Author's Note: Sorry. Enjoy.
***Italics indicate a flashback for Daryl
****Bold italics and Bold indicate a dream for Daryl
Song for the Chapter: Right or Wrong by Rains
A Better Man
Summary: After Carol's death, Daryl makes a desperate wish to save her. Suddenly, he finds himself back in the quarry, staring as she and her daughter cower in the shadow of her husband. With all of his memories of the future intact, can Daryl change life as he knows it?
Disclaimer: From here on out, I do not own The Walking Dead or any of its characters.
Chapter 102: Fatherly Instincts
Daryl found his daughter sitting against the east wall, her knees hugged up to her chest as she sat on the cool cement. Her face was buried in her arms and her thin shoulders bobbed up and down. Daryl didn't have to be an expert to know that she was crying. Maybe he should've had Carol do this. Crying girls scared the hell out of him.
Still, Sophia was his now and he supposed that as her father, it was his responsibility to fix this whole situation. Daryl approached quietly and then simply sat down on the concrete beside her. He figured he'd wait her out.
Then she raised her head and he saw her red, swollen eyes and the tears that made her cheeks wet. It damn near broke him in two.
"Rabbit," he murmured before he put an arm across her shoulders and pulled her into him. Sophia clenched her eyes shut and tried to swipe her tears away.
"You don't gotta be sorry," Daryl told her, "Ya got every right to be pissed and upset."
"Thought Dixons don't cry," Sophia murmured, still trying to wipe her eyes.
"That's Uncle Merle talk," Daryl said firmly, "Truth is that Dixons cry, but only when they got a damn good reason. Figure this counts…" he hesitated for a moment before admitting, "I cried last night."
Sophia opened those red-rimmed eyes and looked up at him, "You did?"
"Was scared as all hell that I was on my way out last night," Daryl explained, "Thought I was leavin' you and your momma alone. Thought I was gonna miss seein' ya grow up. Scared me to death. Ain't nothin' I ever wanted more'n to stay here with ya'll."
"That's what I want too," Sophia admitted softly. Daryl looked at her for a long moment. She was thirteen-years-old. Much too young to look as though she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. As much as he wanted to always be there to lift that burden for her, he was aware, especially after his and Carol's talk, that he wouldn't always be there. He might have been given a gift, coming back in time, but that didn't mean that he was immortal. One day, hopefully in the far off future, Daryl would die just like everyone else. If he wanted one thing for her, he wanted her to be as strong as her mother. He wanted Sophia to be able to deal with it when the time came. He wanted her to carry on and continue to care for those around her. He didn't want her to be like Beth, wallowing in grief, acting out, and blaming the world.
"Soph…" he sighed, "Soph, ya gotta know somethin'. I'm gonna do all I can to stay here with ya as long as I can. Thing is that…well…shit happens and things can go bad in an instant. Might be…might be one day that things go real bad and I don't make it-"
Sophia made a face at that that made him pause.
"Rabbit, I don't wanna talk 'bout it either," Daryl said honestly, "In fact, me and your ma got into a little fight 'bout it earlier in the sick wing. See, she's already thinkin' 'bout that stuff…'bout what'd happen if I weren't there or if something were gonna happen to her. I don't like it none, but maybe…maybe there's some sense in it after all."
"Sense?" Sophia wondered, "Daddy, this world makes no sense."
"You're right," Daryl agreed, "It don't. Suppose that's why folks are talkin' 'bout what they want to happen when they die. Suppose it gives 'em control and peace of mind in a world where there's no sense."
"So what do you want to happen when you die?" Sophia asked, her wide eyes searching for answers.
"I don't wanna turn," Daryl told her, "Aside from that, I want you to be alright. I mean, ya can cry and be sad and be pissed at the world if ya want, but ya can't give up. Ya gotta keep on goin'. Keep livin'."
"That doesn't sound easy."
"It ain't, Rabbit," Daryl said, "Not at first, but in time, things start gettin' better. Easier. Ya just gotta keep goin'."
Sophia nodded her head and was quiet for a moment. She did look a little better. Not so much like she was going to start crying again. Then she said, "That's gonna be a long time away right?"
"Here's hopin'," Daryl said.
Daryl smiled, "Now, suppose we outta talk 'bout ya evictin' Carl and Duane from their cell-"
"They deserved it," Sophia cut him off and fixed him with a stern expression. Daryl chuckled.
"Supposin' so, but if ya wanna keep them boys in their place, ya might not want to throw their shit out of it," he advised. Sophia frowned as she thought on that.
"Don't give 'em such a hard time, Rabbit," Daryl said gently, his eyes drifting to the fence.
"They had a choice," Sophia maintained, "They didn't have to go. They put themselves in danger for no reason-"
"If someone was threatenin' me, sayin' they'd kill me if ya didn't do what they wanted, what would ya do, Soph?" Daryl asked, but before she could answer, he continued, "That's why Carl went with Ben. He thought he was protectin' his dad. Duane went to have Carl's back. There were reasons, Soph."
