AN: The new episode of Walking Dead, "Judge Jury and Executioner", has given me so many stories jumping around in my head. Angst, sadness, and new beginnings. I am really excited now. So um... enjoy this, whatever it is. :P As always, I don't own this franchise, but the writing is my own.
All my love.
They hadn't buried Dale yet.
Daryl was away from the group, washing his hands in the rain basin. He was pale and shaking as he splashed the cool water over his face. He stared at his bruised and bloodied knuckles as the water dripped off his face. He couldn't face the rest of them right then. They would all want to talk. They'd all be grieving, and Daryl just couldn't handle that.
Daryl was no stranger to death, and he wasn't shy when it came to protecting the group, but this was too much to bear.
He had been the first on the scene, but he'd been too late.
He'd watched Dale's abdomen be ripped open by a walker.
It had been a horribly long day, with a planned execution that was called off, his own little stint as Rick's interrogator and that damn kid trussed up in the shed.
It was almost too much.
Daryl didn't even flinch. He was tired and wasn't in the mood to talk to anyone. He leaned against the side of the house, arching his back and pressing his hands flat against the building, staring at the dark water in the barrel.
"Are you okay?" Carol asked. Her voice was hoarse and she sounded like she'd been crying.
Daryl lifted his head to look at Carol over his shoulder.
"Yeah." He replied gruffly.
Carol eyed him suspiciously. Daryl stood up straight and stepped closer to her.
"What do you want?" He asked.
"To find out if you're all right." Carol replied.
"Because of Dale?"
Carol shrugged. "Because of the entire day." She sighed. "You just take everything in silently. You barely talk to anyone. You just..." She frowned and turned her eyes away from Daryl.
"Just what?" Daryl asked, more aggressively than he meant to. "Say it." He dared. "I spent half my day torturing a kid for information, then was on his execution team. When that fell through I was on watch duty and y'know what? I woulda done the job then and there for Rick. But no, then I heard Dale screaming and I was too late, so I pulled the trigger." He scowled. "I'm not a good person. That what you wanted to hear?"
She didn't know where her sudden strength came from, but fire flashed inside Carol just long enough for her to deliver a stinging slap to the side of Daryl's face.
They both stood there, shocked and staring at one another. Carol would never have dared to raise a hand against Ed, never dreamed of harming another human. And yet Daryl had just infuriated her beyond rational thought.
Carol steeled herself for retaliation but set her jaw in grim determination; Daryl was going to hear her out.
"You don't like what you hear?" Daryl asked sarcastically, biting back his rage and ignoring the sting in his face.
"Why do you do this?" Carol asked. "I thought..."
"What?" Daryl interrupted. "Thought I was a decent person?" He snorted a laugh. "Yeah, Dale thought that too."
Carol's eyes went wide, searching his face. She was out of her depth and she felt like she was being crushed. He was incorrigible, he wouldn't back down from a fight until she saw his way of things. She stared up at his tired face, he was still pale and he looked like he was sick.
"Daryl..." Carol said quietly. She inched forward and reached out for him.
Daryl flinched away from her touch. "Go away. I ain't the man you think I am."
Carol narrowed her eyes. "Stop it." She snapped. "Daryl, please. You're being insane."
"You don't think this whole situation is insane?" Daryl hissed angrily. "I tortured a kid today. To protect this group!" Daryl shook his head. "And lookit where it got us! I wasn't fast enough to save Dale."
"That wasn't your fault. And one has nothing to do with the other!" Carol told him gently. "It was an accident. It was a walker, there was nothing you could do!"
"Do you know where I was?" Daryl asked suddenly, his voice dropping to an almost inaudible tone. "When Dale was on patrol, do you know what I was doing?"
Carol's eyes went wide. There was something of the old Daryl in him. The meanness, the violence, it scared her. She slowly shook her head, afraid to hear what Daryl was about to reveal.
"I was in the barn." Daryl said slowly, his mouth turned into a snarl. "I had that kid trussed up an' I was sharpening this knife." He drew his bowie knife and flashed it dangerously in front of Carol. It was still covered the walker's blood.
Daryl ignored her plea. "I was going to do what Rick couldn't. I was going to finish this whole thing once and for all." His eyes flashed with an animal hunger, a lust for violence that Carol recognized from her years with Ed.
