After The End
“I think we need to leave the car,” Rosie said, standing at the open car door and nervously looking around. She was still worried about where this herd had disappeared to.
Maggie nodded in agreement, shielding her eyes from the sun with a hand. “I agree. They would have gone into the woods, it’s the safest place to be.”
“The woods?” Sam’s voice was torn and unsure. Rosie realized that he mustn’t have had to try very hard to survive before he lost his group. They must have been some of the lucky ones.
Well, until they got their heads blown off.
“Yeah, more coverage,” Rosie answered, thumbing Daryl’s crossbow strap that was placed over her shoulder. She had picked it up, unsure of the prospect of Daryl without his prized weapon, along with the bolt he had landed in the walker’s eye. The crossbow was heavier than she’d like to admit, but she wouldn’t dare let anybody else carry it. It was the only thing she had that reminded her of Daryl.
“Okay,” Sam nodded but he still looked noticeably uncertain.
Rosie suddenly felt bad for him and put a comforting hand on his shoulder, a little bit awkwardly. “It’s okay, we have your back.”
He beamed up at her, his face a little more trusting.
They immediately headed into the woods, leaving the little green Jeep in the middle of the road just outside the house they almost called home. The sun was being blocked by the thick canopy the deeper they moved into the woods and Rosie felt a little bit more at ease once they were out from being in the open. Being so visible always made her nervous.
It wasn’t long before their ears were met with sound of moaning and gurgling. By the sounds of it there were only two or three, so Rosie nodded at Glenn and Maggie as she held her knife tightly in her right hand, the canvas tote filled with meds tucked between the crossbow and her back, keeping it from swinging around her. The walkers were close and hadn’t caught sight of them yet, so Rosie silently crept up to where they stumbled just to the right of them and she embedded her blade into the base of the first one’s skull, satisfied by the crunch and the limp weight in her hands. She stepped back, letting the body tumble to the ground and watching as Glenn and Maggie silently took out the last two.
“Behind you!” Rosie turned just as Sam shouted, suddenly faced with the chomping teeth of a walker that had been struggling along behind the other three. She quickly sidestepped it, watching as it dropped forwards onto the ground, before she stabbed it in the back of its head, breathing heavily.
“Thanks,” she breathed, glancing up at Sam who was looking more pale than usual. He just nodded in return. “You alright?”
“’M fine,” Sam mumbled, shuffling his feet slightly and looking away.
Rosie couldn’t help the sympathy that was dwelling inside her as she watched his awkward movements. “You haven’t killed many walkers then?”
“My brothers always did it,” Sam mumbled, his voice tinged with sadness as he lifted his face to meet her understanding gaze.
Rosie couldn’t believe that this was the same man who had almost knocked her out and then threatened to kill her just the day before. She gave him a small smile before clearing her throat and glancing at Glenn and Maggie. “Let’s get a move on.”
“He needs a break.”
“No, I’m fine.”
Rosie sighed, her eyes darting between Glenn’s pleading look and Sam’s exhausted and tired demeanour.
“Just a quick break, okay?” She agreed, watching as relief relaxed Glenn’s body.
Sam dropped to the forest floor, his breathing coming out in quick, short pants as he let his head fall into his hands.
“Get it together,” Rosie grumbled, turning away to keep a lookout while his highness had a break. She found herself slightly angling her body so that if something were to come out of the dense trees, Sam would be shielded by her. She was beginning to feel somewhat protective over him, knowing that he was trying his hardest to be a survivor just like the three of them were, and yet Rosie wasn’t sure if he had ever taken down even one walker. She frowned down at him as she thought about it, knowing that in the old world he would have been someone she’d be drawn to, but right now he was weak and pathetic in her eyes.
She turned back to the woods, scanning the trees and taking a few steps to keep her body awake and alert. It was then that something caught her eye. She whistled at Glenn and jerked her head once she had his attention, indicating for him to follow her to check it out. With one last worrying glance at the man on the forest floor, she sneakily stepped closer to the smear of bright red that had caught her attention. She could hear Glenn’s quiet footsteps behind her, the rustling leaves not letting either of them be as quiet as they would like. Eventually, the threes thinned out somewhat and she realized that what she had seen was a small message splattered onto a thicker tree trunk.
“It’s them,” Glenn breathed from behind her.
