidgets in his chair and pulls his hand away. He doesn't get up just yet. He watches Lupe as she lays on her side, wound up with tension and refusing to look at him. He gets up with a huff and looms over her hospital bed. He bends over her, snaking a hand between her cheek and the pillow, tilting her face towards him.

"Don't gotta save the world," he grumbles, calm. "Too important to always be sacrificing yerself."

"Oh yeah, the community is just teeming with people who want me around. Not like I had a weird faux trial last night judged by a delusional sycophant. Or some knife-wielding dip-shit almost killed me and someone else..." she mumbles, trying to pull her face away from his touch.

Dextrous as he is, he won't let her evade him. "Not to the group..." He snaps. "Not to the community..." His eyes search her face with a desperation she's never seen in him. "Listen, goddamnit..." He growls, jaw rolling and trying to relax the irritation he feels at her fight. He chokes on the breath clawing in his lungs, begging to stay hidden forever.

Daryl presses his forehead against hers and bites out, "Yer too important to me…"

They hold that harrowing position, vulnerable and terrified in equal measures. The touch ignites something that tears through the both of them. It wisps away their long tended, but shoddy defenses.

Lupe gapes up at him, speechless. Before she can even pretend to know how to respond, Daryl rushes away. His hand lingers, fingertips begging not to leave the comfort of her warmth and softness. But he's gone.

And so is she.

Completely lost in confusion.

There's no going back now.

Chapter Text

Alma is out in the woods where she is happiest. Though, her happiness gets dimmed by the grouch teaching her to hunt. She'd only been apprenticing Daryl for about a week and a half. She had opposing days to Enid's lessons so he wouldn't have to deal with the both of them. They weren't obnoxious or anything. It was pretty standard teenage fare. He found out quick he did not want to put up with it. Both girls felt free when allowed out in the wilds. The problem was their idea of freedom didn't quite gel with Daryl's idea of hunting. Which usually consisted of silence and inebriation. But since alcohol was scarce at the end of the world, it was usually silence and brooding.

As soon as she was out of Grady, Alma started working with the compound bow Lupe stole from the Claimers. She wouldn't be splitting arrows in twain anytime soon, but she was improving every day. There's no denying that a gun had its utility in their miserable world, but a bow and arrow is a delightful weapon to use. Daryl said once she got good enough with the standard arrows he found for her, he'd teach her how to make her own. That was particularly exciting for her.

They've been tracking a buck for a few days. It's circled the area for a while now and it seems they always just miss each other. Great news for the buck, bad news for Alexandria.

Alma is stuck in her thoughts as she trails Daryl, step by step by step. Lupe has been secluded in their house with visits from Carol, Rosita, or Denise to check her stitches. They're healing well. Likely because everyone stumbles upon Lupe before she starts getting herself into trouble. Carol stopped her from trying to sneak out for target practice. Denise caught her trying to lift heavy boxes in the garage. Rosita and Abraham caught her climbing onto the kitchen counter to get something out of a shelf. They had to physically pull her down. Alma walked in on a cleared out living room where she was going to practice with her batons. All of these incidents concluded the same way. Lupe grumbles while someone reprimands her. They have to herd her back into the bedroom and ensure she lays down. Alma had the unfortunate discomfort of coming home to her sister handcuffed to her bed once. She couldn't figure out if it was Carol, Rosita, or Denise that did it. It was a pretty level spread between the three, and Lupe, also a grouch, refused to talk about it.

Something buzzes beneath Alma's skin, making her feel agitated. She thinks about the past week and all the help she's had trying to keep her sister going and how much she appreciates it. They aren't Lupe, they couldn't be, but she thinks of these people as her family now.

A realization hits her in the chest with an OOF, and she stutters to a noisy stop. Daryl turns to look at her with a scowl for the interruption. He thinks they're close to the buck, but Alma has a right mind to punch him in the nose.

"You haven't visited my sister once."

Her eyes are wide and trained on him like he's the forest floor. She's looking for subtle tracks and hints of leaves rustled the wrong way. But Daryl's about as easy to read as a Sandra Boynton book.

"Why?" She scowls, gaze narrowing. His entire body coils up and his eyes blink open in shock and fear. The bangs could only hide so much. It's about what she expected from him. She sighs, still scowling. Getting those two to talk about their emotions is worse than setting snares in a desperate winter. "She's bored as hell. She could use the company."

"Don't think she'd want to see me then," Daryl rumbles out low, turning back to the trees.

"Why?" Alma follows, switching to full pestering mode. "That's silly. You're friends, right?

"Don'know," he grumbles, "never really had no friends but my brother's."

Alma exhales through a flapping lower lip. Her shoulders slump due to the weight of his morosity. "Well, you do now." She starts ticking off her fingers. "Rick, Glenn, Carol, Maggie, Beth, Michonne, Noah, Abraham, Carl, Eugene, Tyreese, Sasha - come on! Everyone in the group! That includes me. And Lupe!" She turns one of those fingers on him, pointing hard like an accusation. "She'd probably like to see you, so don't be such a chicken!"

Daryl scoffs but doesn't even bother to look back. "Got too much to do. Stop talking."

Alma's face twists into a sardonic smile. "Ah, so you're avoiding her."

"I'm avoiding noise that's gonna scare away the deer," he snaps, "shut up."

"You're ridiculous, you know that?" Alma sidles up to him with a glare. "Maggie told me Rick had to hold you back from going after Pete with your knife." Daryl tenses a little at that. "You were ready to kill him, weren't you?"

He tenses up a whole lot more. "He deserves worse," he snarls.

"Yeah, I don't disagree, I want his head mounted on my wall!" Alma steps in front of Daryl to make him stop and stares up to his eyes through his bangs. "But were you gonna kill him for being a threat to the community and an abuser, or a threat to my sister?"

It feels like Daryl chews on his lips for an entire day. He curses under his breath and drops his head. "Maybe both…"

Alma smiles real wide and is not easy on the smugness. "Hey look at that, you are self-aware!"

Daryl's head pops up. He glares at her hard and shoves by as he bites out, "Shut up…"

Alma snickers and follows. "Well, I wouldn't talk so much if I didn't need to practically drag you kicking and screaming to conclusions about your own damn head. You gonna just face the fact that you like my sister and want to be with her?"

Daryl growls, "I don't."

Alma scowls and growls right back, "What the fuck does that mean?"

Daryl barks, "Just means I don't!" He glares out into the trees and his feet fall a little harder than he wants them to. The fear and sadness swirl in his chest till an aching anger comes out his mouth, "Gittin' with someone now? What's the fuckin' point? Ain't no guarantees in this world. Won't make a commitment I can't keep."

Alma scoffs. "What like, you'd screw around on her?"

"Fuck no!" Daryl replies a little too earnest for all those denials he's making. He notices the error quick and buckles it all back in with a sigh. "I mean, like I'll fuckin' die, or she will, and then we'll lose each other." He glares over at Alma. "So I'll ask you again, what's the goddamn point making more pain for ourselves?"

Alma doesn't miss the way his voice cracks. She sighs too, with a widening ache in her chest. "All that stuff that comes before it, I guess?" She snorts, thinking of brown hair and light giggles that float on the air. "We all die," she says with a smile. "You wanna leave this world after only allowing room for fear?"

Daryl picks up his pace and tries to surpass her.

Alma's got real long legs though. "Jeez, you really are a coward," she retorts with venom.

He stalls and turns on her, spitting mad and deathly still. "A what?"

"A coward!" She repeats, slower and louder. She rolls her eyes at the anger twitching on his face. "You are! You're afraid of being happy cause you don't want it taken away. You'd rather be miserable and cranky, cause that's what you know is easy and familiar." He blinks at her, stunned. "I mean, it's obvious, and something everyone does. You think it was easy for me to admit my feelings about Enid? No! I am terrified. We're kids! When this all started I was ready to die within the first few days." She sighs, sounding too tired for her age. "I still am. But what's the point of staying scared all the time? What's the point of anything if you just do nothing?"

"I ain't doin' nothin'," Daryl bites out as he storms away. "I got plenty of shit to do, like hunt a fuckin' deer!" He snarls over his shoulder.

"Yeah, to keep your mind off of how scared you are of liking my sister!"

Daryl sighs. "Goddamnit…" He drops his head in his free hand, lowering his bow as he wipes his face. He's about ready to start screaming and never stop if Alma doesn't quit pestering him about her sister. Worse, it's not just about Lupe. Alma is seeing right through him. She's making him understand feelings he's never had before, and still wants to pretend he hadn't.

He already knew he wasn't good enough for Lupe. She was smarter than hell and a real goddamn knock out, literally and figuratively. He'd never seen so much compassion and ruthlessness jam-packed into one little body. She seemed more like the right hand of Mother Nature. Persephone in the flesh, come to trod through his hell, bringing life to the darkness. He didn't know how bad he wanted it till it was right there in front of him. But he still couldn't grasp all that beauty. Not in his paltry hands, covered in blood as they were.

Alma pushes past him in a huff and Daryl stands there stunned. Her stride is silent, and she stops, raising her bow in a near perfect stance. She looses an arrow and it flies, nice and true, thunking into a target. Daryl hears the leaves rustle as something thumps into the dirt. He stomps forward to stare over Alma's shoulder and gapes. The buck lies there in the middle of a wide swath of sparse trees, an arrow right through its eye.

Alma ignores him as she moves forward. She's pissed as all hell until she reaches the animal. Going down onto one knee, she removes the shaft. She mutters a few kind words about what the animal will supply for her community. Her last words are an apology for his death.

While she cleans the arrow with her rag, she stands and walks back over to Daryl. She narrows her eyes at him. "Quit hesitatin'." She walks past and sticks her nose in the air. "You carry it back, Mr. Alligator Wrestler. Unlike some people, I got more important shit to do that I can't keep avoiding forever."

Daryl scoffs and goes to do as he's told. Alma waits for him so he won't have to fight off walkers by himself. She doesn't acknowledge him much on the way back to Alexandria though. She doesn't even bother to help him take care of the carcass once they're inside the gates. He figures he deserves that.

Alma goes straight home to her cranky sister. When she gets inside and goes upstairs, she finds Lupe on her stomach with a bunch of pillows beneath her. She's reading again. Sasha and Tyreese had been kind enough to stop by and drop off some books. So she's read every mediocre classic within the walls of Alexandria. The kids all scrounged together their comics, manga, and graphic novels. They hoped to get her through the next week when Denise can clear her. Despite Lupe being bored out of her mind, she at least has that going for her.

"Hol-ah mayor-ah!" (Hello old woman!) Alma sing songs from the doorway.

Lupe looks up, eyes bleary, but a smile on her face. "Hey querida, (my love,) how was hunt'n?" She grunts.

Alma grins and shrugs. "It was fine. Daryl was being grumpy and mopey."

"As opposed to his usual grumpy and brooding?" Lupe snickers, putting down her book.

Alma's smile curls in the corners. "'Cept around you, when he gets all grumpy and blushy."

Lupe stiffens like a mouse hearing something coming from the tall grass. She scoffs at her sister and forces herself to relax. "You know the pale ones get pinker than us normal brown folks out in all that sun."

Alma giggles behind her hand. "Cállate," she mutters. "You'd love it if he got all hot'n'bothered under the ringed collar for you."

Lupe cringes and lets her face fall into the pillows. She groans loud. "Es tan obvio?" (Is it obvious?) She asks into the stuffing.

"Ni madre!" (No way!) Alma assures her, laying the sarcasm on thick.

Lupe groans into the pillow again. She pops her head up, hair frizzed from trying to smother herself and/or the feelings. "Mira, I don't know what all this is, okay? I'm like…" She sort of freezes up and then cringes at herself. "Ugh, I fucking like him."

"Hermana..." Alma clicks her tongue at her as she crosses her arms and scowls. "Un gringo? Malinchista!" (Sister... A white boy? Traitor to the Culture!)

Lupe guffaws and slaps a hand over her mouth to hide her smile and the horrid sound that precluded it. "Eres metiche y te odio!" (You're nosy and I hate you!) She rasps through her laughter. "Dios mio, no se que hacer." (My god, I don't know what to do.)

"Do you think he likes you back?" Alma asks, trying to play off her excitement despite her desire to scream 'GOTCHA!'

Lupe shrugs. "I don't know. Maybe?" She squints up at her sister. "You know, you don't have to hear none of this if you don't want to. I kept it out of your ears for years cause it seemed like way too much drama to place at your feet. It's silly adult bullshit"

Alma sighs. "Well, I'm not really a kid anymore. I'm pretty naive when it comes to relationship stuff, but you aren't. You're always real smart when it comes to people, even though you don't like them. We can talk it out. That'll help."

Lupe grins. She moves to get up with a cringe and sits on her backside, crossing her ankles in front. "You were always best with people but didn't like to assume the worst about them." She snorts. "I don't see through him like everyone else. He's different from a lot of the others. He's straightforward but plays everything so close to the vest."

She sighs hard. She's never had a long-lasting romantic relationship. She's read a lot about them to try and understand why she felt so dysfunctional as part of a couple. And it wasn't like she ever really got the chance to try, working all the time. Most people didn't want a woman raising her kid sister either. It didn't matter much to her in all that time because her priorities were always on Alma. Most people couldn't handle that. The ones who did, who were good to her, well, occasionally, good things don't always work out at the right time. Now, no time was ever the right time.

"Dijo…" (He said...) Lupe swallows hard. Her stomach clenches in distress because of the emotions whirling through her. "Dijo que yo es importante para él." (He said I'm important to him.) Her face cringes a little. "Pero, dijo que soy como familia." (But, he said I was like family.)

"Maggie y Glenn son familia," (Maggie and Glen are family,) Alma replies. "Dijo el que eres como una hermana?" (He say you're like a sister?)

"No, pero -," (No, but -,) Lupe gets interrupted by the faint sound of a knock at their front door. She frowns and Alma reflects it. Neither of them is expecting company.

"BRB," Alma says, turning to head down to the first floor. She freezes at the foot of the stairs when she sees the familiar silhouette through the shade on the door's window. She grins. "Es para ti! (It's for you!) I'm going over to Enid's for dinner!" She yells and runs for the door. Slipping out, Alma gives zero explanation. But she does give a double thumbs up as she passes.

Chapter Text

Lupe gets down the stairs, grumbling and hoping Denise isn't back to yell at her. She gets to the door and opens it, still distracted by everything her and Alma discussed. Her eyes pop open in shock. Daryl stands on the porch with a handful of flowers with traces of dirt still on the stems from someone's yard. His other arm curls around a casserole dish. He is suspiciously clean and so are his clothes. Not even a rip or bloodstain in sight. His hair is still wet and smoothed out of his face, showing off his bright pink cheeks.

"Hi," he grumbles out.

"Hi," Lupe replies, breathless.

"Sorry I ain't come sooner," Daryl mutters, shuffling on his feet and staring down at the ground.

Lupe blinks through a small smile. "That's okay, I figured everyone was busy. There's still so much to do."

Daryl nods, distracted and chewing on his lip. "I took the deer to inventory. Carol said she'd dress it if I brought this over," he mutters, indicating the casserole under his arm. "Said I had to shower first," he grumbles, shuffling back and forth.

"And the flowers?" Lupe asks, staring greedily at the bright handful of varying blooms. "Those Carol's idea too?"

Daryl shuffles some more. "Nah, were mine," he murmurs down to the porch. "Din'know what color you like so I got'em all."

Lupe smiles big and wide. "Come on in, you can share the casserole with me for all the trouble I caused you."

Daryl wipes off his feet and walks in. He hands her the bundle of flowers a little rough, like it's a rabbit corpse. He pauses to look her in the eye and says, "Ain't no trouble at all."

He heads for the kitchen while Lupe tries to compose herself. She knows it might make her a little sad to believe this was the pinnacle of romance, but to her, it felt significant. While he pre-heats the oven for the casserole, Lupe found a tall cup as a home for the flowers.

