Greetings friends!

Another prompt by dear Alamo Girl has spawned this little thing. Be warned of some spoilers for 2x09 'Triggerfinger', as well as Caryl drama!

Enjoy and please offer feedback!

Disclaimer: I dislaim. All.


She'd tried not to be worried when she realized he was no longer in the camp.

Between Lori's car accident and the entirety of the group in a state of chaos at Rick's tale of the bar (along with the 'guest' they brought along that served well as evidence of another group of survivors), Carol was lost as to what she could possibly accomplish by sitting around the tents.

And so, as night fell, she started off across the fields.

Lori had told her where he'd been hiding, the ruins of the small homestead poking just high enough on the dimming horizon to guide her to him. As she trekked, eyes and ears open to her surroundings, she thought of the cuts on Lori's body from the busted windshield, the bruising on her legs from the impact, and, despite it all, felt just slightly that such injury could have been avoided if Daryl had gone to look for Rick and Glenn instead.

And yet she knew, if he had, he'd have walked straight into a firefight. And possibly been killed.

It didn't matter at this point, she told herself. What was done was done, and she was simply thankful that Lori was not seriously hurt.

It would do no good to even consider reprimanding Daryl for not going.

She had no right to do such a thing, anyway…

Stopping short of the fallen bricks and cluster of trees, she hesitated. Did she really have any right to be coming to him at all? The man obviously wanted to be alone, and considering all that happened, she could not blame him.

Still….worry for his well-being pushed her. And she did have the right to worry.

Carol could see the area in detail as the full moon rose overhead; the stone wall that loomed all alone, the bricks scattered at its base. And old fire pit nearby screamed for use, but appeared to be filled with dirt instead of ash. Surrounded by trees, it seemed a secure enough place.

But the world was never secure. And Daryl was not safe alone.

Standing in what was probably once the old home's center, she turned in a slow circle, eyes following the shadows of the trees in search of movement. Something caught the edge of her vision then, forcing her head upward a bit and causing her to freeze.

The tree just beside her stood apart from the entrance of the forest, taller than she but not as towering as the pines that conquered the land around them. Limbs hung low, and on one of them, dangling in the wind, she saw it:

The infamous 'ear necklace' she'd heard Glenn describe the day Daryl had been hurt.

As she watched its movement, she could not help but step nearer. In the white, eerie light she could make out the bloody edges of the four Walker ears strung on it, where Daryl himself had taken his blade and severed them from the heads they called home.

Dried out and blackened, the pieces of flesh seemed harmless, and yet she knew the danger that they once posed. Those ears had belonged to the walking dead once, and those dead had used them to hone in on human beings to devour.

Those ears had belonged to beasts.

To Hershel's dead family and neighbors.

To Sophia, as she stumbled about in that barn….

Carol blinked and jumped when the sound of movement came just behind her.

"What are you doin'?"

As she turned she could hear the demand in Daryl's voice, as well as the suspicion. Had she been sent by Rick or Lori to fetch him? To ask him for another errand?

His eyes lit into her and she saw a familiar conflict swirl inside them; anger and confusion and curiosity all fighting for dominance as he confronted her intrusion of his space.

She had seen the same in the stables the previous day, and had been witness to how he dealt with such emotional conflict: lash out and try to break something.

She met those heated eyes, daring to keep her spot rooted in front of him, to hold her head high enough to almost seem challenging.

"Keeping an eye on you; Lori said you'd been out here all day." She regretted bringing up the woman's name the moment she'd said it, as the anger took the forefront in Daryl's questioning gaze and his hands, always animated, began their expected movement. The fingers of his right hand flashed out, pointing in the direction of the camp.

"So Queen Grimes sent you out here to fetch me? Or are you just playin' 'mother hen' out of boredom?" His words stung, the concept of her being 'bored' on the day of her daughter's burial an obvious accusation on his part.

She knew then how he'd felt as he silently departed from the RV earlier that day; how he'd thought she felt.

And maybe he was right; maybe she did have the suspicion in her mind that Sophia was long-gone the entire time.

But that did not mean she didn't want to hope….

The back of her head met the almost weightless bunch of dead, dried flesh behind it and Carol suddenly realized she had taken a step back.

Because Daryl had stepped forward. He was waiting, tensed and ready, for her to confirm his statement.

"No, Daryl…Lori didn't….she was in an accident today. She wrecked the car on her way to find Rick—"she was cut off by another thrust of his hand, this time into the air, not far from her head.

