Once Bitten, Twice Died
By Cider Sky
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'
When he felt the Walker's teeth sink into his forearm, all the way to the bone, his first thought was that of genuine surprise.
He'd been bit. Him. Bit.
Though they faced the threat of being bitten and killed – or whatever this was – everyday, he had never really expected himself to go that way. He'd faced too many, killed too many.
But an impressive kill tally meant nothing to the dead, he figured. If anything it was incentive for the dumb bastards to purposefully seek him out, if they could do such a complicated thing as think, let alone collude.
He was pulling Glenn from under a gate when it happened. The dumb kid had snagged a belt loop or his shirt or pack, something, and was struggling under the chain link fence like a dog with a caught collar.
The younger man was kicking at the Walkers at his feet, shouting for the rest of the group to stop, all of who had cleared the obstacle with no problems. They hadn't initially looked back because to have done so would have been dangerous – there were more than three-dozen on their tail and most certainly more ahead. In that kind of situation, you didn't look back.
When his panic shouts split the air it was him and Rick that turned back to help, Shane and Andrea covering their backs.
Rick pulled at the man's arms while Daryl pulled at the snagged pack and then it happened. A dozen Walkers were at the gate, clawing, biting, and Glenn was kicking and Daryl's arm was just in the right position.
He grunted, eyes widening in surprise as he pulled away, just as the sound of ripping fabric signaled the Korean's freedom.
They fell back in a heap and Rick ushered Glenn to his feet, giving the man a questioning glance.
"I'm fine, I'm fine –" Daryl stood too, glancing down at the wound, angry and swollen and gushing precious blood.
It had been so quick that initially it had just felt like pressure, like a crushing fist wrapping around his arm.
But then -
- then came the acute awareness of how painful it was, how he hadn't expected it to burn this much, the wound tingling as though the very saliva of these monsters was a thick, acidic poison.
He didn't have much time to dwell because they were running again. He realized that no one had seen it happen, that there had been too many crowding them, that it was too dark to see the bite amidst his dirt stained body.
The gun in his hands felt heavy because he knew what he was supposed to do.
ZerotoleranceforWalkers. His own words echoed in his head and wasn't it just the way? Here he was, hesitating. After he had tried to attack Jim, to kill Jim and had been so adamant about putting Amy down.
He didn't want to die a huge fucking hypocrite, or be later deemed as someone too pussy to take his own advice.
Carl was crying and Carol was holding the gun forced upon her with shaky hands. Dale looked spent and was clutching that old rifle like it was som divine artifact. T-Dog was wide-eyed, panicked, maybe, as he took in scene around him, clearly understanding that their ammo didn't match the amount of Walkers crawling out of every single corner.
Even Rick and Shane looked unsure as they ushered Lori and Maggie ahead with a blood splattered Andrea and a machete-wielding Glenn.
"Just keep running –" Rick shouted as he took another shot, each one attracting more Walkers. "Don't stop."
The bite-wound ached and he really knew that he was a lost cause; kinda knew it all along, even before this.
They were so far up shit's creek that it didn't seem right. They needed the manpower. They needed protection, his protection while it still lasted.
So he followed them, shotgun raised because he had long run out of arrows, the crossbow now acting only as a giant weight on his back. When they had a minute to breath he wrapped the red rag, the one he constantly kept in his back pocket, around the wound.
It did nothing to staunch the bleeding or to dull the pain.
And then suddenly, after what felt like hours of struggling, they made it back to the access gate they had parked the cars at, the one that had been too narrow to drive through. The private community had looked so promising, so Walker free from the vantage point at the top of the lone access road.
They filed into their cars – the RV, the Cherokee, that ridiculous green Honda – and fled, watching as the Walkers crashed into the gates, bloody, rotting, enraged.
Daryl took a seat at the kitchenette table inside the RV and briefly wished he hadn't left his – Merle's – motorcycle behind. It would have been far easier to sneak away, to die like a fucking man.
The last thing he wanted was for these people, people who couldn't give two shits about him to see him this way, to be forced to deal with his … condition, to pretend to care when he died.
He huffed and tucked his arm in, listening as Dale murmured to himself, or maybe he was talking to Glenn and Maggie, he couldn't tell, as they trudged along the dirt road, adrenaline still high.
