Notes: Ok, so I finally tried to write an actual Carol/Daryl interaction, and to write from Daryl's view. Sorry. I don't write him in his dialect, except when he speaks.
Disclaimer: Copyright for The Walking Dead belongs to AMC, et al. My writing belongs to me, as do errors.
Title: "It Ain't Blind"
Since Rick had made his declaration of War, nobody had said anything. It was as if that one word had sucked all the other words that existed into itself and held them hostage, waiting for a ransom that could only be paid in blood before it would release them again. Rick had turned and mounted the stairs, striding with slow, ponderous, purposeful steps to the catwalk door, pulling it open and letting it scream its metallic way shut behind him. It wasn't until the jarring reverberation of the final slam had finished echoing through the cell block that any of them moved. Daryl found it mildly surprising that Carl was the first to come out of his stupor. The boy had raised his head and turned it to look up to where his father had disappeared, his hand sliding up his side to rest on the gun at his hip – the way it did all too often over the past weeks. Daryl could see the boy's chest rise and fall, then again, two breaths and he was moving, heading back toward their individual cells. Carl hadn't even attempted to make eye contact with any of them before he was gone.
Carl's movement past Beth had drawn her out as the next to blink back into the present. She'd turned her head to watch him, then back to her father. She moved the three paces to put her next to him and snaked her hand around his waist and under his arm, seeking the comfort of an embrace. Hershel had immediately come into himself to tighten his arm around her, and dipped his head to plant a kiss atop her head. In the same moment he reached his other arm out toward Maggie, who had shuffled to life as if losing her balance for a half-step. Her rifle slipped from her shoulder and she caught it in her hand before it could hit the floor, and crossed the common area to place her arms around both Hershel and Beth. Glenn's eyes followed her, then his face went hard and dark as he looked back around and settled for a moment on Merle. Daryl could read his expression clearly: Glenn was still convinced that Merle was the single source of all of this. Daryl wasn't sure he was wrong, but he made note. Glenn dropped his head, then, and moved toward the front of the common area where the weapons had been marshaled, crossing in front of Merle. As Glenn passed through the doorway he looked back toward Maggie, who made eye contact with him over Hershel's shoulder.
For his part, Merle wore a look of sadness. If Daryl thought him capable of it, it could even have been regret. His eyes were still on the floor, and as he raised them his expression neutralized. He skimmed up and over the Greene family as they released one another, then flicked over to meet Daryl's gaze. Merle's brow furrowed, and he shook his head ever-so slightly. His crossed arms tightened for an instant before he dropped them as part of a shrugging gesture and pushed off the wall where he'd been leaning. He stuffed his left hand in the pocket of his cargo pants, and looked down to his feet for a second, shifting his weight between feet as if trying to decide which one he would step out with first. His right foot won, and it led him to follow Glenn. Merle looked back to Daryl once more, this time with a raised eyebrow. Daryl shrugged, and inclined his head. Who knew? War made for new allegiances.
Michonne was hard to read. Maybe she had never been lost in thought. She held herself more still than any human being he had ever known. Silent as death, and deadly as silence. She hadn't even twitched as the movement had begun and even now continued to hold herself still as the Greenes released from their hug. Maggie headed toward Glenn and Merle, a concerned tightness in her jaw, Beth toward the cells and probably Carl. Hershel watched his two daughters depart in separate directions, his eyes soft, then gave a nod to Daryl, which Daryl returned. With that the vet took up his crutches from the wall beside him and moved toward the stairs. As he got to the first he paused, turning toward Michonne.
"Carol, could I have a word?"
Daryl swallowed. Carol. From where he'd been sitting on the metal table, one foot perched on a bench, the other balancing him from the ground, he couldn't see Carol. She'd been next to Michonne, rather behind her and eclipsed by the dark woman. She'd been the last to join the meeting, murmuring her apologies and something about Jude going down to sleep. Carol had taken in the room with a broad glance as she'd entered, meeting Daryl's gaze. He'd acknowledged her with a slight nod but she had simply dropped eye contact and moved quickly to the wall next to Michonne, hidden from his sight. It had felt a bit odd. Usually for things like this she'd be where their eyes could connect and silently consult. She had become a good barometer of how wise or foolish a plan was. Too brash, and she would flash him a look that said, "Whoa. Slow down, Dixon." Clever, and she would crinkle an eye into almost a wink. She hadn't liked the negotiation plan. But then, neither had he.
