Blizzard Disclaimer: I own no Walking Dead characters. Shucks.
This is a Drama/Romance. I do say it has language and erotic moments; rated M for Mature.
Chap 1: So Cold
“Crowded streets are cleared away one by one. Hollow heroes separate as they run. Show me how it ends. It’s allright. Show me how defenseless you really are. Satisfied and empty inside; well, that’s allright. Let’s give this another try. You’re so cold but you feel alive. Lay your hand on me one last time…” So Cold by Breaking Benjamin
Daryl awoke to the sound of a maniacal wind swirling around him, rocking the entombed truck. His gloved hands gripping the steering wheel ached with cold tension. Freezing darkness filled the cab, but he couldn't remember how or when. In his immediate confusion, his memory felt lodged under heavy ice.
But one pounding thought broke through. Walkers.
The knapsack piled in his lap felt heavy like a living corpse flopped against him. In his fog, he bucked it before really realizing it was only a bag. The glimmer of the keys dangling from the ignition caught his eye, but the truck was obviously stalled. Still, he grappled with his lazy arm until he could reach, and attempted to start the stolen vehicle.
“Piece ‘a shit,” he croaked from a voice gone silent for too long. Can’t someone cut me a damn break?
He’d made it across several states hot wiring abandoned 4X4’s littering the back roads and had pretty decent luck with all of them. He should’ve known this last find would be a junker after having to peel its dead owner’s body from the driver’s seat. Half of his face had stayed glued to the vinyl, and he’d spent a good ten minutes making sure every scab of skin and fleshy goo had been removed before climbing aboard. Now, here he was a long way from Georgia, heading northwest like the group had intended, but stranded in some Midwestern blizzard.
He noticed the only light was coming from the packed snow illuminated against every window. Knowing better, he grasped for the handle and heaved himself at the door. The burst of action caused a flurry of coughs, and he spat a wad of chewy phlegm at the floorboard. Nothing. Not one slight budge.
Situation’s good and only gettin’ better, he surmised. He settled back, needing to wake up; think before acting; move before a walker stumbles upon the heap of metal and spends its eternal live death clawing its way in to him. The temperature in the cab was steadily dropping. His food supply was all but gone and there was nobody around to save his worthless ass. His sigh irritated his throat. Coughing with more force, his head bounced off the seat, jarring his senses. And his eyes remembered the sunroof.
“Fuck yeah,” he growled.
He could see the wind pushing fuzzy threads of snow across the small rectangle cut into the roof. The snow was deep, only getting deeper, but it hadn’t buried him yet. Shifting, he reached above until he could move his sleeve across the iced pane. He tried the latch, but the glass was frozen in place. He’d have to break the window. Make noise. Possibly draw attention to whatever lurked on the other side of the drifts. He’d have seconds to survey his surroundings, and with the tight quarters, no other way out, it’d be risky.
“Ah, fuck it,” he whistled. Reaching instinctively for the barrel of his trusty loaded crossbow, Daryl sucked in enough strength to drive the wooden stock home without setting off the arrow.
Ice glass showered him and the seat. He pressed his palm into the sharp mess, heaving himself, crossbow first, through the jagged opening. He was aware but unaffected as the shards tore at his clothes and ripped into his skin. He seethed at the biting frost infecting every cut as he emerged. Weapon aimed for anything, he peered out into the blinding storm. An uninterrupted carpet of white unraveled, stretching for miles beyond the blanketed truck. Careening fast, checking behind him, he took in the forever forest of pine and oak, but just above the treetops, he swore he glimpsed a wisp of murky smoke.
His mind raced, challenging him with every possibility. Could be a few miles. This ain’t Georgia. Storm could worsen, slowin me down permanently with no real shelter. Drippin’ blood. Forest could be crawling with walkers. Worse yet, hungry animals, and I ain’t in no shape to take on a bear tonight. Are there bears in Kansas? Iowa? Nebraska? Wherever the hell I am… Bear…warm pelt, plenty of meat. And what about the bike? Can’t just leave it here for the next asshole passin’ by to snatch up. Hell, if I’m froze to death or bit it ain’t nothin on me anyway. But the smoke means fire. Could be a camp…food. Gotta try. He knew what he had to do.
Greta peeled her damp, soiled clothing from her weary body, folding each piece across the seat of the toilet. She pinned her cherry oak hair loosely atop her head. Then, she slid into the freshly boiled water that had cooled in only minutes after being dumped into the cold porcelain tub.