"Daryl, that isn't your place." Carol pleaded, reaching out again for his hand.
Daryl pulled away from her. He growled and threw his knife against the house. The bowie knife smacked into the wood of the house, the blade making a twanging noise as it stuck halfway to the hilt.
"You want to tell me that I'm a decent man?" He asked, infuriated. "Go on, Carol. Tell me I'm decent. I beat the shit out of that kid today. He couldn't fight back and the more he talked the more I hurt him. Do I regret it?" Daryl shrugged to answer his own question. "I will kill him if Rick can't."
"Shut up." Carol said sternly. Her voice was quiet, beaten down but her resolve was firm.
"You wear this tough guy facade and make yourself seem like you don't care." Carol accused quietly. Her voice was barely above a whisper but it was enough to make Daryl listen. "You never say anything until you're pissed off and even then, you only ever argue with Shane. You aren't like your brother, Daryl." Carol's eyes were pleading, sad and hurt all at the same time. Her face was lined with worry. Maybe, she thought, she was wasting her time.
"You don't know that." Daryl whispered.
"I do." Carol replied. "You nearly killed yourself, you took an arrow and a bullet looking for Sophia. You refused to give up when everyone else had. You sat with me in the RV after..." She hesitated but looking at Daryl, knowing the pain he had to have been feeling and wanting to help him strengthened her resolve. "You sat with me after we found Sophia." A small smile touched her lips. "You brought me flowers."
Daryl's eye twitched and he looked away from her. "Doesn't mean anything." He muttered.
"It means something to me." Carol insisted, taking his hand. "Dale's death wasn't your fault. You proved that you're a decent man when you showed him mercy."
"I shot him like a dog." Daryl retorted, spitting the words like acid.
Carol shook her head. "You did a hard thing. You ended his suffering. That wasn't an easy thing to do... Rick couldn't do it." She stepped closer, still holding his hand. "You're angry, Daryl, I can see that, but you use it to hide whatever is really going on in your head. You told us about what Randall said – about how his people raped those girls." She bit her lips nervously, praying silently that she wasn't making a mistake. "I saw it in you, you were appalled. You nearly killed him then, but you didn't."
"I wanted to." Daryl admitted with a shake of his head. "You just... you just don't do that."
Carol nodded and reached up to touch his cheek. "Decent." She told him.
Daryl stared at her for a long moment.
"I won't tell anyone." Carol offered.
Daryl allowed himself a moment of weakness. He leaned forward and rested his head against Carol's shoulder. He relaxed as he felt her hand against his back, holding him there.
"I dunno what to do anymore." Daryl mumbled into the crook of Carol's neck. He was tired, broken and she'd seen right through him. His 'tough guy' persona wasn't fake, he was who he was, but there were some things he'd done that set his morality on shaky ground at best. The day's events had shaken him.
Carol frowned, holding this man in her arms. She had been convinced that there was no scrap of compassion left in him and here he was. All but crying.
"You do what's right." She said finally, running her fingers through his messy hair. "You do what you need to do to survive, but in the end you always do what's right."
"Why do you care what happens to me?" Daryl asked after a long silence. He still hadn't moved from his spot stooped over and leaning into Carol's shoulder.
"You aren't like everyone else." Carol said quietly. "You've drawn these lines in the sand to keep everyone away, but sometimes the lines get a little more blurred and you show us... show me who you really are." she rested her chin against his head. "You're decent, Daryl. Despite what you think."
Daryl sighed, his breath warm against Carol's skin. She closed her eyes, completely unsure about where this was going to go. He was so unresponsive to her compliments, to her advances. And he let his anger get the better of him.
But through it all, she knew that deep down he'd never do anything to intentionally hurt the group. He'd never hurt her. He wasn't like the others. He wasn't impulsive and psychotic like Shane, he wasn't afraid and cautious like Rick. As much as he swore he was a lone wolf he still came back to check on his pack, and he paid special attention to Carol.
Daryl finally pulled away from Carol, staring her in the eyes. Carol could see the confusion in his face. The pain, the grief over losing Dale.
"What do I do now?" He asked quietly. "If I'm so damn decent?"
"You go on living." Carol replied. "And you don't change for anyone."
Daryl nodded, he wasn't sure he was a decent man, but by God, he was gonna try.