Author's Note: It seems I was unable to resist putting in my two cent's worth on the reunion scene. I am so excited to see how inspired everyone is. It's like our hearts have been filled to overflowing and I fully believe we have nothing but great things heading our way! Caryl on, everyone!

Burning Bridges

She could still feel his arms around her, even though he'd hugged her hours ago. Hugged. Held her so tight she thought he'd somehow manage to take her completely into himself. Cradled her head against his neck so she could leave the barest of kisses on his throat. Dropped his face to her chest like a child, so vulnerable to the pain that was abandoning his body and leaving him weak as a kitten against her. Emotionally spent, just like her. They were the same and she felt everything he did twofold. That's how she knew, through burning, shy glances across their camp that he wanted her back in his arms, only he didn't know how to make it happen.

Carol stood with a determination to storm the bridge and burn it down. It wouldn't be the first time she'd left something in flames behind her today, only this time she prayed the obstacle would stay gone. Daryl was classic at rebuilding those walls but this time she could see his resolve crumbling and as he stared at her with something that looked a whole lot like awestruck devotion, she made her way to him. She took his hand and let it slip through hers until their fingers hooked and held together. Both of them expelled a shaky breath at the first unsteady step into something, Daryl adding a crack of uncomfortable laughter after, but Carol smiled through it, lips wobbly, and led him into the woods away from the group with little more than a promise twinkling in her eye.

By the time they reached the tree, he was the one leading, his fingers coarse and callused but so warm and safe against hers, sending a flood of nerves to dally in her gut. She tingled all over, just knowing how close they were to something new, and with a blinding rush she knew she needed to feel his arms around her again, too. Needed it like she'd needed Tyreese's absolution for taking the woman he loved away from him. The irony burned in her throat and tears welled in her eyes, and by the time they settled alone out in the woods, her with her back against the tree and Daryl sitting close but not close enough, she was near to weeping out all the pain she'd caused and had in turn felt over what they had all lost.

She struggled to regain her composure, swallowing hard and staring with blurry-eyed intent at the dirt at the base of the tree that now dusted her ass, knowing that one glance at Daryl would mean she'd crumble. When at last she did she felt the kick of it reverberate through her body. He was too far away, his chin resting on the butt of his bow while he stared at her with such pain-filled eyes and it was all she could do to stay sharp, keep her focus and muddle through her jumbled thoughts without losing herself. Every single one came back to one poignant place, the burning imprint of his fingers as they dug into her back around her rifle, as he'd forced her body to conform to the shape of his and the scalding hot tears that had run down her chest from his face.

"You don't gotta go," he rasped, and she felt the gravelly tone of sadness as it ground down on each of her nerves. Guilt tore through her as she witnessed firsthand what it would do to him if she walked away right now, and even though he'd hurt her so deeply when he'd done the same with Merle, she couldn't help but marvel at how far they both had come.

She only realised her face was flooded with tears when her nose started to run and she was swiping her face clear and trying hard to speak without sounding completely wrecked. "I don't want to leave you, but I can't stay."

His eyes glowed with accusation and hurt. "Why?"

They were down to one word questions and answers and even that seemed like it tore itself from her throat. "Tyreese." She was crying legitimately now, knowing that the man's forgiveness would extend only so far. He'd forgive, but not forget and that kind of tension within the group was not what these people needed. These people that she loved, who were her family and who she had to give the best chance of survival that she could.

Daryl eyed her almost savagely, a light of furious passion no longer hidden, no longer repressed now that Daryl had already exposed his heart. She turned away, lost herself in gruesome memories so recently made so that she wouldn't have to answer to this new Daryl. Wouldn't have to see how deep his understanding ran.

"Tyreese will deal. He's killed now, for Judith. He gets it."

Carol's head whipped up in shock. How did he always know so many things? How could he have known what Tyreese's true struggle would be?

"Man's had problems stabilisin' his own head since we brought him in from Woodbury. Don't like killin' walkers, then he hacks a herd apart with nothin' more than a hammer. Anyone else woulda been done for. Hell, we left him for dead, then he stumbles on out of the bushes with not even a scratch?" Daryl paused, shaking his head at the memory, still stumped how the big man did it, how he came out against the odds of a herd and survived. "We all gotta move past shit sometime. Now it's his turn."

He ripped out a handful of grass and clenched it in his hand, shredding it in turns before a rustling in the woods had him cocking his head urgently, tossing the crushed blades out of the way while simultaneously hauling up his crossbow and aiming it out into the dark. More displacement in the woods had them both on high alert, bouncy on their feet, ready to run or fight. Something about the sound spooked him and he snatched up her hand, motioning sharply for her to not speak as he pulled her behind the tree, trying to hide her from whatever threat was heading their way.

Carol's back hit the uneven bark hard, Daryl's body pressed against hers, his crossbow down and his knife held tightly in his hand. He was breathing fast, his chest expanding harshly against hers, the rhythm doing more to frighten Carol than the ambiguous threat out in the dark.

"Daryl," she hissed on a whisper and while there was little light to make much out, she didn't miss the clash of pain and annoyance that he aimed at her along with an unmistakable growl. It reverberated through his chest, passing into her body as an electric reminder that she was alive. Her focus was scrambled completely with his presence eradicating all the boundaries that had previously existed between them. Carol vaguely tried to hang on to listening out for the intruder but her heart failed the challenge, her body reacting to his proximity by craving more of it. His hips pressed into hers, shocking her into flattening herself entirely against the trunk and her breath released raggedly from her lungs. She was going to ignite if he didn't step back soon, and the very thought of it thundered through her blood, inspired her shaking hands to creep around his back under his jacket and vest and hold him as tightly as he'd held her earlier. She felt the dip of his hips and the sharpness of the buckle on his pants, she felt the thick length of him expand as he compulsively sought friction between her legs. She held onto him until she realised he hadn't moved against her for a while, that his tortured breaths blew hot on her neck and his concern for whatever had been stumbling through the woods had dissipated. His cheek rested against hers, his lips so close, but Carol knew they had to get back to camp. She made to release him, allowing the muscles in her arms to relax so she could let him go.

