Summary: Starts the night of and just a little after the "Wanna screw around?" comment. Flashes back to the winter and explains how they got to this point.
A.N.: I didn't edit obsessively over every word like I usually do, but I wanted to get this posted before Episode 2 blows all my theories and/or breaks my heart. ;)
Disclaimer: I do not own The Walking Dead.
"What did that sleeping bag ever do to you?" she asked the agitated form beside her.
She'd listened to Daryl toss and turn for at least half an hour.
"Seems like you're beating it to death. I just wondered what it did."
"Real funny, Carol. Can't sleep. Somebody put some ideas in my head."
"Oh, really?" she feigned innocence. "Anything I can help with?"
"Out here in an open field with everyone else right over there? No thanks."
"I bet they wouldn't even notice," she said.
"You have any idea how loud you are?" he smirked.
"You never complained before."
"I ain't complainin'. Just be nice to have our own room again."
"Here I was thinking I was getting a real outdoorsman," she teased.
"You know I like privacy."
What she knew was that he could be painfully shy sometimes—over silly things like a back rub, especially if the others were too close for comfort. And yet he could be so shamelessly intimate sometimes, it made her knees tremble just thinking about it. She probably shouldn't tease him so much. But he was so damned cute when he blushed. And it made her happy that he let her get away with it.
"Scoot over here," she said.
She reached down into his sleeping bag. "Nobody's going to notice this," she said as her fingers worked their way under his waistband.
"What about you?" he asked.
"I can wait. But if we get into this prison, I think you and I have an appointment on the warden's desk."
Three Months Earlier
The pewter February sky was ominous. After a mostly moderate couple of months, winter was finally arriving in the Southeast.
"If my aching knees aren't lying, Rick, those clouds look like they're fixing up a good, old fashioned ice storm," Hershel said. "We need to find a place to hunker down for a few days, maybe a week."
Rick slammed the map down on the hood of the car.
"Sorry if I'm stating the obvious," said Hershel.
"No, I'm not mad." Rick's weary face managed an apologetic smile. "Just frustrated." His gaze turned to Lori in the passenger seat behind the windshield. She was staring out the side window at nothing. Hershel and Daryl both saw it and exchanged a quick glance. They saw it all the time, how Rick and Lori would stare at each other when the other one was looking away. The couple seemed to have their own ice storm brewing.
"The weather was the one thing we had on our side lately," Rick said finally, looking away from his wife and back to the map.
"We dodged that last herd," Daryl spoke up. "We'll be a'right. Just need to find a little shelter. Ain't nothin' we can't handle." Somehow Daryl Dixon had become the voice of optimism.
"If I could just find something on this damn map," Rick exclaimed. "It's not as new as I would like, and I know things change, but I can't seem to find any place promising."
"Lemme see," Daryl said. "What's this here?" he pointed to a smudge in the middle of a large empty space half a mile from where they stood.
"Looks like grape jelly," said Hershel.
"God, we have to be more careful," sighed Rick.
"That ain't jelly," said Daryl. "It's ink." He leaned in over the paper, his nose almost touching it, and squinted hard. "Used to say somethin'."
"Great," Rick replied. "It used to say something. And I used to be a deputy, and the world used to be a beautiful place."
"Sorry, Brother," said Daryl. "But you need to chill the fuck out. It used to say, 'Approved.'"
"What does that mean?" asked Hershel.
"Place like this?" Daryl said. "Secluded, but close to town and highways? It'd be a developer's goldmine."
"I thought this was all State land," Rick said.
"State needs money, too," Daryl replied. "If this map is a couple years old, they could'a started buildin' somethin'. Let's check it out."
"Hershel, you stay here with T. Dog and the others," said Rick. "Daryl and I will go on the bike."
Carol stood by the truck, shivering despite wearing both her coat and Daryl's. "Everything all right?" she asked.
"Yeah," Daryl replied. "Rick and I are gonna go check something out. Might be a warm place to ride this shit out," he gestured toward the sky.
"You think it's going to snow?"
He climbed into the back of the truck to un-tether the bike and set up the ramp. Once it was securely on the ground, he turned to Carol. "Won't be long," he said. She knew that was as much of a goodbye and reassurance as she was going to get. And that was actually a lot coming from him.
"You better take your coat," she said, shaking it off her shoulders. It had become her own goodbye she used every time he went off on some mission. He was wearing the poncho, but she didn't think it was nearly warm enough.
She'd grabbed it for him out of a western store they'd raided back in December. "That's quite a fashion statement," he had said when she gave it to him.
