AN: Here we go. This is just a fluffy little one shot. It comes from the prompts by therealsonia that wanted "Treasure Hunt" and "Memory Lane." I decided to combine the two.
I own nothing from the Walking Dead.
I hope that you enjoy! Let me know what you think!
At least it was Friday.
When Carol got home from work she immediately shucked off her shoes and groaned to herself over the feeling of relief that the sensation of freedom for her feet brought to her. On her way to the bedroom she shucked off her clothes and carried them with her. Naked, she stood in her closet and sorted them into clothes that had at least another wear in them and clothes that needed to go directly into the laundry. She pulled on a pair of oversized jeans and a sweatshirt before making her way to the bathroom to relieve herself for the first time since somewhere around eleven that morning. Sitting on the toilet, looking around her very familiar bathroom, Carol felt like it was the first time that she'd gotten to sit down since breakfast.
Whoever painted the picture of a teacher as an old schoolmarm that spent their whole day sitting behind a desk in a classroom full of quiet and diligent students had certainly never taught remedial high school English at Carol's place of employment. Carol doubted, in fact, that they'd ever been an educator at all. Their depictions of the profession were as unrealistic as the body work that was done on the Duke's of Hazzard where a totaled car entered the shop one day and came out ready to go the next morning. Carol always got to hear, when things like that happened on television, Daryl's rants about the entirely unrealistic depictions of his career and those who worked in it.
Maybe no profession was immune. Daryl was good at what he did, but he wasn't a magician. Carol, too, was good at what she did, but in order to be good at her job, she had a desk that she rarely ever sat behind unless she was grading or doing paperwork in the hours when school wasn't in session and students weren't present.
Carol was thankful to have the job, though. She was thankful to have had Daryl's support in getting the job. He'd stuck by her through finishing her degree that had laid dormant for so many years—believing she could do it even when she didn't—and he'd seen her through the early struggles of searching for a job. And, even though people had told her that achieving a higher level of education than Daryl would end her relationship, Daryl had been sitting in the front row at her graduation, more dressed up than she'd ever seen him and smiling like he was the proudest man on Earth.
He wanted her to have what made her happy. He wanted her to have the education and a better job than the diner job she'd had where she'd been working for little more than tips. He wanted her to have the little house that they'd bought together so that she could be proud of where she lived. He wanted her to have the reliable car even if he had to spend half his weekends working on his own just to make sure that it would get him to work in the upcoming week. He wanted Carol to have everything.
And Carol wasn't used to any of it because her only prior serious relationship had been with her ex-husband and had lasted for five years. Ed hadn't wanted Carol to have anything because having nothing kept her reliant on him. It kept her under his control.
Daryl didn't want to control Carol. He just wanted her to be happy. What he didn't seem to understand—or maybe just didn't believe yet—was that he made her happy. The rest was nice, but it was just icing on the cake. Carol was happy with Daryl. It was Daryl—just being who he was—that made her happy.
As her own sort of show of thanks and appreciation for all that Daryl did, Carol did everything that she could to make sure that Daryl lived the home-life of a king—or at least as close as she could make it.
They took care of each other.
Carol's next stop, after she'd taken care of all of her immediate after-work needs, was always to go straight to the kitchen to figure out what she'd prepare for dinner so that it could be ready to go on the table soon after Daryl got home from work.
Carol stopped short, though, just before she opened the freezer door. Held in place by a fruit shaped magnet was an envelope that had the word "stop" boldly scrawled on it with "open this" written below it in a lighter hand. Daryl had left it there, Carol could tell by the handwriting, and immediately she hoped that she wasn't going to open it to reveal something like an explanation as to why she was going to find something bizarre in the freezer. She plucked the envelope off the freezer door and opened it to find two pieces of paper inside. The first was a rough sort of drawing and the second was a letter. Carol decided to read the note before trying to decipher the artwork.
No dinner tonight. I'm taking care of it.
I know you're tired, but you're going on a treasure hunt. I hope you'll like the treasure. Go to the location on the first map. X marks the spot.
It was very nearly cryptic.
Daryl had been right about one thing, Carol was tired. However, this was something so unusual for Daryl that Carol had to admit that she was intrigued. She looked at the drawing in her hand—evidently the first map—and hoped that she could decipher, in some way, where she was expected to be or what she should do there. Knowing his limitations at art, though, Daryl had anticipated Carol's difficulties and had gone so far as to label the map.
It took her less than three minutes to figure out that the map would lead her downtown to the diner where she used to work. Carol apologized to her feet, slipped into a comfortable pair of old sneakers, and grabbed her purse and keys from where she'd dropped them on her way in the door. She got in the car and navigated her way to the diner, all the while wondering if she should call Daryl and how she would know what she was supposed to do when she got there.
She didn't have to ask herself the question long, though.
As soon as Carol parked her car outside the diner and walked through the door, her old boss met her with a smile and envelope. Carol asked if he knew what this might be about, but he just shook his head at her and offered her a cup of coffee at the bar. She accepted it and sat down on a stool to examine the contents of the second envelope.
