The summer after Terminus we spent a day walking past nothing but endless fields of flowers. Mostly cotton, with occasional dots of lavender; purple islands in a sea of white. Eugene’d been sniffling for a while, but we didn't realise he was suffering from bad hayfever until we were well on our way through the remnants of the cotton belt. If we'd known, we would've taken a different route or made sure he had antihistamines; as it was, his constant sneezing and wheezing meant we had walkers nipping at our heels all day. It’s easy enough to outrun them over short distances, but believe me, when you can't stop or even slow down for hours on end you'll realise how hard it is to outwalk them.
Around midday Glenn announced he had an idea and started rooting around in his backpack. It took him a couple of minutes, and at one point his head almost disappeared in the rucksack so Maggie had to step in and keep him from walking into the ditch on the side of the road, but eventually he pulled out a cleanish white t-shirt. He soaked it with almost half of his remaining water, and we just watched dumbly, too tired to stop him or question what he was doing.
When he was done he passed the t-shirt to Eugene, telling him to wrap it around his head and cover his nose and mouth with it. “It should filter out some of the pollen”, he rasped, licking his lips.
It never occurred to me at the time that Eugene himself should’ve come up with that idea long before Glenn did.
After that things got a little better. Eugene stopped sneezing quite so much, and some of the walkers started losing interest. A mile or so down the road Daryl, Abe and Michonne broke off into the fields to circle back past the end of our tail, and their yelling and throwing stones got enough of the walkers distracted for us to breathe a little easier.
None of us could do anything about the heat or the lack of water though. The only thing we could do was to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Never before or after have I felt so much like a dead woman walking, and given what Rick said to us in that barn just a couple of nights later, the day must’ve had a similar effect on him.
By mid-afternoon we trudged along in complete silence, each lost in our own little bubbles. The cotton had given way to lavender again, and I picked a few of the purple stalks in passing. Look at the flowers. Such fragile things; made to be crushed. They reminded me of who I used to be: a delicate, pretty little flower. Too delicate for my own good, because I was plucked and crushed just like the lavender in my hands.
When we first met, Ed gave me flowers. Forget-me-nots. ‘Almost as pretty as you are’, he said. Later he found different ways of making sure I didn’t forget; the blooms he gave me then were embedded in my skin. ‘Suck it up, Buttercup’, was his standard reply when I dared complain. So I took to answering almost anything he said with ‘As you wish’. It meant ‘I hate you’, but he never understood that.
The only other man who ever gave me flowers is Daryl, and he understood all too well. Maybe that’s why he risked his life for Sophia. He did what needed doing: tried to find her when I couldn't, and when we did find her, he laid her to her rest when I couldn't do that, either.
I became less delicate after that. I thrived with my new family, and discovered I could be strong for them in a way I’d never been able to be strong for myself or my poor baby girl. I discovered Daryl wasn’t the only one who could do what needed doing.
The decision to kill Karen and David was easy. They were going to spread death whether they lived to see another day or were left to die during the night, and I was desperate to keep that from happening. I was desperate to stop them from killing my family. I realise now that it was already too late to contain the disease then, and that we could’ve afforded to give them a chance, but at the time I did what I thought needed doing.
Lizzie on the other hand… Oh god, Lizzie was a disaster waiting to happen, but I didn't realise how deeply her problems ran until it was too late. I should’ve known when I caught her trying to play tag with that walker, but I thought we could keep her safe as long as we kept her away from them. I wanted to give her the chance Sophia never had, the chance I didn't give Karen and David, and in the end I cost Mika her life and nearly lost Judith, too. So I told Lizzie to look at the flowers and squeezed the trigger behind her back. I should’ve never had to do it, but it needed doing.
The pungent smell of lavender brought me back to reality, and I realised with a start that I’d ground all the stalks I’d picked into dust. Shaking my head at myself, I brushed the purplish-grey crumbs off of my hands and clothes. Woolgathering could get you bit, and getting bit meant other people had to do things they shouldn't have to do. Don't get yourself bit.
We made it through that day, and the next day, and the day after that Aaron showed up.
When we settle in Alexandria, I start dressing like the Suzie Homemaker I pretend to be. Daryl tells me I look stupid, and from his perspective he's right. I don't look like myself, but that's the point. The flowery cardigans are telling the Alexandrians to look at the flowers so they don’t realise I have my finger on the trigger behind their backs, and that I won't hesitate to squeeze if that's what needs doing.