I hope you enjoy my first TWD fic! Reviews are always welcome.
Thank you to the wonderful idealskeptic for beta reading this for me.
Disclaimer: I own my shipper heart and nothing more.
What Darkness Erases
He knows he should just ask.
While everyone is piling into Hershel's tiny cell, watching him open his eyes and reach out for his family, Daryl only has one thing on his mind: Carol - and where the hell she's disappeared to.
When Lori runs off and Rick follows her, Daryl takes it as his own personal cue to leave them to it. He's glad Hershel doesn't need a bullet to the head, but the man only has one foot. The hell's he gonna do now?
Daryl pushes the nuisance away and walks the short distance to a cell his gaze repeatedly drifted to during last night's watch. All he can think about is her. He knows she won't be there, but he still stands in the doorway of the cell she shares with Lori and feels his lips mash into a thin line.
He knows he should just ask.
So he turns, thinking he's about to pull one of them aside and nearly tramples Carl who is hovering nearby. He grunts out about watching where he's going, and moves on.
The words freeze him for a moment or two, the same way a walker does. She's out there alone? he wants to ask, but instead he glances over his shoulder and says,
"Carol. She went outside with Glenn earlier," the boy replies quickly as though he knows what Daryl is thinking, and he realises even the kid has caught on. He's almost certain it will dwell in his thoughts later, when he's keeping watch and trying not to look at her cell again.
Right now, there's no room for it in his mind as he's doing his best not to break into a run while he passes the group – passes Glenn – still lingering ahead of him. It doesn't take long to get outside and soon he's shielding his eyes from the glaring sun to scan the fences.
He spots her pretty quick; crouched on the floor by the watchtower they started out by. The damned racing of his heart slows a little before he sees what she's crouching over and he's moving again before he's really aware.
If his reaction is anything to go by, he's sure this will go on the long list of things to mull over in those brief moments of respite. It's unbidden, unwanted, but it hovers over him anyway because there's nothing he can do to avoid it.
Rick, Glenn, Hershel…they all have loved ones to protect, the people they automatically look for when shit turns bad. Even when the others are in danger, there's that instant, subconscious thought of, where are they? are they safe? – and he know this because it's Carol he looks for every time.
But he's closing in on her, and he decides that if he can't avoid it, he'll simply ignore it for a little while longer.
He's only a few metres away when he pauses and watches her slice open the walker's midriff. It's enough to turn a stomach, even his, and it's clear in the set of her shoulders that it's taking a lot to persevere.
She gets about halfway across when she pulls the knife away, and he figures it's a good a time as any to announce his presence.
"What you doin'?"
She starts and meets his gaze over her shoulder. He moves closer, nudging the walker's head as he passes because despite the bloody hole in its left eye, Daryl still has the urge to shoot an arrow through its skull. But his crossbow remains firmly on his back, and instead, he crouches down beside her, their arms brushing momentarily.
"I'm practicing for when Lori…" She leaves the sentence hanging, and he grimaces. Even he wouldn't think to suggest a walker as practice. "With Hershel down, I'm going to need all the experience I can get."
Carol raises the non-bloody part of her wrist to her forehead, from stress, or heat, he can't really tell. This is her responsibility, he realises, just as protecting the group and hunting for food is his.
He watches her unguardedly as she shuts her eyes for a couple of seconds. When she opens them again, she has the knife ready for another attempt, and it's then that Daryl knows he would rather take on a herd of walkers than have to face the task of delivering Lori's baby.
"Watch you don't cut into the stomach," he says, remembering all too well what that looked like. "It ain't pretty, trust me."
She looks up, disgust marring her face. "You've done that?"
The question is straightforward enough, and in any other situation, he'd shrug and leave it at that…but he can't. He literally cannot force his shoulders into the noncommittal reaction for there's another, much older response in his mind already.
"We cut the son of a bitch open."
Briefly, he wonders how this particular memory has faded for her when it's so easy for him to recall. It dawns on him eventually, that like the moment her daughter stepped out of the barn, there's probably only one thing Carol remembers about that day on the highway.
Sophia running, and two walkers following right after.
He doesn't reveal this, given that the distance her name creates is ten times worse than the gore he warned her about, and neither of them needs that melancholic distraction. So the shrug comes without difficulty and she accepts it, going back to her task.
They work in silence after that, or rather Carol works while Daryl gets up and knifes the walkers eyeing them through the fence. She finishes up before he does, and stretches her sore shoulder when she thinks he's not looking. He turns as she lowers her arms, quietly deciding whether to comment on it.
It takes only a second to decide because, well, he's not quite ready to go inside yet.
"Your shoulder still hurtin'?"
"At times," she replies vaguely, but the subtle roll of the joint tells him it's more than that. He quickly reminds himself to check her positioning next time she's holding the rifle. "Your massage helped, though."
