Freedom in a prison yard. Daryl smiled at the irony and continued to scan the fence line from his vantage point on top of an overturned bus. Here and there, walkers pressed against chain link like hungry kids against a candy store window. If the group wasn't low on ammunition, he'd climb down and put a bullet in brain of every one of those dumb dead assholes.
The smell of smoke drew his eyes to the campfire in the middle of the grassy field. They'd been on the run for so long, barely sleeping, communicating in whispers because sound attracted walkers. Part of him wanted to relax with the others. Enjoy the moment.
But he couldn't. He needed the distance.
Survivalists were loners. They looked out for number one. Merle had taught him that, and Daryl would bet his last arrow that wherever his brother was, he wasn't protecting women and children or skipping meals so others could eat.
That's 'cause I ain't playin' errand boy to a bunch of pansy-asses. He could almost hear his brother's voice.
"Shut up," Daryl muttered. He lifted his crossbow and peered through the sight. The closest walker was too far away to hit, even if he could miraculously shoot through one of the holes in the chain link. He aimed for practice.
Rick walked by on another perimeter check.
Daryl called out, "Yo, fearless leader, you gonna do that 'til you fall down or what?"
"I'll rest when I'm sure there's no breach in our defenses." Rick shook his head. "You're one to talk. Why are you still on watch?"
"It's a good place to see the sunset."
"And get away from people?" Rick looked toward the group.
Was he thinking of his wife, pregnant with another man's baby? "That's a bonus," Daryl said.
Rick laughed shortly. "Yeah, it is." He walked on.
Darkness fell and Daryl continued to pace back and forth, restless in mind more than body. He'd let Rick believe he was avoiding all the others, but there was one person whose company he wouldn't mind. Someone he felt comfortable with—maybe too comfortable.
He glanced over at the campfire. As if his thoughts prompted action, a slim figure rose to her feet and headed his way.
No one else kept after him to eat, or rest. At first he'd thought Sophia's death had left her with the need to fuss over somebody, anybody. That theory didn't last the winter. Carol had worked through her grief to become stronger. Bolder. And the way she looked at him wasn't motherly.
He gave her a hand up when she reached the bus. As he'd figured, she'd brought food. The leftover owl meat tasted stringier than he remembered. He made a crack and got a laugh, even as Carol scolded him. When she admitted the rifle's kickback had hurt, he didn't hesitate to massage her shoulder.
Then she turned her head and smiled.
He was suddenly aware of the delicacy and softness of her body compared to his, how good it felt to touch her. Carol giggled nervously, and he was transported back to the days when girls used to hand him notes that said: I like you. Do you like me? Check yes or no.
Daryl experienced the same paralyzing combination of awkwardness and desire. "Better get back."
Carol continued to smile. "Could be romantic." She gave him a playful look. "Wanna screw around?"
He froze. Three little words shouldn't have the power to unleash bad memories, but they did.
The tip of Merle's buck knife jabbed into ten-year-old Daryl's throat when he hesitated to shoot his first deer. "You wanna screw around and make the family go hungry, you'll do it with a Columbian necktie, bitch."
A woman with sores on her face grabbed Daryl's arm in a bar. "Where's your brother? I need meth. Can you get it for me?" Her smile displayed blood-red gums and cracked teeth. "Wanna screw around?"
Daryl started to climb off the bus. "I'll go down first."
Carol laughed. "Even better."
He set his jaw against the ghosts in his head. "Stop."
She kept quiet for maybe a minute. "Is it my hair? It seemed like a good idea. I mean, Jamie Lee Curtis rocked the look on those yogurt commercials."
"Jamie who?" He'd never watched much television. Old cartoons, mostly.
"What I'm trying to say is I'm not old, dammit."
"I know." The campfire seemed a long way away.
He heard her sigh. "And I usually . . . apart from Ed . . . have great taste in men."
Carol's husband had abused her, and after his death she'd violently bashed his skull in to prevent him becoming a walker.
"I'll take your word for it."
She nudged his shoulder with hers. "I like you. That should be proof."
At the campfire, Maggie and Beth were singing a plaintive, Celtic-sounding song. Daryl noticed Carol watching him as the girls sang about sweethearts that wished them to stay. He saw, too, the worry on her face when the song ended and Rick announced that they had to go into the prison and fight the walkers hand to hand to save ammunition.
"I'll be fine," he said softly.
Carol looked him up and down. "I'd say dirty-sexy."
He hid a smile. Sassy. That was the word for her. "I'll be okay."
They joined the others by the fire. Daryl placed his weapons within reach and gave his poncho to Carol.
She tried to hand it back. "I'm wearing a sweater."
"A thin sweater."
"Says the man whose shirt has no sleeves." Carol scooted close and draped half the poncho over his lap. "Here. We'll share."
The warmth of her arm and thigh put him on edge in a way he'd put to good use the next time he had to shoot an arrow into a walker's eye or stab a knife through one of those bastard's rotting skulls. Displaced frustration, the secret to walker killing. He huffed in reluctant humor.
Carol said in a low voice, "You see T-Dog watching us, too, don't you? He thinks we're up to something under the poncho." She giggled. "Don't laugh. It's making him more suspicious."
Across the fire, T-Dog stared at them with narrowed eyes.
Carol shook with giggles.
"Stop," Daryl said, unable to keep a chuckle from spilling out.
"Can't," Carol said. "I'd have to start first."
On the grass, hidden by the poncho, her fingers brushed his.
Daryl didn't pull his hand away. "I'd say you've started."
Slowly, carefully, her fingertips traced his skin. "What do you want to do about it?"
He closed his hand, linking their fingers together. "Ask me tomorrow."
A/N: I got hooked on The Walking Dead when AMC showed back to back episodes to build up to Season 3, and Daryl is my all-time favorite character (seems a lot of other people feel the same way, since even though his character was written for the television show, he's going to be introduced into the comic series). I started warming up to Carol at the end of Season 2, and now, at the start of Season 3, I can honestly say I hope the show gives her a romance.
Better get back, could be romantic, wanna screw around, I'll go down first, even better, and stop are the direct quotes I've borrowed from 301. The song Maggie and Beth sang in the story (and episode) was Parting Glass. Daryl saying he watched old cartoons was a reference to the time he called Lori "Olive Oyl." The curses Daryl and Merle use came from various episodes. Gotta stay in character. ;)
The scene in episode 301 between the Daryl and Carol was short, but so packed with subtext that I couldn't help wanting to flesh it out and create a story around it. I've marked this as a WIP instead of a one-shot because I think there will be other words between the possible sweethearts that will spark future chapters. I hope that readers give a "treat" of a review to tell me they'll look forward to it.
PS, if anyone's interested in a Nightmare Before Christmas romance between Jack and Sally, I have a one-shot called Restless Hearts I'd love you to read. s/2694687/1/Restless-Hearts