I stood before the large gate of an enclosed neighborhood, holding my shoulder with a grimace. It was quiet, almost too much so, and I was too tired to keep going. If anything, I was just pissed off, feeling a fever grow through me more than ever before. The light I held in my hand was shaking against the littered road, the blood from my shoulder bleeding down my arm.
The scratch burnt like hell, and it was only making me more upset.
“Hey. Anybody behind that?”
I banged my flashlight against the metal gate, hoping to not attract any more of those undead bastards.
“Somebody, please. I am alone. My people are dead. I am unarmed.” I held my hands up as I heard something shifting on the opposite side.
“Please, I’m just askin’ for a night.”
“The hell you come from?” A voice asked from the opposite side. Rough. Southern. Any other moment, I would’ve liked it, but right now I needed it to like me.
“Atlanta. Barely got out. Please.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
I looked over to my shoulder, lit up by the moon hung high up in the sky. The blood was starting to thicken, leave a stain on my skin. “It’s a scratch. Tore it on a low-hanging beam.”
The voice went quiet, then the gate lurched with a creak before sliding back just enough for a person.
“What’s yer name?” The voice asked from the shadows, barely stepping into the moonlight for me to see his face, barely the scruff on his chin.
My name was starting to allude me. I couldn’t remember it after not saying it for so long. I didn’t have people to repeat it back to me either, call me out on my bullshit, warn me for anything. Nothing.
“Cherokee,” I forced out, coming to terms with the name all over again. I remembered writing off the last ‘e’ and spelling the ‘r’ backwards.
I looked down at my blood dripping to the concrete, then back up to the weapon pointed in my face. The length of the arrow was disorienting and the flicker of light reflected off of the fletching.
“Cherokee,” the man repeated, stepping into the light with his weapon.
I raised my hands in defeat, “I don’t have any weapons.”
“I heard you the first time. Think of it as a precaution.” He nodded over his shoulder to the inside. “Hurry up and get your ass in here.”
Not taking too kindly to his words, I edged around his withdrawn weapon and inside, not letting him get a good look at my shoulder. Just so he wouldn’t make any assumptions about my wound.
Another voice caused me to freeze and before I could look around, my throat was greeted by a cold, toothy texture. My hands trembled as my eyes glanced around in the shadows, already cursing at myself for trusting strangers.
“Who’s this?” The other voice asked, deeper and pitted with concern.
“Straggler. She’s bleeding.” The man with the crossbow answered.
I cleared my throat, then reached for my shoulder again.
I returned my hands up with a huff, “It burns, okay?”
“We can’t take any chances,” the man with the knife slowly pulled away from me, sheathing his weapon.
“I get that.”
The man with the crossbow pushed me onward, leading me down the dimly lit road.
“We get you patched up, and you’re out of here.”
I sat on the cot while the nurse wiped the congealing blood from my arm. Her touch was rough, dragging gauze over the open wound.
“That hurts,” I snapped, baring my teeth with a growl before retreating back into myself.
I frightened the girl and the man with the crossbow standing by the door. I held a hand up to the guy and waved at him that everything was fine, but it wasn’t.
The woman poured a bit of rubbing alcohol on my wound, then patched it up with a wrap across my chest. I wearily shrugged off my shirt, letting the nurse do what she had to while the man with the crossbow mediated.
“She gonna be good to go on her own at daybreak?”
The nurse looked at me, then over her shoulder. “She can’t. This is more than superficial. And it’s not a scratch either.”
“What is it?”
The man raised his crossbow at me, ready to fire but the nurse stepped in front of me.
“Don’t. It’s not what you think.” The woman held her arm out to protect me. “If it were, I’d have told you earlier.”
“What the fuck bit her then?”
“That, I don’t know. But with a walker bite, you’ve seen it. They tear off the flesh, they expose the muscle. This, this just sank their teeth in her, if only for a minute, and kept her there.”
“The hell happened to you?” He turned to me, waving his bow in my direction.
“I don’t know.” And I meant it. I couldn’t remember the last day because it got away from me. “Last thing I remember was waking up with a bleeding shoulder, in a warehouse.”
I woke up the next morning, or afternoon, with a damp cloth pressed to my head. The cool cheesecloth dripped water into my hairline and down my forehead. I reached to pull it away.
“Easy, girlie,” The man with the crossbow said, my fingers hovering over his. “You done made yourself comfortable, slept for three days. Had to go and make sure you hadn’t died on me.”
“I’m fine,” I said, pushing myself upright in the cot.
I guess I had slept a few days too many, my back was aching and my muscles felt dense.
“Didn’t you hear me? I said take it easy.” The man shifted on the cot, away from me.
I took a deep breath in, moving my shoulder, then out. It hurt like hell.
“Glad you ain’t turned. Hate to put you down.”
“How sweet.” I flashed a quick smile then reached for my bandages.
He reached to swat my hand away, “Don’t go scratching like an animal. It’s just healing.”
“It burns,” I said behind my teeth.
“So I’ve heard. But it’ll only get worse if you start messing with it.”
I looked at my shoulder then back at the gruff man before me. The voice wasn’t starting to grow on me like I’d hoped. “What do you care?”
The man went silent and I exhaled heavily. Sitting by, I could feel my stomach growling with hunger. I took in a deep breath by my nose and was overwhelmed with a scent. Foreign, yet appealing.
“The name’s Daryl,” he said, holding out his hand to pat away the sweat on my forehead.
“Daryl,” I said, with a pant, “I’m hungry.”
I looked at the man, leaned into him with a snarl of my lips. Taking another inhale, the scent returned and I could pinpoint it on Daryl.
“Hungry,” I repeated, much like a child before swinging my legs out from the cot.
I motioned Daryl’s hand away, then pushed up from the cot with a groan.
“Cherokee.” He pushed off and followed after me while I stumbled halfway to the door. “You can’t go on out there.”
“Why not?” I growled out, stopping to lean against a low cabinet.
“Because,” he said, “we don’t know what’s up with you yet.”
“I’m fine, I told you.” I breathed out, shutting my eyes as they burned in my sockets. “God, are there curtains in this place?”
“Why, the sun too bright for you?” He asked, but it seemed like he was having fun from my pain.
“Yes,” I snapped, looking over my shoulder, at him standing in middle of beams of light.
From what I could see, Daryl reached for his waistband, where his gun was rested in his jeans.
“I’m sorry,” I said, holding a hand out for mercy. I turned away from the light and shielded my eyes in my arm.
Daryl went silent, a strong suit for him, and went to the windows to draw the curtains. “Let me see that bite.”
“No.” I huddled into myself, rearing up on the balls of my feet and folding both hands over my eyes. I felt rage rush through me again, and it was only building with my empty stomach. “I’m hungry.”
“Give it a minute,” he said, and I could hear his feet shuffling across the floor. His hand reached out for my shoulder and I flinched. “Let me see the bite.”
The room went quiet again and my hand hovered over the bandage, but Daryl beat me to it, tearing off the medical tape. I howled out in pain, baring my teeth and looking over my shoulder at Daryl.
“Sorry,” he said, after the fact, pressing his hand against my back.
The rumble in my chest died down with his touch and I rolled my shoulders back, one at a time, to let it rest.
“Whatever,” I mumbled.
I glanced back at Daryl, feeling his fingers outline the raw bite on my shoulder.
“That fucker really got you,” he said, poking around the inside outline of the bite.
I bared my teeth again, feeling the rumble return in my chest.
“Cherokee, calm down. I ain’t gonna hurt you.”
I crossed my arms tightly around my legs and exhaled, trying to control the irritability within me. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Daryl went silent again and I didn’t know what that meant. “What is it?”
“You ever thought about monsters? Those other ones, I mean.”
I shook my head, “I can’t say that I do.”
“We got Walkers out there, you ain’t ever thought of other creatures?”
I exhaled, slumping my shoulders before Daryl’s fingers grabbed my arm, “What’re you getting at?”
“These are some big teeth marks. Bigger than anything I’ve ever come across.”
“So?” I asked, my patience wearing thin with every passing moment without food.
“You know what, it’s probably nothing,” Daryl said after another moment of silence. “Let’s get you patched up and see if we can get you some food.”
I looked at Daryl, narrowing my eyes at him. “What were you gonna say?”
“Nothing. Ain’t nothing but an old wives’ tale.”
He held his hand out for me to take, pulling me to my feet before re-patching the wound on my shoulder. I winced outwardly as he touched the teeth marks, and folded my hands together to keep from pushing him away.
Daryl sat across the table, watching as I used my hands to tear apart the broiled chicken breast set before me. I was starving, but with the scent that the cooked poultry gave off I was on the verge of losing my appetite.
The cooked meat in my fingers felt so barbaric, yet I could bring myself to put the food in my mouth. Daryl only watched my movements, how I reared up in the chair like a frightened animal.
I glanced around the house, rubbing the thin muss of chicken from my fingers. “This is a nice place.”
Daryl nodded, crossing his arms on the table while he eyed my plate. “Thought you said you were hungry.”
I am. “I…guess my appetite’s not all the way there yet,” I lied.
I folded over my plate again, my birch-colored hair falling around my face. It was damp with the sweat and I’d forgotten to tie it back. The smell was getting to me again. I shut my eyes and thought about picking up the chicken and putting it in my mouth.
My tongue went dry. I pushed the plate an inch away from me and held a hand over my stomach. I had to eat. My stomach was on the verge of eating itself. I took a deep breath in, then out, and smelled a delicious scent that made me start salivating again.
“Can I get a glass of water?” I asked, head still bowed to the table.
I didn’t have to glance up to see Daryl move, I felt it in my fingertips from the soft bracing of his hands to the table. I heard it with the scraping of the chair across the floor.
Daryl crossed the room and I tilted my head to hear how far he’d gone, to hear the faucet turn on. I slid from my chair to the floor and lifted my nose to sniff at the air. The delicious smell had to be closer than I thought while I crept slowly across the floor.
With my eyes still closed, I could feel the smell hone in like a beacon. I was so close. I reached my hands up to brace the kitchen cabinets, then pulled myself up to stand at the counter.
The smell was unbearably pungent then and I lunged out, grabbing the slick food in my hands. I brought it to my nose and lips, then poked my tongue out for a taste before sinking my teeth into it.
I tore away at the food, whatever it was, and chewed at its gummy texture.
“What the hell are you doing?” Daryl asked, more so demanded, setting down the glass on a counter.
I opened my eyes to see Daryl staring at me, mouth agape like he was figuring to speak, while I sat on the kitchen counter.
“What?” I asked, mouth full.
“Do you know what you’re eating?”
I shook my head, “No, but it’s hitting the spot.”
Daryl raised his brows, then nodded to what I had clutched in my fingers. I looked down at my hands to find a raw chicken breast, fatty and dripping, with a large bite taken out of it.
Looking at it made me feel queasy for a moment. I stopped chewing what I had in my mouth and thought about hacking it back up. I pulled a hand from the chicken and folded it over my mouth, feeling myself fight what a part of me wanted.
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” I said, hopping from the counter and dropping the chicken to the floor.
I ran over to the sink and bent over it, fighting myself to let out the raw meat stuck in my mouth. The taste, the more I thought about it, was that of chicken but slicker and less safe than the one Daryl cooked.
Still, the meat was sweet, and though it was cold, it warmed me inside. I felt my throat constrict while I begged for myself to drop it, but I couldn’t.
Instead, I swallowed the bite and sank to the floor.
“Damn it,” I said, thinking about it again, but in the sense that I’d wasted a perfectly good snack by dropping it on the floor.
Daryl stared from his place across the kitchen, hands bracing the counter behind him. He didn’t say anything, only watched me wallow on the floor over eating raw chicken.
He bent over and picked up the piece I’d dropped on the floor, then dangled it before my face. “Here. Might as well finish it off.”
I stared at the pale pink slab of meat swinging in front of me, then up to the man holding it. I snatched it away and held it in my hand, slowly tightening my hold on it. “Don’t…say anything about this to anyone, please?”
“Seriously? Who’s gonna believe me about the girl who ate raw chicken?”
I frowned at the food in my hand, then at Daryl.
“I’m going on a run. You wanna come with?”
Narrowing my eyes at him, I weighed the invitation in my head. I took another deep inhale, this time smelling both the food and Daryl.
“Sure,” I muttered. “I need some sunglasses.”
After finishing my disgusting meal and helping Daryl clean up, I stepped outside once more to the safe zone. Daryl and the nurse said it was called Alexandria, but I couldn’t appreciate anything about it.
My eyes were turned down to the ground with even the reflection of the sun on the pavement being too bright. I shut my eyes with a low growl and, when I reached to shield my face, I felt a cloth umbrella over me.
I opened my eyes to see the dim tribal pattern of a dingy poncho shielding the sunlight. My hands reached out, making sure it wasn’t all of me that was captured, only to brace a warm front decorated with a vertical line of buttons. My fingers slowly trailed down them until a hand stopped me.
“Hey, we don’t know each other that well,” Daryl said, with his voice giving away his amusement.
I retracted my hands and forced them into my pockets. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
He grabbed hold of my forearm and led me down the road while I stared through the tattered holes in the poncho. Daryl stopped just before the gate and told me to stay put.
“Can’t do much right now,” I said, kicking out a foot to bring up some dust.
He scoffed at me and I heard him walk away. Daryl’s footsteps stopped abruptly before an engine started up. I reached for my ears with a growl, the engine rattling causing a low-pitched ringing in my ears afterwards.
The noise approached, and I started to snarl under the cloak of the poncho. The sound was offensive, making my ears throb on impact. A hand reached out for me, grabbing the front of the poncho and pulling me towards the sound of the engine.
“Come on, we’re wasting daylight,” Daryl said, grabbing my hand to rest on my shoulder. “Careful. Hike your leg over.”
I did as the man said, moving my left hand to his left shoulder while lifting my leg over his bike. When I sat down, Daryl instructed for me to wrap my arms around him before calling out to the gatekeeper with a whistle.
He tugged the poncho from over my head and I hid my face in his shoulder while crossing my arms around his body. The gate slid open with a creak and Daryl brought his boots up from the pavement.
The bike sped out of Alexandria and around the cars littering the road. I could barely stand to peek an eye open, only feeling the sunrays on my head. The sound of the bike began to fade out to a low vibration below me while I could hear a rhythmic thump right under my nose.
I imagined it with my eyes closed, the thump making a distinct point on my imaginary beacon. The ripples that echoed after it retorted into my chest and I exhaled with a trill.
The ride seemed to last longer that way, with my eyes closed and only thinking about where Daryl was taking me.
“I’m gonna live to see the end of this, right?” I asked, my own fingers clenching into my arms.
“Hopefully,” Daryl said.
The rest of the ride was silent, with me feeling the honing thump behind my eyes and the sun warming my head. The bike began to slow down after a while and I brought my head up to shield my eyes with the poncho.
“Where are we?”
I looked around through the small holes of the poncho to see a ghost town and the street lined with abandoned cars. Daryl shut the bike off, kicking out the stand and shifting off of the vehicle. I shifted back in my seat, then swung my leg over before standing up.
Daryl didn’t answer, only looked across the street to the line of trees before the forest. “You still hungry?”
Yes. “Not really.”
The brisk wind picked up and I crossed my arms before my chest.
“You sure?” Daryl asked, moving around me to pick up the crossbow from the front of his bike.
I’m not. “I am.”
Daryl shrugged, pulling the sling of his crossbow over his body, “Suit yourself. You staying here?”
I shook my head, pulling the poncho from my head again and followed Daryl across the street. At the tree line, Daryl reached to his waistband and unsheathed his knife. He handed the knife to me and nodded.
“Don’t make me regret it.”
I followed after Daryl, holding the knife out defensively. He held his crossbow up and swept in half-circles, stepping over fallen logs and around tree stumps. I was just as careful, avoiding large piles of leaves and branches.
He stopped and I bumped into him with him shushing me. Daryl pointed further ahead of us, then turned back at me. “I see dinner.”
I peeked over his shoulder to see a squirrel perched in the distance. My ears pricked and I could hear it chittering over the small bit of whatever it was nibbling on. My mouth started to water again and Daryl’s knife slipped my hands.
“Cherokee,” Daryl whispered, but I tiptoed past him.
I sniffed in the direction of the small animal and could feel its small fingers running over the same bit in its hands, over and over. I edged closer to the animal, lowering myself to the ground with each miniscule step.
“Cherokee,” Daryl hissed after me again.
I held a hand up to him before bracing my palms to the ground. I drug the knife through the dirt with me as I crawled the last few inches towards the squirrel. Just as I got closer to it, the creature turned slightly.
Its ear flicked downward, then back. I could see my reflection in its beady eyes and I could feel its heart thumping quickly. I raised the knife above my shoulder, ready to strike, only for the wind to break just over my left ear.
I turned to see what it was and back to see the squirrel petrified, an arrow sticking out of its side. I held back a hiss, watching the animal fall off of the log.
“I had him in my reach,” I said, turning over my shoulder to see Daryl cut the distance between us.
“You were two seconds from scaring it away.”
“Bullshit. I could’ve snatched him up if I wanted to.” I grabbed the dead animal and yanked the arrow from its body, looking at the thick red ooze down the sharpened tip.
I opened my mouth and slid the end of the arrow across my tongue, then handed it back to Daryl. He stared down at me then returned the arrow back to his reserves.
“Knife too.” He held his hand out with the ‘give me’ motion, but I took his knife and cut open the squirrel.
I did the same to Daryl’s knife, then handed it back to him before digging my fingers in the small carcass, cracking open its ribcage and fishing around the guts for the oblong organ I wanted most.
The warm ooze on my fingers was welcoming and I wanted to wring my hands in it. Daryl raised his brows at me as I stared down at the animal, rummaging through its tiny chest until I found what I was looking for.
I tugged it from the chest, then watched it tick between my fingers before I popped it into my mouth. I held my fingers between my lips while I chewed at the tense heart, with still-warm blood gushing with every chew.
I sucked on my fingers until there was no blood left, even under my fingernails.
“Thought you said you weren’t hungry,” Daryl said with a smile.
“Just a snack,” I said with a shrug before putting my other hand in my mouth to suck off the blood.
“It’s getting late, we should get to shelter,” Daryl said, looking up to the forest canopy with the sun dwindling.
I glanced around, fully opening my eyes with the diminishing light. I had given Daryl the rest of the squirrel to chew off of, and he licked the blood from his fingers after stripping muscle from the carcass.
“Back to Alexandria?” I asked, running my fingers through my hair with a low hum.
We hadn’t run into Walkers in our time being here and I felt that it would only annoy my senses.
“No, it’s too long a drive. Plus, we’d be riding blind. We’ll have to hole up in one of those stores out there.”
I nodded to Daryl’s suggestion then rose to my feet. Daryl did the same, holding the tail of the squirrel in one hand.
“Lead the way, girlie.”
I turned in the direction of the town, raising my nose to smell the damp air. The walk back to Daryl’s bike was just the same quiet and we crossed the road before Daryl battered down the door of the convenient store.
He pushed open the door, leaving a small space to slip through. I followed after him, ducking my head under a low beam before pressing my back to the door.
The dust in the room flew through the air and the dimming sunlight shined through the cracks of the boards. Daryl ordered me to move away from the door and I did as he said.
“Help me with one of these things, huh?” He motioned to one of the metal shelving units knocked over in the center of the store.
I pushed away from the door and grabbed the opposite end of the shelf he was standing at.
“On three. One, two,” Daryl started, only for me to start pushing the shelf and slam it into the wall in front of it. “Shit,” he said, pulling away from the shelf with his hand resting on his head. “Where the fuck did that come from?”
I shook my head, “I don’t know.” Because I truly didn’t. I didn’t even take a deep breath before pushing, it just breezed away from me like swatting away a fly.
Daryl grabbed the shelf again and started to turn it into the enclave of the front door. “Maybe a little help would be nice.”
“Sure you don’t want me to move it by myself?” I asked though not completely serious.
I picked up my side of the shelf and slowly eased it behind the door in case of any brave bastards. Daryl sat on the window ledge by the door, resting his foot on one of the shelves and staring at me with his tongue lining his bottom lip.
“You really don’t know where this shit is coming from?”
“I told you. I don’t know what this is.”
He narrowed his eyes at me, “You been living under a rock all this time?”
I leaned against the shelf, tugging at the neckline of his poncho. “What can I say? I was a sheltered kid.”
“You ain’t even heard of the Georgia Skinwalkers? Ever?”
I raised a brow, “What the hell is that?”
Daryl scoffed, sitting back against the barricaded window. “That must’ve been a pretty dense rock.”
“You gonna tell me about it or not?”
“They’re not an ‘it’, first off,” Daryl said, agitation in his words. “Just…help me rummage through some shit and I’ll tell you all about them.”
I agreed, if only to stop Daryl from looking at me like I was about to attack. He led the way to the back of the store, a concrete wall warehouse-type with the stock shelves picked to the bone.
“So much for supplies.” I muttered, more to myself before looking over the bare shelf to Daryl. “Hey, why’re you helping me? I mean, you and that other guy were pretty certain about me leaving.”
Daryl swiped a finger along a shelf, picking up dust and rubbing it between his fingers. “We couldn’t really kick you out if you didn’t wake up.”
I swallowed a lump in my throat, weary about what I was about to say next. “But I’m awake now, why not leave me high and dry?”
Daryl stopped at the end of an aisle and looked over his shoulder at me, “What makes you think I won’t do that in the morning?”
He had a point. I couldn’t do anything but shrug and it made me feel stupid. Daryl exhaled, grabbing onto a shelf bar and swinging himself around the end cap and into the next aisle.
“You lookin’ to leave soon?” He asked, staring straight down the aisle and not at me.
I wasn’t actually planning on it. The thought of being alone in a world like this wasn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy. I shook my head.
“I…wasn’t trying to say that I didn’t want to stay…”
“Good,” Daryl said, cutting me off. “Because I was gonna talk to Rick in the morning, see if we could find a place for you.”
I watched Daryl stroll down the rest of the aisle, ducking his head to check lower shelves only for them all to be empty.
“Thank you. For the hospitality,” I said, walking down the opposite aisle.
“Don’t mention it.” Daryl shrugged, making his way to the end of the aisle. “Guess there ain’t nothing here.”
I followed him back into the main are of the store then cleared a space on the floor to sit. Daryl shrugged off his crossbow then lowered himself to sit by one of the boarded-up windows. He peeked through the cracks in the boards, the dimming sunlight streaking across his face.
I shrugged off Daryl’s poncho and crossed my arms around my knees. “So…”
“So, what?” Daryl asked, still staring out of the window. He looked over his shoulder to see me raising my brows. “Right. The Georgia Skinwalkers.” He exhaled and leaned his back against the window ledge. “A long ass time ago, there was a native tribe that lived where Atlanta is now. They lived side-by-side with a wolf pack. But one day, a little kid from the tribe wandered off and was attacked by one of the wolves from the pack.”
I leaned my chin against my knees, listening intently to Daryl’s story. “Did the kid get bitten?”
Daryl nodded, “You’re catching on. Anyways, the tribe didn’t know that the wolves living so close were these god-like creatures. The kid that got bitten came back to the tribe much stronger than before. He’d become a half-wolf of sorts. They called him a Skinwalker because he looked like man on days but on nights of the full moon, he’d shed his skin and walk like a wolf.”
I scoffed at Daryl, raising my brows at Daryl. “Great story.” I didn’t want to believe anything about Daryl’s story, seeing as he even said it was a tall tale. “You can’t believe that stuff, right?”
Daryl shrugged, turning back to the window with the sun finally setting. My eyes adjusted to the darkness in the empty store and I could see through the shadows. The silence was almost deafening and I shifted around to hear anything besides Daryl’s own breathing or the thumping in his chest.
He looked at me and from the darkness I could see his face contort in concern.
“What?” I asked, reaching for my cheek to make sure there was nothing there.
Daryl shook his head, “Nothing. You go ahead and get some rest. I’ll take first watch.”
I shifted onto my side, pulling Daryl’s poncho over me in a mediocre blanket.
“I’ll wake you up in a few hours.”
I woke up to Daryl snoring underneath me, his arm crossed over his chest. In the darkness, I could see him clearly. My nails clenched against the linoleum floor beneath me and leaned in to take a long sniff of Daryl’s neck. A growl erupted my chest, feeling the thump in his ribs get louder the closer I got.
I opened my mouth, baring my teeth at the sleeping man beneath me. I snarled inwardly, feeling my mouth shift painfully. Backing off of Daryl, I reached for my mouth, clawing at my gums only to feel my teeth sharpen.
I bit at the inside of my cheek and tasted blood on my tongue. I reared up on the balls of my feet and curled into myself, feeling my skin begin to burn and itch unbearably.
From behind me, I could hear Daryl shifting from his sleep. I ducked my head between my hands and covered my ears from hearing his heartbeat.
“Cherokee?” He asked in the darkness. Daryl patted his hand along the linoleum, searching for his flashlight.
The simple noise of his palm tapping the floor was overwhelming. I turned over my shoulder, “Stop.”
Daryl did as I said, holding a hand up at my tense voice. My throat felt raspy and sore, my voice losing to the growl pitted in my stomach. I clawed at the skin on my arms, feeling it scrape away to reveal tufts of fur.
“It hurts,” I forced out, keeling over onto my hands and knees while my back stretched out painfully.
Daryl stood up and I snapped over my shoulder to snarl at him. “Get away.”
I held a hand out to keep Daryl distant, my fingers shifting into my palm to form a paw. Daryl scrambled around the floor to find the flashlight and turned it on, shining the light towards me. I winced at the light, folding my hands over my eyes while I still could.
“Cherokee.” Daryl started again, but all I could see was red.
My eyes burned in their sockets and I felt my skin erupt with fur. I cowered into myself with my growling escalating to fill the room. “Get away, Daryl.” I ordered before my throat shifted and an elongated howl escaped my mouth.
I turned, on all fours, to look at Daryl. Baring my sharpened teeth, I lunged for him only for him to shove the flashlight in my mouth.
“Shit,” he said, backing away from me with his hands held out in front of him. “Cherokee, don’t make me put you down.”
I chucked the flashlight from my mouth and stepped on it, shattering the plastic helm to pieces. My nostrils flared, gearing closer to Daryl. Try me.
I took another step towards Daryl, huffing at him before pressing my snout to his stomach. I inhaled deeply, my nose twitching at the overwhelming scent.
Daryl stood still while I continued to smell him, his hands slowly lowering to his sides. “It’s me, okay? Don’t go acting stupid.”
I sniffed at his shirt, reveling in the scent he gave off. I rubbed my snout to his shirt then reared up on my hind legs to tackle Daryl to the floor. He held his hands up again, then out to brace his fall before chuckling and saying that I needed to get up.
I stretched out between Daryl’s legs, resting my front paws and head on his stomach. He exhaled, then reached out to pat my head.
“Guess I ain’t nowhere to go,” he said, shaking his head at me.
I woke up, my eyes burning to at the sunlight peeking in through the boarded windows. My ears pricked while my cheek rested to the warm body beneath me, hearing the slight shift of something in the backroom.
Slowly raising my head, I pried my eyes open to see Daryl still asleep, his arm crossed over his face to block out the light. I felt a chill on my skin, then looked over my shoulder to see my bare body. I shut my eyes again, scrunching my nose with a disgusting smell wafting through the air.
I reached around Daryl’s waist and unsheathed his knife before sitting up slowly to not wake him. The disgusting smell got closer, along with a low hiss following it. I crept across the floor, on my palm and knees, to the doorway of the backroom.
With the scent approaching quicker, I slowly stood up and swung out to strike at the incoming threat. The knife plunged into the soft face of a Walker, the front of its face stopping against my forearm.
I pulled the knife out and struck again, in the same area of the first stab. Blood squirted out and onto my arm, with each new strike splattering more blood across my skin. It was cool, sticky to the touch and the Walkers snarls slowly died down.
I gasped as the Walker finally fell, not realizing the blood droplets on my lips. The backs of my hands reached up to swipe at my cheeks. I purred softly, trailing after my own touch before swiping the blood down my sides and across my stomach.
My ears twitched at the sound of silence, then the outside noise of more Walkers sauntering through the streets. I turned over my shoulder, my focus shifting outside until Daryl slowly woke from his sleep.
He sat up and forced the palm of his hand into one of his eyes. Daryl reached for his waistband then looked around the mostly empty room.
“Cherokee?” He asked before turning over his left shoulder to see me standing in the doorway of the backroom.
I crossed my arms over my chest, tucking his knife under my arm. “Morning.” I waved with my free hand also under my arm.
Daryl narrowed his eyes, then looked around the mostly empty floor. “Where…are your clothes?”
“I think I ruined them,” I said, lowering my head to look down at the dead undead bastard by my feet. I would’ve stolen the clothes of its back, but they were tattered beyond recognition and probably dirty.
Looking back up at Daryl, he nodded and grabbed the poncho from the ground. He tossed it at me, not even flinching at the congealing blood on my body. I tugged the fabric over my head, stopping just past my eyes to see Daryl staring.
“You getting a good look?” I snapped, only for Daryl’s eyes to return to mine.
He reeled back slightly as I pulled the poncho fully down the length of my body.
Daryl shook his head, reaching to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Nothing, just…seeing things.”
I raised my brows at him, walking towards him to give the knife back. Daryl glanced at the weapon and took it back. I started at his face until he looked back at me.
This time, he stared harder into my eyes, almost narrowing them to inspect something in my face.
“What? You’re freaking me out.”
Daryl grumbled, sheathing his weapon without looking away from me. “You believe me now?”
I scrunched my nose at him, the scent he gave off almost becoming familiarity. I hummed in question at him.
“You believe me now? Georgia Skinwalker.”
I couldn’t tell if he was reminding me of the legend or calling me one. “Yes,” I said. “I believe you now.”
Daryl nodded, pushing himself to his feet. “Good,” he said, picking up his bag and crossbow. “Your eyes are yellow. We should get going back to Alexandria.”
I watched Daryl move towards the door as I tugged his poncho over my hips and looked at the Walker in the back doorway. He seemed to talk too fast for me to comprehend. “What?”
Turning back to the man by the front door, I held the poncho taut over my body. “Can’t I get some pants first?”
“You got two options right now and I don’t think you’d like either of them.” Daryl nodded towards the shelf guarding the door. “Little help here?”
I walked to the opposite side of the shelf and pulled it from the door with a swift tug. Daryl moved past me with an amused scoff then ducked through the space to the outside.
He held his weapon out defensively then whistled for me to follow. I ducked through the open space and tiptoed across the littered street while Daryl led the way. He slung his weapon onto his back and called for me to catch up. I picked up my pace, following Daryl to his bike as he straddled it and gripped at the handles.
I stood beside Daryl’s bike, still holding his poncho over the length of my body.
“Come on, we’re burning daylight,” he said, cutting on the engine while I squinted at the brightness outside.
I glanced over my shoulder then hiked my leg up and sat down on the bike. I felt the rumble rush through me and I tried to think less of it as my arms curled around Daryl. He looked back at me as I shut my eyes, burying my nose into his shoulder. I began to get so comfortable with his scent though I didn’t know the man at all.
Daryl huffed and kicked the bike stand before driving off. I kept my eyes closed, consciously thinking about anything else aside from the thumping in Daryl’s chest.
Back in Alexandria, Daryl covered me as best he could, instructing me into one of the houses. I held my arms around my body, keeping the wind from picking up my only form of clothing.
He shut the screen door behind him, pulling away from me with a grimace. It wasn’t as if he were any cleaner at this point.
“There’s a shower upstairs. Save the hot water as much you can. I’ll find you some clothes,” he said, nodding for me to go about my task. “Hurry, before Rick gets back.”
I opened my eyes to the inside, where I had eaten raw poultry, then looked towards the stairs before scurrying up them. I could barely slow down as I turned into the bathroom, and I bumped my wounded shoulder on the doorway.
Shutting the door behind me, I pulled Daryl’s poncho from my body then ran my short nails over my stomach while I looked in the mirror.
Daryl was right. My eyes held a golden ring around my irises, almost reflecting. I shook my head and stepped into the shower, cutting it on to let cold water spray my face. I scrubbed at the dried Walker blood on my skin then wrung out my hair before shutting the water off.
In the enclosed space, I shook the excess water from my skin then stepped out. I reached for a towel and wrapped it around my body before opening the door.
“She can’t stay here.” I heard a familiar voice say from downstairs. I froze in the doorway and leaned towards the voice to listen closer. “You of all people should know that, Daryl.”
“Rick,” Daryl began.
“No, you know that if it were anyone else, we’d have turned them away at the gate. But this girl’s flashed her big doe eyes and you think it’s fine.”
“She’s got no one else.”
“That don’t matter. She ain’t one of us, she’s not staying. I don’t care. She’s not a stray you take in. She could be dangerous.”
I held my hand over my mouth, unsure if I’d laugh or agree. From where I stood, I could smell a dominant scent. A musk much stronger than Daryl’s, combined with the accumulative residue of gunpowder and shaving cream.
I exhaled, feeling the scent capture me in its hold. My bumps on my skin rose the more I took the smell in, the rumble in my chest gaining volume as I ran my hand along my cheek and into my hair.
As the vibration in my chest solidified, I found myself purring. I clamped my hand back over my mouth in surprise and ducked back into the bathroom. I shut my eyes and took a deep breath in of the damp air, hoping to sate the noise I couldn’t help making.
“Look, we don’t know her. Daryl.” Rick exhaled loudly, I could feel it shifting the rooms. “She ain’t Beth. She’s not like Carol. She’s gotta be on her own.”
Daryl went silent, and I could hear the thumping in his chest rush with a sense of adrenaline. I didn’t know what that meant. There were footsteps, then they stopped and I heard Rick lower his voice.
“Look, you bring her to me when she’s done. I don’t want her roping you in with her charm or something,” Rick said. I exhaled through my nose, knowing that my luck had definitely run out.
“Okay,” Daryl said before leaving the kitchen.
I inched the bathroom door closed and stood in the dark, waiting while Daryl made his way up the stairs. Pulling my hand away, I rubbed at my nose. Daryl knocked on the door and I pulled it open to see him with his head hung.
“Here,” he said, holding out a folded stack of clothes. I took the clothes from him with a nod of thanks then shut the door.
Daryl forced his foot in as a wedge then pushed the door open without much effort. “Let’s not act like you didn’t hear that downstairs.”
“I can’t stay,” I said, mostly summarizing. “I know. It’s okay.”
Daryl’s mouth gaped as if he was going to say something but closed it again. He didn’t have anything to make me feel better. It was better this way.
“Just…get dressed. I’ve gotta take you to Rick.”
“Heard that too,” I said before forcing Daryl out and shutting the door.
I exhaled, leaning against it as I set the clothes on the sink. I ran my fingers through my hair and unfolded the towel from my body then got dressed in what I was given.
I pulled the shorts up to my waist then tugged the white tank down to tuck in. Looking down at my bare feet, I realized that I wasn’t going to be getting shoes any time soon. I had exhausted all of the hospitality from Alexandria already.
“You ready?” Daryl asked from the other side of the door.
I picked up his poncho from the floor and threw open the door, “As I’ll ever be.” I folded the poncho in my arms over and over then handed it to Daryl. “Thanks for that.”
He kept his face stern, with a grunt in response. I followed down the stairs after him, then outside of the house to the bright outside. I folded my hand over my brows to shield the excessive light from my eyes. With Daryl’s silence, I could hear his thumping chest louder, itself a leading beacon to Rick.
It was the only one I could truly reign in, the other thumping chests that passed by me on the street were barely pushing beats per minute or were too fast to even get a read. The walk seemed longer the more I tried to monitor the amount of alive people in the area.
Daryl stopped suddenly before the doors of a church and, with my eyes casted down, I ran into him. He didn’t move, only straightening his shoulders back and nodding for me to go in.
I stepped past Daryl then turned back to look at him, only for him to look away from me.
I pushed open the doors to the church and found myself at the end of a long aisle lined with pews. The doors slowly fell closed behind me and I flinched at the sound they made on my ears.
At the end of the church, towards the front, was Rick, standing and waiting. His hand rested on his waist where a gun was holstered. I gulped lowly and took a timid step back.
“Come here,” he said, more so ordered.
I lurched at his voice, the demanding tone of it, and took a step towards him then another. I walked quickly and quietly to the front of the church, head bowed low with my arms crossed before my chest.
“Stop,” Rick ordered and, on command, I did so.
My eyes scanned wildly the carpet beneath my feet, unsure of what was happening. I felt like I barely fought his orders, but I wasn’t meant to fight him. He was kicking me out, I had no leverage.
He came down from the podium of the church and stopped before me. “Look at me,” he said.
I slowly lifted my head to lock onto his bright eyes, ones that reflected light directly back into mine. I squinted past the glint of the sun from the window on his eyes and focused to find his pupils, only finding a bright ruby ring around concentrations of blue. Shit.
Rick took hold of my chin and stared into my eyes. I knew what he was seeing. I tried to jerk my head away but his stare intensified and I found the fight in me diminishing.
“Now would you look at that?” Rick said, tilting his head slightly before pushing my chin away. He stood upright and circled around me once, like he was closing in on prey.
Behind me, he lifted his head and sniffed at the air. A growl erupted from his throat and he shook his head.
“And here I thought I was going crazy,” Rick said, passing beside my right shoulder and scoffing. “You reeked inside my home but I must admit the Walker blood was a nice try.”
I furrowed my brows at the man. I hadn’t even thought of the blood covering my scent. I guess it wasn’t me thinking about it.
Glancing to my side, I thought of what Rick was going to do, if kicking me out was still the priority. I didn’t know what eye color meant between us, if it meant anything at all. I was still barely getting used to this being me.
I opened my mouth but Rick pressed his index finger to his mouth, still circling me. My mouth shut again, my teeth clipping at the tip of my tongue. He circled around me a second time in silence and I waited until I was allowed to speak.
“You know what you are?” Rick asked. I nodded measly and he scoffed. “You got an idea of what you are?” I nodded more affirmatively and he hummed in response.
My nails clamped into my forearms while I waited to speak, finding my own thoughts run away faster than I ever could, even on four feet. Rick stopped before me again then leaned into my face.
“You got a week. You make yourself useful. You talk to no one except me and Daryl,” Rick said before standing upright. “Don’t make me regret this.” I felt his eyes scan over me and I froze, stiffening my knees and shoulders.
He cracked a slight smile. “You can speak now.”
I almost folded over with an exhale, unsure why I was so stricken in the leader’s presence. My hands on my knees, I thought of what I wanted to ask, what I wanted to tell him to plead my case. But he had already said I could stay, was I about to fight it?
“Why?” I managed to get out, bowing my head down and letting my hair cascade around me like a thin-veiled curtain. I seemed to only be poking the bear with asking dumb questions.
Rick went silent and I figured that he left the room until I heard his steady heartbeat behind me. A hand clamped on the back of my neck and I could almost feel a yelp escape me, like a handled puppy.
Jerked upright, I felt Rick’s breath trickle down my neck, to my shoulder. “Because you will obey every word I say.” His nose traced along my ear, taking in the scent of my hair. “As all Betas do.”
I didn’t fight against Rick’s hand and only calmed down when he said the word. Beta. I felt my lip curl into a soft snarl. Bottom bitch.
Rick let go of me harshly, forcing me to take a knee on the carpet. He walked to the double doors at the end of the aisle but stopped halfway. “Let’s go.”
My hands clutched in the carpet for a moment while I blinked at them, unsure if I was going to cry or growl. The floor slowly got farther from me and I straightened up. Turning around, I followed Rick out of the church in silence with my arms crossed before my chest.
Following Rick quickly became second nature, his scent leading me when my eyes were too sensitive from the light. That was one thing I’d have to ask him one day. I wasn’t sure where he was leading me, but when he held a hand out for me to stop, I did and opened my eyes.
Rick stood next to a dark-haired, dark-skinned woman. His lips were pressed to her ear in a whisper, one so muffled and throaty I couldn’t comprehend it. I could still imagine his breath on my own neck and I folded my hand over my shoulder to stop thinking about it.
Just like his scent, it stirred and captured me inside.
“Cherokee,” Rick said my name and I snapped to attention, never hearing Rick say it before. But he wasn’t talking to me, still to the woman who was smiling at him.
“Is she here long?” She asked, looking at me with her eyes narrowed. Her smile still remained light while her stare bored into me with a theat. He’s yours. Got it.
I felt her defending the Alpha Rick and my nails clenched into my skin.
“A week for now,” Rick said, pulling away from the woman’s neck. “She’s promised to behave. Haven’t you, Cherokee?” He turned and smiled at me.
I found myself nodding though I knew I couldn’t do otherwise. I physically couldn’t, even if I wanted to. My jaw and neck tightened as I found myself obliging to Rick’s question in a way he wanted.
The woman nodded and hummed, “Hopefully she’ll find her place.”
Rick agreed then pressed his lips to the woman’s cheek then left. He called for me to follow and I turned around quickly then picked up my pace.
His heartbeat only riled me inside, making my skin crawl like it needed to be off of me. With only being around Rick, I felt that I could follow him anywhere without question. He could have led me outside the gates of Alexandria but I figured that I’d just stay outside the walls, waiting to be let back in.
“I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping,” Rick said, walking up the steps of his porch.
I wondered when the best time to talk to him would be. I had already squandered my chance to speak in the church, only now coming up with more that needed to be answered.
At the same time, I almost forgot about Daryl. He’d left me on Rick to be his problem. Would I not be allowed to see Daryl anymore? He’d helped so far. The more I questioned myself, the less I paid attention to where I was going. When I finally got out of my head, Rick had led me downstairs to a damp basement and ordered me to stop.
My hands reached behind me while Rick stared across the mostly empty room. My fingers braced solid concrete walls and scrapped at the texture before dropping them to my sides. The darkness of the room was comforting to my eyes and, as they began to focus, I flinched at Rick’s hands pressing to the wall on either side of my head.
“I think we should lay some ground rules,” He said and I tried not to breathe.
The warmth that radiated from his body my sweat bead on my forehead. I wasn’t thinking of a stranger before me, I felt my shoulders relax staring into Rick’s eyes as they flared red.
“You do not talk to anyone besides me and Daryl,” Rick repeated, and him saying that eased my mind a bit. I nodded. “You report to me every morning. And you do not eat at the table with me.”
I nodded still and Rick’s lips contorted with slight amusement, “I think we’ll get along here.”
The red in Rick’s eyes solidified over his blue irises, then brightened the more we stared in silence. I wondered if my eyes were doing the same. By Rick’s smile, I guessed it to be true.
He leaned in, pressing his temple to mine opposite. I slowly shut my eyes, feeling a purr erupt from my chest. Slowly we nuzzled our temples down the sides of our faces then rested our cheeks on each other’s shoulders.
I exhaled lowly, unsure of what that was but liking it anyway. I could stop myself from hearing Rick’s heartbeat then, calm and steady. Mine soon imitated the careful rhythm.
Rick cleared his throat and pulled himself away entirely. “Welcome to Alexandria,” he said before rushing upstairs and shutting the door after him.
I breathed in deeply, sating the rumble in my chest and smelling his scent on me. I waited until I was sure that Rick was gone then returned upstairs.
Pulling my shirt from my skin, I tried to air out his scent on my clothes though I felt that no one else would notice. I wasn’t sure if I liked or hated the smell, but it grew on me rather than diluted the more I tried to get rid of it.
I walked outside and sat down on the front porch while it was still light out. People in Alexandria were trickling from the streets into their homes and they wouldn’t notice me. Or care about me for that matter.
The sun began to set and I thought if I were alright staying enclosed downstairs. Where ever Rick was, I wondered if he was still on-site and getting ready for whatever was about to happen tonight.
“What’re you doing out here?” Daryl asked, taking a step up on the porch.
I looked up at the man, immediately grinning at him before furrowing my brows at the light around him. “Where have you been? You left me to the dogs.”
Daryl scoffed and looked away from me, leaning against the porch column. “Looks like you didn’t seem to mind.”
I opened my mouth then clammed up again. My eyes narrowed at him, then pushed myself to my feet. “Did…do you know about Rick?”
He shook his head, folding his lips together as he crossed his arms. “Who do you think found out first?”
“So other people know too,” I said, looking around to find the woman I met earlier. “Right?”
Glancing at Daryl from the corner of my eye, I saw him shaking his head.
“Not even…” I couldn’t think of a word to describe whom I met earlier. I didn’t even catch her name.
“Michonne?” Daryl finished my question with the quirk of his brow.
“Michonne,” I repeated, trying to put the name to her face. “She doesn’t know?”
Daryl exhaled, tired of my probably. “Look, this ain’t something we tell strangers. The only reason you know is because he wanted you to.”
“He could smell me in his house.”
“Better to have your enemy under your roof to keep an eye on them,” he said. I felt that Daryl was purposefully distancing himself from me. We weren’t that close in the first place.
I didn’t know how to respond, only leaned against the window ledge and watched the sunlight turn to dusk. “Is he still here?”
Daryl looked over his shoulder at the empty roads. “Should be. Moon’s waning tonight.” He turned to me and answered my next question, “You should be fine downstairs.”
I nodded at him, knowing that our conversation was close to over. Things were different now since meeting Rick. Daryl was not my confidante. The scent on him was muddled with his own and Rick’s.
“I guess…I should head back downstairs before sundown,” I said, pointing over my shoulder to back inside.
“I guess so,” Daryl added, turning away from me again.
Pushing from the window ledge, I edged inside and back downstairs. The normal strength in my body felt like it was only weighing me down. My shoulders ached while my feet felt dragged along the stairs.
If the rest of the week was going to be so draining, I thought of just staying in bed if I’d be useless. I was going to be useless on my feet anyways. I groaned, the trek to my cot seeming farther away than before.
I undid my shorts and crawled into bed, tucking my body under the thin sheet to get comfortable. A loud yawn escaped me as I stretched, then turned over to face the concrete wall and tried to not think of falling asleep.
Rick’s warm breath continued to linger on my shoulder, feeling his rough hand on the back of my neck. The more I thought about it, the more restless I felt. Turning on my stomach, I lifted my hips then lowered them again to the thin mat.
My hands stretched out under my pillow and over the edge of the cot while my legs got tangled in the sheets. I could feel his lips on my ear, whispering huskily nothing of coherence.
“Cherokee,” he said, his lips baring back to nibble playfully at my ear.
I held my breath, arching into his lean stomach and aching for him to lap at my neck. Rick’s body was warm against my back, his hand trailing along my side before tugging the sheets down from my waist.
“You want me, don’t you?” he asked, and I couldn’t help but nod softly.
Rick’s other hand reached to grip around my throat, then dug his nails into my skin and dragged them down my chest. He tugged roughly at my tank top, his clothed hips rutting against my butt. I groaned, a wild purr erupting from my throat.
I reached behind me, pressing my hand to Rick’s hardened bulge in efforts to stop him. Rick tugged the sheet down farther then ran his hand along my inside thighs. His mouth ran behind my ear and to my neck, taking my skin between his teeth.
I gasped, feeling his teeth sink in harder before he let go.
“You smell delicious,” he whispered, his hand between my legs slipping up to feel my slickness. I folded my bottom lip between my teeth and lifted my hips, ready for him to penetrate.
Instead, Rick pulled my hand away from his pants and rutted against me again, harder. His nose traced around my earlobe then pressed his lips to it.
“You’re mine,” he said, “to do with as I please.”
“Yes…Alpha,” I managed to say before waking up.
I stared blankly across the dark basement, my chin resting on the thin pillow. With a groan, I freed one leg from under the sheet and brought it up to my stomach. I pulled myself upright, pushing back my hair and grumbling to myself.
I felt Rick still in my head, on my body, though he hadn’t stepped any closer to me since the church. My imagination was still replaying the coarse texture of his fingers between my thighs though he never touched me that way.
