Petri Dish of Yeech, by MissMishka

Daryl comes back before Rick does.

Carol's relief is dizzying and the roiling in her gut gets the better of her. She pushes past T-Dog and Daryl to stumble to the ground and throw up her breakfast; hoping she made it far enough away from the RV that no one will come across the mess and lose their own lunches or appetites. She stands on the shoulder of the highway; bent over with hands braced on her knees and eyes closed as she breathes to try bringing some calm to her nerves.

He'd been gone what felt like hours, but she knew it had likely only been thirty minutes to an hour at the most. Time enough for them all to tire at playing with the weapons while Dale and Maggie held off on serving the meal that they had thrown together; everyone having opted to wait for a direction before they are.

That time taken meant that he had encountered Walkers or that this traffic jam is just that long for them to have to clear a path through. Neither scenario helps her find anything approaching Zen.


She hears Lori's concern and approach, but doesn't look up at the other woman until the sound of her retching become evident. Carol cringes at the sound and gags before straightening. Rick appears with two bottles of water then makes a hasty departure to join the group in the RV. If she didn't feel so queasy she would have laughed at him, but all she can do is tuck the bottles under her arm before moving to hold back the pregnant woman's hair and rub her back until they're both relatively certain there will be no more upchucking from either of them.

Lori takes a bottle gladly and they each twist the tops off to swish their mouths out with the liquid.

"Does this mean that we're preggy pals?"

Carol spits out her mouthful of water to avoid choking on it at the other woman's wryly spoken question. She coughs and sputters at the very notion flapping a hand and shaking her head in such vehement protest that Lori ends up virtually collapsing against a beat up old Chevy and laughing until tears leak from the corners of her eyes.

"Not funny," Carol gasps out once she has some control of herself.

"That idea? No, not funny. Your face?" Lori manages to gasp out before convulsing with another fit of giggles while she flailed about in an apparent parody of what Carol had just looked like.

Sometimes, Carol really dislikes this woman. Really.

Laughing despite herself, Carol attempts another actual drink of water and manages to avoid another spit take while she moves to leans back against the same vehicle supporting the other woman.

"Morning sickness getting worse?" she asks seriously when the laughter dies down.

"Only when I first wake up or smell food or see vomit or smell and see dead things or, you know, move," Lori sighs with another drink from her own bottle.

Carol takes that as a yes and winces in sympathy at the idea of how nauseous the woman must feel if she really does get pangs from even a fraction of those things.

"Mine was nerves," she belatedly clarifies. "Just stress. And powdered eggs and SPAM."

"Oh, God," Lori gags and holds up a warning hand, "don't mention the SPAM."

Carol looks toward the RV to find the other all having piled out to begin clean up, leaving Daryl and Rick standing just outside the vehicle. Both men are staring rather worriedly at her and she can only imagine that they are having or have just had the same thought/conversation that she has had with Lori. It would have been funny if she hadn't been able to see the visible flexing of Daryl's jaw as he ground his molars.

"We have work to do," she puts the cap on her water bottle and urges Lori forward before moving quickly to stand in front of Daryl.

"I'm not pregnant," she declares without any delay, uncaring of the married couple beside them. She puts her free hand on Daryl's jaw and makes sure he can't avoid her eyes. "My nerves are shot and I'm spending a little too much time in my own head for this early in the day. Shane gone and you wondering off and me here not knowing if you'll come back – I really really hate that you do that," she pushes herself against his chest and hugs him tight as she should have done the second he stepped into the Winnebago. "I was so worried."

She feels some of the tension ease from his frame, but his motions are still stiff and awkward as he slowly wraps his arms around her. She takes the gesture as the solace that it is and exhales all her tension against his shoulder; holding him tighter as she senses Lori and Rick creeping away to give them a moment of privacy. After a few moments, she feels his chin tuck against the top of her head and the rest of the tension leaves him.

"You'd tell me if…." he practically mumbles against her scalp.

"If I could get and did get pregnant you would be the first to know after me and God," she vows, pressing her forehead hard against his shoulder and not looking him in the eyes as she makes her confession. "I can't get pregnant. I'll never have another child."

The tension that comes and goes in his body; the way his arms flex tight around her before eases up to allow his right hand to begin a soothing rub against her back all ask her the question that he won't verbalize. She takes a bracing breath and tips her head back to find him watching her curiously.

"Sophia's birth was…not easy," her eyes drift closed for a moment at the memories that mock her for that understatement. "There was a twin that didn't make it. A stillborn I named Sonya. Sophia was bad shape and if I hadn't gone into labor three weeks early the doctors said I would have lost her too. They had to operate and this was back in a day when doctors thought it was easier to just take it all out so I had a hysterectomy. They took everything that'd let me have another child," she pulls out of his arms; already feeling the chill of him no longer holding her. "Ed wanted a son and always blamed me for never getting his heir."

