A Breath of Hope
"Jesus." Daryl examines Carol's disfigured tattoo from just a few feet away, wishing her lousy husband was still alive so he could have the pleasure of killing the bastard himself.
"I don't even know what it looks like with the burns. I've never seen it," she tells him quietly, opening up to him through a veil of disgrace.
"He put them in the small loops. It really doesn't look too bad if you weren't lookin' too closely. What happened to your shoulder?" He asks about a jagged scar near her right shoulder blade.
"Broken beer bottle. His team lost the playoffs." She turns around to face him and almost loses her footing on the slippery rocks when she sees the nearly naked hunter standing just two feet away. She hides her discomfit and lifts her left arm, bending it at the elbow to point out an L shaped mark on her pale skin toward the base of her forearm. "I ironed his bowling shirt when we were first married and left a small burn mark on the hem. I told the ER nurse that I broke my arm falling down the stairs."
"Som bitch," he drawls with a vicious timbre to the simple statement.
Too caught up in her battle scars to remember to hide his own, Carol takes advantage of his close proximity. "You have some nice tattoos yourself." She slowly reaches out toward his right pectoral where a small dragon is breathing fire. "I always liked dragons." As if trying to get a frightened animal to eat out of her palm, she very slowly touches the colorful tattoo, and then moves her hand an inch to the right to trace a thin white line marring his skin.
His eyes never leave the gnarled stick protruding from the water on the far side of the wide stream. His breathing is shallow and his pulse is racing as her delicate fingers rest against his chest, but he finds his voice to let her in. He owes her that much. "Merle's jackknife. Him and his buddy were beatin' on some gay kid," he says quietly, reliving the painful memory. "I told him to stop. He didn't."
Carol hates Merle Dixon in that instant more than she'd ever hated Ed Peletier. She flattens her palm against his pounding heart and lays her cheek against his scar. "At least you tried."
"Not for long."
The misguided disgust she hears in his voice breaks her heart. It wasn't your fault. Keeping her cheek to his chest, she slowly moves her hands around to his lower back, letting them rest there, giving him time to get used to her touch. His hands remain in fists at his sides, but at least he isn't pulling away. Ever so slowly, she begins to move her hands, fingertips brushing over puckered lines and jagged ridges. So many ridges. Tears course down her cheeks as her hands search for any trace of smooth skin. She covers the entire span of his strong back and finds very little. Knowing there isn't anything she can do to heal those scars now, she does the only thing that she can think of to heal his damaged soul – she entwines her hands with his and kisses him square on the mouth.
His lips are soft but firm, unyielding so as not to encourage her further. His hands tremble as he fights to control the need to pull her roughly against him. He tries to remain impassive but his body betrays him as his dick gets hard inside his boxer briefs. He starts to pull back, only to have her guide his hands to her hips so she can wrap her arms around his neck, securing him to the spot.
"Don't think," she tells him softly. "Just feel." She brushes her fingers through his long hair and lightly scratches the nape of his neck. She touches her lips to his, the tip of her soft tongue trying to coax his lips open, inviting him to dance.
He fights it for as long as he can until a tortured growl emanates from deep within him, just before he opens his mouth to devour hers.
His unexpected kiss consumes her mind, body and soul as she grips his shoulders to keep from slipping into the cold water. His arms are like vices, clamped around her waist, holding her against his throbbing erection while he feasts on her mouth like a starving man. She kisses him back ardently, years of unchartered passion bursting free at his touch until she breaks the kiss to catch the breath he stole away. When he finally meets her eyes, she still sees a touch of anxiety at the edges, but he isn't going anywhere. "Wow. If I'd known you kissed like that, I would've brought you soap a long time ago."
"Uh, yeah, I should prob'ly wash up now," he says nervously. He loosens his grip on her but doesn't let go as his eyes are drawn to her succulent mouth, dying to taste her again.
She frames his face with her hands and leans in slowly, setting the pace now by kissing him softly, leisurely. "There's no rush, you can wash later." She presses her middle against him provocatively as he deepens the kiss, maintaining the gentleness under barely controlled passion. Knowing he won't make the first move, she reaches for his hand and leads it to her breast.
"If we go much further, I won't be able to stop," he tells her between kisses as his trembling fingers caress the soft mound through the thin fabric of her bra.
"I won't ask you to."
"I don't have anything."
"We don't need it. Ed made me get my tubes tied."
He pulls back slightly to look into her eyes. Anxiety is replaced by pity which she despises even more. "It's okay. It was a long time ago. Please, Daryl. You don't have to be alone anymore. We deserve this."
