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Living with the Walking Dead

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Summary: After the zombie apocalypse, Buffy has no trouble at all surviving in the new world…but can she live in it? Buffy/Daryl pairing. WARNING: Character deaths for BTVS – lots of them! Now with awesome fanart by the amazing DEEPRED!

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Walking Dead, TheDeesseFR18559,3614114918,7131 Apr 1214 Mar 13No

Chapter Four

Disclaimer: I own nothing, neither world. I’m just borrowing them and will be returning them, slightly used, when I’m done.

Spoilers: For Buffy, through the first half of season 4 and for The Walking Dead, the first two seasons of the TV show and just to be safe, all the comics. Some dialogue is taken from TWD episode TS-19.

A/N: Thanks to all for the kind words of support and the reviews. I have to say that I think, and I may be a bit biased, that you guys are the best reviewers on the planet!!


Illustration



Chapter Four


They’d been on the road for forty-five minutes, thirty of them hell.

The first fifteen had been fine but Daryl hadn’t realized it at the time. Buffy had sat back on the motorcycle, her legs not touching his, her hands barely resting on his waist. He was pretty sure they could have fit an entire other person between them. He’d hated it. It wasn’t at all what he’d had in mind when he’d manipulated her into riding with him.

He’d spent the first ten of those fifteen thinking about what he’d overheard her telling Rick about the Slayer. Going over it in his head, trying not to let it piss him off so much that she’d confided in Rick of all people. It wasn’t that she hadn’t told him. It really wasn’t. He had to admit it, if only to himself. He was jealous of the cop, of the way Buffy looked at him, talked to him. He thought, he really, really thought that Buffy would eventually see that she wasn’t in love with Rick. Crush, sure. Love, sure. In love, not at all. He brutally shoved those thoughts away before he ran them into Merle’s truck in front of them and went back to thinking about the whole Slayer deal.

She’d been fifteen when she’d been called. She’d been a normal, typical teenager. He’d have hated her. She’d been shallow, a cheerleader, dating a jock, everything he’d hated when he’d been a teenager himself, hated even more as an adult. But she hadn’t deserved what she’d gotten. Her life had been hell for…he had managed a grin at that part…however many years until the whole walker thing. He was figuring three to four. Which made her, reading between the lines of her story, very, very good at her job. She’d burned down a gym, blew up a school. She’d fought all manner of demons and monsters. She’d had the shallow beaten right out of her and come out the other side the woman he’d fallen for.

He spent the next five minutes trying to figure out how to get her closer to him, which had been the whole purpose behind getting her on the bike in the first place. Cheap, sure. Juvenile, hell yes. Did he care? Not even a lick. He liked the feel of her in his arms, he’d admit it. He was nothing if not honest, at least with himself. He wanted to feel her arms wrapped around him. It was one thing when she was faking it, it would be something else when she meant it. So, when the line of cars, trucks and the RV had swerved around a stalled line in the road, he’d swerved harder than necessary and she’d reflexively clutched him tighter, sliding forward in the seat to do it. And she’d stayed there, no doubt due to the fact that he kept randomly swerving around invisible blocks in the road.

Be careful what you wish for, he’d told himself thirty minutes ago, when his own personal hell had started. Her thighs were lined up against his and he could feel the heat from her crotch where it was pressed tight against his lower back. Her chest was plastered in a line against his back and her arms were wrapped around him, one hand splayed over his chest and the other over his stomach. Her cheek was resting against his shoulder blade and he’d wondered a few times if she’d actually fallen asleep, but every now and again she’d jerk her head up and peer off into the trees on the side of the road, making him wonder then if that was a slayer thing, sensing something in the woods.

He loved the feel of her against him, as he’d known he would, but it made concentrating hard. He couldn’t keep an eye on the road and watch for walkers. He had to hope the others were watching, which was hard for him because of the entire group he trusted a grand total of…Buffy. He had trusted Merle to keep him safe as long as it didn’t interfere with his own safety but that was before Buffy. He wasn’t sure if Merle actually believed the whole him and Buffy thing or not but his brother was pissed off either way.

He saw the lead vehicle, the RV, put its turn signal on and pull over to the side of the road, all the other cars and trucks pulling off behind it. He frowned, wondering what was going wrong now, wondering if Jim had turned into a full blown walker already, and pulled in behind the last truck. He agreed with Buffy on the Jim situation. Bullet in the brain, no more misery or worries. It’s what he’d want done for him.

He’d expected Buffy to hop off, run up to the head of the line where he could see Rick already out of his car, Lori and Shane already by his side, before he even had the engine off, but she was still sitting on the bike, though she’d unwrapped herself from around him. He kicked the stand down and slid slightly forward as she put her foot on the ground and wiggled around behind him and off the bike, waited for him to get off, and then headed toward the others. He slid a sideways glance at her, opened his mouth and then snapped it shut again. He’d sort of promised her no conversation in a roundabout way. He decided she was just playing the game. They were a “couple” after all. They reached the others and she surprised him again. Instead of heading to where Rick and the others were, looking at the smoking inside of the hood of the RV, she stayed at the back of the crowd with everyone else. With him.

“Buffy, how come you’re not riding with us?” Carl’s voice came from behind them.

She turned around, smile on her face. “Because I’m riding a motorcycle.” Daryl thought the answer was pretty obvious and unsatisfying but Carl’s eyes got big and he looked back the line of cars and landed on the bike.

“Wow! Can I ride it with you?”

“Well, there’s only room for two but maybe when we get where we need to be Daryl can take you for a ride.” She bit her lip and carefully didn’t look at him as Carl, eyes still wide, did.

“Really? Will you, Daryl?”

“If your ma says it’s cool.”

He watched the boy move closer to Buffy until she dropped an arm over his shoulder. “Mom won’t say it’s cool will she, Buffy?”

Buffy shrugged and ruffled his hair. “I don’t know. I guess it depends on what kind of mood she’s in when you ask her.”

Carl thought about that for a minute and then grinned up at Buffy. “So…I should wait until she’s already happy?”

“Yep, that’s what I would do.” She smiled down at the boy and Daryl’s heart melted a little more. She really was beautiful. Her glance shifted to the RV so he looked up to see Rick shaking his head as they all heard Shane say, “I’ll just run up ahead, see if I can find a gas station.”

He watched Rick’s eyes search and find Buffy, could see the intent in them. He was going to send her along with Shane as backup. His own eyes narrowed in anger. Shane hated Buffy and Rick knew it. Why did he insist on throwing the two of them together at every opportunity? Rick gave Shane’s arm a light tap-slap with the back of his fingers and headed their way, Shane getting the message and falling into step next to him. It took only half a minute for the two men to reach them, Rick ruffling Carl’s hair when they got there.

“Hey, Dad! Buffy and Daryl said maybe I could ride on the motorcycle if mom says it’s okay.”

Rick smiled at the resilience of the kid and nodded. “We’ll have to ask her.”

“Buffy says to ask when she’s in a good mood already.”

Buffy slapped a hand lightly over his mouth, laughing. “Yeah, you’re not supposed to actually tell your parents that stuff, kiddo.”

He tipped his head back and looked at her, dislodging her hand in the process and grinning. “Oops?”

“Uh huh. Why don’t you go find Sophia?”

He nodded and headed off to find his friend, which wasn’t hard to do since they were all clustered in a very small area. She looked at Rick and Shane. “And you want?”

“The RV has a busted hose and Shane’s going to look for a gas station up the road. See if he can’t find something to fix it.”

She nodded. “That’s good. Have a nice trip. See you next fall and all that jazz.”

“Buffy…”

“What, Rick? Oh, wait, let me guess. You want me to go with him and make sure he comes back with no pesky bite marks? Did you tell him to make sure nothing eats ME while he stands there watching?”

Shane stepped forward, grabbed her around the upper arm, his other hand balled into a fist but not drawn back to strike. “I’ve had enough of what you’re insinuating, little girl.” He gave her a shake but that was all he got to do because he was on the ground, flat on his back, Buffy leaning over him and bending his wrist backwards until it was just at the point of breaking and Daryl’s booted foot on his neck, gun pointed at his head. Rick hadn’t seen either one of them move, and at the moment they were both ignoring both him and Shane to glare at each other.

