AN: Well, my muse struggled with this one a bit. I haven't revisited it because I was trying to decide what I wanted to do…and I decided that we've reached the end of our journey here. There's more on that in an AN at the end.
I want to thank you all for reading. I especially want to thank those of you who took the time to review and help feed the muse so that I could make it to this point in a story that I wasn't sure would be much of anything when I started.
All of my readers are wonderful, though, and I can't say enough how much I appreciate you all!
So for the last time on this story, I hope you enjoy! Let me know what you think!
Outside the sky waged war on the Earth. The thunder claps were loud enough that Daryl imagined that Sadie could probably hear them…if she weren't balled up in a room down the hall, sleeping with Merle under a pile of blankets. The rain beat on the roof of the house and sounded like horses' hooves pounding just above Daryl's head. And the flashes of lightening that were dancing around outside were bright enough that from time to time they lit the room, despite the presence of towels nailed over the windows to block out the light that would seep out from the lantern that was burning low on a table beside Carol.
But Daryl didn't mind the storm. They were all dry and protected, safe and warm in their temporary beds in their house that was just another stop on the journey they were on.
And it reminded Daryl of all the times he'd heard the storms before…all the times he'd powered through them on his bike, Carol pressed behind him…rain biting at both of them and lightening threatening to strike them down if it weren't for the rubber of their tires…all the times he'd slept on floors or in haylofts, her body almost always close enough to share some warmth...something so starkly contrasting to a world that often seemed so very cold.
Tonight, Carol was dozing, curled up on her side, facing Daryl. In the crook of her body lie one of the babies, asleep with abandon, her little fists balled up, laid out to the side. From time to time, in her sleep, she sucked on the pacifier that seemed far too big for her mouth, but only for a second, and then she stilled again.
Daphne…that was the one that was sleeping curled next to Carol.
Delilah was in Daryl's arms, and he kept stifling a chuckle at the fact that she, the most recently fed, looked like she'd sucked down hard liquor instead of milk. Her eyes were slits, but she refused to give into them the rest of the way and close them. She had also denied the pacifier she'd been offered, since apparently the thing made her consider giving into the sleep…and that made it evil.
The tiny little things would be five days old…a working week…when the sun rose on them again, and Daryl could hardly wrap his mind around it.
So much, it seemed, had gone in those five days that it felt like, on the one hand, nearly an eternity…on the other, it seemed like the tiny little girls were something so fresh and so new…they couldn't have already spent five whole days in this world.
For such a small baby, Delilah let out pretty big sigh and smacked her lips, making Daryl turn his attention back to her. She'd given up…the fight was over and sleep had won the war. The tiny slits of blue were closed now to him and she was lost in whatever dream world it was that belonged to babies who had known so little of the world.
Daryl chuckled to himself as he imagined what they might dream about. Maybe what they'd known before they were born…maybe they could still remember some shit that no one else had a way of knowing anymore…or maybe they were just dreams that were laced with loud voices, strange faces, and milk giving boobs of happiness.
Daryl chuckled again and shifted around, carefully putting the tiny baby on the bed, beside her sister, close to Carol's body.
At Carol's bidding, they were all supposed to be making peace with the other group…the group that had once been family to some of them, but now seemed like outsiders. For people so familiar, they seemed like strangers. It would take time, no matter how good their intentions were, before the unity they spoke of finding became a true unity between all of their elements.
Carol had spoken briefly to Rick…but it had been only a conversation of her accepting what he'd done for what it was worth, and him accepting what she'd done for what it was worth. There weren't apologies exchanged, simply the understanding that the past would be left where it was and in the interest of the future they wouldn't dig it back up and revive it like the Walkers ambling around.
In fact, all of them had agreed to do their absolute best to put what had happened behind them. They'd, in essence, all confessed their sins of bad feelings against each other and sought absolution in the interest of forming a unified group to continue on from here.
