Chapter 18: Relative

A/N: Oh dear, the epilogue that took a year basically! I probably would have never even gotten around to it, especially since the last chapter resolved everything and ended happily, but I recently got a review asking about it. So here it is, the epilogue of Hero!

Happiness, as it turned out, was nearly as relative as safety. It was not safe to drink and drive. It was not safe to lean over the railings on bridges. It was definitely not safe to marry an abusive egomaniac with a bad temper. Still, Carol had done all of these things; some when she was younger, and seat belts were radical and stupid, and some when she was older, and the prospect of being alone forever was far worse than being beaten.

Still, the most not safe thing in the entire world was probably the zombie apocalypse, and so far it was turning out pretty damn well for her. She had friends, family, a beautiful house and property, and a pretty incredible person to share it all with.

However, this was when the relativity came in; happiness was fluid. It constantly changed depending on the situation, and Carol had experienced more happiness and more heartbreak in the past year than she had in her entire life.

Safely escaping the danger zone of walkers? High point. Meeting new friends at the quarry camp? High point.

Ed dying? This one could be argued either way, but for the sake of the relativity Carol was willing to say it was a fairly low point in her life to put a pickaxe in his skull. This was only a minor lie.

Daryl letting her put said pick axe in dead husbands skull while looking at her like the most interesting person on the planet? High point, definitely. Losing Sophia? The lowest point of her life. The farm and the people there? High point, dampened only by Sophia's extended absence. Daryl searching for Sophia? High point.

Sophia walking out of that barn? It didn't bear thinking on. Carol didn't even realize past that point that happiness could ever exist for her. Not in this lifetime, with walkers and dirt staining every inch of her life, and her dead husband, and far beyond dead daughter.

So now, when she was standing in the kitchen of a beautiful house, dressed in the tightest jeans she had owned since university, Carol was moderately surprised. She wasn't exactly surprised that she was cooking -a task she enjoyed- or that the sun was warming her back. She wasn't surprised that her neck was starting to sweat with the newly grown hair that settled there, or that she was unconsciously humming.

These were all fairly normal things for her, these days.

What she was surprised about was the fact that she had lost everything she had ever owned and loved, and yet she was happier than she had ever been in her life. She wished Sophia was there, to see everything they had made for themselves, and continued to fight for. Sophia would have loved the acreage, with it's huge lawn, and ever-growing vegetable patch. Carl would have shown her around, and Daryl probably would have taught her to hunt and clean kills if she wanted to learn.

So, yes. Happiness was relative.

"Carol?" Lori's voice was stressed, "Oh, thank god. Here, I'll do the vegetables for dinner, just please, please, please take her outside or something."

Lori thrust the tiny baby girl into Carol's outstretched arms. Judy was annoyed and crying, and Carol wondered at the fact that Lori could even let her daughter out of her arms for a second. Carol, had she another chance, would never pass up the opportunity to be with her child. Still, she happily took Lori's baby and strolled across the living room to the front door.

Judy gurgled in joy as soon as the outside air hit her face, and Carol cooed down at her. The baby was beautiful, all olive skin and dark hair; features feminine enough that they could come from Lori, but everyone thought they came from Shane.

Oh, but that stung a little. Shane's death had been no surprise, especially not to Carol, since Daryl had been predicting it for months. As Lori's belly had grown, so had Shane's temper and restlessness. The raid he had been leading had been for formula, a crib, and prenatal vitamins. Shane had gotten bit getting all the gear, and Rick had gotten the gear home without Shane.

The irony was unmistakable; Shane was forever sacrificing himself for Lori and Carl, yet Rick was the one who always came through. Carol wondered if Shane had realized in his last moments that sometimes coming home empty handed meant more than not coming home at all.

It didn't matter much though, the camp was happier without him -recall, happiness is relative.

Carol found Rick and Daryl at the vegetable garden, helping Herschel till soil. They all looked dirty, and exhausted, and safe. Carol hadn't seen a more amazing sight in months.

Rick grinned at her and immediately stole Judy from her arms. It had never mattered to Rick that Judy looked more like his old partner than himself; it only mattered that she squealed when she saw him and latched onto his thumb like it was the only anchor in the entire galaxy.

Carol could recall the fight Lori and Rick had gotten into a few months back, in their bedroom upstairs, which unfortunately was right above Carol and Daryl's. It had been a full on screaming match, with crying and items being smashed; Carol and Daryl had listened to it silently for nearly an hour.

Eventually, Rick had ended the whole thing by yelling that it didn't matter whose baby it was, it was his goddammit, and the only thing that mattered was that Lori was the mom, Lori mattered, and he would love them both.

Things had gone silent, and all the tension from the upstairs bedroom had seemed to float straight down to settle into Carol's room, hovering in the silence between them. Daryl had been shifting uncomfortably, a sure tell that he wanted to say something but despised the fact that he felt he needed to talk about it.

Eventually, he had managed to open with a surprised confession that he had always figured he'd be having those kind of fights with anyone he ended up with; loud, violent, and mostly mean, with a side of passion. Carol had laughed, and the tension had eased quickly out of the room to be replaced with slick kisses, and smiles eaten up by satisfaction.

It wasn't as if they didn't fight. They did. In fact, they fought most of the time they were together, but it was okay that way. They bickered, and argued over the most mundane things; it comforted them both to know that they could disagree and no one was going to beat them for it.

