The Darkest Storm
Gone, Gone, Gone
The world seems to be in utter stillness, but the wind blows on.
It tousles the ends of her locks gently, and there is an unmistakable silence that fills the air. The amber iris’s stare boldly, pleading for an answer and completely off guard. As Rick begins to walk to her, Darcy takes a fumbling step back.
“Darcy –“ Rick holds up a calming hand, but it does nothing to settle her angst.
“Is he dead?” Her eyes glisten as the sun sets on her tears that form at the corners of her eyes. Her jaw is slightly ajar and she breathes heavily in panic.
Rick shakes his head and avoids her painful watch on him, “No.” He whispers hoarsely.
Darcy’s jaw is clenched as she only fails at forcing back its trembles. “Then where is he?”
“We ran into his brother, Merle.”
Darcy slowly drops her eyes to the dusty ground. She remembers this feeling, being frazzled to her core. She tries to remember how to breathe, how to speak, totally stunned that Daryl chose Merle over everyone else. Over her.
“He left?” She whispers.
The weight of her own body is too much for her to handle, and she feels her knees weaken and her throat grow tight. She thinks there must be some mistake, that this can’t be happening. Her stomach churns and the yank of her heart makes her want to vomit.
Rick takes a hesitant step forward, not entirely sure what to expect while the eyes of the others are quietly watching behind them, feeling Darcy’s pain from the unexpected withdrawal of the one person whom she cared for most. Carol brings up her hand to her mouth, remembering what it is like to loose someone dear to her.
Darcy’s eyes dart to her surroundings and her voice is panicked. “We-we got to go after him and-and bring him back we…. but he said, he told me…“ Her throat won’t let her continue as it is dry as bone and she can feel the sting of the salty tears threatening to fall.
Rick heavily nods his head and his face falls as if he might start crying himself. He steps towards her and cups her neck with both hands. “No, we can’t. He’s made his choice, he-he won’t come back unless Merle does too.”
Darcy looks over to Maggie and Glenn, who can barely stand on their own two feet. The purplish tint to Glenn’s swollen eye, the cuts on his lips, the tight grip he had on Maggie’s arm…Merle did this. That’s why it was such a problem.
“So he just left?” She can’t accept it. Darcy’s face begins to allow the tears flow and she puts her face in her hands to hide it from Rick. She is soon engulfed in his arms and rocked ever so slowly back and forth and he lets her cry into his chest.
She pulls back suddenly, somewhat shaken and misjudging. “I have to go.” Her voice cracks.
Rick knows instantly what she means, and he can’t deny he anticipated it as soon as Daryl walked away from them. “I can’t let you.” He warns. He takes a soft grip to both her shoulders to try and make eye contact again.
Darcy brings her head up confidently and locks with his fearful stare. She does not ask, but demands an answer. “Where.”
Rick takes a step back and leans on his right leg. He looks at her hard and taps his thumb on his belt where his hand rests. He nods finally. He understands.
“South, just off highway 34. You’ll see a red pick-up that’s in a ditch now, about seven miles past, right side of the road.”
Darcy has the most determined expression on her face, and behind it, extreme disappointment and the feeling of betrayal. She nods in thanks as she backtracks.
“I’ll be back.”
Darcy does not make eye contact with the others as she opens the door to the Honda. She does not hesitate slamming it shut without mercy while she turns the keys. She only lets the rage build up inside of her. She only thinks back on false promises, the feeling of a broken heart, and hatred towards the bastard who convinced Daryl to leave in the first place and brought destruction to her home at the prison.
Darcy spins the steering wheel and presses the gas with urgency once she has made it past the gates. She ignores the silhouettes of walkers whizzing past her, the trembling of her now white knuckles as they gripped the wheel, and the pounding of her desire to just bring Daryl back home.
She looks to her right at her bow and quiver resting against the dashboard, and the holster holding two fully loaded pistols and wonders if she’d have to use them. The Governor was sure to be out there somewhere – hunting them down. She wriggles the horrible sensation off her body.
A few miles down the road, she spots the red pick-up that is pushed into a ditch just as Rick said. She slows down, approaching the spot that she hopes is far enough, and stops. Darcy peers into the woods, and sees nothing.