Really, if the truth were told, the only bitterness that Daryl harbored was toward Rick, and he knew that was his cross to bear and his load to carry. Perhaps he should simply dismiss it, let bygones be bygones, and he was reasonable enough to think that he could "forgive" the man, but the adage of forgive and forget was one that was easier said than done.
Daryl wasn't sure that he could ever forget. He'd never exactly been great at the whole forgetting thing anyway…there were things he still carried with him, just as surely as he now carried his crossbow everywhere he went outside the house, that he'd had since he was a child.
And though it didn't compare in some ways with what his father had done to him…since Rick's betrayal left no visible scars…for Daryl the damage that Rick had done was something wholly comparable and something he wasn't sure the man could ever undo.
They could continue on from here…walk through the world together so to speak…but they would never share even the friendship that Daryl thought they once had. Daryl felt he could never trust the man again and that he certainly could never trust him to have even one iota of power over anything in his life.
Rick had broken that, and he'd broken it completely. He had tried, however unsuccessfully, to take away the one thing that mattered most to Daryl in the sum of his years on Earth. He'd thrown away the one thing that Daryl had ever felt that he really had…the one thing that really made him feel a happiness that he'd once doubted he was even able to feel.
When Daryl looked at Carol, now…sleeping with his two daughters…trusting him to keep watch over them all because she knew that he would protect them, with the very life he had he would protect them…his heart swelled.
Merle had said, and Alice had agreed, that they would move on, and it would be soon. When the girls were a little bigger, and a little more able to handle short spurts on the road, the whole group would move...and it was already planned out. They would band together, much like they'd made it to this point. Carol and Sadie with the girls in the middle of the group…the heart of the group…while everyone else formed a protective barrier around them.
Michonne had declared that she and Andrea, naturally, would lead the pack…Daryl and Merle would bring up the rear…Alice and Melodye would walk on either side to complete the circle of protection. Beau and Libby, free spirited as they were, would never give into the formation, and everyone already knew there was no need to include them in their plans. They would stay with them, never too far as to be out of earshot, but they would remain out of sight...almost like the strange wood faeries that the two seemed to have been in past lives.
And, since they'd decided that the others would go with them…that they'd all become one group through their join efforts to move on emotionally and physically…the new members would fall in place. They'd find their spots in the group, literally and figuratively, and together they would move forward, varying their pace as need be, until they felt they had nowhere else to go.
And they'd chatted, over dinner this very night, about the possibilities of where they might end up. They'd teased and revisited a comment that Daryl had once made and everyone had latched onto about walking clear to the Pacific Ocean…for no damn reason other than to say they'd done it. They'd considered the possibility of stumbling upon, maybe just outside the reaches of where they were now or maybe miles away, another such place as Hillcrest to call home. They'd even considered, especially with Melodye's insistence that they do so, the possibility of building their own place…their own kingdom…their own life.
Daryl didn't know where they'd end up, all of the options seeming just fine to him given the circumstances, but they would end up somewhere.
Daryl honestly didn't care where they ended up. That much had remained true since the day he'd first set out with Merle and the dead had taken to walking about. They had left that day with no real destination in mind. The only thing that had been on their minds that day was beating whatever the hell was going on…surviving for just a little damn longer. And, to some degree, that's really how Daryl still felt about it.
Except now his thoughts weren't so much on his own survival. He wanted to survive, of course…and he felt like he needed to survive…but he felt like his survival was only necessary in that it bought one more day, one more hour, or even more moment of survival for the woman that he'd come to love more than his own self and the two little girls that were so intrinsically part of him.
Daryl had never thought, even before the dead got restless and started to terrorize the living, that he was a man built for love. He'd always figured that he was a man destined to be alone…a man that no one could really love, least of all a woman when they were such delicate things.
But life had taught him a lot in these years.
It had taught him, in Carol…in Michonne…in Andrea…in Alice…in Melodye…in Sadie…and even in Libby…that women weren't delicate things. Women, in fact, could be forces of nature when they had a mind to be. And Delilah and Daphne? They'd grow up to be every bit as strong and amazing as their mother…and that was something that Daryl was truly happy for.