“I can take care of myself.”

“I know you can, darlin’ but no one touches my woman but me.” He flicked a glance at Rick and then slid his eyes toward Merle who was rapidly approaching from the other side.

She stuck her tongue into her cheek to avoid calling him every name she’d ever heard in her entire life and gave the wrist she was holding one final little shove before letting it go. She bent forward far enough to hiss at Shane. “Don’t ever touch me. I won’t tell you that again.”

She crossed her arms over her chest as she stood up straight and looked at Rick. “I’m not really feeling the whole going with Shane thing.”

Daryl leaned forward as well. “Don’t ever touch her. I won’t tell you again either.”

He shoved the gun back into his waistband as he stood up and took his foot off of Shane’s neck, glared at Rick. “She ain’t goin’.”

Buffy frowned at Daryl and then looked at Rick. “Actually, I’m good with going. We’ll leave now.” She looked down at Shane, now rubbing his throat with his left hand while clutching his right to his chest, still lying on the ground. “Or, you know, when he’s ready to get off the ground.”

“You’re not goin’.”

“You’re not telling me what to do. Seriously, don’t even go there.” She leaned down, grabbed the wrist she’d been using to keep Shane on the ground and used it to heft him off it. “Let’s go.” She shoved him towards his jeep and followed him, not caring that he gave Rick a truly pathetic look over his shoulder as he led the way.

Daryl moved to follow them but Rick grabbed him by the arm. “She’ll be fine. She can take care of herself.”

“Ain’t the point, Rick.”

Rick smiled, damn near laughed. “Nope. The point is, you just learned a lesson in women, Daryl. You can’t order one like that around and expect to get your way and you should have known that.”

With that, Rick turned and moved back to the RV, leaving him to stand there watching Buffy glare at him as the jeep pulled away and Merle came up beside him. “You gotta lot to learn bout women, little brother.”

She could have kicked herself in the head for letting Daryl goad her into coming along. Okay, so he didn’t actually goad her and she’d come along just because he said she couldn’t. Okay, so he hadn’t actually told her she couldn’t and he’d actually been taking her side, something she should have appreciated, not been such a bitch about. He did that a lot. Took her side, thought about her first and foremost, did nice things.

She leaned her head against the seat and sighed. Let herself think about the things she’d been putting off. Her hand ran over her denim-covered thigh. Like the clothes. They’d been in the middle of fighting for their lives, walkers and Vatos and whatever else had been going on and he’d thought to get her clothes. In her size. He’d taken the time to think about checking her size before they’d even left, so he’d planned on getting her things, even if they’d managed to get her bag. A brief smile flitted across her face. Underwear. He’d been right on the sizes there, too. Even the bras. He’d been so cute, turning all red, chewing his thumbnail.

She frowned. It was obvious to her that he liked her. Liked her. Was it fair to him to go on with this stupid game they were playing?

She didn’t believe for one minute his story about how the whole she and he were a couple thing had come about. She was sure there was more to it than he’d told her just as she was sure he wasn’t going to tell her the real story. It didn’t really matter. It worked for her, Merle had been distant since he’d found out. So far, at least. She’d told Daryl right up front she wasn’t interested and he’d said it was fine. Could she believe him? Was the fact that he now took every opportunity to touch her just a facet of his personality, teasing? Or did he hope to change her mind? He confused her. He was open and yet mysterious. If she were honest with herself she would have to say she found it…attractive. Intriguing. Fun.

And his timing? Pretty much a freaking gift from God. She’d been about to tell Rick things he didn’t need to know about her feelings for him when Daryl, as he always seemed to do, had read her mind and been right where he needed to be. Not only that, but he’d seemed to know exactly what to say to get her out of her mood. And as if that weren’t enough, he’d once again known exactly what she needed and offered her the motorcycle.

She’d kept her distance, both for her sake and for his. She honestly did not want to lead him on, even though she’d told him flat out there could be nothing there she still didn’t want to send him mixed signals. When he’d swerved around the first block in the road she’d had no choice but to hold on tighter and she found it so much more comfortable to just stay there. He was nice to hold. Like a giant-sized Mr. Gordo. With muscles.

“I didn’t have the shot. Lori was right there.”

She turned her head and looked at Shane. He was glancing between her and the road. He looked sincere if you didn’t look too closely at the eyes. The eyes…those were calculating. “Really? It looked like you had a shot. You had the angle. She wasn’t in your line of site. Even if you didn’t have the angle, I didn’t hear you scream a warning.”

“I don’t guess you would have heard me bein’ that you were pretty far away and busy. And gunfire goin’ off all over the place. But I did yell out. He didn’t hear me either.” He reached out and she saw the calculation again as he made to put his hand on her knee and then deliberately paused and pulled it back. “I can’t even thank you enough for saving them both.”

He hadn’t yelled anything but he didn’t know, couldn’t know she would have heard him had he yelled. She just nodded.

“We both love Rick, Buffy. It hurts him that we can’t get along and I think we should try, for his sake.” He stuck his hand out.

She had to admit, the guy had nerves and balls and a lot of both because he left his hand there for God alone knew how many minutes while she ignored it and stared straight ahead. She didn’t believe a word he said. She did believe he would end up killing Rick, if not by passively standing aside while something or someone else did it for him, then by actively doing it himself if he thought he could get away with it. She did believe he was, to use a totally medical term, looney tunes. He wanted Lori so bad he’d actually gone nuts.

She turned her head and looked at him, flashed him her brightest, most air-headed smile and took his hand. “You’re absolutely right, Shane. For Rick’s sake we should at least try to be friends.” She then proceeded to talk nonstop about whether she looked better in pink or blue until they found an auto repair shop.

The entire ride back was spent with her telling her new bestie all about the benefits of clear coating your freshly painted nails to prevent chipping. She nearly laughed out loud at the look of relief on his face when they pulled up to the group. She got out of the jeep and attached herself to his side without actually touching him. She lifted a hand and waved to Rick, calling out, “We found a hose thingy! Shane was totally awesome the way he knew just what to get.” She gave him an extra hard pat on the back, biting back a grin when he stumbled forward with the force of it and grabbing his arm. “Whoa! You okay there, buddy?”

He righted himself with a glare at her. “Yeah, fine. I’m fine. I’m going to help Dale fix the RV.”

Rick looked confused as he came up to join them in time to hear Buffy say, “Oh! I’ll help, too.”

“No! Um…you should…hey, Rick. Did you need Buffy for something?” The pleading in his tone was not quite as obvious as the pleading on his face but it was close. He practically ran to the RV.

Rick eyed her suspiciously. “What are you up to now?”

“Me? Nothing.”

He looked at her for another minute and then shook his head. “We have another problem.”

The amusement faded and she was all business in less than a microsecond. He wondered if that was her or if it was part of being the slayer. He wondered if there was a difference. “What’s happened?”

“It’s Jim. He wants us to leave him here.”

“And?”

“What do you mean ‘and’?”

She shrugged as he tugged her arm and motioned her to walk with him toward the RV. “I mean,” she glanced around as they passed Shane and Dale working on the engine, Dale giving her a nod, Shane ignoring her, “and as in so?”

He sighed and motioned her ahead of him inside, following her down the narrow, short hall to the bed in the back of the vehicle. Carol was sitting on the side of bed wiping Jim’s forehead with a wet cloth but it wasn’t doing much good as far as Buffy could tell. He was still covered in sweat. Carol looked up, gave Buffy a small, sad smile and handed her the cloth as she got to her feet and left the room and the RV.

“Hey, Jim. Not feeling so hot, huh?” Buffy took the seat the other woman had just vacated.

Jim shook his head. “No. Just leave me here, please.” He looked at Rick. “Please.”

“Now, Jim, I just don’t think you’re thinking straight.”

Buffy leaned forward, looked into the man’s eyes. They were clear. Pain-filled, yes. Misery-filled, for sure. But clear. He knew where he was, who he was and what was happening to him. He reached out and took her hand. “Please? I can feel every single bump and it hurts so much…so much.”

