“Lily won’t get off the bus,” I hear Sasha voice outside, laced with concern. The windows are sealed shut, something that had made the trip here sweaty and uncomfortable, and I hide my head below the line of the panes, tucking my knee on my chin. If they look up, they might be able to spot the top of my head, but I don’t want them seeing my face right now.
“She won’t get off the bus?” The voice is rough, masculine.
“Everyone else practically ran off there after seeing those bodies …” That was Tyreese.
“You know why it isn’t the same for her.” Sasha again, quieter this time.
“And why is that?” Another masculine Southern drawl, softer than the other.
“She’s the Governor’s daughter,” Tyreese says, after a moment of hesitation.
There is a collective intake of breath, a curse, a hiss.
“She isn’t,” Sasha’s says, defensively, “I mean … not properly. I guess she may as well be though.”
“He’s going to come looking for her.”
“He left her like everyone else.” Sasha, always looking out for me.
There is squabbling, angry and red, words I can’t make out and the bus rocks, heavy footfalls coming up the few steps.
A dark-haired man, perhaps mid to late 40s, dressed in a clean button-down rolled up at the elbows, his handsome, stubble-covered face twisted in consternation. I note the gun at his waist, the knife tucked into his belt. I’d seen him for a moment at Woodbury, before Sasha had just about pulled my arm out of its socket getting me on the bus. He walks down the aisle, kicking something aside, perhaps a forgotten bag, and makes his way closer to the middle of the vehicle. I hug my bare knees in tighter to my chest. Another man makes an appearance behind the first; greasy looking hair of indistinguishable colour and rippling, bare arms are all I take in before the first man is addressing me by name, dragging my attention upwards.
“Are you alright?” He sits in the seat across from me and leans forward, forearms resting on his knees. He has very blues eyes beneath his furrowed brow.
I can’t think of how to even begin answering that question, so I bite my lip and wipe away a stray tear.
“I just … can’t move right now.”
“Rick we ain’t got time for this, got a prison full of new people,” The other man, still loitering in the aisle and looking too big for the space, owns the angry, harsh voice from outside and I stare at him, his bearing suddenly familiar to me.
“Daryl.” The man across from me, Rick, shoots him a pointed glare. “Go help them. We can make time for this.”
“Daryl?” My voice is strained and unrecognisable as my own. “Daryl Dixon?”
I had seen him, up close and personal that night in Woodbury. Even in my fog of fear and anxiety, when I had pushed Philip’s chest and screamed for him to let Merle go, I had still noticed Daryl and briefly locked eyes with him.
Daryl’s nostrils flare and his arm flexes, alerting me to the weapon on his back; “What’s it to you?”
“You’re Merle’s brother? Is he here?” I never thought I would be so eager to see that arsehole.
Daryl and Rick both tense, exchanging glances.
“I’m sorry, no. He was killed …”
“By your dad,” Daryl spits that word like venom.
A fresh batch of tears prick at my eyes, unbidden. I don’t know what hurts more, the idea of no Merle to make me laugh every day or Philip being the one to take that away.
“No … he wouldn’t. He cared about Merle.” I shake my head with every word.
“Well he did, Princess. Best stop being in denial.”
‘Princess’, Merle had called me that too.
“Daryl,” Rick hisses his name out in warning, “We can talk about this later.”
Daryl huffs, shooting me another glare, but marches off the bus.
“Tyreese and Sasha, they said the Governor is your father …”
“But you mean something to him?”
I straighten my legs, smoothing my dress over my thighs.
“I thought I did. We knew each other before all this …” I wave my hand uselessly.
“Before?” Rick quirks an eyebrow.
“A long time before, since I was a kid …”
He grits his teeth and I can sense the cogs turning in his head.
“Will he come for you?”
“I …” I begin my answer not even knowing what I am going to say. What will they do with me now? Would they kick me out, leave me to fend for myself? How long would I survive?
“You need to be honest with me Lily.” He keeps using my name, to reassure me, and it’s working despite my reservations. This Rick, a name that Philip had used around me once or twice in anger, knows what he is doing.
