AN: I started writing this the night I watched Episode 15, bawling myself stupid that Merle was dead. It's not a heartbreaking piece, but I needed Daryl to have something slightly happy after that crapfest of a day. So, here we go…and then I promise, it's back to writing chapters of actual fics. Seriously.
You Only Had To Ask
There had been confusion as the unfamiliar sedan screamed to a stop at the front gate, but Carl was on it in seconds, running down to unlock it so the car could drive in several yards but stop a reasonable distance from their small, personal cemetery that seemed to be growing by the week. Most of them had been alerted to his return by now, flowing out from the cells in time to catch Daryl open the trunk and struggle to drag a body out and over to the dirt.
Carol gasped, her hand flying to cover her mouth as tears were already formed in her eyes. "Get me the shovels," she ordered, and no one even thought of disobeying her. With two in hand, she opened the gate and ran across the open field, long grass whipping around her ankles but doing nothing to stop her. The others watched, some with a lump in their throat, some with tears making tracks down cheeks, some of them with guilt weighing heavily on their hearts, but none of them opened the gate again.
Carol stumbled to a stop before Merle and dropped to her knees, the shovels falling beside her. His head had been torn apart with fury, she saw, but there was enough left to see that he'd been a walker.
"Oh," she moaned in her deepest regret, the tears now falling as she realised what scene Daryl must have encountered. And then she raised her eyes to him and her heart broke for how he cried. She knew this—this horror of seeing a loved one becoming the monster of their nightmares. She lived with Sophia's ghastly last image every night in her dreams and now she knew Daryl would as well.
This was one of those moments, she knew, that could go horribly wrong. One of those moments where she could be pushing herself into his space and he let fly with nasty, hateful words, but this time it would cut even deeper because his pain would be his alone for a brother no one had cared about but him. But Carol cared about Daryl, she loved him and so by default, Merle, and as she saw how he broke, how he was in agony for his loss, Carol had no choice but to do something to comfort him.
She crawled carefully around Merle's body, resting one respectful hand against his leg as she remembered their earlier conversation when she'd demanded to know if he was with them. She guessed he wasn't, not anymore, and knew shock at how much that now hurt. How much regret sat heavily on her soul.
Daryl saw her coming but hardly moved, lost so much in his broken sobs that he either didn't have the energy to fight her anymore or he needed her more than he was cable of saying. He collapsed in her arms, burying his face against her shoulder as his arms went around her and squeezed her tight.
She didn't just let him cry, she cried with him, expunging all the hurt and pain and grief that she'd held inside herself with the loss of Sophia, the deaths of T-Dog and Lori, and the fear that one day it would be Daryl. She hoped she went before him, because losing him would be the loss of all of them together and that kind of tide of agony was the type of thing that left a person an empty shell with nothing left to give. Made them nothing.
"He wasn't bit," he confided later, when the sun started to fade and he was drained and weak, but still in her arms, still clinging to her strength in any way he could.
Carol glanced to the side and now saw the blood that started at a hole in Merle's stomach and stained the front of his shirt. And she wrapped her arms around Daryl's head and held him tighter.
"So he fought for you." Merle had never hidden his love for his brother. It pained her now to realise how little stock they'd all placed in that.
"He didn' have to do that. Can take care of myself."
"Michonne said he just wanted to be with you," Carol confided, her voice breaking against the waste. "He wanted to make it safe for you, Daryl."
"All he had to do was stay here with the group. We'd have taken care of it together." The anger in his voice was there, the frustration, but they were tempered by grief.
"I'm so sorry." She had nothing else, having done so little to try to reach Merle—having been too busy blaming the older brother for the shattered persona of the other. Too busy trying to protect Daryl when she should have realised Merle needed protecting as well.
