AN: Hi everyone! This fic was written for the 'Joy' Challenge at Nine Lives: A Caryl Fanfiction Archive. I have a few other things on the go right now and hope to have new updates soon. I'm very sorry for being so completely missing for so long. Fingers crossed I am around a bit more now. Your feedback is always appreciated!

The Indoor Cat

"What's that?"

Carol curled into his side, her fingers digging around his hip while she completed the circle with her other hand. Daryl froze, his eyes fixed on Sophia and the huge ball of fluff that was running in and out of her legs, the child laughing so hard she almost fell over. Carol's palm shifted to rest on his belly and her cheek rubbed against his chest and there was no preventing the surprised, sharp inhale at her closeness.

"That's a cat," she told him, laughing, and she pulled away from him long enough for him to see that she was radiant in this sunshine, the creases around her eyes blotted out by bright light and her eyes so cool and inviting he felt like he'd dived off the banks of a river and was splashing his way through summer.

"But where'd she get a cat from?" He wasn't watching Sophia anymore, too captivated by her mother, this woman he'd never known in a dress who had folded herself into him like she was his.

"From you, Daryl. Don't you remember? You brought it to her." She smiled up at him and it was like he knew everything—where he'd picked up the ragged looking stray, how the thing had clawed at his hands and acted all feral. It weren't a good plaything for a kid, and certainly not Carol's kid.

"That cat's no good for a kid to play with. It'll hurt her." He strode toward Sophia, barely noticing that he'd hauled Carol along for the ride, nor that she was giggling at his attempted rescue of her daughter from a wild feline that she obviously felt no real concern over.

"Daryl, stop." She cajoled him into stopping by putting herself in his way but the lazy, slow progress continued, her fingers calming him with touches that were new, soothing places on his body he swore she'd never touched before. She beamed up at him, like he was special, like he was desired and then her hand was in his, warm and safe and so much comfort he forgot to breathe. "She's fine. The ones that don't look much are sometimes the ones that belong the most. That's an inside cat if ever I saw one." She was cradling his rough hand in hers and then she placed his palm against her cheek while her eyes danced in delight, watching her child find joy in the simple pleasure of a cat.

"That ain't no indoor cat." His objection was too soft to be considered seriously, and in fact Carol barely even took notice. She kissed his palm before threading her fingers through his and held his hand like a teenager, and his blood flowed hot through him, made hotter by the sun.

Sophia had that cat in her arms before he could shout a warning, and be damned if the thing wasn't subdued and meowing like it'd been used to kindness it's whole life. She twirled it around like a doll, then together they skipped away, that raggedy cat behaving itself like no feral cat Daryl had ever seen. Carol stepped away from him, her dress whipping softly at her legs, her feet bare as she dug her toes into the earth and Daryl whistled low under his breath.

"Ain't never seen you in a dress before," he admitted, his throat tight, something in the back of his head wondering why she was even in a dress now. As if she heard everything he'd ever thought, she answered him, that hint of elation building until he was caught in it and never wanted to let it go.

"Do you like it?" She let his fingers slip from hers and twirled for him, the dress lifting higher so he could see her knees and hints of her creamy thighs. His mouth went dry.

"Yeah. Looks real pretty. Where'd you get it?" He didn't care where she got it, he just wanted to see her twirl more, see the skirt of it caress her flesh when she stopped.

"Daryl, you're being so silly today," she scoffed, licking her lips as she came back to him, taking both hands and pulling him closer. She leaned forward, pressing herself against his whole front as she whispered into his ear. "You gave it to me, don't you remember?"

And he did, like a flash it was there, though he still had no clue why he'd brought it for her, only that the white dress with small blue flower buds on it looked like something that would light her up with magic.

"I remember," he mumbled, mesmerised by how she wound her hands into his hair, how her body swayed rhythmically against his, how his own usual awkwardness vanished with the need to feel her under his palms. His hands landed on her hips and he held her closer, ducking his head to breathe in her scent, sighing when she smelled like roses.

"I'm so glad you brought me the dress, Pookie. My pants were getting too tight."

Sophia squealed in the background, giggling as she ran around with Topsy the Devil Cat and Daryl scowled, knowing he was missing something important.

"You been eatin' too much, then?"

Carol snorted, nipping at his ear. "I had to carry Ass-kicker somehow."

And then he finally tasted her lips and joy exploded in his chest. Her mouth was sweet, and she took him over like he was drugged. She sucked his tongue into her mouth, drawing out every moan, claiming every sigh until his knees went weak. All his life he'd been clueless about true passion but with one swipe of her tongue across his lips and her delicate hand fiddling with the buttons down the front of his shirt, he knew finally what it meant to have so much feeling explode within his body, desperate to find its way out. Her palm burned against his heart and he whimpered into her mouth, drawing her in closer so the gentle swell of her belly pressed against his groin. He needed more, and she didn't seem like she planned to stop until he got it.

