It was crazy. It was incredibly stupid to risk her life the way she was. But the second she saw the man wearing Daryl's poncho she completely lost it. Carol knew she had to get it back somehow. The second everything blew up she had her target in mind. It took shooting several other people before she got him, but Carol dropped the man with a bullet to the head just as he trained his gun on Michonne's back. Rick already had the gate open, most of them were outside and Carol watched as Michonne safely joined the others.
That's the moment the stupidity came in. While bullets whizzed all around her Carol ran to the body, lying in a heap on the ground, and started to tug at the poncho. She stopped every once in a while to fire off rounds, protecting herself. Her mind should have been on surviving and getting the hell out of there. While that was still the goal, Carol knew she couldn't leave without getting the poncho.
Maybe it was because of everything that had happened, the banishment, seeing the prison fall, losing most of her family and not knowing if she would ever see them again, the devastating situation with Lizzie and Mika, and of course missing Daryl. She missed him so badly her heart ached from dawn til dusk, only pausing during those moments when sleep finally took over. But he was there, still fighting, mere feet away from her. Fighting for his life, her life, and the lives of all the people left in this world they could call family. And Carol was hunkered over a dead body trying to pull off an article of clothing. Stupid. So stupid.
But the poncho was special and Carol knew in this world, in this life they now lived, special things didn't come around often and they didn't last long. The prison was special. It was home. And now it was gone. Carol had no idea how the poncho had got from the rubble of the prison onto this man's back but she knew for sure it was Daryl's. She knew because she made it for him, by hand, lovingly cutting and stitching the entire thing together over a cold couple of early winter weeks. That was almost two years ago.
A bullet whizzed by her head and Carol instinctively ducked, looking up just in time to see an enemy gun trained on her. Could this be the end? Did she risk her life only to die in a heap on top of the very object she risked it for? Nope, it wasn't her time yet, Carol realized as a bolt hit the man with a thunk, right through the temple.
Daryl approached and yanked the bolt out of the dead body. They shared a look and Carol knew he understood. He came over and lifted the body while Carol quickly unwrapped the poncho. The next thing they knew Rick was screaming for them to run for the gates. They were leaving. They were all escaping Terminus and as far as Carol could tell, everyone she loved had survived. Including the four new people she had never met.
Carol was leaving with Daryl by her side and the poncho tucked under her arm. They shared another look and Daryl gave her a half smile. It was only a split second but it sent her heart soaring in ways she hadn't felt in weeks. Only Daryl could make her feel that way. He offered a hand, pulled her to her feet and they ran. He never let go, not until they were deep in the woods and the entire group stopped to catch their breath.
Carol didn't let them pause long. "Come on, I'll show you where Tyreese is waiting," she said, taking the lead.
"Wait, did you say Tyreese?" Sasha replied, eyes quickly brimming with tears. "He's alive?"
Carol smiled at Ty's little sister. She knew Tyreese would be ecstatic to know she was still alive and obviously Sasha felt the same about her brother. "Yep he's alive."
"But... Why? He didn't come fight... Is he hurt?" Sasha looked terrified.
"No, he's not... Well, nothing serious," Carol started to explain. She turned her gaze to Rick and then Carl. "Someone had to stay behind to look after the baby. Made more sense with the gash on his arm for him to rest."
"The... Baby..." Rick repeated. "You found a baby?"
Carol smiled again. She had been looking forward to the moment she could tell Rick his daughter was safe. It was the one glowing light that kept her going after the deaths of Mika and Lizzie. That and of course the possibility of finding Daryl again. She met Rick's eyes, "Judith." The words came out as a whisper. Rick looked like someone had punched him in the stomach. "She's alive Rick." Carol looked at Carl, staring back at her in disbelief, "Your sister is safe with Tyreese."
"But how... The car seat... So much blood," the words escaped Rick's lips in chopped breathless dialogue.
Carol put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Tyreese and… Tyreese found her, and took her when he ran from the prison." She had almost mentioned the kids. Almost. But Carol wasn't ready to explain to the entire group why Lizzie and Mika were no longer with them, so she omitted their names. "Come on, follow me. Come see your baby girl Rick, I know she's missed you and Carl," Carol said, glancing at the young man with a tough exterior who just couldn't hold back the tears this time.
