Spring settled into the woods slowly, melting the snow and turning the ground fresh and fertile beneath his feet. Already plants had begun to sprout around the cabin and animals chattered in the thickening trees overhead. The sun rose earlier and earlier, pouring fresh sunlight through their small windows each morning and lighting it well into the evening.
The group had had hunkered down inside the cramped cabin through the rest of the winter, stepping on each other's toes but always glad for the comfort of being together. All but Rick, Daryl, and Judith slept in the back room, sprawled out on the wall to wall beds. Ben slept in the middle, gated in place by the sisters. In the main room, the hammock was strung up close to the ceiling for Daryl, with a smaller one beneath it where Judith slept- suspended bunk beds.
Rick had taken a mattress on the floor in the kitchen area. During the day, he would fold it in half and toss into the bedroom so it wouldn't be underfoot while they took care of the chores.
They had plans to expand the cabin into the backyard to make more room. They had already begun making trips to the logging community to dismantle the buildings and they carried the sheet-metal and beams home on their backs- the process was slow but necessary. The baby would come soon and they would need more space.
In the front of the house, Beth had discovered a small garden buried under the snow. She and Judith were giddy with excitement about growing fresh vegetables and they had written their request for seeds at the top of the supplies list for the next time Glenn and Maggie went on a run.
Judith had listened wide eyed as Beth explained that the seeds would come in little packets, and that they would bury in the garden. She'd declared with scepticism in her voice that vegetables came from cans, not seeds, but she had agreed to give it a try.
Daryl smiled as he recalled Judith sitting at the table, carefully writing the letters as Beth dictated them to her. She'd dragged the pencil so painstakingly slowly over the paper that he was sure it would take her all night to finish the word carrot. When she'd crossed the 't' she'd beamed at him from across the room and held the paper up for him to see her work. He'd nodded and turned his attention back to whittling a small wooden car for Ben.
Giving up on his hunt he resigned himself to heading back with only a couple of squirrels tied to a cord that he'd slung over his shoulder. It wouldn't be enough but he would head out again later in the evening to try and find more. Maybe he would take Judith with him- he liked taking her on his own like the old times.
Daryl swung around the back of the fence to take a peek at the small Walker pen. They'd collected a couple already since that morning. The two of them scratched against the back wall of the barn, too distracted by the animals inside to notice him coming up behind them. He jammed two knives into their skulls simultaneously, dropping them into a heap on the floor. Leaving them to be dragged out later he turned towards the small clearing where four simple crosses were jammed crookedly into the ground. His fingers brushed the rough wood on the closest one to him where he had buried Susan himself.
The cabin was quiet when he stepped inside; Maggie, Glenn, and Rick had taken a day trip to the logging community to retrieve some tools that they had discovered the day before. The cracked bedroom door indicated that Ben had gone down for his afternoon nap and Daryl allowed himself a private smile at the sight of Judith sitting at the table with a pencil in hand, focused on whatever she was doing.
Beth sat next to her, her swollen feet propped up on an overturned crate. She looked up to meet his eyes for a moment and she offered him a tired smile. Even the good natured woman's patience was tried by the level of discomfort brought on by the last weeks of her pregnancy.
"Carl?" He asked, propping his crossbow up against the wall next to the hammocks.
Her eyes rolled and she gave an exasperated sigh which she quickly buried with another smile. "He was gettin' on my last nerve, hoverin' the way he does…" she smoothed one hand over her belly. "I sent him out to get some water."
Daryl nodded and squeezed through the space between her chair and the fireplace. He mussed Judith's hair on his way past and she looked up, her brow furrowing.
"Why'd you did that?" She huffed, turning the pencil on its rubber end to erase something. "You mustarded it up…"
Beth snorted and he looked to her. "Mustarded… is a new word that we are using instead of f-u-c-k-e-d." She spelled the word quickly, casting a glance in Judith's direction. The little girl kept her focus on her paper.
He shrugged and turned back to the kitchen to retrieve a glass and some water. "Whatever," he muttered. "If y'all think bullshit made up words are better than real ones that's fine by me." Pulling a chair out, he took a seat next to Judith.
"Done!" She announced, holding her paper up proudly. "Daryl, I'm doin' school."
"Real good school- learnin' fake words," he grumbled, ignoring Beth's warning look that couldn't make a fly piss itself. Suddenly bony knees were digging into his thighs as Judith climbed onto his lap and looped her arms around his shoulders.
She leaned in close enough that they were almost nose to nose before she giggled. "Wanna see what I draw'ed?"
"Drawin' ain't school," he leaned back in his seat. "But alright."
Judith pulled her arms back and settled against the table. She presented him with a picture and he squinted at the circles with sticks protruding from them in various places. They were clearly people, though fairly rudimentary and simplistic ones.
"That's good," he glanced at Beth, torn between embarrassment and wanting to praise the girl's efforts. Often, he felt like a sore thumb in the group- he wasn't one to lose his panties over drawings or whatever else Judith learned during her days spent with Beth. "That's real nice."
She smiled at his praise as though he had presented her with the moon and pushed the paper to his chest so she could point at it. Pulling his chin back he peered at it upside down as she began to explain.
"That there is me n' you!" she pointed to the large and small figures whose hands were joined together by a small scribble. "And Beth and Carl… and that there is their baby who ain't born'ed yet."
The figure had a distinct smaller one inside it. Next she pointed out the last three who represented Maggie, Glenn, and Ben.
The last figure stood next to the drawn Judith and her finger lingered on it. "I forgotted!" She exclaimed and snatched her pencil again. Keeping the paper in place she drew a final line and ended it with a jumbled knot of circles. "That there is my daddy," she finished, showing him where she had joined Rick's hand with hers, too.
"That's real good, Judith," Daryl took the drawing and turned it around to look at it again. Across the top she had carefully written the words My Family with a backwards 'F' and an 'i' that had a dot large enough to be a fingerprint.
"You could help me putted it up?" she asked, sliding off his lap. She ducked and crawled under the table then over to her hammock where she waited patiently for him, her eyes trained on his face.
Clearing his throat he got to his feet and picked up the roll of duct tape that had been left on the hearth. Judith kneeled on her hammock and held the picture in place, lined up carefully next to the ones that he had recovered from Hershel's house months before. He tore a strip of tape away from the roll and ducked his head under to secure it in place.
Judith clapped her hands then wrapped her arms around his neck. She laid her cheek on his shoulder before a giggle escaped her seconds later.
"What?" Daryl asked, pulling back to look at her.
"We's gonna go on a huntin' trip?" she asked, her eyes flicking to his crossbow. "I could shoot it?"
Sighing he patted her cheek and turned to leave. "Fine, but you gotta collect the arrow when ya miss."
Judith turned her chin indignantly. "I ain't gonna miss," she insisted, slipping off the hammock to crouch down beside the crossbow, her fingers reaching out to touch the green and red feathers, her face delighted. "I could shoot like as good as you."
"Dream on there," Daryl tugged her braid as he passed her to sit at the table with Beth again. "Ain't nobody can shoot as good as me."
Judith didn't answer him as she sat on the floor cross-legged and pulled the large weapon onto her lap. She ran her fingers over the taught string, her blue eyes squinting thoughtfully. "Wait 'til I gotted older," she whispered, looking up at him from underneath her bangs. "I'm'a gonna be a good shooter jus' like you."
Thank you for reading. This story has a prequel titled, "The Beginning With You". You can find it on my profile.