Disclaimer:

I do not own the rights to anything pertaining to The Walking Dead. Including their characters, plot or dialogue. I have merely borrowed them for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended.

A Good Man

Daryl stomped around setting up his new camp. He was so angry and he barely even understood why.

How could she say that? That wasn't her little girl, it was some other…thing? After all he went through trying to find her little girl, how could she not even go to her funeral?

Daryl was confused by his own reaction to Carol's words. What did it matter to him after all? He didn't know why her words had felt like a knife to the gut. Or why he felt so bereft standing at Sophia's grave without Carol beside him.

What the hell was wrong with him? And why couldn't everyone just leave him be?

First Lori comes wanting him to go fetch Rick and Hershel from town, like they were errant children and he was their keeper. He told her he was done being errand boy to this group. And if that wasn't enough, Carol herself shows up later asking if he's seen Lori. Apparently the dumb broad decided to take off and try to find Rick and Hershel herself.

He felt a twinge of guilt at that, but brushed it aside.

Hadn't he just spent days on end looking for Sophia? With little or no help from the rest of the group? Why should he go looking for grown ass men who knew where they were when no one cared enough to look for that little girl lost in the woods? Maybe if they had all tried harder, they would have found her before it was too late.

He stomped over to the tree line to pick up a few more sticks and pieces of wood for his fire.

As he came back into his new camp, he saw her standing there. Looking at his kills, the walker ears he had strung up as a reminder of just how close to death he had come. Anger flooded him again.

What was she doing here? Why couldn't she just leave him alone?

His own grief and guilt filled him and he lashed out at her without thinking.

"What are you doin'?"

"Keeping an eye on you." She whirled around to him as he stalked up behind her.

"Ain't you a peach." He was already pacing back and forth in front of her, angry that she had invaded his space again.

"I'm not gonna let you pull away. You've earned your place."

He turned at that and moved toward her. "If you'd spent half a your time mindin' your daughter's business instead of stickin' your nose in ever'body else's, she'd still be alive!"

"Go ahead."

"Go ahead and what?" He stepped back at the look in her eyes. But he didn't let himself think on it.

"Man, just go. I don't want you here." He slung the words at her like bolts from his crossbow, and still she stood her ground. Just looking at him.

What did she want from him anyway?

"You're a real piece a work, lady." He got in her face again, pointing at her. Then he started pacing again.

"What, are you gonna make this about my daddy, or some crap like that? Man, you don't know jack." He paced back toward her. "You're afraid. You're afraid, 'cause you're all alone. You got no husband, no daughter. You don't know what to do with yourself." Getting in her face again, he shouted, "Hey, you ain't my problem. SOPHIA WASN'T MINE! ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS KEEP AN EYE ON HER!" And there it was. His grief, anger and guilt brought it all out in that last shout and even he felt how cruel his words were. He couldn't believe that he had actually uttered them aloud to her.

Carol jerked as if he had slapped her, and in a sense he had. Sucker punched would be more like it. The pain in her eyes, brought him back to the realization that this was her DAUGHTER he was talking about. And God help him, but he just realized that he felt like she HAD been his, too.

"Yeah." she whispered, and something inside of him broke. He realized just how much he cared about this woman, and how much he had wanted to find her girl and bring her home to her mother. He wanted to see her smile again. See her eyes light up like they did only when she looked at her little girl. And he realized that he had secretly hoped that maybe she would grace him with that smile, that look, if he found Sophia for her.

But that was all over now. The moment Sophia had stumbled out of that barn a walker, he knew that all hope was lost. Whatever future he had imagined with them was gone. He had failed her. Holding her back from running to the corpse of her girl, had been the hardest thing he'd ever done. He should have been the one to put Sophia down. Somehow, it felt like it had been his responsibility, but he was glad that Rick was the one who did it. He didn't think he would have been able to do it, and that bothered him even more.

When had this woman and her daughter become so important to him?

Why didn't he try harder? Why didn't he keep searching that first night? He could have found her, given enough time, he was sure of it, but all this time, she had been locked in that damn barn with those other walkers, just another undead THING.

Carol was looking at him with the eyes of a wounded animal and he couldn't take it. He didn't know what to do, except grab her and pull her into his arms. So he did. He cradled her head with his palm and lowered his own forehead into the curve of her neck. She stiffened at first, and he knew he had moved to quickly. She was so used to being hurt, that a man offering her comfort was still alien to her. But after a moment, she relaxed against him and wrapped her arms around him. She leaned into him and allowed herself to just soak up some of the strength he seemed to exude. He could tell she was surprised. So was he. He had gotten so used to keeping everyone at arms length that holding someone close to him was an unfamiliar sensation.

