A/N: Color me surprised, but this is what came to mind for the Nine Lives Caryl Fanfiction archive "Joy" challenge. Every time I think I'm done with a story, it reels me back in. Consider this an epilogue. I hope you enjoy.
For my partner in crime, Peta2. Toes to the fire, M! And for Noxid Anamchara, my Yoda. Happy belated birthday, snickerdoodle. :)
Epilogue: Fools In The Rain
Carol tried to remember the last time she'd just stood outside in the rain. The last time she'd let the warm summer rain splatter down and soak her hair, rivulets running down her neck to wet her back beneath her clothes. To just tilt her face up to the cloudy sky and let the wind sweep across her face.
She skirted the edge of the lake and walked between the old trees, their heavy, wet branches stretched above her head like a great leafy net that didn't hold enough water to keep her dry. How old had she been – ten? Twelve? Too long. She turned away from the lake and made her way further info the nest of trees, the rain beading off her coat and dripping down to the long grass. She wasn't sure how long she wandered but she took her time, drinking in the lush, vivid green of the trees right on the edge of turning gold with the approaching autumn.
It hit her with the downpour itself as she left the shelter of the trees, a heavy cascade of water that was only slightly colder than a shower would have been in the old days. It coated her body and turned the ground beneath her feet into a muddy blanket that sucked on her boots with loud squicks.
Carol raised her arms and spun in a slow circle.
How many walkers have you killed?
It wasn't enough. She bent over and slowly untied the laces of her knee high boots, loosening the strings until she could work her feet free. She pulled off her socks and flung them behind her. Her heels dug into the grass and she wiggled her toes in delight, relishing in the cold mud squishing between the tiny digits.
It was enough to make her giggle in delight. The sweet smell the rain brought out in the world tickled at her nose and she breathed deep through her nose and out through her mouth. Each beat of her exhale was a stone falling off her shoulders.
It had only taken ten months for her pillar to break. Today she felt the last remnants crumbling away.
How many people have you killed?
She'd spent years teaching herself to be cold, to be a pillar of stone against the cruelty of the world, all for the sake of protecting a child. Lori and Rick's child. The one child she'd been able to save.
She pulled at the collar of her jacket, letting the material slip down her arms until it fell in a heap at her feet. Like shedding an old skin. She was soaked in seconds, the rain seeping through her layers of clothes, through her skin, all the way to her bones. She raised her face to the sky and closed her eyes to the rain washing down her face. Water cleanses.
"You know, they have this wonderful invention called a 'roof'. Meant to do all sortsa nifty things like keep rain off ya head."
Carol smiled, beamed, and opened her eyes to see Daryl casually leaning against the thick trunk of a knobbled pine, crossbow slung casually over one arm.
"Are you telling me you never hunted in the rain?"
"Pfttt." Daryl snorted and quirked an arched eyebrow at her, a smirk lingering around the edges of his mouth. "You kiddin' me?"
She laughed, the sound echoing around the small clearing and wiped halfheartedly at the water sluicing across her face.
"Hangin' with Megan," Daryl shrugged. "Tryin' to learn how to knit."
She let her fingers drift to the buttons of her blue shirt, just toying with the small pieces of plastic. She saw his eyes follow her hands and linger at her breasts.
Ten months, and for the first time Carol wasn't afraid.
She flicked the buttons, one by one, and peeled the cloth from her body, leaving her standing in the pouring rain clad in just her jeans and a thin tank top, both well soaked through. She twirled on the balls of her feet, arms stretched out as she laughed. So this is what it is to be free. Daryl was staring at her in complete bafflement.
"You've lost your mind," he deadpanned.
"No." Carol shook her head and reached up to remove the band that kept her hair tied back, letting the sopping mess of silver curls fall around her shoulders. She thought she might never stop smiling. "I found it."
She stretched out her hand, palm up, and wiggled her fingers in his direction.
All traces of humor fled Daryl's face. He was staring at her with that intently focused gaze, the same look he had when he was hunting. The same look he gave her when he thought she wasn't paying attention. She just waited, now still as a statue, letting the rain wash over her. She could almost hear the wheels turning in Daryl's head. She knew she wasn't making much sense… but she also knew Daryl would understand anyway.He always does.
He finally pushed off the tree and made his way to her in slow, careful steps. Thunder rumbled overhead, making the ground shake beneath her feet, making her laugh with the joy that bubbles up inside of her and refuses to be contained.
Daryl stopped just past the reach of her hand, close enough that she could nearly feel the slick brush of wet leather on her fingertips. His eyes study every inch of her, from the top of her dripping head to her toes sunk into the mud. She wasn't sure what it was he was looking for, but when his eyes met hers, she knew he'd found it. He reached out and took the hand she'd offered, gently threading his fingers through hers.
Carol bent and carefully pulled the crossbow from his grasp. It was huge and heavy in her small hand and she let it slip to land in the mud with a heavy plop. Daryl didn't even flinch at the audacity, his eyes never leaving her face. Waiting on her.
She slid her hands beneath the heavy leather jacket and pushed until it fell in a heap beside her own discarded clothes. She took a step, coming into his space as her hands made their way up to tangle in his hair. Threads of grey were starting to make their way through the dark locks, time continuing its incessant march onwards regardless of anything and everything in its path.
I was dead, Carol, an' now you're here… an' I'm alive again.
"I love you," Carol said softly. It was the first time she'd said it. Daryl reached up to push her damp hair off her face and let a finger drift down the curve of her throat.
"'Bout damn time."
She grinned and leaned in to kiss him, licking away the taste of rain and salt from his lips. His hands skimmed down the sodden fabric that clung to her back, sneaking underneath the hem of her tank to find her warm, rain damped skin.
She wasn't afraid anymore.
He was nipping and pulling as her lips; soft, teasing kisses that had her chasing him, desperate for more. He lifted her suddenly and she wrapped her legs around his hips. She wound her arms around his neck, kissing him with everything she had and letting him take the full weight of her with his arms. She knew Daryl would never drop her.
Daryl pulled back from her suddenly, just far enough that she could see the elation dancing across his face and the broad, lovely smile he rarely wore. She realized she was laughing, they both were. We are two fools laughing in the rain.
"Dance with me?" she asked before she could think. "I want to dance in the rain with you." It was a silly, impetuous request; the idea of Daryl Dixon dancing enough to make her giggle even on the worst of days. She wanted to be silly.
"Later," Daryl said softly. He leaned in to claim her mouth again with a hunger she'd never seen. She surrendered to it, letting him take control. Let him kneel and then press her back into the rain soaked grass, mud seeping into her clothes and getting all over both of them as his nimble fingers pulled away the last bits of cloth covering them both and discovered parts of her she'd forgotten ever existed.
Carol stared up at the rain in awe as Daryl move to lap and suck at the tender skin of her neck, watching the light grey clouds swirling overhead, the sight blurred by the rain in her eyes.
Ten months and now she's alive again, too.