He's not real sure if it's the smart thing, bringing the Woodbury folks back with them from the prison. But it feels like the right thing.
Andrea was right, what she said…people can't make it alone anymore. And Rick reckons he'd be no better than that crazy son of a bitch Governor if he left those people sitting there, waiting for him to come back and execute them all like he did his army.
He's not one for signs, but when he gets back to the prison and Lori's not there, not waiting, not looking down at him with sadness and regret, he thinks he might just've finally put that part of him to rest.
The rest is quick enough to follow. The Woodbury folks are quick to settle in, spilling over into B-Block. He reckons he'll have to venture into C soon, see if they can't salvage any of those bunks Merle took to shredding, but they're alright for now. They've got enough beds for everyone, and last Rick checked, they were all bedded down. Some, he knows, cried themselves to sleep. Seemed there wasn't a one of them that didn't lose someone to the Governor's hand today, and they seem happier to take comfort in each other for the time being than to venture out to the group.
Michonne's another matter. Much as Rick feels Andrea's death, he knows Michonne feels it all the keener. She lost a sister today, and it seems she copes best on her own. Rick respects that and lets her be.
So with everyone else more or less settled in – Glen and Maggie are up in the tower, keeping a weather eye out in what Rick reckons is the very unlikely event the Governor decides to pay them a visit – Rick seized his own chance. Daryl had slipped off into the generator room near as soon as they got all the supplies from Woodbury unloaded into the prison, and with everything in its proper place and Beth seeing to Judith for the night, Rick grabbed a few things, among them a bottle of Dickel No. 12 he figured no-one would miss from their Woodbury haul, and went off to join him.
He found him sitting up against the cabinets, a flashlight in his mouth and a bottle of rubbing alcohol by his knee. At first he wasn't real sure what he was doing, but then he saw the tweezers in his hand, and he caught on pretty quick after that. Wasn't 'til he sat down next to him, though, that he decided to give him a hand. See, steady as Daryl's were holding a crossbow or an assault rifle, holding those tweezers, they were shaking so bad he could thread a sewing machine needle while the machine was running.
He didn't say anything when he sat down, and Daryl didn't either. He just took the tweezers, took one of Daryl's hands, and under the light of the flashlight, set to trying to pull a small lumber yard's worth of splinters out of his skin.
It took a good long while to do it, and Rick's not real sure he got them all, but after a quick wash with the rubbing alcohol – and damned if Rick didn't wince more than Daryl did – he was satisfied enough to leave it alone.
A half hour later, Rick's still sitting leaned up against the cabinets, only there's a blanket between him and the ground now. Daryl's moved around, too. Must've just got tired of sitting up, because he's lying down on the blanket, now, legs bent and head in Rick's lap. How he's managing to drink like that without choking's a mystery to Rick, but he chalks it up to another of Daryl's oddball little talents.
Rick takes the bottle when Daryl passes it to him, and raises it to his lips. Between them, they've emptied a quarter of the bottle. Only Rick knows he's only had a couple 'a mouthfuls, so really, it's Daryl that's done most of the emptying. Rick thinks his eyes might be getting a little glassy, but he's not sure how much of it's him and how much of it's the way the moonlight streaming in from the window's hitting his eyes, making them shine.
"I want my brother back."
Daryl's voice is so quiet, it doesn't startle Rick no matter how much he wasn't expecting to hear it. There hasn't been anything in the way of conversation between them the whole time they've been down here, and of all the ways Rick's imagined kicking off this long-overdue talk, this isn't one of them. He reckons beggars can't be choosers, but it's just…it sounds so raw. And when Rick glances down, he realizes it's not just the moon making his eyes shine.
He sighs, rubs his face, and takes another drink. There's not a whole hell of a lot else he can do. Nothing he can say's gonna make this better. Nothing he can say's gonna give Daryl what he wants.
He does pass over the bottle, though, and watches as Daryl takes a long swig of whisky. If he feels the burn of the liquor, he doesn't show it, just stares up at the ceiling with half-lidded, red-rimmed eyes. "Said I needed t' grow up. Said I was a sheep for followin' you."
"You agree with him?" Rick doesn't. Truth be told, he thinks Daryl was made to grow up sooner than he should've, and there's a world of difference between being a sheep and being loyal. But this ain't about what he thinks.
Daryl purses his lips. "Maybe," he says. "Don't much matter, anyhow. 's what he thought." There's something awfully guilty about the way he says it, too.
That, Rick does have something to say to. "That ain't what your brother thought." He knows he's got no business saying it, but it needs saying, and the man it should be coming from's no longer around. "Might be what he said, but it's not what he thought. You know that." He's just too caught up in all the shit to let it sink in.
"Maybe," Daryl repeats, and that seems to be far as he's ready to go.
Rick'll take it for the time being. This isn't the sort of thing that happens in a day. Grieving takes time, even for someone strong as Daryl. Maybe even especially for him, because for all he keeps it in, he doesn't do anything in halves, and Rick's not sure he's ever met a man that cares as much about people as Daryl does.
He's just sorry it keeps coming back to bite him in the ass.
Truth be told, he knows the feeling.
"Since we're sharing..." Rick starts, only he trails off, partly because he's not real sure where to start and partly because he's not real sure he should be saying anything at all. But then Daryl bumps the bottle against his knee and holds it up to him, and Rick doesn't know when the whisky became their designated talking stick, but he takes it gratefully and downs a mouthful before he continues. "Carl blames me for Lori dying. Says if I'd killed Andrew when I had the chance…." He trails off again, but this time, it's just because he can't bring himself to say the rest.
Lori'd still be alive.
Carl wouldn't 'a had to shoot his own mother.