On the tree was a sloppily drawn arrow pointing to their right, in the direction that they were heading. Above it were the letters RO.
“Ro,” Rosie smiled, her heart pounding in her ears.
“Daryl must have written this,” Glenn said, lightly punching his friend in the arm before letting out a gleeful laugh that echoed through the forest. “Let’s get Maggie and Sam and get going.”
They quickly were joined by the other two group members and made their way in the direction of the message, passing the tree trunk once again.
“What do you think they used?” Maggie questioned, regarding it curiously.
“Blood?” Sam’s voice was low and strained.
“Too bright to be blood,” Rosie answered, having already considered it. “I’m not too sure. Rick and T could have found something before the herd hit.”
“You think they got back to them?” Glenn wondered, looking at the younger girl next to him.
“I don’t think Rick would have left the area without knowing where Lori and Carl were,” Rosie responded. She had already been through every single scenario in her head.
They were walking for a few more hours, the late afternoon sunlight beginning to seep through the thinning canopy as they searched the areas for any more messages, coming up short.
“It’s going to be dark soon,” Maggie mumbled, her voice defeated again. They all knew that the longer they were out there, the less likely it would be that they find them.
Rosie was about to respond to her, to urge them all to walk for just a little longer, when distant voices hit her ear. She saw Sam open his mouth to speak and she quickly clamped her hand over it, holding on as he stumbled back with surprise. Maggie and Glenn had heard it too, and they strained their ears in the hopes of hearing more.
A few silent moments passed.
“What direction did it come from?” Glenn whispered, his eyes suddenly serious again.
“I think this way,” Rosie murmured, indicating and beginning to shuffle forward as quietly as she could.
The four of them moved in the direction for a few minutes, straining their ears and holding their weapons high. No more noise sounded except their own footsteps and Rosie wished she could just hover above the forest floor.
“You think it was them?” Maggie spoke after a while, her tone no longer defeated and instead hopeful.
“I don’t-” Rosie was interrupted as she was met with the barrel of a familiar Python pointed right at her. Her eyes went wide as she regarded the gun before shifting them to the owner, his expression mirroring hers.
“Rosie!” The young voice of Carl sounded as Rick placed his gun back in its holster. The boy ran forward and wrapped his arms around Rosie’s middle tightly and she instinctively folded around him in a hug, smiling widely.
“You’re all okay?” Rick’s voice sounded happy and relieved as he drew away from Maggie and Glenn’s hugs before wrapping Rosie in one.
“We’re fine,” Glenn responded. “Are-”
“Everyone is fine, just a few minutes away. Carl and I were looking for fire wood,” Rick responded, not noticing Sam, who had melted into the background slightly. “C’mon, I’ll take you back. They’re going to be so happy to see you.”
“Rick, this is Sam.”
Rick turned around in surprise at Maggie’s words, his eyes finally catching onto the stranger. Rosie noticed his hand fly to sit on his holster, thumbing the bottom of his gun slightly.
Sam stumbled forward with an anxious smile on his face, faltering slightly as he saw the threatening expression staring back at him. He extended an arm awkwardly, eventually letting the hand drop when Rick didn’t move to shake it.
Rick turned to look at Glenn. “You trust him?”
Glenn nodded in response. “He helped us.”
Rick nodded and looked at Rosie, silently asking her the same question. With an exasperated sigh she just nodded and Rick quirked his eyebrow. The man then turned back around and began heading through the woods, making sure his son was by his side. With a flick of his wrist he was indicating for his friends and the newcomer to follow them.
Rick had been right about the group being only a few minutes away. As soon as they caught sight of a small clearing in the trees, they were clambering through and Maggie had sped forward in her haste to be reunited with her family again. Rosie decided to bring up the rear, gesturing for Sam to go ahead of her as she still felt uncomfortable having anyone behind her. She heard a small commotion coming from ahead and smiled when Maggie yelped excitedly.
“Mag!” It was Herschel’s sweet, excited voice as he welcomed his eldest daughter.
Rosie finally made her way onto the road, squinting at the last rays of daylight that seemed so much brighter when out of the woods. She didn’t have long to collect her thoughts, however, as something hit her with full force, almost knocking her off her feet save for the strong arms that picked her up. She smiled as Daryl’s familiar smell assaulted her senses, and let one hand fall on the back of his neck and the other on his shoulder to steady her.
