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Growing roots

Chapter Text

Chapter 1

 

Five years pass in the blink of an eye.  Each day bleeds into the next until seasons fade with little notice.  Our animals breed up their numbers so we move them outside the orchard fence.  Their new pens range along the larger land on the right side of the orchard.  

 

We found a library that has come in extremely helpful.  There were books on how to make goat cheese and butter from their milk.  There were also books on homesteading and farming that have helped.

 

One thing that's been a huge help has been the water towers we've put up.  Each animal pen has one or two towers with cubed barrels to hold the water.  On top of each barrel are these upside down umbrella structures used to catch rainwater.

 

We put the umbrella structures on the house, orchard fence, and the greenhouses too.  We also have some on the house connected to the pipes in the house to keep running water.   It's allowed us to keep a steady water supply year round.  

 

The back portion between the orchard fence and the concrete wall is where we planted fields of corn, squash, and beans.  We even planted rows of corn and wheat in the field across from our land.  This has given us a larger harvest as well as more food for our animals.

 

A few changes have occurred with our home itself.  Carol and Merle now share her room.  I moved into the room with Daryl while all the kids moved into the room downstairs.  There is even an attic that we closed in to make a bedroom for Aaron and Eric.  

 

The dining room is set up a bit like a classroom.  Carol has been giving the kids basic lessons in reading, writing, math, and history.  It helps that theyre only there for a few hours after lunch otherwise i doubt they would sit for the lessons.

 

Thorin, Tiny, and Evelyn take turns joining Daryl and Merle hunting.  They each get assigned an area of traps to monitor.  At twelve and eight years old those three are quite the wilderness experts.

 

The first time Thorin took down a doe he was strutting around proudly for a week.  All three kids worked together to skin and prep the meat.  Some we cooked while other we smoked.  

 

They've also started a trend of braids for our family.  My kids all have hair halfway down their back, each refusing to cut it.  The top of their head is split into three braids that meet at the crown to join into one.  Then theres a braid behind their right ear that has a matching bead to represent our family.  

 

Daryl carved the beads from deer antlers.  Each bead appears as a six sided cube with a hollow center.  Each flat area around the outside has a single letter carved thickly into it; D, H, T, T, G, and E.  

 

They have other braids as they like them, some with ribbons, strings, or other beads.  Evelyn has one braid in front of her left ear with bright yellow cloth that was one of Gamba's shirts.  Thorin and Tiny both have beads made to signify their first kills, one a doe and the other a pig.

 

My own hair is down past my shoulders now on the right side, the left side is shaved short.   Like my kids I too have our family bead with our initials.  It's on the same braid that they proudly display.  

 

We tried to get Daryl to do the same but he wont.  Instead he wears his bead on a leather cord around his neck.  He does still carve beads from wood, bone, or antler for the kids though so they don't complain.

 

Carl, Dean, and Knat often take runs with Michonne, Aaron, Sirius and Carol.  All three carry multiple knives and their bows, talented at hunting and killing walkers.  They've been going further out, taking short patrols to insure our area stays clear.  

 

They tend to wear their hair short, shaving their heads every month.  The girls are more womanly now, strong fighters.  I think shaving their heads is their way of honoring the lost boys since that was something they all did together.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

 

I kneel down next to the raised garden bed behind the house.  Purple and yellow potatoes are growing well here, a few ready to harvest.  So I'm taking enough for us to have with supper tonight.  This with the chicken Carol plucked this morning and some snap peas from last harvest should make a fine supper.

 

The light clink clack of beads identifies Evelyn long before she gets close enough to touch. She keeps anywhere from three to five beads in each braid and nearly all of her hair is braided back. 

 

She drapes herself over my back, careful not to inhibit my movements.  Her soft cheek rubs against my scruffy one as her fingers find my braid, curling it around her fingers. She only really does that when she's worried or upset. Otherwise she'll flick my braid and cuddle close for attention.

 

"What's wrong, little one?" I ask.

 

She huffs with all the melodrama of the young, "Maggie's mad at me."

 

"Why do you say that?" I ask, careful to mask my amusement.

 

"Cause I gave Hershel a knife," she grumbles guiltily.

 

"Why'd you give him a knife?" 

 

She shrugs, leaning her chin on my shoulder, "Cause he doesn't have a knife like us.  He needs one."

 

"He needs one?"

 

"Yeah," she answered as if it's obvious, "Aurora has a knife and she's only a little older than Hershel.  He needs a knife in case something bad comes."

 

Of course she would worry about that.  She still hasn't gotten over loosing Gamba.  And just as Thorin and Tiny watch after her she watches over the two little ones.  It's not surprising she would want him to be safe.

 

I stand up, stretching my back until it pops.  Evelyn tugs at the tail of her blue shirt.  It's cut up the sides, the same as all of their shirts, so it doesn't block their weapons.  Her holsters hold her knife and gun which she, like all of us, carry at all times.  

 

Thorin carries seven blades.  Tiny carries two plus her gun and bow.  Daryl and I each carry a dozen blades in various sheath and of various lengths.  It's best to always be prepared.  

 

In fact, we made a game of accuracy with knife throwing, targets line the road from the fence to the wall.  That way training can be fun and if it's ever needed they can defend themselves against threats.  Of the kids, Carl and Evelyn are the best at accuracy.  Daryl beats us all by a mile but Sirius and I are good enough seconds.  

 

"I'll talk to her," I offer.  

 

I understand why Maggie wants to protect her son.  I felt the same way about my kids once upon a time.  But the world isn't a safe place, especially for kids.  Keeping them safe is one thing but they still need to be trained.

 

I pass the bowl of purple potatoes to Evelyn.  She carries them back, following beside me as we head back to the house.  I wave her to the table where Carol is shelling the snap peas.

 

"You seen Maggie?" I ask as Evelyn climbs up on the seat across from her.

 

She nods towards the front of the house, "She took Hershel out front a little while ago."

 

I nod my thanks and slip through the house.  The front porch hasn't changed much besides a porch swing being added to one end and a few tables here and there.  It gives a clear line of sight down the road between the front greenhouses.  And in the former parking lot is several raised garden beds growing peppers, onions, celery, and melons.

 

Maggie sits out on the front porch with Hershel in her lap.  She frowns when I take the seat next to her.  She probably already knows what I'm going to say.

 

"Should we talk about it?" I ask her, letting my gaze drift over the greenhouses lining the main drive.

 

"Hes only five," she huffs defensively.

 

"Gamba was younger," I offer softly.

 

She gasps in a breath.  I don't often talk about Gam, mostly because it still hurts to have lost him.  Seeing her cling tighter to her son makes me feel a little guilty.

 

"She wasn't trying to upset you," I add softly.  "She's just worried about Hershel.  She wants him to be safe."

 

"You think I dont?" She snaps back angrily.

 

Hershel wiggled down with a frown.  She lets him go but it's clear she isn't happy about it.  He moves to the end of the porch where the side steps are and a few kids toys.

 

"How could you hand them a gun and not hate yourself?" She asks.

 

"You want him to be a kid, I get it," I answer.  "But the world isn't safe.  We have to teach them to be strong.  That doesn't mean were not letting them be kids."

 

"I don't know if I can," she confesses.

 

"Can you try?" I ask.

 

She scoffs, "I don't have a choice, do I?"

 

"You're his mother, you're the only one who can chose."

 

She lets out a sigh, a weary sound.  But then she nods her agreement.  She doesn't like it but she'll agree.  Because keeping her son safe means training him.  Even if seeing a weapon in his hand hurts her heart. I know it still hurts mine but I know my kids will survive and that's enough for me. With time, it'll be enough for her too.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

 

The downstairs bedroom was full of storage when we first came here.  It now has a thick rug down, covering nearly wall to wall.  Most of the stuff that was packed inside has either been repurposed or thrown out in a house a few streets over that we've been using as our trash dump.

