A clearing in the woods. Green, birds singing, like a poem or some shit. Daryl made it no further, dropping to his knees. So tired. Couldn't remember the last time he'd slept. Last night they'd made it out of Atlanta. Night before, he'd been on watch outside the hospital, had been too nervous to think let alone sleep. Night before that, he'd driven back to the church. Night before that, he'd watched her sleep, watched her face until it'd looked calm again, waited till he was sure she was out before he'd gone to take care of them two down the hall. And night before that, he'd seen she wasn't around, known where she'd gone, caught her in the fucking act.
Had it been that long? Was that right? Didn't seem right. Had to have caught a wink or two in there somewhere. But Daryl couldn't remember it.
They'd split up, looking for a place to nest for a day or two at least. Lick their wounds. Bury their girl. Some of 'em were casing a pretty white picket fence neighborhood they seen from the road. Prob'ly picked over all to shit but maybe they'd find a house with doors could be locked and blocked, a house with beds that hadn't been molded over or died in. And food, of course. Back to always lookin' for food. And some were tryin' to find medical supplies. The neighborhood wasn't far from the town's main street, and though 'bout half the shops was boarded up, prob'ly they could find a drugstore. If there was anything left in it, of course.
Daryl didn't know who was in what group, didn't particularly give a good goddamn. He knew that Carol was with the ones staying with the trucks on the road, with the dipshit fucking liar they were having to watch like a baby. And with Beth's body. Had her wrapped up, in a sheet or something. Seemed like a lie to Daryl. Shoulda left her where they could see her face. See the hole in the top of her head. See her and know that they'd fuckin' failed her. They'd stood there and watched and let it happen.
Tired. So fucking tired. He could stretch out right here on this bit of mud and grass and rocks, fuck trying to find some squirrels or rabbits. Could sleep for days. But he didn't want to. That felt like failure, too.
He stayed there long enough, just stayed on his knees, that eventually the squirrels and rabbits forgot he was there, started runnin' all over the place. Could have killed a dozen. But Daryl didn't move. One just about run over his toes, he didn't move. Didn't see the point. Why should they eat when Beth wouldn't eat ever again? Wasn't fair. That's what he kept thinkin', like he was six years old, ass stinging after a fresh switchin', his mom telling him he couldn't have supper because he'd been a bad boy, all the while she was swilling 'em down like they weren't gonna make wine no more. It's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair.
Rustlin' in the woods to his left. Something big. Maybe a buck. But he was too tired to turn his head to look. Coming closer. Coming straight for him. Grumblin' and growlin'. One of them. Moving slow as shit, probably one of 'em with busted legs or half its spine missing. He could pick his bow up off the ground, turn and shoot, he could stand and pull his knife, but he decided he didn't feel like either. Let the fucker come to him. He'd take care of it then.
It was probably five feet away or so when Daryl heard the pop of a rifle. One shot. Heard the thing fall to the ground, bunch of wet rotten meat hitting the ground with a smack. He glanced to his right. She was there, putting her rifle back over her shoulder. Daryl looked away, back to the mud and moss between his knees. He didn't want to look at her. Didn't want to see the bruises and scrapes on her face. Didn't want to see her eyes, lookin' like she was just a bad dream away from turning that rifle around and sticking the barrel in her mouth. Didn't want to see the way she kept her right arm wrapped up around her ribs, the way she was favorin' her left knee.
"They found a farm," she said. "It's not far."
Daryl realized the sun was setting, the green clearing now turning gray. A farm. What a fucking joke.
He wanted to yell at her. What the fuck was she doing, out looking for him? She had no business being up on her feet at all, let alone wandering in the woods. But he was too tired to yell. Maybe she wanted him to yell, though, 'cause she kept just standin' there, maybe twenty feet away, and he heard her lean up against a tree trunk. Why didn't she just go? He was goin' to follow.
He was pretty sure he was goin' to follow.