Life had also taught Daryl that apparently he was designed to be loved…at least by one woman. He never would have believed, when he'd stumbled upon a camp of half assed survivalists taking refuge at a rock quarry outside Atlanta, that the mousy woman that was with them…the woman that cowered in her husband's shadow…would one day be the woman to prove to him that he was made to be loved.
But she had. She had slowly and gently accepted him for all that he was, and she'd quietly demanded the same from him. She'd taken his heart from him, but kindly replaced it with her own, and mostly without him even knowing what was happening to him.
He'd known it to be the case, though, the first time that he'd thought he'd lost her. He'd felt as though he couldn't go on, and even though he realized now that he didn't fully understand the extent of his love for her at that time, he had the chance to realize it later when she was ripped away from him again.
And the second time he'd been sure he wouldn't live…he couldn't live…not if it meant living without her. Even now he was sure that if he hadn't found her, he would have died…and he knew now that it was because no man, no matter how much of a man he might consider himself, had the ability to keep on living without his heart.
But he'd found her again, and he promised to himself that he was going to do everything in his power and then some to make sure that he never lost her again.
And since life had a funny way of proving things to Daryl, it had not only provided him with the absolutely unthinkable state of being so entirely in love with someone…but it had also shown him that his love had the ability to do so much more.
It had the ability to create two tiny beings that were perfect fusions of both their hearts. Two little lives in which were held all the best, and worst, parts of both of them.
And Daryl loved each of them more than he'd ever thought would be possible. From the moment he'd held them…realized that they were as real as anything else that he'd ever seen or experienced in his life…realized all that they meant and all that they might become…he'd loved them both with each beat of his heart, amazing him that an organ he'd once put to so little use now had the ability to swell to such a size that it could hold immeasurable amounts of love for so many others.
Just like the lightening, if it struck a tree just right, had the ability to split the wood in half, clear down to the dirt…so love, it seemed, had the ability to split even the most neglected heart.
When soft sounds like a mouse's squeak began to issue forth from Daphne, Daryl turned his head gently and moved to scoop the little thing up. He noticed, though, as his eyes fell on the ones he loved, that Carol's eyes were already opened, and she was smiling at him softly, already making movements to pick up the girl and quell the hunger that would turn the mousey squeaks into howls that would wake the house in a few moments' time.
"Delilah finally went down?" Carol asked, her voice heavy with the sleep that she was just rising out of.
Daryl nodded, looking at the little girl who would likely sleep only a bit before becoming jealous over the fact that her sister was dining when she wasn't.
"Yeah…not too long ago…" Daryl said. He smiled. "Fought it pretty damn hard this time."
Carol smiled, already situated with Daphne feeding at her breast as though she hadn't eaten in days instead of like she'd only just finished her meal a couple of hours before.
"It sounds really bad out there," Carol said. Daryl saw her jump a little when the lightening flashed and was almost immediately followed by a thunder crash that shook the house a little…a clear indication that the storm was right on top of them.
"Just a lil' storm, woman," Daryl said. "Not even as bad as what we've seen before…reckon we all gon' make it through this one just as sure as we come through the others…"
AN: Well, I hope you aren't too disappointed with this little tale.
I'd like to thank you all for reading and I'd like to thank all of my cheerleaders! Vickih and SOA loving mom…you guys are real troopers to deal with all of my messes!
Dixonrocks, itsi3, adelicateflower08, horrorphile, kawinki, Rodgerse, marybethorama, Peta2…and so many others (unnamed but no less appreciated)…I truly thank you for your dedication to the story and for spurring me on so that I wouldn't give up.
I really feel that it was time to lay this one to rest. My muse is pushing me to continue with it in some form…and maybe I will at a later date…but maybe I'll go with what the muse really wants and revisit our group, down the road (with a significant time jump), to see where they ended up and what life is like so many years later. But for the time being, I'm putting this one to bed.
As always, I thank everyone who reads for reading! I hope to see you down the road, or maybe in another story…another time and place.
Thank you all!