Behold… the reason why I haven't updated "Between Two Brothers"! I had an unexpected brainchild, and thus the following fluff was born. Rated due to some language, a finger, and implied nudity. Honestly, if you aren't offended by the show, you won't be bothered by this. Enjoy!
I do not own "The Walking Dead," but I wish I did.
It had been nearly three years since the battle against Woodbury and the man who called himself The Governor. The survivors of the original group had long since abandoned the prison, finding refuge on a farm nestled in the mountains of Tennessee. "Haven," they dubbed the place that reminded them so much of the Greene Farm outside of Atlanta with its large farmhouse, barn, smoke house, and rolling fields. The land was nestled between the mountains, needing only the wall they built that first year to secure the perimeter in the front.
It was harvest time at Haven as the women worked to gather the fruits of their labor. Andrea kept watch from the woodshed roof as Carol and Maggie gathered the last of the corn. Rick and Glenn chopped wood to be used for the upcoming winter while Carl busied himself with packing the logs to the shed.
Daryl emerged from the trees with the day's kill, a beautiful doe, large enough to feed them all for a while. They would cook what they could for the night's meal, then can or dry what was left under Hershel's watchful eye. Carol had proven to be something of a prodigy of home canning, filling the pantry with cans of green beans, tomatoes, soups, and jams. It was all Glenn could do to bring new jars in fast enough to fuel her endeavors.
His eyes found Carol as she emerged from the corn. The autumn sun shone down on her face, making her blue eyes sparkle as she laughed at something Maggie had said. The corners of his mouth lifted. Even covered in sweat with corn silk in her hair, she never looked more beautiful.
Carol spotted Daryl watching her from the tree line. Her smile broadened as she gave the faintest of nods in his direction. One side of Daryl's lips rose as he returned the gesture. It was as romantic a greeting as they shared in front of the others, but still as intimate as any kiss. She knew a proper greeting awaited her when eyes were no longer upon them.
The night was declared a holiday to celebrate their good fortunes, a day of thanksgiving in what must have been September. The women chattered away over the natural gas stove in the kitchen as they worked by the fading sunlight. Carol fussed over Maggie's growing stomach as Andrea went to start the generator.
The men were spread out in different chairs across the back porch as the sun sank behind the mountains. Hershel scanned the area through a pair of binoculars from one end of the porch. Rick stretched out across the porch swing with a book in his hands while he and Glenn talked quietly amongst themselves. Daryl busied himself with carving a new set of bolts for his crossbow several feet away.
"Do you think you and Carol will ever tie the knot?"
There was a collective holding of breath at Glenn's words as Daryl took his eyes away from his work to give Glenn a trademark Dixon Death Glare. "S'cuse me?"
The color drained out of Glenn's face. "Well, I-I mean... Maggie a-and I did and I thought-"
"The monkey suits went out when the dead started walkin'," Daryl snapped. "An' what goes on 'tween me an' Carol ain't none'a your damn business... An' I ain't traipsin' about in no suit jus' so the rest'a y'all can feel better about it!"
Glenn ducked his head. "Geeze... sorry."
Daryl scoffed as he turned back to his carving. "Not as sorry as you're gonna be if you ask any more questions like that."
A mischievous grin crept across Glenn's face. "So... no askin' about when you're gonna have kids, huh?"
The bolts dropped from Daryl's hands as he jumped to his feet. "That's it, I'm kickin' your ass!"
But Glenn had already taken off like a shot across the yard, his laughter punctuated by swearing as Daryl gave chase. Rick laughed and cheered Glenn on as Carol stepped onto the back porch. "They fight like brothers," the sheriff greeted her.
Glenn's flight was brief as Daryl tackled him several yards from the porch. "Gonna gimme shit now, Short Round?" Daryl demanded, taking Glenn into a headlock. "C'mon, let's hear it!"
Glenn's face turned red from a combination of the headlock and fits of laughter. "I'm... tellin'... Carol..." he sputtered.
Daryl jerked the baseball cap from Glenn's head before burying his knuckles into Glenn's scalp. "What was that, asshole?" he asked as a grin broke across his face. "You say somethin' to me?"
"What are you boys doin'?!"
Carol's voice brought the horseplay to a sudden halt. The two glanced at each other. After a guilty pause, Daryl said, "Jus' playin'."
Carol put her hands on her hips and shook her head at Daryl, who merely smirked at her. He loved watching her go into "mother mode," so much so his grip around Glenn's neck loosened slightly. Sensing a moment of weakness, Glenn seized the opportunity to wiggle free from Daryl's grip. His captor snatched at the back of his shirt, but he was too quick. "Dammit, get back here! I ain't through with you yet!"
