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Crossbows and Friendship Bracelets

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Disclaimer: I own nothing from The Walking Dead. All characters belong to the creators of the televison series and graphic novel.

He always looked forward to her visits. She usually came once a month, but he hadn’t seen her in almost three. Times were hard at the Kingdom. They’d had bad crops and a sickness, and Carol had felt obliged to stay and help Ezekiel care for their people.

When he heard hoof beats against the soft grass, he knew it was her. Since Michonne had given birth last year, she rarely made the trek out unless there was an emergency. Things were peaceful, and Daryl had gotten used to the solitude. Still, the sound of a visitor had his heart pounding and his hands shaking.

He stood, tossing the stick he’d been whittling toward the lake. And through the clearing, Carol rode in. Her long, silver hair was braided and draped over one shoulder. Her smile widened when she saw him, and he practically jogged over to her, grabbing the horse’s bridle to steady her.

“Hey stranger,” she said with a happy sigh. Daryl felt his voice catch in his throat, and he swallowed the lump that formed there.

“Hey yourself.” He took her hand and helped her down from the horse, and she stood there for a moment, beaming at him before wrapping her arms around him. He held her close, burying his face against her neck, inhaling that intoxicating scent that always left him feeling swimmy in the head. She made a little noise as he held her, and for a moment, he wondered if she was crying. He didn’t want to let her go just yet. It had been too long.

“I missed you,” she whispered with a little laugh before she pulled back from the hug. Her eyes shone when she smiled at him, and he brushed a tear from her cheek with his fingertips.

“How’s Henry and the King?” She looked down. She always looked down when he mentioned Ezekiel.

“Everyone’s good. We’re good.” Her voice stuttered at the end. “The Kingdom’s patching itself back up.” Daryl noticed the bow tied to the horse’s saddle.

“What’s this?”

“Oh. I found this a few weeks ago. I thought maybe you might be able to use it.” She untied the bow and the quiver filled with arrows. He watched her hold the weapon like she was born with it in her hand.

“Nah. Looks better on you,” he murmured.

“You think?”

“You know how to handle that thing?” he asked. She grinned and quirked an eyebrow suggestively. Daryl blushed at his own words.

“I might have been practicing.”

“Yeah? Let’s see what you got.” He slung his crossbow over his shoulder, and she did the same with her new weapon. And together, they headed off toward the woods, fingers barely brushing as they walked, hearts full and neither looking forward to goodbye.

Chapter Text

The storm had passed, but the air was frigid and biting. It wasn’t until she stepped into Aaron’s warm, inviting home that Carol realized just how cold she was. Her feet were soaking wet from the ice and snow they’d trudged through. Her boots had given out three miles from Alexandria. She was sure if she didn’t get dry clothes soon, she’d catch her death from cold.

Aaron’s home had the most room to spread out, which everyone quickly did. Carol noticed how Daryl stayed close to Lydia for a few minutes. The girl’s eyes darted around the place anxiously like she was looking for an escape. Carol recognized and knew it well, that look. But soon, the girl settled on the couch in front of the fire with some of the other children.

Daryl was at at Carol’s side in moments, and Carol felt exhaustion sweep over her. She was shivering, still soaking wet, and Daryl noticed the way she hugged her arms to herself.

“C'mon.” He put his hand on her arm, and they walked upstairs together. The room at the end of the hall seemed like a mile away, and they walked toward it side by side. Daryl opened the door, and Carol sighed contentedly at the sight of a four post bed next to a fireplace. “I’ll be close if ya need me.” He motioned toward the room across the hall. Carol watched him crouch down in front of the hearth and strike a match. In moments, a warm glow filled the room. He stood and looked at her, and she smiled tiredly at him before slipping into the bathroom to change.

Daryl retreated to the small room across the hall, and he got a fire going of his own before slipping out of his wet clothes and beat up boots. He figured Aaron wouldn’t mind him borrowing one of his plaid button downs and a pair of sweat pants. He settled in front of the fire, rubbing his hands and stretching his feet out toward the flames.

A small knock had his attention. When he answered the door, she was standing there in her lavendar pajamas. She smiled shyly at him, and her lower lip quivered.

“You ok?”

“No,” she whispered. He nodded then and chewed his bottom lip a moment.

“Stay with me.” It wasn’t a question. She slipped inside the room and closed the door behind her. He pulled back the covers on the bed, and once she crawled under them, he covered her up and moved to make a bed on the floor out of blankets.

“Daryl?” He looked at her. “Stay with me.” She put her hand on the bed beside her, and he swallowed. His mouth was dry, and his tongue felt thick, and his heart was pounding in his chest. He crawled in bed, and when he pulled his arm around her, she curled herself against him and put her head on his chest. She sighed softly, and in just a few minutes, she was sleeping soundly. That night, for the first time in years, Daryl slept soundly, too.

Chapter Text

“Shit.” Daryl grunted and bit back another expletive. The pair of needle nose pliers clattered down on the wooden table.

“Daryl?” Carol poked her head out of the tent. She was in the process of braiding her long hair back. Daryl quickly turned from where he sat at the table, hiding his work. “You didn’t sleep last night. What are you doing?”

“Ain’t nothin’.” Carol narrowed her eyes at his back but went back inside. A few moments passed. “God damn it.” Carol stepped back out again, hands on her hips.

“Can I help?”

“No.”

“What are you…”

“I got it,” he insisted. His elevated exasperation piqued Dog’s curiosity. The pooch quirked one ear up and turned his head to the side. Carol shook her head and sighed. She went back into the tent to finish her hair, something that took much longer now that she didn’t just have to run her fingers through it and go.

When light filtered back into the tent, she peeked past her reflection in the mirror to see Daryl standing there awkwardly.

“You good?” she asked with a hint of a smile. Daryl shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

“Here.” He extended his closed hand toward her, and she reached out. He dropped a dainty bracelet in her palm. It was made of twine and thin wire, and there were little shells and beads threaded through it. On his wrist was a matching one. The corners of her mouth turned up, and her blue eyes widened.

“That’s what you were working on all night?” He shrugged, and his lips twitched into a little smile. “Now everybody will know we’re best friends,” she teased, smirking at him. He nudged her shoulder with his own. “Will you put it on me?” Daryl chewed his lip nervously but did as she asked. He fixed the dainty clasp around her delicate wrist. His fingers lingered over her pulse point a moment longer than he had intended, and when he met her gaze, his face went hot. “Pretty romantic, best friend.”

