Disclaimer: I don't own AMC's The Walking Dead, wishful thinking aside.
Authors Note #1: This is a fix-it sort of fill for episode 4x04 "Indifference."
Warnings: Contains spoilers for all four seasons of the Walking Dead, strong language, probably AU after the next episode airs.
They hadn't been back for long when the car Rick and Carol had taken trundled sedately down the dirt road, kicking up a trail of dust nearly a mile long as Rick – she assumed – maneuvered around the scattered herd that had taken up residence around the prison with relative ease.
Daryl emerged from the side entrance of A block as Rick approached the gates, shading a hand over his eyes as he squinted into the afternoon glare, posture on point as Maggie and Bob hurried to open the front gates. She smiled at the eagerness she saw there, he was like the younger brother she'd never had – never wanted until she suddenly had him.
He was always like this when it came to her, to Carol.
He was like a little puppy dog trailing at her heels – wary but still loyal. And she doted on him. Really, it would be a load off everyone's back when they finally hooked up. There was a god damned betting pool for Christ sakes!
She shouldered the last bag of supplies Doctor S needed, closing the trunk with a slam. She was only vaguely keeping an eye on the other side of the yard as Rick pulled through the gates, narrowly avoiding a couple of walkers as Maggie and Bob pulled them closed behind him. Maggie made a disgusted sound – audible even from clear across the yard - as a severed arm, limp and mottled-grey, flopped uselessly onto the gravel at her feet.
The walker it'd come from, now sporting a ragged stump, all stringy skin and dripping red, looked less than amused.
She paused in mid-step as Rick turned, sunlight flashing off the windshield, highlighting the moment in a blinding sheen of golden yellow and off-white.
There was no one in the passenger seat.
And for a long moment, that was the only thing that registered, then – Daryl. A curl of dread cooled in the pit of her stomach as she realized what that empty seat meant. Her mind reached for a reason, a scenario, something that had happened between then and now that had led to this moment, final and terrible as it was. She knew what the world was now; it was a timer counting down, a sand trap choking with all manner of nasty things, things that could get you killed - or worse.
That was the cost of living these days. The certainty of death was a near thing, pending, close. The sooner everyone came to accept that, the more they'd enjoy what life they had left. At least that was how she saw it. Time ran out. It had for Andrea. For the Governor's little geek. And someday, if it hadn't already, it would come for the sick sonofabitch that'd killed them.
Daryl's steps slowed, faltering when the passenger door didn't open. She was glad she was too far away to see his face. She didn't know if she could handle that, seeing it crumple or worse, seeing nothing at all. She just couldn't.
Because this time she refused to accept it. They'd lost too much, too many, they couldn't afford to lose anyone else - especially not her, not Carol. That woman was the glue that kept everyone together. She was the heart of the machine, the buttered side of the bread, the oil in the motor and every other euphemism that could be used to describe an essential thing - something you couldn't afford to lose.
The hair on the back of her nape prickled as Rick slowly unfolded himself from the front seat. She shifted in place, hand curling into a tight fist as the toe of Rick's boot scuffed in the dirt. Her katana felt like a lead weight between her shoulders, heavy and unweilding, the straps, choking. She shook her head.
Something wasn't right. It wasn't just about that empty passenger seat, but something beyond the surface. Something bad. She knew that look.
"Move," she urged, shoving Tyreese off to the side as she hurried across the yard. The man had only just turned, uncomprehending, as he squinted towards where Rick was getting out of the car. Daryl was already halfway across the lot, back ram-rod straight – working himself up so the world wouldn't know that he was wounded. That this hurt. That he didn't know how he was going to handle this, how he was going to-
She could hear Tyreese, all heavy breaths and footsteps that scored through the gravel, close at her back as she hurried towards them. She could practically smell a confrontation, the wrongness of it all as she closed the gap between them.
She got there when they were already in mid-conversation, coming into it long past the opener as she idled on the sidelines, listening, watching. Rick's face was a mosaic of guilt and surety, confusing and confounding all at once as every inch of Daryl, from tousled head to dirty toe, bristled.
"-Someone had to do something, to make the hard decision, the bad call," Rick insisted, posture imploring despite the fact that his hands were resting on his hips, fingers inches away from the holster of his python as Maggie and Bob, alerted by the raised voices began to saunter over.
"Yeah? Since when?" Daryl growled, "you buried your head in the dirt, Rick. You decided to play farmer. You bowed out, left us to it. So we picked up the slack. We made do. We created something here, a system." Daryl's expression was hard, disbelieving, like an unruly teen being hemmed in by parents that just didn't understand – holding him back when all he wanted to do was move forward.
"If we can't trust her, if we can't trust the people around us, then-" Rick began, cut off in mid-word as Daryl barked out a laugh that was anything but friendly.
"Trust?" Daryl spat, heels grating in the dirt as he whirled in place, crossbow thumping against his back with the force of it as a muscle tightened in Rick's jaw.
