A/N: Okay, so, I have a lot to say here. First off, I apologize for the huge delay on this chapter. (I know, it feels like it's been five hundred years since I've updated.) An old friend of mine, writer's block, decided to pay a long awaited visit. I also have a bunch of finals coming up next week, so I've been cramming in some last minute studying. (Excuses, excuses...)
And I'm fully aware that this story has been moving pretty slowly, but have no fear, Willow's past is soon to be revealed. (I feel like that was somewhere beyond cheesy.) This will also be on a brief-ish "hiatus", if you will. I'll still update, but it'll take a bit longer to get chapters out. I'd like to finish up my other Walking Dead Fic, "Behind Blue Eyes", so that I can start another story that I've been unfathomably excited about.
But without further ado, I give you the next installment. Review, review, review! :)
Chapter 6: A Twisted Meeting
Daryl dazedly leaned back in the flimsy lawn chair atop Dale's RV, gruffly staring off into the starlit night. His crossbow was lazily poised against the old iron rod that served as a leg of the uncomfortable seat, dirt slathered fingertips drumming just above the hole that had been torn through the knee of his loose jeans. His legs were tiredly sprawled out in front of him, heavy boots crossed at the ankle.
The redneck's eyes were practically wailing with the need for rest, fits of sleep deprived stinging coating them. And soon enough, without realizing what action he was carrying out, the grassy fields stretching out before him abruptly snapped into darkness, leaving Daryl feeling suddenly relieved and satisfied.
He remained like that for quite some time, with closed eyelids, but not quite entangled in a deep slumber. The brisk night air still whipped around him, rustling his blood splattered hair. He could still smell the strong scent of exhaust that stuck to the large hunk of metal with wheels, still hear the low sound of tree branches scraping against one another.
But, there was a sudden unfamiliar noise that tore through the nerve easing silence, forcing Daryl to push himself back to complete consciousness in full throttle. The sound was faint, weak, repeating itself in a constant hushed motion. Footsteps, he realized, narrowed eyes brushing across the lush landscape until they fixed on a slim figure advancing towards the edge of the farm.
It was a girl with a head of deep apricot hair that was tossed over her small shoulders by the chilled wind, moonlight causing the moist ringlets to glow a faint violet. He could see that her skin was fair, which was odd, what with the blistering sun continuously beating down on the limited group of survivors.
She slowed in her footsteps just a few measly feet away from the RV, arms folded tightly around her thin torso. The unknown woman seemed to be pondering over something, only, he couldn't be sure, considering the only thing that he could see was her fabric clad back facing towards him.
It had to be the newcomer. A large bundle of gauze formed an irregular lump on her stomach, changing the natural form of the tank top along her petite figure. Top of that, no one has a carrot top 'round here.
Though he didn't enjoy admitting it to himself, somewhere deep in the broken and battered recesses of his emotions, he hoped that she didn't notice his looming figure rooted above the towering vehicle. What he dreaded even more so than that was the possibility of her making a move to speak to him. He hardly talked to anyone at the camp as it is, let alone strangers with an anonymous name.
Daryl threw a brief, disgusted glance at his sturdy boots, face scrunching up for an almost unnoticeable heartbeat. He remembered her "slight" accident from around three days ago, mouth compressing to a stressed line at the unwanted recollection.
An out of the blue shift in the tumbleweed of grass caused an able whim of disdain to roll through him, a mask of anger immediately concealing any other emotion that could possibly show on his face.
The girl angled her body so that it was twisted towards him, a cold, isolated glare etched upon her doe-like features. A flicker of embarrassment hastily crossed her emerald gaze, but, thankfully, Daryl was seated too far away to notice. Her feminine frame was seemingly shaken, bowed lips pressed tightly together to hold back a pained emotion.
He warily blinked as the faint racket of someone tromping up the wobbly latter that led to the top of the vehicle resounded through the icy, unforgiving evening. The pale, ashen form of Carol took shape before him, palms lightly hugging her waist as she walked towards him.
"Thought I saw you sleeping up here, figured I'd give you a little help," the jaded woman spoke quietly, silently lowering herself into the nearly identical chair grounded beside Daryl.
He let out a low grunt in response, allowing an airy breath to escape through his nostrils. The hick's gaze hurriedly moved from Carol, dragging a large hand over his worn features, ignoring the dampness of chilled sweat on his fingers as he pulled away. He glanced down at the long stretch of greenery before him, tired gaze eventually falling upon the area where the stranger was just standing.
But she was already gone.
Willow weakly slumped against the mildewy side of the farmhouse, clutching her frigid arms to her chest in a failed attempt to hide herself from the cold. The rough breeze thrashed against her, causing large sections of fiery hair to topple over her haggard complexion.
