This takes place immediately after the first season and before the second. It's designed to be a bit of a series. Also I feel the relationship between Daryl and Carol is purely platonic and will write it as such, but feel free to read it how you like.
A strong wind blew through the skeletal limbs of the trees and nearly toppled Carol over as she wandered through the dying forest. As she rounded the wide trunk of an ancient oak she saw her husband, Ed with his back to her, staring out over a lake, smoking. She approached him cautiously and reached out a tentative hand to his shoulder. Before she could make contact he snatched her wrist in a bone crushing grip and whirled around to face her. Carol recoiled in utter terror, the face of her husband, so commonly distorted by unwarranted rage was nothing but a gaping hole of caved in gore.
Carol woke with a startled gasp and sat up straight. She rubbed her hands over her face, pressing her knuckles into her closed eyes trying to wipe the image away. After calming herself she looked over to her daughter. Little Sophia was still soundly sleeping, the picture of an angel. No matter how dark her life got, Carol always felt peace watching her daughter sleep. She was the light of her life. The mother lay down again. There were no sounds in the camp, everyone finally having settled in for the night. They had driven for hours on end to get as far from the beacon that the burning CDC building had become but with the sun setting the decision was made to stop for the night. With the final hours of sun they found a decent enough area just off the highway to set up a makeshift camp. The vehicles were parked in the semblance of a circle and tents set up inside to provide a bit more protection. The entire group was somewhat shocked when Daryl Dixon offered to take first watch for the night, but with the stress of the day no one else felt up to denying the pull of sleep. Rick handed him a rifle with a grateful nod, the same rifle Merle had used those days ago in Atlanta, and led Lori and Carl to their tent. Andrea and Dale were already in the RV and with one last, slightly suspicious look to the hunter climbing atop it, Shane joined them. T-Dog and Glenn opted to share one tent while of course Carol and Sophia had another.
Feeling restless and knowing she wouldn't find sleep again any time soon, Carol looked over Sophia before quietly slipping out of the tent. Upon exiting she found she had actually slept longer than she had originally thought. The sky was just beginning to show signs of lightening, it couldn't be more than an hour or two before sunrise. Looking up to the RV she was surprised to see Daryl still sitting there in the old lawn chair, rifle propped up next to him and his trusty crossbow resting in his lap with bolt already knocked ready for immediate action. He wasn't supposed to stand watch the whole night, no one was. They always took a few hours shift before waking one of the others to take over. Carol couldn't understand why he hadn't.
Daryl was such an enigma. No one quite knew what to think of the two Dixons when they first came across them on that crowded highway, but when they were set upon by a group of walkers and the brothers dispatched them with brutal efficiency, no one could deny that they were good to have in a tight situation. It was the only reason Shane seemed willing to let them hang around. Why they even wanted to, Carol couldn't say. The older, Merle, was larger than life and seemed to be the spokesperson of the pair. For all his bluster and unpredictability, Daryl said very little and kept to himself for the most part. He was never really around the others unless with his brother. Merle and Ed were very similar so Carol steered well clear of him, and Daryl by proxy. But when Daryl came stalking out of the woods one day dragging a young buck along behind him and set about preparing it for everyone in the group to eat, she began to see the youngest Dixon in a different light. He didn't have to hunt for everyone, no one had asked him to, but without a thought he had provided enough food for everyone for a good while. Carol began to think that maybe, just maybe, there was more to Daryl than met the eye. Merle, however; Merle didn't look too pleased at all and that night after dinner had been prepared the two brothers retreated back to their slightly more separate area of the camp. The next morning Carol found herself actively looking for the younger Dixon, she couldn't exactly say why, other than she had seen that look Merle had given him the night before. It was a look Ed had given her on many an occasion and pain typically followed it. When she came to the area the Dixons occupied she found only Merle polishing his bike and so quickly retreated. Before she got very far though, she heard the zipper door of one of the small tents and out stepped Daryl in the process of buttoning one of his trademark sleeveless shirts over an old tank top. Carol thought she caught a glimpse of a scar running under the young man's collar bone but before she could think more on that he levelled a slightly questioning but mostly annoyed look at her and she couldn't help but notice he sported a split lip and bruising along the jaw that hadn't been there the night before. . .
"You gonna stand there staring at me all night?"
The rough yet somehow impossibly quiet voice snapped Carol back to the present to see that same annoyed look levelled at her from the man atop the RV. She was so lost in her thoughts she hadn't realized that she had been standing there for a while now. Having heard someone exit the tent and then no further movement must have drawn Daryl's attention.
"Sorry," Carol whispered and disappeared back inside her tent. Rather than staying and trying to go back to sleep, Carol emerged a moment later with a blanket draped around her shoulders and another clasped in her hands. She climbed the ladder to the roof of the RV and stood next to the hunter. He looked at her with a sideways glance but otherwise didn't acknowledge her presence. Hesitating for a moment, Carol dropped the extra blanket onto the young man's shoulders. Her hand briefly brushed the skin on his shoulder and she was dismayed to find it cold to the touch. Though the days were sweltering, the nights had a tendency to be cool at times, and this was one of those times. Daryl started at the unexpected gesture and cast a questioning glare at her but, she noticed with some measure of relief, he didn't refuse the offered blanket either.
"You might catch a chill." Was all she offered. Daryl turned back to his watch with a huff, though he did adjust the blanket to better keep himself warm.
It wasn't an overt invitation, but it wasn't an all out rejection either so Carol sat next to him. She surreptitiously glanced back at him. He was sitting relaxed, one booted foot on the roof, the other on the lip of the chair. His right hand resting over his crossbow while he nibbled absently on the tip of the middle finger on his left. His gaze was fixed on the horizon admiring the sparkling stars fading out around the still visible glow of the burning CDC but flicking every so often to glance around the surrounding area to ensure they were safe. Carol could tell her presence unsettled him a bit by the way he slightly leaned away from her, but he put up a stoic front.
