See part 1 for header info.
The Wal-Mart parking lot has a few cars in it, but no bodies. There are long trails of dried blood and sun-baked brains that lead to a putrid, charred dumpster in a corner of the lot.
"Somebody stuck around to clean up?" He's seen strange things, but this is really strange. The dumpster's got some sounds going on inside it that Gelnn prefers to ignore.
"Guess so," Daryl says. He's already in hunting mode, crossbow aimed and eyes scanning back and forth as they walk, always a couple of steps ahead of Glenn.
Glenn's ready to raise the shotgun as a last resort but he's got the hooked machete in his hand. It makes for closer quarters than he'd like but it's quiet and he's good with it. "I wish we had silencers." He knows you can shoot through a potato but if they had potatoes they'd eat them.
"Ain't a bad idea. Doubt anybody with one's giving it up, though. Merle used to have one but they took it away when they kicked him outta the army. Crazy bastard used it hunting when he came home between deployments. Killin' deer with a sniper rifle's just fuckin' cheating." There's a weird kind of affection in Daryl's tone. They never seemed like the most harmonious set of brothers but your brother's your brother.
"Merle was a sniper?" Glenn feels kind of lucky to be alive right now. He generally does, true, but now very specifically.
"Good one too. He didn't used to be so-- well, he was always a mean motherfucker, but not mean like you knew him. They don't even let you in sniper school till they make sure you're not bugfuck crazy. The Nazi shit wasn't till after he came back the last time. Something over there fucked him up and he came home with a big old bug up his ass."
"Afghanistan. Shh." They're at the doors, all but one of which are boarded up. Messy red spray paint over the plywood says PLEASE TAKE ONLY WHAT U NED. DAN 12:3
"Dan?" Glenn whispers.
"Some bible verse. Daniel. Now hush."
The door was once automatic but of course there's no power and Daryl has to shove it open. It rattles on its tracks. Daryl looks at it for a second once they're inside and doesn't close it again. Getting out quickly if they have to run weighs heavier than anything that might get in.
The only light is what's coming in through bullet holes in the ceiling, but it's enough once they get used to it. They sweep the aisles first, through more tracks of blood, sticky puddles of coke and soup and broken glass, flies swarming on the groceries that were collateral damage or have gone bad without refrigeration. The big open coolers of meat and cheese and stuff on special smell like their own kind of death.
There's one body at the back of the stockroom, next to a row of lockers and a cafeteria-style table where the employees probably took their breaks. It's a man but it's impossible to tell his age because between the gunshot to his temple and decomposition, his face has been obliterated. He was a security guard; his uniform says George. Glenn's nose has adjusted to the death smell like his eyes have to the dark, enough that he can smell gasoline underneath it. George must have been the one to do all this, the boarding up and burning the bodies. If Rick were here he'd probably search for ID and look at wallet photos of George's kids, if he had any.
Daryl takes the gun from his bloated hand and there's an unpleasant squelch. "C'mon."
They hit sporting goods first in hopes of ammo. It's nearly cleaned out but there's a few boxes of .22 rounds and Daryl smiles when he finds some arrows. There's a bad-ass looking crossbow on a high up display shelf and Daryl catches Glenn looking at it, touches Glenn's back and says close to his ear, "You want it? I'll teach you."
Even if he didn't already kind of want it, that would have convinced him. It's maybe unwise to choose weapons with your dick. But it's practical. "Yeah." Glenn's looking around for a ladder but Daryl just hands off his bow and climbs up the shelves. He tosses the new one down to Glenn, who has to drop both in a hurry because he loses his footing a few shelves before he can reach the ground and Glenn has to scramble to break his fall.
They land in a heap on the sticky floor with Daryl on top of him. "Dumbass," Daryl says. "I woulda landed fine." He combs his fingers through Glenn's sweaty hair where his cap has fallen off and he's dead serious when he says, "Don't you ever go pulling some dumb shit thinking you need to save my ass."
"Understood." Glenn doesn't tell him not to do the same; he pretty much knows Daryl would if it came down to it, for any of them, just like Glenn would. Saying he understands doesn't mean he's promising.
Daryl helps him up with enough force that Glenn crashes into him, and Daryl catches him by the waist only long enough to steady him before he backs away. There's a quick-and-dirty crossbow lesson and Glenn nails a bag of diapers (and who the hell puts the baby stuff next to the guns?) and they move on, piling first aid supplies and vitamins and canned goods and people's special requests (pickles and cocoa butter for Lori, notebooks for Carl, Dale's very specific socks and duct tape and headlight bulbs, new boots for Andrea) into a bigger backpack from the camping section, and it's going to be an awkward ride back.
"We should've come in the Cherokee," Glenn says.