"What, you my judge and jury now? Come to tell me how selfish I am for tellin' her to go herself?"

Carol backed away again, veering out from underneath the necklace, attempting to place space enough between them to allow her breath enough to calmly explain herself and hopefully douse his growing firestorm of emotion.

If he'd just listen…

"No one's saying that; I was just…worried about you, out here alone."

He started forward then, his aggressive expression all-too familiar to someone who'd lived waiting for and praying against that next backhanded slap….

Something hard and cold met her back; the old wall loomed and captured her between itself and the irrationality that was Daryl Dixon.

"I don't need you to worry about me! I don't need the group, tellin' me what to do and where to go; bugging me for help with shit they could do themselves. I don't need you frettin' over me like a mother—cause' let me tell you, I ain't a child and you're damn sure not old enough. I don't need your 'get better soon' kisses, and I don't need you pretending to give a damn about anything I say. I don't need shit from you. You hear me?"

Carol had turned her head slightly against the onslaught of his words, one cheek growing cold against the stone and the other burning hotly as his breath puffed angrily against it.

She literally had no room to move; pinned flat against the wall she stood, Daryl practically in her face, glaring with anticipation of her rebuttal, his arms raised on either side to keep her trapped.

She could feel his lips against her cheek, a snarl set firmly in them.

If he were not so terribly angry, she would have had a very different reaction to his proximity.

A second ticked by as she felt an old feeling of dread and panic wash over her, and despite everything in her mind telling her it was nonsense, she reacted.

A hand flew up to press flat against his chest, and her eyes closed.

A plea.

She hated herself for even considering he could do something as horrible as…

The lips against her face twitched and then disappeared, cool air hitting her as his body flew backward as if burned.

She opened her eyes to find him several steps away from the wall, his posture rigid, his eyes glancing over her and narrowing and his mouth pulling downward.

Her body seemed frozen as he stared at her, one hand still in the air as if coaxing him away and the other pressed painfully against the wall behind her.

For a long, silent moment, they stood, the heat of Daryl's anger and the reality of her reaction lingering in the air between them.

Finally, her hand lowered, coming to rest across her chest and land on the opposite arm.

She felt like a fool then, and a heat flushed her face. She hoped to God (if He cared to listen) that the moon wasn't bright enough for him to see…

"Don't do that."

Low and soft and scratchy, Daryl's whisper caught her off guard.

"What?"

One hand raised to his mouth as his teeth chewed into his thumb, the other gestured to her. On his face she could see another spark of anger: at himself.

"Don't you think I'd ever hurt you. I ain't like your piece-a-shit husband…" She was already shaking her head before he'd finished speaking, and she grinned despite the gravity of the moment.

"I know that; I know you wouldn't—"

"No, dammit…" Her muscles relaxed as he drew closer, keeping an arm's length of distance and no longer radiating that tension that but a second earlier seemed to pour from him like sweat. Carol forced her eyes into his again and found them creased and blinking, unnerved, his teeth chewing on his bottom lip. "Be scared of everything else, woman— this world is shit and most of the people in it are too—but don't be scared of me. I'd as soon impale myself on another arrow than lay a hand on ya'."

She breathed deep and nodded again, fighting a smile that she felt should probably not be merited on such a day as this.

"I know…"

He gave a quick jerk of his head in response to her whisper and backed away again, turning from her to look out over the white-grey fields.

Slowly she gathered herself, pushing off from the rough wall and trying not to trip over the stray stones around her feet as she did so. He did not move when she came to stand near him, her gaze flickering to the necklace to her left before settling on his figure at her right.

A moment passed and she reached out to touch his shoulder with the lightest pressure. His head turned just enough to express acknowledgement.

"Come back to the camp? We need you there…I need you there…"

His body stiffened again before he turned to brush past her toward the tree.

Snatching the necklace from the branch, he donned it and glanced at her.

If he was trying to gauge her reaction, she chose to give him none except to look questioningly toward the farmhouse.

Another quick nod at her and he suddenly started off into the moonlit field, glancing back after a few strides as she slowly began to follow.

As she watched him glide through the grass she was reminded of the grace (and danger) of an untamed animal.

She smiled at herself again. Daryl was indeed like an animal trapped inside a man.

Or was he a man trapped inside an animal?

It didn't matter.

She followed him home nonetheless, fearless.