“I don’t know. Things haven’t been the same with Philip, or with us, for a long time,” I say with a grimace, “But … I get the feeling he doesn’t like you much. I don’t know what he’ll do, but I don’t know what difference I will make to his plans …”
“You ‘get the feeling’? You don’t know what happened?”
“He never told me much about stuff like that … What was going on,” I shrug, disguising the urge to sob. It’s nestled in my stomach, an unsettling weight.
“He protected you from it all,” Rick says in understanding.
“From everything …”
“Are you going to be a problem here?” He asks with doubt, appraising me.
I choke out a little laugh.
“I really doubt that. I care about the people here … my friends,” I test the phrase. When we’d passed the field, littered with bodies, people we had known and cared about, every single head on the bus had turned towards me.
“Yesterday this is what I thought I knew; you guys were bad, and Philip was good, and I love … loved him. It’s … too much right now, but I appreciate you taking me in?” I don’t mean to voice it as a question, but it comes out that way regardless and his mouth is a thin smile.
“We may have more questions for you …”
“I’ll do my best to answer them for you.”
“Even if it means going against the Governor.”
My eyes widen, but after a beat, I manage a nod. Against him? What will they ask of me?
“Well, alright then. Think you can come in and join us now?”
I flash him what I hope is a genuine smile and nod again, standing up with some effort due to my stiff limbs and heft the bag from the floor beside me. I go to grab my other, larger pack, but Rick bats my hand away with a smile, picking it up himself and grunting.
“You pack rocks?”
I chuckle, surprising myself. I hadn’t, of course, but Rick doesn’t need to know just how many dresses and shoes are in that bag.
My legs are shaky with fatigue and anxiety, but I succeed in getting off the bus, following Rick willingly despite the ever-growing pit in my stomach. I’m too afraid to linger on thoughts of Merle, or Philip.
Sasha is waiting for us, just outside, and I smile at her when she rubs my arm. This part of the prison is a hub of activity, and I see more faces I recognise than ones I don’t. There had been twenty-seven of us left at Woodbury, including Karen, a significantly greater number than they must have already had here. People are milling about, being directed through the yard, assisting one another with their belongings, most helping our older residents like Ms McLeod. I hesitate, not quite ready to join them.
“We’re going to be setting everyone up with cell blocks as soon as we can, but for now the best we offer most of you is the courtyard,” Rick says, gesturing to the space around us. “Lily, do you have a tent?”
“She can bunk in mine, with me,” Sasha says before I can answer, placing a hand on my shoulder, a touch I lean back into.
Rick nods and places my heavy bag at his feet. “I have to get in there. We’ll talk more later.” I stare at the tops of my shoes, my nicer sneakers, and balk when Rick touches my hand.
“I’m sorry, Lily. For what you have lost.” He leaves without further ceremony and I turn back to Sasha, my smile not reaching my eyes.
“Talk more later? What did he mean?”
“Seems that my connection to Philip is worrying everyone …”
“It’s going to be just fine,” she says, a firm reassurance I almost believe until I see a looming shape from somewhere behind her. It’s Daryl, that same silently fuming look on his face, a crossbow, the weapon I had seen resting on his broad back before, now in his hands.
“Wow he is pissed at me, huh?”
Sasha glances back at him.
“Pretty sure he just always looks like that …”
“If you say so,” I say lamely, but that dead-eyed Dixon stare, the one that I had seen Merle give to others, but somehow never to me, is penetrating even from across the yard.
As we turn together, Sasha heaving my bag that Rick had left with a grunt, I can still feel it boring into the back of my head like a hot coal.
Sasha left me with our stuff, my two bags and her own, dingy little rucksack and her ancient tent in the middle of the yard.
“I have to go help the others. Karen and Ryan can’t do it by themselves. You gonna be okay?”
I don’t know if she means in general, or with setting up the tent, but either way the answer is a resounding no that I can’t bring myself to say so I smile brightly and motion for her to leave, pretending to sort out the bent tent poles and pegs.
I have been kneeling on the concrete for what feels like forever, my frustration growing with each new failure. Several others have all set up their own little tents and left, and now the place looks like its playing host to some sort of music festival. I, of course, still haven’t even succeeded in getting all the poles together. I huff and throw the remaining lengths of metal aside, leaning over to the pile of tacky orange fabric, that classic plasticky kind, and am puzzling over it when approaching footsteps draw my gaze.
