Disclaimer: I still don't own The Walking Dead, plot, story, or characters. Regrettably.
Anyhow, here's the second part of my two part "Clinging" story. I really like how these two seem to understand one another, even when they don't seem to have a whole lot of interaction in the show - it's hinted at that they're closer friends than we get to experience as a viewer.
Thanks again to BulletTimeScully for the idea - and for the lovely reviews!
Four days had passed since Carol began using Daryl's poncho as a blanket.
No one said anything, though almost all of them had walked past her cell once or twice in the previous days to see her clinging to it for dear life in her sleep. No one wanted to say anything to the woman who had grown by leaps and bounds since finding her in Atlanta, broken and bruised, saddled with an abusive husband and a daughter who needed protecting. Carol astounded most of them; even Axel, who didn't know her nearly as well as the others seemed to care for her a great deal. Despite his lecherous tendencies, he saw a strength in her that was quieter than perhaps that of Glenn or Maggie, but it was the kind of strength that made him feel safer with her around than not.
Every day for the last four days, Carol folded the poncho neatly when she woke, placing it at the foot of her cot before setting about the daily chores or cooking, watch, or taking care of Judith.
The tears had stopped, thank Heaven, but she still felt the odd clenching of her chest that was reminiscent of heartbreak.
On that day, the weather was starting to cool and the prison wasn't hotter than the hinges of Hell for once, a welcome reprieve for all of them as they seemed to go about their tasks with more relaxation. That is, until Glenn came running into their cell block, eyes searching wildly for Carol until he found her, standing on the perch with Carl, holding Judith in her arms.
"Carol!" He shouted, bounding up the stairs two or three at a time.
Confusion was written on her face as she willed herself not to get excited. He couldn't be back, could he? She chastised herself mentally for thinking that Daryl would come back with Merle, when that was more than likely the reason they took off in the first place - the prison was the last place he was welcome, what with what he had done to Glenn - but couldn't quell the feeling of apprehension rising in her throat.
At the top of the stairs, Glenn looked at Carl and then at Carol.
And for one wild moment, Carol thought he meant the people from Woodbury had come. Her eyes flicked from Glenn to the windows, but back to the young man in front of her when her brain reminded her that if the Governor had come, Rick would have been telling everyone to arm themselves or run.
Glenn waited for her to speak adding breathlessly "Daryl's here. He's coming in."
And just like that, Carol's eyes wide, her mouth dropped open slightly and Carl watched her expression change from disbelief, to exasperation and anger, to that look she had when she was holding back tears even though her eyes were already welling up.
"What about Merle?" Carl asked, looking up at Glenn.
Glenn clenched his jaw and said: "Talking with Rick. Apparently they came back because they ran into a couple scouts from Woodbury."
Carol nodded silently, slowly.
Daryl had convinced Merle to come back, to warn them.
He did care.
"Carol." Her name, spoken by Rick's son at her side, drew her attention down. "Let me take her."
It was a moment before she understood that he was talking about Judith, his small arms held out wide for his baby sister.
Glenn watched Carol pass Judith on to the boy, who smiled at her from under the hat he wore. He was such a good boy, hardened, steeled since Lori's death - but still such a good heart. Carol smiled too, before she heard the faint footfalls of someone's boots walking briskly toward them.
She didn't want to look. But she did.
Daryl had stopped in the middle of the cell block, looking up at the three of them with an unreadable expression in his clear blue eyes. His mouth twitched at the corner and Carol stiffened.
Then, before anyone could say differently, she took off toward her cell.
Carl and Glenn both barely had time to get out of the way before Daryl bounded past them, taking half the time Glenn had to clear the stairs and turn off after Carol.
He said nothing as he hurried after her, leaving the two young men, staring blankly at one another.
Carol had stopped dead in her tracks, three feet into her cell.
Her back was to the door, but she knew he was behind her; the light that normally poured in with the early morning light was marred with the shape of a man standing in her doorway. She could hear his shallow breath, a sound she found comforting despite herself.
"Hey." He said dumbly.