 

The walls are still mostly cream colored although Daryl and the kids have added to it.  There's a silhouette of a castle and a dragon in one corner.  Various hills in green, gray, and black roll outward from there with small notations for scenes from their favorite stories.  There's even a few maps of fantasy lands painted high with stylized compasses.

 

There are three beds now against three walls.  Each bed has a dresser, small with three drawers.  There's also a small shelf with books and a cushioned chair without legs tucked between two beds.

 

The one next to the door belongs to Thorin while the one on the next wall belongs to Tiny and Evelyn.  The chair and bookshelf rests between the two.  The other one is where Dean and Knat sleep.  Carl had moved upstairs.

 

The older girls don't always sleep in this room even though they used to.  Sometimes they stay out in the old RV parked on the driveway between the fence and the wall.  Other times they will sleep upstairs in Carl's room or even in one of the tents along the back wall that we rarely use.

 

Tonight it's just my kids settling into bed.  The three older teens have gone off with Michonne and Aaron to patrol the area.  They usually check the three towns nearest us, including the interstate rest stop where we found information about this place.  The signs for this orchard have long since been removed for our safety but it's still a concern.

 

The kids climb into their beds quickly after putting their weapons in the top drawer of their dressers.  They still have a blade in a holster on the headboard.  Another blade is stuck between the mattress and boxspring should they need it.  

 

I press a kiss to each of their foreheads, tucking the covers close but not too tightly against them.  They each still have their favorite stuffy but they're often kept hidden beneath the covers.  I wonder at times when they will get too old for this but so far they still seem to appreciate the coddling.  

 

Its already dark enough that the flickering candle is the only light source.  It's just a small tealight within a mirrored lantern.  It's enough for them to get ready for bed but it won't burn for more than a half hour before flickering out.

 

Sometimes either Daryl or I will sit and read to them.  Usually we do that during the winter when they're kept inside longer.  As it's still summer time they stay busy enough during the day that it doesn't take long for them to fall asleep.

 

Tonight I have the night watch along the front wall.  Daryl had the afternoon watch so I'll replace him soon.  At least it's a clear night.  Rainy nights are always trouble, especially when it storms.

 

When we first put up the wall we still used the RV but within the first year we had built up a ledge for us to use instead.  The ledge lines the entire wall, four feet from the top so we can use the wall as cover should we need to.  Ladders are placed every twenty or thirty feet which step down onto the roadway.

 

Daryl waits in a green and yellow stripped lawn chair near the wall gate.  A pile of arrows with fresh fetching lay in a basket by his feet.  A small cooler holding bottled water and soda sits against the wall.

 

"Having fun?" I ask, nodding to the basket of arrows.

 

He shrugs, "Gotta do somethin to pass time.  Might as well do somethin useful."

 

At a closer look at the arrows I notice they're shorter than the ones he normally uses so I ask, "For Thorin and Tiny?"

 

He nods, fiddling with something small in his hand.  I motion to what he's holding, silently asking what it is.  He opens his fist to show a long cylindrical bead.  It has sprawling curls carved into it with a few random impressions of birds in flight.

 

"Evelyn?" 

 

He nods, "Yeah, she's good at hitting them mid flight so I thought she'd like it."

 

"You know she'll love it," I grin back at him teasingly.  "She loves all the beads you carve for her."

 

He huffs amused but doesn't argue.  Standing he stretches, his back popping loudly.  Then he scoops up the basket, presses a kiss to my cheek, and heads down the ladder.

 

I watch him go with a tired sigh.  That's the worse thing about guard shifts.  There's so few of us that every day is the same.  Even with the older teens taking a shift it's still not enough.  But it can't be helped either, it's just the way it is.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

 

The sun is only barely rising and soon Maggie and Carol will come out for their turn at guard shift.  Which will be good because then I can head inside for breakfast and bed while Daryl leaves with Tiny to hunt.  The night was quiet as it often is, rarely do we see anything either walker or survivor.  So when I hear a rumbling approach, one clearly mechanical, I tense up worried.

 

It's been five years since we saw another person, three since the last herd of walkers passed us by.  The world is too quiet, too empty, that any sound seems amplified.  Even knowing that the vehicle, and it is a large one, is still several miles out I go ahead and raise the alarm.

 

Our alarm system is a series of strings attached to poles at six points along the wall.  The strings from each individual point is then stretched back to the main house, held up by poles along the fence and on top of the greenhouses.  Each ends on the front porch, attached to bells along the underside of the overhang where the wind won't hit them too much.

 

We had tried walkies once but they only worked in pairs and not very well.  We could send a patronous for help but only Sirius and I have that power so the others would still struggle to call for help.  The bells were the simplest solution and the easiest to install.

 

I pull the sting, careful not to yank too hard.  It doesn't need much and the bells on the end are easily set to ring.  My ears twitch, hearing the sound of the bells at the house as well as the large vehicle moving steadily closer at a fairly quick speed.

 

Daryl and Merle make it to my side first, the others only a few steps behind.  I explain about the vehicle and that it's still a few miles out but heading this way.  Merle starts barking orders to the others.  They each have their guns in hand and hurriedly climb the ladder.

 

Merle stands on the opposite side of the wall gate from me.  Daryl stands further down from him, closer to the corner, where he can keep a sharp eye on whoever approaches.  After the wall curves with the road and a few more feet down stands Maggie.  Past her is Carol.  Our kids stand along the front wall past Sirius who stands past me.

 

Eric is still along the back wall which means Hershel and Aurora are hiding at the house.  They'll be in a crawlspace in the wall, reachable through the closet in Maggie's room.  It's the plan we had in case something like this should happen.  Of course that plan also had the older teens here to help but we'll just have to make due.

 

Nervous energy buzzes through the group as the vehicle is finally close enough for them to hear.  The rush of air from the breaks and the rumble of the engine accelerating kills the last hope that they would pass us by.  The only reason to turn at the end of the road, a mile down, is to come here.

 

The bright yellow bus is dirty with smears of blood and mud on the front and sides.  It's a school bus, the kind with the flat front.  It also seems to be driving far too quickly to be anything but purposeful.

 

Our rifles are up and aimed, loaded handguns within easy reach should we need them next.  Merle fires once, hitting a tree across the way and blowing wood chips and a thin branch loose.  It was a warning shot, just to catch their attention.  It worked because the bus screeches to a halt.

 

The door opens, a tall dark form rushes out.  Michonne is shouting even before her feet hit the pavement.  Merle jumps down from the landing while Michonne turns back to help the people coming down.

 

I order the kids to keep watch.  Sirius shouts for Maggie and Carol to get to the house, grab out the medical supplies, and boil water.  Daryl keeps his position on guard, nodding to me as I climb down the ladder to help.

 

The gate opens as Michonne and Aaron hurry through carrying a bleeding man in their arms.  It's only as he passes that I recognize his face.  Glenn... It's Glenn!

 

Carl is helping a limping woman with long auburn brown hair over while two young teen boys hover nearby.  The next person is carrying a small child with a bloody face.  I gasp as I recognize Jesus under that thick beard and wild mane.

 

How... how are they alive?  Glenn and Jesus... how did they survive?  And who are these people?

 

They must've been away from the firehouse when the herds hit.  Something must've kept them away for days or they would've found us.  I wonder briefly on the what ifs but more people rush past.  

 

An older teen girl with blood smeared on her cheek and red tearful eyes clings to an older woman with steel grey hair.  Then Dean and Knat follow at the back past two men.  One is older, white haired with a thick white beard and strong arms.  The other has a similar face and equally strong arms but reddish blonde hair and a long beard.

 

Thinking back over their faces I realize they are all a bit similar.  They must be a family.  Although I have no idea how Glenn and Jesus found them or what happened to them.  Because there are bullet holes in the yellow bus and none of them look bitten.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

 

Its all a madhouse of action. Merle snaps at people, sending some to help others and ordering the new people back. I join Sirius, carrying a gym bag of medical supplies. Michonne is quick to update the rest of us. 

