The sun was burning up in the blue sky. Carol and Carl were keeping watch, walking the perimeter around the watch tower slowly. It was a hot and nice Georgian day. But it was quiet as well. Very quiet. Carol was starting to get bored. Rick, Daryl, Oscar and the new weird woman (she wasn't able to catch her name) hadn't been back from rescuing Maggie and Glenn from the Governor's hands. She was starting to get worried something happened to them. They should have been back by now, right?
"It's so quiet." she said, trying to build up some conversation to let go of her worries. "It's easy to forget how loud the world used to be... I used to complain about it all the time." Carl let out a small chuckle, almost passing unnoticed. He was worried as well, from what she could tell. His father was the only family he had, besides baby Judith, and she knew he'd be devastated if Rick didn't make it back. "Traffic, constructions, car alarms, all the pollution. Oh, what I wouldn't give to hear the sweet sound of a jumbo jact." she finished. Carl looked at her, amused. "It would be even sweeter if we were all on it." the boy concluded. She noticed the slight sadness that filled his voice. She knew why he said that. He wasn't the only one who was tired of the world they lived in. He was just a kid and he had to endure so much already. He was growing too fast, but this world, the world where the dead walked freely, ready to eat whatever came in their way, wouldn't let him be a child anymore. Not if he wanted to survive.
"Your mom was proud of you." Carol stated, trying to make him feel better but the boy with the sheriff's hat frowned. She knew perfectly what he was thinking about. "For what, being mean to her?" he asked, sadly. Since his mom died, he hasn't been the same. He kept that tough boy face but he wasn't fooling anyone. Specially not Carol. "No, you can't think about that." she tried to comfort him, to make him know she was there for him. Carl just turned around, standing with his back to her and she heard him sigh heavily.
"That's all I can think about." he revealed. She was getting ready to answer when they heard a car engine in the distance. "Please be them." he pleaded and then their car showed up from the forest. "It's them. Hurry!"
They both ran for the gates and she gave Carl they keys, so he could open them, letting the car in. Rick got out of the driver's seat and signalled Glenn to drive the car inside, making a little run for them.
"Thank God." the man said, hugging his son. She couldn't help but smile widely, watching their reunion. But then she remembered that she hadn't seen the person she wanted yet. Glenn was about to head off to the prison yard with the car but she stopped him, looking nervously through the windows at the back seats to search for Daryl. Maggie and the new woman sat there, but there were no signs of him. One thought popped up instantly in her mind, making her skin look pale and her eyes open wildly, a wide expression filling her features. He was dead.
"Where's Daryl?" she asked, her heart pumping, afraid of their leader's answer. Rick quickly left his son and turned to her, putting a firm hand on her shoulder. She was about to cry. "He's alright. He's alive." he said. She let out a relieved sigh. But where was he then? "We ran into his brother. They went off." Rick finished. His brother? Merle? How could he still be alive after all this time?
"They left?" she asked, trying to stop the tears that were threatening to fall. "Daryl left? Do you mean like he's gone?" there was a pause. Realization hit her. "Is he coming back?" Rick tried to comfort her, but she shrugged him away. Why would Daryl leave them? Why would he leave her? She started pacing hard, trying to assimilate all the new information. Trying to find answers to all her inner questions. Trying not to cry, not to show how much he meant to her, how much it hurt to lose him.
Rick got close to her again, and led her in, letting Carl close the gates. "Hey." he said, hugging her. She stopped resisting and let the tears fall, wrapping her arms around his back. He held her and she cried, filling his shirt with her sadness. The man she came to love over the last year left without saying goodbye. It devastated her, deep down in her heart, made her feel so sad she thought she'd explode. So she let Rick hug her, she let herself share her grief with him, because she knew Daryl was special to him as well. They were like brothers, the two of them. But of course. Rick wasn't Merle. And she wasn't Merle either.
"Gone?" she whispered one last time, wiping her face. He nodded and she looked at the ground. "He said you'd understand." Rick stated. She looked at him, eyes bright red from crying. In fact, she did understand. Blood was blood. Merle was Daryl's real brother, the family he always knew, even if Merle was a jackass to the hunter his whole life. Blood was thicker than the family he built with them. Blood was thicker than his and Rick's friendship, thicker than his and little Judith's moments, thicker than his and Carl's adventures, thicker than her. She couldn't compete with that. Blood, Merle's blood, was thicker than their bond, whatever it was they shared with each other. She didn't even know what it was. What they built together, what they fought for, what they taught each other. She didn't know what to call their relationship, didn't know what they were, what they really meant to each other. But she understood. She understood him, his reasons for leaving. He was completely right about that. He knew her well enough to say what he said.
She understood. But it didn't mean she was happy about it.