Daryl was exhausted. People were dead. The entire place was a slaughter yard of bodies. There were dead walkers scattered everywhere and amongst them lay the fallen members of the community, some surrounded by family and loved ones - others alone because their entire family was gone too.
There was only one person on his mind at that point. The last he caught a glimpse of her she was covered in blood, but fighting hard, like she always did. When Carl had been shot she'd helped Rick get him to the infirmary and Daryl figured she was likely helping out with Judith. Rosita had told him Carl was stable and the baby was safe with her dad, but he hadn't seen Carol and no one seemed to know where she was.
Daryl refused to look at the bodies. She wasn't dead. He was sure of it. Even if she'd came back out into the fight Carol was strong and, well, Daryl was certain he would know if she was gone.
He saw Morgan come out of the house Rick had locked him up in. "You seen Carol?" he asked.
Morgan shook his head. Daryl was a bit confused. Morgan looked rough, but he wasn't covered in blood like everyone else who'd been fighting. There was something strange going on, but he didn't have time to worry about it. When him, Sasha and Abe had got back to Alexandria they walked into absolute chaos. There were so many things to sort out, but first things first - find Carol.
Daryl searched and searched, but she was nowhere to be found inside the walls. He scrambled through the wreckage of where the watchtower came down and he didn't have to go far before he found her. Relief hit him like a truck just seeing her and knowing she was alive and safe.
"There you are," he said with a sigh. She looked up, saw him and a smile lit up her dirty, tired face. Carol went to stand but she wobbled and quickly sat back down. Daryl ran to her. "You okay?"
"I'll be fine," Carol replied, in typical fashion. No matter how beat down the woman got she always acted like it was nothing. It made Daryl both sad and angry because he knew it was a lot to do with her abusive past.
When Daryl saw the side of her head he felt sick. "You're not fine, what the hell happened to you?"
"I'm fine, really. It's nothing," Carol tried to play it off.
Daryl touched her chin and lifted her eyes. "You can pull that bullshit with the others, but you ain't gonna get away with it with me." God, she looked so sad it made his heart ache. "I know you. Tell me what happened."
Her response was the last thing he was expecting. "I got in a fight - with - Morgan."
"Morgan?" he repeated. "Morgan - did - that - to -you?" Daryl spoke slowly as anger raged inside him.
Carol took a deep breath. "In his defense I was gonna kill him," she said with a little smile.
"Don't," Daryl growled. "Don't you dare try to defend him." He started to pace angrily.
"Please calm down. It's over and I'm fine," Carol grabbed his hand as he wandered by her and pulled him to a stop. "Look at me," she insisted. "I'm fine. I'm just tired and dizzy, but it's nothing I haven't been through before and I promise I'm fine."
"I'm going to kill him," Daryl got out through clenched teeth.
Carol wasn't phased by his rage. "Okay, well before you do can you kneel down and hug me?" Daryl let it all go for a moment and sunk to his knees in front of her. Everything bad melted away when he wrapped her in his arms. "I was scared I might never see you again," she whispered against his neck. "We lost so much today - so many people died." Her voice caught with emotion. "Sam -" Daryl hugged her tighter. He'd seen the way she was with the boy. As much as she tried to pretend it was quite obvious to Daryl that Sam had gotten to Carol. He'd made it through the walls she built up and now everything was crumbling. "I'll get over him - in time - the others too," she said softly. "But if you -" her voice caught again. "I don't know how I'd survive."
"You would," Daryl whispered. "But you ain't gotta. I'm here." When he finally released her and stood up he saw the mark on her head and felt the anger bubbling up once again. "You need to rest, let's get you to bed." He held out a hand and helped her to her feet. Carol wobbled again and he wasn't about to make her walk. Daryl swept her off her feet into his arms.
"I can walk," she protested.
"Yep, you can," Daryl huffed. "But you ain't gotta." She didn't resist any more and he carried her all the way to the front porch before setting her down for a moment on the step. "Don't look. We'll worry about all that tomorrow." He saw Carol scanning the carnage. Suddenly her eyes stopped moving and fixated on something. And in the icy blue he saw rage. Daryl followed her gaze and realized she was looking at Morgan. As much as she had tried to pretend for Daryl's benefit Carol was furious with the man, and that brought his own ire bubbling right back to the surface.
"He's dangerous," Carol hissed, still glaring at Morgan as he walked down the street. "He shouldn't be here."
There was clearly a lengthy story that Daryl needed to hear but for the time being all he wanted to do was pummel Morgan with his fists. "I'll be right back," he growled.