 

"We were out past the old town, thirty miles northwest of here, when we heard gunfire. Carl and Knat ran ahead so we followed.  These people were camped out at a football field.  Another group came at them with guns.  They killed half of them, tried to snatch a couple of the girls.  We couldn't walk away."

 

Jesus joins her still looking back at us all with an awed expression, "We wouldn't have made it without their help."

 

Sirius and Carol work on Glenn who's laying on the dining room table. I pass over a prepackaged suture kit as well as packaged players kit to remove the bullets. Maggie hovers crying at his head, pressing kisses to his forehead and praising a God she hasn't spoken of in years. 

 

He has bullet wounds on his left shoulder as well as at least two on his abdomen, just below his ribs. Carol grabs the first kit, hurrying to remove the bullet from his shoulder. Sirius holds pressure on his abdomen, muttering a summoning spell under his breath. I pass over another suture kit for him to use.

 

Glenn keeps looking up at Maggie, grinning dazed and whispering, "I found you."

 

"He needs fluids," Sirius mutters with a nod in my direction.

 

I grab out the transfusion tubing and a bag of saline fluid. A quick call to Dean has her running for the medicine bag in the pantry. There's some rolls of rubber tourniquets in bright orange so I grab one out.

 

Carol is blocking one arm so I move around Sirius with my supplies to get to the other arm. Glenn doesn't even notice when I pull up his sleeve and tie on the tourniquet. I go back to grab the IV needle. Then it just takes a moment to find a weak vein and slide the needle into his arm.

 

Dean runs back with the medicine bag so I ask her for some antibiotics and morphine. She settles down under the table, sorting through the bags and vials until she comes up with one of each. I attach the saline bag to the tubing and press until it starts to flow.

 

Carol starts stitching the shoulder wound after dropping the bullet and plyer things down on the table. Sirius has already started stitching the other wounds. Carl rushes forward with a wire hanger. I loop the saline bag over the handle of the hanger, turning it upside down and hanging it from the thin black chandelier.

 

It stretches the tubing a little but not enough to cause problems. I take up the bag of antibiotics, looping the bag on the hanger and attaching the tubing to it. It drips into the line with the saline going down into his arm. Dean passes me a needle and syringe which I use on the vial of morphine. There's a small spout near the bottom of the tubing where it goes into the arm so I inject it there.

 

A quick glance around shows Aaron and Carl working on the kid.  The kid is a girl with wide blue eyes.  A graze along her head has her hair matted down but thankfully it's not deep enough to need stitches.  The broken arm will need to be reset but I'll let Sirius do that. 

 

The woman that was limping only has a twisted ankle. Merle grumbles that it needs wrapping, passing a bandage to the two boys hovering around her. The older of the two takes the wrapping, careful as he wraps the ankle.

 

Dean and Knat pass out bottles of water to the group huddled together in our living room.  They watch us warily but seem too startled and grateful to comment. The older man eyes Merle worriedly but also seems relieved. At least he doesn't watch him the way Hershel used to.

 

I catch Knat, pulling her close and whisper, "Go get the little ones from the crawlspace."

 

She nods, turning and rushing up the stairs.  I wave Carl over and ask him, "Go relieve Eric on the back wall."

 

Then I catch Dean and ask her, "Go join my kids on the front wall."

 

Merle eyes them worriedly before staring off out the window for a moment. He asks aloud, "Y'all get the shooters?"

 

Michonne nods, "There were ten of them but we got them all.  It wouldn't have been so bad if these people had more than knifes."

 

He glares around at them.  Not angrily or even judgemental, mind you. He glares in concern, probably wondering how they've managed with only knives. It couldn't have been easy but perhaps they were lucky to only deal with walkers before this.

 

The two men stand in front of their huddled group as if to shield the others from sight. It doesn't seem to be a conscious move, more habit.  Neither so much a shifts under his glare which seems to be enough for him to relax.

 

He motions to Jesus, "You gonna vouch for em?"

 

Jesus nods, pushing his wild hair back into some kind of bun at the back of his head.  He answers aloud at Merles prompting, "They took us in not long after we lost the firehouse.  They're good people, the whole group was, I'll stake my word on it."

 

That seems to be enough.  Eric steps inside so Merle snaps for him to start warm up some breakfast and coffee.  There are biscuits and gravy still warm on the stove so he only has to scramble up some more eggs and potatoes for the new people.

 

Eric freezes for a moment when he sees Jesus. His eyes quickly take in the others, stopping incredulously at Glenn being stitched up and relaxing as he spots Aaron. Then he heads back to the kitchen, casting several glances back at the group in concern.

 

Knat comes back with Hershel and Aurora following close.  Both look around wide eyed at the strangers.  Neither have seen other people before so I imagine this might be scary for them but I didnt want to leave them hidden while there's so much noise inside.  They might've panicked, thinking others broke in and I'd rather they not be afraid.

 

Aurora runs to the kitchen where her daddy Eric is cracking eggs in a bowl.  He passes the bowl and whisk to her while he dumps potatoes into an oiled skillet.  She glances repeatedly at her dad Aaron but she seems content to be near one parent. Aaron does shoot her a proud smile which seems to reassure her that it's safe.

 

Hershel clings to Knat's hand as she leads him over to me.   Maggie is curled against Glenns head, pressing kisses against his cheek as they whisper to each other.  Sirius is stitching up the second abdomen wound while Carol bandages the first.

 

The wounds themselves aren't bad but he did loose a lot of blood. Hopefully the saline will help replace what he lost. We can't exactly give him a blood transfusion, not when we don't know if it would hurt him or not. There's just too much to consider when giving blood, especially since most people don't know their blood types or if they may have a reaction. It's not worth the risk if we can help it.

 

Michonne lifts Hershel up, cuddling him close and turning so he can't see his parents.  She whispers to him that his father is here but he's hurt.  She edges closer to the table, keeping Hershel turned from the worst of the blood.

 

One thing about our kids, they're not afraid of blood.  Perhaps it's the world we live in now that's desensitized them to death.  Hershel twists in Michonne's arms, glances curiously at the wounds being treated, then leans down calling for his mom.

 

Maggie jumps as if startled.  Her wide eyes meet Hershels and she quickly tries to wipe away her tears.  He calls her again, gaining a sleepy Glenns attention.  Maggie gives a watery chuckle and introduces them. I turn away to give them privacy.

 

The clicking of beads sounds before the door opens.  Evelyn with her head full of braids, each with multiple beads, is the first one through.  Thorin follows last as Tiny slips past him. All three look first to me then to Merle, probably waiting for orders.

 

Jesus looks them over with a sad smile, "We didn't know who survived, if anyone did.  I'm glad you all made it."

 

I pat his shoulder, "We're grateful you two made it as well."

 

Thorin and Tiny offer smiles and greetings.  Both then slip over to say hello to an exhausted Glenn.  Neither look the least bit perturbed by the blood he's losing. Hershel wiggled down so Tiny pulls him over to the short bookshelf against the wall. Those two will keep an eye on him no doubt.

 

Merle has stepped up to the two men, speaking lowly to not disturb the others.  He warns them that if they stay, they obey our rules.  They're simple enough; don't kill, don't hurt, and each person pulls their weight.

 

It's going to be difficult finding a place for everyone.  We'll just have to rearrange again, double up where we can.  Our kids can move back into our room and the other groups kids can take their place in the downstairs room.

 

Our kids will miss the paintings but Daryl can just decorate our room for them.  The bookshelf will be easy to move but I think we'll leave the dressers for the new group.  We may even find some more beds nearby.  

 

I rub my tired eyes.  There's far too much to do.  At least if we get a plan sorted quickly we can get them settled and calm.  I head over to Merle and the two men to try to work something out.  That is if they're staying, of course.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

 

I wake late in the evening.  Most of the morning was spent tending to injuries and sorting out sleeping arrangements.  The new people didn't want to be seperated so we put them all together in the downstairs room until we can figure out what else to do.  

