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Second Chance

Chapter Text

Rick peered through the darkness at the other occupants of the boxcar. He had been reunited with most of the prison group in this metal hell for about a week. It was hard to tell exactly how long they’d all been locked in there; very little natural light came through the gaps and holes in the walls. He saw the faces of his family, or at least as close to family as he could get – Carl, Daryl, and Michonne. As he looked around, he saw his extended family – Maggie and Glenn, Sasha, Bob – and those he now called friends – Abraham, Eugene, Rosita and Tara. Rick couldn’t help but wonder if and when he’d ever get to see Carol, or Tyreese, or Beth again, but had to focus on his current situation. He’d worry about the others once they were finally out of this mess.

The entire group was huddled in a misshapen circle. Enough time had gone by to recognize any patterns in the activities at Terminus, particularly their feeding schedule. He hated feeling like an animal cooped in a cage, and knew the rest of the group felt the same way. They weren’t even given a chance to get out of the boxcar to use the bathroom; a hole had been cut into a corner of the floor, just large enough to squat over, but still too small for any of them to fit through, even Carl. There had to be a way out – that’s what the group was currently discussing.

Abraham and Daryl had taken charge of developing a plan of escape, being the two with the most combat and tactical experience. Despite the gut instinct to try to escape every chance they got, the two had convinced the group to wait several days to determine any patterns that may arise regarding the Termites. Waiting peacefully might also encourage their jailors to let their guard down, making their escape more likely. Rick had agreed, figuring it couldn’t hurt to increase their odds in any way possible.

Maggie and Glenn noticed that since the arrival of Rick and the others, there was an extra guard accompanying the man who brought their meals twice a day (whom they had dubbed, “Food Guy,”), increasing the total number of guards from three to four. Members of the group had taken shoes off to show where the guards were expected to be each day, like clockwork, hoping that creating a visual map would help with the planning process.

After having gone over the plan countless times, making sure everyone knew exactly what needed to happen to make this a success, Carl pointed out that the tiny beams of light had hit the mark they had made on the wall, indicating that their dinner was soon on its way. Everyone who had donated a shoe retrieved it. Rick could feel the tension in the group as they heard footsteps approaching. He steeled himself; it was now or never. They couldn’t stand to be prisoners any longer.

Just as expected, Food Guy greeted the guard by the sliding door. “Any trouble today, George?”

“Nah, just the usual muttering and shuffling, but they haven’t been any trouble. At least that redneck quit calling me names. Man, that one’s got a mouth on ‘im.” Rick glanced at Daryl, whose jaw was clenched tight.

“Huh. Well, that’s something, I guess. Alright. Open ‘er up. Don’t want their food getting cold,” Food Guy replied. The men all chuckled, knowing the prisoners’ meal was little more than slop, a watery mix of rice and beans.

The group heard the door unlatch and daylight streamed in as it slid open. As soon as there was enough space, Daryl burst through the opening and tackled George, wrestling the weapon out of his hands. Immediately following Daryl was Rick, who charged at one of the guards flanking Food Guy. Next, Abraham and Michonne flew out of the doorway, which had now opened wide enough for both of them to get out at the same time. Hitting the ground running, Abraham moved toward Food Guy while Michonne raced toward the fourth man on guard that day.

Chaos erupted as the guards scrambled to hold their own against the previously docile prisoners. George stayed on the ground, having been disarmed by the redneck, not daring to try and run. He looked over to see the Ringleader start pummeling on Martin’s head, casting drops of blood on the ground, before taking his weapon as well.

While George and Martin had been caught unaware by the sudden onslaught, Robby had time to react. George watched as Robby braced for impact as the black woman rushed toward him. She moved too quickly for him to aim his gun at her, so instead he flipped the weapon around and caught her in the temple with the butt of his rifle, dropping her like a sack of potatoes. He heard a shot ring out and saw the red head with the handlebar mustache drop to the ground. “Thank God for Randy,” George thought to himself, thankful that Gareth had thought ahead to place a sniper on the nearby roof as added protection.

Rick turned just in time to see Michonne drop to the ground, unconscious, then looked to his right and saw Abraham’s lifeless body collapse to the ground, a large round hole clearly visible in the middle of his forehead. Rick’s brain was still trying to process where the deathly shot could have come from when he realized that Food Guy had dropped what he was carrying and drawn his side arm. Time seemed to stand still as he saw Carl running out of the boxcar toward Michonne; at the same time, Food Guy took aim and fired. Rick saw Daryl stumble back then crumple inward, his hand covering the wound to his abdomen and crashing to his knees.

Rick took two hurried steps toward the boxcar, shouting, “Carl! Get back in the...”

BLAM!

A searing pain shot through the back of Rick’s left shoulder. He spun around to look at his assailant, only to find he was looking down the barrel of Food Guy’s pistol.

Rick saw a flash from the pistol’s muzzle and everything went white.

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Rick’s eyes snapped open. He was momentarily blinded by the brightness that was flooding the room. When his sight had recovered slightly, he took in his surroundings and realized he was in a hospital room. “Where the hell am I?” As far as he knew, there were no hospitals near Terminus. Did they have facilities like this in the compound itself?
The room was eerily quiet. He strained to hear any signs of life and heard nothing. Rick rubbed at his eyes and realized there were no bandages on his face, no stitches, no scars. “That’s weird,” he thought, “I swear that guy got me right in the face.”

He went to sit up and felt a slight pull from the IV in his right hand and the cannula in his nose. He scanned the room for any clue as to where he was when his eyes fell upon a blue and white vase filled with dead flowers on the side table to his right. Rick reached over to one of the dried carnations in the bouquet, only to have it crumble between his fingers. “Wait...”

He slowly turned his head to his left and saw the clock on the wall had stopped at 2:17. He furrowed his brow at the familiarity of it all, and shook his head at the unsettling sense of déjà vu. He glanced down and saw he had a bandage across his chest and left shoulder and was dressed in only a hospital gown and his boxers. “No way...” he whispered.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed, removing the cannula and the heart rate monitor clip from his finger. He wrapped his right hand around the IV pole, then reached up and removed the IV from his hand. After taking a few moments to try to organize his thoughts, Rick planted his bare feet on the cold tile floor, testing his weight before attempting to stand. Using the IV pole as support, he slowly made his way across the room, opening the door to the small bathroom. He turned on the faucet and filled his cupped hand with water, bending over the sink and slurping up the tepid water to whet his parched throat.

His strength slowly returning, he depended less and less on the IV pole. Rick made his way to the main door of the room, opening it slowly, only to find a stretcher blocking the entrance to the hallway. He stumbled onto the stretcher, pushing it to the middle of the hall, and looked to his right and to his left, seeing papers strewn on the floor and fluorescent lights blinking on and off.

“Oh my god...” he exclaimed, as realization dawned on him.

Chapter Text

Co-authored by rckyfrk & Remi Savant

“How is this possible?” Rick asked himself, though he was unsure whether or not he actually said the words out loud. The whole situation seemed so surreal. He fought the urge to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming, but the sensations surrounding him had him convinced this was all too real. “So...if this isn’t a dream...did I just wake up? Were the last two years the dream?”

Rick turned right, down the cluttered hallway, toward a flickering fluorescent light. He hobbled up to a nurses’ station and picked up the receiver to the phone sitting on the counter. No dial tone. No disconnect signal. Nothing.

Acting on instinct and vague recollection, he reached over the counter and found a book of matches...as if he already knew they would be there. He lit one and looked around the dark alcove of the nurses’ station, not finding anything immediately useful.

He continued down the hallway and came to a set of double doors, looked through the glass and saw a half-eaten corpse lying on the floor. While he would never be fully accustomed to the aftermath of a walker’s feeding frenzy, the sight didn’t shock him as it once might have. He turned away from the double doors and retraced his steps to the other end of the hallway, taking note of the blood spatter and bullet holes amidst the wreckage littering the corridor.

He walked gingerly, barefoot, through the fallen ceiling tiles, hoping his memory was wrong as to what came next, but was sorely disappointed: there in front of him stood the cafeteria doors, chained and padlocked shut, with a familiar message spelled out in black spray paint:

DON’T DEAD
OPEN INSIDE

Knowing what was behind the doors already, he grit his teeth and turned the corner before the monsters inside could react to his presence.

Rick could feel his knees going weak as understanding washed over him. He stumbled forward and plopped himself into a wheelchair sitting against the wall. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and fought to keep the panic rising in his chest from completely taking over.

It dawned on him that he had somehow been given something like a second chance at life; that everything he remembered from the last two years, all the miles he had travelled, all the people he had lost, all the decisions he had made, whether alone or with a group...none of it had ever really happened. Was this a blessing or a curse? On the one hand, he had the chance to go and save everyone he had lost, to undo his mistakes and rash decisions, to try for a better life with Carl...and Lori. On the other hand, he had to go through the hell of deciding what actions were absolutely necessary to take and what events could he now prevent from ever happening. It was like playing God: could he save everyone? Should he save everyone?

The faces of his newfound family flashed through his mind: Hershel, Daryl, Dale, Glenn and Maggie, Michonne...Lori. He thought of Joe, the Governor, Merle, the citizens of Terminus. Could he avoid them, or were some things in this world inevitable?

First things first; he needed to get a change of clothes...and weapons. In his dream, he had returned to his own house, so Rick figured that was as good a place as any to start. He remembered he was sitting on his front steps when he first met Morgan and Duane...and the business end of Duane’s shovel.

Rick deduced that if he returned to his house, failed to find Lori and Carl, but did end up meeting Morgan and Duane, then his dream was in fact accurate – that he had been given a second chance. His mind made up, he pushed himself out of the chair, grabbed a handful of papers that had been strewn across the floor, and found the doorway to the stairwell that would lead to the outside.

He pushed the door open, gagging at the pungent stench of death coming from the enclosed stairwell. Propping the door ajar with his body, he lit a match and set fire to the papers in his hand, creating a short-lived torch for his descent to the exit. Heaving the heavy door open, he raised his arm to block the too-bright light assaulting his vision. Rick made his way down the stairs leading to the asphalt below, and cautiously stepped around the twice-dead corpses, before finally heading up the hill across the street, hoping there would still be a bicycle waiting for him in the grass next to the half-walker woman from his dream.

As fate would have it, the red bike was sitting in the grass right where he remembered it was. Without a second thought, he grabbed the bike, ignoring the half-woman beside it, and pedaled off toward his house, his hospital gown flapping in the wind. Having reached his front lawn, he let the bike drop to the ground as he raced inside.

Rick knew that last time, Lori and Carl had been long gone, but he couldn’t help the sliver of hope that had taken hold in his heart. When he found the house still empty, he was momentarily disappointed, but knew, or at least hoped, his family was safe. His resolve strengthened, squashing the despair that was threatening to overtake his thoughts. Instead, he walked through the once-familiar hall toward his bedroom and changed into his own clothes. He grabbed a knapsack and headed toward the kitchen, his new survivalist mindset kicking in, searching for food and supplies. Satisfied with what he had found, he lugged the heavy bag to the front walkway and sat on the concrete steps.

This was the moment of truth. He waited patiently, looking all around him for signs of life. Down the street to his right was a man in a dark suit walking toward him. Just by that, Rick heard the shuffling of footsteps behind him and turned just in time to block the head of a shovel coming right at his face. His hands came up on instinct, saving himself from a bloody nose and a mild concussion. “I’d appreciate if you didn’t do that, thanks,” Rick said to the young boy beside him. Not wanting to freak the kid out any more than he already had, he asked, “You out here alone?”

The boy shook his head, his eyes wide with confusion. He glanced up over Rick’s head, and Rick turned to see Morgan take out the walker in the dark suit with his revolver before joining them on his lawn.

Morgan took in the scene between Rick and Duane, and nodded to Rick, “Nice reflexes.”

Rick nodded in acceptance of the compliment, muttering out a “Thanks,” as he released his hold on the shovel.

Morgan turned to Duane and chastised him. “Boy, what you doin’? You can tell he ain’t one of ‘em.”

Duane looked at the space between his sneakers and mumbled his apology, “I’m sorry mister. You were sittin’ still for so long, and I just thought...”

Rick waved a hand at him and grinned, cutting him off, “Hey, no harm, no foul. You can’t be too careful.” He extended his hand to the boy, offering a handshake, “Name’s Rick.” The boy half-heartedly accepted the handshake.

Morgan took a step closer, firmly shaking Rick’s hand in turn. “I’m Morgan. This is my boy, Duane. What are you doing here all by yourself?”

“This is my house,” Rick gestured behind him. “I came looking for my family, my wife and ki...” He cleared his throat, “My wife and son,” he finished, remembering that Judith hadn’t been born yet. Hell, she wasn’t even conceived yet. “I don’t recognize you from the neighborhood.”

Morgan deflected the question, glancing nervously up and down the street. “Ya know, that shot will likely attract more walkers. We oughta take this inside. You’re welcome to join us. Safety in numbers and all.”

Rick smiled up at the man, “I appreciate that.” He went to stand up, hoisting the duffle bag onto his shoulder, completely forgetting his bandaged wound until the heavy bag landed against it. He flinched and inhaled sharply, wincing in pain. He dropped the bag and lifted the bottom of his shirt to inspect the bandage hiding beneath it.

Morgan’s eyes narrowed as he instinctively pulled Duane behind him. “What the hell happened to you?” he demanded. “Were you bit?” his question punctuated by the distinct sound of the hammer being cocked on his revolver.

Rick put up both his hands in a surrendering gesture. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Rick stammered, “I’m not bit, I was shot. I’m a cop. Been in the hospital since before all this went down.”

Morgan sarcastically replied, “Oh, they just released you today, huh?”

“No, not really,” Rick shook his head. “I was in a coma...woke up today. Came home first to get some real clothes.” And to meet you, he thought to himself.

Morgan continued to eye him skeptically, but released the hammer on his gun.

“Look, like you said, we should probably head inside before too long. I gotta change this bandage anyway, so you can see for yourself I ain’t bit,” Rick said, trying to assuage their fears.

Morgan and Duane nodded at each other and led the way to the house they were staying in.

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After Morgan was satisfied with knowing Rick’s wound was safe, he went to the kitchen to prepare a meager meal for the three of them. They were all seated around the table; Rick, absolutely famished, started to scoop some of the beans Morgan had served into his mouth. He was interrupted by Duane asking his father to say grace. Rick reluctantly set his fork down and held the child’s small hand while Morgan prayed over the meal. Once he had finished, all three tucked in to their supper.

Rick, already knowing the answer but desperate to break the silence, asked, “So...has it just been you two this whole time?”

Morgan looked up sadly and shook his head. “No. My wife got sick a couple weeks ago. Took her three days to die. The heat from her fever was coming off her like a furnace. She died in that room right there. We were on our way to Atlanta. There was supposed to be a refugee shelter, but the mobs flooding to the city...man, it wasn’t safe. Then she got sick, so we found shelter here. I just haven’t found the strength to keep going yet.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. I know that has to be tough, losing your wife,” Rick mumbled. After a moment, he spoke again. “I think we oughta head to Atlanta tomorrow. We can stop at the police station, get a car, weapons, supplies. Hell, we can probably grab a shower.”

Morgan shook his head, “I appreciate the offer, but...” He cut his sentence short, interrupted by a car alarm going off down the street. “Damn. One of those walkers must have gotten too close. It’s happened a couple times before. Quick, get the lights. Don’t want them swarming us.”

Rick turned the gas powered lantern to a lower setting before walking over to the front door, looking through the peephole at the increased number of walkers roaming the street. Morgan and Duane peeked through the blankets covering the front window. “That gunshot earlier must have attracted a bunch of these. They seem to come out more at night...maybe it’s the cool air, I dunno.”

Duane suddenly let out a startled gasp as a woman with disheveled hair, wearing a ratty nightgown, crossed in front of the window. Morgan put a steadying hand on the boy’s shoulder and instructed him to stay quiet. Duane turned and ran toward the mattresses lying on the living room floor, tucked his head into a pillow and started to cry.

Morgan looked sadly at Rick. “I couldn’t take care of her. I knew I should have...finished her off...but I just couldn’t.” He left the window and crossed the room to console his son, trying to keep the boy’s sobs as quiet as possible. Rick continued staring out the peephole, transfixed by the look of recognition in the dead woman’s face. It was as if she remembered living here once, even so far as to try to turn the doorknob to get in.

Rick left his place at the front door and sat in the recliner next to the mattresses where Morgan and Duane were holding each other. The three of them eventually found sleep despite the raspy growls coming from outside.

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Over breakfast the next morning, Rick kept trying to convince Morgan to come with him to Atlanta. Rick knew what would happen if he left these two here by themselves and decided this was one change he needed to make in his future. He also needed to convince Morgan to put down the shambling abomination masquerading as his wife; he had a feeling she was the main reason Morgan couldn’t bring himself to leave.

“Ya gotta do it, man,” Rick explained with a heavy heart. “Her walking around all the time will just drive you mad. That’s not her. Not anymore. Let her go. You don’t want her to be haunting you the rest of your life. I’m sure she wouldn’t want you to spend the rest of your life hiding in this house. Don’t you think she’d want the both of you to keep living?”

“I can’t...I just can’t kill her,” Morgan pleaded.

Rick gave him a hard look, meeting his gaze. “She’s already gone, Morgan. That’s just skin and bones. That’s not her. You need this. You need this closure.” Morgan held his head in his hands and wept softly. Rick placed an arm around his shoulders. “Me and Duane will dig a grave for her, so you can lay her to rest. All you’ve got is your pistol, so you’re gonna need to get kinda close to make sure it counts. I’ll be there with you to keep the other walkers away.” Rick clapped a hand on his shoulder as Morgan fought to control his breathing.

“What about Duane?” Morgan asked.

“He’ll stay inside. He doesn’t need to see his mama die twice,” Rick decided. He stood up then, heading toward the back of the house, calling Duane to join him. He took the shovel from its place by the door and instructed Duane to gather sheets and bring them to the front room then to join him in the back yard.

When Rick had finished digging the shallow grave, he returned to the living room to find Morgan pacing in front of the large window, mentally preparing himself for what was about to happen. There were no more tears on his face, only a look of grim determination. As Rick entered the room, Morgan looked up and nodded at him. Rick stooped to pick up the sheets Duane had collected and handed them to Morgan. He walked back to the kitchen and returned with a large chef’s knife.

“Duane,” Morgan said shakily, “You stay in here, boy. No matter what you hear, you stay right in this room.”

“Yes, daddy,” the boy answered.

Morgan ran his hand over the boy’s head and pulled him in for a hug. “I love you, son.” Then he nodded to Rick. “Let’s get this over with.” The two men went back through the kitchen, out to the back yard, and made their way to the street.

It didn’t take long for the walkers to become aware of their presence. Rick asked Morgan, “Do you see her?”

“She’s around here somewhere. I saw her walk by the house again while you were out digging. She was headed this way.” They started walking down the street in the direction Morgan had indicated. Sure enough, walking on the sidewalk just two houses down was the shell of Morgan’s wife, ambling idly by a flowering bush.

“Come on, man. You got this,” Rick encouraged Morgan before stabbing an oncoming walking through the eye. He pulled the blade free and braced for the next target. Together they walked quickly until Morgan was right behind her. He cocked the hammer and raised the pistol, aiming at the back of her head. Rick could see it was all but killing him to do this, but it was more than necessary. He needed this. “Do it, Morgan. We’re running out of time,” Rick pressed him, taking out more walkers as they came nearer.

She started to slowly turn around. Morgan squeezed his eyes shut and whispered, “I love you, baby. I’m so sorry,” and pulled the trigger.

Together they quickly wrapped her body in the sheets and carried her back to the house, to the back yard, to the grave lying open, waiting for her. Rick made quick work of refilling the grave while Morgan went inside to seek comfort in his son. By the time Rick had finished, Morgan and Duane were walking out the back door, their arms filled with bags of food and supplies. Rick stepped back as the two stood by the fresh grave and paid their silent respects. Morgan shouldered his backpack, signaling it was time to go.

Chapter Text

Co-authored by rckyfrk & Remi Savant

Rick, Morgan, and Duane arrived at the police station. Rick was thankful to have found his work keys on his dresser at home. He led the others to the locker rooms and the showers.

“I guess a cold shower’s better than nothing.” Morgan said motioning for Duane to retrieve some towels from the shelves behind them. “More’n we’ve had in the past couple of weeks.” Morgan turned on the shower, feeling the cold water wash over his hand.

“Give it a minute.” Rick replied. “The station’s got its own independent boiler system.”

They enjoyed the first hot shower any of them had had since the world turned upside-down. Rick particularly savored the hot water coursing over his shoulders and back, knowing that he wouldn’t have this experience ever again. Afterwards, they cleaned out the station’s armory and loaded up one of the squad cars. Rick insisted on bringing extra cans of fuel with them, so he and Morgan went around siphoning the gas out of the other squad cars while Duane went through the rest of the station scrounging for food and supplies.

Once everything had been loaded into the squad car, Rick crawled into the driver’s seat, while Morgan took shot gun and Duane jumped into the back seat. Rick steered the car through the streets of the small town, eventually making his way to the highway that would lead them to Atlanta. While Rick knew there was nothing left but walkers, Morgan was convinced there would be a refugee camp there. He didn’t want to tell him otherwise, knowing Morgan wouldn’t believe him anyway and didn’t want to crush his hope in fear of Morgan refusing to leave the town after all.

Rick also knew that the streets of Atlanta were where he first met Glenn, Andrea, T-Dog, and the rest of the group...including Merle. He realized he’d have to find the group again – they were trapped in that department store, and he was the one to get them out. His first time to Atlanta, he came in on a horse, that had been quickly devoured by a horde of walkers, which sent him scrambling into a tank that had been sitting in the street. While he was trapped in the tank, he had heard Glenn over the CB radio and that’s how he found his way to the rest of the group. Now that things had changed, and he had Morgan and Duane to consider, how was he going to help the group escape from the store?

As they rolled into Atlanta, Rick saw the familiar department store and noticed it had a small group of walkers already crowding around the front door. He slowed the car down, creeping along the street, hoping not to attract too much attention from the moving corpses. Morgan stared out the window, his jaw slack with disbelief at all the undead roaming the streets. Rick grimaced at Morgan’s crestfallen face, having just realized there was no chance of a refugee camp in the city, and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Sorry man,” Rick sympathized.

Suddenly the CB radio came to life. “Hello? Can anyone hear me?” Rick fought a smile as he recognized Glenn’s voice.

He reached down and picked up the handset and pressed the button to talk, “Yes, this is Officer Rick Grimes. Who is this?”

The kid on the other end sounded excited to hear his voice, though Rick knew he’d be happy to hear any voice if it was someone who might be able to help. Glenn’s voice sounded so youthful to his ears. “My name’s Glenn. We’ve got a group trapped in this store and could use a little help getting out. We’ve got geeks at both exits. Can you help us?”

Morgan and Rick looked at each other. “What do ‘ya think?” asked Morgan.

“We can’t just leave them in there,” replied Rick. Does that include Merle? He wondered silently. “Okay, I’m coming in, where can I meet you?” Rick said into the handset.

“You’re getting out of your car? Are you crazy? Alright...see that alleyway to your right?” Glenn responded, “I’ll meet you there.”

Rick turned to Morgan and said, “You take the car and find somewhere safe to hide out. Keep your boy safe. I’ll take one of the walkie-talkies. Keep the other one on and we’ll coordinate once I’ve found out how many there are and how we can get them out.” Grabbing Duane’s bat, Rick hopped out of the car. Morgan scooted over into the driver seat and started heading down the street, driving slowly to avoid making too much noise. Rick smacked several walkers that got in his way as he ran to the entrance of the alleyway. He was met by a young Asian man in a faded red baseball cap. Glenn.

“C’mon, this way,” Glenn hurried Rick over to a metal door, the side entrance to the department store. Once inside, he found himself standing in front of his old friends, just as he remembered them. They made their introductions, and Rick made a show of trying to commit everyone’s name to memory, though in reality they had been committed to memory long ago. They had just finished with their introductions; playing dumb, Rick had asked if they had a camp anywhere near. T-Dog had just started telling him about the camp when they heard the sound of a gun going off. Glenn swore under his breath. “Merle.”

The group raced up the steps in back of the store all the way to the roof, pouring out of the doorway, shouting at the man to stop firing. There was Merle, both hands holding his rifle, aiming at walkers on the street below. As he fired off another round, Rick launched himself across the rooftop, tackling Merle, pinning his arms to his sides.
“What the hell, man?” Merle squawked, his face pressed against the loose gravel on the rooftop. “Who the hell are you?”

“I’m Officer Friendly,” Rick replied, “and you’re disturbing the peace. You wanna tell me what the hell you think you’re doing, firing that weapon, attracting more of those walkers?” The group had followed him over to Merle and was now standing in a half circle around the pair.

Merle stopped struggling against Rick and saw the group gathered around him. “Is this some kind of joke? Where the hell did you dig this guy up?”

Andrea explained, “Merle, this is Rick. He’s a legit cop and he’s gonna try and help us get outta this building. There’s geeks blocking the main entrance, thanks to you firing your stupid gun, so we’re stuck here.”

“Well, shoot, I was just gettin’ in a little target practice,” Merle complained. “You wanna get up off me or you gonna arrest me? I ain’t seen no warrant,” Merle chuckled maliciously.

“That all depends,” Rick answered. “If I let you up, you gonna calm down?” His gut told him to handcuff Merle, but his memory fought his instinct. He remembered from the last time that leaving Merle on the roof had led to Daryl demanding to return in order to find his brother. On that second trip, they had almost lost Glenn to the Vatos group. Rick wanted to avoid returning to Atlanta if at all possible.

Merle replied, his voice sounding resigned, “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Rick backed off him, releasing his arms, and stood up. Merle crawled to his knees and looked at the group around him. “So, new guy comes in and y’all start taking orders, huh? He don’t know us. He ain’t got no right to tell us what to do.”

“Shut up, Merle,” Glenn demanded. Everyone turned toward him, surprise written on all of their faces. Even Rick was surprised at the young man raising his voice and standing up to Merle. “We asked him for help, and here he is, so before you piss him off any more than you already have, just shut up.” Merle clenched his jaws together.

Rick did his best to hide a smirk. “Alright,” he began, “the way I see it, there’s no way we can get out the front door. We ain’t gonna be able to use that side door, either. There’s gotta be a dock for deliveries around back, right? There shouldn’t be too many walkers back there. We should be able to get out that way relatively safely.” He glanced around the group, noticing them all nodding in consent. “I’ve got a guy down in the cop car who can maybe distract at least some of the walkers so some of us can run and get a vehicle.” He peered over the ledge of the building, scanning the street until he saw it. “There, down the road a ways by the construction area, there’s a box truck. Once the walkers have cleared a little, Glenn and I will run down and get it started.”

“Why me?” Glenn asked suspiciously.

“My guy in the squad car will need directions to get to your camp. You go with him and get on your way while I double back here and get everyone in the truck,” Rick explained. The group nodded again. Rick noted that even Merle couldn’t find anything to complain about.

Rick pulled out the walkie talkie and called Morgan, who responded immediately. “Morgan, I need you to come back toward the store and hit the siren a couple times to get the walkers away from the door. I need you to lead them away from the construction site down the street from us. “

Morgan responded, “You want me to get those things to follow me? How the hell am I gonna get out?”

Glenn motioned for the walkie talkie, “Once you get down to Madison, hang a left and circle the block. You’ll come out on Roosevelt, which is just a little ways from the construction site. I’ll be just inside the fence. Move quick though, before any geeks find me.”

The radio went silent for a minute before they heard, “Alright. Tell me when.”

Rick answered, “Give us two minutes to get back downstairs and where we need to be.”

“You got it,” Morgan replied, and the radio was silent again. The group rushed down the stairs, Rick and Glenn heading for the side entrance while the rest of them went toward the loading dock and prepared to open the door at Rick’s signal.

Rick turned to Glenn, “You ready for this?” The young man looked back at him, his eyes full of anxiety, but he nodded his head firmly. Rick grinned...same old Glenn. Just by that, they heard the BWOOP! BWOOP! as the squad car rolled by. Rick peeked out the door and saw the small swarm of walkers start to take off after him. “Let’s go while we can,” Rick ordered, and they sprinted down the alleyway toward the construction site.

Rick took out the few walkers that were straggling behind with Duane’s baseball bat. Glenn had found an axe from the store and followed suit. They scaled the chain link fence surrounding the construction site, dropping to the ground as they crossed over the top. “Keys,” Rick shouted, and they split up looking for a key box. Glenn found it first, grabbed a set, and tossed them to Rick. Rick caught them in mid-air and hurried to the truck while Glenn went to open the fence.

Rick radioed to Morgan, “Are you up to Roosevelt yet? Glenn’s ready at the fence.”

“I see you coming down the street. I’ll be right there to get him,” Morgan answered.

Rick turned on Roosevelt, passing the squad car, and made his way to the back of the department store, quickly backing up to the building, beeping twice on the horn to signal the group inside to open the dock bay door. There was a noticeable gap between the dock and the truck, but they just didn’t have the time to correct it. The metallic door rolled up quickly as Rick hustled to the rear of the truck, opening the rear door from the inside. The group piled in as the swarm of walkers gathered near the loading dock.

Rick took the driver’s seat again and waited for the signal indicating that everyone was aboard. He heard a clatter from behind him over the groans of the moving corpses, followed shortly by a loud scream. He looked over his shoulder to see that Merle had dropped his precious rifle and had reached to retrieve it; as he did, a walker had grabbed his hand instead and tore into the flesh of his arm. Rick swore and yelled, “Get him in! We gotta go!”

He put the truck in drive and slammed on the gas pedal, causing the truck to lurch and jostling the people in back. T-Dog and Morales reached up to close the rear door while Andrea and Jacqui looked over Merle, still howling in pain and cursing up a storm. There were no first aid supplies to help tend his wound. The best they had was his belt to use as a tourniquet, knowing that would only help so much. Morales joined Rick in the front of the truck, directing him where to go to get back to camp. Rick focused on driving, avoiding the many obstacles in the road, trying his best to tune out Merle’s wails of despair.

Chapter Text

Co-authored by Remi Savant and Rckyfrk

It had taken only a few hours before Rick guided the truck into the mountains, the camp looming ahead above his dashboard. Parked closest to the road was the squad car Morgan had been driving. Rick gave a sigh of relief that the three had made it safely here. He swallowed tightly as he drew nearer to the other cars, slowing down considerably and throwing the truck into park. He shut off the engine and leaned his arms on the top of the steering wheel, bringing his head down to rest on them.

Morales jumped out of the cab of the truck, circled to the back, and raised the rolling back door. Andrea and Jacqui jumped down to the ground, followed by T-Dog. Andrea raced to hug her sister, while Jacqui and T-Dog made their way to greet the others at the camp, filling everyone in on how the run had gone. Morales made his way back to the driver’s side of the cab and pulled Ricks’ door open. “Hey, man, you okay?”

Rick looked up, almost startled. “Yeah...yeah, I’m fine,” he stammered.

He was definitely not fine. He was about to see his wife – alive – for the first time in almost a year. He was about to see his old friends, back when they were all still green and new to this crappy world they lived in. He was about to see Daryl, Dale, Carol...and Shane. He had to steel his resolve, forcing himself to remember that this is all new for them, that they didn’t know what he knew now. Hell, he couldn’t even greet them as friends yet – he wasn’t supposed to know their names, their back stories.

He had just stepped out of the cab and shut the door when he was tackled by a rush of two bodies racing toward him, arms wrapping around his neck and waist in warm, loving embraces. He knew immediately it was his wife and son, one back from the dead, one who had returned to his innocent, boyish self. He wrapped his arms around the both of them; all he could say, over and over, was,”Oh my God! Oh my God!”

“It’s you! It’s you, you’re back!” Lori whimpered in his ear; he could feel her tears moistening the collar of his shirt as she cried against him. Her arms tightened around him, almost cutting off his air, keeping him from breathing, let alone speaking. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to speak anyway – the flood of emotions pouring through him was overwhelming. “I thought you were dead...I thought I’d never see you again,” Lori whispered, sniffling as she spoke.

Rick swallowed hard, “It’s okay...it’s okay. I’m here now. I’m here.” He kissed her temple, her cheek, finally finding her lips. Not wanting to make a huge scene as a newcomer to the group, he pulled back slightly. “How did you know it was me?”

“Glenn told us a police officer helped them all escape from the department store. He said you’d identified yourself on the radio. Morgan confirmed it all,” Lori answered. “God, I’m just so glad you’re back.”

“Me too, Lori. Me too.” He guided Lori back a step so he could reach down and pick up Carl, holding him close. He buried his face in the crook of his son’s neck, fighting the tears that were threatening to fall. Even though he knew Carl would survive, seeing him so young, not jaded by the world around him yet; not hardened by the many terrible things he’d have to do in the next few years; knowing how much his boy would change in such a short time had his heart tightening. This time, he hoped, things would be different.

Rick finally raised his head to look Carl in the face. “You been good to your mama?” he asked, his voice thick with emotion.

Carl smiled and nodded, “Uh-huh. I even help Shane without being told.” The boys’ words sent an icy chill down Rick’s back. He looked over the group of people in front of him until his eyes fell on his oldest friend. He fought to unclench his teeth, not realizing his jaws had tightened so much. Rick tried his hardest to relax the muscles starting to knot in his shoulders. The Shane in front of him was not the same Shane from Hershel’s farm – deceptive, maniacal and murderous. This Shane, hopefully, still had his best intentions at heart.

Rick began crossing over toward Shane, who stood there with an indiscernible look on his face. If Rick had listened to his gut instincts, he would have slugged Shane square in the jaw, and may not have stopped. Instead, he reached out and pulled Shane into a brotherly embrace, clapping him on the back. Shane returned the hug and muttered, “Good to have ya back, brother.” Rick quietly chuckled before stepping back and looking around at the group that had gathered.

Lori came up behind Rick and grabbed his hand, lacing her fingers with his. Rick reached back and found Carl, putting a hand on his shoulder as they began to walk toward the group. Lori and Shane led him around the crowd as Rick was re-introduced to his old friends. He again made a show of trying to remember names, keeping up the act of ignorance. He fought back the mixed emotions as he shook hands with Dale, then Carol, silently resolving to change their destinies if he could help it.

Once all the introductions had been made, Dale faced the group that had returned from Atlanta. “Wait a minute...we’re missing someone. What happened to Merle?”

Andrea and Jacqui both turned their eyes to the ground. T-Dog shoved his hands in his pockets, while Morales hung his head and shook it woefully. Seeing everyone’s reactions, Rick reluctantly took a step forward. “Merle didn’t make it.”

“Ah, hell,” Dale began. “What happened?”

T-Dog spoke up, “We were loading into the truck in the back of the store. Merle was getting into the truck, but he dropped his gun. Instead of just letting the damn thing go, he reached out for it and got bit bad on the arm. We didn’t have anything to help him in the truck, so he bled out. He turned on the way up here. We had to put him down before we even made it up the mountain.”

The group fell silent, in shock, in a forced grief. Of all the people on that run, they hadn’t expected Merle to be the one who didn’t come back. Dale shook his head, “We’re gonna have our hands full when Daryl comes back from his hunt.”

Jim volunteered to start digging a grave for Merle. The group decided to leave Merle’s body where it was in the truck until Jim was finished. They went back to their chores and Rick began settling in with the group again. Andrea, Amy and Jacqui began sorting through the supplies that had been brought back from the run and distributing them throughout the camp. Shane led T-Dog and Morales in creating an inventory of the weapons, especially those Rick and Morgan had brought back from the police station. Glenn helped Dale strip the box van down for parts; as luck would have it, most of the parts were interchangeable with Dale’s RV.