“Stop.” But his fingers lingered around her wrist, giving it a little squeeze that made her smile.

Chapter Text

He knew she was hurting. She didn’t talk about it, but he knew. Since she’d come back from Oceanside, she’d been searching for an escape, but the thing was, she wasn’t running from him. She sought him out. She stayed close. And when he’d mentioned going west to hunt and look for supplies, she’d eagerly offered to go with him.

Daryl sat in front of the fire, fingers absently fidgeting with the bracelet around his wrist. What had started as a little joke between them had turned into something different entirely, and he actually liked the little thing. He liked it even more, because she wore hers all the time, even when she slept. Well, that was when she actually slept.

Tonight, she was tossing and turning in the tent, and he could hear her. But at the same time, he knew there was little he could do for her. She would wake and be upset and pretend that she wasn’t. He knew her. He knew how it would end.

But when the tossing and turning became whimpering and shaking breaths, he went to her. He crawled into the and lay next to her, watching the worry crease her brow. Her lower lip trembled, and she choked back her cries as her chest shook with ragged breaths.

“No,” she choked out. “Henry.” Daryl’s heart sank. He gently brushed her hair out of her face, and she sighed, turning her face toward him in her sleep.

“It’s alright,” he whispered. “You’re just dreamin’.” She sighed again, and her breathing slowed, and when she opened her eyes, she gasped softly. “It’s ok. M'here. Just a bad dream.”

“Daryl,” she whispered, tears shining in her eyes. She sniffled and wiped at her eyes. “It wasn’t.” Daryl looked at her. “It wasn’t a bad dream. Not this time.” She curled into him then, no longer able to hold back, and she began to sob. He felt her breath and tears against his neck, and all he could do was pull his arms around her and hold her. He didn’t know what to say. And somehow, it didn’t seem to matter that he didn’t have the words. She clung to him, and he held her, and somehow it was enough.

Chapter Text

In the days since they’d left home to head west, Daryl discovered he really liked riding with Carol. As nervous as it made him when she was pressed up against him and holding her arms around him tightly, he loved the way he would catch her smiling in the mirrors and the way she’d laugh softly when he’d go over a dip and scoot her further down in the seat. He loved how her hands felt gripping his sides and the way sometimes they moved a little too low. He knew the only reason he kept his concentration and didn’t wreck the fucking thing was because her safety mattered to him more than anything else.

When he stepped out of the tent one morning to find her sitting on the motorcycle alone, it did something to him. His pulse quickened, his throat went dry, and when she looked up at him and smiled, he felt like his legs were made of putty.

“Goin’ somewhere?”

“Just waiting for Pookie,” she offered with a smile.

“Gimme a few. I’ll be ready.”

“You know you could teach me how to ride this thing.”

“Why?” he snorted.

“Because then we could find one for me, and you wouldn’t have to worry about me clinging to you.”

“Don’t mind,” he muttered, turning away before she could see him blush.

“No, really,” Carol insisted, getting off the bike and moving toward him. She put her hand on his arm. “It might be easier.”

“Said I don’t mind,” he insisted. Carol’s fingers lingered on his arm, and when Daryl looked at her, she saw a tinge of red on his face. She took a breath, and her mouth quirked into a little smile. “‘SIdes, it’d be a waste of gas.”

“Oh. Gas, huh?” Carol grinned. Daryl gave a little grunt and a nod, but he didn’t pull away. She brought her other hand to his face and pushed his shaggy hair out of the way. “You’re turning into a sheepdog again.”

“M'fine.” His voice was softer now, and he kind of wished she’d run her fingers through his hair again. She gave him a little smile and let her fingers brush over the scar above his eye. His hand moved to meet hers, and she gasped softly when his fingers curled around hers. “Don’t gotta worry about me.”

“I always worry about you.” She took a breath, and her voice shook. “You worry about me. It’s what we do.” She gave his hand a squeeze, and his thumb rubbed over her knuckles, sending chills down both of their spines. “I think you kinda like having a warm body pressed up against you.” She winked at him, and his heart about burst in his chest. “I think you’re getting used to being around people again.”

“Ain’t just anybody,” he pointed out. “Ain’t nobody else I’d put up with for this long, 'cept you.” He looked down.

“I like you, too,” she grinned, nudging his shoulder with her own. And then, she turned and kissed him on the cheek before turning and walking away.

Chapter Text

Daryl's heart leapt in his chest when he saw the boat approach the dock. But, of course, the first person to make it to help Carol off the damned thing was none other than Ezekiel. As he started over to great her, desperately trying not to look too eager, he felt a tap on his shoulder. Connie gave him a smile and held up her notepad.

You two should talk. I'll watch Dog.

Daryl read the words and saw the smile spread over her face. He signed 'thank you,' and then clumsily, 'you don't mind?' She rolled her eyes and shook her head.

"She's all you've talked about since she left. Go kiss that girl, already," she signed, grinning at him even put her hands on her hips and Daryl looked back to where Carol was anxiously looking over her shoulder, looking for an out from whatever was going on with Ezekiel. He froze for a moment, when Carol finally turned to come toward him. As Connie walked off, she greeted Carol with a warm hug, and Carol beamed at him over her shoulder. Then Carol came toward him with the most honest smile he'd seen from her in a long time. She looked beautiful. She seemed peaceful, even though he was sure things were bound to change with Alpha still breathing.

"Did ya miss me?" she asked, as he pulled his arms around her and picked her up, holding her so tight he couldn't breathe for a moment.

"Not really," he teased.

"I'll take that," she laughed, as he pulled his arm around her shoulders. It felt good, seeing her smile, hearing her laugh. He'd missed her so much, it almost hurt more seeing her, because he knew she was probably going to leave again, and he didn't want that. He needed her close. He hated tossing and turning at night and wondering if she was alright, if she was safe. And most of all, he hated thinking about all the things he wished he'd been able to say to her. He wondered if maybe some of those things might convince her to stay.

"You look good," Daryl offered, arm still draped around her shoulders. She reached up and playfully linked her fingers with his for a moment.