So Carol led. And everyone followed. When they arrived where she had left Tyreese the emotional reunions began. As happy as Carol was to be a part of her friend's joy she found herself backing away from the happiness surrounding her. There was a darkness in her heart that she wasn't close to overcoming. In fact, chances were she would never overcome it. Like Tyreese had said about her murdering Karen and David, it's a part of them now. It was the same with what happened to Mika and Carol's difficult decision to end Lizzie's life. It would always be a part of her. She would move on, just like she had after Sophia died. But it would always be there in her heart. Carol realized as she wandered away, thinking of the children she had lost, she survived Sophia's death because of Daryl. She had someone to grieve with. Someone who Sophia's loss meant something to. Daryl may not have grieved like a parent, he barely knew Sophia, but the search, his unwavering faith in finding her… it crushed him just like it crushed her when the walker that used to be her daughter came stumbling out of that barn.
Carol was still holding the poncho. She pulled it to her chest and breathed in the scent of it. She was used to it smelling like Daryl, but it must have been freshly washed because it smelled of detergent. Somehow in the midst of the fighting it hadn't got a single drop of blood on it. It was a little dirty from where the man wearing it had fallen, but otherwise it looked almost as good as the day she'd given it to Daryl.
Daryl. They were together again, but hadn't had a single moment to really acknowledge it. Carol heard a branch snap behind her. Daryl. She smiled knowing he'd stepped on the stick on purpose. He knew how to be quiet walking through the woods. If he wanted to he could have crept right up behind her without her even knowing he was there. Carol could sense it was him without turning around to see. They were a long way from the others now. She had wandered a lot farther than she should have alone.
"That was pretty stupid," Daryl spoke.
His voice. She had longed to hear his voice for weeks. Carol turned around with a bright smile. "Which part? Rescuing this?" she held up the poncho. "Or wandering so far away from everyone?"
"Both." He was smiling back at her. "But I'm really glad you did."
"You know I can take care of myself now, right?" Carol said as he came closer.
Daryl nodded. "You always could." His words surprised her. Did he really believe that? "It's just that now you fight with more than your mind." Daryl was closing the gap and Carol made herself wait for him. She wanted to run to his arms, but it wasn't often that Daryl initiated contact and she knew he was about to. "You've always been the strongest person I know." He had arrived. Daryl was standing right in front of her. Daryl. Her Daryl. He touched her cheek. "But I wouldn't call myself a man if I didn't feel the need to protect you." And the woman in her would always let him.
Daryl kissed her. It wasn't her kissing him and then him kissing her back. This was all him. He started it. He needed it. He needed her. Carol could feel all of that in the kiss. They were alone, away from the others, and even though the extent of their relationship was still a secret Carol knew it wouldn't be anymore. Once they rejoined the others their relationship would be obvious and finally… finally she knew that Daryl was okay with that.
When he pulled away, breathless, he leaned his forehead against hers. "Missed you," he said simply.
"Me too," Carol whispered. They stayed there for a long time, until Carol realized she needed to tell him everything that happened. She couldn't heal alone. He helped her the first time and he would help her again. So they sat and Carol told him the entire story, starting from the murders, the banishment and right through to killing Lizzie. He held her hand the entire time and just listened. Daryl knew her inside and out, and he knew that's exactly what she needed right then.
When she was through she looked into his eyes and knew he would be there for her. Whatever she needed. Carol brushed away the tears. For a little while she needed to be happy and with everything out in the open between them, she decided it was time. "Will you put this on?" she asked, handing him the poncho.
"Mmm hmm," Daryl said, taking it from her and standing, then wrapping it around himself and doing up the button. "Could have used this a few of those cold lonely nights after the prison fell."
Carol looked at him and felt the familiar blush creep into her cheeks until her face was burning red and she could feel that fire once again. She had no idea it would still affect her the same way to see him wearing it. It usually took a lot to make her blush. But ever since that night, the group of them forced off the farm to hunker down in storage containers for several months, necessary shelter to survive the cold winter… she couldn't look at Daryl in the poncho and not relieve the moment they shared only a few days after she'd given it to him. It was cold, but under than poncho, together, they had never been warmer. With her cheeks still on fire, like it always did, Carol's mind wandered back to that night…