A Momentary Thing
He runs. And runs. And runs. His lungs burn, aching with the chill of the approaching autumn. His heart pounds with the beat of his feet upon the pavement. Leaves crunch, crawl, and scatter around his steady tread. The darkness eventually gives way to light as the sun rises somewhere to the east. He keeps putting foot in front of foot. Getting nowhere. Falling even further behind the farther he gets. The road continually looms ahead before silently disappearing into the morning fog.
His feet fail him. Slowing. Stopping. Giving up because they can go no further on this journey at the moment. But his head, his heart keep chasing. The crossbow he always keeps at his side falls. It clatters in the morning stillness echoing off the emptiness that surrounds the crossroad he’s found himself at. His trusty fucking crossbow can’t help him now. Traitor.
As his knees tremble, he gives into their shake and collapses, gasping for the breath he’s not even sure he wants anymore. The throb in his lungs subsides allowing his thoughts to drift beyond the physical struggle of continuation. Now he starts to see her face – her messy hair and that stupid, silly braid she was constantly fixing over and over again. He sees her smile through her tears. He sees those earnest, hope-filled blue eyes cutting him deeper and sharper than Michonne’s sword. Again, his breath leaves him.
He shoves her back. Tries to force her into the place he keeps all the things he can’t let himself think about. That pit of bleak despair that he hides away yet remains buried beneath every single day of his miserable life. That fucking sunken chest that is brimming with his failures and his guilt and his weaknesses. One more blonde girl won’t matter. After all, she’s tiny compared with the rest. Small and sweet and bright and gone, gone, gone. He’ll be able to sweep her away with hardly a moment’s notice.
Except, he remembers. She’s heavier than she looks.
He wonders if this is why Merle lost himself beneath the haze of substance abuse. Could pills and powders help him now, too? Was Merle right all this goddamn time? Had he let Rick and Carol and the others…had he let their pretty words tease him, coax him into a false sense of safety, of family? Had he let…her…had he let her push him over that final ledge? The one that leads to the ghosts of smiles and laughter and happiness? The one that leads to the ephemeral mask of love? The one that dangles the shiny, fake, plastic things in front of you until you’ve thrown yourself off a fucking cliff? The one that kills you in the end – a death that you choose willingly, even hopefully, drunk on the haunt of emotions?
Clamping that dark place down, his mind goes hollow. He focuses on the brisk wind that bristles across his neck, drying his sweat-soaked hair with her gentle, biting touch. All the warmth that’s invaded his defenses over the past couple of days folds in upon itself, fluttering against all the places deep inside that he doesn’t ever give name to out loud. The mechanical inflating of his lungs takes hold, and his body returns to its former strength. The memory of her soft little hand and searching fingers disappears with the soft click of a distant lock.
When the men surround him, he stands in the middle and stretches himself inside the body he knows so well. The creak of his knees, the throb of his knuckles, the guarded stance of his shoulders hug him close as he finds himself back at the beginning. He stares across at the man who could be so many others he’s known. Father. Brother. Self. He almost hears Merle’s laughter and goading coming from within this mirror of a man. This he knows. This he understands. This place where there is no time for silly games and the burning of pasts not yet dead. Pasts that find us wherever we go. Even at the end of the goddamn world.
But in the pause before his muttered response a glitch bleeds through. Before he can get his own name on the tip of his tongue, another beckons from the hollows of yesterday. He bites his tongue and swallows.
He blinks, “Daryl.”
For just the tiniest faint of a second, his breath held an entirely different thing. A spark. A fire that, once lit, refuses extinguishment.
A Moment Claimed
He feels her before he sees her. The men – no – the monsters who took her are splattered all around him. Covered in their own blood. She did this to them. She saved herself. He knows how that can change a person. He’s scared for her, of her. What if he turns around and her light has vanished? What if she’s only the ghost of her former self?
The air inside the warehouse stills, settles, suffocates. He can’t even hear his own breath. He’s not even sure he’s actually still breathing. His fingers close around themselves. His knuckles whiten as he fists his anger and fear into the smallest of knots. The setting sun throws haphazard bursts of dusky light across the broken, shattered glass. Shadows stretch backwards. His reaching out behind him, beyond him, beckoning.
He hears her knife as it clatters on the cemented ground. Startled, he flinches at the sharp and unexpected release. Slowly, his feet turn him around, almost on their own accord. His eyes quickly dart to the dropped weapon – dripping with the heat of her kills, with the liquid of former lives. Her boots, her jeans, her once yellow shirt is covered with the angry red of her captors. Her hands shake under the weight of the things she’s had to do, of how far she’s had to go. Of the choices she’s made to keep surviving – to keep living.
Her sob starts deep in her belly before lashing out at the musty corners of this derelict relic of the before – now a tomb filled with the death of so many things that can no longer exist. Not anymore. Her tears drag paths of dirt down her face. She hits her knees before he can get to her. She’s on all fours bellowing beneath the anguish of the cold, harsh places she never intended to travel. Before he can pull her into his arms. Swallow her in the safety of his embrace.
He sees himself doing these things. Being these things. For her. For him. But he doesn’t move. Instead, he whispers her name.
Of course, she can’t hear him. Not through her cries and gasps for air. But he needs to know she’s still her. Because if she’s not – if she’s too far gone – it’s his fault. His own damn fault. And there won’t be anything he can do for her. Offer her. Give to her. Because if she’s lost, he is too. And there won’t be any turning back if her fire’s gone out. Because her fire is his fire is their fire.
His voice is louder now – a cry, a shout, a desperate plea. He almost chokes on the possibility of it all. He’s lost in the confusion of how endings can be beginnings and how death can be life and how beauty can hold such ugliness. In between sobs she settles back on her knees and before he can register what has happened her eyes are on his and her hands are reaching towards him and his heart which surely hasn’t been beating all this time thumps again, hard and fast and terrified within his chest.
