Hi! I hope you enjoy this adventuresome little (well not so little, actually) one shot for our favorite couple! Thank you for all of your reviews of "Slow Fire Burn". I found it a bit difficult to toughen Daryl up again after taming him down a bit in SFB, but I hope I succeeded & kept with the tone of the show. Please hit the review button and let me know what y'all think. Kat
They'd survived the mild Georgia winter and life had been decent to them considering the circumstances. They'd been shacked up for months in a large cabin in the woods off one of the back roads they'd traveled. Andrea had met up with Rick and Glenn when they'd gone on run a few weeks ago. Everyone had been glad to see her and the new friend she'd brought with her - everyone except for Daryl.
He was glad she was okay; it was a load off his mind. He didn't wanna just leave her there back at the farm that awful night last fall. It was the complications that came along with her bein' back with the group that were unwelcome as far as he was concerned. There was the friend she'd brought along, the fuckin' caped crusader that'd saved her. She was an odd duck, not that he could say he wasn't the same but that was just it – they matched like a hand in a well-worn baseball glove and Andrea wouldn't lay off with pushin' her in his direction. Problem was they were too much alike. She was a badass, an asset to their group, wielding a katana sword. The two creepy walkers she kept chained near the cabin weren't so awesome, but having them around had saved their asses more than once when other walkers had come through.
Andrea had given Rick the cold shoulder once she found out about Shane. There was nothin' anyone could do to convince her that it wasn't murder in cold blood. Lori was still having a hard enough time dealin' with the fact he was gone – but at least she knew for the sake of the group and everyone's sanity that she had to hold it together and be civil with her husband.
Andrea was also having a difficult time forgiving Carol for runnin' off on her that night at the farm. He knew Carol had felt the strain of guilt for months now and when Andrea walked back into their lives, the look of disappointment on Carol's face when Andrea shunned her cut him to the bone.
Yeah, so Carol wasn't like the other women, but she could cook her ass off – she kept them all from starvin'. She could do laundry like it was goin' out of style. She was their organizer when they brought back more loot from their runs, but when it came down to it, someone always had to save her ass. It was damned aggravating, for him, for her and for the others. Beth wasn't much better, but she was a kid, and at least she had her daddy and her sister. The duty of watchin' out for Carol fell on him mostly; as it had since the night he'd saved her on the farm.
It surprised him when they'd left the make-shift campsite to search out a place to spend the winter; she never rode on the back of his bike again. He suspected she felt embarrassed for some of the things she said around the dying fire that night. He wished he could forget them. After that night and all winter long they barely said a few words to each other. Even after he pinned that walker to a tree down by the creek where she'd been trying to fish, she'd barely thanked him. So he'd made it a point to watch out for her but avoid her at the same time which he always found a struggle, because Carol was one of the few people he understood and he knew damned well she got him.
This last week he'd fallen back into an old habit, somethin' to help take his mind offa shit. It'd be easy to blame T-Dog. He'd been the one to bring the crates of vodka, whiskey, brandy and wine back from the liquor store they'd stopped at on a run. Rick had been pissed – ordering them to stock it in the small garden shed off the side of the house.
The big plan around the cabin lately was to invade a walker-infested prison not too far from where they were that they'd found on their last run. Rick told them to save it for when they were all safe behind those walls. But he, Andrea and Michonne had snuck off on the nights they didn't have watch this week – off into the woods to pass the time and shoot the breeze.
At first he figured what the hell? He'd always been able to handle a few drinks. He could keep his shit straight. But then he remembered back to his drinkin' days - always the life of the party until he got just a little past tipsy. Then he turned into a grade-A asshole. Christ only knew why they'd invited him out after that first time. He'd come close to drawin' walkers from every direction and if the girls hadn't gagged him, Rick would've found out and there would've been hell to pay.
This time around Andrea was piss ass drunk. They sat in a circle on three big rocks off the beaten path in the forest. It'd been chilly at first but the alcohol had him nice and toasty now. He listened while she bagged on Rick for awhile and then started in on Carol. "And she just took off after I saved her ass."
