Disclaimer: The title comes from the song Arms by Christina Perri. I'm not a huge fan of hers, but I love this song. So yeah, I don't own the title or any of the recognizable characters in this story, I just play around with them.
I've taken some creative liberties with this story. There's a group that Daryl encounters that you'll recognize if you've been watching the fourth season, but they're in the story out of order. They just kind of fit in here. (Don't worry, if you haven't watched season 4 there are no spoilers.)
For those of you that read my other stories, I'm still here and I haven't forgotten about you. Life's just been pretty busy and I've been writing, just a lot of it isn't ready to be posted yet. I was watching the Walking Dead marathon on AMC last night and this idea just kind of rooted itself in my mind. Which is good news because it means the creative juices are flowing again.
I've done limited editing on this story. It's hurried and rushed and very different from my usual style and I think that's why I like it. It tells a different kind of story from a different point of view and I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Put Your Arms Around Me (I'm Home).
"You put your arms around me and I believe that it's easier for you to let me go. You put your arms around me, I'm home."
Arms, Christina Perri.
Daryl Dixon didn't have many people that he would want to spend the rest of his life with. There was really only one on his list - his brother, Merle. If he couldn't stick with Merle until the end then he would rather go it alone. Or that's what he had thought until he met her.
She wouldn't have been his first choice as a companion at the end of the world, she wouldn't have even been his last choice if he was being honest with himself. The girl was tiny, painfully tiny, she had no survival skills, she was soft, and the first time he killed a squirrel in front of her she had cried. If he was the dream companion for the end of the world, she was the complete opposite. But he couldn't turn her away, something had stopped him from leaving her there on her own.
It might have been the fact that she was clearly alone, that she had no one else to turn to. It might have been that he saw in her a kindred spirt, someone who understood exactly what it felt like when the world let you down. Or it might have been that he himself was feeling lonely the day he found her; he hadn't been able to find Merle, he was adjusting to the fact that he would never see his brother again, maybe he didn't want to be alone. Or maybe it was the way her large doe eyes had latched onto his when she first saw him; maybe it was the quick flash of hope in those brown eyes that made him stay.
Whatever it was, he can't find it in himself to tell her to get lost. He finds her by accident, but the moment he does he knows that he's stuck with the girl. Daryl Dixon may not be anyone's prince charming, but he's not an asshole, either. His mother, in the short time that she had been around, had tried to raise him to be a gentleman and he'll be damned if he lets her down now.
She smiles at him through her tears when he tells her she can come with him.
The world as everyone knows it ends pretty quickly. When he thinks about it he realizes that he shouldn't be surprised. When he was a kid he had learned at an early age that the higher you climb in a tree, the further and faster you fall. He imagines that civilization is much the same way. People relied on each other, technology, the government, and everything else to help them live their lives; and in the end it wasn't the Walkers that killed them, but their own inability to take care of themselves.
Daryl is different, luckier than most. He had been relying on himself his whole life. He doesn't need anybody, not even Merle to survive in this world because he had been living in it his whole life. The flesh eating Walkers are just another level of shit on his already shitty life. He almost feels bad for the people he passes everyday - without their fancy cell phones and grocery stores they won't survive long.
Part of why they won't survive long is because they're stupid and they wait. Shit hits the fan pretty quick, but if they reacted at the same speed that Daryl does, they'd have a better chance of surviving. Thinking back on it he realizes that Wednesday was a normal day - he showed up for work late and hungover, got bitched at by his boss, got yelled at by some woman who brought her car to the mechanic that he worked for, and left to go home to his empty apartment. Then on Thursday everything in the world goes to hell. It happens so fast that even Daryl's head spins for a moment or two.
One news channel says that it's some kind of airborne virus, like a super flu; they advise people to stay in their homes and to avoid contact with people outside of their own families. Another channel tells them that the disease spreads through fluids, like AIDS. A third one swears that the disease can spread through skin-on-skin contact like that time that Merle got the clap; this station urges people to avoid contact with even their closest family and friends.
Daryl watches the people outside of his apartment building and one thing becomes clear after just a few hours - these news stations don't know a fucking thing about whatever this is. The people who get infected aren't only sick, Daryl is pretty sure that they're dead. But then, after an hour or two they come back - he has never heard of a disease that did that. He watches through his blinds as one of the infected people starts chasing a young girl down the street, it catches her easily and begins to tear her apart. The girl screams and people rush to help her, but when they shoot the infected person in the chest he doesn't die. It takes someone ramming a butcher's knife through his head to kill him.
That's the last straw for Daryl. He's not going to stay in this crappy apartment, in this hellhole of a town a second longer. The world has gone to hell in a hand basket and if he's going to die, it sure as hell is not going to be here. He grabs Merle's old Army duffel and packs what he can in it, then he grabs his favorite crossbow; and without a look behind him, without stopping to lock his door, he leaves.