 

We'll probably have to build a new building or find some more RVs.  There is room on the roads along the wall that we could put something up but it will take a while.  Merle and Daryl may have already though of something.

 

It'll be good to have more hands.  We've been stretched so thin lately that it seems we never rest.  So while it may take a while for our groups to find our balance, I will be grateful for the extra bodies on guard shift.

 

A strong hand strokes up my back.  Grinning I roll over to see Daryl sitting on the edge of the bed.  He smirks back, tugging the blanket further down and sliding his legs up onto the mattress.

 

An hour later we both head downstairs relaxed and smiling.  Supper is already underway although everyone is eating in the living room.  Glenn is still resting on the table with another bag of fluids and antibiotics running into his arm.

 

Carol passes over two plates with a knowing smile.  Supper tonight is roast vegetables with smoked pork and brown gravy.  Dinner rolls are pilled warm in a bowl on the small coffee table near the couch.

 

The kids are all clustered around the coffee table, whispering mischeviously to each other.  I doubt they'll cause any trouble but I make a mental note to keep an eye on them for a while.  Maggie is sitting on one of the kitchen chairs they moved from the dining room but her gaze is nearly constantly on Glenns slumbering form.  

 

The new people are quiet, still subdued from their rough morning.  They watch us some but not cruelly.  It's probably just because they don't know us and strangers in this world are dangerous.  But between Glenn and Jesus vouching for them and us it should make the merger easier.

 

Supper passes quickly as the sun sets.  There are a few lanterns turned on for the moment.  Daryl calls our kids to follow him to bed.  Aaron sweeps Aurora up with a squeal.  Eric stays long enough to help herd the new people back into the downstairs room, passing them a lantern.  Then he tugs Hershel up the stairs.  Maggie spares them a glance before focusing again on Glenn with a look of disbelief. 

 

I leave the house with a small handheld lantern.  Jesus waits at the main gate when I arrive.  He must've taken the afternoon shift.  An empty plate at his feet shows that someone brought him supper at least.

 

He pulls me into a hug, whispering, "I'm so damn glad you all survived."

 

I cling to him a moment, overwhelmed with memories.  Faces burn through my vision, glimpses of those lost.  My chest aches with that familiar pain when Gambas laugh echoes like a phantom in my ears.

 

"I'm sorry," Jesus mutters against my shoulder, "I'm so sorry."

 

"How did..." The words catch in my throat, unwilling to escape.

 

He leans back with pained eyes.  He takes a breath and answers the question I couldn't get out, "We wanted to have another supply run so Glenn and I went out.  We saw the herd moving and got penned down on the roof of a house for three days."  

 

He swallows nervously, adding, "By the time we got to the firehouse there wasn't anything left but a few walkers.  We didn't think anyone survived until we had a chance to look around.  Then we noticed how much stuff was missing.  We just couldn't figure out which way the survivors went so we wondered around."

 

I nod, accepting the explaination.  It's what I figured happened when we saw them.  The only way for them to survive was if they hadn't been close.

 

"How'd you meet these people?" I ask.

 

He shrugs, "We were scavenging and spotted them.  They were settled in a house well off the path but we caught the teens looting a store."  

 

"You know how Glenn is," he adds with a pointed look, "he gave them some of our supplies and asked if they saw Maggie or anyone.  They let us follow them back."

 

"They're good people," I offer as an observation.

 

He nods his agreement.  They helped strangers when the world is such a horrible place.  It's not something most would do.  It's not something we're likely to do.  The world just isn't safe enough to trust strangers.

 

I pat his shoulder as he slips past.  It's a quiet night, no more than normal insect sounds.  I walk along the ledge, past the curve and halfway down the side.  Then I double back to the gate.  I don't bother hurrying because the walk itself is peaceful.  Not to mention I'll have to walk the area several times throughout my shift.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

 

Daryl comes up just as the sky is glowing pink with predawn.  Tiny trots along at his side with her bow and a quiver full of arrows on her back.  Her hair is braided back in a French braid, all except for the five smaller beaded braids she normally favors.  

 

I slip down the ladder at their approach.  Tiny rushes forward for a quick hug and an eager grin.  I press a kiss to her for head, whispering a quick, "Good hunting, love."

 

Daryl leans in for a quick kiss, grinning smugly as they slip out of the gate.  I pull it closed and climb back up to the ledge.  There's a heavy mist clinging to the tops of the trees and the soft sound of birds waking with the light.  Even with the mist and low light it's easy to watch them both move further out.

 

Aaron replaces me not long after the sun has brightened the sky.  I step down from the ledge, nodding to him as he takes over.  I pass Carl, Dean, and Knat who are showing the two new teen boys how to go about feeding the animals.  Each one carries a tin pail of food for the troughs.

 

Merle has the two new men out on the front porch.  He nods as I pass but doesn't stop in what sounds like an explaination of the orchards layout and our patrols.  No doubt he's assigning them duties on the rosters so they can begin helping out.

 

Glenn is no longer on the table.  In fact it still smells of cleaner.  Carol stands at the sink washing dishes.  When I move through she nods to the plates of biscuit, gravy, and hash sitting on the counter.  

 

It was a long night, boring too.  So as soon as I finish eating I pass her my plate and head upstairs for bed.  A glance out the window shows Thorin and Evelyn leading Hershel and Aurora out of the berry greenhouse with woven baskets on their arms.

 

I sleep deeply.  It's not until the sugary smell of fruit and pastry wakes me in the early afternoon that I even move from where I laid down.  There's voices inside, laughter and loud giggling.

 

I head down to find the house full of relaxed and smiling faces.  Carol and Maggie have the kids in the kitchen, each wearing a small apron.  They all look eager and proud, completely free of the normal daily fear.

 

The counters as well as the tables hold racks of cooling cookies and pastries filled with jam.  Three bowls are filled with pecans or walnuts, warm and sprinkled with sugar while more are baking in the oven.  There's also a dozen loaves of bread cooling.  It has the whole house smelling like a bakery in the best ways.

 

I missed lunch but dinner will be in a few hours, I can easily wait.  I settle on the couch where Jesus is regaling the others with his and Glenns adventures.  It throws a lot of praise on the new people which is probably his intention.

 

"A bear!" He exclaims, "An honest to God bear.  And ol' Jonah here didn't even hesitate to rush it.  No gun, just a hunting knife, and he tackled it like a linebacker!"

 

The older man, Jonah, ducks his head with a pleased smile.  His son claps his shoulder while the young boys look over proudly at the mention of his bravery.  He doesn't dismiss the praise, only adding that his family was well worth the risk.

 

Jesus also tells us about their home.  "They had solar panels on the roof of their cabin and a well just out in the yard," he describes.  "But no animals and only a small garden."

 

"How hard is it to put up solar panels?" Carol asks.

 

Jonah answers, "Not hard at all.  There's a place not far that we used, a big company so there still should be supplies there."

 

Sirius jumps in, eager to plan a run.  Jacob, Jonah's son, offers to go along since he remembers what all was used but not necessarily what each item was called.  His wife Melissa, while still shaken, whispers for him to stay.

 

He curls his arm around her shoulder, answering her gently, "These people have taken us in but it's not for us to hide away.  We all work for the benefit of the group.  This way, we go and the kids don't have to."

 

She eyes Thorin and Evelyn where they've crawled up to sit in my lap.  Both have their gun and knife holstered on their hips, the same as all of us.  I tense, waiting for her to admonish us for letting them have a weapon but she doesn't.  Instead she seems to slump closer to her husband, nodding her agreement to some look he casts her.

 

The last batches of nuts are set aside to cool.  Thorin and Evelyn both hurry to help, grinning as they sneak bites of the various treats.  Maggie and Carol then direct the kids into packing away the cooled cookies into a few labeled jars.  The pastries are individually wrapped in parchment paper before being stacked in several square tins.  

