Merle looked around the doctor's office. "This is fuckin' surreal," he said.
The doctor gave him a surprised look. "Surreal?"
"Means fucked up."
"I know what it means," the man said, his tone a little frosty now.
"Oh. So ya thought I wouldn't?" Merle held out his arm and watched the needle approach. "And that shit better be clean. Ya infect me and I'm takin' ya down with me."
The needle sank in and blood filled the syringe. The doctor smacked a cotton ball on the pinprick and taped it down.
"So whatcha want my blood fer?"
"To make sure you're not infected."
Merle wondered if he should tell the doctor what Daryl had told him. That they were all infected anyway. He decided not to. If this guy didn't know then Merle wasn't gonna be the one to open his eyes.
"How's it going?" the Governor asked cheerily. "Almost done? I thought I'd show Merle around his new home and get him settled with a job."
And that guy could get fucked if he thought Merle was about to plant potatoes or some shit all day.
"I think I have everything I need," the doctor said. "I thought I'd spend some time in lab 3 if that's all right."
Merle pretended not to notice the eager expression on the doctor's face and the warning in the Governor's eyes. Lab 3. He'd bet that stash of morphine back at the bar that Lab 3 was where the Chinaman and his girl were. It didn't mean diddly squat without knowing where lab 3 was...but it was more than he'd had last night.
He yanked off the tape, tossed the cotton ball to the floor and walked out with the Governor.
"What would you like to do?" The Governor asked cheerfully.
"Used to be a bouncer," Merle lied easily. "Guess that's sorta my favorite line of work. Anybody need a bodyguard?"
The Governor laughed and clapped him on the back. "I like you. You're direct. I lost a few guys when we took the bar and I'm thinking you'll fit the bill. Just know that if you don't..." His face grew serious. "There's secrets that can't get out, you understand?"
Merle twitched his shoulders. "Pretty clear to me. Don't everybody need to know everything."
"I'll give you the tour."
Merle hoped he'd get on with it. He wanted to get out of there as soon as he could. Everyone he'd met here gave him the creeps.
Sinclaire walked until her feet hurt. She'd left Zeke with Daryl and she missed him already. Both of them, actually.
"Soon I'll be talking to myself," she muttered and then snorted. "Huh. Self fulfilling prophecy."
She hadn't seen any undead in a while. The Governor's tank had taken a lot of them out, and she was being careful, but she still wished she had a car or some way to hide if she needed one. The back of her neck felt prickly, like someone was watching her. She checked over her shoulder more times than she would have wanted to admit, but she didn't see anything.
As the sun sank, she scouted out a campground for the night. She'd been hoping to find some more cars but she hadn't had any luck. She'd veered further west than she'd intended. Sinclaire built a fire and put her back to a tree that she could climb easily if she needed to. She'd never seen a zombie climb yet.
The feeling of being watched persisted. She pulled one of her pistols out and clicked the safety off. It didn't make her feel better.
Walking had been stupid, but what choice had she had? The Governor might have recognized the box truck or any of the other vehicles from the bar and then she'd gotten off course during the day like an idiot.
"Think, you moron," she muttered. "Think about the things that matter and not what happened on the cliff and then maybe you'll get-" She broke off suddenly. She'd heard something that time. A sound that didn't go with zombies or governors. It didn't go with anything really. Except maybe the ghost of Jacob Marley.
Sinclaire stood up slowly and aimed her gun in the direction of the sound. "Who's there?" she asked sharply, but softly. "Come on, I hear you."
The person who stepped into the firelight made her jaw drop slightly.
"Yeah," Merle said. "Place looks nice."
It did. Whole house to himself, which was surprising. He'd expected to share, at least with the rest of the Governor's cronies. This was a brick 2 story with a nice front lawn and goddamn porch swing.
"Near where I'll need you," the man explained. "It just makes sense. I'll send someone over with some rations later."
"Sounds good." Let's get to the damn point.
"Let's go check out your lab results."
Christ on a crutch. Merle nodded and followed along, sick of feeling like a dog on a leash. The doctor was waiting.
"Well?" the Governor asked.
"He's clean," the doctor said grudgingly.
Merle couldn't hold back a smirk. It had been a long time since anyone had been able to say that about him. Yank would...
"So," he said, clearing his throat. "What else we got on the schedule for today?"
"Milt, let's take him to the lab," the Governor said. "Just to show him around," he clarified when the doctor's eyes widened.
"Oh. All right. He's replacing Andy, then?"
Merle didn't know who the hell Andy was, but he guessed it was one of the guys that had gotten killed back at the bar. He turned out to be wrong about that.
"What the hell are you doing?" Sinclaire asked.
"Walking," the other woman answered, looking at her steadily.
"Your pet zombies?"
The woman tugged at the chains and the zombies stumbled forward into the firelight. Their lower jaws were missing. So were their hands and forearms.
Sinclaire laughed without meaning to. The woman wasn't joking.
"Why?" she asked around another giggle she tried desperately to force away.
"Camouflage. I've got places to be and I'm not planning to get eaten before I get there."
"Where do you have to be in an apocalypse?" Sinclaire asked.
"Why do you care?"
"Because I'm curious."
The woman eyed her for a long moment. "You got food?"
"Trade you information for a bite to eat."
Sinclaire thought it over. "Put them somewhere off to the side and you've got a deal."
The woman tied them to a tree closer than Sinclaire liked.
She held out her hand for a can of Spam and said, "Too far away and they won't be doing their job. It's the scent. You can walk right along with 'em if you smell like 'em. Just don't call attention to yourself."