"Hey, now that's enough. We all left ya." He warned her, ripping the bottle of Jack Daniels from her hand and taking a long slurp.
Andrea put her fist under her chin, grinning. "What's a matter tough guy? You got your eye on little miss Plain-Jane?"
Michonne brought her hood down, throwing her head back, her curls bobbing. She beamed her perfect white teeth his way and put a hand on his leg.
Andrea giggled, "Why don't you set your aim a little higher? Someone right here has her eye on you."
His gut twisted at the thought. It wasn't that Michonne wasn't mysterious and sexy, but there was just something wrong with the thought of getting' it on with her. It wasn't even the fact that she was black, though he'd been raised by a man who tossed out a racial slur or two in every conversation he had. Even if he did knock the bottom outta her, they'd probably wind up killin' each other in the process. His eyes traveled down to where the moonlight hit her long, slender fingers, rubbin' the flat spot above his knee. He took a hold of them, squeezed hard and shoved her hand away. "Don't think so."
He'd been a loner most of his life. A few one night stands here and there, but it'd always been awkward if he were sober enough to remember. And it was always a plus if the girl he brought home was too drunk to notice the array of scars that covered his torso.
"What's a matter with our friend here?" Michonne droned, in that low, sultry voice of hers. "He does like women, doesn't he?"
Daryl stood up, shoving the bottle at her, slamming it into her breastbone. "Fuck you."
Andrea put the back of her hand to her mouth laughing her ass off.
He pointed in her direction, seeing double. "You can find your own way back blondie. Don't come cryin' on my shoulder when you're tossin' your cookies tomorra mornin'."
"Come on Daryl, we're only kidding. Don't be like that." She tried to stand and had to catch herself on the tree behind her. He held out his hand to steady her, but once she was okay, he let go, pulled his crossbow up on his shoulder and left the two of them there. Michonne wasn't half as drunk as Andrea and they'd be fine getting back to the cabin. They'd made it on their own for months before they'd hooked back up with the group.
Glenn was on watch out back and Rick was out front. The obvious choice was to use the back door and threaten Glenn on his way through. The last time it'd been T-Dog, but he'd handed him his last two swigs of Jose Cuervo and that'd been enough to satiate him. He knew they had to stop sneaking off. It was only gonna cause more rifts between their people and there were plenty already.
After a few words with Glenn, he made it through the door feeling a touch guilty for being so harsh with the kid, but he was just past tipsy and he knew it. On his way in the door he tried to be quiet. Lori and Carl shared one of the bedrooms off to the left, Beth and Maggie in the other. Carol, T-Dog, he, Glenn and Herschel all had mattresses and their own space in the large living room. Andrea and Michonne had been bunking in the small garage. They had it way easier when it came to sneaking back in.
T-Dog was snoring gently from his corner, sleeping soundly because he had watch in a short while after Glenn. Herschel would relieve Rick soon. Quietly he slipped off his boots and set them near the door when he noticed a light off in the far right hand corner of the room behind the sofa. He tip toed toward it, in his stocking feet and slumped on the couch as the room started spinning. Where the hell was his bed? Shit, I'm too fucking drunk to find it. He thought.
Carol, at least he thought it was Carol, stood up and peeked over the back of the couch. He had his forearm across his eyes, resting comfortably on his back but he felt her stare on him. "What the fuck are you looking at?" He asked as quietly and as menacingly as he could.
She made a noise, but it was amplified ten times what it should've been as his pulse throbbed in his ears, pushing her voice further and further away. What was she saying? He heard her slam something down on the floor and a moment later his feet were being dragged up onto the couch – and not too gently.
"What the hell?"
"Shut up Daryl." She hissed. He heard that and he found it hurt his feelings just a little. And then the blanket came crashing down on top of him, he heard her huff loudly as she returned to her bed behind the couch. After that there was nothing but quiet and blackness.
All too soon he felt someone shaking him from his peaceful slumber. His eyelids felt like they were made of lead.
"Hey, Daryl. Rise and shine." More shaking and Rick's voice cutting through the short four hour nap he'd had. "Daryl, up, come on."
