Disclaimer: I don't own AMC's The Walking Dead or any of its characters, wishful thinking aside.
Authors Note #1: This story centers on what might have happened during the winter between Daryl and the group. Revolving around the aspect of touch in regards to Daryl and his past. I have noticed that people touching Daryl and Daryl doing the same is a major character development that seems to have sprung up during the winter. In the first season and most of the second Daryl did not seek out physical contact and indeed went out of his way to avoid it. Often flinching away at sudden movements and raised voices. This fic explores how that habit and the reasons behind it changed during the winter.
Warnings: Contains some season three spoilers, references to Daryl's past, adult language, minor allusions to possible child abuse, neglect, and mature content.
He used to flinch and pull away for a lot of reasons, mainly because he'd learned by example that most touches were anything but kind. It didn't matter if the blows had come from his Pa, Merle, or one of the older kids at school; he'd figured out early that people rarely acted like his mama said they should.
He could list a dozen different reasons, but deep down, he figured it was because everything he touched turned to ash. Everything he'd ever taken a chance on had either been ripped away or hadn't stuck around long enough for him to have to watch it wither and die. For a long time he'd figured that was just how life was for someone like him. Hell, he'd spent close to three decades living it – breathing in a reality that wasn't just rough around the edges, but razor sharp and angry. Where no one did you no favors, and if they did they either had their hand out or their finger poised on the trigger of the gun they'd press into your spine just when you thought it was safe to let your guard down.
All else considered it wasn't surprising that he'd shied away from it. From…people. It was safer that way. But then the news started airing broadcasts about civil unrest along the east coast, gibbering on about some new virus or disease. Something different and wrong in every way mankind instinctually feared. A week later the news was drowning in reports as Las Vegas and half of Austin, Texas burned to the ground. Barely having time to cover the mass migration south before the Mexican border was completely overrun as hundreds of thousands of people fled through the bordering states. And before he could really process it, he'd found himself stuck in a quarry with a bunch of city slickers that didn't know their own asshole from a tea kettle when it came to staying alive out in the sticks.
He'd separated himself from the others early on. Dragging his tent to the far side of the RV and counting on Merle to do the rest. And like always, all Merle had really had to do was be himself. Brash, crude, and drugged up to the gills and soon enough the others had gotten the message. …Mostly.
You'd think that with the end of the world, people would have stopped taking chances on long shots and maybes and just left him the hell alone. Because despite trying to keep the others at an arm's length, Rick, Glenn, Dale, Carol – the lot of them had only started to gravitate closer. After the CDC and the highway it had gotten worse. He wasn't sure how, or even why, but he couldn't for the life of him figure out how to make it stop. …How he could stop.
And while all his experience told him otherwise, as the weeks passed and they'd settled in on the farm, he found himself flinching less. He found himself forgetting to pull away, forgetting that he wasn't supposed to care, that he shouldn't. So in reality, he didn't have anyone to blame but himself.
He knew in the back of his mind that it was only a matter of time before it came back to bite him in the ass. And eventually it did, what with Sophia and the barn. Only for once, it hadn't stayed that way, because the others were still there. He hadn't known what to make of it back then. But he sure as hell hadn't questioned it.
For once in his life, he hadn't wanted to.
But the real kicker was that sometime over the winter he'd stopped entirely. He couldn't exactly put a finger on when, but it had happened nonetheless. Perhaps he'd simply forgotten. Perhaps he'd just gotten too comfortable; lulled into the same false sense of security that the others seemed to hold onto like a tot does to its mother's apron strings. He'd let them get too close, he'd let himself care. And worse, he realized that sometime during that same stretch of time that marked their escape from the farm, he'd started touching them back.
To be honest, he wasn't sure what that made him. What it made him when he knew it was only a matter of time before something went wrong. But fool or not, he couldn't seem to stop himself. And at the end of the day he certainly couldn't stop them, even if he'd wanted to.
It'd started off with the little things. Like that moment in Hershel's parlor when Lori had come up to him. Her face tight with worry and stress, a mess of tangled hair and wide, panicked eyes as she'd touched his arm. The gesture so honest that he'd nearly lost it right then and there. He hadn't shaken her off then. Maybe he should have. But he hadn't. There had been something in her tone that had stopped him. Something that had muted even the tamest voice of descent he could muster.
Or maybe it'd been when Dale, only a day or two earlier, had rested a hand on his shoulder when his effort to plead Randal's case had failed. Disappointment and resignation highlighting his expression as he voiced what everyone hadn't wanted to admit. That somewhere along the line they'd broken instead of bent and had lost something of themselves in the process. The old man had been trying to tell them that the infection hadn't just brought death and destruction, but something worse, something that would ruin them completely if they let it.
Perhaps it had all started there. Or maybe that was just when he'd started noticing. Honestly, he couldn't remember which. Because before he knew it, it seemed like it was fuckin' open season. Like the others had just assumed that it was okay to get all familiar and shit. He'd tried to pull away, to put some distance between him and their overly familiar manhandling. But every time he tried, he just got reeled in all the tighter.
Carol's touches were the worst, partially because they were inconsistent and partially because, well, it was her. Her touches were subtle and flighty, made up of a flurry of accidental brushes and tentative squeezes. It was like the woman was walking on egg shells one minute. Only to turn around, sneak past all his guards and press her hand across the span of his chest in the next.
They were moments that'd come to define his days. Revolving around the feeling of those small little fingers trailing down his skin, sometimes curling around his arm or trailing down the length his side before sashaying away again. Going back to treating him with kid gloves before he could even so much as recover from the action itself. And unlike the touches of the others, he felt her hands on his skin for hours afterwards.
It was utterly madding – and worse? He was beginning to suspect that she was doing it on purpose.
By the time he found himself touching her back he wasn't sure if he hated it or was just getting used to it. But either way he figured that in this case, actions spoke louder than words. Because once he started, he couldn't bring himself to stop. Lord knows he'd tried. But he'd be god damned if it'd gotten him anywhere.
The point was that regardless of whether he was touchin' her, or she was touchin' him, it was god damned distracting. And predictably, that was what ended up coming back to bite him in the ass.
A/N #1: Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think! Reviews and constructive critiquing are love! There will be one more chapter to this particular story.
"Men are made uneasy; they flinch; they cannot bear the sudden light; a general restlessness supervenes; the face of society is disturbed, or perhaps convulsed; old interests and old beliefs have been destroyed before new ones have been created. These symptoms are the precursors of revolution; they have preceded all the great changes through which the world has passed." - Henry Thomas Buckle