This was intended to just be a quick and simple drabble focusing on the scene I envisioned at the end, but I got caught up in this moment with Carol and she simply had to have it shared with all of you, too. It may go a bit long, as it's definitely longer than I intended, but I hope y'all enjoy. :-)
Also, I'm not sure of the accuracy in labelling the Grimes' family transport as a "Jeep" but it looks like an old Cherokee or Wagoneer to me, so I'm going with that.
Moving On 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.
The breeze was faint, the silence complete and, despite it all, there was still something special about this farm.
Carol knelt in the stillness of the moment, luxuriating in the rarity. The clay dirt was warm beneath her knee and the same sun that had baked the earth was now shining brightly on her slightly bowed head. Its warmth was even managing to sink into her.
It hadn't been up for long yet and a long day awaited them all. None would begrudge her of this moment of serenity, though.
They imagined she was saying good-bye, but she wasn't. Not really. Maybe they thought she was saying "see you soon," but that wasn't happening either. Carol wasn't saying anything and, though she was kneeling, praying was also the last thing she would be doing.
Even she was amazed to find herself thinking ahead. When winter came, this field would be glorious buried under a blanket of pristine snow and she was thinking how right that they all had been.
Sophia's going to love it here.
The grave was marked simply, a short piece of two by four pounded down into the ground with a small piece of wood bearing her daughter's name nailed to it. Dale had made the marker. He had asked her for the date of Sophia's birth so he could make it as real a headstone as possible by recording the years of her daughter's life, but at that time Carol hadn't been able to speak much and could only think – not long enough.
Days worth of flowers were strewn over the heavy stones placed atop the dirt to keep anything from getting at her little girl's body. Weeds, mostly, gathered and lain by the others.
Carl had been faithful in bringing something new a pretty each morning after his chores had been completed. He would have been a good man for her daughter if the two had managed to grow up together and Carol had been foolish enough to find hope in those moments when she'd watched the children together in the camp. Fool to believe in this world that there may have ever been a hope of them all journeying to relics of the past like the Grand Canyon to enjoy like a family or even normal people again.
Wetness began to form and roll down her face as her mind wandered, but it was solely from the sweat brought forth by her direct exposure to the Georgian summer heat. The tears had stopped just yesterday and she doubted she'd find any more in her to cry for a while yet.
This was a moment not meant for grief. There had been more than enough of that in her daughter's twelve years on this world. Carol only wished the girl had been there long enough to see her mother grow up, but it was the typical irony of life that had made certain she could only find this woman inside herself after having had her baby taken so horribly from her.
"Mrs. Carol," a familiar voice spoke with respectful quiet behind her, bringing a fond smile to her face. "Dad says we're about ready."
She looks back at the boy and he moves slowly forward upon seeing the soft curl of her lips. He had managed to find violets that morning, she saw as he stood beside her, a fistful of the pretty little flowers in his right hand. Carl, like most of the others, was so timid and cautious around her anymore. There was no blame or anger or even regret in her for that fact. She more than understood their caution, given how she'd been of late.
In moments of her suffering, even the breeze had incurred her wrath for daring to blow when she just wanted to be still and dead to this world. The stars in the night sky had evoked her sobs.
There was no getting better from any of that. Not really. But at least she understood the grief would always be a part of herself that she could live with. While she might still be trying to figure out why to live with it, Carol knew she would just keep going now.
Sometimes the profoundest knowledge came from the oddest sources, she thought, remembering back to just the night before when she'd been so boldly challenged to get a grip on herself.
Drawn from her thoughts by the realization that the boy was waiting for something, she gave a brief nod and silently gave her consent for this last offering to be placed.
"We're never gonna to see her again, are we?" he asks as he straightens from his task.
The mother in her wanted to give some reassurance to a child in need of it, but reality had cut them all too deeply for that to work anymore.
"We just have to remember her," is the best she can manage as she pushes slowly to her feet.
"I could never forget her," Carl assures Carol with unshakable certainty.
Rather than grab the boy to her chest and sob as part of her wanted to, she brushed the dust from the knee of her Capris and put a hand on the top stone of the pile. With an intuition beyond his years, the boy sensed her need for another moment alone and was gone before she could say anything in response to his avowal.
Breathing deeply one last time of the fresh air of this place, her fingers move from the rock to the crude cross. She traces her daughter's name on the wood and wonders if she should have allowed them to put something more on it. In the end, though, what else was there to have been said.
With that in mind, she silently slipped the chain in her hand over the tip of the two by four and let the necklace drop to hang down over the nameplate. The sun caught on the gold cross as it swung briefly from the motion and she stopped the movement with a steady finger. Stepping back, she took the scene in like a freeze-frame. Capturing it in her mind forever, because they would never return here. For better or worse, whatever was ahead, that was one thing she knew as well as Carl did.
A flutter of white drew her gaze to the ground where the marker was planted and the Cherokee roses lying there made her smile once more. Carl had not been the only one who'd made daily pilgrimages to this place and it touched her as much as it hurt to see such love displayed for Sophia. She could only hope that wherever her girl had gone after this life that Sophia went there with some idea of how much she had meant in such a short time to these people.