Her expression softened immediately, and she half-turned toward him. Carol couldn't stay mad at the younger Dixon brother, who startled her by looking at her like a lost puppy standing there, waiting for her to say something. It was as though he were already hanging on her words, though she hadn't spoken.
The look on his face told her that her eyes were welling up, because she could see him shift slightly, uncomfortable, and unsure of what to do. She smiled.
"Hey." She replied.
The corner of his mouth twitched upward, and she felt an unreasonable wave of affection wash over her with the small movement. It had been almost a week since Rick's return and she realized in that moment that not once had she felt more at ease, than she did with an apologetic-looking Daryl in her doorway.
"'m sorry." He said, barely above a whisper.
Daryl couldn't meet her eyes, instead, his eyes scanned the floor, the hem of her pants, the dust filling the gap where the floor met the wall. His guilt overtook him while he and Merle were gone, his loyalty to Rick had been tested, and he found that even with his own flesh and blood, the guilt wouldn't dissipate. The further away they got from the prison, the more irritable Daryl got until they stumbled upon those scouts from Woodbury, and Daryl headed back to the prison to warn them all with a cussing, complaining Merle on his tail. That was it.
Merle was downstairs, telling Rick and the others what they had seen, and no doubt Rick wanted to keep him outside the cell block so he wouldn't feel too comfortable. He knew in his heart that Merle would leave again, and he'd invariably go along with him. But there was something in Carol's eyes that he hadn't seen before, and it stopped him like a forcefield, stopped his thoughts, and damn well near his beating heart.
Turning to face him completely, Carol nodded. "I understand."
It nearly broke his heart. He knew she would - didn't make it any easier to hear it coming from her own lips, especially not when the light from behind him caught the water in her eyes, reminding him that there were tears there. Tears for... him?
"Don' reckon Rick's gonna let Merle stay." He said, downcast.
Carol smiled ruefully. "Wonder what gives you that impression."
He heard the sadness in her voice, only thinly masked by the sarcasm. She knew he was going to leave. And again, he didn't want to look into her eyes, but as his eyes scanned the room this time, they fell on the corner where his belongings sat. Immediately, his brow furrowed and he looked up at her quizzically.
Carol caught his glance and her cheekbones dusted themselves lightly with a pink colour at the realization of being caught with his things in her cell.
"Suppose you'll be wanting those back." She said, a light chuckle in her tone as she tried to sound nonchalant.
"S'alright," He said without thinking. "Keep 'em."
Daryl wondered in her silence what she'd want with a knife and a pair of his pants, but then his eyes found his poncho. Folded neatly, on her bed.
On her bed.
His eyes snapped up to hers, and she held his gaze.
More silence passed between them, before Carol took a hesitant step forward, reaching a hand out and placing it on his arm. Daryl didn't shy away at the touch, in fact, he remarked on how nice it was not to be a punch, or a firm clap on the back.
"You don't have to go." She said quietly.
"Ya said you understood." He said lamely, looking away.
"I understand that Merle's blood, and that you already left him once. And that you feel as guilty for it now as you did then." She paused to look at him, for any change in emotion, but he still couldn't meet her eyes. "But you got family here too, Daryl. Don't forget about us."
Don't forget about me.
Her thoughts seemed to reach him, as he looked at her with a pained expression. She wondered if she hadn't thought that aloud.
Carol pursed her lips and nodded. She couldn't tell Daryl not to leave. Beth had been right - they were weak without him, but she knew how much family meant to Daryl. For him, blood would always be thicker than barely-filtered prison water.
But then, she should have taken into account how good he was at surprising her.
"Couldn' forget about ya. Came back, didn't we?" He was looking at her still, his eyes hard and still so warm at the same time.
"Not much we can do against a whole town, though. Just us." She countered, aware that she was only stalling.
Daryl grunted. "Well if Rick lets Merle stay..."
"You know what he did to Glenn. Not to mention God knows how long he was there in Woodbury, what he saw, who he talked to-"
"S'why we need 'im."
"We?" Carol clung to the word like it was all she had. Did he still count himself as part of their group?