Hershel would have been able to see Carol, would have been able to gauge her reactions. He felt a small pang of disappointment when it occurred to him that maybe he wasn't the only one that had those silent check-ins with her. Maybe he wasn't the only one who got the advantage of her shy insight as a measure of his own judgment. The pang flipped over and crept up to burn just the slightest bit somewhere in back of his forehead. He wished he'd moved first to leave instead of watching reactions for Rick.
There was movement behind Michonne and Carol stepped out quickly to join Hershel. She had one hand wrapped around her waist, holding the rifle to her side so it didn't swing and slap on its strap. The other swiped up her cheek and then came to rest on her mouth. She didn't even look at Daryl. He adjusted his position, moving enough to generate sound and surely catch her eye. She never wavered from her focus on Hershel. As she joined him she dropped her head to listen as he said something quietly in her ear. She nodded, and adjusted position to allow him to begin ascending the stairs. She followed behind, her hand hovering at his back as if unable to believe he would be fine without assistance. She never looked around, even as the two passed through the archway into the upper deck of their living quarters. Obviously, they were headed to Carol's cell.
He didn't quite recognize how he'd turned fully around to watch her retreat until he heard the slightest "tsk" sound behind him. He spun to see Michonne with an eyebrow raised and a bit of teasing in her gaze. He narrowed his eyes at her. The burning behind his forehead flamed higher.
"Got watch," she said in that barely audible way of hers, as if her vocal chords moved as little as the rest of her. With practiced grace she virtually dematerialized before his eyes and was gone.
Daryl stood and adjusted the weight of the crossbow to balance. He reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose where the flame was starting to roar now, out toward the tips of his ears. He needed rest. He'd been on last watch the night before, and then immediately out to the meet up. A good sleep would sort all this. Course he was unlikely to get one.
At least he wasn't having to watch Merle 24/7 anymore, and he wasn't having to share a room with him. The man not only looked like a bulldog but snored like one, too. When they'd returned he'd taken a cell like everyone else. It gave a bit more privacy, and a bit more quiet from Jude's nightly squalls. During his absence Carol had moved out of the former cell she shared with Lori and taken one on the upper deck. It surprised him a bit, but it gave her easiest access to perch where her work area had migrated to, and where Jude's "nursery" was set by default. With the perch occupied, he'd taken an upper deck cell as well. It gave best access to the catwalk's defensive superiority, and the perch had been on that level, of course. He also liked that it was near Jude. And Carol.
She'd come to him when they'd returned, declaring herself in her quiet way. And they had laughed. It was the only pleasurable thing he'd felt, the only bit of softness since he got back. He hadn't had time to rightly see ass-kicker or pal around with Carl. Tensions were so high because of Merle that even Beth's singing was hard to enjoy. The best thing about it, the few minutes she'd sat at the edge of his cell and said so much with so little, was that she understood just like he'd said she would. For once in his whole life, for the first and maybe only time he'd ever put his hope behind something, he'd had a person live up to his expectations. She had been as good as he knew she was. In fact, she was better. She'd said the thing about Merle that was exactly right. She said that thing that he knew, but that he couldn't say.
In fact, he found that he couldn't say anything at all after that. Every time he saw her all he could do was sync up with her. It was like she gave off a vibration and when he felt it he vibrated the same way. He moved around her and with her. He didn't even need to watch her exactly anymore because he could sort of sense the vibration. He wanted to watch her though, and he wanted to say things to her. He wanted to enjoy their mild teasing and to find out things that happened from her rather than from anyone else. He knew that she would see things in a way that would matter. But he couldn't get that close. The vibration was good, but when he got close it shook him. First it shook the words from his mouth, then it shook the thoughts from his head, and it ended up leaving his hands shaking, too. She'd started to notice something was wrong, and she'd tried to ask him about it. All he could manage to squeeze out were some gruff brush offs before he knew he'd start to shake and she'd see all of it. And he wouldn't be able to explain any of it.
