A/N – So I was asked to write a happier toned one-shot for Daryl and Carol. Thanks for the challenge, LopezG! I took my inspiration from the trailer… this would be my version of the time lapse. And this will be a one-shot because I don't want to speculate on what the show might do since nothing I come up with could be even close to the awesomeness that I'm sure October will bring. I wanted to make this in character and hopefully I succeeded while still bring our Caryl together. Hope you like! I think my next one-shot will be fluffy… very fluffy!
Disclaimers – Own nothing.
"Can you stop?," Carol said, her tone exasperated, taking her attention away from the task at hand – literally the task at hand, as she held on to the rifle, the brace pitted up against her shoulder uncomfortably. She heard the low growl at her back as Daryl sighed his own frustration and backed away from where he'd been standing behind her.
"Yer the one wanted to learn… now ya got a problem wit' how I teach?," Daryl muttered beneath his breath. He'd found her the rifle, he'd gotten the shoulder stabilizer brace… he'd risked his ass out there getting her a weapon, the least she could do is learn to use it.
It had been the day after the group's first night away from Hershel's farm. She'd come to him, apologizing for her words the night before.
"You're right, Daryl… Rick does have honor, but he wasn't the man I was talking about."
Daryl eyed her suspiciously. He knew; of course, he knew. But now wasn't the time, so he changed the subject.
"Ya need a weapon now, Carol… ya said ya were a burden, and if ya is… well, ya cain't stay one," he said softly. He'd meant to soften the blow of acknowledging that she might be a burden. He didn't really believe she was, but he knew she did. And if there was anything Daryl did know, it was that your own opinions about yourself were far more powerful – more debilitating – than anyone else's opinions. He'd been drowning in his own opinions of himself for far too long to not have gotten that fact by now.
Carol nodded. "I want a weapon. I'm not afraid to learn, Daryl. But will you teach me?"
His first thought was that he could teach her a hell of a lot more than that, but he chastised himself quickly for even pondering it. That wasn't what this was about. It couldn't be what any of it was about. He didn't trust his words though… didn't trust that his voice wouldn't betray him for his thoughts. So instead he nodded, a short, cursory acknowledgement that he'd do what she'd asked.
"It's not my problem with how your teaching it," Carol snapped, turning around to face him, lowering the rifle quickly after seeing the scolding look on his face.
Daryl gritted his teeth and tried to take a calming breath before he spoke. "Then what 'xactly is yer problem?"
"You're too close, Daryl, you're too close, and you're touching me or not touching me but so damn close to touching me and I can't concentrate. Okay? I don't know what this is. I don't know what we're doing here because you won't… you won't do anything; you just stand there, too close, driving me crazy, and not doing anything about it! Is that what you want to hear me say?"
Truthfully, it felt good to say those words out loud. They'd been going off together for two weeks now for lessons on her new weapon. Two weeks since she'd implied that Daryl was the man of honor she wanted, two weeks since the group had been running on a more permanent basis until they could find a safe haven. And Daryl… Daryl hadn't said shit. He'd gotten her a weapon; he'd been training her on that weapon faithfully, even letting her try his crossbow out for a more silent approach. He was always there, always watching her, always aware of wherever she might be in their tiny haphazard makeshift camp, and he found every excuse to invade her space during their lessons. Just moments ago, he'd been inches behind her, her whole body aware of his proximity, the yearning to be touched like she'd never felt before. Her nerve endings were alive with it, and her voice just wouldn't be silent anymore.
Daryl felt the air rush out of him at her words. She wanted to do this now? In the middle of nowhere, by themselves, after they'd just been shooting? They never let their trainings run long, they never dallied. And now she wants to have this conversation here! Truth was, Daryl wanted this conversation himself, but he hadn't had the faintest clue how to start it, and he hadn't the faintest idea what he wanted to say now that she had started it. How can he explain what he feels for this woman? He hardly understands it himself.
He was silent for too long. She was standing there looking at him expectantly, waiting, hoping for something. She didn't even know what she was hoping for. Did she want him to want her? She wanted him; she knew she wanted him with every fiber of her being… but when was wanting ever enough. She didn't know much about it, but she knew enough to know that wanting wasn't enough. Especially not in this world.
She tightened her lips together and frowned, her eyes intent on his face, his eyes trying to look anywhere but at her. Finally she nodded, spun quickly, pulling up the rifle and putting a bullet straight through the last can they'd set up on the rocks several yards away. The can imploded with a satisfying sound and then she dropped the rifle to her side, gave him one last look and walked away, heading back to the camp.
And he let her go. The words were on the tip of his tongue… "wait, Carol"… but he couldn't get himself to say them. He was choked on his own uncertainty. He heard a moan from somewhere to his right, spun and saw the lone walker – finally called over by the blasted noise of the guns – and he lifted his bow seamlessly, shooting an arrow straight through the geek's rotted head.
She was back at camp before him. Daryl wanted it that way… he lingered behind a little too long, making sure she had a good head start on him. He was ashamed. He had witnessed her slow progression since back at the quarry… with the loss of first Ed, then Sophia… honestly, he'd been watching for it, waiting for it, more than simply witnessing.
The day she'd pulverized Ed's head with the pick-axe… he saw it in her eyes then. This was a woman who had been pushed – slapped – around her whole marriage, maybe even her whole life, and she wasn't going to take it anymore.
The change in her had been slow, with setbacks… Sophia… but he'd known all along that it would come.
