I again give thanks and credit to my living muse and beta, Alamo Girl. I think you'll like where this ultimately went. )
Enough, by MissMishka
WARNING: This piece is inspired by a multitude of spoilerish interviews I've read from the cast *and* from the incredible new sneak peeks and promos coming out for the new episodes. I'm not claiming this to be a scene from any of that, but enough of the pieces fall together that I believe we might see something of this piece on the show. If you have been avoiding anything spoilerish then stop here and come back to read after the new epis return. If you're just not sure how or where to find these spoilers or promos I speak of, please feel free to PM me and I will be glad to guide you to my favorite sources as shared to me by Alamo Girl who has my eternal thanks and devotion in this fandom if y'all can't tell. :P
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.
Carol found herself drawn to them as they hung so innocently in the midst of camp.
She didn't know or care why Shane had hung them, except to know he had been making some kind of statement about Daryl or a challenge to the hunter.
The tension between the men had simmered all day, but hadn't boiled past yelling from what she could gather. She had been there through it all, but hadn't really been there for such drama.
She wasn't sure where she had been or even where she was, really, at this moment. Her body was still on the farm, in the makeshift camp, but her head had drifted off a little ways. At about the same time that Sophia's head had exploded from Rick's bullet.
She liked the ears, though. They were a nice touch. Morbidly fitting for the day.
Their texture was almost artificial when she touched one. It would have been easy to convince herself or any of the group that they were fakes, but the men all clearly remembered how Daryl had been shot wearing the necklace.
She understood why Rick may have felt compelled to hide it and appreciated the man's quick action to shield Daryl, but felt the logic to be rather silly.
If it had been a shark or alligator Daryl had slain, many would have fawned over his making a charm of a tooth for evidence of the kill. The proof of his strength and survival.
Hypocrisy had not been left behind with the old world, though, and the fact that these had once been part of a human made it taboo for the man to have taken them.
She gave the dangling line of trophies one last glance and hoped the hanging charm would ward off the menace she sensed encroaching upon them all.
The events of the day had turned the world upside down again.
Last night there had still been hope and talk of finding Sophia; of them staying as guests on this land.
Tonight they were despised interlopers and there was no hope to be found for much of anything.
There seemed to be a taint in the very air around the place now. The darkness seemed somehow alive and Carol felt fear for the first time in the days since they had come to this place.
Hearing Glenn announce that the barn was full of Walkers had been startling, certainly, but she hadn't been overly scared of the news. They had been contained in the structure the whole time without posing any threat to the camp and she probably could have lived with them caged in that place.
She would have been glad to keep her head in the sand, thinking her daughter was out in the wilderness somewhere, alive maybe, rather than in that building. Daryl never would have stopped going out into the wilderness, though, seeking Sophia and then Carol would have lost them both in her want of denial.
Eventually, she was sure, she would be grateful that he had been there to act as he had done when Sophia appeared, but that time was not now and she turned from the ears as she sensed his eyes locking on her from somewhere in the shadows. Without making any effort to seek him out as she may have the night before, she pulled the cardigan tighter across her chest and began to walk away from the camp.
She felt his eyes following her until she moved from sight, but she knew he wouldn't shadow her. He had been steadfast in giving her the space she had silently demanded when she tore from his arms hours ago.
Most all of them had been giving her a wide berth since her refusal to partake in the clean-up of their massacre. There had been no desire within her to pay audience to their mockery of a funeral for her child.
Unbidden, she found her feet moving in that direction now, though.
As she neared the barn, she felt the aura of violence still clinging to the area as clearly as the stench of blood and death.
The graves were mostly shallow, but at least each body had been given its own plot.
There were no clear markers on any of the mounds of churned earth, but she knew instinctively which one was Sophia's. It was shorter than any of the others and one of the few that bore flowers.
No roses for this place, just wildflowers and little more than weeds.
She stood at the foot of the grave and bowed her head over it, waiting for the tears and grief to overtake her again.
Her eyes were dry, though, as she stared unseeingly at the ground and remembered Shane's words and the moment the man had torn away the board barricading these vacant shells inside the barn. She remembered his fury and felt a similar anger fester and spread within herself. She remembered Sophia staggering from the darkness into the sunlight and the feeling of light fading from her world at the realization that the girl truly was gone from her forever.
