"You sure that's where their heading? Washington?"
Morgan looked up from the bowl of oatmeal Rebcca handed him, her question edged with an almost doubtful tone. Jess was still asleep, so the room was silent, save for the odd bubble of the oatmeal in the pan. The girl was still asleep too... Dawn. He had to remember that she had a name now, he couldn't get too used to thinking of her as a dead girl. He'd have to start teaching himself to treat her like a friend if they were going to travel to Washington together. Glancing at Rebecca, he nodded, frowning as she seemed strangely confused.
"Why is that so surprising?" He asked, taking a spoonful of the oatmeal, suppressing the urge to sigh in bliss. This kind of good food wasn't easy to come by, and Rebecca sure as hell knew how to cook. There was a hint of cinnamon lacing every spoonful of the thick, creamy oats. To think as a child he had despised this stuff. He'd taken a lot of beatings from his grandma for refusing to take even a single spoonful of oats. How times had changed.
"Last people I came by on the road... They were heading to Alexandria. Rumour was there was a safe zone there, but Washington... They say Washington belongs to the dead."
This was the first time she was voicing her doubts over his journey, but they weren't strangers anymore. It was his third day here but Rebecca already felt comfortable with him around. When he wasn't fixing the house or reading the old poetry books in the study, he was helping Jess in the vegetable patch or plotting his route on that raggedy map he never parted with. She knew little of who he was before all this. His past and what he had
lost was a mystery still, but she didn't mind. Knowing who he was now was all that mattered. Morgan wasn't a man of many words but he was always thinking. The way he studied everything, the way he looked distant at times. There was always somthing on his mind.
This morning, she'd been greeted by the sight of him wearing one of Mitchell's old jackets, the black one shed told him to have. It was strange to see him wearing what belonged to another man, but it helped her accept that the past was not to be lingered on. She'd already told him to take the rest of the men's clothes stuffed in the trunk in the hall.
Now, she worried for him. This journey wouldn't be easy, and chances were he'd be attacked by the whisperers or the dead before he even reached the border of Washington. He didn't seem to mind her opinion, his eyes falling on the map before him. It was inscribed with a note to Rick Grimes, and it seemed the only evidence that this group were heading there.
"If I find them, and there's no hope in Washington... Maybe we can see what there is in Alexandria."
She sighed. He wasn't going to give in. Deep down, she didn't want him to go anywhere. Why leave when he could stay, they could both stay. Jess was so happy having company, as was Rebecca, but to see her daughter wake with a smile was... It was reason enough for her to live in hope of a better future. If they left... When they left, what would happen to them?
They both looked to the doorway, equally suprises to see Dawn, walking without any sign of pain, her hair tied in a loose ponytail beneath the faded sheriff hat, her skin no longer pale and sickly. She'd spent the night tossing and turning, lost in nightmares where the dead chased her through the house, a hand reaching for her in the dark, a mans voice calling for Beth. When she escaped the dead, she fell into a hallway where a woman in a uniform aimed a gun at her head. The mans voice called out again, his fingers just touching her back as the woman fired and the world went black. When she had awoken, everything seemed clearer.
Dawn knew now that her dad and sister were dead. She knew Rick Grimes led the group, she knew Glenn was the Asian boy who Maggie had loved, she knew she saved Carol at the hospital. She could remember everything, save for those few days after the prison fell. She had run away with someone, survived a while, stayed at this house, then been kidnapped. Everyone and everything was clear, but Dawn knew she was forgetting the most important part of it all.
Sighing, she glanced at the map on the table, recognising the name Rick Grimes written on it, taking a seat opposite Morgan. Rebecca was both relieved and mournful. The girl was past the worst of it and she was thankful for that, but now, what excuse did she have to keep them here.
"How you feeling, Dawn?" Rebecca asked, spooning more oats into a new bowl. Dawn sat down, smiling as she saw the map.
"I feel better than ever... And I found this in my pocket..."
She slid her hand into the pocket of her jeans, drawing out a silver spoon, handing it to Morgan. As she began to devour her breakfast, he studied the spoon engraved with a depiction of the white house, the word Washington etched beneath it. It was as sure a sign as any. Dawn didn't remember where she found it , but she was sure it meant she was meant to find them there.
Once she had consumed a second bowl of oatmeal, Dawn looked up with a look of determination, "We need to get going. If my friends are heading to Washington, we got a lot of ground to cover."
Morgan sighed and studied the map, "I'm with you there, only thing is, I need to fix us a route..."
