A/N A few things going on these days but I have NOT abandoned this story! I'm a little behind on season four, and in the midst of rewatching seasons 2 and 3 so I can continue with this tale. Thanks so much for your reviews - the fact that this story is getting into the hearts of you guys is awesome, and I appreciate each and every one of you, whether it's a follow or a fave.
incog_ninja makes me happy.
End of the world or not, powdered eggs tasted like shit, but Hershel's farm was a blessing on us all, as was evident by the fresh scrambled eggs that were crowding my plate next to a slice of fried Spam. Normally, I'd manage to choke down breakfast just to make Dale get off my back, but I had worked up a solid appetite in the prior twelve hours. Beside me, one long leg crossed ankle to knee, Daryl sat shoveling his own pile of eggs and Spam into his mouth, and occasionally, our gazes would meet. He'd stare for a moment, solid and unwavering, without even a hint of a smile, but his eyes burned right into me. I silently prayed to a god I didn't believe in that no one would see my cheeks burning. By the third or forth time it happened, I was getting concerned that someone would notice us.
That was when Glenn stepped into camp, distraught, and shifting from foot to foot. With his hands wringing his ball cap, he looked to Dale, who nodded. From the corner of my eye, I watched Daryl's hand hesitate to take another mouthful. I focused on Glenn.
"Guys," Glenn began in a low voice. His eyes skittered behind us, to the farmhouse, and then to his left, in the direction of Hershel's barn. "The barn is full of walkers."
The eggs may have well been powdered – Glenn's rushed admission made my tongue shrivel and my stomach turn. Beside me, I heard Daryl's fork clatter to his plate, and I looked to see him lean forward, his eyes sharp and aimed at Glenn. His mouth dropped open. It was the first time I'd seen Daryl surprised by anything that had happened in the last three months.
Voices rose around us, the loudest of those being Rick and Shane. I knew Shane had been waiting for a chance to question Rick's authority, and this was just the opportunity he'd been waiting for. Breakfast was forgotten, and Daryl and I, along with the others, rose from our seats to cast glances, and blame, on the Greene family that had begun to gather on the porch.
All together, we must have shot at least twenty walkers. I wasn't keeping count. There hadn't been time to do much of anything after Shane ripped the lock from the barn door, other than aim and fire. The thunder of gunfire drowned out the mournful cries of the Greene family as they watched their family die for a second time. How could these people not know what was happening? How could they think there was anyway to come back from this? Hadn't Rick explained anything we'd learned from Jenner? Hershel was an educated man; he of all people should have understood.
When the dust settled, the silence was unbelievable. So was the tension in the air. Those with guns were still poised and ready, and we stood staring at the open maw of the barn, watching, waiting for just one more to step through, wondering who would get the first shot off.
And then Sophia stepped out.
I was certain I couldn't sleep in the RV that night. I couldn't stand to be in the same room as Carol, to be honest. I'd offered what support I could at the time, but she had to be restrained by Daryl, who had kept telling her not to look, to please not watch as Rick lifted a gun that seemed to weigh the world and aim and shoot that…that thing that had once been Carol's little girl right between the eyes.
Daryl had let Carol go then, and I had spun away, as a gut wrenching spike of agony and morbid relief threatened to tear through me. I had never wanted kids. I had been adamant about it. My mother had said I was too selfish to want them, but I hadn't let it bother me: she was right. I was too selfish, too caught up in my world and my wellbeing to spend time raising another human being. Her words came back to me as I thought to myself thank god I will never have to go through what Carol has. My stomach lurched and I did the only thing I could think of. I marched right through those unmoving, decayed bodies, into the barn, and began searching for blankets to cover them.
The smell in the barn wasn't anything like the sweet, fresh blood that thickened the air when I killed the deer. I imagined this was what mass gravesites in Eastern Europe were like. The scent of rotting flesh seemed to have permeated everything, from the wooden beams that crossed and creaked overhead, to the rough wool of the blankets folded in my arms. It didn't matter to the bodies that lay strewn on the ground, and it didn't really matter to me, at that point. The scent of death had been clinging to all of us for weeks, for months. It was something that you didn't grow used to, just lived with, and moved on. It lingered just beneath the skin.