As the people in the camp busied themselves with one thing or another, Rick brought Morgan and Duane to Lori’s tent for a personal introduction. Duane and Carl hit it off right away, realizing they both liked most of the same comic books, and wandered off to walk around the camp, followed by Sophia, Carol’s daughter. At the sight of the little girl, Rick felt yet another pang of guilt as the memory of her loss came to him. He made another promise to do all he could to save her, as well, hoping that in saving the girl, he’d be saving Carol from herself as well.

Jim returned from the area the group had designated as the burial grounds for the campsite, his shovel hoisted over his shoulder as he trudged through the undergrowth of the trees surrounding the campsite. He slouched to the ground under the shade of the overhang of the RV, wiping his forehead on his sleeve as he caught his breath. Dale made his way over to him, offering a bottle of water. “You all done already?”

“Yeah,” Jim answered, worn out from exerting so much energy. “Oughta be deep enough. Figured we didn’t really need it six feet deep, right?”

Dale nodded, “I suppose you’re right. Thanks for volunteering. I’m sure Daryl will appreciate it, even if he doesn’t say so.” Jim glanced up at the older man and nodded.

Morgan and Rick started setting up a tarp along the tree line, not far from Rick and Lori’s tent, that would become Morgan and Duane’s sleeping accommodations. “It’s warm enough, but we’ve got blankets and pillows to sleep on in the backseat of the cruiser. I’m most worried about protection from the elements...particularly the elements walking around going bump in the night.”

Rick nodded knowingly. “We’ll rig something up for you. Some kind of noise maker. If it ever starts raining or whatever, you’re welcome to crash in our tent. There’s room for the both of you.”

Morgan smiled widely, “I appreciate that, Rick.” The men started shaking hands as high pitched screams pierced the air. “Where’s Duane?!?” Morgan shouted worriedly.

Rick swiveled his head, looking for the source of the sound, calling out, “Carl!” He heard the screams again, locked in on the source now, and took off running. He heard Morgan behind him, trying to keep pace, but falling behind. Shane and Morales joined in the pursuit, carrying weapons with them. Carol brought up the rear of the group, recognizing Sophia’s voice anywhere.

Rick met up with Carl, Duane, and Sophia as the three children were running away from the edge of the forest. The rest of the group caught up to them as the three children were rambling in a cacophonic unison. “Wewerejustplayingattheedgeofcamp(stayingwerewecouldbeseen)andwesawawalkeroverthere.”

“Go back to camp with Carol,” Rick instructed them. Rick, Morgan, Shane, and Morales carefully moved further into the woods. None of them expected to see a walker eating a dead deer...none of them except Rick. Rick saw the tell-tale crossbow bolts lodged in the poor creature’s hide knowing that Daryl couldn’t be far. The walker looked up at them and, climbing to its feet, started to shamble towards the group.

Shane and Morales aimed their guns at the walker, but Rick held his hands up, stopping them from firing. “Don’t do it. The noise will just attract more.” Morales conceded immediately; Shane scowled momentarily before lowering his weapon.

Glenn arrived with Jim’s shovel just in time to whack the corpse in the face with it. The walker stumbled back a foot, but kept coming. “Go for the kneecaps. Get him on the ground,” suggested Rick. Glenn hit the walker in the kneecaps with the shovel and it went down hard. Shane and Morales had turned their weapons around and using the stock of their rifles began beating on the walker, which wasn’t reacting to the blows at all. “Step on it! Hold it down!” Rick directed, placing a foot between the shoulders of the moving corpse. Morgan and Morales followed suit, finally restraining its movements. Glenn lined the point of his shovel up with the thing’s neck and brought it down repeatedly until he had severed the head from the body. The body stilled beneath their feet as the head rolled a couple feet away.

The men stood and caught their breath. Glenn spoke up, leaning on the handle of his shovel, “That’s the first one that’s come this far up the mountain. Where the hell did it come from?”

“Looks like it was hungry. Probably running out of pe...stuff to eat,” Morgan stopped himself. The men were nodding in agreement when they heard a rustling sound in the bushes behind them. Shane and Morales immediately brought up their guns; Glenn tightened his grip on the shovel. They stood their ground, ready to take on whatever was coming near them.

When Rick saw Daryl, who seemed years younger than he remembered him, walk into the clearing, he had to hold back a laugh, a sigh of relief, any kind of reaction at finding his brother again. He heard Shane mutter next to him, “Oh, Jesus,” followed by Daryl’s aggravated “Son of a bitch.” Rick noticed everyone rolling their eyes, dismissing Daryl as being the wild redneck. If they only knew, he thought.

“That’s my deer,” Daryl moved toward the animal carcass. He sounded almost disappointed, then downright irate as he continued to complain and kick at the headless corpse next to the deer. “Look at it all gnawed on by this filthy...disease-bearing...motherless...poxy bastard!” He sighed, calming himself down, and started plucking the bolts out of what was left of the deer. “I been tracking this deer for miles...gonna drag it back to camp...cook us up some venison.” He looked around at the group, and pointed back to the chewed on parts of the animal, “What do you think? We could cut around this chewed up part right here?”

Shane commented, disgust in his voice, “I would not risk that.”

Daryl replied, “That’s a damn shame. I got some squirrel, about a dozen or so. That’ll have to do.”

Just by that, the walker’s disembodied head came back to life, biting at the air above it. Rick withdrew the knife from the holster on his hip and squatted down next to it. “Guys, ya gotta damage the brain,” he instructed, slamming his knife into the decomposing skull, all the way to the hilt. He stood back up, placed the sole of his boot against the forehead, and extracted his knife with a sickening squelching sound. He wiped the blade off on the back of the walker’s shirt before sheathing it again. He looked at the other men’s faces. He saw a look of pride from Morgan, respect from Glenn, Morales and Daryl, and indignation from Shane.

The group left the two rotting bodies and returned to camp. As Daryl approached the spot he and Merle had claimed as theirs, he started calling for his brother, announcing his presence to the entire group, and that he was planning to make squirrel stew. Shane approached him, “Daryl, slow up a bit. We need to talk to you.”

Daryl turned to face him, “About what?”

“About Merle. There was a...there was a problem in Atlanta.” Shane stopped in front of Daryl and placed his hands on his hips.

Rick noticed all the inhabitants of the camp had stopped what they were doing to watch the drama unfold. He realized just why Daryl was always so guarded, always so defensive around everyone – they treated him like a freak show. Well, that was going to change, too.

Daryl started pacing, “He dead?”

Rick stepped up, “I’m sorry, Daryl. Merle didn’t make it back to camp.”

“Who the hell are you?” Daryl growled. He maintained his defensive stance, but genuine curiosity showed in his eyes.

Rick looked at the ground as he fought back a grin. He brought his head up to look Daryl square in the eye and introduced himself, “I’m Rick Grimes.” He extended his hand out for a handshake.

“Rick Grimes?” Daryl drawled at him, eyeing him up and down, not sure if he could trust the man yet. “You got something you wanna tell me?”

Glenn piped up, “Merle was up on the roof while the rest of us were getting supplies together. He was shooting at walkers out on the street, and it attracted a whole herd around the building. We were trapped inside. I tried the radio, just in case someone was out there who could help. Rick answered. He and Morgan over there got us out.”

Rick lowered his hand. “I brought the box van up to the delivery door in back of the building,” he continued, filling Daryl in on what had happened. “Everyone was loading into the back, there were walkers swarming us. Merle dropped his gun on the platform and reached for it. He got bit...bad. We didn’t have anything with us to help him. He lost too much blood and we lost him. We were heading up the mountain when he turned. T-Dog had to put him down. I’m sorry, Daryl. I truly am.”

“So what, did ya just dump him off on the side of the road?” Daryl questioned angrily, still looking for a fight.

Rick shook his head, “No. He’s still in the back of the truck. Jim dug a grave for him. We were waiting for you for the funeral.”

Daryl took a couple steps back, fighting hard to control his emotions. Not finding an exit or an outlet, he crumpled to the ground, holding his head in his hands. Rick crossed over to him, taking in everyone around the camp watching him. He squatted down in front of Daryl, heard him sobbing softly, and placed a consoling hand on his shoulder. Daryl automatically shrugged off his hand then made to stand up, wiping his eyes with the back of his wrist. “Come on then. Let’s get this over with,” he barked, his voice shaking with emotion, as he stalked over to the truck.

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Merle’s funeral was brief and quiet. Daryl was never one for words, and just stood, staring angrily at the pile of dirt that now covered his brother. Dale had prattled on about how it was important to keep their humanity in this world, and Merle was as human as they come. It didn’t sit right with Rick that no one else could say much for the older Dixon, and his heart was heavy with sympathy for his soon-to-be brother at arms. He knew he couldn’t say much without raising suspicion, but had to at least say something. He cleared his throat. “I didn’t know Merle very well or for very long, but in the short time after I had met him, I knew he was a strong individual, a strong fighter. He was willing to risk life and limb for the things he deemed most important. I know that his absence will definitely be noticed within this group. God speed, Merle.” As he finished, he fought to ignore the looks he was receiving from the group before they all dispersed and returned to camp to prepare for dinner.

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Later that night, after everyone had eaten their fill of squirrel stew, everyone had gathered around the low burning fires of the camp site. Most were engaged in friendly conversation, reminiscing and remembering the things they missed most from their former life. Rick noticed Daryl stayed quiet; he had a scrutinizing look on his face, as if he were trying to solve a puzzle but didn’t have all the pieces.

Rick watched as Shane suddenly got up and crossed to the other side of camp to Carol and Ed’s spot. Glancing around the campfire, he realized everyone’s attention had gone to following Shane, to watch what was about to transpire. No one spoke; it was obvious they were trying to hear the conversation between Shane and the Peletiers. They continued to watch as Carol stood up and dragged a log, half ablaze, from their fire pit. Shane stomped out the flame, stayed and chatted with the small family for a moment before returning to the larger group. Everyone pretended to be nonchalant, feigning ignorance.

Not long after, the group dispersed, turning in for the night. Rick followed Lori and Carl to their tent. He tucked his son in snugly on his small cot, then crossed to his wife. He kissed her softly at first, then more insistent. For her, it had been weeks since they’d been together; for him, it was several months since he’d been able to hold her like this, to show her just how much he really loved her. They loved and comforted each other well into the night, falling asleep in each other’s arms.

Chapter Text

Co-authored by Remi Savant & Rckyfrk

Rick woke to the sounds of voices arguing. He found a pile of clean clothes, apparently set out by Lori, and rushed to put them on. He slid his feet into his boots and hurried out of the tent.

He found Shane facing off against most of the group, yelling something about, “Which one of you took it? Somebody needs to come clean right now!”

Rick approached Shane and laid a calming hand on his shoulder. “Hey, man, just take a breath. What’s going on?”

Shane shrugged his hand off and turned abruptly to face him. “We got a thief in this camp. Someone took off with my side arm, and I want it the hell back!”

“Alright man,” Rick said, nodding in understanding. “We’ll find it, don’t worry, but you yelling at everyone is not making this situation better. You really think that’s a good idea?”

Shane didn’t budge, “I’ve found that with this group, the direct approach is best. You don’t know these people like I do, man.”

Rick nodded again, hiding his smile by ducking his head, and kicked his boot at the soil as. “Let’s walk over here, tell me what happened.”

Shane huffed and began walking toward the tree line bordering their camp site. Rick held up an apologetic hand to the rest of the group, hoping to convey that he’d get to the bottom of this. He sauntered over to Shane, giving him a moment to collect himself and calm down before trying to get anything out of him. “Aright, talk to me.”

Shane kept his head facing the ground but glared at Rick out of the corner of his eye. Rick could tell Shane was still pissed, and was trying not to take it out on his friend. “I had just got off guard duty and ended up having some words with Amy. I went back to my tent to lay down, catch a couple winks. I remember taking my belt of and laying it right next to my sleeping bag. I had just laid down and realized I had to pee. Somehow, in the time I walked out to the woods, took care of business, and came back, my gun was gone.”

Rick frowned slightly, “What kind of words did you have with Amy?”

“She was getting a bunch of fishing gear ready. I was just giving her crap, asking her what she thought she was doing, is she too good to do laundry with the rest of the women, that kinda crap. She got all huffy and puffy, called me this and that, and I gave it right back to her.”

Rick shook his head in mock disproval, “Same old Shane. Even at the end of the world, gotta be a real lady killer, huh?” he added sarcastically. He pondered over what Shane had just told him. “So you think Amy took it? Why not just talk to her about it?”

Shane got more confrontational, rounding on Rick, “You don’t think I thought of that already? I asked her and she denied the whole thing.”

“Well,” Rick kept his calm, “can you think of anyone else who might have taken it? Any other leads? I noticed you having a little chat with Ed last night...what was that all about?”

Shane snorted before answering, “Douchebag chose to ignore the safety rules, so I had to give him a friendly reminder. We all agreed to keep the fires low at night so as not to attract any geeks. Ed decided his comfort was more important than the safety of the camp.”

“Well, from what I saw, you handled it well enough, even though you called him out in front of his family. Is Ed the type of guy to hold a grudge over something like that?” Rick queried.

“Definitely,” Shane nodded vehemently, “Hell, I’m surprised you ain’t seen the bruises on Carol’s arms and neck. Yeah, the guy holds a grudge. Only he takes it out on those weaker than him.”

Rick grimaced at the reminder of what Carol had come from, what she had gone through before escaping her husband. “Sounds like we need to tread carefully then. We don’t wanna accuse him and set him off and cause more harm to...anyone else. Looks like we’ll need some better evidence than just a couple theories.”

Just by that, they jumped at the sound of a twig breaking from somewhere nearby. Shane reached for his absent pistol, and Rick regretted not having grabbed his when he got dressed this morning. Luckily for them, Daryl broke through the tree line, the strap of his crossbow in one hand, and two dead bunnies in the other.

Rick got an idea. “Daryl, can we talk to you?” he called to the redneck, who looked leery of being called over by the two resident cops. He ambled over to them, still keeping his distance, and waited for them to talk. “We need your help.” Shane scoffed, giving both Rick and Daryl a doubtful look. Rick ignored him and pressed on, “Seems someone took Shane’s gun this morning.”

“Wasn’t me,” Daryl automatically spat out, instantly tense and on guard. “Been out getting breakfast since before the sun was up.”

“No one’s looking at you,” Rick quickly tried to smooth the situation. “Shane here seems to think it was either Amy or Ed, but we don’t have any way to prove either one did it. Think you can help us out?” Rick ignored the look of outrage that now crossed Shane’s face.

Daryl looked between the two men skeptically, “What the hell makes you think I can help? Or that I would help?”

Rick had to remember this wasn’t the same Daryl he knew from the last two years at the prison, the Daryl who had become his right hand man. This Daryl rarely trusted anyone, and took a certain amount of finesse to get him to see things a certain way. “You said you’d tracked that deer yesterday for miles before the walker got it. Just thought you could have a look around Shane’s tent and see if you could pick out any footprints or something.”

Daryl looked Rick up and down, sizing him up, looking for any way this could come back to bite him in the ass, then eyed Shane warily before begrudgingly agreeing to help. “Aight, I can take a look. Ain’t promisin’ nothin’ though,” he muttered as he stalked off toward Shane’s tent.

Rick was about to follow Daryl when Shane gripped his shoulder and pulled him back a step. “What the hell you thinkin’, gettin’ that redneck piece o’ trash involved? We can do this ourselves, we don’t need him.” Shane glared menacingly at Rick, every muscle in his body obviously tense; he was like a coiled snake ready to strike.

Rick took a second step back, putting some distance between him and Shane. “I just thought he’d be able to tell us something from the foot traffic. Seems like he knows what he’s doing out in the woods, bringing game back to camp every time he goes out. Just wanna see what he thinks. I don’t think he’s as dumb as he lets on.”

Shane crossed his arms angrily, speaking quickly and quietly, “Oh, so you’re just gonna take his word, huh, just from him looking at some tracks in the dirt left from who knows how long ago? You gonna put more stock in what he finds than what I already know?”

Rick placed his hands on his hips and looked down at the ground between the two of them before looking back at Shane. He certainly hadn’t expected Shane to react this way. “Look, if you go looking and end up finding your gun in someone else’s stuff, they can just say that you planted it, especially if you’ve had words with your two main leads anyway. Daryl’s a third-party, an outside, unbiased opinion. If he finds something, that takes the heat off you. Protocol, man.” Having said his peace, Rick walked past him, catching up to Daryl. He heard Shane pick up the pace behind him, eventually jogging past him to reach his camp.

When Rick arrived at Shane’s tent, Daryl was already crouched on the ground, studying the area surrounding the entrance to Shane’s tent. He glanced at Shane’s boots, then returned to his examination. “I can’t tell who it was, but it was someone with small shoes,” he explained as his got back to his feet.

“I knew it!” Shane exclaimed angrily. “That bitch Amy. Mouthin’ off to me and then taking my gun.”

Rick was about to retort when Daryl rebutted, “Naw...smaller feet than hers. Yer lookin’ for a kid.”

Rick held back his unspoken comment and regarded Daryl’s answer. A kid? “Do ya think you could follow the tracks? Don’t wanna go asking all the parents in camp to search through their stuff. If we catch whoever it is red-handed...” he trailed off, letting the other two men put the pieces together.

Daryl chewed his lip and shrugged noncommittally, “Sure. Ain’t like I got nothin’ better to do.” He began following the trail with apparent ease, the other two men in tow. He led them back into the woods, not far from where they had just been standing.

Rick commented, “You seem to be following this trail pretty easily. How can you find ‘em if they’re such small prints?” He ignored Shane rolling his eyes next to him.

Daryl paused to look back at them, “Cause there’s three sets of prints.”

“Three? Thought you said we’re looking for a kid. Singular,” Shane said accusingly.

Daryl regarded him as if he were an idiot. “Well, yeah. It don’t take three to steal a gun. One kid took it; the other two are just along for the ride.” Rick held back a chuckle as Daryl turned back to following the tracks and Shane glowered at his back.

They made their way into a clearing; Rick felt his heart drop as his fears were confirmed. Sitting on a log on the opposite side of the clearing were Sophia, Duane...and Carl. He sighed heavily before turning to Daryl. “Thanks for your help, Daryl. I owe ya one.” Daryl nodded and turned to leave.

“Ya know, ain’t none a my business,” Daryl said, half turning to talk over his shoulder, “I did a lot of dumb stuff as a kid, mostly cause o’ Merle egging me on. Just sayin’” He walked nearly silently through the woods and back to camp.

Shane almost audibly rolled his eyes. Rick ignored his silent comment for the second time and crossed the clearing to stand behind the trio. “Whatcha got there?”

The three children jumped at his voice; Carl dropped the gun to the forest floor. In immediate hindsight, Rick realized it was a stupid idea to sneak up on a kid holding a loaded weapon; they were all lucky the gun hadn’t gone off, getting someone accidentally shot. “Carl, I think we need to talk.” Rick stepped over the fallen tree and retrieved Shane’s gun.

“Talk?!” Shane jumped in. “Boy, what you think you were doin’, goin’ through my...”

Rick cut him off, “Shane, why don’t you take Sophia and Duane back to camp? I got this.” Rick handed the side arm back to its owner.

Shane glared at him, speaking softly, his voice full of anger, “Are you kidding me with this right now?”

Rick met his stare, speaking more deliberately, “I got this. I’ll talk to my son, you get these two back to camp.”

Shane rubbed his hand along the back of his head in frustration and turned his head back and forth as if he were looking for something, and becoming upset when he didn’t find it. He finally stalked off, back across the clearing. Rick jerked his head at the other two children, gesturing for them to follow him. They both stood up, looking guiltily at each other, at Rick, and at Carl, who was still sitting with his head hanging low. They raced off to follow Shane, leaving father and son to talk in privacy.

Before Rick could say anything, Carl blurted out, “I’m sorry, dad. Shane told me he’d show me how to shoot...he promised me before you came back. I told Duane and Sophia about it, and they didn’t believe me. I was just showing them the gun I’d be using.”

“Carl, a gun isn’t a toy. It’s not something for show and tell. It’s very dangerous. You, Duane, Sophia. You all could have gotten seriously hurt. I don’t ever want to catch you sneaking into someone’s stuff ever again, and I certainly don’t want you handling a gun unless an adult is around. You hear me?” Rick tried to keep the anger out of his voice, keeping Daryl’s subtle advice in the back of his mind.

“Yes, sir,” Carl mumbled sullenly.

Rick looked out into the woods surrounding them for a long moment, letting the silence sink into both of them. His voice was a little softer now, “Look, I’m sure your mom knows about all this by now...and she’s gonna be pretty upset with ya for a while. I’ll tell her I handled everything so she won’t get on ya too bad. Once this blows over, me, you, Morgan and Duane will go hunting or something, alright?”

Carl perked up and smiled at his father, “Really?”

Rick grinned, “Sure. Don’t get too excited though. You’re still in trouble.”

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When Rick returned to camp with Carl, Dale approached him directly. “I think we might have a little problem with Jim,” he spoke conspiratorily.

Rick pinched the bridge of his nose. It starts... he thought. “What happened with Jim?”

“He’s been digging.”

“Digging?”

“All day. Won’t say why. We couldn’t get him to stop.”

Rick sighed heavily, “I’ll handle it.”

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Later that afternoon, Andrea and Amy returned with dozens of freshly caught fish. Rick didn’t miss the look of “I told you so” that Amy sent Shane’s way. Everyone in camp began gathering for dinner, the roasted fish a welcome treat. Ed noisily came out of his tent, Carol close behind, her head hung low as if trying to hide her face. When Dale greeted them as they approached the fire, Rick saw a fresh bruise cresting her cheek. Anger flared in him, followed by remorse, hoping against his better judgment that this didn’t have anything to do with Sophia sneaking off with the boys this morning.

The group settled in to start eating. “No offense,” Glenn spoke up, “but this sure does beat roast squirrel,” he joked, earning him a chuckle from the group.

“Aight,” Daryl sniped back, “you can go an’ do yer own huntin’ then.”

Glenn looked at him anxiously, “I was just joking! I didn’t mean anything by it.”

Daryl grunted, “Whatever,” and returned to his dinner. Rick swore he saw the corner of his mouth curl up in a grin when he thought no one was looking.

The group chatted happily as they ate. Dale asked for everyone’s attention, “I think we’ve got a big decision to make here. That...thing...that you all dealt with yesterday. The one that ate Daryl’s deer. What are we going to do about it?”

“What do you mean, ‘what are we gonna do about it?’” Daryl replied. “Damn thing’s dead.”

Dale nodded, “Yes, I realize that. I just mean, that was just one.”

“Yeah, so?” Shane challenged.

“So maybe that’s just the beginning.” Dale looked around the campfire, “Maybe Morgan’s right, that there’s no more for them to eat in the city so they’re coming out here. Do we want to find somewhere else, some place safer, easier to defend, or do we stay here and hope that it was an isolated incident?”

The group fell silent as they weighed their options. Shane broke the silence, “We stay here. It’s not even up for discussion. The government’s gotta have a plan in place, and soon they’ll come looking for survivors. We wanna stay as close to the city as possible so they’ll find us quicker.” Several heads around the fire nodded in assent.

“I dunno,” Rick interjected, “Dale might have a point. Maybe we should consider looking for somewhere safer than sitting out here in the open. The walkers are moving, we’re stationary here, all but sitting ducks.”

“Yeah, sitting ducks with guns,” Shane argued. “We can defend ourselves here.”

“Gun fire...noise...would just attract more, bring ‘em right to us,” T-Dog reasoned. “I’m with Rick and Dale. We need to head out.”

“We know what’s here, we don’t know what’s out there,” Jim disputed. “I’d rather go with the safety we have here rather than uncertainty of what’s out there.”

Amy spoke up, “I hate to agree with Shane, but I think he’s right this time. If there’s even a chance of help coming, we should probably stay put and try and hold out until they arrive.”

Rick leaned further in toward the center of the group, “Guys, I hate to break it to you, but help isn’t on the way. Ask anyone who was on that last Atlanta run. The city’s completely over run.”

“So it’s taking longer for everything to get organized than we hoped,” argued Shane.

Rick fixed him with a pointed stare. “You of all people should know, if there was any plans in place for a catastrophe of this size, we’d have known something about it. There’s nothing. No radio chatter, no military troops running patrol. There is no organized effort to search for survivors, or we’d be part of that search party.”

The group fell into an uncomfortable silence. Ed hoisted himself up and started walking toward the tree line. “Well, I’m gonna go take a piss. You all can argue til yer blue in the face, do whatever you want. I’m staying here. Ain’t no one gonna convince me otherwise.”

Everyone remained seated, contemplating everything that had been said so far.

Ed’s scream cut through the silence. Shane and Rick both drew their side arms and ran toward the source of the sound. They found Ed laying on the ground with a gaping neck wound, his eyes wide with panic. The walker that had taken him down was now ripping his throat out, silencing his screams. A second walker emerged from the forest to join in the feast. Shane shot each walker right between the eyes.

A round of screams erupted from behind them; they rushed back to the campfire. A swarm of walkers had wandered out of the woods and descended upon the camp. The members of the camp scrambled in chaos, some fleeing for safety, others fighting for survival. Morales and his wife gathered their children and headed toward their SUV; Lori, Carol and Morgan had encircled their children, fending off the oncoming walkers. Glen and Daryl were fighting valiantly, Glen wielding a baseball bat, Daryl a pair of knives. Jim was running toward the inventory of guns, grabbing as many as he could hold to distribute among the group.

Rick and Shane opened fire, taking out walkers, one after another. More gunshots rang out through the air as Jim made his way through the group. The walker attack seemed to end as abruptly as it began. The night air hung around them in a heavy silence, broken only by the mournful cries of those who had lost loved ones.

Rick turned to Shane, holstering his weapon. “Still think it’s safe here?” he bit out before going to check on his family.

Despite the fact that several volunteers took turns standing guard, no one slept easy that night.

Chapter Text

The camp came to life as the sun broke the horizon. Everyone gathered at the hilltop where Jim had been digging the day before. The men were voluntary pall-bearers, carrying the bodies of Ed, Amy and Jacqui to their graves. The remaining group paid their respects, said a few words about the ones they had lost, and sadly, slowly, returned to the camp.
Most everyone had spent the night making their decisions about where to go from here. In light of the walker attack, it was basically unanimous that the campsite was no longer a safe place to stay. Everyone began packing up their belongings and loading up the vehicles.

Morgan and Duane didn’t have much to pack anyway, and Daryl basically lived out of his truck, so Rick asked them to follow him to the police cruiser to look over a map of the area. They discussed the best course of action for the group; in the back of Rick’s mind, he wanted to direct them toward Hershel’s farm, knowing how good of a friend and mentor the older man had become to him, and realizing that the Greene family would not be safe on their own for much longer. “I figure we’re close to Fayetteville now, or just outside of it.”

Morgan insisted, “We’re not going north. We’d run straight into Atlanta, and we know there’s no way we could all get through there.”

Rick agreed and pointed out, “We probably shouldn’t go directly east or west either. We’re still awfully close to the city, still in the suburbs. I think we need to go south, get further away from the city.”

“We head far enough south,” Daryl suggested, “then head east, we end up hitting Piedmont.”

“The wildlife preserve?” Rick questioned. It wasn’t a bad idea. There was a big campground, the visitor’s center, plenty of game to hunt. It wasn’t what Rick had in mind, but he couldn’t argue against it.

Daryl shrugged, “Just thought...”

Rick cut him off, “No, no, it’s a good idea. Alright. We head down to...”

“Senoia,” Morgan proposed, pointing to the town on the map. “It’s right on the highway, far enough away from any other big cities to be much of a danger, but it’s big enough to likely have supplies. Then we catch 16 to head east to Piedmont Reserve.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Rick said as he began to fold up the map. As he looked over the hood of the car, he saw Shane walking toward them.

“What sounds like a plan?” Shane queried. Rick could tell he already had his guard up, almost looking for a confrontation by the looks of it.

Rick continued folding the map, “We’re just plotting out the best route to find somewhere safer.”

Shane looked at the three of them accusingly. “Y’all didn’t think to include me in this meeting of the minds?” he said with disdain.

Rick was about to answer when Daryl cut in. “We saw you were busy packing. Didn’t wanna slow ya down,” he said with a shrug. Shane glared at him menacingly; Rick thought he caught a hint of a grin on Daryl’s face when Shane stalked away.

The three remaining men walked back toward the camp, helping where they could to get everyone ready to leave. Daryl and Morgan volunteered to tell the rest of the group their travel plans. Rick returned to his family’s tent to finish packing the last of their belongings. Morgan, Duane, Carl and Rick took armfuls and headed to the van to arrange everything in the trunk. Once everything was neatly packed, Rick met up with Lori, who was in the middle of a conversation with Morales and his wife.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?” Lori asked. “There’s safety in numbers. Your kids...”

Morales put his arm around his wife’s shoulders, “Yeah, we’re sure. We’ve got family in Alabama. Hopefully we can find them.”

Rick offered a handshake while Lori hugged Miranda goodbye. They were wishing each other luck when Shane approached Morales’ SUV. Rick gave him a confused look, “You leaving us?”

Shane dropped his duffle bag into the trunk of Morales’ car, “Yeah, it appears that way.” Morales, not wanting to be caught in the middle of the confrontation, returned to packing his family into the car.

Rick searched his friend’s face for a clue, not finding anything. “Why?” he demanded.

“Who you kiddin’? Seems we don’t exactly see eye to eye on things anymore.” He glanced over Rick’s shoulder at Lori and continued, “Don’t think I can stay with y’all.” Rick noticed Shane’s look at his wife, but chose to ignore it, not wanting to open that can of worms with so many people around. Shane added, “’Sides, you got your two deputies,” he gestured at Daryl and Morgan, “What do you need me for?”

Rick glowered at Shane, searching his own mind for a good answer to keep Shane with the bigger group. He remembered what happened last time when Shane had stayed with the group; he reflected on Shane’s irrational behavior, problems he had caused, the building tension between the two of them – not to mention the question of what all had happened between him and Lori. He found he was unable to answer Shane’s question.

A long moment had passed before Shane scoffed and shook his head, “Well, I guess that settles it then.” He nodded goodbye to Rick and Lori and helped Morales finish loading the car.

Rick stared a moment after him, then met Lori’s gaze before heading back to the van.

Suddenly Rick heard a commotion coming from Dale’s RV. He rushed over and asked, “What’s going on?”

T-Dog announced, “Jim’s been bit!”

The group was now circled around Jim, who was holding his hand to his side. “I’m fine,” he insisted, “just tired.”

Rick sighed heavily. “What do we do?” he asked the group at large.

Dale automatically replied, “Well, we can’t just leave him here. That’d just be downright cruel.”

“It’s too late,” Morgan said softly. “He’s a goner anyway.”

“You can’t know that,” Dale argued, “There could still be hope.”

“Tell that to my wife,” Morgan mumbled.

Carol stepped up, “Dale is right though: we can’t just leave him. I’ll stay with him, keep an eye on him in the RV.”

“Guess it’s been decided. Everyone packed up?” Rick asked. The group around him nodded their assent. “Let’s head out, then.” He climbed into the driver’s seat of the van and heard the other engines turn over before starting his vehicle.

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The convoy of vehicles drove as far as they could with the remaining daylight. They didn’t dare try to drive once it got dark, wanting to avoid using headlights and attract unwanted attention from walkers. When they woke the next morning, Jim’s fever was threatening to finally overtake him. Carol went back to check on him, trying her best to make him feel comfortable. Dale started the RV and let it idle so the air conditioning could circulate and help cool Jim down. Rick followed her to the back of the RV; Jim asked Carol to step outside so he could talk to Rick privately.

“I’m not gonna make it. I can feel it happening. You need to leave me behind,” Jim pleaded.

Rick shook his head, “The group decided to keep you with us. We’re not going to just leave you to die.”

“I’m not gonna hang around to die and take someone else out. I’m okay with this. Just let me go,” Jim argued.

Rick knew this was coming, but was hoping to avoid reliving this outcome. “Alright,” he conceded, “I’ll get someone to help me get you outta here.” He turned to leave, hanging his head in defeat. Over his shoulder, he mumbled, “I’m sorry this happened to you,” then exited the RV.

Moments later, Glenn and T-Dog came into the back with Jim and gently hoisted him up, supporting his weight on their shoulders. Rick met them just outside the door to the RV and led them to a large sycamore tree off the side of the road. “You sure about this?” T-Dog asked.

Jim nodded weakly, “I won’t be a burden on you guys anymore, and I couldn’t stand to bring any danger to the group. This is how it needs to be.”

The rest of the group had followed them over, each saying a reluctant goodbye to their friend.

Everyone returned to their respective vehicles, and continued down the road. They had barely moved twenty feet when the RV started making a horrible whining screech, steam billowing out from underneath the hood. “Ah, hell!” Dale yelled in frustration, shutting off his engine and heading out to inspect the damage. The rest of the group stopped as well; Rick, Daryl and Glenn joined Dale at the front of the RV. “Looks like the radiator...smells like it too. We gotta wait for the steam to clear out before I can really get a good look. Hopefully it’s just a busted hose.”

The men stood around, waiting for the cloud of steam to dissipate. Morgan tapped Rick on the shoulder and nodded toward Jim. “What do we do with him? It’s only a matter of time at this point. If we’re stuck here for a while, someone’s gonna have to make a tough decision.”

Rick sighed heavily, “I’ll go check on him.” He strode back to Jim and could see the man was just barely alive.

“What happened? Busted hose?”

Rick nodded, not taking his eyes off the dirt on his boots.

“Rick,” Jim started, waiting for him to make eye contact. “You gotta do it, man. If you guys are stuck, I don’t want to be a threat to the rest of you. Just do it. I’m ready.”

Rick drew his Colt Python out of its holster, not able to aim just yet. Even after all he’d been through, in the previous life and in this one, killing a human being was never easy. He steeled himself and slowly raised the pistol. “I’m sorry,” he said remorsefully. Jim simply nodded and closed his eyes. Rick aimed and pulled the trigger.

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When Rick returned, he was met by the entire group, staring silently at him. All he could do was shake his head sadly and walk past them, returning to the van, seeking solitude to collect his thoughts.

After a few long moments, Rick returned to the RV to find Glenn working with a screwdriver under the hood. Dale was perched on the roof of the RV, keeping watch along the stretch of highway. “So what’s the problem?” Rick asked.

“Damn radiator hose, like I figured,” Dale called down from above. “Should have us ready to go in an hour or so. All depends on how fast Glenn can work.”

“We’d be going a lot sooner if Dale would do it,” Glenn muttered under his breath, “but he thinks I need to learn something.” Rick chuckled a little and clapped Glenn on the shoulder.

He looked up as Lori approached. “What do we do while we’re waiting? I hate just sitting, not doing anything.”

Rick glanced up and down the road, seeming to notice the cars lining the highway for the first time. “These cars look fully loaded. We can spread out a little and get supplies, look for food, siphon fuel. It shouldn’t take long to get going again, but at least we can get something done.”

“Not sure how I feel going through all these cars. People died here...this is a graveyard,” Lori whispered.

Rick turned to face her directly, “I know, but those people are gone...we’re still here. We need what they had.” Lori nodded resignedly and returned to the group to relay the message.

Rick saw Daryl and T-Dog head out first with a hose and a couple gas cans, going furthest out and working their way back in. Andrea, Morgan and Duane took off next, Carol, Lori, Carl and Sophia staying nearer to the RV. Rick ran patrol, helping Dale keep watch along the road. Glenn had just started to remove the old hose when Rick heard Dale whistle softly.

