Jesus was sprinting down an open road - leather boots striking the pavement with a desperate "tup tup tup".
"Daryl!!" He called to no one. Jesus was panting hard as he began to slow down and came to a halt in the middle of the road. The unrelenting summer sun beat down on his long hair and leather-duster-clad shoulders. He doubled over with his gloved hands on his knees as tears escaped the corners of his eyes - No! No. Suck it up. You haven't found him yet. You don't get to cry. He steadied himself and kept on at a jog, breathing in through his nose, out through his mouth. He didn't know how long he'd been running, all he knew was that he had to find Daryl. He was his everything. And he was gone.
Jesus hadn't wanted to get attached. When he first joined the hilltop, and for a long while after too, he mostly stayed away. Didn't get too close to people. After all, you can't lose someone who's not yours.
Then he met Daryl. Their relationship had been rocky at first. Hell, Jesus did steal their truck, scavenged goods and all... Also caused them to lose said truck in a lake... But that was before. That was before he brought Daryl home from the Savior compound and offered him his bed. He'd slept on the couch that night. He hadn't expected to fall so quickly, but he did. Despite his best efforts, Daryl's southern drawl and fiercely loyal spirit tugged at something inside Jesus that he'd thought was long gone. It took a long time for Daryl to really trust him. Even longer for the man to accept any affection. But after the first night that Daryl let Jesus sleep beside him and gently stroke his perpetually disheveled hair, it turned into a permanent arrangement. They grew comfortable with eachother's presence and began spending all of their time together. Hunting trips, scavenging trips, you name it. Daryl and Jesus had become inseparable. Carol had even told Jesus in the coy and gentle way she sometimes did, "I'm glad you two found eachother. I haven't seen him smile like that in a looong time."
Plus, the sex was great. Jesus thought Daryl might like it rough what with everything the man was capable of - but it turned out that in bed, he was very gentle, allowing Jesus to take the lead, and arching into Jesus' touch with every thrust. They would end almost every night snuggling, sweaty, and panting. A few months of this had passed before Daryl got sick. Not very, he didn't have a fever or any of that, but he was throwing up every day. He couldn't even keep his favorite deer jerky down. Eventually Jesus convinced him to see the doctor (he almost forced him to go by walking in with him and staying to make sure Daryl didn't try to skip out on the appointment). Dr. Carson broke the news as delicately as he could, but there were only so many ways that a man could be informed that he was pregnant - and with an actual, human child, no less.
"You're not the first," Carson had assured him, "I've seen this happen to two other men before you. It's just one of the mutations that we've been seeing. Your body likely began producing eggs a few years ago, and here in the ultrasound we can see that some of your organs have changed and redeveloped. You see that?" He pointed to the ultrasound screen at a light blue spot that Daryl couldn't distinguish from the rest of the blue spots and lines on the screen. "That's the fetus, and that," he moved his finger slightly to the side, "that's the wall of your newly developed womb. You can't see it here, but over the course of the next month, you'll probably notice some itching and a bit of bleeding from between your testes and your anus. I know, that sounds very unpleasant, but it's not as bad as it sounds. That's a new opening that's forming there for the delivery. We haven't completely figured all of this out as our resources are limited, but I assure you that- Daryl?" Dr. Carson was cut off by Daryl bolting up out of the examination bed, quickly wiping the gel off his abdomen, and rushing out of the building. Jesus had been standing there dumbstruck for several minutes and his reaction time was unusually slow. Dr. Carson's words had been echoing in his head like a distant lifeguard's commands to a child hiding under water. "I know that this may sound, well, crazy. However, I can assure both of you that this has happened before. You're not the first and you won't be the last... Daryl, there's no other way I can say this... You're pregnant." He'd only realized Daryl had left as the front door slammed shut.
"Do you think he's alright?" Carson asked.
Jesus snapped out of his trance and bolted after his lover.
He'd chased him out to their trailer and caught up just before Daryl could shut the door.
"Hey, hey," Jesus cooed gently and reached out for Daryl as he crumpled against the opposite wall. He'd kneeled in front of him and wrapped his arms around the sobbing man, doing his best to shield him from the world. "I'm here," he whispered, "you're not alone," he stroked Daryl's back and shoulders as Daryl buried his face in his neck, "everything's gonna be okay - we'll figure this out. Everything's gonna be okay." Jesus kissed his forehead twice and stroked his hair. Eventually they moved to the bed and simply laid there for hours, entangled in one another and Jesus whispering sweet reassurances in Daryl's ear. He'd stopped crying, but he still clung to Jesus like a life raft. It was a lot to handle.
