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Chasing Smoke

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Lots of tumblr spoiler speculation...slight regular filming spoilers...etc etc.

Disclaimer: I don't own TWD.

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There's chaos all around.

Decay.

Death.

Despair.

And through the disarray of madness and destruction, hopelessness and loss, her eyes somehow find his. Blue locking on blue. She can see the grief and sorrow, the guilt and regret—his unspoken emotions hitting her right in the gut and leaving her near breathless as gunfire continues to explode and erupt around them, caging them in and trapping them where they stand.

She wants to reach out to him.

Wants to smile and reassure him and tell him that everything will be okay.

But before she can take a step towards him, before she can close the space and dodge her way around walkers and human alike, a noise cracks in her ears, a shout rings out, and she can hear her name ripping through the air on an anguished scream before the world flashes bright, and she's flying, soaring near weightlessly until finally, finally, everything goes black...


Pain.

It's white hot, blinding in its intensity, and nearly all she can register as she drags herself through the dust and rubble; it's all she can focus on as she finds a broke down vehicle amongst the debris and destruction; all she can comprehend as her bloodied and bruised hands fumble and fiddle with the handle before opening it slowly and easing herself in.

Her very own coffin.

A suffocating tomb.

A place to rest.

Sliding into the backseat, the sounds of walkers grunting and hissing not far behind the still settling cloud of smoke and ash, she pulls the door closed, grabs a lone white blanket that's laying next to her, and throws it over her body.

Closing her eyes, she breathes in deeply, attempts to shut off her mind—their voices, their screams, the silence after—and simply waits.


When she opens her eyes again the world is blurry and dark and cold. There's a low moaning echoing in her ears, a tapping sound on the window above her, and her entire body is chilled and achy, her throat raw and on fire.

She's confused, disoriented...

Scared.

She wants the pain and hurt to go away.

Wants to stop the fogged and faded memories from slipping back into her conscious mind.

Wants to go back to sleep.

Closing her eyes once more, focusing on the gentle rock and sway of her darkened cocoon, she does just that.


She slips in and out of awareness.

Sees the shadows of sluggish figures as they groan and hiss and pass her by.

Feels the fear, consuming and suffocating, as it nearly overwhelms her.

She can't really think.

Can barely breathe.

And as the windows begin to rattle and shake around her, threatening to crack and splinter, she sinks further into her threatened sanctuary and wonders just how much longer until she dies.


When she opens the car door her legs are weak, the city is quiet, and there's barely a walker in sight.

Leaning down, needing a moment to catch her breath, her eyes flutter to the musty white blanket that had covered her—embalmed her—specks of blood and dirt staining it brown and red. Focusing on it a moment, she waits for her head to clear, wills her eyes to remain dry, refuses to allow the ever lingering pain and misery to flood her; before feeling around for the small scalpel she had secured in her pant leg only days ago when her family had come to save her.

When the hospital had fallen.

When she had failed.

When they had failed.

She won't think about that now.

Can't.

Too much comes with the memories; visions of blue eyes filled with relief and then regret, the cruel, terrible, and agonizing anger of those who had tried to keep her, all drowned out by the near crippling feelings of hurt, heartache, grief and despair.

Wrapping her free arm around her torso, she gives herself a mental shake, grips her weapon tight, forces herself to look forward, and begins to slowly make her way through the quiet streets, leaving Atlanta crumbling and rotting behind her.


The road is no place for the weak.

So she does herself a favor in reminding the voices in her head that she is anything but.


She eats plants and bugs; nibbling on clovers and berries and gnawing on grasshoppers and crickets.

She sleeps in trees; climbing them as the sun is setting and securing herself with a bit of rope and cord she'd scavenged from an old pick-up truck.

And when she finds a backpack, bloodied and torn, with some meager supplies—a couple cans of food, stale crackers, a pack of twinkies, and a bottle of water—she holds it tight, staring down at it in disbelief; her fingers delicately tracing the smattering of blood and the dried bits of human flesh.

Grateful and exhausted, there's a part of her that wants to drop to her knees and cry.

Wants to feel the hot tears as they roll down her dirty cheeks, overwhelmed by the small gift left for her on the side of the dusty and abandoned road.

But she won't allow the tears to spill.

She can't.

She doesn't cry anymore.


There are some days when the hopelessness is devastating.

On those days she sits out in the open on the side of the road, her stomach pinching and sunken from lack of real food, her skin pink and slick with sweat, baking in the sun, her mouth parched and dry as she stares aimlessly into the distance—a part of her wanting to give into the urge to lay down and wait, just wait, offering herself up to the next herd of walkers as an easy meal, or a group of stragglers whose intentions are most likely anything but kind.

But those days don't last.

On her better days she sticks to the woods; feet quick and light as she hums a soft song and puts to use the knowledge and skills she had learned what feels like a lifetime ago. Noting the signs, taking in her surroundings, she lets the voice in her head guide her, marks the trees as she goes, and hides herself among the thick foliage of Georgia's still thriving forests.


"Name's Morgan."