And then there's Merle.
"What about him?"
Rick didn't mean to say it out loud, but he realizes he must've. Daryl's trying real hard to sound casual, but Rick can feel him tense up, and it only makes the knot in Rick's gut tighten and the lump in his throat grow. He tries washing it down with the whisky, but it doesn't help much.
"Carl—" he has to stop and clear his throat, then tries again. "Carl seems to think if I'd 'a taken out the Governor when I had him at the Feed and Seed, your brother'd still be alive."
Daryl's eyes shift over from the ceiling to Rick's face, but Rick can't bring himself to meet them. The way Daryl's shirt's half open under his hand's a much easier sight to take, and he can feel Daryl's chest rise with a breath before he asks, "What about you? You agree with him?" There he goes again, turning Rick's words right back around on him.
Rick sighs. "If I'd killed the Governor, your brother would've had no reason to do what he done."
"That a yes or a no?"
Frowning, Rick hesitates, but then, "Yes," he admits.
He's not expecting to feel Daryl chuckle. It's a short one, more of a snort, but there's the slightest turn of his lips that's real telling. "Then you don't know my brother one damn bit," Daryl says. "'Cause what he done was his idea. Had nothin' to do with you."
Only…that's not true. "I went to talk to him, after we got back from meetin' with the Governor."
"Tellin' him about Michonne?"
But Rick shakes his head. "It wasn't about that."
Now he's got Daryl's attention. He's pushing himself up on his elbows, and when Rick forces himself to meet his eyes, they're sharp as tacks. "What was it about, then?"
"You," Rick says bluntly. No sense dancing around it.
Daryl actually sits up, then, and somehow, it feels like this whole thing's suddenly taken a southerly turn. "The hell were you talkin' about me for?" There's an accusatory edge to it, but underneath the furrowed brows and the scowl, he just sounds…confused. Maybe a little worried, even.
"There were a few things he needed to understand." And Rick knows that answer's vague as all get out, but he's hardly about to tell him he was going to defend his honor. He's already fixing to be pissed enough. "But that ain't the point I'm tryin' to make."
"You wanna get to it, then?"
"I'm tryin' to, if you'd let me," Rick says, and mercifully, Daryl pipes down. Which Rick realizes is actually a mixed blessing, because he reckons now he's actually got to tell him. He sighs. "Your brother loves you, Daryl. I know 'cause he told me."
Frustration gives way to surprise on Daryl's face, but the confusion holds. "He told you?" And Christ, a man shouldn't look so surprised hearing his brother told somebody he loves him. The Dixons aren't the most expressive bunch, but still….
"Yeah, he told me," Rick says, and then steels himself, because this part's the kicker. "And I told him to prove it."
He doesn't say more than that. Doesn't tell Daryl that there's this sick sort of feeling in his gut that Merle died because 'a something Rick told him to do.
He doesn't have to.
Daryl sort of shuts down. His whole face goes blank, and Rick can practically hear him thinking…processing. Trying to make sense of what Rick's just told him. And Rick suddenly can't help remembering the look on his face that very first day they met, the day he told him he locked his brother on that roof. The day he told him he left his brother for dead.
Except this time, he can't offer anything. Can't tell him he'll come with him to help find him, can't offer the hope that somewhere out there, his brother's still alive.
And as Daryl's face hardens and his jaw sets, Rick can feel things falling apart.
Rick blinks. "Come again?" That ain't quite the seething fury he was expecting.
"I said 'no,' Rick. Can't you hear?" Daryl's voice is rough, harsh, and he scrubs his hand over his face hard enough his cheeks are red when he drops his hands. "I told you: what Merle done was his idea. Had nothin' to do with you. Nothin' to do with provin' nothin' to nobody. He gave us a chance, and we made good on it." And then he nods, once, and takes the bottle out of Rick's hand. "So stop sulking and have a damn drink with me."
And well, there's not a whole hell of a lot Rick can say to that. He waits 'til Daryl's taken a good swig and takes it back off his hands. "To Merle," he says.
While he raises the bottle to his lips, Daryl turns back around and lays back down with all the pomp and circumstance of a bored hunting dog, his head going right back onto Rick's leg like it never left. Rick knows that's the end of it, and he feels himself smiling just a little bit around the lip of his bottle before he hands it back to Daryl. It's nearly half empty, and Rick can feel the pleasant warmth building in his gut that goes nice with the pleasant buzz tingling in the back of his head.
Daryl smiles, too, small and bittersweet, and raises the bottle in the air in a half-assed sort of one-man toast. "To chances."
This time, after Daryl takes a pull from the bottle, Rick's waiting to chase the whisky with a kiss. He leans down, capturing Daryl's lips, and Daryl seems more than happy to oblige him. It's chaste, unhurried, relaxed, but it still ignites a warmth in Rick's chest that even the whisky can't match, and when they part, he's smiling.
Daryl is, too, even as he seals his kiss-reddened lips around the mouth of the bottle again. He's gonna regret it in the morning, Rick knows, but he doesn't have the heart to cut him off. This is Daryl's goodbye to his brother. This is his memorial.
But even as he mourns what he's lost, and even as Rick does the same, it doesn't feel…sad. There's a heart beating under Rick's hand, and it's steady and it's strong, and even after everything they've lost, it isn't broken. He can feel his own beat with it, feel the warmth of skin under his hand, feel the swell of unquestioning, unyielding love in his chest for this man that has never failed to stand by him.
The world is a dark place. Today was a dark day. People they love died, and so much blood was spilt.
And yet…they're still here. He and Daryl, they're still together, and somehow, that makes it worth fighting on, that makes it worth living. Because some things...some things are thicker than blood.