Daryl woke up in a tangle of limbs. Their legs were entwined and pelvises pressed up against each other. His hand had slipped up the back of her shirt and he realized in that moment how soft her skin felt under his fingertips. She smelled good too, like a mixture of vanilla and coconut oil. Like summer. He couldn’t describe it really. It was what he imagined a beach on the ocean would smell like. Not that he had firsthand experience or anything; it’s just what he pictured by the fragrance.
It had taken him awhile to relax the night before. He’d honestly never slept all night next to a girl before, at least not like this. His experience with girls was limited and Buffy was definitely not the type he was used too.
She was the ideal woman in his eyes, the kind who had never looked twice at him in the past, and the kind that he had secretly wished for, even as a boy. It was a pipedream, he knew. Girls like her simply didn’t look at guys like him in that way. Even if Oz was sure she did, Daryl just couldn’t make himself believe that. She had a good heart and was so strong. He wasn’t just talking about physically either, even with her mental problems. Shit, the girl went to heaven, and had to crawl out of her own grave. If it had been him in that position they would have needed to throw him in a padded cell.
He still couldn’t wrap his head around it. Fuck, heaven was real? How fucking insane was that? He wondered what it was like, if it was like the bible said or if it was something else entirely, probably the latter. He never put much stock in the bible. He had lost what little faith he’d had years ago. You could only pray so much before you realized no one was listening, and in his childhood he had done more than his fair share of praying without answer.
What Buffy needed was a good man. Not some redneck drifter, who up until a few weeks ago had followed his junky brother’s every command. She didn’t need the kind of baggage he carried screwing with her head. He realized she was too good for him. Even if Oz’s words held any truth at all, it would be wrong of him to sully her like that.
He was attracted to her. Hell, if he was being honest, he could even admit to the growing feelings he had for her; but that was as far as it could go. He could admire her from afar. He could be her friend. He could even have these burgeoning feelings for her, but he wouldn’t pull her down in the dirt with him. He refused.
Daryl felt her shift in her sleep, her bandaged hand grasping the material of his shirt. “Mmm.” She hummed into his chest, the vibration doing things to his brain. “You’re comfy.”
Her eyes opened the next second; bright emerald staring back at him and in that moment he wanted to take back everything he just talked himself out of. She was absolutely beautiful. She smiled and his breath caught in his throat. At that moment beautiful seemed too tame a word for her, and unfortunately he didn’t have the vocabulary to come up with a better one.
“Morning.” She whispered, a light blush tinting her cheeks.
“Mornin’.” He said back, as he felt her limbs tighten and her toes point as she stretched.
“Mmm,” She hummed again burying her face in his chest. “I don’t remember the last time I’ve slept so well.” She mumbled sleepily, “Especially after…” Her voice tapered off and she looked at him, her eyes shining with an emotion he couldn’t read. “Thank you.” She whispered sincerely.
He removed his arm from around her and shook his head, turning on to his back and studying the canvas ceiling of the tent. This was going to be harder than he thought. “Was nothin’.”
She placed her hand on his chest, feeling his muscles stiffen at her touch. “It was more than you know.” She said, gently removing her hand and laying back. “And, for whatever reason you seem…” She paused, rethinking how to word what she was trying to say. “You just don’t strike me as the cuddling type is all. I know this couldn’t have been very easy for you.” She paused, biting her lip. “So yeah… Just thank you.”
He watched her out of the corner of his eye for a moment, before he finally nodded.
Buffy sat up, stretching her arms over her head. Her shirt rode up in the process and Daryl caught a glimpse of the scar he’d seen the first day he’d met her. His hand moved as if it had a mind of its own, and before he realized what he was doing his finger traced the scar.
Buffy sucked in a breath of surprise, but didn’t pull away from his touch. Her eyes closed, and she shuddered. His finger was calloused and rough as he touched her, making goose bumps erupt across her skin. Buffy swallowed thickly and turned her head to the side, watching him as he studied the scar, his eyes darkening in anger or lust she didn’t know.
