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And If These Wings Don't Fail Me

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He listens to her.

It seems important. Sometimes - some nights when the dark presses closer and the past rises up like a tide and exposes jags and sharp rocks and pain - it feels like the most important thing. He sits and he listens, and sometimes she knows and sometimes she doesn’t, and sometimes he’s close to her and sometimes he’s further away, but the constant in all of it, all these times, is that he listens and when he does everything is just a little bit better.

She’s healing so much faster than he is.

Dusk, and she’s sitting against the brick and watching the last of the sun-stain on the clouds, all pale purple and hints of red. It’s getting into deep autumn and the fiery sunsets of summer are far behind them. Somehow her singing matches those colors, gentle and skirting around the edges of sad. It hurts him but it also doesn’t. He wouldn’t trade it for anything.

It could rip him open and he wouldn’t trade it.

He’s moving, circling the half burned building they’re all bedding down in - because of course sooner or later they always run. It was a library, once upon a time, until so much of it burned, and Carl sorted through the mess and found a couple of things for Judith, and that had been nice. But she’s the only one for whom reading feels like it could still be a thing.

She should learn to read. That world is gone, but she should. When Daryl realized that, he spent a while just sitting and thinking about it, walking and thinking about it, about school and about the basic things kids learn coming up - even him, before school started being pointless. He can do math, he can read; he always liked to read.

That world is gone but she should have that piece of it, and he’s not sure how she’ll have it, at least not easily, and it troubles him.

He’s thinking about that, and about other things, as he circles the bounds of what they’ve established as their perimeter. But it’s a quiet night and she’s here, and he stops, leans against the wall a couple of feet away from her, lights a cigarette.

He knows she doesn’t like them. He knows she’ll interpret it as a kind of teasing, which is what he means for it to be.

She glances at him but she doesn’t stop singing. Quiet, to herself. She does that more now, more than she ever did. Like singing is part of recovering herself. Like singing is knitting her back together, cadence and rhythm, melodies, the logic of the arrangement of notes.

the days are long, the nights are lonely
since you left me all alone
I worried so my little darling
I worried so since you’ve been gone

sweetheart of mine, can’t you hear me calling
a million times that I love you best
I mistreated you, darling, I’m sorry
come back to me is my request

He listens until she’s silent and he exhales a stream of smoke, and it’s okay.

"Whatcha doin’ out here?"

She shoots him a faint smile. “Can’t be out here if I wanna be?”

"Do whatever you want. I’m just askin’."

She shrugs. She’s still smiling and that also makes him ache a little. He feels like that pretty much all the time these days. He never expected to see her again, so he never had any idea how seeing her again would make him feel, but when the disbelief and the thing he only knows how to describe as ecstatic joy faded he was left with this deep, sweet ache, and it hasn’t yet left him.

Every time he looks at her he remembers what it was like when she wasn’t there and he wanted to die.

He doesn’t want to forget.

"I like the light," she says softly, and it doesn’t occur to him for even a moment to question that.

He moves over to her, closes the last of the distance, sets down the crossbow and sits down beside her, taps ash onto the ground. She looks at him and wrinkles her nose, and he gives her the tiniest hint of his own smile, and everything is good.

So they’re quiet for a bit.

"Aren’t you on watch?"

He huffs a laugh. “You tryin’ to get rid of me?”

"I’m tryin’ to not get chewed on."

He shakes his head. “Glenn’s got it. I’ll get up in a sec.”

"You don’t gotta hurry," she murmurs, and she leans over, lays her head against his shoulder, and as usual he stiffens a little and as usual she doesn’t back off one bit and he settles almost immediately. She knows it’s something he still can’t help. She knows it’s deep and he won’t shed it for a while yet. That a scar like that, a scar no one can see, it can take years to heal. Sometimes it never does.

She knows all about scars.

"Alright," he says, just as low, and then, after another moment or two, he tips his head to the side and leans his temple on the crown of hers, her hair tickling his cheek.

There’s no word yet for what this is. It’s very tentative, very careful. They aren’t talking about it. She came back, and when the madness of her return was over they looked at each other, looked at the wreckage between them - what he’s vaguely come to think of as the Wreckage of Oh, which he thinks is kind of funny and doesn’t really understand why - and neither of them seemed exactly sure where to start and that hasn’t changed. But they both want to; he’s sure of that much. Something didn’t get finished and it should. Or at least they should pick it up again and see if they can figure out what it was that got ruined.

He wanted to stay there with her and he would have stayed there with her, and even then that sweet ache was twisting at him every time he looked at her, and he wants to figure out what that was.

It’s important.

He thinks she might actually know. But she isn’t pushing him. She’s hanging back. She’s letting him get there on his own. Somehow that feels right.

She reaches down and takes his hand, and this time he doesn’t stiffen at all. It’s his left hand, and her thumb finds the little scar on its side, strokes across it. Anyone else and he’d never let them touch it. Anyone. Even Carol, he doesn’t think he’d let her. He knows she gets it, or he thinks she does, but still.

But Beth can.

She let him touch hers. Let him that first day, because he didn’t believe it and he needed to. She took his hand and pressed his fingers to her forehead, and when he collapsed against her she held him until the tears let him go.

So now she can touch him however she wants.

"I can sing some more," she says softly. Threads her fingers through his and squeezes, and he takes a breath as his chest tightens. "You want me to?"

It never annoyed him.

He doesn’t speak but he nods, and she starts, very quiet, and he knows it’s just for him.

there ain’t no grave
can hold my body down
there ain’t no grave
can hold my body down

when I hear that trumpet sound
I’m gonna rise right out of the ground
ain’t no grave
can hold my body down

Not exactly subtle. He doesn’t want subtle. He’s caught somewhere between laughing and crying and… He doesn’t know. He has no idea. He’s overflowing with something, spilling out of him, cracking him open. Resisting words he wouldn’t be able to find anyway.

Of course she doesn’t need them.

She sings and he feels her building herself, note by note, and he feels her reaching into him, putting him back together, and that’s all he needs to understand for now. And he mouths the chorus with her as the last of the light fades and the first stars begin to shine in earnest, and he recognizes that sweet ache for what it is.

there ain’t no grave
can hold my body down