"You wanna talk about trust? How do we trust you, man!? How do we trust that you won't fly off the handle!? Hell, a single punch from a man who'd just lost his missus, and you pull a Shane?" Daryl retorted, stance going defensive, if only for a moment, as Rick stepped forward, mouth open – maybe to yell before Daryl ripped right through him.
"Trust? Trust is earned. And Carol has earned more than her fair share, just as much as any of us, hell – more - a long ass time ago!"
"I made a decision. I had to. Daryl, you don't-" Rick started, looking around briefly at the others as people started to mill around the yard. She looked behind her, unsurprised to see more than a few people listening from their windows.
This was going from bad to worse in less than two-point-eight seconds flat and hell if she knew of any way to stop it. Her right hand twitched, catching it in mid-motion as she automatically went for her sword.
No, this wasn't about her. It was about them. About Carol.
This was their mess to sort out.
"Yeah? And what makes you think that decision was any less wrong or right than the one she had to make?" Daryl returned, having eyes only for Rick even as Maggie tried to come between them.
"Tell me man, what evidence do you even have other than her word? Ever think it might not be that simple?" he snarled, every inch of him wounded as a gasp rose up from the crowd, as people started to realize what had happened. What Rick had done. What Carol had done.
"Did it even cross your mind that she might have been covering for someone? That Karen and David might have even asked her to do it?" Daryl hissed, free hand curling into a tight fist as the sound of rusty hinges whinged out into the silence.
"How long did you even talk to her about it before you made your decision, huh? A day? A couple of hours?"
Daryl didn't get in Rick's face like he had with Bob. No, with Rick it was pretty much the opposite. Daryl acted like Rick had the plague and it was catching. He kept back, like he didn't even trust himself to be within spitting distance. The man was practically vibrating, angry, no, beyond angry, tense with an emotion he probably didn't even know how to describe let alone name as he circled the older man like he was out stalking game.
A predator stalking another predator.
But she knew. She understood. Once upon a time, she'd even felt it.
His shoulders were hunched inward, protective, defensive. The promise of violence was reflected back in every twitch, every inflection and gesture. Disgust rolled off his tongue as if each and every word was an iron weight as it left his lips. Disappointment and confusion were the runners-up as the younger Dixon tried to make sense of it, looking for that one shred of logic, that tiny little explanation he must have missed, something that would make everything make sense.
But there wasn't one. Perhaps there never had been in the first place. Maybe that was the point.
Rick's expression was anguished, rotten, calm.
"Rick, this is Carol. Carol. One mistake and she's off the island? You're projecting, man!" Daryl shouted, hand flinging up into the air, as accusing as any pointed finger. She gnawed on the inside of her cheek.
Tyreese looked conflicted as the idea set in, caught between anger and discomfort as the reality of what'd happened slowly permeated. There were unshed tears in Maggie's eyes and worry in Hershel's. Rick's expression rippled, smooth but tense at the same time, waiting, as they all were, for the final shoe to drop.
"Just because you don't like what you see in the mirror anymore doesn't mean you get to choose who goes and who stays, who lives and who dies. You lost that right, hell, you gave it up!" Daryl bit off, head tipped up, blunt and proud as the jut of his jaw tensed and released almost rhythmically.
"She killed Karen and David in cold blood! She told me herself!" Rick replied, finally able to get a word in edgewise as Daryl stopped for a breath, collecting himself as Hershel paused at the side entrance to A-block, probably waiting on the medicine she was still carrying on her back.
Daryl shrugged, frank to a fault. "Today's traitors, tomorrow's heroes, man. Either way it wasn't your call. You crossed a line."
Rick shook his head, frustrated, gaze straying towards the others before he took a step forward, almost imploring as he met Daryl's stare. "We need to discuss this, calmly and rationally. But not out here, not now, there are people counting on us, people that need us to-"
But whatever it was Rick wanted, he certainly didn't get it, because Daryl wasn't in the mood to play games. Not today.
"Oh, so now you want to discuss it?" he hissed, disbelieving. "When everything is said and done, when you've already played judge, jury and executioner? Now you wanna talk?!"
"I didn't kill her. Christ - Daryl, she can take care of herself." Rick returned, hands on his hips as he made to turn, perhaps to get something out of the trunk or even walk away, but Daryl shadowed him.
"Alone? Hell, you know people can't get on alone out there anymore," Daryl shot back, the play of muscles sharp under his skin as his free hand flung out, gesturing towards the fence and the walkers pressed up against it.
"You're the one always making noise about keeping our morals, trying to create a little slice of civilization in the middle of all this," Daryl continued, gesturing around him, as if to encompass everything - the gardens, the prison, the people, all of it.
"Come on man, you were a cop. That's not how people do things. Or do the rules not apply to you? Huh?" Daryl accused, voice getting softer as he paused, hesitating as if the next words out of his mouth promised to be painful.
"Do you have any idea what the governor will do to her if he finds her?"
A/N #1: Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think! Reviews and constructive critiquing are love! – There will be two more chapters, stay tuned.