AN: So this was a Tumblr request made some time ago for Carol and Rick pretending to hate one another. I've been sitting on it for a while now because I couldn't figure out how to write that and still write something I wanted to put together. I've taken some liberties, but I'm pretty satisfied with the outcome. Hopefully I did it justice for the person who requested it.
I own nothing from the Walking Dead.
I hope you enjoy! Let me know what you think!
"I'm just saying get back out there," Axel said. "Get back on the horse."
Rick eyed him and Axel smirked at his own poor wording choices. He shrugged and washed down his embarrassment with another swallow of beer from the bottle.
The annual barbecue was about as exciting as it ever had been. Everybody came with their families if they had a family to speak of. The entire police force was there—at least if they could make it—and so were quite a few citizens of the town who had bought the tickets to the barbecue that ended up paying for the event. The churches and rec center loaned them tables and folding chairs, free of charge, and the local dollar store was rolling in their excitement over having been cleaned out of paper products and plastic table cloths.
It was all you could eat, the food provided mostly by donations from people, and all you could drink with the alcohol coming out of the money that was earned and the free rides provided by some local high school students that were getting "extra credit" for their devotion of a Saturday to keeping people from driving all over town after partaking of, possibly, more than they should. There were supposed to be sporting events—just the simple three legged races and such for entertainment—but those never seemed to pan out. Mostly people came, they ate, they chatted, and they worked on convincing the townspeople to pledge a little more money here or there to the police force.
Rick came every year, and every year it was pretty much the same.
The biggest difference this year was that he wasn't there with Lori. She was still there, laughing and talking to people as she always would be at social events where she wanted to show her best side, but she wasn't with him. She'd come with Shane.
Last year she'd chosen not to come. She'd chosen to let things "lie" as they would. With their divorce being the hottest news in town at the moment, her presence there with Shane would have turned the whole barbecue into nothing more than one long gossip session that got them all bombarded with questions. This year, though, enough time had passed that she'd apparently thought it was fine to come.
But people were still talking. Of course they were. What else did they really have to do? And they had plenty to talk about. Shane and Lori were there with Carl and their new baby—a little girl that they'd named Judith—and Rick was there alone.
That seemed to be what interested people the most at this particular barbecue—Rick was there alone.
"Come on, Rick," Axel said, recovering from his bout of embarrassment. "All the eligible ladies in this town and you're telling me that you can't find you one that you like?"
Rick glanced around. A good number of those "eligible women" were at the barbecue. He couldn't believe it was by accident either. Some of them were there on a "husband hunt" and were putting themselves in the line of vision of any equally "eligible men," but others had probably been somewhat wrangled into coming because others were attempting to work some kind of matchmaker magic.
And it wasn't that they weren't beautiful, and it wasn't that he wasn't at all interested, but Rick had his sights set already—he just wasn't ready to talk about it, and certainly not to Axel.
Rick shook his head at Axel.
"You've been single longer than I have," Rick said.
"It's just a shame that you're—letting yourself get so low about it, man," Axel said.
Rick laughed to himself. He didn't try to conceal the laugh at all.
"Low? When have you seen me low? Besides—besides you know, when it all started? A man has a right to be low when his marriage falls apart," Rick said.
Axel hummed and nodded.
"But you aren't getting out there," Axel said. "You're just—staying right where you are. Doing nothing about it. You're a family man, Rick. Before all that happened? That was what you always said. You were a family man. You were—well, you were all about it. And now?"
"And I've still got a family," Rick said. "Every other weekend I've got Carl."
"Man needs a little something more than that," Axel commented. "Keep his bed warm, if you catch my drift."
Axel laughed to himself then and walked off a few steps to select another beer out of the pail full of ice. He brought Rick one too, and Rick drained the one he was working on to make room for it in his hand. He dropped the bottle on the ground by his feet where he could collect it later for the recycling bin.
"How do you know what I have or don't have in my bed?" Rick challenged.
"It's a small town," Axel said. "People talk."
"Do a little too much of it," Rick ceded. "But that doesn't mean the rumor mill knows everything."
Axel smirked at him. He raised an eyebrow at Rick even as he tipped back the dripping beer bottle.
"You sayin' you're seeing someone?" Axel asked.
Rick shook his head.