It's still early enough that his town isn't a ghost town like so many other towns he'll walk through in the following weeks and months. There's still some semblance of order. People still have their electricity and the stores are still selling things rather than simply being broken into. People still believe that their government will be able to save them, that the scientists will be able to figure out what is going on and stop it all. Daryl scoffs at the idea, he gives it two weeks before the government gives up all pretenses of getting a handle on this thing. He gives it three weeks until all the scientists either give up or die. He gives it three and a half weeks before everyone in the country realizes that there is no more hope.
He finds her two weeks after he left his apartment. He was wrong about how long he thought it would take for the world to fall apart. The government didn't even make it to finish out the week. He found a car that had enough gas to crank the engine and he listened to the radio, it had stopped broadcasting the story about a refugee center in Atlanta - the scientists and the military had given up before a week had even passed. He has only been walking for fourteen days and he doesn't even recognize the world he's in now.
He passes a sign that reads Orchard Hill, GA. Population 245. And he thinks that this might be a promising place to scavenge up a few supplies. The population is small enough that many of the citizens of the small town might have left at the beginning. They might have tried to make a go for it and headed toward Atlanta. The capital city and the supposed refugee center were all of forty-five miles away from this small town. Chances were that he won't run into many Walkers here.
It took less than two weeks for places to start to look like ghost towns. Orchard Hill is no different. He quickly finds Main Street, one of the few two lane roads in the town, there is no one on the street besides a few Walkers picking off the remains of people who had died trying to escape. He takes care of them easily and quietly and after collecting his bolts and storing them back in the quiver he's off walking again. The shops and homes on the street have broken windows and their doors are hanging off their hinges. The stores have been looted. There are cars crashed into homes, telephone poles, and trees or simply stranded in the middle of the road, there's trash and people's belongings littered across lawns, there's blood everywhere, and dead bodies on the street. He starts to think that maybe he's wrong, maybe the people didn't get off as lucky as he had thought.
A movement to his right catches his attention and he swings around to face it, his crossbow leveled at head level incase it's a Walker coming toward him. It's not, it's a small group of people quickly leaving a grocery store. Their eyes widen at the sight of his crossbow and they hold their hands up above their heads, one of them even dropping the shopping basket she was carrying in her hurry. He rolls his eyes and uses the crossbow to gesture that they should keep running. They don't stop to ask questions, they just go.
Merle's Army duffel is still pretty full, but he figures that it might be smart to stop at the grocery store before he keeps going. The group that had just run out seemed to have a lot of supplies, he doesn't know the next time he'll find a grocery store that seems as safe as this one, it's still daylight. All in all, it seems like fate and the right thing to do. He keeps his crossbow leveled, just in case, and enters the small grocery store.
He doesn't know what he expects to find as he wanders through the grocery store, but it definitely isn't her. He finds her in the pet food aisle, her back pressing against one of the shelves, knees drawn to her chest, arms wrapped around her legs. Her chin is resting on the top of her knees, she's holding a small can of Fancy Feast cat food in her left hand and is staring off into space as if she's unsure of what to do; as if she's unsure if she even wants to live in this world anymore.
He won't lie, he considers backing away from her; he thinks about turning around and hi-tailing it out of the store, he'd be gone before she even knew he was there. But he doesn't get the chance, the second he starts to turn away from her, her head snaps in his direction, her brown hair flying behind her and her large brown eyes catch him in their sight. One look at her doe eyes and he's taking a step closer to her instead of walking away.
She doesn't say anything at first, she just watches him as if she's confused. He wonders if she thinks he's a Walker or if she thinks she's just imagining him. A full minute passes and she still doesn't say anything. He clears his throat, fumbling with the strap on his duffle, "Whatcha gonna do with the cat food?" he asks her, nodding toward the small can in her hand. "Please tell me you ain't gonna eat it."
Her eyes start to water at that, but a small smile slips onto her lips for the briefest of moments. She sniffs and drops the can on the floor, turning away from him to watch as it rolls across the floor, away from her. "It was for Rhett Butler," she tells him, her voice quiet and timid. "He'll only eat the purple can. We were running low and I decided to come here and get as much as I could before we made the trip to Atlanta. I didn't want him to starve on the way." She turns back to look at him and gives a small shrug of her shoulders, the gesture is small, but the amount of visible effort it takes her to make the nonchalant gesture is painful. "That was a week ago."
Daryl raises his eyebrows, "Then what are you still doin' here?" he growls out.
She shrugs again, "Daddy was bit, he didn't tell me. He told Ma. Their plan as to leave him here, to tell me that he was going to follow us up to Atlanta, but Mom and I and Rhett Butler were going to go first. This trip to the grocery store delayed us long enough that he turned. He attacked Mom and Rhett." She heaves a sigh, her chest and shoulders shudder with the effort. "Luanne Gravely saw it happen. She came and found me and told me that my mom asked her to take me to Atlanta. She also asked Luanne to tell me that they both loved me and that this wasn't the way it was supposed to go."