Rick’s eyes shot upward and saw Dale pointing down the highway behind them. He ran to the van and pulled out a long-range rifle with a scope and scanned the area Dale had indicated. There was a lone walker, easy enough to take out without much further incident. His finger had just found the trigger of the rifle when a second walker came into view...then a third. With growing horror, Rick realized a herd was coming through. What the hell was I thinking firing that gun? Rick chastised himself. Visions flashed through his mind of the last time he found himself on this same situation, like a horrifying déjà vu.

He rushed forward, acting on instinct. In a hushed voice, he instructed the group ahead of him to hide under the cars. Rick grabbed Glenn, oblivious to the impending threat, and shoved him into the RV and slammed the door shut. He found the car Sophia was hiding under, and slid below the car next to her. He was bound and determined not to lose her this time. On his other side was Carol and Lori; ahead of him he could see the bottom of Carl’s boots.

Not more than a minute had passed before he heard the moans of the herd approaching. A moment later, the first sets of shambling feet passed by. He alternated between making eye contact with Sophia then Lori and Carol, trying to reassure them that they would be fine and to remain calm, all without speaking.

It took several minutes for the herd to finally pass, but it felt like a short eternity. Rick began to worry when saw a restless look in Sophia’s eyes. While the bulk of the herd had passed, there was no way to know just how safe the road was yet. Rick was waiting for a signal from Dale to make sure the coast was clear and there were no stragglers making their way through the impromptu parking lot. He looked ahead to make sure Carl was still safe, to his left to reestablish eye contact with Lori and Carol. By the time he looked back over at Sophia, she had started to crawl from beneath the car. Rick felt helpless, knowing it wasn’t safe to make any sound yet, and so couldn’t call out to tell her to stay put. He tried waving his arm, staying hidden under the body of the car, but Sophia was already focused on escaping.

A chill ran through his body as he heard a throaty growl from behind him. She’d been spotted. He heard her shriek in terror as she scrambled from beneath her car and hopping over the guardrail, fled into the woods.

Chapter Text

Co-Authored by Remi Savant & Rckyfrk

Rick crawled out from beneath the car and got to his feet. His instinct was to yell for Sophia to stop running, but he changed his mind when he saw two walkers chasing after her into the woods. Dammit, he thought to himself. He really thought he’d be able to protect her, to save her this time, and so far he had failed.

He found himself frozen in place, in some combination of shock and self-defeat. He sensed motion beside him and heard Carol’s whimper as she drew nearer to where he was standing near the guard rail. Carol looked as if she were about to call out to her daughter, forgetting about the herd of walkers that was still within earshot. Rick saw Lori come up from behind and place a hand over Carol’s mouth, preventing her from making any sound. His wife did her best to quiet Carol, whispering words Rick couldn’t make out. He scanned over the area where his group was still hiding; he knew Daryl and T-Dog were furthest away, but hadn’t seen them reappear from wherever they were hiding yet.

Realizing that he was the closest in the group to where she had disappeared, Rick scrambled over the guard rail and followed Sophia’s trail down the slope and into the woods. He heard a scuffle behind him, turned and saw Carol struggling out of Lori’s grasp. Rick silently held up an outstretched hand toward her, commanding without words for both women to stay where they were.

Rick turned back to the woods, moving at a hurried pace. The walkers following Sophia were moving along at a good clip, which surprised him. He realized these must be fresher bodies and had more agility, making his job of catching up to them harder. Eventually he gained enough ground and caught up to the first walker. Rick reached for his pistol, but before he drew, he caught himself, realizing it would make too much noise and could attract the herd to come back toward the group, as well as bring out more walkers to possibly swarm around himself and Sophia. He would have to find an alternative weapon.

Rick directed his focus to the forest floor and searched his surroundings, finally finding a fallen branch. The green leaves still attached to the branch indicted that the wood had not had a chance to deteriorate, making it a worthy weapon. Rick hefted the limb, stalked up closer behind the walker then gave a loud whistle. Predictably, the walker turned, stumbling as it changed direction, and started stalking toward Rick. He tightened his grip on his makeshift bat and swung directly at the walker’s head. The blow only managed to knock the corpse down to the ground; Rick stood over it and began viciously pummeling its head, sending bits of gray, black and red matter to splatter over his pants; the creature had just stopped moving as the branch broke off in its skull.

A feeling of satisfaction gave way to a sudden sense of dread. Almost too late, Rick heard the second walker approaching from behind him. Finding himself weaponless, Rick turned, racking his brain for his next move. Once he was facing the walker full on, he saw a bolt appeared firmly imbedded in its forehead, causing it to slump to the ground.
Rick turned in the opposite direction and saw Daryl, his crossbow still aimed at the space just above Rick’s head. They nodded at each other; Rick dropped the remaining piece of wood onto the walker’s already caved in skull. “I think ya got it there, Hoss,” the redneck quipped with a smirk. Rick chuckled as he worked to catch his breath. Daryl walked over to pull his bolt out of the second walker’s head. Wiping it off on the walker’s shirt, he asked, “Which way’d she go?”

Once he had control of his breath, Rick pointed and said, “The walkers were chasing her this way, so I assume that’s where she went. I lost sight of her once she crossed the tree line.”

“Aight,” Daryl replied, “let’s go.” Rick followed Daryl as he picked up Sophia’s trail. They had been following her tracks for quite a distance when Daryl stopped suddenly and lowered himself to a squat to examine the tracks closely. “Huh,” he began, “She’s been going this way, almost in a straight line, this whole time. She got here and just...took off that way,” he pointed to his left.

“Why would she do that?” Rick asked. “More walkers?”

“Naw, there’s no other tracks,” Daryl countered. “Somethin’ spooked her...or caught her attention. Only one way to find out,” he explained, then stood back up and followed Sophia’s new course.

The footprints led them to the bank to a babbling brook. Daryl lowered his crossbow, almost in defeat. “Damn. There goes the trail,” he grumbled, scanning the opposite bank.
Rick met up with him to stand on the bank. “What’s wrong? Didn’t she just go straight across?”

Daryl shook his head, “Don’t see nothin’ over there. She must have followed the stream.” They waded into the cool, shin-deep water, scanning both sides of the stream for any type of clue as to where the girl had gone. “She had company...looks like another walker,” Daryl pointed to the right at a set of obviously sloppy tracks. “Still doesn’t tell us which way she went, though. I hate to say it, but this ain’t lookin’ good.”

Rick faced Daryl and asked, “Well, we could keep looking ourselves, or head back, get reinforcements, and split the group to set up a more organized search. What would you do?”

Daryl rubbed the back of his neck, looking deep in thought. He shrugged, “We’d get more ground covered with more people. Plus more protection against any walkers roaming around.”

“Guess that settles it,” Rick sighed, moving to head back up the bank to return to the highway. Once he reached the top, he realized he had no idea how to find their trail again. He turned to Daryl sheepishly, “Uh...wanna point me in the right direction?” Daryl shook his head and laughed, mumbling something about city boys and something about a hole in the ground. Rick smiled as he followed his friend back to the RV.

Once they returned to the group, Carol rushed up to them, demanding answers, not giving them time to respond in between her line of questions. Rick placed his hands on her shoulders, trying to calm her down before he spoke. “We followed her trail as far as we could. She ran into a stream and there’s no way we can track her through the water. There’s still plenty of daylight left; I’d like to take a group down to where we lost track of her and start looking from there.” Everyone instantly volunteered to help. Rick began to delegate. “Dale, you stay here and finish up with the RV. Carol, Lori, you two stay here too.”

Carol pulled away and balked at this, “You can’t expect me to just sit and wait when my little girl is lost in the woods!”

Lori placed a calming hand on her shoulder, already reading her husband’s mind. “If you’re out there looking for her, what if the other group finds her first? Then they have to go and find you. What if she makes her way back here on her own? If you stay here, you’ll be the first one she sees.” Carol clenched her jaw and reluctantly shook her head in agreement.

Rick nodded, “Alright, I’ll take Morgan, Duane and Carl; Daryl, you take Andrea, T-Dog and Glenn. We’ll split off at the spot where we lost her trail. I figure we’ve got a good couple hours of daylight left before we need to head back here.” Daryl and Rick lead the teams back into the woods, winding their way to the stream and splitting off.

Morgan, Duane, Carl and Rick walked along both sides of the stream. They’d been moving upstream for a good hour, maybe two, when Morgan pointed out a set of staggering footprints and called for Rick and Carl to join him. Neither of the men was very experienced in tracking they couldn’t tell if the footprints were coming or going, nor could they tell if it was a scared and tired little girl or a walker slipping up the bank. Both men were bent low, examining the prints as well as they could, standing and debating whether they should run to get Daryl’s expert opinion, when Morgan questioned worriedly, “Where’s Duane?”

Rick looked around the area, “Where’s Carl?”

Both men quickly searched the immediate area and found both boys standing just outside of a clearing in the woods. In the middle of the clearing was a 12-point buck, grazing contentedly. The boys were taking cautious steps toward the deer, trying to get a better look. Rick knew not to shout to get their attention, and started moving quickly to catch up to them. Rushing toward them, that horrible sense of déjà vu again gripped his mind.

A gunshot pierced the silence of the formerly peaceful clearing. The deer bounded out of sight. Rick’s heart leapt into his throat.

“NO!”

Chapter Text

Co-authored by Remi Savant & Rckyfrk

Both Rick and Morgan ran to the boy who had fallen to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Morgan dropped to his knees beside his son and watch in horror as a red stain started to spread across his chest.

Rick was momentarily stunned, looking back and forth between Carl and Duane. He searched his dream-like memory and realized this is not where Carl had been shot – it wasn’t even when Carl had been shot. Everything about the scenario was different except for the deer, and even that part had changed. Apparently in this new reality, some events were bound to happen, no matter what he did to try to prevent them or how circumstances changed around him. Some things were just inevitable, even if some of the details changed along the way. Rick broke out of his temporary state of shock and moved to kneel opposite Morgan, pressing both hands to the boy’s chest, applying pressure to the wound to help staunch the blood flow.

Morgan wept in front of him, “Oh my God! No...not my boy! Duane! Please don’t leave me!”

Carl and Rick simultaneously turned to face the sound of someone or something approaching through the underbrush. A sense of dread washed over Rick. Not a walker...not now, he thought.

To his relief, instead of a walker, Rick saw a heavy set man burst into the clearing, clutching a rifle and gasping for breath. “Oh my god! I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you! I didn’t see him!” Rick recognized the man as Otis, the man who had shot Carl the last time around. He couldn’t greet the man who had sacrificed his life to save his son, so instead held back his smile and focused on doing what he could to help Duane.

Morgan turned on the man sharply, screaming, “YOU KILLED MY SON!” as he pulled his gun on the man and cocked the hammer.

Attempting to diffuse the situation and maintain a calm demeanor, Rick stated, “He’s still alive, Morgan. His pulse is weak, but it’s there.”

Morgan slowly released the hammer on his pistol and let the weapon drop back to his side before turning and rushing back to his son.

The larger man took a step toward them, and offered, “There’s a farm house not far from here. I can take you there.” Morgan picked Duane up and held him close to his chest; Rick placed his arm around Carl’s shoulder and started to follow Otis back through the forest. It was obvious if they continued to follow Otis, they would not likely make it to the farm house in time to save Duane; Otis seemed to realize this too. “You might have to run for it if you want to save the boy. Head through the trees, then go straight to the lone oak tree. Once you get there, you’ll see the big white farm house. Ask for Hershel; he can fix your boy up. Tell ‘em Otis sent you.”

Rick turned to face Morgan and reached for the frail boy lying limply in his father’s arms. Morgan pulled Duane closer to his chest, a look of fear and apprehension on his face. Rick tried to alleviate his obvious panic, “Morgan, we both know I’m the faster runner. If you want your boy to have a chance, you need to trust me. You follow with Otis and Carl, I’ll run up ahead and get him the help he needs.”

Morgan’s eyes searched Rick’s face, as if he were looking for any alternative to giving up the hold on his boy, and found none. He kissed his son’s forehead and reluctantly and quite literally placed Duane’s life in Rick’s hands. Rick nodded solemnly then turned and dashed in the opposite direction, toward the not-too-distant edge of the forest. Once he broke through the tree line, he scanned the horizon and quickly found the oak tree Otis had described and changed course to run toward it. He paused momentarily in the shade of the large tree when he reached it, catching his breath before running the last leg of the race against time.

As he approached the fence surrounding the familiar large front yard, he heard a young woman’s voice yell out, “Dad!” and saw a tall brunette with short hair move toward the screen door. The screen door flew open and an older man wearing tell-tale suspenders stepped onto the porch; Rick instantly recognized the younger version of his friend and mentor, Hershel Greene. Following him out of the house came Beth and Patricia, the blondes flanking either side of the older man.

Rick let out a soft, relieved laugh, coming out as a pant, as he neared the group standing on the porch. “Hershel?” he asked.

The white haired man nodded, his calculating eyes taking in the unlikely pair. “Was he bit?”

Rick shook his head, still panting and gasping for breath. “Shot. By your man.”

“Otis?!” Patricia stepped forward, a panicked look in her eyes.

Hershel gestured for Rick to follow him inside, Beth holding the door open for everyone to enter the house. Hershel guided Rick to the front bedroom, stripping the bed of everything but the fitted sheet and instructed him to lay the boy on the mattress. He then started issuing instructions to his family, “Patricia, I need my full kit. Maggie, painkillers, coagulates. Grab everything. Clean towels, sheets, alcohol. In here.” He looked at Rick, “What’s your name?”

“I’m Rick. Rick Grimes. This is my friend’s son, Duane. Can you help him?”

“We’re gonna try our best. Here, Rick, grab that pillow case, fold it into a pad, put pressure on the wound.” He pressed the chestpiece of his stethoscope to the boy’s chest and listened intently. “I’ve got a heartbeat. It’s faint.”

Patricia re-entered the room and gently pulled on Rick’s shoulder, “I’ve got it, step back.” Rick immediately moved out of her way, knowing the boy was in good hands now. He walked out to the porch, awaiting Morgan’s arrival.

As he sat down on the front steps, still panting to catch his breath, he saw Morgan, obviously tired but refusing to surrender to his fatigue. Rick stood to meet Morgan at the bottom of the steps. He held both hands out to stop Morgan, wordlessly placing his hands on the man’s shoulders. When Morgan began to fight him, trying to get past him, Rick calmly explained, “Morgan, look at me.” He waited until he held Morgan’s frantic gaze. “Breathe. Calm down. Duane’s still alive; Hershel and his family are working on him now, fixing him up. He’s in good hands.”

“How can you know that?” Morgan snapped.

Rick stared intently at him, “I just know.”

After Morgan had caught his breath, Rick released his shoulders and stepped out of his way. He followed as Morgan ascended the steps and entered the farmhouse. The two men stepped into the makeshift operating room; Hershel glanced up from inspecting the boy’s wound. “What’s his blood type?” he asked, turning back to try to stop the bleeding.

“Same as mine,” Morgan said shakily.

Hershel nodded, “That’s fortunate. Stay close, we may need you.” Otis and Carl tore up the porch steps and yanked the screen door open. Otis flew into the room; Hershel looked to him and asked, “What happened?”

“I was tracking a buck,” Otis panted. “The deer took off just as I pulled the trigger. I swear I didn’t see them, I didn’t see the boy. I wouldn’t have fired if I had.”

Hershel nodded again, “I can’t tell yet if he’s got any internal bleeding, but it looks like the bullet went straight through. That’s good and bad. If the bullet nicked an artery or damaged any of the organs, we could be facing a world of trouble. I can start sewing up the exit wound, but we’re gonna need more supplies than I have to be thorough.”

“If we can get word back to our group,” Rick began, “I’ve got a couple guys that are good at going on runs. They’d be able to help. Plus, my wife, Carl’s mom, needs to know we’re okay.”

Hershel looked at Maggie, who had been assisting him from the bedside, and gave her an understanding nod. She handed the IV bag she’d been holding to Otis and headed out the door. Rick followed Maggie to the stables; as she saddled up her horse, Rick requested, “You should find them out on the highway a few miles east of here. There’s a big RV, a squad car, a pick up with a motorcycle in the back. Tell Lori Grimes, my wife, that we’re okay, and get Glenn and Daryl to come back with you.” Maggie grit her teeth and nodded. Rick could tell she was a little put out by such a large request. “Thank you,” he added, hoping to appease the girl’s temper. She mounted the horse and rode off, heading to the trees. Rick realized she had seen the direction he had come from as he approached the house and was retracing his steps. Smart girl, he thought. He turned to go back to the farmhouse to console Morgan and watch over his son.

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Hershel had been examining and treating Duane for the better part of an hour. Morgan, feeling helpless, wandered into the dining room and sat heavily in one of the wooden chairs. Rick joined him at the table; Beth brought each of them a glass of lemonade and sat at the opposite end of the table, where Carl had been sitting, swinging his feet between the legs of the chair. Rick thanked her quietly and took a sip; he noticed Morgan was absent-mindedly toying with his glass. Rick mumbled, “I’m sorry, Morgan.”

“For what? You didn’t shoot him,” he glared in the direction of the front bedroom before returning his attention to the stilted conversation.

Rick thought to himself how grateful he was that his son was safe and sound beside him. He felt relieved that he wasn’t in Morgan’s shoes this time around. At the same time, he was acutely aware of the turmoil raging through Morgan’s mind, and did not envy him in the least. For all of these thoughts, he felt an enormous sense of guilt. “No, but I can appreciate what you’re going through. I’d be devastated if it was Carl in there instead of Duane.” He looked over at his son, who was greedily gulping at his lemonade and holding a quiet conversation with Beth. Rick turned back to face Morgan and clapped him firmly on the shoulder. “I’ve got a good feeling he’s gonna make it.”

Morgan looked at Rick skeptically, “How do you know?” Rick could hear the pain in his voice.

“The man’s prepared – had all these tools and supplies at the ready – must know what he’s doing,” Rick explained.

Beth piped up, joining their conversation, “Otis is an EMT, and Daddy’s performed lots of surgeries.” Rick half smiled and gave her a knowing look, knowing she wasn’t divulging all the details just yet. Beth apparently caught on to the meaning of the look and sheepishly added, “He’s a vet.”

Morgan fixed her with an incredulous look. “A vet? As in animals?” he said, his voice raising in anger.

Rick held his hands in an open gesture, “It’s not like we have a lot of options here.”

Just by that, Hershel entered the dining room, wiping blood off his hands with a hand towel, followed by Otis close behind. Morgan stood, waiting for information about his son. “He’s lost a lot of blood,” Hershel reported, “so he’ll need a transfusion before too long. There doesn’t appear to be any damage to any of his organs. He’s a lucky little boy.” Morgan smiled at that, looking as if he could hug the older man. “We’re not out of the woods yet, though. He’s going to need lots of bed rest, and I’d like to get him started on a round of penicillin to stave off infection.”

Morgan interrupted, “He’s allergic to penicillin.”

“That’s all I got here,” Hershel said apologetically.

Otis added hopefully, “There’s that FEMA camp they set up at the high school. It was over run at the beginning, but maybe it’s calmed down by now. I’m sure they’d have more supplies and medicine that we could get.”

Rick stood to join the conversation, “My two guys are hopefully on their way here already. Just draw us a map and once they get here we’ll head out and bring back as much as we can.”

Otis shook his head, “No.” Morgan tensed up and glared at him; Otis hurried to continue, “I’m your map. This was all my fault. I’m going with you.”

Rick felt a slight wave of uneasiness, remembering the final outcome of Otis’ trip to the high school the last time around. However, this time they’d have more people, more guns, more insight to the situation.

Within another hour, Rick heard the rumble of a motorcycle drawing closer. He looked through the screen door to see Maggie riding her horse into the yard, Glenn sitting behind her and Daryl rolling up the winding path of a driveway. Rick saw a flutter of long brown hair behind Daryl and knew in a moment that Lori had come along with them. Rick opened the screen door, but before he could make his way down the steps, Carl rushed past him, hurtling through the air and hitting the ground running toward his mother. Lori climbed off Daryl’s bike and wrapped her arms around Carl, holding him close. Glenn gracelessly stumbled off the horse and joined Daryl as they walked toward the porch.

Rick shook hands with his two friends and brought them up to speed on what had happened and what they needed to do. Lori was obviously eaves dropping; Rick knew she wouldn’t be happy with his end of the plan. Regardless, the men hopped into the back of the truck. Rick was about to climb into the cab with Otis when Lori caught his elbow. “Can I talk to you?” she whispered angrily. Rick sighed and shot Otis a look, silently asking him to wait.

As Lori led him away from the truck, Rick saw Beth come out of the house with her arms full of bottles of water, offering them to the men who had all rushed to help the little boy. He watched as she handed them out, all three men gratefully accepting her offering with smiles and thank yous. When he and Lori were just out of earshot of the others in the truck, Lori began, “Why do you need to go? Otis knows the way, and Glenn and Daryl are more than capable of handling this, otherwise why did you ask for them to come and not me?” Her words were laced with anger and came tumbling out on top of each other.

Rick grimaced and focused on the ground, hands on his hips, trying to figure out how to put this into the right words. “I gotta go, Lori,” he glanced up at her from under his eyelashes. “I talked Morgan into joining our group; he was the first person to help me out after I woke up; he was with me when we were looking for Sophia. Duane’s just as much my responsibility as his. I gotta make this right, not just for them, but for myself. I’m sorry, but I gotta go. We don’t have any time to waste.” He cupped his fingers around the back of her neck and pressed a hard kiss to her lips before walking back to the truck and climbing into the cab. Otis started the engine and pulled away down the worn driveway. He watched Lori’s reflection in the side rearview mirror until Otis followed the curve of the road and took her out of his sight.

Chapter Text

Co-authored by Rckyfrk & Remi Savant

In less than an hour, Otis was steering the pickup truck down the street in front of the high school. He parked half a block away from the school parking lot and the four men hopped out.

“Why’d we stop so far away?” Glenn asked.

“We don’t know if the camp is still overrun. Don’t wanna chance attracting any more walkers to us than we need to,” Rick explained. “Besides, it’s not all that far. Think you’ll make it?”

Glenn grimaced at Rick’s attempt at humor at his expense. “Yeah. I’ll be fine,” he replied, his voice deadpan.

Otis interjected, “The camp was set up in the rear parking lot near the football field. We oughta get going.” With that, the four made their way around the side of the campus.

When they finally reached the FEMA camp, they found an ambulance, military vehicles and squad cars all arranged haphazardly around the parking lot. Amidst the vehicles were a hundred or so walkers, milling about aimlessly, creating quite a racket with their groans and growls. The four men hid themselves behind one of the two squad cars nearest to them. Rick and Daryl immediately began to plot out a course to get to the gym entrance. “How the hell we gonna get up there past all these bastards?” Rick ground out.

“We don’t need to get to the gym,” Otis corrected them. “Anything we’d need are all in the supply trailer over there.” He pointed across the parking lot to the exact opposite side from where they were hiding.

“Oh, cause that’s much easier,” Glenn sniped.

“Wait...are you telling me all the supplies we need are all in a modular trailer? One with wheels still attached?” Daryl asked pointedly. Otis nodded. “Why do we even need to bother going in? Can’t we just take the whole damn thing? Then we don’t have to spend time riflin’ through everything with a buncha walkers waitin’ for us to come out.” The other three men looked at Daryl incredulously. “What? We got these Humvees sittin’ here. Might as well use ‘em,” he shrugged. “’Sides, it’d take us just as long to go through everything as it would to hook up the damn trailer.”

Rick stared a moment longer at Daryl, thoroughly impressed at his idea, before shaking off his amazement and regrouping. “Alright. How are we going to get the Humvee to the trailer with all those walkers surrounding both? We need a distraction.” He and Daryl both looked directly at Glenn.

“Oh come on! It’s always me that’s the distraction,” Glenn complained. Rick chuckled; he really felt like the older brother setting up the younger brother for something stupid. Glenn hung his head in reluctant acceptance, then snapped his head back up with a determined look. “We could use one of the squad cars again, like in Atlanta. Think the keys are still inside?”

“Only if we’re lucky,” Rick answered. “Guess there’s one way to find out. Daryl, would you go with Glenn and check it out? Hotwire it if you need to.” Daryl nodded and crept around to the side of the car, silently opened the car door and slid into the driver’s seat. He searched between the car seats, in the glove box, and in each sun visor, finding nothing. He slid to angle himself under the steering column and set to work hotwiring the car. Glenn was crouched nearby, ready to trade places with him as soon as the engine started.

Rick and Otis sneaked over to the Humvee to start searching for a spare key, much like Daryl had just done in the squad car. Instead of finding a key, they found the half-digested remains of a man in military fatigues sprawled on the pavement near the driver-side door. Otis covered his mouth and nose with his hand, obviously not accustomed to seeing such carnage this close up. Rick half chuckled before stooping down to check the many pockets of the man’s torn uniform. He hoped for the best, starting with the pockets on the man’s jacket, which were less covered in gore, but realized quickly he wasn’t that lucky. He made a face and gingerly reached into the corpse’s hip pocket; his fingers closed around a slender piece of metal. He pulled out his find and held it up for Otis to see. “Small favors, huh?” Rick remarked with a smile, wiping the key off on the dead man’s jacket.

Otis climbed into the driver’s seat, taking the key from Rick and sliding it into the ignition; he turned toward the squad car and waited to hear the other engine come to life. He didn’t have to wait long; Glenn started to back up the squad car to maneuver around the crowd of walkers as Daryl rushed over to join Rick next to the Humvee.

“I’ll be damned...it worked!” Otis exclaimed. Glenn pulled away from the trailer, flipped on the red and blue police lights and slowly inched the car forward toward the far end of the parking lot, hitting the siren in a loud BWOOP BWOOP, leading the walkers around the buildings to find the football field and track. Once the area was clear of walkers, Otis quickly maneuvered the Humvee around. Rick guided Otis back, aligning the tongue of the trailer to the trailer ball.

“I’m gonna head out and get my truck and try and find Glenn,” Otis announced while Daryl started connecting the trailer to the vehicle. “You two get ready to go. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” The larger man took off, moving as quickly as he could. Rick hoped he wouldn’t find any unwelcome surprises along the way.

Daryl and Rick sprang into action; they pulled the temporary stairs away from the side of the trailer, and removed the stabilizing blocks from around the tires. “Guess we just gotta wait, huh?” Rick asked. Daryl shrugged noncommittally. “I gotta say, that was some damn good thinking, taking the whole trailer. Sure saved us a bunch of time. Well, maybe not for Glenn.” Rick smirked at his own little joke and noticed Daryl wore a matching expression. “So...who’s gonna drive this bad boy?”

Daryl peered at Rick out of the corner of his eye, “It was my idea. Just sayin’.”

Rick chuckled a little, glad they were already falling into an easy cadence with each other, that Daryl felt comfortable enough around him to joke a little. “Yeah, but do you have a valid license and registration?”

“Do you?”

The two men squinted at each other; it was obvious neither of them was really upset, based on the good-natured grin each of them wore. “I’ll throw ya for it,” Rick said, holding a fist in the air. Daryl followed suit. “One, two, three, throw!”

Rick cursed under his breath as Daryl gloated, “Rock beats scissors, man,” casting him a wry grin.

“Two out of three?”

“Hell no,” the redneck exclaimed, snatching the key out of Rick’s hand and heading toward the driver’s side. Rick shook his head and smiled then looked up in time to see Otis coming around the corner, heading toward the track. He had just seen the truck’s tail lights clear the end of the building when he heard a metallic crashing sound from the direction of the football field.

“What the hell was that?” Rick rushed to the end of the trailer, meeting Daryl when he got there, and scanned along the edge of the football field. He followed Daryl’s finger as he pointed out that the red and blue lights had become stationary on the side of the field.

“Looks like he crashed the car into the bleachers,” Daryl observed.

A concerned look crossed Rick’s face, “Hope he’s okay. Should we go check it out?”

Daryl shook his head, his face looking grim. “If there were that many walkers...chances ain’t good. We can’t tow this big ol’ trailer around, neither.”

“I guess you’re right,” Rick agreed. “Alright, we stick to the plan and hope for the best. Let’s get ready to go once Otis comes back around.”

They both climbed into the Humvee. Daryl debated starting the engine, but Rick thought better of it, wanting to conserve gas. Several minutes ticked by; both men were starting to get concerned – what was taking Otis so long?

Finally they saw the headlights of the old Ford truck coming from around the building. Daryl started the engine quickly and pulled out to follow Otis out of the parking lot and back to the farmhouse. As they followed the pickup, Rick saw the outline of someone sitting in the passenger seat next to Otis. The passenger turned his head and Rick could see the silhouette of Glenn’s baseball cap and breathed a sigh of relief. Daryl looked over to Rick and smirked. “I wasn’t worried, were you?”

Rick just shook his head and chuckled, feeling himself relax now that they were on their way back to the farm.

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Night had long since fallen when they finally arrived at Hershel’s farm. As the two vehicles pulled up close to the house, Maggie, Hershel and Jimmy appeared on the front porch. The four men disembarked and met them on the steps to the porch. “You wanted supplies...” Rick gestured to the trailer.

“You took the whole trailer?” Hershel asked incredulously. “Isn’t that a tad overkill? We just needed some pills and some gauze.”

The four men looked at each other sheepishly before Otis spoke up, “The parking lot was swarmed with walkers. We couldn’t guarantee being able to get in and out without running into trouble. Daryl here suggested it’d be easier to just take the whole thing and sort out what we’d need once we got here.” Rick saw Daryl duck his head at the mention of his name, in a gesture that screamed, ‘leave me out of this.’
“What if someone else needs some of these supplies?” Hershel questioned, a mixture of anger and disappointment growing in his voice.

Rick spoke up, “As long as this has been sitting there, if anyone was going to need it, they’d have come and gotten it by now. Besides, with over a hundred walkers guarding it, no one was going to get near it any time soon anyway. It took some quick thinking and fast action to get it out here. Now, are we gonna keep talking about it, or are we gonna get this medicine into that boy?”

Hershel fixed Rick with a look, clenched his jaw, and breathed heavily through his nose. Realizing Rick had a point, he motioned to Otis to head to the trailer, calling over his shoulder, “Jimmy, run inside and grab the step stool, would ya?”

Rick watched as the lanky teen ambled up the steps and into the house. The tension coming from Hershel had not subsided, even moments later when Jimmy returned with the step stool, Beth following him outside. Rick heard her say, “I don’t understand why you need a step stool to get some medical supplies out of a truck.” When she saw the large modular trailer sitting on the lawn, she stopped short, dumbfounded, taking in the sight before her, a soft, “Oh,” escaping her lips.

Hershel and Otis entered the trailer and came out a short while later, arms full of packages of gauze, surgical tape, and bottles of pills, and headed directly into the house. “Bethy, you come with us,” Hershel commanded gently. Beth glanced around the group in front of her again before following her father inside.

Rick, Glenn and Daryl stood outside, not sure what to do now. They didn’t have any of their camping equipment with them, save for Daryl’s pup tent. Hershel seemed pretty upset at their quite literal haul, but they needed to know if they’d be allowed inside the farm house for the night. Maggie crossed the lawn to address the trio. “You guys look beat. Get some food and some sleep.”

“Wasn’t sure if we’d be welcome inside,” Rick mumbled. “Your dad seems pretty upset with us.”

“Don’t worry about him. He’s always been a frugal man, usually giving our excess away to those in need. Don’t get me wrong, we never went without...anyway,” she continued, shaking her head, “Lori and Carl are already up in the guest bedroom. You two are welcome to the couch and recliner in the living room.”

Glenn’s face lit up at the idea of sleeping on cushions with four walls around him and followed Maggie inside. Daryl hung back, muttering something about the house being too stuffy with all those people in it, offering to stay out on the porch to keep watch. Rick nodded, clapping the man on the shoulder, “Alright, but come in and get some grub first.” Daryl followed Rick inside; Maggie and Beth busied themselves preparing a late dinner of sandwiches and peaches for the men.

Once they finished eating, Rick, Daryl and Glenn each thanked the girls for their hospitality and split off to find their sleeping quarters for the night. Maggie directed Rick to where the guest bedroom was and led Glenn to the living room to get him set up. Beth ran out of the kitchen and returned shortly with a spare blanket, offering it to Daryl. He nodded his appreciation and strode out the front door.

Rick poked his head into the make-shift operating room and found Morgan sitting at the edge of an arm chair, hovering over his son, his hands clasped in apparent prayer. “How’s he doin’?”

Morgan started at the sudden question before seeing Rick in the doorway, then relaxed, “Hershel seems to think he’ll pull through.”

Rick crossed into the room and laid a hand on his shoulder. “It’s all gonna be okay, Morgan.”

Morgan looked up at Rick, his eyes looking tired with worry, “Thanks for...everything, Rick. For getting my boy here safely, for running and getting everything he needs to get better. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Think nothing of it,” Rick spoke solemnly, “we’re all family now. We take care of our own.” He squeezed Morgan’s shoulder slightly, “try and get some sleep. Duane’s gonna need you fully rested tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” Morgan replied, patting Rick’s hand in gratitude. “G’night, Rick.”

Rick made his way upstairs and found Carl and Lori curled up in a soft looking queen-sized bed. He toed off his boots, removed both his gun and regular belts, and took off his uniform shirt. He slid into bed behind Lori, wrapping his arm around her waist. She turned at his touch to face him. “Everything go okay?”

“Yeah. I’d say it was a really successful run,” he said with a smile before kissing her temple.

“Good,” Lori responded, sleepily, then yawned, “glad to hear it.” Rick watched her eyes flutter shut again as she slipped back to sleep.

Rick traced his finger down her cheek, then found the top of Carl’s head and ran his hand over the boy’s hair. He reached over and turned out the lamp; the room was filled with moon light. Rick glanced out the window, watching the leaves reflect the soft glow, until his eyes landed on the large wooden barn across the Greene’s property. He swallowed hard as a sense of foreboding washed over him.

Chapter Text

Second Chance – Chapter 10 – co-authored by Rckyfrk & Remi Savant

Sunlight was streaming in through the window as Rick woke up the next morning. He couldn't remember a time he had slept so soundly and in such a comfortable bed. He heard voices drifting up from the dining room below. The sound was music to his ears; the voices were happy and relaxed, not panicked or rushed like they all had been these past several days, not to mention the voices in his memories.

Rick reluctantly threw the covers off him, not wanting to leave the comfort of the soft bed, but knew there was stuff to do, things to unload from the trailer. He dressed quickly in his clothes from yesterday and followed the smell of breakfast meat that had reached his nose from the kitchen. "God, is that bacon?" his stomach thought for him.

When he reached the dining room, he found Lori, Carl, Daryl, Glenn and Morgan all seated around the table. Maggie and Beth were busy cooking for the group, making everyone feel welcome with their easy conversation. Rick walked behind Carl, ruffling his hair, and seated himself next to Lori and pressed a kiss to her temple. "Good morning."

"Morning. Sleep okay?"

"Yeah. Haven't slept in a bed that comfy for a while." 'If she only knew,' he thought to himself. Lori raked her fingers through his hair, nodding in agreement. Her eyes met his, seeming to be searching for an answer to an unasked question. "What?" Rick started to feel defensive.

"Nothing," Lori tried to keep him calm. "You just seemed to have a rough time last night...talking in your sleep."

'Hell...now what?' he thought. "What'd I say?" he asked, smiling, trying to play it off like he wasn't concerned at all.

"I only caught bits and pieces. Something about a prison...a governor...don't look back..and a barn."

When Lori mentioned the barn, Rick noticed Maggie and Beth cast a wary glance at each other, then returned to making breakfast.

"Huh. Weird," Rick replied, "Who knows what that was. I remember seeing the barn right before I fell asleep...must've just stuck in my head," he shrugged it off, hoping everyone bought it.

The girls brought the food to the table and everyone tucked into the meal heartily. It had been too long since Rick had truly eaten his fill. In between bites, he asked, "Where is everyone else?"