"Don't even," Rick responded. "I know about your little bet with Daryl. I'm not telling you my business. Besides—both of you should be picking someone out, right? Out of all these eligible women lined up here? How long's it been since you broke up with Rhonda? Gotta be six months."
Having the conversation turned on him clearly made Axel a little bit embarrassed. He scanned the area and took in the inventory of the women there. He hummed to himself and sucked his teeth.
"Maybe I've already got my mind made up on someone," Axel said. "Maybe Daryl does too."
Rick hummed with his amusement.
"Daryl's a confirmed bachelor," Rick said.
"That's what he wants you to think," Axel said. "But—it ain't as so as he says it is. Just so happens, I know who he's got an interest in and I'm just—biding my time. Gotta get there before he does. But not too fast—don't want to come on too strong."
Rick sighed and drank a third of the beer in one swallow. Taking dating advice from either of the two men that he worked with regularly was something that would doom any man to fail. Daryl hadn't been near a woman in years and Axel had a knack for picking women that just weren't that into him. They'd go out with him a few times—dinner or a movie, his treat—and then it was always the same thing. They'd give him some speech about they just didn't think it would work out and he'd slink away to the bar to lick his wounds and lament that each of the women was the perfect one and he'd somehow managed to fall head over heels in love over a plate of spaghetti. And before long? There'd be another one.
"Who's the lucky lady this time?" Rick asked, trying to decide for himself who it might be out of the crowd. He tried to follow Axel's line of vision, but it shifted too often to belief he'd locked in on her. Axel didn't respond to him, though, and instead simply drank some more from the beer that he was enjoying. "Why wait?" Rick asked. "Weren't you just giving me the whole carpe diem speech? Seize the day? Ride the horse or whatever the hell you were talking about? Why wait?"
"Gotta be respectable," Axel said. "That's why Daryl's waiting too. But I'm gonna be one step ahead of him."
"Daryl's waiting because he chickens out every time he gets the attention of a woman he thinks he might be interested in," Rick said. "As soon as they look at him, he decides it's too much. Who is it?" Rick pressed him again but Axel didn't respond. It was a little annoying since he hadn't known the man, not since he'd become his partner in place of Shane, to ever clam up over anything. If anything, Rick spent more of his time than he should just wishing that Axel would shut up sometimes. "You better tell me," Rick said. "Or—I might get there before you."
Axel looked at him, a little shock registering on his face, and it was clear that he'd never considered that. He'd never thought, for one minute, that while he and Daryl were doing some kind of elaborate peacock dance around someone, Rick might actually step in and make a move.
Rick, after all, was made bolder by the simple fact that he'd already been through one failed marriage. A failed dating relationship certainly wasn't going to be the end of the world for him. Rejection he knew he could tolerate.
Axel sucked his teeth again and gestured toward the crowd with his beer bottle like it was some kind of clear indication of who he was talking about.
"Carol," Axel said.
"Peletier?" Rick asked, furrowing his brow at Axel.
"Ain't gonna be Pe-le-tier for long," Axel said with a chuckle.
Rick raised his eyebrows at him.
"It's that serious?" Rick asked.
"Some women are the kind of women you date," Axel said. "Knowing all along you ain't gonna keep them that long. They just weren't made for the long term. And some women? Are the kind of women that you date knowing that—well? You're dating them to marry them."
"And Carol's the marrying kind of woman?" Rick asked.
"But you can't rush these things," Axel said. "Her divorce hadn't been cleared for more'n four months. Move too fast on a lady like that?"
Rick's stomach did a flip that he was grateful that Axel couldn't see. He tasted his beer, quickly warming thanks to the heat, and cleared his throat.
"It's definitely a good idea to wait," Rick said. "On a woman like that? You don't want to rush things. But..."
He let the word fall and then he pretended he wasn't going to pick it up. Axel stared at him, clearly expecting him to finish speaking, and then he finally bit the hook.
"But what, man? That didn't sound like no good kinda but. You know something?" Axel asked.
Rick bit the inside of his mouth to keep from smiling and turned his face away from Axel so that nothing about his expression might give anything away.
"I shouldn't say anything," Rick said. "You've got your mind made up and that's a good thing for you."
"What do you know, Rick? You can't start something like that and don't finish it," Axel said.
Rick looked at him then. It was hard to keep a straight face, so he tucked his hand under his other arm and pinched his own side repeatedly to help. Axel would bite any hook that was dangled out there for him and, sometimes, that was a good thing.
