Blame by MissMishka

DISCLAIMER: The usual warnings, I claim no ownership of these characters, they are simply borrowed with love and adoration from the original creators to have their stories embellished on a little more than the show may do. Not for any profit.


She'd been staring sightlessly at the wall for hours when the heavy tread of his boots set the RV to a gentle rock as he stepped up into it. The small trailer was quickly jostled by his stomps across the short distance from the door to the bed on which she laid. His anger was palpable, but not enough to draw any reaction from her. Not a flinch or twitch of eye or muscle at his presence.

This was probably the reason why the other women had felt safe in leaving her in the trailer alone while they joined the men in digging graves for the corpses strewn in front of that barn. She was lost in some deep dark place inside that no one might be able to reach.

His hands curled into fists as he tried to decide if this was better than those soul-broken sobs that she'd soaked the dirt with earlier. The toss up was too tough and the impotence of not even knowing something as simple as that drove one fist into the doorframe of the entryway to the sleeping section of the Winnebago. Fresh blood yelled up from the cuts across his knuckles, but again he didn't feel anything approaching pain at the impact. His hands were raw with blisters and splinters from the old shovels they'd used for digging.

The knuckles, though, were from the inner wall of the barn he'd stood beating for a good five minutes before Dale had tapped his shoulder and drawn him from the red haze that he still felt lost in. Rather than burn the cursed structure to the ground as Daryl had wanted, they'd gone in for a sweep to make sure there had been no other Walkers to come creeping out. Nightmare that this whole fucking day was, he'd half expected to find Merle holding court in the shadows. Instead, the building had been empty of all but the fetid stench of death from the zombies and the carcasses of chickens and deer and whatever else these damned yokels had been feeding the Walkers.

His gut still twisted at the idea of that little girl tearing into the raw meat of those animals. The idea of that moment when some monster had found wherever she'd tried to run or hide and taken that chunk out of her little shoulder. Not a single rustle was made or heard from the bed as he dropped his forehead to smack into the doorway, trying to beat the images out.

He remembered little things. Flashes from the camp.

Sophia huddled up to her mama's side, eating only if and when Carol indicated that it was ok for the child to fill her belly.

A hesitant smile of gratitude and purple stained fingertips from the blackberries they'd found one of the first days of making camp.

He remembered the grimace of distaste on that girl's face the night they'd accepted the inevitable and gotten into the tins of sardines Dale had had in the depths his RV. Being raised as he had, Daryl wasn't squeamish about much that might ease the knot of hunger whenever it twisted his gut, so he remembered how he'd scoffed and exchanged a glance with Merle at how people could still be picky.

His vomit was somewhere in the mess of dirt, straw, beaks, bones, feathers, antlers and other discarded bits of scraps that even the undead didn't eat. Carol would never have the mental image of her little girl tearing through flesh and guts, not if he had his way, but damn if he didn't curse his fucking imagination for putting the picture forever in his own mind.

Something trickled into his eye, drawing him from his thoughts, and he swiped at it angrily. His fingertips came away smeared red and he wasn't at all surprised. Guiltily, his eyes darted to the bed, but Carol's blue gaze was still set on the wall. She hadn't even blinked, that he could remember, in any of the moments he looked at her.

Feeling the weight of time having passed under the chores he'd carried out and still had to see through, he stopped beating himself up physically for the moment. Flexing his fingers to restore full circulation, he went to the sink and washed off the blood from his face and hands, pressing hard for a few minutes on the cut in his forehead to get that fucker to stop bleeding.

Damned head wounds.

The blonde strands were so soft and silky as Carol carefully brushed them back from Sophia's face. With care and concentration, the woman gently twisted the damp locks into a simple braid. Later, when she took it down, her daughter would love the soft waves left from the hairs drying in the braid. When she finished the style and tied it off with an elastic band, that little blonde head tipped back for that angelic little face to smile up at Carol.

"Am I all pretty, mama?" Sophia asked.

With a rare smile and nothing but love in her eyes, Carol nodded and bent to kiss the little girl's forehead.

"You're beautiful, baby."

So beautiful.

The tears began again as the clear blue gaze looking up at her began to turn milky. In her mind she was screaming so loud as she imagined Sophia's transformation from scared little angel to …. Walker.

Zombie.

Undead thing.

Dead undead thing, now.

So many mistakes she'd made.

If only she'd gotten under the same car as Sophia.

If only she'd pried free of Lori's restraint sooner to run after her daughter.

If only he'd been there at that moment. He'd have killed those Walkers before they'd have chased Sophia a foot. Even if he hadn't have managed that, he never would have left or lost her baby.

She didn't care any more how uncharitable those thoughts may be to Rick, but no matter Lori's words in the woods that first day they'd been looking, Carol *did* know one of them, other than the Sheriff, who would have raced so thoughtlessly after Sophia to protect the girl.

But he had gone up ahead to scavenge…

Her brain had been stuck in that loop for what felt like forever. The same thoughts and feelings running unchecked in the shock frozen tundra of her mind. Distantly, she knew that the others had tried to get through to her. To bring her back from this place she was, but she didn't care. None of them could possibly get this horror.

Andrea could only understand a fraction of the grief, despite her words of empathy meant to comfort. A sister was not the same as the fragile little life one felt form within their body for nine months then brought into this world with so many hopes and dreams and ideals. A child was the world with endless possiblity to a mother. Sophia had literally been a part of Carol and without that, the woman felt mortally wounded.

