Author's Note: After some feedback I received from readers I decided to go ahead with this story. As I've expressed before I'm struggling a bit with motivation. I know it's incredibly frustrating that I have several fics out there that are incomplete and I sincerely apologize for that. I do intend to finish all of them at some point. I struggled with starting this new idea because I feel guilty with the other unfinished stories. But someone told me that it's better to write something than nothing… and it might help me pick up the others if I just keep writing what I can. I don't intend for this to be a lengthy fic which is another reason I decided to start it. It feels really good and very inspiring to finish something so I'm hoping it will help. Anyway, I hope you like the concept. The first chapter is just really setting up the background for you and bridging where Carol is currently to where she is in the story. But the real plot here is a Caryl love story in a different setting and circumstance than I have done before. Would love to know what people think of the first chapter - it means a lot to me to hear from you. In any case, thank you for reading and thank you for your patience and understanding. XOXO Bobbi
Anyway, I hope you like the concept. The first chapter is just really setting up the background for you and bridging where Carol is currently to where she is in the story. But the real plot here is a Caryl love story in a different setting and circumstance than I have done before. Would love to know what people think of the first chapter - it means a lot to me to hear from you. In any case, thank you for reading and thank you for your patience and understanding. XOXO Bobbi
Carol woke up nervous. It was a big day. A huge day. The future of her community depended on the outcome of the meeting she would have in only a few minutes. But that wasn't the only reason she was nervous. There was something much bigger that had her stomach tied up in knots. She was meeting with Rick Grimes, a man who was like a brother to her only a few short months ago. She hadn't seen him in many weeks and he had no idea he was meeting with her.
It felt like a lifetime ago that she'd left a goodbye note and Alexandria in her rearview. So much had happened since then. Morgan found her, saved her, and with the help of a kind man from a place called The Kingdom, he'd taken her to Hilltop where the doctor was able to keep her from dying. She'd wanted to die back then. She was in a very, very dark place and death was quite welcome. But looking back now - Carol was very happy to still be alive.
Morgan. Who knew that he would be the one to bring her back from the depths of despair to where she was now. It wasn't an easy road - not at all. There were days she'd seriously considered running again. There were days she didn't even want to get out of bed. But she'd stayed. And she'd got up - every - single - day.
It had been terrifying at first, talking with Morgan, because he knew things he shouldn't have known about her. He knew what she was feeling and thinking. He knew she loathed herself and her actions. It was scary for someone to see through her like that. It didn't take long for Carol to realize why though - he knew because he'd been there.
The day Morgan shared his entire story was the day than Carol finally realized she had a future. She felt lighter and she felt a freedom she believed she would never feel again. It was also that same day that she finally opened up to him and let everything spill out - all of it. Morgan already knew some things - like how she'd killed Karen and David. But when she told him about Lizzie Morgan cried with her. Never once did he judge her though. He'd killed many innocent people when he was clearing. He was in no position to judge anything she'd done. Knowing that made it easier to be completely honest with him.
It was after that day that Morgan finally returned to the compromise they had made with each other when he found her. A man had been attacking her and Carol had given up. She was willing to die, too tired and in too much pain to fight back. Morgan killed that man and saved her life. When she met his eyes, lying on the ground, bleeding, cold and exhausted Morgan spoke a few words she would never forget, "We don't have to kill. But sometimes we have to kill." It was a truce between them, but Carol never imagined those would become the words she lived by.
Her path to healing had begun with forgiving herself. Morgan had to work really hard to get her to a place where she was able to do that - but it had happened, finally. He made Carol see that killing can be a choice most of the time. But not always. That was what he struggled with as well. They were opposites in a way. He didn't want to kill ever and she couldn't stop herself from doing it when her family was at risk. Slowly they talked each other into a place of compromise where both could move forward without any guilt. If there was another way you always do it. But when there's not - it's okay.
Morgan helped her live again, but she also helped him realize that he could exist amongst others even if his views were vastly different. So for several weeks they lived at Hilltop - secretly. The only person who knew them was Jesus and Morgan had begged him to keep their identity a secret from Gregory - and from Rick. Morgan had made a day trip to Alexandria to let Rick know that both of them were safe. Rick, Daryl and many others had begged Morgan to tell them where she was, but he kept her secret. Now - finally, it was time to let her family know where she'd been all this time.