Daryl stops in front of me, kicking up a puff of dirt as he does so, and I take a step back to create some distance. He places the crossbow, like the one Haley had owned, by his feet and stoops down to pick up the pieces of the tent, fitting two poles together within seconds.
“Thank you,” I say in earnest, offering him a shy smile as I peer up at him. He has a good five or so inches on me, and yet he somehow seems much taller.
I note again the similarities, and more specifically, the differences between him and his brother.
“Taking so long you’d be out ‘til dark still struggling with it,” he says by way of explanation.
“Yeah, I guess I kind of suck at this.” My easy self-deprecation seems to surprise him, and he blinks when I hand him the final tent poles, the ones I had already managed to link together.
“Ain’t never camped out before?” His tone doesn’t betray any real interest, but I respond anyway. It’s a nice, easy question, one I don’t mind answering if it will stop him glowering at me for a few minutes.
“As a kid, once or twice with my parents, but we had a camper van …”
“Nah, after all this.”
“Oh!” I say, and I can feel my cheeks flushing at my mistake, “Yeah, we did a little on the road stuff. But I never had to set up any tents by myself …” Contextually it’s an embarrassing admission, and Daryl’s slit-eyed stare isn’t helping my building shame. He snorts, full of derision, and finishes setting the tent up without any help, or hindrance from me.
“Thank you,” I say again, toeing the ground in a sudden wave of nervousness. He hasn’t left and there is no Rick, or Sasha around to act as a buffer.
“You were friends with Merle?” Daryl asks, after a brief, but awkward pause and I test another smile on him.
“You seem to doubt that,” I say with a chuckle. Merle and I were about as unlikely friends as you could find, and yet …
“Women didn’t like Merle much. Not uh … girls like …” He pauses, evidently searching for a descriptor before coming up nil.
“Like me?” I know what he means. City girls, clean girls, good girls, Christian girls. Pick one.
The corner of his mouth twitches.
“Yeah, it was a shaky start,” I say, “He cared enough about playing by the rules, respecting Philip, to leave me alone at first. Plus, I helped him a bit, with his hand …” I shake my head and my loose hair tickles my upper back, “Eventually, I don’t know, just sort of happened.” It’s a lie. I know exactly how it happened, but Daryl doesn’t need to hear that story today. “He was funny, your brother.”
“Funny?” Daryl asks with blatant scepticism.
“Sure. In a gross kind of way.” I grin. “He could be quite sweet to me, you know? I’m sorry …” I trail off with a gulp, the still dull weight inside me gaining new depths. “I’m sorry he isn’t with us anymore. I’m sorry for your loss.”
Daryl chews on the side of his thumb, watching me from beneath fair lashes and nods his acceptance of my apology.
“We talked about you a lot. He used to tell me these stories about …” I begin, emboldened by the softening around his eyes, but Daryl stills, the doubt and irritation etching across his features again.
“I don’t wanna hear nothing ‘bout what you think you know about me, or my brother.” His voice is acid and I flinch.
“I … I’m sorry. I just thought …”
“No one wants to hear what you think, alright? Governor’s little pet, waltzing in here and already fooling people into believing you’re no threat. You don’t fool me. Best case scenario you’re just useless dead weight that can’t even pitch a tent or carry a damn bag. The Governor killed my brother! Whatever he was to you it ain’t nothing compared to that! You know, he left him to become a Walker, left him for me to find. Your family did that to mine!” He is almost yelling by the end of his tirade and my hands are curled into fists by my sides, a mirror pose to his own. A wave of nausea hits me as I start to connect it all together, make sense of what he is telling me. Merle. One of those things.
“You asked me, Daryl! You wanted to know. I’m not saying it compares, but I cared about Merle too. I never thought he would … Only thing that could kill Merle was Merle, you know?” I’m speaking before I have a chance to think about it, and feel my eyes growing wet.
Daryl freezes mid-rage, his fists unclenching as he eyeballs me. He seems oddly shaken by my sentiment and opens and closes his mouth a few times, waiting for words. After staring at me for a few more tension-filled moments, the man picks up his crossbow and starts stomping away across the yard, his retreating form soon beyond my line of sight.