Rebecca walked over, studied the map a second before she spoke, "you could make it to Johnson City in a day, stay clear of Main Street, stick to the outskirts. It's about seven hours to Washington from there by car. If you set of in a few days time..."
Dawn shook her head, "No, we gotta get goin' today. Walkers stick to the forrest at night..."
Morgan nodded, all to aware of how Rebecca tensed at the suggestion, his voice calm as he replied, "I think another days rest. We leave tomorrow at Dawn. Now I have a map, travelling on foot won't be so risky, we can cut through the Forrest here..."
"No. No, you won't have to," Rebecca sighed, pulling open the the cutlery drawer, her hand reaching back till she felt the keys. Retrieving them, she handed him the third key on the ring, continuing, "My partner used to fix up cars. I've got the jeep, but there's an old Buick that's fast enough to get you to the roadside motel in a day."
She pointed to the map, where a purple M represented a motel Morgan hadn't realised existed. They'd be safer sleeping in the car, but if Rick was travelling up the road, it was likely he'd have been there. Maybe he may have left a message. Dawn glanced at the keys.
"What car is it?"
Rebecca smiled, opening the back door, peering out. The back yard was clear, as was the ground around the garage.
"Come and have a look."
Morgan was amused when the garage door opened and he looked upon his designated vehicle,"Well if it ain't a 1970 Buick Gran sport. The car of kings"
Rebecca laughed, unlocking the doors of the classic black sports car her partner had worked so hard on. It was good to see someone else take such an interest in it. Morgan set to work studying the wheels and the engine. Dawn circled it, opening the door, smiling when she found a stack of old cassettes in the glovebox. Sifting through the cassettes, she read each artists name aloud,"Dolly Parton. George Jones. Elvis. Kenny Rodgers. Legends of country western."
"Damn, it's gonna be one long drive," Morgan playfully rolled his eyes at her. Dawn stashed them back in the car, moving back a little, keeping hold of one cassette. That's when Rebecca remembered something, moving over to the tool cabinet, pushing away memories of summer days spent laughing with Mitchell as he changed tyres and fixed engines, oil marks on his overalls, his smile... She shook away the ghostly images, remembering the coward he had become, grabbing the small cassette player hiding behind a stack of manuals. It was an old relic from an age long gone. Something her grandmother left her, along with this house. Turning it on, she smiled as the red light shon, glad she wouldn't need to use new batteries.
"Dawn, over here..."
The girl was eager to take hold of the cassete player, sliding the tape in, an old song playing out. Rebecca couldn't help but notice the sad smile on the girls face. Music meant a lot to her. It was almost as though it somehow took her back to better times. A long time ago, music meant a lot to everyone. Then the dead rose and the world fell silent. Everyone was too scared to sing...
"I think we should start packing."
Morgans voice drew them both from the momentary silence. It was sudden, but he knew staying was pointless now. They had to leave soon. He couldn't keep delaying it, regardless of how comfortable they all were. Rebecca headed to the door after him, but Dawn lingered, "Can... Can I stay out here a while?"
Rebecca frowned, she didn't want the girl to suffer alone, but they had a long journey ahead of them. Maybe some time alone would help. She glanced at Morgan who nodded. As the door closed, Dawn moved closer to the window, using her jumper sleeve to wipe away some of the grime obscuring the light of day. Instantly, a dull beam of sunlight began seeping in through the dirty box window, enough for her to see the cassette player. The song was unfamiliar to her, and yet the lyrics felt as though they were talking to her.
"So weep not for me my friend
When my time below does end
For my life belongs to him
Who will raise the dead again...
It don't matter where you bury me
I'll be home and I'll be free
It don't matter where I lay
All my tears be washed away."
It stopped playing and Dawn wiped tears from her eyes. The hardest part about her sadness was that she couldn't understand what made her cry. Her family was dead but shed known it the whole time. Mourning them was something shed done for a long while. There was something else. Before the hospital. She'd been fighting to find someone. Someone who had been with here in the house, who had been in the coffin shed woken up in, who listened to her play that song on the piano. Maybe it was the man in her dream, the voice calling out for Beth. Beth. Something told her maybe it was Beth who she was fighting for. Maybe Beth was the one who had been here, in the house, with her till she was taken away. Maybe the man calling her was Rick... But it wasn't Rick's voice. It was someone else, someone she knew well, someone gruff and strong... She held her head in her hands, wishing the song would stop. Wishing the confusion would fade. The song kept playing, louder now,
"Come and eat from heaven's store,
Come and drink and thirst no more."
The house had been a sort of heavens store. She'd been here before, left a thank you note for all the food they'd had... They... She cursed aloud. Who had been with her?! Who was she forgetting?!