"Somebody else can come back for more now that we know it's worth it." Daryl's behind the electronics counter digging for more batteries.
The books are right next to it, along with a bunch of CDs nobody can play and DVDs nobody can watch. Glenn piles up novels and magazines and comic books because everyone's read the one crappy book they have. The latest bestsellers and Oprah picks are still untouched, neat in their rows. The spirituality section looks like a hurricane went through it. There's a couple of bibles left. Glenn picks one up and flips to Daniel.
"There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then," Glenn reads out, "God, this is morbid. --Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever."
"End times," Daryl says. "It's s'posed to rain frogs too."
Eschatology in the midst of looting Wal-Mart. Glenn can't help but think it's still not the worst first date he's ever had (that honor will forever belong to Joon Kim in the 9th grade, who he took to a fair and puked funnel cake on) and laughs.
"Hell, I didn't write it. It's as bullshit as spiders inventing the sun. Just stories. We got anything that takes nine-volts?"
They don't, and that's all Glenn says because Daryl and dates don't very likely mix.
There's one last thing, a request from Andrea, that ends them up in the feminine hygiene section. There's a baffling array of light to heavy flow, scented or unscented, sporty or pearls or regular, cardboard or plastic or nothing. Glenn's had to do this exactly once in his life and he had a specific brand name and description right down to the color of the box. Andrea just said anything, she didn't care, and gone blush-inducing TMI about being sick of bleeding on washcloths.
Daryl's looking at something else when Glenn has to ask, "Uh, do you know anything about tampons?"
Daryl whips around like he's ready to shoot something and he says he knows jack shit, but Glenn sees what he's been looking at: a long shelf of condoms and lube behind locked plexiglass, and it's suddenly a staring contest, Daryl looking hunted and clenching his jaw.
"Whatever you want," Glenn says. He knows there aren't any walkers to be summoned by sound, but he keeps his voice low anyway.
The lock gives in easily to Daryl's knife and he avoids Glenn's eyes as he pockets a tube of K-Y. Andrea gets stuck with Glenn's ex's specifications (Meghan, with stringy dirty-blonde hair down to her ass, who cussed like a sailor and loved medieval weapons-- she would have liked Daryl) because he can't really think very well after what that implies. They clean the pharmacy out of what little is left of the antibiotics-- Glenn used to get sinus infections so he knows all of them, and history dictates you can never have too many. What used to be an annoying trip to the urgent care clinic is now life and death.
When they pass by the dumpster again on the way out, there's more sounds coming from it. Daryl's already aiming at it when a blackened and oozing skeletal hand clamps up onto the rim, whatever it's attached to maybe going that way for weeks like a slug. Daryl marches up to it, fires his crossbow, and the hand slides back down, limp and wet. He doesn't move to get the bolt back. "Let's get the hell outta here."
It is out of necessity now that Glenn holds tight to Daryl while they ride back; the heartbeat under his palm is the only sure thing.
They've dragged couches out into the parking lot and covered them in tarps to guard against the mold, and the news is that there's a gas stove in the darkest reaches off the back of the game room that they've managed to get working. Carol's as animated as Glenn's ever seen her, asking about what food they've gotten and taking cans of chili and green beans and a box of Jiffy mix like they've brought back diamonds. Dale's over the moon at his stupid socks and Lori's eating pickles straight out of the jar. Glenn wouldn't notice Daryl slipping T-Dog a pack of cigarettes except that he'd felt it in Daryl's pocket and wondered who it was for. Andrea's apparently found the rest of the beer and it's sitting in a tub with the misshapen clumps of ice that have melted and re-frozen in the RV fridge. They've stopped running for a minute, so it's a party.
Glenn's new crossbow doesn't go unnoticed. "You need a role model, I can think of better ones," Shane tells him. At least he waits till Glenn's by himself rigging up the beach umbrellas.
"What, like you?" It comes out nastier than Glenn really means it to. He's never felt too chummy towards Shane, and it went extremely downhill at the farm.
"I wasn't saying who, I was just sayin'. But hey, least I'm not some cranked-out ear-collectin--"
"You got something you need to say to my face?" Glenn's been trying to ignore Shane, bent over staking an umbrella into the ground, so he doesn't hear Daryl come up till he's right there. He doesn't look as pissed as he maybe could, at least.
"Not a thing." Shane walks off.
"Speaking of people with bugs up their asses," Glenn says, hoping to keep up the decent mood he's still in.
Daryl snorts. "Fuck 'im."
"No thanks." And oh. Wrong joke. Daryl's staring at him. "Uh--"
"See that you don't."
Daryl leaves him wondering just what the hell that meant. He's never had any designs on doing anything to Shane's ass other than sometimes wanting to give it a good swift kick, so it's not really something that needed saying. The only interpretation he can come up with is that Daryl's just told him they're what, exclusive? It's hilarious but also not.
