Disclaimer: I don't own "The Walking Dead." Everything belongs to whoever owns them, my wishful thinking aside.
Authors Note #1: Revolves around the following prompt by rosyish on tumblr, "all i want now is an episode where Carol is having a nightmare and Daryl holds her."
Warnings:set in an au imagining of caryl after Negan and the saviors are dealt with, fluff, angst, drama, feelings, nightmares, Daryl's shitty home-life.
He wasn't sure how it happened.
How they ended up in one of Aaron and Eric's spare rooms after everything was said and done with the saviors. Smelling like recycled mineral-wet, Irish-spring soap and damp cotton from the shower. Replacing the rank musk of the hot blood and stale sweat from only a couple of hours before.
All he was really sure of was the moment he realized she'd gone and fallen asleep against him. Sitting shoulder to shoulder across one of the few beds the saviors hadn't taken a match to the first time around.
He hadn't done nothin' about it at first.
He'd just sat there, like a complete asshole. Enjoying it for what it was as gravity firmed her against him in strange little increments. Condensing until the point of his shoulder was aching against hers and she was sighing - sliding down, down, down - until her head was in his lap and he wasn't sure when the last time he'd breathed was.
The shower in the master bath down the hall was still running.
At this point he was pretty sure the two of them were never getting' out.
Honestly, he didn't blame them.
At the end of the day, red was no one's color.
Carol frowned in her sleep. Twitching and shifting like the world had never taught her how to relax properly. He tried to look away, to stare at the wall or the bullet-riddled road sign hanging from a hook in the corner that said: "new intersection ahead, use caution." But try as he might his eyes always drifted back. Watching the muscles play under her skin like she didn't have enough wars to fight when she was awake.
It was the whimper that killed him, though.
That made things simple.
Giving him an out for the itch in the fingers of his free hand as he slowly stretched them out. Hovering awkward in the air above her head before she turned her face into the firm of his thigh and nuzzled close. One hand teasing the outside seam of his pant leg. Self-soothing and sleepy.
His hesitated, caught in the act of hovering over the silvery wisps that fuzzed across her temple. Swallowing thickly into the quiet as the hum of crickets ebbed and flowed from the crack of the open window.
His fingers twitched, wanting to touch.
He'd always wanted to touch.
Sad truth was, he'd always been tactile in all the ways the world told him he shouldn't be. When he'd been a kid, there'd been a dress in the back of his mother's closet he'd always liked to rub across his skin. Holding a careful fistful up against his lips over and over as the silky-soft material glided across his face like a whisper.
He never saw his mother wear it, but it stayed in her closet all the same. Like a hallmark to a better time or maybe just a shit decision. A decent memory or just an impulsive buy. He regretted never asking about it, when it came down to it. Too afraid the dress would disappear forever if he did. He wondered if it was because she didn't feel all that pretty anymore. What with their old man's wandering eye and mean hands. He wondered if people would call it a metaphor considering the dress had gone up with her in the fire.
Her hair was stark against his borrowed sweat pants. Long enough now that it was threatening to curl. Like if she ever grew it out her hair would be wild with 'em. He wasn't sure what he thought about that. He figured so long as she was attached he could deal with just about anything. And pretty damn easily if he was tellin' the truth of it.
Her hair had been shorter then, back at the quarry camp. He figured it would've felt like bristles against his callouses. Now her hair just looked soft. Like secondary feathers and thick winter down. He wondered if he was wrong for wanting both. All of it. He wondered if he was allowed to be greedy like that. If there was really someone out there keeping stock - keeping score - or even making up for lost time.
He didn't used to think so.
Now, he wasn't so sure.
It wasn't even that things were different. It was more that he was different. He was still the black sheep. He still didn't quite fit in. The world had ended and he'd barely lost a thing. Hell, he'd gained more than anything. Family. Friends. Carol. Maybe even a future that meant somethin'. But now - after everyone had lost and he'd gained - things had come back around, leaving him with that much more to lose. Only this time he wasn't just going roll over let it.
Merle had always talked about how the world took shit away from him.
Teaching him by example that the odds were always against you.
The big man in Washington, D.C.
They were all corrupt.
All out to get you.
They didn't give a shit, so why even try?
Merle had accepted that.
Worse, he'd used it as an excuse.
He'd let it happen.
But that wasn't him anymore, if it'd ever been.
He was watching her face when she whimpered again.
Killing him in a way that had nothing to do with breathing.
He didn't wonder what she was dreaming about.
He didn't know if he could handle it if he did.
Sleep was a thief and a killer, best as he could figure. Some of his best memories were the ones he wasn't even sure were real. Half-wondering if he'd gone and made them up after everything that'd happened after the fire. They were snatches more than anything. Bits and pieces of memories that were probably half-true - here and there. Things that were so real, so believable in the moment - in those first few seconds after waking up - that the idea they could be fake seemed almost impossible. Memories like his mother singing, dancing around the kitchen in a barefoot prance that made him laugh and Merle roll his eyes. Memories like an old man with a gap-toothed smile showing him how his rusty old musket worked. Memories like the itch of sweet grass tickling his bare arms as the sound of the radio drifted from the open kitchen window.
His eyes closed all slow like, lulled by it until she murmured again. Syllables and vowels that might have been words as she frowned and shifted. Fingers curling tight around his worn sweats like she figured he was going to up and leave her too.
Fat chance of that.
"Hey, hey-" he hushed, finally letting himself have this as he carefully eased his fingers into the down of her hair. Stroking gently until the strands parted and let him comb through. Teasing his callouses with only half of the feeling he figured there actually was as the action grew habitual and downright addictive. "None of that, hmmm. I've got ya'- I've got ya'."
And wouldn't you know it, but the little cease that'd been bugging him all this time went and smoothed the same moment he started carding his hands through her hair. Making him smile small into the dark as the warmth of her seeped through his layers. Barely noticing when the shower down the hall finally creaked off and the building slowly settled around them.
If he went and fell asleep like that a while later, well- that was no one's business but his.
And maybe hers, come to think of it.
A/N: Thank you for reading, please let me know what you think. – This story is now complete.
cafune: (n.) the act of running your fingers through the hair of someone you love