Rick dragged himself out of bed earlier than usual the next morning despite how incredibly exhausted he was. The sun wasn’t even trying to peek over the horizon yet, and every cell in Rick’s body told him, begged him, to roll back into bed, pull his wife close, and find his way to sleep again. He knew that wasn’t an option, not with Daryl, Maggie and Glenn heading out on a run within the hour, so he slid out of bed and left the apartment as quietly as he could.
When he approached the main gate, he could just make out the shape of the car in the pre-morning light. The hood was up and he realized there was a beam of light darting around underneath it. Rick had to walk until he was mere feet away before he could determine that Glenn and Maggie were leaning against the side of the car while Daryl did a last check under the hood. Looking around, he noticed three more figures surrounding the car.
“Hershel,” Rick nodded in greeting. “Beth, you doing okay?”
The young blonde nodded while fighting back a yawn, “Yeah. Just...didn’t sleep well, you know?” She breathed in sharply and opened her eyes widely, trying to force herself awake. “Thank you for...well, thank you,” she smiled.
“That goes for me, too,” Hershel stepped forward, extending his hand to shake Rick’s. “Thank you, Rick.”
Rick gave the two a half smile, “You’re both welcome, but I didn’t really do a lot. Just...dealt with the aftermath.” He glanced over his shoulder in time to see Daryl let the hood drop closed and pull his red handkerchief out of his pocket to clean off his hands, then turned back to face Hershel and Beth again. “Speaking of, I need to speak with Michonne, make sure she’s up to speed about what went down.”
He turned to leave, nodding to them both as a good-bye, and made his way to the other side of the car where Michonne was waiting to oversee the gate’s opening. “Mornin’,” he said as he drew near, distracting her from her silent vigil.
She turned around with a snide, “Can you call it morning if the sun isn’t even up?” Rick let out a low chuckle and could just make out Michonne’s own grin. “Heard you had quite a night.”
Rick glanced around between Hershel and Beth, then over to Daryl before answering. “You could say that. T-Dog fill you in?”
Michonne shrugged, “I know as much as he does, I guess. My only question is what happened to the kid?”
“He’s gone,” Rick answered, mentally kicking himself for responding a little too quickly, but even if he had, Michonne didn’t seem to notice.
She nodded in understanding. “Got the same treatment as Gavin’s men?”
Rick found himself unable to look his deputy in the eye as he answered with a vague, “Something like that.” Just by that, he heard a slight commotion as the Greene family said their See-you-laters and Rick excused himself to talk to Daryl.
“One last smoke before the drive?” he half-teased.
Daryl snorted out a laugh, “Learned my lesson last time I tried it with Maggie in the damn car.” He peered at Rick as he blew a lungful of smoke to the side and, as was usual for Daryl, cut straight through Rick’s bullshit. “What’cha need?”
“Need a favor from ya again while you’re out on this run.” Rick said quietly, not wanting anyone to overhear.
Daryl scoffed, “Already goin on the damn run with these two. Got a page-long list already. The hell else more do you want?”
Sighing, Rick cocked his head to the side and chose his words carefully. “Need your help cleaning up the last bit of mess from last night.”
Daryl straightened from his slouch against the car, readjusting the strap of his crossbow on his shoulder. “What, I gotta take that asshole with me? Drop him off an’ hope he don’t follow us back?”
Rick fought back a smirk, “In a manner of speaking.” Glancing around quickly and taking another step closer, he continued, “When you get there, let Glenn and Maggie take point while you...make sure there’s enough room for everything in the trunk.”
Daryl frowned in confusion, “I know damn well…”
“Just...” Rick interrupted, “...make sure.” Giving his right-hand man a knowing look, he clapped his hand on Daryl’s shoulder, nodded once, and waved his goodbyes to the rest of the group before making his way to his office. Any other time, he’d go right back to Lori, but this morning, he just needed a minute.
Once the rest of the town was awake, it was business as usual. Phillip was surprised to have Rick waiting in his office for him, but was more surprised to hear of the attack from the night before. “So, what happened to Billy?”