I'd held a child only once, a squirming bundle of about nine months that belonged to a college friend who had come to visit one summer after graduation. I'd done the whole 'isn't he precious' bit, and cooed and ahhed where necessary, but beyond that, I hadn't really understood the apparent spell these tiny humans cast on their parents. I do remember that the baby, Evan, was light, feather light, with delicate bones, and soft, unblemished skin, and wide brown eyes and a shock of dark, downy hair. Staring down at Sophia's lifeless form, I stood for a moment, pushing the memory back.
Then, I got to work.
Sophia's bones were just as delicate; her wrist slender, her fingers long, like her mother's, and I wondered if maybe she had taken piano lessons. Then I remembered Ed, and the terror he had reigned over the family, and I guessed my musings were only that. I tucked her hand, no longer able to hold a pencil, or a Frisbee, or a flower, under a blanket, and gently pulled the length of wool up to cover her head. My fingers grazed her hair, once so sunny and blonde like Amy's, now matted with dirt, and filth, blood, and guts. I froze as I focused on her eyes. I remembered that they hadn't been blue, like her mothers, but rather black, like Ed's, but still unbelievably warm, and so friendly. Now, they were glazed over, the color forgotten. Kneeling there in the dirt, a wave of realization came over me, and I once more sent up a silent prayer, Thank you, whoever you are, for not letting Amy meet this same fate. I'd been there for her.
She hadn't died alone, and while Daryl had told me as much, it didn't really sink in until that very moment.
Burning bodies burned the memories away. Later that afternoon, we put Sophia, and those members of the Greene family that had been in the barn, to rest in the graves that had been dug during the day. I didn't really pay attention to what was said. My focus was on Daryl. I guess in the midst of everything, I didn't realize what Sophia's demise would do to him. He had put everything on the line for her. He'd almost died, and Sophia had remained lost forever.
"Jesus Christ, m'I gonna hafta put up a sign that says 'No Trespassin'?"
I halted about five feet from Daryl's tent. I honestly thought he didn't see me coming; his head was bent to the task of skinning some small forest creature, his fingers working economically, and with practiced ease. This was Daryl, though, and I should have known better. He could sense me coming a mile away and hadn't moved a muscle as I approached. I cocked my head and stared at him, and his shoulders twitched as he paused. Those long fingers curled around the handle of his buck knife, but he didn't move his head. Maybe he moved his eyes; I certainly felt his gaze scorch my legs, from foot to thigh.
"Well, technically, this is Hershel's land," I began lamely.
Daryl grunted and flicked his head up to me, squinting in the low afternoon sun. "So what, you coming to serve me papers? Gonna drag my ass t'court?"
For a moment, I merely stared at him, more than a little shocked at his outburst. Daryl had come far in the short time I had known him, and despite all of the changes and conflict he'd overcome, I think I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"Shit," he spat, rubbing the back of his hand under his nose. "If you all spent half as much time worrying about yer selves and yer own, then maybe that little girl might still be alive."
"Daryl, we all looked for Sophia," I argued.
He shot to his feet then, growling, and he crashed forward through the scrub grass with enough venom in his eyes to make me clap my mouth shut and take a step back. Something changed in his eyes as I moved, and he stopped short, and almost looked ashamed at his sudden physical outburst. Seconds passed, until he sniffed, and with a roll of his eyes, he spoke again: "Just go, Andrea."
I shook my head. "I'm not going anywhere."
Daryl ground his teeth together in a grimace and pointed a finger in my face. "I was fine 'fore you came along, an' I'll be fine long after we part ways."
Everything coming out of his mouth contradicted the wisdom he'd dazzled me with only a few short weeks earlier. My temper began to simmer as Daryl's natural defenses came swarming back. I could almost see the walls we'd torn down together suddenly, and very rapidly, build back up. I shook my head. "No, I don't believe that."
"I don't care what ya believe," he snarled.
I took a step forward, still shaking my head, and against my better judgment, I snared his elbow in my grasp as he turned from me. His gaze narrowed to where I held him; his skin was practically on fire under my fingers, but I couldn't let go – it was like suddenly I was forged to him. "Yes, you do," I insisted. My tone softened, but I held my ground. "If you didn't," I pressed on, stopping only as Daryl twisted in my grip and caught the wrist of the hand that held him. He held me firmly, his thumb pressed on my pulse.