His eyes narrow, catching the twitch of her lips as she suppresses a smile. "That supposed to be a hint?"
She laughs at that, reminding him of the night before when she asked if he wanted to screw around.
He follows when she turns, staying a few steps behind. Last night he told her to stop when she joked about checking him out, and yet, now the tables have turned he can't take his eyes off her.
Hell, he's beginning to wish this strip were just a little bit longer…
He's so preoccupied by such a thought that when she comes to an abrupt stop and spins around, they collide in a mess of limbs. It happens so quickly that it's all he can do to jump back from the sudden contact. A curse rises when he feels his face grow hot and damn it she's just standing there trying not to smile again.
If he didn't know any better, he'd say she did it on purpose.
"Would you give me another massage, if I asked?" she says, holding his gaze defiantly. He wants to turn away, to use the sun that's already making him squint as an excuse. He doesn't know how this flirting business works…and fuck is this tiny woman making him feel vulnerable.
"You want one?" he manages to get out, the words mumbled even to his ears. It's a wonder she even understands, but then, she seems to understand him better than anyone does these days.
"Maybe later," she replies, and then she's disappearing inside with that damn smile of hers. Luckily, that part of the building is walker-free, and it's a relief as right now, he simply cannot move.
For the first time in a long time, Daryl Dixon needs a moment to get his shit together.
The sound of a walker roaming their cellblock makes him jolt awake.
His crossbow grates along the concrete as he grabs it and sits up in one fluid movement. Straight away, he's aiming towards the sound, his finger hovering over the trigger.
There's nothing there.
It takes only a few beats of his heart to figure out the walker was a mere figment of his imagination, and he curses himself and the stupid nightmare that woke him in the first place.
The fuckers were getting more and more realistic every night.
Daryl sighs and drags a hand over his face. Even though he knows the gates are locked and secure at either end, he still pulls himself up to check. Nightmare or not, it's made him jittery as hell, and there's no way he'll fall asleep any time soon.
He has checked the gates and scanned every empty cell when a voice comes from the tier above.
"Everything all right?"
It's T-Dog, who took first watch, which means he can't have slept for more than a few hours at the most. Daryl curses again, and when he finally replies, embarrassment twists his response into a far more irritable one than the guy deserves.
"It's fine. I'm gonna take the next watch."
Usually there's a certain amount of 'are you sure?' or 'I can watch another hour', but his voice leaves no room for argument and T-Dog is back in his cell before Daryl can get halfway to the perch.
His irritation simmers down once he settles in for the wait. Rick usually sleeps about five hours before waking up to take over, which means he has at least three hours wait ahead of him.
For once, he's glad. The silence is a little disconcerting tonight, and he blames it on the way he woke up. He'd been so sure there was a walker…
The sound of feet hitting the floor draws his attention. Without having to look, he knows it's Carol - she's the only one sleeping on a top bunk. He waits, his eyes trained on her cell until she steps out.
Her first instinct is to look up and down the tier. It's obvious she's checking who is taking watch as a moment later she's looking in his direction. His eyesight is better than hers is, and he can barely discern her as it is. If he doesn't make a sound, there's no way she'll know if he's even awake.
But, of course, there is neither use nor point to hiding, and besides, he doesn't want to hide, not from her. So he makes the smallest of noises and hopes she catches it.
There's a hint of fear in her voice, he's almost certain, and he's replying before he even knows what he wants to say.
Not yeah, or what, but a simple I'm here. Almost an invitation, so it shouldn't surprise him when she starts making her way over. She's just approaching the perch when he speaks again.
"Why are you awake?"
He sighs quietly. There's irritation in his voice again and he doesn't know why, but unlike T-Dog, she just keeps on coming. His gruffness is expected, and he's said far worse in a fit of real anger.
"Nightmares and claustrophobia aren't a good mix," she says, and yes, there's definite fear there. "I didn't get much sleep last night, either."
Daryl half goes to ask what happens in her dreams. Given that his own nightmares keep him up, it's something he can at least relate to.
But instead, all he can say is, "S'what you get for sleeping in a box."
He can recall her being claustrophobic at the CDC, too, and he wonders silently if there's a hidden reason behind her phobia, more than the mere thought of being boxed in. Like his hidden reason, he reluctantly admits.
As soon as they arrived, the bitter reminder of his childhood had him instantly refusing the cell. The walking dead are just another reason why Daryl Dixon will never sleep in a room with only one exit.
The feeling of being trapped is inescapable, and it's present in the dead of night, when the moon is shrouded and no light shines through. Even in an open area, the darkness will build its thick, black walls around you.
They will, later, if he's still awake.
A welcomed distraction comes when he sees her fingers idly kneading her shoulder. It isn't a hint, she's not obvious enough for that, but he's willing to take what he can get. Talk of claustrophobia and sleeping in boxes isn't helping either of them.
