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She's Just Gone

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Daryl didn't sleep. Not unusual for him. If he slept, he dreamt. If he dreamt, it was of that night. Sometimes it was easier to stay awake than it was for him to remember.

Some parts weren't so bad, like the pink flush of her skin beneath his callused hands and the sweet innocent taste of her on his lips. He didn’t mind those parts so much, even if the desperate ache of longing that he always felt was worse when he woke up. He found he could live with the hole on his chest as long as the echo of her tinkling laugh still rang in his ears; her soft sigh when she murmured his name. It was the rest that he didn't care to remember. Trying to run down the car, screaming her name until he couldn’t anymore. The fading of tail lights and the realization that she was gone. Those were the things his nightmares were made of.

He couldn't track her. The scent of her still hot on his skin, he had tried for days, only to come up empty handed. Someone had taken his girl - and she was his girl - and somehow they had disappeared without a trace. She was just gone, and alone in his room in the house in Alexandria, the knowing she was gone without knowing the where or why was silently killing him.

It was his fault. They should never have split up. Instead of distracting the walkers while she escaped out the back, he should have fought their way out while holding her hand. He could have carried her piggy back like he had done before. They could have stood their ground in the funeral home. Maybe then she would be here now, calming his worries and soothing his fears. She could call him back to bed - to their bed - and sing him a lullaby the way he had watched her do for Judith.

He closed his eyes. He could picture her pretty face; hear her sweet croon. She was beautiful when she sang. Her voice, a beacon of light in a world of darkness. She was his light. He should have told her so.

The empty void in his chest grew bigger.

He knew he should talk to someone about it. He could tell Maggie. Maggie of all people would understand his pain. She carried it well, but he knew she was still burdened by the loss of her family; losing first her father and then her sister in rapid succession. She might even welcome someone to commiserate with. But things were finally good. They were safe in Alexandria. They had a home here, and a fresh beginning. How could he rob of Maggie of the peace that brought by bringing up the pain of the past? How could he tell her after all these months of keeping it to himself, that he had gone and fallen in love with her baby sister right before letting her be taken away?

Love in the apocalypse was a novel concept. Sure, Maggie and Glen had been lucky enough to find it. Hell, they even celebrated it. But could he really expect them to be as accepting of his love for Beth?

If the rules of convention still applied, he would have called her jailbait. She was eighteen, legal should the judicial system still have existed, but he had known her long enough to be able to say he had known her as a child. Not a child exactly, but she had been damn innocent. And he, well, he wasn't. Hell, he was twice her age and far from fucking innocent, but when she had looked at him with those bright blue eyes and brushed her lips across his, the last thing he had been thinking about was her age or purity. When she had whispered in his ear that she wanted him to love her, there had been no hesitation. Loving her had been easy, it had been losing her that had seen him in hell.

Standing at the window, he lit a cigarette. He knew he should take it out on the porch. Carol didn't like him smoking in the house. It was bad for the kids and the smell would get in to the furniture, she said. He had never had to worry about things like that before. He had never had a pretty house or nice things to fill it with. Beth would have liked it here, though. Everything was bright and shiny, just like her. He opened the window wider to let out the smoke.

They were so far from Atlanta - from the last place he had looked for her. But sometimes it felt like she was there. He could feel her, especially when no one else was around. On a breeze he might catch the coyness of her laugh. In the shower he could feel the weight of her cheek against his shoulder blade, her arms snaking around him from behind. It was like she was there, but she wasn't. She couldn't be. He wanted her to be. His desire turned her ghost in to a living thing. It wasn't healthy.

Pressing the butt of his cigarette in to the back of his wrist, he hissed, succumbing to the pain. He closed his eyes, letting it wash over him. Accepting it. Relishing it.

It wasn't healthy.