Part of her still didn't want to believe it, despite having sensed there could be no other end to the search. She wanted to deny that her daughter was laid beneath this pile of dirt, but knew that was exactly what she would find if she were to give in the urge to dig the grave open again to check.
Finding no peace in this newly made cemetery, she turns from the grave to stare at the looming structure of the barn.
It seemed massive and ominous in the night. The full moon in the sky and the lone motion sensing light mounted on the building did little to diminish the darkness in these shadows.
They had closed it up again, she knew, after they had performed a quick check to make sure all of the Walkers inside had been slain.
She did a slow walk around the building, fingers trailing over the solid, aged wood. Every so often she would stop to push and pound against the walls, seeking weakness and finding none. The barn was as soundly made as Hershel had claimed and it would have continued holding the undead indefinitely were it not for the group's interference.
The realization didn't help anything, it only made her add banging her head against the wood along with her fists as a need for violence overtook her.
She was crying without knowing or caring why. The tempest left her as quickly as it had come upon her and she fell tiredly against the barn.
Her body felt heavy and boneless as she turned her back to the structure, intending to slide down the wall until she sat against it on the ground.
Instead, she immediately froze as soon as she turned enough to see the yard that she'd had her back to. She had been so absorbed in her misery that none of her senses had picked up on the Walkers that were now staggering toward her.
The nearest one was a male and still a several yards away, far enough that she could have run for it, but her reflexes were sluggish and her body uncooperative with fear.
She pressed back the inch of space she had left between her back and the barn and watched in wide-eyed horror as the Walker's glazed eyes focus on her and its decaying body zeroed in on her.
His progress was slowed by the obviously broken ankle he dragged along with each shuffling step. The bone protruding through flesh and torn pants had likely been his downfall as a human, the injury would have kept him from fleeing and left him open to the teeth and hands that had torn into his face and chest. His suit jacket and torn button-up shirt gaped open over a torso that had been stripped of layers of skin and chunks of muscle.
She was immediately reminded of Ed's corpse, soft belly and guts eaten away by the zombies that had attacked the camp. She wondered idly if he would have risen to stagger at her like this fiend was doing had she not taken the pickaxe to Ed's skull, which hadn't been nearly as thick as she would have imagined his pig head to be.
Remembering her husband brought his face to mind and in her mind he began to berate her for the way in which she had failed Sophia.
"Don't you worry," his ghost taunted as it found and moved toward the frightened specter of their daughter, "I'll keep an eye on her now."
In her mind's eye, Carol saw her child's pleading gaze as Ed put his arm around the girl's shoulders, his hand dropping to stroke Sophia's arm in a way that made the mother want to vomit.
She threw her head back against the barn, biting her lip and clenching her eyes shut against the all too real image. When her eyelids rise again reality becomes the more pressing issue as the space she had had from the first Walker was gone.
Finally, her body found the strength to move and her left hand reached out to feel along the side of the barn until it found a handhold between the planks of wood. She dug her fingers in and used the hold to pull her body across the surface until the rest of her caught on and she began to inch along the wall toward the corner.
She battled the instinct to scream, knowing that such a noise would draw more zombies to come upon her quicker, just as it would alert the others to danger near the camp.
It was a common internal debate throughout her life and she weighed the options with teeth nearly biting through her lower lip. Did she suffer in silence or make noise that may endanger others?
The Walker stumbled dangerously close just as her foot struck something on the ground, causing her to nearly fall.
Regardless of the consequences, she screamed then, a long, shrill unleashing of primal fear and impotence. It tore from her throat and she knew her voice would be harsh afterward, if there were an afterward for her to speak in.
She risked taking her eyes from the zombie long enough to see what she had stepped on then nearly collapsed in relief to see a discarded shovel.
She stooped to grab it just as the Walker made the last lunging step needed to put him over her. Her unexpected drop to the collect the weapon caused him to miss her and his hands hit the side of the barn rather than finding a hold on her body.
