The small fire had died down to a brilliant ring of orange embers; just the way they wanted it. Daryl had taken watch for a few hours while the others slept and as the time neared for him to wake Rick, he grew antsy.
Tension had been a prominent factor among the group as it was, but what happened the night prior and the day following had changed everything, it had more than taken them by surprise. Not only had they had to flee their temporary safe haven, leaving behind Andrea, but Rick had told them he'd killed Shane and they were all infected with whatever this virus was.
Daryl looked at his arms in the dying light of the fire. He held them straight out in front of him, imagining the virus flowing freely through his veins. It pissed him off, but there wasn't much that didn't. No matter what, aside from a mortal head wound, they would each become the geeks they'd been battling for months.
So far so good tonight though, hadn't heard a peep aside from the group tossing and turning near the campfire.
"Rick." He laid a hand on Rick's bony shoulder and he came up off the large bolder he'd been leaning against faster than Daryl had expected, knocking into his crossbow.
"Hey." Daryl complained. "Just wanted to wake you so I could get some kindlin' for the fire. Haven't heard nothin' so far, been quiet as death."
Rick winced at his choice of words and nodded, looking groggy. "Give a holler if you need me and be quick." Rick started to place his hand on Daryl's shoulder but Daryl backed up before he could. From Rick's nod, Daryl knew he understood. They'd formed an uneasy alliance, but Rick knew Daryl liked his space.
Lori was curled up with Carl the furthest from Rick as she could get. As far as he knew they hadn't spoken since they came back from having their talk and Rick had told everyone what he'd done to Shane.
He hadn't done nothin' Daryl hadn't wanted to do months ago. Shane had made sense at times but he'd been off his rocker lately and it stood to reason that things would come to blows with him and Rick. It hadn't been a shock, and it wouldn't surprise him if Lori and Rick fell apart because of it.
Daryl smirked to himself. Drama. It was exactly what he wanted to avoid, which was when his eyes fell upon Carol's thin frame and the smirk went away quickly. She was sleeping, curled up on her side close to the fire, her head resting in the crook of her arm. T-Dog had passed out a few blankets that were stored in the trunk of Maggie's car earlier; still Carol had something clutched to her chest that he could barely make out. He squinted and moved close enough to see that it was his vest with the wings on the back of it and his jacket – what he'd given her to cover up with before they'd found the blankets. Watching her sleep proved to be a mistake. "Shit." He muttered, and set off on foot before he allowed anymore strange feelings to surface.
As the brush crunched under his feet, he clenched his fists, closed his eyes and tried to erase the memory of the flames licking up the side of the barn as he watched, he blocked out the sounds of her screams which echoed in his head, and the thought of what would've happened if he hadn't gotten to Carol in time.
Where they'd stopped to rest reminded him of his old huntin' grounds near his dad's run-down shack of a house on the outskirts of his hometown, the huge pipe, and the sound of water trickling into the small stream. He hitched up his pants and veered off into the thicker brush where they'd found the most firewood earlier. A lone firefly buzzed by, blinking its green light, reminding him of how things used to be before the world went to shit. When he was alone like this it was easy to pretend it hadn't, but life hadn't been any less shitty before the walkers. Maybe it reminded him of how he'd wanted it to be. There was no chance for it to be different now and the firefly pissed him off so he swatted it away.
Treading lightly, he kept a sharp eye out, ready to drop the wood he'd gathered so far and use the pick-axe he carried or his crossbow. The walkers had taken Jimmy, Patricia and maybe Andrea, though she at least had a fighting chance. Once she'd chosen to fight she'd done so ever since. And thank Christ her aim had gotten better. She was probably holed up someplace and he'd already talked to Rick when everyone else had gone to sleep. Contrary to what Rick had said, Daryl thought he might have convinced him that once they weren't out in the open, once they were someplace truly safe – if a place like that existed, one of them could try to go back. But that was still that was a big if.
His thoughts rolled on to Carol. You're every bit as good as them. How she'd made him feel these past few months, and how he bitched at her the day they'd found her girl. The pain of losing Sophia had been too damn much. Carol wasn't his problem – or shouldn't be - he knew he'd lied to her there. He had told the truth when he said Sophia hadn't been his. That was why he couldn't deal with or understand the ache he felt from her being gone.
"Hell, you don't have a heart Dixon." He muttered to himself. It was easier staying angry – the only way he knew how to counter any other emotions inside him. Anger was what he'd been taught, all he'd seen his whole life. Yet when he'd walked into Hershel's house the other morning there'd been Carol and she'd smiled at him – just a little. How could she forgive people so easily?
"Hey." Someone whispered from behind him. He snapped around like a snake and narrowed his eyes, finding Carol with his vest and jacket held out in front of her.
"What the fuck Carol? Why you sneakin' up on me like that? I didn't even hear ya - I could-a killed you." His voice came out like a quiet hiss.
"Yeah but you didn't." She whispered, handing him the vest and jacket then stepping back and crossing her arms in front of her chest. He wasn't sure but she almost looked disappointed that he hadn't.
"Take it back." He demanded, holding them out to her. "All you got's that thin sweater on. Go on, take it."
She rolled her eyes, but did as she was told. "Daryl, I wanna apologize."
He'd already started walking away from her, but stopped. "Apologize?" He asked, turning back around, still listening for walkers or anything else that might be out there.
"I'm sorry that I said you were Rick's henchman. I know it's not like that. I was just scared." She paused. "We all are. He's countin' on you, trusts you more than he did Shane. I just don't know why you came back for me back there on the farm."
Daryl heaved a deep breath and flung the wood he'd collected on the ground. He knew damn well what she meant. She apologized for the first part of what she'd said earlier, but she still thought of herself as a burden.
He took two steps toward her and she took one back. "Why ya always gotta ask why? Why is it important? Did ya ever stop to think maybe you are?" He turned his back on her and stooped to pick up the wood he'd thrown. "Dammit." He hadn't wanted to go as far as to say somethin' that dumb.
Carol bent down to help but when he looked up those blue eyes of hers were too dammed close. He hooked his free hand around her elbow. "I got it." His voice came out grated and angry.
She pulled her elbow free of his grasp and stood with the coat and vest over her shoulders. As he watched her, he felt his mouth pull up a little, seeing that it enveloped her and how it stood out compared to the plain clothing she always wore.
She kept it wrapped around her as she helped him gather more deadfall for the fire. "Thanks by the way, for gettin' me off the farm." She told him as they headed back.
"Wasn't nothin'." He replied, knowing he was lying. "I should" he started, "well I should say sorry for awhile back." Apologizing was not his forte, but he seemed to be doing it an awful lot with Carol lately.
"Hmm." It came out sounding sad and she nodded. "Seems like a lifetime ago."
He kept a sharp eye out as they walked, noticing the glow of the dying fire through the trees ahead. "Still shouldn't a said what I did. It wasn't you're fault. I seen the way you were with her - with Sophia." He hesitated saying her name and almost spilled what was on his mind. Like how he wished his own Mama would've been around to be that way with Merle and him. But every scar on his own body was one less blow his Mama ever had to take, even if she had run off on their daddy and not taken them with her, damn her to hell.
His past seemed so far behind him and yet it would surface in a heartbeat given the right circumstance. If he ever lived it down - everything that he'd gone through, it'd be a damned miracle.