Quietly and on the alert, she turns off the ignition and steps out of the vehicle. The door is pressed gently closed and she walks backwards to keep a watchful eye on her surroundings. Opening the passenger door, she grabs her things and arms herself with all she has. Going into the woods alone, regardless if there is a madman out there or not, is never a good idea.
Darcy has to walk down on the right side of the road, according to Rick’s directions, for a few minutes. She is taking tantalizingly slow steps; one foot is crossed in front of the other, bow at the ready, breathing sharp.
Darcy squints her eyes at the pack of footprints she spots in the mud and squats down to run her dirtied fingers across them. She stands then, seeing a pair in particular walk off in the direction of the woods. When she follows them, they meet with another and begin to walk in sync.
Her heart takes a jolt inside her. She’s picked up their trail. She can find him and bring him back.
“Why so quiet, lil’ brother?” Merle’s voice drowns out Daryl’s dazed thoughts. He picks himself up off the tree and turns around and faces Merle, who was tying a trap for smaller animals.
Daryl shrugs, “Don’ wanna attract ‘em.” He nods off into the woods where wandering walkers failed to notice the brothers’ presence.
“Ya ain’t missin’ your buddies already, are ya?” Merle gives a taunting chuckle and Daryl forces a scoff – his mask of who he used to be and who he needs to be to survive with his brother is back on.
“Nah, good riddance.” As soon as he says it his heart aches, and her face is immediately brought up to the front of his mind. Daryl drops his head slightly and shifts his shoulders to shake off the feeling – he would never see her again. As if the first two times weren’t enough.
“Tha’s my boy.” Merle stands up with a grunt.
“Start gatherin’ some fire wood.” Daryl says over his shoulder. “I’m gonna take a look around.”
Merle purses his lips and falters back a bit. He puts up his right arm, where the once familiar hand was attached. “Fine Darylina, I’ll do all the dirty work.”
Daryl rolls his eyes and steps quietly away from his brother – finally being able to let his facial features fall in complete despair as he lets more and more distance grow between him and his old camp…and Darcy.
The twang of her arrow is quick and steady as it follows with a thud to the ground of its victim. The walker twitches when it hits the broken twigs and leaves around it, and emits a powerful smell of rot and decay.
Darcy puts her boot on its chest and pulls out the arrow. She flicks it twice to her side to get rid of the blood and brings her head up to let out an exasperated sigh. She’s been following their trail for about an hour, and besides their messy prints, there was no other sign of them being any closer.
Darcy notices the orange and yellow hues of the sun on the horizon and knows it’s only a half hour at least until sundown. She has to keep moving. Maybe tonight she will have to find a tree and sleep there until morning, just like her first days of being by herself.
By now, she has gone through the scenario when she catches up with Daryl dozens of times. It was proving to be another thing entirely to actually come up with a decent plan for just how to convince him to come back with her.
The words, “Please don’t go with Merle, he’s mean” seemed a bit pathetic when said out loud. Besides that moment of genius, the only other thing she could think of was just to kill Merle since everyone else wanted to do it anyways, but that was a very scary and downright disastrous plan indeed. So, she ran through it a few times more before she finally just gave up and hoped the heat of the moment would give her the right words to say.
Additionally, she begged God to make him come back with her. She hasn’t thought of the scenario if he chose not to; she didn’t want to put herself in that position just yet.
A snap of a twig brings Darcy to crouch down low to the ground and her head up and aware. She notices now, after being abruptly yanked from her thoughts, that there are no sounds of crickets or birds anymore. The sun’s rays refused to set and this made it even harder for her to see where the only noise in the woods had come from.
Darcy’s muscles are tense throughout her body, only because she allows them to be. After several minutes, she settles within herself the conclusion that the sound was from a walker, which wasn’t very unlikely, and pushes herself to her feet again to continue on.
At this time, she searches up high for solid trees to keep her safe until the day returns. She shouldn’t even be on the ground this late; it was too much of a danger. The silence continues to urk her enough to get her feet moving quicker. She knows she is making a lot more noise than she should but if she doesn’t hurry, the woods would be filled with walkers in minutes.
When she rounds one in particular that looks climbable, a powerful swing of an arm knocks her off her feet and onto her back. She brings a hand up to her forehead which she is sure is already bruised and looks for her bow. It is behind her, and she shuffles in a crawl towards it urgently.
