Disclaimer: I don't own AMC's The Walking Dead or any of its characters, wishful thinking aside.
Authors Note #1: This story is meant to fit in some point during the winter when they were going from house to house - so sometime in between the season two finale and the season three premier. Focusing on the scenario of: What if Daryl and Carol had met once before, decades before the virus and their escape from Atlanta to the quarry camp?
Warnings: Contains some minor season two and three spoilers, references to Daryl's past, adult language and mature content.
Lady in Red
They'd been in a world of hurt by the time they'd stumbled across that mouldering old bar. A less jaded person might have called it fate, or maybe even good luck. But in reality, it was Daryl's keen eye and Glenn's hazy recollection of an old high school field trip to one of the state parks the next county over that had eventually led them too it. It was inconspicuous and half hidden behind a tall circle of evergreens, nearly invisible to the naked eye unless you knew just where to look. Tucked halfway down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, nearly eighty miles from the nearest city center, Oak Hill or Covington, give or take the direction.
It was a big, old fashioned brick box that looked completely out of place next to all the aging vinyl and fading white-wash that seemed to make up the majority of the buildings in the sticks. It was the kind of heap that had been built to last, complete with a crumbling chimney and a rusty rectangle of ornate spikes that outlined the four corners of the roof. It was an old fashioned example of southern architecture that was past its prime and decidedly out of place considering it housed something as low budget as a backwater bar, especially one that went by the name of "Hardy Joe's Tavern." Not only that, but was in enough disrepair that the letter "j" was missing from "Joe" and the "y" was missing from "Hardy," making it sound like some x-rated movie sold in back alley sex shops and seedy 24-hour gas stations nationwide.
Either way, it'd been surprisingly perfect. It was a warm and dry, with a big fireplace, four solid walls and a roof over their heads – so like it or not the place had fit the bill. They'd rolled in just after dusk, barley ahead of two major storm fronts that were moving in from the north and west, already fighting through a few inches of fresh snow and near white out conditions as they'd slipped and slid down the interstate. Normally they wouldn't have even been in this type of situation, but they'd been caught off guard a few hours earlier, chased out of their safe house by a herd that had staggered out of the surrounding brush like sin on a mission.
They'd been busy exploring their new surroundings and breaking up bar stools for kindling when Glenn took a crossbar to the lock on the storeroom door, returning with a smug look and half a dozen cases of expensive whiskey and beer. Boxes that according to Glenn had been carefully hidden behind a stack of empties, almost as if whoever had stacked them had been half hoping they'd go unnoticed by the rest of the staff. And it was no wonder considering the dates and names on some of the labels. There was Glenmorangie single malt, Midleton Barry Crockett, a bottle of twenty-one year old Bushmills – and that was just for starters. Whoever had tucked those boxes away had expensive taste, even she knew that much.
A few bags of bar nuts and stale pretzels had started making the rounds by the time T-dog found a bottle opener and a handful of glasses. Passing around tumblers of expensive scotch and Wild Turkey as the fire hissed and spat behind the wire mesh. The smell of damp pine and singed dust mingling with that of scorched earth and stale sweat as they huddled close. Soaking in the heat as Glenn threw another armful of kindling onto the fire.
By the time the fire had been built up, they were well into their second round. Flying high on the last dregs of adrenaline and the warm slick of alcohol that was lining their bellies in a way that even a good meal couldn't seem to equal. Grinning widely as they peeled themselves out of their heavy winter jackets and exalted in the feeling of being truly warm for the first time in weeks, holding their hands up to the flames as layer after layer of liquid warmth trickled down their throats and into their bellies.
Everyone had a glass in hand, save for Hershel and Lori. Even Carl had managed to sneak a few sips from his father's beer, clearly regretting it a few seconds later as he hid a grimace under the brim of his hat, kicking back in his chair and brushing off his reaction when he figured no one was looking. Looking bored and decidedly left out before he wandered off in the direction of the storeroom to do some exploring of his own. - Which, judging from the can of Root beer he cracked open a few minutes later and the bottle of 7-up he handed his mother had been something of a success.
For her part, it had been nearly a decade since she'd touched the stuff. But for reasons beyond her she'd taken the glass from Maggie without a word. Hell, if she was being honest, she hadn't even hesitated. It was like the years had simply melted away and she was back having drinks with her school friends down at the old pub on 24th street. The Blue Saloon, the only place other than Sam's Grill on the edge of town that didn't card you as you walked in the door.
