A/N: Their second reunion, set later in S5, when she's out of the hospital, and the group is together again.
Love is friendship set on fire.
- Jeremy Taylor
Smoke is still hanging in the air when he sees her.
His muscles throb with a deep, raw ache and he can still taste the blood and the dirt in mouth. But it fades when he's sees her - the pain. He can't feel it anymore.
He doesn't believe it, at first. He can't. He's gotten tangled up in too many snares disguised as miracles - traps that he's fallen for all too easily. He's lost her too many times already, and each time, it gets worse. He knows the feeling well, by now. The cold emptiness that confounds him when he believes she's really gone, when he thinks he'll never see her again. And there's always the regrets. Things he never said. Chances he never took. Because he was too afraid.
Each time, he feels like she's been ripped away from him. They've bonded skin to skin, so every time he loses her, she takes some of his skin with her.
How many miracles can you really get before it stops being real, and becomes just a cruel trick of the universe? A dream. He's beginning to think that you only get one miracle, and she's his.
That's why it takes him so long to believe it. To register that it's her standing before him. Carol. She appears out of the blinding haze of chaos like a nymph - like a fairy-tale creature out of one of those books she used to read to the kids, back at the prison. Out of the smoke and ash and fire, alive. While everything around her is dying, she survives. She thrives.
She's there. Standing right in front of him, framed with the tall buildings that line the city skyline. Standing in his reach.
If he touches her, she could disappear. Slip through his fingers like water. He could wake up to find that this had all been in his head. He could wake up to find her gone.
If her touches her, he could hold her. Grasp her body tightly to his, until he knows - with unwavering certainty - that she's real.
She's his miracle. And every time she reappears in his life, he remembers. He knows.
He runs to her, his legs unsteady, his pace fast, and sure. He crashes against her, his arms twining around her. He almost collapses onto her - almost gives in to the quivering weakness in his knees, but she catches him, and he leans on her with everything in him.
His hands roam her back, her shoulders. Touching her feels right. More than right. And when her arms hold him back, her strength matching his the desperation he feels swelling up inside him, he feels whole. Complete.
He clutches the back of her head, running his fingers through her hair. Bringing her closer to him, until their formed together as one.
He's held her like this before, but this time, it feels different. Now, the heaviness in his chest is crushing, aching to explode.
He buries his face in her neck when he lets a choked, broken sob escape his lips. He doesn't care if everyone watching them hears it. They all know it, by now. Know that he has a weak spot. And know that it's her.
He presses his lips to her warm, bloodied skin, feeling her pulse thrumming fiercely beneath her flesh. She lets out a soft laugh tangled in a sob, and her hand goes to his head, her fingers settling in his hair.
He breathes in her scent, because he's waited too long for this. To smell the sweat, the dirt, the gore on her skin - and underneath the layers of all that, the scent that he can't describe. The scent that distinguishes her. The one he'll always recognize. The one he'll never forget.
Their heartbeats meld together, and he holds her tighter. The world around them has fallen into a haze of smoke, everything incoherent and disjointed - and she's the only thing he's sure of. She's the only thing that's real.
And, later on, once the chaos has died down and they're wandering down the long, winding highway, side by side, he reaches out, and grabs her hand. As he twines his fingers together with hers, he looks up at her, and she's smiling. She squeezes his hand, and he can't help but smile back.
This time, he's not going to let her go.
A/N: let me know what you think!