Grrr; I’d give anything for a real long, hot bath again, she thought. A snicker escaped past her wine lips. She heard herself say aloud, “Me and most of the living women around the world.”
“I love the scent of this soap,” she told herself, breathing in the vanilla-woodsy fragrance. She was careful to only slice a small sliver from the bar with the carving knife she kept near her in the tub, but the soap was getting slimmer. The thought of running out nearly seized her with terror, and that had her laughing again; a mad chuckle that would’ve curdled any sane person’s blood.
“I’m not crazy. I’m perfectly rational,” she reminded herself. “Soap is now a luxury. Along with toothpaste and hand lotion and aspirin and, and, tampons. Tampons are definitely in high demand.” The mad chuckle erupted again. “And people to talk to.”
But people meant closeness. Closeness meant loss. Loss lead to burden. And she made up her mind to be through with burdens until her heart was completely healed and the world was back in working order.
After her short bath, Greta dressed warm, bracing for another freezing night. She brushed her hair, brushed her teeth with a tiny squeeze from the dwindling tube, and chose a new book from the shelf. Still, after six months, her bedtime routine had not changed. She lived as if they never died and the world had never ended.
Entering the sleigh bed alone was the most difficult adjustment. The bed had once been a cozy lifeboat for which they clung to each other nightly in this horrible nightmare. Now, it had become a sea of lonliness and desperate fear, crashing upon her, trying to drown her. The feather pillows weren’t able to keep her afloat as she wept waves of tears into them most nights.
Tonight, she forfeited crying for more reading. One of her few New Year’s resolutions she’d been mulling over. Before locking the bedroom door and slipping between the chilly sheets, she’d checked off another day on Samuel’s huge desk calendar. Only three more days until January 1st. Five months and fourteen days since they….
“No!” She demanded of her tear ducts. “I’m starting a new novel tonight.”
She read by candlelight, ignoring the warnings her mother had given her all growing up about reading in dim light. Each page she turned led her closer to mindless sleep. Her eyelids drooped heavily. As sleep overcame her, the novel hit the floor, the words Samuel once read trailing into strange and colorless dreams.
********************************************************* Daryl started strong, running on undiluted adrenaline through the trees. The storm had kept it just bright enough to see through the dark. Occasionally, he came across a walker, hard lumps of flesh frozen to trees, stiff and icy blue like a corpse should be.
Nebraska winters have their perks, he’d mused.
He’d wondered if they’d thaw like grocery store meat and become useable again. To be sure, he’d chopped them at the necks and dented their hard heads like hacking into an ice sculpture. He’d even sneered at his grotesque work when their bodies tipped over and spilled thick sludge blood all over the beautiful snow carpet.
As he continued through the dense forest and night ran deeper, he lost sight of the smoke trail, but he could still smell the burnt fragrance contaminating the fresh winter air. He followed the scent and the tracks of critters he knew were also onto the smell, hoping to find a morsel of charred prey. His stomach growled just thinking about it.
Hell, I could stand to gnaw on something dead and cooked right ‘bout now, he decided.
Time seemed to stand dormant. More snow fell, but Daryl marched forward, weighed down by the load he hauled. Every pant filled his lungs with freezing wind and his face felt as hard and chafed as the rocks jutting from beneath the piling drifts.
He stumbled on one of the rocks, landing against a wall of snow built around a tree. He pushed himself upright using its trunk. A wary squirrel peered out at him from a gnarled opening. Daryl snickered at it, reminded of the summertime meals he’d endured of roasted squirrel meat and bush berries.
“If I could, I’d roast your ass for breakfast,” he told it.
Instead, he pushed a handful of snow into his mouth, refreshing his swollen tongue. He swore it was the only thing keeping him going.
“I ain’t gonna die out here!” He hollered out.
Finally, the faint, flickering light from a small cabin in a clearing between the trees welcomed him home like a savior. With every difficult step through the ever-building drifts, Daryl’s sore legs protested. Barely liftable, his feet trudged toward the prized porch.
His lungs couldn’t push out another breath. His lips were immovable. His body ached from the wreck and the wreckage of the storm, but he had to keep his wits about him. Most likely this safe haven was harboring walkers and he had to be ready to strike em down quick.
Gathering every ounce of will, Daryl lifted his leg, preparing to kick in the door and go in blazing.
Anythin ‘ta get outta this shit storm, he thought.