When the moon finally peaked out of the sky, Daryl fell from her embrace exhausted. She'd never seen him so ragged, so vulnerable as he stumbled to his feet, shaking hands reaching for one of the shovels she'd brought to dig Merle's grave. She stood up with him and together they dug. Daryl tore out the cross that had sat there to mark her premature passing, and then he got busy hollowing out the space that was empty, preparing to put his brother in the place where he'd mourned her. Carol was shocked, but busily started digging and trusting in Daryl's judgement, refusing to dwell on what it could mean.
Her hands were shaking by the time Daryl decided the hole was deep enough, and as they threw the shovels aside, she watched him fall to his knees over his brother's body, his eyes welling up briefly before he shut them against the pain.
"I'm gonna fucking kill that bastard," Daryl swore, knowing without a doubt that Merle was dead by the Governor's hands. The words struck fear in Carol's heart, but she understood them. Understood them but knew there was no way she'd let him risk himself like that.
"Rick said we're leavin'."
"Then we'll set up explosives or somethin' and blow him up."
Carol remained quiet, standing aside as Daryl started to drag Merle's body over to his final resting place. It seemed so surreal as she watched the body of a man she'd spoken to only that morning, recognised his clothes that she'd refused to clean, be lowered into the ground. Silently, they stood side by side and gently filled in the grave, dry dirt choking the air around them. When it was finally done, they sat together and watched the new mound, thoughts and memories between them both.
"He wasn't a thing, Carol."
She startled at Daryl's rough voice, and the words that struck such a familiar chord. She took a deep, shuddering breath and remembered Sophia—remembered almost living at her grave on the farm after refusing to attend the service, despite her claims that it wasn't her daughter anymore but a thing in her body.
"No," she agreed, reaching for Daryl's hand and sighing her relief when he took it and squeezed tight. "He was your brother, and he loved you more than he loved anyone or anything else in this world. He'd have done anything for you, I know that now."
"You said he wasn't good for me."
Carol looked sideways, gauging the feeling behind the accusation and realised that Daryl wasn't condemning her for the charge, merely stating what she'd believed, and what he'd been unable to refute at the time.
"He wasn't," she confirmed, wishing so much she could say she'd been wrong. She squeezed his fingers before he could angrily pull them from her grip, desperately clinging to the contact so she knew she still had him, that he was still there and still hers, at least for the time they sat outside. "But," she paused, turning to watch the play of emotions across his face in the moonlight. "You were good for him, and maybe that has to be enough."
"Shit, how do you always know the right thing to say?"
His eyes actually glistened with shadowed humour and Carol laughed out loud. "If that were actually true, I'd probably kiss you for the compliment, but we both know I say stuff that pisses you off regularly."
"I pay you compliments all the time. You ain't never kissed me yet." His gaze lowered and he stayed focused on his brother's grave, but it was too late to stop the gasping reaction from Carol.
"Daryl Dixon, that's a bald-faced lie. When did you ever pay me a compliment?" She tugged on his hand, the one she was refusing to let go of, the one that was so warm against her, a heat in their touch now that was making her palm sweat. He'd said that word, the kissing word, and it conjured up too many of her hard-fought fantasies for her heart to stop racing now.
"I'm sure I've…" he paused as her eyes narrowed, her head shaking no, and he looked thoughtful. "I have!" he exclaimed triumphantly after a while. "The day we took the prison, I told you nice shootin'." He grinned, as if he'd just proven his point but the smile dimmed as he took in Carol's frown.
"Nice shootin'? Really? That's all you got in the whole year we've known each other," she asked, quite frankly incredulous. Not that it bothered her that he didn't bury her in praise; she knew it wasn't who he was. The compliment was in the smirk he'd give her when he approved of something she did, or the nod when she'd hit a target when she was learning to shoot. The pat on the back he'd give her when she'd cooked a meal he enjoyed, and that had always been enough for her. But now the thought of kisses in exchange for compliments, well, she was feeling a little cheated. "That's like me tellin' you 'nice hair' when you manage to not hack it off in chunks."
The moon was bright enough that she saw the blush creep across his cheekbones and she almost giggled.