Carol rolled her eyes in mock exasperation as she tried to maintain her stern expression. "Go get washed up, boys," she said as a small smile escaped her lips. "Dinner's almost ready. Carl already set the table."
One by one, the men filed into the back door with Daryl bringing up the rear. He paused beside Carol, who was still smiling. "What?"
Carol shook her head. "You're cute when you play around like that."
Daryl smirked as the mischief returned to his eyes. "You're cute all the time," he murmured, reaching around behind her to give her backside a pinch. He grinned at her wickedly as she squeaked in surprise before stepping into the house.
The lights in the dining room reflected against the dark wood paneling of the dining room walls, giving it a warm glow unlike anything they had seen in months. The natural gas generator had proven useful for a few hours a day to allow the group warm showers each night, but for their special holiday, they had decided to burn the lights a little longer so they could have a meal that reminded them of old times.
Everyone gathered around the table with Rick and Hershel taking their places at either end. Rick nodded towards the opposite side of the table. "Hershel, would you lead us in the blessing?"
As the others bowed their heads, Daryl stepped into the kitchen. Hershel's prayers often lasted as long as the meal, and Daryl lacked the patience for such unnecessary formalities. "Oh, Father God," Hershel began, "with humble hearts we come before you..."
With a growling stomach, Daryl began lifting lids on various dishes, inspecting the meal to be served. The deer he killed that morning would be the main course. The women had worked hard to cook what they could of the meat into soup to prepare it for canning. Hershel had already prepared the meat that was left to be dried into jerky to be kept in the vehicles.
"We thank you for our beautiful home, for once we were homeless and you provided."
There were mashed potatoes and fresh green beans in matching bowls, both products of the garden. Maggie had piled a plate with fried green tomatoes and squash, a seasonal treat. A platter beside it was stacked high with ears of roasted corn.
"We thank you for our bounty of food, for once we were hungry and you provided."
Another counter was lined with various breads the women had made. Neatly stacked pyramids of cornbread and biscuit bread were covered in cloth napkins while a loaf of challah bread finished cooling bear the window. Daryl couldn't help but marvel at their handiwork. It seemed like yesterday they were relying on food they scavenged from cars and stores. Now they had more food than they could eat in one sitting with plenty more in the cupboards.
"We thank you for the fortune of friends and family gathered with us today as we remember those who are no longer with us."
Daryl glanced around the kitchen in hopes of dessert, and he wasn't disappointed. An apple pie was finishing up in the oven, no doubt made of apples from the tree out back. Though the pie was off limits for the moment, he hungrily eyed the covered mountains of bread. A growl from his stomach was all the coaxing he needed to snatch up a piece of cornbread.
"Thank you, Father, for blessing our harvesters and hunter so that we may survive another winter."
Just as the bread touched his lips, a scolding voice hissed, "Hey! No eating before the blessing!"
Daryl smirked as Andrea walked into the kitchen. "Gonna try an' stop me?"
Andrea rolled her eyes as she opened the oven door, releasing a wave of cinnamon through the kitchen. "My pie's gonna burn before he finishes."
Daryl snorted. "Wouldn' be the first time."
"Shut up," she retorted lamely as she pulled the pie from the oven. "Don't make me ban you from the pie."
Ignoring her, Daryl lifted the lid from the green beans. "Hey, didja have any leftover ham or bacon from that wild hog to put in these?"
Andrea sat the pie beside the bread near the window. "I don't know. Carol was in charge of the beans."
"Help us destroy complacency and teach us compassion..."
Daryl eyed the kitchen door. "Reckon the Almighty is about as sick of listening to him as I am?"
Andrea stifled a giggle. "Shhhhh! He'll hear you."
"Bless our hearth, our house, and our hearts."
He jerked his head towards the dining room. "That's like the seventh time he's blessed the house," he complained, but his eyes lost focus as his thoughts wondered. Seven blessings…
"In Christ's holy name... Amen."
"Finally!" Daryl grunted as the sound of chairs moving signaled the end of the prayer.
He moved towards the door, but was met by Carol. "Oh, good! You're already in here. Help us bring the food out to the table."
Daryl made a face, but the gleam in Carol's eyes stopped the remark that danced on his tongue. He turned to grab the plate of cornbread, only to see Rick beat him to it. Andrea was carrying the tomatoes and squash while Glenn followed with the green beans. The kitchen became crowded with people coming and going with dishes and platters of food, too much so for Daryl's liking. He finally grabbed the plate of venison steaks and retreated to the dining room.