But there was no need for such a machismo effort. He placed a rigid hand on the door, and it easily opened with a dreaded creak that surely would’ve alerted any geeks of his arrival.
“Bring it on, motherfuckers,” he spat, breaking the ice that encased his mouth. He was ready. Crossbow cocked and loaded, positioned front and center with his hatchet just itchin’ to be pulled from the torn lining of his coat.
Inside, he was greeted by an innocent enough wooden staircase. Where the light was comin’ from. I could use more light. He noted to deal with that as soon as he secured the main level. Swiveling sharply to the right, he entered the darker room; an office of sorts lined with shelves of books spilling onto the floor and over a cleared away desk. He back tracked, heading into the main room. The room sprawled out with a few pieces of furniture clustered around a fireplace.
Coming around to the hearth, he extended an arm, testing the heat still emanating from a recently extinguished fire. A huge black cook kettle was placed at the base of the fireplace. Somebody alive had been here. His eyes cast overhead; was still here. Quickly, he snapped open the small door nestled into the staircase, ready again. No walkers. Instead, a strong feminine fragrance assaulted him.
Smells like a Kentucky whorehouse in here. He touched the tub with two long fingers. Wet like one, too.
This intrigued him. The sight of a woman, clean and perfumed. Not the kind of drunk, smeary-faced broads Merle dragged home from Earl’s Place and banged away at all night either; something better. Pretty. Like…Car…he didn’t want to think her name. Not now when he should be focusing on locating geeks to slaughter.
He continued moving; back to the nook of what appeared to be a small dining room with splatters of drying and peeling blood on the log walls and broken dishes swept into a corner, collecting dust.
What the fuck’s this? This put him on edge.
The freezing wind snaked along the staircase. It seeped under the door, invading her pitch black bedroom, coiling around her in the big sleigh bed. Unnaturally alert, Greta shot upright.
“The front door!” She squeaked out. In all her days of living like this; extra careful and paying close attention to every safety detail, she’d forgotten to lock and barricade the front door.
Her chest heaved frightfully. She forced her eyes to adjust in the murky darkness before realizing she’d also fallen asleep before blowing out the candle. The candle had burned down to almost nothing. I’ve been asleep too long.
Hollow footsteps echoed across the hard wood floor below her. It wasn’t the monotonous shuffle of the walking dead, but a quietly purposeful pace, a zombie tracker or thief or squatters invading her home. Instead of cowering, she tore back the bedcovers. Her stocking feet sought the floor and her hands groped for the loaded shotgun leaning against the nightstand.
Swift, noiseless in the familiar dark, she pattered across the room to the locked and barricaded door. She lifted the chair and eased the latch aside, releasing the tiny click that ended the only security she had between her and the whoevers lurking below. Slithering between the crack she allowed for herself to escape, she halted just at the top of the stairs. The falling snow was lightening up the entryway to the cabin, but nobody was standing at the base of the stairs. She quickly flicked off her knitted booties knowing running on wood floors would be more productive barefoot.
But what about outside? There’s two feet of snow out there by now, she warned herself.
“Nobody or nothin’ is chasing me from my home,” she whispered.
Even more alert, Daryl entered the kitchen. Sniffing the air, the scent of woman was thankfully stronger than that of rotten death. He darted around the table and into an open closet pantry. He grabbed at another door most likely leading to a cellar, but it was locked. Another level to check out soon enough. The back door leading outside was also locked and barricaded by a heavy oak chair. The glass window in the door had been boarded up. In fact, Daryl noticed most windows were boarded up like Night of the Living Dead, but just enough illumination from the snowfall lit a path through the place.
With the main level secure, he decided to lighten his load a bit; strip off a few layers to make maneuvering between the upstairs rooms a bit simpler.
Greta began her painfully slow descent down each stair, knowing just where to step to avoid an awful creak. She crouched, hidden by nighttime, watching between the rails as the intruder removed a dark stocking cap from his head. The matted down hair on his head didn’t budge. It just clung, colorless in the dark to his scalp. He peeled off the coat next and then a patchy makeshift poncho. He put each piece of clothing deliberately along the arm of the sofa. But it wasn’t the clothing she was concerned with. It was the crossbow propped at his leg and the hatchet blade catching a speck of moonlight, glinting at her with its sharp metallic smile. A confrontation was brewing. She bit down on her lip to keep from whimpering and fell back onto her heels against the hard stairs.