Carl was at her side in an instant as she finally turned from the grave to head toward the convoy preparing to head out. Without a word, their hands clasped and they just strolled across the distance. Everyone was ready to put this place behind them, but they also knew with a leaden feeling in their souls just what all it was that they were leaving behind with it.
Noise returned to Carol's life as they arrived back among the others. The last minute hustle of making sure they had everything was chaotic and she let go of Carl's hand so he could run along to make sure Rick didn't have any chores for the boy. Watching the boy run off, Carol could see the ghost of her daughter looking back at her in askance before chasing along after him as the children had so often done when the group packed up like this. It brought a wistful smile to her lips and the realization that maybe she would see her baby again, just not in any sane sense of the word.
The smile left her as her eyes locked with Lori's and the sheriff's wife had the grace to drop her gaze quickly to the ground. While part of Carol was grateful for the other woman's concern, there was still too much grief and bitterness in her for there to be peace between them at the moment. The news of the pregnancy had been announced on the same day that Sophia had been laid to rest and, in her grief, she'd said and felt some harsh things. Carol knew it would pass and she would be by that woman's side to do all she could to help bring that new life into this world regardless, but that time hadn't come yet.
The busywork abruptly ceased at her return and Carol knew that's all it had been. They'd all been ready to go before daybreak, but had been kind enough to allow her these last moments and she could never express her gratitude to them all for that.
Maggie moves past her at that moment, having just finished her good-byes to Hershel and Carol tries not to worry about the young woman's choice. It was one thing for them to be leaving here, not having been part of this place before they found themselves briefly sheltered on the farm, but this was Maggie's home. On the other hand, she can't imagine this group without Glenn among them and Carol knows that the pair was not to be separated from here on out. She watches as Glenn appears from nowhere, lies a gentle hand on his girlfriend's shoulder then takes the girl into his waiting arms when she falls apart. The couple clings for a moment in the open, the others making a point of not witnessing the emotional display, then the pair climbs into the RV.
To imagine anyone finding love in this place….
Unbidden, her blues eyes move to the front of the line of vehicles preparing to move down the dirt road back on to journey to Fort Benning. He's leaning against his motorcycle, gazing off into the distance as still as she's ever seen him as he drags deeply from the last of the cigarettes he'd found back on the highway. As if sensing her quiet study, his head unexpectedly turns to catch her looking. Their eyes meet for just a moment through the haze of smoke he exhales and she can't help but feel, no matter the impropriety, like a schoolgirl caught fantasizing about that untamable bad boy every good girl wanted.
Having given the couple in the camper a few minutes for Maggie to compose herself, the group began loading up without a single command spoken. It was instinctive to them now and she couldn't help but marvel at the ballet of it as they took their places.
Shane was quick to get into his car at the back of the pack and she wished he weren't still part of them as he slams his drivers' side door shut and starts the engine. In another time and place, she could imagine him cranking up the radio with some loud angry music before peeling off and leaving them all in a spray of gravel like an angered adolescent. Fortunately, he was smart enough not to play any music as the noise might draw Walkers down on them, but she could still sense the tantrum in him. None in the group would or could forget the nightmare that that man's actions had brought about on that day. Carol agreed that the barn had been a worry, but dealing with those Walkers…her daughter like that, had just added to the wrongness of this world.
T-Dog and Dale were heading for the Winnebago. Rick, Carl and Lori were preparing to get back in the old Jeep. Only Andrea and Carol were left for a moment on the outside of the activity and their eyes locked as they each had some confusion to work through pretty quickly. The silent communication, during which Carol had no idea what was being said, left them exchanging a quick nod of agreement then turning to go in opposite directions.
"Aren't you getting in?"
Her steps pause at Carl's innocently posed question and Carol looks briefly at the boy and his family and that vehicle. Even if it weren't tainted with those last memories of time spent with Sophia, Carol had no desire whatsoever to accept that particular ride. Still, it was the only invitation she'd gotten and she felt it wise to consider the options one more time before going with the choice she'd already made.
He wasn't helping, when her eyes look in his direction. All he does is snuff out his cigarette, give his head a quick jerk towards her that seemed to say "Whatever" and then he turns to throw his leg over the seat of his motorcycle. Lips twisting wryly at that way of his, she looks back to the others.
Andrea has just pulled the door shut after climbing into the passenger seat of Shane's ride. With a droop to his shoulders and sad shake of his head, Dale, who had been observing the blonde as usual, turns his attention to Carol. She sees the question in his eyes. He knew she wouldn't be wanting to ride with Rick's family and he wants her to know that she is most welcome to find transport in his RV. She smiles her thanks at that and gives a barely seen shake of her head. His expressive eyebrows lower in momentary confusion at her response. Then his gaze moves to the lone man at the front of the line and the motorcycle that normally would have already revved to life, indicating to them all that it was time to get a move on. Understanding dawns and his eyes return to hers. She sees the same concerns she feels, but he gives a brief nod of approval before climbing up into his vehicle.