He peeled the rag back, taking in the ugly, torn bite. It looked almost identical to the one he had seen on Jim, on Amy and Sophia, and that thought brought back a spark of rage.
Is this what she had experienced, what they had experienced?
He imagined it as the RV rattled back and forth. Imagined the little girl crying out in pain, crying through the burning in her neck and the fever, that damn fever.
She had died in pain and so utterly alone.
His throat felt tight as he stared down at the wound.
When the RV's pace evened out, when it seemed as though tensions had lowered and they were no longer in danger, he spoke.
"Stop the RV." And already his voice was hoarse; he cleared his throat and tried again. "Stop the RV!"
"What? Why?" Glenn and Maggie had been hovering behind Dale, their eyes on the road and it seemed as though they might have forgotten that he two had hitched a ride.
"We can't stop now, those peo-those Walkers are out there."
"Just do it!" Maggie's face scrunched up as it always did when she heard a tone she didn't like.
Despite the words that echoed in his head, zerotoleranceforWalkers, his heart was hammering.
Though maybe it was just the infection spreading. He could already feel the sweat dripping down his temples, the way his body was beginning to feel a little too hot -
Dale turned back, an expression of annoyance on his features.
"Are you insane? We just barely made it out of there and –" Daryl grunted, the man talked too damn much.
He stood and pulled back the soaked rag, thrusting his forearm forward.
That got their attention.
The RV screeched to a jolting stop and three sets of eyes were upon him.
"There ain't no arguin' about it, you had no problem pointin' that thing at me before –"
His voice was husky and he could feel the sweat dripping down his back as he paced within the small clearing they had pulled into.
Everyone was eyeing him warily, but other than that it was a mixed bag of emotions, something he was genuinely confused and a little pissed over.
Didn't these idiots know anything? This is how they dealt with Walkers, how they were going to deal with him.
"That was different –" and sure, he figured it was, Rick had never killed a living man before, couldn't do it when Jim was bitten, couldn't do it now.
He felt a stab of rage course through him when the former Sheriff turned to look at the RV.
Rick had long since ushered Lori and Carl away, into the vehicle, with Shane close behind. The man hadn't seemed particularly effected by the situation, something Daryl had expected, so it didn't sting much when he eyed him the way he always did, like he was redneck trash, and spat at Rick, "You deal with this."
"We-we can't do this – he's still, he's still Daryl –" Glenn chipped in like it was some kind of debate.
"Yeah, but he won't be –" Maggie. The girl had really grown up since the damn barn incident.
"I don't like this, man, not after all he–" T-Dog. That was a surprise. An annoying, ridiculous surprise.
Maybe they had gotten used to him being around by now, maybe they were realizing that they were about to kill their only means of finding fresh meat, fresh food. Whatever it was Daryl wanted it to stop, all this fake sympathy, acting as though losing him would really affect any one of them, it was making him sick.
Or maybe that was the infection, the fever. He felt like hell and had he been smart enough to grab his own pistol before exiting the RV he would have blown his own brains out.
But, no. For some reason, some idiotic, sentimental reason, he had wanted someone else to do it. Wanted to, in his own fucked up way, say goodbye to the others, even if that meant just announcing the news and then promptly having Rick shoot him in the face.
"Stop bein' such a fuckin' pussy –" It came out more like a gasp than anything substantial, anything convincing.
They were arguing, about him, but he didn't really hear any of it. He was too busy trying not to fall on his ass – whatever this was, this infection, it was death incarnate and he wanted to go out with some dignity. Not caught in some hideous hallucinations, crying out, moaning, and begging for it to stop, just as Jim had.
His muscles were lead and he could swear his teeth were buzzing and that his damn hair hurt, right to the tips. He could feel himself fading, fast. It was dragging him down, marking its claim on him, lighting his blood on fire and making his vision blur and twist in horrific ways.
For a moment he was sure, absolutely sure that he had seen Sophia, standing next to her mother as she joined in their pointless argument; the argument for his wasted life, an argument that he had done nothing to warrant.
"We don't put our people down like sick dogs, not until … not until –"
"It's what he wants, Carol – "
He was quickly loosing his hold on consciousness, it had been two, three hours since he had been bitten and his time was up. He chuckled though it came out as a choking cough. Leave it to these people to discuss a situation as black and white as this, at a time like this.
