Title: Let There Be Thorns
Summary: It was a simple embrace. if one could call anything between them simple until it wasn't. It became a bone crushing hug, and neither wanted to be the first to let go. His hand cradled the back of her head as she turned her face into his chest. Time seemed to fade.
A/N: This was written for the 'objects' challenge at USS-Caryl on tumblr.
The bloodbath at Terminus had been inevitable. They were lucky there were no losses on their side. He'd seen Tyreese go down to protect Carol and Judith, and he'd thought for sure that was the end of the man, reminisce of when Bob, Michonne, and himself had left him for dead in a swarm of geeks. Tyreese was a maniac with that hammer, and somehow, the man was still with them, still hovering over Carol and the baby. He had no idea from where they had come, but by the grace of a higher power both woman and child had survived unscathed. Not to mention saved their very asses.
Now they were miles away, regrouping. And the silence was deafening. The others knew very little of what Carol had done. Rick had confessed to him that Maggie knew, but he had no idea if she knew all the details. Hell. He didn't even know the details, but she was alive.
That had to count for something.
He watched as Rick and Carl fussed over Judith. He'd seen them both reduced to tears when she had been placed in Rick's arms, and he himself had to blink hard and fast to keep his own at bay.
He knew her own memories of the farm were never far from the surface, and now she had done what Rick had failed to do for her. She had returned his daughter to him. Very much alive, and very much at a great heartbreak to herself.
She had confessed all her transgressions starting with Karen and David and choking on the words as she told them about Lizzie and Mika, and then she had walked away. She wanted to give them a chance to decide if they wanted her there.
His choice was simple. She was a part of his family, and she wasn't going anywhere.
He left the others to tend the small blaze and followed her to where she stood removed from the others. "Hey." She looked somewhat more frail in the darkness. He wanted to touch her arm, give her some kind of warm welcome home.
She looked up, eyes locking on his. "I did it to give us a chance." She'd been the most anxious of his reaction. He trusted her most, and she had made a decision without talking it through with him. Not that she owed him that, but she always liked having him to talk with. Ed had never been the talking type. Daryl really wasn't either, but he listened, and to her, that mattered most.
He nodded, sure it was lost in the darkness. "Know you did, but you're sorry. I saw it in how you spoke, how Tyreese looked at you." His fingers inched out, coming to press gently against her arm above the bend of her elbow. He swallowed the lump that formed in his throat.
"I'll go quietly if that's what they all want. Won't make a scene. Made it out there before...alone. I can do it again." She fought everything inside her to keep from falling into his arms and seeking a comfort she wasn't sure she deserved.
He turned her gently to face him. The firelight caught the lone tear that tracked down her cheek until it disappeared entirely. He removed his hand from her arm and raised it slowly to cup her chin. He whispered, "Ain't lettin' you leave. Ain't lettin' them make that choice." He stepped closer. The feel of her body heat making his heart pound hard in his chest. "No you, no me."
Her eyes darted everywhere, searching his eyes. "Daryl, you can't..." Then his fingers pressed to her lips. She shook her head and stepped forward as she pressed against him. Her arms dared to slip around his neck The hug caught them both by surprise, but then somehow, it didn't.
It was a simple embrace. if one could call anything between them simple until it wasn't. It became a bone crushing hug, and neither wanted to be the first to let go. His hand cradled the back of her head as she turned her face into his chest. Time seemed to fade.
The choice was made. No one in the group had voted for her departure. As Maggie and Carl stated quickly and without fail that Carol was a part of them, and they needed her.
Carol's body seemed to go slack, like she was suddenly boneless, upon the announcement. Fresh tears stung her eyes. If it wasn't for his chest pressing into her back, she'd have fallen. His fingers pressed gently into her hip and whispered, "You need rest."
They'd resumed their travels, needing shelter as the sky danced with lightning. Thunder rolled in this distance. She'd remembered seeing a church a few miles out. That was their destination. They reached it just minutes before the sky opened up.
He'd helped clear the church, and within a matter of minutes, the others occupied the auditorium. It suddenly felt eerie with the lightning lighting up the stained glass windows. He was grateful when someone lit a fire.
He glanced up as Carol stepped into the growing circle. Moving toward her, he took her hand as they stepped away. He guided her away from the others. He gave her hand a squeeze before removing his fingers from hers.
His lips parted slowly. "How'd you know we were there?" More specifically, he wanted to know how she'd known he was there. They found themselves in a small room off the side of the assembly hall. It had one window, and when the lightning flashed, she had never looked more beautiful.
She stepped forward, pulling something very gingerly from a pocket against her pant leg and pressed it into his palm.
He felt the velvet petals, and the vine and thorns. He lifted his hand slowly just as a flash of lightning bathed the room in a eerie light, as surely as he was breathing, a Cherokee Rose lay against his palm.
His eyes moved up, locking on hers as the next strike lit up her face once more. He stepped toward her, embracing her in a hug similar to that they'd shared only an hour prior, and he whispered, "I'm tired of losing people."
Her arms moved up his back. Her hands soothing him like only they could. "You haven't lost me. Not yet. Not ever." Her eyes were full of tears as she pulled back and met his just as another clap of thunder rang out and light tore through the sky.
Their lips met in a perfect union, quieting the storms inside them as the storms outside raged on.