"Couldn't save her," he finally said. Voice sounded like he'd smoked five packs in a row. Daryl shuddered. Sounded like his father's voice. "Couldn't save Sophia." How old would Sophia be now? Thirteen? Fourteen? Not much younger than Beth. They'd'a been friends, most like. Braidin' each other's hair and talking about the music they remembered, giggling over what boys was left.
"You saved me," she said. She was gonna say somethin' else, but instead her breath just hitched. Wasn't true, anyway. If they'd kept their asses out of it, she'd'a woke up, got her bearings, and saved both of them her own self. Probably would'a blown the hospital up while she was at it, burned the fucker straight to the ground.
Daryl made himself get back to his feet. Feet were sore. Legs were sore. Everything was sore. Eyes felt like they were made out of goddamn sand. Swayed a little bit. Then he headed her way. Couldn't help but look at her once, her eyes looking back at him like he was a fucking puppy or something. Daryl didn't want that, didn't want a second of pity or worry, not from her. Not no more.
She limped back to the road, and he trudged along after.
Wasn't much of a farm. The Greene farmhouse had been a right pretty thing, big porch and wood floors and real furniture and all that shit. This farmhouse was a couple double-wides hitched together, some ramshackle sheds, a barn fallen in on itself and likely in such shape before the world went to hell. He thought maybe they'd had pigs here once, but the fences were down and there weren't nothin' left. Suited him just fine. Felt like home.
Dusk by the time they got there, too late for a burial. The fucking liar had woke up, blinking his fucking dumb eyes all around. The brown-haired girl, whatever her fucking name was, he didn't remember, she kept right on babying that liar, finding him a couch to lay on. Rick and Tyreese was taking first watch. The one good thing about a farm was open land all around. No starin' into black woods every time you heard a stick break.
Everyone else settled down pretty easy. Glen and Maggie in one room, the soldier and his Mexican blow-up doll in another, some of the others bedded down on the floor here and there. Daryl couldn't stop thinking of Beth in the back of the fire truck, Beth wrapped up in a sheet, Beth alone and cold and with no bed to lay in ever again.
Then he ended up in her room.
She was all by herself, laying in the middle of the bed, boots still on. Wiping her face and breathing funny. Not wanting him to see her crying. Which hurt for some fuckin' reason. Since when did she care whether he saw her crying or not?
"Need help getting the boots off?" he asked, staring at a picture on the wall. Crooked. Frame was busted in one corner. Some dime store print of Jesus. Daryl remembered the few times his mom had sobered up and dragged him to church, embarrassed of his shitty hand-me-down thrift store clothes and the bald spot on the side of his head where mom'd slipped with the scissors, sure everyone could see the switch marks on his back right straight through his shirt. There'd been an ugly-fuck painting of Jesus in that church, too. Daryl'd stared at him, even as a kid wonderin' who'd made up that load of bullshit.
Realized she hadn't answered him. Daryl snuck a look over at her, lookin' through his hair and maybe she wouldn't see. But of course she saw, she always did. Woman didn't seem to do nothing else.
"Are you going to lie down?" she asked.
Daryl wanted to as much as he didn't want to. He liked being close to her, liked being close enough to feel how warm she was, to hear her breathin', to smell her, even though they all smelled like fucking hobos. But he didn't want to talk, he didn't want to listen. And he was afraid, but he didn't even know afraid of what.
"Daryl." She scooted a little to one side, making a sound in her throat. Hurt herself. Daryl dropped his bow in the corner, toed off his shoes, slipped off his jacket. Unbuckled her boots and pulled 'em off, seeing a bruise on one shin. How many bruises did she have, all over? He sat on the edge of the bed, turned to look at her over his shoulder. The bruise where the seat belt'd gotten her was still ugly as shit, but turnin' green on the edges, which he was glad to see.
She put her hand on his back, slid it up and down once. That was all. Couldn't help the way he jerked a bit, he didn't mind her touchin' his arm or shoulder, but she'd never touched him on the back like that. Not where...
Daryl didn't want to fuckin' think about that, so he laid down next to her. Pillow under his head smelled like death, but oh well. He should'a laid down with his back to her, but he didn't. He could see her out of the corner of his eye. She was on her side, just lookin' at him. "Stop," he muttered.
