raizingkain2001 - Holy hell! You say that too? Thought I was the only one! XD

LaurenEmilyxx - It's a hard decision, isn't it?

Supfan - Merle does need to get laid doesn't he?

DarylDixon'sLover - Okay!

Ms Q - Ehehehe, caught on huh? Yeah...kind of, but also it's a good place to 'splode things.

HGRHfan35 - Hehe, I love that you call him Hot Dog Daryl now! This pleases me. ^_^

Brazen Hussy - LOL! Elmyra was the best, psycho bitch that she was...

itsi3 - Indeed, cowboys are delightful and Texan cowboys are pure heaven to me.

GG - I wish people could just get along, but let's face it human beings can be pretty big assholes to each other.

Surplus Imagination - I wouldn't think too hard on the tie in, some chapters don't even have a title that ties in with anything...sometimes I get lazy.

BanannaFlvdSnow - Hehe, enjoy the Deliverance inside joke in this chapter then.

Merle's Right Hand - Basic French. It saves lives.

crazstiz - Wonderful to hear! ^_^

Well kiddos, this is it. The final chapter.

I know, it came slamming up, but you had to figure it was on the horizon, huh? I want to thank all my reviewers, because you're all sweet and wonderful people and I'd like to thank those readers who read this story, favourited this story, hell favourited me as a writer (that was a shock, but pleasant). You people are seriously wonderful human beings and if there ever were a ZA, I'd want to be in your group because you cats really know where it's at.

Anyways, keep an eye out for the sequel to this story called Black Cat Bone. It will be out soon enough. ^_^

Chapter Eighty-Six: Malheureux


The Highway

It had all gone horribly wrong.

Things went smooth inside, as Rick gave them the signal and Beth and Sasha hightailed it for the back door while Glenn raced to the missiles, setting the timers and they continued to go swimmingly as he made it clear of the mall.

It wasn't until he emerged from the mall and made his dash for their trucks that he realized there were stragglers waiting beside the Governor's men's vehicle as they tore past to park in their rally point to wait for Rick.

Those at the truck had eyed them for a moment in shock, before one dropped his cigarette and raced for the mall.

Glenn had pulled the truck he was driving into a sharp right, running down the man, as the other two at the Governor's truck opened fire.

Behind him in their vehicle Sasha and Beth had returned the fire, too busy driving his own vehicle, he wasn't sure just what had happened at the time, but suddenly there was the sound of twisting metal and glass breaking and when he managed to get his truck turned around, he found Sasha pulling Beth out of their upturned truck, firing back at the last remaining armed gunman from the Woodbury group.

He pulled his truck to a stop, and had grabbed the semi-automatic rifle he had resting on the seat at his side and stepped out onto the running board, using the door for cover, to give Sasha and Beth some covering fire while they made a mad dash towards him.

That was when the mall went up in a ball of flames and hellfire.

Using the explosion as a distraction, Glenn marched out from behind the door to the truck boldly and headed straight for the remaining Woodbury survivor.

He had shot her without any hesitation, right in the face.

Now he was tearing down the highway in the truck, no Rick to be found, Beth and Sasha both in rough shape from their crash.

He wasn't sure if Rick was still in the mall when it blew or what, but they waited for as long as they could, Glenn screaming at the top of his lungs for Rick, driving around the burning mall, honking the horn, but Beth was in bad shape, her head bleeding, her ribs felt broken where she had slammed into the dash of the truck and Glenn finally made the call to leave the destroyed mall behind.

Fuck it was a mess.

"Did we get him?" Sasha asked. "Was the Governor in the mall at least?"

"I don't know, fuck!" Glenn slammed the steering wheel. "He wasn't at the Woodbury truck, but I don't know if we got him. Hell I don't know anything right now!"

They drove on in a tense, heavy silence, before Glenn snarled, "this was a dumb idea," he muttered, clenching the wheel tightly.

"No shit," Sasha agreed, cradling Beth in her arms.

It had all gone horribly wrong, horribly fast.



**Mrs. Douglas**

The Convent

The window of the room she was sitting in was growing pink with the first light of dawn.

With her head bowed, dozing lightly, she was only faintly aware of the shifting on the cot at her side and looking up and over found the soldier trying sit up.

Placing a trembling hand on his chest, she gently kept him pinned in the cot.

