AN: My apologies that this has taken so long. I am a little overwhelmed with other things at the moment—including school holidays, a unique form of torture if ever there was one! I am still formulating the plot for this fic, which is why it is moving a little slower than my others, as well as trying to combine characters from two shows is a little more complicated than I anticipated. Now I know why I've never tried it before. Thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed so far. I really appreciate you reading and your feedback. Please keep on and offering any ideas. You never know when something might spark a new direction.
Just noticed I've mucked up the numbering of this fic. The previous chapter is called chapter 6 but it's actually 5. When I feel up to it I will swap that out and fix it.
It felt like a month since Daryl had managed to be in the same place with Carol and also find themselves alone. It had only been days since he'd found her, dehydrated and weak after she had been missing for more days before that. She'd recovered well, looking strong and serene as she dealt with the incessant needs of the group—this time folding, methodically laying everything out in piles in their common room. The clothing piles weren't large and he knew that they'd have to go on a run soon, try and top it up before winter hit and they were even more chilled in these tombs than they were already. The piles of sheets, blankets and pillowcases seemed huge in comparison, and Daryl felt a slight smile tease at his lips. If all else failed, he had faith that Carol could outfit them all in highly fashionable togas. Could be the way the world was heading, for all he knew.
She knew he was there, standing silent and watching her, and she didn't seem self-conscious at all. For some reason that disappointed him, making him wonder if he really did only mean as much to her as a good friend would, and nothing more.
"What do you make of the new people?" he asked, needing to break the silence between them before his head started to echo with Merle-like accusations and name-calling.
She finished folding a sheet, carefully placing it on the pile furthest from her and smoothing it out. Then she turned, her face a study of warmth, her cheeks tinged pink, and he hoped that maybe she wasn't so unaffected by his presence as he'd first thought.
"I like Buffy," she confided, and he nodded, having known that she would. The girl was guileless, saying what she thought and holding nothing back. They certainly had no grounds to accuse her of keeping secrets. She'd spun the story of her vampire friend, her supernatural title of slayer and then displayed her astounding strength and fighting skills like it was absolutely nothing new or shocking. And in this new world where they found themselves stranded, maybe she was right.
"Saw her move a tree off the road like it was a toothpick," he said, stepping closer to her and wanting to rest his hand on her waist so bad he had to bite his lip to control the impulse. "You be careful 'round her. Don' think she'll hurt you but I don' want you takin' any chances."
Carol nodded, staring so deep into his eyes that he couldn't pull away. "And Spike?" Her voice was barely above a husky whisper and he swallowed hard as she took another tiny step closer to him, almost like she couldn't help herself.
"Truth be told, the both of 'em could bend us in half an' wipe the floor with us in seconds, but we don' have a choice. Can't be picky no more. World out there's not the same as it was. The good guys are a few down on the bad, looks like."
"Okay, I am dutifully warned. I'll be careful. I promise."
His insides started a slow boil that built with the warmth of her smile. He tore his eyes away with difficulty, looking over the area they usually used for meals and discussions and couldn't help but be impressed with how clean it was. It was a good distraction, anyway, until he felt her hand close around his forearm and he almost jumped right out of his skin.
"You seen how he makes puppy dog eyes at her?" Carol's fingers curled gently around his forearm, like she had no idea his body was now on high alert. Like she had no idea how her touch affected him. He gulped, hard, and pretended he didn't notice that she was touching him at all.
"I seen how she makes 'em back," he admitted, his voice rough and gravelly, with the merest hint of a squeak.
"Kind of dumb of them when they so obviously love each other. I wonder what's holdin' them back?"
Carol's hand hadn't moved, and Daryl was wondering, hoping, that maybe she was talking about more than the new couple that had found safety behind their prison walls, because with her small hand on him he wanted to stop being dumb. Right in that moment he had no idea what had been holding him back all this time.
"Maybe we can do somethin' to help 'em along a bit?" He had no idea what he was suggesting, never having had the need to be a matchmaker before, but whatever words had just spilled out of his mouth he could see how it lit up Carol's eyes and made them sparkle like precious jewels.
"I could get behind that, but I don't know how successful we could be. Pushing those two together might need an Act of God considering how long they've been avoiding their feelings."
"Ain't no God at work in this world no more. Thought you knew that?" He hadn't meant to be harsh, and he expected her to flinch. She didn't though, instead her brow curled in thought.
"I suppose there's always the seduction route," she said, her eyes suddenly distant as she entertained some idea he wasn't privy to in her head.
"The what now? You're spinnin' bullshit now, ain't ya? As if I'd stand by while you went and tried to seduce a vampire. Don't you know nothin' about these things? He'd suck your blood an' don't think he won't. Saw what he did to the Governor an'…"
"Daryl, I didn't mean me," she giggled. Giggled, like he was some kind of stupid asshole to even think she'd meant her. Why the hell not her, he thought, feeling light headed with trying to work out what exactly was happening with his support swinging back and forth like a tennis match. "I'm way too old for him. Maybe we can get Beth to make a play for him, though—she's young and pretty and blonde."