"I didn't wanna leave." He said quietly. "But Merle, he's my br-"
"I know." She said, a gentle sigh on her lips. She squeezed his arm affectionately, suddenly aware that her hand was still on his bicep. "But we're family too." She added, without a hint of uncertainty.
Daryl seemed to take his time digesting her statement, as though he had only imagined it being said. The look on his face told her he was having a hard time understanding, for taking what was said as truth for once. She knew Merle had been his only real family for most of his life - it must have been near impossible then, to imagine all of these people loving you like one of their own.
"You're family, Daryl." She said again calmly, sweetly, her hand then dropping back to her side.
After what seemed like minutes, Daryl finally spoke. "Y'all don' know me like Merle does."
"No, but we'd like to-"
"I mean, y'all don' know 'bout all the shit I've done. My life, the crap I seen. Hurtin' people..."
"Daryl Dixon," Carol's voice was firm, and she was reminded of how confident she wished to had been throughout her entire marriage. "Between all of us, we probably only know half of the true things about you Daryl, but we don't care what you did in the past. We care about all you've done for us. Now. What you're still doing for us."
Coming back to the prison had taken courage, intense courage that she knew hadn't been easy to develop in Merle's presence.
"You gotta know, that we don't want you here just 'cause you're helpful or strong."
"Then why..." His tone caused Carol's heart to tighten.
She didn't want to say what her brain was screaming - because she loved him, that was certainly why she wanted him around - and yet she knew he wouldn't be satisfied by her silence.
"Can't you guess why?" She said cheekily, cocking her head to the side and reminding the man before her that it was still just a pleasant conversation - she learned early on that if approached about his feelings, Daryl would likely just close off altogether and leave. Carol figured she had already had enough of that.
Daryl's eyes widened and darted from Carol's face to the poncho on the corner of the bed. It was a strange look he gave, like he knew immediately why she had put it there. There was no confusion on his face, written there instead was a look that she hadn't seen from him before.
Daryl of course, remembered in that moment what it felt like to find her scarf on the ground, after she went missing. He had held it in his hands and involuntarily played over every moment he could remember with her wearing it. He even swore he remembered the way her lips felt against his cheek back on the Greene farm.
"I'm gonna... uh..." He began well, but quickly lost his nerve.
Carol waited patiently for an answer.
"'m gonna go talk to Rick. 'Bout Merle."
"You gonna try and convince 'im to let your brother stay?" Carol asked incredulously.
With a brief nod of his head, Daryl said: "No point in leavin' again. 'Sides, Merle's blood but y'all are..."
Carol's lips widened with a big smile, her eyes sparkling again, though this time not with the tears that had earlier threatened to fall. She took a step forward, the sudden movement causing him to recoil slightly. She didn't. She put her left hand on his cheek, partially just to keep him there as she stood on her toes for the split second it took for her to kiss the other side of his face.
Daryl looked at her dumbly when she backed away from him. Questions were filling his mind faster than he could register them. After a few seconds, he managed to speak.
"I always wondered wh-"
She shushed him, still smiling that radiant smile. "Never wonder, Daryl."
Chuckling, she nodded. "Never wonder how we feel about you." Her thumb rubbed his cheek gently, just underneath the diagonal cut on his cheek from their adventure in Woodbury, before she let her arm drop. "D'you want me to talk to Rick?" She asked as they both made to move out of her cell.
His look told her yes.
Carol nodded, a knowing smile curving half of her mouth upward.
"Thanks." He said quietly as they began walking for the staircase, moving out of the way so she could descend first.
"Don't mention it." She said as she passed him.
"'Bout my stuff-" He said suddenly, hand clinging to the railing, white-knuckled with tension.
Carol's eyes glinted with a mischief he had come to adore. "You don't have to move it, if you don't want to." She said teasingly, though upon seeing the look in her eyes that spoke less of jest than of a challenge, he pursed his lips and followed her down the stairs wordlessly.
The two of them walked past the other cell on the main floor in silence, Maggie and Glenn now in their cell and barely catching sight of the two.
Daryl then said quietly: "No sense in movin' it again."
Carol smirked, giggled, and then nudged him playfully with her shoulder as they walked.
Glancing over at him inconspicuously, she could have sworn she saw him smile.