The center of the table was clearly reserved for the main course with a space large enough for the platter of steaks. Daryl weaved through Andrea and Maggie, wanting to be rid of the potential disaster in his hands as soon as possible. He sat the plate on the table just as another set of hands sat the platter of corn on the table beside it.
Startled, Daryl looked up to see Carol smiling at him. She was in her element, caring for the group as she had since this all began. Carol, the nurturer, the one who made meals out of nothing alongside the road over a campfire. Carol, the woman who never left his side as he returned from the brink of death after an infection that nearly ended him. The woman who put up with his moods, who never pushed him outside his comfortable boundaries, who had shared his bed for the last three years without expecting any public displays of affection outside the bedroom, and who for some unknown reason loved him just as he was.
Without a second thought, Daryl grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her for all the world to see.
Somewhere in the distance, a plate of cornbread clattered to the floor, but it went unnoticed by either of them. Carol's eyes widened with surprise at the sudden gesture, especially one so intimate in front of others. He made her forget her surprise in seconds as he pulled her close, kissing her just as tenderly as he had the first time so long ago.
Glenn was the first to find his voice. "Whoooooo! Get a room!"
A single-finger salute silenced him.
When Daryl pulled away, he was met with a flustered and red-faced Carol. He couldn't stop a grin from crossing his face. Carol smiled self-consciously as a hand drifted to her flaming cheeks. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but no words came to her. Instead, she turned back towards the kitchen as her smile grew to a grin to match Daryl's.
As the last of the food was brought to the table, everyone began taking their seats. Daryl took his place to Hershel's left just as Carol sat beside him. Everyone began filling their plates as a bottle of wine began circulating. Carol passed the bottle directly from Andrea to Daryl without filling her own glass. Daryl looked between his glass-an empty Mason jar-and her own, giving her a questioning look. Carol shook her head at his silent question.
"Ya sure? Might be the last bottle we have for a while."
Carol smiled and shook her head. "When have you ever seen me drink?"
Daryl shrugged as he put the bottle back into circulation around the table. He picked up his jar and handed it to her. "C'mon," he said with a smirk. "One sip for a special occasion."
Carol took the jar into her hands and to her lips. To her credit, she resisted making a face before she handed the jar back to Daryl. "One sip," she reminded him, then turned her attention to the plate of tomatoes Andrea handed her.
Daryl flashed another grin before draining the rest of the wine in the jar.
Throughout dinner, Daryl remained quiet, stealing glances at Carol as she told Maggie stories from her own pregnancy. He had difficulty ridding his face of that damned smile that kept creeping across it. He had felt this happy once before... the night she said she loved him. Carol glanced his way as she finished her story and smiled when she caught his eye. Shyly she reached across the table and took his hand into hers. His first instinct was to pull away, but things were different now. Instead, his smile deepened as he squeezed her hand. They held each others' gaze for a long moment before Andrea nudged Carol with her elbow, apple pie in hand.
Andrea leaned close to Carol's ear as the older woman took the pie into her hands. "Are you pregnant or something?" Daryl heard her whisper. Carol's eyes widened at the suggestion as she shook her head. "Well... is he? He's acting so weird!"
Carol's hand flew to her mouth to stifle her giggles. "Doubt it," she murmured.
Andrea's smile softened. "Whatever it is, I'm happy for you... for both of you."
Carol's cheeks reddened once more. "Thank you," she said softly.
Andrea turned back to her dessert, only to see her pie—plate and all—had vanished. "What the—" she began, then noticed Daryl standing in the kitchen doorway, nonchalantly eating a piece of pie he had yet to receive. "Hey! That's my pie!"
Daryl smirked. "You weren't eatin' it."
Andrea opened her mouth to retort, but was interrupted by Rick as he sat his own plate in front of her. "Here, hun, take mine."
The blonde kissed Rick on the cheek. "At least one person in this house has manners," she declared before turning to stick her tongue out at the pie thief, who had already vanished into the kitchen.
Later that night, long after the generator was shut down for the night and the others had gone to bed, a ray of moonlight fell across two bodies tangled in the sheets of an attic bedroom. "Y'know... I was thinkin'," Daryl's voice was muffled against Carol's stomach as he nuzzled the bare skin with his nose. "We could fix that barn up, make us a place of our own out there. Get a lil' privacy."
Carol stretched across the pillows, unable to stifle a yawn. "Privacy would be nice."
Soft kisses dotted her stomach. "Wouldn' mind a bit'a land of our own, but I don' see you leavin' the other women."
Carol shook her head. "'Specially not with Maggie due in the dead of winter. She and Hershel will need my help."
His lips twitched against her stomach. "You jus' wanna baby to spoil."