And now they were going to face this thing and she couldn't look at him, or wouldn't. He knew how much she cared for this group of people, and he also knew how much each of them relied on her to feel that for them. She was the person who demonstrated to each of them how much they meant to each other. They might shoot and kill for her, but she kept them human. Did she feel that vibration around each of them? Around Rick? Merle? Michonne? Had she felt that for Axel, and then had to hide behind his body to stay alive? Had she felt that for T-Dog, and had to listen to his screams as he sacrificed himself for her? Had she felt that for Andrea, and presumed all that time that the blonde had gone down saving her? Daryl had never once in his life, as horrible as it sometimes was, wanted to check out. But, if Carol had borne that burden for every single one of them, and now faced the thought of losing all of them in a single go?
He vaulted up the steps, and paused before going through the door. Daryl moved quietly toward his cell. He deposited the crossbow just inside and strained his ears. He could hear the low voices echoing from the walls. He leaned against the wall outside and waited, closing his eyes and letting the familiarity of their tones lull him. He could make out a low rumble that was probably Hershel, and a back and forth of high pitches that was probably the two teens from below. He heard commotion and footsteps.
"It's all we can do. He knows this man." Maggie's hiss from below.
"I'm trying. I'm getting there, ok? It's all I can do." Glenn.
"I know." Maggie, letting out a breath.
Silence. Movement. Then hesitant whispers, probably Carl and Beth again.
Daryl heard the metallic clack of Hershel's crutches along the deck. Daryl opened his eyes to see the man's tiny ponytail making the turn around the rail to the internal staircase. Hershel looked up and saw Daryl, holding his gaze for a moment. The vet gave a meaningful swing of his eyes toward Carol's cell and then held Daryl's stare seriously. Daryl hung his head, then nodded, and met Hershel's eyes one last time. Hershel looked sternly at him, before beginning his descent. Daryl wondered what it would have been like having Hershel as a father. A good sight better than the one he had been given, for sure.
He waited until the clank faded, then moved toward her cell. Just knowing she was there set the vibration to humming. He couldn't quite breathe right, and he tried to think about something besides himself. He was at the door all too quickly. She was seated on the bottom bunk, propped up against a pillow facing him. Her knees were drawn up and her bare feet were flat on the rough blanket. She had her left arm thrown over her eyes and forehead, and her right arm hung at her side off the bunk. He could see wetness on her cheeks below her arm, and she had her bottom lip captured between her teeth. She was wearing a pair of faded blue jeans cinched tight with a belt because they were too big. Everything hung on them these days. She'd removed her long-sleeved shirt, and had on a tank that looked like some rich kind of red wine. With her head tilted back at that angle, the neckline plunged and the strap sagged off her shoulder. He swallowed and he felt the vibration shiver up his spine as he noticed now long her neck was, the curls of her lengthening hair ringing her ears. Her teeth were white and straight, and her lip slightly reddened where she was biting it. His mouth felt dry.
All he could get out was clearing his throat, trying to get her attention. She startled a little at the sound, the movement shaking the tank's strap just a bit lower. She rubbed her eyes with her arm as she adjusted to look at him. She quickly brought up her other hand to swipe the wetness from her face, and sniffled a little bit. He could see she was embarrassed, and he looked away to give her a moment of privacy.
She took several deep breaths, and from his peripheral vision he watched her adjust her top and settle her hands in her lap. She didn't say anything.
He raised his eyes to her and she teared up again. She broke contact and turned away, reaching up to rub her eyes with the heels of her hands. "S'ry," she slurred. She wrapped her arms around herself. And kept her head turned away.
He stood in the doorway still, watching her. She curled her toes into the blanket, and unfurled them again
"What is it, Daryl?"
He had to speak. He needed to say something. She needed them, him.
"I – um, I jus –, this ain't what any of us wants."
A strange, strangled little laugh left her throat. "No, I guess not."
"I met a coupl'a them t'day. From Woodbury. Was weird. They're like us. Torn up. Scared."