"He misses you," Morgan had said during a quiet moment after he'd returned from Alexandria. Carol didn't have to ask who - she knew. "Rick had to hold him back when I wouldn't say where you were." Carol felt her heart pound thinking about him. It was the hardest part of leaving - leaving him. "He cried though - just knowing you were alive and safe."
Carol brushed away a tear. Just thinking about him made her long to see his face once again. Maybe… some day soon she would. But would he ever forgive her for leaving? Would he understand?
She started to get dressed. Would he be there that very day? With Rick? Carol couldn't decide if she wanted him there or not. This deal she wanted to make was a big one and she couldn't let her emotions get in the way of what was best for Hilltop.
It was crazy to think that she was now the leader of this beautiful community. But it just seemed to fit. She still felt guilty that she had overcome her injuries so easily but Gregory had never recovered from his wound. He died slowly from infection, his body resisting the limited antibiotics they were able to round up.
The day he died Carol was still in a bad place. As the weeks passed and she started to get better she began to realize that the community was falling apart without a solid leader in place. It all started with Carol pitching in, getting things organized again, making sure people were taken care of. They still had supplies coming in but everything was in such a disarray. It came naturally for her to look after people. If there was one thing Tobin had recognized in her it was her maternal instinct. He knew nothing else of the real her - she'd kept that hidden behind her mask, but her need to look after people and be a mother to those who needed it - it wasn't something she was ever able to hide.
Over time people started to come to her for guidance, even those who were closest to Gregory. She was counselled on big decisions, on defense, on trading, on how to best utilize their resources… people came to her for everything. Carol started to feel like she was finally exactly where she needed to be. She was taking care of people without killing, without violence, but with strategy and peacefulness.
She could still remember the day Jesus had come to her with several other men and asked her if she would be willing to make it official. "You've been leading this place for weeks but the people need to know they have a leader." Carol wanted to say no, but the way they were looking at her with such hope and trust… she agreed - and from then on it was official - Carol was the new leader of Hilltop.
This place was the epitome of her new life philosophy - We don't have to kill. But sometimes we have to kill. It was a very peaceful community and they kept to themselves, bowed to the Saviours to avoid conflict, and just lived as normal of a life as one could in this world. When her men went out to scavenge or trade they often ran into trouble. Carol told them if they needed to kill in self defense to do it, but if they were able to take prisoners, reason with people, make deals etc, to try - because that was just how they would do things.
Lately though, there were more and more threats from the Saviours. There was something she needed from Rick and she had many resources that he didn't - bargaining chips. As Carol checked her reflection in the mirror there was a knock on her door. "He's here." She took a deep breath - it was time.
Carol walked towards the stairs and she looked down to the lobby. She froze. Rick wasn't alone. Of course he wasn't alone. Michonne was standing by his side. Carol felt her eyes well up with tears. They looked so good. Michonne looked happy and Rick seemed more relaxed than she'd ever seen him. But her eyes only stayed on them for a moment before they moved to the man pacing like a caged tiger off to their left. Daryl. He was here.
She quickly sucked in air and swiped the tears off her cheeks. She had to pull herself together. This wasn't a personal visit - this was business. Carol moved down the stairs and by the time she was at the landing she could feel all eyes on her. "Carol?" Rick looked confused, but the confusion quickly gave way to a smile as both him and Michonne ran towards her. Before she knew what was happening she was firmly in the middle of a group hug. "You're here? You've been here all along?" Rick asked as he released her. "Wait… you? Am I… are we… meeting with you?" She nodded, not surprised at how quickly he put things together - Rick was a smart guy. "Wow…"
Michonne hugged her again. "It's so good to see you," she whispered. While they hugged Carol allowed herself a brief glance in Daryl's direction. He was no longer pacing, but he was making no move towards her. Her heart sank. Daryl was pissed at her - she was sure of it. He always came running, hugged her… but not this time.
When it was clear the reunion was over and she'd promised to tell them her whole story some time, she invited them into her office to talk. It was killing her the way Daryl was hanging back, silent. She'd hurt him - bad. Maybe too bad to ever repair.