"Patricia's sitting with Duane," Maggie answered. "Now that we've got medicine in him, it looks like he's gonna be just fine." Rick looked over and saw Morgan smiling around a mouthful of pancakes. It was good to see his friend starting to relax.

Maggie continued, "Jimmy, Otis and Daddy are out tending to the livestock and working in the garden. That's where me and Beth are headed once we're done in here. Daddy asked if you'd take an inventory of what's all in the medical trailer. We don't really have room for it all inside the house, but having a running list of all the supplies would be really useful."

Rick nodded, "Of course. Anything to repay your hospitality."

Glenn piped up, "We'll have to find room in here for everything I found. Not sure how long it'll last in the back of Otis' truck."

"What's in the back of Otis' truck?" Daryl asked, chewing around a piece of bacon.

Glenn grinned widely, "Well, once we finish eating, I'll show you."

The anticipation of Glenn's surprise spurred everyone on into wolfing down the rest of their food and helping to clean up the kitchen before rushing outside. Glenn lowered the tailgate and revealed a truck bed nearly full of different snack foods and bottled soda and water. "Glenn..." Rick started, his eyes bugging out at the sight in front of them, "how did you...where did you..." he trailed off, looking at the young man for answers.

"So, while you guys were messing with the trailer and hooking it up to the Humvee, I drove the cruiser around to the track. It was hilarious, I had all those walkers doing laps for a good ten, fifteen minutes. Then I realized that eventually I'd have to get back to you guys and I'd rather not lead all the walkers back to you. So I set the cruise control and let the cruiser drift to the right. I figured it was dark enough that they'd all follow the flashing lights instead of me, or at least most of them would, and I could outrun any that tried to follow me.

I hauled ass across the field and hopped over the fence between the track and the bleachers and hid behind this little brick building hiding behind the bleachers, figuring it was a storage shed or something. I tried the door, just to see, and low and behold it was open. I flicked on my flashlight and come to find out, it was the concession stand. This stuff's got so many preservatives and crap in it, I'm sure it's all still good. Soda might be flat, but so what?

So Otis pulls up and around to get me, and I get him to help load up the truck – we found a dolly in the concession stand to move all the cases of soda and water – and had everything ready to go in no time." He looked around at the group in front of him, "Pretty cool, huh?"

Rick and the rest of the group were stunned. Not only were they beyond prepared for nearly any medical emergency because of Daryl's idea of taking the whole FEMA trailer, but now they were basically stocked up on all kinds of junk food, but most importantly bottles of water and soda. They would never have to worry about dehydration…at least not for a long, long time.

Maggie went off to help out in the garden while Beth found room for everything inside. Like Glenn had figured, most of the snacks were non-perishable, so they could be kept safe in the cool of the cellar. Once the back of the truck was unloaded and everything was stored inside, the group set to work making an inventory of the medical supplies that were still waiting in the FEMA trailer. Daryl decided the space was cramped enough, and that he would go hunting, hoping to bring back some fresh meat for dinner tonight. Morgan seemed distracted as they worked, so Rick suggested he go inside and sit with his son.

Rick, Lori, Carl, Beth and Glenn had finished with the inventory and headed into the house to find a quick lunch. Carl was more than excited to have some chips to go with the sandwiches Beth and Lori made for everyone. Hershel, Otis, Maggie and Jimmy came in shortly after. Apparently Maggie had filled the three in on Glenn's find, earning him an heart-felt thank you from Hershel. Rick watched as Glenn beamed with pride, noting that Maggie was eying him, seemingly in a new light. Rick hid his grin, happy with the fact that some things never change.

After lunch, Beth volunteered to take Carl and Lori out to see the horses in the stables while Maggie suggested showing Glenn around the farm. Hershel and Rick sat at the kitchen table and discussed the division of labor around the farm for as long as the group was staying. Rick reminded Hershel that the rest of the group was on their way, hopefully, and that there would be more people to help out around the farm.

"I appreciate the offer, but it won't matter much," Hershel began. Rick gave him a concerned look. "Once Duane is healed and back on his feet, I expect you and your group will be on your way."

Rick was visibly disappointed. He didn't want to argue with Hershel...at least not yet. They were still new comers to the farm, and since the rest of the group was still on their way, he didn't want to rock to boat with Hershel. Instead he just nodded, holding his tongue. Rick remembered from the last time that they were waiting for Carl to heal, but then that kid…Randall, if he remembered correctly…that whole catastrophe happened…and the barn full of walkers. He briefly wondered about the barn, and if Sophia was already inside it. He shook his head and focused on the conversation at hand.

In the distance, Rick could hear the unmistakable rumbling of Dale's RV. He quickly stood up and rushed to the window to find the rest of the group approaching the farmhouse. With a grin, he grabbed his sheriff's hat and headed outside, followed closely by Hershel. The RV followed the dirt road up to the house, the cruiser pulling in close behind. By this time, everyone else on the farm had gathered near the front porch.

Rick stepped forward to greet his friends when they exited the RV. He made introductions between them and Hershel's family. Hershel suggested they move the RV and cruiser to park near a cluster of trees just past the fence line, and they quickly obliged; Rick, Lori and Carl caught a ride in the RV.

Once they had parked and started setting up camp, Rick pulled Dale aside. "Glad you guys made it out here okay. What took so long? Maggie found you yesterday afternoon."

Dale looked around conspiratorially before answering in a hushed tone, "Carol wouldn't leave. She insisted we stay until we found Sophia."

Rick hung his head, not sure how to respond. "So how'd you convince her to leave?"

Dale smirked, "We told her none of us were trackers like Daryl, and that once the group was reunited, we'd have more eyes to look for her." Rick chuckled before he realized Daryl had been gone most of the day. Had he already found her? Was he coming back?

"Well," Rick began, "let's get camp set up here before it starts to get dark. Daryl took off hunting earlier, so with any luck we'll have fresh meat for dinner tonight."

The group unloaded the tents they had available and started setting up camp. Carol approached Rick and asked, "When do we start looking for Sophia again?"

Rick sighed quietly, "Carol, it's getting late in the afternoon. We'd hardly get any ground covered by the time we'd need to turn around and head back here. We'll finish setting up camp tonight. I'll see if Hershel has a map of the area and we can assign search parties and head out first thing tomorrow. We need to be smart about this. I don't want to lose anyone else." He cringed at the withering glare Carol shot his way then turned on his heel to head to the farm house in search of a map.

The sun was hanging low in the sky when Daryl finally returned, a small doe carcass stretched over his shoulders. Everyone was glad to see him return, and their stomachs started grumbling at the prospect of a filling dinner. Daryl and Otis worked on preparing the meat; Glenn, Jimmy and Maggie set up a large bonfire they would use to roast the deer meat. Beth, Patricia and Lori worked on fixing up a couple side dishes for the impromptu bar-be-que.

While everyone was eating the meal, Carol asked Daryl, "Any sign of Sophia out there?"

Daryl fixed her with a long stare. Rick knew he didn't like being called out, especially in front of a crowd, and wondered what his reaction was going to be. He released the breath he didn't realize he was holding when Daryl finally responded, "No. Wasn't looking."

"What do you mean you weren't looking?" Carol demanded.

"I mean I wasn't looking," Daryl replied, visibly bristling under Carol's scrutiny.

Carol started getting heated; the rest of the group watched the exchange like a tennis match, back and forth. "My little girl is out there all alone, lost, scared, starving, and you weren't looking?"

"Yeah, and because I wasn't looking for her, you have a hot meal tonight," Daryl shot back. He took a breath and focused on his plate. "I'll look tomorrow at first light," he mumbled.

"Was hunting really necessary? It seems like there's plenty of food here, more than Sophia has."

Rick jumped into the conversation, "Carol, what's done is done. We've both said now that we'll start looking for your daughter first thing in the morning. There's nothing to be done tonight, so just drop it."

Carol threw her plate to the ground. "Oh, I see. You can pull Daryl and Glenn and Lori away from looking for Sophia to help Duane, but when I ask for help, I'm pushed to the side and told to wait." She stormed off toward the RV, fading from view as she walked into the night. The group sitting around the fire jumped when they heard the door to the RV slam shut.

"Well, that was fun," Glenn quipped, trying to lighten the mood. Rick saw Maggie smack Glenn playfully on the arm. The two looked at each other and Rick could only grin. 'It's just a matter of time,' he thought to himself.

They spent the rest of the light from the fire in conversation about plans for tomorrow. Once everything had been settled, and the fire had almost gone out, everyone headed off to their places for the night and tried to get some sleep. Glenn walked back toward the house, asking Hershel if it would be alright with him if he crashed on the couch again. "It sure beats a sleeping bag on the ground," he bargained. Hershel eyed the young man before begrudgingly agreeing. Morgan followed them in, preparing for another night in the chair next to Duane's bed.

Now that the group was back, Rick felt obligated to stay with them at the makeshift campsite rather than return to the house again. He knew his back would hate him in the morning, but it was the right thing to do. It took him longer than usual to fall asleep. He wasn't sure if it was because he was sleeping on the hard ground once again, or because he could swear he heard the groans and growls of the walkers in the barn.

Chapter Text

Second Chance - Chapter 11 – Co-Authored by Rckyfrk & Remi Savant

Rick stirred in the cool morning air, groaning instantly at the stiffness in his back. He moved to roll onto his side, but found his arm was pinned to the ground. He looked down to see Lori, her head lying on his shoulder, her hand resting over his heart. Rick smiled and rolled toward his wife, wrapping his arm around her.

The small movement was enough to wake Lori; she blinked up at him and smiled, “Good morning.”

Rick smiled back and kissed her softly, “Good morning. It’s nice waking up with you in my arms again.” It really had been far too long since he’d felt her warmth next to him first thing in the morning.

Lori pulled herself closer to him and sighed, “Yeah. This is nice.” Rick rubbed his hand up and down her back and pressed a kiss on the top of her head. He felt Lori kiss along his jaw, across his cheek, before finding his lips again, pulling him down for another kiss that quickly grew passionate. His hand slid to her waist, pulling her intimately close. On a whim, Rick peeked over her shoulder, and stopped his movements; any mood that had been building was instantly squashed.

“Where’s Carl?”

“Isn’t he still in bed?” Lori asked, turning to look at the other side of the tent.

“Guess it’s time to get up,” Rick grumbled, groaning again as he stood and stretched the muscles in his back. He and Lori quickly dressed and headed out of the tent.

Rick hurriedly glanced around the camp, looking for any sign of Carl. Not seeing the boy, he quietly called out, “Carl?”

Rick heard Carl’s voice from atop the RV. “I’m up here, Dad. Dale’s letting me use his binoculars.”

“I hope you don’t mind,” Dale called down.

Rick walked closer to the RV, Lori following closely, shielding his eyes from the rising sun, and replied, “As long as he isn’t bothering you.”

Dale chuckled, “No, he’s no bother at all. Can’t have too many eyes looking out for trouble.”

Rick strode to where Carol was tending the small camp fire. Lori sat next to the fire, pouring herself a cup of instant coffee. He was about to speak when they heard a rustling sound from the trees nearby. His hand instantly sought the handle of his Colt Python and turned to search for the source of the sound.

Daryl appeared out of the brush and Rick relaxed immediately. Daryl had his crossbow slung over his shoulder and had several squirrels tied to his belt. When he saw Rick and Carol’s alarmed faces, he explained, “I said I’d start looking at first light. I didn’t find any sign of her yet, but I found us some breakfast.” He turned to walk to his corner of the camp and began skinning the small animals.

Rick’s smile quickly faded as he saw Carol’s disappointed look. He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder and said, “Hey, we’ll keep looking. We’ll find her.” Carol nodded silently; Rick dropped his hand and headed toward the farm house.

Hershel must have seen Rick approaching because he met him on the front porch. “Mornin, Rick,” the older man called out as he drew near.

“Mornin, Hershel,” Rick replied, offering a wave. “Figured we could go over everyone’s plans for the day one more time.”

Hershel smiled, “I’m not your chaperone, Rick, but I appreciate the open lines of communication.”

Rick clenched his jaw, just briefly, thinking of what he was sure was lurking in the barn. ‘Open lines of communication, huh?’ he thought, but kept it to himself. This was not the time to start that discussion. Instead, he cleared his throat, “Once we get through breakfast, me, Daryl, and T-Dog are going out to keep looking for Sophia...Carol’s daughter. We could really use someone who knows the area pretty well. Would it be alright if we asked Jimmy or Otis for help? We’ve got a couple people who are staying behind who could help pick up any slack.”

Hershel thought for a moment, “Like I said, I’m not a chaperone. If you want to ask Otis or Jimmy, that’s fine, but I can’t give up both my farm hands.”

“Thank you, Hershel,” Rick extended his hand for a handshake. “We really appreciate everything you’ve done for us already.” Hershel shook his hand. “I heard Maggie was planning on heading to town for soap and things like that. Glenn is real good at getting in and out of places when he’s out on a run. You might ask him to go with her, just to make sure no surprises come along. Safety in numbers.”

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Daryl walked a few paces ahead of Rick as they searched their section of the woods, heading northeast from the farm house while T-Dog and Otis made their way southeast, planning to work their way to the middle. They ignored the walkers they could and took out the ones they needed to. Daryl fired his crossbow at the odd squirrel or rabbit that crossed their path; Rick was ever grateful that Daryl had already taken to helping provide for the group. It felt like old times again...old times that had only happened in his false memories.

After walking for a few hours with only a few brief conversations, Daryl suddenly held his hand up, halting Rick in his tracks. Up ahead, Rick could just make out the side of a small house, the light blue paint peeling and weeds overtaking the yard. As they broke through the tree line, they could see a small cottage sitting on the edge of a peach tree grove. The men looked at each other and seemed to have the same thought; they simultaneously drew their weapons and began scoping the perimeter for any potential threats. Once they were convinced the yard was safe, they ventured closer to the house.

Rick reached the front door first, taking a moment to pound on the door and wait for any walkers to make themselves known. Not hearing anything from the inside, Rick tried the door, relieved to find that it was left unlocked. He kept his pistol aimed in front of him, quickly searching the front room for any signs of movement, threatening or otherwise. They made their way through the house, finding it clear, and began searching for signs of Sophia.

After several minutes of searching, Daryl found an opened jar of peaches and several pits that looked too fresh to have been there for long. Rick looked hopefully at Daryl; maybe she was still close by. They didn’t find much else in the small cabin, except for a bed that looked recently slept in. They headed out the back door and started exploring the peach grove.

They made their way up and down the rows of trees. Rick noticed Daryl slow down, his gait more intentional. “Whatcha got?”

“Walker tracks. At least four or five.”

A cold chill shot down Rick’s spine as he rushed over to fall in step with Daryl. “Any sign of what they were after?”

Daryl shook his head, “Hard to tell through all their footprints.” He suddenly raced ahead and bent down, “But I think I know what they were chasing.” He held out Sophia’s rag doll to Rick. He took the doll with a shaking hand. “Question is, did they chase her to the house or from it?”

“You think Sophia could hold off a bunch of walkers by herself in that little house?” Rick questioned. Daryl shrugged his reply. “Can you follow where the tracks lead?”

Daryl squinted toward the tree line, following the trail heading due west. “Shouldn’t be too hard.” Rick took up after him, nervous at the realization that they were basically heading back in the direction of the farm house.

Another few hours later, they heard the unmistakable hisses and groans of a group of walkers. As they continued on, Rick and Daryl spotted three of the undead stuck in a mud bank next to a small stream. The three were trapped in the mire up to their knees, unable to drag themselves out. Daryl dropped his crossbow to his side and took in the sight in front of him, searching the ground for clues as to what had happened.

Rick’s heart dropped. He recognized this place; Hershel had brought him here to show how his family “rescued” the walkers the Greenes once thought of as sick. If Sophia had gotten to this point, and Daryl didn’t find any of her tracks, surely she must be in the barn. He asked, “Any sign of her?”

“Nah,” Daryl said after a moment’s search. “Her tracks end here. She must have taken off in the water again. She sure ain’t makin’ this easy. She might have headed back to the peach grove – we might have just missed her. That or she kept going this direction. Hell, that opens up our search area.” He sounded defeated, and slightly aggravated at the situation.

Rick furrowed his brow, “No signs of her anywhere?” If Sophia had been here and retrieved by Hershel, Daryl would certainly be able to pick out her foot prints as they led away from the area...along with Hershel’s or Jimmy’s. The fact that there was no sign of her anywhere meant that she might still be alive, like Daryl seemed to think.

Daryl squinted back at Rick, seeming to try to figure out his motive, then let out an aggravated sigh as he shrugged and returned to searching the ground. He walked along the edge of the mud bank, stopping suddenly and squatting lower to examine something. Rick joined him, trying to determine what the tracker had found.

Daryl pointed to the outline of a shoe print, “That’s not a walker print. That’s a grown ass man.” He kept looking, “A couple of ‘em. Alive as you and me. Looks like they’re walking with a walker. What the hell?”

Rick suddenly had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. ‘Guess the cat’s about to be let out of the bag,’ he thought. He only hoped he could keep Daryl from repeating Shane’s actions this time around. Rick grimaced and stood to follow Daryl, knowing already where the trail would lead.

It didn’t take long for them to arrive back at Hershel’s farm; the trail led them to the back of the barn. Rick could see the look of outrage on Daryl’s face. “Oh, son of a bitch. You gotta be kiddin’ me.” The redneck took several angry strides toward the barn door and peered between the slats. He jumped back abruptly. “Shit! Damn thing’s full o’ walkers!” he growled.

Rick joined him at the barn, his hands on his hips, focusing on the ground. He had to play this off just right so Daryl wouldn’t know that he’d already known that fact. “I’ll handle this.”

“You’ll handle this?” Daryl got defensive. “What the hell does that mean? We gotta take these bastards out!”

Rick raised a hand, trying to keep Daryl from causing too much of a commotion. “I know, I know, but it’s Hershel’s farm, his barn. We can’t just open fire on ‘em. He took us in when he didn’t have to; we owe him at least a conversation.” He kept his eyes locked on Daryl; the redneck regarded him, letting the words sink in, before eventually nodding his agreement.

“Let’s go then. Not gonna wait for the damn things to get loose.”

They started walking toward the front of the house. The whole time, Rick could only wonder: if Hershel hadn’t brought Sophia back, whether a walker or not, where the hell was she?

Chapter Text

Second Chance – Chapter 12 – Co-authored by Remi Savant & Rckyfrk

Rick had to hustle to keep up with Daryl’s quick pace on the way back to Hershel’s farm house. They found the older man sitting in his customary rocker, sipping on a glass of iced tea. Beth stepped out onto the porch and bounced down the stairs. “Dinner will be ready soon,” she informed them. Rick and Daryl nodded at her and paused as she slipped past them. “I’m going to get the others,” she called over her shoulder as she headed toward the horse stables.

“Thank you, Bethy,” Hershel replied. As Rick and Daryl drew nearer to the porch, Hershel asked, “Any luck finding the girl?”

Rick could feel Daryl bristle next to him and spoke up. “Kinda. We headed northeast and wound up finding a peach tree grove with a little cabin on this corner of it. Daryl found signs that at least someone had been there, then found her ragdoll in the grove. We followed her tracks; she’d been chased by walkers. All the tracks led to a mud hole, but we lost her trail. Oddly enough, we found other tracks leading away from the mud hole...and followed them straight to your barn. Those tracks were made by walkers...and humans.”

Rick noticed Hershel shift uncomfortably in his seat, as if he were upset by his description of the tracks. “Leave it be,” was his only response.

“Hershel, with all due respect, I’d like to talk about this,” Rick pressed on.

“It’s not up for debate,” Hershel’s eyes tightened on Rick.

“Not a debate,” Rick tried to placate the older man, “a discussion. Those walkers, those things in your barn, are dangerous. A danger to my people, a danger to your family.”

“Those people,” Hershel said, rising from his chair, “are my family. My neighbors. They’re sick. We’re holding them in safety until someone finds a cure.”

Daryl snapped, “Sick?! Damn things ain’t sick. Every damn one of ‘em is...”

Rick cut him off, “Whether they’re sick or not, us, here...my people...your family...we’re all very much alive. With all the...if they get out of that barn, we’re all in serious danger.”

“If all what get out of the barn?” The three men turned to see Morgan coming through the screen front door.

“Seems we ain’t the only ones Farmer John here’s been giving shelter to,” Daryl spat out. “Barn’s got a buncha walkers in it.”

Morgan stood in stunned silence, letting the news sink in. “No,” he breathed. “No, you can’t. You’ve gotta get rid of them.” He stumbled down the stairs toward Hershel, almost pleading with the older man. “How can you do that? How can you keep them so close like that?” his voice started to grow louder, more accusatory.

Rick grimaced as Daryl informed Morgan, “He says he’s holding them there until they find a cure, like some sick waiting room.”

“You think they’re gonna get better?” Morgan questioned incredulously. He took another step closer to Hershel and continued, “They’re gone, man. They’re all gone.”

“No, they’re all in there. My wife. My stepson. They’re in that barn and they’re going to be alright,” Hershel fired back.

Morgan pressed on, “Your wife? I watched my wife die...right in front of me. Saw the life leave her eyes. Then ten minutes later, she came right back, but it wasn’t her. She was gone. Her dead body reached for my son...” He trailed off, overcome with heavy emotions.

Rick began, “Look, Hershel...” but was cut off by the sound of horses approaching. He turned around and saw Glenn and Maggie riding up to the house, not to the barn like he’d expected. Maggie dismounted quickly and sprinted into her father’s arms.

Between gasping breaths and heavy sobs, Maggie cried onto Hershel’s shoulder. Rick watched as he brought a tentative hand to pat her back, trying to calm her down. “Sweetheart, what happened?”

Seeing that Maggie was too overcome, too over-wrought, to tell the story, Glenn started, “We made it to the pharmacy easy enough. I was filling bags and baskets with soaps and...other things people had asked for...while Maggie looked on the other side of the store. Next thing I knew, she was screaming. I ran up and saw a walker trying to get at her through one of the shelves.”

Maggie had apparently recovered enough to continue, “Daddy, it was awful. Glenn grabbed a whole shelf and hit it in the head. He all but tore it off...it was just hanging there by part of its neck...and it was still coming for me.”

“I grabbed my Gator Pro and took the head clean off, but it kept snapping its jaws at me. It took me three or four swings before it finally stopped moving,” Glenn finished, almost sounding proud that he could defend Maggie.

“Daddy...you were wrong,” Maggie said with a shaky breath. “They aren’t sick.”

Hershel took a step back and looked from face to face at those around him. Rick could see him trying to hold fast to his convictions. He tore his eyes away, looking around the rest of the farm; he hated pointing all this out to Hershel, hated taking away the man’s hope, however temporarily. He turned and saw Beth jogging back up to the porch.

“I can’t find Jimmy,” the blonde said, panting lightly. “He was supposed to be working on the fence, but I didn’t see him anywhere.”

Rick looked up, “He was out on the fence alone?” Beth nodded. “Hell. We need to get out and look for him. If a walk…” he glanced at Hershel, “if he ran into trouble, that trouble might come looking for us.” He motioned for Daryl, Glenn and Maggie to follow him out toward the fence, the group fanning out as they went. Rick called out to Dale and Andrea, who had been keeping watch, but neither of them had seen anything unusual. Rick started from the tree line and worked his way in.

He looked up when he heard Daryl’s whistle ahead of him and trotted to where he was standing. There on the ground was Jimmy, lying unconscious. His coloring was off, like he was pale and flushed all at once. They had no idea how long he’d been out here, or if he was even still breathing. He glanced up at Daryl, then at Glenn and Maggie, who had come running when they heard Daryl’s whistle. They all had skeptical looks on their faces; no one was looking forward to checking if Jimmy was still among the living. Rick swallowed hard and squatted next to the boy, hesitantly reaching out to feel for a pulse. He let out a sigh of relief when he caught a faint but steady flutter under his fingertips. “He’s alive, but barely. Let’s get him back to the house and let Hershel take a look at him.”

Glenn bent down with Rick to hoist the teen up, looping his arms over their shoulders. They all made their way back to the house, meeting Hershel just inside the front hallway. He motioned for them to move Jimmy right to the front bedroom, where Duane had been before he was moved to the couch. Hershel began examining Jimmy, “More than likely he got over heated out in the sun. Probably dehydrated. Bethy, grab a pitcher of water and a glass. We need to get plenty of liquids into him.” She rushed to the kitchen as Hershel continued his examination. “He’s pretty warm, but then if I were laying out in the sun for a couple hours, I would be too. We’ll let him rest in here and check on him after dinner. Hopefully by then his temp will be back to normal. Not much we can do now but wait.”

Hershel stood straight and looked at the four that had brought Jimmy inside. “He’s lucky you found him so quickly. No telling what might have…” He stopped short as he watched Carol come in from outside to grab some dinner. The rest of the group turned and saw the look on her face – heartbroken and outraged all at once. She stormed into the dining room, grabbed a plate of food, and stomped back out toward her tent. Hershel hung his head, realizing his mistake.

Maggie joined Beth on opposite sides of Jimmy’s bed, helping to sit him up and bring him to so they could get him to drink some water. Glenn mentioned something about Gatorade being stored in the cellar and made his way to find a bottle. Jimmy slowly came around and, though still very groggy, sipped at the glass of water Beth held for him. “Drink it slow,” she said in her soothing voice, and Jimmy only nodded, sipping again.

When he had finished the glass, the girls laid him back down on the bed. Hershel asked, “You alright, son?”

“Yeah,” Jimmy responded, his voice incredibly weak. “What happened?”

Hershel frowned, “We were hoping you could tell us. Daryl and Rick found you laying out by the fence. No idea how long you were out there for. Why didn’t you take your bottle of water?”

Jimmy shrugged feebly, “Just didn’t think about it, I guess.”

“Well, you drink another glass of water and get some rest. I’ll come check on you in an hour or so,” Hershel instructed. Jimmy nodded and muttered a “yes sir,” before Maggie propped him back up and Beth offered another glass of water.

Conversation at dinner was sparse, between the group wondering about Carol’s reaction to what Hershel had said about finding Jimmy and the discussion about the walkers in the barn (and Rick’s decision not to inform the larger group just yet). Once plates had been cleared and everyone was set for the plans and chores for tomorrow, Hershel went to check on his patient. Rick and a few others followed him into the front bedroom. He wondered if they were genuinely concerned or if morbid curiosity had a hold on everyone. Rick figured it was more than likely the latter.

Jimmy was curled up on his side, clutching his stomach. Hershel urged him to lie on his back and took his temperature. “You’re still running quite a fever. Stomach bothering you?”

“Yes, sir,” Jimmy mumbled. “I woke up not feeling all that great, but just figured it was from eating the nacho cheese last night.” A few chuckles sounded in the hallway, instantly hushed by Hershel’s stern gaze. “Didn’t have much breakfast, didn’t want to force it. I had a little lunch, but just wasn’t hungry. I went out to check on the fences and next thing I know I’m lying here in bed.”

Hershel thought for a minute and moved closer to Jimmy. Beth, who had still been sitting next to him and pushing sips of water, stood up to give her father more room. Hershel gently pressed his hands against the boy’s stomach, causing him to wince and suck a pained breath in through his teeth. “I take it that hurts?” Hershel asked. Jimmy nodded frantically.

“You know,” a voice came from behind Rick. Everyone turned to see Dale standing just outside the room in the front hallway. “I was just about his age, I think, when I had the worst stomach ache in my life. Couldn’t eat it hurt so bad. Turned out to be appendicitis.”

A hush fell over the group as all eyes fell to Hershel and Jimmy. “That’s what I figured,” Hershel agreed. “Patricia, I’m going to need my surgery kit. Maggie, I’m going to need lots of light in here and start prepping Jimmy. Beth, darlin’, I think you should wait outside.” The youngest Greene made to argue, but must have thought better of it and obeyed her father’s wishes. The group followed her outside, giving Hershel plenty of room to work.

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The group stayed near the porch, discussing and agreeing that from here on out, no one was to go out alone for any reason, which caused a lot of griping and complaining from Daryl. “How the hell am I supposed to hunt if I gotta drag someone along, scarin’ all the game away?”

Rick was about to make a consolation for Daryl when Hershel finally came out to the front porch, wiping his hands, to speak to those still waiting to hear news about Jimmy. The look of grateful surprise on Hershel’s face showed he was not expecting this group of strangers to be so concerned for the boy. Beth rushed inside, not having the patience to hear her father’s explanation, concentrating more on seeing Jimmy for herself.

“You were right, Dale. It was his appendix. Unfortunately, we were too late, it had already burst by the time I could get in and try and remove it. It probably burst when he passed out and hit the ground if I had to guess. The infection spread pretty quickly since he was out there for who knows how long. We’ve got him on a high dose of antibiotics. All we can do now is pray and hope for the best.”

Everyone offered their well wishes and headed back to the camp. Rick, Daryl, and Morgan stayed behind to continue their discussion with Hershel.

Rick had barely started to plead his case again when a shrill scream pierced the air. Beth burst through the front door and raced down the stairs, flinging herself into her father’s arms. “Bethy, honey, what happened?”

The girl was visibly shaken. “He was sleeping, he was so still…I went upstairs to get my journal, and when I got back…I sat down…and he…he came at me.”

“He came at you?” Hershel asked in disbelief.

Beth nodded, obviously fighting to hold back tears, “He sat up and looked at me…his eyes were all messed up…and he went to grab for me. He turned, Daddy.”

The news sent a jolt through the small group. “How can he turn if he wasn’t bit?” Morgan exclaimed. It dawned on Rick that they hadn’t learned that everyone was infected yet. Well, it was only a matter of time before they figured it out anyway.

“Maggie and Patricia are still in there!” Hershel said, barely above a whisper. Daryl had to hold him back from going inside.

Daryl growled out, “Ain’t no sense in you running in there unarmed.”

Just by that Jimmy’s form filled the front doorway. He awkwardly stepped through the door, literally, his rotting brain not knowing to push the screen door open first. His undead eyes roamed over the three men, then snapped into focus on Beth as she let out another scream. The thing that was once Jimmy loped forward, its lack of coordination causing it to stumble down the stairs. Due to a lack of a sense of self-preservation, the corpse failed to raise its arms to break the fall. Rick could hear some of its bones crack as it hit the ground.

As the walker struggled to rise, Rick saw a crossbow bolt hit it in the shoulder. “The damn thing didn’t even flinch,” Daryl said, making a point to Hershel. Beth shot an angry look at Daryl. Daryl returned her glare, reloading his crossbow, “It don’t matter, he’s dead. He don’t feel a thing.” With that, Daryl shot another bolt into the walker’s heart. It kept stumbling towards her, never ceasing. Daryl shoulder blocked the walker, causing it to fall over.

It started to crawl back to its feet again, drooling and growling with a feral look in its eyes. Daryl planted himself between the walker and Beth and Hershel, unsheathing his knife. As Jimmy lunged again at him, he plunged his knife into his chest, then pushed him away. Three times Jimmy came at him, and three times Daryl stabbed him, hitting all major organs. “You think he’s still sick? How’s he still moving with wounds like that? You gotta put it down, or it’s just a threat,” Daryl said as he drove his knife into Jimmy’s forehead with a sickening crunch. Hershel and Beth stood where they were, frozen in stunned horror.

Jimmy’s body collapsed to the ground in a heap; Daryl stood over him, panting to catch his breath. He turned around to face the group again, and his angry expression morphing to a look of...remorse? Rick looked to find Beth still holding tight to Hershel, silent tears streaming down her face. The two Greenes moved toward the front steps, giving Jimmy a wide berth, and went inside the house without another word. Daryl hung his head and released a heavy sigh.

Rick stepped up to his friend and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Hey,” he started, waiting for Daryl to look up again, “you did what needed to be done. We’ve given Hershel a lot to think about.” A sudden movement caught his eye; Dale and Andrea were running over to the house, weapons in hand. They must have heard Beth’s scream and come looking to help. “I’m gonna go head them off. Don’t really want to have this conversation tonight. Would you and Morgan find a...a better place for Jimmy? We’ll give him a proper burial in the morning.”

Daryl and Morgan nodded and moved to carry the twice dead body to the side of the house, out of sight. Rick met up with Dale and Andrea and told them Jimmy hadn’t made it, but left it at that. Right now he just wanted sleep, knowing how much he’d need it to get through tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Second Chance – Chapter 13 – Co-authored by Remi Savant and Rckyfrk

Rick met the rest of the group around the small campfire, waiting for breakfast to be ready. Lori came up to him, kissed him on the cheek, and handed him a cup of coffee. He gratefully accepted the cup with a smile then returned her kiss. “Good morning,” he murmured. “Thanks for the coffee.”

“You’re welcome. Did you sleep okay?” she asked, a look of concern crossing her face as she cupped his stubble covered cheek with her palm.

“Not particularly,” he mumbled before taking a sip of the bitter liquid. “With everything that happened last night with Jimmy...” he trailed off. “I have a feeling I’m gonna need this today,” he said, raising and gesturing with his cup. “Have a hunch it’s gonna be a long one.”

Dale announced that breakfast was ready, and the group gathered to eat. The meal was a rushed matter. Once Rick and Daryl finished eating, they headed toward the farmhouse.

Despite the front door standing open, Rick knocked on the screen door. Maggie appeared in the doorway. “Can I help you?”

Rick cleared his throat, “Morning, Maggie. Is your dad around?”

She regarded both men with an almost vacant expression before answering softly, “Yeah. Hang on. Wait here.”

Rick and Daryl looked at each other, both with a look that said, “What was that about?” Daryl shrugged then leaned against the side of the house while Rick turned his back to the door, taking in the sight of Hershel’s vast expanse of land, lit up by the morning sun.

“What are you doing here?” Rick heard behind him as Beth stormed onto the porch. Daryl slowly looked up at the girl as she approached him. “Haven’t you done enough?” Rick could only watch as Daryl straightened himself to face Beth. She didn’t seem intimidated in the least; instead she walked right up to him and folded her arms over her chest. “Did you really make such a scene last night?”

“What kinda scene you talkin’ ‘bout?” Daryl finally spoke up, his voice already sounding defensive. “Far as I could see, what was left of your little boyfriend was coming after you and your old man, and neither o’ you was gonna do a damn thing to stop it. I did what no one else thought to do to save yer hide.” Rick saw that the more each of them spoke, the closer they were leaning toward each other. He wondered if he’d have to get between them to stave off an actual fight.

“You shot Jimmy with your stupid bow and stabbed him over and over instead of just putting him down, like you were playing some stupid game.”

Rick saw that Daryl at least had the decency to look contrite. Beth had a point. Daryl leaned back a little. His voice softened, “That wasn’t Jimmy any more. You oughta know that by now. Look, someone needed to prove to your dad that these things ain’t sick. Ain’t nothin’ bringin’ ‘em back. It was the only way to make ‘im see. It’s not like I get off on killin’ ‘em.”

“Well, you sure could have fooled me,” Beth snapped back.

Rick made a move to go and separate the two when Hershel appeared in the doorway. “That’s enough, Bethy,” the older man said in that soft but forceful way he had. He held the door open for her to go back inside.

“Hey,” Daryl said, his voice still low, almost remorseful. Beth stopped in her tracks and glared at him. “I’m sorry about your friend.”

Beth regarded him for a moment then gave him a weak smile before she disappeared down the hallway.

Hershel faced the other two men, “What can I do for you?” he said dryly, his expression giving nothing away.

Rick replied, “We plan to give Jimmy a proper burial. Seeing as it’s your property, we thought it best to ask you where you’d like him buried.”

Hershel nodded solemnly, “I appreciate the gesture. There’s a nice spot on the edge of the property between two Georgia Oak trees.” He pointed in the direction of the quiet spot and added, “There’s shovels in the stable.”

