A soft squeal from the bed next to him brought Daryl out of his slumber. A smile fell across his face as he felt his daughter crawl over to him, kneeling beside his hips. Grabbing her daddy's arm that was resting down the length of his body, she giggled and pulled at his fingers.
Daryl's eyes cracked open. He held his breath as he watched her. He smiled at her fascination with his rough digits. Daryl let her wrap one small hand around his middle finger. She stuck the tip in her mouth, chomping down on it.
"Hey now, Punkin," Daryl drawled, extracting his finger from his daughter's grasp.
Piper looked at her daddy with wide and expectant eyes. She grinned at him, her two teeth shining. "Muumm mmuumm mmam mmm," she babbled, excitedly.
Daryl leaned over, curling around his little girl. "Are you trying to say 'Momma'?" he asked, hopefully. "'Momma'?"
Piper drooled down her chin, and her daddy wiped absently at the drop forming just before it fell onto the bed "mmmmm mmmmamm mamm muumm," she continued to babble.
Daryl's stomach gurgled, responding to his girl's nonsensical babbling. "Alright Pipsqueak," Daddy grumbled. "Time to go find food. And then we'll go see how Momma's doin' on watch."
He carried his daughter down to the common area where everyone else was sitting around the table eating breakfast. Piper giggled and slapped her palms together excitedly as she looked over her adoring masses. "Mummm mmum mmmu," she told them all.
"That so, Pip?" Daryl's older brother asked as Daddy placed the girl in Carol's capable hands.
The toddler squealed in delight, her two tooth smile growing, her nose crinkling. She tried to launch herself out of Carol's arms towards the older man. "Muhl!"
Everyone around the table quieted down as she tried to wiggle out of Carol's grasp, her arms outstretched to her uncle. "MUHL!"
Daryl almost dropped the spoon in his hands as he looked back over his shoulder at his daughter being transferred from Carol to Merle. His big brother looked entirely too smug.
"Aww, Pip," the older man cooed, nuzzling the little girl's cheek. "You're gonna thaw an ole man's heart with shit like that." Uncle Merle blew a raspberry on the girl's cheek.
Piper just giggled at her uncle's affections. She reached for his nose, and hooked her fingers inside one of his nostrils.
"Momma's gonna love that," Hershel stated from the other end of the table.
Daryl followed closely behind Piper as she climbed the stairs to the tower. God forbid he carred her. She had demanded to be put down as soon as they hit the steps. He was fairly certain she was going to take over leadership from Rick before her 2nd birthday at this rate. The girl was more pigheaded and independent than either of her parents.
About halfway up the stairs, Daryl couldn't take any more of her snail's pace. Risking her wrath, he picked her up and carried her kicking and whining the whole way to the top.
"There's my girl," Maggie gushed as Daddy set Piper on the top of the steps. The little girl quickly rushed to her mom, squealing. Maggie scooped up the girl as Daryl moved to stand beside them. He deposited a quick kiss on his woman's lips before looking out past the fence.
"How was your night?"
Maggie snuggled the girl as Daryl picked up her rifle to keep it out of Piper's reach. "Quiet."
"Who's up next?"
Maggie shook her head. "I don't remember," she yawned.
Daryl glanced back at her. "Need a break?"
Maggie stared at her man. They had been over and over this. She didn't need to be mothered. She continued to glare at the man. He finally squirmed. "What? Fine. Whatever." Daryl threw his hands up in the air.
Merle chose that very moment to pop his head into the tower. "Hey."
Piper grinned at him, clapping her hands together. "Muhl!" she squealed.
Maggie's neck almost broke as she turned to look at the girl in her arms. That couldn't possibly be her girl's first word, could it? What the hell?
"You teach her that, Uncle Merle?" Momma's voice was cold.
"No ma'am," the older man insisted, tickling Piper as he walked by.
"Uh-huh." Maggie wasn't buying it. She wouldn't put it past her 'brother-in-law' for a second. Maybe she was letting Piper spend too much time with Carol and Merle, relying on them, as well as Beth and her dad to do what Maggie should be doing, raising her. Maybe Maggie needed to not be so adamant that she be involved with watch. Or runs. Or anything that kept her from taking care of Piper directly.
Biting back tears, Maggie quickly headed for the stairs, almost jogging down them with Piper tight in her arms. If she was paying attention, she might have heard Daryl's footfalls right behind her, moving just a little faster than she was. But she didn't notice him until he grabbed her arm, spinning her, and pulling her to him in one well practiced smooth movement. Arms still around Piper, Maggie allowed herself to be enveloped in his warm, comforting embrace. Her cheek rested on his collar bone and she inhaled his scent, and she was done. Sobs, huge snot-filled sobs wracked Maggie, making Daryl's arms tighten around her.
