It was kind of a diversion, or the closest thing to a diversion he had any interest in. It took the edge off his annoyance at their visits. Each time a noise drew him away from whatever he was working on he tried to figure out who was approaching within the seconds it took him to look up. He was developing a crackerjack ear for the sound of friendly footfalls around here. It was usually Carol. That took some of the sport out of the whole thing.
She had a plate with her, and a cup. She looked more casual than usual, finally having made some concessions to the unabated summer heat. She'd cut the neck out of a white Georgia Tech t-shirt that now draped languidly over one shoulder and her jeans had been cut off into shorts.
"It's getting late. I brought you some dinner."
He eyeballed the wrench in his hand a moment. He couldn't really remember how long it had been since he'd eaten anything but critters. The big game hunting had been fruitless lately, and his stomach twisted at what smelled like chicken. He tossed the tool to the ground in resignation, feeling around blindly until he found the rag he'd stashed nearby and wiped the grease from his hands before accepting the plate from her. Concession made, he hunched over and began shoveling food into his mouth mechanically, resolutely ignoring the plain disapproval on her face. He had already known she wouldn't leave, so he looked up at her expectantly while he chewed.
"You know you're always welcome to come eat with us…" she prodded.
He grappled with how to respond to her, irritated that they were going to do this dance again. He couldn't argue that he had fit well here when he bothered to show up, any more than he could begin to wrap his mind around what kept Carol coming around with gestures and tokens while he'd done his damnedest to drive her off.
It would be easier if he could understand what angle she was working. She'd never called him out on setting her up to fall, strutting around; mouth making promises his ass couldn't deliver on, complete with flowers and fairy tales… nothing but false hope. He hadn't meant the woman any harm. It had been an easy rut to carve when lacing his boots and going out to search was the only thing that had eased the sounds of her suffering. Each day she'd watch him leave with wistful eyes and purse her lips in that way that might have wanted to be a smile. Damned if those eyes hadn't convinced even him Sophia was still out there, just waiting to be found around every turn.
Anyway, it was finished now. Shane had been right all along, and Daryl had been primed for the backlash since the night Shane had proven it. All of that tenderness for a lost child and a heartsick mother was shoved down deep along with the residual shame and dread. Not the anger. Anger was useful. Hard to sustain, though. Hard to keep wanting to take swipes at her after he'd already seen her suffer so much. God damn it, why didn't she fight back. That he'd know what to do with.
So sure, he could fit in all right. He had the requisite skillsets, but no intentions of forming attachments. He could indulge her charity on a nightly basis if it made her feel better, but he wasn't nervy enough to sit over there like he'd earned it. And, he damn sure wasn't going to sit around and be hen-pecked over it.
"Just lost track of time is all."
She had good instincts for ill-tempered men, and he knew enough to recognize it. She didn't belabor the point. She didn't respond at all, in fact. She just let the silence between them draw out until he realized he was still starring her down. He averted his eyes and silently resented the way she could communicate effortlessly, finessing the great wordless gaps between them like she had some kind of leverage over them. She hadn't looked away, but she was retreating into herself in subtler ways. She'd drawn her willowy arms around herself protectively.
He turned his gaze back down to his plate. She relaxed back into a tree trunk, arms still crossed in front of her, but lowered now. She favored him with a wan smile.
"Is it running okay?" she asked, nodding towards the motorcycle he'd adopted as his latest excuse to stay away.
"Yeah… it's just maintenance," he explained between bites, "Don't need no more surprises."
She nodded, "That's smart. Were you a mechanic?"
"Sometimes. Always tried to earn straight," he answered honestly, "Not Merle, though. He was always turnin' up with hair-brained schemes, tryin' to get us rich quick. They weren't ever nothin' but a damn heap of trouble," he explained. A reluctant smile warmed his voice as his subconscious sifted through some of the shit Merle had dragged him into.
"You miss him," she offered softly.
"He's my brother," his response was clipped, softened only slightly with a shrug of his shoulders, "Only family I had left."
More silence. He supposed she was waiting to see if he wanted to dump out his purse and have a good cry about what must've happened to poor old Merle back in Atlanta. He didn't.
"How 'bout you?" he asked her, all too ready to get the topic off himself. Finished with his meal now, he sat his plate aside and busied himself with gathering the scattered tools he'd been using and returning them to the red tool box he'd borrowed from Dale's RV.
"What, you ain't you never had a job?" he asked patronizingly.
"Not really. I had already taken up with Ed when I was in college. In the beginning it was one of those stupid flattery campaigns assholes like to lay on stupid girls. By the time I became restless enough to really question it, well… there wasn't really an option anymore."
He nodded. That asshole didn't need no sayin'. He noted with some satisfaction that for all her big talk of new beginnings she still couldn't seem to make eye-contact when she talked about him. Maybe he'd call her on it someday.
"I got to dance a little."
He looked up from the box that he'd been about to latch and wiped his hands on his pants, "What, like on a pole?"
