Disclaimer: I don't own AMC's The Walking Dead, wishful thinking aside.
Authors Note #1: This is response fill for the USS Caryl's "What if" Challenge on tumblr regarding the following prompt: (Scenario #2) "What if Daryl had found Sophia alive in season two?" - As requested by fairiesmasquerade.
Warnings: Contains spoilers for all three seasons of the Walking Dead, specifically season one, loss/healing, strong language, hurt/comfort. Also contains a big divergence from canon circa season one. - Allusions to domestic violence in this chapter.
It wasn't until Hershel had patched him up and he'd been plied with enough food to feed seven people that he got a moment to himself. The screen door screeched, all gently rusted hinges and well used springs as he let himself out of the house. He winced a bit as the sound carried. He hadn't had a moment alone since the whole family reunion and the crowd of people inside was startin' to wear on him.
He rolled his shoulders, easing his aching muscles as he stepped out onto the porch, looking off, beyond the tents and front yard, to skim the line of the outermost pasture. He did a double take when he realized his tent was back in main camp. His clothes were even hung up on the line, half dry and ripplin' in the wind. In fact, it seemed as though every item of clothing he owned had been washed, darned and set out to dry.
He raised a brow, half incredulous and half grudgingly impressed.
"Carol and Glenn moved you back into camp a few hours after you left," Maggie began, stepping out onto the porch behind him, thumbs hooked in her belt loops as she gave him a once over. "I'd take it for what it is. They don't want you separate. They care about you," the girl added. She was the picture of the farmer's daughter today, sporting a pair of torn jeans and ankle-high muck-boots. Sophia was already quite taken with her, over the moon to have new play-mates or something.
"She's sweet on you, you know," Maggie hummed, joining him at the railing.
A heart beat went by before he made a rude sound in the back of his throat. "Well I just found her lost pup, now didn't I?" he snorted, shoving his hands deep into his pockets as he shifted in place, his muscles sore from the long ride as he arched his spine, stretching.
"That's not what I meant," Maggie corrected, eyeballing him now like he was some sort of thick headed muppet she'd had to deal with back in grade school - competing with Randall for the title of class idiot.
"She waited for you, you know. She spent the whole night on top of the RV, keeping Rick, Shane, and T-dog company when they went on watch. She didn't sleep a wink," Maggie returned, her voice emphatic as she got right to the point, "and that wasn't just for her girl, that was for you."
He stayed silent until she finally wandered off. His hands gripped the railing just a bit too hard as he tried to think of something to say, something that would explain it away, something that would make her actions seem somehow, well, less genuine. Instead, he ended up finding himself at a stalemate instead.
Christ, what was it about the women these days that had the power to render him speechless in less than five seconds flat?
It wasn't until everyone had bedded down for the night that the woman came a'calling. He recognized the subtle swish-swish of her footsteps gliding through the long grass a full minute before he saw her shadow lengthen across the side of his tent, warping the vinyl as she sank down on her haunches and tapped gently on the half closed flap.
Still so polite, this one.
He cleared his throat and leaned over, unzipping the rest of the flap and scooting backward into his bedroll in silent invitation, figuring he might as well get the formalities over with. After all, he knew why she was here.
She sat down on the edge of his mess of sleeping bags, lean legs folding delicately as she settled cross-legged in front of him. "I know you're tired, so I won't keep you long," she assured, her smile a strange mixture of apologetic mirth and something else he couldn't quite identify. It could have been happiness, but honestly, he figured that considering the circumstances, he wasn't the best person to judge.
"Where's the girl?" he grunted, playing with the flights of one of the arrows he'd been mending on and off after he'd lost the fight with gravity down at the ravine.
"With Hershel, Lori and the girls. There were a few things he wanted to check before he gave her the all clear," she answered, hands clasped in her lap as she thumbed the side of the purple hair elastic she'd been wearing on her wrist since the highway. Only this time, instead of tears, her lips were curled upwards in a happy smile.
"I hope you don't mind," she offered after a moment, gesturing around them as if to encompass everything that had happened since he'd been gone as she looked around curiously. He let the pause rest for a beat, slumping back into his pile of blankets, careful of his stitches as the freshly re-sown wound pulled taut at the movement.
"Didn't seem like I had much of a choice in the matter either way," he remarked with a snort, trying to imagine the scene as Carol wheedled Team Korea into packing up all his shit and dragging it back across the pasture. He would've paid to see that.
She smiled, this time completely unrepentant. Cheeky even, as if she were daring him to reply, daring him to make a scene.
And a few days ago he might had done just that.
He let the 'but' that accompanied that thought hang out in the open, silent and largely unremarkable as she took it for what it was, not as a victory, but more of a stalemate. The type of amicable pause that occurs when one side deftly compliments the other on a game well played, on a strategy or scenario that had flowered into something more, something better.
Now he knew where her little highness had gotten it from.