His hand on the back of my neck, putting me in my place was now getting to me. Inside my stomach churned and I wanted his manhandling again. I could only misbehave so much before Rick intervened and treated me.
No. I shook my head, reaching up to rub at my neck and make sure that my dream was only that. I couldn’t do that to Rick after he’d just agreed for me to stay. The thoughts had to go away, they had to get as far from me as possible because I had to function and look him and Daryl in the eye. And Michonne.
Reaching for the floor, I picked up my shorts and pulled them on. I got up from the cot and stretched my arms above my head before making my way back upstairs. The lack of light in the basement didn’t give me any determination of the time and, when I opened the door, I expected it to be bright and noon the next day.
But that didn’t happen. I stopped in the doorway, glancing around the dark first floor before shutting the door behind me. I had no way of knowing what day it was, or if time had even passed.
“Good morning,” I heard a voice say from the upstairs level.
I tilted my head, as if the identity of the person was different than the voice. Exhaling, I folded my arms behind me and leaned against the door. “Rick. What time is it?”
He walked down the steps coolly, quietly, already dressed with shoes on. “Don’t you wanna know what day it is?”
I shut my eyes and forced myself to not think about his deep voice. “How long has it been?”
“Hasn’t been too long. Three days,” he said, walking through the living room and into the kitchen. He threw open the fridge and stared into the brightly lit contents. “Guess that first shift wasn’t too kind.”
My eyelids stung from the light and I squinted harder. “No, I guess not.” At the moment, I couldn’t even remember my first shift. The pain was all I could think of and then I was useless the rest of that time.
“You hungry? We’re gonna take early post,” Rick added, shutting the fridge door firmly.
I hummed, tilting my head towards his footsteps. “What?” I couldn’t stand to open my eyes, couldn’t stand to take in scents. I was nervous and I wanted to remain still, in the shadows, and away from Rick.
“Post. You, me and Daryl gonna run a bit of patrol. Now, are you hungry?” The second time Rick asked his tone was a bit terse, almost agitated.
I gulped, straightening up before forcing my eyes open. “No, I’m fine.”
“You sure? There’s some drippy bits of meat from dinner.” Rick thumbed over his shoulder to the fridge while he stood at the counter, staring at me.
I shook my head then pushed off of the door. My stomach grumbled softly and I walked to the opposite side of the counter. “I’m good.”
Rick nodded, pressing his hands to the countertop while he stared at me. I avoided his stare, not wanting to see his concentrated blue eyes. I folded my arms before my chest and leaned forward on the counter.
“Do I make you nervous?” He asked, and I didn’t need to answer. Rick knew what he was doing to me. His eyes on me made me shift lightly, wondering if he was trying to see inside my head.
Rick cleared his throat and I snapped to attention. My mind had wandered off. “I’m sorry, what were you saying?”
“Do I make you nervous?” Rick repeated and I found myself nodding. “Good. We should keep it that way.” He pushed away from the counter and called for me to follow. “I’ll show you around.”
I trailed after Rick through the desolate streets of Alexandria, watching how he kept his hand on his hip more often than not and how he pointed out buildings with authority. I kept track of what I could in the time that we had before the sun slowly rose.
When he stopped talking, I decided to speak up. “Were you like me? When you first came around to it…a Skinwalker?”
Rick looked over his shoulder, baring a half-cocked smile. “I see Daryl told you that old story.” He faced forward with an exhale. “I know all I can remember was feeling so tight in my chest, like I was gonna burst through my own skin if I didn’t eat or something.”
I raised a brow in question, opening my mouth to speak but he continued.
“The first few months, sure, I was like you. Sleeping and eating, shifting once a month, twice if the time was right,” he said, slowing down and allowing me to catch up. “After a little more time though, I was feeling better than before. It’s like a bad cold at first, you just gotta sleep through it.”
I nodded, folding my hands into my pockets while I watched my bare feet kick up dust. “I’m guessing you haven’t come across a lot like us.”
Rick scoffed immediately and looked down at me. “No. And that’s why I knew we were alike. Sounds stupid, I know, but aside from that Walker blood you tracked in the house, you smelled good. Like honeysuckle and fresh linen.”
At that, I raised both brows. I’d never been able to smell myself. I guessed it was meant to be that way to keep from being overwhelming. Honeysuckle.
I smiled softly at my feet then bit at my inside cheek to hide it. “You smell like gunpowder and shaving cream.” Even in my wildest dreams.
“Never thought a that.”
“Me either.” I shrugged before raising my head up to look at him. “About the other day, the nudging thing…”
Rick shook his head, “There’s nothing to talk about.”
I continued to stare at his profile, his stubbled jaw and his hair slicked back behind his ears. The sun started to peek through the building of Alexandria, and aside from staring at Rick, I was staring right into it.
He turned and looked at me, the red ring around his eyes at their thinnest. It had to be affected by the moon. I still stared at him and our footsteps seemed to slow down. Rick raised a brow, then bared his teeth after a long minute.
I was staring into the eyes of an Alpha, an unwarranted gesture, and the growl that started climbing his throat was a warning. A warning that could lash out into something else. I wanted to apologize for it, but I stared on, waiting for the growl in Rick’s throat to get rougher.
“Sorry,” I said finally, pulling my gaze away from him. I felt so close to the hand on my neck but I chickened out at the last minute. I knew that Rick wouldn’t do it either. We had a sense of understanding.
A whistle ahead disrupted the silence and Daryl stood halfway down the road with a hand raised. “Glad to see you still live,” he called out as Rick and I started walking again.
Rick spared a chuckle at Daryl’s comment. “I was thinkin’ I’d have to go check on her. She could’ve wasted away.”
I shrugged at both men, not sure how to explain the sleep that we all knew was necessary. Daryl adjusted his crossbow between his shoulders, stifling a yawn as the sun shined across his shoulders. With his skin started to heat up, I could smell him again. Familiar.
Approaching Daryl, he started up the gate to the post, leaning to look over it while pulling his bow from his back. Rick followed suit, ascending fast to look down at the stray Walkers on the other side. I pulled myself up after them, my hands bracing the top of the rusted gate and looking down at the undead bastard knocking into the wall.
I tilted my head, watching as he tilted his head up, hissing and growling gutturally while his arms extended up like he was trying to reach us. “What an idiot,” I whispered to myself, hoping that neither of the men on either side could hear me.
Rick took a deep breath in, then froze in his stance while Daryl wasted an arrow on the Walker. I looked over my shoulder to Rick, his eyes wide and the red ring in them glowing. I wasn’t sure what that meant.
I shifted to move from the two men and my hand slipped on the sharp edge of the gate. “Shit,” I said, turning my palm up to see a deep gash, dark blood gushing out.
I inhaled deeply, not feeling any pain shoot through my arm and cause me to wince. I only smelled the sickly sweet, enriching scent of my own blood. Daryl tilted his head to look at my face.
“You okay?” He asked, but I was fixated on the viscous lifeblood dripping down my wrist and arm.
It was mine, and my hand twitched in place while I fought the urge to rub my gash along my mouth and nose. I pulled my bottom lip between my teeth, my hand shaking while I thought of what it would look like to Daryl.
My eyes couldn’t tear away from the color, the sheen of it as it congealed along the edges of the gash. I only blinked when Rick’s hand grasped at mine, tugging me after him to get down from the gate.
“Daryl, you stay here, we’ll be back,” Rick said.
I went down the ladder first, only for Rick to not let go of my hand. He swung me away from the ladder and dropped me to the ground, where I braced my landing and managed to kick up dirt. I balled up my hand, only pushing more blood to streak my skin and drop onto the ground.
I watched Rick as he climbed down the ladder, then grabbed my hand again. The blood between our palms was smearing across our skin, the scent intensified by the friction.
He pulled me inside the house I could remember as the infirmary. The smell of gauze and peroxide was strong, pungent, drowning with the scent of my blood. I expected Rick to let go of my hand but his hold tightened.
“Rick,” I began, still trailing after him as he led me to the supply drawers. He let go of my hand quickly and avoided rubbing his palm on his pants.
He kept his hand away from him while he opened a drawer and rummaged for gauze. The silence was filled with him breathing heavily and pawing through the next drawer in search.
“Rick,” I repeated, which only agitated him more. His search went fervent, slamming drawers closed before finally stopping and forcing his palms on the top of the cabinet.
He hung his head between his shoulders and exhaled deeply, trying to regulate his breathing again. “Get back,” he said, sparing a glance over his arm.
I timidly took a step back, my thighs bumping into the clean cot in the middle of the room. Rick shook his head and I couldn’t pull my eyes away from him, hoping that he wasn’t on the verge of shifting.
I wasn’t sure if it was possible to shift during the daylight, but the shadows still reached out so anything could have been possible. I noticed Rick’s jaw tense, and when he breathed it sounded like he was gasping. His mouth must’ve been dry.
“Cherokee,” he said, and it was like my name pained him inside. “You’re in heat. I need you to get away from me.”
“What?” I asked, pulling my unwounded hand to press against my face. My cheek was warm to the touch, but nothing to be concerned about.
Rick exhaled again, his palms balling into fists while his head lolled side-to-side slowly. “Look, I can only deal with one thing at a time, but you bleeding…you in heat…I need you to stay away from me.”
I furrowed my brows together. I didn’t understand what Rick was talking about. “But what about checking in with you?”
“Do it with Daryl, instead,” he said, more of a sharp bark over his shoulder. “You…you reek. Just…stay on his side.”
I reached for my shirt and sniffed at myself. It was a lost effort on me to ask Rick to explain. He tossed me a wrapped gauze bandage and left me in the infirmary.
“What about the week?” I asked as Rick tried his hardest to leave as fast as possible.
He stopped at the doorway, then shook his head and left with the door open. I sat down on the cot with a huff and ripped open the gauze to press against my palm. I forced the pad hard against my skin, watching it soak up as much blood it could before dribbling back.
I sniffed at the air, only smelling the supplies and my blood. I fought back the urge to stand up and rush after Rick, ask him more questions now that he’d said I wasn’t to be around him. I looked up to see Rick in the doorway, head still hung with his hand pressed to the back of his neck.
“I thought you couldn’t be around me,” I said, returning my attention to my hand. I stood up and tossed away the stained gauze then searched for more.
Rick was quiet, with only his heavy breathing stating his presence. I looked over my shoulder and he shook his head. “Brought me back.”
“What did?” I asked, turning back to open one of the drawers. It started to dawn on me what Rick was talking about. With another glance over my shoulder, Rick pointed square in his chest where a growl was emerging. I hummed in response.
“He’s an ass, that one,” he said, almost throwing the comment away like it was fact.
“What is it…you’re avoiding of me?” I asked, giving up on my search and folding my hand in my pocket.
“You know what it is.” Rick shook his head, making his way into the room and shutting the door after him. “That…warm feeling you get in the pit in your stomach when there’s something you really like. Something almost like instinct.”
I backed up to the cabinet as Rick approached, the red in his eyes reflecting with the sunlight that beamed through the windows.
“You can’t not know what it is. That scent, it’s hitting me right here. So fucking sweet,” Rick said, hitting his fist in the middle of his chest before turning away from me. “I thought I was just overreacting, like my nose was playing a trick on me.”
I swallowed back a lump in my throat when Rick turned around, taking in a deep inhale. He held his hands up like he was choking the air. “A part of me wants it, and the other knows it’s wrong.”
Rick took another step to me, and I couldn’t retreat anymore. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. His body heat rolled off of him like waves and crashed into my stomach, causing me to shift my hips against the cabinet.
He raised his finger to point at me, “Right there. That’s it. And you don’t know what that is, but you like it, don’t you?”
I wanted to shake my head no, but I bit my bottom lip instead.
“And you can’t stop it. It’s gonna keep happening or the next two weeks unless…” Rick’s voice trailed off. He tilted his head to his shoulder and stepped back. “I can’t have it around me.”
My normal hand clenched against the cabinet, feeling the metal bend under my hold.
“It ain’t right for you to be around me. I’ve got a mate, a girlfriend, I mean,” Rick took another step back, “It ain’t fair to any of us.” Any?
I shut my eyes and exhaled, like a heavy weight was released from my chest. Rick being so close to me was suffocating, but when I could breathe, I felt like I didn’t want to.
“We don’t succumb to our animal,” Rick said, “they don’t know nothing.”
“I’ll stay out of your way,” I said, turning back to the cabinet in another search just to signal Rick to leave.
I rested my good hand in the dresser, staring down at the adhesive bandages and cotton balls, waiting to hear Rick’s footsteps recede. Pushing around a couple tongue depressors, I busied myself in hopes that his eyes would retreat from my back.
I shut my eyes, trying to not think about the dream I had again, though it was still at the surface of my mind. I couldn’t be around him.
Shutting the drawer, I rushed out of the room, barely grazing Rick’s shoulder before storming outside. Daryl still kept his post on the wall but, as I forced open the front door, he looked over his shoulder and watched me run to the gate.
“Let me out,” I said, hand still forced in my pocket while my blood was getting sticky. The front of my shorts was stained with red but I wasn’t bothered. “Daryl, let me out.”
“And where the hell do you think you’re gonna go?” he asked, slinging his crossbow between his shoulders and climbing down from the post.
“On a run. I need a run.”
Daryl tilted his head at me slightly, then looked back to see Rick come out of the infirmary. “I’ll come with you.”
I shook my head, “No. I can go on my own.”
“You ain’t got no shoes, no weapon. How far are you gonna get?” He made a good point. Over his shoulder, I saw Rick staring. I turned away from him.
“Fine. Let’s go.”
Outside of Alexandria, I took in a very deep breath, my lungs filling with a completely different scent. The rumble of Daryl’s bike under my feet was inviting and my arms tightened around his waist.
“Ease up the grip,” he said, slowing down to weave through a few abandoned cars before stopping on the side of the road.
I swung my leg from the bike and leaned against a sedan with its windows blown out. The vehicle rocked back against my weight and I crossed my arms.
Daryl kicked out the stand for his bike and looked over at me. He folded his arms as well with a huff then raised a brow. He didn’t say anything to me, though I wanted him to. I wanted him to tell me that it was going to be alright but I remembered we were strangers.
Rick and I were strangers, yet he acted like I was purposefully putting myself out there for him. It wasn’t that way and I was offended by his arrogance about it. The dream I had was something different to this.
“What’s got you so pissed?” Daryl asked, though I knew he didn’t care so much either way. I shook my head but couldn’t help it coming out.
“Heat? What a bunch of bullshit. It’s not like I belong to him. I almost didn’t get to stay,” I said, feeling my skin prickle with anger. My nails clenched into my sliced hand and I reeled back a little.
Daryl scoffed, looking away from me and back. “You think Rick would let you go once he figured you out? You think that part of him would let you leave?”
I shrugged, pulling my hand free from the pocket to see it stopped bleeding. “I just don’t think he should be arrogant about it. I’m not his to have in the first place.”
“You don’t know nothing, do you?” Daryl asked, standing up from his bike and swinging his leg out. “If Rick asked for it, hell, demanded it, that ass would be his. He’s the only reason you’re in the way you are. You’re wet for him.”
My mouth went dry as it fell open. I knew I wasn’t offended, but shocked by how Daryl spoke. He wasn’t entirely wrong, but how he came across it was crude.
“I am not a toy. We are strangers,” I said after a moment of silence. Like it mattered.
Daryl pressed his lips together, walking past me to glance inside the abandoned cars. “We ain’t stupid. Everyone knows that. Physically, you want an Alpha because that’s the way of a Skinwalker. But personally, you two don’t know shit about each other. And if Michonne ever caught you sniffing around, you’d wish you were gone.”
I pushed away from the car and it lolled back to its original stance. So Michonne was important. She held that kind of respect when I met her.
Following after Daryl, I gritted my teeth. “You might as well leave me out here. Just leave your knife, I’ll hole up in a place. Rather that than worry about Rick snapping at me again.”
Daryl kept walking, kicking trash at his feet while I stepped directly on it. “You know I can’t let you do that.” I was immediately relieved, only for it to dissolve away. His concern wasn’t for me, it was for his Alpha Rick. “Like it or not, you’re in it now.”
I furrowed my brows. He was right again. If I left, Rick’s Alpha would come after me. “I’m staying here, for the night at least.”
Daryl turned over his shoulder and stopped. “You serious?”
I nodded. I held my clean hand out and waited for the man to unsheathe his knife and hand it to me. “Come and get me tomorrow if you have to. Don’t tell Rick where I went.” He already knows.
“I don’t know about this, girly. You think you can handle yourself out here?”
“I got along fine for months before coming here.”
It took a little more convincing of Daryl to leave me behind. “If you’re so worried about me, come back in the morning.”
“Or you could just come back tonight,” he said, his voice hinting at a demand. I knew this wasn’t out of the goodness in his heart. It had to be something else.
“I’m good here. I’ll be fine,” I said, reassuring him more than myself. I slipped his knife into the waistband of my shorts. “I’ll be inside before dark. Don’t worry about me.”
Daryl stared at me, his eyes narrowing as if trying to drill a hole between my eyebrows. I sniffed at the air and caught onto his scent, heavier with sweat while we waited in silence. His jaw tensed and he looked down the road, in the direction of Alexandria. “You get one night.”
Shit. “That’s all I need,” I lied. I wasn’t sure if it was all I needed, if it was too much too fast or if the sense of someone watching over me was making me antsy.
Daryl pushed past me, then straddled his bike before turning over the engine. “And don’t lose my knife, alright?”
I reached for the handle of his weapon and nodded once.
Getting inside before dark wasn’t an issue. I managed to track down a rabbit and kill it as quick as possible before scrambling to pick out its fresh-beating heart.
My shirt and hands were stained with red, and around my mouth it was sticky. I pried open a boarded-up bar then rushed inside, keeping my body low for some sense of surprise. I listened intently for any noise, any hissing or growling from anymore Walkers.
When I figured the coast was clear, I stood up, leaning against the alcove before finding anything to barricade the front door.
The floor was littered with empty bottles, glass and cigarette butts. I shook my head. Wish I was invited. I avoided, as best I could, the dangerous shards on the ground and pushed over a few round tables to press up against the door.
The sun peeked through the window slats and danced across the back wall which once held liquors. Now it was empty shelves with more glass and bullet holes. It felt like the Old West.
I pulled myself up onto the bar counter and dragged Daryl’s knife into the wood, wasting as much of the remaining daylight as I could. I didn’t have anything else to do really.
By myself, I let my imagination have free reign, thinking back to the dream I had of Rick but stopping halfway through. My ears pricked at the sound of shuffling outside and I reared up on my knees to see if I could peer through the cracks of wood.
I slowly slid down from the counter and tiptoed past the barstools to see what was wondering outside. I waited for a growl, or a hiss, of some sort but no sound came out. I slid Daryl’s knife into my waistband then backed away from the front door.
I rounded the bar in search of a drink, hoping that whoever picked through the place at least left a forgotten scotch or whiskey. Ducking my head beneath the bar, my hands swept empty shelves in hopes of solace. No such luck.
The noise outside started again and I peeked over the bar counter to see the sun dwindling down, right into my vision. I squeezed my eyes shut, hearing the front door of the establishment creak between the weight from outside and the barricade.
I moved out of the way of the sunlight, then peeked again. If it were a Walker, I could handle it. If it were a human, I didn’t know what I could actually do. The door creaked again, this time harder, before it creaked a third time and the barricade shifted back on the wood floors. If it were a hoard, I was definitely screwed.
In the passing sunlight, the figure pushed their way inside then reassembled the barricade after them. “Cherokee,” Rick said in the silence of the bar. “Come on out. We should talk.”
I stayed behind the bar a little longer, knowing that it was useless but liking the option anyways. Rick slammed a hand to the nearest wall and the floors seemed to quake in reaction. Standing up, I rested my hands on the bar, setting Daryl’s knife down.
“You found me,” I said, not so much amused by the hide-and-seek I had started.
Rick shrugged, looking around the trashed hideout but not at me. “Didn’t take a lot.” His eyes dragged around the place, taking in the dim colors and bleak arrangement. “I didn’t mean for you to run away.”
“Does it look like I’m running?” I asked, looking around before glancing down at my feet. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t get far on two feet.
“You know what I meant.”
I scoffed. “I don’t get it. We’re strangers. Why the hell should you care so much?”
Rick finally looked at me, his hand taking its casual place on his holster. He opened his mouth, the red ring in his eyes pulsating for him to answer.
“And don’t say it’s your Alpha. He’s full of shit,” I said bitterly. I didn’t know why I was fighting his concern. Whatever it was, it was oddly looking out for me.
I stared Rick down, waiting for him to answer with something, anything. But he turned his head and looked away.
“I am not your toy. I am not a Beta,” I said, as if reiterating it to a deeper part of Rick that was what I so against.
His look snapped up at me then, the red in his eyes blown out halfway. I shifted away from the bar, grabbing and hiding Daryl’s knife behind my back. Rick braced his hand on the counter then hopped over it in a quick motion.
I backed away, as far as I could before bumping into the back wall. He closed in on me, his hands bracing the wall by either side of my hips.
“Beta,” he said, or someone, something, deeper in him.
“No,” I choked out, staring into his bright crimson eyes. They shimmered in the impending darkness. I wondered if my eyes were even mirroring his action.
My throat felt scratchy and my skin started to itch deeper than before. I wanted to peel it from me but fought the action to scratch. I shook my head and repeated, “No.”
Inside, my stomach did flips with Rick being so close. I squeezed my eyes shut and felt his breath along my neck. “You’re mine. Beta.”
My hands balled into fists before I forced them to Rick’s chest, pushing him back into the bar. The wood counter cracked under the force of my push and his weight. He growled and I opened my eyes, seeing him force his fingers into the wood.
Rick glared at me, his teeth bared as his growl erupted from his throat. I set Daryl’s knife on the shelf behind me and snarled in the same way, leaning forward with a soft rumble in my chest. He pushed from the counter and rushed towards me, his hands gripping at my hips and pulling me up onto the back counter.
I reached out and scratched at his cheek while his hands roamed under my shirt, taking in the skin along my back. My nails clawed at the thickness of his neck and he snapped at me, only to stop with his teeth grit before my nose.
I nudged my nose up, past his top lip and to his own before letting my other hand go from the shelf and pulling his shirt up from his waist. Rick’s hands circled the waist of my shorts then fumbled with the top button before huffing and tearing them open.
I felt the fabric rip between my thighs and, in return, I gripped Rick’s shirt in both hands and did the same. He pulled me closer and my hands ran over his bare chest then ran my nails down to his stomach.
Rick held back a soft wince then shut his eyes as he undid his belt. I inhaled, looking down at him fumble with his pants before grabbing my hips again and pulling me closer. My nails clenched into his shoulders, staring at his eyes flush with red as he admired the slickness between my thighs.
I felt his warmth between my legs, his waist cradled between my thighs as he slid inside me. My head craned back with a moan and Rick took that as invitation to bury his face in my neck.
He thrusted into me, forcing out another moan with my arm curling around to his back. Rick was silent, only thrusting and grunting. In my chest, I felt a warmth pool and my heart rushed with adrenaline.
My fingers twitched against Rick’s hot skin, only for my nails to drag deeply across his lean back. Rick snarled, his teeth lining my throat. “Do it again,” he said, taunting almost.
I glanced down at the back of his head then followed his command with my opposite hand. Rick pulled away sharply then returned to me with his lips forced upon mine. I barely caught my breath but molded my lips to his as he huffed through his nose.
I felt his face contort in an expression of pain while I thrived off of his filling me. Rick’s hand gripped harder at my hip, his nails clenched harshly into my skin and spilled himself inside me.
I gasped at the warmth pooling between my thighs and Rick was off of me in an instant. He brushed his hair back from his face, then fixed his pants back up to his waist with his belt.
I pulled myself to sit back up, replaying what happened in my head. It didn’t even feel like me. Rick glanced over his shoulder to his back where red marks were ingrained into his light tan skin.
He said nothing and I tried to fix my shorts up to my waist as he looked around.
“You come back in the morning,” he said, demanding but calm. “Understand…Beta?”
I stared at Rick, not shocked by him referring to me like that again. After what happened, I guessed that I should get used to my position.
I nodded. “Yes, Alpha.” The words, coming from me, seemed so dirty.
The next morning, I woke up on the counter of the bar, Daryl’s knife tucked under my arm to ward off any nighttime monsters. The sun peered in between the boards on the windows and I could hear the approaching rumble that I now remembered as Daryl’s bike.
It was time to go back to Alexandria. I slid down to the floor and looked around for something to tie around my waist, anything, because I was not about to get on Daryl’s bike another time without clothes.
I found a tattered tablecloth towards the backroom of the bar and tied it around my shorts before pulling the tables from the front door.
“Cherokee, you alive in there?” Daryl asked as I shifted the last table from the front door. I pulled the door open a crack and Daryl ducked inside before looking around. “The hell happened to you?”
I froze, glancing over my shoulder to Daryl, wondering what he meant by that. I reached up, touching my bitten shoulder, then my other. Internally, I took account of what Daryl could possible see until he pointed at my hip.
I looked down at the bit of skin between my tank top and the tablecloth, seeing deep red marks in the shape of crescent moons. Rick.
“It’s nothing,” I lied, and doing that made me a little queasy.
Daryl said nothing, looking around the bar before holding his hand out for his knife. “No problems?”
I pulled the weapon from my waistband and put the handle in his palm. “Not a Walker in sight.”
“Good. Rick was worried about you.”
I need a drink. “I bet he was,” I said, though the words were bitter coming out.
“We should get back. You’ve gotta be hungry,” Daryl replied, prying open the front door a bit more as I turned after him.
“Actually, I could use a shower. But can we stop somewhere first?”
Daryl shrugged and I waited for him to tell me we’d be burning daylight. “Sure, where?”
I pressed my lips together, thinking to where I’d last seen a pharmacy. “Four miles west.”
He raised a brow, putting himself in the doorway and trying to edge me out of the bar. “What’s that way?”
“Guess you’ll find out when we get there.”
Daryl exhaled in response, adjusting the strap of his weapon on his chest. I ducked past him and walked to his bike, carefully swinging a leg over and sitting near the back.
“Well, let’s go. We’re burning daylight,” I said, hoping to get a smile out of him. He didn’t, only made his way to his bike and climbed on before speeding down the road.
I wrapped an arm around Daryl’s waist, resting my chin to the back of his shoulder as we rode in silence. It was a relief to see Daryl instead of Rick. My emotions about him were all over the spectrum and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hit him or something else.
The night before barely felt real, nothing like the dream I had. It felt like Rick was doing a service rather than enjoying the moment. I guessed I was doing the same thing the more I thought about it.
“The hell are we going?” Daryl asked finally, slowing down as he passed through a one-sided town. His boots braced the road as he maneuvered past a couple of cars, only to stop in the middle of the road. He kicked his stand out then looked over his shoulder at me. “You wanna tell me what this is all about?”
I shook my head then climbed off of his bike. “I’d rather not. Just…stay here, okay?”
Daryl sat back on his bike, dropping his hands from the handles in a frustrated exhale. “Hurry back, alright?”
I picked up my pace, running up to the storefront of a pharmacy. The door was ripped from its hinges, laying on the ground and I edged around it to get inside. I looked around, and listened, for any movement.
A low hiss came from the backroom and I looked down at my hands, wondering what I could do without a weapon. I scanned the floor, then noticed a shard of glass large enough to wield just in case I had to encounter the thing.
Shifting around metal shelves, I searched for what I was looking for. Nothing even close. There were gauze bandages, and a few abandoned alcohol swabs. I wasn’t about to go back to the infirmary for the slit on my hand. I picked them up and stuffed them into my short pockets before making my way to the backroom.
I held the glass shard over my shoulder, forcing my back to the wall before rushing through the doorway. The backroom window almost blinded me with the outside light, and the hissing got louder while I shielded my eyes. I looked around only to find the bastard stuck under a fallen shelf.
I dropped the shard on its back then continued my search. The search itself was unprompted by anything except what happened between Rick and I. I gulped, not sure if what happened would happen again, but I wasn’t going to take my chances. The shelves were less stocked than the last time I was hiding out, but I took all I could in my pockets then ran back outside to Daryl.
“You ready now?” He asked, still agitated by the detour I suggested.
“Yes, let’s go,” I said, hitching onto the back of his bike and lifting my feet up as he circled and sped in the direction of Alexandria.
I furiously emptied my pockets onto the cot in the basement, patting them to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I examined everything on the sheets then grabbed my pillow and pulled it from its case. I put away everything in the case then tied it in a knot and slid it under the bed, hearing footsteps upstairs.
I hadn’t smelled Rick in the area since we pulled up to the gate and I was relieved by it, only for another part of me to worry. I figured that he was busy being Leader Rick and left it at that. Making my way back upstairs, I bypassed Daryl with an older woman in the kitchen.
“So who is she?” I heard her ask.
Daryl shrugged and I rushed up to the bathroom to shower. I forced the door shut behind me, pressing my back against it before pushing off and starting up the water.
While I stripped cautiously, I took note of Rick’s nail marks on my hip and the bite on my shoulder. Neither healed any more than they should have, only having red rings around them like infections.
I stepped into the shower and let the water batter the top of my head while I scrubbed between my thighs. I raised my head and took in a large gulp of water, swishing the warm liquid in my mouth before spitting it out against the shower wall. In the shower, I could only smell the mixture of sweat on my skin. I scrubbed, with warm water, the scent until I couldn’t smell it anymore.
Or until my skin felt raw to the touch, whichever came first.
I stepped out of the shower after shaking dry and stopped before the mirror, the gold rings around my irises thickening and brightening. I didn’t know what that meant, but at the same time, my shoulder burned again. The red ring around the bite was still there, barely fading against my skin.
I wrapped a towel around my body and opened the door, coming in close to Rick. His scent was on my skin immediately and I fought against nuzzling my head to his chest. My hand clenched tighter on the door, averting my eyes from Rick’s chest and down to his boots.
“I thought you were out,” I said, holding the fold of my towel tighter. He stepped towards me, then again and I let go of the door and let him in.
“I could smell you from the gate,” Rick said, shutting the door behind him.
My stomach dropped slightly and my throat started to rumble with a purr. “I thought that this was a one-time thing.”
“I did too, I did too,” Rick said, turning away from me. He gripped at the sink counter and lowered his head.
I didn’t know how to feel about his tone, but my body reacted to Rick’s presence. I gripped my towel tighter to stop my chest from rumbling. The fabric parted on my hip and I winced at the terrycloth rubbing across Rick’s nail marks.
“But this part of us ain’t us. We don’t know each other, you’re right about that, but that doesn’t stop what’s inside of us.” Rick raised his head and looked into the mirror, back at me. The red in his eyes flared and I inhaled deeply, holding my breath.
His eyes dropped from mine and looked down, at my hip in the reflection. “I did that?”
I slowly nodded, reaching to fold the towel back. “It’s nothing.”
Rick held his hand out for me to take. “Come here, I gotta look at it.”
“No, you don’t,” I said, almost adamant for him to not.
“Come here,” he repeated, his tone stern. I reluctantly clasped my hand to his and he pulled me towards him.
Rick turned me around and sat me on the sink counter, peeling the towel from my hip to reveal the half-moon scars. “Shit. I didn’t even know. Sometimes I can control myself.”
I shook my head, “Don’t worry about it, okay?”
“It’s not healing,” Rick said, leaning closer. His breath fell against my thigh, and I pressed my lips together while looking away. It was getting harder to ignore him.
“Why did you bring it up?” I asked, hoping to distract him from moving any closer.
“It doesn’t stop what’s inside of us.” I repeated, hoping to jog Rick’s memory. But it wasn’t Rick I was talking to. I was fighting for Rick’s attention while the Alpha inside of him was entranced by my minor wounds.
Rick exhaled, shaking his head and looking up at me. “We…we are alike inside. Like it or not, we are meant to run together. Outside of these gates.”
“What about…Michonne?” I asked, swallowing a hardened lump in my throat.
He turned away with another deep breath, “I can’t in good conscience do this under her nose. I should tell her.”
My eyes widened at him then I shook my head. “N-no. We shouldn’t even consider it.”
Rick turned back to me, the red in his eyes taking over. “It’s not us.” He leaned into my hip and I felt his heavy, damp tongue graze over my wound.
Instead of wincing, I felt relieved at the action, the sting in my skin diminishing as he pulled away. I looked down, seeing my skin healing from the deepened nail wounds, then at Rick again.
“It’s not us,” I parroted.
Rick nodded, stepping back for me to slip off of the counter. I turned to glare at my eyes in the mirror, only to not recognize myself. My eyes were enveloped in amber-gold and I felt my skin prickle at Rick’s staring.
I slipped my tongue between my teeth and thought to fight the urge again. My hold on my towel loosened slowly, until it slipped to the floor, and I thought of how tasteless I was.
Looking over my shoulder, Rick tried to hide the lick of his lips, knowing what was in our nature. He reached a hand for his belt, but stopped as his attention was averted to outside noise.
My ears pricked and I bent down to pick up my towel. The noise outside of the bathroom door was faint, but enough to pull our attention from the act at hand.
“Is that a baby cry?” I asked, wrapping the towel around me again and reaching for the doorknob.
Rick stopped me, grabbing my wrist and waiting a moment for us to reel back into our humanity. “That’s my daughter.”
I stood at the top of the stairs, watching Rick pick up a small toddler from Michonne’s arms and walking into the kitchen. He told me to wait in his room, but I couldn’t stand to be in the room without a relief from the stench.
My toes curled against the hardwood while I weighed my options in my head. I needed my clothes, but they were so far away now and I wasn’t about to parade across the living room practically naked. I wasn’t about to disrespect Michonne like that. Not anymore than I already did.
I waited, leaning against the wall while staring down the staircase, for a signal from Rick or something. Instead, I was relieved when Daryl tiptoed halfway up the steps and asked what I needed.
“Clothes,” I whispered harshly, “Just…whatever you find in my bag. I need clothes.”
Daryl simply nodded and I silently thanked him as he walked away for being able to follow simple orders. When he returned, he made his way all the way up the stairs before stopping.
“You can’t be in here,” he said. “I think if Michonne finds you…”
“She’s not going to,” I said, taking the clothes from his hands and dropping my towel to my feet. It was nothing he hadn’t seen before. I pulled on my clothes quickly then flipped my damp hair out from my collar. “Help me out of here. Just for now.”
“You seem a little edgy,” Daryl added, opening Rick’s bedroom door and going to the window.
You don’t know the half of it.
“Just get me out of here,” I said.
The man grunted in response and pried the window open before holding his hand out for mine. “Well, let’s go.”
I reached and took hold of Daryl’s forearm before slipping out of the window and onto the roof.
“You can’t make that jump alone,” he said, nodding over the roof and down to the ground. “I ain’t gonna drop you, but don’t be making any sudden movements.”
I looked up to him as he held his other hand out. I took his other arm and braced my feet against the side of the house. I drifted over to the edge of the roof, then braced harder against the house and Daryl eased me as far down the side as he could.
“Drop me,” I said, looking down to see the empty yard beneath me. I looked back up to Daryl, his grip still on my arms. “Daryl, drop me.”
“You ever think of how you got here? You’re scaling the side of a house.”
I exhaled, looking back down before straightening my legs out, “I said ‘drop me’.” Wiggling in Daryl’s grasp, he grunted and him bending over the window sill was probably not feeling good on his ribs.
His heart resounded in my ears and I clenched my nails into his forearms. “Daryl, you gotta let me go.” I looked into his eyes, his brow furrowed in concern and I scoffed. “I’m not gonna hurt myself.”
Daryl finally released my arms and I fell to the ground, my feet and hands bracing the impact. I glanced up at Daryl from the window and smiled, “You really don’t trust me, do you?”
“’Bout as far as I can throw you,” he said, cracking a smirk.
“Just out of a window then.”
Daryl scoffed and looked over his shoulder, then back down at me. “I’ll meet you down there.”
I stood up, folding my hands into my pockets. “Can’t wait.” Leaning against the side of the house, I rested my head back. The cold drops of water from my hair fell to my shoulders and I watched the day go on around me.
People walked past me while I was shrouded in the shadow, not minding me in their place. A hand touched my shoulder and I flinched, only for it to be Daryl. I reached an arm around to his waist and stopped.
Retracting my arm, I folded them behind me and looked up at him.
“You wanna tell me what’s going on?”
I shook my head, “I don’t think so.”
“Suit yourself,” Daryl said, looking around. “You hungry?”
I nodded, looking up at him. “You know what they say about feeding a stray…”
“It’s hard for you to consider yourself a stray in a place like this.”
“I don’t think you know how wrong you are.” I shrugged his hand from my shoulder. Daryl nodded in the direction behind him.
“Come on, let’s find you a place to rest.”
I sat in the middle of the grass with the sun overhead. “This is plenty fine. It’s warm enough.”
I looked up at Daryl as he stepped into the way of the sun. My hand folded over my brows while I tried to catch a glimpse of his rugged face.
“You gonna watch over me all day? I’m not going anywhere.”
Daryl’s shadowed face contorted in a way I couldn’t see. “I ain’t leaving until you tell me why I dangled you out a window when you could’ve used the front door.”
I stretched my legs out and rested back on my elbows, looking around the rest of the small town. “Could you at least seat down? I can’t see you from down here.”
Daryl glanced over his shoulder then lowered himself to his knees before sitting down in the grass. “Now talk.”
Pulling myself up with a groan, I rubbed at my knees. “I…didn’t want to meet her.”
“You already met Michonne.”
I shook my head, “No, not her. His little girl.” I barely looked up at Daryl, feeling his eyes narrow at me. “I didn’t know he had her.”
“He’s got a son too,” Daryl added and I only felt worse inside.
“Of course, he does.”
We both went silent and I listened to the cicadas outside of the walls.
“Why didn’t you want to meet them?” Daryl asked after a long moment, picking a blade of grass and holding it between his fingers.
I squinted up at him again, then down as my fingers brushed through the earth with a soft exhale. “I let him have me. Last night.”
“I could tell,” Daryl said breezily, his eyes squinting in the direction of the sun. “You ain’t very discreet.”
“What? Cause of the marks on my hip?”
“That and the shorts you were trying to salvage.” Daryl smirked. I scoffed, folding over myself with an embarrassed groan.
“And we’ve been trying to rationalize our actions, say that it’s not us, but I know it’d mean nothing to Michonne if she found out.”
Daryl went silent again, and I had to look over to make sure he hadn’t abandoned me. I leaned into his view and he snapped to attention.
“You two ain’t gonna stop though, are you?” He asked and, with the way he did, my stomach somersaulted.
It’s not in our nature. I sat up, stared at him while he squinted at me then away. His silence was enough. A part of me wanted to tell him that it wouldn’t happen again, but the beacon makeshift in my mind could already point Rick getting closer.
“You should go,” I said, dropping my head down from looking at Daryl.
“I can stay,” Daryl said, tossing away the blade of grass in his hands.
I raised my head again. “I don’t need you to. I’ll just see you later.”
Daryl looked at me, then in the direction of the sun before pushing to his feet. I reached for Daryl’s hand and tugged at it gently.
Daryl glared at my hand clutching his, then at me before snatching himself away. “I’ll see you later.”
I watched Daryl walk away and waited for him to turn around, at least a glance over his shoulder. He didn’t.
Rick came around the building in the distance, his hand resting on his holster. I exhaled, leaning back on my elbows to bask in the sun while I could. If I didn’t look at him, I could be normal around him. Still, his scent picked up with the breeze and I clenched my knees together.
“You left,” Rick said, approaching me and stopping just in the rays of the sun. I folded my hand over my brow again, blocking away the last of the sunlight to see Rick’s face in the shadow.
“I did.” I raised my knees up and crossed my other arm over my stomach.
Rick exhaled, looking off into the distance to my left then back at me. “You should’ve met her.”
“And him?” I asked, tilting my head slightly.
I pressed my lips together, only taking in the shadows of Rick’s face at the odd angle. “What’re their names?”
“Carl,” Rick said, shifting his weight from one leg to another, “and Judith.”
I nodded, sitting up. “Judith. That’s a pretty name.”
Rick smiled softly, “Yeah.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I’m sorry for sneaking out on you. I didn’t think I could stand in front of her after what happened.”
“Guess it’s for the best. You alright?” He asked, his hand reaching out to brush down my hair. I flinched at his touch, then leaned into it.
My eyes fluttered close as I nodded. “I’m fine.”
“You wanna go for a walk?”
Just outside of the gates, I looked up to the canopy of the trees. The sunlight peeked through the leaves and my eyes struggled to adjust against the light. I looked over my shoulder to Rick, only to feel his hand on my jaw.
He pressed his lips to mine and I shut my eyes, feeling his face contort while he did the same. My hands reached up and pressed to his chest, feeling his firm body against my fingertips before pushing him away.
“No,” I said, reaching up to wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. His taste was sickeningly pleasant, but I couldn’t enjoy it. “Don’t kiss me.” I didn’t know where the demand came from, probably the rational part of me, but it felt wrong anyways.
“You’re right,” Rick said, backing away and wiping his mouth the same. He rested his hand on his unholstered hip and looked around.
I leaned against a tree, folding my hands behind me while I stared at Rick. His scent was already over me again and, even though I wiped it away, I could taste him on my tongue.
I reached for the front of Rick’s shirt, glancing around to make sure there were no witnesses, undead or otherwise. My hands ran down his chest before tearing his shirt open, pulling him towards me by his belt.
Rick braced his hands against the bark, his nails already clawing away at the dark flakes while his head dipped to my bitten shoulder. His tongue lapped at my skin and I felt my chest rumble with a purr.
His hands reached for my shorts, his patience wearing thin as he fumbled at my zipper.
“Don’t rip them,” I breathed out with a chuckle. I took my hands away from his belt and undid my shorts, letting them fall to the forest floor.
Rick ripped apart his belt, his holster falling to the ground as he shifted his pants down his thighs. His hands grabbed at my waist, pulling me towards him, his hardened member brushing against my bare hip.
I lifted a leg out my shorts, my hand reaching to guide him between my hips. I felt an electricity rush through me at his damp warmth slicking against me. Raising my knee up, Rick gave a tentative thrust and plunged into me.
I lost my breath, feeling my heart vibrate with an intensity I only knew now as my shift. One hand reached for a low-placed branch, the other down Rick’s back while our foreheads were pressed together.
Rick’s eyes flared with a fiery red as he started to pick up his pace. I felt my stomach tighten and a pool of heat settled towards the bottom.
The bark of the tree dug into the fleshier parts of my butt, reigning in the mixture of pleasure and pain to a comfortable balance. My eyes fluttered half-close and Rick snapped in my face, catching my bottom lip between his teeth while he drilled away.
My hold on the branch tightened, and I could hear the wood start to splinter and crack under my strength.
I exhaled a moan, snapping towards Rick for a hungry lap at his lips. My tongue grazed against his teeth while my stomach clenched harder. I shut my eyes, panting against Rick.
And the first thing I could see was Daryl. My eyes shot open as I let out a quivering gasp, my body overwhelmed with stimulation and contracting around Rick inside me.
Rick grunted, his member sliding in further before halting. He dropped his head from mine with a few more groans until he collapsed against me. His head rested on my shoulder while I gasped for air above me.
We waited for the moment of Rick to come down from his high before sliding out of me, then he put himself back together and slicked his hair back.
I reached and put my shorts back on, rubbing at my neck to get rid of the nibble outline.
“You hungry?” Rick asked, his red eyes shrinking until they were replaced by blue irises.
“Starving,” I said, wondering if my eyes did the same.
I woke up at the end of the month, only to feel my body wasting away. My eyes adjusted against the incoming light from the window before my ears pricked at the sound of Judith crying. I flung myself out of bed, scrambling across the ground to my feet.
Without thinking, I barreled up the stairs and across the living room, only to stop in the doorway of the baby’s room. My shoulder braced to the doorway and I exhaled, looking at the little girl standing upright in her crib.
She held her fist in her mouth and I could only stare at her. Her bright hair was in sparkling in the sunlight and I raised a hand to wave at her.
“Hi,” I whispered, taking a step towards the girl with my palms turned up. The girl motioned to be picked up and cooed.
I grabbed Judith under her arms and lifted her from her crib. “What was all that noise for?” I asked, bringing her down to hold in my arms.
I nuzzled my nose against her temple, taking in her gentle scent. So innocent. Her little heart pitter-pattered in her chest and I smiled.
“You gave me a fright,” I said, turning her towards the window. My eyes adjusted further to the brightness outside and I jostled the child in my hold. “I bet you’re hungry.”
Looking back at Judith, she chewed carelessly at her balled fist. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’. Come on.”
I turned to the doorway and saw a boy staring at me, mouth agape in either shock or surprise. I looked at Judith in my arms, then down at my sleeping attire.
“Hi,” I said, tugging my t-shirt over my underwear. “Carl, right?”
The boy shut his mouth, nodded, then opened it again to say something. I lifted a finger and looked to Judith then back. “You hungry?”
He nodded. I grinned softly and passed him in the hallway and down the stairs. I stopped in the kitchen, handing the child off to Carl as I excused myself to get dressed.
When I returned upstairs, Carl set Judith in her highchair and I stopped to press my nose against the top of her head.
“Who are you?” Carl asked, and he was right to. I pried open the fridge and peered in, then looked over my shoulder to the kid.
“I’m Cherokee,” I said, as if uttering my name for the first time again. “I’ve been living in your basement.”
“For how long?”
I found myself staring at the skinned mammal in the fridge, pooling in its own blood while I thought of Carl’s question.
“Cherokee,” he called to me and I snapped my attention to him. “How long have you been in the basement?”
“I’ve come out of the basement before now, you know,” I said, trying to clear the air. “A little over a month now.”
Carl sat down at the kitchen counter and narrowed his eyes at me. “Why am I just seeing you now then?”
Because I didn’t want you to. “I don’t like to make myself known.” I reached into the fridge and picked out the skinned mammal, setting it on the counter before shutting the fridge.
“You seem comfortable enough here,” he said, his nose scrunching at the sight of meat on the counter.
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that. She just scared me is all.” I looked over to Judith, content with chewing on her fingers before rummaging through cupboards.
Carl was silent with his interrogation for a moment before pointing to a cabinet, “Her food’s up there.”
I gave the boy a short nod and opened the cabinet to baby food. I reached for a peach-colored food and shut the cabinet back.
“And what’re you gonna eat?” I asked, opening a drawer to fetch a spoon.
Carl shrugged. “I’ll find something.”
Since I fell asleep, I hadn’t seen Daryl. I came inside, leaving Rick to find Michonne and fell into a hibernation that no one worried about for a month. At least they hadn’t killed me.
“You wanna share a bit?” I pointed to the animal, that I assumed was a squirrel, on the counter.
“You’re gonna cook it, right?” He asked. I cracked a smile at him and opened the baby food jar.
Walking around the kitchen island, I leaned over the counter and took a small spoonful of baby food then held it in front of Judith. “What’s the worst that could happen? You ever have sushi?”
Carl grimaced at me and I laughed. “Ew, no.”
“It’s almost the same thing. Just…a different notion,” I lied, shaking my head and spooning the small bit of food into the baby’s mouth. “I won’t ask you to do that though.”
“You’re just like Daryl,” Carl said, standing up from the counter and poking at the raw meat.
I looked up from my task to Carl. I wanted to ask if he’d seen him. I almost thought that he’d walk through the door at the thought of raw meat, but I wasn’t that lucky.
“Guess so,” I said. I took another spoonful for Judith and smiled at her, blabbered softly to make her grin.
“You met my dad, too? And Michonne?”
I nodded, still feeding the girl until she reached for the spoon and snatched it away. “Just about everyone.”
“Even Glenn and Maggie?”
