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There's no one to watch him this time. Only the walkers stumbling and limping in the dark. They ain't people, so it doesn't even count. His motorbike purrs and rumbles underneath him, both of his feet firmly on the ground when Daryl glances towards Hershel's farm overrun with those dead assholes.

Another damn herd.

The climbing flames and smoke billowing from barn rafters lighten up the starless, humid sky, choking the air. His nostrils fill with the poisonous, familiar smell.

It's different this time, yet the memories stayed.

Ones he hadn't thought of in years.

There's no fire department on a blue, sunny day with water hoses and helmets and barking orders over civilian chatter. No snot-nose neighborhood kids staring over their shoulders at him as he runs up, left behind without a bike—they're fixated on what he would do next, eager, even. There's no old-ass bastards from two houses over huddled together on the lawn across the street from his childhood home, skeleton-bare with its charred-black framework. They whisper into each other's hairy, gray ears and shake their heads at him.

No one's sad. Daryl knew that, then.

It's the most excitement his neighborhood has had since the Jones' meth lab had been busted, two years ago. And now it's gone, party's over, the house fire reduced to a weak, smoldering ruin and the fuckin' neighborhood watch community disperses before nightfall. The woman trapped inside is gone, too.

Word through the grapevine didn't get around until a few hours later, that Daryl's mother had fallen asleep during the fire, dying from smoke inhalation in her sleep. (He think sometimes it was a lie, scrapped together last minute to reassure him as a kid that his mom didn't suffer. She suffered. Fuck you very much, did she suffer? She suffered before the fire, nursing bruised eye sockets from Pa and battered, swollen jaws from Merle, and having to watch the terrified gleam in Daryl's stupid-little kid eyes when he caught her in the vanity mirror, caking on a second layer of her makeup, reaching out silently to ruffle and comb her fingers into his hair.)

Daryl's forgotten by now what color her dress was, how her hand smelled when she cupped the side of his face gently.

In a way, that's kinder to go by the fire.

Better than being chewed apart with a hot and slimy walker-mouth clamping down on your bare flesh and fuckin' grinning when it eats you alive.

There's no one but the walkers, and the crackling barn fire, and his labored breathing, before a shrill, female cry pierces the night. Terrified to hell. Daryl revs up the engine of his motorbike, and ends up braking when he finds a living Carol and yells at her to get her ass in gear.

Feels her bony, trembling arms lock around his middle when they take off down the road, and leaving a cluster of groaning, undead assholes behind.

One woman he could still save, and Daryl will gladly take luck where he can find it, mentally cursing, his ear ringing with her hysterical, screaming demands to go faster, but he obeys.

He can't lose more family. Not now.

Not ever, if he could damn well help it.

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TWD-KinkMeme prompt:

"I was watching "Beside the Dying Fire" the other day, and knowing now how Daryl's mom died, the scene with him watching the barn burn down really got to me.

I'd just like a little ficlet describing Daryl's thought process as he watched it burn. Obviously I'd like some sort of relation to the death of his mother, but everything else is up to nonnie."