AN #1: So this took way too long to post, and I'm sorry. I'm having trouble finding motivation for this story… But I think I may have finally hit my stride with this chapter. : )

Disclaimer: I do not own, write for, or work for AMC or TWD.

-/-/-/-

They meandered in silence for longer than she wanted to admit, his arm around her shoulders and hers around his waist.

He never asked where they were going, so she never told.

The smoke tainted the air, leaving it bitter and angry, and she couldn't help but think of her sweet girl who had been too smart for her own good.

Daryl had been watching herm and part of her suspected that she wasn't masking her emotions as well as she hoped, because he started talking, that soft, gravelly tone entirely encompassing her.

"B'fore, me an' Beth found a house, a real beat up, abandoned shack." He turned to look at her, and she gave him a soft half-smile for encouragement.

He smirked. "Girl had her heart set on getting drunk, since Hershel had been such a hardass about the whole thing."

She chuckled at that, as did he. The mental picture of sweet, innocent Beth drunk and stumbling was ridiculously comical.

But he carried on with his story. "Anyway, we found this shed behind the house, filled with moonshine."

"Oh, no," she murmured, still smiling, expecting a not-so-good ending to this story.

He nodded, the corner of his lip twitching as he restrained a grin. "Yeah. We got so piss-ass drunk, we burned the whole place down."

And then she really did laugh. "No," she managed between gasps. "No, you didn't!"

He nodded, laughed a little himself. "Yeah, we did. Goddamn idiots. Drew every walker a mile round."

She shook her head, remembering that tall pillar of smoke that they had observed from the pecan grove.

"We saw the smoke," she muttered, thinking back on the charred walkers that had attacked, how her girls had taken them out like well-oiled machines. "From the house we were staying in."

There was a beat of silence. Then:

"That where we're going now? That house?"

She nodded, her throat suddenly dry and her eyes not so.

He rubbed her arm in acknowledgement, and they fell back again into that comfortable silence.

-/-/-/-

They rested after that, and she let him sleep first, a part of her brain still telling her that after she told him, she could convince him to go back without her. And this way, he could sleep easy, knowing there was someone looking out for him.

She wouldn't have his back when he returned, she hoped.

Her hands tightened around the rifle as the setting sun called forth the few surviving mosquitoes. The plant life was starting to die from the cold, tall oaks and elms losing their leaves like snow around her.

She swallowed again, let her head hang back for just a second.

"Mama."

She gulped. Closed her eyes. Wouldn't look.

"Mama, look at me."

She shook her head, trying to rid the small, beautiful voice.

They didn't call her Miss Carol anymore.

"Mama, please."

Her hands shook. She put down the rifle, knew from experience what happened when she saw her undead daughter before her eyes while she was holding her gun.

"Mama, it hurts."

It was Sophia today. Sometimes it was Mika, other Lizzie. On bad days, it was Judith.

On worse, all four.

"Go away," she groaned, eyes still shut.

She wouldn't look. She wouldn't.

"That fire is still burning."

She shook her head again, her arms crossed, hands kneading her flesh.

"Those people are still burning."

Her breaths started to shallow and quicken, and she started to feel herself panic as she realized they weren't going to leave until she looked.

Never would.

"I didn't hurt her brains… So why did you hurt mine?"

Her heart was pounding in her throat, her pulse was ascending to the clouds. She had to end it, she had to look, or she would black out.

Always when she was alone, or on watch. When survival depended solely on her.

She had to. She had to.

"My little girl… You were supposed to be her mommy for me, Carol. Where is she? Why don't you have her?"

I'm sorry.

"My precious little girl… My baby boy… They were yours. And you left them."

I can't.

"They don't have a mama anymore."

I know.

"Because of you."

I know.

"What's wrong with you?"

I'm poisoned.

"Why couldn't you save me?"

I'm weak.

"You can't save them."

I will.

"You're going to lose them, just like the other."

I won't.

"You're going to fail me, just like you did Ryan."

No.

"It's already over."

It never is.

"Face me.

"Look at me."

"Look at your failure."

"Look at what you've done."

Her lids lifted lazily, blue meeting undead as a hiss bubbled forth from the walker's decaying vocal chords.

-/-/-/-

It took her all of half a second to pull out her bowie knife and put it through the thing's eye.

Her heart was pounding, her heart rate too high to be safe, but one look at Daryl found him sitting up, wide eyed and bleary as he watched her trying to pull herself and her knife from the walker's skull.

She wouldn't look at him. Wouldn't look and see the worry she had seen in Tyreese's that first time, that sickening pity that they had all laid on Rick in his crazy days after Lori's passing.

She didn't want his pity. She didn't want his sympathy.

But when she looked at him again after pulling herself straight and retrieving her forgotten gun, he wasn't looking at her with pity. He wasn't looking at her with fear.

He just looked…sad. Confused.

He came forward, pulled her to him into a tight hold that she couldn't have gotten out of if she wanted to.

"Gotta be more careful," he murmured into her neck, his voice crackly and slow.

She hugged him back, fought back the tears brimming beneath the surface. Tried not to think of what he must have thought, awakening to her barely coming out of the haze in time to save their lives.

Too close.

He shook in her arms. She had truly, really, scared him this time.

"Nine lives, remember?" she choked out.

He managed a sad little chuckle. "Yeah. Nine lives."

They stayed like that for a couple beats more, just holding onto each other, before turning and going on their way, arms around each other, supporting each other like they always would.

-/-/-/-

AN #2: Yay! I hope y'all liked it, drop me a line if you have a chance! Thank you for reading. :) Next chapter will be back to Daryl's POV.