He had just put the hatchet back into his waistband when he heard the skitter of movement behind him. He wrapped his probably frostbitten hand tight around his preferred weapon of choice and headed for the staircase.
They saw each other at the same time. Here it comes, she thought, standing, aiming the barrel of the shotgun at his skull. His face was a blank shadow in the darkness. Daryl rounded the rail, took a first step, and settled the crossbow inches from her steady chest. It’s the woman, he instantly thought. And she’s alive.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he whistled. “You’re alive.”
Her voice came out as steely as the grey eyes behind the gun. “Whoa yourself, cowboy. I ain’t no horse. And what does it look like? Of course I’m alive.”
“Put the gun down,” he commanded.
She inhaled sharply, but she didn’t budge. “Heck no. I’m not stupid.”
“Put the goddamn gun down, lady,” he said again, louder.
She refused to be intimidated. “I said no. This is my house, and I’ll be the one passing out the orders. Now, you put down your toy and back the heck off.”
His face twisted into an amused sneer lost on her in the dark. “My what?” “You heard me.”
He ignored her, looking past her in the darkness. “Who ya got up there with you?”
“Nobody.” She jutted her chin down the stairs. “How many in your party?”
“One. Me.” Daryl waited, but she just stood there, rooted to the stair with the shotgun poised assertively between his brows.
His narrow eyes slit into hard icy blue shards, trying to slice through her Tough Girl veneer. “You keep pointin’ that gun at me, best pray you know how to use it.”
But it wasn’t an act. She stepped forward, not missing a stair until he could smell the steel of the barrel and the powder from her last firing.
“You think I’d be alive right now if I didn’t know how to use it?” The confidence in her voice chilled his bones like the cold outside couldn’t do.
Daryl lowered his weapon, trying some common sense instead. “You shoot me you’re gonna have to kill me twice. Cuz we all come back as one of those things,”
“So I found out,” she said, sinking the gun into his flesh, pushing him backward. “Now, walk, Cowboy. Into the living room where I can see you.”
Too weak and tired to struggle, he complied, taking awkward backward steps around the furniture until she had him in good enough light. He towered over her, and without the advantage of the staircase, she now aimed the gun into his chest.
“You bit or injured?” She asked.
“Not bit, but I crashed my truck up on the main road. Saw smoke comin’ from your cabin so I hiked my way through. I’m not lookin’ to do you any harm. I just need to rest. Eat somethin’. Warm up. Look at a map and think a while. And then I’ll be gone. Now you gonna stop puttin’ that gun on me or what?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. The problem for you is I’m not running a boarding house for wayward drifters. You want food and a place to sleep we’re going to have to work out some kind of arrangement.”
“I don’t make arrangements, you crazy bitch,” Daryl sputtered with dry amusement, wagging his head.
“Watch your mouth!” She warned him. “I had to shoot, stab, and bury the last guy that wasn’t into making arrangements. Thought he was just gonna waltz in here and steal my kerosene and do whatever else he wanted to me.” Her eyes flicked across the room to the splatters on the wall. “Evidence is still fresh. So don’t push it with me, cowboy.”
She was small, barefoot, shivering from the cold. Daryl knew he could take down the gun in a flash, subdue her, and secure the upstairs. She could’ve been lying about other people in the house. Someone stealthier could be waiting in the wings, using her as bait, just itchin for the moment to bring him down.
This world’s gone to shit. Can’t trust nobody. Those were Rick’s words. But Rick’s dead; not stranded in the middle of a fucking blizzard in some foreign place. He ain’t got a care in the world right now. I gotta do this. Just this once to get by.
He glanced at the fireplace, the smoldering wood and cook pot. Warmth. Food. He felt the worn couch he was backed against with his hands. Good place to rest. Daryl’s hands came up in surrender.
Chap 2: Thin Ice
“The ice is thin, come on, dive in underneath my lucid skin. The cold is lost, forgotten. Hours pass, days pass, time stands still light gets dark and darkness fill my secret heart forbidden. Offer what you can. I’ll take all that I can get. Only a fool’s here…” Ice by Sarah McLachlan
Greta smirked, pleased with his submission. “You’re smart. But why should I trust you?”
“I should be askin’ you that same question,” Daryl told her. He talked fast, his Georgian drawl thickening. “I dropped my weapon. You’re the one with the gun still pointed at me. ‘Sides, you’re still standin’, right? If I was gonna do somethin to ya I woulda already done it.”
