DISCLAIMER: The Walking Dead characters are the property of American Movie Classics (AMC), Circle of Confusion, Valhalla Entertainment, Darkwoods Productions, and AMC Studios. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2013 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Baggage Makes the Best Survivors
Daryl’s not much for talking. He’s not much for listening, either. That’s probably always been his problem, why people never took to him. He appears to not care about anything, when really he’s seeing everything, cutting through the bullshit of people’s words to figure out what they’re really saying.
That’s how he survived his childhood. How he survived his father. He had to know when to get the hell out of the house, and his dad’s words didn’t always go with what was going to come later. So he learned tone, he learned body language, and what goes on in a man’s eyes—because they’re the mirrors of a soul and nothing telegraphs a hard slap better than a certain glint.
He knows he’s different from most of the other survivors—he actually prefers this world. The zombies are predictable. They eat, they come after noise, they smell like shit and make creepy noises, and they die easy. As long as you don’t let a group surround you, or become lazy and think it’s always gonna be as easy as a poke with a sharp stick through the prison fence, you’ll be fine.
He can see the fence now, bathed in moonlight, from the guard tower that most people think isn’t safe. He and Carol may have made them think that. He and Carol will do just about anything they need to if it lets them be together.
“What are you doing awake?” Carol crawls over to him, drops her legs over the side so they’re dangling like his, so her bare thigh is pressed up tight against his. “You had a long day. You need sleep.” She nuzzles him and rubs her hand low against his back, where it aches a lot of the time.
He turns and smiles before he kisses her. This is the only time they let down this way. They play a game for everyone else. Are they or aren’t they? They don’t let the others know they’re together partly because he’s discovered she likes sneaking around, that it gives her a feeling of power after having her life monitored day and night by that shithead husband of hers.
But mostly they know that together they are far more dangerous than any other two people except maybe Rick and Michonne—and although Daryl would not have thought it possible to find two more fucked-up people than Carol and him, Rick and the samurai gal win the prize with no competition required.
But that doesn’t mean they’re dangerous in the same way as Rick and Michonne. Those two are batshit crazy. Carol has said even their demons have demons, and Daryl thinks she’s right. She usually is right, even when he’s sure she’s finally fucked up and gotten something wrong, it’ll turn out she’s had her money on the right person in the group, or called what was going to happen without thinking too hard about it.
She’s a survivor, like he is—an observer, like he is. And what makes them different than Rick and Michonne: those two were stronger before the walkers.
Daryl and Carol, they were weak before the world changed. They hated who they were. And now...now they’re strong. So strong that the others might get nervous if they knew all the things they talked about, all the plans they have to survive.
Carol loves the others. Probably more than Daryl does. But he’s seen her eyes when she talks about contingency plans and caching supplies, and there is a relentless way to them. He knows he’s seeing Sophia and everything that happened to her reflected in Carol’s determination—that Carol will never let anything happen again to someone she cares about, not if she can help it.
“Awful lot going on in there.” Carol taps his head softly. “What’re you thinking about?”
“Us. Strength. Surviving.”
She smiles. He loves that she understands his shorthand way of speaking. That she can fill in all the blanks.
“Big thoughts, Pookie.”
He laughs. She’s called him that ever since he told her his first puppy was named Pookie. His favorite dog.
His dad ran over it with his truck, drunk off his ass. Daryl went off to the woods to cry. Deep in the woods—he didn’t want his dad, or Merle, to find him crying like a little girl. But he did cry. He loved that dog.
Pookie means more than just love. Pookie means loss. Pookie is every reason to get up and keep fighting just to survive.
And the woman who calls him Pookie is, too.
“Hey, I found this last scouting trip.” He pulls his jacket over, digs around in the pocket, and hands her the flower. A Cherokee rose.
“It’s beat to shit. Thanks.” She rubs the flower—and yeah, it’s pretty mangled after being in his jacket pocket for days, but they’re a little short on florists and fancy delivery trucks—on her neck. “What do you think?”
He leans in and smells her skin, smiles at the special scent, at what it means that she does this. All the things she does. It was her idea to teach the kids about the weapons. Her idea to make sure the kids knew the vulnerable parts of the walkers, where to strike. To tell them how when anyone died now, they came back wrong, a walker.
That you have to kill them. You owe it to them. And you owe it to yourselves. If you want to keep on surviving.
She doesn’t sugarcoat things anymore. This woman who he wouldn’t have looked at twice before the walkers. This woman who he now thinks is the most amazing thing he’s ever held—who’s ever held him.
She knows him. She’s seen who he is. And she loves him anyway.
“It’s good,” he says. “It’s nice.”
“Nice enough to get me thinking about other things than talking.” He crawls away from the side of the tower, easing her with him, back to their pile of clothes, dodging their guns and knives—she does it just as easily as he does.
He’s taught her everything he can.
She’s taught him way more.
She lies back and pulls him down, wrapping her legs around him, her smile the calm one that makes him feel safe. It’s the safety he’s craved his whole life, that never came, not till he found himself living in hell.
“I love you.” He stops moving. He always makes sure she knows he’s not just saying it. That he could never just spit it out like the words don’t matter. Love’s been in short supply in both their lives. You say it when you mean it, no other time.
“I love you, too.” She rubs his hand back. “I’m glad we’re here.”
And that’s what makes them survivors. That’s what’s going to keep them alive. In this godforsaken world where everything is broken or dying, they’re happy.
“Me, too,” he says, before he gets back to what they were doing, moving slowly, letting the heat build. Skin against skin and heart to heart.