Disclaimer: I don't own AMC's The Walking Dead or any of its characters, wishful thinking aside.
Authors Note #1: A companion piece to "I am destruction (decay and desire)" – which is Carol's pov of view on the same event, as described below.
Warnings: Like my first soul bond story, this drabble will touch on elements of the 'soul mate,' 'fated,' 'one love bond' idea, only this one is a bit different - centering around the idea of 'identifying marks.' The premise is that your soul mate's first words to you are tattooed somewhere on your body. *Contains: pre-series-canon season one, adult language, young!daryl, mild adult content, references to Daryl's past (child abuse, violence, neglect and Merle), very vague reference to possible non-consent. Pointed references into ingrained homophobia and stubborn idiots that won't love each other even though they should.
Hide away the City (that dreams for two)
The day his mother's mark turned grey, fading from brilliant ebony to a fine charcoal dust, lingering on the reddened skin before disappearing entirely from the taper of her inner wrist, was the day his five year old self decided he wasn't going to have a soul mark.
He refused, flat out. He packed away all his favorite books, all the happy endings that always went hand in hand with the mark. Acting like if he ignored it enough, if he was strong enough, he could somehow avoid getting saddled with one. Trick biology or whatever.
After all, what was the point of a soul mark, of soul mates, if they made you so sad?
He'd stuck close as his mama sobbed, shuddering and quaking as she clutched her wrist to her chest. She didn't get out of bed for weeks. Not until a couple of people from her work came with worried faces and food in big plastic containers. Not until their expressions fell and they quickly called a bunch of other people, people with shiny cars, fancy clothes and too much make-up, that made her go to the hospital. They told him while she was getting better, he would be going on a little holiday, staying with a bunch of nice folks, and wasn't that just great?
He told her his plan one day at the hospital – one of those grave, supervised visits where the lady in the power-suit and fake smile pretends not to be listening from her chair on the other side of the room – as he told his mother how they'd match. How they'd be together forever and that he'd take care of her. That he'd even bring her cold cloths when she was sick and scritch-scritch his nails through her hair, just like she did when he wasn't feeling well.
But for some reason that only made her cry harder.
He hadn't been old enough to put it all together. To connect that the day his mother's mark faded was the same one that his Pa didn't come home from work. The same day his mama came home to empty drawers and a note in an envelope she wouldn't let him see.
Too young to know that sometimes you could have your soul mate, that you could be happy, content. But just because they were your soul mate, didn't mean that you were theirs.
Growing up was one hell of a learning curve.
Nothing was ever like it was in the stories.
A lot of things changed after the fire.
After he and Merle put mama to ground in the little cemetery down the road from the home they'd grown up in. After the government finally tracked down their old man and left them on the astro-turf runner with two suitcases each, watching their Pa and his new woman – some waitress when bottle-red hair - watch them through the screen of a tiny Avoin trailer.
The things that changed were the shit his mama had cared about, things that made a house a home and a family more than just blood. Things like home-cooked meals and laughter. Things like tickle-fights and a couple of nickels for cleaning his room without her asking. Things like giving two shits about Christmas and birthdays. About giving two shits about anything really.
So, considering the circumstances, he figured he had a pretty solid excuse for waking up the morning of his sixteenth birthday and not thinking twice about it until he was halfway down the hall to the bathroom, yawning and rubbing the back of his neck before reality set in.
He stared at his reflection in the foggy, pitted mirror.
He didn't feel any different.
He didn't look any different either.
He blinked. His reflection blinked back.
His arms were bare, his chest, legs, and all the creases in between.
It seemed as though he'd gotten his wish after all.
It was only when he turned; equal parts smug and frustratingly devastated, that a flash of black caught his eye. He whirled, manic. Twisting and clawing, trying to rearrange his flesh in order to see it as the expression on his face went from anxious, to desperate, to dark in less than five seconds flat.
Because smack in the middle of the jagged scars that stood out between his shoulder blades – the ones that were just beginning to heal, bridging the ends like the words alone could somehow knit the flesh back together - was his mark.
"I'll do it. He's my husband."
He took a deep breath, then another.
He thought about his mother, loving someone that didn't love her back, that couldn't and was a deadbeat asshole on top of it. He thought about history repeating itself and his mama's sad eyes. He thought of-
He put his fist through the mirror.
It wasn't until later, until he'd let the school nurse coddle and fuss, re-bandaging the crappy bit of gauze and tensor he'd slapped around his knuckles before he'd left the house, that he let himself really think about it.
"I'll do it. He's my husband."
What the hell was that supposed to mean anyway? Nothing good, he reckoned.
He'd known better than to ask Merle about his. And in truth he never got a chance to. Because the day after he turned sixteen, the day after you got your mark, Merle drove his fist into Eric Littleton's face. He broke the kid's nose, cheek bone and two front teeth before ripping off a convenience store – cleaning them out of cigs and booze - and taking off into the woods until CPS and the local Sheriff finally tracked him down a week and a half later.
