Today is my birthday and this is my gift to you guys! I have completed this fic and I present to you the conclusion. It's always rewarding and sad all at the same time to finish one and this is no different. I had no idea when I started this just how much incredible support I would get. You guys have been AMAZING! The feedback, the followers, the favourites and just the number of views alone have overwhelmed me like I can't even express. Thank you. Thank you so so sooooo much!
Carol wiped another tear as she watched Heath and Denise profess their love, with Father Gabriel officiating the ceremony. She snuck a glance at Daryl and smiled. Whether he would admit it or not, he was crying too. His sentimental side used to surprise her, but not anymore. It became a comfort to her because through everything, all the loss and pain and devastation, Daryl never hardened. Not once had he come close to losing his humanity.
Without looking at him Carol reached out and gave his hand a quick squeeze. It said that she knew he was crying too, but his secret was safe with her. The squeeze back he gave her was simple, it said 'I love you.'
Carol ignored the ceremony and took a moment to look around. She and Daryl were seated near the middle, so she couldn't very well turn around to look behind her, but she studied those she could see in her row and ahead.
Rick and Michonne were beside Daryl. Carl had been with them at first, but Judith was far too fussy to sit still for the nuptials. He had taken her off to let her toddle around and play. Carol could see that Michonne's eyes were wet too and wondered what she was thinking about. Carol's eyes flicked to Rick and she truly hoped Michonne was thinking about the sheriff. To the best of her knowledge they were officially no more than friends, but there was something more there and it was growing every day. She suspected lingering memories of Lori and unresolved guilt was the hold up, because it certainly had nothing to do with Rick's children. Carl and Judith both adored Michonne and likely looked at her as a mother figure already. It would work out someday – someday soon Carol decided, with a hint of a smile and a feeling of confidence.
Tara was sitting across the aisle with Eugene and Jessie. Carol had become very fond of Tara. She was a breath of fresh air and whenever Carol was feeling down it only took about 5 minutes with Tara to turn her around. For a young woman who had lost so much in her short life she was truly a special soul. Carol knew it had to be difficult to be surrounded by so many couples and not even have a single romantic option available since all the unattached females were apparently heterosexual, given the way they ogled Daryl and Rick. Carol would allow Aaron to start scouting again soon, so maybe the right woman would come along for her.
Jessie was another person who had become very special to Carol and it delighted her to see what was developing between her new friend and Eugene. They were both unique individuals with their own sad stories but somehow this strange world had brought them together when they both needed it most. Carol felt that damn stupid pang of doom and her stomach turned. She thought back to a time when she told Daryl she didn't believe they get to save people anymore. What she'd meant, really, was she didn't believe in happy endings in this world. Maybe it was too soon to change her mind about that, but this community was one step closer to happily ever after for so many people. Before she looked away Carol caught Jessie's eye and they shared a smile.
Before she could look around more a few words caught her attention, particularly when they were followed by a chorus of hoots and whistles, "You may now kiss your bride." Carol turned her attention back to the front and watched the young dark haired man kiss the beautiful ginger princess. Everyone got to their feet and cheered as Gabriel presented the new couple and they turned, hand in hand to face their friends. Carol felt the tears on her cheeks once again. This really was an amazing moment. Several months earlier if someone told her she would be attending a full, formal wedding, she would have thought they were crazy. But here she was, with Daryl beside her wearing a suit and all her friends and family, celebrating a new union. They had all pulled together to make this happen and it was absolutely perfect.
Dinner was delicious and the cake Jessie made was probably the best piece of cake Carol had ever tasted. We're in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and I'm eating the yummiest cake ever made, Carol thought with a smile, taking another big bite. They had gathered quite the selection of alcohol for the event and had found enough wine to leave a bottle on each table. Carol was on her second glass, while Daryl had skipped the wine and opted for Jack and coke. They had a lot of mix in storage, but Carol realized with the way the drinks were going down they wouldn't have much pop left after the wedding.
She didn't realize how buzzed Daryl was until he pulled her onto the dance floor for a slow song. He was talking, non-stop and it was highly amusing. "Do you think Rick is ever going to make his move?" Daryl muttered. Carol turned her head to see Rick dancing with Michonne.
"Isn't that kinda the pot calling the kettle black?" Carol teased him.
"Pfft," Daryl snorted. "You were… complicated… or something…"
Carol shook her head, "No I wasn't. I'm not. I'm pretty straight forward."
Daryl looked at her and stopped dancing. "I couldn't even win this argument sober, could I?" Carol shook her head. "Okay, you win…" he said, leaning in and kissing her softly on the lips. Carol knew her eyes were wide with shock that Daryl was kissing her in a very public moment. Eventually she relaxed, closed her eyes and enjoyed it. She could taste the whiskey he'd been drinking as their tongues met. The kiss was urgent and very erotic and Carol knew she needed to stop it before things went embarrassingly far.
She pulled back, breathless. It only took a second to realize there were way too many eyes on them. Carol ducked back into Daryl's embrace, hiding her blazing red face against his chest. She wondered if he was giving his usual look of death to all the people grinning at them and finally curiosity got the better of her. What the hell? Carol thought. Daryl wasn't even the least bit pink. Must be the alcohol, she decided.
Carol was just about to suggest they get out of there, head home and finish the kiss, see where it leads… when Rick and Michonne appeared. "Mind if I cut in?" Rick asked. Daryl gave him a slight glare, but shrugged and allowed Rick to take his spot, while he moved off to finish the song with Michonne. "You did all this," Rick said softly, glancing around at their surroundings.
"We all did it," Carol corrected him.
"Maybe, but you brought us all together," Rick persisted. "I'm taking complete credit for it all though. Since I was the one who nominated you for mayor," he teased.
"Nominated?" Carol laughed. "I really don't think you were taking no for an answer, even if I'd tried."
