A/N I have been tossing up whether to turn this into something other than a one shot, if for no other reason but for the fic to fit the title, LOL. I will not mark it complete until I have decided whether I do another part, and obviously, whether this is any interest will have a bit to do with my decision. So, if you want more, you're going to have to ask. Plain and simple?
Thank you, as always, to my beta Susan, for pointing out the faults, and for the bestest friend a girl can have—Tami—for allowing me to fall deeply into this fandom and following me in the ride.
I do NOT own these characters, sad, very sad but true.
Beside Her Grave
It wasn't until the sun was beginning to set, and she heard activity in the camp, that Carol finally drifted from her fog of grief to realise what she'd done. Her daughter was dead, now laid to rest in the ground and she'd boycotted the service out of anger. Had flung Daryl aside like he caused it all.
She felt cold and empty, the night air pinching at her skin with a briskness warning of cooler days and colder nights on the way. Her hands shook as she tried to rub the cold from her arms, her face tight from the tears that had flooded her cheeks. Her body felt numb, but not so much as her heart. As if in a daze, she turned from the window she'd spent the better part of the afternoon staring out of and seeing nothing, noticing at last that the descending darkness gave her nothing in that window now but her own reflection. She couldn't look at that—had spent the last fifteen years or more trying to never see her own reflection in case Ed thought she was prideful. A harsh laugh tore from her throat. She could never work out what he thought she was proud of. She was nothing special, no great looker and he'd told her so often she'd been lucky he'd come along and joined his life to hers or she'd have entered old age never having had a man.
It was only lately she'd realised he hadn't been a man either. Daryl Dixon was a man—deep, loyal, strong, brave. Ed Peletier had been little more than nothing—a bully brandishing a regular pay check that kept a roof over their heads and a rod in his hand as he'd beaten the gratitude into her back. He'd been a miserable drunk, an evil predator who had started turning eyes toward his own daughter and Carol knew with a certainty she'd be fighting for Sophia's innocence had he not been killed that night at the quarry. She hadn't been lying when she'd told Daryl that his contribution to finding her daughter far outweighed anything Ed Peletier had ever done for his own flesh and blood. Ed had done nothing for no one his whole life, unless it was for Ed himself.
Carol slowly stood, pushing awkwardly out of the booth, her legs feeling weak from sitting for so long. She felt dizzy, sick, and reached for the edge of the table to steady herself. There was no one in the RV now, no one wanting to encroach on her space and while she was grateful, the memory of Daryl sitting there, watching her as she tried not to fall apart was suddenly a craving she felt settle deep in her gut. He'd rejected every form of physical contact between them so far, but today he'd wrapped his arms around her to keep her from reaching Sophia—kept her alive in case she'd had some stupid idea in her head of letting herself get bitten. He'd held her tight as she started to lose herself and when the dust had settled around her shattered life, she'd wrenched herself free, threw him away like he was nothing.
Daryl already thought himself nothing too often for her to let him continue thinking it now. She wasn't selfish enough to think that no one else grieved in this camp with her—Sophia had meant something to them all and with only a few exceptions, they'd all clung to the belief she'd be found. They'd all believed Daryl would find her. Carol wasn't sure why they'd all had more faith in Daryl than Daryl had had in himself, but they had and she thought it was time he understood that.
She thought it was about time she apologised for being the bitch that threw his comfort away when he'd probably been hurting almost as much as her—though she still didn't quite understand why. She thought it might have something to do with that story Andrea had told her he'd shared the night they'd both gone out looking for Sophia. About how he'd been lost in the woods for nine days and not one of his family looked for him, let alone knew he was gone. Nine days for a little boy to not be loved or missed. Carol's heart broke for the pain he must have grown up with. For the neglect.
Or maybe he'd searched and searched for Sophia because he'd not been able to search more for Merle. It didn't really matter. What mattered was that he knew she was sorry—for not letting his arms console her, for not letting him own his own pain, and for not standing beside him at her own daughter's grave.
Carol stood on the edge of camp, her dazed gaze searching for his tent but not finding it amongst the rest of the group's camp. Lori approached her and Carol flinched at how careful the other woman was, how gentle she was as she took Carol's hand and led her to the side of the camp, away from the others as they sat and ate their supper.
"He packed up all his stuff and moved back over the field. He's got a small fire going so you can see which way to go." Lori pointed it out and Carol squinted at how far away he'd gone. Her heart sank. So much damage had been done, and so much of it done unthinkingly by her. She nodded her thanks to Lori, distracted, her eyes barely leaving that small glow of his campfire as she started to put one foot in front of the other.