"Lizzie killed Mika," she said, and there was that hitch in her breath again. "She wanted her to turn. So she could show us, so we could understand. I had to..."
Oh, fuck. He'd figured it was something, but not anything like that. He stuck out an arm, got it under her, she rolled over and then she was up against him, head on his shoulder. A breath he didn't know he'd been holdin' came out, and he was careful not to squeeze her ribs too tight. He didn't deserve this, he was a fuck-up, had always been a fuck-up, didn't deserve anything as nice as holding her like this.
"Don't lie to me," he said. "Don't lie and say you don't know. You were goin' to leave. Leave and never come back."
She didn't lie to him.
A dream of the prison. Fences a mile high and sturdy as steel, fields full of crops, pigs and cows and chickens. Laughter like bird song. He was tryin' to get to the offices, walked through cell block after cell block, but the halls just kept going, one after another after another. "Carol's in the offices," Rick'd told him, and he didn't know why he needed to find her, it was just a dream, but he started running, couldn't run fast enough. The lights went out, it was dark and cold, he could hear the fences comin' down. Hear the screams. And the halls just kept going, and he couldn't run fast enough.
Daryl woke up to a numb arm and her leg between his, her hand up under his shirt and warm on his stomach. The fucking relief of having her, he didn't need to run at all 'cause she was right here, was enough to make his breathin' all funny. Like when he'd seen her in the woods, thinking she was a ghost or something at first, running to her and grabbing her and not being able to consider ever letting her go, not ever.
Woke her up with that breathin', and he was afraid she'd roll over right away. But she didn't, stayed curled up right next to him. Finger drawing a circle on his stomach. Before Rick had thrown her out, before the Governor had shown back up like the goddamn crazy son of a bitch he was, Daryl would'a jumped out of his skin at having her touch him like this, having her in his arms like this. Now it just felt...normal.
"Hey," she said, and he brought his hand up to the back of her head. Hair soft under his fingers, they must'a washed it in the hospital. Her clothes were clean, too. He leaned his head up so he could sniff her, but not so's she'd know that he was.
"Had a bad dream," he told her, just for somethin' to say. "Lost you in the prison."
Her arm tightened around him, those fingers now scraping along his ribs. Suddenly he wanted to fuck her so badly he couldn't think of nothing else. Wasn't a matter of being hard ('cause he wasn't), was just a matter of needing her and wanting her and not knowing how to fucking be without her, and his dumb body not having any other way to think about those things than wanting to fuck.
"You won't lose me," she whispered into his neck. Daryl couldn't help the short laugh that escaped him. Felt bad about it right away. But she just somehow snuggled even closer, fingers writing some kinda goddamn code on his side. "I was going to leave," she admitted. "I wasn't even thinking of anything beyond getting to the car and going. I didn't know where. I just had to go."
"'Cause you didn't want to see us die," he said. She nodded, her hair tickling his chin. "If someone dies you never see 'em again. If you leave you never see 'em again. So what's the difference?"
She didn't answer for a long time, just kept writing on his ribs. The light comin' in through the dingy white curtain was faint enough that he knew the sun'd only just started rising. Usually he'd be itching to get outside, get out of the walls and into the fresh air. But now he wanted the sun to go straight back down. Wanted to just lay here like this. Wanted to cut through the bullshit and figure out what was giving her grief.
"It wasn't just that," she finally admitted.
He knew what it was. Lizzie and Mika, Karen and David. She'd got her hands bloody, and say what you want about the world making you change, and doin' what you gotta, for someone like her, pulling the trigger was no easy thing. Killing them sons of bitches at Terminus, sure, they fucking ate people, but Karen and David? They was just normal folks, living with 'em at the prison, just unlucky enough to catch the flu. And a little girl? A poor goddamn little girl? Daryl wasn't sure he'd'a been able to do something like that. Because he knew she'd done it, not Tyreese. She'd done it, and it was drowning her.
