Alexandria was a mess. The fires were out and the gates were locked, but we'd let them down by running. I hoped they understood.
Rick put his arms around me and held me tight.
"I get it" he said after Daryl and I explained where we'd been "I can't imagine what you've both been through." He pulled away from me and patted Daryl on the shoulder. "I can't say I'd've been as sane myself. But there is work to be done, and we need to teach Negan that he is not in charge here." I nodded, still tearful.
"I'm in a better frame of mind now," I said to him, "I don't think I could have followed orders a couple days ago."
"Ya have a plan?" Daryl asked him, sounding unsure. I took my husband's hand and gave it a squeeze. This was going to be tough, hard work with our recent loss.
"We owe it to Charlie, Abraham and Glenn to teach that asshole a lesson he won't soon forget" I said. "We're with you, Rick. Whatever you need." I believed it, I felt it. There would be no arguments from me anymore. If Daryl needed to go out and leave me behind, so be it. He wasn't leaving me behind because I couldn't cope but because I could. I had to trust he knew what he was doing, I had to have faith in him. And in myself and my family. What was left of them.
The house seemed so empty. One of only a handful still standing it was dark and quiet without Charlie.
"We'll have to invite people in" I said to Daryl as he shut the door behind us. "There's not enough room now for everyone."
"Not right now" he said, leaning his back against the door, looking around the living room sadly. I turned to take the space in.
Charlie and I had played cards together at the coffee table, his hand lay face down where we'd left them. An impossibly small leather vest was flung haphazardly on the couch, where I constantly begged Charlie not to throw it. I stumbled forward on weak legs and grabbed the jacket, bringing it to my face so I could bury my tears into it.
I wasn't prepared for this, and by leaving I'd just lengthened the process. I breathed in the strawberry and leather scent that was distinctly my little boy, and let out a long and lonesome sigh.
"This is so hard" I said, turning to Daryl who was now just inches behind me. His arms were around me in an instant and I collapsed into him, the leather vest still in my hands, and sobbed. This was supposed to get easier, but with each loss I remembered every one that came before it, and I thought the way things were going we'd never move on from Charlie's death, we'd never have the time. we couldn't sit on our haunches. There was work to be done.
I was tryin'a be strong for Abra, but I was runnin' outta energy. My legs wanted to give out beneath me as I held her, n I let them, sinking us slowly n carefully to the floor. I cradled her as best I could in my arms, but this was an all consumin' sorrow like I'd never felt.
I was tempted to shove Abra away, n make an excuse to leave this house, now full of so much silence, n ghost -echoes of a past that probably weren't as good as I was rememberin'.
But I couldn't do that, knowin' we'd need each other to get through this, knowin' we had another child on the way.
Knowin' that Negan was out there, livin' it up like King of the survivors, n knowin' we could get our vengeance for all the shit he'd put us through.
No, no one was runnin' from this anymore. We'd done enough of that to last a lifetime.
"Hey," I coaxed her gently, realisin' the sobbin' had subsided to a collection of quiet hiccups. "C'mon, baby girl, let's get some sleep" I felt her move her head n look up at me, but I couldn't meet her eyes. Not then, not yet.
"Yeah" she whispered, removin' herself from my arms and unfoldin' her legs to get up. "Ugh" she said, strugglin' "li'l help?" She held her arms up to me and I hefted her to her feet, smilin' despite everythin'.
"C'mon chubby" I smirked with mock effort, n she swatted my arm playfully
"Screw you, red neck." She whispered with genuine humour. She leaned into me, as though she couldn't stand alone, and we ascended the stairs that way before collapsing, fully clothed, onto the bed.
Abra kicked off her boots and sighed loudly,
"Whenever I was sad, or something bad had happened," she said quietly, her back to me as I pulled off my clothes "I'd wake up and Charlie would be in here with us." I snaked my hand around her. I didn't want to talk, I wanted to sleep, but what could I say? I couldn't let us mournin' differently cause a gapin' hole again, we had enough of those in our lives without causin' a canyon ourselves. "That will never happen again." She grabbed my hand restin' on top of her roundin' gut as if the last was a sudden realisation.
Never. Never ever again.
"He's always gonna be with us Abra" I kissed the back of her neck, n at great length she struggled to turn n face me.
"That's true, but it's so cold and ever so lonely without him." She put her hand on my chest and seemed to contemplate it.
"Y'aint alone in this, Abs. Don't ever think ya are" she smiled still not lookin' at me.
Without thinkin' I started to undress her, not expectin' nothin', just helpin' her get more comfortable.
I pulled her pants and underwear over her boot socks, then pulled those off one by one as she pulled her tshirt over her head. I came back up the bed, bringing the covers with me as her skin broke out in goose flesh.
"I love you" she said quietly, as I wrapped my arms around her and held her close. "Despite every damn thing you've put me through since you and Glenn found me in the woods, maybe because of it. I love you so much Daryl." She pulled outta my arms and looked at me, her hand again resting on my chest.
He looked at me for the first time since we'd got home, really looked me in the eye.
I was trying so hard to be stoic, but he'd undressed me so carefully and so lovingly with no hidden agenda that I couldn't help the tears. It was all I could do to tell him I loved him, and that didn't convey how I felt, not really.
I placed my hand on his chest, wanting to feel his heart beating, wondering if it was in rhythm with mine, thinking it probably was.
I wondered at the baby's heart, going twice as fast.
And still I felt so lonely. So completely alone knowing Charlie wasn't there.
Daryl's arms firmed up around me a little and I crashed my lips into his suddenly. He was taken aback, expecting this to be the last thing on my mind I suppose, but I needed to feel like I wasn't alone. I needed to feel his love. Anything to fill the empty void in me left by Charlie's death.
After the initial shock he warmed up to me, pulled me close, his hands moving from around me to in my hair. We melted together so I didn't know where he ended and I began. It got so I didn't know if the wetness on my skin were his tears or mine, or sweat, or something else. It was slow, soft and sad, and as we moved together I cried, and I know he was too, but it didn't matter.
Nothing mattered but us in that moment, our love, our loss.
Vengeance was far from our minds as we came together, and Daryl collapsed beside me.
I know if I wasn't carrying his child he would have collapsed on top of me, and I missed him immediately, dragging myself close to him, if only to feel his clammy skin against mine again.
It was unexpected, not that that would have stopped me.
I crashed into the bed beside her with an audible sigh, and she was on me again. Her cold and wet skin pressed against my hot and reddenin' chest.
It was good to have a few moments not to think, and I welcomed it, but she was softly crying against me again and an anger bubbled in my chest. The unpredictable and violent side of me wanted to escape, like Dr Jekyll or the Hulk, and I welcomed that, too.
If I could get that asshole back for what he did to us, what he was doing to my wife, I'd die a happy man.
It didn't escape me that I hadn't killed Dwight on first meetin' him, or when I ran into him on the road tryin' to find Abra. I weren't stupid, I knew this was partly on me. I'd never say those things to Abra, she'd never accept them, but I knew it was true.
It made me all the more determined to make son's death mean somethin'.