The exposed brick snagged against the fibres on the back of his shirt when he shifted to pull his knees up until they rested against his chest. Curling in on himself, he rested his forehead against the bony curves of his knees and closed his eyes. After a moment he lifted the hand that balanced a smoke between its index and middle finger and took a long drag. The glowing tip lit the torn skin on his knuckles and he winced at the sight of the oozing wounds. He looked around the small mudroom, listening to the sound of a fork scraping against metal through the kitchen door that sat ajar to his left.
In the kitchen his grandmother was drinking a tumbler of rum and eating a store-bought pie straight from its tin pan, her nose buried into the small floral handkerchief that she had been quietly crying into all day. He had become accustomed to her annual mourning ritual when she would cry about the death of his mother – her only daughter.
Lifting his head again he let it fall back against the wall behind him, ignoring the pain that shot through his skull as it collided with the bricks. He closed his eyes, sifting through the scrapbook of memories in his mind, trying to pull out a good one of his mother. He found a fragmented one tucked away and he turned it over as he played it through, examining it. She was sitting cross-legged on the hood of their car, laughing at something he was doing, her hair a golden halo in the sunshine. The memory flickered and faded into a darker one: bruises, the smell of cheap wine clinging to her hot breath, collapsed in her bed for days, stinking like piss and sweat.
The sound of a badly tuned engine and tires rolling over gravel pricked his ears and he stayed quiet, listening to the sound of the car door slam, to heavy, unsteady footsteps crunching, to the house storm door screeching on weathered hinges. His Grandfather muttered something that he could not understand and a chair scraped across the linoleum, making him flinch when his Grandmother's voice punctuated, high pitched and slurred until it was unintelligible.
Daryl closed his eyes, listened to the rage break the tension that had permeated the house, escalating it into another emotion, one that was more insistent, driving. The sound of glass shattering and something heavy toppling over drew a defeated sigh from his tightening chest and he pushed himself to his feet, using the wall to steady himself.
Swinging around the door, he rested his shoulder against its wooden frame and leaned there heavily, watching. A vinyl covered diner chair had skidded to the floor at his feet and the shards of glass that had been the tumbler were sprinkled across the counter and into the sink beneath a sizable dent in the plaster wall.
His Grandmother roared, cracking the back of her hand across his father's face, stunning the room into a silence that lasted seconds before Will lunged at her, his hand closing into a fist that gripped her throat. He backed her up against the fridge, his nose almost touching hers as he snarled.
"Merle!" Daryl yelled out toward the trailer where his brother had been smoking up for most of the day, and then took two long strides across the kitchen to close his hands over his father's shoulder.
Using his full weight, Daryl pulled his father back and swung him around, throwing him off balance before letting go. He watched the man land on the floor in a heap before dropping onto his torso to pin him down, his knees digging into his chest. Over his shoulder his Grandmother had crossed her hands over her chest and she stood gasping, her surprise evident in her wide eyes.
Daryl turned his attention back to his father to find the same expression on his face. His eyes flicked down to his trembling hand that was holding the Kila against the older man's throat, pressing into the sensitive unshaven skin, its twisted face glinting as it grinned up at him mockingly. For a moment he considered pushing it down and tearing into the flesh, drawing the life out of the man who had scarred them all. He imagined what it would be like to bleed him like an animal – to know that he would never come back to hurt them ever again.
Before he could move he felt an arm close around his shoulders, crushing him back against a solid chest. He was hauled backwards and onto his feet where he pushed away from the strong grip that was still holding him. He took a step back to look at Merle, panting, his knife still clenched in his hand. Merle's hand rested against his chest, holding him back and Daryl looked down at his older brother's white knuckled fingers, twisted in his sleeveless flannel button down.
Merle sneered at their father who had not moved from his spot on the floor, and then reached forward without looking, prying the knife from Daryl's fingers. He turned it over in his hand then slid it into his back pocket before giving Daryl a solid pat on the cheek and indicating for him to follow him out.
Daryl took a step back, feeling his chest tighten until it hurt to breathe. The shadow-painted figure shifted and moved forward, greeting Daryl with a guttural growl. The baby squirmed against him and he placed his hand across her back in both a gesture to comfort and still her movements. There was no question about whether the man before him was alive or not - the raspy breaths and smell of rotting flesh gave away the corpse as it stumbled down the hall, one arm quaking as it reached for him with fingers that were arched into talons. Daryl's eyes flicked to the hand that remained at its side, its knuckles trailing along the wallpaper, scratching the textured surface.
