From deep in the midnight forest, the soft hoot of a hidden owl drifted on the night air, a sound calming in its utter normalcy. Michonne rested beside Rick and Carl as they slept, forgoing slumber herself as she watched over the cluster of dark huddled lumps sleeping on the ground. The surviving members of their prison family, scattered by a perverted diaspora weeks ago, were finally re-united. Unseen, but present, she knew Daryl had stationed himself on a nearby knoll alert for trouble, always on guard protecting his own. Glenn had assumed a similar position at the opposite side of the open meadow they had settled in for the night. She could imagine him methodically pacing, the clear starry sky a backdrop to his vigil.
Michonne had noticed how the two men made certain they volunteered for the same watch, giving Maggie and Beth time alone. Tonight was no different. When Michonne glanced their direction, the young women were barely distinguishable as two entities so tightly were they wrapped in each other’s embrace. Putting words to their nightmares, the sisters drew comfort from sharing what had transpired after they were forced to flee the prison so many weeks ago. Heads close together, their whispered voices were occasionally punctuated by giggles, but more often than not she heard muffled weeping. Michonne wondered how much of the conversation revolved around Beth’s ordeal. She suspected a good portion of it also was about one Daryl Dixon.
She did not have to be clairvoyant to know that something had changed between Beth and Daryl. A casual observer would not assume they were in a relationship, but Michonne sensed a comfort between them that had not existed before. They communed not in words, or romantic gestures, but in a nod, a glance, a light touch of fingertips on an arm, a hand on a shoulder, their closeness when then stood together, not quite touching but always present. Even when body contact was not made, they were always within inches of one another. The pair seemed to communicate with wordless looks. And at times, when he sensed it necessary, like now, Daryl kept his distance.
Something, Michonne acknowledged, had changed in all of them during the weeks they had been separated. The most devastating changes had proven to be heartbreaking, but the changes they survived had made them stronger. They had all been forced to reach into the depths of their souls, and extract parts of their core they had not known existed. Each in their own way had faced the gut wrenching realization that survival meant utilizing the most primal instincts they possessed and accepting that those instincts were part of what made them survivors. Learning to temper those instincts would make them the best portrait of the new humanity. Together again as a group, as a family, their trials had forged their unbreakable ties into indestructible bonds. Each was willing to die for the others, and in this moment, nothing could stand against or threaten them. With Beth and Daryl the bond went beyond indestructible.
That was why she chose to wait until the right moment to talk to the Maggie and Beth. And that moment was approaching. As Daryl and Glenn were relieved of guard duty and climbed down from their respective perches, they approached the girls. Glenn threw his arms around Maggie and planted a kiss soundly on her cheek. But Daryl hesitated at the edge of the shadows until some small sign from Beth brought him into her circle, never touching but ever attentive.
This is the time, Michonne thought, her heart heavy.
Silently, Michonne rose from her blankets, careful not disturb her companions, and stepping around the other sleepers approached the four. With a nod to Daryl, and then Glenn, she knelt in the dust beside the women. Reaching out, she took each one by the hand. “There is something I need to tell you both,” she said softly. Beth’s large eyes were dark in the moonlight, but Michonne could imagine their crystal blueness clouding with concern. Maggie squeezed her hand encouraging her to continue.
“After every one fled the prison, and only the dead were left, I went back.” Michonne felt Beth stiffen and saw Daryl shift towards her.
“I needed to find your father.” Michonne continued in a soft whisper, not fighting the tears that came to her eyes. “I had to make sure that his honorable death was complete. I could not bury his remains, but I wanted you both to know that he is at rest. At peace.”
With those words Beth threw herself into Michonne’s arms, burying her face in the older woman’s hair. Michonne held her as she sobbed quietly, and over Beth’s head, she could see Daryl’s face. Gratitude written in his expression. Glenn had wrapped his arms firmly around his wife, whose face was streaked with silent tears.
At last Beth pulled away and as she did she reached back for Daryl who gently took her right hand, intertwining his fingers in hers. She took Maggie’s hand in her left. It was a measure of how much the younger woman had grown, that she accepted this news and reached out to her sister to comfort her as well.
“Thank you,” Beth said softly. “From all of us.”