When Carol woke up the next morning she intended on climbing out of bed and getting dressed while Daryl slept. She wanted to spare him any of the morning after awkwardness that he might be feeling. Carol didn't feel like there was anything they needed to talk about. What happened the night before was a natural progression in their relationship and she was perfectly comfortable with it. She worried that Daryl might wake up and freak out a bit, which was why she wanted to spare him by being up and dressed.
Nothing went the way she planned at all. When she went to get out of bed Daryl reached for her and pulled her back in, snuggling against her. "Are you okay?" he asked quietly.
Carol was surprised and turned to face him. "Yeah, of course," she smiled.
"Oh good," Daryl said. "I just didn't want to get up and act like nothing happened, ya know?"
Carol couldn't believe what she was hearing but she was very pleased and proud of him. "Well I hope it's going to happen again sometime," Carol replied. She was flirting in an attempt to keep the conversation light.
"Like right now?" Daryl asked, flirting back. Carol wasn't used to that either, but it was nice.
"I wish we could," Carol started. "But we really should get up and get moving." She did want to make love to him again, but she didn't want to come across to eager. He played right into her plan thought.
"It won't take long," he mumbled, seeking out her lips. He wasn't taking no for an answer and Carol gave in, easily. She couldn't believe that it was even better than their first time but their comfort level with each other had increased dramatically. Plus, the first time jitters were gone and the fact that neither had made love in years wasn't in play anymore. It made their second encounter all the more amazing and when it was over Carol couldn't help but wonder what the third time would bring.
If there weren't so many good reasons to get out of the house Carol might have had a hard time leaving. It was warm, clean, secure and filled with supplies. But their friends were still out there somewhere and she was terrified that the disturbed individual that owned the house might return.
They gathered up a few things to eat and headed out. Carol considered leaving a thank you note, but decided it was pointless. The owner was either going to be thankful they didn't loot everything or mad they had taken even one item. A note wasn't going to make a difference, especially to someone who was obviously mentally unstable and out of touch with the reality of the world they lived in. She considered the fact that perhaps they hadn't even taken enough to be noticed, but from the look of the place, everything neat, in order, lined up in perfect rows… whoever was there before them likely suffered from some level of OCD. They would notice anything even slightly out of order, like Kathy Bates character in Misery. Carol was just glad they wouldn't be around to suffer their punishment.
Once they disappeared back into the forest Daryl started watching for game. They got really lucky and he shot 2 rabbits. They were able to stop for a while, make a fire, and enjoy a delicious meal of roasted rabbit. The bunnies were small, but there was enough meat to satisfy their hunger for a while.
After putting out the fire they headed off again. Carol stopped for a minute to rest her shoulders from the heavy bag she was carrying. She set it down on the ground and noticed something. "Daryl, come here," she said excitedly. "Is this…"
"A fresh track," he finished with a proud smile. He started searching around a little more thoroughly and soon he found exactly what they had been looking for all day. A trail to follow. "I think there are at least 3 people," he muttered. "But it's almost as if there were two groups that came through here," Daryl said, bending down to point something out. "See how there seem to be three sets of prints walking side by side? And then they're trampled over by other prints?"
Carol tried to see what he was seeing, but she didn't understand. She pretended she understood and urged him on. "Yup."
"Well it could just be that there are others following behind, but my gut tells me there are two groups here," Daryl finished.
Carol was excited, "I wonder if some of the others have already found each other now?"
"Maybe," Daryl said. "Let's keep going before it gets too dark and I can't see the tracks anymore."
They kept walking. Dusk was quickly approaching, but there was still enough light for Daryl to find what he was looking for. Suddenly he stopped and turned to her, holding and hand up first, then a finger to his lips. Carol froze and kept quiet. Daryl motioned for her to come to him and she quietly crept to his side. He pointed through the trees and she could see a man standing there with a bow and arrow, and it looked like he was standing guard.
They heard voices, which sounded like they were fighting. One of them was familiar and Carol looked at him wide eyed, "Rick," she mouthed and Daryl nodded in confirmation. They needed to get closer to see what was going on, but the archer on guard had to be taken care of first. It was clear from the sound of the voices and the escalating arguing that Rick was in trouble. Daryl lifted the crossbow and aimed. The bolt took the guard right through the head and he dropped. Daryl took off towards him and Carol followed.
