Hello! Yes, it's been a long time and I will explain everything at the end. Just please give this one-shot a, uh… shot. Thank you in advance
Disclaimer: I do not own anything except the tears that I shed for this dying ship.
He hated it.
He didn't want to, but he was beginning to.
The music on loop. Day and night – whatever that shit is. It was just always dark, save for the crack of light from under the door. It's cold outside, and the floors inside are cold, too. He wasn't in Georgia anymore, where everything is swelteringly hot except for the dead of winter, and he suspected it was almost Fall here.
Though, he guessed being naked in a fucking closet didn't help.
He didn't know how long he had been here. Time didn't really matter at this point, only how long it would take for them to kill him. He silently wished that stuck up doctor wasn't fixing up his shoulder, kind of hoped it would somehow end him. Left alone with his thoughts, he imagined that bullet from Dwight's gun as the period on the sentence of his life. Shit, he'd been reading too many old books back in Alexandria.
He wondered if Rick and the others had made it back, if Maggie was okay. Of course, Maggie wasn't okay, she just lost her husband to that fucking madman somewhere outside this door.
No, it wasn't Negan that kill Glenn.
He wanted to cry, but he was so tired, so desperate for the damn music to stop. He wished he had something sharp, something to make him bleed, or even better, to kill himself. Anything to make it so Negan doesn't win. He doesn't want to go back to Alexandria. He already didn't like it there, but that asshole Joe was right about one thing. Can't make it alone out there anymore. Plus, he wouldn't be welcome. He might as well have been the one swinging the bat. Everything is always his fault, always his fault, always his fault.
He hears his knuckles crack as he clenches his fist and then weakly releases. So damn useless. Once in a while, he'd try to kick down the door, but there's really no strength behind it. What's the point? Maybe he'll die from starvation in here, but whenever Dwight brings him half a sandwich, he feels himself reaching for it. He knows it's dog food; the taste is familiar from a long time ago. It doesn't bother him anymore.
He's memorized all the words to the song that plays, each word like bile in his throat. A spark of pride in his brain reminds him that he hasn't thrown up yet. It means nothing, but it's better than focusing too hard on what's going on right now.
He tries to stand up, move around so that he doesn't cramp up from the huddled state he's usually in nowadays. He wants to be small again. He hasn't felt this way in a long time, but the feeling never really goes away. He remembers hiding in a closet, upstairs in the house where he was raised, watching his father's shadow against the accordion doors until he was found. A scream couldn't escape from his mouth, because he knew that if any of the neighbors heard and asked a single question, he would be punished far more harshly.
When Dwight visits him again, Daryl is standing, not bothering to cover himself. Maybe the man would make a target out of him, bring him pain. But instead they stand face to face as he's given another sandwich. And he takes it. Dwight watches for a second, but eventually turns to leave. The door plunges him into darkness again.
He doesn't really sleep. Just fleeting breaks in consciousness between verses. But they always start up again.
A lot of the time, he lies on his back, fingers stretched out toward the door, trying to grasp the light. For warmth, maybe, he's not really sure. He just wants it.
He misses his family. Even though he made himself to be the quiet outcast, he knew they more or less understood and tried to include him. He missed Michonne's stupid jokes that could always make Carl laugh, which he missed. He missed Carol, the Carol that he could talk to, not the Carol that refused to talk to him. He missed Glenn, fuck, did he miss Glenn. He missed Judith, that Lil' Asskicker he loved so much. He wished he had tried to hold her more. That one time when he fed her formula was not enough. But he always thought he had more time. He missed Aaron and Eric. They were so selfless and welcoming, inviting a complete stranger into their home to eat their food and drink their wine and build a motorcycle in their garage. Maybe if he found a way to escape this place, and if he asked real nice, maybe they would make him some spaghetti.
He missed Beth. She would know what to do, how to get him out of this. She would probably be able to sing over this stupid-ass song and make everything fall away. Beth always knew how to make everything better.
He tried to remember the last time things were good, and he knew that it was that day in the funeral home. Feeling her weight in his arms, the tinkering of her laugh in his ear, those arms around his neck, like he really mattered to her. He chided himself, you did matter to her. He knew that at least was true; he was fluent in self-deprecation, but he wasn't a liar. Walking in from a perimeter check to her voice singing softly into the night, candles all lit around her, making her hair look more beautiful than ever. Was like a dream.
He wished he could have that dream again. But he doesn't really sleep.