His rancid body pressed her hunched form against the barn, but she had enough room to maneuver and used it to turn and shove at his stomach. Her hand sunk into eviscerated guts and the squelch of organs in her fingers was enough to make her gag as she screamed once more and tore that hand away while continuing to shove with the other.
The geek finally stumbled off balance and she threw her shoulder into his midsection to knock him to the ground while she shoved herself to stand.
It snarled and snapped at her as it fell to the ground on its back. It didn't need or take time to recover breath, though, and it immediately turned toward her with clawing hands, trying to get a hold of her for a bite.
She kicked away from those hands and finally remembered the shovel. Her hands were wet with sweat and blood and the handle slips, but she twisted her fingers around it like death and she slams the flat of the shovel against the side of the Walker's head. She heard the snap of neck bone and the crunch of a cheek shattering, but knew that that didn't do anything to these things.
Shaking with fear, she drew the tool back then drove the pointed blade down through the forehead of the fallen thing. With the full force of her weight behind the blow, the shovel cut through skull and brains until it wedged itself in the earth beneath the Walker. The zombie immediately stopped moving as the top of its head separated and fell to the ground.
The next one was too close for her to react to the gore of the kill and she reacted instead to the threat; instinctively yanking the shovel back from the dirt and whirling with it to face the danger. She got lucky with the momentum of her spin moving through the shovel, which she had unknowingly flung out. The blade sliced into the former woman's cheek and Carol forced herself not to think about who the creature may have been.
Her blow knocked the zombie down, but she again had to finish it off on the ground. She allowed her mind to replace the butchered features of a female walker with memories of Ed and it became easier to raise the shovel and slam it down on the skull to bash the brain with the flat of the blade.
The handle of the tool is too long and unwieldy for such continued combat and she spun her head around to see that she had just that single heartbeat of space needed to run from the continuing threat.
Without pause, she took that moment and ran.
Her body collided hard with something as she tore around the corner of the barn and she screamed once more. The shovel is dropped upon impact, but before she can react to being left defenseless, her eyes finally recognize Daryl as he struggled to keep his grip on the crossbow she had jarred in his grasp with the impact. His quick reflexes somehow kept them both on their feet.
"Walkers," she gasped unnecessarily, her eyes locking with his to show her horror and tell him how serious the threat was.
He shoved her behind him and into the side of the barn before he pressed against the structure and leant forward to peer around the corner.
She saw the telling way his body froze as he took in the threat approaching and she closed her eyes against despair.
"Run," he ordered.
Without firing a single bolt, he slung the crossbow over his shoulder, grabbed her arm with bruising force then yanked her away from the barn. He didn't let go of her as he took off across the open ground toward the RV, clearly intending to drag her if she wasn't up to the sprint.
She didn't slow him down, though; running full tilt without needing to be told or urged a second time.
The others come into sight quickly and this time it is a relief to see them lining up with guns, preparing to fire and hold off the unknown threat.
She tore past them with Daryl on her heels.
"How many?" Shane and Rick barked in tandem, neither man taking their eyes from the area Carol had been.
"Dozen," Daryl bit out, "more coming quick."
He quickly put his crossbow down on the picnic table the rushed into the Winnebago to return almost instantly with his shotgun. He checked the shells already loaded in the pipe, snapped it shut then pumped the barrel before taking his place on the front line.
The Walkers began stumbling around the corner of the barn and moving hungrily toward the group and the scene was such déjà vu that Carol stood transfixed by it for a moment.
Then the first shot rang out as one Walker got close enough to pose a threat and she flinched. Her mind is returned from the remembered harsh light of day is replaced with the reality of dark night. Her body jolted at the sight of a bullet impacting skull to drop the first corpse and she remembered how they had poured from the opened barn doors like a dam unleashed that afternoon.
"Get inside," Lori suddenly appeared, grabbing her arm and jerking her from the blurred reality.
She obeyed without question, racing after the Deputy's wife into the RV. Carl was huddled under the table in the kitchenette, clearly ordered there by his mother, and Carol saw the weapons cache strewn atop the surface that hid the boy.
Without thinking, she reached out toward the collection and curled her fingers around the first thing they touched.
A baseball bat. Jim's, if she recalled correctly.
