AN: Many thanks! Sad to see it all come to an end, but it was fun while it lasted :) Hope you all enjoyed it!
Disclaimer: I do not own TWD
What would have taken about 40 minutes a year ago, seemed to take hours as Daryl drove the pickup up old highway 411. At the turn off to the old logging road, they pulled the truck over and searched the roadside for some sign that the others had gone through. Daryl joked that they'd find a body part of some sort as Merle's calling card – either one of his or Glenn's. Instead, they found an empty beer bottle with two notes in it dated from the day before.
There was no denying the relief they felt when they realised they were the last to arrive and everyone else had made the trip safely.
Carol remembered the old dirt road that lead up the ridge into the mountains. The camp had shut down a couple of years before the virus had hit and the road had suffered through a couple winters without any upkeep. Daryl drove carefully, avoiding downed trees and large potholes. Stacks of fresh wood at the side of the road at a couple points suggested that whichever group had arrived first had had to clear the road of debris. As they drove along the steep, winding road, Daryl hummed the familiar banjo rift from Deliverance and Carol laughed, shaking her head.
Finally, after another painstaking half hour, they drove beneath the crumbling wooden sign that had at one point read, 'Believers Bible Camp'. The others must have heard the truck coming up the road because they were there, waiting. As Daryl pulled the truck up and shut it off, Carol jumped from the cab and ran to Maggie, Beth, and baby Judith. She wrapped all three of them in an emotional group hug.
Daryl got out more slowly, grabbed his crossbow, and walked over to his brother.
"Hey lil' Brother," Merle drawled. "What took ya so long? You and Sugar Peach take a honeymoon?"
Daryl folded his brother in a rough hug. "Shut up." He held him tight, grateful to have that moment, thankful they were both alive.
Merle, taken aback by the sudden show of emotion, laughed and stepped back. "Whooee! You all kinds of soft now, brother."
"Fuck off, Merle," Daryl replied and shook his head. He turned to Rick and gestured to the truck. "Brought some supplies."
Rick grinned. He seemed calmer and Daryl could only guess that somewhere along his own route, Rick had outrun a couple of his own demons. "I see that. Between all of us, we are pretty well set for supplies this winter. Did you run into any trouble?"
Daryl shook his head. "Nah. A couple of pile ups on the Interstate and one outside Fairmount. But things seemed pretty quiet. You?"
Rick nodded. "Some trouble on the I-575 and more by Waleska, but Carl and I handled it."
Daryl looked around for the boy. "How is he?"
Rick frowned and shook his head. "Struggling," he murmured. "But he seems to have taken a liking to this place. He's fishing down by the lake."
Looking around at the camp, Daryl knew that if there was any place that could help Carl regain what he'd lost while in that prison, this place was it. There were about a dozen ramshackle cabins circling a clearing. The road led in to one end of the clearing and at the other sparkled a small, crystal clear blue lake. Surrounding them was the pristine Blue Ridge mountain forests. As he looked back at the lake, he saw Carl hurrying towards them, the boy's signature hat on his head.
"He'll be fine," he said, squinting into the sunlight glittering off the lake. "This is a good place."
Rick nodded, looking around.
Daryl felt a slap on his back and turned to Glenn.
"You can thank me later for not killing your brother about a hundred times," Glenn said and Daryl snorted. "In all seriousness, I've had enough Merle to last me a lifetime. Now I know why you turned out the way you did."
Daryl just shook his head. "I'll hold off on them thanks for now," he muttered looking over at his brother.
"What?" Merle said, arms spread open wide. "I didn't do nothin'!"
"Just keep him away from me and Maggie for the time being," Glenn warned.
Rick eyed him sharply and then gestured to the cabins. "Carl and I've set up in this one over here with Beth and Judith at the moment, and Maggie and Glenn are in the one next door. Merle picked the furthest one out there by the lake. We figured you'd be bunking with him and Carol might want to stay with us. They're filthy and in rough shape and we've got our work cut out to winterize them, but it's going to work," Rick explained.
Daryl glanced over the cabins. There was no way he was bunking with his brother. He eyed the one next to Glenn's and nodded. It would be fine for him and Carol. "We-"
A gurgle sounded to his right and he turned. His heart seemed to tumble over in his chest as he watched Carol walk towards him with baby Judith.
"There's my lil' ass kicker," he murmured.
"You can't keep calling her that," Carol admonished with a smile.
Daryl held his arms out and took the baby from her. He pressed his face to Judith's and breathed in her warm, soft baby smell. "I'm gonna call you whatever I want," he murmured to the baby and grinned when she gurgled and smiled up at him. He looked up and chuckled. "See?"
Carol rolled her eyes and shook her head. She slid her arm around his waist, leaning into him, and looked down at the baby.
Merle whistled and laughed. "I told you so! Start paying up Officer Friendly. You owe me that bottle of whisky you found. You too Bruce Lee – pay up! I told you they weren't held up by no biters. You didn't believe me, but I knew what was goin' on. I knew that that Old Dixon charm was what was takin' 'em so long! Some of that Old Merle Magic must 'a rubbed off on my lil' brother!"
Daryl looked up, shook his head, and sighed. It was going to be one hell of a long winter.