Rick and Daryl both nodded; Daryl took off down the steps toward the stable. Rick said, “We’ll let you know when everything’s ready,” before following Daryl to grab the shovels and Jimmy’s body. When he reached the yard, he turned back, “After the funeral, I’d like to discuss our options as to what to do with...the barn.” Hershel nodded again and went back into the house.

The two men worked quickly and silently; nothing really needed to be said between them. They figured it wasn’t necessary to dig a full six feet down, instead deciding to dig just deep enough to where Jimmy’s body could lay to rest undisturbed. When they had finished covering Jimmy’s body, replacing the dirt, Rick went to the house to gather the Greene family while Daryl went to the campsite to retrieve the rest of the group. Otis had fashioned a small cross as a grave marker and placed it at the head of the mound of dirt.

Hershel led the group in prayer, and commented on how hard a worker Jimmy was, how he’d do anything to help the family even though he was just a friend. There was a moment of silence; Rick looked around the group and saw that while Patricia and Otis were visibly upset, Beth showed little emotion at all. His mind traveled back to his first time around, remembering how Beth had reacted to her mother-turned-walker and feared the worst, hoping she wouldn’t repeat that particular part of history. He shook the thought from his head and focused on the ground between his feet. Unexpectedly, Beth began to sing “Amazing Grace,” softly, sweetly; Rick decided maybe there was hope for her after all.

The ceremony came to a close and the group began to disperse. Glenn approached Rick and Daryl and asked, “Hey, so what are we going to do about the...situation?”

Rick was about to shush him, but it was too late. Dale asked, “What situation?”

Rick grimaced, mentally slapping himself, and Glenn, and turned to face the older gentleman. Before he could answer, Glenn piped up, “There’s walkers in the barn.” Rick groaned loudly, not wanting to deal with all of this just yet.

“What!?” Dale exclaimed, turning more heads, drawing the attention of the rest of the group. “How do you know?”

Glenn looked guiltily at Rick, but Rick gestured with his hand for him to continue. Before Glenn could start, Morgan interjected, his voice growing in anger as he relayed the information to the group, “Hershel’s been keeping a bunch in there, his wife, his stepson, friends. He thought they were sick and just needed help. We proved him wrong last night...well, Daryl did, anyway, when Jimmy turned.”

The group exploded into angry, demanding inquiries. Andrea yelled, “Wait, Jimmy turned? Why didn’t you tell us? How did he get bit?”

“How long have you known about this? How’d you find out?” T-Dawg questioned.

Lori clutched Carl closer to her, “How many are in there? Is it secure?”

“What are we going to do about them? Why didn’t you tell us?” Dale inquired.

Rick held his hands up in the air, calling for silence. “Let me explain. Daryl and I were out looking for Sophia yesterday. We found her tracks and followed them to a mud hole not far from Hershel’s property line. There were tracks leading from the mud hole to the barn, both walker and human. We confronted Hershel first, out of respect – this is his land, it’s his call what to do with it. He believes...or he used to believe...that they’re still people, that they’re just sick. That this is all just a pandemic, and he was holding them in safety until a cure could be found.” Rick looked at the shocked faces of the group in front of him, and noticed that Carol was no longer standing with them.

“Yesterday, we found Jimmy, passed out in the field by the fence – no scratches, no bite marks. It turns out he had appendicitis, but no one caught it in time to be able to help him. Apparently his appendix had burst and the infection had spread too much for Hershel to treat effectively. Beth was sitting with him after surgery, and he came at her, but it wasn’t Jimmy anymore. He’d turned.”

The group remained silent, the new information sinking in slowly. Rick pressed on, “It seems as though no matter how we die. Everybody turns.”

T-Dawg suggested, “Maybe it’s because the infection had spread into his blood. Maybe that has something to do with it.”

Rick shook his head. “I...I think we’re all infected already.” As he finished, he spotted Carol making her way from the camp ground toward the barn, each step heavy with determination. Rick took off after her, then realized he didn’t have his gun and changed course to run to the camp ground. He shouted over his shoulder, “Daryl! Stop Carol!! Lori, get Carl in the house!” He heard the sound of several confused voices. They might not know what Carol was up to, but he had a really bad feeling of a twisted déjà vu.

Rick hustled to his tent, then thought better of it and raced to the squad car. He yanked the driver side door open and popped the trunk, grabbed one of the bags of guns, and ran as quickly as he could while carrying the load back toward the barn. Once he met back up with the group, he began handing out weapons. He looked up to see Daryl bent over, clutching his side and cursing. If he had to guess, he’d say Daryl had just been on the receiving end of an elbow to the solar plexus.

He caught enough of his breath to yell out, “Carol, STOP!” but she had already taken a pick axe to the padlock and chain keeping the barn doors secured. He left the bag of weapons sitting on the ground and charged toward Carol. He had just reached her when the chain gave way. He yanked her back by the arm, pulling her away from the doors. The others joined him and stared mutely, all of them petrified of what could be coming next.

The barn doors slowly squeaked open. A set of decaying fingers curled around the door; a chorus of raspy groans and growls filled the air as one by one walkers poured out of the opening.

“Aim for the head,” Morgan ordered, and fired the first shot, dropping a man clad in a fraying pair of coveralls. A volley of gunfire sounded as the group opened fire, taking out the walkers as they stepped into the sunlight.

After several minutes of shooting, the walkers stopped trickling out of the barn. Hershel and his family had joined up with the group. “What do you think you’re doing? You said we were going to discuss this!” Hershel yelled, obviously furious.

Their attention was drawn back to the barn by the sound of small shuffling feet and a high pitched growl. Rick’s stomach dropped as he reluctantly turned to face the barn doors again.

There, standing in front of them all, looking almost confused, was a small child, dressed in worn sneakers, torn jeans and a gore-covered soccer jersey. Beth cried out, not being able to contain her reaction, “Billy!”

Rick blinked in disbelief. He looked again at the scattered remains of the barn walkers. Sophia was nowhere to be seen.

Everyone’s focus shifted to a slight movement coming from the side of the barn. They heard a small voice before they saw its source.

“Mama?”

Chapter Text

Second Chance – Chapter 14 – Co-authored by Remi Savant & Rckyfrk

“Mama?”

Rick’s eyes widened as he searched for the source of the surprising sound – the last voice he expected to hear.

Time seemed to slow down as the little girl crept around the corner of the barn. Rick lowered his gun, his muscles going lax in shocked relief. Out of his peripheral vision, Rick noticed everyone else in the now silent firing line was having the same reaction.

The silence was broken by Carol’s choked sob. “Sophia?”

Rick looked over as Carol walked in front of the group toward the barn. She sprinted through the fallen walkers, pausing only when she found her path blocked by a mound of twice-dead corpses. She stopped in her tracks, catching herself from falling over the pile of bodies.

Suddenly Carol fell sideways to the ground. She screamed in terror and started kicking at something, her arms trying to crab-walk backward. It was only then that Rick noticed one of the walkers was still moving and was fighting to bring Carol’s leg to its snapping jaws. In the next instant, its rotting maw clamped down on Carol’s ankle, eliciting a shriek mixed with pain and panic.

Rick realized the small boy walker, momentarily forgotten by the group, had made its way closer to Carol completely unnoticed, and was now standing over the screaming woman.

Rick raised his gun and aimed at the boy. He hesitated, knowing that if he missed or if the bullet went straight through, it could hit Carol or Sophia. Everyone else seemed to have the same reticence because they all had their guns pointed toward the barn, but no one fired a shot, almost as if they were waiting to follow Rick’s lead.

Rick made his final decision and took aim, figuring the risk was worth if it saved Carol’s life. He squeezed the trigger.

CLICK

‘Shit,’ Rick thought to himself, mentally kicking himself for not grabbing a backup weapon from the bag. Making a split second decision, Rick broke into a run, heading straight for Carol as the small walker knelt over her. He had a fleeting feeling of relief when he realized there were no shots being fired, momentarily glad that he would not be caught in any crossfire.

That feeling of gladness vanished just as quickly as it had surfaced when he saw the small walker bend over and pull a bloody bite out of Carol’s shoulder. Rick used his momentum from running to punt the toe of his boot into the side of the walker’s head, following through and crushing its skull under his heel. He turned and grabbed Carol under her arms, dragging her away from the first walker. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Daryl making a run for Sophia, who had also started to cross the barnyard to get closer to her mother.

There was a flurry of motion as the rest of the group joined him in the center of the barnyard. He heard the sickening crunch as someone, he wasn’t sure who, dispatched the walker who had bitten Carol’s leg. He kneeled behind Carol and pulled her up to his chest, wrapping one arm around her back to support her. He looked down into her panicked eyes and tried to say something reassuring, but words failed him. The wound at the base of her neck was bleeding profusely over his hand, but he found he didn’t care. “Carol, I’m so sorry,” he whispered.

Carol’s eyes wandered around the group; the only word to leave her lips was to call for her daughter, “Sophia,” her voice growing weaker by the second.

Rick looked at the rest of the group, “Someone get me a rag, now, before Sophia comes over to see her. She shouldn’t see her like this.” His eyes were cast back down to Carol’s face and watched as someone laid a bandana to cover her wound. He looked over his shoulder and nodded at Daryl.

“Mama?” Sophia’s voice was thick with sadness and fear. She stood in front of Rick, whimpering quietly.

Carol weakly reached her hand out toward Sophia, who clasped her mother’s hand in hers. She spoke softly between her labored breaths, “My baby girl...I’m so proud of you...for surviving...all alone...I love you...so much...be a good girl...I love you.” She looked up at Daryl and shook her head then turned her eyes skyward. Daryl put his hand on Sophia’s shoulder and guided her away from the group, the girl protesting the whole way. Once Sophia was out of earshot, Carol whispered, “Take care of my daughter...don’t let me turn.”

Releasing her last breath, she was gone.

Rick heard the sounds of sniffling and sobbing; he looked around him to find everyone’s face grief-stricken, even Hershel and his family. He reached to his hip and unsheathed his knife. With one quick thrust to the back of her head, he guaranteed to honor Carol’s last request. He laid her body gently on the ground and slowly stood up. He looked around at the dozens of bodies lying dead around the barnyard and declared, “We bury our family and burn the rest.” He gave a pointed look to Hershel, who only nodded solemnly.

The next several hours were spent moving the bodies to their final resting places, whether that was a grave or a funeral pyre. The members of the group worked in near silence, the events of the day hanging heavily over them like a dark cloud.

The sun was starting to sink below the horizon as they finished their heavy task. Rick and Hershel stood at the head of the group as they prepared to lead everyone in saying their final farewells to their family by the light of the funeral pyre.

Everyone had nothing but kind words to say about Annette, Shawn and Carol; they shared stories and memories of their loved ones. Hershel quoted several scriptures from the Bible, still trying to bring hope and comfort to the survivors.

When the memorial concluded, Hershel’s family returned to the house, the rest to the camp ground. Dale and Andrea had volunteered to take first night watch. Rick settled closely to Lori and Carl in their tent and fought for every minute of troubled sleep he could muster.

The next morning, after everyone had eaten a silent breakfast, Rick went to Hershel’s house, telling the older man he’d like to call a meeting and wanted everyone’s attendance and input. Hershel agreed, and Rick returned to retrieve everyone from the campsite.

Once everyone had gathered beneath the large tree in the front yard, Rick walked up on the porch to address everyone. “We have a lot to discuss, and I want everyone to have a chance to be heard...and listened to. Now that the shock of yesterday has worn off a little, we need to decide what to do next.”

“What do you mean, ‘what to do next’?” Andrea questioned.

“Well,” Rick began, “yesterday we fired off several dozen rounds of ammo. We know that walkers are attracted to sound. I’m pretty sure every walker in at least a ten-mile radius heard all that gunfire and is more than likely making its way to find what caused it.” He paused and let that piece of information sink in before continuing. “We need to decide whether or not we want to stay here to see what happens or get the hell out of Dodge before anything does.”

“My family’s not leaving,” Hershel declared without hesitation. “This farm has been in my family for generations, and I’m not going to give it up without a fight, especially not on the off chance that nothing even comes through this way.” Otis stood behind Hershel, nodding in agreement. Beth, Maggie and Patricia looked nervous, but made no effort or gesture to object. Rick noticed Glenn inching his way closer to Maggie.

Dale nodded toward Hershel, “I think, as long as it’s alright with Hershel, we need to stay here as long as we can.”

Rick looked back at Hershel, seeking his answer. “As far as I’m concerned, you and your group need to find a new place to live.” The Atlanta group erupted into protests, demanding to know his reasoning and trying to persuade him to change his mind. He waited for them to quiet down, refusing to yell over the din. “You all decided to deal with everything in the barn without consulting with me. Rick promised we’d have a discussion and you all took it upon yourselves. My land, my decision. You all need to be gone in three days.” Having said his peace, he walked back into the house without a look back at the group. Beth and Patricia followed him in; Maggie and Otis stayed for the rest of the group meeting.

Rick sighed heavily, “Alright. Looks like we need to start packing up and figuring out where to go next.” The group in front of him looked despondent and started to head back to the camp.

Glenn piped up, “Well, who gets the trailer? And all the food? We risked our asses for all that stuff; we can’t just leave it.”

“You wouldn’t have found all of that if I hadn’t taken you there,” Otis fought back.

Rick stepped in, staving off the fight before it began. Holding his hands up, he tried quieting the men down, “Alright, alright. Otis we’ll leave plenty of supplies and food for everyone staying here. It’s only fair.” He looked at Glenn, who was scowling, then to Daryl, who only nodded his head slightly, a grim look on his face. “It’s settled then. A couple of us bring medical supplies into the house then load some of the food and drinks into the trailer. We’ll take the trailer with us...wherever we end up going. The rest of us need to start planning and packing for our departure. Daryl, if you want to spend some time hunting, now would be a good time; stock up on meat while we can.”

The group dispersed and Rick stepped off the porch, heading toward the camp. Lori caught up with him and spoke just loud enough for him to hear. “Rick, you’ve got to talk to Hershel. Talk him out of this, make him let us stay. We can’t leave.” Her voice sounded anxious.

“Lori, you heard the man; his land, his decision. I’m sorry honey, but we’ve done plenty of damage here, we need to respect his wishes,” Rick explained, a niggling feeling forming at the base of his spine.

Lori stopped in her tracks, grabbing his arm to pull him around to face her. She looked him straight in the eye, “We can’t go back out there. Rick, I’m pregnant.” His twisted sense of déjà vu hit him with full force. “I just found out yesterday.” Rick tried to look as surprised as he could. Memories of losing Lori flooded his brain, and a rattled look crossed his features. Lori must have taken his look as one of shock and continued, “You’ve got to talk to Hershel and change his mind, make him see reason. Do something, but we can’t leave. We just can’t.”

Rick slumped his shoulders, looked toward the ground and let out a heavy breath. He met her eyes again and said, “I’ll see what I can do.” Lori hugged him and whispered her “thank you,” and headed back toward camp. Rick stayed put for a moment, trying to recall any past conversations, sorting through what worked and what didn’t as far as convincing Hershel to let them stay. He slowly turned and walked back to the porch, knocking softly on the screen door.

Maggie answered the door, stepping outside to talk to Rick, “Hey. I’m sorry for my dad. He’s still pretty pissed about you proving him wrong,” she added with a half a grin. “Plus the whole, you know, barn situation.”

“Yeah, I kinda figured. I need to talk to him though. Would you get him for me?”

Maggie held the screen door open for him, “Sure. Come on in.”

Rick followed the young woman in and walked through the house with her, looking for her father. Not finding him anywhere downstairs, he, and eventually Glenn, followed Maggie upstairs into his bedroom. Rick noticed a pile of women’s clothing on the bed. “Your step-mother’s things?”

“Yeah, he was sure she would recover,” Maggie shrugged, “and they would pick up right where they left off.”

Glenn held up a flask he had found on the dresser, “I never figured your dad as a big drinker.”

“He wasn’t,” Maggie confirmed, “He wouldn’t even allow liquor in the house. He gave up drinking the day I was born and hasn’t touched a drop since.”

Rick’s déjà vu kicked in again. “If I were to pick a time to start drinking, now would be it. Where’s the nearest bar?”

Maggie didn’t even have to think about it, “Hatlin’s.”

“I remember seeing that place on our run,” Glenn volunteered, “I can take you there.”

“Alright, let’s head out,” Rick turned to leave.

“Do you really have to go?” Maggie asked. “Can’t we just give him directions?”

Glenn protested, “It’s an easy run, Maggie. Besides, everyone agreed no one was to go out alone anymore.”

“An easy run?” Maggie countered, “Like our run to the pharmacy? Glenn...”

“Maggie,” Rick interrupted, chuckling at first then turning serious, “I’ll bring him back. Both of them.” Maggie nodded her reluctant assent. Glenn kissed Maggie on the cheek, and the two men headed downstairs and to the squad car to head into town.

Chapter Text

Second Chance – Chapter 15 – Co-authored by Remi Savant & Rckyfrk

Rick followed Glenn’s directions down the highway. Overgrown fields and random walkers dotted the landscape as the miles zipped past.

“Maggie said she loves me,” Glenn broke the silence.

Rick cast a sidelong glance at him, “Is that so?”

Glenn nodded, “Yeah. I didn’t say it back, though. I just...she’s only thinking that way because it’s the end of the world. I could be anybody, ya know?” He threw an imaginary piece of lint and focused his gaze on a spot on the floor.

“Naw,” Rick shook his head, “Maggie’s smarter than that. She seems like a girl who knows what she wants.” He could still see the trepidation on Glenn’s face. “Hey,” he began, waiting for Glenn to look back at him. “This is a good thing. It’s obvious she loves ya...and pretty clear that you love her, too.”

They carried on their conversation as they rode, slowing down only to navigate their way through a traffic jam of deserted cars staggered across the road. Rick and Glenn continued driving, a comfortable silence growing between them, but becoming less so as time went on. Glenn cleared his throat before asking, “How’s...uh...how’s Lori?”

Rick glanced warily at the younger man, wondering how he knew something was going on with Lori before realizing that she would have asked Glenn to pick up a pregnancy test for her on his last pharmacy run. She probably even swore him to secrecy. He almost chuckled at the thought, knowing Glenn can’t keep a secret to save his life. “She’s fine. Thanks for asking.”

“I wanted to tell you, but she made me swear not to...daily,” Glenn readjusted his ball cap nervously.

Rick chuckled, “That’s alright, Glenn. Trust me, I know, she can get a little scary sometimes.” He grinned then continued, “I’m sure she appreciates you keeping your word. She probably doesn’t need any extra stress, any extra attention from the rest of the group.”

“So...what are you going to do?”

“How do you mean?” asked Rick, genuinely confused.

Glenn fixed him with a pointed stare. “I mean, what are you going to do?”

It dawned on Rick that Glenn was asking if they were planning on keeping the baby or not. “Well, it’s not like we have a whole lot of options. Hershel may be a decent surgeon and good at patching people up, but he doesn’t seem the type to...” he trailed off, not able to even finish the thought. Instead, he shrugged, “Guess we’re keeping her.”

“Her?” Glenn asked, surprised. “How do you know it’s a ‘her?’”

Rick focused on keeping his face blank as he inwardly chastised himself and searched for a plausible response. “Just wishful thinking, I guess.”

They chatted back and forth until they got closer to the town and Glenn focused on directing Rick on which turns to make to find Hatlin’s bar. Rick parked the car in the middle of the street. Both men checked to make sure their weapons were loaded and ready to go.

“Too bad we’re not here for better reasons,” Glenn joked. Rick couldn’t hold back the grin from his face. They ventured together to the front door of the bar. Rick kicked open the door and swept the room, looking for Hershel or any sign of a threat. Light streamed in from behind him, illuminating the swirl of dust motes dancing in the musty air. His eyes gradually grew accustomed to the dimness of the room. Straight ahead of him, sitting at the bar, was Hershel and a half empty bottle of whiskey.

“Hershel?” Rick called out.

The older man, barely looking over his shoulder asked, “Who’s with you?”

“Glenn.”

Hershel scoffed, “Maggie send him?”

Rick shook his head, then realized Hershel couldn’t hear him, “He volunteered.” He glanced at the younger man and added, “He’s good like that,” trying to add his vote of confidence in him. Rick took a tentative step toward the bar, “How much of that have you had already?”

“Not enough,” Hershel answered, unscrewing the cap from the bottle and refilling his glass.

“Hershel, we need to talk. Come on, let’s get you home,” Rick tried, placing a hand on his shoulder.

Hershel shrugged him off, “We can talk here.”

“It’s not safe here.”

“It’s not safe anywhere. You and your group clearly demonstrated that point.”

“Okay, well it’s less safe here than at your house. Come on, your family needs you.”

“Why would they need me?” Hershel challenged. “I’m just an old fool. Your people proved that.”

Glenn stepped forward, “What are you talking about?”

Hershel shook his head, as if he was trying to straighten out his thoughts. “I was just so certain they were all just sick...that it was just a matter of time before someone came up with a cure and we could save them all.”

“You had hope,” Rick reassured him. “That’s a good thing, a hard thing to find in this world.”

Hershel finally turned to face Rick. “That hope,” he argued, “almost got my girls killed. Jimmy came at us, and we were totally unprepared. If Daryl hadn’t been there...” He trailed off, shaking his head and looking at the ground. “Then he went and proved that Jimmy had become one of those things, just like you all tried telling me.”

“Having hope doesn’t make a fool, Hershel,” Rick countered. “We need that hope to keep us going.”

“And where has that hope gotten us? What about Jimmy? He turned, but he was never bitten. Seems there’s even less hope than we thought.”

It was Rick’s turn to shake his head. He searched for an answer, an explanation, a glimmer of hope, but found none. “I don’t know. I don’t know what caused him to turn. Maybe it’s some kind of chemical warfare gone wrong. Maybe it’s some kind of genetic...mutation. Maybe it’s something else. I don’t know. But whatever it is, it doesn’t mean we can give up hope.”

“That’s exactly what it means,” Hershel argued, slamming his hand on the bar, his voice growing louder as his drunken temper flared.

An uncomfortable silence hung in the air.

“You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favor.”

Rick and Hershel both turned and gaped at Glenn.

“What?” Glenn asked. “Dale’s got books to read, but they’re all...kinda sucky. Dale loaned me his Bible and told me to try Revelations. That book’s...weird. I told Maggie about it, and she suggested giving Job a try.” The younger man grinned, “I can definitely relate to that guy. Anyway, that passage just kinda stuck with me.”

Hershel nodded approvingly, “I’m impressed. It still doesn’t change anything, though. Still showed me for the fool that I am, believing that there could be still be hope.”

Rick leaned on the bar next to Hershel, facing both him and Glenn, “Look, Hershel, it’s not about what we believe anymore. Whether you think there’s any hope left of not, what matters is your family needs you. They’re looking to you as their leader, just like my people look to me. Neither of us asked for this, but that doesn’t matter either. All that matters is them, keeping them safe, keeping their hope alive, fighting for their survival at all costs.”

Hershel regarded Rick, seeming to let his words seep in to be mulled over. A half smirk crossed his face as he turned back to face the bar. Rick feared that his words had fallen on deaf ears until Hershel raised his glass and downed the last of his drink. He slammed the empty tumbler onto the bar and scooted the stool backwards, causing a loud screech of wood on wood to fill the almost empty room.

Rick smiled as Hershel found his footing. As he clapped a hand on the older man’s back, all three jumped at a loud, slow, banging sound coming from the front door. They turned to find dozens of silhouettes ambling around the windows and front door.

“Shit.”

More and more of the walkers outside joined in the assault on the store front. Rick knew it was only a matter of time before the glass gave way. Fortunately, he knew there was a back entrance that led into the alleyway. Rick mumbled, “I got an idea,” and looked over at Glenn.

“No. No way. I’m not going to be the distraction again,” Glenn argued. Under any other circumstances, Rick would have laughed at Glenn’s sudden adamant defiance, but there was no time for jocularity.

“Relax. I’m going outside to distract them. You two stay here, stay hidden. Be ready to run when the coast is clear.” Rick fished his car keys out of his pocket and tossed them to Glenn. He turned to Hershel, “Do you have a weapon?” Hershel shook his head in stunned silence. “There’s probably a shot gun or something behind the bar,” he said over his shoulder as he rushed out the back door.

Once outside, Rick darted around the corner of the adjacent building. He moved quickly through the alleys until he made his way back to the street. He saw a mob of at least two, maybe three, dozen walkers pounding on the entrance to the bar. He quickly pressed his back against the wall, hiding himself from the swarm. Steeling his nerves, he spun around, quickly aimed his pistol, and fired two shots, each finding their mark in walkers’ skulls.

As the mob turned its attention toward him, he sighed in relief. His plan had worked, at least so far. A second later he realized it was a good time to start running for his life. He dashed around the corner to the alley way behind the bar. He found the back door that he had left slightly propped open and ran through it, pulling it closed securely behind him. He hurried toward the front entrance, happy to find that Glenn and Hershel were no longer inside.

Rick exploded through the front door to find the squad car already running in the street. Glenn reached over the front seat to open the passenger door and Rick dove in. As soon as he closed the door behind him, Glenn peeled out and tore down the street, leaving tire marks and the smell of burnt rubber in his wake.

The three men panted, fighting to catch their breath, half laughing as they realized their escape had been successful. “I can’t believe that worked,” Glenn remarked.

“You’re a crazy son of a bitch,” Hershel commented between breaths.

Rick glanced over his shoulder, “Thanks...I think.”

“It’s me who should be thanking you. You two saved my life back there.”

“We do what we can to protect our own,” Rick said, matter-of-factly.

The next several minutes of the ride back to the farm were filled with a calm silence. “You and your people are welcome to stay as long as you need,” Hershel’s voice drifted from the back seat.

Rick turned in his seat to face him. “I appreciate that Hershel. Thank you.” Relief washed over him like a soothing balm. He could immediately feel the tension in his muscles evaporate with the knowledge that they would be safe, that Lori and Carl and his unborn child would have a fighting chance at surviving.

“We take care of our own,” Hershel replied, then turned to watch the scenery race past his window.

Rick and Glenn shared a knowing look. They were all safe...for now.

Chapter Text

Second Chance – Chapter 16 – Co-authored by Remi Savant & Rckyfrk

Glenn steered the police cruiser carefully down the driveway back to Hershel’s farm. Rick was grateful for the clear moonlit sky; they made it a practice to avoid turning on a car’s headlights if at all possible so as not to attract any more walkers than necessary. Glenn pulled the car up to the front steps to let Hershel out, then drove toward the camp.

Rick looked out the passenger window, his gaze landing on the recently emptied barn. The gears in his mind started turning. Visions from the dream of the time before seeped into his subconscious, particularly the memories of the herd that ended up chasing the group from Hershel’s farm. Rick had thought that the noise from the gunfire when they cleared out the barn had attracted the walkers. If that was true, how much longer did they have this time around before the farm was swarmed and overrun?

Glenn jerked the car to a stop near the camp, pulling Rick from his thoughts abruptly. Rick made no move to leave the car, prompting Glenn to ask, "Hey man, you okay?"

Rick shook his head and looked at Glenn, "Yeah, just thinking."

"About what?"

"Oh, you know, stuff. Some things have been weighing on my mind." Rick hoped that if he was vague enough, Glenn would drop the issue. Rick was lost in thought, wondering if there was some way he could warn the rest without sounding absolutely insane. He decided that if he couldn’t save the farm from a massive herd, he could at least prepare everyone to defend themselves. His mind made up, Rick opened the car door and headed to his tent.

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The next morning, Rick and Lori were discussing the plans for the day. When Rick revealed that he wanted to organize a supply run, Lori looked visibly upset. He asked what was wrong and she replied, "Just seems like you’re always leaving. Can’t you just stay here?"

Rick lowers his voice, "I was going to pick up supplies for you...vitamins, and things like that. Who else could we ask to do that? Your pregnancy isn’t exactly common knowledge."

Lori paused for a moment in thought. "Glenn knows. If Glenn knows, I’m sure Maggie knows, too. We could ask them."

Rick nodded, feeling slightly guilty that he was asking others to shoulder this burden. "Alright," he agreed, trying to hide the reluctance in his voice, "Would you please make sure and get everyone’s sizes so we...they can get winter clothes for everyone, and anything else they might need?"

Lori accepted and worked her way through the group as everyone ate.

After breakfast, Rick, Daryl, Glenn, and T-Dog approached Hershel’s house. Rick walked up the steps and knocked on the door. Hershel greeted him on the porch and asked what was going on. Rick asked, "How are you feeling today, Hershel?"

Hershel regarded him slightly bleary-eyed, "I’ve felt better, honestly, but nothing I can’t handle."

"Glad to hear it." Rick replied, "Some of the guys are going into town for supplies...warmer clothes, toiletries, things like that. Do y'all need anything?"

"Give me ten minutes to check with everyone," Hershel responded, walking back into the house.

Ten minutes later, Maggie walked out onto the porch, carrying a small notepad, "C’mon, let’s go."

T-Dog turned to Glenn, "You got the list from camp?"

"Yeah, Lori gave it to me before we came up here," Glenn confirmed.

"Remember to bring it back washed and gassed up," Rick said jokingly as the others loaded up the van. As Rick stepped past Daryl, he lowered his voice and whispered, "Don’t forget the BB guns."

"You know they ain't gonna do a damn bit of good against walkers," Daryl reminded Rick.

"I know," Rick answered, nodding. "Seems a shame to waste real bullets on target practice, though." Daryl regarded him for a silent moment as understanding crossed his face, then nodded and climbed into the van. Rick watched as the four of them drove off.

As the van pulled away, Rick wondered what he should do. He looked over at Carl and saw the younger Grimes kicking a small rock around, looking bored. "Hey Carl," he called, "you busy?" Carl looked up eagerly and shook his head, a grin already starting to grow on his face. "Come on, let’s go see if there’s anything we can do to help out around here."

The two of them found Otis out in the fields on the far end of the property, inspecting the fences. Rick strode up to him, Carl following closely behind. "Need some help?" Rick asked.

"Sure, if you’re offering," Otis replied, "I’m just checking the fences to make sure there aren’t any weak points for the animals to get loose."

"Or for walkers to get into the farm?" Carl blurted out precociously.

Fat chance, that fence won’t last long against a herd, Rick thought to himself as he glanced warily at the distant woods and clapped a hand on his son’s shoulder. He heard the distant rumble of thunder. "We should hurry up and get this finished before a storm rolls in." Carl nodded in agreement and the three men worked quickly and quietly, racing the impending storm.

They finished checking the fences just as the first drops of rain splashed onto the ground. They could see darker clouds on the horizon as they walked back to the house. Hershel met them on the front porch. "It looks like there’s a nasty storm kicking up, you should get your people into the house where it’s safer," he said, gesturing in the direction of the camp.

Rick and Carl raced back to camp, relaying Hershel’s message to everyone, and helped Lori gather up a few things before running to the comfort and shelter of Hershel’s home. A few minutes later, Morgan, Dale, and Andrea followed suit and came running in from the rain.

Patricia and Beth announced that it would still be a while before it was time to start dinner. Beth suggested that Duane, Sophia and Carl join her in playing a game or putting together a puzzle. She asked Carl to pick something out while she went to start moving the other children from where they were recuperating.

Rick asked Hershel about Duane and Sophia’s progress. "Duane’s healing fine. Should be up and running around before we know it. I just want him to take it easy for now. Better safe than sorry." Rick nodded in agreement, remembering how long it had taken Carl to fully recover in his realistic dream. Hershel continued, "Sophia was pretty dehydrated. It’s a wonder she survived on her own for so long. She told me she’d eaten mostly peaches, so she’s pretty anemic, too. Need to get some protein in her. The sooner Otis or Daryl brings back some fresh meat, the better."

"Well, it should have been an easy run today," Rick added. "Hopefully they’re all on their way back right now. Who knows? Maybe they’ll raid a grocery store and get some canned meat."

Hershel chuckled. When Rick gave him a questioning look, he explained, "I haven’t had a fried SPAM sandwich in a long time."

"I miss fried chicken and cole slaw," Dale mused. "My wife made the best fried chicken."

"Key lime pie," Andrea said dreamily. "I would always take Amy for a piece of pie for her birthday. She never liked cake much, but she loved pie."

Rick closed his eyes and let his head fall back. "Ice cold beer. Used to love coming home after a shift, flipping on the game and cracking open a cold one.

"What kind of game?" Dale asked. "Baseball? Football?"

"It never mattered," Lori interjected. "He’d watch any sport, any time. I think he did it to avoid doing chores," she teased, earning a laugh from the rest of the group. "Me, I miss ice cream."

Everyone groaned in agreement. "What was your favorite flavor?" Andrea asked.

"Oh, I don’t know. Haagen Dazs? Ben and Jerry’s?"

"Um, Lori," Otis began, "those are brands, not flavors."

"I know," Lori said with a sly smile. The group laughed again. "What about you Patricia?"

She grinned before answering, "Well, it’s a little out of season, but I’ll really miss having hot cocoa and eggnog around Christmas."

"Chili dogs," Morgan said out of the blue. "Extra cheese and onions. One thing I won’t miss is the heart burn."

Otis wrapped his arm around Patricia’s shoulders. "Your mac and cheese." He addressed the rest of the group, "She would make a great big pan of it and bake it. Then she’d cut up the leftovers and deep fry ‘em. Add a sprinkle of hot sauce...man, oh man, them’s good eats."

"Well, now that everyone’s good and hungry, maybe I should start dinner now," Patricia suggested, pushing off the table to get to her feet.

"I’ll help you," Lori volunteered, following Patricia into the kitchen.

The rest of the group continued listing different things they missed from their old lives. A loud clap of thunder shook the house and caused a break in their conversation. "Hope everyone’s okay out there," Andrea murmured, gazing out the rain-splattered window.

"I’m sure they’re fine," Dale replied. "Just taking their time. Maybe they’re waiting out the storm in a store or something."

The front door swung open; the group turned to see the source of the sound and found Daryl standing in the foyer, rain dripping off him. "Maybe we were hauling all your shit back here and the tires got stuck in the damn muddy driveway," he thundered. "Y’all gonna come help unload or what?"

"Can’t it just sit in the van until the storm passes?" Andrea asked snarkily.

"It’s not all in the van," Daryl bit back at her.

Rick furrowed his eyebrows. "What do you mean, ‘it’s not all in the van?’ Where is it?"

Daryl rolled his eyes, a shadow of a grin curling his lips, and jerked his head, gesturing outside. "C'mon."

The group followed him outside, staying under the roof of the porch, and looked where Daryl was pointing. There was the familiar faded green van, but idling behind it was a large bright red Chevy truck with a tarp doing its best, but ultimately failing, to protect the pile of supplies peeking out from underneath it.

"Where the hell did you get that?" exclaimed Rick, marveling at the ingenuity of the four that had gone on the run.

Daryl replied, "You wanna talk about this now, or after we unload the truck?"

Rick nodded and met Daryl by the truck, helping to untie the tarp. Most of the others joined in, each carrying an armload of various supplies into the house. Glenn cut the engine on the van; he and Maggie jumped out and grabbed armfuls of supplies from the truck also.

Once everyone was back inside the house, after unloading the truck’s cargo, Beth and Patricia brought a stack of towels for everyone to dry off. The rainstorm had brought with it a slight chill in the air, and everyone who brought in supplies was shivering a little in their rain-soaked clothing. Hershel opened the fireplace, placed wood and kindling inside and lit the kindling with a match. Within minutes, the small flame grew into a crackling fire, warming the occupants of the Greene living room.

"Reminds me of when we moved into our first apartment," Rick said as he smiled over at Lori. "We'd just pulled up with your brother and Shane's trucks and the skies just opened up. The damn cardboard boxes were falling apart in our hands, and the couch got absolutely soaked," he laughed. "We had to use a blowdryer to try and dry it off."