But they'd handled it, and now, Daryl was almost 8 months along. Due soon. And missing.
Jesus' heart was racing despite his attempts to keep a steady breath rate. He couldn't even think straight. He felt like no matter how hard or fast he ran, he wasn't getting any closer to his goal. "Daryl!!" He called again. His voice echoed against a gray concrete building. No answer. Jesus pushed on down the road. The thick knot in his chest refused to let him feel anything other than fear. I can't lose him. I can't lose him. Suddenly, he heard a clatter around the corner of one of the dilapidated buildings that startled his attention. He didn't call out this time, just slowed to a careful walk and made his way to stand flat against the wall of the building. He crept forward to peer around the corner, but just as he got to the edge, the walker shambled in front of him. It didn't see him immediately so Jesus had half a moment to lurch back just enough to avoid being grabbed as it turned and opened its disjointed and decomposing jaw with a grotesque snarl. The walker stumbled forward, reaching for Jesus with 2 broken fingers on one hand and a missing thumb on the other - his one pale eye glaring at his desired meal with enough intensity to compensate for his empty left eye socket. Jesus evaded back and to the left, swiftly unsheathing the hunting knife he'd borrowed and darting forward to successfully bury his knife in the corpse's last good eye. He yanked the knife out and let the walker collapse on the sparse grass. He took a second to catch his breath, but was quickly reminded of the state of the present world as 7 more walkers staggered into view.
"Shit." He hissed under his breath.
The corpses grunted out sounds of recognition and quickened their awkward limping toward Jesus. He didn't stick around though. Jesus turned on his heal and sprinted back out down the road. He was quick and could easily outrun them even if they did outnumber him.
Unfortunately, another 13 walkers had heard the commotion and made their way out from across the street, blocking his path.
"Shit." He muttered again.
He could run through them. He considered it. But if even one of them managed to grab him strongly enough on the way through, he'd be done for, and then he'd never find Daryl.
Jesus sighed quickly, and turned again to dash around the smaller herd and back behind the building to find another way around. As he ran down the side road, another 4 walkers emerged from one side of an intersection, forcing him to turn right with a frustrated growl. This wasn't the right direction. He sprinted forward, making a left again as soon as he could, only to be cut off again by another 15 walkers, shepherding him farther and farther from where he knew he needed to go. Exasperated, Jesus ran around another house with broken windows and down another side road. This time, no walkers blocked his path, so he kept going, even though he couldn't remember where he needed to make a turn to get back to the main road. He hoped he would recognize something soon so he could get his bearings. He kept jogging at a steady pace past broken house after broken house. Before long, he found himself in front of a cleared out convenience store.
He paused to catch his breath and furrowed his brows at the structure. It looked oddly familiar. He blinked at the building as the memory came back to him - this was where he first met Daryl. When he ran into him and Rick while they were scavenging and decided to try his luck by stealing their stuff. It didn't turn out well for him - or in the end it turned out perfectly he supposed. He hadn't realized the place was so close to where he'd been.
He blinked as he glanced around his surroundings. No sign of anyone nearby. Not even walkers. He sighed and took a couple steps forward before he heard a shuffling behind the building.
"Not again" he mumbled to himself, but took up his cautious routine, this time, knife in hand. He crept around the side of the building to the back, where he once again slowly peered around the corner.
One walker. Back turned to him. This would be easy.
Jesus crept up quickly knife at the ready. He was about 4 feet away when his foot snapped the stick. Jesus flinched. The walker turned around.
Jesus froze - eyes growing wide.
"No." He breathed.
The Walker growled and shambled toward him. Familiar blue eyes turned pale and yellowed.
Jesus stumbled back, "No," he shook his head, tears filling his eyes, "No! NO!!! NO!!!!!" He screamed. The Walker came within grabbing distance, but Jesus didn't dodge or stab him, he just pushed him away. The push wasn't very hard, but the Walker stumbled and fell backward onto the dirt - his big 8-month pregnant belly even harder to compensate for with the awkward movements of the undead.
Tears poured down Jesus' cheeks as he collapsed to his knees, "no no no no no nonono no NO noo no no" the word came like a mantra, spilling across his lips.
The Walker was trying to get up, or maybe crawl, but couldn't seem to get into any useful position around his swollen abdomen.
