Glenn and T-dog were making their way through the thick underbrush of the forest with their bats dragging by their sides. The day was one of the hottest that the camp by the quarry had experienced yet, and somehow the two men found themselves trekking through the forest in search of stray walkers. Glenn removed his baseball cap before fanning himself with it exaggeratedly.
"Man, how the hell did we get stuck with this job while the rest of the group gets to play in the water," whined Glenn. He squeezed the excess sweat out of his hat with a grimace before placing it back on his head. T-dog fake gagged before chuckling at the younger man's action.
"Come one, " he replied, "You know how Shane is, he's always gotta be on top of everything, and to be fair it was our turn to do patrol. It's just shitty luck that we got to do it on the hottest day of the FUCKING YEAR!"
T-dog ended his sentence by yelling and Glenn hurriedly tried to shush him as he failed to cover his own giggles at T-dog's behavior.
"Shhh," chuckled Glenn, "You're gunna draw every damn thing in the forest to us."
T-dog waved a sweaty hand to gesture to their surroundings.
"Look around us. It's so damn hot that everything in this fucking forest is chilling by the water. There ain't no walkers within ten miles of us. No one can hear us!"
Suddenly both of the men felt something cool, hard, and metallic press into the smalls of each of their backs. They both stiffened as they recognized the barrel of a gun and a husky and unmistakably feminine voice spoke.
"Walkers might not have heard you but I certainly fucking did. Now why don't you boys turn around nice and slow for me."
T-dog and Glenn stared at each other out of the corners of their eyes before shuffling around slowly to face the voice that had spoken. Both of their jaws dropped a little as they took in the sight of the woman standing before them. She was attractive by anyone's standards. She looked to be in her mid-twenties. She was tall, probably around 5' 8", with a slim, tight body and legs that seemed to last for miles. Her skin was evenly bronzed and her caramel colored hair fell in disheveled waves down her back. She had a light smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks and her eyes were a clear, light green. She held a sawed-off shotgun in each of her hands that were currently pointed at each of their stomachs and there was a large hunting knife strapped to her thigh. Her feet were adorned with heavy duty hiking boots that came to her calves. She wore a pair of cutoff jean shorts that looked nearly destroyed and a button up plaid shirt with no sleeves that was large enough to swallow her thin frame in its folds. Her plump, pink lips were pursed as she took in their appearances and then parted to speak once more.
"Start talking," she ordered.
Both Glenn and T-dog stumbled over their words and stuttered in an attempt to answer her coherently. The nameless girl huffed and cut-off their pathetic ramblings with a wave of her guns.
"Either of you bit?"
"NO!" shouted both of the men while vehemently shaking their heads at the same time. The girl visibly relaxed at this and lowered her two guns. The men let out the breaths they hadn't known they were holding.
"Sorry about that," apologized the girl as she slid the guns into a holster on her back, "You can never be too careful these days right?"
She offered them a sheepish smile.
"No problem, " said Glenn as he also lowered his weapon and motioned for T-dog to do the same, "I assume you haven't been bit as well," she nodded her head in affirmation, "Well, ok then great. I'm Glenn and this here is T-dog. What's your name?"
"I'm Lyla," she said as she held our her hand to shake both of theirs, "You're the first people I've seen in about three months. I've been camping out in trees and scavenging whatever food I could find."
T-dog's eyes nearly popped out of his head.
"You've been alone for three months?! Damn girl how'd you survive so long on your own? No offense or anything, but you don't really seem like the outdoorsy type."
Lyla chuckled as she wiped a hand across her sweaty brow.
"None taken, I know I don't look like much. My boyfriend was a big hunter and was always dragging my ass out to go camping with him. After being with him for nearly six years you could say I picked up a thing or two. Hell I'd probably be dead right now if it weren't for him."
Glenn glanced at her warily.
"You say he was? I'm sorry to ask but does that mean that he's dead?"
His voice was low and kind. Lyla smiled sweetly at the guy's gentleness before grief overcame her features.
"I'm not sure, that's what I'm doing out here, I've been searching for him all this time. I got, um, held up at work I guess you could say when everything went down and by the time I got to our house him and his brother had cleared out. I'm not sure what happened or why they left but it anyone could survive this thing it was those two."
She had a steely look in her eye by the end of her speech, as if she was refusing to believe that her boyfriend and his brother had been lost to the walkers like so many others. T-dog grasped her shoulder gently.
"I'm sure you'll find them. That man is damn lucky to have a woman like you searching for him, and I don't see you stopping until you do."