She savored the first few sips as she reacquainted herself with the warm, full bodied tang of Wild Turkey. Rolling the flavor on her tongue before swallowing as she let her body do the rest, closing her eyes in pleasure as the potent liquor trickled down her throat like molasses. …It really had been a long time.
Everyone was in high spirits. Practically drooling as they watched the spit and listened to the occasional hiss of fat that dripped from the hunk of venison Daryl had managed to kill two days earlier. He and Rick had dressed it on the go on a tarp in the back of Hershel's truck as they'd driven around looking for a safe house. It had been a fat doe that Daryl had caught unaware along the side of a house in the suburbs, nibbling on some off season shoots and winter bulbs left over from someone's garden.
It had been their first square meal in days.
And luckily for them, with the frigid temperatures, the carcass had kept, giving them meat for days as they'd concentrated on restocking their food supplies and finding warmer clothes as the weather turned from chilly to downright freezing. - It might sound obvious, but it never ceased to amaze her the difference a lack of central heating made when it came to staying warm. In fact, she was counting down the days to summer already. She'd rather sweat to death than freeze any day.
She fished a few stale pretzels out of the bag before passing it to Lori. Chewing slowly as her mouth watered, taste buds alive with the zing of salt as she washed it down with another healthy sip of liquor. Enjoying the thrum of alcohol and the feeling of a full belly as the storm howled outside. Rattling the windows and moaning through the eves as the fire shifted, crowning their little corner in a shower of sparks as the sound of Beth's quiet laughter echoed throughout the room.
The feeling was comforting, familiar even. It sparked a sort of recognition that she couldn't quite place, something elusive and thin – something that lurked just underneath the surface, tangible, possible and enticing. Something that made her pause and think. ...Hell, the point was that it reminded her of something.
T-dog waved her off when she got up to turn the spit. Grinning widely as he pointed to a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue and mimed basting the hunk of meat with the bottle itself. She smiled back. Letting the man have his moment as he started rooting through one of the bags for the seasoning. Going all out as he started stacking the spices beside the hearth, reading off the labels with an excited air as he and Hershel started talking about the best way to go about basting two day old venison.
Leaving T-dog and Hershel to the cooking, she angled back towards her seat, making dust tracks across the filthy hardwood as she tip-toed around outstretched legs and the odd pile of gear. Only instead of retaking her place, she passed her chair and wandered deeper into the main room. Using the other's distraction as an excuse to explore as the sound of her footsteps echoed softly through the close space. The sound of quiet discussion and relieved laughter already strangely muted as she followed the bar down the opposing wall.
The bar itself was a graveyard of abandoned glasses and empty bowls. With jackets still slung across the backs of chairs and hats left to collect dust beside the napkin and coasters. It was almost as if everyone had just stopped what they'd been doing and ran. - But judging by the collection of cars still parked out front, it was a safe bet that most of them hadn't gotten very far.
She crossed her arms over her chest, pulling her sweater tighter around her shoulders as she looked up at the high ceilings. It was clearly a man's bar. What with the aging decor and the racks of antlers mounted high on the walls. Whoever had owned it had liked to mark his territory. That much was obvious from the framed pictures strewn across the walls. Mostly blurry polaroids featuring the same balding blond smiling beside his trophies, human and animal alike. With photos of pretty women interspersed between the proud smiles and shot gun salutes as the owner posed beside everything from a half a dozen fat bucks to a couple of mangy looking cougars.
It sounded judgmental, but she didn't have to have met him to know the type - brash, loud and skilled but always compensating for something. Once upon a time that observation might have even been amusing. But not now, not today - today she was just thankful that the owner had had the good sense to set up a bar in the middle of nowhere with brick walls, high windows, and a dead bolt lock.
She ran her tongue across her lower lip as she looked around, feeling strangely out of place as she turned on her heel. But that was just it. There was something familiar about this place. She did another turn around the room, whirling slowly as the framed photos reflected in the low light. Turning the smug smiles and surprised glances into an eerie, mismatched slideshow that seemed to encapsulate the entire room, pausing on pictures at random as the fire light wavered. Ebbing and flowing as fire is oft to do, until someone tossed a fresh log onto the blaze and built it back up again.
But the strange feeling remained.
A/N #1: Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think! Reviews and constructive critiquing are love! This will be a multi-chapter story, at the very least another two or three chapters, hope you enjoy!
"The past is never where you think you left it." ― Katherine Anne Porter.