She nodded and reached out to brush the hair off his face, being very careful not to touch his skin. She was suddenly very glad she’d taken care of Giles when she had. When he’d made her. She stood up, headed back down the hall and out the door, finding everyone gathered once again. She saw Daryl and Merle at the back of the pack, where it seemed they like to hang out and she saw Daryl try to get her attention but she pretended she didn’t. She was annoyed with him but she didn’t know why, which made her even more annoyed with him. It gave her a headache to think about it so she thought about how much smaller the group seemed without Morales and his family, who had decided to head toward Birmingham to find the rest of their family. She hoped they made it. She felt Rick’s hands on her shoulders moving her to the side, so she stepped that way, moving so he could stand next to her.

“Jim is doing worse. The ride is hard on him, painful. He wants to just stay here, wants us to leave him here.”

“Is he…lucid?” Lori asked, coming to stand on Rick’s other side, Shane next to her.

Buffy leaned against the RV, crossing her arms over her chest. “He is. He’s clear-headed, knows what he wants.”

“Then we should do what he wants.” Lori said it simply.

“We can’t just leave him here all alone.” Shane moved up to stand next to Lori, eyes sliding up her from toe to head, making Buffy cringe.

“We should put him out of his misery right now.” Daryl put in from the back and Merle nodded his agreement. Several people, in fact, nodded their agreement. Buffy did not nod her agreement, though she silently cheered in her head and her annoyance faded a bit.

Rick glared at him. “We do not kill the living. We are not about that.”

Dale shrugged. “Maybe Daryl is right.”

Rick turned the glare to him. “We do not kill the living.”

Dale put his hands up, palms facing Rick. “I’m just saying, maybe we should ask Jim what he wants. Buffy said he’s thinking clearly. Do you agree with her?”

Rick swallowed and glanced at Buffy. Shook his head and then had to nod. “Yeah, I guess I do. He’s level headed but we do not kill the living.”

Dale looked past Rick to Buffy. “What do you think, Buffy?”

She stayed leaning, causal, against the RV. “About what? Killing him or leaving him?”

“Either. Both.” Daryl said from his position at the back of the crowd.

“It doesn’t matter what I think.” She straightened up. “We are not God and we do not make decisions for anyone but ourselves. Jim is in charge of his own fate. He wants to stay here. That’s it. He gets to stay and anyone,” she swept her gaze over everyone, including Rick, “anyone that tries to force him to come along is going to deal with me.” She brushed past the former cop and into the RV.

As she helped Jim out of bed she could hear Dale saying, “That’s all I meant. I didn’t mean we should shoot him in the head, I only meant he should get to decide for himself…”

“What are they going to do with me?” He leaned heavily against her as they made their way down the short hallway.

“Only what you want, Jim. I promise you.”

He nodded and let her take the first step out the door and then help him down. They took the other two in the same way and then they were on the ground and Lori was there on the other side. “It’s okay, Jim. You’re going to be just fine.” Buffy rolled her eyes. She was coming to love Lori to death but lying to the guy was kind of weak. He knew he was dying. He knew what was happening to him.

“Where looks good, Jim?” She whispered, knowing he’d hear her since his head was resting against hers.

“The trees? Can we make it to the trees?”

“Absolutely.” If she had to pick him up and carry him there personally. She felt sort of like Moses since the crowd parted for them and the three of them made their way carefully and slowly off the road and down the slight hill into the trees that lined the highway they’d been traveling, with the group falling in behind them. Lori paused at the first tree they came to but since Jim didn’t Buffy kept going and Lori took the hint. Jim finally found something he liked only about three feet from the road, still easily visible from the road but it gave the illusion of privacy she supposed. They gently eased him down to the ground, leaned his back against the tree. Lori held her hand out and Shane put a bottle of water in it. She held it to Jim’s mouth and he drank deeply, coughing most of it up, spittle flying everywhere.

Buffy blinked back tears, once again thanking God that Giles had had the foresight to make her promise, that Rick had jumped from the tank when he had, that she’d done what she’d done when she had, that she hadn’t had to watch him go through this. She brushed his hair back again and stepped away so the others could come forward and say their goodbyes. He gripped her hand with more strength than she would have thought possible and she smiled softly down at him. “I’ll be back.”

Daryl watched her from his spot at the back of the group and he could almost feel her sadness from where he stood. While he was normally very, very careful not to touch her because he’d gotten from the minute he’d met her that she didn’t like it, the second she was moving past him he reached out and grabbed her arm, pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. She struggled against him for a minute, tried to push away but then she’d just relaxed and put her arms around his waist and rested her head against his chest. She didn’t cry but she let him hold her, comfort her. He didn’t say anything because he wasn’t sure what had her so upset yet.

She turned her head slightly and they watched everyone say their goodbyes, Rick offering him a gun, which he refused, until they were the only two left and she gave him a slight push, letting him go first. Since he barely knew the guy he moved forward, gave him a nod and a small salute, turned and took a few steps away to give Buffy some privacy. Not enough privacy that he couldn’t hear every word they said, though. He felt like a complete jackass but the damn woman never shared anything with him.

She crouched in front of him, took his hand, didn’t know what to say so one more time brushed his hair back. He managed a small smile, pain filled once again. “I don’t want to die.”

She nodded. “No one does. It sucks.”

“Easy to say.” He coughed. “They all say it’ll be okay.”

“They lie because they don’t know what else to say to you.”

“I know I’m going to die but I don’t want to be a monster, Buffy. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

She closed her eyes. Was this what her life was now? “Okay.”

“Promise me?”

“Yeah.”

“Thank you.”

“Yeah.” She stood up, hating him a little. They didn’t kill the living, but he was already dead. He was pretty much the walking dead. They all were, really.

She turned around, found Daryl once again knowing exactly what she needed, found him waiting for her, hand outstretched. She took his hand in hers and let herself lean on him once again. They walked back to the line of cars where the others were waiting. Seemingly as one, the entire group turned and looked at Jim, sitting against the tree. He raised his hand in a last wave.

Buffy took her time getting on the bike, going so far as to pretend to fix her sai in her boots while everyone pulled out. They pulled behind Merle’s truck and when she threw the knife from the moving motorcycle no one saw but Daryl. And when she wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her face into his shoulder blade and he took a hand off the handlebars rubbed it over hers he felt her tears soak the back of his shirt.

**~~**

The front of the CDC was littered with bodies. Dead ones. It wasn’t at all what anyone was expecting and it made Rick seriously doubt the wisdom of coming here. He shot a glance at Lori, saw the doubt flash through her eyes before she nodded at him. He was about to open the door when he heard Carl gasp and say “Whoa..”

“She’s going to get herself killed. He’s not much better.” Lori muttered from beside him.

Rick looked out the front window to find Daryl and Buffy on the motorcycle clearing the area of the few walkers that were milling about. Daryl was driving, weaving in and out of the sandbag bunkers that had been placed around the CDC building, the multitude of dead bodies, and the various other obstacles laying around and Buffy was on her knees behind him, hanging on to his shoulders with one hand while swinging her sword with the other, aim impeccable as she sliced off not their heads but the tops of their heads, killing them instantly.

“She’s so cool!” Carl said from the backseat. “How did she learn to do that, Dad?”

“I don’t know, Carl.” They watched as she went from her knees to her feet and jumped off the bike, taking out the last walker as Daryl swung around and disappeared behind the RV. Buffy twirled the sword around as she turned her head from side to side, then lowered it as she straightened as Daryl came up to her. His hands came out, hovered over her shoulders. Rick saw her nod, saw Daryl drop his hands as he nodded too. She pulled something out of a pocket and once she started rubbing it on the sword he realized it was a hunk of cloth and then she shoved the sword in the sheath on her back and Daryl turned and waved everyone out of their cars.

Lori laughed and he turned at her, question in his eyes. “You. You’re frowning. You’re thinking that you’re in charge and you’re supposed to be the one telling everyone it’s safe to get out. You should be happy to have the backup, Rick.”

“I’m not…Okay, maybe I am.” He got out of the car, slammed the door and came around to walk with Lori and Carl. “I don’t mean to be.”

“It’s just you’ve always been, I know.”

He gathered everyone around him. “Keep together and keep quiet. Let’s go.”

They moved quickly and quietly, Carol keeping Sophia’s face pressed against her side, most of the others had hands covering their own faces, through the rotting bodies, doing their best to ignore the sound of buzzing, feasting flies in the fading light, toward the doors to what Rick hoped was their salvation and safety.