"You want that massage?"
Her shock makes him smirk away his discomfort at proposing something she called romantic.
"I ain't gonna ask again," he warns. The quip is light and said with a hint of humour, but damn if it isn't also true. If she refuses, he won't ask her again…but she doesn't turn him down, of course she doesn't.
When she moves up, it's a lot closer than he expects. In the dark, it's really just the two of them, and the whole thing feels intimate. Maybe too intimate, yet he doesn't back away – he started this, after all.
The tension in her shoulder is evident. He has half a mind to tell her to relax a little, but he catches himself at the last second since he's even tenser than she is. Gradually it eases from the both of them, and he even acknowledges that barely being able to see anything actually helps.
It all comes crashing back when he accidentally grazes his fingers along her neck, causing a shiver to travel down her spine.
He pulls away so quickly it's a surprise he doesn't jump back onto his crossbow and get an arrow in the ass for his troubles.
Carol rights herself, returning to her original position. There's something off, though; it's as if she doesn't want to meet his eye, and after being the usual victim, it takes him longer than it should to realise she's embarrassed.
"Thank you," she says quietly. "You're pretty good at that."
The whole thing has thrown him so much he doesn't even register her compliment. All he can do is stare and think how fucked up they both must be to react so badly to touch. Before he knows it, he's muttering out an apology and he doesn't know why.
It works, though.
"What a pair we are," she comments, and it's not the first time their thoughts have harmonized. The embarrassment is gone from her voice, and his has faded enough for him to sit alongside her again. They remain in perfect silence, and he prefers it that way instead of creating pointless chatter the others seem to think is necessary.
From the corner of his eye, he watches her stifle a yawn.
"You should go back to bed."
Carol catches his eye, and then glances towards her cell. "What about you?"
"I gotta wait for Rick to get up," he says, watching her hesitate. It's apparent she doesn't want to move, but there's at least another hour to go, and she won't be thanking him for it come morning.
"I guess I could set up outside the cell," she continues. The words are more for her than him, but he has already declined the idea in his head. There are a few reasons, the top being that once Rick's done his usual checks he will want to settle wherever Lori is.
Despite whatever shit they're going through, Rick always does.
It's the image of Carol dragging the mattress from the top bunk that Daryl settles on, though.
The visual makes him snort. "You'll wake the whole damn place."
Maybe it's his reaction, he muses, or the tone of his voice…whatever it is by God does it make her eyes flash and narrow.
"So what do you suggest?" she demands, and he can't help but marvel at how she can keep her voice low, yet retain the tartness as though she's shouting the words instead. "I haven't seen you step a foot inside any of those cells since we got here."
The muscles in his hand twitch, and he curls it into a fist. He's not angry at her, but shit, he almost he wishes he is, because the way she's looking at him is dangerous. It's the argumentative spark she has that attracts him so damn much, and it's shining in her eyes right now.
That, and the fact she just called him out without a second thought.
"Damn it, lady!" he spits out with a glare. "Just sleep here."
This stiffens her. "What?"
Daryl doesn't answer her right away as he's asking himself the same damn question. What the fuck?
Yeah, she fucking did, and that's the problem. She blinks at him a few times, the fight fading as she actually contemplates it. At that, he petulantly looks away; irritated at himself for tactlessly offering something that makes him unsure how he should feel.
The whole thing is made worse when he realises he's leaning towards actually hoping she'll agree, and he hasn't the first clue how to absorb that.
And that's it. She waits to see if he has anything more to say, but he keeps his lips firmly sealed and only offers a glance.
"Well…wake me up when Rick takes over," she tells him, and it seems they're back at the awkward stage again, which bothers him more than it should. He grumbles out something incoherent, still too pissed at himself to give her a definite answer.
She doesn't expect more, though, and when she lies down, there's a nagging, annoying voice in his head that tells him to turn around and look at her. By now, Daryl knows his stubbornness will win out and he resolutely stares ahead until he finally hears her breathing even out into sleep.
Another ten or so minutes pass, and he's strangely proud of this achievement, which he stores away for future use. Eventually, once she's effectively worked her way into his every thought, he settles for a new position of sitting perpendicular to her so he's facing the cells to catch when Rick wakes up.
It's just an excuse, and he knows it.
As soon as he allows his gaze to drift her way, it strikes him how small she looks in sleep. How her body curls inwards as though unconsciously trying to make itself as small as possible.
The logical explanation would be the chill in the air, but Daryl knows better than that. He knows it has more to do with the life she lived before the dead started walking.
Victims of abuse tend to make themselves as small as possible in the unlikely chance they are overlooked, and over time, they do it without thinking. Begrudgingly, Daryl notes the truth in the term it takes one to know one when he spots the signs immediately.