Daryl, the frustration wearing on him quickly, shook the blanket off himself and stood up staring Rick in the face. Carol was standing next to him with her arms crossed, not looking all that pleased. "What the hell is this?" Did she rat me out or somethin'? He wondered.
"I need you to go on a run for those supplies we talked about."
"Today? Now?" He asked, blinking the sleep from his eyes. Damn his mouth was dry.
Rick had hardened up since they left the farm and he took his role as leader very seriously. Usually Daryl did what he could to help but since the arrival of Andrea and her pal, he knew he'd been slipping up and Rick could probably tell too. He wasn't stupid.
Daryl yawned, putting his fist up to his mouth, though he knew he reeked of booze and there was no hiding it.
"Yes today. Now." Rick's tone took on that air of authority that hadn't bothered Daryl at first. He respected Rick and his decisions. But this morning it nagged at him. So did the way Carol was eyeballing him.
"Alright. I'll grab a quick shower. One of the girls comin' with me?" He assumed it'd be Andrea or Michonne though he preferred it to be Andrea.
"I'm going with you." Carol said softly. The look on her face told him she was none too thrilled.
Rick gave him a smirk but got serious real quick. "That's right. Andrea and Michonne are in no position to leave the cabin today – as I'm sure you already know. T-Dog, Glenn, Herschel and I all had watch last night. Should be a quick run. I have the list here." He smacked it down in Daryl's hand to let Daryl know he meant business. Daryl made no bones about the fact that he wasn't happy about Carol going with him. She'd been on one run – one. And that'd been an easy one with T-Dog.
He rolled his eyes, and headed towards the bathroom grumbling, slamming the door behind him. This was gonna be a complete disaster. She was helpless and he was hungover. Wonderful.
Carol felt like she was back in grade school with the way Daryl had acted – she'd always been the last person picked for games in gym class, or any activity really. But lately she'd been working hard to not feel sorry for herself. He'd walked in drunk last night, passed out in her area. She'd helped him out, smoothed things over with Rick this morning, not that Daryl knew that, and still he chose to act like an ass.
She climbed in the old Ford which was gassed up and ready to go an hour later, clutching the baseball bat Rick had given her. Daryl stood outside the driver side door griping at Rick, making no effort to hide his dismay that he was stuck with her. Finally he plopped his butt on the seat, slapped the list down next to his crossbow and shut the door with a bang. She tried to avoid looking his way but she could smell the musky orange wash he'd used when he'd showered and when she did sneak a glance in his direction, her stomach fluttered at the way his wet hair fell across his forehead. Stop it. She scolded herself. He doesn't want you with him. He'd rather have his gal pals along for the ride. God only knew what was going on there.
She took a book out of her jacket pocket, flipped it open and began to read, knowing they had a good hour before they reached the shopping mall. Thankfully Rick was sending her to the same place she'd gone to with T-Dog. There weren't as many walkers surrounding the area, as it stood on a big hill off one of the highways west of the cabin. So far they'd made several trips to and from without any incidents. The towns east of them were where they'd found survivors. Luckily they'd avoided being spotted so far.
It was an uncomfortable silence and she had a hard time focusing on the large print of the book. Daryl kept jamming gears, obviously in a hurry to get there, get what was on the list and get back, anything to rush the time he had to spend with her – or maybe that was just her imagination. Regardless, she tried to ignore him and held her book steady.
Not too far down the road, he started glancing at her. At first she thought it was her peripheral vision playing tricks on her, but then she turned her head just slightly – and caught him. He knew it too. He lifted his chin up and scrubbed it with his hand.
"That book gonna help you kill any walkers we run into?" He asked in a bland tone.
Carol sighed and put it face down across her knee, tapping the cover which read "Basic Self Defense."
Daryl glanced over to get a better look and swerved off the shoulder.
"I don't think I'll have to worry about walkers if you don't keep your eye on the road." She told him, pulling the seat belt across her shoulder.
He made a sound of disgust and grumbled somethin' about her being a know-it-all before quieting down all together for the rest of the ride.