“Where’d ya’ get it?” He whispered hoarsely, the tone in his voice telling her this wasn’t something she should try to blow off as nothing.
“I was run through with a sword.” She said quietly, trying not to break the spell. “I have a matching one in the front too.”
He sucked in a breath of surprise, as if he just realized what he was doing and just like that, the spell was broken. He tore his hand away as if burned, clumsily getting to his feet. She could see he was breathing heavily as he clenched and unclenched the fists at his sides.
“Daryl?” She whispered.
He turned towards her and shook his head, eyes wide and almost frightened. “I…” He ran his hands through his hair. “This ain’t gonna work.” He was gone the next instant, leaving Buffy hurt and bewildered all at the same time.
As shitty as Buffy was feeling when she left her tent, the sight that Oz presented coaxed a warm smile to her face. Rick’s son Carl sat next to him with the guitar Glen had given Oz propped in his lap, as Oz gave the boy guitar lessons.
She noticed Rick and Lori close by, hands over their mouths as they watched their son smile and laugh every time he got a cord right. Caught up in the moment, even Shane looked choked up. She saw Glen and Dale watching with matching smiles. Carol stepped out of the RV to watch, a sad smile playing on her lips. She only watched a few moments before swiftly turning around and headed back inside, wiping at the tears in her eyes. T-Dog and Andrea were on the roof of the RV, paying more attention to Oz and Carl than their surroundings. They were smiling too she realized.
Buffy looked back at Rick and Lori, and saw the women staring at her. She nodded and gave her a kind smile, but she was not prepared for what happened next. Lori walked towards her with determination in her eyes. Buffy froze forcing herself not to get into a defensive pose, but what happened next shocked her. Lori threw her arms around Buffy, embracing her warmly.
“Thank you.” She whispered. “Thank you both for being here.”
It sunk in that moment what the woman was saying. She pulled away looking at Lori sharply. “Rick told you.” She whispered, and it wasn’t a question.
Lori nodded. “He did.” The brunette took a breath. “I’m his wife Buffy. Of course he told me. I wasn’t sure what to think at first, but watching you both, how determined you both are, besides how you usually keep to yourselves. The way Daryl seems to trust the both of you unconditionally. It all makes sense. Rick just told me everything last night, but he told me you were here for us early on. I guess I just didn’t understand at the time.”
Buffy sighed, shaking her head in defeat. “Of course, I…Does anyone else know?”
“Not that I know of,” She responded. “Though Shane might know. He is Rick’s best friend after all.”
Buffy looked at Lori, her eyes narrowing, “You really think Rick still trusts him after everything that’s happened?”
Lori looked surprised and a little guilty. “How do you…”
“You mean besides the way Shane constantly looks at you?” Buffy cut in, and the older woman’s eyes widened.
“Lori.” Buffy sighed. “It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure it out. Your husband knows. You need to tell him what happened.” She held up her hand, before the other woman could cut in. “I’m not judging you, so don’t think I am. I have been where you were, so numb to anything you chose the worst person, someone you would never normally choose, because he’s there for you in a way no one else is.” Buffy shook her head. “And at the time it seems right, but part of you knows how wrong it is. Not because he is necessarily the villain in this tale, but because you are, because he actually does love you, even if it’s the wrong kind of love. But, you can’t love him back. Not the way he wants you too, and he’s so good at making you forget who you were, who you are, and that’s not your fault either, because part of you can’t seem to remember what it’s like being you.”
Buffy sighed. “Believe me, I more than know what you were going through, the only difference is, I didn’t have a good man like Rick to pick up the pieces after.”
Lori’s eyes filled with tears at Buffy’s words. She shook her head and whispered. “How can I tell him? How could he possibly ever forgive me?”