When they got to the building they found all the doors and windows covered by metal shutters. Locked metal shutters.

“There’s nobody here,” T-Dog said.

Shane lowered the shotgun he was carrying to slam a hand on one of the shutters as Rick turned and said, “They why are these shutters down?”

“We can’t be this close to the city after dark.” Lori said, before anyone could think on the shutter question.

Buffy, from her position with Daryl and Merle at the very back of the group, looked around, saw a few more walkers coming from the left, a few from the right, but they were hundreds of feet away. Nothing they couldn’t handle yet. She didn’t want to waste arrows for the crossbows because she didn’t know when they’d be able to restock and she didn’t want to leave the group and go get them. She glanced at Daryl and he raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “You want to go after them, I’m with you. You want to wait for them to come to use, I’m with you.”

“Seriously. ARE you psychic?”

He just grinned at her and shrugged again.

Shane was saying, “Fort Benning, Rick. Still an option.”

“On what?” Andrea asked. “No food, no fuel. It’s 100 miles.”

“125. I checked the map.” Glenn said.

“Forget Fort Benning.” Lori said, pulling Carl closer. “We need answers tonight. Now.”

Daryl jerked his chin at the others. “What do you think?”

She shrugged and jerked her own chin at the camera over the door. “The camera moved. There’s someone in there, watching. They’ll either let us in or they won’t. It’s kind of stupid to stand around out here arguing. Come on.”

They moved to the front of the group as Rick was saying the camera moved and Shane was telling him he imagined it. “He’s right.” Buffy said. “The camera moved. There’s someone in there.” She looked up at the camera and then at Rick. “You want in there? I can break the shutters and we can get in there.” She looked at the camera. “Of course then the walkers could also get in there what with the broken shutters and all.”

There was a long pause and then she stepped forward, crouched in front of the door and wedged her fingers under the shutter. It was a tight fit but she managed. It took all of her slayer strength but she managed to lift the shutter a good three inches before a voice came over a speaker that she hadn’t even seen. Of course, in her defense she hadn’t actually looked.

“Step away from the doors and you will be granted access.”

“Buffy, back up.” Rick said.

Buffy backed up, smirk firmly in place as the shutter raised the rest of the way, bathing them in light. She rolled her eye as everyone crept cautiously forward, guns held at the ready. The place was empty, she could feel it. If there was more than one person here she’d eat her new clothes. They’d gotten maybe ten steps inside the huge, echoing entryway when a voice came out of the shadows. Buffy could see the man was also holding a gun, pointed at them. He must have known he couldn’t take them all out (as evidenced by all the guns pointing at him) but he probably figured no one wanted to be the first one dead so as a threat it was a pretty good one.

“Anybody infected?” He called out. Buffy thought he was pretty trusting if thought they’d just give it up if there were. She opened her mouth to answer no but Rick beat her to it. She really had to get it through her head that she was not the leader here.

“One of our group was. He didn’t make it.”

The man stepped forward, coming out of the shadows, gun still pointed but Buffy could tell the danger was past. At least the danger of the guy shooting them. “Why are you here? What do you want?”

“A chance.”

“That’s asking an awful lot these days.” He took a few more steps towards them.

“I know.” Rick nodded as the guy seemed to take them all in, looking at each and every one of them, staring for a long time at Buffy, probably due to her battle with the shutter.

“You all submit to a blood test. That’s the price of admission.”

Rick nodded again. “We can do that,” he said without consulting anyone.

The guy finally lowered the gun and moved quickly, pointing at the door. “You got stuff to bring in, you do it now. Once this door closes it stays closed.” He looked at Buffy again, kept moving toward the door, stood by it as everyone ran to the cars to grab their stuff.

Buffy slung her duffel bag over her shoulder and then grabbed Dale’s bag as well, then added Jacqui’s since the older woman seemed to be limping a bit, and Carol’s so Carol could get Sophia’s stuff, Carol saying, “Buffy, you really don’t have to…” changing it to a simple “Thank you” at the look on Buffy’s face.

Daryl and Merle caught up to her just as she was reentering the building, flanking her, Merle saying, “You sure are stronger than you look for such a little gal. I like that.” He pulled one of the bags off her shoulder and one out of her hand before she could stop him and gave her one of his hearty thumps on the back, ignoring the look on Daryl’s face. He had a new plan to get Buffy and it was going into effect right now. He’d been watching them together since learning they were together. He didn’t think they were screwing yet so she was fair game and he was winning that bet. He’d been pissed when Daryl had the brilliant motorcycle idea but that was a minor setback. He could be charming when he wanted to be, and he wanted to be. He opened his mouth to prove it when he was interrupted by the cop’s brat. At least the kid had wedged himself between Buffy and Daryl.

“Buffy! Mom says is it okay if I stay with you for a while?”

Buffy looked up and around found Lori looking at her, question on her face, and flashed her a smile and a thumbs up then ruffled the kid’s hair. “You bet.”

“Mom wants to stay with Dad and said she wants me to be safe and looked after while she does that. Whatever that means.”

“It means you’re a pain in the butt.” Buffy said, bending over to tickle him, grinning when he fell on the floor, laughing. She only stopped when he threatened to pee his pants, and at that point she stood up and held out a hand to help him to his feet. They caught up to the others easily and joined them as they got into an elevator.

Rick stuck out a hand and said, “Rick Grimes.”

The man didn’t shake but did say, “Dr. Edwin Jenner.”

There was an awkward silence until Daryl finally said, “Doctors always go around packing heat like that?” Buffy snorted. She didn’t really consider the doctor’s little gun ‘packing heat’.

“There were plenty left lying around, I familiarized myself.” He looked around at them again, all of them armed. His eyes lingered on Daryl for a moment, as he was standing with the butt of a shotgun propped against his thigh, then shifted to Buffy, who, while not actively carrying anything, was obviously armed to the teeth and not trying to hide it. Her hands rested on Carl’s shoulders and she held him loosely but closely in front of her. “But you look harmless enough.” He smiled at Carl. “Except you. I’ll have to keep my eye on you.”

Carl blushed and backed into Buffy, making everyone smile and the doctor chuckle. The elevator finally stopped and they all filed out, following along behind the doctor, Carl taking Buffy’s hand and Daryl frowning as Merle managed to maneuver himself into a position where he was walking on her other side. Daryl thought he might have to smack Merle down before too long if he didn’t lay off.

Carl’s hand tightened in Buffy’s as the doctor said, “Vi, bring up the lights in the big room.” Lights came on and the room was, indeed, big, she thought, as she took her other hand and used it to pat Carl’s where it was held in hers. “Welcome to Zone Five.” The doctor added as he led the way into the cavernous room. There was nothing in it except a bunch of work stations on a raised round platform that looked like something out of a sci-fi movie to Buffy.

Rick, Lori at his side, followed the doctor. “Where is everybody? The other doctors…the staff?”

Buffy had a bad feeling about this. A feeling worse than the one she’d had in the first place.

“I’m it. It’s just me here.”

“What about the person you were speaking with?” Lori asked. “Vi?”

Buffy sighed. “Vi is a computer, isn’t she?”

Jenner looked at her and nodded. “Vi, welcome our guests.”

A booming tinny female voice came from everywhere and nowhere. “Welcome to the Center for Disease Control, Guests.”

“You’re all that’s left?” Buffy asked him.

He nodded. “I’m sorry.”

There was another awkward silence and then Jenner led them to a door on the far wall. “The blood tests.”

They all fell in line, again, Carl’s hand once again tightening in hers. She leaned down. “Don’t worry. Little poke, like a bee sting.” She was one to talk. She hated needles. Hated them.

And it must have shown on her face because she felt warm breath on her face as she heard Daryl’s voice whisper in her ear, “Don’t worry. Little poke. Like a bee sting.”

She elbowed him in the stomach and felt almost 100% better at his not so whispered, “Ouch!”.

Carl giggled and then giggled harder when Daryl lightly swatted his head and said, “What’re you laughing at, Shorty? Just you wait. One day you’ll have a girl that beats you up.
Maybe Sophia…” He laughed as Carl turned lobster red.