There were plenty of ways into the mall's main parking lot, but the route least crowded was the way they opted to take. Upon hearing the roar of the engine, the walkers began trailing them and she grabbed for the "oh shit" handle as Daryl took the corners at a furious pace corralling them in order to keep them all together so they had time to get in.
"Be ready. I'll be busy with the door. I ain't gonna be able to save your ass." He barked.
Once he had what few were in the parking lot gathered in a corner, he hit reverse, turned the truck around and raced toward the loading dock. Swiftly he backed the truck up the ramp.
There were only two near the door. Daryl got out and quickly took the first down with the bow, and Carol surprised herself by yelling for him to get the door as he aimed for the second. She had him. The sub human came at her with its tattered uniform and one knee high sock rolled down its scabby ankle. Its dead eyes bore into her and she knew she'd have to aim well and swing with all her might. Giving herself a little momentum, she ran at it, but before it could dig into her arms, she cracked it on the head, splitting its skull into a dozen different pieces.
Daryl had the door slightly open, but made a sound that told her that he was quite possibly impressed. She didn't have time to analyze whether he was or not because he latched onto her arm and pulled her inside.
"Gonna have to cover me while I chain this." He growled, the stress ringing clear in his voice. He still didn't trust that she could hold her own and neither did she.
She gripped the bat, keeping her back to his, but must've gotten a little too close because he griped about needing room and there was already a geek on the other side of the door pounding to get in. She kept her eyes peeled because if there were any strays inside the building they would come to the noise. Fortunately the storeroom floor was clear as far as she could see.
Once the door was secured, they moved away from it. The thing outside would wander off once it didn't smell or hear them anymore. Tip toeing across a tile floor in boots wasn't easy, but they managed. Before they hit the spot where the light grew dim, she leaned in and checked the list. He backed away from her as she did so.
"I just wanted to see what we need." She told him defensively.
He held it out to her and started walking away before she realized what he was doing and it fell to the floor.
"Got it memorized anyhow." He tossed over his shoulder.
She let out a huff and picked it up, heading for the area where she knew there would be some things they needed.
When he saw that she was walking away from him he whispered as loud as he dared, "Hey! You need ta stick with me."
She decided to be bold for a change. He'd been acting like a jerk the whole morning and she didn't need to deal with it. Anger bubbled up to the surface and stubbornly she turned around and kept going. He let out an aggravated growl and followed along with her. And just as it turned out, they found everything on the first part of the list in the section she'd gone into. Once they got back to the door, Daryl put his ear to it, listening.
"Sounds like they've wandered off. I'll un-do the chain and we'll throw what we got into the truck bed. Once we get this stuff loaded, back inside. Ya got it?"
She hoisted a duffel bag full of supplies on her shoulder that almost pulled her over and grabbed another bag on the floor, giving him a firm nod.
They worked fairly well together she noticed, packing the front part of the truck bed. One of the geeks made his way back up the ramp, pulling himself along the railing. His one foot dragging at an awkward angle.
"Come on!" Daryl called, but Carol walked toward it. "What the hell are you doing?" He yelled.
She hadn't tried any kind of move on a walker but she had practiced in the woods surrounding the cabin. It wasn't anything fancy but she was thin enough now to where she could maneuver herself around and this guy was of medium height. She grasped the baseball bat with both hands, aimed high with her leg and kicked with all she had. She felt her boot connect with the walker's jaw sending him into a backwards somersault over the railing of the loading dock.
Daryl was behind her before she knew it with his arms around her waist lifting her off the ground. Once he had her inside and the door chained back up, he paced in the small space on the triangle of sunlight that spread across the floor. "What the hell was that?" He demanded.
Carol stood quietly in front of him, unsure of what to say. She didn't know herself. She just wanted to try something. Anything felt better than being helpless. She tapped the baseball bat on the floor. "We have more to get next door."
Daryl followed her as they made their way into the dark part of the store and through an emergency exit near the large entrance where the gate was pulled down and secured. There were a few geeks wandering by in the main corridor, but they only had to go one store over. "I think we can make it without them noticing us, don't you?" She whispered.
