Renaissance


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8. Chapter 8

"I heard a wolf last night."

Morgan smiled at Dawn's observation. They were heading up the road, the sun barely up as they sped through the thickest area of the Forrest, windows open, cool morning breeze easing away their lingering dreariness. Somehow, when he'd woken up, he'd been smiling. When he glanced over at Dawn, she was sleeping the same way, small lips curved in a secret smile. For him, good food and better company, maybe even a the sweet sound of the girls song, had left him feeling hopeful. Hope had long been a stranger to him and to wake up with it warming his chest was a welcome feeling to the usual cold pain cutting through his heart. He glanced over at her, her bright blue eyes shining as she watched the road ahead.

"My wife, Jenny, she used to say maybe the wolf was in love with the moon, and each month it cries for a love it will never touch."

It wasn't the first time he'd mentioned his wife, but Dawn appreciated how open he was about his family since their argument. He even smiled when he said her name, instead of making that pained expression when she mentioned family. She smiled at his story, liking how romantic a theory it was. A lone wolf pining for a love he could never have. Always too far away from her, always watching. She didn't remember ever having that sort of love got anyone. At least not with a boy. At the farm, and at the prison, there'd been boys. Boyfriends she had spent time with, kissed, liked. Never loved. Not because it was likely they would live long enough to love, who had been the case, but because they were just silly boys who liked having fun and ignoring what was beyond the safety of their sanctuary. Dawn wasn't always strong, she'd been weak in the past, weaker than she ever liked to remember, but she was never in denial. The world was different and she wanted to change so it wouldn't claim her like it did those boys. If she ever let herself love someone, it would be a man who knew this dark new world and who understood her. Who got that she was strong and free, she wasn't some girl who could be pushed around. She'd seen enough of men and power at the hospital and she wasn't ever letting that happen again.

No. She'd be the wolf, calling for the moon. There couldn't ever be anyone out there for her because to love would be to find confinement and in confinement, she couldn't be strong. Not like she was out here, on the road, amongst friends and those who needed her for help. The old Dawn wouldn't have been able to strike down a woman with a gun, she couldn't have defied death and forced Morgan to accept his past. The old Dawn was just a girl who wanted a quick escape when the sunshine faded and the music stopped. Dawn was so much more now. She was strong, she was hopeful, she was determined to find her friends and come back for Rebecca and Jess. No one could call her weak. No one could tell her she was too young or too much of a stupid girl to survive.

No one could ever think of her as just some dead girl.

"Damn it."

Morgans curse forced her eyes up to the road again, her heart racing as she saw a car ahead. Two cars. Abandoned. Beside the cars on the grass were two tents. One was torn, blood staining the faded blue material. She frowned, watching the walkers striking the car, a few looking up as they approached. The sun wasn't bright enough to help her see into the window, but she could make out something bulky inside.

"Must be some poor bastard in there," Morgan said, driving past quickly, Dawn's eyes widening in horror as she stared at him. Was he gonna leave them to die... No. He pulled up, grabbing his knife, the machete, her own hand gripping her knife. Looking in the door mirror, she saw three were stumbling over one slower than the rest, it's leg broken neck twisted in a wierd angle.

"Someone's put up a fight," she murmured as she studied the battered walker. Morgan took a quick breath, watching the abandoned car. It was an SUV, new save for the dents and scratches caused by the dead. A single walker remained, hammering at the door, intent on breaching the vehicle. Morgan strained to see any other walkers, surveying the surrounding Forrest. Then, without a word, he opened the door and ran at the first walker. Dawn followed, sprinting, jumping at the other, knife sliding straight through its open mouth, blood spraying her jacket. She let it fall to the ground before retrieving the knife, avoiding the black teeth in its rotten jaws, wiping her blood on the grass as remnants of tongue stuck to the blade. The smell made her gag but she moved on, running to the SUV as Morgan dealt with the battered walker.

"Damn it," she hissed when she saw the car was empty, the bulky figure nothing but bags of belongings. The walker closest to the car turned at the sound of her voice, it's face partially deteriorated, the absence of its bottom jaw making her grimace, knife cutting straight between its eyes, jumping back as it almost fell on top of her.