Lyla smiled gratefully at the large man to thank him for his confidence. Her stomach then growled loudly and she grinned embarrassingly at the two guys before muttering an apology with a laugh.
Glenn met T-dog's gaze and they both silently agreed on an action.
"Hey, why don't you come to our camp with us? We have a ton of people there and it's about as safe you can get in times like these. We even have some food we could share with you."
Lyla seemed to mull over the idea in her head while biting her bottom lip.
"I don't know Glenn, that's really nice of you to offer but I don't want to waste your supplies and I really need to keep looking for my boyfriend."
"Come on!" Glenn said enthusiastically, "We aren't overflowing with food but we have enough to spare. And we could ask around camp to see if anyone knows anything that could help you with your search."
Both he and T-dog were looking at her with wide grins. She laughed at their enthusiasm and held up her hands.
"All right! I'll come, but if anyone has a problem with me being there I'll split right away. I don't want to cause any conflict within your group."
The guys cheered and the trio started to make their way back to the quarry.
Lyla was counting herself very lucky that all the people in the camp were so inviting. After Glenn and T-dog had made the introductions she found herself sitting on a log by the fire pit being handed bottled water and a power bar by a woman named Carol who had a very kind face. She thanked her and observed the rest of the group as she began to sip her water. The women had all been extremely nice, especially Carol and a thin brunette named Lori who both fussed over her the moment after she entered the camp. Their kids Carl and Sophia were adorable too. Shane the big cop intimidated her a little at first, but he seemed like a decent guy under all the muscle. The others were all friendly as well with the exception of Carol's husband. Something about him didn't sit right with her and she made a mental note to be careful around him.
As Lyla ate her bar and watched the interactions of the group around the campsite, she was filled with longing. She missed Daryl so much that it was physically painful. They hadn't spent more than a few days apart since she was 22, and she felt like she was slowly suffocating after being apart for more than three months. She didn't even know for sure if he was alive or what had happened to him. She would give anything to have him hold her tight in those cut arms of his and bury his face in her neck. She toyed with the bottom of his shirt that she was wearing with a sad smile on her face. She started when a loud shout and cackle came from somewhere close behind her.
"Lyla Kaiser! I don' fuckin' believe it! Git yer fuckin' fine nazi mick ass over here right now!"
Her eyes widened dramatically. She knew that raspy, harsh voice and laugher anywhere. She stood and spun on the spot to be met with the best sight she'd seen since this whole zombie clusterfuck had started. She never thought she'd be so happy to see Merle Dixon again, but as she looked at the grizzled redneck with his hands on his knees as he guffawed loudly, a huge smile broke out over her face and tears began to run down her face. She began to laugh through her tears as she brought her hands to her mouth. Merle straightened up before shooting over to her and lifting her from the waste in a tight bear hug. She squealed happily as the other members of the camp stared at the pair in astonishment. Merle's laughter cut off as he set her down and looked her over with his hands on her shoulders.
"Damn girly, never thought I'd be seein' yer purty mug again. You took good damn care a' yerself woman."
Lyla beamed at the older man before launching herself at him and clinging to his side. Merle laughed and strung one arm over her shoulder and met the looks of the other campers. They all looked as though they had been struck over their heads with a 2x4. No one had ever seen Merle interact with anyone like this, and they had never seen someone willing to latch on to him like that.
Glenn bravely broke the silence.
"Lyla, is-is…Merle is the one you were talking about?! Merle is your boyfriend?" he asked seemingly dumbfounded.
Merle guffawed once again and he felt Lyla snort into his side.
"Ah wish Chinaman," answered Merle, "But nah. She and ma little bro have been attached at the hip fer what? Over five years now? It's downright disgustin', they're like a married couple or somethin'."
The group looked shocked. None of them had known anything about either of the Dixon brother's lives.
Lyla pulled back from Merle suddenly with a very serious look on her face. Her clear green eyes were wet and frantic.
"He's alive isn't he? Merle? Daryl is-"
"Easy now woman," Merle cut her off with a pat to her caramel tresses, "'Course that bastard's alive. Ya think Ah'd ever let anyone touch that boy after everything he's gone through?"
Lyla's eyes filled with tears of relief and she sank slowly to the ground.
"Of course you wouldn't Merle, you never have," she let out with a shaky breath, "I've missed him so much Merle."
To the amazement of the other campers, Merle crouched down and put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"Boy's been all outta sorts without ya girly," he spoke to her in a low, soothing voice, "He was so used ta livin' with ya that he don' know how to be normal withou' ya."