Lori giggled at him from across the semi-circle. "Yeah, that thing never smelled right afterwards."

Their shared story prompted others to share their own tales of first apartments and unexpected events as they dried off and warmed up. It was as if they had all been friends for years, not just a few weeks, as they listened and comiserated and enjoyed each other's company. It seemed as though their little fireside chat helped them to forget about the world outside, allowing them to let their guard down and relax - something they hadn't been able to do in such a long time - even if it was for just one evening.

Patricia, Beth and Lori went to finish preparing dinner for everyone and served the food as they sat around the fire. As they ate, Rick figured now was as good a time as any to reveal his plan to the group. "Hey, Daryl, about how many BB guns did you manage to grab?"

The redneck shrugged, "I dunno...half dozen or so."

Rick nodded, then addressed the rest of the group, "I've been thinking, we've got all these guns and ammo, but only a few of us really know how to use them, really handle them, clean them, know how to shoot. I thought tomorrow, if the rain ever lets up, we could do some weapons training. Maybe even some hand to hand combat training...just in case. We don't know what's all out there, and I'd rather us be prepared for whatever comes our way." He saw Hershel bristle at the mention of using weapons, "I wouldn't dare make this mandatory, but I strongly suggest it. I think everyone could use some training so they can defend themselves." He relaxed when he saw Hershel nod slightly in approval.

The group around him murmured their general consent. Rick asked Otis and Daryl to help with the training, them being the most experienced along with himself on handling weapons. Otis would be in charge of rifles, Rick would take care of handguns, and Daryl would give lessons on knives and hand to hand combat. "Been in enough bar fights with Merle, might as well put that shit to good use."

As the night went on and the fire slowly died, the members of the group found places to bunk for the night. Hershel bid everyone a good night and excused himself to go upstairs. Rick noticed Glenn and Maggie share a pointed look; Maggie followed her father upstairs, Glenn sneakily following her minutes later. Daryl had volunteered to keep watch on the front porch. Beth brought out several extra pillows and blankets, trying to make everyone comfortable as they camped out in the living room. As Rick settled in with Lori and Carl on the pull-out couch, he noticed Beth go out to the porch with a blanket for Daryl and come back in several minutes later. He briefly wondered just what they had talked about; Daryl wasn't exactly known for holding conversations lasting more than a few minutes.

As the minutes ticked by, Rick heard his friends' breathing even out as they all eventually fell asleep. Scattered snores filled the air around them mixing with the sounds of rain falling outside. Sleep finally found him, though concern still lingered in the back of his mind: they had been relatively lucky so far, but just how long would they be truly safe here at the farm?

 

Chapter Text

Second Chance – Chapter 17 – Co-Authored by Remi Savant & Rckyfrk

Rick woke to the clear, piercing light of dawn after a night of storms. The other occupants of the living room were grumbling and moaning as they got up and stretched. Rick unfolded his arms from around Lori, kissed her temple, and made to get up and out of the hide-a-bed.

After everyone had eaten breakfast, they began discussing the best course of action regarding the supplies in the van. No one seemed to have a clear idea as to where to store all the extra items. It wasn’t feasible to keep everything in their tents, but leaving it all piled up in the van would be more than inconvenient, not to mention it would render the van basically useless as a means of transportation.

Hershel approached Rick in the middle of the discussion. “Before you all go making your decision, I’d like to invite everyone to stay as long as you want...here in the house. Last night proved there’s room for everyone in here, and I’d hate to see you out in the cold now that the weather’s starting to turn. Besides,” he looked over at Maggie, “it’s the Christian thing to do.”

A broad smile crossed Rick’s face as he extended his hand to Hershel. Shaking the older man’s hand firmly, he said, “Thank you, Hershel. I really appreciate that.”

“We all do,” Dale spoke up from behind Rick and was joined by nods and murmurs of agreement from the group. Rick smiled, glad to see his family was becoming a more cohesive group.

“Well, that changes things a little bit,” Rick began. “I guess we all need to start tearing down camp and moving up here, then unload the van and bring all that stuff in here, too.”

“Hold up, Rick,” T-Dog interjected. “Yeah, we might have all fit in here last night, but it was a pretty tight fit as it was. We start piling all kinds of supplies in here, ain’t gonna be enough room for everything.”

Andrea asked, “What do you suggest?”

“Use the big trailer,” T-Dog replied. “We take out anything we’ll need right away and put everything else in there.”

Otis nodded, “I like that idea. We’d need to reorganize everything, but I think we can get everything to fit. Keep it parked near the house for easy access.”

“Sounds like we’ve got our day planned for us then.” Rick glanced around the group, “Might as well move all the vehicles closer to the house, too. No sense in them being parked all over the property anymore.” With that, everyone set out to put the plans into action.

Daryl came up to Rick, crossbow in its usual spot, hoisted upon his shoulder. “Hey, man, where you want all the practice guns?”

Rick scratched his head as he thought, “I guess we oughta move the real guns out of the cruiser. I’ll ask Dale if we can store them in his RV. In the meantime, I guess just keep the practice guns in the barn for now. Can’t imagine Hershel having an issue with that, but I’ll ask him too.” Daryl nodded and began to walk away. “Hey, wait a minute,” Rick called out. Daryl turned to face him, eyeing him questioningly. “You never did tell me how you got that truck.”

Daryl scoffed with a smirk, “We were out getting all the sh...” he paused as Hershel walked through the room, “...stuff everyone asked for, and the van was filling up. Hadn’t even made it through half the list. Figured instead of making two trips, we’d just find another van. Found that baby instead.”

“It’s nice!” Rick approved.

“Yeah...gotta clean out the cab, though,” Daryl continued. Rick gave him a puzzled look. “Not sure exactly what happened. My guess is the, uh, original owner went to gas up before heading out of town and got bit. Locked himself in the cab and bled out, then turned. Had to put the sumbitch down. Messy damn thing, got crap all over the place.” He looked over his shoulder at the truck woefully. “Not looking forward to cleaning that up. Maybe I’ll get Glenn to help.” He looked back at Rick and grinned slightly before resuming his usual scowl and headed down the steps of the porch and out into the yard.

Everyone worked on rearranging living quarters, tearing down the camp, and hauling supplies from one place to another. Otis spearheaded reorganizing the FEMA trailer, enlisting the help of Lori, Beth, Sophia and Carl. Once the van was unloaded, Rick, Daryl, and T-Dog worked on getting the van unstuck from the mud and brought it to join the rest of the vehicles parked in front of Hershel’s house.

Rick came up to check on how Lori was doing, not wanting her to take on more than she could handle, especially in her condition and in the heat of the Georgia sun. Satisfied that she was okay, he asked her, “Where’s Carl?”

“I think he’s in the house with Duane,” Lori answered. “That poor kid is just itching to get back into the swing of things. I think Carl feels bad for him.” Rick chuckled, glad to hear his son was still the good-natured boy he remembered.

All the activities around the farm lasted well into the afternoon, delaying Rick’s plans for weapons training until the next day. He suggested everyone take the rest of the evening off to relax after a hard day of work.

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Everyone in the group, including Hershel, had been training with Otis, Rick and Daryl, along with keeping up with chores around the farm. Rick had cleared with Hershel where the different groups could go; Hershel suggested an outer paddock near the edge of the woods that had a split-rail fence perfect for balancing tin cans for long-range marksmanship.

Along with finding several BB guns, Daryl had brought back just as many paintball guns of all shapes and sizes; Hershel gave permission to use the side of the old barn for target practice with the paintball guns. Daryl conducted his training under the shade of the large oak tree. Everyone split into three groups and rotated between the different “training stations.”

After several days of training, Rick overheard Maggie and Glenn trading playful barbs with each other. “Wow, Glenn! So you can hit the broad side of a barn!” she said teasingly.

“Oh, whatever!” Glenn fought back, taking slight offense. “I’ve been more accurate than you.”

“Yeah? Prove it,” Maggie challenged and took the bandana that had been hanging out of Glenn’s back pocket. She marched up to the barn and affixed it to a nail protruding from the wood. “Hit that.”

“Oh, come on. I don’t wanna mess up my bandana,” Glenn complained.

Maggie rolled her eyes, “Would you rather I used your hat?”

Glenn glared at her, weighing his options, then turned and took aim and fired, hitting the bottom half of the bandana, just off center. “Ha!” Glenn exclaimed. “Your turn.”

Maggie grinned and took aim, her green paint covering where Glenn’s red had just been. “You were saying?”

They went back and forth, scooting further back after each turn, until Rick stopped them, “Okay, you two, quit using up all the paint capsules. You’re both good. That’s enough.” Maggie and Glenn looked at him sheepishly and handed their airsoft pistols to the next two in line.

Their impromptu duel had given Rick an idea. The next day, he had everyone meet and issued a challenge to find who was the best shot. “No prize or anything, just bragging rights. We’ll have a winner for rifles and one for pistols. It’s all just for fun.”

They started at the barn, where Rick had drawn the outline of a human with a can of spray paint he had found in storage. Rick, Otis and Daryl abstained from the competition, and were impressed with how well their students were performing. The biggest surprise was when Carl had the best accuracy from the furthest distance. Rick beamed proudly at his son as he received high fives and congratulations from the rest of the group.

Everyone moved out to the paddock for long-range shooting with the rifles. Andrea was the clear winner, never missing a target. Once all the challenges had been settled, Sophia asked, “What about you guys?”

Rick, Daryl and Otis looked at each other. Rick grinned at Daryl, who returned the look with his customary scowl, his eyes narrowing in confrontation. Otis raised his hands in the air, saying “Leave me out of this.”

Rick picked up a rifle and took aim, easily hitting his target; Daryl did the same, but taking less time to do it. They went back and forth, each hitting the tin cans easily then graduating on to hitting knots in the wood as targets. It became clear there wouldn’t be a winner any time soon, but the rest of the group was enthralled by the exhibition in front of them, cheering both men on equally. It felt good to have everyone enjoying themselves for once.

Rick had run out of BBs in his gun and went to reload. As he opened the container, he glanced around at the group, all smiles and laughing. He smiled along with them, until he noticed movement coming from the trees behind them. There had to have been at least twenty walkers all making their way through the tree line and into the field. “Get down!” he yelled, and turned his rifle on the nearest walkers. He fired at the incoming threat and heard Daryl doing the same, before he realized he was still holding a BB gun and wasn’t doing any damage at all. “Everyone get back to the house!” Rick bellowed as he drew his Python from its holster. Daryl was aiming his crossbow at the throng of moving corpses, taking them out as quickly as he could.

Andrea jumped into the fray, followed by Maggie, both wielding large knives and other weapons, taking on the walkers using Daryl’s combat training. Glenn picked up one of the BB rifles and swung it around like a bat, smashing skulls with the stock of the gun. Carl started to run toward them, but Rick shouted out for Lori to stop him and get him back to the house. In a matter of minutes, the walkers had all been dealt with. Catching his breath, Rick gasped out, “I think that’s enough training for one day,” and headed back toward the farmhouse.

Dale asked Rick, “What do we do about the bodies?”

Rick looked over at him impassively. “It’s starting to get dark now. We’ll leave them over night and burn them tomorrow,” and continued toward the house.

Patricia, Lori and Beth made up a quick dinner for everyone. They all sat in the dining and living rooms, sharing stories from their past lives by the light of an oil lamp and a few candles. Dale and Andrea had taken their meals outside on the porch, where they were keeping watch on the rest of the property. A sudden cry from Andrea had everyone jump and on edge. She burst through the front door, yelling, “Walkers! A whole herd of them! Hurry!”

The group sprang into action, rushing to the RV to grab firearms and ammo then took their places spread across the front lawn, forming a formidable firing squad against the oncoming horde of shambling bodies, moving inexorably toward them.

Chapter Text

Second Chance – Chapter 18 – Co-authored by Remi Savant & Rckyfrk

Rick found himself between Daryl and Glenn in the firing line in front of Hershel’s house. As he looked ahead of him, scanning through the darkness, he saw slight movement on the far side of the field. He was glad to know that the fence still stood between them and the walking dead. “Don’t shoot unless you’re sure you can get a good shot,” he said, just loud enough for the rest of the group to hear him. He didn’t want to talk so loudly as to draw any more attention to them than necessary. Any gunfire would easily confirm their presence to the walkers, and Rick wanted to avoid that as long as possible. With any luck, some unsuspecting deer could come out of the woods and distract the walkers, sparing them all. ‘Fat chance,’ his subconscious taunted, but it never hurt to hope.

“Don’t fire ‘til you see the pus in their eyes,” Glenn muttered beside him. Rick smiled and heard Daryl chuckle on his other side.

“Smart ass,” Daryl growled as he continued scanning the edge of the woods for a clear shot.

The group remained silent. Rick swore he could hear the horde growing louder, as if their numbers were growing or they were getting more agitated...or getting closer. He didn’t notice them drawing nearer and was starting to wonder what was causing the increase in volume when he heard the distant sound of wood splintering.

CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!

“There went the fence,” Rick heard Otis inform the group from several feet away. “It’ll be any time now.”

The first wave of walkers stepped out of the shadows and into the pale moonlight. There had to be at least twenty or thirty of them. Everyone jumped as a shot rang out; Rick watched as one of the walkers drop in a crumpled heap. They heard Andrea bark out a sharp laugh. Daryl muttered, “Damn. Remind me not to piss her off at twenty paces.”

“Hell, I wouldn’t piss her off at fifty yards,” Glenn commented.

“Focus, guys,” Rick warned. The words had barely left his mouth as the clouds shifted, and more moonlight spilled onto the field in front of them. Rick heard every person lining the yard inhale in horror as they saw countless walkers come into view. “Dale!” he shouted, “Lori! Get the kids into the RV and get out of here!” When he didn’t see any movement from beside him along the line, he yelled, “Now! Go! A herd that size, the house won’t hold against them. Wait for us once you get to the highway...we’ll meet up there.”

Rick heard quick footsteps run up the porch steps but immediately return. “FIRE!” Lori yelled. Rick turned to see a bright glow emanating from the front window, tongues of fire licking along the curtains. Lori called for the kids to follow her. The first shots started firing up and down the line as the oncoming walkers drew ever closer.

“No!” Morgan shouted. “Duane, you stay with me.” Rick gritted his teeth at the other man’s stubbornness, but couldn’t blame him for wanting to keep his son close. Rick dug through his front pocket and pulled out his keys. He walked behind the group toward Morgan and gave the cruiser’s keys to him.

“Go with them. Keep them safe,” Rick said stoically. Morgan nodded and pulled Duane with him toward the police car.

As he headed back to his spot between Daryl and Glenn, he caught a glimpse of Beth and Patricia running into the house. Both had disappeared inside before he could call out to stop them. “We hold them off as long as we can,” Rick called out, wanting to buy the two women as much time as he could...whatever they were doing. “Head out in the cars to the highway. It’s too dangerous to stay here.”

When he reached Glenn and Daryl, he saw Daryl had switched from a rifle to a handgun. “I’m about outta ammo, here,” the redneck informed him.

“Me, too,” Glenn added.

Daryl shoved his pistol into the back of his pants and reached into his pocket, then called out, “Hey, Glenn. Heads.” The next thing Rick knew, a set of keys were flying through the air, glinting in the firelight from behind them. Glenn caught them and looked at Daryl questioningly. “Take care of ‘er,” he nodded toward the large Chevy truck as he jogged across the yard toward the rest of the vehicles. Rick heard the revving of Daryl’s motorcycle, then saw Daryl on his bike, driving it between the house and the rest of the group, heading in the direction of the camp.

They all watched as a portion of the herd suddenly changed direction, now following where Daryl was leading them. T-Dog exclaimed, “God bless that redneck,” as he fired another shot into the oncoming herd. The gunfire was becoming more sporadic now as people were running low on ammo and heading toward the vehicles.

Rick looked and saw Hershel standing in a mixture of shock and dismay as his world crumbled around him. He moved over to the older man and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Hershel, it’s time to go.” Hershel looked at him blankly. “T-dog’s got the keys to the van. Ride with him.” He looked at T-dog, who nodded his understanding and grabbed Hershel’s elbow, guiding him to the vehicles.

Rick noticed there was no one left to stand in formation and headed to the Humvee with the trailer attached. He called out to Glenn, “Think you can cut a path for us with the truck?” not wanting walkers to swarm the trailer, especially on the dirt road leading to the highway.

“You got it,” Glenn yelled as he climbed into the cab of the pickup.

Rick took one last glance around him and saw the remaining vehicles with their headlights on. Glenn took off in Daryl’s truck, gunning the engine, plowing over the walkers closest to the driveway, forging a greater margin between the horde and his group. He put the Humvee in gear and slowly began to move down the path. A quick look in the side mirrors showed the van getting further and further behind him. Not wanting to stop, he pressed on, assuming T-Dog had seen Beth and Patricia come out of the house and had picked them up.

Rick followed Glenn’s taillights to the highway; once they arrived, he threw the Humvee in park, shut off the engine, and raced over to the RV, where Lori was waiting anxiously. They threw their arms around each other, then he pulled Carl close to his side. He looked around as he did a quick head count to see if everyone had gotten out okay. “Everyone here?” he called out.

“Beth! Where’s Beth?” Maggie yelled frantically.

Within minutes, they heard the blatty sound of a motorcycle engine drawing closer. Daryl pulled the bike up to where everyone had gathered; Maggie cried out as Beth crawled off the seat from behind Daryl, her shoulders holding two bulging duffle bags. The Greene sisters embraced each other tightly and Hershel wrapped them both in his arms. Beth pushed herself out of their grip and crossed to Otis and hugged him, crying. “I’m so sorry Otis. I’m so sorry.” The larger man looked down at the blonde in confusion, realization finally dawning on him as he recognized that Patricia was not with the rest of the group.

“No...” Otis said shakily. “NO!” his voice grew louder as the news sank in. The rest of the group remained silent.

“Where’s Andrea?” Dale asked from the door of the RV.

Maggie answered, “She was next to me in front of the house until she said something about getting a better shot from somewhere. I don’t know where she went, though.”

Dale announced, “We’ve got to go back and get her.”

“No way, old man,” Daryl argued. “We barely got out on the bike as it is. There’s hundreds of those damn things crawling all over the place. Ain’t no goin’ back any time soon. It’ll take days for ‘em all to clear out.”

Rick stepped forward, “I think Daryl’s right. We need to find a place to stay for a couple days. We can decide where to go from there.” He could tell this option didn’t sit well with Dale, but really, what else could they do?

“There’s a new housing development a couple miles down the road. I don’t think anyone’s even moved into the houses yet. We could try there. We’ve got supplies in the trailer to tide us over,” Maggie suggested.

“Sounds like a plan,” Rick agreed. “Let’s head out. Maggie, lead the way.”

Daryl and T-dog loaded the motorcycle into the bed of the truck; Daryl walked around to the driver’s seat where Glenn was already seated. “Thanks for takin’ care of ‘er. Now scoot over, short round.” Rick chuckled as he heard Glenn groan in disappointment.

“I got room for one more. You wanna ride with me?” Rick asked Carl. He smiled when he saw his son’s eyes light up.

“What about mom?” the young boy asked.

“Oh, I’ll be more comfortable in the RV, trust me. You boys be careful,” Lori replied, kissing them both on the cheek. Carl just beamed and followed his father to the Humvee.

The convoy of vehicles started off, following Daryl’s truck down the road. It was a slow going process having to stop every once in a while to move an abandoned car that was blocking the road. Eventually they came across the subdivision Maggie had described. The houses seemed to be untouched, but that didn’t give them reason to let their guard down. They stopped in front of the biggest house on the street, which looked like it could hold everyone comfortably in its three stories and basement. Rick, Daryl and T-dog crept into the small mansion, making sure the coast was clear. It was as Maggie had said; no one had been living here, the rooms devoid of all furniture, the cabinets empty of any food or supplies. Still, it was shelter, and roomy enough for everyone to have a little privacy at least. Satisfied with their findings, or lack thereof, the three men returned to the group and ushered them all in, telling everyone to grab any sleeping bags or blankets on the way.

Once everyone had selected rooms, they returned to the large living room, none of them able to even think about sleep after the night’s events; all of them were curious to know what happened to the missing members of the group and to know what the next step may be. Rick asked first, “So what the hell happened? What started that fire?” The members of the group stared at each other, no one able to fathom what could have caused the fire. Rick pushed, “We didn’t even have a fire going in the fireplace. Something had to have caused it.”

“No, but we had the oil lamps going in the front room,” Hershel added softly. ‘That has to be it,’ Rick thought, ‘but that still doesn’t explain how the room caught fire.’

Everyone turned when they heard a soft crying coming from one side of the circle; Rick recognized Sophia’s tiny voice as she sobbed. “It’s my fault...when everyone was...running outside...I got bumped into a table...I heard a crash...but I didn’t want to...get left behind again...so I just kept going...” Rick’s heart twisted with guilt, and saw most of the rest of the group was having about the same reaction. The young girl looked up at the older man with tears spilling down her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Mr. Hershel. I didn’t mean to...I’m so sorry.”

After a moment, Hershel sighed deeply, “It’s alright, sweetheart. It’s just a house. I’m just glad most of us got out safely.” Rick marveled at the man’s compassion and understanding. Hershel turned to Beth, speaking angrily now, “Speaking of, why on earth did you run back into the house? Didn’t we teach you better than that?”

“I know, Daddy, but I had to,” Beth defended herself. “Everyone ran out without grabbing anything. They all had stuff in the RV and the trailer, but we didn’t,” Beth motioned to the group at large. “And even they left all their stuff in the corner of the front room. Patricia and I ran in and grabbed what we could. We were all gonna need clothes at least.” She nodded to the duffle bags she had brought in with her and left in the foyer. “I ran upstairs and grabbed some from our rooms. Patricia went in through the back room into the living room, where the fire hadn’t spread yet, to get some of you all’s stuff.”

The mention of his wife’s name pulled Otis from his melancholic stupor. “What happened to her?”

Beth looked sadly at Otis, her eyes already welling up with tears. “We finished grabbing everything, but the fire had spread to the front hallway; we couldn’t get out that way anymore. Patricia pulled me toward the back door and shoved it open and held it open for me. Everything was so dark. Next thing I knew, Patricia started screaming. I turned and saw a walker had bitten her. I killed it, shot it with my gun, and Patricia fell to the ground. I could hear more walkers coming toward us. She pushed her bag at me and told me to run. ‘Save yourself,’ she said. I didn’t know what else to do. I ran around to the side of the house, where I heard Daryl’s motorcycle.” She looked over at him. “He saved my life.”

The rest of the group turned their attention from Beth to Daryl, who only shrugged and shrank in on himself. “What? Like I was just gonna leave her? I might be an asshole, but I ain’t heartless.”

Rick cleared his throat, recognizing Daryl’s discomfort, “So, no idea where Andrea went?” he asked Maggie.

The older Greene girl shook her head, “No. One minute she was there, the next she was gone. I don’t even know if she ran right or left behind me. All I remember is her saying she wanted a place where she could get a better shot.”

“Where were you?” Rick asked and was met by Maggie’s confused look. “Which end of the porch were you by?”

“Oh,” Maggie said, catching on to what Rick was getting at, “we were down by the cars.”

Dale piped up, “I would think she’d try and use one of the car hoods as a way to steady her aim. She was taking some really long shots.” He turned to Daryl, “Do you think you could track her from there?”

Daryl shrugged again, “Maybe...doubtful, though.” He caught Dale’s skeptical look. “At this point, any tracks she woulda made been covered up by walker prints, and I sure as hell ain’t goin’ back tonight. It’ll take at least a couple days for a herd that size to clear out, and ain’t no one stupid enough to go back with all them walkers still lookin’ for a meal. By the time it’s even close to being safe to head back, she’d be long gone anyway.”

The rest of the group accepted Daryl’s assessment with heavy hearted sense of resignation. “So...so that’s it then?” Dale broke the silence, his voice growing louder as he persisted, “So we just leave one of our own out there without so much as a second glance? She’s the one who saw the herd and warned us all. She saved us! We can’t just desert her!”

Rick grimaced and shook his head, “I’m sorry Dale, but I think Daryl’s right on this. Without knowing which direction she even went, we can’t hope to track her down with all that foot traffic all over the farm. Andrea’s smart, she’s resourceful. I’m sure she’ll be okay.”

Dale stood up quickly, threw his hands up in the air and dropped them to his sides in exasperation. He turned and headed up the stairs, muttering something that sounded like, “Don’t understand you people...no talking to any of you...”

The group was silent for another long moment. Lori asked softly, “So what do we do next?”

Rick answered, “First we need to see what supplies actually made it here with us, and scavenge for whatever we still need.” The group around him nodded. “Then we need to find a new place to live.”

Lori spoke first, “We need a place that’s big enough for all of us. I don’t think it’s wise for us to split up at all, not even between two houses next door to each other.”

“Somewhere that we can defend easily,” Morgan added. “I’d think we could just stay here, but it’d be hard to keep safe. Only way to make this truly safe would be to wall off the neighborhood or set up traps or something, but we just don’t have the resources to do that. Not to mention, it won’t exactly be comfortable sleeping on bare floors.”

“It’d be nice if there was a place with enough room to grow food, so we don’t always have to go out on a run,” Hershel suggested.

The circle of Rick’s extended family all nodded in agreement at the ideas.

Rick finally spoke up, “I think I know a place...”

Chapter Text

Second Chance – Chapter 19 – Co-authored by Rckyfrk & Remi Savant

Rick tossed and turned on the hardwood floor, the thin sleeping bag doing little as far as bringing him any sort of comfort. He decided that instead of grasping at a fitful sleep, he would simply stay awake. He found Daryl in one of the corner bedrooms upstairs, keeping watch out of the two windows in the room. Rick knocked softly on the door jamb as he entered so as not to startle the bowman. “Hey man. I’ll take over for ya. Go get some sleep. You deserve it.”

Daryl looked at him from his post. “Nah, I’m good,” he shrugged away the offer.

“Well, I’m up anyway. You might as well get some sleep while you can. No point in both of us being up.”

“You check with Glenn on the other side ‘o the house? Maybe he’d want a night off?” Daryl suggested.

“Nah. From what I hear, he’s used to pulling all-nighters.” Rick smirked.

Daryl gave him a knowing glance. “Don’t let Maggie hear ya say that,” he joked. They shared a quiet laugh at Glenn’s expense. “Alright man. I’ll see ya in the morning.”

“G’night,” Rick said as Daryl left to find a place to catch a couple hours sleep. He took Daryl’s spot, which allowed him to look out of either window at any given moment.

After what felt like several hours, the sky had begun to brighten with the dim light of pre-dawn. Rick glanced up and down the street and around the cul-de-sac for at least the hundredth time since he’d taken over watch.

He saw a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye and snapped his attention out of the side window. Next door was another two-story house, another copy in the large cookie cutter neighborhood. He scanned the yard between the houses, then the windows facing his side of the house, for the source of the movement. Everything was still, unnervingly so, but he couldn’t fight the feeling that someone was looking back at him. Several minutes ticked by with no sign of any more movement. Rick chalked it up to drowsiness, or perhaps a bird or some animal seeking a meal in the early morning light. Rick pressed the pads of his thumb and middle finger to his eyelids, rubbed his eyes vigorously, and shook himself further awake, refocusing on the street in front of him.

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Lori came up to find him as the sun finally peaked over the horizon. She wrapped her arms around him from behind and kissed the shell of his ear. “Good morning,” she murmured. “Did you get any sleep at all last night?”

Rick leaned back and kissed her cheek. “Good morning. No...not a whole lot of sleep. I’m fine though,” he said through a yawn.

Lori looked at him skeptically. “Well, be that as it may, I think you need to at least get a couple hours nap in before everyone really starts to wake up and get moving.” She kept her arms around him and walked around to look at him face to face. He cupped her face and rubbed the pad of his thumb across her cheek. “Breakfast won’t be for a while,” she smiled, “Lie down up here, away from the masses. I’ll keep watch, and wake you if I see anything.”

The need for sleep pulled strongly on Rick’s eyelids; he nodded at his wife and lay down in the corner of the room, away from the beams of light beginning to stream in through the bare windows. The last thing he remembered before succumbing to his exhaustion was the sight of his wife, gazing out of the window, bathed in the golden light of dawn, her hand rubbing absently over her belly.

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“Mom! Dad!” Rick shot bolt upright at his son calling out his name. Panic raced through his system as his hand reached for his weapon.

“What? What’s wrong?” he asked worriedly.

Carl gave him an odd look. “Nothing’s wrong. It’s breakfast time. Maggie an’ Beth wanna know if you’re comin’ down.”

Rick let out a long sigh of relief and scrubbed his palm against his face, wiping away the last remnants of sleep. “Yeah. Yeah, we’ll be down in a little bit.” Carl grinned and rushed downstairs to deliver the message.

Lori giggled at her son’s enthusiasm. “You feelin’ any better?” she asked, walking over to him and combing his hair back from his forehead.

“A little. Definitely letting Daryl keep his watch tonight, though,” he grumbled. He let Lori help him to his feet and they walked together downstairs to partake of the meal that the Greene sisters had prepared.

As per usual, the conversation at breakfast eventually came around to discussing what the plans for the day would be. Everyone agreed it would be best to take stock of what actually made it out of the farmhouse when they left the night before as well as search the rest of the neighborhood to see if there were any supplies to be found. The houses looked like new construction, and most were probably empty, as the one they had chosen was, but it never hurt to look and make sure.

Dale asked, “Can I convince any of you to head back to the farm and look for Andrea? She could still be there and need our help. We can’t just give up on her.”

Rick restrained a heavy sigh. “Dale, we went through this last night. No one knows which direction she ran. She made her decision to separate herself from the group and got herself lost. More than likely, there’s still a ton of walkers all over the place. I don’t want to spend the time or resources on a wild goose chase. I’m sorry. I’ll miss Andrea, I truly will, but it’s just not practical to go look for her.”

“Well what about him?” Dale motioned to Daryl. “He’s supposed to be such a good tracker. Couldn’t he start from where she was last seen and go from there? What about it Daryl?” he turned to face the redneck. “You’re always going hunting, telling us how you track deer for miles. Can’t be bothered to go and look for her?”

Daryl squinted out of the corner of his eye, not looking at the older man head on. “Best climb down out of my ass, old man,” he growled. “I can track a deer for miles when there ain’t a shit ton of walker tracks covering up the prints. There were hundreds of the damn things last night. Needle in a haystack. It sucks, but it ain’t worth it.”

Dale searched the group for a sympathetic face, but came up wanting. “No one? She was our friend, and we’re just going to desert her? Because it’s too hard? This whole world is too hard. We searched for Sophia...” he started, cutting himself off when his eyes landed on the small girl; Lori put an arm around her and pulled her to her side.

Rick stepped forward and cast Dale a look of warning. “That’s enough, Dale,” he said sternly. “Listen, if you want to go back and look, I can’t stop you, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a lost cause. We need to focus on us, here and now, what needs to be done to keep us alive, and going back to a farm overrun with walkers is a death trap.” Rick breathed out slowly and let his shoulders drop. “I’m sorry.”

The group remained silent for a stretched moment before T-Dog spoke up, “So...who’s doing what?” One by one, everyone volunteered to a job that needed to be done. Otis and Hershel re-examined the medical supplies, accompanied by Beth. Glenn and Maggie ventured out to search the rest of the neighborhood for clothes, food, and any other supplies. Daryl volunteered to keep watch from atop the RV while everyone else was distracted with their tasks. The rest started going through the supplies they already had in the RV and in the FEMA trailer, reassessing what they still needed.

They worked throughout the morning; the sun was high in the sky when Daryl whistled down to Rick. When Rick looked up, Daryl gestured for Rick to join him on the roof of the RV. “What’s going on?” Rick asked as he reached the top of the ladder.

“We got company,” Daryl mumbled, jutting his jaw toward the house next door. A chill ran down Rick’s back as he remembered thinking he saw something in the same house earlier that morning. “Dunno who or what it was, but it moved way too fast to be a walker.”

Just by that, Glenn and Maggie were quickly making their way to the group of parked cars. “We got company,” Glenn called up to Rick.

“Whaddya got?” Rick asked as he climbed down the ladder to meet Glenn on the ground, then got out of the way so Daryl could follow him.

“The house next door...looks like we got neighbors,” Glenn continued. He glanced over at Maggie, who still looked a little shaken at whatever they had seen. “We walked in the front door and saw two walkers chained to the banister leading upstairs.”

Glenn’s announcement had attracted the attention of everyone else in the group, who were now gathering around the four of them. “Are you kidding me with this?” Morgan demanded.

Glenn shook his head. “And that’s not even the weird part. Both walkers were missing their arms and lower jaws. They were just standing there, didn’t really make a move to come get us, but we weren’t about to wait for anything more to happen.”

The group began simmering in murmuring chaos, all of them making sure to keep their voices low, but wanting to show their concern over the situation in which they found themselves. Rick remained silent, keeping his expression neutral, as one name came to his mind: Michonne.

“So what are we gonna do, Rick?”

Rick wasn’t sure who had posed the question, but he shook himself from his thoughts to answer. He thought quickly, and could only come up with one solution. “Let’s go introduce ourselves.”

He was met with a sea of confused and shocked faces. “Introduce ourselves? To who?” T-dog asked.

“Well, the walkers didn’t chain themselves to the banister. Whoever’s in there must be pretty resilient to not only have survived this long, but to have tamed a couple of walkers. May be someone we want to join our group,” Rick suggested.

Lori spoke up, “May be someone who’s incredibly dangerous, too.” The majority of the group nodded in agreement.

Rick nodded, “Maybe. Daryl, Morgan, would you come with me?” The two men looked at him skeptically. “Look, whoever’s in there must know we’re here by now, and they haven’t done anything to us. If they were truly dangerous, they’d have done something by now. Maggie and Glenn wouldn’t have made it out of that house so easily.” The tension in the group eased somewhat at his logic. “I would rather know who we’re dealing with rather than be taken by surprise.”

No one spoke for a long moment. Finally, Daryl took a step forward and readjusted the strap of his crossbow onto his shoulder. “Aight. If we’re gonna do this, let’s do it.”

Rick nodded then looked at Morgan, who shrugged and removed his pistol from its holster. The rest of the group parted as the three men headed to the house next door.

Rick palmed the front door open and turned to the other two men. “Wait out here,” he said, just loud enough for them to hear, and went to step inside.

“Are you crazy?” Morgan hissed as he grabbed Rick’s upper arm. “You can’t go in there alone. We don’t know how many’s in there!”

Rick regarded the other men, both staring at him as if he were insane. “There can’t be many, it’s too quiet. Don’t you think we’d have noticed something before now if there was a big group?” He looked back into the house. “I’ll leave the door open. Just wait out here. I’ll yell if there’s trouble.”

“And just why the hell aren’t we going in with you?” Morgan argued.

Rick turned to face Morgan head on, rising to his full height, assuming an air of authority. “If it’s a big group, and three armed men go in, they take us out, no questions. We’d be a threat. If it just one person, the three of us would be pretty intimidating, and we wouldn’t get any information. If it’s just me...maybe I can reason with them, whether it’s a group or just one person.” Not getting any more response from Morgan or Daryl, Rick headed inside and paused just inside the door.

The two walkers looked at him with vacant eyes, but didn’t react any more than weak growls. Knowing they weren’t a threat, he stepped further into the house, to the center of the living room, and called out, “Hello? Anyone in here? I’m here alone...just wanna talk.”

After a brief, silent moment, Rick heard a voice, soft but not without a sharp edge, speak from the top of the stairs. “That’s bullshit. You have two of your men waiting outside.”

Rick’s eyes flew to the hallway upstairs, but still couldn’t see anyone. He wanted to just say, ‘Cut the crap, Michonne,’ but knew he couldn’t. Instead he answered, “Well, that’s true. Can’t blame me, can you? Why don’t you come on out?”

