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Thirty Three

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Tomorrow’s just an excuse away- Thirty-Three by The Smashing Pumpkins

The sun came up and she was still gone, Daryl never got used to that and he knew he never would. The grass was wet as usual, and he always woke up face down. For a moment he would try and clear his head and sometimes he was so close to almost forgetting where he was. But he always remembered eventually. It was usually a flood of memories that hit him like a tidal wave and knocked him out every time.

He and Isabelle camped together a few times, and in the first morning light, he always thought she would be next to him. They had slept out under the stars’ lots of times in their sleeping bags, talking and planning their life together looking up at the stars, and making love. All the things that young couples in love did every day, and they had done those things too.

They had been so innocent then, so focused on each other, the way you are the first time you fall in love before you find out how cruel life can be.

Before you find out doom is lurking right around the corner to take any and all happiness away from you forever.

It could easily have been one of those times and she could easily have been next to him. She should have been because what happened to her wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did.

Isabelle wasn’t there though when he reached for her, and then he would look up and see her name carved in the stone. He hadn’t meant to come here, but no matter where he started his night he always ended up here, always drunk. The night before was no different. Tara had the baby for the night and he went to the liquor store as usual. He drove to the church that was down the path from where he was right now.

Daryl always stopped at the church first and sat on the steps to drink. He would finish whatever he had bought, he always did and then he would go into the church. Sometimes he sat down and sometimes he kneeled, but he never prayed.

He didn’t believe anymore, the was no way there was a god that could be so cruel as to take Izzie from him. She was the love of his life and they had a baby together, he had wanted to marry her, in the church he looked up at right now.

But she was gone and she was never coming back. They had so little time in reality and he had thought they were going to grow old together. He thought they would raise Emily and get married and he had to do it all alone now.

He knew Izzie had asked Tara and Merle to help him and they were. Right now they were letting him mourn her, and helping with the baby, probably more than they should. It was coming up on six months and he still found himself doing this, at least twice a week.

Daryl kicked her headstone once, and he never drank tequila again after that. That night he laid down on the ground and cried for hours. He missed her, and he understood why she chose the way she did. She had her reasons, but he was angry sometimes. Not at her, sometimes at her, but mostly at the situation. He knew he would never hurt Emily, but Isabelle should have lived.

He never touched her headstone again after that except to lay flowers there for her, always tulips, her favorite. He brought every time too along with the booze. He still hated himself for what he did that night, he could have blamed the tequila, but he wasn’t that lit. He was just having an angry day, a day where he wished she had listened to him.

Tara had given him a book by some woman doctor about mourning and he recognized that he was stuck in the anger stage and unable to move past that. Not yet. He just didn’t understand how this had happened.

How could a twenty-three-year-old woman get cancer? But they did, every day, as he found out soon enough. They met a lot of women like Izzie in those last few months and most of them were still alive.

Izzie had Non- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that needed aggressive treatment right from the start and she had refused, because she was pregnant. Now Emily was six months old and he was not coping with anything, not with anything at all and he didn’t want to.

He just wanted her back.

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Speak to me in a language I can hear- Thirty-Three by The Smashing Pumpkins

 

By the time Daryl got home that morning he knew immediately something was wrong. Merle truck was in the driveway, but Tara’s car was gone. His sister was not an early riser usually. Merle and Andrea were though and they should have been gone by now, he planned it that way, truth be told. Sometimes he couldn’t face Merle and Andrea, for a lot of reasons, he knew he was disappointing them, but it was also so hard to see a happy in love couple.

He didn’t get to have that and Tara never made him feel like a fuck up.

Merle was the one who should have been gone, not Tara. There was something very wrong, he had left his phone in the car the night before, but now he knew there were probably a ton of missed calls and he had been too drunk to care.

Suddenly his heart was in his throat, Tara had Emily last night, he thought to himself as he barreled into the house. He was still drunk and he stumbled through the door and almost tripped over the throw rug that he knew was there.

Merle was in the kitchen sitting at the table when he ran in. Merle nodded for him to sit, he was glad Andrea had already left for work, because she would not want Merle to give Daryl what he was about to give him.

“Where’s Tara?” Daryl cried as he reached the doorway. Usually, when he got home at this time, which was ten am Tara would have Emily up and be feeding her already. Merle would be sitting there cooing at his niece sometimes and trying to make her smile. Andrea always left first for work, then Merle and Tara stayed with Emily until Daryl got home at three, then she went to her job. The house ran like a well-oiled machine, but something was off.

He didn’t hear his baby cooing and he longed to see her face now, even though he had gone out last night to get away from her. He hated to admit that, but it was true.

Emily had the brightest green eyes, just like Izzie did. And her dark hair, it gave him peace to see Izzie’s face in the little girl, sometimes and sometimes it just broke his heart all over again. And already she was turning out to be her mother’s daughter. Merle laughed at that all the time, he said Emily would be just like her. A Dixon with no fear and that child was going to give all three of them a run for her money. She already was apparently.

“She had to take your daughter to the hospital. She got a fever and we couldn’t get it down. “Merle said. “She’s ok now but we got to talk.”

Daryl looked at him through bloodshot eyes and Merle wrinkled his nose at the way he reeked of alcohol like it was coming out of his pores. Merle was done, so done with this bullshit and this was stopping right now.

“It ain't that babies fault that Izzie died.” Merle said.

“Fuck you, Merle, I know that.” Daryl roared, but he knew Merle was right, he avoided Emily sometimes and he knew that wasn’t good. He had to start putting her first and swallowing his pain. It just hurt so bad sometimes.

“Then start being a father to her, because Imma about to put my foot up your ass. Last night isn’t happening again, you think I don’t know you’re going out, getting loaded and sleeping on her grave. Fucking Rick Grimes called me about it four months ago.”

Daryl looked down. He wasn’t ashamed, not in front of his brother, or because of his words. Merle was right. He had been stuck in this rut for long enough and he knew it. But he didn’t know how to pull himself out of it and do the right thing.

The ache in his heart was overwhelming sometimes and he felt like he would never get over it. He didn’t know if he wanted to either.

“She wouldn’t want you doing that and you know it. Izzie is probably so pissed off at you.” Merle slid a brochure across the table at him.

Daryl picked it up and looked at it.

“It’s a grief support group. It’s time you go.” Merle said. “I’ll go with you if you need me to.”

He nodded, Merle was right, he was always right.

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Daryl looked through the window of Emily’s room and then the tears fell. She had needed him and he hadn’t been there, the reality of that was like a punch in the face. A sobering one. He needed to change now before it was too late. He felt like his father now, a neglectful bastard and that wasn’t him.

He loved his daughter, but he missed her mother so badly.

There was a nurse in pink scrubs sitting in the rocking chair feeding Emily a bottle and he could see her lips moving, she was singing.

“I’m so sorry baby girl, It’s going to be different, I promise.” He put his hand up to the glass.

Tara came up behind him and shoulder checked him. That was their way of letting each other know that everything was ok with them. Tara would never lay into him the way Merle had done. She and Andrea tended to cut him a lot of slack these days and he appreciated it.

But the truth was the truth and this was what it was.

“That’s her nurse Carol, she came in at six. Told me to go get myself some food, she said I looked like I hadn’t had a good meal in years. You’ll like her, I told her you were a basket case.”

“Jesus sis, what the fuck…” He looked over at her but he was smiling, and so was she. They were the best of friends and siblings that would do anything for each other.

“Come on we can go in.” Tara said handing him a gown to put on and securing hers. “She has croup, but she’s going to be fine.”

The nurse’s words were the first thing they heard when they opened the door and she didn’t stop singing. Daryl looked at her cuddling his daughter and Emily had her little hands on the collar of her scrubs. His face was a soft mask of joy that she was ok and he vowed to never let this child down again.

“You can take all the tea in China
Put it in a big brown bag for me
Sail right around all the seven oceans
Drop it straight into the deep blue sea
She's as sweet as Tupelo honey
She's an angel of the first degree
She's as sweet as Tupelo honey
Just like honey from the bee”

The nurse sang to Emily and then she looked over and smiled at them. Her blue eyes bright and shiny.

“Oh, Emily, I think Daddy’s here.” She cooed at the baby as she stood up and looked at the disheveled man in front of her. Tara had felt the need to explain to everyone why her brother wasn’t there, Carol got it. She had suffered losses too, and she knew what it did and how hard it was to cope. People did not need judgment, and her ability to be a compassionate nurse to anyone who needed her came directly from that belief.

Everyone deserved good care, no matter who they were or what their issues were.

Sometimes they had babies on the ward that were born addicted to drugs and she was usually the nurse who dealt with the parents. No one else wanted to, they just pushed them away as if they weren’t even human.

Carol could not abide that, people made mistakes sometimes, huge ones, but it didn’t make them bad people and she knew this was the case here.

This boy in front of her, he was a boy to her since she was almost thirty, he was hurting and he didn’t need crap from anyone.

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I’ve journeyed here and there and back again. - Thirty-Three by The Smashing Pumpkins

Six months later Daryl and Tara had Emily in the high chair out on the back porch on a bright sunny day. She was almost a year old now and looking more like her mother every day. But it was a good thing and it was a good day on the Dixon’s back porch.