"Dawn! You ok?!" Morgan called, pulling his machete from the walker he'd been struggling with, it's skull seeming reluctant to release his blade. She nodded, peering into the car, wiping away some of the blood that had coated the glass. Nothing inside but bags filled with tins and blankets, a teddy bear, a toy train. Dawn swallowed the painful ache inside of her chest as she realised a child must have been in this car. Morgan came to her side, a hand on her shoulder, "can't save everyone."

She nodded. The fact wasn't new to her but she had a hard time accepting it. If only they'd been a little sooner, maybe the kid could have come with them... No. No she had to toughen up and get over it, move on...

"Jesus, there's a boy in there," Morgan said in disbelief, a child emerging from beneath the drivers wheel, his eyes staring at them, fear etched in his face. He was tiny, skinny, five years old barely. Dawn momentarily mistook him for a skeleton. Crawling to the back seat, he watched them, as if waiting for them to start attacking the car. There was a bravery in his gaze, a curiosity. Dawn smiled at him, suddenly realising how afraid he must me. She placed a hand on the window.

"Sweetheart, my names Dawn, I'm here to help."

"I want daddy! He went to the woods!" He yelled, crying as he stared at the trees beyond the car, bottom lip trembling as he repeated his fathers name. Morgan glanced up, the silence broken by distant walker groans. It was risky running blind to find someone who may have already joined the dead, but he saw his son in that boy and he wasn't about to let some kid be orphaned without trying to save his father. Glancing at Dawn, she read his expression. Stay here and help the kid. As he ran, she begged him to be careful, which was useless advise but it was comforting to hear.

Turning back to the car, Dawn spoke calmly, "my friends gonna find your dad... What's your name?"

He eyed her nervously, pulling up the lock on the door, opening it slowly, extending a bony hand which she took swiftly, "I-I'm Ben. Ben M-Mason."

As he stepped out of the car, she withheld a gasp. The kid was more bone than anything else. He was unsteady on his feet, legs so thin they might break in two. The cans she had seen in the car were empty, his sunken face telling her food had been scarce. Taking his hand, she squeezed it reassuringly, "you hungry? You want an oatmeal bar?"

He nodded eagerly, running alongside her as she rushed over to their car, pulling out an oatmeal bar from her rucksack, grabbing another as the boy began to devour the first at an inhuman speed. His legs were like twigs, his skin sickly pale. She dreaded to think how weak his father must be. The dead would likely have overpowered him... No. She stayed hopeful for Ben, urging him to sit in the car, keeping an eye out for walkers.

"My Daddy's been gone a real long time," he mumbled between mouthfuls, tears in his pale blue eyes, oatmeal crumbs covering his shirt. Dawn bit her lip, the boys grief painful to observe, her hands softly brushing away the crumbs, crouching down so she could see him eye to eye.

"Hey, you know, the thing about daddy's is... No matter how scary it is out there, they always come back looking for you. Always."

It cheered the boy up but Dawn was forced to relive memories of her father and his murder. His old, soft face smiling at her as the blade struck his neck, his empty eyes staring at her and Maggie as the blood rained out from the wound...

"Daddy!"

The boys scream broke her from the nightmare, his body flying past her as the son was reunited with his father. Morgan followed, tired but smiling as he watched the boy jump into his fathers arms. The father was thin and shaking as he shed tears of joy, holding his son, a hand on Morgans arm as he repeated his thanks. Dawn ran over, coming to Morgans side, "you okay?"

He nodded, breathing hard. The father turned to her, beaming, "thank you, for taking care of Ben. I had to get the dead away from camp..."

Morgan sighed. Hell the guy hadn't just lured the walkers away, he had taken a few down on the way using nothing but a tree branch, then got stranded up in a tree as a group of five dead ones clawed at his feet. He'd been up there a day. Morgan had taken them down, helping the guy back to the ground, awkwardly easing him off as the sobbing father embraced him. Dawn took hold of Morgans arm, watching the reunion, tears in her eyes as something inside of her bled with raw emotion. Something about the reunion, the grief and relief. It was almost as though she were gazing upon something that was stolen from her. Something's shed missed out on.

Then suddenly, she was in that house. Rebecca's house. Walkers clawing to enter, a figure holding back the door, yelling at her, telling her to run.

"I'm not leaving you!" She'd called, desperate not to leave, scared she'd lose her companion, running only when they had insisted. There was no reunion after that... She never had a chance to talk to that person again, to feel that person close to her... Her grip of Morgan tightened as the memory faded and she was left feeling hollow, unaware of the fact that the father had been speaking.

