Okay, I'm breaking with pattern for this chapter and this chapter only! I was mulling over my intentions with this chapter, and I ended up with the conclusion that I really couldn't write it from any other point of view but Daryl's to achieve what I wanted to. So, for one chapter only, here is Daryl Dixon. Hope y'all enjoy. :)
On day two hundred and sixty-eight, he meets his daughter for the first time.
He'd woken up, briefly, the day before, long enough to see her face smiling down at him, to see her big beautiful eyes and that goddamn gorgeous smile. He'd never, ever been so happy to see another human being in his whole life.
As she brings her lips back up from his cheek, he notices that she's crying now, tears tumbling down her cheeks, sliding down her skin. "Hey," he says softly, his voice still broken and raspy, "I'm here."
"I know," she says, smiling down at him even more than before. "I know."
He falls back against the pillow again, his eyelids suddenly heavy, dragging him back into sleep. "I-I... ain't... goin' no-nowhere..." he mumbles, as he loses his battle against the advancing front of slumber.
The last thing he hears before the world falls away is her voice, still just music to his ears. "Me neither," she whispers.
He dreams about the campground. About those hellish days where he wasn't ever sure if he was going to live or die – all he knew was that if he was going down, he was going to take down as many of those rotting sons of bitches as he could with him. And there were a lot of those goddamn rotting sons of bitches to take down with him.
He dreams about when he and Rick had gotten split up, pushed apart by the onslaught of dead faces and rotting hands, reaching out maniacally for a taste of fresh blood, fresh meat. The deer had fucked off, bolting back into the woods, but he and Rick hadn't been so lucky. He'd called out for the other man as he hacked his way through the horde, but their moans and groans and gurgles had blocked out any other sound. All he could hear was them advancing and the sound of his heartbeat reverberating in his head, a steady rhythm that let him solely focus on the threat at hand, his own personal metronome keeping the beat and the pace of his battle.
He dreams about the bite. He'd been unable to get back to their original entry point, surrounded by too many bloodthirsty corpses, coming at him from all directions now. So he'd locked onto a nearby Airstream trailer, a big and solid affair, and made a beeline for it. Might as a well make a stand there, in style, right? He'd gotten to the door, yanked it open, stepped inside, and reached out a hand to close the entry way behind him, when he felt a sudden sensation of intense pressure on his hand. He'd looked down to see the yellowing, decaying teeth of some half-dressed teenager locked onto his fingers, and he'd just reacted so quickly, so instinctively, that he's still not sure exactly what happened. The next thing he knows he's down on the floor of the Airstream, door secured behind him, with blood gushing out of the spot on his left hand where his two outermost fingers should be.
He dreams about the pain he'd felt when he'd cauterized the wound, and how he'd kept thinking about his brother, knowing that somewhere out there, that bastard was having a laugh at his expense.
He dreams about the minutes and hours and days he spends wondering if this is the moment when he turns, when he ceases to be a living breathing human being and becomes the antithesis of humanity, a shambling shell of what he used to be.
He dreams about the day when he'd realized that he had to get out, to make a run for it. He was running out of supplies, running out of water, and he couldn't – wouldn't – just wait in that trailer to die. He was a fuckin' Dixon, goddamnit – he'd been through way worse shit than this (maybe), and he'd be damned if this was the way it went down. So he grabs his bow and his knife and leaves at dusk, using the shadows to hide himself from them, escaping into the ravine and the wilderness beyond.
He dreams about dragging himself back here, about the moments where he'd fought against himself to stay alive, to keep breathing, to continue moving. He dreams about Andrea's face and about the baby and about how he was not going to lose the only good things in his life that he'd ever known.
And when he wakes up, he knows that that will never change.
He blinks his eyes against the harsh light of a late morning, the rays streaming in from an open window, the sun already high in the sky. He struggles to push himself upwards, fighting against sore muscles and forgetful limbs, his movements jerky and uncoordinated. He pushes on anyways, undaunted – the faster he got moving again, the faster his body would remember – or else.
There's no one around, but the door to his room is open, and the sound of voices down the hallway beyond echo down into his room, confirming that he hadn't dreamt what had happened yesterday after all. He swings his feet down to the floor, and grimaces as his leg seizes, protesting his efforts to stand.
"Fuck off," he growls downward at his own limb, and he fights past it to stand, wobbly but fully vertical.
