“You told me to go up the road.”
She wraps her arms around her knees and leans her head back, makes a sound that tries to be a laugh and doesn’t quite get there. In truth, she can tell, it sounds like a laugh that’s edging dangerously close to a sob, but her eyes are dry. She told him once a long time ago - a long damn time, might as well have been another life - that she didn’t cry anymore. That was a lie. She didn’t know it at the time, but it was one of the biggest lies she ever told in her life. She did cry. Out there, with him, she sobbed her fucking heart out, and in fact it wasn’t with him. She was alone when she did it. He was there, physically present, but he was worlds away, watching her, impassive, and she genuinely believed, in those nightmare moments of walkers and churned flesh and blood soaking into the dirt, that he didn’t care.
Of course now she knows that wasn’t true either. He cared. He was probably ripping himself to slow shreds inside, he cared so much. Tearing at himself with all the cruelty that a walker could never possess.
That wasn’t the last time she cried with him. Except after, it was with him. And it wasn’t so bad.
After he cried with her.
Her eyes are burning. But it’s the sun, high and too bright, and she closes them, and the world goes red. Quiet red, breeze like cool fingers in her hair and a mourning dove in a tree not far away… and that’s a little too on the nose.
Just a little too much.
She scrubs a hand over her face. Still not crying. It might be easier if she could.
“Told me,” she whispers again, lowering her head. Strands of her hair tickle her cheeks; it’s not as long as it was, but it’s longer. “You said go up the road. Said you’d meet me. I did.”
It’s been hard to breathe before, she thinks as she forces air into her lungs. It’s been hard to breathe plenty of times. She’s had to struggle. Survival has been a fight since it started being something to fight for, and it’s a war she’s used to by now. One time she almost lost, but she battled on, and in the end she won that battle, even if the war itself didn’t end.
And she was sure he would have been proud of her.
“You didn’t. You weren’t there.” Eyes still closed. Sun warm on the back of her neck. She can’t sense anyone around, and her senses are keen-edged, whetted by weeks and months of necessity. Good. She didn’t have to ask to be left alone here.
Maggie just knew.
“I don’t blame you. I ain’t mad. Rick told me. Said you chased the car.” A thin smile tugs at the corner of her mouth, crooked as an old roof. “I know you tried. You couldn’t do anythin’ else.”
Though she’s painfully aware that she’ll never really know how hard he tried. Like there’s a great deal he’ll never know either.
She scuffs her boots in the dirt and pulls her knees tighter against her chest. She’s thinner even than she was then. She can make herself smaller than she used to. She doesn’t look like how he would remember her, and it’s not only the scars.
She knows that could never have made a difference to him.
“I got things I wanna say,” she murmurs, staring at her dusty toes. “I had a lot. I planned it over and over in my head, y’know? Out there. On the road. I thought about all the things I’d say, all the stuff I’d tell you. And the list just kept gettin’ longer, ‘cause stuff kept happening. I could’ve written you a book, the story got so long.” She pauses, gnawing at her thumb. A thing he did; it didn’t escape her notice when she picked up the habit. As if she could bring him closer to her with a mimicked gesture. As if he might be waiting for her in the movements of her own body. As if it was magic and she could conjure him, summon him to her side.
Every step north. Every step on that road.
Where he never met her.
“I don’t remember any of it now. Isn’t that crazy?” She laughs - another one of those laughs that dance along the border of something else. “It’s all just… It’s blank. It’s nothin’. It doesn’t matter.”
It does matter.
“I did make it. Like I told you. But I guess I didn’t get it right, either,” she adds, and when she reaches out and lays her fingertips against the smooth wooden angles, it’s possible that she’s shaking very slightly.
If challenged over it, she wouldn’t argue.
“I said I wasn’t gonna leave you. I did. I’m sorry about that.” Another breath, and yes, she is shaking. Not much, but she is. “It wasn’t my fault, I know… Except maybe it was? At the end? I dunno.” This time the exhalation isn’t a laugh at all. “All this way and I still don’t know.”
I was hoping maybe you could tell me.
“It wasn’t your fault, either. I know you made it yours. I know it, I know you.” Tight. Fierce. She wanted to say this to him, more than maybe anything else. “You make everythin’ your fault, you dumbass. Like you gotta carry the whole world around on your back. Like somehow that makes anythin’ better.”
She’s angry. She didn’t expect to be so angry.
She didn’t expect so much of this.
The smile that twists at her hurts, and she can’t stop it, and she doesn’t want to. Not only at her mouth but at her, a wretched knotting that crawls from her face all the way to the core of her chest and nests there. “I wanted to see you put it down for a while. Think I did. Almost did. It was a good look on you. I’m sorry it didn’t stay that way.”
She curls her hand over the edge of the wood.
“I’m sorry about a lot of things.”
Don’t. Not stop. The latter was reserved for when he was joking - or trying to. When he was trying to pretend nothing meant anything, and he knew it meant everything. The former is when the pretense drops and he ceases pretending, ceases denying, and faces the truth dead-on.
Don’t. Ain’t no need. Sorry ain’t worth nothin’ now.
You gotta be who you are, girl. That’s what you gotta do.
Nothing she could say at this point would sound anything but hopelessly stupid. But that’s okay. Because he wouldn’t be expecting her to talk at all. He isn’t expecting that. He doesn’t need anything from her. This isn’t for him.
And he’s right. There’s nothing else she can do.
Slowly, wincing - she aches more than she did, and easier - she gets to her feet and pushes her hair back from her face with cool fingers. The sun’s heat left her skin a while ago, but her scars are burning.
All three of them.
But for a long moment she simply stands there and looks down - looks until the ground blurs into a smear of brown and green. The earth isn’t yet grown over, isn’t yet grassy the way the other mounds are, but it’s getting there. It wasn’t that long ago, but it was long enough.
He’s not alone here. That’s good. He had a horror of being alone. He never should be.
Good even if it’s terrible. Terrible, how much company he has.
“I’ll come back,” she says softly. “I’m not gonna leave you. I mean it this time.” Hesitating a few seconds more, she bends and hooks her fingers through the leather strap that binds the knife to the cross, straightens up with its weight gently familiar in her hand.
He won’t mind it if she takes it. He wanted to give it back to her. Or he would have, if he had known.
He does know. He knows, in this very moment. She believes that. Maybe it’s stupid, maybe it’s the kind of silly pipe dream that the world should have beaten out of her a long fucking time ago, but she’s her father’s daughter and always will be, and she hasn’t changed so much that she doesn’t remember who she was, and even if she can’t be that girl anymore, not all of who she was should be forgotten.
She has faith.
“I’ll meet you up the road,” she breathes. Because she can. She’s breathed this long; she can keep breathing as long as she needs to. “Wait for me there.”
And when she walks away from the grave, she’s not leaving.