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) 2015 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Carol watches Daryl as he sits on the porch, his head down, biting his nail the way he does when he wants to run but has to wait. She closes the door behind her softly, and walks out to him, sitting close but not as close as she would have before, and offers the tray she's holding. "You want a cookie?"
He digs in eagerly. But she stops him when he goes for more than one.
"What? We've suddenly got quotas?" He looks pissed, but he doesn't try to take another one.
"I owe these to a little kid I had to scare the bejeesus out of."
He frowns. "You scared a little kid?"
"He saw me getting the guns."
His face changes, his posture switches from "waiting to act "to "high alert."
"Relax. He's not going to tell."
"How bad did you scare him?"
"As badly as I needed to." She puts the towel back over the cookies and lets the tray rest on her knees. "You need to bathe. And you need to blend. We've been over this."
"Won't be here."
She knows her sudden glance at him is more kneejerk and alarmed than she means it to be, but she was ready to run when he found her out by the car, when they followed the men who had Beth—Daryl finding her trying to get that car ready to roll is the only reason she's still with the group. She was in a bad place, not sure she belonged with the group anymore, and she was ready to run.
She sees that in him now, too. And he's just said it.
He laughs softly, the sound that's so unassuming—probably because in his house, growing up, it wasn't safe to show too much amusement. She remembers what that was like with Ed, having to moderate emotion so she wouldn't set him off.
"I'm not leaving leaving. Aaron wants me to recruit."
"For this place?"
"Yeah, seeing as his boyfriend pretty much sucked at it." Daryl smiles and finally it's the smile she remembers. "He's got a bike—or almost. I'm going to put it back together. Use it to go find people."
"Hope you find them one at a time. You can't carry a group back on a damn bike."
He looks crushed for a moment—like she's a mean mom pissing all over his dreams. When the hell did she start being his mom? Then his expression clears and he shrugs: "We'll find cars for 'em. Not like they aren't out there. Plenty of gas to be siphoned off, if we're smart about it."
She decides not to ask him if he's going to carry gas cans on his bike. He's obviously missing his old motorcycle. He seems gone in dreams of being free and badass in the way he was before everything went to hell.
"Look, I just have to take the cookies down to Jessie's before it gets too late. Don't go anywhere, okay?" She watches his face, has learned to watch his eyes, not listen to words when it's acceptance she's wanting. He nods and his eyes don't contradict the action so she heads down the street.
Sam is sitting on the porch with his dad, and he stands up, and she thinks the kid may be in danger of peeing himself. She holds up the tray, gives him the happy "Don't hit me, Ed" smile she perfected for too damn many years, and says, "More cookies. Just like I promised."
His dad stands up and says, "Did he ask you for those?"
There's something in the way he frames his words, the unspoken accusation, that Carol thinks sounds like Ed. "No, I promised him. I didn't make enough for the party—out of practice I guess, being on the run and all. And they're really good cookies."
Sam's dad's expression changes enough to let her walk over and hand the tray to Sam. "Bring it back when you're done. Promise?"
She can tell the kid knows what she's really asking.
He nods quickly and says, "Promise."
"You're a good boy."
"You have kids? " Sam's dad asks. "You seem good with them."
She nearly sputters. She winks at Sam as she turns to his dad, thinking that maybe the kid needs an ally more than another person who terrifies him. "I had three daughters."
"And a husband, I guess." The man looks around with a "Where's he, then?" look.
"I lost him. To the walkers." She actually sounds sad; acting is a gift she never knew she had. Not till she married Ed anyway, and she had to act all the time. For him, to keep from setting him off. For Sophia, to pretend that life wasn't scary with a father like him. For her friends and family—trying to make it convincing that she just walked into a cabinet. At least here she's enjoying the acting.
"The girls, too? To walkers?" Sam sounds scared but also confused.
She imagines he is—how could she threaten him with something that happened to her own kids? "Two of them. One..." She takes a deep breath. "This world's dangerous." It's the cover for everything she doesn't want to talk about, she's found. She says it to the other moms all the time and they nod sagely as if she's talking about splinters or exploding two-liters of soda in a hot car instead of that she had to shoot a girl she loved in the back of the head because she was batshit crazy and a murderer.
Carol could have let Lizzie slide for the murderer part—if she'd had a good reason for killing. It was the batshit crazy part that couldn't stand.
Sam's dad nods the same way the moms do. He doesn't see past the act that Carol's been putting on since she pretended to have trouble getting the rifle off when they turned their guns in at the gate. He sees a harmless woman who he probably thinks he could take down pretty easily.
Before the walkers, before everything that's happened, he'd have been right. Now... Carol imagines leaving him tied to a tree, setting Sam and the rest of the man's family free.
Once you've lived with an asshole, it's hard to miss the signs when you happen on one again. Or maybe she just assumes everyone is a dick until she knows better now. She thinks that's where Rick is too, emotionally.