It was the same porch he fought with Izzie on over the chemo the almost two years ago, but he wasn’t thinking of that now. He didn’t let those thoughts get in so much now, he was working on it on a daily basis. He wanted to be a better man for his daughter.

Together with his family it was becoming a reality. They had built an addition with extra bedrooms and they had redone the porch to make it bigger for Emily’s toys. Emily loved to be outside and they spent a lot of time out there, in the sunshine of the back yard. Daryl was a busy man these days and he loved it. There was little time to feel sorry for himself now and that was a good thing.

There was too much to do between work and taking care of Emily, which he did himself now, almost exclusively when he wasn’t at work. He was almost twenty-four, but he acted much older than his years.

Emily still spent her days with Tara, but her daddy was with her the rest of the time. Daryl had made a complete turn- around after that night and everyone had noticed it. He poured all his love on that baby now, the way Izzie would have wanted him to.

He knew now that she was proud of him, and his chest swelled with pride knowing that. Thinking of her made him smile now and not want to run away and get drunk.

Daryl let himself feel it if he needed to when he was alone and he didn’t drink over it since that night that Emily had to be admitted to the hospital. That was a wake-up call and he turned himself right around after that.

Izzie was still on his mind, but he didn’t feel like his heart was ripped out quite so much anymore. It was more like he was grateful to have known her and knew he would see her again someday. He knew he had to live his life and sometimes he went to her grave but more often he went to the fountain at Georgia Tech, where he first saw her. He would sit there and put his feet in the water and tell her about Emily.

He wanted to remember her that way, in her pretty green dress and combat boots. He saved some of her things for Emily, but the rest he put away because he knew he had to put Izzie away. He needed to move on and live his life, for himself and for his child.

He still didn’t go to the grief group that Merle had found but he was in counseling, with a nice man named Tyreese. Tyreese was helping him and giving him suggestions on how to cope, things like meditation, exercise, and clean eating. It was working too, even Mere saw a change in him.

He saw Tyreese three times a week and they worked on the things that he needed to work on in order to move on. Tyreese had him read a lot of books on the topic, and on other things too. Whatever he had him doing, it was working.

Life was becoming good again, almost a year since she died. He missed her, but he accepted what life was now. How it had to be and it was ok. He was ok.

Soon it was September again and the leaves were turning, Halloween would be there soon, it was her favorite holiday and he did intend to honor her with Emily every Halloween. She missed that last Halloween and he remembered how solemn it had been without her dressing up in her wild costumes.

This year would be different, for all of them.

But that wasn’t this day, and Daryl knew he had to live one day at a time and not get too caught up in worry or plans. Tyreese said to stay in the here and now and that he didn’t need to solve all his problems in one day. The important part was that he was trying, every day.

Progress, not perfection, that was what Tyreese had said.

It was a good day and he and Tara were having fun with Emily and each other, they had become closer the past year, if that was possible.

The radio was on and he had the day off, and they were taking Emily to the park as soon as they fed her lunch. She was feeding herself actually, with her fingers and making a huge mess. She smiled a gummy smile at Tara with cracker crumbs all over her face and Tara was going to wipe her face off, but she didn’t get the chance.

“Hey, Emmie, it’s our song.” Daryl said as he picked her up out of the chair, swung her up in his arms and snuggled her. Emily giggled and her smile was so bright for him, her face lit up, just like always when she was with him and when he came home from work. Her cry of “Daddy” and her little hands reaching for him before he got his work boots off made them all melt every time.

He would pick her up right away and smother her with kisses, swing her around and hold her tight. It was their nighttime ritual.

Tara smiled as she watched him holding her now and swaying to the music, singing “Tupelo Honey” to his daughter. He was getting wet crackers all over him and he couldn’t care less as he held her and sang to her. He was smiling brightly and the love in his eyes for that child was unmistakable, he sang that song to her every night as he rocked her to sleep in the rocking chair he had bought for Izzie. Sometimes Tara would stand in the doorway and listen.

Her brother was a man and a father, and he had come a long way.

Daryl sang to Emily, and read to her and told her about her mother who was in heaven. He told her everything about Izzie and how much she had loved her from the minute they found out they were having her.

They had bonded despite his early difficulties and Emily was thriving.

Tara could not wipe the smile off of her face and she was so glad that she had brought that nurse a box of chocolate that last day they were at the hospital. Whatever she had said to Daryl, and the kind way she had treated him had made a difference and had changed him.

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A few weeks later Daryl decided to go to the grief support group and true to his word, Merle went with him. The group was at the community center in town and as Merle and Daryl walked into the room, there were a bunch of people sitting in folding chairs. It was the typical group type of meeting that was held in a church or a community center all across the country. It could just as easily have been a group of people battling addiction or some other demons. There were about fifteen people there of varying ages, men and women, grief was indiscriminate and took many prisoners.

They all knew that.

They all sat in a circle quietly and a woman was talking, about losing her husband and daughter in a car accident. Her back was to them and they couldn’t see her, but they could hear her. Her voice was soft and sweet and she spoke of all the things that he was feeling. There was something about her voice, but he just couldn’t place it, it was familiar and yet it wasn’t, that was all he knew. It was just on the edge of his consciousness, something he felt like he should know, just out of his grasp.

He and Merle stood in the doorway listening to her, both entranced by her story, as she told it entirely, without hesitation.

He was touched by her words. She had lost her husband and child in a horrible car accident, yet she could talk about it without sobbing. She was strong, a fighter he supposed and she was so young.

The woman spoke of regret and wanting so desperately to wake up from the nightmare that was life now as a survivor, but she also talked of finding her way and coming to peace with things. She spoke of forgiving herself for living after losing her entire family. It had happened five years ago and she spoke so eloquently about her family. She and her husband had loved each other and they were deliriously happy, high school sweethearts and best friends. They loved their only child, and the three of them were a happy family. It was all gone now.

But she had found a way to move past it, but not forget them.

She had accepted what had happened, she said she didn’t like it of course, but it was what it was and she was still there trying.

There was a smile in her voice and Daryl recognized that as something that was coming back to him too. It was a smile of healing he could hear through the lilt of her voice. The way a person who had suffered greatly learned how to smile again after a tragedy.

As he rounded the corner to take a seat he saw the woman, and he did know her, it was Carol, the nurse who had taken care of Emily.

Chapter Text

Mysteries not ready to reveal
Sympathies I'm ready to return -Thirty-Three by The Smashing Pumpkins

 

Merle, Daryl, and Carol sat down at the old table in the diner after the meeting. The waitress came over, her name tag said Karen and she knew Merle and Daryl. She smiled wide at them but paid embarrassingly special attention to Daryl. She was his age and had been chasing him since before Izzy died. Daryl didn’t pay her any attention back, as usual, and they placed their orders for coffee and food. Merle got up and excused himself to call Andrea and tell her where they were. They hadn’t expected to see Carol that night, she was the last person they expected.

But he had remembered her, and she came to his mind from time to time in the past few months. All along as Karen was trying to get him into her bed, he avoided her because deep down he knew she wasn’t his type. She tried to act like a free spirit, the way that Isabelle was and the act was, just that, an act. He saw right through her and kept her always at arm’s length.

Daryl had already spoken to Tara while he and Merle drove over and Emily was asleep. Recently she had finally started sleeping through the night and it was a great relief for the entire household. So he just sat there and looked at the beautiful woman across from him.

The fact that he noticed her at all was not lost on him.

“How is that baby of yours?” Carol asked as Merle walked away and he was pulled from his thoughts about her. Thoughts about her hair and her eyes, his eyes were fixed on her lips. He couldn’t stop staring and it was amazing to him.

“She’s good, really good.” He nodded his head as his hair fell across his eyes. Carol had the urge to reach across the table and push it aside, out of the way, maybe behind his ear.

The better to see you with my dear…

Carol smiled. “Good.”

He looked into her eyes, blue like the sky and lovely. Her hair was auburn and long; he didn’t realize it at first because she wore it up at the hospital. Now it was down and flowing over her shoulders and he wanted to touch it.

When was the last time that he had a thought about a woman’s hair? A long time ago. He had been fighting off Karen’s advances for months and now suddenly he was noticing Carol’s hair.

“You were kind to me.” He started. “I never forgot that.”

“Your sister told me about Emily’s mother, I understood what you were going through, I was you.” Carol said. “We all mourn in our own ways, Daryl.”

“Still, I remember how fucked up I was that morning…I don’t do any of that anymore.”

“Daryl.” Carol looked at him with her bright shiny eyes. “The way you looked at your daughter when you came in the room that day. I knew you were a good man, that you loved her. We don’t need to talk about that, not unless you want to.”

He shook his head. “That’s not me anymore.”

“It gets better, you won’t ever forget, and you shouldn’t, but you get better, with time.”

“I’m sorry you lost your family, Carol.”

He saw the cloud come over her eyes, and they got the slightest bit wet. But she continued to talk. The pain was always there, just on the surface but she was able to talk about them now that the time had passed. Eric and Sophia had been gone six years, and she thought of them every day, but it was happy thoughts now. She had worked that out with God a long time ago.