"You, too. I missed you."

"You good?"

"I am. I'm trying." She smiled. "I'm getting there." She glanced at him as they walked, and she sighed happily. "Are you good?"

"Yeah," Daryl offered with a nod and a little grin. "I am now."

Chapter Text

Signs

"No. No, you're holding your hand wrong," Kelly explained with an amused smile.

"See, Uncle Daryl? It's like this," Judith explained, holding her hand up to demonstrate the sign for woman. Daryl tried again, and Connie grinned from where she was seated watching the lesson take place. Daryl put his hand down when Judith giggled.

"I ain't no good at this."

"You're not bad," Kelly pointed out. She motioned for Connie to come over. "You help him," she signed. "You have more patience than I do." Connie rolled her eyes but shrugged her shoulders and sat down in front of Daryl. Kelly patted Judith on the shoulder.

"Come on, kid. Let's take a recess. Daryl needs extra homework." Judith gave her Uncle Daryl a sympathetic hug and hurried off, while Daryl tried the sign again. Connie shook her head and held her hand up to her chin, making the sign again. Daryl tried again and she nodded.

"Good," she signed. Something behind them got her attention then, and she smiled and waved. Daryl turned to look over his shoulder to see Carol walking toward them. She'd been stopped by Judith and Kelly. Connie tapped Daryl's shoulder to get his attention, and he turned back to her. She made the sign for woman again. And then, she made another sign, this time bringing her hands together, almost in firsts, and moving her thumbs up and down. Daryl narrowed his eyes at her and tried the sign. He shook his head, indicating he didn't know what it meant. Connie smiled.

"What?" he asked, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders. Connie pointed to Carol and then to Daryl, and then she made the sign again. "I don't read you."

"S-W-E-E-T-H-E-A-R-T-S," she spelled out. Daryl blushed and looked away. She tapped his shoulder again and motioned for him to look at her. She recalled the simple words they'd learned already, and she tried again. "You love Carol." She motioned for him to say something, and his hands twitched nervously on his knees. She signed again. "She loves you."

"How do you know?" he signed back. Connie smiled and put her hand over her chest for a moment. Then she grabbed for her pen and paper. Daryl looked over his shoulder again to see Carol smiling at something Judith was saying. Her nose crinkled when she laughed, and he felt his stomach twist into knots. Connie tapped him again, and he looked at the paper.

"She looks at you like you look at her." She flipped the page. "What's stopping you?" Daryl shook his head. Connie cocked her head to the side. Then, clumsily, he signed back.

"Can't lose her." Connie sighed and shook her head before she signed back to him.

"Doesn't look like she's going anywhere to me."

"Just tell her I love her?" he signed. "Just say it like that?" Connie bit her bottom lip and nodded her head. She gave his shoulder a pat and signed. "Tell her how you feel. Who knows when you'll get another chance?" Daryl narrowed his eyes at her, not quite getting it, and she smiled before writing it down for him. Then she waved again. This time, Daryl felt another hand on his shoulder, and he looked up to see Carol standing there with a smile. She signed something to Connie, who signed something right back, and Daryl felt like he might swallow his tongue.

"You okay?" Carol asked cheerfully. Daryl stood then, rubbing the back of his neck, and Connie just gave them both a smile and walked off.

"Yeah. I'm good. Uh…you? You good?"

"I'm fine," she laughed. "Today's a good day." She took a deep breath and put her hands on her hips. "Are you sure you ok? You look weird."

"M'fine. Just…can I talk to you?"

"What's up?" Daryl put his hand on Carol's elbow for a moment before tearing it away. He cleared his throat and looked down at the American Sign Language book on the bench by where he'd been sitting. He looked to Carol then and he cleared his throat.

"I just, uh, I just wanted to say…m'glad you stayed. Thought for sure you were gonna be out on that next boat."

"I couldn't go. Not with Alpha back. I had to fight. You know that."

"I know. Just…after, I meant. Thought you'd go as soon as it was done. Ya didn't."

"I didn't," she offered.

"Why?"

"Why?" she asked. "Because it's time I stop leaving my best friend behind."

"Best friend." The words were thick on his tongue, and Carol squinted into the sunlight.

"It's who you are. It's who you've been since the farm." She reached out and gave his hand a squeeze. She saw his lips twitch and she saw the questions in his eyes, and she waited.

"That's all we are?"

"What?"

"Best friends. That's all we're gonna be?"

"Daryl?"

"Ah, I don't know what I'm sayin'. Christ, just forget it." He turned then, and he heard a laugh fall from her lips.

"I love you too, Pookie." He stopped in his tracks and turned slowly to face her again.

"Wh…what?"

"I saw you talking to Connie on my way over here. You're not the only one that's learning." She pulled an American Sign Language book from her own back pocket. Daryl's face turned about every shade possible, and Carol took a couple steps toward him. "You do love me, right?" He nodded then, mouth falling open.

"I…'course I love you. Have for a long time. Just didn't…didn't wanna scare you off."

"I'm not going anywhere," Carol promised, taking another step closer to him. "I'm done running. I know where I want to be. I know who I want to be. The only time I feel like myself is when I'm with you." Carol gave him a smile, and before she knew what was happening, he pulled her into his arms and picked her up off the ground. She laughed then, and he held her so close. And then when her feet were back on the ground, she took the chance to press her lips against his. To her delight, he kissed her right back. When they broke apart, Carol slipped her hand into his and gave it a squeeze. "Come on. Let's pick this up at home." Daryl's face flushed again, and Carol grinned. He leaned in, whispering just loud enough for him to hear. "We've got a lot of lost time to make up for." It was all he needed. He squeezed her hand and took off toward the house. She almost had to jog to keep up with him.

As they walked, Carol met Connie's gaze from across the street, and she put her hand against her mouth, bringing it outward to say "thank you."

Chapter Text

Prove It

"Let me see," Daryl grunted, kneeling down on the floor in front of Carol's bed at the infirmary.

"I'm fine," she insisted, pushing her fingers through her long, tangled hair. A dark bruise was already forming on her cheek, and the rest of her felt like her face felt. Sore and tender.

"Prove it." His eyes locked on hers, and she held his gaze for a moment before relenting. She knew he'd never let up if she didn't show him. She lifted her shirt just above her navel to show the now-sewn gash that almost mirrored her scar from years ago, the one Morgan had sewn up.

