AN: Again I'm sorry about the long wait. I know I'd promised to be faster, but obviously that didn't work out. But here it is! The final chapter! I hope you enjoy, and thanks so much for reading and an extra thanks to those who've reviewed! :)
"Is he dead?" Andrea asked needlessly, the stricken look on Rick's face said it all. The only answer she got was Shane happening upon the scene, a bottle of Tylenol and what appeared to be cough medicine in his hands, both of which he nearly dropped along with some curses.
"What the hell happened?" T-dog asked, addressing no one in particular. "He didn't get bit. What was wrong with him, why would he just die like that?"
"I don't know." Rick leaned forward and began to inspect Glenn's body. He really didn't know what he was looking for. A bite? But he knew Glenn hadn't been bit. A cut, a scratch, a rash? Anything that could explain what had happened.
"Wait." Everyone turned to look at Carol. She fidgeted under the collective gaze of the entire group shifting her eyes to Daryl as if for help under this new scrutiny, who having been woken by all the commotion, was just staring at her along with everyone else. "Shouldn't we do something? I mean, won't he wake up?" The encounter with Merle Dixon's reanimated corpse was still fresh in her mind, and she had no wish to go through that ordeal again with Glenn.
"Nah, Carol. I'm sure it's fine," reassured Shane. " Merle must'a been bit, we just didn't know it."
"What?" Daryl's face betrayed no emotion, but something that no one but Carol was close enough to see flickered across his eyes for an instant. "Carol, what the hell's he talking about?"
Again Carol began to fidget uncomfortably, they were going to wait to tell Daryl about this, but it seemed the cat was out of the bag. She looked down at her hands twisting nervously together on the table top. "Well, we thought you'd want to bury Merle. So we brought him with us on the trip here. We put you in the RV, and we put him in there too." She stopped here to look up at him.
Daryl was staring at her, dumbfounded. A million things were running through his mind. He really didn't know what to think about it. They brought Merle with them? Well, he guessed that was pretty considerate of them. Kind of creepy and unexpected, but considerate. And he found that he was actually touched by the act, which was obviously out of respect for him. Wow. Talk about coming out of left field. He totally hadn't expected that.
But there was more to it. Everyone was watching him nervously, and Shane had said that Merle had been bit. But he wasn't bit. Daryl would have noticed that in the woods when he first ran into him. Daryl looked at Shane, "He wasn't bit. Are you saying he turned walker? Because he had no bites."
"Well he must of. He turned in the RV. Almost got you and Carol, too." Shane glanced at the short-haired woman apologetically before continuing. "I was driving, when I saw what was happening I lost control of the vehicle, and we crashed. Glenn's the one that put Merle down for good."
"He was worried you'd be mad at him for that," Rick chimed in, "not getting permission to kill your brother and all."
Daryl could feel his headache intensifying at this overload of information. He glanced longingly at the bottle of Tylenol Shane was still holding, but had no mind to actually ask for the damn thing, so he looked away. "This all just... He came back? And why the hell would I be mad? Fucking stupid to think that! I can't believe ya'll even brought Merle, and for me?" Daryl sounded incredulous, like he blamed himself for the accident due to his inadvertent role in it all. "Well surely you left him to rot after that?"
"We actually had to. The RV turned over on it's side," Andrea rubbed her still sore shoulder at the memory, "we had to cram into the Cherokee with walkers on our tail. We barely made it out in time."
Daryl drew a hand down his face. He couldn't believe this shit. He really wasn't upset about not getting to bury Merle, after what'd gone down between them, it was a fitting end. But what disconcerted him was the danger the group had been put into because of him. "Ya'll shouldn'ta brought him."
Shane looked outraged, "Hey man, we did that for you! Least you could do is be grateful!"
"Never said I wasn't!" He snapped right back. "Don't mean it didn't endanger the group though. Now, does it?"
Any further conversation was cutoff by a fearful screech, "Mommy!" Sophia hurled herself into Carol's arms. "I saw Glenn move!"
They turned to see Glenn staggering to his feet. The once friendly face and inviting eyes now twisted into some gruesome nightmare, mouth snarling and snapping viciously under that cold, clouded gaze. Anguished cries at seeing one of their own in such a state clashed with the inhuman moans coming from Glenn. Steeling himself to what must be done, Rick took out his knife and plunged it into Glenn's head.
"I thought you said he hadn't been bit!" Shane shouted at Carol.
"He wasn't!" She cried back, hugging her daughter even tighter. Trying to shield her poor girl from the horrors of this world, whether they be undead nightmares or living scary men.
"Then why did he turn?" Shane was still yelling. Carl and Sophia were crying. Lori and Andrea were sniffing and Carol was holding back tears. The men were staring numbly in shock. The group was not processing this turn of events well.
Rick was still crouched over Glenn where he'd laid the body gently down rather than just letting it fall like a sack of potatoes as he normally did. He'd been staring at Glenn's body intently, willing it to give him the missing piece to the puzzle. His eyes came to rest on the bandaged hand. He unwrapped the gauze, letting out a gasp when he saw what was underneath.
"Look at this!" Rick indicated the deep cut. It was badly infected and showed clear signs of necrosis.
"Oh my god!" Carol sobbed out. "It was when he took down Merle. He used a piece of glass. He must have cut himself and gotten blood in it."
At that, no one knew what to say.
Daryl stood in the woods, eyes closed, the sounds of the forest flitting about on the gentle breeze. Peaceful. This place was peaceful. No, not this place, this moment. This place was tainted. The whisper of a smile found it's way to his lips for an instant. It was ironic he could find serenity here at all. This was were things had changed. Where he had changed. The place Merle had found him.
He opened his eyes and took in his surroundings. The familiar weight of his crossbow, finally, about his shoulders once again; his knife secured at his waist. It was good to have his weapons back. He'd finally gotten Rick to agree that he was well enough to go back for his things; it'd been a couple weeks now since Merle'd blown back into their lives and forever changed them all, again. It seemed like their lives were changing forever a hell of a lot anymore. Daryl let out a heavy-hearted sigh. He supposed that was to be expected, being the end of the world and all.
"Any luck?" Rick's voice called out, just before he came into view.
"Right here." Daryl shrugged his shoulder to indicate the crossbow perched atop it. Once they'd made it to the general area where he'd lost his equipment, he'd told Rick they should split up to find his things. There was really no need, but he'd wanted a minute to himself. It was his way of getting closure from the loss of his brother. Not the brother who'd come to camp that day, but the brother who'd been there to protect him when his dad was beating him to death, the one that'd taught him to drive, the one that'd taught him to hunt.
"You about ready?" Rick asked.
"Yea, let's get on back." Daryl was fairly certain that Rick knew splitting up was a ruse, but if he did, he made no indication and just played along knowing time alone was what Daryl needed. No matter though. He'd come to accept it; he had a place among this rag-tag band of survivors. And taking one last look at the foliage around them before turning to go, realized that he was ok with that.