He hears her crying in her cell all the way up on his perch. He normally doesn't hear it when people cry—he's had to learn to develop selective hearing, because people are crying all the time nowadays—but he never learned how to tune out the sound of her. There's just something about her particular brand of sadness that drives a blade into his heart and makes the scars on his back burn. He tries fruitlessly to ignore it, but he's drawn to her like a moth to light. With a defeated sigh, he rolls off his bedroll and climbs down the stairs.
Her tears are coming in her sleep. She's curled in a ball, weeping and whimpering with her eyes closed, surely dreaming of, well, take your pick, really. What good is there to dream about anymore?
He has a mental debate as he hovers in her doorway. She doesn't sleep enough, and even a restless sleep is more than nothing. On the other hand, he absolutely cannot stand it when she cries, and if he has to keep listening to it he's gonna go insane, so let's be honest, the question is already answered, and his debating is just formality.
“Hey,” he whispers. “Carol. Hey.” She doesn't respond to his voice; just continues to whimper at whatever it is that's haunting her tonight. He reaches out tentatively and touches her shoulder, and that does the trick—it does the trick too well.
She startles awake and takes a sharp breath, a hand instinctively shooting over to her bedside table where she keeps her knife. She flicks on the lantern, and her wild eyes search for the threat, until they land on Daryl. It takes her a moment to recognize him, and when she does she deflates with relief.
“Daryl,” she breathes, letting the knife drop with a clatter.
“Sorry,” he says, feeling stupid. “Didn't mean to scare you.”
“What do you need? What's wrong?” she asks, lying back down on her pillow, chest moving up and down a little faster than usual as she tries to rein herself in.
“I heard you cryin’. You were dreamin’, I think.”
Carol frowns. Her hands go to her face and feel the wetness on her cheeks. She examines her damp fingers and furrows her brow, like she's not quite sure where the tears came from.
“I don't remember my dream,” she tells him, arms falling to rest on her belly. “But I don't think it was scary. I think it was sad. I remember being sad.”
Daryl nods. She's staring up at him expectantly, but he hadn't thought this far ahead.
“You...good, then?” he asks, scratching the back of his head and looking down at his feet.
“I think so. I don't even remember why I wasn't. Are you okay, though? What were you doing up?”
“Couldn't sleep,” Daryl says with a shrug. Sleep is pretty hit or miss for him, and tonight it's been a clear miss.
“You sure I didn't wake you?” She sounds so concerned, fussing over him like she gives a damn if he's taking care of himself or not.
“Nah, I was awake,” he assures her. A silence falls between them. Daryl considers the door.
“Sit with me awhile?” she asks him then. He meets her eye and is surprised to find her looking shy. Carol isn't shy. Maybe once upon a time she'd convinced herself she was, but that was only her tricking herself into being less than she really is. But she's acting shy now, like Daryl might reject her. Like he might scoff at the suggestion and turn on his heel. Like he could even if he wanted to.
He chews his lower lip and takes the couple strides to her bed. She scoots over to make room for him at the end. He perches himself on the edge, legs spread wide, elbows resting on his knees, arms dangling between his thighs. They don't speak for a long while, but it's not uncomfortable. Then, out of nowhere, Carol snorts.
“Hm?” Daryl asks. She shakes her head with a bemused grin.
“I think I remember part of my dream,” she says, and Daryl braces himself for descriptions of her baby girl ambling out of a rundown barn onto the blood soaked field, but, to his surprise, she laughs.
“What was it?”
“I don't remember the details,” she says, hands folded across her belly, eyes trained on the bunk above her, thinking hard. “But I think it was about Anthony Reinhardt.”
“Who?” Daryl asks, wracking his brain and coming up empty on the name. Carol grins at him, this time looking bashful.
“He was my high school boyfriend,” she tells him.
“Pfft,” Daryl says. “What're you crying over him for?”
Shrugging, she says, “I couldn't tell you. I really don't remember most of it. I'm sure there was more to it, but I just know he was in it. Maybe a walker got him? Or maybe just remembering that asshole got me weepy, who knows?”
“Why, what'd he do to you?” Daryl asks, bristling, as though he's preparing to go throw down with some random kid from Carol's past.