I took the spoon from Judith then stood up to pull her from her high chair. “Maybe not everyone.”
“I don’t think you’ve met anyone yet.”
Carl grabbed the meat from the counter and put it back in the fridge. “You alright with peanut butter?”
I scoffed, “That’s fine…thank you.”
“For what?” he asked, looking over his shoulder at me.
“Taking a chance.”
A moment of silence passed between us before Carl shrugged. “Wasn’t my choice.”
It was true enough. I shifted Judith in my hold and nudged my nose to her cheek. “I’ll take that. I’ll go and change her.”
Carl nodded then leaned after me. “You should meet them. The others. Odds are they already know about you.”
I nodded, made my way upstairs to Judith’s room to change her then stopped to stare out of her bedroom window. She made noise that rang in my ears but I could only find myself staring out at the sun. It’d been too long since I felt that kind of heat on my skin.
Inside, my skin was aching and itching and I realized a turn was approaching, probably in the next week or so. But I just wanted to feel the sun before I lost my mind. I grabbed Judith and walked back downstairs to Carl spooning peanut butter in his mouth.
“I was gonna go outside,” I said, holding Judith out for Carl to take her. “I don’t want you thinking the wrong thing. I’ll leave her with you.”
Carl stopped, the spoon hanging from his mouth, and stared at me. “You’re not leaving the gates?”
I shook my head. “Was going out to the field.”
Carl stared at me for a long moment, then at his sister in my hands. “Go on, then. If you try anything, anyone else out there would take you down.”
“I won’t, believe me.” I brought Judith towards me and held her close. “We’ll be back in an hour.”
Carl pulled the spoon from his mouth and put the lid on his peanut butter. “I’ll come, too. Just to be safe.”
I sat down in the tall grass, holding Judith in my lap. I stared into her eyes, bright and blue, just like her father’s. She was cute, I had to admit and it had been so long since I saw a baby. Or smelled one.
The sun beat down against my forehead and shoulders. I tilted my head up and took in the rays while I could.
Carl sat across from me, his hat tipped back while he picked at strands of weeds around him. “How’d you get here?”
I wiggled my finger into Judith’s soft hand and stared at her. “I walked until I couldn’t anymore. Guess it was just in time.” I exhaled, turning to Carl.
“At least you didn’t say ‘luck’.”
I leaned my forehead against Judith’s. “I’d never say that.” I could barely tear my eyes from Judith, infatuated by her face full of innocence. Shutting my eyes, I fought what I wanted to say next, but it came out anyways. “Have you seen…”
My ears pricked at the approaching footsteps, but I could barely distinguish the scent from Carl and Judith. I sat up and scoffed at the shadow breaking through the bright light.
“Hey, what’re y’all doing out here?” Rick said, walking towards me like he had a month before.
A smile grew on my lips before I bit it away. “Taking in the sun, ain’t that right, Carl?”
Carl nodded, looking from me to his father. “You never told me about her.”
Rick squinted at his son, then me holding Judith. “I should’ve done that earlier.” I raised a brow at Rick then turned back to Judith.
“I’m sorry. I should’ve asked before I took her outside.”
“It’s okay,” Rick said, reaching down to pet Judith’s hair. “You okay?”
“Me?” I asked, my stomach grumbling softly. I hadn’t thought of food since I put the meat back, since I picked Judith up again. “I’m fine.”
Rick tilted his head at me, then looked to Carl. “Why don’t you go and find Michonne? You can help on a run.”
Carl pushed to his feet and I reached for his hand. My fingers brushed against his and I smiled. “Thanks.”
“Wasn’t my choice,” he said, walking away with a low huff.
I shifted Judith in my lap as Rick lowered himself to the ground. His scent was cleaner, and it picked up with the breeze. “Hadn’t seen you for a while. I figured you were dead after the first few days.”
“You didn’t sleep like that when it first happened?”
Rick shook his head. “Couldn’t. Not like that. There’s too many people to depend on me.”
“Must be nice. Something to get up for.” I smiled back at Judith and she reached for my mouth. I playfully nibbled at her fingers. “Thank you for not killing me.”
Rick scoffed, looking away. “As long as you kept breathing, you weren’t a threat to me.”
“And now?” I asked, squinting in the morning sun.
“Wouldn’t say that.”
I returned my attention back to Judith, her hands finding their way into my hair. Rick pulled a knee up, draped his arm over it.
“You must be hungry,” he said, looking over his shoulder in the direction he came. “You eat what was in the fridge?”
“No, I didn’t want to freak out your kid. But he said I was a lot like Daryl that way,” I said, letting Judith tangle her fingers in my hair until she started pulling. “Have you seen him?” The question came out a lot hasty and I knew he wasn’t worried about me, but I wanted to know.
Rick said nothing, only pressed his lips together in thought. “He asked about you, the third day you were out. Guess he figured it was a pattern, thought you’d be back on your feet soon.”
“And what about after?”
“He let you sleep. Went on like normal. Cherokee,” Rick said, reaching over to tangle his fingers in my hair. “he’s fine. He ain’t worried about you. You shouldn’t worry about him.”
I exhaled, disappointed. “But have you seen him?”
Rick pulled his hand away and smirked at me. Something that I couldn’t pinpoint, whether he was upset or relieved by my questions.
“Yeah, I’ve seen him. He’s out, right now,” Rick said, leaning towards Judith to peck her forehead. “He’ll be out for the day.”
Rick pushed himself to his feet and squinted towards the sun. “I’ll see you later.” He picked up his feet and started to walk away.
I pulled Judith’s fingers from my hair and leaned forward. “Rick.”
He slowed down, looked over his shoulder at me.
“You and me, on a run soon?”
His smile was bright with the sun, and I had to admit, it was infectious. “Definitely.”
I returned my attention to Judith, letting her steal my day away until it was high noon. I held her close to my hip, knelt and stood up then jostled her slightly in my hold. “I bet you’re hungry again, like an infant.”
I laughed at myself, then leaned in to nibble at her cheek for her to laugh. I walked, bouncing her in my hip and holding her up in the air while I made my way back to Rick’s home. I stopped halfway back and just held Judith up, looking into her face while she giggled and kicked.
The heartbeats and shuffling footsteps around me drowned out the more that Judith squeaked in delight. I was infatuated by her and I didn’t know why.
“Hey,” a voice cut through my trance with Judith and I brought her down to my hip. My eyes caught with a pair of dark ones, then onto the fiery hair of a man. “You’re Cherokee, right?”
I sniffed softly at the girl, then in the direction of the man. “Yeah,” I drew out.
The girl held her hand out for me to shake and I shifted Judith to accommodate. My hand clasped with hers and, through our touch, I felt her heartbeat. I cleared my throat.
“Sasha,” she introduced herself.
I nodded, dropped my hand and turned to the man.
“Abraham,” he said.
“Nice to meet you,” I said, shifting Judith in my hold again.
“I see you’ve met Rick.” Sasha reached to pinch at Judith’s little thigh. “And baby Judith.”
I smiled at the baby in my arm, hiding the growl that pitted in my stomach at Sasha touching her. “She’s a doll,” I said, taking my mind off instinct.
“Yeah, she is. You must be real close to hold her.”
You don’t know the half of it. “I guess so,” I said. I looked around and smelled at the air.
“You haven’t met the lot of us yet, have you?” Sasha asked, leaning into my view and I blinking at her.
“No, no not at all,” I said, knowing that it wouldn’t hurt to meet the people I’d been living around. “You mind introducing me?”
Sasha smiled, and Abraham nodded. “I’d love to.”
I held my hand out for everyone, my palm mixing with others’ scents and making my nose twitch uncomfortably. Names went with scents. Gabriel was crisp like book pages, Maggie and Glenn like fresh dirt and linens. Rosita was tough, but unique. Tara was damp with sweat, Olivia smelled like pantry and gunpowder.
It was overwhelming. I wiped my hand on my shorts after meeting everyone was through. It was after Carol.
“You were the one in Rick’s home.”
I scoffed. “Yeah, that’s me. Guilty.”
“I thought I was seeing things. Daryl wouldn’t give me a straight answer about you.”
“That’s Daryl,” I said, as if I’d known him and how he acted. “Never can get anything out of him.”
Judith fussed in my arm and I looked to her, smelled in her direction.
“We should go. She’s got a messy diaper,” I lied. It would take less time for me to get back to the house than for her to make a mess.
“I’ll walk with you,” Carol said and I couldn’t snap at her or tell her different.
“Sure,” I said, and I heard Carol’s heartbeat level out only to jolt at my confirmation.
Back inside, I sat on the floor with Judith, staring at her while she crawled across the floor. Carol sat on the couch, folding a dish towel in her hands as I bent forward, resting my stomach on the floor and blubbering in Judith’s face.
“You’re good with her,” Carol said after a minute. Judith stopped crawling and was splaying her arms and legs out like a happy starfish.
“You can never go wrong with babies,” I said, “Just gotta keep their attention and feed them.”
Carol laughed at my comment then nudged her foot in my side, like we’d been friends for a long time. “I’m serious.”
“I am too.” I looked up at her, only for Judith to grab hold of my hair again. I hummed and slowly tugged my hair back while Carol folded her hands before her mouth.
I hid behind my hair, then blew it out and dangled it before Judith again. I rolled onto my back, pulled my hair out above my head and let Judith tangle her fingers in it. “I will never get babies with hair.”
“Have you been around a lot them? Babies?” Carol asked.
My smile faltered and I stopped looking at Judith upside down. I glanced over to Carol and gave her a mediocre nod. “Before all this…kids were my life. Daycare.”
The woman smiled and pointed at me. “That’s where it came from.”
I held my hands up in a feigned surrender, “You got me.” I folded my hands over my eyes and threw them to my sides with an excited gasp, making Judith giggle and crawl towards me. “Come here,” I said, grabbing her and turning her to face me.
She held her fist in her mouth, drooled down her cheeks and onto my shirt. I hummed and brought Judith towards my face, resting my lips to her chin before holding her back up.
“She makes all the happiness in the world, doesn’t she?”
Every time I looked into Judith’s eyes, I lost myself. I tilted to look at Carol and grinned. “She does.”
I sniffed towards the air and sat up with Judith. The front door opened and I turned, an exhale of relief almost rattling my chest. “Daryl.”
The man shut the door firmly behind him, grunting in the direction of the living room. “You’re up.”
“And kicking,” I said, pushing to my feet and handing Judith off to Carol. “Can I…Can I talk to you?”
Daryl looked from me to Carol, who nodded, then back at me. “Outside.”
I nodded for him to lead the way.
On the side of the house, Daryl kept his distance from me. “Tell me. Can you tell me what he meant? Because until I brought it up again, we seemed to be fine.”
Daryl scoffed, sniffled, paced before me like a feral animal. It made me wonder who the real wild one was. “What, you expect us to be all chummy?”
“A little,” I said, shrugging up my shoulder. “A little bit. You took me in.”
Daryl waved my comment off and I leaned forward to grab his arm. He snatched himself away and I straightened my back against the wall.
“Who’s Beth?” I asked and Daryl took a step away from me, still pacing and watching me with narrowed eyes.
I took a step towards him, cleared my throat. “Who’s Beth? I’m not like her. How am I?”
Daryl brushed me off. “Stop talking.”
“Daryl,” I said, reaching for him again. This time, he swatted my hand down and pointed in my face.
“I told you to stop. We ain’t friends, Cherokee. We ain’t partners, we ain’t mates like you and Rick are,” Daryl said, pushing me back a bit. “So stop chasing me around like a lost puppy. Stop coming after me. Just…stop.”
He turned away from me, started to walk towards the back of the house. I kept up after him.
“Daryl.” I reached for his arm again.
Daryl snatched himself away once more then turned to me with narrowed eyes. “Didn’t you hear me? I don’t want you. I don’t wanna see you,” His hand shoved me away another step and I staggered back up to him. “You ain’t mine. Get away.”
I tried to look into Daryl’s eyes but he kept his eyes hidden behind his hair. His heartbeat, my makeshift honing beacon, was making ripples in my mind so fast I could barely count.
“Daryl,” I repeated, a fruitless endeavor as I reached for him again.
Daryl shrugged his shoulders down, let me touch him a minute before pulling his arm away. “Cherokee…just stop.”
I took a step towards him, his scent pulling away with the breeze. He eyed me, took a step back then another before turning and walking away. I furrowed my brows, felt a rumble pool in the center of my chest.
I gritted my teeth together, tried not to think about what Daryl had said. I knew I started it, but the more that he dodged my question, the more I felt that Daryl saw me in a way he shouldn’t. I couldn’t stop myself, I followed after Daryl.
Around the back of the house, I caught up to him, the wings on his jacket fluttering while his shoulders tensed up. I laid a hand on him, pushed him forward.
“Rick was right,” I said, almost breathless. “I’m not like Beth. Whatever thought you had about me, whatever feeling you had about me probably being your burden, I’m not it.”
Daryl scoffed, turned around. “See, that right there, you saying all that shit makes you sound just like her.” He yelled, pointing at me.
“Sound like her? I am nothing like her, Daryl. Stop looking at me like I am, like I’m fragile when you’ve seen that I’m not. I could…I could knock you down with a tap.”
Daryl stepped towards me, “Oh yeah, do it then. You’re so big and bad, you’re not fragile. Take me down.”
I balled up my fists, took a deep breath and shook my head. “I’m not like her, okay? You don’t have to tread so lightly around me.”
“You’re not like her, you’re not?” Daryl asked, but his tone was demanding. “Prove it. I want to see you do it, Cherokee.”
I glanced around to see if anyone could see us, there wasn’t. “I-I won’t.”
Daryl shook his head, “You’re talking a big game, but you don’t know nothing. You got no clue who Beth is, and why Rick would say that.” He pushed me away. “You think it’s because you’re weak, but you’re wrong.”
I stared into Daryl’s eyes now, still squinting and hiding behind his hair. They were watering and I wasn’t sure what caused that. Maybe I was pushing too much.
“You ain’t supposed to be like her,” Daryl said. “We ain’t meant to be close.”
I stopped in my urgency, narrowed my eyes at him and unballed my fists. My hand reached for Daryl’s but he shoved it in his pocket.
“We ain’t. You can be a part of us all you want, but there’s a reason Rick said that. It was a sign for me to step off.” Daryl backed away again but I grabbed his elbow, tethered myself towards him. “You should just get used to it.”
I leaned into him, and I felt him freeze. His heartbeat sped up as I rested my forehead to his. “Daryl…”
“You agreeing with him just proves it. You’re gonna stick together. We ain’t,” Daryl whispered, pushing me hard enough to be away. “So just let it die.”
I couldn’t sleep anymore. After a month of hibernation, confining myself to lie down was a bit overwhelming to me. I sat on the basement stairs, listening to the footsteps cross while I thought of what Daryl had said to me.
My skin vibrated the more I played the conversation in my head, knowing that I was wrong to bring it up. It was now too touchy of a subject for me to bring up to Daryl ever. Even though I’d probably never get the chance to. Not that I’d like to.
I picked myself up then stopped, my throat shortening by the movement. I moved quickly up the stairs and out of the house before doubling over in the front yard. My mouth fell open as I heaved, drooling into the dark patch of grass under my hands and knees.
Pulling myself up, I walked back inside and rinsed my mouth out in the kitchen sink. My ears pricked again at the sound of Judith fussing and I bounded up the stairs quickly, quietly. I had the same idea as Rick, and we stopped just outside of Judith’s bedroom door.
“You…you go ahead,” I said, bowing my head down immediately.
I felt Rick’s eyes on me, narrowing, trying to figure me out. “No, you did good with her today. You should go.”
I shook my head, “She’s your daughter.”
Rick exhaled, then sniffed, only to do it again. He leaned into me and I stiffened slightly. “You smell like him.”
“I know,” I said.
He rested his forehead to mine, then nudged my head up to rest his temple against mine. I shut my eyes, breathed out, then nuzzled my temple to his.
“You go,” he said softly, “before she wakes up Michonne.”
“Shouldn’t that be her job? She is…”
“I know.” He nodded. “Just go in there before I change my mind.”
I smiled because I know he did too then reached for the door. It creaked open and I pulled away from Rick to slip into the dark room.
“Hey you,” I whispered, holding my hands out to pick Judith up.
Rick stood in the doorway and watched as I held Judith in my hands before shifting her into my arms. I stared into Judith’s face, smiled at her before leaning in to smell her.
“I bet you’re just looking for attention,” I said, turning to Rick, who chuckled. “You are, aren’t you? A daddy’s girl, through and through.”
I stared at Judith, how she smiled and hummed while looking at Rick, and I straightened up. I pulled my arm from her back. “Why’d you let me in here?”
Rick looked away. I shut my eyes at Judith and nudged my nose along her hairline. My ears pricked at the sound of shuffling, and I was sure Rick’s did, too. He sniffed at the air, then held a finger up and shut the door.
I sat down on the carpet with Judith, resting on my back and Judith against my chest. She cooed softly and I hushed her, trying to hear who was outside the door. We were silent for a long time, only hearing Rick speak softly to the person in the house.
Judith went quiet, and I glanced down to see her sleeping. Then I did the same.
I woke up to Judith grasping at my shirt, balling her fist again and again in her sleep. Crossing an arm over her, I sat up and looked out at the dawn of Alexandria.
The day felt off, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I slowly stood up, returned Judith to her crib and tiptoed out of the room. It was quiet in the house except for Carol.
“Good morning,” I said, descending the stairs to Carol in the kitchen. She prepared a dish I wasn’t sure of, even with my sense of smell. “Where’s Carl?”
Carol nodded towards the front door before opening the oven and setting the timer. “You put Judith down?”
“Yeah, yeah. She was fussy.”
“I’m sure she was,” she said, a kind smile on her lips as she pressed her palms to the counter.
I rounded the kitchen island and sat down before her. “I…have a question for you.” Like a dog with a bone. Can’t let things die.
Carol looked at the baby monitor placed on the counter then at me, “What’s up?”
“The other day,” I began. Over a month ago. It’s been too long for me to keep thinking about it. “I overheard Rick talking to Daryl.” I held my hands up in defense. “I know, it’s wrong, but he mentioned a girl. Who’s Beth?”
Carol looked at the timer, then immediately at me. “You’ve met Maggie?”
“Beth was her sister.”
I folded my hands together and bit at my inside cheek. I was going to ask it. There was no stopping myself. “Did she mean something…to Daryl, I mean?”
Carol narrowed her eyes at me, then leaned forward on her elbows. She exhaled and pursed her lips. “Beth was…special to Daryl. The place we had before now, they got out together. They spent a lot of time together. Beth…she got close to him. Daryl let his guard down with her.”
I pressed my lips together and stared down at my hands. “I wish I could’ve met her.”
Carol pat the counter with a soft word of agreement, then left the room. I still didn’t know what that mean for me, and it probably had nothing more to do with me.
A week later, my skin started to itch around midday. I stepped outside, my eyes stinging and burning at the sunlight. I reached for the porch banister, squeezed my eyes shut as my ears picked up on everything within the gates.
Heartbeats rushed on me and I felt my own change while I listened. My eyes flashed open and I could feel them changing, brightening and tunneling the more I blinked. My movements sped up, every twitch going faster and almost sickening me.
Further down the road, I heard the familiar rumble of an engine start up. I braced against the banister, flung myself over it before running up to the bike. My hands reached out, almost knocked over Daryl’s bike in the process, and touched at the bare seat of the bike.
“I’m coming with you,” I said out loud, shutting my eyes again.
“No,” I heard over my shoulder along with approaching footsteps. “You ain’t.”
My hands reached up and folded over my brows, “I wasn’t asking.”
“And I don’t care. You ain’t coming,” Daryl adjusted his pack then fastened his bow to the back of his bike.
I wanted to scoff, but it turned into a rumble in my chest. My patience shortened just as my throat did. I squeezed my eyes tighter then swung my leg over the back of Daryl’s bike and gripped at the bars on either side of the seat.
“Just…get me out of here, I’ll shut up, I’ll listen.” I couldn’t bare to open my eyes, they were throbbing in the sockets.
I felt a hand grip my jaw and snatch my head to the side. “Look at me,” Daryl said, more of a grunt. His tongue turned over in his mouth and I could hear something clicking against his teeth. He had to know.
I bared my teeth in a snarl at him, my tongue rearing back in my mouth for an optimal growl. Daryl’s fingers tightened on my cheeks and he shook me once to stop. “Look at me.”
My nose scrunched and I dropped my hands to my sides. I slowly eased my eyes open, the sunlight blinding me for a moment until they adjusted onto Daryl’s grimy face.
He narrowed his eyes at mine, examining them before huffing and releasing my face. Without another word, Daryl climbed onto his bike and whistled for the gate to open.
The road was silent, except for the breeze and the rumble of the bike. My hands tightened around the bars, letting the vibration surge through my fingertips until I felt my entire body ease from the stress.
I tilted my head back, felt the sun speckle through the trees and touch my face. The sound of Walkers was distant, miles and miles back, just bouncing back and forth through the trees. The rumble of the bike against the pavement was louder than anything else.
I snapped my look forward, forced open my eyes as I reached for Daryl. “Pull off the road.”
“I thought you said you were gonna shut up,” Daryl snapped over his shoulder. “You’re getting to be pretty damn useless.”
I hid a growl as I leaned into Daryl’s shoulder. “Unlike Beth? Pull off the damn road. Now.” My teeth gritted and I grabbed hold of his jacket.
Daryl snarled at me, but eased his hand off of the throttle before pulling off to the side of the road.
“Turn here,” I ordered, looking behind me with my ears pricked at a distant rumble of an engine. It sounded like it was gaining.
“The hell are you…”
“Go,” I snapped at him, my leg kicking out to touch the pavement and swing the bike to the right.
Daryl readjusted the balance of his bike with a fishtail just as a few shots fired from a beaten SUV down the road.
“Floor it,” I said, looking over my shoulder as I curled an arm around his waist.
A couple more shots went off and my nose was greeted by the pungent and crisp smell of blood. I looked down at myself, then across Daryl’s back to see his jacket slit open and his skin nicked.
The scent brought a deep rumble to my chest but I bit it back the further Daryl drove. He made another turn, then another, while I kept watch on the car behind us until it was lost. The forest leaves blew up as Daryl continued down the road, running over branches and gravel until the bike slowed down.
I turned around, saw Daryl’s wounded arm shake on the handle as the motorcycle puttered to deadweight. My feet reached out and skidded across the ground, kicking up dirt until Daryl keeled off of the bike, leaving me pinned under it.
I winced, the center of the back-tire landing on my ankle, but I watched Daryl rest on the forest floor, glancing around while he tried to catch his breath. Sitting up, I pushed the bike off of my leg and Daryl gasped at the hissing of a nearby Walker.
My body rested against his legs and I looked upside down to see a charred corpse, wearing a helmet, hissing Daryl’s face.
“Fuck,” I muttered with a deep exhale, shutting my eyes and forcing Daryl’s rushing heartbeat out of my mind.
“Still haven’t shut up,” he said, arms sprawled out while he took the moment to breathe.
I pushed myself up to my feet, then brought his bike back up to its tires. I grabbed hold of the bars and leaned it against my hip, holding a hand out to help Daryl up.
He glanced at me from the corner of his eye then swatted my hand away before rising to his feet. I shook my head and pushed the bike forward in the direction we were already heading.
Daryl rested his hand on the seat of his motorcycle and I stopped. “What now?”
“Give me the bike,” he said.
I scoffed, looked around then back at him. My tongue prodded between my lips. “I could carry this damn thing by myself and you want to be an ass about this?”
Daryl narrowed his eyes at me, “You know what? I do. Give me the damn bike.”
I raised a brow at him then released my hold on the bike, letting it lean heavily against Daryl’s hip. “Fine.”
“Knew I shouldn’t have let you come,” he muttered, pushing past me as he grabbed the bike’s bars.
I let him get a few paces ahead of me before I followed him. “Are you serious? I just saved your ass.”
“You almost killed both of us. Could’ve thrown us off the bike.” Daryl didn’t bother to look back at me, only talked ahead at the same volume.
“But I didn’t,” I said, thinking it would change the notion. “I knew what I was doing.”
“You’re full of shit,” Daryl bit back at me, still pushing the bike forward while I watched him struggle along.
The road slowly turned into woods, with small trees and charred dead bodies blocking any clear path. The ground was dense, the top part muddy and Daryl urged to push on through.
I reached for the back end of the bike, tried to ease the work off of him, but Daryl turned back and growled at me. Something that I would’ve thought Rick to do with his possessions. I backed away from it, hands raised and sidestepped right into the ashy ribcage of a corpse.
Daryl slid down a small incline and crashed at the bottom, his bike leaning on him while he rested against a fallen tree branch. I stomped the body part from my boot and slid down the incline to help Daryl up.
“I got it,” he said, his tone dense with a sense of authority. The man clawed out from under his bike then stood up and patted his pockets for his transceiver.
He clicked the button and got static in return. I waited, watching as Daryl looked down at another charred corpse by him before peeling off his glove. The scent of his blood intensified, and ignoring it was not making it better.
“Daryl,” I began, edging towards him, “Let me look at it.”
Daryl snapped over his shoulder at me, huffed, then turned back to peel his jacket slowly from his arm. He winced, and I heard the thumping in his chest get harder.
The blood trickled down his arm to his fingertips and he got his jacket off his other arm with a tug. I stared at the superficial wound on his arm, the crimson color brightening in my vision while everything else dulled to black and white.
I leaned in to look at Daryl’s arm, but he threw his jacket down and went to his bike with a side glare at me. He reached between his seat bar and engine for his bag, unclasped it while I looked around. My ears pricked at the sound of a cracking branch. I snapped my look up to the birds flying overhead then back to see Daryl picking up his bow and covering his bike.
“Hey, hey, wait a second,” I whispered, scrambling over to Daryl as he camouflaged his bike with the tree branch. “Don’t go out there.”
I sniffed towards the air and only picked up the char around us. Daryl looked down at me, blood smeared along his face, then started off in the direction of the noise.
I picked up my feet, kept to his back right while he swept through the grey forest with his bow drawn. My nostrils flared while I tried to keep up with the fast shifting surroundings. I heard rustling, turned and watched a pile of fallen trees and the leaves on the ground vibrate from the noise.
I leaned forward to measure Daryl’s face, but he was gone from me. Passing through clearing and pointing it at two female strangers. They held their hands up over their head while Daryl pointed his weapon at them.
“You found us, okay?” The first girl said, and I tucked myself behind Daryl with my teeth bared in a low growl.
Daryl glanced back at me and I went silent, my brows casting over my eyes while I braced my feet in a defensive stance.
“Here we are,” she said, looking only into Daryl’s eyes while I stared at the quiet one behind her. “We earned what we took.”
I furrowed my brows at her, only for something hard to attack the back of my head. I fell to the forest floor, disoriented, as Daryl turned around. I opened my mouth to warn him but the crack over his head was the last thing I heard before everything went black.
My head throbbed as I squinted at the bright light against darkness. My eyes struggled to focus, only seeing condensed orange and pulsating rings to the sound of heartbeats.
I blinked, for a long time, and opened my eyes again to my jacket being peeled off of me. I tried to tighten my hand into a fist but I fell back into darkness again.
My skin itched uncontrollably, and I felt it twitch like I was coming down with chills. I felt a shift coming, but my body weighed against me and I couldn’t reach either of my arms.
I felt my stomach creep up to my ribs as I fought to wake myself up, only feeling an urge to vomit become more imminent. The shift wasn’t coming, I couldn’t get myself up to do something about it. Everything fell back to black.
I snapped awake, more alert, to my hands bound before me. My breathing picked up and I looked over to see Daryl, slumped against a tree, in the same position.
I leaned towards him to wake him, only for him to come to on his own. I straightened up as I noticed the person crouched before Daryl. His mouth moved and I couldn’t hear his whisper of a voice over the rush of blood around me.
He pointed a gun in Daryl’s face and I snorted in a growl. I narrowed my eyes at him, tried to focus on what he was saying, but could only hear the symphony of crickets over the blood pumping.
“You don’t say shit and I don’t kill you,” I barely made out.
“I ain’t who you think,” Daryl grunted out.
The stranger pulled the hammer back on his gun, which sounded like a cannon firing to me. I bared my teeth again and both men ignored me. I shifted my wrists in the rope around them, trying to ease the bound.
The man grabbed Daryl and pulled him to his feet. I leaned forward with a snarl until the stranger pushed Daryl off to the female strangers then grabbed me up.
I writhed in his hold until he pointed the gun in my face. “Follow them,” he mouthed, because all I could make out was excruciating noise.
He pushed me forward, and I fell in line behind Daryl as the two girls marched further into the woods. I squinted my eyes as much as possible, the light of day more unbearable than before. My ears were filled with heartbeats, footsteps, birds chirping, even the miniscule drop falling to a leave on the forest floor. It resounded like a drum.
Daryl was quiet ahead of me, but the voices of the two girls bounced off one another and through the trees, setting out a bleak sonar for me. I kept my eyes forward, barely slowing down as the girls reached a thinner part of the woods.
Another charred corpse rested along the trek and the girl in front shook a water bottle in her hand toward Daryl. The sloshing of the water was intense like rapids.
The man behind me grabbed the water bottle and held it out for Daryl as he stepped out of line. The two slowed down, and Daryl reached for the bottle before bringing it to his lips to finish it off.
I breathed out softly, then pressed my lips to my hot shoulder to get my mind off of Daryl’s loud swallowing.
The man spoke to Daryl, but I caught onto the vibrations that resonated back on me. The entire day was lost on me, like I was mute against the deafening noises. A hand rested on my shoulder and the man led me forward, still falling in line behind Daryl.
My eyes slowly fell to the ground as I kept marching, everyone’s conversation around me not registering. I followed in silence, found myself in front of Daryl.
The man grabbed the nape of Daryl’s shirt and drove him forward, and I kept up my steps until Daryl’s boot stepped on the back of mine.
I looked up, saw the man bypass me while the girls still chattered. Glancing over my shoulder, I could barely make out what Daryl was saying.
“Y’all don’t think you’re being stupid right now?”
I raised my brows at his question then turned back to the three strangers. I stared down the barrel of the gun, the hammer clicking only disorienting less, then shifted my eyes to the man himself.
His eyes were beady and his words were thick.
“No,” Daryl said after a minute and I blinked to wonder if I was even alive.
My skin continued to itch and I couldn’t relieve it. I rushed sideways, towards a thin tree, and scraped my arm against the bark, only easing the pain slightly. It needed to come off, I felt my fur thicken underneath and my fingers elongate into claws.
I leaned my body against the tree, hiding a pained groan that poured out of my chest. My teeth braced a piece of bark and splintered it in my mouth. The man pulled me away and pushed me on with Daryl leading the front.
We pushed through to another clearing and stared out to an industrial lot filled with Walkers. The three strangers stopped, each of them staring across while their beacons thumped erratically.
I stopped by Daryl, taking the moment to shake my head and clear my ears of the ringing that was there.
“You trust me?” He whispered towards me. I snapped my look to him and stared blankly at him.
He was leaned in, his shoulder almost touching mine while he stared forward. He was silent, waiting for an answer. I decided not to ask him to repeat himself.
I nodded softly. Daryl grunted in response and we stared on in silence while the strangers still stared on. Something felt wrong, I reached for Daryl’s arm to get his attention. The smaller girl’s heartbeat picked up, rushing and pulsating, before dipping significantly.
I gasped audibly with her as she fell to the floor, feeling my heart sink to the pit of my stomach before Daryl rushed for the bag and yelled in my face to run. I took off, clearing the way back the way we came as I heard Daryl’s footsteps behind me.
Shots went off, causing the ringing in my ear to heighten while the other girl screamed out. I scrambled to a stop, my hands bracing for a tree while Daryl kept running.
“Cherokee, let’s go,” he called after me. I leaned forward, watching Daryl hurry himself to a halt.
I looked back in the direction we ran from then kept running with Daryl before he slid over a fallen log and I stopped just short of a large, upturned tree. He weaseled out of his bound then rested his head against the log for a long breath.
I turned at the sound of hissing and noticed a Walker shambling its way towards us. I looked down at my bound hands as it got closer then brought a leg up to push him away. It knocked back into a tree as I slowly tore away the ties on my wrists.
It continued forward and I grabbed at its exposed ribcage, pulling back a hand to drive my claws into its brain stem.
The wind broke over my shoulder and it was piercing enough for me to double over in pain. The Walker fell to the ground with me, under my hold as my hands squished in its innards.
I opened my eyes with a thunderous growl and they tunneled in frustration. “I fucking had him,” I snapped over my shoulder to Daryl, only to see him staring into the bag.
I raised my head up and saw a white and red cooler that read ‘Insulin’ sitting in the middle of the dirty canvas bag. “Shit.”
I walked behind Daryl, his weapon still drawn, while we navigated through the wood. He made it obvious that he didn’t want my help, being the man beast that he was. I kept quiet, if only to not upset him anymore today.
He rushed up onto the three strangers sitting on a burned log and the man stood up, pointing his gun. My hearing only came back halfway after Daryl’s arrow cut into one of my ears.
“Drop the gun. Drop it,” he said, waving his crossbow in the direction of the three strangers.
The girls didn’t rush to move, only the leader one crossing her arm over the small one. I looked to Daryl, noted the predatory look in his eyes, as he made short moves towards the man as he lowered his gun.
“Give it to me,” Daryl ordered, only to snatch the gun away from him and place it in my hands.
I straightened my arms out and pointed it in the same direction as Daryl’s bow was, my palms itching as I smelled the readied gunpowder from the barrel of the gun. I pulled the hammer back and waited while Daryl scavenged the strangers in exchange for the bag.
He tossed the bag at the feet of the stranger, “It’s all there.” Daryl took a step back, then another as the man bent down and tossed the bag towards the two girls.
He nudged me in the shoulder and I stepped back with him. “Good luck. You’re gonna need it.”
Branches started snapping in the distance and my ears acted up again, ringing from the overstimulation. Daryl grabbed hold of my arm and pulled me out of the way, behind a group of trees while he looked out to the truck approaching.
He forced a hand to my back and I kneeled, reeling the hammer back on the gun as Daryl crouched behind me. I could only see the boots of men in the distance and, over the low-pitched ringing in my ears, the leader girl staking her claim over the bag.
A whistle broke through and the truck revved as Daryl stood upright. He nudged his foot for me to go forward and I rushed in the direction of the strangers, tucking the gun in my back waistband.
Daryl pointed in the direction of the truck’s impending path then reached for the small girl. I rushed between them, handed the gun to him instead before kneeling in front of the girl and urging her to grab on.
She curled her arms around my neck as I hoisted her up and held her legs. Daryl kept up the rear as I followed after the other two strangers and they stopped behind a wall of bundled branches.
I knelt down, let the girl go and ducked behind a nearby tree. Daryl clicked his tongue to get my attention then handed the pistol off to me.
The transceiver on Daryl’s hip hissed to life.
“Eyes open. Cover your quadrant. Go to alpha channel,” I heard while I peeked through the branches.
I glanced back at Daryl, and he nodded as a man started his trek past us. I reached up to rustle a branch full of dead leaves and the man stopped, walked by a pinned Walker. It swiped at his arm, took a bite out of it and folded a hand over my mouth to watch the rest unfold.
The man in his boots approached the guy, hacked off his arm and I tried to not acknowledge the excessive amount of blood in the air. They walked off as the radio hissed again, calling the search off.
“We thought you were with them,” the stranger said, looking between Daryl and myself.
I dropped the gun to my far side as I looked at him, then Daryl.
“We knock you over the head, tie you and your girlfriend up,” the man said, “Why the hell did you come back?”
I opened my mouth to refute the stranger’s claim, but knew it was a lost cause. Daryl narrowed his eyes at me, then looked around the desolate forest with a grunt.
“Maybe I’m stupid, too.”
I followed after Daryl as he followed the three around the forest. I wasn’t sure why we didn’t cut our ties and double back to the bike, but I wasn’t going to leave Daryl.
The small girl ran forward, into the skeleton of a home. The other strangers went after her and, when she screamed, Daryl and I rushed to her aid. Only to be too late.
She was gone, and the leader girl cried over her while she held the open wound on her neck.
“Fuck,” I whispered, folding my hand over my nose and mouth to hold back the urge to vomit. The need to shift was only creeping further into me, deepening in my chest and hallowing me inside.
Daryl found a pair of shovels in the barren greenhouse and offered to help dig. I sat down next to the stranger woman, holding the pistol in one hand in case the three graves had to be turned to five.
“We got a place,” Daryl said to the stranger man and I waited for him to look at me. He didn’t.
The man considered Daryl’s offer while I grumbled and dipped my head down in wait for them to finish up. After, Daryl started in the direction of his bike and I rushed to keep on his side.
“Are you sure about this?” I whispered, looking back at the man and woman leaning into each other to talk.
Daryl marched on. “Still hadn’t shut up yet.”
I growled and carried on, tucking the gun back in my waistband. “How are we gonna get them back?”
Daryl slowed in his tracks as he pulled his bike up from the forest floor. He looked back at me, only to reach for his crossbow as an arm folded over my shoulders. The man dropped his hand between my back and his stomach to retrieve his pistol.
“Damn it,” Daryl growled as the man pointed the gun at my temple.
I stiffened, swallowed the hard lump in my throat and stared at Daryl.
“I’m sorry,” the man said, to both of us.
Daryl dropped his hands to his sides, eyed me in the stranger’s hold.
“Give her the crossbow,” the man ordered, waving his gun at Daryl then to his female companion.
“You gonna go back? Go be safe? Ain’t nowhere safe,” Daryl said, starting to pace in place like he was about to be caged in.
“Shut up,” the man said.
I reached in and elbowed the man in the stomach. His gun went off, in close vicinity of my ear, and I rushed out of his hold directly into Daryl.
He looked down at me, then reached for my bitten shoulder. Another surge of pungent blood pierced through my senses and I looked over to see crimson sliding down my arm. I couldn’t even feel the wound, barely a pinch in my skin as I straightened up.
Rolling my shoulder back, I felt the bullet lodged in my muscle twitch. I snarled at the dull pain in my arm until the shell reared its end at my entrance wound.
I covered my wound to hide its healing and Daryl handed over the crossbow to the girl. The man went for Daryl’s bike and picked it up as the girl held the gun.
“Patch yourselves up,” the girl said, tossing three patches of gauze to the ground. “We’re sorry.” She pointed the gun at Daryl then me.
“You’re gonna be.”
I narrowed my eyes at the two on the bike and bared my teeth. “Got your scent.”
The two sped off on the bike, cutting through the forest while I bent down to pick up the gauze. Daryl eyed the statue he received in the process of trading with the strangers.
The transceiver on Daryl’s hip hissed to life and Abraham’s voice came through. “Daryl, you copy?”
Daryl picked up the receiver as I looked to my shoulder and pulled the shell from my skin with a wince.
“Yeah,” he said, looking around the empty forest until he pointed in the direction we entered. “We copy.”
“Me…and Cherokee,” he said before shutting off the receiver. Daryl walked towards the helmeted bastard, then swiped at the ground across from it.
I stood by while he uncovered a truck and put out an undead bastard. He whistled in my direction.
“Come on. Let’s head back.”
I ran around the truck, to the passenger door and climbed in. I rested my head back against the seat, finding solace in the carcass-smelling cabin. My eyes slowly shut as I heard Daryl climb up. He reached for the keys and turned over the engine, hearing it roar to life beneath him.
I smiled softly, then heard the door shut.
“You ain’t useless,” Daryl said, gearing the truck into drive.
I reached across the seat, eyes closed and rubbed my finger against Daryl’s wrist.
“Not entirely.” He jerked his hand away, set it on the steering wheel before driving his foot down on the gas pedal.
“Your property now belongs to Negan,” The man holding up the road. He approached the four of us, in the middle of the road, demanding for our weapons.
The men behind him, each menacing and damaged, pointed heavy artillery our way. I wouldn’t be able to heal ten times over, and neither would the rest of them.
Daryl stood to my left, reached under his vest and produced his pistol. The man thanked him, then moved over to me.
“I don’t have anything,” I said, looking into the man’s face with narrowed eyes.
He clicked his tongue, “Now why don’t I believe you?” He stepped closer to me and I straightened my shoulders.
“Go on.” I held my hands out with a huff. “Frisk me. I dare you.”
The man reached out for my neck and Daryl stepped in. “She said she ain’t got no weapons. She don’t.”
I looked at Daryl then over his shoulder to the menacing man of the bikers. His jaw tensed before he stepped back and towards Sasha, then Abraham, taking their pistols in turn.
“Now,” He stepped back from the four of us and handed them off to one of the biker men. “What else do you have for us?”
“You just took it,” Daryl grumbled and I raised my brows to the man. He was right. Other than the clothes on our backs, we had nothing else to offer them.
The man turned to one of his comrades, ordered them to take Daryl around the back bumper and search stern to bow for anything. I scoffed, looked over to Sasha and Abraham.
“Who’s Negan?” Abraham asked while I balled my fists into my pockets and waited for the search to be done with.
My attention was diverted between the man talking and the footsteps on pavement behind me. The man pointed a gun in Abraham’s direction, pulled back the hammer which caused Sasha to speak up.
She brought my attention back. “Wait. You don’t have to do this.”
The man reached into his jacket and pulled out another pistol, pulling back its hammer as well. I looked over at the two to my right, then cleared my throat for the man’s attention. He turned one gun to me, and I tilted my head.
“What? I’m not worth the double-gun salute? It’d take a lot to put me down,” I said, cocky though my stomach was fully in my throat.
Both Sasha and Abraham leaned to look at me, probably wondering if I had a death wish. I didn’t, but the arrogance was refreshing in the moment.
The man chuckled, then dropped both pistols in his lap. “You know what? I’m not gonna kill you.”
Sasha exhaled, relieved, but I wasn’t about to relax my shoulders.
“Actually,” the man said, picking the pistols back up, “I wi—”
My eyes were immediately blinded by the ball of fire that descended on the people before us. I was blown back against the truck grill and landed on my stomach, on the pavement.
I slowly raised my head up, feeling the extreme gusts of heat rush through the street. My forehead beaded with sweat and I tried to focus on Daryl walking around the side of the truck, holding a launcher.
I groaned, rested my head to my arm before pushing myself up to my knees. My ears whined in a high pitch as I remained perched, collecting myself.
Daryl dropped the launcher from his shoulder and stopped on the side of the road. I cleared my throat and stood up.
“Son of a bitch was tougher than he looked,” he said, turning to the side of the truck to show the three of us the dead man in the road.
I reached out for Daryl’s jacket, one of the wings being tainted red and torn. Sasha noticed as well.
“Did he cut you?”
Daryl glanced over her shoulder at the wound then shrugged, “A little. What a bunch of assholes.”
Sasha pulled a rag from her pocket and pressed it to Daryl’s back. I reached and replaced her hand with mine, slipping the rag under his jacket and directly against the wound.
“Let’s get you fixed up at home,” Sasha said.
“Yes ma’am.” Daryl looked back at me then nodded towards the truck. “Come on.”
I let go of his shoulder and squeezed in between him and Sasha, only to shift to the floor. My ears slowly reverted back to normal and I rested my head on the seat, close to Daryl’s thigh.
A hand rested against my hair and I opened my mouth, then shut it. I didn’t care who it was, but by the calloused palm scraping along my hair, I figured it was Daryl.
“I’m not staying in here,” I said as I pulled myself up to look out of the windshield. As far as the eye could see was a sea of Walkers. And I wasn’t about to sit back and watch.
“Cherokee,” Daryl started but I threw open the passenger door and reached under the bench seat to grab the knife I found. “Cherokee,” he yelled after me and I stopped, looking over my shoulder.
“You’re gonna have to throw me pretty far,” I said, turning around to face him before driving the knife into the eye socket of an approaching Walker. “Don’t get stupid.”
I patted the interior of the door then shut it before running through the clearing Sasha and Abraham made with their automatic weapons. I refused to get mowed down by any undead bastards, feeling now a good a time as any to use my abilities to their extent.
I picked up a corpse and threw it forward, causing a few Walkers to tumble back. I carefully ran over each of them, making a point to stomp out the head before driving forward. My nose went blind partway, only seeing the maroon spray of cold blood every time I executed another monster.
I swept out, killing more while I kept up my strength, pushing some away when I got overwhelmed. Rick’s voice cut through the snarls and I felt my actions speed up the more I followed his sound.
Raising my head above the crowd, I could catch glimpses of Rick’s face. A heat exploded from behind me and I barely stopped to look at it before the Walkers shifted and made their way towards the bright light and noise.
I turned back and took down another Walker, then the one behind it until I felt blood splatter my face from the left. I looked over to see Daryl hacking his way through the swarm. The swinging kept going, the squelching of corpses slowly faded into the background until there was nothing else to attack.
Blood splattered my face and I looked around Alexandria, never knowing how tainted the streets could look. I blinked, thinking it was at the least a bad dream, but everything remained.
The rest of the group stood on the opposite end of Alexandria, the field where I sat with Judith. Rick looked at me but Michonne fell into his arms with a tired hug.
I turned to Daryl, then stepped towards the rest of the group, only for Daryl to grab my hand and pull me into his arms.
I gasped, wasn’t sure how to react to him, but I brought an arm up to cross over his back. He winced, bringing me out of the moment and I stepped away, knowing that our interaction was to be short-lived.
In the infirmary, I sat on the gurney and watched Daryl shrug off his vest. Resting my hand to his knee, I looked over his shoulder to see the nurse, Denise, stitch up the cut on his shoulder blade.
Denise looked to my shoulder, the same bitten one, and noticed the bullet hole in my skin. I shook my head, nodded towards Daryl and stood up.
I crossed the room to Michonne holding Judith, stood across from her with my arms folded. I reached out, pinched at Judith’s small foot and watched her giggle.
“I see you were out with Daryl,” Michonne said to me. I looked up at her and listened to her voice, wondering if that was really the first time I remembered hearing it.
“Yeah,” I forced out, not wanting to look over at Daryl while he continued getting stitched up.
She nodded, glanced from Judith to me and back as her thumb tickled at the baby’s chin. “That’s good. You two get along well.”
I shrugged, I wasn’t sure that was fully the case. I looked down the hallway to the back room, saw Rick sitting by the bed. “Is he going to be okay?”
My stomach resorted to gelatin when I heard about Carl. I could barely remember what he looked like the week before. It felt too long ago, and the day already dragged on by three. Still, the thought of sleeping again was lost on me.
Michonne nodded, quiet as she stared down at Judith.
I held my arms out to see if Michonne wanted to hand off Judith but she crossed an arm around the baby’s back. The girl rested her head to Michonne’s shoulder and dropped my hands then made my way outside to sit on the porch.
The sun slowly rose over the quiet Alexandria, the lake fire dying down in the morning mist. I looked around the land, noted the fallen over watch tower and compromised wall. Day’s not over yet.
The rest of the morning was spent cleaning up the town. Bodies were piled high and burned, carcasses were stabbed and disposed of and I watched the two men I’d grown fond of carry on with their business.
“That’s good work, everybody,” Rick called out towards the end of the mess. “But we ain’t all finished yet.”
He pointed over to the fallen watch tower that breached the wall. The debris was clear of dust and splintered well into pieces.
“We clean that up, we patch up that wall, we’re done for the day,” he said, and I looked across at the morale of his community.
They seemed up for it. I nodded and started towards the pile of charred wood, but a hand stopped me.
“Rick,” I began.
He shook his head. “Daryl told me what happened. You’re too volatile. Go, rest.”
Staring into Rick’s eyes, they flashed a thin red ring around his bright irises. “You didn’t either.”
He pulled back his hand and looked to his left, seeing Michonne walk by with Judith. “This ain’t about me. I can control it.”
