They tell stories about this. It’s worth telling stories about.
There are a lot of things in play here which are decidedly story-worthy. There’s a miraculous return from the dead. There’s an incredible journey culminating in an improbable and tearfully heartfelt reunion. There’s pain and difficulty and turmoil, and nothing runs smoothly or perfectly because nothing ever does. It’s true that people often prefer their myths and legends simple, but it’s also true that people appreciate a struggle. No one wants their heroines and heroes to triumph easily.
Most of all there’s an Epic Fucking Love Story. That part doesn’t become obvious until later, but by then in the story people are aware that it was there for a long time before that. That it came slowly into being, like a blooming thing emerging from deep soil. That it came in its own sweet time, and while there was never a happily ever after, there was a great deal of happiness. That if the reunion with everyone was improbable, this match was more improbable still, and it took some people a while to accept it.
But they did, eventually. Because everyone loves an Epic Fucking Love Story, don’t they?
Bet your ass they do.
So people tell stories, because in this brave new world a lot of new stories need to be made. Years after all of the people directly involved are dead and gone - some far too soon and some long after they were supposed to be - the stories remain.
The nature of stories is for them to change in the telling. Sometimes a large amount and sometimes only in small increments, but sooner or later one story will accumulate many different versions. As such it becomes difficult to know for certain what exactly happened, and to differentiate between the truth and what, in time, people come to believe the truth to be.
But here’s the thing: Maybe the truth ultimately doesn’t matter, because the stories become what people need, and people draw what they need from those stories. What they need to learn, to understand, to find courage and hope and faith, to know how to live, to accept how to die. What they need to be strong.
And she was so very strong, wasn’t she? Yes, she was.
There are a lot of parts of this particular story, a lot of chapters and acts (of course plays have been written about this, no one will ever stop wanting to pretend to be these people and live those stories) and arcs, rising and falling action, endless prologues and complex dénouements. But one particular part to which people keep returning is that one first night with these two heroes, and what happened between them and what was said and what was done, and how much and how far it went and what it all meant.
Of this part, probably the most numerous versions have been made.
There’s the version where not much happens at all. Where he has no idea what to do and neither does she, so they orbit each other - or rather he orbits her, as she’s surrounded by her joyful, disbelieving family like planets around a star, and he takes a place as a body on a wide elliptical, always coming toward her but taking a very long time, and an outer body, constantly kept distant from the inner system. He was one of them, until he wasn’t. And she’s always watching him in the midst of all this chaos - them demanding to know how and when and what happened and how far and how long and what she saw and did, and then they tell each other to leave her alone, let her rest, and then promptly disregard their own advice. And all the time he circles her, caught in an endless gravitational tug from which he can’t imagine wanting to escape.
He’ll come to her. When he’s ready. When he can bear it. But not that night.
There’s the version similar to that one, but instead of confining himself to the edges of things he’s with her in that bright center, silent but present and present in the deepest and most profound way. At her side like a dog in the best sense the comparison can be made: Strong, loyal, unwavering. Demanding nothing of her except the privilege and the honor of being there, and that honor isn’t something he wants to flaunt or boast about. He keeps it secret, keeps it only for himself. That he feels honored. That he feels as if she’s blessing him, and that he’s so blessed he can’t look at her when she lays a hand over his, when she allows him to finally accompany her upstairs and see her into bed before leaving for his own.
Everyone sees this, them together and how they are with each other, and many of them draw their own conclusions.
Then there’s the version where he accompanies her to her bed and doesn’t leave her. Where he lies down with her and threads his fingers through hers and watches her until she’s asleep, and watches her after because he can’t take his eyes off her. Watches over her, even if there’s no more immediate danger. In this version, or in some of its own variants, he lifts a hand and strokes her hair back from her face, and his fingers linger over the scar on her cheek, and he touches it, traces it, touches the others - even the most terrible one, because he has to. In order to fully believe, he has to. And he only does this because he knows that if she were awake, she would allow him to do so.
She would want him to.
But that would be something else he couldn’t bear. Not yet.
There’s the version where he comes to bed with her, lies down beside her, and the touching doesn’t stop with their hands. Where she undresses him and then undresses herself and lies back and asks him to look at her and see her, see everything, and he does and it makes him tremble. And he trembles harder when she draws him down and kisses him, kisses him for such a long time, and his trembling becomes a bone-deep shuddering as she touches him everywhere, asks him to touch her and he does, and that exploration lasts for hours even though they’re both exhausted almost beyond belief. He’s still shaking when she takes him in her hand and guides him slowly into her, and the sounds he makes seem to have more in common with pain than pleasure, and in fact he is hurting and so is she, because when people have been waiting this long for something this good it’s always going to hurt, a little, the first time.
That first night, they love each other in the most complete way they can, and they go on until they can’t anymore, and she pulls him into her arms and kisses his tears away as the sun rises and washes over them both.
People really like that last one. They ask to hear it over and over.
But then there’s one more. Less well known, this one. Less popular. More simple at its heart. But there are a few people who say it’s the closest version to the truth, and those people might have reason to know. Some say they might have even been there, though there’s a lot of disagreement on that point.
Regardless, this version isn’t long, nor is it very detailed, because something this simple doesn’t need to be. In this one there’s her as the brilliant sun and him orbiting the edges, silent, and he’s weak with shock and shaking a little, tears still standing in his eyes, but he’s smiling at her - a small smile that she’s seen before - and he’s not impatient. He knows his time is coming.
And when everyone else staggers off to bed and leaves her alone, she finds him smoking on the porch steps and she sits down next to him, and after a moment or two she tips herself against him and leans her head on his shoulder. And after another moment or two he leans his head against the crown of hers and lifts an arm, slides it around her and holds her close.
Neither of them says anything. There’s nothing to say. Maybe later there will be, a lot of things, but for now the night is quiet, and - even with the distant hisses and groans of walkers outside the walls - peaceful.
Their needs are simple, simple as this story, and always have been. He never wanted very much. A safe place to be and her in it, and he would have been satisfied for the rest of his life. However long it ended up being.
And no one’s sure about that part. No one’s sure about her. About how long they lived. Some people say they died together, fighting back to back, saving family or friends or complete strangers. Some people say they were two of the few who do live to old age now, and they died side by side in the same bed, her minutes after him, their hands clasped tight, smiles on their faces.
Then some say they just disappeared. One day they walked away into the world, hand in hand, and never came back. That they were never seen again and no trace of them was ever found.
Those people, in their most honest moments, say these two might return someday, when they’re most needed. This is the best part of myth and legend: The idea that nothing ever really ends. That everything gets a return.
That part isn’t true, of course. Of course not. It’s just a nice story. Don’t you think?
Now go to bed. It’s late and your parents will be angry.
No, I won’t tell you how I got the scars. Maybe tomorrow. Some other time. Yes, it’s quite a story.
But I’m tired too. I have to go.
He’s waiting for me.