DISCLAIMER: I do not own AMC's and Robert Kirkman's "The Walking Dead" or any of it's characters/places. There may be a few OCs at a later time and those will be mine.

WARNINGS: Rated T for language, violence, and gore. Some chapters will be M later on.

"When the Cat is Away" Takes place directly after the end of Season 3. If you haven't seen it yet, then what the heck are you doing here? Go. Watch. It.

The first chapter starts off a little slow so no hard feelings if you want to skip ahead.

Rick had a thousand words he wanted to say to Carl but in that moment, he couldn't find one of them. He stood silently as his own son turned a cold shoulder to him and headed into a different cell block. "He…no, Carl will be fine," Rick convinced himself. That was all he could do. He hoped that whatever dark shadow that had crept into Carl's heart would fade on its own because he could simply not deal with it. He had a responsibility to take care of his people and those coming in from Woodbury. The Governor was still out there and there was no telling if or when he'd return. They'd soon be in the deep clutches of winter and they just got nearly thirty additional mouths to feed. Food was scare as it was and then the number of walkers seemed to increase day by day. It was almost too much and Rick squeezed his tired eyes closed. He seriously thought about turning and walking out the gates and leaving the prison to the first person that stepped up to lead it.

"I could find Morgan…" Rick opened his eyes as he felt one of the Woodburrians brush against his arm as they funneled into C Block. The woman gave him some semblance of an apology and continued into the prison.

Ten minutes later Rick had everyone, both old friends and the recent additions assembled outside of the cells. He frowned in on himself. It was like he was staring at a nursing home and a daycare. Carol helped an older gentleman to a seat and already the man looked winded. A few of the children cried and huddled around Karen, who they had known from Woodbury. These people were neither fighters nor farmers. And they needed both. Desperately.

Some of the Woodburrians rustled in their meager belongings as they waited for this man, Rick, to address them for the first time in their new home, or that was what he had called it. It didn't look like a home. Not to them. Home had been Woodbury. Woodbury was bright and charming. This place was a prison—literally. They couldn't help but notice the everlasting smell of decay and sweat that clung to them here. Woodbury had been safe and this prison, with its crumbling façade, was a dismal attempt at staving off their inevitable doom.

Most didn't know what to think when Karen, Sasha, and Tyreese dropped in with this Rick person, some woman wielding a katana, and a guy with a crossbow. But they understood soon enough. They believed Karen. They believed it when she said how the Governor murdered most of their own people—friends, family. They believed the Governor was a force worse than the walkers when they were shown Andrea's body and how she died because of a bite from Milton when he was left to turn in the room with her. They knew this man had lost it and they needed to get away while they could. So now they stood and looked up at this new leader of theirs, half wondering if he was capable of the same madness, half wondering if he had any food.

Rick gazed tensely around the familiar faces and ran his hands through his hair. He noticed Maggie patting Hershel on the shoulder and moving closer to Glenn. Glenn wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close. "You're safe here," Rick nodded to the crowd. "Everyone is safe here. I don't want you to think of this as a prison. It's a home. We're going to be family here and make a life for ourselves. I can see the way you look at me. You look at me the same way you probably looked at the Governor when he promised you safety, but it won't be like that. My name is Rick Grimes. I was a sheriff. I had a wife, Lori. She died giving birth to my new baby Judith…"

Beth shifted unconsciously as she felt the nervous gazes pass over her and the baby in her arms.

Rick nodded once again feeling his words starting to take effect. "I've lost good friends, good people. Too many good people. We've all lost people. We've lost them to those things and to bad men like the Governor. And I say it's been enough. Let him have Woodbury, if he wants it. Let him live with the madness that he created there. But I will not let anything happen to anyone within these walls. You…are…safe," he said and took a step forward. "If anyone tries to harm us, whether it's the Governor or walkers, they will die on our doorstep and we will burn their bodies with the trash." Rick looked to Hershel who nodded silently. "I never wanted this to be a war. I'm sorry," he finished quietly.

"We'll be safe here," said Sasha with a warm and gentle smile. Rick immediately cursed himself for once turning her and her brother Tyreese away.

"It doesn't look like much now, but we will make this place our home. Hershel here," Rick motioned towards the old vet, "says we can get some crops going once winter lets up."

"The Governor had a pretty good garden and plenty of other seeds in storage," said Tyreese. "I think he was trying to find a place like this so he could plant them."

"Then we'll go back to Woodbury in the morning and take everything that we can. We'll take anything we need to make ourselves more comfortable here. This is the only cell block that is really cleaned out for now but we can work on the others tomorrow. For now, please feel free to rest," said Rick.

"How'd you lose your leg?" asked a small boy who had been staring oddly at Hershel since he arrived. Karen quickly bent down to scold the child but Hershel chuckled.

"I got bit," he said with ease. The boy's eyes widened to the size of golf balls. "But they took good care of me here. And these are my daughters Beth and Maggie." Both girls raised a hand and offered a friendly smile.

"I'm Glenn," said Glenn cautiously, "and Michonne stayed in Woodbury for a while."

"It's good here," said Michonne with a hard face but her voice was sincere.

Carol moved to stand with Beth and reached to take Judith from her. "I'm Carol," she announced.

"I also have a son, Carl," said Rick. "But he has some things to take care of and then he'll be around."