And clearly, if she could stand in the middle of their practice field and snap at him about his own shortcomings, his insecurity at whatever they were gradually becoming… well, clearly it – she – had arrived. But now what was he going to do about it.
Rick flagged Daryl down the moment he entered the camp. They were still living day to day since Hershel's, so camp wasn't much but at least it was something for now. Daryl gave a short nod to Rick. He was impatient. It was clear that he'd become Rick's right-hand man, but he needed to get to Carol; he needed to talk to Carol… it was now or never and he sure as shit couldn't let it be never.
"Hold up, Daryl," Rick said, pacing himself with Daryl's wide and hurried gate. "What's your hurry, man?"
"Shit to do… what ya need?," Daryl huffed shortly, stopping and turning to face Rick.
"I wanna go check out a prison tomorrow, not too far from here… I'm hoping it might be the place for us."
Daryl sucked on his bottom lip and nodded. A prison… there were worse places to hole up in. "Sure. Fine," he said, his words abrupt and his manner just as abrupt as he spun away from Rick and hurried away toward where he imagined Carol might have gone.
Carol stood by the only bush of Cherokee Roses within a close enough proximity of the camp. It was far enough away to feel private, but close enough that if something happened, someone would notice and be able to help. Daryl had shown it to her the day after they'd decided to stay until something better came along. It made her think of Sophia. When things felt like they were too crazy, too much, well, it gave her peace to go to the roses to talk to her daughter. Daryl had never gone back there after he'd shown it to her… she assumed he figured it was her place.
So when she heard the soft footsteps behind her, she was surprised to turn and see him standing there, eyeing her through his hooded gaze.
She sighed, her eyes firm on his for a moment before she turned away, put her back to him and stared at the petals of the beautiful flowers she both loved and loathed. She was reminded of the last time she'd felt hope for Sophia… the day that Daryl had taken her to the roses and apologized for his behavior in Hershel's barn… just an hour before Sophia had come stumbling out of the second barn – Hershel's living shrine to his lost loved ones and neighbors.
She remembered how his arms had encircled her, railroading her suicide mission toward her daughter. Was it really a suicide mission? She'd been so consumed with the need to go to Sophia, to hold her baby girl one last time… yes, she probably would have run to her death, and maybe she wouldn't have even regretted it. But she was glad now that she hadn't, she was glad that he had stopped her. That he had been there to grab her, to wrap his arms around her, pulling her to the ground, whispering that it would be okay, not to look. That was the last and only time he'd held her of his own volition.
She'd pushed him away after… suffocating herself in her own selfish grief, completely forgetting that he too was suffering from the loss of her daughter. And by the time she'd tried to pull him back, she'd almost thought it was too late.
She shivered, her concentration on her memories and her eyes focused on the Cherokee Roses in front of her. She felt but didn't hear him move forward so that he was standing so close he could have wrapped his arms around her if he'd wanted to.
The last time he'd held her, her daughter had been a walker. Riding on the bike didn't count… she was the one holding him and he was just letting her. She wanted him to touch her so badly, she craved it… he'd saved her after Sophia was gone, he made her into a better person, he'd shown her that there could be life – purpose – in this lonely and terrifying world. What had she ever done for him?
Daryl hesitated, his body alive with the knowledge of what he wanted from this woman. He wanted her… all of her, and he wondered how she could possibly not know that already. He wanted to put his arms around her… to pull her flush against him… the words for how he felt were trapped in his heart, but maybe he could show her. Carol was special to him… important. She'd been the first one to believe in him, to say, to show that he was more than Merle's punk trash brother, or Pa's punching bag. Even when he'd tried to make her think he was something else – calling her a stupid bitch, a bad mother, blaming her for Sophia being gone – she'd seen right through it all. She'd known what he could be, what he was, and she'd helped to shape him just as much as he'd helped to shape her.
He sighed, giving up, giving in, and wrapped his arms around her, one around the waist, the other across her shoulder, pulling her flush against him. She went still at his touch, so still she was barely breathing.
Carol was afraid to move. He was touching her. He was here, real, not in her dreams. Daryl was honest to God holding her against him. Her nerve endings were alit, afire with it. She exhaled slowly and let her head drop back against his shoulder, letting him pull her even closer, feeling every part of him sidelong against her body.
They stood like that for moments, letting the calm and quiet, and their synchronized heartbeats, say what they both couldn't.
"Carol…," he breathed into her ear and she turned her head slightly to look back at him, twisting somewhat in his embrace so that their faces could touch.
She turned the corners of her mouth up and smiled softly at him, shaking her head. "Don't," she murmured, her eyes on his, "I already know…" He loved her. She loved him. Did they really need the words? Did the words make it real or was it simply their own certainty that made it real?
Carol tilted her head forward and let her forehead rest against his, their eyes still together. Holding her, Daryl felt more at peace than he'd ever thought possible. He knew what mattered now, knew what he had to say.
"Ya with me?," he said quietly and she smiled quickly before pulling her head back, gazing into his eyes, and then leaning forward to press her lips to his. He felt the electricity of her kiss and kissed her back before she could pull away. His lips were light on hers, the intensity of the liplock building as she parted her lips and slid her tongue into his willing mouth. They were out of breath when she broke the kiss and pulled back to meet his eyes.
"Hell yes I'm with you," she said certainly. And she meant it, staring into his eyes. Wherever he went, whatever he did… she'd be with him. They were in this together, no more misunderstandings, no more uncertainty… this was them and this was now.