Darcy is completely unsure of what has happened or where this person had come from, but the sound of quick footsteps rushing towards her makes her snatch her bow in haste and turn on her knees to fire on the oncoming threat. But, her vision is blurry from the hit and she quickly receives another blow after her weapon is knocked from her hands.
Darcy is once again on her back and her bow now behind the stranger. Her breath is heavy as her chest heaves up and down and her eyes lock on her bow out of reach and tries to come up with a way to get it. She can’t use her guns this late in the evening, it would bring all of the walkers in the area straight to her and with this stranger, it would be even harder to make an escape.
Only when your back’s up against a wall. Daryl’s own words bounce around in her head.
“Well what do we have here?” A menacing smile spreads across the man’s lips with a deep southern accent that seemed oddly familiar to her. She leans back on her elbows with her knees up, now staring at the man towering over her.
Darcy shuffles backwards and stands up, hoping the man hadn’t seen her slide her knife from her boot when she did. Leaves fall from her back and dirt covers her jeans. She stands at the ready in defense, still under the watch of the man’s leering eyes.
“Thought you could sneak up on ol’ Merle, huh?” He tilts his head and continues to smile. It frustrates Darcy to her core and she readies herself to get around to her weapon, knife slyly hidden behind her back. She grips it tightly.
“Governor sent ya after me?” He questions. “Never seen you at Woodbury before …” His voice trails and Darcy is all but paying attention to his words.
When Merle shifts his weight, Darcy believes he lets himself off guard and runs towards him, knocking him slightly backwards but he manages to grab onto her and throw her back against a tree. She swipes at him, but he dodges it and laughs when he does.
Merle wipes his arm across his chin at the sweat, “Ya givin’ me quite the workout, sweet cheeks.” His smile suddenly turns sinister. “Let me show ya how it’s done.”
It was at this time her eyes notice the missing limb from his body. She was there, that day on the rooftop, she knew this man. Merle. Merle. Daryl’s brother. The pieces were finally together.
Darcy ducks at the swing of his arm and tries once again to get to her bow. She feels the softness of the wood just underneath her fingertips when she is pulled away by her shirt and thrown across the ground. She hits her head against a small boulder, it doesn’t do too much but she can feel the trickling of blood along her hairline.
She is tired; that is for certain. Where was Daryl? Her eyes are locked on the once again advancing brother, smiling wildly as he taunts her with his slow steps. He stops at her bow and tilts his head mockingly. He lifts his foot, and with one last glance her way, brings it down with such a force that the wood splits in two.
This is who she was left behind for?
The anger in her eyes flash and the heat rises throughout her body. Her hands clutch at the rock she leans against and narrows her eyes to slits. Her breath is hitched, and the adrenaline and rush of emotion makes headway into her veins. Darcy stands up in one swift motion, pulling out one of her pistols and aims right at Merle, who has become visibly blanched, as he knows he’s cornered.
That’s when she heard his voice.
“Put it down.”
The nostalgic southern drawl makes an unwelcome sensation go throughout her small frame. It is just above a low growl close to her right ear and sends shivers down her spine. She doesn’t have to look over; she knows his familiar crossbow is pointed directly at her temple. She raises her gun in surrender, and drops it. She keeps her hands slightly raised. All the while, her eyes stay on Merle.
He wouldn’t shoot her. He wouldn’t dare. But, he needs to keep this situation under control. Daryl lowers his bow just as it seems calm enough to and steps around to be in front of her, face to face. This finally causes Darcy to break her stare and lock eyes with the man standing between them.
Merle whistles from behind Daryl, “Got a bit o’ fight in her don’ she? Mm-hmm.” Both hunters ignore him. “Gov. must’ a sent her after us.”
“She don’ work for the Governor.” Daryl whispers and keeps his focus on worn-out and bruised woman before him.
They stand in each other’s presence without words, although Darcy bites her tongue to hold back a few. The sensation of being in his presence is overwhelming and the feelings that lead her here are suddenly a reminder.
“You son of a bitch.” She finally tells him.
Darcy shoves Daryl with her shoulder to get past him. She bends over and picks up her knife that she had dropped in the tousle with Merle and throws him a dirty glance.
“Me?” Daryl points at himself. His eyes are a bit narrow as he tries to get past the sudden greeting she had given him and his brother.
Darcy whips her head round to face him. “Yes, you. What the hell, Daryl?”