“She would be almost twelve now, they were coming to pick me up from work on a Saturday morning. I had pulled a night shift for someone and he didn’t want me driving alone at night. It was a drunk driver, at 7 am in the morning, they died instantly.”

“I’m so, so sorry.” He looked at her with the softest eyes she had ever seen. He imagined her standing out in front of the hospital, waiting for them to pick her up. Had they been brought to that hospital, had she seen them? He would never ask her that.

Carol smiled at him.

He was so young, his eyes so blue. It had been a long time since she noticed a man’s eyes. She looked down and he had reached for her hand, just to touch it briefly. He was so sweetly trying to comfort her.

To her utter horror, she realized she felt something when he touched her.

Carol knew that she shouldn’t think this way, he was so much younger than her, but his eyes were the bluest she had ever seen. Eric had brown eyes and she always thought that was her thing, dark hair, and dark eyes.

But this light haired man before her stirred something inside of her that had been dormant for a long time. Then she looked up and saw Merle coming back and she pulled her hand out from under Daryl’s, but Merle saw it.

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They weren’t even in the truck for two minutes and Merle turned to Daryl with a grin on his face. They had made sure Carol got to her car and then got into the truck. Merle was like a dog with a bone and he wasn’t going to let it go.

“So, you get her number?” Merle said as he started the truck.

“What?” Daryl asked.

“Oh come on little brother, there were sparks flying like the fourth of July all over that diner.” Merle answered as he backed out of the parking spot. Carol was a few feet in front of them. She drove a 1984 Porsche 911 Targa and Merle whistled. “Sweet ride.”

“Yeah it’s a nice car.”

“Want me to flag her down?”

“Merle would you stop, I ain't asking for her number.” Daryl replied.

“You gonna go to them meetings now?”

“Yes, and I’m not going to try and pick up women there.”

“Not women, one woman.” Merle said. “She’s cute and she likes kids. You should go for it.”

“What if I don’t like her that way?” Daryl said, but there was a slight quirk to his lips and Merle could see it, even in the darkness of the truck.

“You keep telling yourself that alright?” Merle laughed as they followed Carol’s car out onto the highway.

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The next morning Tara was up and in the kitchen cooking when Daryl brought Emily out and put her in the high chair. It was Saturday and they were planning to take her to the park again that day. Daryl figured that Merle had already gotten to Tara and told her about last night.

“So.” Tara turned to face him and leaned against the counter. “Hey, Emmy.” She waved at the baby and Daryl reached for her juice cup behind Tara.

“So…what?”

Tara crossed her arms as he filled the cup for Emily. “Karen’s been throwing it in your direction for years and you don’t go near her and I could never figure it out cause let’s face it, she’s hot as fuck.”

“What are you going on about…”

Tara grinned at him. “You like older women; Izzy was older than you.”

“By two months.” He replied and suddenly he looked over at Tara and she knew too. For the first time, he didn’t get all choked up at the mention of her name.

Chapter Text

Carol’s best friend was named Maggie and they worked together on the pediatric floor. They were also roommates, but that was going to change in September when Maggie married Glenn, one of the respiratory therapists at the hospital. But for the evening and for the summer, they were still together. They lived together for six years now, since the accident. Once they were married, Maggie would move in with Glenn, but not till after the wedding.

Maggie had saved her, Eric and Sophia were brought to the ER that morning as she waited for them, half knowing they weren’t coming. A ten-minute drive was all it was and when a half hour went by, she just knew. Then she had seen the ambulance and went tearing into the ER. Maggie and Glen had been there with her. They held her as she cried, held her up in the days afterward and continued to be her very best friends to this day.

As she walked up the steps to her apartment she noticed Maggie and their neighbor Denise sitting on the makeshift balcony they had on their end unit apartment. Denise was a pediatrician in town, with a small practice and she had privileges at their hospital.

She knew Maggie and Carol even before she moved in next door to them and the three of them had an easy friendship now.

There was a big deck and they had put some nice chairs and tables out there. In the summer they grilled out there and had friends over.

Carol sat down in a chair opposite them and Maggie handed her a glass of iced tea from the pitcher they had on the table. They were burning candles and incense and enjoying the warm late spring night.

“Beautiful night. “Denise said and Carol smiled at her.

“It sure is.”

“Group go ok?” Maggie asked.

“Yes, I spoke, it was good.” She sipped her tea. “Saw one of our patients parents there.”

“No.” Maggie’s face went white. “Did Becky Saunders pass?”

“No, no sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” Carol leaned forward. “Becky is still hanging in, her mother called the other day.”

“Oh, ok good.” Maggie sat back in the chair relieved. Becky had been a patient on and off on their floor for years. She was fifteen and had Cystic Fibrosis with a very grim prognosis, it seemed she had been a patient on their floor all her life. That was probably true too.

Maggie and Carol always made sure to make her time with them happy and free of stress, as they did with all their patients. But Becky was a long timer, as they called them and she was so special to both of them, and all of the nurses there who cared for her.

She also didn’t have much time left, usually, Cystic Fibrosis kids were lucky to live to thirty, Becky would be lucky to get to twenty, and they all knew it. Every time she was admitted to their unit, they all feared it was the last.

“So who’d you see.”

‘Daryl Dixon, the man…”

“With the baby that lost his girlfriend.” Maggie said quietly. “I remember him, lives with his sister or something right?”

Carol nodded. “It’s good he went.”

“The sister said he was grieving something awful, I remember.” Maggie said and turned to Denise. “They were like 24, just out of college and the girl died from cancer because she wouldn’t take chemo while she was pregnant.”

“What a choice.” Denise said sipping her iced tea. “She had to know she would die.”

“She knew.” Maggie said. “The sister said, she passed when the baby was five weeks old.”

“He said they are doing really good now.” Carol said. “We had coffee with his brother tonight, Daryl and I. I mean…”

Maggie sat up. “Excuse me?” She said as Denise brought her chair closer to them. “You went out with him?”

“No!” Carol said incredulously. “Coffee, we went to the diner for coffee. We didn’t go out! They invited me and I said yes.”

“Hell, even I know you don’t socialize outside the group.” Denise laughed. “What’s up with that?”

Carol shrugged. “Nothing.”

Denise stood up and put her cup down. “Do you guys work tomorrow?”

Maggie and Carol both shook their heads no.

“Good.” She nodded to them. “I’ll be right back with some wine and glasses; you’re going to spill your guts.” She laughed pointing at Carol.

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Two hours later the moon and stars were full out in the sky. While Daryl was rocking his daughter to sleep in the rocking chair he bought for Izzie, Carol, Maggie, and Denise sat on the deck and got tipsy on Pino Grigio.

It was a warm May night and they sat on the deck with their feet up on the table laughing and talking long into the night.

“He is too young for me. Denise.” Carol slurred her words just a little bit as she spoke.

“Young shmung, you can train him the way you want that way.” Denise replied equally slurring her words. “Sounds like a win/win to me.”

“He’s cute Carol, and what’s eight years anyway.” Maggie laughed. “It’s not like he’s underage or anything.”

“Isn’t there some rule about that?” Carol laughed

“Nice try.” Denise said. “That’s AA, you don’t have to worry about any of that, take that boy out for a spin.” She sat back with a giggle.

Carol shook her head, she loved her friends, but they were unbelievable sometimes.

“When was the last time you got laid?” Denise continued. “Not six years ago?”

“When was the last time you got laid? Carol countered.

“I’ve hit a dry spell.” Denise said. “I’ll meet a girl soon, I’m sure. Now spill it.”

“No, not six years ago, but not yesterday either.”

“But maybe.” Maggie raised her glass. “Tomorrow.”

And they erupted in laughter.

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Carol woke up the next morning and to her surprise, she wasn’t hungover. She decided to take a walk to the corner coffee shop to get coffee for herself and Maggie. On her way back home she stopped and bought herself a bouquet of tulips. She smiled to herself as she looked at the sun in the sky.

It was a beautiful day. Life was good and she was still here trying.

She and Maggie were both off and had a busy day planned. After they had their coffee they were going shopping for Carol’s maid of honor dress. Something red and something short was Maggie’s only request. This was not a formal wedding, they were getting married outside in a gazebo and Maggie was wearing a short dress too.

Red was her favorite color and Carol looked great in red, there was a little dress shop in town and they were sure to find a dress for Carol there. After that, they were going to window shop and maybe go out to lunch. The rest of the week they were on twelve hour shifts, so this was their only day off.

A few hours later they had found the perfect chiffon red dress for Carol. They stopped at an outdoor café for lunch and sat there talking and laughing the afternoon away.

Halfway through their cobb salads Maggie turned her head and brought her sunglasses low on her face, peering over them wickedly.

“Carol.” She said as Carol turned her head. “Look across the street.”

There was the topic of their discussion last night walking on the sidewalk. He had Emily in a baby sling across his chest, his eyes only on his child. Next to him was Tara and they were deep in conversation, his hands were free because of the sling but he was playing with Emily’s feet and hands as they walked along.

“There is just something about a man and a baby.” Maggie crooned.

Chapter Text

I know I’ll make it; love can last forever---Thirty-Three by The Smashing Pumpkins

 

Carol did not go tearing across the street that day, even though Maggie tried in vain to make her do it. He was just across the street and in Maggie’s opinion, it was fate throwing him into her path. Maggie wanted Carol to take the hint, but she wasn’t about it at all.