One day, Dwight throws clothes at him and he can't wait for that door to close for once. A pair of sweatpants, boxers, and a sweatshirt with a spray-painted "A" on it. It's old and has lost all of the inner cotton that probably made it warm, but it was better than being naked. He practically snuggles into the wall before the fucking music kicks in again. Maybe he could actually get a bit of sleep.
To block out the song, he thinks about her arms. How astounded he was when she wrapped her skinny little arms around his waist at the shack that reminded him too much of his dad. It was already extremely hot outside, summer settling deep into the humid air. In retrospect, he wishes he had been strong enough to turn around in her embrace and hug her back. Hell, she had just watched her father die and here she was, comforting him. How selfish could he be? Or better yet, how selfless could she be?
He tried to imagine her skin again. After that day, he had found himself touching her one way or the other. Leading her along by the shoulder or the back, touching her arm, wrapping her sprained ankle. Nothing sexual, he wasn't Merle, but if a single touch from her could make his day brighter, then maybe he could comfort her, too. Soon he was addicted to her skin. Smooth and light, soft and warm.
He imagined her hands, the hand he held in the cemetery. She was the one that took his hand, but he tightened his grip on her, a silent awareness that he was there. In his prison cell, he spread his fingers, almost really feeling hers between them. A silent awareness. The more he thought about her, the more present she became. Until finally, he imagined her voice in his ear.
"It's okay, Daryl," she whispered. His head leaned into the wall as he listened to her.
He wanted to respond. His throat hurt. He hadn't spoken in who knows how long, and the cold seemed to have taken a toll on him. The horrible music fell away, drowned out by the steady pace of her breath in the room. Out of the darkness, he started to see her face materialize, so clear and perfect as always. She was smiling. When was the last time she smiled at him? The last he saw of her alive was the back of her head. When was the last time she smiled?
"I knew you would miss me," she almost giggled. Looking down he saw that her fingers really were intertwined with his, a weaving of clean and nearly-blackened fingers. God, he was so unworthy of her.
"Beth…" He could only manage to mumble her name, no louder.
"Don't think I'm getting outta this one," this made her frown instantly, but he continued. "But I'm happy yer here."
She gave him another soft, sad smile. "Yeah, I'm with you, Daryl." Her voice was so quiet, he thought that she would fade from him, which made his heart flutter.
In a flash of panic, he held tightly to her fingers. "Don't leave me, Beth."
"Hey, hey. I'm right here. I'm not goin' anywhere."
With a sigh, he relaxed into the corner of the wall, his eyes drooping sleepily. The room was silent except for his labored breathing and it was so comfortable with Beth here. He had missed this most of all; feeling safe with her. He's rarely ever felt truly safe anywhere his entire life. Though his eyes were closed, he felt her cup his scruffy cheek and bring their foreheads to softly touch, her feather-light breath on his skin. He knew he was going to Hell for this – if anything – but he could help but think that even her breath smelled sweet. He was on the brink of actual sleep when he heard her.
"I'm not gonna leave you."
And it all came rushing back that she was dead.
The fat asshole didn't lock the door.
An alarm was going off in Daryl's head, but it sounded like freedom. So with something that resembled excitement – or desperation – he slowly pushed at the door until it was cracked. Open. He had never loved a word so much.
It was almost too bright for him, though it couldn't have been much more than dim to those that walk these halls. He didn't know where he was going, but there had to be an exit somewhere. Turns. Corners. Hallways. Doors. Echoes. Shadows. Windows. Outside.
A tug on the back of his shirt made him jump back, ready to go down swinging, but it was that girl. Dwight's friend, the one that stole his shit and apparently was not pregnant. "Go back while you can," she whispered, her voice low and shaky, like she was afraid for him. Why should she care? She and that asshole Dwight left him defenseless in the woods to die. She should be thrilled that he's here, right? "Whatever he's done to you, there's more. There's always more."
His mouth was so dry, but he wanted to say, I'm counting on that.
But instead, he turned the corner and left her there without a word, knowing that she won't come after him anyway. When he finally came across a door to the outside, he could see a line of motorcycles waiting in the sunlight. His rationality flew out the window as he took off toward them. No keys, no fuckin' keys. What do I do?
He heard a door open and soon enough, he was being circled by thugs. Looked like a bunch of assholes from Merle's dive-bar days. He heard someone coming closer, whistling, like the night Abraham and Glenn were killed.