"You know what, woman?" Daryl licked his bottom lip nervously, suddenly extremely uncomfortable with any of the women from his group trying to seduce a vampire, but especially Carol. "How 'bout we leave it to them to sort out? Must be a reason why they're bein' dumbasses about it."
Carol beamed at him, and finally lifted her hand off his arm. Losing her touch was a shock, his flesh freezing so suddenly he wanted to thrust it into a fire to feel the warmth again.
"You're right," she conceded, and Daryl hefted an enormous sigh of relief. "If they want to avoid bein' with each other when it's the end of the world, then that's on them." She looked up at him through lowered lashes and his heart rate sped up. "I'd hate for anyone else to be such a dumbass about avoidin' love, though. There's just not enough time to be playin' those sorts of games." Her eyes were knowing as she picked up the pile of sheets in one arm and skimmed her hand over his belly before she left the room. He felt like he'd been struck by lightening, his muscles clenching against the overly familiar touch as his blood started to rush to his head, and not the one he was used to thinking with.
Now, he just knew she wasn't calling him a dumbass.
Rick Grimes was many things. He was an ex-officer, an ex-best friend, an ex-husband and now he was an ex-member of the society of the sane. He'd started to see them—Shane at Woodbury during the gunfight to get Maggie and Glenn out, and now he was seeing Lori around the prison. He didn't know what she wanted with him but he felt helpless about leaving her to it. Underlying all of this, though, was his fear that if he didn't get his shit together soon, he might end up being an ex-leader and an ex-father to boot.
Carl was always watching him these days, but the boy's eyes had narrowed and watched him even closer since he'd returned from Woodbury. Returned with two strangers and one who wasn't but who they all wish could have been. Knowing Merle's past with the group made it all the harder to have him around, but sadly Daryl's brother didn't appear to be going anywhere. At least for the moment they had him restrained, though Rick knew that couldn't last much longer.
He looked out on the yard, cracking a rusty grin as he witnessed some altercation with Axel and their newest fighter—a pipsqueak of a girl that looked like she could barely lift her own arms, let alone swing her weapon with such brutal efficiency. Axel was way out of his league and Rick found it amusing that the ex-con didn't even seem to know it.
Hershel shuffled up beside him and they stood quietly on the catwalk, observing the show. Axel's greasy pickup lines flowed up to them and Rick barely held in the urge to laugh out loud, feeling lighter than he had in weeks. Maybe even months.
"New people," Hershel started, his own voice tainted with the humour of Buffy and her avoidance tactics—she'd walk away from Axel and then he'd come skipping up behind her and try his luck once again. "Seems like they might be good people, even if one is already dead."
Rick nodded. He'd learned to second guess his gut feelings about people. Ever since his best friend had turned on him—preferring him dead so he could take things back up with Lori. He wanted to say he could trust these people that now depended on him for their lives—wanted to trust Daryl, Hershel, Glenn and found that he just couldn't loosen himself enough to risk it. If he were to be truthful to himself, the only one of them he trusted without doubt was Merle and his desire to put a bullet in his head.
"Yeah," Rick said in his lazy, non-committal drawl. "They'll be good allies in a fight—as long as they stay on our side. That little girl," he flicked his head in the direction of Buffy just as she looked up and found them watching her. She gave them a super-sized smile and blew them a kiss and waved before turning to do another lap of the fence. "She's stronger than all of us put together," he admitted darkly, and that was where his discomfort lay. It was hard enough to admit being vulnerable in this new world—it wasn't hard to walk through every day scared for your life when it was no secret the world wanted you dead. This girl and her boy seemed like a good deal, but how could he be sure. It was the uncertainty that was killing him. He'd been so confident that the protection the fences had offered around the prison would mean safety for the group, and yet they'd lost T-dog. They'd lost Lori. How could he know who would be next, or if in a year's time any of them would be left standing? How did he know that kicking these two out might be the very thing that killed them all? Spike had already cleared out the tombs and at least one other cell block, quickly making his way forward to the front of the prison so they could seal it all the way around. It would have taken them weeks to achieve what the vampire had in just one night and Rick was grateful. Grateful enough to recognise that he couldn't kick them out—and that meant Michonne was staying as well.
"How's the other girl doing?" he asked as if suddenly remembering the girl with the sword who he'd been forced to trust so he could save Glenn and Maggie.
"She has a concussion and a number of wounds, but she seems to be fighting it and healing much faster than I've ever seen anyone do before. I think there might be a grain of truth in this story Buffy has told us." Hershel looked at Rick, his brows knitting together as he contemplated such a far-fetched tale.
"Well, we're believin' the dead are up and walking about these days, so why the hell not believe there's such things as vampires and slayers?" Rick stepped back from the catwalk barrier fence, suddenly feeling more weary than when he'd arrived back from Woodbury. More broken than when he'd stuck Shane with his knife. What they all needed now was some hope. He just hoped these new people would give it to them.