This was the first place I ever saw you. You waited on me for breakfast and laughed about how hungover I was because I went out with Merle the night before. I drank enough coffee that day that I couldn't half work for the day because my hands wouldn't stop shaking, but I didn't want you to stop filling up the cup. I never left a twenty dollar tip before.
I asked you out three weeks later. I'm still surprised you said yes.
Thanks for that.
Carol smiled to herself while she read the note. She fixed the cup of coffee that was offered to her—needed after a long day at work but also a reminder of the coffee that she'd served Daryl—and she drank it while she examined the second map. In the same manner as the first, Daryl had labelled enough of the map that Carol could tell what it was supposed to be, even if she'd have been lost without his assistance.
Carol offered to pay for the coffee and then gave her thanks when she was told that it was on the house. She got back in her car, envelope in hand, and drove through town to the bowling alley. At this hour it was starting to get busy—it was a popular Friday night destination for people in a town that had relatively little else to offer in the way of entertainment—and Carol was concerned that it wasn't going to prove nearly as easy as the diner had been to figure out. She found a spot, parked her car, and walked swiftly through the parking lot.
A stranger held the door for her and Carol walked in and looked around. There were no familiar faces and there was nothing that was simply standing out to her as some kind of indication that she was in the right place. She stepped up to the counter and one of the young people that worked there came over and asked her if she wanted to buy a game.
"I don't know," Carol admitted. She leaned across the counter to keep her voice as low as possible. "I'm on a treasure hunt that my boyfriend set up. And—this is where he told me to go. Do you happen to know anything about it?"
In response, the young man held a finger up to her to signal that she should wait and he disappeared into the back office of the bowling alley. A moment later the man she knew to be the manager walked out.
"Carol?" He asked.
Carol nodded her head. The manager produced an envelope, folded in half, which he handed to her.
"Do you know what this is about?" Carol asked.
"Didn't ask," the man said. "Man paid me ten bucks to hand you an envelope when you got in here. It ain't none of my business what's in it. And—if you catch my drift—I ain't sure I even wanna know."
Carol realized that he might be thinking that this was something illegal or illicit. He might be thinking it was something he wanted no more dealing with than he had to have to earn the ten bucks. His ignorance was his safety.
Carol shook her head at him and laughed to herself.
"It's nothing like that," she promised him. "I don't know what it is, exactly, but it's nothing like that."
"Not my business," he said, holding his hands up in something like mock surrender.
Carol thanked him for his help and took the envelope with her as she walked into the entrance area of the building and pressed herself against the wall to get out of the way of the people who were going here and there to buy snacks and rent shoes. Inside the envelope, she found what she already knew would be there. She unfolded the letter.
This was where we went on our first date. You didn't like it at first because you thought I was going to be mad you beat me. I wasn't mad. You also didn't beat me. I threw gutter balls on purpose because you got so excited every time your score was higher than mine. I never bowled so bad as I do when I'm with you. I never enjoyed it so much either.
Thank you for the kiss you gave me that night as a condolence prize. I'd lose to you daily for the prize.
The next map, drawn almost exactly like the other two, took Carol to a place that she knew very well. She hardly had to look at the drawing to recognize it. She smiled, even, at the tiny depiction that Daryl drew of the single-wide trailer that they'd shared for the first year and a half that they were together.
Carol drove there wondering where the hunt might end. Her stomach was growling and her eyes were a little blurry—and she'd blame it on fatigue even if that wasn't the whole truth—but she was enjoying herself. She forgot about her hunger when she reached the familiar road of the trailer park and had to let her muscle memory take over to remind her exactly which of the little side roads would take her to the right place. The trailer park was just outside of town and it had changed a good bit since they'd moved out of there, but Carol knew the right spot when she saw it.
She was concerned about what she should do there. The house didn't belong to her anymore. The person who lived there didn't know her and they didn't know Daryl. They were reaching the hour of the evening when it wasn't quite light and it wasn't quite dark. This wasn't exactly the hour that she wanted to go pulling up to some stranger's house and knocking on their door.
But she didn't have to.
As Carol slowed down, trying to decide if she was committed to turning in the driveway or not, she noticed an envelope taped to the front of the mailbox. She pulled slightly off the side of the road and brought the car to a stop. She got out, leaving the motor running so as to signal that she wasn't in any distress and wasn't planning on staying, and she grabbed the envelope with her name scrawled across the front of it. It was sealed shut, but the seal was fairly fresh and peeled open easily and intact. She felt, even though she wasn't sure, that she must be getting close to the end of her journey because Daryl—or at least she had good reason to believe that it was him—couldn't be that far ahead of her.
Following suit with how she'd handled things before, Carol got back in the car and sat for a moment with the overhead light on. She pulled out both pieces of paper and took the note in hand first while the folded map rested on the seat beside her.
This trailer was the first place that I ever really felt like I had a home. You made it feel that way. I didn't ever want to say that moving out of it to go to our house wasn't easy. You make our house feel like home now too so I'm pretty sure it isn't the house.