They found seats to wait for their turn, Carl sitting next to Lori and Lori leaning across from him to whisper to Buffy, “You don’t mind…”

“Don’t be stupid.” And Buffy sat up straight and didn’t say another word about it, turning to talk to Dale, who had managed to cut in front of Merle and sit on Buffy’s other side, making Lori turn and smile at Rick.

“I told you she wouldn’t mind.”

“I know, I just thought her and Daryl…”

“I’m telling you there is no her and Daryl. You need to learn to listen to me when I talk.”

“Why would she say…”

“For such a smart man, a smart cop, you sure are stupid.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek, smiling at the utter confusion on his face. Of course, once upon a time she’d been an 18-year-old girl in love with Rick. He’d been clueless then, too.

Jenner took a seat at the front of the room, a stack of scary looking blood taking supplies in front of him. He took them one by one, drew their blood, labeled it with their first names only and it didn’t take long at all. When he finally got to Andrea, who was last, she sullenly asked, “What’s the point? If we were infected we’d all be running a fever.”

“I’ve already broken every rule in the book letting you in here. Let me just at least be thorough.” He stuck a cotton ball on top of the needle where it went into her skin and pulled the needle out, slapped a piece of tape over it. Andrea stood up and staggered slightly. Jacqui was there, luckily, and caught her.

“Are you okay?” Jenner asked, looking up from his self-important task of organizing his useless samples. At least that’s how Buffy thought of it.

Jacqui nodded. “She hasn’t eaten in days. None of us have.”

Jenner frowned as his glance yet again found Buffy and she shrugged at him. He was probably wondering how a girl, a small girl, who hadn’t eaten in days managed to break his door. Let him wonder, she thought. She’d tell him the same thing she planned to tell anyone else who asked. She worked out.

“I think I can help you out there.” Jenner said with a smile. “Follow me.”

Once again, they all followed the doctor back into the big room and down the same hall they’d entered through, past the elevator and into another door, finding themselves in yet another room. This one was a kitchen with a long table surrounded by a lot of chairs. “Fresh food is a thing of the past but it’s nutritious and it doesn’t taste half bad,” he said as he began unloading large containers from the freezer and shoving them into the many microwaves that sat round the counters. Then, to nearly everyone’s delight, he began unloading bottles of wine from a larger-than-you’d-think-for-a-government-agency (or maybe not) wine cooler that sat under a counter.

When everyone was settled around the table Buffy found herself sandwiched between Carl and Sophia and thought it odd that Daryl or Merle hadn’t shoved their way to her side. Odd but good. Lori was on Carl’s other side with her hand over the top of Carl’s glass as Rick was pouring wine and Dale was saying something about kids in Italy and France being allowed to drink.

As Rick held the bottle over her glass, she shoved her hand over it and shook her head. “I’m good, thanks. I’ll stick with water.” She shot a hopeful glance at Jenner. “Unless you have coffee? Or tea?”

Before Jenner could answer Merle said, “Come on Buffy. We’re safe, you can have one glass of wine.”

“I’m good. Really.” She shook her head at Rick again and he moved on, emptied the bottle into Glenn’s glass as Jenner set a can of Diet Pepsi in front of Buffy making her grin up at him.

“Really? You’re completely the new love of my life!”

He smiled back at her, the first one she’d actually seen on his face. “You looked like the type, but I can get you that coffee if you’d rather.”

“Nope! This is ten kinds of perfect.”

“If it weren’t for the wine, I’d agree.” Amy was laughing as she pulled her glass away from Andrea. “Andrea, Jesus. I can have a glass of wine.”

“Not too much. You don’t want to get sick…” And off the sisters went arguing about whether Amy was old enough to decide for herself how much was too much.

Buffy shook her head and tuned them out as Carl pulled on her shirt and crooked his finger at her. She leaned down so he could whisper in her ear.

“Can you teach me to use a sword?”

She bit her lip so he wouldn’t see her smiling and turned to whisper back, “It’s one of those thing you have to ask your mom.” When she pulled her head back she saw him pouting and she glanced up to find both Rick and Lori watching them. She rolled her eyes and leaned back in to whisper, “But I’ll ask her for you, okay?”

His pout turned into a half-smile and he looked up at her. “Really?” He forgot to whisper, making half the table look at them.

She nodded and gave his hair another ruffle. “Really.”

“Thanks, Buffy!”

She personally thought they should all be taking lessons in every weapon they could find but that was just her opinion. Which apparently wasn’t shared by anyone.

Rick was suddenly on his feet, banging his knife against his glass. “It seems to me we haven’t thanked our host properly.”

T-Dog leaned back in his chair. “He is more than just our host.”

There was a course of cheers and Buffy nearly snorted pop out her nose when Daryl lifted the bottle of wine he’d been dumping into Glenn’s glass and yelled “Booyah!” T-Dog laughed and yelled “Booyah!” back.

Shane frowned, in Buffy’s opinion at everyone’s happiness, and interrupted the round-robin “Booyahs” going round the table right after Carl’s and said, “So when are you gonna tell us what the hell happened here, Doc? All the—the other doctors that were supposed to be figuring out what happened. Where are they?”

Rick frowned. “We’re celebrating, Shane. Don’t need to do this now.”

Shane shook his head, waved a hand. “Whoa, wait a second. This is why we’re here, right? This was your move—supposed to find all the answers. Instead we found…him.” He jerked a thumb at the doctor.

Buffy looked from Shane to the doctor to Rick. Shane looked smug, the doctor looked uncomfortable and Rick looked…well, the look on Rick’s face tore at Buffy’s heart. He looked like he’d failed them all and she knew what that was like. She hated Shane anyway but she agreed with him. It had been a mistake to come here but there was no reason to do this here like this. He was only doing it to make Rick look like a fool in front of his wife and son. The fact that he was doing it in front of the group was an added bonus.

She leaned back in her chair, her hand resting on Carl’s shoulder. “I would imagine, Shane, that the others probably got scared and ran, or ate lead, which means we’re left with the cream of the crop.” She shot Jenner one of her best smiles, saw the man actually blush a little. “You know, since he’s still here fighting the good fight.” She reached behind Carl and grabbed Lori’s wine glass, lifted it up. “To Dr. Jenner. Smart AND brave enough to hang around when others didn’t. Thank you.” She took a small sip and grimaced at the taste, waited for the cheers to die down as everyone followed her lead. Then she lifted the glass again and said, “To Rick, too. For having the brains to bring us here where I’m sure after we all recover from our hangovers in the MORNING after our celebration, the brilliant doctor will give us some answers.” She lifted the glass a little higher and just passed it back to Lori with another bright smile, this one for Rick.

Daryl frowned as he slugged down a gulp of wine. He’d been about to cheer the way she’d put Shane in his place, the way she’d defended the doctor, even if she had been kind of flirting with him. Did she have to smile at Rick like that? The way Shane was sulking was still sort of funny.

“Dude,” Glenn shot Shane a glare. “You are such a buzz kill.”

Daryl laughed and poured Glenn yet another glass of wine. He was doing his best to get the younger man drunk enough that he passed out. He didn’t want Glenn getting enough alcoholic courage and making moves on his woman. His glance slide to Merle and his frown deepened. Merle was still on his first glass of wine, not beer. And it was still nearly full and that was not like Merle at all. And Merle was watching Buffy, his gaze moving between her and the kid. And he’d only made one attempt to get Buffy to drink, which was also not like Merle.

He looked across the table. Buffy was sitting, looking relaxed at first glance, slightly slouched in her chair, between Carl and Sophia. She had one hand on the table next to her pop can and the other around the back of Carl’s chair. She wasn’t talking to anyone but seemed to be listening to the conversation going on between Dale and T-Dog. He flicked his eyes that way and he briefly listened in to discover it was something about an old TV show about vampires. He shook his head slightly and went back to his study of her. She was smiling a little, just a slight upturn of her mouth, nothing like the ones she’d been flashing a minute ago. He sighed into his glass.

He wondered if her watching the kid meant all night or if he could somehow manage to convince her that they should share a room. For appearances sake, of course.

The dinner party broke up shortly afterward, with Jenner once again leading them down the hallway, this time Daryl frowning because the good doctor had now managed to himself next to Buffy and Carl. “Most of the facility is powered down,” he was saying as Daryl made faces at his back. “Including housing, so you’ll have to make due here. The couches are comfortable but there are cots in storage if you like.” He turned his head to look at Buffy. “There might be some extra blankets in there, too.”