He’s underestimating you again, came the warning. But looking at him; really seeing him told her he was most likely right. He was much taller and stronger. His arms were long and lean, but his body wasn’t starving enough to eat up the muscle defining his frame. He proved his strength by making it this far from the main road. He showed his desperation by entering what could’ve been a very bad situation in a weakened state. He demonstrated cooperation by lowering the crossbow and looking her in the eye. The last guy she had been forced to kill was sickly and unarmed, but she wouldn’t let Cowboy know that.
His icy eyes refused to plead for food, but she could see the need; a need that could move him to more frantic action if she didn’t let up just a little. Have I lost all compassion? Did death, decay, and one other’s betrayal kill off my humanity entirely? He’s alive. Someone to help here; added protection; someone to talk to.
Someone to have to worry about. Another warning.
“I want to trust you,” she stated.
A hungry tongue lashed out over warming lips. “Then get on with it.”
Daryl’s trigger hand twitched. Not from want of weapon, but from the sharp burning sensation needling his fingertips. He winced, balling it into the tightest fist he could form, but the pain didn’t silence. It shouted back at him louder.
His sudden discomfort didn’t go unnoticed. “What happened to your hand?”
“Exposure, I think,” he grumbled.
Greta eyed his injured hand throbbing inside a torn glove. She sighed, relenting. “I’m about to take a huge risk on you. Don’t make me regret it. Please.”
This is what Samuel would do. She insisted. Trust. Help. Give the man a chance.
Begrudgingly, she placed the shotgun beside his crossbow. He stood silent, watching her as she moved quickly to the tucked away bathroom. He heard her uttering a list of necessary supplies, but the pain in his hand pounded, deafening, into his ears.
When she returned, a dim kerosene lamp hung from her wrist. She placed a plastic bowl filled with basic first aid supplies on a low end table. “I need to step out to the porch; get some fresh snow to melt to warm up your fingers. Cover me.” Daryl reached behind, unsheathing the hatchet from his waistband. She pointed to the light, but he refused, not wanting to draw any unnecessary attention to them. With a sharp nod, he headed for the door. A blast of unbelievable cold and wind almost knocked him back, but he barged through it, pushing forward into the snow again. Visibility had reached its lowest, but he kept his gaze sharp, trained for walkers or anything else that was stupid enough to come upon him.
It only took her a second to bend down and scoop. They were back inside with the door locked and barricaded within moments.
“Thanks,” she breathed. She motioned for the stranger to follow her around the furniture. He complied. “Wow. It’s terrible out there. Worst storm we’ve had in years.”
“It’s the end of the world. Nothing’s going to be easy,” he snickered.
She cracked a sardonic smile. “You’re probably right.” She patted at the couch. “Come have a seat, Cowboy. Let’s have a look at that hand.”
Daryl eased onto the couch. A gratuitous sigh escaped him.
She was kneeling at his feet, organizing her tools by lamp light. “Yes, I’m sure after your little jaunt through my woods it does feel good to take a load off.”
His only reply was a hard grunt. His eyelids drooped, but the smell of a fresh fire starting had his eyes open, watching, on alert again.
She carefully cradled his hand. A contemplative grimace creased her face as she surveyed the damage. The glove was practically shredded. Tiny specks of glass jutted from thawed, oozing cuts in his palm. His swollen fingers had busted loose from the cheap fabric; their tips dark like day-old bruises. “Definitely frost bite,” she diagnosed. “I’ll have to cut the glove off.”
“Do whatcha gotta do,” he told her, letting his head flop back against the comfort of the cushions behind him.
“Okay,” she said softly.
He stared above at the beams of wood crisscrossing the low ceiling. He could tell by their imperfect cuts that this entire place had been built by hand. Following every plank kept his mind off her busy touch; gentleness that brought so much hurt with it. He listened as she talked her way through the procedure. First, cutting away the glove with a tiny pair of scissors then sinking his hand into the warm melted snow. She explained how she would prepare the wrap, leaving his trigger hand mostly unusable for a few days until the damaged tissue healed.
“At least I got my axe hand,” he muttered.
“I’m surprised you are still alive, to be honest. People have been known to freeze to death out here in better weather,” she said.
As she worked, lodging cotton balls between each finger, Daryl seethed at the cold stabs slicing through each digit. He’d been shot, beaten, and damaged by a myriad of other traumas in his life time, but never had he felt such a searing pain before.