When it comes time to sit down and eat, Daryl takes the space Glenn's half-hopefully left next to him, even though there are still plenty of other places to sit. Carol hesitates in front of the couch when she hands them the pan of just-add-water cornbread to pass around and Daryl moves over even closer to make room for her.
"You make all this?" Daryl asks her and doesn't stop his leg from pressing against Glenn's. They've already passed around several dishes, chili and green beans and fried mushrooms and it looks like there's some kind of cake for later.
"It was a team effort," Carol says. "You've got Theo to thank for the cornbread and Carl made the green beans." She smiles when Daryl mumbles a compliment on the chili.
"I'm not admitting to making the brownies till everyone wakes up tomorrow with their stomachs still working," Andrea says. "They don't look right."
Glenn sits back and listens to the finer points of using applesauce as an egg subsitute (and the brownies definitely don't look right and aren't even exactly brownies so much as chocolate flavored goo, but they taste pretty damn good) and about how T-Dog's grandmother used to always used to mix sweet corn into her cornbread, and a story Dale tells about eating 'special' brownies in the sixties that has Andrea wiping tears from her eyes and Lori trying in vain to cover Carl's ears.
The night's cooling off and he's truly full for the first time in weeks, and Daryl's warm next to him and laughing along with everyone else and this is one of those rare times when the end of the world really isn't so bad.
Which means that of course something has to come along and spoil it with a reality check. It's luckily not a really harsh one, just Rick announcing that they need to discuss sleeping arrangements.
"There's five rooms suitable for sleeping in, including the one Glenn and Daryl used last night. Now I know those beds are looking pretty good to everybody, but I think we're all agreed there ought to be a watch. Goes without saying Lori and Carl and I'll take one room, and I think Carol and Andrea in another makes the most sense, but that leaves an odd number, so I think the fairest thing is whoever takes watch other than me can swap out the single if they want to."
"What, I'm not taking a watch?" Andrea says.
"You're welcome to, Andrea, and that's why we're talking about this. You can either room with Carol when you're done or trade the single room with somebody else."
Daryl's leaning forward and opening his mouth to speak and Glenn doesn't know what to expect, but it's, "I'm fine where I'm at," for the second time today. "No point movin' all my shit now and Korea don't snore too bad. I'll take first watch." Glenn's about to volunteer for second, since that'll give them half the night if there's anything they need half the night for (it's optimistic logic), but the heel of Daryl's boot mashes down on his toes. "You oughta rest, with your back and all."
Nobody really cares about the single room but Shane. Rick's second, followed by Andrea then Shane, and whoever's most awake of T-Dog and Dale will take it through till dawn.
Glenn finds tasks to do until everyone else is behind closed doors and boarded-up windows and can't see him climb up on top of the RV next to Daryl. "You know, for all you know I could snore like a chainsaw," he says by way of greeting. "Unless you're sleeping in the bathroom again."
"Wasn't planning on it."
There's a moth flying around near the citronella candle that's the only light up here, and when the cicadas go quiet like every conversation does every twenty minutes or so, there's no sound but its wings flapping. Then the bugs start up again and the frogs do too and Glenn realizes he's been dozing off.
"And I wasn't talking out my ass when I said you should rest."
"This is a very comfortable lawn chair. I'm resting."
They don't really talk, but not in a weird way. Daryl lets the hand that's not ready to fire hang down over the arm of his chair long enough that it looks like an invitation, so Glenn takes it. Daryl looks farther off the other way instead of at him when he does. He's running his thumb over a callus and wondering what it's from when the scenery gets interesting. Andrea slips out one door and, after a knock that echoes through the lot, inside another. She doesn't look their way at all. "Isn't that Shane's room?"
"You blind or what? They been screwing for weeks."
"Shit. Nobody told me."
"Maybe nobody else noticed, or they think it's none of their business."
"I'd be really surprised if Dale fell under either category." Maybe none-of-their-business is what Daryl's banking on if anybody notices anything about them. If there's anything to notice. "I have this theory that his eyebrows have some kind of built-in radar."
That makes Daryl laugh, long and deep, and Glenn likes it so much that he goes for more with a robot-eyebrows impression that gets Daryl coughing from trying not to laugh too loud, and that just makes Glenn want to kiss him, so he takes a chance and does it. Daryl's still laughing at first, shuddering air into Glenn's mouth, but then it goes quiet and soft and Daryl drops the hand holding Glenn's in favor of wrapping it around the back of his head, drawing fingertip circles on his scalp, and when they finally part, Daryl's looking at him like he's some undiscovered species and running short ragged fingernails over his jaw. "Get your ass inside before I miss something coming along and get us all killed."