She remembered the mechanic bitten and dying. She thought back to the bedside duties shared with Jacqui as the man had so slowly and painfully been burned of his humanity and lost to the fever of this zombie plague.
She looked at Carl, trying so hard not to cry as he was forced to hide from sight and left to wonder how bad it was outside for his father and Shane. In her mind she imagined Sophia cowering in a similar fashion. She imagined everyone she had known and lost so scared and damned alone in a moment like this and her eyes burnt with unshed tears while her hands fisted around the grip of the bat.
The thought, the idea, seared her cauterizing wounds that went far deeper than the horror of this one single day, not matter how eventful it continued to be.
"Carol," Lori grabbed her arm again, her voice shocked and warning as the woman read Carol's intend to go back outside and she tried to stop the departure.
"Barricade the door," she said, gently but firmly removing the fingers from her forearm. "You keep your boy safe."
Carol turned her blue eyes to Carl, but they still saw the huddled ideal of her daughter and she smiled reassuringly at the child.
Ready as she would ever be, she darted from the camper, slamming the door shut behind her and leaning against it to take in the scene. She saw another massacre as shots rang out, dropping bodies and shell casings like so much useless garbage, but she understood the need for it this time.
The Walkers never hesitated in pushing on, intent only on feeding their hunger for flesh. No sense of self-preservation or sense remained in the creatures, they gave no reaction to the fall of their kind, each so singularly focused on their own want that nothing else mattered. That mindlessness overrode any other instincts that they may have had while living and it was that that separated them from the living with the guns.
With each threat eliminated, another staggered forward wanting nothing more than a small patch of skin to sink its teeth in to and the group kept firing to keep the danger back. Each of them, her people, fought for the survival of another.
The chaos of the scene and madness of the zombies' blind hunger drove her forward, bat drawing back toward her right shoulder and preparing to swing.
There was no longer a visible line of the living between the Walkers and camp. The group had splintered and everyone was off in their own direction, defending themselves to protect the others.
It gave the undead the opening needed to straggle into the sanctum of their camp and Carol went for those trespassers.
Furious at the invasion, she ran to the creature moving toward Andrea and she threw the barrel of the bat forward to crack against the back of the Walker's head. The blonde whipped around then, eyes wild and fearful, gun wavering only slightly in her hand. Carol felt no reaction to the gun being turned on her as she swung again at the zombie to knock it to the ground then once more until she saw grey matter ooze out with blood from the head.
Andrea's blue eyes locked on something over Carol's shoulder and the other woman jerked her gun slightly to the right then fired.
Normally, the noise of a shot so close would have made her jump, but Carol simply moved out of the way and went on to the next stray. She ran toward it, stepping on the bench of the picnic table and then hopping to the tabletop to take aim at the Walker there.
Finding there to be an unwritten double-tap to be the minimum requirement, she threw her weight behind the wooden bat for a swing to knock it off balance then followed up with a splattering downward bash to eliminate the threat.
From her high ground, she surveyed the camp and saw the attack dwindling, but not yet over. Glenn and Dale had fallen back to the RV, their shotguns out of ammunition. Rick was reloading his gun while T-Dog provided cover. Andrea had moved to join Shane to press on, firing ceaselessly at the staggering zombies.
Daryl's shotgun had also gone through whatever reserve of ammo he had had, but rather than fall back for cover against the Winnebago as the others had, he wielded the weapon to a club and was bashing skulls. The Walkers were too close, zeroing in on him because he was the most vulnerable without a weapon to take them down from a distance.
Her gaze went to the bow near her feet and she had enough time scoop it up and study it before she caught the eye of one of the geeks. The arrow was loaded, the string drawn back and locked, all ready to pull the trigger for firing. She had learned that much from watching him.
Without hesitation, she moved to cradle the stock of the weapon against her chest without dropping her bat then she raced down from the table past the reaching hands of the zombie that had focused upon her. She slid to a stop at Daryl's back, ducking low as he sensed a presence behind him and instinctively swung around to take her head off with the gun.
"Take it," she snapped, thrusting the bow against him.