Maggie worried about Carol and she always had, ever since she lost her family. She had been through the worst thing imaginable, something that would have killed another, weaker woman. But not her, she kept going.

Carol had Maggie’s admiration, but Maggie was a worrier, about all of her friends, and Carol especially.

Carol just shook her head and just said that Maggie needed to relax. Maggie just wanted her friend to be happy, and to not be alone. Daryl was adorable and perfect for Carol; the age difference be damned in Maggie’s opinion.

“Come on Carol, would you look at him?” Maggie said. “The baby, the sling, I think my ovaries just exploded.”

“Whatever.” Carol laughed. “I am not hunting him down like some kind of stalker.”

“You snooze, you lose.” Maggie grinned and took a sip of her tea, tipping her head towards Daryl across the street kissing his daughter’s forehead. “Now you have to wait till the next group meeting.”

“So be it.” Carol shrugged as she watched Tara saying something to Daryl and he let out a laugh that they could hear all the way across the street.

He was a happy person again, and Maggie wanted him for her friend.

“I don’t know Car, he’s a cutie.” Maggie said.

“He’s too young for me.” Carol remarked with a smile. He was almost nine years younger than her and she had no business looking at him.

“Pfffftttt.” Maggie said. “I don’t think he would say that at all. I saw him look at you a time or two while you were holding his baby.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Carol cried. “I was her nurse.”

“Maybe he likes your pink scrubs.” Maggie grinned at her.

“Pfffftttt to you Maggie, you’re nuts.”

“I have all the time in the world, Mags, I really do.” Carol replied.

She did too, if there was one thing she learned in the past six years was that time was on her side. She had struggled and came out on the other side of horrible loss and grief. Carol knew that if something was meant to be, that it would be hers.

If she wanted him and he wanted her, it would happen. When it was supposed to. Carol was not about rushing things anymore. People said life was short and surely she knew that first hand, and maybe that made her more hesitant now, but it was how she felt.

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They went back to work the next day and it was back to life as they knew it. The grief group met once a month so it would be a while before she saw him at the group, but there’s a thing called destiny and destiny had other plans for them. Destiny was in agreement with Maggie.

She had seen him across the street the day after they went out to eat together with Merle. Maggie had been on her ass to make contact with him, but she refused. She would wait until he crossed her path either a meeting or somewhere else.

A few days later, maybe a week went by and Maggie and Glenn were out to dinner to their favorite restaurant. It was a Saturday night and they usually went out if Maggie was off.

When they got out to the parking lot, the car wouldn’t start so they had to wait for Carol to come pick them up and use her triple A to have the car towed. It was still a good date though. Maggie and Glenn possessed the ability to have fun in any situation, even a dead battery.

Carol arrived after a few minutes and they all stood in the parking lot of the restaurant waiting. It was a warm summer night and they didn’t really mind the wait for the tow. They sat on the hood of the car and talked until they saw the tow truck coming.

It took about an hour, but finally, the truck showed up, and the driver got out and broke into a huge grin when he saw who he was towing.

“Hey, sugar.” Merle said as he walked towards the three of them. “You got a little car trouble here.”

Carol smiled back at him. “Merle Dixon, these are my friends, Maggie and Glenn?” Carol started. “He’s…”

“Oh, I know.” Maggie started. “I know your brother and sister.”

Merle reached out his hand and shook Maggie’s and then Glenn’s hand. “Well, alright.”

He approached the car and then turned back to them.

“What seems to be the trouble?”

Glenn shrugged. “Seems like a dead battery, can we get a jump?”

“No problem.” He turned back to fetch the jumper cables, then turned back again. “Say, sugar, you busy right now?”

Carol stepped back like a deer in the headlights and Maggie giggled to herself. Merle was not going to be stopped though, because he had an idea. In his opinion, it was the best idea he had in years.

“You all wanna come to a party?” Merle said.

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There was definitely a party at the Dixon house when Merle pulled up and Maggie, Glenn, and Carol pulled up behind him. Merle waited for them to join him in the driveway and as they looked up at the house they could hear music and laughter coming from the house. It was almost dark by now, twilight and the party could be heard from where they stood at the end of the long driveway.

“It’s my sister’s birthday, but she won’t mind if y'all crash her shindig.” Merle said as they walked up to the porch.

“You met my little sis right, Maggie?” He asked as they were opening the door to go inside.

“Yes, I did, when baby Emily was with us.” Maggie replied.

“Good, she’ll be glad to see you again.” He grinned at Carol as she followed behind them. “All of you.”

Merle led them through the house and said hello to several people along the way as “Gimme Three Steps” played on the stereo outside. They had set up speakers outside and people were walking around out there too. Merle stopped to talk to one or two people briefly and then they continued on.

They came to the kitchen where Tara could be seen talking to a group of people which included Daryl who was bouncing Emily on his shoulder, Tara’s girlfriend Denise was there with her arms around her sitting on the kitchen counter so Tara was leaning back against her. It was a very casual, yet loud and fun type of event.

“Hey Tara heads up, got some company.” Tara turned and smiled at the group before her. This was way too good. When Merle got the call to go out for the tow, they had been a little upset, but he was sober, so he said he would go.

Tara smiled and winked at him when she saw who he brought back with him.

Daryl was too engrossed in throwing Emily up over his head to pay attention until Merle whistled to get his attention.

“Daryl.” He called to him.

Daryl brought his arms down from playing airplane with Emily and held her in his arms. Andrea walked over to Merle and he enveloped her in a huge hug.

“Might be little sis’s birthday.” Merle said as Daryl turned around and saw what he was going on about. He smiled when he saw Carol, Glenn, and Maggie standing there. But really the smile was for only one person. He was dumbfounded that she was standing there, happy, but dumbfounded. “But, this here is a present for you.”

Chapter Text

I’ll make the effort, love can last forever---The Smashing Pumpkins

They sat out on the deck later that night after the crowd left and Emily went to sleep. It was quiet outside and they were the only ones out there. Merle had Maggie, Glenn, Tara and Alisha playing ‘Cards Against Humanity’ in the kitchen and their laughter could be heard coming out the open windows and doors.

It was a warm night out and the moon was high and full in the sky, the crickets chirped in the back yard of the house that backed up to the woods. The deck faced the woods and the breeze blew through the trees softly rustling the leaves, and it was so peaceful. The moonlight bathed the entire property in a surreal glow. It was relaxing to be sitting there, peaceful.

“You grew up here?” Carol asked and Daryl nodded to her. “It’s so peaceful.”

“Yup, grew up hunting in those woods and fishing in the creek out back there too.” Daryl said. “All three of us.”

“What a wonderful place for Emily to grow up.” Carol mused, lost in her own thoughts for a minute.

He nodded, watching her face. She was smiling, looking up at the moon and he thought it might be possible, maybe he could be happy again.

“How many times did you guys throw Tara in the pond?” She laughed. “I have an older brother in New York.” She laughed.

“All the time.” Daryl replied. “She was a good sport though.”

“I like her.” Carol said. “And she adores you both and Emily.”

“I don’t know what I would do without her.” He said. “And Merle, they saved me.”

Carol nodded, letting him know she understood, sometimes words weren’t needed, and they were finding that out very quickly.

They sat side by side with their feet dangling off the side and they each had a drink sitting between them. Their conversation was easy and the words flowed between them as they talked about Izzie and Carol’s husband Eric. She mentioned Sophia and how much she missed her and Daryl felt a twinge of gratitude that he had Emily, a part of Izzie still with him.

He also felt so badly for her that she had lost her husband and daughter. Life was so random and weird and he was so unprepared to raise a child, yet here he was.

Carol didn’t have that yet she didn’t seem to be angry, she actually seemed to be at peace and Daryl could only hope that one day he would be at peace too. It was a process, he knew that, but she had seemed to master that process.

Daryl had hope that in time he could too.

He enjoyed her company and she seemed to enjoy his. She told him it was her weekend off and that she hadn’t been out to a party in such a long time. Merle had to talk them all into coming because Carol felt like she was crashing Tara’s birthday party, but in the end, Merle had his way, as usual, and Daryl was glad.

Not many people said no to Merle and he liked Carol too, he had been all up and down Daryl to contact her somehow and then she fell into his lap. Merle had given her a push, of course, both of them really and it was a good thing.

The laughter from the kitchen made her smile, Maggie laughed the loudest and there was a lot of yelling and general hootin and hollerin. They were all talking as if they had known each other all their lives, but that was how it was at the Dixon house. Once you were there you were family.

“You wanna go in and play the game?” Daryl said, motioning towards the door.

Carol shook her head and took a sip of her soda.

“I’m happy here.” She said and Daryl smiled with a deep blush traveling up his face at her words. He nodded and reached for his soda and his hand touched hers briefly, and just for a second, but it was startling just the same.

 He had felt something, a spark. He was sure of it, even if it had been so long ago.

It threw him for a minute and he tried in vain to collect himself. Had she felt it too? As he attempted to pull his hand back from hers he slipped and spilled his soda all over the deck.