"Daryl - " He was waiting for her to tell him to stop - to leave Morgan alone. But that wasn't what she said - not at all. "Be careful. He's pretty good what that stupid stick."
Carol gave him permission to get it out of his system. He would have done it anyway, but it felt good to know she wasn't going to be pissed at him once it was over. Daryl started to jog, dodging bodies. When he caught up he grabbed Morgan's shoulder. When the man turned Daryl bombarded him with a punch right to his face.
It stung his fist, horribly, when he connected with a sickening crunch, but he barely noticed the pain. Morgan was off balance but Daryl caught him, grabbed both shoulders and brought Morgan's body down and his knee up, connecting with his stomach. He kneed him twice more before Morgan found enough sense to fight back.
Daryl reeled backwards as he was shoved and before he could move back in Morgan had the stick up and was ready for him. Fuck, the dude was a good fighter, but there was no way anyone could stop Daryl when the rage took over. He charged and felt the staff connect with his leg, but he dove anyway and tackled Morgan.
Daryl pinned him to the ground and punched him again, hitting his jaw, and once more connecting with his nose. That was all he got in before he felt someone pulling him away. He saw blood dripping from Morgan's nose and felt a tinge of satisfaction. Daryl struggled against whoever was pulling him away, but he wasn't interested in hurting anyone else so he didn't resist too hard. "Hey, easy." It was Abraham. "I don't know what's going on and I'm likely on your side here but this needs to wait. We've lost too much. Let it go for now."
Daryl looked at Abe and gave him a nod. He'd done what he needed to do anyway. He left Abe, Rosita and Rick to tend to Morgan's nose and headed back to where Carol was watching from the porch. He sat down beside her and Carol leaned against him. "How bad does your hand hurt right now?" She asked.
He knew if he looked at her there would be a light, teasing smile on her face. "Like a son of a bitch," he admitted, making a fist and then opening his hand again. "But it was worth it."
"Any chance you want to help me to bed?" Carol asked with a yawn.
Daryl got her inside and into her room. "I gotta change before I get in bed," she said, looking down at her disgusting clothes. Daryl assumed that was his cue to leave, but she wasn't finished talking. "So - I don't usually condone those macho, testosterone filled outbursts - but -" She took a step closer and touched his face. Her hand felt warm on his cheek and Daryl couldn't help but lean into it, like a cat nuzzling. "Thank you for that." He nodded in acknowledgement.
Carol was still touching his face and he didn't want to move until she pulled her hand away. It felt too good. "You should rest," he said gently.
"I should," she agreed. "But first -" The next thing he knew her lips were on his. Daryl was too shocked to do anything at first so he just froze and let her kiss him. Her lips were soft and warm, just like her hand had felt on his face. Worried that she might end it if he didn't respond Daryl kissed her back. He didn't do it confidently or with experience because he really didn't have too much of either, but it still felt right and natural, and he hoped it was the same for her. "Figured it was about time we got around to that," Carol said, as she pulled away. She was smiling at him. "Relax, you did just fine." As usual she was reading his mind. Daryl looked away shyly and then looked back and gave her a little grin.
"I don't usually ask for help, but - " Carol paused as if she might be changing her mind and then continued. "I really want a shower, but standing in hot water is probably not a good idea right now." Daryl shook his head. "Do you think you could get the tub ready for me? And maybe go change, but come back so I can tell you everything with Morgan?"
Daryl was happy to help. "Course."
Her eyes looked sad again. "I need something to distract me so I don't think about -" Her voice trailed off but he understood. "I'll meet you in the bathroom in a second." Daryl went in and started the water. When it was warm he put in the plug to let the tub fill. Carol joined him when the tub was half full. She had towels and clothes in her hand and was wearing a robe. When the tub was full he turned off the water.
"I'll change quick and stay close. Just call if you need me." Daryl left her, somewhat reluctantly. He couldn't help but worry about her.
A while later she was tucked in bed and Daryl was sitting beside her. She told him everything that happened with Morgan while he was gone. "I didn't want to kill him. But I would have. I should have. I just wanted to kill the evil beast that attacked us and he was protecting that trash. I needed Morgan gone so I could deal with it." She looked defeated.
"Hey, you did your best and he was wrong. He is wrong," Daryl said with emphasis. "You're right, he's dangerous. The way he wants to live - it ain't gonna work in this world."
Carol let out a long breath. "So what do we do about it?"