"Are we pissing our pants yet?"
"I tried, Beth," he whispered through the pain in his mouth. She was sitting behind him while he leaned into her side. A small hand stroked his shoulder that wasn't against her. She was warm, melting into the thin, rough fabric of the sweatshirt. He could still smell the stink of the last person that wore it, the smell of his own blood, but he could smell her more. Lavender. And pine. Fresh air.
"I know you did." They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes as her thumb continued to rub back and forth. He wondered if she could smell him. Not remembering when he last took a shower, it was a safe bet that he probably smelled like shit. But she didn't seem bothered, so he didn't lean away. Plus, he wasn't sure he could go back to being without her. Anything to keep her here.
"Are you…" he grumbled. "real?" He could practically feel her knowing smile behind him. She knew, always knew, what he was trying to say. Are you a ghost? Or are you just something my mind made up to keep me alive? But she didn't say anything. Instead, she released a sweet sigh and leaned her temple against the back of his head. He wondered self-consciously if she was getting his blood in her beautiful hair. He couldn't hold it back any longer, so he confessed, like the sinner he was to the angel she was. "I'm sorry I was such a dick to you out there. Right after." After the prison fell and your dad was beheaded.
"It's okay," she finally spoke. He wanted her to keep talking. Her voice was so melodic, better than any song he'd ever heard before. Certainly better than anything this place could drudge up.
"No, it ain't. I should have been there for ya. What ya lost… I should have been there for ya."
"You lost him, too, Daryl. All of them. We both did. I never blamed you for not comforting me. I wasn't lookin' for that." She paused. "Think I was more pissed that you weren't feelin' anythin'." You have to let yourself feel it.
"Never learned how," he said. Maybe he could give her his full confession now. He'd probably die here and Beth was already dead, and it was always so easy to talk to her. "My dad… he beat the shit out of me all the time. Merle, too. But when Merle left, it was just me and my ma. When Dad was around, she would just…disappear into herself. She let it happen, never cried. Didn't look like she cared anymore. Dad got bored of it, so he went off on me most."
She had stiffened behind him. But still she said nothing. Another thing about Beth was that she always knew what to say, even when it didn't need to be with words. Her thumb had stopped stroking his shoulder. Instead, her fingers trailed down his shoulder blade, toward the middle of his spine.
"I saw it," she whispered. "back at the farm, when you came back with the doll."
"You didn't say anythin'?"
"Didn't matter," she shrugged. "We all have scars one way or another. Besides, you never really asked about mine either. You knew it happened, but you didn't ask why." Shame washed over him. Shit, he had never bothered to fucking ask why she'd tried to kill herself. He just thought she was weak and scared. I sure as hell never cut my wrist looking for attention! Fuck, he was such an asshole. "And I don't blame you for that either, so don't even start."
Before he could attempt to fix his mistake, she interrupted. "How did you get away from him? Your dad."
It had been so long, and with the world coming to an end, he had left everything about the past – except for Merle – behind him. And it had been years since that began. Following back through his memories, time got distorted, what with all the drinking, the occasional drug, the months alone waiting for Merle to serve his sentences in prison. "I…don't really remember. Guess Merle just got outta jail and took me with 'im. Don't really remember when. I must have been in high school. Never finished."
"Because you went with your brother?"
"He said I didn't belong in no school. That all 'em kids already knew I was stupid as dirt." Even decades after being ripped out of school, the words still burned. "Took the end of the world to realize that Merle was full of shit. And an asshole."
"He was a smart man, though. I'll give him that," she mused. "And he saved Michonne. And you. He loved you, you know." He couldn't say anything to that. Merle was harder to read than most people he knew, but…yes, he supposed he could see that his brother cared for him. Maybe that saved him from an eternity of hellfire for all the other shit he did in his life.
His thoughts fueled a fear in his head. And he turned his head just enough to see her in his periphery. "Where are you?"
She knew exactly what he was asking. "Not there yet," she whispered. "I've been around. Keeping a sharp eye." She grinned, but there was something behind it. He turned a little more until he could feel his ribs protest.
Before he could say anything more, the doors to his prison burst open.
You got your friend killed.
You should be dead.
"Daryl?" Beth came into view and it brought him to tears. Seeing him on the brink sent her into a panic, her eyes widening and pink lips parting. "Hey, hey now!" She crawled over to his side as fast as she could, and he watched his arms reach out to her like that a frightened child. He folded into his arms, but she was the one to hold him upright. The cries came fast, his eyes ran rivulets down his cheeks. She was shushing him, and he wanted it to calm him, but he couldn't seem to stop. It was too much now. Too heavy a weight.