Carol laughed as he tried to clean the mess and avoid the soda getting onto himself, and then he was laughing too and it felt good.

He hadn’t laughed since Izzie died, not a big laugh like that. Finally, he got himself together and turned to her.

“Do you want to go out tomorrow night?” He spat out before he lost his nerve. “If you don’t its ok, it’s a dumb idea anyway…”

“Yes.” Carol said. “I’d love to.”
Merle walked up behind Daryl the next day as he was getting ready for his date with Carol. Daryl was pulling on his T-shirt and looking forward to taking her out on the motorcycle, and he didn’t see Merle in the doorway. He hadn’t had a woman on his bike in a long time, not since Izzy and he missed the contact with another person while riding. It was so much a solo endeavor, and he looked forward to having someone with him.

It felt right that it was with Carol, more than right.

“Isabelle would be happy.” Merle said and Daryl turned around fixing his T-shirt.

“Huh?” Daryl said.

“I think Isabelle whispered into some angel’s ear up there and brought Carol to you.” Merle said seriously.

“Merle.”  Daryl laughed. “It’s one date, and since when did you believe in all that stuff.”

“Since I saw that pretty nurse rocking your baby, that’s when.” Merle said with a grin.

“Don’t go planning no wedding just yet brother, OK?” He said as he walked past him into the hall and almost into Tara who was holding Emily.

“Oh, here’s daddy.” Tara had put Emily’s hair, what little she had up into a barrette on top of her head and her hair looked like a water fountain. The baby held her chubby hands out to him and he took her into his arms.

“There’s my Emmy bean.” He cooed to her and kissed the side of her head.  “What did auntie Tara do to your hair?”

“Hey, it goes with her outfit.” Tara said. “She looks adorable.”

“She does sis.” He grinned at her. “You sure this is ok.” He asked Tara.

“Yes, of course, Alisha and I are going to watch that Zombie show after she goes to bed. It’s all good. Go out and have a good time for once.” Tara answered, following him down the hall.

“Tell him.” He motioned towards Merle. “To stop jumping the gun on me, it’s just one date.”

“I think it’s your last first date.” Merle called from the other end of the hallway. “And I think you’re getting your last first kiss tonight too, maybe your last first fu…”

“Merle!” Tara and Daryl both said in tandem as Daryl covered Emily’s ear and hugged her to his chest so she didn’t hear. This kid's first word was going to be a curse living with Merle, he just knew it.

“Jokes on you any way Merle, how do you know I didn’t kiss her last night.”

“You didn’t, you would have had an even goofier look on your face then you did when you came in and asked Tara to babysit last night.” Merle countered. “I know you, little brother.”

“Her first word is going to be the F bomb and he’s gonna kill you.” Tara laughed.

“Oh no.” Merle kissed Emily’s forehead and stared into the babies eyes. “Your first words are gonna be I love you, Uncle Merle, say I love you Uncle Merle, Emmy bean.”

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Not too long after the exchanges at the Dixon house Maggie peered out the window of their apartment when she heard the motorcycle out in the parking lot. She got the widest grin ever on her face when she saw it was Daryl. She watched him a minute as he took off his helmet and ran his fingers through his hair to fix it. He was adorable.

“Car, your prince on his iron horse is here.” She yelled skipping down the hallway towards Carol’s room.

Chapter Text

The feel of being on the back of a motorcycle was new for Carol, this was her first time. Her arms were around him and she laid her cheek against his back. It felt like they were flying and she didn’t care where they flew off to, there was nothing better than being in this moment and she savored it. He smelled good and she breathed him in, he felt her arms against him and never wanted it to end.

Dinner was an outside barbeque place run by a man he knew named Tyreese, along with his wife Karen. Daryl had known them forever and they had known Izzy too. At one time Izzy and Tyreese’s sister Sasha were roommates before she met Daryl.

Both of them had grins on their faces as Daryl sat down at the table with a girl, a very pretty girl, finally. It was no secret what he had been through.

They served them magnificent food and drink and Carol and Daryl sat at the picnic style table talking as if they had known each other all their lives. It was so easy and casual that neither of them felt that first date awkwardness that almost always happened.

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After dinner and a long ride on the bike through the countryside they sat on the blanket and watched the sun go down over the old quarry. As they watched the sun’s rays dance upon the water he took her hand and he told her about coming here when he was a kid to get away from his parents drinking and drug use. From the time he was able to ride the motorcycle at fourteen Daryl would come here to sit and think about life.

He spent many nights here in his brooding sadness, at times deep depression and he realized once Izzy had come into his life he hadn’t been back there. This was the first time in years and it felt good to be there in happiness. It was a beautiful spot, and he remembered his thoughts the last time he was there as a younger man.

His life hadn’t turned out the way he thought, in some ways it was better, having Emily to love. Losing Izzy was the bad part, but he was coming to a good place about it. Izzy had done what she thought was right, and he could never be angry about it, he knew that now.

Daryl told Carol about Izzy being abandoned in the park as an infant, growing up in foster care and how she couldn’t hurt her baby. He saw tears coming to her eyes as he spoke and he was touched by her empathy. Carol was a good woman.
He told her about how he and Merle protected their little sister from their parent’s abuse. He would bring her here too and they would fish and swim together, hide out till the coast was clear at home. He and Tara had always been close, and always would be. He was close to Merle too, but his bond with Tara was special, and she was his greatest fan. They had each other’s backs for life and for everything.

His parents died when Merle was 19, he was 16 and Tara was 14 and they never looked back after that. They made a life, the three of them and now there was four of them.

He told her about Izzy and her decision not to take chemo because of the baby and about how badly her death affected him. Carol understood his walk on the dark side after she died. Her complete acceptance of him warmed his heart and soul.
It seemed like he told her everything.

Daryl had never told another person about his childhood since Izzy and before her, no one. He was ashamed about where he came from, but Carol was so easy to talk to and the words just spilled out of him.

They had bought wine and were sipping it out of plastic glasses and Carol couldn’t remember ever feeling so relaxed. She hadn’t been out on a date in a long time, preferring to work and spend her time with Maggie and a good book.
This was nice and it felt right.

She told him about meeting Eric in high school and going to the prom with him, how they were connected from the jump and Sophia their entire world. Daryl thought about what he would do if he had lost Emily too, Carol had lost everything, yet she could still reach out her hand to a stranger practically. So like Isabelle in that way, but a different woman entirely.
Soon the subject turned to Emily and raising her with his sister and brother’s help. They talked about life and hopes and dreams and neither of them had allowed themselves to go there in such a long time.

“Carol, do you ever get a feeling when you meet someone that it’s meant to be like it isn’t chance.” He asked softly. “I only felt that way one other time before this.”

“I don’t believe in coincidences Daryl, it’s how I got through what I went through.” She replied. “Don’t you think there’s some higher power up there watching over us.”

“Yup and I was pretty pissed off at him for a long time.” He said sipping his wine.

“Me too, it’s normal.” She answered. “I think that sometimes things happen and we want to know why, but we never will.”

“That isn’t easy to accept.” He said looking over the water.

“I know; believe me, I get it.” She said, taking a sip of her wine. “I miss them, but I’m comforted by the thought that maybe something worse could have happened. I know people think death is the worst, but believe me, I have seen horrible things. People paralyzed, maimed in accidents, maybe Sophia’s life would have been like that or something else. I know it’s a weird way to feel, but.” She shrugged. “It gives me peace to think that way because there are worse things than death and maybe they were saved from it.”

“I know.” He replied thinking of the abuse he endured. That was worse in a way, it left scars on the soul that were hard to get rid of. He knew that he and his siblings made a journey through hell when they were young and there was a time he wished for his own death. There were worse things, she was right.

“I’m at peace about it.” She said and he squeezed her hand. He was feeling peace, finally after so long. She was part of it, he knew.

They talked some more about the grief group they both went to, books and about music. The liked the same authors, Stephen King on the top of both their lists. They talked about his books and the hidden messages in his stories if you looked deep inside them.

They had the same favorite song and again Carol said that wasn’t a coincidence. It was ‘Black’ by Pearl Jam.

"""""I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life, I know you’ll be a sun. In somebody else’s sky, but why, why why, can’t it be mine."""""

“I saw them in concert.” Carol said with a grin. “Five times and I cried every time I heard that song, his voice is so expressive, so raw.”

“I just saw them on TV, but it was fantastic.” Daryl replied.

“I do love him.” Carol said, hiding a small wry smile.

“We’re so alike.” He said with a smile on his face. “Even Eddie Vedder. I didn’t cry though, just so we’re clear.”
“No coincidences right?” She laughed.

“Merle thinks…ah never mind.”

“Oh please, tell me what Merle thinks, he is such a riot, Daryl.” Carol beamed. “I adore him. Almost as much as you.”
Daryl blushed and he was grateful it was getting dark and she wouldn’t see. “He just likes you a lot, maybe he has a nurse thing.”

Carol turned so she was facing him. “Do you?”

“Do I what?” He said as her face got closer to him.

“Have a thing for nurses?” She said and he could feel her breath on his lips, one little move and he’d be kissing her. “It’s pretty romantic out here.” Carol whispered.

