Daryl sat on the steps of the cabin, absently picking pieces of bone fragment out of his face. He kept thinking that he'd gotten it all out but then he'd find another. Without a mirror he'd never get all of it and there wasn't one at the cabin. He looked out along the dirt track that lead winding through the trees to the highway. They should have been there by now, Daryl worried.
Rick and Daryl had listened with bated breath to the radio willing someone to come on and tell them what was happening. Eventually Maggie's voice had come on and they'd both released breaths they hadn't known they were holding. She'd told them they were all out and on their way. Daryl had finally told her what had happened and then had made her get the map out of the glove box and directed her to them. That had been a while ago and Daryl had been sat on the steps looking for them since.
Night had gone and they were into a cloudy dawn before Daryl finally saw his truck come through the trees. He leapt to his feet and tucked inside the cabin.
"They're here," he told Rick who was laid on the single bed. Daryl had found a first aid kit and had cleaned and dressed his wound before placing the arm in a sling and wrapping him in blankets and sleeping bags.
"You did good Daryl." Rick smiled, exhausted from blood loss.
Daryl ran back out to hail the truck down. They pulled up and Carol leapt out of the driving seat, quickly followed by Maggie and Hershel.
"Oh my God!" Carol gasped at the sight of Daryl who still hadn't been able to wash his face. "You okay?"
"I'm fine, where are the others?"
"Glenn and T-Dog are taking them off the highway like you suggested," Maggie said.
"Good, Rick is inside."
Hershel and Maggie rushed past him and headed indoors. Daryl followed them up and leaned against the doorjamb to watch them work. Hershel and Maggie were sat with Rick on the bed, who had sat up and shuffled up against the wall.
Daryl watched Hershel long enough to satisfy himself that Rick was going to be alright before heading back outside and grabbing a shovel. He grabbed it and headed out to the back of the cabin where he started digging a hole. He was aware that Carol had sat on the step watching him as he worked but neither said anything.
It took him an hour to dig the hole. About the same time as it took Hershel to do what he had to do. Eventually Rick came out and watched Daryl work.
"I thought we burned the dead," Rick said quietly, throwing back Daryl's words from ages ago.
Daryl just turned and looked at him and the look was heartbreaking. Shaking it away he turned back to his task. Daryl crouched by the girl and placed his arms under her shoulders and under her knees and picked her up. He heard a noise and realised that all the others were watching him now.
She was so light, like she'd been starved, just skin and bones. As he got closer to her he saw things he hadn't noticed before. The bite mark on her neck wasn't the only mark, she had teeth marks on her hand and he saw another on her stomach as her tee shirt lifted. It made him sick. She still had an IV port in her hand and Daryl wondered just what they'd been giving her.
He placed her into the grave and stepped out and stood on the edge. Rick came up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder.
"They did this to her," Daryl said gruffly in a quiet voice. "They tortured her, had her bitten just to check she could heal…" There was a lump in his throat. Rick squeezed his shoulder but didn't let go. "She'd escaped, she got away… and I lead them straight to her."
"You cannot blame yourself for this," Rick said firmly and quietly. "You did what you had to do, you thought you were saving the world."
"You couldn't have known." Rick kept his hand on Daryl's shoulder. Rick's voice wavered, his eyes were welling up at the dead girl with no face left and the broken man who was burying her. They stood together in silence a moment before Rick's hand drifted away and he turned to go. Hershel came forward to support him walking back to the car, followed by Maggie and Carol.
Daryl took a deep breath and picked up his shovel, filling in the hole. When he was done he took a deep breath and joined the others, climbing into the back of the flatbed. As they drove away he looked back and wondered if the fate of the world was to end in an unmarked grave. Perhaps the best that could be hoped for was that when the time came there'd be somebody left to bury you. As they got back towards the highway the other vehicles came out of hiding. The young Korean wound the window down with a relieved smile on his face, and greeted him warmly. Carl and Lori were in the back and they paused long enough for Rick to gingerly climb out of the truck and into the back of the car with his family. As he did, Rick turned to Daryl and gave him a wan smile and mouthed a 'thank you'. Daryl gave him a curt nod, feeling for perhaps the first time, that when his end came, he wouldn't be alone.
Authors Note: Well that's it, all done. I just want to thank you all for reading and for my few but faithful reviewers, it's always good to know that your work is appreciated. Also, huge thank you to The Childlike Alchemist for proofreading this and for drawing my cute little cartoon Daryls.
Until next time,
Dancing In The Dark