Daryl stares at her, wondering if she was aware that she's talking to a complete stranger and someone who has no fucking idea who Luanne Gravely is. At this point he's sure that she doesn't even care who she's talking to. "Luanne leave you here?" he asks her, looking around the store and wondering why the girl was still here if this had all happened a week ago.
"I couldn't leave," the girl tells him, shaking her head. "I had to go home and see for myself. Luanne wasn't willing to wait. I told her I didn't blame her."
"So you went to your house and then came back here?" Daryl asks, raising his eyebrows again.
The girl shrugs her shoulders, a nervous habit that she seems to do a lot, "I couldn't stay there. I had passed up on my one ride out of here." She turns away from him again and looks at the shelves of pet food surrounding them, "This place seems as good as any other to die in." She turns back to look at him, "I didn't think I'd feel so alone though."
Daryl stares at her for a moment before he shakes his head and turns around to leave the store. The girl is crazy and seems resigned to dying. He's not going to get in the way of that and he's sure as hell not stick around to watch it. He's halfway out of the store when the memory of her large, scared, tear-filled brown eyes flashes in his mind and he stops in his tracks. "Fuck it," he mutters before he turns around and heads back into the store. He stops by the camping supplies aisle and grabs her a backpack, the largest one he can find - a bright purple Patagonia pack that is meant for backpacking in the mountains, or throughout Europe depending on how much money you have. It's light weight, but big, even her small frame will be able to carry it.
Her face is buried in her knees and her shoulders are shaking with sobs that he can't hear when he finds her in the pet food aisle again. He drops the pack on the ground and waits until she looks up at him with wide glassy eyes before he says, "My one rule is that you stop fucking crying. That shit's not gonna solve anything."
She gasps in surprise and her hand darts up to wipe the tears away from her eyes quickly, "Your one rule?" she asks, repeating his words, her voice slow and confused; she has no idea what he's still doing in front of her or why he brought her a pack.
"Yeah," Daryl tells her with a nod. "Now get your ass up, we need to find supplies and get out of here before dark."
She stares at him for a few seconds before she nods and quickly scrambles to her feet. She grabs the purple backpack and follows him dutifully through the store. Her pack has a zippered sleeping bag compartment at the bottom so he grabs her a camping sleeping bag, one of those extra warm ones that keep in body heat and shows her how to store it in the bag. Then he grabs a few extra hydration packs, they'll fill those with water from water bottles before they leave the store.
She doesn't say a word to him the whole time, but she does duck away from him for just long enough to grab two packs of extra socks, two packs of underwear, soap, toilet paper, a pack of hair ties, and even some deodorant as he stocks up on the imperishables that have been left behind. When she comes back she offers her supplies up to him, silently awaiting his approval before she packs them. He looks them over and nods, flashing a small smile in her direction - he hadn't thought about things like that.
He watches her as she packs the men's underwear, the men's socks, two bars of soap, the men's deodorant, and three rolls of toilet paper in his army pack before she packs the same supplies in her purple one, only the woman version. It takes him a minute to realize that she still doesn't understand that she's coming with him when they leave the store.
He looks at what she's wearing, a pair of jeans, a sturdy pair of hiking boots, and a t-shirt, at least she was mostly prepared in the clothing department when she left her house. He grabs her arm and silently pulls her back to the clothing part of the store so that he can grab a lightweight jacket for her. It won't keep her warm through the winter, but it would be good enough through late fall. If she was still alive then and she was still with him he'd get her a warmer, sturdier jacket then.
"C'mon," he growls after she's slipped the jacket on and hoisted the pack onto her back. She glances up at him, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "You're comin' with me, ain't you?" he asks as he starts to walk out of the store. He doesn't hear her walking behind him and he turns around to see her standing in the middle of the clothing department staring at him with wide eyes that were sparkling with fresh tears. "And didn't I tell you to stop that crying shit?" he growls.
She nods, "Right," she agrees, forcing a smile onto her lips and reaching up to brush away her tears before she follows him out of the store.
She asks him what his name is the next morning as they are climbing out of the car that had been their bed the night before. He raises his eyebrows at her because he's not quite sure why she cares, but he tells her. She nods, trying his name out on her own lips.
It sounds foreign. He doesn't like it.
He doesn't ask her what her name is. She doesn't volunteer the information.
They don't really talk again that day. Or the next.
He asks her what her name is on their third day together. It's not that he really cares, but he figures that he should probably stop calling her her in his head. And he should definitely stop calling her you or girl when he's talking to her.
"Charlie," she supplies, her voice has rusty quality to it since she hasn't used it in a few days. Daryl feels bad, her voice wouldn't sound like that if he hadn't glared at her every time she spoke since they left the grocery store. He should probably make up for being so unfriendly, he thinks that is what a normal person would do.
"Ain't that a man's name?" he asks her. He flinches when he realizes that the question was probably the worst conversation starter he could have offered her.
