Welcome to the first-ever collaborative story presented to you by the Twitter foursome known as Carol's Warrior Bitches. As the name might suggest, we are Team Carol all the way, and we ship the fuck out of Caryl. This tale sprung out of an online story spinning session (we have SO much fun!). You don't like the pairing of Daryl/Carol...well, that's your choice, but please go read something else.
The title is not only reflective of the Christmas theme of the story, but holly & ivy seem to be a good representation of Daryl and Carol respectively. There's all sorts of stuff written about holly being masculine and ivy being more feminine, but think of them intertwined, each lending its attributes to the other and making the other stronger. Yeah, that's Caryl all over.
Anyhoo...enough symbolism, etc. This really is just a very sweet, fluffy story (although rated M for inevitable Caryl smut). Hope you like and if you do, pass it on!
PS: The avatar for this story was created by Nutty McNut - you have seen her work a lot of different places, and often uncredited or outright 'stolen' by others. She is the original, though, and her work is sublime. Go check her out on Tumblr, her talent knows no bounds!
Daryl trudged through the trees as the storm gathered strength, the sharp pellets of freezing rain stinging his cheeks as he squinted and tried to pick out the slightly blacker outline of the cabin against the greenish darkness of the surrounding forest. He was late getting back, far later than was smart – getting caught in a blizzard once night fell could be a death sentence, even for someone who'd spent half of his life wandering through the wilderness. Way too easy to get turned around when the stars were blotted out by clouds and all the landmarks disappeared in whirling sheets of white.
Winter in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains was what some might call a mixed blessing. It was rare to see any walkers and the few that somehow found their way up the alpine trails moved very slowly in the cold and were easy to put down. The small cottage was also remote enough that no living person had bothered to scale the rocky terrain, at least not so far, and so there was no threat so far as territory went. But food was damned scarce once the snow began to fly, and there wasn't much daylight left for hunting the rabbits, squirrels and other game necessary for survival. Add to that the fact that every once in a while the world would be almost wiped clean by a storm like the one that was closing in around him now...and so, yeah. Mixed fuckin' blessing, alright.
The wind suddenly whipped through the pines, making his ears ache and tossing his hair around his eyes. Daryl impatiently shoved his long bangs back under his knit cap and stepped up his pace. The sled he pulled behind him, heavy with the carcass of a field-dressed buck, snagged once or twice on the brush but he didn't let it slow him down. He couldn't afford to piss around any longer; it was a damned waste of time bagging a deer if you didn't live long enough to even get a taste of it.
A few more yards and then a brief flash of red through the nearly blinding snow caught his eye. He huffed in relief and tugged harder on the sled, redoubling his efforts. A torn bit of crimson cloth snagged on a branch would probably be overlooked by a trespasser, but he'd tied the marker there a few weeks earlier in the event that he somehow lost his bearings and couldn't find his way home again. Chalk one up for being prepared.
The cabin finally loomed large before him and he stopped to take a few calming breaths before hoisting the deer over his shoulder and yanking open the warped door that led to the mudroom. The tiny space was freezing cold but it was bearable without the wind, and in this temperature it would do just fine as a game locker until he had a chance to do a proper job of butchering.
Daryl shrugged the heavy coat from his shoulders and toed off his boots, kicking everything to the side before slipping into the cabin and quickly closing the door behind him. He squinted against the sudden brightness from the lamps inside and his fingertips began to throb painfully as the warmth from the fireplace seeped in. Any discomfort he felt, though, vanished when he heard a squeal of happiness and the patter of tiny socked feet running across the wooden floor.
"Da-wo!" Judith squeaked, throwing her arms around his leg and squeezing as hard as a three-year old possibly could. She rested her chin on his knee and grinned up at him, her blue eyes wide and adoring. He liked to think he was pretty bad ass, but that look always turned him inside out.
"Heya, L'il Kicker," he said gruffly, reaching down and gathering her up. He snuggled his cold nose against her warm, baby-soft neck and she squealed again, squirming and trying get away. Instead of releasing her, he held her close with one hand and tickled her side, chuckling as she starting shrieking with delight.
"She just ate her supper," Carol chided as she emerged from the kitchen, smiling at Judith's antics as she wiped her hands on a towel. "You keep doing that, you're going to get a full-colour preview of what I've kept warm for you."
Daryl's eyes locked with Carol's and his smile faltered slightly. The weary relief in her eyes was nothing new but it pricked at his conscience all the same. If they didn't have Judith, he'd have taken her along on the hunt. He hated leaving Carol behind, especially when he knew some part of her always wondered if he would return. He always came for her, would never again walk away from her willingly, but the fact that he'd allowed himself to be led astray just that one time would forever haunt them.
Add to that what Rick had done, forcing her to leave the only family she had left...well, the best Daryl could do was make damned sure she was never alone again and hope that eventually she would be able to let go of that lingering fear.
"How's about you go play with your stuffies while I get somthin' to eat?" Daryl said to Judith, crouching down and setting the toddler back on her feet. "Stompin' around in the woods is hungry work."