Willow vigorously rubbed the stinging liquid from her fatigued eyes, the darkened scenery surrounding her blurring for a short moment. She bit back an aggravated sigh, a choked wail escaping from her parched lips as the image of her mother's bloody, mauled face flashed through her mind. It seemed as if the horrifying event had taken place just yesterday, she could still see the mangled chunks of leathery flesh hanging from her family's cheeks, arms, legs, everything just as vividly as she could back then.
She mentally scolded herself, with a reality as demented and shattered as this, she should of expected nothing less. The possibility of finding her family still living, breathing, and leading a life without perilous diseases or fatal injuries was nearly as challenging as locating a single needle in a towering haystack, impossible, unfathomable.
Willow flinched away from the sudden noise that thrummed through her ears, a hiss-like pattern that mingled with shallow crunches, repetitive, constant. A shadow emerged from the hazy fog suspended above the spiked tendrils of grass that densely blanketed the lawn, a looming silhouette with lax posture advancing towards her.
She immediately started off towards the backyard, taking caution to make her strides twice as fast as the figure bustling behind her. The last event that she wanted to come face to face with was a said group member involuntarily coming across her puffy, red rimmed eyes and weakly quivering bottom lip, labeling her too damaged to be of any sort of use.
The former policewoman was ripped from her worries when she felt something rugged, but soft all the same harshly caress over her now bare leg, causing her to nearly trip over the foreign object. (The disheveled girl had rolled up her oversized jeans to her knees in an effort to somewhat ease the unrelenting heat from earlier on that day, except the meek action didn't serve her much justice now, considering the stubborn cold.)
A hasty curse bellowed from her mouth at the accident, a bundle of smooth, ebony rods tipped with jagged points tumbling onto the grassy earth. She raked the irritable ruffs of hair that fell over her eyes away, relieved that the blockage of her sight had been rid of.
"Hell," an unfamiliar southern voice grumbled, annoyance outlining his words like thick venom.
Willow flung herself around just in time to see the faded outline of squinted azure eyes staring back at her, and for a split second, she caught the angered glare hiding beneath the man's worn irises. It seemed as if there was thunder, roiling, but not quite ready to bolt down and wreak havoc on the land. Perhaps it was a python, rearing back its scaly head, caught up in the midst of a deadly pause, the preparation to pounce on its prey with ferocious teeth.
She took a few hushed steps away from him, ignoring the unsettling sensation of moist droplets clinging to the grass splashing over her frigid toes. Her arms circled uncomfortably around her waist as he gathered what looked like lethal arrows from the ground, feverishly stuffing them back into the large quiver in which they came.
"Sorry," Willow blurted, her gaze steadily, almost curiously locked on him.
"For what? Trippin' over my bolts like a damn fool, or hurlin' on me?" He quipped frustratedly, picking up the pace on his nearly frantic gestures, packing away the hazardous ammo that fitted into his crossbow.
She blinked, the realization that his words brought with it hurriedly dawning over her much faster than a legitimate sunrise. The quiet girl remained silent for more than a few uneasy heartbeats, pondering over the intelligent answer for such a malevolent statement.
"So you're Daryl, then."
He merely scoffed at that, slinging the long, spacious holster that housed his bolts over the same shoulder that his crossbow inhabited. Daryl had his full intentions on stalking away without any disregard for the offense he might be throwing in her face, leaving a woman gawking at his backside like that. Merle always told him not to be afraid to "piss off a lady", or so he put it. But, nonetheless, he found himself stopping and glaring over his broad frame, gaze fixed dryly on her.
"Mind givin' me a name or somethin'?" Daryl mumbled, adorning his trademark scowl on his rustic features.
His words were anything but polite, in fact, the inquiry had slipped past his lips sounding rude and inconsiderate, but he paid no mind to it. In all honesty, he was sick and tired of mentally calling her 'stranger' during the very limited times of her slipping past him in camp, so, in the end, it was to his benefit, not out of the practically nonexistent kindness of his heart. The wind stirred around them once again, rustling the bottom of his sleeveless top while sending unnoticeable shivers down his spine.
"Willow," She answered simply, uncomfortably chewing the inside of her already raw cheek.
Daryl dipped his chin towards the moist greenery rooted beneath the soles of his shoes, no recognition of her brief introduction crossing his features. With no words cascading through his mouth, the exhausted grump of a man slowly turned the rest of the way around and tromped away until the night engulfed him.
Willow drove the keen tip of her knife into the walker's softened skull, grimacing in disgust as blackened blood washed over her hands, leaving a thin trail of deep crimson residue on her fingertips as she flicked it away. She ignored the blazing pain enveloping her with open arms as she walked onward, unwillingly slumping against the jagged bark of a tree.
Stanley's cheery laughter tore through her mind, flooding through the thoughts that rested there like a recently opened wound, throbbing and stinging. She remembered his small hand curling around her middle and ring fingers during brief walks around the neighborhood, clinging to them as if his life depended on it. She remembered the way he would butcher the words "for which it stands" in the Pledge of Allegiance, replacing them with the mistake, "for Richard Stands".