"I guess," Sophia grudgingly admitted.
"Let's get up," Daryl suggested, pushing himself to his feet, feeling as if he had aged ten years over night, "You got to apologize to them boys and then I suppose me and your ma need to have a talk of our own."
"Gonna tell her she was right?" Sophia wondered as she stood too, much quicker than Daryl did.
"'Fraid so," Daryl admitted, "Never gonna live that down."
Together, they made their way back towards the entrance to cellblock C. In the cellblock, Daryl could see Rick, Carl, and Duane picking up the piles of clothes and other junk that Sophia had tossed out in her rage. Sophia hesitated at the doorway, only to be nudged forward by her father. Carl was nudged by his own father.
It was awkward. Daryl could see that as the two youngsters approached each other, shuffling forward under the watchful eyes of their fathers. For a moment, neither teenager said anything. Then Rick cleared his throat and Carl heaved a sigh.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Me too," Sophia said back.
"Same," Duane echoed from behind Carl. Then they set back to work, gathering up the items on the floor. Rick and Daryl watched them take armfuls of clothes and things up the steps.
"Short and sweet," Rick commented, a hint of a smile on his face as he watched the kids go.
"So long as there ain't no more shit flyin' out of there, it's good," Daryl replied. Rick chuckled.
"Your girl has a good arm," he said, "besides, it's good for Carl to have someone call him out."
"Suppose so," Daryl agreed, "Just so long as it keeps his ass outta trouble."
"Here's hoping," Rick sighed, gathering up a few stray comic books from the ground, "After last night, I think I'm at my wit's end. He was trying to look out for me. I'm the one who is supposed to look out for him."
"He's a good kid," Daryl replied, "They all are."
"They are," Rick said in agreement, "They have a good role model."
At this, Rick held out a hand to Daryl. He shook it.
"They have a fair few good role models," Daryl corrected, nodding to Rick.
"You know, I don't think I ever thanked you for what you did for Lori-"
"Don't mention it," Daryl brushed off.
"I ought to," Rick continued, "You've got to know that not all of us feel the way Beth does. Lori…that wasn't anybody's fault and I hope to god that the same thing doesn't happen to Carol. You've got to know that."
"I do," Daryl assured him, "I should go look in on her, actually."
"She's up in your cell," Rick told him, "We made sure that she went to have a rest."
Daryl thanked him and went up to his cell, where he found Carol resting on the bed with Baby Judith. He smiled at the sight of his pregnant wife curled there with the baby and a book.
"Things go okay?" Carol asked, putting the book aside.
"Fine," Daryl answered, "Soph and Carl made up. Everythin's good."
"Are you good?" Carol wondered, shifting a little so that she could sit up and look at him. Daryl scooped up Judith so that he could sit beside his wife.
"I'm good," he assured her, "Beth's hurtin' right now. In time, things'll smooth out."
Carol smiled, "They will," she agreed, taking his hand in hers. Daryl sighed.
"And if they don't…well…suppose we gotta talk 'bout all that."
Carol's eyes widened slightly at the declaration, "Oh?"
"You were right. We do need to talk it out. Figure if I kicked the bucket, I'd feel better knowin' you'd be okay. Suppose you wanna know the same 'bout me," Daryl admitted.
"What changed?" Carol wondered, "You were so adamant about not talking about it before."
Daryl chuckled humorlessly, "Yeah, before I got a glimpse of what you and Soph could be like if somethin' ever happened to me. I don't want ya to be like Beth…all shut down and hatin' the world."
"And I don't want you to be like Rick was after Lori," Carol communicated, "If something should happen to me during labor, I want to die knowing that you and our kids will be okay."
"We will," Daryl promised, "We're survivors. Just know I ain't got no plans of lettin' ya go yet."
"Me neither," Carol said, leaning over to kiss him, "There's no place I'd rather be."
Daryl reached over and pulled her face to his so that he could kiss her again, deeper this time. Their mouths moved together with practiced ease and Daryl felt every care and concern fall from his shoulders. This was right. This was perfect.
"You know that doesn't go there!" Carl's voice protested from two cells over.
"It looks fine there," Sophia huffed back.
"I think Carl's right," Duane chimed in.
"Duane, you know he's not," Sophia argued, "It was here before-"
Daryl groaned at the interruption.
"This ain't what I had in mind," he growled. Carol laughed.
"Come on, Daryl. You might as well get used to the interruptions. They'll be happening much more often when our Littlest Problem makes his appearance," she reminded him, pulling away slightly to glance down at the frowning baby girl in his arms, "Do you want to put her down for me? Then maybe go find out where Lily has gotten off to?"
Daryl chuckled and walked the baby across the room to put her in the pram, "Lil' Whoops ain't even one yet and we already can't keep track of her."