"I've heard a lot about her," Rick said. "About—her past. About who she was. Who she is? Ed Peletier was an asshole and I'm not going to say that he wasn't but—she's not an angel. She's got a whole side that—hardly anybody knows anything about. I'm just saying that you should consider that. You know—before you decide to go and marry her."
Axel furrowed his brow at Rick, looked back in the direction of Carol, and then he hummed, shaking his head. Carol was working the barbecue. She was one of the kind townspeople who had agreed to sacrifice her whole Saturday just to make sure that people were served and fed. It probably wasn't fair to suggest that she might have a side that nobody there had seen—but Rick knew it to be true.
And he could tell himself that it was fine in this moment. After all, the warning was to save a friend a little heartache.
"Bad side?" Axel asked.
"If I were you?" Rick said. He shook his head to illustrate his thoughts. "If I were you...or Daryl? I wouldn't even try it."
Axel looked absolutely deflated. Rick slapped him on the shoulder and squeezed the back of his neck.
"Hey," he said. "Don't let it get you low. Just look around. There are plenty of other women—not at all like Carol Peletier—that would be just the one for you. I'm sure of it."
"But you don't think she is?" Axel said, not wanting to let go of the daydream he'd already likely started to fall in love with a little bit.
"I'd guarantee it," Rick responded.
Rick thanked the kid that dropped him off at the corner with a five dollar bill. He footed the last three blocks of his trip to keep anyone from knowing where he was going. He slipped around the back of the house, as he always did, and moved the bike under the shed so it wouldn't get rusted if the bottom fell out like it looked like it might. Then he mounted the back porch steps and knocked on the door.
She was more than a minute getting to the door, but Rick knew she was coming. When she opened the door, she smiled at him and leaned out a little to keep the door from slamming closed on him.
"With her grandma?" Rick asked.
Carol shook her head and he started to retreat. She stopped him quickly by speaking.
"Play date," Carol said. "Slumber party. I'll pick her up in the morning." Rick nodded. "I'd—like it if you could be around for that? For lunch?"
"You think she's ready for it?" Rick asked. He only noticed that they'd never progressed inside when Carol stepped back and gestured him through the door. Instead of immediately answering his question, she pressed her lips to his. He stopped worrying, for just a moment, about anything else but the kiss.
"I don't know if she is," Carol said. "But—I think I am. And—I think Sophia will catch up. We'll try not to make it too traumatic."
Rick smiled at her.
"I could drop by after she's home," he said. "Bring some flowers?"
"Flowers? For Sophia?" Carol asked. She almost looked like it was the greatest offering any man could ever make. Rick felt a little embarrassed by the fact that he'd been the one to suggest something that was apparently so monumental. He covered his embarrassment by initiating another kiss.
"And for her mother," Rick said, pulling apart. "Let her see—you know—how someone who's interested in her mother would come to the door."
Carol bit her lip.
"You're interested in her mother?" Carol asked.
Rick smirked at her.
They'd been dating for two months now. Things were moving slowly between them. Very slowly, really. The kissing was the most that they allowed themselves, at least to date, even if they spent all the time they could together when Sophia was doing something else—a freedom her father had never given her—or Carl was with Lori. Neither of them was in a hurry and both of them were aware of the buzzing activity of the gossip mill in town. Still, things just seemed to be working out between them. There was something there. And if Rick thought it was too cheesy to say that it was chemistry they had, he could at least say that there was just something that felt natural about their time together.
"Interested might be a little bit of an understatement," Rick admitted.
Now it was Carol's turn to smirk.
"That wasn't what I heard about the warnings you handed out at the barbecue," Carol said. "If it were you? You'd stay as far away as you could."
Rick laughed to himself and shook his head. He should have known that wouldn't keep too long.
"Yeah," Rick said. "If I were them? I would. Because I already know that—that you're already talking to someone. And that—there isn't anyone around here. In this whole town, even. That would be better for you than I would."
He almost choked on the words. They were true. They expressed how he felt, but it was still difficult to get them out.
"That's a pretty big claim," Carol said.
"And one I intend to prove," Rick assured her. "If you'll give me a chance..."
"If I were you? I'd bring daisies," Carol said. "They're Sophia's favorite."