Thirteen Days 1/6

Thirteen Days
Written September 2013
Rated PG-13
Synopsis: Sequel to Shelter from the Storm.  “It had been thirteen days since they returned from their run. Thirteen days since he had pushed her away. Thirteen days since he had spoken to her. He hated every minute.”

Disclaimer: The characters and universe herein were created by Robert Kirkman et al. The series is produced by AMC and other corporations. No infringement is intended.


He used to love storms.

Thunder rumbled as a trail of dark clouds drifted over the prison, obscuring the orange autumn sun. Daryl stood in the watch tower, rifle in hand, and watched the passing clouds. A couple of fat raindrops began their descent, splattering on the grass and concrete below.

When he was young, while most kids would hide under their beds at the mere mention of a storm, he would be stupidly climbing a tree, trying to get closer to the source. That powerful energy that built up from nothing then exploded out of the sky. The boldness and the strength, sometimes gentle but always dangerous, impossible to harness but amazing to behold. The power would course through his body, giving him the courage he needed to withstand his father’s beatings and his mother’s death and his brother’s absence. The will to survive.

But now storms only brought pain. Each bolt of lightning ignited a memory; each crack of thunder shook his resolve. He could feel the breeze tousle his cheek, as soft as her lips on his; sense the electricity dancing between the cloud and ground, sparks flying as they come together for the first time; recognize the updraft, the warm air reaching its pinnacle, their bodies rising, coming back down with rain, or tears, or both. And he would have to wait for the storm to pass before he could breathe again, before the vice squeezing his heart would release him.

So he waited. Watched the skies open wider and the rain fall harder. Saw everyone in the courtyard run inside to avoid the unexpected storm. But there was one person moving against the crowd, one person who was not looking for shelter, one person who came outside to welcome the rain.

***

She used to hate storms.

Carol sat cross-legged on top of a picnic table, protected from the rain by an overhead walkway. She took a slow, deep breath. The thick, almost musty smell of water hitting the dry earth was comforting, made her smile, made her remember.

It felt like years ago when an oncoming storm would clench her body with fear. Somehow, the charged air always made her husband meaner. While the rain poured outside, he would strike her, the deep tone of his insults reverberating through her with the thunder, the slap of his open hand as quick as lightning, blinding her just the same. It got better when Sophia was born, her precious angel, but worse when her little girl grew up and no longer needed her mother’s comforting words and protective embrace.

But now storms only brought fondness. She could relive the night in the cellar, the undeniable attraction and unavoidable collision that was not unlike the bolts of lightning in the sky. Opposites coming together with explosive force because the pressure had been building and there was nowhere else for the tension to go. And when the storm was gone, when the clouds moved away and the energy dissipated, she would miss him again.

So she waited. Watched the skies brighten and the rain slow to a trickle. Her gaze drifted to the tower where he stood, watching her watching him. She lifted a hand in greeting, neither expecting nor receiving a wave back.

But another storm would develop someday; they always did. They could never stay away for long.

***

“Hi, sweetheart!”

Carol smiled broadly, pointing at Rick as he approached. “Who’s that?” Judith cooed, her little hands waving wildly as she bounced in Carol’s arms. “That’s right, that’s your daddy!”

He took his daughter and lifted her above his head, delighting in her giggles. Her eyes were just like her mother’s, and looking into them reminded him of Lori. Bittersweet. “Thanks for watching her while I met with the new couple.”

“Of course. She’s never a bother.” Carol wiggled her fingers against Judith’s belly, and the girl giggled again. “So what’s their story?”

“Matt and Anna. They were camping down by the Oconee River. Managed to survive off the land until it got overrun.” According to what he’d just heard from Hershel, Anna was pregnant – very pregnant. But she didn’t look it; Hershel suspected her poor nutrition was the main contributing factor to the size of the baby, so he wasn’t sure it would survive. They weren’t equipped with the necessary supplies to care for a premature, sickly child. It was purely by luck that Judith managed to survive. Rick kissed his daughter’s forehead, snuggled her close. They needed to prepare. He wasn’t going to let another mother die if he could help it. Nobody deserved to lose the ones they loved.

Carol nudged him, concern etched on her face. “You all right?”

“We need to have a meeting. Can you round up the others in the library?”

She nodded, took one step, then paused. “Daryl’s in the tower; you mind fetchin’ him?”

There it was. The elephant in the room. The subject everyone was simultaneously talking about and ignoring. He wasn’t sure how to broach it, primarily because he had no idea what was going on, but it was going to have to be addressed sooner or later.

Two weeks ago, Daryl and Carol were as thick as thieves. Always together, whether it was dressing game, practicing their combat skills, or eating dinner. Their easy camaraderie didn’t escape notice, and people began talking, wondering how long until they came forward with their secret romance. Rick knew it hadn’t progressed that far, but it was certainly on the right track.

And then … nothing. They returned from their run as two different people: strangers, tense, indifferent to one another. Now they were never together, apparently not on speaking terms if Carol’s request was any indication. Daryl was moody, a lot like he was when they’d first met, with a chip on his shoulder and not a care for anyone or anything. Carol dove into planning Glenn and Maggie’s wedding and used it as an excuse for everything, from getting out of watch duty to spending more time wherever Daryl wouldn’t be.

Rick didn’t want to interfere, but they were making things difficult. Their behavior was distracting and potentially threatening the safety of the prison. Daryl wouldn’t talk to anyone, and when someone did make the mistake of speaking to him, they often received an earful of unwarranted, colorful insults. Without Carol’s calming influence, her rare ability to keep his behavior in check – and with Carol being the apparent cause of his bad attitude – they were both endangering the community. Rick doubted that either of them realized this, but it was his job to put a stop to it, a task that was not going to be easy.

“Sure. Anything wrong?”

Her smile wavered. “No.”

He wasn’t buying it.

End of chapter 1

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