Written September 2013
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.
One hour turned into two, into four, into eight, and Carol and Michonne still hadn’t returned. Daryl walked along the perimeter of the prison, dragging his knife along the fence, working the walkers into a frenzy. He’d managed to collect a significant following; somewhere in the vicinity of fifteen undead were growling and snapping at him. Good.
He stopped abruptly and slammed his knife through the eye of the closest one.
One: for the herd that moved through Livingston.
Setting his jaw, he continued pacing until he selected his next target.
Two: for being forced to abandon our truck.
The knife slid easily into the head, and he watched the walker fall to the ground as he pulled his weapon back out.
Three: for forcing me to drop her down a cliff.
Four: for the cuts in our skin.
Five: for the tornado that stopped us from leaving.
Six, seven, eight, nine: for four bottles of wine that clouded our judgment.
He stared at the next one, at the vacant look in its eyes. They felt nothing, survived on instinct. That used to be him. Sometimes it still was – and that mentality was what got him into this mess in the first place. His expression twisted with pain and anger. Instead of the head, he went for the heart, plunging his knife into its chest over and over and over again.
Ten: for the heat and the passion, for the first kiss and the last, for the sound of my name on her lips and the sound of me saying goodbye.
Breath heaving, body tired, he held the knife at eye level and finally plunged it into the walker’s brain.
Eleven: for making me fall in love with her.
He whirled around, knife still poised to kill, and saw Rick squinting at him curiously. He lowered his arm and tried to relax. “Just cleanin’ up the perimeter for the wedding.”
“Is that what you’re doing?” He wasn’t convinced by Daryl’s nonchalance; anger was the one emotion that wasn’t easy for him to hide. Rick pulled two cigarettes out of his breast pocket. He offered one to Daryl, who took it, and lit both of them.
It felt like a peace offering after the events in the library. Daryl had been out of line, and they both knew it. Apologizing wasn’t easy for him; he rarely apologized to anyone except Carol, and that never went the way he planned either. So he said nothing.
They stood in an uneasy silence, staring at the fence and smoking their cigarettes. Daryl got tired of the growling and finished killing the remaining walkers with much less gusto than before. Rick simply watched him and waited.
Part of him wanted to tell Rick everything. He had been married, obviously had a lot more luck with women than Daryl ever did. He knew how to make a woman happy, how to make her smile, how to apologize. If there was anybody he trusted to tell him how to fix things, it would be Rick. But the other part of him was stubborn. If he couldn’t fix it on his own, maybe it wasn’t worth fixing. Besides, Carol deserved a hell of a lot more than his ignorance and attitude. She deserved a man like Rick, a man who knew what to do and what to say.
You’re every bit as good as them.
Her words, spoken so long ago, echoed in his mind.
He wondered if there would ever be a time when every little thing wouldn’t remind him of her, of something she said or did.
“Is this why you couldn’t go on the run?” Rick asked, gesturing to the pile of dead walkers at the base of the fence.
“I don’t give a shit about some pregnant woman I don’t know.”
“No, but you do give a shit about Carol. At least you used to.”
Daryl said nothing, looking down at the ground, extinguishing his cigarette with his boot. He still did care about Carol, too much in fact. But if he said those thoughts out loud, he’d have to face the depth of his feelings for her – and accept the fact that he had already lost her.
Rick stood beside him, waiting for a response but not pressing. Daryl wasn’t sure if he could even form the words, but he appreciated the friendship that was offered. Rick was a good man.
You’re every bit as good as them. Every bit.
He gripped the fence, pinching the links until he felt pain, until it silenced her voice, until he could breathe again.
Nodding to himself, Rick snuffed out his cigarette. “Well, I expect they’ll be back soon. In the meantime, finish clearing the perimeter … by actually walking the perimeter. You’re weakening this part of the fence by bringing them all here.” He started back for the prison.
Shit. He was losing his mind over Carol. He couldn’t keep her safe; now he was potentially endangering everyone in the prison. Something had to give. The words were out of his mouth before he had a chance to reconsider.
“I almost got bit.”
Rick stopped but didn’t turn around. This was new information; the last time he and Carol had been together, telling the council about the challenges they had faced on the run, they both left out the attack at the craft store. Now it was coming back to bite him in the ass.
“I was distracted,” he continued. Distracted by her lips, the thought of making love to her again, of living instead of surviving. He realized now that the sounds he’d heard – the fall of the basket, her moans – weren’t from her at all but from the walker creeping up on them. He was so far gone in that moment.
“Same thing that distracts every goddamned idiot on this planet.”
Rick walked back to where he stood before, hands in his pockets, waiting. His eyes held interest but no judgment. The only person Daryl had ever sought advice from was his brother, and Merle’s sharp tongue would be ready with an insult before he’d even have a chance to make a sentence. This was different. This was … comforting.
“That run was cursed from the start. A herd, ravine, thunderstorm, fuckin’ tornado.”
“When did this happen?”
“On the way back. Carol saw a craft store, wanted to get some flowers for the weddin’. I didn’t fully secure the building. Wasn’t payin’ attention. She was.”
“You should be glad that you trained her well.”
Daryl squinted at him, face bundled up in a scowl. “I should be glad I was gonna fuck her on a counter; she had a better view.”
There. He’d said it. He hung his head before he could see the disappointment on Rick’s face. Wait for the reprimand. Accept the punishment. Stupid – and he should have known better. Rick wouldn’t make a mistake like that.
You’re every bit as good as them. Every bit.
Dammit, get out of my head!
“So what’s the problem?” Rick’s words were so far from what Daryl expected, he simply stared at him. “You got carried away. It happens.”
“The problem is the next time I’m thinkin’ with my dick instead of my head, the walker might be behind her!”
Rick made a sweeping gesture toward the prison. “Look at this place, Daryl. We’ve got fences. We’ve got towers with armed guards. We keep a twenty-four hour watch on the outside. And despite it all, Lori is still dead.” He inhaled, shook his head, laughed in spite of himself. “I couldn’t save her. But I could have done more. I could have forgiven her, been there for her, told her I love her. But I didn’t do any of those things. And she died before I had the chance.”
Daryl looked away to give him a moment to compose himself.
“You try to keep people safe, but you can’t. You do everything right, and they still die. You think you can be in control if you don’t let yourself feel, but you’re wrong.” Rick met his gaze. “I don’t know how much time we have left in this life – could be days, could be years – but I know it’s not worth wasting. We need to live every day like it’s our last because one day it will be, and no one should die full of regrets and missed opportunities.”
End of chapter 3