Future-fic. Carl-centric. Implied Daryl/Andrea, oddly enough. I want this show to go on forever.
He's twenty years old when he finally sees a television broadcast again.
It's a pretty standard piece: a government-issued news bulletin on newly updated night patrol protocols, but it makes him smile all the same. He remembers, vaguely now, what news reports were like when he was a boy. They were mostly trivial, meaningless things; stories about what celebrity was in jail for what, which dress went best with a new pair of shoes, what toys were the most popular this Christmas season. Sure, there'd been reports on floods and accidents and murders, but he didn't really remember those. To be honest, he doesn't even really remember the first stories about the walker virus, those first rumours tricking in about cannibalistic killers and reviving corpses. All he can remember about those days was the fright in his mother's eyes as she picked up the phone to call Shane, asking him about what was happening at the hospital, and how quickly all of their stuff disappeared into suitcases placed by the door.
This television broadcast is a good sign, a sign of the progress the new government's been making. They've set themselves up on Catalina Island, a little island off the coast of Southern California, where many had retreated to after the first outbreak. That's where the first rebound of organization and society had occurred, after everything that had happened. Not that he'd been there to see it, of course; he'd been stuck in Georgia ever since the first outbreak and it had taken them a long, long time to get west.
He remembers those first days pretty well, surprisingly. A lot of the little details are missing, like times and exact dates, but he remembers moving out of the city and meeting up with the other survivors; he can recall the elation and the relief he felt when his father came out of the vehicle with the others, and he can certainly still feel the impact of the bullet on his body, the pain reverberating through him and knocking him out into blissful sleep.
He remembers losing people, too.
It had been hard, at first, to understand it, this loss of life. Not in terms of the greater population – that was far too abstract of a concept for a boy of his age – but the loss of life of people close to him. Jim, Jacqui, Amy – and then Sophia. That had been the worst feeling, watching her come out of the barn – but it really hadn't been her, had it? It was a shadow, like the shadows under the bed in the scary stories he used to have his Dad read to him, before the scary stories became real. Shadow Sophia taught him that no one was invincible or safe, and it had been a hard lesson to take.
It was a lesson he continued to learn, though, over and over again.
First, Carol. Beautiful, kind, loving Carol. She walked into the woods one day after Sophia had come back, and she never came out. No one had ever told him what had happened, but he could figure it out from the scowl on Shane's face and the incident with Daryl, who'd taken his crossbow into the woods and disappeared for three days, only returning when he'd killed a deer for the group and collected enough ears to fill his necklace. "Everyone deals with grief in their own way," his mother had whispered to him on the redneck's return to camp, and to be honest, he'd never admired someone's battle with grief more.
And there were many, many more of those emotional battles to come.
Loss became second nature to him. Next was Shane, who'd been bitten protecting the camp one night on the way to Fort Benning. That was a hard one, though not nearly as hard as the next one. His mother and baby sister, both killed during another attack, this time by other humans, a gang of convicts who'd taken it upon themselves to raid the camp for food and fuel and whatever else they deemed fit. They'd set fire to the RV when it became apparent that the group of people they were challenging were willing to defend themselves, and when the RV burnt it took his mother and his sister with it.
He doesn't remember much of what happened after that.
They lost people to other things too, like desertion and illness and heartbreak. Glenn and Maggie, who'd come with them after what had happened at the family farm, had broken off and joined another group that wasn't so transient, a group that was willing to make a go of it in a small town lost in the Georgia woods, and T-Dog had followed right behind. Dale had put up a good fight for a long time, but the cancer he'd told no one about finally took him, and his father... his father's body finally caught up to his spirit and one day he just didn't wake up again.
It's these types of stories that would have made front page news in the times before the walkers – stories of loss and illness and violence, but there was no one out there to tell those stories, and probably no one to tell them to.
Time rolled on, and he learnt to grow up without his parents. Andrea and Daryl, once two people who he'd considered the least likely to depend on, became his only family in the world. They taught him how to hunt and track and kill (Daryl), and how to read and write and think (Andrea). They both taught him how to depend on himself and how to provide for himself, but most of all they taught him that people can learn to love again.
It's because of them, because of all them, really, that he's made it this far. It's because of them that he'd made it through the swampy reaches of Georgia to the wide expanses of Texas to the reaching peaks of the Rocky Mountains. He learnt and grew and lived through all of it, and he would have never done it without any of them. He would have never made it to the safe havens of Southern Nevada without all of their helping hands and words of courage and sentiments of love.
This news broadcast, just a simple pre-recorded statement issued through the cables and wires of the television set, brings him that feeling of hope and of life all over again. That maybe they, all of them still alive after all of this, are going to be okay.
So he picks up the little girl with Daryl's blue eyes and Andrea's straw-coloured hair, and points to the moving figure on the screen. Her eyes are filled with awe at the sight of a miniature human being speaking to her through the glass, and he smiles to see the pure innocence in her eyes. She's only ever known loss and death and fear, born into a world where parents die and monsters are real, so very real. But things are changing, going back to a world where survival isn't the only way of life, and watching her watch the television screen makes him feel like that world is somewhere that he'd like to be.
This is the world they'd all fought for him to reach. And he's more than willing to do the same for her.