The Spare Room

Summary: The bills keep piling up and if Daryl Dixon has any hope of improving his life, he and his brother are going to have to find someone to fill their spare room. The problem is that while he can't stand his new roommate, he finds himself falling for his roommate's girlfriend. Caryl. AU.

Disclaimer: I do not own any characters that you recognize from the Walking Dead.

Chapter 1

"I hate to do this to y'all, Daryl, I really do," Lenny Calhoun said, "Prices are goin' up everywhere and I got bills to pay, Man."

"Len, it's just me and Merle here," Daryl Dixon replied, "We do all the maintenance here and everythin'. Can't ya cut us a bit of slack?"

"Already been cuttin' ya guys slack on the rent for it, but fact is I'm raising rent on all my places. Gotta put the kid through college somehow," Len told him with a chuckle. Daryl didn't find the statement funny at all. Not even remotely. Len was a forty-something-year-old man with a beer gut and a delinquent teenager who would rather do time than go to school. He made his money by sitting on his ass and collecting money from suckers like Daryl who were renting out his properties. The asshole didn't work for shit.

"Tryin' to put me through college, Len," Daryl said, "Ain't got no daddy to pay for it for me."

"Well, ain't much I can do about that, Daryl," Len shrugged, "All I know is I'm expectin' eight hundred next month. That's still low compared to the others," Len assured Daryl with a smile like that made it all better, "Now, Son, you say 'Hi' to your brother for me. Got to head down to the house on third street and let them know rent's goin' up."

"Yeah, you do that," Daryl grumbled sourly, leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed. Len turned back to look at the young man and shrugged his shoulder.

"Now, Daryl, nothin' comes for free, Son," he stated, leaving the younger Dixon brother to glower at his retreating back. Daryl knew better than anyone that nothing came for free. In the twenty-two years he had been on this earth, he had learnt that everything, no matter how small, came with a price.

With a heavy sigh, he pushed off the doorframe and slammed the door as he walked into the three-bedroom bungalow that he shared with his older brother. He found Merle passed out on the couch, a small pile of beer cans resting underneath the coffee table along with a half-drunk bottle of jack. On top of the table sat an empty pizza box, a copy of 'Jugs', and an ashtray with several cigarette butts and half of a joint in it.

"Goddammit, Merle," Daryl griped, moving into the kitchen to grab a garbage bag. He muttered angrily to himself as he moved around the room tossing garbage into the bag. He set it by the front door and then grabbed a blue recycling bag for the cans, taking care to ensure that the bag rattled loudly with every step he took.

"Jesus fuck!" Merle Dixon moaned, lifting his head up a fraction of an inch from the couch cushion, "The hell ya doin', Boy?"

"Cleanin' up your goddamn shit," Daryl snapped back, throwing a can he found behind the TV into his bag.

"Can't ya save the damn environment at a decent damn hour?" Merle complained, burying his head back into the cushion, "Fidgety little tree-hugger."

"It's one o'clock in the afternoon," Daryl informed him coldly, "and I ain't no tree-hugger. These damn cans is goin' towards next month's fuckin' rent."

"Tree-hugger," Merle groaned, the sound muffled by the cushion. Daryl rolled his eyes and continued cleaning up after Merle's bender. It was the same thing every weekend. Once the work week was done, Merle would hit up the bar or the liquor store. He'd get himself good and plastered Friday and Saturday and then he'd sleep it all off on Sunday while Daryl cleaned up the carnage.

"Ya know, Len's raisin' the rent," Daryl ventured as he moved into the kitchen to get started on the spills in there, "Owe him eight next month."

Merle's response was a grunt.

"That's a hundred and fifty more for each of us," Daryl kept talking.

This was followed by another grunt.

"Means there's less damn money for ya to blow on booze and dope," Daryl said. This statement was followed by a moan and then by heavy footsteps making their way towards the kitchen.

"The fuck ya bitchin' 'bout there, Wifey?" Merle groaned, leaning against the wall of the arch that led into the kitchen. Daryl scowled at him, but at the same time, he marvelled at how Merle was able to stand at all. Even now, his brother looked like the walking dead.

"Money. Rent. It go up," Daryl emphasized, sounding like a caveman for the benefit of his brother, who was definitely not firing on all cylinders this afternoon.