"I wish it could be just me and you," she said. "Me and you, like it was in Atlanta."
"It can be. If that's what you want." And Daryl meant it. If that was the price he had to pay to keep her, then he'd empty his pockets without a thought.
The bedroom door opened. The brown-haired girl was there, eyes all red.
"What is it, Tara?" Carol asked. Tara, that was her name. He'd probably remember it eventually. She sniffled, and wiped away a tear, and told 'em what it was.
Maggie'd waited till Glenn was asleep, snuck over to the closet, found a sheet, twisted and knotted it all up, and tried to hang herself. She hadn't got too far, still workin' out how to stick one end in the closet door so it wouldn't move, and apparently she and Glenn had screamed at each other for a bit after he'd woke up and seen what she was up to. Daryl wasn't sure how they'd slept through it, but they had. They'd both been sleeping like the dead.
Maggie was scowling on the couch when they made it out of their room, not looking at anyone. Glenn stood in the corner, staring, and Daryl wondered if his own face ever looked like that, lookin' at Carol.
Breakfast was three spoons of beans and two spoons of tuna, from a couple cans of each Michonne'd found in the back of a dusty pantry otherwise picked clean. Hadn't spoiled, wasn't burnt on one side and raw on the other, wasn't some kinda weed, so it tasted pretty damn good to Daryl. Maggie wouldn't eat, started cryin', and Glenn started cryin', and Tara started cryin', and Daryl was pretty sure he was gonna go crazy.
Rick'd already dug the hole. Picked a pretty spot, on top of a little grass-covered hill, away from the trees and the muddy little creek windin' its way through the fields. Carol went through the farmhouse, found a lace tablecloth wasn't too stained, couldn't find needle and thread but found a stapler. Wrapped Beth up in it, stapled it closed where the staples couldn't be seen. Somethin' nicer than an old sheet anyway.
Daryl was gonna carry her to the grave, but as he stood there lookin' at her, suddenly he couldn't do it. When he'd carried her out of the hospital, she'd been warm and limp, but he knew she'd be cold now. Couldn't do it. Tyreese picked her up, and Daryl followed him, afraid he was gonna start cryin' again himself, and he was goddamn sick of cryin'.
They put her in the hole. Some of 'em said words. Daryl didn't hear any of them. He was watching Carol, her arm around Maggie. Keeping her standing. Realized (and he didn't know how he was just realizin' it now) that Maggie was the only one of her family left. Lost both parents, all her siblings, lost everyone. Carol'd lost her husband – no great loss – and her girl. Rick, his wife. Merle. And probably all the others, they'd lost people, too.
So what was the point of sayin' words? The same words, over and over and over again. Sometimes Daryl wondered what was the point of diggin' holes, even. The world wasn't nothin' but corpses these days. What was one more?
At last the words was finished, everyone headin' back to the farmhouse in twos and threes. Now Carol and Glenn had their arms around Maggie, practically carryin' her. Finally it was just him and Rick. "I'll do it," Daryl said, finding the shovel next to the pile of dirt.
Daryl didn't answer, just got a shovelful of dirt. Rick waited a second, and Daryl was gonna throw the dirt in his face, but he turned and went back himself. Daryl held the shovel over the hole. White lace down there, that's all it was. Wasn't gonna think of Beth, not at all. Just white lace and nothin' else.
He covered it up.
There was a well and pump out back. The soldier hauled around a big aluminum trough, the blow-up doll and Tara scrubbed it out, and Carol and Sasha pumped up buckets of water. "Everybody gets baths," Carol announced, making it sound like an order. And it may as well have been.
Michonne and Carl headed back to the neighborhood, huntin' for new clothes. Daryl got his bath in the afternoon, water warmin' up pretty well in the trough, vanilla body wash and grapefruit shampoo his only choices. "Fuck," he muttered, sniffing the goop in his hand. But his hair was disgusting, even for him, and a wet washrag whore's bath only went so far. By the time he was done, Michonne and Carl was back, the boy bringing him a folded pile of clothes. Eyes pointed at the ground. Like he never seen a cock before.