"Andrea and Amy had her last," Carol supplied, leaning back into the bed.
"I'm on it," Daryl assured her, giving her a quick peck on the cheek.
It took Daryl a little longer than he thought it would to track down the youngest Dixon, but when he finally did, he was pleased with the sight. Lily was sitting on a blanket on the floor, playing with some colorful toys while her father was sitting at the table sharpening his blade.
"Da!" Lily cried out gleefully when she saw Daryl.
"Hey, you," Daryl said, scooping up the baby and then turning to Merle, "What're ya doin'?"
"Ain't it obvious?" Merle retorted from the table, "Gotta keep this thing sharp."
Daryl rolled his eyes and silently waited for his brother to offer up more, which he did.
"Blondie and Little Blondie went to visit the old man in the sick wing. Said it was no place for a baby."
"And you took her?" Daryl prodded, almost feeling a bit of pride. Maybe Merle was finally showing an interest in his offspring.
"Didn't have much choice," Merle replied without moving his eyes from the block he ran over his knife, "Damn near ran off as soon as you did. Left me with the rugrat."
Daryl smirked. Though Merle was trying to play it off as a nuisance, Daryl could plainly see that there was a part of Merle, however small, that cared for the so-called rugrat. Why else would Merle ensure that Lily had a soft blanket on the concrete and toys to play with?
"The hell ya smirkin' for?" Merle bit out, cocking an eyebrow up at Daryl.
"No reason," Daryl said quickly, knowing that if he pushed too much, Merle would get defensive about Lily.
Merle gave him a sort of glare and muttered, "Don't know why them blonds pick on me. I got one arm and three fingers. Ain't right for me to be mindin' no kid."
"Amy does it just fine only havin' one arm," Daryl pointed out.
Merle snorted, "She's a woman. They got child raisin' imprinted in their don't."
"Don't know 'bout that," Daryl said, "I'm raisin' a whole mess of kids. Rick's got Carl and Judith. Hershel's got his girls."
"Some men are meant to be fathers. Some ain't," Merle corrected simply.
Daryl should have known better than to say it, but the words just slipped out, "You are."
Merle stopped sharpening his blade and gave Daryl a sharp look.
"We doin' this shit again? Done told ya I ain't fit to be no father!"
Daryl sighed. Sometimes he wished that he could keep his mouth shut, but he was already down the rabbit hole so he might as well continue, "I think that's a lie. Ya raised me. Ya mindin' Lil' alright. Ya can do it if ya really want to, but I think ya scared-"
"I ain't scared of nothin'," Merle barked back the Dixon motto at Daryl, but Daryl was having none of it.
"Last night ya was scared," Daryl reminded him, "I could see it when ya thought I was bit. And then that day in the tombs when Dale and Andrea was attacked by Tomas and Lily almost got bit by a walker. Ya was scared then. Could see it. Ya looked at her like ya used to look at me when Pa was comin' after me when we was kids."
Merle let out an annoyed sort of growl and clenched his remaining fingers into a fist in annoyance.
Daryl shook his head, "Merle, life's too short to be pushin' people away 'cause you're scared of losin' 'em-"
Merle got to his feet then and snapped, "The hell ya want from me? Ya want me to cry and sob and talk about my feelings like some pussy? Ain't happenin'!"
Lily whimpered in Daryl's arms at her father's outburst. Daryl shook his head.
"Dammit, Merle, I want ya to give a damn! Ya go on 'bout me for goin' out there last night when I got a family, but ya done the same thing! Ya got a family too! Ya always fussin' over Carol and the baby, but what 'bout your baby?"
Lily's whimpers became a little louder as she felt the heated rumble of her uncle's words and hears the sharp desperation in his voice.
Merle stepped towards Daryl and pointed his bladed stump at Daryl, "Hey, we agreed that you had responsibility of the kid!" he reminded Daryl.
"Yeah, but that don't mean ya just wash ya hands of her!" Daryl shot back, "What would've happened if I had died last night? Huh? Would ya have stepped up? Took care of them? Or would ya have just turned ya back on them?"
"Don't matter none what I would've done!" Merle bellowed, "You're still alive! Why the hell d'ya think I was out there in the first place? Tryin' to protect all your asses...tryin' to make sure that the Governor's gone for good so he don't come after you all here! That's 'bout all I can do!"
Lily started all-out screaming then, distracting Daryl long enough so that Merle could stomp off.
"Dammit!" Daryl cursed as he tried to calm the baby down. It seemed by the time he resolved one problem, another one started to form.
AN: I apologize for the lack of updates. Real life continues to be crazy, but thankfully, most of the renovations are done in my house so that will free up some time to write. I definitely missed it. Thank you to everyone who has been faithfully waiting for an update and offering me words of encouragement and support. Every review and message meant the world to me and gave me the motivation I needed to get this out. Thank you for keeping me connected to this wonderful world of fanfiction.