She hugs herself and walks a few steps away from him; not about to blame him if he no longer wanted half a woman.

"Everything else in order?" he steps carefully after her and a laughs chokes out unbidden.

"I can still…you know," she buries her blush against his shoulder.

"I don't know," he puts an arm around her and she can feel his smile when his lips press to against the top of her. "Maybe you should explain it to me. In detail. I can draw some pictures…"

She puts her elbow lightly into his gut before pulling away.

"How long is this going to take us?" she straightens away from him to ask as they both turn to watch the slow progress of the group moving corpses and maneuvering vehicles aside enough for them to drive through.

"Too long," he sighs and her stomach knots again. "Goes on for almost a mile before it opens up enough for us to get through. Still slow going after that. We're sitting ducks here."

"Should we try going around?" she looks at him worriedly.

"I don't know these roads and we don't know what the hell happened to Shane when he veered off this road."

"What about finding a place to cross the median?" she looks forward and back seeing nothing but guardrails or a mess of wrecked vehicles blocking their way across to the southbound lanes of the interstate. "We know we can get through that way, if we can get over then we just up it. Not like we have to worry about oncoming traffic."

"I'll run it past Rick then see about going back to see if there's an opening," he nods like he genuinely hadn't thought of that option. "In the meantime, while you and Lori were having that your giggles, the assignments are as follows: Carl is currently monitoring the radio for word from Shane. Dale is on the roof," Carol blinks up in surprise and sees that the man is indeed at his unofficial post atop the RV. The old man gives her a salute and she flutters a distracted wave back because it wasn't at all creepy how he was just there the whole time. "You and I are supposed to be gathering gas," he gestures toward the red cans and siphoning hose set beside the Winnebago. "As there's no delicate condition that we need to worry about, you will get gas. Get T-Dog to help you if needed if I go look for a crossover," she takes the gas can and hose when he thrusts them in her hands. "These assignments are to last for one hour. At that time, Maggie and Glenn get gas duty, Lori takes the radio watch and Dale stays on the roof. Hour after that Rick takes the radio, T-Dog and Carl get gas and Dale-"

"Stays on the roof," they complete together, exchanging smiles and looking up at the man as he shows no shame at only ever having the one job in these scenarios.

"The rotation will continue as needed; eat when you feel the need to and keep moving as much as possible as fast as you can throughout."

Hearing more than a little of his input into this duty roster, she nods and kisses the fabric over his heart before moving to start checking the vehicles likely to have the larger gas tanks.

"Forgetting something?" he asks chidingly after her and she looks down to make sure she has both the gas can and hose required to siphon fuel from these abandoned vehicles.

He comes up behind her as she's turning to ask him when he means and she jumps at the smack of the flat of the machete blade across her butt.

"Shit," she huffs, reaching for the weapon with both relief and resentment while kicking herself for leaving it God….in the truck?

"Rigged this up for you," he drops a looped length of rope over her head; angling it across her chest like he does the strap of his crossbow then letting it go so that the machete dangles over her hip. "Sheathe won't really work for it, so this should help you keep track of it without having to keep it in hand at all times. Just make sure you can pull it off without strangling yourself when you need it."

She gives it a few test runs, yanking the rope back over her head to grab the hilt of the weapon in hand then slinging it back over her shoulder out of the way. The drop is a little short, hitting her a bit high on the hip and causing the blade to angle outward in a way that could prove dangerous to anyone she accidentally bumped into, but she fixes that by tugging the rope so that the machete dangled more to the flatter front of her abdomen rather than putting it along the curve of her hip.

He seems satisfied after that and she watches as he moves to the front of the group where Rick and T-Dog are breaking out windows to get into vehicles to put them into neutral for pushing out of the way.

It seems so silly to her to be standing where she is now and see so many of the vehicles locked like these poor souls had done themselves any good by trying to hole themselves up in their cars waiting for the madness around them to pass. Human nature is such a funny thing and somehow it had become human nature to just lock the door if you found yourself inside a car when bad or scary things were happening outside the vehicle. It chills her suddenly to think that little Carl is likely locked alone in the Cherokee at that very moment; instructed by his parents to stay there with the radio and keep the locks engaged like it will save the child. All that it had done for these people is turn their cars into their coffins; causing them to die from starvation or who only knew what else before the Walkers left this area in search of fresh food.

These obstructions on the highways were graveyards in every sense of the word.