She smiles slightly, recognizing the question as the olive branch that it is and instead of ridiculing him on his lack of social skills, she answers his question. "It's short for Charlotte," she tells him, the smile dropping off her lips quickly. "But that was my grandmother's name too, so I've been Charlie since the day I was born." She turns her head to study Daryl's profile for a moment before she continues, "When you walked into town did you pass the nursing home?" she asks him. "I guess you probably wouldn't have paid much attention to it," she supplies when Daryl doesn't reply. "Only, that's where she was staying when all this went down. I'd hate to think that I left town and she was there, alive and suffering."
Daryl shrugs, "I didn't notice it," he tells her - a lie. "But you can bet that they transported the old folks to Atlanta when the refugee center first opened. She's probably safe." Another lie, but he couldn't find it in him to tell her the truth.
The truth is that he did notice the nursing home on his way into the town. It was hard to miss the building, he assumed that it had some sort of security system that was connected to the electricity, but after the power went out there was no way to keep the doors closed. There had been dead bodies and Walkers all over the nursing home grounds.
The other lie is about the refugee center. Charlie says Atlanta as if it is some magic place that is safe from Walkers. She honestly believes that there's a refugee center and that it's helping people survive whatever the hell is going on. Daryl refuses to be the one to ruin that hope for her, even if he's sure that the refugee center and the entire city of Atlanta has already been overrun by Walkers.
But instead of telling her any of that he simply places his hand on her back and gently nudges her forward, pushing her to walk just a bit faster.
As soon as she's moving at a faster pace he drops his hand.
Over the next week they walk, Daryl doesn't say it but he's slowly steering them away from Atlanta, trying to keep as much area between the pair of them and the large city as possible. They stop when their feet hurt, or when their backs get too tired from the packs that they carry, or when it gets too dark to see what's in front of them (they walk through the night on the few cloudless nights that they have with a full moon). They sleep in abandoned cars, high up in tree branches, and in a few houses that are easy enough to defend. They're careful with their food, eating just enough to get by with every meal, never overeating. They need to save their food for a time when they might really need it.
He hadn't needed to explain that Charlie. Daryl likes that about her, he likes that she just understands what needs to be done and doesn't complain about it.
Every once in a while she tries to make conversation with him. He's working on not being so gruff with her. She doesn't say anything, but he can tell it hurts her feelings when he snaps at her. But he's not the best conversationalist, she seems to understand that. Mostly it seems that she just talks to hear the noise. And he can't blame her for that. It's so silent now. Before all this had started Daryl hadn't realized how much noise the world made, now all he can do is think about how quiet it is. And wish for the days when he could complain about traffic noises and the like.
He'll never admit it to her, but he's started to like the sound of her voice. He's come to rely on it as a distraction from everything going on around them.
"Where are we going, Daryl?" she asks him one night as the two of them sit on the roof of a one story building, taking turns eating peanut butter straight from the jar with their fingers. They weren't able to find a tree or a car to sleep in so they chose to settle for the roof and hope that it won't rain overnight, not that it would be the first or the last time that they sleep outside in the rain. Right now they are sitting on the ledge of the roof, their legs dangling over the edge.
Daryl turns to look at the tiny brunette next to him. He watches her as she dips her finger in the peanut butter jar and brings it back up to her mouth so that she can lick the food off her finger. He's known for a while that this question was coming. But he still doesn't know how to answer it. He shrugs and reaches out to grab the peanut butter jar, he cracks a smile when she makes a noise of protest and swats his hand away. She only puts up a fight for a few seconds before she laughs and hands the jar over to him. He thinks that this is the first time he's heard her laugh. It's clear. And it's bright. And it's perfect in a way that few things are in this world anymore. He likes it. "Don't quite know where we're going," he tells her after he's finished licking the peanut butter off his finger. "But I know where we ain't going."
"Atlanta," Charlie tells him with a nod. Daryl nods in return. She's quiet for a moment, just looking at the world below them. There are a few Walkers wandering around on the road below them, but none of the Walkers have caught on to their scent yet. She turns her head to look at him, the setting sun's light catches on her brown hair and makes it shine red. Without thinking he reaches out and brushes a strand of it behind her ear. She smiles a tight lipped, sad sort of smile, "Why are we still alive?" she asks him. She laughs a second later and shakes her head, "I mean I know why you're alive," she tells him. "You could survive a damn atom bomb. But why am I still alive?"
Daryl reaches out and pretends to shove her shoulder, but he catches her, wrapping his hand around her upper arm to keep her steady even though there was no worry of her falling off the roof, he hadn't pushed her that hard. "I need the company of course," he tells her with a rye grin. "But as soon as I find someone better, I'm kicking you to the curb, Sweetheart."
She smiles at him and reaches out to grab the jar of peanut butter out of his hand so that she can get one more scoop of peanut butter before they put the jar away for the night. "Say what you want, Dixon," she tells him as she shakes her head, "but you're going to miss me so much when I'm gone. You'll see."