"Well Merry Fucking Christmas to you too!" she'd blurted, then immediately covered her mouth and giggled.
She was changing. Oh, she'd never had a problem taking his ass to task about anything. But somewhere along the line she'd started to smile. And laugh. And tease him unmercifully. Bitch him out one minute for swearing, and cuss him up one side and down the other the next. God help him, but he liked it.
"A'right," he said, trying on the gift. "I think I can pull this off. Whaddaya think? Is it Clint Eastwood enough for ya?"
She rolled her eyes. "I got it because I thought it would work well with the crossbow."
She was right about that. It didn't interfere with his weapon, and it was pretty much all the warmth he'd needed for the last two months. But the air had suddenly turned bitter yesterday.
"No. You keep it," he said, grabbing the leather collar of his coat and sliding it back up over her shoulders. He fastened the zipper and zipped it up to her chin. He realized he stood there holding the zipper just a beat too long and thought he could feel his face turn pink. "Said we won't be long." He let go and pushed the bike over to Rick's car.
"Were you even going to say anything?" Lori was saying to Rick when Daryl caught up with him. "You were just going to take off and not say goodbye? Daryl is saying goodbye to Carol these days and you can't say shit to me?"
Rick shot an uncomfortable look at an equally uncomfortable Daryl.
"We'll be right back—within an hour," said Rick, practically leaping onto the bike behind Daryl.
They were barely 50 yards away when Daryl yelled over the engine, "You know, even Carol doesn't hold on that tight."
"Sorry." Rick relaxed his grip on Daryl's waist.
"It's a'right," said Daryl. "You're tense. You got old lady problems."
"Doesn't everyone?" Rick asked.
"Doesn't everyone what?"
"Have 'old lady problems.'"
"Not me," Daryl replied. "Ain't got no old lady."
"Yeah, right," Rick laughed.
They reached the spot on the map within minutes and stopped. What was once just forest now had three lines of new blacktop branching into it. A sign on the right said, "Construction Entrance." The one on the left said, "Construction Exit." The sign on the road straight ahead said, "Welcome to Inside Wade at the Intersection of Tradition and Tomorrow."
"What is this?" Rick asked.
"I was gonna ask who the fuck is Wade?" said Daryl.
"Good one. But seriously, where the hell are we?"
"Can't you read?" Daryl chuckled. "We're at the fucking intersection of Tradition and Tomorrow."
They headed straight and soon rode over a cobblestone bridge, its waist-high rock walls topped with black lanterns. It was painstakingly quaint. Instead of a meandering river or creek, however, the view below was that of a deep ditch full of construction debris. Soon after the bridge, the forest disappeared entirely. There was a rise in the road and they couldn't see what lay ahead. To the left and right, as far as the eye could see, was red clay littered with the wood and Tyvek skeletons of bungalows and townhouses that would never be finished.
"Carcasses," Rick spat. "Nothing but goddamn carcasses."
"Hold on now 'fore you get all hang-dog about it," Daryl said. "Let's see what's up ahead."
Just over the rise, they were greeted by a cobblestone traffic circle. Inside the circle was a black obelisk crowned with a metal sphere. "Fuckin' Yankee developers," Daryl laughed. "They never did understand we don't know a traffic circle from a hole in the ground."
"Look!" Rick exclaimed, pointing beyond the annoying roundabout.
"Well, I'll be damned," Daryl said. "Looks like they got somethin' done 'fore the shit hit the fan."
It appeared as if "Main Street" had been completed. It looped up one side and down the other with a wide, landscaped median dotted with white pergolas. The street was lined with about twenty mostly Craftsman style single family homes along with a few that were vaguely Tudor. There was a sliver of an alley between each house. All of them had front porches and cocktail napkin-sized front yards that ended at a sidewalk. There were signs in every yard. Five houses were model homes. Five were for sale. And ten of them said, "Private Residence."
"Your luck might change here, Rick," said Daryl.
"Why's that?" he asked.
"Looks like a place a Stepford wife might live."
"You'll excuse me if I don't laugh," Rick replied, but he couldn't hide the smile in his voice. This place was a real find. "We could stay in the models. Probably won't be any walkers in those—at least not many. It'd be nice to stay indoors and not feel like you were walking on somebody's grave."
"We can secure the private residences," Daryl said. "Probably find some food and supplies there. Gotta be somethin' left."
"It's perfect," said Rick, slapping Daryl on the back. "You think you and I can clear out the models now? Pick one that's right for the group?"
"Let's do it."
Daryl had never seen him look so relieved.