Why, he thought, hadn't he just ended it himself? Why hadn't he ended it as soon as it had happened? Why had he stuck around at all?
Just before everything went black and he was sent crashing to the ground, through his succumbing to the virus or by the mercy of a bullet, he wouldn't know, couldn't know, he had one final thought:
Because you didn't want to die alone.
"It's been hours, didn't Jenner say –" He didn't know why Lori's voice had any presence in his afterlife, but there she was, distorted and strange sounding, but there all the same.
"I know, I know what Jenner said," who was that? Rick? "It just, it doesn't make any sense, he should've –"
Should've what, Daryl wondered. What could these figments of his apparent hell be discussing?
"Turned?" Dale. Now this was just bizarre. This had to be hell if the old man was going to stick around, sharing his two cents for the rest of eternity. He tried to see what was happening, to open his eyes, if the dead, spirits, ghosts, whatever, had eyes, but there was Dale again, "Should've died?"
Daryl tried to make heads or tails of that particular bit of information but it was too much for his mind to handle, and once again there was nothing but darkness.
Death was a strange thing, made of nothing but pain and tormenting images. But did he deserve any better?
Merle sat beside him, filling his head with terrible, negative thoughts, his smiling face looming over him. Worthless.Traitor.Pathetic. All repeated over and over and over again, echoing, inescapable.
And Carol was there too, telling him he didn't try hard enough, Sophia too, begging him to help her, her neck wet with blood and gore.
Rick stood over him, that revolver pointed at his head.
… scrape you off their heels like you was dog shit …
"Do it, man." Shane slipped in behind the other man, ever-present shotgun in tow. "Bout time."
… no one ever gonna care bout you 'cept me, baby brother …
"Do it, Rick. Take the shot." Andrea.
This was hell and he deserved it.
His head felt … clear, at least as clear as it could be with that gentle throbbing in his temples and the hideous weakness that had taken over his body.
But that couldn't be right. Having a body and all that.
He was dead.
He had always expected this groups ridiculous sense of sentimentality to get him killed –
- so there was no reason for him to have anticipated waking up with three sets of eyes staring down at him.
He flinched, pulling backwards and flailing slightly. A strong grip caught his arm and eased him back into a sitting position and as his vision cleared he realized it was Rick, Carol and Lori hovering at his side.
"Hey, easy, Daryl, easy," Daryl groaned as the light of the room suddenly became too much, "just relax."
Relax? How was he supposed to 'relax'? Hadn't he been bitten? Yes, yes he knew that for a fact, his damn arm still burned.
"Wha' happened?" It was all he could manage and hell, he sounded like shit, but that was no surprise, he felt like he had been hit by a semi and promptly scraped off the pavement.
A glass of water was pushed into his hand and had he not had an audience it would've slipped from his grasp, so powerful was the weakness in his limbs.
"We're not sure." Rick paused to look between Lori and Carol, before turning back to him, a certain wariness set on his features, "we were hoping maybe you could tell us."
Daryl's initial reaction was to call the man out on that ridiculous statement. Tell them … what the hell could he tell them?
He looked down at the bandage around his forearm, the blood stained cloth making this all very, very real. He had been bit. Just like Jim and Amy and Sophia and everyone else he knew before this. Just like every single Walker out there.
Just like them, but not at all.
He wanted to turn away, couldn't handle them looking at him like they were, confused, scared, but there was nowhere to go.
"Should be dead –" he rasped, eyes turned downwards.
No one disagreed and no one offered an answer.
They were afraid of him. He heard it all from the RV and for fuck's sake; didn't these people know that tents and vehicles were not in fact soundproof?
"Is he – you know … really alive?"
"What if he turns?"
"Maybe Jenner was wrong …"
"This was a mistake. He should've done it. Someone should've done it."
He lay there for two days, listening to them talk in circles, offering theories like he was a damn murder mystery novel.
And he really could've have told them so, could've told them they would regret their decision.
They had expected him to turn into a Walker, had been too damn sensitive to do something about it when they should have.
But now here he is, alive, and they don't know what the fuck to do.
He figured he had been right, that it had all been utter crap, that it was just their conscious saying those things, because now that they have him, they don't even want him anymore.
Daryl finally couldn't take it anymore and, despite Carol's insisting he stay in bed, he stumbled out of the RV, right into the middle of it.