"Why didn't you get someone else to take over?" Carol ventured to ask, breaking the silence that enveloped them.
Daryl just gave a shrug, "Ain't like I was gonna do much sleeping anyway."
Carol had noticed that Daryl didn't seem to be able to sit still much, he was always doing something in the camp when the rest of them were resting. When she thought about it though, she couldn't remember the last time she had seen him actually go to his tent and presumably sleep there. She assumed he had gotten some at the CDC at least. It couldn't have been much though and before all that he had been out in the forest hunting the deer, then immediately set off to find his brother in the city. Then of course they had run back to the camp when they were set on by those walkers and poor Amy and Ed had... That night he hadn't slept either, helping to clear the camp of of the dead.
"Have trouble sleeping?" She asked.
Again he gave a shrug. "Don't need much I guess."
"We'll be on the road again today." She looked from the horizon back to Daryl, "Its not safe to drive if you're tired."
He looked briefly at her before looking away again, eyebrows drawn together. "I'm fine."
Seeing that the questioning and concern was beginning to annoy him, Carol relented. Silence reigned again for a while. The sky was starting to turn a lighter violet heralding the arrival of the sun.
"I'm sorry about your brother." Carol wasn't even sure why she said it, just that it seemed like something that needed to be said. She can't deny that she felt safer with Merle gone from the camp but she certainly wasn't blind either, she saw how the news of his brother being left on that roof affected Daryl. God help her but she was happy when Merle didn't come back with the others. She wasn't worried simply for her and her daughter's sake when he was around, but for Daryl too, not that she would risk telling him that. That day after he brought the buck for them all was the first time she saw an unexplained hurt on him, but it wasn't the last. In the short time she had known the brothers she lost count of how many times she caught the youngest favouring his side or limping, or sporting cuts and bruises that couldn't be explained from hunting or encountering walkers. The others may not have noticed, but well, she had experience in hiding hurts and could spot someone doing the same from a mile away. "For what it's worth." She amended.
Daryl turned to look at her, really scrutinize her. He had a dark look about him, his eyes hard and a deep crease between his brows. Carol was paralysed by the intense gaze, in that instant she remembered just how dangerous this man could be. Whatever he was looking for, he must have found and was satisfied with it because after a few moments he looked away again.
"Weren't your fault. Nothing to 'pologize for." He answered at length. His voice was quiet, withdrawn and spoke of weariness.
That surprised Carol, it was not something to be expected from Daryl, a man who by all accounts is considered hot-headed at the best of times. In that moment, Carol saw not the brash young man prone to violence at the drop of a hat, but a boy, worn out and beat down by the world.
"'sides," he continued without prompting, "Asshole shoulda just stayed where he was and not run off. 'stead he just left me with-" Daryl glanced to Carol and she saw him censor himself, "He just left. He had to know I'd come get 'im."
There was something in Daryl's voice that made Carol really look at him again. A note of, if she was not mistaken, hurt. The hunter wasn't looking out to the gradually brightening sky, but down at his lap, teeth working at the tip of his index finger now.
"You think maybe he'd make his way back to the quarry?" She inquired
Daryl actually seemed to consider that for a moment before dismissing it with a snort. "If he did, he'd bring Hell with him."
Carol couldn't deny that she thought the same thing. He wouldn't be happy to see Rick and the others any time soon and if he were to find them again he would be looking for revenge, of that she had no doubt.
"Nah," he continued, "Ain't nothin' for him to come back for."
Carol looked up at the hunter, her eyes watery. He couldn't really think that, could he? That his own brother wouldn't think him worth coming back for? Then again, she knew how poisonous thoughts could take hold of your mind and refuse to let go. When someone told you, you weren't worth anything, after a while it tended to stick.
Then, even quieter if that was possible, his voice barely audible, Daryl added, "He's always been good at going missing though, never around when you need 'im." He let his hand drop to his lap, finger tips red and irritated. "Guess that's why I got some kinda decent at tracking things down. Me always chasing after him."
In that moment, Carol realized, she was given a glimpse into the truth of Daryl Dixon. Here was a man who could face down and decimate the walking dead without an ounce of fear but who was terrified of being abandoned, cast aside and seen as useless. Yes he was hurt and angry over what happened with his brother in Atlanta, but it wasn't directed at the group as everyone thought. It was directed at his brother for not trusting in him to find him, not thinking him capable, and for leaving him behind. Here was a boy left alone in a hostile world by the only family he had left.
Carol found she didn't know quite what to do then. The mother in her wanted to reach out and comfort, but the woman who had lived under the heavy hand of her husband knew that such an attempt might not be welcome. She opted then to just sit with him to let him know that he wasn't alone just by her presence there. The unusual pair sat in a not uncomfortable silence and watched the sky blaze a golden hue as the sun crested the horizon.
"You should probably go on back to your girl." Prompted Daryl, "She won't want to wake up and find you missing."
Of course Carol knew he was right, but she couldn't help but want to sit with him some more. She felt like she had made some headway into the riddle of this man. She had learned that there was a lot more behind his gruff exterior than the group gave him credit for and she found that he was willing enough to open up on his own if given enough time. He just needed someone to sit and listen to him for a change, rather than talk at him. Carol truly felt that she was coming to understand this man and she hoped that he realized that he was worth something to them and he wasn't alone.
With a nod Carol stood and made her way to the ladder.
"Hey," Daryl called to her and she turned around. He was holding out the blanket she had brought him. "...thanks."
Carol smiled and accepted the blanket. One look into his soulful blue eyes and she knew he wasn't talking about just that.
"You're always welcome."