Daryl shakes his head and turns toward the roof, climbing off the ledge so that he can walk over to their bags and start to unroll their sleeping bags. She's right of course, he realizes, he will miss her when she's gone. If she's gone, he corrects himself. Charlie Dalton is small, she's not equipped to deal with this situation, she can't bare to kill Walkers, she talks too much, doesn't have enough muscle - bottom line is she's more trouble than she's worth. But he's gotten used to her. And he's not gonna let her go now.
They're safe up on the roof that night, but Daryl waits until Charlie has fallen asleep before he lays down beside her. He wakes up several times throughout the night just to check and make sure that she's breathing. He wakes her up well before dawn, just to make certain, but he tells her that it's because it's time for them to start moving again. She doesn't question it, just nods and with a yawn starts to roll up her sleeping bag.
They climb off the roof and start walking, she's following closer behind him than she usually does, probably because it's dark. After a few minutes she reaches out and slips her hand into his. Daryl is surprised by the fact that he doesn't want to pull away from her touch, this feeling is something new to him. He's even more surprised to realize a moment later that he's holding onto her just as tightly as she is holding on to him.
As the sun rises and they continue to walk Daryl makes a conscious effort to shield Charlie from the sight of the dead bodies on the road, of the Walkers in the fields. He doesn't know why, none of this is new to the girl by now. But he feels like he should do it, like it's the right thing to do. It doesn't matter that she's seen all this before, you never know when someone's about to break and all Daryl knows is that he wants to keep Charlie from breaking for as long as possible.
Charlie's good at walking which is a bit of a surprise. When Daryl first found her in the Orchard Hill store he was convinced that she was going to be dead weight, that he was going to spend most of his time dragging her along behind him. She isn't. She doesn't complain at the large distances they cover each day, she doesn't complain about sleeping outside, she knows when to hide and she knows when the last thing Daryl wants to do is talk.
Sometimes they talk; but most of the time they walk in silence, the only sound in the air is the echo of their feet hitting the pavement. They find their own rhythm and their footsteps sync up with each other. There's something intimate about that, Daryl thinks; something almost romantic about their ability to spend hours walking together in silence and just knowing that the other one is there for them if something goes wrong.
They stay away from the main roads, choosing instead to walk through the woods parallel to the roads or on side roads. They bypass towns and cities unless they need to make a supply run. For the most part the only bodies they see are dead ones or the ones that belong to the walking dead. They very rarely see a living human being, and when they do they avoid them the best they can.
Charlie didn't understand it at first, but Daryl doesn't trust any of the people they do encounter, he doesn't like the looks in their eyes or the way their gazes linger on his crossbow, or their packs, or Charlie herself. It's like the whole world has turned into savages in a matter of weeks. This isn't a surprise to Daryl, he has spent his entire life aware of how bad human beings can be, but Charlie had a good life (she doesn't talk about it much, but Daryl can just tell) she doesn't know how mean and cruel people can be when they think they've run out of options.
If Daryl has any say in the matter she never will.
There are larger groups of people in some of the towns they walk through. They're trying to organize, to put up an actual fight against the dead. Daryl gives them less than a week before they fail and either scatter or join the ranks of the Walkers. At least they're trying, it's better than the religious cooks that have taken to hiding out in churches and reading psalms, praying to a God who doesn't care, and preaching about fire, brimstone, and God's wrath. The worst are the children. There are small bodies everywhere, children who couldn't put up a fight against the Walkers. Once they find one that has been bit, but hasn't turned yet. Daryl feels the shift next to him, he knows that Charlie is going to walk over to the child and offer to help the little girl. He growls and reaches out, grabbing her hand and pulling her roughly into his side. He hears a slight gasp of pain and realizes that he was too rough, that he's holding on too tight. But he doesn't let go of her. "We can't help her, Char," he mutters as he continues to pull her away from the girl.
She doesn't argue. And she doesn't point out that this is the first time they've held hands during the daylight. Daryl doesn't either.
The groups of people they encounter grow smaller and further between. There are more Walkers now, they travel in hordes. When they come across small groups of them in the woods Daryl makes Charlie climb up into a tree while kills them all before she's allowed to climb back down. She says that she wants to help and Daryl supposes that he could teach her how to defend herself on her own, but he feels better knowing that she's safe in a tree rather than fighting for her life on the ground.
He can't put her safely up in a tree when they meet other groups of people though. He keeps her at his side, their shoulders touching as they walk past people, they ignore the shouts and the questions and the offers to join up. They don't make eye contact and without saying a word they speed up to ensure that they won't be followed. He knows that she notices the weary, jealous looks from the people they pass when she stops asking him if they can help the strangers. It took her longer than it took Daryl, but she doesn't trust people anymore than he does now.