"It's okay," she assured him. "You're safe."

He eyed her with sharp grey eyes, before clearing his throat. It rasped dryly, sending her to the bedside table for a glass of water she had placed there for him. Gently she eased onto the bed at his side, helping him take a drink of water in his near prone state.

Like a lost little boy he eyed the room and her, before grimacing.

"I'm home?" He asked with a voice that was still scratchy with sleep.

"You're back at the convent, yes." Mrs. Douglas smiled. "It's good to hear you speaking in a language I understand."

"I was speaking French?" He asked.

"Yes you were."

"That's a relief, because I don't know much Spanish, would have embarrassed myself with a string of 'dos tequilas por favor'."

She chuckled. "I like you when you're all together."

"I'm sorry, but who are you?"

"Barbara Douglas, I'm the one who patched you up, you can thank Noah for saving your life though. Boy made a hard decision, but he did good."

The soldier licked his bottom lip. "Who's Noah?"

"You'll meet him soon, I'm sure. You should rest now."

"Feel like I've been resting for a year," the Lieutenant replied. "Do you know if Daryl, uh…he's sort of scruffy, kind of—"

"He's fine. Came out of surgery, still out cold, but I have high hopes for him."

The soldier was quiet. She could see him struggling to process something, before he spoke. "I didn't think I'd see this place again," he confessed.

Feeling her heart clench at his tone, Barb reached out and took his hand in hers, squeezing it gently with a soft smile. "Then you should make the best of your return, shouldn't you?"

"I feel sort of dizzy," he explained. "Sick to my stomach."

"Well you lost quite a bit of blood, but now that you're with us if you tell me your blood type maybe I can find a donor, get you feeling right again."

"O positive," he replied. "There's a woman, she's a tiny little thing—"

"Your wife is on the wall, Lieutenant."

The soldier chuckled weakly. "My wife…yeah I'm sure she'll like that," he smiled. "Can you bring her here for me? I just…I just want to see her. I need to see her."

Giving the man's hand one last squeeze, Barb stood up. "Of course, sweetie. I'll try and find a donor for you while I'm out too."

"Merci," he muttered, flopping back weakly onto the pillow as the woman moved from the room.




The Convent

He was tearing apart the root cellar looking for the stash of holy wine, grumbling about the amount of pickled carrots and beets the nuns had stashed away, but not a single sign of anything fortified, when she came across him, standing in the middle of a bunch of empty wooden crated grumbling to himself.

"What in the name of the good Lord are you doing?"

Merle glanced over his shoulder casually and found Grace standing on the bottom step eyeing him quietly with narrowed eyes.

"None of your business," he snapped.

"It is my business when you decide to tear apart my convent from the root cellar up, what are you looking for?"

"Wine and if you try and stop me I'll knock your front teeth out," he snarled.

She folded her arms and quirked a dark brow at him. "What did you just say to me, Mr. Dixon?"

"You heard me, woman, you're lucky I'm busy because I'm not in any fucking mood to be coddled by a dried up old harpy of a nun like you."

"Harpy?" She demanded. "You'd best choose a better pet name for me than that or I'll smack the rude right out of you."

He stopped short and turned on her. "You'd better watch your mouth around me," he growled. "I ain't in any mood."

"And you think I am?" She took a bold step towards him. "Your brother is fresh out of major surgery, the Lieutenant is lying limp in a cot, Rick and the others are off killing people and we need you to stay sober and clear headed."

Glowering at her, Merle reached out and punched the wall by her head hard enough to split his knuckles.

She jumped in shock, but kept eye contact with him, looking up at him as he towered a head taller than her.

"Are you going to knock my teeth out now?" She asked calmly. "Smack me around if you must, but it will only make you feel worse in the long run."

"You think I'm feeling pretty good right now?" He demanded. "Can't feel any worse, may as well drink and fight or fuck. Or all three, I call that a successful night."

"Merle," she began softly. "We need you."

"Ain't nobody needs me," he stated.

"Well, you're in for a shock then, because we do and I want you to step up for us because right now I'm terrified and I'm broken and I'm tired and I need you to take some of this burden on, because I'd feel a lot safer knowing you'd be able to protect us if we needed it. If Rick and the others don't return we will be devastated and weakened."

