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The wind and rain calm as Daryl and I ride away from the barn, and when we reach the roadside gift shop I had been living in, the rain is more of a thick drizzle with the occasional gusty breeze.

I dismount Shadow and snatch my knife from my waistband , opening the glass door silently and sweeping the room for intruders, alive or otherwise.

I weave in and out of the empty and disheveled shelves, checking the floor and underneath. I could never be too careful. I'd learned that the hard way.

Daryl follows suit, mimicking my actions wordlessly. When we finish, I slide the trash from over the hidden hatch and heave it open. I motion for him to follow me, and we descend into the cool and damp cellar.

Letting out a sigh of relief , I shut the hatch behind him. The dark chill of the cellar envelops the two of us in a pregnant silence.

Even in the blackness, I can feel he is close. The smell of the rain clinging to the dust on his skin emanates in the small room.

I fumble for a match, then strike it against the door frame. The hissing of the match breaks the silence, and I clear my throat. "I'll just grab the duffles."

He nods wordlessly, shifting uncomfortably. The flame of the match dances across the lines of his face, and even in the glow of the orange light his eyes are bluer than ever. I tear my eyes away, making my way to the far side of the room. The tenseness between us feels like a brick wall. When I return with the duffles, he raises his eyebrows. "That's it?"

I thrust one into his chest, ignoring the question. "You shouldn't be here, I was going to leave." He looks down. His hair is long, draped over his face like the branches of a weeping willow, and I silently chastise myself for wanting to push the hair from his stormy eyes, just as before. A clap of thunder echoes in the distance, and my jaw tightens involuntarily. "There's a truck around back, take the county road." I gesture to the back door. He stands so still I can't even hear him breathing. "You can leave." I say more forcefully, looking past him. "You all are good at that."

He grunts, shifting from one foot to the other, voice hoarse. "We didn't know. I didn't know."

"You didn't even try." My words cut through the air like a knife. I slide past him wordlessly, exiting the store and climbing on Shadow's back. The drizzle turns to thick sheets, and I turn back to the store to silently say goodbye to the man with the angel wings on his back.

Instead of an empty doorframe, I see him. Daryl stands just outside the store, smaller than I had ever seen him. A dark mark in the torrent, so insignificant he could be mistaken for a tree bending in the wind. "Please." Is all he calls over the crack of thunder and the whistling of the wind.

"I've been on my own too long. It was always meant to be this way." My eyes are bleary, I assume from the rain, but the heat behind them tells a different story.

"I was alone too. For a long time." His voice is low, almost inaudible. "You and me... We need people. We need something to fight for."

"We're not the same, Daryl." I snap, dismounting and stumbling towards him against the gale, standing just inches away. He says nothing in reply, and I look up at him with fire in my heart and in my eyes. "You left me behind. You all left me behind. You people don't love me, I had to learn to be by myself, and I can't unlearn it. You chose your path, and I have chosen mine."

I study his face long and hard, trying to conjure the thoughts of betrayal and loneliness I felt that night and project it on him, to see him as the coward I convinced myself he was. But all I see when I look at Daryl Dixon is a man broken by a year of tragedy and pain, forced to do the unspeakable, looking at me with the saddest semblance of hope. He stands there with his pleading and tormented thunderstorm eyes, shivering under the torrential downpour, only a whisper away. Slowly , he reaches toward my face, his hand warm against my icy skin. His rough thumb glides across my cheek, and he blinks the rain from his eyes. "Please." He says again.

"You don't even know what you're asking of me." I murmur. I can feel my throat getting tight, tears threatening to rise.

He looks at me, hair tousled and raindrops trickling over his skin, vulnerable and strong all at once, more human than I had ever seen him."I'm asking you to stay."


The girl from the river looks up at him with those honey brown eyes, clouded with sadness, but the same ones as before. The same ones that analyzed him fiercely upon their first meeting, threatening an arrow to his heart, the same ones that weeped for the pretty painted pony, and the same ones that looked up at him while she lie bleeding in Hershel's field. Her voice is cold. Her skin is cold, and she trembles- from his touch or the tears of the weeping sky, he isn't sure. But when she speaks to him, her voice is colder. In the late summer evenings in the tent out on the farm, even under the darkest of starless skies, he would bask in sunlight of her voice. He wonders when she lost her light. Was it when he had so quickly left her behind? Or was it during her time alone?

It wasn't that simple, and he knows that. Asking her to stay after all that had happened in the last year and a half. He can tell she has known pain, it was something in the way she carried herself. She only ever glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes, and if their eyes accidentally met, she would quickly look away or blink hard, like it hurt to look at him. Maybe, more like it hurt to remember. And he knew that feeling.

But what he also knows is that he would do anything to keep her by his side. To lean into her embrace, and to hear the hymns of her pulse. He wanted to be pulled into her orbit once more, even if it was broken, it was hers. He wanted her to tell him about the hurt when her world went quiet, so he could take that hurt and make it his own. He wanted to know her thoughts when she snarled at love like a cornered coyote. He wanted to show her he would always stay. Even if she didn't want to, he would stay. And he wanted to cast away all of these shadows that haunted her and danced through her eyes, across her face, and in her heart. He wanted her to know he would swallow those shadows whole.

But none of this was that simple, and in fact, it was all far too complicated for any of this. Because even if he found the words to say all of these things to her, she was a ghost of who she was before, and ghosts are hard to hold onto. It would never be as simple as telling her what she meant to him, and his heart sinks as he realizes this. So he backs away from her, lifting his hand from her face and relishing in the memory of it beneath his touch. He knows he can't make her stay, and so in this he must let her go. But she doesn't. Her frame wavers in the wind, but her presence is strong.

And then she does the simplest thing in the world. She leans over and kisses him, and the sky cracks open.

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