It had been close to a year since Spike had been on a separate clock to Buffy. A year since he'd had a place to sleep so perfect for his needs. He'd taken a cell furthest from them all, thinking it would cut down on the noise so he could sleep—not that he'd been wrong, or that it had truly been a concern. As a vampire he could sleep anywhere as long as it was dark, and when he was dead to the world, he was dead. Fear had no hold over him while he slept—being a vampire dictated the urgency to find a safe place to lay his head during his downtime as once sleep overtook him, there was nothing, short of a slayer throwing something at his head, that could wake him.
Buffy hadn't wanted him to disappear into the tombs to find a cosy little spot to lay his head. She wanted them to stick together in case anything happened and they had to leave suddenly. She didn't want to lose time trying to seek him out in the dark—not that it would matter if the sun was shining when disaster struck.
So, while the slayer adjusted her inner clock to suit those of the new mates she was trying to form a bond with, he was sleeping in a cell, knowing that one night he might not be any more than a pile of dust, depending on the whims of others. It all hinged on Michonne and whether she carried around a pointy stick. Buffy trusted her—Buffy had trusted all slayers until they'd given her reason not to. Spike was thankful he'd not been with her in those early years because trying to protect himself from hundreds of newly powered up girls with an automatic urge to lay waste to all vampires would have been exhausting. But now, there was just the one and whether Buffy liked it or not, this one was already proficient with a weapon, already damaged by the dead. He wasn't sure if it was a vampire that had put those shadows in her eyes, but he knew enough to recognise it was something dead.
His eyes shot open as the sun started its descent. He could hear voices further out in the common area, a few whispered ones closer by, but the most prominent one of all was the one who'd been shown to a cell and had the door firmly locked behind him. Merle. Spike grinned. He'd taken an instant interest in the redneck, recognising a bit of himself in his younger, more brash vampire days in the older man, though the vulnerability was hidden a lot deeper than Spike had ever been able to bury his. If nothing else he could get in a good fight with one so easy to rile, and that could be a whole lot more fun than he'd had in a good while.
"Hey now, Officer Friendly. You can' keep me locked up in here forever. Can't exactly show my worth locked away in the dark." The cackle that burst from Merle's throat drew one of his own and Spike laid back and contemplated it. There was a slight shade of hysteria hidden in the man's depths and he recognised the signs of panic that Merle was succeeding at hiding from the rest of them, but couldn't from him. He knew what it was like to feel trapped—to be hated by everyone and everything around you. He'd known it intimately the year he'd been chipped, chained in Rupert's bathtub with the jeering, callous comments from Buffy and her friends hitting him harder and harder as his time went on. Oh, he knew what it felt like to be trapped, to feel useless and not be able to do a damn thing about it.
Damn his soul, now he was feeling sympathy for a man who he was sure little deserved it. He'd seen the Korean boy's face—had heard the story of Merle's vicious attack, and while he understood the redneck's desperation to have news of his brother, he couldn't condone the method. It was little wonder these people hadn't killed him the second he'd been driven through the gates and Spike knew it was only the respect the younger one had from the rest of the group that had so far kept Merle alive.
Spike sighed. Looked like he was overdue for his good deed for the day.
Sitting up he put on his boots, taking time to do up the laces just right, and wondered if Merle ever got to take off his boots anymore. Laces would be a bitch with only one hand. He'd got the short story of how that had happened, illuminating this group's history with the Dixon brothers, and felt another measure of sympathy for the bloke. Maybe he wouldn't be up for a bit of rough and tumble after all. Maybe the way to shock Merle Dixon was to treat him with a bit of gentleness. Maybe the way to tame the beast was by caring for it, and if anyone suggested Spike had gone soft over the years, all they'd have to do is see how he looked after Buffy and know it was the truth.
Launching himself to his feet, he shrugged on his duster and strode out of the cell, looking for Rick so he could offer to take on Merle duty. He might even take him into the tombs to help clear more dead out of the place. Spike wouldn't be surprised if the group wouldn't appreciate giving their ears a rest from Merle's often too shrewdly aimed but ill-timed sarcastic humour.
Rick was still close by Merle's cell, the one-handed man standing surly at the bars, his only hand clasped around one sturdy bar, his arm hanging at his side and his face mashed up against the metal. He was staring through the door at the ex-officer, his eyes revealing to Spike that simmering panic that he'd sensed before but of which Rick seemed completely oblivious.
"Rick," Spike called, stopping in front of the cell, hands in his pockets. "Thought Merle and I could go clear out some more of the tombs. Might be some surprises in there you lot haven't discovered yet. Maybe a library?" Spike shrugged, aimed a head jerk in Merle's direction and with determination displayed in the set of his lips and the gleam in his eyes, he managed to convince Rick it was a workable solution without another word spoken.
Rick nodded and the jangling of the prison key chain rebounded off the cement walls, the key scraping in the lock and the door screeching on its hinges as it swung open and Merle took a step out. His chest swayed with his heavy, relieved breaths and Spike smirked, leading the way off the perch and down the steps to the lower level. Merle ambled along behind him, trying to hurry without appearing like he was.