I'm not sure how I feel about this one. I woke up in the middle of last night and wrote the whole thing in my head. I sat down to write it today and it just fell out. I don't know how long this urge to write will last, so I'm riding the wave – gotta get all the feels out before the mid-season premiere.

Parts of this story might be upsetting to some folks. Sorry about that. It was unsettling to me, too.

Disclaimer: The Walking Dead does not belong to me.

Merle was dead.

Time shifted and flowed in a way that it shouldn't. Some moments were crystal clear, crawling at impossibly slow speeds as though they would never end. And sometimes everything blurred past, leaving Daryl with only the vaguest memory of what happened around him and uncertainty as to his own actions.

He remembered tracking Merle and Michonne, and finding Michonne walking back to the prison. He remembered the sick realization of where Merle must have gone. What he must have done.

The first blur happened as he approached the granary where Rick and the Governor had their meeting. There was clarity only in the sound of broken glass crunching under his feet and the feel of the grit between the palms of his hands and his crossbow. There was a vague awareness of carnage and bodies moving that shouldn't. They weren't important.

Merle was dead.

Merle should be alive. He should be alive forever. To Daryl, he was permanent – always existed, always would. He was as much an eternal part of the earth as air, water, and stone. There couldn't be a world without Merle. It wasn't possible.

But those eyes. He remembered the eyes, raising up to fix on him. Filmy and full of insatiable hunger, focused on him without recognition, seeing only food. He was pulled into those eyes for eternity, in the same way Merle had always pulled him in – with guilt and pain and rage. Clouded eyes filled with blood that spilled out into the world, flowing outward, coloring everything red. Whatever happened at the granary, Daryl only remembered those terrible eyes and the flowing red blood.

Time slipped and he was home. As he entered the prison yard, the world slowed again as people – too many people – came at him. Talking and questions and worried looks. People tried to touch him. Too many people, too many voices. Words stretched and distorted until they had no meaning. He touched the fence, feeling the cold metal digging into his skin as he threaded his fingers through and squeezed. The fence was real. The fence held him down and kept him from disappearing into the sky. If he let go, would he find Merle?

Then people were gone and the fence was gone, too. He wondered where it went.

He was inside. No fence, no sky. Just concrete and steel. The walls of his cell seemed terribly cold and empty. He stood in the middle, focused on a crack that went from one corner of the floor along the bottom of the wall all the way to the other corner. How had it gotten there? Something so strong shouldn't break like that. It must have been an earthquake – did Georgia have earthquakes? He couldn't remember. Something must have shaken the building, shifting its very foundation until the structure was left broken. He thought the crack must run very deep, down to the roots of the building and into the earth.

There were no earthquakes in Georgia.

Voices came and went, asking and talking and pushing food at him that made his stomach turn. Time slipped and it was dark. He was sitting on his bunk. His head must have been very heavy because he was holding it in his hands, elbows braced on his knees.

Merle was dead.

There were candles now, giving a soft soothing light in the blackness. It was quiet, the voices gone, sleeping. He was still on his bunk. Someone was beside him. Someone had been beside him, he knew now. Not a voice, but a presence. Not pushing, not asking, not touching.

He'd never felt alone before. Lonely, yes. His childhood had been terribly lonely after mama died, but he was never, ever alone. His whole life was lived in the shadow of his brother. Even when Merle was in juvie or prison or just gone...he was there. As Daryl grew up, that was just how it was. Lonely, but never alone. After Merle disappeared from that Atlanta rooftop, Daryl knew he still wasn't alone. Knew his brother was alive out there somewhere. But now he was truly alone.

His brother was dead.

His brother. His own blood. The last of his family was dead, and he was all alone.

It happened then. His world shifted and the crack in his heart split open and all the pain and rage and crushing grief flooded him in waves that threatened to pull him down into blackness. He was afraid. And he was alone.

But he wasn't. The presence beside him remained. She didn't speak or reach for him to stop his tears. She just was. The candles flickered, the warm light flowing over her skin like a living thing. Carol.

But the terrible aloneness clawed at him, fueling a need to fill that emptiness. His hand snapped out to catch her wrist. He didn't mean to do it. There was no intent, only instinct, and he needed not to be alone. He needed to be alive as Merle could not. He pulled her to him, buried his face in the crook of her neck, and clung to her as though to bring her into him through his very skin to fill the void directly. Dimly, he was aware that he must be hurting her – his hands were splayed, fingers digging into her flesh through her sweater, but he couldn't stop. Didn't want to stop. He needed her.

Her arms were wrapped tightly around him, her cheek warming his ear. He nuzzled into her neck, breathing her in, hands moving over her back, grasping at her body. Her fingers clutched at him and threaded through his hair. He grew hard for her, wanting. Needing.

Pushing her back until she lay against his pillow, he tugged roughly at her waistband. She pushed his hands away and unbuttoned her pants. He sat back far enough to pull off her boots. When her pants were loosened, he stripped them from her. He put his hand to her, making her suck in a breath. His fingers came back slick. He undid his own pants and shoved them down just far enough to free his straining erection. Nudging her legs apart, he guided his cock with one hand and pushed deep into her. A groan tore from his throat as he began to move, thrusting into her hard with the intensity of his need. He lost himself in her, nose buried in her neck, cock buried between her legs...

All at once, time slowed again as the shocking realization of what he was doing hit him like a fist to the face, bringing him back to himself as he hadn't been since finding his brother. His movements faltered. This was Carol. He was fucking Carol like she belonged to him. Using her. He hadn't asked her, hadn't checked with her to make sure she was OK with this. He was bareback, for fuck's sake.

But almost as soon as he hesitated, her legs squeezed tight around him, driving him deeper into her, and making him choke out a sob. He picked up his rhythm again, building rapidly to a shuddering release. He slumped down, spent. She held him close and let him press his forehead to her chest. When he regained his breath and his senses, he rolled to the side, slipping out of her. With a gentle touch to his cheek, she slid to the edge of the bunk and stood to dress herself again.

The aloneness howled inside him, unsatisfied.

She was leaving him. Daryl tucked himself back into his pants as shame washed over him. Now that it was over, he could see how pathetic it was – sad man desperately groping at the nearest warm body. He rolled to face the wall, hunched into himself so she wouldn't have to look at him while she made her escape. The pain and rage he'd felt when his heart cracked open had flowed away. All that remained was that aching, empty sorrow, which left him drained.

Then the mattress shifted as her slight weight settled onto it again. She stretched out on the bunk behind him, slipping in like she belonged. She wasn't leaving him. He felt her grip on his shoulder, pulling him away from the wall, making him turn to her. Her hand found his face, dragging his eyes to hers, and instead of the accusation or betrayal he expected to see, he found himself pulled into her eyes the way she always drew him to her – with tenderness and understanding and love.

Merle was dead.

But Daryl wasn't alone.