"Siddiq did a good job," Carol insisted, pulling her shirt back down. Daryl's gaze snapped back up to hers, and this time, there was fire in his eyes. He stood then, and his boots were heavy on the floorboards when he began to pace. "Daryl?"

"Why'd you do it?"

"What?"

"Why'd you go chargin' in there? You tryin' to kill yourself? Is that what that was?"

"Daryl, you know what that was," Carol bit out. The tears welled in her eyes, and Daryl stopped.

"You tryin' to die?"

"No." She sniffled, shaking her head.

"The woman's fuckin' nuts," Daryl barked. "The things she's done…she coulda killed you!"

"Why…are you…Daryl, are you mad at me?"

"Would be if it would do any goddamned good!" Carol watched as he balled up his fists like he wanted to punch the wall, and when he turned his back to her, his shoulders fell, and Carol's lower lip trembled. "You're always leavin'."

"What?"

"You leave. Ya nearly died on me at the prison. You tried to leave back at the church, before we went after Beth. Then you left Alexandria, damn near got yourself killed as Morgan told it. And then ya left the Kingdom, didn't want nobody to find ya. Then when it was over, ya went back to the Kingdom. Ya went to him. Then when ya finally came home, ya left again and went out on that boat. Now you're back, and ya say you're fine, but the first chance you get, you go for the kill, not thinkin' you might be gettin' killed yourself."

"Daryl."

"I ain't finished." He turned then, and he looked at her. "You keep leavin' me. I can't do it no more." Carol sniffled then and wiped at the tears that were falling freely now. In that instant, he felt like the world's biggest asshole, which was a fair possibility given the current state of the world. "Fuck. M'sorry."

"No." She shook her head. "Come sit down." He did as she asked, sitting just inches from her on the side of the bed. "You're being honest."

"You're right. I've made a habit of running from everything, including myself. But if we're being fair, what happened at the prison wasn't exactly my fault. I mean, somebody else let the walkers in the prison." She got a little laugh out of him, and she bumped his shoulder with his own. "When Rick left me out there, the first thing I wanted to do was to come right back and explain myself, but what good would that have done?" She took a ragged breath. "And after Terminus, I wasn't sure where I stood. I heard Rick asking if you could all join me, and I was glad about that, but at the same time, I felt like I was still apart from everything. And then we went to Alexandria, and I turned into someone I didn't recognize. So I tried to make some kind of life for myself there. Even at The Kingdom, I tried to be who I thought I was supposed to be. And it didn't work out." She looked down at her hands. "Obviously."

Daryl turned his face toward hers, and she gave him a sad smile.

"So ya weren't runnin' from me."

"Actually, I think I was." Daryl felt like he'd been punched in the gut. "You know me better than I know myself. Everything gets so jumbled, and I try to adapt, and you're the only one that makes me feel grounded, and after everything, I was terrified of turning into someone that even you couldn't recognize."

"Why?" He swallowed the lump in his throat, feeling his neck and ears grow hot. He blinked back the sting in his eyes and tried to understand what she was saying to him.

"I don't know," she sniffled. "I guess I was afraid of losing you. I've lost a lot. If I lost you, I couldn't make it." She shook her head. "And the only thing that scares me more than that is you walking away. So I did. I left so I didn't have to watch you do it."

"That ain't never gonna happen." He reached for her hand, giving it a little squeeze. "Nothin' could ever make me walk away from you. You're the reason I'm here now, fightin'. I'd leave with ya tomorrow if you really wanted to."

"Daryl…"

"Look, I almost lost you tonight. That can't happen again."

"It's the world we live in."

"Ya know what I mean. You chargin' in there, ready to kill or be killed? I can't lose you. I can't." Carol sighed softly then, and she nodded.

"I'm sorry."

"When you fell, I thought you was gone." Carol sniffled then, wrapping her arms around him, resting her head on his shoulder. She winced where the stitches pulled in her side, but she kept holding onto him.

"I'm right here," she promised. "I'm here."

"You're my best friend."

"I know. You're my best friend, too," she sniffled.

"And as your best friend, I think I can finally tell ya that watchin' you leave on that boat the first time was the hardest thing I ever did. I wanted to jump in after ya, but I knew ya had to go. As your best friend, I gotta tell you somethin'. I been hangin' onto it for a long time, not sure how to deal with it, and then I thought it was too late. And maybe it still is."

"What are you…"

"I love you." Carol's eyes went wide, and she bit her bottom lip as the tears began to fall again. "And I didn't wanna almost lose ya again without you knowin'. And it don't even matter if ya don't feel the same way 'cause it ain't gonna change nothin'. You're still my best friend, and I…"

"Of course it…it changes things," Carol interrupted. "Because this…" She motioned between them. "This isn't enough for me anymore. I need more. I want more. And I can't go another day without…" His lips were on hers in a heartbeat, and she gasped against his mouth, smiling against his lips as her warm tears slid down her cheeks. When she pulled back, she felt his hand against her cheek, thumb wiping at her tears.

"You ever wanna leave? You tell me, and I'll be right there. 'Cause what we got here? In Alexandria? We can have it anywhere we go."

"As long as we're together, right?" she asked with a smile. He nodded then, kissing her again. "Good. Right here with you? This is where I wanna be."

Chapter Text

Negan had little to do these days aside from tending gardens under armed guard and observing the goings on as he did said gardening work. On this particular day, he observed Daryl walking across Alexandria with Carol, a woman he'd been told had bigger balls than all the men left in the world combined. And he believed it. The way she carried herself and handled her weapon told him all he needed to know. She'd rip a man's heart out and feed it to him for breakfast if he dared hurt somebody she loved. Negan figured it was for the best that he hadn't had the pleasure of making her acquaintance.

He watched they stop near the windmill, heads bowed in quiet conversation. He watched Daryl's hand reach out and gently brush against hers. That was a first. He was pretty sure he'd never seen Daryl Dixon relate to anybody, male or female in that way.

Carol lifted her head then, and she cocked her head to the side with a little smile. And much to Negan's surprise, Daryl pulled her into a hug, stroking the back of her head as they clutched each other. When they broke apart, Carol walked off, while Daryl made his way toward the school house where Dog was playing with the kids. As he walked by, he said nothing, and Negan just couldn't have that.