"Should take about twenty minutes to heat up then it's good to eat." Daryl stands in her kitchen next to the stove, looking awfully domesticated.

"Thanks." Lupe smiles and waves him over as she places the flower cup on her table. He follows her as she goes towards the couch and sits down. He sits on the opposite side.

They stay like that in silence for a little while. Neither of them has any idea what to do, and have suddenly reverted to teeny-boppers. It's like her dad is the pastor and this is their first date. They're just waiting for the lecture to start about sinfully fast hands and the Devil's Doorbell.

"How was hunting?" Lupe asks, trying to seem innocuous.

Daryl shrugs. "Yer sister took the buck down. Hell of a shot too."

Lupe smiles. "She's always wanted to bag a deer." She snorts. "I really appreciate you taking her on as an apprentice. Most of the stuff they were doing in school she'd already been through. It would have bored her to tears."

Daryl nods, his hands are in his lap and his fingers fiddle with each other while a knee bounces. "She's good out there, real good. Learned a lot out there with you, it's clear."

Lupe chuckles. "Flattery might get you anywhere, Dixon." He stiffens a little and she cringes. She decides to pull back on being too playful. "Alma started shadowing Eugene the other day too. She's learning about the solar grid on the days she has off from hunting."

Daryl uncoils, but only just. "That's good."

Lupe nods and nibbles on her lip, trying to figure out how to keep the conversation going. She's usually the one who has her whole brain click off. Hers is whirring hard like an old laptop. She sighs, her whole body deflating as she leans back onto the couch. She stares up at the ceiling and waits in the silence. She realizes that nothing will ever change unless she does something to make it.

"What -,"

"I want -,"

They both bite back their words and glance at each other. Nervous smiles abound.

"You go first," Daryl says with a twitch of his lip that might be amiable, anxious, or both.

Lupe exhales and it shakes all the way out her mouth. "What did you mean when you said I was important to you?"

Daryl sighs and it's his turn for his body to deflate. He sits forward with his elbows on his knees and his head hangs. He shakes it a few times and doesn't look up as he speaks. "I don't wanna see you hurt…"

Lupe scoots a little closer since he's speaking to the floor in the softest voice possible. "You told me that, but what else?"

His shoulders roll, but he doesn't shift from his position. "I like having you around."

Lupe scoots a little closer. "And?"

Daryl grumbles wordlessly to himself. His head turns and he stares at her through the hair that fell in his face once again. "Yer smart. Too damn smart sometimes, but smart nonetheless."

His eyes narrow at her. "I'd rather have you watch my back in a fight than nearly anyone else I know."

He sighs. "Yer thoughtful and funny but you don't take no shit."

He swallows hard. "I'm pretty sure you're the most beautiful woman I ever seen."

He scoffs and shakes his head. "Sometimes I don't know if I wanna shake the shit out of you or kiss the hell out of you."

Lupe guffaws and slaps a hand over her mouth. Daryl stares at her like she grew an extra eye. She can't seem to wipe the smile off her face as he watches her, waiting and nervous. She scoots closer to brush some of the hair out of his face. "If I can be honest," she replies a little toneless as she tries to hide her nerves, "I'd much prefer the latter to the former." She chuckles at herself. "Enough people are tryin' to kill m-,"

Daryl leans in, interrupting her words with a kiss. His mouth is gentle but determined. His aim is a little sloppy from the urgency, but he's got the heart. He pulls back too soon, pressing the back of his hand against his mouth, muttering, "M'sorry, I -,"

Lupe grabs onto the front of his vest from the side and yanks him back over to her lips. She's trying to impart just how okay she is with his gamble. He hit the jackpot. She feels like the jingling coins are her thoughts exploding out of her head. Nothing is left inside of her brain but the need to kiss him again.

"You're sweet," she mumbles breathily between kisses. "You're kind… strong… careful…" She enjoys the cautious way his mouth sups at hers. There's restraint, but not denial. "Gentle…" She smiles against his curling lips, but they don't stop kissing just yet. "You're the best man I know," she whispers into his lips.

Lupe draws his bottom lip between her teeth and flicks it with the tip of her tongue. He growls deep in his throat and Lupe feels every inch of her body tense and tingle. They both surge into the kiss, tongues seeking the other as they lean into one another. Lupe gets ready to pull him down on top of her, but he holds her back.

"Yer stitches…" He mumbles against her mouth, still not ready to stop her lips from pressing against his.

"Fuck my stitches," she growls right back.

He chuckles and it sounds wicked coming deep from his gut. "Denise will fuck me up if I bust those stitches," he grumbles between huffs of air.

She leans away from him. "Oh, what a fine southern gentleman, such concern, such gallantry!" She muses in her worst Georgia accent, her hand waving about like a martini is in it.

"Git yer ass up here," he grunts, trying not to laugh.

She yelps as he curls his arms around her waist and yanks her onto his lap. She immediately settles to straddle him and their kiss intensifies just as fast. Words are officially forgotten. They tangle up into each other like there's nothing else left in the world.

Daryl stays considerate despite the petrifying starvation in his gut, aching for her. One hand travels along the outside of her thigh and hip, experimenting with the feel of her in his grip. He still keeps a wide berth from her injuries. The other snakes into her long black hair like it's the ocean at night and he is nothing but fearless. Lupe has her arms around him tight. One spans the back of his deliciously wide shoulders while her other hand sinks into his soft waves. They hold each other firm, hands politely exploring and curious. They pant and whine with meek desperation, seeking out a need they'd both left forgotten a long time ago.

The sudden, shrill bell of the timer sounds off. They pop away from each other, gasping. They stare into the kitchen while the bell screams. Both are almost too afraid to look back at one another.

Daryl's hand curves up to Lupe's cheek and she turns to meet his gaze. His chest heaves as he gazes up at her. His eyes are wide like she's the moon on a night once drowned by clouds and darkness.

"We should get that," he huffs out between breaths. She's a universe that he gets to hold in the palm of his hand. He's struck numb with the wonder of her.

Lupe nods, making the mistake of looking down at his lips, puffy and flushed from all their kissing. "Yeah," she says, but doesn't mean it. The last thing she wants is to move. With the way Daryl grips her, he likely feels the same. "Yeah... Yeah," she nods, trying to convince herself. "I'll grab it." She gets up off of him and shambles her way into the kitchen on jello legs. She's grinning like a fool as she opens up the oven and pulls out the casserole. It does smell delicious and though she's pissed at the timing, it would have sucked to have it burn. Carol really is an amazing cook.

"Want me to set the table?" Daryl asks from the couch, trying to be subtle about the way he adjusts himself in his jeans.

Lupe smiles but shakes her head. "Nah, I've got a better idea." She slices out a massive hunk of the casserole and puts it on a big plate. Grabbing some forks and a few of the beers Abraham stole for her, she brings it all over. She sets it on the coffee table in front of them and pops open the beers. Sitting down on the couch, this time she's hip to hip with him.

"Thanks," Daryl mutters as she hands a beer over, cheeks burning pink as he glances at her.

"No problem." She clears her throat as he sips on the beer. "Denise probably would kill you and me for messin' up her stitches. But that timer is lucky I didn't shove it down the garbage disposal."

Daryl grunts out a laugh. "Should have it bronzed."

Lupe snorts into her beer and almost chokes. Daryl grins as she pulls herself together. "Jeez, I did not anticipate the end of this night with beer shooting out my nose."

"Still early," Daryl jokes, poking a fork into the casserole and taking a big bite.

Lupe grins. "Suppose so…" She goes to start eating too. While she chews, Daryl leans in and presses a kiss against her temple. Lupe's body coils up, she'd be blinking red if she were paler. Her stomach buzzes with delight and she feels giddy beyond belief.

They eat in a pleased silence, both too hungry to really care about forcing a conversation.

They might not have time in the unpredictable future, but at least, right now, they have each other.

And that feels like more than enough.

Chapter Text

Another week passes in Alexandria. Lupe has a decent time of it with the rest of the kids' stash of reading material. She's right on the cusp of getting full motion back in her shoulder. Denise allowed her a few movement exercises to make sure she healed with flexibility. Carol and Daryl helped her on a roundabout schedule she never agreed to. But she cherished the time with them. It was great for her and Daryl and their burgeoning relationship. She got to spend a lot more time with Carol too, which was always a blessing. The two were getting closer and closer each day.

The doctor monitored Lupe's progress and yelled at her about rest and eating full meals all the time. Tara hovered around Denise, bruised up, but alive. Denise said she needed to keep Tara monitored for a while because of the severity of her head wound. Tara said she was just trying to be a good patient. They spent most of their time around each other blushing.

Pete got locked up more secure in a basement under constant guard. Jesse and the kids got to stay in their home and Denise got to flex her psychiatrist skills. Rick was pretty much in charge these days, but a council formed for decision making. Alexandria was buzzing like a hive after all the recent drama.

There are plenty of changes within the walls of Alexandria. The community pulled together and a very cogent understanding starts to bloom. Maggie usually went on runs with Glenn but now works with Deanna, Reg, Michonne, and Rick. They concentrate on bettering the safe zone as part of the council. Daryl and Aaron are in charge of hunting with their apprentices, Enid and Alma. Tyreese, Tara, and Eugene got tasked with the push for self-sufficiency. Lupe heard Abraham might be in charge of construction. She had some ideas to help bolster their perimeter.

Rick even insists the kids start on a rotating education. He wants them to learn to farm. He wants them to understand the solar panels and water filtration systems. He wants them to know how to care for the wall. He wants the older ones to start going on runs too. Carl and Alma are more like TAs on any given day, having helped their group for years. Enid is good outside the walls but needed to practice teamwork. Mikey hadn't been outside the walls at all, so he got started light. Lupe rejoiced every time she got to see the growing teens finding their place in this world. She wished more than anything that they could be the ones to conquer it. Outside the walls with dangerous undead and the worst of the living, it's always been about survival. In Alexandria, they could live.

Since Denise cleared her for activity, Glenn asks Lupe to try out a run with the new supply team. It consists of several different scavenging groups. They plan on rotating areas and times and do what they do best. Glenn is the established leader of the operation. Annie, Scott, Rosita, Abraham, Noah, Beth, and Sasha all volunteer, with new faces showing up every day.

Lupe's first run back consists of Glenn, Aaron, Daryl, Sasha, Alma, and Enid. Lupe and Alma ride with Sasha, Glen with Aaron and Enid, and Daryl on his bike. They take Branton Road out west to a suburban spot and find a gated community teeming with the undead. The area looks pretty untouched aside from all the walking corpses. They park their trucks, hidden in plain sight with all the other abandoned vehicles. The main gates have a large map of the entire community on a metal plaque. Glenn gets out his dry erase markers and starts notating it.

"Let's do a perimeter check," Glenn says while still looking at the map. "Aaron and Enid, Lupe and Alma, and Daryl and Sasha. Go ahead and do a walk around. Everyone got their weapons and radios?" Everyone does a quick pat down and nods. "Okay, let's start with radio silence. We don't want to run into anyone out here either."

Lupe stiffens and squeezes the handle of the gun strapped to her thigh. No one else seemed to catch it and it might have been an unconscious movement. But Daryl did. He knows as well as her what kind of people lurk out in the world. She'd been out there and seen the worst side of humanity. He knows what could happen to women and children out there — what does happen to them. It's not a stranger to him, but concern is hard to admit with all the feelings inside of him getting burned up by fear. He knows the two of them will keep an eye on each other, but he'd do anything to keep those two safe.

The group starts to disperse and Daryl lays a hand on Lupe's shoulder. She turns around, frowning.

"Oh, hey." She smiles and it brightens up the gloom of the morning. "You sleep well?"

He nods. "You?"

Lupe smiles so big her eyes crinkle in the corners and Daryl knows it's the cutest thing he's ever seen. "Yeah, I did. Thanks for bringing that cream over for my scar. It helps with the itching."

"Ain't nothin'," he grunts. "Glad it's healin' nice."

Lupe snorts. "Yeah, hopefully, it won't look too bad."

"Don't worry none." He steps a little closer and leans in, trying to brush his lips against her temple without being too obvious. "We ain't our scars," he murmurs against her hair.

Lupe nuzzles into his chest, unabashed in her search for momentary comfort. She resigns to stepping back when he does and giving him some space. He's still a little uncomfortable with public displays. Though she could not spare a single shit about other people, she wanted to respect his feelings. He gives her a tight but genuine smile and walks off to join Sasha. Sasha bats her eyes at them and sighs like a Disney Princess.

"Yo," Alma says, sidling up to her sister.

Lupe jumps a mile, consumed in her thoughts as she stared after Daryl like a fool. She laughs at herself and smiles at her sister. "Hey, shit, you scared me. You walk like a mouse."

"I am determined to take that as a compliment," Alma snorts.

Lupe grins. "You do you, mija,"

"Come mierda," (Eat shit,) Alma laughs. They head out to investigate the perimeter and take a few peeks inside.

Lupe looks at her sister sidelong with a grin. "So how do you feel about trying out the run group?"

Alma shrugs. "I hate being stuck behind the walls so much. There's a lot to learn. But I get bored of seeing the exact same shit day after day," she says with a pretty classic teenage huff. Her smile comes back as her eyes flit around. "I prefer hunting, just out in the woods, where there's still a lingering sense of safety and familiarity. Buildings and cities mean people, dead ones. So I prefer hunting where everything is open. Plus nature is fucking cool."

"Nature is fucking cool." Lupe grins wide. "I get that. I miss being your hunting partner."

"What? Stomping around like a buffalo in a bubble wrap factory and scaring everything away?" Alma snickers.

Lupe glances at her sidelong but then looks away. Her jaw moves in a small, irritated circle before she speaks, "Ya yo estoy hasta la madre con ti." (I'm sick of you.)

Alma chuckles at her sister's ire and smiles wide. She sighs, looking around the complex and out into the woods with fondness. "It's weird to think that we got so used to never being behind walls."

Lupe shakes her head and shrugs. "Not really. We just adapt. We've always been adapting, mija. As much as you think we weren't, we were prepared to deal with this shit. The ruthlessness, the quick thinking, and knowing what we need to scrape by. We've always depended on each other. We've had to be that way since our parents died, probably even before that."

"Yeah, probably," Alma sighs. "But whatever this world is, we're surviving. Hell, we might just be livin' it up now."

Lupe drops her head, her shoulders bouncing with a burst of dejected laughter. "You ain't wrong."

"You know I'm glad you and Daryl are trying to figure things out. He's a nice dude, just doesn't really know how to act." Alma grins.

Lupe chuckles. "Yeah, that's about right. Stories he tells me about his life, his family? Make me want to master astrophysics and engineering so I can build a time machine and fuck some people up. We had love at home even if the rest of the world was shitty. He didn't even get that."

Alma scrunches up her face in anger. "It's fucking horrible when parents are the ones to hurt their children. Shit, no one's perfect. But I hate to see people who didn't get the security and love they deserved from a place that should have guaranteed it."

The smile splits across Lupe's face again. "That's spot on and very compassionate, mija. Te quiero."

Alma's face pinches up with a grin. "Te amo."

They stroll through the perimeter check. They met up with Daryl and Sasha on the back half, and Aaron and Enid on the last quarter. Completing the circuit, they go back to Glenn to discuss. The map has several more notations on it. Glenn has a few pamphlets in his back pocket with a giant ring of keys and doodads hooked on his belt.

"I raided the guard station and found some keys and maps. I've cordoned off sections for the teams. They're all labeled so if you get into trouble, we can find each other for back up." He starts handing out the maps and looks at the group. "How was the perimeter?"

"Stable. Looks strong. Brick wall and Iron bars," Daryl replies.

"Looks pretty undisturbed, I only see malditos, hardly any corpses. This place might have fallen early," Alma tells Glenn.

"We can stick a good amount of them through the fences before going in," Enid adds.

"We should spread out along the perimeter, stretch them as thin as we can," Sasha says.