The big fights always came when Daryl was leaving on a raid or a hunting trip. Carol wasn't stupid. She knew that raids were necessary, and Daryl was an asset to have on any hunting party. It didn't make her any happier knowing he was disappearing for however long, going who knows where, and she would never truly know what happened to him if he never came home.

Daryl did come home though, always. He almost always brought her something too, a bribe that he didn't really need to get back in her good graces. He had brought her jeans, books, a leather jacket, boots, and even a purple dress. The fact that he had remembered how she desired those things still made her head spin. Daryl had changed in incredible ways.

He still preferred squirrel over rabbit. He didn't like big groups, or being the leader. He still refused to bring a knife anywhere near the bed. Carol still liked cooking dinner. She preferred doing laundry outside over shooting a gun. Carol still flinched when he snuck up on her. Some things wouldn't change.

What had changed was the way Daryl handled Judy. The first day he had looked even more shell shocked than Rick, and refused to even go near the screaming child. He had disappeared into the woods for hours every day for a week, and come home with no food. Carol had ignored his behavior, figuring that babies probably freaked him right out, and he thought he would hurt it or some stupid shit. After nearly a week, he had marched into the house, straight up to Rick and asked to hold 'it'.

Rick handed Judy to him, told him her name, and that was all she wrote. Daryl adored the baby now, even if he easily passed her off when she cried. He always brought him trinkets for her as well as Carol, and Judy absolutely lit up anytime he walked in a room.

Carol had never been more devastated at Sophia's loss. On one hand, Sophia was in a better place, and there was much less to worry about. On the other hand, Daryl was incredible with Judy, and Carol could only imagine how positive it could have been for Sophia to find someone in camp who didn't smack her mother around.

"She's gone." The words drew her back to reality, where Rick was holding Judy and laughing. Daryl was eyeing her almost anxiously, and Carol realized she had been totally ignoring them all in favor of her own thoughts.

She flushed, "Sorry! I was thinking."

Daryl frowned, "Probably dehydrated or some shit. I'll take ya in. Ya good, Rick?"

Rick smiled, "No worries, I'll hang with the Judester."

Carol rolled her eyes when Daryl snuck his hand under her elbow, as if she could fall at any moment. He was still a little overprotective, but she didn't hate it, and didn't discourage it.

"I'm fine, you know, just day dreaming."

Daryl sighed, "They ain't good daydreams, are they?" His voice was gravelly, low and sad, in a way she hadn't heard in a long time.

"No, they're very pleasant. I was thinking that I was incredibly happy." Carol explained, her eyes catching his, almost in amusement.

Daryl nearly tripped at her words, and he eyed her like she had gone completely off her rocker. The look wasn't uncommon between them, used often in the days of the farm after the barn incident. He had thought she was crazy then, biding her time to get herself killed. She didn't appreciate the look now, but she could hardly blame him. She had given it to him for weeks after Merle had pulled his suicide stunt.

To get it now was still a little insulting.

Daryl seemed cautious, "Carol, you know that today..."

"Is Sophia's birthday?" Carol finished for him, "Yes. I know that."

They couldn't be exactly sure, of course, but some electronics still worked that had the date on them, and as near as they could figure it, it was about the end of June. Sophia had been born the 26th.

Daryl frowned, "I ain't never gonna get this women shit figured, am I?"

Carol smiled, "Probably not, but if you're wondering why I'm in such a good mood, it's because everything turned out pretty good in the end. Most of us are still here, we have a few new additions to the group, and I managed to get stuck with you. Which is a pretty good deal, as it turns out."

Daryl didn't outwardly react to her words, but Carol knew he was pleased by them. Daryl was, in many ways, very easy to please. They were similarly fucked up, and Carol knew better than anyone that he just wanted to be accepted and safe. Any type of compliment she gave him was tucked away for reference later, and always appreciated. Carol knew it, knew it by the way he flushed when she said something nice, or his eyes crinkled at the edges, like he wanted to smile. She knew it by the way he always demanded she tell him she loved him when they had sex, and sometimes even just before bed, because you never know.

"Yeah, well, you ain't terrible." He grumbled.

She pulled at the collar of his shirt and Daryl came willingly, drawn to her lips. He kissed her thoroughly, ignoring the fact that they were in plain view. She smiled at his reaction, and it was no trouble at all to slip her hands under his shirt on to his stomach.

"I love you, Daryl." She told him, her words impossibly soft. They were true, more true than she could even actually explain. He was perfection; strong, kind, and handsome. Daryl had looked for her daughter, had saved Carol from a herd at the stables, had watched his own brother die; he was a hero with every right to the title.

Carol's thoughts were showing on her face again, because he was flushed, and his blue eyes avoiding hers.

"Go get some water, or sumthin'." He muttered to her, gruff words covering the way his thumb was slowly sweeping the inside of her arm. She didn't need the words, had never even asked for them. She hadn't asked him for anything really, but he still knew, and he still got them for her.

This man was a hero; take away the slang, the background, and the house, and Daryl Dixon was a good man, plain and simple. No amount of not safe could change it, and no amount of negativity managed to change the happiness they had found together.

He had saved her in every way she could possibly have been saved.

Carol turned with a smile, heading back to the house, a newly found sassiness in her walk. She could feel his eyes on her, undressing her from those tight jeans. He had been correct when he had said she would be devastating in those types of clothing.

"Carol," his voice made her swing back around, smiling, "I love ya', too."

The words were soft, and full of tenderness. Carol grinned at him, and he turned away quickly, embarrassed by the omission as always.

Well, maybe she had saved him too.