Buffy’s eyes softened at her words. “Because he loves you, anyone with eyes can see that. It will take some time, but he’ll forgive you Lori.” She sighed. “I think the real question you should be asking yourself is, can you forgive yourself?”
Lori was quiet for a long time. “Were you able to?”
“Some of it,” Buffy admitted. “Other things, not so much.” She shrugged. “I made a lot of really bad choices back then, and the way I acted…” She shook her head. “Let’s just say, I haven’t been with anyone for a very long time for a reason.”
Lori frowned at this. “But I thought you and Daryl?”
Her eyes widened. “I’m that obvious?”
“Not especially.” Lori said shaking her head. “We just saw him leave your tent this morning, and we assumed…”
“Oh God, no.” Buffy cut in. “Daryl has been nothing but a gentleman around me.”
Lori’s lips seem to twitch in amusement at this. “Daryl Dixon, a gentleman?”
“I’m serious.” Buffy said in annoyance, feeling herself get defensive. “Plus, I highly doubt he likes me that way.”
Lori snorted in disbelief. “Have you looked in a mirror lately? Trust me honey, just about every man in this camp likes you that way.” She shook her head. “You also didn’t see how protective Daryl got over you yesterday when Rick and Oz brought you back. He wouldn’t let anyone near your tent except for Oz and Carol, not even Rick.”
Buffy’s eyes widened in surprise and blushed, “He wouldn’t?” She shook her head, a smile spreading across her face. “Well, I think that just proves my point.”
“Which is?” Lori questioned.
“He’s definitely a total gentleman.”
They both gave each other secretive smiles, before they burst out laughing.
“Come on.” Lori said, grabbing hold of Buffy’s arm. “I don’t think you’ve been properly introduced to my son.”
As Buffy followed Lori she had the sudden prickling feeling she got when she was being watched. She looked behind her and was surprised to see Daryl standing in the spot where her and Lori just were. The same heat in his eyes from this morning, only a thousand times more intense. They stayed like that a long while, Buffy barely able to breathe as she seemed to get lost in their icy blue depths.
Daryl broke contact first and Buffy watched as he seemed to shake himself out of whatever trance they’d been locked in. He very obviously cursed as he snatched up his crossbow and stormed off in the opposite direction. Buffy realized he must have heard their entire conversation.
Sometime later Oz and Rick were out in the forest, once again searching for Sophia. Rick could see now why Oz was such an asset to have on their side. The boy could track like a bloodhound. And the Walkers... Jesus, the two of them could literally walk right past the dead without notice. It was truly incredible.
The day before, they’d searched for Sophia together and Rick had gotten to know Oz a little better. The young man was just about as honest as they come. He had asked Oz a barrage of questions yesterday, trying to trip him up and reveal any hidden motives, but Oz had taken each one in stride. Not fazed at all by Rick’s inquiry, in fact, it was almost as if he expected it. He also realized fairly quickly how smart Oz actually was. He looked at things with more forethought than most, asking questions before just jumping to conclusions.
He was able to shut Shane down pretty quickly yesterday, which is something even Rick had trouble with at times. It was Oz’s suggestion that Shane take the others out shooting, when he started throwing a fit about Buffy’s breakdown. Oz had been totally calm as he looked at Shane as if he hadn’t just insulted both his and Buffy’s integrity, before he said. “If you’re really that worried about us, why don’t you take your group out and train them to defend themselves. That way when Buffy and I decide to make our move you’ll be prepared.”
Half the group started laughing at Oz’s words, provoking Shane to anger and spitting fire to cover his embarrassment but unable to respond. Rick had finally taken pity on his old friend, telling Shane that Oz had a point and it wasn’t a bad idea at all. After that Shane hadn’t said much, though he would throw a glare in the redhead’s direction every once in a while. The truth was; Rick could tell Shane thought it was a good idea as soon as Oz suggested it. He just didn’t know how to treat it as such, with the dig Oz added at the end.