The counter pressed into the small of his back and he reached for his pocket, his fingers catching the handle of the knife that he kept there. Sliding it out, he flicked it open to reveal a short rust spotted blade. The walker before him stumbled, crashing into the retro table and knocking out one thin stainless leg from underneath it, bringing the veneer top down to crash against the floor. Judith startled at the sound and began to cry, tilting her head back to look at him wide-eyed.
Looking around, Daryl deposited the baby in the sink and focused on the Walker. The knife in his hand was steady as he swept his gaze over his dead father's, the eyes that had once matched his own now transformed; black veins laced through murky whites, like the thick roots in an ancient bayou. His lip curled as a snapshot of Merle's eyes sliced through his thoughts, sending a sharp pain across his still tight chest.
His distraction lasted a second too long as the Walker lunged forward, closed its hand like a vice around the ball of his shoulder, jarring him forward, his bare arm an easy target for its snapping teeth. Lifting his leg, Daryl drove it into the Walker's soft middle with enough force that it tore through skin, sinking his knee into spongy insides. Oily blood soaked into his jeans and Daryl stumbled backwards tripping over his own feet, his eyes widening in surprise as he realized he was going. He landed hard on his tailbone, jarring him and he tightened his grip on his knife with fingers, slick with sweat.
He expected the Walker to come down on him and he lifted his shins up to brace for its impact, but instead of pursuing him further it stumbled forward to the sink where Judith had worked herself into full crying fit, her balled fists trembling. Daryl lost sight of her as the Walker bent over her, its face buried into her chest, its hands closed around her back. Springing to his feet with a raw cry that tore from his throat without warning, Daryl slid one arm around the Walker's head, wrenching it back until it popped and fell as loose as a ragdoll's, swinging from its shoulder, and then rolling to fall against its back, staring at the ceiling. Daryl took a second to notice that its mouth and teeth were void of any blood, and his eyes shot to the baby still clutched in its hands.
Lifting one foot, he drove it into the hollow behind the Walker's knee, forcing the joint forward and knocking the thing's feet out from under it. As it fell backwards he pried the baby from its fingers with a tug and held her with one arm cradling her bottom and the other cupping the back of her head, holding her to his chest. The Walker crashed to the floor at his feet, reaching for him, its head bobbing on a broken neck. Daryl inspected it from just beyond its reach and felt pressure build in his chest until it sputtered from his mouth – a sound caught between a cry, whimper, and a scream. Judith lifted her shining blue eyes to meet his and reached up, her hand closing over his lips. Swallowing, Daryl pressed a kiss to her hand, slow and unsure. Kneeling down he reached for his fallen knife, then froze. He looked to Judith before setting her down behind him, taking a moment to balance her in a sitting position against the side of the fridge. He turned back to the Walker and closed his hand around one of its wrists. Its arm was thin and weak in his grasp and he twisted it easily, snapping the bone like fire kindling, rendering it useless. It flopped at the Walkers side like a grounded fish and he kneeled on it, keeping it in place while he reached for its other arm. Steadying it with one hand he used his other to push back the jacket, revealing the thing that had caught his attention.
The bone knife yellowed since he had last seen it. It was embedded cleanly in the Walker's chest, thrust into the spot between its ribs, deep enough that its blade was completely emerged, exposing only the carved face of its handle – his Kila.
Reaching out, Daryl gripped the handle and pulled it free. He turned it over in his hand, flicking his thumb over its grinning mouth. Taking a deep breath he looked at the Walker's face and he felt unexpected sadness and gratitude as it occurred to him that the Governor hadn't been Merle's only sacrifice on his behalf.
Without feeling any urgency, he placed the tip of the knife in the centre of the corpse's forehead and pressed down, slowly puncturing skin and then bone, sliding it into the Walker's head until it went still, its eyes fixed on the ceiling above them.
Swivelling around, he lifted Judith again and swept his eyes over her chest. Her snowsuit was stained but intact. Laying her down on the floor, he carefully unzipped the outfit and lifted her out of it, pulling her limbs free, one at a time. He held her from under her arms and turned her slowly, inspecting every inch of her visible skin, searching for scratches, bites, or any sign that she had been injured. She sputtered on vowels and constants, drool sliding down her chin as she watched him, her hands reaching out for his face.
When he was satisfied he brought her closer to his chest and rested his cheek on her forehead, closing his eyes with a sigh.