"Good ideas." Glenn nods and goes back to the giant map. He writes everyone's initials on different spots around the edges of the community. "Let's do this quiet, no guns. We don't want to draw more walkers or people." They walk off to their respective spots on the perimeter. They stick the dead they can draw out through the rod iron fences. It is a simple, boring process that hardly occupies the mind. Once completed, they head back to the front and regroup.

Daryl checks his map and notices Glenn teamed him up with Lupe on the inside. He looks over at Glenn who's doing his best to not look at Daryl as he investigates his map. Enid and Alma stand with Sasha, who they're teamed up with. He goes over to Lupe who walked over to the entrance map. She's investigating the images, asking Glenn last minute questions about his notations. He's happy to explain them to her, eager almost. The little nerd.

Daryl tucks his grin back and approaches the two. "Ya'ready?" He asks her, not trying to put much urgency in his voice. They have a long time to investigate this property, as they'd left pretty early in the day and had plenty of light. First runs back can be nerve-wracking especially after an injury. He wants to make sure she's feeling right about this plan.

A contemplative frown scrunches her face as she turns to Daryl. It fades and she smiles. "Yeah." She nods, tucking the map into her pants.

Daryl walks off and she falls into step at his side. It isn't long before he keeps looking over at her, a grin twitching at his lips. She smiles back at him and steps a little closer as they turn down the street they're meant to start on. With a tentative reach, she grasps his hand in hers, curling her fingers between his.

Daryl feels like he's sunk in bubbling lava when her hand locks right into his. They're looking about the street checking out the houses and the setup. They walk hand in hand down the center with their weapons at their sides, relaxed. The tension in their bodies peters out after a little while and they get used to the touch of one another. His opposite hand hovers over his bow, flicking the strings. She picks at her slingshot. Less crude now, made of hearty wood and medical tubing. She has the massive guns with silencers and her batons too. The guns have carvings on them he'd never noticed before.

"Those carvings are well done. You do it?" he asks.

Lupe glances down and smiles. "No, Alma. She did it to hers. Got bored. Then did it to mine. I don't have an artistic bone in my body." She gasps in excitement, "Oh, except for makeup! I was the shit at makeup." She rolls her head back and groans, "What I fuckin' wouldn't do to go dancing again. Get all fucking fancy and feel like I'm The Shit on the dance floor!" She laughs, peaceful and pleased. Then she stiffens. She looks over at Daryl with a sheepish fold of brows and lips. "Sorry…"

"Nah, good to know you like something 'cept beatin' the hell out of me," he scoffs.

She cringes. "Jeez, I'm never gonna live that down will I?"

Daryl snorts, "Nope." Lupe nods her head with a rueful smile. Daryl's lip quirks while looking at her.

"So what's with the vest? I don't know if I've ever seen it off you." Lupe smiles up at him. "Got to admit I'm not always a fan of leather. I've noticed it's primarily worn by a bunch of fucking sad sack fragile pieces of bravadoed shits."

"Damn," Daryl replies with an impressed tone for her snarl. "And ouch." He huffs and his tone is petulant. "You should know I was wearing this and riding bikes for years before shit went down."

She grimaces. "Sorry. I didn't mean you are like them, but I understand I implied it. They just… throw it on, thinking it makes them badass and macho." Her voice lends towards revulsion, "They just want to be able to kill people and wipe it off."

Daryl stops. Lupe takes a few stuttering steps without him before turning to look back. He lets go of her hand and starts to take off his vest.

"What are you doing!?" Lupe scowls at him but her tone is all shock.

He has one arm out when he looks up at her. "Ya don't like it," he says it so blunt.

She looks at him, her face pinching in concern. "No, no, that's not what I'm implying at all. I'm sorry. I'm an ass at this," she sighs wiping a hand down her face. "I mean I'll talk to you if something you do or say upsets me. But you don't have to change everything about who you are just based on what I say. It's mutual with us, you know? We're in it together."

"In what?" His voice is gruff, deeper and more grating with nerves.

"This?" Lupe shrugs. "A relationship? Partners? I'm not sure if you want to be exclusively monogamous or don't wanna tell anybody about us doing whatever it is we're doing -,"

"Hey," Daryl shrugs his vest back on and speeds up to her, scooping her face into his hands. "It ain't that. I wanna be yer partner. Everywhere, all the time, but I'm just nervous about the relationship shit. I never done it none. I didn't really get to date with Merle around. I just... gotta learn it."

Lupe smiles and tips up on her toes to press a soft kiss on his cheek. "You take your time, okay? I just might leak a few insecurities here and there."

"Shit I got'em comin' out my ears, darlin'," Daryl chuckles and kisses her lips nice and soft. They start walking again, hand in hand.

"As for the vest, it was a gift when I got my first bike." He snorts and his smile is fragile as he looks at Lupe. "My brother got it fer me with the wings. He used to tease me and call me angel." He shakes his head and a pained smile twitches on his lips. "It was shit-talk of course, like everything he ever said. Thought I was a goody-two-shoes, needed to toughen up and stop being so sweet. It was a shit way to go about it, but he was trying to keep me hard, keep me safe. He knew what was out there. He'd already been broken by it. Sometimes I was never sure if he wanted me broken too, just so he wouldn't feel alone." He clears his throat. "S'all I got left of him." He looks at her with half a grin. "But I ain't ever needed leather to feel like a man."

She stares up at him, a little stunned. She's tingling from head to foot. She hopes the flush hovering under her skin doesn't start blinking like Rudolph's nose. She's confounded by his honesty, his sweetness, and his openness despite being so gruff. He makes her feel like she roped the moon.

Daryl chuckles. "If ya ain't a fan of the leather, hope yer into rednecks in flannel. I ain't got nothing else."

Lupe lets out an airy laugh. "Don't worry. I'm a big fan of flannel. Lucky for you, I'd steal that shirt right off your back if only it had arms."

They're shoulder to shoulder as they walk down the street holding hands. More head to shoulder, as she's so much smaller than him. They approach the first house and get to the door, standing on opposite sides before knocking on the wood.

While they wait he mutters, "Like I said, ain't got nothing else, so this one's stayin'."

Lupe sniffs. "Ya veremos…" (We'll see…)

A thump lands against the door and they hear some hissing behind it. Lupe's glad she had been working with her batons under Denise's strict watch. She didn't want her first undead kill back in the saddle to be goddamn sloppy

"You wanna get the door or me?" Daryl asks.

"You get the door. I'll get whatever comes out. But if some come stumbling from afar, I could use not being overrun," Lupe says, already getting focused.

Daryl nods and they prep for the attack. Lupe reaches behind her back and pulls out her batons. With a flick of her wrist, the sticks extend. He has to admit, it's a pretty damn cool move and made her look sexy as hell.

Lupe backs up a few steps from the door, right in the center of the porch and readies to take the full brunt of the attack. Daryl's a little hesitant because she's just barely healed up, but the look on her face brokers no argument. She nods and he shoves the door open. Three walkers come shambling out.

The first one steps forward, reaching out decaying arms. Lupe whirls a series of swings that are lightning fast. The batons crack through the elbows, joints folding on up from the underside. The next strike swings fast across and smacks the maldito in the temple. The thing crumples and the other two stumble right over it. She reverses her grip with a twirl and jams both tactical batons through their eyes. Daryl stands back with his crossbow ready, but no more come out.

"Nice," he says as they step inside, his voice hushed as they peek around. "Pretty handy with them sticks. Make'em look good."

"Batons," she insists with a playful primness. "Found them on some shambling undead cops while I was running around out there in the beginning. I sharpened the ends on rocks to fashion a point, making it easier to skewer." She spins them in her hands. "Really lightweight. I used to be like an actual baton twirler in high school, football games and all, but had to stop cause… well, a lot of reasons." She clears her throat and forces a smile. "These are actually pretty easy on my joints."

Daryl nods and they get ready to clear the last room. "Just let me know if you need a break or somethin' alright? Don't have to shoulder the world or nothin'. I got yer back."

Her cheeks heat up. She hopes he doesn't notice her flailing on the inside. "Thanks, Daryl," she mutters.

He chuckles.

She frowns above her grin. "What?"

"Yer accent, almost roll the r on my name." He grins, amused.

"You're going to stand there — you — and give me shit about my accent?" She replies with a smile that holds back a laugh.

He squints at her. "My accent's just fine. So is yers. I didn't mean nothin' by it, it's just cute is all."

Lupe sputters out some laughter. She puts up a hand at Daryl's taken back reaction. "I'm sorry." She wheezes and tries to button up her ridiculous reaction. "I uh, think your accent is cute too," she teases.

Daryl shuffles a bit and she sees a big pink stripe burn across his cheeks. He gives her a playful scowl and she smiles wider. "Shut up." He immediately stalks out of the house and Lupe follows after him, giggling into her hand.

Chapter Text

Lupe clears two more houses with Daryl before they decide to go off on their own to speed things up. She'd been through almost all the buildings on her side of the street. Good stuff got set aside, readied to pack in giant storage boxes and the provided tote bags. Those would go right out on the sidewalk and later they'd zoom by in cars and pick them all up. She had to admit it was a snappy system.

She walks into the garage of the last house and starts peeking around. Most garages are either a treasure trove or an unnatural disaster. Nice little gravitational hubs for nonsense. Yet not always full of what's useful. This garage couldn't beat what she found outside of it. This house was the best despite the unfortunate circumstances. The memorabilia indicated a queer couple, a non-binary person and their butch girlfriend. Both were almost exactly Lupe's size and had a gobsmacking amount of clothes. She was ready to pack the whole place up and put it in her pocket. They had the best damn taste she'd seen the whole apocalypse.

Lupe chuckles to herself. She'd love to take Alma and stay in this big queer house and love the hell out of it for the siblings they lost. She sighs, trying to fight off the nagging feeling in her gut that tells her it's the wrong move. It rattles her a little bit still. Anxiety wants to take root over the thought of settling into a life. She doesn't even know what it means other than taking a risk to make more bonds that will just get shattered. She shakes her head and inhales, catching the scent of cinnamon and vanilla.

Her eyes shoot open, suspicious. That's Alma's favorite smell. Lupe also adores it. Not only does it make her think of Alma, but it reminds her of her mother too. She sniffs again but the scent is gone. Replaced with something mundane and musty, much more fitting for a garage. She looks around, trying to spot the source. As a responsible person, she also packs useful things into her bag. She finally finds the candles that are the source of the smell. There's a whole shelf of homemade wares from one of the former occupants. Candles, soaps, lotions, and oils, all with pristine labels, if a little dusty, take up the space. They're all spaced out in perfect lines.

Lupe gets hit with a wave of grief for the dead and their lingering presence. She's stuck wondering what the two of them were like, making candles and up to their ears in good taste. She takes a deep breath, wiping away tears, and shudders a little. She leans back a little too hard on the shelf behind her and something falls to the ground with a clatter.

"¡Carajo!" (Fuck!) She snaps. She goes to kick the thing that fell, but stops. It's a canned food item. She kneels down to pick it up with a huge grin on her lips. Then she turns it over and sees it's dog food. "Gah! ¡Putero de mierda!" (What a load of shit!)

She holds the thing in her hand and looks up above to see several shelves packed with cans of the wet dog food. Humans and dogs didn't exactly have similar nutritional needs. But it wouldn't exactly be a bad thing to have if life got desperate. She looks back down at the can to check its ingredients and near the top of it is a giant dog's head. A living one. Just right there, with golden eyes glowing as it leans in to sniff the dent in the snap open top.

"WAAIHIHAA!" Lupe screams and flings the can up into the air as she falters backward onto her ass. The dog also lets out a screeching yelp, trying to get away from her on the slippery, dust-covered tile. All four legs go akimbo, skittering around as it flees.

"Shit!" Lupe has a hand over her heart. "Fuck!" She looks around and the dog is gone. "Shit-fuck!" She hisses at herself. She crawls around on her hands and knees, but can't see the animal anywhere. She didn't catch a perfect look at it. She could only see its eyes in the dim garage. She challenged anyone not to react like she did, seeing golden orbs floating in the dark by their hand.

She huffs and sits back. The can rests in the middle of the little walkway between shelves. She crawls over to it and picks it up. Staring at the label, she realizes it's for a puppy. Glaring at the can first, she then looks back up at the several shelves lined with the same exact product. The puppy-loving couple stocked up, but so much went unused. She didn't see the couple's bodies in the house. She didn't remember seeing any photos of a dog on the walls. It didn't look frantically packed up or abandoned. The outbreak might have happened right around the same time they got the animal. She wonders if the couple passed pretty early on and hopes it was easy. Her heart breaks thinking about the puppy they couldn't save either.

Lupe stands up and looks around again, finding a frisbee a few shelves down. She grabs the can to check some expiry dates and serving sizes. She's pretty sure she's in luck with the year. Using the head size as an indication of the rest of a dog, she grabs another one and hopes for the best. She pops the cans open and dumps the food out onto the frisbee. Armed with bait, she starts combing through the garage again. She needs to find the damn dog. After scouring the entire place she finally notices the doggy door installed on a side exit.

"Aw chale," (Aw shit,) she spits and takes a few steps forward to glare at the clear plastic flap. "Pinche wey... Come mierda, flap." (Fuckin' dude... Eat shit, flap.)

Lupe sighs in frustration. Right about the same time something comes shooting through the little door. Caught surprised, she isn't ready to steady herself when it scrambles between her legs. Its huge body knocks into her knees. With the wet food in hand, she tumbles right onto her ass and gets a boob full of dog food. Hissing and cussing, riled up as all hell, a deep and vicious growl cuts through her tantrum.

Looking up, Lupe meets those gold eyes again. Only now she sees what they're attached to and feels genuine fear. She loved animals growing up. Always wanted pets. But her parents were severely allergic. She could sit near a cat and two days later her mom would still be sneezing. She'd pet a dog and then hug her dad and he'd break out in hives. So she never had pets as a kid and did not know very much about them in practical terms. However, she's mightily sure this dog is pissed.

"Hey puppy…" Lupe tries to croon, sweet as pie. She cringes at herself and the dog creeps closer. Huge black paws make calculated steps and the golden eyes focus on her, intent. "I don't wanna hurt you," she murmurs to the dog. "I got some food." She scoops some up in her fingers, as she's already pretty intimate with it, and holds it out. "It's alright. I can help."

The dog gets close enough Lupe can see its features. The broad, angular head and smooth black coat, remind her of a pit bull. The somewhat wrinkly face, floppy jowls, and sheer fucking size make it look very much like a mastiff. One bred for family protection. The other, famed for being a dog that could hunt and track, as well as fight things like bears and lions in colosseums. Both are well known as smart, loyal, and loving breeds. She knew this poor dog got put through hell.

"Mierda…" (Shit...) She whimpers. "I'm so sorry pup, I can't let you kill me," she whispers. "I'll get you to your parents, okay?" Her voice shakes. She moves, slow and careful, to grab the knife on her calf. The dog bolts like a shadow escaping the light, lunging forward with a peel of barks and growls.

And goes right past her.

She hears the boom of its paws hit the side exit and she scoots away. One of the undead is trying to crawl through the doggie door. It reaches right for where Lupe sat. Fingertips only inches from where she sat and it still hisses after her. The dog's massive teeth clamp right on the neck of the undead creature. It snarls, whipping its jaws back and forth. The head pops off in the dog's mouth. The dog continues shaking the undead's head as it hisses and snarls. In one powerful movement the dog whips up and lets go of the maldito's head. It shoots up towards the ceiling and hits one of the exposed beams hard. Plopping right back onto the ground between them, the head stays silent.

"What?" Lupe whispers in shock. The dog strolls right up to her, nose at her books and making its way up. It sniffs her shirt covered in dog food and its tongue peeks out for a lick. Lupe starts giggling, completely shot on endorphins and adrenaline. "What!?"

The dog realizes she has a whole plate of food in her lap and migrates from her shirt. As it eats, Lupe strokes its back, listening to its happy chomps and trying to get it to slow down. Lupe inspects the dog's massive body and her heart shatters a little bit. Scars litter her inky coat like clusters of galactic tragedies. There's scratches and patches of hair missing, slices along her back, and a good chunk absent from one of her ears. Lupe leans over, careful to ensure the dog won't spook, and checks out her face. It's covered in scars too.