Breathing in a slow breath, she skims her eyes over the Grimes' and gives them a nod of thanks before gripping the strap of her hobo shoulder bag. There's no hesitation in her step now as she turns back to the front of the procession. The old Carol would have turned tail and run at his lack of welcome, but the Phoenix that was rising within her saw past his silence. Though he kept his head forward, eyes seemingly trained on the horizon they'd be crossing, her wizened gaze saw the way his hands eased their white knuckled grip on the handles of the bike as she came to a stop beside it. Some of that same relief coursed through her before she was distracted by a moment's uncertainty about how to get on this thing.
Forty years and she'd never been on a motorcycle. Never even wanted the experience, given how dangerous the things and their riders usually appeared. This phase was all about things that most of them had never been or done before the sickness. She refused to let fear be a controller any longer, though, and while she wasn't up for a Sarah Connor transformation like Andrea, she could certainly manage this.
Not seeing any other option unless she wanted to fall on her butt, Carol places her left hand on Daryl's shoulder then moves to throw her right leg over the rear of the bike. Her fingers want to linger over the bone and sinewy strength of muscled warm flesh, but the time isn't right for that. His sudden tenseness tells her that, so she lets him go as soon as she's settled on the seat behind him. She rubs her moist palm over the side of her pants, partly her own nervousness, but also from the sweat that was already sheening on his skin from the sun, and she tries to figure out what she's to do next.
Instinct guides her Keds clad feet to the pegs along the side for the passenger to use, but there's nothing for her hands to grip. Her eyes latch on to the only thing she can see to hold on to and she gulps at the expanse of his back, wondering if she's to hold his shoulders, sides or waist. Was there an etiquette she should know and obey to this?
She could feel the gazes of Lori and Rick on her own back, so she twists her head around to look at the vehicle in line behind the motorcycle. Lori had apparently had to herd Carl into the back and she was still standing beside the door she had clearly shut behind him once the boy got in the car. The women exchange hesitant smiles and with a jerky nod, Lori gets in the Cherokee herself. Rick pauses for a moment in the open driver's side door, gripping the top of the door in his hand as he meets Carol's gaze. While he is clearly worried about her, she knows he doesn't question her choice and that eases her some to have his unspoken reassurance.
"Just don't fall off," the Sheriff orders with a rare grin before nodding past her and getting behind the wheel of the old yellow beater.
With some surprise, her gaze darts forward to see that Daryl's head had also turned to look back. Their gazes lock and something seizes in her chest as his lip quirks suddenly upward on just the left side.
"You heard the man," he says in that gruff accent of his. "Best hold on tight."
It was more permission than she ever would have hoped for, so she quickly obeyed. Her arms wrapped themselves around his slim waist and she leant forward to press her face into his back. She was sure she was blushing, but imagined that he was too and marveled at this odd moment in time.
The bike rumbled to life, making her jump. Her grip tightened instinctively as he shifted his feet off the ground, kicked up the kickstand and set the machine in motion. As they began to move, the scent of him sank in and she just barely stopped herself from inhaling deeper. As the time went on without them being able to bathe again, it might not always be so appealing to catch a whiff of him, but at that moment she found comfort in his smell. They'd all bathed hours ago, so he smelled of the same soap and shampoo she did. But he also smelled of the cigarette he'd smoked, the grease he'd gotten from tweaking the engine of this bike while he waited for the others to finish readying their own transport and, most of all, his own distinct maleness teased her nostrils.
Oddly calmed, she eased her hold around his waist and pulled her nose from his back for a last look at the place her daughter would now lay forever. Her gaze touched on the farmhouse and other structures - avoiding the barn still standing in the distance. The trees and fields. The stacks of stone that marked all the graves were stark reminders in the peaceful setting and she didn't linger on them. Her eyes went to Sophia's marker and she said another useless prayer that her baby may find rest there.
The convoy was all in motion behind them and Carol exhaled a slow breath before resolutely facing forward. She feels the wind start to whip around them as the bike picks up speed, the vibration of the machine beneath them and thinks she may begin to understand why he likes this mode of transportation.
A wry smile briefly twists her lips at the realization that she may find herself enjoying the 'bitch' seat. Mrs. Ed Peletier was dead now and this Carol would only allow herself to find humor in that. And it was so oddly funny to her that she let out a soft huff of laughter. The sound made Daryl's body tense and his head began to turn back towards her. Something in the way she dropped her head back to his shoulder-blades and shook it to get rid of the out of place mirth must have reassured him, though, because no question was asked as he faced forward again.
The moment of humor left her as quickly as it had come and Carol was exhausted by its departure. She finds herself wondering if its safe to sleep on the back of a motorcycle, because she thinks she could manage it between the steady vibration of the bike and the solid comfort of his body to press against. Not wanting to risk falling off and holding them all up, she decides it's best not to try and pushes away from the surprising intoxication of Daryl Dixon to sit up and watch the scenery pass by. It would change drastically as they made their way to the military base and she would miss this quiet countryside. But the time had definitely come for moving on.