He wasn't going to take her appearance well. She knew it with the same certainty that had always known when Ed's was at his weakest. She wasn't afraid of Daryl, but she was scared of this moment. She had no doubt it would be painful as he struck out and did his best to hurt her. She'd learned well over the years how to shield herself from ugly words, but even she knew that there would always be one or two that slipped through. She had to allow Daryl to express his grief someway, but she was terrified of what it would do to them both.
She didn't see him immediately, her soft approach a surprise as she'd felt her heart knocking up a din something awful in her chest. She saw his kills strung across a line, and a shoelace that looked like it had ears threaded on it. Carol stopped at it, feeling a pit of nausea rise in her stomach, but then shook it away. Daryl was different, she knew, but if he had a necklace of ears then he'd have a reason for it. She was close to smiling about it when he was suddenly there, in front of her spitting fire and anger in her face.
"What are you doin'?"
"Keepin' an eye on you," she admitted, suddenly afraid of how hard that was going to be now that he'd distanced himself with such finality. It was hard to reconcile that he was back to this, taking back his hatred of them, all because her little girl died and his hope right along with it.
He circled her, making her nervous but his, "Ain't you a peach," almost broke her heart anew.
"I'm not gonna let you pull away." As if she had any hope of stopping him if he was determined, and if he hadn't already cut the strings that bound them. Her fear built until she shook with it, but losing it right now wasn't going to help—not her and especially not him. She had a feeling that Daryl had felt a lot of rejection in his life and had probably had little chance to fight against it. His father, his brother, maybe even his mother had stood by while this man had grown from a little boy too used to having happiness kicked out of him. If she had any chance of drawing him back to her, to the group, she had to play this with a wisdom she'd never had before. "You've earned your place."
He was straight back in her face. "If you spent half your time minding your daughter's business instead of sticking your nose in everybody else's, she'd still be alive."
With years of training, Carol let his words roll off her like water off a duck's back. If she allowed them to strike her she knew she wouldn't be able to do this, wouldn't be allowed to give him what he really needed from her.
She'd never given Ed permission to hurt her, not like she was inviting Daryl to do, but deep in her soul she knew she'd never shared anything she truly cared about with Ed. Physically they'd shared a daughter, but not the emotion or devotion that came with being parents. Not like she'd shared Sophia with Daryl. Maybe not while her daughter was flesh and blood between them, but her memory, her importance, her love, she'd shared that all with Daryl and she felt he knew it. That that was a small part of why he hurt so bad now that he had to withdraw from them all lest they see exactly how much Sophia's loss cut into him.
His expression softened as she gave him sanction to let loose on her, and confusion crept into his eyes.
"Go ahead and what?" He stared at her, emotion bubbling up inside him and Carol felt tears bite the inside of her throat at the pain he could barely share. "Just go. I don't want you here." He was constantly moving, back and forth, further away.
She didn't, couldn't move and suddenly he was right up against her, the heat from his body passing the air's stillness to sear into her flesh. His finger slashed through the air in front of her face so that his words could eat at her heart a little faster. "Lady, you're a real piece of work. What, you gonna make this about my daddy or some crap like that? Hey, you don't know Jack. You're afraid 'cause you're all alone. No husband. No daughter. You don't know what to do with yourself."
Her silence was difficult for him to handle, she could tell, and secretly hoped this would be over soon. It was getting harder and harder to ignore his words, laced heavily with truth.
"You ain't my problem."
Why did that hurt more than anything else he'd said? Then his anger whipped out of control and her fear at how this might end took hold.
"Sophia wasn't mine. All you had to do was keep an eye on her," he shouted in her face and it was the last thing Carol could take. She flinched back, a cry in her heart but her lips refusing to let it out. She was unable to hold back the tears, though, and even though they made his image blur, she stared at him and hoped he could believe everything she wanted to say and see the words she didn't think she could.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
He stalled, stunned that she'd be apologising to him when it was he that had slashed at her with words designed to wound, and wound deep.
"What?" He stumbled back, baffled and hurting and Carol took a step toward him, closing the distance he was trying to create.
"I wasn't even thinking," she began, hugging her arms around herself at the vivid image of Sophia as she'd left that barn once the gunfire had finally ceased. "All I wanted was to hold her. Wasn't thinking she could bite me. That's not what I want, Daryl."