The little girl locked her arms around his neck in a choking hug before she turned and ran off towards the corner where her few toys were stored, chattering happily to herself. Daryl stood and trailed after Carol as she returned to the kitchen, where she quickly busied herself by the old wood stove.
"I wish we could leave at least one window uncovered to light your way when the weather gets like this," she said with her back to him, heaping his tin plate with some kind of stew. Setting it aside, she grabbed a knife and a loaf of bread, and began to cut him a few slices to go with his meal. "I honestly don't know how you even got back tonight."
"I got my ways. B'sides, we lift those black-out panels and who knows what the hell else might find its way in here," he replied quietly, sidling up behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist.
She paused and leaned back against him with a sigh. "I know. I just hate it, waiting here and wondering, imagining that something awful might have gone down every time you're a little late coming back. And I feel like I should be with you out there. I never in a million years figured that after everything that's passed, I'd find myself a stay-at-home...caregiver...again."
Daryl nuzzled her ear and hugged her a little tighter when she carefully avoided the 'm' word. Carol had always insisted that Judith call them by their real names instead of 'mom' and 'dad,' telling him that it was disrespectful to the memories of Lori and Rick to let Judith believe a lie. He wasn't convinced of her reasoning, though. More than likely, it had a lot more to do with the fact that Carol just couldn't bear to hear anyone besides Sophia say that word. Daryl respected her choice but hoped that maybe someday, Carol would relent. They were Judith's parents now in every way that counted and the fact that he couldn't be 'daddy' to the little girl he loved so much made his chest ache a little bit.
"Maybe when Kicker's a little older, she could stay on her own for a few hours at a time. But if somethin' ever happened to both of us..." he whispered against her hair.
Carol laid down the knife so she could rest her hands lightly on top of his arms. "I know. It's a chance we can't take, I get that. I think it's just cabin fever talking, okay? I'm sorry, boo."
He'd heard it a hundred times, but when she called him 'boo,' something inside him felt lighter and he couldn't help but grin like a fool. "Tell ya what," he said, turning her around so she had to look at him while they talked. "If the storm's blown itself out by tomorrow, you can go check the snares, get some time to yerself. I'll stick close to home and watch over the kid; gotta cut up that deer I drug home anyhow."
Carol's expression softened and she gazed up at him, those pale blue eyes of hers shining like pieces of the summer sky. "I'd like that. It'll give me a chance to pick out a Christmas tree, too. Judith and I made some pinecone decorations yesterday after I read her, 'T'was the Night Before Christmas,' so she's pretty excited to get things set up for Santa."
It wasn't going to be the first Christmas the three of them spent together, but it was the first one they were spending in a place that was relatively safe and stable. Judith had been too young the year before to know the difference; that was just as well since they'd been too busy just trying to stay alive to even think about marking the holiday. "I hope like hell you don't think I'm gonna dress in red and prance around the place shakin' my jingle bells," he warned, drawing a soft laugh from Carol.
"No, I have her convinced that she has to be asleep before Santa can visit, so you're off the hook there. Not that I wouldn't appreciate having you show me your North Pole," she said slyly, mischief making her eyes sparkle as she settled her hands on his chest. "Wanna meet me over by the fireplace after Judith's down for the night? You can tell me what you'd like to slip into my stocking..."
Blood rushed to his cheeks, making his face burn hot. Or maybe that was because blood was also rushing to other places, too. Simple teasing, he knew, and yet she was always able to push his buttons enough to get a reaction out of him. Instead of answering her, he cupped the nape of her neck and leaned down, brushing his lips lightly over hers before kissing her softly. She parted her lips with a moan and clutched the sides of his shirt, raising herself up on her tiptoes so she could slip her delicate little tongue, slick and hot, deep into his mouth.
Their surroundings seemed to disappear as he lost himself in the heat of her kiss. Hunger that had nothing to do with the food she'd prepared wound inside of him, and he gave a growl from low in his throat as need burst through him. Daryl clutched her ass and hauled her even closer, loving the taste, the feel, the ache, the burning desire she ignited in him.
He might have been tempted to sweep the dirty dishes off the table and have at Carol right then and there, but both of them heard the warning sound of toddler footfalls a moment before Judith reached the kitchen. They quickly broke apart and stumbled a few steps away from one another just as the little girl rounded the corner, a book clutched in her plump little hands and an excited grin on her face.
"Ca-wo! Santa book? Pwease?" she asked plaintively.
Carol laughed breathlessly, her hand pressed against her chest. Her cheeks were flushed a pretty pink and her lips swollen from their kiss. Daryl carefully kept his back to Judith, not wanting her to see the swelling the kiss had caused for him. "Okay, you go and get your blankie," Carol said, "and find a nice place beside the fire. I'll come read it to you once I've got Daryl's supper ready for him."
Judith jumped in place for a few happy seconds before rushing off again. Daryl groaned and collapsed on his chair, rubbing at his face in frustration while Carol giggled to herself. "You eat everything on that plate, you hear me?" she advised quietly, straightening out her sweater and patting her hair back into place. "You're going to need your strength in a few hours, Santa."
Stay tuned for Chapter 2...fireside romance ahead!