A/N: Dude... y'all, I got nothing for why this has taken me so effing long to update. The muse just wasn't there. I'm so sorry. I'm working on it. Anybody out there actually still waiting for an update on this, you have earned my eternal devotion. Rock on.
There was no imaging the wiggle of fingers along his - it's - hand, flopping in the air like so many dead fish. Carol knew they could all hear the long, deep rattle just starting to rasp its way from his mouth. It's not him anymore. It's one of those things.
"We gotta go, baby. Carol. We gotta leave him."
Her eyes shot up to Daryl's in shock. There was agony in those depths, an anguish she knew ran deep enough to match the horror and rage that must surely be filling her own eyes now.
"How can you… we can't leave him here like this."
"He's right." She listened to the footsteps, uneven and slow, crunch in the snow behind her as the other last remnant of their family came to join them. "We have to leave him, Care."
It was useless. Even though every inch of her warred against the idea, she knew they were both right. They were out of time.
-3 WEEKS AGO-
They came from between the trees like ghosts from the shadows; first one, then another, then more and more until there were over a dozen of them, all lined up in dark fatigues and pointing a variety of high assault rifles in their direction. People. Carol felt her blood boil as her pulse went from normal to holy shit in less than a second. Fuck fuck fuck.
She twisted her fingers around the butt of her pistol, her mind spinning as she braced her free hand against the curve of Daryl's spine. She could feel the shudder and twitch of muscles in his back as he took in the line. Glenn had shifted, moving up to take his place at Daryl's right. Michonne was off to Carol's left, close enough to touch. She could see the blade of the katana vibrated from the tension in it's owner's arm.
Do we fight? Or run?
One man stepped out from the group. He was tall and thickly muscled, with his head shaved clean. Scars, deep and stark white against the tan of his skin ran diagonally across his face. One went across his eye; the iris milky white and faded.
There were fourteen strangers against the four of them. There was no way any of her people would come out alive from this if they tried to fight back. Carol thought back to Carl and the others, still holed up and unaware of the danger Dixon had presented. Keep them away from the church.
One of the cronies fired high in the air and the rapid clatter of the automatic rifle sent a flock of birds erupting from the trees to take to the skies. The scarred man turned and pointed; without a word another soldier stepped forward and took out the shooter with a single shot to the head. Daryl looked at her over his shoulder, telling her at a glance he was as confused as she was.
"Are there more of you?" the scarred man asked in a thick, twangy drawl.
"Who wants to know?" Michonne shot back.
The scarred man gave a chilling smile that shook Carol down to the very marrow of her bones. It reminded her of Philip Blake. She sometimes wondered if the man who called himself Governor was still out there. If he'd stayed at the home he'd stolen from them or gone on somewhere new, to torture and torment a new family.
Carol knew even before the world ended that there were men and there were monsters. Some were both. She was starting to believe the monsters had truly inherited the earth after all.
The scarred man stepped forward again, casting his one good eye upon each of them. Green, like a cat's; she could see even from where she stood how vivid a shade it was. The smile faded and the man jerked his chin in their direction.
Daryl shot first, the bolt he'd fired landed in the meant of the scarred man's shoulder and sending him to the ground. She was firing even as Daryl pushed her back across the street, still shielding her with his body and trying to reload his crossbow. She felt rather than saw Glenn firing back and was turning to look for Michonne when the cry came up.
They were pouring out of the trees, dozens of them. The biggest herd she'd seen in a long time. Rotted and shambling, tripping over themselves in their haste to reach out and feed. Daryl clamped his hand around her wrist hard enough to bruise.
"Run," he said in her ear as he pulled her along the street. "Don't fire, just run!"
They ran, leaving the screams of the soldiers behind them and trying to outrace the dead on their heels. It wasn't until they'd gotten to the others and fled the church with what supplies they could carry that Carol realized something she'd missed in the chaos. Glenn had caught it too, jogging up with Susannah asleep in his arms to whisper in her ear as the little family made their way down the empty road.
"They didn't fire a single shot," Glenn hissed.
"I know," Carol whispered back. "I just thought of that too."
It didn't make any sense. Daryl had gotten a bolt into the leader but there were still twelve others. Why hadn't they fired on them?
"Don't you see?" Glenn said. "Care, they wanted us alive."
"We don't let each other turn," she said achingly, her heart breaking. For the first time in years, she found herself pleading to a god she wasn't sure existed. Don't make me do this. Please.
"I know." Daryl was on his feet; bruised and bloody, but alive and holding a hand out to her. "We ain't got a choice."
"Care." A hand pulled at her shoulder as the body in her arms shuddered and twitched. "Care, he'd understand."
No, he wouldn't. He was always the one who insisted on honoring their fallen. He was the one who'd come up with the pact in the first place; ages ago, on another road in another state in another lifetime.
"Baby." Daryl was pulling at her weakly, his own strength waning from the fight and the cold but still enough to untangle her from the corpse in her lap. The body fell to the ground, tufts of snow puffing up around it as the first hissing groan escaped from it's throat.
It's not him. Not anymore.
"I'm sorry," Carol gasped as she let Daryl half carry her away. The others formed ranks, following them into the bleak as the sun finally crested over the horizon, casting its golden light on the blood, smoke and horror behind them and the endless snowy wilderness ahead. "I'm so sorry."