Hearts and thoughts they fade

It's been quiet, a quiet he hasn't felt since the first few weeks at Alexandria. It takes him back to the prison and the farm and the funeral home, he has to force the memories back. People working, tending the gardens, handling livestock, fixing the damage. Cars come and go between Alexandria and the Hilltop every few days, trading supplies, building materials, extra hands, but Daryl hasn't left. He's stayed behind the tall makeshift walls, left a few times to hunt but never for long. Maggie's words of retribution ring in his ears and it's all he can bear to focus on. He looks down at the graveyard from the second floor porch, one door down from Maggie's room. Her soft footsteps keep him company at night, dreams is all she'll say.

His room doesn't offer any solace, from his thoughts, or her footfalls. It's more a storage space than a bedroom. He doesn't spend any time there, the porch is better suited to him. The crisp air of early fall doesn't choke him as he lies awake. He hasn't been able to sleep for more than a few hours at time since he was little, nine or so, from what he can figure. He's always had dreams, the kind that you can only half remember, Daryl would wake up as heavy sadness crushed a gasping breath out of his chest.

Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away

Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away

There is a crack in the wall near the foot of his bed, an old army cot pushed into the corner. Daryl will sit there, gas lamp lit and a half read paperback dog-eared on his knee, running his finger absently along the line in the middle of one, otherwise perfect, red brick. Sometimes, it's hard to remember if he's awake or asleep. More often than not, in the darkest part of night, he's somewhere in-between. The wall near the foot of bed morphs from weathered, warm and textured to rough, cold, concrete.

Maggie's soft pacing footsteps are amplified to heavy and purposeful.

The divot from the grout line is just big enough for the pad of his finger.

The air in the room is damp and stale and the feeling is working it's way up his bare back.

He can hear his heart rate pick up, hyper focused on the sound. It's suddenly keeping the sickly upbeat time of some song that wraps it's pinging notes into his ears and lyrics around his thoughts. He watches the pink-gray mess on the polaroid change into a mess of wriggling bait worms.

A baby cries, the new one Rick brought back. It snaps him to attention, the sun is coming up. He rubs his hand down his face, over the slowly graying scruff and swallows down the phantom taste of worms and dog food. His knees click and his back aches, it's his shift at the wall.

Hearts and thoughts they fade away

Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away

Aaron dropped the bike off over a week ago. It's sitting under a tarp in one of the carports. He walks over, lifts the tarp a few times every day. He hasn't wanted to work on it but he's made himself do it anyway. The old familiar motions of tightening, replacing, tuning up.

Those nights, his excuse for a room fades to unfinished drywall.

Bright and clean, it stands out against a smoke stained tin ceiling.

The paper is torn and the chalky white middle is showing through where his daddy dragged the toolbox along the bed. A long, thin line stands out where the clawed hammer stuck out of the box and gouged it's path along the wall.

There's a TV on, cable station turned to snow.

His pants are cold and wet, he knows it's not because he was afraid. Dixon's don't scare easy but a well placed kick to the gut can, and will, make you piss yourself. He's laying on his belly, sleeping like that became a necessary habit. The constant dirt under his nails gets ground further into his skin as he pushes his fingers into the crack.

In a few weeks the crack is smooth. His daddy is still mad. He's drunk and he's mad. Walking around the trailer at all hours. He's drunk, he's mad and he's right. Daryl wasn't there, he went out with the other kids and his momma died. That's what happens, you barely make a choice and someone dies.

Daryl's nail catches on a chip in the brick. He stops for a minute, thinks about lining up toy cars on the electric race track Merle bought home. He wonders how long the brick will take to smooth out like the drywall eventually did. Three of his fingertips are scraped red.

The thought of the race track hits him again and he can see the bikini ashtray on the coffee table.

Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away

Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away

"Maggie!" Jesus is yelling from out in the courtyard. "Got three faces approaching the gate."

Daryl's up before he even realizes it, clambering down the stairs.