“Thank god you’re okay,” Daryl’s normally gruff voice was somewhat soft and gentle as he muffled the words into her ear, his breath tickling the hairs at the back of her neck.
Rosie pulled back, keeping a hand on each of the man’s biceps and smiling up into his face cheekily. The smile disappeared when she saw the frown that took over Daryl’s features and his hand immediately came up to gently cup the bruised side of Rosie’s face.
“It doesn’t matter,” she caught his hand in her own and squeezed it, but it didn’t work on him.
“Glenn!” Daryl took a step away from her and his finger was now pointing to her face, causing her to blush crimson red as everyone turned at his startling tone. “What happened here?”
Glenn was speechless for a moment, one arm wrapped around Maggie’s shoulder as he tried his best to think of how to diffuse the situation. “Uh, look man-”
“That was me,” Sam spoke up. All faces turned to him, some not even having noticed he was stood there, watching as they reunited briefly. “It was an accident-”
“Who the hell are you?!” Daryl started to storm forward, one of his hands already clenching into a tight fist while the other came up to shove Sam roughly in the chest.
“Daryl-” Rick was behind his friend in a second, a firm hand on Daryl’s shoulder in an attempt to restrain him.
“He’s with us,” Glenn said, moving to stand next to Sam and avoiding Daryl’s angry glare. “Let us stay where he’d been hiding out for the night.”
“Yeah, seems like a real nice guy!” Daryl growled, staring pointedly at Rosie’s bruised face, the rest of it still flushed with embarrassment.
“It was a misunderstanding, Daryl,” she sighed, annoyance pricking at her tone as she stepped forward and placed a hand on Daryl’s arm. He shook it off angrily, shooting her a pissed off glare.
“Why don’t you tell us what exactly happened?” Rick asked calmly as he stepped into his role as leader. He sighed as Daryl stepped away from the small group, beginning to pace angrily but staying within earshot.
“I-I thought that they were with the same people who killed my group,” Sam said, his voice faltering slightly. He shot a nervous glance at Daryl who had snorted loudly.
“Who were these people?” Lori’s voice was slightly shaken as she spoke for the first time since they had been reunited. One hand was resting on her swollen belly as she no doubt considered the possibility of dangerous strangers.
“A group of men,” Sam responded, his eyes flickering to her stomach as he tried to hide his frown. He turned back to Rick. “A few days ago. They took our weapons, lined us up, and shot my brothers’ dead.”
“How’d you get away?” Rick was rubbing at his beard, his brow furrowed as he thought.
“I just turned tail and legged it out of there, man,” Sam said, his voice tinged with sadness. “Figured I was gonna die anyway.”
Rick was quiet as he turned to Rosie with a questioning look. She knew what he was thinking immediately. “The group from the road?” He asked for the sake of the rest of them.
“Could be,” Rosie nodded as Sam glanced between them curiously.
Rosie and Rick spent the rest of their little daylight trying to work out with Sam if the group who had killed his family had been the same group that Rosie had gunned down before reuniting with them. Sam’s descriptions of the men had matched, even down to the way that the leader spoke to his victims and the weapons they used. Rosie felt relief fill her at the thought of hopefully waking up alive again.
While they had been discussing the threat, Daryl had retreated into the woods angrily, claiming that he was going to find them some dinner. When Rosie had argued and told him they had plenty of tinned food, he had just muttered under his breath and fled anyway, making her stomach twist into knots. She was worried about him being out there alone in the dark, especially as she’d barely had a chance to catch up with him and to see how he had gone the night before.
But, Daryl being Daryl, he came back safe and sound with a belt full of dead rabbits and a few squirrels. Rosie could tell he was still pissed off, but she couldn’t contain her smile when he took his spot beside her and began to prepare the meat.
“You okay?” She asked him quietly, knowing that everyone else was busy with their own conversations or by getting warmth from the small fire.
“’M fine,” Daryl responded shortly.
She watched him for a moment, waiting to see if he would say anything else but he didn’t. “Why are you mad at me?” She mumbled, hating how stupid and trivial sounded. It’s the fucking apocalypse, she thought to herself with annoyance.
Daryl just sighed and stopped what he was doing before looking her in the eyes. He was silent for a moment before he wiped one hand on his pants and brought it up so that it was cupping the side of her neck gently. She melted into the familiar, rough hands and closed her eyes briefly.