Color him confused. Daryl had no idea what the hell just happened. He had no clue what had sent Maggie scurrying away from Merle and him like that. No one said anything that would cause anyone to cry like this. Daryl glanced down to see Piper pat her momma on the cheek, a frown on the little face. The girl looked up at him, asking him to make her better.
"Am tryin', Punkin," he told his daughter. "Babydoll, what's goin' on?"
Maggie didn't answer, she just pushed herself tighter into his chest. Her sobs quieted, but the tears did not cease. Daryl stood with his arms around his girls for who knew how long. He felt Merle's eyes on them more than once from the tower but he ignored his brother. He was worried about Maggie. Of all the women in their little group, Maggie wasn't the one who cried at the drop of hat.
"C'mon, baby. What's all this for then?" he tried again.
The woman in his arms continued her silent tears until Piper started to whine and cry. Maggie lifted her head and shushed her daughter. "I'm sorry, baby girl. Momma's ok."
Daryl tried to take the girl from Maggie, but his woman just shook her head, and wiped impatiently at the tears on her own face with the back of her hand. Piper wiggled and pushed at her mom's chest, the signal she wanted to be put down.
Once her feet hit the ground, Piper bent over and picked at the grass in the yard, babbling at it. She pulled a blade out and held it out for someone to take. Maggie reached her hand out. "Am I a bad mother?"
"Whut?" Daryl must be hearing things. He stared at her hard, trying to figure out what in the hell she was talking about.
"Am I a bad mother?" Maggie asked again, slower, tears pooling again at the top of her bottom lashes.
He cupped both of her cheeks and looked into her eyes. "Baby why would you ever think something like that?"
Closing her eyes tight, she allowed the tears to spill down her cheeks. "Cuz Piper's first word was your asshole brother's name."
Daryl shook his head quickly, as if clearing cobwebs from his brain. A scowl filled his face. What the hell did Piper saying Merle's name have to do with how good of a mother Maggie was? "What the fuck are you talking about?" he asked, genuinely confused.
Maggie tried to pull out of his grasp. "Never mind," she said impatiently. She pushed at his hands, trying to move away. When he held fast, she curled her fingers over the tops of his hands, hooking the tips above his. She looked into the crystal blue eyes that stared at her hard. Not hard in a bad way, but like he was trying to figure out what in the world she was talking about, as if staring at her would help unlock the mysteries in her brain.
"No babydoll, explain it to me," he insisted.
She huffed and closed her eyes again, now thinking this little temper tantrum of hers was stupid and uncalled for. "Maybe if I was around more to take care of Piper, maybe her first word would have been 'Momma' or 'Daddy.' Not Merle."
Daryl tried to make that explanation clear up the confusion as to why she was a bad mother, but it didn't. "You are always around."
"I mean maybe if I wasn't out on watch, or going out on runs..."
The confused pucker on his face didn't relent. "But you want to do those things. And we need you to do those things, as much as I don't want you to do them. You are one of our better shots."
"But I leave Piper in other people's care."
"It's not like we hand her off to walkers when we have to go do something," Daryl insisted. "I admit Merle may not be the most nurturing bastard here but he tries. He loves her. She loves him."
Now Maggie felt like a bitch. And the tears were back.
FUCK! What did he say? "Christ, woman," he muttered, pulling her back into his arms.
She buried herself in him, letting the tears flow again, as he rocked her back and forth, like he did when Piper was upset. "You need to calm down," he said softly in her hair. "It's not the end of the world. We hit that 3 years ago."
Maggie snot-snorted into his chest, and pressed her eyes against his shirt. She said something but the words didn't reach his ears. "What was that, baby doll?" he asked, tilting her head back to look up at him. Maggie bit her bottom lip as he used his thumb to wipe at the wet streaks on her face.
Her eyes met his, flicking back and forth between the two. "I'm just afraid I'll screw up our kids forever by not being here for them."
Daryl's arms tightened around her, and he let out a soft whine. "Kids?"
His woman nodded and Daryl could think of nothing else to do but lean over and kiss her softly. "Kids?" he asked again, his lips brushing against his. "Shit. Well I guess you'll get some more quality time with Piper now," he teased, his hand snaking under her shirt, and pressing to the flat of her belly. "You are done with runs for a while."