"Who is it? Alexandria?" Maggie asks, knowing she's wrong as the words come out.

Jesus looks back and for between him and Maggie. "It looks like Dwight."

He moves on reflex more than anything else. Rage fueling his sleep starved muscles. "Told that bastard I'd kill 'im." He's out the double door and charging the gate as it creaks open, ignoring the voices behind him.

He focuses in on greasy blond hair and a scarred up face. He feels like a bullet must, staring at nothing but it's target with no option of changing direction. There is some kinda growl erupting out from someplace between his gut and his throat and every muscle is tightened in anticipation of finally being sprung loose. The thought that Dwight is going to get beat to death makes him sick with something like jealousy.

Hearts and thoughts they fade away

Knuckles connect with jaw and Daryl can feel it up into his shoulder as he tackles the other body to the ground. Shitty punch, he doesn't bother changing his fist before bringing down into the scarred up side of Dwight's head.

People are yelling but his ears are ringing. He hears his name.

"Daryl! Stop!" Jesus is shouting.

"Daryl! Let him…" Tara.

"Beth! Oh my God, Beth, Bethy!" Maggie's voice is shrill over the buzz of adrenaline. He thinks about how she sounded in the field, brings her words back to the forefront of his mind, "Kill him!"

Daryl pulls back his arm again, but before he can connect arms are wrapped over one shoulder and under the other. Air is forced from his lungs.

Maggie is still wailing and shouting. "Beth! Oh, Beth…B…Beth."

Daryl can feel the warm breath of words on his neck, and when he breathes in it's like someone has ripped his chest open.

"Daryl."

The small arms squeeze him impossibly tighter as his gasping breath hitches painfully in his throat before it finally gives over to sobs.

"Daryl."

My God it's been so long

Never dreamed you'd return

But now here you are and here I am

She can see the carport light from Maggie's window, a lone, bare bulb dangling down.

He drags his cot from the porch but doesn't go into any of the trailers. Stays far enough away from everyone but still with them.

She hates that everyone lets him do it, pull away, fold in on himself while they fold her in. It should be different, not like this. Birthday parties, summer picnics.

The courtyard is quiet, the air heavy with an oncoming storm, and her body is still burning with the need to see him. Beth moves to the porch of the old brick home, mostly everyone is asleep inside. She can hear every clink and clack as he keeps busy and keeps away. Every sound is pulling her toward him and the next thing she knows she's standing in the open bay.

Her shirt is clean and two sizes too big, she twists it tight in her hands and pulls the fabric taut against her stomach.

"Daryl."

He looks up but says nothing. Eyes tired but focused on her.

"Why're you out here?"

He just shakes his head and shrugs.

"You could come in, you don't have to be alone…I don't…"

"I do."

She furrows the one eyebrow that still responds, the other tries but fails halfway there. "You don't have to. It can be different…" Beth lets her words fade off, his face has gone to stone.

"I don't wanna think about shit that shoulda been different cause it ain't." His words are low and cutting. Hammering a wedge into the stubborn, shrinking space between them. "I just got what I got and that's that. I don't want you remindin' me anything coulda been different!"

"I can't…"

"I can't!" He yells, finger in her face, "I can't do that, I can't!" He takes a step back and paces the same few steps between her and the cot. "You, you get shot, shot in the goddamn head and come back? You're not all fucked in the head, you're smilin', Beth. You're fucking smilin'…"

"Daryl…"

He looks at her again and all of the fight has drained out of his eyes, it's worn into the concrete slab beneath his boot clad feet. "I…I don't…"

Beth takes a step forward, fists still clenched in the fabric of her shirt. Something in his stance keeps her from reaching out.

"I tried." The words rasp out, barely loud enough to be heard. "Beth, I tried, like you said. Put it away." He pulls his lip into his mouth, "Then Denise and … Glenn… Carl. You…"

"I'm not gone."