Then he was kissing her, and before he knew it his hands were traveling down her waist and he was pulling her onto his lap. He held her tight as his hands traveling up her back, just as her hands were going over his shoulders. They stayed like that a long time, kissing each other softly and sweet and not moving any further.

They had all the time in the world for now. They both knew all too well how life could throw a curve ball when you least expected it. But tonight they had time to take with each other.

It felt good to be close to someone, for both of them. She brought her hands over his shoulders and into his hair as he deepened the kiss. He parted her lips with his and licked at them until finally, their tongues met. It was a kiss that lit them both on fire with desire so deep it was almost frightening.

Daryl groaned as he felt her small hands in his hair and he wanted them all over his body. He wanted his hands all over her body, he couldn’t wait to touch her.

“It’s been so long.” He whispered in the darkness.

“I know, me too.” She said as he rained kisses all along her cheek and neck.

His mouth was hot and wet along her skin and she shivered at his touch. Carol wanted him and she didn’t care if it was their first date and she didn’t care that she was almost a decade older than him. Nothing mattered but him and her right now.

Carol readjusted herself on his lap and he was sure he was going to explode, but he welcomed it. The weight of her body on his was sweet. He licked at her skin, tasting the salt of it and his hands cupped her ass, pulling her down against him. Slowly they laid down on the blanket and Carol noticed the moon high up in the sky. It was beautiful and its light danced through his hair and brought out the bright blue in his eyes.

“This ok.” He said, pushing the hair out of her face and coming up on one elbow next to her.

“Yes.” She answered, reaching her head up to kiss him again with her hand at the back of his head.

Daryl kissed her back and rolled so he was on top of her, her legs drifted apart and he settled between them while the kisses got more demanding. She bunched her hands in his T-shirt and kissed him back with everything she had inside of her.

Soon his shirt was off and discarded in the grass next to them and he slowly unbuttoned her blouse, kissing down her neck as he went until he could gaze at her body. She has a smattering of freckles on her chest and he wanted to kiss every one of them. He dipped his head down further to the lace of the bra she had on and licked at her nipple through the material, then sucked.

Carol moaned and arched her back, pushing herself against his hips and it wasn’t enough, she needed more, more friction and more of him. It wasn’t enough for either of him and he felt her hand on his dick through his jeans and he gasped in the darkness.

“You’re sure.” He asked.

“I’m sure.” She said reaching for his belt buckle and undoing it swiftly. They quickly lost the rest of their clothes and he looked into her eyes.

“I just wanna look at you for a minute.” He said sweetly. “Take our time.”

“No one comes out here right?” She asked.

“Nah, just a cop I know and he’ll be glad to find me here instead of anywhere else.” He laughed and started kissing those freckles on her chest one by one as his hand traveled south over her stomach. Soon his fingers made their way between her legs and she was wet and ready for him. “Oh god, Carol.” He sighed against her breast and slid his fingers over her soft folds.

Carol pulled his head up and kissed him hard, pushing her tongue into his mouth and taking it over. She kissed like a starving woman devouring a long awaited meal and he met her with just as much enthusiasm.

His fingers worked their magic, he slid one and then another inside her and she moaned out loud, hearing the echo through the canyon and again she didn’t care.

“Daryl.” She sighed.

“Cum for me sweetheart.” He whispered in her ear and she felt every hair on her neck raise at attention. No one had ever talked to her that way. It was hot and she was like a pot on a stove about to boil over and she couldn’t stop it. Her screams echoed through the canyon and bounced through the air finally getting lost in the wind.

“You’re sure?” He asked trying to catch his breath and hoping she hadn’t changed her mind. She answered him by rolling them over and straddling him making his head spin. Then he looked up at her, with the moonlight behind her and her eyes gleaming, she was so beautiful.

Daryl hardly had time to contemplate that at all when she slid down on his dick slow as honey dripping off of a spoon. His eyes rolled back into his head as he felt her warm body all around him. He placed his hands on her hips and she moved, again slowly.

“You’re gonna kill me, woman.” He said and she giggled and leaned down to kiss him. She moved her hips faster as his hips moved up to meet hers in a sweet rhythm that had him falling apart under her in record speed.

He was kidding himself if he thought she wasn’t going to make him explode within seconds and a string of curses echoing off the canyon walls. He came in a rush that overtook him and seemed to last forever. As they both caught their breath and came back to earth Carol smiled, slid down over his body and looked into his eyes.

“This is a great first date.”

Chapter Text

Daryl lit a cigarette as he and Carol laid together on the blanket, they had put their clothes back on and he was telling her about the stars and how Merle had taught him to navigate them. He had his arm around her, it felt better than anything and he never wanted to let her go. They stayed that way a long time, just talking softly about the stars.

It was getting really late and they sat up finally and set to putting their shoes on to regretfully leave. Suddenly she felt the need to explain herself, she really cared what he thought about her and she had to tell him.

“I don’t usually put out on the first date.” Carol said laughing nervously and he smiled at her.

“Oh me either, I always wait till the third.” He laughed, trying to put her at ease and then he was serious. “I’ve only slept with two people in my entire life, now three.” He said softly. “I know you aren’t like that.”

“Two.” She replied and he realized there had been no one else besides her late husband. He almost stumbled, in five years? No one else.

“Why me?” He said, pulling on his boots.

“Don’t know, you make me feel…things.” She said and then decided to go out on a limb. “I hope we’ll see each other again.”
“Just try and stop me.” He leaned over and kissed her. Then he sat back and stared at her, he couldn’t believe it. Of all things to forget. “I’m sorry, I didn’t ask about…”

It took her a second to catch on to what he was trying to say, and finally he just came out and promised never to forget condoms again.

“Oh, oh.” Carol said. “I can’t have any more babies. Three years ago I had cervical cancer.”

Lost her entire family AND had cancer. His mind was blown; how did this woman even smile. She had been given a shit life like he had.

“Is that a deal breaker for you? You might as well tell me now because I could fall in love with you and if you want more children someday…”

He silenced her with another kiss. “I think I’ll have my hands full with that one I got and nothing is a deal breaker when it comes to you.”

She nodded as he stood up and held his hand out to her.

“I don’t want to take you home.” He said. “Will you come home with me.”

“But your sister and brother…?”

“Will throw you a parade.” He laughed as they walked back to where he had parked the bike.

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The next morning Tara was in his room and on the bed with them at nine am and she had Emily too. The baby was in one of those sleepers and it was pink and white, and Carol saw how happy she was in the morning, like most babies, like Sophia had been. She saw his face light up when he saw her too, he loved that baby, there was no mistaking it at all.
They had fallen asleep late the night before but he had insisted Carol put on one of his T-shirts and a pair of shorts.

Now she knew why and also why he wore a pair of board shorts to bed. But that was after they went for round two in his bed.

She would have to get used to being the girlfriend of a younger guy. They hadn’t slept much at all the night before. Carol had barely had a chance to text Maggie and tell her where she was and he was swooping in and tossing her on the bed.
She loved it and she loved him, she really did, already and she hoped he could love her.

Tara laughed as she bounced on the bed and handed Emily to her sleepy father.

“Rise and shine kids, Merle’s making pancakes.” And she was off the bed and out the door. Daryl turned to Carol after nuzzling Emily’s cheek and grinned.

“Told ya, Parade.” He said grinning at her. He went back to nuzzling Emily’s face. “Aint that right Emmy bean, pancakes for everyone because Daddy finally got a girlfriend.”

Carol sat up and took Emily from him so he could pull his jeans on and she took a minute to enjoy the view. He was spectacular, all hard lines and angles, and he made her mouth water again. He had two tattoos on his back, which he had told her about at dinner the night before. The demons on his back, to remind him of the real evil in the world and to always be on guard for it.

Carol herself had a shamrock tattoo on her hip that he had smiled when he found the night before. He had been working his way down her body with his lips and she felt him grin against her skin. He had mumbled something about her being full of surprises and then continued south towards his intended destination.

She hadn’t told him about either of her tattoos. On her back were her daughter’s footprints, and her birthday. She had never had the death date put on, she didn’t need to, she knew when that day was. She held a baby in her arms now and she never thought she ever would again. She smelled the top of her head, there was nothing like a baby smell.

“Is it ok?” He asked, turning back to her.

“What?” She asked bouncing Emily on her lap and making the baby giggle.

“That I call you my girlfriend? We only went on one date.”

“It was some date though.” She grinned and nodded. “I want to be your girlfriend.”

“Even though I have a kid and a sister that jumps on my bed every morning, cause I’m warning you. She does. Every morning.”

“Depends.” She smiled at him.

He quirked his eyebrow at her. “On what?”

“On how good these pancakes are.”

Chapter Text

A/N: If you read Izzy’s Rain you may recognize a part of it here.

Six months later she was living with him, Maggie and Glenn had gotten married and he moved into the apartment with her. Two weeks before that Carol had gone to live at Daryl’s and they had been happier than two peas in a pod.

Carol had fit in with the Dixon’s from the first day and Merle made her pancakes every Saturday morning when she wasn’t working the weekend. If it was her weekend on she got them either on Friday morning or for dinner on Saturday. Merle adored Carol, he adored her, but also the way she adored his brother and niece.