After a flickering glance from her to the weapon, he dropped the shotgun, took the bow and whirled into action. In a series of well practiced moves, he braced the butt against his shoulder, swung around, lined up the nearest threat in his crosshairs then tweaked the trigger with a light crook of finger to release the bolt.
As he went through the motions of reloading, she covered him. She gripped the bat with both hands and braced herself with a steadying breath before rushing at the next threat.
It got knocked aside from the impact of wood against its shoulder, but snarls and stumbles toward her in retaliation of the blow.
A blur of red and yellow shot past her to bury itself in the zombie's head, eliminating the threat before she could have swung again. She moved to yank the arrow free of the skull as soon as the Walker hit the ground and she handed the missile back to Daryl as he drew the bowstring back to cock the weapon again. He hastily wiped the gore from the bolt on to his pants before he notched it in the groove for another shot.
They worked in sync like that until the danger ended as suddenly as it had begun.
She stood over the last Walker she had hit, seeing the dent in its forehead from the bat. It wasn't moving, but she still delivered one final blow to split the head open. The blood and gore exposed is reassuring, telling her that she had succeeded in insuring that the former person would not rise again.
Chest heaving with panting breaths, she began to look around.
The carnage was easily twice that of earlier in the day, but she wasn't interested in a body count. Their stench filled her nostrils and she dropped the bat to pull the neck of her shirt up over her nose. The material was wet, though, and smelled just as vile, making her skin crawl with the realization that she was covered in their blood and bits of flesh.
There were no tears over this bloodbath. No faces familiar to any of them among these mutilated corpses.
There were no regrets in that moment, especially none for her.
For the first time in her life, she had fought back.
She had beaten something.
At her side, Daryl was bent over, hands on his thighs as he surveyed the desecrated camp and recovered his breath. His right hip was toward her and she reached for the knife there without a clear thought in mind.
As she yanked the sheathe open and tore out the hunting blade, he whirled around with fists ready to bust a head open, but she had wisely gone in low for the weapon.
"What the-" he began to snarl upon seeing her with the knife in hand.
The words cut off the instant she knelt over her last kill and proceeded to hack off its left ear.
As she severed the right one from the Walker's head, the group began to gather slowly behind Daryl.
Realizing she didn't yet have a stringer for the trophies, she settled for tucking them in the pocket that ran along her lower thigh on the cargo pants she wore.
She felt their eyes on her with growing horror and reluctant fascination as she moved on to the previous zombie she had slain. The ears came off easily just as they did from the next one and the next until she had collected the ears of each Walker she had taken down.
No one had followed her back down to the barn when she went to claim the trophies from those first two kills, but they were all waiting when she climbed back up the slope to the camp.
Without a word, she went to Daryl. As nonchalantly as she had seen him do with his arrows, she swiped the blade of his knife on her pants to clean off some of the gore then she extended the blade toward him, hilt first.
His eyes went from hers to the knife to the bodies on the ground then jumped to the blood-soaked pocket stuffed full of ears before locking again with hers as his hand rose to almost automatically take the weapon.
"What the fuck was that?" Shane broke the silence to ask, disbelief plain in his voice.
"Another herd, I would say," she replied calmly and deliberately missing the point of his question.
The man's body tensed at the unintended provocation, but she didn't regret the retort or tone.
"Now, Carol, I know you've been through it today," Shane began slowly approaching her with his left hand raised in a calming gesture while he kept the right one lowered at his side, gun still in hand. "Believe it or not, I'm sorry for that, but this…that's not right."
His eyes were on her pocket and she looked down at it herself.
"I earned them."
Her words were quietly uttered, but clearly spoken and the man's left hand dropped while she watched the right one begin to tap the gun against his thigh. He said nothing in response to her statement, but she felt the considering weight of his stare.
She smiled at the question, a chilling curl of her lips as she knew how he wanted her to have been infected so he could justifiably pull the trigger and drop her among the dead.
Not feeling the question worth an answer, she turned from him and moved toward the RV, wanting to rinse off and put on clean clothes before she found some string to make her new necklace.
The click of the gun cocking was overly loud in the silence of the scene, but she felt nothing at the knowledge that he had taken aim at her back. She would have expected no less.
"Stand down!" Rick shouted above the sudden cries of alarm from the others.
