The sun was bright and slightly blinding as it reflected off the metal of the cars as the group passed. Daryl Dixon wove in between them all as he kept an eye on the cars running in the median of the highway. They had no real destination, just trying to stay as far away from the horde of geeks as they could. Daryl's bike growled underneath him as he narrowed his eyes towards the horizon. A large building loomed ahead of them, something that he had been traveling steadily towards, the rest following along.
Glenn leaned out the window of the car Maggie was driving, climbing out so he was sitting in the window with his rifle in hand resting on the roof as he signaled for Daryl to come closer. The bike swerved in between a couple of wrecked cars as Daryl brought it closer.
"That structure up ahead!" the kid yelled over the sound of wind and vehicle. "Mags says it wasn't there before! And I don't remember seeing it when we came!"
Daryl nodded and pointed with his hand. "I'll go ahead and check it out! Keep your asses behind me!"
The engine revved as Daryl sped up and took off, riding expertly on both dirt and pavement as he came closer to the metal walls. It wasn't a building, he could see that much even from this distance. It was a wall, a large one, built of metal sheets of some sort. He saw the oversized rivets holding it together as well as the gated entrance facing the north.
It encircled an area of almost a half mile as far as Daryl could tell. He hit the throttle again, hearing the sound of the cars behind him following. Rocks were flung by his tires as he barreled past everything, heading straight for the structure. The closer he came, the more his keen eyes caught. A watch post every fifteen yards on the wall, two next to the entrance. Men pacing on the posts, guns easily recognizable from the shapes of the bodies. The occasional glint of sun on glass told him that they at least had eyes on the group coming up fast.
Daryl wove his way back onto the road, hitting his top safe speed easier on the pavement than the rocky dirt at the edge. The sound of the cars falling behind told him that he was now on his own. It made things a little easier when he wasn't worried about people getting hurt other than himself. Daryl could protect himself.
As he pulled up alongside the wall, he could feel eyes on him. He wasn't a geek, so didn't earn a bullet to the brain for approaching. At least not yet.
Stopping the bike, Daryl dismounted near the front entrance. The steel door was at least twenty feet high, higher than any of the undead could make it. This wasn't just a structure. It was a fortress. It was a safe haven.
"Knock knock!" Daryl yelled up to the sentries near the door. "Anyone home?"
"Who the hell are you?" came a male voice from above. The rifle was pointed at him, and Daryl just rolled his eyes.
"Clearly I ain't undead, so what does it matter?"
"I gotta ask," the man replied before vanishing. Daryl rolled his eyes and kicked the stand on his bike so he could push it along. The cars caught up with him and stopped, bringing up a cloud of dust as they did. Rick was the first out of the car, closely followed by Glenn and Hershel.
The large door was being pushed outward by four grown men. Three more stood behind, along with one woman, pointing what looked to be military issued weaponry. Daryl took a moment to be mildly impressed until he realized that three of those guns were trained on him. Why they chose him to be the most threatening made him almost smile. He was the roughest in appearance of the four approaching the doors. And his weapons were strapped to the bike he was currently pushing.
"Where you lot headed from?" the man who had greeted him from above asked.
Rick stepped up ahead of the rest, putting himself in the role of leader. Daryl looked away from the men talking and glanced past and into the walls. Front and center was what looked to be a large mall like building, with an obvious grocer on the first floor. Daryl stopped paying attention as they were led forward, not hearing as they were introduced to an older man, about Hershel's age, with gray hair and laugh lines around his eyes. He missed when the story of the building was shared. His eyes were busy taking in the surroundings.
It was a small city within the walls. The mall stood out, easily the center of the small civilization. A hotel stood behind that, five stories tall and the sign at the top reading "U R MAD". He could see that the 'u' was spray painted and two 'a's had been removed. Next to the hotel was a small medical center, the large cross on the side declaring it a Christian medical center.
"Daryl!" came Glenn's voice. The kid had the expression of having called him several times. Daryl turned and focused on the Asian's face, one eyebrow raised. "Robert is giving us a tour, do you want to come?"
Robert, the older man who was talking to the group, smiled at Daryl. "You are more than welcome to leave your stuff with your group's cars. It will be safe until you return."
"Yeah, fine," Daryl muttered, pushing his bike over to the cars. The clang of the metal doors shutting made him internally cringe, feeling like an animal in a trap. There was no question that this was going to take all his strength not to demand freedom. But at least they were safe for the most part.
Rick followed close behind Robert, asking him questions. Glenn walked with Maggie and Carol, his fingers interlaced with his lover's. Lori had Carl pulled close, whispering to the boy something Daryl couldn't hear. Beth and T-Dog walked with Hershel just in front of Daryl, who brought up the rear, ignoring the group's guide for the most part.
The first stop turned out to be the rather large mall. Easily seven stories tall, the front doors were propped open and had two armed guards standing just inside. The men nodded at the group as they passed. Daryl couldn't hide his heavy frown at the idea of being trapped inside such a place, but he saw the sense it made to build a safe home like this. Inside, there was a large atrium which had been turned into a daycare. Lori brought Carl over to play with the other children, but, not to Daryl's surprise, the boy seemed more concerned with watching than playing.