“Not mad at you,” he murmured, withdrawing his hands and beginning his work again. “Just can barely look at ya knowing the guy who did that,” he glanced at the bruise flowering on her face. “Is sitting right over there,” he jerked his head angrily at where Sam was sitting alone on the opposite side of the fire, staring at his hands.
Rosie gave him a soft smile, her eyes filled with understanding. “I know,” she murmured. “But it really was a misunderstanding. Plus, I got a few licks in there too, you know?”
Daryl smirked at her words, glancing up at her through his hair. “Oh yeah?”
“Knocked him out,” she said smugly and he gave a small chuckle.
“I’d like to see that.”
“I’m sure I’ll do it again someday,” Rosie laughed before poking him in the bicep. “Maybe you’ll be my next victim.”
Daryl just scoffed, looking at her fondly through the long strands of hair that covered his eyes. He turned back to the food, trying to ignore the warm feeling the young woman beside him managed to fill him with.
At daylight, the group was up and moving. Rosie had woken up feeling slightly ill and had given her food to Carl and Lori, making sure the two of them ate it all. Daryl had watched her with a disapproving look on his face, but hadn’t said anything. Instead, he waited patiently for her to gather her things and join him in bringing up the rear of the group. Sam walked with Glenn a few paces in front of them, looking uncertain and nervous. Rosie guessed that he hadn’t gotten much sleep, not used to being out in the open at night and with a group of strangers, no less. Her heart twinged slightly every time she caught sight of his anxious expressions and nervous glances at the sound of a twig snapping or the wind whistling.
They’d been wandering through the woods for hours and Carl was beginning to complain quietly to his mother about how hungry he was. Lori didn’t have to say anything, everyone knew that she was in constant pain and discomfort. Rick decided to let the group rest, while he and Herschel looked over the map and spoke in hushed tones, Daryl going over to join them.
“You okay?” Rosie said quietly, squinting up at Sam. His eyes were darting about uneasily, as though he expected a herd of walkers to burst through the trees without warning. He looked down at her and managed a tight-lipped smile, but it barely concealed the worry in his eyes.
“Yeah,” Rosie nodded as she dropped her pack onto the forest floor, rolling her neck and shoulders to relieve the tension. “Just want to find some shelter soon.”
Sam nodded in agreement, watching as she touched at where the straps of her pack had rubbed against her shoulders, leaving red welts. He hesitantly lifted his hand to gently examine it, moving the neckline of her t-shirt slightly to see better.
“Damn,” he mumbled, fingering at the spot slightly. “Does that hurt as much as it looks like it does?”
Rosie laughed as he removed his hands. “It’s not too bad,” she grinned, moving her shirt back into place and stretching her arms high above her head. As she stretched, she caught sight of Daryl standing by Rick and Herschel but watching her and Sam intently. His expression was impossible to read with his eyes half-hidden by his sweaty hair and his lips set in a tight line. Rosie threw him a small smile, but it disappeared as he turned his back on her. Even from where she stood, she could see how his shoulders sat tensed with anger.
She looked back at Sam to give him a comforting smile. “I’m going to go see what the plan is. You should sit down, have some water maybe?”
Sam nodded his head halfheartedly, throwing her a small smile in return. She lifted her pack up and headed over to Herschel, Rick and Daryl, sliding in between Daryl and Rick. She noticed Daryl tense up when he realized she was there, although he didn’t look at her or acknowledge her whatsoever. With an inward sigh, she turned towards Rick. “What’s the plan?”
Rick sighed, his face slightly dejected as he glanced at the girl. “Nothing really to do except keep walking,” he answered in a quiet voice, eyes on his family.
“Okay,” Rosie murmured, following his gaze and seeing Lori sat on the forest floor, leant up against a tree with Carol squatting next to her and rubbing her back. Carl was sitting cross-legged next to them, playing absently with a leaf and a miserable expression on his face.
“There’s a town a few miles away,” Herschel interrupted the two, causing them to look over to them. “If we hurry, we can make it by nightfall. I don’t like the idea of my girls spending another night out in the open.”
“If we get there, we can clear the closest house and hole up,” Daryl was nodding at the older men and touching at the grey hairs on his chin thoughtfully.