It's been days since she's spoken to another person, longer since it was with someone who wasn't trying to hurt or kill her.

Watching as he cleans his sharpened knife of the blood from another man who had been trying to do just that—the feel of his fingers strong and unforgiving digging into her hips, his breath hot and pungent still lingering on her skin—she stares back at him with curious and unblinking eyes.

"Beth."

"Where you headed Beth?"

"Virginia."

His smile is understanding and his eyes are patient.


Morgan doesn't ask her many questions and she doesn't provide many answers.

She doesn't inquire about why he's helping her and he doesn't offer her any kind of explanation.

They work well together that way.

And as they hunt and scavenge and cross state lines, she's reminded of a time, not so long ago, when she'd braved the wilderness with another man—strong and silent, knowledgeable and intense.

She had felt safe then too.

Protected.

She had been wrong.

And it's when she allows herself to think such thoughts—remembering steely blue eyes, a low murmured voice, parlor songs and pigs feet—that the pain comes back swift and strong and all at once.

So instead of allowing it, instead of opening herself up to it...

She locks it away, buries it deep.

And forgets.


"Headed to D.C. myself."

Morgan mentions it one night as they cook rabbit over an open fire; a note of invitation hanging in the air as the snarling and groaning from a lone walker stuck in a nearby stream and the crackle and pop of the jumping flames, breaks the otherwise suffocating silence that blankets and surrounds them.

"What's in D.C.?"

"What's in Virginia?"

Considering his counter, turning it over in her head for a moment, she grabs her knife, unthinkingly runs a finger over the unmasked scar that mars her wrist, before making her way down to the water to silence the noise—her blade sinking into the walker's skull near effortlessly, as a spray of blood and decayed flesh coats her hand. Turning her attention back to Morgan, she wipes her knife on her pant leg and nods her head slowly, her eyes flitting down to the cooking meat and watching as it burns and crisps in front of them.

"Alright...D.C."


There's nothing left of D.C.

A pile of rubble and rock and countless walkers.

And the spark of optimism that had begun to take root deep within her, spreading out in small and uncertain threads as they had closed in on the city limits, begins to dim and fade, threatening to snuff itself out completely.

Throat tight and narrowed, eyes heavy and burning, she feels as if she could cry.

She wants to.

She doesn't.


Days later, after a few attempted runs into the overrun city (some more successful than others) they meet a man—a scout named Aaron—from an alleged safe-zone not far from D.C.

After a heated standoff of drawn guns and waving blades, yelled curses and whispered threats, he raises his hands, flashes them a smile, and invites them to come back with him to meet his group.

Stunned they stand in stiff and uncomfortable silence.

Caught off guard, unable to comprehend the invitation let alone form a complete thought, she glances at her companion; watching as Morgan shuffles backwards, looks towards the fallen buildings laid out in front of them, before glancing back at her—uncertainty and loss stamped across his ragged features.

"H-how safe is it? Where is it?" she asks Aaron softly, her voice hoarse, her eyes never wavering from his raised weaponless hands.

"Pretty safe, a lot safer than out here." he says easily, smile still friendly, eyes cool and purposely blank. "Alexandria."

Something inside of her warms a little at the word, her stomach leaping and tying itself into knots, and her hand shaking slightly around the grip on her knife as she shuffles her weight from one foot to the other.

Alexandria.

She's hungry.

Worn.

Tired.

Defeated.

Directing her focus back to Morgan, she notices the heavy bags under his eyes, watches as his gaze continues to scan the destroyed capital, his own weapon dipping a little as a small frown makes its way across his lips before he brings his attention back to her—a question shining in his dark stare, masked only by the slight flicker of hope that glimmers behind it. And seeing her own hopes and fears reflected back at her, she feels her resolve strengthen even as her guard weakens fractionally.

"Okay," she murmurs, lowering her knife and stepping forward. "Okay."


They reach Alexandria before the sun dips behind the trees that evening.

Its walls are high and its people are as cautious as they are curious.

She pays little attention to either.

Doesn't have the time to.

Doesn't have the mind to.

Mere minutes after she's ushered into the promised security and safety of the guarded community, she watches with a vague sense of surprise—shadowed slightly by fear, confusion, anger, and relief—as her family stares back at her, looking at her as if they're seeing a ghost.

It near knocks the wind right out of her.

Eyes once so easy and familiar nearly unrecognizable as they sweep their gazes over her, make a move to come to her, only stopping when she staggers backwards fast—her back making contact with Morgan's chest, his hand on her shoulder steadying her a little, even as she notices his expression looks as haunted and shocked as her own.

She had refused to believe.

Had ignored the longing.

Had crushed the hope.

Couldn't bear any of it.

It's Rick who steps forward slowly, carefully; his jaw working, eyes red-rimmed and glistening, and hands spread wide, palms up.

"Morgan? Beth?"

She says nothing, isn't sure she can—a question popping into her head as he speaks her friend's name familiarly before leaving her completely—silence hanging thick and heavy in the air.