Coming from Daryl, that's a ringing endorsement, and also not a request to be ignored. He finds a stack of folded sheets at the foot of the bed, probably Carol's doing because no one else would bother. It's the blue flowered set that's been worn so soft it feels like an old t-shirt. Glenn's never known where they came from other than they just appeared in the bedding rotation one week or another. He doesn't have a camp bed in his tent but a fresh set of sheets always appears just inside after every laundry day anyway, and at some point somebody (again probably Carol) noticed these are the only ones he actually uses, and since then it's always been the same set. His sleeping bag is sitting rolled up in one corner with the rest of his stuff, and Daryl's is across the room with another pile. Glenn leaves them both where they are. It's a cool night outside but in here it's still stuffy enough that even just a top sheet might be too much. The sheets don't quite fit the bed but he struggles them on as best he can and collapses.
He's woken up by something, either by chance or the squeaky door of the next room and voices outside. It's probably good to know now rather than later that the walls are paper thin.
"Nah, not much goin' on out there," Daryl's saying. "Biggest thing I seen's been a moth."
"We can thank our lucky stars for that," says Rick.
"As always. And hey, Daryl? I want you to know-- and I know what Shane said to you back at the farm but I'd like to think that was under stress in the heat of the moment-- but as far as I'm concerned and I think as far as anyone else is concerned, you're doing your part and then some and we're all grateful. I just thought I should make sure you know that."
Daryl doesn't say anything. He might be nodding his head or he might be looking away and shrugging it off. Rick says goodnight and there are footsteps down the stairs. Glenn feels strangely proud.
He also really needs to pee, but when his brain gets that signal Daryl's already coming through the door, guarding the flame of one of their million and twelve overly-scented air freshener candles with the palm of his hand until he puts it down on the dresser. "What you doing still awake?"
"Awake again. I heard--" maybe it's a bad idea to mention exactly what he heard, since it wasn't meant for him. "I thought I heard something. But mostly I need to use the bathroom."
Daryl smirks and hands him the candle, which Glenn nearly drops when he gets to the bathroom, because on top of the toilet tank where he was about to set the candle, there's that fucking squirrel staring back at him. Daryl's right behind him, laughing his ass off. "Your fuckin' face."
"Better get used to it. That's your new best friend right there. Everywhere you go from now on, there he'll be. Might as well give him a name. How 'bout Fluffy?"
Glenn laughs and leans back as Daryl's arms lock around his waist. "I hate you so, so much."
"Shhh." A warm rush of air against his ear. "You'll hurt Fluffy's feelings."
"I thought it was my new best friend."
"You think I trust your ass to take care of him on your own?"
"You know, some people just say it with flowers."
So this is his life now. Dead people walking around, certain doom at any moment, a confused and confusing redneck for a whatever-terminology-defying-thing-they-
(And it'll get worse. Next week Dale will have a heart attack and they will find out what Rick already knew and kept quiet about since Jenner whispered it in his ear, that everybody gets back up, hungry and empty and gone, bite or no bite, unless they take a strong blow to the brain. Glenn will whisper into the dark that if anything happens to him, he wants Daryl to be the one to shoot him, and he'll find his shoulder just a tiny bit wet when Daryl raises his head and agrees. In three weeks Shane will shoot Daryl in the leg and nobody will be sure whether or not it's an accident. He'll be a terrible patient and say cruel things and Glenn will forgive him. In three and a half Daryl will accept the forgiveness. In four they'll find Fort Benning a rotting burnt-out shell.
(In five Daryl will tear off into the woods after another lost child, this one belonging to a stranger, and in six he still won't be back. Glenn will grieve and he will tell everyone why, to some faces that won't look as surprised as others, and in six and two days Daryl will come back defeated and filthy and carrying a small limp body with half its leg gnawed off and be too exhausted to do anything but leave Michael to his hysterical grandmother and collapse and let Glenn hold him in front of everybody. In eight, after days and days barely speaking or moving, Daryl will act like himself again. And every camp they break, every next windmill they chase looking for somewhere to do something besides merely survive, the stupid ugly horrible squirrel will be carefully wrapped up and packed away to come along.)
Glenn doesn't know any of this now, of course. He just knows that sometimes the even the end of the world isn't so terrible, if you can get through it, and that Daryl's going to sleep next to him tonight even if he has to demand it at gunpoint. You have to find half-full wherever you can. He'll find an enormous orange daylily staring him down from the bedside table in the morning, and he'll laugh when the hidden bee it came with stings Daryl's bare ass, and they'll all go on as long as they can.
(It'll be thirty-two weeks and four and a half days before Glenn learns the story behind the tenth-grade poetry contest.)
PS, the squirrel and motel are real and in Georgia. So extra special thanks to them too.
See part 1 for header info.