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) 2016 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Who You Were Before
You're quiet in the car, the sound of Rick's shot still ringing in your brain, if not your ears.
Daryl is pressed next to you in the seat. There's room; he doesn't have to sit so close, but he hasn't left your side since you and Maggie ran into the group.
The group. Such a stupid thing to call your family. Your loves.
The people you've killed for. So many deaths on your hands and you'd do it again. You did do it again. How many more names to add to the list? Is it better or worse that some of them won't even have names? Burnt-up man one. Burnt-up man two.
You take a breath and it rasps almost as much as the cancer queen's did.
Nicknames make it easier. Snotty nicknames, especially. Don't think of her as Molly. Don't make her any more human than you need to.
"Hey," Daryl whispers as he snakes his arm around you and pulls you closer. His voice is so low you can barely hear it. "I'm here."
You turn to meet his eyes, and you see that the words mean a lot more than that he's sitting next to you. He's been gone and you've been gone, when before you were together. Before when you were both killers and victims and friends and almost, almost lovers.
And then he pulled away. Or you did. You're not entirely sure.
"I'm here," he says again, as if he's not sure you understand. Then he frowns. "Do you want that?"
You feel your eyes fill up and dash the tears away before they can fall. Do you want that? You didn't. You wanted to not be the you that you've become. Daryl is part of the you that you've become.
Daryl is part of you.
Daryl is you.
You close your eyes and shrug, but you pull him closer at the same time.
He exhales slowly, and you feel his lips on your neck. "I'm not going anywhere this time. I promise."
But really he should make you promise. Because even though he wanted breaks from Alexandria, you wanted out of the group. If he hadn't found you at the car, the night you went after Beth's captors, you'd have been long gone.
You'd have found some other group. You'd have played the act that fooled the Alexandrians, only no one would have been there to tell them it was a lie. No one would know who you really are—what you really are.
What you've had to become.
You nestle in closer, and he holds you the way he used to, like he'd protect you no matter what. Like he knows you'd protect him right back. "Go to sleep if you want," he whispers, and he trails his fingers lightly over your hair.
You let go and while you don't fall asleep, you doze, trying to forget the sound of flesh being torn from a cheek or the screams of men being burned alive. You try to imagine the heartbeat of the baby you saved, the soft sound of the lullabies Beth would have sung to her niece or nephew. You wonder if Maggie will name her child Hershel or Beth. You'd probably do that, if you were her.
You fall asleep for real, then, and wake up when Daryl nudges you and murmurs, "We're home."
Home. This place. You wanted that. Lately especially. You put on your Talbots sweaters and baked cookies like it was your passion and wanted this suburban oasis to be your true home.
As Eugene opens the gate, you take a deep breath and for the first time cross the borders of this town with no pretense.
The Carol you were is gone. It's time to stop hiding that fact.
"Come on. Let's get you cleaned up," Daryl says, taking you by the hand to help you out of the car and not letting go as he leads you to your house.
Not letting go even though Tobin is standing in front of your stairs. Tobin, who moves to block the two of you.
"You want to get out of the way?" Daryl's voice is the deceptive one, the one that is calm and quiet but means he's about to explode.
"If she's hurt, I'll look after her."
Daryl lets go of your hand. He moves closer to Tobin, gets right in his space, his body language one of pure predator, especially against this gentler version of Ed, all soft and thoughtful. "Not going to happen."
"What is this?" Tobin looks at you, his expression betrayed. "I thought we had something."
You don't answer him. Instead you look at Daryl. "I didn't think you cared."
"I cared. Wasn't sure that would matter to you."
"I should've said something."
"Yeah, you should have." It occurs to you that you and Daryl are working out your relationship in front of Tobin, and it almost makes you laugh. Until you look at his face and see real pain.
Is there nothing you can't fuck up when you touch it?
You move to Tobin, reach up and cup his cheek with your hand. "The Carol you knew, the one you kissed...she doesn't exist anymore. I'm sorry." You give him a smile that trembles because you are trying not to cry. Then you hold out your hand to Daryl and let him lead you up the stairs.
He gets you inside, shuts the door quietly instead of slamming it, then leans you into the wall and kisses you before hoisting you onto him and carrying you to the kitchen, to the island where he's watched you make cookies with an expression that said he thought you were some kind of alien. He pushes the canisters back and begins to take off your clothes. He doesn't stop until you're naked. Then he backs up enough to look at you and you realize he's checking to see if they hurt you.
He lays his hand on your ribs, where Donnie kicked you. "Who did this?"
"He's dead. We killed him." We, not you, and it should have been you. Maybe the kicks were fair, then. If you'd made it painless for him, if you'd just killed him the way you did Lizzie, you wouldn't be in pain now.
Daryl pushes in a bit harder, making you suck in air as the pain hits you. He reaches for your shirt, starts to put it back on you, and you say, "No. Finish this."
"I'm not going to do this when you're hurting."
"Don't you think I'm used to it?"
His face changes and he backs away. You realize that was the very worst thing to say.