The memories that flicked through Willow's mind brought more agony than even her bullet injury, which she had foolishly torn open while driving her blade into the sodden flesh of a walker. A fresh set of tears pounced at the opportunity to brim her eyes, causing annoyance to roll her stomach. She immediately rubbed them away with the bottom of her palm, blinking away the irritable sensation that the grime and dirt left on her hands brought.
The woman never quite had a normal relationship with her parents, it was by no means dysfunctional, but it was far from the endearing warmth that an average person would feel when around their guardians. Willow talked to them about many things, opened up to them, perhaps more than she should of.
They were seemingly kindhearted, noble people, that unbudging shoulder to lean on whenever anyone needed to mend emotional wounds. Only, that reality spiraled from Willow's reach after her little brother was brought into existence.
"An accident", they called him, a child that they weren't capable of loving. Stanley was branded with the name of a kid with no shoulder to lean on, all except for Willow's. Their parents never threw him away, they cared for him, but not in the same manner that his comforting elder sister did. She practically raised Stanley, taught him wrong from right, aided him in the tedious task of memorizing the alphabet, nearly everything.
Those thoughts, those haunting memories, ice cold and remorseless, don't hold any meaning anymore. They might as well be thrown into a pile to be burned at the base of her conscious, on with the rest of the dread that was continuously strangling her. The world, the cheerful, bright, unpredictable birthplace of humankind, gone. The government dissolved, her friends were mercilessly slaughtered, family ripped limb from limb, her brother forced to share the same fate.
"The hell you doing?" A gruff voice punched through the wall that muffled the scenery surrounding her, sending her hastily spiraling into present day.
Willow's gaze whipped upwards, resting upon a disgruntled Shane, whose mouth had reduced to a small, frustrated line. He stalked towards her, raking his hair back in aggravation and disappointment as his dull irises caught sight of the rose colored liquid soaking through her tank top.
"Clearing out some of these things, figured the less there is, the better," she hurriedly explained, tone somewhat resembling a child caught redhanded in the midst of a measly household crime.
"We call them walkers," Shane deliberately corrected, swallowing down his anger at his comrade acting so childish. Almost healed, too. 'Cept, she never did quite have her head screwed on straight. Looks like some things don't change.
"Doesn't make a difference to me," she quipped, wiping the balmy liquid that coated her silver blade onto her torn jeans. "Let's head back, getting onto dinner time."
There was a drawn out silence, a dreary, unsettling quiet that caused qualms of restless pricks to probe her insides. Except, not long after, the rough rhythm of Shane's voice resounded through the area, shattering the uneasy tranquility.
"Nah, how 'bout we stay out here for a few more minutes?"
"Might as well stay a little while longer, get rid of some of these bastards. You made a pretty valid point, Rookie."
"Not sure about you, Shane, but I could eat a horse right now," Willow daintily explained, pausing in her hushed advance forward to throw an isolated glance his way. "If you want to stick around, have at it."
Shane gave his head a quick shake, rubbing at the shadow of stubble that spread across his chin. Something about her tone was off, a deadbeat among the hazy rasps of her voice. He blinked, finding that his old friend was already striding towards the farmhouse, pace lengthened as if she could sense his worry, feel the questions itching at the tip of his tongue.
"Somethings wrong with you, isn't there?" He called out after her, making no move to stop the frantic girl in her movements as he jogged in an attempt to catch up.
"You're making it sound like I'm mentally ill."
"You knew what I meant, what's eating at you?"
"What isn't, Shane?" She barked, whirling around to face him. "I wake up in a forest in the middle of nowhere with no recollection of how I had gotten there, practically bleeding to death with a giant hole torn through my stomach. Then I come face to face with your dumb ass, locked and loaded, and soon after, I'm accepting death to a walker."
Shane was struck speechless, auburn eyes almost unnoticeably widening. He had always known Willow as a noble, fiery woman with a subtle humor along with quiet tendencies. Only now, the blazing depths of her bottled up emotions were uncorking, searing through her body with seemingly unwavering strength. Everyone has a breaking point, where your self control crumbles away, leaving an over abundance of one particular feeling.
"Then right when I'm starting to feel safe again, at least, as safe as I was going to get, I got a sudden memory of when all of this started. Turns out, my family died along with the world."
"You're not the only one, Willow. More than half of the population had to go through that. Or worse, they wound up being a part of the walker's main course," he explained, now walking in sync with her.
"Talk about sympathy," she grumbled, her airy voice holding a razor sharp edge of humor mixed with an odd combination of hostility.
Shane made no sound at Willow's malevolent words, simply carrying out the mindless task of heaving his foot over a large, ragged tree root. He pondered for a few moments, calmly and collectively, before muttering,
"Let's just try and get through the night."