Lyla let out a shaky laugh as she met his serious gaze.
"He's gunna go crazy when he sees ya."
Lyla smiled. "Where is he?"
"Out huntin'. Should be back any minute."
Merle helped her stand back up and she hugged him once more.
Shane scratched his head uncomfortably.
"Uhh, sorry to interrupt or something, but can someone please fill me in on what's happening?"
Merle sneered at the cop but Lyla smiled at him politely and she brushed off the dirt from the back of her shorts.
"Long story short, I'm dating Daryl and we got separated when the world went to shit."
"Daryl? Daryl Dixon?" asked Shane in disbelief.
Lyla crossed her tanned arms and a cold look came over her face.
"Yes, is there a problem with that?"
Shane raised his hands up in apology.
"No problem, just don't really see how Dixon got a woman like you."
Lyla frowned and narrowed her green eyes at the cop.
"Watch it pig." Merle all but growled. Lyla placed a hand on his arm.
"With all due respect Officer," she sneered, "you don't know anything about me."
Shane held his hands up in surrender once more and backed away. The rest of the group watched the exchange silently. Andrea looked between Merle and Lyla with her arms crossed. In her mind, anyone who was so comfortable around Merle Dixon had to have something wrong with them.
"Why'd he call you a, what was it, nazi mick?" she questioned. This sent Merle into another bout of raucous laughter as Lyla sighed and put a tan hand to her forehead in exasperation.
"That's his fault," she said while shaking her head. Her golden caramel waves catching the sunlight as they moved, "I'm half German, half Irish, and in no way whatsoever am I any part Nazi."
She tossed a half-assed glare at the laughing man next to her as she said this.
Merle stopped laughing at her glare, which surprised the others immensely. Merle never controlled himself.
"Y'all should hear girly here speak when she's got a bone to pick, scariest sounding language Ah've ever heard. Nearly shit ma pants every time she goes all Nazi on me."
Lyla glared at him again.
"I am not a Nazi Merle."
"Aww hell Ah know woman, Ah'm just bustin' yer balls."
Lyla huffed and Glenn spoke up.
"What does he mean when he says that you "go all Nazi"", he asked in a wary tone as he wrung his hat in his hands.
Lyla smiled at Glenn in a comforting manner, her green eyes were soft.
"I grew up speaking English and German in my house so I speak both fluently. When I get angry the German tends to come out."
"Scary as shit. Ya know yer in trouble when she whips it out," intoned Merle, "And it's fuckin' annoyin' as hell when she and ma little brother talk like that so I don' have a clue what the fuck they're talkin' 'bout."
Lori's eyebrows shot up.
"Wait, you mean Daryl can speak German?" she asked in a disbelieving tone, "how the hell did we not know about that?"
"There's lots y'all don' know about me and ma brother olive oil," sneered Merle. Lyla shushed him. She understood it was hard to believe that a rough redneck like Daryl Dixon could speak another language when he seemed to butcher the English one magnificently.
"He's not fluent," she said to Lori as she shifted from one foot to another, "But I've forced him to learn enough that he can understand pretty much everything I say to him and he's able to converse back well enough. It's helpful when you want to have a private moment and you have a nosy house guest."
She threw a smirk over to Merle who returned it in full force before laughing.
"Ya remember when ya were first tryin' to teach him and ya refused to speak English for damn near a month?" he chuckled as he spoke, "Thought the boy was gunna cry or somethin' he was so frustrated."
The group chuckled appreciatively; Daryl Dixon crying was a very strange thought.
"Hey it worked in the end didn't it?" defended Lyla, "He started to understand it well enough by the end."
The corners of her plump lips were pulled up at the corners. It felt so good to argue good-naturedly with Merle for the first time in months. She never thought she'd miss this man as much as she had.
Merle reached out and yanked on a strand of her hair gently.
"Never said it didn't girly. Boy was so damn happy when ya spoke English again that he started goin' down on ya right in the fuckin' kitchen! While I was still in there!"
"Merle!" Lyla hissed as she whacked his arm with enough force to make him stumble a step back, "Not appropriate!"
Lori and Carol had covered their childrens' ears as the rest of the group's reactions ranged from stifling their laughter to looking around uncomfortably. Merle wasn't done though.
"Hell Ah'd be surprised if he doesn't take ya right here when he sees ya."
He roared with laughter at his own comment while Lyla groaned and threw her hands up in the air. The majority of the group was laughing openly at the two now. Lyla flipped off the laughing redneck with both hands.
