Because my muses have me in a real hurt locker this weekend and Daryl needed this.


The yelling was growing louder, but Daryl just tightened his hold on Carol and held her sobbing frame to his own just a little longer.

It didn't matter that the last shot had rang out minutes ago and not a single body on the ground was so much as twitching, he still imagined her slipping past him and embracing Sophia and he was terrified that if he let her go he'd find her body among the corpses with her throat ripped out too.

When the sound of fist on flesh contact added itself to the raised voices of the group, he knew he had to do something. Wiping his wet face against the back of her shirt was a wasted effort as the material was soaking from sweat and tears. He eased his grip slowly, cautious to see how she'd react. With each loosening of his hold, though, her body just sank lower and lower until it laid shuddering with tears in the dirt.

Leaving her there like that tore him up inside and he was glad to have the promise of violence to turn to. He reached back to collect his shotgun from the ground before jumping to his feet. He checked the chamber for any grit that might jam it up, then braced the weapon against his shoulder and lined the site up with the shaven head standing out among the others in the group.

It took him a few moments to get a feel for the way the other man moved as he paced and yelled at Hershel's people, ducking another blow from T-Dog. Once he had it, though, he pulled the trigger and wished he hadn't spent all his shells in the last horrific moments taking out the Walkers like fish in a barrel.

If only he'd had the forethought to take the shot sooner, they might have been spared some part of this, he regretted as he lowered the gun slowly.

He cast his eyes around the ruin around him, tormented by, but grateful for the vision of Carol grieving in the midst of the bodies, a mere ten feet or so from the slain corpse of her little girl. After a bracing breath, he flipped the gun in his grip and rushed in to the fray to slam the butt of the shotgun against the back of Shane's head.

The asshole just shook it off and turned on him with blood in his eye, but that didn't surprise Daryl any. Adrenaline was the natural high every one of Merle's drugs had tried to replicate and as hopped up on it as the Officer was, there were few things that would manage to take him down.

He tossed the gun aside with a grin, relishing the promise of a good grappling, but Lori broke it up before either man could make a move.

"Enough," she whispered brokenly, still on the ground, cradling her boy to her chest and trying without success to keep his gaze from the little girl with the hole in her head.

Daryl was inclined to throw a few punches despite the protest, but Shane deflated in such a way when he looked at the woman and child that Daryl knew that he'd get no satisfaction from the exercise.

"All this time, we've been running around like fools and he knew, Lori," the big man argued, turning his fire back on Hershel. "They all knew she was in there this whole time and would have let us die looking. We can't stand for that!"

"We didn't know!"

Maggie's protest and the suffering in her eyes as she tried to shield her father made Daryl a believer. That she hadn't known, but he saw the truth in the broken man she hovered over.

He fell back from the gathering at that. Not really stunned by the realization that Sophia was likely in the barn even while the veterinarian stitched up the wounds he knew Daryl to have gotten while looking for the child, but surprised to not give a damn.

There was no point to the fighting they were doing and for once he felt no desire to hurl himself into a pointless battle just for the chance of a good brawl resulting.

He watched, feeling gutted and tasting bile in his mouth, as Rick continued the pointless struggle of trying to bring order to the people he had come to lead. Daryl had never envied the other man for taking the role and he only felt a deep sense of pity for the fool just then. The nightmares that that man would have after this day, after being the one to take that shot, were the likes of which that even a man such as Daryl could not imagine having or living through.

Finally, the group began to break apart and take their debate to the main house. His gaze tracked them until they disappeared from sight, watchful of them all for signs of trouble as had become his habit.

When he dropped his gaze to the ground where he'd left her, he felt no surprise or fear to find Carol gone. He only had to turn around further to find her cradling Sophia.

The bile demanded an out at the sight and he doubled over to puke, oddly surprised at the lack of vomit on the ground given the gruesome scene. At any other time he might have found it funny that he tossed his cookies now when he could so calmly delve into the bowels of a Walker while Rick gagged or find humor in the shredded legs of the zombie piƱata while Andrea lost it.

He'd only picked at his breakfast, too unsettled to eat even before Glenn's announcement, so the purge didn't take long. He spit a few extra times, wishing for something to get the taste out of his mouth, then kicked some dirt over it for another task to help him regain some composure.

He didn't really know what to do or how to begin doing it, so he moved slowly to her.

She rocked the body, just like Lori had done while clutching Carl.

It had to be a mother thing, but Daryl had no memories of such a thing. As far as he knew from what Merle had delighted in telling him, his mom had pushed him out then taken off as soon as the cord was cut and he was damned lucky the woman had given him that much.

Clumsy with inexperience, he put his knee down hard in the dirt to kneel next to them.

She gave no sign of reaction or acknowledgement to his presence and his hands rose then fell a few times while he played out the options in his head.

His first instinct was to tear her away from the corpse, feeling the recoil in his gut from the stench of Sophia's rot, but he sensed in Carol a need for the moment. He thought of trying to pat her back or rub her shoulder to ease her through her grieving, but that gesture felt empty and incomplete when it ran through his head, so it was discarded.

He remembered her wrapped in his arms on the ground nearby. It had been instinct that sent his arms flying out to grab her and hold her back and that instinct had proven the right thing to do, so he obeyed it once more.

With the way she held Sophia against her, there was no choice but his arms to wrap around the corpse the same as they wound around Carol. He thought that there should be something wrong with his embracing the child, but found, once his arms closed around them both, that it just felt right. He pressed his forehead into the center of Carol's upper back and damned near started bawling again.

Merle laughed openly at them, ridiculing his brother with the evidence of all hoping ever led to, but Daryl let go of that ghost when Carol finally showed a sign of life and wrapped her hand around his forearm.

Having no idea what the hell kind of emotion tore through him at that simple action, he raised his head to tuck his chin against the crook of her shoulder. He focused on the faint scent of flowers from the soap she and all the women in camp used and began to sway. It was awkward at first, but he eventually just let himself meld to her and pick up the natural rocking motion of Carol's body.

The motion felt good.

Rhythmic, like the pendulum of a grandfather clock, it somehow soothed and relaxed Daryl's frayed and confused nerves. Moms were definitely on to something with it. Probably why they all chose to do it in such chaotic times.

He stayed in the moment with them until the sun started to set and knew to continue wouldn't help anyone or anything. His body protested when he pushed it to stand, drawing his attention to the fact that he'd been on his knees in the dirt a good few hours.

He focused on the surprise that no one had checked on or interrupted then in all that time, deliberately averted his eyes from the sight of that goodbye kiss Carol gave her child after tenderly lying the corpse back down among the others. His damned heart couldn't handle a display of such unconditional love and affection.

Sensing she was ready, and imaging how her body must be feeling from the past few hours, he bent to carefully guide her to her feet with a hand under her elbow. She collapsed against his side and it, again, just felt natural to embrace her. He turned their bodies away from the carnage and they staggered back to the campsite together.