"Oh God. Beth." He breathes her name, a soft whisper, a reverent prayer.

She wants to run.

His eyes seek hers, head shaking back and forth as if he can't trust her presence, as if she's a figment of his imagination, as if she'll disappear at any moment.

Part of her wishes that she could.

"We thought...we saw...Oh God...we thought you were dead." He breaks a little at that, running a hand down his face and then back up again before swallowing once and sucking in a deep and greedy breath. "There was an explosion...we saw the building go down and you were there and...Beth?" he murmurs her name again, like he can't—won't— believe it. "How?"

She says nothing, her voice lodged in her throat, lips traitorously trembling.

At her continued silence, he turns from her; his eyes moving over the small crowd that's gathered around them, faces she's never seen before, mixed in with those that she'd never (no matter how hard she tried) forget—Michonne, Carl, Glenn—and she watches as his gaze lands on a lone dark figure that's lingering near the back.

Daryl.

"I'm sorry" Rick says it once, voice thick and heavy with broken and anguished emotion. "Oh God...I'm sorry...I'm sorry..." he mumbles it again, chanting it over and over, shaking his head as he looks at the silent archer, a hushed murmur rippling through the crowd as he raises a hand, points a finger and takes a step forward, before seemingly thinking better of it and halting to a stop. "You wanted to stay." he breaks again on a long suffering breath, a choked and shaky gasp slicing through the heavy tension that lays over them all. "You wanted to stay."

There's a mixture of accusation, awe, and grief in Rick's trembling voice, his finger folding into itself to form a loose and weak fist before it drops completely, head falling limply to his chest as he mutters almost incoherently, disbelieving ramblings mixed with soft apologies meant only for her ears.

But she's barely paying any attention to him.

Not anymore.

Her eyes, her focus, her entire being, is centered on him as he raises unreadable blue eyes to her and sweeps them over her once, twice, before averting his gaze.

When he turns and walks away without a word no one follows.


Her sister cups her face; fingers whisper-soft and trembling, eyes full of deep regret and guilt-filled sorrow.

"They said you were gone. They said you had died."

"I survived."


There are people, shelter, running water, food, and clothes.

She's surrounded, dry, clean, full, and no longer in rags.

It's all almost too much to handle.

Almost makes her wish for the trees and open sky.

Almost makes her ache to escape outside the walls again.

Almost.


They give her space.

As she and Morgan attempt to settle into the community, its residents, their leaders, her family, and friends, keep their distance.

She marvels a little over the fact that Morgan and Rick are familiar with each other—listening quietly as he tells her their story with rare and unguarded emotion. And he laughs unbelievingly as he ponders her relationship with the man he once (still) called a friend.

"Funny how things work out." He says it softly, almost wistfully, as they pick at their dinner one night, a few candles flickering and sparking on the table between them as they both still struggle with the concept of working electricity.

Not so long ago she would have nodded at the comment, smiling confidently and softly quipping about God and faith, hope and conviction.

But the memories of the farm, the prison, the funeral parlor, the hospital and after are still too fresh and real.

So instead she hums, her soft voice filling up the lingering silence.


Some nights she wakes up gasping for breath, a scream caught in her throat.

Her body hot and sweaty, her eyes heavy and stinging; she tries to remind herself how to breathe, attempts to slow her heart-rate and calm her racing mind as she notices the faint stirrings of something—so achingly familiar and foreign all at once—building deep within her.

They shouldn't be here.

She shouldn't be here.

They thought she was dead.

She should be dead.

She falls back to sleep drained and exhausted and wishing she could cry.


Michonne finds her one night, sitting on the front stoop of the house she and Morgan share with Glenn, Maggie and Tara. She's quiet for a moment as she settles in next to her, their bodies barely brushing, eyes looking forward and taking in the darkened street in front of them—the houses lined there looking so perfectly and eerily normal. Forcing herself to relax in the other woman's presence, reminding herself that once, not so long ago, she had felt calm and safe whenever in close proximity to her, she folds her hands in her lap, keeps her head forward and waits.

She doesn't ask but eventually she gets the story anyway.

"There was an explosion...a pretty big one...took out nearly half the damned building." Michonne starts, voice soft but clear as she continues to stare straight ahead, eyes unblinking, body unmoving. "We were so close to getting to you. So close. Things looked like they were finally shifting our way. But then you were there one minute and then the next you just weren't." Clearing her throat, Michonne turns a little, not quite facing her completely but shifting towards her ever so slightly. "Daryl and Rick, they tried to get to you...to where you were...tried their damn hardest but there were walkers everywhere, a herd of 'em, and dust and smoke and...we were being overrun. Tyreese was hurt bad, Carol not much better...everything had turned so goddamned fast."