"We were heading for Terminus but the damn radio transmission ended a good while ago and we set up camp, hoping they'd come back..."

Morgan informed him of the destruction of Terminus, the mans face altering, changing from an expression of hope to grief. He held a hand to his forehead, pained. Dawn felt for him, recovering from her shock, walking towards Ben, "how about you come with me, I'll pack you some food."

He glanced up at his dad who nodded. Morgan spoke up, "I've got a spare can of gas, it'll get you to where you need to go."

The father sighed, "not even sure where that is anymore."

That's when Dawn looked at Morgan, both sharing the same thought. Rebecca. Taking Ben, she left Morgan to explain, getting a spare trash bag form the car door, filling it with tinned fruit and sardine tins, winking at Ben as she packed him half of her oatmeal bars. He smiled, at her front teeth missing, his curly brown hair making him look like a goofy kid who had a chance at making it. If he stayed with Jess, he could keep her company, they would be happy, and she'd see them again. As soon as she found the group and came back.

"Your so pretty."

Ben said the words shyly and she laughed, squeezing his cheek, wishing there was more fat to take hold off. He gave her a wink and she resisted the urge to take hold of him and never let go.

Noticing Morgan approaching, she lowered her voice to a whisper, "Tell you what, next time I see you, we go on a date. I'll make you dinner."

He nodded so violently his curls bounced about till he was a rusty coloured blur and she stopped him in case her passed out. As they heaved the food bag to Bens fathers car, Morgan lingered beside the father, eager to be sure he was the right type of man. He wasn't about to let some stranger stay with Rebecca and Jess unless he was sure they'd be safe. Luckily for him, the father, who introduced himself as Kyle, was eager to explain everything.

"We came down from Johnson City a month ago. My wife was ill you see... Cancer... Without medication, she couldn't make it much longer so she told us to go. I wouldn't, she knew I wouldn't so next day I found her in the garden, trimming back the weeds, waiting for me to come get her... She cut her wrist, died in my arms. I had to leave before the dead smelt her and I couldn't let Ben... Anyways, I was heading to terminus. Neighbours of ours had headed out that way, seemed to make sense we follow. Lost out here a month with barely any food, I was scared he'd starve. My boy. I ain't much of a hunger, hard as I try," Kyle took a breath, leaning over, inhaling air. He was frail, thin, barely a match for a walker, let alone Rebecca should he prove difficult. Not that he would. Morgan could read him like an open book. He wasn't a violent kind of guy. He'd been working in an office, lived in a nice house, never seen a crime in his life before the dead came back. The way he held the bat Morgan had handed him back in the Forrest, it was obvious killing wasn't his strong point.

Morgan didn't have much choice. If he didn't send these two to Rebecca, the kid would die and he'd have that over his head for life. He was just getting used to moving past the family he'd lost, he couldn't feel new guilt for another family lost because of him.

Reaching into the back seat, he took one of the two gas tanks Rebecca and given him, "This will get you there. Way back there, a days drive, keep going till you hit a cross road. Turn left and look out for an abandoned van. You'll find a clearing and your there."

Kyle smiled, nodding, silent a moment before he spoke, "My wife said she'd send someone to help me on the road... You two... You are my miracles."

...

Maggie vomited into the toilet, groaning as her throat burnt, her stomach turning with every bump in the road. The moment Rick and Daryl had come back with the damn monster truck sized RV, she'd felt sick. Not because she got motion sick or because they were trusting some strange guy and his supposed sanctuary. No, Maggie felt sick because the closer they got to Washington, the further away she was from her sister. Beth. She hurled again, bile dripping from her lips as she let her mind linger on the past. No one understood who she felt. A sister... A sister isn't like a brother or a spouse or a kid... A sister is everything in one. Beth was her baby sister, her child to raise when she was a teen, her friend to share secrets with as they got older, and her greatest companions in the dark days they faced. They saw their dad beheaded, then Maggie was sure everyone was gone till she found Glenn... Why didn't she look for Beth?! Why had she been so scared to hope she was alive?!

Her stomach ached, a pain so violent she cried out, wishing the RV didn't sway so much. Beth would have begged they go slower, would have been here, helping her. Always helping everyone else. That was Beth. Sweet Beth. Kind beth who never changed, who never adapted to the dark world outside the farm.

