Amelia woke shortly after dawn. She was alone in the bed and she sat up, scanning the room quickly. Daryl was sitting at the kitchen table and she slipped into his shirt and padded quietly across the room until she was standing behind him.
"Morning." She put her arms around him and kissed his cheek.
He squeezed her clasped hands, "Mornin'."
"You okay?" she whispered, rubbing his chest gently.
He shrugged and she stood in front of him. She cupped his face in her hands and stared gravely at him. He sighed and pulled her down onto his lap, pressing his forehead against her throat. She rested her chin on top of his head as he took a deep shuddering breath.
"I'm sorry Amelia."
She kissed the top of his head, "I know."
"I shoulda believed ya, it's just that Merle ain't…" he trailed off.
"I know." She said again. "I'm sorry you had to hear the hurtful things that Merle said."
He shook his head, "At least I know the truth."
"Do you want to talk about your dad?"
"No." he squeezed her tightly for a moment.
She frowned. It would be better for Daryl if he talked about it but they had just reconnected. Their relationship still felt tenuous to her and she didn't want to risk losing him again by pushing him to talk about his feelings.
She sighed and leaned back to give him a look of apprehension. "Daryl, I'm sorry but I think Rick is going to kick Merle out of the camp."
Daryl nodded, "I know."
"How – how do you feel about that?" she asked hesitantly.
He shrugged, "I told Rick if we found out Merle was lyin' I would kick him out myself."
She frowned again. "Daryl, I know that you – well, you don't like to talk much about your feelings but you've just found out –"
"Amelia stop. I ain't gonna talk about this. Ya hear?" he said grouchily.
She nodded. "I hear."
His expression softened and he kissed her lightly on the mouth, "Let's get dressed and join the others at the lodge."
"I know he's your brother Daryl, but he's left us no choice. He has to go." Rick said quietly.
Daryl nodded as Amelia squeezed his hand. They were sitting in the kitchen of the main lodge. Merle hadn't shown up for breakfast and now, glancing around the kitchen, Amelia realized that the three of them, along with T-Dog and Hannah, who was pacing nervously back and forth by the counter, were the only ones left in the kitchen.
"You sure you're okay with this man?" T-Dog asked.
"Yeah." Daryl muttered.
"Who's gonna tell him?" T-Dog glanced around the kitchen.
"I will." Daryl grunted.
"You don't have to." Rick replied.
Daryl shook his head, "I'll do it."
Rick stared at him silently for a moment, "Alright. But I want to be there when you do it."
Daryl nodded, "Let's go."
They all turned to look at Hannah. She gave Daryl a shaky smile, "I know you want him to leave and I'm not saying we shouldn't kick him out, but if you make him leave the way he is, he won't make it a mile outside the campsite."
She looked at the others, "He's a monster, no doubt about it, but are we really going to send him out there to die?"
"Yes." Rick spoke quietly, "He can't stay here so I guess we are."
Amelia sighed, "She's right Rick. If we kick him out it's a death sentence for him. We can't do that to Daryl's brother."
"He ain't my brother." Daryl said viciously. Amelia gave him a troubled look.
Hannah sat down next to T-Dog. "Give him 24 hours. He can take one of the cars; we'll give him some food and water, a few medical supplies. He can leave in the morning."
Rick gave her a considering look, "Since when did you start caring about Merle Dixon?"
She flushed and looked at him angrily, "I still value the living. Merle may be a shithead but he's still a human being."
Rick glanced at Daryl, "It's your call."
Daryl shrugged, "Don't matter much to me either way. Kick him out today with nothin' but the clothes on his back or let him go tomorrow."
Rick looked at Hannah. She was staring at him with something close to disappointment and he could feel his cheeks reddening. "Fine. He can leave tomorrow."
Daryl stood, "I'll go let 'im know."
As Rick and T-Dog followed Daryl out of the kitchen, Amelia watched them go, worrying at her bottom lip with her teeth. Hannah sat down beside her and took one cold hand in her own.
"I'm worried about him." Amelia sighed. "He's acting like he doesn't even care what happens to Merle."
Hannah squeezed her hand, "You know Daryl, he's not much for revealing how he really feels."
"I know. But he just found out that his brother has been lying to him his entire life. He's been betrayed by the one person he thought he could trust. You don't just get over that or push it to the side like it doesn't matter."