"What happened to we don't kill the living, motherfucker?" she heard Daryl snap.
She started to turn to watch the drama unfold and found herself helped along by the rough hand Shane put on her shoulder to yank her around to face him.
"You fucking answer me," he barked, bruising her with his grasp as he put the gun to her face.
It was still hot from all the firing it had done, stinging her cheek with the burn of the metal against her flesh and she stared past the threat of the weapon to the angry man that wielded it.
"None of them got me," she said, silently vowing none of them would.
"Show us," he flung her away from his hold and stepped back to brace the gun with both hands and aim it at her.
"Enough," Daryl took the opening to move quickly in front of her, his body rigid with tension as he shielded her from the new threat.
Carol didn't really care much at that moment, though, so she used the screen of Daryl's back to begin taking off her clothing. The others could see, she was shielded only from Shane and Daryl as the two men eyed one another, but she didn't care what any of them saw anymore.
Her cardigan she dropped to the ground and left to lie there next to the sneakers she toed off. She pulls the shirt off over her head, balled it up and tossed it deliberately over Daryl's shoulder to splat on the dirt between the men.
They turned slowly to look at her as the others turned away, Lori shielding Carl who had rushed from the RV when the silence outside the camper had continued long enough to indicate the threat to be over.
She wanted to smile again, just to see if he'd pull the trigger, as the gun wavered in Shane's hands when he realized she had obeyed his command, perhaps more literally than he had intended.
"Jesus Christ," Daryl exploded, rushing to stop her when her hands went to the button waist of her pants with the clear intent of stripping fully.
He covered her with his own body, wrapping her against his chest without showing any reaction to the bare flesh he touched.
Over his shoulder, she glared at Shane, openly challenging until he finally lowered his gun. She watched him release the magazine and eject the cartridge from the chamber of the weapon to render it harmless before he reloaded it, set the safety back on then thrust it into the waistband of his pants.
"Don't you go getting as crazy as he is," Daryl ordered, quiet and serious in her ear.
She wanted to laugh at that, given how worked up the man had gotten when Shane challenged him earlier, but the irony would likely have been lost in translation. She said nothing to him, though, still not certain how to speak to the man any more, and squatted to pick up the discarded cardigan and shrug it on.
His displeasure at being ignored is as obvious as Shane's had been, but Daryl made no move to threaten her with harm. She sensed a want for violence in him, but knew it would go no further than a shaking if he let himself lay hands on her.
Maybe she could have used something like that. A shake or slap and an order to snap out of it, but she wasn't hysterical so no one seemed to be inclined to try such a treatment.
She didn't bother with her shoes as she turned away, moving barefoot over the dew and gore covered grass to climb up into the RV. Her feet leave prints lined with blood and dust on the linoleum as she went for her bag.
The filth on her is repulsive, but she sensed that a bath may be the last thing she accomplished this night, rather than being the next item on her agenda.
Floss is the only acceptable material she can find in her purse for the string, but she doesn't want to waste that. Putting the bag aside, she went back outside to find the group divided.
Dale, Lori and Rick huddled together with Glenn pacing nearby and fretting over whatever it was the trio discussed so intently.
Andrea, Daryl, Shane and T-Dog were performing the arduous task of delivering that 'final nail' blow to each corpse on the ground to make double or triple or final fucking sure that every single body laid dead dead.
She slid quietly to the picnic table, not drawing anyone's attention. The zombie she had felled there wore sneakers their once white laces stained with dirt and blood. She undid the knot and removed the string before moving to sit on the bench of the table.
In the shadows, she quietly pulled the ears out of her pocket to thread them on the string one by one until her pocket is empty.
A dozen ears.
She had gotten six.
After knotting the ends together, she slid the necklace on and the ears settled heavily against her chest. There is a part of her that flinched at the feel of decaying flesh and cartilage, but it is overwhelmed by the rest of her. The grotesque charms empowered her.
She had survived the day and she had proof of it.
Her eyes lift to the strand hanging from the branch in the middle of their desecrated camp. She then sought out Daryl among the gathering. She found him with the few bodies lying near the barn.
