“I always thought you didn't like me.”
He looks up—jerks his head up, really, blinking at her. Struggling to process. He's been struggling to process a lot of things in the last twenty-four hours, and being wasted right down to the cellular fucking level hasn't helped matters, but for some reason this is a whole other plane of does not compute.
Sitting here in the dark with her, the glow of the fire long since faded, listening to the distant growls of the walkers—which are barely audible over the murmuring of the stream beside them. His back against a tree, the bark rough on the backs of his arms and the nape of his neck, and her next to him, her attitude not unlike how it was on the porch. Her knees are drawn up, her arms wrapped around them, and she's gazing up at the sky, the last light of the full moon shining in her eyes and silvering her hair as the moon itself sinks behind the thickest part of the treeline.
He's still drunk, and she has to be as well, but she doesn't sound it. Going only by what he can hear, she's stone cold sober. Musing, and perhaps not altogether happy. She wasn't on the porch, either, but by the time they walked away she was smiling, and this is a different kind of melancholy. If he can call it that at all.
On the porch, her mind was in the past. Through the haze of alcohol, he knows without having to ask that she's there again.
He lifts his head. “You thought what, now?”
“You heard me.” She shoots him a glance, a tiny half smile. “Back at the farm, and after. For a while. Thought maybe you didn't like me.”
He blinks again, struggling to follow. “Why the fuck’d you think that?”
Only there's the fact that scarcely hours ago, he was screaming abuse at her. Telling her she was full of shit, all but calling her a spoiled little bitch, manhandling her in a way he wants to slap himself for now. Any outside observer who had watched that display could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that no, he didn't much care for her or her company.
He's expecting that perhaps she'll bring all of that up and give him the litany of his sins, which he richly deserves. But instead she's shrugging, and maybe, possibly, she's leaning a little closer to him.
“I dunno, you just never said anythin’ to me. You never talked to me at all.”
He gazes at her for a second or two, looks away, lets out a little hmph. She's been making him violently uncomfortable all evening, and she's doing it again, and the part he can't get past is how he doesn't entirely hate it.
In fact, the hmph isn't too far removed from a laugh. He picks up a twig and snaps it in two, tosses both ends at the stream. They land with a tiny plop and the gentle current carries them away, shining wet forms in the midst of more shine. “I didn't talk to no one. C’mon, you know me.”
Talking has never been his pastime of choice.
“That ain't true,” she says, mildly reproachful. “You talked to Rick a lot after the farm. You talked to Glenn, you talked to Carol.” Her smile—its outlines, its delicate moonlit curve—turns faintly sly. “I thought maybe you and Carol might have a, y’know. A thing. For a while.”
He coughs sharply, manages not to widen his eyes too much when he stares at her. A thing. With Carol. Like that.
Except he thinks back, and if he's honest, that's… That's really not such a weird idea. That was never what he wanted, not remotely, but there were some things she said, some of the ways she was, and for a little while…
Yeah, he's not a complete idiot. He's always been, on some level, cognizant of this. Carol wouldn't have minded at all, if a thing had happened.
In all likelihood, Beth wasn't the only one of the group looking at the two of them and suspecting something along those lines.
“I didn't,” he says gruffly, and she chuckles.
“I know. I'm just sayin’. You talked to them. Daddy, too. Maggie. Lori, now and then. But you never talked to me.” She pauses, nudges the dirt with the heel of one boot. “Changed kinda when we got to the prison, but before that.”
He's silent for a time. Partially because he's waiting for her to say something else, partially because he's not sure what the fuck he's supposed to say, but also because he’s determinedly sloshing through the last dregs of the moonshine to get to his memory. Is she right? At the farm and then on the road afterward, did he talk to her? He must have; there weren't many of them, and communication was key. And yet he can't recall a single time.
Maybe she's right.
Well, what the fuck would he have said to her? She was this kid. She was this nice farm girl, with whom he had nothing whatsoever in common. What exactly would they have conversed about?
He grunts, picks up another twig and starts to break it into several pieces instead of only two. “I didn't hate you.”
“I didn't say hate. I said you didn't like me.” She looks at him, bites at her thumb. “It's okay to not like me, Daryl.”
She's not asking for anything from him. She doesn't have an angle. It's not that she never does—if she knows him, he knows her, and he knows she is more than capable of angling. But not this time. She's simply talking. She's talking, and he can't decide if it's easy or hard to listen.
“I like you,” he says softly.
I didn't mean what I said before. I didn't mean any of it. I like you too much to mean it.
But he did. That's the worst part.
He likes her, and he meant it all.
“Yeah, I think you do.” She pauses a beat, then extends her leg and pokes his calf with her toe. Just a little nudge, the smallest bit playful. Friendly. “I like you too, Daryl Dixon.”
He looks at her. Looks down at his fingers as they snap the last and shortest length of twig. Looks away at the woods. It's not that no one has ever said anything along these lines to him—I liked you first. It's only that it's it's never been this way. No joking, no banter overlaying the seriousness of it. Just… I like you. Just like that.
“You better like me,” she says, matter-of-factly, “‘cause you're stuck with me.” And she's scooting over and closing the rest of the distance between them, her side against his. Not too firmly, not pressed, but touching him. Leaning, a little.
He battles back the urge to push her away, and it's remarkable how easy a battle it is to win. Perhaps some of it is that he's distracted by her words. You're stuck with me. Whereas she just finished telling him that she would be gone someday. That he would miss her.
That he would miss her so bad.
“You don't have to talk to me to like me, though,” she adds, and yawns hugely. Leaning a little heavier now, as her body relaxes. “You don't have to say anythin’ at all.”
No, he supposes he doesn't. And there's not much to say to her now anyway, as she gradually falls asleep against him. At some point he lifts an arm and she settles into the space it vacated, and for lack of anything else to do with it, he curls it loosely around her shoulder. Listens to the easy in-out of her breathing. The walkers are all gone, and now the birds are beginning to twitter and trill.
Might be wise to get moving. Or at least make a proper camp. But he won't wake her. Not yet. He’ll sit with her and watch the sun rise in silence, because she's right: He doesn't have to talk to her to like her, because even when he wasn't saying a goddamn word to her, he thinks he probably liked her just fine.
But talking to her more… It could be nice. It could be.
Maybe he’ll give it a try.