"The fuck did he raise it for?" Merle asked, squinting in an effort to keep the sunlight that crept in through the window from frying whatever brain cells he had left.

"Says he's got bills and he's trying to put that lil' fuck Leroy through school," Daryl griped, trying to push back his annoyance over the injustice of it all. Daryl would give anything for the chance to go to school and make something of himself. Hell, he threw almost every red cent he earned into the coffee can labelled 'School' under his bed. Then there were ungrateful little assholes like Leroy Calhoun than got money handed to them.

"Pfft. More like Lenny needs money for them hookers up in the city," Merle snorted, "We got any fuckin' coffee?"

"In the pot," Daryl directed him, watching with a raised eyebrow as his brother shuffled his feet over to the coffee pot. He watched as Merle managed to get himself a cup of coffee and then continued, "We owe eight next month."

"Eight?" Merle repeated, his eyebrows shooting up to his curly brown hair, "Eight hundred?"

"No, eight cents, ya moron," Daryl griped sarcastically, "Yes, eight hundred dollars."

"Fuckin' A!" Merle cursed, "That's a three-hundred dollar hike!"

"Yeah, we're both payin' four now," Daryl informed him bitterly.

"Little fucker," Merle cursed out their landlord, "How the fuck's he expect anyone to do that shit in a month?"

"Beats me," Daryl replied, "Might be goin' hungry this month…or ya might have to cut back on the boozin'."

"Son-of-a-bitch," Merle swore, "Two-fifty to four-fuckin'-hundred. Damn crime right there! Almost fuckin' double!"

"No kiddin'," Daryl agreed sullenly.

"Ya got that money stashed away?" Merle asked him, "Might have to use it to cover this month-"

"Hell fuckin' no!" Daryl protested, whirling around to face his brother, "Been savin' that shit since I was fifteen. Ain't fuckin' touchin' it!"

Merle put his hands up in surrender, showing that he was abandoning the idea of using the money in Daryl's coffee can for rent. When Daryl was fifteen-years-old, he took his first biology class and he fell in love with it. Growing up, he had spent almost all of his time in the woods and learning about the different plants and animals was a dream. For the first time, he found himself actually wanting to go to school. He made top marks in his class, something that had been almost unheard of for a Dixon in his hometown. His biology teacher helped him research different careers in the field and as soon as Daryl read about wildlife biologists, he knew that's what he wanted to do. He wanted to make money being out in the woods all day and doing something that he loved.

The only issue was the money. Dixons were dirt-poor and getting a Bachelor's of Science was fucking expensive. Will Dixon didn't work. He turned to booze after his wife passed and lived on food stamps, welfare cheques, and what little insurance money was issued from the fire that killed Merle and Daryl's mother. So, Daryl got himself a part-time job at a mechanic shop and started squirrelling away money. He learnt the hard way that he needed to hide his hard-earned money from his Pa and that he needed to hide it well. He rarely dipped into his coffee can unless it was for emergencies and he guarded that can with his life. Even now, Daryl was already thinking of the next place he would hide his coffee can since Merle had suggested taking money out of it.

"So what do we do?" Merle wondered sipping from his cup, "If we payin' rent out of the paychecks, it's gonna be a tight damn month."

"Yep," Daryl agreed, though privately, he thought that it wouldn't be so tight if Merle didn't spend all his extra money on partying. Between the two of them, Merle was making more money right now and could easily pay rent and utilities for the pair of them if he was so inclined. Looking at his brother now, Daryl could see that his brother was focusing quite hard on their money problem, frowning over his coffee cup in that way he would get when he was thinking hard on something.

"Hey!" Merle suddenly exclaimed loudly, making his younger brother jump, "Why don't we get a roommate?"

"What?" Daryl asked dumbly.

"We got that spare room. Let's get a body in it and split the eight hundred three ways. Gotta be fuckin' cheaper than four-a-piece," Merle suggested. Daryl balked at the idea. He disliked strangers and living with one just seemed uncomfortable. He liked his space and the thought of having someone new in it just made him uneasy. That was why they had never had a roommate before.

"Merle-"

"Now hold on, Baby Brother," Merle protested, getting up to rummage in the junk drawer. Daryl watched as he pulled out a calculator, "Eight hundred divided three ways is two-sixty-seven a piece. Instead of payin' an extra one-fifty, we only gotta pay seventeen damn dollars."