“No, I don’t think I will,” the voice said, almost mockingly. “Why don’t you go back to your group. I’m sure your wife isn’t happy you being in here by yourself.”

That took Rick by surprise. “How’d you know...?”

“Windows work both ways,” the voice said, a hint of a smile sounding through it.

Rick chuckled to himself then continued, “Alright, suit yourself. We’re probably heading in the next day or so. You apparently know what we look like, so if we ever cross paths again, you’re welcome to come and join us.”

“Yeah...I’ll keep that in mind,” the voice replied with a sarcastic laugh. Rick shook his head and left, rejoining Morgan and Daryl on the front porch.

“Well that was productive,” Daryl scoffed.

Rick nodded sheepishly, “Yeah. I know. I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of her, though.” The men returned to the RV and resumed their tasks after explaining what had happened to the rest of the group. Rick left out the part where Michonne had talked about Lori, and was grateful that Daryl and Morgan kept quiet on the subject as well. He didn’t need the group getting all up in arms because this woman apparently had been keeping her eye on them.

As the day wore on, the group busied themselves to complete their volunteered tasks. By the time everything had been reorganized and packed back up into the vehicles, it was deemed too late to travel in search of a new place to stay. Rick knew they’d be able to reach the prison easily before sundown, but he preferred to stay at the house rather than camp outside the prison walls, waiting for daylight to start clearing the prison and yard of walkers. No, Rick laughed to himself, they’d spend the night in this large house before heading up to the big house.

The front yard and driveway were a flurry of activity as the adults finished packing up the vehicles while the children were playing tag in the side yard, burning off energy before settling in for the evening. Lori and Morgan had told the three children to stay where someone could see them at all times.

Out of the blue, an ear-splitting scream sounded from behind the house. Everyone dropped what they were doing and ran toward the back yard, none of them moving faster than Rick. He skidded to a stop when he saw Carl cowering on the ground, a headless body of a walker lying next to him. Rick glanced up and saw Michonne standing over his son, blood-stained katana still in hand. He could only stare at the scene before him as the rest of the group finally joined him. Lori burst through, throwing herself on the ground next to Carl, her hands frantically searching for any scratches or bites he might have sustained. “Baby! Sweetheart, what happened?”

Carl was still a whimpering mess as he tried to explain, “We were just playing tag, and Sophia was it and she was chasing Duane and I thought I could hide back here so she wouldn’t get me and then the walker came up behind me and grabbed my arm and then I screamed and then...” he paused, swallowing back tears and catching his breath, then looked up at Michonne and pointed, “then she was here and she saved me.”

When Carl finished his story, Michonne sheathed her katana in the case lying against her back, and the rest of the group stayed nearly silent as they processed what the boy had just told them. Even Rick was shocked into silence at this recent turn of events.

The first to speak was Lori. “Thank you,” she whispered and shakily got to her feet. She crossed the short distance to approach the other woman and threw her arms around her without hesitation. “Thank you for saving my son.”

Michonne stood stock still, a bewildered and very uncomfortable look on her face. She let Lori keep her embrace for a second longer, then stepped back, her discomfort clearly showing. Rick slowly moved toward her, echoing his wife’s sentiment. “Thank you. How can we repay you?” he asked.

The mysterious woman only shook her head, “You don’t.”

Lori pressed on, “At least join us for dinner. It’s the least we can do. Please?” Michonne looked anxiously around the group, then nodded, a hint of reluctance in her demeanor. At her acceptance of Lori’s invitation, the group dispersed and started readying for the meal. Lori, Carl and Rick stayed in the back yard. “I’m Lori. This is Rick, and our son Carl. What’s your name?”

After a moment in which it seemed she was weighing her options, she finally answered, “Michonne.”

Lori smiled widely, “Well, Michonne, it’s very nice to meet you.”

Rick had noticed that Carl hadn’t taken his eyes off Michonne, though he wasn’t sure if it was because she had just saved his life or because she had a sword. “Carl, you wanna say something to her?”

When he didn’t respond right away, Lori nudged him on the back, snapping him out of his reverie. “Oh, uh...thank you,” Carl stammered awkwardly. Then, brightening a little, he asked, “Can I see your sword?”

Michonne raised a playful eyebrow at the boy. “I don’t think so,” she responded, hiding her smile.

Rick laid a hand on his son’s shoulder and pointed him toward the front of the house. “Go on and see if they need help, Carl,” he directed, and Lori walked with him, leaving Rick and Michonne standing in the yard. “Thank you again. If you hadn’t been here...” he trailed off. “You were watching them? From your house?”

Michonne nodded, her searching eyes never leaving his face.

“Never thought I’d be glad to have a nosy neighbor,” Rick joked, glad to see a tiny smile curl the corners of Michonne’s lips. “Come on in. Dinner should be ready soon.”

Over the course of the meal, the group introduced themselves to Michonne and tried to include her in conversation, but she was adamant about keeping to herself. Rick mentioned the possibility of her joining the group and everyone seemed in favor of the idea, though Michonne, again, stayed quiet. When the meal concluded, the group continued conversation for a while until, little by little, they made their way to their sleeping places.

Michonne got up and headed to the front door, Rick following closely behind. “So are you in?” he asked.

Michonne fixed her gaze on him, as if she was debating her answer. “I’ll think about it.”

Rick nodded and went on. “We’re planning on leaving first thing in the morning.”

“I’ll think about it,” she repeated, then walked out the door and across the yard to the house next door.

Chapter Text

Dawn was just creeping over the horizon, the dim light revealing the flurry of activity as the group made ready to load into the cars. Daryl was to take the lead in his truck with T-Dog; Rick had given him directions on where they were headed. Next would be Hershel, Otis and Beth in the van, followed by Dale’s RV. Glenn had been on watch again last night with Maggie, so they would be taking advantage of the bed while Lori and Sophia kept Dale company in the front. Morgan and Duane were behind them in the squad car, while Rick and Carl would take up the rear with the medical trailer.

Rick was giving the vehicles one last check when he saw Michonne standing on the porch next door. Positioned behind her were her two “domesticated” walkers, arms and jaws missing, Michonne holding the chains that served as their leashes. Rick walked along the sidewalk and greeted her. “Morning. You heading out too, or you planning on joining us?”

Michonne glanced nervously at the group, still busy preparing for the next leg of their journey, some of whom had paused their activity to regard the potential newcomer with a wary eye. She opened her mouth to give her response when they both heard the unmistakable sound of sneakers hitting pavement drawing nearer to them.

“Hey, Michonne! Are you coming? You can ride with us,” Carl volunteered.

Rick smirked at his son’s enthusiasm, but then put on his best “stern father” scowl. “Carl, I thought I told you to stay in the Humvee.

“But da-ad,” Carl began to whine.

“Back...to the Humvee,” Rick said in an even tone. His son caught the no nonsense edge of his voice and turned back sullenly to the row of cars, scuffing his heels along the concrete sidewalk the entire way.

“Sorry ‘bout him,” he muttered to Michonne then waited for her answer with an expectant look.

Michonne took a long, silent breath before finally responding, “Yeah, I’ll go with you...for now. Rick understood what she hadn’t said and respected her for it; she realized she’d be better off with a group of the living to have her back, a group that had basically already accepted her, but she wasn’t ready to commit to staying with them for the long run just yet.

Rick turned around to walk back to the vehicles, motioning for Michonne to follow him, but stopped short when he saw the uneasy looks on everyone else’s faces. He was puzzled at first; what was their problem? They had all basically welcomed her into the group over dinner last night, so why were they giving her the stink-eye now?

Realization dawned on him – they weren’t looking at Michonne, but at the walkers following behind her. Glenn and Maggie had been the only ones besides him to have seen them before. Of course the rest would be skeptical.

Dale stepped in front of them on the sidewalk, “Uh, I hate to ask, but just where do you plan on them riding?” he asked, looking more at the walkers than at Rick or Michonne. A murmur of assent rumbled through the rest of the group.

Michonne’s eyes darted to meet Rick’s, seeking his answer. “I don’t think your friends here are going to fit in too well with the rest of us.”

“Why?” Michonne demanded.

He set his hands on his hips and looked down at his feet, his usual stance when he was forced into making a tough decision that would affect the rest of the group. He wanted what was best for everyone, but didn’t want to risk losing a potential friend and asset to the group. He sighed heavily, “We don’t exactly travel with walkers if we can help it.”

“They’re harmless,” she replied immediately in a soft, flat voice. “I just use them as camouflage.”

Rick glanced back to Dale, who let out a disgusted sound. “The smell alone...we can’t have those things in any of the cars.”

Michonne seethed silently at Dale for a moment, her eyes narrowing menacingly at him. “What about the back of the truck?” she suggested.

Rick looked to Daryl, knowing he’d be listening to the entire exchange. The redneck raised an eyebrow in response. “Damn things’d fall out once we got going anyway.”

Rick turned back to Michonne. “Sorry, but I’ve gotta go with majority rules. Your choice,” he shrugged and fixed her with one last look before making his way back to the Humvee, noticing everyone else climbing into their respective vehicles. He settled into the driver’s seat, started the engine, and looked down at Carl sitting next to him.

“We’re not just gonna leave her?” Carl asked, disappointment in his voice.

Rick nodded and put the truck into gear, “It’s gotta be her decision. I can’t force her to leave her...friends...but I can’t tell her she has to come with us.”

Carl hung his head and stared at his hands in his lap. Rick felt his heart sink at the sight of his son looking so sad. He refocused on the convoy in front of him, the squad car ahead of him just pulling away from the curb. He took his foot off the brake and began moving the Humvee and trailer forward. They had rolled no more than ten feet when he saw a flash and flurry of motion off to the right. He looked just in time to see the two walkers collapse in two twice-dead heaps on the ground, both of them missing the tops of their heads. Michonne stood between them, flicking the gore from her sword. She started to walk toward the now-stopped Humvee.

“That was so cool!” Carl exclaimed as Michonne approached the vehicle.

Rick saw a small smile curl the corner of her mouth. “Why don’t you hop in back, Carl?” he suggested.

Michonne pulled the rear passenger door open before Carl could even unbuckle himself. “It’s okay. I’m fine back here.” She threw her knapsack in and climbed into the seat. Rick put the truck in gear and took off to catch up with the rest of the group.

As they drove, Rick tried to re-forge his friendship with Michonne, knowing he had to start from the very beginning for her sake. “So, where ya from?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder at her.

“Atlanta,” she mumbled.

Before Rick could formulate his next question, Carl turned in his seat to look over the arm rest at her. “Where’d you get your sword?” he asked excitedly.

Michonne was quiet for a moment before answering, “Took it from a Samurai.” Carl made a comment, obviously not believing her response, and turned to face forward again. Rick looked in the rearview mirror and saw the corner of Michonne’s lip curl into a tiny smirk. He tried asking her a few more questions, but she was not in a conversational mood, so he let the matter drop and the three of them focused on the landscape rushing by their windows.

Before long, Rick noticed the roads were becoming more and more familiar, and realized they must be getting closer to their destination. Sure enough, the vehicles ahead of him slowed to a stop. He looked up ahead and saw Daryl walking toward the RV with a purposeful stride. Rick climbed out of his seat and moved to join him. Lori, Glenn and Maggie were all looking out the open window of the RV. “What’s going on?” Rick asked. He noticed Morgan had followed him up to join the group.

Daryl spoke up, “We’re getting’ real close. You sure we want all these vehicles rollin’ right up?”

“Whaddya mean?” Rick questioned. He remembered back to his dream-like memory (or memory-like dream) that they needed every available member of the group working together to clear out the prison yard of walkers. Now they had more numbers and more weapons, and probably didn’t need every single person out there fighting, but he wasn’t fond of the idea of splitting up the group, either.

Daryl shrugged, “Gonna make an awful lotta noise drivin’ all these cars down the road. If things go south, we ain’t gonna be able to get the RV and the trailer outta there easily.”

Rick bit back a smirk, playing along with Daryl’s apprehension. “So what do you suggest?”

“Take a couple people and scope it out, make sure there’s nothin’ we can’t handle down there,” Daryl responded.

Rick nodded, “Alright. Who’s all goin?” He looked at Daryl, “Me and you...” Daryl nodded and readjusted the strap on his crossbow. “A couple more? Glenn? You rested up enough?”

“Sure,” Glenn answered. A quick moment later he added, “Can, uh...can Maggie come along?” Rick and Daryl shared a look, both almost rolling their eyes.

“Fine with me,” Rick finally said, then turned to Morgan. “Would you stay here? You and T-Dog...keep everyone safe, okay?”

Morgan nodded, “You got it.”

Rick clapped his hand on Morgan’s shoulder then turned to the rest of the gathered group, “Alright, let’s head out then. Shouldn’t take us more than an hour or so to get down there, scope things out, and get back. I guess we’ll just go from there.” The group walked down the turn-off, following Rick’s lead toward the prison.

Once they got closer, the four stayed well within the cover of the forest and, using a pair of binoculars Glenn had borrowed from Dale and the scope on Maggie’s rifle, scanned the prison yard for what they might be up against. “What do you see?” Rick asked.

“Everything looks pretty secure. Not a lot of people walking around. A couple guys on guard duty,” Glenn commented.

Rick frowned, “What? Lemme see.” He held his hand out expectantly for the binoculars. Sure enough, there was a handful of men walking just outside the main prison doors. Rick swept his gaze to the guard tower and saw someone with a high-powered rifle keeping watch. “Who the hell are they?” he thought out loud.

“I think I know that guy,” Maggie remarked. All three of their heads snapped to look at her, waiting for her to elaborate. “That kinda scrawny guy walking the fence? I think I went to school with him.” She lowered her rifle, her forehead puckered in concentration, “What was his name...Ronnie? Randy? Randall!” She smiled at her epiphany. “Yeah, Randall. He always seemed kinda creepy to me. Wonder how he ended up in jail?”

Rick’s blood had run cold at the mention of Randall’s name. He realized that when they had went to find Hershel in the bar, they’d never been interrupted by the two men on their way to Nebraska, never had to fight their way out (at least not fighting among the living), and had never had to rescue Randall from the wrought iron fence. According to Daryl’s interrogation of the boy the last time around, Randall came from a group of close to thirty men. If these were the same men who had taken over the prison, beating them to the punch, there was little to no hope of his group being able to overtake them.

“I don’t think he ‘ended up’ in jail before the turn,” Rick speculated. “Look at ‘em. There’s no guards, at least no one in a guard uniform. They’re all in regular clothes. If they were all prisoners, how’d they get out of their cells, and why aren’t they in prisoner jumpsuits?”

“Prisoners or not, where’d they get all those guns?” asked Glenn, who had taken the rifle and scope from Maggie and was scanning over the prison yard. Rick brought the binoculars back up to his face. Glenn was right; most, if not all, of the men walking around on the other side of the fence had some kind of weapon. Several had pistols in hip holsters, while other had rifles slung over their shoulders.

Daryl shifted beside Rick as if he was getting ready to leave. Maggie and Glenn gave him a questioning look. “We need to get outta here before someone sees us.”

“Why? What do you mean?” Maggie asked.

“These guys can’t be good news,” Daryl answered, jutting his chin toward the prison. “Look, whether the prison was full of walkers or full of prisoners and guards, these guys took them all out. I don’t care how well our people are trained; they outnumber us two to one, easy. Ain’t worth the fight, and if they see us now, we ain’t makin’ it back.”

Rick, Maggie and Glenn blinked at each other. “He’s got a point,” Glenn mumbled. Rick nodded in agreement.

“I guess we head back to the group and find something else,” Rick sighed wistfully, and the four of them backtracked to the road. He explained to everyone that his idea had fallen through, and that they would have to keep traveling down the highway and see what opportunities presented themselves.

He was reminded yet again that despite his knowledge of future events and how they could be played out, life was always unpredictable. He realized because they had avoided going to the CDC, they had reached Hershel’s farm weeks earlier, leading them to have missed the showdown with Randall’s group entirely. Apparently Randall’s group had followed the highway to the prison and beaten him there. Reality weighed heavy on his mind; the more changes he made, the more unpredictable events would become. However, if they follow the same path that he remembered, they would just end up in the same situation as before.

They followed the winding highway; Rick saw a small green sign that read, “Woodbury – 6 Miles.”

Or would they?

A grin crossed his face as he weighed his options. He knew what he’d be going up against if they went to Woodbury and confronted the Governor, which would give him a definite advantage. There was only one way to find out if his theory was correct.

Rick applied the brakes and beeped the horn to get the rest of the convoy’s attention, hoping not to attract too many walkers in the process. He was relieved when, one by one, the vehicles in front of him stopped. He instructed Carl and Michonne to stay in the Humvee and walked up to talk with the other drivers, who had been gathering near the RV already to find out why they had stopped.

“You guys saw the sign for Woodbury?” Rick asked and was met by a series of nonchalant nods. “I think we need to make our way there, at least for the night. It’d be a lot safer than just parking on the side of the road, especially this close to the prison. We don’t know if they make sweeps out this far, and I certainly don’t want to find out. I figure we can at least pull into a parking lot so the cars don’t look so out of place and go from there.”

The other drivers glanced at each other, none of them having any better ideas. “You’re the boss,” Dale said, and they returned to their vehicles.

Rick had just cleared the rear bumper of the RV when a hand reached out and grabbed his arm. His hand immediately went to his pistol as he braced to take down whatever had wrapped its cold fingers around his wrist.

He found himself staring directly into his wife’s eyes.

“Jesus, Lori! I almost shot you!” Rick said, suddenly out of breath.

“We need to talk,” she said icily.

Rick took a step back and looked at her confusedly. “Now? Is this the best time? We need to...”

“Now,” she almost growled at him. “What is going on with you?” When Rick didn’t answer, she continued, “Why are you always the one to have to lead these little excursions? And more than that, how could you leave Carl in that car with some strange woman we hardly know?”

If Rick didn’t know any better, he’d think that Lori was jealous of Michonne, but he wouldn’t dare mention it to her. “Carl’s safe. I trust Michonne. She’s already saved his life once; if she meant any harm to either of us, she’s had plenty of opportunities.” He paused as he watched Lori consider what he’d said.

“Fine,” she bit out, “but please, when we end up wherever we end up, please tell me you aren’t going on any more runs. I need you...I need you safe, and here with me.”

Rick sighed internally and looked at the ground. “I can’t promise that I’ll never go on a run again.” He looked up and reached out for her hand, “But I can tell you that I’ll always be careful.” He pulled her close and kissed her forehead and enfolded his arms around her for a hug. “I love you. I know I don’t say it enough, but I do. I’m doing all this, all the runs and the planning and everything, for you, for Carl, for our baby. Our family.”

He felt Lori sigh against him and relax in his arms. He brought his hands to the side of her face and kissed her forehead again. “We need to head out. I wanna get to this place well before dark. I’ll keep my eye on Michonne, I promise.” With that he released her and walked back to the Humvee.

It was a quick drive before they reached Woodbury. It wasn’t like he remembered it; there was barely the beginning of a wall surrounding the town, and what was in place already covered much less area. He could see that there were a couple of guards standing inside a makeshift fence. One of the guards approached Daryl’s truck, and after a moment’s conversation, waved the convoy through. They were directed to a side street just inside the fence and ordered to shut off their engines.

Once inside, the fence properly closed again, everyone began disembarking from their vehicles. Rick walked up to the guards, Carl in tow, and prepared for a line of questioning. He answered the guard’s survey about how many people and what kinds of supplies they were bringing with them. “If you’re planning on staying more than the night, you’re going to need to talk to the man in charge.”

Rick nodded and steeled himself for the impending meeting; he called Daryl, Morgan and Hershel to join him as the guard led him through the small town to a rundown office building. Once inside, the guard asked them to remove all their weapons. Hershel seemed to be the only one to keep any semblance of calm about him; Daryl and Morgan both became uneasy at the request. Rick fixed him with a steely glare and responded, “I don’t think so.”

“We’ve got rules here. It’s strictly protocol. You’ll get everything back when you leave,” the guard recited, as if he’d said this time and time again.

Hershel spoke up, his voice sounding as calm as he appeared to be, “I understand you have rules. You don’t know us, but we don’t know you, either. We’re not giving you our weapons.”

The guard looked all four of them over, not wanting to pick this fight with it being four against one. “Wait here,” the guard instructed them. They stood in the reception area as the guard walked down the hall and knocked on one of the doors. After a quick exchange, he motioned for the four men to follow him into the office. Rick was already rehearsing in his head what he would say when he came, once again, face to face with the Governor.

He froze in his tracks when he saw the man seated behind the desk, who was most definitely not Phillip Blake.

Chapter Text

Second Chance – Chapter 21 – Co-authored by Remi Savant & Rckyfrk

“Here they are, sir,” the guard said as he motioned for Rick and the other three to enter the office. Rick crossed the threshold, making room for Hershel, Daryl and Morgan to stand beside him. They waited in silence for the man behind the desk to acknowledge their presence.

He was dressed in military fatigues, his graying hair in a crew cut. Rick couldn’t see much of his face, as he was furiously writing something on a legal pad. On either side of him stood two soldiers, both armed with semi-automatic rifles, standing at attention. Rick glanced over his shoulder and saw that the guard who had ushered them in had taken up the same stance. He looked around the room; it was Spartan in appearance, the only furniture was the desk, the chair in which the man sat, and a small table near the window with a map of what looked to be the town spread on top of it. An American flag stood on its post in the corner of the room.

“Let’s make this quick,” he finally started speaking, still not looking up. “Protocol states that newcomers to the town forfeit all weapons, especially upon entering a government building.” The man’s pen never stopped moving, leading Rick to believe this was a practiced speech that he’d already given several times already.

Rick cleared his throat and responded, “Well our policy is to keep ourselves protected, especially upon entering a new establishment.”

The man’s posture altered slightly; Rick could feel his demeanor change, and could sense the menacing grin spreading across his face without seeing it. Finally the man looked up from the desk, fixing them all with a hard stare with his icy blue eyes. “I don’t think you realize who you’re talking to,” he said threateningly, standing abruptly, his hands clenched in fists, pressing his knuckles on the desk. “I am Major Gene Gavin, and if it weren’t for me this...establishment...would no longer exist. It is because of the protocols I have instituted that we’re even standing here talking. So I don’t give a god damn what your policies are. If you want to be part of this community, you will follow the rules.”

“Look,” Rick tried to appease the man, Gavin, “We’re just looking for a place to stay.” Rick noticed Morgan and Daryl shift uncomfortably, catching onto his white lie. “We take care of our own; we’re just looking for a place to stay with walls around us.”

The evil grin returned to Gavin’s face. “Those walls come with a price.”

Rick braced himself for whatever possibility this clearly dangerous man was ready to offer. “What kind price?”

“Half your ammo, half your supplies.”

“That’s some bullshit!” Daryl interjected, but Hershel put a bracing arm against his chest, holding him back, and shaking his head discretely.

“That’s awfully steep,” Rick added, “too steep for us, just for staying here.”

Gavin straightened himself before sitting back down, folding his hands in front of him. “That’s protocol. Although, perhaps we could work out some kind of arrangement.”

Rick frowned, “Arrangement? What kind of arrangement?”

Gavin’s smile widened; it reminded Rick of a shark going in for the kill. “Sargent Smith here tells me you came in with a large group...with plenty of women.”

The four men instantly bristled at what the man was insinuating; Hershel stepped forward, apparently having heard more than enough. One of the guards flanking Gavin stepped up to meet him, pointing his rifle directly at Hershel’s chest.

Instantly, every weapon in the room was drawn by its owner. Rick’s Colt Python was aimed right at Gavin’s head.

“At ease, gentlemen,” Gavin spoke in an even tone, fixing his eyes on Rick. “Are you sure you want to go down this road, son? From here, the only outcome is that we both lose people, and what would your women do without you?”

Rick glanced to his right and his left, catching Morgan and Daryl’s eyes. With a slight shake of his head, they all lowered their weapons.

A sinister smile crept across Gavin’s face. “I like your fighting spirit, but you can see reason, too. I tell you what; we have a town hall meeting in two days. I’ll give you until then to make your contribution.”

“What if we just up and leave?”

Rick turned to look at the source of the question and found Morgan glaring at Gavin, waiting for his answer. Rick gave him an approving nod and turned back to the Major.

Gavin sat back in his armchair and steepled his fingers. “Well, we can’t exactly let you do that. You’re obviously heavily armed and now you know where we are, more importantly where our headquarters are.”

“Ya can’t just keep us here,” Daryl argued, his arms tensing as he prepared to aim his crossbow again.

“See, that’s where you’re wrong,” Gavin laughed. “You came to us. You’re here on our terms and our terms only. I’m giving you two days to make your contribution, or we take what we deserve anyway. It’s your choice.” He gave the four of them one last look then returned his attention to the notepad on his desk. “That’ll be all, gentlemen,” he dismissed them, clicking his pen, and continued scribbling.

With that the guard behind them, Sergeant Smith opened the office door and escorted them out, down the hallway and out of the building.

“So what’s the plan?” Daryl asked as the four men made their way back to the vehicles and the rest of the group. Morgan and Hershel turned to look at Rick.

“I don’t know,” Rick replied in a low voice, “but we’ve got two days to figure it out.”

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They were assigned a small apartment building to share; Smith had referred to them as barracks, located near the center of the town. Rick guessed it was all part of Gavin’s plan to keep any eye on them, showing just how much they were trusted. It was decided that they wouldn’t be hauling all of their belongings into their new living quarters just yet, and would only bring in what they absolutely needed to get them through the night.

Sargent Smith approached Rick as he was helping Lori pack up a bag of their stuff to take inside. “You need to transfer your vehicles over to the lot on Sycamore Street,” he informed them. “There’s no driving or parking on the main streets of town.”

Rick sighed testily and nodded, leaving Lori to inform the other drivers that once everything had been brought inside, the cars needed to be moved.

“Such horseshit,” Daryl muttered as he yanked open the door to the pickup truck. “Damn military state. Waitin’ for them to tell us about curfew or some shit like that.”

Rick nodded and looked down at his boots. He peered up again to look at the redneck, “Yeah, I know. It’s fine for now, but something’s gotta give. We’ll come up with a plan. We’ve got to.”

“Well, until we do, I ain’t leavin’ all our shit for them to pick through while we’re sittin’ thinkin’ and twiddlin’ our thumbs. I’ll see if Dale’s got a padlock or somethin’ for the trailer and I’ll stay in the RV all night, keep an eye on things.”

“I appreciate that, Daryl,” Rick clapped him on the shoulder. “We wouldn’t have gotten this far without you.”

Daryl shrugged and backed up a step, as if he were shying away from the compliment. “Worked too hard to get it all in the first place. Don’t want some asshole takin’ it just cause they think they can. Typical government pricks,” he added in a low mumble.

Rick chuckled. “I’ll let Dale know. Thanks.” It was Daryl’s turn to nod as he climbed up into the cab of the pickup truck; he sat there fuming as the rest of the group carried their things inside.

That night, Rick and the rest of the group discussed their options, trying to decide on what would be best and safest for them all. He filled everyone in on all that had happened upon meeting with Major Gavin. Most of the group agreed that they should just hand over what Gavin had asked for, opting for permanence and safety over being able to call their own shots. “With a group this size, we’ll likely get most of it back anyway,” Dale pointed out. “No sense in fighting over it. If giving the community a share of our stores ensures our safety, how can we say no to that?”

“Okay, we give him what he wants, but how long will that last? What happens two weeks from now?” Lori spoke up, her hand absently rubbing the slight bump of her belly.

“I agree with Lori. It’s always going to be something,” Maggie added. “I’m all for staying, but there’s a vibe here that just rubs me the wrong way. We’re safe from walkers, but are we safe from the men running this place?”

T-Dog cleared his throat, “Ya know, I don’t even mind contributing what we have to the community. It’s the fact that they demanded it. Makes me wanna tell them just what they can do with their half.” A twitter of laughter ran through the group. “Seriously, though, it’s like Maggie said, there’s a bad vibe here. Not sure I trust these people.”

“There could be good people here, too.” Rick, and the rest of the group, turned to face Beth, who had been sitting quietly in her corner of the apartment where they had all been talking. She looked flustered at being the center of attention all of a sudden. She squared her shoulders and continued. “I just...I can’t believe everyone here is all that bad. The men running the town, sure, but everyone else? Everyone?”

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Otis mumbled from beside her. “These guys are in charge and are taking advantage because they can. There’s no reason to demand so much. If they were decent, they’d ask us if we’d share if they ever needed something.” He slowly brought his eyes up off the floor. Rick couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard the man speak since the death of his wife. “Maybe we aren’t the only people in this town who feel taken advantage of by this Gavin guy.”

Glenn interjected, “So, what, we start a revolution? Even if they let us keep our guns, and that’s a big if, these are all military soldiers, with training.”

The group mumbled in dissent. “The thing is,” Rick said, his eyes meeting everyone around him as he spoke, “we need this place. We need a place where we can stay and feel secure. We can’t stay on the road, not with the kids.” He paused as he looked at Lori, her hand still on her growing belly. He felt the attention of the room follow his gaze; he figured they knew what he was getting at. He needed Lori, Carl, and his unborn child, to be safe. “Maybe once we’ve been here for a while, solidified our presence here a little, we can approach the topic again with Gavin.” He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “Let’s take the night to think on it. We’ve still got another day to decide what to do and how to go about doing it.”

With that, the group disbanded, going to their own apartments, all furnished by whatever previous tenants had lived there; no one commented on where the previous tenants might be now. Rick, Lori and Carl naturally took an apartment together. Lori offered to let Sophia join them, but she had taken a liking to Maggie and Glenn and asked if she could stay with them instead. As they made their way to an empty apartment, Rick heard Hershel mutter to Glenn, “I assume you’ll be on the couch?” Glenn flushed and ducked his head, mumbling a “Yes sir,” as he walked down the hall to join the other two. Morgan and Duane found a one bedroom place and took up in there.

The rest of the group was a little more awkward to divvy up the accommodations. Michonne, being brand new to the group, was standoffish at best. She had proven herself trustworthy to everyone when she had saved the children from being attacked at the house just the other day, but hadn’t had the chance to really warm up to anyone. Beth stepped up, recognizing Michonne’s reluctance to share an apartment with a strange man. She picked up her bag and smiled brightly at Michonne, who barely returned the gesture with a slight twitch of a grin. Hershel immediately took up in the apartment next to Beth’s, Otis following him in.

“Guess that leaves us as roomies,” Dale shrugged and chuckled to T-Dog. They took the last remaining two bedroom apartment, leaving the last single room for Daryl when he returned from the RV.

While the town was still quiet the next morning, Rick sneaked down the street to check on Daryl. He was about to knock on the side door to the RV when it opened suddenly. Daryl responded to his surprised look, “Saw ya comin’ ‘cross the street.”

Once his heart stopped pounding quite so hard, Rick asked, “You were up all night?”

“Kinda the point of keepin’ watch,” Daryl answered sarcastically.

Rick smirked at him. “Anything happen?” he continued as he climbed up into the RV. Daryl closed the door behind him. They sat at the small table behind the driver’s seat.

“Couple’a guys came out snoopin’ round the trailer and the luggage compartment of the RV. They messed with the padlock, tried to get in, but took off when they realized they weren’t goin’ to.”

“Did they try real hard? They didn’t have crowbars or bolt cutters, did they?” Rick asked.

“Nah,” Daryl replied. “Like they just wanted to see if we took precaution or something.”

“Huh,” Rick frowned, his eyebrows knitting together in concentration. “Maybe they were just snooping to see what they’d be getting.”

Daryl nodded, “Yeah. Maybe. Still don’t trust ‘em, though.”

“The rest of the group had a long talk last night.” Rick filled Daryl in on all the points everyone had made the previous evening; all the while, it seemed as though Daryl was struggling to stay awake. “Tell you what. You make your way to the apartments. We saved one for you; just ask someone and they’ll show you which one. I’ll stay here today.” Daryl nodded as he stood up and shouldered his crossbow. “Do me a favor, though: tell Lori I’m in here so she doesn’t worry.”

“Aight,” Daryl agreed. “I’ll take over for this evening again.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Rick got up to move to a better vantage point. “See ya tonight.”

The hours ticked by; Rick debated cracking open a window as the Georgian sun beat down on the RV. Even if it was getting to be late autumn, the interior of the RV was like a sauna. Still, opening windows would only broadcast that someone was inside, and that was something he didn’t want advertised. He stuck it out, sweating through his shirt, and longed for evening to fall, if anything just so he could escape the heat. Throughout the day, no one else approached any of the vehicles in the lot. He hoped the men had simply realized that they weren’t dealing with country bumpkins, that his group had come prepared for almost anything. Lori had stopped by with some lunch, commenting on how he would need to get cleaned up as soon as he came back to the apartment. “You smell like the walking dead out here,” she joked. Rick retaliated by moving to give her a bear hug, but she squeaked by him and left the way she’d come. He watched as his wife crossed the parking lot and disappeared behind the corner of a building.

Night finally settled and Daryl showed up to relieve Rick from watch. He had nothing to report, so he just wished Daryl luck and bid him goodnight. He walked back to the apartment, glad to see that Lori was still awake and had some leftovers from dinner waiting for him. As he ate Lori told him about what went on in the group during the day. Apparently, she, along with Beth, Glenn and Maggie had taken it upon themselves to venture out and meet their new neighbors. According to his wife, most of the other citizens of Woodbury were friendly enough, and none of them had any love for Gavin. They had all spoken of his outrageous demands and his tyrannical laws, but all of them would rather put up with it than face the horrors that awaited them outside the city walls. Once Rick had eaten his meal, he changed out of his sweat-soaked shirt and promptly fell asleep in bed.

The next morning, the group made preparations for the town meeting. The group agreed they didn’t have many options but to make the contribution to Woodbury to ensure their place in the community. They all figured it wasn’t practical to haul their shares to the meeting, but hoped that their willingness to do so would count as an adequate gesture of good faith.

As lunchtime grew closer, Maggie was frantically going door to door in the apartment building. “Has anyone seen Beth? I can’t find her anywhere.” A rush of panic flew through the group; Gavin had said if they didn’t contribute, he would find another means of payment. Had he decided to collect early?

Just as Maggie had knocked on the last door in the hallway, Beth appeared at the entryway with Daryl behind her.

“Young lady, where have you been?” Hershel demanded.

Beth shied back and hung her head. “No one had gone to get Daryl this morning. I figured he’d want some food, maybe get some sleep before the big meeting.” The rest of the group looked guiltily at one another, realizing they had forgotten to relieve him from the night watch. They muttered apologies to him, blaming the building tension from the upcoming meeting for their lapse in consideration. Daryl, for his part, didn’t seem to take any offense and just made his way to his apartment. Beth stopped him when he passed her door; she ran inside and returned with a can of peaches. He muttered a thank you and threw his door open and shut it behind him. Glenn was assigned “Daryl duty,” making sure to wake him up in time for the meeting.

The time had finally come for the group to head to the town hall. Including them, the town’s population was between forty and fifty people, all of whom had gathered for the weekly meeting. Gavin started off calling the meeting to order, and covered topics regarding day to day activities: walker sightings, food rations. He finally got to the subject of newcomers and called all of them forward.

“It seems we have quite a few new members in our town. As with all of us, we expect them all to make a fair contribution to our community. Are you prepared to do so at this time?” Gavin questioned the group at large.

Before anyone could respond, Gavin’s walkie talkie squawked. “Sir, we’ve got a bunch of biters piling up at the North Gate. Request immediate backup.” Gavin nodded to the guardsmen standing on either side of him and the ones standing at the exit to go and assist as needed.