"I'm right here," she held him close, pressing his nose into the conjuncture of her neck and shoulder, feeling his tears and sweat roll onto her perfect skin.
He was ruining her again. It only made him cry more.
She pulled back his head, covering his ears with her soft hands as if to block out the music and the world. But his eyes remained closed, so afraid to see her for once. "Look at me; I've got you." She was so warm, enveloping him like heat, and he wished she wasn't so dead. Wished she was really here with him. No, not here, he'd rather die than put her through this, but just…here. In this space. Just the two of them.
"I killed him," he whimpered.
"I got Glenn killed. It's my-my fault," the sobs wracked his body, his head so heavy in her hands. "Everyone dies, because of me. I didn't want any of us to die."
"Daryl, listen to me," she cut him off before he could say any more. "None of this is on you."
"It hurts so much, Beth. It still hurts. I…you..."
But he could say no more. She was kissing him hard. It took him a moment to realize what was happening, but when he caught up, oh did he kiss her back. Like the rest of her, her lips were soft and warm, easing the constant chill that had settled into his bones. She was holding onto him, keeping him there like she was afraid he would pull away. She didn't have to be. He didn't want to. Once she picked up on this, she relaxed and melted into him, fingers combing through his straggly hair. She felt so real, tasted so real.
When she pulled away, he had settled, feeling so tired after the hard cry. But he didn't want to leave her yet. He watched her pull away with her eyes still closed in apparent pleasure. When she finally opened them again, he wondered if he had ever seen a more brilliant blue.
"I know the list you keep in your head," she whispered into the room, her voice suddenly booming in his ears. "Sophia. Merle. Andrea. Daddy. Glenn. Me… the blame you put on yourself. You don't need to hold onto that anymore."
Daryl softly touched her cheek, so warm and present. He saw now her scars, the scars that set a boil in his gut the last time he saw her. The uneven stitches, the raised redness, the bruising. He looked just the way she was in those few moments of clarity before she was ripped from him. And yet, she was still beautiful, her skin practically shining, giving off a light of her own that he always noticed. Those brilliant eyes breaking through the void of this cruel world. Her eyes were the brightest thing in the dark room and he begged her to blind him.
With a smile, she brushed back his hair so that she could see his face. Her thumbs wiped away the tracks down his cheeks until the only sign of his despair left was the redness in his eyes and nose. He knew he probably looked like a disaster; he felt like a disaster, too. He was a cyclone of shit that never stopped the destruction. But nothing and no one could destroy Beth. Not really.
He swallowed thickly. "I wanted to tell you everything…when I found you." He could feel the ache rising in his chest again, but with all his strength, he pushed it down. "I wanted you to be the only one that knew everything." You're still the only one I can talk to.
"Then, tell me now."
"Do you think we would have ever met in the real world? Before…" she asked a week later. Negan had him working around the compound, mopping floors, fetching his wives food, fighting off walkers for sport. He was lying low, trying to stay on his best behavior without giving into becoming 'Negan'. But he had seen Carl being led around like a guest and the familiar face set his heart pounding. Carl couldn't be here. If Carl was here, then there was no way Rick knew, and Daryl knew that Rick couldn't be dead. He would know if he was.
He spoke up. For the first time in a long while, and it landed him right back here, in the box. He wanted to fight back, to escape, to protect Carl, but he knew better. If he tried to protect Carl, Negan wouldn't choose to kill him instead; he would kill Carl. In front of him. That was Negan's sick pleasure.
"Probably not," he answered. "Seemed to me that you weren't much of a city girl before, with how far out the farm was."
She smiled fondly as she reminisced. "I used to go into Atlanta with friends, parties and shopping trips. But it always felt…overwhelming. Too big and too close."
"Merle was always in the city. Best worst bars in Georgia there. Lots of buyers for Merle. Lots of cars so lots of jobs for me when I had to bail him out." They had been talking like this often. Though he was walking around the compound every day, they still made sure to retire him to the box at night. Maybe they knew that the darkness was deeper here in the evenings. Thank Christ, they turned off the music for nights when he'd been a good little dog. But this time, it was punishment, and the cringe-worthy song played on, though it didn't get to him as much now. He'd learned how to focus on Beth's voice to drown it out.