“I’m fine,” I said, though I wasn’t so sure. The day spent with Daryl was just on the side of excruciating, my senses were still recovering. It felt like a shift hangover, one that wouldn’t be eased up by sleep.
“This ain’t a suggestion, Beta.” Rick stepped towards me, lowering his voice as he did so. “That’s an order. Go, rest.” He pointed for Michonne and she stopped, walked back. “Take Judith with you.”
I looked to the girl in Michonne’s arms, then Michonne herself. “No, let her stay.”
“Cherokee,” Rick started, staring down at me and I understood. My arms sprang up at his orders and reached for the baby. Michonne looked to Rick and he nodded. “It’s okay.”
I brought Judith towards me, her sleepy head resting against my wounded shoulder. I refrained from leaning in to nuzzle her hairline, feeling it’d be rubbing it in to Michonne. It wasn’t my place.
Still, the soft scent of innocence cut through the blinding carcass smell and I felt myself relax. “I’ll go put her down for a nap.”
I turned towards Rick’s home, dropping my gaze after glancing at Michonne so she would know my regret and made my way back.
I passed by Daryl as he handed off his launcher to Olivia, eyes still kept low. He reached out and brushed my arm.
“Hey, hold up.”
I couldn’t stop. I still felt Rick’s eyes on my back, urging me to keep going. “I can’t, Daryl. He’s watching,” I said, barely nodded over my shoulder to Rick.
“I’ll come with you,” he grunted, picking up his feet and rushing after me. I kept walking, my cheek resting on top of Judith’s head and following my orders thoroughly.
Daryl rushed up the porch stairs and walked inside first, pulling his knife from its holster to make sure there weren’t anymore undead bastards. I edged behind him, patted his shoulder. “I think we’re okay.”
He grumbled, shifted whatever he still had in his mouth around, then stood at the base of the stairs while I went up to rest Judith. Daryl’s footsteps were heavy, vibrating my eardrums as he walked up the stairs.
“Sleep tight,” I whispered, lowering Judith into her crib and tugging her blanket over her legs.
She was quiet, her eyes closed while she breathed softly. The pattering in her chest was steady, soothing. Daryl stood in the doorway while I stared down at her. He crossed his arms as I brushed a knuckle against Judith’s soft cheek then pushed away from her crib.
“About the other day,” Daryl began. I held my hand up to stop him, then walked past him to the bathroom. “Cherokee, I’m trying to talk here.”
I nodded, then picked up my pace and doubled over the sink to spit up bile. I turned on the sink and rinsed the gunk down the drain. “I…should go lay down.” Turning to Daryl, I smiled softly. “You were right. I agreed with Rick blindly. I’m sorry about that.”
“Don’t do that,” Daryl said, his lip turning up in a snarl of contempt. “Don’t apologize.”
I slipped past Daryl and went downstairs, to the basement. Sitting on my cot, I rolled my shoulders forward before kicking at my bag underneath.
With the approaching footsteps, I tucked my hands under the pillow then shut my eyes. Until I actually fell asleep.
*Another month passed by me without my knowledge.
I could feel Rick’s breath on my shoulders again and the thought itself brought goosebumps to my skin.
“Alpha,” I said, feeling hands on my hips as they lifted up and rutted against a thick waist.
“Don’t you wish,” I heard in my ear a deep breathy voice. Rough. Southern. Daryl.
I exhaled deeply, felt his body heat rush against my back as I eased my hips further up. I felt his rough hand circle down my hip to my thigh and between. My eyes fluttered shut at his touch and my skin craved for the relieve of his lips.
“You fight the thought, but you know it’s true.” Daryl’s teeth bit down on my earlobe, a little harder than expected, but I welcomed it with a groan.
I shifted my legs against the sheets of the cot and curled my toes.
“You want me, don’t you?” He asked, and I gasped as his fingers traveled up my thigh to feel my arousal. I nodded, almost urgently, rutting against Daryl’s pants.
His other hand reached for my throat and dragged his short nails against my skin. I reached behind me and pressed my hand to Daryl’s toned stomach.
“Daryl,” I choked out before loud footsteps upstairs woke me up. I folded my hands over my face with a groan and sat up.
I patted my palms to my face, waking myself up before pushing off of the cot. Making my way upstairs, I tiptoed through the living room, past Daryl sleeping on the couch. I needed another shower, and I realized it too late, already going to sleep with bits of dried blood on my face and shirt.
I shouldn’t have let Judith see me that way. I crept up the stairs, hearing the second floor silent. Carl was still in the infirmary and Rick was probably with him. Judith was down again, or still, but I hadn’t heard many people in the house while I was out.
Switching on the bathroom light, I shut the door behind me then rushed for the shower. I turned the water on tepid, then stripped quickly before stepping in.
The glass shut behind me as I stood under the spray of water over my hair. I forced my eyes shut, scrubbed my palms over my face and skin to rid the layer of Walker blood on me. The steady fall of water was soothing to my senses, with the only thing to smell or hear being the same.
First instance of quiet in the last couple of days. Absolute solitude. Until the glass door banged again and I straightened up, opening my eyes under the stream of water to Daryl.
“What’re you doing in here?” I asked, my heart picking up as I reached for the water faucet. The water caught onto my bottom lip and dribbled down my chin. My eyelashes started to get weighed down by the drops. “You should get out.” I sputtered a bit of water from my mouth.
“You want me out?” Daryl asked and I gave him a once over, noting his bare feet and dirty pants.
I opened my mouth to say yes, but I shook my head instead. I reached to swipe down my hair and more water drizzled down my back.
He turned towards his shoulder with a slight smirk. “Good.” Daryl rushed towards me, his hands grasping at my jaw as he leaned his forehead against mine. His lips hovered before mine and I grabbed at his wrists before leaning into him.
“Daryl,” I whispered, my stomach knotting as I fought back the urge to kiss him. “do it.”
Daryl looked into my eyes then down before crashing his lips against mine. Tobacco was the first thing I tasted. My arms snaked around his neck as his hands dropped to my waist, pressing me further to the shower wall.
I straightened up in the shower, snapping out of the daydream I was having. I groaned, leaned my head against the shower wall and folded my hand over my eyes. Shutting the water off, I shook the excess water from my body and stepped out.
I wrapped a towel around me, grabbed my dirty clothes and stepped out of the bathroom. Into Daryl. I scoffed, dropped my head down and squeezed my eyes shut.
“What?” Daryl asked. I didn’t respond, only reached out to touch his arm, pinch his flesh between my fingers. He flinched. “The hell was that for?”
I opened my eyes, looked at Daryl shrouded in the shadow of the hallway with a sliver of light from the bathroom. “Nothing,” I said. I leaned to edge past him but was blindsided by his lips cautiously touching mine.
I didn’t respond right away until my hand rested to his cheek, pulling him closer. Daryl fought from moving any closer, and I dropped my hand from him.
I rested my forehead to his, thinking only about what Rick would say about it. He had to know better than to get upset by it. But the other half of him would probably lose control.
The two halves of me fought against one another, Beta was loyal to Rick. The other was guilty for the Beta to pull her into something so reckless. Out of everything I’d ever done, that choice was the opposite of survival.
It was social suicide. There was nothing good to come out of it. Daryl was right, but not about Michonne. I already wished I was gone.
I breathed in Daryl’s exhale. “You don’t mean that.” I forced myself away from Daryl to look into his green eyes, only to see a thin red ring around them. “Daryl.”
He shut his eyes, backed away the same distance from me. “I know.”
I thought back to the last time I saw his eyes. I thought back to the last time we talked, or fought, and the last time I took in his scent. I couldn’t remember any of it.
The day with the strangers came back to me with a blinding white light, and I tried to think of Daryl then.
“When did it…” I began, shutting my eyes and thinking hard to something that should have tipped me off. Nothing came to mind. “Did I…”
I would’ve remembered something like that, hurting Daryl like the bastard that hurt me. My hand grabbed onto Daryl’s wounded elbow and I eased my grip when he snarled softly.
“Daryl, did I do this to you?”
He scoffed and I didn’t know what that meant. There were no other scents on him, I would’ve expected him to reek like the person who made him this way.
“No,” he said after a long moment. “You didn’t.”
“Rick?” My voice tensed at his name, my grip on Daryl’s arm tightening. He snarled again and I released.
“It wasn’t him.”
My brows furrowed in frustration. “What happened?”
“Stop asking,” Daryl said, more so ordered, and my teeth clamped together. Damn Alpha. “It was on a run.”
It didn’t register to me. It almost didn’t click.
“After we argued…about…” He tugged at the bottom of his button-up, revealed a raw bite on his side. It was circled with a red ring, like mine.
“I got it,” I said. I didn’t want to bring it up anymore. It was obviously not the worst between us. “When we got ambushed by those strangers? And the launcher?”
I slowly opened my eyes to look at the floor, then brought my eyes up to Daryl’s. His jaw tensed while he still kept his eyes shut.
“Yeah,” he said, only to smirk lightly. “But I would’ve done that shit anyways.”
I scoffed in amusement, figuring he was right. He had the will to do whatever it took.
With a deep breath, I forced myself a step away from him. “You didn’t mean that,” I said, assuring him that if he wanted to not bring the kiss again, I’d oblige. It pained me inside but I was ready to let it go.
“I did.” Daryl stepped towards me and sniffed at the air.
“No.” I pressed my palm to his firm chest, my fingers twitching to examine him further. “That’s not you. You hate me.”
“I don’t hate you.” Daryl stepped further into my hand and my locked arm faltered. I dropped my hand. He forced his fingers to hold one of his eyelids open. “Look in my eyes. I’m the one talking to you, Cherokee.”
I couldn’t look at him for any long period of time, feeling my insides shift and mangle with guilt. Daryl took me in but Rick let me stay. Daryl showed me about myself, but Rick…
Daryl’s hand braced the back of my head and leaned his forehead to mine. I tilted my head, nuzzling my temple to his opposite as my body erupted in a soft purr.
My mind started to contort, with my stomach somersaulting into my throat again. My body felt rigid and the heat that was trapped between us caused my skin to itch. It had to be tonight. I couldn’t hold it in again, the shifting nature making my skin revolt directly on my body.
I pushed both hands to Daryl’s chest then. “Not here. Not now.” I looked down the hallway, to Judith’s shut door then to the empty rooms around. Michonne had to be in, at the very least. I raised my nose to the air but Daryl gripped my chin, leveled my face to his.
“She’s fine.” His assurance was calm, steady. His breath was heavy and potent. I chewed on my bottom lip.
“Outside the gate,” I said before pulling myself away from him and rushing downstairs. “Ten minutes,” I whispered.
I managed to get out of Rick’s home and down the street in my bare feet, narrowly avoiding the stained puddles of Walker blood on the sidewalk. My eyes were eased by the darkened landscape, the moonlight paving most of the way to the gate.
I raised my nose to catch a scent of who was on guard then eased under the tower and through the shadows when their back was turned. My fingers tapped along the sheets upright along the perimeter of Alexandria, drawing the Walkers towards one spot so I could get around them.
At the easiest point in the wall, the one that Rick had shown me a month before, I pushed back the grate and ducked through the opening before putting it back. Shrouded in the shadows of the trees, speckled by the spots of moonlight, I brandished my knife and turned around at the sound of rustling.
Only for it to be Daryl. He grabbed at my arms then folded his hand over my mouth so I wouldn’t scream. “Easy girlie.”
Been a while since you said that. I exhaled through my nose and stared at him, the red ring only slightly expanding since I first noticed them. He slowly dropped his hand from my mouth.
“Come on.” He nodded over his shoulder, sidestepping as if rearing to go. “Can you keep up?”
I slid my knife into my waistband and pushed past him. “Shouldn’t I ask you that?” I took off in a sprint, narrowly avoiding trees and leaping over fallen branches while kicking up dead leaves in the process.
Without shoes to slow me down, I kept going, my heart rushing while the brisk night air enlivened my skin. I reached for my forearm as I kept running and dragged my nails down my skin to feel it peel away.
It was time.
I went into another leap, lowering my body down to go faster, then looked back to see nothing. My ears buzzed as I looked around, hoping to hear Daryl’s footsteps gaining on me. Silence.
That was until I was tackled from the side, by Daryl, running a bit faster than me. I growled, my chest bracing the cold forest floor, and raised up on my elbows to look over my shoulder at Daryl.
“Jackass.” I bit out, folding a knee under my stomach only for Daryl’s hand to grab my ankle and pull me back.
A sweat accumulated on my forehead as I looked down to my forearm, already sprouting fur and my fingernails elongated into claws. I felt a nuzzling against my temple and I glanced to see Daryl rubbing his cheek against me.
I straightened up, turned to lick his dirty cheek then purred as his hands ran down the length of my arms.
Daryl chuckled, then dropped his head to nudge his nose along my jaw before dragging his tongue across my neck. My eyes fluttered softly at the wet heat across my skin. His hand reached up and tugged the shoulder of my t-shirt off before lapping over my bitten shoulder.
I reached up and combed my fingers through Daryl’s slick hair as one of his hands slid down my side then rested against the small of my back. His stomach pressed against my back and his heat was soothing. More sweat broke out along my skin and I knew that Daryl could taste it. I wanted to taste him, too.
I turned to Daryl, nudged my nose against his ear until he rose from my shoulder and smirked. A beam of moonlight directed onto his face, cutting through the shadow, to reveal one fully red iris and one normal green.
I opened my mouth to say something but was quickly silenced by a hand to the back of my neck, gripping me dominantly and forcing me to look at the forest floor before me. I reached under me, across my stomach and down to my shorts, only for Daryl’s hand to cover mine and follow my lead.
Fumbling with the button of my shorts, I finally unfastened them and Daryl dipped his hand between my hips. My other hand grounded into the layer of leaves and pine needles of the forest floor as my knees forced together.
His touch was godlike, easing two fingers into my arousal and bringing on more. At the same time, his hand on my back was tugging my shirt up and over my head easily until it tangled on my forearms. I wanted the same for him, to feel his skin against mine.
Daryl’s undressing of me was gentle. But his, in turn, was quick like he couldn’t wait anymore. I couldn’t either. My body was craving Daryl.
I expected him to be cocky, hot-headed, as what he warned me about with Rick was about to happen with him. I looked back as Daryl sat up on his knees, holding his erect member in his hand and teasing it against my slickness.
My knees buckled, shifting apart, as I elongated my back more than ready to take him. I felt my breathing pick up, in a way different than shifting, in a way different than with Rick.
I caught myself trembling, almost nervous, until Daryl eased himself inside me. At that moment, I raised my head towards the tree canopy and released a delighted moan. My eyes shut fully at the feeling of him plunging further into me until he couldn’t anymore, then pulling out painstakingly slow.
Daryl doubled over me, his lips pressed to my ear. “Think I hate you now?”
I couldn’t shake my head, only pulled my bottom lip between my teeth and chewed until I felt I cut through it. My gums itched and I felt my teeth sharpen to a fine point. I opened my mouth, tasting my own blood on my tongue again.
I felt it ooze down my chin and neck, dripping to the forest floor, and Daryl leaned in and prodded his tongue to lap it up. “Not at all,” I muttered, my lip swelling from the wound and reverting back on itself to heal.
Daryl plunged into again, harder, pressing me lower to the forest floor. His body shrouded mine and I could feel his stomach tighten.
He opened his mouth and erupted in a low growl, his teeth sharpening and glistening in the moonlight as both of his hands landed over mine. Our fingers intertwined and he worked up a pace as the purr in my chest grew out into the night.
We bucked in sync, following one another’s movements with heavy breathing and snarling. Our ears both pricked at a nearby rustling and we brought our heads up, scoping around in the darkness for the culprit.
A low hiss came from our left, and the sluggish footsteps soon followed. I reached for my knife but Daryl’s hand beat me to it. Still, his hips never left mine, only sitting up as the hissing got closer.
“Daryl,” I whispered, forcing my knees together on the ground. I folded an arm over my chest and looked back at the man deep between my hips. He held a finger up, which caused me huff in disbelief.
We could’ve done anything else by now.
The hissing was imminent and the undead bastard behind it was clawing along the forest floor. It got within scratching distance before Daryl reached for its throat and plunged the knife in its forehead.
He tugged the knife out, spraying both my back and his chest with cold blood. Daryl pushed the corpse away and it landed before me, inches from my face. I grimaced.
Daryl pressed the flat side of the knife to my butt, swiping the blood off of it before doing the same to the other side.
“Are you done?” I asked, trying not to show my amusement of Daryl’s casual approach.
“Just about,” he said, doubling over me again and continuing where he left off. I trilled softly as his face nuzzled against my neck again, then his nose traced down my shoulder.
His pace picked up and I felt a tuft of fur tickle against my back. This was getting to be a dangerous game. The skin on my arms slowly sprouted fur as my eyes started to throb with every thrust Daryl made.
Red started to seep into my vision, and I rolled my shoulders back as I felt Daryl unrelenting. My stomach tightened from the stimulation between my hips and I felt a warmth pool inside of me. While at the same time, the itch to shift was growing, scraping my bones together as I cut my gums.
“Daryl,” I moaned, mostly in warning, unsure which one would approach faster.
My breathing hit hyperventilation just as Daryl’s did, and I could tell he felt the tension rising. His heart pounded in my ears and the single hairs that rose on his skin resounded like cracking trees.
I couldn’t hold back anymore, feeling myself starting to contract against Daryl inside me. Warmth started to seep into me and there was too much to keep track of until Daryl sank his teeth in my shoulder.
I gasped, my breath immediately halting as my skin exploded into fur. Daryl’s did the same, his ears folding to his head while I crashed my snout to his temple. My claws dug into the dirt and Daryl’s stomped over mine.
My vision went red, then white before returning to see the bright moon above us, peeking through the trees and shining down on us. My jaw fell open and the first thing to come out was an elongated howl that resonated through the trees.
I curled into Daryl’s alpha form, nuzzling my head under his front leg and exhaling deeply. We still struggled to catch my breath and, despite much of my snarling, Daryl timidly licked at my new wound.
The bite itself felt freeing, if only for a moment, knowing that the wolf that made me was in the past. But the new teethmarks felt claiming, hardening the fact that another Alpha had made a pass on me and won.
It pained me to think about Rick in the instance, only for Daryl’s snout to my wound to bring me out of it. It was wrong in the first place to think Rick would want to keep me, but now that I wouldn’t be useful to his Alpha, I wondered if I had any place within his community.
The rest of the night was spent in silence, with me taking in Daryl’s scent and burying my snout in his fur. The sensation never seized to amaze me, how alive I felt after awakening the demonic monster within me.
I huffed, made myself known to Daryl by pressing my head under his chin with a content rumble in my throat. He weighted himself down and trapped me under his head with a deep exhale.
The next day, I woke up in my cot. I looked quickly to my side, then my other, to see that Daryl was nowhere to be found. The clothes he’d worn the night before were piled on the floor and when I raised my nose to the air, I couldn’t catch onto him.
I fell back against the got with a groan, chalking the entire night as an entirely lucid dream. My fingers combed through my hair, down my face and to my shoulder until I froze.
I felt, under my fingertips, the raised indents of a canine molar. I rubbed my palm over the rest of my shoulder and found myself breaking into giddy laughter as the first bite that changed me was now overlapped with wider teeth marks.
“Motherfucker,” I said with a smile before squeezing at my wound. It tinged dully and I had to chalk it up to being more than just a rough dream.
Climbing out of bed, I changed then hid mine and Daryl’s clothes from the night before under my cot. I started up the stairs to find Rick coming down the stairs with Carl following. I stepped back into the doorway and down a stair to conceal myself.
He was more occupied with the task at hand, out of the house in seconds. I returned to the first floor, following after Carl to the porch before stopping at the presence of someone else behind me.
I glanced over my shoulder and exhaled at the sight of Michonne. “Good morning.”
She nodded in my direction and I stepped outside, closing the front door behind me. Carl stood by the steps, watching his father walk down the street towards the gate.
I tiptoed up to him, and Judith, then reached for her small hand on his shoulder. I pulled her little fingers towards my mouth and nibbled playfully at them to get her to smile. She smiled from behind her pacifier then made hands at me to pick her up.
“Carl,” I said, reaching for his sister from his hold. My hand rested on top of his moppy hair as he turned to me, one eye bandaged over, with a smile. “How’re you feeling?”
He shook my palm from his head and I adjusted Judith on my hip. “As well as I can. Wanna come with me to the infirmary? Michonne said I have to get my bandages changed.”
I shook my head in confirmation. “Most definitely. Lead the way.” Carl started down the stairs and I followed after him with Judith curling her fingers in my hair again. “So, where’s your dad off to now?”
Carl slowed down in his pace so we stood side-by-side. He reached to tug Judith’s dress over my arm. “He and Daryl are going on another run.”
Carl raised a brow at me, then looked around the mostly clean streets of Alexandria. “We’re running low on rations, and Maggie’s more than ready to plant some crops.”
“How is Maggie?” I asked. There was so little time to catch up with anyone. I could barely remember the last time I saw Carol. My days felt like they ran together.
“She’s fine. Glenn came back, thanks to Enid, and I think she’s trying to get her mind off of things.”
What else did she have to worry about right now?
“Is that so?”
Carl nodded, “Aaron told me what she said to him. That she was pregnant.”
I was taken aback slightly, wondering why Maggie would put herself through anything close in the time we lived in. Judith tugged at a part of my hair and I smiled at her then realized that it was as good a time as any.
“That’s amazing,” I said, kindly detangling the little girl’s fingers from my hair. “You might have some competition, little miss.” I nudged my nose against Judith’s soft cheek and her little hands patted against my face.
Carl laughed in response, watching as his sister took another clump of my hair in her hand and tugged it rougher. “Guess she didn’t like hearing that.”
“Guess not,” I managed to say as I fought to keep both eyes open against the adorable attack. We approached the infirmary as Denise broke away from Daryl.
I found myself nervous again, like I’d embarrassed myself in front of a menial crush. But it wasn’t menial. It felt genuine, like I’d known Daryl the entire time I was alive. Or I had just started living when I met him.
The thoughts in my head caused me to scrunch my nose in disgust, aware of how saturated and dim-witted it sounded. He started backwards toward the gate with a list in his hands and a pack on his back. Our eyes met and I felt a lump form in my throat. I expected him to brush me off, see right through me like Rick did in the light of day.
But he winked, and my insides resorted to warm jelly. The wound on my shoulder throbbed comfortingly.
“Cherokee,” Denise said, snapping me out of my trance on Daryl. He turned and walked away, the rag stuffed in his back-pocket swaying with his stride.
I hummed in response, then followed Carl and Denise inside. I found myself sitting on the same cot as Carl, one leg crossed, while I made faces at Judith.
I stood her up on the clean sheets, her hands holding onto my fingers. She giggled, her knees bending and I raised her up before grabbing her sides.
Her pacifier rested against the tip of my nose and I grinned at her while she kicked her legs out. The scent of Carl’s wound brought me out of the moment again and I straightened up to see the vacant spot where his eye once was.
“Kid,” I began, leaning in as Denise reached for rubbing alcohol. “You’re a little badass.”
Carl reached out to swat at me with a chuckle. I smiled then returned back to Judith. From what I could remember, their scents were sweeter especially Judith’s. Something that I couldn’t pinpoint, something I wasn’t sure of.
I furrowed my brows and Carl was on his feet in a minute. “You done?”
“Yeah,” he said, straightening out the bottom half of his remedial eye patch before looking to the open door. “Can you watch her for a while?”
I looked to Judith. “I guess I can,” I said, as if the thought of watching her was such a task. “It’s fine. Go.”
Carl stopped in the doorway of the infirmary and tapped his fingers to it. “You’re sure?”
“Carl…go.” Judith’s fingers took grip of my bottom lip and blabbered happily. From the corner of my eye, I saw Carl nod and leave.
The room was quiet and I knew that Denise was staring at me while I played with Judith. I straightened up, sat the baby in my lap and tickled my hair in her face. She grabbed at the ends of my hair and tugged while I looked to Denise.
“I need something from you.”
“What is it?” Denise asked, turning away from me to put away the excess roll of gauze.
I looked down at Judith, my smile slowly fading the more she toyed with my hair. I didn’t know how else to say it, I didn’t even know if I could. Denise rotated back to me and I slowly brought my gaze up to meet hers.
Denise went to the supply closet and pulled out a box. I couldn’t bring myself to look down at it, knowing what it was.
“Can you hold her a minute?” I asked, already shifting Judith out of my arms and into Denise’s.
She stammered to answer but it was already too late. The baby was in her arms and I was halfway to the restroom. I was aware of the instructions. I rushed to open the box, careful to not rip it, then tore open the plastic wrap that kept the test in.
After it was done, I couldn’t look at it. It sat on the sink while I held Judith in the infirmary, and I was already upset with wasting my time with it.
It was a stupid thing to think about, it wasn’t possible for this to happen to me. Judith started to fuss and I stood up. “Are you hungry? Let’s go have some lunch, huh?”
I grabbed the test, didn’t look at it, and put it in my pocket. Denise sat in the main floor of the infirmary, probably waiting for me to come out with some sort of news.
“Are you okay?” she asked, pushing to her feet as I walked towards the front door in silence.
Judith rested her head to my shoulder and I leaned my head to hers, glancing over to Denise before reaching into my pocket. I set the test and its box on one of the tables in the room.
“Get rid of that for me?” I asked and Denise nodded, reaching for it almost excited.
A lump formed in my throat as I looked at Denise’s face, waiting for whatever confirmation there was. I stopped in the doorway, crossing my other arm over Judith’s back to hold her close.
She looked between the test and its box, reading the results with baited breath. I heard her heart speed up and her eyes slowly lit up when she comprehended. Her smile was immediate, only for it to falter when she remembered where we were, then returned to its full intensity when she looked at me.
“Congratulations,” Denise said, and the word sank down to my core.
I forced a smile on my face. My brain was already wracking itself with what I could do. I immediately thought of running away, what was I getting myself into? The thought hadn’t sunk into me, myself, that I was still the vessel of my Beta’s actions.
I couldn’t believe myself. The whole of myself and the walk back to Rick’s home was fuller of dread than Judith deserved. “Sweetheart, you are too cute for words.” A soft grin emerged on my face, my cheeks pinched and Judith reached a hand out to pat my lips.
“Let’s go lay down for a bit.” I walked up the stairs of the porch then walked inside to the silence of the home.
For the first time, it resonated in me and only made me want to beat myself for my choices. I sat on the floor and rested Judith to my chest. She fell asleep quickly and I glanced down at her balling her fist on my shirt.
I folded my hands over my mouth and forced out a shaky breath, then in before my eyes stung with tears and I sniffled in silence. Fuck.
Neither of them had to know, I told myself. So long as I stayed away from them until I could figure out what to do, I was fine.
It was stupid of me to think that way, knowing that it was hard enough for me to not be seen between two Alphas. Now I was just making myself prominent. They could probably smell me from where I sat in the house, however far away they were.
I was screwed.
Folding an arm over my face, I rested on the living room floor with Judith for the longest time until she woke up and fussed. I sat up with her then pushed to my feet and walked to the kitchen.
“I could run away, Judith,” I said, opening the cabinet that held her baby food. “I could. Just leave everything here, smear myself in Walker blood and run until I couldn’t anymore.”
It came back to being the only option, but I knew it wasn’t me thinking of it. What I had said about Maggie earlier was different now for me. I already sensed the more trouble I was causing even thinking about it.
Coming clean didn’t seem viable either. Telling Daryl alone wasn’t an option, he’d just come around to liking me, mating with me. Maybe even trusting me.
My heart clenched in my chest at the thought of what Rick would do. Daryl didn’t have a dog in the fight. I sat Judith in her high chair and grabbed a spoon from one of the kitchen drawers.
I knew what I truly had to do, and it wasn’t the basis of running away either. It was another trip, one that I had to make by myself. Forcing my eyes shut, I breathed out heavily and my chest shook in the process.
If I could work up the courage to do it, I knew that I’d be on the right track. But I found myself hesitating in making plans. The front door opened to Michonne and I slammed the spoon to the kitchen counter along with the baby food jar.
“I need some air,” I announced to her, edging out of the kitchen and through the back door before stopping short of the steel wall.
Doubling over against it, I felt my breathing tremble out of me and my eyes water again. I forced my hand against the barricade in a fist once, then twice and over again until my hand shook from the impact.
I looked down to my knuckles, seeing them swollen and speckled with blood. I clenched my hand in then flexed it out before hitting the barricade another four times, each time it shaking and vibrating in low noise.
“What’re you doing out here?” Michonne asked from the back door.
I shook my head, lied. “Nothing.”
“You’re making an awful lot of noise.”
I shrugged. “I know.”
“You’ll attract more Walkers.”
For some reason, her talking was only putting me more on edge. I felt Beta ready to snap, bark at her to stop talking though I had no right to.
“I know.” I repeated.
“What’s up with you?” she asked, and I so badly wanted to say something.
My eyes forced shut as tears streamed down my cheeks. I so badly wanted it from my burden, and Denise knowing didn’t feel like enough. “I’m…” I bit at my tongue then pushed up from the wall, straightening my back and looking Michonne in the eye.
The more I stared at her, I felt her judgement grow. I wondered if she was actually bitten too, and she already knew about me. If she wanted me to say it, I couldn’t force it out of me.
My instinct was shoddy, from the human aspect of myself.
“You’re…” Michonne led for me to answer but I couldn’t get it out, feeling myself choking on it.
If I tried to say anything else, I was worried I’d swallow my tongue. My loyalty didn’t lie with Michonne, only with Rick. And Daryl.
“Losing sleep.” I shook my head. “I should get to bed early tonight.”
Michonne narrowed her eyes at me and I avoided her intense gaze. “Yeah, I guess you should.”
I sat on the front porch way after the sunlight diminished. I waited long past dark for Rick and Daryl to arrive back because I knew that I went to sleep, I’d never remember all I wanted to say.
The front gate squeaked open and a pair of floodlights streaked over the dark streets of Alexandria. I sat forward in the chair and watched at the vehicle wheeled forward with the gate shutting behind it.
Standing up, I stepped off of the porch and started in the direction of the vehicle. I stopped short of the sidewalk, watching as Daryl and Rick went to pick up a stranger from the backseat of the vehicle.
They carried him in the direction of the infirmary, and I forced myself to sit on the curb. I didn’t have to say anything to either of them. I could still leave, maybe find another community and live quietly. The cowardice started to sink in and I bit at my bottom lip. There was no time or place for it. It had to be tonight or I’d never have the guts to bring it up again.
I choked back enough to stand up and walk in the direction of the infirmary only for Daryl and Rick to emerge, still carrying the stranger by his shoulders and feet.
Inside, I still feared the unknown. What Daryl would say when I told him, or how I would calm him down if he already knew.
I folded a knuckle between my teeth as I followed after them, to the apartment row, then hung back as they took the stranger into one of the empties. Rick soon emerged again, and I kept to the shadows. I wasn’t sure who I wanted to talk to first. The lesser of two evils was still an Alpha and I didn’t like those odds.
My hand reached out to grab Rick’s arm just before he passed and my stomach lurched into my throat when he stopped and looked at me. He smiled, an off-putting gesture at the time, then let his mouth fall into its neutral frown.
“You two are good together,” he said.
“You don’t want me,” I choked out around the same time, only to be taken back by his statement. His hand pried mine from his elbow then folded my fingers to my palm.
“I know. We ain’t gotta behave like animals anymore.”
I blinked in confusion at Rick, he was taking the lead of our disunion. I gulped, wondering what else he could say better than me.
“Daryl…he’s good for you. And you, you do something to him.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but still couldn’t find anything to say. Rick reached to brush a chunk of my hair behind my ear then rested his lips to my forehead.
“You’re right, I don’t want you. I want the life with Michonne. I’m sorry this ever happened.” He exhaled against my skin and I was relieved by the chill that came over me. “We were wrong to give in.”
I nodded to what he was saying, he was right in everything. I wanted Daryl, only Daryl. And what happened between Rick and myself only made things messy.
We were silent, in the moment, letting the disconnect of our relationship settle. It felt like I was being set free. My eyes shut as I breathed out.
“That kid is mine. And if you do anything to it, I will kill you with my bare hands.”
My eyes shot open and I feared that if I looked up, there would be bright red irises staring back at me. I froze, feeling my entire body gurgle in a pit of anxiety.
“Rick…” I forced out in a whisper. It wasn’t that I didn’t want this. I wasn’t sure how many chances I’d get to have children of my own. The threat frightened me most.
“I mean it. Anything and I will hunt you down.” His voice was guttural, on the verge of a deepened bark. It wasn’t Rick. “Do you understand, Beta?”
I folded my lips together, my eyes itching to water again as Rick let me go. I nodded lowly and Rick stepped away from me.
“Good.” His voice slowly fell back to a normal tone and my bottom lip quivered as he walked away.
When Rick was far enough away, I ran to the empty apartment where Daryl was still inside. Behind the door, I barricaded myself and folded a hand over my mouth again, fighting back a few deep sniffles.
I heard movement down the short hallway before Daryl leaned his head out of the doorway cautiously.
“Cherokee?” He said, questionably, as if I were the last person to see on this night. His brows slowly knitted together and he took a step in my direction. “What’s wrong?”
My sight was blinded by blurry tears and my hand trembled over my lips. “It’s Rick’s. I’m sorry, it is. But I’m yours.” I wasn’t even sure if anything I was saying was comprehensible, only feeling my throat rattle and seal shut from the threat on my life.
I couldn’t see anymore but felt two arms curl around me tightly. My nose was overwhelmed with the scent of Daryl, his shirt brushing against my fingers. He rested his cheek to my temple and allowed me to whimper into silence before, “I know.”
I didn’t look up, I didn’t say anything else to Daryl. I only waited for him to keep speaking, just until his true form came out.
“It’s okay. I ain’t mad,” he said softly, his gruff voice spilling directly into my ear and soothing my quaking lungs. “We…talked it out. He’s fine with us, knew something was bound to happen anyways.”
It felt like another false relief to hear Daryl say that. There were too many other options that could’ve came first and the fact that I wasn’t dead was anything short of pure luck.
“He…wants the kid, Cherokee.” I could hear the slight tinge of pain in Daryl’s voice, like he was choking something out just the same.
“I…I can’t,” I found myself saying, already knowing how odd it would be for Rick to father another child. It would catch Michonne right on our tracks and I’d be the one answering for it.
Daryl gently shook his head against mine, “We ain’t got much of a choice.”
I clenched my jaw. Daryl was right. There wasn’t any wiggle room aside from my life at stake.
“Why are you even still here? I’ve fucked up before we stood a chance.”
Daryl exhaled, squeezed me a bit tighter in his hold. “I’m stupid too, remember?”
“Cherokee, you coming?” Maggie asked, standing in the doorway of the RV. I snapped to attention, my fixated trance on Judith dissipating like the morning fog.
Carl reached to pinch Judith’s cheek and I found myself shaking my head. “No, I’m hanging back today. Plus, I’m sure there’s too many bodies as is.”
Rick stopped on the other side of Carl and I felt my jaw tense. “You hold down the home while I’m gone.”
More footsteps approached and a pair of rough lips lined by bristle-like facial hair pressed against my ear. “You take it easy in here. I’ll be back soon.”
I didn’t nod, only shut my eyes softly and tried to stash Daryl’s voice within me for when I needed a level head. “You have to go?”
Daryl huffed in amusement, the slight hint of a chuckle. “Who do you think Rick looked to before Michonne? I’m going. Gotta keep an eye on that sketchy bastard.” His lips pressed to my temple and I smirked timidly. Daryl soon left my side and I breathed out until I felt another pair of lips to my opposite ear.
“Be good,” Rick said. I knew he was trying to mean well. Still, I couldn’t release the threat from my mind.
“We will be,” I whispered. “All four of us.”
Rick’s lips brushed against my temple before he rubbed his forehead against it. “Blame me. I’m the asshole in this.”
I stood still, listening to what he said. “I can’t. There were two dogs in this fight.”
“They’re more than just some claim to stake, Rick,” I said lowly.
“I know, believe me.” Rick stopped just before the door and allowed Michonne to climb in the RV before him.
I raised one of Judith’s arms and made her wave after her father and Michonne. “Say bye-bye.”
The door shut as the engine roared to life. I leaned my forehead to Judith’s then reached over to swat Carl’s arm playfully. “What do you got planned today?”
The boy shrugged, tipped his sheriff hat back a bit before leaning in to kiss Judith’s cheek. “Probably gonna go around with Enid.” He nodded at me, wanting me to answer. “What about you?”
I wasn’t sure. Already, I felt refusing to go with the group was worse off than being around Alexandria. “I might pop in, check on Carol. Maybe see if she can teach me how to make those oat-salvaged cookies.”
“If you convince her to make another batch, I’ll take some.” Carl smiled as he started backwards down the road. I tried to swat him again but he avoided it.
“I’m sure you will. You’ve got some sweet tooth, kid.” I could barely believe myself, going on as if nothing of significance happened.
I turned and started towards Carol’s home. I trotted up the stairs and blabbered happily at Judith as I did so, then knocked on her door. “Carol. It’s Cherokee. I was wondering, if you’re up for it, we could…I don’t know, spend the day together.”
The words came from my mouth felt too sweet for the life. I gagged back the urge to call us the two women in Daryl’s life because it wasn’t appropriate to give myself the title. If anything, I was Daryl’s mark, taking on his wolf bite like it was the tags on a club jacket.
Carol opened the front door and looked at me, then Judith. “You didn’t want to go?”
I did. “No. I was just going to be a burden.”
She smirked at me, unconvinced. “I’ve seen you pull more than your fair share.”
I wasn’t about to argue, only shrugged. “Maggie’s just as good, if not better. The trust is there for her.”
“You don’t think people trust you around here?”
“About as far as they could throw me,” I said, amusing myself.
Carol turned sideways in the doorway and gestured me inside. “If you have Rick’s trust, Daryl’s too, you’re getting along great here.”
I scoffed, shifting Judith from one hip to the other. Though she said it to be true, I still thought of whether or not Daryl would trust me in his sleep.
“If that doesn’t work, you’ve got my trust.” Carol shut the door after me then pointed to the living room for me to set down Judith. “I was just about to make a casserole.”
I hid a scrunch of my nose as I sat Judith on the carpet, pulling a couple of building blocks toward her to play with. “What kind?”
“Tuna,” Carol said, her voice chipper. The grimace on my face was noticeable, she laughed at my expense. “We work with what we have. I’ll let you try some.”
“No thanks,” The thought of cooked meat was sickening to my stomach, but the smell wasn’t half bad. Still, I knew that if cooked tuna touched my tongue, I’d throw up.
“Well I know you didn’t come all this way to look at my beautiful face.”
I grinned. “You don’t know, maybe I did.”
The older woman shook her head, “What’s on your mind, Cherokee? Can’t you go to Gabriel with this?”
“Should I really be talking to a priest with a gun? That’s my worst nightmare,” I said, pulling a seat up to the kitchen counter. “Nothing’s on my mind right now, that’s the problem.”
I want to tell you, just to see what you think, but I can’t be sure.
“When has that ever been a bad thing. Can’t you just take the day to yourself, take a moment to breathe?”
“By myself?” I asked, aloud. I’d forgotten what it was like to be by myself again. With Judith glued to my hip and Rick’s house constantly filling with people, Alexandria hosting more that I hadn’t even met yet.
I stared forward, losing myself in the thought of being alone again. It was disorienting. The last few moments I remember of being alone was standing before the gates of Alexandria, begging for help.
The first few moments were spent washing my family’s blood from my face. I couldn’t remember the medium between the extremes, only thinking back to the times I lathered my hands in blood and fought off pairs of people from ambushing me.
“Ain’t nothing sadder than a feral cat thinking it’s domestic,” I said under my breath, remembering what a stranger had said to me in passing.
More so, after I slashed one of his men’s throats and blinked through the crimson tears formed on my lashes.
“Now, you think you’re gonna find someone to take you in like that?” The man said, holding his hands up in defense as I pointed a gun at him. “Ain’t nothing sadder than a feral cat thinking it’s domestic.”
I remembered smiling at him, then putting my gun away before punching one of his men closing in on me. I stole one of their bags, took off running and I couldn’t remember how far I got until I stopped.
“I should’ve gone with them,” I said to Carol after a long moment of staring in the distance. I reached to rub my eyes then sat forward. “I’m sure Daryl hadn’t told you the news.”
As if it were Daryl’s place. It barely felt like mine.
Carol turned to the oven, slid the glass dish on a rack and closed it behind her before setting the timer. “But he did.”
I tilted my head, narrowed my eyes. “He wouldn’t.”
“I don’t think you know Daryl as well as you think.” Carol raised a shoulder and she was right. But I wanted to learn. “He’s…sweet, when he wants to be. He means well.”
I smiled down at my fingers, picking the dirt under my nails. “Yeah. He does.”
“He means something to you.”
A lot more than I can explain. I shrugged. “Maybe a little.”
“Cherokee,” Carol said, her tone softer like she was trying to make me feel better about something. Or maybe she was coaxing me to admit it.
“It’s whatever. He took me in,” I said, and it felt like I was lying. It wasn’t the entirety. He did mean something more to me, but I couldn’t place it.
My shoulder started to burn, agitating me, and I reached to scratch it. The irritancy subsided and I tried not to think too much into it.
“He did more than that, didn’t he? He convinced Rick to let you stay.”
That was more on my part, and not even me. I considered giving Daryl that.
“He took you on a couple runs and brought you back.”
I forced him into most of those.
“He taught you how to hunt.” Carol pointed at me before washing her hands in the sink and leaning in the doorway to check on Judith. She was forcing two blocks together to make a clacking noise. “You don’t know it but Daryl’s a gentle man. You might have tamed the man.”
She looked at me, her eyebrows raised and her head tilted in my direction like she was making me think about it. I opened my mouth, then turned to hide a smile in my shoulder.
“Not possible. Have you met Daryl? He’s gotten rabies before.”
“And he got over it.” Carol laughed, patting at my bitten shoulder covered by my jacket.
I couldn’t think any more about him, bringing him up was solidifying that I’d made the wrong choice to stay. “What was the name of that guy they took with them? The intruder?”
After standing in the empty apartment with Daryl, he returned to find the stranger missing. He’d slipped his bounds and dropped from a third-story window. I figured he’d only ran away, but Daryl insisted that we scout out the night streets for the man.
In all that time, even after finding him on the stairs in Rick’s home with Carl glaring at him and pointing a gun at him, I never got wind of the man’s name.
“Paul, but he said his friends called him Jesus.”
“Those are some stupid friends,” I said, sliding to my feet and walking back to the living room. I lowered myself to the carpet before Judith, rested on my stomach while I watched her drag a long red block back and forth. “And he came from the Hilltop?”
“That’s what he said.” I couldn’t see Carol from where I rested, but I heard the thumping of the cutting board.
“Do you need my help?” I asked, raising up to look in the kitchen after her.
“No, stay in there. I’m just finishing up in here.”
Returning to my place, I kicked my feet up into the air and stared at Judith. “You think they’ll be able to trade?”
“Rick can be…persuasive in his methods.”
I didn’t respond to Carol, only shook my head and continued staring at the baby. “Don’t I know it.” I whispered to the kid.
I sat on the porch with Carol the next day, after staying the night in Rick’s home, holding Judith in my jacket while she slept soundly. We watched the RV return through the gate while I nibbled timidly at the pink cookie Carol gave me.
“You said it’s made of beets?” I asked, holding my fingers over my mouth.
She nodded, staring at her neighbors eating similar cookies. “And acorns.” I took another bite of my cookie, then glanced down at Judith before Carol stood up to talk to Rick in the RV.
“We’re having a meeting in the church,” he said, looking over Carol’s shoulder to me on the porch and back. “We’re gonna have to fight.”
I pushed to my feet as Rick drove the RV out of the way of the street, then stopped behind Carol. She turned over her shoulder, gave me a disconnected stare before excusing herself with a single cookie in a Tupperware.
I looked down at Judith, then in the direction of the church and started that way. I knew I wasn’t pulling as much of my share, despite Carol’s reassurances. She said that I’d work myself to the bone, but I could only remember the months on end that I slept and I knew I had to make up for it.
The large double-oak doors were propped open, and the pews were already filled with a few from the main group. Morgan sat close to the back, glanced in my direction and gave me a polite nod. Maggie and Glenn sat close to one another, involved in their own conversation.
Abraham and Eugene sat close to one another toward the front, but Daryl sat in the front pew, arm draped over the back of it, like he was reserving as much space for himself.
I stopped in the aisle, stared down at him and waited for him to glance in my direction.
“Is this seat taken?” I asked, motioning with a nod to the empty row to his left.
Daryl didn’t look at me, only shifted whatever he had stashed in his mouth and clenched a fist to his pants. “You shouldn’t be in here.”
“I didn’t want to leave her alone, and I didn’t know who else to ask…”
“No, Cherokee,” he said, finally moving his head to look at me from the corner of his eye. “I mean you.”
“Why not?” I asked, feeling my face contort in a grimace of defiance.
Daryl returned his stare forward, his voice lowered slightly so the others couldn’t hear him. “You ain’t fighting. It’s too dangerous.”
I bit at the tip of my tongue to stop myself from getting too upset. I sat next to him and leaned into his shoulder while looking around to the rest of the community, waiting for Rick to come in.
“I’m doing this. I’ve let too many opportunities to pull my weight go past.”
He shook his head, slowly shut his eyes. “You don’t have to do this. I…I can’t let you.”
Narrowing my eyes at Daryl’s profile, I rested my chin to his shoulder. “You don’t have to ‘let’ me, Daryl. I’m doing this.”
Daryl’s chest rose and fell with a deep breath. He opened his eyes and turned to me, his lips brushing against my hairline. “Why do you have to do this, Cherokee?”
I scoffed lowly. “It’s just in me. I need to do this. Show I’m not just a favorite.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call you my favorite right now.”
I forced a fist into Daryl’s side gently and his lips curled into a smirk.
“You’re not making it any better.”
“I’m staying,” I said, “And I’m going out there. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t need protection.”
Daryl opened his mouth to say something else but the church doors slammed close and Rick paced down the middle aisle to stand on the podium. Everyone stared in his direction, watching as the man folded his hands to his hips and started to walk the first step.
I sat up straight, turning my attention to Rick as Daryl came around to doing the same after staring at me.
Rick did his best to convince most of the group that we needed to defend ourselves from the impending threat. The Saviors, he called them. The entirety of the group was convinced immediately, and I wasn’t too far behind them.
With Judith holding onto me while she snoozed, it didn’t take much. It was for the people in the community who couldn’t fight, and the future of Judith and Maggie’s child. My involvement would also solidify a place for my kid in the community. It was settled.
I reached for Daryl’s knee and patted it reassuringly before Rick asked for those who wanted to speak up. Slowly, each pew turned around as they heard someone shift around in the back. I looked over my shoulder as Daryl did, seeing Morgan standing in the back of the church.
“You’re sure we can do it? We can beat them?” he asked.
Rick rested his hands on his hips, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. “What this group has done, what we’ve learned, what we’ve become, all of us…yes, I’m sure.”
“Then all we have to do is just tell them that.”
“They don’t compromise,” Rick said, and I glanced in his direction before returning my attention to Morgan walking up the aisle.
“This isn’t a compromise. It’s a choice you give them. It’s a way out, for them and for us.”
We try and talk to the Saviors, we give up our advantage, our safety.” Rick looked around to the lot of us. “No, we have to come for them before they come for us.”
I found myself agreeing with Rick, only thinking of the safety we were putting in jeopardy by trying to talk the Saviors down.
“We can’t leave them alive.” Rick continued and I gulped at that statement. The blood on my hands had never been a problem before, it was reeling back from instinct.