Facing her fully now, Beth watches as she raises her eyes to finally meet hers, noting with a pang of something that closely resembles sorrow that they're wet and shining. "Daryl...he tried you know...tried real hard, went almost crazy with it...never seen a man so consumed before..." her words trail off, lips dipping down before tilting back up again, almost as if she's unsure if she wants to laugh or cry. "Rick helped as much as he was able and I took out as many walkers as I could but we couldn't find you...we just couldn't...you were gone." With a shake of her head, she stares at her incredulously, eyes blinking somewhat rapidly as she seemingly tries to make sense of the story she's telling her, still unbelieving of it; her fingers flexing a little as if she wants to reach out to touch her, make sure she's really there. "You were just gone Beth."

Looking away from her, not able to take the grief and guilt shining in Michonne's dark stare, her eyes fall on the scar at her wrist, pink and angry; a token of what she once was. Rubbing a clammy thumb over the raised skin, she sucks in a deep breath, squares her shoulders, and patiently waits for the rest.

"Rick said you couldn't have survived it anyway; and at the time I agreed with him. The explosion...it was so big...too big. And the bodies we did find...well they weren't well off. We didn't want to leave you, Daryl said even if you were dead you deserved better, deserved to...deserved to be buried. But we couldn't..." she swallows once, twice, and then clears her throat again before continuing. "We had no time. We couldn't afford it...not with two injured, not with the herd coming."

Her words sink in.

What she says makes sense.

Pressed for time, down two people, a herd heading their way...

She had been a liability.

A burden.

Disposable.

Dead.

And there's a small part of her that scolds herself for such a thought, screaming that she's hearing what she wants to, twisting it around until it hurts and burns and brands itself inside of her.

A bigger part of her shrugs it off.

Truth is truth.

"Daryl and Rick got into it. Daryl said he wouldn't leave you...that it wasn't right...that we take care of our own...but in the end...we had injured people and we needed all hands and...and we thought—"

"I understand." she whispers it softly, interrupting her suddenly, her chest tight and on fire as she wills back the unfamiliar burning that pricks at her eyes, swallowing over the lump that's formed in her throat.

She doesn't want to hear anymore.

Can't bear it.

"You know I'm not sure he ever really gave up hope, even after the rest of us did, even after we left, I'm not sure he ever really accepted it."

She wants to laugh at that.

Wants to scoff and roll her eyes.

Wants to scream.

Instead she smiles softly, sadly, thumb still tracing her scar—a dark reminder, a constant branded memory. "Still left me for dead."

And she hates herself right after, cursing her slip and the bitterness that seeps into her voice. She knows it's wrong, awful and terrible to feel that way. And bowing her head, she closes her eyes, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth and biting down hard as her face heats and shame washes over her body.

"Yeah." Michonne's voice is low, quiet and just shy of gentle, her body still tense and rigid next to hers as she nods her head slowly before turning to look back at the row of houses ahead of them. "You lived instead."


Her dreams haunt her that night.

She's laying in the old abandoned car, wrapped in her dirty white blanket, her arms and legs heavy, her voice stuck in her throat as a herd of walkers slowly approaches.

Daryl stands just outside, crossbow in hand, eyes blank and emotionless as he peers through the dusty and cracked windows, gaze flitting right over her, unseeing, uncaring.

She tries to talk to him, tries to gain his attention; but she can't move, can barely breathe as her words fall silent and go unnoticed.

When he turns, leaving her to the oncoming hungry herd, her death dark and imminent, she finally, finally screams.

She wakes up with a sob lodged in her throat and Maggie's face, concerned and pinched, hovering over her.


There are parties and gatherings in Alexandria.

A library full of books, a church, and a clinic.

Children run in the streets, laughing and playing as the adults good-naturedly smile at them, hollering after them to mind the walls and borders before going on with their daily chores.

It all seems so normal.

So ordinary and natural.

Secure and protected.

So she does her best to ignore the voice in her head that whispers it'll never last.


She finds Daryl one night, days after Michonne's visit, pacing the darkened and misty streets like a hunted and wild animal that's been caged for far too long—scowl stamped across his features, hands twitching for a weapon. As she approaches him, feet soft and light just like he'd taught her, she can tell—before he even turns to her, before he even looks at her, before she even speaks—that he knows she's there. The line of his shoulders snaps tighter, his hands curl into clenched white-knuckled fists and his spine goes ramrod straight.

She doesn't say anything, not sure if there's anything to say, instead she merely makes her way towards him slowly, feet moving almost numbly, until she's standing by his side, looking down at her muddied boots and the slosh of dirty puddles that litter the ground nearby.

It had rained that morning, a bitter cold winter rain, and she had watched from her window, feeling more than a little incredulous, as people huddled inside; no desperate and frantic attempts to gather the water, instead locking themselves away from it, content to stay cozied up in their nice warm homes.

It was more than a little surreal.

The whole set-up is.

(Sometimes she wonders if she's back at the hospital, laying in bed in a drug induced haze, dreaming.)

(A brush of her scars and the ache in her heart reminds her that she's very much awake.)

