Walkers in the prison. Herschel sick. Bodies to bury. There was always something that needed doing, and Daryl was glad to keep busy. He wanted distraction from thoughts that rose up, hungry to bite, like lurkers in the dark.
What if the group holed up in the prison for more than a few months? What if they decided to live there permanently? Could he stay?
Long before the world went to hell, Daryl had vowed never to let anyone or anyplace tie him down. The prison was a cage. Beyond jail cells and barred windows, it represented the loss of freedom. He couldn't just tell Rick that he was going hunting and slip off into the woods. Somebody had to unlock doors for him and roll open a fence gate. Daryl understood the precautions. Vigilance kept them alive. It just stuck in his craw, now and then, and tempted him to call out, "Live man walking," when he left the cell block.
The others settled into the prison like wrens nesting in a bluebird box. Daryl stayed aloof on his perch. When it rained for two days straight, the non-solitary confinement set his nerves on edge. He volunteered to take first patrol and skipped breakfast.
She brought him a bowl of oatmeal and asked if he wanted to experience the thrill of hanging laundry to dry. He grunted in response. After she hung clothes over the second floor railing, Carol sat down on his mattress to watch him sharpen his knife.
"Did you ever see those Ginsu commercials?" she asked. "I think your knife could cut through wood and remain razor sharp too."
"Mine has to cut through skull."
Carol's eyes danced. "Can it still slice a tomato afterward?"
"Yeah." His lips twitched. "But you wouldn't want to eat it."
"Depends on if you washed it off." She laughed at his expression. "Why is that gross? We eat food that you've killed with the same arrows—"
"—they're not the same. And I purify the others with bleach or fire."
"Oh." Carol looked abashed for a couple of seconds and then she perked up. "Are you almost finished?"
He sheathed his knife.
She said, "Good. You can help me pick dandelions."
His gaze flickered to the windows.
"It's barely sprinkling," Carol said. "You won't melt."
He'd take any excuse to get some fresh air. "Okay."
Outside, the field separating the inner and outer prison fences was a swathe of emerald. "I don't see any flowers," Daryl said.
"We're hunting dandelion greens," Carol replied. "You're a country boy. Haven't you eaten them before?"
"No." His mama tried to fix them once and got a beating for it. His daddy said only animals ate weeds.
"Neither have I," Carol said. "I've read about it, though. You eat the leaves in salads or cook them."
He reached for a spear-shaped leaf. "This?"
She took it and ate it. "Yum. Fresh veggies." She picked a dandelion leaf for him to try.
Daryl chewed. The leaf had a slightly bitter taste. "Needs ranch dressing."
She punched him in the arm. "Stop being so ungrateful."
"I'm not." He appreciated being alive, having friends to watch his back and safe place to sleep. He appreciated being able to stand in an open field and pick goddamned dandelions. "It's hard sometimes," he said, "but I appreciate . . . everything . . . I have."
Carol nodded. Her eyelashes were spiky with rain.
He bent to grab more leaves. Women. They couldn't just know something. They had to hear a man say it.
Carol picked dandelion greens beside him, eating a leaf or two as they went along. After they filled a large bowl, she said, "Maybe Axel can find some ranch dressing."
A/N: Special thanks to bigpinkstork, Emberka-2012, FrozenSoldier, fynnsmom, Gone random, .H, hockeydrmr9, jwoods592, Marina Del Pilar, MarionArnold, Rose of the West, tambrathegreat, TriviaQueen and zombieslayer5, thank you to the moon and back for reviewing last chapter.
ETA: I intended this to be a season 3 story, but life and Norman Reedus' anti Daryl romance comments turned this into a three-part story of what might have been moments. I appreciate everyone who followed along and wanted more.