“That’s the new plan,” Rick agreed, pushing himself off the tree he was leaning against and heading over to the group, Herschel following behind him.
Rosie made a move to grab Daryl’s elbow as he went to leave, but he dodged it quickly, knowing her too well. She frowned at his retreating back before beginning to jog to catch up with him. The group was starting to move now, and she and him were waiting for the others to make a move so that they could bring up the rear again.
“Hey,” she spoke softly, successfully touching at his arm this time. She flinched when he roughly pulled it out of her grip, still not even offering her a glance. “Daryl, what is it?”
He didn’t speak, just trained his eyes on where Sam was now walking in time with both Glenn and Maggie. Eventually, Daryl began to walk and Rosie copied him, keeping in time with his long strides.
“Damn it, Daryl, can you stop being such a damn baby!”
He stopped abruptly, finally turning towards her with anger written all over his face. “You’re jokin’!” His voice was low and aggressive as he stared at her.
“Got you to talk, didn’t I?” Rosie tried to smile sheepishly, knowing that being cute was never going to work right now.
Daryl huffed and rolled his eyes before pacing to catch up with the group, anger still rolling off him in waves.
“I’d love to know what I did to piss you off,” Rosie said, jogging to catch up to him.
“Why don’t you quit annoyin’ me and go hang out with your boyfriend? Looks like he could use all the help he can get,” Daryl growled, his eyes darting around to land on anything but Rosie’s disbelieving gaze.
“Who are you even talking about?” Rosie was beginning to get annoyed now. Her entire body was aching and she didn’t appreciate the game that Daryl seemed to be playing.
Daryl huffed out an unimpressed laugh, the scowl not leaving his exhausted face. “I’m talking about GI Joe up there,” Daryl snarled, nodding his head in the direction of Sam. “Your newest recruit.”
Rosie frowned, wracking her brains to find what would have given Daryl the impression that there would be any potential romance brewing between her and Sam. She stopped walking and tugged on Daryl’s arm to bring him to a halt next to her, rolling her eyes as he exhaled dramatically.
She didn’t say anything, just watched him as he shuffled nervously under her gaze. Finally he let his eyes rest on her face, brows raised in feigned question.
“What the hell are you talking about, Daryl?” The light, teasing tone was gone from her voice and Daryl noticed with concern that she just looked utterly exhausted. His hard demeanor melted slightly.
“I saw you back there.”
Rosie drew her eyebrows together, genuine confusion coating her face like dirt. “What?”
Daryl suddenly felt incredibly stupid. Blood pooled in his cheeks as embarrassment flooded through him. He had the sudden urge to turn and run, wanting to fight off a dozen walkers rather than talk with Rosie about his feelings towards her.
“Nothing is going on with me and Sam,” Rosie pressed when he didn’t speak.
Daryl knew what he wanted to say. He wanted to brush it away and forget about his jealousy, wrap her under one arm and kiss her temple. He knew that would make her heart melt and they would be able tog back to normal. But his stubborn pride beat him to it. “Well, maybe it should.”
A sharp breath exited Rosie’s mouth and she crossed her arms, squinting at him in confusion. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Someone like him… he’d be better for a girl like you…” the words were tumbling out of Daryl’s mouth carelessly and he couldn’t stop it. “He’s young, and-and the type of person you want-”
“What the fuck, Daryl?” Rosie interrupted him with a painfully thick voice. “A girl like me? H-how would you even, even know the type of person I want?”
She moved to take a step closer to him, but he quickly backed up, leaving her hand hovering in the air where his right arm had been. She looked like she had been slapped in the face and promptly let her hand fall to her side, her cheeks beginning to burn painfully.
“He’s better for you, okay, Rose? Way better than me,” Daryl kept his voice steady and his face blank, refusing to acknowledge the tears that had begun to spill from her eyes and onto her red cheeks. It was quiet for a moment until he spoke again. “I’m doing you a favor here! This is your out, take it!”
Rosie dropped her eyes to the forest floor, numbness inhabiting her being. How was this happening when they had only reunited a few days ago?
She hastily wiped at her cheeks, feeling his blank stare burning into her. Without a word, she began to walk in the direction that the group had been headed. She maintained a fast pace, but she knew Daryl would lag behind as much as he could so as to avoid her anyway.
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