He shrugged, standing precariously close to her as they watched the darkened hallway. She could hear the leather of his vest rubbing against itself and that musky orange scent filled her nostrils. "S'long as you don't go all Bruce Lee on any of 'em."
Her cheeks suddenly felt hot and she was sure he was giving her praise the only way he knew how. The door to the store was locked, but Daryl pulled out his knife while Carol stood back to back with him watching the shadowy creatures shuffle and moan past their dark hiding spot.
"Shit." He said "It's taking me a minute. You alright?"
"Mm-hmm." She answered with the bat ready, though she was shaking like a bowl of jello. A particularly large one scuffed by very close to where they stood. Carol held her breath and backed up just a little bit closer to Daryl, bumping into him when he finally pushed the door open.
"Lock the door!" He warned her.
She snapped the lock and the deadbolt for good measure and then turned in the darkness, her eyes picking up on the wings of his vest as he stabbed through the chin of a walker-woman bringing the bolo all the way through to her forehead. She listened as the walker's nails bit into the leather of his vest, the sound setting off a series of goose bumps from her hands all the way to her shoulders. When he let her slump to the floor, he turned to Carol.
"Did it scratch you?" She asked unable to avoid sounding terrified.
He shook his head. She could barely make out the movement, but then he let his breath out and she realized he'd been holding it listening for more. "I'm good." He said finally. "You okay? That big fucker got awful close when we was tryin' the door."
Was there a hint of concern there? She wondered. Lifting her chin, she told him she was fine.
He watched her for a moment longer and shook his head. "What's next? You still got the list?"
She reached in her pocket and handed it to him.
His hand lingered on hers for a second and her eyes traveled down to the paper. She pulled her hand away to see it was still wavering in his. "You too."
Daryl huffed, turning to hold the wrinkled paper up to the light. "The rest of what we need should be back here." He pointed.
They found the camping gear near the one of the exits to the parking lot. The wide glass doors revealed a walker trapped in the entrance way. It spotted them immediately and began pacing and banging against the door handles.
She and Daryl watched the man for a moment. He was dressed in a suit, one side of his dress shirt hanging out, tie all cockeyed. He moved over to the closest corner and began clawing and chewing on the glass, his dry, rotten tongue protruding from his mouth.
"We're safe. Door's are chained. Look." He pointed.
Carol watched a minute longer, unable to fathom that any of them could wind up like the scrawny walker she was staring at, even if they died of natural causes. She didn't want to wind up a rotting, bloody mess. Seeing one always brought her back to Sophia.
"Come on." Daryl urged, sliding his hand into the crook of her elbow. "Don't think about it."
She glanced down at where he touched her and he moved his hand away quickly. How did he know?
There was plenty of gear, and they worked quickly, loading two large duffel bags with wheels, full of tents, lanterns, sleeping bags, quick fix meals, first aid kits, and bottled water. She then grabbed some sweat shirts, tee shirts, cargo pants, tank tops, as many pairs of jeans as would fit. Socks and underwear were next. They could always use more clothing.
It was pretty clear to her at one point that between stacking and loading supplies he was watching her. Finally she stopped, putting her hands on her hips. "What?"
He shook his head. "Nothin'."
"You underestimated me."
"Admit it; you didn't think I could work as hard as one of your girlfriends."
"My wha - "
The words died in his mouth when they heard the roar of a motor approaching fast. Daryl eyes grew large and he leaped over the two duffel bags to grab her before the car – a new Ford Mustang convertible crashed through the entrance.
Carol looked up from where she lay on top of Daryl dumbfounded at the scene taking place before them. A man – the driver, was floundering, screaming as five or six walkers dug into his face, bit into his neck and his shoulders, tearing flesh and muscle. She pulled her gaze away long enough to meet Daryl's eyes.
The both parted and stood at the same time, him helping her up with both of his strong arms. "Grab the lighter one." He pointed to the duffel bags. "We gotta move while they're distracted, now!"