Rick leaned forward, resting on his arms, and fixed him with a pointed look. “He’s been dealt with already. He was here on a probationary basis, and as far as I’m concerned, he broke that probation last night. He’s gone.”
“Gone...the way Gavin’s men are gone?” Phillip inquired. Rick nodded and sat back in his office chair, thinking at least this part of the conversation was over. He was wrong. “What do we tell everyone?”
“I wasn’t planning on making a formal announcement. I figure word will travel pretty quickly without our help.”
Phillip hung his head and shook it. “No,” he finally said, looking up at Rick again. “What do we tell people about you acting as judge, jury, and executioner? You know Dave is going to have a field day with this.”
Trying to appear nonchalant, Rick shrugged and offered, “Tell anyone who asks that the crime was so heinous, it demanded immediate action. We don’t exactly have a holding cell, here.” After a thought, he smirked and added, “Although maybe we should for the next person.” Rick sighed heavily, “And if Dave, or anyone for that matter, has issue with it, they can come and talk to me.”
Sure enough, Dave was knocking on Rick’s office door before lunch wearing his usual scowl of disapproval. After several minutes of Dave’s needling, Rick acquiesced and reiterated Beth and Daryl’s report, almost verbatim. “I don’t know what to tell you, Dave,” he added once he’d finished. “The kid wasn’t on great terms with our community to begin with, and I’d seen him hounding Beth around town more often than not. I trust her story. I trust Daryl. I don’t trust Billy as far as I can throw him. I didn’t have anywhere to put him, didn’t want to wait for a full town meeting, so I spared everyone the time and took care of it myself.”
Dave took a breath to speak, but before he could get a word in, Rick continued, “I assure you, if it were anyone else, anyone who had been in Woodbury as a civilian, or if it had been a lesser crime, the circumstances would have been different. He damn near raped and killed the girl. He needed to go.”
Dave’s mouth snapped shut, the wind thoroughly taken out of his sails. He mumbled a quick thanks for Rick’s time, and let himself out of the office. Rick breathed a sigh of relief and slumped back into his chair.
The rest of the day had gone by uneventfully, which had Rick wondering in the back of his mind what was about to go wrong. He began his walk back to his apartment to have dinner with Lori and Carl when he heard shouts coming from the gate. If the run had gone well, there wouldn’t be a loud commotion, but a small “welcoming committee” of people volunteering to help unload the supplies. This was...something else. Bracing himself, he hurried toward the gate.
“Folks!” he shouted, trying to quiet everyone before a herd started swarming around the gates. A sharp whistle from Dale grabbed everyone’s attention, causing them to turn around in search of the source.
Rick watched as Daryl climbed out of the driver’s seat, and suddenly realized he had been alone in the car. Before he could ask what had happened, Hershel stepped forward, his arm around Beth’s shoulders, and spoke up. “Daryl. Where...what happened?”
Rick wasn’t sure if this kind of thing should be discussed with so many people around, and Daryl seemed to think the same way. Ultimately, Daryl must have decided not to make Hershel and Beth wait for details. Giving Rick a quick glance first, he began to speak. “They were gonna go through the hardware store, I took the car down the street half a block to the pharmacy. I brought a load of stuff out to the car, I look down the street and saw a van and a bunch of guys standing outside the hardware store. Next thing I know, Glenn an’ Maggie are in the back and the van’s pullin’ away.”
The air was immediately filled with overlapping questions.
“Who would just take people like that?”
“Where’d they go?”
It was obvious that Daryl didn’t have an answer to any of the questions. Rick began to make his way to stand next to his friend and try to reign in everyone’s fears before things got out of hand. “Folks, let’s everybody head back to their homes, give us all a chance to figure this out.” When no one moved, he added, “Out of respect for Hershel and Beth.”
Once the small crowd had begrudgingly dispersed, offering short condolences and words of support to Beth and Hershel as they went, Daryl spoke again, giving one last detail. “Only thing I could make out on the van was across the back doors it said W. G. C. F.”
Rick frowned, knowing exactly what those initials meant.