The mist grows thicker and the tension between them draws out—long and telling and nearly painful. Still neither of them say a word; she uncertain exactly what she has to say to him, and he so obviously and uncomfortably at a loss. So instead of breaking the silence they stay like that awhile, side by side staring into the darkness and the shadows of the walls that loom ahead of them; her shoulders barely coming up to reach the middle of his bicep, his breathing deep and even save for the slight hitch here and there belying his carefully controlled emotions. It would almost be nice, if it weren't for the cloud of doubt and uncertainty hanging over them, shadowing the calm and quiet moment.

Finally, slowly, he turns his body ever so slightly, his head tilting fractionally as he casts her a quick and guarded look. "Failed ya, abandoned ya."

His voice, so low and familiar and bordering on desperate, has her fingers curling into themselves tightly, eyes blinking up at him almost dazedly, searching his face as his words wash hot and meaningful over her body—her skin embracing the soft and raspy sound.

"I wanted to stay. I should have stayed."

He looks so miserable—eyes bloodshot and features drawn tight.

She wants to reach out and soothe him.

Wants to rest her head on his shoulder, grab his hand, inhale his familiar sent, and rest.

Just rest.

But there's a pulsing in her ears, a burning in her eyes, and a deep-rooted ache of loss and longing that nearly has her doubling over and gasping for breath.

So instead of reaching out to him, instead of telling him there's no need for apologies and regrets—she's here, she made it, she's not just another dead girl—she turns from him; hair hanging in her face and obscuring her already blurred vision, lips pulling and trembling as a voice in her head whispers for her to turn back around, to face her fears, her demons and inner turmoil.

She can't.

Angry with herself for being weak, with him for reasons she can't quite pinpoint, and with the family that had left her for dead...

She walks away.

Leaving him standing alone in the dark and cold night behind her.


Slowly, carefully, she develops a routine.

Her days are spent in the clinic, helping the sick and caring for the weak. She's needed there, respected and listened to. And she comes to enjoy it; knowing she has a job to do, knowing that she's making some sort of an impact on the thriving yet fragile community she's tentatively settled into.

It's nice.

Secure.

Safe.

And she can feel the threads of something that whispers of hope and optimism and good things to come begin to weave themselves inside of her, embedding into her and hinting at a mindset and conviction from a life she lived not so long ago.

(There's a lot she doesn't want to go back to—can't go back to—but there's a part of her that misses and mourns and desperately yearns for the girl she once was.)


She still has her demons.

Sometimes, when her mind is elsewhere or sleep has been evading her; as she's brushing a cool rag against a flushed and fevered forehead, or helping to stitch up torn and bleeding skin, she's taken back to the hospital and Dawn—images of unwanted touches, bruised and battered flesh and the sound of anguished screams for help, rushing her fast in an overwhelming wave of dark and cruel memories.

She refuses to let it cripple her though.

Instead she embraces it.

The misery and despair.

The hurt and suffering.

The strength and resolve.

All of it.

Reminding herself that her experiences—the good and bad, the desperate and dark—shaped her into the person she is now.

A fighter.

A survivor.


"I'm sorry I didn't look for you, that I didn't believe in you."

Her hands still, hovering over the dishes she'd been rinsing off as her eyes shoot up to meet her sister's. Blue meeting green and holding fast as silence lingers for a moment, stretching on between them before broken with trembling and soft words. "I should have looked for you, I should have..." Maggie's voice, small and frail, trails off quietly, her hand going to her throat as her eyes flit to the ground and she shuffles back and forth on her feet in an unsteady and clumsy rhythm. "I should have done more."

Heart beating fast, face flushing hot, and breathing slightly uneven, she doesn't answer, can't answer, can only stare as her sister struggles with her own demons in front of her.

"I hate myself for not having faith, for not believing you were strong enough...and...and I don't think I'll ever forgive myself for it...and I don't think I expect you to ever forgive me for it...and...well...I just wanted you to know it's okay...that I understand."

She still can't speak as her sister's words sink in, can only stare dumbly as she tries to remind herself how to breathe; the ache in her chest expanding and growing as she watches a lone tear trail down Maggie's cheek slowly, leaving a wet path in its wake.

"You've change so much Bethy, so, so much. I can barely recognize you"

There's a part of her (small but growing every day) that wants to ease Maggie's pain, that desperately wishes for things to go back to the way they were, that simply just wants her sister back again. Looking down at the floor, she forces herself to breathe in deep—reminding herself that she's strong, that she matters, but also that her family matters—before allowing a small wistful smile to spread across her lips.

"I sing Maggie...I still sing."


Sometimes when she's moving through the bustling camp—on her way home from the clinic, heading out to visit the library, or taking her watch duty on the wall—she feels a prickling of awareness skitter its way up her spine, the tiny hairs at the back of her neck rising a little even as a calm sort of contentedness warms her blood, traveling and spreading throughout her body.

She knows she's being watched.

Can nearly feel his diligent and sharp gaze as it lingers on her; quietly observing as she goes about her day—the mundane chores and sheltered activities on the verge of driving her mad. And while a small voice in her head objects to his silent hovering, his careful and constant guard, she quickly silences it, embracing and relishing his distant attentions instead.


"You doing anything tonight?"