"We can't do it, Rick, keeping him around like this." Shane looked absolutely enraged when he finally saw him, yet despite his apparent anger he kept his distance, pacing as he took in Daryl's appearance.
Daryl fought the pathetic thing inside him that wanted to cover his arm; that wanted to turn away and hide. He forced himself to stand tall, as tall as he could with the ache that had settled into his being.
Shane eyed the cloth around his forearm, shaking his head.
"We don't know what – what this is," and though Shane could have been referring to whatever had happened to him, Daryl knew better, knew that by 'this' he was referring to his person, "he's a danger to everyone in this camp."
"We don't know that, Shane."
Despite the familiar rage that swelled and churned within him, Daryl had nothing to say, couldn't say anything.
He had been bitten. He was infected, a walking disease.
Everyone avoided him like the plague he probably was. Everyone, that is, besides Rick, Carol and, for some reason he would never understand, Glenn.
Lori checked on him, once in a while, but it was clear that though she seemed to understand that avoiding him wasn't helping anyone, she had to do so on principal, for Carl.
For the first time, Daryl agreed. He had always thought they needed to stop babying the kid but – he didn't know what he would do if he turned on the kid, did something to hurt him.
Carol cooked for him, even going as far to ensure he had his own utensils and dinnerware. Shane had made it very clear that if Daryl was to stay he was not to share anything with anyone.
Initially, Daryl had told him to fuck off, but then he saw the look in everyone's eyes. There were no objections,.
Five days after his shaky reintroduction Glenn had approached him, sitting down next to him on the half dead log he had claimed, like his own little leper colony.
"Everyone's pretty freaked out," the kid said with no preamble; he could feel the kid watching him as he sharpened his knife, staring at the gauze covered wound, "I mean – you were bit, right?"
Daryl fixed him with an annoyed stare, well aware of how pale he still looked and how the bags under his eyes only highlighted his 'condition.' He looked … like one of them, without the gore.
"I – yeah, of course you were, we all saw it." An awkward silence descended upon them but Daryl didn't yell, or shout, because hell, this was the first time someone had really tried to speak to him.
Merle would call him pathetic but right now, he didn't care, he just didn't care.
"So, doesn't this make you, like, a superhero, or something? I mean, every superhero has it's origin story, this is like yours-" Glenn looked scared for a moment, like he knew he might have just crossed some sort of weird line with the hunter.
But to both their surprise, Daryl just huffed, not entirely unamused, and for a moment it seemed like things might be okay.
But really, he was a damn fool to think that.
Dale eyed him, watching his movements from the RV like he was a Walker, waiting for him to lose his mind, to start ripping their group apart. He finally had enough one night and told the older man to do what he was supposed to and keep his eyes on the damn woods.
That night he overheard Dale speaking to Andrea, telling her to stay away. He waited for her to argue, to tell the old fart to stuff it, just like she always seemed to do, but she didn't.
Instead, she replied with a quiet, 'I know.'
That hurt more than anything else.
Fuckthem, he thought, don' need 'emanyway.
The question of why he didn't just leave surfaced daily.
The same voice answered back every time.
Because you don't want to die alone.
After a week he began to notice a change. It was minor enough to make him even wonder at whether there was really anything there, but then Shane said something.
"Ain't natural." And the man was right, there was nothing natural about it.
He had stolen a peek of himself in a mirror in the RV, more out of curiosity than anything. He noted that yeah, he looked like shit and his hair was getting a bit too long for his liking but the most notable thing, the most disturbing thing were his eyes.
Once a deep blue, his iris' had faded to an almost silver color. It was subtle enough to seem as though they had always been such a pale color, the palest of blues, maybe, but against the dark strands of his hair and the constant grime that covered him it was a striking feature.
"You ever see a person's eyes look like that?" He was addressing Rick but Daryl knew he was trying to rally everyone up, to give them a reason to think they needed to fight. "You ever see an illness do that?"
"Enough, Shane." Rick warned as Daryl halted his march across the camp, trying to avoid the stares of the others.
"No, man, where do we draw the line, huh?" Daryl stepped forward and hell they must've looked like animals, sizing each other up, waiting for the other to make a move.
This had all been building. Something had to break.
The others were gathering, just like he wanted, and Shane snorted in amusement as he took in the scene.