They walked along a while more and Rick smiled as he thought of Carl this morning. After everything that had happened, his boy could still laugh, he could still smile.
“I still can’t thank you enough for what you did with my boy this morning.” Rick finally said.
Oz grinned. “Not a problem. You got a good boy on your hands Rick. He’s got a real ear for music too.”
Rick nodded, emotion filling him. “It’s just with everything that’s happened… I think me and Lori were starting to think he was going to grow up too fast. That maybe he wasn’t going to experience a childhood, much less a good life at all. I’m still not sure what’s going to happen.” Rick paused, taking a large breath. “But I’m glad he has a chance to experience something good.”
Oz nodded in understanding. “It really isn’t a problem. I’ll even continue to give him lessons as long as he’s willing. I’ve always felt that it’s wrong to…” Oz stopped dead, nose up as he sniffed the air around them. “Oh no.” He whispered.
“What?” Rick questioned in alarm, watching as Oz seemed to follow an unseen trail.
“She started bleeding…a lot.” He began walking faster. “I think she ran.” He began to run too, following the trail as quickly as he could.
Rick followed, until he almost slammed into the back of Oz when he abruptly stopped. “Wha…” He started to say before Oz cut him off.
“She climbed that tree.” He pointed. “She was trying to get away from it, but her blood caused more to come.” Oz paused, eyes widening. “Oh god, she bled out up there.”
Rick’s eyes widened, as disbelief began to fill them. “You sure?” He choked.
Oz nodded, emotion clear in his voice. “Positive, she was still strong enough to climb that tree, but she was trapped.” Oz shook his head. “Look at all the blood on the tree. There’s no way she could have survived that kind of blood loss.”
Rick looked at the stains smeared across the tree, and sucked in a shuddering breath. He walked forward and saw a small shoe print on the tree and his composure completely broke. “No.” Rick whispered, tears in his eyes. “Oh God.”
“I’m sorry.” Oz said quietly. “I really thought we would find her.”
Rick nodded. “I thought we would too.” He sighed wiping at his eyes. “We better head back and tell Carol.”
Oz nodded in agreement, feeling utterly defeated.
Buffy laughed, as Carl chased her in a game of tag. She figured the kid was bored without someone else his own age to play with and had no problem indulging the boy. She swooped out of the way right as he got close to her, making him laugh.
“Not fair,” Carl said still laughing. “You’re too fast.”
“Well, I guess you’re just gonna have to try harder then, huh?”
“Hey guys, dinners almost ready.” Lori called, smiling at the pair.
Carl pretended to collapse, and Buffy giggled. “Come on kid; let’s get some grub in you.”
“I don’t think I can walk.” He said, smiling up at her from the ground, breathing heavily.
Buffy shook her head, holding out her hand. “Well come on then, I’ll help you.” Carl reached out and she pulled him to his feet.
“Last one there’s a rotten egg.” He said as he took off running.
“Oh, why you little…” Buffy started laughing, and quickly took up the chase. As they reached camp Rick and Oz pulled up. She stopped short at the look on their faces as they exited the vehicle, immediately knowing something was wrong. She was grateful that Carl ran off ahead of her, not wanting him to witness what she knew was coming. Apparently Carol knew it too, because she took one look at the men and started crying.
“No.” She whimpered. “Not my Sophia.”
Rick shook his head as he walked up to her. “I’m so sorry Carol.” He wrapped his arms around her.
“No!” Carol screamed, pushing him away, only quickly to be replaced by Daryl.
The woman began to sob on Daryl, making Buffy feel utterly helpless at the stricken look on his face. Tears filled her eyes when she met his. She felt like a failure in that moment. She was utterly useless, and it occurred to her that she really had no excuse for that.
Had it been so long ago since Sunnydale that she forgot what being the Slayer meant, especially in a world like this? She had become too comfortable. She had forgotten about nightly patrols, going after the big bad before they got you, and making sure your friends, the people you loved most, never had to suffer.