"Don't." The word was a plea against her throat, backed up with what she knew were scalding tears that were the result of so much turmoil and pain. "Don't wanna let you go yet."

Emotions rose into a mountain within and she felt it impossible to swallow past a lump of tears in her throat, her chest aching acutely with past grief.

"You don't have to." She sniffled, feeling a swathe of tears dribbling onto her lips. "You can hold me for as long as you want."

He chuckled through the enormous well of feelings overtaking him, the sound infused with relief and longing.

"How 'bout forever?"

She found his face with her fingers, pulling him away from where he was hiding, tucked into her shoulder, and when the rawness of his feeling hit her with just one clash of his eyes with hers, Carol accepted that their time had finally come. She couldn't wait anymore, couldn't stem the swelling tide of love in her heart as it burst wide open, no longer able to contain the onrush of it as it flowed through her to him. Her palm against his cheek, she drew him in, gasping as his lips finally collided softly with hers.

Whole body shaking, Carol couldn't draw breath. Everything was red, blood rushing through her veins, her heart pounding an erratic beat and as if she needed that passionate fire to kick-start her brain, desperation took over and she dived into the kiss like a woman who had no more time to spare. Who was shattering apart with the force of her love and she had to make Daryl catch it all before it spilled out of her all over the ground, lying in useless puddles at their feet.

The cut of sharp teeth on her lip drew a yelp from her, and she jerked back in shock. Daryl was smug, the smirk on his lips inspiring a whole new raging fire in her belly that spread out and hissed along every limb. Reason was long gone. What followed could only be classified an erotic attack. Fingers wound in his hair, she was almost violent as she forced their lips back together, opening her mouth and sobbing when his tongue bumped against hers. Swirled, parried, drew her out as the crossbow hit the ground, the knife following as his hands seized her hips.

Drawing away from him was a wrench and she was panting and huffing hard to draw in breath. "Shouldn't we wait?"

Deft fingers sought a path under her shirt, sliding unashamedly right up her ribs and stopping to cup her breasts, thumbs grazing tender, aching nipples. Carol felt his touch straight to her core, the tightening of acute arousal nearly sending her weeping worship at his feet.

"I'm done waitin'." The low timbre of his voice pulsated straight through her, ratcheting up the need in her exponentially.

She was trembling, her lips poised against his, eager for more of his taste. Their noses bumped, then it was a slow, deliberate back and forth as she clung to him, panting against his lips as he somehow made an Eskimo kiss even more intimate than the clash of their mouths. She wanted him, needed him so badly, only the timing wasn't good. Not out in the open where walkers or surviving Termites might find them and have the advantage.

"But…" She bit her lip, almost crying with how much it hurt to potentially put a stop to this. "Is it safe?"

With effort that was obviously painful, Daryl released her breasts after one lingering squeeze of her nipples, and then Carol did cry, craving what their encounter had promised so desperately that losing it felt like it was breaking her into little brittle pieces.

"You're right," he conceded while gripping her hips and holding her hard against the solid steel that was his dick, throbbing from neglect as much as her centre was. Carol held onto him tight, sniffling at the cruelty of fate, wanting him so much she actually hurt. "We gotta be smart about this. Soon, I promise."

A shuddering cry slipped past her fierce effort to hold onto it and his big, warm hands cupped her jaw, stealing several quick kisses that shattered her resolve. Carol dropped her head to his chest and let out the frustrated passion, the bottomless grief, the dizzying relief that the day had not only turned out successful but that she'd found Daryl again. That he was making it a habit to hold her in his arms.

"Soon." She nodded, drew in ragged breaths and decided that she wasn't walking away without at least one thing settled between them. "I love you." No balloons, no ribbons or fancy songs to celebrate the moment, just simple words that barely encapsulated the power of her feelings for him. He collapsed against her like a deck of cards, panting against her like he'd run five miles.

"I thought you were gone." His fears pumped out roughly from struggling lungs, his body no longer hard from arousal, but blunt and large from the sorrow he'd almost lost himself within. He pushed her hard into the tree, his hands everywhere as he tried to hold every part of her, tried to crawl right on inside like a cat. "Like Beth, but you didn't leave me no clues."

They were both an over-emotional mess, but it was right to get it out, to lay their hearts open to each other. Carol observed in wonder at how far they'd come, at how willing they finally were to own up to what they'd known was true for a long while but neither had the courage to put into motion.

"You didn't need clues, Daryl," she said, stroking his hair, stroking his face. "We always find each other. We always will until our time runs out."

They stood wrapped around each other for what felt like hours, the night growing colder and deeper as they emptied themselves of the pain and filled themselves with hope. They were silent for the most part, happy to touch, occasionally seeking more closeness with a kiss, but no words could compete with the intimacy of the moment. Eventually Rick found them, staying on the other side of the tree and asking if they were okay. Daryl sent him back, said they'd be back soon, and then as Rick's less than stealthy steps receded, they reluctantly parted. Daryl kissed her one more time, rubbed his thumb across her bottom lip. Peered steadily into her eyes and took a deep breath.

"I love you, too."