The tears shimmering in her eyes chip away at the wall that has surrounded his heart for so many years until there is nothing left to keep her out. The crickets chirp harmoniously with the birds as Daryl takes her hand, leading her to the bank of the creek. He spreads the towel over a patch of thick grass and she lies down, offering herself to him as the sun continues its descent.
He takes everything she is willing to give, and then some. Their coupling is primal - tender and feral at once, and therapeutic as they fill the holes in each other that lousy circumstances created.
Then, when the evening chill cools the sweat on their spent, heart-pounding bodies, he guides her into the water once again where she revels in the privilege of washing his back.
~ / ~
Daryl wakes up with Carol snuggled against his side just as the sun is cresting the horizon. He kisses the top of her head lightly and slips out of the bed without waking her. Dressing quietly, he goes out to the front porch where Rick is already waiting, sitting at the top of the steps, forearms resting on his knees with a steaming mug of coffee between his hands.
Dew glistens along the stretch of farmland under a thin layer of morning fog. The horses are loping about the pasture as the goat rubs her hard head against a post in her enclosure next to the chicken coop. Bailey takes her spot on a patch of dirt in front of the porch and watches the farm come to life on a new day.
Daryl finds his ceramic mug waiting on the railing in the coolness of the early morning. "Thanks." He picks up the green mug with the caption 'Hug Me I'm Irish' and takes a long sip, settling next to Rick for their morning strategy session - a routine that they've fallen comfortably into over the last week, usually with Daryl making the coffee as the first to rise.
"First time I beat you here. I guess Carol kept you up late, huh?" Rick teases.
"Don't start. Not a big deal."
"You can't possibly believe that!"
"No, it's a huge fuckin' deal but we're not gonna talk about it." Daryl takes another sip of the steaming brew, warming his insides. "It's not like we're gonna have sex all the time like you and Maggie."
"We do not have sex all the time."
The hunter gives him a sidelong look.
"Really?" Rick questions. "That obvious?" When Daryl nods his head, he makes a mental note to tone it down when he and Maggie are in bed at night. "I guess I'm just making up for lost time," he says with a smirk. "Oh God, Carl hasn't said anything, has he?"
"Nah, I got the room below y'all and I'm a light sleeper. 'Sides, that kid wouldn't wake up if a bomb exploded in his bed."
"Sorry, man," he says sincerely. "We'll try to keep it down. So, we going up to Stockbridge today? It's time for another run." Rick takes a sip of black coffee to mask the anticipation in his voice.
"Yeah, might as well go hit yer jewelry store and check out the town." Though he's acting very casual about it, Daryl knows Rick has been itching to get up there all week. "Did you tell Carl what yer plannin'?"
"Not yet. I'll tell him when we get back with the rings. You think he'll mind?" Rick is suddenly apprehensive about telling his son of his plans to remarry. Selfishly, he hadn't even considered his feelings until Daryl brought it up just now, and the guilt he feels tastes like bitter coffee on his tongue. Carl didn't seem to mind him sharing a room with Maggie, but he realizes now that marriage will mean something completely different to the boy that lost his mom a little less than a year ago.
"He won't be thrilled, but he'll get used to the idea. He knew you and Lori weren't happy even before all the shit with Shane."
"He told you that?" Rick looks at his friend, taken aback at this news.
"He said you used to fight all the time, and he would hear her on the phone complainin' to her mom about you workin' so much. He knew things weren't good before, but it got better for a while after you found them with us."
"When did he tell you all this?" Rick is surprised at how much Carl had shared with the most reclusive member of their family.
"Before we got to the prison, at that campground with all the rats."
"God, that place was awful." Rick grimaces as he remembers the cabins they'd inhabited for a short period during that winter. "Well, I'll talk to him tonight, try to make him understand." He rubs a thumb over the lip of his mug and gazes into the dark brown liquid, hoping like hell that his son really will understand.
"So how did the little man do on his first watch?" Daryl asks.
"Ty said he did just fine," Rick answers proudly. He had been only a little worried about Carl taking the three hour shift before sunrise. He knew he was in good hands with Tyreese, and they were all only a stone's throw away if there was any trouble. His subconscious was a little more concerned, however, causing him to dream of a pack of enormous coyotes with blood-spattered faces surrounding the porch while a seven year old Carl hurled small stones at them from the bottom step. "I guess he's growing up, and there ain't a damn thing I can do about it," he says with a grin spiked with pride and satisfaction twisted around a thick rope of anxiety.