As soon as the wheels began dragging the floor, a few of the dozen walkers that had wandered in after the car, turned their heads but they were too busy eating to follow. She did her best to keep up, and prayed they wouldn't run into any others that might have been lurking in the large department store.
The door was only a few steps away. He stopped and grabbed her hand. He probably wasn't even thinking about it, she decided. "Listen we don't have much time. There are probably a few out in the hall like before. I'm not stickin' around to lock this one back up." He pointed to the door they were leaving from. "We just gotta make it back into the other store. The ones out there? They'll hear us dragging these heavy fuckers. Be ready."
She nodded a few times, nervously and followed him out the door. They hovered in the shadows waiting for a few to slink by, but their wait was cut short when the door behind them began to rattle. One or maybe even a few had followed them.
"Shit, we're gonna have to make a run for it." He said in an icy tone.
It was only ten feet. But ten feet with walkers crawling the hall and threatening to bust the door down behind them was practically suicide. Suddenly she felt his arm around her waist and they were running side by side. He moved away from her slightly to trip up one that got too close.
"Thank Christ this one's easy to unlock." He said when they got to the other door. "Watch it." He warned when another came at them quicker than it looked like it could travel on its own.
She dropped the handle of the bag and steadied the bat in her hands, swinging, cracking it upside the head. The blow knocked it over but she didn't have enough momentum in the swing to do enough damage to keep it down.
"That's fine, come on."
They got inside and he locked the door. She leaned back against it to catch her breath.
"You alright?" He asked glancing back in the darkness.
"Yeah. We need to listen for any in here. We didn't do a thorough sweep to begin with."
He gave her a look that was hard to read. It was always hard to read him. But she thought perhaps there was just a hint of respect there in his eyes for her that she hadn't seen before. Before he viewed her as 'poor defenseless Carol.' Maybe now he was seeing her differently?
"What the hell was that craziness back there?" Daryl asked out loud. His headache was almost gone, but the dull throbbing hadn't completely subsided. It was bad enough that there'd been more walkers than expected but to have some crazy bastard drive through the store being eaten alive? And what was up with Carol?
"I have no idea." She said as if answering his thought, but she was actually answering his question. "I think we're okay. I don't hear anything – at least in this section. Doesn't mean there aren't any more in here."
"Let's go back to the loading dock. What happened back there makes me wonder if that bastard was alone."
As they passed by the first exit, his fears began to surface – not about there being other survivors, but that the lone renegade that had busted into the other store – he'd brought more walkers up to the mall. How long had he been driving around the damn parking lot?
"Fuck." He gripped when they reached the loading dock doors. Through the small crack he could see at least a dozen bumbling around the dock and maybe thirty close by the truck, and more coming.
"We're trapped." She stated, standing way too close to him.
He nodded, pulling the crossbow up on his shoulder. He did that a lot when he felt the need to know it was there. "First things first. We make sure this store is safe. Follow me."
She did as she was told. Carol'd surprised him today. He thought it was gonna be a complete cluster-fuck from the get go, but when she'd bashed the first walker on the way in, it'd reminded him of the day she'd plastered Ed Peletier's head to the pavement. He knew she had it in her, he just never knew if she'd bring it out and he didn't think it was the damned book that did it. That was just something to motivate her. The kick-move she did on the other walker'd been kinda neat, even though he had to pull her inside to keep her safe.
Keep her safe. The words circled in his head. It'd been something he'd been doing for a long time. Something he found that he wanted to do. It'd just pissed him off to no end that he wasn't getting any help from her doing it – until today.
When they found the store clear, she suggested they make sure all the exits were secure. They found half a dozen to a dozen at each set of glass doors. This was bad, but it wasn't anything they couldn't survive. They were safe in the immediate moment.
Heading back to the dock doors, they cleared a little area behind one of the cash registers and sat down. Daylight was lasting a lot longer now that it was springtime and he figured by the look of the shadows it was about three o'clock. Plenty of time to form a plan of how to get out of there, but first they had to eat. She'd grown far too thin over the winter and although he'd gotten after her about it before, she still insisted on making sure everyone else had food before she ate.