"What. We all going to pretend that everything's fine? That we're not travellin' around with this – this half-Walker?"
Finally, a damn broke and Daryl found himself launching forward, despite the fact that it would do nothing for his case. He knew the other man was looking for an opening, for a reason to put him down, like he should have been a damn week ago.
But there was Rick again, and Glenn and for some fucked reason, T-Dog, pushing the two men apart.
"He's dangerous, Rick."
"Y' don't know nothin' 'bout this." Daryl managed though it was a weak argument. He knew just as much as everyone else.
Rick was finally able to push the hunter back, away from Shane.
Daryl turned his sights on Rick and though a small part of him knew it was childish he couldn't help but lash out.
More than anything he was angry, so fucking angry.
This should've been someone else, anyone else. This should've been Sophia, not him, some worthless redneck who had no one in his life worrying over him.
Wasn't that just the way? A mother loses her daughter, a woman her sister and here he is, alone in the world, getting off scot-free.
"You were too fucking pussy to put a bullet in my head." It was a statement, more than anything else, but he knew, as Rick was often want to do, he would offer an explanation. "Shoulda done it, would've if ya had the balls."
"We don't kill the living." Rick sounded broken, like it was something he had been reiterating his whole life just to keep him sane.
But Daryl wasn't feeling grateful or sympathetic as he trudged to the edge of the woods.
When were they going to stop pretending they gave a single shit? Merle woulda' done it in a second, his own flesh and blood, so why the hell couldn't they?
Later, the thought would haunt his mind, keeping him from any semblance of sleep.
Why couldn't they do it?
He knew there was something to that, somethingimportant, but he just couldn't see it.
"You should eat." Carol came to him one night, standing before that damn log, holding out a plate, the same one she always gave him.
"Not hungry." He grunted, and truth was the idea of eating powdered eggs and Spam was as appetizing as eating shit.
The first few days after his miraculous recovery, he had eaten whatever Carol pushed at him, ravenous as ever, but as the days drew on and he recovered his strength, he couldn't stomach their packaged and canned goods.
It was a damn shame. They had hit the jackpot before all this shit, before he had gotten bit. It was a good thing, too, because he'd been out of commission, unable to hunt. He had no idea what would've happened if they hadn't stumbled upon that stockpile.
To her credit, Carol was a smart woman, perceptive. She gave him a small nod, but instead of leaving, she sat down on the rotted log, close enough that they were nearly shoulder-to-shoulder.
He unconsciously shied away, maintaining a bit of distance.
Thing was, when people told you the same thing over and over, when you heard something about yourself enough, it began to stick.
Infected. Dangerous. Unnatural. Infected. Dangerous. Unnatural.
He didn't want to hurt Carol. Never Carol.
"I don't take back any of what I said." He knew what she was referring too, but couldn't she see? This wasn't the same. He wasn't the same.
"It's still true, you know." In a motion bolder than he thought she was capable of she gripped his hand and jut her chin upwards, her expression serious.
"Daryl –" He looked over at her, fighting the urge to chew his bottom lip, to give away the anxiety swirling around within him.
"You're not a monster. Stop treating yourself like you are."
Inside him, something stirred and his eyes burned. He was exhausted, tired of this … thing, whatever it was.
If Carol noticed his internal struggle, she didn't say anything. Instead they sat in companionable silence, all while he fought the demons in his head.
Despite an undeniable disgust for Rick's previous weakness, Daryl was pretty sure the only thing keeping the group from treating him like a complete pariah was the fact that the ex-Sheriff was so fully on his side.
But he knew why. Rick had made a huge fucking mistake, letting him live on like this, and he knew it. It was that absurd sense of morality the man was still carrying with him. He felt guilty, there was no better explanation.
"Give them time," Rick had said to him one night, as he sat on that log staring into the fire, "they're just confused, shaken - "
The ex-Sheriff trailed off, taking a moment to look over the group, stopping at his wife and son, both curled in front of the fire.
"Cut the shit, Grimes." He sounded so tired, so fucking pathetic. "You're just as scared as the rest of them."
Rick didn't say anything and Daryl was sure the man was going to leave, to join the others by the fire.
Instead, he spoke.
"The way I see it, what happened was nothing short of a miracle." Daryl couldn't help the scowl that worked its way onto his features. Miracle? The man must have had no idea what that word meant, to call something like this hell a miracle.