The only reason he ended up knowing about it at all was from the photos in the paper. Someone had snapped a picture of Merle in mid-punch, his boxy face a fleshy, blood-spattered mess, twisted and terrible. Perfect save for the flash of black script that curled around his elbow all the way up to the turn of his shoulder. Perfect save for the way the words themselves looked raw, almost as if he'd taken sandpaper to them, trying and failing to rub them out.
"Stop! Don't- Merle…no. Please stop! You know we can't."
When he'd got his, he'd wondered which of them had it worse.
He didn't connect that one till later either. Not until a couple years after Merle got out of juvy and Eric Littleton went and got himself killed overseas. Afghanistan or some shit. The next time he saw Merle's mark, it was gone. Just gone. The only thing left was an ugly burnt-out smudge of scar tissue - mangled words too damaged to make out.
In a roundabout way, Merle had actually gotten what he'd wanted all along.
And naturally, that was when everything started falling apart.
Everything Merle could have been died somewhere out there, in the middle of that god forsaken desert with a man that'd never really been his. If you asked him, it was worse than death. It was like watching someone waste away from the inside out. The spark, that inner bit of whatever that'd made Merle worthwhile had gone out.
He was empty, hollowed out. He was past help, past wanting help, past words or reason. Using other things, empty things - things like drugs, booze and sex – to fill it. But it was all a front, just prolonging the inevitable as far as he was concerned. There was no cure for that kind of wound and no way to come back from it either. It was rare to survive the death of your one, not unheard of, but rare enough.
Merle was just too stubborn to cash it in, too pig-headed and cold.
No one could kill Merle but Merle, and he seemed bound and determined to prove a point by it.
"I'll do it. He's my husband."
He hadn't been able to stop the flinch, to soften the squint and twisted expression as she picked her way through the bloody grass. Every muscle stiffened - drawing tight and protective – uncertain of what to do with himself as the scent of her rose, crisp and surprisingly clean in his most basic of senses.
His blood thrummed, raging and broiling just underneath his skin, heart beat hitching into the quiet. There was sweat dripping into his eyes and she wasn't even fuckin' looking at him.
He wanted to say something, anything, something to force the moment, something that would let him know that he wasn't in this alone. But he couldn't. The words fled before they reached his tongue. Instead, he found himself unable to do anything else but defer to her, handing her the ax - wordless and drawn.
He remembered to breathe just in time, holding onto the bulk of the thing for as long as possible, as if he were trying to save her from the weight, before she shouldered it. She looked stupidly breakable. Like one strong gust would send her scattering apart.
The webs between his fingers itched.
He could put her back together again.
They both could.
If she wanted-
A guttered sob rose up, wrenching and harsh as she raised the ax. In reality, he probably should have been paying more attention, making sure she didn't cut herself off at the knees or whatever. But his mind was a thousand miles away.
Because as much as it killed him to admit, he'd been waiting to hear those words almost his entire god damned life. He'd ignored it, pushed it away. He'd run from it, chucked away all hopes for the future and dug his heels firmly into the ground. But the words had always been there. Waiting.
Then Wildfire had hit.
Oh, he'd known, in a detached, unconscious sort of way that his soul mate hadn't kicked the bucket in the beginning. In the few moments he'd had to himself, between avoiding military patrols and dragging Merle away from whatever the hell he'd been up to when shit hit the fan, he'd known from the way the bold script still made tracks across his skin, that whoever they were – wherever they were – they'd made it.
But to find them here, now, in her, a faded little mouse of a thing. In someone who looked at the world through eyes far too similar to his own for his liking, was nothing short of slim odds and the backhanded standoffishness of an ill-meant prayer.
Could she really be his?
How could anyone want that?
How could she want that, after everything that asshole had put her through?
How could someone like her settle for someone like-
He ended up answering his own question as he watched her lay it all down. Her face was a trembling wreck of anger and grief - of guilt, hope and every other nuance of emotion he had no hope of ever really understanding - as she brought the ax down again and again.
She didn't bother hiding her sobs; she let it come without censure, crying and shuddering. For a split-second she lost herself in it, it was a type of hurt he recognized. Something that went bone-deep, worming its way inside until something in you just- snaps.
It was a breaking point.
And the moment was all hers.
Every stroke fell harder than the last. Fitful and unbalanced until the dark, clotted blood that'd settled into the hollows were flying and suddenly he felt it too. It was crawling up his spine and settlin' – adding shades to the dark. It was everything he and Merle hadn't been able to get back after the fire, after the mean edge of their father's belt and the harsh words. It was the years of abandonment, the loneliness, the flinch at a raised hand, the-
It was about taking back something of herself.
It was about reclaiming what that bastard had taken and more.
It was about picking herself up out of the ruin and having the strength to stand tall.
It was freedom.
It was a beginning.
The sentiment was so familiar that it hurt.
Well, he'd be god damned.
A/N #2: Thank you for reading. Reviews and constructive critiquing are love! - This story is now complete.