"But Merle, we don't know nobody," Daryl reminded him, "Ain't livin' with no stranger-"

"Lil' Brother, you just gonna have to suck that shit up," Merle told him, "We can save a lot of money by fillin' up that room. Ya can get ya ass in that tree-hugger course before ya know it."

"Ain't a tree-hugger course!" Daryl scowled, but he was hesitant to disagree with Merle. Having an extra body to help with the expenses would help Daryl to put away more money for school.

Maybe it was worth getting a roommate after all.

0 – TSR - 0

To say that her first dinner back home since finishing up her first year of culinary school was tense would have been an understatement for Carol Taylor. She really should have known better than to open her mouth. It had been an innocent question from her mother asking how Carol's boyfriend was. Carol responded by saying that he was good and that he had visited her a few times up in Atlanta. When Carol's father noted that that was a long drive for him to just visit her for the day, Carol had stupidly responded that Ed had stayed over in her dorm room.

George Taylor had frozen in his chair and his eyebrows reached his hairline, Rose Taylor's fork clattered on her plate loudly in a very unladylike way, and Catherine, Carol's younger sister, was suddenly more alert, her blue eyes shining with anticipation.

"He…uh…slept on the floor," Carol offered lamely in hopes of preventing the heart attack and brain aneurysm that would leave her and Catherine to be orphans. It was a lie, but at this point, lying to her parents was tame compared to some of the things she had done in the city with Ed.

"In your dorm room?" Carol's mother asked, levelling her eldest daughter with a firm look.

"It…uh…was better than him driving so late at night," Carol said hastily, "He borrowed an air mattress from one of the guys on the floor below me."

Another lie. And one that her mother could see right through.

"Carol Ann Taylor, are you lying to me right now?" Rose demanded firmly.

"What? No, of course not, Mother-"

"Carol, have you sinned with this boy?" Rose asked sharply, making her husband's hands clench at the armrests on his chair. Catherine looked as if Christmas had come early.

"Mother!" Carol yelped, scandalized.

"Have you?" Rose repeated, her green eyes sharp on her daughter's face. Carol just wanted to escape. She did not want to have this conversation with her parents, knowing that they wouldn't understand. Her parents were traditional, god-fearing people and they were strict in the upbringing of their daughters. They didn't understand that the nineties were different.

"Of course not!" Carol exclaimed.

"You better not have, young lady!" Rose chided, "What man would have a sullied woman for a wife? Finding a husband will be difficult enough with all this gallivanting in the city that you're doing."

Carol pursed her lips and glanced down at her peas, rolling them back and forth with the side of her fork. From a young age, her parents had emphasized the importance of finding a well-to-do husband and establishing a family. They had been more than a little surprised when Carol had expressed a desire to go to culinary school, despite the fact that Carol had always possessed a love of being in the kitchen and creating wonderful smelling things. It had taken the last two years of high school to convince her parents to let her venture into the city. She had told them that she wanted to learn how to cook so that she could be a better wife. She left out the part where she really wanted to move to Louisville and open a restaurant with her cousin, Katie. Her parents never approved of the way her Uncle Dan had raised Katie and as a result, the two girls had only seen each other once a year at Christmas when her mother would dutifully invite her divorced brother and his daughter over for dinner. Carol had always been a little jealous of Katie. Her cousin had been able to wear comfortable jeans instead of the long skirts Carol and Catherine had been dressed in. Katie could wear make-up. She could go out with boys. She had freedom, something that Carol had been denied by her strict upbringing.

Carol sighed and began to scarf down what was left of her meal. She just wanted to escape the questioning stares of her father and the shrewd judgement of her mother. She wanted to go up to her room and have the solitude that she had given up by returning home for the spring and summer months. She excused herself and then took the stairs two at a time before she collapsed on her bed. Getting out of Cranwall was a huge eye-opener. She hadn't realized how sheltered she had been until she had ventured into the city and now that she had returned, she felt trapped. She couldn't wear her comfortable jeans and favorite tank-top without her mother having a coronary. She couldn't leave the house without answering a million questions about where she was going and who she'd be with. She didn't even want to think about what her parents would say if she stayed out passed ten o'clock.

"Hey!" a voice called from the hall. Carol groaned as she felt her sister catapult onto the bed beside her. So much for being alone.