Daryl scowled as she gave him another one of those big, beautiful smiles and said, “Thanks.”

He blushed, again, and then crouched a bit to talk to Carl, who once again backed up into Buffy, whose hands seemed to automatically plant themselves on his shoulders. “There’s a rec room down the hall that you kids might enjoy. Just don’t plug in the video games. Or anything that draws power.” He stood up and looked at everyone as a whole. “The same applies to the showers. Go easy on the hot water.” He turned to keep walking but Buffy grabbed his arm.

“Showers? Hot water? Hot showers?”

He nodded and Daryl wanted to punch him in the head when Buffy smiled at him yet again. “Ohmigod an honest to God hot shower. You have to marry me!” Everyone laughed as she turned around and yelled “Dibs!”

“There are enough showers to go around.” Jenner laughed and disappeared around a corner after muttering about running the blood work.

Buffy happily turned into the first room she saw and dropped her bag on the couch and turned to find Lori and Carl standing in the doorway.

“Buffy, are you sure you don’t mind?”

She rolled her eyes. “I told you I didn’t mind.”

Lori put a hand on Carl’s head and used it to push him past her and into the hallway. “Why don’t you and Sophia go check out that rec room real quick, okay? Buffy will come and get you after she’s had her shower.”

She got his “Okay mom!” and waited until he was off down the hallway before she turned back to Buffy. “I know you did but I also know that you and Daryl haven’t really had any time alone, either.” She watched the younger girl closely.

Buffy’s face gave nothing away as she shrugged. “We’re not really there yet.”

“How did you Daryl…what’s the word you guys use these days? Hook up?”

Buffy stared at her. “What?”

She laughed. “You know, you and Daryl. It’s not like he could ask you to dinner and a movie. I just wondered how you guys got together.”

Buffy turned around and unzipped the bag, waved her hand at it and shrugged. “He brought me clothes.”

It was Lori’s turn to say, “What?”

“When they went to Atlanta.” She moved to the side so Lori could see her bag. “He brought me back clothes.”

“You’re kidding?” She stepped further into the room and poked through the bag. “He really got you this stuff? In the middle of a fight?” She owed Rick a huge apology. She’d been completely wrong about Buffy and Daryl. She looked again at Buffy and what she saw in the other’s girl’s face made her think she might have been wrong about Buffy’s feelings for Rick as well.

“Yeah. He brought me a crossbow, too.”

“More to him than meets the eye, I guess.”

“Yeah.” Buffy said quietly. “Way more.”

“So, you’re sure about Carl?”

“Yeah, it’s cool.” She pointed at the other couch. “He can have that one. I’m guessing he’ll be out like a light pretty early. It’s been a long day after a long night after a string of long days and nights.”

“You got that right.” She impulsively reached out and hugged the young girl and kissed her forehead. “Thanks, Buffy. Rick and I really need this time alone.”

She ignored the stab of pain that shattered through her and managed a smile as she pulled away from Lori. “Anytime. You know I love Carl to death. Now go get all pretty and stuff.” She gave Lori a gentle push out the door, watched her go, grimacing at the huge smile on the other woman’s face. She really wanted that shower.

She told herself to watch the hot water a hundred times even as she stood under it for the first five minutes. She wasn't doing any actual showering per se; she was just standing there, hands braced against the wall in front of her, head bent, while water slid over her body. She stood up straight and tipped her head back, letting the water wash over her face for another five, telling herself again that hot water was at a premium. She couldn't bring herself to stop though. It just felt so damn good after so long taking lake, creek and river baths and using baby wipes to bathe. Sighing, she grabbed the wash cloth and soap she'd commandeered from the same storage locker she'd found the blankets and pillows in and washed up, then indulged with a final five minutes of just standing there.

She was out and dried off, towel done turban style around her head before she remembered the lack of jammies. Sighing she tugged on the yoga pants and the tank top, both at least semi-clean from their wash in the quarry a day ago. She sighed again at the thought that if the zombies hadn't happened right at this very moment she'd probably be in a bathroom in her dorm, putting on some stupid cartoon-character filled pajamas and going off to study with Willow. She snorted as she bent over and rubbed the towel over her hair. More likely, she'd be patrolling but the thought was nice.

She'd been going to give college one hell of a try. She'd been looking forward to it, the experience, the classes, the books, the campus, the dorms, the normalnessof it. God, even the studying. One week. She was one week away from being Buffy Summers, College Freshman. Stupid zombies. Now she'd die Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer, Zombie Slayer, Destroyer of High Schools. With no college degree. Stupid freaking zombies. Not that it mattered, if she was being realistic about the whole thing. She was long past her expiration date already and it wasn't likely that she was even going to make it through a year of college anyway. Still, she'd really wanted to try. She'd really wanted to try.

Sighing once again, she draped the towel around her neck and opened the door, started down the hall to the rec room to get Carl and take Sophia back to her room. She pulled her brush through her hair as she walked toward the sound of the two laughing and what she was sure was air hockey. By the time she got there she found not only the kids but Merle.

She jammed the handle of the brush into the waistband of the pants and biting back a curse word that would have had her grounded for a week, managed a smile for the kids. "You guys about ready to get to bed?"

Merle stood up from his spot on the arm of the couch where he'd been watching the kids play and moved to her side, shoving a round paddle in her hand. “The kids here not only think they can beat us, they want to make a little bet.”

Her eyebrows rose as Carl moved to the other side of the air hockey table to stand next to Sophia, big grins on both their faces. Dammit. She couldn’t possibly say no and crush their little hopes. “Do they, now?” She twirled the little paddle in her hand. “What’s the bet?”

Carl’s grin, impossibly, Buffy thought, got even bigger. “The losers have to wait on the winners all day tomorrow. Bring them all their food and clean up after them, do whatever they say all day.”

“You’re on.” She looked at Merle and gave him an exaggerated wink that Carl and Sophia couldn’t possibly miss. “We take no prisoners.”

“Course we don’t. Don’t much care if they’s kids.” Merle grinned at her and then pointed at the kids. “They’re goin’ down. I could use some slaves.”

Buffy wisely didn’t bite at that remark but got into position, bouncing from foot to foot, tossing the striker from hand to hand a few times, watching across the table as both Carl and Sophia mimicked her actions, Carl using his free hand to thumb his nose like a boxer before a fight, surprising a laugh out of her.

When Merle actually plugged the game in she didn’t have the heart to repeat Jenner’s warning about things with power and figured one game couldn’t hurt. Besides, she’d be a hypocrite if she yelled about it after her long shower, right?


**~~**


Daryl managed to find a razor and shaving cream in the storage room and after debating and rejecting pulling a cot out and trying to convince Buffy that it would be necessary to put it in her room, he’d showered, only lingering for a little while, shaved, donned clean clothes and dumped everything in the room he would be sharing with Merle. He figured he could look in the open doors and find her stuff and she’d either be there or she wouldn’t, obviously. If she was in a room and alone, he’d just go in and tell her…well, he’d play it by ear but somehow he’d get it through her head that flirting with the doctor and proposing to him was not a good thing. Even if she was kidding. He didn’t like the way the doctor looked at her. And while he was at it, he’d find a way to make her see that Rick was an idiot not worth her time. Somehow. Even if Rick wasn’t really an idiot. If she wasn’t in her room…he’d just have to find her.

He walked down the hall, looking in the open doors, and found her room easily enough, because her bag was easy to spot, sitting open on one of the couches, clothes peeking out of it. He frowned as he saw a second bag on the other couch. He glanced around and seeing no one else in the hall stepped inside. He moved quickly to the unknown bag and unzipped it, sighing in relief when he realized the clothes inside were all kid-sized and belonged to Carl. Then he smiled as he also realized what that meant. Carl was spending the night with Buffy because Rick and Lori wanted alone time. Which meant that Buffy knew what Rick and Lori would be up to all night. His smile faded just a bit. Which meant Buffy was probably not feeling so great right about now. Hurting. Vulnerable.

“Goddammit.” He fixed Carl’s bag and hurried out the door and into the hall. The doctor mentioned a rec room and he’d start there. He didn’t think she’d leave Carl alone too long.