"Oh bebe, I'm so sorry," she whispers, petting the dog with as much gentleness and love as she can muster. Lupe contemplates a few things as the dog finishes her plate. The all black pit-mastiff mix sits down right next to her hip. Her tail starts thumping against Lupe's leg like a switch. Her big broad face spreads in a wide grin and her tongue lolls to the side. Lupe gives her a big giant smile too. Reaching out her hand, she strokes the dog's face, her knuckles smoothing along her muzzle. The pup closes her eyes and leans into the touch, her tail thumping faster. Lupe chokes on a sudden ghastly emotion and scratches the dog more intent.

"What the -,"

Lupe turns to see Alma in the doorway, gobsmacked. The dog tenses and growls a little. Lupe reaches out, petting her. "It's okay, es bien bebe, es bien," (It's okay baby, it's okay,) she mutters to the dog and she calms. "Alma, it's alright. She's friendly, just a little spooked. She killed a maldito."

Alma comes in slow, allowing the dog to get used to her presence. She looks down at her sister with a tilt of her head. She's covered in dog food. There's a torn apart maldito at her side, and blood all over the place. Not to mention the dog that looks like half the size of her horse. "All by herself?"

Lupe nods. "Yeah, scared the shit out of me, but she ripped off its head like nothing. She came over and ate right off my lap, too." Lupe reaches up to her sister. "Give me your hand." Alma does as she's told and Lupe lets the dog sniff at their intertwined fingers. Once the dog starts licking them, Alma gets more comfortable on the ground. The dog curls up right between them and closes her eyes.

"Que chingadas, wey?" (What the fuck, dude?) Alma says with the soft voice of someone dazed, but pleased. "She's beautiful, but she looks like she's gotten hurt real bad." Her frown folds down, almost completely hiding her eyes. "Pobrecita..." (Poor baby...)

"She's been stuck here, all alone," Lupe says, trying not to whimper. "All this food and she had access to none of it. She's been surviving by herself since the beginning."

"Como nosotros…" (Like us...) Alma finishes. She glances over to Lupe who is already staring at her. They both lay their hands on the dog and stroke her fur. The pup heaves out a big sigh that rattles through her gigantic body, feeling peace for the first time in her life.

The split groups start to load trucks up and prepare to go home. Rick had radioed a bit earlier. He wanted them to cut back on a side road that leads to Alexandria and meet up with the scouting group. It wasn't a path that was often used since most reliable resources were due east. They wanted to vet it properly, think about possible uses, and make sure it wasn't a weakness.

Daryl took a truck while Sasha helped Enid with the solar grid parts they were getting for Eugene. He went through and loaded all the containers full of useful items he and Lupe had put out. He parks at the last house where tons of bags and boxes litter the yard. He hops out and starts loading it all up into the back.

Lupe comes out with Alma. Both of them waddle out of the front door with a giant container suspended between them. He hops right out of the truck's bed and jogs over to them. They're bickering in Spanish, but he can't quite catch it all being so rapid fire. He's hardly fluent. Lupe's head pops up and she looks horrified when she sees him. He squints at her reaction. Then Alma notices him and her eyes go wide as dinner plates.

"Want help?" He asks as he approaches, but neither of them is slowing down.

"Nope!" Lupe grunts, struggling hard.

He steps after her, unsure. "Ya alright?"

"Yeah, I'm great," she huffs. Alma is across from her, gritting her teeth and unable to talk because the box is so unwieldy. It feels like it weighs more than most humans she's fought. Lupe forces ambivalence into her tone, "Why?"

"It looks heavy." He nods to the box. "What you got there? Gold bars?"

Lupe trills out a nervous laughter that Alma mimics. It's the exact opposite of Lupe's natural lower speaking voice. "Just clothes! Lots of jeans!" She says with a strained sweetness. She swivels away from him, trying to edge him further back. "You know what you can do for us? Open the back door of the truck."

"Let's just put it in the bed —,"

"Open the door, puto (bitch)!" Alma growls as she and Lupe continue waddling full speed, with him at their side.

"Alright, shit, calm down," Daryl mutters and does as he's told.

Lupe and Alma heft the container into the back seat of the cab with care. Alma moves the passenger chair all the way back, to make sure it's squeezed in secure.

Daryl's trying to peek into the box without using his hands. He's afraid Lupe might take them off. "What happened to the container?"

Lupe's already slamming the doors in his face. Alma leans a hand on the back window. Lupe props a shoulder against the truck and crosses her arms. "Nothing? It's fine."

"It had holes in the top," Daryl snaps.

"Clothes need to air out, Daryl!" Lupe is close to shouting and her tone sounds insistent, yet implying it was obvious.

Alma scoffs and rolls her eyes. "They've been stuck in a closet for ages, dude!"

"Men!" Lupe huffs, throwing her hands up into the air.

"What?" Daryl stares between them confused. He has to do a double take, realizing Lupe's outfit is different. "Did you change your clothes too?"

Lupe looks down and gives a genuine nervous laugh. "Yeah!" She clears her throat and settles a little. "Someone had clothes to fit me. Lots of them too." Her face becomes shadowed and she looks away from him. "It's why I'm keeping the box in the back. I don't want anyone to take certain stuff, okay? It's not that easy to find clothes my size. I'm kinda paranoid about it."

Daryl looks bashful. His eyes dart to the ground. "M'sorry. Didn't mean to upset you," he mutters and looks at Lupe with fleeting glances. "I get what you mean with finding the clothes, but you don't gotta hide it or nothing. We'll help you get what you need."

It's Lupe's turn to look bashful. Alma stares between them with a smug grin while Lupe's whole face burns. She smiles at him, a tense but genuine thing. "Thanks, Daryl."

"And, uh," Daryl clears his throat, overcome with some urge to keep that sadness off her face, "it's a nice shirt yer wearin'. Color's real pretty."

Lupe looks down at it, a gorgeous cornflower yellow, long and flowy. She huffs through a smile. "Thanks, Daryl. I think you pull off the redneck lumberjack look pretty good too."

He snorts and shakes his head at her. "So what's with the fightin'?" He asks.

Lupe shrugs, pointedly not looking at Alma. "Nothing. It's fine. It's nothing."

Alma leans in and replies with a biting tone, "We don't have any more room in the truck."

"Backseats all full up?" Daryl asks, leaning in.

"Yeah, cause of the… clothes." Lupe replies totally smooth.

"But now we can't fit anyone in the back seat," Alma adds. "I was telling Lupe I'd ride with someone else."

Daryl shrugs. "Ain't much room in other cars, they're all packed up too." He swallows tight. "Only spot is on my bike."

Alma's eye's immediately light up. "I'll go!"

"Ni madres!" (No fucking way!) Lupe shouts.

"You won't get on a bike!" Alma shoots back. "Everyone else is driving a full car!"

"Ni. Madres." (No. Fucking. Way.) Lupe bites out. Her jaw grinds for far too long to be good for her teeth. "I'll fucking go!" She throws up her hands. "Chale! Está de la chingada! (Shit! This is fucked up!) Jesus Christ! Pinche desmadre! (Fucking mess!)" Lupe grumbles, following Daryl to his bike as Alma gets in the truck to go meet up with Sasha.

Despite Lupe's trust in Daryl, she is legit scared of motorcycles. But she's even more scared of allowing her sister on one. The walk back to the front is short, yet everything but sweet. Daryl strolls right up to his hand-made execution machine and she feels like her feet are stuck in mud. The world whirls on without her as all the cars prepare to leave. Daryl hops on first and tells her how to get on by steadying a hand on his shoulder. Once she's straddling the death trap, Lupe lets out a long shaky breath. He reaches back, aiming for the hip, but his hand lands on her ass as he scoots her in nice and close.

"Easier on the center of gravity for the driver. Gotta anticipate a lot of shit and I need you close. You move with me, okay?" Daryl grumbles over his shoulder.

Lupe shakes behind him, her hands on said shoulders like they're soldered there. "Ok…"

Daryl turns on the bike with a roar. Lupe screams, wrapping her arms and legs around him like a Kraken taking down a pirate ship

"The fuck are you doing?" Daryl tilts his head to try and look back at her, plastered against him.

"I DON'T FUCKING KNOW! THIS IS TERRIBLE!" She yells into his shoulder blade, near tears. Lupe can hear Alma laughing over the roar of the bike and tries not to plot her untimely demise.

Daryl pries Lupe's latch off him and adjusts her hold, wrapping her arms around his waist. She grips onto him desperately, doing her best not to crush the life out of him. He pats her hands as they roll forward and shoot off with a blaring roar. Thankfully, the noise drowns out most of her screams. After a while, she manages not to lose consciousness. A chunk of her fear gets kept at bay by the man she's wrapped up in. While he rides, Daryl keeps a soft hand over the ones she has clasped at his waist. Lupe can't complain that it's unsafe because it makes her feel so much better.

Chapter Text

The run group heads toward where Rick wanted to rendezvous. They pass a tractor supply store and not a whole lot else. It's understandable why Alexandria as a whole didn't head out in that direction. It was still unwise to leave it completely unexplored.

It isn't long before they roll to a stop and Lupe manages to shiver herself off of Daryl when the motorcycle dies. She's curled up in agony. Being tense that entire ride had pretty much ruined her for the day. She didn't want to insult Daryl or anything, but riding on a motorcycle sucked. It was windy and cold, and hair kept getting everywhere. It was exhausting. She lets out a shuddering breath and stumbles over to Alma as she gets out of the car opposite Sasha.

Sasha turns and sees Lupe's eyes blinking and blank behind her lids. She smiles and tries to hold in laughter. "Hey, good, you survived."

Lupe nods and stretches herself, her body popping its way back into place. She lumbers over to the car and bends over, palms on the hood. She arcs her chest towards the ground. It stretches her arms and back and she whimpers as her shoulders crack. She rises up in the opposite direction. Her spine bends in a magnificent arc with a few pops for effect. Careful as she goes upright, she blinks her way to Sasha on the other side of the hood and asks, "We gonna be here long?"

Sasha shrugs. "I don't think so. I'm guessing it's just a check in."

Lupe nods. "Alright, cool. We'll join you guys in a sec. Alma might need to help me with some messed up joints." She groans and Sasha gives her an easy smile before walking away. Lupe leans against the car, looks over at Alma, and sighs. "Hijo de la chingada…" (Son of a fuck...)

"Yeah, no shit," Alma replies. "Sasha was starting to look suspicious with me reaching my hand back there to check on the… box."

"Jeez, lo siento," (I'm sorry,) Lupe whispers. "Thanks for riding in there." Alma nods.

"I was talking to Carter about getting more maps from the area." Rick's hearty voice carries over the air. "There's lots of woods around us, which can be good. But we probably should familiarize ourselves with the landmarks and such as well."

"There might be a ranger station or a hunting lodge nearby. They'd have that kind of information," Aaron mentions.

Enid pipes in, "I can check the phone book we found in one of the houses."

Carl shoots her half a grin. "Smart." Enid smiles back at him, bright and proud.

Lupe and Alma decide to stroll over after having a very short conversation with Lupe's new clothes. They stand between Enid and Sasha. Daryl, Glen, and Aaron are on the other side of the woman. The others line up opposite to the run group, and they all form a shoddy circle.

"I think I like the idea of patrols that Lupe mentioned before. We should have a few teams going around the area, securing a perimeter and such" Rick says. "We definitely should know our surroundings and try to keep things cleaned up. It could come in handy if we ever need to plan an escape."

Daryl nods. "We should know the area better than we know ourselves."

Rick agrees and clears his throat. "I think I might try teaming you up with Lupe for a bit. Both of you know what to look for and avoid while going through the woods. Aaron and the girls can take care of hunting for a while. We gotta find paths and water sources, create useful maps... We should make sure if we find people, we can be certain they can live alongside us."

Daryl chews on his lip. "A'right."

Rick tries not to show his surprise at Daryl's nonchalance. He'd been testy since recruiting got taken off the table. Beggars can't be choosers in his situation so he lets it go. Rick looks over at Lupe. "You can let me know if this is too much on your plate too soon, but we do need everyone we can get right now."

Lupe shrugs, she's feeling great. Especially now that she's out of her house without the threat of Denise physically subduing her. She glances over at Daryl who isn't jumping for joy or anything, but he doesn't look pissed. He nods at her with a twitch of a grin and she smiles back at Rick. "Yeah, I think I can do that."

"That's great," Rick replies, relieved. "It'll be important in the long run. I appreciate it." He gives her a genuine smile and she likes how warm it makes his face. The dude could emote, that's for sure.

Then, Lupe hears the barking.

Both she and Alma immediately straighten up. Their whole bodies go wildly fucking tense.

Everyone looks around, trying to find the source of the muffled sound.

Sasha is the winner.

"How the fuck did that dog get in my truck!?" She screams.

Lupe stands there, her face pinched so tight she's hoping to spontaneously implode. Alma is on her own.

Daryl turns on the sisters. "It weren't no goddamn clothes!" He snarls. "You were smuggling a fuckin' dog!"

"Que poca madre..." (This fucking sucks.) Lupe spits. She glances at Alma as they both turn back. The dog's going wild in the front seat, scratching at the windows and snarling. Lupe looks back to Daryl. She decides to disregard everything and chose to be incensed. Her face twists with her caustic, sarcastic lilt, "Yeah!? Maybe I found a dog in someone's garage! Maybe I adopted it! Maybe I was trying to smuggle it in! So what!?"

Sasha turns on Alma with a look of ultimate betrayal. "Is that why you kept sticking your hand back there?" Her voice is sharp and annoyed.

Alma's face stretches towards a painful guilt. Her tone is soft and pleading, "She was licking my fingers to reassure herself. I just didn't want her to get nervous!"

"You told me the clothes were soft!" Sasha spits, incredulous. "And that I couldn't touch them while I was driving!"

Alma grimaces like the apology writes itself on her face. "If I can be honest here, that was more of a safety thing."

"Dude, dad, can we find a dog!?" Carl pleads.

"Son, no," Rick spits out with a clenched jaw. He turns back, words ready on his tongue to admonish Lupe and reject her new pet. Lupe is gone from her spot, creeping towards the truck.

Daryl reaches out to pull her back. "Hey, it's not safe."

Lupe looks back at him, her frown concerned. "Can you trust me on this?"

Daryl stares at her hard. "Yer already lyin'."

She cringes, but steps closer to him. Her tone is very soft and very specific. "Most people I've met would have shot that dog in the head the moment they found it and eaten it. I'd like to think you're all better than that, but I didn't want to risk it, okay? I'm trying here. I know this is ridiculous but I just…" her exhale comes out shaky, "…just… trust me?"

Daryl squints at her and shakes his head. "Good luck with the rabies," he bites out.

"Har har asshole," she mutters as she pulls away, "I kiss you, don't I?" Arriving at the truck, the dog is still going wild in the cab. She puts her hand on the window and the dog calms, but still whines and growls with curling lips, writhing in the seat. It doesn't look like a potty dance. Lupe turns around and sees the group, lined up in front of the edge of the forest, staring at her, waiting.

Her voice is abrupt, "Move."

Rick scoffs, everyone looks over at him as he's about to speak. Alma is already pushing Sasha and Enid out of the way.

"MOVE!" Lupe shouts and rips open the door.

Everyone else scrambles as the dog shoots from the truck's cab like a bolt. It passes by all the humans, going straight for the trees. Lupe goes running after her, but Daryl grabs her arm this time and doesn't let go.

"Let me go help her!" Lupe snarls.

"Wait…" he replies with a low and patient growl. He nods his head toward the tree line. "Yer mutt is givin' everyone a show."