She hadn't seemed surprised when he told her all there was to know about his days without her. She maintained her sweet smile during the good parts, and frowned with all the bad. Needless to say, there was more frowning than smiling, but he welcomed it anyway. To see her face was enough.
"I'm sure I would have seen you around at some point, Mr. Dixon," she teased. He nudged her with his elbow, and she nudged back before she released a sigh and looked somberly toward the crack under the door. "It's strange to talk about the days before the Turn. Seems like a whole other life."
"It was," he mumbled. "for you. For the others."
She sent a pointed gaze his way. "For you, too."
"Told ya before, wasn't too different. Was always ugly and violent for me." He shrugged. "Only thing missing was walkers-"
A clanking sound came from the hall and made them both jump. "What the hell was that?" he whispered to her, but when there was no response, he turned to see that she had disappeared. Before he can feel the sting of the empty dark room, voices started to echo behind the door. Gunfire and thuds added to the building symphony, a song he knew well these days.
The light from under the door flickered as people passed by, and as quickly as it began, the footsteps and yells dissipated into the distance, the slam of a metal door like a period on the sentence. Daryl pressed into the door, hoping that by some grace of God, it would be unlocked. When it wasn't, he took his fists to it, fearing that if people were running, perhaps walkers had infiltrated the compound – and being locked in a room with only one exit is not some place he wants to be if they smell him.
"Hey!" he yelled into the empty hall. "Let me outta here! Hey!" The panic was starting to settle in again. Then defeat. No one in the compound would be bothered to save some prisoner like him. And from what he'd heard is that Sherry had managed to escape, not that he expected her to save him in the first place. Then the fatigue kicked in. He was so tired; malnourished, dehydrated, and just completely spent. He wondered if he just passed out, would it be a more painless end? Soon, what was left of his energy was gone and he dropped to his knees on the hard, concrete floor, and waited to succumb to the peaceful silence. No more awful music on repeat. Just the lull of white noise in his ears.
He didn't have to wonder about his fate for much longer, before he heard footsteps. Small numbers, maybe two people. Not sprinting or walking, but moving with purpose. It came from the opposite end of the hallway as the Saviors had been running, and these visitors were nearly silent. Until they were nearly upon him.
"Where?" a whisper came, as if it was speaking to another.
"I heard something down this way," the other replied.
A tiny spark lit in Daryl's gut, propelling him to the door. "Please," his hoarse voice came. "Let me outta here." His voice couldn't handle much more. And soon all he could do was lightly bang his fist against the door.
It wasn't more than a second before the footsteps gathered on the other side, the shadows casting what once would be an eerie darkness but now was hope. The knob twisted and jerked, but didn't open. "Dammit, it's locked. Stand back, Daryl!" the voice yelled to him. It sounded familiar but he didn't give himself time to think about it. He threw himself to a dark corner, in time for a series of hard kicks to burst the door open.
The flood of light blinded Daryl, momentarily giving his rescuers a chance to see the conditions. "Oh my god," one said.
"We need to get him to Hilltop now," the other replied urgently. Daryl forced himself to squint and see who was standing before him. As the one that had just spoke got closer, he recognized the long, brown hair and the caring eyes of Jesus. He kneeled at Daryl's side to put his arm over the man and lift him. God, he was so tired he could barely stand. As Jesus adjusted his weight, he gazed over at the other person – Carl. How long had he been here? Seemed like it had been a week since he saw the boy with Negan. He would have to tell Rick not to punish him for running away, seeing as it led to saving Daryl's pathetic life.
"Damn, Daryl." Carl brought his rifle up to cover the hall, occasionally looking over is shoulder at the shuffling pair. "Really did a number on you, didn't they?" He knew the boy was trying to lighten the mood, but all his attention was on forcing his legs to walk.
"Don't know how much longer I can go…" he grumbled to Jesus.
"Shut up, you're gonna make it. You gotta."
Daryl was fading in and out of consciousness as they made their way around the maze of the compound. Somehow, they were outside, loading him into the back of a white box truck, similar to the ones the Saviors used to take the goods from other communities. Jesus grabbed a heavy blanket and covered him. "We're nearly home free, my friend. Hang in there."
This darkness was sweet and comforting, like when he knew Beth would be there in that cell with him. Though she wasn't with him this time, he was pulled into a heavy sleep, where he knew he was protected by two good friends, and the promise of dreams.