"So, Daryl's got himself a girlfriend, huh?"

"Shut up, Negan." Negan's armed guard of the day was some pre-pubescent kid visiting from the Hilltop.

"She's hot. All tiny and petite, looking all innocent. But she'd rip your dick off and wrap it up in a bow if you did her wrong, huh?"

"Why don't you get back to work?" Daryl asked, stopping and turning to look at him.

"I'm surprised. Didn't think you had it in you. She was the one putting it to the King all them years, right? What's it like havin' Zeke's leftovers?"

"You shut the fuck up about her," Daryl growled. Negan grinned wider.

"Oh, maybe you haven't had it yet. That the problem? That why you're wound up so tight? Take it from me, man, I've spent enough time in solitary to know that you gotta wax the whistle once in a while. You know what I'm sayin'."

"Take a break," Daryl barked at the kid. The boy jumped but quickly handed his rifle to Daryl, who took two steps toward Negan. "Get back to work."

"What's the hold up? You givin' her her space since her kid just got his head lopped off? Or can you not…you know? Talk to the doc. I'm sure he could get you a little blue pill for that problem."

Daryl clenched his jaw tightly, and Negan turned to pull some weeds around the cucumber plants.

"I'm tellin' you, Daryl. You're wound tighter than a clock. Go get you some. Put the moves on her, and she'd be putty in your hands." Negan grinned wider. "Better move fast before somebody else gets a piece of that." That was the last straw. Daryl swung the rifle around, popping Negan right in the face, sending him flying back on his ass. Negan spat blood down into the dirt, and Daryl knelt down, poking the barrel of the rifle in Negan's chest.

"I told you to shut the fuck up about her. No unless you wanna spend the next year without work privileges, I suggest ya get back to work and shut your goddamned mouth." Negan wiped his bloody lip with the back of his hand and spat again, turning to keep working the garden. Still, through the blood, he couldn't help but grin. Hell, he had to entertain himself somehow. And what better way than getting under Daryl's skin?

Chapter Text

Better

The cool morning breeze ruffled the curtains, rousing Carol from her sleep. She yawned and began to stretch when she felt the weight of Daryl's arm over her bare middle. She smiled then, cracking one eye open and turning her head to see Daryl's face half-buried in his pillow, hair spilling into his face. She gently pulled his arm up and off of her and rolled onto her side. She settled back against her pillow, smiling as she watched him sleep.

She brushed the hair out of his face and bit her lip to stifle a laugh. Her body ached in all the best possible ways, and her heart felt lighter than ever. Waking with a smile was the best thing she could have hoped for after everything they'd been through.

The sunlight was beginning to creep across the floor, and Carol gently pulled the sheet up over both of them. She watched the way his fingers twitched and his eyes moved beneath his lids. But he didn't wake.

These were the kinds of mornings she lived for. For the first time in her entire life, she woke without any worries or any insecurities.

She'd convinced herself that she loved Ezekiel, had played the part until she began to believe it. It had all been for Henry, to give him something resembling a family, and for a while, it truly had felt like it. And Ezekiel had been good to her to the extent that he knew how to be. He still hadn't known her. She only let him know what she wanted him to know, what needed to be known, and for a while, it had been enough.

In those mornings after, however, she'd lay there staring at the ceiling hating herself just a little for forcing herself into yet another part that didn't quite fit her. She never felt comfortable. He never quite understood her scars or the way she'd react when he'd touch her in a certain way. He knew Ed had abused her, but she'd only spoken about it once and then never again.

There had been mornings when he wouldn't look at her, and she knew it was because he didn't know what to say or if he'd gone too far. And she'd find herself reassuring him while her own heart broke a little. A year after she'd put the ring on, she'd begun to realize she'd made yet another mistake, putting everybody ahead of herself only to hurt herself even more.

Daryl had surprised her. He'd been cautious and curious, and he hadn't been very experienced at all. The first time had been quick, and he'd been embarrassed, but they'd talked all night, opening up to each other, talking about the hard stuff, the things they were afraid of, the things they wanted.

He'd been a quick study, learning all the areas that made her sigh, that made her moan that made her flinch, and he didn't have to ask her why. He would only kiss her there, letting her body know it was ok to be loved there, ok to be touched and kissed and caressed, and then they'd talk for hours.

It was something she never had with Ezekiel or Ed. There was never any talk. Ezekiel was nothing like Ed. He was passionate and tried to be attentive, but he held back. He always held back. And the intimacy of talking and holding each other came second to his duties to the Kingdom. There was hardly time. And while she couldn't fault him for being a good leader, there was never any fire. She'd found herself faking sleep on many nights just to avoid the awkwardness that came after sex.

With Daryl, she couldn't wait to see his face, to watch the breath return to his lungs, to tell him how good he made her feel. There was something to be said about being with someone who just happened to be her very best friend. The sex was wonderful, but it was the after, the calm, the intimate caresses and whispers that made it so much better. Nothing compared to it, and the only regret she had was that it had taken her this long to be honest with herself, for Daryl to be honest with himself, and for them both to be straight with one another about how they really felt.

When he finally cracked one eye open, the grin widened on her lips, and he couldn't help but smile back. He groaned and stretched and ran his hand over his face.

"What's that smile for?" he asked, leaning forward to press a kiss to her lips.

"Mmm, nothing," she whispered. "Just thinking."

"Thinkin' about what?" he asked, stroking his hand over her shoulder and down her back. She shrugged then and kissed his forehead.

"About how much I love you." Daryl's smile faded for a moment, and his cheeks flushed.

"You never said that before," he said quietly. "Why now?"

"Because I'm happy. Finally. Truly." She put her hand against his cheek and brushed her thumb over his bottom lip. "Because of you. Us." He kissed her again, and she sighed against his lips. When he pulled back, he smiled.

"You know I love you too, right?"

"I had a hunch," she grinned, kissing him again. "But it doesn't hurt to be reminded."

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I own nothing from The Walking Dead. All characters belong to the creators of the television series and graphic novels.

This drabble is based on potential spoilers and enhanced for Caryl fluff and romance. Oh, and angst.