"What do you want, Cath?" Carol asked, turning her head to look at her sister. Catherine was sixteen and had been Carol's main playmate growing up. She was blond like their father with their mother's green eyes and she was a tiny little thing weighing in at a hundred and nine pounds. Carol favored her mother with reddish-brown hair and a slightly curvier figure, but she had her father's kind, blue eyes, her favourite feature.

"I missed you, Sis," Catherine said, grinning over at her, "Do you know how boring it's been around here with just Mom and Dad?"

"Glad I make your life so entertaining," Carol deadpanned.

"You're the big sister. You're supposed to," Catherine told her, "So, how was the city?"

"I miss it already," Carol admitted, "I always thought I liked living in a small town, but in the city, I felt so…free."

"Of course you did," Catherine laughed, sitting up to lean against the white headboard, "You didn't have Mom chasing after you with a ruler to make sure your hemline was the appropriate length…and don't you say Mom's not that bad because she totally is. Honestly, you'd think that we were going to go out and get ourselves pregnant if we're a minute passed curfew."

"Oh, Lord the curfew," Carol groaned.

"Carful, Care," Catherine cautioned teasingly, "Using the lord's name in vain will make Him angry."

Carol held back a laugh at her younger sister's antics. She shook her head, "Why is it that Mom and Dad think that you're the innocent one again?"

"Because I'm the baby and I will always be the baby," Catherine replied with a grin, "So, did you?"

"Did I what?" Carol asked, playing dumb.

"Did you do it with Ed?" Catherine clarified, her eyes alight with curiosity. Carol cringed and tried to figure out what to say as her cheeks reddened. Catherine took Carol's silence for confirmation, "I knew it!"

"Cath!" Carol groaned, her eyes darting to the doorway to make sure her parents were nowhere near the room.

"What was it like? Did it hurt? Mary Ellen Grant said that the first time hurts," Catherine prattled on.

"Cath," Carol groaned again, trying to figure out a way to get out of talking to her sister.

"Did you burst into flames afterwards?" Catherine continued, "Did He smite you down for having premarital relations?"

Carol laughed in spite of herself and blurted out, "I'm still here, aren't I?"

Catherine laughed with her and once again, Carol was reminded that she was not alone in the war for independence from her parents. She loved them dearly, but there were times when she felt smothered by all the rules and commandments. It was nice to know that she had her little sister.

The girls talked for a while before they heard something hit the window. Frowning, Carol got up to look outside and found her boyfriend standing in between her house and the fence, tossing rocks up at her bedroom window. Ed Peletier was older than her by two years. He was a burly young man with short dark hair and scruff around his thick jaw.

"Wow. Pebbles? Really?" Catherine giggled.

"Shut up," Carol hissed, pushing her window opened so she could whisper-yell down to her boyfriend, "Ed, what are you doing?"

"I wanted to see you," he called up, "You've been back in town a whole seven hours now and I ain't seen you once yet! Get down here!"

"It's not a good time," Carol called back, "My parents are downstairs."

"Who cares?" Ed shrugged, "You're of age, ain't you?"

"He's got a point. You are almost nineteen," Catherine pointed out from Carol's left.

"Are you kidding me? Mom and Dad would kill me, resurrect me, and then kill me again," Carol hissed at her sister.

"They don't have to know," Catherine insisted, "I'll cover for you."

"And how am I supposed to get out the front door with them in the sitting room?" Carol demanded.

"Use my window," Catherine suggested, "You can climb down the lattice."

"What?" Carol exclaimed.

"Shhh! It's not hard. I've done it," Catherine shrugged, "Come on! Live a little. I've got to live vicariously through somebody."

"Come on, Carol!" Ed called up, "Get down here!"

Carol was at war with herself for a moment before she reached into her suitcase to grab her jeans. If she was going to scale the side of the house, she wasn't doing it in a skirt.

Maybe she could use a little freedom.

TBC

AN: So here it is. My first Caryl AU. So it's set pre-apocalypse in the 1990's. As of right now, Daryl, Carol, Merle, and Ed are going to be the main focus. They will mostly be interacting with OC's. Some characters that we know and love might make some cameos. I don't know yet if I want to take this story into the apocalypse or not, but once I know, you'll know.

Please let me know what you think so far! I appreciate any reviews you wish to leave me.