 

The cooled nuts are put in small bags, cheesecloth or teabags perhaps.  Those are then tied and tucked away in large pottery jars.  The loaves of bread are wrapped in clean towels, probably to pull away any moisture so they don't mold.  Then they are all shelved in the pantry except for a single plate of cookies and a tray of unwrapped pastries.

 

The kids, all hyper from the sugar, are then ordered out back to play.  Maggie heads upstairs where Glenn is tucked up in her room.  Melissa joins Carol, helping prepare supper.

 

Conversations continue, some softer than others.  These people are still strangers to us but it's clear they're trying.  It will take time for everyone to be more naturally comfortable but were working on it.

 

It's only when Carol calls everyone to the table that I notice how late it is.  The sun is low, it will be dark soon.  And I haven't seen Daryl or Tiny since this morning.  They're usually back by now.

 

I wave off Sirius's concerns as I head outside.  I just need to know if they've gotten back yet.  Merle is on guard at the front of the wall.  Cigarette smoke curls out with each exhale as he frowns almost angrily at the forest. 

 

"What's wrong?" I ask.

 

He doesn't look back at me but he does answer, "They ain't back yet."

 

"No one's heard or seen anything?" I ask, already knowing the answer.

 

He shakes his head, still glaring at the far tree line.  It doesnt make any sense.  Daryl is always back with the kids before dark.  It's just too unsafe to travel without light and flashlights or lanterns are more likely to attract trouble.  In the five years we've been here, he's never kept a child out past dark.  Something must've gone wrong.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

 

There has been a few changes in my transformation over the years.  There's no explaination for it, not that Sirius can explain at least.  For some reason, my transformation has become more and more of a physical thing.  Honestly, it reminds me of watching professor Lupin transform back in third year.  Only I have more fur and look more wolf like and less starved than him.

 

The first time I tore my clothes.  Shreds of fabric scattered around me and when I pulled myself back to human form it left me nude.  I learned to strip before transforming otherwise I lose too many clothes. 

 

I strip at the gate, far too accustomed to the lack of privacy in this world.  I fold them onto a shelf under the guards ledge put there mainly for that purpose.  Then I let the transformation begin.

 

It starts with a tension of my muscles.  Joints twist as muscles shift bones into a different position.  Fur grows outward like a shadow moving over churning flesh.

 

I drop to all fours.  My palms thicken, webbing grows between my fingers until they are solid paws.  My feet stretch and lock so that the weight rests on the balls of my foot.  My spine clicks as it lengthens, growing outward through split flesh before skin, muscle, and fur cover it.

 

I shake off the effects, shivering as the transformation ends.  My family bead clicks against my jaw.  The braid is looser since I transformed but it still holds.

 

Merle opens the gate, calling a quiet warning for me to be careful.  Sirius is pacing the ledge unhappily as I trot out.  It's our one rule, either Sirius or I must remain behind for the safety of the others.  Even if it upsets him to be the one left behind this time.

 

The world is a vast array of grey.  The only pops of color are the wiping tendrils of scent.  Some cling to the ground where each footsteps stood.  Others shiver like mist on the breeze, faded with nothing solid to hold to.  Some overlap each other like childish streaks of fingerpaint until the whole mess is an indistinguishable blob.

 

Daryl and Tiny's scents are as familiar as my own.  Both are a blend of each of our pack members, twirled and shaded together in patterns around their own with some stronger than others.  Daryls scent trails back and forth, new overlapping older trails and each easy to follow.

 

I sniff along the ground where their footsteps left the strongest trail to follow.  They walked side by side with steady measured steps.  I follow them into the tree line where the forest grows large and wild.

 

It's dark now, barely any moon since the clouds block it out.  But wolf eyes can reflect the light enough to see well even if it was darker out.  So I move as quickly as I can, focusing on the scent trails while keeping an ear out for dangers.  The first mile passes easily beneath my paws.

 

They stopped at one of the traps first thing.  It smells of rabbit but was clearly repositioned after they collected their catch.  I don't waste more than a moment before following their scent trail again.

 

The scent of deer is strong, urine sprayed on nearby bushes show where they passed.  I could see Daryl and Tiny following the herd a ways but they still should've been back.  I continue on for the next two miles with their trail only shifting with the ground.  The trees grow closer together, their canopies overlapping to block out the sky.

 

A coppery tinge is carried on the breeze.  It brings to mind the color red, pounding hearts, and flesh in my teeth.  My stomach churns nervously as I follow the trail closer to the scent of blood.

 

The ground dips and rises.  Fallen logs overlayed with moss and vines offer many small burrows for wild animals to hide.  There's a few traps further off to the left, one of which has a squealing dog caught in the string.  The scent of blood is strong enough to burn my nose.

 

Their scent turns off to the right.  Their steps are slow and measured,  more cautious than before.  Their scents are scraped over tree trunks and along bushes.  They moved in such a way to keep hidden.

 

There is no rotten reek of walkers so that's not what they spotted.  All I can smell is the burn of cold blood.  Maybe Daryl caught the scent of blood and moved to investigate.  Hopefully, at least.

 

The trees grow close together with kudzu vines draped throughout.  It's a dark and shadowy area with many places to hide.  There are numerous footprints on the ground, several smeared or overlapping each other.  A dozen scents are heavy here, along with the smell of blood.

 

A body is crumbled against a tree with an arrow protruding from its eye.  A second one is down with two arrows in its chest and a knife in its temple.  Both are dirty, starved, and smell horrible with no hygiene.

 

I make a circuit of the area again.  Only barely do I see the boot amidst the grass.  The nearby bush is half crushed and half covering his hip.  The top half of his body is hidden in the underbrush.

 

I transform back even if my human eyes see less than my wolf.  I heard the faint beat of a heart so I know he lives.  I crawl over him, careful of the knife sticking out of his side.  There's also wounds on his chest.

 

Daryl lives but where is Tiny?  I'm only grateful that these five years have allowed me to cast spells without a wand.  It takes a moment of concentration, a stronger desperation and a harsher push of my will and magic for it to work.  

 

The white mist swirls into the familiar form of prongs.  I command him to find Sirius while pushing all the urgency into the spell that I can.  He bows his head briefly before rushing off through the trees, almost too quickly to see.

 

I turn back to Daryl who is still unconscious.  A luminous spell brightens him.  A large bruise is darkening on his chin while blood darkens his temple.  I run hands over him, pushing my power into him.

 

There are five stab wounds on his chest, one has punctured a lung.  I press magic into them, helping to stem the blood.  He's already lost a lot, more than would be safe.  Even if we get him back he will probably require a blood transfusion to survive and I don't know if we can do that.

 

I use my power to create bandages and tape to seal the wounds.  Then I vanish his shirt and vest so I can reach the wounds.  Taping each bandage down will help but if he isn't given blood and fluids soon he may...

 

But... where is Tiny?  Where is my daughter?

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

 

I don't wait for the others even if I should.  There's nothing more I can do for Daryl and the others should reach him soon.  They'll take care of him though so I try not to worry.  Tiny is still in danger... I need to find my daughter!

 

By the coolness of the bodies near him it must've been a few hours since they were attacked.  The scent trail is heavy in the air and all around.  These people moved like a herd of stampeding elephants through the bush so it's easy for even a human to follow.

 

I move quickly, grateful for the easy trail.  Less than a half mile away has another body with a knife wound in his thigh from groin to knee.  Another stab wound to his throat has him covered in cool clotted blood.  He's turned, groaning hungrily and trying to rise.  I slam my paw into his head, feeling the crunch and continuing onward.

 

Tiny's scent was on him, on the wound.  She split him open just like Daryl taught her.  That's my girl!  I race forward, careful in case she left any more to turn.  

 

Barely a mile passes when my ears twitch.  Walkers are near, at least one but more than likely it's two. Thankfully it doesn't seem to notice me.

 

I pay no attention to the ground I cover.  I know I race over a deserted road that's cracked from age.  I know I pass buildings, homes first then corner stores long since scavenged for anything of use.  I know a few walkers turn as I pass, stumbling to chase movement even as I race away.