She turned then. Interested, it seemed.
"Seems like all they have is what that sonuvabitch tells them."
She sat forward suddenly, violently. "Yeah. That, and running water and ready food, and assault weapons and from what Michonne says a tank, or something near to it." Her face looked haggard. "And they have Andrea. And they had Merle. Don't you think they know a lot more about us than we know about them? You can't for one second think that Andrea and Merle didn't unload about being left by us. Dissect all of us as character studies for his highness? For all we know their people were here before we ever were. They might know this place better than we do."
Daryl watched her carefully.
She ran her fingers through her hair. "Andrea had her chance to stop this. She had a way out. She could have saved all of us – them and us. And she didn't. He's still alive and she's still with him." Her voice was venomous when she said Andrea's name.
"What do you mean?"
Carol looked at him like he was a child. "She's his lover, Daryl. She has access to him in a way nobody else does. I...reminded her of that. Had she really been with us, it would be over." She shook her head. "But I saw it in her eyes. Michonne was right. She gave in and gave up for him. Probably the moment she saw him." That strangled, strange laugh came from her throat again.
Daryl found the news disturbing. That Carol could hatch such a plan was ballsy, and he had to respect her for it. But the jaded harshness of her judgment for Andrea being unable to complete cold-blooded murder was hard to hear. It was hard to realize that there was no way any of them could live without these conclusions anymore.
"It's possible, you know...that she didn't see what he was. Love bein' blind or that."
She rose from the bed then. In her bare feet she was even shorter than usual when she stepped to him. She looked up at him and her eyes weren't angry or sad anymore. They were serious, and clear, and he felt himself begin to shake.
"No, Daryl. Love...sees."
He blinked at her and tried to look away but as soon as he did, he knew it was a mistake. Instantly her hand was next to his face and with just her index finger she pressed on his cheek bone to bring his gaze back to her.
"I see you." It was so soft, she nearly whispered it. It vibrated from her chest and across the small space between them into his.
He raised a hand to brush he finger away but he could feel it shaking, and worse he could see it shaking as he raised it. And then she flicked her eyes to his hand...and she could see it too. Then her eyes were back to his, and she knew. She saw.
Then it wasn't just his hand that was shaking, he was trembling down to his feet. He tried to shift back and away from her, but she saw. The index finger on his cheek traced back to his hairline and behind his ear, around to the back of his neck. She was looking at him so thoroughly and he couldn't get away from it. He needed to push away from her but when his hands came up between them the trembling robbed him of strength and he couldn't touch her. Now it wasn't just her index finger on the back of his neck, it was all her fingers, and her thumb was below his ear, and then on his jaw, and she pressed up on her toes and into his hands. And his palms were trembling against her ribs and he knew she wouldn't just see, she would feel it. She was pressing up and her hand was pressing him down and she was looking at him and seeing him and there were her lips on his. Holy fuck it was Carol, and he was fool who couldn't even talk to her.
He stumbled back and into the sharp corner of the doorway, suddenly all legs and flailing arms.
She backed up a step, and just seemed to wait. She breathed. She watched him.
"I, um. What – I mean, why'd you do that?" He wanted to kick himself. He wanted to run. He wanted to know.
"Do you see me, Daryl?" Her voice was soft. She wasn't teasing. She didn't sound angry. Her voice sounded shaky. "It's been hard for me since you came back. There is never...time...or words...for what the world is now. It all," she gestured broadly, "moves so different. But if you see me, like I see you...I think I can do this. Even this." She looked at her rifle, hung on a hook on the wall. She looked at him, deeply again. And then she moved back to her bed, and sat at her pillow with her knees pulled up, where she'd been when he came in. She put her arm over her eyes again, and if her head ached. But this time instead of hanging her hand down beside her she rested it on top of her knee, palm up, as if holding it out to him.
He could leave. He could walk away while she wasn't looking. She was letting him choose without having to be watched. Because she could see him anyway. He suddenly knew with complete certainty that if he did go now he could never come back to this place with her. She could wait as she had, content to see and be seen. But she couldn't do it alone. And then he saw it. Her hand trembled. And he knew.