Hannah gave her a wan smile, "He'll talk about it when he's ready to."
"I hope you're right Hannah."
"Ya here to kill me Darylina?" Merle asked sullenly. He thumped away from the door, maneuvering awkwardly with the crutch.
"Ya can't stay at the camp Merle." Daryl said quietly.
"And where do ya expect me to go?" Merle asked.
Daryl shook his head, "Don't care."
"I'm a dead man if I go." Merle scowled.
"We'll let ya stay in the camp one more day. Tomorrow morning we'll give ya a car, some food and water, and some medical supplies. It's more than you deserve."
Merle scoffed, "Ya think yer doin' me some kind of favour?"
Rick nodded, "Actually we do."
"What if I refuse to leave?" Merle asked softly.
"Ya don't seem to be gettin' it Merle. Ya ain't got a choice." Daryl stared at him, "Ya either leave right now or take our offer of a car and some supplies."
"Yer woman and yer sheriff buddy have gotten to ya huh? This how ya treat yer own flesh and blood? Yer family?"
"We ain't family!" Daryl suddenly shouted.
"We share the same mama!" Merle shouted back.
"The crack whore?" Daryl said, "The one ya told me over and over again was nothin' but a dirty slut who didn't care about us or daddy?"
Merle shook his head, "We're still family Daryl and ya know what yer doin' is wrong."
Daryl laughed bitterly, "Yer one to talk Merle. Your lies have finally caught up to ya and this time ya can't weasel your way out of it."
Merle stared silently at him as Rick stepped forward, "You're leaving tomorrow Merle. Pack your stuff and be ready to go at first light. Consider yourself lucky that we're giving you the car and supplies."
Rick and Daryl turned to go and Merle thumped his crutch angrily on the floor, "Yer turnin' yer back on family Daryl. Daddy was right – ya never were good for anythin'."
"We ain't family." Daryl repeated softly. "Good-bye Merle."
Early the next morning, Amelia and Daryl were lying in bed together when the sound of a car starting broke the silence. It was just after dawn and Amelia could see faint beams of light through the shutters. Daryl's body stiffened beside her and Amelia rubbed his arm soothingly.
"Do you want to go out there?" she asked, sitting up in the bed.
"No, I don't." Daryl pulled her back down and they remained in the bed for another half hour, neither of them speaking. Paul knocked softly on the door giving them the all clear and Daryl rose from the bed.
Amelia sat up and reached for his hand. "Daryl? Please talk to me. Are you okay?"
He sat on the edge of the bed and rested his forehead against hers, "I'm fine Amelia. I have you; ain't nothing else matters."
She kissed him softly on the mouth and he kissed her back before going into the bathroom. She stared at the closed door, biting her bottom lip worriedly, before sighing and crawling out of the bed.
"Paul, wait up! Paul!" Amelia hurried across the clearing to where Paul and Aaron were just about to enter their cabin. "Have you seen Hannah?" Amelia asked anxiously. "She didn't answer the door when I knocked and she didn't show up for breakfast."
Paul looked at her uneasily and Amelia frowned, "What?"
Before he could answer, the door to Hannah's cabin banged open and Rick ran down the steps and towards them. He shouldered past Amelia, breathing heavily, and grabbed Paul by the collar.
"Where is she? Goddammit, tell me where she went!"
"Rick! Stop it!" Amelia grabbed his arm and pulled him away from Paul.
"You were on the blind this morning, you son of a bitch! Did you just watch her leave? Did you?!" Rick bellowed and grabbed for Paul again. Daryl ran up the steps and helped Amelia wrestle Rick away from Paul.
Paul gripped the railing of the porch tightly as Aaron put his arm around his shoulders, "She asked me not to say anything."
"What are you talking about Paul?" Amelia whispered. Her heart was sinking and a sick feeling was growing in her stomach.
"She left with Merle!" Rick shouted. "Didn't she Paul? And you just let her go you stupid bastard!"
Amelia put her hands to her mouth, her eyes round with horror, "No."
Paul stared at her soberly, "I'm sorry Amelia."
Rick tore free from Daryl, "You should have told me – do you have any idea what you've done? How much danger she's in? Why the hell would you let her go with Merle for God's sake? Tell me - are you that stupid or just naïve?"
