I wasn't planning on posting for this story quite yet but since I wrapped up Black Moon Blues, I guess there is no reason not to. Hope you all enjoy and thank you for reading =)
The road was long and paved in blood, tears, and the occasional corpse. Scattered like refuse on the shoulder of that road were broken pieces of hope, shards of glass, dreams of escape long dead. The sky was gray. The mood was gray. Life as a whole? Gray. The only sounds were the quiet crippling sounds of mourning and the wet slap of boots hitting pavement. On occasion, someone shifted their weapon, the metallic noise felt intrusive to the otherwise rhythmic cacophony of a silent group weighed down by the shock of what had happened.
Daryl didn't feel much of anything. Just a cold numbness that seemed to have seeped into his bones. There was no reason to pay attention to where they were going or how long they had been walking. There wasn't anywhere to go. He did manage to keep his eye out for walkers and to make sure none of their group strayed away. Glenn and Maggie were bringing up the rear and Daryl didn't envy the other man. Maggie had been certain she was going to be leaving that hospital with her sister. In all reality, she did, but she hadn't been counting on leaving with a body to bury. He wasn't sure if Maggie was going to be okay after this. He wasn't sure if any of them were going to be okay. Not anymore.
He thought of his own brother. He thought of the hole that the loss of Merle had left him with. He thought about Andrea and her sister. He thought about Lori and T-dog. Mostly his mind drifted to Sophia. He had let it happen all over again. Another girl lost because he couldn't save her. Why did he keep trying? This time was different than the other times though. This time they had been so close to getting her back. She was right there, unlike Sophia, who had already been gone for a while when they discovered her. Not like Merle. Not even like Andrea, who had ended it herself because of a bite. Beth was very much alive and only a few feet away from safety and then she was just... gone. This time was different because they had all thought she would be walking out with the rest of them.
He glanced back, making sure Maggie and Glenn weren't too far behind. He noticed that Tara and Rosita stayed close to them. Maggie was leaning heavily on Glenn, an occasional sob reaching his ears. He tried to tune it out. He tried to force his own tears to stop flowing. What good did crying do anymore? He faced forward once more, not wanting to look at Maggie, knowing he had failed her. Tyreese was in front of him, supporting most of Carol's weight. She was in bad shape but she was alive and that's what mattered. If he had lost her too then he was pretty sure that he wouldn't have left that hospital alive. Her words came back to him, floating through his mind and causing him to stumble. He had told her that they weren't ashes. And he had lied.
Thunder in the distance promised more misery was on its way. They weren't too far from another road and he could only hope that there was shelter there. The Gods must have seen it fit to give them a small break because they came upon a driveway before the road had even came into view. The house looked small but sturdy and the windows were still boarded and intact so that was a plus.
They methodically did a sweep of the house and the barn, no one saying a word. It was almost like the early days, before they had really gotten used to this world. Back before the prison. There was never much time for conversation. There was only time to run and rest when you could. He hadn't missed that and he wasn't looking forward to living like that again. Especially with Judith to worry about.
He found a small room on the second floor and he put his back to the wall, sliding down until he was sitting on his ass on the carpet. He needed to pull himself together. He needed to get with Rick and hash out plans for their next move. There were a lot of things that he could have done but he didn't make a move to do any of them. He simply sat there and tried to sort his thoughts. Losing someone was never easy. Losing someone that had never even had the chance to really live was even harder. There was something about someone so young not making it that left him feeling almost lost. Carl, Judith, Beth, they were a symbol of hope for the group. For the future.
He looked up at the sounds of footsteps coming towards the open doorway. Rick stepped into the room. His face was haggard, pained. "Abe and Rosita are taking watch so we can get some rest. We found some canned goods in the basement."
Daryl nodded but didn't make a move to get up. Rick walked away without another word, knowing that there was nothing else to be said. He had sat for so long that his body ached. There were no sounds to be heard other than the pattering of rain on the windows and the occasional clap of thunder. If any walkers had picked up their scent earlier they would have lost it by now. They were relatively safe for the moment. He didn't let this thought comfort him. There was no point. They were safe for the next day or so but they would be in danger again soon enough. It was inevitable. That's what their life was now. Small reprieves from the nightmares that were waiting behind every corner.
He stood up after a few more minutes, groaning as he tried to stretch the kinks out of his back. It was no use. He was getting too damn old for this. The hallway was dim but there was a soft light coming from the crack in the bottom of the door at the end of the hall. He followed the light and stopped outside of the door. He heard voices talking low. He was about to move on until he realized one of the voices was Carol. He hadn't even checked up on her. The other voice, he now knew, was Rick's. When he opened the door he saw that the room was lit by a few candles on a nightstand and the smell of something sweet assaulted his nose. It smelled like vanilla and cinnamon and seemed very out of place.
Rick was there on the bed, his body turned so it was facing hers. She was in his arms, her forehead resting on his shoulder as his hands moved up and down her back. The scene before him was so intimate that he almost stepped back out of the room. Almost, because when he commanded his legs to move, they wouldn't obey.