Daryl took the opportunity to go off on his own. He gave Rick a quick nod as he backed away from the group in order to head in the opposite direction. The grocer's was just in front of him, and he slipped in, not seeing anyone in the immediate vicinity. A few people were going through the shelves, but they didn't look twice at Daryl as he passed slowly, his eyes not missing anything. There was no dust on the shelves, no missing parts, no broken items. This place hadn't been raided, there was no disorganized chaos as he had seen everywhere else.
Someone, or more likely a great many someones, had made sure this place was still running, right down to the lights glowing above and the music playing from a CD player at the front. He heard the hum of a generator from somewhere near where the registers were. Daryl narrowed his eyes subconsciously as he walked towards the refrigerated section.
A light behind one of the double doors near the empty meat cases made him pause and look through. A girl, couldn't be older than twenty, had a pair of headphones on, the cord trailing under the blood stained white lab coat and to her pocket. She was wielding a knife, twirling it every now and then in time with the movements of her hips as she butchered something on the giant cutting board table, blood dripping from the white surface onto the floor, leaving a red streak as it moved down to the drain.
Daryl stood there near the small window and watched the brunette as she threw the cut meat into a tub sitting next to her in a cart. His eyes traveled over her body once, noting her ample form, not overweight, but not the skin and bones of someone struggling for survival. Her long hair was kept in a ponytail, braided through the hole in the back of her ball cap. He couldn't see her shirt, but a pair of black pants hugged her knees and flared outward, a contrast against the white of her coat and the room.
"Pretty, ain't she?"
Daryl turned quickly, looking at the man who had approached him silently. He was younger, shorter, and dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. His hair was cropped short, the same light brown shade as Daryl's.
"Sorry, what?" He didn't want the boy to know he knew that he had been caught staring. The hunter had one rule, not to let anyone know his weaknesses. As far as everyone else knew, he was Daryl "Fucking" Dixon, master bad-ass of the south.
"My sister," he said, gesturing with his chin. The boy took a step closer, next to the other door so he could look through the window. "Nichole. She hides in here, usually covered in blood of some sort. But still pretty as the noonday sun off the ocean." He smiled indulgently, and Daryl's frown grew.
"She your younger sister?" he asked casually, his eyes going back to the girl through the glass.
"Nah. She's older." The boy leaned against the empty meat case next to the door and shot a quick smile at Daryl. "No one believes it, but she's pushing twenty six. I'm only twenty one." His eyes moved over Daryl with an appraising look. "Name's Alex. You came in with the last group, right?"
"Yep," Daryl replied. When Alex looked at him with raised eyebrows, waiting for something, Daryl realized that he was missing an important social cue. "Oh, yeah, Daryl." He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall so he could still glance through the window.
"You want to talk to her?" Alex's smile was starting to fade as he watched Daryl. "I'll have to warn you, she's...uh...not very talkative with strangers. That's why she hides herself in there. Nick's got two PhD's and she decided to be a butcher when the zombie apocalypse hit. Not that we didn't need it, but I mean, shit, she could have done anything."
"Kid, anyone ever told you you talk too much?"
Alex smiled and nodded. "About a dozen times," he replied. "I gotta go anyway. Just doing quick rounds. I'm still on probation, after all." He gave Daryl a mock salute as he headed off again, leaving the hunter next to the door.
Daryl watched the kid as he took off, shaking his head for a moment as he began to turn back towards the door. He wasn't expecting it, but the door pushed open from the other side, quick enough to slam hard into Daryl's hip, knocking him hard to the ground as a cart was shoved through the door.
"Oh my god!" came the pleasantly mild alto voice as someone rushed to his side, kneeling down next to him. A hand, still stained red, landed on his arm as he flipped himself over to look at the female kneeling next to him.
He hadn't seen her face through the window, but now that he did, Daryl realized that this girl was truly beautiful. His eyes locked on her clear, hazel orbs, the olive tanned color of her skin offsetting the red highlights in the strands of hair escaping her braid and hat to lay across her cheeks. Her lips were a perfect cupid's bow, pale pink against her skin, her nose slightly rounded at the end, making her look younger than she was. Though most would say she was pretty, but not a real beauty, Daryl's eyes saw something quite different.
"Are you okay?" she asked anxiously, checking him over.
"Fine," Daryl responded gruffly, brushing off her hand. "I would be better if you weren't crowding me."
The girl leaned back on her feet, her knees coming up so she could double over a little and look at him. "I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to hit you," she said quietly, a little mousy. Her eyes were watching him with more than a little concern, and she looked close to a deer about to bolt.
Daryl let out a low growling sound as he pushed himself up into a sitting position, taking stock of any injuries he might have sustained from his fall. He didn't say anything as he stood slowly, noting that she stood at the same pace, almost gracefully if it weren't for the headphones hanging at her side. It was clear she had ripped them out when she hit him. Daryl could hear the music still streaming from them.
"Stupid bitch, couldn't watch where you were going?" His curse was automatic, and Daryl regretted it instantly as he ran a hand over his leg, checking for soreness. Her expression was clear enough as the girl turned and grabbed her cart, pulling it after her without so much as a goodbye.
Daryl stood there, feeling like an ass as he watched the girl vanish quickly down one of the aisles, her cart pulled behind her.