When he awoke, he recognized the walls of Carson's trailer, the one they used as a doctor's office. The white and silver of everything was a stark difference to the grimy, dark cell and the never-ending shadows of the compound. This was his first clue that he was safe.
The second was the sight of Maggie sitting in a chair next to his cot. He vaguely remembered being forced to accompany Negan and the Saviors to Alexandria to raid them of half their stock. He was operating on pure hatred for the bat-wielding bastard, wishing so hard that he could talk to Rick or anyone. He remembered being taken to the graveyard, being told that Maggie had died after that night – the night Glenn and Abraham were killed.
At first, the grief settled over him like mud. All the Greene-Rhee family dead, each one because of him. But then, the hunter in him stirred. Something wasn't right. She couldn't be in there. The dirt was too fresh, too shallow, and Rick was too composed. She had to be alive. And here she was.
She was reading a book – his eyes couldn't focus enough to see the title, though judging by the color scheme, he assumed it was a baby book – but when he turned his head to see her better, she met his eyes with a smile. "You're awake," she sighed, clearly relieved.
His lips parted to speak, but his throat hurt so badly. "No, you don't have to," she stopped him. "You're safe in Hilltop. Jesus and Carl are here for now, but they're both goin' back to Alexandria soon to meet up with Rick. The Saviors were distracted by some homemade bombs in the courtyard, courtesy of Jesus," she mentions with a sly grin. "No one saw y'all leave. Of course, Negan will probably be lookin' for you, but we have a secure hidin' spot for you when he does."
He must have looked bewildered, because she smiled again. "We're gonna protect you, Daryl. Just like you always protect us."
He swallowed thickly, forcing himself to make the words come. "Thank you, Maggie." In response, she covered his hand with hers.
"Rest now, Dixon," she whispered, her voice comforting enough to make his eyes droop. "I'll be right here if you need me. I'm not goin' anywhere."
I'm not gonna leave you.
"Is he doin' okay?"
"Yeah, he's recovering well. Thank God Carson hid away some IV's."
"Is it normal for him to sleep nearly two days?"
"After what I can only guess he went through, I'd say it's his body fixing itself. Let it do what it needs to, and he'll wake up when he's ready." A light chuckle. "Don't you worry, baby girl. He's still with us."
The next time that Daryl's eyes opened, it was barely dawn. He could still hear the crickets chirping outside and the gentle brush of leaves on the wind. Just from where he was laying, he could tell the moon was full tonight, judging by the bluish beams of light filtering in from the window against the walls.
This was his favorite time of night, back when he would be on watch while everyone else slept. Even in the summer it was cool out and the stars were brilliant. With how much time he spent hunting back before the Turn, the stars were always better in the middle of nowhere, but now, being that no city is giving off light pollution, it's like they're ten times brighter, the numbers multiplying by the hundreds.
His senses must have still been adjusting out of sleep, because he didn't see his visitor until the slip of a page turning. He jerked his head to his left to where Maggie had sat before he fell asleep. But it wasn't Maggie.
His sudden head movement must have startled her because she softly gasped and closed whatever book she was reading. "Oh, my god," she breathed, with her hand over her heart as if to calm it. What followed was a slight chuckle at herself. "You scared the shit outta me." After taking a slow breath or two, she redirected her gaze to him. He could have sworn her eyes were glassy. "How are you feeling?"
He swallowed the cotton in his mouth. "I uh… how long was I out?" He tried to sit upright, only to be stopped by her pale hands.
"Almost three days," she replied, tucking some hair behind her ear. She seemed nervous. Her fingers fiddled and her eyes were darting around, rarely meeting his, frequently down at the ground. "Maggie and I have been doing shifts; she stays during the day, and I stay at night. I wanted to stay the whole time, but she said I needed sleep, too."
Daryl could feel his brow furrow. Shifts? Maggie? Day, night? Sleep? It didn't add up. "I don't… understand," he confessed.
She was silent for a while, picking at her nails, clenching her jaw, looking down so he could only see her lashes. She was different, reminiscent of the girl from the prison, the girl afraid of her own shadow. But suddenly, she swallowed thickly, and looked directly at him with a look of resolve and bravery, like she was about to tell him something difficult.