Daryl paced the backyard, kicking the beer cans and garbage that littered the trampled grass trail that led to the trailer. His chest heaved with each breath as the adrenaline left his body in even waves, melting the stiff muscles in his arms and legs, turning them to jelly. Reaching up he swept at his face, unsure if it was sweat or tears sticking to his skin, or both. Merle stood silently behind him, his arms dropped to his sides, waiting.
"Yer a real son of a bitch, y'know that?" Daryl turned to him, lifting one finger accusingly. The words came with a force that nearly knocked the wind out of him and he faltered – he'd never had the nerve to speak to Merle like that.
His older brother crossed his bare arms over the soiled fabric of his wife-beater.
"That was mine!" Daryl dropped his hand, letting it fall onto his hip. His heart, once hammering against the inside of his chest like a boat in a storm, battering against the harbour, had stilled as the storm inside him passed through. "You should'a left me."
"To what, little brother? Kill him? Let you throw your life away on that asshole?" Merle asked, his lip curling.
Daryl dropped his chin and cleared his throat before spitting onto the ground at his own feet. The sound of crickets seemed to pick up, filling the dead air around them and he sucked it all in, letting the smell of the woods and wild flowers soothe him.
"Yer a soft boy," Merle said, picking his way towards him. "It'd kill you to kill him," he said simply, stopping when he was inches away, the smell of weed and alcohol overwhelming the earthy scents that Daryl had been focussing on. It made his stomach twist.
He wanted to protest, but he couldn't think of the words to express how badly he'd wanted to end it all - how he wanted to dive head first over the edge and lose himself in the darkness that years of abuse had created inside of him.
"When the time comes," Merle's hand closed around his shoulder, "you won't need to do nothin'." He cleared his throat and shoved Daryl away before ambling towards the trailer.
Daryl emptied the small arsenal under the closet floor. There wasn't as much as he had hoped, but there were enough rounds to last him a while. He sorted through them and organized his pack, collecting other items from around the house that he figured would come in handy: towels, preserved foods, matches. Despite the awkwardness of juggling the baby while he tried to work, he kept Judith close, mostly settled in the crook of his arm or in his lap. He wasn't sure why, but he wasn't ready to let her go just yet – not after he'd almost lost her for good.
She kept quiet for the most part, her blue eyes wide with curiosity as he laid the supplies out on the floor in front of them, her stocking covered feet sickle-shaped and crossed in front of her. She wavered in her upright position and he kept his hand on her back to keep her from toppling over.
"See this here?" he held up a brass coloured cylinder. "There here is a .38 special load – woulda' fit in that little Colt your mama used to carry around." The baby's lips parted and she reached for the bullet. Daryl let her have it and watched her lift it to her mouth in one chubby fist. "Her name was Lori…"
Sweeping his knuckles over her soft cheek he worked his fingers into hers and took the bullet back. Judith whimpered and reached for his hand again. Sighing, he pushed himself to his feet and scooped her up from her middle, her legs dangling free.
Unable to spend any more time in the house, Daryl slept in the trailer, Judith tucked inside his shirt, resting on his bare chest so that he could provide her with the heat from his own body. He stroked her feathered hair and spent most of the night staring at the nicotine yellowed ceiling, listened to the sound of the baby's breaths. The smell of weed, beer - and everything that had been his brother in general, had long since faded from the carpets and furniture.
He wondered why Merle had never told him about what had happened inside the house while he had waited in the truck – and why it hadn't occurred to him before that it was strange that his father had stayed behind willingly. Maybe it hadn't because it didn't have to. Daryl hadn't given his father a second thought because he didn't have to; Merle had taken care of him just like he'd promised.
In the morning he siphoned all the gas that he could from his father's car, filled up the bike, and strapped his supplies to the back of it with bungee cords. Judith, dressed in her Walker-proof snowsuit, was bundled to his chest again as they set out, leaving behind the place where he thought would become their home.
Setting out on the country road that would take them towards the city, then to the highway and back towards the prison, he felt a sense of calm determination. He would look for the others: Rick, Michonne, Glenn - anyone who might have survived. His own steady voice kept him company as he recounted stories of the quarry, the CDC, Hershel's farm. He stored and cataloged them as he spoke, committing himself to sharing them with Judith as she grew older, to ensure that she knew where she came from; who she'd come from. He didn't know if it was possible that the others had lived, but he knew that he didn't want to be alone.
Sliding through the woods, the overgrown trees whipping against his cheeks, he lowered his gaze to the baby who was trying to grasp the thin sliver of his zipper tag, her brown creased with determination.
Not completely alone, he corrected.
My story, 'The Last Part' is a continuation of this universe.