"I was here with... God, what am I forgetting!" She cried out. Whoever was here left her feeling empty. Without their face in her thoughts, a piece of her was gone. She took hold of the hat on her head, clutching it, the last piece of her past she had to hold onto. If only she had her diary. Maybe Rebecca could give her a new one, she could write down everything then figure out what was missing. Maybe she could have a knife again, so she would feel like her old, stronger self. That's when she rose up, determined. It didn't matter what was missing. Whoever or whatever she had been fighting for was in Washington. That's where she would find the answers. She smiled, "after all, I am the new sheriff in town."
The sun barely escaped from the heavy clouds that filled the sky that afternoon. Daryl wasn't keen on them setting up camp so close to the road, but Judith needed feeding and Carol wasn't doing too well. He hadn't asked her much since she was back, but from the bruises on her neck and the bandages on her wrist, he could tell she was slow to heal. Tyrese didn't leave her side. Hell, he carried her most of the way. She protested, of course, but he wouldn't hear it. Daryl watched them with a sick stomach. Seeing how he held her, how he was careful with her, reminded him of Beth and he couldn't stand it. He was up front, alone, trying to wipe the remnants of Beth's blood from his hands, till Rick announced they needed to stop. Daryl didn't want to stop.
Stopping meant he'd have time to think of something other than where they were headed. He couldn't stand the pain of looking back. Motel was further than they thought and Rick was sure it wouldn't be free of life. Most likely they'd run into people, and he wasn't about to do that while everyone was still tired. Maggie wasn't any better either. He pitied Glenn. Everything he did to try and get her back was just useless. When they set down the blankets and started a fire, she just sat with her knees to her chin, shaking, ignoring Glenn's words, shrinking away from his touch. Carl held his sister, Sasha helped get her food ready, and all Daryl could do was stand watch and wish he'd have done a hundred things differently at the hospital.
"It's my fault, not yours."
The voice was full of remorse, so much so that Daryl had to look over to see who was talking, unfamiliar with that kind of pain. It was Noah, limping over sitting a little away from him. Daryl hadn't had much of an opinion of the kid but he respected him for trying to save Beth back there, offering to take her place.
"You was brave kid. You did all you could... I just didn't do enough."
Daryl would have given anything for some moonshine right now. Or not. How could he ever drink again without seeing Beth sitting across from him, pushing him to play her drinking game, or wincing ass he tried to down a glass of the fiery stuff. It had been hard enough missing his brother back at that cabin, he'd got over it with her help, but now... Now he had a new reason to grieve. Noah didn't even look at him when he answered.
"When we tried to escape, when I ran to the gate... I should have run back and fought. Should have let her get free and find you all..."
"We'd have ended up there anyway, kid. She weren't the type to give up on anyone." Daryl thought about how she always believed the rest of the group were alive. She never gave up on them. She never gave up on him. Only soul in the world to ever stand her ground and force him to admit to everything that hurt him.
"In a world like this, maybe she was too good to have to live through the shit we do..." Noah winced, shifting his leg. Daryl watched him. He was Beth's age, alone, in with a group he barely knew searching for family he may never find. There were parts of her and parts of Daryl in him. Go back a month ago he would just ignore the kid and scare him of, but Beth was right about one thing. There are good people. Noah was one of them.
"Here, use this," Daryl pulled out a reel of bandages from his bag. Something from the house he'd scavenged with Beth. Noah smiled weakly, thanking him, wrapping the bandages around his ankle, a deep scar barely visible in the firelight.
Scars. Daryl stared at his hands. Beth was scarred when he held her. Two on her face, stitched and clean but scars none the less. He had his scars. He had scars on the inside. The marks left by people who left him. Who died. His mom, Merle, Beth. Why was it that anyone who ever meant anything to him never stayed with?
Tyrese came over before Daryl could linger on the painful question, his expression nervous as he spoke, "Daryl, Rick said get yourself ready."
He frowned, "why? We goin' somewhere?"
Tyrese nodded, loading his gun, "to the motel. Rick said safest option is we catch them off guard in the dark."
Daryl stood and grabbed his cross bow, uncomfortable with how dark a plan it was. Could be anyone in that motel. Families, women, innocent people. Coming at them like this could be risky, on both sides.
"Cops at hospital said there's a gang in these parts, murderers, cannibals. I doubt you'll be attacking anyone who isn't dangerous," Noah spoke with his eyes to sky but Daryl knew the words were meant for him. Taking a final glance at Noah, he walked over to Rick.
"Let's do this."