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Until You Come Home

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You're not gone.

You're not gone.

Everyone says you are but you're not.

Daryl's fist pounded into the mud, sides heaving with choked back sobs. He'd traveled up and down the river for days on end, digging into the mud, pushing through rubble, doing all he could to find that one trace Rick would leave behind.

But no. He just vanished in a cloud of flames, smoke and debris.

Every body Daryl had overturned, every walker he killed and gutted for any sign, they were all for nothing. He'd killed dozens, maybe even hundreds. Coagulated blood stretched up to his elbows from his search, layered and fighting against mud to coat his skin.

It had been forty-seven days since the day Daryl's world collapsed onto itself, and everyone else was giving up. Even Michonne was slowing her search, coming once every couple days at best, but Daryl knew why. Michonne had told him that morning.

She and Rick were going to have a baby. He'd known that Rick wanted more children, wanted a family again. But Rick wasn't here.

Daryl knew better than anyone else that surviving this long on your own, wounded and starving with no supplies, was near impossible. Maybe that's why he searched that much harder, that much deeper. When, not if, he found Rick, he was going to be on the verge of death. But Daryl would bring him back, like they had so many other times.

They would always find their way back, every time. It only made the others word's hurt that much more. They didn't understand. Rick can't just die. They doubted him, the man that had pulled himself back from the brink so many times. It was why Daryl refused to give up hope.

But then there were times where the crushing reality of their world would collapse on top of Daryl, and he would fall.

His hand clawed into the mud again, like Rick was just beneath the surface and he just wasn't looking hard enough. Wasn't seeing him right in front of Daryl's face. But no matter what he did, how far he dug and how long he searched, he found nothing.

A howl ripped from his lungs that he did not permit to leave, but his mind couldn't let go of that word. Nothing. There was nothing left. No sign, no clue, no body, nothing. It was the same emptiness that invaded his body, gutting him of any other sensation but that hollowness. He'd never felt so empty before, not even when Mama died, when Merle had to be put down, even when Negan took him prisoner.

Rick had taken his lifeless body ravaged by the world before the apocalypse and filled it with a reason to keep going, a will to look ahead, and breathed new life into him. Just as Daryl could feel himself reaching that near impossible peace of this new life, though, Rick took it all back. Took it to wherever the hell he went.

Another scream, emptying out his body again. Why can't he just rest? He'd been fighting for so long, why couldn't Rick just… take him with? To death, to the afterlife, to emptiness, anything but here. All Daryl could do was scrape at whatever shards lingered in his body and try to form a purpose he couldn't fulfill.

Not without Rick.

No more sound could leave his body, his throat closing in on itself and leaving him shuddering. All he could do was stare down at the mud beneath him, feel it try to suck in his hands and drag down at his knees from where he had fallen. The tears that dropped from his face served no purpose but to further empty him.

Daryl felt like a cup with a crack in the side. He'd try to fill himself up with whatever he could, but he would never be full. It all rushed out of his grasp with no hope of return. Over and over he tried to find something to seal that crack, find a purpose to fill himself with, but the crack only became bigger and bigger.

Now it stretched along the entire side, cutting into the bottom to where not even droplets could find protection. But the water kept running, kept sliding through his fingers in a never ending torrent.

Because Daryl knew he would never forgive himself for giving up. He could never look Michonne in the eye and say, 'I tried,' and walk away.

Until he found Rick's body, until he saw with his own eyes what had become of his closest companion, the water will keep running and Daryl will be there to catch it. If just for a second, or for forever, he would be there.

He freed his hands from the mud one at a time, scraping and clawing until he yanked his body out of the sucking pit. There was no time to stop.

Rick was still out there, waiting for Daryl to bring him home. He would not stop, because he knew Rick wouldn't stop for him. Just keep going. Keep searching. One day, he would find his answers.

Until then, he would search.