Sinclaire blinked in surprise. "I guess that makes sense. I never thought about it."
The woman nodded and dug into the meat. "Most people don't Where are you headed?" she asked after a moment of obvious indecision.
"Looking for someone," Sinclaire answered.
"Guy I know. He's in a town."
The other woman's head came up. "A town?" she asked sharply. "What town?"
The woman sprang to her feet and, even more to Sinclaire's surprise, drew a samurai sword with a flourish. "Just who are you looking for in Woodbury?"
"Guy named Merle," Sinclaire said as calmly as she could. "But I have a feeling that you might know the Governor."
The sword wavered and Sinclaire drew her gun, leveling it between the woman's eyes. "You drop yours and I'll drop mine. I could use your help if you have intel, but I don't plan to die before I get to punch Merle Dixon in the face."
A smile tugged at the other woman's lips. "You're risking your life to punch a man in the face?"
"He kissed me."
"You're an interesting woman."
"You too. I'd be a shame to kill you."
The woman shrugged and sheathed her sword. Sinclaire snapped the safety back on and put her gun within easy reach.
"Tell me what you know about this guy," she said.
The woman leaned into the firelight. "He's the devil himself. I hope your man is made of tough stuff."
"He's not my man." There was that idiotic denial again. "And he's seen worse than what the Governor can dish out," Sinclaire said.
The woman shook her head. "You won't think that when I'm through."
"Ya experiment on 'em?" Merle asked, taking in the view of the tables in lab 3. People in varying stages of decay were strapped down. Some had turned, some were turning, some were screaming to be let go.
"How else can I develop a cure?" the doctor snapped testily. "I tried studying on rats...but it's not the same. How could I know if it worked?"
"Let me go," a man near the wall pleaded. "It's just a little scratch! I don't even feel sick! It's just a scratch!"
The doctor and the Governor ignored him.
"Brian," the man went on. "Come on! We've been together since this started! You know I wouldn't lie to you! You know I-"
"Merle," the Governor said. "Do me a favor and shut Andy up, would you?"
Merle looked at the man, who was still pleading, more and more hysterically the longer the Governor refused to speak with him. He walked over to the bed and brought his fist down on the man's temple. He went out like a light.
"Thanks," the Governor said with an absent smile. "That was getting annoying."
"So is this where yer gonna bring the two ya brought from the bar? They gonna be part of the experiment?"
"They're part of my control group," Milt said. "I'm going to expose them to the virus in a closed room and see how long it takes contamination to occur if there is no bite or scratch."
Hell, that didn't sound too bad. Merle focused on keeping his features locked into a scowl so they wouldn't note a change in his expression.
"If contamination does not occur, they'll be infected, of course."
"Well sure," Merle said. "Why the hell else would we have brought 'em all this way?" Shit, shit, shit.
"Bring them in," Milt called and two of the Governor's other men brought Carrie and Glenn into the room.
Carrie had been gagged and her eyes were nearly swollen shut from crying. She didn't notice Merle in her nearly blind panic, but Glenn saw him. His eyes widened for a moment and then he noticed the fact that Merle was standing next to the Governor and he looked shocked, hurt, and then furious.
"What?" Merle drawled. "Thought we'd patched it up after that whole leavin' me on the roof thing? Hate to break it to ya, Chinaman, but you deserve everything ya get."
Whatever Glenn had planned to say was cut off when they gagged him as well, but his eyes spoke volumes of clear betrayal.
It was work for Merle to keep his smile lazy and sarcastic, but he managed it.
"I think you've done enough for the day," the Governor said. "How about you head home and get cleaned up and I'll meet up with you in the morning?"
"Sounds good," Merle said, waving insolently at Glenn and the sobbing Carrie. "See y'all later."
Back in his house, Merle took a shower and laid down on a bed with actual sheets and pillows for the first time in God knew how long. He expected to fall asleep right away, but his mind wouldn't shut down. Glenn and Carrie and that fucking doctor...his new employer who was crazy as a shit house rat...his mattress was too soft. And Yank.
He swallowed hard and forced her away, but she came right back. Inconvenient woman. Always hanging around. Driving him crazy with that body and that mouth and that mind. She'd felt goddamn right against him too. Righter than any other woman ever had. Righter probably wasn't the word. She'd know that too.
"Big damn words," he muttered. "Big damn pain in my ass." His voice felt like glass in his throat and when he finally fell asleep it was only because he pictured her there beside him.
Sinclaire sat up late into the night, even after the other woman had fallen asleep. Her name was Michonne and she wanted the Governor's head. Sinclaire was fine with letting her take it as long as she got Merle out first. And Carrie and Glenn too, of course.
What the hell had Merle been thinking? Had he just been trying to get her off balance enough to push her off the cliff? If so it was the best damn strategy he could have used.
"Think I'm fallin' in love with ya, Yank." What the hell was that about? And that kiss? She rubbed her lower lip, remembering it. Why hadn't he ever tried to kiss her before? Why had he kissed her then?
She swallowed the lump in her throat. What if he was dead? From the things Michonne had told her about the Governor, Merle could be anything. A zombie experiment. A head in a fish tank. Food for the Governor's 'daughter'.
"Think I'm fallin' in love with ya, Yank."
"We'll see how long that lasts after I kick your ass up one side of Woodbury and down the other, redneck," she muttered into the darkness. She was surprised to find a small smile curve her mouth as she spoke. Talking to him before bed still felt natural. She drifted off to sleep.