“What was I supposed to do? Leave ‘im behind?” Daryl throws up his arms and raises his voice, ignoring Merle’s presence altogether.
“Lil’ brother, you tellin’ me you know this fox?” Merle raises his one hand in surprise while Darcy looks back at Daryl with his tongue running across his lips.
“Shut up, Merle.” Daryl shakes his head.
Darcy takes a few steps towards Daryl, “That’s exactly what you should’ve done.” Her voice is bitter and filled with anger and disappointment. But then again, Daryl has his code, she knows this. His loyalty to his brother is uncanning and it showed in every story Daryl ever told her about his past. The world needs men like him.
“Can’ do that. You know that.” Daryl lowers his voice and it’s covered in humility. He had told Darcy everything about his childhood, from Merle leaving Daryl alone with his abusive father, to his mom burning herself to death by her own cigarette.
Darcy points back in the direction of the prison and raises her own voice, “And what about us? What about me?”
“Oh hey!” Merle claps. “Never thought ya’d have the balls Darylina. Got yourself a squeeze then, huh?”
Darcy’s rage blinds her vision and consciousness. She lifts her left pistol towards Merle and takes threateningly close steps to him. He backs up and pins himself against a tree with hands raised. The sudden ‘click’ of the safety being turned off causes Daryl to leap in between them with his hands up.
“Darcy, put the gun down!” Daryl has never raised his voice like that before at her. He sees her jaw is clenched now, trembling with hatred and emptiness.
“We back to this again are we?” Merle laughs while he leans up against the bark.
“Merle, shut up!” Daryl yells back at his snide and crude remarks.
Daryl lets out a sigh and pulls Darcy by her arm to give them more privacy, but mostly to get her away from his brother. Darcy slaps his hand away and pushes him roughly. She reluctantly untangles herself free from his hold and steps back to look at him.
She doesn’t want to feel his skin on hers; it only reminds her of how things were once between them only a mere two days ago.
In that moment, they both fear the end of their once called unbreakable bond.
“Don’t touch me. Don’t you dare touch me. How could you –“ She spat. “How could you just leave? After everything we’ve been – after what you said…after you promised!”
The words she tries to speak come out jumbled and stressed, but Daryl knows exactly what she means when she says them. She is hurt by his own fault, and he could see it clearly no matter how strong she tries to stand.
“Rick wouldn’ let him come back. I tried to come back, wanted to come back, but no one would let him!” He waves his arm at her in frustration.
Daryl is panicking to try and get her to see his view, but her pain and desperation to make this entire situation disappear completely is all that she wants. He doesn’t want this to end, not like this. He doesn’t want her to walk away – to throw away everything they have.
“Well I can’t see why, he seems like such a pleasant person to be around.” She mumbles.
“It ain’t a joke, Darcy.” Daryl shakes his head and looks elsewhere. “Ya just don’ understand.”
“No, Daryl.” She takes a few steps towards him and looks straight into his befuddled blue eye. “You don’t understand. You-you have to come back.” Darcy clears her throat and looks back at Merle who stands up slightly to hear what she’s saying.
“I don’t-“ She shakes her head once and closes her eyes. What she tells him lies very deep in her heart and shows her true dependence on Daryl. She feels the nauseating turn of her stomach, desperately hoping he understands and doesn’t withdraw back in himself for Merle’s sake.
“I don’t know what to do. You’re - you’re the only reason I’m even with this group in the first place. You have to - you just have to come back.”
Daryl stands back, his famous frown and scowl that shows nothing true to his real emotions covers his features. He doesn’t quite face her, he isn’t sure if he can. He is suddenly overwhelmed, and the woman standing in front of him is unexpectedly obscure. He hasn’t seen this side of her, the side that showed that she needed him.
That’s all he’s ever wanted; for someone to need him, to rely on him. He desperately wants to take her in his arms and tell her it’s going to be okay, but the fact of the matter is, the wave of his past keeps knocking him over and stumbling for air, trying to make the right call.
So he says nothing, the influence of his brother outweighs her substantially. If it were anyone else, there’d be no competition. Why? Merle is blood.
Merle has no one and no where to go without Daryl. Leaving him now would mean leaving forever, and he plans on getting Merle to go back with him to the prison eventually. Daryl just isn’t sure how long it may take to convince him.