"I'm going to kill you Merle, and then Daryl will kill you again after he finds out what you've been saying to everyone."
Merle waved a large hand at her in a dismissive manner.
"Nah Ah call bullshit. Ya both would miss ol' Merle too much."
Lyla rolled her eyes but her mouth was pulled up in a grin.
"Oh yes, we would both terribly miss bailing you out every weekend after you knock out three guys at the bar. I swear Merle, you're going to make Daryl go completely grey by the time he's forty. I know your eleven years older but you might as well be a toddler with the way Daryl cleans up your messes."
"Hey what can ah say girly? Ah'm a forty-five year old with the heart of a kid. Y'all know that."
"Believe me I know Merle." Lyla chuckled along with the rest of the group. Their laughter ceased when the sound of rustling bushed reached their ears and they whipped around with their weapons drawn to face the source of the noise. A low, rough voice shouted out.
"Merle! Where the fuck did yer sorry ass go?"
Lyla stiffened with shock at the sound of her redneck's gruff voice. She hadn't heard it for so long and she let it wash over her as she took it in. She stifled a gasp with both of her hands as tears filled her eyes once more. The group exchanged smiles as they waited to see the reunion between their newest member and the hunter. Merle patted Lyla's back roughly before shouting an answer to his brother.
"Over here bro! Wait till ya see what Ah got fer ya. Don' go passin' out on me or nothin' a'ight ya pussy?"
Lyla laughed quietly as tears poured down her face and the bushes parted.
"What the fuck are ya talkin-" Daryl's voice suddenly cut off as he stepped out of the woods and looked up. His eyes connected with hers as he froze and she felt her heart drop into somewhere near her stomach. She took in his appearance. His hair was longer than he normally wore it and much more blond than she had ever seen it due to prolonged exposure to the sun. His skin was deeply tanned and it looked like he hadn't shaved or showered in two weeks. He was thinner than she remembered, as they all were now, but his arms had retained their muscular tone and definition as they flexed in his cutoff plaid shirt. He wore his usual hunting boots and nearly destroyed jeans as he held his trusty Horton with both hands in front of him. He promptly dropped the crossbow and Lyla saw a look of pure shock and confusion come over his beautiful bright blue eyes. His eyebrows drew together as if he was trying to make sense of the situation as he looked between Lyla and Merle as if he was asking his older brother to confirm that the girl was really there.
He took a half step forward then stopped. Confusion still dominated his features and he clearly was still in shock at the appearance of Lyla. The group waited with baited breath for the reaction of the hunter. Merle took matters into his own hands and shoved Lyla towards his brother gently. This seemed to shake Daryl out of his confusion slightly and a look of immense longing came over his face as he reached his arms out to grab Lyla. She launched herself at him with tears pouring down her face, but instead of meeting him in an embrace she surprised everyone by shoving him back with all of her strength. He stumbled back as the members of the group gasped and Lyla began to shout.
"WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU!" she screamed at the confused hunter as tears cascaded from her pale eyes and down her pretty face, "THE HOUSE WAS EMPTY AND YOU WERE GONE! WHY DIDN"T YOU WAIT FOR ME!"
Daryl looked dumbstruck as he tried to reach for her arms. She pushed of his hands and glared at him through her tears. Daryl raised his voice to match her own but his tone lacked any anger or harshness.
"I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD LYLA!" he shouted at her desperately with wild eyes that were beginning to fill with his own tears, "We went to the hospital, me and Merle Lyla, and-and everyone was dead. The army came in and shot everyone down. I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!"
His hands were pulling at his dirty blond hair and he looked crazed. Lyla looked at him in confusion before looking towards Merle. He saw her gaze and confirmed his brother's word with a stoic nod. She jumped as Daryl's rough, calloused hands came to her shoulders again and this time she didn't push them away.
"I-I thought you were dead," his voice was almost a whisper this time and she could hear the raw emotion in his voice. She looked into his bright blue eyes.
"I got out. I got out before they came in," she whispered back. She let out a loud sob and launched herself into his arms. He lifted her legs as they circled around his waist and her arms squeezed his neck tightly. Her body shook with loud, wet sobs and she felt his own tears dampen her neck from where his face was pressed into her. She heard Merle's laughter in the background but it seemed as though it was from a great distant. She gasped as Daryl's legs shook and he sat down hard on the ground all while still holding her to him. The relief and happiness he felt numbed his body and he suddenly felt incredibly weak. He fell back against the ground with Lyla on top of him as he cried silently into her neck. She was still wailing loudly but he though that he'd never heard anything better in his life.