“Where there’s life, there’s possibility.” Morgan rebutted, and I drew myself out of my darkened thought to rest my chin on top of Judith’s forehead.
The agitation in Rick was starting to show, his shoulders rolling back while a low rumble started under his ribs. “Of them hitting us. We’re not trapped in this. None of you are trapped in this.” He returned his voice to his normal volume, acknowledging the entirety of the church.
Rick turned back to Morgan. “Morgan, they always come back.”
“Come back when they’re dead, too.” Morgan muttered lowly then turned and started for the door.
“Yeah, we’ll stop them. We have before.”
“I’m not talking about the walkers,” Morgan added cryptically, and I turned to look back at him before Daryl tapped my shoulder.
“Morgan wants to talk to them first,” Rick said, talking to the entirety of the group once more. “I think that would be a mistake, but it’s not up to me. I’ll discuss it with the people on guard now, and Michonne can talk to the people at home, but who else wants to approach the Saviors, talk to them first? What happened here, we won’t let that happen again.”
“I won’t,” Daryl spoke up and snapped my attention to him, saw his jaw tense before Rick nodded.
The rest of the church was quiet, waiting for the meeting to adjourn since no one else would follow Morgan’s approach. It didn’t feel final enough to me, it terrified me as to what tricks the Saviors had up their sleeves if we tried talking to them.
“Looks like it’s settled. We know exactly what this is,” Rick said, looking to each member of the group. “We don’t shy from it, we live. We kill them all.” His gaze stopped on the front pew, at me and Daryl.
I nodded in agreement just as Daryl did.
“We don’t all have to kill.” He looked towards the back of the church to Morgan, stepping down from the podium and making his way to the double doors. “But if people are gonna stay here they do have to accept it.”
I sat on the floor of one of the empty apartments, looking around in the dim lantern light at the setup. Daryl had made a convenient hideout for himself, though he never seemed to use it. He was always needed, called upon. It felt more of a waste of space than before.
“Cherokee,” Daryl began, lowering himself to sit on the mattress in the corner of the room. He reached for his boot laces, undid them, before popping them from his feet with his hands.
“Don’t start,” I said, folding my arms over my knees brought up to my chest. I hid a groan, resting my forehead to my kneecaps and squeezing my eyes shut. “You can’t make me stay here, Daryl. Orders or no orders.”
“You need manpower.” I snapped my head up to look at Daryl. He shrugged off his jacket and tossed it aside.
I kicked off my shoes then wiggled my toes to the cold concrete laid down.
“We’ve got enough of it.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, tilted my head in suspicion. “You’ve got men who’ve never killed men before. I’d be useful. I won’t hesitate.”
“And that’s the worst part. What if one of those fucks tries to get the one-up on you? You could really get hurt.”
Shrugging, I turned away from him. “I can heal.”
“You’re still not getting it,” Daryl said, and from the tone of his voice I could tell he was agitated. The thumping in his chest was strong-willed and fast-paced. “You think Rick’s gonna let you go out there either? I’m surprised he even let you in the meeting.”
“He can’t order me around either, you know. Beta doesn’t mean lap bitch.”
The man scoffed, turned away from me with a shake of his head. “You’re bullheaded.”
“Yeah, well so are you,” I said, staring out of the low window to the street by the gate.
The room was silent but my ears were occupied by Daryl’s steady breathing, his heart still chugging behind his ribs. He wasn’t going to be happy with me fully, unless I stayed behind. But I couldn’t do that.
It was already in me to fight and now I had the chance to. The thought of facing the Saviors again was encapsulating me, fueling me to do something.
“I can keep watch on perimeter,” I said finally, seeing how Daryl wasn’t going to compromise. Standing on the sidelines was basically staying at home with a gun. Only if he wanted to check on me, he wouldn’t have to travel far. “I’ll be right under your nose.”
I looked over to Daryl, seeing his silhouette stretch against the far drywall. Turning over to my hands and knees, I crawled in his direction.
“You might not like it, but it’s happening.” I stopped before him, reached to cup his cheek and turned him to look at me. “Daryl, I’m not fragile. You know this. If I want to fight, I’m going to fight.”
Daryl looked down at me, his green eyes catching the amber light of the lantern. The ring around his eyes was at their thinnest, just as the moon was, and he exhaled.
“You won’t go acting stupid, will you? Running towards the fight?”
I smiled softly, reared up on my knees and leaned into Daryl. “Of course, I will. Go towards the gunfire, right?”
Daryl’s top lip curled in irritancy before his hands went for my hips and pulled me closer, onto his lap. “You better not.”
I brushed my lips against his, pulling just far enough away to make him grumble lowly. “You can’t tell me what to do.”
He rested his forehead to mine and shut his eyes. “I’m serious.”
I dropped my hands to his shoulders, taking in a deep breath of his dominant scent. “I know. I’ll be careful.”
I felt Daryl’s head jerk lightly in a nod and I continued to grin.
“Just because I know you like me.”
“Shut up,” Daryl said, and I could hear the slight embarrassment in him. The heat from his cheeks radiated to mine and I was giddy to smile even wider.
I leaned in to peck Daryl’s lips, feeling his beard bristle against my face. My arms curled around his neck as his hands circled to my back, pressing me closer to him. One of my hands slipped down Daryl’s chest and fumbled to unfasten his shirt only for his hand to grab my wrist.
I pulled away from Daryl, looking at him staring at me. Reaching up, I combed the strands of hair from his face then exhaled. “It’s going to be okay. I promise, so long as you trust me.”
He leaned in again, his lips touching mine as his hands reached up to hold my face. I straddled his lap, my hand slipping under his shirt. I stopped, my fingers twitching against his skin before pulling my hand back.
Daryl’s hand pressed over mine, keeping my fingers against his bitemark scar. I pulled away from his kiss, nuzzled my nose against his as my breath shivered out of me. My fingers shyly outlined the imprint of teeth on his skin, dipping in the molars and following the curve of it.
Even from the touch of his scar, I knew we weren’t from the same maker. I pressed my hand to the middle of his scar, feeling the soft skin there as my fingers continued to trace over the oval set of teeth marks. He leaned into my lips again and I kissed him tenderly, my other hand tugging to open his shirt.
“D-don’t,” he whispered, looking down at my hands resting on his chest. His shirt was halfway undone and my fingers were on his skin.
I looked into Daryl’s face, furrowed my brows at me. “Why?”
“Just…don’t.” His hands grabbed my wrists and set them on my knees.
I didn’t understand his sudden want to stop, I was close to seeing his scar again but he wanted me to stop. “Okay.”
I climbed off Daryl, crawled around him to lie on my side and nudged my foot to his side. He looked over his shoulder with a deep exhale, then reached to mess with his shirt more.
Resting my head on my folded arm, I watched his silhouette move along the far wall. Half of Daryl’s body was illuminated by the lantern as he shrugged his shirt from his back.
I looked over at him, slowly sitting up as a part of his skin glistened in the light. “Daryl.” My hand reached out to touch at the healed-in scar across his shoulder.
Daryl shrugged off the other side of his shirt, revealing the rest of the lived-in scars, some long and deep while others were circular and small. The ink on his back barely kept my eyes away long enough as I kneeled and rested my hands to his shoulders.
They ran down his back, soft and slow, and a breath fell out of Daryl as if he was exhausted. I couldn’t find any words to say, only staring at the entirety of scars under my fingertips.
Daryl jerked his shoulders away in a flinch. “It ain’t a big deal no more.”
I stammered to answer but Daryl looked over his shoulder at me. I rested my chin to his shoulder, my hands still on the small of his back. “What happened? Is this from…” I balled my fists against his skin.
Daryl shook his head, folding his arms over his thighs. “No. I wish.” He exhaled again, trying to work up what he was going to say next. “It’s from my redneck bastard of a dad.”
I looked down Daryl’s back again, my forehead on his shoulder and I noted how deep some of the scars were. They were faded against his tanned skin and some healed darker because they were deeper compared to the welping.
Still, no words came from my mouth and I stared in shock, thinking of how low someone would have to go to harm their child. I pulled both of my arms up and curled them around Daryl, nuzzling my face into his neck and bracing some of my weight to his back.
His rough hand rested on my head. “I told you, it ain’t a big deal.”
I could only nod at him, knowing that he didn’t show me to feel bad for him. “It isn’t, I know.” Still, I felt overwhelmed with the thought that Daryl was beaten like a dog but never acted in the way.
I sat in silence, only holding onto Daryl as if he’d disappear in the morning. He let me, for a short period before shrugging me off of him and crawling into bed.
He draped an arm over me and stared into my eyes. “I mean it.”
“I don’t pity you, Daryl. You’re not a charity case,” I said, reaching up to rub my knuckles against his scruff.
Daryl’s nostrils flared as he grunted, “Good.” He rested his head to my chest and I combed my fingers through his hair until he fell asleep.
Daryl’s lips pressed to my temple before running off. His hand reached for mine, pinching at my palm before leaving to cut a Savior’s throat. The blood rushed out of the wound and tainted the night air much more than the drying Walker ooze on the road did.
It made the night itself electric, and my body buzzed in anticipation only standing on perimeter. I kept to the back of Maggie and Carol’s patrol, holding the pistol in both hands while the blood in the air started to grow stale.
An alarm went off in the middle of the satellite compound, causing my ears to ring as it resounded through the fields and scarce forest around it.
“They need our help,” Maggie said, picking up her rifle and holding it defensively. The noise of the alarm brought forth a lone Walker.
I patted my pocket to unsheathe my knife but Carol beat me to it, disposing of the monster with a quick jab to its head.
“You are staying here,” Carol said, looking to Maggie then over her shoulder to me. “Both of you.”
“Bullshit I am.” I growled in Carol’s direction, looking down at my pistol before popping out the cylinder and looking at the amount of ammunition I had. Jamming it back into place, I looked to Maggie and gave her a nod.
Her gaze went from me to focusing on Carol, her mouth trembling as if she was about to argue until I heard the faint sound of rustling ahead. I drew my pistol up, pointed it over Maggie’s shoulder to a stranger as he withdrew his gun.
Carol drew her gun at the same man but focused her aim on the man’s arm and fired before I could. The man fell to the forest floor and Maggie rushed for him while Carol stepped after her, urging for us to get back to the vehicles.
I stepped, only to hear more rustling behind me. As I brought my pistol up to turn around, I felt a cool metal against my temple. Fuck.
“Stop, or she’s dead.” The woman to my left ordered. I parted my hands from my pistol, raised both of them up in defense while I glanced over to see the redhead staring at Maggie.
I looked over to see another woman pointing her weapon in Maggie’s face and exhaled, knowing that now wouldn’t be a time to fight.
“Guns, knives on the ground now,” the redhead said, and I slowly bent to put my pistol on the ground. I didn’t bother unsheathing my knife from my jacket pocket this time.
“Nice jacket,” a third woman said, on Maggie’s right as she turned around to the redhead.
“For a murderous bitch,” the second woman said and I snarled at her comment.
“Well, we’ll take it off her before we shoot her.” The woman with the gun to my temple said coolly. The adrenaline in my body started to condense in the center of my chest and I felt like I could take down the entirety around me.
I’d been through it before, but then I was only following Daryl’s lead. He was willing enough to be led around in the char forest, so I imitated him. Now it was my own lead.
Carol shrugged off her rifle and set it to the forest floor after Maggie did with her pistol. They gave each other a solemn look before Maggie glared back to me and I slowly shook my head.
The night rolled into early day with the familiar, air-tainting smell of blood and gunpowder along with the mist from the gray sky. The two women who were focused on Maggie helped the injured man to his feet before leaning him against a tree.
The oldest woman of the three, who reeked of something rotting inside along with nicotine, tried to stop the excessive blood from the man’s wound while he complained at her touch.
“It’s cutting off my circulation,” he said between whines of pain. I scoffed lowly at him, looking over my shoulder at him. “The fuck you looking at, bitch?”
I straightened up, swallowing back the urge to rush over and throttle the man’s neck, and turned forward to look through the chain-link fence.
“Well sport, it’s supposed to.”
I timidly took a step forward as I heard the familiar rumble of Daryl’s bike echo against the concrete walls of the compound.
“Not another step,” the dark-haired woman said lowly, and I heard a hammer clicking over my shoulder.
I dropped my head slightly, still looking forward to see Daryl tackling a man to the ground. My heart rushed and dropped as he leveled the man, climbing on top of him and clocking him in the face.
I folded my hand over my chest, feeling my breath leave me, even in the situation I found myself in. The rest of the group gathered around the man on the ground and Rick pointed his gun in the man’s face.
“It’s Primo.” The main woman swore under her breath, still staring through the binoculars. “They’ve got him. Give me the walkie.”
The man asked what was happening but the main woman didn’t answer, only clicking the button on the walkie and ordering, over the static, for Rick to lower his gun. The group looked around, in search of where the voice was coming from, but I could hear the echo coming from the ground by the man.
“You, with the Colt Python.” The woman ordered. “All of you, lower your weapons right now.” She released the button of the transceiver and Rick bent down to pick up the one by his feet.
The static hissed over the walkie before Rick spoke up, “Come on out. Let’s talk.”
I pressed my lips together. Don’t do this now, Rick.
The older woman spoke up, asking how many were there.
“Eight in sight. Too many.”
I looked over to Maggie and Carol and back through the chain-link fence.
“No, we can take them. We took more,” the man said, and I bit back a scoff. He had to be new, or at least ignorant, to think that way.
The woman ignored him, clicked the button of the transceiver and said that they could talk without coming forward. She dropped the binoculars, looked over to the three of us and ordered for our names.
I bit at my inside lips, knowing that as soon as I uttered my name, rational thought would be on its way out. I glanced back over to Maggie, then Carol. I almost shook my head as the woman ordered our names a second time.
“I’m Maggie, she’s Carol, that’s Cherokee.”
I huffed in defeat, dropping my hand from my chest and pressing my hands into my pockets.
“We’ve got a Carol, a Maggie and a Cherokee,” the woman said over the transceiver. My name came out slower than the first two and I was already upset by Daryl snapping his head up and looking around fervently. “I’m thinking that’s something you want to chat about.”
“We’re gonna work this out right now, and it’s going to go our way.” The woman clicked off the transceiver again and I watched as Rick looked over to Daryl then let the static hiss.
Daryl and Glenn picked up Primo and held a gun to the back of his head.
“You can see we have one of yours,” Rick said. Glenn pulled out his pistol and pointed it to the man’s temple. “We’ll trade.”
I snapped up again and looked between Rick to the woman as she let the static hiss then responded, telling him that she was listening.
“First I want to talk to Maggie, Carol and Cherokee, make sure they’re all right.”
My gaze diverted from the woman holding the walkie and binoculars to the Walker approaching the group. The oldest woman brandished her knife and my attention was split between her and the redhead turning to us.
“I’m gonna put you on. You say you’re fine. I’ll know if you try anything else,” she said, stepping towards us with her finger off of the transceiver button.
She grabbed Carol by the jacket, pulled her towards the walkie as she pushed the button. I lurched forward slightly in concern, only for the dark-haired woman to wave her pistol in my face and put me back in my place.
“Rick, it’s Carol. I’m fine, but…” Carol said before the redhead pushed her away, releasing the button, before grabbing Maggie next.
“Rick, it’s Maggie. We’re all okay. We’ll figure this…” Maggie added before the redhead ordered her to shut up and grabbed my jacket next.
I looked to the transceiver in the woman’s hand as she ordered me to speak. My mouth trembled while my insides twisted. I took a deep breath. “Rick, it’s Cherokee. Worry about them, not me…”
The redhead pushed me away with a quirk of her brows. Both Carol and Maggie looked over to me and I looked to the ground.
“You looking for a death wish?” The dark-haired woman asked and I didn’t answer. She stepped away from us and brandished her own knife as another Walker approached.
“You have your proof. Let’s talk.”
“Alright, this is the deal right here,” Rick said over the receiver. “Let them go, you can have your guy back and live.”
“Three for one, that’s not much of a trade.” The woman responded and I scoffed under my breath. Believe me, it’s a steal.
The dark-haired woman returned with her gun pointed at the three of us. I looked fully at her, sized her up and figured I could take her.
“You don’t have another choice or you would’ve done something about it already.” Rick noted. I nodded in response and smirked lowly before straightening up.
“He’s not gonna listen to you, you know. Not when you have three chips but no ammo.” I spoke up. Carol and Maggie looked at me with their eyes widened.
“You are looking for a death wish,” the dark-haired woman said.
“We have to get him back,” the man added as the redhead dropped her binoculars to her chest. She looked over to me as if she hadn’t heard me speaking. “Primo can take care of himself.”
“Make an example out of me,” I said, and both women to my left opened their mouths to protest. I gave them a harsh look and Maggie clammed up. Carol couldn’t let it go.
“Don’t listen to her,” Carol added. I could see her trying to work an angle but I was ready to dismiss her.
The man whined that Primo could patch him up but I was side-eyeing the dark-haired woman to my right.
“Don’t do this,” Carol whispered in my direction. The man turned to her, calling her a bitch and I grit my teeth.
“You lost your balls, Paula,” he said. “You should’ve shot her in the head so they could hear her die.”
I snarled at him. “You look like the neutered one to me. Take one step near her and I’ll strangle you with your own intestine.” I stepped forward, heard the hammer click over my right shoulder and stepped back.
Carol and Maggie looked at me, more concerned that I would ruin their chances but I was only heightening them.
“If you could just shut up,” Paula said stiffly, “I’ll solve this.”
I raised my brows as my nose twitched to the sweat beading on the back of Paula’s neck. I closed my eyes, trying to stick it in my memory, before opening my eyes again.
“Then make the deal or we go in,” the man said.
The older woman spoke up, “She said shut up, so shut it.” She looked over to me then back at the man. “You should be glad she doesn’t have a sack of gonads to trip over.”
I grinned softly and felt Maggie and Carol’s eyes on me, contorting in confusion at what kind of maniac I was.
“Look, I know you’re talking it over. It’s a fair trade…” Rick said over the transceiver as Paula picked up her binoculars again.
“It’s not. If he’s important to you, these two are important to him,” I said, nodding over to Carol and Maggie. “That’s fair. I’ll only slow you down.”
“Just come out, we do this, we all walk away.” Rick continued but I shook my head. I knew that if Carol could, she’d reach over and slam her hand over my mouth.
I felt her thinking that I was going to leave Daryl this way, by mouthing off, but I was trying to help them through this. I shut my eyes, knowing that Daryl wanted me out of trouble, but here I was, putting myself in the middle of it.
“Smug prick,” the dark-haired woman said, her head lolling in disbelief. Carol narrowed her eyes at me and I didn’t agree with the woman. “He must think we’re stupid.”
“That’s a good thing,” Paula said.
I shifted the weight between my legs as Maggie leaned towards me. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Giving us the advantage. Trust me,” I whispered quickly before rolling my shoulders back.
The transceiver hissed again and Rick spoke. “Do we have a deal.”
From the distance, another Walker approached with a low hiss.
“I’ll get back to you,” Paula said, turning to the dark-haired woman with a nod.
The woman set her gun to her hip and started towards the three of us. I quickly reached for my knife and slid it into my waistband as she tugged the bottom of my jacket over my head.
My gaze reverted to my boots as the snarling got closer until it seized with the sheathing of a blade. One by one, she pushed us forward and I found my arm being gripped by the oldest woman, the one that reeked worse than death.
I sniffed intently, trying to pinpoint where the woman with the gun was. She stood behind Maggie, to my left and I closed my eyes trying to hear her heartbeat. The sonar mapped behind my eyes rippled with the rings from her chest thumping, along with her footsteps.
I listened to the instruction of movement until I felt gravel under my feet. Opening my eyes, I saw the edge of a road and heard a car door jar open. Now was my last chance if I could be any help to the group, otherwise I’d end up a liability.
Carol was forced into the car after the oldest woman let me go. The dark-haired woman stood behind me, pushing me forward to slide into the backseat after Maggie. I felt my heart speed up while the adrenaline started to rush to my fingertips.
I took a deep breath and keeled over, faking an intense pain in my stomach. The dark-haired woman pushed at my back, then leaned to see what was wrong with me before I jerked up and forced the back of my head to the front of her face.
She stumbled back and I could hear Paula from the front seat of the car to take care of it. Carol’s heartbeat flooded my ears and I knew that I’d have to apologize immensely when this was all over.
I flipped my jacket from my head and held my hand out to let Carol and Maggie that I was okay, that it was going to be okay. But by the look on their faces, I knew they didn’t believe me.
Turning around, I rushed for the woman and tackled her to the side of the road, kneeling over her with my fists raised, only waiting for the moment to fake a strike. She fumbled for her gun on her hip and I hid a smirk on my face as she stabilized it in both hands.
Reaching for her weapon, I forced it to the meeting of my ribs. If anything, it’d stop halfway through my skin, hitting my diaphragm before puncturing my stomach. The dark-haired woman looked up at me then flinched and fired. I could only presume that she was frightened by the yellow glint in my eye.
I gasped outwardly, groaned and reached for the hole that was now in my shirt. Blood started to ooze between my fingertips and I couldn’t lie, it still fucking hurt. I looked down at my wound, knowing how much Daryl would disapprove of such bullheadedness, and rolled off of the girl.
I rested on my back, staring up at the sky as the mist continued to come down. The woman scrambled to her feet and Paula yelled at her to get in the car. Carol and Maggie’s tears hinted in the damp air. I was a jackass.
The car revved before speeding off down the road and I forced myself to sit up as I watched them drive away.
“Shit,” I said, pulling my hand away from my wound to see the bullet in my palm. I tugged my shirt up, tucking it under my chin while I looked down at the bullet hole retracting on itself. The blood stopped flowing out of it but the waistband of my pants was soaked. I shook my head at myself. I was definitely a jackass.
I stood up, folding my shirt back down before zipping my jacket up in case the group caught up to me. Looking over my shoulder, I heard the low hiss of a Walker approaching. I shook my head, wiped my hand against the bark of a tree and started walking down the road in the direction of Carol and Maggie.
I picked up my feet, trying to keep my strength up until my ribs stopped hurting. I started running down the road, only replaying what I just did for the sake of my friends. I felt that I had to get the beating up of myself over with, knowing that when Daryl found out, he’d be next. Then Carol if I didn’t terrify her when I showed up again.
I stopped in the middle of the road to see the car that Carol and Maggie were transported in, abandoned. The four doors of the vehicle were shut but the windows were rolled down, as if begging for some stranger to take off with it. I crept towards it, my nose twitching to catch onto the scents that I definitely had to track.
If it came down to it, I’d kill the dark-haired woman first. I don’t think she knew how badly bullet hurt my ribs. I peered into the driver’s window, sniffing at the main woman’s, Paula’s, remaining scent.
Closing my eyes, I could see the trail of musk weave through the trees, down from the bridge. My eyes flashed open at the sound of hissing, another Walker nearby. I glanced over the bridge overlooking a river and noticed the legless Walker clawing its way from the water.
Stupid. I shook my head and continued on the trail after Carol and Maggie. The entire trek I thought of what to say when I saw them, what I would have to explain for them to truly believe me.
My only hope was that Daryl or Rick would divert the conversation if they ever picked up after me and not too far behind. It wasn’t the most important thing to worry about at the time, though. I still had to figure out how to get in to wherever I was headed.
Halfway through the forest, I stopped at a clearing paved with gravel. In the distance, a single building stood with only one entrance. The smell that came from it overwhelmed the trail I was on, old blood and Walker stench wafted from the place.
It had to be it. There was no other place to go, not with the condition of the whining man or the concussed dark-haired woman. I stepped towards the building, then decided to edge around it, looking for another way in.
The front door would’ve been too easy and I knew that if they knew I wasn’t dead, they’d try their hardest to kill me. I stopped halfway to the back of the building, looking up the wall I was braced against for vent or entrance less conspicuous than a door.
A window, smudged with dark, was high enough up for me to reach by a jump. I pressed my hand to the glass, hoping the frame would budge, but it didn’t. I could only stare through the chicken wire to see an empty, blood-stained room and a sunlit hallway.
I let myself down with a huff, then pulled myself up again. This time, I lined my fingers to the window frame and slowly pried it open with a soft creak. As soon as I did that, I could hear footsteps echoing the hall and I ducked out of sight until they receded.
Pulling myself up a third time, I wedged myself through the window opening and braced myself to drop to the floor beneath me. I scrambled to my feet and ducked to the short wall by the open door in case anyone wanted to check on the noise. I exhaled softly in relief when no one did.
I listened intently for footsteps through the hallway, only for there to be none. The only sounds I could hear were Walkers snarling and muffled speaking in a nearby room. I carefully slid out of the room and down the hallway, only to stop and tiptoe at the sight of impaled Walkers.
The reek of fresh death was near and I could only assume it was the old woman. I grabbed hold of my knife from my waistband and crept up behind her. In a swift movement, I folded a hand over her mouth and pressed my lips to her ear.
“Make a fucking noise, I’ll tear out your windpipe.” I threatened. She didn’t mumble, only nodded, and I nodded in return before piercing her neck with the blade of my knife and doing the same for her temple.
I set her on the floor softly, to not make any noise, then kicked her in the direction of the Walkers. Their snarling cranked up to a conglomerate roar and I felt bad for the bastards, if only for a moment, because they couldn’t take the bait.
I turned around, figuring that the old woman’s way was a dead end and stopped when I heard voices speaking again. The soft static of a transceiver echoed through one of the cells and I figured that was where Paula was. Still listening around, I heard a few more muffled voices in an opposite room. I counted only four people, and I had taken out the fifth one.
The man was still somewhere around. He had to be the least of my worries, being the weakest even compared to the sick one. My plan was to find the dark-haired woman next. Scents alluded me and I could barely sort my nose away from the ever-present stench of slaughter within the building.
I crept past another door then stopped, pressing my ear to the door and hearing Maggie’s voice, almost clear as day. Then the woman’s. I looked around, thinking of what I could do to draw her out. Opening my mouth, I uttered a guttural noise, something that sounded close to a Walker’s snarl.
At the same time, I clawed a hand to the door, making it seem that the monster wouldn’t seize from the people hidden inside. The woman huffed, telling Maggie to sit tight while she got rid of the nuisance outside of the door. I eased away from the door, still making the noises until the woman opened it.
I lashed out, my knife going for her ankles before my leg swept out and tripped her to the floor. She braced the pavement with an arm, her other reaching for her gun as I climbed on top of her.
The look on her face was contorted, confusion and anger mixing into one fluid emotion. I didn’t let her feel it long, though, swiping my blade against the soft skin of her neck and letting her blood ooze out. A few spurts dripped onto my face and I reached with my jacket to wipe them away.
With a deep breath in, I drove my knife into the woman’s forehead and wiggled at the handle when it got stuck.
“Cherokee?” Maggie asked, surprise deep in her voice. I looked up to see her leaning in her chair at me, her hands bound and set in her lap. Her mouth stammered to ask questions, ones that I would be much more willing to answer after we left.
I pressed a finger to my lips to hush her, then forced my hand to the corpse’s face and jerked the knife out. Getting to my feet, I crawled over to Maggie and cut her hands free of the duct tape secured around them. “Are you okay?” I asked, getting to my feet and helping Maggie up.
She nodded. “I’m fine. Let’s get Carol.”
I pressed my lips together, not judging her adamancy to help our other. Returning to the girl on the floor, I pulled her gun from her hip and handed it to Maggie. She took it in both hands then followed me out of the room.
I stopped in the doorway, hearing footsteps down the hallway. Without anyone talking, I wasn’t sure where to go next in order to find Carol.
“This way,” Maggie said, slipping past me and walking towards the sound of footsteps. My heart started thumping harder, only used to getting a leg up on enemies by maintaining the element of surprise.
I pressed my back against one of the walls along the corridor and Maggie soon followed my lead. She stopped, causing me to do the same, before reaching for the door in front of us.
I held my knife out defensively, unsure what else I could do to avoid another bullet wound. Maggie forced the door open then rushed inside. I followed after her, shutting the door back behind me and locked eyes with Carol standing across the room, sawing her hand bounds with a rosary.
Her face went pale and she stopped in her task the more she stared in my direction. It was the face I feared, one that let me know how much I’d screwed up with trying to save them.
Maggie looked from Carol then to me and I saw, from the corner of my eyes, her shoulders relax as if she’d realized what just happened to me. My hands went up defensively, knife still in hand, as their eyes scanned over me inquisitively.
“I can explain…later,” I said, glancing down to my zipped-up jacket and my drying blood on my waistband. As I looked up to both of them, I felt a pair of arms around my neck. My face was forced into Carol’s shoulder and I chalked it up as a remedial hug given Carol’s physical situation.
Her bound hands rested at the back of my neck and I felt her rest her cheek to my temple. “You’re a stupid girl, you know that?”
I simply agreed with Carol then let her shrug her arms from me and I cut her hands free. Maggie walked across the room, peering down at the dead body in the corner. Carol caught up with her and stared down at the corpse as well.
“He bled out,” Carol said.
I huffed. At least that’s one less to worry about. Maggie reached down and patted the dead man’s pockets before standing up again with a pair of steel cuffs in hand.
“He’s about to turn,” Maggie added.
While the two took their time gazing at the dead man, I unzipped my jacket and lifted my shirt to see the wound completely healed, without a scar. I returned my attention to the task at hand with Maggie cuffing the dead man and Carol grabbing his feet as they dragged him toward the door.
They stopped, dropped the man back down then cuffed him to a vertical pole in that corner of the room before waiting for the door to open. I found myself waiting, too, staring at the corpse as he slowly came back from the dead. He stood up, reaching out in all of our directions for a swipe until the door opened to Paula and he grabbed at her shoulder.
His teeth sank into her other arm as she reached for her knife, shrugging off her pack and dropping her gun in the process. I rushed to pick those up and Maggie went for Paula’s knife, sinking it into the Walker’s head before knocking Paula down to her knees and bludgeoning her in the head with the butt of her gun.
Carol stood by, looking down at Paula and the dead Walker, frozen until she jerked at the sound of the transceiver. It hissed alive from Paula’s hip and Carol reached for it, hearing the voice of strange men on the other end.
Carol looked between Maggie and I, then straightened up her shoulders before clicking the button and imitating Paula’s voice. “Meet us on the kill floor.”
I raised a brow at the order, trying to re-map the place to where the kill floor would be. It had to be the room that I came through, the one festering with blood. My nose scrunched in disgust, knowing that my stomach wouldn’t be able to handle anymore scents at one time.
The gorey stench of the building was enough to put me on edge.
“I’ll let you two do that,” I said, stepping over Paula’s dead body and looking to see more impaled Walkers on the way to the front door. “I’ll clean up here.”
I stepped towards one of the monsters, avoiding its extended arms, and sank my knife into its head before sliding past it and going to the next. The scent of the building made my nose go blind as screams echoed through the hallways of the slaughterhouse.
Finishing off the last few of Walkers on the way to the door, I heard footsteps closing in. I picked up my pace, stabbing the last corpse in the head before running and pulling the barricade from the door.
It slid open quickly, with the bright light from the outside beaming into my eyes.
“Cherokee,” I heard Daryl say before a pair of arms curled around me in a hug, and his forehead rested against mine. “Are you okay?”
I held my breath, hoping that Daryl couldn’t smell the drying blood on me, but by his hands reaching to undo my jacket there was no denying it.
He pulled his forehead from mine and looked up at me. My eyes dragged along his jacket lapels before meeting his eyes. The hair in his face hid the furrowing of his brows, but the squint of his eyes was distinct.
“What did you do?”
I shook my head. “It’s nothing.”
“Cherokee,” he began, only to look around as Carol and Maggie reunited with the group. He lowered his voice then folded my jacket closed. His fingers brushed along my waist before pressing his palm to my stomach.
I let my breath out, shut my eyes and tried to hone in on what Daryl was trying to. “Daryl, they’re fine.”
Daryl hushed me, his fingers tapping against my stomach before exhaling in relief. A soft thumping made itself known and Daryl curled his arms around me again in a hug. “You scared the shit out of me.”
“It healed, Daryl, it’s fine.” I pulled my shirt off of my body and turned towards the man sitting on the bed.
His arms were crossed over his knees while his eyes scanned over my stomach. Between his fingers on his right hand was the bullet that regurgitated from my body. I looked down at my body and made sure there weren’t any scars. There still weren’t.
“I just don’t know what you were thinking,” Daryl said, staring at the ammunition in his hand. “You could’ve gotten yourself actually hurt.”
“No, and you know that. I avoided my heart, I avoided…” I couldn’t think of any way to refer to the kid inside me and I tapped at my stomach instead. “We’re fine, I don’t know why you’re so upset about this.”
Daryl dropped his head, putting the bullet in his palm before dropping it to the floor. “It was a reckless thing to do. You said you’d be safe.”
I bent down to pick up a clean shirt from my bag but stopped to look at Daryl. He shifted in his spot on the bed, releasing a grunt as he looked down at his feet. I dropped my clean shirt into my bag and walked over to him. “Hey. I tried really hard, okay?”
I reached up to comb back Daryl’s slick hair from his eyes and stared down at him. Daryl shut his eyes and rested his forehead to my stomach.
“Cherokee,” he began. I rested both hands on his shoulders as he curled his arms around my waist.
“I’m not useless. I wanted to show for that,” I said lowly.
When we got back to Alexandria, I insisted that the wound only grazed my skin. That what I went through was dramatics for the sake of freeing myself from the hostage negotiation. Carol didn’t bother to look at me for a good day and a half.
I was keeping myself out of Rick’s way. He was more concerned with the kid and I couldn’t bear the thought that I’d screwed up my super moment by signing my death certificate.
Daryl huffed, gripped my hips in his hands while he lolled his forehead against my skin. “I’m trying to come down, not think about it.” I closed my eyes. I was trying not to either. “Did it hurt?”
“Like hell. I still feel the sting between my ribs.” I pointed at the meeting of my ribs but Daryl didn’t look.
He slowly rose his head to look at me and I combed my fingers through his hair again. “You’re not useless. Just…don’t take anymore bullets, okay? Away from the gunfire?” He squinted an eye closed at me, his mouth turning in a smirk.
I smiled and my heart fluttered at this man staring at me. His touch was gentle just after seeing him take down a man. Daryl wasn’t even that upset by my stupid choice.
“Only because you like me,” I said, leaning in to peck his lips. Daryl pulled my hips down, bringing me to sit in his lap.
“Shut up.” Daryl snarled, running his hand up my side before touching softly at the base of my ribs. “You said it hurt here?” He asked, his rough fingers brushing up my skin before stopping at the clasp of my bra.
I scrunched my nose, grabbed his hand and put it back on my hip. “Don’t be dirty.” I teased my tongue to his lips before pressing my mouth to his and clambering him to the bed.
Daryl pulled away and I rested my hands on either side of him. “This ain’t gonna go away just yet.”
“I know,” I said.
There was a lot more to cover, just to make things right again. Rick wanted me to go to the Hilltop and Carol offered to go with me. I told them it wasn’t necessary, I still felt the kid there in the pit of me. The simple thought of them being there was enough to trigger my ear to catch onto their heartbeat.
It felt like my type of self-sacrifice was less than helpful in the end. It was only to the point of worrying the people around me.
I hadn’t thought about it, that the people around me started to care about my well-being. Whether it was from Rick’s influence or by myself, I couldn’t tell but it didn’t matter. I found another group where they called me theirs.
I lowered my head to rest against Daryl’s chest. “I know.”
We went silent while I rested there, listening to the thumping in Daryl’s chest so hard and loud in my ear. It was calming, leveling me after my mind was coming back from killing the other Saviors.
I knew that nothing was different from what I used to be, except it was. It wasn’t just myself to worry about anymore. Again. There were more people to worry about.
Daryl shifted beneath me and I opened my eyes before lifting my head. “Hey, it’s okay.”
His hand rested on the back of my head, returned me to his chest as he crossed his arm behind his head. The silence was comforting, with Daryl exhaling deeply.
I sat on the ground, next to Daryl on a stoop, holding Judith while he stared at his bike. I brushed my fingers through the girl’s hair, trying my hardest to part it down the middle and braid the golden wisps into pigtails.
Daryl reached for the bag hung under his motorcycle seat and unzipped it. I looked up at him as he pulled something out. “What’s that?”
I leaned forward, noticing the wood-whittled figurine in Daryl’s hands just like the one that Daryl took back in the charred forest.
He stared at it, turned it over in his hands before handing it over to me. “Maybe Little Ass-Kicker will like it.”
I held my hand out for the figurine, then placed it in front of Judith’s hands. “What is that? Look at the little army man.” I leaned over Judith’s small shoulder and poked at the musket end, seeing how sharp it was. “Say thank you to uncle Daryl.”
I glanced over to Daryl, who smirked as I raised Judith’s hand in a mediocre wave, then turned to Carol as she sat down beside him. Pinching at the end of the musket, I snapped off the sharp point then let Judith keep playing with it.
“You got another one of those?” Daryl asked, pointing to the cigarette placed between Carol’s fingers.
“And I think now’ll be a good time to go change,” I said to Judith, pushing to my feet and cradling her on my hip. Leaning down, I pressed my lips to Daryl’s cheek. “I’ll see you later.”
“Cherokee,” Carol said as I started walking down the road, away from the pair. I stopped, turned around and adjusted the girl in my hold. Judith stood the figurine up on my shoulder and poked at its head. “Take it easy.”
I raised my free hand and traced an ‘x’ over my chest. “Only carrying her around and I’m off to bed.”
Arguing with Carol was not my forte, she meant well. Her approach was rough, almost motherly, and the thought of remembering what my actual mother was like was too hard to bare. So, I settled with agreeing with Carol as much as possible, if only to get her to stop talking to me in a tone of voice I’d rather forget.
I stopped in Rick’s house, sitting Judith in her high chair, while I searched the fridge for an opened jar of baby food. Grabbing a spoon from the dish rack, I sat down at the counter and pulled Judith towards me.
“Alright little miss. Third time’s the charm. I know you’re hungry, let’s eat some strained peaches,” I said, taking a small spoonful and holding it towards Judith’s mouth, smearing a bit of the peach mush on her top lip.
The smell of peach was overwhelmingly sweet and, when I reached to swipe the food away, I had the urge to try it. I hadn’t seen a peach tree in months, one that thrived and wasn’t surrounded by Walkers.
Most of the fruit was probably rotten and infested by now. I mindlessly swiped my thumb on my shirt and went to feed Judith again.
She was fussy, taking the spoon away from me and slamming it on her high-chair tray. I reached for the spoon and her in a swift movement, then cradled her to my hip as I licked the peach mush from the spoon.
It was less sweet, but baby food was meant to be that way.
“Why don’t we try a nap, huh? A nap for the two of us.”
I cleaned up the rest of Judith’s attempt at lunch then left Rick’s house to walk down the road, back to the empty.
Even with the hearing I had, I knew it wasn’t right to leave Judith at home, alone. And I couldn’t stand to stay another minute with the overwhelming, combatting Alpha scents.
At the stoop, I stopped and sat down for a minute. Adjusting Judith to my lap, I stared at her while she handled the figurine Daryl had given her. Temperamental little girl. I wonder where she got that from.
I raised my brows at her, leaned into her view. “Judith, did your dad ever teach you about Queen?”
The last time I said that name, it had to be before. I remembered playing the record over and over again.
Now I could barely remember a tune. She barely looked at me and I took it as a sign to drop it. Picking her up, I stood and continued to the empty for us to take a rest for a little bit.
Inside, I kicked off my boots and shut the door then kicked my bag out of the way before sitting Judith on the bed.
Her mouth opened in a miniscule yawn and I nodded at her.
“The day started too early, huh?” I asked, moving her to my side of the bed while I sat on Daryl’s.
I pulled my legs up and crossed them, still watching the little girl shake the wooden figurine in her hands.
“Sturdy little army man,” I said giddily and Judith smiled. After a while of watching her play, I reached for the little figure and put him in my pocket. “You’ll get him back in a little bit. Let’s take a nap.”
I grabbed the girl and rested her on her tummy, her ear pressed to the mattress as I leveled with her. My hands folded over my eyes and I revealed my face with silly grin, getting her to smile each time.
“Peek-a-boo, Jude,” I whispered, popping out from behind my hands another time.
Folding my hands over my face, I heard the girl yawn. I slowly peeled my fingers from over my eyes and saw her falling asleep. I returned my hands over my face, wondering if she still had the energy to be curious, but as I swiped my palms down my cheeks I knew she was done. I stifled a yawn then fought my heavy eyelids until I couldn’t anymore.
I woke up to the darkness of the room and the bed before me deserted. I sat up in a jolt, looked around the floor for Judith but only felt a hand to the small of my back.
“Hey,” I heard in a rough, tired voice, “She’s okay. I took her home earlier.”
I exhaled, folding my arm to the mattress before lowering myself back down. “How long ago was that?”
The voice went quiet, only rustled around behind me while I shrugged off my jacket. “Three hours.”
Turning over my shoulder, I caught onto Daryl’s green irises and the pulsating red ring around them. “Why didn’t you get me up?”
He scoffed, undid the buttons of his shirt and glanced back at me. “I did, four times.”
I shook my head, I barely remembered anyone touching me. My eyes started to tunnel and shift, I shut them with a huff. “It’s happening again?”
I didn’t look back at Daryl for confirmation, only knew that it was true.
“How long do we have?” I asked, stifling another yawn as I nuzzled my head to the pillow. I turned and opened my eyes to see Daryl climb into bed, laying his head on his pillow.
“Two weeks? I don’t know,” he said, his voice warm, soothing. I knew I’d come around to it.
My hand reached out to graze at Daryl’s scruffy jawline. He grabbed my wrist and held it for a long moment, staring at me while the red ring in his eyes diminished.
“This ain’t normal,” he said.
“Are you going for normal?” I asked, a hint of a smile emerging on my lips.
“You know what I mean. I ain’t…had this, before.” He didn’t gesture to anything but I knew what Daryl meant.
Stability wasn’t always my strong suit either, but I never had time to sit and think about the situation until the first moment of silence. Good silence.
I gulped softly then eased my hand out of Daryl’s grip. “Me either.”
“I ain’t ever been…” Daryl began but I silenced him with a tender kiss to the corner of his mouth.
“Shut up,” I said, shaking my head at him. “Don’t start talking yourself out of this.”
His top lip curled and I rested my hand to his neck. “I’m not.”
“You are. You’re trying to tell yourself you don’t want this. That it’s not something you were brought up with so it doesn’t matter.” I leaned further into him, my nose nuzzling his. “I know, I’ve been there.”
I felt a soft rumble in my chest but noticed it wasn’t me purring. It was Daryl. I pressed my lips together to hide a grin and pulled him closer to me.
“I don’t blame you for thinking that. You’re a tough guy, probably had to be. But it’s okay to let your guard down now.”
Daryl shook his head, almost backing away from me. “Shit ain’t ever settled.”
“I never said that,” I whispered, my lips inching towards his with my eyes half-closed. “Just take a chance on me.”
My tongue inched between Daryl’s lips and he opened his mouth to accommodate mine. I found myself cinched closer to him, my lips touching his timidly.
His arm draped over my waist, then his hand slithered down my butt and to my thigh.
“Still can’t throw you far,” he said, breaking away from our kiss and staring down at me.
“I’ll have to take it for now,” I whispered. My hand pulled back from his neck and traced his jawline. I looked at him, watched his bottom lip fold in the more he stared at me. “Ask me about my nephew.”
“What?” he asked, his voice still thick and low. I felt it wind its way through my body and tie around my heart.
I took a deep breath in, then a shaky one out. “I asked about…I want you to ask about someone I cared about. To show I’m a human being.”
Daryl edged away from me. “I don’t want to do that. I know what you are.”
I shifted towards him again. “But you don’t know who I am.” Judging the look on Daryl’s face, I knew he wasn’t going to oblige me.
“His name was…” It’d been too long since I thought of his name, just like it took me too long to piece mine back together. “Moki. He was two.”
“Stop,” Daryl said lowly, his hand reaching out to grip my hip. The action alone pulled me forward, my ankle crossing over his. The end of his pants were damp, most likely from the sweat I smelled.
I closed my eyes, reached for my neck only to find what I wanted missing. My eyes opened again, and a tear-jerking gasp escaped my mouth. Daryl’s eyes wildly scanned my face before leaning in to peck my lips as if hoping it would get me to stop.
“I told you, I didn’t want to hear it.” He rested his forehead against mine, his face contorting in a sense of dread that couldn’t be avoided. My heart started to ache and I pressed my hand to Daryl’s chest. I made him ache too.
“I’m sorry,” I said, pulling back my shaky breath and feeling Daryl’s heartbeat under my fingertips while it pattered in my ears.
He pulled me a bit closer, still holding my hip, while I curled my arms around his neck. I rested my head to his collar and took in a few steady breaths while Daryl held onto me, until I assured him I was fine.
I woke up to Daryl’s voice trickling its way into my ear.
“Don’t get up, I’ll be back,” he said, leaning over my side of the bed.
I squinted an eye open, looked at him already dressed with the sunbeams haloing around him. I reached for his hand, but he returned it back to the mattress.
“You trying to get away from me?” I asked, rolling my head back as both of my eyes slowly opened.
“As fast as I can,” he said. From the shadow cast over his face, I saw a smirk tease at the corner of his mouth.
I pushed myself to sit up, rubbing my eyes with the heels of my palms. “You leaving now?”
“If you stopped asking questions, yeah.” He leaned in and pecked my cheek. I turned to catch his lips with mine as he receded.
“Don’t leave,” I whispered, my hands reaching to grab at Daryl’s beltloops. “Not yet.”
Daryl folded his leg onto the bed, trying his hardest to not fall into me. “Cherokee…”
I leaned in to kiss him again, bring him closer to me while my hands hurried to undo his pants. He huffed against my lips, with one of his hands swatting mine away before tugging the waist of his pants down.
I slipped one of my hands down the front of Daryl’s body, my fingers tracing along the length of his member. My other hand braced his cheek, led him further over me as I kicked the bedsheets from my body.
Daryl’s fingers brushed against my stomach, just above the hem of my underwear before his hand went for my thigh and pulled my leg up to his waist.
I rested on my back as Daryl pressed his hips against mine. Pulling away from the kiss, I tugged free his member and felt his rising heat between my legs. My breath picked up in a pant while I guided Daryl closer, tugging my undies aside to accommodate him.
As he slid in, I let out a relieved moan. My hand reached out to grip at the sheets while my other rested to the back of his neck. I felt his eyes on me while I quivered at the touch of his bare hips to mine.
I looked up at him, his face placid and more so interested in my reaction. My hand slid down the back of his neck to his waist, tugging the waist of his pants further down with a soft grin.
Daryl slowly shut his eyes the further he went in and, when he pulled out, we both exhaled in pleasure. He leaned into me, resting his forehead against mine as his breathing worked up quicker.
I felt my shoulders relax with Daryl’s easy thrusting, it had been too long since something so painstakingly slow and pleasurable. My arms reached up and crossed over Daryl’s back, my hands bundling at the leather jacket decorated in wings. He grunted, his nose nudging against mine as he drove in steady and careful. I moaned again, rode along with Daryl’s thrusts until my back arched with an overbearing warmth.
I huffed down Daryl’s neck before brushing my lips against his. “Daryl.” My knee raised up against his hip as I tossed my head back in climax.
A pair of warm lips touched at my neck and my eyes rolled back as my hands clasped harder at his jacket. He gave a final thrust and huffed in over-stimulation. His body locked into place, his back stiffening with his head reeled back to take it in.
He eased out of me, fixed himself back in his pants and I felt my heart lowered itself to the pit of my stomach. Daryl didn’t leave just yet, only leaned into me again and pressed his lips to mine.