Jesus crawled forward, toward the struggling walker, his ears were ringing with an impossibly high-pitched scream. He couldn't hear his own sobs.
"Please please please no. No. This can't- I- I can't - Dar- Daryl," Jesus came close enough that the Walker that was Daryl Dixon could grab him, but not bite him. His voice was completely broken, "baby, baby please! PLEASE!" He cried as the Walker gripped his arm and shoulder trying to force him close enough to bite.
"DARYL!! DARYL IT'S ME!!!" He wailed. All he could focus on now were Daryl's pale yellow eyes that he so desperately wanted to see turn back to blue. The Walker just kept trying to pull him closer. Jesus resisted and kept calling his lover's name. He couldn't be sure how long they went on like that, but after a while of desperate cries and growls in response, Jesus felt the walker's belly move under his arm and then he remembered the baby. Their baby. The little girl they were supposed to meet together in just about a month. He pulled away out of the walker's grasp and fell back on the dirt. He scrambled back up to the walker's swollen belly and pulled up the grimy ripped t-shirt to expose the swollen gray skin underneath. He could see the baby still kicking determinedly inside of him.
"She's alive," he choked, his tears dripping onto his late lover's drum-tight belly, "she's alive." Jesus pressed his forehead to the walker's belly just out of arms reach. He took a shaky breath and realized what he had to do. Hands trembling, he reached back for the knife that he'd dropped on the ground. Holding it steady in his right hand, he pressed the blade against the walker's belly, just below his naval. The Walker let out another snarl and Jesus looked back up to his lover's face. His eyes were so almost Daryl's. They were Daryl's. Just no longer blue. He furrowed his brows and tried to focus back on the task at hand.
But what if he can still feel it? What if this hurts him? What if you cut the baby? What if the baby's already dead? NO.
He shook his head, tears spilling over his cheeks yet again. Jesus slammed the knife back down onto the dirt.
I can't. I can't do this... I have to bring him back. I have to take him back to Hilltop. Maybe Dr. Carson - he would know- he would know what to do. He would know how to- no! What if she dies? What if she suffocates? No!! Shit! What do I do?! What do I do?! Stop. Breathe. What would Daryl do? How am I going to get him back to Hilltop? Need a car.
Jesus glanced around. There was an old pickup a few feet off the road that he hadn't noticed before.
Maybe. Worth a shot.
He turned his attention back to who he desperately wanted to still be Daryl, "Don't move baby, okay? Don't move. Everything's gonna be okay. I'm gonna get you home." He reassured the corpse, gently stroking its pale arms as it tried to claw at Jesus' face. Shakily he rose from the ground and stumbled to the truck. He swung open the door. There were keys inside, like they were just waiting for him. He climbed in, revved the engine, and the old truck sprung back to life.
"Yes!" He cried, banging on the steering wheel in celebration. He backed the truck up so that he was right next to Daryl's body. Jesus climbed out and put down the back hatch on the pickup. There were some blankets and ropes in the back. Jesus thanked God. He grabbed the ropes and securely tied the walker's arms and legs, and, as gently as he could, gagged him so he couldn't bite. Then he pulled one of the blankets over his head and struggled to pick him up to put him in the truck. It was difficult work, but Jesus was determined. Once he finally got the writhing Walker in the back of the truck, he did his best to make him comfortable with the remaining blankets he had.
"It's gonna be okay, baby," he assured the growling corpse pressing his forehead to where Daryl's forehead would have been underneath the blanket, "it's gonna be okay. Dr. Carson's gonna help. He'll help you. He'll help our baby. Everything's gonna be okay."
Jesus locked the back hatch and scrambled into the front. He drove back to the Hilltop as fast as he could, often glancing back to make sure Daryl was still there - to make sure that he was still okay.
Once he got to the gates, he yelled, "Let us in!!! Now!! Get Doctor Carson!!! It's Daryl!!!"
The startled guards let him in immediately and closed the gates behind him. He drove in and stopped the car as Dr. Carson came running out along with the guard that had fetched him. Hearing the news, Carol, Rick, and Maggie ran out too. Last he'd checked, Maggie was the only one staying at the Hilltop, but Jesus didn't have time to pursue those questions.
"Where's Daryl?!" Carson demanded.
"H-he's in the back," Jesus' voice shook, Dr. Carson's eyebrows furrowed, but Jesus continued, "Doc, he's really sick, I-I didn't know what to do,"
Jesus hurried to the back of the truck with the doctor and Daryl's friends following close behind. He threw open the hatch and jumped in the back with the writhing mass of blankets. When Dr. Carson saw how it was moving, he knew something was very wrong and put up his arm barring the others from getting closer. "Jesus?"
