Daryl, Carol - one shot. Post-Pretty Much Dead Already. Holy crap do I love all these characters.


He doesn't know a lot about women.

Hell, he's never really been around women. He was three years old when his mother died, from a lethal combination of cancer and spousal neglect. He doesn't really remember her anyways, except for the colour of her hair and the tiny tattoo of a heart she had on the inside of her wrist. He used to rub his fingers over it, checking to see if any of the ink had leached out onto his own skin, and she used to laugh and kiss his head when he'd find nothing on his fingers.

The women his father would bring home didn't count, not really. Most of the time he never even saw their faces, only the shadows playing off of their features as they would stumble into the house, drunk beyond belief, falling and laughing their way over to the bedroom in the back. On those nights, he used to sneak into Merle's room to sleep in there, but that stopped when Merle got too old, and soon enough his brother was bringing his own version of the women downstairs home with him.

When he got older, old enough to leave, he worked down at the lumber yard, loading trucks and moving boxes. It didn't pay all that much, but it paid enough for him to get a trailer in the park just outside the town, where he could keep his stuff and where he could come home and sleep, uninterrupted. There was a girl who worked at the front desk of the office, but she was the manager's daughter, and she didn't allow herself to even speak to someone like him. He didn't care. It wasn't like girls had ever really talked with him to begin with.

The years passed on, and his father died, so he took back the old house and lived there alone, working at the yard and hunting on the side. Merle spent most of his time in Atlanta, employed as some sort of mechanic at an industrial garage on the outskirts of the city, but he would come home nearly every week to drink beer and get high, wandering around the woods beyond the town. He still brought those same girls home, though they were women now, some sneaking off at night, away from their husbands, to fall into bed with his "badass" brother.

It's not like he's never been with a woman. He's had his own fair share of bar nights that end with sloppy kisses and discarded clothes, but he rarely remembers their names and never - absolutely never - stays. He rolls off of them, grabs his pants and shirt, and walks out the door, repeating the same sort of behaviour he's seen his entire life. Better him leaving now than them leaving him later, he always thinks. This way, he's got the control, the power.

But then the world ended.

When the shit hit the fan, he found his brother and went off into the woods, with only the truck and the bike and their weapons to take with them. They soon found another group of survivors, a group with water and supplies and tents, so they stayed with them for a while, partially because Merle had his eye on the older blonde girl, because she "looked like a challenge". But then Merle got left behind and Carl got shot and Sophia...

Sophia.

When he thought about that little girl, he couldn't help but think of himself in the woods, scared and lost and confused. He couldn't help but think about how he'd spent nine days and nine nights eating bugs and drinking dirty water and sleeping curled up under a pile of leaves. No one had come looking for him. He wouldn't let that happen again. Not to Sophia, and certainly not to Carol.

Carol, who had thanked him with her words and her eyes, that first night as he tracked her little girl's steps through the woods. Carol, who had brought him food and kissed him on the forehead. Carol, who had told him he was worth something, that he was valued and appreciated and good. Carol, who had told him that she couldn't bear to lose him, too.

He didn't quite know how to feel about any of those things.

His last, most vivid memory of his mother is her in the hospital, hooked up to what seemed like a thousand different monstrous machines, all beeping and buzzing and pumping liquid into the tubes in her arms. He'd clutched his bear closer to his little chest, and it had taken a hard slap on the rump from his father to push him closer to the bed. She'd smiled at him, and pulled him as close as she could without disconnecting from the life-giving machines, and she'd told him that she loved him and that she'd always be there for him. And then she left forever.

That's why he'd pulled away from Carol that day in the stables, that's why he'd answered with the only thing he'd ever known: anger. Because when you care for someone and they care for you, they leave you behind when they move on, and you're left with a hollow place in your heart where they used to be, and he can't take that, not anymore.

At least he thought he couldn't.

But when that last, little walker comes out of the barn, and it looks up to them with Sophia's eyes, he knows he doesn't have a choice anymore. Because he's grabbed her as she runs forward blindly to her daughter and he holds her body against his, tight and warm, protecting her from herself. He realizes then that he doesn't have a say in this anymore; that this woman has somehow wormed her way inside him, and there's a place for her in his heart now. So he holds her as she cries, both of them kneeling in the dirt and the grime, and though he doesn't quite know what will come at them next, he knows he won't have to face it all alone.

He may not know a lot about women, but he's learning, slowly, about how to be a man.