The only thing keeping him conscious was her soothing voice and heady fragrance. With the small fire at her back, heating her skin, the scent he recognized from the bathroom and kitchen was all the stronger, infiltrating him, stirring some sleeping part of him. He repositioned, daring to look at her. At the pretty mouth moving over words he barely heard; the sharp chin bobbing as she spoke, and the clean hair that drifted past her shoulders like falling snow. She was the woman he’d mentioned to himself upon first catching a whiff of that soap.
Agitated, he cleared his throat. “You ‘bout done?”
Either she didn’t notice his discomfort or she chose to ignore it. She was unraveling the burn bandage from its tight roll. “Just about. Sit tight, Cowboy. You aren’t going anywhere tonight, anyway.”
She began winding the bandage, starting at his thick wrist, moving steadily over the tough palm she’d picked the glass from. Such a virile hand rendered useless. The thought disappointed her. She’d actually been sitting here, telling him her every move, but plotting in her mind his every move tomorrow. The work that would need to be done on the property. She hoped he could swing an axe with the other hand like he told her. We’ll need firewood soon.
He sighed, suddenly restless. “Name’s Dar,”
She shushed him, placing a halting hand in his face. Her head shook, eyes closing like she couldn’t look at him while saying what she had to say. “Look, for the sake of sparing ourselves a lot of trouble in the near future, let’s just leave our names out of this.”
“Fair enough,” he snorted. “Hey girl, doesn’t matter to me who you are. I’m gonna get my bearings and then I’ll be out of your hair in a few hours anyway.”
Her hair. She sat up, finished, and sighed heavily. She tucked the distracting strands behind her one ear. Daryl looked away.
She was full of sighs, letting them out one by one tonight. “I know it sounds callous. But yes, in a few days you will be gone. And I’m certain we’ve both lost enough people we cared about so there’s no need to make this personal,”
He interrupted, belligerent. “A few days? Didn’t you hear me? I said a few hours.”
She stood, using his achy knees as leverage. “There’s no way I’m letting you leave in your condition. That hand needs a few days to repair itself, and you need food; adequate shelter until you’re fit to move on.”
Daryl heaved himself up, nearly pushing her into the small flames. “Yeah, and how you plannin’ on stopping me? You don’t weigh but a buck and a dime soaking wet.”
He reached with his good hand, scooping up his bow. At the same time, she scrambled for the gun, but he kicked it, sending it scurrying under the sofa. She fell onto her knees, diving, but she crashed into two powerful legs blocking her way to the gun.
“Nope, un-unh,” he grunted, effortlessly scooting her across the wood with his boots.
Greta cried out, a weak but guttural noise that gave him enough satisfaction to sneer down at her. She pounded on his feet and legs with even weaker, tired fists, but he wouldn’t budge.
“Is that all you got, girlie?” He chuckled. “Just tough talk without your gun, hunh?”
This insinuation infuriated her. Climbing up his legs, Greta stood on her toes, putting mere inches between them, trying to get him in the eyes.
“You have no idea what I’m capable of,” she vehemently whispered.
Daryl bent, his stubbly chin scratching at her peaked nose. His cold glare froze her, but she held onto him, gripping his bare arms mercilessly. He grabbed at her, too, with his hurt hand, shaking her loose from his frame.
“Yeah? You don’t know me too well yourself, now do ya?” He breathed onto her, assaulting her with his hot, stale breath.
Greta coughed, relenting again. She took a step back, regaining her composure. “Oh for Pete’s sake. I give up on you. Have it your way. Leave tonight if you want, but first let me feed you.”
Daryl blinked. “What?”
This chick is loony. First she wants to shoot me now she wants to feed me.
He watched, incredulous, as she lifted the lamp and sauntered to the kitchen. Her voice trailed behind her. “And you need a toothbrush. Bad.”
“That’s the last thing on my mind,” he called out to her.
While she kept herself busy, he nudged the shotgun further under the couch, but not too far where he couldn’t reach it with just a quick swipe of his arm. He still intended on setting up camp on the cushions for tonight, and the extra weapon stored safely beneath him covered him with another layer of comfort.
When she returned with canned meat and stale crackers, the hostile tension in the room had dissolved into casual wariness. Daryl eyed her as she propped herself beside him, handing him the food. He turned his face from her offer, but his mouth nearly watered all over the plate.