"You're probably right," Rick admitted. "But seriously, you're a great leader. People love you and respect you. You do what needs to be done. You keep them safe and protected."
"You did all that too," Carol replied gently. "Besides, it's easier here. We have walls."
"Would you just accept the compliment," Rick chuckled. "You're amazing Carol. And we are so lucky to have you."
Even though she really wanted to turn his words back on him, redirect the compliment like she always did Carol knew it was time to just accept it. She looked at Rick and smile, "Thank you."
The song was winding down. "Why don't you get out of here. Daryl looked like he was about to ravage you on the dance floor," Rick joked. Carol blushed. "I'm happy for you both," Rick added. Carol shifted her eyes to Daryl and Michonne and then back to Rick. She saw a look of understanding and it gave her hope that her friends might just move to the next level sometime very soon.
"You know… if you ever need someone to take Judith for the night…" Carol gave him a knowing look.
"Get out of here," Rick said, bumping her gently in Daryl's direction.
Ten minutes later they were entering a dark, empty house with the sounds of people having a really good time still audible off in the distance. "House to ourselves," Daryl commented, smirking at her. "Wanna get wild and crazy and do it on the kitchen table or living room floor or somethin'?"
"Just exactly how drunk are you?" Carol asked, folding her arms and eying him curiously as Daryl attempted to remove his shoes, almost falling over.
"Not gonna lie, I'm kinda ripped… but don't worry, it won't affect my performance," he assured her. "Ha, got ya you little bastard," Daryl said triumphantly after finally getting one shoe off. Carol shook her head and bent down to untie the second shoe so he could just slip it off. "Oh… you're so smart," he gushed, patting her head.
Carol stood up and rolled her eyes, "Come on." She took his arm and led him up the stairs to their room. "Maybe we should just sleep," Carol started, trying not to smile.
"What? Why? You ain't sersious?" Daryl sputtered.
Carol kicked off her heels and started to remove her jewelry. "Well you did say you're pretty drunk, I wouldn't want to take advantage of you." She bit her lip and waited for his response.
"Christ, I would give anything to be taken advantage of by you," he moaned. By the time she turned around he had somehow managed to get out of his jacket, pants, tie and socks and was standing there in a white dress shirt and batman boxers.
"Where on earth did you find those?" Carol giggled, pointing at his underwear.
Daryl looked down, "Oh some house we raided had a huge collection of superhero boxers. I wanted the wolverine ones but fucking Abe wouldn't give them up."
Carol laughed harder at the thought of Abraham in Wolverine boxers. "Who else has them?"
Daryl struggled to unbutton his shirt and looked like he was about to rip it off so she wandered over to help as he answered. "We all agreed to wear them for the wedding," he informed her. "Rick has Superman of course. Glenn…. Spiderman. And Eugene has these bright green ones – Incredible Hulk." Carol snorted and wondered if Jessie might see them later.
When she had all the buttons undone Carol reached inside and put her hands on Daryl's shoulders, then slowly ran her hands down his arms, pushing the shirt off, onto the floor. She turned so he could unzip her dress and in seconds it was a puddle at her feet. For the first time in a while Daryl was completely silent. Carol stood, her back still to him and waited. Her body exploded in goosebumps the second his hand touched her bare back. It was just a light brush of his fingertips, but her body was craving it so badly.
When she turned, the look in Daryl's eyes completely overwhelmed her. It was the look that every woman dreamed but only the lucky ones ever got. Ed never looked at her that way, even the rare times when things were good. And now that she had that look from Daryl, she was glad Ed hadn't. It made it more special – absolutely perfect.
The whole time they made love Carol completely forgot just how drunk he'd been because it seemed as if seeing her naked had somehow sobered him up completely. She wasn't taking advantage of him at all. Daryl was taking care of her, satisfying her needs, showing her how much he loved her and treating her like a Queen.
They looked into one another's eyes as he slowly eased into her. It was strange not to have long wisps of hair hanging in his eyes. No matter what he was incredibly handsome, but with the haircut he looked so different, so much younger and very sexy. It started off slow and gentle but before long things changed and got rather loud. Carol really didn't care who heard them, she simply lost herself in everything she was feeling and let go.
"Oh God," Daryl groaned later, when he lay down beside her. "Why is the fucking room moving?" He sat up. "Oh, that's better."
"You can't sleep like that," Carol teased him.
"I might be sleeping with my head in the toilet," Daryl whined.
"Oh my God, this is so weird…" Carol sighed.
"Huh?" Daryl asked, closing his eyes and rubbing his temples.
"Everything is so… normal," she explained. "Daryl, we went to a wedding today. We ate supper, drank and danced. You got drunk. We came home - to our house and had amazing sex. And now you're whining about puking… It's normal." Carol felt a sense of panic. "I don't know if I can do normal. I don't know how. Tell me how."
He groaned again and leaned back on his pillow, pulling her against his chest. "Do you remember the very first night we were here and you said, 'stay with me'?" Carol nodded. "I stayed because you wanted me to and I've never left. We're together and that's all that really matters."
"You're right," Carol agreed. "I just… it's just hard to let go of the need to prepare myself for more struggle."
"But you can now Carol," he whispered sleepily. "We finally have the chance to stop surviving and…" Daryl's voice trailed off and he yawned. When he spoke his final three words before he drifted off to sleep Carol was left with an overwhelming sense of calm. His statement was simple but it was their future: "We just live."
"We just live," Carol repeated in a whisper, looking at the man who made her want to live again, so long ago, after losing her daughter. She knew that no matter where they ended up, no matter how hard or how easy life became, no matter how many people they lost or gained… she could face anything with Daryl by her side. He was enough. He was everything.
Oh Darlin' stay with me, cause you're all I need…