She's alone in the hallway at the clinic, cleaning up a cart full of medical supplies—bandages, scissors, scalpels, and rags—when he approaches her. His name is Greg and he's not much older than she is—a round boyish face and soft unmarred hands—he'd had been a med student before the turn, making his way to Alexandria not long after. They work together sometimes, treating coughs and bruises and injuries from runs gone south. He's nice, soft-spoken and respectful; and lately she's noticed the way his eyes seem to linger on her when she enters a room, his smile growing brighter and his skin flushing a shade deeper whenever they work together alone, observing patients and charting the supplies.

And as his question echoes in her ears, his eyes bright and hopeful as he takes a step towards her and then another followed by yet another still, she finds herself shuffling backwards, a rushing sound roaring in her head, her heart picking up in pace, and throat closing fractionally as her eyes dart to quickly find the nearest exit—a small part of her trying to reassure herself that she's fine, he's harmless, a nice boy asking a girl about her evening plans.

(She tries to block out memories of the last time she was cornered in a hospital; attempts to shut her eyes against what happened when she had tried to get herself out of that particular situation. Bile rising to her throat as her body reminds her of the brush and tug of rough hands, and the sound and heat of eager and sinister words.)

"Hey are you okay?"

Snapping her eyes back up to him, she watches as he takes a step back from her, his stare wide and uncertain as he looks at her with unmasked confusion; his gaze snapping down to her hands before shooting back up to her, a slow reassuring smile attempting to brighten his features as he raises his own hands and continues to back away. Staring at him a moment—noting the slight fear in his eyes—she shakes her head, swallows over the thickness in her throat before muttering an almost unintelligible excuse and brushing past him fast.

It isn't until she's out in the brisk night air and coming down from her panic attack—her breathing slowing to normal, her heart pounding at a regular rhythm—that she feels the prick and sting in her hand, nearly jarring her out of her anxious state completely. Looking down with somewhat hazy eyes, she sees her fingers clenched tightly around a small scalpel from the cart she'd been organizing, the blade wet and glistening as it digs into her palm, drawing blood and staining her skin red. Closing her eyes, she lets out a bitter laugh, takes a moment to savor the pinch and burn, before wiping her hand on her pants and turning to make her way home.

She'll start over again tomorrow.


"Michonne said you never gave up hope, that you never really accepted that I had...had died."

He barely looks at her as her words hang in the frigid air between them, their breaths coming out in small white puffs as they stand side by side in the darkness once again. There's a tension between them, sparking and near tangible, the unsettled atmosphere dimmed only by the hint of something else; something that she can't quite place—is secretly afraid to. Something that had started back at the funeral parlor, kept her going all those weeks after, and still lingers even now.

"Is it true?"

Continuing to avoid her gaze, he shuffles back and forth on his feet, head cast down and fingers flexing tightly before he gives a slight nod, looking up in the direction of the wall that protects them as he finally acknowledges her question.

"Yeah, yeah it's true."


She's determined to become even stronger.

She takes up knife training with Michonne, the other woman instructing her patiently about the fastest, easiest, and most effective ways to disarm, maim, or kill an attacker—her teacher's fluid and graceful movements as beautiful as they are deadly as she maneuvers herself carefully, swinging her blade and drawing the curious eyes of those who happen to pass them by.

Rick teaches her how to shoot at a distance, both pride and respect shining in his gaze when she proves to be a quick learner, her focus never wavering from her targets, even as an ache burns in her arms and her eyes blur a bit from too much concentration.

It takes time, and some not so gentle coaxing from Morgan, but eventually she eases herself back into the rest of her family's lives too.

She cooks with Maggie and Glenn, listening to her sister prattle on about memories from their old farmhouse kitchen, her voice soft and low as she speaks about their family, holidays shared and memories made and better left forgotten. She spends time with Carl, nodding somewhat aimlessly as he makes sharp and endless observations about their small community—the new relationships formed and the strained and dangerous affairs. Sasha goes out of her way to visit at the clinic, bringing her a sweet treat or a cheesy novel on the the days she's not tirelessly patrolling their borders or keeping watch in one of the guard towers. And Tara simply walks with her, the silence between them more comfortable and appreciated, than awkward and tense.

And while she tentatively allows herself to be accepted and welcomed by those that had forgotten about her, that had left her, every once in awhile she finds herself gazing out into the distance, her eyes searching for something—someone—she can't exactly place.

(But sometimes before the sun comes up, when she's up for an early morning walk, she sees him slip past the walls, puffs of cigarette smoke lingering in the air behind him and crossbow slung over his shoulder as he leaves to hunt or gather more supplies.

And it's in those early hours, when the dark is a welcome blanket, offering to mask her features and hide her emotions, that she embraces the ever-present longing.)


It's weeks, maybe months, after she's been reunited with her family before she allows herself to see Judith.

She's caught glimpses of her here and there, nestled in Ricks arms, or standing on wobbly and unsure legs as Carl and Michonne encouraged her to take her first few tentative steps with the promise of toys and treats and never-ending hugs and kisses after.

