This is my take on what happened at the end of Season 4, so I suppose this is AU. Things get dark here, you guys, if you didn't read the tags, then take note now: I don't go in to detail, but there is reference to rape, torture, and I break bones, slit throats, shoot's not a pretty place, okay? And if you're looking to see Beth and Daryl hook up, it ain't gonna happen here. Is there a HEA in store? Let's find out.

All recognizable elements herein are the property of their respective owners. The remaining content is mine.

"My girl, my girl, don't lie to me; tell me where did you sleep last night?

"In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don't ever shine, I would shiver the whole night through."

I don't know what day it is. I don't know how long I've been out here. Things got bad when I was taken from Daryl. I didn't stay in Georgia, not my choice, of course. The people who took me, two men, one woman, all dead now, turned the car they threw me in to the north, and now I'm somewhere where the mountains cut the sky and reach up forever. I'd never seen the mountains before now.

I don't know why they took me. They never said. I'd like to think it was for more than sport, or thrill, or bloodlust, but I've got scars deeper than riverbeds, and not all of them are visible. It's sobering to realize what you're capable of when you know your next breath might be your last. I still see red, especially at night, when the winds die down and I've got nothing but the sound of my breath telling me that I'm the one who lived.

I don't cry anymore. I haven't since that summer before Zach died. It's not hard to do; you don't forget, you just don't linger on the why too long. Thoughts of Maggie are faded; my daddy's smile is almost gone from my memory, and I can't quite remember what Judith sounded like when she laughed.

But I remember Daryl. I remember everything he ever taught me, directly, or otherwise. I watched him a lot in those last days because I knew that he was a survivor. At the time, I didn't want to think about the idea of losing him, of being without him – I wouldn't have survived those days after we lost the prison if I hadn't been with him. They took the knife he'd given me on the second day, and I'd made sure to get it back and show them all the things I remembered.

I told myself, when I was curled in the backseat of that car, crouched on the floor, held there by booted foot and loaded gun, that this was a test. The only way I would survive was to put away everything that had ever meant anything to me, to shelve it, contain the delicate emotions and only let those lose that would help me. Fear didn't come in handy. But anger did. Hope was something I'd seen in Daryl's eyes our last morning together, and I'd never seen it more clearly, not even when Rick held Judith in the fading daylight when she'd been first born. But hope seemed very far away, like it was fading just as fast as faces, and one night, kept under watch in some cabin, I had a terrible thought: my hope was fading, and along with it, so was Daryl's.

I never wanted to see anger, or fear, or loneliness, or anything else ugly, ever settle inside of Daryl again. My fingers flexed, crooked, mending bones aching in the damp cold that had sunk around the shelter I had come to loathe. My hands remembered Daryl's, and the way he'd held on as we walked on graves. He didn't cling with desperation, but rather expectation. He didn't expect me to ever let go. I needed to let him know that I hadn't, not yet, but I was slipping. I wasn't too far gone that I didn't notice.

This story would have never, ever, ever gotten off the ground without the epic support of incog_ninja, who through her patience and infinite wisdom, and never ending flailing, steered me in the right direction, gave me guidance when I needed it, read, and re-read all of my revisions, and both laughed and cried when it was appropriate. *twirly heart*

The name of this story, and the opening quote, are from a song entitled "In the Pines," a folk song that dates back to the 1870's. It was made most popular by Nirvana on their unplugged album, and there it was called "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" Suffice to say, it's on my soundtrack. When I've got the complete listing, I'll post a link to it here.