Rage filled Buffy in that moment. Rage directed at herself, and the things she should have been protecting these people from. She should have killed every one of the filthy dead things she could find. She didn’t deserve to be hanging out like this was some kind of fucking vacation. In that moment her mind was made up.
She marched past everyone gathered around Carol. Buffy climbed into the RV, without asking permission. She didn’t bother with announcing her presence, rather saw her weapons, and began to strap them on. Dale must have noticed her, because he was in front of her the next minute.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“My job,” She said, as she slid both swords in their holster. She didn’t give him a second glance as she walked out the RV fully armed. Buffy walked by everyone, marching over to Shane and laying a map of the area in front of him. “Show me where the high school is.”
“Huh? The wha…?”
“Where you got the medical supplies for Carl, the FEMA shelter.” Buffy demanded.
“Girl, why the hell you wanna go there?” Shane responded.
Buffy looked him in the eye, “Because I’m gonna go and kill every one of those fucking things,” She spat. “Then I’m gonna take everything in there.”
Shane’s eyes widened in shock. “That’s suicide girl.”
“Not for me it’s not.” She countered.
Shane shook his head in disbelief, but did as she asked and circled the area. “Hell, if you’re goin’, I’m goin’.”
“No, you’re really not.” Buffy said as she shouldered past him. “I can handle this on my own.”
She walked past everyone, ignoring the odd stares at all her weapons. She noticed neither Oz nor Carol were around, and quickly realized he must be comforting the women. She was happy for that. Oz could be a bit overprotective when it came to his family, and she didn’t want to deal with an argument now.
Buffy quickly hopped in her truck, not surprised in the least when Daryl opened the passenger door.
“What the hell do ya’ think you’re doing?” He growled at her.
She just raised her eyebrows at him. “I’m doing what I was made for. What I should have been doing from the moment I had that dream. I’m protecting all of you.”
“The hell ya’ are.” Daryl snarled. “You’re gonna get yourself killed.”
“No I’m not.” Buffy said, voice raising octaves. “I’m saving all your asses! Now either get in the fucking truck, or grab another one and help. Otherwise get the hell out of my way.”
Daryl’s eyes widened at her words, and he realized she was mad at him. “What’s your problem?”
“My problem?” She looked at him. “My problem is; I’m just now realizing how stupid I’ve been. That I should have embraced what I am, and taken out as many of the dead as I could a long time ago.”
“That’s not what I mean, and ya’ know it.” Daryl shouted, hopping into the passenger’s side, crossbow already in hand.
Buffy laughed bitterly. “Oh, you mean the fact that you ignored me all day. Don’t worry about it. I’m used to it.”
“I didn’t ignore ya’.” Daryl growled angrily.
“Well what the hell do you call it then?” Buffy asked angrily. “Gotta admit, Daryl, I’ve been looked at a lot of ways, but I think you’re the first person who has ever made me truly feel like a piece of shit!”
Daryl’s eyes widened again, this time in shock. “That’s not why I was looking at ya’ like that.”
“Then what did the look mean.” Buffy snarled, “Because it was either an ‘I hate your guts’, look, or it was an ‘I wanna fuck your brains out’ look.” He didn’t respond so she continued. “I’m guessing it was the former, because really nothing else makes sense!” She said angrily.
Daryl shook his head, looking at Buffy in disbelief. “You’re wrong.” He whispered. “And I’m coming with ya’, no matter what ya’ think.”
Buffy glared at him a long time. “Fine,” she growled. “But if you get in my way, or die, I’m totally kicking your ass.”
Daryl couldn’t help but smirk at her words. “Yes ma’am.”
Buffy’s smile was deadly as she started backing out of the driveway, “And don’t try to kiss my ass neither.” She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “Also I will bodily remove anyone who judges my music.” She paused. “So you better keep your mouth shut.”
He nodded, not saying anything when some rock band he’d never heard before started up.