Darcy looks at Daryl, who is only really alive and himself when in the woods and with her company, with its fresh air and sunlight and in all essence; freedom. She doesn’t know how he stands it; being with Merle, a destructive being who would only crush Daryl and all he achieved to be. But she does know. He deals with it because it’s the way to survive, to show that undying loyalty to his brother whom he loves dearly.
But she knows where he truly fits in. It was in the tightly interwoven group that awaited their return back at the prison. It was in her cell, lying on the bed with their hands loosely intertwined, seeming so secure compared to anywhere else. He knew it too, but the tug of war in his heart was stopping him from truly seeing it.
“Don’t.” She warns. “Don’t shut me out.” Her gut wrenches and threatens to make herself sick again. “You said we’d go together.” She whispers. “You said whatever we have to go through, we go together.”
“I can’ leave ‘im.” His voice is lower than it’s ever been. It shows hints of shame and inner turmoil, and Darcy grows angry with him. Darcy steps into him with her fists clenched and hits his chest. Her body doesn’t even compare to his, so he doesn’t stumble. He only slightly lifts up his arms and takes it, knowing her tears are very close to falling.
“Fuck you, Daryl.” She hisses. “I told you everything!” She steps back, thick strands of hair fall out of her braid and she keeps her fists clenched up at him. “I hate you for making me feel this way, for making me trust you, and care, and lo-“
No. She shakes her head. She would not tell him that. He’s leaving – it doesn’t matter anyways. So, she can’t help but push him again, and he only lets her. Darcy’s voice grows hoarser with each word and she feels her throat begin to tighten. There is a broken woman in front of him now, and it haunts him to his core as he aches for her.
“You want to be the good brother and not abandon him like he did you? Fine. But just remember you’re abandoning everyone else back there who ever gave a shit about you.”
“This what you came for?” Daryl shrugs unapologetically, “To yell at me? Hit me? Make me feel guilty ‘bout what he’s done?”
“I came here to try and bring you back.” She shouts and her voice cracks.
“Shoot.” Merle chuckles from behind the two, “This lil’ lady knows how to track? Don’ tell me ya actually knew how to use this thing too, sweet cheeks.” Merle nods his head towards her bow that was split on the ground. She had forgotten about it until now. It makes everything that much worse in her mind.
“Shit.” Daryl mumbles as he picks up half of the famous bow and then looks at it in disgust. It’s completely shattered and unfixable. He drops it back on the ground and gives a disapproving look to his brother.
When Merle gives a halfhearted shrug in response, Daryl turns back to Darcy. “Rick say he can come?”
Darcy flickers her eyes to Merle who also awaits her answer. “No.” She grinds her teeth together. It seems in her mind that Merle was all he cared about, that he was more important than her.
“Then we ain’t got nothin’ more to talk about.” Daryl shrugs and shifts his weight as he repositions his crossbow on his shoulder. He knows in her quietness, when she locks eyes with him, the shining season of their time together was through.
Darcy nods numbly. “If he’s all you care about, I guess we don’t.”
She says this harshly, because this whole situation is upsetting her and she doesn’t want to cry, especially in front of Merle. She may despise Daryl in this moment, but he will have to deal with his brother asking all kinds of questions about their relationship later, and he didn’t need more ammo against Daryl.
More importantly, she would not be seen as a weakling, or show Daryl how much pain is really weighing on her.
“Here.” Darcy lifts her quiver that held around a dozen arrows and thrusts it into Daryl’s chest for him to take. “I don’t have use for them anymore.”
With a hard swallow, the memories of the two of them together on every reckless adventure so fresh in her mind, she simply can’t bear to stay in his presence any longer. Darcy snatches up her other pistol that she dropped to the ground earlier and places it back in her holster. Her back feels suddenly bare without her prized possession, and on top of that she can’t shake Daryl’s eyes off her frame.
Darcy has no idea where to begin rescuing her mind that seems to start its journey towards the depths of despair, but leaving the actual circumstances she was in seems like a good place to start.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she is even more saddened by the fact that Daryl doesn’t try and stop her. He doesn’t go after her at all. He merely watches the woman he loved walk away in hatred because of the decision he’s made.
When Darcy finally makes it out of the woods, she collapses in the street and lets herself fall into an unknown place of angst and tragedy that she knows she may never return from. She doesn’t know if she even wants to.
But the wind blows on.
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