Daryl went back to Izzy’s grave one day after work and stood there explaining that he wasn’t coming back, it wasn’t because she wasn’t important to him because she was. He just didn’t think she was there, not her spirit anyway. When Emily was older and if she wanted to come here he would bring her, but he wasn’t coming back.

There were too many bad memories of being drunk there and acting the fool. He asked her to forgive him for that and he believed she did. He told her about Carol and his plans regarding her when he finished a soft breeze blew the leaves around on the ground and somehow he felt like Isabelle approved.

He wanted to remember her where her spirit was, at the fountain at Georgia Tech. Her birthday was coming and instead of bringing tulips to her grave he was going to bring Emily and dunk her in the fountain. When she was older they would jump in the fountain like Izzy did, that had been Carol’s idea, as a way to remember Izzy without having to go to her grave.
Carol was smart and he was lucky to have met her.

She and Tara were tight and spent a lot of time together being girls, shopping and taking Emily places. Lately, Tara had been asking her questions and one day came out and actually asked her ring size. So when he took her by the hand that night after riding out to the quarry at sunset she knew he was getting on his knee.

Carol cried anyway because his words were beautiful. He spoke of never thinking he’d love another person again, about the way she cared for his child. She nodded her head vigorously as he slipped the ring with the single marque cut diamond that Tara helped him pick out on to her finger.

“I love you, Carol, I’ll love you forever.” He said and she nodded her head again as he took her in his arms.

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When they got back from the quarry they were met at the door by Maggie and Tara and everyone else at the party that was in full swing. They didn’t know there was a party happening because Tara, Merle, and Maggie had thrown it together without their knowledge.

“Did she say yes.” Tara said before they were even in the door and Carol just held out her hand with the ring on it. This was met by screams from Tara, Maggie, Alisha, Andrea and Denise, people saying congratulations and in the distance the sound of Glenn opening a bottle of champagne. Baby Emily was in Merle’s arms and he was helping her clap her hands.
They came in the house and Carol took the baby from Merle and kissed her head.

“You did this?” She asked and he nodded.

“Me, Tara and your girl Maggie.” He replied. “Damn glad you said yes Sis or we’d look pretty stupid right now.” He laughed.
“You knew I would.” She laughed.

 

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“She’s asleep.” Daryl said as he shut the door quietly after the party, their engagement party. She couldn’t stop looking at the ring he gave her, it was perfect for her, and he loved seeing it on her finger.

Carol was laying on the bed reading a book in a t-shirt and shorts. That would be her usual attire now that Tara and Emily came in to see them every morning. Where other women might have been annoyed by it, Carol loved it. She loved the little quirks of his family. Tara busting in on them every morning and Merle insisting on doing all the cooking. Daryl and his phobia of spiders, it was all so much…family.

Life with Maggie had been sweet and just what she needed at the time, and now Maggie was happily married and Carol was going to be next. She was part of a family again and happy, happier then she had been in years.

Life had a strange way of working out sometimes. She smiled at him as he leaned down to kiss her and then pulled off his shirt.

Carol watched him intently, she never tired of looking him and he felt her eyes on him. Her gaze stirred his blood, the way it always did and he turned to her.

“You next.” He said winking at her.

A soft rain started to fall against the windows of the room and he stood looking at it. Lightning lit up the sky and he could see all the way out into the woods, it was both surreal and beautiful.

There was a door to the outside back deck off their room and he motioned her to it.

“I wanna kiss you in the rain.” He said opening the door and taking her by the hand.

“You’re crazy.” She said, but she followed him outside. The rain was warm against them and he shielded her from most of it with his body. He still had his jeans on but he was getting soaked. He kissed her dirty and she leaned back against the side of the house, almost melting into the shingles at his touch. “Oh, sweetheart.” She moaned kissing him back with devouring passion and wrapping her arms around his neck.

Merle and Tara had rooms on the other side of the house and no windows nearby. But they were still up in the living room watching TV which was closer to their room. There was a sliding glass door to the kitchen just feet away. If Merle suddenly decided that he needed a midnight snack he would likely get an eyeful.

“I wanna fuck you out here.” He said hotly with his lips against her neck and his hands going up her shirt. The rain pelted down on them and their skin was hot as fire, as their hands roamed over each other. His words started a cascade of desire all through her, that she couldn’t stop. It was like dominos falling in a row one after the other, with no end in sight.
She wasn’t wearing a bra and the material stuck to her, wetting her skin. He groaned when he got to her bare nipple and thanked whatever god there was that she didn’t have a bra on. “I can’t, but I want to.” He whispered into her ear as his other hand slipped along her wet shorts and inside. “But I can do this.”

“Daryl.” She whispered in half-hearted protest, but he was already sliding his fingers against her. Carol moaned as he found her wet from the rain and her own moisture. There was no stopping now, she wanted it, she needed it.

She pulled him closer to her and peered over at the light coming from the sliding door.

“Shhhh.” He said, bringing his lips to hers and silencing her words. Thunder rolled in the distance and more rain fell on them, saturating their hair in the warmth of the summer storm. “Be good Carol.” He cautioned, sliding his finger inside of her. She let out the softest of moans, giving herself over totally to him.

She could feel his rock hard dick against her leg and she wanted it, reaching her small hand down. He pulled back and shook his head at her, droplets of water falling over his face. The storm was intensifying and she felt the intensity of it burning all through her body.

“Are you close?” He asked even as he knew she was, he knew everything about the way her body responded to him. She nodded, looking up at him through her lashes and he kissed her again, using his tongue in rhythm with his fingers, following a sequence that made her legs weak.

Carol’s head fell back against the side of the house with a thud as she came silently with his face buried in her neck. She slid down the side of the house, taking him with her and they sat there watching the storm as lightning lit up the sky.
Daryl held her as her breathing returned to normal, stroking her hair and kissing the side of her head. They stayed that way her sitting between his legs with her back to his chest, watching the rain fall for a beat. From inside the house, they heard Merle going into the kitchen and quickly got up, knocking over a chair that was by the door for when Daryl went out for his morning smoke.

They made it back inside just as Merle was opening the sliding door calling “Is someone out there?”

Shucking off their clothes, laughing quietly together and leaving them in a pile on the floor they climbed into bed to finish what he started out on the deck.

Chapter Text

Steeple guide me to my hearth and home. Thirty-Three by The Smashing Pumpkins

Daryl crawled over her and pulled the blanket with him, the air conditioning was on and they were wet from the rain. Goosebumps erupted all over them, from the air conditioning and from the desire for each other. It wasn’t old yet and probably would never be. They might not have been each other’s first love but they would be each other’s last.

Carol had long gotten over her worry about the age difference or if he wanted more children, he had more than shown her just what she meant to him. She returned his affections in kind and made sure he always knew how important he was to her.

She had been alone a long time, the years had ticked by and left her at a standstill, and then he was there. She couldn’t wait to marry him.

It had taken him quite a while to work up the nerve to propose. It was silly really, they loved each other, and he was almost sure she would say yes. But, that fear of too much happiness, or of letting himself be happy when he knew all too well that it could change in the blink of an eye.

It kept his feet in one place for quite a while. Emily was well over a year when he proposed and he wasn’t afraid anymore to live.

It was because of Carol, with her One Day at a Time philosophy had given him hope and freedom, and she set him free from his fears.

His body was hard and slippery against hers as he held her hands over her head and stared deeply into her eyes. He was going to love her forever, until his dying breath and her name would be the last one he would ever utter.

“You’re going to be my wife, you saved me.” He whispered, kissing her and bringing his hot mouth over to her ear. “Thank you.”

They tried really hard not to be too noisy, Emily’s room was right next door and Merle had ears like a hawk.

“You saved me too.” She muttered, in a hushed voice watching his eyes. “I love you, sweetheart.”

He let go of her hands and brought his own hands down over her neck and chest. Then he followed with his lips to her thighs, and in one swift move he flipped her over on her stomach, laying himself over her. Carol sighed at the feel of his weight on her body, it was sweet and delicious, sinful how good it felt.

Daryl’s lips were at her ear and he moved her hair off of her neck, kissing and biting softly. Carol moaned as he brought his hand around and swiped his fingers over her lips.

“You want my dick sweetheart?” He said pressing it against her ass for emphasis while slipping his finger into her mouth.

“Yes.” She said parting her lips and sucking his finger, swirling her tongue around it slowly and she felt his dick twitch.

“How do you want it?” He crooned in her ear, pulling his finger from her mouth. He rose up on his knees and took her by
the back of her legs, pulling her towards the end of the bed at a snail’s pace. “Do you want it slow and gentle baby?”

His feet hit the floor and he pulled her to her feet in front of him, his arms went around her waist and his hands over her breasts. He palmed them as her head fell back on his shoulder, and he kissed her neck. She moaned louder as he bit lightly into the soft flesh of her collarbone.

“Mmmmmmm.” Was all she could manage to say.

“Or fast and hard.” He bent her over the bed, waiting for her to consent. He always checked first, especially when she couldn’t see his eyes, he always wanted it to be good for her. Not being able to look at each other required more and he always made sure she got what she needed.

“Yes.” She moaned. “Harder.”

