A/N – HI! So this is the first chapter in the Daryl and Carol continuation of Merle and Sophia's Unexpected Allies. If you haven't previously read Unexpected Allies, it's a 20 chapter story about Sophia NOT being in that barn back on the Greene Farm and instead coming across a stubborn and irate Merle Dixon and how their journey together while searching for the group changes them both.

Hope you like the first chapter! Please read and review!

Disclaimer - I own nothing! Please excuse any creative liberties on places, people, and things and dialogue issues. My writing is forever a work in progress as I continue to learn.


Chapter 1 – A Change is Going to Come

Physically, she was sitting on the passenger side of the truck bench seat – Sophia wedged in the middle between her and Merle, but mentally, she was focused on the guy on the motorcycle riding a few yards ahead of them.

Her eyes were focused on the tattered angel wings on his jacket as she absently stroked her sleeping daughter's hair. Sophia had climbed into the truck that morning without even consulting her. The little girl had just clambered in next to Merle and cast a glance at Carol like, Are you coming or what?

Carol wondered what all those weeks had done to her little girl. All those weeks with just Merle Dixon to look after her. She cast a surreptitious sideways glance at Merle behind the wheel. His eyes were intent on the road and he seemed content with the silence. Sophia was twisted in the seat so that she was leaning against Carol while she slept, and one of her legs was sidelong against Merle, almost as if the little girl had to be in contact with him to know he was still there. To know that she was safe.

Carol couldn't even begin to fathom what it had been like between Merle and Sophia. From all she could remember about Merle, he was a cantankerous bastard – not the sort of role model she would have picked for Sophia before the zombie apocalypse at least. When she'd first met Merle Dixon… well, her first thought – she wasn't proud of it now – was that he was like Ed. But clearly she'd been wrong. Hell, she couldn't have been more wrong.

She had no idea how she could ever repay Merle. She hadn't even broached how she was going to repay Daryl yet. And she had to repay them both. Daryl had searched for Sophia like none other… the man made it his mission while they were on that farm. Even to his own detriment. She shuddered at the idea that he could have died out there, searching for Sophia, impaled by his own arrow, and then shot by Andrea.

Andrea. She stifled a shuddering sob from deep within. Andrea was dead. She couldn't ever repay Andrea. She felt like she was racking up debts that could never be paid back. She felt so unworthy of these people. She hadn't even been able to defend herself back on the farm… let alone help Andrea. She was a burden. She was a coward. Coward. Ed would agree. You stupid bitch. His words still echoed in her mind at her darkest moments. Burden. Whore. She squeezed her eyes shut and turned her head so that it looked like she was looking out the passenger side window. Her mouth was a thin line across her face.

Her thoughts about Daryl… Ed may have been right, she was a whore. Of course, thoughts are just thoughts aren't they? And it's not like she would ever act on them. He wouldn't want her even if she did. Daryl Dixon could never want stupid, mousy, useless, coward Carol Peletier. Burden. The word rang in her head. She was as much a burden to him as she was to everyone else.

You don't have to be a burden. Those weren't Ed's words. They were her own, and they swelled up inside her from a place she had thought was long dead. Destroyed and buried by Ed's fists, by Ed's control, by Ed's words.

Not speaking out, or killing him yourself – there's no difference. Dale's last words to her. A tear escaped her closed eyelid and slid slowly down her cheek. Dale, the conscience of their group. The world had lost a wonderful man the night he had died.

You can have an opinion. You matter here. Matter to whom? She wanted to snap at herself, at this voice in her head that had been silent for so long. Her voice.

The one that had been stifled by her bastard husband – honor and obey, those were his words. A constant reminder that she had better listen, better do as she was told. Sophia stirred against her but didn't wake. Sophia. She mattered to Sophia.

Whadda ya want? Daryl, his words now in her head. She remembered the way he'd looked at her, glared at her, beside that campfire. She didn't even know what she'd expected in talking to him there. It had been the first time they'd even spoke since he'd yelled at her at his camp back at the farm – All ya had to do was keep an eye on 'er! What a conversation to warm up to, doubting Rick, questioning Daryl's allegiances. She should have just apologized… for what? For making him come back to the farm to save her. She shook her head slightly. He would have done it for anyone. Daryl was like that – a good man, a man of honor. She should have thanked him. For coming back to the farm to save her. Even if he would have done it for anyone, he did it for her. It might mean nothing to him, but it meant something to her. She should have thanked him for searching for Sophia.

She had been so sure Sophia had been dead. She had felt it for weeks after the search had gone stale. After that barn had been opened and all those walkers had been killed by Shane and the others. The threat had been so real in that moment, seeing them all, all those monsters who had once been people… someone's mother, someone's father, sister, brother, daughter, son… and now here she was, her daughter's head weighty and wonderful against her chest. Carol couldn't have been more wrong, and she'd never be happier about it.

And all because of Merle Dixon. And there she was again; confronted by the debts she'd never be able to pay. If a person could drown in a river of debt, she'd be flailing and gasping for breath by now. Debt and regret… the story of Carol's life.

Her only good deed was Sophia. It doesn't have to be that way. That voice again. Could her opinions really matter again? It had been years since she'd voiced an opinion, since she'd had a say. Was it too late to make a change? Ed has been dead and gone for more than a month, head bashed in and buried back at that quarry… couldn't she have changed sooner? Shouldn't she have changed sooner? Maybe the time for change has passed. No. Change comes in its own time. Change comes now.

She couldn't stay like this. She couldn't keep being this person… this burden. She had to be more. She had to be more for Sophia. Our daughter don't need you bitch… she's gone and gotten herself a new hero… what are you gonna do anyway? You're useless. Stupid bitch. Ed. That was Ed, in her head again. Would he never be gone? Would she never be rid of him?

She turned her head and watched Merle for a moment. He seemed oblivious to her, hadn't said a word to her since the night before when she had thanked him, and even then she wasn't sure if he'd even spoken or simply nodded. The bond between her daughter and this man… it made her happy to see. It was a friendship, a family. Somehow, it seemed to Carol, that Merle had become the father that Sophia needed, that Sophia never had. Sophia would be fine if Carol wasn't around, she was confident Merle would see to that.

But Carol wasn't going anywhere. Not if she could help it. Shut up Ed. You don't know shit. It felt good to think the curse. She hadn't sworn in years… when she ever dared in the past, he'd smacked the taste of the word out of her mouth before she had a chance to blink. But Ed wasn't here anymore. She didn't have to let the past control her. Now was a time for change.