AN: I started writing this story after the pitiful first viewing of 'Alone' though live feed. Hanging out in chat, the response to this episode by and large was hysteria. What I was hearing about the bits that froze out of my live feed, like 'the look' across the breakfast table, made me furiously angry, made me doubt Caryl, made me want to flog Daryl with a rubber hose. So, I wrote angry fic. Before I finished it, I re-watched the episode, properly, on a big screen. I ranted and raved about what was about to happen to my daughter, then I calmed myself down enough to actually watch. I expected to see the revolting evidence of bedroom eyes and potential romance. I didn't see it. I, in fact, saw a very sad Daryl who found it too easy to accept that everyone he loved was dead, grasping at this place with the promise of a bit of lightness with the desperation of a drowning man. This then became problematic in finishing this angry fic, which is now kind of just disappointed fic. I'm not sure if it can make the leap to happy fic, or at the very least content fic, but I will give it a try. It might end up with a smutty ending, or it might end up something else entirely. All I can promise is that it will be giving Carol the space and love she deserves, because after The Grove, that woman needs a whole lot of something to make things better. I don't know if Daryl can be that for her now. If it makes you feel anything at all, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Beyond These Walls
"Where are you goin'?"
Carol stopped walking, her pack heavy on her back, and stared forward, trying desperately to ignore the huge block weighing heavily on her heart. "Away."
"What do you mean, away?"
He was advancing on her, walking around her rigid body so he could look into her face and Carol feared the moment she'd have to look right at him and know it would be the last time. Truth be told, she was tired of seeing faces. The people she'd loved for the last two years felt like strangers to her—she'd never escape their suspicious glances, their half-hearted attempts to trust her. She wasn't going to live like that—she wasn't afraid to be alone anymore, and if being alone meant a shorter life, well, she'd made peace with that, too.
She looked through him once he'd got into position, ducking down to try and gain her attention, but Carol was determined. She couldn't look at him because if she did, Beth's face replaced his and that clamp that was squeezing her heart until it pinched and forced her to cry out would jump right back in until it destroyed her.
"There's a place for me, Daryl," she said at last, congratulating herself that she'd kept her voice strong, no-nonsense. "It just isn't here." She made it three steps before he'd clasped his fingers around her arm and forced her to stop moving.
"The hell are you talkin' about? We all only just got here. Rick forgave you. It's over."
The words that were meant to give her comfort just destroyed her more. She knew, then. Knew that she was no longer the Carol they all thought they knew. Not the Carol that Ed taught to wither away and cower, not the woman desperately finding her way in a dangerous world, not a mother trying to keep her children alive, not a friend that Daryl relied on to help him through his darker moments. She was somebody different now and she had to get away from all these people so she could figure out who that person was. Besides, she didn't give a shit if Rick forgave her. All of them sitting on their high horses had nothing to do with her anymore. She'd kept Judith alive and that was her last commitment to any of them.
A not-so-subtle jerk of her arm forced his grip to loosen and then his hand dropped away completely. She should have felt lighter, but heartache was a force that only grew in its burden. She put one foot in front of the other, making it to the gate and with a nod, the man there let her through. She ran her fingers over the hilt of her knife, took a deep breath and quickly ran through her reasons for leaving before exhaling and taking that first step away from safety.
She was at least half a mile, tears streaking down her face, before she realised Daryl hadn't let her go.
"You wanna tell me why we all busted a nut to find this place and you're in such a rush to leave it? You got any idea what we went through to get here?"
The sound of his voice had shocked her, made her heart pound in surprise, until his words struck against the wound she'd been trying to hold closed inside and tore it clean open.
"No, Daryl. I have no idea what you went through," she bit out bitterly, feeling not an ounce of shame over the tears that continued falling. Faces flew through her head, too many, too fast and she gasped, trying to catch her breath. "I know what I went through. I watched Tyreese decide whether to kill me or forgive me. I watched Mika die, Lizzie die. I watched my own daughter die again and again, over and over, and I couldn't do a damn thing about it but try and get Judith to safety, to Rick, so I could just…leave. I didn't get to go play darts, or swig moonshine. I didn't get to play house and decide that that place and that girl were the best things I could do with the rest of my life. I'm sorry that was all so hard for you, but Beth's right behind that gate, so go back and protect her. She expects it, and I don't need it."
He actually had the nerve to look hurt, and Carol closed off even more. She didn't care. Didn't want to care. Wouldn't care. She turned her back and kept on walking, sure that as soon as he stopped feeling wounded or rejected he'd turn back and leave her be.
"What is this?"
There was a hitch in his voice that stalled her movement yet again, but this time Carol just waited, having no more words for what this was. No words for what she was feeling besides being numb and betrayed and knowing that those were the last things she was ever going to reveal.
"You were right about Daryl."
Carol looked up from settling Judith, already tense from having Rick hovering at her elbow—she didn't know if he was hanging around because he was so relieved to see Judith alive and well or if he still didn't trust her to be alone with his daughter. Something in Beth's tone added to her apprehension, though, and Carol felt like she wanted to avoid continuing the conversation as well as she could.