He spun around as he removed the blankets, eyes wide, "what are you waiting for? He needs help!!"
Dr. Carson's face grew solemn as he saw why Daryl was "really sick".
With the blanket off they could all see his pale mottled skin and dead eyes. They could see the stale blood oozing from the hole in his throat that Jesus couldn't even comprehend. They could see the spasmodic bulges in his vein-y belly that they knew could only mean one thing. Maggie couldn't bear the sight for another second and spun away burying her sobbing face into Carol's shoulder. Carol wrapped her arms instinctively around Maggie's trembling frame as her horrified face leaked tears into the younger woman's brown hair. Rick lowered his head, his gaze torn between the truck and the ground. He couldn't seem to decide what to do with his hands, so he kept passing them from his head, to his face, to his knees, to the air, and back to his head.
"WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!" Jesus yelled, "HE NEEDS HELP!!!"
Carol closed her eyes.
Rick placed his hands over his face again.
The courtyard was full of people, but it was silent.
Dr. Carson cautiously climbed onto the truck and reached out toward Jesus who was kneeling by the bound walker's shoulders, "come on son."
"Help me move him to your office! You have supplies there! Everything we need!"
Dr. Carson shook his head, "Son, you gotta-"
"HELP ME MOVE HIM!!"
Dr. Carson hesitated, which Jesus didn't miss. He could see that no one wanted to help. They were scared. He understood. They didn't want to risk being bitten to help his pregnant lover. He understood. He understood as the ringing in his ears returned. His family was going to die... No. NO. NO. NO.The ringing in his ears was deafening.
"Please," Jesus choked out, tears returning, "please please help him."
Dr. Carson watched him intently, seeing the look in Jesus' eyes, he made a decision.
"Okay," he said very gently, "I'm going to pick up his legs, you get his shoulders okay?"
Gratefulness washed over Jesus' desperate face as he hoisted the corpse's shoulders up with his arms.
They carried him into Dr. Carson's office just like Jesus had asked. Even the people who wanted to protest were too stunned to put up any kind of argument. Maggie stayed outside sobbing, but Carol passed her off to Rick who finally found something to do with his hands by holding her tight and letting himself begin to sob into Maggie's shoulder. Carol trudged down the path to Dr. Carson's office. Though her steps were heavy, she seemed to sway in the precipitous way that a house of cards will sway just before it falls. She held on though, and followed Jesus and the doctor into the would-be operating room. They tied Daryl's hands and legs down out of the way so that he wouldn't grab and scratch. They also strapped down his head, chest, and pelvis so that he wouldn't move so much and threaten to knock over the makeshift bed. Dr. Carson brought out his tray of instruments. He was mustering up the courage to explain to Jesus that he needed to put this scalpel through his dead lover's eye when he heard his voice chime with naive concern from beside the body.
"You have anesthesia right?"
Dr. Carson looked up and tried his best not to sound as exhausted as he felt, "what?"
Jesus was standing next to Daryl's slowly rotting body, holding its right hand and stroking its matted hair, "I just- I just don't want him to feel any of it, you know? When you cut the baby out, I just don't want it to hurt him. Do you have any anesthesia?"
Dr. Carson peered at him.
"Do you?" Jesus repeated.
Carol, who'd been watching in silence for a few minutes, moved over to the doctor and put a gentle hand on his slumping shoulder.
Dr. Carson's sullen eyes met her tearful ones.
"Let him," she whispered.
He watched her for yet another moment before responding just as quietly, "others may need it."
Carol offered a small, pained smile, "he needs it."
"He's already dead."
"No." She weakly gestured to Jesus, "he needs to know," her voice cracked as a small sob escaped her and she covered her mouth with her weakly closed hand. She held it there for a moment with her eyes shut tight, then took a sharp breath and composed herself again, wiping at the tear running down her cheek, "he needs to know you tried."
Dr. Carson looked over at Jesus, who was whispering "it's gonna be okay, everything's gonna be okay" into the corpse's ear. Then his gaze fell on the white tiles of his office floor. He shook his head and closed his eyes - covering them with the palms of his hands. "Okay," he mumbled, and re-met Carol's gaze, "okay."
Carol nodded and grasped his hand in gratitude.
Dr. Carson sighed and fetched the anesthetic.