 

I move further into town as I follow the scents, another few miles at least.  A large superstore is half burnt down with a dozen walkers liking around. They turn as I pass, moaning and stumbling to follow. 

 

Sounds become noticable, human voices within a mile of wherever I am.  As i get closer it's more clear that they're arguing but I don't really hear the words.  I do hear Tiny shout, "My dads are gonna kill you all!"

 

I slow as I get closer.  There's an old gas station with an even older pump.  A neighborhood opens up behind and around it, equally as old.  There are a few rotten bodies of walkers already put down but none still moving around.

 

"I told ya she's mine!" One voice snarls.

 

"The Bitch stabbed me!" Another argues back, "She's mine!"

 

I hurry forward, sticking to shadows as much as possible.  The road curves around behind the gas station, intersects with another and both snake further amongst the homes.  The houses are damaged, a few even burnt down.

 

"We only got the one so we'll share," an annoyed third voice cuts in only for the first two to snap back at each other.

 

Two low voices argue about the incompetence of their fellows.  Another snaps that he's leader now so the girl is his.  The third voice cuts through the resulting raised voices, "We can get more."

 

"After what them fuckers did to us!" The second voice snarls, "You wanna get an arrow in the eye then go ahead."

 

Damn right you'd get an arrow in the eye!  We won't tolerate any of these assholes hurting our people.  I move between a few houses, avoiding a fence that's been toppled and smeared with blood.

 

"Didn't think they'd be this much trouble," one voice grumbles.

 

"The others wasn't, it's this group that took em from us done this."

 

Others?  Is this part of the group Michonne said they took out?  How did they miss this many?  We shouldn't have trusted when she said they got them all.  We should've checked the area, searched for survivors.  How could we be so stupid?!

 

"I say we kill them all and take all the women," one of the quieter voices pips up.

 

"Just one of them fuckers kills four of ours," the first voice answers.  "Hell, this Bitch killed one!"

 

Daryl killed four?  Only two bodies were near him so either the other two turned and walked off or they were dragged back here to die.  Either way it's good, less of them to worry about.

 

A shadow stands at the side of the house.  I shift on my paws, careful to make as little noise as possible.  He's paying more attention to the group arguing so it's easy to sneak up on him.  I edge closer until I can lunge forward and snap his neck.  His body drops but the sound is lost under the arguing.

 

Tiny screams.  I don't waste anymore time.  I run full speed around the house, there isn't even a fence.  I notice the three metal trashcans full of fire.  There's empty folding chairs all around.

 

A few more than a dozen men stand around with several injured.  Tiny is near the center, surrounded by the men who are now shouting cheers and encouragement.  I can't see her but I can smell her fear.

 

I slam into the back of one man.  He's as unwashed as the rest with a stained blue shirt and a dark shaven head.  I snap my jaw on his head, feeling his skull burst like an overripe fruit.  Then I look up.

 

Tiny is trapped on the ground with two men holding her bound arms down while a third pulls her clothes away.  I don't give them time to look up before I leap, tackling the one pulling her clothes and digging my claws into his belly.  Flesh and soft innards are torn free, scattered around as I dig through him until my claws scrape spine.

 

The other two start to move, both pulling back now that they've shaken off the shock.  I catch one with my teeth, tearing out his throat in a warm wet spray.  The other tries to turn and run but I slam him into the ground.  My claws dig into his side's while my jaw snaps down on his spine.  

 

A gun fires.  Pain blooms in my hip.  I have to choose to either cover Tiny or kill the men.  Fury burns as a snarl rumbles through my chest.  I leap.

 

It's all a haze of blood and screams.  Flashes of silver from various blades slash out at me.  I know I tore off an arm at the shoulder of one man.  I know I crushed another skull beneath my paws, leaving the body to twitch on the grass.

 

More screams sound.  Half the men are dead by my teeth and claws but now the rest must face walkers.  Dozens of them now 

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

 

It all fell to chaos then.  Walkers stumbled in from every direction.  The filthy starved men panicked.  Some attempted to fight or run but the dead were overwhelming.

 

One of the men shoved another into a walkers arms.  He tried to flee but hadn't noticed another coming behind him.  Both die screaming.

 

I run back to Tiny.  She had managed to curl herself small near one of the fire cans.  Her arms are still bound with rough rope from wrist to elbow.  I don't have time to release the rope, I would have to transform and that would leave us too vulnerable.

 

She doesn't hesitate to clamor up on my back.  Her finger twist into my fur as she struggles to find a sturdy grip.  Her knees press into my waist.  

 

I rise, immediately running because the dead are crowding closer.   Several I recognize as ones I've passed on the way here.  I guess I brought them.  Well, good!  These monsters deserve to die screaming!

 

There's enough noise and confusion that neither the men or the walkers pay us much attention.  It also helps that were both dark, and Tiny is small, so we can blend into the shadows better.  Now I just have to get us out of here without gettin caught.

 

Thankfully my kids have ridden on my back before.  We even made a game of it where I would try to buck them off while they struggled to hold on.  It means Tiny knows how to keep her position while we flee.

 

The walkers mostly come from the direction I did so I have no choice but to move further away.  The neighborhood is dark but it's clear as I race the streets that these people have been here a while.  There are several downed walkers just left to rot where they fell.  Perhaps they hoped the scent of decay would keep other walkers away.

 

Shouts and cries fade behind us.  I'll have to come back soon to be sure they're all dead.  I won't take any more chances of further attacks.

 

Tiny huffs pained breaths and the scent of blood clings to us.  She's injured!  How badly is she hurt?

 

I stumble to a stop, glancing around quickly and choosing a house with the front door broken off its hinges.  The carpet, some dark color, reeks of mold as the weather has been flooding in for years.  There are stains everywhere, some blood, some urine, and others something more foul.

 

I don't hear anything beyond some small chittering animal hiding beneath the couch.  It's probably just a raccoon.  There's also a bird nest in the kitchen on top of the cabinets, near the smooth ceiling.  But nothing larger seems to be inside.

 

I lay down and Tiny slips to the tile floor.  A pained whimper escape her lips.  I transform back to human so that I can help her.

 

First I hurry to remove the ropes.  They're not knotted well, only crudely, but it still takes a tingle of power to have them slip away.  Bruises and scrapes line her arms where she struggled against the ropes.

 

Next I check her over.  She has a bump on her head and a bit of blood crusted around her nose, probably from when they took her.  Her shirt is torn but otherwise her clothes are alright.

 

Finding no injuries on her front or even her arms or legs has me flip her over.  Blood sits wet on the tile beneath her.  I shove her bloody shirt up, exposing her back.  Three small holes sit high on her back, two on the right side of her spine.

 

Damn!  Someone shot her.  It must've been a small gun or it would've gone through.  With any luck I can get her back home.

 

I press my power against the wounds, willing them to seal and heal as much as my magic can do.  Then I transform again and nudge her to climb back onto my back.  She's weak and shaky so it takes a moment but she manages it.

 

I leave back out the door.  A shadow races another street over but I can't chase it now.  I'll just have to come back and kill that one later.

 

I run while she clings.  We head along the street for a while, then we dart between a pair of houses.  Tall grass offers us some camouflage as we make it back to the gas station.  Then it's just a matter of retracing my steps.  Tiny moans painfully when she's jostled but doesn't complain.  Her fingers just tighten their hold on my fur.

 

I pass the shops and houses which are thankfully free of walkers.  The forest comes up ahead and I'm grateful for the security it offers.  It's easy to find the bodies left behind, unfortunately there's a walker gnawing on them.

 

I rush past, unwilling to waste time by killing it.  My daughter needs help now!  She's so weak she's gone limp on my back.  I can always come back this way when I hunt down the others responsible.

 

I run for a few miles more over forest ground that rises and dips.  It's almost impossible to see whats ahead but I manage to only stumble once over a tree root.  Reaching the familiar road brings me a great sense of relief.