Lupe looks back at the forest and the dog's dragging a thrashing walker out into the open by its leg. Michonne has her sword out in a flash and takes a menacing step forward. Reactive, Lupe grabs one of her batons and extends it with a flick. She believes Michonne is going for the maldito, Lupe doesn't even think she could hurt the woman if she wasn't. But Lupe doesn't want to let that dog get hurt either.

The dog snarls as she jumps, flattening the undead on the ground. She clamps down on its neck and tears off the head in one hard yank. The dog shakes it around for a second or two and then trots over to Lupe with uneven steps, dizzied. Everyone grips their weapons and takes several steps back. She looks like a small bear trouncing through the brush. She drops the decapitated maldito's head at Lupe's feet, sits down, looks up at her with her giant smile, and wags her tail.

"Good girl." Lupe smiles and then jabs her baton into the rocking and snarling maldito's skull.

"Holy shit! DId you see that!?" Carl spits out. He turns to his dad wide-eyed. "Dad, we have to get a dog!"

"That was amazing!" Enid mutters with childlike glee. She turns to Alma and asks, "How did you get her to do that!?"

Alma shakes her head and shrugs, an unabashed smile aimed at her sister and the dog. "She does it all on her own, evidently."

Lupe kneels down to pet the pup. Daryl still hovers next to her, tense. "She's a very good girl. The best girl. She already saved my life once." Lupe grins as the dog leans into her touch.

Rick walks closer. His eyes cement on the dog and his gaze widens. Though he's not exactly suspicious anymore, he's certainly fascinated and shocked. "Saved your life? How?" He sputters, incredulous.

"Much like she just did for you right now. She surprised me in the garage and I fell. She turned around, came back. I thought it was me she wanted, but she passed me right by. A maldito was trying to get through the doggie door, trying to get me, and she tore it apart. Ate food right off my lap after like we were best friends." Lupe grins and pets the dog. The big mutt leans into her, tail thwumping, and tongue lolling out of her smile.

"Lupe…" Rick starts. His tone already sounds despondent.

"I don't have to stay with you," she fires back. "We don't."

He sighs, his lips pursing up in frustration. He shakes his head and opens his mouth to talk.

The dog pulls away from Lupe and trots over to the edge of the forest. There's a low whining, growl that comes from her throat as soon as she starts to pace. She follows along the forest's edge, from where Aaron stands all the way through to Michonne. The dog won't stop pacing, back and forth, with that same pitchy snarl.

She turns and runs back over to Lupe, whining high. Lupe frowns and then the dog trots back over to the edge of the forest. She looks back over to Lupe and barks once, rather soft, her tail now wagging. Lupe takes a step forward to follow.

"I don't think that's a good idea." Rick reaches to stop her. Lupe gives him one intense dirty look and stalks away. Alma and Enid bolt right after her without even looking at anyone.

"Daryl…" Rick mutters, feeling helpless.

He shrugs in response. "That dog is a better walker killer than half the people in Alexandria." Daryl steps around a sighing Rick and follows Lupe into the woods.

"Sorry, dad," Carl mutters and then jogs off before Rick can stop him. Sasha doesn't even say anything, she goes right with him.

Rick rubs his head and looks skyward as if that's gonna give him some answers. "Glenn, Aaron, please watch the vehicles." He turns and his voice is hard, "Michonne, come with me please."

They stalk after the group with the dog, heading through lush forest and seeing no walkers in sight. It would be a relief. If not for the consistent trick of life. A boon dropped in their laps, only to have a dense levy with it, tossed over their shoulders like a lead cloak.

When Rick approaches the group, they're in a near perfect line along a rocky ledge. The dog sits next to Lupe, leaning into her legs, with her tail wagging and kicking up dirt. Lupe strokes the top of her head, her fingers absentminded, but patterned. Daryl is next to her and his arms hang limp at his sides. Enid and Alma hold each other around the waist, their hands gripping each other tight. Sasha and Carl are standing there, staring too.

Rick's about to call for them when he gets close enough and feels all the energy leave his body.

"This is why…" Carl starts. He turns to his dad, standing there shocked. "This is why they thought they were safe."

Down over the rocky edge is a deep and wide quarry. A few unleveled semis block the top path and the bottom path cordons off in a similar way. Between those two sets of trucks was about a quarter mile of pure shambling undead. The pit had them completely pinned in. Though some started slipping between the trucks on the bottom path. They ripped themselves to shreds to slide through a thin gap. Drawn by the sound of the others, more dead continue to tumble in on the other side. That drop into the quarry is negligible and each one that falls gets right back up. The group has the high ground and are currently safe, but that could change at any minute.

"Shit…" Rick hisses. He paces for a bit, glaring at the setup. "We have to get those maps and figure out a way to handle this herd." His rasping voice slices through the air as he walks, cowboy boots thumping in the dirt. "Before it gets to us." Everyone nods, nervous, staring out at their newest roadblock to peace. "Let's go…" Rick huffs and starts to walk away when he hears a sudden growl. He turns to glance at the dog. She watches him, golden eyes intent as her snarling lips curl over long fangs. He reaches for his gun.

"Don't!" Lupe hisses.

The dog is off and jumps past Rick. She thumps into a walker that was sneaking up behind him in the shadows of the trees. Most of its face got ripped off at some point, so it hardly made a sound. The dog lands a bite on the walker's shoulder and drags it down. It's head thumps against the uneven rocks and roots, crackling out a starburst of blood. The corpse goes still. The dog turns back to the trees and starts pacing and whining, covered in gore and looking like a hellhound.

Lupe rushes over but Daryl grabs her shoulder to stop her. She smacks him in the elbow at a perfect point where it hurts like hell, but won't injure, and he lets her go. She hears him prep his bow as she pushes past Rick and everybody else. Daryl's bolt centers on the dog. Lupe may think this thing is some sort of angel, but he doesn't want to risk it. The animal paces, spectacular like a jaguar in the trees. She is fierce, he is sure of it. He's seen it a few times already. He still doesn't know what to do. As Lupe approaches the dog, he's confident he'd rather shoot it than see her harmed. He knows she'd hate him for it. He's past the point where he can admit he wants her, needs her to be safe.

Lupe stumbles right up to the dog that snarls and paces at the edge of the trees. She turns and growls for a second at Lupe's approach, but the mutt's jowls are quick to relax when she sees it's Lupe. She trots right over and sits, waiting and patient for affection. Lupe kneels down and hugs the dog tight, not caring about the gore. "You're a very good girl." She leans back and the dog pants and smiles. Lupe grabs her canteen and pours some water out into her hand for the dog to lap up.

Rick mutters, "Should be conserving the water —,"

"It's my fucking water, in my canteen. I'll do whatever the hell I like with it," she snaps back at him. The dog perks her head up but Lupe shushes her, trying to get her to drink more.

"Kinda community water…" Daryl says.

Lupe looks up at him with murderous indignancy in her gaze. "Well, am I part of the community or not!?" She spits. She looks around, waiting for an answer and no one dares contest it. "Fuck you then, I'm helping my dog." She uses the backsplash on her sleeve to start cleaning the dog's jowls.

"Lupe —," Rick starts, already sounding annoyed.

"Please…" Lupe interjects. Her body slumps. "Please let me keep her." Lupe's voice is fragile. She looks at Rick. "She needs someone…" Lupe's on the verge of tears. "I'm not gonna leave her out here, okay?" Her voice cracks. "Just… let me help her."

Rick stares at Lupe. He can't read her like others. Not exactly. They butt-heads often enough he should know she always pushed back. She's a bit terrifying with all the ways she's capable of killing. She's raw in a way the world didn't train him for. With a genuine vulnerability that spooks him. He knows what happens to good people in this world. She's survived and kept her sister alive against all odds. A harrowing feat he can relate to.

"What if she's sick?" He asks, honest and fair.

"I can stay with her in the community we found. Give her a few days —,"

"Yer not stayin' out here alone with that dog," Daryl snaps. "Don't even think about it," he snarls at Alma as she steps forward. She steps back with a scowl as she crosses her arms.

"If this dog dies I'm not letting her be alone while it happens. I'm gonna be there for her, and I don't give a shit if you don't like it. My dog, my decision," Lupe shoots right back.

"That thing might get you sick! Get us sick! We got a baby to worry about. We don't have the luxury of pets anymore," Daryl snarls. "We all know if that dog went wild and started drawing in walkers, we'd step on its neck and shoot it in the fuckin' head!"

The look on Lupe's face is a shade away from a massacre. Rick puts up a hand at Daryl. He levels a glance at Lupe. "She'll need a quarantine and you'll need somewhere safe to keep her isolated."

"That community has solid gates, we'll be fine." Lupe shrugs halfway and petulant.

"Just..." Rick looks around the forest and sighs. "Keep her in your house or yard for a few days, alright?" He nods, small and tight, before turning and walking away.

"Huh?" Lupe says, loud and confused. She thought it'd be a much bigger fight than that.

Rick speaks over his shoulder with that hard-ass tone, "Tryin' to build a community here. You part of it or not?" His eyes finally settle on her and there's a playfulness in them she didn't think existed. "With both of you animal whisperer's maybe we'll really need that barn your sister keeps pestering me about." His smile is sharp, but it disappears over his shoulder as he walks away.

Lupe fights back a grin. She leans into the dog and it licks her forehead. Lupe looks up and ruffles the pup's jowls. "Wanna go rome?" She asks the pup in Scooby-Doo. She wags and wags her tail in response. Alma and Enid approach and do some quick introductions so Enid may also pet the beast of a dog.

Sasha walks by them and gives Lupe and Alma a disapproving look. "Next time... just tell me." She looks at the dog and her face does this soft crumple with hidden emotions breaking through. "I woulda helped you, damn!" She kneels down to get introduced, elated. Carl about dies on the spot when he comes over. He's so excited to see a real dog again. It takes some time for official introductions to the dog's new community members. After, everyone starts heading back towards the cars.

Daryl halts Lupe, grabbing her arm in a huff. She bristles at the tense anger radiating from him and rips her arm away. She looks up, blank-faced. "Daryl…" Her tone is a bit too sharp to sound completely like a greeting. His name accompanies a distinct growl from the dog at her side. Lupe grins at him. "She doesn't like it when people get too close to me without knowing them first."

He turns to glare at her through his bangs. His anger is frigid and tense. "Don't lie to me," he growls. "Even over shit like this."

Lupe deflates. Her face crumples with such distinct sorrow, his heart skips a beat.

"Alright." She sobers and nods. Sniffling, she says, "I am sorry about the lying. I panicked, but I shouldn't have lied. I'm sorry."

"Apology accepted," Daryl grumbles, tone still hard. He still feels the hurt, that won't go away in a blink, but he knows that she means it. He steps forward, intending on pressing a kiss to her head, but the dog growls again.

Lupe blinks, eyes strolling up to his face with half a smirk. "Just as a warning though, Daryl..." She takes a step forward and the dog growls louder, like a threat to hinder any ideas of his about moving. "If you even look at my dog wrong, I will rip out your skull and beat you with it."

It's the sultriest threat he's ever gotten. The storm in him settles a bit as he gazes at her. She sees some sort of recognition go through him and her smirk widens to a tilted grin.

"Alright..." Daryl drawls out, long and deep.

"Now," Lupe says in almost a whisper, but her voice snaps to her normal tone, "come and meet Barbacoa."

Daryl pauses. "A who?"

"Barbacoa." She points back at the mutt. "My dog!" Her smile grows to something radiant.

"Jesus… You already named her?" Daryl grumbles. He wipes a hand down his face before leveling a distinct, furrowed-brow look in her direction.

She chuckles at his half-meant glare and puts her hand in his. Stretching their arms out together, they plop and hang right in front of the dog's face. The pup calms, ears and eyes perking, and she leans in for a sniff. She walks around the two of them, snuffling at Daryl's pant leg and boots several times. She squeezes herself between them to force a little room for the Holy Ghost. Then sits at Lupe's side, smiling up at the both of them with a wagging tail.

"Think she approves?" He mutters.

"Willing to risk it?" Lupe smirks.

"Hell yeah," Daryl says, lunging forward, wrapping her up in his arms, and planting a toe-curling kiss on her lips. The dog whines, but lays down to get comfortable with a petulant huff flapping her lips.

Chapter Text


After two days of information gathering, almost all the Alexandrians huddle up inside Deanna's home. Everyone looks pretty grim. Even considering the giant horde that could destroy everything at any minute. Rick stands to face the group.

"I know all this is distressing. We're in a bad situation, but I think we have a chance," Rick says, his tone hard and serious. "I need to know more about this quarry though. Has anyone ever been out in the area before?"

Heath has recently returned from a long run only to find Alexandria turned upside down. He raises a hand. "Yeah, in the beginning, we were out scouting trying to find out what was around here. We spotted the camp, maybe about a dozen people trying to get themselves set up. They blocked everything off with those trucks. It was so close to the start, we had no idea what to do or what was coming, so we left them to themselves." He shrugs.

"No one's been back since?" Maggie asks. She's seated next to Glenn on a pristine couch, looking up at Heath with tired eyes.

Heath looks down at her, his head shaking and shrugging. "Everything worth scavenging is in the other direction towards DC."

Lupe leans near one of many windows with a deep sill. She's quiet and keeping to herself, but her eyes glaze over with Heath's statement. She thinks about the woman she lost back in that town outside DC. Nothing carved in her forehead cause there was nothing left of it. Her stomach twists and she feels sick in so many different ways.

Michonne starts talking. "It has to be handled soon. We can all agree on that. They won't be contained forever. All the noise they're making now is just drawing in more walkers." She shakes her head and her long locs sway with her movement.

"Shit, and then some," Abraham grumbles from his spot in a beautiful pink chair. His fitting giant mustache ruffles in irritation.

"Michonne's right," Rick nods. "What I plan to propose will be risky, but walkers are already slipping through. The barriers are failing, from wear, tear, and weather. One of the semis up top is barely keeping up."

Daryl adds, "A bad rain or a humid day, and it's going down."

Pointing at Daryl, Rick agrees, "Right. It could happen at any time. Either of those barriers falls, the roads will funnel them right to our gates." He sighs. "It's not a matter of if, but when. It will happen and we need to do something before it does."

"Like what?" Carter, a longtime Alexandrian and engineer, pipes up, his face pinched in concern.

Rick purses his lips for a moment. "I propose we release the walkers deliberately and use several methods to lead them away." He looks around at the gobsmacked faces. Putting up a hand, he continues, "Now listen, we've done things like this before. Maybe not of this magnitude, but we have. We can use flares. Make paths with vehicles on the road blocking the dead in. Draw them out with the sounds of cars and Daryl's motorcycle."

"I can go with him, trail him in a car," Sasha interjects and Daryl glances at her. "That's a very long way to white-knuckle it." Daryl's lip quirks and so does Sasha's, they nod at each other. They always make a good team.

"I'll ride along," Scott says to Sasha. "Everyone needs back up." She gives him a lopsided smile and pops a sure nod.

"Wait a minute! This is barely a plan!" Carter edges on a shout, his voice shaking from nerves. "Leading them away? Tha-that's it? We can't just control that many!"

"I've said it before, walkers herd up. They'll follow a path if something's drawing them," Rick mutters with utmost patience. "We can lead them away all at once."

Carter's face folds in anger and what might be disgust. "So what? We're just supposed to take your word for it? J-j-just supposed to trust you after —,"

Rick's face pinches into a glare directed at Carter. "After what?" His voice is deadly low.

Carter's voice is shaky, but his scowl is solid, "After your people beat the shit out of our doctor and our run team! After you threw corpses at our feet! Lied to us! Killed one of our own! Took over completely -,"

"Listen —," Rick starts, his word is a crack through Carter's shaking statement.

"I agree!" Lupe announces and everyone turns to face her. She rarely talks to anyone outside the group, especially during a gathering. She and Alma also picked one of the farthest houses off the main track, away from most others. Despite her sister's gregarious nature, she doesn't socialize much. She'd also cooped up with her dog for a couple of days.

"What?" Rick asks, utterly confused and almost hurt.