They walk. Charlie stops asking where they're going. She seems to understand that Daryl will keep moving until he finds a safe place for them. She trusts him to find that safe place for her. She still talks, but it's careful. She doesn't bring up her life before all of this, she doesn't ask him questions about his. She's conscious of what they've both lost. Instead she talks about the weather, or the view, or the next town they're going to walk through. On a sunny day toward the end of fall, he can tell because while it's warm during the day there is the bite of winter in the air at night, he teaches her how to use his crossbow. Even lets her shoot a few squirrels. They stop scouting out grocery stores, they've been too well picked over now and any food that was left is rotting.
But he does pull Charlie into the next sporting goods store they pass and hands her a knife. She laughs at him because it takes him so long to pick out one he's happy with. It's a good one, the one he hands her, a Gerber military tactical knife. It's a fixed blade that's seven inches long; the blade is sharp and sturdy. He spends almost an hour teaching her how to use it before he picks up some more bolts for his crossbow and they leave. He knows that she won't use the knife unless she absolutely has to, and even then it'll be sloppy, but it feels good to look at her and see the knife in its sheath wrapped around her waist.
It doesn't matter, he decides, that she's never going to be comfortable using the knife. Because she's never going to be alone. He'll always be there to take care of her. And he's more than ready, more than prepared to protect his woman. And yeah, he just thought of her as his woman, but fuck you for pointing it out. She pretty much belongs to him and she is definitely the most precious thing in Daryl's life. He's not about to lose her.
They find the group four weeks after they left Orchard Hill. The only reason Daryl knows this is because Charlie has been keeping track of the days. It's been twenty-eight days since Daryl found her in the pet food aisle. Daryl doesn't like them, he doesn't want to stay with them, but they don't really give him a choice.
The group comes upon them when they're sleeping in a car. Daryl and Charlie used to sleep in the front seats when they camped out in cars. Daryl would take the passenger side, Charlie would curl up in the drivers' seat since she was smaller and the wheel wouldn't bother her. But now they sleep in the back seat; Daryl sleeps sitting up and Charlie curls into his side, her head resting on his chest and his arm wrapped around her shoulders. That's why he feels her move the next morning when she wakes up and notices the group standing outside their car.
He doesn't like them off the bat. There are no women in the group and it's impossible not to notice the way the men's eyes linger on Charlie's body. She's lost weight since he found her, toned down, she's more muscle now than she was in the grocery store. When he found her in the grocery store she had been a beautiful girl - not large, but soft. Now she is a gorgeous woman - all toned muscles, strong bones, and long, hard lines and planes. The men notice and none of them seem to care that she belongs to Daryl.
The men are dirty, rough. And the funny thing is that Daryl looks like he would fit right in with them. If he was alone, if he didn't have Charlie to take care of he would probably travel with them. He understands how men like this function. But he has a girl who's relying on him and he's not about to let these guys threaten her safety. The men are making breakfast and they offer to share it with Daryl and Charlie; Daryl's initial reaction is to say no, but one look at Charlie has him changing his mind. She's still dead on her feet and they haven't eaten anything but a rabbit that he killed three days ago. She doesn't say anything, but the way she's staring at the food they're cooking says it all. She's starving and he can't refuse her. He makes himself a promise to get her out of there the second things go south.
But he tells them thank you and he sits down on the hood of the car. He pulls Charlie closer to him and wraps his arm around her waist, holding her to his chest, silently telling the men that she belongs to him. As they cook the food Charlie talks to them, asks them where they're headed, where they came from. Daryl doesn't care, he studies their set up. A few of them have packs like he Charlie have, but most of them are carrying trash bags with their belongings. They're pretty full, the group doesn't look like they've been suffering. Scavengers. He wonders if they've killed anyone for their belongings. Some reason he doesn't doubt it.
They're almost finished eating when the attitude of the group changes. Daryl feels it and he can tell by the look on her face that Charlie does too. The men who had been easy going and friendly, almost too friendly, suddenly get quiet. He feels them sizing him up and he swears that he sees one of the men jerk his head toward Charlie and mutter, "Claimed."
He doesn't know what claimed means, but he's sure it's nothing good. And they're not about to stick around and figure it out. Charlie slowly puts her camp plate down, as if she's worried about making sudden movements and drawing attention to herself. She reaches out and tangles her fingers with his, "Daryl," she whispers, her voice tense and worried. He nods, he knows what she's thinking.
"Ah Sweetheart," one of the men coos at her, his voice soft and falsely gentle. "Don't go clamming up on us now. We were just getting to know each other."
They don't say a word to each other; Charlie and Daryl are so used to each other now that they know that the other will do without talking about it. Charlie ducks down and grabs their packs at the same time that Daryl stands up, quickly levels his crossbow and sends a bolt straight into the head of the man closest to him. The men in this group have baseball bats and knives, none of them have guns, they're caught by surprise. It's easy for Daryl to grab the duffel bag Charlie holds out to him, he grabs her arm and runs pulling her behind him. It's easy to outrun the group and they run until they're sure that the men won't chase after them.