Dreams

Carol rolled over in bed, reaching to the empty side to find the sheets rumpled but cool. She cracked one eye open to find sunlight flooding into the room. She yawned and stretched and pulled herself out of bed, tugging on the outfit she'd laid out for the day.

The smell of bacon and eggs had her stomach rumbling before she even got down the stairs, and when she reached the kitchen, she took pause long enough to admire Daryl's backside from where he stood cooking at the stove. His sleep pants clung to him in all the right places, while his T-shirt accentuated his strong arms and shoulders. His hair was un-brushed and flat in the back, and Carol blushed at the memory of looking down at him last night as she rode him.

Dog was sitting at attention on the floor, hoping Daryl would drop just one piece. To his delight, Daryl held out a piece of bacon and dropped it, only for the pooch to snap it up with his jaws in mid-air.

"I saw that," Carol teased, opening up the fridge to grab the pitcher of orange juice.

"Mornin'." He turned to look over his shoulder, admiring her ass as she bent down to reach for something else in the fridge. "Lookin' for somethin'?"

"I was going to make toast, but we're out of jam." She shut the refrigerator door and moved to pour three glasses of juice at the table. When she set the pitcher down, she stepped up behind him, wrapping her arms around his middle and pressing a kiss between his shoulder blades before resting her ear against his back. She closed her eyes, humming contentedly to herself. Daryl pulled the skillet from the hot burner and turned to face her, bringing his arms around her before dipping down to greet her with a good morning kiss.

"He ain't up yet. Why don't ya run down to the store and get some?" he asked, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a five dollar bill.

"You sure they're open?" she asked, crinkling her nose at him.

Heavy footsteps on the stairs distracted them both, and Daryl placed a quick peck to Carol's lips before she slipped away toward the door.

"Hey. Where you going, Mom?" Carol turned to see her son sliding into a kitchen chair and reaching for a glass of juice. Her heart surged in her chest, a pang of grief for the briefest moment. She looked to Daryl, who sucked the salt of bacon from his fingers, and then she looked back to Henry.

"What'd you just say?" she asked, narrowing her eyes at the boy.

"Where are you going? You're really leaving Dad to finish the cooking? Do you want him to burn the house down?" Daryl snorted and tossed a dish towel at the boy.

"What am I going to do with you two?" Carol sighed. "I'll be five minutes. Promise." She moved over to give her son a kiss on the cheek before heading back to the door. Daryl caught her hand and leaned over the counter to kiss her once more, before she opened the door and stepped outside.

Carol's eyes flew open, and the pang of grief ripped through her like a crashing wave throwing her under the tide. She sat up, turning the light on next to her bed, looking over to find the place next to her cold and undisturbed. Her stomach twisted into knots, and she squeezed her eyes shut, forcing back the tears that stung there.

Her breaths came in ragged gasps, and she tore the covers away, slipping out of bed and out the door. A faint light glowed from the room across from hers, and she fought back the urge to run and hide her feelings away like she seemed to do more often than not. Instead, she tapped her knuckles against the door, desperately needing to see his face, to know he wasn't disappointed in her. And when he opened the door, she took a shaking breath.

"What's wrong?" he asked, seeing the tears in her eyes and wishing like hell there was something he could do to take them away.

"Can we talk?" she asked, brushing a tear away. He gave her a nod, and she wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tight and fighting back a sob as his hand curled into her hair. He nuzzled his nose against her ear for a moment before pulling her closer, and in that moment, she wished he'd never let go.

Chapter Text

You Ready?

Carol looked up from where she sat on the porch swing with a book in her hands. Daryl cut the engine on his motorcycle and got off, heading up the sidewalk toward the house with his keys jingling in his hand.

"Hey," he offered with a little wave, stepping up onto the porch and walking over to lean against the railing facing the swing.

"Hey yourself," she smiled. "How was work?"

"Good. You ready to go?"

"Go where?"

"You know." He held his hand out to her, and she smiled, lifting her left hand up to curl into his. She glanced down at the handless watch on her wrist, and furrowed her brows. "Daryl? What time is it?"

"Don't you know?" he asked. Her breath caught in her throat, and when she looked back up at him, she smiled.

"I think so."

"You sure you're ready?"

"Yeah," she promised. "You?"

"I been ready. C'mon." He squeezed her hand, and together they stepped off the porch and toward the motorcycle.

Carol sat up in a sweat, gasping and placing her hand against her chest. Her arm ached, and her first instinct was to reach for the pills she kept in her pocket. But she remembered now that she'd dumped them all out in the woods.

The chair by the bed creaked, and Carol looked over to see Daryl sitting forward.

"You're alright. Just a dream," he murmured.

"Just a dream." She sighed then, a sad smile quivering at her lips.

"That's all it is. Just a bad dream."

"No, it was a good dream," she choked out, wiping at her eyes. Daryl studied her face, and she lay back against the pillow. "The good dreams are the ones I don't want to wake up from. But they're the reason I don't want to sleep. I can't…" The sob she had been choking back escaped her throat, and her shoulders shuddered.

Daryl swiftly moved from the chair to the bed, climbing in beside her and pulling his arms around her. She clutched his shirt, crying hot tears against the soft fabric as his strong arms wrapped around her protectively. He rested his chin atop her head, and she sniffled, shuddering against him.

"You can sleep. I'll be right here when ya wake up," he promised. She felt like someone had reached in and broken her heart all over again. It was never going to be enough, but how could she tell him, after everything they'd been through and after all this time that the most painful thing was loving him and realizing she might never have that kind of happiness with him? Everything in this world died and rotted, and the one thing that gave her peace in her dreams was him, loving him, and that was a kind of pain she couldn't bear.

"You'll stay?" she asked, looking up at him with tear-filled eyes.

"I ain't leavin' you."

"Thank you," she whispered, as they both lay back against the pillows. She rested her head against his chest, closing her eyes as she listened to the steady thump of his heartbeat. His hand gently stroked up and down her arm and made her feel safe. He'd always made her feel safe, almost since the beginning. He was the one person she knew she could trust with her heart. With a shaking breath, she whispered, "can we talk in the morning?"

"Yeah," he murmured. "In the mornin'. Get some sleep. I ain't gonna leave you." And finally, she slept a dreamless sleep, curled up in the warmth and comfort of his arms.