Lupe stands up, trying to hide her shaking knees because she hates speaking in front of so many people. "All that other stuff he said is nonsense. Your run team was a mess! Nicholas deserved to die after what he did to Noah, what he tried to do to Glenn. Pete is a piece of shit y'all should have stomped into dust years ago, but that time has passed."

She looks back at Rick, "That plan is too dangerous. Way too risky, Rick! You're putting more than the lives of Alexandrians in danger. You're also leading that herd off to possible unsuspecting innocent people." Her breath shudders out. "Plus anything could throw them off following just a car and a motorcycle." She scoffs. "I mean I am an ADHD Autistic. I'm a professional at getting distracted. But those assholes amble off after anything. A loud bird could pull off a section of the herd and we'd all be completely fucked."

Everyone stares at her. She forces herself to be still in the lingering silence.

Rick watches her with hard eyes. He knew the plan was beyond risky, but they had to eliminate the threat. He knows she's being forthright. Lupe's never been one to shy away from the truth. He can appreciate her honesty, considering something of this magnitude. It also happens to take a lot of guts to stand up to his cranky ass.

He nods once. "Alright, valid points, not just that I'm an asshole, which we all already well know." The group chuckles the best they can in a situation so heavy. He looks at Lupe, and asks, "What would you propose?"

Lupe shrugs, but her face hardens as she stares up at Rick. "We should kill them. Every single one."

A shudder runs through the gathered group. Everyone looks at each other in confusion.

Tobin speaks up, timid, and not trying to be rude, "I'm not sure we have enough ammunition for that."

Lupe looks at him with a confused frown for his statement. "Then we don't use guns."

"You want us to go in hand to hand?" Glenn blurts. "That's suicide."

"No, no." Lupe raises her hands as she shakes her head. Her flicking fingers attempt to dislodge the severe discomfort of sensory overload. Too many people are making noises around her. Trying to inhale in the room is like breathing in syrup. "I, uh…" she frowns and wraps her arms around herself, trying to calm herself enough to think.

Rick interrupts, his voice stern, but not yet accusing or condescending. "We can't have them come to our walls. With that many? They will fall. We should lead them away, we don't have the ability to take them all out. There are hundreds down there."

Lupe pinches the bridge of her nose and tries to breathe. She unfolds and looks up at Rick. "Rick, right now, they're a giant fucking bullseye."

Rick's eyes widen and his face softens with the realization. "You think we could keep them pinned in and strike all at once?"

The loud sound of a diesel engine comes floating on the breeze through the open window behind Lupe. True to form, she gets distracted. There were no scheduled runs for the day. Almost everyone attended the meeting except kids and non-combatants. Lupe turns to lean on the sill and stares out the window, brows furrowed.

"Lupe?" Rick asks.

The streets aren't as crowded because most people are busy at the meeting. There's no truck waiting for the gates to open. In fact, she doesn't even see the guard.

"Mierda…" (Shit...) She snarls, stomach twisting with anticipation. Something is wrong.

What -," Rick tries to ask. His words get drowned out by a boom and the horrific screech of metal scraping against metal. A gigantic semi truck tears down their front gate, followed by two more trucks roaring in on their tail. The tense meeting shifts on a dime as many rush to the windows. What they see veers everyone right into a full-blown panic.

"Someone charged the gates!" Rick shouts. "Carol get to the armory! Everyone arm yourself with whatever you have and get ready!"

Common groups form quick and everyone starts to peer out of Deanna's house and assess the situation. When Rick peeks out the front he sees several men standing on top of one of the semi trucks, rolling open the back door.

"Oh shit," he snarls at the familiar sight.

Shambling bodies start pouring out of the back of the trailer. The men all jump and shout on top of the rigs to get the dead riled up. The corpses recover from the short distance dropping off the back edge. They get right back up and shuffle into the streets of Alexandria.

Two of the men on to of the rig jerk to the side and stumble off the top. Rick can hardly hear them, but he knows the sound of silenced shots anywhere. Someone's out there fighting back. "Walkers and humans!" He shouts back to the groups all gearing up. "We fight back and we take no prisoners!" He snarls. "We will protect our community!"

The groups all peter out of Deanna's house and into the filling streets. Smoke bombs and Molotov's get tossed around by the living intruders. Every single one has a W on their head, drawn with either blood or blade.

Alexandria is finally getting visited by the Wolves.

And they brought friends.

Despite being careful, the Alexandrians' presence starts an immediate riot of the undead. The groups bolt out and spread through the community, knocking down as many walkers as they can. Unfortunately, the crowd is deep and another truck starts to open. A few more gunshots sound off and more men with Ws on their heads fall off the rigs.

The three semis unload close to fifty walkers each. Even for a flourishing Alexandria, the number is steep. They do not have even close to one hundred and fifty fighters. Out on the streets they already see people of their community dying. Lupe could join up in a group, but she wants to get to Alma and make sure she's safe. She also wants to get her dog and help make these fuckers regret their decision to attack in every single way.

Lupe runs between houses and through yards. The brunt of Alexandrians are fighting in the main path to keep the intruders from spreading. They've got to keep both human and the dead from destroying everything before it's had a chance to start. She takes out a few straggling malditos but stays rather unbothered. She turns a corner and a man wielding a huge hand scythe charges in her direction with a yell.

Lupe doesn't hesitate. She sprints at the man and dives, rolling into his feet. She takes him out at the knees and ankles and he keels over face first into the hard packed dirt. She scrambles up onto his back and plants a knee between his shoulder blades. She flicks out her baton and stabs him in the base of the skull in one swift movement. Lupe stands and flicks the gore off, looking around, squinting. She kicks the body onto its back and stares, officially bothered. It's foolish to attack a guarded place like Alexandria with only melee weapons and a busload of dead people.

Frowning, she reaches down to the corpse. Another one with a red W on their forehead comes careening around the edge of the house. Lupe glares at the stranger, covered from head to toe, with a hood and bandana covering their face. She flicks out her other baton as she glares at them and takes a few determined steps forward. Their bright eyes go wide and they hold up a thin hand, clasping a gun, but it isn't pointed at Lupe. They're showing it to her. They pull down the bandana with their other hand.

Lupe's eyes go wide. "Que chingadas?! (What the fuck!?) Carol!? You scared the shit out of me!" Carol runs towards Lupe, pulling up her bandana and looking around. "I thought you were going to the armory. What happened?"

"Streets are packed with those assholes and the walkers, so I am trying to thin out the Ws. Went to check on the kids." Carol puts a reassuring hand on Lupe's shoulder as the woman shudders with nerves. "They're all okay and they're armed. Alma is with Carl, Enid, and Mikey. They're all protecting Judith at Rick's house and they even have the dog."

Lupe sighs in relief. A shaky but sardonic smile forms. "So much for a quarantine."

Carol chuckles and shakes her head at Lupe. "They rammed down the gate and let all the dead in at one area. We should be able to push them back, but I think it was half a diversion. Some humans are scaling the walls. I've been trying to take them out." She looks down at the corpse and back at Lupe, "None of them have firearms, I think —,"

"Armory, yeah." Lupe nods and Carol's eyes shoot to her, wide and observant. "I noticed only melee weapons too."

Carol nods, pointing to the body. "Put on his clothes and come with me." Lupe does as she's told. Carol hands Lupe her MAC-11s from under her big coat. "From Alma," Carol clarifies and Lupe grins. Her sister knows her all too well. "From me." Carol winks, handing Lupe her rifle.

Lupe stares at Carol a long time. She pulls her close, hugging her tight, and kisses her temple. "Thank you," Lupe murmurs. They pull back from one another, smiling and sure before they run off into the chaos.

Chapter Text

Carol and Lupe sprint through yards and between houses. Lupe has her holster on and hides her rifle under her new jacket. She only pops it out to fire off a bullet into far off insurgents. Carol has a knife, a pistol, and her assault rifle beneath her jacket. They edge towards the Armory while trying to help others out. They split off from one another on occasion, finding a new terror to halt around every corner. Lupe lost count of how many skulls of Ws she punctured right through. They were far too consumed by their grizzly murders to notice.

The dead thin out over by the Armory so the two begin walking down the street together. A pair of Ws come running past Carol and Lupe.

"Aphid! You spot the gun cache yet?"

"Whoa, is that a fucking police baton, Grinder?"

They move right past Carol and Lupe, not waiting on an answer. Lupe turns, shouldering her rifle, and aims at the running Ws. She fires off two soft pops, hitting them both in the back of the head. Their momentum immediately ceases and they flop forward, dead.

Lupe tucks her rifle back into her jacket and looks at Carol. "Who the fuck do these people think they are!?"

Their eyes meet and both share a sense of confused hopelessness. It does not drown out their anger and determination. Lupe turns and aims her gun down an alley. Another W hits a body with an ax for probably the fiftieth time. She pops off a shot and the body slumps.

"What the fuck do they think they're doing?" She grits her teeth. "This is the kind of shit that makes me think some people don't deserve to live."

Carol stares at the body of one of the Alexandrians left on the street, completely mutilated. Her eyes trail to Lupe's with a sad sympathetic gaze. She nods with a quivering chin. "This isn't life anymore." She shakes her head. "They made their choice."

They run along until they're only a few yards away from the armory. Lupe and Carol pause to look in the direction of a sudden scream. Father Gabriel got tackled by one of the Ws.

"Leave him," Carol says, her tone burning with rage. Lupe is inclined to agree. If someone deserved it, it might just be Gabriel. "We need to get to the guns."

"Let's go," Lupe replies and they push on.

Two more Ws come out of a house, laden with a whole bunch of crap. They waddle towards Carol, smiling. The woman speaks, "Hey Aphid! Where'd you get the gun?"

Carol's answer is a bullet in her chest and one in her partner's head. They both bypass the bodies. Only to come to an abrupt halt when a woman comes screaming from a door with a W chasing her, a machete in his hand. Lupe pops off a fast shot and the man crumbles down the steps but is not dead. Another W woman comes out behind him screeching. Carol's gun clicks on empty and Lupe's does the same. Lupe tackles the woman who charges after Carol. It gives Carol time to slip down the stairs towards the armory. The shot W scrambles up and limps after Carol, holding his shoulder.

The woman with the W climbs on top of Lupe and smiles, pulling out her knife. "I'll free you. I'm your savior."

A distinct chill runs through Lupe. "No thanks," she replies on a shaking breath and punches the woman in the throat. When she keels over, gasping for breath, Lupe pulls her knife and stabs her in the temple. Lupe wobbles to her feet and charges towards the armory, right as a man comes sprinting out. Lupe moves out of the way and Carol steps out the door and fires several shots into his back. He stumbles face first onto the ground and stops moving. Lupe walks over, raises a boot, and stomps his head into the cobblestone.

Lupe walks into the Armory as Carol speaks to Olivia and gathers guns. Lupe grabs a bag for herself and some ammo for the rifle beneath her jacket. Carol mutters to Olivia about how to shoot. "One of them comes through this door, you squeeze the trigger and you don't stop until they're on the floor." Olivia nods. Carol turns around and jerks her head to the side for Lupe to follow.

Lupe grins at Olivia as the doors are closing. "You can do this, you're brave." Olivia sniffles a lot but smiles, holding the gun up steady as they shut her in. Carol tugs on Lupe and they sprint out the back.

Gabriel is still out on the street, a W on top of him, jabbing him repeatedly in the chest with a long machete. Lupe walks up behind the W and raises her gun, shooting him right in the head. Carol stands next to her and stares down at Gabriel, already turned undead and snarling up at them. Lupe sighs and shakes her head. As she raises her gun and pulls the trigger, she does one favor for the Priest and lets him meet his maker.

"Madre de la chingada!" (Mother of fuck!) Lupe growls. She whips around and kicks the dead W. "There are children here! People are getting raped and slaughtered in the streets!" She yells at the corpse and then spits on it. She looks at Gabriel and shudders out a tight breath. "God doesn't give a shit anymore..." She snarls, "We were never meant to inherit the earth." She scoffs and clenches her jaw. "We have to fight for it." She glances over at Carol, fully furious. "None of them escape."

"None," Carol agrees with a growl. "Get the guns to our people. We'll make sure of it."

The two nod and split off in different directions. They intend to meet back up at the front and start helping to thin out the horde. Lupe goes through the slimmer passages that can't accommodate a group of malditos. She manages to find Glenn and Maggie near the church. She arms them and gives them a little of her stash to spread around. They find a few more Alexandrians tucked in hiding places, too terrified to move. They hand out weapons like Fairy Gun-Mothers. They're close to the front gates again and can hear the din of the great battle of monster versus person. The growls and snarls are one thing, but the shouts of their friends are harrowing when they're not there to help.

Lupe, Glenn, and Maggie skid to a stop by the solar panels. There's a group of six Ws gathered there and ready for a fight, keeping them from getting to where they need to be.

"Go," Lupe says, her voice steady and far past murderous. "Now."

Glenn and Maggie won't argue with that tone, so they take off at a sprint. One of the Ws turns to go after them and Lupe pulls out a Mac-11 and drills a silenced bullet into his skull. She doesn't like to kill, but she does it anyway. She used to just do it for her sister, then Rick's group, and now she's doing it for everyone else in this community. She's doing it for herself. She wants a future here.

At the sight of her crack shot, the rest of the group stands in shock and then tears off in different directions. Lupe takes out one that heads down a side street. Another jumps down an alley only to get devoured by several of the dead. Another one charges at her. She smiles while she shoots him right between the eyes. The last one slips off, his stringy dark brown hair flying in the wind as he does. Lupe goes to follow, trying to get a good aim on him, but he's a fast mother fucker. He reaches the gates first and Lupe comes across a scene that chills her wholly to the bone.

A group of Alexandrians fan out within a sea of walkers converging on them. She sees Rick, a flurry of limbs, blood, hatchets, and rage. Nothing is stopping him as bodies continue to topple and topple. Michonne is there and she is at his back, slicing them down too. Carol is with her friends, using a machete to tear through the dead. Tara has her knives. Glenn has a bat. Maggie and Beth are back to back. The older sister has a rebar pole with one end wrapped by her belt for grip. The younger has a long wooden spear she fashioned herself, keeping the dead at bay. Abraham is a holy terror. He tosses walkers around and smashes their skulls with his bare hands wrapped in chains. Daryl fights like a whirlwind, buck knife in hand and using his bolt like a pike. He is brutal and beautiful in an entirely indescribable way.

There is a fearlessness in this pit. There has to be because they can't just stop protecting what's theirs. It's not the houses or the walls or solar panels. It's the people huddling in their homes and the children crying into their pillows. This is their place, for their people, and they weren't about to let it slip away. They would not lose their homes. They would not die in these streets. Perhaps the threat would never truly vanish. But neither would their dedication to the ones they love. That is something no pit could contain. This group is insurmountable and it shows. They would not let circumstances they could not control make all their decisions. They don't care about making history, they are setting the foundation for a future.

They keep moving and stay tight, watching each other's backs. They don't let a single walker slip through. They are deep within a crowd of the undead that's only getting bigger and bigger. More get drawn to the sounds of their raging destruction.

As Rick watches his people protect each other, his terror gets eclipsed by a simple sight. Doors start opening. More of the community starts spilling out onto the streets to lend their aid. The people either fight or tend to the fires.

"Knock them away! Drive them down!" Rick roars with a deluge of blood coming from the ax he dislodged. "Work together! Watch each other's backs!" The people, not fighters, armed themselves. The trained brandish guns, others hold machetes, candlesticks, bats, kitchen knives, and pipes. They flood in. They attack corpses, whacking them, slicing them, and throwing them to the ground. They start tearing the horde apart from the outside in.

"We can beat them!" Rick roars, pride surging through him and edging him on. With a fluid swing of the ax, Rick yells and it echoes within the walls and sets the pace for the rest of their fight.

"PROTECT OUR HOME!"

Lupe lunges forward to take down a walker, well over six feet tall, standing with its back to her. She shudders to a stop and her baton wavers in the air as it turns around to face her.