“Oh nothing like that,” she says, waving a dismissive hand, erasing any insinuations that Anthony Reinhardt was anything like her piece of shit husband. “He was my first real heartbreak, though. He ditched me halfway through prom night to go hook up with Jessica Finke in the back of his daddy's pick-up truck.”
“What a dick,” Daryl says, not entirely sure what he's supposed to say to a blast from the past like that, especially considering it isn't his memory.
“Wasn't he, though?” Carol agrees. “But it's okay. Everyone said he definitely downgraded.” She nudges him with a bent knee. “You wanna know a secret?”
“I used to be really hot.”
Well, that's certainly a catch-22, Daryl thinks. Does he say something to the effect of, “Did you now?” implying she's not still hot? Or does he go the, “What do you mean 'used to’?” route and out himself as secretly thinking she's one of the better things to look at on a day-to-day basis?
Predictably, he goes his usual way and says nothing. Carol doesn't seem to mind.
“I had this gorgeous, long, curly, red hair,” she says, somewhat wistfully, her fingers threading lightly through the cropped grey strands on her head.
“Bet Jessica Finke didn't have nothin’ on you,” Daryl mutters. Carol beams at him.
“Jessica Finke looked like a toad,” she says, and Daryl snorts.
“So were you one of them popular girls? Cheerleader? Prom queen?”
“I was somewhere in the middle,” she says. “I did do cheer my sophomore and junior years of high school, though. But I twisted my ankle at the end of the second season, and was too caught up in having a boyfriend to bother with it the next year.”
Daryl imagines a younger Carol, with red curls, bouncing around in a cheer uniform, waving pompoms, and he's equal parts perplexed at the image, and shamefully kind of into it.
“So you was one of them types of girls who wouldn't have given me the time of day, huh?” he asks, twitching his mouth up a little so she knows his self-deprecation is purely in jest.
“I would have!” she insists, pulling herself up into a sitting position, abashed. Daryl looks at her skeptically.
“A hot cheerleader?” he says. “Yeah right.”
“I wasn't even a good cheerleader. I was always bottom of the pyramid. Besides, I only joined because I didn't want people knowing the truth about me.”
“That I was some broke country hick,” she says. “My commute to school was 45 minutes one way, and I had to work two part-time jobs to afford my old gas guzzling beater, because my daddy sure as hell couldn't afford it.”
“What about your momma?”
“Even if she had the money, which I doubt, she wasn't around to lend any. She'd always wanted to be a singer, you see? So she'd do these open mic nights at the local bar, and some guy took a shine to her, talked to her all pretty like, and convinced her to run away with him to Nashville. Closest she ever got to country stardom was working ticket sales for a show at the Grand Ole Opry. She stayed with the guy, though. I visited her a couple times, before she stopped answering the phone, and I stopped calling.”
“So just you and your daddy?”
“Mhm. And he still expected me to keep the house tidy and dinner on the table, like him serving my momma divorce papers meant I now had her duties.”
“So to feel better about all'a that you became a hot cheerleader?”
“You're really hung up on that cheerleader thing,” Carol says with a mischievous grin. “Were you sweet on the cheerleaders at your school or somethin’?”
Daryl snorts loud. “Like it woulda made a lick o' difference one way or another,” he says. “There weren't no cheerleader in Georgia who woulda paid me any mind.”
“I would have.”
“Nah. You think I'm quiet and unfriendly now, you shoulda seen me in high school. Did my best to be as invisible as possible. Sat in the back rows of every class and pro'ly said ten words the whole four years. Ain't no way a pretty little thing like you would have cared one way or another if I was there.”
“I still say I would have. You'd have smelled the white trash on me from a mile away.”
“Maybe, but I wouldn't have blown your cover. Wouldn't have wanted to hurt your chances with Anthony.”
“God forbid,” Carol says wisely. “He really was an asshole. Not like Ed was an asshole, but just so full of himself. Wore me on his arm like a trophy.”
“Why'd you give a shit if he fucked another girl, then? Good riddance it sounds like to me.”
“Well, it definitely hurt the ego. How'd you feel if your girlfriend ditched you at prom to go screw around with someone else?”
“I'd wonder how the hell I got tricked into going to prom, and who was paying the chick to be my date.”
“Oh stop it,” Carol laughs, smacking his arm. “You know what I meant. Besides, you wanna know the real reason I was so upset he broke up with me?”