That was all the encouragement he needed, he grasped her by her hips and pushed into her. Carol huffed out a breath as he thrust into her wildly, just the way she asked.

“You want more sweetheart?” He groaned running his hands over her ass and up her back. He brought one arm around her waist and pulled her up closer to him. She stood on tiptoe while he almost pulled her off her feet, waiting for her to call the shots.

“Yes.” She breathed out, slapping her hands down on the bed, effectively lifting her hips more into him and he didn’t stop. “Yes, more, more.”

She would beg if she had to, she couldn’t get enough and he was so deep inside her this way
Daryl pushed harder and harder, pulling almost all the way out and then slamming back into her hard with a grunt and she kept saying more and harder. He was always ready to make a lady happy and slammed into her harder and harder, feeling the warmth start to spread through his body.

With his other hand he massaged her breast and nipple until she was almost coming unglued, then he went in for the kill shot. He brought his hand from her breast and reached between her legs, forming a V with his fingers on either side of her clit.

“Don’t stop, Daryl, Ohh don’t stop.” She whined and he could feel her legs shaking already. He increased the pressure of his fingers, knowing she wouldn’t be able to take much of it combined with how deep he was inside of her.

He was starting to get that love drunk feeling as if his body was boneless and his mind was taken over by another force. A few more minutes and he was going to be lost in the fog of it and the feeling of her.

“I won’t.” He answered, feeling her body start to contract around him and it made him dizzy. “I won’t stop.” He breathed out, almost in a stupor, and tightened the grip he had around her waist. Now he was holding on for dear life as she called out his name softly.

“Oh my god.” She panted. “Oh my god, oh my god.”

“Fuck.” He groaned as he felt his body hurling towards oblivion right after her. “Oh fuck yes.” He pulled her closer and let it all go, emptying everything inside of her, his entire being. “Fuck yes…. Fuck…. yes.”

Daryl pulled her up and turned her around and kissed her desperately, then pulled her by the hand back into the bed. They laid down under the blankets and he pulled her close against him, kissing the side of her head.

“Can we get married soon?” He asked in the darkness and Carol smiled shaking her head yes.

Chapter Text

And for the moment I lose myself, wrapped up in the pleasures of the world. I’ve journeyed here and there and back again. Thirty -Three by The Smashing Pumpkins

They got married a few months later on a warm spring day, with all their friends around them. Emily wore a dress of lace and ribbons very similar to Carols and by now she reached for Carol as much as she reached for Daryl. Tara held her and sat in the front row whispering to her about her Daddy and Carol and explaining to her about the wedding.

Emily was still so little but she seemed to understand that it was an important day. She was almost twenty months old now, soon she would be two, she was walking and talking and had the sweetest smile, with dimples like her mother.

It was a wonderful day, bright day full of hope and smiles.

At high noon they were married in the little church in town on May 4th, and two weeks before that Andrea and Maggie threw Carol a shower. It was all so traditional and all so sweet.

Carol was happy to live with him and his family, but Daryl wanted them to be married and she didn’t object. She wasn’t ever going anywhere, even if there was never a ring on her finger. But it was so important to him, and so it was important to her too. They planned to have a long and happy life together, with Emily.

Carol and Daryl had decided to tell her right from the start that Carol wasn’t her Mommy in the tummy, but that she was her Mommy in the heart. Carol was adamant that she would know who Izzy was and when she found a picture of her among the photos in Merle’s album she bought a silver frame for it and put it on Emily’s dresser.

When she was older they would stand with her in front of the picture and tell her who Isabelle was. They had started doing that already, telling her that the picture was of a special person to all of them. Her Mommy who carried her in her tummy, who went to heaven, but still loved her more than anything.

Daryl and Carol had discussed it at great length just how they were going to do it and they both felt right about it. So far the little they had told her, she accepted and wasn’t troubled by it.

They both had light hair and Emily’s hair was dark, like her mother’s. She would ask questions about that eventually, they knew. She would ask questions and they would answer them for her, always making sure she knew how much she was loved, by both of them and by her mother.

Their wedding vows were from Corpse Bride one of Carol’s favorite movies and she had made Daryl watch it quite a few times with her. He wasn’t surprised when a week before the wedding she handed him the paper with her vows on it. Daryl wasn’t surprised either that she wanted him to say the same words to her. They were actually perfect for them.
Daryl was a good sport and he did watch chick flicks sometimes and she watched Hockey with him. It was an even trade off. But he also knew in a home with two women, he would have to get used to it.

He took her hand in his and slipped a simple platinum wedding band, next to the simple, yet elegant diamond he had bought her and said the words that set her heart to singing.

 

“With this hand, I will lift your sorrows.
Your cup will never be empty for I will be your wine
With this candle, I will light your way in the darkness
With this ring, I will ask you to be mine.”

 

She repeated the same and slipped a matching band on his finger and they were united forever. Carol smiled at him and squeezed his hand, they would have a happy life, she just knew it.

They had another party at the house to celebrate. As soon as they got home from the ceremony at the local church everyone got out of the fancy clothes and back in jeans and T-shirts. Merle took over the grill like he always did and music filled the house along with laughter. Tara played bartender and poured alcohol down everyone’s throat to excess except Maggie who was six months pregnant by that time.

Andrea and Merle had been married quite a few years by now and had just built their own house on the property. Tara still lived with Daryl and Carol, but lately, she and Alisha had been talking about moving into town sometime soon. So far nothing was definite but it looked like Daryl and Carol would be alone with Emily within the year.

There wouldn’t be any more children for them, and it was fine. Two people who never thought they would find love again had found it in each other’s arms and they would never let go. They danced together slowly on the deck under the Christmas lights and Tikki torches that Merle and Daryl had rigged up to “Love Hurts” by Incubus.

 

"Love hurts, but sometimes it’s a good hurt and it feels like I’m alive."

He sang the words to her as they danced and she smiled up at him.

"Love sings when it transcends the bad things, have a heart and try me, cause without love I won’t survive."

 

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Andrea walked up to Merle as he leaned against the railing with a beer in his hand. Their house was visible; the lights dim in the distance farther out on the outskirts of the property.

“Having fun?” She asked, kissing his cheek and clinking her beer bottle to his.

He turned towards his brother and Carol dancing slowly. “He would have killed himself, you know that right?”
Andrea nodded. “I know.”

“He wasn’t in his right mind, but she fixed him.”

“Maggie said she needed fixing too, so it’s wonderful that a little twist of fate and a big shove from you, made this happen.” She put her arm around him.

“Should we tell them.” He asked motioning to them still dancing slow and sweet.

“Not tonight, I don’t want to take away her thunder. She’s the bride, it’s her day.” Andrea said. “This baby isn’t going anywhere.”

Merle kissed the side of her head and pulled her close to him. “I love you darlin.”

 

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“I love you darlin.” Daryl said as they danced under the stars and the lights and he held her tight. “I never thought I would ever love someone again.”

Carol lay her head on his shoulder and ran her hands up his back. She had no words for the way she felt now. She had been walking through quicksand all these years without her husband and daughter. This man had brought her back to life, with his ready smile and sweet ways.

There was nothing she wanted more than to be behind him on the motorcycle, to make a life with him and Emily.

“I love you.” She replied. “I didn’t think it would happen again…”

He pulled her close to him. “It happened for both of us and we are going to have such a sweet life.” He kissed her again and held her hand up in his. They both looked at the rings they wore now.

“We really did it.” She said.
“Yeah, we really did.”

Chapter Text

I know I can’t be late, supers waiting on the table. Thirty-Three by The Smashing Pumpkins

 

Emily pulled open the screen door and ran into the house. She slammed her books down on the table and called out to Carol. She couldn’t wait to tell her the news and get her opinion on how to break this to her father.

Today was just about the best day of her life.

Usually Carol was home when she got home from school. She looked out the window, her Aunt Andrea was sitting on her steps talking to Chase, Emily’s cousin. He was younger, but they were close. Both of the families were close and spent a lot of time together. Their houses only an acre away all her life.

“Mimi.” She called through the house as she switched on lights looking for her stepmother. She had chosen what name to call her. When she was little they explained to her that Carol was her mother now, but that she had a mother who carried her in her belly, who was in heaven. “Mimi.”

That was the name she used and still did, even at the age of fifteen and probably would for years to come.

“Carol where are you?” She called through the house, with her dark hair bouncing as she went.

Emily ran up the stairs, checking the bedrooms along the way and to the bathroom door. She opened it and Carol was soaking in the tub with her iPod in her ears.

“Mi.” She said loudly. Emily beamed at her and Carol took the ear pods out and smiled back at her. “He asked me.”

“I told you.” She said as Emily sat down on the side of the tub.

“When can we go shop for a dress?” Emily asked excitedly.

“This weekend, what color do you want?”

“Green I think.” She said and Carol nodded, that was Izzy’s favorite color. “And I’ll wear Mom’s boots.”

“Combat boots to the prom?” She laughed. “You are your father’s daughter.”

Carol got out of the tub and wrapped her robe around herself.

“Is he going to be ok with this?” Emily asked, thinking of her overprotective father trying to shoot Carl Grimes just for asking her to the prom.

“Don’t you worry pumpkin.” Carol hugged her to her side. “We’ll tell him together.”

THE END