Pete...

His body is in shreds, red seeping all over, and there are chunks missing that would never heal. His mouth jaws at the air and blood gushes as he takes a disjointed step towards her. She's prepared to unfreeze and drive her baton straight through his milky eye. She twirls her hold on her baton to make the strike.

"Dad?"

The spell cast on Lupe by that tiny voice makes her blood run cold. She's compelled to turn to it, she can hardly stop herself. Too far for her to reach, she sees Pete's little boy, Sam. He's up on his porch, holding hands with his mom. Ron stands at his mother's side, eyes wet, wide, and terrified. Lupe's chest constricts, robbed of air looking at their petrified faces. Her heart isn't thumping. It's worse than fear. She can't feel anything.

She catches a strong whiff of rot too close for comfort. She turns and it's in time to stab Pete through the ear as he leaned in to take a bite out of her shoulder. She stumbles back from the giant corpse as it falls. Then she hears it again. That little voice. But it has built now, into an endless wail.

Lupe doesn't know when the sound turns from grief to pain, but she looks over and Sam gets buried in walkers. They're eating his little body, tearing him into chunks of blood and pain. Every ounce of hope shrivels up inside of her and she lets out a garbled sob. Ron sprints back into the house with a scream and malditos follow. Jesse goes down next as she cries out for her baby boy. By the time the walkers swarm her, Lupe figures she was already dead.

Lupe stumbles toward the horrific scene. Piles and piles of the undead writhe on top of their screams. And then silence. The silence is so much worse. Lupe draws towards them like there's nothing else in the world. She weaves through the walkers desperate to consume her. She raises her Mac-11s and uses her thumbs to flick to switch to automatic. She squeezes the triggers and gunfire rips through the corpses on top of the family. She doesn't stop until everything is still. She reloads her guns and turns back for the throngs attacking her friends. She doesn't care about the Ws right then. All she can see is the dead, and she wants nothing more than to drive them from this physical plane.

She starts shouting and the sound is an immediate draw for the malditos. Lupe doesn't mind. She wants them to come because she knows this has to stop and it has to stop soon. Between her Mac-11s and her rifle, she doesn't fall short on ammo and ends up mowing down the back half of the crowd. The others tear their way through the rest of the dead, all but fallen. Corpses decorate the streets like macabre confetti to celebrate their victory.

Lupe shakes with a violent intensity as she turns to face her group. She stares at them wide-eyed, hardly able to breathe. Rick returns the look, adrenaline still surging through him. Michonne smiles wide, huffing with exertion. She flicks her blade of gore before she wipes it down. Daryl has his eye on Lupe and makes a beeline right for her, wrapping her up in his arms so tight a rib might have popped. She's so high on endorphins and relief, she just grabs on to Daryl and fights her desperate need to cry. She's so happy he's okay.

"Fuck, am I glad to see ya," Daryl mumbles into her neck. His hands tremble their way to the sides of her head, trying to get her to focus on him. "Lupe?"

Lupe gazes off to the side in a stunned panic. Something doesn't feel right and the sensation shrivels up her insides. She shakes her head at Daryl and her eyes flutter to the side. An open door. She squints hard because she was sure that the house's door was shut just a second ago. She blinks again and huffs out a tight breath. Her eyes travel down the street and she freezes.

Carl, Enid, and Alma had come out to help with the horde. They were fine, looking victorious and windswept, but fine. A swelling relief shambles its way through Lupe, making her willowy in Daryl's grasp. She smiles at the group of four.

She squints hard. There wasn't four of them a moment ago. But another teen is storming towards them, his face is a quivering mess of grief and belligerent rage. His arm raises up.

"YOU RUINED EVERYTHING!" Ron screams at Alma, aiming a shaking gun at her.

Lupe is too far away to even pretend she can make a difference before he can pull the trigger.

Chapter Text

Lupe raises her gun fast, but not in time. Alma is closer and quicker with her pistols. She fires to stop Ron from pulling the trigger. The shot to his head flings his body around but the bullet shot from his gun on a reflex flies unseen. Ron drops to the ground in a heap. An entire family erased.

Lupe runs. She has to get to Alma, but it's not Alma she sees. It's Carl. Blood covers half of his face and a gaping, shredded hole is where one of his eyes should be. His body starts to go limp as he stands. Lupe isn't sure he's really conscious, but he still calls out for his dad as he falls. Alma and Enid scramble to catch him as they scream.

The world spins on its axis and time moves faster. Everyone converges as Rick picks up Carl's limp body, waling in unimaginable grief. He starts to run with Michonne at his side. They both sob, daring to show their sorrow with their child bleeding in Rick's arms, again. Enid and Alma immediately follow and Alma weeps her apologies.

"Shit…" Daryl hisses.

Lupe turns back to him, her face locked in a gaping horror. She doesn't even realize she's crying. Through her tears, she peers over Daryl's shoulder and sees several Ws bleed from their hiding spots. They run for the semi trucks. She pulls out her gun and fires several shots, but her disorientation wins out and she misses. They hop in and pull out of Alexandria as fast as eighteen wheels can carry them. Lupe snarls in frustration and rage as more tears fall. She charges off, newly determined.

Daryl catches her before she gets too far, torn between following Rick and following her. "What're you doing?"

"I'm going after them," she spits, pulling her arm away. She looks up at Daryl with a reddened, rage-filled glare. "I'm going to kill every single one of them."

"Not alone yer not," Daryl snarls like nothing else matters. He lets out a sharp whistle that gets the attention of the remaining group. "We need someone to grab ammo. We're going after them!" He growls to those who stand stunned in the blood-soaked streets.

"I'll get more guns," Carol volunteers. A shaken Tara goes with her.

"What the hell are you on, Daryl?" Spencer cries like it was the worst joke in the world.

"They killed our people! Our friends!" Lupe charges at him, but Daryl holds her back.

Daryl scowls and forces himself not to let go of her. He grits his teeth. "We ain't even talking about this!" He snarls at Spencer and turns for the cars. Lupe, Sasha, Abraham, and several more follow behind him.

"They know where we are. They'll just keep trying," Aaron insists to Spencer.

"We have to," Beth pauses to look back at Spencer, "but you don't." She joins up with Aaron. And Spencer gets left alone, fuming.

Carol returns with a few bags laden with heavy artillery. They split into several cars and burn rubber to catch up to the trucks. The things don't move too fast, so it's easy to trail them back to a large manufacturing plant once known as Del Arno Foods.

The trucks screech inside the plant. There are more Ws waiting outside as the others scramble from the truck cabs. Daryl comes careening through the chain link fence on his motorcycle. He unleashes a torrent of bullets in their direction. Several of the Ws fall, but not before one of them opens up the remaining trucks. Close to a hundred walkers flood out into the open. The other cars full of Alexandrians come in right after Daryl. A couple of them surge forward, engines roaring as they plow into throngs of walkers and W's alike.

Lupe hops out of the truck she drove in with Sasha. Sasha camps up on the top and lays out with her rifle ready to go. She picks off the fleeing Ws and whatever walker she catches in her scope. Lupe strides through with her batons and starts fighting off the dead, joining the rest of her group. Her swings are sure and strong, fueled by a desperate fury, hell-bent on restitution. Some of the Ws are staying to fight rather than get picked off. Lupe makes her way right towards them.

She manages to sink her baton into the side of one man's head, the satisfying crack of bone resounds and begs for echoes. She near giddily provides, tearing through as many of the Ws as she can. Arms wrap around Lupe from behind, trying to lift her off her feet and throw her off balance. He smiles while he does it, laughing loud in her ear. She drops her head forward and flings it back, catching the man in the nose and mouth. They stumble away from each other, Lupe almost as dazed as him, but much less bloody. They turn to face each other and she realizes it's the man she let slip away earlier.

Brandishing a long, bloodied machete, he eyes her up and down, recognizing her too. "Everything gets a return." He smiles, tone enigmatic, and his teeth shine yellow through the gore on his face.

Lupe rolls her eyes. "Y'all men are annoying as hell. Society crumbles just a teensy little bit, and you assholes lose any and all fucking sense."

He scoffs. "This is the most natural thing in the -,"

"Shut the fuck up!" Lupe says as she flicks her baton up from her hip, smacking him aside the head. She should have swung harder, but she didn't want to give him the chance to counter. He tumbles off his feet and two things clatter to the ground. One gleaming red machete and a very small black rectangle that looks like some sort of remote.

He looks up at her, the machete, and then the remote. In a scrambling panic, he jumps for the remote. Since he's more desperate for that than a weapon, Lupe jumps for it too. However, she pulled out a knife while she did it. She stabs it right through his forearm. The blade slips between the bones before he can reach the little black box. His scream is a new found delight.

"Eat shit!" Lupe growls as they lay head to head on the pavement. She yanks her knife out of his arm and stabs him right in the eye. Lupe pulls out the blade with a huff and the body drops like a rag doll. She picks up the remote and stares at it while sheathing her blade. There are only two buttons. She skewers an approaching maldito with her baton and then presses one of them.

She expects an explosion. An explosion of bad Disco from speakers rigged inside trailers was not anticipated. Neither was she prepared for most of the malditos to straight up turn around and head right for the ramps. She stares at the remote, gaping. The Ws had the malditos trained.

As the dead pile into the trailers, most of the Alexandrians are left a bit stunned. Abraham and Carol run around to each trailer. They shut the dead inside, rendering them harmless as long as Lupe didn't press the other button. Sasha stays on task and continues to pick off the Ws who finally resign to their failure and try to flee. Pretty soon, the lot is almost empty of the living and chock full of the dead. Lupe sees all the Alexandrians in relatively good, if messy shape. People are exhausted. The day has been an unmitigated disaster, but they made sure it would never happen again, to anyone.

Lupe watches Daryl and Aaron climb out of a tiny and obviously-a-trap station wagon. She runs over and launches herself at Daryl. He catches her and turns, slamming her against the car. He presses his entire body into her, all the while kissing her hard and desperate. They pant and whine as their hands travel. They use the opportunity not just to check for wounds, but for reassurance and sanity. They finally pull apart, heaving chest to heaving chest.

"Got'damn..." Daryl rumbles and Lupe feels it from her head to her toes.

"You know, as good as that kiss was, I'm gonna have to say hiding in a car the entire fight is kind of a fink move." She grins up at him.

He tucks her chin into his curled hand with his thumb. "Got cornered is all."

Lupe rolls her eyes too animatedly to be serious. "Yeah, okay," she stretches it out with blatant sarcasm.

"Ass," he grumbles, kissing her again.

"Come mierda," (Shit-eater,) she murmurs into his lips. He can't do anything but laugh.

"Y'all done yet?" Tara shouts over by her truck.

Daryl and Lupe both freeze up. Looking around, they see everyone is staring at them. Daryl tenses right up in her arms. She doesn't want him to feel so nervous about all this so she yells back, "First two minutes are free, now I have to charge you! Empty your pockets!"

Everyone laughs as they get into their cars. The tension in Daryl eventually subsides as they take off. He leans against her, heavy, head tucked on her shoulder.

"It's alright," Lupe says, stroking the back of his head. "They're not going to judge you for trying to live your life. They might tease you relentlessly, but that's family for you."

Daryl exhales and the heat of it ignites her skin. "I know, it's just weird. My brother used to try and fuck up any chance I had with someone. Still feels like a weight on my back. Like if it's not him, something's gonna come and drive you away. Or I'll mess it all up. Makes me wanna save ya the embarrassment."

"Listen… To me? Nothing is more embarrassing than my plain old self. So you don't have to worry about competition in that area," she jokes and he huffs out a soft laugh. "You can worry, it's normal. Just keep talking to me, okay? We're a couple'a smart and sexy folk, we can figure things out."

He pops up his head and squints at her. "What does figuring this emotional shit out have to do with being sexy?"

Lupe shoots him a pedantic frown above her smirk. "Emotional intelligence and problem solving are very sexy, Daryl."

He huffs and smiles wide, eyes wandering the glory of her. "Color me surprised." Daryl blinks and freezes, staring over her head. A slow frown forms. "What're you still doing here?" He barks.

"My ride left me." Aaron shrugs. He sees Lupe's head peak over the car roof so he smiles and waves. "Also wondering if I get a thank you kiss for hiding in the car too?" Lupe guffaws and Daryl grumbles with deep affection at Aaron. Aaron smiles wide. "Come on, let's get your bike in the back of the truck and I'll drive you both home."

"Alright, sounds good," Lupe says. She looks up at Daryl with a grin as they disentangle. "You know, I think I might have an idea for the quarry…" She supplies without further explanation. Making her way over to Aaron, she grabs his shoulder, pulling him down so she can place a kiss on his head. "I'll tell you about it on the way home." She winks and heads towards the cab, cause she's sure as hell not going to try lifting a motorcycle. She wouldn't touch the damn thing. Riding it once was enough.

Daryl and Aaron do their manly thing and wrangle the large metal beast. Lupe sits on the hood as the truck bounces and the men struggle. She picks the blood from under her nails with her KA-Bar.

"Excuse me?"

Lupe's head pops up at the same time her gun gets drawn, pointing at the source of the gentle voice. A middle-aged Black man stands in front of her wearing a long coat and a hiking pack. He has a wooden walking stick in one hand and a stack of paper in the other, both raised in surrender. She refuses to trust someone not approaching with guns drawn. It makes her worry why he's so confident. She scowls at him.

"I'm on my way somewhere." He smiles at her and it's a nervous, tight thing. "Fact is, I'm lost. Could you tell me where we are?"

Daryl and Aaron come from the back of the truck, sweating and huffing.

"The hell!?" Daryl yelps, rushing to grab his bow. He scans around the area for threats, just in case this stranger is a distraction.

"He's asking for directions," Lupe states. Aaron gets his gun and takes over guard duty while Daryl comes up to her side. "Don't think he's a threat to us." She smiles at the man, but it's a little grim. "Only if we make him one."

"I'm not a threat to you," he confirms. "My name is Morgan and I'm just trying to find my way." He shakes the map in his hands. "Could you point out where we are?"

Daryl glances at Lupe and she nods her head while staring at Morgan. She holsters her gun and reaches out her hand for the map. "I'm Lupe, this is Daryl, and that's Aaron."

"It's a pleasure," he replies politely, meaning it. He hands the papers over and Lupe spreads it out on the hood. She frowns at the map. Her eyes trace the long black line that connects Georgia to Washington DC. It's almost the exact route they took to get here.

"Wait…" Daryl grumbles, flattening out the bottom corner of the map.

Both him and Lupe read the handwritten note: 'Sorry I was an asshole. Come to Washington. The World's gonna need Rick Grimes.'

Daryl and Lupe look up at each other and then to Morgan. "Where did you get this?" Daryl snarls.

Morgan frowns. "A church, St. Sarah's, I think." He nods at the map. "I was wanderin' a while and found that while I was scavenging. Linked me back to a person I think I should find."

Lupe gapes. She looks over at Daryl who seems a little bewildered. She grins wide and looks at Morgan. "Well Morgan, I have some fan-fucking-tastic news for you..."

He grins at her enthusiasm but is tentative. "What's that?"

"You don't have to walk anymore." Lupe smiles wide.

Chapter Text

Lupe gets to sleep in after having the idea of the century. The giant quarry of walkers was no longer a problem after yesterday. They secured a few trucks from the unfortunately empty Del Arno manufacturing plant. Some adjustments to the mechanisms got made under Eugene and Carter's instruction. They took about eight semis out to the quarry. Using Rick's idea, they fashioned a guided maze out of abandoned cars. They baited the undead with loud music and flashing lights. The bumpers guided every single one of the dead into the back of a trailer. Jammed in there like sardines with minimal prompting.

Hundreds of the dead got sealed away in minutes. The trucks got backed into the walls of the quarry so that the dead could get dealt with at a later time. The sun had been low in the sky but not yet set when the group prepared to go home. As they climbed into their trucks, the semi on the top path finally rumbled loose. The giant truck crumbled down the side of the quarry. It crashed loud at the bottom, tearing the road that would've lead right to their front gates down with it.