He doesn't look at her, keeps his eyes trained on the floor as he turns back to the bike. The unfiltered light from the lone bulb makes the scars on his hands stand out. He rubs his greasy fingers over them and it's not an absent motion at all, "You were."

There is a silence between them that she doesn't know how to fill.

He doesn't look up.

"I gotta get this done." Daryl can feel her eyes on him as he tinkers with the work he's already done. He keeps going, ignoring the weight of her breath filling the space, barely making any progress on the bike. He hears her move, catches a glimpse as she pushes her feet under the bunched up blanket on his makeshift bed.

I just want to scream hello

Hours pass, he's always been good at keeping track of time. There hasn't been another word between them but he knows she's still there. His knees ache when he finally stands to rub his hands as clean as they're going to get.

He watches her sleep and remembers every night he wished for this, every night that he silently begged to have her back. He thinks about the nights he spent locked in that room where he was almost thankful she died quickly. He goes over the nights when he thanked any power he could name that she didn't need to know what he did, didn't need to see the blood on his hands.

Daryl's back is aching as he slides down against the tool cabinet, facing her.

He watches her chest rise and fall, he holds his breath until he can time it along with her's.

It actually works, at least for a little while.

He's close to falling asleep when she makes a small noise that startles him. Long past weeks of being close to her at night come rushing back in a matter of seconds.

Her hair is clipped short on the left and the silvery white scar stands out on her forehead. The spot is a magnet for his tired eyes and he finds himself having to blink away the image of red splattered through her hair. The coppery taste of her blood comes back to him in an instant and his shoulders sag as they recall his burden.

Daryl crawls over to the cot, his knees throb against the concrete but he can't pull his sights off of her. Her chest is rising and falling and his is tightening.

He rests an elbow on the cot, close enough to feel warmth radiating off her. When he breaths in he smells her. His legs splay out and his left hand fists itself into the fabric covering her shoulder. Daryl's head falls into the cradle of his elbow with just enough of an angle to keep his eyes on her face until they finally fall closed.

Daryl wakes up with her fingers working gently through his unwashed hair.

I changed by not changing at all

Small town predicts my fate

Perhaps that's what no one wants to see

She's leaning on one of trucks in the courtyard.

"Ain't everyone in there celebratin'? Why're you out here?"

She shrugs a little and then looks right at him, "You know."

Daryl can't stop his lip from being pulled between his teeth as he pushes a breath out his nose. He can't look at her when she says things like that and his eyes drop to his bootlaces.

Beth watches his hand rub at her knife on his belt before going for the cigarettes in his shirt pocket.

"Is this how it's gonna be Daryl?" She watches him light a broken cigarette. "I'm not even sure where I'm going with this. Are we ever gonna talk about anything? Or am I just gonna watch you shut down and die?"

"I ain't dyin' Beth." He smirks, "Last goddam man standing."

He takes a pull of the cigarette, doesn't say anything.

She keeps looking at him, "Every time I look at you I just wanna cry."

"Great. That's fuckin' great, girl." He crushes the butt out between his fingers and shakes his head, "I'm going for a ride."

"Daryl!"

He takes off on the bike, barely giving the gate enough time to make space for him.

I swear, I recognize your breath

Memories like fingerprints are slowly raising

Me, you wouldn't recall for I'm not my former

It's hard when you're stuck upon the shelf

The wind is sharp on his face, cuts into him as he breathes. His fingers are white knuckled on the handlebars as a cold misting rain picks up strength. The Interrupted Life. The fucking line pops up in his head outta nowhere and he speeds up, he hasn't thought about that book in months. A Resource Loss Model. He never got past the table of contents.

He idly wonders if Beth would read it. If she would look it over and then nod at him, say something in her perfect voice that would make him want to push through and get it done. The bike speeds up, practically of it's own accord. He woulda brought her to Alexandria, after those hard weeks on the road. She would've let him sit out on the porch and work through it, she woulda sat next to him if he asked her to. The corner takes him by surprise and he fights to keep the bike up. It goes down anyway.