Carol laughed as Daryl crawled up in bed beside her, wrapping his arms around her waist. "It's hard to spoil a child as grown up as Carl," she admitted. "He's twelve goin' on twenty."
Daryl watched as her eyes lost focus, no doubt remembering her little girl. Carl was now the age Sophia was when she died, a realization that still opened old wounds when she dwelled on it. He pulled her close so her head rested against his shoulder. "You ever wish you had more?"
Carol smiled, but her eyes remained unfocused and glassy. "It might've been nice to have them now," she said in a quiet, heartbroken voice Daryl remembered too well. "Before we found this farm, everything was too uncertain. It woulda been cruel to deliberately bring a baby into that kind of environment... especially after Lori and Judy."
Daryl nodded into her hair, running his fingers through the developing curls at her ears. "S'true."
A somber silence filled the room as Carol buried her face into his neck. "But it's too late to be thinking 'bout stuff like that. It just wasn't meant to be."
Daryl kissed the top of her head. She hid her sadness from her voice, but the feeling of regret still radiated throughout the room. He was never one for petty words of comfort, settling for holding her to him for a long moment before saying, "You prob'ly got your hands full enough with me anyway."
A burst of laughter was the last reaction Daryl expected. He pulled his head away from her's to look at her, both amused and concerned. "Sorry," Carol giggled. "It's just... you and Glenn today in the backyard..."
A smirk crossed his face. "He had it comin'."
Carol hugged him tightly. "I'm sure," she said with a roll of her eyes. "But it's not just that."
Daryl raised an eyebrow at her.
"It's just... all day, you've been like a whole other person. You wrestled with Glenn, sat with the others on the porch, helped Andrea in the kitchen... and then at dinner, when you kissed me in front of everyone..." Carol paused and looked up at him expectantly.
Daryl shrugged, but didn't meet her gaze.
"I'm not complainin'," she said softly. "I thought it was really sweet, but... I just wonder what brought it on."
A smile danced on Daryl's lips as the twinkle from before returned to his eyes. He pulled her as close as he could to him without hurting her, wanting to be as close as possible while he found the words to tell her what happened.
"Last night, I had this dream... I was leavin' the house to go huntin', and when I got to the porch, I saw somethin' in the garden. I thought it mighta been a geek, so I got ready to shoot it. But it wa'n't no walker. It was this doe standing in the corn. Not eatin' nothin', just standin' there, lookin' at me. I was gonna shoot it, but then I saw you standin' there in its place with a blanket wrapped around ya.
"Didn' think much of it when I left this mornin'. It was business as usual, 'til I got near the creek and there she stood. Sounds crazy, but I jus' knew it was the one from my dream, like some kinda animal messenger."
"Animal messenger?" Carol repeated thoughtfully. "What do you think it was trying to tell you?"
Daryl smiled at her. "I didn' know yet, but when she didn' move, I figured she was meant to be our dinner. You'd said we were needin' more meat to store for winter. I left the hamstrings behind, saved what I could to use later, hoped it was enough to say thanks for the meal. Food was only half the point, though."
"Yeah... didn' figure the rest out 'til dinner."
Carol's brows creased, clearly confused. "I don't understand."
Daryl gave a little grunt of amusement. "The ol' man says blessing every day before dinner, an' he always blesses the house. Does it seven days a week, don' he? Hell, seven times a sittin'."
Carol nodded. "To ask for safety," she explained.
"Well, see... the Cherokee had this tradition. The Elders would bless a place for seven days. After seven days, a ceremony would be held there. A man an' woman would come to this place with blankets around 'em. The man would give her a gift of meat like some deer to show he was a man an' could provide for her. She'd give him an ear of corn to show she could take care of him. Then they'd tie their blankets together an' they'd be married."
"They'd be married..." Carol echoed.
It was hard to see in the moonlight, but Daryl was sure she could see the heat rising from his neck up to his face. "An' sometimes afterwards... they'd share a drink in the same glass..."
Carol looked up at him. "So... in a sense... we were married today?"
The corner of Daryl's mouth raised slightly. "I reckon... I ain't no good at suits an' preachin', but... I figure if you was willin'..."
A tear slid down her cheek, landing on the raised edges of her lip. "More than willin'," she whispered.
Daryl leaned forward and kissed her tenderly. "You ain't disappointed? That it ain't like Glenn and Maggie?"
Carol Dixon tilted her head up to kiss him. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
*Squee!* I hope you enjoyed this little one-shot! I know it's probably not 100% accurate in places, but I did what I could from the "tradition" all the way down to the recipes. But if you came out of this feeling warm and fluffy inside, then my work here is done. :-)