Author's Note: The last one. Thank you ever so much to everyone who read, reviewed and tumblr'd this story. I literally get a little bit teary! I genuinely didn't expect such a lovely response. Thank you.
It had been six days since he'd last seen her. The longest he'd been without her since they met, last summer. It could've been sixty days. It felt like it. Staying outside Newtown was a decision the entire group supported, but it did present some difficulties.
Newtown wasn't all that big. It didn't take long to strip it clean of everything they could, but they still needed more. That meant travelling further out, over days, taking a van and filling it to the top. It meant more danger but it gave bigger rewards and it meant not having to go back out of the area for several weeks.
Carol usually went with him and this was the first time in what seemed like forever, when she didn't. Lori gave birth to a baby girl just four weeks ago and she needed Carol with her. Daryl wondered how she would cope, helping Lori with her baby, when the loss of her own little one was still so painful. But she did it magnificently. She stayed away from the Grimes family in those first few days, giving them time to adjust to the new life in their world. Turned out though, Lori was finding it all very difficult, baby blues, Carol had mentioned and she'd stepped in, no questions asked, to help her.
She was a natural at it. The coddling and the feeding. Getting up several times during the night. It came easy, despite it being several years since she'd last done it. The baby had taken to coming into their attic room every few nights, giving Lori and Rick a break. He grumbled about it at first, not want to share her with anyone else. Or getting his sleep disturbed.
Seeing her with the little one wasn't so bad. It made her happy. Carol being happy made him happy. Waking up next to her, or all over her as he was prone to doing, with the little one cooing next to them could even be pretty good. He wished that the world wasn't so fucked up. He would gladly give her motherhood again if it weren't.
The drive home seemed to take forever. They were only 30 miles out from the house, but it may as well have been 300 miles with the blocked roads, Walkers trailing after them and even having to avoid a group of the living.
Avoiding even those still alive became second nature now. After Randall, other people made them all nervous. It wasn't in Daryl's nature to avoid confrontation but he did it instinctively now. They all did. They had people to go back to. She was waiting for him at home.
By the fifth day of the run, Carol felt anxious. There was no deadline for their return date, but the unspoken rule was never more than a week. She, Daryl, Rick and Hershel had made a run that lasted ten days once, and the greeting they received on their return was a mixture of sheer relief and anger that they had left the group so worried. Never again.
Baby Judy was a welcome distraction. Lori Grimes was not. It worried her, it worried them all, how she couldn't seem to take to the baby. Judy wasn't particularly trying, the screaming and crying came at a minimum, for which they were all grateful but Lori struggled to breastfeed and Carol knew it made her feel like a failure. She tried to reassure the other women that it was perfectly normal, they lived such a stressful life after all and they had plenty of formula but Lori couldn't be swayed.
Rick didn't understand, he tried, God love him, but he didn't. He took over as much of the responsibility for the little one as he could, but he was their leader. He needed his head and hands free to deal with the pressures of taking on the role.
She missed hunting. She'd promised Daryl she wouldn't go out alone. She wouldn't break that promise. Rick was the only person he would allow to go out with her but he often wasn't available. Besides, he made too much noise and scared the game away. She missed the warmth of him in her bed. He took up far too much space, fidgeted constantly and was all over her like a rash but she was used to it. The bed was big without him.
She was making bread in the kitchen when she heard the distant hum of the engine. She threw down the dough in her hand, flour flying into the air as she wrenched open the kitchen door. From her spot at the porch, she could see the white van bounding up the dirt track. Her heart seemed to stop beating.
Rick and Hershel were already at the gates, moving the locks to swing the doors open and she heard the footsteps of the rest of the house coming down to see what was going on.
"Are they all there?" Beth murmured at her side. It was always the first question. Carol squinted into the distance but she couldn't make out who was driving.
"I can see Maggie." Carol answered her and the younger girl sighed audibly in relief. Carol couldn't seem to move her feet as the van entered the compound, the heavy doors slamming behind it. Finally, she could see through the window shield of the van and he was there, behind the wheel. Her heart began to pound again.
The van lurched to a stop and Beth ran to the passenger door to greet her older sister. Daryl took his time getting out of the van, greeting Rick with a shake of their hands and a pat on the back.
Daryl searched in the direction of house for her. She was standing at the kitchen door, apron on, covered to her elbows in flour. He smiled at her and she grinned back.
He ignored the calls from behind him as he marched over to her, almost racing up the porch steps.