“Stay here,” he said softly, patting my thigh with a soft smirk.
I scrunched my nose at him. “Maybe after I shower?”
Daryl butted his forehead to mine gently. “Deal.” He smiled then left.
I pressed my hands against my face and reeled back against the bed. I think I love that man.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, following Daryl out of the front door and onto the street.
There was obviously something different with his mood now. I could smell gunpowder and damp blood on him. He hung his head low, his crossbow once again tucked between his shoulders. It’d been a while since I’d seen that weapon.
The strangers. “Daryl,” I said, keeping up to pace with him as he walked in the direction for the church. “Slow down, hey.”
I picked up my feet, jogged up next to him only for him grunt and keep walking.
“What’s going on? What happened?” I tried to touch him but his skin was scorching to the touch. I looked around, hoping there were no witness in case Daryl did shift.
He kept on in his tasks, stopping in the side yard to pick up a shovel and carry it past the small trees separating the road from the gravesite. I slowed down in my steps, looking to the white sheet bounded body next to a marked patch of dirt. The patch of grass was already pulled away and I turned to Daryl.
“What happened?” I asked, my voice rigid and stalled with each word. “Is that…?” I accidentally took in a whiff of air.
“Yeah,” Daryl said, plunging the sharp end of the shovel into the dirt and stamping his boot down on top of it.
“Was it them?” I asked, and I assumed Daryl knew what I was talking about. He shoveled up a large bundle of dirt and threw it behind him.
He nodded, still shoveling dirt while I picked up the other shovel from the side and assisted. I grit my teeth at the thought, knowing that if I ever saw those two again they’d wish I hadn’t.
Dirt flew over my shoulder into a pile the more I stewed in thought, and Daryl too. He stopped, halfway through, to shrug off his outer layers and get back to digging. He was running hotter than I was.
When the hole got deep enough, he stopped. Staking his shovel in the grass, Daryl nodded over to the shrouded corpse. I hoisted myself up and grabbed the feet, helped Daryl lay the body to rest.
He stood at the head of the grave, staring down at the corpse with a terse look of anguish. “I should’ve killed him.”
I stood at the foot of the grave, glancing up at Daryl as he spoke before dropping my head to the body again. “Next time you won’t have to. I will,” I said lowly.
Minutes went by in silence, the breeze picking up a bit in the late day. He grabbed his shovel, started throwing dirt back in the hole. As I reached for my shovel, a hand beat me to it.
Carol shook her head at me, then nodded for me to go back. I looked at her hand reaching out for mine and eased away from her, starting back towards the main street. But not before stopping to rest my hand on Daryl’s shoulder and squeeze.
I stopped by Rick’s home to see Carl sitting on the front porch with Judith. “Hey,” I said, stepping up to the porch.
I sniffed around, smelled the remnants of Michonne around. “Where’s your dad?”
Carl shrugged, looked over his shoulder in the house then back at me. “I don’t know, but I promised Enid I’d go and find her later.”
My top lip curled into a half-smile as my hands immediately reached out to take Judith. “Go, find your girlfriend. I’ll take this little miss.”
Judith fussed as Carl shifted her from his lap then held her hands out for me to take her. I lifted her up, hugged her close and brushed down her hair.
“You can’t have missed me, Jude. It’s been a day.” I snuggled her tight then pressed my lips to her temple. She felt right in my arms, so fitted.
I looked back at Carl, on his feet. “Well go on, we’ll be fine.” I pulled Judith away to look in her bright eyes. “We’ll go to the sunny field, maybe tumble a bit. Would you like that?”
Judith hummed in response and I took it as agreement. “I’ll bring her home later.”
Carl nodded then ran past me, down the porch steps and onto the main street. “Thanks Cherokee.”
“No problem.” I watched Carl start running down the street, then turn and keep going.
Stepping off of the porch, I stared down at Judith, her fingers tugging at my hair in braids. “Why don’t we go on a little walk, hmm? See what trouble we can find.”
I shifted Judith onto my hip and strolled on the sidewalk, taking in the brisk weather of the autumn. It felt nostalgic. The thought of my last autumn was spent alone, and without the abilities I had now.
It was the first time without a permanent shelter, and one of the last few times I’d kill groups of people. The first seven still remained a blur, but the eighth was different. At that point I knew I wasn’t doing it for anyone else, it was for myself.
Judith tugged too hard on one of my braids and I grinned at her. “You know that hurts, right?” I stopped on the sidewalk, adjusted her a bit then kept walking before stopping at Carol’s house.
“Carol?” I asked, the door creaked open. My hand went for the handle of my knife as I pushed the door further open with my shoulder.
The downstairs area was empty, quiet. I could hear her feet shuffling upstairs.
“Cherokee? Up here,” she called, her voice carrying all the way downstairs to me.
I stepped inside, closed the door behind me, then started up the stairs to her room. I stopped in the doorway, looking at the items cluttering Carol’s bed.
“What’s going on?” I asked, looking at the things before glancing to the backpack tossed on her pillows. “You going on a trip?”
Carol looked down at the things then at me before exhaling. She went to her closet to grab some of her clothes. “Something like that.”
I raised a brow. “How long? Do you need me to come with…?”
“No. I need you to stay here.” Carol snapped over her shoulder, which caused me to feel a sense of dread wash over me.
Her scent was odd, with her heartbeat picking up the more she rummaged through her things. I glanced over my shoulders, then to Judith before poking her nose.
“Are you leaving?” I asked. It felt too sudden. She’d just finished talking to Daryl at the gravesite and now she was packing a bag.
Carol stopped, looked back at me for a long moment before dropping her gaze. “Yes.”
I took a few quick steps towards her. “Why? Why would you leave?” I didn’t know how else to feel except abandoned. My heart felt like it was rippling with tides of shock and gross wonder of what would happen if she left. “You can’t go alone. I-I’ll go with you,” I said.
“Cherokee,” Carol began, “You can’t come with me. You have a place here, it’s good for you. It’s good for both of you. Plus, you’re good with Judith.”
I jostled Judith in my arms and watched as Carol crossed her room and started packing her bag. “Carol.”
“You can’t come.” Her tone was firmer, and I froze.
“Does Daryl know?” I asked.
“No, and you can’t tell him until after I’m gone,” she said, stuffing the rations she made for herself into the bag.
“The hell I won’t,” I said, stepping in her direction again. “You can’t do this to him.”
Carol slowed in her packing, then looked at me. “He’s got you. He’ll be fine.”
“But I’m not you. I can’t do what you do. I haven’t known him as long as you have.”
She reached over, patted my hand on Judith’s leg. “You’ve pulled more of your weight around him than I have. You’ll be fine.”
“Carol, please…” I started to plead, only to hear the front door open downstairs.
“Carol?” A man’s voice called out. Carol grabbed the rest of her things from her bed and stuffed them into her bag before sliding it under the bed.
“Don’t say a word,” she said, pointing at me. “Upstairs.” She called out to the voice.
My eyebrows furrowed as I stared at her, listening to the heavy tread of footsteps up the stairs. The scent of a man wafted into the room before he did, and I shifted Judith again while I looked between the two of them.
“How are you?” Carol asked, swiping her hands on her pants and producing a genuine smile.
“Happy to see you,” the man said, his voice a bit raspy. Both of their heartrates soared at the presence of each other and I hid a roll of my eyes. Poor bastard. She’s breaking all of us.
I took a seat in a chair in the corner of the room and sat Judith on my lap, facing me. The man glanced over Carol’s shoulder to me and I nodded in a form of hello. My nose twitched at the faint scent of blood and Carol looked to the man’s hand.
“I slipped. Building a new guard tower.” The man walked past Carol and started to shrug off his plaid shirt. “I went to the infirmary. It’s so quiet over there now.”
I took in a slow, deep breath and tried to not think about the loss of another person. I shook my head, stood up and excused myself from the room.
“Don’t go anywhere,” I whispered over Carol’s shoulder on my way out. “Not until we talk.”
She left anyways. I should’ve known better that she would. Even though I didn’t know Carol long, I felt that she was the type of person to go at it alone.
I stood at the top step of the empty I squatted in, only staring at the patch of metal gate in front of me. My jaw cocked to the side the more I thought about Carol leaving, and I tried my hardest to keep the tears from forming in my eyes.
Daryl snuck out earlier the same morning and I hadn’t seen him much either. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he already conducted a search for the woman. But he didn’t.
I started down the sidewalk, in the direction of the field Judith and I sat in the day before and stopped at the sight of Daryl perched on his bike. The wings on his jacket moved with his hands fumbling on an object.
“Hey,” I said, catching his attention. He stuffed the object in his pocket and turned towards me. “You were up early.”
“Yeah,” he said, quick and low.
Right, no mood to talk. “Okay.” I wasn’t going to push, not this time. “You going out?”
“Yeah.” Daryl nodded, looking ahead of his bike to the gate and back. “You ain’t coming.”
I figured. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard that. “Okay. Well, I’ll be here when you get back.”
He nodded again and I leaned in to press my temple to his. The agitation within his shoulders festered its way up as he jerked his head away.
A hardened lump formed in my throat from his reaction but I didn’t take it personally. I stepped away from him and walked in the direction of the main guard tower. Before I even made my way to the memorial wall, Daryl sped off past me and clutched the gate to pull it back.
He sped away, gaining more speed, and I picked up my feet to run after him. Michonne, Glenn and Maggie started towards the van parked in front of the now open gate. Abraham braced the hood, called for them to make room for him.
“Me too.” I called out, skidding to a stop at the double doors in the back of the van. I jarred open both doors and climbed in to see Maggie stood by Glenn’s driver window.
“What do you think you’re doing?” She asked, her eyes narrowing at me.
I shut the doors firmly behind me, shook my head. “I’m not staying here.”
The side door opened and Rosita climbed in as I forced myself to sit down.
I peeked between the two front seats before Rosita popped open the side door. I pulled out my gun from my waistband and followed her out of the van.
I kept behind the rest of the group approaching the tracks and the occupied walker on another corpse.
“That’s where she died,” Rosita said, stopping over a patch of congealed blood on the wooden tracks.
Glenn looked over her shoulder while Michonne unsheathed her sword and crossed over the rails to a patch of torn down branches. She pulled them back to reveal Daryl’s bike and I felt my body jolt with a sense of agitated warmth. Because that worked so well the last time.
I stopped from shaking my head, only taking a deep breath in and out to level myself.
“Which way did Dwight run?” Glenn asked, walking towards Rosita and waiting for her answer.
I narrowed my eyes at the name. Dwight. Now I had a name to a face that wouldn’t last long.
“Rosita?” Glenn’s tone was terse, stepping a bit forward to look at the far-off look on her face.
She snapped to attention, stared at Glenn before speaking up. “We should let him do this.”
“But he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Glenn said. “We don’t.”
I bit my tongue, knowing that this probably didn’t concern me as much as I thought. Daryl did have a vendetta and I would’ve let him go on with it too if he’d let me in on the deed.
“Maybe him trying this makes you feel better about it right now. Maybe they keep knowing more about us than we know about them.” Glenn stopped, looked over his shoulder to me. “Or maybe Daryl’s gonna get himself killed.”
My hands gripped tighter at the gun in my hands as my nose twitched to the air. I didn’t want to admit that Glenn had a point either. Even with the newer found strength Daryl had, the numbers would catch up to him and he’d lose. It was a tough thought rattling in my mind, one that I refused to acknowledge by looking Glenn in the eye.
“Which way did Dwight run?” He asked Rosita again and I glanced up as she nodded over Glenn’s shoulder.
Daryl’s scent was long dissipated with the fog, and I felt that he swiped a few splashes of Walker blood on him in case I tried. I walked off of the rails and behind Michonne as she led the way through the initial brush, behind Rosita and followed by Glenn.
The walk continued through the forest before it spilled out to the edge of the field. My nose twitched again as my ears pricked at the rustling noise too far right for it to be behind me. I stopped short, let Rosita and Michonne take a few more steps forward before the wind cut in front of them.
An arrow stopped short of Rosita’s face, plunging itself into tree bark, and she yanked it back out as fast as it went in.
“Watch the hell out, asshole.” She stomped forward as Daryl did. He rushed for the arrow in her hand then made a sharp right.
“I did. You shouldn’t have come,” he said, his tone barking in nature. His agitation was thickening, only getting worse.
Michonne followed after him while I stayed back, behind Glenn. “You shouldn’t have left.”
The three of them stopped and I peeked over Michonne’s shoulder as Daryl doubled back towards them. His eyes caught mine and I stiffened.
“When we split off from Sasha and Abraham, he was out there in the woods, in that burnt-out forest with them girls, put a gun to our heads. Tied us up. I even tried to help him.”
My hands loosened from my weapon as I felt Glenn look back at me. “He’s right,” I muttered.
Glenn shook his head. “So, you think it’s your fault?”
“Yeah, I know it is.” Daryl grunted, his voice at its lowest and guttural. “I’m gonna go do what I should’ve done before.” He turned and kept going in the direction he was originally headed in.
“What, for her?”
Daryl slowed down again and I exhaled at the sight of his bunched-up shoulders drop in another slight defeat.
“She’s gone, man. You’re doing this for you.”
Daryl glared at Glenn, then the rest of the group before stopping at me. He stared for a second longer then snapped again. “Man, I don’t give a shit.”
“Daryl,” I started, breaking between Michonne and Rosita. “You can’t go at this alone. This is not just one man.”
“We need to get back there and figure this out from home. Our home.” Glenn rushed in front of Daryl and stopped him.
I reached for Daryl’s hand on his weapon, noted his flinching.
“We need you, and everyone back there needs us right now.” Glenn exhaled, his face turning into one of exhaustion. “It’s gonna go wrong out here.”
I listened to the patter of Daryl’s chest steady down from the rushing beat.
“We’ll square it. I will.” Michonne stopped beside Glenn and looked Daryl in the eye. “I promise you. Just come back.”
Daryl looked between the two blocking his path and I grasped at his wrist again, only for him to snatch his hand away. “I can’t.”
“Daryl.” Glenn began.
“I can’t.” He repeated, harder without stopping. I started after him, knowing that there wasn’t much I could change but still not letting it go.
“Daryl, wait,” I called after him, picking up my pace to keep up with him.
“Go back,” Rosita said from behind me. “Go back with them. I’ve got him.”
I stopped and looked over my shoulder at the girl.
“I’ve got him. Go.”
I shook my head. “I can’t let him go at this alone. Dwight’s as much of my problem as he is Daryl’s.” I looked in the direction of Daryl, still not stopping.
“I know that you were there with him, but Daryl’s made this his own. I’ll see it through with him.”
“No,” I said, picking up my feet again and following after Daryl.
“Go home, Cherokee.” Daryl’s voice made its way through the thin forest and directly into my ears. “Go home.”
I stopped again, my breath halting as Rosita kept walking. “Fine. But if anything happens to him, I’m coming for your head.” I pointed after the girl before doubling back in the direction I came from.
I managed to catch up behind Michonne and Glenn, brandishing my weapon again and holding up the back end of their trail. The lump in my throat refused to resolve and it put me more on edge the further we walked away from Daryl and Rosita.
“The world’s not what we thought it was. Hilltop, The Saviors, it’s bigger.” Glenn said as he stopped before a large body of rainwater.
I stopped behind Michonne, pointing my weapon down until I heard a chirp in the distance. I turned, only for the sound to repeat even clearer. Pulling my weapon up, I watched as three separate men emerged from behind the thickness of the forest.
Glenn pointed his rifle up as Michonne reached for her sword, only for both of them to stall and continue to glance around. I did the same, counting more men surrounding us with assault rifles.
Just as I started to lower my weapon, one last man stepped out from behind a tree. His blonde hair caught onto the sunlight and fury lit within me like a quick fuse.
“Motherfucker,” I said, taking a step forward only for Michonne to brace her arm in front of me.
My nostrils flared as I stared in Dwight’s face, my teeth baring in an ugly, drool-pooling snarl.
“Hi,” he said.
Glenn dropped his rifle from his shoulder and Michonne let her hand fall from her sword handle. I clenched a fist while my breath rattled my chest unevenly.
A hand reached for my weapon and snatched it away before pulling me back by my shoulder. My wrists were tugged together and tied tight by rough cloth. I looked over to Michonne as she was stripped of her weapon then Glenn before I was hoisted over a large man’s shoulders.
“She’s a runner, that one,” Dwight said as he waited for the rest of the men to lead the way through the forest.
I raised my head up from the man’s back and came eye-to-eye with Dwight, half of his face distorted with scarification.
“Dirty deeds catch up to you?” I asked, nodding towards his mangled side of face.
“Still nursing your shoulder?”
I narrowed my eyes at him, wiggled my body over the man’s shoulder. “I’ll stab out your eyes with my teeth.”
Dwight spared a half-amused smirk before holding a hand out for another gag. “You know, you talk too damn much.” He reached up and forced the cloth between my lips before tying it tight at the base of my neck. “Much better.”
My teeth grit harshly at the tightly tied gag in my mouth. The drool from my snarling only made the cloth sharper and cut into the corners. The men stopped halfway through the wood for a break and left the three of us to sit by.
Glenn and Michonne stared straightforward, shifting their shoulders at their bound hands behind their backs. I looked around, accounting the number of men keeping watch.
One man kept stoking the fire, only producing more smoke with the flames. And from what I could hear behind me, one man kept up the farthest perimeter. My fingertips went cold from the binds as Glenn shook his head slowly.
I sat up a bit straighter, followed his line of sight to Daryl and Rosita in the far distance. My nostrils flared again as I swallowed at the lump still in my throat. Glenn started up in a muffled yowl, and Michonne followed suit with shaking her head as Daryl pointed his weapon in our direction.
I started up too, only seeing Dwight come up behind Daryl with his gun trained at the back of his head.
“Hi Daryl,” he said.
Another man cocked his rifle at Rosita’s back and she released her hands from her weapon. Daryl slowly lowered his weapon with a grunt and my chest tightened when Dwight refused to ease up on his grip.
Daryl inched his head to the side and I lurched forward as Dwight’s gun went off. The sight of blood was more than I could get a hold of in my mind.
I folded over my legs with a muffled screech of Daryl’s name, my hands wriggling faster at the binds around my wrists. Michonne leaned towards me with a huff as if to tell me to stay quiet. I continued to chew and scream in the direction of Daryl, lying on the ground.
My stomach turned over and my breath went ragged. The smell of blood stunk up the air, made it harder to keep going. My sight went blurry and speckled with red, expecting a shift within me.
Except it wasn’t that. It was blood. I blinked it away with the tears as they streaked my cheeks then saw a bit of movement from Daryl.
He exhaled, his arm reaching forward just enough to grab some leaves in his hold. Three men grabbed hold of him and pulled him to his knees, bound his arms behind him just as the three of us were hoisted to our feet.
Light peeked through the hard-circular holes in the darkness before me. My eyes struggled to adjust against the light and dark, especially with my own breathing heightened and hearing the others too.
I smelled them, alive, and the blood of Daryl took up most of my mind while I tried to remain calm. My lungs constricted, unlike any shift, and I felt that my hands were completely cold from the bindings.
I couldn’t feel my body as I tried to figure out the confines of my presence. The darkness against the light didn’t help as I found myself disoriented and helpless.
My teeth clamped harder against the cloth between my lips as I heard the voices of people outside the speckled doors. The swung open and bright light flooded my eyesight. The bodies around me shifted and the scent of Daryl’s blood got away from me.
A pair of rough hands grabbed at my arm, pulled me harshly from the back of the van until my feet braced the ground. My bounds were cut loose, the cloth untied from my neck. I huffed shakily and slowly clenched my hands into fists before I was forced onto my knees, against gravel.
I struggled to look around, only flooded by light in all directions. My bluish hands folded over my knees, my fingers trembling to regain feeling as I centered myself among the line of people.
My eyes immediately went to Maggie as Glenn called out to her, noticing how sickly and frail she looked against the harsh assault of lights.
To my left was Daryl, shrouded in a red stained blanket. His blood was still fresh, only getting fresher, and I couldn’t stop smelling it no matter how hard I tried.
“We got a full boat.” A tall, lean man stood before the lot of us and the RV. “Let’s meet the man.” He took a few steps backwards, towards the vehicle before rapping his knuckles against the door.
The door swung open with a creak and in the shadows, a man emerged with a weapon slung over his shoulder. I sniffled, not entirely out of fear, and hung my head low. As badly as I wanted to shut my eyes, I couldn’t.
If something bad were to happen while I blinked, I would never forgive myself.
“Pissing our pants yet?” The dark man asked, his voice clear and punctual in the night. My ears buzzed, still rang from the gunshot earlier. I was already broken outside. “Boy, do I have a feeling we’re getting close.”
The man walked out from the darkness, into the concentrated headlights like a man of the hour.
“It’s gonna be pee-pee pants city here real soon,” he said.
I couldn’t bring my head up to look at the man, not wanting to know what this monster could possibly look like. His eyes dragged over me, like everyone else and I held my breath.
“Which one of you pricks is the leader?”
“It’s this one.” The man before the man called out. “He’s the guy.”
The main man stepped up to Rick and asked him so. “I’m Negan.”
His name made my skin roar with aggression, feeling my shoulders prick with agitation as they riled up slowly.
“I do not appreciate you killing my men. Also, when I sent my people to kill your people for killing my people, you killed more of my people.” The man, Negan went silent for barely a second. “Not cool. Not cool. You have no clue how not cool that shit is. But I think you’re gonna be up to speed shortly.”
“You are so gonna regret crossing me in a few minutes,” Negan added while the crickets kept up the noise in the deep forest.
I was still replaying the shot in my mind, only remembering how hard it would have been for Daryl to see the same of me. I felt hallowed out and I could barely hear the patter of his chest over the conglomerate of Saviors around us. Useless.
“Pay attention,” Negan said and I followed suit by his order, hearing his weapon swing down from his shoulder. I hid a flinch. “You are not safe.”
“I don’t want to kill you people.” He said, and I brought my head up with tears pooled in my eyes. “I’m gonna beat the holy hell outta one of you.”
Negan stopped in front of Abraham, who straightened up at the gaze of him, then walked over to Carl at the far end. My hands slipped from my knees and braced the gravel before me. I knew that if it came to him, I wouldn’t be fast enough to save Carl.
“Jesus, you look shitty.” He stopped before Maggie and from the corner of my eye, I saw Glenn’s face contort with emphatic pain. “I should just put you out of your misery right now.”
Glenn screamed out, rushed over to Maggie only to be stopped by Dwight and pummeled into the gravel. Maggie cried for him to stop and Dwight pointed Daryl’s crossbow in Glenn’s face.
“Get him back in line.”
Glenn squirmed and yelled as Dwight dragged him back next to Rosita. “Don’t,” he said.
“I simply cannot decide.” Negan paced back around the half-circle after whistling carelessly. “I got an idea.” He stopped in the middle, staring solely at Rick.
“Eenie, meenie, miney, mo…catch a tiger by his toe. If he hollers let him go. My mother told me to pick the very best one and you are it,” He said in an achingly slow cadence, pointing the end of his barb-wrapped bat in every face.
I dropped my head down every time he stopped in front of me, feeling his stature tower over me and cause me to shrink.
“Anybody moves, anybody says anything, cut the boy’s other eye out and feed it to his father and then we’ll start.” Negan brought his bat up, “You can breathe, you can blink, you can cry. Hell, you’re all gonna be doing that.”
My heavy head stared up again as the first blow landed and a crack hallowed through the forest. It echoed against the bodies surrounding us, the cars behind them and up into the dark sky. I lurched forward, my eyes stinging as if more blood was in them.
But it was tears, and the second blow landed on Abraham’s head and he barely waivered down from his tall stance.
Bodies became blurry orbs of dark color and the screams, tears and gasps of horror were incomparable to the cracking of Abraham’s skull.
“Taking it like a champ,” Negan called out after the first blow before reeling back for another.
The color red was blinding, gut-wrenching against the headlights as the man kept going until Abraham was reduced to a splatter of brain on the gravel. My eyes refused to focus on it, the scent of it all almost turning me on my side.
Hands bracing either side of me, I waivered against fainting. The adrenaline in me dissolved into harrowing fear.
“Sweetheart,” he said, holding the end of his bloodied bat in my face. “Lay your eyes on this.”
The ooze slowly globbed down from the protruding wires and I could see my reflection in the sheen of crimson. My stomach leapt into my throat and I fought back the urge to vomit.
“Red, and hell he is, was and always will be, just took one or six or seven for the team. So take a damn look.” His voice was edging towards something booming, but I couldn’t bring my eyes up from the forming puddle before my knees. “Take a damn look!” He yelled, and I felt Daryl reeling the remainder of his energy to fight back.
My hand braced out at the last second and I swallowed harder then elongated my neck to look at the girth of the bat, decorated in blood and chunks of brain matter. I felt a sweat break out over the back of my neck as Negan leaned down, into my face.
“Well well, would you lookie here?” His voice lowered down as his free hand reached under his scarf to grab at a thin gold chain. I glanced up at him, then to his gloved hand as he balanced a small medallion on his thumb. “It’s my ‘Rookie’. Hiya, baby.”
My sanity left me as my eyes focused on the medallion Negan displayed. The same one I lost. On the front, a Cherokee rose and the back read ‘To Rokee, happy birthday, from Moki’.
Tears fought to breach from my eyes as I outwardly shook and sobs wracked my chest. It came back to me like a tidal wave, the men I slaughtered after they shot my nephew between the eyes.
He was crying from the backseat of a car that I tried to desperately to hotwire. His dad, my brother, tried to save his wife but ended up being bitten. Then, the piercing silence that stung me to my core. The blood that splattered the backseat. The blood that lathered my hands afterwards. The blood that oozed from my body after the shock wore off.
“Y-your men…” I choked out but Negan hushed me.
“I’ve been looking all over God’s green earth for you,” he said, a twisted smile emerging on his face. “Ain’t you got a big hello for Daddy?”
My mouth turned up in a twitchy scowl while the cold air battered my face. Daryl’s hand was inches from mine and I wanted the anchor. I felt myself drifting away.
Negan exhaled, shook his head then leaned a bit closer to me. “Rookie, honey, I’m your Maker.”
The words didn’t register, going over my head until Negan’s hand gripped at my chin tight and made me look him in the eye. Around his darkened irises were pearlescent orbs, reflective and large against the rest of his eyes. The sickening feeling in my stomach returned. No.
“I knew I smelled you from this bunch, as sweet and feisty as the first day. Had to take a little trinket from you, make sure I never really lost you,” he said, clicking his tongue. “My only Beta.”
I looked over his shoulder to Rick, then next to me at Daryl.
“They ain’t mine. Believe me, if they were, they sure as shit wouldn’t have brought this on.” Negan chuckled, looking over to Daryl and back at Rick before turning back to me. “And you holed yourself up with these Alphas.”
He sniffled, stood up and swung the excess blood from his bat. “Rookie, my god, and I can smell them all over you. What? They take turns tapping that Beta ass?”
Negan tore my breath from my lungs with that comment. Daryl’s hands slowly balled into fists as Negan pointed the bat at Rick again.
“You dirty dog. Establishing dominance, right?” Negan shook his head, looked over to me then Daryl. “And you too. You boys do love your sloppy seconds.”
I doubled over, filthy and humiliated, knowing that if I looked up, I’d barely have Daryl on my side.
“I bet that pussy’s like heroin, huh? Can’t get enough of that shit.” Negan’s voice started up again and I could feel Daryl reeling again.
“S-stop,” I said, to the ground before raising my head up. “Stop this.”
Negan raised a brow at me, then clicked his tongue and shook his head in turn. “Now before, I thought that I’d just make a lesson out of all this. But now that I know this is your pack, I’m gonna kill every last one of them just to get my Beta.”
“No,” I choked out from behind the tears still streaming down my face. Goodbye, Daryl. I love you. “I-I’ll go with you. J-Just…don’t hurt anymore of them.”
Negan turned to me, the smile on his face only growing. “See, I knew you’d come home to me eventually.”
As Negan said that, Daryl reached for my wrist and I slowly turned to him.
“Cherokee,” he said, his voice barely legging its way out of his throat. I folded my lips together, down casted my stare before bracing my body against his in a hug.
The heavy wince that left his mouth echoed in my ears and my body rattled in sobs again. “Trust me,” I whispered as a pair of arms crossed over my stomach and yanked me away. I wasn’t ready yet, I’d barely checked to see if he was okay.
My mind suddenly floundered, feeling Daryl fall out of my arms as quick as he entered them. “Daryl. Daryl.” I screamed after him, watching as he and the rest of the group shrunk away.
My eyes caught onto Michonne’s gaze, then Carl’s. “I’m sorry.”
The fight in me went away as I remembered my choice for the people that took me in. As I was shoved back into the van that brought me to the place, Daryl scrambled to his feet and squared Negan in the jaw.
I braced my hands to the hard arms around me, thinking of squeezing free as Daryl was wrestled to the ground and Dwight pointed the crossbow at him. “Don’t hurt him!” I screamed before I was thrown into the van and the doors were shut on me.
“Oh honey, not him,” Negan said after me.
The screams never stopped from behind the doors. They only got louder. My hands clawed at the door, only hearing the deathly gurgles of another one in the group.
“Negan!” I cried out, “You motherfucker!” The sounds of more blows came through the cabin of the van and my hands turned into fists as more tears streaked my face. “You liar!”
The screams devolved into cries before steadying into sobs before night turned into day. My fingers clutched into the holes of the doors as I heard the collective harmony of guns cocking.
“Kid,” I heard Negan call out.
“No,” I said, “Get away from him.” I pressed my mouth to the hole largest and howled.
Negan chuckled from the distance of the van. “Why don’t you shut that little bitch up? She hasn’t learned her place yet.”
I scrambled away from the door as someone approached it and grabbed at my ankle to pull me out.
“Actually, bring her here. I wanna show her something.” Negan whistled and the man holding my leg strung me upside down like I was nothing.
His gloved hand tangled in my hair, tugged too hard and jerked my head to look at Rick, in front of all of his people, sniveling and broken. “This…is your Alpha.” Negan jerked my head in the other direction to look at Daryl, bloodied and exhausted, bracing both hands to the ground to keep himself up. “And this is your Alpha.”
He grinned as he turned me to look at him. “Just so you know what I can do. I am your Maker. Now, Simon, make sure she shuts up this time.”
The man holding me by my ankle lowered me to the ground and dragged me back to the van before tossing me back in. The tall, lean man followed soon after inside. With the butt of his gun held up to his chin, he shook his head.
“No hard feelings, princess,” he said before driving the hilt down to my temple twice. My head bounced against the hard floor of the van then everything went dark.
The screams echoed in the room and I shot up at the stench of blood. “Daryl.” My hand braced out for the comfort of a warm body next to me, but my fingers were met with cold concrete.
My head ached from the beating to my temple and my body itched under the thin blanket thrown on me. I backed up to the wall nearest to me and shut my eyes, only seeing the splatter of blood and the tears on faces when I did.
Breath escaped me and I reared up on all fours while I scoured the darkness around me. More tears formed in my eyes as I remembered that I volunteered myself away. It wasn’t as if I had a place anymore. After everything that happened the night before, I could only assume that everyone alive blamed me.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t deserve it. My choices were bound to put me on the chopping block.
My eyes couldn’t adjust to the darkness, as even as it was, because I didn’t know what to be looking for. For all I knew, the door was on the ceiling and I was buried alive.
“Rise and shine,” a voice called out from the other side of the far wall. “Got some breakfast for you. Probably your favorite.”
A slit of light appeared at the bottom of the far wall, and soon a plate of bread with chunky, dark sludge was pushed in. I sniffed in the direction of it. Even as a human, I could’ve deduced it was dog chow.
I crawled towards it, narrowed my eyes at the plate in the light before the slit closed.
“We don’t want you dying on your first day,” Dwight said on the opposite side of the wall.
My chest felt thin and wet, too damaged to growl. I took hold of the sandwich and brought it to my mouth, taking a large bite before another.
“Atta girl. Eat up,” Dwight said. “Negan done thought you were dead. He was just about to take your replacement from that home of yours.”
I stopped chewing, the sludge between the bread slipping to the tray.
“When you’re done, you’re gonna see him. He’s itching to get a good look at you.” Dwight shifted outside of the door and I set my sandwich back on its tray.
“I’m finished,” I said, pushing the tray back through the slot under the door. I listened intently for movement outside of the thick door. The sensory deprivation was nerve-wracking.
The door lurched open with a loud creak and I squinted at the bright light pouring into the room. My hand went up to shield my eyes and a metal cuff clutched around my wrist.
I flinched, then winced as the metal dug into my wrist. My skin singed at the touch of the cuff and the pain from it caused me to reach for it. My fingers burned just the same and I tried to shake it free before tears welled in my eyes.
Dwight clicked his tongue. “Easy now, that’s silver. Don’t go touching that.”
I looked up at Dwight standing in the way of the light and curled my lip in a snarl. He tugged at the chain of my cuff then latched its pairing to my other wrist.
“Let’s go see the boss.”
The bright light of outside burned my eyes in their sockets. I was pushed into a room and I tripped up on the corner of carpet.
The overwhelming feminine scent in the room was enough to make my stomach churn. I squinted at my hands sprawled over the floor until a pair of boots appeared between them.
“My, my, my,” the voice I remembered from nightmares spoke. I saw a flash of blood on the ground before I blinked and it went away. “You look like shit. Two days ago, you were smelling like honeysuckle and fresh pussy. But now, well honey, you smell like a fleabag.”
He knelt down and gripped my chin, forced my eyes to look at him. “What? Ain’t got no bite now, huh? Did I clip your lady balls off?” Negan clicked his tongue, his thumb brushing over my cheek. “Rookie, you are half as pretty as the day I met you, tasted that sweet ass blood of yours.”
I jerked away from him. He gripped at my jaw tighter and clicked his tongue again. “Oh, don’t be tucking your tail between your legs now. I thought I’d get a little more fight out of you.”
Negan looked over his shoulder to the gaggle of silent women behind him. I bared my teeth at them with a snarl and the floor creaked with a few startled jumps.
“Especially since you giving up for the sake of those strangers,” he said. His other hand reached for my hair, pet it down with the leather slicking down my follicles and on my scalp. “And why was that? Because you think you owe it to them? Rookie, you just brought a food source back to Daddy.”
I closed my eyes again, the light making them jitter in my sockets. “No.”
“Don’t be like that. Not now, now that all my fine ladies have seen what a little bitch you can be without a few days in the sun.”
I felt his lips curl from behind my eyelids. I balled my hands into fists while I shifted my wrists in the cuffs.
“I bet that dirty little Alpha of yours has already moved on to the next bitch in heat, so you’re alone in here. Better get used to me, kid, because from now on I’ll be on you like flies on shit.” Negan’s grip on my jaw tightened further. My jaw fell open, my parched mouth frozen.
“Be a good girl for me, won’t you? My only Beta, you know how to fall in line, huh?” I felt the slickness of leather against my dry bottom lip, dragging to the corner of my mouth.
The urge to chomp down on his finger was growing within me. This was a test, it had to be. Still, I could barely fight back the thought.
“Dwight,” Negan raised his voice and the door to the room opened.
I opened my eyes and glanced to Dwight in the doorway. Negan still had his finger tracing my bottom lip, then did the same to my top.
“Let’s get Rookie here some nice clothes and a shower.” Negan looked deep into my eyes, the pearl ring around his grown twice in size since I last looked. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
I didn’t nod, but Negan did it for me.
“Now, what do we say?” He pulled my jaw closer to him, turning his head to the side so my lips were near his ear.
“Thank…” I rasped, still fighting within myself to not answer him at all.
“Didn’t hear that, Rookie.”
“Thank…you…Negan.” I said, my stomach somersaulting with the utterance of his name. My hands reeled back from the floor, pressed them to my body and fought back the feeling. We…will get through this. Even if no one comes for us.
Dwight pulled at the links between my cuffs as he led me down a concrete hallway to an open door. He was quiet until we stepped over the threshold of the room, the bright light streaming into a studio from a dusty window.
“There’s a shower just past that wall. I’m sure there’s a fresh towel in there, and I’ll find you some cleaner clothes.”
While he talked, he unlocked the cuffs from my wrists. I felt a heavy weight slip from my shoulders as I rubbed at the embedded scars in my skin.
“Thank you,” I said lowly. I kept my head low and my eyes at the floor while I took in a deep breath of the atmosphere.
“Don’t mention it.” Dwight slipped the cuffs into his pocket, looking around the small room. “Ever.”
He left the room soon after, slamming the door after him. I exhaled deeply, pulled my jacket off of my body then crumbled to the floor with my hands balling into fists.
I blinked slowly, trying to keep the horror from flashing back of that night. I thought about what Rick was doing, and if Daryl and Carl were alright. No one else would care too much about me anymore, not after Negan claiming me as his offspring.
That was all anyone else heard, my affiliation with someone who killed Abraham and terrorized the group. He almost had Daryl killed.
I forced myself up to my feet and to the bathroom. With a glance in the mirror, I saw the dried streaks of blood on my cheeks. A gruesome sight. I was mangy like Negan said. It was undeserved, like I was rescued from under an overpass while gnawing on my own ankle.
My eyes were doubling in yellow while my hair was matted and knotted into a braid. I barely recognized myself as an Alexandrian and more as the nomad I once was. Rookie.
I looked like a Rookie.
I sat on the bed, waiting for Dwight to return with clothes. My skin was dry already from the shower and I was wrapped in a towel and my dirty jacket. My legs tucked under me, I slowly shut my eyes and pressed a palm to my stomach, hoping for some sort of solace in the being growing inside me.
What will you come out as? I found myself wondering, feeling its heart beating loudly under my own. Getting stronger with each passing day, I thought of how much longer I could keep them under cloak.
At the time being, there was no escape from the Saviors’ compound and I had no bigger options to overthrow my Maker. It was biologically embedded in me though half of me refused.
The door swung open and I pulled my hand away from my stomach, resting it in my lap while my other held my jacket closed. Dwight tossed a shirt and shorts my way, not giving me a second glance.
“Get dressed.” He ordered before stepping out of the room and shutting the door after him. “He’s coming down.”
I stared at the clothes in my hands and quickly changed into them, pulling my hair behind my shoulders and knotting it into a bun. The day already felt long, unpunctuated by Rick or Daryl stopping in to check on me. Without Judith or Carl to care for either, my hands were freer and I felt without purpose.
Standing in the middle of the room, I stared at the door waiting for Negan to walk through. I wasn’t sure what I would do when he came in, but I knew it wouldn’t be an act of blind heroism. The door opened again, this time with Negan leading Dwight into the room.
“Now don’t you clean up nice. Might as well tie a bow ‘round your neck and gift you.” Negan stepped in close, tugged at my hair to pull it loose. “Ain’t that right, Dwight?”
Dwight grunted in agreement, arms crossed as he stood before the door. Negan brushed the back of his hand to my cheek and purred.
“Ready to know your role, Beta?” He asked before grabbing my chin and turning my face towards him. “Kneel.”
As he said that, Dwight immediately took to his knee and dropped his head down. I glanced at him, then back at Negan as he jostled my chin and I found myself submitting to my knee.
“You, as my one and only Beta, will always kneel to me. So get used to this view, Rook. You’re gonna see me a lot like this.” Negan grinned down at me, clenching his thumb and pointer finger deep into my cheeks to make me bare my teeth. “Say, D, what day is it? How much time we got?”
“A little less than six hours before the shift.”
Negan looked at him with a nod then back down at me. “Perfect. Let’s make sure our Rookie gets a collar around that time, huh? Don’t want her getting too comfortable just yet.”
My eyes widened as I stared at the man before me. What did he mean by that? As I jolted to stand, Negan shook me back down to my knees.
“You’re gonna make this hard on me, aren’t you? I feel it in you, like an unbroken horse.” Negan pushed my jaw out of his hand as Dwight grabbed hold of my wrists behind my back and locked them in the silver cuffs again. “Well, let’s get to breaking, shall we?”
He slapped harshly at my cheek before snapping his fingers and Dwight dragged me out of the room by the cuffs behind my back.
“Wait,” he said, raising a hand up to stop Dwight in the doorway. An exhale escaped me when I didn’t want it to.
Negan reached into his jacket pocket, produced a folded piece of paper. He slowly unfolded it then dropped it into my lap.
“This…is what happens to unbroken horses. They lead to other people’s harm,” Negan said, pointing to the polaroid cradled between my thighs.
I couldn’t bare to look down, but Negan forced my head down to stare at it. “Your little Alpha tried to play hero and just like that…another one of your group, gone. Out like a damn light.”
My eyes struggled to adjust at what I was staring at; the colors were faded and the flash washed out the subject of the photo. It wasn’t until I blinked again, I realized what I was looking at.
I reared up on my ankles, pushed away from the polaroid as if it would inflict me the same. It was Glenn. When Negan said that he wouldn’t harm Carl…he chose Glenn instead.
There was no place back in Alexandria for me now.
Dwight unlocked one of my cuffs and threaded it through a hook in the wall of my cell. I barely had a moment to relieve the discomfort from my wrist before he locked it back in the cuff.
I tested the length of my chain, how far I could get across my room without scraping off the top layer of my skin with silver. I had to get out of here. I had no plans of finding out what Negan was talking about.
“Don’t go acting stupid now. Arat will be down in a few minutes,” Dwight said, already closing the heavy door and shutting out my only light source.
Darkness set in quick. My eyes couldn’t adjust to any of it, only making things seem more shrouded in black than before. I wanted to squeeze my eyes shut, wait for the light to return and preserve my vision for more important times. But every time I blinked, I could still see blood and Glenn’s gouged eye.
My hands balled into fists before I braced the wall, holding myself up while I turned as far away to vomit. Acid crept up my throat as my stomach rumbled with hunger, the only thing I’d eaten since I got here being dog food.
The door creaked open again and my eyes snapped up to a woman in the way of the fluorescent light. Her face was shielded with a shadow but from the curl of her top lip, she was disgusted with the scent.
I stood up straight, turning most of my body towards her. Though I was confident that Negan wouldn’t send someone in to stab me in the back, I wasn’t entirely sure.
Arat approached me, drawing a knife from her pocket and holding the blade out to shine in the light.
“Don’t make this hard on me.” Her voice was brute and low. I shook my head and tried to stand as still as possible.
Maybe I am getting stabbed in the back. Or just stabbed. She held the blade up to my chin and took a deep breath in before she reached for the collar of my jacket, along with my shirt, to cut it along the seam down the length of my arm.
I shut my eyes, remaining still, as Arat slowly stripped me of my clothes with the blade. To the point where, even if I were given them to wear again, they would be unsalvageable. At the final point of her cutting the inner thighs of my shorts and my body being greeted by a brisk cold, Arat kicked the rags onto the bile I’d produced earlier only to further prove my point.
I opened my eyes to Arat standing up and staring me in the face.
“Done,” she said, folding the blade back and stuffing it in her pocket. After that, she was gone with the door shutting forcefully and blocking out the light again.
I held back a shiver. Even being so ridiculously warm-blooded, the cold from the concrete seeped into me. I shifted on the balls of my feet to fight off the chill and keep my wrists from burning on the silver.
The door opened again late. I’d rested my head over the hook holding my cuffs and tried to sleep, but I could only stare down at what I’d gotten myself into. My head continued to repeat apologies to all the Alexandrians I felt I wronged, feeling that this was more of my end.
With footsteps behind me, I figured it was someone coming in to finish me off. Someone to strip me of my final dignity.
But it was worse. I heard a click, then metal scraping as it came apart at the hinge. I forced my head up, about to look over my shoulder, when it was thrust upon my neck and locked.
The initial burn of the metal to my skin caused me to wince, and there was no way to ease the tight collar off without it cutting further into me.
A boot braced one side of the wall and the collar was tugged harder by the chain connected to it. A ferocious growl built up in my lungs and throat before I finally snarled at the assailant and jerked my head forward.
The burns only set in more, my skin feeling like it was tearing away under the weight and touch of the silver.
“Fuck,” I said, resting my head forward again and hoping for the chill of concrete to comfort me.
My skin was running hot as my breathing picked up. A shift was on the brink, I knew it was. The person who dawned the collar on me came forward to unlock my cuffs. I glanced over to see it was Arat again, with a twisted smile on her face.
With narrowed eyes, I embedded that look on her face to memory. When I get out of here, I will chew out your throat.
“Move,” she ordered, grabbing the chain between my cuffs and pulling me after her.
The chain attached to my collar dragged behind, clattering on the floor and catching onto my ankles like whiplashes. I reluctantly followed after her, up two flights of metal stairs and outside.
The moon greeted my skin comfortingly, its milky glow reminding me there was such a thing as an outside. I inhaled deeply the scent of fresh air, only for my cuffs to yank and pull me out of my comfort.
“Hey Rookie. You ready for the shift?” Negan asked, standing on a metal balcony a floor above the door.
He’d stripped off his jacket and scarf, with only a white t-shirt underneath. From where I stood, the pearly orbs in his eyes had doubled since the last time I saw him.
I didn’t answer him, only continued following after Arat until she stopped at metal cage. Something just taller than me and wider than me, about the size of my wolf.
I dug my heels in the ground, hoping to stop the second lieutenant from forcing me into an even smaller prison than the concrete one. Her tugging turned harder, to the point where I believe that my hands would slice off.
“Break her down if you have to, she’s getting in that cage,” Negan ordered.
Arat took his order in stride, letting go of my chain and instead, blindsiding me with her elbow to the side of my face. I stumbled forward slightly, reaching up to make sure my nose wasn’t bleeding before Arat pushed me from behind into the cage and locked it.
With a swift kick, the cage crashed forward onto the dirt, leaving me on my hands and knees, trying to avoid the bars of silver. Negan chuckled while Arat removed the collar from my neck and the cuffs from my hands.
I reached up to ease the burning from skin, only for myself to wince at the claw piercing my flesh. I pulled my hand away, noticing my fingers sharpening to claws as my teeth cut through my gums.
The more I began to shift, the more the silver around me burned. I curled into myself, trying to force away the dominant need to change but it was too late to stop.
My eyesight went red as I felt my bones scrape together and my flesh tore away to reveal fur. A growl embedded itself in my throat as my back elongated and brushed the top of the cage. My hearing picked up the snarls of Walkers miles in the distance. Even in confines, I felt at ease a bit.
Until a sharp howl broke through my conscience thought. The sound forced me to look back at Negan, seeing him in his form, facing the moon with his head held high.
I bared my teeth in his direction, my paws bracing the dirt between the grates as I reached my prime form. I’ll kill you.
The cage slowly opened and I stretched my back out, ready to pounce, but Arat replaced the collar to my neck and forced me back in.
It was tighter now, too tight for any relief in my wolf form. It made it hard to swallow, and when I opened my mouth to growl, only a high-pitched yelp came out.
Loud clattering against the cage woke me from my uncomfortable rest. The sun in my face was broken by a tall shadow in the way. Negan. He swiped his bat over the front grates, the barbs twinkling with soft, annoying chimes.
“There’s my girl. Are we ready for the big day? Are we ready?” He leaned forward, his hands bracing his knees as if trying to get a dog excited.
I’m ready to come over there and claw your face off. I found myself growling before opening my mouth to speak.
Even without trying to talk, I knew that it was all wrong. I reached my hand out, hoping to see my tan fingers curl through the grates and burn slightly at impact. Instead, I was taken back by the sight of my paw pressing against the metal, with an intense sizzle to come from it.
I yelped, backed to the corner of the cage then looked up at Negan. What did you do to me?
“I broke you, Rookie. What, you think I’m letting a wild animal run through my Sanctuary?” He reeled back with a chuckle. “We do not play that shit here. Now, you ready to go on a little trip?”