His name is just a murmur in her breath, but it’s the loudest goddamn thing he’s ever heard and his body reacts on impulse. She is in his arms, his fingers tangled in and around that stupid, silly braid. He buries his head in her neck, in her hair, just in her and inhales the things he lost, the things he’s found. Her sobs turn to tortured laughter as her fingers claw at his chest as if the only place she can ever be safe again is wrapped inside of him, down in the pits of him where the anger, the hurt, and the death can’t reach her. Because he won’t let it find her. Not there. No, not ever there.
“Claimed,” he growls gruffly into her neck, gripping her harder against his chest. “You are claimed.” He promises again and again until she softens around him and her breath evens and her fingers go lax. “I claim you,” he whispers one final time as the sun sinks behind the treeline and the world settles into the darkness of night and she sighs quietly in her sleep.
A Moment Revealed
Maggie is beyond elated to have her sister back. Even if sometimes she no longer resembles the annoying little shit who used to run and tell Daddy every time Maggie secretly called her boyfriends after everyone had fallen asleep. She’s still Beth; she still smiles and laughs and sings lullabies to Judi when Rick can’t calm the ornery toddler. But there’s an edge to her now. There are moments when her bright blue eyes cloud over with a darkness that you might blink and miss. But Maggie knows her too well for that.
She hasn’t asked Beth all the details of her kidnapping and subsequent escape. She knows Beth fought her way out of a desperate situation with four bullets and one hunting knife. She knows Beth tried for days to scrub all the blood out from underneath her fingernails. She hopes that her sister will come to her and purge those heavy things that only Maggie can see are weighing her down.
Well, not only Maggie. Daryl Dixon sees them, too. He’s the one who found her, after all. He’s the one who carried her back to their camp all night while she slept her way through the nightmares and demons that Maggie fears will haunt her until her last breath. Maggie worries about this because she wages war on her own demons night after night. And she never wanted that for her sweet little sister.
But Beth doesn’t come to Maggie. No, Beth goes to Daryl. And at first, Maggie thinks the older man must be annoyed by Beth’s clinginess. But as she watches more closely, she notices the tiny way that Daryl’s shoulders relax when Beth’s around. She notices the softness of Daryl’s voice when he speaks to her, the way her smile manages to take years off his face.
So Maggie doesn’t think anything of this newfound bond her sister has forged with such an unlikely man. These two had been through so much together after the fall of the prison, the nights surviving in the wild, and the brutal events that followed their single peaceful night in that godforsaken funeral home. That’s what survival does to people – at least that’s what survival does to her people. It brings them together. She’s even found herself seeking out the company of Bob or Sasha more than the others. Sometimes even more than Glenn.
But then a stranger thing happens. Maggie wakens one night and can’t find Beth who should be sound asleep right beside her. Panicking, Maggie sweeps her eyes across the rest of her family spread all around in their sleeping bags. She sees Glenn and Rick and Carl and everyone else. But no Beth. And no Daryl. That’s when she remembers that Daryl has first watch.
Quietly getting to her feet, Maggie silently crosses the train tracks moving towards the higher ground just ahead where Daryl should be perched. As she gets closer, she sees that he’s right where he should be, back against a large pine tree. She also sees that he’s not alone. The soft, dying embers of his fire illuminate the all too familiar blonde head of her missing sister. Her baby sister. Who is right now curled up between the legs of a man old enough to be called much too old. Much too old even for Maggie.
Instinctually, anger burns through Maggie as she races towards the two. But just as she’s about to yell and scream and rant and rave, she hears Beth whimper. She watches as Beth shakes and sobs and lets all her hurt wash over Daryl. She watches as Daryl tightens his hold on her, tries to draw her inside of him, tries to take all the bad and the wrong and the evil done to her and soak and absorb it into himself so that Beth can breathe again. So that she can wake up tomorrow and laugh and smile and joke and sing and live for another day. Even if it is just one more day.
Maggie watches as this gruff hunter of a creature soothes and heals and loves her sister under the cover of this black night and the shadows of a half full moon. She sees his lips against Beth’s ear whisper all the things she needs most to hear like Glenn has done for her on so many similar nights when the darkness threatens to swallow everything whole.
Maggie closes her eyes and lifts her chin skyward, silently praying to whomever or whatever might still be listening. She prays for her father. She prays for all those long since gone. She prays for the family she’s found all currently pressed close together in the shabby little camp that is more home than so many houses back before the turn.
And finally she prays for her sister. She thanks the gods above that Beth has found Daryl – has found a sense of safety and love in something, in someone – which is not even a thing that should exist anymore. But for her sister it does. And it’s Daryl that’s done that for her. It’s Daryl that’s managed to be something, to give her something real and tangible to believe in again. It’s Daryl that’s become her reason to fight through the night. And Maggie suspects that Beth might mean even more to him. Because this once shattered man is suddenly looking a hell of a lot more unbroken beneath this revelatory moon.
Making her way back to camp, Maggie finds herself grinning so hard her face hurts. The world as it stands doesn’t offer many such moments so Maggie basks in this small thing that has become so huge as she crawls back into the sleeping bag she shares with Glenn. He shifts towards her and she wraps herself around his body and giggles into his neck feeling the gentle wash of her own warm, happy tears.
“Everything okay?” Glenn mumbles, still half asleep, unconsciously pulling her closer.
“Yeah, it’s just Beth.” Maggie feels her eyes growing heavy again with sleep.
Maggie nods against his shoulder. “Yeah, she’s fine. She’s safe now. There’s no more need to worry.”