“He was the first, and to this day, only guy to ever get me off.”
Daryl goes scarlet instantaneously. What in the ever-loving fuck is he supposed to say to that?
“You're blushing, Daryl.”
“Well, I came in here 'cause you were cryin’, and now you're tellin’ me about some kid who got you off in high school.”
“Hey, you asked why I was upset about him.”
“Remind me not to ask questions next time. Don't need you tellin’ me about losing your virginity.”
“Oh, he's not who I lost my virginity to,” Carol says. “That's a whole other story.”
The hole Daryl has unwittingly dug is getting deeper by the second.
“Aren’t you gonna ask?”
“Should I ask about your first time?”
“ No .”
“That bad, huh?”
“Shouldn’t you go back to sleep?”
“I can't now , not when this conversation is just getting fun. Do you know how long it's been since I've talked about something so stupid and mindless? It's refreshing.”
She looks so relaxed, and it's such a sight better than her in tears that Daryl feels what little is left of his resolve weakening. She could talk him right off of a cliff if she batted her eyelashes at him enough times.
“This Anthony kid? He really the only one who ever did it for you?” It's a safe enough question. It keeps the focus off of Daryl and lets her stroll down memory lane.
“Sure was,” Carol says with a sigh. “Not that I got around that much, but still, with the ones I did fool around with? Quite disappointing.”
“What made that kid so special?” Daryl asks, chewing on a cuticle, pointedly not looking at her.
“You really want to know?”
Daryl's made uncomfortable by the fact that he actually does kind of wants to know. He shrugs—it’s the closest to a yes he'll give her—and let's her decide if she wants to extrapolate.
“Let’s just say he...enjoyed extracurricular activities.”
Daryl actually looks at her in order to give her a frown. “What?” he asks.
“He was less about the main course and more about the hor d’oeuvres.” Daryl stares blankly at her, and she huffs. “He ate me out, Daryl!”
“What, and them other guys didn't?” he asks, crease between his brows.
“All the others said it was gross. One even said it was 'emasculating.’”
“Pfft,” is what Daryl has to say to that. Carol looks at him curiously.
“What?” she asks.
Daryl shrugs, face growing hot again. “Dunno,” he mumbles. “Just... that's just dumb as hell.”
“Daryl,” Carol says with a creeping smile. “Did I just learn something new about you?”
What exactly, Daryl wonders, would the consequences be if he just ran out of this cell right now? He clears his throat and lets his silence speak for itself.
“The only time I even suggested the idea to Ed I swear to God he actually gagged. I guess I always just figured Anthony was some kind of marvel, and most other men didn't do that for their women. Not that that ever stopped them from expecting their women to swallow their pride, if you'll pardon the expression.”
Daryl picks at a hangnail. What the hell, right?
“Merle came home from the bars one night, drunk as a skunk, rantin’ and ravin’ about some girl he'd tried to get with out behind the dumpsters or some shit, and I remember him makin’ such a big-ass deal out of her 'not takin’ care of him,’ and like, I knew better than to say anything, right? But I didn't get it. All his friends were like that, too, always bitchin’ about these pretty girls who could do so much better than them. Like their dumbasses had any right to complain.”
Carol's watching him closely. She's fiddling with the stud of her earring, and the tip of her tongue is wetting her bottom lip.
“You must have made women very happy,” she says, and Daryl's torn between mortification and laughing out loud. Yes, he of all people, Daryl fucking Dixon, was such a ladies’ man in his youth.
Yeah fucking right.
“You know this is still me we're talkin’ about, right?”
“So?” she asks, as if she really can't fathom why he might not be drowning in pussy.
“Pfft,” he replies.
“No, really. You're a helluva lot better a man than any of the ones I've ever met.”
“Even Anthony?” he tries to joke, but Carol narrows her eyes at him. He sighs; shrugs. “The opportunities were far and few between,” he tells her, voice tight. “And I doubt I've ever made a woman happy my whole life.”
“You make me happy,” Carol says immediately. Daryl swallows.
“Not like the way you're talkin’ about,” he mumbles.
The silence that follows is different; charged and tense. Daryl loops a loose piece of thread from the mattress around his pinky finger and tries to pretend he doesn't know her eyes are boring into his skull.