From their new position they could see Rick and Michonne surrounded by a group of strange men. One of them had his arm around Michonne's neck with a gun to her head. Another had a rifle aimed at Rick and they were yelling.
Daryl picked up the bow the man had dropped when he fell and handed it to her. Carol smiled, it felt good in her hands. It was a compound hunting bow. She'd never shot one before, but knew it was the same concept as what she'd used before. Daryl yanked the quiver off the limp body and handed it to her was well. She understood the plan. The only way to save both Rick and Michonne was a surprise attack. They both needed to shoot at the same time and take town the men who had their friends hostage. Once they were free there would be utter chaos and they could only hope they could take down the others without them or Rick and Michonne getting hurt.
Carol pulled out an arrow and got it ready when Daryl reloaded. He stepped close and whispered in her ear, "I'll take the guy holding Michonne, you get the one with the gun on Rick. If you miss, keep shooting and I'll try to back you." She nodded, but she wouldn't miss. Rick's life depended on her shot and she would make it sure and true. "On my nod," he whispered before moving into place.
Carol sucked in a breath, drew the arrow and aimed. When she saw Daryl nod in her peripheral vision she released. She didn't miss, but the arrow went through the man's shoulder. It wasn't a kill shot, but she wounded him. Rick sprang into action the second he realized what was going on.
Carol and Daryl started to run, pulling out their knives to jump into the fight. "Carl," Rick yelled, gesturing wildly. Carol spotted him, on the ground with a large man on top of him. She thought she was going to vomit when she realized what was going on. She hoped she wasn't too late as she ran full tilt and threw a shoulder into the man while stabbing him at the same time. He grunted and screamed as her knife plunged into the back of his neck. Carol pulled it out and stabbed him again, just to be sure, right through the temple. She had no idea what was going on with the others, but Carol knew she had got there in time. The man hadn't succeeded in raping Carl, he hadn't even managed to get his pants down in the struggle. Carol breathed a sigh of relief. Before she could move to him Rick came running over and pulled Carl into a hug. He looked at Carol and his eyes said more of a thank you than words ever could.
Michonne and Daryl had finished off the man Carol dropped and the two others. It was just the 5 of them left, all the strangers were dead. Carol dropped to the ground. The adrenaline was fading and she felt exhausted. But she was happy, very happy. She watched in silence as Daryl gave Michonne a hug. She was so proud of how far he had come, that he was able to give a friend a hug so easily.
Carol took a breath and stood up. Carl was still shook up, so Michonne took over comforting him and Rick came to her. He wrapped Carol in a hug and whispered thank you in her ear. Daryl had wandered over as Rick released her and the men looked at each other. "You look like shit," Daryl said to him, referring to the blood and bruises all over Rick's face from the fight and the faded bruises likely left from the prison attack.
"Come here, asshole," Rick said, reaching out a hand to Daryl. Carol watched as they did one of those man hugs, while shaking hands. It's a start, she thought to herself with a smile.
After Carl was feeling better and they had all had a chance to share a few words, more hugs, and general reunion celebrations, they decided to find somewhere else to camp for the night. Before leaving they gathered all the weapons and supplies they could scavenge from the dead men and made sure they were all stabbed in the head to prevent them turning.
They walked for a bit and found a spot to sleep by the side of the train tracks. There was a sign announcing a place called "Terminus" offering sanctuary. There were maps, but basically they just had to follow the tracks. The decided as a group that if the others saw the same signs they might head there too.
While they were setting up camp Carol watched Daryl. There was an even more remarkable change in him than she had seen the day before. He caught her eye and smiled at her. Carol was pretty sure it was the closest thing she was going to get to him admitting she was right all along. She wasn't one to say "I told you so" anyway, so she would accept it gladly. She was still confident they would find others as well, but just the fact they had found part of their family was truly the spark Daryl needed. Her Daryl was back, completely back.
Carol offered to take the first watch with Rick and they chatted a bit. "I was worried that Daryl might have shut down," Rick said to her. "But he seemed surprisingly okay…"
"He wasn't," Carol replied. "But luckily I was there to do damage control."
Rick laughed. "Thank God it was you," he added more seriously. "If it was anyone else…" his voice trailed off and his words hung in the air as they silently kept watch.