"Hey." He greeted softly, they were so close she could feel his breath tickling her face.
"Hey yourself." She pressed her lips to his and he responded, crushing his mouth against hers, winding his fingers in her hair. It was as long as his now, curling at the nape of her neck and over her forehead. "I missed you." She told him when they finally broke apart.
His lips curled into a smile but before he could respond, Carl was bounding up the steps, calling out to Carol. "Look what Glenn found!" He thrust a handful of comic books between them, waving them so enthusiastically Carol couldn't even look at them properly.
"That's great!" She responded enthusiastically, as he pushed his way between them, back into the house, forcing them apart.
"Carol! Come see this!" Maggie called to her from the open doors of the van and Daryl groaned in frustration, irritated that their moment was broken.
"Later." She murmured to him, brushing her hand against his jaw before moving off the porch to see what Maggie wanted. He stared after for a moment, watching her greet the young girl with a hug and a genuine smile. She turned to look into the van and laughed with delight when she saw what was there.
Not for the first time, Daryl wondered how a dumbass fucker like him landed up with someone so amazing like Carol Peletier.
The celebrated the return of the rest of the group with alcohol and junk food. It would be the one night where they didn't ration anything, where everyone ate whatever took their fancy. She watched with horror with Lori when she witnessed Carl eat a whole spray can of cheese, the nozzle directly in his mouth. It made her feel sick to watch him but the others only laughed as the gooey yellow stuff spilled from the sides of his mouth.
Daryl had been topping up her glass with Southern Comfort all night, laughing at her choking and spluttering as she necked a shot of the liquid with Glenn and T-Dog. She preferred wine, but he insisted this was a proper Southern drink and when she wasn't chugging it back like water, she found herself enjoying the taste.
There was no time to be alone together that day. Maggie, Glenn, T-Dog and Daryl all had a chance to clean up, whilst everyone else emptied the van, before beginning the preparations for the evening meal.
By midnight though, almost everyone had retired for the night, dirty dishes lay abandoned all over the kitchen, to be dealt with the next morning. She was the last one to leave the kitchen, unable to resist putting away the uneaten food so that it didn't spoil.
"I ain't seen you in almost a week woman, gonna leave me hangin' or what?"
Carol jumped and spun around. Daryl was leaning against the door frame, one eyebrow raised. She slammed the drawer shut before meeting him at the threshold. The booze was slowly wearing off, although she still felt a little lightheaded.
"You only want me for one thing, Daryl Dixon." She winked as she slipped past him and he almost tripped up to catch up with her. His hands roamed beneath her shirt as he followed her up the stairs, warming her cool skin.
"Yeah, you make a good apple pie." He murmured against her back, tighting his hold on her to spin her round on the staircase, face pressed into her chest. She gasped in mock indignation, tugging on the back of his hair but she pressed herself closer anyway, winding her legs around his waist, letting him carry her up the stairs to the attic.
He started tugging her clothes off before he'd even shut the bedroom door, pressing soft kisses over her face, neck and shoulders as he carried her over the the bed. She giggled as he hurried to pull off his boots, tangling himself up in his pants as she lay there waiting for him. He growled at her, running his hands over her, nipping softly with his teeth behind her ear.
"I fuckin' missed you." He breathed against her skin as he entered her and all she could do was gasp softly in response, clutching at him, whatever she could reach.
"I missed you too." She finally managed to pant out, minutes later, arching her slick body against his.
Dawn rose and as was habit, so did she. Daryl was using her breasts as a pillow, his breath hitting her skin rhythmically. She pulled one arm out from underneath his, bringing it to his hair. He shifted with the contact, groaning slightly.
"My fuckin' head is poundin'." He mumbled into her skin, before shifting himself so his face was level with hers.
She chuckled and kissed him. He wasn't so ill that he couldn't respond fervently. "Poor you." She mocked lightly, breaking away. "Come on, let's go hunting." He groaned again, but she pulled away, rooting in the drawer for clean clothes for both of them.
"It'll do you good. Some fresh air. I'll cook you up an amazing breakfast when we get back." She tempted him, throwing a shirt his way. He sighed but got up anyway, dressing quickly and handing her her bow.
"You're lucky I fuckin' love you." He grumbled at her as he shrugged on his jacket. It was true. She was worth a thousand hangovers, a million nights with a crying baby or unlimited trips into Walker-riddled cities for supplies. His woman of worth.
She beamed at him and kissed him again and he took her hand and lead her down the stairs.