He makes his way down the corridor, leaning a hand against the wall when need be, urging his body onwards against its own will. The voices become clearer, more distinct, and he smiles when he recognizes her voice amongst the others, laughing and jesting and just so... alive.
He turns the corner, and everything stops. Seven faces turn to look at him, eyes wide and all openly staring. Glenn is the first to smile, rising up from his seat and crossing the room over to him.
"Welcome back, man," says the young man, grinning. "Knew you'd be back."
He only grunts a response as Glenn slaps him lightly on the shoulder, laughing jovially. And suddenly they are all there – Maggie, with a quick kiss on the cheek; Dale, with a smile and a nod; Carol, with a gentle hug; Carl, with a mature but incredibly sincere handshake; Rick, with an arm around his shoulder and a whispered apology, with guilt and shame embedded in every word.
"Don't worry about it, man," he replies softly, meeting his gaze. The other man nods and smiles slightly, a silent thank you on his lips.
And then he turns to the last figure in the room, seated on the couch, and in an instant his breath is stolen away.
She's smiling up at him, looking up from the bundle in her arms. "I guess I broke that promise after all," she says softly, rocking the bundle back and forth.
And with that, the others fade away – back to the kitchen, to the other rooms, to the front yard – not that he really notices. All he can see is her, seated before him, holding their child.
"Want to meet her?" she asks, her eyes locking with his.
"...h-her?" he croaks out, and he reaches out an arm to balance himself on a nearby chair, his legs suddenly more unsteady than they were that day he'd fallen down that creek bed, an arrow in his side and a lost girl to find.
She nods, slowly, happily. "Yeah."
He collapses into a chair opposite her – them – unable to fully think, to fully function, to fully feel. A daughter. A little girl. A tiny little living and breathing human being who will become a full grown living and breathing human being someday, as long as he doesn't fuck it all up. Everything before this moment hadn't seemed quite real, he realizes, because it had just been an idea. The idea of a baby. The idea of a family. The idea of a real life.
But that idea has passed into reality now, from raw concepts and imaginings to real flesh and blood. A daughter. A little girl. His little girl.
"Hey," she says, concern seeping into her voice, leaning forward towards him. "What's wrong?"
He can't quite meet her eyes. "I-I don't know if..." he clears his throat, strangely uncomfortable. "I don't know..."
"Daryl," she says, her voice strong, confident, like he knows she is, like he knows he can never be. "Come and hold her."
He shakes his head, still saying nothing, still held prisoner by that paralyzing fear, that tiny nagging voice at the back of his head: You're nothing. You'll always be nothing. You're garbage. You're trash. You'll only fail her, Daryl...
"Daryl," she repeats to him, harder now, more sternly.
He rises up from his chair and makes his way over to the couch, sitting down next to her, heart beating wildly inside his chest.
She grabs his hand with her free one, and pulls it tight against her. "Daryl. You love her. That's everything. Trust me."
With that, she moves her arms and swings the bundle towards him. Instinctively, his arms reach out into a cradling position, and she laughs, smiling at him.
"Not ready my ass," she says, grinning.
And with that, his daughter is in his arms.
He's never held a baby before. Ever. He didn't have any other family as a kid, so there were never any baby cousins, or children of family friends, or neighbours with newborns. As an adult, he'd steered clear of children and families and all that sort of emotional entanglement, preferring to keep to himself and consistently shucking off any and all assumption of any real responsibility.
But here he is.
He reaches down and pushes the blanket aside slightly, and suddenly he's looking down at the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. She's asleep – one tiny balled up fist drawn up to her face, cheeks red and eyelids fluttering with the eye movement of the deepest sleep. Her skin is pale, translucent almost, but it's perfect, flawless in every way. The hair on her head is dark, very dark, and he can't help but wonder if it'll stay that way, a pale and dark beauty, confident and strong like her mother.
There's a strange sensation on his cheek, and with surprise he realizes he is crying, crying like a child in a playground fight, tears streaming down across his skin.
"Well, fuck," he whispers, somewhat embarrassed, and he can hear her chuckle beside him.
"Not exactly the first words I thought you'd say to our child, but hey, at least they're memorable."
He looks over at her, pulling the infant even closer to him. "She's – she's perfect."
Andrea reaches out a finger, and strokes the top of the baby's head lightly. "Yeah," she answers, smiling softly, "she really is."
They sit there for what seems like hours, finally reunited as a family for the first time.