He was still a good distance away when he heard voices from the rec room. Merle and Buffy. “Buffy, you can’t get it in that way!”

“It’s a bad angle, Merle. You’re too big and I can’t maneuver right.”

“We’re going to need a new strategy here, girly.”

He frowned and growled in his throat as he picked up his speed and when he was just outside the door he heard a slapping sound. “What the hell is going on here…” he yelled as he burst into the room, only to find Buffy and Merle on one side of an air hockey table, Merle taking up nearly the entire side, and Carl and Sophia on the other, mid high-five. They were all turned towards the door he’d just come through, staring at him.

Carl bit his lip. “We’re sorry, Daryl. It was just one game and we didn’t think it would use that much power.”

Buffy frowned. “Seriously. What are you, the power police?” She dropped the red thing she was holding and put her fisted hands on her hips to glare at him. “Are you going to bust us and go tell? It’s one damn game of hockey.”

“That you’re losing…” Carl chortled.

Buffy pointed a finger at him, still glaring at Daryl. “We’re lulling you into a false sense of security.”

“Yeah.” Merle added. “Lulling.” He smirked at Daryl over Buffy’s head.

Daryl recovered quickly. “The Doc said nothing that uses power.” He pretended to look at the kids and then shook his head. “But I guess one game ain’t gonna hurt nothin’. What’s the score?”

The kids grinned at him and high-fived each other again but it was the smile on Buffy’s face that made his heart skip a beat. Carl answered him. “We’re kicking their butts. It’s 10 to 2.”

“Only because Merle is taking up the whole side and I can’t score.”

“But I got a new strategy, now. You get in front, I’ll get behind you.”

“Um…yeah, no.” Buffy shook her head.

“You really wanna be their slaves for the whole day? The game ends if they score two more goals.”

Buffy thought she’d rather be a slave than have Merle behind her with his arms around her. It was a no brainer, really. “Can’t you just move over some?”

“Ain’t my fault I’m big and manly.”

Daryl was dismayed to see her laugh as she took her position next to him and waved at Carl to serve the puck or whatever it was you did with the damn thing. He leaned against the door jamb and watched them bat the thing back and forth for a while before Buffy hip checked Merle out of her way and slammed it off the side of the table and ricocheted it into the slot in front of the kids. His frown deepened as she turned to Merle with a big smile and they fist bumped each other.

“See?” She told the kids. “Lulling. You kids are going down.”

“Yeah, yeah. Big talk.” Carl muttered as he pulled the puck out and stuck it on the table in front of Sophia.

Daryl watched them play in this manner, with Buffy just moving Merle out of the way when she felt she could score and Merle letting her do it, until they’d scored enough unanswered points to make the score tied. He knew exactly what Merle was up to on all levels and the longer he stood there the more pissed off he got. He was using the kids and her obvious affection for them to get closer to her. He was letting her get away with pushing him around, even in fun, when he would never in a million years let a woman tell him what to do. Daryl had seen him slap a woman for looking at him wrong once. The fact that he was in here playing games instead of hanging out drinking beer was something else. He was really putting effort into his plan to get Buffy and it was not sitting well with Daryl.

“Game point, little slaves!” Merle called out when he scored the next one, slapping Buffy on the back.

Carl and Sophia called a time out and huddled in the corner, presumable a strategy session and Daryl heard Merle, again completely UNMerle-like, say, “So…you wanna let them win?”

Buffy shook her head. “Nah. It’ll do them good to learn to lose. Besides, I have a feeling they’d be really bad winners.”

He nodded, then leaned in closer to her but not so close that she could complain and Daryl had to give him credit for knowing his prey. He took a deep breath. “That shampoo you use yours or in the shower?”

She cocked her head to the side. “It was in the storage room.”

“Nice. Too girly for me.”

She studied him for a long moment and then laughed again. “Yeah, you’re all manly and stuff.”

“Got that right.”

The kids finally came back and the end of the game was pretty dull. Carl shot the puck and Merle slammed it hard and fast straight back and into the goal, winning the game. He dropped his striker on the table and picked Buffy right up off the ground, spun her around and dropped her back where she started with a “Good job, girly girl,” and another of his hard slaps on the back that had her actually using the edge of the table to steady herself. But, Daryl noted, she was grinning.

“You too. Manly man.”

He almost growled at them both. Now they had little nicknames for each other? What the hell?

“You want to go get a glass of wine? Celebrate?” He really wanted to kill Merle when he heard him ask her but then Buffy shook her head and pointed his way.

“Nah. Thanks, though. I’m going to get Sophia back to Carol and then I need to get Carl settled.” She shot him a look and he hoped he was reading it right. He figured even if he wasn’t reading it right she wasn’t really going to do anything about it in front of Merle since he was openly hitting on her. He moved to her side and put his arm around her shoulders, giving Merle an admittedly cocky smirk of his own along with a wink. He knew she’d make him pay later but the look on Merle’s face just egged him on and he couldn’t help himself. He dropped a kiss on the top of her head, made a point of rubbing his cheek over her hair.

“He’s right. That shampoo smells great.” It smelled like industrial hospital soap. It was her that smelled good.

She tipped her head back and, he was sure that she was sure Merle couldn’t see her face because she was glaring at him. Her voice was sugar-sweet, though, when she answered. “I’m not a fan. It was all they had, though and you know what they say. Desperate times and all.” She went up on her toes and kissed his cheek. “I’m going to get the kids settled. I’ll see you later.” Making it look like a hug, she pinched his side. Hard. He felt it was the epitome of manhood that he didn’t cry. He didn’t even make a face.

She waved the kids over, waited until they both thanked Merle for playing with them and then added her own, “Thanks, Merle.”

“Anytime, girly.”

Daryl waited until they were out of the room, then waited another half a minute to be sure they weren’t coming back before he turned to Merle. “What the hell do you think you’re doin’, Merle?”

“Don’t know what you mean, little brother.” Merle turned to lean against the table, arms folded across his chest, smirk firmly in place.

“Leave her alone.”

“You can’t hold your woman, ain’t my fault.”

Daryl moved to stand toe to toe with his brother, poked a finger in his chest. “You listen to me, Merle. She ain’t one of your whores to be used and tossed. Leave her alone.”

Merle grabbed the finger and shoved him backwards, coming off the table with a speed that was surprising for a man his size. “You’re lying and she’s lying. You two ain’t got nothin’ goin’ on. I don’t know why you’re doin’ it and I don’t care. I want her.” His eyes narrowed. “You don’t tell me what to do, Daryl.”

“We’re not lying.”

Merle laughed. “Maybe you’re not. I can see you got it bad, bro. Too bad for you.” He let go of Daryl’s finger and turned to walk out the door.

Daryl watched him until he was almost to the door and then said, “Merle.” When he turned, Daryl punched him in the face, sending him staggering into the wall. He lifted a hand to his mouth, bringing it down to see it smeared with blood.

“She mean that much to you? That you punch your own brother in the mouth?”

Daryl nodded. “She does.”

“Makes it that much more fun.” Merle flew into him, taking him to the ground in a tackle that had him gasping for breath as they rolled over and crashed into the wall. He took the punch Merle threw at his stomach and blocked the one he threw at his face then managed to get his foot between them enough to shove his brother off him. They both got to their feet and circled each other, fists up and ready.

“This is stupid,” Daryl said, trying to talk sense into the older man. “You don’t even like her, Merle.”

“I like her fine.”

Daryl frowned. “You don’t even know her.” He blocked the right hook and had his return left jab blocked in return.

“I know her fine.” He gave Daryl a thin smile. “Know she still ain’t over watchin’ her pa die and findin’ her ma all chewed up. Know she ain’t over seein’ her friends die.” Taking advantage over Daryl’s moment of distraction, he landed a one-two combo on his little brother’s face, hooked his foot behind the other man’s and hit him with a roundhouse punch, sending him sprawling to the ground. He straddled Daryl’s downed form and, gripping him by the shirt collar, lifted his upper body off the floor and punched him three more times in the face. “Know you ain’t gettin’ any farther with her than you already got, little brother.” He dropped the younger man back to the floor. “Know you never had a chance.” He got up and left Daryl laying where he was as he walked out the door.