"I'll talk to Rick in the morning. But one way or another - he's got to go," Daryl replied. "If Rick won't do it - I will." Carol was looking at him strangely. "Banish him," Daryl clarified. Her face seemed relieved. "Get some rest. Tomorrow is gonna suck."
Daryl started to stand, but she grabbed him. "Hey, will you stay awhile? Until I fall asleep maybe?" That was two favors in one night which was more than she'd asked for from anyone in all the time he'd known her. He felt honored that she trusted him that much.
"Roll over," Daryl said. She did and he tucked his body against hers - the big spoon to her little spoon. He only intended to stay until he knew she was sleeping, but Daryl was exhausted and he fell asleep - maybe even before she did. He didn't wake up until sometime close to sunrise and with Carol still curled up in his arms Daryl decided not to risk waking her and just went back to sleep.
The first thing Daryl did the next day was find Rick and tell him Morgan needed to go. Rick agreed that Morgan was a problem but asked Daryl to give him a few days to decide how to deal with him once they got the rest of the chaos settled. Daryl let Rick know he wasn't happy with it, but he didn't press, knowing Rick had a lot on his mind.
He immediately went back to check on Carol.
CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL CAROL
She thought it was sweet that Daryl spent the entire night holding her and even sweeter that he'd come back to check on her after silently leaving early in the morning. She was feeling a lot better other than a horrible headache and a sore body. Ed had beat her worse. She knew how to push through that kind of pain and she would because she was needed.
It would also do her good to keep busy so she wouldn't get lost in the pain - the anguish - in her mind. She still wasn't ready to let herself break down. Maybe sometime soon - but not when she was needed. Not when there was so much to do.
By the time she joined the others outside people were filling vehicles with walker carcasses to take away and burn. She threw herself into the mix and went to work. Not long after she started Daryl found her. "You gotta come with me," he whispered. "Just follow my lead, okay?" He walked over to Rick and she followed. "We're gonna take a load out and start burning."
Rick looked up. "If you wait 15, 20 minutes we can send a bunch out together."
"Nah, the two of us will be fine," Daryl insisted. "She needs a break." Carol shrugged in agreement, trying to look worn.
"Okay, you know the spot?" Rick asked.
"Yep," Daryl nodded. Carol followed him to an extended cab pick-up loaded with bodies. She climbed in the passenger side and something caught her attention.
"Daryl," she hissed, when he got in. "What's going on? What are we doing?"
He ignored her until they were out of the gates. "Rick wanted to wait but I don't want that scumbag 'round you for another day. Or anyone for that matter." Carol glanced in the back again. Daryl had Morgan hogtied and gagged, lying on the floor. She met his eyes and despite everything that had happened she felt bad for him. She'd been in his position once - the outsider that the leader saw fit for banishment. It broke her heart to leave her family behind but in the grand scheme of things the whole ordeal had made her even stronger.
It's better than death, she told herself. Morgan had survived alone for a long time - he could do it again. They weren't killing him - they were giving him a chance to live the life he wanted to live.
Daryl drove to the dump site where they were burning bodies. There was already someone there. Carol quickly realized it was Glenn. "I asked for his help," Daryl explained. "Once I told him what happened he said he would be happy to do it."
They got out of the truck and Daryl untied Morgan and pulled him out. "This is way more than you fucking deserve," he spat. "But there's food, water and some extra gas in that car." Daryl gave him a shove and then tossed Morgan's stick on the ground at his feet. "You better be long gone before anyone else shows up or I will kill you," Daryl threatened.
Glenn handed Morgan a set of car keys and Morgan bent down to pick up the staff off the ground. Carol watched the scene unfold before her with empathy, but also relief. Morgan had to go and this was the best way to do it. She thought he was going to go without a word, but when he looked at her she knew he had something to say. "For what it's worth - I'm sorry for what I did to you." Daryl started to move, but Carol put out a hand to stop him. "In your reality I'm dangerous, I get that now. But I can't change - I won't change."
"So get the fuck out of here," Daryl growled. Carol touched his arm to calm him.
Carol looked at him sadly. "I hope someday you find people, a person - someone - who means enough that you would do anything to save them. If you do - no," Carol corrected herself. "When you do you'll think of me and you'll get it." With those words Carol turned her back on him and walked away. She was done. If he lived long enough one day Morgan would realize that not all life is precious - that some deserve to live and some deserve to die. Civilization was long gone. They lived in the jungle now and only predators survived.
She was a lion. And Morgan - was nothing more than a tragic little lamb.