He lays on the road, his right leg is torn up but he can tell it's not broken. She'd probably still sit out here with him. Read through the damn thing in the rain with nothing but a flashlight, if he knew how to ask her.

Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away

Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away

The night was quiet again, the rain stopped about an hour ago and Daryl's been back on the porch for at least two.

Beth crosses by Jesus as he walks in from outside.

"He okay?"

"Sleeping I think. He hasn't been doing much of that."

She just nods, "I'm gonna sit with him for awhile."

"I know you're awake Daryl."

Her voice is low, just above a whisper, as she moves to sit next to him in the small space he leaves on the edge of the cot. It's out on the second floor porch again. Beth tucks her leg underneath her, presses up against the side of his stomach. She can feel the pace of his breath pick up with their contact. His eyes flash over to her for a fraction of a second, barely visible in the dark. He cover's them with his forearm.

"How's your leg? Tara said you skipped the infirmary."

He gives a shrug. She can feel his breath hitch each time she talks.

"You sure…" She leans over him, looking where his pant leg is cut off above the knee.

"It stopped bleeding."

"Where…"

"S'all on my shin. M'fine." His voice is impossibly low.

Beth shifts against him, her knee is in his armpit. The only thought he can grab onto is how desperately he wants to curl into her and forget he exists. Forget all of this shit that keeps happening. Forget he ever lost her. He pushes away the thought with a ragged breath and moves his hand from his eyes.

"Did you at least clean it?"

Daryl lifts a half empty pint of whiskey from it's spot beside him. It clanks against the wall when he waves it at her. "M'fine."

"How much of that d'you use to clean your leg?" Beth's painfully aware that he hasn't been looking at her.

"Lot less than I drank." Her on eyes are on him. He's not surprised to remember exactly what it feels like. "Just gonna stare at me all night?" He grunts as he shifts his weight and sits up, his leg is throbbing.

"I wanted to make sure you were alright. No one else was out here and I…"

"Said I was fine." He unscrews the cap from the bottle and takes a long pull. "Don't need no chaperone."

He can hear the breath she shucks in, his fist is tight and sweaty around the neck of the bottle. Every bit of this moment feels like a tipping point.

His arm shoots out, bumping the open bottle into her chest.

She puts her small hand over his, rubs her thumb over his knuckles.

Daryl doesn't mean to say anything but he can't hold in the low whine of her name. He's been aching with the need to touch her for days. The whiskey leaves enough of his inhibitions drowning that he can drop his head to her shoulder.

Some part of her had imagined him wrapping his arms around her, falling to his knees and promising to never leave her again. Swearing his undying fidelity while showering her with kisses before carrying her off like he swept her up that day in the funeral home.

Instead he came tearing out so intent on beating the man who led her back that he didn't even see her.

Instead, two weeks later, he's sobbing drunkenly into her shoulder, begging her not to leave him alone.

All these changes taking place

I wish I'd seen the place

But no one's ever taken me

He brings her food in the morning. She's sitting on the cot, running her fingers along the cracked brick. He watches her for a minute before clearing his throat. "Ain't white trash brunch but…"

She smiles up at him, "Thanks."

He nods and sits next to her. They eat quietly, she smiles at him when his eyes catch hers.

"You hanging 'round here awhile?"

Beth nods, "Sure."

He looks at her before pulling something out of a crate beneath the cot, "I got… I got this book in Atlanta…" He drums his fingers on the cover before putting it in her lap. "Haven't got past the table of contents."

Beth reads the cover, opens it and reads the table of contents. She closes it again and laces her fingers through his. Her thumb rests on his scarred hand on top of the book.

"Hey Daryl?"

"Mmm?"

"I didn't want to leave you. Still don't."

He nods, "I know. I know, Beth."

I seem to recognize your face

Haunting, familiar yet

I can't seem to place it

Cannot find the candle of thought to light your name

Lifetimes are catching up with me

Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town