Carol unfolded the map and looked at it in the faint glow of the overhead light. It would be getting dark soon and the game would grow more difficult. She identified the location on the map, but she sat there for a moment and second guessed herself. She turned the map around twice, the location never changing, like it might become clear how she was mistaking the new destination. Finally, though, satisfied that she knew exactly where she was going, Carol put the car in drive and steered it back on the road. One last glance back at the old trailer that they'd called home and Carol directed her car toward the place that she called home now.
The place where she'd started this whole adventure.
When she got there, the porch lights were on and Daryl's truck was in the driveway. Carol pulled up beside his truck, killed the engine in the car, and sat there a moment gathering up the envelopes and pieces of paper that she fully intended to keep to put them in her purse.
She had no idea what had inspired Daryl to do such a thing, but she had to admit that she'd enjoyed the little run that he'd taken her on. Her only concern, now, was that she was starving and she knew that he would be too—but she hadn't made dinner and she really wasn't feeling energetic enough to dress for going out to eat.
She got out the car, her purse in hand, and walked to the house. The wooden front door was open and Carol let herself into the glass door and dropped her purse right inside it—right where she always did—before she called out to Daryl. He didn't respond and Carol walked into the kitchen.
Sitting on the counter were paper bags packed with Chinese food from her favorite take out place. She stopped by them long enough to look into the bag at the cartons that were gathered there. On the kitchen table there was a single candle burning—one that looked to be from their emergency candles—so Carol knew that Daryl had to be there somewhere.
"Daryl?" She called out again. "Daryl—I'm home. I liked your litte...thing. Your treasure hunt. Where are you?"
"You don't gotta yell," Daryl said, coming from the bedroom. He was still wearing his work clothes, but it was clear that he must have stepped away long enough to wash his hands and his face. The skin on his face and neck was still pink and blotchy like it sometimes got when he insisted on washing with water that was far too hot. "I'm right here."
Carol smiled at him.
"I liked your treasure hunt," she repeated.
His face grew a little pinker, but it wasn't from the water this time. He offered her the sideways smirk that he always gave her when he was a little embarrassed by her praise.
"Can't take credit for it," he said. "At least—not all of it. Seen something like it on t.v."
"But you were the one who did it," Carol said. "And you were the one who set it up. I think that's a pretty good indication of where the credit should go, even if the idea wasn't all yours."
Daryl stood there, staring at her, looking like he was struggling to swallow. He glanced around like he was looking for something he'd never seen before in a kitchen that Carol knew that he knew very well.
"Couldn't come up with a good ending point," Daryl said. "I mean—it's Friday and I know you don't really...you don't like to go out on Friday because you're tired and that's when we usually just sort of watch t.v. and just..."
"Veg?" Carol offered, stepping in to help him. He looked thankful for her offer of the word and nodded his head at her suggestion. "I think it's a nice ending place," Carol said. "It's creative to have it come full circle. Have it end where it started. Besides, it's my favorite place to be. And—you're my favorite person to be here with."
Daryl's face flushed the same pink color and he fidgeted a bit more. Carol might not have known what she was expecting, but she knew that she hadn't expected what she got. Daryl reached in his pocket and pulled out the tell-tale traditional velvet box. He held it out to her. Her expression must have given her away because he laughed to himself.
"Man wouldn't I feel like an ass if it weren't what you think it is," Daryl said. "But—I told you that you would get a treasure. And—uh—I hope you like it. I mean—I hope you want it. Figured that this was maybe the best place to ask since it's..." He shrugged and Carol understood that he was struggling with his words. On paper it was easier. On paper he could see them. He could ball it up and throw it away if it wasn't what he wanted. He couldn't see her face and he wasn't getting a live feed of her reaction. He'd always written cards with more ease and more clarity than he'd ever managed to say something across the table. "It's our home," Daryl added quietly.
Carol didn't have to look at the ring. She didn't have to open the box. She stepped forward and caught his face in her hands and she kissed him. He staggered back, overwhelmed with her response for a second, but immediately came back to meet her. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into him.
And then he pushed her off enough to put some distance between them and smiled at her again.
"That a yes?" He asked.
"It's a definite yes," she said.
Daryl hesitated a moment, a little surprised—even if it was entirely without reason—that Carol had accepted his stumbled proposal, and then he smiled at her again once he'd relaxed and cocked an eyebrow in her direction.
"You don't even want to look at it?" He asked. "Make sure it's really something you wanna say yes to? It might not even be a very nice ring." He cracked the box open and flashed the diamond ring at her. He waved it a little like he was trying to entice her to take the box.
And she would take it, soon enough, because she'd be proud to wear his ring and she knew that he'd be proud to see her wear it. And whether or not it was the nicest ring that ever had been made, Carol would make sure that she made Daryl feel like it was.
Because Daryl would think that a nice ring would make Carol happy. And thinking that Carol thought the ring was the nicest one ever would make Daryl happy. And Carol knew that, at the end of it all, the ring didn't matter at all—but Daryl's happiness did.
Carol shook her head.
"It's beautiful," Carol said, even though she'd barely focused on the diamond that Daryl still held in his hand. "But I don't need to look at it," she said. "You're all the treasure I need."