It doesn't surprise her a bit when to see Daryl walking back toward her on his way to the motorcycle. The idea is a good one, but not if he's really going to go back alone. She knows they have all the more need for manpower here on the clean-up duty now that Shane's not there to throw in his muscle, but if they lost Daryl, too…

"I'm only going back a few miles," he stops to inform her like he knew her worries; which he likely did because she knows her heart is on her sleeve now for all of them to see. "Won't take me nearly as long to do this as it did to scout ahead. Rick and I remember seeing an emergency access road about five miles back. If it's open, we'll backtrack and take it."

She has no input to offer on that topic as she had dozed on the ride to this point and she honestly can't remember when they had come through this particular stretch on their way down. It all starts to blur together after so long travelling; not to mention how much has happened to them in such a short span of time. Her mind boggles at the realization that this is only the third day since they'd left the farm.

"Hurry back," she orders, resisting the urge to cling and keeping her kisses to herself until she has had a chance to gargle with bleach and brush her teeth with some Comet. Her mouth was going to be a Petri dish of yeech after throwing up and siphoning gasoline.

"Yes, ma'am," he gives her his best 'aww shucks' drawl then moves to straddle the Triumph.

She doesn't watch him leave in hopes that he'll be back the next time she turns around. Focusing on her task helps time pass; even though she's always aware in the back of her mind of the minutes piling on since he left and through each one of them there is no excited appearance by Carl rushing towards the group to alert them to any communications with Shane.

She's almost finished filling the first gas can when shouts up ahead freeze her blood and causes her to drop the canister to the ground to grab for her machete with both hands. She gets immediately gets tangled in the rope as she tries to rip the strap over her head but doesn't let that stop her as she rushes to join the others in seeing what the hell is going on.

Theodore is as pale as she can imagine him to possibly get as he's leaning against the side of a sports car with Lori intently looking over his right arm for any signs of damage.

"What happened?" she and Andrea both ask as the last ones to come upon the scene.

T-Dog gives speaking glance toward the driver's side window of the car he'd broken into to move the vehicle out of the way. The corpse of a man is behind the wheel; body rotted from weeks dead but the puncture wound in the center of his forehead is fresh with congealed blood still oozing from it.

A zombie.

She looks to Rick and he gives a simple, terse nod to confirm what they all knew.

"It's going to slow us down, but from here on out no one opens a car alone," he orders them all.

"He had me," T-Dog runs shaking fingers over his arm to verify Lori's conclusion that he hadn't been bitten or scratched in any way that broke the surface of his skin. "I reached in to pop the lock and open the door and his hand was right there," the man wrapped his trembling fingers around his right wrist in what Carol guesses is just the way that the walker had gripped him.

"We got him," Rick moves to assure the man, "you're fine. We can't have any more calls that close, though. If I hadn't been right here talking to him, that thing would have bitten T-Dog. When I say we don't do this alone, I mean two per car; one to open the door the other to be right there ready to kill anything that moves inside the car. We can't ever assume that they're dead dead inside. Obviously, they may have gotten infected before they locked themselves in their cars and then they couldn't get themselves out after they turned."

The idea has them all looking over the cars surrounding them with renewed horror.

Notes: Title for this one taken from the line I just really kind of liked and if "Petri dish of yeech" has ever been used by anyone else in writing or movies let me know because it's something I feel like I got from somewhere, but I have no idea where and Google had no results for the exact phrase. If its original to me... yay?

As you can tell, my headspace was a little weird for this one rolling from twisted humor to kind of just twisted.

Writing this brought me to two startling conclusions:

1) I'm now 21 chapters in and this is truly only the 4th day, I had to go back and count it myself, the first chapter is day 1, day 2 picks up in chap 4, day 3 starts chap 8 and we just began this 4th day in chapter 18. The point of this? I spent waaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy too long on the 3rd day with all the Wal-Mart shopping and feels afterward. 10 chapters for one fictional 24 hr time period; if I had thought it through more I could have 24'ed that one. :P

Conclusion the 2nd) The show has actually done a pretty poor job of really utilizing that 'you die, you turn' edict because if it were really true then think back to all the corpses in cars that should have been Walkers in episode 2x01? Perfectly wasted opportunity for creepy because I have seriously wigged myself out with images of the survivors walking through these 'abandoned' traffic snarls and opening a car only to have a zombie come out at them like a jack in the box. I originally wrote this scene with Carol kind of idly looking into the back seat of a van as she siphoned gas from it and dropping the gas can as she fell back screaming when a zombie kid suddenly lurched up against the glass trying to get out at her. I just *know* I'm giving myself nightmares tonight of me walking to my car in a parking lot filled with cars and the cars are all going to be filled with dead bodies but as I walk past them every now and again a head will do one of those uber-creepy death roll flops to gape at me with soulless dead eyes while others claw and snap at the confines of their car trying to get out and kill me.

Summation to my conclusions? I'm very long winded and horror is like the best/funnest genre ever!