Chapter Text

10 Hours 15 Minutes

Ten hours and fifteen minutes. That was how long he'd waited for her to wake up. After Dante had bandaged her arm and Daryl had carried her upstairs, she'd slept like the dead, barely even moving in her sleep. Daryl had sat at her bedside for hours, unable to sleep for fear she'd disappear right in front of him. He kept listening to her even breaths, and when he finally couldn't stand the silence any longer, he'd gone out to sit on the porch around sunrise. He'd sat there and smoked and looked off into the distance past the houses, past the fences, past the trees and into a future where Alpha's blood soaked the soil.

For as lost and exhausted as Carol was, she was right. Alpha had to die. Michonne had been right to stop her, though, because seven people versus Alpha's group and the hundreds of walkers roaming out in the fog wouldn't have been a battle. It would've been a slaughter. But it was coming. It had to come. Alpha had to die to make it right, and while that wasn't exactly the kind of future Rick Grimes envisioned when he spared Negan's life, it was the only future. Alpha couldn't be allowed to live amongst the dead in a world that was trying to stay alive.

When Carol had come downstairs and out onto the porch, he'd simply been glad to see her up and about. He knew she had a lot of healing to do, and when she'd asked him if he believed her, he told her yes, though part of him wondered if she really hadn't been seeing things. She'd mentioned a conversation between them that hadn't even happened. It wasn't her fault. Nobody was sleeping. Carol was fighting it harder than anyone else, but nobody was sleeping. It was easy to get disoriented, confused, lost.

When he'd heard her yelling his name back at that school, his heart almost gave out trying to get to her. She'd wandered off, and he wasn't even sure he'd been fully awake. And the pills weren't helping.

Still, he'd told her he believed her, because he wanted to, and hell, part of him did. Alpha was all about respecting borders, yet skins had been found on their side of the border, and there was no telling how long it had been there. As Alpha had said, they were everywhere, they were watching.

She'd sat down next to him, and for a while they'd said nothing. For a while, they just sat and watched the sleepy community fall into a silent sleep as everyone retired to their homes in exhaustion.

"You should rest," Carol finally spoke, touching his arm. He looked down at her hand against his forearm, and then he looked up at her. "I'll be ok."

"You ain't gonna take them pills again?"

"They're gone," she insisted. "I can't say I don't want them, that I won't want them when it's time to sleep tonight, but they're gone." Daryl nodded then, and he cleared his throat.

"She got to you. I get it. She threw Henry in your face, and you wanted to kill her. Hell, I wanted to kill her."

"Henry's gone. Nothing will change that. I know killing her won't make it better, but she has to die." Her shoulders slumped. "You know, I didn't want another child. Sophia was it for me. She was my baby. And then at the prison, I had to look after Lizzie and Mika, and I started to feel like maybe that was my second chance." She looked away. "Lizzie killed Mika. She wanted her to turn. She wanted her to turn. She thought she understood walkers. She understood them better than people, I guess." She looked at Daryl. "She was going for Judith next, and I knew she couldn't…" She choked back the lump in her throat. "I took her out in a field of flowers and shot her in the back of the head while she was begging me not to be mad at her." Tears slipped down her cheeks, and Daryl turned in his seat to face her. It was the first time she'd mentioned the girls since they'd reunited after Terminus. "In Alexandria, I told Sam a horrible story to scare him into lying to his mother. I thought it was for his own good, for everyone's own good. And I stood at his grave and wondered if what I said to him is part of the reason he's gone."

"Ya can't blame yourself for tryin' to survive, for tryin' to help Sam survive. And with Lizzie, ya said it yourself. She was gonna kill Judith. Ya had to do somethin'."

"Alpha took our friends, took my son and cut their heads off, put them on pikes." She shook her head. "She's a monster. I feel like a monster."

"You ain't nothin' like her. You hear me?"

"I used to have nightmares," she choked out. "After Henry died, I'd dream about Sophia. Sometimes Mika. Sam. Lizzie. And when I would dream about Henry, I kept seeing myself pushing him away. And I'd see him dead, and I just wanted to die with him." She took a deep breath. "Out on the boat, I'd work myself until my fingers bled, and I'd be so tired I'd pass out from exhaustion. And I realized I couldn't remember my dreams. Being back here, I can't stop dreaming."

"You should go. You ain't happy here."

"That's…that's not…" Daryl stood up, and Carol watched him lean against the railing.

"I wanted ya to stay. Shouldn't have talked you outta goin' back. You ain't happy here."

"Daryl," Carol murmured softly, "the dreams started the night of the satellite crash. Only, I realized that next morning that the dreams weren't bad. They were good. I was happy. You were. We were…" She flinched at her revelation, and Daryl turned to look at her. "I took the pills to stay awake, because every time I fell asleep, I would dream about how things should have been. How I wish they'd been." Daryl narrowed his eyes at her.

"So you ain't havin' bad dreams?"

"Not when I'm sleeping. The nightmares happen when I'm awake. The memories. But when I'm asleep, it's an escape. A good one."

"And ya don't like that?"

"I don't like how I feel when I wake up and it's just a dream." She stood then, moving toward him. "Have you ever had a dream that made you so happy that it broke your heart a little when you woke up?" Daryl looked down, remembering back at the prison when he'd dreamt of Carol waking him in his cell, only to wake believing she was dead. That had been the day he'd taken the Cherokee rose to what was supposed to be her grave. He nodded.

"I keep dreaming of what would've happened if I'd made the right choices. And I want that. I do." She looked down at her hand, toying with the bare spot on her wedding finger.

"Maybe you could still have those things," Daryl offered. "You wanna talk about it?"

"I'm still figuring some things out," she offered with a little smile. "But the pills are gone. I just wanted you to know. I'm going to work this out."

"You ain't alone. Ya know that, right? I know what we said back in the woods, before the satellite. You ever wanna leave, just tell me. But you ain't goin' alone." Carol's eyes widened in surprise.

"Daryl…"

"Last night, thought I was gonna lose ya. Felt like back in Atlanta all over again, you gettin' hit by that car. I can't lose ya." Carol brushed away the tears from her eyes, and she sniffled.

"I'm not going anywhere," she promised. "You're stuck with me."