He eyed her, unsure whether he wanted to kiss her or kill her. Whatever was brewing in him was a passion of some kind, whether anger or lust, he wasn't sure.

"Now," she went on. "If you can remain calm and level headed until the others get back, I promise you I'll dig you up a bottle of wine from our stores, but only if you promise you'll calm down and allow the others to bask in your tranquil attitude so that you don't frighten them more than they need. Can you do that for me?"

He ground his teeth together.

"Promise me?"

Damn her big blue eyes.

Merle sighed. "Fine."

She smiled sweetly and clasped her hands together. "Thank you, Merle. I certainly feel safer already."

Taking a peek at her body, he wasn't dissatisfied with it. Sure her tits were small and she looked as delicate as a china doll, but she was fairly pretty for a middle aged woman.

"You know, since you're not a nun anymore—"

"I can sucker punch a man in his overly charming mouth without feeling guilty about it?"

He scowled at her as she brushed past him for the stairs. "You're lucky I like you," he growled. "Most people would get a beat down for that kind of smart mouth talk with me."

She paused at the bottom step and smiled sweetly. "You're lucky I like you too, Mr. Dixon, my brothers were very good test subjects for my wrath." She pointed to the mess he made. "Now clean all of this mess up, I'm not even close to kidding."

Glaring at her ankles as she disappeared up the steep steps into the kitchen, Merle sneered. "Fucking hard ass, better be good fucking wine."




The Woods

Keeping his eye on the two men who were leading them, Tyreese allowed them to take him through the minefield, weaving this way and that like they had done it many times before.

Andrea was draped over the speckled black and white hip of the horse the one man had been riding, still out cold.

He certainly didn't like the situation, but he couldn't do much, Andrea was in no position to run and he didn't think he'd make it far even if he managed to raise his rifle before the one at his back got a shot off.

Resigned, he only hoped the place they were headed for wasn't anything like Woodbury or the roving gangs of thugs that had been moving through Georgia lately.

As they stopped swerving, they began passing by trees that were bearing corpses like they were rotting fruit, hanging heavily from their branches or strung up against the trunks.

Tyreese covered his mouth and nose from the smell and suddenly felt his stomach drop out from under him.

They were in for a hell of a run, he figured. Nobody he knew would be that fucked up.

Beside him and behind him the cowboys pulled up the handkerchiefs from around their necks and blocked out the smell that way, looking like an old west gang ready to rob a bank.

"Don't mind the smell," Tucker growled. "Keeps the mavericks away."


"Them things, ugly bastards who used to be people," Pace replied. "They can't smell us past the smell of them. We sort of figured this out after Tucker here tacked a few up as a warning to the others, like coyotes on a fence."

Licking his bottom lip as they passed into a rough area of the woods, Tyreese spoke, "you boys aren't, ah…I mean I ain't gonna be made to squeal like a pig at some point, am I?"

Pace chuckled. "Well, you do have a real purdy mouth, but I ain't aiming for that kind of relationship with you."

"Hell, we just met you," Tucker added.

"Well, I have to say that's a load off my mind."

Pushing past even more dead walkers, Tyreese found the stench grew more and more unbearable, until suddenly they thrust through the thick of the woods and he found they were at the edge of a wide field of growing green spring grass and a small herd of brown cows being watched over by a single rider on horseback all contained by a rough split rail wooden fence that separated them from the cattle.

Tyreese eyed the rider, a woman from the shape of it, but they were far away and he couldn't tell for sure.

Beyond the fence, beyond the cows and the rider, was a Dutch style barn painted a soft cornflower blue, beyond that a yellow farmhouse.

As they walked the length of the fence, Tyreese eyed the area nervously. He knew they were heading for another group, but it was becoming very real to him that they could very likely be killed.

"Hey, Kowalski," Pace shouted up into a particular old pecan tree as they reached the gate and the driveway up into the farmyard, "got us a couple of live ones from the pits! Gonna let us pass or you wanna shoot them here?"

Tyreese glanced over at Tucker, but the man waved it off.

"Pace, that's a stupid assed thing to say, the man's already thinking we're going to cornhole him."

"But Kowalski will shoot them if they're here to mess with us," Pace replied, smacking Tyreese on the shoulder companionably. "But only if you're here to mess with us. Kowalski's never missed a shot."