I dropped my head, knowing that I didn’t have much of a choice as the cage opened from the top. Negan grabbed hold of the chain from my collar in his gloved hand. Reluctantly, I followed him out and across the yard, like a parade animal.
The walk in the morning sun, shrouded in fur, was sweat-inducing. I could only pant and keep my head down, following Negan through the compound as his new pet before being forced into the back of a Humvee.
I sat between two rows of Negan’s soldiers, Saviors, each of them staring at me like I wasn’t three times their size. If Negan had made them all Alphas, I would’ve smelt it on them. They were just used to the sight and sure in themselves that even if I did attack, there was enough of them to kill me.
The roar of the engines starting up in sync was enough to put me down. Without human hands to deafen the noise, my ears rang for the entirety of the ride, sickened me to my core.
Just as soon as the engines started, they seized with high-pitched brakes hissing and screeching. My four paws braced the floor of the vehicle as it lurched, my ears no longer picking up noise aside from the Saviors’ breathing and steady heartbeats.
I was back in Alexandria. Only it wasn’t like home. The soldiers filed out of the Humvee before Dwight climbed in and unchained me from the floor.
“Let’s get you to the boss,” he said, tugging harshly at my leash and leading me out of truck.
My paws braced hot pavement, the first hot thing under my hands that wasn’t Daryl’s fingers. I stretched out my claws, tried to savor the moment, but was pulled to follow after Dwight to Negan.
He stood before the gate of Alexandria, his bat slung over his shoulder and his other hand free. Dwight slipped the chain into Negan’s gloved palm and he grinned devilishly.
Not looking down at me, he tugged the chain as hard as he could and I yelped, trying to keep my flesh from burning anymore at the collar.
“Sit,” he ordered, and I did so, which made him grin harder.
Negan turned back to the gate as the gate slid open to the main street. I felt myself edging to my feet, seeing so many familiar faces in so little time. Though none of them would recognize me for the monster I was.
“Who are you?” A man asked, his eyes squinting in the daylight.
Negan scoffed, glanced down at me and back at the man. “Oh, you better be joking. Negan, Lucille. I know I had to make a pretty strong first impression.”
I expected Negan wanted me to intimidate the man, but my thoughts were elsewhere. A well-known scent caught in my nostrils and I reared up on all four legs to see Rick approaching the gate.
Rick, please. Look at me. Help me. I was reduced to begging after what I could only count up as five days.
“Well, hello, there,” Negan said to Rick, staring the man down through the rusted bars protruding between them.
I noted the remnants of red in Rick’s eyes as he stared back at Negan. I wasn’t sure if him noticing me now was a good idea. I found myself sitting again, further behind Negan, just for Rick to not see how I was being treated.
“Got a present for you,” he continued, jostling the chain to my collar before pulling hard and bringing me forward.
My snout brushed against the rusted bars, my head hung low as I averted my eyes to not look at Rick.
Don’t do anything stupid now, Rick. Don’t look at me now. My pleas fell on deaf ears as Rick pushed his way between the man on his side and the gate, fell to his knees and slowly reached through the bars to caress the side of my snout.
“Cherokee,” he whispered, lowering his eyes to meet mine.
From the darting of his eyes between mine, I knew he had so many questions to ask. More about his child than me, but his concern was valid.
I started to lean into Rick’s touch, friendly and reassuring, before Negan yanked me back causing more of the fur and skin around my neck to break into a loud sizzle.
Rick slowly stood, returning his hardened glare to Negan.
“Do not make me have to ask.” His voice was on the verge of booming, his eyes narrowed.
Rick turned to the fastening of the gate, “You said a week. You’re early.”
“I missed you,” Negan said, glancing down at me, “She did, too.”
He turned at the sound of a Walker approaching, snarling and dodging between the trucks. My ears slowly perked up, and Negan turned to thwack the Walker from this side of its face. It fell without another sound.
“Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Now, let’s get started.” He turned to all of his men lined up by the gate and back. “Big day.”
Rick panned out to see all of the placid faces of Negan’s Saviors, then back down at me, reaching to put an inch between my flesh and the collar with my paw.
“Did you see what I just did? That is some service. After I almost get turned away at the gate. Do I get mad? Do I throw a fit? Do I bash some ginger’s dome in? Nope. I just take care of one of these dead pricks that could’ve killed one of you. Service.” Negan started towards Rick and I felt a growl begin to surface in my throat.
He jerked the chain for me to follow, then thrusted his bat into Rick’s hands. “Hold this.”
I slowly passed by Rick, my snout reaching out to nuzzle his calf only for Dwight to cut in and smack my nose. Rick saw it, but pretended he didn’t, looking after Negan as he spoke about the plenty that Alexandria had to offer.
“Cherokee, are –” he began, after Dwight moved to the other side of him.
Negan turned around and barked, “No,” stepping between the two of us. He looked over his shoulder, down at me and back at Rick. “Nope. She’s my bitch. Just as she always was, is and will always be my bitch.”
He took a step towards Rick, baring his teeth like a possessive junkyard dog. “You don’t look at her, you don’t talk to her, you don’t get a fresh whiff of that purebred pussy and I don’t string her up by her collar and let her be Walker chow.”
Rick immediately turned away, ignored me as he’d tried to in the beginning. I inched forward, only for Negan to snort aggressively in my direction and I receded.
He called out his orders to the Saviors and Arat executed their fanning out. Negan thrust my chain into Dwight’s hands and watched as his soldiers spread throughout Alexandria.
“You gonna show me around or not?” Negan pointed to Dwight after Rick breezed past him. “You keep an eye on her. She ain’t got nowhere to hide, no one to talk to.”
Dwight let the chain slip from his grip and the clatter to the pavement spoke volumes. It didn’t matter if I tried to run, I’d always be found.
I followed Negan through the neighborhood, my chain deafening the conversation between him and Rick. I watched as Saviors ransacked through people’s homes, taking out everything not nailed down and tossing it out like curbside trash.
I stopped halfway, another scent catching to me. The empty apartment that Daryl had turned into his personal hideout, our personal hideout. I wondered if he was watching somewhere else as everything was torn out of Alexandria.
They stopped as one of Negan’s Saviors produced a video camera, showed him a video of Rick long before I arrived. It wasn’t long before Father Gabriel produced himself and led Negan to Maggie’s grave.
The overwhelming stench of buried corpses was enough to keep me from stepping on the land, and I stayed on the edge of the grass until a gunshot went off.
I stood by the door of the pharmacy to not upset Carl further. Rick rushed in to ease Carl down before Negan stepped in between Carl and his soldier.
“And you should go. Before you find out how dangerous we all are.” Carl stared at Negan as if he’d back down at a threat.
My emotions got the best of me in the moment and I stepped in between the two. My side braced Carl’s torso and scooted him across the hardwood floor to put some distance between him and Negan.
“And who the hell said you could butt in? That was my dance, Beta. That is not your kid.” Negan lurched forward and grabbed hold of my collar before pulling me up until my hind legs couldn’t scrape the hardwood anymore.
My eyes searched, panicked, as I yelped and squirmed to get out of Negan’s rude grasp. The silver continued to burn further down, embedding itself in my skin and irritating my body with itching chills.
Rick stared, wild and helpless, as Negan continued to let me squirm and gasp for air. Carl squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out my fragile state before yelling at Negan to stop.
I dropped to the floor as Negan let go of my collar, panting and scratching helplessly at the silver now secured within my burn wounds. Carl rushed to touch me, to hold my snout and brush down my ears without even knowing who I was.
I glanced up at Carl, took in his calming scent while he held my face in his hands.
“Cherokee?” He asked solemnly, as if he could see my pleas from behind my eyes. “Y-you’re in there?”
I softly nodded in Carl’s hold. He looked over to Rick who exhaled and nodded in return.
Negan grabbed hold of my collar again and raised me to my feet. “Moving on. Take my little bitch back to the truck, Davey.”
He handed the chain over to his soldier, let him drag me out of the pharmacy with my claws scratching up half of the floor.
“Just so she don’t shit on the carpet,” Negan said, turning back to Rick and Carl.
Outside, more of the Alexandrians’ things were tossed into the street. I stopped short on the porch to see a ghost of a man from before. Daryl.
My footing picked up as Davey tried to hold me back. My instinct fought against my action but I couldn’t help myself. Before I knew it, my snout was greeting the back of Daryl’s leg, takin in his scent of stale cigarettes.
Immediately, the memories came back to me all good and warm. His concern for me was genuine, I could hear it in the way his heartbeat dropped and his scent overcame with familiarity.
“Cherokee,” Daryl turned around to see me, in my wild form, and dropped to his knees.
His fingers in my fur were more comforting than Rick’s and Carl’s, his touch soothing and tear-jerking to say the least. He pressed his forehead to mine, his eyes almost crossing as he stared into my yellow irises and saw into me.
Help me. I found myself pleading inside. Daryl’s eyes almost watered, the red bags under his eyes twitching to react. He’d gone too long without sleep.
I will. I heard directly in my ears Daryl’s voice though his mouth hadn’t moved. My forehead pressed harder to his, my eyes closing as I tried to hold onto the warmth he gave off for when I’d go back to the concrete again.
I love you. I exhaled, my paw reaching up to brace Daryl’s shoulder. From far away, I could feel the atmosphere shift with Negan coming through. Davey tugged at my collar and I hissed.
Daryl threw his arms around my neck in a short moment and I could hear his flesh sizzling at the touch of the silver. He fought through it, held back his groan of discomfort to hold me a bit longer until Davey jerked me away.
“Oh, and look at that, she found her mate.” Negan started again as Daryl pushed to his feet with a groan. “You like that there, hotshot? Dose of silver’ll slow you down.”
Daryl reached to touch his afflicted arms and winced outwardly at the open wounds.
“Keep pumping them in your girl here and she’ll be a regular house dog before you know it.”
Daryl looked down at me, then back at Negan. Have you told him?
I slowly shook my head, knowing what he was asking. I wasn’t planning to.
Negan snapped his fingers in Daryl’s face and leaned in. “I don’t think you’ve heard the rules about her, have you? You don’t look at her, do not touch her, do not speak to her unless you want me to personally mount her head on your wall. Do I make myself clear?”
Daryl didn’t look in Negan’s direction, his face placid and hard with his hair covering his eyes.
Negan raised his brows, looked over his shoulder to Davey and Rick then back. “I think he might’ve gone deaf and dumb. Rick, hand me Lucille.”
He reached back to brace the grip of his bat then leaned it against his shoulder. “Now, let’s try that again. Do I make myself clear?” Negan enunciated each word with heavy emphasis and loud volume to make himself known.
“She’s pregnant,” Rick choked out from behind. “Cherokee’s pregnant.”
My ears folded down at the sound of my name, then up slightly as Negan kneeled beside me.
“Beta, baby, is that true? Are you carrying an Alpha’s cub?” Negan reached to pet me and I flinched.
I didn’t know how to answer, if there even was one. I nodded once and Negan exhaled.
“My god, and here I was treating you like you pissed in my Kix.” He slowly stood up and looked between the two Alphas around him. “Guess I should be treating you a bit better than so that when…I’m sorry, if you come back to these two losers, you’ll be sporting their bastard on your hip.”
I didn’t look up, even after all that happened today, Negan managed to make me feel lower than before. My joints locked up and I felt a strong need to stretch them. Staying in this form was wearing me thin.
“Load her up in the truck. Let’s get back.”
Davey lifted me up and carried me like an injured animal.
“Careful, she’s precious cargo,” he said, winking to Daryl before turning to point at Rick. “You and me, we got some unfinished business.”
The concrete cell door opened and my collar was unlatched from my neck. With a shove, my paws skidded against the floor until my stomach contorted and I stretched out with a whine.
My body slowly retorted back to its human form, my skin chilled by the brisk air. I broke into a cold sweat, my fur reverting back into my body, and curled into myself.
I heard sloshing over my shoulder and warm water sprayed over me. My body tightened harder, my bones grinding against my joints while I tried to breathe easily.
Soon after, the water dried on my skin and a blanket was draped over my naked body. The fabric was soft and light, but enough to keep me comfortable.
“You hungry?” Dwight asked from the open doorway.
I wanted to nod, but my body was heavy with coming back into my own. At my silence, Dwight left with the door still open as it shined fluorescent light into the concrete cell.
I heard the shuffling of footsteps outside of the cell. My eyes peeked under my arm to see a shadow of a figure standing outside of the doorway with their arms crossed. I assumed it was Arat.
He returned with a metal tray, one with dividers for different foods. On it was two fried eggs, steamed carrots, toast and a glass of water.
“From Negan, he sends his love,” Dwight said coldly, leaving the room as I tentatively reached for a slice of toast.
I sank my teeth into the bread and my stomach grumbled with an immense hunger that was insatiable. I grabbed a handful of egg and forced them into my mouth, chewing rudely while hunched over the tray.
“Knock knock,” a voice from the front door said.
My ears twitched as the footsteps approached the cusp of the room but I kept eating as I looked up to see Negan, holding a stack of clothes.
“No hard feelings, Rookie?”
I held back a growl as I kept chewing, holding a handful of egg against my lips.
“Honey, if I’d known your belly was chalk full of Alpha legacy, I’d at least let you keep your dignity.” Negan smiled dryly, kneeling to hold out the stack of clothes. “The least I could do after rolling around with those dirty boys.”
I kept eating, offering a side eye to Negan at the same time.
“Did you think it’d make you worthier to them baring the spawn of an Alpha?” He asked, setting the clothes out before me while I continued to eat.
My feet rested down on the cold concrete then my legs folded underneath me. I slowly dropped my hands, releasing the rest of my foot to reach for the comfort of clothing.
What did he mean by that? I thought of what Daryl had told me earlier, what seemed like the longest time ago.
“Oh, Rookie, do you think they love you?” Negan reached out tentatively, his finger almost brushing away crumbs from my cheek. I flinched and he retracted slowly. “It’s in their nature. Those boys, they’d tell you anything just to get a good whiff of you.”
I wanted to shake my head, Negan was only saying things to change me. I was set in stone. Even if they didn’t say it to me, I knew that they meant it.
“Look at where you are right now. Of course, you done sacrificed yourself for those strangers but neither of those damn Alphas stepped up and took your place. Even that mate of yours, as wounded as he was?”
I shook my head then. I didn’t want them to make a scene. I made it that way, I put myself forward so they wouldn’t have to.
“They made you think like you had to, didn’t they? That you had to put yourself forward or there was no place for you back at home.”
No, that would never be true. Rick and Daryl would do anything for me.
“They’re all for protecting you when it comes to that kid though, huh?” Negan asked, his knuckle now brushing against my cheek as I fully sank to the floor. My legs stretched out before me, feeling achy in the knees as they bent normally.
Rick threatened to kill me if anything happened to them.
“But I…I’d have killed all of them for you, Rook. I’ve loved you since I caught onto your scent the first time. Knew you were special when I curled you up and let you rest after changing you.”
“Funny way of showing it,” I muttered, reaching for my neck to scratch at the embedded scars. It still felt fresh, and pained me when I touched it.
“I know I been an asshole, kid, but you acted like I killed your puppy.”
“You almost killed me,” I emphasized.
Negan moved his hand and I flinched again. He cupped the side of my face with his palm, his fingers massaging around my jawline. “In the past, Rookie. I’m here for you. Know that.”
I thought again about what Daryl said. ‘You take it easy in here.’ If I wanted to stay alive, stay human, I had to play along.
I slowly leaned into Negan’s touch, fluttered my eyes closed and hummed. “I want to believe you, as my Maker, but…”
“You’re not inclined to believe me now. Not when you’re branded by another Alpha.”
I reached for the bitemark on my shoulder, felt the overlapping teeth of Daryl’s wolf and Negan’s.
“I won’t put you through that again. I ain’t gonna hurt you no more.”
I’ll believe it when I see it. I reached for the shirt in the stack of clothes and forced it over my head as Negan pulled his hand away.
“When you’re done getting dressed, we’ll get you to that doctor of ours. See if he can fish out those silver flecks. Maybe see how that bastard is thriving.” With that, Negan slowly rose to his feet and turned to leave.
He stopped in the doorway, turned to Arat and whispered something to her while I continued to get dressed. She looked back into the cell and our eyes locked.
Arat nodded and I slowly stood up, pulling my pants on before finishing my tray of food. Take it easy in here.
The room that Negan tempted me with when I got here was now mine. He’d gotten Dwight to bring another tray of food for me to eat for breakfast, wrapped in tinfoil and sat on the side table.
I spent the night staring at the ceiling, wondering what was in store for me in the morning.
Three fetuses on a screen.
Two in a sac together, a pair of twins.
One without a heartbeat.
My stomach was bared to the cold wand of an old ultrasound machine, battered with a cracked screen. The doctor was quiet, pointing out the shadows on the screen while he reached to turn up the volume to let the rhythmic beat of two heartbeats fill the room.
Two heartbeats. I wanted to sit up and see which one wasn’t going to make it. Out of three fetuses, one of them were Daryl’s. It had to be. Inside, I felt it give off the comfort that Daryl harbored when he was around.
“There’s no way to determine which one is without a heartbeat, but it is possible that the one underdeveloped fetus will pull through.”
I sat by, dumbfounded by the thought of more than one kid at the same time. I could barely divide my time between Judith and Carl correctly. I opened my mouth but nothing came out as Hargan printed out a blurry, black and white photograph of three circles in an abyss.
The machine had labeled parts it could recognize. Feet, hands, hair. One of the twins had hair. It was eerie to think about, wondering if it was hair or fur mislabeled.
I sat on my bed, staring at the photograph in my hands. For twins, I could tell, one of them was older than the other. Not so much as twins, but more of siblings. One had hair, five full toes on a small foot, while the other had tucked-in arms and a balled-up fist.
The third was small, cradled at the bottom and the size of a half-peanut. They were new, no heartbeat, no distinct features just yet. Just there.
I pressed my hand to the side of my stomach and squeezed my eyes shut, hoping to catch onto one little heartbeat under the other. The sounds were direct, a strong heartbeat in my left palm, a weaker one pattering in my right with nothing relaying between them.
I wanted to sit there and revel in the thumping emitted through my palms, only thinking about three instead of one and how I’d take care of them. But then I thought of how I’d explain any of it to Daryl or Rick.
It wasn’t as if they could share the responsibilities. They could barely stand each other between changes if I were involved.
The door opened and I dropped my hands to my sides. Negan sauntered in, without his signature leather jacket and his scarf.
“Rookie,” he began, sitting on the corner of my bed, “Heard you got some good news.”
I wanted to look over at the picture tucked under my knee, almost reached for it even though it was useless to hide. Negan caught my glance, picked the ultrasound up and stared at it.
He brought it closer to his face, closing an eye to get a better look. Negan’s mouth broke into a wide grin as his thumb lined the outline of the picture.
“Three alpha pups? Rookie…” Negan tried to pry his eyes away but he was fixated. I could see the opal ring around his eyes expand and recede in interest.
His wolf was more than sated with the news and he wasn’t even the father of them. I reached for the photo, plucking it from his fingers with a low growl.
Later in the day, sitting at the back door of the compound and watching the Walkers on the opposite side of the gate circle one another, the sound of gunshots brought me to my feet. Without Daryl around to tell me otherwise, I ran towards the noise of gunfire.
At the front of the compound, Negan pulled one of his men in front of him as he smiled at the boy standing on the back of cargo truck.
I stepped out of the doorway, towards the commotion slowly. With a sniff to the air, I picked up my pace, moving between some of the Saviors to see them pointing their weapons at Carl.
“Carl,” I said, holding my hands up to mean no harm. “What are you doing?”
With his steady glare shifting down to me, Carl slowly climbed off the truck, lowering his weapon to his side. He curled an arm around my shoulders in a remedial hug. I curled my arms around him in a more comforting embrace. His arm grazed my neck and I hid a wince from the silver still in my skin.
Carl pulled away at the sound of a couple new Saviors loading their weapons. I stepped in front of Carl as he lifted his firearm, my arms extending to shield him.
“What are you doing? Can’t you see Rookie’s standing right there? Give the girl some distance. Drop your weapons,” Negan ordered.
Carl glared at the man over my shoulder then leaned into me. “What happened? I thought he was going to kill you.”
I looked at the profile of Carl’s face, remembering how familiar his scent was. My heart rushed as I felt a small curl in my stomach.
“He…was forced to come around.”
“Why?” Carl asked, narrowing his eyes before glancing at me.
“Carl, kid, I’m…”
“Negan’s, of course,” Negan said, approaching the pair and resting his arm on my shoulders. “I made Cherokee into what she is. How could I ever come around to killing my only Beta? My only breeding Beta?”
I shot a glare up at Negan, seeing his eyes flash at Carl with a hint of dominance. Instinctively, I reached for Carl to keep him away from Negan’s primal being.
He snatched himself away from me. “What does he mean, Cherokee?”
I looked back at Negan, shrugged his arm down my shoulder before he gripped his nails into my bicep.
“Oh, don’t be that way, Carl. You gotta be nice to your step momma. She’s got your little brother to take care of now.”
I shut my eyes as Carl’s outburst stung my ears.
“Oh yeah. You didn’t think your Daddy kept my Rookie around just because he’s a nice guy?” Negan chuckled. “Nope. Got all over her, made my girl dirty. I decided to give her a pass for having to deal with that. Twice.”
I kept my eyes shut, trying to pry myself free of Negan’s harsh hold. “Carl, you have to understand…”
“Did Dad hurt you?” Carl mustered to ask.
I opened my eyes in surprise, stepped forward and shook my head. “Of course not. I didn’t want you to know. I didn’t know how to tell you. I know how close you are to Michonne.” I looked over to Negan and leaned into Carl’s ear. “Just keep this between us. I know I won’t have a home after this.”
“She telling you about your father threatening her life for the other kid? Father of the year, huh?”
Inside, Negan let me stay with Carl. I decided to tell him all I could. Parts of it were still murky to me and I kept most of that to myself. I still wasn’t sure all Negan wanted from me now that I was more of a pawn than before, and I kept that concern to myself too.
There were things I didn’t want him to relay back to Rick or Daryl. Things that would turn me into more of damsel in distress.
“What about me? Could I be?” He asked, inquisitive while he stared in my eyes. He searched actively for the amber rings around my irises.
I hid an entertained chuckle. “That, I don’t know. I can’t smell anything on you except your father.” I paused, glancing down at my hands. “How’s he taking it?”
Carl blinked, shifted away on the couch. “I think it’s killing him inside. I don’t think I’ve seen him so broken down.”
“Is there anything I can do to help? Pull my weight?”
Carl looked over his shoulder to the closed doors behind him. “He wants to father the twins.”
I narrowed my eyes at his statement, my hands reaching for my stomach but Carl grabbed my wrists instead. That was what I assumed, but I wasn’t sure what Negan would want with Rick’s offspring.
“Just keep that up, for another week at least. Don’t let him chain you up again. Play to his game. I’ll help you find a way out then.”
I yanked my wrists from Carl’s hold.
“Don’t let him get to you.” I said, leaning in to press my lips to his temple.
Take it easy in here, I could hear Daryl’s words come back full force. Carl smiled softly as the double doors opened.
“Rookie, Dwight’s got some lunch for you. In your room.”
I slowly rose from the couch and passed by Negan, feeling him lean in to catch scent of my hair. Closing the doors behind me, Negan chuckled and sat across from Carl.
“She’s a handful. Now I know why your Daddy wouldn’t let her off her back.”
I tightened my grip on the door handles until I felt them bend to my whim. I let go and walked away with a growl.
Dwight put his hand on my shoulder, following me down to my room before the receiver on his hip hissed to life. “Gates open, Negan’s going off land.”
I looked over at Dwight as he locked his eyes on me. He reached for his receiver and grumbled an incoherent response. We were halfway down the stairwell, still too far for Dwight to get me back to my room and outside before Negan bit his head off.
He grabbed onto my elbow and pulled me with him, back outside to see Negan load Carl into the cab of a truck. I shook myself free of Dwight’s feeble grip and rounded to Carl’s window.
“Carl,” I said nervously, my eyebrows furrowing in concern.
Carl leaned towards me, taking hold of my hand on the windowsill. “Forget what I said. Go now.” He whispered, breathy, into my ear. I could barely understand what he meant until he pulled away and gave me a reassuring nod.
My eyes flashed over to Negan, unsure what he was planning, but I didn’t like it. I wasn’t sure if he’d said something to Carl that scared him enough about my safety, but if Carl told me to go, I’d overstayed my welcome.
Dwight grabbed my arm again, pulled me out of the way of the truck as Carl nodded at me again from the passenger seat. The thought wrestled within me as Dwight escorted me back to my room.
Was Negan making me passive on purpose?
The more I thought about it, the more I felt like a domestic. Go now. I was furious within myself and I couldn’t shake the weight in my chest. Go now.
I shoved my tray to the floor and got to my feet. If I were to leave now, it’d have to be quick. There was a time to sit back, but now would not be the time. I’d promised Daryl that I’d stay safe before, but this was more than reckless. I was itching to be feral.
I kicked off my shoes and left the room, running down the dim hallway before forcing the emergency exit door open. The dim light seeped in from the outside and shined right into the open armory. A glint on the main table caught my eye and I reached for it, unmistakably it being Rick’s revolver from his hip holster.
Shoving the gun into my pocket, I doubled back to the exit door and slipped out to the lot.
The lot was empty except for a line of motorcycles. At the end of the line, I recognized Daryl’s bike by the skid marks on the side.
Running to its side, I looked for the key wedged in the line, or under the engine. My ears pricked up at the sound of approaching footsteps. I ducked myself down, not trying to be seen.
A robust man walked around the trailer, walking towards the door back into the compound. I kept myself low, dragging my hand over the ground to find something in case I needed to fight my way out. The closer he got to the door, the more I began to panic until he was hit over the back of the head with a pipe.
I glanced over the seat of Daryl’s bike to see the long-haired man that was brought into Alexandria. I thought of his name, almost snapped my fingers to think of it before he stood upright and looked at me.
I froze, raising my palms to him. He narrowed his eyes at me before his face relaxed.
“You’re with Daryl,” he said matter-of-factly. I nodded slowly, remembering his name. Friends call him Jesus. “Come on.”
I grabbed the bars of Daryl’s bike and followed Jesus out to the open gate. After we made it far enough away from the compound, I hitched my leg over the bike and looked back at Jesus.
I wanted to offer him a ride but he furrowed his brows at me. “Don’t tell anyone you saw me.” I bared my teeth at him and he nodded.
“Where are you going?”
“I just need to be on my own right now,” I said, pulling my leg off of Daryl’s bike and kicking out its stand. “I want you to take this to Daryl.”
“No, go,” he said, “Just be careful out there. Here.” Jesus handed me the bar he used on the Savior in the lot. I pulled out Rick’s revolver from my pocket and handed it over to him. “That goes to Rick.”
I wedged the bar in my waistband then shook my head. “Please. I’ll survive on foot.”
Jesus looked between me and the bike. He gave me a solemn nod then climbed onto the bike as I kept walking down the dirt path.
“Without shoes?” He asked.
I turned around to him, raised the bar and rested it on my shoulder. “Just as I have before.”
Jesus released a breathy chuckle before starting the bike and driving off. I picked up my feet, kicking up dirt as I did and ran for the forest line. I found myself stopping, remembering what grass felt like under my human toes.
I slowed down before I realized how far I’d gotten from the Sanctuary in a direction I didn’t know. I was going in what I thought as the opposite direction of Alexandria. I slowed down as I started to ease between the trees, still looking back at the Sanctuary before my feet lost their traction.
My body fell to the forest floor and the thud left me slightly disoriented. From there, I slid quickly down the forest floor, reaching out to grab onto one of the exposed roots from a tree.
The bar I was given to was dropped down below me, into a large still pool of water. I grimaced, grabbing onto a clump of the ground above me.
A loud growl and hiss erupted below, with water gurgling in the throat of the Walker. Kicking my legs out, I planned on landing on the opposite side of the creek. My hand slipped from the tree root as my other hand grabbed onto a sturdy rock and held on tight.
On the backswing, I let go, my body falling backwards until I collapsed into a heap on the wet bank behind the Walker. With the rock still in my hand, I threw it hard at the back of the creature’s head then scrambled to my knees.
I forced my hands into the water, searching for the pipe Jesus had given me and when the Walker regained itself, I stood up. I grabbed onto its shoulder and jammed the bar through its eyeball before pushing it back into the water.
I sat back down on the wet bank, feeling the damp ground seep into my clothes as I caught my breath. I stared down at my feet, now covered in red mud and exhaled, lying on my back to look up at the canopy of the trees.
Go now. I couldn’t waste more time sitting around. Knowing that Negan would come back, with or without Carl, and search for me was enough to get me up.
I shook the excess Walker blood from my pipe and kept going on foot, hearing the low eruption of thunder overhead. Continuing through the woods, in the direction I was drawn to, the water that trickled down to me was gentle and soothing.
My feet started to cake with mud and grass, my arms thwapped with twigs and low branches. I felt close to giving up until I heard a small tinkling noise in the distance. In an instance, I froze, thinking it was the barbs on Lucille.
I closed my eyes and tried to steady my breathing, trying to hone in the noise. The tinkling became more distinct, more erratic and out of tune. I opened my eyes and kept going in the direction of it, wondering what it was and why I thought it was a good thing.
The closer I got to it, the more the trees began to clear out, putting more rain in my face and mud between my toes. The field was close to familiar, with trees dispersed around it and yellow grass up to my waist.
I waded through it, my bleary eyes catching onto the long dark figure in the middle. The noise became stronger, loud enough to draw Walkers from more than a mile away. But the field was quiet except for the chiming.
I picked up my feet, running towards the noise and not worrying about what it would be when I got there. The closer I got, the more I slowed down until I stood before a dark trailer. The front of it was decorated with chimes and light deflectors, a tattered flag with a bluebird on it and old wicker furniture.
My concern slowly rose, looking around the building. I hoped for something to come out from under the porch, or from behind the place itself, but it stood hopeful and untouched. I took a step up onto the porch, the stair creaking under any weight.
I took another, this time taking the moment to scrape the mud from my sole. Then with my last step, I did the same to my other foot and stood at the front door with my fingers crossed.
Reaching for the screen door, I jarred it open enough to get to the main door. As I did, a Walker from the inside pressed itself against the window, mouth bloody and eyes clouded over. From the looks of it, they died from old age and recently found a snack inside.
I readied my pipe over my shoulder as I pushed the door open, letting the putrid smell of rotting flesh wash out with the heavy rain. I stepped in a thick puddle of congealing blood, my toes wading in the strewn innards of an unfortunate cat.
Walking inside, I grabbed onto the counter for leverage then poked the Walker in the temple as she got tangled in the blinds. The snarling went silent and I looked around a bit more to make sure the coast was clear before dragging the Walker outside.
I shut the door back, jammed a dining chair up against it as a barricade then looked around. Most of the trailer was untouched, except for the tattered blinds and cat carcasses lining the short hallway. The scent slowly went blind to me and I went to the cabinets in search for food.
Most of the cans were still good, and the bread was molded beyond relief but I reached for a jar of peanut butter and popped it open. Dipping my fingers into the smooth surface of the food, I scooped a bit into my mouth and licked the excess from my hand.
My stomach growled and I felt myself get sated until it wasn’t enough. I replaced the top on the peanut butter and carried it to the back bedroom, also untouched by the Walker.
With the bed calling my name, I set the peanut butter on the table by the door and stopped. I felt my stomach lurch from my body with a sharp, knife-like piercing. My hand reached to press into my hip, trying to stay upright but felt myself falling to my knees.
I leaned against the doorway, holding my hand out to grab onto the bedsheets but my eyesight started to blur. The piercing started again and I let out a cry of pain, feeling slickness run down my thighs and looking down to see blood. Fuck.
This couldn’t be how things went for me. I clenched my knees together, bit my bottom lip as I tried to hold back tears. I had to keep it together by myself. This alone made me want to go back to Negan.
I tightened my hold onto the carpet as my other hand held onto my stomach. “Get over it,” I muttered to myself. “We’re going home in one piece.”
I exhaled heavily, then inhaled deep as my hand felt a single foot press against my palm. After, I felt the slow scrape of small nails inside.
I sat back on my legs and felt my body reduce into a small shake. I shut my eyes and tried to focus on the heartbeats within me. One…two. Three.
The water still ran, for a short period anyways, from the faucet long enough for me to wipe the blood from my thighs. I kept my excitement that the moment was nothing more to a minimum. With however long I was going to stay, I had to take it easy. Otherwise, I’d end up like Maggie, except I’d be sick on all fours begging for Negan to take me back. Or put me out of my misery, whichever one was easier.
Maggie. If any of them were to stay on my side, it’d be her. If only she were still around. I remembered them talking about Maggie not making it.
The thought of her being gone only meant that staying alive with three would be hard. The thought scared me with not knowing if I’d see all three of them when the time came.
I shook my head free of the thought and rinsed out the cloth with the remainder of good water. That was something I’d have to get back into doing for myself. Filtering the water and sustaining myself alone.
Without Daryl to watch over while he slept, or Judith during the day, my time was free. I was free to sit around without being watched. I fended for myself out here.
Myself and three pups. It was where I didn’t want to be at the end of the world. I sat by the bathroom window and watched as the rain washed away the rest of the night.
The night slowly broke into a pink-orange morning with dewy gray clouds rolling away from the horizon. I perched in the bathroom window, waiting for the blissful moment to be cut through with the growling of an approaching Walker or the demand of someone.
But the silence continued while I stared out of the window, far out into the field at the top of a homemade fence post. I wondered if the people on the other side of the erected gate were safe, or if they were already dead.
The thought kept me still for what seemed like hours until my stomach growled. Alive or dead, I should probably steer clear. For all I knew, I was less than five miles from another Savior outpost.
Poking that hornet nest would only put me back in Negan’s hold. I had to plan out my next few movies accordingly. Living so out in the open, I had to be discreet with my survival. The very first thing I needed to do was find more Walkers.
I wandered out to where I assumed the road was from the trailer. The last large amount of Walkers worthy of a disguise was when the wall fell in Alexandria. I wasn’t sure if that was the amount of Walker guts that I’d need to hide in plain sight, but five was a good enough place to start.
It’d have to be enough while I had the energy and without any of the proper weapons. I could only carry four at a time anyways.
Outwardly searching for Walkers was a scavenging endeavor. At the worst times did those bastards find you, but when you need them to save you, it’s as if they were exterminated. I managed to find two on out on the road, then a mossy one crossing the creek.
Dragging the carcasses back to the trailer, I chucked them onto the porch then hung them over the railing. They bled into the field while I grabbed the homeowner and tossed her onto the porch roof, gathering blood in a puddle on the shingles.
Afterwards, I swiped my hands on my shirt and sat on the porch step. I pulled the peanut butter jar from my satchel then reached in for a glop of peanut butter. At the same time, my ears pricked at the distant rustling from the woods. My stomach growled something carnal, knowing peanut butter and canned fruits would only sustain me for so long.
My palms itched for the touch and tingle of blood, the fragile heartbeat of a creature. The catharsis of it would be enough for me. The ferality of the action itself would be cleansing. As I set the butter aside, eating the glob on my hand, the rustling subsided.
I took a step off of the porch, towards the noise before I sniffed in the direction. I took another step in the direction of the noise before I picked up to a sprint.
I tried to breathe deeply but my lungs betrayed me. The foot, or paw, that had scared me the night before was on its way to my diaphragm. Halfway into the woods, I stopped to catch my breath.
A gun cocked inches from the top of my head as I keeled to the forest floor. I held my hand up as my other crossed over my stomach.
“Carol, please. It’s me, it’s Cherokee.”
Carol exhaled, almost annoyed with me and dropped the gun from my temple. “What’re you doing out here? Why are you…where did you come from?”
I sat on the floor of Carol’s cabin, tearing a loaf of bread in half before biting into the soft center. She sat on the couch, folded over her knees, staring at me patiently.
“What were you doing out there, Cherokee? What happened?”
I slowed my chewing and swallowed hard. “Carol, there’s some things I haven’t told you.”
“You’re a shifter, I’ve learned,” Carol said, casually.
I sat up taller and set my bread on the table. “Carol, I…I was going to tell you earlier.”
“It’s okay, I understand why you didn’t. But that still doesn’t tell me why you were away from Alexandria, especially in your condition.”
I folded my knees under me and leaned over the table. “Do you know of the Saviors?”
Carol nodded slowly.
I bit my tongue, crumbled another bit of bread. I didn’t want to confess my relation to the devil of our livelihood. “Their leader, Negan, he is my Maker.”
Carol’s brows raised as she sat back. “You’re a Savior’s Offspring.”
“No, the Savior’s Offspring. He kept me to himself for the time I was turned, stole my necklace.” I reached for my neck, only feeling the embedded scars from the chain. “And I turned myself in to save the group from Alexandria.”
I glanced up at Carol, her face not giving any emotion. It almost scared me. At that moment, I stuck my hand in my shorts pocket and pulled out the photograph of the sonogram. Straightening out the creases on the table, I turned it towards Carol and waited for a reaction.
She glanced over to the photo, noted the three shadows and various labels. Her hand reached for the photo, but instead hid it with her palm. “What do you mean you turned yourself in?”
I narrowed my eyes, “Carol, that outpost we took out was a drop in the ocean. They cornered us, Maggie was close to death, and Negan made a mark on us.”
“Did everyone come out okay?”
I opened my mouth to disagree then closed up again. At that, there was a knock at the door. I shot to my feet and reached for my photograph. Carol shook her head, then nodded to the closet at the end of the hallway.
Picking up my feet, I hurried and hid as Carol opened the door. The silence grew as the screen door slammed and the person stepped inside, shutting the other door behind them.
I folded my hand over my mouth, knowing that if it was someone Carol knew, I didn’t want to be seen. I waited, and kept waiting, until a distinct scent wafted through my nostrils.
The stale scent of tobacco and rainwater snaked through the slats of the closet and I found myself whimpering in defeat. Daryl. I clamped my other hand over my mouth and tried to stay as still as possible.
“Where is she?” His gruff voice cut through the quiet and his movements became fervent. His steps came closer, passed by the closet then turned back and stopped.
His hands gripped at the doorknob as Carol told him to leave it alone, but all of me wanted for him to open the door.
Open it, please.
I shut my eyes, dropped my hands from my mouth. Daryl swung the door open, almost pulling it from the hinges and I felt my body ready to collapse against him. But I didn’t, I only felt his warmth around my waist.
I opened my eyes and looked down to see Daryl nuzzle his face into my slightly protruding stomach. His hair was matted and thick as I combed my fingers through it. Daryl’s arms curled tight around me, inhaling the scent of my shirt.
“Daryl,” I whispered, but he shook his head. He wanted the moment to be silent.
I let him take as long as he needed, his body wracking with quiet sobbing. My eyes watered in return, thinking of how long it’d been since I saw him last.
“I love you,” I felt his words resonate through me from where he was.
***soft trigger warning: real-time post-partum depression development, pregnancy complications***
Carol set two extra places at the dinner table, but I stood back as Daryl helped her. My stomach was turning with the thought of cooked food, whatever it was, but I knew that it wasn’t what I needed. I needed the hunt.
As Daryl sat down beside Carol, he looked up at me in the doorway and tilted his head slightly. I knew what he meant. At least try. But I couldn’t, my body was enlivened with Daryl being before me and I didn’t want to leave him again. However, I could feel the three within me on the verge of blood hungry rage.
“I need some fresh air,” I said, backing up to the door and throwing it open. I mouthed my apologies to Carol then glanced to Daryl before turning and running off the porch and into the field across the desolate road.
I tugged off my shirt then shorts before forcing myself to shift. Forcing a shift rather than letting it come naturally was painful. My shoulder dislocated while my fingers grew into claws. I let out a yelp that grew into a desolate howl.
Squeezing my eyes shut, I managed to force my arm back in its socket. At the same time a jolt of pain shocked down my spine, a vivid image flashed in my head. Negan was looking around in my room, frantic and annoyed with Dwight.
Suddenly, he brought his arm up to his shoulder, holding and rubbing it the same way I was with mine. I pulled my hand away from my shoulder with a growl, opening my eyes as they burned in black and white.
My senses all reacted to the scent of blood in my nostrils. My mouth salivated as my ears twitched, my nose fervently honed in on the scent until my hands, er, paws went cold.
As my back elongated and more fur sprouted on my body, I tried to stop myself from shifting. There was something wrong. The familiar trickle of blood was slickening my legs and I couldn’t reach to stop it.
The pain felt worse than before; I released a mournful howl as my body fully transformed. I expected for Daryl to run to my aide, to hear my cry or at least check on me.
But every time I closed my eyes, I saw Negan, reacting to my howl and releasing his Alphas on a search for me. I tried to imagine Daryl pressing his temple to mine, easing me through the waves of discomfort that wracked my body.
My eyes reddened with more blood, circling where I stood until I couldn’t stand. My front paws folded under me as my snout came in contact with the stomach of a child. Infant. Newborn.
Fresh in my nose was the scent of its skin, mixed with congealed blood as the umbilical cord curled around its neck. I nudged at its body, felt its warm skin against the cold of my nose though its face was paling from blue.
Gently, still in shock, I opened my mouth and looped the tissue between my canines before chomping down hard. I felt the sting in my stomach as I tugged the excess from the infant’s neck.
Nuzzling my nose to its chest then resting my head on its stomach, I waited for it to breathe again. Just one breath, please. The discomfort rolled through my body again and I whined, staring at the child within my reach.
“Cherokee?” A voice asked from behind me. I refused to raise my head, hoping my warmth would kickstart the infant to take a breath.
“Hey,” Carol said, approaching me and taking my folded ear in her hand. She gently pet down my fur as she knelt beside me.
I slowly raised my head to show her the baby. Her eyes went from me to the pale newborn surrounded by blood and forest brush.
She shrugged off her jacket slowly, then moved from me to pick up the infant. A growl erupted in my throat, one I wasn’t in control of.
“Easy, they’re in good care.” Carol cradled the infant in her arms then looked over her shoulder. “You’ll be okay.”
She sharply whistled and I peeked around her to see Daryl walking through the trees. I reared up on all fours and backed away with a growl, another instinctual act I didn’t mean.
I’d just gotten back to him and now I was backing away from at the expulsion of a newborn. For all I knew, it would be all three of them. My hind legs bumped into a trunk and another shock of discomfort roared through me.
I was scared, I only wanted to be alone for a moment but I had forced myself into this. I couldn’t even utter the word for it. Carol tried to nurse the baby to breathe. And when it did, the solidified cry of a newborn shrill and unending.
I had never been so happy to hear a baby cry. Daryl released an exhale of relief, one that shifted me towards him rather than away. Carol forced a soft breath between her pursed lips as she wiped the blood from the baby and tied its umbilical cord.
Daryl raised his hands to me, stepping towards me slowly. I allowed him to frame my jaw with his hands as he stared into my eyes. “You can do this.”
But I couldn’t. Seeing a being that grew inside my body come out close to death had scared me into holding back. The blood only thickened on my hind legs and I wasn’t sure if I could move.
I shut my eyes, seeing Negan again as he stood outside in the dark, taking in the night air. A deviant smile grew on his lips and I didn’t like what that could mean.
A shiver wracked through me again before I forced my snout into Daryl’s chest, allowing him to hold my head as I eased my body to relax.
Disappointment. I was not ready for the crushing weight of it at the time. Sitting on the forest floor, covered by Daryl’s jacket, I held the second child in my arms.
They were warm outside of my body but left me cold inside. Already I felt without. My body was sore again, my bones grinding against one another while I stared down at the soft face of my newborn.
The blood on my legs was now dried with leaves and dirt to accompany it. Daryl and Carol sat across from me, quiet and watching as I continued to stare down at their face.
“Cherokee,” Carol broke the silence first. It seemed like it was hours since a noise came through. I felt like I’d been sitting and staring for six hours. “We should be getting back.”
I didn’t want to move. I wasn’t sure if I could. The emptiness consumed the feeling of my legs and I couldn’t think about getting up with the frail being cradled in my arms.
“Cherokee,” Daryl spoke up next, holding the third child, the most silent of them all. “We can’t stay here. We…we can’t…”
Carol reached for Daryl’s shoulder to silence him. She knew what he was going to say. I knew it too. We couldn’t go home with all three.
They hadn’t even let me see the last one, so petite and malnourished compared to the other two. The one heartbeat I waited for, prayed for and fought to keep alive was no longer viable.
Carol eased me back into my human form and caught me as I collapsed. Daryl tried his best to not react but I knew.
There was nothing fine with the situation.
I couldn’t even open my mouth to speak, my teeth clattering though my temperature was peaking. Carol sat me up, made me comfortable as Daryl cleaned off the child I’d left behind.
They cried immediately, hitting fresh air of the cool night. Then Daryl picked up the third and folded his arm over it so I couldn’t see it. But I smelled it, sensed the quickly cooling skin.
“Come on, let’s get you cleaned up,” Carol slowly stood, holding a hand out for me to take. The way she cradled the first was so careful, gentle.
I’d forgotten how to hold little ones since I forfeited myself to Negan. I forced myself to stand up, my knees feeling heavy. Carol curled her free arm around my waist and Daryl stood to catch my other side.
The walk back was slow and excruciating, feeling my hips shift and grind together as I kept staring at the second.
Carol forced open the creaking gate then Daryl pulled the screen door open. Inside, Daryl offered to take the first and second to the bedroom. Carol took me to the bathroom and started the shower with hot water.
“Come on, easy.” Her hand held mine as she led me to take a step into the shower.
The heavy water was hot, making steam rise to the ceiling. Carol took the jacket from my shoulders then reached out to brush down my hair.
“You did a good job, Cherokee.” The look on her face from the corner of my eye was soft, her bottom lip close to quivering. “You did a real good job. Stay here, okay?”
I nodded softly, letting the water spray over my head and shoulders. The blood rinsed down my thighs and slithered towards the drain as the dirt shifted down my skin in clumps.
I reached up and slicked down the water from my hair then folded my hands over my stomach for a long moment. Empty.
I felt so hungry and exhausted, just ready to collapse and refuse to go on. I shrunk to my feet, curling into a ball as I let the hot water patter over my head. The sound was cleansing like rain but the smell was less than that.
I couldn’t hear anything beyond the bathroom until the door opened. “Cherokee.”
My name felt so far away from me again, dissociating from me. This time it was Daryl coming in to check on me. I glanced at him from the corner of my eyes then folded my nails into my skin.
I feared whatever he was going to say, whether it be about the three or what happened. He kneeled down and pressed his lips to my temple, getting showered on in the process, and stayed there as his arm curled around my shoulders.
A few tears choked out of my chest at the small bit of affection and I could tell that he was restrained as well.
“You gave me a beautiful baby girl,” he whispered, his voice caught in his throat all raspy and hollow.
His hand on the edge of the tub went to hold my knee and I flinched. Daryl shifted closer to me until he was sitting in behind me. His arms curled around my shoulders, his chin rested against my back as I sat in silence, welcoming his warmth and security like a blanket.
Disappointment. I was disappointed in myself. I should’ve pushed further and held back on shifting. How could I have known how much danger I was putting my body in? I should’ve stopped when I saw him. Negan.
He was a foreboding sign in my subconscious. Whether I was imagining him reacting to me or he actually found a way to connect in me, I wasn’t sure. All I know was that I felt hollow.
I started to rock in place, with Daryl moving along with me until I felt lulled half to sleep. From there, Daryl reached to shut off the water then picked me up and carried me out of the bathroom.
Carol pointed for him to put me in her room and, without much fight from me, he did so. He sat me on the edge of the bed and picked up his shirt from the floor. Balling it up in his hands, he forced it over my head and dressed me.