Paul flushed with anger, "She would have gone regardless! Don't you get that you dumb wanker? Don't you think I tried to stop her? She told me if I didn't let her go with Merle, she would just leave later on her own. I figured she had a better chance with Merle than by herself. She was desperate to get away from you Rick."
Rick's lean body seemed to deflate as the anger rushed out of him. He sat down heavily on the steps, his head in his hands.
Paul squatted beside him and pulled out a folded piece of paper from his pocket. "She asked me to give you this." He handed Rick the piece of paper and then took Aaron's hand and led him into their cabin.
"C'mon Amelia." Daryl said. He tugged gently on Amelia's waist and she followed him numbly to their cabin.
Rick sat silently for a few moments, his fingers tracing the crease in the paper. Finally, with shaking hands he opened the paper.
I'm sorry to leave this way. Please believe me when I say that I wanted more than anything to say goodbye to you and explain my reasons for leaving in person. What I've done is an act of cowardice but I hope that someday you'll understand why I acted so cowardly. If I had told you I was leaving, you would have convinced me to stay and that isn't fair to you and your family.
You asked me once if I believed that what we had was nothing more than me using you. I refused to answer but you deserve an answer - it's the least I can do. It was never just me using you and I'm so sorry I told you it was.
Goodbye Rick, I hope you find the happiness you deserve.
Amelia, standing on the porch of their cabin with Daryl's arm hooked firmly around her waist watched as Rick carefully re-folded the piece of paper and tucked it into his shirt pocket. He buried his head in his hands and Amelia turned to Daryl, tears dripping down her face.
"We have to find her Daryl. We have to."
I wanted to say thank you so much for joining me in this journey. Writing Amelia's Choice has been a rewarding and enriching experience to say the least, and what's made it so amazing has been all of you. Your reviews and comments have been, for me personally, the best part of this entire experience.
I believe, however, that Amelia's Choice has finally found its ending. I think trying to continue it would be doing a disservice to the story I've created. That being said, I'll be starting a new story called "Finding Hope". This story will be set in the same world as "Amelia's Choice" and will be a continuation of sorts of "Amelia's Choice". There will still be plenty of Daryl and Amelia, but overall the story will focus on the group as a whole, with a special emphasis on Rick and Hannah.
I want to invite all of you to join me on this new journey. Below you'll find an excerpt from the first chapter of "Finding Hope". In the next day or so I'll be posting the entire first chapter as a new story but for now - I hope you enjoy this little teaser!
Thank you again.
The man crawled like a snake on his belly to the woman who was lying on her stomach and peering out the large plate glass window. The window was filthy and streaked with smears of rusty black that could only be dried blood.
He reached her side; she glanced briefly at him before she returned to staring at the street outside the window. The man followed her gaze, stared disinterestedly at the scene in front of them, and then turned his attention back to the woman beside him. Her blonde hair was cut in a short pixie style and she was wearing a faded leather jacket over a green tank top. Two Colt 45's hung low around her hips on a leather gun belt and a sporting rifle was slung over her back. Loose-fitting camouflage pants and black army boots completed the outfit. His gaze lingered on the thin, red scar that ran just below her ear and along the shelf of her jaw.
He knew she was aware of him looking at her but her gaze didn't falter from the window. Finally, with an impatient sigh, she murmured, "What?"
"We can't help them."
She didn't answer but her jaw set in a way he was all too familiar with and she gave him a brief stubborn look. He rubbed his shaved head, feeling the stubble under the palm of his hand and stared impassively back at her.
Without saying anything she turned back to the window, raising her head a little to get a better view. He frowned and looked again. Eight men, heavily armed, were standing in the middle of the street. Two young men and a young woman were standing huddled together, staring fearfully at the men who had their weapons trained at them.
"There are eight of them and only four of us. Trying to help them will be suicide."
"We're helping them." She replied.
He grunted in frustration, "I'm not trying to be heartless but they're strangers. We can't save every person we come across who were stupid enough to get themselves trapped like that."
"They're not strangers. And we don't leave this place without them." The woman said softly.
She turned and crawled towards the back of the store. The man, his thick, dark eyebrows raised in surprise, crawled after her.