"Can't miss him. Always running around with a sheriff's hat on," added Carol as she cradled Judith.

"And this is Daryl he's…" Rick turned to an empty space behind him.

"Daryl?" questioned Glenn as he dropped his arm from Maggie.

Rick's eyes swept the room but found no sign that Daryl had ever entered the cell block with the group. His stomach clenched and he fought the urge to storm off looking for Daryl for fear it'd upset the peace he just tried to instill.

"He'll be around too," said Hershel.

Daryl almost laughed as he thought how weird it was to actually be driving a car for once. He was so used to his bike, Merle's bike. He liked the openness and the freedom it offered. He was so vulnerable on it—all exposed like he was. It wouldn't take much to get close to a walker and be bit and there was nothing to stop a bullet if those started flying. Wasn't much good in bad weather either, or on rough roads. But he had been riding for a year and nothing happened. Every time he rode it was like he was telling the world and everything in it, alive or otherwise, that it could go to hell.

And that's where he'd send the Governor soon enough.

Daryl knew, he just knew, as he intercepted Michonne on her way to the prison that Merle was going to be dead. He allowed himself the hope that maybe he'd be wrong. Too much time with Carol had rubbed off on him. And he felt sort of like that. Like he knew Merle was out there, somewhere, but didn't know if he was dead, alive or what. The not knowing was the hard part. He wasn't going to get himself worked up over it like Carol had; he couldn't risk losing his head with the Governor roaming about. But he held onto the hope that no one could kill Merle but Merle even as he approached the old feed store where they were supposed to meet with the Governor. Only there was no Governor; just the bodies of his men.

Most had been picked off cleanly with a bullet to the head. Daryl praised Merle's shooting: even with one hand that bastard was a better shot than half the prison. There were a few stray walkers eating on the freshly dead but the sound of flesh being stripped from bone hardly registered to Daryl. He was listening for something else. If Merle was alive, he would have already called out to Daryl with some smartass comment about being late and missing all the action. There was no way the Governor would leave Merle alive after an ambush like this. He was going to find his brother dead with two shots to the head because the Governor would want to make sure he'd killed Merle good. Except Merle wasn't dead.

Daryl's mind swayed like a train had run into it when he saw his brother eating another man's flesh. At first he didn't want to believe it was Merle—damn his hope—but the proof was all there. His powerful body, his face, his knife hand. That was his brother.

Merle surged toward Daryl and the scent of fresh meat and Daryl's heart collapsed. This was worse than the rooftop in Atlanta because this was final. There was no more hope that Merle was out there alive.

Daryl struggled with finally ending his brother's existence, not wanting to believe it was real. But he imagined that somewhere in that thing that was Merle, his brother was cursing him and calling him a pussy for not putting him down instantly. "Hell if I could do this myself, I'd done it already," Merle's voice taunted. "Ya don't do it then I'll bite ya and what'll Officer Friendly…"

Daryl drove his knife into the center of his brother's head over and over and the voice stopped. He fell to the ground next to his brother's body and cried until he heard a new walker approaching. He got up, ended that walker with his knife (though not as passionately as Merle) and headed back to the only family he had left. He had to get back before the Governor made another move.

The Governor…he would pay…for this

Daryl drove the Hyundai up next to the body of his brother. He got out and raised the trunk. His plan was to take Merle back to the prison and bury him with the others because that was where he belonged. He was a part of the prison, even if Merle would never admit to that himself. Daryl took a heavy breath and leaned down over his brother. The Governor wanted him to suffer. He couldn't just kill Merle. Oh no. That'd be too humane. He wanted Merle to die, turn, and then be found like this. Daryl curled his fists so tightly the skin on his knuckles threatened to split at the sight of Merle's mangled hand and bullet wound to the chest.

Something inside Daryl snapped. And he was strangely ok with it.

His mind became unexplainably clear and focused. It was like a severe case of tunnel vision. He was going to put one foot in front of the other until it brought him right up to the man that did this. Daryl said nothing as he tried to lift Merle's body and move it to the car but it was too heavy. Hell he should have known with the way Merle was always able to kick his ass. Bastard had been eating better than him too. Always taking a little extra at the prison and now he had a full stomach of human too. Daryl lowered Merle's top half down again and knew this was a job for two people but he had to do it himself. He attempted to move Merle again but was forced to dispatch a walker that was trying to get acquainted with him. He quickly aborted his third attempt when two walkers stumbled at him from around the front of the car.

"Fuck it," he mumbled. "Yer own damn fault," he said and turned away. Defeated, Daryl walked the area until he came across the car he assumed Merle had driven. In it he found half a bottle of whiskey. He sighed then returned to Merle. He bent down and removed Merle's knife from his stump and tucked it into his belt. Daryl pressed the whiskey to his mouth and took a sip, then offered some to Merle's body as a toast to his brother's final act in this world. Daryl became severely aware of the lighter in his pocket and how its weigh seemed to pull at him. Without really thinking about it, he pulled the lighter out, flicked it and dropped in on Merle's waiting body. He'd given Daryl his first cigarettes and lighter, seemed right to end it with him too. Daryl took another drink and got back in the car before the smell of the burning corpse settled into his clothes. He'd be damned to have that smell stuck on him. But he sure as hell wasn't going to return to the prison empty handed.