He finally pulled back and looked at her. She lifted her eyes, and in them he saw his own guilt, grief and anger mirrored back. He also saw understanding. Somehow, she knew he was hurting for her and her girl. Grieving for what could have been.

Did she realize how important they had become to him?

"I told you before, Daryl. You did more for my little girl than her own daddy ever did in his whole life. I wish you and she could have had the chance to get to know each other better. You and she were so much alike, she could have been yours." Carol whispered those words to him and he felt them wash over his spirit like a cool breeze. The tears in his eyes answered her own as he bent forward and brushed her lips softly with his. He pulled away and looked into her eyes again. Searching for something, he knew not what. She smiled at him and moved forward, gently kissing him back.

Was this really happening? Did Carol even realize what she was doing?

His mind frantically searched for something to say, to ask, to make sure they were both on the same page.

As if reading his mind, she took his hand and led him over to the fire. Pulling him down beside her. They sat in silence for a while. Each lost in thought, but relishing the comfort brought by the mere presence of the other.

"Carol? I'm so sorry. I should have found her for you. If I had stayed closer to you both on the highway, I could have been there in time. I could have gone after her with Rick and brought her back. I-" he stopped talking as Carol placed her fingers over his lips. She smiled sadly at him and shook her head.

"No, Daryl. None of this was your fault. You can't blame yourself for any of it. If anyone is to blame it has to be on me. I was her mother. You were right that I should have watched her better, kept her closer to me. She was just a little girl. I was supposed to protect her. We were not your responsibility and you had no obligation to us. And even if you had, you were getting gas for the vehicles and saving T-Dog's life. None of it is on you." He took her hand and held it in his own.

"I'm sorry I said that to you. I never should have. You aren't to blame for what happened either. That herd came through so fast, it was all we could do to hide. You were a good mother to her. You ARE a good mother."

"Maybe it's better this way, Daryl. I don't know how long I'll be able to keep myself alive. What would have happened to her if I had died and she was all alone?" She stared into the fire sadly as she spoke, and Daryl felt a shiver of alarm course through him.

"Don't talk like that, woman. I'll do whatever I have to in order to keep you alive, and I woulda done the same if you had died and Sophia was still here. I'd a took care of her." He felt her searching his eyes for the truth and held her gaze, wanting her to know he meant every word. She smiled again and her whole face softened. She placed her hand against his cheek and leaned in to plant a kiss on his lips.

"You are a good man, Daryl Dixon. Don't let anyone tell you any different." she spoke softly and earnestly, and his heart thrilled at her words. He couldn't recall anyone calling him a good man before her.

Why was she so kind to him? Could she really have any feelings for someone like him? A sudden thought struck him and caused a sinking sensation in his stomach.

Maybe she just felt obligated to him. For all the searching he did for Sophia.

Carol knew the instant he thought it that something was wrong. He stiffened against her and his face at once became guarded and wary.

"Don't pull away from me, Daryl. I meant what I said. I've never met another man like you before, and I wish to God I had found you before I ever met Ed. You would have been such a good daddy for Sophia." She smiled again, and patted his cheek.

He watched her as she got up and dusted herself off, preparing to go back to the farmhouse. Suddenly, he didn't want her to go. He thought that he wanted to be left alone out here, but now the thought of her leaving him sitting there, was unbearable.

"Wait, Carol." He jumped up and grabbed her hand. She turned to him, surprise written on her face. She had been afraid that she had exposed too much of how she felt about him and she didn't want to drive him away.

"What is it, Daryl? What's wrong?" She looked into his panicked face with a frown of confusion on her own.

"I- uh,…" He gulped and started again.

"Don't go. Please. Just- I want you to stay with me. I mean, if you want to." He floundered about, and she could tell his face was flushed even by firelight.

"Alright. I'll stay." She had been dreading going back to the farm anyway. The others were walking on eggshells around her right now, and Daryl was the only one not acting like she was gonna do something crazy at any moment. After all, she had lost her daughter, not her mind.

They sat back down by the fire, and she looked over at him for a while.

"What?" he was getting uncomfortable with the look she was giving him.

"Nothing, I just … Daryl, I just want you to know that you are the best friend I think I have ever had. And I want you to know that I care about you." He looked startled and she quickly added,

"After everything that has happened, I wanted to make sure I told you. We were never guaranteed a tomorrow, but with the world now? I wanted you to know how much you mean to me."

He ducked his head, but she thought she caught a glimpse of his smile. After a moment, he reached over and hauled her up next to him, leaving his arm around her waist. She laid her head on his shoulder and wondered where this relationship was going. As she stared into the fire, she decided that it didn't matter. Right now, she felt safe and at peace for the first time in a very long time, and it was enough. Tomorrow would come soon, and all of the problems that this new world brings with it, but for tonight, she would bask in the warmth of the fire and allow her soul a chance to begin to heal with the man sitting beside her.