"What'd we grab to eat? Anything good to munch on?" He asked, hoping it would get her interested in eating something. "Why don't we break open some water, see what we can whip up."
She went into cooking mode, unzipped the one duffel and pulled out a box of instant oatmeal. He watched as she wandered past the register admiring the displays of cocktail glasses and fine china for a bit before coming back with two spoons and two delicate bowls with gold trim.
She mixed up the oatmeal she picked and offered him the box. He handed it back to her. "Peach." He said.
"Nothin like lumpy cold oatmeal, but it'll do." She said as she handed him the bowl and the rest of the water from the water bottle. "You must be parched." She added, giving him an odd look.
"What the hell's that' 'sposed to mean?" He asked, getting his dander up. "And what did ya mean earlier, my girlfriends?"
She played with her spoon, clinking it around in her bowl and shrugged. "Must be feelin' guilty about somethin' or you wouldn't be so defensive."
"Why's it matter to ya?"
She shrugged again, putting a spoonful into her mouth. He knew she'd never been so bold with her husband, comin' from years of the shit he put her through, why the hell was she givin' him grief for goin' out and havin' a little fun? And why was she succeeding in makin' him feel shitty about it?
"Ah to hell with ya. It' none-a yer business."
"It is if you three get yourselves killed out there screwing around."
He was gettin' pissed now. So he set his bowl down and started pacing. "You think you're the only one under pressure in the group? We all know how to defend ourselves, nothin's gonna happen to us out there. We weren't too far from the cabin."
She set her bowl down, and not too gently, putting her hands on her bony hips. "You know Daryl, you couldn't even find your bed this mornin'. I kept your ass out of trouble with Rick and got myself roped into goin' with you today. Now we're stuck here and you're an ungrateful son of a bitch."
Normally he'd have a comeback. Normally he'd lash out, yell, scream, shut the offender up, but she was right. So instead he just huffed and walked away, hands to his still aching head. Shit, and now she hadn't even finished her oatmeal.
When he turned around she was wandering off into the darker area of the store. "Where the hell are you goin'?" He hollered out.
"What does it matter to you? I gotta pee if you must know." She said, her voice fading off.
He blew breath out of his nose and scarfed down the rest of his oatmeal and downed the remainder of the water. He waited and waited but after ten minutes she didn't return. "What the hell?" He muttered, searching the duffel for the flashlight and batteries.
The beam hit the far end of the store and that's when he saw the walker wander out of the bathroom hallway. His heart stopped. "Carol!" He screamed, reaching for his bow and running before he had a firm grip on it.
Had she taken the bat with her? He didn't know. He'd been too pissed to notice. One arrow took care of the stringy haired woman in the blouse with the name tag of Chloe on it. He didn't take the time to retrieve the arrow but instead went banging through the bathroom door to find Carol leaning with both hands on the counter, her head down.
"Carol?" He asked, his voice not even sounding like his own. He swallowed hard, thinking if she'd gotten bit, maybe even turned already, he'd have to raise his bow, but he just couldn't do it. The beam of the flashlight revealed no bloodstains at least on the side facing him. She stood so still. "Carol." He repeated.
Finally she turned her head slowly to look at him. He half expected her eyes to be dead and glossed over, for her to snarl, growl and come after him. That would be his worst nightmare. But all he saw were tears. Tears. She was okay. He dropped the crossbow and stumbled to her. "There was a walker. It came right out of the - "
She wiped the tears off her face quickly. "Did you kill it?"
He reached out before he could stop himself and helped brush a stray tear from her cheek, nodding. "Are ya sure yer fine?" He asked turning her every which way.
"Daryl, yes. It must've come from the mens room."
"I don't know what she was doin' in there but yeah, we probably shoulda checked the bathrooms out too." He dropped his shaking hand breaking contact with her. "Listen. I shouldn'ta gone out with them. I just - "
She moved away from him. "No, you're right it's none of my business. I shouldn't care what you do or who you favor in the group."
"What?" He had no idea what she was gettin' at. "Who I favor? What do you mean who I favor?"