Lori was fortunate that the grief had stricken the widow down as it had, because for once in her life Carol felt a burn of rage so deep she could have killed. The lucky bitch whose husband had gone to such lengths to find his family and miraculously succeeded. Whose son got shot and just got better. Whose family was happy and healthy and whole, while Carol, who did no mourning for her late husband, had had to see her own child shot down like a rabid dog. Left to lay in the dirt like some piece of garbage.

The hatred, though, hadn't been enough to bring the woman out of her silent inner torment.

After he'd left her there on the bed, she'd just fallen into this place, not having anything to hold her back there where the others were on that farm.

So it was only natural that he'd bring her back.

It wasn't a kiss that brought her out of it like Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. Fairy tales like that were something that would not be told to any future generations if there managed to be any in this world.

But he touched her. The rasp of his callused fingertips and rough palm and he grabbed then shook her shoulder was all she needed to pull her mind back into her body.

It hurt more than she thought she could bear. In that moment, she cursed him for being able to draw her out of that darkness, because even though the looped turned to horror it also wound back to that memory of braiding her little girl's hair years before any of this had ever happened.

Part of her had thought he might just leave her there. It was so hard to tell anything anymore. She could have misread all of it and he probably didn't give a damn about any of them. It could have just been pity that had motivated him to be kind to her and seek Sophia, nothing to do with Carol.

But he was there for her still.

God help her, but he got her hate too for that.

His hands looked like raw meat and the sight distracted her from her grief. Even knowing him to be a violent man – not abusively so, as Ed had been, but just a product of a world full of violence even before the zombies – his bloody knuckles were a surprise.

"It's time," he said roughly, taking her from the momentary respite of trying to figure out who or what he'd been pounding.

She clenched her eyes closed to staunch the tears and prepare herself for what he seemed to think she should be present for. He was right, that she would need to see her daughter's body buried, and again, she hated him for it.

With jerky motions, she pulled further away from the hand he'd hastily lifted from her shoulder the second she reacted to his touch and shuffled from the bed. Grief was like a boulder on every inch of her being and she moved with the slow stiffness of a woman twice her actual age. His hand came to hover under her elbow once she managed to get into a sitting position at the edge of the bed, but she yanked away from the help he silently offered.

"I'm sorry."

His quiet, gruff words tore through her and her head dropped forward for a moment as she prayed for this to all be over.

"I shoulda stayed with y'all on the road that day. We were all together, though. I thought… it shoulda been safe. I knew better, but I just didn't think…."

The words continued to stumble from his lips, but she couldn't hear them over the rush of blood in her ears as realization struck.

Unlike all the others who had hovered over her in the past hours, his apology hadn't been for her loss.

It had been for his failure.

He blamed himself for this.

She had the strangest urge to laugh.

For hours she had laid there blaming herself, and rightly so, for failing her child and all the while this man who had no claim or debt to either of them had been blaming himself for the same thing. He was so obviously eaten up by guilt and it was laughable.

What a pair we are.

As her eyes opened, she saw he had moved to squat in front of her, pleading his case in a way that choked a laughing sob from her.

"You think you caused this?"

Whatever words he'd been saying died at her incredulous question and his eyes met hers with a flare of surprise and something like hope that he blinked away as he dropped his gaze.

"I could have stopped it," he said so softly she almost didn't hear the words. "If I'd just stayed close to you…"

She covered her mouth to silence the sob that threatened as he hung his head in shame before her. His words echoed her own earlier thoughts and hearing him say them aloud made her realize how foolish they had been to think. The hatred that had wanted to fester in her soul went as quickly as it had came for this man, flipping back to the other side of that coin.

"Daryl," was all she could manage to say as her hand peeled from her mouth and went without hesitation to his cheek.

He flinched, reflexively, moving away from what he probably thought would turn to a slap or blow of some kind. She chased him gently with her palm until he stopped and looked up at her. Her hand cupped along his jaw, keeping his head up and eyes locked with his as she couldn't find any words at that moment.

His eyes were shimmering and when he slowly raised his hand to curl around hers, she dropped her forehead down to press against his. His grip tightened painfully at the moment their heads met and she could hear his gulp as he forced the grip to loosen. She allowed only a moment for their tears to mix on his cheeks, then she gulped down the ball of emotion in her own throat and straightened.

"Let's go say goodbye to my baby."

The broken words precede them rising to their feet in the small space. Their closeness at that moment had nothing to do with proximity, though. Silently he turned to the side to let her pass and they each deliberately averted their gazes as she began to shuffle past. Her arm and shoulder brushed his chest, but for once he didn't flinch at human contact.

As she began to move from the room her gaze landed on the beer bottle still sitting on the dresser inside the doorway. The flower wad wilted and begun to shrivel like her heart, which gave a painful thump in her chest. Through a sheen of tears, she grabbed the bottle and quickened her pace from the trailer.

His feet were slower to hit the ground outside, but she stood in wait as he hesitantly moved to stand at her side in the coming darkness. She gripped the bottle tightly in her right hand, stiffened her spine to stand taller than she ever had in her life then began to cross the farm to the gathering she knew was around the graves that had been dug for the occupants of the barn.

An arm brushing against her left one told her he was keeping pace with her determined stride and without thought or hesitation her fingers reached out. When his hand reached back to clasp hers, it was easier to stand tall.

Who or what ever was responsible for her daughter's death, for any of this, was something others could figure out. All that mattered now was that neither of them were to blame and maybe they could begin to accept that.