 

The gate opens the moment Michonne spots us.  I rush past her, my paws loud on the road as I push myself to go faster.  The house comes up with Merle and Thorin on the porch.  Both startle, hurrying down to meet me halfway.

 

"Fucking Hell!" Merle spits out.

 

Thorin reaches for Tiny only for Merle to snatch him back.  I growl, a warning only.  Still, my daughter needs help!

 

Something rotten burns my nose.  A walker is near!  We have to get the kids inside!  How did it even get in?

 

"Oh my God!" Eric exclaims as he stumbles down the porch.  Sirius follows looking us over with wide eyes.

 

Tiny twitches on my back.  A moan slips from her chest.  A sound that raises the hairs on my neck.

 

No!

 

Not her... not my daughter... please...

 

"Stay calm, Harry," Merle says softly, mournfully.

 

He steps closer with a knife in hand but I snarl, snapping my jaw and shuffling further away.  I can't let him... She's not... 

 

She moves stiffly.  Her head turns and a shudder of revulsion worms through me.  This can't be happening!  This can't be happening!

 

"Daddy?" Thorin calls fearfully, tears rolling down his cheek.

 

No... please no... Not my children!  I cant lose another one... I can't!

 

"Daddy, she's turning," Thorin calls again, his eyes locked onto her movement.

 

My magic is bubbling like a cauldron ready to explode.  I know, I know without a doubt or second guess, that this is no longer my daughter.  This thing isn't her...

 

Thorin steps closer with a knife in his hand.  I roll away, knocking the walker from my back.  It's a walker... just another walker.  

 

Her braid clicks when she moves.  The family bead swings over her shoulder as she crawls forward.  Clouded eyes watch me as hands, her hands, touch my fur.

 

I can't!  I can't kill my baby!  Whines and mournful growls rumble through my chest.  But I can't kill her and I can't leave her like this.

 

A soft pop of a gun sounds.  Her body falls limp, red mists the ground around her head.  Merle holsters his gun and kneels down beside her.  He looks me in the eye and waits.  I guess he's waiting for my reaction.

 

A howl rips itself from my throat.  All the pain, all the anguish, is screamed to the sky.  I shudder with the sound, howling long until my chest burns with the need for air.  I gasp a breath only long enough to scream out another howl.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

 

The thundering sound of paws on asphalt easily overshadow the man's ragged breaths.  Dirty and exhausted, he isn't good prey, but that's not why I chase him.  I chase him because her scent is on his hands.  He's one of them.

 

He stumbles between abandoned cars, bumping into several.  A walker trapped in one scratches at the windows causing him to fall back against another car.  I slow my stride and slip around one of the cars.  It's late evening now so I easily blend in with the shadows around.

 

He's a weasley looking thing with a thin hunched posture and too wide blue eyes.  A shadow of light brown scruff grows unevenly across his cheeks and jaw which look more like he can't grow a beard than anything deliberate.  His nose is a small round thing, recently broken although there's so much blood on him it's hard to tell what is his and what isn't.

 

I stalk quietly along the side of the cars, careful to stay out of sight.  He flinches, looking around fearfully while gasping for breath.  Terror overwhelms his scent.

 

Good!  I want him afraid.  I want him to feel as helpless as she felt.  I want him to suffer.  I want them all to suffer.

 

I couldn't stay at the orchard, not after loosing her.  I needed to take out the threat.  I had to be sure we will be safe.  I won't risk anyone else.

 

The walkers took out most of them.  I crushed the skulls of the ones that turned.  A few had survived though.  Three had survived the walkers...  They won't survive me!

 

This one is the second.  The first I caught sleeping in one of the houses.  He was a starved black man with an angry face even while sleeping.  The scent of Daryls blood stained him and I didn't even hesitate to attack.  

 

I tore him apart.  My claws dig deep in his belly, tearing his insides out.  My teeth clamped on his arm, easily snapping the bone.  I even manage to rip off one arm at the shoulder when he tries to crawl away.  Unfortunately his screams alerted the others.

 

The third was a short older man.  He reeked of urine and filth but no trace of Daryl or Tiny's scent was found on him.  Still, he may not have hurt my family but I won't allow a threat to live.

 

He hid himself in the trunk of a car.  It's an older model in a nearly fully rusted red.  I doubt he can get back out without help so I'll go back for him later.  Right now I want the one that has a trace of my daughter's scent.

 

He presses a hand to his chest, gasping for breaths while his heart races like a cornered rabbit.  I lower myself more, keeping my steps careful as I stalk around him.  The fool actually looks relieved as if he thinks he outrank me.

 

He slumps tiredly back against the car, sliding down until he sits tiredly on the ground.  His hands tremble as he pats his chest and legs.  He drops his head, eyes closed.  He must think he's safe now.

 

I stalk around the car, rumbling a snarl as I approach.  He jumps, yelps in terror and scrambles up to run.  His chest heaves as he gasps for breath.  He won't last much longer but that's okay.

 

Such a foolish little creature he is, so easy to herd.  It's easy to nip at his back.  It's easy to growl and snarl while he struggles to run.  The idiot goes back the way we came with only a few nudges from me to direct him along.

 

I slow down, slipping around behind a store to hide within the shadows.  He stumbles to a stop, gasping and crying.  He collapses weakly to the ground.  How utterly pathetic!

 

I move slow and steady, stalking around him.  He won't last much longer, I'm sure.  But I won't be merciful, oh no.  His death will be long and slow.  I only wish I could do the same to the others that hurt my family.

 

I pace closer without bothering to move silently.  He looks up with a wet face.  Begging words spew from his mouth as he tries to crawl away.  Coward!  Pathetic!

 

I jump forward, catching his head in my jaws and snapping down viciously.  His scream stops short with a thunderous crunch.  I release the worthless creature and leave it for the dead.

 

That thing wasn't worth the effort but at least he died weak and afraid.  Now I just have to take out the third one.  Then I'll search the area for any more.  I'll destroy them all, every last one!

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

 

Three days with little rest go by quickly.  I've patrolled about ten miles in every direction.  As long as I keep moving I don't have to think about what's been lost.

 

I found a man far out to the East.  He walked along the highway with a heavy pack on his back and a tent tied to it.  He didn't carry their scent or any trace of Daryl or Tiny's but I couldn't take the chance.  At least he died quickly if not painlessly.

 

Further to the north, I found a pair of men bedded down.  It was near a larger city somehow sprawling and empty with a good line of sight through most of it.  There were only a few walkers further out but none near them.

 

The men had secured a small police station to hide in.  It had little more than a counter near the door and two small desks pushed to the side.  There was a restroom to the left, followed by a storage supply room then an office.  The window on that office door was shattered and no personal item remain.

 

The men had two blanket nests in the office.  As it was early morning when I caught their scents they were both still asleep.  I had to transform to get inside the baracade they put up.  A quick vanishing spell got rid of the door and let me in.

 

I transformed back as soon as I got inside.  Human form hurts too much.  Anytime I wear my skin I'm overwhelmed with pain and grief.  

 

Wolf form is easier.  Wolves grieve but not as deeply.  Or maybe it's the guilt that's missing.  Animals don't seem to feel guilt as humans do.

 

I kill them quickly.  A snap of my jaws crushes the first ones skull.  The second pops awake but I snap his neck before he can even realize what's happened.  

 

I'm not a cruel creature I just can't take the risk.  They have a small catch of food tucked away under the desk and in the filing cabinet in the corner.  It's just a few canned items, mostly sauces, and several bags of dried beans, rice, potato, and pasta.

 

I transform back to human long enough to stuff the food into one of their packs.  It has a single strap so I slip it on so the strap rests loose across my chest.  Then I transform back to wolf form and continue exploring.

 

The gun cage is still locked up with weapons inside.  Its only a few shotguns and six hand guns, blocky and black.  I transform back with an annoyed huff.  A quick spell has the gun cage door vanish.  Then I stuff the weapons and ammo into the pack.