"I've been here about two weeks," her fingers were laced together, and he could tell she was squeezing hard by the whiteness of her skin. "I tried to scale the walls, but I got caught, and they brought me to Gregory. He was in his study, arguing with someone. Turned out it was Maggie." She mumbled to herself then, "barely recognized her for a minute." But she continued: "She told me everything. About after Grady… and Dawn. About Alexandria, and Noah and Glenn… She told me that you were taken by the Saviors. She had to stop me from turning right back around to find you."
Daryl slowly sat up in his cot, and she let him this time. He still couldn't find the words to say, because he still didn't understand what she was telling him. He thought she… in his cell… she was…
"I was putting together a plan when I heard that Sasha had sent someone to find the Saviors' camp. Jesus – seemed fitting. He's a good, kind man. Anyway, turns out he found Carl there, and they both found you. As soon as I found out they brought you back, I ran to f-find you." Her once glassy eyes were over flowing now. As her apparent emotions built up, he could better see the silver scars on her face, much harder to see than the cross-hatched stitches from his cell at the compound. She had healed well, beautifully in fact. Wait… healed…
"I was… so s-scared that I would have c-come all this way, j-just to find out you were dead," she cried. Her hands were now rubbing over her shoulders as if she was cold. Her back caved and the waterfall of her yellow hair covered her face. That wouldn't do. Against his better judgement, his hand reached up to part the curtain and see her tear-streaked face. Her barely-there freckles. Her ocean blue eyes. The familiar way she cried. Everything about her face was clear as he came into focus. It made his steady breathing pick up speed.
"I went through s-s-so much to find you; I-I couldn't lose you again!" His heart was breaking as he watched her sob. His own chin began to quiver as reality settled in. "I-I dreamed about seeing you again, a-all the time, and-and every time I woke up and you weren't there…" she couldn't finish, and he didn't want her to. He knew. God, he knew. His hand moved to her cheek, his thumb breaking the paths of her tears, tracing the scar on her cheek bone. Almost like a reply, she cupped his cheek as well, her skin warm and calloused, but still soft. He allowed his own tears to run over her fingers.
"Daryl," she whined, releasing a sort of choked breath.
"It's really you, isn' it," he mumbled. "This is real…"
She nodded into his palm, finally revealing some sort of wet smile. He knew that smile. That same smile he gave him when they were drunk on that porch, talking about his past and burning down their only shelter. That night that it was more appealing to walk the roads in the dark than stay in that house. Because he would be with her. And it didn't feel safe for her in that house, even though he knew his father wasn't there to threaten her. All the danger was in his memory, but he couldn't bear the thought of the past and the present mixing and seeing her in that setting. So they set flames to it all. And she, in turn, set him aflame too.
"It's really me, Daryl," she released a watery sigh.
"Beth," his voice broke. He didn't want to speak anymore. With a tug, he blindly tore the IV out of his arm, and went to stand. His legs were weak, but he couldn't care less. He pulled her into his arms, not afraid of her hands flat against his back where his scars lay stark – only thinking about how desperately he needed to feel her now. He could imagine that she couldn't breathe with how tightly he was holding her, but for such a little thing as she was, he could feel his injuries protesting to her embrace as well.
His fingers parted her hair, not meaning to but still needing to find it. There. The scabbed over exit wound just off center from the crown of her head. That… that was his third clue of safety. She was here – living, breathing, crying, holding him together.
As his tears peppered her hair, he let instinct take over. A light kiss to her hairline, another to her cheek, and dropping his head to her shoulder. She readjusted her arms to cup the back of his neck, laughing for a change. And for what seemed like his whole life, Daryl laughed too, for the first time. Like music, she was. There in that small room, dawn cast light on the two lost survivors that found each other. Both saving the other without even being there. Beth in the prison cell; Daryl in the trees and on the road. Home always felt like a moving target in this world, it's easy to forget that a moving target is okay. Sometimes it can breathe, walk, and cry. And laugh. Home can be a person.
Home can be you.
Thank you all for reading!
A short post-story for you: College is hard, graduate life is harder sometimes. Sometimes college hits you so hard that it never feels like you have enough time or motivation to write, and then you graduate and get an apartment for the first time and bills pile up so you have to take on more jobs and more hours. Out of nowhere, you realize that you barely have enough time to hang out with anyone, let alone write for a couple hours. So yeah, summary: life is hard and I haven't written anything in probably two years, so I tried to get back into it. Baby steps, y'all, baby steps…
But anyway, thank you again for reading. Please leave a comment to let me know if I still got it, cuz god knows I ain't sure lol