It was quick then. Carol assisted him. They gave Daryl topical anesthesia directly onto his abdomen, ensuring that Jesus saw. When Daryl kept growling, Carol assured Jesus that he wouldn't feel a thing, that he was completely numb, and the growling was just because he was sick. Jesus held his hand throw the whole procedure. He looked away and pressed his forehead to Daryl's when Dr. Carson made the incision. There were sounds of fluid escaping Daryl's abdomen, but no cry. Jesus nervously glanced over and saw that the baby was moving in Dr. Carson's arms. He stood up to see closer. Dr. Carson's somber gaze stifled his hopeful one, but he still had to ask, "i-is she okay? Why isn't she crying?"
Carol steeled herself and took a step toward Jesus.
"Why isn't she crying?" Jesus asked again, voice cracking on the last word.
Dr. Carson wasn't sure if there was another way to get it through to the young man, so he showed the crawler to Jesus. The baby's skin was gray and mottled. She hadn't opened her eyes, but her hands reached out grasping at Dr. Carson's stained white coat.
Jesus stepped forward, "c-can I hold her?"
Carol placed her hands firmly on his arms and decided it was time to use his real name, "Paul, you need to listen to me."
Jesus shook his head.
"Paul. He's gone."
Jesus shook his head more vigorously and started to step back.
Carol held him there firmly, as tears welled back up in her eyes.
"Daryl's gone, Paul. He's dead. Daryl's dead and so is your baby." There was a moment where he just stared at her blankly, trying to comprehend what she had said.
Carol placed a hand on his pale cheek, "I'm sorry, Paul. I'm so so sorry," her voice shattered on the last sorry.
He looked down at Daryl, at his open belly and how he kept struggling despite stale blood oozing everywhere.
Then he looked at their baby, whose pale eyes had opened and who had begun making small gurgling growls of her own.
Then he looked back to Carol's broken expression, mirroring exactly how he didn't want to let himself feel because if he let himself feel it then that meant that it was real and if it was real it meant that his Daryl was dead. It meant that his fiercely loyal, kind, gentle, love was dead. It meant that their baby that they were so looking forward to meeting and raising together was dead. Their precious baby girl was dead before she ever even got to see sunlight. If it was real, it meant that his family was gone. It meant that he'd lost everything.
And seeing Carol look at him like that, he understood that it was real. And then Paul broke too.
He collapsed to his knees and screamed as the ringing in his ears was so piercing that he couldn't take it and he couldn't be here and it couldn't be real but it was but it couldn't be but it hurt so so much that he wanted to die and he wanted it to be him and not Daryl and he wanted it to end and the ringing got so loud and sharp and he screamed with all of the pain and anger he could've expressed with a single sound and when he opened his eyes he was screaming in the dark and he didn't know where he was and his body was trembling and tears soaked his cheeks, but then a warm yellow light clicked on.
Panting, Jesus spun around in bed, to see familiar blue eyes wide and frightened, watching him from Daryl's side of the bed. The man awkwardly sat up, maneuvering around his 8-months pregnant belly. Jesus watched him wide eyed, tears still pouring down his face.
"Hey, you a'right?" came the familiar southern drawl as he rested one hand on his rounded belly and the other on Jesus' shoulder.
Jesus half-gasped, half-laughed. He moved quickly to embrace Daryl and kissed his forehead then his nose then his lips then his cheeks then his neck then his bare chest then his belly then his hands then his arms then his legs then his feet and back up to his neck and on and on.
Daryl chuckled at the outpouring of affection, but steadied his lover by taking his face in his hands, "hey, listen, I'm serious, you a'right? I woke up, thought I heard you screamin',"
Jesus pressed his forehead to Daryl's and nodded gently, "yeah, yeah, I'm good. I'm more than good," tears escaped his eyes again, "Daryl you know you're the best thing that's ever happened to me, right?"
Daryl offered a small smile, and nodded against his forehead. He eagerly accepted the tender kiss that Jesus desperately needed. Once their lips parted, they stayed still for a few moments, just savoring one another's presence.
"Bad dream?" Daryl finally asked.
Jesus nodded, "It was just a dream. That's all that matters. You're okay, and our baby's okay, and everything's gonna be okay."
Daryl grinned like he did only with the people that mattered most to him. He met Jesus' warm gaze and tucked a strand of golden hair behind Jesus' ear.
Daryl sat back up straighter with a crooked grin and nodded emphatically, "yeah, everythin's gon' be a'right."