Rick turned his head, his lips grazing Carol's temple. "We'll get through this, just like we've gotten through everything else." He said, his voice soothing and low.
Daryl envied him then. Envied him more than he had ever envied anyone in his whole life. Why couldn't he have been the one to comfort her? Why did he have to close himself off like he did? He wasn't even able to offer Maggie any words when he had brought her her sister's body.
Carol tightened her hold around Rick's neck. "Will we? When will we get to stop getting through things, Rick?"
Rick closed his eyes. "I don't know, but you're here now. What happened today was bad but it could have been a lot worse. We could have lost you both."
Daryl watched as Carol pulled back, her face streaked with tears and her eyes filled with anguish. "Beth never hurt anyone. If either of us should have left with the rest of you today, it should have been her. I'm tired. I'm tired of the pain and I'm tired of the running. I don' have anything left to give, but she did."
The words cut Daryl like a knife. What was she talking about? She was the strongest person he knew but from the sounds of it, she was one step away from giving up. Rick pulled back slightly and cupped her cheek in one hand, their faces were only inches apart and for one terrifying moment, Daryl was certain that Rick was going to kiss her.
"Everything alright?" Daryl asked suddenly. He didn't know why he felt the need to interrupt the moment. He just knew he had too. He couldn't stand there and watch Rick kiss Carol.
Rick dropped his hand and looked up sharply. He seemed a little dazed but he cleared his throat and nodded. "Yeah, we're fine. Or we will be."
The use of the word "we" sent a stab of anger up Daryl's spine that had him more confused than ever. It was like Rick was speaking like him and Carol were already some kind of unit. They weren't a unit. They would never be a unit. Would they? And what business of it of his if they were? "I'll be downstairs then, if she needs anything." What was that tone he just used? A tone that had Carol and Rick both looking up at him questioningly.
Rick met his eyes and he studied Daryl for a few long seconds and then the look turned knowing. Something must have occurred to him then and he shook his head. "No, I need to go check on Carl and Judith. Michonne has been on baby duty long enough. You two have been through a lot. Stay with her." He stood up quickly, glancing down at Carol with a look akin to longing in his eyes. Daryl tensed without knowing why.
Rick clapped a hand on his shoulder, meeting his eyes again and then the barest hint of a smile graced his lips. Daryl wasn't sure if he should stay in the room with her. His head wasn't cooperating with him and his emotions were everywhere. He didn't cope well in situations like this. He flinched as a memory came to the surface of his mind. One he never liked to think about. Carol coming to him on the farm after Sophia had been buried. She had only come to him because she had been worried about him. She had wanted to offer him some kind of comfort even though her own pain had to have been much worse than his. He had taken her kindness and thrown it back in her face. He hadn't touched her but he had hurt her immensely with his words. He had lashed out at her, he had abused her emotions and mocked her, he had...
"Daryl?" Her voice was just a tortured whisper and she stood up unsteadily. "I'm so sorry."
She didn't need to be on her feet. By the time they had reached the house Tyreese was practically carrying her. Before she could take a step he was there. Like the day they had found her out in the woods her arms went around his neck and he hugged her close, emotion threatening to choke him again. Beth was gone but Carol was safe. He needed to focus on that. It didn't alleviate the pain of their loss but it helped with thoughts of any kind of future. Whatever happened, he would have her. She wasn't slipping away again.
"If I hadn't been so stupid. If we would have went in there together we could have gotten her out," she whispered.
He shook his head and loosened his hold on her, remembering that she had gotten hit by a car and wasn't completely out of the woods yet. It wasn't only that though. He needed to put a little distance between them because there was a voice in his head screaming for him to do the opposite. That voice wanted him to pull her tighter against him and tell her that he was sorry that Tyreese was the one that had been there for her and not him. Tell her he was sorry that it was Rick that came into the room to grieve with her and not him.
He dropped his hands to his sides and stepped away. "This wasn't your fault. None of it. Beth... she shouldn't have done what she did. That wasn't your fault."
She shook her head and looked at the floor.
"You need to go back to bed, Carol. Last thing any of us need is for you to over do it. We need you around here." I need you around here.
"Are you sure you're okay? I know how bad you wanted to bring her back," she said as she sat down stiffly on the edge of the bed.
He nodded. "I'll be fine. I'm gonna go. Been moping around long enough. We need to get this place secure. I'm gonna tell Rick we need to stay a few days, give you time to heal up."
She nodded. "He already said he's planning on boarding up the rest of the windows so we can stay as long as we need too."
"'Course he did," Daryl said with a bite to his tone. He didn't know where it came from either and it disturbed him. Rick was the person he was closest too, second to Carol. He didn't know what was causing this hostility he was feeling. Maybe it was just him needing to lash out at someone. He should have been thankful that it wasn't Carol he was angry at. "Rest up, alright. Don't worry about me."
She smiled softly, the candlelight catching the tears in her eyes.