"Wait. Sweetheart." He clamped her hand against his heart, the beat of it pounding so hard he could feel it all the way through her hand and into his. He panted against her lips, wanting to forget and just dive back in to take everything she had to offer. She wiggled against him and his dick did an upright dance of joy. "Baby, what about Sophia?"

Her eyes were sparkling with humour and love and he recognised it had always been there when she looked at him, it lit her up from the inside and he couldn't work out for one second why he'd ignored it before.

"You're so silly today. She knows about us. She approves." Carol craned her neck to try and claim his lips back, and he let her for a few slow, leisurely kisses that just stirred him up to the point of distraction.

"She does, does she?" he murmured, hardly able to believe it. He cut a look across the field, Sophia sitting in the long grass now, singing to the cat as she patted down its matted fur, the scrawny thing happily purring in her lap. His eyes fell instantly closed as Carol sucked his bottom lip into her mouth while simultaneously snapping open the button on his pants.

"Uhuh."

"But we shouldn't…" he gurgled incoherently as her hand closed around him and he shuffled uncoordinatedly so that his back was to the child, his breaths ragged as he gave into the craving of her touch on him as common sense fled from his head.

"It's okay. She's taken the cat inside now." He threw a glance across his shoulder to find the field empty, a house that wasn't there before suddenly appearing as if he'd conjured it out of a magazine.

"Whose house is that?" He trusted her to tell him the truth, she always had.

"That's our house, Pookie. You brought us here, don't you remember? After you found Sophia?"

He was shaking his head before he realised, her lips falling away from his. "But I didn't find Sophia."

Her arms were around him in a second that crashed through him with overwhelming emotion, her arms like bands of steel around his neck. "You found her where it mattered most," Carol whispered into his ear and when she pulled back to look as deep into him as anyone his whole life had ever bothered to do, he saw tears of joy and gratitude that struck him deep. "You found her in your heart." Soft fingers stroked his cheek and he'd never felt so accepted in his life. All that failure he'd felt crippling him for months—years—collapsed off his shoulders and the heaviness that had weighed him down was gone. Instead it was Carol's body that weighed him down as she jumped into his arms and his feet went out from under him, his back hitting the dirt with a thud and her core folding around the bulge at his crotch. She rubbed sensually against him, that glint of mischief he recognised in full effect.

He couldn't look away from her, she was too beautiful to find distractions elsewhere. The hem of her dress fluttered across his abdomen and he ran his hands up her thighs, lifting it up off his body and ran it up her legs until she was almost naked to him. Her hips twirled and he groaned, bucking subtly up into her so that she tipped forward, giving him an enticing view of her cleavage from the V of her dress.

"Can we do this?" He wanted to do this, wanted her so bad, to know what it would be like to be part of her forever. "Can I find you?"

She fell forward and caught his lips, tugging at the bottom one until his big hands caught around her head, holding her close, stealing her kisses until she was breathless.

"You always find me, Daryl. You'll find me again."

She gave him hope where he'd had none before and he felt the prickle of tears build to overflow from his eyes.

"Will you love me when I find you?"

Everything stilled as she watched him, her eyes soft, her lips tremulous. "Daryl?" Her voice cracked and the power behind her stare turning to watery seas made his hands shake as he shifted them beneath that dress, skimming the top of her panties below the bulge of her belly. A solid kick hit his hand and he pressed it against her bare skin, fingers spread while he waited for the child inside her to make itself known. His perception shifted and he didn't see Judith, not even a girl, but a boy with darker blue eyes and a mop of brown curls chasing his sister around the field, teasing a mop of a cat that had too many names to count.

She didn't allow him to escape his own question, her gentle hands cupping his cheeks and directing his focus back to her. "I will always love you and you know that. There's nothing that can be done to ever make me stop."

His relief was immeasurable, crashing through his body like a wave of euphoria. There were no more questions, no more barriers, and so his fingers slipped past the flimsy cotton between her legs and plunged into the heated, slippery depths of his woman.

The jarring kick to his boot flung him out of her world and for a moment Daryl wanted to cry for losing her again.

"Looks like you had pleasant dreams." Joe's voice slid through all the fullness Daryl had just dreamt and cut into it with leering filth. The older man's eyes fell mockingly to Daryl's dick, still responding to his first real taste of Carol's body and for the first time he refused to respond with shame. This asshole might think Daryl was an outdoor cat, belonging with the likes of him, existing by the whim of rules that made shit all sense except to a group of men that didn't give a fuck about people or the world anymore, but Daryl knew different. He knew what Carol thought of him, and he was going to curl up in her lap and purr as she let him inside to stay. He might have thought he belonged out in the cold, but not anymore. He didn't belong with men like these, and he wasn't sure he ever did.

As he made his way out of the building, desperate to piss, Daryl thought about his dream and for the first time since he'd heard Rick claim to have banished Carol he had hope he'd find her alive. All he had to do was look.