"Good," Daryl chuckled. "I kinda like havin' you around." He nudged her shoulder, and she smiled then. He pulled her into a hug, and she looked skyward, blinking back tears as her smile crumbled and her lip quivered. And when Daryl felt her shoulders shake as she let out a sob, he held her closer, stroking the back of her hair. He knew she had a long journey ahead of her, but he wasn't about to let her go through it alone.

Chapter Text

I Got Her

No way in hell was he sleeping. Not after what had just happened with Carol. She'd mentioned a story about his dad that he'd never told her, and she had asked for one more hour of watch. Against his better judgment, he'd agreed, but he was staying close.

He was at a loss as to how to help her. He knew more than anybody what kind of shit she'd gone through since the beginning. When he looked at her, sometimes he forgot about the quiet woman at the quarry camp that barely looked anybody in the eye. Then again, sometimes he forgot who he used to be before he first met her.

He'd never felt love before the world changed. The closest to love he'd ever felt was when he was a small child and his mother would pull him up in the rocking chair and sing him songs. He remembered her kissing his cheek and telling him he was going to do great things and that she was going to make sure of it. Then she died, and his world became nothing but brutality and pain. He remembered the first time she looked him in the eye, way back before even Rick came along, he recognized the pain in her eyes and the way she flinched whenever Ed's voice boomed in her direction.

She had become one of the smartest, most skilled warriors than anybody he'd met since the turn. But with that change had come great loss. She'd lost more than anybody he knew, and she'd started running away from all of it. The loss. The death. People. Him. And the problem was that he loved her more than he knew how to handle, and she kept leaving him. And now she was back, but she wasn't really there. Her mind was on revenge, and her heart was grieving yet another child. She was angry and scared and trying to keep herself from falling asleep. He'd never seen her so broken, and for the first time, it went beyond a comforting hug or a flower in a bottle. Each loss dug deeper, took a greater toll on her, and Daryl was terrified that he was going to lose her for good.

His hands shook, and he looked over to the others in the group who were sleeping or trying to sleep in every corner of the room. He resented that they could rest so still when Carol was reeling and trying desperately to hold on to herself, to keep herself from slipping past the point of no return. She almost had that night. It had taken everything in him to hold her back when Alpha had taunted her. He wanted to kill Alpha himself just to take Carol's pain away. But it wasn't the time. It would come, and he hoped that when it did, Carol would make the choice that she could live with. It was all he cared about. If she turned to him and asked him to do it, he'd pull the trigger and end Alpha in a heartbeat. He didn't care about him. He just didn't want Alpha's blood to be another reason for Carol to leave.

He felt like a selfish asshole. But seeing her leave on that boat so broken and sad and then return with a smile had been all he'd needed to tell her he needed her. He couldn't say the other words he needed to say. Not yet. Not like this. He felt it, and sometimes when she looked at him, he wondered if she felt it too. And a part of him was terrified that if he said it, if he told her how he felt, she'd still leave. And it would be the end of him.

He continued pacing, and he caught a glare from Michonne who lifted her head from where she rested. But her gaze softened when she saw the worry in his face, and she turned to face the wall. He leaned back against the wall by the door, trying to keep himself from going after her. He knew she needed space, and crowding her wasn't going to make things better. She had a lot of shit to work through, and she was stubborn enough to not ask for help. Still, he was going to stay close just in case she did.

What he didn't expect, however, was the scream that echoed down the corridor, waking everybody from their rest.

"Daryl! Help!" Daryl tore open the door and started down the hall to the protests of the five others behind him. Carol wasn't where he'd left her. He froze, looking down the two different halls before him, and he looked for any sign of her. Both corridors were dark, but when he shined his light toward the gymnasium, he saw the door pushed open. His heart caught in his chest, and he heard footsteps running to catch up with him. He took off again, nearly tripping over a stack of old school books, and by the time he reached the end of the hall, he saw her light reflecting off the wall.

"Carol!" he called, not knowing what to expect when he stepped inside. What he found wasn't at all what he expected. She stood there in the middle of a group of fallen walkers. Her right hand was clamped on her left forearm, and she was shaking.

"Jesus, what happened?" he asked, stepping over one of the bodies to get to her. She turned then, blinking in surprise at the sight of him. "Carol? You with me?"

"Yeah. I think so." She nodded and looked down at her arm. Just above where her hand was clamped, a large shard of glass was sticking through the skin.

"Whoa. Hey." Daryl quickly grabbed a rag out of his back pocket and wrapped her arm tightly above the wound. She teetered on her feet for a moment, and when he looked into her eyes, he saw her eyes glaze over. "Hey. Stay with me, alright? Let's get you home."

Michonne and the others came rushing in, and Daryl pulled his arm around Carol's waist.

"You ok?" Michonne asked, before her gaze settled upon Carol's arm.

"She's hurt. Gotta get her to Siddiq."

"I'm ok," Carol promised, before her knees gave out beneath her. Daryl acted quickly, scooping her up on his arms.

"You got her?" Michonne asked, quickly rushing to help support Carol's wounded arm as Daryl caught his balance.

"Yeah," he nodded. "I got her." And he wasn't about to let her go.

Chapter Text

Sleep

He can't sleep. He doesn't dare to move. She's nestled against his chest, one hand against his stomach with her fingers curled into the seam and tucked in the gaps between the buttons. Her breathing slowed an hour ago, and her sleepy weight is a comforting blanket this cool night.

She moans softly in her sleep, and his arms tighten around her.

The house is quiet; it must be after midnight. His eyes focus on his crossbow in the chair across the room. He'd been sleeping when she came to him for the third time that week, and without words, he'd pulled back the covers and let her slip inside.

Sleeping together was beginning to feel more natural that sleeping alone. Only, he couldn't sleep, because just before she'd let the heavy pull of sleep drag her under, she'd whispered something he never thought he'd hear.

I love you.

He hadn't known what to say or even if he should say anything. He'd just hugged her closer and let her sleep, and maybe she didn't even know she'd said it.

But he knows. He's wide awake, his mind is reeling, and his heart is beating so fast he's sure it'll wake her. And all because she'd said those words he's felt for longer than he can remember.

He closes his eyes, begging for sleep, and she sighs a sleepy sigh against him, and before he finally falls off to sleep, he kisses the top of her head and whispers his own truth against her ear.

"I love you, too."