Daryl looked at the ceiling through his rapidly swelling black eyes. He’d never beaten Merle in a fight. Never. What the hell had possessed him to swing at him? Hell, he knew what possessed him…Buffy.

Why didn’t he just trust her? She’s come right out and told him she has no interest at all in Merle, in fact Merle was a big part of the reason for this whole charade in the first place. He’d just sort of…lost it when he’d seen them having fun together.

“You’re an idiot, Daryl,” he told himself as he pushed himself to his feet, wincing at the pain in his side. He thought she’d be vulnerable knowing what Rick would be doing tonight but he didn’t give her enough credit. He saw that now. He also saw that he needed to stop giving her so much space because she, apparently, was willing to talk, if she’d told Merle, of all people, things about her mother and father. Her friends. “Goddammit.” He’d go clean himself up, again, and find her. They would sit down and have an actual conversation that had nothing to do with their charade or dead people. It would be a step toward making their fake relationship a real one. A step toward making her trust him instead of Rick with the big things she needed to share.

**~~**


Sophia dropped off, Carl was all tucked in on his couch, looking at Buffy as she flicked through the pages of an old magazine she’d found peeking out from under her own couch. She was sitting up against the arm of the sofa, legs curled up under her butt, one elbow on the arm of the couch and her other elbow resting on the side of her thigh. She had her hair on top of her head in a sloppy looking pile. He thought she looked cute. “Do you think you’re my sister?” He finally asked her.

She looked up from the magazine, closed it and put it aside. “What do you mean?”

“Dad said you were and mom says all the time that you’re family.” He looked down to play with the top of the blanket, a faint blush tingeing his face. “I…”

She got up and came to sit on the edge of the couch next to him. “You what?” She resolutely ignored the flash of pain at Rick thinking of her as Carl’s sister.

“I love you, Buffy.” He looked up at her and it was obvious in his eyes that he meant it. “You are my big sister even if mom didn’t have you.” He suddenly sat up and threw his arms around her, holding her tightly.

She hugged him back, blinking back tears. “I love you too, Carl. Of course you’re my little brother.” She rocked him back and forth a few times, wondering what had brought this on and deciding if she wanted to know she should probably ask. She pulled back, just slightly and looked at him. “What brought this on?”

“All that stuff about you leaving and then you didn’t ride with us and you’re mad at Dad…”

“I’m not mad at your dad.”

“Yes you are. I’m a kid but I’m not stupid. You’re mad at Shane and you’re mad at Dad. You’re hanging out with Merle and Daryl all the time now.”

She snorted. “Carl, it’s not…”

“I know you and Daryl are boyfriend and girlfriend and stuff…”

“No, it’s not about that.” She sighed. “Look, you’re dad and I had a disagreement about something but I’m not mad at him. I really just wanted to ride on the motorcycle, that’s all.” She gave him a nudge. “It’s cool, yeah?” He didn’t look completely convinced but he nodded. “And, you’re here with me now, right? I’m not hanging out with Merle and Daryl, right?” He nodded again. “Just you and me, having a brother sister sleepover.” She kissed his forehead and pushed him gently back down, tucked the blanket back around him.

When she moved to go back to her own couch he grabbed her hand. “Buffy?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m glad you’re my big sister.”

She smiled and gave his head another peck. “Me too. Go to sleep.” By the time she was back on her own couch his eyes were closed. By the time she was done reading an article so boring her own eyes were threatening to close, his breathing was deep and even. She smiled over at him, marveling at the resilience of children. Zombies roaming around, people they knew and lived with being eaten, he himself nearly dying just days ago, and his big worry was that she was mad at his dad. Amazing.

She was just beginning the debate over sleeping in all her weapons versus sleeping in most of her weapons when her slayer hearing picked up Lori’s panicked voice saying, “No! Get off me, just get off me!” She shot a look at Carl, assured herself he was sound asleep and was out the door before Lori’s words were done. She was back in the rec room and frowning at the sight in less than twenty seconds.

Lori, wearing only an over-sized man’s button up shirt, was half bent over backwards over the back of one of the room’s three sofas, one of her sock-covered feet kicking ineffectually at Shane, who was leaning over her, one hand holding her shoulder and one hand shoving at the hem of her shirt. She was shoving at him, also ineffectually, and crying, sobbing out, “No! Shane, get off, get off…”

So stunned was Buffy that Shane actually managed to grab Lori’s panties and slide them halfway down her thigh before Buffy moved from the doorway and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt. She threw him backwards, angry enough that she didn’t even think about watching her strength. Thank God it was second nature when dealing with humans because, in her anger, she threw him hard enough that he hit the pinball machine across the room, smashing the glass with a loud crashing noise. She followed him over and, grabbing him once again by the back of his shirt, gave him another toss, this time into the second pinball machine with another loud cracking of glass. He rolled off the top and hit the floor, not moving so she went back to Lori.

Lori slid to the floor, hands threading through her hair. “Oh, God…” She pulled her knees to her chest. “Shane…Oh, God…”

Buffy crouched in front of her, grabbed her face, being rougher than she meant, forced the older woman to look at her. “Did he…Lori, are you all right? Did he?” She couldn’t even say the damn words.

Lori shook her head. “No. You stopped him. Again. Buffy…you’re like some…you just…Oh God, he was going to…but you…”

Buffy patted her awkwardly on the shoulder and stood up, turned around and stalked to the wall where Shane was shaking his head. How he was conscious she didn’t know. Didn’t really care, actually. She reached him as he was rolling to his side, one knee on the floor and one hand braced on the floor to push himself to his feet. He didn’t have to worry about that, she thought. She’d help him out. She grabbed him by the collar for the third time, this time the front, and jerked him off his knee, began dragging him out the door, past Glenn, Carol and Merle, who had no doubt come running at the sound of crashing glass from the pinball machine breaking. She ignored them all, kept dragging Shane down the hall, his hands now scraping at her own.

“Let me go, bitch! I mean it!”

“What did I tell you in the woods?”

Glenn, eyes wide, ran up beside her and then stopped in front of her, halting her progress. “Buffy! What the hell is going on?”

“Move, Glenn.”

He shook his head, sighing in relief as he saw Rick and Dale running down the hall behind her, Daryl behind them.

Rick pushed his way up to them, taking Glenn’s place. He glanced at Shane and then carefully put his hands out. “Buffy…”

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t use that ‘I’m dealing with a nutball’ tone of voice with me, Rick.” She dropped Shane back to the floor, trying not to smile as he crab-walked away from her before getting to his feet. He edged around to stand behind Rick. She shook her head, getting a look at Daryl as she did and turning to look at him with a frown. “What the hell happened to you?”

Rick frowned and spoke before Daryl could answer her. “That’s not the point right now, Buffy. What the hell is going on, here?”

She turned to look at Rick, Shane standing behind him. “Oh, you mean Shane? Well, I told him in the woods that if he ever, ever hurt anyone again I’d make him walker chow. So I was throwing him out.” She ignored the gasps from the others, intent on watching Rick’s eyes, the suspicion that flashed through them.

He turned to look at his former partner. “What happened?”

Shane shook his head. “I don’t know, Rick. She just fucking went crazy.”

Buffy raised an eyebrow and nodded. “He’s right about that. I did kind of go crazy.”

Rick’s head whipped around. “Buffy?”

She nodded again. “Right after I caught him trying to rape your wife.” She saw it. She actually saw it in his eyes. He believed her. He knew it was true. It was gone as quick as it was there but she’d seen it.

And then he looked at the others and said, “You must have misunderstood what you saw, Buffy. It’s easy to do…we’ve all been drinking, it’s been a long couple of days, we’re all tired.”

Shane spoke up from behind him. “I guess I can see that…I can understand that.”

Buffy looked at Rick for a very long moment and could actually feel the tension from the group around her. She finally nodded her head and turned around, had actually taken three steps before she felt Rick’s hand on her arm. “What are you doing?”

She turned to face him and shook her head. “He’s going to kill you, Rick. He’s either going to out and out do it himself or sit around while some walker gets you or some thug gets you or some whatever gets you but he’s going to kill you. You can sit around and let it happen but you can’t make me watch.” She gave his hand, still on her arm, a pointed look, and then jerked her arm away from him. “I’m leaving.”
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