A/N - It's my first update to this story in MOOOOOONTHS. Like 7 or 8? I don't even remember. Geez. I'm a terrible FFN writer at the moment. But I'm working my way back into my WIPs and I hope to keep going with a bit more steady (although probably still erratic) pace. So hi everyone, and thank you thank you thank you for bearing with me. Hope you like! Please read and review.


Chapter 24

The recovery was hard on him. Worse on Carol, of course; but watching her suffer pained Daryl in ways he couldn't even imagine. He hid it from the strangers – Tyreese, Julie, and Chris – but Carol knew. He could tell by the way she touched his arm after struggling to stand for the first time after the accident. Her touch lingering, soft, a comfort to know that she was still here, still with him.

It took weeks. He tried not to rush her. He struggled to breath each time he heard her moan in discomfort, each time he caught her wincing in pain. He could tell that Tyreese and his companions were itching to go, but still they stayed. Was there an obligation here? Daryl wasn't sure. The other man was friendly, seemed like a decent man. But Daryl remained wary. Rick had been a decent man. Not that Daryl ever blamed Rick for anything… although he wondered sometimes if Rick had been different, if his declaration of being in charge and in control hadn't happened; would Daryl and Carol still be there? Still be with the others?

He wasn't sure how he felt about that. So much had happened since they'd parted from Rick and the others. Would he and Carol have truly found each other – in the way that they since had – if they'd stayed? Did leaving… breaking apart… did it make them realize how much they meant to each other?

Daryl turned the corner just in time to see Carol start to lose her balance. He was by her side within two strides and steadied her, his hands gripping her until she smiled thinly and seemed to regain her control.

"Should ya really be walkin' around 'ere?," he muttered, trying to choke down his worry, dropping his hands to his sides.

They were staying in a small one-level office building, off the beaten path, a place that Tyreese had found shortly before finding Daryl and Carol themselves. Tyreese hadn't planned to stay there long. His original plan had been to stay a night or two and then head off to Woodbury. But he'd stayed to help Daryl and Carol, and he kept staying for reasons that Daryl didn't yet know.

"Tyreese," Carol started, out of breath even though she'd probably only been walking so far for about ten minutes, "said… I… should be… up and about." Carol shook her head slightly to herself. He assumed she was waiting for the dizziness to pass, and then she looked up at him, her eyes meeting his. She smiled. A quintessential Carol smile, and Daryl felt it pull at him. He felt his heart give just a little, and inwardly he thought how stupid – and fuckin' saptastic'ly sappy – that was and that he could never ever admit it to anyone.

He loved this woman.

He realized Carol was still talking and focused himself on that, forcing his attention away from the sudden, overwhelming feeling of admiration and love for this woman. "…said it's the only way to heal," Carol finished, her eyes still intent on his. She hadn't noticed his momentary lapse.

He swallowed, his throat tight, and nodded. He was worried if he opened his mouth he'd blurt out something stupid. He was sure he'd blurt out something stupid. Carol's brow furrowed and he knew she could probably read that something was off in his face, but he couldn't open his mouth. He didn't want to say something stupid.

"We can't stay here," she said softly, "we have to go to Woodbury… see if Karla's there."

Woodbury. He could kick himself for the fact that he'd never thought of it. He'd known, way deep in his memory, that his sister wanted to live where their mother was buried, but the memory had eluded him. The memory had just not fucking even surfaced in all those years of searching for his twin. The stupidity of it was astounding. He still hadn't told Carol about his connection to Woodbury. He wasn't sure how to broach it… if it even mattered. It's not like he'd ever been there except the once.

"Carol, I'm glad you're up and about," Tyreese's voice brought Daryl back into the present as the larger man strode around the corner from where Daryl had come. Daryl glanced back, and the two men shared a nod in greeting.

"We were talking about Woodbury," Carol said, her eyes flickering from Daryl's to Tyreese's as Tyreese stopped in the hall beside them.

Tyreese extended a hand and touched Carol lightly on the shoulder. Daryl felt a jolt of something surge through him but he couldn't quite place what it was.

"Don't worry about Woodbury right now," Tyreese was saying, "we'll get there when we get there. Right now, you just get your strength back." Tyreese's hand lingered on Carol's arm and he gave a glance and another nod to Daryl before releasing it and then continuing on his way down the hall. Daryl watched him go until he'd turned the next corner and had all but disappeared, footsteps echoing lightly off the walls.

He shifted his attention back to Carol. "He's righ'," Daryl muttered gruffly, "ya need yer strength back first. Then we'll talk 'bout it. Come on, woman, let's git ya back to bed." Carol's smile in response was fleeting; her eyes fixed on his mouth for a moment before raising to meet his eyes again and smiling again, this time wider than before, a glint in her eye as she did it.

"I love you Daryl Dixon, but stop mothering me," her tone was firm, no-nonsense. She moved past him before he could speak, her steps slow but intent.

He blinked watching her go, dumbfounded as to what he should say. Did he say it back? Did he even dare say the words? Would she know that he meant them? Did he want her to know he meant them? He stood there, afraid to move, afraid to speak, a war waging inside his head, before he realized that she'd already turned the corner past him and was gone, heading down the hall, completely unaware of his own internal struggle.

Well, woman… I love ya too.