"That's good to know." She made to walk away, passing Rick the soft blanket so he could cover Judy up and then she made to leave, hoping to get away from them both before Beth could open her mouth and say another word about Daryl. There was something about the way Beth looked at him now—in the way he looked back—that turned her stomach, and it was only after seeing Beth rush in and hug him for hardly any reason at all that Carol realised she was stone cold jealous.
"I really didn't get the hold Merle had on him before."
The walls jerked into place as soon as the 'Merle' word came out. Daryl didn't talk about Merle, not the true Merle, not to anyone but her. The girl chattered on, preparing Judy's bottles and small stash of toys while Carol's feet were frozen in place, left an unwilling witness to all the efforts Daryl made to not find them. The decision he'd made to stay with Beth in the funeral home before the girl was kidnapped. She felt sick and she had absolutely no right to. He was never hers, as much as she might have liked to think so, and apparently he'd made his choice while he was out on the road. Young, perky, beautiful Beth. Nausea was eating a hole in her stomach.
"You were lucky to be with Daryl, Beth," she said, knowing it was true enough, and then felt her insides clench as Beth smiled, one that said she was growing into a woman that was starting to understand her place in the world.
"I know," the girl admitted, folding up some of Judith's clothing. "I couldn't have been luckier."
Carol left without a word, ignoring Rick's concerned look as he swerved a narrowed gaze between the two women. She walked fast and his frantic calls fell around her like mist dissolving in the sunlight.
When the silence grew uncomfortable, she sighed, emotionally spent and resigned to ending it. She needed to walk, to find some place before dark to take shelter. To work out what in the hell she was going to do from this point forth.
"This is goodbye, Daryl. Please, just go back."
She didn't wait, pressed on, closed him out of her thoughts and senses, her fingers periodically ghosting back over her knife to make sure that she still had that, at least.
"No." His voice was hoarse and his face was ravaged with tumultuous emotions when he stumbled in front of her again, his hand placed right against her chest to stop her from getting any further. "I ain't losin' you again."
"You never lost me in the first place," she denied hotly, annoyed that he was in her face before she'd had the chance to compose her reaction. When you lost things you went looking for them. If she'd had any value for him at all, he'd have at least tried. "I'm not your problem, Daryl. I never have been, remember? So get out of my face now and just let me go. I'm not hurting anyone."
"You are." She saw tears then and wondered if maybe she was doing the right thing, and then Beth's eyes taunted her mind and she refused to be swayed.
She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and released it, hoping she'd lulled herself into a softness she truly didn't feel. "I don't mean to. I realise you care about me, Daryl, but right now I need to just leave. I need…I need some space to grieve. Can't you understand that?"
"No, I don't understand nothin'. It's like you're talkin' a different language. What's this 'you care about me' bullshit? What the fuck, Carol? You're the most important person I have left. I feel a hell of a lot more for you than just carin'."
She was pretty sure her heart stopped and she felt both hot and cold at once, a war of body temperature along with heart and mind. It seemed fitting when she was pretty sure her existence was being shredded between her guilt and responsibility.
"Please don't do this." Angry, useless sobs surged in her throat and she swallowed compulsively, trying desperately to keep a fresh onslaught of tears at bay until she could crawl into a corner somewhere and let herself finally break. Let the darkness creep in safely where she wasn't going to burden anyone with it until it ran itself out and some level of light could return. The pain of what she'd suffered was eclipsing everything else now and even Daryl and his perception of whatever he thought he was grieving over held little sway.
He reached for her and she stepped back fast, feeling her ankle jar before she steadied her stance and gathered up her courage.
"Don't do this now. It's too late."
He ignored all her signs then, the ones telling him to keep his distance, to stay out of her personal space and he lunged at her, gripping her arms too tightly for her to pull away. "You tell me what's too late?"
He crossed the line. Her heart was already raw. She wasn't cutting any more slices off it to make Daryl feel better. She'd been forced to make decisions that left her emotionally bare and numb, at least she'd thought she was spent, until Beth's glowing praise and sparkling eyes told a story of attraction to Daryl that she didn't think she could handle right now. She sucked in a gulp of air, tried to stem the shivers that ran through her body and left her heartsore and weak, and gathered the courage to give him the confrontation he was pushing her into.
"It's too late for Mika," she started, wincing as her voice cracked and Daryl flinched away. She shook her head, her bottom lip wobbling as the tidal wave of emotion started to break and rush toward shore. "It's too late for Lizzie." The girl's name slammed into a sob and she gave up trying to keep herself together, it was too late for just about everything. "I had to shoot that girl in the head, Daryl. I took her life after her father begged me to take her on as my own. My own, Daryl. I shot my daughter to keep Judith safe. To keep everyone safe. I wasn't out there giving up. I was trying to save those girls and instead, they're dead."
He looked haunted, like the slightest breath she took was loaded with the most accusation. She didn't care if he had time to process. She pushed his hands away and walked, hoping she could get to where she was going before the explosion of grief hit her too hard to keep herself safe.