But she never let herself get too close, always keeping her distance, constantly shying away.

She's not sure how she gets there; but one minute she's standing in Rick's kitchen mulling over the fact that they actually have things that very closely resemble dinner parties, and the next she's standing outside of Judith's bedroom, the door slightly ajar as she watches the toddler babble and play in her crib—a small smile stubbornly creeping across her lips as something warm and settling plants itself deep in her gut, threatening to take root, spike and spread.

And just like that she's terrified.

Anxious and uncertain and unsure what to do, she's about to turn, about to leave and make her way back downstairs for dinner—her sister worries when she disappears for long periods of time, and she feels as if she's on the cusp of something she's not exactly prepared for—but she knows that baby, knows her more than she'd care to admit to, and there's a hitch in the little girl's voice and a break in her play and she knows that the waterworks are about to start.

A small voice tells her to go back, to find Rick or Michonne, or even Maggie.

A louder one encourages her to break that barrier, to face the very last of her demons.

Stepping into the room, she watches as Judith's eyes snap up and find hers, swears she sees a flash of recognition in those big blue orbs (immediately scolds herself for allowing such a thought after) and watches as a smile breaks over her chubby little face as she immediately raises her hands and squeals in delight.

She doesn't hesitate.

Taking the last few steps, she closes the distance between them, blocks out the apprehension, fear, and guilt, and reaches down to pick her up, blowing out a shaky breath as the warmth inside of her continues to grow and consume; her eyes blinking rapidly as Judith's fingers immediately find her hair, tugging on it lightly as seemingly all thoughts of fussing leave her and she continues to smile and play.

"Hey baby girl." she whispers it softly, her voice thick and raspy as she holds her close and listens to the sound of Judith's voice—mumbled one-sided toddler talk filling the quiet room.

Her arms full, her heart pounding, and something inside of her threatening to burst and shatter, she nods her head, once, twice, and closes her eyes with a defeated and broken sigh.

She had missed her.

More than she had thought she could.

More than she had been willing to admit to.

(Memories of nights in the prison—rocking and singing and cuddling—too sharp and painful as she'd been out on the road trying to find a place in this dark and cruel world, trying to survive).

But now, with her arms wrapped tightly around Judith's small frame, the scent of powder and baby filling her nose, realization floods her fast as she finally acknowledges, accepts, what she had been too scared to hope for all along.

Her family.

Holding her close, her entire body trembling and weak with raw and unchecked emotion, she keeps her eyes squeezed shut tight and whispers into her cap of soft fine hair—apologies and praises and gentle familiar songs—barely noticing the small trail of dampness that streaks its way down her cheek as she allows herself the unguarded and overdue moment.


She can't sleep.

There's something growing inside of her.

Something that burns and aches.

Something that's been begging to be unleashed since the moment she woke up in that car, since the moment she arrived in Alexandria, since the moment she saw her family, since the moment she picked up that baby.

She's scared.

Afraid of losing what she's finally found again.

Scared that she'll go back to the girl she once was.

Terrified that she'll never be able to.


It comes suddenly and without warning.

It's a crisp evening just days after her visit with Judith that she finds herself wandering the streets aimlessly; head ducked down and heel of her palm pressed into her chest as she tries to chase away the nagging pressure that's been slowly building there for some time now—days, weeks, months, forever. Her vision dim and fuzzy, her breathing short and stuttering; there's a weight on her shoulders, one she feels is about to crush her whole.

She doesn't know where she's going.

Doesn't know what she's doing.

Doesn't seem to know a damned thing.

Nothing at all.

Only that she's teetering, stumbling on that fine line she's been walking, nearly ready to dive head first over the edge.

And suddenly, abruptly, it hits her and she's doubled over, gasping for air and just trying to breathe.

It's all too much.

The grief and pain, the joy and heartache, the hope and fear. Everything she's been trying so hard to keep inside of her, refusing to acknowledge, afraid to let it out, comes rushing her all at once in a flood of chaotic and turbulent emotions, slamming into her in unforgiving wave after unforgiving wave—flashes of her dreams and fears, dark images and fragile memories streaking in front of her closed eyes in a blur of familiar voices and unforgettable faces.

She's here.

She made it.

She survived.

Her family survived.

"Oh God."

She collapses where she stands, unable to hold herself up under the suffocating pressure any longer as she allows herself to grasp onto the grossly delayed joy of being reunited, the blinding and nearly overwhelming feelings of hope, and faith, and conviction that she'd thought she had long since lost and buried. "Oh God."

The tears are hot and branding and unfamiliar in their heat, damning streaks trailing their way down her cheeks, threatening to leave their mark permanently as she lifts a shaky hand to her face and lets out a choked out sob—part disbelieving laugh and part bitter, bitter relief.

She's not sure how long she stays like that, crying in the streets as the floodgates stay open, a part of her foggily wondering if they'll ever close again; her breathing still short and labored, her mind unfocused and dim. Through the roar in her ears and the haze that clouds her vision she can hear a murmur of voices, see the shuffle of feet as she kneels in the cold hard dirt, laughing and crying and remembering what it feels like to really live again.