Tyreese swallowed thickly and looked up into the tree. He couldn't see anything at first, but after staring up into the leaves for a while he finally spied the very edge of a wooden platform, but no man in sight.

"Kowalski's a vet, lost his hearing when an IED exploded too close to his transport over in Iraq, can't hear a goddamn thing," Tucker explained as they opened the gate. "But trust me, he knows we're here. Now if it was just you and the little lady here wandering up our drive you'd be stone dead, no hesitation."

"Real friendly of you all," Tyreese muttered.

"Can't afford to be friendly these days, come on, boss will be in the back this time of day cleaning kills."

As they walked some, two women emerged from the house, tea towels thrown over their shoulders.

"Ladies, you want to see that the doc gets a good look at this one?" Pace asked, easing Andrea off the horse gently. "Because I already have. Scrawny legs like a roadrunner, probably why they snap like green beans."

Tyreese eyed the dark haired cowboy, he seemed to have the worst kind of timing for the worst kind of humour.

"Who are these people?" The one woman asked. She was a pretty thing with curly auburn hair and honey brown eyes. "Shouldn't we leave them be?"

"Well, we would have, but we caught them in our trap fair and square, so I figured we'd bring them home for a trophy over the fireplace," Pace said as they entered the house, Andrea still in his arms. "Think it'd impress our dinner guests?"

"Good conversation pieces I'd say," Tucker added, spitting out a gob of tobacco juice.

"Fancy as a fucking cat with spats," Pace agreed, easing Andrea onto a bed in the upstairs.

Tyreese kept his eyes on everyone around him. He wasn't really getting an 'evil' vibe from any of them, but he sure as hell wasn't going to relax in their presence.

Straightening up, Pace reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one calmly. "Come on, pit bait, the boss will want to meet you."

"I'm already on your tail," a voice broke in.

Tyreese turned to find a tall, heavily muscled Latino man standing in the doorway, his hands covered in blood.

"Found these two in one of the pit traps," Tucker said. "Said they were lost, said their people are around there somewhere."

"Your people?" The man asked.

"We're not from Woodbury," Tyreese said, thinking that was probably something he should get out of the way first and foremost.

The man eyed him, before nodding. "Well, we can fix your dolly up, but you can't leave here until I meet with your leader. No offence, but I don't exactly trust people easily these days, but I'm always open to making friends."

Tyreese nodded. "I can't blame you. You have a name, man?"

"I'm Corporal Angel Delgado, USMC, or was I guess, until the world fell apart at the seams."




The Convent

She watched from the infirmary with a small grin as the others returned from the mall, driving up in one truck.

As soon as it pulled to a stop though, and Sasha dragged Beth bleeding and broken from the cab, she felt her blood chill in her veins.

Where was Andrea? Or Alan or Tyreese or…

"Oh God," she whispered when Rick didn't appear from the truck.

Touching a hand to her stomach just under her breasts, she moved from the window, heading for the door.

In her box beside Daryl's bed, Judith began whimpering and Clyde stuck his nose inside the box to investigate the sound.

Carol paused halfway to the door and hurried to Judith, plucking her out of her makeshift crib to hold her, going back to the window to watch as Glenn broke the news to Carl.

She expected the boy to cry, to mourn in some way, but her heart broke when he simply nodded and walked off.

Holding Judith against her shoulder, Carol felt tears running down from her eyes.

This was bad. This was very bad.

As though sensing her mood, Judith began to squeal and wail and Carol forced herself to calm down, knowing a child was only as happy as the person holding it.

She moved across the infirmary to sit back down at Daryl's bedside.

Since he woke Clyde hadn't moved from the spot on the floor opposite her chair, standing up every now and then to nudge Daryl's hand with his snout, looking for a pet from him.

What were they without Rick? It seemed he was the glue that held everything together.

And Carl? The boy was already a shadow of his former self after his mother's death.

Things were going to be very different from now on, she figured. Without Rick there was no group, they could be together all they wanted, but it wouldn't be the same.

Holding Judith closely, she eyed Daryl on the cot as the others burst in with Beth, Herschel and Mrs. Douglas hovering over her.

As they worked on Beth in the bed at the far end of the room, Carol kept her eyes on Daryl, willing him to recover fast. They needed him now more than ever.

The Cajun Dialect

Malheureux – Unhappy, unfortunate