Shock turned to hope as he searched her face for some truth in what she was saying. Carol thought they probably all had thought she'd want to follow her daughter into death. She wasn't overly valued in the group, she knew that. Cooking and cleaning and repairing tattered clothing would only take her so far—especially if she didn't learn how to protect herself and others soon. She didn't want to 'check out', though, like Jenner and Jacqui. She wanted to live, even if her daughter was dead. Even if the only thing that gave her life light and meaning was gone forever.
"I'm…grateful to you for stopping me. For holding me back." She looked him boldly in the eye. "For protecting me from Sophia." She took another step closer and put her hand on his arm, ignoring the spark of nerves that told her this was it, the point where he chose to become lost and turn his back on them all for good, or to take the comfort that she so willingly offered. "And I'm sorry for pushing you away—outside the barn and in the RV. I should have gone with you to bury her." Tears were flowing heavily now and Carol gulped hard. "I wish I had."
Carol suddenly saw how horrible the silent treatment was, and rushed to fill it with words just like Daryl had, but she hoped hers didn't strip him down but built him up and gave him the belief in himself Carol now knew he'd never had.
"You're a good man, Daryl. A great man," she said with feeling, knowing it deep in her heart. She paused, the thoughts racing through her head making her flesh tingle and a hum of need vibrate throughout her entire body. "If Sophia had been yours," she breathed, terrified, "she'd never have gone missing. She'd never have been bit. If Sophia had been yours, she'd have known what it felt like to mean something to her daddy."
Her hand had been resting on his arm but now she swept her fingers down, marvelling at the sensation of goosebumps erupting on his flesh. She captured his hand, gently curling her fingers around his and marvelling that he hadn't yanked it away. That he hadn't thrown away her touch like she was fire. She stared at them, her heart thumping wildly in her chest as her tears stopped and gradually dried on her cheeks. She couldn't believe he was still there, holding her hand like they'd been doing it for weeks. Feeling punch drunk and on the edge of something tremendous, she took another step closer, her thumb sweeping absently against his palm and her chest barely an inch from his. Her other hand came up unbidden and she placed her palm against his heart, raising her gaze to finally lock with his. The anger that had fuelled him before was gone, replaced with something she thought might have been fear.
"I don't want to be your problem," Carol whispered, her throat dry and husky.
"What do you want?" Daryl asked after several beats and Carol struggled to breathe. What did she want? When she'd found her way to his camp she'd just wanted to let him grieve, wanted to bring him back to the group and apologise for throwing his embrace away. Now she was bombarded with sensations in her body: grief and pain, passion and, something close to love. She gasped, shocked at the turn of her thoughts, but hopeful because he was still there, not pulling away and rejecting her. There turned out to be too much that she wanted from him, and instead of muddying it with words, Carol took that last step between them and brushed her lips against his, her eyes falling shut as if drugged when his lips softened in surprise and he shyly returned her kiss. She sagged against him in relief as his arm curled around her back and she vowed to herself she'd never leave his embrace again until he was ready to release her. Carol's hand moved over his chest, feeling the raised bump of a scar under his shirt, the rounded curve of his shoulder, the smooth plane of his neck until she curled her fingers in his hair. Her mouth fell open and she moaned as he fell with her, his tongue flicking at her bottom lip before discarding all the rules and throwing himself into it with a passion she hadn't seen in him since he'd lost it at the quarry when told his brother had been left in Atlanta.
Carol stood in a daze when he pulled away. Her lips felt bruised, but unlike other bruises she'd worn throughout her life, this one felt good. She panted for breath and gave in to the desire to rest against him, her face finding a place over his heart. He released her fingers and put his other arm around her, holding onto her tightly enough so that she could feel how his body shuddered against hers. She breathed him in deeply, following another impulse and kissed his neck. It was an intimacy that pushed beyond their first kiss and Carol smiled at the jump of his pulse against her lips.
They stood entwined, not speaking, until Daryl's fire had almost died out. He let her go but caught her hand before she could step away, led her to the fire and sat her down. He tossed some sticks on the dying embers and poked it until it flared up, adding some larger pieces of wood then stoked it until he was happy it would burn. Then he returned to her, sat down and pulled her into him, her back to his front and his arms wrapped tightly around her once again. He rubbed his cheek against hers and she smiled, turning just enough to catch the side of his face with her palm, looking deep in his eyes before she chanced another brief, almost chaste kiss, then turned back to the flames and settled against him. They watched the fire together until her lids drooped, and as she slept, he held her even tighter.