“You could.” Her voice is small, maybe a little uncertain, but it's not shy. She's not playing shy anymore, she's just letting him in on a simple fact.
You could , she says.
You can , right now, if he wants
You can have me right fucking now, is what she's saying.
He was supposed to be comforting her from a nightmare, for God's sake.
He's not gonna fuck her. Not now, not like this, not on some sort of whim in the middle of the night. Fucking her doesn't have to be a fireworks show, but if he's gonna do it (and he hopes that someday he will) then he intends to do it properly.
He's not going to kiss her, even though he thinks about it at least ten times a day. Maybe it's kind of Pretty Woman of him, but he hasn't kissed very many people, and even fewer did he care about, so he may be a grown man, but the act is still fairly new, and if he's fawning over Carol like a dumb teenager with butterflies and half a stiffy, he wants kissing her to be special.
But she wants him to make her happy? Well, that much he can do.
He drums his fingers on his thigh a few times, before snaking his hand over to where she's got one leg bent. Without looking at her, he finds the bare skin of her ankle, and pushes his hand beneath her loose pants to slide his fingers up her shin. Tiny hairs she hasn't shaved tickle him, and he hears her inhale sharply.
With immense effort, he forces himself to face her. It's a lot to take in—more than he expected. Her pupils are blown wide, her chest rising up and down hard, and she's biting her lower lip. Meanwhile, he's got a hand shoved up her pant leg and is gaping at her like a kid leafing through his first dirty magazine.
“Daryl…?” She trails off and he shakes his head.
“Lay back,” he somehow manages to say. She blinks at him, before laying down on the mattress again. She pushes the part of the blanket still covering her to the side, and Daryl can see her stomach pulled taut where her tank top has pushed up. She's braless, and under the thin fabric of her undershirt her nipples are standing at attention, and all he's done is feel up her ankle. She's looking at him like she's starving, and he's looking at her like a meal.
He finally gets his shit together enough to pull his hand from her pant leg. He scoots up further onto the bed and gets on his knees in front of her. The way her legs open for him seems almost involuntary. He tries to hide his shaking as he fumbles with the button on her fly. He undoes it and immediately leans back, watching her warily, as though he just cut an uncertain wire on a bomb he's trying to defuse. But he's met with no resistance. And she would tell him to stop if she wanted him to, he knows that much. Because they trust each other implicitly. That remains fact, even if all of this is sudden, untrodden territory.
Briefly, Daryl considers the lantern, casting their shadows on the hanging curtain above the door. This may be quite the show for someone walking by, but when he weighs the pros and cons, he decides to let it be. He doesn't want to do this in the dark. He wants to see her.
He takes hold of the waistband of her pants, and she lifts her hips for him. He shimmies them down her thighs, while she watches him steadily. She kicks them off the rest of the way, and they're quickly forgotten in a pool by Daryl's knee. He slides a palm up the length of her newly exposed legs. She's got two or three big freckles adorning them, and a litany of scars and bruises from a traumatic past and a violent present. Even still, she's soft like silk to the touch, and Daryl can't help but lean down and brush his lips along the skin just above her knee. She makes a tiny noise in the back of her throat that goes directly to his cock.
Maybe they should talk about this first. Maybe they should address some elephants before lines are stepped over that they can't go back on. Maybe maybe maybe, thinks Daryl, as his hands find the elastic of her panties and his mouth remains shut.
Her panties are cotton and unremarkable, except for the wet patch right there in the center where he's managed to get her to soak them clear through. His famished ego will be able to live on that thought alone for two weeks, at least.
He peels them down, over her small feet and off her body, and discards them carelessly somewhere on the floor. She's spread out wide on a display just for him, and he wonders if this is what those bougie fucks at museums feel like when they see a remarkable piece of art.
He tears himself away long enough to check in with her. She meets his eye and quickly averts it, a deep-seated ghost of insecurity she hasn't quite been able to exorcise rattling around inside her. She doesn't need to say it. He's got the same demons inside.
He wants to tell her that if this is what 'used to be hot’ looks like, then young her would have straight up killed him, because his heart's barely holding together as it is.
He wants to tell her that anyone who ever made her think touching her body was a chore instead of a privilege was wrong .
He wants to tell her she's beautiful.