"Is that why you want me instead of Tobin? Because you think I'll hurt you? Because you don't think you deserve him?" He turns and kicks a chair halfway across the room. "How do you think I felt, huh? Watching you leave me behind? Watching you clean up and become one of them? Watching you fall for one of them?"
"I never fell for him. I love you." There. It's said. No jokes, no silly names to hide the feelings. "I love you, Daryl. And it scares the hell out of me."
He moves back to you, slowly, as if he's afraid he'll spook you if he goes too fast. "How do you think I feel? I never had anyone really love me and stick around."
Something suddenly makes sense to you. Why he spent so much time looking for Sophia. The way maybe no one ever looked for him.
You stroke his cheek and he closes his eyes for a moment. "I wanted to go back. To before. Before I was a killer. Before I shot a little girl that I loved. Before I burned people I considered friends. Before all of it. Start over. Here."
"With some new Ed?"
"Well, I'll let you get back to that."
You grab his arm and yank him back to you; your ribs scream in protest. "Don't be an idiot." Pushing the hair out of his eyes, you lean in and kiss him. Slowly. Deeply. The way you probably should have long ago.
How many things would be different if you had?
"We don't have to—"
"Go slow. I won't break. That's all I meant." You smile as you pull off his clothes, and he finally smiles back, the old grin, not the one he's used around you lately, the one that's tentative and betrayed.
And then he's inside you, and he goes slow, and you don't break, and neither does he. It's good and you can't imagine you'd be feeling this way in Tobin's arms—that feeling him shudder against you would move you the way it does with Daryl.
It might not move you at all. That might have been the point. Safe. He was safe.
You kiss Daryl harder and try to let the old you—the part that wants to be good and gentle and not a killer—slip away, but you can feel her hanging on.
She's going to get you killed if you can't shake her. You know that in your gut.
"Hey," he says, wrapped in your legs and arms, leaning into you the way he did after Terminus, when you saved him—when you saved them all. "Where'd you go?"
"I'm here." You kiss him as gently as you can. "I don't know who I am anymore, Daryl." There, that's said, too. The last of your truths.
"I know. I'm not sure who I am, either. We're not who we were. I mean way back. But maybe we're not who we were at the prison, either. We're changing." He smiles, and it's a beautiful thing to see. "We're changing in the same way this time. Right?" He tips your chin up, studying you. "I can't lose you again."
"You won't," you say, but it's a hollow promise and you think you both know that. Even if you never leave him, this world may take you from him.
Or take him from you.
You know only this: you will kill anyone who tries to take him.
And you know he'll do the same.
He eases you off the island, scoops up your clothes and his, and says, "Where is your bed, woman?" His tone is light, in a way you haven't heard since the prison, before everything went to shit.
"If you can't find a bed in a house with this many bedrooms, Pookie, you may not be the man for me, after all."
"I said your bed, not a bed." He pulls you to him gently. "Although if your ribs werenմ hurt, I'd make love to you in every single bed in this house." You see a promise in his eyes that once you're healed, he will do just that.
Then you see something else, something soft and gentle and probably what he was like when he was young, before life had beat on him so bad he had to toughen up or die. "I love you, Carol. I don't—I don't want to do this without you. Not anymore."
"Me neither." You slip your hand into his and lead him to your room. "There. Now you know where it is."
"Now, I do." He sits on the bed, pulls you into him until he can rest his head on your belly. "Whoever you become, I'm gonna like her."
You think that's not true. He didn't like the suburban woman Tobin fell for. Then again she wasn't you, just a mask you wore. And Daryl has always seen through your masks.
"Carol, I do understand—wanting to change. I thought we could find a better way." His voice is so soft you can barely make it out. "I thought I could. Aaron made sense and then Morgan came. I wanted to believe..." He shakes his head then leans back and looks at you. "I guess we both wanted to be something else."
"Maybe we can be. Only together this time. Scoot back." When he drops the clothes and moves so he's leaning against the headboard, you crawl onto the bed, ignoring your complaining ribs, and straddle him. "But, just so we're clear, we might be saying that we can't be our best selves with each other. You get that, right?"
He pulls you down and kisses you for a long time, until he's ready again, until you ease yourself onto him. Then he shakes his head. "This is my best self. The other thing was just an illusion. Illusions will get us killed."
And once again you're on the same page. It's a nice thing to be with him in so many ways. You move slowly, trying not to strain your ribs, trying not to show him that it hurts to make love to him in this position, because you need to do it, you need to have him again.
You need to kick her out, the new-old Carol who can't make up her mind what she wants. Who would have settled for Tobin but watched and wanted Daryl every time he was in view.
This is who you are. This is who you both are. And now you can be who you both are...together.
"I love you," he murmurs as he pulls you down for another kiss, as he thrusts harder.
He loves you. You don't know what the future holds. You don't even know what tomorrow holds. This world obliterates tomorrows on a regular basis.
But for now, this is all there is. And it's everything you want.
"I love you, too."