The only thing more satisfying than the initial surprise in her pale blue eyes was the following fit of laughter he'd incited with his brashness. He wasn't sure he'd ever heard her laugh before, "No! Not on a pole, Jesus, Daryl..."
He smirked to himself, pleased at having stirred up the conversation.
"The North Atlanta Dance Academy," she clarified. The smile persevered, but her eyes turned reflective, "I was really good…"
Daryl tried to conjure up what he'd seen of dancers that kept their clothes on. All he got for his efforts were a few flashes of ballet dancers in tutus and tights on public television that he'd flipped by with disinterest.
Meanwhile, Carol had receded into her thoughts. There it was. Daryl immediately recognized his chance to disengage and slip away. She would drift back to Rick's camp and spend the rest of the night shut up in the RV, fretting over choices she couldn't unmake that didn't matter anyhow; and he could spend the rest of the night in solitude. It made perfect sense, and yet something inside of him twisted, strange and unfamiliar at the thought of it.
He looked around uncertainly. Good intentions or not, he wasn't about to settle in for a full night of girl talk, chit-chatting about their feelings. So what else was there? He picked himself up off the ground with a grunt.
"You ever ridden one?" he asked.
She blinked, distracted from her reverie.
"You still on about that damn pole?" she played along, good naturedly. He shook his head and gestured to the Triumph, "The motorcycle".
"Me?" she studied him speculatively, "No."
"Well, let's go. I'll teach you."
"You want me to ride your bike?" she asked dubiously, shifting her gaze to the Triumph.
"Yeah, why not?" Daryl responded, "Not like I'm going anywhere. I'm a mean son of a bitch, but as long as it's around you should know how to get away on it… might save your hide. "
She rolled her eyes at his description of himself as a 'mean son of a bitch', but she was too absorbed in sizing up Merle's bike and the proposition he'd just laid on her to effectively argue. He thought that might even be a flicker of intrigue in her unbroken gaze.
"Looks dangerous. I might kill us before the walkers get a chance."
"Maybe," he agreed antagonistically, disregarding her bluff. He offered his hand, "Come on."
She took a few hesitant steps towards him. He watched her expectantly, wondering what the hell she was still so afraid of.
"One time offer. Ain't you sick of regrets?" He goaded, and beckoned to her a second time with a crooked finger.
She studied him somberly for a moment, and then nodded assent.
"Get on," he instructed her. She swung a leg over the weathered black seat, clearly intimidated at the wide stance of the ape hanger handlebars.
He watched her face to gauge her comprehension. Although her standing straddle on the bike was stiff and uncomfortable, her eyes looked clear and sharp as he pointed out and explained the different controls.
"You have to be in neutral to start it. Turn on the key here, and the choke down here by the carb… this down here is the kick starter. Kick it down, 'til it turns over. When you hear it rev up, be ready to give it a little gas. Just a little, not too much… you don't want to flood it… "
She lifted her knee and cautiously pushed down on the kick starter. The bike barely rumbled, then fell silent again. He snorted derisively, "You're gonna have to put a little ass into it bein' as runty as you are."
She glared over her shoulder at him peevishly, but stood up again and stomped down on the kick starter, harder. It puttered longer this time, but didn't start.
"Well, don't look at me. Keep goin'."
He watched her lift her left foot and hoist herself onto the peg, raising herself up for a good five more inches of leverage. Smart girl. She gave a delicate grunt as she drove all of her weight down on the starter and to both of their surprise, it fired. She froze.
"Give it some gas!" he called out over the loud rumbling of the bike's engine.
The hulking beast shuddered for a moment then petered out. She sighed with exasperation, "Sorry…"
"Forget sorry, do it again!" he demanded, keyed up now.
She stood up to kick start the bike again. One thing he could say for Carol, she wasn't easily discouraged. She threw her weight into it, and the bike rumbled to life again.
He molded his hand over hers and and guided her through turning the throttle to give her a feel for it. She was quick to follow his lead and excitement lit up her face when he drew his hand back and she was able to maintain the idle on her own.
"It's runnin' steady now, turn off the choke" he instructed, inwardly impressed when she remembered where to find it and flipped the switch with no hesitation.
"You ready?" he asked. She swallowed and nodded nervously, but then reached out, grasping at the front of his shirt blindly with a trembling hand.
"You have to come with me!"
"I am, woman. Good lord! Just let me get my things!" she released him reluctantly, watching him like a hawk. He smoothed his torn flannel, more affectation than anything, "This is my best shirt."
She pursed her lips at his sarcasm while he bent down to pick up his crossbow and quiver and sling them over his shoulder. He slid smoothly into the seat behind her, shifting and adjusting until he was sure the weapon wouldn't be impeded. Then he hooked his right arm tentatively around her waist to steady himself.
"When you're ready pull in the clutch and push the gear shift down one for first. Then once you're going you can let out the clutch slowly..."
She let out a squeak and his heart leap into his throat as the bike lurched forward and he smacked chest first into her back. He groaned and firmed up his purchase high on her waist.
'Gonna be a long ride…'