“Come on. You need some protein. Jumpstart that metabolism,” she coaxed.
His eyes stayed riveted to the dwindling fire ahead of him. “Nah, I don’t need your food.”
She sweetened the deal by holding out two aspirin tablets. “Yes, you do. And you need these painkillers. Take them with the food or your hand will throb all night.”
Daryl took the tablets, swallowing them whole and dry. Then, mindlessly hungry, he grabbed the meager meal, devouring it noiselessly. It was a mild irritation, her eyes babysitting him, watching him lick at the oily can and his salty fingers, but he didn’t bother saying so in hopes of getting a second helping.
“Ya got any more?”
She nodded; rising, fetching him another can and a sleeve of the saltines. She also brought back two mugs stuffed with tea bags.
“Tea?” She offered.
“Ain’t never had it,” he grumbled between mouthfuls of meat and crackers. But he didn’t refuse when she drew the last of the warm water into each mug and stirred a drop of fresh goat’s milk and honey into the insipid brew.
Shit sucks, Daryl declared, but he drank at it; slow, like the woman. She was quiet for the longest time just gazing into the fire that refused to quit on them. Her painted toes stretched toward it, grateful for its warmth.
Daryl wordlessly tossed her the knitted afghan from the back of the couch. She thanked him with a tender smile, and he grinned, tight-lipped and small, back at her.
She whispered to him. “Who did you lose?”
The question pried at him, a set of doors he didn’t feel like opening tonight. But after a few moments, he answered. “A lot of people. Had a group; men, women, kids back in Georgia. My brother. But we got separated. Some of us got taken down by walkers.”
“Walkers?” she repeated. “Oh, you mean the zombies?”
“Yeah, zombies,” he snorted, thinking of his first experience with zombies on the television screen. Him and Merle laughing as some dumb assholes tried to take refuge in an abandoned shopping mall from blue-faced geeks.
“A big ass herd came through our camp,” he continued. “Most likely migrating for the winter. We were low on ammo and manpower. People just started panicking and scattering in the dark. When I saw we were overrun, I just jumped on my bike and took off. Tried to save a few on my way out, but…”
He trailed off, his face sealing up tight. Carol. Couldn’t protect her or her little girl. He wished he’d never said anything.
The clamp on his mouth had her wishing she’d never asked. “Sorry. I, uh, just. I haven’t had anyone to talk to in so long. Months really. I’ve kinda forgotten what to say to someone in the midst of a zombie apocalypse,” she admitted, tucking her chin sheepishly into the open collar of her pajamas. “I lost my husband, Samuel.”
“Anyone else?” He wondered.
“Everyone,” she uttered. Tears wanted to come, but she remembered that all-important New Year’s resolution, and forced them down into the hollow cavity of her chest. There used to be a heart there, she recalled, but it was removed months ago.
Greta rose, handing off the afghan to her new overnight guest. She removed a hand stitched quilt from a rack beside the front door and gathered several throw pillows from random chairs poised around the room.
“Now’s the time to rest. Because tomorrow you’ll have to make good on our arrangement,” she reminded him.
“Thing is, I don’t remember any arrangements being made,” he said. “What you got in mind?”
“We have work to do in the barn.”
He huffed, thinking of the Greene Farm and their barn full of geeks. “Last time I had work to do in a barn meant takin’ down walkers.”
“Well, I doubt we’ll have that issue in this storm. Good thing about a blizzard is that it keeps those creepy crawlers at bay. Probably most we’ll have to worry about is a dry goat,” she said before uttering a listless goodnight. She turned with the dying lamp and headed upstairs.
Back in her room, she locked and barricaded the door. She sought the familiar handle of her late husband’s hiking machete from under the mattress. Tonight, it would sleep beside her under Samuel’s cold pillows.
Below her, Daryl sniffed at the powdery quilt she had placed over him. Smells like…in the sparse firelight, he took a closer look at one particular square of the blanket. Pairs of grinning giraffes and lions and zebras poked their heads from floating arks imprinted on the earth-toned swatch of cloth. On another, tiny teddy bears hiked footballs and kicked soccer balls. His stomach tightened as yet another square depicted green puppies chasing falling leaves on an ivory background.
Growling, he threw the quilt from the couch, watching it land in a heap somewhere on the floor. Then, squeezing his eyes hard, he stood, picked it up and placed it on a nearby chair.
Fucking end of the world was his last thought before being overcome by sleep.
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