"What," he urged with a murmur, moving forward with a flicker of his tongue along his teeth.
"If you didn't, you wouldn't have cared if I had lived or died in those woods," I admitted, jerking my head back towards the highway where we'd first lost Sophia.
His fingers flexed on my wrist, but he didn't let go. Instead, he dragged me towards him, leaning down so that he could stare directly into my eyes. My boots slid over the dirt, and when one foot caught on a brick from the ancient chimney that stood near his camp, I stumbled and fell directly against his chest.
He let out a huff and wrestled with me until he had both my wrists and he'd hauled me up against his chest. "Don't think this is anything it ain't, Barbie," he warned thickly.
"What do you want it to be?" I asked gently.
My question made him draw up short, and he quickly looked away, though his grip never waned. When he looked back to me, he gaped, closed his mouth and swallowed, then opened it again in an attempt to answer me. It was a rather stupid question; I had never been one to need labels, to name things for the sake of naming things, but suddenly it occurred to me that whatever it was we were doing, whatever we wanted to call it, he needed it as much as I did. I could tell by the way his voice trembled along the gravelly pitch, and the way his pulse jumped in his neck as rapidly as mine jumping in my wrist.
I tried another approach. "What do you want from me?"
This seemed to make more sense to Daryl, and I watched his eyes flare like the centre of a flame. He moved then, pushing me away to hold me at arms' length, and his gaze lit a slow, smoldering path down my body, zeroing in on the worn denim between my thighs. "Think you know," he said softly. Then, he found my eyes with his. "Same thing ya want from me."
I wanted a lot of things, from this version of life, I realized, and from him. I wanted someone who would watch my back, and in turn, I would watch theirs. The square set of his shoulders and the sure clutch of his hands told me that I wouldn't get that with anyone else. I wanted someone who could ground me, take my anger and channel it. Memories of his frantic gasping, and the eager grasping of my body these last few days made me believe that the man before me was my touchstone. More than anything else, though, I wanted an equal. I saw that in the even gaze he bestowed upon me. I hoped with every fiber of my being, with every ounce of strength I had left, that he was right, that he wanted all of those things from me, because he would get them. With Daryl, I would never hold anything back.
"I'm pretty sure I loved him."
Michonne snorted as she gazed out of the back door of the warehouse we'd holed up in. "That like being 'kinda pregnant'?" She shook her head, and long dreads of her hair swung, a thick curtain of black against her face. "You either did or you didn't. Ain't nothin' in between."
I gaped at her, wide-eyed. It wasn't the first time she'd floored me with the way she seemed to deliver lines with the same succinct, sage-like speeches as Daryl, and another piece of my and Michonne's strange relationship fell into place.
"What," she said flatly, not moving her gaze from where she scanned, but knowing I was staring at her.
"Nothing," I brushed off, turning back to where I patched a hole in the elbow of the worn chambray button up I'd nicked from Daryl early one morning. My fingers rubbed the soft fabric and I squinted, trying to make out the shade of blue. Daryl's eyes were a similar color.
"Wouldn't have brought it up if it wasn't nothing," Michonne pointed out.
"Okay," I sighed. "I loved him. I do love him. Still." My heart skittered as my thoughts tumbled out of my mouth in the next breath. "I don't know if he's alive or dead but I still love him…" I froze and set my work down, flexing my fingers against the cold that was beginning to set in. Shivering, I sniffed, fed up with the runny nose I'd developed. I inhaled shakily, choking on tears.
"Think he's still alive?"
"If anyone survived the farm, it was Daryl," I resolved. I would have felt it if he hadn't made it. Suddenly, I was overcome with a coughing fit, and Michonne's dark gaze cut to me, concern for me and for our silence apparent in her face.
She hastily poured water and thrust the small cup into my hands. "You feelin' okay? Heard you coughing last night."
"It's nothing," I croaked after taking a sip of water. I was lying; it felt like there were razor blades in the back of my throat, and I hadn't been warm for two days.
Michonne's frown deepened. "Best stay alive. If this Dixon man survived, I have a feeling he'll kick my ass if you don't make it to see him again."
I snorted, but it turned into another coughing fit. I brought the water to my mouth once more, sputtering around my faint laughter. Michonne said nothing more, but shrugged out of the blanket on her shoulders and pulled its edges up around me, before turning back to her watch.