Charlie's crying at this point. The men didn't say it, but their plan was clear to both Charlie and Daryl. They were going to kill him and keep her around just long enough to have some fun with her before they killed her too (if she was lucky) or left her behind to fend for herself (if they were cruel). It's the way her sobs catch in her throat and she has trouble breathing that makes Daryl finally stop running. She jogs forward a couple more steps, running off her momentum before her legs just give out, too tired to go much further.
Daryl's arms are around her before her knees can touch the ground and he gently lowers the two of them to the ground. He sits there for a few minutes, cradling her against his chest with his fingers running through her hair, trying to calm her down, her hands are on his chest, the fabric of his shirt clenched in her fists and she's still shaking. He presses his face against the top of her head, inhaling the smell of her and committing it to his memory. He murmurs, "You're okay, I got you. I had you, we're safe," over and over again until the shaking stops. He wants to tell her that he doesn't know what he'd do if something happened to her, but the timing doesn't seem right.
He kisses her the first time they have to smear themselves with Walker blood to keep themselves safe. It's a trick he had learned early on, but he hadn't had to do it since he had found her. It was the only way to stay safe and undetected from large herds of the dead. They're running through the woods, a couple hundred yards in front of a large group of Walkers that have caught onto their scent and Daryl knows that there is no way that they're going to be able to outrun this group. He knows that instead they're going to have to camouflage themselves and hide within the herd until they can break away and head in another direction.
He stops running and reaches out an arm across Charlie's chest to restrain her and keep her from running too. She listens with wide, tear-filled eyes as he tells her what they're about to do. Her hands are shaking. He reaches out and grabs both of her hands, lacing his fingers through hers and holding on tight. "I want you to climb that tree," he tells her, nodding toward the tree behind her. "I'll find a way to kill two of the ones in the front and then we'll cover ourselves with the blood. It'll be quick."
She shakes her head and reaches one of her shaking hands toward her knife, "No," she tells him, pulling the knife out of its sheath. "You don't have to do this alone. I can help you." Daryl shakes his head; he's not telling her that he doesn't think she can do this, he's telling her that he doesn't want her to have to do this. "No," she tells him again, both her voice and her hand steadying. "It's time I get my hands dirty. I've been letting you take care of me for far too long. It's time that I start helping you out."
He stares at her for a moment, taking in the determined set of her mouth and he knows that she's not going to let him put her up in that tree. He drops her hands, but instead of arguing or backing away from her he surges forward and grabs her face in his hands. Her eyes widen and she's sure that he's going to yell at her. Instead he lowers his lips onto hers and presses a kiss to them.
It's a soft and gentle kiss, nothing like the few kisses Daryl had had before the world went to shit. Those kisses had been all about power, dominance. They had all been about getting what he wanted out of the woman, no emotions. This kiss is the complete opposite - it's special and beautiful, a precious moment in a world that is no longer beautiful. Her lips are soft and pliant underneath his and when he pulls away her lips tug up in a gentle smile - an unspoken promise that she's not going to leave him, that she's with him for the long haul. "You're beautiful," he tells her, his voice soft.
Her eyes dart to the side, keeping a close watch on the Walkers that are still approaching them, making sure that they're not too close, before her gaze lands on his face again. She lifts her hands up and places them on his cheeks, holding his face in her own, small hands. "So are you," she tells him, another smile finding its way onto her lips.
It's that action, that smile that makes him fall in love with her, though he won't tell her that. Instead he leans down and presses another kiss to her lips. "We'll make it through this," he promises her, squeezing her arm before he turns away from her toward the Walkers. He nods to her, silently telling her to follow him and they move toward the side, quietly drawing two of the Walkers on the outside of the herd toward them. He watches her as he shoots the first Walker in the head with the crossbow, her hands are shaking and her face is grim, but she doesn't back down. The moment the Walker falls to the ground she's on it, cutting into its stomach with her knife, digging her hands into the blood and guts and pulling them out so that she can smear it over her arms and her face and her clothes. He quickly kills the second Walker and starts to do the same thing, they help each other.
Before long they're completely covered with Walker blood and guts and walking amongst the walking dead as if they're one of of the Walkers notice their presence. Daryl reaches out and tangles his fingers with hers. A gentle squeeze, a promise that he still thinks she's beautiful.
Rick's group is different from the other groups they've met. The people in this group care about each other. They're a family in a way that Daryl never thought he would find at the end of the world. There are children and some semblance of life from before. Lori and Carol make Carl and Sophia do their math homework, they read bedtime stories, they have chores. The sight of the children brings tears to Charlie's eyes. A different type of tears, she's not crying because she's sad; she's crying because for the first time since she left Orchard Hill she's seeing hope.
They never talk about their decision to stay with Rick and the others. They just do. They integrate with the group, take turns doing chores, and help hunt for food. Rick tells him that when he and Charlie joined the group they brought miracles that the group wouldn't have been able to imagine before. They saved the group.