 

The storeroom has two jugs of water, three cases stacked beside it too, and one large box of toilet tissue.  I shrink them down and stuff them in the pack.  Our people need these supplies.

 

I transform back into wolf and search the rest of the city.  There are tourist shops full of clothes and souviners that won't be much use to us.  I do take what I can, what we will need.  

 

Most of the day is spent walking around in human form as bare as a babe while shrinking supplies.  I go through the shops quickly, they don't have much in them.  Night falls while I make it around to the hotels and a small community hospital.  They don't have much so it's a quick check in wolf form.

 

I loop past them to the supermarket.  It has some camping supplies that I take.  There isn't any food and the pharmacy is well picked over but there are some feminine products left so I grab those.  Our pack is always in need of such supplies.

 

I take plenty of the clothes, stuffing them in bags and shrinking them down.  I gather up cookware from the kitchen isles.  Not so much the plates but a good cast iron skillet and a knife set are always welcome.  There's also crockpots that I gather up to take back.

 

Sunrise comes when I find the neighborhoods.  Little clusters of homes set behind brick or broken wood fences.  The homes are large with high ceilings and marble countertops in the kitchens and bathrooms.  

 

Some have a few dry foods still good.  Most have blankets or toiletries that I gather.  I pick up some baby furniture and kids toys that we may use.

 

I do have a panic attack in one house.  One of the rooms belonged to a little girl.  A girl with dark skin and braids down to her shoulders ending in red and pink beads.  A girl still rotting in the corner... A walker left trapped.

 

I run back outside, heaving violently even in wolf form.  I transform back unintentionally.   My human hands fist in the overgrown grass as I heave and scream.

 

I can't stomach leaving her there but I can't go in either.  My vision blurs as I struggle to stand.  I whisper the spell at first but it doesn't come.  Then anger overwhelms me and I scream my rage to the sky.

 

Fiendfyre devours the house in a few seconds.  Beasts of flame the spread, rushing to the buildings nearby.  They stretch out like an overturned anthill, seeking anything to destroy.

 

I don't know how long I stand there before the smoke and ash makes me move.  I walk the streets as a man while the inferno follows as my shadow.  It leaps and devours building after building as we circle the town.  

 

The spell continues once I leave the homes behind.  I pass the superstore which falls to a massive bear like creature. A dragon takes out the hospital.  Vultures of flames attack the tourist shops.  A serpent like beast of fire takes out the police station where I killed those men.  

 

I flinch at the drop of cold on my cheek.  It happens again as a gentle drop that's followed by a steady fall.  The rain grows in strength until it's a heavy downpour.

 

The spell flickers out.  It's not the rain that stops it though.  The rain somehow sooths me as nothing else has.  My rage is washed away beneath the cool water and as it drowns so too does the fiendfyre.

 

I stay in my human skin as the water pours down.  Black clouds flicker with lightening in the night sky.  Thunder shakes the very ground as lightening stroke trees and poles still standing.  

 

I stay out in the street for most of the night.  It's only when the storm stops that I transform back into a wolf.  The moon is full so there's plenty of light but I need a bit of a rest.  

 

I dont bother to head back home yet, I'm not ready.  Instead I lay down on the soaked road even if I cant seem to sleep.  I spend the time howling in mourning.  The sounds echo loud through the silence of the city.  Not that its much of a city with all of the buildings burnt to ash.  

 

At least theres nowhere for anyone to set up around here now.  No more threats on our back step.  I'll go back to the other towns and cities.  I'll burn them all to Hell!  That way no more dangers will get close.  The burnt cities may even chase them away.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

 

I have a rhythm to how I work now.  Two weeks is all it takes to have the nearby towns and cities reduced to ash.  There were only a few survivors scattered around and they all died quickly.  I just couldn't take the chance.

 

I did panick when I passed a trail of pack scent.  Merle, Carl, Aaron, and two others I don't recognize all left our territory.  It was while I was on the north east to north west sides of our territory during that first week.  

 

They went mostly south.  I followed their scent trail to some big warehouse like building.  They had loaded and were starting a big rig truck when I arrived.  Merle looked pained but he approached me without fear.

 

"Ya ever gonna come home?"

 

I look away, unwilling to transform back to answer.  He lights a cigarette, giving us a quiet moment before telling me, "Your kids been asking for ya.  So's Daryl, matter of fact."

 

A whine escapes my throat but I shake my head.  He nods, accepting my answer even if he's upset about it.  He tosses his cigarette away and walks back tot he truck.

 

I checked the warehouse that they left.  It held a lot of electrical wires and boards as well as solar panels.  That must've been what they came for.  I shrink whats left until the warehouse is nothing but bare shelves.

 

That town had three other warehouse that I scavenged.  One was a cereal warehouse, crates full of cereal boxes stacked up to the roof.  I gathered it all, shrunken down for easy tranaport.

 

The second was a drink manufacturing warehouse.  Sodas already bottled as well as boxed cubes of the drink syrup.  I shrunk down moat of it but not all.

 

The third belonged to a major store chain.  It was longer than a football field and twice as tall as most buildings.  Thick metal shelves were bolted in to both the ceiling beams and concrete floor.  I took nearly everything except for the electronics.

 

My pack was beyond bulging after that so I hurried back to the orchard gate.  A quick drop off of the bag, not even stepping inside, then I raced off again.  That's how I've done with everything I've gathered.  Whoever is at the gate will pass it to Sirius to sort.

 

I luck out far to the west.  There's a large portion of the interstate, looping through the city, that has tall concrete walls.  I shrink them down and reposition them around our territory.  They create a tall solid border about five to seven miles outside our current wall.

 

At least I get the cities and towns burnt down.  The forests are still a problem but we can just have more patrols.  The extended border will also offer us a lot of protection.  

 

I'm still not ready to go home but I need to see my family.  I approach the gate and wait.  Michonne stands on the ledge.  She doesn't comment, only opens the gate.  I pad past her on nervous paws.

 

Thorin spots me first.  He was helping feed the larger animals, mostly cows, so he was nearer to the wall gate.  I half expect him to rage and curse me.  I almost expect him to cry and cling to me.  Instead he smiles.

 

"Welcome back, dad," he offers.

 

I stay frozen for a moment, unsure.  But his scent isn't angry or betrayed.  He's calm, accepting.  There's grief and pain, joy and relief, but no blame.

 

He moves up beside me, his fingers burrowing through my fur at my neck.  I move forward slowly while he walks at my side.  At least he doesn't hate me for leaving.

 

We pass the fence together.  Voices coming from the greenhouses on either side show that everyone is out helping right now.  I slow my steps but Thorin doesn't falter so neither can I.

 

The greenhouse door on the right opens.  Evelyn steps out with a woven basket on her arm.  Aurora and Hershel follow with their own haul.

 

I must've made a sound, a whine or a whimper.  She must've heard me even if I didn't realize it.  She gasps, eyes wide with surprise.  Then she shouts, "Daddy!" while running at me.

 

I transform then.  I wasn't sure if I could or even if I should but I do.  She needs me to hold her.  She needed me here.  But like a selfish ass I was too busy running away to take care of her.

 

She's sobbing against my shoulder while I hold her tight.  Thorin clings to my back, holding us both.  I'm not even sure who's the one begging forgiveness at first before I realize it's me.

 

"Bout time ya came home," a wonderful voice drawls.

 

I look up at Daryl carrying a grown pig over his shoulder.  Blood drills down his shirt but that's normal now.  He must be culling the herds, prepping the meat for winter even if that's still a few months away.

 

"I'm sorry," is all I can offer.

 

"I get ya," he answers, "Just glad you're back."

 

Hershel and Aurora both come over to cuddle at Evelyn's back.  Daryl continues on towards the house to prep his kill.  I'm shaking and crying too muvh to move.

 

I missed my kids.  I missed my pack and all of their scents.  I nuzzle Evelyn's cheek, whispering apologies through the tears over and over.  At least I'm home now and I won't leave them again.