Clean jeans, just a bit too big. Gray t-shirt, dark blue button-up. Three whole fuckin' pairs of socks. Carol'd taken his vest, said she was gonna wash it, maybe patch it up here and there where it was startin' to fray.
"Don't you fuck it up," he growled at her. Corners of her mouth twitched. Almost as good as a smile.
Tara came at him with a pair of scissors, threatenin' to cut his hair. "Get away."
"But it's in your eyes!"
"Get on! Didn't ask for no hairdresser!"
In the end, he let her. Was easier than fightin'.
They spent three more nights there. Ended up being a root cellar out back, prob'ly a storm shelter once upon a time. Doors in bad shape but enough to keep critters out. Grass'd grown all over 'em, Carl only found 'em 'cause he was out walking "on patrol." Mostly jams and vegetables down there, but Daryl did end up getting a couple turkeys, so they didn't eat half bad.
Spent those three nights with Carol. He didn't say nothing about it, she didn't say nothing back. Thought about kissin' her, thought about doin' other things, 'specially since they was both clean. But didn't do anything other than think. Seemed like enough just to hold her, talk about nothin' much while the house settled down.
He'd be doing somethin' like digging through the sheds and barn for tools, fiddlin' with a cheap broke-down moped, more to see if the engine was worth salvaging than anythin' else, or checking some traps he'd set out in the woods 'round the farm, and then he'd see it. See the back of Beth's head popping like she'd had an M80 stuck up in there. See the blood and brains flyin'. See the way she jerked back, head tippin' almost so's he could see her face. See her fall. Alive one second, dead and gone only a second later. And he'd drop the wrench, or cut his finger, or walk straight into a tree.
So he was in a more sour mood than usual the last night there, though they didn't know it was the last night at the time. Everyone in the main room, eatin' corn and turkey hash and spoonfuls of blackberry preserves. He jammed himself into the corner, sitting on an apple crate. Missing the hair over his eyes. Not payin' a lick of attention to what anyone was sayin'.
"What?" Rick said sharply, and Daryl looked up. Everyone was staring, but Daryl couldn't see what they was staring at.
"Da-bla," Judith said.
A funny sound from a couple of 'em, almost like they was scared or something. But Rick laughed. Fucking laughed. Then Judith laughed, maybe the prettiest goddamn sound Daryl'd ever heard.
"Da-bla-da!" she shrieked, and then they was all just about laughin', and she just kept saying it over and over, laughin' that big beautiful belly laugh of hers.
Carol got up, real quiet, and walked out of the room.
Shit. Shit shit shit. Daryl got up himself, seein' Rick pick his baby girl up, her still a'laughin', Carl grinning like a damn fool. Went after her. Thought she'd gone back to her (their) room, but she was just in the hallway, her back to him. Could see she had her arm around her ribs. Sorta wanted grab her and throw her down somewhere and just climb on top of her, somehow that seemed the best thing to do. But he just walked up to her, hand on her arm real gentle.
She was crying a little, but nothin' too bad. Daryl wanted to wipe one of them tears off her cheek. Stuck his hands in his pockets instead.
"You'd think at some point I wouldn't miss her so much," she said. Daryl shook his head, didn't know what to say. She reached out, smoothed down his shirt a little. He decided he needed to hug her, took his hand outta his pocket too quick, managed to smack her right in the stomach. She stared up at him. All big blue eyes. And she smiled. A real smile. Couldn't remember the last time he'd seen a real smile.
He grabbed her, hauled her in tight. Was gettin' used to this huggin' thing. She made a noise in her throat, just sank into him. Then she put her lips against his jaw. Was that a kiss? He figured it was close enough.
They hugged a little while longer, then went back into the main room. Maggie had Judith up on her lap, Judith was swingin' her fists and saying "Mag-blag-blag," and Maggie was cryin' and laughin' all at the same time.
In the morning, she said it was time for them to get moving. So they packed their shit and back on the road they went.