She's fairly certain she's losing it.

Almost positive that she's gone off the deep end.

But she doesn't care.

Can't bring herself to.

She has her family, she's alive, they're alive, and at long last she's allowing that simple fact alone to trump all the bitter suffering she's been carrying around with her for far too long.

And it feels good.

Damn good.

So wrapped up in her own mess of tumultuous feelings and unsettled realizations; she just barely hears the sound of her name catching in the wind, the pounding of feet on the ground matching the thudding of her own heart as it beats and echoes in her ears, a resounding and constant thrum. For a moment she can barely register the feel of strong hands as they close around her upper arms, pulling her to her feet, can barely make out the rough rumble of a voice as it tells her to breathe, just breathe.

"I got ya Greene, I got ya."

Nodding once, her body immediately recognizing the deep twang and raspy tone, she collapses against him; inhaling the familiar sent of blood, sweat, dirt, and pine as her barriers break, her walls come crumbling down, and finally, finally, she lets her demons go and allows herself a good long cry.


She smiles easier.

Her laugh is less stinted and forced.

Her eyes shining and calm.

She spends her free afternoons with Judith, cooing and playing and learning ABC's while Morgan looks on, his eyes a shade more peaceful and a tad less haunted. She makes more time for her sister and Glenn, letting the pain of being left behind and forgotten slowly fade into the joys of being reunited.

Michonne continues to train her carefully, her smile soft and touching on gentle as they move on from one weapon to the next. She keeps up her shooting lessons with Rick, enjoying the plans they make for herb gardens in the spring, and tomato plants in the summer. She listens intently to Carl's stories, quipping in her own keen observations as they watch and take note of those that surround them—slightly distant and always wary of the ones they don't call family. On the days that Sasha brings her a book or treat, she'll hand her a mended shirt or a piece of chewing gum she's known to have a slight sweet tooth for. She and Tara fill up their walks with quiet chatter as they get to know each other slowly and talk about their lives before and after the turn.

Confidently she allows herself to be loved by those she'd been separated from for far too long, refusing to cling to the past and finally letting go of her ghosts. And every once in a while, when the moment is quiet, or her mind happens to wander and she finds herself gazing out into the distance, her eyes searching for something—someone—she allows herself a soft and tender smile; accepting what she'd spent too long quietly and hopelessly denying—the yearning for brief freedom outside the walls, the brush of rough and calloused skin, and the low rumble of a raspy and deep tone.

(And standing next to him, like they have so many times before in the dark and silent night—a cool breeze rippling through her hair, their breaths coming out in curling white puffs—she stares at the wall that guards them from the dangers that lurk beyond; her hand reaching down to grab his, and a burst of warmth shooting straight to her core when he hesitantly interlocks his fingers with hers and holds on tight, silently conveying to her that he doesn't plan on letting go anytime soon...

And neither does she.)


Coda:

Everything is still.

Calm.

Peaceful.

Quiet.

Her footsteps are soft and light as she moves though the trees, her eyes squinting and focused, her breathing even and deep. And through the overgrown brush, what's left of Virginia's late winter foliage, and the light dusting of snow, her eyes find his. Blue locking on blue. She can see the pride and respect, the slight awe and unmasked admiration—his unspoken feelings hitting her straight in the gut and leaving her near breathless as she forces herself to focus once again; adjusting her grip on the crossbow, squeezing the trigger and watching the arrow fly. It hits her target dead on; and for a moment she feels a wave of guilt and grief, a pang of regret; but it lasts only a few seconds before she's turning to him, a wide smile spreading across her lips as he crosses the distance between them and nods in the direction of the fallen doe.

He looks so proud at that moment, so perfectly content.

She wants to reach out to him.

Wants to smile and laugh and revel in her accomplishment.

So she does.

Moving towards him she flashes him a grin, watching as he briefly sizes her up before returning her smile with a smirk of his own, eyes moving back towards their kill with another quick nod before scanning the area around them carefully; always ready, ever vigilant. "Getting good Greene."

"Had a good teacher."

His smirk widens fractionally at that; skin flushing slightly and breath puffing out in front of him as he raises a hand and rubs at the back of his neck uncomfortably, clearly at a loss by her praise.

They're both taking small steps.

They're both getting there.

Slowly.

"Should load this in the truck and get on home."

Home.

It resonates with her.

Comforts her.

Soothes her.

In the back of her mind she knows it might not last forever, nothing in this world ever does. But instead of shying away and blocking it out, she embraces the quiet feeling of contentedness that washes over her, relishing in the fact that he's sharing this moment with her, that her family is waiting for them behind the walls, ready to welcome them home.

It's a warming feeling.

And stepping into stride with him, the side of her hand brushing the back of his, she smiles again into the cool and exhilarating air, savoring the moment as a laugh bubbles up from her throat and she throws her head back to look at the clear blue sky.

"Alright, take me home Daryl."

END.