When they were all sitting Carol quickly got to the point. "I want to make a deal with you," she started. "The Saviours are getting worse. We lost a couple men last week and one the week before. I'm worried they might come to gates - or might try something." Rick nodded - he knew everything the Saviours were capable of. "My people are getting scared. They aren't used to living in fear like this. It's taking it's toll on many of them. We need something - we need a feeling of security that I think you can provide."
Rick looked intrigued. "What's your proposal?" He asked.
"We aren't fighters here Rick. We have some, yes, but we're not like you guys and no offence… but we don't want to be." Carol paused. "Yes, I could take a group and train them, but… I don't want to go there if there's another way." She glanced over at Daryl and he looked away. "It would go such a long way if I could make them feel even a little more secure here." She chewed her lip. "So here's what I want - I want you to provide me with guards. Three of them at all times. They would live here, rotate shifts… maybe stay a week and then a new crew could come switch things up." Carol had thought out all the details. "I want my community to feel safe knowing there are people here who will protect them at all costs - people who will kill without hesitation to make sure no one else gets hurt." There it was - she'd said it, made her request.
Rick narrowed his eyes, "Let me get this straight… you want me to risk the lives of my people to protect your community?"
"Essentially, yes," Carol admitted.
"Why would I do that?" He asked, giving her a smug, amused look.
Carol could feel a little of his arrogance slipping in and she would have none of it. "You're going to do it because you need things that I have. If you don't agree to my terms I will veto our trading agreement and move the loyalties of Hilltop to the Kingdom." She didn't want to threaten him, but Rick had to know she was serious about this. "No more produce. No more casings and supplies for Eugene to make bullets. And no more access to our vast storage of supplies." She could see him bristling and Carol softened. "Please Rick, my people need protection, you need supplies. I'm asking for 3 people - that's all. I'm trying to do what's best for this community and I'm asking for your help - in return for everything you need." Carol could tell he was getting closer to giving in. "You don't have to give us anything in return for our supplies anymore - other than your protection." Carol could still barter with the Kingdom for anything else they might need.
She watched him look at Michonne and saw her nod. "Guess we have a deal," he said, reaching out a hand.
Before Carol shook it she added something, "You send people that will make us feel safe, not people you can afford to lose." It wasn't a great thing to say, but it was the truth. She wanted Abraham, Sasha, Heath… Not men like Tobin who had no experience outside the walls with sadistic individuals like the Saviours.
Rick sighed, "You know I will." Carol shook his hand. "How soon does this thing start?" He asked her.
"Starts right now," a voice spoke from the back of the room. They all turned at looked at Daryl. It was the first time she heard his voice in so long and it made her want to cry. She fought back the tears. "Send back two more once you get home, but I'm staying." Carol struggled to breathe. Daryl was staying. Here. For some ridiculous reason in all her planning she hadn't even thought about the possibility of Daryl being a guard - or of him living here while he did.
Rick didn't bother to argue. There was never a point in arguing with Daryl - he was way too stubborn. "I'll send two more - by tomorrow at the latest."
Carol nodded. "Jesus is waiting outside. He'll help you get what you need," she said.
Rick came over. "I'm glad you're okay," he said, giving her another hug. "This is exactly where you needed to be all along." Michonne hugged her too and they started to leave. "You coming to help?" He asked Daryl.
"Be there in a minute," he muttered. Daryl's back was to her and he didn't turn around until the door closed behind them and it was just the two of them left.
When he was facing her Carol finally spoke, "I know you're mad at me… but the only thing I can say is I'm sorry… I never meant to…" She stopped talking when Daryl started walking towards her.
"We can talk later," he said, before wrapping his arms around her and pulling her tightly against his body. Carol melted against him and hugged him back, feeling the tears start to flow instantly. Daryl's face was tucked against her neck and as she sobbed in his arms she realized he was crying too. He clung to her, so tight it was almost suffocating, but it still felt so good to be held by the one person she missed most from the second she left.
When Daryl finally released her they looked at each other with tear filled eyes. Daryl licked his lips and spoke, "You started over - without me."
Carol shook her head. "I didn't want to - I just…" She was way too emotional to try to explain it.
"Shhh," Daryl said, touching his finger to her lips. "I just need to know… if there's a place for me...now? Can I be in your new life?"