Beth wasn't meant for this world. Beth had always been weaker. The one to get bullied in school, the one who couldn't say no to dad or argue with Jimmy when he was wrong. Maggie always knew deep down that if Beth was taken, likelihood was she wouldn't fight her captors and they'd kill her for fun. That's what people did these days. Hurt good people for fun. The governor, Terminus, the hospital police... Using the weak and the good for their own sick amusement. That's why she hadn't gone looking for Beth, because she couldn't see another grave. She'd lost everyone, knowing Beth was gone too was like tearing away everything from her.

Daryl said Beth was strong. He'd saved her, taken her with him, helped her survive. Maggie knew he was the only reason she had even made it out of the prison. Put anyone with him and they'd make it. Then he said a car took her and Maggie had a horrible feeling that Beth was likely dead, abused and shot by some maniac on the road... But she'd been wrong. Her sister was alive, fighting, surviving in that hospital. Noah spoke a lot about it with Glenn and she heard enough to know her sister was out through hell before that bullet ended it all. They'd been so close... If only she'd been there been there to grab Beth and drag her out and...

Maggie threw up again, heaving, keeping a foot against the door as Glenn tried to come in. He was begging her to come out, asking if she was okay. He loved her so much, but she didn't deserve it. She knew she deserved nothing. It was her fault he was in pain, it was her fault Beth was dead... All she could do to overcome the grief was close her eye and pretend she was dead. Another tap on the door made her groan, "what?!"

Carol answered, voice firm, "I'm comin' in Maggie."

To her own surprise, she moved her foot and let the older woman in, unaware of how awful she looked. Carol wet some tissue, wiping the tears and spit and vomit residue from Maggie's face, recognising her grief. Years ago Carol was here, on the floor of a bathroom, crying and vomiting, hiding from an abusive husband and a world of pain and misery. She wasn't about to watch Maggie unravel the same way she had.

"Listen to me Maggie Greene. You have three things in your life that are worth more than self pity. You have Glenn, god knows we could all use a man that good by our side. You have a group who would die to save you... And you have a baby who needs a mom whose strong and deserving of motherhood."

Maggie knew too well that Carol was right. The vomiting had been constant for a week or two now, and it was clear her stomach was feeling strange, bloated and in pain. She knew the truth but it hurt to accept it. She cried, trying to talk, shaking as the older woman held her.

"My... My sister... My Beth..."

Carol held her tighter, running a hand through her hair, "Beth isn't here anymore.. But Glenn is, and me, and your baby. Live for your child, Maggie."

As she sobbed, the RV swayed, driving past a sign.

Johnson City.

...

Watching Kyle and Ben drive away, Dawn was almost sad to return to the car, half wishing she could go with them, back to the house, back to where she'd found life again. Ben waved from the window and she blew him a kiss, praying he'd be okay, that they'd make it. If only they had radios, she could be sure everyone was okay, but all she had was the comfort of knowing they and food and gas and clear directions. They'd tried to urge Snow to go with them, but the stubborn creature wouldn't rise from it's place in the boot. Ben was afraid of dogs, so much so that Dawn was relieved when they decided not to take Snow. Climbing back into the car, she noticed Morgan holding something in his hand. A square piece of paper she'd never seen before. All to aware of her curiosity, he handed it to her carefully, as if afraid it might break apart in his hands.

It was a photo. Creased and aged but the faces as clear as the sky above her. Morgan, young and smiling and tall, with his arm around a woman, a beautiful woman with ebony skin and a perfect smile. Standing in front of them with a cheeky smile was a boy, a boy with Morgan's eyes and his mothers smile, the happy aura of the image burning at her fingertips as she felt the weight of holding such a treasured piece of history. Her lips curved into a smile as she looked over at him, surprised and pleased to see he too was smiling.

"My family. Lost but not forgotten."

She handed the photo back to him, nodding, taking a deep breath, "exactly. Lost... But not forgotten."

Somehow, in some way, she knew that out there, somewhere, someone was thinking about her the same way Morgan did his family. That was what gave her hope. So much hope that when Morgan started the car, she let her window down and draped her arms over the door, watching the Forrest fly by. She studied the colours of the leaves, felt the cold touch of the rain, observed a lonely walker... Staring back at her body turning as they passed it... A gun in its arms.

She shook her head. No. No, just her damaged mind playing tricks on her. The image haunted her for a while, lingering in her conscious as she fell asleep to the soft lull of the car engine and the soft rustling of the trees.

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