"You're not alone in this, Daryl." Daryl stared at him, 'bullshit' on the tip of his tongue, but there was something so real, so sincere in the way the man said it. There was something there, something Daryl wanted to believe.
Rick was long gone when he had finally thought of something to say.
He settled into his sleeping bag and rolled onto his side, facing the woods.
"We're all alone."
Two weeks later and he still felt … off.
No longer did he feel like the infection was going to take him at any moment; that the whole thing had been a fluke and he would turn, eventually, like everyone else.
The headache seemed ever-present and he was only just beginning to regain his strength. He could finally draw his bowstring without breaking into a feverish sweat and he was no longer left breathless by a short walk across camp.
The wound – thebite – on his arm itched something fierce and in a split decision he began pulling the gauze from his arm, wincing as some of the cloth stuck to the more freshly scabbed areas.
The wound was ugly, but it was healing.
He traced the wound gently, marveling at how much it looked exactly how it was supposed to. There was no mistaking it; it was a human bite.
He would have one hell of a scar. Already were there raised, white bumps where the teeth had penetrated. The edge proximal to the wrist was slower to heal – he remembered how it had felt when he had yanked his arm from the Walker's mouth, how it should have ripped a chunk of flesh from his arm.
He grabbed another bit of cloth, deciding to rewrap it.
Like the rest of his scars, no one needed to see it.
"Can I see it?" Daryl looked over at Carl and then across the field, for Lori, Rick, anyone, because he wasn't about to get an earful because the kid was feeling adventurous.
"Y' shouldn't be out here." He turned back to fletching his arrows, hoping the kid would just forget about him and wander back to the RV, back to the homework his parents were so adamant about.
"The bite, can I see it?" The kid repeated as if he hadn't heard.
Daryl looked around again. Wasn't someone supposed to be watching him?
Carl inched away and Daryl realized he must have been glaring, he hadn't meant it but, to be fair, it was a sore subject.
"I just wanted to see if it was true, because – " his voice was so small, so timid, Daryl found himself leaning forward wanting to hear this, " – because, Sophia got bit too, didn't she?"
Carl didn't need to finish. Daryl knew what he was asking, what he was implying. He, like the rest of them, were wondering, why him? Why not someone else?
He didn't know why he did it, why he felt like he owed it to Carl, but suddenly he was rolling up his sleeve, taking in the hideous raised scar.
For a while, Carl didn't say anything, just stared, and then, with as much care and gentleness possible, he reached out to touch it.
It was only a second but it seemed far longer, a million things racing through Daryl's mind. He wondered whether it was just his imagination that had set the old wound to burning again.
"Does it hurt?" Daryl shook his head, no.
When Carl spoke again it was a sincere, honest thing.
"I'm glad you're okay."
Daryl was so lost in though, so lost in the kid's expression, all tight lines and far too thoughtful for his age, that he didn't even hear Glenn until he was right next to them, huffing in exertion, bending over to plant his palms on his knees as he regained his breath.
"You gave me the slip." Glenn gasped, pulling off his cap to rake a hand through his hair. "Your mom is not gonna be –"
Glenn halted, jaw dropping and Daryl realized his arm was still exposed. He hurried to cover it, pulling his shirtsleeve over it, but it was too later.
The next night Glenn came to apologize for intruding and it was an awkward mess. After a good ten minutes of rambling and false starts Daryl had enough and told him to spit it out.
"I-I just feel so stupid. I was comparing it to superpowers, like Superman, or the X-Men, y'know? Like it was something out of a comic book." And then Glenn's expression fell. It looked strange on him, made him look too old, too tired.
"I didn't realize … not until I saw the – well, you know."
"The bite." Daryl snapped, tired of the way he was pussyfooting around him.
"Yeah. The bite. Anyway," the kid looked down again and for a moment Daryl was sure the Korean was going to take to rambling again, but instead, he sighed heavily, weary, and looked up at him, eyes boring into his own, "Daryl, I'm so sorry."
"For what? 'S not your fault."
Glenn was quick to respond, anticipating Daryl's cool rebuttal.
"No one should have to suffer through what you are experiencing. No one deserves that."
The fire cracked and locusts buzzed around them but it all seemed lost to him as he listened.
"You don't deserve that."
He wants to believe it, more than anything.