He wants to, but he can't, because he has his own scars and own limitations, but he takes a moment to reach out and give her hand a squeeze. Her eyes find his again, and her smile tells him that she hears him without needing a single word spoken, because she's the only one who ever bothered to not just know him, but understand him.
God, she's a gift, and somehow he's allowed to open her. It seems miracles do happen after all, even at the end of the world.
He places a few gentle kisses on her lower abdomen. He loves how women, no matter their size, always seem to carry a little belly pooch just above their pelvis. He loves that, even though she's toned and strong now, she's still got a bit of softness. He nips lightly at her skin, and she makes a noise of surprise as she jolts.
He can smell her. He'd love it regardless, but in a world full of rot and decay, her scent is like the finest perfume. Fools, that's what he thinks of the men who have had her before, absolute fools. He moves his kisses downwards, in the crease where her pelvic bone meets her leg, and the muscles in her leg contract. She's got thin, dark hair that tickles his nose. He's always preferred his women natural, like the woodsman he is, and it's even better on her.
As a test run, he slides one finger inside her. Her breath stutters as the pad of his index finger presses against her wet walls. She expands and contracts around him, and he's officially run out of patience.
He removes his finger, but before she can protest, he replaces it with his mouth and starts fucking her with his tongue. He goes in as far as he can, lapping her up and living for it. He indulges himself a few more seconds; this part is for him, but he's supposed to be doing this for her.
He pulls away and remembers that he should breathe. His lungs ache as he sucks in air, but he ignores it. He's had a taste and is now an addict. He uses two fingers to hold her labia open, and drags his tongue in one long lick from her entrance to where he knows she wants him to be.
Her clit is engorged, pulsing under his lips as he sucks on it gently. Carol is whimpering again, but these sounds aren't from tears. He lets her little mewls egg him on, using the tip of his tongue to start an easy, steady rhythm around her clit. He adjusts it as he reads her body. A little harder. A little faster. Counterclockwise. He learns how she likes it quickly and implements it like a pro.
While his mouth is at work, he slides two fingers inside her. He hooks them and motions 'come hither’ roughly, aiming for that elusive G. The action makes her give a single cry, and her hand finds his hair, tugging on his scalp in a way that only serves to encourage him.
“Fuck,” she says breathlessly. “Fuck, Daryl, fuck .” She's seemed to forgotten most of her vocabulary, and isn't that the dream? To pleasure someone so thoroughly that they forget their native tongue?
Her orgasm starts in her lower belly, in the muscles under that little pooch. He feels them go rigid, and her thighs tense, threatening to cave in on him. Inside, her walls clamp tight around his fingers, drenching his whole hand. The hand not in his hair is balled into a fist, and she's biting it, trying and failing to keep herself muffled as she comes undone. Daryl doesn't stop the steady rhythm of his tongue—not until the very last shudder has rolled through her body. Only then, when the grip on him loosens and she goes slack, does he pull his fingers out and pull back his head.
He looks to her for approval, and he finds it immediately. She's staring at him, awed, almost like she's lucky—almost like she can't believe she has him, and isn't that silly? How ass backwards she has it?
“Let me—” she starts, reaching towards where he's straining against his pants, but he catches her by the wrists to still her. He drops a kiss on her hands to let her know she's not doing anything wrong, but tonight isn't about him. Obviously he's turned on as hell by her, she can see it plain as day, so he doesn't worry about her doubting that, but he's not ready for her touch yet.
When he lets her go her arms hover in the air for a moment, before she gives a small nod and pulls them back. Later, he knows she understands, when he can handle it.
He chews his bottom lip, which still tastes of her, and drapes her blanket back over her body. It's a silly gesture, because he knows the second he leaves she's going to get up to put her clothes back on, but it feels right so he does it.
Her eyes follow him as he gets to his feet, the joints in his knees cracking and stiff. He hovers above her for a moment.
“No more nightmares tonight,” she tells him. “You fixed that, I think.”
Daryl grants her a small smile. He pushes a strand of hair off her face and nods. They say goodnight without words, and he shows himself out of her cell, the lantern flicking off behind him.
On his perch, he lays on his back, the scent of her still lingering. Maybe he shouldn't have. Maybe it had been a bad idea. It doesn't matter, though, it never would have.
He simply can't handle it when she cries.