Daryl is a problem.
She smiles again, says, "Enjoy the cookies, kiddo," and then walks away. Daryl is still sitting on the porch, watching her walk back, and there's something in his eyes she hasn't seen in a long time.
She puts a little more swing in her hips, which probably looks ridiculous now that she's dressed like Sister Carol or the female equivalent of Mister Rogers. He laughs and this time it's the laugh of the prison, the laugh of shared time in the watchtower, when they'd talk and trade secrets, one abused person to another.
Before they all got separated. Before he ended up with Beth.
Did he love Beth? Carol hasn't been able to figure that out. She can't see it, the two of them being a couple, but then love is like that.
Only...she always thought of him as hers. And that didn't change when she saw him again after blowing up Terminus. When he ran to her. When he held her.
She sits next to him. "You really hate these clothes on me, don't you?"
"Do you like them?"
"Oh, hell no. But it's easy to disappear in them."
"You can put me in a suit and tie, and I'm not going to disappear here. It's like..."
"Stepford." She smiles at him. "I used to live in a place like this. Less eco friendly but very pastel, very...plastic." She leans against him. "Just because I can disappear into the cage, doesn't mean I'm any less wild."
He rests his head against hers. "I'm only ever wild. There's no place for me here. It's why I want to go outside."
"I know." She takes a deep breath. "Is Beth the other reason you want to stay the way you are?"
"Beth?" He pulls away. "Why bring her up now? You wouldn't talk about her before."
"No, Pookie, you wouldn't talk about her. Not to me, anyway."
"I didn't talk about her to anyone. What was there to say? I was supposed to save her and I got her killed."
"She got herself killed. She did it, Daryl. She chose. And you avenged her. You did what you could." She forces herself to look away from his eyes, the sadness that has been in them since he shot the cop and carried Beth out of the hospital. "Did you love her?"
"Of course I loved her. She was one of us."
"But you were with her. When everyone was separated. It was just the two of you. And maybe things happened...?"
"Yeah we burned a house down."
She isn't sure if that's a euphemism for sex, and her expression must show it because he stabs a finger in her chest, harder than she thinks he means to, and says in a choked tone, "Nothing happened."
"Did you want it to?"
She's never seen the look of betrayal on his face before, betrayal mixed with anger and some form of helplessness that seems different than the kind that comes when you've found yourself too many times on the wrong side of a closed fist. "You don't get to ask that. You left. You were leaving again—when I found you with the car. Do you ever stick around?"
He starts to get up, and she grabs his shoulder, manages to keep him in place, but she knows it's because he's stopped trying—he's too strong for her to manhandle.
"I'm here. I'm here, doing any number of horrible things to protect all of us, because I'm staying. I'm not leaving you again." She sighs and leans her forehead against his, because she knows for him that's the sign of a promise, of affection with no pain, of love—what little they've both known of it in their lives. "I love you."
She's not sure how he'll take that. Friend to friend. Mother to son. Woman to man. She doesn't care. She just wants him to know.
She loves him. And she's not leaving.
"I love you, too." His voice is soft, the way she likes to think it only gets for her, but she may be wrong about that. It's okay if she is.
She pulls away and strokes his cheek. "Will you think about taking a shower?"
"Will you put something else on? Something less...mom-like?"
"What? You don't want to think of me as your mom?"
"No." Finally there is a spark of the old playfulness in his eyes.
"I might be able to round up a tank top if you'll consider the shower."
He stands and pulls her up with him. "Deal."
They walk in together, and she says, "Hold on" as they pass her room. She rustles around in the closet, grabs the clothes she found for him, and hands them over.
He smiles. "No suit?"
"Not your style." The things she's found are what he'd pick out, she thinks, and she puts her hands on her hips and says, "There's a bar of soap with your name on it."
He laughs. "Tank top first." He moves, not into the room, but into the doorway, so if she wants to close the door, she'll have to make him move.
She grins and grabs a tank from the closet, turning her back to him and pulling off the godawful sweater and blouse, letting him see her bare back and the band of her bra, pink because that's what's expected here. "Sorry about the frilly bra. I'd wear khaki but it wouldn't go with my disguise."
"I don't mind pink."
She slips on the tank, which is taupe and tight, with wide enough straps to hide the pink bra, and then turns and sees that he's smiling in an easy way, the way she wasn't sure she'd see again. "Better?"
"Better." He gives her the nod that means, "Okay, then. Better get to it," and heads for the bathroom, but he turns around at the door and says, "The cookies were great, by the way. Can you make more?"
"Yep. I owe that poor kid a lot more, but I'll make a double batch next time so you and Aaron can have some for the road." She gives him the sweetly sheepish smile she knows he loves, but it's also how she feels, so she's not really manipulating him.
Or if she is, it's for his own good.