Similar to the first time they met…he just knew.
His assumptions were proven a week later when he witnessed Ed land the back of his hand across her face. Her small cry of pain had rattled right through him, stinging him as though he'd been struck, too.
With it, old memories had resurfaced of watching Merle knock a girl around as his younger self stood back, helpless, and it made his blood boil. Ed had caught his eye after realising there was an audience, and to this day, Daryl still doesn't know what his expression revealed.
Whatever Ed saw, it meant he never laid a finger on her again until that final day by the creek. Of course, the same night a walker burst into his tent and tore the worthless son of a bitch to pieces.
Yeah, karma is a fickle bitch.
Before then, Daryl could honestly say he's never been glad that death had taken another. He isn't ruthless enough for that, but his views changed when he and Shane had dragged the gory remains away to be buried. Changed to the point he'd almost looked forward to sticking a pickaxe through the guy's brain to prevent him from ever terrorising Carol and her little girl again.
She was the one to do it, in the end, but he still shared in her release of finally being free of her husband's abusive restraints.
Looking back, Daryl guesses that's the moment he started protecting her, though it wasn't as obvious, at first. There's a saying that states damaged things tend to stick together, and he prefers to ignore that particular term even more than the other.
The memory is still going around his mind when Rick wakes up an hour or so later. The break in the atmosphere is appreciated as Daryl uses it to clear his head and wait for Rick to emerge.
When he does, his greeting is always the same. "Any changes?"
"As quiet as ever," Daryl replies, voice gruff from lack of use. He senses rather than sees the man nod and silence falls between the pair.
If Rick notices Carol asleep beside him, he chooses not to remark on it, and once again Daryl is thankful the dead of night has made him blind to anything more than a metre away.
He wants to see Rick's reaction about as much as he wants to reveal the stupid heat that suddenly prickles beneath his cheeks.
"I'll see you in the morning," Ricks says instead, and wanders off to check on Hershel.
Now that he's effectively alone again, his musings come back to the woman next to him and he faces his next dilemma. The nagging voice returns, this time teaming up with the churning of his stomach to leave him feeling uncomfortable and well out of his depths.
She told him to wake her up once his watch was over…but with Rick in hearing distance, the thought of another late night interaction unnerves him more than the idea of sleeping beside her. The truth is he wants her to stay right there since her only other option is to return to the cell, and after everything she said, he's in no position to force that upon her.
If it were him, he'd sooner sleep outside than let someone force him to sleep some place he didn't want to.
Yet as simple as the act is, he still finds himself faltering. She won't mind, he's certain of that. In the past few months, her makeshift bed was always next to his when they couldn't afford the luxury of spreading out…but now things are different and he's left sitting there like a fool because of it.
Ultimately, it's thoughts of the following day that have him sucking it up and laying down. Delaying it any longer means less sleep, and the last thing he wants is to wake up cursing himself, and worse yet, cursing her for putting him in this position in the first place.
He firmly keeps his back to her, though, because he's acutely aware of their proximity, and facing her will only hinder his chances of much needed rest. It's not long before he begins to drift off, and somewhere in the far depths of his mind, that voice is back again, quietly admitting just how much he likes this.
His eyes reopen to the same blanket of darkness, and his first evaluation is that nothing has changed.
It's when his mind readjusts that he realises it has.
There is now a warmth against his back that somehow feels familiar; even though he's well aware he's never felt anything like it before. In a world so cold, this uncommon heat envelopes him, intensifying in a small patch between his shoulder blades. This, he knows, originates from the constant, soothing sound of Carol's breathing.
It not only surprises him that she moved, seemingly seeking comfort in his sleeping form, but that she did it without waking him. No part of her is touching him, no hand against his side or curled into the folds of his shirt, yet in the inky blackness that surrounds them, she is the only thing he feels.
Rick, he's certain, will have settled in front of Lori's cell by now. The seven people sleeping nearby and the hundred other walkers Daryl knows to be roaming the prison are just as invisible.
The darkness hides all that, masks it, erecting the walls he imagined earlier until all that is left is Carol's warmth, which has metaphorically been seeping its way into his heart for longer than he'd probably care to admit. It's entangled itself around his entire being, the way he supposes her body is moulded around his now.
But how long will it stay with him when the light of day rebuilds that what darkness erases?
He wonders over this for a while; he can't help but.
Will he wake first and leave her side? Will he avoid her eye all day by busying himself with other things?
And when nighttime returns, what then?
Will he offer his mattress, or will he stand back while gnawing his lip, silently hoping she will make the first move for him?
The dark does not offer him these answers, but it gives him the privacy he so often craves, and that makes things just a little bit easier.
Come tomorrow when daylight has faded once more and everyone is returning to their beds, he knows he should just ask.