"I don't know, ever since Andrea came back she's been givin' me the evil eye and I don't blame her and she brought that Michonne, I know you got your eye on her."
Daryl scrunched his face up. "Enough. It's not like that. I don't want Michonne!" He started laughing. "What happened at the farm that night wasn't your fault. I've defended you."
Carol stepped back. "You have?"
"Yeah." Daryl said stepping forward, not knowing what was going to happen next. He wanted to kiss her and had no idea where the need or want was coming from, but he knew he felt it before – once in the barn when she was so doubtful about him findin' Sophia, other times after that. One more step and he could close the space between them, but the flashlight aimed up and he followed it with his eyes seeing a door in the ceiling.
"What's that?" She asked.
"Don't know, but I'm gonna find a ladder."
It turned out to be a crawl space that led to the roof. There they found a ladder on the wall that took them down to the overhang of the loading dock and right below that it was a short ten foot drop to the truck. Problem was there were geeks wandering aimlessly, too close that if he were to drop into the truck bed, they'd grab him before he could make it to the driver's seat.
"Flares." She suggested. "We've got flares in the bag. If you threw them far enough to lead them off you could get in, I could make it into the truck bed and we'd be on our way."
"It's a good plan."
It took forever to haul the heavy duffels up there and once he threw them down into the truck, he was gasping for air. But if they didn't get back to the group by dark, they'd risk more of their people and he didn't want that.
He tied three flares together and set them off, tossing them as far as they would go. The walkers heard them hit the pavement and took off seeing the sparks. He waited 'til the last walker was about five feet away and turned to Carol. "As soon as I get in, hang and drop. Ya hear?" He asked grabbing her shoulders. "I'm sorry I made ya cry."
"It's fine, not now. Just go." She said and put her hand up to his cheek. He flinched away, but she followed his movement until he realized she wasn't gonna smack him. "Go." She repeated.
He gave her one last look of frustration and dropped down into the truck bed. Sure as shit, they heard him. He bolted over the side and scrambled in the cab, pulling the door almost closed. Then he glanced up to see she wasn't there. A few seconds later the truck shook as she dropped into the box. "Hang on" He yelled slamming the door shut and revving the engine. He glanced back through the windows to see her ducked down on the supplies.
He drove like a bat out of hell until they got to a safe place on the highway where he could take a minute to get her in the truck.
When he got out, she was still in a squat position and he wrapped his arms around her waist to lift her out. As her feet touched the pavement, he didn't let go like he planned. Her hands were flat against his chest and she was staring into his eyes. The setting sun added a touch of fire to her blue irises. He didn't know what or how it happened but she leaned in about the same time he did and their lips touched, softly at first and then hungrily, tongues meeting, mingling, and little breaths in between. She smelled like a flower, perfume she must've splashed on at the mall when he hadn't been looking because he hadn't noticed the scent in the truck earlier. When the kiss ended, all too quickly for his taste they just watched one another for a minute.
"What the hell was that?" She asked, looking truly mortified.
He didn't know what to say. He was as dumbfounded as she was. "We better hop in. Still not far enough from that mall for my liking."
She tapped on her knee all the way back and he pulled off the road just before they hit the spot where they'd turn into the woods to get back to the cabin – back to their people.
Turning to her, he said, "That was somethin' I'd thought of doin' for awhile now." He waited for a response, but she just looked at him, and slowly a smile played on her lips and a spark came into her eyes, one he hadn't seen before or at least since she'd had Sophia with her, back when he'd seen her truly happy and had envied her for it.
He didn't wanna talk about what had changed between them or if anything had. Well it obviously had, he just had to wrap his head around it. Apparently she had to as well because she was silent the rest of the way back and all the way through the hot meal they were given when they returned.
Later, when he bedded down on the couch in her area of the cabin, a belly full of good food and sober, she peeked her head up over the edge, book in hand and gave him a lopsided smile. "Good night Daryl."
Daryl crossed his arms across his chest and pulled the blanket out from underneath her arms, catching her hand as he did. "Night Carol."
Things were changing for them, like the fading light of the day into the dark of night and that both terrified him and suited him just fine.