As she watched, he swiped sweat from his brow and stood over an unmoving corpse. His bow was cocked and loaded, but his finger hesitated over the trigger. She watched the brief closure of his eyes before he inhaled visibly and took the shot to put the bolt through another forehead.
For a moment, his shoulders slumped forward with the expulsion of the arrow from the weapon and his exhaustion with the chore was palpable across the distance.
He sucked it up, though, spine going stiff and straight with another deeply drawn breath. She watched him put the toe of his boot to the corpse's cheek to hold it down as he retrieved the bolt, wiped it and reloaded it in the weapon.
The way in which he so forcibly pushed himself on tugged at her as did his isolation from the group.
She had added to that isolation with her shunning of his care after Sophia had been put down and she didn't know how to redeem herself for that.
As he disappeared around the side of the barn to double check her kills left behind the building, she rose from her hiding place.
The weight of their eyes upon her was almost enough to push her back down to sit quietly on the bench, but she breathed in deeply and ignored them. With a skill they had all adapted in this new age, she stepped over the tangled bodies on the ground until she stood under the necklace once more.
She considered the ears, raising her fingers to touch them once more.
They hadn't served as a protection to the camp from this invasion, but perhaps could be credited with the luck that had kept the group whole and unbitten when the threat had passed.
A tension moved through the gathering behind her and she knew without looking that Daryl had returned from his mission and reassured himself that there was no threat from around the barn. Her fingers pushed aside the ears to wrap around the worn leather bootlace Daryl had made his necklace with.
Too short to lift the item down from its hanging place, she tugged until it came free, the knot giving before the branch let it go.
She turned to find him standing near the bottom of the slope, nearer to the barn than the camp. He stood frozen, crossbow and arms hanging at his sides as he stared at her with the talisman.
She couldn't read his mind any easier than he seemed able to read hers, so she looked away from him. Her began to walk toward him, eyes focused on repairing the knot she'd broken as her feet again picked their way over the tangle of limbs on the ground.
He seemed braced for a blow when she finally drew to a stop in front of him, the crossbow jerked at his side as his shoulders jerked backward to stand him up as straight as possible. She said nothing as she gave the retied knot an experimental tug and found it sturdy enough.
She raised her head to look at him and his head reared back instinctively, as if fearing what he'd see in her expression.
She kept that as blank as possible, though, as she lifted the necklace to drop it over his head. It took a few attempts as he kept flinching away from her until she wanted to tell him to stand still.
Once the string had finally draped around his neck and the ears dangled against his chest, he froze and she felt better.
Her fingers lingered on the bootlace when they would have preferred to transfer their touch to his body in reassurance. He was still braced for a blow, though, and she knew physical contact would have been too much at that time.
"Don't be ashamed of this," she ordered softly, staring into his eyes and trying to convey an emotion even she couldn't have defined. "We stand. They fell. These are proof of life."
Some of his tension drained at the words, but his confusion kept him taut, quiet and watchful of her.
"We have to let that be enough for now."
With that, she allowed her fingers an 'accidental' brush against his chest; felt the thud of his heart, then put her hand to the ears that hung around her own neck.
She walked away from him and knew his eyes never left her departing back. She had not spoken the words just for him and it was evident that the message had carried to the others.
As she moved past them, they looked at her and then away, understanding but awkward at realizing that they understood anything that could motivate a person to harvest ears and wears them like a badge of courage,
Shane didn't duck from her, though, when her gaze landed upon him. Whether she had wanted it or not and certainly without seeking it, she had earned the man's approval. He squatted to pick up the discarded shirt he stood near and he tossed it to her with a grim expression. She caught the garment instinctively, watchful and suspicious of the gesture. He gave her a nod meant to encourage and reassure and she returned it automatically.
It was all she could do not to laugh as she moved past them all to climb into the RV and lock herself in to clean up as best as she could with jugs of water and the bathroom sink.
She caught sight of herself in the mirror and did laugh, seeing a blood-soaked woman wearing her body and making no effort to pull closed the edges of the cardigan hanging open over her otherwise naked torso. She swiped at some of the blood on her cheeks and stared at the ears, laughing until she cried at the pun that burnt in her brain.
The turbulent events of the day had once again turned her world on its ear.