He took her in through the half-light. She was a pretty thing when she wasn't cryin'. And careful, she seemed to pick up on everything he wasn't sayin' and then have the good grace not to call him on it, even when she probably had every right to. It wasn't often you found a woman like that. Hell, anyone like that.
But he shook the thought away almost as quickly as it had occurred, his hackles rising as his conversation with Maggie ping-ponged hap-haphazardly in the back of his mind. He stole a look at her from behind the fan of his lashes, side-eying her as she sent him another brilliant smile. His cheeks burned.
Christ, he was an idiot.
He cleared his throat and she shifted in place, clearly readying herself to say something as the moment lengthened. You could practically taste the awkward.
"The only time Ed stopped laying hand on me was when I was pregnant with Sophia," she began, looking like she was setting herself up for the long haul as she sat up straighter, catching his eye through the uneven fringe of his bangs as somewhere in the distance, the sound of laughter rose up to join the mid-night hush.
"Ed was hard on me, but he wasn't stupid. He didn't want to harm his child, no, his son," she corrected, expelling a shaky breath before she continued. He cocked his head in a silent question. Son?
"From the very beginning, that was what he called her, before the ultrasound at least, a boy. He wanted a son," she added, hands folded in her lap.
"I figured maybe, if I could give him that, a boy – maybe he'd find his niche and mellow out some. Go back to being the man I fell in love with when we first met," she added, pressing on determinedly as the bolt he'd been weaving between his fingers slowed in mid-turn.
He had a feeling he wasn't going to like where this was going.
"After the ultra sound, he refused to speak to me, not just in the doctor's office, but during the entire ride home. I didn't see him for nearly three days after that, and when he did come home he- well, I promised her, I promised my unborn child right then and there that I would protect her. Love her. Even if her own father wouldn't," she affirmed, voice tremulous but strong as the scent of her rose up in the close space.
His eyes strayed almost unconsciously in the direction of her ring finger, something in him relaxing a bit when he found it absent of her wedding band.
"Why are you telling me all this?" he rasped, his voice a bit rougher around the edges than he was strictly comfortable with as discomfort rose up in the back of his throat like bile. What did she want from him?
"Because you helped me keep that promise, and for a parent, a mother, that means more than any promise written down on paper. More than any vow said in church or weight of gold set on your ring finger," she replied gently, her smile fracturing into a thousand different panes of emotion. His throat tightened on reflex, cursing both himself and her for good measure as he made to reply.
He wasn't good at this type of shit.
"Look, I told 'ya before, I didn't do anything Rick or Shane wouldn't have done," he grunted, eager to just play it off and be done with it.
"And I told you then that you were more a father to her than Ed ever was." she replied firmly, her tone broaching no argument as she held up a hand, collecting her thoughts before she made to continue.
He closed his mouth with a sulky sounding snap.
"…And that is more true now than even I realized," she said softly, her gaze warm, but fractured with the beginnings of a few unshed tears. He shifted backwards into his pile of blankets, convinced there was something here she was expecting him to say, only his brain came back empty.
"I don't know how I can thank you for what you did," she offered. "In fact, a thank you seems inadequate," she remarked with a frown, her hands back in her lap as her fingers laced together uncertainly.
"Just don't kiss me on the forehead again and we'll call it even," he muttered, running a hand across his face in clear discomfort, calloused palms stinging as the coarseness of his stubble seared across the sensitive skin.
The words were out of his mouth and flying free before he'd even realized he'd voiced them. He blinked and she blinked right back, realizing in a single, terrible, mortifying rush that it was far too late to take them back as he felt the weight of her eyes on him.
She got up, rising to her feet in a single graceful movement that immediately made him think that he'd finally managed to cross one of those stupid, invisible lines women tended to put up around themselves and call gospel. The muscles in his shoulders tensed, hunching inwards as he unconsciously braced himself for the worst.
He wasn't sure what to think when she suddenly moved forward; her expression was worrisomely blank as she picked her way between his belongings and stopped in front of him, so close he could've probably seen himself reflected in her eyes if he'd had it in him to look.
And for one terrible moment he wasn't sure she was going to smack him or stoop down for a hug. Internally he was fuckin' panicking, limbs twitching and shit as he worked himself up. But before he could react, before he could even flinch, she'd bent down and pressed her lips against his.
He swore he heard something in his brain just fuckin' shatter.
His heart was pounding in his ears as her lips brushed against his, chaste, dry, and ridiculously appealing before she pulled away almost as quickly as she'd started. His eyes fluttered open, lashes fanning into the hollows that stood out below his eyes, trying to remember when he'd closed them as his cheeks all but radiated heat.
He watched her hips move as she shot him a cheeky little smile and bid him goodnight, ducking out of his tent and walking away while he just sat there, stunned. Trying to remember how that whole breathing thing worked as he slumped back into his pile of blankets and blew out a long, pent up breath into the close air above him.
Apparently he had some things to think about after all.
A/N #2: Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think! Reviews and constructive critiquing are love! – This story is now complete, thank you for all your lovely comments and interest, I am thrilled you enjoyed!