"Well it ain't like I was ever taught how, you know. I coulda been like Merle, tossed a real heart-warming, "Hey, your tits look real perky in that new shirt," but I didn't think you'd be real appreciative."
Carol almost choked on a snort of laughter. It took several deep breaths around a few surprising chortles that broke free before she felt calm enough to reply.
"Daryl, if you'd told me my tits looked perky I might very well have kissed you. For now, it's enough to know that you noticed."
His eyes shot to hers in shock. "It is?"
Carol nodded, taking his hand still in hers and kissing his knuckles.
"Thank you for coming down here and helpin' me with this. Don' think I coulda done it without you." He watched her, suddenly looking hopeful. "Does that qualify as a compliment?"
Head tipping to the side to better assess him, Carol gave a half nod and licked her lips self-consciously. Her heart started thudding erratically and her body began to heat up in anticipation.
"Are you anglin' for a kiss, Dixon?"
"Only if you're up to it, with me bein' all sad an' snotty an' all," he said and Carol recognised the insecurity in every tensed muscle of his body, in the jerky spasms of his hand in hers, in the way his gaze darted rapidly around them and barely ever settling on her eyes. He ran a weary hand across his face, wiping away tears and dirt and he looked so young, so vulnerable and Carol knew he could be covered in walker blood and she'd still kiss him if that was what he wanted.
Feeling more graceful than she ever had in her life, Carol let his hand go, ignoring the look of loss that settled across his face before she moved to her knees, put her hand on his shoulder and quickly straddled his lap. Her hands slid across his broad shoulders, her fingers finding pleasure in wandering the sharp curve of them before locking together behind his neck. His expression was so mixed that Carol almost laughed again, but now wasn't the time to make him feel like he was being teased.
"You sure about this?" She had to be certain, positive that if he reacted badly to this, it would add another thing to her list of things that broke her heart.
"As sure as I am that you're beautiful."
She sucked in a breath of shock, momentarily losing focus through the sudden sheen of tears.
"I'm thinkin' you really were lyin' about not knowin' how to give compliments," she accused, breath seemingly caught in her throat as her voice came out sounding a little strangled. "You seem like a bit of an expert."
"Nah, just thought I'd earn a second kiss while I was at it." He didn't push her away, instead each work-battered hand gripped her hips and he pulled her further down on his lap. He inhaled deeply and Carol could feel his body as it shook against hers, nervousness and anticipation building between them until she could barely stand it. "You can start any time," he prompted and that was all Carol needed to spur her into action. She leaned forward, feeling the heat of his slow breaths against her lips as she drifted closer, the burn of his neck against her fingers, the tickle of his hair on the back of her hands. The bite of cool air swirling around them tempered her flush and the moon shone down brightly on them, lighting up every action. In the background Carol could hear Michonne walking the fence, her sword flicking against the metal links now and then to tinkle out a macabre prison melody. There was a quiet giggle from up in the tower, so she knew Glenn and Maggie were on watch, but she didn't care about any of it. Didn't care about anything other than that Daryl wanted her—wanted her to share his grief, share his final moments with his brother, and now to share their first kiss.
And she was stalling.
He was starting to look concerned, embarrassed and just as it seemed he was about to pull away, her lips touched his. Her imagination hadn't done any justice to the reality, his cool, dry lips clinging to her own yet barely moving. Carol felt herself drift away as if on a cloud, her mind shutting down while instinct went to work. It wasn't passionate, no tongues involved, just a sweet caress between lips eager to share with each other the depth of this day, to take the edge of grief from it so that at least one of them could walk back to their cells with a heart degrees lighter. Yet it was compulsive, sending a message that there was more between them than either of them knew. Daryl's fingers clawed at her hips, trying to draw her in closer but Carol pulled away a fraction, her lips just a whisper from his.
"If you want more of these, next time just ask, okay. You don't need to go findin' excuses to give me compliments just for a kiss. I'll give 'em to you for free." And she gave him another just to prove it.