Lupe groans and rolls over in the warmth of her bed. She loved a good warm bed and she had to admit, her new space heater is working wonders. She nuzzles into Daryl's neck. He grumbles, sleepy and pleased as he curls his body around her and slips a leg between hers.

"Morning," she mumbles into his scruff.

"Morning darlin'," Daryl grumbles, voice like chains dragged in gravel. "Sleep good?"

Lupe sighs with a soft smile. "Yeah, I did. You?

Daryl nods, chin bouncing on the top of her head as he chews his lip. "Gotta say, I can never choose which is nicer, falling asleep with you in my arms or waking up that way."

Lupe exhales, flapping her lips against his skin. "Well waking up is awful, you have to get up and people expect you to do things. There's only one good thing about mornings."

"Mornin' sex?" He smiles with his joke.

"I'd rather die!" Lupe contests as dramatic as she can. "Everyone's all gross from sleeping. Our mouths taste like ass. Bodies aren't even awake yet. And who wants to function after an orgasm - a solid orgasm, hm? Anyone?" She pauses for effect and Daryl smiles wider at her vehemence. "No! You wanna sleep or eat or smoke somethin' nice and watch a cartoon. No one wants to actually live their life after an orgasm. It's Snooze City."

Daryl chuckles into her hair, curling her tighter in his arms. "You sure know how to drive a man to distraction." He kisses her roughly on the head, his whiskers and chin giving her an aggro-noogie. She squeals in response and tries to escape. He holds tight and presses hard kisses down her temple. Once he's got her stuck, he brushes his lips across her cheekbone and goes for her jawline next. He nibbles on her neck until he finds her collarbone. She's making different sounds by then.

"Sounds to me like yer body's awake," he mumbles into the curve of her shoulder.

"Come mierda," she snaps at him and then wriggles in just the right kind of way. It's a little easy for them to get carried off into carnal delights. But sex hasn't been a thing just yet. They talked about it real soon after it all started between them. It was a fast realization that when they touched, something cosmic happened. They weren't sure what they were ready for. They're both still learning each other in all the ways they can.

"Somethin' else I'd much rather eat," he grumbles deep as his hand spans her upper thigh. A few of his fingers dip into the leg of her underwear where her thigh becomes something else. "Breakfast," he says, tone blunt. He nips at her shoulder as he unravels from her. "You should go shower." He sits up and shoots her a too slick smile beneath an arched and very mischievous brow. "Get that body a'yers awake."

Lupe pinches up her face in what he's come to understand as a dichotomous mixture of hating his guts and wanting to pull him back into bed. "Make me some coffee," she demands through her scrunched expression. Her face relaxes and she pantomimes pure innocence. "Please?" She asks real sweet, batting her thick eyelashes at him.

He snorts. "Take that shower. Meet ya downstairs." Daryl gets up and starts putting his clothes on, already acting like a real human being. Lupe's eyes are still blinking at different rates. "I'll get some breakfast ready."

"Beef jerky isn't a breakfast food!" She shouts after him.

"It is if ya put it in milk," Daryl shoots back. He smiles at her vivid reaction of pantomiming vomiting as he leaves the room.

Daryl's downstairs by the time she groans herself out of bed. The shower helps. She's able to get herself refreshed before the hot water runs out. She heads down to the kitchen and finds Alma eating oatmeal with Enid at the breakfast bar. Daryl fixes up some chow for them, as well as Barbacoa. The one thing that dog loves more than Lupe, is food.

"Mornin," Lupe says, kissing the backs of Enid and Alma's head as she passes.

"Mornin'!" They chime.

Lupe hears the whine and skitter of Barbacoa coming around the end of the breakfast bar. Her large body barrels toward Lupe, looking like a shadow except for her bright pink tongue. Lupe gets down and ruffles her jowls, muttering sweet nothings as the dog tries to lick at her. She smiles and shoos the dog off for her own breakfast, going to take a seat next to her sister.

"You got a run today?" Alma asks.

Lupe nods. "Things are getting a little slim after the attack."

"Rick thinks the run will change that," Daryl says, sliding a cup of coffee to Lupe while he drinks his own.

"Let's hope so, but we really need to start work on defenses and sustainability," Enid says chomping on her cereal.

"Once we get some more supplies it'll help. We need to see what's around us," Lupe replies after a long sip of coffee. Daryl sets a giant plate of toast between him and Lupe. Most of it's smothered in peanut butter cause she needs the protein and salt. "Wish we still had all our old Virginia Maps."

"That shit fell apart a long time ago." Alma chuckles. "What are you guys prioritizing?"

"Denise needs medical stuff and we need food. Fuckin' assholes Molotov'd the garage," Daryl grumbles. He leans at the counter and chomps on some toast.

"Lucky they managed to get the fire out or the armory would have gone up with it," Enid replies, shaking her head.

"Prolly taken out half the town. Hate these fancy developments," Daryl grumbles around peanut butter toast. "Damn houses are too close together."

"Yeah, we really shouldn't be keepin' food, gas, guns, and ammo in the same place." Lupe snorts. "Learn from London!"

Daryl grins and licks at his fingers. "I'll mention it to Rick." He chugs some water and wipes at his mouth with his bare arm. He scoots around the bar and kisses Lupe on the temple. "Gonna go help prep. We'll probably be ready to go in an hour, don't rush it."

"Si, jefe." (Yeah, boss.) Lupe rolls her eyes before crunching through toast.

"Hey, that one I definitely know from the construction site." Daryl leans in again and kisses her lips even though they have peanut butter on them from her last bite. She smiles up at him, mouth closed. One of her cheeks has a lump of toast in it, making her look like a hamster with food tucked back. He grins at her wide. "Adios, hermosa." (Bye, beautiful.)

Lupe lights up like neon, all glowy and warm inside. He's out the door before she can even swallow and reply. Both Alma and Enid turn to look at her and, in unison, go, "Awwwww!" Lupe rolls her eyes but still snickers with the two teens.

"That was terrible," Alma says, but her tone is still sweet. "He butchered it."

Lupe and Enid guffaw.

Enid snickers. "Come on, give him some credit for trying. It's just the accent is all wrong."

"It's like getting a huarache from Cracker Barrel," Alma insists. They all laugh.

"He said he didn't get his ass kicked working construction with some Latino crews. They even called him back a few times to work with him on other jobs so it can't be that bad. Maybe he's just out of practice." Lupe winks.

Alma sniffs out her nose. "Ya veremos, Malinchista." (We'll see, traitor)

Lupe snorts into her coffee with a huge smile. Alma smiles too because there's a warmth in her sister that she dearly missed. When Lupe allowed herself to be vulnerable, she was more genuine and lively, more herself. They finish their breakfast together, laughing and snickering about the chisme in town.

An hour later Lupe feels almost human. She walks over to the small scavenging caravan with Barbacoa at her side. Rick, Glenn, and Daryl are up by the big TAC truck they recently retrieved. Sara is helping Spencer load some provisions into their truck. Carol waits by the back of Chingada's tailgate. She chats with Tara, Sasha, and Scott while they finish prepping.

Lupe waves to Carol and the group as she passes, not wanting to disrupt the conversation. She heads up to the front and opens the driver's door. Barbacoa jumps right into the truck, scrambling over the seats to get into the back. Lupe leans over to place her pack on the passenger side. When she stands up, she sees Eugene and Tyreese approach Rick and the others.

"Eugene and I mapped out some agricultural supply places in the area," Tyreese says, handing over a piece of paper to Rick. "Even if they've been cleaned out, my bet is that the sorghum would stay untouched."

Eugene leans in. "Now, that there is a criminally underrated grain that could change the game with our food situation from scary to hunky-dunky." Rick and the others squint in confusion. Eugene attempts to clarify. "I'm talking standability, drought tolerance, grain-to-stover ratio that is the envy of all corns."

Tyreese nods and shoots Eugene a fond look of appreciation. "It's an invaluable crop. Same as hemp, if you come across any."

"Another versatile, fast-growing crop. One of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber 10,000 years ago." Eugene adds. "It has a variety of commercial and non-commercial uses. It can be refined into paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, cement, biofuel, food, and animal feed."

"Isn't hemp, like...?" Glenn questions, pantomiming someone raising a joint to their mouth. When Rick looks at him he blushes and drops his hands.

"Hemp has lower concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol and higher concentrations of cannabidiol, which decreases or eliminates THC's psychoactive effects," Eugene replies.

Tyreese chuckles. "Can't get you high, but CBD also has a lot of medical uses, so it might interest Denise as well."

Rick nods, blinking, a little startled at all the information. He's impressed. "Thank you, we'll see what we can find."

Eugene turns to walk away and Tyreese sighs as he watches him go. "No problem, and thanks for going out for us. We appreciate it." He shakes Rick's hand and the others before he goes over to Sasha to give her a hug and say goodbye to her and Scott.

Carol comes up on Lupe's side. "How ya feelin'?"

Lupe shrugs. "Same old. Achey, but I'll survive once I warm up and get moving." She snorts. "At least for a while." Lupe turns back to look at Carol. "How're you?"

"Doing fine," Carol replies, shrugging. "Daryl put up your idea about separating the storehouses from one another. It's a good plan and I think I have a few houses in mind."

"Sweet, that makes things a little easier. You kickin' anybody out?" Lupe jokes.

Carol grins. "No," she croons back, "I picked all empty houses. Didn't want to be a jerk."

Lupe smiles. "You couldn't possibly. You're an angel." Carol rolls her eyes and her cheeks burn pink.

Rick announces that it's time to ride out. There are four cars going on the run with the hope that they'll be filled to the brim on their return. Lupe, Carol, and Barbacoa ride together in her dad's old car. Once they pull out the gates, Lupe can hear Rick's shitty music playing in the TAC truck. Glenn and Daryl's misery floats out on a groan along with the sound waves. Once they're out on the open road, Lupe rolls down her windows and speeds up her V8, evening up with the TAC truck. Barbacoa has her head out the back with her ears and lips flapping in the wind and tail wagging wild. Carol pops the Missy Elliot CD Alma found into Chingada's fantastic stereo system.

Lupe hovers at their side for a while so they can get a good look at what fun feels like. "Enjoy the hum-drum-vee!" She shouts out the window at a sour looking Glenn and Daryl.

Carol cranks up Missy Elliot to the max. Lupe and Carol cackle and zoom out in front of Rick. The TAC truck is a beast, but it couldn't get up over sixty-five or seventy, and it took ages to do it. Something Rick, a little bit of a speed-hound, genuinely dislikes about it.

Lupe and Carol tear ass down Daniel Street for a while. The Tac truck and the others hover behind them at a more standard speed. Lupe slows down about a mile in front of them. She's still paranoid about reaching a four-way intersection and crossing without checking. The last thing she needed was to get T-boned at the end of the world. When she looks to her right to check for oncoming traffic, her mouth pops open and hangs there.

"What?" Carol asks as Lupe gapes in her direction. Carol turns and looks with Lupe and she sees it. There's a large industrial farm tucked back from the side of the road. It has a big warehouse and a silo attached. On the roof, there is a word written in giant, white, block letters. Carol gapes. "Sorghum..."

Carol turns back to Lupe who smiles. She waits for the other cars to pull up next to her and grins, nice and smug. When Glenn and Daryl see it, a look of genuine relief washes over their faces. Rick immediately turns the TAC truck down the road. The caravan speeds towards it, parking outside the dilapidated fences covered in ivy. Everyone floods out of their vehicles in restrained excitement.

Lupe turns to Rick with a soft smile and asks, "Can I let Barbacoa run around? She'll kinda do a circuit and then come back." Barbacoa leans against Carol while getting some head scritches.

"Alright," Rick says with a nod and a shrug and walks over to speak with Glenn and Sasha.

Daryl approaches Lupe, face pinched in confusion. "How'd'ya know that?"

She looks over at Daryl and a slow, sweet smile spreads on her face. "We've been practicing."

"Yain't had her that long," he says with a squint.

Her smile somehow gets sweeter. "Well, sometimes we practice… while everyone... is asleep…" She looks at the dog with her face pressed up against Carol, a patch of drool already soaks the woman's pant leg. "She's very quiet, so I let her do circuits around Alexandria. I gave her treats when she got back to me and kind of fashioned the behavior into one I can request."

"When'd you start doing all this?" Daryl scowls with an accusation in his tone, "During quarantine?"

Lupe's cheek twitches as her jaw clenches. "Everyone was sleeping. It's fine."

Daryl rolls his eyes. "It's not fine. Rick does what he does for a reason."

"A reason?" Lupe hisses back in a whisper. "Do you happen to recall that he was gonna lead out an undead herd of hundreds basically for the aesthetic? That plan would have gotten us killed."

Daryl takes a menacing step towards her. "Rick's done nothing but keep us safe. He's a good leader."

Lupe glares right back at him. "Rick is human and humans make mistakes. He was wrong. I've been wrong too. I'm not saying he's a supervillain who planned to kill us all. I'm just saying it was a bad plan that would have killed us all."

Daryl eyes her up and down, tucking back the defensive anger in his chest. Rick is his brother and he wouldn't tolerate any disrespect, even from a woman he cared about. The man had done everything he could to keep their group safe. He has his problems, but everyone does. Rick is a good man. Daryl supposes Lupe isn't really contesting that. He nods at her assessment. Rick hadn't had any better ideas. She did.

Lupe walks back over to Carol and Barbacoa, putting up a hand to keep the dog from jumping up. Barbacoa's whole body wiggles as she looks up at Lupe. She sits, though her tail won't stop wagging.

Lupe grins down at the dog. She puts out her hand around sternum height and her fingers splay out like she's holding a marionette. She lifts her hand up, her forfinger and thumb pinching together like she's tugging on a string. "Encuentras," she says and the dog shoots off.

"What's she gonna find?" Daryl asks, staring out into the empty area.

"I suppose we'll see when she gets back." Lupe shrugs.

They wait for a bit and Daryl pulls out a cigarette. Lupe's head whips to him, eyes predatory. He stares back at her for a bit, but when he puts the cigarette to his mouth she looks away. He squints. "¿Quieres uno?" (Want one?)

Lupe snorts hard. She gives him a big smile and takes the proffered cigarette. "Thanks."

He offers Carol one and she refuses. He helps Lupe light hers, then his own. He has to admit the look of pleasure she makes on her first hit is something he never thought he'd be privileged to see. He smiles half way and watches her chat with Carol until he hears rustling bushes. He raises his bow in the direction of the sound, but it's the dog that comes trotting back, covered in muck.

"Good girl!" Lupe smiles. She props the cigarette between her lips and kneels down to pet the dog. She wipes away the gunk from her face with her bare hands and sloughs it onto the ground. "Should be clear around the perimeter now. We can head inside and let her do it again."

Barbacoa's head pops up, ears perking and her eyes go wide, staring at something behind Daryl. Daryl turns, with his bow up and ready. A split second later he fires. His bolt nails a squirrel through its eye to the tree on the other side of the road.

"Whoa…" Lupe and Carol say in unison.

Lupe stares over at him in him in awe, "Que chido." (How cool.) She smiles.

The dog looks up at Daryl with perked ears and a tilted head, then she turns back to the trees. A moment later, she shoots off into the brush. Daryl, Carol, and Lupe watch as the dog bolts, full speed, and scrambles right up a tree trunk. She gets almost all the way to the branches, snarling and growling as she does. Lupe sprints forward, but Daryl grabs her. The dog looks like she's doing okay getting down, scrambling with her nails digging into the soft bark.

Barbacoa comes trouncing out of the brush with something in her mouth. She walks right over to Daryl, sits down and drops the thing at his feet. She looks back up at him with her big smile, and her tongue lolls to the side. It's another squirrel.

Daryl's eyes actually go wide in shock and he looks at Lupe. "She just climb a damn tree to nab a squirrel?!"

Lupe chuckles, wide-eyed herself. She shrugs and s