Daryl pulled back the comforter and rested me on my side then shrugged off his wet pants and climbed in beside me. I folded my hands under my head and stared across the vast gray sea of sheet to him, remembering his dampened musk and ruggedness of his face.
I reached out to touch at his stubble and he took my wrist, pressing his lips to it before setting it down on the bed. “You should try and rest. I’m taking you to Rick tomorrow.”
My eyes welled up immediately at his name. I could not face him, the hollowness in my stomach deepened like it was blowing a hole through my back. My legs went numb once more and Daryl moved closer as if to keep me level.
“You do not need to explain yourself to him. You’re going because you need help. You need a doctor. Rick probably won’t be around then.”
His arms curled around me like rough ropes of an anchor, keeping me from drifting away. I nudged my nose into the nape of his neck and inhaled. Steady.
I still couldn’t muster up anything to say, only nodded at his explanation. If Rick wasn’t even going to be there then I had to go. There was no if, I’d already put so much at stake.
“In the morning,” I managed to say, stammering as if I were learning English all over again.
I felt Daryl nod his head softly as his body weighted down with sleep. I began to follow suit, with the hollow feeling refusing to subside.
I woke up with a jerk of my head. My blurry eyes tried to focus on where I was, whether I was dreaming or not, as I saw Daryl sleeping on the ceiling. Wait.
I reached to rub my eyes but felt something cold in my hands.
“Don’t go moving, Rookie. You’ll be better soon.” A voice muttered slowly from the shadows.
I froze, my body wracking in fear as Negan’s arms cradled me close.
“I’ll make it better soon, kid,” he said, and I could feel his evil grin down on me.
My throat closed in, unable to move or open my mouth to call out for Daryl. He started moving out of the room, and I watched as Daryl got further away from me. Not again. Out of the room and down the hallway, I slowly brought my head up.
Carol was sleeping on the couch, curled up under her blanket. I wanted to know if she hid the other two or if Negan had gotten to them.
Outside, a truck flashed its headlights on, shining in my face. I raised my hand to shield my eyes but Negan moved in front of the beams. I grumbled, hoping to get my voice back before I was too far in Negan’s hold.
The truck rolled slowly towards us and stopped outside of the gate. Dwight pushed open the passenger door and Negan set me up on the seat.
“Are you okay?” Dwight asked, but I couldn’t open my mouth to say anything.
“She’s lost a lot of blood, let’s get moving.” Negan climbed in and slammed the door after him.
I finally looked down at my hands, wondering why they were so cool to see Three rested in my lap, over my hands.
“We’ll make it better, don’t you worry.”
The ride back to the Sanctuary was quiet. I tried my best not to doze off, but it was hard. My legs went numb for part of the ride and Negan reached for my hands.
I flinched, trying to stay away from him as much as possible but he took Three in his hands instead.
I sat on the corner of Negan’s bed, handcuffed to the rail. He was quiet, pacing as he held Three in the crook of his arm. I wanted to know if he’d touched the other two because him just holding the quiet one was enough to fuel a fire in me.
My wrist stung as I leaned forward in a snarl.
“You don’t have to say anything, Rook. I know that you were in trouble, too proud to ask for help.” Negan reached up, touched at their cool cheek. “What a waste. Bet you were torn up over her.”
My eyes watered as I reached forward, feeling the skin on my wrist peel with a fierce sizzle. “Let go of her.”
Negan didn’t listen, kept pacing and cooing at the infant in his arm. “She’s precious.”
I wished he would just let her rest; I was afraid that she’d turn if she was left for too long. Negan looked at me and smirked. He raised her small arm, pressed the pad of his finger to the center of her hand before leaning in to nuzzle her neck.
I reared up on my knees, ready to scream, as I heard his teeth sheath into place and he chomped through her skin. My free hand grabbed at my handcuff, ready to pull myself free.
“Let her go!” I wailed, my voice echoing into a hallowed growl. This was not what I wanted, the last thing I wanted for anyone. Another one for Negan to keep tabs on.
It wasn’t like it was going to work anyways. I found myself reasoning. If it were, that’d have been the first thing I’d done. I grabbed at my wrist again but felt lightheaded. “Let her go,” I repeated, softer.
I sat back down on Negan’s bed, bracing my hand to the mattress to keep my balance. Then I looked up at Negan as I heard a baby cry.
My eyes watered as I tried to step off of the bed to see her face. Before that would ever happen, I thought I’d hear her snarl like a Walker.
I leaned forward to peer over Negan’s elbow to see her, I wanted to see her. My hand folded over my chest as I choked out a few more tears then fell to the floor.
Negan looked down at me, his grin turning to a menacing smirk. He knelt before me, leaning his arm down so I could see Three’s face as color came back to her. Her cheeks ran red as she continued to cry, refusing to be sated.
A hand reached for my neck and squeezed as he looked into my eyes. “You will never be rid of me, you understand? No matter how many miles you travel or how many Alphas you fuck, you will always be mine.”
I shook my head free of his hand and he chuckled. Negan tilted my head to the side, lined his fingers along the imprint of the chain in my skin. “Does it still burn?”
I tried to pull myself free but he gripped at my chin. “It should. That venom is always a bitch to get over.”
The physician from the Hilltop came into the room after Negan moved me from the rail on the edge of the bed to the headboard. I stood while he sat by and held my baby, taking in her simple innocence.
Hargan pressed the cold plate of his stethoscope to my collar, told me to breathe deeply before kneeling to feel at my hips. He asked if I had any complications and Negan lied for me.
“What about the other two?” I asked after the doctor told me that I needed to rest. He’d left me with Negan once again and I’d have rather gone back to my cell.
I kept my distance from him, stretching my injured wrist while my other was cuffed. I sat on the edge of the bed, listening to the baby coo and whine while my chest continued to heave.
He scoffed, “They don’t matter to me as much as her.”
I looked over my shoulder to see him lean in to sniff at her hairline. “She already smells like me.”
I hate you. “She smells like Daryl, she is Daryl’s.”
Negan chuckled, “Keep telling yourself that.”
I kept staring across the room, my free hand clutching the edge of the bed.
“Come sit and I might let you hold her,” he said, patting the free space beside him.
I shook my head, crossing my arm over my chest as my nipples ached. The more she cooed or cried, I felt myself giving in. It seemed better to play Negan’s game again and let him take all he needed with her.
With an exhale, I sat down on the bed, leaving a lot of space between us. Negan edged closer to me and I felt myself stiffen in reaction.
He extended his arms to place her in my arms and my breath caught in my ribs. Staring down at her, I tried to distinguish which features were Daryl’s and which were mine.
Whatever it was that was Daryl’s was now muddied with the scent of Negan’s venom. My eyes started to well as I pulled her closer, taking in her scent before scrunching my face in disgust.
Her crying sated slowly until she was lulled to sleep. Negan reached to take her back but I growled in response, baring my teeth.
“Don’t go biting the hand that feeds you.” Negan defied my warning and took Three back before clambering out of the bed.
I followed after him until my cuff kept me back. Rearing up on my knees, I watched as Negan walked to the door.
“Wait, where are you taking her?” I wiped my eyes. The lingering scent of her was combined with the musk from Daryl’s shirt.
“I’m taking her someplace safe. Let mom get some rest.” He grinned, opening the door before leaving the room.
“Negan, please. Please, don’t take her.” I just got to see her, meet her and feel her breathe for the first time. Her warmth only made the hollow echo.
“Don’t worry, you’ll see her again. When she needs to feed,” he said, holding the door open. “Until then, until you can behave, I’m gonna go find her a different mommy.”
The thought of another woman, a stranger, touching my child caused my chest to rumble. “Don’t.” I reached for my cuffed wrist and stood up on the bed. “Negan, don’t you dare let another woman touch my child.”
“My child, Rookie. And I’ll do whatever the fuck I want with her. If I wanted to skin you tonight and take your fur to make her a baby blanket, I would. Behave.” Negan growled in response before slamming the door after him.
I couldn’t withstand sleeping knowing that Three was alive and kept away from me. At least with the twins, I knew that Daryl and Carol would take care of them. They’d go back to Rick and he’d move sun and earth to protect them.
I wasn’t so sure of Negan’s intentions though, if Three was merely a pawn in keeping me until I acted up again. Now, I didn’t have pregnancy protecting me. If I screwed up, I’d be dead.
The skin on my wrist continued to heal even as it kept sizzling at the silver cuff around it. My neck was still imprinted with the pattern of the chain and now I knew why. Negan was turning me back into his.
Just another member of his Saviors, where I’d live and be recognized as the Beta. A breeder.
I shook my head, pulling Daryl’s shirt over my knees before wading under the sheets. Negan wouldn’t let that happen. If I were half as special as he said I was, he’d keep me for myself.
I woke up to a cold drip on my forehead. My eyes opened to the bleary sight of a glass held over my face. Before I could blink, the glass was thrust into my hands and I sat up.
Swinging my feet over the edge of the bed, I barely caught sight of Negan doing the same on the opposite side. Looking from the glass to the person, I narrowed my eyes at Arat.
“Since you can’t get it yourself,” she said before leaving the room to me and Negan.
“Busy day today. We got some new rules to establish.” He reached to rub the back of his neck and stood up. “Unless you’re ready to grovel today, the cell is calling your name.”
By mention of it, my skin went icy to the bone. I could feel the damp in my chest already. Even if groveling wasn’t my forte, I’d do anything to stay human.
I reached to set the glass of water on the side table, then rotated my wrist in its cuff. The skin continued to heal around the burn, only making a deep cut.
“No,” I choked out, “I’ll grovel. I’ll do what you want from me.”
Negan was quiet, stamping into his boots before slipping on his leather jacket. He rounded his bed and took grip of my chin, stared into my eyes as if he could find a lie.
“What I want is a lap bitch.” He grinned.
“Like your soldiers?”
His top lip snarled, revealing his extra sharp canine. “More obedient. And you should be because I brought Lucina back to life.
“If I want you to sit at my feet, you will do so. Feed my child, do as you’re told, don’t shit on my rug, don’t snap at my girls.”
I stared back at him, eyebrows furrowing in confusion. “Lucina?”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”
I clenched my teeth together to hide my frustration. I pulled my chin from his grip. “Never known what to do with a Beta?”
“Why, you think you could do better?”
“I’d rather be a soldier than sit at your feet.”
“Well tough titties, princess. They’re the same damn thing. Now, you can either take these table scraps I’m giving you or I can chain you in the cell and forget you existed.”
I cocked my jaw slightly in thought but my decision was already made. “Where’s Lucina?”
Negan stood upright and whistled into the other room. One of the menial workers from the ground floor wheeled in a dingy bassinet to the edge of the bed. I stretched myself out as far from my cuff to get a glimpse of her sleeping, tucked into a yellow blanket.
I leaned in close, caught whiff of her fresh scent before hearing her heartbeat in my ears. If only I could’ve done the same with One and Two.
“Sit up, feed her.” He ordered as the worker left, closing the door behind her.
I slowly sat back up, folding my legs as Negan reached into the bassinet. Immediately, I looked to my cuffed hand, wondering how I could cradle and feed her while being kept like a prisoner.
Negan produced a key, tucked far underneath Lucina’s bassinet liner and uncuffed me from the board. Only for him to cuff his left wrist instead. Smart.
Awkwardly, he scooped Lucina from her bassinet then shifted her into my arms before sitting on the edge of the bed as I waded my shirt up.
I noted his glances and nudged him to face away.
“What? It ain’t like I never seen it before.”
I hissed, baring my teeth as my throat worked up to a growl.
“Alright, alright fine. I expect a show, but can’t even get a peek.” He muttered and I hid a roll of my eyes as I cradled Lucina close to latch on.
The room went silent, with Negan facing towards the door as I spent as much skin-to-skin time with my daughter as possible. I tried to distinguish if her ear was shaped more like her father’s or mine. Her hair was already growing in thick, my trait, but straight and brown.
I closed my eyes hard and tried to think of Daryl but her scent drew me further and further away from him. She smelled of Negan, the aroma still clouded over her like a bad aura. Her blood, I knew was Daryl’s. Her nose, thought petite, was pointed like Daryl’s.
She was Daryl’s, I had to remind myself of that. Even though she reeked of Negan. I was only aiding to it, knowing that I now gave off the same stench. The musk from Daryl’s shirt would soon vanish.
I lightly traced my finger along her soft cheek, warm and full of milk as she managed to swallow slowly. We will get out of here. No one is coming for us this time, no ways out.
Negan glanced over his shoulder at the tug of my wrist then turned away again. “You done yet?”
“Only when she is,” I said lowly, putting my nose in the thick of her hair.
After Lucina was fed, Negan took her away and moved me out of the room. He forced me to sit on the floor, by the radiator, as he cuffed me to the pipe.
“Stay. Good girl.” He chuckled to himself and left the room with the door shut behind him.
I crossed my legs and pulled my shirt down past my thighs, only for Negan to return with a poncho and some pants.
“What’re you gonna do with me? Leave me chained up in this room until Lucina grows up?”
Negan sat down heavily on the couch next to me and tilted his head back with an exhale. “And if I were to do that?”
“That’d be a damn waste of your only Beta.”
Negan was quiet as I dressed myself then sat forward, crossing his arms over his thighs. “What do you think the best use of you is?”
That was a question I wasn’t sure I could answer. In Alexandria, I was only so good at watching Judith. The other half of the time, I was worried about Rick and Daryl and whether or not anyone knew about us.
Before that, I had to admit I was a good scavenger and I defended myself up until Negan made me vulnerable. If I thought too much about it, Negan would find me as useless as I found myself to be.
“I’m fertile,” I said, only then tasting how wrong the words were. “I’ve given three cubs.”
“To two Alpha bastards that took turns on you like a damn train.”
I held back an exasperated sigh, suddenly thinking about what Daryl was doing with the twins or if Rick had gotten to see them yet. I wondered how they would get fed without me. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw baby formula to scavenge.
“Besides the point,” I pushed past it. “and aside from Lucina…I’m useful.”
Negan reached to massage his brow. “Spit it out, Rookie.”
“You give me freedom from these cuffs, I’ll give you an offspring.”
He glanced from under his hand, raised a brow at me. “What makes you think I want an offspring?”
“Because you’ve taken quite well to Lucina. But that won’t last, she isn’t yours. And whether you die, or I die, or she does. Daryl knows that, I know that, you do too. She’ll know, people will tell her.”
Negan leaned forward, narrowing his eyes at me before reaching out. I tried to hide a flinch but couldn’t help myself. He grinned and retracted his hand. “What do I need you for when I have three wives at my disposal?”
I leaned towards him. “Have they shown you any progress in a child? At least you know I’m a sure thing every time during heat.” I felt disgusting for selling myself in that way. I was more than a womb and Negan knew that too. But I hoped that deep down, his need to lead an offspring would overweigh most of his judgement.
“You’re not selling yourself very well. Every time I look at you, I see those dirty Alphas. What’d you see in them?”
I shook my head, knowing that if that’s all he saw of me, I’d be chained to walls until Lucina could walk. “I thought of a bigger part of me…where I could really belong. Why I was abandoned without learning what I was now.”
Negan’s face scrunched in a twisted way of empathy. “Did that go over well with them; you got the daddy issues to feed their dirty minds?”
I leaned further, resting my chin on Negan’s knee. “I’ve been blind in who I’ve sided with. To believe that they mean the best for me is foolish. I’ve given them children, and I doubt they’ll even look for me.”
That was a terrifying thought, that my place in Alexandria was expunged because of the children I bore. My eyes welled at the thought of being turned away at the gates, Rick hoarding the twins like he wanted. I quickly shut my eyes, rested my cheek to Negan’s lap.
“Guess it’s starting to sink in then?” Negan gently rested his hand on my hair and pet softly. “That those Alphas smell fresh pussy and treat you well until you’re used. Did you ever think you were gonna fit in with them, kid? Groups like that always look for the weakest link to sacrifice back to the boss.”
I scrunched my nose at the thought, hating that Negan saw himself so mighty.
“And what a turnaround, huh? Last time you were here, you put up a damn fight. I almost strung you up by your collar and left you for skinning until I found out the bastards you were carrying. That would’ve been a real shit show. Killing Rick’s offspring, that would’ve put me at priority one.”
He wasn’t sparing me in any sense, he was only sparing the three. And now that they weren’t being carried, I was open to being the brunt of Negan’s cruel and unusual punishment.
I slowly nodded. “Yes, I’ve seen the error of my stubbornness. You protect me.” In your own twisted sense of the word.
I bet that he wasn’t even that overly attached to Lucina until she touched his finger. Skin to skin contact seemed like his weakness.
“I believe you, Rookie. Really, I do. But the Saviors might need some convincing.”
I opened my eyes and looked up at Negan to see his twisted grin glaring down at me, his fingers tangled in my hair.
Arat grabbed hold of my arm, dragged me behind Negan as we walked through the warehouse to a hotter area, the furnace room. The Saviors filling the room kneeled at the presence of Negan, including Arat. I slowly followed with my knees lowering to the floor and showing my neck in respect.
He turned away from them, stared into the fire and raised his hands. The Saviors rose to their feet and I noticed a face I had remembered from Alexandria. Eugene. He was friends with Abraham, he was there when Negan killed him. When I let Negan take me only for him to kill Glenn afterwards.
I tried to make myself noticeable, reaching up on my tiptoes only for Arat to force me back down. Dwight stood before the open furnace, turning a steel rod inside it.
Negan suddenly hit the doctor’s arm with the bat as I wasn’t paying attention to him, accusing him of something he denied.
“You left the door open and let my puppy out,” Negan accused and I stared at the doctor because he hadn’t helped me escape. If anything, all of the doors were already unlocked. Carl just gave me the word.
“You knew Sherry hated Cherokee being here so you let her out, be the hero.”
I stepped forward, ready to admit that was wrong but Arat pulled me back. He hadn’t done any of it. I hadn’t even seen sympathy from Sherry, I didn’t even see her around.
“That is some weaselly shit right there. Dwighty boy here told me the whole story.”
I leaned towards Dwight, saw the dark look in his eyes as he stared into the fire. I didn’t know what he would get out of this, but I wasn’t ready for this as an outcome. My running away was no one’s fault but my own.
Negan held a hot iron to the doctor’s face until he admitted his wrongdoing, a deed he hadn’t done. He dropped the iron and smiled, nodded that he understood before tossing the doctor head first into the blazing fire.
I audibly gasped, covered my mouth with my hands as my eyes welled up with tears. His scream was unbearable as long as it lasted. I shut my eyes and turned away, choking back the smell and taste of his flesh now wafting through the air like a charred filet.
“You’re up,” Arat shoved me forward, into the middle of the Saviors. Normally a predator, I felt prey to a group of ravenous monsters. The scavengers that would pick bones clean.
“Now you, I know you didn’t mean to leave, right? Just wanted to get your bastard children back to your Alphas.” Negan began as Dwight pulled out the steel rod itself, hot and red at the tip.
He held it in his gloved hand as Negan whistled for a few of his men to assist him. One brute grabbed at my hands, forcing them to the floor while another tightened his arm around my waist. The third, he grabbed at my pants and forcibly pulled them down, exposing my rear to Negan.
“You’ve learned now that I’m the only one here for you. I made you, I cradled you and kept you alive while I changed you into power itself. But in case you forget for next time,” Negan grabbed hold of the hot rod and pressed it as hard as he could to the fleshy part of my hip, on the cusp of my ass.
I audibly howled in pain, my legs kicking up to get him away but the Savior took hold of them and held them down. I could smell my own flesh burning as the sensation might as well been shoved down my throat and left me to die.
Slowly, Negan lifted the rod only to press down again, at an angle and finally a third time upright.
“A reminder of me. One you’ll never be rid of. Burned with silver.” He leaned down to hiss in my face.
My eyes overflowed with tears as I felt my body shake in response to the pain. The Savior forced my pants back up and they dispersed from me. But I remained on the floor, openly weeping on the display I was subject to.
I couldn’t pick myself back up, I felt my knees were less than reliable. I didn’t dare to move, only let it set in how far I’d fallen.
No one is coming to save you. You will never see Daryl again. You will never see Rick again. Your daughter will grow up knowing that Negan gave her life. You are Negan’s.
“Get her up. Take her back.” Negan ordered.
A large man picked me up like a ragdoll and hoisted me over his shoulder with Arat escorting us back. My tears quickly dried as I went numb, staring at the floor and listening to the way the boots of the Saviors squeaked.
The chain of my cuffs rustled against the man’s back with every step and I could only think back to the chain on my throat. It seemed so much easier to give up than keep fighting. Without fight, I would no longer be demeaned and ridiculed. Stripped naked and fed dog food, forced to be a pet or toyed with like a plaything.
Without fight, I was giving over to Negan. He found me, he made me into His, I strayed from his pack but returned, reformed. Without fight, no more burning of my skin, threat of my life or Daryl’s, only a safe place and protection for Lucina and myself. No need to keep her quiet from Walkers or scavenge for formula.
Without fight, I was a breeder. As Alphas can only see Betas, as rare as I was. Without fight, I was Negan.
I woke up in Negan’s room, on my stomach. My arms were outstretched before me, the cuffs now gone. As I tried to sit up, a shot of pain raced up my back. Oh yeah, my ass was branded. I passed out in a state of shock, and now my eyes were stinging and puffy from the tears.
How was I supposed to move with the burn of a silver rod in me? How was I supposed to heal from it?
“Easy now,” Hargan said from behind me. I tilted my head over my shoulder to see him applying a thin layer of gel to my affliction. “This should numb the pain a bit.”
I exhaled, burrowing my face into the bed as I waited for him to be done. The application only stung half as much as the branding itself, but still enough to hurt.
“Done,” he said softly and I reached to pull my pants up to my waist. The exposure would never end. The torment would continue even if I was branded his. He was testing my limits.
I slowly raised my head up, clawed myself to sit up through the pain and managed to sit. Hargan removed his gloves, cleaned up his supplies and left with a paper covered in flecks. Flecks of silver.
As if the chain on my neck and the cuffs around my wrists weren’t enough. I’d be surprised if during the next shift I could manage at all, chock full of a neutralizer like silver.
While I wallowed in pity, I rubbed at my neck, wondering how much longer it would take for the venom to kick in if it hadn’t already. Originally, so far away from him, unknowing of him, I felt no pull towards a greater being than Rick or Daryl.
Now that I was in his den, I wondered if that would change. Until it did, I was free to roam around the room if I could manage to stand. I forced my feet to the edge of the bed and felt my toes tremble. My knees buckled, bracing for pain as I pushed up and stood.
It shot straight through my legs and up to my waist, almost making me vomit but I pushed through. I wanted to see Lucina.
I limped around the bed to her bassinet and leaned in to watch her. She was sleeping. I carefully rested my cheek to her stomach and listened to how strong her heartbeat was, how deep she inhaled.
She had to be worth it, just like the twins were. My survival was on the sure fact that Lucina was alive and the twins were in Rick and Daryl’s hands.
Nothing else mattered beyond that.
Lucina’s small fingers rested in my hair and I was glad that with all her small strength, she tugged at my locks.
I was woken up in the middle of the night by being tugged by my ankle. From what I could see in the darkness, Negan was unmoving in the bed, leaving enough space for Lucina to lie between us.
I glanced down at the edge of the bed to see Dwight standing in the dark doorway, holding a finger over his lips to keep me quiet. He nodded over his shoulder and I slowly sat up in Negan’s bed, shrugging his arm from my knee and slipping out of bed before tiptoeing to the doorway.
Dwight moved from the doorway and let me into the sitting area before closing the door slowly behind him. I sat down on the couch, rubbed at my eyes as Dwight opened the door out to the Sanctuary floor. Another pair of footsteps came in and then stopped.
I squinted at the light then stood up quickly. I rushed to wrap my arms around Sasha quietly, even though her arm was still held by Dwight. Her free arm curled around my waist as I felt her breathing raggedly. Her heart was pounding hard in my ears while I could hear Negan snoring in the next room.
“You’re alive,” She whispered.
I almost nodded, but furrowed my brows instead as I pulled away from her. Dwight looked over his shoulder to the closed door behind him.
“You’ve got three minutes before I have to wake him. Make it quick.” He released Sasha’s arm at the same time she snatched herself away.
Dwight left the room with another glance around and shut the door firmly. I grabbed at Sasha’s elbows.
“Of course, I’m alive, why wouldn’t I be? Haven’t you seen Daryl? Or Carol?”
Sasha furrowed her brows at me, “When did you see Carol?”
I shook my head, there was too much to tell in so little time. “I escaped for a week. Carol found me, I don’t know where, wandering the woods.”
“And Daryl too?”
I nodded. “Have you seen the twins? Have you been to the Kingdom? Have you talked to Rick?”
Sasha’s brows knitted tighter. “Twins? In the Kingdom? I haven’t heard of anything.”
Rick wasn’t telling much to anyone, I guessed. If only to keep Michonne off his trail and mine.
“What about Daryl? Please tell me you’ve seen him?”
Sasha shook her head, “I haven’t. He left days before I did.”
I squeezed at Sasha’s arms then stood upright. I was ready for my turn of interrogation.
“How are you alive? After so long? I thought he would’ve strung you up by now.”
I shrugged. That was hard to answer without bringing up our secret.
“And what was all of that about anyways? You know him or something?”
I exhaled, “His people…killed the last of my family. When I got hurt not too long after that, he took my necklace from me. For the sentimental value.” I stared into Sasha’s inquisitive eyes, “Why are you here?”
Sasha released a heavy breath, looked down at her hip holster empty. Dwight took her gun away. She glanced over her shoulder at the closed doors with Negan, and Lucina, behind it.
“You can’t.” I whispered harshly. Especially now that I was branded to him and coursing with his venom again. I could only imagine what it would do to me, to Lucina, if he were to die.
I looked over to the door opening with Dwight poking his head in. “My daughter’s in his grasp. Daryl’s daughter. We can’t lose her.”
“So you’re just gonna stay here while he has a thumb on her? Never see Daryl again?”
I leaned into Sasha’s ear, “I need you to get her out of here.”
Sasha rested her gloved hand on my shoulder. “Even if I could, it’s the dead of night. Where would we go?”
I rested my forehead to her shoulder, lost in thought. Even if they did beat the Walkers at night, how far could they get before Negan caught on? I couldn’t risk getting Lucina to Daryl, or Carol, just for my comfort.
No more possible moves were left in the hold, like a game of bad chess. Negan really did keep up with his reach. No one was trustworthy enough and tired enough to wrestle away Negan’s new girl and run.
Sasha curled her arm around my back and pulled me close into a hug as I folded a hand over my mouth to cry. “We’ll find a way, okay? You just have to stay alive in here.”
I nodded as Dwight grabbed hold of Sasha’s arm and pulled her away. “Time’s up.”
The resentment on Sasha’s face was pure as Dwight tore her from me. He nodded to the double doors and I opened them, then walked over to grab Lucina from the center of the bed.
“Negan,” I whispered. He was snoring like a bear. I reached to poke his naked shoulder but Dwight shook his head before yelling at Negan.
He jolted upright in bed and reached to grab Lucille. I backed away from him, cradling Lucina close to me and holding my head down. He glanced over to me, then to Dwight with Sasha in his hold.
“What do we have here?” Negan asked, climbing out of bed in his boxers. Sasha glanced over to me quizzically and I quickly looked away.
“She ran in and tried to take down three guards.” Dwight explained.
Negan reached to rub the back of his neck and narrowed his eyes at Sasha’s face. “Wait a second, I remember you.” He reached to grab at her chin. “Rookie, baby, doesn’t she look familiar?”
“Baby?” Sasha questioned between smushed cheeks. I almost asked the same thing but knew not to.
“Yeah, that’s my new girl. You heard the story, I found her, rescued her and now she’s branded to me.” Negan pointed Lucille over to me and I shook my head. “Show her.”
I still refused, I’d only gotten to walk on it and I didn’t want anyone else to know about it.
“Show her,” Negan urged further. The humiliation was never going to end, would it? Until I was completely dead inside and stripped of my dignity.
I did as I was told, pulling down my pants enough to reveal the stinging red branding mark in a capital ‘N’. Sasha whispered her disgust. “You branded her?”
“It was the only way she’d know she’s really mine. I gave her life; I could end her just as fast. Why not put our pretty lady in the cells downstairs?” He squeezed at Sasha’s cheeks then let her go.
Dwight tugged at her arm but Sasha stayed still. “You gave her life.”
“I did, hers and my daughter’s. Maybe you’ll choose wisely and I’ll give you life too.” Negan smiled.
Dwight grabbed harder on Sasha’s arm, called for another Savior to help take her away. I wanted to speak up, even as Sasha struggled, but I felt Lucina nuzzle her face in my collar and I retreated.
For her, with her, I had to be complacent. I would be Negan’s girl for her, and share a bed with him if it kept every hair on her head intact.
I could only think of how the twins were. If they got back to Rick alright and whether they were fed and warm.
Sasha stayed down there for a week. I tried my best to sneak down there, to spend more time to explain what was happening but Dwight kept her under heavy supervision. Ever since my own escape, the Saviors cracked down on their security by Negan’s orders.
I sat outside of the steel door, knowing that the change would be soon. Negan would soon expect me, but I couldn’t leave Sasha alone. My legs brought up to my chest, I cradled Lucina against them. She’d been making noises lately and I wanted Sasha to hear it if anyone could.
“So Lucina, huh?” She asked through the steel door. From where her voice came through, I could imagine her back against the same wall I was leaning against.
I smiled. “Yeah. If it were Daryl’s choice, I’m sure it’d be something else.”
“But Negan got to name her.”
“Because he brought her back.” I exhaled, not wanting to admit it to anyone else. Sasha was understanding through the whole process. She said that it wasn’t surprising as the dead coming alive.
“And you couldn’t?” She moved closer to the door, her fingers slipping under the crack.
I reached to fold my fingers over hers for a second before letting her go. “No. I don’t have that power.”
“And you don’t know who changed Rick? Or Daryl?”
I shook my head then spoke up. “No.”
I could only guess it was another saved person, a Savior, or maybe someone from the Hilltop.
“You can’t smell it on them?” I could hear Sasha’s smile in her question, even though her fate was in the air.
“No, not unless I’m really close.”
At that, from the top of the stairs, Negan cleared his throat. He pointed Lucille down at me then nodded over his shoulder. His eyes narrowed as I slowly stood up and kept Lucina in the crook of my arm.
“I hope I see you later.” I whispered through the crack of the door then went up the stairs.
As I passed by Negan, he took in a deep whiff of my hair. “Can’t wait to get a taste of you.”
I hid a grimace with a smile then continued to Negan’s room. It didn’t even feel like I’d been away from Daryl as long as I had. The scent that was on Lucina was slowly fading away and I knew that Negan burned the shirt of Daryl’s I was wearing when he found me again.
It felt like days, it went by slower though. Between when I came back and when I was branded felt like a month of itself. I couldn’t even acknowledge Lucina growing before me.
I was trying to delay the inevitable in my mind. I made a deal with Negan and now I had to live up to it. Already I felt sick to my stomach, the thought of his hand touching me. I could only imagine how I’d react when he put a move on me, tried to undress me or worse, just take what he believed he deserved.
I felt myself already recoiling at the act, not wanting Negan’s foreign and rough hands anywhere near me. In the room, I hid behind the door. Holding my breath, I buried my nose in Lucina’s thick hair. I tried taking deep breaths, wondering how it was so easy with Rick when I wasn’t even his.
A low whimper escaped my lips as the door to the room creaked open. I snapped my look up and saw Dwight. Hiding a grimace, I curled Lucina closer and asked what he wanted.
“Give me the baby,” he said, and I felt my stomach drop to my feet. Negan must’ve ordered him to take Lucina away so my attention wasn’t divided.
I leaned in and gave her cheek a kiss, took a deep breath before cradling Lucina into Dwight’s arms. My fingers lined at her hairline as I stared deep into Dwight’s eyes. “Be careful with her.”
“Of course.” He nodded before leaving the room.
I sat down hard on the edge of the bed, holding my hands to my stomach to sate its somersaults. It was a sickening thought, wondering how he’d come after me. Whether or not he’d try and be patient with me.
I feared all of it, the thought of him inside of me or his breath on my neck. I felt like I was going to vomit. The door swung open not too long after Dwight left with Negan taking up most of the doorway. He’d shed his jacket and left Lucille by the door.
“Honey, I’m home,” his voice was gruff and low and his grin was devilish, full.
I recoiled in my place, scared of where he would come in for a seduction technique. He pointed at me, his laugh starting deep in his throat until it seeped out through his smile.
“You seem a little tense, Rook. Relax.” Negan stepped towards me, lining himself between my knees as his hands went to comb through my hair.
I shut my eyes slowly, tried to take a deep breath but it came out as a shudder. His scent was menacing, even if I tried to imagine Daryl in his place, I’d never get through it all the way.
His lips pressed against mine and I retaliated with a nip at his bottom lip. Negan pulled away with another chuckle and I felt it resonate through my chest.
I opened my eyes as his hands went to my waist, tugging down my pants. The fire in my belly was now roaring, I wanted to strangle him where he stood. I felt no surge to be any closer than I already was. His venom threat had to be bullshit.
I tried not to let him onto that though, allowing him to tug my pants from my ankles and climb on top of me. I felt the need to bite my tongue off just to divert the pain salting in my stomach.
It felt too formal, ceremonial. With Rick, our bodies never graced a bed. It was always so rushed and heated. Then with Daryl, it was different, easier. He loved me, or he still did. I wasn’t so sure since what happened with Lucina. It seemed that his love for me turned into remorse for letting Lucina perish, and he tried to help me accept it too.
Maybe our relationship died with her and now Daryl won’t know that she’s alive again. All of it muddled in my mind as Negan reached to undo his belt. The leather strap flapped against my inner thigh as he released the buckle. I forced myself to stay calm though the hot rod of pain and guilt was forcing its way down my throat.
Without a saving grace, I’d have to let Negan force himself inside me. I gulped at the thought and tried to muster as much imagination of being back with Daryl as I could. I still had his shirt; I’d have buried my nose in it rather than take in Negan’s stench.
Hot metal, sweat, leather and aftershave. His hands were less rough than Daryl’s or Rick’s. There was no hard work in him, I expected that. Even being as powerful as he was, he wasn’t going to fight to get what he wanted.
Looking up at Negan, though, I couldn’t go through with it. Even with his expectant grin like I owed him something. And he owed me life. That’s when I saw the gold chain of my medallion nuzzled in his chest hair. Without a second thought, I grabbed at the medallion and scurried from under him. I stared at it in my palm, remembering the intricacy of the flower on the face.
Negan followed after me from the bed. “You are the best kind of crazy and the worst kind of stupid,” he said, standing up as I tried to think of a place to hide my chain.
I stood up straight and stuffed it in my mouth. I forced it under my tongue at the same time as pretending to swallow.
“Guess the broncos still got a little buck.” Negan chuckled. “We can fix that.”
I held my arms out ready for a charge but Negan went for the door. I ran and grabbed onto him, my arm clutching around his throat as my legs curled around his waist. He scratched at my hold then fell back onto the floor, forcing me to lose the breath in my lungs.
“Want something done? Better do it yourself.” He stood up and towered over me as I flailed my legs to keep him away.
He grabbed at my ankle and pulled me up, held me out as I tried to force my other foot in his face.
“Now you’ve gone and spoiled the mood, darlin’! How will I ever go on?” He threw me to the bed, on my stomach.
I squirmed as his hand clamped down on my neck. “Thought we had a deal, Rook. I guess that venom hasn’t set in like it ought to.” His free hand forced down the collar of my shirt, revealing my unbitten left shoulder. “I can fix that.”
His hand on my neck went to my mouth as he bent over and quickly sank his teeth in me. I howled a scream from my chest as his other hand went to the waistband of my underwear. I felt his pants slide down past my ankles and I flailed. He wouldn’t actually force on top of force.
I felt my stomach wither and flip extensively in my body. I kicked and forced my hands to his chest as he lifted his teeth and sank in a second time, overlapping just as a warmth splashed between my hips and trailed down my thighs. Negan suddenly relaxed his bite, pulling my underwear back up and letting go of my mouth.
“Will you look at that? Guess you didn’t spoil the mood after all.” He grabbed at my ankle again and tugged me to the floor. “Maybe one day you’ll see my dick is bigger than your pussy Alphas’s.” Negan leaned down and grabbed at my face, squeezing my cheeks until they hurt. Then he pushed me away and cleaned himself up before leaving the room.
I managed to keep myself together, already feeling my blood rush quickly as my eyesight went red. Reaching for my shoulder, I winced at the tender skin around the overlapping bitemarks. I traced over the bitemarks, hoping they would evaporate into thin air along with the venom in my body.
I wanted to scream again, but took a deep breath and stripped out of my shirt. I swiped the disgusting liquid from between my thighs then left the room to shower. Inside, I turned the water hot, hoping to scrub the bites from my shoulder. Everything, even Negan’s slimy seed that was starting to crust against my skin.
I stood under the heavy spray, going over and over again with my nails to get rid of the feeling itself. The more I scrubbed, the redder seeped into my eyesight. With Daryl, it was a flash, so quick and dissipated into white as I stared up at the moon.
But now I was blinded by red, gripping the wall of the shower to reorient myself because I couldn’t blink it away. The venom started to burn, coarsing its ways down my arms and into my chest. I felt my ribs crack open and contort around my organs with a constricting squeeze.
I slipped over my own footing and collapsed on the shower floor, trying to keep the water from suffocating me. My hands trembled as I felt my nails sharpen to a point. I reached for the opening of the shower and crawled my way out of it, clawing at the linoleum floor before I felt cold air breeze over my back.
I pushed myself up and sat my back against the cold walls, squeezing my eyes shut until I knew the red was gone. When I opened them, I blinked at the blurry scene only to see one of Negan’s handymen in the doorway. Dwight.
“What’re you doing here?” I asked, folding my nails into my fists. The heat radiated from my skin, drying me in a matter of seconds. “Where’s my daughter?”
Dwight looked out of the doorway, making sure the coast was clear before stepping inside and shutting the door. “She’s safe.”
“Where?” I tried pushing myself to my feet but found the room tilted. My stomach churned. I was overdosing on venom.
“With Daryl.” He said calmly, grabbing a towel and handing it over to me.
I snatched it from his grasp and wrapped it around me, folding my knees under myself as I started to wring out my hair. I wanted to thank him for it and for getting Lucina somewhere safe but that meant nothing if I wasn’t there with her.
My mouth began to dry out thinking about how Daryl reacted to his daughter in his arms. Living, breathing and warm. I wanted to know if she curled her small hand around one of his fingers and if he instantly knew that she was the spitting image of him. I had questions that Dwight couldn’t answer for me, I had to find out myself.
“I have to get out of here,” I muttered, more to myself than Dwight.
“I know.” He leaned against the wall, inching the door open to see if anyone was passing by. “But not right now.”
“What do you mean?” I forced a hand to the wall, slowly pulling myself to stand. My neck tightened with the heat seeping into my muscles. My eyes boggled, almost throbbing as red started to seep back into my sight.
“Negan’s planning on going to war against Alexandria. You leave now and Negan will go storm through there, taking you and Lucina back.”
“What do you want me to do?” I folded my arm over my chest, feeling my ribs constrict around my lungs and innards. I felt like I was going to cross over without even trying. The last few times were forced, or full of silver.
I felt myself slowing down, like if I didn’t fix myself soon I’d turn towards something dark and not come back.
“I need you to stay above Negan’s punishments.”
“He was so close to raping me, you want me to be a lapdog?”
Dwight exhaled, peeking out of the door before looking back at me. I pulled my hair back from my shoulders to reveal the raw bitemarks overlapping my shoulder.
“He’s trying to tame you. Let him. Give him three days, I’ll get you out of here.”
I wanted to pace but I balled the anxiety I was feeling within my fist and punched at one of the tiled walls. The ceramic crumbled under my knuckles and sprinkled to the ground. “Fuck! I can’t. I can’t keep doing this. He’ll already know Luci is gone. I can’t be here.”
Dwight inched over to me as I curled into myself on the floor. I was reaching my breaking point. If I stayed another moment in Negan’s hold, I’d break someone’s neck.
“You have to give me time, Cherokee.”
I found myself shaking with pure rage inside, still fighting the venom now pumping thoroughly through my heart. “Two days.”
Even that was pushing it. I didn’t know how I’d keep him from wondering about his heir.
“Keep him off his feet and he’ll forget about the kid,” Dwight said lowly, holding his hand out for me to take.
Back in Negan’s room, I sat on the edge of his bed. My teeth chewed at my fingernails, knowing that if I kept them long, I’d claw out his eyes if he tried again. My heart raced in my ears, my leg bouncing nervously as Negan burst through the door and put Lucille down.
He didn’t look at me, only shrugged his jacket from his shoulders and kicked off his boots. “Rookie, how we feeling?”
I rolled my shoulders back, dropping my hand from my mouth and tucking my legs under me. “Better,” I lied.
He glanced over his shoulder then leaned over to press his nose in my hair. His hand slipped around my neck as his thumb forced its way into my mouth. I faked a hum of pleasure as his nose slipped down to my ear before letting me go.
Negan lined his mouth with the light glean of my spit from his thumb then pounced at me. I let him over me, biting back the rage fueling in the pit of my stomach. He ran his hands over me, I wrapped my arms around his neck and tucked my face in the crevice of my forearm.
Wrapping a leg around his, Negan purred, his hand wandering under my shirt before stopping. I raised a brow, not pulling away from him.
“Another time,” he said, retracting himself from me.
I felt the weight shift off of me and the fire dwindle. He nodded to the door and I made my way out, but not before wheeling Lucina’s bassinet out with me. He hadn’t asked about her and I was grateful.
I sat outside of Sasha’s cell, listening to her talk. She’d tried talking to Eugene but he was adamant with staying by Negan’s side. She’d asked for weapons for a way of ending it, but he came up with a singular capsule instead.
“I was told to lay low, let Negan rape me.” I muttered lowly.
Sasha scoffed, slipping her fingers under the door to hold mine. “You win.”
“No, I don’t.” I squeezed at the tips of her cold fingers and sat forward. “It shouldn’t be long now. I’m just waiting for those fuckers to walk down here and we can walk out of here together.”
“Yeah, just once,” Sasha said before exhaling hard. “You’ll tell everyone I love them, right?”
My eyes started to water, thinking of another loss to the group. It was never going to get easier. “Of course. But you’re not going far.”
“Don’t let me wander out too long, okay? And don’t let the kids find me.”
“Never,” I whispered as Sasha’s fingertips slipped away from mine. “Thanks for not turning against me.”
Simon started down the hallway and I scurried to my feet. I could hear Sasha whisper that we take care of our own as he came to the door.
“Hey, Rook. Negan’s looking for you. He’s ready for us to load up.”
I nodded, stepping away from the door as Simon opened it. He took Sasha’s hands and put them in cuffs before pushing her in my direction. The three of us walked quietly to the loading dock and I curled my arms around Sasha in a remedial hug.
“I’ll see you soon,” she said as she stepped up to Negan on a loading truck.
He’d simply pointed me to the truck to climb into and I did so, next to Dwight.
The gates of home were open. Just to the metal bars, to see new strangers laced between the people I knew well. At the front of the gate was Daryl, holding his gun up to his eyesight. My heart pulled towards him, I almost urged for Dwight to climb out faster so I could get a scent of his musk in the air.
Negan grabbed at the back of my neck and pulled me out after him then climbed onto the loading truck where Sasha was dormant in the casket.
“You think ya’ll are fucking sneaky! You think you’re big smarts with your big balls and strategies.” Negan’s hand around the back of my neck squeezed and lifted me up from the ground, my tiptoes scraping against the metal bed of the truck.
“Well who’s fucking idea was it for this fucking Beta to seduce me, huh?” He looked between Rick and Daryl. “Huh?” His tone was firm, closed to strained.
“Your little bitch, as slutty as she may be, couldn’t distract me from the fact that you stole my child!” At that, Negan released me with harsh throw. I flew from the truck bed to the ground as I rolled onto my back.
The dust dispersed from around me as Saviors circled around me. The wind knocked from my lungs caused me to wheeze. Even upside down, I could see the rage growing in Daryl’s stare.
“You can have her back, I’m done with her. She’s tainted now, just so you know. But I’ll take my daughter back. And all your new weapons. Then we can call it even.”
I tried to sit up but felt the dirt in my throat moisten to mud. My chest felt sticky and full and my vision was completely inverted. The silence was close to deafening before Negan called for two of his men to help prop Sasha up.
My hearing went to ringing, watching as Negan slowly propped the coffin open, only for Sasha to lumber out, grey and growling. I felt my eyes sting with tears, seeing her that way but I didn’t let it stop me from kicking one of the Savior’s knee out and stealing the gun from his hands as he fell.
I elbowed him in the head then unleashed the clip on the other Saviors surrounding me before grabbing the knife from one of their holders. Dwight rushed to help me up, grabbing another gun.
I took off, letting Sasha distract Negan before he pushed her off. Into the immediate gunfire, I shot down a couple of the trash people before keeping up with the movement of the Alexandrians. The Saviors started seeping through the gates and I picked them off with limited ammunitions.
“Fall back!” Rick called out, waving towards the field.
I skipped at the beat, using the empty gun to batter off Saviors as they came after Alexandrians. Another grabbed me from behind and I kicked furiously, even as their arms crossed over mine. I couldn’t break free, feeling the fire boil over until I saw red again.
My foot reeled back between their legs and as they crumbled to the ground, I rolled them over me and pierced their chest with the knife. I could feel my fingers lengthening to sharp claws, my mind raging over to instinct.
I shook myself out as I erupted in fur and my spine straightened out. A full daylight transformation.
I trampled over dead bodies, still following to the fields as Negan had posted himself with Carl. The rage fueled me forward again, racing towards him as the Kingdom Riders flanked at the same time.
The remaining Saviors diverted but I was after Negan. My feet scrambled to change course as he started to run for another gun. I clambered after him, biting at his leather jacket before tossing him to the ground.
I watched the wind get knocked out of him, stepped over him with my paw as I panted. I needed him to see me, not my wolf. I forced myself to calm down and return. My paw slowly dissolved into my foot on his forearm.
I reached down, still panting, and unsheathed the knife from his belt. “I am not your Rookie. My name’s not Rookie!”
I couldn’t get any of my thoughts straight, I was still riding the rage that was inside me. I grabbed at the front of his shirt, kneeled down to his level. I wanted to snap his neck in my teeth. I wanted to slit his throat.
My mind was racing with darkness, wanting to revive him only to murder him over. In the moment of weakness, I snapped my teeth into his neck, taking a larger bite of his throat than he ever had to me. My teeth sank, heavy, past the comfortable limit until I felt tendons snap against my canines.
He released a howl, pained yet restrained, as I kept going. I fed into myself, let the blood from him pool in my mouth before I retracted myself from him. I spit his blood in his face then stabbed his knife at the side of his head.
I felt another pair of hands grab around me and I was ready to fight again. A mouth pressed against the back of my ear and muttered that it was okay, to calm down.
I shook, still not satisfied with how I was leaving Negan. Alive.
“Cherokee,” his voice soothed, “It’s okay. It’s over.”
I felt myself snap out of it, from the rage loop in my mind, and crumbled into a heap in Daryl’s arms. I turned, grabbing onto his shirt and pulling myself further into his hold as I hyperventilated on his musk. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I tried to get closer, feeling that I was going to break through his skin and mold with his skeleton.
“It’s okay. Breathe.” His hand was heavy, swiping down my hair as he curled his face towards mine.
I wanted to drink his mouth, wanted to bathe his skin with my tongue. Immediately be closer. But it felt like it’d never be enough. The fight died down around us as I felt our bubble shrink.
Home felt smaller than before.