Once they had left and Gavin had called order to the meeting, a low voice spoke up from the edge of the group, close to the podium where Gavin was speaking. “Sir, I’m sorry. I’d be willing to make a contribution if I had anything, but me and my daughter, we came here with the clothes on our backs. We don’t have anything to give, but please, let us stay.”

Rick’s ears perked up at the baritone voice. He’d know that drawl anywhere. He peeked around the members of his own group and saw none other than Phillip Blake standing there with his hands on his daughter’s shoulders in front of him, a pleading look in his eyes. He looked so different from how Rick had remembered him, and not just his lack of an eye patch. He was scared, terrified even, and was begging for sanctuary. There was no authority in his voice, no hardness; Rick found it hard to believe that this man could ever become the Governor after seeing him in such a state.

Gavin came around the podium to stand face to face with Phillip, then made a sudden grab for the girl standing between them. Phillip yelled out as Gavin pulled her away from him, and Rick instantly knew this was Penny, alive and well.

“You need to figure out some kind of payment, or else,” Gavin threatened as he reached for his sidearm.

Without thought, Rick drew his gun and fired a bullet directly into Gavin’s skull. His lifeless body wavered upright for a few seconds before collapsing into a heap.

The girl ran into her father’s arms; Phillip fell to his knees holding her close, softly sobbing and whispering calming words to his daughter.

No one but Rick saw the exchange, however; all eyes were focused on Rick and his gun, still aimed at now-empty space. He slowly lowered and holstered his pistol.

No one uttered a word until Rick stepped forward to address the large group. “My name’s Rick Grimes. Members of my family here met with several of you yesterday, and learned a lot about this community. I know that a lot of you agree that Major Gavin was not a fair leader and took advantage of his power here. He was not a man to be trusted, and neither were his soldiers. Together we can make this a safe, peaceful environment for us all to live in, but we need everyone’s help. Who’s with us?”

After a moment of contemplation, every person had raised a hand in silent agreement.

Chapter Text

Rick stood in stunned silence, flattered that the townspeople, basically strangers to him, were all willing to place their trust in him and the rest of the group. Before he could continue to address the crowd, Morgan began shoving his way to the front of the room.

“Rick, we got a problem,” he announced, and Rick could feel the tension in the room rebuild itself on his statement. “Whatever it was, the guards took care of it and they’re on their way back.”

Rick grimaced, wishing Morgan had been a little more discreet as the murmurs in the room escalated to panicked conversations. “Alright,” he said in an attempt to quiet everyone down again. “Morgan, you, Daryl, Glenn, T-Dog, meet me out in the lobby. I want this resolved as peacefully as possible.”

“It’s a little late for that,” a voice called out from the safety of the center of the group. Rick frowned, but his retort was preempted by Phillip calling back.

“That man just saved my little girl’s life. Let him do what he needs to do.” He turned and nodded at Rick, who returned the gesture.

Rick turned to head to the lobby and saw Maggie ahead of him, following close behind Glenn, weapon already in hand. He caught Hershel’s nervous gaze and gave him a reassuring look, silently telling him he’d make sure Maggie would be alright. As he followed her, Dale’s voice called out to him, causing Rick to pause and turn to talk to the older man.

“What are you planning to do?” Dale questioned.

Rick steeled himself, “It all depends on how cooperative they decide to be.” As Dale stepped back and nodded his acceptance, Lori approached him, Rick fought the urge to look over his shoulder toward the lobby to make sure the guards hadn’t arrived yet.

Lori’s hand landed on Rick’s upper arm and he turned to fully face her. “Rick,” she began, “I don’t trust these men. How do we know they won’t try to retaliate for you killing Gavin?”

“What do you want me to do?” Rick asked, almost hoping she had an actual answer for him.

Lori paused a brief moment before answering. “If we’re going to stay here, I don’t think those men can stay here, too,” she said in a hushed voice.

“You don’t mean to kill them?” Dale interjected, his voice louder than Rick would have liked. “We’re giving those men a death sentence when they haven’t done anything?”

Rick sighed and fought the urge to roll his eyes, “Dale, no one said anything about killing anyone. I’m just gonna ask them calmly to leave.”

“And if they don’t?” Lori asked. Dale wore an expression that echoed her question, though Rick knew it was for a completely different reason.

“Then I’ll just have to ask them again,” Rick said coolly, letting his thumb hitch over the handle of his Colt revolver.

When Rick reached the door leading into the lobby, he could hear voices arguing on the other side. “I don’t care what you say, you ain’t goin’ in a room full’a people all pissed off with a loaded weapon.” Rick would have smiled at his brother’s tenacity if the situation weren’t so precarious.

“You just wait until Gavin hears about this,” growled one of the guards, stepping closer to Daryl in an obvious attempt to intimidate the group.

Glenn shifted his gun in his hands before speaking, “I don’t think he’s very open to suggestions or complaints.”

The same guard confronted Glenn now, “Oh yeah? And just why not?”

“’Cause Gavin’s dead,” Rick announced as he pushed the door to the lobby open. “Any further questions can come directly to me.”

The man’s attention snapped to Rick, his stare unwavering. “What do you mean he’s dead?” he demanded.

“Most people don’t survive a bullet to the head,” Daryl muttered under his breath.

“Gavin was threatening the life of an innocent little girl,” Maggie explained.

Rick noticed none of the guards in front of him reacted to hearing that revelation. His blood began to boil in his veins. His decision made for him, he spoke in an icy tone, “There’s no place for people like that in this town, and since you all appear to have supported Gavin so much, I’m going to have to ask you all to leave, in the interest of keeping our children and families safe.”

None of the guards moved as they gaped incredulously at Rick. As an afterthought, he added, “I’m gonna need you to leave your firearms here, too,” which caused an outright uproar from the guards.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” asked one of the older men.

A younger guard added, “Why would we listen to you, anyway? We could just take you all out now,” and drew his pistol, taking aim.

Rick drew his own pistol and aimed it right at the younger man’s head. A quick glance out of the corners of his eyes confirmed that the rest of his team had aimed their weapons as well. “We can settle this right now if you prefer,” he suggested in as formal a tone as he could muster. “Just know that there’s fifty people on the other side of those doors that also want to see you gone.”

The weight of his statement, the will of those prepared to enforce it, or a combination thereof gave the guards a moment’s pause. Eventually a third guard cleared his throat and insisted, “You can’t possibly send us outside the walls without any weapons. That wouldn’t make you any better than Gavin.”

“Course not,” Rick said, tilting his head. “You leave your guns with us, but you can keep your knives and whatever personal items you think you can manage.”

Several silent moments passed before, one by one, the guards reluctantly relinquished their guns. After an approving head nod from Rick, Daryl and Morgan walked the four men down the street to their living quarters. Rick turned to T-Dog, “Take their guns down to our building for now. We’ll start working out some kind of armory once all the guards are gone.” T-Dog nodded, and Glenn and Maggie went with him. Rick returned to the group inside the meeting hall to explain what had happened, feeling slightly relieved when Dale didn’t make any further comments.

Rick walked over to Gavin’s body and searched his pockets, finding his set of keys. “Everything should be fine now. We’ll escort the rest of the guards outside the gates as soon as we can, so you’re all okay to head back to your homes. We can dig a grave for Gavin if you want to. I’m not so sure he deserves one or not, but either way, we need to get him out of here.” Most of the citizens began to file out of the room; a few men stepped forward and worked to lift the body and carried him outside.

Once the room had cleared out, Rick made his way to Gavin’s office building. He began searching through the desk and file cabinets until he finally found the duty roster, listing the guard assignments and rotation schedule. He decided to keep all the files where they were, figuring information is often the best tool. He realized he needed to familiarize himself with the rest of the community to best determine what jobs everyone had already been given and where they were best suited. With a dozen or so guards leaving, he would need to replace them with new people manning the walls, and soon.

Daryl relieved the guard on gate duty when the first four were escorted out. One by one, all the guards were notified of the new arrangement. The last man on the list ended up being a new recruit, barely twenty years old, who did not take the news well. “Please,” he begged, “please don’t send me out there. I never hurt anyone, you can ask them. Please let me stay.”

Rick brought him before the rest of his group and sought their opinion. Maggie, Beth, Hershel and Dale of course wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. No one else had the heart to tell the kid, who was all but sobbing at this point, that he had to leave. Everyone agreed, however, that he would need to hand over his firearms. The young man, Brett, agreed to their conditions, acknowledging that living inside the walls without a gun would be far better than living outside the same way.

Over the course of the next week, guard duty was split between Daryl, T-Dog, Dale, Glenn, Maggie, and even Michonne who volunteered. Rick and Lori spent their days meeting the rest of the community, keeping a running list of everyone’s strengths. He was most nervous about meeting Phillip and Penny, not sure exactly how that particular conversation would go. The irony was not lost on Rick that Phillip had been assigned to an apartment above the town pet store as he passed the display window full of aquarium tanks on his way up the stairs.

“I can’t thank you enough for saving my little girl’s life,” Phillip said, shaking his hand then sitting down and pulling his daughter into his lap. “What did you want to talk about?”

“Just standard questions, trying to get a feel for everyone, what we’re capable of as a town,” Rick answered.

“How old are you, Penny?” Lori asked.

The little girl looked shyly at the couple, “Eleven.”

Lori smiled at her, “You’re about our son’s age. We’ve got a couple other kids with our group right around your age, too, and I’ve met some other kids in town just today. Have you met them yet?”

Penny shook her head, “Daddy says we need to stay inside until we know it’s safe.”

Rick smiled at that, “Well, I’m going to do my best to make sure we all stay safe.” He looked over at Phillip, “That’s some smart advice for your daughter. Tell me, what did you do before all this, Phillip?”

“Customer Service Representative. I was the one who would call your house right at dinner time to make sure you were happy with your cable plan,” he said with a sheepish grin. “Did some sales calls, but mostly it was a ‘help me help you’ scenario.”

An idea started to form in Rick’s mind. “How long had you done that?”

Phillip exhaled and looked up at the ceiling as he thought back, “Oh...fifteen years or so? Give or take?”

Rick nodded, processing the information. “I’d like to offer you a position, Phillip,” he began, ignoring Lori’s surprised look. “I can’t do everything myself, so I’m going to put certain people in charge of different areas: agriculture, security, expansion, things like that. I’ll be working with those...secretaries, if you will.”

“Like the Secretary of State, Secretary of War?” Phillip offered.

“Exactly,” Rick answered. “With me working with them, I need someone to work with the people. See what’s going on, stave off any problems, things like that. Would you be interested?”

Phillip’s face lit up. “Absolutely!” he exclaimed.

Rick gave him a curt smile, “Good. It’s settled then. I’ll let you know when we actually put things in motion, but until then, if you want to just get out among the community, let them get to know you a little, I think that’d be a good start.”

Phillip set Penny down on the floor and stood up, extending his hand for a handshake. “You bet. I really appreciate this, Rick.”

Rick stood, Lori following suit, still keeping a confused look on her face. “Alright then. You two have a nice day,” he said as he shook Phillip’s hand, then placed his hand on the small of Lori’s back and ushered her out the door and back toward the street.

They had just barely cleared the main door to the building when Lori began her questioning, “What was that all about?”

Rick held back a sigh. He knew this man had the potential to be very dangerous, but had a feeling that it was because of two things that he had become that way in his dreamlike past: the death of his daughter and the power of running the town going to his head, and probably more the former than the latter. Something told Rick that Phillip could be a tremendous asset to the town – to him – but he’d need a sense of power, but not so much that he’d get carried away. He also figured he’d have Phillip’s loyalty since he’d saved his daughter from the terror of Gavin. He couldn’t tell his wife all of that, though. “I just have a feeling about him, Lori. He already seems to have experience in stuff like this.”

“Alright,” Lori eventually answered. “I trust you,” she said, slipping an arm around his back. She rested her head on his shoulder as they walked down the street toward their apartment building.

Once they had met with everyone in town, Rick started making job assignments. Hershel would be in charge of agriculture, though his services as a vet would come in handy if the existing town doctor needed assistance. Daryl, Maggie and Glenn would be in charge of going on supply runs, with Beth coordinating what supplies were needed. Morgan, who had been an engineer before the turn, would oversee the expansion of the wall and the town within it. Dale would coordinate guard duty and schedule rotation as well as maintain the armory, keeping track of the weapons inventory. T-Dog and Michonne would become something akin to sheriff’s deputies, keeping the peace among the citizens. Lori would help Rick in his administrative duties, at least until she couldn’t any longer due to her pregnancy.

Woodbury already had a person in charge of watching the children, whom Beth would also be assisting. Daryl would also be working with Martinez, whom Rick also had to hide recognizing, in making sure the citizens of the town were trained in self-defense and various weapon use.

Rick called a town meeting to go over the new assignments and answer questions. Right off the bat, he heard someone ask the question he knew was bound to come up: “Why is it all your people are in charge of everything?”

He had been expecting the question and had an answer ready. “When we say they’re in charge, it doesn’t mean they’ll be the boss, per se. Think of them as coordinators. We’re all working together to make this community survive...and thrive. They’ll work with each of you to do what’s best for this town, and report to me with any progress or problems.

“On top of that, I would like to offer a chance to cross train between jobs. If any of you decide you need a break from, say, construction, and want to give farming a try, we’ll have a chance to rotate once a month, at least for now. That’s why we need these coordinators, to keep things running smoothly as people are being trained in a new job.

“As for why I picked the people I did, well, I know them the best. We already work well together. That’s not to say we won’t work well with any of you, but to get things moving in this community, I need to have people I know are capable and trustworthy.”

His response was met with a few solitary grumbles from the crowd before him, but nothing so bad as to feel threatened in any way. In that moment, Rick was glad that Phillip was going to be the “face of the company,” as it were, so he could deal with those people who were still unhappy with the new arrangement.

After the town meeting, everyone dispersed to their living quarters. Rick could not wait to get to his bed and collapse. “Heavy the head that wears the crown, huh?” Dale asked.

“You could say that,” Rick replied.

“You think this’ll work okay?”

Rick fixed him with a look. “It’s got to.”

Chapter Text

In the next several weeks, despite a complete overhaul in the organizational structure, life in Woodbury settled into a quiet pattern of normalcy. As the citizens, both Rick’s group and those already living in Woodbury, became accustomed to the way things were under new management, everyone noticed a change for the better. People were more relaxed, even as they were working, though that’s not to say that anyone was shirking their responsibilities. On the contrary, because they were given the choice as to what role they would play in the town, there was a sense of ownership, of pride, of community among the townspeople. New friendships were being forged as everyone truly became neighbors, not merely people confined to the same sanctuary in a world gone mad.

For the most part, once someone chose an area to work in, they stayed with it, feeling that was how they could best contribute to the community. It was no small miracle that the work was distributed evenly, not piling up in one place and spread too thin in another. There were, on the contrary, a handful of people who preferred to switch things up, allowing them to be cross-trained in several skills.

One morning, as Rick began his daily rounds, he heard his name called out from behind. When he turned, he saw one of the residents, Andy, making his way toward him. They greeted each other with a handshake and Rick asked if there was anything he could do for the man.

“No, sir,” Andy smiled. “I just wanted to thank you for all you’ve done for us. It’s almost like...having our old lives back. Even from the beginning, you could tell Gavin was running this place into the ground. He’d assign us to whatever he thought needed to get done, regardless of whether or not we knew what we were doing or could be of any real help. If we argued, he’d cut our rations for the week.”

He paused a moment, as if shaking off some heavy memory of darker days, then met Rick’s eyes again. “No, I like how you’ve got things organized. I like being able to learn all these different skills. If anything happens, God forbid, and we lose this place, I’m that much more prepared to take care of my family out there,” he said, gesturing to the proverbial world beyond the walls.

Rick nodded in understanding. “I appreciate that, Andy,” he responded while clapping the man on the shoulder. “Listen, I need to get going on my rounds, but you’re welcome to join me until your shift starts.”

Andy accepted excitedly and Rick had to chuckle to himself. He greeted everyone as the town awakened. Rick realized there wouldn’t be much to report first thing in the morning, but he liked to check in with his coordinating committee, as he called it, in an attempt to stay on top of any upcoming issues and thwart any major problems before they got out of hand.

Their breath became less visible as the early winter day slowly warmed in true Georgia fashion. Rick’s first stop was usually the makeshift schoolhouse they’d established. Things were always quiet here before the children arrived, making it a rather pleasant start to his day. It was also a more clandestine approach to making sure Carl was holding his own in class.

Susan, who had been a 4th grade teacher before the world went to hell, had eagerly stepped up to provide education for the children in the community. She worked with Rick to develop a type of curriculum, making sure to focus on subjects that would help ensure their survival: reading and vocabulary, basic math, and what they called ‘survival science,’ where they studied helpful and harmful plants, first aid, cooking, and identifying local wildlife. Susan had developed a system where the older students would buddy up with the younger ones, which also ingrained in them the life skills they would need in caring for others, thus keeping a firm grasp on their humanity.

“Morning, Susan,” Rick announced his presence as he entered the former restaurant. The actual school in Woodbury was well outside the safety of the walls and the community decided that a building that large would take too long to clear out and keeping it secure just wasn’t worth the effort for the small number of children still surviving. He found the teacher behind the counter of the small diner, reviewing her plans for the day.

She looked up and greeted the men with a smile, “Good morning, Rick, Andy. Checking up on Carl again?”

Rick laughed, a little embarrassed, his hands on his hips, facing his boots. “Only if there’s something to check up on. Everything going okay?”

“We’re fine in here. I’d like to talk to someone about maybe starting up some kind of P.E. class. I think the kids get a little stir crazy after a while, and recess and lunch times just aren’t cutting it anymore,” Susan answered.

“I think I know just the guy,” he said, thinking of how Glenn was always very adept at getting in and out of tight spots and was the quickest on his feet. Maybe he could come up with some activities to keep the children physically fit as well as training them for the unexpected. He made a promise to speak to Glenn and to talk to anyone else that may be interested then set off to continue on his rounds.

Leaving the restaurant, Andy informed Rick that his shift was due to start soon and that he’d better be on his way. “You know how Dale gets when we’re not on time for guard duty,” Andy said, making Rick chuckle. Rick went on to complete his morning rounds, finding that most people he spoke with didn’t have much to report, just business as usual, which was always a good start to the day.

Making his way back to the town office (he didn’t like to think of it as his office), Rick saw Beth making her own rounds, checking with all the citizens of Woodbury to see what supplies were needed or wanted. He noticed that Beth had apparently grown a living shadow; walking alongside her was Billy, the guardsman he had spared. Beth didn’t seem to be paying him any mind, but didn’t look happy to be in his company, either. He noticed they had stopped to speak with one of the mothers who had already been a citizen of Woodbury, and Beth was adding to the list in her notebook...though Billy was just standing beside her, watching.

Rick decided to give this “Romeo” a hard time and crossed the street to meet up with them, timing his gait so he would meet up with the two as the woman was walking back into her home. “Morning, Beth. How are the run lists coming along?”

“Just fine, Rick. Same old, same old, nothing really out of the ordinary.”

“Good, glad to hear it,” Rick answered, then turned his attention to Billy. “Say, didn’t morning guard duty start a couple minutes ago? Don’t want to start Dale off in a bad mood, do you?”

Billy mumbled something, obviously flustered. Whether it was because he’d been caught skipping out on guard duty or because of who had caught him, Rick couldn’t say; regardless, he fought hard to keep the smirk off his face. Billy hurriedly excused himself, giving Beth a rushed goodbye, and headed off to report for duty.

Once the boy’s back was retreating, Rick chuckled to himself, and glanced over when he heard Beth’s snort of laughter. “You scared him,” she gently reprimanded Rick.

“Was it something I said?”

Beth giggled then told Rick she needed to get back to meeting with the townspeople since the run team was planning to head out in the next few days and she wanted to have a comprehensive list for them. “The more they can get at a time, the fewer times they have to leave. I hate when they’re gone for days on end. I can hardly sleep when they’re gone.”

Rick nodded in agreement and bid her a good day as they each went their separate ways. When he reached the office, Phillip was already standing outside.

“The door should be open already,” Rick announced while he was still several paces away.

Phillip glanced up and smiled widely at Rick. “Just enjoying the morning, boss.”

Rick cringed at the title. “I might be the coordinator, but I’m no one’s boss,” he corrected the man, who nodded in acceptance and followed him into the office. “What can I do for you?”

Phillip sat heavily in one of the metal chairs across from Rick’s, which was sitting behind the large desk. “Just one thing that you should probably take note of. Everyone’s pretty pleased with how things are going, except for Dave.” Rick searched his brain, trying to recall who exactly this Dave was. Phillip must have caught on and described him, “The man who wasn’t exactly happy with the new regime.”

Rick cringed again at the thought of him running a regime, an action Phillip seemed to pick up on quickly. “Sorry, Rick. Poor choice of words,” he said abashedly. “He’s been complaining to anyone who will listen that he doesn’t think it’s right that you, a newcomer, came in and took over from Gavin. Mind you, he wasn’t a fan of Gavin, apparently, either, but...well. He’s one of those guys that thinks he can run things better doing it his way.”

With a heavy sigh, Rick asked, “Is he starting anything, or just talking?”

“Just talking for now, but he’s been trying to get people to agree with him,” Phillip explained. “If you ask me, he’s not man enough to run this town. Spending all his time gossiping and bitching about anything, but never stepping up and doing anything about it. A guy like that needs to be taken care of.”

Rick bristled as glimpses of the Phillip he knew before started peeking through the veneer of the man in front of him now. “Is he making any threats? Gathering any followers?” Phillip shook his head. “I’m not going to fight him for power. I’m ‘in charge’ because someone needed to step up, and I didn’t see anyone else rising to the occasion.” Rick used air quotes to punctuate his statement. “Just keep an eye on him for now, don’t engage, but let me know if he’s causing any real trouble.”

Phillip agreed and left Rick to his duties in the office. He began reviewing the area maps, his eyes wandering to the prison compound and he wondered who could be there...and hoped they weren’t any kind of threat to his community. It could have been minutes or hours later when Michonne and T-dog let themselves in, knocking on the door as they entered. Rick nodded to them, inviting them to sit in the available chairs.

“We got a problem,” T-Dog began. “Dale’s been telling us there’s a couple teenage kids running around at night. His night crew can’t see them really doing anything, at least not yet, but the guards are all busy watching outside the walls. Ain’t got time to babysit these punks inside the walls, too.”

“Any idea who it is?” Rick asked, hoping to God it wasn’t his son involved in this.

Michonne shook her head, “The guys said they can’t tell, since it’s dark and all.”

T-dog spoke up, “We were thinking of setting up a curfew. No one out after dark.”

“Only problem with that is it’s just the two of us, and we have to sleep sometime,” Michonne continued. “We need more man power, either more guards at night to watch outside and inside the walls, or more deputies to do day and night shifts.”

“Either way, damn idiots should know better,” T-dog grumbled.

Rick sat back in his chair and pondered for a moment. “I don’t want to just impose a curfew on everyone. Do we have an age limit? How do we enforce it? What happens if someone breaks curfew? There’s a lot to keep in mind.” He leaned forward on the desk again. “I’ll bring it up at the next town meeting,” he promised, jotting some notes down in a notebook he had for this very purpose.

After the two had left, Rick obeyed the grumbling in his stomach and headed home for lunch. Once inside the apartment, he found that Carl was still at school, as he should have been, but Lori was nowhere to be found. ‘Probably out for one of her walks,’ he thought to himself, remembering how often she liked to get exercise when she was pregnant with Carl all those years ago. He grabbed a granola bar and a small tin of oranges, then headed back down the street toward the office.

Along the way, he noticed quite a commotion in the clinic, but saw Dr. Stevens, who had been the town doctor before the fall, was standing back, apparently giving Hershel and Otis room to work. Rick entered the clinic, curiosity getting the better of him. He rarely made a point to check in with then men who worked in the clinic; Hershel and Otis were really just waiting for the ground to warm enough to start the gardens, and Dr. Stevens would surely come to Rick if there were any serious illnesses they needed to worry about.

“Everything okay?” Rick asked quietly, not wanting to startle the men who were obviously hard at work.

Dr. Stevens glanced over and grinned. “Oh, we’re fine. This is more their expertise than mine.”

That’s when Rick heard the sound of tiny whimpers. He peeked over Hershel’s shoulder to see a dog laid out on the exam table, while Otis was moving newborn puppies to a blanket and cleaning them off.

“Mama’s been wandering around town,” Hershel said, filling Rick in on what was going on. “Doesn’t seem to belong to anyone, and she’s pretty malnourished and dehydrated...not doing so good right now, but now that we’ve got her, we’ll get her right as rain in no time.”

Rick smiled at the thought of a litter of puppies beating the odds in this screwed up world, sure there was some sort of parallel for their lives now, but was too wrapped up in the moment to really dig into it. He was still watching the squirming puppies when he heard someone burst in through the clinic doors behind him.

“Doc! Come quick!”

“What is it, Vanessa?” Dr. Stevens asked, trying to keep the woman calm. Rick turned and saw it was the same woman Beth had been speaking to earlier that day.

Vanessa looked between Dr. Stevens and Rick frantically. “It’s Lori. She fainted.”

Chapter Text

Rick waited just long enough to learn where Vanessa had left Lori then took off, his heart pounding in his throat and his stomach clenched in a terrible knot. He saw a small group of people gathered outside the door of what used to be an old mom-and-pop convenience store. He shoved his way through, anxious to get to his wife. “I’m fine, really,” he heard her voice over the din, and relief washed over him.

He dropped to his knees next to Lori, vaguely aware of Dr. Stevens and Otis coming in behind him. He picked up bits and pieces of what happened from the people around him, all wanting to help but were really just making Rick more and more nervous. He could feel his pulse in his ears as his patience wore thin. To his relief, Dr. Stevens called for everyone to back up and give Lori some room as he quickly examined her, with Otis stepping in and asking everyone to go about their day and give her some privacy.

Rick held his wife’s hand as Dr. Stevens completed his examination, asking Lori all manner of questions. She admitted to having been so caught up in her day that she’d forgotten to eat lunch, realizing her blood sugar must have gotten too low. Rick held his tongue, refraining from reprimanding her, but Dr. Stevens, being the town medic, sternly reminded her of the importance of eating healthily. He released Lori into Rick’s care, instructing him to make sure she got lunch, dinner, a snack, and plenty of water. Dr. Stevens reported to the couple that, as far as he could tell, the baby was doing just fine, but he wanted Lori to stay on bedrest for the rest of the day just to make sure everything was alright. The three men helped Lori off the floor, and Rick insisted he could get her back to their apartment without any further help.

Once Lori was settled and fed, Rick hardly left her side. He thought back to when she was pregnant with Carl, how she had developed minor complications and had to endure all the hardships that went with it, not to mention needing a Caesarean to deliver their son. His mind went to the worst case scenario, knowing how this pregnancy ended the first time around, and promised himself he would do everything in his power to keep his family whole. He had to admit, circumstances were improved slightly. This time around, they had an actual doctor, not a veterinarian doing his best guess work; there was an actual clinic that was decently stocked with medical supplies. Now it was just a matter of Rick keeping Woodbury safe and secure so there would be no chance of anyone, living or not, attacking them.

They sat quietly, Lori seeming somewhat annoyed that her whole day was wasted in bed, Rick trying to not be obvious while watching her like a hawk. They made an effort to distract each other with idle chit chat; Lori filled Rick in on some of the “unofficial” business around Woodbury, while Rick brought to her his concerns about Dave and his attempt at an uprising that was, so far, unsuccessful. Carl came home from school, surprised at seeing both his parents in the apartment so early, and immediately concerned when he found out what had happened to his mother. They both reassured him that Lori and the baby were alright, that this was all just to make certain they’d stay that way.

Shortly before the sun sank behind the horizon, Beth and Phillip paid a visit, just to let Rick know the town was quiet for one more night. Daryl, Maggie and Glenn were gearing up for their run, planning to leave first thing in the morning, but wanted to check if there was anything Lori needed that she could add to the list for her. Lori smiled and asked for anything salty and crunchy. Beth grinned and told her it would go at the top of the list.

Eventually, they all went to bed. Rick curled himself around his wife, his arm resting protectively over her belly. It seemed like he had just closed his eyes, though it easily could have been over an hour, when he heard a loud knock on the door. He slipped his pants back on and made his way to see who had something so important to come get him in the middle of the night and not T-Dog or Michonne. He opened the door to find Dale on the other side, T-Dog standing with him. “We have a situation down in the car lot.”

Rick sighed and started to explain that he couldn’t leave Lori and it would have to wait until the morning.

“Richard Grimes, don’t you dare use me as an excuse,” he heard Lori call from the bedroom. He hung his head, mostly to avoid the grins and knowing looks from the men standing in the hallway, and went to talk to his wife. “I...am...fine.” She was adamant, apparently allowing her frustration of the past several hours to bubble up and over. “They need you for whatever it is, and all you’d do if you stayed here is keep me awake with your worrying what’s going on. Go!

Rick clenched his jaw, knowing she was right but still not wanting to leave her. He grabbed a shirt and his jacket and slipped them on as he went into Carl’s room to wake his son. “I’ll be down at the lot. Anything happens, anything at all, you come get me, you hear?” Carl nodded and started to get out of bed, though he could just imagine Lori instructing him to go back to his room and get sleep.

Dale filled Rick in on what he knew on the way to the lot, though it wasn’t much. “Jeff from the night watch came and got me. Apparently there was quite a scuffle between Daryl and Billy,” the older man informed him, though there weren’t many details to go along with it, leaving Rick without a clue as to what to expect.

They arrived where Jeff and Steve, another guard on duty that night, were waiting to be relieved to go back to their posts. Rick saw three other people as Dale’s lantern cast its glow on the area – Beth, who was obviously crying, Billy, who was huddled on the ground, and Daryl, who was pacing and just looked pissed. Rick went to Jeff and Steve, wanting to hear their side of things first if only to get them back to guard duty.

Jeff had only been there as back up for Steve, which was why he was the one to run to get Dale and T-Dog. Steve explained, “I saw Billy and Beth walking around, but didn’t see anything go down. Been watching outside the walls for walkers. All of a sudden, I hear Beth yell for Daryl to stop. By the time I got here, they were all pretty much where you see ‘em now, ‘cept for Daryl was standing right over Billy, not letting him up or nothin’. I just stepped in to separate ‘em, make sure he didn’t try anything else,” he motioned toward Daryl.

Rick nodded and thanked them before sending them back to their posts, but grimaced when he heard one of them mutter something about a ‘filthy redneck.’ He narrowed his eyes at them then turned to the other three, trying to decide who to question next. Beth still looked shaken, so he decided to give her a couple minutes to pull herself together, while Billy was lying in a heap on the ground, apparently unable to even sit up. The scenario reminded him of the first time they’d lived at Hershel’s farm and Daryl had stepped up to “deal with” Randall, how the kid could barely sit up without someone holding him. Rick opted to talk to Daryl first, who looked like he was a little calmer than a moment ago, though now he was shooting daggers at Steve’s retreating back. “Wanna tell me what the hell happened?”

“Billy was messin’ with Beth. She told him to quit and he didn’t, so I...” he trailed off.

“I see that,” Rick answered, trying not to sound impressed. “Let’s go back a little further. Why were y’all out here?”

“Couldn’t sleep. Came outside for a smoke, tryin’ ta clear my head before the run tomorrow. Saw Beth sneak out, met up with Billy and they headed here. Kid’s been actin’ weird for a while, always hangin’ on her an’ followin’ her. Ain’t none of my business, but just had a feelin’ something was up. Past couple nights, he’s been walkin’ around the lot, like he was lookin’ for somethin’.” Daryl glanced around the cars around him, “Guess he found it.”

Rick frowned and looked around the area himself, trying to understand what Daryl was getting at. Besides the blankets in the truck bed, he didn’t notice anything noteworthy. He looked to Daryl, who huffed in exasperation. “Ain’t no line of sight here,” he explained. “Between the RV, the Hummer and the shoe store, ain’t no one can see him from the wall on this side. Even if they could, ain’t like a flashlight would reach this far an’ there ain’t no damn light with no moon. Son of a bitch had this planned.” Daryl was shaking with rage, starting to pace again like an animal ready to pounce on his prey.

“Had what planned?” Rick questioned.

Daryl pulled a small knife from his back pocket. Rick knew Daryl kept a knife on him at all times, but also knew it was much bigger and he kept it in the sheath on his hip. “Why don’t you ask the bastard himself when ya give this back to ‘im?” Daryl handed the weapon to Rick and stormed off.

Rick watched, dumbfounded, a terrible feeling knotting itself in his stomach. He turned to look at Beth, stowing the knife in his own back pocket as he walked toward her. The girl looked shaken, like something very bad had happened. Upon closer examination, he noticed her lip was swollen and bloody, like someone had hit her, and she was holding her jacket wrapped tightly around her. “Alright, Beth. Let’s you and me sit down here on the tailgate and you tell me what happened.” He guided her over, noticing that Dale and T-Dog were both giving him space, but were near enough to hear details from each side of the story.

“He...he told me it was close to his birthday, that the meteor shower was always this time of year, that tonight would be best because there was no moon.”

Rick glanced skyward and realized she was right. “He...who?”

“Billy,” she said softly. “He told me to come meet him here in the lot, that the buildings in town were too close together for us to really see anything. I got here, and he had blankets and pillows laid out in the back of the truck,” she motioned to the vehicle Billy was still lying next to. “I figured it was just because it’s chilly out and we were gonna be out here for a while. I didn’t think...” she trailed off before taking a deep breath and starting again, speaking quickly as if to get all the words out quickly, like tearing off a Band-Aid so it wouldn’t hurt as much. “I...I know he likes me, but I haven’t done anything to make him think I liked him back, not anything more than friends. At least I don’t think I did. But he...he started kissing me, and I pulled away but he kept coming at me. I pushed him away and told him over and over ‘No.’ He just wouldn’t stop!” She gestured with her hands, and the panels of her jacket fell open, revealing that the shirt she wore underneath was torn...no...cut. She pulled the jacket tighter around herself before continuing, or before Rick could ask about it. “That’s when he hit me. Told me not to make a sound or he’d...” she trailed off and glanced down at Rick’s hand.

An icy chill shot down Rick’s spine when he realized just what Billy had been ready to do. He swallowed hard and placed a calming hand on Beth’s shoulder. “Okay, Beth. Dale and T-Dog are gonna make sure you get back to your room safe and sound.” He nodded to the other two, signaling for them to come forward, giving them both a pointed look before handing Beth over to them. He watched the three walk away then took a steeling breath and turned to face Billy, who had now at least propped himself up on his elbows by this point. Rick lowered himself into a crouch beside Billy, not ready to look directly at him just yet, keeping his eyes focused on the ground for the moment. “Wanna tell me what the hell happened?”

The younger man began to tell his tale, but Rick was hardly listening, his mind already made up. He knew Daryl would never do anything to hurt one of their own, despite what the guards may have thought. He also trusted his brother in arms to never make up such a lie about anyone. Rick had seen Billy following Beth around, whether she welcomed him or not, and knew she was trusting enough to believe Billy’s intentions were good. He silently cursed the rest of the group for convincing him to let Billy stay against his better judgement. He knew this kid couldn’t be trusted if he was one of Gavin’s men to begin with. There were only a dozen or so of the men from the National Guard, and Rick knew for certain they never went anywhere in groups smaller than twenty. He had a feeling any others in the group that didn’t agree with Gavin were ‘taken care of,’ and Billy had apparently made the cut.

The only thing left to do was figure out how to tell everyone...and explain Billy’s sudden absence.

Finally, Billy had finished his story, and Rick took a moment, pretending to contemplate things before acting. After a moment, he straightened himself and offered Billy a hand to get him off the ground. “Come on. Let’s go take a walk.”

Chapter Text

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.

“What van?”

“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.