But the truth is that they didn't save anybody. The group would have been fine without them. The only one who was saved, the only person who had needed help had been Daryl. And Charlie had saved him. And he wasn't going to forget that.
He refuses to let her out of his sight. When she goes to wash clothes he goes with her. When he leaves the camp for a couple of days to hunt he drags her along. After two weeks with Rick's group Daryl finally tells her that he loves her. She smiles at him, cheeky, and stands up on her tip toes to press a kiss on his chin, the only part of his face that she can reach, "I know," she tells him before she turns to walk away from him. He lets her walk a couple of steps before he reaches out and catches her hand, pulling her back toward him and smiling as she laughs and crashes into his chest, catching fistfuls of his shirt to keep her balanced. "I love you too," she whispers and this time when she stands on her tiptoes he lowers his face so that she can press her lips against his.
There's a sense of hope every time he kisses her. She is his soft side and it's only when he's kissing her that his mind finds a still and quiet moment. He tells her this once, after they've been together for almost a year. He tells her that her kisses remind him of new beginnings and better worlds. She laughs at him and tells him that he's full of shit, but the way she snuggles in closer to his side, the way she sighs when he pulls her to her chest and presses his lips against the top of her head - it all tells him that she feels the same way about him.
She reaches up and pulls his arms around her, maneuvering herself until her back is leaning against his chest and his arms are wrapped around her stomach. She places her hands on top of Daryl's and laces her fingers through his. She starts humming some song that Daryl doesn't recognize and turns her head to the side, her cheek resting against his chest. He smiles and leans down, pressing his lips against her temple. She smiles at him, "I'm home," she whispers, just loud enough for him to hear her. "Wherever you are, wherever your arms are. That's my home." She pauses for a moment, and presses a kiss to his chest through his shirt. "I'm home when I'm in your arms."
She tilts her head up so that Daryl can kiss her lips, "Me too," he agrees.
She'll never know how much he really means that.
Daryl Dixon didn't have many people that he would want to spend the rest of his life with. There was really only one on his list - his woman, Charlie. It had once been his brother Merle who had been on the list; if he couldn't stick with Merle until the end he would have rather gone it alone. Or that's what he had thought until he met her.
She wouldn't have been his first choice as a companion at the end of the world, she wouldn't have even been his last choice if he was being honest with himself. But once he had gotten stuck with her he couldn't imagine his life without her. The girl is tiny, painfully tiny, she has more survival skills now than she had at the beginning (Daryl has taught her enough to be dangerous and to take care of herself and others), she's not as soft now but she still has that big heart that had made her cry the first time he killed a squirrel in front of her. If he was the dream companion for the end of the world, she was still the complete opposite. But he couldn't live without her anymore. He didn't want to. He didn't know how to be himself without her at his side.
She once suggested that he had only brought her along with him because he felt bad for her, that he only forced her out of the store with him because she was clearly alone, because she had no one else to turn to. He told her that she's wrong. She suggests that it might have been that he saw in her a kindred spirit, someone who could keep him from feeling so alone because she knew exactly what it felt like. He shakes his head and tells her that she's wrong again. She guesses that it was her large brown eyes, he always tells her that her doe eyes are his favorite thing about her, she says that maybe he got one look at her eyes and couldn't leave her. He smiles and kisses her when she suggests that, but still tells her she's wrong.
Truth is that he can't tell her what it was that made him take her with him. He can't tell her why he couldn't just tell her to get lost. He found her by accident, but he took ownership of her the moment he laid his eyes on her. He was stuck with the girl. He had never been anyone's prince charming before, he'd always been sort of an asshole. His mama, in the short time that she had been around, had tried to raise him to be a gentleman. He had never been very good at it, but he got better when Charlie came into his life.
She thinks that he is her prince charming and she refuses to let him tell her otherwise. And Daryl Dixon will be damned if he lets her down now. She belongs to him and he belongs to her and that's the way it will always be from now on.
Sometimes when they're cuddling together at night, she'll wrap her arms around him and bury her face in his chest. She'll tell him that he saved her life and that she has no idea where she would be if it weren't for him. She tells him that she believes that it was fate. Fate that he found her, fate that he brought her along with him for all those months. Fate that they fell in love.
She smiles up at him through her tears when he tells her that he's always going to bring her with him. Then he tightens his arms around her, squeezes her extra tight and presses his lips against her forehead before he tells her, "We're home."
And that's it. This story is finished.
I hope you love it as much as I loved writing it. It was pretty cathartic for me.
I'm going to continue watching the marathon now before the season finale tonight at 9.
Fingers crossed that our boy Daryl makes it through alive.
Please review if you liked this story. I know it's just a one-shot, but it really means a lot when people review. (I think it actually means more to me when people review one-shots because they're not trying to bribe me into uploading the next chapter faster ... they're just telling me how much they enjoyed the story they just read which is awesome.)
So yeah, reviews equal love.
Everybody have tissues near them when they watch the finale tonight.
Hugs and kisses,